Having Rondon as main striker encapsulates Newcastle’s problems

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Try as he might, Mike Ashley just can’t keep out of the headlines for long, and as such, Newcastle United are, by extension, also front and centre more often than they’d like.

Perhaps garnering the column inches is Ashley’s aim, but the Geordie faithful would prefer it was because of a new record signing, or that things were moving in the right direction both on and off the pitch.

One thing is fairly clear at present and that’s how much of a miracle worker Rafael Benitez is. The Spaniard has kept a tight and steady ship at St. James’ Park, and that’s no easy feat considering what’s going on behind the scenes. Continue reading

Why are Allardyce and Pardew still seen as progressive?

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So, Sam Allardyce is given his cards yet again, this time at Everton. The fourth job in succession where he’s either been sacked or left via ‘mutual consent.’ Sacked in other words.

Alan Pardew was given the old heave-ho a few weeks ago, and incredibly West Bromwich Albion’s fortunes took a sharp upturn after he’d left.

What is difficult to understand is why the pair, and others of their ilk, continue to be seen as somewhat progressive and are almost the first port of call when Premier League coaching jobs are available.

Overlooking Allardyce’s penchant for a quick few hundred thousand which in itself is a thorny issue, to essentially bring in someone whose best years in management were almost two decades ago and expect them to perform miracles is asking for trouble.

He’s nothing but a saviour, and from the route one school at that.

His teams play as he did. Physically imposing, limited in their capabilities, but willing to battle all day long. Just the ingredients required if you’re in the midst of a relegation battle or need promoting from the lower leagues.

But a European push? Don’t make me laugh.

The Dudley-born former central defender likes to use ProZone and the odd sports science methodology to help get his points and tactics across, but he’s still the same old northern hoofer underneath the Emperor’s new clothes.

And yet, clubs are still falling for it. His agent must be on huge bunce because he’s the true miracle worker here.

Everton, like Crystal Palace, Sunderland and West Ham before them, now have to honour the outrageous contract that was negotiated whilst poring over what exactly they’ve paid him for, for the last six months.

Pardew is cut from the same cloth as Allardyce. Arguably, his last successful stint at any club came at West Ham, where he took them to the 2006 FA Cup final.

Only Steven Gerrard’s desire on the day took Liverpool to the promised land because for long periods, the Hammers were the better team in what has since been labelled the best-ever FA Cup final.

The following season, he took the Hammers on their worst run of defeats in 70 years, but somehow this was enough to convince Charlton Athletic to hire him just a fortnight after his dismissal in east London.

Charlton were in dire straits when he took them over, so their subsequent relegation can’t be pinned on him, but eight games without a win saw them in the Championship’s bottom three. Off he went again.

Southampton was his next port of call but player unrest and low staff morale, allegedly because of Pardew’s insistence at following outdated and unworkable methods, saw a swift exit.

Quite how he then went on to land one of the biggest jobs in the country – Newcastle United – is anyone’s guess… though they did also employ Allardyce!

A four-year stay wasn’t overly successful and neither did his stint at Crystal Palace where, finally, a chairman hit the nail on the head. Steve Parish said of Pardew “his style of football hasn’t and doesn’t work.” Hallelujah.

Five months at West Brom was more than enough for the Baggies, Pardew leaving the club at the foot of the table and 10 games without a win. Their relegation, despite Darren Moore’s best efforts, was ultimately down to Pardew.

Both Allardyce and Pardew are relics from the past, trying to make themselves relevant in a game that’s now far ahead of their level of understanding. Simply put, football has moved on. They haven’t.

There’s a reason why the pair keep being sacked from each club that offer them a route back, but perhaps their reputations are now so tarnished that everyone has learnt their lesson.

One can only hope.

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Hegazi a shining light in West Brom’s season of darkness

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Following Southampton’s 1-0 victory over Swansea City, West Bromwich Albion have finally been relegated, leaving their inspirational recent resurgence all in vain.

Having won their last three matches and been unbeaten in their last five overall, their eight year stay in the Premier League is over, after an enormously disappointing season.

One of the few players who can hold their head high, though, is their powerful Egyptian defender, Ahmed Hegazi, for he’s unquestionably been a shining light in their season of darkness, with his assuredness, physicality and determination proving vital for the Baggies. Continue reading

Premier League Expected Line-Ups – Week 38

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Burnley vs AFC Bournemouth

Burnley (4-4-1-1)

Nick Pope, Matthew Lowton, Kevin Long, James Tarkowski, Stephen Ward, Aaron Lennon, Jack Cork, Ashley Westwood, Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Jeff Hendrick, Sam Vokes

Questionable: Ben Mee, Chris Wood

Out: Ashley Barnes, Robbie Brady, Scott Arfield, Steven Defour

AFC Bournemouth (3-4-3)

Asmir Begovic, Simon Francis, Steve Cook, Nathan Ake, Ryan Fraser, Lewis Cook, Andrew Surman, Charlie Daniels, Joshua King, Callum Wilson, Marc Pugh

Questionable: Harry Arter, Adam Smith

Out: Junior Stanislas

Continue reading

Premier League Expected Line-Ups – Week 37

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Brighton and Hove Albion vs Manchester United

Brighton and Hove Albion (4-4-1-1)

Mathew Ryan, Bruno, Shane Duffy, Lewis Dunk, Gatan Bong, Anthony Knockaert, Beram Kayal, Dale Stephens, Jose Izquierdo, Pascal Groβ, Leonardo Ulloa

Questionable: None

Out: Steve Sidwell, Isaiah Brown

Continue reading

Premier League Expected Line-Ups – Week 36

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Liverpool vs Stoke City

Liverpool (4-3-3)

Loris Karius, Joe Gomez, Virgil van Dijk, Ragnar Klavan, Alberto Moreno, Georginio Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane

Questionable: Nathaniel Clyne

Out: Joel Matip, Adam Lallana, Emre Can

Stoke City (4-4-1-1)

Jack Butland, Kurt Zouma, Ryan Shawcross, Bruno Martins Indi, Erik Pieters, Moritz Bauer, Joe Allen, Papa Alioune Ndiaye, Ramadan Sobhi Ahmed, Zherdan Shaqiri, Mame Biram Diouf Continue reading

Best Premier League Defenders – Week 15

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It was a quiet week for defenders in Premier League as there were only four clean sheets during the 15th-round of games. Two of those clean sheets came in a single match as West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace played out a goalless draw. Continue reading

World Cup 2018: Northern Ireland rising under O’Neill’s Management

The rise of Northern Ireland since Michael O’Neill’s appointment in December 2011 has been remarkable. He inherited a team from his predecessor Nigel Worthington which ended the qualification campaign for Euro 2012 with four successive defeats.

As well as being beaten twice by Estonia, defeats to Italy and Serbia combined to leave Northern Ireland fifth in a six-team group. Thus, Worthington’s reign ended in disappointment, but that of Neill did not begin well either. He led his team to just a single victory from the 10 World Cup 2014 qualifying matches, as the Northern Irish once again ended a qualification campaign in fifth place.

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Despite the negative results, there were positives for O’Neill. Away draws against Portugal [1-1] and Israel [1-1], along with a 1-0 home victory over Russia, provided some hope and indicated there is potential for Northern Ireland’s fortunes to improve.

Although they amassed just seven points during their bid to reach World Cup 2014, Northern Ireland were given a rather decent draw for the Euro 2016 qualification campaign. Not required to face any of the strongest teams, such as France, Germany, Portugal or Spain, they took advantage of being placed in a winnable albeit competitive group.

By winning their first three qualifiers – as many as they had done in the two previous qualification campaigns – O’Neill’s side put themselves in a strong position to qualify for the finals.

After responding well to a 2-0 defeat to Romania by beating Finland 2-1 and avoiding defeat in their five remaining fixtures, Northern Ireland topped Group F to qualify automatically for Euro 2016.

The goals – seven in nine appearances – of Kyle Lafferty, were vital in helping them reach the ultimate objective of making Euro 2016. The great commitment of the players combined with the collective approach and team spirit, promoted by O’Neill, formed the foundation behind this team’s accomplishment. Each one of the attributes was again on display evidence in France during Euro 2016.

A 2-0 victory over Ukraine, courtesy of goals from Gareth McAuley and Niall McGinn, sufficed to secure a place in the last 16. Unfortunately, the end was marked in the Round of 16 following a 1-0 to Wales.

Despite the defeat, O’Neill kept faith in the squad and decided to regroup. He firmly believed the players were dedicated and competitive enough to help the Northern Irish compete for a spot in World Cup 2018.

That decision is proving to be the correct one so far. With their fine Euro 2016 journey fresh in the memory, O’Neill’s players comfortably secured second place behind Germany, in a group also featuring the Czech Republic and Norway. Most of the key players ply their trade in the English Premier League or the English Football League Championship.

Northern Ireland

A defensively solid unit, with key members such as Michael McGovern, Conor McLaughlin, West Bromwich Albion duo Jonathan Evans and Gareth McAuley, has been instrumental in Northern Ireland keeping clean sheets in all but two matches in their qualifiers – both defeats world champions Germany.  On the attacking front, the responsibility of scoring goals was shared by several players, with Chris Brunt, Steven Davis, Kyle Lafferty, Josh Magennis and Jamie Ward, all having scored more than one goal.

Under O’Neill’s guidance, Northern Ireland have developed a good habit of defending well, whilst exploiting opportunities to score from set pieces. Their transition from the team which struggled badly in the Euro 2012 and World Cup 2014 qualifying campaigns, into a team to be reckoned with has steadily evolved leading up to participating in Euro 2016.

Credit must be shared between the manager’s intelligent approach to focus on his squad’s best attributes while the players themselves have given their best on the pitch. The commitment of the players cannot be questioned. Will this be enough for Northern Ireland to overcome Switzerland and qualify for Russia 2018?

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