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Archive for August, 2012

Champion’s League Seeding Pots

With the Champions League draw coming up on Thursday at 5pm (UK time), I thought it would be a good idea to go through the potential opponents for the English sides in the draw.

The clubs are split into four pots based on their Uefa Coefficient. Eight groups will be drawn with one team from each pot. No team from the same country can play eachother. Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal have been seeded and placed in pot 1, meaning they will miss out on the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid. Manchester City on the other hand have been placed in pot 2. Here are my thoughts on the best and worst case scenarios for the English clubs:

Dream scenario for Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal

  • Pot 2 – S.C. Braga
  • Pot 3 – Anderlecht
  • Pot 4 – FC Nordsjælland

Nightmare scenario for Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal

  • Pot 2 – Valencia
  • Pot 3 – Juventus
  • Pot 4 – Borussia Dortmund

Dream scenario for Manchester City

  • Pot 1 – Porto
  • Pot 3 – Anderlecht
  • Pot 4 – FC Nordsjælland

Nightmare scenario for Manchester City

  • Pot 1 – Barcelona
  • Pot 3 – Juventus
  • Pot 4 – Borussia Dortmund

Whatever happens, the group stages will hold some mouth watering ties. There are some dangerous sides floating around in pot 3 and 4. Juventus went the season unbeaten in the Serie A and they are in pot 3 along with PSG who have brought in the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimović and Thiago Silva in the summer. Borrusia Dortmund, the German champions are in pot 4 along with Montpellier the champions of France.

The dream scenario for all neutrals would be a group containing Real Madrid, Manchester City, Juventus and Borrusia Dortmund. It seems ridiculous to think that the champions of the top 4 leagues in Europe could face eachother as early as the Group Stages, but it would make for some fascinating viewing.

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Since the introduction of social networking sites such as twitter, we have become used to ‘transfer sagas’ occupying our summers. So many people have claimed to be ‘agents’, or have cited themselves infamously as ‘ITK’ or in the know. Even before that, the internet has been a tool to spread rumours. Over the course of the year we have probably read more articles about spurious transfer rumours than we have about actual football matches. Last year we had Nasri and Fabregas to entertain us. In previous seasons we have had the likes of David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and Ashley Cole involved in their own ‘sagas’. It’s fun to speculate and to dream of what coulda, woulda and maybe shoulda been. This season’s culprits have been Robin Van Persie and Nuri Sahin. Van Persie, if all reports are to be believed, had deals ‘agreed’ with both Juventus and Manchester City at different points over the summer, before eventually joining Manchester United. Sahin started off as a makeweight in the proposed deal taking Luka Modric from Tottenham to Real Madrid. He has since been on the verge of signing for Liverpool before Arsenal gazumped the deal leaving Liverpool out of the running only for him to end up at Liverpool after all. The reaction from the majority of both Arsenal and Liverpool fans has been slightly misguided though.

Liverpool fans have tweeted and posted their delight at beating Arsenal to the signing, which is understandable. However, the suggestions that Sahin preferred Liverpool to Arsenal have been way off the mark. It is widely known that Sahin wanted Champions League football, it was the reason he first turned down Tottenham. John Cross of the Mirror tweeted that “Liverpool offered Real Madrid better financial terms, but Sahin prefers Arsenal.” This was the case up until Arsenal dropped their interest. He actually wanted to join Arsenal, before having to settle for Liverpool. Having said that, he will be a fantastic addition to their squad. There is a reason why Jose Mourinho was so keen for it to be a loan deal. He sees Sahin as a very good player and he would like him to have a future at Real Madrid. Sahin did not have a very good first  season in La Liga, struggling to adapt, and suffering a number of injuries. However, he is only 23 and has already racked up 135 appearances for Borrusia Dortmund and was named Bundesliga player of the year in 2010-2011. He is a left footed, deep lying playmaker with a real eye for a pass and he will fit seamlessly into Brendan Rodger’s new philosophy.

Arsenal fan’s reaction on the whole was slightly different. A lot of bitterness and anger was directed towards Arsene Wenger and the board. “How could we miss out on another signing, just cause we didn’t want to spend a couple of extra quid?” Some fans likened it to the Mata ‘saga’ last summer. However, the truth is slightly different. There is no denying that Sahin is a fantastic player, and as I have said previously he will prove that at Liverpool, but he is not the player that Arsenal need. Last summer Arsenal lost Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri and they needed to replace that creativity. Missing out on Juan Mata was a huge blow because those needs were not met. Sahin would be more of a luxury at Arsenal. A stop gap while Jack Wilshere continued his recovery. The fans have been clamouring for a so called DM or defensive midfielder to be added to the team, especially in the wake of Alex Song leaving for Barcelona. Sahin is not a defensive midfielder, he is more in the Jack Wilshere or Mikel Arteta mould. The bitterness and anger from some of fans was naive. Arsenal were not outbid by Liverpool, they were not being frugal. Sahin wanted to play for Arsenal, but in the end he was not seen as a suitable target and Arsenal dropped their pursuit of him. The fact that Arsenal were so close to signing him suggests the Wenger knows he is in need of another midfielder, whether that will be the desired DM or not we will just have to wait and see.

Anfield will have a lot to sing about if, as expected, Sahin makes his debut next weekend against Arsenal. There will be plenty of digs directed at the travelling Arsenal fans about their inability to land the Turkish international. However, they can feel safe in the knowledge that it was Arsenal that turned Sahin down, and not the other way around. Whatever happens, its bound to create a great atmosphere and Liverpool fans can be very happy that they have signed a young, yet experienced player, who will immediately add quality to the first team. He is also a perfect fit for the new style of Brendan Rodgers.

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Saturday Predictions

SATURDAY

Swansea v West Ham

Swansea were the most impressive side on the opening day of the season. Very few would have had them down to beat QPR, especially by 5 goals. They were brilliant on the counter attack and ripped Rangers to shreads in a very open, free flowing game.

West Ham won 1-0 against Aston Villa, in a far more even encounter. Sam Allardyce teams are strong, well structured and hard to break down. The onus will be on Swansea, on this occassion to dictate the pace of the game and they may find it harder to break down a team that doesn’t try to play too much againt them.

Having said that, I still feel Swansea will come out on top. It could be a lot closer than expected though.

Prediction: 2-1

Aston Villa v Everton

Aston Villa were pretty disappointing against West Ham, and they are clearly still trying to adapt to Paul Lambert’s new style. Unless Darren Bent can stay fit all season, they will really struggle for goals too. Everton, on the other hand, were magnificent against Man Utd. A well deserved 1-0 victory was built on a fantastic defensive effort from Jagielka and Distin.

The Villa defence struggled against Carlton Cole, who caused them a lot of problems. If Fellaini can perform half as well as he did against Man Utd then I can see Villa struggling again and Everton continuing their fine start to the season.

Prediction: 0-1

Man Utd v Fulham

Man Utd were outplayed by Everton and really struggled to break them down on the weekend, whereas Fulham put 5 past a very poor Norwich.

Martin Jol has done a fantastic job at Fulham but a trip to Old Trafford may be a bit too much. I expect Man U to have too much class for Fulham, especially with Van Persie added to the mix. Although, it will be interesting to see how he gels with both Kagawa and Rooney as they all seem to prefer operating as a number 10 behind a striker. That may be a problem that will need to be figured out over the course of the season though.

Prediction: 3-1

Norwich v QPR

The battle of the bottom two. I don’t expect Qpr to be in the same position come May, but Norwich could have a real fight on their hands this season. They were reliant on Grant Holt last season to get them the goals they needed to survive, but I can’t see him replicating that form again. It was a bit of a freak year.

QPR were completely torn apart by Swansea on the weekend. They obviously have problems defensively, but they look likely to sign Dawson from Spurs and possibly M’bia from Marseille. Both would be brilliant additions and would help to shore up their leaky defence.

Both managers will have worked hard this week to address those defensive issues, but I think QPR have a bit more quality in their side and will come out on top.

Prediction: 1-2

Southampton v Wigan

Southampton produced a spirited display against Man City, but it felt the whole game like it just depended on when City wanted to turn it on. Lots of teams have done a lot worse at Etihad though, so they would have been boosted despite the loss.

Wigan ended the season brilliantly under Roberto Martinez beating Liverpool, Arsenal and Man U on the way. They have lost Diame and Rodallega and the only addition has been Ramis who looked very underdone against Chelsea. Wigan were poor and I think Southampton may have too much for them on Saturday.

Prediction: 2-1

Sunderland v Reading

Sunderland got a good result againt Arsenal, but they didn’t really play much football. They sat deep, got men behind the ball and choked the game. Can’t really argue with that as long as it produces results, but they will have to be a bit more adventurous at home to Reading.

Reading came from behind to draw on the opening day of the season against Stoke, and then were very unlucky not to get a point at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday. Martin O’neill is a very clever manager and he will have had a good look at Reading over the week. I fancy Sunderland to continue their good start and nick a win against Reading. It could be tight though.

Prediction: 2-1

Tottenham v West Brom

Spurs played very well against Newcastle but were beaten by a brilliant Demba Ba effort and a penalty which Van der Vaart shouldn’t have given away. Villa Boas’ impression is already noticable, they were pressing very high up the field and probably would have beaten a lesser side than Newcastle. They tired late on and Newcastle snuck in for the winner but there were definitely positive signs for the season. They have finally signed Adebayor, but still have to find a replacement for the Madrid bound Luka Modric.

West Brom perhaps produced the result of the round against Liverpool. They were brilliant, but the result could be slightly misleading. Liverpool are trying to completely restructure their side and buy into the Brendan Rodgers philosophy. They looked disjointed, and West Brom certainly took advantage.

With Adebayor back in the side, I think Tottenham will be too good for West Brom. Suarez had a lot of chances against West Brom, and Spurs will certainly put them away.

Prediction: 2-0

Chelsea v Newcastle

Chelsea are the only team to have played two games, due to their Super Cup commitments next friday. Their game against Wigan never really got going, they had won it after 5 minutes. They suffered a real scare against Reading midweek and only won due to a mistake by the linesman with 10 minutes to go. Chelsea have two wins from two, but have been far from convincing. They offer up a lot of chances and Newcastle have two of the best finishers in the business in Cisse and Ba.

Newcastle were lucky to win against Spurs, and this will be another very tough test for them. They have done very well to retain most of their key performers from last season and Pardew has strengthened in the right areas to keep the progression going. If Newcastle can take their chances, they may well test this Chelsea side. Hazard has been an absolute revelation, if you can be at the price of 35m, but if they can control him I think Newcastle may make the most of Chelsea’s defensive frailties to nick a point.

Prediction: 2-2

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Top 6

1. Manchester United
2. Manchester City
3. Arsenal
4. Chelsea
5. Tottenham Hotspur
6. Liverpool

Bottom 3

18. Reading
19. Norwich
20. Southampton

Top Goalscorer

Sergio Aguero

Most assists

Santiago Cazorla

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Goalkeeper – Rob Green (QPR)

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Rob Green hasn’t had the best couple of years. Had a shocker in the 2010 World Cup, then was relegated with West Ham the next season. He is, quite literally, on the up now though. He was promoted with West Ham and has moved to QPR, where Mark Hughes is building a strong side around him. He is a fantastic shot stopper and this could be his year behind an improving QPR defence.

Right Back – Davide Santon (Newcastle)

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Great first season in the Premiership with Newcastle. He has been talked about for a long time, but is remarkably, still only 21. In 2009, Marcello Lippi said that he “reminds him of a young Paolo Maldini”, praise indeed. It will be interesting to see how he goes in his second season, but I expect him to carry on where he left off.

Centre Back – Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham)

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Tottenham signed Vertonghen in the summer, beating off a lot of competition. Spurs have struggled with injuries in the centre of their defence and Ledley King has just retired leaving big shoes for Vertonghen to fill. It will be interesting to see how he copes with the step up to the Premier League, but I expect him to become the linchpin in the Tottenham backline.

Centre Back – Ron Vlaar (Aston Villa)

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Aston Villa signed the four time Dutch international from Feyenoord in the summer. He is an imposing centre-half who will be well suited to the Premier League. At 27, he is at the peak of his career and Villa may have unearthed a very good player.

Left Back – Neil Taylor (Swansea)

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Taylor earned a lot of praise for his performances for Team GB at the Olympics. After a fine first season with Swansea in the Premier League it will be interesting to see if he can overcome the so called ‘second season syndrome’ and back it up. Very talented left footed fullback can play either side of the field.

Right Midfield – Santi Cazorla (Arsenal)

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He was only rated as the fourth best player in La Liga last year, but when that’s behind Messi, Ronaldo, Xavi and ahead of Iniesta, you have a good player on your hands. Arsenal have finally filled the creative void left by Fabregas and to a lesser extent, Samir Nasri. He can play centrally or out wide and like all Spaniards is technically gifted player and can play with both feet. Fantastic signing.

Centre Midfield – Michu (Swansea)

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Michael Laudrup signed Michu from Rayo Vallecano for an absolute bargain at 1.7m. He had a break-out season last year scoring 15 goals in La Liga. He was the highest scoring midfielder in Spain last season, so it’s a bit of a coup for Swansea. Looking forward to seeing how he goes in the Premiership.

Centre Midfield – Nuri Sahin (Liverpool/Arsenal)

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It’s not completely sure which Premiership side Sahin is signing for, but either way he will be a fantastic addition. He is a creative midfielder in the Jack Wilshere mold, which may explain why Arsenal are after him. Although last season was a disappointment at Real Madrid, the season before he was player of the year in the Bundesliga. He will make his mark on the Premiership with either club.

Left Midfield – Marko Marin (Chelsea)

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May be slightly controversial to pick Marin ahead of Eden Hazard, especially after Chelsea spent near to £35m on him, but Marin has already made over 200 appearances for Werder Bremen. The Bundesliga has produced a lot of quality players in the last few years and most imports from Ligue 1 in France have taken a season or so to adapt in the Premiership. Marin could well outshine Hazard, without the pressure of expectation that a huge price tag brings.

Striker – Carlos Tevez (Man City)

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Tevez spent half of last season sunning himself on a beach somewhere and still arrived back in time to be one of City’s most valuable players. It is different now though, he has had a fantastic pre-season and is fit and raring to go before the start of the current campaign. He will be an absolute nightmare for Premiership defenders this year. Seems to step up in the big games and could be the difference for City when it comes to retaining the title.

Striker – Fernando Torres (Chelsea)

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Torres has received a lot of stick for his lack of scoring in the past couple of seasons, but he is finally the number one striker at Chelsea now that Drogba has left. More importantly Chelsea have finally bought the players that will compliment his qualities. Torres loves a playmaker behind him, someone that can put him through behind the defence, he now has three. Oscar, Hazard and Marin along with Mata will make Torres a real threat this year. Could finally pay back his £50m transfer fee.

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