Fulham

Last Season: 3rd (Championship play-off winner); Top Scorer: Ryan Sessegnon (15); FA Cup: Third Round; League Cup: Second Round

This is the season of…

Continued progress. Things have changed since Fulham were last in the Premier League: four of the usual top six have changed kit makers, vanishing spray has been introduced, and the transfer window here closes early now. The club have been on a progressive scale since 2016, and after losing out in the play-off semis in 2017, the Cottagers got it right a year after. The aim now is to continue that progress; which means survival in the big-time, for starters.

Who’s in…

Fulham have packed a punch in this transfer window so far, Maxime Le Marchand joining from Nice, as well one-time Barcelona target Jean-Michel Seri. Andre Schurrle has also arrived on loan from Borussia Dortmund, while goalkeeper Fabri joins from Besiktas, and Alfie Mawson has been snapped up from Swansea. Aleksandar Mitrovic’s loan has been made permanent.

Who’s out…

Ryan Fredericks is the biggest departure so far, swapping West London for East (West Ham). David Button has left to join Brighton.

The Gaffer (Slavisa Jokanovic)…

Two and a half years he has at spent Fulham, an eternity by his standards. Has taken them a long way since arriving, the former Watford boss’ stock keeps rising.

Dream season…

The transition from Championship to Premier League is smooth, and Fulham get a shot at finishing seventh before settling for a top-half spot.

Nightmare season…

Jokanovic finally activates his mobile self and leaves. A turbulent season ends with a return to the second-tier.

Key man…

Top scorer with 15 goals from out wide, wanted by the big-name clubs, and even touted by some for a place in England’s World Cup squad, it’s hard to believe Ryan Sessegnon is still a teenager.

Needs to step up…

There’s a reason why Fulham were keen on bringing back Aleksandar Mitrovic on a permanent basis, mostly because the other choice up front, Rui Fonte, has been disappointing so far. The Portuguese stepping up in the Premier League would be welcome, yet unlikely.

Verdict: The squad is still short in a few areas, and Fulham are unlikely to avoid a relegation fight, but survival is very much achievable. 16th

Huddersfield

Last Season: 16th; Top Scorer: Steve Mounie (8); FA Cup: Fifth Round; League Cup: Third Round

This is the season of…

Survival. That was the goal last season, and against all the odds, it was achieved. But the aim will surely be the same again this term. Consolidation is not yet up for discussion, finishing on the right side of that dotted line is the target once more.

Who’s in…

Huddersfield attack last season was so blunt it’s hard to think of where top scorer Steve Mounie got his eight league goals from. The arrival of Adama Diakhaby means David Wagner aims to sharpen that area. Terence Kongolo’s loan move has been made permanent, and the Dutchman becomes their record signing, while Ramadan Sobhi and Ben Hamer have joined from Stoke and Leicester respectively. Erik Durm has been signed from Borussia Dortmund, and Juninho Bacuna joins from Groningen.

Who’s out…

Tom Ince has left one season to join relegated Stoke, Robert Green has departed on a free, while deadwood in the form of Sean Scannell, Jack Payne, and Tareiq Holmes-Dennis has been cleared.

The Gaffer (David Wagner)…

Continues to work his miracle in Yorkshire, after taking them from a Championship relegation battle to a second successive Premier League season in three years. Survive again, and bigger clubs may well come calling.

Dream season…

Survival is much more comfortable than the last time, yet no one takes Wagner away.

Nightmare season…

The miracle gas finally runs out, and Huddersfield become a Championship side by 2019. Not that fans would consider that a nightmare though.

Key man…

Huddersfield reacted quickly in making goalkeeper Jonas Lossl’s loan deal permanent, the Dane will be crucial to their survival hopes again.

Needs to step up…

Would have been Tom Ince if he hadn’t selfishly opted to change clubs. The Terriers attack could do a bit more, though.

Verdict: Survival is very much achievable, but how many more surprise stories can they afford. 19th

Leicester City

Last Season: 9th; Top Scorer: Jamie Vardy (20); FA Cup: Quarter-final; League Cup: Quarter-final

This is the season of…

Anticipation. Whether a fan or a neutral, there’s something about looking forward to Leicester this season. Even despite the loss of Riyad Mahrez, their summer has given their squad significant reinforcements. Seventh place isn’t out of the question, or, if the end of last season is anything to go by, Claude Puel is under pressure, and could get the boot with a bad start. Either way, the Foxes look like one to watch this term.

Who’s in…

Johnny Evans has joined from West Brom, James Maddison has arrived from Norwich, Ricardo Pereira is an upgrade to the right-back slot, and goalkeeper Danny Ward joins from Liverpool. Rachid Ghezzal joins from Monaco.

Who’s out…

The inevitable Mahrez departure has finally happened, with the Algerian joining champions Manchester City.

The gaffer (Claude Puel)…

Like his time at Southampton, the Frenchman continues to divide opinion despite finishing in the top-half. The summer has been promising, so hitting the ground running seems essential.

Dream season…

Repeat of 2015/16. Too much? Okay. Leicester hit the ground running, and bag a top-seven finish, as well as a cup win.

Nightmare season…

Leicester get off to a bad start, Puel gets the sack, and the team underperforms their way through a relegation battle.

Key man…

Even when Mahrez was around, it was hard to look past Jamie Vardy. 20 league goals last season, the turbo-charged forward will have a lot more responsibility on his shoulders this season.

Needs to step up…

He may have had a decent end to last season, but more is still required from Kelechi Iheanacho, particularly after a quiet World Cup with Nigeria. The departure of Mahrez may well mean more league playing time, a potential chance he’ll have to take.

Verdict: The summer has been promising, the Foxes have a squad capable of challenging for a top-seven place. 8th

Liverpool

Last season: 4th; Top Scorer: Mohammed Salah (32); FA Cup: Fourth Round; League Cup: Third Round; UEFA Champions League: Runners-up

This is the season of…

Positivity. Last season’s exploits, plus a summer of not losing any key member of the squad, as well as significant additions in key areas that also creates squad depth, means title talk is not abominable at Anfield. They may be feeling this every other year, but Liverpool have every right to feel like this is their year.

Who’s in…

The goalkeeping transfer record has been smashed for Brazilian shot-stopper Alisson Becker (66million), Naby Keita makes his long-awaited switch from Leipzig (47million) and will be joined in midfield by Fabinho, who signs from Monaco, while Xherdan Shaqiri arrives from relegated Stoke (17million). Didn’t Jurgen Klopp once say something not spending colossal amounts of money like the rest?

Who’s out…

No major departure so far, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is at the club but is ruled for the entirety of the new season. Danny Ward has decided against being the fourth-choice goalkeeper, and signs for Leicester, Emre Can has joined Juventus on a free, while Daniel Sturridge has joine… oh wait, he’s still there.

The gaffer (Jurgen Klopp)…

Led the Reds to last season’s thrill that brought them a place in the Champions League final, where they lost to Real Madrid in Kiev. They could only finish fourth in the league though, and the summer investment means he’ll be under pressure to deliver this term.

Dream season…

The summer arrivals do the trick, the league title comes to Anfield for the first time in 29 years.

Nightmare season…

The summer outlay becomes a symbol of pressure, Liverpool fold, and an early exit from the Champions League is matched by the Reds finishing outside the top six.

Key man…

Liverpool were the more threatening side in the Champions League final back in May, until Mohammed Salah got injured. That should explain a lot.

Needs to step up…

There has been talk about Sturridge staying. Should that be the case, the forward knows a season of staying fit and consistent is required.

Verdict: The summer investment doesn’t leave them short on quality, depth or confidence. There’s nothing to suggest they can’t end that title drought. 2nd 

Published in International Watch

Kelechi Iheanacho has revealed that his dad was not a supporter of him playing football as he believed he would never make it as a footballer.

Having won the Most Valuable Player at the 2013 U-17 World Cup, the 21-year old Nigerian forward was signed by Manchester City in the summer of 2014.

Finding game time difficult at Man City, Iheanacho joined Leicester City last season, where he bagged 10 goals in 34 games.

In an interview with Sun UK, Iheancho revealed his disciplined father never wanted him to play football.

“It is ironic my father is now my biggest fan,” he said. I got beat up by him whenever I stepped out to play football!

“I was always on the receiving end of my father’s belt or whatever else he could find. “Sometimes I laugh, but I guess it’s been written by God that my life would take such a route. He was only looking out for me.”

(Iheanacho said he used to dedicate his goals to his mother whenever he scores)

 

Iheanacho’s mother, Mercy, was reported by Sun to have died after a brief illness while her son was starring for Nigeria at the 2013 African Under-17 Championships in Morocco.

The Leicester forward added that if he scored at the World Cup, it would be dedicated to his late Mum, who was more supportive.

“She was my only supporter in the beginning. She believed in me. Something tells me she’ll be watching from above and clapping.

“It makes me sad that she is not with me in Russia. Death was unkind to me but life has given me a chance to make her proud.

"Sometimes you wish there was a way to send a message to heaven and remind her that I will forever cherish her support,”Iheanacho added.

“I always dedicate my goals to her when I point to the sky. It’s for her and to thank God for everything.”

Published in Awa Football

With City having over seven first team players ruled out for the 1-1 draw against Burnley last Saturday, Guardiola named only six players on the substitute bench for the game - and that made Garry Neville to refer to the City boss as a ‘joke.’

Though the City U-23 team had a match on Friday night, the former United defender argued that Guardiola should have featured a youth team player on the bench on Saturday.

Neville claimed the academy manager would have felt he was wasting his time at the club.

And at his pre-match conference for the tie against Leicester City, Guardiola said he chose not to name an academy player as his seventh substitute at the Turf Moor because City Under-23 had a game the previous night and he never wanted to upset their plans.

Guardiola said Neville should know about his decision because he was a manager for “a short time”, a reference to Neville’s four months spell at Valencia.

Guardiola said: “This guy {Neville}, the pundit, he has to know my job is serious, it’s not a joke, never is it a joke.

“It’s so serious, and he should know that because he was a manager for a short time.”

Neville has been at the centre of some funny commentaries recently – the 42-year-old last week also said that Karius was at fault as the Liverpool keeper should have done more to save the Wanyama’s strike in Liverpool 2-2 draw at Anfield last Sunday

But what a clap back from Pep! How that lasts is left to be seen.

Published in International Watch

The former Kano Pillars winger has revealed that the Eagles harbour no fear over their World Cup group stage meeting with Argentina.

Nigeria were drawn in Group D alongside Croatia, Iceland and Argentina and ahead of the meeting with the latter billed for June 26 at the Saint Petersburg Stadium, Ahmed Musa in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com said the Eagles are not petrified by the quality of the Albiceleste of Argentina and that of other countries that will be at the World Cup.

Musa scored a brace when the two sides (Nigeria and Argentina) in Brazil but a Lionel Messi’s brace and a goal from Marcus Rojo ensured the Albiceleste maintained their winning records over Nigeria – making it four wins in four meetings at the Mundial.


Musa celebrating his second goal against Argentina at the 2014 World Cup (Getty Image)

According to him, Eagles’ failure to book a place at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations motivated the Eagles during the qualifying series and the team is well prepared to face any team at the World Cup.

“When we realised we weren’t going to make it to the Africa Cup of Nations (last year), we decided that we were going to fight for the people of Nigeria.

“It doesn’t matter who we come up against; we’ll be giving it our best shot at the World Cup.

“We’ll be trying our hardest in every match, no matter the opposition.”

He added, “We need to set our sights high. Nigeria want to do more than just get pass the group phase.

“We want to make the quarter-finals and even the semis. Why not.”

The winger who has been warned by Gernot Rohr to look for a new club to be in a good position to make the World Cup squad has been reported to have agreed a temporary deal to leave Leicester City to join former club CSKA Moscow till the end of the season.

Musa spent four seasons with CSKA Moscow – scoring 53 goals in 169 appearances for the Russian based club.


(Getty image)

He expressed hopes of making his second appearance at the World Cup – describing the World as a very important event.

“I hope I get selected. The World Cup is a vey important event for any player,” he concluded.

 

Published in Awa Football

It’s almost impossible, almost criminal in fact, to mention the FA Cup and not talk about its reputation for delivering shocks. Where else would you find a squad of part-timers and next-to-nobodies go full throttle against a team of superstars and come out on top? That teams don’t read the script has become the script of this competition, hence the prestige with which they revere it.

These days, though, the question is, do shocks really happen? That seems like a rather daft question: after all Lincoln City (from non-league) got to the last eight last season, beating Premier League Burnley on the way, the same season when League One side Millwall triumphed over then-Premier League champions Leicester City, and Championship struggling Wolverhampton Wanderers won at mighty Liverpool. Heck just three weeks ago, League Two’s Newport knocked out Leeds- two leagues above them- and Nottingham Forest were too much for Arsenal. But excuses keep popping up for most of those games, Burnley and Leicester would have been said to be relieved of the burden of an extra leg-tiring and wearing competition as they fought to survive in the Premier League, Liverpool were supposedly left to battle to keep their top four spot intact, while Arsenal’s loss at the City at the City Ground earlier this year, generated more headlines on the lacklustre squad and the future of manager Arsene Wenger than the Forest victory.

And over the years, it has kept happening. For almost a decade, of the three teams that get promoted from the Championship to the Premier League, only two have made it past the Fourth Round of the FA Cup (Hull City in 2016 and Huddersfield last season), both of which got promoted via the play-offs. For the rest, it has seemed like a case of ‘put it aside, we have much bigger business to attend to’. Arsenal have won the competition in three of the past four seasons, but before the run started, Wenger had emphasised the importance of finishing in the top four over lifting the country’s most prestigious, but least financially rewarding, competition. Wenger’s stance was echoed by Paul Lambert, then Aston Villa, who prioritised survival, while in 2014, Sam Allardyce fielded a weakened West Ham XI that was trounced 5-0 at Nottingham Forest.

So it was no surprise to hear David Moyes, current West Ham manager, prioritise league safety over the cup. Speaking about the fate of the Hammers upcoming opponents, Wigan, the Scot found it ‘a strange thing that they won the FA Cup and were relegated five years ago’. If you look back and ask Wigan if they’d rather have won the cup or stayed in the Premier League, I think their people would have rather stayed in the Premier League’. With West Ham facing a crucial home game against Crystal Palace on Tuesday after this, it’s clear what the target is for Moyes.

And who could blame him, or any of the managers treating this competition more of a burden than a chance of glory, with the financial benefits of getting to or staying in the Premier League ludicrously overwhelming. Wigan had their day in the spotlight following that FA Cup triumph over Manchester City at Wembley, but three days later they would lose their Premier League status. The following season they got to the Semis, and lost in the Championship play-offs, and they’ve suffered two further relegations since. Surely the Latics fans would have wondered what might have been if they hadn’t made it that far that season, how their fortunes might have been, if they hadn’t (ironically) won big on May the Fifth of 2013.

With Yeovil Town hosting Manchester United this weekend, alongside games involving Newport and Tottenham and Cardiff against Manchester City, there’s room for shocks. But with City fighting on four fronts (what seems like a ready-to-use excuse should they get knocked out of one), Cardiff having an eye on top-flight promotion, Yeovil battling to survive in League Two and Tottenham seeking to maintain their top four chase in the league, will there really be shocks, or simply, no matter the end result, fixtures to get out of the way?

 

 

Published in International Watch

Super Eagles technical director, Gernot Rohr has fired warning to the duo of Ahmed Musa and Kelechi Iheanacho to dump Leicester City for club where they would find regular playing time.

Musa and Iheanacho have been out of favour at the King Power Stadium, the former appearing in just a game in all competition and the latter in just 12 games in all competitions.

And in less than six months to go before the World Cup, the Franco-German has warned that fringe players in their respective club sides must found game time to bolster their chances of making the team that would represent Nigeria in Russia.

“My plan is to execute the World Cup with the players who are regularly with their respective clubs,” Rohr told SuperSports

“How do you expect a coach to jet out to Russia with average players who lack playing time?

“… I’m sad the likes of Kelechi Iheanacho and Ahmed Musa lack playing time at Leicester City.

“I and my scouts took time to pay their coach a visit but we realised their case are getting worse.

“I hope they keep fighting for shirts to get a playing time or quit the club for a better team willing to give them playing time to showcase their talent.”

The former Niger man also added that Super Eagles stood a very good chance of making it pass the group stage in Russia.

Nigeria was drawn in Group D alongside Argentina, Croatia and Iceland but Rohr believes with good preparation and no injury, his side will advance to the Round 16.

“We have the chance to move out of the groups to the Round of 16.

“For the basics I know that with good preparation and no injury to players we will advance,” Rohr added.

Published in Awa Football

They say the new season is akin to the first day of school, there’s that student/club that looks renewed, sporting a new, defiant look, while there’s the one who never wanted summer to end, the one who looks the same, and the one who looks roaring to go, among others.

There’s a touch of optimism from even the biggest cynic at the beginning, but the giant dose of reality comes in form of the mid-term, where your slackness and laxity is confirmed (okay this is getting a bit… just get on with it).

So, how well have the Premier League sides done so far, the tops, the nearly there, the nearly there but won’t be there, all the way to the bottom of the barrel. And there will be grades of course, not like they matter in the real world or anything:

 

Arsenal

The ever-growing, or rather never-ending conundrum, it’s been another season of swinging one way and the other, the tone of which was perfectly set with their opening game, that 4-3 win against Leicester. Sixth place, 21 points off the top, definitely doesn’t read well (although that’s more to do with the leaders themselves). One point from the Champions League spot, and into the League Cup semis is a cause for optimism. They haven’t done badly in the UEFA Europa League either.

Would they have taken this in August: Two places and a point off the top four and into the last four of a domestic cup, perhaps. Their home form has been impressive as well, although they’ll look at the manner of some of their five league defeats with disappointment.

Top performer: Hector Bellerin has had some good patches, but not quite consistent enough, whatever Mesut Ozil does will be met by ‘let’s see if he can do it again so soon’, Alexandre Lacazette has eight league goals and hasn’t done too bad. But it might just be Sead Kolasinac. Even though the Bosnian has tailed off a bit lately, he announced himself with that late equaliser against Chelsea in the Community Shield, and has grown to be something of a fans favourite.

Should do better: Aaron Ramsey hasn’t offered consistency this season, while Alexis Sanchez has spent the half-season like someone stopped from leaving. The backline is still a worry, the loss of concentration at the centre of the defence isn’t worthy of praise, and Petr Cech in goal has barely covered himself in glory.

Grade: C

 

Bournemouth

Another season, another stumbling first half, as Eddie Howe put it, it’s ‘only the expectations that have changed’. But the Cherries are in the bottom three at Christmas for the first time since promotion two years ago, looking a bit caught in the middle of continuing being adventurous and trying to evolve in terms of defending. Improvement is imperative.

Would they have taken this in August: Probably not, the fans wouldn’t have predicted a storming season at the start, but they would have been at least expecting to be above the relegation zone. The supporters are a patient bunch, though, and there could be quiet optimism that they’d come out looking good by spring.

Top performer: Nathan Ake started the season in indifferent form but has been showing Bournemouth why they wanted, while goalkeeper Asmir Begovic has been an undoubted upgrade on Artur Boruc.

Should do better: Despite scoring twice as recently as at Crystal Palace, one of which was an absolute howitzer, Jermain Defoe will surely feel like he can do more. Compared to Jordon Ibe, however, he has moved mountains.

Grade: D

 

Brighton

Five points clear of the drop zone at Christmas, it’s fair to say the Seagulls’ first ever Premier League season hasn’t been bad. They’ve only lost twice at home all season, against Manchester City and Liverpool, and are sitting pretty(ish) in 12th.

Would they have taken this in August: Clear of the drop zone was the key aim. The distance would have mattered little, that they’re only a point off the top half is a cause for delirium.

Top performer: The defensive pairing of Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy have been a hit, despite the latter having mustered three own goals so far, while in goal Mat Ryan has shaken off his shaky start. Glenn Murray has also proven quite reliable up front, but no one is more influential than playmaker Pascal Gross, the German has four goals and five assists so far. At some point he was involved in all of Brighton’s league goals, and whether or not they stay up, you fear for the Seagulls holding on to him come next summer.

Should do better: Huh, this is a tricky one. Brighton have been a truly collective machine so far, it’s quite hard to point out anyone and say they’ve fallen short. Perhaps Anthony Knockaert, he hasn’t quite produced the kind of flair that he showed last term. Then again that was in the Championship, the lack of flair also owes to the gameplan and the Frenchman has more than contributed to the side in terms of hard work, but let’s go with him.

Grade: B

 

Burnley

This season’s fairy-tale side, despite losing key men in the summer, the Clarets lie three points away from fourth spot. Much was made of their shoddy away form last term, but they’ve lost less games away than at home this season, taking points off Liverpool, Tottenham, and Chelsea. Sean Dyche still continues to be ignored by the bigger sides, music to the ears of Burnley.

Would they have taken this is August: Are you kidding? Lost their best defender in the summer, their goalkeeper to injury early on, and a key midfielder earlier this month (Robbie Brady), yet the Clarets have kicked ‘second season syndrome’ in the jaw.

Top performer: The whole team plus Sean Dyche and the fans? Well to point out a few players, James Tarkowski has been rock-solid at the back, Nick Pope has proved a more than valuable deputy for Tom Heaton in goal, Jack Cork looks like a steal from Swansea, even Ashley Barnes and Kevin Long have contributed their fair share.

Should do better: Nothing to see here, people. Move along.

Grade: A+

 

Chelsea

They were in crisis when they lost on the opening day against Burnley, they were defiant at Tottenham the following weekend. They were in crisis when they lost at Crystal Palace in early October, they were defiant when they beat Manchester United in November. That’s been the story of Chelsea season so far, seemingly one defeat away from turmoil, no matter what happens. Antonio Conte had conceded the title a few weeks ago after defeat at West Ham, the champions have even fallen two further points behind (the gap to Manchester City is 16).

Would they have taken this in August: With preparations for the season constantly hampered by Conte clamouring for more players, lying in third place and into the next round of the UEFA Champions League following a rather tough group, as well as League Cup progress, isn’t quite crisis material. Then again, with Chelsea, it’s go big or go home.

Top performer: Andreas Christensen has emerged a top class defender after loan spells in Germany, even managing to keep Gary Cahill out of the side, while Thibaut Courtois still displays class, as does his fellow Belgian Eden Hazard. Cesar Azpilicueta is still their most consistent performer, but the team just doesn’t seem the same without Ngolo Kante.

Should do better: Michy Batshuayi hasn’t really covered himself in glory, although Conte choosing to go with a false nine whenever Alvaro Morata is unavailable is an indication of how much (little) faith he has in the Belgian. Tiemoue Bakayoko started slowly, but has been improving as the weeks go by, while Davide Zappacosta’s deliveries on the wing make his goal against Qarabag in September seem like a giant miscue.

Grade: B-

 

Crystal Palace

The aim in the summer was simple, long-term planning, as after Sam Allardyce announced his departure and subsequent retirement (snigger here), Crystal Palace’s decision to hire Frank de Boer with a plan of tiki-taka football was seen as a bold but commendable move. But after just four league games, Steve Parish and co. saw the Palacelona project as an ill-fated idea, realised Jason Puncheon couldn’t stroke it like Andres Iniesta, and with four league defeats without scoring, De Boer’s tenure at Inter comparatively seemed like a Captain Davy Jones journey, the long-term plan was shoved out. There was no bigger indication of that other than the appointment of 70-year-old Roy Hodgson, but to Roy’s credit, the Eagles have improved of late, and are unbeaten in eight games. That that run can only see them as high as 16th, is testament to how their early season form was. Put it this way, Bakary Sako had no competitor for the club’s Goal of the Month award in September.

Would they have taken this in August: With the aim initially a long term plan, 16th place might be understandable given de Boer’s methods were always going to take time. The fact that De Boer is now a distant memory and the manner in which their season has gone would be the disappointment. But the fans would have bitten your hand off for 16th spot had you offered it to them in October.

Top performer: Ruben Loftus-Cheek has done relatively well in his loan spell from Chelsea, even earning an England call up, but the star is undoubtedly Wilfred Zaha. It doesn’t take a genius to see how much the Eagles improved once the Ivorian international returned from injury.

Should do better: Christian Benteke has finally ended his goal drought, but hasn’t had the best season, Jason Puncheon has under-performed, while goalie Wayne Hennessey still can’t improve. Has anyone seen Connor Wickham?

Grade: D-

 

Everton

Big-money summer, Everton looked like one to watch for this season. But for the first four months, watching them was a sorry sight, the constant personnel and tactical shuffling, and with the side edging towards the bottom three, Ronald Koeman was dismissed in October. Things barely improved under David Unsworth, but the arrival of formerly retired Sam Allardyce has brought about new life, they’re still unbeaten under the veteran manager, and have moved from 17th to ninth.

Would they have taken this in August: Nope, not a chance. For a side that harboured ambitions of pushing the top six sides far, six points from seventh spot is not the best return at Christmas, even worse when you consider the side occupying that spot is Burnley, who sold arguably their best player Michael Keane to the Toffees.

Top performer: Wayne Rooney has bagged 10 league goals this season, and has been a relative hit since his return from Manchester United, but there’s no better performer in an Everton shirt this season than Jordan Pickford. Even in Everton’s darkest times, the goalie still shown, he’s already received an England cap in recognition of his performances, surely would be the first of many. Dominic Calvert-Lewin is also worth a mention.

Should do better: Step forward a few new signings. Keane hasn’t quite hit the heights that was expected in the summer, while Sandro Ramirez and Davy Klaassen haven’t had the best start to their Everton careers, and seem like victims of a change in manager. Kevin Mirallas has also underperformed, once too often.

Grade: D-

 

Huddersfield

It’s still quite hard to imagine the Terriers in the top flight, and that they’re only outside the top half on goal difference is another fairy tale of its own. Six wins already, including that famous one over Manchester United, David Wagner and his side aren’t reading the script.

Would have taken this in August: Some fans are still coming to terms with being in the Premier League, let alone in 11th!

Top performer: Jonas Lossl has been a pair of safe hands in goal, see his performance against West Brom for evidence, while last season’s key men in Aaron Mooy and Christopher Schindler have also been impressive. But perhaps their star of this campaign is Schindler’s defensive partner Matthias ‘Zanka’ Jorgensen, the Dane has been solid at the heart of the defence, his decision to buy drinks for the travelling fans for the game at Southampton only enhances his reputation with the Huddersfield faithful.

Should do better: Tom Ince has struggled for creativity since his move from Derby County.

Grade: B+

 

Leicester

A thrilling start saw them lose at Arsenal, but one win in their first eight games saw Craig Shakespeare given the boot, notwithstanding the magnitude of sides they had to face in that time. The appointment of Claude Puel wasn’t met with welcome mats by many, but the Foxes have improved ever since, they’ve only lost twice under the Frenchman, and lie in eighth place.

Would they have taken this in August: Top half and only five points from a European place, no doubt. Only penalties stopped from making the semis of the League Cup

Top performer: Kasper Schmeichel still oozes assurance and consistency, while Riyad Mahrez has found his feet after a slow start to the season. Harry Maguire has been an outstanding signing from Hull, and Wilfred Ndidi, red card for simulation aside, has done his growing reputation no harm, but Jamie Vardy is still the main man. Demarai Gray also deserves credit.

Should do better: The Foxes haven’t really had terrible performers so far, but for 25 million, surely more was expected from Kelechi Iheanacho.

Grade: B

 

Liverpool

For all the malaise that seems to follow Liverpool this season, they have only lost twice all-campaign, only Manchester City have lost fewer (okay none). The manner of those defeats though, is the cause for discomfort, that ever-fidgety backline has also been the chief reason for eight draws already this season, no side in the top half has more. Still, top four at this stage is no mean feat.

Would they have taken this in August: Top four and winners of their Champions League group, definitely. The hapless League Cup exit at the hands of Leicester is one to forget though.

Top performer: Members of the front four, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino have been impressive, as has Joe Gomez and a rejuvenated Alberto Moreno, but none comes close to matching Mohammed Salah. The Egyptian has been outstanding for both club and country, helping his nation to a first World Cup in 28 years, and has 21 goals for Liverpool this season. From the wing! In December!

Should do better: Surprise, surprise, the defence. Sadio Mane’s form has also nosedived lately. Save some finger pointing for Simon Mignolet in goal as well.

 

Grade: B

 

 

 

Published in International Watch

Julius Agali, the newly appointed scout of the Super Eagles has hinted that the duo of Obafemi Martins and Joel Obi might earn a recall to the national team as their performance as caught the eye of Gernot Rohr.

Martins, a 41 capped international last appeared for Nigeria in the AFCON qualifier against Swaziland in 2015 has been in stellar form for Chinese club, Shanghai Shenhua – scoring a cracker in the FA Cup final win against Shanghai SIPG last weekend.

Joel Obi on the other hand last represented the Super Eagles in 2014 but has also been in good form for his club as he has recorded two goals and an assist for Torino this season.

Read also: Nwakaeme, Iheanacho, and Shaky Goalies: Talking Points from Nigeria’s Latest Internationals

According to Agali, Gernot Rohr, who is hunting for new legs ahead of next year’s World Cup might recall the veteran Martins and 26-year-old Joel Obi to the national team.

“Don’t be surprised to see the likes of in-form Obafemi Martins, Joel Obi and others returning to the team," Agali, as quoted by owngoalnigeria.

“I myself won’t hesitate to scout for more legs that will help maintain the good form.

“All players who are currently performing to expectation in their respective club sides have equal chance.

”The coach {Rohr] is a disciplinarian who welcomes players based on merit”

The recall of Joel Obi will offer Rohr an alternative as Leicester City’s Wilfred Ndidi has been the only player he has entrusted with the Defensive midfield position since he took over.

While Martins, who represented Nigeria at 2010 World Cup in South Africa will offer experience in the dressing room as the Nigeria team is said to be the youngest ahead of next year’s.

Read asloFootball, and not Money took me to China – Ideye

 

 

 

 

Published in Awa Football

Drinkwater Joins Chelsea

Friday, 01 September 2017 01:48

Danny Drinkwater has completed a move away from Leicester City after putting pen to a five-year deal with Chelsea.

Chelsea were reported to have paid £30m to Leicester City to secure the service of the want-away midfielder

Following Matic's sale to Manchester United, the English Champion have been finding a replacement, with Drinkwater amongst one of the many options identified by the club.

The 27-year old becomes Chelsea's sixth major signing of the season. Having already signed Willy Caballero, Antonio Rudiger, Alvaro Morata, Tiemoeu Bakayoko, and Davide Zappacosta.

 

 

 

Published in International Watch

Jose Mourinho would have probably woken up this morning to news of his Manchester United side being drawn against Burton Albion in the English League Cup third round. The draw for the competition, also known as the Carabao Cup for sponsorship reasons- which is still not an excuse for such a ridiculous name-, pitted its defending champions with a home tie against Nigel Clough’s Championship side Burton, in a draw that was conducted in China (yes), at 4:15am (that’s why your alarm went off). This will be the first time both sides meet since an FA Cup tie in 2006, where a United side featuring Giuseppe Rossi and Sylvain Ebanks-Blake trounced a then Non-League Burton 5-0. How times have changed.

Manchester City, United’s neighbours- who were knocked out in the fourth round last term- travel to West Brom, as they bid to claim a third League Cup title in five years. Leicester City will play host to last season’s beaten semi-finalists Liverpool, Chelsea host Nottingham Forest, Arsenal welcome Doncaster Rovers to North London, Chris Wood will see his old Leeds United pals sooner than he thought as they travel to face his new club Burnley, while in the Promotion-to-the-Premier-League-is-the-aim derby, Aston Villa host Middlesbrough.

The ties will be played in the week commencing on September 18, then the draws will follow days later, perhaps this time in Paris at night.

Draw in full:

Manchester United v Burton Albion

Everton v Sunderland

Brentford v Norwich City

Leicester City v Liverpool

Arsenal v Doncaster

Bournemouth v Brighton & Hove Albion

Burnley v Leeds United

Crystal Palace v Huddersfield

Bristol City v Stoke City

Reading v Swansea City

Aston Villa v Middlesbrough

West Brom v Manchester City

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Bristol Rovers

Chelsea v Nottingham Forest

West Ham v Bolton Wanderers

Tottenham v Barnsley or Derby County

Published in International Watch

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