Category Archives: European Football

What will Pep Guardiola bring to Manchester City?

Pep Guardiola will finally come to England next season. Source: The Sun

Pep Guardiola will finally come to England next season. Source: The Sun

I am going to bookmark this piece with the fact that, for all intents and purpose, the deal bringing Pep Guardiola to Manchester City was arranged a reasonable while ago. My previous piece speculating where he could go mentioned that City was his most likely destination and in the end, it seems like no one else stood a chance.

In many ways, from a completely objective and unbiased point of view, the blue side of Manchester was on paper the best choice he could make. They’ve been desperate to secure his services since 2012, as detailed in yesterday’s press release and have essentially been setting up the club ready for his potential arrival in the future.

They brought in the likes of Txiki Begiristain, they poured a lot of money into improving the academy to the point of being some of the best facilities not just in England but in all of Europe. That’s even without the well established squad full of international footballers, a slowly growing reputation across the globe and the financial clout to compete with anyone in the transfer market for the very best player.

This, City's youth academy, is one of the main reasons Pep is joining the Blues.  Source: Manchester Evening News

This, City’s youth academy, is one of the main reasons Pep is joining the Blues. Source: Manchester Evening News

Transfers will be his first port of call and while there will be some crazy names linked with the club, it’s more likely to be realistic. He may target some interesting young talent in England, be on guard Tottenham fans, and while there will be huge Lionel Messi and Neymar rumours, they are enormously unlikely because of their price tags.

As for people leaving, he’ll gleefully clear some of the deadwood and some will simply not fit his style. Yaya Toure is almost guaranteed to go, Wilfred Bony is another likely to find the exit but expect a few surprises, he may get something extra out of Fabien Delph.

His tactical style will be a little different to what some are used to, he does have a possesion based style but the high pressing essentially keeps the ball in the opponents’ half and causes swift but short counters. It’s something City have looked to copy in the past but to get the man that will help them cleverly break down teams that sit back should give them an extra couple of wins a year at least.

Could Yaya Toure be on the move this summer now?  Source: goal.com

Could Yaya Toure be on the move this summer now? Source: goal.com

The club really hope he brings the culture of youth to the team and breeds through the next level of world class talent rather than purchasing them from others. They hope that the next Class of ’92 or much like the conveyor belt at La Masia, they can grow on their own and sustain success with extra players from the transfer windows.

Pep calling this a great challenge is a bit of an odd statement, he literally couldn’t ask for better circumstances to be successful. However, others have blown it at big clubs and with his kind of record and respect, there should be no doubt that he can bring them silverware.

City believe Pep is the final piece to their puzzle, that he will not only bring success but bring the culture to the club that should set them in good stead once he leaves. The Spaniard has guaranteed that everywhere he’s been, to go to England and really put a club on the world map permanently might be his greatest achievement yet.

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When is the perfect time to sack a manager?

Benitez never had his feet under the desk.  Source: Bleacher Report

Benitez never had his feet under the desk. Source: Bleacher Report

With the sacking of Rafa Benitez yesterday, it seems like there is no better time to look at when it is the right time to dismiss a manager of a football club.

For starters, it should be a difficult decision not done on a whim. Several disappointing results can sting but things can change dramatically in two months’ time and snap decisions have more often than not had pretty dire consequences.

At the same time, when problems arise that may not be fixable, you cannot fear pulling the trigger when change is needed. Even if it’s not seen on the outside or there is an opportunity to get someone better, clubs shouldn’t fear in making a short-term negative decision for a long-term gain.

In the case of Benitez at Real Madrid, it seemed like a marriage doomed to fail from the start. Taking over from a hugely popular coach in Carlo Ancelotti and seen as a poor choice by the fans, the former Liverpool boss was always walking on a tightrope from the minute he walked through the door.

He didn’t seem to have full control of the team, his style clashed with the players at his disposal and people called for his head at the first sign of trouble. Now, with no more options available, Zinedine Zidane takes control much sooner than expected and is thrown right into the deep end.

Van Gaal is on thin ice but if he turns things around, other clubs should take notice.  Source: The Telegraph

Van Gaal is on thin ice but if he turns things around, other clubs should take notice. Source: The Telegraph

Timing a firing can be so difficult, when the pressure to get results is high but the space to bring in new ideas that can work so limited. Without a break like the rest of Europe, where it seems like a logical time to change things, managers have to simplify things before gradually adding their own spin, which takes too much time.

Take a look at Chelsea sacking Jose Mourinho, who had clearly lost the effort of his team and could not find a way to fix things but was then sacked just before the hectic Christmas period. Whether it was right or wrong, Guus Hiddink had little time to fix things and only now does it seem like they are clicking into gear under the Dutchman.

The one to watch will be the rest of Louis van Gaal’s reign at Manchester United, when many other managers would have been dismissed immediately after a fourth loss and a dismal display against Norwich City on Boxing Day.

They may have picked up a few points since then and could be back on the up, if he recovers and creates any kind of success this season or even possibly next season, it may show that sticking by someone might be the best option.

Short-sightedness tends to come with those at the bottom, as we have seen with constant Sunderland managers over the past few years but without a plan in place, teams sink. Newcastle almost fell after not having a plan after Alan Pardew and Norwich took too long to swing the axe on Chris Hughton a few years ago, giving the job to a man who brought them down and was sacked six months later.

Sherwood is prime example of a team rushing a decision without a plan.  Source: The Telegraph

Sherwood is prime example of a team rushing a decision without a plan. Source: The Telegraph

Another example of that poor forward-thinking was the hiring of Tim Sherwood, an unproven manager that ended up saving Aston Villa on the virtue that other teams were worse. He then had a pretty poor summer, the team was not tactically prepared and now Remi Garde is running around in January to fix all the problems he created.

Some sackings felt needless, such as when Mauricio Pochettino took over at Southampton or when Quique Sanchez Flores became the Watford manager, but both have shown why that decision was made. They both had plans, they have a tactical nous that brings the team an identity they can follow and in the long run, both have worked very well.

In the end, long-term ideals need to take much more of a prominent standpoint over possible short-sighted advantages. Bringing someone in to save the club does not mean that same man can take you forward, therefore the thinking has to be that he can deliver for many years rather than for just this season, as it usually leaves a club in a mess.

There may never be the “right” time to sack a manager. The off-season would be much easier, much like in other sports, but with the risk of relegation or not succeeding so high, owners feel compelled to do something as soon as they spot a problem.

What needs to happen is for them to get it right in the first place, a man who will add structure to the entire organisation and build rather than a fire-fighter because, in the long run, that short-term thinking always lands clubs in trouble.

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A look at Pep Guadriola’s Premier League options

Pep Guardiola, a wanted man.  Source: The Sun

Pep Guardiola, a wanted man. Source: The Sun

On Sunday, Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola revealed that he will be leaving Bayern Munich at the end of his contract, which also happens to be the end of the season. There has been numerous links to the Premier League in the past and with it looking increasingly likely that he is about to move, here’s a look into some of his future options.

Chelsea

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Chelsea could certainly be a real option of Pep, to follow in his rival’s footsteps. Souce: NBC Sport

Starting with the only team that currently has a managerial vacancy, Chelsea would look like the ideal opportunity for Guardiola.

The positives are that it’s a club who have won recently, they have plenty of interesting youth players that he may want to intergrate in to his style and they already have a few of his former players in their ranks. The likes of Cesc Fabregas and Pedro will certainly be pulling him towards London

Their style will not have to change too much and with players like Oscar at the club, it should be relatively simple to implement his ideas. Getting the best out of the likes of Eden Hazard should not be a tricky task, getting the best again out of Diego Costa in his system may be another challenge entirely.

The worry for him might be the perceived ‘player power’ at Chelsea and that despite his incredible tactical nous, his training methods of getting everything out of players could wear thin on some. If it brings plenty of success, then they will be quietened quickly and the hope will be there that he has plenty of allies in that dressing room already.

Although, even that did not save Jose Mourinho. And be prepared for more anger at the medical staff if he hits any injury curses like he has at Bayern.

 

Manchester City

A deal to manage City may already have been agreed.  Source: zeenews.india.com

A deal to manage City may already have been agreed. Source: zeenews.india.com

Manchester City are the club that has the Spaniard has been linked with the most and for good reason, the Citizens clearly see him as their final cornerstone in making them win it all in Europe.

The club have made sure they have laid out their best plans, with a revolutionary youth setup ready to go and former Barcelona man Txiki Begiristain in there as director of football. Pep would be their centre-piece, where they would finally get the recognition in Europe they feel they deserve.

Implementing his ideas should not be too different either, with so many interesting attacking players that suit how he wants to play. His issue will be shoring up the defence, something that he hasn’t nessasarily had to do before but shouldn’t be put beyond him.

The main issue is there is already a man there but also whether it’s the right fit for him. It certainly looks like it should and everything is in place, with the potential to make yourself a legend of a ever-growing club, but he has so far taken control of teams with a history of longevity.

City have the added factor of they already have a decent manager, who can still win a few things this season. If he manages the league, gets far in the Champions League and possibly wins a domestic trophy, it will be harsh to kick Manuel Pellegrini to the curb.

However, with reports that he has already signed a deal and combine that with Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge stating he already knows his next move, this looks like his most likely destination.

 

Manchester United

Manchester United would be the hardest job for Guardiola, with assembly needed.  Source: The Standard

Manchester United would be the hardest job for Guardiola, with assembly needed. Source: The Standard

A relatively attractive post for any manager in the world, would Guardiola want to oversee a still growing team?

The pluses is he will add to what Louis van Gaal started in a possession and defensive standpoint. Adding his high-pressing and work rate to that should help lift what is still a talented United squad to the next level, along with plenty of young players he can mould.

This would also be reportedly the job he ideally wants, the challenge of being the first to really succeed after Sir Alex Ferguson and even following a high profile manager in Van Gaal. Again, that’s just reported so take with a huge grain of salt and he’s certain to be proud of managing any of the clubs mentioned.

The issue will arise from the fact that this would be the first club he is rebuilding a little rather than advancing or continuing recent success. That’s not to say United are particularly poor squad or that none of their players have won things in the past, it’s more that this may require a little more time than the others to improve.

The other is from the fact that Van Gaal is still there and could likely still be there in the summer. It could even be the case that he’s immediately replaced by Jose Mourinho but given that Pep has already come out to say he is leaving Bayern, United’s movements in the next few weeks should suggest their likelihood in getting him in.

 

Arsenal

Arsenal would be an unlikely yet very intriguing move.  Source: IB Times

Arsenal would be an unlikely yet very intriguing move. Source: IB Times

The most unlikely candidates but potentially the most intriguing, it’s not hard to imagine Pep being incredibly interested in the manager’s job at the Emirates if it became available.

They absolutely fit his style, probably better than any of the other clubs. They have an emphasis on possession, they have some quick, creative players that work well in the final third and that he can get to press the ball.

It’s another that he’s reportedly very interested in, being the successor to a great manager and it’s another club with recent successes (although only in the FA Cup) that he likes to build on as well as an established history within the English game.

The obvious and major issue is that it’s highly unlikely that Arsene Wenger will leave or retire this season. He’s a superb manager that could win a few things this year again and the tiny hope might be that he wants to go out on top should he win the title.

He would also need to find a more suitable defensive midfielder, as he has with Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso/Philip Lahm in the past. He needs someone to hold and to play neatly, along with the potential to split the defence and he won’t even get that from Francis Coquelin, despite his recent quality displays.

 

Overall, Pep is a great manager that will likely improve anyone he goes to. He speaks great English, so communication will not be an issue and he’s likely to bring entertaining football once he gets to grips with things.

My advice to any fans of a club that get him is trust him. He may slightly infuriate, like playing the best full-back in the world in central midfield (even if it works), but he brings a balance and a style that can be altered to create continued success if and once he leaves.

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The striking position changed because of wingers, not Drogba

Bellamy made a good point, but the stats here back up the argument that advanced wingers made more of an impact on the frontman.  Source: The Mirror

Bellamy made a good point, but the stats here back up the argument that advanced wingers made more of an impact on the frontman. Source: The Mirror

On Monday Night Football, guest analyst Craig Bellamy correctly pointed out about how Didier Drogba had changed the striker’s position forever.

Everyone tends to play the one up top now, he will tend to be a combination of height, strength and power with a hopeful bonus of speed that crops up in some of the younger players. It works for some teams, it has shifted the quicker players out wide and has dynamically changed how teams play.

However, I would like to argue the point that teams are moving forwards with this model and the 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 style because of the changes in how wide men play, rather than how the front man has morphed into a physical behemoth.

Let us start where they did on Monday night, back in the 2004-05 season when Drogba first came to Stamford Bridge. In that season, he scored 10 goals in 26 league appearances with eight coming off the bench as he split time with Eidur Gudjohnsen, who got 12 in 37.

They are by no means measly goal totals, especially for his first season in English football, but once you start seeing where the other goals came from, the picture becomes a little more clear.

Players like Robben, who drift inside rather than run down the wing, have really changed the game.  Source: goal.com

Players like Robben, who drift inside rather than run down the wing, have really changed the game. Source: goal.com

Frank Lampard led all goalscorers with 13 goals. Some may think that because he’s a midfielder that it doesn’t show how wingers influenced the games but taking out some of his individual finishes, the “classic” Lampard goal comes from a cutback as he ghosts into the edge of the box.

A type of ball, usually, played by a wide man getting to the byline and creating the chance.

In that record title-winning season, they essentially rotated three wingers when they were fit, Arjen Robben, Joe Cole and Damien Duff. They scored seven, eight and six goal respectively, very healthy totals from wingers that were a little different from what we were accustomed to in a 4-4-2.

They enjoyed cutting inside a little more, they enjoyed creating the space in behind from advanced positions rather than taking players on (although they certainly did that too). That was the original role of the second forward but with players doing it on either wing as they were given less defensive responsibility that they would have had in the former in-vogue formation.

The main striker had to be morphed into a target man, much like they discussed on Monday Night Football, to accomodate those buzzing around him in those areas. However, it was still those quick wingers that changed that, Drogba was just the ideal forward man that could perform that role and score goals.

The growth of the defensive midfielder has also helped mould that. A central player willing to stay deep and distribute to those around him that are better in advanced areas allowed wingers to be covered when they ventured forward, sometimes with a box-to-box midfielder who would do all the running or even a second DM in a 4-2-3-1.

These three in particular, who are rather prolific, shows how the forward does not need to be a target man and how wingers as almost extra strikers has changed the game.  Source: itv.com

These three in particular, who are rather prolific, shows how the forward does not need to be a target man and how wingers as almost extra strikers has changed the game. Source: itv.com

It also opened the role of the advanced playmaker, adapted to the number 10 role for some teams, who would get you those vast amount of goals that the second, quicker striker used to pick up.  Lampard scored 20 goals in the 2005-06 season as Chelsea won the title again, with Drogba only beginning to pick up steam as their top scorer the season they finished second.

That’s not to say Drogba didn’t change things with his incredible play but pacey strikers still have a role. Look at the successes of Sergio Aguero, Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann, who do have a decent amount of strength for their size, but also have advanced wingers that support them much like bigger forwards do.

This is never to say that 4-4-2 is dead, it’s not too long ago when it was used regularly by Sir Alex Ferguson when he could and there are always reasons to experiment with what works best with the players at your disposal.

In fact, the 4-3-3’s we see are always adapted from that 4-4-2, shifting some of the faster forwards out wide and giving a playmaker more freedom by adding a shield.

That quicker striker no longer has to face that strong, powerful defender that can occasionally bully him in matches, he gets to face the also pacey full-back but he can cut inside and use the runs in behind. That’s where it has significantly changed, as wingers are much more advanced and look to be played in behind.

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Delph, Benteke and the Villa rebuild to come

Benteke's move was inevitable, the money in return should help Villa move forward.  Source: The Telegraph

Benteke’s move was inevitable, the money in return should help Villa move forward. Source: The Telegraph

It’s been a busy week for Aston Villa and Tim Sherwood. They’ve added a fair amount but ended up losing two vital players, yet they have time to not be cannon fodder for yet another season.

Starting off with Fabien Delph, who I praised last week for turning down Manchester City, reversing his reversed decision. He leaves a club he told just a week ago he was proud to lead, going to a club that will guarantee him no more than 20 games should no-one get injured and whilst he did help Villa get a bit of money for his departure, it was still a very strange move.

It’s a key year for Delph, should he want to go to Euro 2016, and he now has to prove that all the hassle he’s created this summer was worth it. Otherwise, he’ll end up as another underutilised English talent in the blue side of Manchester.

Look, I was right, this does look awkward now..  Source: Aston Villa Club Website

Look, I was right, this does look awkward now.. Source: Aston Villa Club Website

Then came the news last night of the inevitable departure of Christian Benteke. Whilst he had a real renaissance this season, everyone knew the Belgian would eventually move on and to get a sizeable fee from Liverpool makes this look like great business.

Yes, Benteke helped fire Aston Villa up the league late last season but with the money from his transfer, Villa will be able to strengthen in a number of positions. If they want to avoid the annual debacle they have become, they need to make moves all over the pitch in order to rebuild.

They started that with two signings from Ligue 1 in Jordan Amavi and Idrissi Gueye. The latter is a talented midfielder, able to hold and play as a box-to-box player that will add extra dynamism to the middle of the park, especially after Delph’s departure.

Amavi is a terrific signing for Villa and could be a star.  Source: GFFN

Amavi is a terrific signing for Villa and could be a star. Source: GFFN

The latter should be seen as an incredible coup, Amavi is a very highly regarded talent in French football and had a superb season in Ligue 1 last year. Bigger teams were in for the young left-back, including the likes of Lyon, and he could even push for a place in France’s Euro 2016 squad, it could be the best piece of business of the summer.

Adding that mix to the intriguing talent they already have in the likes of Jack Grealish and other players they’ve brought through the door in Scott Sinclair and Micah Richards, Villa are an intriguing team going into the new season.

They have the money to improve now, although teams know they have the money to spend but there is talent out there for them to poach. With other mid-table sides making considerable moves, Villa need to find a few more pieces or the good moves they’ve made this summer will be for naught.

And for heaven’s sake, don’t sign Emmanuel Adebayor.

England’s Women put their game on the map

It ended in tears but the Lionesses should come home with pride.  Source: The Independent

It ended in tears but the Lionesses should come home with pride. Source: The Independent

Thursday morning’s result was a real gut-punch after such a superhuman effort but England has every right to be proud of the Lionesses’ performance over the whole tournament. They came in without much fan-fare, expected to disappoint but instead they won the hearts of a nation and put the Women’s rightfully in the spotlight.

Going back to the European Championships two years ago, England were dumped out of the group stages with a lot of embarrassment. Out went a lot of the old guard, including Hope Powell, and the remodel of the team started.

Heading into the tournament in Canada, this England team wasn’t under a great deal of pressure and weren’t expected to go too far. In fact, after their opening loss to France, some predicted that they’d be coming home early.

How wrong they would be.

Lucy Bronze has been excellent and is nominated for the Golden Ball award.  Source: The Guardian

Lucy Bronze has been excellent and is nominated for the Golden Ball award. Source: The Guardian

Two wins against Mexico and Colombia saw them through to face Norway, a challenge that to some could have been insurmountable. The Lionesses hadn’t won a knockout game in World Cup history but they snapped their duck in style, winning 2-1 and heading to Vancouver to take on the hosts Canada.

Many thought this would be the stopping point but no, a strong first 20 minutes blew Canada away and despite having to cling on in the end, England made the semis. They had an incredibly strong showing against the reigning champions Japan but the football gods are cruel.

Despite being on top, especially in a 20-minute period at the start of the second half, a freak own-goal in the final moments ended their final hopes. They beat all expectations, putting in an excellent display against a side many predicted would steamroll them, and they’ll return home after the third-placed playoff as heroines.

Mark Sampson has done a superb job in charge of the Women's national side.  Source: The Guardian

Mark Sampson has done a superb job in charge of the Women’s national side. Source: The Guardian

What was really great to see was how this England team really encapsulated what English fans love to see. They worked hard, they pressed the ball in an attempt to suffocate the opponent and they weren’t afraid to put themselves about and go in where it would hurt.

It was a full-blooded display, especially in the knockout rounds, where sheer enthusiasm and team spirit elevated them to levels even they may not have expected to reach. That’s what captured a nation that barely noticed them before the tournament and now will warmly embrace them once they step off the plane next week.

Credit has to go to the WSL too for laying the foundations but the national side have laid that first brick in putting themselves and the women’s game into this countries subconscious. Hopefully there will be a knock-on effect from this, hopefully there will be less of the constant comparisons to the male sides and that a new generation of girls will be inspired to pick up the sport too.

If anything, it should bring some more supporters to the excellent, and very cheap, WSL. I’m certainly invested in going to watch the Notts County Ladies, a ticket is just £6 for adults and I hope others will follow suit.

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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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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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Converting full-backs into wing-backs

Neville and Carragher started an interesting debate this week that will continue for some time.  Source: Sky Sports

Neville and Carragher started an interesting debate this week that will continue for some time. Source: Sky Sports

On the first Monday Night Football of the season, Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher had a very interesting discussion on using full-backs as wing-backs. Neville argued the fitness aspect is completely different playing at wing-back rather than full-back, whereas Carragher argued the modern full-back has enough attacking intent to fit into the role nicely.

Oddly enough, in different ways, they are both right.

In the 3-5-2 system that they are discussing, wing-backs have different expectations depending on the score and the opposition. In a game they think they will win comfortably, the wing-backs will join in at pretty much any attacking opportunity and neglect part of their defending duty. Against a stronger team or a game they are winning, they might sit slightly further back in a more traditional full-back role and whilst they will still get forward, they may cross from deep so not to compromise their defensive positioning.

Taking Neville’s point, you do need that extra fitness to fill the role. It would be incredibly taxing for a player to track all the way up the field and back, regardless of where they used to play it’s an extra effort than they would be used to. A former full-back wouldn’t have ran up to join his winger at each attack and vice-versa, an ex-winger wouldn’t always track all the way back.

Dani Alves is a perfect example of a player that has the fitness to play wing-back.  Source: FC Barcelona

Dani Alves is a perfect example of a player that has the fitness to play wing-back. Source: FC Barcelona

The best of full-backs, players like Philipp Lahm would never commit to every attack and often would simply jog up the field to add an extra option. That’s different to what would be expected of a wing-back, who would need to be in an advanced position quickly to help add more width to the side.

However, taking Carragher’s point, a lot more modern full-backs get forward with alarming consistency. Look at players like Marcelo, Dani Alves and David Alaba, players regularly found in those attacking areas to cross the ball, go past their winger or even score the odd goal.

It’s becoming much more common to see them like that, despite their obvious defensive issues due to the space they leave, but that would be covered by a defender in the 3-5-2 formation. The best example of a player with all the right characteristics is Serge Aurier, ability to get back and forth without being a liability at either end.

Glenn Hoddle has been brought to QPR to help implement the 3-5-2 system.  Source: Daily Mirror

Glenn Hoddle has been brought to QPR to help implement the 3-5-2 system. Source: Daily Mirror

The new in-vogue formation for the Premier League will expand the tactical talk over the next few months which will be entertaining but it’s always good to see something different. Whilst it can always switch to 4-3-3 in a pinch, it’s interesting to see managers playing to their players strengths instead of what they feel works best.

In the case of the full-backs and wing-backs, you will need that extra fitness but many will be at least a little adjusted due to the new role of full-backs in the modern game. What will be more interesting is whether the formation will be a success, with clubs from each end of the table employing it and whether some will keep it for the future.

We might not get better than Howard Webb

Howard Webb was an excellent referee (and it's not because I'm a Manchester United fan)  Source: The Guardian

Howard Webb was an excellent referee (and it’s not because I’m a Manchester United fan) Source: The Guardian

Howard Webb will be remembered by some as a Manchester United-biased, power-hungry referee that was just as bad as every other referee that’s ever donned the black uniform. However, Webb should be remembered as one of the finest referees this country, or even possibly the world, has ever produced and a benchmark for any other young referees coming through the system to strive for.

Every referee makes mistakes, there isn’t a perfect referee but what you look for is consistency, good performances on a regular basis and on occasion, for you to barely realise there is someone refereeing the game.

Webb opitimised that mantra, many before the game might have muttered “Oh, Howard Webb’s in charge? Here we bloody go” but then by the end of the game wouldn’t have mentioned his name once. For some odd reason, his name was labelled with poor displays and it seemed different to what others within the game felt about how he handled the big occasion. He also, contrary to popular belief, was in charge of games that gave Manchester City the most amount of wins as well as Arsenal averaging more points in the last five years in games refereed by Howard Webb than the Red Devils.

Webb performed better in the World Cup Final than some will give credit for.  Source: The Guardian

Webb performed better in the World Cup Final than some will give credit for. Source: The Guardian

He was regularly called up to the biggest games and delivered. In the Premier League and Champions League, he rarely had a bad game and that was optimised by his performance in the 2010 Champions League Final where he almost went by unnoticed. Even in the World Cup Final, where in some quarters he was criticised for not controlling the Dutch earlier, it was felt that he gave the players a fair chance and although he missed a certain red on Nigel de Jong, overall he still managed the game well.

He goes on to a newly created role that will help explain refereeing decisions to the wider public so that there is more of a connection with the referees and the viewing fans. It’s a great idea, which Webb is very passionate about and should it go well it could bring a little more respect towards the referees and the difficult jobs they face.

In his 25 years in the role, Howard Webb reached the very top of the game. He took charge in both a Champions League final and World Cup final in the same year back in 2010 whilst being part of UEFA and FIFA tournaments for the past nine years. Not only that, he won an MBE from the Queen in 2011 for his services to football and regularly spent time with Sheffield Hallam University, helping their journalism students with interviews and refereeing the annual varsity game.

Not many players even have those accolades (ignoring the Hallam one, it’s good but it’s not quite up there), so it’s certainly something he can irritate his grandchildren with for the rest of his days. May Webb retire in relative peace, his new role with PGMOL will keep him busy but nevertheless, we should thank him for the excellence he brought to the pitch almost every game.