Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Premier League Teams Relegated XI

The transfer window is upon us. This is the time of the year when some of us are excited about who are sides could buy, while there are some of us who dread this time of the year, as it means some of our heroes and idols could be prized away from our beloved clubs.

The latter feeling is probably what most of the relegated sides are feeling like. This season, there are some brilliant players who face the raw reality of playing in the Championship. And with this, it means clubs in the higher divisions are sniffing about these relegated sides to find themselves a bargain on good talent.
So what I’ve done is made my best XI of the relegated Premier League sides (Wolves, Blackburn and Bolton), with the help of stats.

Here it goes.

Goalkeeper: Paul Robinson: Picking out of the keepers Bogdan, Robinson and Hennessey was surprisingly hard. At times all three have been dour, while at other times they have kept their teams in games. 
Green =best, Red = worse

I chose Paul Robinson as the former England international hasn’t been that bad this season. You could easily argue he’s been Blackburn’s best defensive player this season. But what makes Robinson stand out ahead of the other two relegated keepers, is the fact he’s made a good amount of saves but most importantly he’s made the fewest mistakes too. Robinson offers more than just good goalkeeping, the former Spurs man is a good leader and is very experienced. 

Right Back: Jason Lowe: This was yet another tough choice, simply because I feel none of the right backs for the trio of clubs have been that great at all. 
Stats via EPL Index
 I’ve gone with Blackburn’s Jason Lowe, for two simple reasons. Reason number 1 is the lad is 20 years old and point 2 is the kid has shown glimpses of potential during this season. However, on the same token, I feel Lowe has quite a bit of improving and developing to do. I feel he could win more ground duals and tackles. But with experience and confidence in his technical ability this will naturally improve. What excites me about Lowe is that at 20 he’s near enough at the level of right backs who are at their supposed peak years. Lowe has also created 15 chances which demonstrates his willingness to go forward. It also shows the creativity and intelligence in his play. At 20, Lowe’s stats show he is a competent Premier League right back. Blackburn may struggle to keep hold of this talented young lad. 

Centre Backs: Rodger Johnson and Grant Hanley
Rodger Johnson: I think Johnson has been a decent signing for Wolves. However, he hasn’t covered himself with much glory during certain parts of the season. However, when focused he is a Premier League standard defender, although in the past two years, he’s been relegated with two different clubs. So he’s hardly a great omen to have knocking about. But I feel Johnson is a well rounded defender who can not only tackle, he challenge sufficiently in the air and he reads the game relatively well too.
Grant Hanley: I’ve picked another young Blackburn kid for the defence.  At 20 years of age, Hanley has shown good promise for the future. The Scottish youngster has won a relatively impressive 76% of his tackles this season. Hanley also reads the game very well for a young lad too. This season Hanley has averaged 1.9 interceptions per game. But there is room for improvement in the kid. I feel he could be a bit more aerially dominant especially as he’s 6 ft 2 inches.

Left Back: Martin Olsson: This was one of the easiest choices. The Swedish international has been a solid customer for Blackburn this term. Olsson has shown he is more than competent enough to venture forward and create chances. He has shown solidity defensively too. Olsson won 74% of his tackles and 60% of his aerial duals too. Which isn’t bad at all. At 24 and his ability to play as a left midfielder, I can see quite a few clubs sniffing about him.

Defensive Midfield: Karl Henry: This was quite hard. None of the relegated sides had many good holding players. The two who I thought were the best out of the limited options were Wolves’ Karl Henry and Nigel Reo-Coker (who is a free now). 

I’ve gone with Henry as I think he’s a safer bet at defensive midfield. His tackle record is good and no Wolves player has won more tackles than him. Being a good passer in defensive midfield is crucial too. Henry’s passing abilities are very good, he had a 86% pass accuracy, which for a relegated side isn’t always a common thing.
Centre Midfield: Steven N’Zonzi: The Blackburn midfielder hasn’t been outstanding by any means this season. But he certainly is a Premier League standard player. At 23, he’s become a key part of Blackburn’s setup and this is demonstrated by the fact he’s made the most passes for the Rovers this season (1736). But what’s just as impressive is that he had a pass accuracy percentage of 84% which shows he is a player who is very comfortable on the ball and distributing it. N’Zonzi’s distribution and creativity has been fantastic too. The Blackburn man has assisted 5 times this term. Defensively, N’Zonzi has strengths too. He has won 89 aerial duals this season, no player for any of the relegated sides have won more aerial duals than him. 

Centre Midfield: Mark Davies: Bolton really missed this guy when he was out injured at the start of the season. But when he returned, it’s no surprise Bolton’s fortunes began to change. Mark Davies is an intelligent footballer, one who can pass the ball very tidly. In fact, Davies had a pass accuracy of 87% which is brilliant. Not only this he made 332 final third passes with a pass accuracy of 80%, an impressive feat for a relegated player. I certainly feel Davies will be a good signing for most Premier League sides, especially those who like to keep the ball on the ground. He is one of those players who can command the ball and can his side ticking over. At 24 years old, I hope he stays in the Premier League. 

Right Midfield: Matt Jarvis: I’ve gone for Matt Jarvis, although he predominantly plays on the left, I still feel he has to be in this team. At 26, Jarvis is reaching is peak and this season he has proved he certainly has the ability to stick around in the Premier League. Jarvis to me is a traditional winger, he can run at defenders and put in great balls into the box. This term Jarvis managed 8 goals and 4 assists, which is encouraging. I feel this lad could be the most expensive relegated player to move this summer. His creativity, work rate and good finishing make him a very useful player.

Left Midfield: Junior Hoilett: This boy is special and he’s made that bit extra special by the fact he is a free agent. Hoilett 21, is interesting all the big boys this summer. The Blackburn wizard has shown great promise this term, by often by popping up and getting crucial goals for his side. But what impresses me most about Hoilett is his dynamism and technical abilities. Hoilett has the ability to change games within a second, if you look at his successful dribbles he dominates. The young Canadian has great feet, great dribbling skills and a great touch. He certainly will be a brilliant free transfer signing for someone this summer. But I’ve got one issue with Hoilett. Comparing his chances created to the others, I feel he could create more and during some games he does go missing. If Hoilett wants to become a real top, top player he must get more involved in every game he plays in.

Striker: Yakubu: Like the wingers, picking the striker was hard and it was made even harder by the fact I went with a 4-3-3 system here. I chose Yakubu for a relatively straight forward reason. His goal scoring record this term has been outstanding. To score 17 goals for a side that have been relegated is nothing short of amazing. The Nigerian’s experience, along with his goal scoring prowess will make him of strong interest to a number of clubs. However, a stumbling block could be the price Blackburn put on him. You’d expect Blackburn to want quite a bit for a guy who has just come off the back of scoring 17 Premier League goals. But at 29, clubs may baulk at a high valuation of him. 

Subs: Wayne Hennessey, Richard Stearman, Stuart Holden, Morten Gamst-Pedersen, Martin Petrov, Steven Fletcher, Ivan Klasnic. 

So, here's how the team would look:

(Stats from EPL Index)

Video: Goal 'Special Effects' Celebrations

This video is just cool. Cool, cool,cool. They take some of the best and most memorable goal celebrations in football and add a little special effects twist to it. Check it out!

Friday, 25 May 2012

The Top 5 Transfer Targets

Welcome to my blog, I’m Callum Rivett and this week I’ll be writing about the top five transfer targets this summer and why they are being raved about so much. Even though it's just finished, I can't wait for the Premier League to start up again, and also can't wait for the Euros - we won't win but watching teams like Germany, Spain and the Netherlands will be a joy for all. I hope you enjoy this along with all my other work and spread the word about this website and myself!

5 - Jordan Rhodes
This twenty-two year old is being touted as the next big thing from the lower leagues, being the top-scorer at all levels in English football this year with thirty-six league goals. He was also the first Huddersfield player to score back-to-back hat-tricks since the 1920s, against Exeter then Preston respectively. Teams such as Fulham and Norwich are rumoured to be interested in Rhodes, and I’m sure he can, and will, make the step up.

4 - Luka Modric
Once again, Modric is likely to be linked with numerous over the summer, with Real Madrid already rumoured to be ready to make a bid for the twenty-six year old. He is still a relatively young player, who’s just about to hit his prime, and this may convince teams to bid for him. I’m sure Chelsea will rekindle their interest in Modric, with a rebuilding job on the cards at Stamford Bridge. With Tottenham’s failure to reach the Champions League, his final decision may be swayed by this factor.

3 - Lucas Moura
Anyone who, like myself, plays Football Manager 2012 will know Moura for his five star potential and the fact he’s the best young player on the game. Chelsea have already had a £32.5m bid for him turned down, and I wouldn’t expect Sao Paulo to accept anything less than £40m for this nineteen year old. He has already played fifty-four games for the Brazilian First Division side, and with thirteen goals from the attacking midfield position, and this is sure to attract attention. And eleven caps for the Brazilian first team isn’t bad either.

2 - Mats Hummels
This twenty-three year old centre back has been attracting the attention of Arsenal, and they are keen to join Hummels with his German counterpart Per Mertesacker. Standing tall at 191cm (6ft 2), this monster is very unlikely to be beaten in the air, but also has a bit of pace about him so is unable to be beaten in a straight sprint easily, unlike Mertesacker. Borussia Dortmund’s centre back pairing of Hummels and Neven Subotic meant they only conceded twenty-five goals all season and secured the title and also the DFB-Pokal - the German equivalent of the English FA Cup.

1 - Eden Hazard

This Belgian superstar has wowed Ligue Un these past few years, the twenty-one year old scoring thirty-six goals in one hundred and fourty-seven appearances since 2007 from the left wing. Chelsea, Man United and Man City have all agreed terms with Hazard, and the footballing word will be awaiting his press conference or interview after the England-Belgium game which is when he will declare where he will be playing next year. £35m is considered to be the price they have offered to pay for his services, and it is a certainty that we will see him grace the Premier League next year, which will be a delight!

Follow Callum on twitter: @CJRivett12. You can find more of Callum's work here.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The End of Spurs or a New Beginning?

Tom Moseley explains to The Football Front the cross roads Spurs are at and why it could lead to a better future

Saturday 19th May. Every Spurs fan was a Bayern Munich fan. However after the game, I think most of them would have Dortmund down as their German side. Bayern kept pressuring Chelsea and looked like they had to win, with a total of 44 shots, but it was not to be. The football Gods were on Chelsea’s side, as they somehow managed to survive the relentless Bayern attacks and gain victory on penalties. 

Which therefore meant, no Champions League football for Spurs and another year in the Europa League.
At the start of the season, this wouldn’t have been a disaster for Spurs, as a 5th place finish is more than respectable, however it’s the manner in which it happened. 

Spurs were pushing for the title around December/January time, but they crumbled. And it coincicded with the heavy speculation surrounding Redknapp, regarding his court case and the vacant England job. I’m not saying that’s an excuse, but they only won one in nine games after the Newcastle game, when the speculation was at its peak, leading to a slide down the table and losing a 10-point advantage on their rivals, Arsenal.
This has led to many people saying this could be the end for this era of Spurs players. They will not be able to make the Champions League in the coming years. 

Indeed, missing out on Champions League football could have a big impact on them, with key players like Bale and Modric leaving and I’m sure a couple more players getting picked off, by clubs trying to bolster their clubs for the Champions League. Modric was centre of speculation last year, with Chelsea offering £30M, but Spurs rejected it, but maybe this year, things could be different. He might really want to go, as this could have been a ‘conditional’ year, where he would have stayed if they got Champions League football.

I agree, to a point. They could lose key players, that’s inevitable. The players want to play Champions League football, which you can’t really blame them for. However, I don’t think they’ll completely collapse and turn into mid-table-mediocrity. 

When you think about the players that could leave for Champions League football, Modric, Bale and Van Der Vaart, then not keeping Adebayor permanently due to his high wages. That is four key players, however, they could easily bring in £60M-£70M.

Which brings me onto my view. It’s not the end, it’s a new beginning for Spurs if they lose thse players. I know ‘Arry won’t get all £60M-£70M (if they do sell them) as I’m sure the board would want to keep some, mainly because of the money they lose for not qualifying for the Champions League. But with a  decent transfer budget and sales of players, ‘Arry could easily have £50M to spend and we all know what he’s like in the transfer market. He’s not called a wheeler-dealer for no minor reason. With that amount of money and some decent fringe players, who could have more of a chance now, they could challenge just as well as they did this year.

If you look at the squad now, they still have some good players that don’t play week-in, week-out.  They have players like Defoe, Krancjar, Dos Santos and Sandro. I know they’re not as good as the players they’re losing, but they can still do a good job and are also a good foundation to build a squad.
They are also (reportedly) interested in players like Asamoah from Udinese and Jan Vertonghen from Ajax, which, if they get sign would be great buys. Asamoah isn’t exactly a like-for-like swap for Modric, however, he is a good midfielder and will do well for Spurs, next to Parker.

This is what they need to do, if they want to remain successful. They need to either sign good players from slightly lower Premier League clubs, or go for an-almost Moneyball approach, by buying players from the non-major nations and leagues. They need to focus on the more long term future, instead of the immediate in future, in my opinion. I think they need to take the next season or two as transition seasons and get a new generation of players in, then really go for it in the third season. 

They need to sign players that are hungry and want to prove themselves at the highest level, instead of players who think they belong in the top level and were unwanted at a top club and see Spurs as a step down. I know this does work, look at Van Der Vaart, but it can also be a big gamble, especially as their wages are a lot higher.

It may be biased, as I’m a Wolves fan, but I think two good economical buys for them could be Steven Fletcher and Matt Jarvis, to replace Adebayor and Bale. I’m not saying they’re as good as them, but they’ll do a good job. Jarvis is similar to Bale in the way he’s a simple winger, he doesn’t overcomplicate his game, he gets the ball, runs at defences and crosses it. Then I see Fletcher as a good replacement for Adebayor, as he is a good all-rounded striker. He’s skilful, good touch, can finish and can head. Wolves have said an offer between £8M-£10M will tempt them though, so I’d say £15M would be enough for the pair of them, which, in my opinion, would be great for two consistent players.

They could also take an approach like Newcastle, as Newcastle have found a lot of good value for money players in France and then Cisse in Germany, so looking at these leagues could also be good, as players never seem to be as expensive, in my opinion. I mean Arsenal signed Podolski for £12.9M and Dortmund signed Marco Reus for £10M, so (slightly contraditing to my last point) but not looking at British players could  be the route for them if they want value.

Overall, I think this is a new beginning and generation for Spurs, if the key players do leave. I also think it’s an exciting time to be a Spurs fan, not a sad one. There’s many roads that Spurs could take if players leave, which can leave to some exciting new players. I personally think it’s interesting to see what will happen to Spurs, because of the options that could be open to them. It should be an interesting summer for Spurs, no matter what happens.
This article was written by Tom Moseley, you can follow him on Twitter: @PlayedOfThePark .Check out his website too:

More of Tom's work can be found here

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Video: Manuel Almunia Released by Arsenal: Some of his memorable acts

So, Manuel Almunia has been released by Arsenal. It's a few years late, but we all know Wenger kept him just so the rest of the Premier League could chuckle at his ways and saves.

This video collates all of his glorious and not so glorious moments in an Arsenal shirt.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Why is Demba Ba firing Blanks for Newcastle?

To be perfectly honest, Demba Ba has been the best free transfer signing of this season. The former Hammers man has scored 16 Premier League goals this term, with 8 coming at home and the other 8 of course coming on the road.

During December, it was perfectly arguable to say Demba Ba was the best signing of the summer. And it was merely stating the obvious that Demba Ba was one of the finest strikers in the Premier League. After all, he was scoring for fun. But when his international team mate Papiss Cisse joined, everyone thought Newcastle now had two brilliant strikers, meaning double the goal action for Newcastle faithful.

But things haven’t worked out exactly like that. 

Indeed, Papiss Cisse has hit the ground running in emphatic fashion. I mean 13 goals in 13 games in the Premier League is unbelievable, especially considering its his first few months in the division too.  And if you’ve seen his recent goals, most of them are just incredible, some of them are worldie efforts. 

But the partnership between Cisse and Ba hasn’t worked out completely to plan. And it’s had its most devasting effect on Ba. In fact, whenever the two have started a game Ba has failed to score in all of those games. 

But why is this the case?

To find out, we’ve taken Ba’s stats from when he was in lethal form playing in the middle as the main man at Newcastle (so stats from August to January). And we’ve also taken his stats from when Cisse joined the club (February till May).
Stats via EPL Index

It’s key to note, one of the first things Pardew did to facilitate Cisse was to shift Ba to a more left sided role, as opposed to playing them both up top. However, the strikers would often swap roles during games. But recently, Ba has occasionally gone up top with Cisse in certain periods of matches. And when this has happened, Ba has looked far more potent, especially if one looks at his final two games against City and Everton. 

Starting off with Ba’s shots stats, the Newcastle’s number 19 went from 60 attempts on goal, to 49.  The decline in shots, could show Ba struggling to get into the key positions or his favourable positions to attempt to score. But the most alarming stat, which further indicates this is Ba’s shots on target record. Prior to the arrival of Cisse, Ba had 30 shots on target, by the end of the season, Ba managed exactly half of that.  Furthermore, since playing from the left hand side, Ba has had more shots blocked too.  This could indicate defenders are more capable of nullifying Ba’s threat from the left hand, thus restricting his effect on the game.  

Ba’s move to the left handside has seen his shot accuracy decline rather drastically. From the start of the season to January, Ba had a 63% shot accuracy. While by the end of the season, it was at 45%. For me, this symbolises just how Ba has struggled to get into his favourable positions to be at his most clinical sharpness.

Diagram of Ba goal placements:

If you look at Ba’s goals placements, most have been placed in the bottom left hand side. This to an extent, reinstates, why Ba has struggled to score in the second half of the season. Ba’s move to a more deeper left sided role has meant he has struggled to get into his most natural and instinctive position to find the net.  After all, if he's playing in a more left sided role, his chances of scoring via the bottom left hand corner are limited, due to his aim being narrowed by his initial position.

To many, Ba hasn’t done a brilliant job in his new role at Newcastle. You can see their point. I mean he has been anonymous since Cisse has joined. But what’s interesting is that in his deeper role, the Newcastle number 19 has won more aerial duals and won more tackles and he has also seen more of the ball too, as suggested by the number of passes he’s made. As much as this shows Ba getting involved in the nitty gritty of the game, Ba has struggled to actually create sufficient chances for his team mates, especially for Cisse. In his deeper role, Ba created just 10 chances, assisting once. But on the same token, when Ba was leading the line he assisted just once again and in fact created fewer chances (9). It’s transparent this is a feature of Ba’s game which he has to improve on. Ba as a target man or as a deep forward, he must be more effective in creating chances for his team mates. 

But what’s interesting is that in his deeper role,  Ba has made less final third passes and he has also attempted less crosses. For me, this along with the drought of goals and the lack of chances created it suggests two things. It firstly suggests Ba has not fully understood his new role in the Newcastle side, hence his anonymity in the second half of the season.  Or it could highlight Ba is not comfortable in the role, which would probably explain why he’s been on such dramatic goal drought this season.

For me, it’s a mixture of not understanding his new role and not being comfortable in it. As Demba Ba is a man who played in the right position can score for fun. Ba knows this himself more than anyone and one could argue, it’s taken its toll on his confidence. 

Now, with statistics, it’s hard to measure up confidence. Actually its impossible. But there are a few indicators. The clear chance conversion rate gives a decent indicator. Ba went from 62% to nearly half of that by the end of the season. Normally, Ba’s clear cut chance conversion should have stayed around 62- 50%, but the big decline shows Ba has lost that spark and confidence he once had in front of goal.
But the most devastating and most alarming stat is his conversion rate. Prior to Cisse’s arrival, Ba had a chance conversion of 33% and now that stat is down to 3%. That’s a huge decline of huge proportions. It demonstrates just how the confidence has been drained out of the player, and it hasn’t been helped by him being played out of his favourable position.  The few goals scored, the clear cut conversion and chance conversion rate worryingly indicate, Ba is not only out of form but it could suggest the player is suffering from fatigue too. One must recall Ba also played in the African Cup of Nations in January, granted it was for a very short amount of time, but the travelling and climate changes could have taken its toll on his body.  

Demba Ba has declined severely since January. The player looks uncomfortable in his new position and he seems bankrupt of confidence. It is crucial in the summer, Pardew devises a plan to finally get the best out Ba again. The Newcastle boss may need to redefine the role for Ba, thus attempting give Ba a better understanding of how he wants him to play in the position behind Cisse. But Ba himself must take a good break in the summer and come back in pre-season with the determination to rediscover his goal scoring touch and adapt to the role Pardew has set him.

However, I believe in order for Cisse and Ba to both be effective. Newcastle may have to do a Chelsea. Newcastle may well have to play one or the other, as opposed to starting them both. Just like Chelsea have done to facilitate Torres and Drogba. As it’s clear both players are at their most lethal when leading the line. Furthermore, with the Europa League to contend next season, it can’t be expected Ba and Cisse can both start all of Newcastle’s games. If the duo are rotated, it could lead to Newcastle having an eye for goal not only in the Premier League but in Europe too.

But so far, Ba’s new role at Newcastle demonstrates he is a player who is uncomfortable in the position he is playing in. It is crucial Newcastle and Ba get back to the drawing board and find a way to get him and Cisse singing off the same hymn sheet. 

(Stats from EPL Index)

Friday, 18 May 2012

Who Will Win The Euros?

Hello, I’m Callum Rivett and welcome to the latest part in my wide selection of articles! With the release of England’s Euro squad, I’ll look and see whether we have any chance at all of even passing the group stage, let alone winning it. I’m going to see who are the main contenders for the trophy, and give you my thoughts and reasoning behind my choice of who’ll win this year.

Let’s start by looking at the England squad and any mistakes I think Hodgson has made or what he has got right.

Joe Hart (Manchester City), Rob Green (West Ham United), John Ruddy (Norwich City)
Leighton Baines (Everton), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Phil Jones (Manchester United), Joleon Lescott (Manchester City), John Terry (Chelsea)
Gareth Barry (Manchester City), Stewart Downing (Liverpool), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), James Milner (Manchester City), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Scott Parker (Tottenham Hotspur), Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Ashley Young (Manchester United)
Andy Carroll (Liverpool), Jermain Defoe (Tottenham Hotspur), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Daniel Welbeck (Manchester United)

Including John Ruddy is a good decision in my eyes, he’s had a fantastic year for Norwich and came second as Norwich Player of the Season vote, beaten only by Grant Holt who definitely should have gone in place of Jermain Defoe. I also do not rate Danny Welbeck, he’s severely over-rated by the media, and I’m gutted he is included. Fair enough, if he ends the tournament top-scorer I’ll put my hands up and say I was wrong. But I doubt that.

Andy Carroll is a massive risk, he’s started to turn good for Liverpool towards the end of the season and I think next year will be his best year ever in terms of goals. Our defence looks shaky: having no Micah Richards is a mistake, he’s quick, a good crosser, who can attack and can play anywhere along the back four. The midfield looks predictable, and mostly what everyone would have expected. Except Stewart Downing. Why oh why has he picked him? Zero goals, zero assists for Liverpool this year. Terrible waste of a space that could have been used to accommodate someone who will offer more to the team - Adam Johnson perhaps.

Joe Hart is our number one, he will be world class. But Green ahead of Ruddy? Did he watch THAT match against the USA? Our strikers for the first two games have scored a whopping great total of… 24 (Defoe - 11, Carroll - 4, Welbeck - 9) in 90 combined Premier League appearances this season.
Yeah. Not so good.

After slating our national team, let’s go on to who I think will win the tournament. I’ll give you a clue: they’re 2nd favorites. Another clue? They play in white and black. We lost 4-1 to them in the World Cup 2010?
You got it. Germany.

One of the youngest, if not the youngest, squads in the world right now, and one of the most talented. Just look at it. This is their preliminary squad:
Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Tim Wiese (Hoffenheim), Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover), Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Moenchengladbach).
Holger Badstuber (Bayern Munich), Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich), Mats Hummels (Dortmund), Per Mertesacker (Arsenal), Bendikt Howedes (Schalke), Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich), Marcel Schmelzer (Dortmund).
Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), Sami Khedira (Real Madrid), Sven Bender (Dortmund), Lars Bender (Leverkusen), Ilkay Gundogan (Dortmund), Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich), Julian Draxler (Schalke), Marco Reus (Moenchengladbach), Mario Gotze (Dortmund), Mesut Ozil (Real Madrid).
Mario Gomez (Bayern Munich), Miroslav Klose (Lazio), Cacau (Stuttgart), Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich), Andreas Schurrle (Leverkusen), Lukas Podolski (Cologne).

The amount of players who play in the Bundesliga in their squad stands at 23. They know each other, they know how to play with each other, and the chemistry level in their squad must be amazing. They’ve got the right mix of youth and experience, often combining the two, because they introduced them to the world stage two years ago in South Africa. Players like Mesut Ozil, Mats Hummels, Mario Gomez and Manuel Neuer are all world class, yet all so young. Then throw in players like Miroslav Klose, Thomas Muller, Lukas Podolski, Phillip Lahm - and that’s just to name a few - and you’ve got an awesome concoction of brilliant German efficiency.

Spain are favourites, but for me it’s Germany to win. Spanish players like midfield maestro Xavi are now into their 30s - as well as Xabi Alonso and Carlos Puyol. This last four years has undoubtedly been their ‘Golden Generation’ but to keep up now they have to move quickly to integrate the youth players into the senior team like they did all those years ago.
Holland are third favourites, but to not only repeat the feat of finishing second in the World Cup but to actually win it, is possibly a step too far for the Dutch. Players like Wesley Sneijder, Robin van Persie and Maarten Stekelenburg will have to be on top form to get them their and achieve glory for the Netherlands - and with possibly Spain and Germany blocking their way, it will be a very difficult task indeed.

That about sums it up, this has been a lot to get through but I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this and will continue to read my articles. I’ll leave you with the thought that whoever the commentators are in the Euros, they will not enjoy commentating on Greece’s games. Spare a thought for those very unlucky people. That’ll be it my friends, goodbye for now and have a very good week.

Follow Callum on twitter: @CJRivett12. You can find more of Callum's work here.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

The Football Front Awards

Hello there, I’m Callum Rivett and this week for The Football Front, I’m going to be giving my very special and virtually unknown (because I’ve just made them up) awards to various people and moments that have happened over the course of this entertaining season.
With the season nearly complete, the title is going to Manchester. But to which club? Red or blue? In my eyes, it has to go to City. They face a weak QPR side at home, where City have been magnificent this season, with a win guaranteeing them the title. United play Sunderland away - who are in bad form - so should win, but it will not matter unless City drop points at the Etihad on Sunday. So, on with the awards!

Surprise Package Team of the Season

Winner: Newcastle United

Runner up: Norwich City. Third: Swansea City.

            This goes to the club who have performed the best over the season., against all odds. This Newcastle side have proved the pundits wrong all year long: tipped for relegation at the start of the year, now fighting for a Champions League spot. The race for fourth - and arguably third - goes down to the final day of the season, and this is in no doubt a fantastic season for the Geordies. Norwich have to be ahead of Swansea because they have the youngest squad in the Premier League and were the first team in the top flight since 1999 to field an all-British starting line-up.

Player of the Season

Winner: Robin van Persie

Runner up: Joe Hart. Third: Antonio Valencia

            There is no doubt about it, van Persie has easily been the best player this season. Thirty goals in thirty-six Premier League games make him top scorer, and he should win the Golden Boot unless there is a remarkable goal-scoring feat committed by Wayne Rooney on the final day of the season. Joe Hart has been one of Man City’s unsung heroes this year, along with Vincent Kompany, keeping sixteen clean sheets. Valencia has fourteen assists and has been a vital asset for United this year in their rather unsuccessful season.

Game of the Season

Winner: Man United 1-6 Man City

Runner up: Man United 8-2 Arsenal. Third: Wolves 1-5 West Brom.

            The noisy neighbours got even noisier by hammering their arch-rivals 1-6 on their own turf. Old Trafford was stunned as the Citizens smashed six past the Red Devils, with goals from Aguero, Silva, and braces from Balotelli and Dzeko ensured United suffered their worst defeat at Old Trafford since February 1955.

Manager of the Season

Winner: Alan Pardew

Runner up: Paul Lambert. Third: Roberto Mancini and Brendan Rodgers

            Not surprisingly, the manager of the season order links up with the team of the season order. Newcastle’s Alan Pardew has been the mastermind behind the Magpies success this season, guiding them to a battle for fourth spot. They will definitely get the Europa League spot, so it should be interesting and exciting to see them in Europe next year. Lambert once again beat Rodgers to second, because he had less money, and Norwich have been underrated this year. Norwich have been the best promoted team this year, beating Swansea and QPR home and away.

Manager of the Season

Winner: Alan Pardew

Runner up: Paul Lambert. Third: Roberto Mancini and Brendan Rodgers

            Not surprisingly, the manager of the season order links up with the team of the season order. Newcastle’s Alan Pardew has been the mastermind behind the Magpies success this season, guiding them to a battle for fourth spot. They will definitely get the Europa League spot, so it should be interesting and exciting to see them in Europe next year. Lambert once again beat Rodgers to second, because he had less money, and Norwich have been underrated this year. Norwich have been the best promoted team this year, beating Swansea and QPR home and away.

Signing of the Season

Winner: Sergio Aguero

Runner up: Demba Ba. Third: Mikel Arteta

            Sergio Aguero’s twenty-two goals in thirty appearances for Man City this year have certainly helped City win the title. He seems a bargain at £35m compared to some other signings. To think Liverpool could have signed this star for just £35m more than Andy Carroll is astonishing, they really missed a trick there. Demba Ba has had a fantastic season for Newcastle, helping them to a top five finish. Arteta has been outstanding for Arsenal this season, and their recent drop in form can be coincided with the loss of Arteta through injury, so the sooner him and Wilshere return, the better for Arsenal fans.

Impact Signing of the Season

Winner: Papiss Demba Cissé

Runner up: Nikica Jelavic. Third: Stephen Pienaar

            Papiss Cissé has taken the league by storm since signing from German outfit SC Freiburg in January for a fee of around £10m. He has scored thirteen goals in thirteen appearances so far for Newcastle, becoming an instant fan favourite at the Sports Direct Arena. But the two Everton signings make it into the top three, Nikica Jelavic has also made an instant impact to Everton, scoring eight goals in twelve games, helping them finish above Merseyside rivals Liverpool. Third was a tight call between Pavel Pogrebnyak and Stephen Pienaar, but it has to go to the South African. His return to Everton, albeit only on loan, has sparked Everton’s season into life. The performance he put in against Chelsea was unbelievable, so for that, he has to get third.

Follow Callum on twitter: @CJRivett12. You can find more of Callum's work here.

Friday, 11 May 2012

What next for Liverpool?

Another game for Liverpool in 2012, and another defeat for Liverpool.  That’s been sequence this season for Liverpool. 

Their defeat in the FA Cup final against Chelsea was the defeat which confirmed Liverpool’s season as a devastating disappointment. 

And let’s be honest, Liverpool at times this season have been lacklustre, woeful and embarrassing to the clubs faithful supporters.

But it’s been an odd season for Liverpool supporters.

Indeed, the club reached two cup finals and they did break the club’s trophy drought which had covered a shadow over the club and symbolised Liverpool’s decline.

But at the same time, it’s been a forgettable season for Liverpool fans. It’s been a season which has left them with more questions than answers as the season has progressed. 

One of the most pressing unanswered questions is that of the King Kenny Dalglish. 

Do Liverpool stick or twist?

Do Liverpool keep him on his throne, or do the club attempt to remove him from his beloved palace. 

Indeed, there are a lot of rumours circulating than Dalglish will be ‘moved upstairs’  as it were given the vacant director of football role, while others feel he maybe shown the door as a whole.

The money men at Anfield face some tough decisions this summer. 

But the situation at especially at Anfield is abundantly clear. Liverpool have been poor, utterly poor. I mean 6 wins at home at Anfield is unacceptable. No wait, it’s not even that, it’s an offensive record for one of Europe’s greatest clubs and what has been before and what the club stands for.

But the poor record at home tells you a few interesting things.

It tells you some of the players especially the new boys, have struggled to deal with the expectations, culture and demands of playing for a club where it expected you have to win each week.
Instead of Anfield being a fortress, it’s become a ground where all the opponent has to do is virtually turn up, defend reasonably well and pick up the point on their way out.

It’s been as simple as that for Liverpool fans.

 In fact, Anfield has become a points shelter for Premier League clubs. 

There is saying amongst football fans that, you know you’re having a bad season, if Liverpool beat you at Anfield. 

But coming away from performances on the pitch, Liverpool’s performances in the transfer market have been even worse. 

Whether Liverpool keep Dalglish, or someone else comes in, Liverpool must be more rational and shrewd in the transfer market.

This season, thanks to the likes of Newcastle, the big boys in the Premier League have learnt a humble lesson.

They’ve learnt of the best things in life can be cheap and cheerful. Newcastle spent a net of around £15mill. Yet the northern club now find themselves with two fantastic and profilc strikers in Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba. While in midfield, Newcastle boast the technically gifted creator Yohan Cabaye. All of whom, cost collectively less than Andy Carroll. 

While Liverpool with their best of British transfer policy, spent hugely on distinctly average players who haven’t really added much to the side. In fact, they’ve made Rafa’s signings at Liverpool look all the more allusive and crucial to the side. 

It seems a majority of Liverpool’s summer signings, bar Craig Bellamy and perhaps even Seb Coates, have all fallen for the big club – little club syndrome. 

Yes, that syndrome. The one where the players are amazing for the respective smaller clubs, but when the big fish goes to the big pound he is nowhere to be seen. 

Yeah, that one.

But you can’t argue, the crazy valuations placed on top of their heads has not helped either. I mean, if you splash £19million on a winger, you expect a few goals and a few assists. But it’s not happened. At all.
The price tags on these new players have been like big rocks being placed on their backs in the blazing sun. They can try their best, but everyone will point out, ‘that isn’t £19million worth of quality.’ The fee that brought them to Anfield is constantly reminded to not only them but to the coaches and directors.

It seems Damien Comolli paid the price for splashing out insane figures for average players. Perhaps this is a sign, the powers that be at Anfield don’t want the same mistakes to happen again.
There has been a lot of talk amongst Liverpool fans of whether Liverpool should sell the likes of Downing, Henderson and the other new buys. I firmly believe the new players deserve another chance. Sometimes, a second season can do the players the world of good.

The pressure of not being the ‘new kid on the block’ could take away some of the pressure on them, also more importantly, chopping and changing will not help Liverpool move up the table.
If you look at the Liverpool team of 08/09, when they finished second, the spine of the team had been at the club for three years or more. It takes years to build a great competitive team, ask Fergie, ask Arsene Wenger and heck as Pep Guardiola too.

Liverpool are in the stage of forming and developing. And they won’t move out of that stage if they keep changing managers and players. 

That’s also why I think Dalglish should stay, so long as the players still believe in him. For me, Liverpool seem to be trying to implement a pass and move type of game. And for most of the season, it hasn’t worked for them. But when it has, Liverpool have at times been unplayable and if the finishing had been better, Liverpool would certainly be higher up in the table. 

But with astute additions, Liverpool have a good chance of making progress. But it is imperative Liverpool get their signings right this summer. Liverpool are currently feeling the consequences of selling very good players and replacing them poorly. Is it really surprising Liverpool have struggled to dominate midfields without people who can effectively play in-between the lines like Raul Merieles?

Success does not happen over night. Ask Man City, ask Chelsea. After years of heavy investment, Man City now only find themselves on the brink of winning the Premier League title. While Chelsea after 10 years of the Abramovich era find themselves only in their second CL final in their history.
Liverpool need to be patient, stability is the clubs best answer. And the club are fortunate in the sense they have a man who is undeniably just as determined as the fans to be successful. While some managers may get their heads turned by offers elsewhere, Dalglish isn’t one of them.

He has unfinished business at Anfield.  And if anything, this season has given him even more unfinished business.

But he must get it right this summer not only in his transfers, but his tactical decision making, in another summer of change for Liverpool. 

The team need carry on playing with the same methodology and the players must look to further establish a greater understanding. The cup final against Chelsea was a prime example. The reds played with little cohesion and struggled to even get into the Chelsea half in the first 60 minutes. 

Liverpool had no penetration, no idea and no connection between the midfield and attack. Meaning their most threatening player Luis Suarez was left to feed off scraps. 

This summer is huge for Liverpool. The club is at a cross roads. The right decisions could see them move right up the table next season. While the wrong decisions could see the club fall even further behind.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Video: Chris "Kammy" Kamara - Sing 4 England

Take a look at Chris Kamara's England Euro 2012 song. It's terrible, yet very catchy and kind of funny too..


Friday, 4 May 2012

Just how Good is Kyle Walker?

Kyle Walker has had a fantastic season.  That can’t be denied. The 21 year old has been consistent, solid and has offered quite a bit going forward for Spurs. 

But for me, some of the love and admiration towards Walker has gone overboard. I mean totally overboard.
Recently, Kyle Walker was named the PFA Young Player of the Year, ahead of the likes of Sergio Aguero, Juan Mata, Gareth Bale and others. To me and to many of you, this left us all a little bit dazed.  

Has he been THAT good this season? To beat the likes of Bale, Aguero and others to the Young Player of the Year gong? I don’t think so..

Indeed, he has been very good, especially considering he is only 21 years of age. But for him to then be named in the PFA team of the year, suggests one thing.

It suggests he has been the best right back in the division.
But is that really true?

Let’s find out.

The players to be analysed are of course, are KyleWalker, his England main counterparts at right back, so the likes of Glen Johnson and Micah Richards. The right backs to be analysed are Arsenal’s Bacary Sagna, Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic and my wild card, Kyle Naughton. 

Kyle Naughton was chosen for two reasons. Reason number one being the player is currently on loan from Tottenham, and secondly, he is a young (23 years old) English right back just like Walker. 

Apologies for the bluriness, Excel and Blogger seem to hate me.

There’s no better place to start than looking at the tackles made and their success rate. Walker made the second highest amount of tackles out of the players analysed, but his success rate is very impressive. Walker won 82.76% of his tackles, only Bacary Sagna has won more. Walker’s tackle success rate demonstrates just how good a right back he is. If you compare his tackle record to the likes of Glen Jonhson and Micah Richards, Walker dominates. 

But if we look at the ground dual records of the players, Walker sits a little below average. But it has to be noted Walker has made the most ground dual attempts, so perhaps it’s expected he would have lost a few more. But on the other hand, if Walker had made lots of ground dual attempts and won a great deal more, it would have been an outstanding record for the 21 year old.

Walker’s ground dual win of 58% is level with Man City’s Micah Richards. And the only player who has a worse record than 58% is current first choice England right back Glen Johnson. But comparing Walker to Ivanovic, Sagna and Naughton for ground duals, the PFA young player of the year lags behind. The most successful ground dual winner was Ivanovic, with Sagna and Naughton in joint second with 62%. 

What’s intriguing is that Kyle Naughton, 23, on loan from Tottenham finds himself right near the top of the pack for ground duals, while his highly rated team mate at Spurs, finds himself at the other end of the spectrum.  

Of course, for any defender, be it a centre back, or a full back, aerial prowess is crucial. Walker, the 5 ft 10 inch right back, has the worst aerial win percentage. Perhaps you could put it down to Walker being relatively small in height. But, Sagna, a man who is 5ft 9, one inch smaller than Walker, the Arsenal man has won a very impressive 70% of his aerial duals. Only 6ft 2 Branislav Ivanovic and Micah Richards have won more. 

But comparing Walker’s aerial abilities to the English lads, Johnson, Richards and Naughton, the Spurs man is left lagging behind again, all the other English lads have won at least 60% of their aerial duals, while Walker manages 58%. It comes as no real surprise Richards takes the lead out of the English players in regards to aerial prowess, but the Tottenham man’s aerial record demonstrates the young man has a lot of improving to do in the area, in order for him to become a defensively well rounded right back.

The most alarming Kyle Walker defensive stat for me is the defensive errors section. 

Personally, to be seen as the best right back in the division, you’ve got be consistent all season and you can’t make any major defensive errors and you can’t be easy to exploited. But Walker and Johnson, are the only players analysed to have made defensive errors this season.This points severe question marks on whether Walker has really been the best right back in league and whether he’s been the best young player in the division. Furthermore, this is developed further by the fact Walker has been dribbled past 20 times this season, only Naughton had been dribbled past more. 

But one could put the high number of defensive errors and dribbles past down to a lack of experience. After all Kyle Walker is the youngest of the analysed players. He will of course make wrong decisions and make mistakes, he is a 21 year old! But making defensive errors and being in the team of the year is rather outrageous to me, especially given the Premier League has many talented right backs that have been consistent all season, without making errors, such as Micah Richards. Surely to be in the team of the year you have to be excellent consistently? 

Defensively, the stats show Kyle Walker has not been as solid as other right backs in the division. But with the same token, they also show he has not been shocking defensively. Instead the figures demonstrate Walker is a talented right back who is very competent at his defensive work. But it’s clear, there is quite a bit of room for improvement. But for 21 years of old to have one of the best tackle success ratio’s shows clearly Walker is a talented defender, with potential. It is crucial he builds on it.


Of course, a sign of a good full back is one who can not only defend brilliantly, but one who can bomb forward and create chances for his attacking players.

If we look at passing first, we can see all of the full backs have made a high number of passes, but no one has made more passes than Kyle Walker. The Spurs man had a pass completion rate of 84% which is very tidy. This is a crucial part of Walker’s game, he can keep the ball and pass it well meaning he is a very useful player to have in the build-up of attacks. What’s intriguing is that Walker is the second most accurate passer, alongside England rivals Johnson and Richards. All three men’s good passing abilities can only mean positive things for England.

The reason why I think Kyle Walker is so highly rated is because of attributes such as his speed, directness and stamina. Indeed, these attributes allow him to bomb on forward and continuously help Spurs attack. It comes as no surprise the 21 year old has created 31 chances, the highest out of the selected right backs. That figure is very impressive, given this is his first full season in the Premier League. Walker’s chances created figure highlights his confidence in his abilities and his desire to dominate the right hand side. Furthermore, in some respects it shows his attacking potential too. For a full back to be very solid defensively, but still have the ability to bomb on forward and create, it shows how, as his game develops, he could become a highly skilled commanding right back. 

But some of you may be thinking, Kyle Walker has only assisted once this term, while Richards has managed to assist 5 times. So he can’t be that great going forward. This is very true, but an assist demands two things from two players. Firstly, it demands a good ball in, secondly to complete an assist, it of course demands the attacker to put the ball into the back of the net. I feel more can be learnt about the attacking nature of a player by the number of chances he creates, and Walker creates a huge amount.

But on the other hand, you have Richards, who has created who has created 14 chances and assisting 5 times more than Walker. Does that mean Richard’s final ball is far better? Personally, I’m unsure, Richards assist record compared to Walker’s record highlights the difference in attacking quality between Man City and Spurs. As the chances created and assists record combined tell us on the whole the Man City players took the chances created, while the Spurs players didn’t.  But for Walker to create 32 chances is very encouraging and if he can continue to improve, Spurs have one hell of a right back in their hands.

For me, a good full back is one that can cross effectively. The PFA young player of the year’s crossing accuracy sits as the lowest out of the players analysed, alongside, the highly rated Micah Richards. But an 18% crossing accuracy isn’t that bad at all, in comparison to other players in the division. But it’s transparent Walker has a lot of improving if he is to be at the Branislav Ivanovic level of crossing accuracy. Chelsea’s Serbian has a 31% crossing accuracy which is absolutely brilliant.  

But what’s interesting is that Kyle Naughton’s crossing abilities are very impressive too. At 22% he finds himself having a better accuracy than all three England right backs and being one percent below the sensational Sagna. One wonders if Naughton is given a chance at Spurs, will his abilities get more recognised, because his statistics paint a picture of a very mature, solid right back who can offer a good outlet on the right flank.

Comparing the two Kyle’s is crucial. Indeed, both players are of similar age, (Naughton 23, Walker, 21) but more importantly, they play for the same team. And after such a solid season on loan at Norwich, you’d think Harry Redknapp would seriously consider keeping  Naughton at Spurs next season.
But comparing the PFA young player of the year, to Naughton shows a rather compelling picture. Defensively, Naughton dominates Walker in some key areas. The Norwich man has a better win percentage of  ground duals and aerial duals. But Walker shows some fight, by winning more tackles, making more interceptions and being less able to dribble past. However, Naughton’s defensive stats show a man who is solid, reliable and very mature. And even going forward, Naughton offers more than Walker in terms of crossing.

Green = the highest, red = the lowest
For me, without a doubt Kyle Naughton is severely underrated, and if he continues the good work he has done I’m sure he will be touted for England sometime next season. But comparing the Walker to Naughton, there isn’t much between them. Both are very solid defensively and both offer quite a bit going forward. The progress of both players is great news for Tottenham, it means the club have quality and depth at right back. It will be interesting to see how Naughton manages at a bigger club, if he stays at Tottenham that is. At Norwich, there is less of an expectation to bomb forward and be solid defensively too.

Comparing Walker to Richards and Johnson is vital too. Given how these three are competing for the right back spot for the euros. But again, there isn’t much between them. Defensively, one would have to say Richards is the strongest. He has won the most aerial and ground duals. But Walker shows his great strengths are tackling and his reading of the game, two areas where he dominates Johnson and City’s Richards. Perhaps at the Euros, Hodgson may look at Walker’s tackle success and his interception record. As it shows the 21 year old reads the game very well, and he can also execute fine tackles on his opponent.
But even going forward, the three England rivals are very very similar. For example all three men have an identical 84% pass accuracy ratio, while in terms of crossing, they have a very similar crossing accuracy.

Green representing greatest record, red representing worst record

For me, all three right backs are very good footballers, but to pick one for England is not an easy outright decision. They all offer different things, Johnson offers experience and fair. Richards offers power and tenacity. While Walker blistering pace and good reading of the game. It all comes down to taste and preference at the end of the day.

So, is just how good is Kyle Walker?

To keep the answer short and simple, he is very good. 

For just 21 years of age, he has shown great consistency, great tenacity and great confidence. Walker’s defensive solidity alongside his determination to go forward shows he is a decent well round full back. What’s encouraging for England and Spurs fans is that the player is still very young and you’d think he can only improve with experience and time. His raw skills such as his pace make him such a useful asset to have. It allows him to suddenly support from defence to attack, while it also allows him to keep up with the trickiest of wingers or strikers in the division. 

But has Kyle Walker been the best right back in the division?

The answer to that is no. He hasn’t. 

He has been very effective, but by no means has he been the best right back or is he the best right back in the Premier League. 

Walker has quite a bit to improve on if he is to become the best right back in the division. He firstly has to win more ground and aerial duals; he certainly has to be rid himself of defensive errors too. In terms of going forward, Walker has to work on his crossing and creating better chances for his team mates, because at the moment as much as he creates, the quality of his final ball is questionable. But with age, experience and the right coaching, his final ball improve. 

But let’s be honest, Kyle Walker has the potential to be the leading right back in Premier League. This season he has shown just how good he is, but now he needs to focus on the weak spots of his game.
But for me, the best right back in the division is Bacary Sagna. His defensive solidity, alongside his great offensive nature makes him one of the most creative and effective full backs in the division. One thing which separates Sagna from the other right backs is that he fully understands his role as right back. And this is demonstrated by his very impressive defensive statistics. Furthermore, a sign of a quality full back is in most of the variables analysed, he finds himself top or near the top of the spectrum. It highlights the Frenchman is abilities are well rounded and there is no clear defensive or offensive weakness in his game.

 Kyle Walker should aspire to make his game well rounded like his Arsenal counterpart. But the 21 year old is well on the way to doing that. If and it’s a big if he maintains the same desire to learn and develop.
This season Kyle Walker has not been the best right back in the division, nor has he been the best young player. Walker has had very secure, solid and stable season. That’s all.

(Stats taken on 30/04/12 from EPL Index)
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