Are Newcastle United Doomed Under Steve McClaren?


The last thing that a team in the midst of a relegation dogfight needs is to have their character questioned, but that’s exactly what has happened at Newcastle United this week with boss Steve McClaren calling them “the most frustrating side I’ve ever worked with”.

McClaren, who has also managed the likes of Newcastle’s North East neighbours Middlesbrough, FC Twente, Wolfsburg, Derby and England, spoke of a huge “character flaw” amongst his players as his side head into a crucial clash at Stoke City.

“Talent is not enough. You have to perform consistently, individually and collectively, he said. “You have to have certain characteristics – being hard to beat, solid, doing the work, be disciplined, do the small things.

“But inconsistency is a character flaw which we have got to come to terms with and put right.”

Ironically many of McClaren’s managerial reigns have been blighted with poor performances. At Derby he started brightly, but after a run of two wins in thirteen games they feel from champions-elect to outside of the Play Off places. He was duly sacked.

In the infamous ‘wally with a brolly’ debacle, England lost haplessly in Croatia and thus failed to qualify for the European Championships of 2008, and now Newcastle sit 18th in the Premier League having won just six of 26 matches. Their misery has been confounded by a miserable record on the road, which has seen them lost 10 of 13 away matches and conceding nearly three goals per game into the bargain.

Tonight’s hosts Stoke will not exactly be quaking in their boots at the thought of welcoming the Magpies to the Brittania Stadium.

Where has it all gone wrong?

Despite significant investment in the summer and the January transfer window, McClaren has failed to find a winning formula at St James Park. Or perhaps, in reality, he has: Newcastle sit twelfth in the ‘home table’ with 17 points – the same as Liverpool and more than Everton and Crystal Palace.

But it’s on their travels that Newcastle have struggled – a return of W2 D1 L10 GF7 GA31 doesn’t require any further investigation, and when there is such disparity between home and away form the manager’s tactics have to be questioned. Scoring 0.5 goals per game and conceding 2.4 on average is a recipe for disaster.

So McClaren has to take the blame for his side’s troubles that are being exacerbated by their away form, and it will be interesting to see if it is this, ultimately, that sees them slide through the dreaded relegation trapdoor.

Pressure Mounting on Martinez At Under-Achieving Everton


Everton are one of those clubs that you feel are capable of breaking the Premier League top four monopoly held by the big clubs seemingly year in, year out. Operating on a relatively shoestring budget, the Toffees have breached the top six under former boss David Moyes and current manager Roberto Martinez.

With outstanding performances comes great expectations – even if over-achievement has been the name of the game when transfer budgets are concerned. Martinez has worked a minor miracle at Goodison Park: transforming Romelu Lukaku become the striker we all feared he could be at Chelsea, getting the best out of Gareth Barry and harnessing the huge potential of youngsters like Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu. Factor in an aesthetically-pleasing brand of football and you should seemingly have a recipe for success.

But not so. Everton are down in 12th in the Premier League table; below the likes of Watford, Stoke and West Ham. While, financially speaking, that may be an accurate reflection of the spending of their rivals, the Toffees faithful expect more….much more.

It’s obvious where the problem lies: Everton have scored 46 goals in 26 Premier League matches – the fourth highest tally in the division. But they’ve conceded 35 into the bargain; the tenth worst record. You could argue that Martinez simply hasn’t got the balance right….hence the pressure.

Money Talks

The intensity of the spotlight on the Spaniard has just been turned up a few notches with the news that billionaire Farhad Moshiri has purchased a 49.9% stake in the club. As we’ve seen elsewhere with foreign investors, they expect an almost immediate return on their equity….or face the consequences.

So Martinez needs to get things right – and pronto. It would be safe to assume he has 12 games to save his job, as foreign investors have a habit of seeking a headline-making managerial appointment when things aren’t going well on the pitch.

For a club aiming for a top six finish, Martinez has a lot to do. “With a new investor and fresh blood into our club, all of a sudden you have a new opportunity to get to those aspirations quicker,” he told a press conference. “The chairman and myself will embrace that pressure and that need of delivering the right outcome as we have a strong belief in what we are doing.

“Farhad Moshiri will bring us a different dimension. It is a big moment in the club’s history with a new investor coming in – and every single department will be assessed.”

Arsenal Eye Disgraced Aurier


It’s no surprise that the disgraced Serge Aurier is being linked with a move away from PSG, and now Arsenal appear to have entered the race for the 23-year-old.

The right back appears the obvious solution to Arsene Wenger’s need for depth in wide areas, with Mathieu Debuchy set to depart the club in the summer; leaving Hector Bellerin as the only established full back in the squad.

Aurier was widely critical of PSG boss Laurent Blanc and teammates including Zlatan Ibrahimovic in a series of posts on social network Persicope, and naturally it looks likely that the Parisian outfit will wave him goodbye. As such, his transfer value is believed to have fallen to £11.8 million; a snip of a price for a young defender with all the attributes to do well in the physical Premier League.

In a statement PSG officials confirmed that the Ivorian will train with their reserve squad until March 20 pending a further investigation, and so he will certainly miss the second leg of their Champions League tie with Arsenal’s London neighbours Chelsea.

“At a time when Paris Saint-Germain must remain focused on key dates, the management of the club must keep the professional group free of any potential trouble and has decided that Serge Aurier will be available to the CFA [second team] as of Monday February 29 until Sunday March 20 inclusive,” the statement read.

“At the same time, the player has offered to perform various actions for Paris Saint-Germain’s Club Foundation.

“While he hopes to soon celebrate with his supporters a fourth French title in a row, the club wishes to reaffirm its full confidence in his coach, his staff and his players.”

The potential transfer certainly looks something of a gamble for the Gunners as this isn’t the first time Aurier has been in trouble. In another video onslaught, he called referee Bjorn Kuipers a ‘dirty son of a bitch’ after he sent off Ibrahimovic in a Champions League tie; leading to a three-match ban. This 23-year-old is clearly something of a maverick.

Blanc was heavily critical of his defender in the immediate aftermath, and despite Aurier’s apologies the French manager said that he will ‘suffer the consequence’ for his ‘pathetic’ actions.

He will now miss six of his side’s matches as they attempt to progress to the last eight of the Champions League and secure successive Ligue 1 titles.

Hot Shot Higuain Poised For London Switch?


It’s no big surprise for one of European football’s hottest properties to be linked with moves elsewhere, and Gonzalo Higuain may have a big decision to make in the summer should Chelsea or Arsenal come calling as expected.

It was reported in the Daily Mail that the Argentine turned down a move to Stamford Bridge because he couldn’t be guaranteed a starting spot, but with Antonio Conte set to take over the hot seat in the summer and Diego Costa pining for a return home to Spain, it would seem the door is now ajar.

Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri has admitted he faces a battle to hang on to his prize asset.

“I do not read the rumours and I do not know anything, but I think there will be even more offers than from those clubs,” he said.

“At this point, I have left the choice completely up to Higuain whether or not he plays against Villarreal. It will be up to him to decide.

“Maybe he’ll want to respond to these rumours and answer his critics, but I don’t understand how anyone can find fault in a player who has scored 26 goals this season and shown he is a genuine star.”

Napoli take on the Spanish side tonight in a crucial Europa League clash – they are 0-1 down after the first leg, but the happy news for fans of the Italian side is that they look a shoe-in for automatic Champions League qualification via their strong Serie A showing. They could yet win the title should Juventus falter, and if that is how things pan out then it would be hard to imagine Higuain leaving for Chelsea given that they are unlikely to offer European football of any kind next term.

However, Arsene Wenger is a known admirer of the 28-year-old, whose goal have fired his side to the brink of glory this season and last. With plenty of criticism still being fired at Olivier Giroud and his underwhelming chance-to-goal success ratio, it might require the signing of Higuain to take the Gunners from title contenders to champions – although they still have a great opportunity to lift the Premier League trophy this term of course.

While Robert Lewandowski seemingly has his eye on a move to Real Madrid and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang being all but priced out of a move elsewhere by his club Borussia Dortmund, Higuain has become one of Europe’s hottest targets. Whether Napoli can hang on to him is another matter.

Daniel Sturridge Blasts ‘Biggest Disrespect You Could Pay a Footballer’


Daniel Sturridge has firmly rebuked claims that he no longer wants to play for Liverpool, and that the rumour was the ‘biggest disrespect you could pay a footballer’.

It has been implied that the 26-year-old lacks the hunger or motivation to play through the pain barrier – hence his seemingly never-ending injury lay-off, but Sturridge himself has spoken of his ‘devastation’ at the accusation.

He is now firmly back in first team action, notching in the 6-0 win over Aston Villa on Valentine’s Day and showing bursts of his undoubted quality. And his return couldn’t come at a better time for Jurgen Klopp, who has a Capital One Cup final to deal with on Sunday as well as a desire to finish the Premier League campaign on a high. To cap it all winning the Europa League offers a passport into the Champions League too; a much-needed fillip.

And Sturridge is determined to play a part in the culmination of the season. “Of course it’s been a difficult time being injured, but it’s part of football and now I’m looking forward to the future with Liverpool,” he said.

“There’s not too much to worry about or stress about and I’ve been relaxed the whole time I’ve been here. I’ve always had family and friends around me. It’s about football at the end of the day, nothing more, nothing less.”

But when questioned about those ‘soft’ accusations, the England international was in bullish mood. “I don’t listen to social media, so I’m not aware, to be honest,” he said. “I didn’t know religion had anything to do with football.

“To say a player doesn’t want to play, that’s the biggest disrespect you could pay a footballer. It’s astonishing and disappointing, whoever’s saying it — it’s football and people are entitled to their opinions but I don’t think anyone will understand how much it means to me to play football.

“I’ll focus on what I do best, playing for Liverpool FC.”

It might be the case that Roy Hodgson comes calling. His Euro ’16 preparations are well underway, and with England’s first choice strike partnership still not set in stone a return to form could prove timely.

Klopp himself is in no doubt the part that Sturridge has to play during the rest of the Reds’ campaign.

“I think a few things are more clear now than before, and that’s what we need. I heard from him – not second or third-hand – a lot of times, about his future at LFC.

“Everything is fine, and you can now stop thinking about this.”

Is Felipe Anderson Poised to Join Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford?


While they must sit back and watch in frustration as their greatest rivals tackle the knockout phase of the Champions League, at least Manchester United have some good news to savour in the form of Felipe Anderson; who looks set for a move to Old Trafford in the summer if reports are to be believed.

With Jose Mourinho reportedly buying a house in Manchester this week and thus paving the way for him to take over the hot seat from Louis Van Gaal, the Portuguese manager looks set to be gifted Anderson if the comments of Lazio president Claudio Lotito are to be believed.

He told Calciomercato that ‘Felipe Anderson will move to Manchester United next season for €60m (£48m).’ That would make the Brazilian midfielder the fifth most expensive purchase in English football history – a lofty perch.

“I bought Felipe Anderson for €8m and I’ve already sold him on for €60m,” Lotito continued in that arguably ill-informed interview. But those claims have been dismissed by Lazio’s sporting director Igli Tare, who admitted that Unite chiefs had made a bid for their prized asset in excess of £30 million last summer, but this had been rejected and ‘nothing has changed’ since.

But if the reports are true, what kind of player are the Red Devils getting?


At just 22, Felipe Anderson has the world at his feet following a glittering campaign for Lazio in which he has bagged seven goals and four assists. He’s well on his way to matching his 2014/15 tally of eleven goals and ten assists.

Deployed primarily on either flank, Anderson is genuinely two-footed and possesses fantastic poise and balance when in possession. He may be young but there’s a maturity to the Brazilian’s game that has already seen him pick up his first cap for his country.

Looking at the current United set up, Anderson’s arrival may require a shake-up in the system deployed by Van Gaal/Mourinho. We know that the Special One favours a 4-2-3-1 set-up as deployed during his two spells at Chelsea, and so it is easy to see Anderson and Wayne Rooney taking their places behind Anthony Martial in that formation. Juan Mata, having already been sold by Mourinho once, is likely to be shown the exit door.

Anderson will appreciate that a move to one of Europe’s biggest clubs will be handy for his career, and like a player who is similar in style – Roberto Firmino – you would fancy that the 22-year-old will have the physical stature to stand up to the rigours of the Premier League.

It’s a hell of a price tag, but this kid has the talent to back it up.

Stop Suarez and You Stop Barcelona, Says Arsene Wenger


It’s a task that 32 teams have failed to achieve in the last few months, and now it’s Arsenal’s turn: how do you stop Barcelona?

They meet on Tuesday night in the first leg of their Champions League tie, and Arsene Wenger believes he has the answer: chop off the head (Luis Suarez), and the body will fall.

“We have to keep him quiet on Tuesday night,” the Frenchman said with typical understatement. “Suarez is the kind of guy who manages to create that spirit in teams.”

While Wenger’s assertion is correct – the Uruguayan striker has notched twelve goals in his last seven games, and 25 in 25 in La Liga, it grossly overlooks the impact of the other two prongs of the Barcelona attacking fork: Lionel Messi and Neymar. Without these lads who can play a bit, Suarez would be left feeding for scraps. Messi has seven in his last six, while Neymar has netted 25 times in all competitions. As South American threesomes go, this is right up there with the best of them.

Ironically Wenger tried to sign Suarez for Arsenal after his first season at Liverpool, and know his former transfer target could come back to haunt him.

Home Advantage

Of course, Arsenal can take great heart from one of their most recent Champions League victories: the 2-0 home triumph over Bayern Munich. That win gave the Gunners hope of qualifying for the knockout phase of the competition after they appeared dead and buried, and shows just what is possible in football with a positive mindset (Leicester have taken this one step further in the Premier League).

Arsenal host the Catalan giant in Tuesday’s first leg, and Wenger was clear that a strong start is vital during his pre-match press conference. “We have to find the right balance between being audacious but also strong defensively as a unit and not put ourselves in a difficult task in the second leg,” he said.

“No team is perfect. Barcelona are not far from it. We need to take our chances. Barcelona are super favourites, we need to raise the urgency level. Tomorrow everybody is convinced we need to absolutely be totally focused to have a chance.”

“We did well to qualify, it was very hard, we are looking forward to playing Barcelona, they are the best team in the world today. It will be different from Bayern, we just need to focus and be 100% together with good cohesion and we will put what we need in this game with a lot of commitment and determination.”

Joel Matip: The Liverpool Lowdown


The next brick of Jurgen Klopp’s rebuild of Liverpool has been put in place with the signing of giant defender Joel Matip on a free transfer.

The 24-year-old, who currently plies his trade for Schalke in the Bundesliga, will make the switch to Anfield in the summer when his current deal runs out.

And the German manager was delighted to secure the signature of the Cameroon international. “I’m very happy,” Klopp said. ”Everybody who knows him would have been interested.”

“He was an easy choice. I know in England it is really difficult to sign a player without paying a transfer fee, but I thought it cannot be a reason not to take him only because you cannot put a number behind his name.

“If you asked in Germany what other clubs would have paid for him had he still been under contract, you can just pick a number.”

So what can Liverpool fans expect from their new man?

The End

As one door opens another often closes, and that is certainly the case with Liverpool’s central defensive department. It is likely that one or more of Martin Skrtel, Mamadou Sakho and Diego Lovren will depart – most probably the latter two – as Klopp looks to get the personnel in place that can take the club forward.

Neither man has set the world alight at Anfield, and the Reds faithful won’t be overly concerned if they were to leave in the summer.


There won’t be any concerns that Matip is up to the hustle and bustle of life in the Premier League. Standing 6ft 4in tall, he will be up for the aerial scrap but is fast enough and mobile enough to keep pace with the more fleet of foot too.

And having made nearly 250 career appearances for Schalke at the relatively young age of 24, it is clear that this is a player who doesn’t suffer with injuries.


It’s a charge often levelled at messrs Skrtel, Sakho and Lovren: they simply don’t have the ability on the ball to be the launchpad for their team’s attacks.

Matip started his career as a midfielder, and so is clearly comfortable in possession, and bizarrely for a centre half he has already contributed three assists to Schalke’s cause this term.

“He plays very good passes – he can do short passes and long crosses,” Sky Sports’ German analyst Thorben Hoffmann said. “That will be good for the play from defence to midfield or direct to the striker.”

Set Piece Security

It will come as no surprise to learnt that a guy who stands 6ft 4in tall offers certain qualities at set pieces, but it is clear from his career to date that Matip will be able to improve Liverpool’s defending of crosses into the box.

He’s dominant in the air and regularly nets five or six goals a season – a huge bonus from your defensive linchpin.

How Will Manchester United Cope Without Wayne Rooney?

Wayne Rooney

After being much-maligned by the football world for his inability to find the net or even rouse a performance of note from himself, now Manchester United fans are wondering how their team will fare without the now irreplaceable Wayne Rooney?

Their club captain has been ruled out for up to six weeks due to an ankle injury sustained in the 1-2 defeat to Sunderland last week, and he is now set to miss at least eight games in what is a crucial run-in to the season if Louis Van Gaal’s side are to salvage anything positive from a torturous campaign.

“He [Rooney] scores a lot of goals so he is very important for us. We know that but we have to cope,” confirmed the Dutchman in his press conference before tonight’s Europa League clash with FC Midtjylland. Given that he has only one other recognised striker in his squad in Anthony Martial, who himself has often been shunted out onto the left wing this term, that could be something of an understatement from Van Gaal.

It is Rooney that has provided some lifeblood to proceedings at Old Trafford, with seven goals in as many games and 14 in total – a cool 21% of his team’s combined tally. And while the Red Devils have all but given up on Champions League qualification through a top four finish, they will be aware that another avenue exists for progression to European football’s premier competition: by winning the Europa League.

The likes of Dortmund, Napoli and Sevilla stand in their way, but glory in this second tier competition is not beyond the realms of possibility. However, without their most experienced frontman, their chances of success look a lot slimmer.

And then of course there is the carrot of the FA Cup; a competition which feels slightly devalued these days but one that represents silverware nonetheless. Who knows, it could even save Van Gaal’s job. But Rooney will miss his side’s fifth round clash with Shrewsbury and any subsequent quarter final.

There are implications for England and their preparations for Euro ’16 this summer. Rooney will miss the Three Lions’ pair of friendlies against Germany and Holland as Roy Hodgson cements his team selection and shape heading into the tournament, and although it is unlikely that any complications with the injury will see Rooney miss the competition, it will be interesting to see how England cope without a player who is – arguably – still very much their talisman.

How Will the Premier League Table Look in Four Weeks Time?


It was a remarkable weekend in the Premier League, with victories for Arsenal and Spurs over Leicester and Manchester City respectively busting the title race wide open.

We thought we’d predict the results of the next four league fixtures to see where we’re at with 30 games played.

Leicester City

Norwich (h), West Brom (h), Watford (a), Newcastle (h)

It would be easy for a sense of doom and gloom to creep in at the KP Stadium following defeat to Arsenal, but looking at the upcoming fixture list for the Foxes there needn’t be.

A week’s break this week courtesy of the FA Cup (many of their rivals will be playing in the Champions League and the FA Cup this week) will give them time to get over the loss at the Emirates, and then a pair of winnable games at home against Norwich and West Brom should restore confidence.

A trip to Watford won’t be easy, but Newcastle’s fragility on the road should enable the Foxes to take full advantage heading into the business end of the campaign.

Predicted Points Tally: 60

Predicted Position: 4th


Swansea (h), West Ham (a), Arsenal (h), Aston Villa (a)

The 2-1 win over Man City was huge for Spurs, and it elevated them from mere pretenders to rock solid contenders. Like Leicester, the big question is have they the character and the bottle to see it through to the bitter end?

Their fixture list offers a myriad of challenges: Aston Villa should provide no problems, but Swansea appear revitalised at the moment, West Ham are pushing for a top six berth and Arsenal….well, let’s just say that’s a huge game in the context of the whole campaign.

Predicted Points Tally: 58

Predicted Position: 3rd


Man Utd (a), Swansea (h), Spurs (a), West Brom (h)

The Gunners will have been on cloud nine following their late, late show against Leicester, however a double header against Barcelona in the Champions League is likely to knock the wind from their sails somewhat.

As far as domestic action is concerned, away days at Manchester United and Spurs will further exacerbate their upcoming difficulties, while the Swansea and West Brom matches should offer plenty of respite.

Predicted Points Tally: 59

Predicted Position: 2nd

Man City

Liverpool (a), Aston Villa (h), Norwich (a), Man Utd (h)

There is a fantastic opportunity in the next three or four games for Manchester City to close the gap on the leaders. Unfortunately, without Kevin de Bruyne they look a shadow of the side they can be, and so any test is a tricky one at the moment.

Liverpool will be on a high after seeing off Villa 6-0, while the Villains themselves have all but given up so it seems. Norwich are capable of plenty but rarely show it, while a Manchester derby always seems to be a coin toss fixture.

Predicted Points Tally: 52

Predicted Position: 4th