The Europa League: A Brilliant way to undermine Europe’s Second Tier

Tonight we see two clubs clash for the second biggest trophy in Europe, the Europa League. For Ajax, it means a youthful club emulating the squad that won the Champions League just 22 years ago and an ex-player against his old club. For Manchester United, it is Mourinho’s chance of crowning his debut season with United with European Silverware. it is also an exciting opportunity to see five teams in the Champions League next season. That however, is all the Europa League is anymore, another passage into the Primary Cup.

The only thing that really excites me about the Europa League are the qualifiers and the group stage, after that the competition becomes a joke to me, a great way of devaluing every club that begins in the competition. I know this season the two clubs began this season’s campaign in the Europa League but that is a rarity. The final 32 is a flawed concept, it is now just a second chance for Champions League sides to succeed in Europe. Clubs like  Dundalk and Southampton fight tooth and nail to get into this competition, even more so for clubs like West Ham who failed to make it past the last qualifying round.

So lets say Dundalk get through, which they didn’t, and make it to the last 32, they then have to encounter a side such as Tottenham or Lyon. Clubs such as those two amongst others have huge budgets, firstly as a reward for finishing in their Champions League spots in their respective domestic leagues, secondly for playing televised Champions League football in prime midweek slots at 7.45. After all that money they have accumulated, after they have failed to sign players good enough to compete against Europe’s top sides, after they have put in six sub-par performances, UEFA rewards them with a spot in the knockout rounds of the Europa League.

Sides like Dundalk have spent their considerably smaller budget well, well enough to get past countless superior opponents, and are then, if they make it through the group stage, are rewarded with a match up against a side who wasn’t intelligent or hungry enough to prevail in the Champions League. They get rewarded with less money, divided between more teams, playing on two slots on a Thursday, the earlier slot being before most people have finished work. All their hard work is undermined by UEFA’s repeated attempts to showcase what they perceive to be Europe’s top players.

What makes the FA Cup such an effective format has been highlighted this year by Lincoln City and Sutton United. As a football fan more people want to see an upset, a fairytale story like Leicester’s, rather than constantly having the top 6 shoved down their throats and coast through half heartedly. The Europa League for me is about exactly that,  a chance to showcase Europe’s second tier up and coming clubs, and give them a more realistic route into the top showcase of football. So why are we still trying to close those sides out of this elitist circle which is being strengthened year by year.

Tottenham did not need a second chance, a chance which they also wasted. They came second in the Premier Division, qualifying through that avenue, so why not give one of the sides in the Europa League a fair chance to make history. It undermines all those clubs efforts, clubs who dream of even reaching the Europa League final stages. The competition should be about that Champions League prize, not an insurance policy for the upper echelons of European clubs.

The other thing it undermines is winning domestic competitions like the FA Cup. The money it brings into the club is worthwhile but why bother when they know, if by some chance they make it through qualifying and then the group stage, they have an extra round to go through with clubs with huge budgets. It seems to me like a glitch in a video game half way through, you do well then hit a wall you cannot walk past, so why buy into the game at all, more so why play it or buy it? The only way to resolve that is to remove the glitch.

The round of 32, and the insertion of 3rd place Champions League Sides must be removed if UEFA is to restore the prestige of the old UEFA Cup. It needs it’s own identity and arguably a reintroduction of the Intertoto Cup if UEFA actually want to show the range and depth of talent throughout Europe. Imagine extra chances for English sides to venture into Europe, extra money, experience, a chance to progress. Mr Ceferin, make a huge statement, one which will further European Football and redistribute the money that dominates it, the reform of UEFA’s competitions.

My Premier League Team of the Year

 

Everyone awaits April for the announcement of the PFA Premier League Team of the Year, I await disappointment. I find far too often that the team they select is predictable, and very rarely do you find a player outside the top four included. This year only Romelu Lukaku and David De Gea were included, hardly shock choices. So here is my alternative selection, some choices may be controversial, but I will try to explain my reasoning the best I can. All of the stats are accurate prior to this last week’s games and are taken from the Premier League’s website.

GK Tom Heaton – Burnley

Despite sitting in 15th, Burnley have conceded less goals than every side in the bottom eleven sides excluding Middlesborough. The more astonishing fact is that they have scored fewer goals than every other side in the league outside of the bottom three. How are they clear of relegation if they cannot find the back of the net?

This is down to the heroics of their keeper. There is no keeper who has made more saves than Heaton this season, 139, with Jordan Pickford of Sunderland second with 132. By comparison De Gea, the PFA’s choice had to make just 74, and he has a far superior defence safeguarding him. Heaton managed 10 clean sheets this season, just 6 less than Courtois whose side play a back five, meaning Courtois only has to make 66 saves. The prowess of a keeper should be judged on how they personally affect games, not on the team, or the PFA team would just be Chelsea’s starting eleven.

LB Erik Pieters – Stoke

Danny Rose has only played 18 games this season, so it surprises me that he would even be in the running for team of the year. Now my choice may take a lot of criticism from my friends who know my love for Stoke’s defensive line, specifically Ryan Shawcross, but there is some logic to my choice, especially when no other defender made more tackles this season than Pieters. No left back has higher tackling success rate than Peters with 76%. Danny Rose has made less than half the tackles and only had a 68% tackle success rate. Marcos Alonso, the Champions Left back, had just a 67% success rate with far fewer tackles.

Pieters made more clearances than both and oversaw the same amount of wins for his side as Rose. He also had half the cards Rose picked up in twice the games, showing the great discipline and timing of his play. He also intercepted more balls than either Alonso and Rose, which arguably shows that he cut out overlapping play down the wings from full backs such as Rose. If you can’t rely on a defender to tackle, who else can you rely on.

CB – Cesar Azipulcueta – Chelsea

Cesar Azpilicueta has been very understated this season at Chelsea. When you’re not scoring goals or regularly assisting them, it is rare you find yourself on the back page of a daily newspaper. His progression with Chelsea this season has played a large part in their title charge, and unless you look at his statistics, this would go under the radar. No player made more passes in the Premier League, with Cesar making 2340. By comparison the next two players, both played in central midfield roles, Granit Xhaka and Paul Pogba, sit almost 200 passes lower. Only Kante has made more tackles for Chelsea than Azipulceuta’s 80, a clear 35 ahead of Marcos Alonso.

Azpilicueta himself has never made more passes in a season as he has this year. Last year he played the same amount of games, but only amassed 1798 passes, 542 passes less than this year. No defender in the last ten seasons has managed more passes and no defender has topped the passing chart in that time either. He has also had more assists this season than last and ten times as many through balls. This hasn’t changed how effective he has been defensively in the more traditional sense, having maintained his 75% tackling success. He has been the starter engine of Chelsea’s ‘build from the back’ tactics.

CB Jan Vertonghen – Tottenham

I must say that I don’t disagree with Gary Cahill being included in the PFA Team of the Year, but Vertonghen has been key to the Tottenham defence that has only let 24 goals in all season, 8 less than Chelsea. Although he has yet to score this season, he has hit the woodwork twice, and more importantly, he has been clinical in defence. He has played more passes than Cahill and more accurate long balls as well, meaning he has played a significant part in Tottenham’s attacking play.

Defensively, he has a 77% tackling success rate, even more successful than Azpilicueta’s, although if Micheal Keane had played more games, his 86% would outshine them all. As a tall defender, he has been played simply and effectively, making 224 clearances for Spurs and 104 Aerial battles. He has also won 24 50/50 challenges, six times that of Cahill, proving he comes up with the goods when under pressure. I think the best defence in the league deserves a centre back in the team of the year.

RB Victor Moses – Chelsea

How does this man not make your team of the year PFA? After years of Premier League underachievement, Victor Moses has found himself rejuvenated by the arrival of Antonio Conte and his tactical nous. Once an attacking right winger, this season has seen his transition to right wing back, a position he has made his own. He has a massive 84% tackle success rate, proving not only his effectiveness in his new position, but perhaps that he always should have been playing there.

He has made 45 tackles, blocked 17 shots and made 41 interceptions, more than highly rated Arsenal right back Hector Bellerin. His attacking prowess has not disappeared however, finding the back of the net 3 times, as well as laying on another two for his teammates. He has been like a new signing for Chelsea this season and having only spent one season at right back, he surely will be even better for his experience next year.

LM Eden Hazard – Chelsea

The PFA’s midfield is hard to dispute but, unsurprisingly, I have some changes. This one is hard to argue against, especially with his scoring record this season. 15 of his shots made their way past the opposition keeper, an incredible effort considering criticism over his performances last season, when he scored only 4 times. He also only assisted his team mates 3 times last year, but this season he has done that five times.

This campaign he has been vital in breaking down opposition through his unpredictable movement, his intricate dribbling and his accurate passing. Just under 50% of his shots have been on target and he has found the net with just under 50% have gone in. This means he has scored with one shot out of every five he takes, a very impressive stat when striker Diego Costa had a worse conversion rate and current leader Romelu Lukaku has the same.

CM Dele Alli – Tottenham

Another Agreement! What can’t you say about this man? He deservedly won this years Young Player of the Year Award for the second year running. Shall we run through the facts for the sake of it? Let’s! He has scored 17 times this season meaning he has scored a goal every other game. That also means he sits joint 6th in this years race for the golden boot.

He’s also given his team five goals this year through his lethal passing. This has helped when Kane was out injured and also while Janssen has been finding his feet in the Premier League. Basically Alli is amazing, and if his form does not turn the heads of Europe’s established elite, most likely Real Madrid and personally I think Juventus, then I think everyone is missing out.

CM Idrissa Gueye – Everton

Controversy time, who is N’Golo Kante again? Well let me tell you, he is the amazing player who is second to only one, Idrissa Gueye. Everyone goes on about Kante’s ability to mop up in midfield, he has made 124 tackles with a 65% tackle success rate this season after all. Gueye, however, has done this to a higher standard with 134 tackles and a 73% tackle success rate, and put him in a Chelsea team with all that talent, he would only get better.

He also beat Kante’s stats last season, Kante was with champions Leicester, while Gueye played with bottom of the table Aston Villa. His performances this season has meant Everton have conceded less goals than both Liverpool and Arsenal. This man is going places and if Everton lose Lukaku, he will be the next out the door.

RM – Kevin De Bruyne – Manchester City

Sadio Mane and De Bruyne probably sit about equal in my eyes but I decided on De Bruyne because there are enough goal scorers in this midfield. That isn’t to say De Bruyne is short of them, he’s notched 6 to his name this season, but more impressive is his number of assists.

Mane laid on just five goals for his teammates this year, and the PFA’s midfield have made 16 assists combined. Enter one man assisting army Kevin De Bruyne, a player who has managed sixteen just by himself. This is because he passes the ball in key positions opposed to Mane who regularly shoots when there are better options. He’s made 1741 passes this season, slightly more than Mane’s 1020, that’s 721 more! I am a Manchester City supporter though so I might be a bit bias, sorry Liverpool fans.

STR – Alexis Sanchez – Arsenal

Another player who really should be in this team ahead of Kane. For a start, let’s talk a striker’s main job, goals.

Kane sits on 22 goals with one game to go, Sanchez has 23. I know Kane has played fewer games, but this isn’t about what ifs, its about what they have actually achieved. If Seamus Coleman wasn’t injured he would have probably made the team but you don’t see him on the PFA’s list.

Kane has provided 6 assists for his team mates, Sanchez has provided ten. If you add those up, Kane has been directly involved with 28 goals, Sanchez has 33. Similar to De Bruyne, Sanchez doesn’t mind missing the glory if his teammates are in better positions. Kane has passed just 557 times this season, a massive 1051 behind Sanchez’a 1608. That is why Sanchez makes my team and Kane gets nowhere near.

STR – Romelu Lukaku – Everton

My final agreement, and one that has no alternative. This man is the leading player in the scoring charts with one game to go and he deserves to win the Golden Boot. 24 goals, one more than Sanchez, two more than Kane, four more than Costa and a massive 6 ahead of Aguero. Infact he has scored just three less than the entire Middlesborough team combined. Did I mention every other shot he takes is on target, one of the best percentages in the league!

He has also assisted his team 6 times as well. Made 941 passes, 384 more than Kane. He also won March’s Player of the Month award. This season’s tally brings the 24 year old to 84 goals in 185 appearances in the Premier League, meaning he scores in 45% of games. There is definitely more to come from him, if he doesn’t move, expect to see him in this spot next season as well.

Comments are welcome, thanks for reading.

Transfer Talk: Issue One – Defenders

Welcome to issue one of ‘Transfer Talk’ where I will be discussing players who are likely to move and where too. Whether I am right or not, hopefully I can provide you with some information on players you haven’t heard of before. You can then also be as annoying (and knowledgable) as me, talking about the next big thing in the pub while everyone else says “Who are they?”.

Paolo Mauricio Lemos Merladet – Las Palmas

The 21 year old central defender has come a long way from his youth days with Defensor Sporting. He never played much for his first team due to his international call ups to the Uruguay U20 side. He must have been highly thought of there because he caught the eye of Russian Premier League side Rubin Kazan. After taking him on loan, they signed him permanently before loaning him to Las Palmas. Las Palmas then spent an estimated two million euros to activate a buyout clause in his loan agreement. He has been as essential to Las Palmas’s steadying season, seeing them 9 points clear of relegation with one game to go.

He is Las Palmas’s joint third goal scorer, with 5 hitting the back of the net. Only striker Kevin Prince Boateng and attacking midfielder Jonathan Viera have netted more, with 10 and 7 respectively. Lemos has made 23 appearances this season and has played 1854 minutes, the tenth highest, making him a big part of this seasons heavily rotated side. At the age  of 21 he is sure to have a glittering career ahead of him, much like Ben Gibson and Micheal Keane, who are both three years older. Now would be a good time to move and ply his trade at a higher level.

Most likely move – Sevilla or Real Sociedad

Possible others – Everton, Stoke or Burnley.

Yerry Fernando Mina Gonzalez – Palmeiras

Another centre back, 22, who was part of the Palmeiras side that won the Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A in 2016. A more well known name in that squad was Manchester City Striker, Gabriel Jesus. For a 22 year old, he’s not short of trophies. As well as that title he was part of the team of the year, as well as winning the Copa Sudamericana in 2015, the Superliga Colombiana in 2015 and the Categoria Primera A in 2014, the latter three with Santa Fe. He also already plays for the Colombian National side and was part of the side that finished third in the Copa America in 2015.

He isn’t goal shy for a defender, having scored 5 goals in 18 games for Palmeiras and 1 in 7 for Colombia – not too shabby! He is likely to step up to a higher level soon, and his performances at both domestic and international levels cannot have gone unnoticed. He is definitely a great player to have in a side with a back three, or a side which plays fast passing football and then looks to convert any set pieces along the way.

Most likely move – Real Madrid or Juventus

Possible others – Manchester City, Liverpool for Chelsea

What Do Newcastle Need To Make Sure Their Stay In The Premier League Is Not A Short Stay?

Last season Newcastle suffered the embarrassment of being beaten to survival by their rivals Sunderland. They managed just nine wins and scored only 44 goals, as fans saw them fall into the Championship for the second time since the Premier League was founded. Fortunes at St James Park, however, have taken a turn for the better under the managerial prowess of Rafa Benitez. Despite splashing  the cash on some great investments, Newcastle will need more than their current assets to ensure they are a mainstay in the Premier League.

This was Newcastle’s line up for the last game of the season, a game in which they clinched the Championship Title: GK Rob Elliot LB Paul Dummett CB Chancel Mbemba CB Issac Hayden RB DeAndre Yedlin LM Yoann Gouffran CM Jack Colback CM Jonjo Shelvey RM Christian Atsu CAM Ayoze Perez CF Aleksandar Mitrovic. The subsitutes used were: Massadio Haïdara, Mohamed Diame and Dwight Gayle.

Newcastle have been scoring freely, converting 85 of their chances, but it is important to note that this was also achieved by Norwich and Fulham. The real strength that shows is their defence was solid, only conceding 40, only matched by second placed Brighton. In the Premier League only Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham have conceded less with games still to play. Karl Darlow has proved to be a stone wall in between the posts, keeping 13 clean sheets in 34 matches. He only conceded a goal every 96 minutes on average, only topped by Brighton’s David Stockdale. At the young age of 26, he still has plenty of time to progress further and keeping him will be vital to Newcastle’s Premier League Campaign.

Jamal Lascelles has played a large part in The Magpie’s tight defensive line this season. Both Darlow and Jamal were bought from Nottingham Forest and have proved to be inspired purchases, much too The Red’s detriment. The Forest defence since the pair left has lacked quality and leadership in my opinion. In Contrast the leadership of Lascelles is really what stands out to me. He spoke out after Newcastle’s 3-1 loss to Southampton, “We need bigger characters on the pitch, players who care and who are going to get after each other. We have lacked it this season and no matter how good you are, if you don’t have that fight and hunger and desire, it doesn’t matter. We had Steve McClaren who is a great manager and now we’ve got Rafa Benitez, who is a great manager, so it’s clearly not that. It’s the players and we have to take full responsibility. It’s ourselves who need to change it and not the manager.”

For a 23 year old to speak out against his own team mates with such brutal honesty shows bravery and earned the respect of many fans. He made this seasons PFA Championship Team of the Year, a great achievement for a man his age, yet he shows maturity and discipline on the pitch well beyond his years. Did I mention he can score as well? He scored three this season, just one less than Mitrovic. Defensively, Newcastle are ready for the step back up into England’s top division.

Jonjo Shelvey has proven himself in the Premier League already, first with Liverpool, then Swansea and finally Newcastle. He also has three caps for England, and at the age of 25, probably could still force his way back into the side. His distribution is second to none in the Newcastle side. Although his temper sometimes gets the best of him, he also provides the much needed muscle required to boss the midfield. He is also the highest valued player in the Championship according to Tranfermarkt.com.  Only three players have played more minutes than Shelvey this season and that includes another key midfielder, Matt Ritchie.

Matt Ritchie, has scored 84 goals in 346 league appearances, a statistic that probably had a large part in Bournemouth’s estimated £12 million valuation of him. He has scored 12 goals for Benitez’s side as well as laying on another eight for them. His efforts have caught the eye of Scotland manager, Gordon Strachan, resulting in 14 appearances for his national team. He also has Premier League experience with Bournemouth and won their goal of the season. He will be key to their Premier League campaign and could be the difference between an average or excellent year.

The midfield does need reinforcements however. Some of the players proved ineffective during the season the side were relegated. Cheick Tiote, Jack Colback and Vernon Anita, to name just three, all did not step up when points were needed from big games, and I don’t see the point in taking the risk when Mike Ashley has promised them a transfer war chest to bring in new talent. So who do they target?

Gylfi Sigurdsson could be available if Swansea get relegated, and with Benitez at the helm, he could be persuaded to join the former Premier League Champions. He made opposition keepers quake in their boots, not only laying on 12 goals for his team, the second highest in the league, but has also found the net nine times himself. He would make a great attacking midfielder, playing just above Shelvey, allowing him the freedom to run at the opposition and create chances.

Another option could be Morgan Sanson from Marseille, if we are to assume Newcastle will continue their affiliation with the French League. The midfielder tops the assist chart with 12 goals created and has put away four of his own. Tranfermarkt.com estimate his cost to be £8.5 million but I would estimate it to be nearer £20 million, but at the age of 22 he could be a great long term investment.

The final option I would suggest would be Youri Tielemans. The Anderlecht midfielder tops the assist charts and created most of the chances that troubled Manchester United in their Europa League clash. He also knows how to put them in himself,  having scored no less than 17 in domestic competitions this season. Transfermarkt.com rates him at £17 million but that will only increase and at the age of 20 is an even greater buy, with his sell on value likely to be much higher in the future. He would probably require the biggest effort in persuasion but there aren’t many players who would say no to ‘Rafa’ and with more money spent, they can portray themselves as something far more than just the Championship Titleholders.

Upfront, I do think it is worth holding on to Dwight Gayle. His 23 goals in the league made up 27% of The Magpie’s goals, undoubtably playing a huge part in their promotion this season. My concern is his Premier League pedigree. In three seasons in the top flight he managed just 15 goals in 64 appearances, a 23% conversion rate opposed to his 72% rate for Newcastle this season. It makes me think maybe the Championship is his level and I view it the same way as Jordan Rhodes, a player I very much admire. He was prolific in the Championship but this season with Middlesborough, he could not produce the goods in the Premier League.

For me, Newcastle must sign a striker to compete with the powerhouses of the Premier League. Newcastle could try and lure Gomis back to England from France but after his time at Swansea, I am unsure if he would be willing. Andrea Belotti from Torino could be the solution. With Torino in ninth position in Serie A, they will not have the luxury of European Football and could be tempted by the lure of English football and a world class manager. He scored 25 goals in 32 appearances this season, a 78% conversion rate in a top league, and also a league known for its impeccable defences. Most likely they would have to fight off other suitors, but if their heads are turned elsewhere, they may be able to snatch him early on in the window. They would have to make a statement signing him as he is valued on Transfermarkt at £25 million, but that message may help draw other big players back to the club who previously broke the club transfer record signing Micheal Owen.

I am almost sure it won’t play out this way, but if Newcastle want to return to the days of old, or replicate Birmingham’s achievements after promotion, strolling into the Europa League, then this is what is required of them. What happens next, we shall see.

1985: The Bradford City AFC Fire Remembered

Today marks the 32nd Anniversary of the awful events that led to 56 fans deaths. 54 Bradford and 2 Lincoln City fans were lost in the Blaze that consumed Valley Parade that day and injured many more. Today a memorial service will be held in Centenary Square in front of the Bradford City Fire Memorial to pay respect to those lost that day. At the bottom of this article I have posted the names of those who died, as taken from the Bradford City Fire website and would encourage you to take a moment to read them and give them a minutes’ silence.

For Bradford defender, Rory McArdle, this will be his fifth memorial service. He said to the Yorkshire Post,  “We have the memorial this week and, for a few of the lads, this will be their first time. They were asking about it recently. We went through it, making sure they understood. It brings everyone at the club together. The memorial is not an enjoyable time, it is a time to remember those not with us any more.”

The fire that day was started by a dropped cigarette which fell onto rubbish beneath the stand, resulting in flames engulfing the wooden structure. Before the match, Bradford had been presented the Third Division trophy before a jubilant 11,000 fans. But just forty minutes after the whistle, the blaze which injured over 250 other fans spread. The footballing world must send its thoughts today, to those who survived, and to the families and friends of those that did not.

32 years on Bradford find themselves on the way to Wembley to face Millwall. McArdle said, “I am hoping there will be smiles on people’s faces at the same time because the club is at Wembley. Getting to Wembley is a massive achievement. It is something we spoke about at the start of the season, the need to improve on last year and we have now done that. But it won’t count for anything unless we progress and win the final. We need that right result.”

Lincoln have already guaranteed themselves promotion, but on May 20th, it could be The Bantams marking this year with promotion as well. Today the whole of the football community bows it’s heads and sends it’s thoughts to those affected by the events of that awful day.

ACKROYD, John Douglas 32 Baildon

ANDERTON, Edmund 68 Bingley

BAINES, Alexander Shaw 70 Bradford

BAMFORD, Herbert 72 Bradford

BULMER, Christopher James 11 Burley-in-Wharfedale

COXON, Jack Leo 76 Bradford

COXON, Leo Anthony 44 Halifax

CRABTREE, David James 30 Bradford

CRABTREE, Harry 76 Bradford

DEMPSEY, Derek 46 Morley

FIRTH, Muriel 56 Baildon

FIRTH, Samuel 86 Bradford

FLETCHER, Andrew 11 East Bridgford, Nottinghamshire

FLETCHER, Edmond 63 Pudsey

FLETCHER, John 34 East Bridgford, Nottingham

FLETCHER, Peter 32 Gildersome

FORSTER, Nellie 64 Bradford

GREENWOOD, Felix Winspear 13 Denholme

GREENWOOD, Peter 46 Denholme

GREENWOOD, Rupert Benedict 11 Denholme

HALL, Norman 71 Bradford

HALLIDAY, Peter Anthony 34 Bradford

HARTLEY, Arthur 79 Bradford

HINDLE, Edith 79 Bradford

HINDLE, Frederick 76 Bradford

HODGSON, Moira Helen 15 Oakenshaw

HUDSON, Eric 72 Bingley

HUGHES, John 64 Bradford

HUTTON, John 74 Bradford

KERR, Walter 76 Bradford

LOVELL, Peter Charles 43 Bradford

LUDLAM, Jack 55 Bradford

McPHERSON, Gordon Stuart 39 Bradford

McPHERSON, Irene 28 Bradford

MASON, Roy 74 Silsden

MIDDLETON, Frederick Norman 84 Bradford

MITCHELL, Harold 79 Bradford

MUHL, Elizabeth 21 Leeds

NORMINGTON, Ernest 74 Shipley

ORMONDROYD, Gerald Priestley 40 Bingley

ORMONDROYD, Richard John 12 Bingley

ORMONDROYD, Robert Ian 12 Bingley

POLLARD, Sylvia Lund 69 Bradford

PRICE, Herbert 78 Shipley

ROBERTS, Amanda Jayne 20 Bradford

SAMPSON, Jane 18 Leeds

STACEY, William 72 Sleaford, Lincolnshire

STOCKMAN, Craig Albert 14 Bradford

STOCKMAN, Jane Ashley 16 Bradford

STOCKMAN, Trevor John 38 Brighouse

TURNER, Howard Malcolm 41 Bingley

TURNER, Sarah Elizabeth 16 Bingley

WARD, Simon Neil 18 Shipley

WEDGEWORTH, Robert 72 Guiseley

WEST, William James 78 North Hykeham, Lincoln

WRIGHT, Adrian Mark 11 Bradford

Read more at: http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/sport/football/special-bond-lies-behind-bradford-city-s-return-to-wembley-1-8537034

An English Manager Winning The Premier League: Is It A Reality?

Yes, well, yes, in my opinion. Following a day of hearing endless opinions, I sat getting increasingly frustrated at some of the views. The one that really got me riled up was the idea that the Premier League wanted lots of new rising foreign managers and players. It is that sort of thinking that has held back our National team, and although money is dominating modern football, is it worth bringing in the next big Chilean or Algerian footballer just to win television rights. In my opinion, there is often an equivalent homegrown option. In the Spanish League, only 3 non-EU players are allowed, unless they have spent five years in Spain and applied dual-citizenship (e.g. Lionel Messi). This has resulted in the Spanish National team thriving, with so many of their top players playing together within many of the best Spanish sides.

By comparison, English squads are allowed 17 non-homegrown players in their squad. This has meant a very restricted pool of players to pick from. This article however is not about that, but it is about the same train of thought. The Premier League allows these rules so clubs can bring in star players from all over the globe, promoting this over quoted phrase, “The best league in the world”. This season summarised that idea and thought pattern. Not only was the transfer window filled with giants e.g. Ibrahimovic, Pogba and Gabriel Jesus, but the build up to the season was largely focused around the men off the field.

Managerial rivalries were focused on and many were calling it the best managerial line up ever seen in one league. Mourihnio would resume his ongoing battle with Guardiola. Italian mastermind Antonio Conte arrived to resurrect Chelsea, whilst Jurgen Klopp was to continue repairing Liverpool’s pride. Arsene Wenger was ready to have another run at the title and Mauricio Pochettino sought to show The Citizens why they should have never let him go. Ranieri resumed his wonder work and Koeman headed toward a battle to break into Europe. There was no mention of Sean Dyche continuing his wonders with Burnley or Eddie Howe facing another difficult season with Bournemouth.

This billing of foreign Premier League managers and players has secured a record TV rights deal from 2016-2019. This surely will only drive the thinking that financially, all this importing is beneficial and will secure the constant progression of the Premier League. So have we left it too late to ask the question around which this article is based? Are we too far gone down this path where we insist on looking elsewhere for the next big thing, be it a player or a manager?

The answer is no. I think an English manager will win the Premier League sooner than most think. We are possibly on the verge of the departure of Arsene Wenger, and with one man strongly linked to the England job, as well as Wenger, he could be in the running for the Arsenal job following Wenger’s departure. Eddie Howe sits at 14/1 in the betting (Skybet) to take over as the next Gunners boss and I think he is the right man for the job. If I am right, Howe will have a very good squad already, as well as a transfer budget to get Arsenal back in the Champions League.

Arsenal probably risk losing Sanchez, (see my last article), and Ozil if they fail to pull off a miracle in their last three games, with both wanting to play on Europe’s grandest stage. Howe has overseen the revival of Wilshere who will return this summer. Wilshere has taken part in 27 games and played 1912 minutes, more than any season since the 10/11 season, his breakthrough season with Arsenal. He will not play for the rest of the season after breaking his leg, but on his return, who better to nurture his talents than Eddie Howe.

Eddie has also got his Bournemouth side scoring freely,  sitting 7th out of the 20 sides, and above Manchester United. Not only that, but his acquisition of Joshua King on a free transfer has proved inspiring, with the Norwegian scoring 15 goals this season, the same as Eden Hazard and Jermaine Defoe. He also got Nathan Ake on loan from Chelsea, a player whose talents proved so promising, the league leaders recalled him. His tactical nous, man management, combined with the financial  and footballing power of Arsenal could see Howe claim the coveted title of Premier League Champions.

There are other managers who may take the step up to the Premier League at some point in their careers. Shaun Derry showed great prowess to come in late in the season to save Notts County from relegation and had a solid first full season with Cambridge United. Exeter manager Paul Tisdale is still young for a manager despite over ten years service and has taken Exeter to the play-offs, despite limited resources in a very competitive league. Nigel Clough could yet follow in his father’s footsteps despite facing a lot of challenges during his two tenures with Burton Albion.

Sean Dyche is already in the Premier League and has done an incredible job with Burnley, having joined when Howe took over Bournemouth. Dyche has twice taken the club to the top tier of English football and it would be interesting to see what he could do at a top seven side.

All of this points to plenty of opportunity for English managers. It would just need the right vacancy for the right manager at the right time. Hope is not lost and while money may keep tightening its’ grasp on the footballing world, it does not close the door to an English Manager lifting that trophy.

How Do Liverpool Win The Premier League?

Before this season began I thought Liverpool were in touching distance of the Premier League. With Jurgen Klopp at the helm, they are in impeccable hands, a man who twice beat the odds to win the Bundesliga. The squad is full of young talent and Premier League experience providing the perfect set up for a run at the title. However the squad is proving to be very injury prone and clearly players are needed to close the gap between a top four finish and the title.

First we should look at just how many injuries they have amassed this year. Currently Sadio Mane, Danny Ings and Jordan Henderson are all sidelined, three crucial players for the Merseyside team. Daniel Sturridge has been missing for countless spells this season and other big attacking players including Phillippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana have been crocked. Defensively Joe Gomez, a great young prospect, is now trying to return to his Charlton form after over a year out, and a few injuries amongst other defenders have meant an irregular back four line up. Liverpool only have 3 players in the top 100 players for minutes played, top of the league Chelsea have 8, with only bottom of the league Sunderland having less (1).

I said Liverpool’s defence has been inconsistent and this has hindered their ability to bond as a unit. Not only have the six other teams in the top seven kept more clean sheets than them with Tottenham having the most (17) but even relegated Middlesbrough have kept more than The Reds ten (11). Only Arsenal have conceded more goals in the top seven and Tottenham have conceded almost half the amount. To improve this Liverpool need a more settled defence. Excluding Nathaniel Clyne, you would have to drop down to 124th position to find the next recognised Liverpool defender in this seasons player tackles table, Dejan Lovren.

Task One: Purchase a central defender

Ben Gibson

Chelsea also have been rumoured to be interested in the Middlesbrough defender but it would be better for international football and the player himself to head to Anfield. With English internationals like Lallana, Sturridge, Clyne, Milner and Henderson in the ranks he would be in with a big chance of making the World Cup Squad. Liverpool would probably guarantee him playing time and no Middlesborough player has played more minutes giving Liverpool one player they do not have to worry about. He is in the top ten for Blocks, Last Man Tackles and Clearances this season. Transfermarkt.com rate him at £5.1 Million but with the fact he is English he would probably cost double that. But even at £15 million you would be purchasing a 24-year-old with a promising long career ahead of him.

Midfield is one position Liverpool are loaded with class.  Henderson is in the top ten for passes and touches, as is James Milner who has also converted the most penalties this season. Half of Liverpool’s goals have been scored by the midfield and thats excluding Mane, who could be classed as a midfielder or a forward.

Upfront however Liverpool need a Striker. When Luis Suarez left, a void appeared that has not been filled, and my solution is an odd one. For me, they need a ‘Suarez-esque’ player who has the hunger for silverware and to play in the Champions League. Two clubs in that top 6 will miss out on the that privilege and the most likely is Arsenal. So Liverpool may not even have to cross seas to find that player.

Task Two: Purchase a striker

Alexis Sanchez has already hinted at a move away from the Emirates and he fits the profile of the player I think The Reds need. Versatile, fast and relentless, those for me are all the qualities that made Suarez a master in the Premier League. He also isn’t too bad in front of goal. He has averaged 16 goals a season in the three he has been with Arsenal and could have even more if given the central role at Anfield. He is also effective in the Champions League having scored 11 at his time in England and so could be a great addition to Merseyside’s return into Europe’s most sought after Trophy. The club will have to dig deep with the player probably valued around 55 million, but with the revenue from the Champions League group stages and television payouts, even more if Liverpool could progress further, he is definitely worth the investment.

Task Three: Trust in Klopp

The Normal One took three seasons to take Dortmund to the promised land at the summit of the Bundesliga and five to reach the Champions League Final. He took Mainz into the Bundesliga for the first time in his first Managerial Job and Qualified for the 05/06 Uefa Cup in his third season. He took them too the last qualifying round where they were unfortunate enough to bump into Sevilla who went on to win that year. That really isn’t bad considering Sevilla are the most successful team in the Competition’s history. His work with Mainz laid the foundation for the club to become a mainstay in the Bundesliga and this year they reached the group stage of the Europa League for the first time.

Although Klopp finished runner-up in both the League Cup and the Europa League in his first season, that shows good promise going forward. He has only lost 21 games with Liverpool since he began his tenure, a very promising figure and he is only likely to keep improving. I think he can emulate his success in what appears to  be a magical trend of third season success. He has a higher win percentage than in his first two season with Dortmund so prepare for fireworks.

Conte, I believe its time you prepared yourself. Guardiola, time to feel the heat of your Bundesliga rival once again and Special One, time to find out that you don’t have to be special to win the Premier League, normal will do just fine.

 

All stats taken from Premierleague.com

Relegated Rovers: Why My Prediction Came True

Everyone is currently coming to terms with that Monday feeling. Most face returning to work, some with a heavy hangover looming over them. Newcastle fans are celebrating silverware whilst Harry Redknapp is breathing a sigh of relief, and Nottingham Forest fans are finally are picking up the nail files after biting them repeatedly for the last 10 months. Blackburn fans, however, are reprogramming their Sat-Navs with Plymouth and Southend as they come to terms with relegation to League One.

Yesterday, despite a 3-1 victory at Brentford, The Riversiders became the first team to win the Premier League and to have dropped the third tier of English football. The transformation since that glorious campaign in 94/95 season when Blackburn claimed the title to now has been a very rocky path. That season, Nottingham Forest finished third, but pipped Blackburn to safety yesterday following a 3-0 win at home to Ipswich.

I had predicted Blackburn would be the club to go down at the start of the season and after many Forest fans were worried following Montanier’s sacking in January, I was the only one in my local reiterating that Blackburn would fill that spot. I must admit that I didn’t expect it to be that close and was nervous I could be eating my words before long. To explain why I was so sure I need to take you through the events leading up to this season’s conclusion and why that gave me such a strong gut feeling.

Prior to the 2010, when the V H Group bought the club, Rovers had spent just two season in the Championship before returning to the Premier League and in the 09/10 season Sam Allardyce led the club to a tenth place finish. The next season Allardyce had won just 4 of the first 13 games and when the club takeover was completed on November 19th they had amassed 15 points, 1.15 points per game. Three games later Allardyce was sacked despite winning two of the three games since the takeover, taking that average to 1.31 points per game.

Steve Kean was appointed temporarily, and it was not long before controversy surrounded the decision with his agent playing a large role in the takeover of the club. Kean was given a permanent contract shortly afterwards, despite only picking up four points in five games, and after a run of ten matches without a win the club finished 15th. Next season Kean signed an improved contract despite the club sitting bottom of the table, much to the outrage of the fans who had been calling for his sacking for most of the season.

The club posted a large pre tax annual loss in December but insisted they would continue to fund the club even if they were relegated. To me, as an outsider, that raised alarm bells. In December, with five months of the season left to play, I would not be mentioning relegation publicly even if the club were bottom. With the January transfer window imminent, I would be focused on investment and strengthening the squad, essentially thing that would provide a positive atmosphere around the club. This to me sounded like they had already accepted defeat.

Skip forward to the January tranfer window and the only player they spent money on was Bradley Orr from QPR, who only started ten games following his arrival. Since then he was loaned out for much of his career only, starting 18 games for Blackburn across the next three seasons, before retiring after a spell with Toronto. That isn’t the kind of funding you would be expecting when faced with relegation which is what that season resulted in.

The transfers Blackburn have conducted have been worrying to me. In 2014 the club hardly spent anywhere near what was needed on player transfers as well as firing two managers. This was the start of the club falling behind their peers in my opinion. A club selling players but not bringing in any of a certain standard is a club that will never progress and to get those players requires a warchest, which could have been partly funded by parachute payments.

The club sold players such as Rudy Gestede, a striker of so much quality he now plays in the Premier League. They sold Alan Judge and Jay Spearing to Championship Rivals, both who are creative midfielders who can change a game and create chances. Shane Duffy left for Brighton in 2016, a stone wall defender who just won promotion with Brighton, and Jordan  Rhodes left, a man that provided 82 goals across 3 and  a half seasons for Rovers. Throughout this, the club has failed to replace these sales, failed to replace those goals.

Over the last four seasons they have scored 70, then 66, then 46, and finally this season just 40. Across the same time period it is not just the scored that matter, but also the goals conceded. Defenders like Duffy leaving has resulted in their goal difference slipping over the last four seasons from 14 to -12, a 36 goal swing. Duffy contributed too 19 clean sheets this season as well as two whilst on international duty, he also scored twice. At the age of 25, you would assume he will be playing a big part in Brighton’s first season in the Premier League and is an asset to any club. Blackburn have scored more goals this season in the last 15 minutes, than any other time whilst they have conceded their first goal in the 40th minute, meaning they are behind more often than they are ahead.

Vineeth Rao, a Venky Representative and Rovers had previously insisted selling their best players was ridiculous after Christopher Samba left according to Echo-News.com. They reported Rao said: “There are no plans like that there, that is ridiculous. There are no plans to sell any more key players, why would there be? Our immediate focus is on staying up in the Premier League. We hope Chris Samba will be the last key departure. There are no plans to sell any more key players because we want to improve the squad. We want to add to the squad and improve it, not sell the players we have got. We are not planning on selling any more key players.”

I cannot trust owners who are doing that to their own club and I am a neutral so how would a Blackburn Fan. Not only that the debts are reportedly piling up for the club and with the reduced revenue in League One they are only likely to get worse. If the free fall is to stop they must sign now and sign wisely and bounce back at the first time of asking or risk becoming the next Luton, Blackpool or Portsmouth. Blackburn are currently favourites for promotion next season, I would be laying my money on them finishing the other end of the table.

 

All Statistics taken from Soccerway.