EPL Week 4 Top Performers

What a weekend we had, who would ever have thought that three of last season’s top 5 would lose not to talk of Champions Chelsea losing at home; West Ham pulling another cliff hanger of a performance to halt Liverpool’s undefeated start and Gary Monk showing that he has Louis Van Gaal’s manual as he has defeated the Manchester United manager three consecutive times now.

Here are the top performers from the last weekend before the first international break of the season in a 4-3-3 formation:

Tim Howard (Everton)
The stand out player in an other wise dull game at White Hart Lane.
Jordan Amavi (Aston Villa)
Another solid performance from the french full back; he would have to solve the Right Back problem for my selection.
Aaron Cresswell (West Ham)
Had a shocker last week against Bournemouth; bounced back solidly as the Hammers got a valuable victory at Anfield.
Angelo Ogbonna (West Ham)
Subbed in the first half last week against Bournemouth; solid all through at Anfield.
Darmian Delaney (Crystal Palace)
Gave Diego Costa a dose of his own medicine; stood toe to toe against the Chelsea defender in my defensive display of the week.
N’Golo Kante (Leicester City)
Solid, rugged and determined; Leicester have a gem of a midfielder on their hands.
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Yann M’Villa (Sunderland)
Finding his feet at Tyne side; struck a great free kick to put the Black Cats ahead.
Bakary Sako (Crystal Palace)
Back to Back appearances in my team of the week; great solid performance. He and Yannick Bolasie will trouble defenses all season.
Andre Ayew (Swansea)
A torn in Manchester United’s flesh all evening, full of running and endeavour.
Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
First Goal safely on the board, can only get better in this City team playing some electric football.
Dusan Tadic (Southampton)
He is known more for his assists; a brace to cap up a solid performance is always welcome.
Manager of the week : Alan Pardew (Crystal Palace)
This week’s standout manager could have been Gary Monk for his hat trick of victories over Van Gaal’s Manchester United; but if you are the first coach to defeat Jose Mourinho three times in all the leagues he has coached in; you deserve to take a bow. The Crystal Palace performance was quite refreshing, entertaining and bold; only two defeats in ten away fixtures is a solid record for Alan Pardew.

 

This Weekend (29/08/15)

We are all guns blazing in all of Europe’s top leagues with teams showing off their new acquisitions to either good or bad effect. This weekend promises to deliver some very tasty encounters as the big teams try to find their footing this season, Four matches would take center stage this weekend; as we preview the big games in Spain, Italy, Germany and France,

Sevilla v Atletico Madrid

Sevilla started the season with a barren draw at La Roseleda against Malaga in an other wise underwhelming performance with new signing Steven Nzonzi getting sent off. This is a pivotal season for Sevilla in light of their aspirations to crash the top four in La Liga as well as to put up a solid performance in the Champions League.

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Diego Simone’s wards started off the season with a less than convincing win against newly promoted Las Palmas at the Vincente Calderon. Atletico have made a huge splash in the transfer market this season and would need their new signings to bed in well immediately especially Jackson Martinez. Over the last ten years, Atletico have been able to boast of quality strikers and striking combinations that as set them apart as an haven for quality strikers.

Both teams would approach the game with a clear objective of putting three points on the board as well as getting one off their close rivals in the battle for the top four positions in La Liga. Sevilla have an impeccable home record; undefeated in 26 of their last 27 matches at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. However, Atletico Madrid have a great recent record against Sevilla stretching back 11 games along with its ongoing unbeaten record from last season stretching back 15 games from their last 16 matches. For Sevilla to be successful this season it is imperative that Unai Emery shows the world that Carlos Bacca has either been adequately replaced or that Kevin Gameiro is capable of shouldering their goal scoring burden.

My Verdict: A high scoring game on the cards with the spoils shared by both teams.

Bayern Munich v Bayer Leverkusen

The Bayern juggernaut was close to been halted by Hoffenheim last weekend; but for a 90th minute winner from their talisman striker; Robert Lewandoski after going behind in just 9 seconds. Pep Guardiaola has freshened up this side well, his new signings have settled down well especially Douglas Costa; who has taken to the team like he was born to play for Bayern.

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Bayer may still be in celebratory mood after clinching Champions League group stage qualification at the expense of Lazio after a solid team performance. Bayer Leverkusen have started their Bundesliga season very well with two wins out of two matches with solid and impressive displays.

Looking at the match up closely; it always seems to promise so much but fails to deliver much as the out come more often than not is the same; a Bayern Munich win. This demonstrates the level at which the Bavarians continue to dominate the league as well as the so called big match ups. Bayern have injury and suspension issues; so expect Pep to go all crazy with his tweaking and adjustments of his team’s system. Bayern’s  impressive home record tilts the outcome firmly in their favour with only one defeat in their last 35 home games with 30 wins. Leverkusen have an interesting tactical approach to games these days with their deployment of Hakan Calhanoglu and Karim Bellarabi in the forward midfield positions; it would be interesting to see how well they can wrestle midfield control in the game.

My Verdict: Bayern to win, but only just

Monaco v Paris Saint Germain

Monaco got knocked out in the final qualifying round of the Champions League during the week coupled with their less than impressive start to the season with one win and two draws from their three matches. Leonardo Jardim has his work cut out to ensure that Monaco remain competitive; especially taking into consideration the number of players that have departed and the fact that I had tipped them to be the closest challengers to PSG.

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Paris Saint Germain should have Zlatan Ibrahimovic returning to the side for the first time this season to continue their impressive and perfect start to the season. Also, big summer signing; Angel Di Maria is in line to make his debut for the Parisian as they visit the Stade Louis II. PSG are currently on a 12 match winning streak in the league and would be looking to extend it further with the record held by Laurent Blanc’s Bordeaux championship winning side of 2009 well within their sight.

Monaco have built a lot of their recent success on their home record which currently stands at 16 games on undefeated; but they face a PSG side that are undefeated in their last 8 matches as against the side from the Principality. An interesting twist to the game is the transfer of Layvin Kurzawa from Monaco to PSG just this past week; expect the crowd to give the Parisians a less than welcoming reception.

My Verdict: Game looks set to end in a draw.

Roma v Juventus

Both sides had a quite unexpected start to the season with Roma held to a draw at Hellas Verona and Juventus losing at home for the first time in 46 games to Udinese. Both teams have made significant additions to their squad during the off season and it may take time for these players to bend in. Its early in the season; so this tie may not have title undertones; but then with the less than impressive start my both teams an open game with caution thrown to the wind can be expected.

Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba

Juventus still seek to get some midfield reinforcements in before the window closes as the squad seeks to get the balance of the squad up to speed; but my main worry for the Bianconeri is Paul Pogba getting accustom to his new role as the team’s new midfield leader and play-maker, it would take some time; but it needs to be quick. We can expect a good attacking display from both sides and we are in for a great spectacle.

Juventus have the better of the head to head of both sides with six wins from the last ten matches in Serie A; it would be interesting to see who wins the midfield battles.

My Verdict: This looks like another draw to me

EPL Best Performers Week 3

Even though the biggest game of the Match week is not till Monday, but still there were solid performances all over the place to get us looking forward to the next set of games. These are my top performers of the weekend’s set of games in a 4-4-2 formation.

Huerelho Gomes (Watford)

Talk about a Goalie that needs redemption and a huge point to prove. His time at Tottenham Hotspurs ended on a bad note after series of errors. He has been in excellent form since gaining promotion with the Hornets.

Chancel Mbemba (Newcastle)

Played out of position; up against the explosive Memphis Depay; he put up a stellar performance in defense and got forward well.

Robbie Brady (Norwich City)

Relegated with Hull last season, but finding his feet at Norwich City. Brady put up a good full back type performance.

 

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Eliaquim Mangala (Manchester City)

He is gradually building a solid partnership with Vincent Kompany and has shown that he is not worried by the arrival of Nicolas Otamendi.

Chris Smalling (Manchester United)

The major shining light in United’s season so far. Another commanding performance in the heart of the defense.

Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City)

What can I say? Three Matches, Three man of the match performances with Four Goals to show for it, top scorer in the league so far and back to back to back appearances in my team of the week.

Bakary Sako (Crystal Palace)

Debut game, Debut goal; shots from his educated left foot will be a major worry for Goalies in the EPL this season.

Jack Cork (Swansea City)

Youngster is coming into his own and Swansea provides the best platform to hone his skills and develop his potential. Another accomplished performance in midfield.

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James Morrison (West Bromwich Albion)

Two Goals and it could have been a hat-trick that could have changed the result against Chelsea; but still he put in a fine display as the Baggies tried to come from behind against Chelsea.

Pedro Rodriguez (Chelsea)

Another goal from a debutant; Pedro also added an assist for good measure to cap a great debut performance to show Manchester United what they are likely missing.

Callum Wilson (AFC Bournemouth)

The first hat-trick of the season by a Bournemouth player; what were the odds on that one? Great individual performance to drive his team to their first premier league victory.

Manager of the Week:

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Eddie Howe (AFC Bournemouth)

What a way to get your first victory in the top flight; to cap it all, Bournemouth have stayed true to the ideas that got them promotion. Great Job Eddie.

Four La Liga talking points for 2015/16

The Spanish La Liga kicks off this weekend and here are the five things we can look forward to.

BARCELONA ARE NOT AS SPECIAL AS THEY WERE LAST SEASON.

Earlier this month, Barcelona were gunning for an unprecedented six titles in a calendar year. They had won the Copa Del Rey, the Spanish La Liga and the UEFA Champions League. On offer was the European Super Cup, which they won by defeating Sevilla 5-4 in a keenly contested game, the Spanish Super Cup and the Club World Cup. Athletic Bilbao rolled into town and spoilt the party, not only demolishing Barcelona at San Mames but also showing that Barcelona have a lot to do between now and January when their new signings would be cleared to play. Last season Barca started off slow but picked up steam and absolutely ran away with the title.

This season would be different or at least we expect it to be. Pedro was sold this week to Chelsea which in essence means there is no replacement for the front three of Messi, Neymar and Suarez. Said coach Luis Enrique after their humiliation by Athletic Bilbao, “we missed Neymar”. He also complained that squad rotation meant he had to shake up his squad. What this tells us is that Barcelona are lacking in squad depth and fringe players like Munir are just not ready for the step up. New signings Arda Turan and Alex Vidal cannot play until January so Barca are stuck with the squad they have. They just might not be as good as they were last season, at least until January.

REAL MADRID HAVE A LOT MORE TO WORRY ABOUT THAN RAFA BENITEZ

Cristiano Ronaldo is less than 30 goals shy of breaking Raul’s all time goal scoring record at Real Madrid. Raul played for Los Merengues for over a decade while Ronaldo has been at the club for just seven years. It proves what a phenomenal feat he has been able to achieve. Going into every season since he joined the club, he has always been the focal point, the focus of all attention and the driving force behind every thing Real Madrid do. Two seasons ago, what no one thought possible happened, there was a player more expensive than Ronaldo and his name was Gareth Bale. He came into the side and immediately proved his worth propelling Madrid to Copa Del Rey and La Decima in his first season. His second season was not a jolly ride, fans turned on him and so did Ronaldo on a few occasions.

Rafael-Benitez

 

The club and new manager Rafa Benitez are determined to get the best out of him and return him to the player he was in his first season. Problem with that is, you cant achieve that without upsetting Ronaldo. This coming season Barcelona are weak for a number of reasons and this is Real Madrid’s chance to capitalize but they have problems of their own. Rafa Benitez hasn’t been fully accepted by the fans and many perceive him to be a defensive minded coach. New signings Mateo Kovacic and Danilo are looking to break into positions with already established stars. Dani Carvahal has been Real’s most consistent player not named Ronaldo and Kovacic would be looking to displace James Rodriguez. Benitez has a lot on his plate and if last season is anything to go by, Florentino Perez doesn’t like playing second fiddle to anyone, just ask Carlo Ancelotti.

Diego Simeone

ATHLETICO MADRID’S TIME TO SHINE AGAIN.

Two seasons ago they stunned the whole of La Liga by winning the title ahead of the more fancied Barcelona and Real Madrid. They not only won the title, they impressed while doing it. Going into this season, it just might be their moment again. Barcelona are stuttering and Real are in a transition phase. Key players have left but it has given an opportunity to have a more unified club. Antoine Griezman can now be the focal point of the attack along with Colombian hitman Jackson Martinez while Defender Jose Giminez can take the place of the departed Miranda and blossom into the fine central defender he was destined to be. Koke on the other hand can finally take the bull by the horn and play in central midfield, a position he has always identified as his best. Filipe Luis has returned to bolster the defence line and Yannick Carrasco has joined to replace Arda Turan who left for Barcelona. Other players who have joined include Stefan Savic, with Diego Simeone still at the helm, Atletico have a third wheel and a manager who has become the club itself, with his passion and experience Atletico can make a run for it again this season and would not be outsiders if they do especially considering their transfer spending out weighs Real and Barcelona combined.

THE CHASING PACK JUST GOT STRONGER.

Over the last decade La Liga has been a league of two teams, Real Madrid and Barcelona. Atletico broke the duopoly in 2013-14 by winning the league. Of the chasing pack this season, Sevilla, Valencia and Villareal are in a position to make moves due to the peculiar circumstances this season and also the business they have done off it. None of them are going to win the league or even come close to challenging but what they would do is prove spoilers for one of BArca, Real and Atletico. The new revenue from the TV rights deal means they have more money to spend. Sevilla for one are defending Europa Cup Champions and if the European Super Cup was anything to go by, they are a team ready to shake off the tag of “nearly men”. They might have lost the likes of Carlos Barca but they have more than made up for in team spirit and a coach in Unai Emery whose love and understanding of the game can only get better.

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Valencia are the only team other than Atletico to win the title in the last fifteen years other than Barcelona and Real Madrid. And while they flatter to deceive on occasions a run in the Champions League this season might be good for them (they still have to defeat Monaco over two legs). Money gotten from the sale of Nicolas Otamendi can be reinvested in the team and a now settled Alvaro Negredo can power in the goals to help them push into the top four. Villareal signed Roberto Soldado last week and boy did he need that. After a dismal spell in England the once prolific goal scorer returns to his home turf in the hope of rediscovering his form. He is desperate to do exactly that and in Villareal he has found the perfect foil.

The Spanish La Liga this season would prove to be more interesting than some of the previous seasons. Cristiano Ronaldo would be looking to break Raul’s record, Leo Messi would be looking to break more records, Rafa Beniez would want to make his mark on the league and Luis Enrique would be out to prove he is no one season wonder. It all kicks off with a repeat of the Spanish Super Cup with Barcelona travelling to San Mames to face Athletic Bilbao. What would happen if we had a repeat scoreline of 4-0, more attention on La Liga this season, ciao.

SERIE A PREVIEW 2015/2016 SEASON: THE “FORTE” WILL SURVIVE

The new Serie A season kicks off this weekend signaling another year full of intrigue, controversy, unexplained coaching dismissals, innovative tactics, crowd troubles and all the good and bad that is associated with Italian football.

Last season, Juventus ended up strolling to the title with games to spare after they blew Roma out of the race by mid season and started to gain an unassailable lead. This season is likely to be different. Competitors are also likely to be different given the amount of resources Italian teams have committed to the transfer market.

Juventus have lost 50% core of their double winning midfield with Andrea Pirlo moving to the MLS and Arturo Vidal moving to Bayern Munich in his words “to stand a better chance of winning the Champions League”. They have also lost their highest goal scorer in the last 2 seasons, Carlos Tevez to his hometown club, Boca Juniors.

While Juventus have added Dybala, Mandzukic, Alex Sandro, Khedira and look likely to retain Paul Pogba for the new season, the sense that the team is not the same as last season remains there. It remains to be seen what kind of understanding Mandzukic, Dybala and Morata will have upfront. The club’s hunt for a creative midfielder to link midfield and attack suggests a minor tweak in tactics from last season. Add this to the reinforcements Roma, Inter and Milan have made then you have the sense the ground may a bit level for this season.

Roma’s Walter Sabatini has done what he does best so far. He has made very good additions to the squad with the most impressive being Edin Dzeko and the protracted transfer of Mohammed Salah. He has also added highly impressive Gerson from Brazil, Iago Falque and Wojceich Sczescny to give Morgan De Sanctis stronger competition between the sticks. Their preseason form warrants giving them a very serious consideration as likely title winners. But much remains to be seen on how Rudi Garcia manages his team through a long season comprising Champions league football and avoiding the kind of slump experienced last season.

Not much is expected from Lazio this season as a build up on their 3rd place finish last season as they have disappointed so far in the transfer market yet again this summer just like last season. Instead, the 3rd spot is expected to be a straight fight between Inter, Napoli and Milan.

Considerable investments have been made by the Milanese teams more so by AC Milan who have seen a 500M Euro injection into the team by way of selling 49% stake of the team to Thai business man Bee Taechaubol. This has enabled them splash 30M on Carlos Bacca, 28M inclusive of add ons on Alessio Romagnoli. These being their most expensive additions so far. They have also hired the services of the more aggressive and focused Sinisa Mihajlovic as coach.

Inter Milan on the other hand have forked out close to 40M for the services of Geoffrey Kondogbia. They have however also impressed with their defensive additions, adding the likes of Murillo, Miranda and Montoya to their roster while luring Stevan Jovetic from Manchester City as well. While the club’s owner, Erick Thohir has been criticized in the past for not investing in players, the club has been able to take advantage of loop holes in the Financial Fair play Rules in structuring most of their deals as loan deals with obligatory purchase options spread over a number of years.

As for Napoli, their two most important additions this summer have been the Maurizio Sarri, the chain smoking coach we all got to love last season for playing attractive football with lowly Empoli and keeping them up in Serie A. Napoli’s likely retention of Gonzalo Higuain also appears to be a good addition given that many expected him to jump ship with the absence of Champions League football at Napoli.

There have been the usual merry go rounds in mid table as well and eyes will be on what newcomers, Carpi, will be bringing into the Serie A given the furore caused by Lazio’s Claudio Lotito last season on their potential promotion. Clubs that dazzled last season like Sampdoria, Empoli have lost the tacticians behind their performances and lot of attention will be on how they cope.

In other news, it will be exciting to see goal line technology finally launched in Italian football. Also, squad sizes will be limited to 25 players from this season comprising 4 players from youth system and a further 4 developed in Italy. This is meant to curb foreign players and promote youth development of Italian footballers.

 

Let the Games Begin!!!!!

This Weekend (14/08/15)

Another weekend, another major league kicks off; the Bundesliga kicked off Friday with Bayern Munich putting on a great show as they dispatched of troubled Hamburg. Another set of big games will come through this weekend across the world with specific focus in Germany and England

Borussia Dortmund v Borussia Monchengladbach

A flurry of debuts are expected with Dortmund under new management with Thomas Tuchel taking over from Jurgen Klopp and Gladbach seeking to keep touch with the bigger teams this season. Tuchel has already brought in his aggressive pressing game in a bid to restore Dortmund from the disaster that was last season’s campaign. A major positive has to be the fact that Dortmund kept all their top players thus providing them with a good spring board for the season. Gladbach had a good season last time out qualifying for the Champions League group stages. Christophe Kramer, who scored an outrageous own goal in the reverse fixture as returned to Leverkusen and for some strange reason Gladbach sold Max Kruse to a rival and competitor; replacing with a number of youngsters whilst making the deal for Thorgan Hazard permanent from Chelsea.

Dortmund would seek to control the game with their aggressive pressing game; however you can expect Monchengladbach to be resilient and very difficult to break down. Dortmund have won eight of their last nine matches against Gladbach; but Gladbach have been very solid away from home dating back to last season; undefeated in their last seven away matches.

My Verdict: Dortmund to get off to a flyer with a win.

Manchester City v Chelsea

A lot has been made about the issues ongoing at Chelsea as it affects the backroom medical staff and the manager Jose Mourinho which as we all know was a well laid plan to move attention away from Chelsea’s poor performance against Swansea on the opening weekend of the new season. Manchester City, on the other hand have started the season under the radar putting in a five star performance away at the Hawthorns with Yaya Toure and David Silva demonstrating that the Citizens should be considered strong contenders for the league title at season’s end.

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This game doesn’t change anything nor those it determine what direction the league title would go to; however, it is important to gain an advantage over your closest rivals. Manchester City are very strong at home with seven straight wins dating back to last season, but Chelsea have a current run of going undefeated in 18 of their last 19 matches and just like the case was last year that we were entertained with a series of goalless draws; this one too seems to have a draw written all over it.

My Verdict: A draw would sooth everyone.

Is there any fight in the chasing pack?

Every season as it has become a norm; the question on most watchers of the Bundesliga always concerns the chasing pack. How much of a fight would they give Bayern Munich? Will Bayern breeze through to a fourth straight Bundesliga title? Will the Championship be sealed by April? These questions will continue to linger as Bayern have strengthen considerable; refreshing the squad and adding quality in areas where age, fitness and form has been an issue in the last few years. Also, will Bayern and Pep Guardiola be overly distracted with the obsession of winning another Champions League trophy so much so that it would leave the door open to the likes of Wolfsburg, Dortmund and Leverkusen to sneak in to a title triumph.

The Contenders

The little that’s said about Bayern the better; the Bavarians are once again over whelming favorites to win a fourth straight Bundesliga Title; but the focus may shift to winning another Champions League trophy in what could be Pep Guardiola’s final season with FC Hollywood. Big name signings like Arturo Vidal and Douglas Costa have arrived to freshen up the side, along with the signing of youngster Joshua Kimmich to add some vibrancy into its already star studded midfield.

Wolfsburg have to be considered the closest rivals to Bayern and seem to have found a way to get the better of the Bavarians in recent times; the Super Cup come from behind win as well as the post winter break demolition of  Bayern Munich lay credence to the fact the Dieter Hecking may be ob to something. For Wolfsburg to be taken seriously, they need to keep hold of Kevin De Bruyne, Wolfsburg are financially stable and are not under any pressure to sell; more so the players is not willing to force his way out. Wolfsburg have to find the level of consistency that make champions; this is what separates Bayern from the rest of the Bundesliga pack; once this is in place they can apply the necessary pressure to snatch the title. The signing of Max Kruse gives them the necessary fire power upfront coupled with the likes of Bas Dost and Nicolas Bendtner providing the necessary support.

Bayer Leverkusen are another team that interest me;  they have mainly promoted from within and have been able to keep hold of Hakan Çalhanoğlu; who served as an important part of the team; providing creativity and his fair share of goals; although the sale of Gonzalo Castro would rub them of much needed experience; but Roger Schmidt has done well to get the much coveted Charles Aranguiz after his impressive Copa America exploits as well as snapping up Jonathan Tah, Christophe Kramer returns from his loan spell at Gladbach. My area of worry for Bayer has to be in the striker’s department; Stefan Kessling needs help up front; since the departure of Andre Schurrle no one has been able to provide that support for the German International.

Borussia Dortmund are under new management, have interestingly kept all their stars and tied them down with new contracts. This makes for a good start for new manager, Thomas Tuchel as he does not have to struggle with making incursions into the transfer market. He has already started well; modifying Dortmund’s aggressive pressing style, adding some tactical discipline and a sprinkle of pragmatism to make it a lot more efficient; hence in the long run helping to sustain the health and fitness of his players. Last Season, Dortmund seemed like a team on its kneels, begging for help; thankfully they were able to muster as much fight needed to survive and qualify for Europe. Thomas Tuchel like Jurgen Klopp coached Mainz, he arrives with a reputation that also embraces pressing in numbers, but with a more aggressive stance. He is also one that embraces and encourages young talent; he has swiftly called back and retained some of the club’s bright youngsters to be part of the team going into the new season.

The Also Rans

There are teams in the Bundesliga that promise so much but always fall short or fail to deliver; these teams throw spanners to the works of some of the big teams, sometimes punch above their weight or are the type that consistently underachieve, flattering to deceive with each passing season.

Schalke 04 are the most guilty of the lot; every year the team from Gelsenkirchen continue to underachieve whilst their cross town rivals have grown in leaps and bounds, challenging for the title perennially as Schalke falter every season; even though at times they show promise. My concern this season with Schalke is in their choice of a manager; André Breitenreiter takes over after leading Paderborn to relegation. Its a baffling choice as the rationale just doesn’t add up, but then what’s the worst that can happen? He has freshened up the side and brought in a few young players and gotten rid of old hands such as Chinedu Obasi, Jefferson Farfan etc; Schalke need a big season and the time is now to deliver on all the potential of the past years.

Borussia Monchengladbach may have sold Max Kruse to Wolfsburg, but have replaced him with Josip Drmic as they seek to combine another season of top flight football with a shot at Europe in the Champions League. Gladbach have signed Thorgan Hazard permanently from Chelsea and also gotten impressive youngster, Andreas Christensen from Chelsea on loan.

Stuttgart and Hamburg survived a huge turbulence last season with their struggles against relegation; its quite pitiful what has befallen these once great teams. Both teams have a chance at redemption with the managers enjoying a full pre-season to get the team up to scratch and with them putting faith in youth and a sprinkle of experience.

Relegation Battle

As is the case every season with the newly promoted sides; they are always favorites for relegation and this season would not be different. FC Ingolstadt 04 and SV Darmstadt have a huge task on their hands with trying to survive on their return to the top flight. It would be a big ask for any of both teams to survive; a return to Bundesliga 2 beckons.

Players to watch

Douglas Costa

A 30 Million signing from Shakhtar Donetsk in the summer has huge boots to fill as he aims to lay claim to one of the berths in the wide areas for Bayern. Costa is a player that tends to overdo it sometimes; but he seems to have settled down well and has had a great pre-season and looks like he would give Robben and Ribery a good run for their money.

Arturo Vidal

A return to the Bundesliga for the former Juventus midfield hard man provides a new challenge after wining everything domestically and getting to the final of the Champions League.

 

 

Charles Aranguiz

After a great Copa America campaign in Chile’s successful hosting of the tournament; a big chance in Europe provides itself for the former Internationale defensive strong man. It will be good to see how well he settles to life in the Bundesliga and how well his performances drive Bayer Leverkusen forward.

Leon Balogun

From a Nigerian point of view; it would be interesting to see how well he settles in at Mainz after making the step up from Bundesliga 2, to ensure that he continues to stake a claim to a shirt in the Nigerian Super Eagles.

Allan Saint Maximin

The youngster just made the move form Saint Etienne to Monaco; only to be sent out on loan to Hannover 96. The young man has a lot to prove and the Bundesliga provides the platform for a youngster to excel.

 

EPL Best Performers of Week 1

After much a do, after the long wait, the 2015/16 season kicked off and as usual there were varying types of performances that either gave you joy or almost drove you to anger.

These are my top Performers from the first weekend of the new EPL Season in a 3-4-3 formation:

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Adrian (West Ham)

When you visit the Emirates and have a shut out; you must have done something great; a five star performance in West Ham’s surprise defeat of Arsenal.

Cedric Soares (Southampton)

Debut game, solid performance, there’s more where that came from.

Jordan Amavi (Aston Villa)

Already showing why he was so highly rated in Ligue 1

Craig Cathcart (Watford)

The former United trainee was comfortable dealing with Lukaku, showing he belongs in the top flight.

Yohan Cabaye (Crystal Palace)

£12 Million doesn’t do any justice to the French man

Marc Albrighton (Leicester City)

Pacey, precise and very direct.

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Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City)

The performance of the week, totally devastating.

Reece Oxford (West Ham)

Hard to believe he is just 16 years old.

Jefferson Montero (Swansea)

All Right Backs in the league would sleep with one eye open going forward.

Mauro Zarate (West Ham)

Unfit, Fat, hopeless and waste of a squad number; what a way to shut everyone up.

Jaime Vardy (Leicester City)

If his performance against Manchester United last season was his best; this weekend against Sunderland topped it.

 

Manager of the Week

Slaven Bilic

He shut me and my Game Time Crew up.

GUNNERY – NEW SEASON…SAME OLD ARSENAL

We had the best preseason possible; we won the treble and even beat Chelsea while at it. We bought a great goalkeeper in Petr Cech, bar Wilshere’s injury have a full and healthy squad. We finished last season very strongly on the back of a very good run from January. All the talk was of starting strongly and being consistent over an entire season not the calendar year (as we have achieved in recent times without any trophy for that). The Manager said that we have to be consistent and welcomed the pressure that came along with the tag of genuine title contenders. This tag was give to us by the press considering the fact that Arsenal has their best squad in a very long time. The senior players all spoke about the need to start well and ensure we are in contention from the get go. There was quiet optimism among the fan base that perhaps our time has come after back-to-back FA Cups that is until West Ham came visiting in the league opener.

If you have been watching Arsenal as long as I have been and especially in the last 10 years, the defeat at the hands of West Ham today should not shock you or even surprise you. This type of woeful, uninspiring and morale sapping defeat (often to supposedly weaker teams) is sadly a regular occurrence at least twice a season. These are matches that Arsenal Football club for some inexplicable reason just fail to turn up. This has sometimes been attributed to any or a combination of arrogance, tactical naivety, nervousness, inexperience or just plain bad-luck. Regular watchers are so used to this disappointment that we are no longer angry, just sad as we watch the same thing happen again and again, mostly at times when the expectations are highest.

Kouyate rises high to beat summer signing Petr Cech to the ball and head the visitors into a 1-0 lead in the 43rd minute

GROUNDHOGS DAY
There are two types of this recurring nightmare, which almost always occurs at home in the Emirates. In some cases, Arsenal does all the playing and fall behind with what is often the opponents first and only attempt on goal. This is mitigated by the fact that the players perform well enough but fall to some regular frailty like set-pieces, a failing which has come to characterize the squad no matter who the playing personnel are in the last 10 seasons. The second and the most painful is one that the team does nothing to deserve even a point. They often turn up expecting to beat whoever happens to be the opponent e.g. West Ham just because they are better. The commitment of the opposition quickly dispels this fantasy and the Arsenal stars have no way to respond. They appear gutless and give the impression that they can’t be bothered. No imagination, no fight, no guile, not one single player who covers himself in glory. That hurts, a lot. Why haven’t we found the reason for this failure? Why is it still in our system? Any team that keeps dropping points like that can never win the league.

WHERE DID IT ALL GO WRONG
Hector Bellerin picked up a late injury and had to be replaced by Debuchy. This on the face of things should not be a serious problem as this time last season the Frenchman was our 1st choice right back. However, at the start of last season, Gibbs was 1st choice at left back. As analyzed on Arseblog, Arsenal play one full back that is more defensive and the other more attacking. Thus when Gibbs plays its often Debuchy who is the more defensive of the two and when Monreal plays he is the more defensive. Thus the loss of Bellerin robbed Arsenal of a very important attacking outlet. Debuchy contributed very little, as Arsenal were chasing the game he was withdrawn and The Ox was played as an auxiliary right back.

The midfield was very disappointing as well. We were well overrun by a West Ham midfield with a 16-year-old debutant. Aaron Ramsey was played in his favored position in the middle of the park with The Coq expected to continue from where he stopped last season. As in the Community Shield, Santi Cazorla was started on the left while The Ox started on the right. Ramsey is a fantastic player who never tires, however he does not have the skill and guile to receive the ball under pressure from the defense or Coquelin, retain it and launch an attack. This forced Coquelin himself to attempt one too many times to pass out the ball as against giving it to a more skillful colleague. His partnership with Cazorla in the heart of midfield was a crucial reason for the success of the team in the second half of the season. Arsene Wenger has to retain a system that works, if it isn’t broke don’t fix it. Ramsey is better at the end of things with his runs for the team. If that means he has to start on the right then so be it or he competes for a place with both Carzola and Ozil. Playing Carzola on the left is pushing one of our best ball players out of his best position for the team.

While Sanchez builds his fitness, I will rather have The Ox on the left and Ramsey on the right with license to move into middle to allow the overlapping runs of the full back. Part of the reasons for Arsenal’s slow start to last season was Arsene’s tinkering with his formation for the first few games. This was lost in the narrative of post World Cup hangover and early injuries. We cannot afford to make the same mistake. A big and talented squad such as this means some players would be unhappy because of limited playing time as they cannot all play. The Manager most stick with a system that works even if some of his favorites may miss out or play out of position e.g. Ramsey on the right as long as the team makes progress.

Petr Cech looks frustrated after failing to keep out Zarate's shot on his Premier League debut for Arsene Wenger's title hopefuls

At the back there was no communication on all the goals and players like Per Mertesacker who is the playing Captain must take responsibility. It is all well and fine to speak about desire, but it is what happens on the pitch that matters. They were collectively found wanting. Petr Cech had an afternoon to forget on his league debut for Arsenal, I have no doubt that it would be his worst and he will bounce back because he is key to any hopes Arsenal have of winning the title this season.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
We sit rock bottom of the one match old league table so there is nowhere to go but up. This we have to do very quickly. There is no time to sit around feeling sorry for ourselves or go into one of our drawing/losing streaks. The last time we lost our opening fixture two seasons ago in similar circumstances, we went on to win our next eight fixtures. We must show similar stellar form against a highflying Crystal Palace when we visit Selhurst Park next week. We are very much in one game at a time territory. I am not of the school of thought that signing new players is the answer, even though like everyone I would love to see Benzema. This squad is better than this, the attitudinal, mental and tactical issues they have must be sorted on the training ground by the Manager this week. We do not want to hear any sound bites from the players, let them show us on the pitch that we are not investing our emotions in a fruitless endeavor. Any more performances such as the one against West Ham will spell doom for our ambitions. The only silver lining in all this is that we have 37 more games to go, plenty time to get our mojo back. Until Saturday, we must lick our wounds in silence and endure the merciless trolling by rival fans on social media and in our places of work. It is going to be a long week.

WORTHY BUT LABORIOUS TRIUMPH

If the 2013/2014 season was a transitional phase for the London billionaires, then 2014/2015 could be safely described as the time when Jose Mourinho’s expensively assembled squad not only showed promise but lived up to the primary expectation had of it by fans and owner. Chelsea were no longer little horses in the title race but had grown into the main horse on the tracks.

461779377  Football Hull City v Chelsea

Jose Mourinho’s quiet yet well calculated dealings in the market proved to be pieces of shrewd business at the end of the season. Cesc Fabregas confidently pulled the strings in the midfield; Nemanja Matic further consolidated his reputation as a destroyer at the base of the midfield; Thibault Courtois was imperious in goal (safe for a few gaffes which were not totally unexpected in his first season in the EPL); and Diego Costa was simply a revelation. The Spanish international simply took to the EPL like duck to water and his goals earlier in the season at the end proved vital for a Chelsea side that thinned out in the final run-in.

The Blues started the season playing with swagger and gait. Their swashbuckling style of football proved too sophisticated for virtually every team in the EPL to handle till the early weeks of February when they were brought down to earth by a Spurs team that appeared to have discovered the Achilles heels of this Chelsea side. They were walloped five goals to two and that was the beginning of reality. Chelsea never truly rediscovered the beautiful touch till the season ended though the refusal of their closest contenders to genuinely compete still gave Chelsea a generous gift of lifting the trophy by May 2015.

Diego Costa celebrates after scoring his first goal for Chelsea in a friendly v Olimpija Ljubljana.

In spite of this EPL triumph which according to Mourinho was his priority for the season (the Capital One Cup triumph was an icing on the cake), Chelsea’s shocking home exit in the UCL against PSG left much to be desired. This is not to talk of the embarrassing 2-4 home loss to Bradford in the FA Cup. All of these shortcomings have been attributed to a major flaw in the team – Jose Mourinho’s lack of rotation of the first eleven. Chelsea’s first eleven remained largely the same all through the season with changes only forced by extreme cases of fatigue and injuries that could not be managed. Jose’s apparent lack of belief in the quality he has on his bench and the club’s academy has attracted a lot of criticisms as one would have expected the squad to be much more rotated than he did in order to freshen the tiring legs.

The players appeared to tire out as February approached with the January purchase of Juan Cuadrado also appearing to have been a misadventure for both club and player.

 

SUCCESS DETERMINANTS

It is expected that a winning team would remain hungry for more success. In football, strengthening the core of the team, improving the quality of the bench and blooding bright prospects from the club’s academy (this lays foundation for sustained success) are essential to ensuring that such club never forgets the joy of winning.

Chelsea Champions

For Chelsea, Mourinho insists that his Chelsea team is in top condition and does not need any major surgical process to remain competitive next season. However, obvious facts and pre-season engagements do not support Mou’s position. While it is true that Chelsea’s first eleven remains one of the strongest in Europe, it can no longer lay claim to being far ahead of its rivals in the EPL. With Arsenal only one quality striker signing away from giving the EPL a realistic shot, United having panel-beat its squad to the point of having to replace Di-Maria and sorting De Gea’s transfer issue only; City also a few signings away from getting back into top condition and Liverpool fixing its frailties; Chelsea might have well been caught up with in terms of quality.

Mourinho prezzer Chelsea

While Felipe Luis has been transferred to Atletico Madrid and Cech to Arsenal, Chelsea’s major signings this summer have been Falcao (on loan) and Begovic (permanent). Begovic is obviously an understudy to Courtois but Falcao’s loan deal to replace the departed legendary Drogba must still be taken as a costly gamble. The reason for this pessimism is not far-fetched –  Falcao has not been the same since his anterior cruciate ligament injury. His return of a paltry four goals last season at United (though limited games are used as an excuse) does not help his reputation.

Willian joins Chelsea

Chelsea remains short on the flanks with only Eden Hazard being the creative winger in the team. Willian offers a lot of industry but lacks the creativity needed to break down well-disciplined teams from the flanks. Cuadrado who should be an alternative appears to have forgotten his boots at Fiorentina and does not look like he would turn out to be value for money.

In central defence, Chelsea still boasts about the strongest pairing in Europe but Terry is aging and has lost about a yard or two while Cahill showed last season that he could be prone to loss of concentration at critical moments of phases of the season. The emergence of Zouma is cheering news but getting Stones from Everton must be priority for Mou as a fall-back option should Cahill do the Tottenham circus again this season. Azpilicueta has performed very excellently in the left-back position but getting a natural left-back remains a priority for Jose. If Baba Rahman of Augsburg eventually comes in, then this end would be covered.

Fabregas’ habitual/traditional second half of the season working vacation must get an antidote if Chelsea would retain the EPL and give the UCL a respectable shot. His slide last season coincided with Diego Costa’s forced absence at various points and the goals dried up for Chelsea. One would have thought Mou would get a playmaker that could support Fab but it appears his confidence in Oscar’s ability is still firm and the lot of the latter should have surely been helped by having had a long rest in the summer.

Eden Hazard of Britain's Chelsea and Jesus Corona of Mexico's Monterrey fight for the ball during their Club World Cup semi-final soccer match in Yokohama

Upfront, there may be regrets for Mou’s failure to get a capable back-up for the injury-prone Costa. Mourinho’s failure to get Costa operated in the summer appears to have started haunting him as the striker has already been out twice with injuries in pre-season and Loic Remy continues to show only flashes of brilliance which are not sufficient to keep hopes bright. Falcao is the third striker but his reputation in front of goal of late and his floundering performances in pre-season would surely have Mourinho thinking hard if this was ever worth it.

EXPECTATIONS

Retaining the League title would be the least achievement expected of Jose Mourinho and his wards this season while nothing less than a semi-final finish in the UCL would be deemed respectable.

Personally, I expect Chelsea to win a minimum of two trophies, the EPL inclusive, considering the resources at Mourinho’s disposal and the psychological advantage of being holders. More so, he has retained the core of his squad with only minimal exits (fighters and boundless energy in Matic, Ramires and Mikel; flair in Hazard, Willian and Oscar; limitless creativity in Fabregas & Oscar; power in Costa, Ivanovic, Cahill and Luiz; versatility in Azpilicueta, Willian and Zouma; I HONESTLY do not know where to put Falcao and Cuadrado) and ultimately, he still has an unrepentant winner and leader with the legendary presence of John Terry.

Gary+Cahill+Chelsea+v+Manchester+City+j4iEmth_1iPx

Manchester City remain a genuine challenger with the reinforcements they have made; Arsenal are just an out-and-out striker and maybe one more quality central defender from ending their pretenders tag (Cech ticks more than five boxes for the team); Liverpool still need more than merely signing players to be in the run – they actually need Brendan Rodgers to use his head; and if Manchester United would quickly sort out De Gea’s transfer saga and replace Di Maria, they would be ready to gun for the title.

In Europe, a semi-final finish for Chelsea in Europe this term would not be a failure. With the continued strength of Barcelona, reinforcements at Bayern and PSG and Madrid coming back as a wounded lion, Chelsea would be outsiders for a place in the final match.

The gods have not moved out of Stamford Bridge. Mourinho and his team only need to do for themselves what the gods will not do for men.