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Everton provide blueprint that others should follow

In an era when having two managers in a single season is normal, it is remarkable that David Moyes has manged to spend 10 years at Everton. The chairman, Bill Kenwright’s faith in Moyes, and his undoubted ability are the key to Everton’s success so far this season and in the past decade. Moyes has never had much money to spend, in fact he has only had a net spend of £14 million pounds while at Everton. Despite that, he has transformed them from a team battling relegation to one currently sitting in 3rd place in the Premier League.

Everton’s lack of funds has led many to suggest that their squad lacks depth. This is the case to some extent, but every season despite losing key players Everton become stronger and this season they have more quality beyond the first team than many give them credit for. Jelavic has proven himself as an impressive goalscorer since arriving from Rangers, and he has been joined in the attacking ranks by his former partner at Rangers Steven Naismith and Kevin Mirallas who was brilliant against Swansea. It looked like the absence of Jelavic for that game at Swansea on the weekend would be a big loss, but Anichebe was a more than handy replacement. They are also well stocked in defence too, with Distin, Jagielka and Heitinga an imressive trio of centre-backs. Everton have a number of players that are versatile enough to play in a various positions, meaning that injuries have less of an effect. Phil Neville can play anywhere across the defence and in the midfield, Fellaini can play up front or in midfield and Jagielka can even play in goal, as Arsenal fans will remember when he kept a clean sheet against them back in his Sheffield United days. These are just a few examples.

Admittedly Fellaini and Pienaar are vital to this Everton side. The diminutive South African adds that touch of class, cutting in from the left flank, he is their creative spark and Marouane Fellaini the afro-haired Belgian has the ability to bully sides off the park as he did against Manchester United on the opening day. Like many sides, they will need to be lucky with injuries to keep this brilliant form going, but it would be harsh to say their squad lacks depth.

I am not suggesting that Everton will win the League, or necessarily even a finish in the Champion’s League places, but they have already shown that they are quality side and they will continue to grow under David Moyes. Their success is a direct result of Bill Kenwright’s trust in his manager. He has given him the time to improve the squad and implement his plans and it has undoubtedly paid off. He is the 3rd longest-serving manager in the Premier League and has recently become one of only four managers to amass 150 Premier League victories joining Harry Redknapp, Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson. This Everton blueprint is one that other teams in the Premier League would be well served following. It may well be one that their Mersyside neighbours may need to adopt to achieve their former glories.

Short supply of luck in Liverpool

It is clear that Liverpool need a finisher, they are 3rd for number of shots per game yet they are lying in 18th place with only 4 goals. It is also clear that Brendan Rodgers only let Andy Carroll go because he was of the assumption that Clint Dempsey was on his way to Anfield.

Liverpool’s bad luck continued on the weekend. Like the Arsenal and Manchester City games previously, they were the better side for much of the game, but on this occasion their inability to score goals was not the sole reason for their downfall. The key decisions of the game went against them. The referee Mark Halsey, in my opinion was very poor. There were two key decisions that changed the game. The first was the red card for Jonjo Shelvey. It is clear from the photo (above) that if Shelvey deserved a red card then Johnny Evans did too. If anything, Evans’ challenge looks worse, it could easily have gone the other way with Man Utd being reduced to 10 men had Shelvey been the one lying on the floor after the challenge. Even after Shelvey’s dismissal Liverpool looked dangerous, but Mark Halsey came to United’s rescue again awarding a very debatable penalty. Glen Johnson was stupid to put his arm across Valencia’s back, but the contact was minimal and not enough to warrant a penalty.

If the defeat wasn’t bad enough, Martin Kelly suffered an injury that could see his season over, Daniel Agger will be out for at  least a week with a “heavily bruised knee”, and Fabio Borini is out indefinitely. Brendan Rodgers has had a difficult start to his tenure at Liverpool, but he has been unlucky. He is trying to transform this Liverpool side and it will take time. Let’s hope John Henry and Tom Werner take a leaf out of Bill Kenwright’s book and give it to him.

Arsenal 12/13 are better than Arsenal 11/12

It seems that Arsenal have solved all the problems from last season. They looked shaky at the back, they lacked structure in the midfield and they were almost devoid of creativity. These are all overstatements that were toggled by the media and fans throughout the season. The one thing that everyone agreed on though, was that Arsenal had the best striker in the league.

What was clear from the game against Manchester City at the weekend, was that Arsenal are more solid at the back now, Steve Bould has obviously made a big difference. They have only conceded 2 goals in their 5 games as opposed to 14 at this stage last season. Per Mertesacker looks to be the player to have benefited most, his intelligence and ability to read the game was evident with 7 interceptions at the Etihad. Carl Jenkinson and Kieran Gibbs have also improved remarakbly, they were a constant threat down the flanks and looked far more composed in defence.

Much was said about Arsenal’s lack of a defensive midfielder to start the season, but Wenger’s choice to replace Alex Song with Mikel Arteta has been a master stroke. Arsenal’s midfield looks to be more structured with Arteta in that role, as he is more disciplined than the wandering Song. He is also more efficient with the ball, he made 100 of his 106 attempted passes against City. Diaby too has been a revelation. On the weekend Yaya Toure only really managed to influence the game when Diaby left the field. Aaron Ramsey also had a good game, he will be hoping that he can finally put his injury hell behind him. Santi Cazorla has perhaps been the most important addition to the Arsenal midfield. He provides the creativity that has been missing since Cesc Fabregas left. Wilshere and Rosicky are back in training too and the talented Oxlade-Chamberlain is currently on the bench so there are more options waiting in the wings.

The problems from last season, seem a long way away. Unfortunately, so does the best striker in the league. The one thing Arsenal didn’t need fixing in 11/12 is now missing in 12/13. Arsenal’s most wasteful player, Gervinho, played up front against Manchester City. It would be hard  not to argue that if a certain RvP had been in his place then Arsenal would have won. The Ivorian’s all round play was good, but his finishing was atrocious. Olivier Giroud has failed to find the target and may need more time to adjust to the Premier League. Podolski seems to have slotted in perfectly forming a brilliant partnership with Cazorla, but Wenger seems reluctant to move him from the left flank. It is clear that Arsenal look a far better team than last season, but if they want to truly challenge for the title then they will have to find someone to “score when he wants”, like van Persie did.

Just one final thought…

Sunderland have drawn their opening four games of the season, but with Steven Fletcher in red hot form and Adam Johnson returning you would definitely fancy them to beat Wigan at the Stadium of Light. Maybe have a save some money for a cheeky bet on Fletcher for first goalscorer too.

Wouldn’t be surprised to see home wins for Arsenal, Everton and Stoke either. May be worth an accumulator.

Beat Lawro

Before each set of Premier League fixtures, I have a look at ‘BBC football expert’, Mark Lawrenson’s predictions. Every week I have the same reaction. I reckon I could do better. Season after season I complain about his ‘woeful’ tipping. Now it’s time to put my proverbial money where my mouth is and try to beat Lawro.

The points: 1 point for a correct result and 3 points for a correct score.

LAST WEEK

After my bold claims it was tougher than I expected, Lawro went ahead and recorded his best score of the season so far. He got seven results right, with one perfect score.

I managed five results right with two perfect scores. 

Leaving us both tied with nine points each.

 

SATURDAY

Swansea v Everton

Both sides have had similar starts to the season. Very impressive in the first two rounds, but have since slipped slightly. Swansea suffered their first loss away to Aston Villa last week and Everton were unlucky to draw 2-2 at home to Newcastle (let’s not mention goal-line technology again). Swansea have a number of injuries defensively: Ashley Williams could be out, Kyle Bartley is still missing and they are still adjusting to losing Neil Taylor for the season. Everton should have won last weekend, but in the second half their defence looked shaky against Newcastle. Everton are rightly favourites for this one with Swansea’s increasing injury list, but Everton’s poor performance away to West Brom makes me think Swansea will at least get a point. There may well be some goals in the contest too, should be entertaining.

My prediction: 2-2

Lawro’s prediction: 1-1

 

Chelsea v Stoke

Chelsea have not won a game since their 4-2 win over Reading almost a month ago. They have lost 4-1 to Athletico Madrid in the Super Cup and drawn with QPR and Juventus. The Champion’s League draw against Juve would have been very disappointing after starting so brightly with two wonderful goals from Oscar. He looks to be an incredible talent, the second of goals is an early contender for UCL goal of the season. I have talked a lot about Stoke’s run of draws, 8 in a row now this season, but if Chelsea play anywhere near their best then Hazard and Mata will cause them too many problems. Stoke will try to sit deep and frustrate Chelsea, but if they concede an early goal then I can see Chelsea scoring a few here.

My prediction: 3-0

Lawro’s prediction: 2-0

 

Southampton v Aston Villa

I wrote a piece earlier this week saying that Southampton were better than they looked, but after four games and no points they will be feeling the pressure. Nigel Adkins will see this as the perfect opportunity to open their account in the Premier League, but Villa got a good point away to Newcastle a couple of weeks ago and followed it up with a win against Swansea. I see Southampton nicking this one, but it will be very tight.

My prediction: 2-1

Lawro’s prediction: 2-1

 

West Brom v Reading

In my opinion, Reading look the weakest of the promoted sides. They were poor against Tottenham last weekend and were beaten comfortably. Reading impressed in their first away game of the season at Chelsea and were unlucky not to at least get a point. West Brom have been very good at home though, beating Liverpool 3-0 and Everton 2-0. I fancy Reading to put up a fight, but I can’t see anything other than a home win.

My prediction: 3-1

Lawro’s prediction: 2-1

 

West Ham v Sunderland

To stay in the league you have to make yourselves hard to beat at home, West Ham have had two games and two wins so far at Upton Park. Sam Allardyce couldn’t have asked for a better start. Carlton Cole is a doubt and with Andy Carroll already out, that could be a huge blow for the Hammers. Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland side are unbeaten so far with three draws out of three. They were impressive on the break against  Swansea and if Adam Johnson is passed fit, then he and Sessegnon could once again cause havoc. Unfortunately for them, West Ham don’t give opposition teams much space to play in and they will try to sit deep and avoid letting Sunderland get the ball in to the increasingly impressive Steven Fletcher. This could be a very tight game and I think both side would be happy with a draw.

My prediction: 1-1

Lawro’s prediction: 1-2

 

Wigan v Fulham

Wigan were beaten convincingly by Manchester United last weekend, they kept them at bay for the first half but capitulated in the second. Fulham have suffered with the loss of their two main players, Dembele and Dempsey, but Berbatov has added a real spark and looks like he could be a fantastic signing for Martin Jol. Wigan have not beaten Fulham since 2005 and five of the last six at The DW stadium have finished in a draw and I expect that to be the case on Saturday too.

My prediction: 1-1

Lawro’s prediction: 2-1

 

SUNDAY

Liverpool v Man Utd

This is a huge game for Liverpool. It’s the first at Anfield since the new Hillsborough verdict and they have only managed to pick up two points so far this season. Liverpool have a very good record against Manchester United at Anfield and Brendan Rodgers desperately needs a win, but I can’t see it coming this weekend. I don’t know whether the occasion will have a positive or negative affect on the Liverpool players, but either way I think Man Utd will be too good.

My prediction: 1-2

Lawro’s prediction: 1-1

 

Newcastle v Norwich

Newcastle were lucky to get a point against Everton last weekend and like their opponents they havn’t really got going yet this season. Norwich have started to look more solid. Since their 5-0 humbling on the opening day, they have picked up three draws on the run. Even so, they could really struggle this season. Newcastle were brilliant last season finishing just outside the Champion’ League places. It will be tough for them to replicate that, but I expect them to beat Norwich comfortably at St James’ Park.

My prediction: 3-1

Lawro’s prediction: 2-0

 

Man City v Arsenal

This could well be the game of the round, both teams have some very exciting players and like to play free-flowing football. A lot has been made of Arsenal’s new-found defensive stability with Steve Bould garnering much of the credit, but they have not properly been tested yet. They certainly look stronger but Tevez and Aguero, if fit, will provide a clearer idea of where they are at. They way Arsenal are set up now, should make them a very dangerous proposition away from home. They are sitting deeper in defence and Podolski and Cazorla look very dangerous on the break. I think they could come away with a win at the Etihad. It is a bold call, but Man City havn’t quite clicked yet. Southampton ran them close and their trip to the Bernabeu will have taken a lot out of them.

My prediction: 1-2

Lawro’s prediction: 2-1

 

Tottenham v QPR

Spurs got a very good win against Reading last week, and they are looking better with each game, I still don’t believe that they are as good as last season though. They have drawn their last two games at home conceding late goals to West Brom and Norwich but I think they will have too much for QPR. Jermain Defoe is in brilliant form and I fancy him to score another couple on Sunday. QPR got a good point against Chelsea last weekend and the more Granero gets to play the better they will get, but I feel this game will be a bit too early in their season for them to have an impact.

My prediction: 3-1

Lawro’s prediction: 2-1

 

BETTING TIPS:

First Goalscorer: Jermain Defoe v QPR

Accumulator: West Brom, Southampton, Newcastle and Tottenham.

 

Thoughts and comments welcome, all support appreciated!

The pre-game handshakes should be scrapped

John Terry looks longingly at Anton Ferdinand after the he refuses to shake his hand.

PFA chairman Gordon Taylor suggested yesterday that the row over Anton Ferdinand’s refusal to shake John Terry’s hand could descend into a “Mafia feud”. Having watched the Sopranos I know what a Mafia feud looks like, and this is not about to become one. However, it is rather pathetic that we end up spending half the weekend talking about a handshake, or the lack therof, rather than another brilliant weekend of Premier League football.

These pre-game handshakes have caused more trouble than they are worth. First we had Terry v Bridge, then Evra v Suarez and now Terry again v Anton Ferdinand. Next weekend, we are going to have to go through the whole sorry debace again as Evra and Suarez come face to face. The PFA should have a look at how it’s done in the world of rugby and cricket. In rugby, they belt eachother relentlessly for 90 minutes but at the end of the game the mutual respect is clear. Whatever kicks, punches and eye gouges that are suffered stay on the pitch and that’s it. Similarly in Cricket, they sledge eachother and compete fiercly for 5 days but will sit down in the changing room at the end of the match and have a beer together.

They should scrap the handshake and let the players, who are grown up enough to do so, shake hands at the end of the game. This way, it doesn’t give them the opportunity to ruin what we are all actually all there to see, the football.

How long is it going to take to implement the obvious?

Anichebe’s disallowed goal against Newcastle last night

Ever since Frank Lampard had a goal disallowed in the 2010 World Cup quarterfinal, it has been clear, especially in the Englishman’s mind, that goal-line technology needs to be introduced. So, why hasn’t anything been done about it? Unfortunately, last night another fantastic game was marred by a poor decision that could have been easily rectified with it’s introduction. If Anichebe’s goal had been given Everton would have gone 2-1 up with 10 minutes to play against Newcastle.

There is an argument that says football is unique amongst sport because it is the same from the professional ranks all the way down to your average Sunday league kick about, but it no longer makes sense to not use the resources that are available. Enough is enough, the sooner it is introduced the better. Then we can get back to talking about football and what an enthralling match it was on Monday night.

Southampton are not as bad as they look

Rickie Lambert celebrates his goal against Manchester City with Southampton captain Adam Lallana

Southampton are stuck at the foot of the table with no points, but they have played both Manchester clubs and Arsenal and we are only four games into the season. Very few teams would have come out of those games with anything to show for it. It is fair to say that their loss at home to Wigan was the big disappointment, but the performances against the two sides from Manchester suggests they have a lot to give to this season. They were 3 minutes away from victory against Manchester United, and 2-1 up at The Etihad against City only to be beaten 3-2 in both.

They have a young side, with bags of talent. Jason Puncheon and England call-up and captain Adam Lallana terrorised Manchester United from the flanks. Top scorer in The Championship last season, Ricky Lambert has shown that he has the quality to score goals against the big boys with strikes against United and City. 22 year old Morgan Scneiderlin who signed for Southampton in 2008 despite interest from Arsenal and Chelsea, has represented France from U16 up to U21 level. He is a calm head in the middle of park and combined with 17 year old James Ward-Prowse who has started every game this season they look like an exciting young duo. Gaston Ramirez is still to be added to the midfield so they have enough good attacking players to trouble many teams. Nigel Adkins will have to temper his teams attacking instincts with a bit of defensive stability before they can truly flourish, but expect a lot more from Southampton in the coming weeks.

Just one final thought…

Last week we mentioned that Stoke’s run of draws may be worth a punt and they came up with the goods against Manchester City holding on for a 1-1 draw. This week, that run could well end. Stoke have a poor record at Stamford Bridge having conceded 10 in the last 3 seasons and scoring none, so expect a comfortable Chelsea win.

Elsewhere, Manchester United have not won in the League at Anfield since 2007 and Wigan have not beaten Fulham since 2006, both could be worth a dabble.

It wasn’t very long ago that Belgium were considered relative minnows on the international stage. Stuck in a state of turmoil, with a thin squad of average players and a record that would have most managers shiver at the thought, the future looked bleak, but this is no longer the case. After comfortably ousting Wales, 2-0, last Saturday in their World Cup qualifier, we can see a real maturity and patience growing within their team. Couple this with their outstanding first eleven, and a larger squad size; it could be said that we are witnessing the birth of a European superpower.

Belgium celebrate during their 2-0 win over Wales

When one thinks of the great footballing nations of the world, the mind reels off the obvious: Brazil, Germany, Spain, England, and France to name a few. Modern football has been shaped by these national powerhouses, and it seems that those in the elite will never fall from grace. Every generation brings a new crop of outstanding players and, with the right manager at the helm, these nations always challenge for the top honours. This is even translated into club football, with the leagues of England, Italy, Spain and Germany striding above the rest.

A player will emerge from the smaller nations every once in a while, players with such outstanding ability, that the world looks on and almost pities their doomed exploits on the international stage. George Weah for Liberia and Gheorghe Hagi from Romania are such examples of world class talent coming from nations not generally known for producing high calibre players. What is happening in Belgium however is potentially unprecedented on a footballing level; and with the squad at their disposal, their stock will only continue to rise.

Thibault Courtios, the young goalkeeper signed by Chelsea in 2011, cemented himself as Athletico Madrid’s no. 1 in their Europa Cup winning side last year. In defence they have the captain of Manchester City, Vincent Kompany; as well as Arsenal’s superb centre-back and skipper, Thomas Vermaelen, and Tottenham’s solid new signing Jan Vertonghen.

The midfield is packed full of young, exciting talent, with the mercurial Eden Hazard the stand out player. He has made an impressive start to his Premier League career at Chelsea already topping the assists chart. Marouane Fellaini too has been a revelation at Everton (much to the dismay of Manchester Utd, who fell prey to a Fellaini master-class on the first day of the season). If you add Axel Witsel, signed for £32 million by Zenit St Petersburg, Tottenham’s new recruit Moussa Dembele, and Chelsea’s Kevin De Bruyne to the mix, Belgium are well stocked in almost every area.

Eden Hazard

In the way of strikers, Romelu Lukaku is something of a celebrity for the Belgians, having had a reality TV show made during his rise to fame with Anderlecht. Dubbed as ‘the new Drogba’, he has struggled to make an impact at Chelsea, but he is only 19 years old, and he looks a formidable prospect. He has already played 17 times for his country, scoring 3 times. Kevin Mirallas is another Belgium international to have made a move to the Premier League, and if he can produce the form which has seen him score 34 goals in 52 games at Olympiacos then he could have a real impact. 21 year old Christian Benteke opened his account for Aston Villa on the weekend too. Belgium have a real mixture of styles, Lukaku relies on his size and strength, Mirallas is renowned for his pace and Benteke is somewhat of a poacher.

It’s not a matter of just putting these players on the pitch and watching the results come in though. The win over Wales was followed by a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Croatia. Despite having a myriad of talent coming through the ranks, Belgium have yet to gel consistently. England themselves have seen their so called ‘golden generation’ of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and co. come and go without much impact on the international stage. However, if Marc Wilmots, the Belgian coach, can find the right blend then they have the quality throughout the team to be a real force.

What is most  impressive is that these players are all under 26. There is a feeling of real optimism amongst the Belgian public. Tickets were sold out in a matter of hours for their match against Croatia. While it can be said that greater emphasis has been placed on the development in the youth setups by Belgian clubs, most fans and journalists are putting their apparent ‘golden generation’ of players down to a matter of luck, more than judgement. It is this unexpected rebirth that makes Belgium such a mouth-watering, footballing prospect.

Written by Tom Gatehouse. See more of his work at: http://goodbadribery.blogspot.co.uk/ or follow him on twitter @tragatehouse
 
Edited by Charlie Cook @charlie_cook09
 
Thoughts and comments welcome, all support appreciated!

Before each set of Premier League fixtures, I have a look at ‘BBC football expert’, Mark Lawrenson’s predictions. Every week I have the same reaction. I reckon I could do better. Season after season I complain about his ‘woeful’ tipping. Now it’s time to put my proverbial money where my mouth is and try to beat Lawro.

Each week I will give a small preview to the game explaining my choice and follow it with mine and Lawro’s predictions.

The points: 1 point for a correct result and 3 points for a correct score.

 

SATURDAY

Norwich v West Ham

I fancy Norwich to get their first win of the season in this one, but it will be tight. Sam Allardyce’s team will play their own scintillating brand of long ball football, but without Andy Carroll and away from home it may not be quite so effective. I was very impressed with Norwich at Spurs a couple of weeks ago, especially Robert Snodgrass who has been brilliant. They are beginning to gel under Chris Hughton, and I think they may just knick this one.

My prediction: 2-1

Lawro’s prediction: 1-1

 

Arsenal v Southampton

Arsenal will be heavy favourites after their good win at Anfield and I expect them to back that up with their first home win of the season. It won’t be as easy as many expect though. Sothampton were 5 minutes away from an upset win over Manchester United last round, and were leading 2-1 at Manchester City with not too long to go either. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Giroud open his account for the gunners and Southampton score a goal to end Arsenal’s run of 3 games without conceding.

My prediction: 3-1

Lawro’s prediction: 2-0

 

Aston Villa v Swansea

Villa need a win, and they need some goals. Swansea have lost Chico to suspension plus Neil Taylor and new recruit Kyle Bartley to injury, so there is no better time to do it than against an ailing defence. Swansea have undoubtedly been the surprise of the season so far. Many, including myself, expected them to struggle with the loss of Brendan Rodgers, but Michael Laudrup has brought in some fantastic players and they have really kicked on. There is a long way to go, but they are a very exciting team. I think this one could end in a draw.

My prediction: 1-1

Lawro’s prediction: 1-1

 

Fulham v West Brom

There hasn’t been an away win in fixtures between these two sides for over 10 years. Fulham started the season with a bang, but have since faltered. The loss of Moussa Dembele is huge. Dimitar Berbatov will be a boost, but the energy and quality that Dembele brought to the midfield cannot be replaced. He was the best player on the pitch when they went to Old Trafford. West Brom have started very brightly under Steve Clarke with wins over the two Mersyside clubs at home and a very good point away to Spurs. I think their success may continue in London, but it will only be a point.

My prediction: 1-1

Lawro’s prediciton: 2-1

 

Manchester United v Wigan

I think Wigan could get a bit of a pasting here. United are due a big win. There were concerns over the fitness of Robin van Persie and Kagawa midweek, but they are both fit. I thought they were excellent at home to Fulham a few weeks ago, and could have scored many more than 3 in the first half. The inclusion of Darren Fletcher in the squad will be a massive boost to them too. Wigan have conceded 24 goals in their last 7 games at Old Trafford and I don’t expect that stat to get much better.

My prediction: 4-1

Lawro’s prediction: 3-0

 

QPR v Chelsea

Leading up to this game their has been more talk about the handhsake than the contest. I predict their to be handshake, or a snub of a handshake or whatever. Who actually cares whether they shake hands. The FA should just scrap them altogether as they have cause more problems than they are worth. Evra v Suarez, John Terry v everyone enough’s enough. Get rid of them. In terms of the game, I think it could be very tight. Chelsea are top of the league, and QPR are second bottom, but I think QPR will get better as the season progresses. Granero is a magnificent signing from Real Madrid and I think they could just grab a cheeky point at Loftus Road.

My prediction: 1-1

Lawro’s prediction: 1-1

 

Stoke v Manchester City

Stoke fans will be excited about the signing f Michael Owen, but this game could come a bit early for him. Stoke set themselves up to be very hard to beat and then go from there. The news that Sergio Aguero is close to a return is a big boost for City, other than Carlos Tevez who has been outstanding, they havn’t been all too convincing at the start of this season. Stoke have drawn their last 8 games in all competitions. They have also drawn their last 3 at home to Man City. No surprises that I think this one is going to be a draw too.

My prediction: 1-1

Lawro’s prediction: 1-1

 

Sunderland v Liverpool

This is not an easy trip for Liverpool, and it gets worse next week with Manchester United travelling to Anfield. Sunderland are improving under Martin O’Neill. They got a good point away to Arsenal and were close to beating Swansea at Liberty Stadium. Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson, have looked very sharp and this is Sunderland’s first home game of the season so they will be looking to impress their new fans. Liverpool were brilliant against Manchester City, but gifted a sloppy equaliser to Tevez late on. They were very good in the first half against Arsenal too, but had no cutting edge in attack. They need to find goals very soon, as their only goals have come from set plays so far this season. I think Sunderland are starting to look like a very good side and I expect them to take all the points.

My prediciton: 2-1

Lawro’s prediciton: 2-1

 

SUNDAY

Reading v Tottenham

Reading were unlucky not to at least get a point away from home to Chelsea, and they would have won at home to Stoke if it wasn’t for a goalkeeping howler. Tottenham are still looking for their first win under AVB. They are struggling to cope with the loss of Modric and Van der Vaart, but with Moussa Dembele, Adebayor and Clint Dempsey all fit and able to start I think they will be too strong for Reading.

My prediciton: 1-3

Lawro’s predicition: 1-2

 

MONDAY

Everton v Newcastle

Newcastle started off brightly with a win against Spurs, but were pretty ordinary against Chelsea and Villa. They will need to improve significantly to get anything at Goodison. Everton are another team that were very impressive early on, with wins against Man U and Villa. Fellaini’s comments about this season being his last at Goodison during the week will have been a shock though, he has been outstanding. It will be interesting to see if that will have any effect on the dressing room. He has been somewhat of a talisman for them.  His performance against Man U was probably the best we’ve seen so far this season. With Krul, Tiote and Colocinni out for Newcastle, I think Everton will be comfortable winners.

My prediction: 2-0

Lawro’s prediction: 2-1

In the scouting report section of the site, Liquid Football hopes to bring you the best young talent from around the World. We start off at Barcelona, with Alfie Long’s report on Jean-Marie Dongou.

Below is some footage of Barcelona’s highly rated forward Jean-Marie Dongou. Dongou is now 17-years-old and after being part of the Samuel Eto Foundation from a young age, he moved to La Masia to live their full time when he was 13-years-old.

He has been very impressive in his three years at La Masia. The academy has produced a conveyor belt of world class talent including Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Cesc Fabregas and Dongou is hoping to follow in their footsteps. He is strong on the ball, sharp on the turn and obviously a very good finisher having scored at least 30 goals each season despite playing up to three years above his age group. He has developed so quickly that many people around the club have suggested he is better for his age than Lionel Messi was when he played within the academy. He has already played for Barcelona’s B side and is predicted to play for the first team in the not-too-distant future.

What we know about him…
 
D.O.B – 20/04/95 (Age 17)
Nationality – Cameroonian – but qualifies to play for Spain once he turns 18, due to living in the country for 5 years.
Height – 6ft 0″
Position – Forward
Preferred Foot – Right – but he is just as comfortable on his left scoring a number of goals cutting in from the flanks.
 
 
Written by Alfie Long. See more of his work at: pitchsidetalk.wordpress.com or follow him on twitter @pitchsidetalk
 
Edited by Charlie Cook @charlie_cook09
 
Thoughts and comments welcome, all support appreciated!

Following on from last week’s top 5 overrated players here are my top 5 underrated Premier League stars. When you ask fans which players they think are underrated, names like Ji-Sung Park and Darren Fletcher regularly pop up. In fact, they have been described as ‘underrated’ so many times by journalists and pundits that they are bordering on being overrated if anything.

5. Michel Vorm

The first of two Swansea players in the list, Michel Vorm was plucked from mid-table Eredivisie side FC Utrecht for only £1.5 million last summer. He proved to be a brilliant find and was player of the year in his first season at Swansea. His promise was clear in his debut for the Swans. He made 10 saves in a performance that was largely overlooked due to the 4-0 scoreline in favour of Manchester City. This stat was never bettered for the rest of the season.

Vorm’s 143 saves made last year was only bettered by Wolves’ Wayne Hennessey, who had a shocking defence in front of him and a lot of action coming his way. Vorm is a very good shot stopper, and has gained the confidence of his back four making him very dependable. He has no weaknesses as a goalkeeper and if he continues his form then expect him to be adding to his 9 caps for Holland.

Vorm pulls of another magnificent save against Newcastle

4. Laurent Koscielny

Only 3 years ago Laurent Koscielny was playing in the French second tier. It took a while for the wiry centre back to be noticed, and he only moved to Lorient during the summer of 2009 when he was 24. Incredibly, Koscielny completed 100% of the tackles he attempted in his first season in Ligue 1 and this was enough to persuade Arsene Wenger to sign him for Arsenal the next summer.

He made a shaky start in the Premier League, and his lack of size was an obvious problem as he had a tendency to be shrugged off the ball too easily. He adapted well though, and last season became the key player in Arsenal’s backline. He is versatile, can play all along the back line having started his career as a right back. He is very quick, reads the game well allowing him to make vital interceptions and is coming into his prime at 27 years old. He finally received international recognition in November 2011 and was voted Man of the Match by the French Media in France’s quarterfinal loss to Spain at Euro 2012. His stock is rising, but he has only spent three years in the top flight of European football so he will only get better.

3. Kevin Nolan

Kevin Nolan and Leon Britton

Kevin Nolan must be Sam Allardyce’s illegitimate son or something. He follows him everywhere. Nolan spent 10 years at Bolton for making a big move to Newcastle only to get relegated. After three seasons on Tyneside he signed for West Ham, moving down to the Championship, once again joining Big Sam as West Ham captain.

Nolan’s ability sometimes gets overlooked. He is not a silky footballer and he is rarely good to watch, but Sam Allardyce knows how to get the best out of him. He plays to his strengths which lie in his physical prowess. The way West Ham play under Big Sam is perfect for him. He is dangerous in the air and a very good finisher. In his last season in the Premiership he grabbed 12 goals for Newcastle. He backed that up with another 12 goals for West Ham as they got promoted last season and has already got 2 in his first 3 games this season. Watch out for him this year because he is a nightmare to defend against.

2. Leon Britton

Leon Britton rarely gets the recognition he deserves, often playing second fiddle to the younger Joe Allen. The deep lying playmaker started his career as a trainee at Arsenal before becoming the most expensive 16 year old in the world when he moved to West Ham for £400,000 in 1998. Britton signed for Swansea in 2002. Remarkably Britton has represented Swansea in all four professional divisions in the English football league helping them rise all the way from League 2 to the Premiership.

Britton started 35 Premier League games last season and is a key reason why Brendan Rodger’s passing game was so successful at Swansea. He had the highest pass completion rate in Europe. Yes, in EUROPE. Ahead of Xavi and all the other tiki-taka famed Spaniards. His performances regularly go unnoticed at Swansea and hasn’t yet been capped by England. At 29 he is unlikely to make a huge impact at a so called ‘big club’, but England struggled to keep hold of the ball in midfield against Ukraine and they couldn’t go too far wrong picking the world’s most accurate passer to address that issue.

1. Lucas Leiva

Lucas

Lucas Leiva was very highly rated as a youngster. He captained Gremio in his last season in Brazil as well as Brazil U 20’s and he made his debut for the full Brazil side at 19. He signed for Liverpool as an attacking midfielder, but Rafa Benitez transformed him into a defensive midfielder following the departure of Xabi Alonso and Mascherano.

He struggled early on at Anfield and at one point was booed after a poor performance against Fulham. Still written off by many, he has become a very valuable player for Liverpool. Only one player made more tackles than Lucas at Liverpool last season, despite him only playing 12 games due to injury. He is a non-stop runner. His workrate is second to none and before he got injured the tireless midfielder was averaging 5.7 tackles a game. That is 1 tackle more than any other player in the Premier League and the season before he was top of the list for successful tackles. When he gets back from injury he will be an automatic starter for Liverpool, despite Allen, Sahin and Gerrard as competition.

Notable mentions: Edin Dzeko (Manchester City), Ashley Williams (Swansea), Michael Carrick (Manchester United), Leon Osman (Everton) and Sebastian Larsson (Sunderland)

What has become of England’s so called ‘Golden Generation’? Lampard, Gerrard, Beckham, Ferdinand and others have failed to produce the heroics that were expected of them. They have not gone further than the quarterfinals of any major tournament. After each tournament that ends in failure, the calls for an overhaul of the squad and an influx of youth get stronger. It was no different after Euro 2012 and considering the performances of Cleverly and Oxlade-Chamberlain against Moldova, I thought it would be interesting to assess the future of English football.

This ‘Golden Generation’ was packed full of fantastic players. Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole and Rio Ferdinand, to name a few, were rated amongst the best footballers in the world. Unfortunately they were not able to play like that for England. One of the most obvious examples of this, was the midfield partnership of Lampard and Gerrard. During the noughties, Gerrard and Lampard were two of the best midfielders in the world. Touted as a world beating partnership for England, they never managed to gel and looked disjointed when playing together.

Words like ‘dynamic’, ‘strong’ and ‘powerful’ have been used to describe the top English players in the past. These qualities are vital to the English team, but without some guile and creativity to compliment them they can be wasted. This generation of players lacked a technically accomplished passer of the ball, a Xavi for instance. This may sound like an obvious comment to make considering that Xavi is widely regarded as the best midfielder in the world, but so were Gerrard and Lampard at their best. In his prime Gerrard was the driving force behind any Liverpool success, but it is no surprise that he hasn’t been as potent since Xabi Alonso left. Against Moldova, Frank Lampard reminded us how devastating he could be. His skill was in his ability to time his runs perfectly, and had the enviable knack of always being in the right place at the right time.

Both Gerrard and Lampard could pick a pass but they thrived on having a player behind them who would get on the ball and dictate the tempo of the game. English football needs to develop two or three of these type of players. I am not suggesting that we should endeavour to take on the Spanish tiki-taka style, but we need players to compliment the more English qualities. If you look at the top Premier League clubs it’s easy to see the mix of power and dynamism with guile and creativity working. Last season’s champions, Manchester City, have Yaya Toure and David Silva and more recently we have seen Arsenal beat Liverpool with Diaby and Cazorla combining brilliantly.

Luckily for England it looks like they are starting to produce this type of player. Cleverly was outstanding against Moldova and Alex Ferguson’s refusal to buy a central midfielder suggests he has a lot of faith in the youngster. He is technically astute and an accomplished passer of the ball. Jack Wilshere is another in this mould. He had a brilliant start to his career, including a Man of the Match performance against Barcelona, outplaying Xavi and Iniesta in the process. Wilshere himself said: “Players like Xavi and Iniesta are great players. Who wouldn’t try to model their game on them?” Those role models come as no surprise, considering he has been brought up at Arsenal where they play a possession based game. Wilshere’s technique is superb, he likes to get on the ball and dictate the tempo of the game as much as possible. He can pick holes in the opposition by running with or passing the ball. He is a phenomenal talent.  Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has also shown his quality over the last year. Although he is currently playing on the wing, Arsene Wenger sees him as a future central midfielder. He is more direct and powerful than Cleverly and Wilshere, but the three of them are all technically superb and together will provide the heart of the future England team. With these three in the engine room the future could be very bright.

This is a potential England line up come Euro 2016:

Potential England side in Euro 2016

Goalkeepers:

Joe Hart – Hart was one of the standout goalkeepers at Euro 2012, he has a huge amount of experience  for a 25 year old. He is now a Premiership winner with Manchester City too and has many years at the top ahead of him.
Jack Butland – Butland has also emerged as a contender for the number 1 spot. He has been highly rated for a couple of years, and got his chance on the world stage during the Olympics where he was outstanding. England are in safe hands.

Defence:

Kyle Walker – Walker won the Young player of the year award last season. He is very strong defensively and would have started at Euro 2012 had he not been injured.
Micah Richards – Richards will also push Walker hard for the right back slot and if he could add some discipline to his game then Walker better watch out.
Chris Smalling and Phil Jones – The pair have been learning from the best in Ferdinand and Vidic at Manchester United. Both are powerful in the air and very comfortable with the ball at their feet. Jones, is perhaps the more advanced at this stage but Smalling is seen as the replacement for Ferdinand at Man U.
Steven Caulker – Caulker could also provide competition at centre-back. He had a great season at Swansea last year and will be hoping to break into the Tottenham first team this term.
Kieran Gibbs – Gibbs has unfortunately had his progress halted by injury, but is still a fantastic talent. He has been thought of as the next Ashley Cole. He has a long way to go but the potential is there.
Ryan Bertrand – Bertrand has also been likened to Cole. He had a great end to last season at Chelsea even starting the Champion’s League final.
The depth of talent is certainly there and with Gary Cahill, who is only 26 added to that group then if they reach their potential they could be a very strong defensive unit.

Midfield:

Wilshere, Cleverly and Oxlade-Chamberlain have already been mentioned but there is also a wealth of talent to challenge these three.
Jack Rodwell – Rodwell has just secured a big move to Manchester City where his first team chances may be quite rare. He is a very athletic defensive midfielder. He has great positioning and is a brilliant tackler.
Ross Barkley – Rodwell’s former teammate is also rated highly at Everton.
Josh McEachran – McEachran was named Chelsea Young Player of the Year in 2011, but has since had a frustrating period on loan at Swansea. Hopefully his stint on loan at Middlesborough will be more fruitful.
Jonjo Shelvey – Shelvey is another who looks like he is about to make his breakthrough. He was Man of the Match for the U21’s against Azerbaijan on the weekend and Brendan Rodger’s tiki-taka style will suit him perfectly.

Forwards:

Wayne Rooney – Rooney is still only 26 years old, despite having made 76 appearances for England. He has had a controversial International career: Sent off at the 2006 World Cup, out of form at the 2010 World Cup due to allegations about his private life and suspended from the first two games of Euro 2012. However, he can become a leader and a role model for the younger generation as he gets older. England have a World Class striker to lead the line.
Theo Walcott – As long as Walcott doesn’t lose his pace, he can only get better. He showed against Ukraine in the Euros how devastating he could be.
Raheem Sterling – Sterling is very similar to Walcott. Lightning quick and a brilliant finisher. He looks dangerous whenever he gets the ball for Liverpool and doesn’t look remotely out of place in the Premier League despite only being 17.
Players like Ashley Young, Adam Johnson and James Milner will continue to improve and are still young enough to play for the next 4 years at least. Add that to the emerging talents of Danny Welbeck, who had a very promising Euros and Daniel Sturridge, who was a regular starter for Chelsea last season and England have a lot of attacking depth.

If we are being realistic, this complete overhaul is not going to happen before the 2014 World Cup in Rio de Janeiro. John Terry and Ashley Cole will only be 33, and Steven Gerrard will have just turned 34. This will represent their last chance at a major tournament, but by Euro 2016 the new crop will be fully integrated. The most important thing about the emerging players is that there seems to be a common ability. A technical quality, that has been missing from the England teams of the past. The pace of Walcott and Sterling, the dynamism of The Ox and the craft and vision of Cleverly and Wilshere will form a devastating attack. They have a very good blend of power, pace and creativity. The likes of Beckham, Gerrard and Lampard may not have fulfilled their promise, but if the performances of Cleverly and Oxlade-Chamberlain are anything to go by, in addition to Wilshere et al, then we could be looking at a new ‘Golden Generation’ in the coming years. Perhaps, the real ‘Golden Generation’.

This is not a list of the 5 worst players in the Premier League. Each player’s position on the list is based on their talent in relation to how highly rated they are by the media and fans. So don’t expect to see names like Marouane Chamakh or Emile Heskey. I know they are not very good, but they aren’t rated very highly either. Here is my top 5, let me know what yours is too?

5. Ashley Young

Ashley Young has been a huge disappointment. When he signed for Manchester United in a high profile £16 million move from Aston Villa, so much was expected of him. Unfortunately he had a largely underwhelming first season at Old Trafford. He started brilliantly with a couple of assists in his League debut against West Brom and two goals and three assists in the Red Devils’ famous 8-2 win over Arsenal. Since then, though, Young has tallied just one goal and one assist for United. He is very talented, but infuriatingly inconsistent. At the end of last season, he went through a rather deplorable phase of regularly hitting the turf as though he’d suffered a one inch punch from Bruce Lee, which would be all well and good, if he could only stick one in the back of the net.

Ashley Young misses his penalty in the Euro 2012 quarter final shootout against Italy

4. David De Gea

Manchester United paid £17 million for 20 year old David De Gea last summer. Finally, Manchester United had signed a replacement for the legendary Peter Schmeical. Attempts to replace him with the likes of Fabien Barthez and Raimond van der Gouw failed spectacularly. Ok. fine. Edwin van der Sar was a fantastic player for  Man U for 6 seasons, but every Manchester United goalkeeper that plays at Old Trafford will eventually be compared to The Great Dane. David De Gea has time on his hands, but he hasn’t come close to either van der Sar or Schmeical. He is a wonderful shot stopper, but he is nervy when dealing with crosses prefers an extravagant punch to an easy catch which puts his team under unnecessary pressure. He has a lot to prove, especially with the £17 million price tag to live up to.

3. Theo Walcott

Theo Walcott has been overrated since Sven-Goran Eriksson unfortunately thrust him into the limelight by selecting him as a 17-year-old for England’s 2006 World Cup squad. In hindsight it was completely ridiculous. He hadn’t even played in the Premier League. He really struggled to cope with the attention that was thrust on him. Not too easy when you are dubbed the English Thierry Henry. The hat-trick in Croatia propelled Walcott to new levels of adulation, but he’s struggled with consistency ever since then. His most irritating trait is to run the ball out of play without any pressure from the opposition, and his crossing at times is very poor. Walcott with his pace, can be sensational but the good performances are too rare for him to match some of the hype that surrounds him.

2. Gareth Barry

I am not completely sure how Gareth Barry became an England regular. He went through a purple patch that lasted about 4 games under Fabio Capello where people thought he was the English answer to Xavi. Barry was a relatively big fish in a small pond at Aston Villa but at City he is a tiny fish in the biggest of Oceans. I don’t know how well that analogy works, but I am sure you understand what I mean. He is not as good as many make him out to be. Liverpool even tried to ship Xabi Alonso off to Arsenal to accommodate him at one point. Unbelievable. He is a good passer of the ball, but much of it is lateral and makes little impact. He has no distinguishable attribute that separates himself from most other Premier League midfielders, and is now just an older, less talented Jack Wilshere.

1. Gareth Bale

Gareth Bale scores a hat-trick against Inter Milan mugging off Maicon in the process

A hat-trick at the San Siro 2 years ago had people comparing Gareth Bale to Lionel Messi. Let’s just put that into context: Messi scored 50 League goals last season and got 27 assists. Gareth scored 9 with 10 assists. Now I am not seriously suggesting that Gareth Bale or anyone for that matter should be compared with Lionel Messi, bar Cristiano Ronaldo who brings that on himself, but many people in the last couple of seasons have done so. He is still a very good player, but he is nowhere near as good as most make him out to be. Bale took the Premier League and Champions League by storm in 2010-11 season but now the opposition has caught up and Bale has regressed. He has pace, size and all the athleticism you could ask for in a winger but lacks the intricate technical skill required to be elite. His preferred move is to kick the ball 10 yards in front of his opposition number and then to beat them to it. The more experienced and intelligent Premier League defenders have got wise to this keeping him quiet in the big games. It’s a shame that the ageing Maicon didn’t have this inside info otherwise Gareth Bale may not have been top of this list.

The first Wag Wars, comes from the Emirates. Not only have Arsenal lost some key players in the last couple of years, but they have also lost some of the top Wags but here are the best of whats left. Make sure you vote in the poll.

Mikel Arteta’s wife – Lorena Bernal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Theo Walcott’s girlfriend – Melanie Slade

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tomas Rosicky’s wife – Radka Kocurova

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lukas Podolski’s wife – Monika Puchalski

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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