16/17 Round up #2

Another week of Premier League football, and plenty more talking points to address in our latest round up.

Beginning with the game at the newly named Bet365 stadium, Pep Guardiola registered his second victory as Manchester City boss, with a 1-4 win away at Stoke, although the scoreline was somewhat flattering in a game that, whilst it never looked like Stoke would draw level, City were never fully comfortable.

Sergio Aguero, who had missed two penalties in midweek against Steaua Bucharest (whilst also notching an impressive hat-trick) was given the chance to redeem himself when, for the first time under the new laws, we saw a penalty given for grappling inside the box.

This can only be a good thing, as corners will no longer be about deceiving the referee with sneaky shirt-pulling to gain an advantage as refs, like Mike Dean was, will be on high alert to stop these incidents.

Previously, corners had been pretty much about how much you were holding the opposition player’s shirt, thus allowing the offending player to easily get to 50-50 balls first, but now defenders will have to be far more careful, as Ryan Shawcross was penalized when Dean caught him in the act.

This could mean that we will say an increase in headed goals, and the chance of scoring from set-pieces like corners will be far more threatening.

Hopefully this enforcement will allow more skill to be involved in headed goals, where timing of the run and leap power will play a much bigger part.

Aguero, despite his previous misses, tucked away the penalty with ease, making Shawcross and Stoke pay for their error, and the Argentinian striker, who I said in last week’s round will be top scorer if kept fit, bagged a brace with a clever header later on the first half.

Remarkably in the second half, despite the earlier penalty being given, City conceded a spot-kick of their own when Raheem Sterling was caught holding Shawcross from a corner, and Bojan tucked away the resulting opportunity.

Still, even though Sterling didn’t learn, it will certainly be just a matter of time before players realise that shirt-pulling will no longer be tolerated – I’m looking at you, Chris Smalling.

The game was set for a tense finish in the final minutes with the score 1-2, but a late double from substitute Nolito put the game out of sight for Pep and City.

Elsewhere, Burnley took a leaf out of Leicester’s book and showed Liverpool that possession isn’t everything. In a game where Jurgen Klopp’s side had 81% of the ball, they still failed to score, whilst Burnley scored twice, and therefore won 2-0.

Whilst being without the distraction of European football this season, and the fact that Klopp has now got a full pre-season under his belt, the German needs his side to find consistency – one week they can be dazzling, the next awful – highlighted no better than by their 3-4 win away at Arsenal followed by their 2-0 loss at Burnley.

As for Sean Dyche’s side, it could be third time lucky for Burnley, after their last two promotions to the top division have seen them be relegated both times.

This time, Sean Dyche has a season of Premier League experience, aswell as a balanced and organised squad that do the basics to perfection.

Meanwhile, other 3 o’clock kick-offs saw Chelsea turn it around to win 1-2 at Watford, Everton turn it around to win 1-2 at West Brom, Tottenham nick a late winner against Crystal Palace, and Hull record a second successive win away to Swansea.

The Tigers, with an extremely limited squad due to a mixture of departures and injuries, are upsetting the odds, but whilst Mike Phelan has got the place organised, the lack of certainty regarding his future is concerning, but at the moment they will aim to just take each game as it comes.

As for Spurs, they left it late with a goal from Victor Wanyama stealing the win against Pardew’s Palace who have now signed Christian Benteke. The Belgian, who failed to deliver in his first and ultimately only season at Liverpool last time out, could be the answer to Palace’s goal-scoring problems, but the Eagles may well rely on him heavily in order to steer clear of a relegation battle this season.

The late kick-off saw Leicester entertain Arsenal, and after the first 0-0 draw of the season, we are left wondering – why have Arsenal not bought a new centre-back and a new centre-forward – well, in the form of Shkodran Mustafi and Lukas Perez, it looks like they will – although we are still left scratching our heads as to why it is so overdue – is it Wenger’s reluctancy to spend, or is it Stan Kroenke’s decision, or is it the fault of chief executive Ivan Gazidis? We would all love to know.

Sunday saw Middlesbrough beat Sunderland 2-1, and it looks as if Aitor Karanka’s solid Premier League squad could survive, whilst West Ham played their first Premier League game at their new Olympic stadium – although it was an awful game, with the only real things of note being the red card of Harry Arter and the winner from Michail Antonio.

Finally, we saw the birth of Friday night football on sky, as Manchester United welcomed Southampton to Old Trafford on Paul Pogba’s debut, but despite the £89million man’s impressive performance, it was Zlatan Ibrahimovic who stole the headlines again with a brace that secured a 2-0 win for Mourinho’s Red Devils.

Zlatan, who turns 35 in October, will continue to score goals despite his age – the creativity of Pogba, Rooney, Mkhitaryan and Martial will create chances for him, and his clever positioning will see him carry on finding the net.

16/17 Premier League Round up #1

With the first week of Premier League fixtures played, I welcome you to this season’s inaugural round up. And what a start.

We got underway with the champions Leicester facing relegation favourites Hull – surely the perfect opening fixture for the Foxes to start the campaign with.

Hull, with 13 fit senior players at their disposal, were forced to call up many youngsters from their academy in to the squad, and caretaker manager Mike Phelan had an unenviable task on his hands after Steve Bruce, who guided them to promotion via the play-offs last season, resigned due to a disagreement with the club’s controversial owner, Assem Allam.

So, surely, with all that against them, and the fact that they were facing the champions, the Tigers had no chance – but that’s why we love football – Leicester will tell you this; no matter what the odds, whether they are in your favour or against you, anything is possible – and after Robert Snodgrass’s winner, Hull won.

A well deserved, brilliant victory for Hull, and a relatively poor performance from Leicester, who spurned many good chances, with Jamie Vardy looking nowhere near as sharp as he was last season.

Still, whilst it may have been a huge result for the underdogs, and yes, we may well have written them off to early, their obvious lack of squad depth is a huge problem, and it remains to be seen whether Mike Phelan, who we have now been told could become Hull’s permanent manager, will be able to do the necessary job in his first ever spell as head coach.

Elsewhere, in an intriguing fixture between Everton and Tottenham in what was Ronald Koeman’s first game in charge of the Toffees, the score finished 1-1, after goals from Ross Barkley and Erik Lamela.

The only thing we really learnt from that game is that Harry Kane is once again failing to start a season well, after going goalless for the first six games of last season. Kane, who struggled to get on the ball and ended up coming deeper to receive it, was less of a threat, but what we know from last season is that patience is key – the English striker ended up being Premier League top scorer with 25 goals despite his early struggle.

Other 3 o’clock kick-offs saw Swansea beat Burnley with a goal from now permanent signing Leroy Fer, West Brom beat Crystal Palace by the same scoreline, Southampton draw 1-1 with Watford, and Middlesbrough draw 1-1 with Stoke.

At Selhurst Park it was a goal from Salomon Rondon that stole the points for the Baggies, and after a season of adapting to the Premier League, it could be Rondon’s year.

Southampton, who were outplayed by Watford in the first half and went in a goal down after Etienne Capoue’s strike, looked sharper in the second 45 minutes, and new signing Nathan Redmond, who was very impressive on his debut, scored a superb volley to make the score 1-1.

Pierre Emile-Hojberg, another of Southampton’s new signings, was also impressive after he came on, looking calm and composed on the ball whilst also playing with purpose and intent, so expect to see him thrive in English football this season.

Alvaro Negredo looks like a superb signing for newly promoted Middlesbrough, and after scoring on his debut, the Spaniard could be a key figure as Boro look to steer clear from relegation.

As for Stoke, although they have been consistent in recent years (2013/14 ninth, 2014/15 ninth, 2015/16 ninth) with the big clubs looking stronger again it is hard to see them improving on that position, and at the end of the season, they may look back on games like this and see them as two points dropped.

The late kick-off saw Pep Guardiola’s first taste of Premier League football as Manchester City scraped a 2-1 win against Sunderland.

The main tactical innovation we saw from Pep was the use of full-backs Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy in defensive midfield positions, although it remains unclear as to what the function of the idea was.

Of course, we must remember that Pep requires unbelievable attention to detail in his tactical instructions and the complexity of them can often be very difficult to understand for the players at first, so we should see them used to better effect as the season goes on.

They have now also played the first leg of their champions league qualifying play off round against Steaua Bucharest, and the 5-0 victory was much more assuring, with some outstanding football being played, and after I tipped Sergio Aguero to score a hat-trick, he duly did – despite missing two penalties.

I believe that, as long as he stays fit, with the likes of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne around him, coupled with the fact that he is playing in a Pep Guardiola team who will play attacking football, Aguero should easily be the Premier League’s top scorer this season.

Super Sunday began with United’s trip to Bournemouth, and after Zlatan Ibrahimovic marked his debut with a goal in the Community Shield last week, he didn’t take long to add to it with his low strike making it 0-3 to the Red Devils before Adam Smith pulled one back for the Cherries.

Before Zlatan’s goal Juan Mata had opened the scoring, prompting further questions concerning his future at the club – could he actually stay despite his previously poor relationship with boss Jose Mourinho?

Wayne Rooney showed he can still score goals by making it 0-2 with a header, and a partnership of him and Pogba could be lethal.

Following that match we saw what was a truly unforgettable game at the Emirates, where Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, who have big things expected of them this season, lined up against Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, with Wenger bidding for one last piece of glory in what could be his final season at the club.

And it was Wenger’s men who took the early advantage, when Theo Walcott, who had missed a penalty just moments before, coolly finished off a swift passing move to put the Gunners in front.

However, just when it looked like Arsenal would go in with the lead at half time, new Arsenal signing Rob Holding was caught holding Phillipe Coutinho (no pun intended), and it was the Brazilian who whipped a sensational free-kick right into the top corner from 25 yards out to draw Liverpool level.

Then three more stunning goals from Adam Lallana, Coutinho again and Sadio Mane on his debut put Liverpool 1-4 ahead, before Arsenal fought back and for a while looked like they might be able to salvage a point after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Calum Chambers had made the score 3-4.

Incredibly, 5 of the seven goals came from former Southampton players in the form of Walcott, Lallana, Mane, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Chambers whilst Coutinho, the source of the other two goals, almost signed for the Saints back in 2013.

Liverpool defenders Nathaniel Clyne and Dejan Lovren are also both former Saints, showing just how much of a force the South coast side could be if they didn’t continue to sell their best players.

Coutinho, who is easily one of if not the best player at Liverpool, is lacking just consistency in his game. We know how talented he is, and if he can get into the box more often like he did for his second goal, he should significantly help with Liverpool’s challenge for a top four place.

The final match of the opening weekend of Premier League football was a London derby between Anotnio Conte’s Chelsea, and Slaven Bilic’s West Ham.

Eden Hazard gave the hosts the lead from the penalty spot before Hammers defender James Collins looked to have salvaged a point late on, only for Diego Costa to snatch the win for Chelseain the 89th minute.

The main talking point is whether or not Hazard will return to form after his dismal 2015/16 campaign.

Now, the first thing we have to remember is that Chelsea were awful aswell, and it wasn’t just him. Of course, back in 2014/15, when he won the PFA player of the year award, Chelsea were brilliant, and they cruised to the title.

They should, with the squad they have and Antonio Conte as manager, be a much better side this year, and Hazard should relish that, and Diego Costa, whose late strike proved to be the winner, could also show his 2014/15 form this time out.

After last season, 2016/17 has a lot to live up to, but it’s certainly started well. A surprise win for Hull, a goal for Zlatan, full-backs in midfield for Pep and a thriller between Southampton Old Boys and Southampton Old Boys has left us wanting even more, so roll on next week! After all, how can a league with Sergio Aguero, Paul Pogba, Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic not be spectacular?


2016/17 Season Preview

Coming off the back of what was, most definitely, the most sensational Premier League season ever, 2016/17 has a lot to live up to.

However, this season could prove just as intriguing, with previous 5000/1 minnows Leicester City beginning their difficult title defence, whilst arguably the two best managers in the game, Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, have both rocked up in Manchester, and they’ve added some top quality talent to their squads aswell.

Not only that, but Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham will be looking to build on a strong third place finish last time round, and across the road at the Emirates, it is one last chance for Arsene Wenger to restore glory.

So, can the foxes win again? It seems unlikely – but nowhere near as unlikely as it was last season. Still, the distraction of Champions League football will be a pain, and they won’t have the element of surprise that was available to them last season, enabling them to make a fast start.

The loss of the team’s main heartbeat N’Golo Kante to Chelsea will be a blow too, but the signing of Namphalys Mendy could be a shrewd replacement.

Also joining the champions this summer is Nigerian striker Ahmed Musa, arriving from CSKA Moscow. Similar to current striker Jamie Vardy, Musa as an eye for goal accompanied by blistering pace, so a partnership of those two up front could be lethal.

It could also be a big season for the young Demari Gray, who featured mainly as a substitute last season, but when he did come on, he impressed, and his speed could contribute towards Leicester’s frightening counter attacking threat as Claudio Ranieri’s side attempt to defy the odds again.

Last season’s runners up were Arsenal after they sneaked into second place on the final day, in what was still a relatively poor season for Arsene Wenger’s men.

Wenger, who ended a nine year trophy drought with victory in the FA Cup in 2014, seems to have already missed his final chance.

Last season was there for the taking – champions Leicester (it still doesn’t seem right) lost only three games all season, two of them being to Arsenal.

Other than the Foxes and possibly Spurs there were no really impressive teams, and Arsenal’s squad was significantly better than Leicester’s.

However, Wenger failed to create an unbreakable team spirit like Ranieri did, and what seemed like the final piece in the jigsaw wasn’t there – a top striker.

Olivier Giroud doesn’t strike me as a player who will score 20-25 goals in a season, and if you look down the years, every title winning team has had one.

However, this summer the Gunners have been linked with the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Alexandre Lacazette this summer, and a signing like that could see them as strong title contenders.

In truth, Wenger is still yet to replace striker Robin Van Persie, who left in 2013, so it should be about time he splashed the cash.

Wenger has always kept to his philosophy of spending little money on relatively unknown players, but he has splashed the cash on both Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in recent years, and if that top striker they need is brought to the club, they would look a formidable side, and could definitely challenge this year.

In third place last year was Tottenham Hotspur, but only after a final day collapse against already relegated Newcastle.

In a season which saw Harry Kane claim the golden boot and Dele Alli win the PFA young player of the year award, Pochettino’s young outfit looked like the only team able to get close to challenging Leicester, and if it weren’t for their poor run of form at the end of the season, their season would surely have been viewed in a far better light.

This time out though, like Leicester, Champions League football won’t help, so yes, they are a young side with potential that are on the rise, but with all the big sides looking much stronger this year, they will struggle to make the top four.

Manchester City seriously underwhelmed last season coming 4th, but it is viewed by many that if it weren’t for the announcement half-way through the season that Pep Guardiola would be taking over, Manuel Pellegrini could well have done a better job.

This year, whilst Pep doesn’t know the Premier League as well as he might, his superior squad and excellent tactical nous with the likes of Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and Vincent Kompany aswell as new boys Leroy Sane and Nolito at his disposal should see him conquer the Premier League, but by no means will it be easy – in his first season as head coach of Barcelona he could afford a defeat and a draw in  his first two games – he might not be able to this time.

As for Manchester United, Jose Mourinho brings with him an outstanding reputation aswell as expert knowledge on the Premier League, a factor that could see him challenge for the title.

Providing that superstar signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic is on form and the world’s most expensive footballer Paul Pogba re-energises the side, there is no reason why United can’t challenge at the very top again, and after Eric Bailly’s impressive performance in the Community Shield against Leicester last week, they are looking like an incredibly strong side.

Mourinho and Pep, who worked together at Barcelona when Pep was player and Jose was translator, got on well originally, but after some fiery episodes in previous clasicos (which Pep has usually had the upper hand in) their relationship has turned sour in the extreme.

Southampton did brilliantly to come sixth last time out, but after Ronald Koeman’s decision to leave for Everton, former Lyon and Nice manager Claude Puel has big boots to fill – on paper his attractive style of play should suit Southampton – if only the Premier League would ditch the grass playing surface then!

Providing that Charlie Austin stays fit, he could be the answer to their quest to find an undisputed no.1 striker, and the signings of Pierre Emile-Hojberg and Nathan Redmond look shrewd.

However, this season they will be playing in the Europa League, and that extra lot of games combined with the transitional period that inevitably comes with a new manager means that the Saints are unlikely to repeat their heroics of last season.

Coming seventh last season were West Ham, and after a strong showing, the feel-good factor really is back at Upton Park – oh wait, the Olmpic stadium!

The stadium move has many Hammers fans excited, and with cult hero Slaven Bilic at the helm and Dimitri Payet on the pitch, they have every right to be looking forward to good times.

Still, that might not be immediate – with the influx of big managers and the big teams looking, well, big again, West Ham will struggle to break into the top seven again, and it will be even more difficult if they are able to qualify for the Europa League.

Last season Jurgen Klopp complained about fixture congestion, suggesting that a winter break would benefit English football, but this season they aren’t in Europe after they reached the Europa League final last season.

That cup run, along with their run to the final of the League Cup aswell, didn’t help, and an eighth place finish is not where Liverpool want to be.

But this season Klopp will have a full pre season under his belt with a summer to go after his preferred signings, and  they can focus on the Premier League with more intent also, so Liverpool could do well, although a Champions League place could just elude them – for now.

Stoke, who have finished ninth in the last three consecutive seasons, have added a bit glamour to their steel recently, but simply need to start improving – a goalscoring striker would help – and Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic, who both had decent seasons last time out, will need to step up if Stoke want to start rising.

Chelsea, after their calamitous tenth place finish last year, will be without European football – for the club itself that is a major blow – but for there Premier League hopes, as we say so often, it could be blessing in disguise.

New boss Antonio Conte has a good track record with Juventus and Italy, and the addition of N’Golo Kante – in my opinion the Premier League’s best player last season – could transform their hopes, and Michy Batshuayi looks like a promising striker too – a return to the Champions League has to be the goal.

Ronald Koeman, who bizarrely chose to leave Southampton for Everton, will look to restore hope to Goodison Park after a dismal season under Roberto Martinez, but at the moment, it seems unlikely that he will be able to fire them up the table immediately, and it looks a long term project.

Moving onto Swansea, the future doesn’t look bright – the lossses of Ashley Williams, Andre Ayew and Bafetimibi Gomis – who were all key players last season – won’t help their cause, and their source of goals looks almost non-existent.

Icelandic midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson will have a lot of pressure on his shoulders to help keep Swansea up, but it looks a difficult task.

Watford also don’t look in good shape – sacking your manager after guiding the club to a 13th place finish when most people thought they would go down is never a good idea, and a heavy reliance on Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney is worrying; a spell of bad form or an injury could lead to a disastrous season.

West Brom under Tony Pulis have a squad lacking in Premier League quality, and they’ll be in a relegation battle from day one, but with Pulis being a manager who is unlikely to have a team not doing the basics properly, they should survive – albeit by the skin of their teeth.

Crystal Palace started 2015/16 in fine form – and that was what saved them, as they became the last English team to win a league game in 2016 – and if that form continues they could struggle, especially if they lose Yannick Bolasie.

A striker has been needed for a while now, but Andros Townsend could provide a source of goals that will be useful, but they could be involved in a relegation battle.

Bournemouth should once again look to survive this season – I don’t think it’s time for them to begin making top half pushes, that should be next season – for now, Eddie Howe’s e will look to continue playing good football, and consolidate their Premier League position.

Sam Allardyce saved Sunderland last season, but as he has now become the England manager, David Moyes has a tricky task on his hand – will Jermain Defoe keep on scoring? Can Moyes plug the gaps in their leaky defence? For now they look good enough to survive, but it is about time that they either pushed on into mid table or go down?

Looking at Burnley, the last two times they have come up to the Premier League, they’ve gone straight back down again, and many people are tipping them to do just that this season, but they are a strong side.

Sean Dyche has moulded together what should be, at last, a side who can survive in the Premier League season, and look out for Andre Gray – Burnley’s top scorer last time out could thrive again.

Middlesbrough, who came second in the championship, should also survive, and the shrewd signing of Alvaro Negredo could be one of the best all summer, whilst Hull, who won the play-offs, have a near impossible task.

They currently don’t have a manager after Steve Bruce resigned due to a disagreement with the board, and with only 13 senior players fit, they seem doomed to be relegated.

Here is my prediction:

1st Manchester City 2nd Manchester United 3rd Arsenal 4th Chelsea 5th Liverpool 6th Tottenham 7th Leicester 8th West Ham 9th Everton 10th Southampton 11th Stoke 12th Crystal Palace 13th Middlesbrough 14th Sunderland 15th Burnley 16th Bournemouth 17th West Brom 18th Swansea 19th Watford 20th Hull.

Despite Jose Mourinho’s Premier League experience, the fact that Pep has the better squad will see him claim the title, whilst Arsenal could make it a three horse race (if they sign a striker!!!!). Chelsea and Liverpool will be without European football which will benefit their league form, whilst Tottenham will be the opposite and it will work against them. Leicester will have a decent season but won’t hit previous heights, whulst Everton, West Ham and Southampton will be comfortably in mid-table, way ahead of the chasing pack. From here on it will be very tight, but the teams truly battling relegation will be Sunderland, Burnley, Bournemouth, West Brom, Swansea, Watford and Hull, and the latter three will all go down.

So, Jose, Pep, Klopp, Pogba, Zlatan, Vardy, Mahrez and Ranieri are all in the Premier League – this season is going to be huge!