The Premier League Season So Far: Part One

Liverpool: Philosopher Brendan Rodgers has had a mixed time at Liverpool this season, with the team struggling at times to adapt to his preferred style of play. Things certainly were not helped when he was conspicuous by his absence for a crunch match with Manchester United, as it coincided with the launch of his book ‘Hoof It: Why Long Ball Works.’ Rodgers was then absent for three subsequent matches to fulfil promotional duties for the best-seller. Kopites will be hoping for an improvement from The Reds in the second half of the season, but it seems unlikely after news emerged recently that Rodgers has a further two publications in the pipeline: an erotic football novel ‘Fifty Shades of Joe Allen’, and sci-fi thriller ‘Suso.’

QPR: The West London outfit have had similar distractions to Liverpool this season, with manager Mark Hughes’ impressive solo album causing an unnecessary distraction to on the field matters. Despite critical and commercial success, Hughes’ folk-rock album ‘Sparky’ failed to impress QPR owner Tony Fernandes, firing his manager after he failed to turn up to any of their first fifteen league games, thanks to touring duties. Wheeler-and-dealer ‘Arry Redknapp will be looking for some bargains in the January transfer window to try and steer the Rs clear of relegation.

Stoke City: The Potters have had a very solid season so far, playing their usual unique brand of attacking football. It is in no small part thanks to Tony Pulis, the cultured coach who has revealed Stoke’s key to success this season: introducing the players to fine art and literature.
“Ryan Shawcross in particular has taken a great shine to the works of Chaucer and Shakespeare” beamed Pulis. “Every week we attend a spoken word night at a quaint pub in the countryside- the lads love it.” The only member of the squad not to benefit from this Stoke-on-Trent Renaissance is unruly winger Jermaine Pennant, who was reportedly farmed out on loan to Wolverhampton Wanderers for insisting that the teachings of Aristotle are ‘dumb.’

West Ham United: Although the Hammers have generally impressed so far on their return to the top-flight, Sam Allardyce’s insistence on a certain style of play is causing headaches throughout Upton Park. Supporters of the club were perhaps a little overzealous in lending their support to the team in a home match against Arsenal in September, when they joined in with the aerial barrage on Arsenal’s goal by launching all of their possessions in the vague direction of Andy Carroll. The big #9 was left unconscious for ten minutes after heading one too many mobile phones, whilst Kevin Nolan fed off so many scraps he was struck down with food poisoning from a particularly nasty Chicken and Balti pie.

Sunderland: Disciplinary problems have plagued the north-east club in recent months, with serial offender Lee Cattermole currently out on bail after causing injury in a full-blooded challenge, whilst out shopping with his family. An unnamed man was left with a shattered shinbone after Cattermole reportedly spotted a loose ball in Sunderland city centre. Meanwhile Steven Fletcher is in similarly hot water after developing a fondness for robbing the pick ‘n’ mix section of his local newsagents on several occasions.

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Why Chicharito Deserves to be a Regular in Manchester United’s XI

8th April 2010 was a day of stark contrast in Manchester United history. On the one hand, the Red Devils had been knocked out of the Champions League the day before, as they lost on away goals to Bayern München (a 3-2 win at Old Trafford proved insufficient to overcome a 2-1 loss in Germany). On the other hand, a virtually unknown Mexican striker nicknamed “little pea” was unveiled as a new Manchester United player.

Javier “Chicharito” Hernández Balcázar was signed from Club Deportivo Guadalajara (widely known as “Chivas”), arguably Mexico’s most successful team, for a reported fee of £6million. No question Manchester United’s scouting system did a great job identifying Chicharito as a top striker when nobody knew about him.

Before enrolling the English most successful football club, Chicharito played the World Cup 2012 and helped his nation reaching the last 16 round (they lost 3-1 to Argentina) scoring twice in the process. Chicharito’s rare ability to appear from nowhere and score goals was remarkable in the tournament, but very could have predicted that he would soon become a key player for Manchester United.

On 27th July Chicharito made his debut against a MLS All-Star team and scored after just 18 minutes on the pitch in a match won 5-2 by United. It was just a summer friendly, but it was evident United had signed a special player, a true goal-poacher in the mould of the Reds legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

A bubbly character, the Mexican striker gel admirably well with his new environment (a new country, a new league, a new language… something that is never easy to handle) and enjoyed a highly successful maiden season in England, lifting both the Premier League and the Community Shield and scoring 20 goals in 45 appearances in all competitions, some of which were vital to conquer the 19th domestic league. His awesome performances made him to quickly become a fans-favourite player and also earned him the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year Award.

Chicharito’s second season at Old Trafford was not as brilliant as the first one. However, he managed to score 12 times in 36 appearances, despite having suffered several injuries. The fact of not having had a proper rest during several consecutive summers took its toll, so Sir Alex Ferguson made sure Chicharito would enjoy a well-deserved rest prior to the next beginning of the next season.

That decision prevented him from taking part in the Olympics, a competition finally won by Mexico. Chicharito could have won a gold medal, but he was on United’s pre-season tour instead. Nevertheless, Chicharito never complained, something which speaks volumes about his personality and professionalism. Manchester United fans must appreciate that he is not only an excellent football player; he is also a very unique human being.

Chicharito is now back to his best and doing what he knows best. Despite being only Sir Alex Ferguson’s third choice upfront, behind established world-class players Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, he has found the net 12 times in 22 appearances, including a hat-trick at Villa Park (3-2) and late winners at Stanford Bridge (3-2) and against Newcastle United (4-3) at Old Trafford on Boxing Day.

It may not be easy to accommodate all three players in Manchester United’s XI, but there are options: playing Rooney as a “false” left-winger on a standard 4-4-2 formation or playing the, hated in some quarters, diamond with Rooney at the tip.

Javier Hernández’s work-ethic is as good as anyone’s and he is the most natural goal-poacher of the team. In fact, he has scored 12 times so far this season despite his restricted number of minutes on the pitch and could have notched a few more easily if given more game-time. In addition, both Rooney and van Persie feel comfortable playing along with the Mexican striker.

Taking all these factors into consideration, I am in a solid position to affirm that Javier Hernández has done more than enough this season to be part of Manchester United’s starting line-up on a regular basis.

Lewis Holtby – Too Slow and Too Small

With the January transfer window well under way one of the best deals of the window so far may not come to fruition until the summer. FC Schalke’s prized asset Lewis Holtby has agreed a £67,000 a week deal with Tottenham Hotspur and will move to the North London side on a free transfer at the start of the summer transfer window after failing to sign a new contract with the German club.

The fact Tottenham managed to beat their fierce rivals Arsenal to the youngster’s signature has been well documented however they also managed to oust Liverpool, Everton, Valencia and Inter Milan to the midfielder. He said his reason for choosing Spurs over the four other clubs reported to be interested in him was due to how highly he rates their manager, Andre Villas-Boas. He said “[Tottenham] are not a small club and have an insanely good manager.” While the free transfer will take place in the summer Holtby may yet make the move to London

Whether Spurs sign him on a free or for a small fee this transfer is a very good deal with a low risk and a potentially high reward for Tottenham. If Holtby excels at Tottenham they will have signed a this month if Spurs agree to pay FC Schalke a fee, reported to be around £1.6 million.

brilliant player for virtually nothing with a massive resell value. If the move doesn’t work out the worst case scenario for Spurs would be that Holtby is sold for a relatively decent fee which would probably cover any potential transfer fee and wages. Holtby himself may see this as an opportunity to show his quality and move onto one of Europe’s elite teams just as past Spurs players such as Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Carrick, Robbie Keane and most recently Luka Modric have done.

The good news for Spurs fans is that this signing doesn’t signal that Gareth Bale will soon be added to that list of quality players that have left White Hart Lane. He isn’t a natural replacement for Bale, while Holtby has been known to play on the wing he is primarily a central midfield player who likes to drift out wide. This would mean he could link-up well with the Welshman and compliment his abilities instead of being the player to replace them. With Bale showing a tendency to cut inside Jan Vertonghen has been left with the responsibility of being Tottenham’s sole left footed player out wide with Benoit Assou-Ekotto still out injured. Holtby is left footed however, he could use his nous on the wing and quality delivery to good effect when Bale comes inside. The German has already shown he can play well behind a big striker in Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and could link well with Emmanuel Adebayor, or 6 foot 2” Brazilian front man Leandro Damiao whom Spurs have long been linked with.

“He has decided to go this way (to England), so now everybody waits to see how he adapts. But certainly he has the ability and the technical quality. What he needs in England is the physical quality too and that will be where the question mark sits when he arrives there”, said Eberl.While it looks as though Holtby could be fit in well at Tottenham Borussia Monchengladbach’s sporting director, Max Eberl, raised concerns about the former Die Fohlen youth player’s ability to adapt to the English game due to his lack of physical attributes.

Eberl also denied that Holtby was dismissed by Monchengladbach from their academy due to being ‘too slow and too small’ in 2005 after recruiting Marko Marin, who is now also in London with Chelsea and is of a similar age and position to Holtby.

“Lewis played for us until he was 15 and then we brought in Marko Marin and he decided to move on to another academy. But now both players will play in the Premier League next season, so we can only take pride in that.”

While it is true that Holtby is a fairly lightweight player and stands at only 5 foot 7” he has the technical abilities to fit into the Premier League and players such as David Silva and former White Hart Lane star Luka Modric will tell you that is the most important factor.

Although small in stature Holtby is certainly capable of winning the ball himself and playing as a centre midfielder rather than just off of the front man. While ex-Bundesliga man Shinji Kagawa, who has had a tough start to life in the Premiership featuring in only 8 of United’s 21 league games thus far, prefers to receive the ball from midfield players Holtby has played as a deep-lying midfielder himself. Holtby featured in the role under Huub Stevens but has since been moved behind Huntelaar this season by new Die Knappen manager Jens Keller, he is a player who is capable of finding the ball himself if there is a lack of supply coming his way.

Despite being capable of playing in a variety of different midfield roles Holtby hasn’t managed to force himself into a regular spot on the German national team since making his debut under Joachim Low in 2010. The likes of Mesut Ozil, Mario Gotze, Marco Reus, Thomas Muller and Andre Schurrle have blocked Holtby’s path into the Die Mannschaft first team. It is unlikely Holtby is regretting his decision to choose his birth country of Germany over his Evertonian father’s homeland of England. Holtby is continuing to make progress with the Under-21 side and is set to captain the German youth side at the Under-21 European Championships this summer in Israel.

Why Manchester United won’t run away with the Premiership title

If you had to offer me a prediction now, as to who will win the title this season, I would be more than inclined to say Manchester United. They’ve got a seven point lead, they’ve beaten City on their own turf and are notoriously good at doing the business in the back-end of the season.

 

Having said that, I don’t think they’ll win the title with total ease. Man City will still have a big gain in terms of not playing matches in Europe in midweek, they’ve got a more solid defence and the spending power to invest in January. Here are some reasons why United may struggle to finish the job in the second half of the season.

 

Man Utd’s poor defensive record

Let’s examine where the defensive record of the past Premiership title winners has ranked amongst that of the other teams in the league:

 

2011-12, Man City, best defensive record

2010-11, Man Utd 2nd defensive record

2009-10, Chelsea, 2nd defensive record

2008-09, Man Utd, joint-best defensive record

2007-08, Man Utd, best defensive record

2006-07, Man Utd, joint-2nd defensive record

2005-06, Chelsea, best defensive record

2004-05, Chelsea, best defensive record

2003-04, Arsenal, best defensive record

2002-03, Man Utd, best defensive record

 

Currently 2012-13, Man Utd, joint-11th defensive record

 

6 times in the past 10 seasons, the team to win the Premiership title has been the team with the best defensive record, and the champions have never had less than the 2nd best defensive record. Manchester United have currently got the 11th best defensive record.

 

Having said that, they have missed the likes of Jones, Smalling and Vidic and particularly Vidic will make a big difference so I would expect their defensive record to improve, but you’d still expect them to be doing better than having conceded similar numbers of goals as West Brom and Sunderland.

 

Van Persie’s goals have been pivotal- what if he gets injured?

Leading on from the point about their defensive record, they’ve been let off the hook from this several times by having a fantastic ability to come from behind and score goals. Can they continue to rely on

 

People make the point about United having great attacking options, which I wouldn’t completely disagree with. Although Welbeck is being slightly overrated in my opinion, Hernandez is a fantastic impact substitute and any team would be very happy to have those players.

RVP has been the difference maker for United this season but are they too reliant on him?

Despite this, I do feel there is a big reliance on Robin van Persie this season, as his 16 Premiership goals have won United 16 points. Of course there’s an argument that if van Persie wasn’t playing, another striker would and they’d get some of those goals back, but I don’t reckon they’d have got as many with Chicharito. Plus, the Mexican adds nothing in terms of experience in build-up play and his sole focus is on scoring goals in the box, whereas van Persie provides the team with some more creativity, having already got 6 assists.

 

However, my concern for United would be that van Persie won’t be at his best if he’s playing constantly in the Champions League on Wednesdays and in the Premiership on weekends. There’ll need to be an element of prioritizing and team rotation from Ferguson to stop RVP suffering from jadedness.

 

Also, you have to question what would happen if he picked up a long-term injury. Here, I’m not saying: “van Persie will get injured, therefore United won’t score goals, therefore they’ll lose games, therefore they’ll lose the title.” The point I’m making is that you can’t predict what will happen in the second half of the season. An injury could easily happen to Tevez or Aguero for City, but because you don’t know when or where injuries will occur, it seems premature to say that Man United will run away with the title.

 

United have the harder run-in

United run-in post Manchester derby:

Stoke (a)

Aston Villa (h)

Arsenal (a)

Chelsea (h)

Swansea (h)

West Brom (a)

 

City run-in post Manchester derby:

West Brom (h)

Tottenham (a)

West Ham (h)

Swansea (a)

Reading (a)

Norwich (h)

 

Of the two clubs’ fixtures towards the end of the season, United have definitely got it harder. They go away to Stoke who are yet to be beaten at home, then they play rivals Arsenal and Chelsea, and West Brom who have also got a great home record at the moment. Four games there, in which there’s a fair chance United could drop points.

 

City have to go Tottenham which will be a hard game, but all of their other matches, apart from maybe Swansea away where they slipped up last season, ought to be quite straightforward.

 

Let’s not also forget that United might be in the quarter-finals or semi-finals of the Champions League around this period, whereas Man City’s team will be spending the whole week focusing on the game ahead, which I think will be a big advantage.

 

To conclude…

People who predict Manchester United to win this years’ title at a canter, with a 7 point lead as early on in the season as December have obviously forgotten the 8 point lead they blew away last season in April. On the other hand, if United can get themselves in that position again, I don’t believe they’ll throw it away, because some of the younger players in the squad will have learnt from that experience and they won’t want it to happen to them twice.

 

On balance, the next few weeks will be important in the title race. If City can damage limitate and reduce the gap to 4 or 5pts, they’ll have a good chance in the back end of the season once the Champions League starts and United have other competitions to worry about. However, if United can maintain the gap or even extend it, then I think they’ll have enough strength in depth to finish the job and win the title back.

An analysis of Thiago Alcantara’s situation (By a Barca Fan)

There are so many layers of complexion in this situation, so I hope I’ll not ramble on for too long.

Man United have contacted the entourage of Thiago. They offer him a huge pay rise (Xavi-Iniesta salary) and to be starter from day one. [as]

If that’s true, you can hardly blame the lad. The World Cup is right around the corner, and becoming a starter at United severely increase his chances of a (starting) spot and/or higher involvement in the tournament. Further, Thiago has never struck me as a player that’s in it for the money, but such an extreme wage bump while playing for United would be hard for any player to turn down.

The thing is, you can hardly blame Thiago for wanting to leave Barcelona. We as fans expect our players to have 100% loyalty towards our club while we often forget that the club needs to show loyalty the other way around too. This is where Barcelona have failed under Rosell.

Let’s just start with his playing time. Look at any matchthread from /r/barca and you’ll see how people couldn’t believe that he started on the bench again. Xavi had fitness problems for large parts of the season but he still played so much even though he wasn’t anywhere near top of his game. Granted, Thiago has had the occasional lapse in concentration which has led to a few balls lost in midfield (huge no-no for Barcelona).

However, we won the season with fucking 100 points. Pep never reached 100 points because he was much more focused on playing the youngsters. Tito was showing signs of an OK rotation of the squad before his cancer “struck” but then it went down hill. Barcelona should never care about setting records but playing younger players in other to get them match experience.

In other words, at a sporting level Barcelona did not reward Thiago talents with adequate playing time. But it is much more interesting when we look at management issue

The problem with Thiago is that the club has grossly mismanaged his contract. Under Rosell, we have had our fair share of contractual problems:

  • Keita leaving on a free.
  • Youth players leaving.
  • Youth players banned from playing due to errors in the contractual process.
  • Abidal’s contract not being extended.
  • Tello’s release clause stands at a mere 10M which is way too little for such a talented player.
  • Muniesa leaves on a free due to the club not wanting to extend his contract. Should have had a longer contract and atleast made 4-5M on his sale if he wasn’t good enough.

The worst offense here is Thiago’s escape clause of 18M. You’re talking about one of the most talented creative midfielders in the world. 18M is a scoop any day in the week. Tito said he didn’t know anything about it. Rosell has kept his mouth shut. Either that’s extreme incompetence or it’s just not true. If they knew about it, it’s bad business from Rosell. Tito shouldn’t play players based on contractual clauses but he should be aware of them and Rosell should never have let it been so low.

You might have noticed how we are starting to see rumors of Mata joining Barcelona as soon as the Thiago rumors started to increase. This is by no means a coincidence – Rosell has leaked the “interest” in Mata in order to deflect attention from the Thiago case. Who honestly believes Chelsea would let him go?

The whole PR spin is working though. Fans are starting to turn on Thiago – “Club is bigger than one player etc.” which is all true. But the fault doesn’t lie with Thiago. It lies with the club. Tito for not playing such a talented player enough and Rosell for fucking up his contract. Rosell is just doing his best to deflect blame since we might have elections right around the corner and he isn’t exactly that popular.

Meanwhile, Marca are reporting Zubizaretta has contacted Thiago in order convince him into staying. A new contract ‘may’ have been offered. (@Youngcules)

So it seems like they’re trying to fix the situation in the last seconds. Hopefully he’ll take it, as I want him to stay. We can’t even find an adequate replacement for twice what were going to get for him. And people who will inevitably point at Sergi Roberto etc from La Masia is kidding themselves. Thiago is much more talented and ready now.

TL;DR; Club mismanaged both Thiago playing time and his contract. Part of a bigger problem with Rosell and management. Fans expect loyalty from Thiago but the club isn’t offering any towards Thiago.

This article was written by Bob_Swarleymann and appeared first on /r/soccer.

(Thanks to @Youngcules @euleri and @Barcastuff for insights/sources etc).

Black Cats Pouncing

Sunderland were the worst team to watch in the Premier League last season. That might seem slightly harsh, especially when we’re talking about a division that included the dreadful QPR, but surely even Sunderland fans wouldn’t disagree. Yes, they were a bit shit, yet with the league being overrun by Russian sugar daddies and Qatari royalty, there was something comforting about this quintessentially average Premier League club going about its business, aiming for nothing more than a decent cup run, a top-half finish and of course, victory over eternal rivals Newcastle United.

The fact that they weren’t a great team was beside the point: supporters were so lovingly self-deprecating and aware of their mediocrity you couldn’t hold it against them. Most, if not all of them are supporters in the old-fashioned, poetic sense of the word: the typical long-suffering Football fan whose team just can’t seem to win. This rings especially true considering Sunderland’s last major trophy was the FA Cup in 1973.

When Martin O’Neill was appointed in December 2011, he really invigorated the team. However a year later, the Black Cats were running on empty. Devoid of any drive, creativity or athleticism, it was quite sad to see them barely able to string two passes together, let alone mount any attack of note. With each woeful display, marquee summer signing Adam Johnson seemed to justify Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini’s reluctance to play him. To top it off, Stephane Sessegnon, Sunderland’s main creative outlet was out of form.

It came as no surprise when O’Neill was sacked on March 30 with the North East club hovering dangerously close to the relegation zone. What was worrying was the way the Irishman had completely lost interest in his charges. The man who supported Sunderland as a boy looked sad and aloof in press conferences. If reports are to be believed, he didn’t even bother to attend training sessions.

When the time came to replace O’Neill, the logical assumption was that the club would bring in some run-of-the-mill manager, a Neil Warnock or an Alan Curbishley. Instead, owner Ellis Short — probably desperate to generate some kind of excitement — went with the left-field choice par excellence and appointed Swindon Town’s Paolo Di Canio.

And just like that, things started to become a lot more interesting.

The appointment was controversial and generated a lot of headlines, many of which were not particularly flattering. The media was quick to portray Di Canio as some kind of fascist buffoon. While the Italian was certainly guilty of some unsavory behavior in the past, it didn’t take long for most of the Sunderland faithful to warm to him. He made all the right noises, speaking with passion about his commitment to the cause, his sense of responsibility towards supporters and the considerable improvements required, particularly with regards to players’ fitness.

Obviously Football fans always endure the same clichés and generalities whenever a new, eager to please manager is appointed. But check any Di Canio press conference since his arrival in the North East and there is no doubting the man’s genuine passion and enthusiasm.

Despite his first match in charge yielding a 2-1 loss to Chelsea, there were positive signs and at the very least, Di Canio’s animated figure on the touchline was a welcome change from the distraught O’Neill.

The following fixture however, would secure Di Canio’s place in Sunderland folklore. In only his second game in charge, he engineered a superb 3-0 victory away to Sunderland’s greatest rival. Three wonderful goals at St James’ Park left a miserable looking Newcastle devastated and sent Di Canio off on one of his now-legendary celebrations.

Next came victory over Everton at the Stadium of Light, and despite a heavy 6-1 defeat at the hands of an Aston Villa side discovering its mojo followed by two consecutive draws, Sunderland managed to narrowly avoid relegation at the expense of Wigan.

The Italian arrived at Sunderland at a critical time and saved them from the brink of disaster. He assured supporters that he would work hard to improve the team and he has been true to his word, with Sunderland one of the most active clubs in the summer transfer window: no less than eight players have been recruited, with another seven departing the North East. Don’t rule out further exits either: Phil Bardsley for one is unlikely to remain a Di Canio player after incurring the Italian’s wrath when he was photographed lying in a pile of £50 notes.

Amongst the new signings, Sunderland fans should expect good things from American striker Jozy Altidore and French starlet El-Hadji Ba. The signings of Juventus forward Emanuele Giaccherini and young Argentine full-back Gino Peruzzi should also be completed imminently.

It’s hard to know what to expect from Di Canio in his first full Premier League season. His new signings might not gel, and he may have tried to offload too many players too quickly. There have also been concerns regarding his relationship with the players: he has been a keen disciplinarian and has not shied away from dishing out fines. Outgoing player Titus Bramble has criticized the Italian, claiming that he is upsetting certain players in the dressing room. Then again, when you think of the dross these players had served up under O’Neill, a kick up the backside is probably exactly what they need.

For now, almost to the surprise of some fans, it’s pretty exciting to be a Sunderland supporter. Haway the lads?

Premier League Newcomers Team of the Season 2012/13

Sadly, the end of the Premier League season is now upon us, and writers everywhere are picking their teams of the season, so I thought I’d do the same.

The problem I have with many of these teams is that, most of the time, it’s obvious who will be in them and as a result, they don’t vary much from writer to writer. That’s not very interesting to me; I’m sure none of you reading this needs me to tell you how good a season Gareth Bale’s had, how Robin van Persie made a seamless transition to Manchester United, or how great a player Juan Mata is for Chelsea.

So, I try and do things a little differently. I pick my team solely out of players who had never played a single Premier League game before this season. It is known that the Premier League can be a particularly tough league for players to adapt to, and many excellent players have tried and failed to do so in the past. I think this makes it all the more impressive when a player can come into a new league and produces their best in their first season.

As this is a team of the season, I don’t include players who arrived in January, as they have not played a full season. So, there is no room in my team for Philippe Coutinho or Roger Espinoza, despite their excellent play since their arrival.

So here’s my Premier League newcomers team of the season 2012/13! (4-2-3-1 formation, stats by OPTA)

GK: Julio Cesar (QPR): Julio Cesar just beats Hugo Lloris to make this team. QPR have had a dismal season and, not completely unfairly, a lot of the blame has fallen on the signings Mark Hughes made last summer. However one of those signings, Julio Cesar, who was seen as a bit of an unnecessary signing when he arrived (most people considered Robert Green to be good enough), has ensured that this season was not even worse. Julio Cesar and Lloris have pretty similar goalkeeping stats, but the fact that Julio Cesar has had to make a whopping 97 saves, proving he plays behind a very weak defence, puts him over the top in my opinion.

LB: Ben Davies (Swansea City): Last season, Swansea’s Neil Taylor, without much fanfare, was one of the Premier League’s best left-backs. Taylor was ruled out for the season quite early on, so Ben Davies, who hadn’t played a first-team game prior to this season, was thrown in at the deep end. Davies has developed into a full-back who is strong in the tackle, good on the ball and capable of starting and joining in attacks. Southampton’s Luke Shaw also had a very good debut season and is an exciting prospect.

CB: Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham): Vertonghen was very highly rated when Spurs won the race to sign him ahead of several other clubs, and this season he has shown what all the fuss was about. Vertonghen’s biggest strength is the way he reads the game and often steps up at just the right time to make an interception. Vertonghen is also one of the Premier League’s best ball-playing centre-backs and an excellent passer. Vertonghen has also managed to score 4 goals this season.

CB: Matija Nastasic (Manchester City): Last season, the central defensive partnership of Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott was instrumental in City winning the league. That partnership has now been broken up by Nastasic, who has supplanted Lescott and become an integral part of City’s defence, which is the best in the Premier League. Nastasic is an outstanding tackler, who has amassed an incredible tackle success rate of over 93% and is also great in the air.

RB: Sascha Riether (Fulham): It’s been a strong year for new right-backs in the Premier League. Cesar Azpilacueta’s been great for Chelsea this season, Southampton’s Nathaniel Clyne’s adapted well to the Premier League and Matt Lowton’s been one of the bright spots in a largely terrible Aston Villa defence. However, my vote goes to Riether, who has been excellent in a pretty lacklustre Fulham side. Riether is good in the tackle, good at reading the game, very comfortable on the ball and a good attacking full-back. Riether joined Fulham on loan after Cologne were relegated from the Bundesliga, and Fulham have moved quickly to sign Riether on a permanent basis.

MF: Jonathan De Guzman (Swansea City): A few seasons ago whilst at Feyenoord, De Guzman had agreed terms with Manchester City only for the transfer to collapse after the clubs couldn’t agree on a fee. Michael Laudrup had singed De Guzman when he was manager of Mallorca, so when he became available again, he brought him to Swansea. De Guzman has scored 5 goals and made 6 assists this season and played a huge role in Swansea winning the Capital One Cup, scoring twice in the final.

MF: Claudio Yakob (West Bromwich Albion): Yakob has been one of the reasons behind West Brom’s strong season, where they have finished in the top half and been well away from any relegation worries. Yakob is a defensive midfielder who has shown himself to be an excellent tackler and while not a creative player, good at keeping possession in midfield. Alexander Tettey of Norwich was also a great midfield enforcer this season.

MF: Eden Hazard (Chelsea): At a transfer fee that was reported to be £32m, big things were expected of Hazard. He has not disappointed. Hazard is an exceptionally creative player with amazing technique, which, when coupled with his fast pace, makes him very hard to stop. Hazard is devastating in the final third of the pitch (he completes 82% of his passes there) and has 11 assists to go with the 9 goals he has scored.

FW: Michu (Swansea City): Last season, Michu was the top scorer from midfield in La Liga, with 15 goals for Rayo Vallecano. Despite this, he seemingly went unnoticed by most clubs, which allowed Swansea to take advantage of Vallecano’s financial problems to sign Michu for a low fee, believed to be less than £2m, which makes him one of the greatest bargains in Premier League history. Michu has scored 18 goals this season and has one of the best chance conversion rates in the Premier League at 21%. Sadly, Michu was somehow overlooked for the end of season awards both by his fellow players and football writers.

FW: Santi Cazorla (Arsenal): Another player who was somehow overlooked for the end of season awards, Cazorla has been one of the Premier League’s best, and most consistent, performers this season. Cazorla has been involved (meaning either a goal or an assist) in over a third of Arsenal’s goals this season, scoring 12 and assisting 11. Cazorla is not just an exquisite passer of the ball in all areas of the pitch; he also has a willingness to help his team out in defensive situations that is rare in creative players.

FW: Christian Benteke (Aston Villa): To put it simply, Villa would have been relegated without Benteke this season. Benteke has scored 19 goals and has one of the best chance conversion rates in the league at 26%. Benteke’s play this season has been so good that Darren Bent, who has been a consistent scorer in the Premier League for years now, has barely played. Rumours have it that Benteke’s performances this season has attracted the attention of other clubs such as Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal are interested, so Benteke may not be a Villa player for much longer unless they can give him a big pay rise.

Substitutes

Hugo Lloris (Tottenham): It was a bit of a surprise when Spurs signed Lloris on transfer deadline day, as Brad Friedel was not only entrenched as Spurs’ first choice, he was also still a very capable keeper doing a very good job. It took Lloris a while to settle in, but he’s shown this season that he can not only do the same things Friedel could, but he can do a lot of the things Friedel could not. Lloris is far more comfortable coming off his line than Friedel, which is important because Andre Villas-Boas favours playing with a high defensive line. Lloris commands his area better, distributes the ball better, and seems to inspire more confidence in his defence than Friedel did.

Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea): Considering just how strong a squad Chelsea have had the past few seasons and their ability since Abramovich arrived to get almost any player they want, it’s amazing how they’ve never quite managed to solve their problems at right-back. They’ve spent large sums of money of players like Paulo Ferreira and Jose Bosingwa, but nobody’s ever quite been right. That seems to have changed following the arrival of Azpilicueta. Azpilicueta (or ‘Dave’ as his teammates, who’ve given up on pronouncing his name call him!) has been one of Chelsea’s most consistent players all season and looks to have made the right-back spot his own.

Ron Vlaar (Aston Villa): Generally, Villa’s defence has been terrible this season, largely due to injuries, which meant that a lot of inexperienced players have had to come into the first team before they were ready. Vlaar, who is an experienced player, has done a good job in helping those young players through matches, and ensuring that things weren’t even worse for Villa this season. Vlaar isn’t a quick player but makes up for that with great positional sense and the way he reads the game.

Kevin Mirallas (Everton): Mirallas would’ve made my starting XI if not for the fact that he struggled with injury in the first half of the season. Mirallas is a very quick, very skilful player who is at his best when running at opponents and is capable of scoring some spectacular goals. He’s also versatile, being comfortable playing on both flanks or as a second striker. He has struggled with the physicality of the Premier League a bit, and often has to be substituted due to picking up minor injuries.

Robert Snodgrass (Norwich City): For the past few years Snodgrass had been regarded as one of the best players in England outside the Premier League and it was a mystery why no Premier League club had signed him before Norwich did last summer. Snodgrass has been the solution to Norwich’s wing problems of last season, and the prospect of new signing Ricky van Wolfswinkel benefitting from Snodgrass’ crosses next season should be an exciting one for Norwich fans.

Arouna Kone (Wigan Athletic): Another contender for ‘bargain of the season’ at a reported cost of £2.7m, Kone has scored 11 goals for Wigan this season, which is the same as Carlos Tevez, Jermain Defoe and Olivier Giroud. Sadly, Kone’s goals weren’t enough to keep Wigan in the Premier League, but I think it’s very likely Kone will be wanted by several clubs this summer.

Rickie Lambert (Southampton): I’ll confess to having a bit of a soft spot for Lambert as he grew up quite close to me and a few of my friends used to play in the same youth teams as him, but he does deserve a place in this team. Lambert made it to the Premier League the hard way, having spent years in the lower leagues. Lambert this season joined a small group of player who’ve scored in all 4 divisions of English league football, and went on to score 14 goals this season, the most by any English striker and is being talked of as a possible England international. Lambert has proved that he can score goals with his head, feet and from free-kicks.

The Realistic Fantasy Transfer Rumours For Summer 2013

Here is a rundown of the rumoured biggest transfers of the upcoming transfer window:

Radamel Falcao to Monaco

Monaco, managed currently by Claudio Ranieri, made headlines last summer with the signing of highly rated River Plate youngster Lucas Ocampos for 16 million.  The Russian billionaire in charge of AS Monaco, Dmitry Rybolovlev, is determined to once again help the club scale the heights of French football and he sees the signing Falcao as a major stepping stone in this development that will serve to attract other stars to the club.  It is said if the move happens Falcao will double his wage and there may even be a clause inserted into the contract which could allow him to leave the club after a season as Monaco are currently in a dispute with the rest of French football concerning their laxed tax laws – something the other clubs feel gives them an unfair advantage.  The speculated price of the transfer is rumoured to be around €60m.

Wayne Rooney To Chelsea

On the day David Moyes was confirmed as the man to take over from Sir Alex Ferguson, it was reported that Wayne Rooney had handed in a transfer request to Manchester United.  This was confirmed when United issued a statement saying Rooney was ‘not for sale’.  Rooney had met with Ferguson two weeks prior to the Moyes appointment to tell the Scot his intentions.  Rooney’s status at United has been downgraded somewhat since the arrival of van Persie and he is no longer seen as the indispensable figure he once was.  Rooney also has a complicated and fractured history with Moyes. The former Everton manager took Rooney to court over statements Rooney had made about him in his autobriography.  Speculation suggests Chelsea are circling the situation and may test the water with a €30m bid. 

Marouane Fellaini to Manchester United

With the appointment of Moyes, it is not surprising to see Fellaini so heavily linked with United now, especially given the fact that the Manchester giants lack that extra presence in the midfield to put them back into contention with the best Europe has to offer.  Fellaini stated in January for a team that competes in the Champiosns League next season, making clear his personal ambitions were bigger than what he believed Everton could achieve.  It is also expected that Moyes will be supported in his first year in the hotseat at the Theatre of Dreams by being granted a warchest with which to strenghten the side, something that would make this move even more plausible.  The speculated transfer fee to take Fellaini from Everton is said to be around €35m.

Samir Handanovic to Barcelona

With the news Victor Valdes does not want to continue his playing days at Bacelona and is eager to leave a year before his contract ends, the Catalonians have entered the market for a new goalkeeper.  In a domestic season ravaged by injuries, Handavonic has remained a shining beacon for the Nerazzurri.  His reputation has long been confirmed in Serie A, impressing under Francesco Guidolin at Udinese before making the jump to Inter last summer.  It is believed Inter president Massimo Morratti would want at least €30m for Handanovic but a deal could be struck involving a lesser fee plus the trade of Barcelona attacker Alexis Sanchez.

Hernanes to Tottenham Hotspur

It was no secret that Spurs desperately tried and failed to bring in Portuguese midfield playmaker Joao Moutnho in from FC Porto last summer.  The same pursuit is expected this summer but if it again fails to come to fruition it is almost certain Spurs will turn their attention to Lazio midfielder Hernanes.  The Brazilian has been the stand-out (along with Miroslav Klose) of this current Lazio side since he joined in 2010.  Hernanez possesses a deadly right foot from range, and is equally as deadly as on his other side as one of the few completely two-footed players.  He drives forward from midfield, often increasing the tempo of play or switching the ball rapidly from one wing to the other to isolate defenders.  With the likes of Inter Milan also reportedly ready to splash big money on him though, he won’t come cheap and will cost Spurs at least €25m.

Neymar to Barcelona

Barcelona will be looking to strengthen after this season’s embarassment in Europe, and who better to bolster the attack than the biggest prospect in South America.  Brazilian head coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has recently said he believes Neymar will play alongside his hero Messi next season.  The strong Brazilian economy has meant many Brazilian clubs are now able to keep homegrown talents for longer as they are able to match most of the wages European sides can afford and in turn are able to ask for greater transfer fees.  The fee connected to this rumour has soared up to €100m.  However, expect it more to be in the region of the Kaka transfer fee from AC Milan to Real Madrid.

Robert Lewandowski to Bayern Munich

Almost of Europe’s biggest clubs are linked to Lewandowski and who wouldn’t jump at the chance to land the man who sank Real Madrid?  It seems out of respect for his current club he has chosen not yet to publicise his decision but all indications point to Bayern being the overwhelming favourites to land the Polish hitman.  This move, along with Mario Gotze’s (also) to Bayern, may in itself spark a fascinating transfer domino effect as Borssuia Dortmund are strongly linked to be after Chelsea’s Kevin de Bruyne and Ajax’ Christian Eriksen.  Lewandowski’s transfer price is said to be as low as €25m, a bargain in this day and age.