Monthly Archives: June 2015

A closer look at some Premier League additions

After the Premier League has started purging European countries for their talent, here’s a quick look at a few recent additions and what they are likely to bring.

 

Roberto Firmino

Firmino is an exciting prospect to add to the attacking talent at Liverpool.  Source: express.co.uk

Firmino is an exciting prospect to add to the attacking talent at Liverpool. Source: express.co.uk

The 23-year-old Brazillian has always had talent but in the last two seasons he has really blossomed. Fitting perfectly in Hoffenheim’s gung-ho style, Firmino managed seven goals and 10 assists this past season, following on from his 16 goal/12 assists the year before.

Able to play either out wide, behind the striker or even as a false nine, Firmino has an attack-first mind and consistently looks to run at defenders with the ball. He’s curbed his former selfishness, adding an eye for an assist along with his confidence in front of goal.

He’s really been impressing with the Brazil national team recently but he really shone in his final game for Hoffenheim against Hertha Berlin. A sublime assist to set up Anthony Modeste for the first goal, arrowing it over the defence before showing his poaching ability late on, grabbing the winner after the goalkeeper palmed it out to his feet.

It’s a superb signing for Liverpool, considering his age and his ability, especially when you add that he can cover so many positions in the final third. He’s exactly the kind of player they needed to replace Luis Suarez with last summer and should he repeat his exploits from the Bundesliga, he’ll push the Reds much closer to those Champions League places should he stay fit.

 

Christian Fuchs

Cambiasso proved to be a great addition, Fuchs could be another excellent, experienced head to add to the dressing room.  Source: UEFA.com

Cambiasso proved to be a great addition, Fuchs could be another excellent, experienced head to add to the dressing room. Source: UEFA.com

An Austrian international, 29-year-old Christian Fuchs should finally bring some solid stability to Leicester City’s ever-changing left-back conundrum. Having made almost 100 appearances with Schalke 04, he’ll bring another dose of experience to the Foxes’ squad along with a touch of extra class.

Fuchs is good but not spectacular at getting both forward and back, he has a lovely left-foot that can swing in a cross or even curl in a free-kick. He had another decent season in a poor Schalke side, scoring three goals whilst having five assists and even played a few games on the wing when needed.

He showcased his ability on the big occasions too, scoring a volley and creating another in Schalke’s 4-3 win against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu in the Champions League. That kind of experience his difficult for any club to find and they’ll know that in the important matches, Fuchs will certainly turn up.

Richie De Laet never quite impressed enough and Jeffrey Schlupp’s future hopefully lying further forward, Fuchs is a really good addition on a free transfer. He should form a stronger defensive line that’ll help Leicester not need such an amazing escape this upcoming season.

 

Juanmi

Juanmi could be very good but will need time to settle in.  Source: Marca

Juanmi could be very good but will need time to settle in. Source: Marca

Bought for around £5 million by Southampton, Juanmi has had a spectacular rise over the past 12 months. The Malaga starlet scored eight goals in 34 appearances last season, which might sound poultry for a club looking at European football in the Saints, but the 22-year-old has shown on a number of occasions that he’s got ability,

To score at both the Bernabeu and the Camp Nou in one season is some feat and the youngster also received a call-up to the Spanish national team. He’s quick, good with the ball at his feet and is surprisingly good in the air despite his 5″7 frame.

There are plenty of worries, he tends to score goals in gluts and would rather play next to or behind another striker than lead the line. He’s not strong enough to out-muscle defenders but will cause them problems in behind, which means he could be used out wide more often than up top, despite Ronald Koeman’s men needing an out-and-out forward to compete with Graziano Pelle.

He will need a bit of time to adapt, so don’t expect fireworks early on. Juanmi will most likely be used sparingly this season to adapt unless there’s an injury crisis but if you look at Malaga fan’s reaction to the loss, Southampton fans should have a lot to look forward to in the future.

 

Joselu

Joselu is a boom-or-bust pick-up but after Hughes' last two transfers of that nature in Bojan and Diouf, he could be on to a winner.  Source: Bild

Joselu is a boom-or-bust pick-up but after Hughes’ last two transfers of that nature in Bojan and Diouf, he could be on to a winner. Source: Bild

The former Real Madrid man has signed for Stoke City for a deal believed to be around £5.75 million, a number balked at by many. Joselu has had a few solid seasons in the Bundesliga with Eintracht Frankfurt and Hannover 96 but he’s never really set the world alight.

The 25-year-old stands at 6″3 and is incredibly strong in the air, an asset that Stoke teams in the past have valued highly. However, he’s also very good with the ball to feet, much like Hughes’ style, and it’s that added quality that’s convinced the Potters to shell out the money.

With 14 goals whilst on loan at Frankfurt in 33 games and 10 in 32 at Hannover last season, he’s shown some quality in front of goal but at times can be wasteful with good opportunities. His three assists is a positive too, especially if Bojan or Diouf is working off him, and he could be a solid addition to the Stoke squad.

In the end, this is a solid signing that really could go either way. Should he show the quality that made Real Madrid sign him in the past, he’ll be a steal but at the same time it’s just as likely that he’ll not quite add the quality they need.

 

Shinji Okazaki

Okazaki could be a real hit and will be desperate to impress as soon as possible.  Source: Bleacher Report

Okazaki could be a real hit and will be desperate to impress as soon as possible. Source: Bleacher Report

Leicester City really struggled for a prolific forward last season and by signing 29-year-old Japanese international Shinji Okazaki, they should call off the search. The former Mainz man is the most prolific active Japanese footballer with 43 goals for his national side but until recently, he’s not been prolific at club level.

Okazaki joined Stuttgart back in 2011 and managed just 10 goals in 63 appearances, of which most came from the bench, but he earned a move to Mainz in 2013 that really revitilised his career. His first season was excellent, 15 goals in 33 Bundesliga games really showed how good he can be on his day.

He didn’t disappoint too much last season, 12 goals in 32 games was a solid return and Okazaki will be a player that Leicester City fans will love. He’s an exceptionally hard worker, always looking to be that poacher in the six yard box and moving constantly, much to the annoyance of defenders.

It’s exactly the kind of player they needed, someone who wouldn’t be static when going forward and someone who can find and exploit space. He’s a consistent 10-15 goals now he’s reached his peak and should he be employed the same way by the Foxes, he’ll be a very welcome addition.

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Iguodala reminding us that defence is king

These three helped them in the regular season, but Iguodala's defence helped them win it all.  Source: resetsanfrancisco.org

These three helped them in the regular season, but Iguodala’s defence helped them win it all.
Source: resetsanfrancisco.org

Defence wins championships. It’s a sentence that’s repeated in American Football regularly and it’s shown to be the case on almost every occasion. That also translates well to the NBA and despite the Golden State Warriors’ shoot-happy offence, it’s their defence that won them the Larry O’Brien trophy.

The Warriors offensive prowess is very hard to ignore and took centre stage throughout the entire regular season. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the Splash Brothers as they are affectionately known, are deadly from three-point range and can top 40 points on any night if given the chance.

Curry wasn’t just voted as the league’s MVP simply because he’s dead-eye from beyond the arc, he has probably the best handle of the basketball in the NBA and create assists that boggle the mind even whilst watching replays. He’s a true superstar, adding Thompson and the vastly improved Draymond Green to that mix, the Warriors are a potent threat.

However, they stalled against a under-powered Cleveland Cavaliers who lost two of their best three players. Granted, they still possessed the best player in the world but they also missed another key contributor in Anderson Varejao.

Iggy sacrificed his starting role for the better of the team but that didn't stop him from being a key component.  Source: pac12.com

Iggy sacrificed his starting role for the better of the team but that didn’t stop him from being a key component. Source: pac12.com

Many saw the Finals as a cake-walk as soon as Kyrie Irving limped out of Game 1 but LeBron James went up another gear. Role players like Matthew Dellavadova and Timofey Mosgov gave everything and it surprised the Warrior, who lost Game 2 at home and then tumbled 2-1 behind. It was a riddle that Golden State were struggling to overcome.

Then, Steve Kerr made a bold move. Out came Andrew Bogut from the starting line-up, in slotted Andre Iguodala to stop the freight train that was becoming LeBron James. It would have old-school fans turning in their graves, a smaller line-up would have been scariligious to some but oddly enough, it absolutely worked.

It didn’t completely stop LeBron, he still racked up plenty of points but more often than not, Iguodala made him think for a moment longer than before. It cause Cavs coach David Blatt to try and find an answer, like removing Mosgov almost entirely from Game 5 and it failed.

LeBron was special but not enough and was very gracious in defeat.  Source: Sky Sports

LeBron was special but not enough and was very gracious in defeat. Source: Sky Sports

Not only that, Iggy brought a bit of offence to a team that was stagnating and breaking them out of that funk got them the win. Daring to change something, especially to have more of a focus on defence, was absolutely vital and it was even evident in last year’s Finals when Kawai Leonard won the Finals MVP by stopping LeBron and producing on the other end.

There’s certainly a case that had the Cavaliers been fully fit, this would have been a different series. They could have even combated the Warriors small line-up with a huge line-up of LeBron, Kevin Love, Tristain Thompson, Varejao and Mosgov, which would have been an insane match-up.

However, the realisation that defence is key is clear in the NBA once again and a lot of the credit should go to Coach Kerr. No matter how dangerous the Warriors are on offence, it’s their defence that pulled them through the mire and got them their championship.

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England’s selection headaches

Hodgson needs to start sticking to a line-up or they'll come unstuck against better teams.  Source: The Guardian

Hodgson needs to start sticking to a line-up or they’ll come unstuck against better teams. Source: The Guardian

Another Euro 2016 qualifier, another win. It’s hard to argue that Roy Hodgson isn’t doing a good job but at the same time, there’s still a lingering headache with fans with his incoherent team selection.

It began with the starting eleven, with Phil Jones starting at right-back instead of the natural full-back Nathaniel Clyne. Despite Jones having a few good games in the position, especially at club level, it’s not a natural fit and common sense would suggest that when you have someone of Clyne’s ability at your disposal, it makes the choice even more suspect.

Then after Jones was removed due to injury at half-time, Hodgson decided to move Jordan Henderson into the back four and bring on Adam Lallana. It’s an attacking change and England needed more impetuous after going behind, it still didn’t make much sense to weaken the middle of the park just to add another dimension in the final third.

Can people stop playing Phil Jones at right-back, please?  Source: The FA

Can people stop playing Phil Jones at right-back, please? Source: The FA

That’s not a slight on Lallana, who did make a difference, or Henderson, who did a capable job, but it only got more absurd when Clyne finally came on just after Slovenia’s equaliser. It almost felt like a token appearance, five minutes isn’t enough time to really impact the game and questions have to be asked about how England set up.

It’s not just the right-back position that was at fault, how Andros Townsend was chosen over Theo Walcott will boggle the mind for days. Townsend, who can’t get a game for Tottenham Hotspurs, has had a few decent performances for England which surely justifies his place in Hodgson’s mind over the in-form, FA Cup winning Theo Walcott.

If England are to take anything out of the game, it’s that they need more tactical flexibility and they need to start picking a consistent defensive line-up. Wayne Rooney had a pretty poor game but at the same time, all too often he was the only player in the box at any given time and that needed to change.

Walcott, even in a rich vein of form at the end of the season, can't get a look in.  Source: The Guardian

Walcott, even in a rich vein of form at the end of the season, can’t get a look in. Source: The Guardian

Adding Lallana was better, he tried to fill in the gap behind him along with Jack Wilshire but Townsend provided no width on the right, coming too far inside and staying out of the box. With Michael Carrick injured and no other quality options in his absence, Hodgson needs to be confident enough to play a 4-2-3-1 so that there are more choices for playmakers in the final third.

The defence also needs solidifying as his chop-changing style isn’t helping anyone. Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill is probably the ideal match-up, both because of age and style, but they need to play together regularly. He also can’t keep switching who’s at left-back, Kieran Gibbs was poor on the second goal and Ryan Bertrand didn’t do too much to be dropped so he needs to choose a solid line-up at the back.

Having pretty much qualified for Euro 2016 with a win, Hodgson now needs to use the games in the Autumn and next year to solidify the team, add the flexibility and make sure they’ll be ready against quality opposition. The mistakes made here will be severely punished by bigger teams and rather than wasting the time to test out players, Hodgson needs to use the valuable time the team have together to make them a better outfit ready for tournament football.

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Footballers are humans, too

Sterling's dismal performance against the Republic of  Ireland summed up his last three months.  Source: Sky Sports

Sterling’s dismal performance against the Republic of Ireland summed up his last three months. Source: Sky Sports

It’s a strange thing to say but what sometimes seems to be lost in the modern day reporting an even discussion in football is that the names we talk about are human beings. We talk about transfers, contract situations and even a player’s form almost as if there can’t be external issues off the field of play that could be pulling them away.

This has come up recently with Raheem Sterling, who has even been vocal in his disappointment that his contract talks with Liverpool have come out. Unsurprisngly, his form declined at the end of the season and whilst some would point to fatigue, which could also be a factor, it’s clear from numerous performances that his trademark swagger has left him.It was what made him so distinctive and exciting, he showed no fear and looking at WhoScored’s ratings you can see the dip he’s gone through.

Up until his two-assist performance in the 2-1 win against Manchester City at the start of March, he’d put in a string of excellent performances and whilst his form was erratic at times, he’d regularly hit over 7.5 on their scale. After that point, he made just one more goal and assist, scoring over 7.5 twice in the final 14 games whilst finishing below 7 in all of his last seven games.

Di Maria's concern for his family's well-being hindered his form.  Source: Sky Sports

Di Maria’s concern for his family’s well-being hindered his form. Source: Sky Sports

It’s clear from that whilst the actual situation with his contract isn’t affecting his play, the ire from the wider public that he’s received and the increased attention has. It’s a process he’ll certainly learn from and will likely grow a thicker skin, it’s interesting to see how the psyche can change a player’s form on the field.

It’s not just Sterling that’s been affected, Angel Di Maria has also had a pretty poor season for his lofty expectations and it’s almost obvious that the break-in at his home had a detrimental on his on-field exploits.

He would give the ball away, try to do a little too much and his own frustration at his inability to rediscover his form led to the petulance seen during the FA Cup quarter-final against Arsenal where he was sent off. Sometimes it’s just a break that a player needs to find his feet again and now the season is over, hopefully both can return to their former glories.

De Gea's happiness is forthright, no amount of Manchester United's money will change that.  Source: Express

De Gea’s happiness is forthright, no amount of Manchester United’s money will change that. Source: Express

However, we should also take a player’s off-the-field happiness into consideration during transfers too. Some don’t join clubs because they don’t fancy the area, because they don’t want to learn a new language or they want to leave because it’ll make their lives a little easier.

A perfect example is David De Gea, who looks almost certain to join Real Madrid not simply because it’s a huge club but because it’s a lot easier on his family. His girlfriend much prefers Spain, his family hasn’t got to travel as far (especially with his father’s fear of flying)  and that’s a really big factor in a player’s decision, sometimes even more so than money.

Sometimes we lose a little bit of thinking, analysing numbers on a screen and thinking of players much like they are within the realms of FIFA 15 of Football Manager but after all, they aren’t far removed from ourselves. It’s almost impossible to see the roadblocks in someone’s mind and we never will but it’s something that teams, players and even the media will get better with the more we learn.

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