Business as usual as Manchester City and Liverpool get off to flying starts in the Premier League

So the Premier League has kicked off and it seems that it is business as usual as both the title favourites Manchester City and Liverpool got off to flying starts. Not only did they win their respective games they scored 9 goals between them.

Liverpool got the ball rolling (pardon the pun) when they beat Norwich 4-1 at Anfield on Friday night. It was always going to be extremely difficult for Norwich who have just been promoted from the Championship to take on the European champions and last seasons runners up in the league and so it proved. With ease Liverpool scored 4 goals and Norwich showed their naivety.

At the same time it wasn’t all plain sailing for Jurgen Klopp’s team and Norwich played some tidy football and created quite a few clear cut chances. If Liverpool who have arguably one of the best defences in Europe defend like they did on Friday night against a top 6 team they will suffer. Plus Alisson went off injured and Klopp will be hoping that his Brazilian goal keeper is only out for a limited time. Still it was a great start for Liverpool who will be looking to win their first league title since 1990.

The next day at lunchtime ended up being a miss match, when champions Manchester City went to West Ham and didn’t break sweat as they scored 5 goals with no reply. Raheem Sterling was deservedly the man of the match after he started his campaign with a fantastic hattrick. West Ham were toothless and unlike Norwich gave no fight and no hope as to how they will pick up points this season. Of course the Hammers have had some hyped arrivals in the likes of Pablo Fornals and Sebastian Haller and even though Fornals only came on from the bench in the 2nd half, he made almost no impact except for a teasing cross.

City were simply breath taking on the ball and the pace and fitness was evident compared to West Ham who are set for another frustrating season. The only other story to take from the game is VAR. It was used no less than 3 times and on each occasion got the decision right but there has to still be a question of is VAR good for football? Wasn’t the game supposed to be a simple one, that would include human error? After all England would not have become world cup champions in 1966 had VAR been in place.

True there has been shocking decisions in football, but it can work for and against your team. Maybe VAR takes that moment away in football.  Now when your team score, you will celebrate but perhaps have one eye on the referee and his assistants just in case. What will happen this season is penalties being retaken. It happened in the West Ham game when players encroached the area and it will happen when the goalkeeper leaves his line, and we can expect many penalty problems as a result.

The one damning verdict of West Ham’s defeat was the roar the fans gave as if they had scored a goal. They hadn’t, instead VAR had ruled out a City goal. Is that what teams outside the top 10 will be cheering about in the future?

 

 

Marko Arnautovic gets his wish and leaves West Ham to play in China- is it the right move?

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He’s gone Marko Arnautovic finally got his wish to leave West Ham and has joined Chinese super league team Shanghai.

West Ham were so annoyed by this that they issued a very short statement to the fact and failed to even add the usual all the best wishes to the Austrian player. Arnie as he is known to West Ham fans made his feelings clear a early as January and tried to force the move then but the Hammers were having none of it.

But now he is gone and it is thought that West Ham have had to sell him for a cut price £23m instead of the near £30m they would have preferred. But was Arnie right to leave?

Though there is a feeling of bad blood between both parties, this does feel like the right decision. Why would West Ham want a player who was not commited to the cause, isn’t it just correct to sell the player? Also on his side he isn’t getting any younger. So why stay at a club who will be struggling to fight for honours next season?

Of course money is the real issue and Arnie can expect to earn near to £300,000 a week with Shanghai, a kings ransom and he could never have got that at West Ham, plus he is 30 and not getting any younger, this last big contract gives him the chance to earn well and set himself up.

Shanghai are champions too and he will be made to work hard to retain their trophies and silverware will be a reality for the player out in China.

It’s hard luck to West Ham and one will wish that the club can learn from buying a player who perhaps never had his heart setteled on the club. He scored goals and looked like a great buy, yes, but at the same time he struggled to get goals and play well against the better teams and that was also the problem. He was simply never a top level drawer player and West Ham should be able to move on from his departure which it shouldn’t affect them as much as it could.

West Ham have bought Pablo Fornals and are now in the hunt for Celta Vigo’s Maxi Gomez that is the real top drawer there and those players should be enough to make Arnie’s loss a distant memory.

It’s Valencia or West Ham for Maxi Gomez but surely the answer is simple

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Maxi Gomez who has had a solid 2 years at Celta Vigo scoring goals is wanted by two clubs in Europe, Valencia and West Ham. But which club will succeed in getting his services?

A few years ago this wouldn’t even be open for debate, Valencia would be the smart choice. A massive club who at one point in the last decade could challenge Barcelona and Real Madrid’s dominance and had a very good team. Gomez could have joined and become a better player. But in 2019, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

The best pull for Gomez to join Valencia is that the club will be playing Champions League football next season, and that is massive for any player who has never tasted playing at the highest level for club football. It’s a big ask for Gomez to turn that down when West Ham aren’t playing any European football next season.

Financially a move to West Ham would be better for Gomez too and the Hammers will be able to offer him much better wages. So where should the 22 year old go? The answer for some is an easy one and that is to play for West Ham in the Premier League.

The reason is due to two things. Firstly West Ham are clearly pointing in the right direction and having Manuel Pellegrini as boss is a great thing for the London side who have under achieved too much in recent years. The club have some genuine attacking quality and it is thought that they will be attack minded next season with the likes of Pablo Fornals and Andriy Yarmolenko.

However does Gomez want to improve as a player and person? If so if you move to a foreign country and sample that experience and different culture. If he stays in La Liga he will be doing what most English players do and stay in their comfort zone. There isn’t much wrong with that but you usually become a much better player with a move to a different club and you learn more about the game. The move would be a massive plus for Gomez who could prove his qualities in a different league.

Who is the bigger club is the other question. True it is Valencia but they are not as big as they once were, and what happens if they exit the Champions League in the group stages and then struggle for top 10 status in the league it can happen and the club do have financial difficulties.

Going to West Ham would be a challenge for Gomez and it won’t be easy, but spreading his wings and giving the club a chance to see his qualities just seems like the right option to take. It will be interesting to see who Gomez picks over the coming days/weeks.

Juventus or Real Madrid? Where will Paul Pogba end up?

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It is no secret that Paul Pogba has not enjoyed the greatest of times at Manchester United and the Frenchman looks set to leave the club this summer, but who for?

Reports have suggested that Fabio Paratici the sporting director of Juventus is in London and having talks with Manchester United representatives about Pogba joining the club. Actually he would be re-joining since United bought Pogba from the Old Lady back in 2016. What has been interesting is that if Juventus do buy Pogba then the player has spent his footballing career switching from these clubs alone, since he started his professional career with United back in 2010.

One wonders if Pogba’s indecisions and playing back and forth for the same clubs sums up his career thus far? The midfielder remains an enigma- a delightful player to watch on the ball and fearsome coming forward but his total inconsistency marks him out to be a player that may well end his footballing career as simply a footnote in the history of the game.

Alongside Juventus’ interest seems to be another and that is Real Madrid who are rebuilding this season after a chaotic last one. Los Blancos have already spent near to £300m on acquiring five players including Eden Hazard and it is thought that coach Zinedine Zidane would love to work with Pogba. Pogba himself may feel that a fresh change is needed from returning to Italy again. One thing is clear and that is United could do with offloading a player that they already know could fetch the club upwards of £100m and release funds to invest in players that want to play for the club and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Keeping with United they have upscaled their interest in Crystal Palace player Aaron Wan-Bissaka who impressed this past season as the Eagles finished strongly. But the talking price seems to be spiralling out of control and one figure has the Palace player at £70m. For now he is on top of Solskjaer’s list and United agree to that sum it seems highly unlikely that they won’t get their man.

West Ham raised eyebrows by purchasing the exciting 23 year old Pablo Fornals. The attacking midfielder cost the Hammers just £24m which is seen as a bargain in today’s football. He comes from Villarreal and even though he had an average last season he is seen as a very good prospect and will add attacking flair to West Ham’s forward line.

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Pablo Fornals: Lowdown on West Ham’s latest signing who is more than ready for English football

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Over the past few seasons, it’s been quite easy for a young individual to announce himself as a player with an immense career ahead of him and be regarded as the next big talent. However, the situation has quietly been different for Pablo Fornals, someone who was a regular starter in midfield and was a key player for La Liga side Villarreal. However, the club and player did not have a solid season as per their normal standards, as the lack of consistency and squad quality became concerning month by month.

Fornals only returned to Villarreal in the summer of 2017 after spending five beneficial seasons in Malaga’s first team as well as their reserve team, and was recently linked with a £24million move to Premier League’s West Ham United. With the deal now becoming official yesterday, it would mean that Villarreal would be making an estimate profit of around £15million and potentially any add-ons or bonuses, which is quite good for a player that was seriously looking for a move since the January transfer window.

Before West Ham smartly snapped him up, both Arsenal and Napoli were interested in the Spaniard a couple of week ago, but were no longer looking at the player and have moved onto the other midfield targets they have in mind. The Yellow Submarines have not seen many major departures so far this summer, but it has shockingly began with Pablo Fornals moving from sunny Spain to rainy England.

It’s time to look at everything you will want to know about the 23-year-old…

Villarreal background

Over the last 10 to 15 years, Villarreal have been recognised for the types of centre-backs and central-midfielders they have purchased for quite a bargain, before going on to developing and nurturing them into top quality players. The likes of Giuseppe Rossi, Joan Capdevila, Marcos Senna, Ruben Cani and currently Bruno Soriano have played for this beautiful and passionate club, individuals who have given their all on the pitch whilst becoming fan favourites during their good moments and bad moments.

The current Villarreal squad is still blessed with quite a number of individuals that are born and raised in Spain, including the experienced Santi Cazorla, captain Bruno Soriano, the calm and collected Vicente Iborra and Gerard Moreno, someone who has not had the best of seasons in front of goal but will always be a huge aerial threat, as long as the crossing is effective from the flanks.

Which world-class central-midfielder is he similar to…

It’s still early days for Fornals to be dubbed or regarded as the next Cesc Fabregas or Koke, however, his style of play is very similar to team-mate Santi Cazorla, who once upon a time was a crucial player for Arsenal and was seen as one of the most underrated players in England. With his constant knack for wanting the ball and his ability to dominate it whilst being seen as the focal point of the midfield, he is able to avoid the press with his dribbling skill as well as his intelligent movement.

On top of that, he is more than capable of producing a large number of perfectly-timed passed thanks to his range of passes and his sharp vision to even attempt, which is something that many central-midfielders don’t take the risk to complete. The style of play of both himself and Cazorla is something to admire, given that the latter flourished in the Premier League and the former will without a doubt, do the same as long as a system is in place and the team is built around him, and no one else.

Strengths

Complete midfielder. Not many players within La Liga, especially from outside of Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid, can boast about playing in a number of tactical roles within midfield whilst dominating the match and the opposition. Due to this natural blessing, Fornals’ quality has always been undervalued, purely because of the other talented midfielders and attacking-minded players produced within Spain.

Being a player that does not rely on pace or physicality, the Castellon-born midfielder has proven himself to be dominant on both sides of the pitch. From completing the second most key passes (42) and fourth most successful dribbles (39) when compared to the rest of the squad, he has actually achieved more than expected as the side have recently not been known as a possession-based team. Thanks to his intelligence and positive thinking on the ball, he is able to work really well within tight areas and has the actual ability to get past one or two defenders or midfielders without even trying.

Weaknesses

Although it will be his range of passing as well as his rising quality to get the best out of the midfield that may be what the West Ham supporters will be looking forward to the most. However, Fornals’ has had a bit of a consistency to give away cheap fouls and also in a number of dangerous positions. Unfortunately for him, the Premier League referees will not be be too lenient and inconsistent like the ones in La Liga.

On the other hand, it is ideal and useful to have a player that is quite stocky, aggressive and is willing to go into the much needed tackles and tactical fouls. With a number of players that come to play in England from other European countries, they tend to lack the defensive duties or the mentality to help the team to retrieve possession, which will surely not be a problem for Pablo Fornals at all, as he always puts the team before him.

How would he fit into West Ham?

Fornals could potentially play alongside Mark Noble and just ahead of defensive-midfielder Declan Rice in 4-1-4-1 formation, which is a system that manager Manuel Pellegrini has used time and time again, that has allowed the Hammers to play with the ball confidently and also more productively.

Given that Jack Wilshere has become unreliable and is still battling his own injury issues whilst both Mark Noble and Robert Snodgrass are starting to age and decline, it makes sense Pellegrini’s side to continue to play their football in a 4-1-4-1 setup, providing more space and time for Fornals to pull the strings deep in midfield or to advance up the pitch in possession to create chances for his team-mates or for himself.

With a lot of things spicing up for West Ham, including the fact that they have been scouting and recruiting players effectively for the last couple of seasons. It wouldn’t be a total surprise to see them aiming for a Europa League spot finish for the upcoming campaign, despite the competition from the likes of Everton, Leicester and Wolves.

On the other hand, the budding transfer of Fornals and Celta Vigo’s Maxi Gomez could prove to be perfect signings in the long run, and only if the East London side go on to finish within the top seven, especially in what could potentially be a really competitive season. Now that the deal is official, the Spanish international will certainly be regarded as one of the best signings of the summer window and also for such a really low fee.

Top Ligue 1 Defenders in 2018/19: Jose Fonte

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When we think of some of the best defenders in Ligue 1, we may think of the likes of Dani Alves at champions PSG or his team mate Marquinhos who have already underlined their status as great tacklers of the game in the modern era. But neither of those players came out on top in the Fantasy Football rankings in Ligue 1- that honour went to a Lille player by the name of Jose Fonte.

Fonte is not young at 35 but has had a superb season with Lille who ended up finishing runners up to inevitable champions PSG this season. Fonte has been around and played for no less than 11 different teams, having spells in his native Portugal and playing for clubs such as Benfica, Southampton, Crystal Palace and West Ham.

Fonte moved to Lille last summer and coming out on top as the best defender in France is no mean feat in his debut year. Fonte scored 3 goals for the club this season and assisted in 1 goal but Fonte was never bought to be scoring goals and he has proved over this year his qualities as a defender in his preferred position as a centre back. This has included helping to keep 15 clean sheets as Lille won 22 of their 38 games.

If he was in your team then you certainly reaped the awards of only having to pay 7.5m for his services and he has turned out to be a fantastic bargain. Even by sole position in major leagues for defenders he would rank 16th so his purchase was good value for money.

Fonte had already earned 9 points within the first two weeks when Lille drew 0-0 against Monaco and then beat Guingamp 3-0. Indeed in Lille’s first 7 games of the season Fonte managed to help his side keep five clean sheets.

The defender’s best point of the season came in matchday 5 when Lille beat Nantes 2-1, he scored a rare goal but also assisted in another to gain 6 points. What was interesting about Fonte’s points this season is that he never had one major outstanding points total instead it was garnered bit by bit and what that showed was consistency. Fonte finished the season with a total points haul of 73 beating second placed Malang Sarr of Nice by 3 points. Only 3 defenders ended the Ligue 1 season with 70 or more points which underlines his achievements this season.

Fonte signed a 2 year contract and with Lille making the Champions League for next season he is sure to be in the amongst the back four come the start of the season. The question will be if the player the wrong side of 30 can have another solid season, for now the Portuguese seems like a massive asset for the club.

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Could West Ham have finished in a Europa League place without long term injuries?

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West Ham have been safe for a long time, that is the positive news the bad news is that it doesn’t feel like the club have moved on and gone onto the next level. They are set to finish the season in 11th place, though if they can beat Watford away in their last game of the season they would squeeze into the top 10 and finish the season with 52 points. Last season the Hammers finished on 42 points so there has been a significant improvement.

However with the quality that the team possess and a world class stadium to go with it and a successful manager in Manuel Pellegrini perhaps we were expecting more. But the one noticeable problem for the club has been the amount of injuries that they have had to endure. And we are not talking about players missing one of two games or even a few weeks, but chunks of the season which must have greatly affected the team.

Jack Wilshire has only just returned from an injury that he picked up in September and Andy Carroll keeps coming back in fits and bursts but has hardly played this season. But even before the season started there were problems. Manuel Lanzini got injured for Argentina in last summers World Cup- his return date, last month. The case of the highly rated Andriy Yarmolenko is another head scratcher. Injured early on his West Ham career, he wasn’t expected back until March, now he won’t take any part in the season, Winston Reid has been another casualty of the season.

The clubs training facilities at Chadwell Heath have been cited as a problem in recent years but they have another two training grounds and the first team rarely train there although it has been known. Then there is the medical staff- are they up to the job? The probability is that they are indeed and that the clubs injury list is simply down to being unlucky. But then again why does it seem that the Hammers keep missing key players that can make all the difference for long periods of time?

Certainly deciding to bring in Wilshire and Carroll made no sense in the light that these were two injury prone players well before they came to West Ham- to end up with one was a surprise, but both seems odd. Of course on their day and when fit they can be a danger for any opposition team but they simply do not get enough games to play.

One can only wonder if West Ham with their best 11 playing regularly could have challenged for more this season? Perhaps at least 7th and a final Europa League spot in England and a deep run in a cup competition would have been welcome for a side who haven’t won a major trophy since 1980.

Every club gets injuries it is part and parcel of the game, but West Ham need to address why their injuries are taking a season and not a few weeks to mend, otherwise the club no matter who they bring in will be able to go forward.

 

EPL Best XI – Week 37

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The curtain is almost down. The business is almost done. With just a single round of games remaining in the Premier League, the relegation battle is finished but the title race remains very much alive. With the final game of the season being the time that this year’s Premier League champions will be identified, there is still plenty to play for at the summit of England’s top flight. With that said, let’s adopt a 4-3-3 formation this week and see which players performed the best for their clubs this past weekend.

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EPL: Premier League Predictions for Week 35

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The English Premier League only has a few weeks left and there is clearly a reason why football fans regard the league as the most exciting and competitive. That is because the league title is the closest of all the European major leagues and will most likely go down to the wire between Liverpool and Manchester City.

There are 2 Champions League places to take care of as Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham do battle to secure a top 4 place. And Cardiff have given themselves a chance by beating Brighton in midweek- all is to play for as we enter another weekend of Premier League football which should be enthralling and fascinating.

Manchester City v Tottenham

Just where do we start after the teams played out an incredible Champions League 2nd leg quarter final where City won 4-3 on the night but went out on the away goals rule. City need to win this game or that could be the title over too. They will be utterly determined to win this game at home now. Watch out for Raheem Sterling who was denied a hat trick because of VAR, a system not used in the Premier League yet. Manchester City to beat Tottenham

Bournemouth v Fulham

Fulham got a terrific victory over Everton last weekend even though they are down, but their away form is very poor. Eddie Howe’s side are safe and beat Brighton 5-0 in their last match. Callum Wilson could be the difference between the sides, but this should be a close game. Draw

Huddersfield v Watford

More than likely Watford’s mindset will be preparing for the FA Cup final even if it is still a month away. They will be without influential player Troy Deeney who was sent off in the defeat against Arsenal. Huddersfield are relegated and have little to play for, except for home pride and we could see a surprise result here. Huddersfield to beat Watford

West Ham v Leicester

West Ham have been in poor form but the players put in a great shift against Manchester United at Old Trafford and if they can take something from that game even though they lost they could do well here. Felipe Anderson played very well. Leicester have been strong under Brendan Rodgers but lost their last game at home to Newcastle where they didn’t turn up. West Ham to beat Leicester

Wolves v Brighton

Wolves have been excellent this season but they have just 1 win in their past four games. However at home against a poor form side like Brighton this should be 3 points and they could be back in the hunt for a 7th place finish. Brighton continue to be poor in 2019 and could now face a relegation dog fight. Wolves to beat Brighton

Newcastle v Southampton

The Magpies pulled off a great result last weekend going to Leicester and getting a 1-0 win and playing well. Southampton have just 1 win in their past four games and this is their furthest trip in league fixtures. We will opt for the home win here in a game where we could see plenty of goals. Newcastle to beat Southampton

Everton v Manchester United

Since the beginning of March Everton have found form and Marco Silva’s job has been saved. But they put in a toothless display against Fulham last weekend and lost. Back at home where they beat Arsenal and Chelsea recently they can give United a game. United have been in average form and were knocked out in the Champions League against Barcelona, but remain a danger as they hunt for a top 4 finish. Could Everton’s Richarlison be the difference? Draw

Arsenal v Crystal Palace

Arsenal should have few problems against Palace and get all three points. The Gunners have been one of the best teams in the league at home and have lost here just once back on the opening day of the season. Palace are safe and have little to play for. Pierre Emerick- Aubameyang is in great form and will relish this game. Arsenal to beat Crystal Palace

Cardiff v Liverpool

Cardiff got a massive victory over Brighton in midweek to give themselves a chance for survival. But they must keep winning. The problem is they are facing Liverpool and this will be a difficult match. Liverpool just keep on collecting the points, and whilst this will be  a difficult game for the Reds they should have enough quality up front to hurt the home team. Liverpool to beat Cardiff

Chelsea v Burnley

Chelsea still have a great chance to finish in the top four, the problem is that their direct rivals have 5 games to play while they have 4. That means that every game counts but winning at least at home is essential. Eden Hazard is looking the business as he possibly wraps up his career with the Blues. Burnley are in excellent form with 3 wins from their last 3 games but have lost 9 times on the road this season. Chelsea to beat Burnley

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EPL: Premier League Predictions Week 33

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With just over a month to go until the Premier League wraps up the two horse race between Manchester City and Liverpool continues, there is just 1 point in it and this battle looks sure to go down to the wire. Champions League places are also up for grabs. Fulham and Huddersfield have been relegated but there is still one more place to decide although it looks likely that could be Cardiff who need to start picking up the points.

Below we take a look at the games ahead of the weekend and predict who we think will come out on top.

Southampton v Liverpool

Liverpool need all three points but Southampton will be a difficult opponent at St Mary’s when the two teams go head to head on Friday night. Goals have dried up for Mohamed Salah but Sadio Mane has been on fire and Liverpool will be the odds on favourites to win this game. When they are not playing well they are getting just the right amount of luck and look unstoppable. Liverpool to beat Southampton

Bournemouth v Burnley

Bournemouth have been in poor form but at the same time they are safe and have won just 1 game in the last five. Burnley can really turn the screw on 18th placed Cardiff with a win here and go further clear which could virtually secure their status in the Premier League. The boost for them is that they have just beaten Wolves and ended a 4 game losing streak. Draw

Huddersfield v Leicester

Now that Huddersfield are down they might just be able to relax and enjoy their football. Leicester are trying to be the best of the rest and finish in 7th place and are in very good form now under new coach Brendan Rodgers and Jamie Vardy will be hoping to get back on the score sheet. Leicester to beat Huddersfield

Newcastle v Crystal Palace

The teams come into this game with the same form and Palace are just 1 point above Newcastle. Newcastle’s form is spectacular at home where they have won their last 5 games in a row and they should have too much for Palace. Newcastle to beat Crystal Palace

Everton v Arsenal

Can Everton win 3 games in a row? They will face  a difficult team in Arsenal and the Gunners are in very good form. Arsenal are looking good for 3rd place and have more quality than  Everton. Pierre Emerick Aubameyang is in good form and they have plenty of goals in their team. Arsenal to beat Everton

Chelsea v West Ham

West Ham have had some poor results lately and even the games they have been winning they haven’t been very convincing. Chelsea at home have been superb this season and Olivier Giroud has finally found his goal scoring boots. Chelsea to beat West Ham

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