Premier League 2017/18 Preview

It’s been said many times before, but is this to be the Premier League’s most exciting season yet?

There are six, or possibly seven teams who can all lay claim to having a reasonable shot at the title this year, whilst at the other end of the table the league looks far stronger this year; there will be no Aston Villa or Sunderland type team that will almost volunteer to be relegated themselves. No, this year the battle to avoid the drop could be as close as the battle at the top, as the quality of teams appears to be at a higher standard than we’ve seen for quite a few years.

Now, my prediction of last season’s table was forgettable to say the least, but I’ll go again in the hope of better luck this time round. It is widely agreed that this year’s top seven is likely to be the same as last year’s: Chelsea, Tottenham, Man City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Everton. However, it is the order of those teams that will be so hard to predict.

This season I’ve gone with City for the title again. In 2016/17, perhaps not all at the club were entirely behind Pep Guardiola and his methods, but after a full season of Premier League experience under his belt accompanied with an even better squad than last time out, the blue half of Manchester look too good to not win the league.

Young Brazilian Gabriel Jesus impressed in his first few games in a City shirt last season before injury ruled him out until the last few weeks of the season where he came back and scored even more goals. On a couple of occasions Pep has selected Jesus over Sergio Aguero, and to do that again this season would be a bold move, but this does look like the breakthrough season for the youngster. Pep may also experiment with Jesus out wide, but I would like to see a system with both him and Aguero as a partnership up front, perhaps with Jesus just behind his Argentinian team-mate.

Pep also has decisions to make with regards to the selection of the rest of his team too, with Leroy Sane, David Silva, Raheem Stering, Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne at his disposal for attacking midfield options.

From there, he also has to choose between Fernandinho, Yaya Toure and Ilkay Gundogan as deeper midfielders, and one would hope that the latter is given as much game time as possible after the German international was yet again plagued by injuries last year, despite looking impressive when playing.

He has spent £100m on Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy as upgrades to Aleksandr Kolarov and Pablo Zabaleta in the full-back positions, whilst he will be praying that this is the year where John Stones fulfils his promise and become’s one of the league’s best centre backs.

In goal, a world record fee (for a goalkeeper) has been spent in order to bring Edinson in from Benfica, and Pep will hope that he fares better than Claudio Bravo after a poor season in Manchester for the Chilean.

Having so many good players to choose from is a problem most managers would love to have but leaving out top players could also create disharmony amongst the group.

He’ll have to play his cards wisely, but with the sqaud he has, I’m tipping Pep’s Manchester City for the title.

The rest of my top four are made up of Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham.

Last year one of Man United’s main problems was goals, and after effectively sacrificing their league position in order to win the Europa League and thus qualify for the Champions League, Mourinho’s men finished a measly sixth.

This season though, with the addition of £75m man Romelu Lukaku to bolster United’s strikeforce, a sqaud with potential could turn into a squad that performs.

Goals may have been hard to come by at times last year for United in comparison with other top sides, but with Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford, Henrikh Mkitaryan and Anthony Martial as main goal threats, that could all change.

Players such as Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata will also make a difference, whilst Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba are threatening to become one of the world’s best midfield duos, and this could be their year.

Despite being villified by a number of opposition clubs, Ander Herrera has his best season in a United shirt yet in 2016/17 and should he continue that, he will only be counting on Pogba to do the business too.

After Man United spent £90m to bring him back to the club from Juventus, he went below the radar for much of the season in a campaign where he often failed to dazzle.

However, this time out it could be his time to shine, his undoubted class brought trophies at Juventus, now it’s time to bring trophies to United.

In third place, I’ve gone with last season’s champions, Chelsea.

The signing of Alvaro Morata looks a good one, although it is hard to see how the Spaniard can improve on Diego Costa’s performances.

Costa, who looks set to leave after being told he wasn’t part of Conte’s plans earlier this year, is Chelsea’s main departure from their title-winning team of last season, along with Nemanja Matic.

The sale of Matic, a star performer from last season, to title rivals Manchester United, almost looks like Chelsea have themselves in the foot.

Not only have they sold a key player in their team, but they’ve handed him to Jose Mourinho where he will line up alongside Ander Herrera and allow Paul Pogba to play further forward and cause havoc.

It is a strange decision to say the least, and one that could leave Chelsea on the back foot; United and City look far stronger this year.

I’m tipping Tottenham to finish in the final Champions League spot this season, and although they will have to overcome thier Wembley hoodoo, they are undoubtedly a fantastic side.

The sale of Kyle Walker to Manchester City was their only notable departure from last season’s side which were Chelsea’s closest challengers for the title, but Kieran Trippier, who will replace him at right-back, is arguably the better players anyway.

Oddly, Spurs have not made a single signing so far this summer, and although their first 11 is definitely capable of challenging for top spot, one would’ve expected them to bolster their ranks and add depth to their sqaud ahead of what is likely to be an extended Champions League campaign in comparison with last season.

Still, with Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, and Toby Alderweireld providing the spine of the team, they should be in the mix for first place for most of the year, but in what could be the tightest season yet, I expect them to fall just short once again.

In fifth, I expect Arsene Wenger’s men to miss out on Champions Leaue football for the second year running.

Whilst they have a good team that are capable of challenging high in the league, they simply don’t look as strong as Spurs, Chelsea, City and United.

Still, the acquisition – at last – of a top striker in Alexandre Lacazette should bolster thier firepower as he’ll look to score at least 20 goals this season, and new left-back Sead Kolasinac, who impressed on his Arsenal debut in the community shield with the equalising goal, looks as shrewd a buy as you’ll see all summer.

The big question mark still remains though – will Alexis Sanchez stay?

There have been strong rumours that both Manchester City and PSG are interested in bringing the Chilean to the club, although the former probably wouldn’t need another attacker, and the latter have just signed Neymar, so a deal would be unlikely, but it still seems possible that Sanchez could be on his way out.

Should he stay, Arsenal are likely to be contending for a champions league place or even higher, should he go, they could struggle.

In sixth, it could be a backwards step for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.

With strong interest from Barcelona, star man Phillipe Coutinho could be out of the door this summer, which would no doubt be a blow for their campaign.

However, new signing Mohamed Salah will get his second crack in the Premier League after struggling with Chelsea, but off the back of a fine season with Roma, the Egyptian could cause problems for Premier League defences with his pace and eye for goal, making him slot in perfectly on the opposite wing to Sadio Mane.

While Salah is a good buy, Liverpool still seem to be lacking a genuine centre-forward.

Daniel Sturridge’s career was summed up in a nutshell in a pre-season game against Bayern Munich, coming off the bench and scoring a delightful chip, but injuring himself in the process of taking the shot.

Once again he will be a doubt and will be unreliable for the rest of the season, while Roberto Firmino isn’t really an out and out striker.

In seventh place I’ve gone with Everton, where Wayne Rooney has returned to his boyhood club.

Despite the sale of Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United, Everton look prepared for what should be a good campaign.

In adding Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane, Davy Klaasen, Wayne Rooney and Sandro Ramirez, Ronald Koeman has created an impressive new spine for the team.

It remains to be seen whether former Barcelona man Sandro can score the goals that Lukaku did, but he shouldn’t lack in providers as Klaasen appears to be a class midfielder.

Idrissa Gana Gueye will do the dirty work once again, and he is the one that often makes the difference for Everton; you notice when he’s not playing.

All in all, like last season, these top seven teams look a cut above the rest, but the thirteen below will be of a much higher quality this time out.

In eighth, I’m expecting West Ham to do the unexpected.

Amongst all the drama involving the Dimitri Payet saga and the poor performances at their new London stadium, Slaven Bilic has consistently been under pressure, but while some may expect him to finally crack, it could be the opposite.

New signing Javier Hernandez could be one of the buys of the summer.

He had a decent spell with Manchester United back in the premier league a few years ago and he has scored goals pretty much everywhere he’s been, and might just be the answer to West Ham’s problems.

Their defence may still be shaky, but Hernandez’s goals combined with Manuel Lanzini’s class from midifeld could be a frightening prospect.

Following them closely are Southampton in ninth under another new manager in Mauricio Pellegrino.

Pellegrino guided newly promoted Alaves to a ninth place finish and a cup final in Spain last season, which caught the eye down south.

Whilst results are still imperative, Southampton fans are craving some entertainment after a dire end to Claude Puel’s rein, but if he can get Manolo Gabbiadini scoring again and Nathan Redmond and Sofiane Boufal rejuvenated, the goals should flow, but that will be no easy task.

The Saints broke their transfer record for the third consecutive window to bring Juventus midfielder Mario Lemina to the club, and he could also get the feel-good factor going again at St Mary’s.

In tenth place, I’ve gone with Frank De Boer’s Crystal Palace.

After Sam Allardyce saved them from relegation last season, he resigned and it is De Boer’s job to take the team back to where they should be, and with their sqaud they are more than capable of a top half finish.

They under-performed for much of last season but the likes of Christian Benteke, Wilfried Zaha, Andros Townsend and Yohan Cabaye make up a strong side, and if De Boer can get them playing effective football under his possession-based philosophy, there’s no reason why they can’t go far.

In 11th, 12th and 13th I have Bournemouth, West Brom and Leicester respectively.

Under Eddie Howe the Cherries finished an impressive ninth last term, but they haven’t rested on their laurels, moving quickly to bring in Asmir Begovic, Nathan Ake and Jermian Defoe to strengthen the sqaud.

West Brom will almost certainly avoid any kind of relegation battle again, but under Tony Pulis it seems as if that side has reached its peak.

Pulis will keep them safe every year, but will it ever get much better than mid-table mediocrity?

As for Leicester, the back to basics approach worked wonders under Craig Shakespeare after Claudio Ranier’s shock sacking, and now it’s time to take it up a notch with the signing of Kelechi Iheanacho showing they want to keep improving.

They could lose Riyad Mahrez to Roma, which would be a blow, but they stil have the majority of their title-winning team amongst their ranks, so they should avoid any relegation scraps this time round.

In 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th, I’ve chosen Newcastle, Stoke, Watford and Swansea, all of which could find themselves battling to avoid the drop.

Under Rafa Benitez, the Magpies look the safest of the four, and although their sqaud appears fairly basic, Benitez will get the best out of his men in a functional system, something that not many teams will be able to do.

As for Stoke, they appear to be on a decline.

The loss of Marko Arnautovic to West Ham is a blow, and they still need a striker; Peter Crouch being their top scorer last season tells its own story.

Wilfried Bony looks like deadwood and it remains to be seen if Saido Berahino can fulfil his promise, Stoke need to move quickly or they could be in trouble this season.

Despite Marco Silva’s best efforts, Hull still went down in 2016/17.

In his new job, Silva finds himself with a far better chance of survival at Vicarage Road with a Watford side crying out for a bit of stability.

The signing of Andre Gray from relegation rivals Burnley could be massive, but Marco Silva has a lot of work to do to keep the Hornets up.

At Swansea, it looks almost certain now that their star man, Gylfi Sigurdsson, is set to leave, and Nigel Clement has an uphill task to save them without their Icelandic star.

As with Silva at Watford, Clement will hope to provide some stability in Wales after the club had three different managers last season, so Swans fans will be hoping that the board put a little faith into Clement’s work.

Young Tammy Abraham will hope to make an impact, whilst fellow striker Fernando Llorente will attempt to defy Wilfried Bony and Michu in his efforts to not be a ‘one season wonder’.

It almost pains me to predict the immediate relegation of Brighton, who have a wonderful story behind their ascent to the Premier League.

Still, under Chris Hughton there is no doubt that they will fight all the way, and whilst you shouldn’t rule out survival, it seems an unlikely feat, even if Anthony Knockeart can continue his fine performances from last season.

The sale of Andre Gray to Watford will not help Burnley, and this could well be the year they go down again.

Last season it was their home form that kept them up when their away form was so poor, but Turf Moor is unlikely to be as much of a fortress as it was last season, and if their away form doesn’t improve, a dismal season could be ahead.

The loss of Michael Keane will also unsteady the ship at the back, but Sean Dyche’s men won’t go down without a fight.

In 20th are David Wagner’s Huddersfield, who clinched promotion after two penalty shoot-out wins in the play-offs.

Wagner, the Jurgen Klopp disciple, lovesa high press, but against the top teams adopting that tactic could be fatal, especially against the likes of Man City and Arsenal.

The permanent signing of Aaron Mooy will definitely help, but it looks like a long season is in store for them.

Those top seven teams realy do all have a shot at the title, but will it be Conte again, or will Pep ad Jose be battling it out until the death?


Champions League final preview 2017/18

‘This one could go either way’ is a phrase often used by pundits as merely a get of jail card, upon being asked to predict the outcome of the match in question. Two evenly matched teams meet, the pundit doesn’t choose to predict, and therefore the encounter is labelled as a game that could go either way.

But not this one. The last two previews on this website have, in all honesty, been drastically inaccurate.

Still, after all, there is no man on this earth with a crystal ball, and predicting is almost a lottery when it comes to football at the highest level. So, in fairness, I concede that maybe I should have anticipated Leo Messi’s brilliance in El Clasico, but come on, who thought that a struggling, injury ridden Arsenal side with a manger whose future is in question would beat the classy, impressive Premier League champions, Chelsea?

Anyway, those two games, despite being won by the ‘underdogs’, seemed straightforward enough to choose a favourite for.

Tonight, however, offers a very different encounter.

The Galacticos, lead by a previous Galactico himself in the form of Zinedine Zidane, who are champions of Spain and overcame the likes of Napoli, Bayern and Atletico en route to the final, face the ‘Old Lady’, current champions of Italy who reached the final after comfortably dismantling Barcelona on their way, conceding only one goal in all of their knockout games.

Regarding the game’s tactics, full-backs, as they often are for Real Madrid, could prove key figures in deciding the outcome of today’s final.

Marcelo and Carvajal, who are both excellent players and offer a further dimension to Real’s attack, will need to be contained by Juve, and could prove a difficult task.

As Juventus play with three central defenders and wing-backs, leaving Alex Sandro and Dani Alves to contain Real’s threat out wide would probably not only leave them exposed to being overloaded by a winger and full-back, but it would also quash their own attacking threat, and Dani Alves and Alex Sandro are both impressive players when going forward themselves.

In order to prevent Marcelo and Carvajal from causing havoc, Juventus wingers Juan Cuadrado and Mario Mandzukic will need to force them back by pressing high, which would therefore see the game come through the middle more, leaving an interesting midfield battle, where Toni Kroos and Luka Modric will be likely to relish.

If Marcelo and Carvajal are given the freedom to roam however, it could prove tricky for even Juventus’ incredible defence to stop them from delivering balls into the box where Cristiano Ronaldo, who drifts in from wide areas in menacing fashion, is almost impossible to mark, and when he is presented with a free header, he doesn’t miss, such is his sensational ariel ability.

Still, if there were a team in the world who could keep Real Madrid at bay for ninety minutes, it would be Juventus, especially with the outstanidng Gianluigi Buffon in goal who is looking to complete his trophy collection by finally getting his hands on European football’s most coveted prize.

As for Juventus going forward, Gonzalo Higuian will be hoping to shake off his ‘flat track bully’ tag after many disappointing major finals in recent years accompanied by goal after goal after goal in domestic football against the so called ‘lesser teams’.

His fellow countryman and strike partner, Paulo Dybala, already has a glowing reputation in Italy, and will look to show the world just how good he is in tonight’s final after two impressive goals against Barcelona in the quarter final stage.

So, whilst predicting hasn’t really gone my way recently, I dare to use my crystal ball to guess tonight’s outcome in a game that truly could go either way: Real Madrid 1-2 Juventus AET.

FA Cup final 2016/17 preview

  • Antonio Conte’s Chelsea side have the chance to cap off a near perfect season in today’s FA cup final at Wembley, where they face Arsenal in what could be Arsene Wenger’s last ever game at the club after over 20 years as manager.

Much is at stake for the Frenchman today as there have been numerous calls for his head throughout the season, but if Arsenal can beat the Premier League champions today, he could go some way towards validating his reasons for staying in his job.

However, he may not last as manager whatever the result as he has not reassured the fans of his future yet and today’s game would seem like the perfect opportunity to bow out.

Still, after such glorious success in his early days in North London, he will doubtless be desperate to claim his third FA cup in four years, although this year’s champions Chelsea could prove too much for the Gunners to overcome.

After their appalling tenth place finish in 2015/16, the tactical nous of Antonio Conte and the return to form of a number of key players such as Eden Hazard and Diego Costa has seen Chelsea storm to the league title.

Interestingly, it was against today’s opponents where their season really took a turn for the better, where Wenger’s men comfortably dismantled Chelsea 3-0 at the Emirates.

Following that defeat, Conte switched back to the 3-5-2 formation he had previously used in Italy with Juventus, and that decision proved to be inspired as they went on a rampant run, winning 14 games in a row and effectively securing them the title.

Conte has a full strength sqaud at his disposal today, so the only real decision for him to make is whether he should play Pedro or Willian.

Both have impressed when played this season, and Willian grabbed the first two goals in the semi-final of this competition, but Pedro has usually been favoured over the Brazilian and could prove a technically shrewd choice.

And whilst Chelsea have no injury concerns, Arsenal are without a number of key players today, with Kieran Gibbs and Shkodran Mustafi being fitness doubts, Gabriel injured and arguably one of their most important players, Laurent Koscielny, suspended, after a brainless red card last week.

Due to these absences, a three at the back system for Arsenal themselves could prove the answer, as it has been fairly successful for Wenger when employed in recent weeks.

Their defence is likely to be shaky, especially up against the likes of Hazard and Costa, and N’golo Kante and Nemanja Matic are likely to dominate the midfield.

Still, with all the odds against them, Arsene Wenger could yet re-kindle some of his old magic and win today, because after all, with Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal are always likely to be a threat.

Ozil’s inconsistent displays can often cause discontent among the Arsenal faithful, but it is clear that when the German is at full-throttle, he is rarely contained, and Alexis Sanchez has been one of Arsenal’s few players to have enjoyeda a decent season, and after his 2015 cup final cracker against Aston Villa, he will be hoping history will repeat itself.

So, a team who failed to reach the top four this year with a manager in limbo against a team that cruised to the league title under an impressive manager and with some of the best players in the world.

An Arsenal win wouldn’t be a miracle, but it seems highly unlikely. But this is football we’re talking about.


Can Leicester conquer Europe?

Another season of exciting Champions League football begins, where Europe’s elite clubs battle it out on the big stage, all with an eye on the ultimate prize.

However, this year could well be different.

Not only are the big clubs proving to be unpredictable once again, but Manchester City, under Pep Guardiola, are beginning to look like at team that could be a real threat in this competition.

Still, what will be most different about this year is the fact that Leicester City, shock Premier League Champions last season, have the opportunity to defy the odds and re-write any previous rules once again.

In a reasonably accessible group, the Foxes could surprise everyone again.

Back in the Premier League, it seems as if many opponents have worked them out, they’ve cracked their daring code. But it could be very different against European opposition.

Against Club Brugge, Kobenhavn and Porto, Ranieri’s men will try to surprise opponents that are all beatable, and if they can get through the group, they relish being against the odds, so anything is possible.

Will opponents no exactly what they are facing aswell as Premier League teams do? Will they be complacent? We don’t know, but if so, that would really work in Vardy and co.’s favour.

Moving on to the other groups, group A features both PSG and Arsenal, in what could be a mouth-watering clash, whilst Basel and Ludogorets will have a tough task on their hands if they are to progress.

PSG have had their eyes on winning this competition for a long time, and will accept nothing less than the semi-finals from new boss Unai Emery after years of domestic success accompanied by European failure.

Last season, despite a clean sweep of the French Super Cup, French League Cup, French Cup and Ligue 1, Luarent Blanc was still axed after falling to Manchester City in the quarter finals of this competition.

As for Arsenal, they will once again have to battle against a European heavyweight in their group.

This time out, they will hope to win the group to avoid a team like Barcelona (who they faced last season) in the round of 16, but with the French champions about, they could struggle.

Still, if they do manage to achieve top spot, anything is possible – in what could be Arsene Wenger’s farewell season, Champions League success would be perfect.

Napoli and Benfica will be favourites in group B whilst Manchester City find themselves up against Barcelona in group C, with Pep Guardiola facing his former club.

Last time Pep took on his old side, a Leo Messi inspired Barca brushed them aside 3-0 in the first leg, and despite Pep’s Bayern managing to win 3-2 in the return leg, the Spaniard had been defeated.

This time, with a strong squad of competitive talent at his disposal, he could get revenge, especially after City’s dazzling start to the season has got the entire half of Manchester on his side.

As for Barca themselves, a deeper squad could take them past last season’s quarter final stage as they fell to eventual finalists Atletico Madrid, and the ‘Azulgranas’ will of course be main challengers once again.

With group D boasting both Atletico and Bayern, aswell as group A containing both PSG and Arsenal, group C containing both Barcelona and Manchester City and group F containing Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid, there is a possibility for some epic clashes in the round of 16 stage, where big teams could be eliminated, possibly paving the way for teams like Leicester to once again do the impossible.

Spurs have a winnable group, but are unlikely to reach the latter stages of the tournament – they’re not quite at that level yet.

It wouldn’t be surprising for them to keep progressing until they meet one of the big teams, (Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Atletico etc.) they will just have to hope that the draw is kind to the them, should they get through their group.

Champions Real Madrid should be favourites for group F, whilst Borussia Dortmund should follow them in second place.

After a great start to his managerial career, this year we will really see what Zinedine Zidane is made of – but we wouldn’t dare try to predict Real Madrid of course.

Finally, group H features Juventus, Lyon, Sevilla and Dinamo Zagreb, with Juventus as clear favourites leading Lyon and Sevilla to battle it out for second, whilst Dinamo Zagreb will probably be happy with third if they can scrape it, as that would mean Europa League knockout stage qualification.

So, will Real Madrid win again, or will Barca take their trophy back? Will Bayern claim the title, or can PSG finally crack Europe? Or, will Leicester prove us all wrong again?

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!


Can Wales win the Euros?

With Euro 2016 reaching an exciting climax, it’s time to see whether or not Chris Coleman’s Wales can do the impossible, Ronaldo can finally get international glory, Germany can win back to back tournaments or France can win on home soil once again.

Wales, who have won all but one game in their Euro campaign so far, were very impressive in their shock 3-1 win over Belgium in the quarter finals, where they fought back from 1-0 down after Radja Nainggolan’s stunning strike with goals from Ashley Williams, Hal Robson-Kanu and Sam Vokes.

Robson-Kanu, who scored the winner in Wales’ opening game of the group stage against Slovakia, tucked away an outstanding finish when, with the score tied at 1-1, he controlled a cross from Aaron Ramsey, pulled off an audacious Cruyff turn, and, keeping his head in the biggest game of his career, calmly slotted the ball past keeper Thibaut Courtois.

That goal set up an exciting finish, and after Belgium went looking for an equaliser, a classy header from Sam Vokes sealed the match, booking Wales their place in the semi-finals.

Unfortunately, despite the nature of their historic win, yellow cards for Ben Davies and Aaron Ramsey mean that both of them will be out of the last four clash with Portugal, and whilst Ben Davies is a key player in the side, Aaron Ramsey has had a glittering tournament so far, with a goal and four assists proving crucial in their rapid progress into the latter stages of Euro 2016.

Ramsey, who brings flair and creativity that no one else in the Wales squad can, will be a big miss, so Andy King of Leicester, if picked to replace him, will have a huge job on his hands.

Still, if there was a team where Wales may not need their Arsenal star, it could well be against Portugal, a side who are yet to win a game in 90 minutes in all of their five games so far in France.

Obviously, they would still rather have him than not have him, but if they can get themselves through to the final, providing Ramsey keeps himself clear of any freak injuries, he will be back, eligible to play, and he will have had an important rest.

Without one of their main stars available, there will be more pressure on Gareth Bale, and the Real Madrid winger got off to a flyer in the group stage with three goals in three games, so as we reach crunch time with the semi-finals, Bale will hope to further stake his claim to become the best player in Welsh history, after all, Ryan Giggs and Ian Rush never succeeded at a major tournament.

As for the match up between Bale and his club team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, it is likely to be that whichever of the two shows up on the night will see their team prevail overall, but despite their individual quality, Wales have shown on many occasions that a good team ethic combined with hard work and determination can get them far.

Portugal contrast deeply, as their team is mainly built around Ronaldo, but whilst they have wanted to get the best out of Cr7, he has mainly been on the periphery of their matches so far, with his impressive display in their 3-3 draw with Hungary being the exception.

That match is also an exception in the sense that Portugal have hardly been entertaining to watch, and really, in truth, they haven’t played very well, after scraping through an accessible group in third place behind Iceland and Hungary, and after they had to wait 118 minutes to score in their 1-0 win over Croatia, they beat Poland on penalties following a goalless 120 minutes to reach the semis.

Moving onto the other last four match, hosts France, who beat Iceland 5-2 in the quarter finals, face World Cup holders Germany, who beat Italy on penalties en route to this eagerly anticipated clash.

The latter, who have looked cool throughout the tournament, finally met their match in the form of a resolute Italy side under Antonio Conte, but they made it through, and although they may not be as good as they were when they won the World Cup two years ago, they are considered by many as favourites to win the whole thing.

A strong side all round rather than being strong in one area, that could suit them, but they may still struggle to contain the likes of France’s Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann who have been in fine form so far in their home Euros campaign.

Greizmann is the tournament’s top scorer so far with four and Payet, who has three goals to his name so far, will be a serious contender for player of the tournament.

Facing Germany could mean that the return from suspension of N’golo Kante could be huge, and after the duo flourished playing as two strikers against Icleand, Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann could play as a pair once again, with Payet possibly moving into the middle.

Should Payet vacate his previous role on the left and play in the hole, he may obstruct the space for Paul Pogba to roam, but if he drifts wide, allowing himself to cut inside as he loves doing, he could prove effective, providing Didier Deschamps is able to fit his two creative stars together in attacking positions.

So, two blockbuster semi-final matches await us – the first a match with a player of incredible class looking to prove himself against a strong collective unit that also have one star player, and the second a mouth-watering fixture between two European powerhouses – we’ve got a lot to look forward to.


Euro 2016 Preview

This summer’s eagerly anticipated Euro 2016 is set to be quite possibly one of the most unpredictable tournaments in the recent history of international football, and with no clear favourite, not only is their room for a big team to step up, a shock could be on the cards.

Many so called ‘small teams’ could surprise a few, whilst many previously successful teams from the past few teams are struggling.

Hosts France have arguably the best squad at the tournament along with Germany and Belgium, and coach Didier Deschamps will be making it a priority to get the most out of his key players.

Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba is the poster boy of the tournament, and the fact that the last two major tournaments hosted by France in 1984 and 1998 saw attacking midfielders from Juventus Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane steal the show respectively means that Pogba, with the tournament on home soil, has immense pressure resting on his 23 year old shoulders.

Off the back of a season when, despite winning the double, Pogba was less productive than in the previous campaign, he still has a point to prove, and should he light up the tournament like his Juve-based predecessors, his career would almost certainly take off, and his ever so slight dip in form would be forgotten instantly.

As for the rest of the team, Deschamps has a balanced squad at his disposal, with trusty Hugo Lloris behind a solid back four, along with the formidable duo of Pogba and Matuidi added to the magic of Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann. Griezmann, who often plays on the right in a France shirt, may have to take a more central role due to the loss of star striker Karim Benzema, which will undoubtedly be a big miss.

Still, there are exciting and pacey players available off the bench in the form of Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial, so there is more than just a plan A for the hosts.

As for the rest of Group A, Albania could well be the whipping-boys of the tournament, whilst Romania, who face France in the first game of the tournament, lack star names, and the big players that they do have have been struggling to perform for their clubs this season, with the likes of Vlad Chiriches and Alexandru Maxim failing to achieve the required level of consistency.

However, they will fancy their chances of taking third spot ahead of Albania, which would mean they would be in with a chance of qualifying for the knockout stage.

Finally, Switzerland, who on paper have many good players and have the potential to do well in this tournament, have often failed to meet expectations, and haven’t played well as a team despite the talent of Xherdan Shaquiri among others.

Group B contains an exciting England side that could be a real competitor to win the tournament, although for once, there won’t be a huge sense of expectation which could potentially work in their favour.

Placed in a favourable group, the Three Lions have a squad of promising young players with the likes of Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford in the ranks, and coach Roy Hodgson has many selection dilemmas, which can be seen as a positive.

One of the main topics in the country recently has been about the starting 11, and Wayne Rooney, despite breaking the country’s all time scoring record in 2015, is certainly not a guaranteed starter.

The options point to playing him in midfield, with Harry Kane as the lone striker, and a partnership of Dele Alli and Rooney could work, with Eric Dier behind them as the holding midfielder protecting the back four.

When asked about England’s supposed lack of wide players in the squad, Hodgson suggested that many of his strikers could do a job out wide, which means we could see Jamie Vardy, Daniel Sturridge or even Marcus Rashford on the wing, but Vardy’s potential would only be fulfilled if he is played as a striker, and in a game where England will look to use their pace and get in behind on the counter attack against the likes of Spain, the Leicester man would be perfect.

England’s opponents in the group are Wales, Slovakia and Russia, and Wales, who many have often labelled as a one man team, are more than just the talent of Gareth Bale.

With a well balanced side containing Ashley Williams in defence, Aaron Ramsey in midfield and Gareth Bale up front, if everything clicks there is real potential, but, despite the fact that they can do a job without Bale, they are extremely reliant upon him, and without him on form, they simply won’t be anywhere near as strong, and any miracles would be out of the question.

As for Slovakia, they are a hard working team that are solid in defence, and that, combined with the magic of attacking midfielder Marek Hamsik, means that there is a good chance they will be able to pick up enough points to see them through to the knockout stages.

Lastly, Russia are a side lacking quality in the ranks, but manager Leonid Slutsky is a highly rated manager, and with him leading the team, anything is possible.

In group C, world champions Germany are under pressure, as both off-field and on-field problems mean that they have a big task ahead if they want to add to their 2014 triumph.

On the contrary, Northern Ireland aren’t under any pressure, and their ambition, self-discipline and belief could take them far in this tournament, especially with the dangerous Kyle Lafferty in the side.

Michael O’Neill’s team, whilst certainly not being the most talented, are unlikely to go down without a fight, and it would be foolish to back against them.

Looking at Poland, their last Euro’s campaign, where they co-hosted with Ukraine, was disappointing, but this time there is a cause for optimism, as deadly striker Robert Lewandowski’s goals could be enough to see them deep into the tournament.

Not only that, but his partnership with Arkadiusz Milik has blossomed recently, and Grzegorz Krychowiak, who won the Europa League with Sevilla last month, could be key in midfield.

The final side in the group are Ukraine, and the less than exciting side often set up with a ‘don’t lose’ attitude.

Their squad is ageing and they focus very much on defence, but wingers Konoplyanka and Yarmalenko do offer a glimour of hope, although it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them finish bottom of the pile.

In group D, current champions Spain will not only be relying on Iniesta and Busquets to be on top form, but they will be hoping that their chosen striker, whether that be Aritz Aduriz or Alvaro Morata, can score the goals they need.

If that happens, and it is a big if, there is no reason why Spain cannot overcome the disappointment of the 2014 World Cup, although it does seem unlikely.

Also in group D,  Croatia will fancy their chances of having a good tournament, as their squad promises a lot, especially with the creative trio of Ivan Perisic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.

As for Turkey, they are an unpredictable team, and their impressive midfield featuring Arda Turan and Hakan Calhanoglu could see them sneaking into third place or even finishing higher than that.

Whatever happens with Turkey, they will expect to finish above Czech Republic, but despite being a side lacking famous players, their attacking football could cause a few problems, so don’t rule out their chances, even if it would take a near miracle to qualify for the knockout stage.

Now if group D wasn’t the group of death, there is no doubting that group E is the group of death, and Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland will be up against it facing Italy, Belgium and Sweden.

However, with Roy Keane as the assistant coach, they weren’t afraid to qualify for the tournament the hard way, and if they want to get through to the round of 16, they will have to do that the hard way aswell.

The current Sweden side would pose almost no threat if it weren’t for their talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and for him, it is one last chance for international glory.

The opponents will certainly not scare Zlatan, and if he’s in the mood, there is a good chance that he could carry this relatively poor side deep into the tournament, but even with him, it is not likely.

Anotnio Conte’s Italy side are definitely not in the category of the best Italian teams down the years, but they should be steady until they meet a real test.

There are questions as to whether Antonio Conte will have the Chelsea job on his mind, and with their lack of a top striker, it seems as if they will struggle.

The last team in the group are Belgium, who, despite having a squad of top players, have rarely been able to play well together as a team, so their hopes are hinging on whether coach Marc Wilmots can assemble a side that can fit both Hazard and De Bruyne whilst also being a side that flows well and plays as a team rather than individually.

In 2014 there were suggestions that they could have won the World Cup, but they failed to live up to expectations, and their impressive golden age is unlikely to last forever, so the pressure is on.

The last group will see Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, and with much optimism at home, the Portuguese are confident of success.

Still, an ageing defence and the lack of quality to join Ronaldo in attacking positions could be their downfall, but a young and exciting group of midfield stars are emerging with the likes of Joao Mario, Danilo and Renato Sanches, and if they can produce their club form, Portugal could be a formidable side to face.

Moving on to Hungary, they are not afraid to take risks, and there were many risks which paid off in qualifying, so in their first tournament for 30 years, they have everything to prove, and they will be willing to gamble.

Finally, Gylfi Sigurdsson’s Iceland, who despite being a small country have become a stronger side due to an improvement in youth development, partner Austria, who are emerging as one of Europe’s stronger forces with the likes of Marko Arnautovic and David Alaba.

Marcel Koller’s side are fast becoming a team with the potential to do great things, and after the pain of recent years they have the opportunity to finally do well.

So, good luck trying to guess the winners, my pick is France – but for once, don’t rule out England – it’s not impossible…

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!