Friday, 26 August 2011

Champions League Overview

After the draw yesterday, it seems a necessity to analyse the English teams and their opponents. First of all, whilst some have been handed tougher draws than others, they all should realistically qualify for the knockout round. Barca again will be clear favourites but I expect a few shock results and I believe someone else will win it, maybe a team that has never won it before!

Group A
Bayern Munich
Manchester City

This is the inevitable 'Group of Death', with each team possessing quality players. Bayern and Man City should qualify, as on paper they do have the better quality, but each game should be difficult with one mistake or a contentious decision being the decider. Bayern have the most experience at this level which should put them in good stead and with the reliable Neuer in goals, they have every chance of grinding out a result, especially with the pace of Robben and Ribery on the wings. Villarreal and Napoli have decent squads but whether they're good enough at this level is debatable, both sides have strong offensive options but shaky defenses, so should provide some interesting results. Man City have the financial clout to keep on reinforcing, so who knows how many more players they will have signed before the transfer window closes. They don't have much experience at this level and were poor in the Europa League last season, so question marks remain.

Group B
Inter Milan
CSKA Moscow

Inter Milan should qualify from this group with some ease but a tricky trip to Russia might spring a surprise or two. CSKA will only really qualify if they win all their home games and maybe snatch a draw away, which i don't really see happening. Lille have lost several key players from last seasons league and cup double, for this reason they'll struggle but should qualify for the Europa League with their finish, but this might be more of a hindrance than a benefit. Trabzonspor is an interesting one as Fenerbahce are launching an appeal, so either team might be contesting in this group. I really don't see any Turkish teams finishing anywhere but last, the money gained from playing in Europe will be a benefit though.

Group C
Manchester United

This is by far the easiest group to call, Manchester United should walk this group playing their reserves with Benfica the only real competition. Basel should finish third and qualify for the Europa League, I honestly don't see Otelul scoring a goal let alone picking up a point, so expect some big defeats.

Group D
Real Madrid
Dinamo Zagreb

Yet again Real play Lyon in the Champions League, these two games will decide who wins the group and who finishes second. I don't see Ajax or Dinamo having enough quality to pip either of the other two and reach the knockout rounds. Ajax should realistically finish third with Dinamo finishing well behind in fourth.

Group E
Bayer Leverkusen

I believe this group will be tougher than it looks, both Valencia and Leverkusen should provide a stern test for Chelsea. I still think Chelsea will top the group with Valencia not far behind in second and Leverkusen in third, I don't see Genk providing much competition.

Group F
Borussia Dortmund

This is a difficult group to call, Dortmund are dark horses and I think they might cause a few shocks. Arsenal will struggle to reach the knockout stages, unless they get several reinforcements before the transfer window closes. Marseille will be a handful at home and should get a couple of wins, I don't see Olympiacos causing any major problems for any of the other teams. 

Group G
Shakhtar Donetsk
Zenit St Petersburg

I see this group finishing in roughly the same order, there'll be difficult trips to both the Ukraine and Russia for Porto but I think they should pip the other two to top spot. Shakhtar are a strong side and will qualify for the knockout rounds just based on their home form, Zenit will be close behind both but I think the other two are stronger sides. APOEL should be beaten be each team with relative ease.

Group H
AC Milan
BATE Borisov

Barca are clear favourites to win the Champions League again this season, they shouldn't have much problems winning this group either. AC Milan will finish second and I expect Barca to give them at least one thrashing (at least a 3 goal win), there'll be a big gap between second and third with BATE probably edging Plzen into the Europa League place.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

First away day in the Premiership

An account of the day by Tom Bendall.

The Etihad Stadium

We left for Manchester about 11 a.m. where the drink started flowing. Conversation turned to the match ahead and of course about how much Cardiff must hate the fact that we’re in the Premiership! After a few cans and 4 hours later, we finally arrived in Manchester.

Where we made our way for Wetherspoons, where we weren’t allowed in because we were away fans. After a change of plan, we headed for Yates. We stopped in a small bar called Edwards which was surprisingly cheap! J├Ągerbombs were only £1.50 because they miss charged me. “I’ll have three J├Ągerbombs please” “that's 4.50” “Oh, I’ll have another three then“. Then finally we headed for Yates, only to find the rest of the travelling fans had taken it over! It was filled with orange and white shirts. Following a few conversations with the local United fans, who hoped we’d beat City and a chorus inside the pub of “Cardiff city’s falling down, falling down”, we left for the stadium. 

We got the Stadium late and sat down about 5 minutes after kick-off. Watching the Swans out-pass city for the first hour was a site to behold, “you’re only here to watch the Swans, you’re only here to watch the Swans” the atmosphere was immense. The way we dominated possession lead to people chanting “Champions League you’re having a laugh”, “Cardiff City are you watching” was also a nice dig. Hymns and arias could also be heard regularly.  

The singing was momentarily silenced, after they scored. Still we sung our hearts out ‘til the final whistle and marvelled at the performance Michel Vorm put in. As for other highlights of the game, my friend asking one of the policemen if he had any cheap TV’s, that he had from the riots!

As for City’s food, well I had a very dry burger with floppy cheese for £4.50, no good. Considering how the stadium looked at night, I expected better food, maybe something a little more gourmet. As for the tickets, well what colour does City play in? Sky blue! Whereas the tickets were yellow and very plain, I defiantly expected better!! We left the stadium about 10 and didn’t get back to Swansea ‘til about half past three.

The worst thing about the whole trip was being robbed of £15 in WH Smiths in the services for a few snacks and drinks. Oh well, at least we showed the Premier League how we’re going to excite the world for the next few months.
Who cares we lost? All in all it was a cracking day out. Really looking forward to the next one! The journey was a hellish; I would’ve really suffered without my trusty mp3 player. Defiantly flying for Newcastle away!! Ha-ha.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Fabregas Transfer Saga Finishes....Eventually

Finally, after several years of courting and blatant 'tapping up' Barca have their man. Cesc is seen as the ideal replacement for Xavi when he does retire is a few years time, but is £35M too much for what people assume will be a back-up? That remains to be seen. 

Back at the club he left as a promising 16 year old

How will he fit into the Barcelona team?

Pep has said that he'd be playing a 3-4-3 formation at home and against weaker teams, is this really a suitable formation though? 

Barca's defense is far from assured, Alves plays more like a winger than a full back which will mean that instead of a back 3, they'll have a back 2 or even just 1! Puyol is starting to decline, the little pace he did have is now almost non-existent. Pique is by far their best defender but is 1 defender able to stop all attacks? I very much doubt it, so this team could actually become easier to beat and very much weaker now that they have their man.

Offensively Barca are unrivaled, the front 3 of Messi, Sanchez and Villa will be very difficult to defend against. With players like Xavi, Iniesta and now Fabregas offering them goals on a plate, it's hard to see how they can be held at bay. It's presumed that the midfield will be a diamond formation, with Busquets as the defensive minded player, Xavi and Iniesta as the centre of the diamond and Fabregas at the tip. Whether this formation is viable only time will tell but one thing is for sure if it does work, Barca will be at a whole new level of brilliance.

Is the deal right?

I'd love to say the deal was right for every party, but if you look at whats happened it looks like Barca have robbed Arsenal of their prized possession. £35M seems like a small price when you consider that players like Torres went for £50M and Aguero and Tevez around £40M, you can only say this is due to the 'tapping up' which seemed to be a daily occurrence.Will Barca get punished for this act? Not when you're the darling of Uefa! 

It's the same when it comes to their unsportsmanlike conduct, the blatant dives and the surrounding of referees to influence their decisions as well as trying to get opposition players carded. For all their passing ability and excellent footballing ability, there is that massive black mark, which is the reason that I and several other people don't rate this team as highly as they could be.

On that bombshell i'd like to end, feel free to comment and thanks for reading.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

What positions to improve?

Like me, you probably have your own ideas about what needs improving in each team. Here are my suggestions, many of which have probably been mentioned before.

People go on and on about Arsenal's weaknesses every season, of which i believe there is up to 3 players needed. Another proven centre half that has experience in the Premier League, players like Samba who is dominant aerially in both boxes would be an improvement, other players like Jagielka, Cahill or even Shawcross would also suffice. Arsenal lack a leader on the pitch, someone that's not afraid to go flying into a tackle or back down from stand-off, this is very much the Vieira mould but there aren't many players that actually fit these specifications. Somebody like Cattermole might fit this mould, yes he can be unpredictable but he gets the job done. If, as expected Fabregas and Nasri leave, then there will be space for a creative player. Knowing Wenger's frugality in the transfer market, someone like Hazard would probably be out of reach, alternatives could be Pjanic, Honda or Dzagoev.

Aston Villa:
After the departures of both Downing and Young, Villa lack wide players so they need someone to provide competition for the likes of Albrighton and N'Zogbia, players like Jarvis, Hunt and Brunt would do a decent job. They also rely too much on Bent for goals, so someone like Doyle, Welbeck or even Keane would help take the burden off. A defender would also be wise to provide sterner competition for Dunne and Collins, who looked very vulnerable at times last year.

No one in the Blackburn team really shouts goals at you, and this could be a problem for them to stay in the Division. Keane would be perfect for this and he's very much available, others could include Cole or A. Johnson. They might also struggle in defense with the departure of Jones, the injury to Nelsen and the possible transfer of Samba, meaning adequate cover is a necessity. The fact that Kean is an inexperienced manager puts a lot of pressure on them, given that the owners expect big things, so expect a new manager before the season finishes!

If Cahill does depart then there's a sizeable whole in defense to fill, given that they do not have vast amounts of money to spend, someone from the Championship or abroad is the most likely solution. They also lack wingers after the injury to Chung-Yong, Wright-Phillips has been linked as a possible replacement. Bolton also have to start thinking about a possible replacement for Davies, who's been an integral part of life for them.

Due to their aging squad, Chelsea really need a revamp. Investment in young players to succeed the likes of Terry, Lampard, Drogba and Cole is a certainty, given their over-reliance on them in recent years. Chelsea could also do with a creative midfielder,someone like Modric and Sneijder would be perfect, however, with these at a premium it might be prudent to invest in someone like Ganso as a long term solution.

Given the lack of funds at Everton and the lack of depth, the only real solution is free transfers. With players like Vicente and Pavone a possibility, I wouldn't rule out Joey Barton even with his controversial nature.

Could do with a right back, someone like Carr might be a short term solution. The time is coming to look for the replacements for Schwarzer and Murphy, maybe a raid on Nottingham Forrest for Camp and McGugan?

Only King Kenny knows what to do, trimming the squad wouldn't be a bad thing though. Another striker wouldn't be a bad bet though.

Man City:
Well who knows what Mancini is plotting, creativity is something lacking so a player like Sneijder, Hazard, Nasri or Neymar is a probability. Expect a few players to leave though.

Man Utd:
The team has been begging for a creative player for a while, yet they keep on plodding away with 1-0 victories. Is this really enough though? Linked a lot with Sneijder but apparently put off by his wage demands, so only time will tell.

I'm sure the top of the list for Newcastle supporters would be a new owner, this is unlikely to happen though. Could probably do with some more players with Premier League experience given their foreign based acquisitions of late. A left back is also a priority with Pieters of PSV mentioned.

There's no way of knowing what to make of the new teams until they've played a few games, but some Premier League experience wouldn't go a miss.

The thought of QPR not spending money wouldn't have crossed fans' minds after gaining promotion, but now we all know they are just after a quick buck, so someone to open a cheque book would be pleasing. The one thing I did notice last season, was that they tended to struggle against players with pace, so some defenders with a bit of speed would be an improvement.

A striker that's an aerial threat would be a wise move, Crouch, Bendtner and Cole have all been linked and I wouldn't rule out any of them joining the Potters before the end of August.

Given the large in-take of players at Sunderland this summer, I'm not sure what they could add. A striker could probably be brought in, maybe Welbeck or Keane to help Gyan up front.

A target striker would greatly benefit from the Swans' pacy wingers and crosses, again some League experience and maybe some more squad depth.

A 20+ goal a season striker has been needed for a while, but who would join them? I'm not sure, an injury-free defender would also make a difference.

West Brom:
Hodgson has been active in the transfer market and has strengthened the squad where its been needed. So expect a strong defense with quick dangerous counter attacks.

A partner for Rodallega up-front is needed after the loss of N'Zogbia, Odemwingie has been mentioned but West Brom obviously don't want to do business. Could also do with more creative players going forward and a defender like Samba, who's probably out of budget so someone from the lower leagues will probably be brought in.

They've always struggled to score goals, so someone that can get on the end of Hunt and Jarvis' deliveries would be a welcomed addition.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Premier League Overview

Well this is just an overview of what to expect from each team this season, I'd like to thank Tom Bendall for his contribution in making this blog. I hope you enjoy reading it, comments would be appreciated thanks.

Most people seem to write off Arsenal before a ball has been kicked, time after time they seem to prove everyone wrong and remain in the top 4. With the future of both Fabregas and Nasri seemingly decided they can now look for suitable replacements with defensive reinforcements a must. A formation change might solve some of their problems, with 3 centre backs giving them more cover at the back whilst allowing the full backs to focus more on attacking duties. Expect Vermaelen to improve the defence Ramsey and Wilshere to provide a hat-full of chances with a fit Van Persie a serious contender for the golden boot.

Aston Villa:
From a potential top 4 contender to potential relegation candidate add to that the hiring of their main rival's manager and you have a disaster waiting to happen. The loss of Downing and Young is a massive blow to them, N'Zogbia is a good singing for them but will he be a team player? I don't think so, he likes to be the main man like he was at Wigan and only seems to perform under that circumstance. They have exciting youngsters like Albrighton who should get lots of game time this season and the signing of Given could prove very astute business. An over-reliance on Bent for goals might be their downfall, as Agbonlahor has failed to deliver the goals after showing much promise.

Blackburn Rovers:
Since the change of ownership they've become a laughing stock. They've hardly strengthened and have an inexperienced manager to guide them through this turmoil. With players like Samba and Robinson in the squad which can put in man of the match performances, they always have the potential to grind out a draw, much depends on the other end of the pitch and where their goals will come from.

Bolton Wanderers:
At points last season they looked like Europa League contenders but nothing came of it. The loss of key players; Elmander (free), Sturridge (loan ended), Holden & Chung-Yong (injured) and Matty Taylor without anyone really replacing them yet. They lack a proven striker to play off Davies and might struggle when it comes down to it. The sale of Cahill would provide funds for Bolton to add more quality and depth to their squad which would enable them to push on up the table.

Chelsea struggled to gel last year which ended with Ancelotti getting the sack and Andre Villas Boas (AVB) being brought in as his replacement, early signs are suggesting that Chelsea are investing in the future as at present the team is too old and needs an injection of youth players like Sturridge. If AVB is allowed to buy and play whoever he wants it should be exciting to see if his Porto days are anything to go by. Expect them to get at least a top 3 finish with or without AVB, although Abramovich would happily sacrifice that for a champions league trophy.

Another season of few transfer dealings and yet somehow Moyes will get the most out of his small squad, if they start the season with a few wins then they should be able to push up the league and perhaps even challenge for a top 4 spot once again. Without some sort of investment i do fear for Everton in the long run and the time will come when Moyes leaves and then what? Everton will drop down the league and in amongst the relegation fodder.

The surprise departure of Hughes took everyone off guard especially after a decent campaign, Martin Jol should continue Fulhams recent success dating back to Hodgson's astounding run in Europe. With the ever reliable Schwarzer in goal and Hangeland and Hughes in defence, theres always the possibility of keeping the opposition at bay, whilst Murphy, Dempsey and Zamora will create chances at will. The expectancy at Fulham grows year on year and this season should be no different.

January saw the return of King Kenny and the departure of Torres, with his replacement Luis Suarez having a massive impact on the second half of the season. With a few big money signings such as Henderson and Downing, Liverpool finally have a squad of players with depth. If the new players gel along with the presence of such a influential figure as Dalglish they could do well this season, if they can get the right formation for them. Personally I don’t believe players like Carroll, Henderson or Downing are worth the money paid for them, but that’s not to say they can’t become successful, it’s just the teams they bought them off are laughing all the way to the bank.

Manchester City:
Ah money bags city I don’t dislike them, I just wish they could stop being so defensive. I know it’s the Italian way, but surely Mancini can play two attacking midfielders and go at teams. With the acquisition of Aguero, a player a lot of people have wanted to see in the league for a few years, City will hope to push on from their FA cup and 3rd place finish. The question is can these players perform in Europe? We will soon see and whether it has a bearing on their League form.

Manchester United:
They were utilitarian last season they just eked out results and they finally mover past Liverpool as the most successful team in British history. You could tell a lot of players there needed replacing along with the departures of Scholes and Van Dar Sar. If De Gea only had a one off in the community shield and performs better in the season, expect a typical top two finish. It will also be interesting to see how Fergie juggles his forwards this year.

They made a great return to the league most memorably with the 4-4 with Arsenal, and managed to cope in the second half of the season without Andy Carroll. If they were to spend the full amount they had for him, you would say they could easily get a top ten finish. But with the departures of Nolan along with possibly Joey Barton, I can see a harder season ahead for the Toon. I just hope for the fans, at least, they stay in the top flight as they make it more interesting.

Maybe like their chairwoman they can cook up a treat for us all, or maybe a tricky relegation battle in the fire at the bottom. At least Paul Lambert knows what it’s like at the pinnacle of football something which he can help the players adapt to. As for staying up it’s really hard to tell, 10 or so wins and a few draws and you stay in the league, the margins are so tight. If Grant Holt can replicate his form from last season which saw the canaries finish second in the championship, expect Norwich to make it interesting at the bottom.

Well what can you say about them billionaire owners, it just seems like they only bought the club to make a quick buck, as they have not spent anything substantial on players since promotion, and talks of selling their best player doesn’t give me much hope for them. At least their manager has premiership experience and knows what it’s like to taste relegation something which can help the players.

A team for a fan who appreciates the ugly side of the game, with the terror Rory Delap gives defenders with his long throw along with a team of giants. Always a hard away game and with rumours of them signing Peter Crouch a player that plays to Stokes strength, I really think they could surprise a lot of people and perform well this season. Hearing the Swansea and stoke fans singing from the same hymn sheet with Delilah could be a sight to behold.

Steve Bruce really has done brilliant business in the last two transfer windows selling two players for big money and buying 11 with plenty of cash to spare. Will Connor Wickham perform in the premiership is the big question, he showed promise in the championship and if he can replicate this form he could become a star for Sunderland. They could do with maybe another striker or two, and then it could be interesting to see where they finish.

Swansea City:
In the Championship last season they made the Liberty a fortress and if they can maintain this form and nick a few wins/draws away from home they could do well and stay in the division. The problem is they lack experience at this level and without this they could be blown away by the competition, especially with a new foreign goalkeeper which brings with it communication problems. If Scott Sinclair can perform like he did in the championship expect a few established teams to be scrambling over him in January.

I hate to admit it, but I loved watching spurs last season blowing away Italian giants in the Champions League. It was almost a shame to see them miss out on the Champions League again but if they can keep hold of players and buy a proper 20 goal a season striker, they may get back into Europe. At least they finally have a good goalkeeper in Friedel, Gomes will be missed by me and probably every arsenal fan with his ‘keeping howlers.

West Brom:
A side that was exciting last year, with players like Odemwingie staring for them. With the acquisition of Shane long, a young exciting player that proved his ability in the Championship last season, you can expect them to better their finish of last season, along with a sure defence under Roy Hodgson.

Wigan Athletic:
Time after time they manage to avoid relegation, however this season might be too much for them. Losing their best player in N'Zogbia was unavoidable but the lack of a replacement speaks wonders, also Cleverley's loan expiring means their short of another attacker. Not all is doom and gloom and the signing of Al-Habsi is a big bonus after an impressive season from him which played a massive part in keeping Wigan in the league!

I for one am a fan of Wolves and Mick McCarthy, he made me laugh with his reaction at old Trafford along with is post match comments. I think wolves do have the ability to stay up, with the arrival of Roger Johnson which should sure things up at the back and signing Jamie O’Hara on a permanent basis also stands them in good stead.