Messi is the greatest player ever, no controversy over that, says Mikel Obi

The Super Eagles skipper has is takes on the unending debate of the better player between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, as he believes the Barcelona man is better than Ronaldo.

The duo of Messi and Ronaldo have dominated the most covets football individual awards between them for the last ten years.

With Mikel having faced the two in the past, the former Chelsea when asked about the better player in an interview with Sportsvillagesquare.com, he said Messi was not only better than Ronaldo but the greatest man to ever play football.

He said, “There is no controversy. Mikel is the greatest player to ever played football.

“Across many competitions, I have been on the same pitch with him. I, therefore, know what I am saying.”

The Tianjin Teda of China captain, who played in England for over 10 years also revealed he planned of a return back to the English Premier League.

Though he noted he was enjoying his time in the Chinese Super League, Mikel said he would fancy a return to the English League.

“I will like to retire back in the Premier League in a few years’ time, but we will see what comes.”

“Time will tell, I am enjoying my time in China. It is a great country to live and work and I want to continue playing for another four to five years,” Mikel added.

 

Published in Awa Football

Jorginho is key, Hazard might end up playing as a false 9, says Higginbotham 

Former Manchester United youth player John Higginbotham has said Chlesea new boy, Jorginho was the brainbox behind the idea Sarri is implementing at Chelsea.

The £57million summer acquisition has been impressive since he joined from Napoli – scoring in his first competitive match, started the build-up that led to Chelsea’s first goal against Arsenal last Saturday.

Higginbotham, who also played for Derby, Southampton, amongst hosts of others English clubs claimed Jorginho ‘is now Chelsea’s heartbeat.’

“Jorginho is the man that makes Sarri-ball tick,” he told Skysport. “Because he has played under Sarri before at Napoli – and I’m not saying he’ll become the om-pitch manager- he can help the players adjust to the way Sarri wants to play.

“He’s the heartbeat of the team now, as he was eventually at Napoli, with everything going through him.

“He has strong runners strong runners either side of him, which creates space for him, and he’ll be that deep-lying playmaker and will be expected to be that shield too.”

While Higginbotham maintained that Jorginho was the key man for the implementation of Sarri-ball, he identified Hazard as another marquee player for the former Napoli manager.

The 39-year-old said there was a chance for Hazard taking up the No.9 role under Sarri.

“I think Eden Hazard could end up playing as a No 9, having seen what Sarri did at Napoli Dries Mertens.

“I think he’ll end up playing as a false 9, possibly with Pedro and Willian,” Higginbotham added.

 

 

 

 

Published in International Watch

It’s quite apt to say Chelsea and Arsenal are still at the adaption stage of their different managers’ philosophies at the club, and ‘different’, in this case refers more to the identity of the managers in charge, and less to the philosophies both gaffers are trying to espouse in the English Capital. On evidence of the first weekend of the season, both managers seem attentive on a style of play that requires building from the back, getting comfortable on the ball, using the goalkeeper as an eleventh outfield player, a system which, despite yielding different results at the start, will take some getting used to.

Arsenal began with a chastening defeat at home to champions Manchester City last Sunday, and were just about given a first-class lesson on the difference between pedestrian possession and purposeful penetration, the latter of which is the level Unai Emery aspires to get to. The Gunners were palpably uncomfortable in attempting to bring Emery’s gameplan to fruition, an initial awkwardness that nearly yielded a comical own goal from goalkeeper Petr Cech, was the source of ire to Sam Allardyce, and led to an online… for a lack of better word, spat, between Cech and new Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno’s former club Bayer Leverkusen.

Chelsea’s initial result was rather different, the Blues recording an ultimately comfortable win at Huddersfield on the opening Saturday of the season. But it didn’t fail to mask the unease that still lies with the side as they try to come to terms with Maurizio Sarri’s style of play. There were more than a few awkward moments, on and off the ball, not least at the back, despite the eventual scoreline, and you sense a more incisive side than the Terriers would cause the fallen champions more problems. But their immediate task is a home game against Arsenal, a side in a similar mode of adjustment.

So, this might be the perfect time for both London clubs to go head-to-head, which they’ll do on Saturday, a clash of the least-fancied of the top six teams this season, both sides who might possess similar traits of weakness, yet whose flaws probably won’t be capitalised on, as both have teething problems.

Whatever happens at Stamford Bridge probably wouldn’t set the tone for both their seasons, there will be sterner tests from much more settled sides; this is a game between two teams in need of time.

Elsewhere

  • The outlook on Manchester City might well have changed after this week’s developments, with Kevin de Bruyne now ruled out for up to three months with a knee injury. They coped well without the Belgian for most of last week’s win at Arsenal, and are unlikely to face problems at home to Huddersfield- even though the Terriers held them to a draw at the Etihad less than three months ago-, but how this setback affects their run-in will be interesting to watch.
  • The last time Manchester United went to Brighton, the Seagulls celebrated a win that ultimately sealed their place in this season’s top-flight, Jose Mourinho was grumpy and bemoaned how his squad deputies failed to perform on the night. Less than three months on, Mourinho is still grumpy, and the squad deputies haven’t been cut much slack. For Brighton, meanwhile, they seek to recover after that tame opening day loss at Watford.
  • Speaking of seeking a recovery, Cardiff and Newcastle meet in South Wales, after both sides suffered defeat in their first games. The last time Neil Warnock and Rafa Benitez had any semblance of Premier League ‘business’ that involved both parties, Benitez was accused of fielding a weakened side in Liverpool’s loss to Fulham, one of the relegation rivals of Sheffield United- managed then by Warnock, back in 2007.
  • Tottenham haven’t had the best start to the season. The lack of transfer activity, Mauricio Pochettino pointing a finger at Brexit for that, and then the delays with their new ground. A win on the opening day at Newcastle did well to mask the first one, another victory, as Fulham come to Wembley, to mask the second will do nicely.

Fixtures

Chelsea v Arsenal

Cardiff v Newcastle

Brighton v Manchester United

Crystal Palace v Liverpool

West Ham v Bournemouth

Tottenham v Fulham

Manchester City v Huddersfield

Everton v Southampton

Burnley v Watford

Leicester v Wolves

Published in International Watch

 

 The Roman Abramovich London series: Season 16 (Sarri-Ball), Episode Three (Sarri-ball welcomes Arsenal).

It’s been quite a ride, Chelsea and Abramovich; the ups and downs, the heartbreaks and the heart-warming moments, the Andriy Shevchenko and the Didier Drogba, and a lot of mails that say ‘you’re fired’ (we assume). The Russian’s ownership of the club has torn through 10 managers (yes, including Avram Grant), and Maurizio Sarri is the 11th at the helm. And this weekend, Sarri and his Sarri-ball, still at its infancy stage at Stamford Bridge, welcome Arsenal to SW6, his third game of the season (if you include the Community Shield).

So, because we here have nothing better to do, we take a look at the past 10 managers of the Blues and their first (league) games against the Gunners:

Note: This is the first game of Chelsea’s managers against Arsenal, not the first game of their managerial tenures at the Bridge, hence Jose Mourinho circa 2013 and Guus Hiddink circa 2016 won’t be included.

Claudio Ranieri- Arsenal 1-1 Chelsea (January 2001)

Claudio Ranieri was appointed as Chelsea manager on the 18th of September 2000, 12 days after Chelsea’s first meeting with Arsenal that season, when the Blues conceded twice in the final 14 minutes to throw away a two-goal lead. Hence, the Tinkerman’s first game for the Blues against Arsenal was in January of the following year, when Robert Pires gave the Gunners the perfect start at Highbury, with a goal inside three minutes. But Chelsea roared back to leave with a point, thanks to an equaliser from John Terry just past the hour mark. One-all it finished, and Chelsea finished the season in sixth place, earning a then-commendable UEFA Cup spot.

Jose Mourinho- Arsenal 2-2 Chelsea (December 2004)

Ranieri didn’t last long under Emperor Roman, just one season and the Italian was binned. In came a young Jose Mourinho, fresh from running the length of the Old Trafford sidelines, as well as winning the Champions League with Porto. His first game against the Gunners also came at Highbury, in December of 2004, when the league leaders visited the champions. Arsenal wasted little time in flying out of the blocks, Thierry Henry with an immaculate control and finish, past a standing Petr Cech, to give the Gunners an early lead. Chelsea didn’t take long to respond, though, John Terry again, his header from Arjen Robben’s corner restoring parity, but Arsenal would go into the break ahead, Henry with a quick free-kick that caught Cech and Chelsea out. Again, the Blues would hit back, early in the second half, through Eidur Gudjohnsen. Chances and attempts weren’t non-existent afterwards, Robben struck the side-netting after a mazy run, while Henry skied a shot over, eight yards from a gaping goal, but it would finish level, Chelsea steamrollering their way to the league title with 95 points, 12 ahead of the Gunners in second place.

Avram Grant- Arsenal 1-0 Chelsea (December 2007)

Mourinho too would be gone, by September of 2007, with Avram Grant quite inexplicably put in charge until the end of the season. Grant’s first game against the Gunners would come at the Emirates three months later, a game which was decided by a header from former Chelsea defender and then-Arsenal skipper William Gallas on the stroke of halftime, thanks in no small part to an error from Petr Cech. Arsenal spent most of the embers of the second period passing up chances to kill off the game, but held out for the win which kept them as pacesetters in the league then. Chelsea would eventually finish above them, but both had to settle for a spot below champions Manchester United.

Luis Felipe Scolari- Chelsea 1-2 Arsenal (December 2008)

Just about a year later, Chelsea’s newest manager, World Cup winner Luis Felipe Scolari, was to come face-to-face with Arsenal for the first time. Up until a month earlier, Chelsea had a record of been unbeaten at home in the league for four years, a run that spanned 86 games, and was ended by Liverpool. Chelsea made the breakthrough against the Gunners, Johan Djourou unfortunate enough to score an own goal, but a double from Robin van Persie ensured an Arsenal turnaround and Arsene Wenger’s side left with all three points. For Scolari, that was his only meeting with the Gunners as Chelsea boss, the Brazilian got his p45 in February of the following year.

Guus Hiddink- Arsenal 1-4 Chelsea (May 2009)

Dutchman Hiddink was Scolari’s replacement at the Bridge, juggling his responsibilities with the Russian national team alongside his temporary role at Chelsea. Hiddink had met, and beaten, Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final less than a month before their league meeting at the Emirates. In what was Arsenal’s last chance to have a shot at third place that season, Chelsea entered the break with a two-goal lead, a header from Alex and a pile-driver from Nicolas Anelka giving them a margin for error. Two became three in the second half, Kolo Toure turning Florent Malouda’s cross into his own net, while Malouda himself would add a fourth, either side of Nicklas Bendtner grabbing a goal back for the Gunners.

Carlo Ancelotti- Arsenal 0-3 Chelsea (November 2009)

It was the last day of November in 2009, and the first game against Arsenal as Chelsea boss for Carlo Ancelotti, who took his league leaders to the Emirates. In what had become archetypal of this fixture at that time, despite Arsenal having dominated proceedings and getting the lion’s share of possession, it was Chelsea who’d take the lead, Didier Drogba turning home Ashley Cole’s cross. Chelsea doubled that advantage soon after, another Cole cross, this time it was Thomas Vermaelen who diverted the ball into his own goal, before Drogba added the gloss on the scoreline with a superb free-kick after halftime, as the eventual champions of that season strolled to a comfortable victory.

Andre Villas-Boas- Chelsea 3-5 Arsenal (October 2011)

Ancelotti also headed for the door marked ‘Do One’ soon enough, and like in 2004, an Italian was replaced by a young Portuguese coming off the back of European success. Andre Villas-Boas was the new man at the Bridge then, and less than three months into the new league season, the 33-year-old gaffer was playing host to Arsenal in the league. The Gunners had started to pick themselves up at that point after a rotten start, winning two league games in a row, after achieving that same number of wins in their previous seven games, the most notable of those an 8-2 thrashing at Old Trafford. Chelsea, meanwhile, hit a reef of their own, coming into this game off the back a defeat to West London rivals Queens Park Rangers, but got on the front foot early on here, and took a deserved lead through the head of Frank Lampard. Arsenal responded soon after through Robin van Persie, but Chelsea would go into the break in front, John Terry bundling home a Lampard corner. Arsenal responded again, in the second half, via Andre Santos, before Theo Walcott put the Gunners in front, then Juan Mata dragged the scoreline to 3-3 with 10 minutes left. Chelsea sensed a win, but an over-hit pass from Florent Malouda and a slip by Terry let in Van Persie, who rounded Petr Cech and rolled the ball into an unguarded net. Van Persie would complete his hatrick in stoppage time, for a 5-3 win, that marked the beginning of the end at Chelsea for AVB, who would be sacked in March.

Roberto Di Matteo- Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea (April 2012)

AVB’s assistant at the start of the season, Di Matteo took temporary charge after the Portuguese was binned, and the Italian’s highlights included that stunning second leg comeback in last 16 of the UEFA Champions League against Napoli, that famous 2-2 draw in the semi-final second leg against Barcelona, and of course the triumph in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich in their opponents’ own stadium. But his first game as Chelsea boss against Arsenal is one that lives in the memory of few. In fact, the only thing Spotkick can recall from this game was that Robin van Persie was booked for a foul on Michael Essien. That’s enough about that.

Rafael Benitez- Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal (January 2013)

Di Matteo would be given the Chelsea job on a permanent basis after his triumph in Munich, and if that was a ploy for the manager to be sacked, it worked out perfectly, as the former Chelsea midfielder was gone by November. In came, much to ire of Blues fans, Rafa Benitez, until the end of the season. Less than two months in, on a pouring afternoon at Stamford Bridge, Benitez faced Arsenal. Goals from Juan Mata and Frank Lampard- from the spot- gave the Blues a 2-0 halftime lead, and despite Theo Walcott pulling one back for the Gunners after the interval, Chelsea held out for the win, on their way to finishing the season in third, one place and two points above Arsenal.

Antonio Conte- Arsenal 3-0 Chelsea (September 2016)

Two months into the new Premier League season, and it had begun to look uncomfortable for Antonio Conte at Chelsea, a draw at Swansea was followed up by a defeat at home to Liverpool. Next up, a trip to the Emirates. Conte’s first game against the Gunners had just about the worst first half you could think of, Gary Cahill’s error letting in Alexis Sanchez, who dinked one Thibaut Courtois and gave Arsenal the lead; then Walcott added a quick-fire second minutes after. Mesut Ozil added a third, just before halftime. In the second half, Conte reverted to a back-three, and Chelsea didn’t concede in the league again until late November, and went on a run of 13 straight wins, on their way to the title; so in hindsight, that first-half hammering was a good thing.

Published in International Watch

The Chelsea defender has confirmed that he would not be part of the national set up anymore

The 27-year-old announced on social media that he was retiring from international football.

Victor Moses, who had represented England at various youth levels, made his debut for Nigeria in 2012.

Moses, who featured in all of the Super Eagles games at the World Cup, in a statement on social media on Tuesday made his decisions to retire from playing for Nigeria known.

The statement obtained from his verified Twitter account reads: “I would like to announce that after much thought I have made the decision to retire from playing international football.

“I have experienced some of the best moments of my life wearing the Super Eagles shirt and have memories with me that will last a lifetime. Nothing will ever compete to what it felt like to represent Nigeria on behalf of our country.

“However I feel that now is the right time to step away in order to be able to focus fully on club career and my young family as well as to allow the next generation of Super Eagles Stars the opportunity to step up and flourish. We are blessed as a nation to have some exciting young players coming through and now is their time.

“There are so many highlights that stand out for me over the years; from making my debut, to playing in two World Cups and being a part of the team to win African Cup for first time four our nation since 1994 being just a few of them.

“I have already spoken to the manager by telephone and would like to say thank you to him and his staff, the NFF and all of my teammates for all of their support over the years.

“Most importantly I would like to say thank you to the Nigerian people for believing in me and supporting me over the years. It’s meant the world to me and my family and I will always be a proud Nigerian supporting the team.

“Thank you for the memories and good luck to the team for the future.”

Moses represented Nigeria on 37 occasions and had 12 international goals to his name.

 

Published in Awa Football

 

The theatrics and pyrotechnics were on show at the Molineux, Wolverhampton Wanderers were back in the Premier League for the first time in some six years; the last time they were here, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger were still very much part of the top-flight furniture, Kylian Mbappe was 13 years old, Blackberry phones were on the in, Huddersfield were in the third tier, while things like Goal-line Technology and Video Assistant Referees were yet-to-be implemented theories. That’s how long it’s been.

Absence has made the heart grow fonder, and, add to that the fact that the Midlands-club have added well in the summer transfer window, and fancy themselves capable of more than mere survival, you could not just excuse the overwhelming sense of anticipation, but rather encourage it as well. The stadium was in full voice, as Everton came to town.

‘The fans must enjoy it’, said manager Nuno Esprito Santo, and the fans did, the boisterous atmosphere at the ground was palpable , as Wolves stepped out to begin a season in which they were the only side from the West Midlands in the top-flight. The kick-off came with roaring cheers, as did every Wolves kick of the ball early on.

But Premier League is never roses and rainbows, it took only 17 minutes for Wolves to be reminded of what they left behind back in 2012. The ruthless cruelty that is the top-flight, any lapse likely to be punished, such as failing to deal with a free-kick in your 18-yard box, what the hosts were guilty of in the 17th minute. When Gylfi Sigurdsson swung in a cross, Wolves’ defence hesitated in the area, their clearance uncertain, and Richarlison nipped in to put Everton in front.

Everton also have expectations of their own, looking to put things right after last season’s debacle. They also have a Portuguese manager, long sought-after Marco Silva finally appointed in the summer, and it was the manager’s new signings in Richarlison, a man who had raised eyebrows for being acquired for 40million pounds, who was off celebrating giving Everton the lead.

There it was, the size of the task that Wolves had to rise up to in this division; they’d talked the talk, now to walk it. But they did find a response, even if a helping hand came their way at first. Everton skipper Phil Jagielka took a heavy touch, then took his studs through Diogo Jota’s ankle, an act which saw receive his marching orders, in the 44th minute. Wolves had a numerical advantage, and from the resulting free-kick, Ruben Neves, near-impeccable in the Championship last season, arrowed one past Jordan Pickford.

Then the noise was back, the electricity in the ground resumed, not since Steven Fletcher in 2012 had this club had a goal-scorer in the big time, Wolves now had lift-off. ‘We thank the crowd, Molineux was incredible- buzzing’, said Santo, who was engulfed in celebration by his coaching staff after Neves’ leveller. ‘It was a good atmosphere’.

If the atmosphere was unquestionable, the performance wasn’t; for all the noise and bounce in the ground, Wolves didn’t create much after halftime, despite their numerical advantage, Jota guilty of taking a touch too many on a few occasions, while the passes weren’t quite coming off, and on 67 minutes, thanks once more to Richarlison, they fell behind again. ‘We over-played some moments…’, admitted Santo, ‘…but it’s natural when we’re growing’.

But the fans wouldn’t leave sullen, as with 10 minutes left, a delightful Neves cross was met by the head of Raul Jimenez, one of the summer signings, to rescue a point. ‘We have character.’ Santo again pointed out. ‘We came back with a result two times, it’s not easy’.

And he shouldn’t expect it to get any easier. There were a few causes for concern; the fluidity was lacking, the defence was suspect, and chance creation was next-to-non-existent. But as Santo said, the side is growing. There will be teething problems, but results like this will make them feel they should overcome that. The optimism can’t fade just yet, Wolves want to belong here.

Elsewhere

  • It was the ideal start for Chelsea at Huddersfield- three goals, three points, a clean sheet for the World’s most expensive goalkeeper. But that in no way means the Blues look ready, they were a few jittery moments at the John Smith’s stadium, but as Maurizio Sarri’s side are still at the getting-used-to-it stage, the win was more than welcome.
  • One side also getting used to it are Arsenal, who were shown a hint of the level they aspire to get to under Unai Emery as they lost to the champions Manchester City. No sense of deflation as of yet, this is another who are always going to face teething problems, even if one of those was almost the most inexplicable of own goals you could see. Almost.
  • It all began on Friday night, only 72 seconds were on the clock when Andre Marriner gave Manchester United a penalty against Leicester. A spotkick goal (yes, we had to) from World Cup winner Paul Pogba, a first career goal for Luke Shaw, suddenly Jose Mourinho’s pre-season grumpiness is forgotten… For now.
  • It’s the first weekend of the season, and Roberto Pereyra has probably already won the Goal of the Month award for August.
  • Mohammed Salah scored, Harry Kane didn’t score in an August game, Wilfred Zaha helped Crystal Palace to victory, Southampton didn’t score…nothing much is new these days.
  • From the probably-not-immortal words of Frank Underwood, ‘Welcome back’.

Results

Wolves 2-2 Everton

Fulham 0-2 Crystal Palace

Huddersfield 0-3 Chelsea

Liverpool 4-0 West Ham

Watford 2-0 Brighton

Arsenal 0-2 Manchester City

Manchester United 2-1 Leicester

Newcastle 1-2 Tottenham

Bournemouth 2-0 Cardiff

Southampton 0-0 Burnley

Published in International Watch

Premier League 2018/19: Prologue

Friday, 10 August 2018 10:08

 

What is this really? A list of things to look out for ahead of the new season? A list questions to be answered ahead of the new campaign? A load of nonsense by Spotkick to generate attentio… okay, maybe not that last part.

Hence, we called it a prologue, the 2018-19 Premier League trailer; the thing before the real thing begins: 

 

An actual title race this time?

Yeah, yeah, Manchester City, we get it, you steamrolled to the title with all the records broken, whatever. But that also meant in four years, we haven’t had a real title race. Commendations to Spurs for trying to make something of two of the last four seasons, but still, there’s been little doubt over the state of the league winners going into the final two months for the first time since 2014. City look like favourites for the title again, but Liverpool’s summer spending has many tipping as the likeliest side to challenge the champions. The others, though, pose questions and reasons for doubt. Spurs made no action in the window, Manchester United haven’t had the best preparations, to say the least, Chelsea have new management and a lot of room for improvement, and Arsenal approach a season of the unknown. On paper, it looks like there are only two sides vying for the title, but it’s never played on paper is it? Yet it’s probably too much to ask for a six-team title race.

 

The unknown case of the Gunners

It’s gone from expecting the Gunners to implode in mid-February and wondering whom Arsene Wenger would push his irritation at, to a sense of the unknown at the Emirates. Wenger has departed after 22 years, Unai Emery is the new boss in Red North London, areas of weakness have been supposedly bolstered, and there’s the feel that the fans are stepping into the unknown with a touch of optimism. Suddenly, making a stern prediction on the Gunners seems a tough call. We no longer know what lies behind that Hornsey Road curtain.

 

Will Chelsea become- oh God- likeable?

It’s the supposed constant in West London, Chelsea are the formidable ruthless machine, hiring and firing reputable winners one after the other, thriving in their short-termism, and being hated by everybody else, like having an eternal dislike for Channels Television because they had the gusto to interrupt your cartoons with news programmes back when you were a kid. But could that change? For once in the Roman Abramovich era, the Blues have gone against their archetypal mode, appointing a manager who has nothing in terms of trophies, in Maurizio Sarri. Sarri comes with a mode of playing that will take some getting used to, it took a while for his style garnered fruit with Napoli. That means Abramovich seems settled to adopting a style that’ll require patience and practice, so no sign of short-termism, no hiring of a name laden with silverware. Which could equal, a style of play that could be pleasing on the eye, plus the fact that their system will take some getting used to, as the Community Shield proved, which could mean a few unpleasant results in the early days of the campaign, and a few unlucky outcomes may well generate some empathy. They may well be the new Premier League, gulp, .

 

Jose’s dissatisfaction hanging over Red Manchester

The grumpiest man in Manchester, The Guardian called him, United’s manager hasn’t expressed elation over United before the season begins, his claims over the club’s relative transfer inactivity and the unavailability of some of his players, who had the audacity to represent their country at the World Cup. Eyes have already been set at the Portuguese, who approaches his third season at Old Trafford, the period of calamity in his managerial timeline, and his grumpiness hasn’t taken away the limelight. All signs point towards a ticking time-bomb at the Theatre of Dreams, or is it all a smoke-screen to bait into playing United down as outsiders? The opening game of the season may set the tone.

 

2019: The year of the Reds?

Raise your hand if you’ve seen and been annoyed by this before: this could be Liverpool’s season. Before you snort in derision and walk away, look at the signs; mainly the transfer window. Having bolstered their defence with the acquisition of Virgil van Dijk last January, they seem to have plugged that goalkeeping hole with the acquisition of Alisson Becker from Roma, have added some solidity and security in midfield in the arrivals of Fabinho and Naby Keita, and the signing of Xherdan Shaqiri does their attack no harm. With Daniel Sturridge apparently staying and Adam Lallana fit for the start of this campaign, Liverpool finally boast sufficient squad depth to mount a lasting challenge. Don’t fold under pressure, and it really could be their year. (Spoiler alert: It probably won’t)

 

Neil Warnock, his point to prove, and his fiery atmosphere

Two: number of times Neil Warnock has taken a side into the top-flight.

Zero: number of times he’s achieved survival with them.

Either by suffering relegation or getting discarded halfway, Warnock and the Premier League don’t mix. And after leading Cardiff to their unexpected promotion last term, this may seem like his chance to put things right, so the manager wouldn’t want for motivation ahead of 2018-19. The odds are stacked against the veteran manager and his side, who are favourites to be relegated, which could mean no pressure or so much pressure. Survival may not come, and Warnock may not last long at the helm this term, but expect some feistiness from the Sheffield-born man. His list of spats and finger-pointing is quite something- even Sean Bean can attest to it. Has already made previous with Pep Guardiola and Nuno Esprito Santo last season, surely there’ll be more this time.

 

Battle to be best of the rest

There’s little denying the drawn-out gap between the top six and the rest, like titans watching the gods dining at the pantheon. Last season, Burnley in seventh place were closer to the relegation zone than they were to sixth place, the season before that it was Southampton in eighth that were in that scenario. We’ll always have Leicester’s crazy one-season stand in 2015/16, but the reality is, the top six are quite a cut above the rest. Speaking of Leicester, the Foxes do have a shot at being the best of the rest. Despite the loss of Riyad Mahrez, the summer has been good, highly-rated Championship playmaker James Maddison has joined from Norwich, Ricardo Pereira plugs that hole at right-back, while Jonny Evans is a bargain at 3million. There’s a worry over the future of manager Claude Puel, whom was the subject of fans discontent in the second half of the campaign, and a bad start could the Frenchman be sent packing. Everton also have a right to fancy their chances; a season of amends is likely to be on the cards after last term’s debacle, but they still possess a quality side and finally have their sought-after managerial target in Marco Silva. West Ham shouldn’t be out of the question, problems still lie in East London but the summer has looked promising for the first time in a while. Then there’s the other promoted duo. Wolves and Fulham will probably want to consider themselves as the winners of this transfer window, Wolves managing to lure top-class goalkeeper Rui Patricio to the club, as well as Joao Moutinho, while Fulham snapped up Jean Michel-Seri, once a target of Barcelona’s, as well as World Cup winner Andre Schurrle. Rarely before did newly-promoted sides fancy themselves capable of much more than survival right after coming to the big time.

Published in International Watch

Cardiff

Last Season: 2nd (Championship); Top Scorer: Callum Paterson (10) FA Cup: Fourth Round; League Cup: Third Round

This is the season of…

Proving a point. On the face of it, Cardiff should be in the position of minimal pressure, a rather fast-tracked relegation- it has to be said- means they’re just about everyone’s favourites to go down, and also means relegation would be by no means calamitous. But this is a club whose last voyage into the big time ended in tame relegation after a solitary, and they have a manager who’s likely to be written because of his track record in the top-tier. All roads lead to the Bluebirds having a score to settle.

Who’s in…

Cardiff’s transfer raid has been mostly on Championship clubs so far, Bobby Reid (from Bristol City), Josh Murphy (Norwich), Alex Smithies (Queens Park Rangers) and Greg Cunningham (Preston North End) their major additions so far.

Who’s out…

None so far.

The Gaffer (Neil Warnock)…

The former Sheffield United and Leeds United manager was appointed back in 2016/17 to steady the ship Paul Trollope lost control of, but has exceeded expectations in taking them back to the big-time. His record in the top-flight is unenviable, though, something he’ll be keen to put right. Is a qualified referee, but doesn’t practise, and has a long list of spats with people, from officials to players to managers, and even Sean Bean.

Dream season…

Survival is achieved with little fuss, Neil Warnock finally smiles in the big time.

Nightmare season…

2014 reincarnated with another timid Premier League campaign, and Cardiff swap divisions with Swansea at the end of the season.

Key man…

Warnock’s side are likely to primarily set up to be hard to beat, a system in which Sol Bamba will be pivotal.

Needs to step up…

Long gone are Kenneth Zohore’s days of being Cardiff’s transfer laughing stock, but the Dane still needs provide more up front, particularly in this division.

Verdict: A club and a manager with much to prove wouldn’t want for motivation, but there’s a reason why they’re the least-fancied side in this division. 20th

Chelsea

Last Season: 5th; Top Scorer: Eden Hazard (12); FA Cup: Winners; League Cup: Semi-final; UEFA Champions League: Last 16

This is the season of…

Optimism. The second and tumultuous season of the previous title-winning manager has ended with a sacking, a move straight out of the Chelsea brochure, which means the chance to be optimistic is going to creep back to SW6. Antonio Conte will always be held in high regard at the Bridge, but his rein had gotten visibly riotous, and his departure at the end of last season was always inevitable. It’s all change again at the Stamford Bridge dugout, which means a second-season syndrome, but first the initial season of glamour and glory is expected.

Who’s In…

Conte has been unsurprisingly replaced by former Napoli boss Maurizio Sarri, who has brought with him midfielder Jorginho. Whatever plane they were arriving on, it seems Robert Green snuck into it, the veteran English goalkeeper has joined on a free.

Who’s out…

No major departure…yet.

The Gaffer (Maurizio Sarri)…

The Italian banker is the name always likely to arrive after the tag ‘hipster’s choice’. The former Empoli may not have trophies to boast, but his work with Napoli in his three seasons at San Paolo is undeniable.

Dream season...

Typical Chelsea under a new manager: the football is gorgeous, the unbeaten run spell-binding, and the league title triumph inevitable.

Nightmare season…

The exception to typical Chelsea under a new manager (2011/12): The campaign is a stop-gap, their title challenge is over by January, and two months later Sarri heads for the door marked ‘Do One’.

Key man…

The question remains as to whether he will stay, but should he remain Eden Hazard would be the main pivot in Sarri’s side.

Needs to step up…

Yes, it’s Alvaro Morata. Or is it Tiemoue Bakayoko? Or Danny Drinkwater? Or Ross Barkl…oh forget it.

Verdict: Uncertainty over the fate of key players means Sarri would do well to recreate the typical Chelsea new gaffer magic. 5th

Crystal Palace

Last Season- 11th; Top Scorer: Luka Milivojevic (10); FA Cup: Third Round; League Cup: Fourth Round

This is the season of…

Uncertainty, perhaps. Last season’s brilliant survival story shot up optimism for this campaign, but the departure of players, and a lack of additions so far makes things a little tentative so far. Right back and midfield slots need significant reinforcements, and barely any has arrived. Lack of transfer activity cost Frank de Boer dear last season. Clock’s running.

Who’s in…

At least the goalkeeping slot has received a long overdue upgrade, Vicente Guaita joining on a free from Spanish side Getafe. Cheikhou Kouyate has been signed from West Ham.

Who’s out…

The departures of Joel Ward and Yohan Cabaye, whose contracts have expired, leaves holes in key position. Lee Chung-Yung and Damien Delaney have also left.

The Gaffer (Roy Hodgson)…

Has done well to rebuild his reputation with the Eagles after his England debacle, leading them to a survival that had initially seemed like a long shot. The veteran manager surely has the nous to take them further, but needs backing in the market.

Dream season…

The additions come in, and the Eagles, led by Hodgson, challenge for a place in Europe.

Nightmare season…

Additions don’t come, Wilfried Zaha leaves, and having flirted with relegation for a few seasons, Palace finally bite the bullet.

Key man…

Where they would be without Zaha, no one knows. Keeping him is just as important as making new signings, perhaps more.

Needs to step up…

Three goals in 10 months is not a good reading, Christian Benteke needs to regain his form should he stay.

Verdict: Survival, and comfort, isn’t beyond, but a lot rests on Zaha and whether or not the squad sees significant additions. 15th

Everton

Last Season: 8th; Top Scorer: Wayne Rooney (10); FA Cup: Third Round; League Cup: Fourth Round; UEFA Europa League: Group Stage

This is the season of…

Making amends. Last season was a mess, in every way, at Goodison Park- disappointing eighth-place finish, early exit from the cups and from Europe as well, and Sam Allardyce. Long sought-after Marco Silva is the new man, and he’s tasked with cleaning up. The expectations are lower this term, but improvements are a must.

Who’s in…

Richarlison has been reunited with Silva, Everton parting with 40million pounds to get the Brazilian, while Lucas Digne has joined from Barcelona.

Who’s out…

Wayne Rooney’s return to Goodison lasted just one season- a fairly productive one, it has to be said- and the former England captain has moved to Major League Soccer. Davy Klaassen’s hellish time at the club has also come to an end, the Dutchman joining Werder Bremen, while Ramiro Funes Mori has swapped Goodison for Villarreal. Joel Robles has been released.

The Gaffer (Marco Silva)…

After the advances of last autumn, Everton finally have their man. The Portuguese has had two commendable stints with Premier League clubs, but the reality is both ended in disappointment, hence a sense of needing to put things right should be prevalent here.

Dream season…

Glass ceiling shatters: Everton find their way into the top six, and win a domestic cup to boot.

Nightmare season…

Another tame outside the top seven finish is matched by more disappointing cup runs, and they lose to whoever Allardyce takes charge of.

Key man…

Gylfi Sigurdsson had no pre-season last year, joining the club late in the window, and his first season at Goodison was a tad underwhelming. The Icelandic international is just about the only No.10 now left, and may well flourish under Silva.

Needs to step up…

This time last summer, Everton thought they had bagged a bargain in Michael Keane. Performances proved them wrong. The defender played his way out of the England setup last season, he needs to play his way back in.

Verdict: The top six becomes harder to break into with each season, but expectations at Goodison have lowered, minimal action in the market means cohesion is more likely, and the Toffees boast a strong squad. 7th

Published in International Watch

Chelsea have made Jordan Pickford an alternative should Thibaut Courtois join Real Madrid.

Reports in England have it that talks between Chelsea and Courtois over a new deal has broken down, as the Belgian international is ready to run down his remaining one year contract at Stamford Bridge.

With a move to Santiago Bernabeu on the desk for the shot stopper, Chelsea, according to Sky news have identified Everton and England number one Jordan Pickford as a possible replacement for Courtois.

Pickford, who only signed for Everton last season, in a deal worth around £30m was phenomenon for England en-route to their fourth place finished at the World Cup.

Skysports reported, that though, Everton and Chelsea have not yet opened any formal discussion over Pickford, the Toffees are likely to rebuff any approach for their man.

 

Chelsea are reported to have identified the likes of Jack Butland, Kasper Schmeichel, Peter Cech and Gianluigi Donnarumma as other possible replacements. 

Published in Transfer Rumors

The blues are looking for a replacement after it has been said that first choice goalkeeper, Thibault Cortouis has agreed to move to Spanish giant Real Madrid in a move said to be around €35m.

According to Italian Daily, Tuttosport, Chelsea are looking at the possibility of bringing AC Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma to the Stamford Bridge – a deal, that will see Alvaro Morata move the other way round.

Chelsea new manger Sarri has identified Juventus forward Gonzalo Higuain as his top striker for the new season, and it has been reported that Chelsea are in talks to sign to sign the Argentine forward, which in turn will facilitate Morata’s move away from the club.

Morata, only moved to Chelsea last season, but found life in the English league difficult – scoring just 11 goals in 31 appearances, and in turn, failed to make the cut of the team that represented Spain at the World Cup.

The 25-year old had previously played in the Italian league – from 2014 to 2016 with Juventus, and moving back to league won’t be much of a problem for him.

 

 

Published in Transfer Rumors

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