England

Areas where Manchester United need to invest during the summer transfer window

Barring a mathematical miracle via a fourteen goal swing, Manchester United have all but secured their return to the top four and will once again dine at Europe’s elite table in the Champions League next season. Although it took Louis Van Gaal time to impose himself and his philosophies into the team early doors, he has ultimately achieved the objective of ensuring the club returned to the Champions League. However, a repeat next season would result in questions being asked as to why present deficiencies and areas where Manchester United can improve were not addressed. It is therefore imperative that Van Gaal is pro-active during the summer transfer market to not only compete with fellow Premier League title contenders who are likely to spend big, but also ensure Manchester United continue to improve and put themselves in an excellent position to challenge at the summit. Fans can make the most of special offers to predict who will arrive at Old Trafford, with the rumour mill already churning out a vast number of high-profile players who Van Gaal is believed to be targeting. Manchester United have already made the first major move before the transfer window has even opened, with Memphis Depay on his way from PSV for a reported £24.6 million, but there are certain areas which need to be improved upon.

Defenders

Manchester United’s current crop of defenders deserve some praise for being more resolute and cutting down on the number of individual errors, but it is fair to say that David De Gea is the main reason why the team will finish in the top four. Fans and pundits have lost count of the number of world-class saves that the Spaniard has made throughout the season, and at times has single-handedly won Manchester United points through his heroic performances. A goalkeeper of considerable quality deserves to receive more protection from a defence of the same calibre, but although the likes of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have shown signs of considerable improvement this season, Manchester United seriously lack a commanding presence or world-class defenders who could take them closer to winning the title. Mats Hummels and Nicolas Otamendi are the type of defenders that Van Gaal should identify as priority signings, as both would undoubtedly bring strength, leadership and quality to an area where Manchester United are still vulnerable against the big teams.

A future replacement for Michael Carrick

Although Michael Carrick has only featured in sixteen Premier League appearances this season, his presence and quality in midfield has been integral to Manchester United’s season. The 33-year-old has lost none of his superb passing abilities, with Carrick important to how the team plays; Daley Blind and Ander Herrera have certainly made an impression since arriving last summer, but Carrick is the one that links the play from defence to attack, and is able to play quick pinpoint passes to ensure Manchester United move forward up the pitch as a collective unit. Concerns about his fitness and injury record should be enough to force Van Gaal to search the market for the player who offers similar dynamic qualities, with Borussia Dortmund’s Ilkay Gundogan instantly standing out as a player who could undoubtedly replace Carrick in the future.

Strikers

Highly-rated 21-year-old Depay will certainly offer pace and trickery, but as the young Dutchman is more effective as a winger, Van Gaal may consider investing in at least one top quality proven goal-scoring striker. Wayne Rooney, despite having to play in midfield at certain points of the season due to injuries, has still enjoyed a good season in front of goal with twelve to his name, but Radamel Falcao has seriously struggled to prove himself in the Premier League and Robin Van Persie looks a shadow of the player who plundered in twenty-six goals in the title-winning 2012/2013 season. One potential target, Paulo Dybala, is rumoured to have agreed a deal to join Juventus, while there are a number of teams looking at Falcao if Van Gaal does not fancy giving the Colombian another chance following a serious long-term knee injury.

England

Clean sheet triumph for Jose Mourinho

As if being on top of the Premier League wasn’t enough, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho now has another accolade to add to his list of impressive achievements.

Mourinho now holds the record for the fastest team to achieve 100 clean sheets over the course of the British Premier League under the same manager.

It was Chelsea’s recent 1-0 victory over West Ham United that saw Mourinho marking his 100th clean sheet, a game which also helped them to maintain their four-point lead over runners up Manchester City.

The Portuguese prodigy will have been particularly satisfied with the victory given the men he beat to get the title, namely, Sir Alex Ferguson and Rafael Benitez, with whom he has shared great rivalries in the past.

While Chelsea’s previously undefeated record in this season’s Premier League has now been tainted, their 100 clean sheets is a testament to their outstanding defence, which includes the inimitable John Terry, Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanović.

So just how did Mourinho manage such a feat? He cannot fault his sterling defence team, and he certainly acknowledged this after their most recent match against West Ham United. He said: “There are matches when you need your quality to win, others when you need luck and others when you have to adapt to the opponent and we had to do that with Terry, Cahill and [Kurt] Zouma for the direct football, and [Thibaut] Courtois amazing in everything.”

The statistics speak for themselves when it comes to Mourinho’s record. In 185 matches, Mourinho’s Chelsea has 100 clean sheets – that’s a ratio of 54 per cent. Comparatively, Rafael Benitez sits far behind in second place with 114 clean sheets in 254 matches – that’s a ratio of 45 per cent – while West Ham United’s Sam Allardyce is in joint bottom place with Harry Redknapp, with a ratio of just 28 per cent.

On the flip side, out of 185 matches, Mourinho’s Chelsea has managed to concede 116 goals – around 0.63 per match – compared to Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City, who have 0.97 goals conceded every match, with goals scored in 64 out of 66 games. Could this be the reason that Chelsea are flying high in first place while last season’s winners hang painfully behind in second place?

Of course, there are two months until the end of the season, and that’s a long time in football time. However, if by some miracle Chelsea do not win the Premiership, Mourinho can still hold his head high with yet another accolade.

Collection

Win 12 Pairs of adidas Originals Trainers from Mainline Menswear

As competitions go, this is right up there. No-one can ever have too many pairs of trainers but Mainline Menswear are going to do their best in the next week to ensure someone gets pretty close to reaching their limit.

The online designer clothing store have launched a competition that we assume everyone wants to win. If you click here and fill in your details, you will be in with a chance of winning 12 pairs of adidas Originals Trainers – one pair every month for a whole year! One lucky victor will be decked out in the three stripes for years to come.

Why are you still reading this and not clicking on the link? Get out of here already!

England

Checking in on the Premier League contenders

At the end of the Premier League transfer window last summer, we posted an article projecting the potential top finishers in the league. At the time, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester United looked to be the most interesting clubs, in terms of moves made at that point and the potential to contend for a title. Well, now the 2014/15 EPL season is nearing its midpoint, and with the January transfer window open, here’s an updated look at the teams to watch.

Chelsea

In the summer article, we pointed out that all eyes would be on Jose Mourinho’s La Liga acquisitions (Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa) to make the Blues’ season a successful one. But no one saw a Diego Costa performance this good coming. ESPN FC lists Costa with 14 goals through 17 Premier League performances thus far, and behind this superb play Chelsea has established itself as the league leader and likely champion. It’s worth mentioning that in recent weeks the Blues have come back down to Earth after a sensational first few months to the season. At one point Chelsea looked like an absolutely sure bet to win the title. Regardless of recent struggles or January transfer news, Jose Mourinho’s club remains the favourite.

Manchester City

It seems almost shocking to say so after Chelsea’s aforementioned hot start, but Manchester City has pulled even in the league standings with 46 points through 20 games played. They may get even deadlier in the attack if the transfer window goes as planned. BBC Sport’s football report suggests that City is inching closer to signing Wilfried Bony, who scored 20 goals in the league in 2014 and has unquestionably been Swansea City’s best player. We’ve seen time and time again that chemistry matters as much as talent in EPL play, and not every new addition comes in as seamlessly as Diego Costa did for Chelsea. But Bony would likely make Man City an even more formidable contender as it seeks to defend its 2013/14 title.

Manchester United

Manchester United began the league campaign looking somewhat shaky. It seems as if first-year manager Louis van Gaal has now earned the trust and confidence of his players, and Man Utd. is rolling in a way we haven’t seen in a few seasons. Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie have been terrific in engineering the Man Utd. attack, and summer addition Radamel Falcao hasn’t really even gotten going yet. But it’s on defense, and in goal, that Man Utd. is making the biggest difference. Despite the outstanding quality of keeper David de Gea, betting.betfair’s football news section reports that Man Utd is on the cusp of signing Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes without a fight (more on that here). It’s a strange decision, but gives the club incredible depth in the back and a nice insurance policy moving forward. There’s still ground to make up in the standings, but United has moved within striking distance should Chelsea and Man City falter.

Arsenal

And finally, there’s Arsenal. After the summer signing of Alexis Sanchez, they looked to be one of the league’s most talented sides. The Gunners have been great at times, but they have also struggled to put together any sort of consistent run that could propel them to the top of the league. Arsenal currently resides outside of the top-five in the standings, but an active January transfer window could set the team up for a nice few months to finish the season. Having already been linked to the likes of Moussa Sissoko and Edinson Cavani, Arsenal is now rumoured to be pursuing Luis Suarez, who hasn’t quite found his groove at Barcelona. Any move of this magnitude would keep the 2014/15 Gunners very interesting.

World

Why Financial Fair Play will benefit youth academies

Progressing through the ranks as a junior to become an established first-team regular continues to be rarer in the modern day era of football where big money spending sprees is king. Even the most talented youth prospects are made to wait patiently in the reserves, particularly in England where the number of national players in the Premier League have reached an all-time low. It has created growing concerns that clubs ultimately neglect their youth academies in favour of dipping into an over-inflated transfer market and splashing huge sums of money on marquee signings that could make an impact. While it could make a difference towards enjoying success or avoiding failure, the introduction of Financial Fair Play could be the much-needed breakthrough for youth academies to finally show the fruits of their labour and see more young players make the breakthrough for the greater good of football on the whole.

Less spending, more youth emphasis

With over £800 million spent across the English Premier League during the summer transfer window and James Rodriguez’s blockbuster move to Real Madrid for £63 million, football seemingly has no boundaries as to the amount of money that can be spent on transfers. There is an argument that it makes watching football matches across elite European domestic leagues more enthralling and exciting for fans that get to see the very best players perform on the pitch. Major transfers always have an impact on odds across http://www.bookies.com, as illustrated through the arrival of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa which made Chelsea favourites to win the English Premier League in the eyes of bookmakers. However, with Financial Fair Play rules now restricting clubs to the level of expenditure they can accrue in accordance with avoiding going over the annual loss limit of £39.5 million from 2014 until 2017, it may force managers to consider looking towards their youth academy as a means of saving money. This particularly applies to elite clubs who have been criticised for failing to place more emphasis on bringing through home-grown players that could also benefit the national team in the long run, but there is every chance that more academy graduates will begin to make the breakthrough into the first-team picture.

Better all-round structure

Germany are arguably the only country with the perfect football-based structure that provides considerable funding for every team to focus on bringing through the most technically gifted and talented players possible. This change in emphasis came after a very disappointing Euro 2000 campaign which provided a stark realisation that their golden generation was reaching the end of the road and action was required to ensure a continuous conveyor belt of talent emerged from all areas of Germany. These changes have not only ensured that the quality of German football in the Bundesliga and below remains at the highest level, but also provides the national team with considerable quality at all levels; their 2014 World Cup triumph in Brazil is a blueprint for how other nations can place considerable emphasis and finance on their youth structure and reap the rewards. Being part of a system in which youth is given a chance to shine undoubtedly provides a wonderful incentive for young players to train hard, develop their game and make their mark when given a chance in the first team. The introduction of FFP could influence more clubs to utilise money that would have previously gone towards marquee signings towards integrating a beneficial structure, utilising their wonderful state-of-the-art training facilities, to bring through home-grown players on a regular basis that not only have the quality to be a first-team regular for many years, but also improve their country’s chances of glory.

England

Liverpool’s form depends on new players finding their feet

Liverpool were involved in their first stalemate of the season after a 1-1 draw with Everton on Saturday. The two points dropped will be tough to take for last season’s runners-up especially considering that the equaliser came so late from Phil Jagielka. The result also pushed Liverpool beyond the top 10. Even though the season is just six matches old, Brendan Rodgers will not have envisaged his team having fallen significantly behind the main rivals. Football Markets did predict a positive season from Liverpool, but they are now 33/1 to win the title.

Brendan Rodgers’ team were a breath of fresh air last season, as they more often than not blew the opposition away in the first 30 minutes of matches. Luis Suarez maybe the major difference between this campaign and last season, but it is only on paper. Apart from having to contend with midweek Champions League matches, Liverpool are also having to deal with the enormous expectations surrounding them. Further, Rodgers has spent more than £100 million on new players and they have not been exactly firing on all cylinders.

Mario Balotelli, who was one of the big signings at £16 million, has scored one goal in five appearances and Rodgers would have expected much more from the former Manchester City man. Apart from the 24-year-old Italian international, the club also splashed heavily on names like Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana, Emre Can, and Lazar Markovic. Among the summer signings, it is interesting to note that only Balotelli and defender Alberto Moreno have scored this season.

The introduction of Lovren was aimed at solving a problem in the central defender position. Mamadou Sakho and Kolo Toure were the primary partners for Martin Skrtel last season, but both of them have shown that they are prone to errors. It would be the least expected from a central defender playing for a team that has top four or even the league title aspirations. Lovren excelled with Southampton last season, but the £25 million signing has shown signs that he has not fully settled within the Merseyside club.

Of course, the absence of Luis Suarez is always going to be the talking point. The Uruguayan contributed 46 goals directly and indirectly last season and this was almost 50% of Liverpool’s tally in the league. Rodgers and Liverpool were aware for much of the summer that Suarez would try and engineer a move away from the club. The confirmation came during the World Cup 2014’s high profile incident involving the 27-year-old.

In some ways, Liverpool appear to have committed the same mistake as Tottenham. The London outfit sold another PFA Player of the Year recipient in the form of Gareth Bale and tried to reinvest the £85 million they secured from the sale on a number of players. They have since struggled in the league; this can directly be attributed to the poor form that usually comes when there are a large number of new players trying to settle at the same time. Liverpool can still recover from this poor start, but they need the new signings to start performing quickly.

Betfair, though, recently pushed Liverpool at 6/5 to finish in the top four with Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, and Manchester United ahead of them.

The much anticipated return of Daniel Sturridge to first-team action is expected to take place either against Wednesday’s Champions League opponents FC Basel or against West Brom on Saturday. Three points against West Brom will particularly be crucial since the internationals occupy the focus once again for a fortnight. Liverpool will want to go into the international break with a positive frame of mind.

England

Who will take the Premier League title this year?

Just a few weeks remain until the Premier League season kicks off once again this August, and the league’s top managers are doing their best to make key last minute transfers to their teams.

The title is currently sitting in the hands of Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City, but their current changes could make or break their latest Premier League campaign. With three changes to their defence, it could be a case of fixing what isn’t broken for Manchester City, and with their Premier League rivals making important changes, they could struggle to defend the title.

Arsenal

Alexis Sánchez is the topic of the hour for Arsenal, who have been typically frugal in making transfers this year. While manager Arsene Wenger is renowned for not making transfers until the last minute, he did make one essential change to the team, signing the Chilean right winger for £35 million. Sanchez has shown incredible potential in this year’s World Cup and Spanish tournament La Liga, and his skills could put a halt to Arsenal’s fourth place reputation once and for all.

Chelsea

Jose Mourinho has not been so frugal, having pinched former Arsenal striker Cesc Fabregas for £30 million. The 27-year-old was enjoying a spell at Barcelona, but will now be moving to cooler climates along with Atlético Madrid’s Diego Costa, giving Chelsea average odds of 15/8 to take the title. Romelu has returned to do what he does best, but all eyes will be on La Liga boys to make this year Chelsea’s year.

Liverpool

In an effort to make sure they don’t finish in second place once again, Liverpool have made some vital transfers this season, including the signing of young blood Lazar Markovic and Emre Can. The Reds will surely have an interesting opening Premier League game as they take on Southampton, which has recently sold two of its former stars Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana to Liverpool. Despite losing Suárez, a little fresh meat and a bigger incentive than ever to win the league could make this Liverpool’s year.

Manchester United

With the departure of long-suffering David Moyes comes Dutch manager Louis van Gaal, who has made no bones about big changes he’s going to be bringing to the team. It’s rumoured that up to ten players are on the chopping block for Manchester United, who finished in an embarrassing seventh place last year. The team already signed Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw prior to Moyes’ exit, but it’s the next few weeks that will really make or break Manchester United as van Gaal begins to crack the whip.

World

New Nike World Cup Advert – The Last Game

We are suckers for a Nike advert so it will be of little surprise for you to know that we really enjoyed Nike’s latest offering ahead of the World Cup – The Last Game.

read more »

England

Southampton players abandon ship as FFP proves ineffective

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It can happen to any club at any time. A good crop of players can be assembled under a young and promising coach when suddenly one of them ups and leaves for pastures new. Suddenly everyone begins to look at their own situation and ponder if life could be as good, if not better elsewhere. read more »

England Spain

Ancelotti and Pochettino seek stability amongst chaos

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In the Champions League final, as Sergio Ramos leapt 10 yards from goal to equalise for Real Madrid, you could imagine the sigh of relief coach Carlo Ancelotti breathed. Such is the political size and nature of Real Madrid the press were even floating round the idea that it was win or bust for the Italian. read more »