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Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Euro Review: New Manager, Same Old England

After a new found belief from England fans, they were brought down to earth with a bump as the national side crashed out of Euro 2012 on penalties again, this time to Italy.

PAYING THE PENALTY: Diamanti Strokes Home
After a "solid" performance in the group stages with a draw in Group D's opening game against France followed by an entertaining or painful (whatever way you look at it) win versus Sweden.  The final game in Donetsk against co-hosts Ukraine was a nervy 1-0 win thanks to a goal from the returning Wayne Rooney which, along with Sweden beating France meant England qualified by topping the group.

RETURN OF THE ROON: Wayne marked his return with a goal
It wouldn't have been England if they hadn't had players pull out; Frank Lampard, Gary Cahill, Gareth Barry and goalkeeper John Ruddy all missed the Championships through injury.

Despite the failures once again, there were a few positives to take out of the tournament.

New manager Roy Hodgson looked to youth for a change.  Under Fabio Capello you always had the feeling that no matter what happened, the "old guard" would still be playing the next game.  The likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Danny Welbeck were given their chance to shine with the latter arguably getting the goal of the tournament with his match-winning, mid-air backheel against Sweden.

Welbeck (L) and Carroll (R) were given their chance
Roy made a big decision in not taking Rio Ferdinand to Poland/Ukraine, and, with Cahill injured, Joleon Lescott filled the void beside John Terry and did not disappoint.  Personally, I felt that leaving Rio out was a good call and a brave one from the manager.

Another positive was the fact that Roy seemed to install a sense of pride back into the nation again.  One improvement was seeing all of the players singing the national anthem.  Even  Rooney opened his mouth to sing for once.

The negatives now and for me it was disappointing to see the lack of threat attacking-wise from England.  Admittedly losing Rooney for the first two games was a blow but it would have been nice to have seen us create a few more chances.

Much has been talked about our lack of keeping the ball.  In my opinion this is because we tried so hard to get the ball back that when we did have it, the players were knackered and the pass went astray.

GERRARD: Reviltalised but knackered
Another gripe of mine was hearing most saying how well the team have done to reach the quarter finals.  For me, the quarter finals was the minimum requirement - It's something that England have done consistently (Apart from 2008) in recent times so for the team to be congratulated on it is wrong.

Finally, with regards to the game (which Italy deservedly one) I did not see the huge fuss about Andrea Pirlo that everyone way making out.  He's a good player, don't get me wrong, but with the amount of space he had given to him, a player of his quality you'd expect him to pick out passes to his team mates.  As for his penalty, it would have been a poor one had Joe Hart just stood in the centre of the goal and caught it.  "Quality penalty". I disagree.

Pirlo's "dink" could have left him red faced
Still, we'll win the World Cup in Brazil in two years time right?!

Until next week...

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Are Preston Aiming To "Do A Charlton?"

After a season of turmoil for Preston North End in the last campaign, boss Graham Westley has gone ahead with dismantling and rebuilding a squad aiming for promotion back to The Championship after two years away.

It is something that Charlton Athletic manager Chris Powell did this time last year; the Addicks chief oversaw the arrival of twelve Summer arrivals including Rhoys Wiggins and Danny Hollands from Bournemouth, Danny Green from Dagenham & Redbridge, Matt Taylor from Exeter City and Michael Morrison from Sheffield Wednesday.
Green made over 30 appearances last season
Departures from The Valley were the likes of Alan McCormack, Jose Semedo, Carl Jenkinson and regular goalkeeper Rob Elliot joining Swindon Town, Sheffield Wednesday, Arsenal and Newcastle United respectively.

It now seems as if Westley is following suit.  It's not even the end of June yet and the former Stevenage manager has already raided his former side for the services of John Mousinho (below left) and Scott Laird (below right) as well as high profile captures such as Lee Holmes from Southampton, experienced 'keeper Richard Wright from Ipswich Town along with former Shrewsbury Town duo Nicky Wroe (below centre) and Shane Cansdell-Sheriff who won promotion to League 1 with the Shrews last season.

Leaving Deepdale were the experienced Ian Ashbee and Nicky Hunt along with a number of younger players as Westley chose to wield the axe on his under-performing players.  Also leaving Preston was Neil Mellor due to injury; a player who, at League 1 level would get a team 15-20 goals a season.

So will it work? With League 1 looking a strong division once again with the likes of Coventry City, Sheffield United, Doncaster Rovers, Swindon and big-spending Bournemouth, Preston won't have it all their own way.  It will take time to gel the squad, it took Westley time to bring Stevenage, or Stevenage Borough as they were back then from a Conference outfit to a decent, if physical League 1 surprise package.

For me, it's all be thrown together a little bit too quickly.  A few pieces of Westley's jigsaw that are missing are clinical strikers; Charlton had Bradley Wright-Phillips and Yann Kermorgant to fire them towards the division's summit and the Addicks had other forward options by having the likes of Danny Haynes to call upon along with a number of midfielders who could come up with a few goals like Johnny Jackson for example.

They will have to get off to a good start.  Charlton themselves went on an unbeaten 13 game run at the beginning of their promotion winning campaign - halted away at a Stevenage side managed by Westley on the 15th October.

I wish Preston luck, it won't be easy for them.  Feel it is a bit of a financial gamble (especially with Peter Ridsdale involved up there) but for me, they will be a play off side.

WESTLEY: Aiming for promotion with the Lilywhites
Come On England!

Until next week...

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Possible XI On The Move

In this blog piece I will be picking the XI that I believe will be on the move this Summer.  All of the players picked aren't out of contract so fees will need to be agreed if any managers are reading this!

Goalkeeper - Paul Robinson (32) - Blackburn Rovers

Despite being unable to stop Blackburn slip through the trap door, Robinson was one of the bright sparks in an otherwise drab season for the Lancashire side.  A number of impressive performances saw the former England international tipped for a recall to the side despite him announcing his international retirement in 2007.  The Rovers captain will have no shortage of offers after his impressive two seasons at Ewood Park and, even at the ripe old age of 32, being a goalkeeper, he will have a number of years left in him yet. QPR, West Brom, West Ham are believed to be interested in the former Leeds and Tottenham stopper.   My money is on West Ham though, especially after confirming that Robert Green will leave the club and with Robinson having worked with Sam Allardyce at Blackburn before Steve Kean's appointment. 

Right back - Chris Gunter (22) - Nottingham Forest

The Welshman hasn't quite lived up to the billing since bursting onto the scene as a 16 year old with Cardiff City.  His potential led to a number of clubs bidding for the youngster with Tottenham winning the race for his signature.  Soon later however, he joined Nottingham Forest on loan before signing a permanent deal with the Reds for a fee of around £1.75m.  Having been at the City Ground for three season's now, the 22 year old full back has impressed greatly and was part of the Forest side, under Billy Davies that reached two successive play offs.  However, this season has seen Forest struggle and, amidst a couple of financial issues, the club may be forced to cash in on their prized asset.  A number of clubs including Swansea City and Norwich City are sniffing around Gunter who may even opt to join Reading to team up once again with former team-mate Garath McCleary who joined the Royals from Forest last month.  Surely he won't do the cardinal sin and be an ex-Bluebird that joins Swansea?!

Centre back - Richard Keogh (25) - Coventry City

In Richard Keogh's ast two years at Coventry City, he has won the Player of the Year award both times.  Relegated in a disappointing season for Coventry which saw them fall into League 1, the defender looks to be on the move.  A large number of clubs such as Cardiff City, Burnley, Ipswich Town, Leeds United and a former club Bristol City are interested meaning that Keogh will probably see a move back to the Championship sooner rather than later.  Figures between £750,000 - £1m have been banded about for the ex-Carlisle defender which shows he has the quality for the higher league.  At 25, he's a good age to get better as well as having plenty of experience.  Will be a good capture for whatever Championship club he does indeed join.

Centre back - Kyle McFadzean (25) - Crawley Town

Being a Crawley fan, of course I'm going to be ever so slightly bias but, I truly believe that "Fadz" will be playing Championship football soon (hopefully with the mighty Reds!).  Since joining from then Blue Square North side Alfreton Town in 2010, he has been an absolute colossus at the back and I have no doubt he can play at a higher level.  Plenty of clubs have been looking at the former Sheffield United trainee with Peterborough making a £1.9m bid for Kyle and Tyrone Barnett (Who eventually joined the Posh) in January.  Previously the likes of Millwall, Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday have sent scouts down to the Broadfield Stadium however, with promotion success in the two seasons he has spent in West Sussex, hopefully McFadzean will see his future at Crawley.  Expect plenty of offers to be laid on the table but hopefully he will stay (please)!

Left back - Leighton Baines (27) - Everton

The long term Ashley Cole backup has been a consistent performer for Everton since joining from Wigan Athletic five years ago. The 27 year old actually began his career in the Everton youth ranks (As did Phil Jagielka) before joining for a fee of £6m.  With Everton being renowned for not having a lot of money to spend on players, clubs are circling to bring the Scouser away from Goodison Park.  Recently, Manchester United (looking for a long term successor for the 32 year old Patrice Evra) and German giants Bayern Munich are looking to add Baines to their ranks.  Baines has now started to add a few more goals to his game now and is a free kick specialist which may add to a nice figure that the Toffees could command.  Expect a fee of £10m upwards to be enough to sway a move for the attacking left back.

Right midfield - Robert Snodgrass (24) - Leeds United

Robert Snodgrass has been a top class performer for Leeds for the last four seasons now since joining from Livingston in 2008.  The left footed attacker has tormented numerous Championship sides since his arrival being a key figure in goals scored by the Yorkshire club.  Proven at a higher level after performing against the likes of Tottenham, Manchester United and Arsenal in FA Cup ties, Snodgrass will be looking to test himself in the Premier League after playing over 150 times for the club.  Expect Norwich City to make a bid to bring Snodgrass to Carrow Road to join former team mates Bradley Johnson and Johnny Howson in the City midfield but West Ham and West Brom are also looking at signing the Scotland International star.  Personally, I think he will go to Norwich.

Centre midfield - Peter Whittingham (27) - Cardiff City

Similarly to Snodgrass, Peter Whittingham has been tearing up the Championship for a number of years after joining Cardiff from Aston Villa five years ago. After a large number of play-off defeats when the going gets tough for Cardiff, Whittingham maybe tempted away from the Welsh.  Every Summer sees the 27 year old linked with a move away from Wales and this Summer, at his age he may have to move to better his career. West Ham had a bid turned down for the midlander in January, they are rumoured to be interested again as are Reading, West Brom and Fulham.  A move back to the Premier League looks to finally be on the cards for Whittingham.

Centre midfield - Gylfi Sigurdsson (22) - Hoffenheim

The former Reading star has had a terrific last six months.  Joining Swansea on loan in January he impressed greatly during his time in south Wales with the Swans being keen to make his stay a permanent one.  With the deal looking close, manager Brendan Rodgers joined Liverpool and the speculated £6.8m deal seemed to be put on hold.  With Rodgers' new team ready to pounce and Reading's new owners ready to splash the cash to bring the Icelandic back to the Madejski Stadium.  The three way tussle is likely to hot up for the signature of the talented goalscoring midfielder.  Where will he go? I reckon he will join Liverpool.... Now I have said this, he will probably just stay in Germany with Hoffenheim!

Left midfield - Nick Powell (18) - Crewe Alexandra

Nick Powell is another prospect to have come from the Crewe Alexandra Academy.  The Crewe-born teenager came off the same conveyor belt as Danny Murphy, Dean Ashton, Rob Hulse and Luke Varney and Powell is one that Crewe believe will be their best ever Academy player.  Having seen him first hand twice last season you could see the quality that he has even at his young age.  Manchester United and Chelsea are just two of the clubs bidding to pull him away from Gresty Road with United rumoured to have offered Crewe a whopping £4m for the player.  Scouts flocked to Wembley to watch the youngster in the play-off Final between Crewe and Cheltenham and saw Powell score a wonder goal in a 2-0 win for The Alex that sealed promotion to League 1.  If he does join one of the big boys, expect to see him back in the Football League on loan at around Championship or League 1 level.

Striker - Edin Dzeko (26) - Manchester City

Unbelievably, it seems that Manchester City are willing to let the big man leave the club.  In a season where City gained Premier League success, Dzeko chipped in with 21 goals; including the important second goal on the final game of the season against QPR.  Bought for a whopping £27m from Wolfsburg in January 2011, it now looks as if the striker may be heading back to Germany with Bayern Munich interested.  Other clubs looking into signing the forward include Juventus and big spending PSG with Carlo Ancelotti keen on him.  It took him a while to get going but he eventually found his feet in the Premier League and adds another dimension to City's play and a valuable option from the bench if or when needed.  In fact, an interesting statistic from the season just gone, of all the Premier League players who made 20+ appearances, only Wayne Rooney and Mario Balotelli had a better minutes per goal rate than Dzeko (106.9).

Striker - Grant Holt (31) - Norwich City

Finally we come to the final member of the starting XI.  If anything, Grant Holt seems the most likely of the lot to leave his club.  A contractual disagreement between him, his agent and the Norwich City people that sort out the contracts meant that Holt submitted an unsuccessful transfer request.  With two years left to run on his contract and Holt seemingly signalling his intentions to leave Carrow Road it looks as if he will go.  With a superb first Premier League season under his belt which saw the former Nottingham Forest forward hit 17 goals in all competitions he has attracted a number of admirers.  Rumour has it that the likes of West Ham have lodged bids for him although, it is looking increasingly likely that Holt will join his former Canaries manager Paul Lambert at Aston Villa.  Expect a fee of around £6m - £7.5m to be agreed some time soon with Holt's Norwich career in disarray.

The Subs bench:

Matt Phillips (21) - Blackpool (Winger/Striker)

Clint Dempsey (29) - Fulham (Attacking Midfielder)

Eunan O'Kane (21) - Torquay United (Midfielder)

Sam Baldock (23) - West Ham (Striker)

Fraser Forster (24) - Newcastle United (Goalkeeper)

Monday, 4 June 2012

Foolish Fulham Could Suffer Relegation Heartache

Fulham have been an established Premier League side now for a number of years.

Like every club, they have had sticky situations with the likes of then stars such as Louis Saha, Luis Boa Morte and Steed Malbranque all departing for pastures new at different times but this coming season does look bleak for them in my opinion; for me, boss Martin Jol has released too much quality at one time.

Last week, the west-Londoners let go a couple of high profile names which raised a few eyebrows, most notably the likes of captain Danny Murphy, Russian striker Pavel Pogrebnyak and former England International forward Andy Johnson. Although the club are still in talks with Murphy and Pogrebnyak, there are no guarantees they will stay.
Johnson (L) and Pogrebnyak (R) are available
Add to this the high chance of other "names" such as Moussa Dembele and the talismatic Clint Dempsey being snapped up by the so called "bigger" clubs and you fear for them.

Murphy was a consistent performer for the whites over his five year stint at Craven Cottage, Johnson, if fit would always be able to get a goal and Pogrebnyak, who only joined in January this year had a 1:2 goal ratio with 6 goals in 12 games.
KISSING GOODBYE?: Murphy is still in talks
I fear for Fulham; you have to look at where the goals will come from. Obviously, on his day Bryan Ruiz comes up with quality however, with just two goals in his debut season in just under thirty games it shows that his day doesn't come very often, also, he currently has a broken foot so he may be slightly injury plagued on his return to action.

Obviously there will be a bit of money for Jol to spend, money that could be increased from the possible departures of Dempsey and/or Dembele but you wonder whether they can get the same or better quality players through the Craven Cottage doors.
Dempsey and Dembele (below) could leave
Added to the fact that the promoted clubs (Southampton, Reading and West Ham) will also be splashing some cash and you wonder whether it will be a long season for them.

People will say Wigan will be going down but that seems to have been said for the last 200 years and they will always seem to survive, somehow!

For me, Fulham face a season of struggle.

Enjoy the beginning of the Euros.

Until next week...