2015/16 Premier League Season Review

5000/1 to win the title? Tipped for relegation? Uninspiring managerial appointment? None of that stopped Leicester City from doing the impossible.

And so many elements of their unbelievable title winning success seem, well, impossible.

Take Jamie Vardy, for example. Just four years ago he was playing non league football for Fleetwood Town. Now, he’s scored for England, he’s on his way to Euro 2016, and he’s a Premier League winner. Not bad for a £1million fee, which, at the time, seemed expensive. Little did the doubters know that Leicester had bagged themselves an absoloute bargain!

The story with Riyad Mahrez is also quite similar, as two years ago he was playing for Le Havre in Ligue 2, and when he was signed for £400,000 by Leicester, (who he presumed were a Rugby club,) no one in England had heard of him. Now every young child in the country wants to be like the PFA player of the year.

However, the dazzling skill of Mahrez and the goals combined with relentless hard work from Jamie Vardy weren’t everything.

N’golo Kante, a relatively unknown midfielder signed from Caen in the summer, proved to be the heartbeat of the team, seeming to never stop running, and it was his box to box style of play, along with Vardy’s pressing, that set the tone for the team.

And if he was the core of the team, centre-backs Robert Huth and Wes Morgan were solid throughout the season, and ever since Ranieri promised the team pizza if they kept their first clean sheet of the season, the defenders haven’t looked back.

The full-backs are also vital to their brilliant defence, as at the start of the season, where many more goals were conceded, Richie De Laet and Jeffrey Schlupp preferred to attack more and play further up the pitch like the typical modern full-back, but Ranieri clocked onto that, and therefore replaced them with the reliable Danny Simpson and Christian Fuchs.

Midfielder Danny Drinkwater’s solidity and creativity was important all season, and Marc Albrighton, despite losing his partner’s wife that summer, had the best season of his career.

Shinji Okazaki’s hard work fitted in perfectly with the style of play, whilst figures such as Leonardo Ulloa, Demari Gray, Daniel Amartey should not be overlooked, as they often proved influential from the bench.

Perhaps one of the most surprising things about Leicester’s unlikely triumph, however, was the fact that Claudio Ranieri, who had recently been sacked as manager of Greece without ever having one a league title in his career, was the charming gentleman who got the best out of every player and found the ultimate winning formula.

Throughout the season his jokes and comical style kept the media strongly in favour of him, whilst he identified the pace in his team, and he adopted a lethal counter-attacking tactic, which destroyed teams left right and centre.

It almost seems laughable really that Leicester great Gary Lineker welcomed Ranieri’s appointment with a tweet reading, ‘Claudio Ranieri? Really?’, as now he is regarded as a fine manager who is already a shoe in for the manager of the year award.

Moving elsewhere, we look at Chelsea, who’s almighty crumble led to the sacking of the previous fan favourite Jose Mourinho. It all started with the first game of the season, when Chelsea twice blew the lead and finished the game with a point, but where it really kicked off was with Mourinho’s appaling treatment of team doctor Eva Carneiro, who he strongly criticized for going onto the pitch to assist Eden Hazard who had gone down injured.

Despite the fact that referee Michael Oliver had called her on, Jose was having none of it, and from there on, it all went horribly wrong, with a run of poor results leading to his sacking in December.

Chelsea then appointed former manager Guus Hiddink to see out the job until the end of the season, and he steered the Blues away from relegation and into mid-table mediocrity, as they finished tenth at the end of the season.

Their London rivals, Tottenham, were alongside Leicester as one of the surprise packages of the season, and if it weren’t for a final day disaster, Mauricio Pochettino’s side would have finished second, but instead they had to settle for third place behind Arsenal.

Although Arsenal’s season will still be regarded as a failure, a second place finish may just keep Arsene Wenger in his job, but as for Pochettino, it looks like he’s really building something at Spurs, and after many, many false dawns at the club, it finally looks like their going somewhere.

Despite a slow start, Harry Kane finished the season as top scorer with 25 goals and was the real star of the show, whilst youngster Dele Alli, signed from MK Dons, also proved a huge success, with outrageous skill, ability and self-confidence, highlighted more than ever when he scored an outstanding goal away to Crystal Palace.

As for Manchester City, it seemed as if the decision to announce that Manuel Pellegrini would be replaced by Pep Guardiola at the end of the season had a negative effect  on them, and even though they won the League cup, a forth place finish was poor by their standards.

Sergio Aguero managed to score 24 goals despite a relatively low key season, whilst Kevin De Bruyne impressed, and if he hadn’t suffered an injury in the League cup semi-final, Manchester City could easily have finished higher.

Louis Van Gaal’s boring style of play meant that even though United won the FA cup, it wasn’t enough to keep him in a job, but along with the winning of the cup, their season did have a few bright sparks, as transfer deadline day signing Anthony Martial went a long way to repaying his huge transfer fee with a solid season including a stunning debut goal against Liverpool.

Another teenager in Marcus Rashford shone through as a debut brace in the Europa League was followed by another brace on his Premier League debut, and his winner in his first ever Manchester derby really showed that the 18 year-old is going to play a big part in not only United’s future, but England’s future.

In sixth place, Ronald Koeman’s Southampton defied the odds once again, and a 4-0 win against Arsenal and a 3-2 comeback win against Liverpool put the gloss on their impressive season, whilst West Ham had similar fortunes in seventh, as they waved goodbye to Upton Park.

Summer signing Dimitri Payet lit up the Premier League as Slaven Bilic’s side, for a while, looked like they could even break into the top four, but their form dropped slightly at the end what was still a very good season.

In eighth were Liverpool, who started slowly and ended up sacking Brendan Rodgers and replacing him with the exciting and entertaining Jurgen Klopp.

Klopp rejuvenated Liverpool and restored the feel good factor around Anfield, although focusing on the League cup and the Europa League, where they eventually lost in both finals, ended up costing them a high league place.

Stoke recovered from a poor start to really turn on the style before Christmas, as trident Xherdan Shaqiri, Bojan and Marko Arnautovic put together a string of good performances before Christmas.

In the end it was another season of consolidation, as Mark Hughes’s side finished 9th for a third season running, but it still appears that there is plenty to build on for the future.

Looking at Everton, there was plenty of optimism around the club before the season started, as many people felt that Roberto Martinez had a talented squad at his disposal, although in the end, their season was a disaster, finishing 11th without ever hitting a spell of good form, and with just a couple of games left, the hierarchy at the club decided that time was up for Martinez, and he was then sacked.

Swansea finished 12th an didn’t really live up to expectations after an impressive first few games, whilst Watford, who many thought would get relegated this season, came thirteenth, and despite the outstanding early season form of strikers Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney, a drop in form in the second half of the season led to manager Quique Sanchez Flores departing, which is shocking really, as he did a brilliant job without much to work with.

West Brom were medi-ocre, but Tony Pulis will be happy with a 14th place finish that they can build on, although Crystal Palace saw their form plummet, as their classy first half of the season was almost the exact opposite of their poor second half of the season where they couldn’t buy a win.

Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth will be delighted with 16th place, especially as they were without star striker Callum Wilson for almost the whole campaign.

They were resilient in their belief of ‘playing football the right way’ and it paid off as they never really looked like getting relegated and were always good to watch.

Moving on to Sunderland, Dick Advocaat vacated his role as manager and left the Black Cats looking doomed, but the appointment of Sam Allardyce played a major role in saving their season, whilst the goals of Jermain Defoe were also just as vital.

As for Newcastle, Steve McLaren seems more suited to being a coach than a manger, and when he was sacked with not long to go, even the surprise signing of Rafa Benitez, who had recently been sacked by Real Madrid, wasn’t enough to keep them up, although the good news for the club is that Benitez has signed a three year deal, and will therefore stay as manager even whilst they are in the Championship.

Alex Neil’s Norwich also couldn’t avoid the drop, and at the end of the day they just weren’t good enough, whilst Aston Villa sacked two managers, finished with 17 points, and, most importantly, came last, in what was a truly awful season for a club with a memorable history in the top division.

Overall, we have almost certainly witnessed the most spectacular and unbelievable season ever, seeing great goals, great players, the usual edge of the seat drama and more than anything else, Leicester City. Foxes, we salute you!


Champions League Final Preview

Whilst the big games has been coming thick and fast in the last few weeks, this has to be the biggest of them all – it’s the one we’ve all been waiting for – the Champions League final.

This year’s final, set in AC Milan and Internazionale’s shared stadium ‘San Siro’, will see a rematch of the 2014 final in Lisbon, where Atletico cruelly had the win snatched from their grasp in the final seconds of the game before Real ran away with it in extra time, recording a 4-1 win.

The game will see Zinedine Zidane looking for his first piece of silverware as a manager, and what a piece of silverware it would be!

His side looked slightly shaky when he first took over, but in recent weeks they have gone from strength to strength, and came incredibly close to winning the title after a great run of results.

So far, it is fair to say that Zidane has only had one very big game, which was in El Clasico against Barcelona, and a 1-2 away win saw his side continue to improve, whilst it sent Barcelona on a run of poor form.

That game of course was only the first of what will surely be many big games for Zidane as a manager, but it shows that he was able to put out a winning team in a crunch match, which is encouraging for Real.

Also on Real’s side is quite simply the fact that they have a lot of world class players, with the likes of Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos in their ranks, and on their day, Real are as good as anyone, so their big names will have to be on top form.

Whilst they may have looked a disjointed side earlier in the season,(especially under Rafa Benitez) providing that they can produce a little bit of magic, they will always have a great chance, and with the added fact that they are on an impressive run of matches under their new manager, they could be favourites.

However, in their way are Diego Simeone’s Atletico, who, no matter what team they are up against, will always be a difficult team to beat.

Whilst being one of the best defensive teams in the world with the solid Diego Godin and Jose Maria Giminez proving to be a trusty and consistent partnership all year long and Filipe Luis and Juanfran also just as reliable in the full back spots, Atletico are dangerous on the counter attack aswell.

The searing pace and deadly finishing of Antoine Griezmann will be a huge threat, so don’t be surprised to see the French striker using every chance he gets to exploit Real’s defensive frailties, and if he could put Simeone’s side a goal up early on, there is no doubting that Atletico have the capabilities to hold on for a long period of time.

When the two sides crossed paths in the league this season, their first encounter saw a 1-1 draw at the Vicente Calderon, and when they met again at the Bernabeu Atletico triumphed 0-1, and with that added to Atleti’s 4-0 win in the same fixture last season, it seems as if Simeone always has one up over Real Madrid, although who can tell?

The stakes for Saturday’s match will be even higher as neither team have won a trophy so far this season, with Barcelona sweeping up both domestic competitions, so the game will effectively decide, for both teams, whether their season has been a failure or a success – the tension is building…

FA Cup final preview

Manchester United face Crystal Palace later day, as both teams look to shine some light on relatively poor seasons.

As for Manchester United, if Louis Van Gaal does leave this summer, an FA cup win would be a nice way to bow out, and it would be especially fitting as a certain Wayne Rooney has never won this prestigious trophy in his career, so it will be a big game for him.

In fact, the only players in either squad who have won this tournament before are Juan Mata of United, and James McCarthur of Palace, although neither of them won it with their current club, Mata winning in 2012 with Chelsea, and McCarthur winning it in 2013 for Wigan.

Today will be a rematch of the 1990 cup final where these two sides faced each other in an entertaining match which finished 3-3, before the replay saw the Red Devils take the trophy with a 1-0 win.

On the losing side for that final was current Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew, who also lost in the final in 2006 whilst managing West Ham, so there will be extra motivation for him.

United’s run to today’s game began with a 1-0 win over League 1 side Sheffield United, where the game looked set for a replay before Memphis Depay was fouled  in the area, leaving it down to Wayne Rooney to fire United into the next round from the spot, after an unconvincing win.

Their form improved in the fourth round as they faced Championship promotion chasers Derby County, and despite George Thorne cancelling out Wayne Rooney’s impressive opener, goals from Daley Blind and Juan Mata sent United through.

The fifth round presented yet another lower league team, as United brushed aside League One Shrewsbury, as a Chris Smalling goal was followed by a free-kick from Juan Mata before Jesse Lingard sealed their place in the quarter finals.

It was here that United finally faced a Premier League team, and they were also finally matched, as West Ham’s Dmitri Payet scored a stunning 25 yard free-kick . However, an 83rd minute equaliser from Anthony Martial set up a replay to keep their hopes alive.

They then proceeded to make their chance count as a brilliant goal from Marcus Rashford and a second from Marouane Fellaini was too much for West Ham despite a late goal from James Tomkins in the final ever FA cup game at Upton Park.

The semi-final saw Marouane Fellaini do it again, but this time, not only was it at Wembley, it was against his former club Everton. However,  despite David De Gea saving Romelu Lukaku’s penalty, Everton got back level through Chris Smalling’s own goal, and just as it looked as if the game was heading to extra time, a stoppage time winner from Anthony Martial sent them through to the final.

Crystal Palace began their FA Cup campaign well with a 1-2 win away to Southampton as goals from Joel Ward and Wilfred Zaha sent them into fourth round tie against Stoke City.

Here, Zaha once again scored the winner as Palace won 1-0, this time in front of their own fans.

That sent them through to a tough 5th round tie away to Tottenham at White Hart Lane, and when Dele Alli’s shot bounced off both posts, it seemed as though they would struggle to make it through, but Martin Kelly’s goal was eventually enough to put Palace into the quarter finals.

Here, they finally faced a non-Premier League outfit in the form of Reading, and despite being on a poor run of form, a penalty from Yohan Cabaye and a goal from Frazier Campbell meant that their cup run continued.

In the semi finals we saw a rematch of the 2013 play off final, which was of course also at Wembley, and, also won by Palace. On that occasion, they had to wait until the final minute of extra time for a Kevin Phillips penalty to send them into the Premier League, but this time, the opening goal came after just 5 minutes, through Yannick Bolasie, and despite an equaliser from Troy Deeney, Connor Wickam’s goal booked Crystal Palace’s place in today’s final.

Today is also a big game for Southampton who will be hoping that Manchester United win, as that will result in a Europa League group stage place for Ronald Koeman’s men, which will be important as the Saints were knocked out in the play off qualifying round before they reached the groups at the start of the season.

Marcus Rashford will be hoping to cap off a huge week, by adding to his first ever England call up with an FA cup win, and we expect him to start after his goal on Tuesday against Bournemouth in what was the last Premier League game of the season.

Now we are just left with two teams to battle it out on the big stage – will Wayne Rooney finally get his FA cup, or will Alan Pardew get revenge?

Europa League Final Preview

Jurgen Klopp will be leading Liverpool into their second final of the season on Wednesday night as the reds prepare to take on reigning champions for the past two seasons, Sevilla, in the Europa League final.

The Spanish team currently hold the record for the most number of wins in the history of this tournament with four, whilst Liverpool are close behind on three, and would match that title with a win in Basel.

Klopp’s side, who lost the Capital One Cup final on penalties to Manchester City earlier in the season, will be even more hungry to succeed this time round, especially as their relatively poor league finish means that winning this game is their only way of making it into European competition next year.

Sevilla have never lost in a Europa League final, and they have overcome Dnipro and Benfica at this stage in the past two seasons.

Unai Emery has a squad of extremely capable players at his disposal, with the likes of Kevin Gameiro up top and the exciting Yevhen Konoplyanka out wide, whilst Jurgen Klopp will be hoping that the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho will be on form when it matters most, and so far this season, they have produced in big games, with both scoring in crunch match against Southampton, (although they ended up losing 3-2) both scoring in either leg against Manchester United in the round of 16, and Coutinho notching in the League Cup final.

Some would say that Liverpool have the upper hand already, as Sevilla face Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey final this Sunday, and will therefore possibly not be prepared to work as hard with only a few days rest, so Klopp will almost certainly play his normal and effective style of pressing high up the pitch and, if they can keep possession well enough, they should be able to tire out Sevilla, and it wouldn’t be unlikely to see any key players taken off with their other cup final in mind.

This game really could make or break not only this season, but next season for Liverpool, as in the other competitions, it’s fair to say that their form has been mixed, but their impressive form in this competition (including an incredible 5-4 win over Klopp’s former club, Borussia Dortmund) means that, should they win it, their season will be generally seen as a success, and next season, not only European football will be secured but Champions League football aswell.

Of course, not having the distraction of Europe in 2016/17 could well benefit their league form, but at the end of the day a team with the history of Liverpool should always expect to be playing in the continent’s most important competition.

Their are no favourites in a match where everything points to 90 minutes (or more) of entertainment, as a Liverpool side, rejuvenated under Jurgen Klopp, take on the reigning champions, Sevilla. It’s not long to go now!


The new world beaters #4 Paul Pogba

Sir Alex Ferguson knew that the boy had potential, he could see that in him from day one. It was definitely one that got away for Manchester United. Fergie did everything possible to keep Paul Pogba at the club, and not only did he send Patrice Evra to his house to have one last go at convincing him to stay, United offered him their highest ever contract for a reserve player.

But, in the end, the deal had been done, and the young Frenchman was on his way to Juventus, and also on his way to becoming a superstar, on the books of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Chelsea to name just a few.

In his fairly short career so far, he has already won two Italian cups, three Italian Super cups, and four Serie A titles, and there will surely be more to come, whether that be with Juve or another big team.

Pogba is impressive in all areas, as he can combine pace, strength and power, along with outrageous skill and a fearsome shot from midfield, so there really isn’t any wonder why there is such hype around him.

His age and attributes would suggest that he really could become a world beater, and he began doing it on the world stage two years ago, when he had an impressive World Cup campaign as France reached the quarter finals, whilst picking up the ‘Young Player’ award.

However, where he will really be striving to prove just how good a player he really is is at this summer’s Euro 2016 in his home nation of France, and there shouldn’t be any reason why he can’t steal the show, and be as influential as fellow countryman Zinedine Zidane was in his day.

Still, although he shares a similar skill level with Zidane, he is often likened to Patrick Viera, and if his career can reach the heights of the Arsenal invincible, then of course Pogba himself would be delighted, but the question is, what team will he be playing for?

Juve, who paid nothing for the Frenchman in 2012, would of course love to cash in on their star, but keeping him at the club would definitely be their ideal world, whilst it is generally unknown what Pogba wants from his own career, whether that be staying in Italy, or moving elsewhere.

Manchester United contract dispute aside, La Pioche has acted as a true professional in his short career so far both on and off the pitch, and providing that he keeps it that way, the future looks bright – not that anyone really knows what the future is for Paul Pogba, but still, there is no doubting that the skilful classy midfielder is going to play a big part in the future of football itself.