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

We’ve always heard of looking into the crystal ball and seeing what will be. But how often do you look into the crystal ball and tell what’s not seen? Hardly.

So, with the new Premier League season on its way, Spotkick takes a long gaze into future, and what does see? It won’t say. Rather, it’s here to say what it didn’t see.

Note: This is about what won’t happen in the upcoming Premier League season, but should of our un-predicted events turn out right, we intend to together hug the credit and say we told you so, a bit like Harry Re…shhhh, don’t give anything away!!!

 

August

The season kicks off at Old Trafford on a Friday night, with Manchester United hosting Leicester City. Leicester defender and United target Harry Maguire opens the scoring on the hour, but decides not to celebrate against the side the who’ve been so interested in him. The match ends one-all, Juan Mata with the equaliser for United, but the game’s headline is United gaffer Jose Mourinho having a spat with club physio Richard Ferron, as a result of the latter taking off Alexis Sanchez due to a head injury, ‘if you can’t play through the inconveniences, then you don’t call yourself a professional’, says the Portuguese.

Arsenal begin the season with a home game against Manchester City, but trouble ensues when manager Unai Emery is said to have been missing for a few days, after the Spaniard didn’t show up for the pre-match conference. As a result, Arsenal turn to former boss Arsene Wenger to be in caretaker charge until Emery is found. ‘It feels different this time’, says Le Professeur, during his unveiling in a secret location. Arsenal lose the opening game to the champions, 4-0.

Tottenham begin the season with a trip to Newcastle. With the scores level at 1-1 in stoppage time, Harry Kane heads in what seems to be the winner, but the referee disallows the goal by the virtue of it coming in August. Wolves and Everton steal the headlines on the opening weekend with an eight-all draw. The month comes to a close with Watford sacking Javi Gracia. ‘Javi has been in the job for eight months, an eternity by our standards, and it’s important to uphold our values and policies that have made this club so successful’ says the statement released by the Hornets board. ‘Plus, we were itching to use the line ‘Javi, Gracias’ before anyone on Twitter did’. Harry Redknapp is announced as the new Watford manager.

September

September begins with Newcastle players refusing to travel to the Etihad for their game against Manchester City, ‘we’ve witnessed far too many humiliations’ says a Toon player, ‘so why bother’. Newcastle are finally persuaded to make the trip, and hold a 1-0 lead until 10 minutes left, before conceding six goals in seven minutes.

City’s next game is a trip to Cardiff, where they muster 147 shots, yet get nothing: Cardiff get the only goal of the game, via an Aymeric Laporte own goal. Neil Warnock’s post-match conference is interrupted by the presentation of a gift basket, supposedly from Mourinho.

The month ends with Manchester United playing a goalless draw at West Ham. ‘It was an excellent result’ says Mourinho, ‘if you compare the football heritage, this was a match against a superior side’.

October

Liverpool and Man City kick off November, City finally ending their long-wait for a win at Anfield. Raheem Sterling scores twice for City, but refuses to celebrate against his former club. ‘Spoilt disrespectful brat Sterling dishonours club that pays his wages by not celebrating’, the Daily Mail says. That loss leaves Liverpool with just three wins all-season, and manager Jurgen Klopp points out how the Reds can’t match the top clubs in spending big, then the German is reminded of his side’s summer outlay. ‘People say what they want to say, I know we don’t spend big’, he replies.

Chelsea and Man Utd meet in this month, an Alvaro Morata hatrick helping the Blues to a 4-2 win. ‘Sometimes those with zero trophies can get lucky against the successful ones’, Mourinho says post-match. United end their month with a hard-fought win over Everton, their third in the league, Luke Shaw getting the only goal.

Spurs also hit the headlines this month, Christian Eriksen guilty of simulation in their 3-3 draw at West Ham, but Harry Kane is the one who receives the yellow card.

November

Arsenal continue their uncomfortable start to the season with a 2-3 loss at home to Liverpool. Arsene Wenger is irate when asked if he worries about his future. ‘You can’t keep blaming me for everything’, the Frenchman bellows. ‘The club should be grateful I gave up spending time with my family to help them miss out on the top four. Perhaps you lot should spend time searching for Unai than worry about me’.

Watford’s heavy defeat to Newcastle means they haven’t won any game since September. ‘It’s important to keep things in perspective’, says Harry Redknapp. ‘I’ve had two wins in charge in all competitions, and that’s despite my knee injury’. Redknapp is sacked after. The Hornets appoint Quique Sanchez Flores as manager, then realise they’ve hired once before, and they duly fire him 16 hours after his unveiling. David Moyes is put in charge, after signing an affidavit swearing he’s never managed Watford before now.

The Manchester derby is the headline game of the month, and history is made when City get 100% ball possession for the entirety of the first half. City run out 3-1 winners. Mourinho is sacked, and Michael Carrick is named as manager until the end of the season.

Cardiff, winless since that win over Man City, sack Neil Warnock. Sam Allardyce, midway through another of his lectures on British managers not being given a chance in the UK (to Sky Sports), is announced as Cardiff’s new boss.

December

Liverpool and Everton kick-off the month with the Merseyside, in his pre-match interview Jurgen Klopp complains about how the derby is often overshadowed by other games in the same weekend. Liverpool win 4-1, Mohammed Salah scoring all four of Liverpool’s goals, but referee Michael Oliver hits the headlines by rushing right out of the pitch and the stadium in order to catch the North London derby happening later that day.

At the Emirates, with banners of ‘Find Emery’ colouring the stadium, goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette give Arsenal a 2-0 win over Spurs.

The month is headlined by Man City’s trip to Chelsea, an entertaining goalless draw with a combination total of 14,658 completed passes and 37 shots on target. Another headline act of December is Manchester United’s 5-3 win at Anfield, which makes it four wins in four for United under Carrick.

Bayern Munich get knocked out of the UEFA Champions League group stage, and are drawn with Arsenal in the last 32 of the Europa League.

Wolves go top after their 1-1 draw with Liverpool.

January

Wolves and Leicester meet in mid-January, with Leicester fans intent on Wolves not re-enacting their version of the Foxes’ 2015/16 fairy-tale, banners of ‘don’t let them take our fantasy’ filling the away end. Leicester come out as 3-1 winners, thanks to a brace from Jamie Vardy. Wolves also lose to Manchester City in January, and Spurs, and drop to fourth place.

The transfer windows  re-opens, and Spurs announce six players signing new contracts.

The Premier League accidentally records one of Arsenal’s games in January as a defeat to Stoke, despite the fact that Arsenal’s only loss of the month came at Man City, and the small matter of Stoke being in the Championship.

With Liverpool struggling and languishing in seventh place, Jurgen Klopp announces he’ll leave the club at the end of the season. Liverpool finish the month with a 6-2 win at West Ham, a match during which Andy Carroll gets injured after stepping out of West Ham’s bus. He’s ruled out for three months.

Watford sack David Moyes after a loss to Brighton, with Alan Pardew named his immediate replacement.

Huddersfield are still searching, astonishingly, for their first win of the season, but chairman Dean Hoyle expresses faith in David Wagner. ‘He’s proved capable of miracles, and I’m confident we can muster 14 wins between now and the end of the campaign’.

February

Everton pull off a shock 2-1 win over Man City, in the same weekend when Man Utd complete the double over Liverpool, the Red Devils remain unbeaten under Michael Carrick, who still possesses some tactical flaws, according to new BT Sport pundit, a certain Jose Mourinho.

Everton are brought back down to earth following their win over City, with a defeat to Cardiff, coached by Sam Allardyce, a 1-0 loss thanks to a goal of the season contender by January signing Omar Niasse. ‘Justice, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder’ says a smug Big Sam afterwards.

Chelsea go top with a win over Spurs, Alvaro Morata bagging his 21st goal of the season in a 3-1 victory.

Arsenal are knocked out of the Europa League by Bayern.

Man Utd win the League Cup, after beating Leicester at Wembley.

March

Watford begin the month with a loss at home to Leicester, and during the International break, with members of the team travelling to Paris, Tom Cleverley and Ben Foster allegedly steal a bicycle from the Tour de France.

Everton bag their first Merseyside derby win since 2010, after a close-fought 3-2 win is decided by a howler from Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker. Klopp defends Alisson post-match, ‘he feels very disappointed, but Loris… sorry Alisson is a very strong character’.

Man Utd’s unbeaten run under Carrick finally ends, with a derby defeat to Man City. City supposedly play without Kevin de Bruyne, who’s suspended, but their winning goal is created by Oleksandr Zinchenko, who covers himself in a mask, and can’t quite be differed from De Bruyne. After full-time, ‘Zinchenko’ hurries past the press and declines a post-match interview.

April

Huddersfield, despite six wins in eight games, are relegated from the Premier League after a goalless draw with Watford, who are in a precarious situation of their own.

Liverpool climb to fifth place after beating Chelsea at Anfield, a result which sends the Blues out of the title race. Spurs also miss out on the title, after defeat at Man City, and the win means City become the first side to retain the title since 2009.

Cardiff host Chelsea, needing a win to keep their survival hopes alive. After the Bluebirds go 2-0 down in the first half, Allardyce resigns as Cardiff manager at halftime, to keep his record of never having gone down on a technicality. ‘I had to do what’s best for the team’ says Big Sam, ‘now I’ll go on vacation till October’.

Arsenal win at Wolves at the end of October, leapfrogging them into sixth place, but the biggest information concerning the club is the re-appearance of Unai Emery, who confirms that he had been held hostage by Wenger for nine months. Then Wenger goes missing as well.

May

Watford’s relegation is confirmed after a defeat at Chelsea. David Moyes is sacked, and Alan Curbishley is announced as the new manager ahead of the 2019/20 season.

Spurs cement second place, with Chelsea in third, and Man Utd completing the top four, behind champions City. Liverpool finish fifth, Arsenal end up in sixth, and Wolves compliment seventh place with an FA Cup final triumph over Southampton, who finish in 11th.

Relegated trio Cardiff, Huddersfield and Watford, trade divisions with Leeds United- who finished the Championship season unbeaten-, Stoke, and play-off winners Middlesbrough, and their coach Tony Marvolo Pulis.

Arsene Wenger resurfaces, but will not be charged for any crimes, and is appointed the manager of Russian Premier League side Arsenal Tula. ‘Close enough’ says the Frenchman. ‘Now let’s find Gervinho and Sebastian Squillaci, and get this project started’.

Published in 10km offside

 

Arsenal

Last Season- 6th; Top Scorer: Alexandre Lacazette (14) FA Cup: Third Round; League Cup: Runners-up; UEFA Europa League: Semi-final

This is the season of…

Change. For the first time in 22 years, the main man in the Arsenal dugout isn’t Arsene Wenger, a situation we’re starting to get used to. This has also resulted in a change in supporters’ perception- they’re entering the season without that sense that things will go up in smoke after winter. Wenger fostered consistency at the club, but the toxicity that accompanied his final couple of years at the Emirates looks to have been erased by his departure. For the first time in a while, Gunners fans can venture into the unknown with optimism, rather than expect the potentially familiar with dread.

Who’s in…

Unai Emery is the new manager at the Emirates, and the Spaniard has wasted little time in making additions, Stephan Lichtsteiner has arrived on a free from Juventus, Lucas Torreira has been acquired from Sampdoria, while defender Sokratis Papasthatopoulos and goalkeeper Bernd Leno have joined from Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen respectively. Signing a ball-winning midfielder, an experienced leader, a centre-back and a goalkeeper? Who are you and what have you done with the real Arsenal?

Who’s out…

After two seasons plagued by injury, Santi Cazorla has been released and joins former club Villarreal. Jack Wilshere has also departed, on a free as well.

The Gaffer (Unai Emery)…

His stint at Paris St. Germain wasn’t as successful as the club wanted, but Emery still boasts pedigree, and a knack for blooding youngsters. Well-known for his video reviewing of games, over and over again, he won the Europa League three times in a row with Sevilla.

Dream season…

Emery and Arsenal prove a match made in heaven, Arsenal win the league title for the first time in 15 years.

Nightmare season…

Arsenal begin with a defeat to Manchester City on the opening day, then a loss to Chelsea in the second, and hardly recover. Another tame outside the top four finish is coupled with timid cup displays, and to cap it off, Tottenham win the league title.

Key man…

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang bagged 10 league goals after joining from Dortmund in mid-season, and there’ll be much expectation as to what he can do with pre-season and a full campaign upcoming.

Need to step up…

Aaron Ramsey continues to bathe in inconsistency, and still won’t convince. Emery stating that the Welshman is a big part of his plans is a huge show of faith from the manager. Time for Ramsey to repay that.

Verdict: The breath of change at the Emirates is welcome, and frankly overdue, but the reality is, unless Emery garners a team greater than the sum of its parts, Arsenal are still comfortably sixth-best in the league. 6th

Bournemouth

Last Season: 12th; Top Scorer: Josh King (8); FA Cup: Fourth Round; League Cup: Quarter-final

This is the season of…

Ambition? Bournemouth have spent each of their three Premier League seasons with a similar theme- bad start, relegation trouble by winter, wonderful form at the turn of the year, then comfortable finish- even though the league positions have varied. There was something a tad underwhelming, though, about last season’s 12th-place finish, like ‘the same old same old is getting boring’. Will Bournemouth give in to ambition and aim higher, or continue with mid-table comfort and avoid what would seem like preposterous expectations?

Who’s in…

It’s been a quiet summer so far at the South Coast, youngster David Brook joining from Sheffield United, and Diego Rico arriving from Leganes to give the left-back spot an upgrade the only new signings…so far.

Who’s out…

No key departure as of yet, loan specialists Benik Afobe, Lewis Grabban and Max Gradel have all been moved on, while goalkeepers Adam Federici and Ryan Allsop have also departed.

The Gaffer (Eddie Howe)…

The should-be Chelsea manager, according to The Sun, Howe continues to occupy the hot-seat at the Vitality stadium. Rumours of interest from other clubs have cooled, but there’s still the sense that it’s only a matter of time before a bigger side comes calling.

Dream season…

The Cherries become the new Burnley and bag a surprise seventh-place finish, with the prize of European football.

Nightmare season…

The Cherries suffer (this is not a thing) Fourth Season Syndrome after Howe is lured away by a relatively bigger club in December, and the campaign is capped off with final-day relegation.

Key man…

There’s more to Josh King’s game than goals, even if he finished as their top scorer in the league with eight last season. Capable of leading the line on his own or acting as the supporting cast, the Norwegian’s versatility is just about Bournemouth’s greatest attacking asset.

Need to step up…

Much was expected of Jermain Defoe, after joining from Sunderland. But four goals last season is underwhelming after 30 in the previous two campaigns.

Verdict:

The fans are starting to expect more, but may well have to make do with more of the same. 13th

Brighton and Hove Albion

Last Season: 15th; Top Scorer: Glenn Murray (14); FA Cup: Quarter-final; League Cup: Third Round

This is the season of…

Continuity. Last season’s survival was as comfortable in the end as it was hard-fought during. Now, Brighton will be looking to plant their foot firmly on the Premier League ground. Survival is still the primary aim, but consolidation is not out of the picture.

Who’s in…

Bernardo has arrived from Leipzig to give the left-back spot an upgrade, Leon Balogun is an excellent addition to the defence as well, while Yves Bissouma has joined from Lille. Up front is where the Seagulls have been most active, though, with Florin Andone arriving from Deportivo, and last season’s Eredivisie top scorer Alireza Jahanbakhsh arriving from AZ Alkmaar. Squad might be starting to seem bloated in that area.

Who’s out…

The departures haven’t been major so far; mostly the lads who were there in the Championship but didn’t quite appear in the top-flight last season, i.e. Conor Goldson, Jamie Murphy, Liam Rosenior, Steve Sidwell and Uwe Hunemeier.

The Gaffer (Chris Hughton )…

Has taken Brighton a long way since meeting them in the lower reaches of the Championship back in 2014/15. His organisational ability is one of the reasons the Seagulls survived last term, more of the same will be expected with a side now used to life in the big-time.

Dream season…

A comfortable top-half finish is matched by an adventurous cup run, and Crystal Palace suffer relegation.

Nightmare season…

The Premier League bubble bursts for Brighton, and they return to the second-tier with a whimper.

Key man…

It’s a tad surprising that there haven’t been rumours of clubs coming in for Pascal Gross, something Brighton wouldn’t complain about. The German remains their creator-in-chief, and with the arrival of more frontmen, the Seagulls may expect to see more joy goal-wise.

Need to step up…

Admittedly Brighton’s style of play shackled him a bit, and playing time wasn’t as much as he would have expected, but Anthony Knockaert will know he’s capable of much more after a rather underwhelming season last time out.

Verdict: No longer venturing into the unknown with the fear of the big guns, Brighton’s summer gives reason for optimism. Consolidation may not come, but survival should be no hard ask. 14th

Burnley

Last season: 7th; Top scorer: Chris Wood (10); FA Cup: Third Round; League Cup: Third Round

This is the season of…

Balance? The allure of playing in Europe is one clubs should always aim for, but Burnley have to play their cards right after finishing seventh last time out. Seventh place means their Europa League campaign would begin from the Second Qualifying Round in July (at the time of writing this, they’ve already drawn a first leg with Aberdeen), which begs the question: do Burnley go for broke in the window, aiming for depth in anticipation of a group stage campaign in Europe (with the dangers of a bloated squad if they don’t get that far), or stick with their rather thin squad (which will be stretched should they go far in the competition)? So far, they’ve opted for the latter, making no signings as of yet, and in previous campaigns they could have the luxury of waiting to see how far they go before acting in the transfer market. But this season, the Premier League’s window slams shut on August ninth, by then they would potentially have a play-off in Europe to play for, and progress from that means group stage campaign from September to December. Risk potential squad unrest or potential squad burnout? Looks like a bit of a conundrum.

Who’s in…

‘So far, they’ve opted for the latter, making no signings as of yet…’. There you go. Does the return of Robbie Brady count?

Who’s out…

The good thing for Burnley is that they haven’t let anyone go either. Well, no one major, that is. Apologies to Dean Marney, Scott Arfield, Chris Long et al.

The Gaffer (Sean Dyche)…

Despite his miracle last season, Dyche still isn’t linked with a bigger club, music to Burnley’s ears. How he fares with the side in Europe will be something to watch out for.

Dream season…

Another season of zero relegation trouble, Burnley also thrill in Europe and stay in the Europa League beyond December.

Nightmare season…

Hull City 2014/15- Control C, Control V. Burnley get dumped out of Europe early on and a season of struggle ends in painful relegation.

Key man…

Burnley are just about the epitome of collectivism, where everyone stands out by no one really standing out, but goalkeeper Nick Pope has become a key figure in the side, earning himself a place in England’s World Cup squad.

Needs to step up…

Again, no one really stands because everyone stands out, but after the chase that he was the subject of last summer, Charlie Taylor knows his second season at Turf Moor has to be significantly better than the first.

Verdict: Europe and transfer inactivity makes things a little certain at Turf Moor, but Dyche and Burnley won’t be fazed by adversity, even if this season won’t be as comfy as the last. 17th

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The 18-year-old midfielder has been one of the standout players for Arsenal in their pre-season matches 

Emile Smith Rowe has put pen to a long term contract at Arsenal after some incredible pre-season displays.

Smith Rowe, who turned 18 last week is one of the teenagers that are part of Unai Emery’s Singapore tour.

With a stunning strike against Atletico Madrid and an assist in the match against PSG, Smith Rowe has put himself in the frame for first team opportunities in the upcoming season.

Smith told Arsenal’s official website that it was a great feeling to sign for the North London giant.

“To be honest, it feels great for me,” He said.

“It’s something I’ve always dreamt of since I was young, so to sign a new contract with Arsenal... I’m so happy and it feels surreal at this moment.”

Emery, who gave the starlet a chance to showcase himself, on his part said: “I am pleased with Emile’s contribution so far this pre-season. He is working very hard and has lots of potential.

“I look forward to working with him and other young players and helping them to develop as Arsenal players.”

Emile Smith joined Arsenal at the age of 10 and made 11 appearances for the cluns under-23s last season, whilst being a regular for the under- 18s.

 

He was part of the England team that won U-17 World Cup in India, last year.

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Emery revealed the Brazilian was the kingmaker at PSG

 

The newly Arsenal manager has revealed that he had to adjust his style of management at PSG because Neymar was the boss.

The Spaniard spent two seasons at the Parc des Princes – the second was when Neymar moved to PSG in a deal worth €222.

The major highlight of the so many rancours the Brazilians caused at the club was taking penalty duties off PSG all-time scorer, Edinson Cavani.

Emery believes Neymar left Barcelona for PSG to occupy the boss’ role at the club because Messi occupied such position at Barcelona.

“I know when I’m the main man responsible, and when I’m not,” Emery, as quoted by Daily Mail.

“I’m of the opinion that PSG’s leader is Neymar. Or that he is currently becoming it.

“Neymar came to PSG to be the leader, to go through this process someday become the best in the World. At Manchester City, Pep is in charge. At PSG, Neymar has to be.”

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The Nigerian and African richest man has once again affirmed his desire to buy Arsenal Football Club.

Aliko Dangote said he was going to buy English side Arsenal after completing his $10b-billion refinery in Lagos.

Dangote is worth $12.4 billion, and his said to be $4.4 billion worth more than Arsenal’s majority shareholder Stan Kroenke

The Nigerian billionaire assured fans that he would bring the club up to their expectations once he took over the club.

“I love Arsenal and I will definitely go for it,” Dangote, as quoted by Guardian NG.

“When I buy it, I have to bring it up to the expectations of our supporters.”

This is not the first time Dangote expressed his willingness to buy the London club.

According to Guardian, when the Dangote’s refinery is completed, it will produce 650 000 barrels of oil per day and will make Nigeria Africa’s largest exporter of petroleum products.

 

 

 

 

Published in Awa Football

For the first time in 22 years, the North London club will be entering a new campaign with a new manager – and the new manager has said he wanted five captains for the side next season.

Unai Emery said at a news conference today that his idea was to have five captains at Arsenal.

The Spaniard, who has confirmed Laurent Konscielny, who is expected to be out till defender, as a result of a ruptured Achilles tendon as his number one captain, said he had no idea of the other players that would join the Frenchman on the captaincy hierarchy.

“My idea is to know every player and to know, also, the personality of the players,” Emery as quoted by BBC.

“We want to keep the respect for these players, to find the captain and choose very well the best player for that.

“I think my first idea is to have five captains in the team. But at the moment, I don’t know the names.

“We are looking at, looking for, who are the best players whose personality is the best in the dressing room.

Arsenal have secured the signing of five players (Bern Leno, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi) ahead of the new season.

Emery who said the five signings might be the end of any transfer dealings for Arsenal, admitted that “We will only sign a player in the next month if he’s a big opportunity.

Published in International Watch

Nwankwo Kanu robbed of £8k in Russia

Monday, 04 June 2018 15:50

The former Nigerian International had been reported by Mirror UK to have had over £8,000 in cash stolen from his suitcase in Moscow after he arrived from London.

Nwankwo Kanu who represented Nigeria at the World Cup in 1998, 2002 and 2010, and also won gold for the country at the 1996 Olympics was said to have declared the money missing in Kalingard, Russia where he was playing in a World Cup Curtain raiser game organised by FIFA.

According to Mirror, Russian police said it was filched by two loaders at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.

Lieutenant colonel Irina Volk, spokeswoman for the Russian Interior Ministry, said the loaders were dealing with the baggage from a London to Moscow flight.

Kanu, travelling on a British passport, had appealed for help to police in Kaliningrad.

“The stolen cash was removed (from the loaders) and will soon be returned to the owner”, she said.

The loaders, aged 30 and 36, face criminal investigation and could be sent to jail for up to six years.

Kanu played alongside ex-Manchester United and England star Wes Brown in a FIFA legends team against a Russian legends side.

The ex-Arsenal man, a former Nigerian international, did not mention the theft in speaking to the media in the Baltic city, where England will play on 28 June.

Kanu represented Nigeria on 87 occasions, scoring a total of 12 goals.

Kanu, who also represented Inter Milan, Ajax, West Brom Portsmouth and Iwuanyanwu Nationale won the African Footballer of the Year in 1996 and 1999.

 

Source (Mirror UK). Additional information by Olatosimi Fadahunsi

 

Published in Awa Football

 

School’s over, Lads!

Okay, in truth school has been over for quite a while now, it was a case of the couple that were bound to settle scores that school time didn’t quite help deal with (FA Cup final), and those representing the school in external competitions (Champions League final). Then again, here’s the awkward question; why bother with the effects of cups if this is a Premier League report? Well, there’s a reason why the academic system is so flawed. We delivered the mid-term report at the turn of the year, so we get full-term with the season having reached its end. So, who’s going to Mommy with anticipation of a bad summer, who has ‘can do better’ all over them, and who’s the top-class student we didn’t want to see leave.

Arsenal

An unquestionable disappointment, especially since the turn of the year, as the Gunners fell completely fell out of the top four equation as the season wore on. Much (dis)credit lies with their away form, they didn’t get any away point in 2018 until the final day. Attention turned to the Europa League once domestic issues seemed a bridge too far, but their dream ended in the last four. Alexis Sanchez finally left in January, trading places with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang also arrived in winter. Oh and Arsene Wenger has stepped down, so there’s that.

Would they have taken this in January: Surely not. They weren’t in the top four at the turn of the year, but were still very much in the mix. Another year without Champions is definitely disappointing.

Top performer: Nacho Monreal earned his call-up to Spain’s World Cup squad, having looked like the only Gunner interested in playing for the whole season. Aubameyang also showed signs of more to come with 10 league goals since arrival at the start of the calendar year.

Should have done better: Petr Cech finally reached the milestone of 200 clean sheets, but didn’t do much to inspire confidence this season, so has been handed the No.1 shirt. Hector Bellerin blew hot and cold, so has been handed the No.2 shirt. Granit Xhaka still looks less than assured, Sead Kolasinac faded after a bright start, Shkodran Mustafi also didn’t inspire much confidence in defence… actually there’s too many of them, why did we start naming individually?

In the dugout: Wenger finally stepped down after 22 years, to commemorative plaques, standing ovations, and emotional banners. After long speculation linking the Gunners with Thomas Tuchel, Carlo Ancelotti and Max Allegri, Unai Emery is the new manager at the Emirates.

Grade: D

 

Bournemouth

It was the same outcome for the Cherries, start badly, don’t panic, pick up form, in February, survive comfortably. A 12th-placed finish is more than satisfactory for Eddie Howe’s side, dangerous question would the fans start to expect more?

Would they have taken this in January: Their season may have petered out a bit in the end, but given they were firmly lodged in the relegation fight at the turn of the year, then YES.

Top performer: Nathan Ake proved to be a quality signing as expected, Lewis Cook played into England’s World Cup standby list, while Josh King’s contributions to the side are more than just his eight goals.

Should have done better: Asmir Begovic should have been an upgrade on Artur Boruc in goal, but surprisingly performed below expectations. Same can be said of Jermain Defoe at the other end, and then there’s Jordan Ibe.

In the dugout: To Bournemouth’s pleasure, there’s little chatter on the Howe-is-bound-to-leave-eventually board.

Grade: B-

 

Brighton

An undisputable success of a first ever Premier League season. 15th place doesn’t quite highlight how impressive their campaign was, Chris Hughton knitting a side greater than the sum of its parts, not that the parts were any bad. Memorable wins at home over Manchester United and Arsenal were icings on a very delightful cake.

Would they have taken this in January: Absolutely. Survival was always the aim, and it was achieved with room to spare.

Top performers: All of them. Fine, you want names? Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy’s partnership was more than impressive, as were Dale Stephens and Davy Propper. Jose Izquierdo and Glenn Murray were also notable performers, but none comes close to Pascal Gross. Brighton’s German creator-in-chief only cost 3million last summer, it would be a surprise if he doesn’t attract offers in this window.

Should have done better: Errr… in January we went for Anthony Knockaert, so let’s go with that again. Don’t ask. We said the academic system is flawed.

In the dugout: Chris Hughton is definitely not going anywhere.

Grade: B

 

Burnley

Burnley are ranked as the seventh-best team in England; that’s just about the only way to put their phenomenal season. Much was made about how they’d struggle due to the previous season’s away form, but they amassed more points on the road in 2017/18 than they’d previously done overall. They have European football waiting. Again, phenomenal.

Would they have taken this in January: Yes. Yes. Absolutely. Yes. They occupied this spot at the start of the year, but wouldn’t have even minded 17th then, let alone 10 places higher.

Top performers: Everyone. From promoted-to-starting-line-up James Tarkowski at the back, Jack Cork in the middle, Jeff Hendrick behind any of the lone forward, Johann Gudmundsson out wide, and any of the regular forwards- Sam Vokes, Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood- it’s been brilliant all round.

Should have done better: The signings weren’t quite good, mostly because they couldn’t quite crack into a settled side. Charlie Taylor, Georges Kevin Nkoudou, and Nakhi Wells stand out in that particular area.

In the dugout: Sean Dyche will surely stay put, with European football on the horizon.

Grade: A+

 

Chelsea

Tumultuous season all-in-all, manager discontent, supposed squad unrest, finishing outside the Champions League spots. Typical title defence campaign for the Blues, as they had to settle for fifth place. FA Cup final seems more of a blow softener than season saviour, and Antonio Conte looks like he’s headed for the door marked ‘Do One’.

Would they have taken this in January: Absolutely not. There were more than signs of discontent at the club at the turn of the year, but dropping out of the top four is nigh-on unacceptable.

Top performers: Ngolo Kante remains ever-reliable, as Cesar Azpilicueta remains ever-consistent, while Eden Hazard is still the go-to man. Antonio Rudiger had a strong finish to his debut season at the club, while Andreas Christensen’s campaign may have stumbled to the finish line, but the Dane still made significant progress.

Should have done better: Alvaro Morata began life at Stamford Bridge like the ideal replacement for Diego Costa, but ended it with evidence as to why the Chelsea’s number nine shirt might be hexed. Tiemoue Bakayoko didn’t cover himself in glory for much of the campaign, neither did Pedro, or Victor Moses. The less said about Ross Barkley the better.

In the dugout: Literally everyone is waiting for Antonio Conte to be sacked soon.

Grade: D

 

Crystal Palace

It’s no longer news that they began the season with seven straight losses, during which they scored zero goals, then chairman Steve Parish, weeks after preaching about the long-term planning that would come with manager Frank de Boer’s philosophy, sacked the Dutchman in September. In came Roy Hodgson, who didn’t just steady the ship, but eventually sailed it to mid-table.

Would they have taken this in January: Definitely. Things didn’t look as grim in December, as they did two months before, but mere survival was always going to be met with elation. A place off the top half exceeded expectations, even at the start of the season.

Top performer: The likes of Scott Dann, Patrick Van Aanholt and James Tomkins deserve honorary mentions, while loanee Ruben Loftus-Cheek played his way to England’s World Cup plane, but there’s no iota of doubt that the brunt of plaudits should go the way of Wilfred Zaha. First stat is nine goals and seven assists from the Ivoirian, the second is the fact that Palace lost all 10 league games they played without him, including those first seven.

Should have done better: None of the men between the sticks merited much praise, hence the acquisition of Vicente Guaita from Getafe. A stat of two league goals is nowhere near good enough from Christian Benteke.

In the dugout: Hodgson stays on, even at 70.

Grade: B-

 

Everton

All the optimism that came with the summer had evaporated by winter, and it didn’t return during spring, if anything it got worse. From the surveys, the booing of players and manager Sam Allardyce, the latter of whom seemed to not notice the fans’ distaste, the Toffees’ season was one long, tedious, journey.

Would they have taken this in January: Given that they spent most of the first half of the campaign battling to keep their heads above water, they would be more satisfied with eighth place. The issue was more of how they played their way to that position.

Top performer: Idrissa Gueye remains reliable in midfield, Jordan Pickford did little wrong in goal, while seven goals is not bad for Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

Should have done better: Everyone else? Fans let Morgan Schneiderlin know what they thought of his performances, same for Ashley Williams. The summer signings barely impressed.

In the dugout: Big Sam has been binned, and Marco Silva appears the favourite to succeed him.

Grade: D

 

Huddersfield

Picture the celebrations at Stamford Bridge after a point for the Terriers secured them survival, and you might just understand its gravity or how much of a surreal journey this is. Some fans are shaking their head in disbelief over promotion in 2017, let alone this.

Would they have taken this in January: You bet.

Top performer: Just like promotion, it was an enormous team effort from the Yorkshire club, so let’s credit manager David Wagner then.

Should have done better: Tom Ince, perhaps. But crediting their success as a team effort means he gets little stick.

In the dugout: There are rumours linking Wagner with Leicester City. Picture the Huddersfield fans covering their hears and humming when they hear such.

Grade: A

 

Leicester City

Ninth place for a team like Leicester should be considered a success, yet there’s still ounces of discontent at the club. From the poor run of form to end the season, the complaints over manager Claude Puel’s training methods, the ripple effect of their 2016 success still has a giant shadow around the King Power.

Would they have taken this in January: Probably, given their second-highest finish in the Premier League era. The fact that seventh place, and Europe, looked to be for the taking means there’s a tinge of disappointment.

Top performer: Jamie Vardy bagged 20 league goals this season, with minimum fuss. Harry Maguire earned a spot in England’s squad to Russia. But the team just doesn’t look the same without Wilfred Ndidi.

Should have done better: Riyad Mahrez continues to go one way and the other, surely it’s time to let him go, Kasper Schmeichel regressed a bit, yet not as much as Wes Morgan. Kelechi Iheanacho ended the season in fine form, but didn’t get a league goal until March.

In the dugout: Rumours of the Foxes dismissing Puel are rife. Call Pellegrino?

Grade: C

 

Liverpool

A more than commendable season for the Reds, a top four finish turned out to be achieved with some comfort, while they thrilled in Europe, emerging as the Champions League's top scorers, before losing the final to Real Madrid in Kiev. Some errors from goalkeeper Loris Karius in the Ukrainian capital aside, not really much to complain about.

Would they have taken this in January: Absolutely. Top four and getting the knockout phase of the Champions League was the aim, and it was surpassed in truth.

Top performer: Roberto Firmino still bubbles under, Sadio Mane still has the tendency to be inconsistent, but still did little wrong, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was unlucky to get injured and ruled out of the World Cup after such a terrific season, while Andy Robertson is already a fan favourite. But none come close to Mohammed Salah, the man who swept all the awards this season. His 32 league goals is a 38-game record, his 44 in all competitions for Liverpool equals Ian Rush's.

Should have done better: Suddenly this section is hard. Karius improved immensely this term, but isn't without question, and he'll hope to recover from his Kiev gaffes. Joel Matip will consider this season one of utter regression, other than that, no real blemish.

In the dugout: Jurgen Klopp will surely remain, and will hope this entertaining side adds a trophy to their name.

Grade: B+

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