Riyad Mahrez Is A Far Superior Option To Julian Draxler For Arsenal

“They said I was too skinny, everyone will push you off the ball. I had a good technique but physically I wasn’t too strong. And I wasn’t fast. But I always worked hard.”

Riyad Mahrez’s battle to conquer his critics culminated in victory through a Premier League winners medal last May. The death of his father, when Mahrez was just fifteen, may have eradicated any possibility of a future career gracing football pitches from the Bernabeu to the Allianz Arena for the vast majority of young teenagers with a hopeful dream. However, Ahmed Mahrez’s son was a different breed to the everyday footballer.

Paul Doyle’s interview with the Algerian in the Guardian last year solidified that belief in my mind. Ahmed Mahrez’s death was not the only stumbling block in Riyad’s path to becoming the Premier League’s greatest player of last season. A light physique had locked away a young wide man’s incredulous ability, but it did not escape Mohamed Coulibaly, technical director of Mahrez’s first club, AAS Sarcelles.

“He was very frail. But he never gave up. You can see on the pitch that he never hides. From very early on he learned to take responsibilities. He has something more than technique, he has the guts and character that make great players.”

Mahrez’s shackles were soon cast off. Quimper was the next destination, with Le Havre following quickly after. Speed had quickly become one of the finest weapons in his arsenal, but physically Mahrez was far from imposing. Such a quiet and improbable star as he was, Leicester City’s scout Steve Walsh had initially travelled to France to watch Ryan Mendes, but it was Mahrez who had stolen the show that evening.

Arsenal

Mahrez may have captured Walsh’s attention, but the Foxes scout was just another member of the crowd to him. In fact, FourFourTwo’s interview with the 25-year-old revealed that the player had not been aware that Leicester not only had a rugby club but a football team too in the weeks building up to the transfer. “I didn’t know Leicester. In France we didn’t really know them because they were in the Championship.”

Fortunately, Mahrez’s ignorance of Leicester City Football Club’s existence did not extinguish Nigel Pearson’s interest in his services following discussions with Walsh. 2014 had just begun when Mahrez was added to Leicester’s plethora of attacking players in January 2014 as they looked to finally escape England’s second division for the riches of the Premier League. As we all now know, Leicester returned to the top flight after a ten-year absence as champions.

There is certainly something present about Mahrez that suggests the spark within. One that alongside Jamie Vardy, essentially led Claudio Ranieri’s outfit to the Premier League title. When viewing Mahrez on the pitch, he brings an air of confidence, oozes class and always encourages positivity in an environment where no individual is more important than the team-mate he stands next to.

It is this extraordinary teamwork mentality that Mahrez thrives in. He did not need to force himself upon a pedestal through exaggerated actions on the pitch to prove his brilliance at Le Havre, nor is it necessary at Leicester. Instead, what is intrinsic to Mahrez’s play is the simple beauty of his style.

There are no needless tricks in pressurised situations. An attack spearheaded by Riyad Mahrez is one accompanied with a creative purpose. This is evidently exemplified by a pure and unteachable quality found in Mahrez’s play of converting a mundane and uninspiring move into one packed with energy, flair and sheer brilliance.

Arsenal

This particular quality is what sets Mahrez aside from Wolfsburg’s Julian Draxler. Yes, the German has shown flickers of his yet to be realised potential in the Bundesliga and during this summer’s European Championships, but what would concern me about Draxler is his seeming inability to replicate these little flourishes of his eye-catching inventiveness on the wing in the long-term.

Injuries have not been the prime factor as to why the 22-year-old is not a world star yet as some suggest; it is his inconsistency which has hampered his progress.

Clearly, Draxler is impatient to enjoy a similar success story as Mahrez. Bild published an interview this morning in which he outlined his desire to depart the Bundesliga for an ‘international top club’. Sky have suggested that both Arsenal and Juventus have held talks, but if Arsene Wenger has learned to develop a keen eye in the transfer market over the last twenty years, he should know that Draxler is a risky and far more expensive option than Mahrez would be.

That’s not to mention that Mahrez not only has proved himself in the Premier League but has excelled in a position which Arsenal desperately lack truly creative and effective options. The Leicester man is far and beyond better value for money in comparison with Draxler.

Arsenal

Draxler is a poor alternative to Riyad Mahrez for Arsenal.

It is obvious that Mahrez is an individual who will fit Arsenal’s ethos like a jigsaw piece into an ever expanding puzzle. The Algerian has verified in the blue of Leicester City that he is a player willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the team, but is so exceedingly talented that Mahrez’s quality shines through on a regular basis, no matter the opponent.

Express say that Draxler will not arrive at the Emirates for a reasonable sum; far from it in truth. £52m is the valuation that has been placed upon his head, and I cannot fathom Wolfsburg’s reasoning if that is the proposed fee. Considering that Mahrez’s ability far outweighs Draxler’s, Leicester’s reported £35m valuation indicates that Arsenal would engage in daylight robbery should they favour a move for the Premier League’s player of the year.

Regardless of where he plies his trade next season, there appears to be no stagnation to Riyad Mahrez’s meteoric rise. Arsenal fans will hope, perhaps in vain, that Arsene Wenger will make the right decision.

5 Reasons Why Arsenal Fans Should Be Excited About Granit Xhaka

Arsenal have signed an extraordinary talent in Granit Xhaka.

The 23-year-old has joined the club for £35m from Borussia Monchengladbach, and his performances for the German club in the Bundesliga have likened the Swiss to Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Similarly, Xhaka’s phenomenal perfomances for Switzerland have impressed fans far and wide, completing 12 tackles and eighty-nine percent of his passes at Euro 2016.

Here’s why Xhaka is going to be such an asset for Arsenal ahead of the new season.

A natural leader

The midfield maestro is quite simply born to lead. At the start of the 2015/16 Bundesliga campaign, Monchengladbach were rock bottom having lost five consecutive games and manager Lucien Favre, who had saved the club from relegation in his debut season, left the club. Andre Schubert was chosen to replace Favre in what is his first experience as a first-team coach.

It was a somewhat striking decision to choose a then 22-year-old in Xhaka as the new club captain, but he embraced the opportunity. It seems that responsibility and pressure only aids to Xhaka’s game, as he progressed as an influential and instrumental player, leading Die Fohlen to fourth come May in Germany.

Arsenal have been severely lacking in leaders in recent seasons, and with many of the club’s stars such aS Laurent Koscielny ageing, Xhaka’s presence could not be any more welcomed. A hugely positive addition off the pitch, as well as on it.

Fierce and combative style

Xhaka’s tenacious nature has led to more cards of the yellow and red variety than the Swiss can recall, but it also largely benefits the way that he likes to play football. We saw this best during the 2014/15 season, when Gladbach had Christoph Kramer on loan. Kramer’s outstanding ability to be utilised as an anchor and protector in front of the defence allowed Xhaka to move further into the midfield and into the midst of the action.

Xhaka averaged 2.4 successful tackles per game last season, and made 2.7 interceptions. His usefulness comes into play when he is allowed to break up the play and instigate attacks further afield, with a liking to play clever through balls for the wide men and forwards. So Xhaka’s role is two-fold here, absorbing opposition attacks whilst also encouraging offensive football.


Match winner

He may not be an exceptional penalty taker, but he has shown numerous times for Die Fohlen that he steps up to the plate when required, and has been one of the most consistent and clinical players in the Bundesliga for the last two seasons.

Arsenal have lost innumerable points because they have failed to kill games off and maintain a high level of pressure against the opposition, but signing Xhaka may transform that. In the dying embers of a derby encounter between Monchengladbach and Koln in 2015, guess who arrived who convert Thorgan Hazard’s free-kick in injury time..


A never say die attitude

 

Xhaka has that steely determination that Arsene Wenger had been desperately searching for. Yes, his discipline needs work, but it is the bite, fire and passion within him that drives him to sometimes reckless extremes on the pitch. When he dons the shirt of his team, he will run himself beyond the point of pain to enable victory.

At the end of the 2014/15 season, he played the final nine games of the season with a broken rib. ‘At times, it hurt like hell’ he had said, but it was worth it to see Monchengladbach in the Champions League places.

Pass master

To say Xhaka dictates the flow of the game does not fit his industrious style, but it goes someway to explaining his effect on the pitch. As aforementioned, Xhaka likes to drive the ball forward when possible, but his decision-making is reminiscent of a player with eagle-like precision in terms of his passing.

His eighty-five percent pass success last season suggests it’s a rare occasion when he does not find his target, whilst he was second to only Toni Kroos at the Euros in terms of forward passes.

___

If Xhaka can learn to conceal his volatile rage in times of frustration, he will go on to become one of the world’s best players. As it is, Arsenal have an extraordinary player on their hands.

Sadio Mane v Pedro: Head To Head

Apoplectic rage was widespread in many Manchester United supporting households on Wednesday after news emerged that Pedro would be joining rivals Chelsea.

Things were only to get worse. After it was reported that Louis van Gaal’s alternative target was Southampton’s Sadio Mané, moods changed from disappointment to rage.

How can you replace a World Cup and Champions League winning talent with a mid-table Premier League forward? Well, it seems there is method in what initially appeared to be Manchester United madness.

Despite a Southampton official insisting the player would not depart Saint Mary’s, the lure of a club on a gargantuan scale such as Manchester United, could be enough to tempt Mané into a move to Manchester.

Some supporters argue that van Gaal should not have stalled on the Pedro transfer, and that the Dutch manager is at fault for losing a player capable of doing the extraordinary from nothing.

Instead, United are attempting to secure the services of a player that has no experience of the dizzying heights of top European football. However, if you, like seemingly countless other fans, are sobbing at the missed opportunity, listen up…

_____

Using WhoScored, Opta and Squakwa, a respected trio dedicated to producing statistics that we, the fans to drool over, Pundit Arena have concluded that despite the Barcelona winger’s experience, Mané may well be a better acquirement for the Red Devils.

Here’s the proof..

Using carefully calculated statistics, it was revealed that Mané concluded the 2014/15 season with more goals, passes and chances created than Pedro, winner of a World Cup and two European Championships.

Click on the image to see how Sadio Mane beats Pedro on passes, duels won and recoveries of the ball.

The Spaniard may have Mané beaten on passing accuracy in general and in the opposition’s half, but to our surprise, Southampton’s  winger comfortably swats aside Chelsea’s newest recruit in the areas of  duels won, passes made, aerial duels won and recoveries of the ball.

Admittedly in the defence of Pedro, Mané has had six hundred minutes further on the pitch, but the 23-year-old is not surrounded by the likes of Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, instead assisted by Steven Davis and James Ward Prowse in the Saint’s midfield last season.

______

Youth very much favours Southampton’s attacking maestro, with the Senegalese five years younger than Barca’s long-time servant. There is also appeal in the fact that Mané has already settled in the Premier League, and has shown he is more than capable of performing week in, week out on the big stage.

This show of strength, composure and exquisite skill seen in his goal against Arsenal last season is an indicator of the former Red Bull Salzburg attacker’s ability to play for one of Europe’s biggest teams.

Squakwa’s Comparison Matrix is also an excellent tool for investigating the form of players from different leagues pitted against each other, and again to our disbelief, it was Mané who outshone Pedro in almost every category.

Screenshot (720)

Screenshot (722)

Offensively and defensively, the boy from Santa Cruz is embarrassed by Ronald Koeman’s £11.7m signing with Mané strides ahead of his counterpart.

Pedro’s attacking score is a satisfactory one, but his failure to come anywhere close in his defensive markings show that Mané is a significantly more hard working individual, who also bettered Rodriguez by a hair in the number of successful passes.

Screenshot (721)

Pedro fares little better with round two of Squakwa’s comparison ratings, having assisted more goals for his world class team-mates to convert than Mané. Thirty-seven key passes in juxtaposition to Rodriguez’s nineteen is a notable feat alongside the fact that Mané  had created close to double the opportunities that Pedro had in 2014/15.

It brings to the table an interesting discussion as to why Koeman’s lynchpin is a better purchase than Enrique’s super sub, no?

Screenshot (719)

Another fascinating outlook is the brute force of Mané when faced against the statistics of Pedro. Having won over twice as many tackles, nearly three times as many successful take ons and four times as many clearances as the Barcelona man, it is not difficult to see why Louis van Gaal may prefer his latest target to the Chelsea-bound winger.

Having suffered seventy-six tackles to win free-kicks for Southampton, Mané’s ability to run through walls and take a beating would be a huge asset to this Manchester United side.
_____

Pedro vs Mane
The pair are unbearably close when it comes to their attacking data, with Pedro arguably the better option. The Spaniard scored six goals and recorded nine assists from fifteen starts and twenty substitute appearances for the Catalan giants via WhoScored and Opta, compared to Mané’s 10 goals and three assists in thirty appearances for the Saints in his first Premier League season.

Despite this, Mané’s dexterity to play on the wing, in central midfield, as a No.10 or as a part of the forward line gives a wide range of options to Louis van Gaal in the sense of how to utilise his potential signing, whilst Pedro is somewhat limited as to where he can line up on the pitch.

______

In conclusion, after the abundance of statistics made available to us it seems that Sadio Mané would be a much better fit as well as further value for money, an enhanced benefit.

Pedro’s European experience is a worthy tool to use in a debate concerning who would help Manchester United challenge for the Premier League and progress in the Champions League, but after this reveal, it seems that Mané could be a worthier inclusion to van Gaal’s team.

One Player To Watch From Each Premier League Side

Premier League football is upon us, so we at Pundit Arena have compiled a handy club-by-club guide of what player you should look out for from every Premier League side.

We have analysed the twenty sides in the top flight, from Newcastle to Norwich, to Watford and West Ham and carefully selected the one player we expect to have an outstanding campaign or surprise you, the fans. Some of the choices may not be what you expect, but doesn’t that make this less predictable? We have your attention. So Sit back, relax, and scroll through.

1. Hector Bellerin, Arsenal

Francis Coquelin or Alexis Sanchez may have been two of the names to spring to the mind of fans in this scenario but it’s the the boy from Catalonia, who broke into the first team last season and wowed both fans of the Gunners and supporters throughout the Premier League alike. With searing pace and incredible attacking ability, it’s certainly an upgrade on recent right-backs at Arsenal and that is a welcome change. Not for his opponents, of course, but for our eyes. Bellerin’s potential is astounding and could become one of Europe’s most talented players in his position. The Spaniard’s ability in the air could be improved, but at twenty, the sky is the limit. He certainly is one of its brighest prospects. Barcelona may be ruing the fact they let him go. They could just, you know, sign him back. I’m sure they’ve never thought of that before..

Bellerin has come a long way since his days with the Arsenal U19's. Source: Kieran Clarke

Bellerin has come a long way since his days with the Arsenal U19’s. Source: Kieran Clarke

_____

2. Jordan Amavi, Aston Villa

Aston Villa fans are truly excited by the Frenchman’s signing, and so they should be after having to endure meagre left-backs in Joe Bennett, Aly Cissokho and Antonio Luna, et al. Amavi made 147 interceptions in 2014/15, better than any other players in Europe’s top five leagues after only signing his first professional deal last summer. Strong in the air as well as overlapping on the wing to assist in attacks, tackling is his only real weak point, where he succeeded in 50 % of his attempts in Ligue 1 last campaign. With fellow signings in Idrissa Gueye, Rudy Gestede and Jordan Ayew, Tim Sherwood’s side should see a large number of goals in the ‘for’ category come May.

_____

3. Matt Ritchie, Bournemouth

This particular writer is a supporter of a lower league club, and has horrendous memories of Ritchie tearing the defenders of his team apart a few years ago with Swindon Town in League Two. Nowadays, Ritchie is arguably one of AFC Bournemouth’s most prized assets, having prized him from Swindon for a mere £500,000 in 2013. Quick and voracious on the right hand side, the Scot is dual footed, twenty-five and 5’8″ yet is impressively strong on his feet for a smaller attacker. Out on the wide flank for the Cherries in their championship winning year, Ritchie scored twelve and made sixteen, a division high. Like his manager, his rise has been rapid, and will impress on the big stage.

_____

4. Nemanja Matic, Chelsea

It was difficult to choose an unnoticed star or emerging player in Chelsea’s squad, where it is simply packed with sublime quality, so the Serbian’s inclusion epitomises the underlying need for a player capable of handling Chelsea’s “Makeleke Role”. Upon his return from Benfica, having initially left as part of a deal that brought David Luiz to the Blues, Matic has been nothing short of superb. More than proficient across the board in midfield, there is no one better in the Premier League than Matic at what he does best. Unless his opponents are Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, it’s often better to turn around and pass to someone else than to try and beat the titanium man.

_____

5. Patrick Bamford, Crystal Palace

 Source: Austin Ogiza, Flickr

Bamford has had an incredible past couple of seasons and Jose Mourinho clearly sees his potential. Source: Austin Ogiza, Flickr

It’s rare to see an English striker thrive under pressure. Officially a Chelsea player, he was signed from Nottingham Forest for £1.5 million before eventually being loaned to MK Dons. Following a hugely successful loan spell habing scored fourteen goals in twenty-three appearances, Bamford was thrown into the deep end with Derby County in a division above. He finished the season in the play-off final, having had a tremendous season, eventually losing to QPR. The play-off final was exactly where Bamford ended up a season later, with Middlesbrough, though their 2-0 defeat to Norwich was more than deserved.

The forward did pick up the Championship’s player of the year accolade, as well an outstanding tally of seventeen for the season. He agreed a three-year extension to his contract at Stamford Bridge before joining Crystal Palace on a season-long loan, and having already scored against Manchester City and Liverpool in the past, he should have no problem alongside Yannick Bolasie, Yohan Cabaye, Dwight Gayle and company.

_____

6. John Stones, Everton

There is a reason that Chelsea so desperately want the England international, and putting it simply it’s because he is an immense talent. Signed from Barnsley for £3m when he was just 19, Stones has become a regular fixture in Roberto Martinez’s side, he signed a five-year deal with the club last summer to show Everton’s intentions on keeping their iron grip in their star.

According to WhoScored, Stones completed 89.5 % of his passes whilst winning 2.6 aerial duels per game last season, as well as making 1.4 tackles and 1.6 interceptions per game – bettering current Chelsea centre-backs John Terry and Gary Cahill.

_____

7. Shinji Okazaki, Leicester

He was amongst the best forwards in the Bundesliga before his £9.5 million move to the Foxes and should be one of the main men in Claudio Ranieri’s team. Twelve goals in thirty-two appearances last season for an average Mainz side was eye catching, and his total of fifteen in 2013/14 shows his killer instinct in front of goal, something fans of Leicester will look forward to seeing. He is Japan’s third highest scorer of all time, with forty-three from ninety-three appearances, whilst also holds the record as the German top flight’s highest Japanese scorer in history.

_____

8. Nathaniel Clyne, Liverpool

We could have sworn we heard very loud yelps of excitement coming from Liverpool when Glen Johnson was not offered a new deal at the club. Instead, a defensively disciplined and intelligent on the ball wing-back was added, from Southampton. Clyne has pace as well as an eye for the perfect pass, and really needs no introduction after impressive spells at both Southampton and Crystal Palace. For £12.5m at the age of twenty-four, it could prove to be shrewd business by Brendan Rodgers.

_____

9. Bruno Zuculini, Manchester City

City’s reported chasing of Juventus’s Paul Pogba could come to a halt as a potential alternative could lie from within. Bruno Zuculini was signed from Racing Club for £2.2m last summer and has impressed in the club’s youth set-up, and his performances during pre-season alongside first team stars such as Raheem Sterling and Sergio Agüero may earn him a chance to show his worth on the big stage. Predominantly a holding midfielder with an enthusiasm for going forward, the Argentinian is a slick passer and tackler,  and has the ability to produce pin-point cross-field balls to his team mates, a skill reminiscent of Steven Gerrard.

This was pretty good, too. Not the worst finisher to boot!

_____


10. Matteo Darmian, Manchester United

Darmian has had two stellar seasons at Torino and has had experience with Italy at a World Cup to boot. All eyes will be on fellow recruits Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay, but Darmian is the type of player who diligently works hard, strong defensively and offensively, to help his team. This quote from an article last month before Darmian’s arrival at Manchester United should highlight his best characteristic that could be utilised by his manager.

His versatility is undoubtedly Darmian’s most outstanding trait. Able to perform exceptionally in both full-back positions in a 3-5-2, a formation favoured by Louis van Gaal during parts of last season, the 25-year-old can also operate in the centre of the defence if the situation arises where that role needs to be deputised.

_____


11. Aleksandar Mitrovic, Newcastle

A striker was one of many things required at Newcastle last season, as well as a P45 for John Carver. Steve McClaren has since been appointed in Carver’s place, and his £13.5m addition of Aleksandar Mitrovic from Anderlecht. Arsenal fans should be familiar with the forward after his fantastic header helped his now former team to a 3-3 draw with the London side. Aerially superior to most defenders at 6′ 2″, Mitrovic will be relied upon as the instrumental player in Newcastle’s attacking line up, and having scored 28 % of Anderlecht’s goals last campaign this shouldn’t be an issue.

_____

12. Nathan Redmond, Norwich

Extraordinarily calm, quick and precise with his crossing on the right-wing, Nathan Redmond was one of Alex Neil’s key man in the Canaries’ leap into the Premier League. Aged seventeen, he did not look out of place in Birmingham’s first team, and should dazzle the Premier League. He was tremendous in both legs of Norwich’s play-off semi-final success over rivals Ipswich, whilst finished off a beautiful seven man, sixteen pass move in the final against Middlesbrough. His team mate Bradley Johnson is a fine player also and barely missed out on taking Redmond’s place in this very, very important list.

_____

13. Sadio Mane, Southampton

Mane recorded the fastest ever Premier League hat-trick last season against Aston Villa, but the Senegalese winger did not arrive in the Premier League just to accomplish that feat and wave goodbye to his career. Mane began as he meant to go on by winning a penalty on his debut in a 2-1 win against Arsenal in January in the League Cup before assisting in his league debut against QPR. His unpredictably on the ball and incredible work-rate has Ronald Koeman more than confident it was £11.8 million well spent on the former Red Bull Salzburg player.

He was easily the man of the match against Vitesse Arnhem in the first leg, where he oozed class as he slipped the ball through to Graziano Pelle for the opener, and scored in the Netherlands to assist his side to a 5-0 aggregate win. With Jordy Clasie and Juanmi clever acquisitions in midfield and up front, with Mane involved Southampton should be a delight to watch again.

Watch the ice cool touch and pass from Mane as Pelle scores against their downed opponents.

_____


14. Marco Van Ginkel, Stoke

After an tremendous tournament for the Netherlands U21’s in 2013, Chelsea signed Van Ginkel from Vitesse Arnhem, and experienced tough conditions at AC Milan on loan in 2014-15, where he made seventeen appearances scoring one goal. Several injuries as well as a misuse of Van Ginkel’s talents on the pitch saw the player and his agent frustrated, and he was even ruled out for two months after his own team mate Sulley Muntari injured him in training. At Stoke however, the midfielder should see a fresh new start for a career at a club that is crying out for a combative all-round arsenal in their ranks. Van Ginkel joins on a season’s loan as part of the Asmir Begovic move to Chelsea.

It may be pre-season, but this impressive clip shows that the Dutchman is more than comfortable in his new surroundings, scoring on a run from Stoke’s own half.

_____

15. Adam Matthews, Sunderland

It may not be the most exciting signing for Sunderland fans to cheer about in what looks to be a tough season, but he is one that will add that little something extra to the Black Cats’ play, and give them a more formidable attack down the right hand side. This fantastic statistic from Fantasy Football Scout highlights how impressive he is.

The former Celtic defender tallied a whopping 20 assists in the past three seasons, despite clocking just 5,285 minutes of pitch time – to put that into context, the rampaging Leighton Baines tops the assists charts (19) for Premier League defenders across the last three campaigns, yet he needed 4,244 more minutes to achieve that total.

The differences between the Scottish Premier League and the English version aside, it bodes well for the offensive side of Sunderland’s game with Jeremain Lens also signed from Dynamo Kyiv.

_____

16. Jack Cork, Swansea

Despite the arrival of Andre Ayew, Jack Cork will still be as instrumental as ever to Swansea’s play eight months after his £3m move from Southampton. Calm, composed and steady on and off the ball, Cork is effectively the criteria of player that keeps a midfield ticking along nicely, the cog in a machine that would disrupt it’s very heartbeat should it be removed. Swansea’s attacking stars will undoubtedly steal the show, but Cork is a player worth watching.
_____


17. Ryan Mason, Tottenham

His tireless energy and desire to work and win for the team is one of the many reasons why he and partner in crime Nabil Bentaleb are one of the Premier League’s finest midfield pairings at the moment, and Mason’s rapid development is increasing at a staggering rate. His loan spell with Swindon Town was a success without a moment’s thought, but battling against Alexis Sanchez and Eden Hazard was not what Mason or anyone was expecting come 2014/15. Nevertheless, that is the case, and his key role in locating Christian Eriksen, Nacer Chadli and Erik Lamela after Bentaleb has crunched an attack will be crucial to how Mauricio Pochettino wants to play this season.

_____

18. Troy Deeney, Watford

Troy Deeney has been ready for the Premier League for about two years. For the last three seasons, he has surpassed the twenty goal mark in the Championship, trying to drag Watford back to the top flight at times. An incredible play-off semi-final against Leicester, which we are sure you remember, highlights one of the many reasons why Deeney is ready to do battle with the best in England, having kept his cool in such a high pressure situation.  West Brom tried to sign him last year, and there will be bigger clubs than the Baggies after Deeney following this campaign. The 26-year-old is quick, strong and an incredible finisher.

Who Will Challenge Southampton For Europe?

Southampton’s re-integration into the Premier League has been tremendously successful, proving that a club can change managers on a consistent basis without falling off the edge of the universe.

Ronald Koeman took over from Mauricio Pochettino last summer amidst a mountain of departures including stars such as Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert, and replaced them with the likes of Dusan Tadic, Sadio Mane, Graziano Pelle and Ryan Bertrand to propel the Saints into seventh place, moreover securing a Europa League place.

Having lost further stars this summer to bigger clubs, Koeman again displayed his adeptness in the market, succeeding Nathaniel Clyne with Sporting’s Cedric Soares and Morgan Schneiderlin with Feyenoord’s Jordy Clasie. Koeman’s team look the strongest to secure the seventh spot in the Premier League, fifth and sixth spot looking likely to be taken again by Liverpool and Tottenham.

However, with the recent influx of cash for Premier League clubs, there has been some wise spending across the board. Who can challenge Southampton for a place in Europe?

Newcastle United

To say it has been a rocky few years at St James Park would be an insult to the Toon’s fan base, who have suffered through watching football orchestrated by the worst of composers in Joe Kinnear and John Carver, the self-titled “best coach in the league”. Alan Pardew was undoubtedly the club’s steadiest manager, having guided Newcastle to fifth place in 2011-12 at his peak in management.

With Steve McClaren in charge, you cannot blame fans for being dubious. Being worse than Sven Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello as England manager takes some doing, but the amusingly slandered “wolly with a brolly” has done well to rejuvenate his managerial career at Derby County, where they were inches away from the Premier League in 2013-14 only to lose at the last moment to QPR.

Last season, the Rams dropped out of the play-offs on the final day which caused a monumental rift between the Derby board and McClaren, but injuries throughout the campaign, particularly to forward Chris Martin, hindered progress.

McClaren’s intent on the transfer front has impressed fans and critics alike, with some astute moves being made on the back of being handed a none too shabby transfer budget.

Additions:

Two outstanding captures in the shape of Aleksandar Mitrovic and Georginio Wijnaldum are at the forefront of reasons as to why Newcastle could finally be in with a shout of a return to Europe.

Signed from Anderlecht for £13.5m, Mitrovic was chased by Premier League champions Chelsea but decided to come to Newcastle on the promise of a regular starting position.

Aerially superior to defenders, he has already proved to be a serious thorn in defenders side on the big stage, having scored against Arsenal in the Champions League, whilst the Serb has no issues in being the instrumental player in a team, having scored 28 % of Anderlecht’s goals in 2014/15.

Wijnaldum was PSV’s captain and the Dutchman was certainly not appointed for no reason. The 24-year-old is a Dutch international and excels in aiding his team with the goals, having scored 64 from midfield for Feyenoord and PSV during his team in the Eredivisie. He already netted this beauty in pre-season against Portland Timbers, and should be exciting in a Newcastle midfield that will contain Siem de Jong and Remy Cabella.

His Dutch compatriot de Jong had the following the say about Wijnaldum.

“He’s a good player; he likes to be on the ball and he’s good offensive, but also strong and can help defensive, so he’s quite a (versatile) player,” De Jong said. “He can play a couple positions, so he can be a good contributor for the team. He’s a good guy. I know him well and he really wants to work hard and he could be good for us.”

The club are also set to sign Mitrovic’s former team-mate Chancel Mbemba for £8.5m, and are rumoured to be leading the chasing pack for £15m rated QPR forward Charlie Austin.

West Ham United

Sam Allardyce’s sacking just seconds after the final whistle blew via the club’ official Twitter account was a harsh move by the Hammers, but his replacement Slaven Bilic has wasted no time in making additions the Croat felt was necessary to progress the club ahead of the proposed move to the Olympic stadium. Bilic has landed on his feet football following a shaky spell at Lokomotiv Moscow before taking the post at Besiktas.

Additions:

Dimitri Payet is one of the signings of the summer in Europe, let alone the Premier League. West Ham paid £10.7m to secure his services and the 28-year-old will, barring a freak season, repay his new team a thousandfold. Payet had the most key passes in Europe last season, and topped the Ligue 1 assists pile with 17, accompanying that with seven goals.

CIbhudQWgAAF8xN (1)

Pedro Obiang’s arrival from Sampdoria will re-introduce a balance into their midfield, whilst the recruitment of Angelo Ogbonna from Juventus should prove to be a stellar signing. With the likes of Diafra Sakho, Mark Noble, James Tomkins and Aaron Cresswell already in the team, West Ham should at least aim for an eighth or ninth placed finish if Europe falls a little short.

Swansea City

Garry Monk is one of the Premier League’s success stories. His opportunity to take his first job in management was born from Michael Laudrup’s departure, but the club legend has never looked back despite a mammoth number of doubters.

Selling Wilfred Bony for an outrageous amount of money will serve the Swans well in the future having not shelled out the entirety of the £28m along with their usual budget. Southampton lost Jack Cork to Swansea for peanuts, and whilst they boast a strong midfield, Cork is the cog that keeps things running smoothly in a Premier League midfield.

An outstanding finish of eighth place in 2014/15 gave Swansea something to build from.

Additions:

Andre Ayew has arrived on a free transfer from Marseille in what was a spectacular coup for the Welsh side. His ten goals for the French club in the season just gone bodes well for his new fans, who are yearning for a new goalscorer since Bony’s departure. Should Ayew need some assistance, he’ll find it from Eder, who has moved from Braga to join Ayew and Franck Tabanou, a winger from Saint Etienne, at the Liberty Stadium.

Goalkeeper Kristoffer Nordfeldt has also joined in what can only be a good thing as cover for Lukas Fabianski.

Crystal Palace

Finally, it’s Alan Pardew’s Eagles who have clawed their way into the list. Struggling under Neil Warnock in the relegation zone, Pardew stepped in, escaping a vicious onslaught from the Newcastle United fans who screamed for his departure. At Newcastle, the fans appreciation of Pardew went out the window when new signings such as Siem de Jong were injured or when Remy Cabella failed to perform to the ability he demonstrated at Montpellier.

For his new club, Pardew thrived.

Completely transforming and invigorating Crystal Palace, the club had a sense of freshness about it. Utilising the pace of Jason Puncheon and Yannick Bolasie to great effect, at the same time using the strong backbone supplied by defenders Joel Ward and Scott Dann, Palace found themselves in tenth as the season drew to a close.

Additions:

Pardew has made the fans wait but it was time well spent considering targets. The Eagles could never have hoped in their wildest dreams of seeing their club acquire a player like Yohan Cabaye, but incredibly, they did. The Frenchman was extraordinary at Newcastle, but had  a frustrating time at Paris-Saint-Germain and will be delighted to be able to work with Pardew once again.

A club record fee of approximately £12m convinced the French champions to part with their expensive bit-part player, but he will be instrumental to this Palace side.

Having signed a new three-year deal with Chelsea, Patrick Bamford had a number of suitors following a truly remarkable season with Middlesbrough in which he earned the Championship player of the year award, having scored seventeen goals in a campaign which saw ‘Boro reach the play-off final.

Intelligent on the ball with extreme precision in front of goal, Bamford and Palace will fit around each other perfectly. It gives the 21-year-old a chance to experience regular Premier League football whilst Palace have the opportunity to aid the moulding of one of England’s brightest talents.

It’s going to be another exciting season.

What Arsenal Need To Become Serious Title Challengers

Arsenal last won the Premier League in 2004, with an incredible team of “Invincibles” as they went the entire campaign undefeated.

Patrick Viera manned the ship from the middle of the park, Robert Pires frightened opponents on a weekly basis, and a lethal partnership between Henry and Bergkamp dismantled defences like they were made of straw.

Now, in 2015, eleven years have passed since the Premier League trophy was in Wenger’s hands.

Of course, the costs that came with the Emirates stadium was bound to be a stumbling block in Arsene Wenger’s mission for progress and the eventual recapture of the Premier League crown. Bu in 2013 and new  commercial deals were struck it was time for the Frenchman at the helm to decide whether to delve into the deep, dark market and compete with the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City for the best that there is, or to bow out honourably, after 17 years in charge.

So his decision to pay a colossal £42.5m to sign Real Madrid star Mesut Ozil brought sheer delight if not shock and surprise to the table.

After years of signing players such as Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta, Ozil represented the start of something extraordinary.

The problem with signings like Arteta for fans of a club like Arsenal is that the Spaniard’s signing, just to take an example, was not a big show to the rest of the league what the club is capable of the transfer market. Players like William Carvalho and Lars Bender would be big signs of intent, which was exactly what the doctor ordered when it came to the marquee signing in Ozil.

However, Wenger has struggled to fit the German into the team as much as Ozil has struggled to adapt into his philosophy.

Perhaps that’s not fair, as Ozil has displayed signs of something magical at times, such as when he was given licence to roam in the league match against Hull last season.

Ozil admittedly struggled to maintain a performance standard that was expected of him in 2013/14. It is unlikely that many Arsenal fans would challenge that opinion. The playmaker needed to show a rapid escalation in his work-rate, and strive to impress in big games instead of drifting into the background. In the 2014-15 season he arguably did this.

Wenger moved again to show his muscle in the market, paying over £30 million to secure the services of Alexis Sanchez from another gargantuan Spanish side, in Barcelona. This was a master move.

It’s clear to see when Sanchez is on the ball or involved in an attack, those watching are just mesmerised. With the outstanding ability to play up front, behind a striker or out wide, Alexis gives Wenger many viable options, which he can exploit to his advantage. 25 goals and 10 assists in all competitions, as per WhoScored, is a terrific return for a debut season in the Premier League.

The point with Sanchez, in comparison to Ozil, was that he is truly the first piece of a large puzzle in mounting a challenge for the Premier League title. The Chilean epitomises the signal of intent that Arsenal have needed to sound for so long. It was known to everyone that the club needed to spend, but it’s crucial to utilise the finances on exactly who and where on the pitch. Alexis Sanchez is the first player to instigate what needs to be a rejuvenation, a renaissance of Arsenal in the Premier League.

Identifying who is needed can either be as straight forward as signing a £100,000 a week contract, or as complex as explaining quantum entanglement. Locating where, often begins with finding weak points in a team, specifically in games such as the 6-0 reverse against Chelsea in March.

Absolute no structure in midfield, calamitous defending and a simple lack of common sense derailed Arsenal’s hopes of ever catching Chelsea in that vital fixture last campaign. Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny has been suspect at times, which is why the signing of their rival’s shot stopper in Petr Cech has been one of Europe’s best deals of the summer.

Potential defensive frailties

Wenger has not been afraid to spend money in the offensive ranks with the recent additions of Ozil, Welbeck, and Sanchez. The signing of the England and former Manchester United man was impressive to cover the maimed Giroud, who had suffered a broken ankle against Everton, where it would have been expected that Wenger utilise Lukas Podolski or perhaps push forward one of his younger starlets like Chupa Akpom.

However, when it has come to resolve defensive issues, Wenger has been more than happy to roll the dice and deputise players untried in positions. Francis Coquelin and Hector Bellerin were both hastily promoted from their ranks in the youth academy, and Nacho Monreal was forced to play at centre-back for a period in the season following an injury to Laurent Koscielny.

Despite the prompt progress of both Coquelin and Bellerin, for which the club’s academy and Wenger himself should be praised for, investment needs to be made into defensive positions. The arrival of Southampton’s Calum Chambers was desperately needed and whilst his ability to operate at centre-back and full-back will undoubtedly aid Wenger, a long-term replacement for Mikel Arteta in front of the defence alongside Coquelin needs to be found.

The shield

Before Coquelin was recalled from his loan at Charlton, Wenger’s pairing of Mikel Arteta and Matthieu Flamini was irksome to say the least for Arsenal fans. The partnership can work when the team needs to be defensive, the shield the pair offer is quite useful to fend off waves of attacks, but otherwise it stunts the team fluency and style.

Coquelin’s arrival brought a balance to Arsenal’s play and a dominance in front of the defence. On last season’s statistics as per Squakwa, the Frenchman bests both Arteta and Flamini in the air, and is a more proficient tackler.

The 24-year-old wins 3.7 tackles per 90 minutes, compared to Arteta’s 1.79 per 90 minutes, and Flamini’s 1.95.

The issue is that Arteta will be 34 next March, at the same time Flamini will turn 32, with the latter encircled by rumours of a move to Bastia later this summer. Coquelin may well stay in Wenger’s team for years to come, but if the manager wants a pivot in front of the defence, he’ll need a partner.

The candidates

Granit Xhaka of Borussia Mönchengladbach would be an excellent choice. Whilst Xhaka would not come cheaply having recently signed a new contract until 2019. Nonetheless, he has become a prominent fixture of the midfield for the Bundesliga club and has been pivotal as to why the Foals will compete in the Champions League next year. Only 21, Xhaka is already an established international in the Swiss national team and is the aggressive but dominant force Arsenal need to thrive in their midfield.

After a tough first year in the Bundesliga, Xhaka had many critics but strived to prove them wrong, pushing himself to have a superb partnership with Christoph Kramer in a 4-2-2-2. He can be overly enthusiastic, picking up ten yellow cards and one red, but the Swiss has positional awareness, tackling ability and an exceptional eye for a long range ball.

Southampton’s Morgan Schneiderlin has been repeatedly linked with various clubs in the past year due to his stalwart performances at Saint Mary’s under Ronald Koeman, who slammed his foot down to block Schneiderlin’s move to the Gunners’ rivals Tottenham last summer. Schneiderlin would be a fine addition, but whether Wenger wishes to fight it out and potentially pay an extortionate fee remains to be seen, with a similar situation seen for Sporting’s William Carvalho.

We could also see a change in formation to just one defensive midfielder in front of the defence to accommodate a midfielder further up the pitch.

At left-back, Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal are both competent players who haven’t done much to be forced out of the team, but if the club wish to push forward with world class players, another addition from the Bundesliga in the shape of Wolfsburg’s Ricardo Rodriguez would be the signing of the summer.

The Wolves pushed Bayern Munich hard at times for the Bundesliga title, and crushed them in January where Rodriguez was one of the stars in a 4-1 win. Another Swiss international, the 22-year-old was without question the best left-back in Germany for 2014/15. An 81 % pass success, 50 key passes, 54 chances created, 60 interceptions and 32 tackles all from left-back in 26 games are quite outstanding statistics.

A more important issue is solving the long-term centre-back issue that will arise at the Emirates with Koscielny (29) and Mertesacker (30) unlikely to be able to perform at their best in the near future.

Some fans have pointed to the old but wise solution in Atletico Madrid’s Diego Godin, and whilst having experience is essential, all wise minds but empty legs will not win a Premier League title. Arsene Wenger seems to have made up his mind, having already addressed the fact he will not add another centre-back. Surely feeling that Gabriel, signed from Villareal in January, should provide enough cover with Chambers.

Chelsea’s perfect balance of this can be seen in their squad; John Terry leads the team from years of experience in the league, whilst Eden Hazard’s lightning pace and extraordinary presence on the ball is an example of what Arsenal need.

Up front, Wenger either does not seem interested in adding to his forwards this summer or cannot compete with other clubs. Carlos Bacca of Sevilla and Jackson Martinez of Porto were both available, only for AC Milan to snap up the former and Atletico Madrid to sign the latter player, which left many fans wondering what Wenger’s plans were.
Thierry Henry said back in April that Olivier Giroud was doing ” extremely well” but didn’t believe he was a title winning striker.

The likes of Karim Benzema or Alexandre Lacazette appeal to supporters and either of the French duo would be fantastic moves, but the club’s links with Roma’s Mattia Destro or West Brom’s Saido Berahino should disappoint supporters. They may be good players, but neither Destro nor Berahino will win titles for their team. Alternatively, Alexis Sanchez could be used as an out and out forward, which could be an astute move.

The Premier League is a seething mass of wealth in this present day, and Wenger surely knows that. It is the time to make the ambitious moves in the transfer market in the hunt for the title.

In Profile: Matteo Darmian

Manchester United are set to announce their second move of the summer in the form of Italian full-back Matteo Darmian in a £14.3m move after Torino coach Giampiero Ventura admitted that a move is imminent.

 “It’s true, Darmian will play in the Champions League with Manchester United,” the coach told Sky Sport Italia.

“Matteo deserves a top team and always dreamed of playing in the Champions League so now that dream will be realised.

It looks to be a good move for both the club and the player, who initially showcased his talent to the world for Italy in the 2014 World Cup, where he impressed against England in a 2-1 win.

Here’s all you need to know about the 25-year-old.

_____

The Beginning

His love affair with football began quite young, encouraged by his father Giovani who was one of the coaches for Oratorio, an association representing the best talent in Lombardy. His first opportunity to thrive came thanks to Beniamino Abate, a scout for Italian giants AC Milan, who noticed Darmian’s ability and invited him to play for the Milanese outfit.

After spending the early 2000s in Milan’s youth academy, he made his first-team debut for the Rossoneriin 2006, making an appearance as a substitute in the Coppa Italia. His Serie A emergence did not occur until the following year, deep into the season, again as a substitute in a 3-2 win over Udinese.

The 2007/08 season saw Darmian preview his ability to be the leader on and off the pitch after being appointed captain of the club’s Primavera. Unfortunately, with such quality around him Darmian was unable to break through into the first team, making just one more appearance for the club in the Coppa Italia.

_____

Loan To Padova & Move To Palermo

His move to Serie B club Padova was a step-down for the heavy heights at Milan, as despite the deal only being temporary it seemed likely Darmian would not be staying at the San Siro. In his first real taste of continuous professional football, he made twenty appearances and helped his interim club avoid relegation due to a play-off win over Trestina.

His impressive performances earned him a move to Palermo,  which saw the Sicilian club buy Darmian in co-ownership with Milan in an €800,000 move. His debut came in a 3-1 win over Juventus in a two-year spell, but it was not until he was loaned to Torino before any progress was really made.

_____

The Torino Years

Toro signed Darmian, initially on loan, in July, 2011 following the renewal of the co-ownership agreement between Palermo and Milan, before buying Palermo’s half of Darmian’s services for €825,000 after the full-back had made thirty-three appearances in Serie B and had been pivotal in the club’s promotion.

Following that successful campaign, Darmian made another thirty appearances in Serie A as the club survived it’s return to the top-flight, but it was the 2013/14 campaign that proved to be pivotal to the reasoning behind his World Cup selection.

_____

matteo-darmian-torino

The Breakthrough Campaign

Despite the prominence of stars Ciro Immobile and Alessio Cerci in Torino’s 2013/14 team, coach Giampiero Ventura believed in a strong base, with a reliance on his team’s full-backs, in a 3-5-2 where Darmian thrived, with an 83% pass accuracy with over half his aerial duels won, despite not being one of the tallest defenders in the division at 5ft. 11in.

His ability to contribute at both ends of the pitch impressed many, not least Italy manager Cesare Prandelli, who decided to select the previously uncapped Darmian in his World Cup squad.

_____

The World Cup

It was sink or swim on such a big stage, but Darmian was one of the few Italians who could return home after failing to qualify for the knock-out stages with his head held high after being outstanding against England in Manaus, and impressing against Costa Rica and Uruguay.

“If you’d told me eight months ago that I’d be playing in the World Cup, I would have burst out laughing,” he commented afterwards.

“It was a childhood dream, but honestly I didn’t think I’d get here.”

628x471

After another stellar campaign in 2014/15, it was no surprise to see that Europe’s best came not only to knock, but to barge down Torino’s door to acquire Darmian’s services.

So, why was Louis van Gaal so keen to sign him?

_____

Strengths

His versatility is undoubtedly Darmian’s most outstanding trait. Able to perform exceptionally in both full-back positions in a 3-5-2, a formation favoured by Manchester United manager Van Gaal during parts of last season, the 25-year-old can also operate in the centre of the defence if the situation arises where that role needs to be deputised.

What can never be disputed as well would be the consistency a player like Darmian will provide. Consistency in such a position is a privilege given the calamitous full-backs that have “graced” the Premier League, but Van Gaal and those in the stands at Old Trafford should be more than happy with the Italian’s performance and work-rate throughout ninety minutes.

His 39 chances created betters that of United’s full-back Antonio Valencia, who only managed 26, whilst he also bettered the Ecuadorian on the number of key chances created, with 38 compared to 24 in Darmian’s favour. That total was also the third highest of any defender in Serie A last season, behind Danilo Fernando Avelar (44) and Edenilson (44).

Is there any faults to his game? Well, no one is perfect.

_____

Weaknesses

Despite his ability on the ball, Darmian could improve on the tally of his assists. His measly two assists should be improved with the likes of Wayne Rooney and Memphis Depay to convert the chances he creates.

This looks set to be a very astute signing by Manchester United in a move that will aid Van Gaal immensely, who signs the full-back at a prime age off the back of two very successful seasons in Italy.

Premier League: Deals Of The Summer

10) Sylvain Distin, Everton to AFC Bournemouth

He may be thirty-seven years old but Eddie Howe’s signing of Distin for newly promoted AFC Bournemouth should prove to be fantastic business. The former French international holds the record for the most appearances of an outfield foreign player in the Premier League, and was a stalwart for Everton both under David Moyes and Roberto Martinez. His total forward passes total of 543, coupled with an impressive 63.33 % success in aerial duels as per Squakwa on last season’s statistics show Howe’s clever move in adding Distin on a free transfer to his squad.

9) Cedric Soares, Sporting Lisbon to Southampton

It’s no surprise to many that Ronald Koeman had an adept replacement for the outgoing Nathaniel Clyne in the form of the Portuguese international. Signed from Sporting Lisbon for a moderate £4.7m, Soares has thrived and earned four caps for his national team and established a prominent starting role since his breakthrough season in 2013/14. Used as a right-winger in his younger days, his diminutive figure is not an issue with his speed and control.  Already boasting experience in the Champions League, this is a good fit.

8) Pedro Obiang, Sampdoria to West Ham

Slaven Bilic wasted no time in making his mark on West Ham with the signing of Sampdoria’s Obiang. The 23-year-old is a combative midfield player with an average of 3.1 successful tackles per match as of last campaign, better that of his new team-mates Mark Noble (1.9) and Cheikhou Kouyate (1.8). Replacing the outgoing Alex Song, Obiang’s 82 % success rate in his passing should see him slot into a central midfield position or in a double pivot. Obiang’s defensive skills were often utilised as Sampdoria kept 11 clean sheets and finished seventh in Serie A. Despite co-chairman David Gold mistakenly tweeting a picture of Juve’s Angelo Ogbonna whilst mentioning Obiang’s arrival, fans of the Hammers should have no such issue in locating their new signing do battle on the pitch.

7) Andre Ayew, Marseille to Swansea
The influx of French players into English football continues with Swansea City’s fine capture of Marseille’s Andre Ayew. The Ghanian international technically arrived on a free transfer, though L’Equipe reported at the time of the move that the Welsh outfit paid a heavy £5.7m signing-on fee. However, Ayew should prove to be worth every penny. His thirteen goals in thirty-five appearances across all competitions in 2014/15  bodes well for Swans fans who are in search of a goalscorer following Wilfred Bony’s move to Manchester City in January. His rapid pace aides him in quick interceptions of the ball to instigate counter-attacks as well as attack opposition full-backs to create space for his team-mates.

6) Kieran Trippier, Burnley to Tottenham

Not many would have paid that much attention to this move, but it’s an exceptional one by Mauricio Pochettino and his team all the same with Tottenham meeting Burnley’s release clause for the English right-back of £3.5m early in June. Trippier should finally break the rut of underachieving and quite frankly, terrible full-backs that have been on display at White Hart Lane over the years. Apart from Leighton Baines, no other defender made more key passes than the 24-year-old in his debut Premier League season ( Two behind Baines with 59, and twenty-six ahead of his nearest rival in Liverpool’s Alberto Moreno). Only four assists may mislead fans but it is wise to recall the team he was playing with.

5) Shinji Okazaki, Mainz to Leicester

Fans of the Bundesliga have enjoyed watching forward Shinji Okazaki play football for middle of the road outfit Mainz, and were disappointed to see the 29-year-old leave for pastures new with Leicester City. However, if the Bundesliga’s most prolific Japanese player ever replicates the form he has produced in Germany, the Foxes are in for a treat. Like many of the now departed manager’s signings, Nigel Pearson knew Okazaki was certainly no ostrich. Twelve goals in thirty-two appearances in a shaky Mainz side is impressive, having also created 26 chances. His fifteen goals the previous season shows his consistency in front of goal, and at £9.5m is a superb addition for a team like Leicester.


4) Dimitri Payet, Marseille to West Ham

Bilic has been very intelligent in his dealings so far this summer and Payet is arguably one of the best signings in Europe. He is another addition from the French Ligue 1 and the winger is another big loss for Marcelo Bielsa’s side. Payet may be 28-years-old but he is hitting his prime and barring a failure to settle into Premier League football, the transfer fee of £10.7m should see West Ham as the happier of the two parties.
The reason why he simply is an extraordinary signing is the statistics he can boast. Seventeen assists in Ligue 1 last season was the best in France, and the superb total of 134 chances created was by far and beyond the best in Europe. Payet was twenty-two created chances clear of his nearest competitor in Wolfsburg’s Kevin de Bruyne, whilst Chelsea’s Eden Hazard was the only other player who made it past the 100 mark.

3) Memphis Depay, PSV Eindhoven to Manchester United

Manchester United’s apparent attempts to sign every top-level footballer has been widely ridiculed and although they may not secure the signings of Paul Pogba and Cristiano Ronaldo, Depay is a decent addition. Two footed, rapid, with a lethal right foot, the Dutchman is a flamboyant winger with exceptional confidence and skill on the ball for a man of 21. Already possessing experience in Europe and at the World Cup, there was a sense that a player of Depay’s style was wanted, rather than desperately needed, but he could well prove to be a fine asset as his performances for the Netherlands and PSV Eindhoven have shown. My personal favourite quote on Depay comes from Southampton manager Ronald Koeman, which perfectly sums up his confidence, or arrogance!

“Depay walks around like he has won 10 European Cups.”

The reported £25m deal should not hang heavy over his head. My personal favourite quote on Depay comes from Southampton manager Ronald Koeman, which perfectly sums up his confidence, or arrogance! Here’s just a sample of what Depay can do.

2) Petr Cech, Chelsea to Arsenal

The big man from the Czech Republic really needs no introduction. Cech was at Chelsea for eleven years and won pretty much everything there is to win at the club, but his move to rivals Arsenal highlighted his desire to just play football when the opportunity was there to sit in and relax on the benches at Stamford Bridge. Many ignorant fans have questioned Arsenal’s fee of £10m for the thirty-three year-old, but fail to realise that Manchester United signed Edwin Van der Saar from Fulham back in 2005 when the Dutchman who was a year older than Cech is currently at the age of thirty-four. For goalkeepers, age isn’t such an issue. This outstanding move also represents Arsene Wenger’s desire to succeed further in the Premier League and Europe, and could well oust Wojciech Szczęsny as No.1.

1) Roberto Firmino, TSG Hoffenheim to Liverpool

I have enjoyed watching Germany’s top flight for around three years, and it is undoubted in this writer’s mind that Roberto Firmino was one of the most outrageously good players to grace the pitch in the Bundesliga. At just 23, the Brazilian has already given himself an impressive reputation for being a stone cold killer in front of goal and it is well deserved. Firmino simply has the entire package- aerial presence, speed, control on the ball, a lethal finish and an ability to score from the most ridiculous positions.

Hoffenheim were incredibly lucky to keep possession of their star man for so long, who had a stunning relationship with his partner-in-crime Kevin Volland, and I fully expect him to dazzle fans of Liverpool and the Premier League. His failure to be called up to the 2014 World Cup enraged many, but he is set to star all across the world should he remain on the right path. Firmino is now the most expensive transfer in Bundesliga history with the cool tag of €41m on his head, but with confidence like this, he shouldn’t have any problem dealing with the pressure. My personal favourite performance of Firmino’s came in a 5-2 onslaught of Wolfsburg in the 2013/14 season, but you can enjoy his best goals of that season, including a terrific finish in the demolition of the Wolves, below.

In with the new..

This coming Saturday sees the induction of the 23rd Premier League season and as always fans and pundits alike look forward to seeing how new signings fit into their sides, how new managers begin their life at the club, others laugh mercilessly at those who are hanging by a thread (hi Big Sam) whilst others worry that the Premier League has gone mad after twelve million pounds had been shelled out by Southampton for Shane Long. Anyway, an always interesting experience is viewing how the three promoted Championship outfits deal in a higher division, Leicester City, Burnley and QPR. Let’s introduce the “new” boys (I say new, but they’ve all been here before).

Leicester
Leicester City

It’s fair to say the Foxes should have been a Premier League side two or three seasons ago with all the resources at the club. Their last spell in the Premier League was more than a decade ago under now Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’ Neill. However, Nigel Pearson triumphed (eventually) in his second spell at the club and will be looking to keep the club in the top division. He may be collecting his redundancy payment otherwise.

Pearson hasn’t been afraid to make a marquee signing this summer, landing Leonardo Ulloa from Brighton for a whopping fee of £8 million. Your old fashioned target man, Ulloa should contribute at least 10 goals alongside his new strike partner, David Nugent, who is eyeing a return to the England squad after his last call up, that extraordinary night against Andorra. Im sure David knows Johan Djourou will be quaking in his Switzerland boots when the two undoubtedly meet up in the Euro 2016 qualifier in September. Undoubtedly. Matthew Upson is an astute signing, also arriving from the Gulls on a free transfer whilst the famous scorer of the Premier League’s 2000th goal, Marc Albrighton, joins from Aston Villa, to round up Leicester’s notable transfers.

Key men

The complete midfielder, to use the worn out cliche, is my description of Championship player of the year nominee Daniel Drinkwater. Passing, shooting, tackling, you know, the works. There was seemingly little interest in the 24 year old Mancunian (we all have to start somewhere) who signed a new four year deal with the club, keeping him at the King Power stadium until the end of the 2017/18 season. His partnership with Matty James, who has been playing with Drinkwater for more than a decade at both Manchester United and Leicester City, is a key cog to the side and both are talented enough to be able to cope with the physical demands of top flight football. Esteban Cambiasso has played with a few of the world’s best and is a welcome addition even at 33. Anthony Knockaert is a tricky French winger and club captain Wes Morgan is a boulder, to be quite frank at the back. Kasper Schmeicel, who as Im sure you know is the son of Peter, attracted the interest of Arsenal in the summer and was magnificent as always in the promotion campaign of last season and is the “new David Marshall” with regards who to select in your fantasy team. Keep that one on the quiet though.

Prediction

They have a capable team worthy of staying up as it is; stay cohesive as a unit and uphold the strong team spirit and a 15th place finish is how Leicester’s season will probably culminate. Their Thai billionaire owner should be ready to whip out the cheque book in January if needs be, though.

Burnley

Blackburn Rovers v Burnley - Sky Bet Championship

Dissimilar to a irritable Will in the Inbetweeners movie, I quite like Burnley. Quite fancied for relegation to League One at the start of the 2013/14 season, Sean Dyche wowed many with Burnley’s impressive performances in a wonderful mix of hard grit and quality. The loss of the outstanding Charlie Austin left the fans wondering where the lions share of goals were going to come from but the perfect partnership of Sam Vokes and Danny Ings contributed to 44 of Burnley’s 72 goals. Despite making some 500 phone calls about possible transfers, the former Watford boss has strugggled to add quality to his team this summer, his main targets being Derby’s 16 goal midfielder Craig Bryson, who after Derby knocked back Burnley’s bid for him signed a new contract, and Troy Deeney of Watford, a rumoured target of Leicester also, who was made captain.

Key men

Last season, Ings and Vokes without a shadow of doubt in the offensive sense, but with only 37 goals conceded from 46 games you have to sit back and admire Burnley’s defensive work. Tom Heaton was signed and turned out to be a fantastic replacement for Lee Grant, who left for Derby, but the back four of Trippier (already certain Premier League quality in my eyes) , Shackell, Duff and Mee were stronghold’s in front of Heaton and veteran Dean Marney marshalled his side brilliantly. There may be no outstanding signings for the Clarets but the permanent additions of Matt Taylor and Michael Kightly provide the team with depth and quality on the wings. Burnley had to shoo away Southampton, a side Ings played for in his youth, and Newcastle from taking their star man Ings away from them, and you would expect the club to be reliant on the 22 year old, who will have to make do with Lucas Jutkiewicz, a summer signing from Middlesbrough as a strike partner after Sam Vokes got that one injury you want to avoid in football, damaging his anterior cruciate ligament in March. Marvin Sordell has been acquired as back up, though Im not so sure about his talent at this level.

Prediction

Dyche is a wonderful manager, but additions have to made in order for them to compete- and quickly. Relegation looms, though I hope that isn’t true come May.

QPR

1400967422140.jpg-620x349
“Last season QPR played, at times some of the worst football I have witnessed in the Premier League. There was a nonchalance about the way ‘Rangers players played; They didn’t seem to care about what the result was, just as long as their wages reached their bank account every week –  That is exactly what happens when a  club brings in a mass influx of players and doesn’t worry about making sure you have the right squad –  the right ingredients to be able to mix it with the best-You need players who care about the badge they are representing week in and week out, and QPR’s players didn’t have that mentality –  some of the many reasons why the London club are back in the Championship” I wrote that in a mass Championship preview at the beginning of last season. 12 months or so on and although it was not the smoothest of rides for Harry Redknapp’s side they achieved promotion, this time through the “lottery of the play offs” scraping past an entertaining Derby County side 1-0 at Wembley in the 90th minute of the game. The club seem to have learned from their mistakes and have acquired some talented players.

Key men

I wasn’t sure if Harry was joking or not when he claimed to only see Austin in YouTube clips when signing him last August for around £4m, but the prolific former Swindon striker fired home 19 goals in his debut Championship season, sometimes dragging QPR to the finish line, and it was his two goals in the play off semi final second leg against Wigan Athletic that saw the R’s through to the final against Derby. He was the only one in QPR’s line up that day not to have played in the Premier League, but much like Ings at Burnley the team will look to give him the opportunities to extend QPR’s stay for more than one season. Mauricio Isla has been signed on loan from Juventus, no doubt a coup after his impressive World Cup, Steven Caulker joins from Cardiff to shore up the defence while Rio Ferdinand links up with Redknapp once again after their time together at West Ham. Jordon Mutch is a very impressive recruit after an outstanding season with Cardiff also, arriving at the cheap price of £5m. One to watch for the upcoming season.

Prediction:
More than enough quality to survive. That was said previous, but they should perform as a team this time round.

Opening games:

Leicester: A very challenging game at home to Everton. The Merseyside club have added Romelu Lukaku and Gareth Barry permanently after successful loan spells, whilst Bosnian Muhamed Besic has arrived from Ferencvaros. Leicester’s support will back them all the way is their twelfth man, but Roberto Martinez’s side should be too strong for the Championship winners. 2-1 Everton.

Burnley: I can imagine easier places to go to than Turf Moor on a Monday night, but with money available and lots of it, Jose Mourinho has well and truly splashed the cash this summer, signing Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa, Filipe Luis, and Romelu Lukaku’s replacement, Didier Drogba. Thibaut Courtois has returned to Stamford Bridge following a massively successful loan spell at Spanish champions Atletico Madrid. Burnley will do their best to return with a bang but this is a routine victory for Chelsea on paper. 3-0 Chelsea.

QPR: They face Steve Bruce’s Hull, who avoided relegation comfortably enough in 13/14. They’ve lost Shane Long but have received an extortionate transfer fee from Southampton, 7 months after landing him for half that from West Brom. Robert Snodgrass is a good player at this level, arriving for an undisclosed fee and Bruce has done brilliantly to secure Jake Livermore permanently from Tottenham after his sterling performance in midfield with Tom Huddlestone. Andrew Robertson has been added at left back for near to £3m from Dundee United and Harry Maguire earned his much deserved move to the Premier League in a £2.5m deal from Sheffield United, following in the footsteps of Phil Jagielka, Kyle Walker, Matt Lowton and others to move to the top flight from Sheffield’s League One representatives. Tom joins Hull on a free from Blackpool after a loan spell at Crystal Palace, turning down Inter Milan to enjoy the luxury of the KC Stadium. We’ll leave that one at that. Both are good teams, but will be happy to the game to finish all square to kick start the camaign. 1-1 draw.

To finish,  a wonderful stat from the Guardian: Not since the 2007‑08 season when Birmingham City and Derby County – the latter with a record-breaking low of 11 points and a solitary victory – went straight back down has more than one promoted club failed to survive in their debut season. There’s hope for two of these three, at least.