Friday, 9 August 2013

Capital One Cup: Second Round Draw

With the Football League season well underway, and only a week or so until the Premier League season kicks off, the Capital One Cup is in full flow after an entertaining first round was played this week. There were six Championship sides knocked out by lower league teams with Brighton one of the shock exits as they were beaten 3-1 at home by League Two's Newport County. The Welsh side looked set to exit the competition after Ashley Barnes had given the hosts the lead. However Danny Crow netted late on to send the tie into extra time. Crow was at it again in extra time scoring from range with only three minutes played. The tie was all over though moments later as Conor Washington slid the ball home after racing through.

Other Championship casualties included Blackburn Rovers who were knocked out on penalties after drawing 3-3 with League One's Carlisle after extra time. Rovers were joined by Sheffield Wednesday and Middlesbrough who were both beaten by League Two opposition. Wednesday were beaten 2-1 away at Rotherham while Middlesbrough were beaten at home by Accrington Stanley by the same scoreline.

In one of the round's high scoring ties, Colchester United were beaten by fellow League One side Peterborough United 5-1 at home. Posh took the lead early on as Gabriel Zakuani nodded a Grant McCann cross into the net. The home side were level soon after as Jabo Ibehre smashed home to draw level. But the away side went goal crazy as Tyrone Barnett headed into the net, before Tommy Rowe made the score 3-1 with a thunderbolt. Two more goals from Lee Tomlin late on meant Darren Ferguson's side came out 5-1 winners. 

All Premier League sides come into the second round bar the clubs competing in Europe meaning there are 14 top flight clubs playing for a third round tie. Wigan also wait until the third round as they are also competing in the Europa League having won the FA Cup last season. In the second round draw one of the stand out ties sees Liverpool host League One Notts County. Having beaten Wolves in the first round, Morecambe's reward is a home game against Newcastle United. Newport County's reward is a trip to West Brom. 

All ties will commence the week beginning the 26th August 2013.

Second Round Fixtures: 
Carlisle v Leicester City
Doncaster Rovers v Leeds United
Notts Forest v Millwall
Sunderland v MK Dons
West Brom v Newport County
Bristol City v Crystal Palace
Peterborough United v Reading
Barnsley v Southampton
Burton Albion v Fulham
Burnley v Preston
Liverpool v Notts County
Norwich City v Bury
Leyton Orient v Hull
Everton v Stevenage
Stoke City v Walsall
Huddersfield Town v Charlton Athletic
Aston Villa v Rotherham
Tranmere v Bolton Wanderers
Morecambe v Newcastle United
QPR v Swindon Town
Derby County v Brentford
Watford v Bournemouth 
Yeovil Town v Birmingham City
Accrington Stanley v Cardiff City
West Ham United v Cheltenham Town

Premier League 2013/14 season guide: Part 5

In our final part of our season guide we take a look at Swansea City, Tottenham Hotspur West Brom and West Ham. Plus our predicted league table.

Swansea City:
After a fantastic first season in the Premier League, Swansea City followed it up with another great effort in their second season as a top flight club. Having lost Brendan Rodgers to Liverpool, Michael Laudrup was brought in as his replacement and what an impact the Dane had. Having not only finished ninth in the league, the Welsh club were crowned Capital One Cup winners beating Bradford City 5-0 at Wembley last February. The victory also saw the Swans entered into Europe and the Europa League where they are currently one round away from the group stages. The signing of Michu was an instant success with the Spanish forward netting 18 league goals in his first season in England. Laudrup has made number of signings already this summer bring in Ivorian striker Wilfried Bony, who scored 37 goals in 36 games last season. He is expected to play a key role this season linking up with Michu. As well as Bony, Jose Canas has also moved to the Liberty Stadium from Real Betis, and the midfielder has been joined by Jonjo Shelvey who moved from Liverpool.

Swansea's poor run near the end of last season saw them only win two from eleven games, which came after their Wembley triumph. This will have been a case for concern for Laudrup, whose side had been hovering around the Europa League positions up until the poor end of season run. Another mid table finish could be expected for the Swans who will be playing twice a week on a regular occasion if they are to progress in Europe. They have a tough start to the campaign as they host Manchester United on the opening day, and go on to play Spurs, Liverpool and Arsenal in their opening six games.

Key Player: Michu

Predicted finish: 7th

Tottenham Hotspur:
For the second season in a row, Spurs were denied a Champions League place thanks to another team in London. Last season saw Chelsea pinch the fourth place, whilst the end of this season saw Spurs' North London rivals Arsenal take the final place. New boss AVB will still be pleased with the progress made in his first season, and will feel a lot better with his work after suffering an awful time in his short time at Chelsea. The form of Gareth Bale was simply brilliant with the Player of the Year now rumoured to be close to joining Spanish giants Real Madrid. It is absolutely key for Spurs to hold onto the Welshman as he was sole provider of goals. Jermain Defoe was the closest to Bale's 21 league goals with 11, and with Emmanuel Adebayor failing to hit the net more often, AVB has brought in Roberto Soldado from Valencia. The Spanish striker scored 24 league goals for Valencia last season and will add that much needed fire power.

As well as Soldado, Brazilian midfielder Paulinho signed at White Hart Lane for £17 million. His stand out performances at the Confederations Cup this summer, earned him a big money move, and alongside Dembele and Sandro, will make the Spurs midfield much stronger. A good start to the season will be key for Spurs if they are to break into the top four this season. They won two points from their opening three games last season. They kick of this season with an away trip to the newly promoted Palace before facing Swansea and then Arsenal in the first North London derby of the season.

Key Player: Gareth Bale

Predicted finish: 5th

West Bromwich Albion:
After a few attempts, it appears that West Brom have become an established Premier League side. Steve Clarke had an excellent first season in the Baggies' dugout finishing in eighth place. The question this season is whether they are to achieve similar success. Without Romelu Lukaku, goals will have to come from elsewhere. The answer to that could well be new boy Nicolas Anelka who joins his sixth Premier League team. (Can you name the other five?) Up front West Brom have Shane Long too, who had limited game time last season due to the form of Lukaku. Alongside Anelka, Clarke has brought in experience in defence with Uruguayan defender Diego Lugano making the move from PSG. The experienced centre back will fit into the English game perfectly with his tough tackling and good reading of the game. Another key figure for the Baggies is Youssuf Mulumbu who recently signed a new deal at the Hawthorns.

It will be hard to repeat the form of last season which saw them beat Liverpool at Anfield, as well as a home victory against Chelsea and a 5-5 draw at home to Manchester United. The first five games for West Brom are all winnable if they produce the form of last season with home games against Southampton, Sunderland and Swansea, as well as away trips to Everton and Fulham.

Key Player: Youssuf Mulumbu

Predicted finish: 11th

West Ham United:
If West Ham could have the most perfect season, then last year was certainly that. A tenth place finish in the league, excellent home form and being confirmed as tenants for the Olympic Stadium means that the Hammers are having a whale of a time. Sam Alladyce's side were beaten only four times meaning they gathered 33 points at home, a total bettered only by the top six sides. The loan signing of Andy Carroll last season was one that worked both for player and team and his seven goals were key in the Hammers excellent campaign. Carroll has since made the move permanent signing from Liverpool for £17million. His link up play with Kevin Nolan resulted in the captain's ten goals making him the club's top goal scorer. Carroll hasn't been the only signing made this summer with Real Betis keeper Adrian moving from Spain where he kept 11 clean sheets in 31 games last year. He will provide good competition with Jussi Jaaskelainen who was one of the stand out performers last year.

Alladyce will believe on their day his side can cause problems for any team in the division. The first six fixtures for his side avoid any of the top four and give the Hammers a chance for a good start to the season. They face the newly promoted Cardiff City on the opening day of the season. A fixture they played two seasons ago in the Championship, where a Kenny Miller goal was enough to give the Welsh club a 1-0 away win. West Ham will then travel to Newcastle, Southampton and Hull and also have home games against Everton and Stoke City.

Key Player: Andy Carroll

Predicted finish: 8th

Predicted League Table:

1. Chelsea
2. Manchester City
3. Manchester United
4. Arsenal
5. Tottenham Hotspur
6. Liverpool
7. Swansea City
8. West Ham United
9. Everton
10. Southampton
11. West Bromwich Albion
12. Aston Villa
13. Norwich City
14. Fulham
15. Newcastle United
16. Stoke City
17. Cardiff City
18. Sunderland
19. Hull City
20. Crystal Palace

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Premier League 2013/14 season guide: Part 4

In the penultimate part of our Premier League season guide we take a look at Norwich City, Southampton, Stoke City and Sunderland.

Norwich City:
Having hovered around the relegation places during the middle of last season, the Canaries ended up finishing a very respectable 11th place. Earning just 10 points in 16 games during the season meant that Chris Hughton's men ruined an excellent start to the season. By mid-December they were only two points off a European place having beaten both Arsenal and Manchester United. Although Norwich didn't slip into the relegation places, there were certainly a few nervous looks during March and April. Three wins in their final five games of the season, including a final day win at Manchester City meant that they finished in 11th place. The main problem Hughton's men faced last season, was the ability to put the ball in the back of the net. Norwich's 41 goals was the third lowest in the league behind QPR and Stoke, with eight of the them coming from top goalscorer Grant Holt.

With Holt moving to Wigan Athletic, Hughton has brought in Dutch duo Leroy Fer and Ricky Van Wolfswinkel, as well as Celtic striker Gary Hooper. Both Van Wolfswinkel and Hooper have been prolific goal scorers wherever they have played, and City fans will expect the pair to strike up an excellent partnership. There have been a number of other arrivals at Carrow Road this summer with Javier Garrido making his loan move permanent, Martin Olsson arriving from Blackburn and Nathan Redmond making the move from Birmingham City. Norwich will want to start the campaign well and gather as many points as possible, as their final four games of the season include Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea.

Key Player: Ricky Van Wolfswinkel

Predicted finish: 13th

Despite sacking Nigel Adkins in the middle of last season, Southampton still finished in 14th place under current manager Mauricio Pochettino. Under the Argentine, the Saints beat Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea at home in the second half of last season. With half a season under his belt, Pochettino now has a full season to further strengthen his side as they look to improve on last year's position. One signing they have brought in, is centre back Dejan Lovren, who at 25, has made the move from French giants Lyon. One concern about the Croatian is the three red cards he picked up for Lyon, in 18 games last season. Joining Lovren is Celtic midfielder Victor Wanyama who signed for £12.5 million. The goals from Rickie Lambert were extremely important for the Saints last season, with the big man hitting 15 league goals. The striker will need to be at it again this year if similar success is to be achieved at St Mary's.

The Saints have had a decent pre-season so far winning three out of five games they have played, losing two to Celta Vigo and Schalke. The opening four games to the season are games that Saints fans will expect their side to get points from. In West Brom, Sunderland, Norwich and West Ham, Southampton only managed four points against these sides last year, a total that should be improved this year, if the club have any ambition to finish higher in the league.

Key Player: Adam Lallana

Predicted finish: 10th

Stoke City:
After ten years of being in charge, Tony Pulis was sacked at the end of last season. His replacement, Mark Hughes, was one that not many Stoke fans were too impressed with. The former QPR manager has the tough task of managing a team that only scored 34 goals last year winning just two games away from home. Without a massive budget to play with Hughes job will be too develop the youngsters and add some much needed flare to a side who love to play direct football. In the transfer window, Hughes has only signed two players, Erik Pieters and Mark Muniesa, both defenders. Signed from PSV, Pieters is a left back and a player that Stoke were in need for as they spent most of last season with the right footed Marc Wilson in that position. Hughes will look to change the way Stoke play and look to get them scoring more regularly than they did under Pulis. In the 190 games they have played in the Premier League, they have only hit the net 188 times. Jonathan Walters was top goal scorer last season with just eight goals, and Hughes will look to him and Peter Crouch to be netting a lot more often.

Things don't get any easier for Hughes as his first game in charge of Stoke comes in the shape of Liverpool at Anfield. His side also face a home game against Man City and a trip to Arsenal in the club's first five games of the season. Other than QPR, 'Sparky' has a decent record in the Premier League with spells at Manchester City, Fulham and Blackburn Rovers.

Key Player: Steven N'Zonzi

Predicted finish: 16th

Paolo Di Canio was appointed as Sunderland boss at the end of March and was given the job of keeping the Black Cats in the top flight. He did this in the seven games he was in charge of winning two, drawing two and losing three. In particular the 3-0 away win over rivals at Newcastle United is the stand out result for Sunderland fans. His extravagant celebrations and his passion is something that will be welcomed Premier League fans this season. However a 6-1 thumping by Aston Villa and two poor draws against Stoke and Southampton don't bode well. So far on the transfer front, Di Canio has been busy both with new arrivals and departures. The club's best player last season Simon Mignolet has moved on to Liverpool, leaving Kieren Westwood and Vito Mannone to fight it out for the number one spot. January recruit Danny Graham failed to score in any of his thirteen appearances for Sunderland and has also moved out on loan to Premier League new boys Hull City. Just like Stoke and Norwich, goals were hard to come by as they only managed just the 41 goals.

Without key striker Steven Fletcher for two months last season meant that without the Scot, Sunderland struggled to find the goal. It is a must that he stays fit for this season. American Jozy Altidore has been brought in from AZ and fans will hope that he brings the form that saw him score 23 goals in Holland last year. He is joined by Italian Emanuele Giaccherini who joins from Juventus and was one of the players to stand out from the Italian side that made the semi finals of this summer's Confederations Cup in Brazil.

Key Player: Steven Fletcher

Predicted finish: 18th

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Premier League 2013/14 season guide: Part 3

In our third part of our season guide we take a look at Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Newcastle United.

This is a big season for Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool Football Club. Having shown signs of consistency at the end of last season, fans will expect the team to show this form throughout the coming season. Last year's seventh place finish was the second consecutive season that Liverpool had finished below their Merseyside neighbours. With a new manager at Everton, fans will be confident they can finish above their rivals. However Rodgers and Liverpool have more important things to concentrate on other than finishing above Everton. As one of the European greats, Liverpool have been without Champions League football since the 2009/10 season under Rafa Benitez. A challenge for a top four place is expected of Liverpool in the coming season, but one that could prove very difficult.

So far in the transfer window, Rodgers has bought in four new players in Simon Mignolet, Kolo Toure, Luis Alberto and Iago Aspas. With players leaving Anfield too, Rodgers will require further investment if the Reds are to mount a serious top four challenge this season. If they are to do this then keeping Luis Suarez must remain a priority. The Uruguayan has been the centre of attention this summer with a move out of Liverpool looking probable. With only Arsenal showing any keen interest in the forward, the club have made it quite clear they are not looking to let Suarez leave. Pre-season so far has seen Liverpool win all five of their games without conceding a goal. The first six fixtures for Rodgers men, which Suarez will miss if he remains at Anfield, look very winnable with a home game against Manchester United the only game against a top four rival.

Key Player: Philippe Coutinho

Predicted finish: 6th

Manchester City:
New manager and a new season for a club that will want to get back to winning silverware. Having made a poor attempt at defending their miraculous title win of two years ago last season, the blue side of Manchester may feel that this year could be theirs again. In Manuel Pellegrini, City have an experienced man at the helm. He took previous club Malaga to the quarter finals of the Champions League as well as Villarreal to the semis. Under previous boss Roberto Mancini, City were far from good enough against Europe's elite but now under Pellegrini, fans should expect the 59-year-old Spaniard to take them further this season. His transfer dealings so far have been done a lot quicker than that of Mancini's last year with Fernandinho, Stevan Jovetic, Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo all making the move to the Etihad.

Both Navas and Negredo arrived from Sevilla with the latter having scored 85 goals in 180 appearances whilst at the Spanish club. With Carlos Tevez leaving earlier in the window to Juventus, Negredo will battle it out with Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero for a starting position upfront. City's opening fixtures have been kind with the first three games including two games against Newcastle and Hull as well as an away trip to the newly promoted Cardiff City.

Key Player: Sergio Aguero

Predicted finish: 2nd

Manchester United:
The general feeling since the arrival of new manager David Moyes is that he has the 'hardest job in football'. Replacing Sir Alex was never going to easy for his successor, and in Moyes, United have a man who did wonderful things at Everton. However now at Old Trafford, he has big boots to fill, a title to defend and Europe to compete in. It's not been easy early doors for Moyes who saw his team defeated twice in pre-season so far. On the transfer side, no-one has signed for the Premier League holders who missed out on Thiago, who decided on linking up Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich. It has been made clear that fellow Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas is a target of Moyes' but having had bids rejected for the former Arsenal man, this transfer is looking very unlikely.

If United are to defend last seasons title, then it's essential that Moyes brings in new recruits particularly on the defensive side. United conceded 43 goals last year which meant that they were the third highest team to win the league and concede that many goals in the 21 year history of the Premier League. With Ferdinand ageing and Vidic injury prone, it would be sensible for an established centre back to be bought. Michael Carrick could also do with some help whose workload includes preventing opposition attacks and building his own sides in the process. Moyes' opening six fixtures couldn't have been tougher for the Scot, which sees trips to Liverpool and City as well as a home game against Mourinho and Chelsea.

Key Player: Robin Van Persie

Predicted finish: 3rd

Newcastle United:
What a few months it has been on Tyneside for Newcastle United. If offering manager Alan Pardew an eight year contract wasn't bad enough, owner Mike Ashley decided on making Joe Kinnear director of football at St James' Park. This comes after an appalling season for Newcastle who only just managed to avoid relegation last season, coming after the previous year which saw Pardew guide them to a fifth place finish. Fans will certainly not want a repeat of last year but with the current talent in the squad, a relegation battle should be avoided. With the loss of Demba Ba last year to Chelsea, goals are expected to come from Papiss Cisse who after an excellent start to his career in 2011/12 only managed eight goals last season. Cisse will certainly require a partner to take the burden off his shoulders and with only two weeks left until the new season, it has been rumoured Newcastle are to sign Lyon striker Bafetimbi Gomis as well as fellow Frenchman Loic Remy from QPR.

With little arrivals in the market so far, Newcastle have managed to keep hold of their core players with Yohan Cabaye reportedly linked with a move to Manchester United. Fabricio Coloccini has also been rumoured to make the move away but having been convinced to stay by Pardew will be an integral player for Newcastle this season. His leadership and experience will be key to the heart of the defence that conceded 68 goals last season, the fourth highest in the league.

Key Player: Yohan Cabaye

Predicted finish: 15th

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Premier League 2013/14 season guide: Part 2

In the second part of our season guide we take a look at the newly promoted Crystal Palace, Everton, Fulham and Hull City.

Crystal Palace:
This will be Palace's fifth season in the top flight returning after an eight year absence having beaten Watford 1-0 in the Championship play-off final in May. It could be a season of struggle for Ian Holloway and his men who are already favourites to go straight back down. Holloway will be without top scorer Glenn Murray, who is unlikely to make any sort of return until Christmas time having suffered knee ligament damage in the play-off semi final first leg against Brighton. Having lost Wilfried Zaha as well to Manchester United, eyes turn to Dwight Gayle who signed from Peterborough United for around £4.5 million this summer. The striker scored 13 goals for Posh last season which saw them relegated, so Eagles fans will hope the former non-league forward will settle in the top flight.

As well as Gayle, Holloway has brought in the more experienced Kevin Phillips who signed a one year deal having scored the only goal in the play-off final. As well as Phillips, midfielder Stephen Dobbie has signed a permanent deal having spent the last four months of last season on loan at Selhurst Park. Having seen the likes of Victor Moses, Nathaniel Clyne and Wilfried Zaha rise from the club's academy to better things, Palace fans are hoping for similar things from Jonny Williams who is tipped to be the next big thing. The attacking midfielder featured heavily in the club's success last season and having made two caps for Wales, is one to look out for this year.

Key Player: Mile Jedinak

Predicted finish: 20th

It's been all change this summer at Goodison Park as Roberto Martinez replaced David Moyes as manager. One of the first things Martinez made clear was that he would get Everton into the Champions League. A big statement and one if he achieves will be quite remarkable. A good start to the season will certainly ease Martinez who saw his Wigan Athletic side relegated from the top flight last season. Despite this he still saw the Lactics win the FA Cup against Manchester City, which also saw them humble Everton 3-0 at Goodison in the quarter finals. So far the Spaniard has drafted in a number of players including three from Wigan. Arouna Kone, Joel Robles and Antolin Alcarez have all been brought in and are joined by the highly rated Gerard Deulofleu who joins on a season long loan from Barcelona. With plenty of arrivals, Evertonians will be hoping they are able to hold onto defender Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini who have both been linked with moves to Old Trafford following in the footsteps of their former manager.

If Martinez is to become a success this season then he has a great opportunity in his opening three fixtures. With trips to Norwich and Cardiff and a home game against West Brom, three wins from three would do no harm at all. A poor start for Martinez though and his first season on Merseyside could end up with a mid table finish, which after successive top six seven finishes in the last two seasons, would be very disappointing for the Goodison Park faithful. Another thing the new manager will have to expect is the rivalry with Liverpool who have finished behind Everton in the last two seasons.

Key Player: Steven Pienaar

Predicted finish: 9th

Fulham have become one of the teams who you regularly expect to have an average season and finish mid table. They did this last year finishing in 12th with 43 points. The astute signing of Dimitar Berbatov by Martin Jol last season for £5 million from Manchester United saw the Bulgarian become the spear head for Fulham's attacks scoring a respectable 15 goals. Jol has a small squad but one that contains some good talent. In particular Bryan Ruiz and central defender Brede Hangeland who is going into his seventh season at Craven Cottage. With the arrival of a new owner this summer, Jol should be given funds to further strengthen his squad. So far he has brought in Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenberg for £3million replacing the ever reliable Mark Schwarzer who made the short move to Chelsea. Spanish defender Fernando Amorebieta is also another arrival making the move from Athletic Bilbao and one that will see him partner Hangeland in the back four.

Until the owner finds his feet in England, Fulham fans won't expect much more than a mid table finish with any hopes of a European finish a long way off. The owner Shahid Khan's American football team Jacksonville Jaguars have struggled since he bought them in 2011 so the Fulham faithful will hope he can give Jol money to spend. There is a number of talented youngsters at the club with Alex Kacaniklic in particular as the winger has caught the eye with some good performances in a Fulham shirt last season. Kerim Frei is another winger who like Kacaniklic adds some much needed pace on the wings.

Key Player: Dimitar Berbatov

Predicted finish: 14th

Hull City:
Hull City are back in the Premier League but go back to the final day of the Championship season and you would have questioned whether they really wanted to be here. Leading 2-1 against Cardiff going into stoppage time, Hull had a penalty and a chance to confirm their promotion to the top flight. However having missed the penalty and seen Cardiff equalise with a penalty of their own, Hull had to rely on Watford not winning at home to Leeds. To their relief Watford were beaten and saw Steve Bruce's Hull make their return to the top flight. Bruce's side will be favourites to go down as the newly promoted side, and with a lack of options upfront, have a tough season ahead of them. Things don't get easier for Hull as they face a trip to Chelsea on the opening day of the season followed by a home game against Norwich and then a trip to the Ethiad to face Manchester City.

With limited options in attack, Bruce has bought in Danny Graham from Sunderland on loan. The striker signed for Sunderland in January and failed to hit the net in any of his appearances for The Black Cats. Graham was the sixth player Bruce had signed this summer with other arrivals including goalkeeper Steve Harper and defender Maynor Figueroa. Former Manchester United graduate Robbie Brady is one to look for this season, with the 21 year old having made 13 assists last season from midfield.

Key Player: Robbie Brady

Predicted finish: 19th

Monday, 29 July 2013

Premier League 2013/14 season guide: Part 1

With only 38 days until the start of the new Premier League season, we take a look at all 20 teams in he league and preview their chances over the next 12 months. In the five part guide, all teams will be looked at in detail, from the key players to watch, to their opening fixtures to their season, it will be covered. In part one, we take a look at Arsenal, Aston Villa, Cardiff City and Chelsea.

Ending the final ten games of last season unbeaten, made sure that the Gunners claimed the final Champions League spot pipping their North London rivals Spurs to it on the final day. However the one thing concerning Arsenal fans currently, will be the lack of transfer activity which has only seen young French forward Yaya Sanogo arrive on a free transfer. They have been linked with numerous players so far this window but are yet to sign any big names. Having missed out on Gonzalo Higuain to Napoli, the main target it seems for Wenger this summer is Liverpool striker Luis Suarez. But having seen two bids already rejected, it is looking unlikely the Uruguayan will be making the move south to the Emirates. 

One positive for Arsenal is Jack Wilshere, who having missed much of last season with an injury, is back to match fitness and has featured regularly in pre-season so far and for some Gunners fans may feel like a new signing when he takes to the field come August 17th. Although Arsenal desperately need another striker, the form of Frenchman Olivier Giroud in pre-season is also another positive as the striker has six goals to his name so far. If they are to miss out on signing a big name striker this summer, then Giroud will be expected to be regularly hitting the net alongside fellow forward Theo Walcott. 

With seven weeks to go until the end of the transfer market, Arsenal really need another defensive midfielder and a striker if they are to make any serious challenge for the title. If they don't then it will be another hard battle fighting for a Champions League position. 

Key Player: Jack Wilshere

Predicted finish: 4th

Aston Villa:
Villa fans will certainly not want a repeat of last season as they narrowly avoided the drop, however there were still positives to take from their campaign. The number of younger players included in the first team is something that fans should take great heart from. Matthew Lowton, Ashley Westwood and Andreas Weimann all played a big part for Villa last season. In particular Weimann, who alongside Christian Benteke formed an excellent partnership up front with fans favourite Gabby Agbonlahor. Benteke who recently signed a new deal at Villa Park, helped himself to 19 league goals last season and proved to be one of the bargains of the season. However there wasn't so much success at the back as they conceded 69 goals in 38 matches. The departure of Richard Dunne has seen a number of new signings brought in by Lambert including Danish international defender Jores Okore who will challenge for a place at the back.

Villa have a tough start to the season having to face Arsenal away and then Liverpool at home in their opening two fixtures. They will expect to finish much higher up in the table this season, with Lambert clearing out the dead wood, and bringing in fresh young talent to his squad. The blend of experience and youth within the team should see Villa finish around mid table. The goals of Benteke will again be critical to Villa, with the Belgian striker's excellent finishing, hold up play and strength all key to him becoming one of the division's top marksmen.

Key Player: Christian Benteke

Predicted finish: 12th

Cardiff City:
Joining Swansea City in the Premier League, Cardiff's promotion last season made sure that this year would see two Welsh sides compete in the top tier of English football. Having been known to suffer play-off heartbreak, Cardiff avoided the three games as they were crowned winners of the Championship last year under Malky Mackay. One thing Cardiff fans would have expected Mackay to do this summer was strengthen his squad ahead of what will be a tough campaign for the Bluebirds. However with only two signings made so far, Mackay will be required to further strengthen his team before the season kicks off. One of the new acquisitions is Danish striker Andreas Cornelius who broke the club transfer fee as £8.5 million was spent on the front man. Alongside him is Craig Bellamy, who now in his second spell with Cardiff has plenty of Premier League experience under his belt.

Cardiff have been linked with a number of players so far in the window with the most notable Tom Ince who recently declined a move to the Welsh capital. If they are to start considering themselves as a regular Premier League side, then Mackay will need to start spending. The Bluebirds kick off their campaign with a trip to Upton Park to face West Ham. The Hammers home form last season was excellent and it will be a tough ask for Cardiff to leave with any points.

If money is spent within the next couple of weeks, and experience is added to the Cardiff side, then there is no reason why they can't become a regular face in the Premier League. Big things will be expected of record signing Cornelius and if he provides the Bluebirds with goals then there is a strong possibility of staying up.

Key Player: Craig Bellamy

Predicted finish: 17th

It has been quite an eventful 12 months for Chelsea. Despite having three managers in that time, the club still finished third and claimed the Europa League. Taking over from interim manager Rafa Benitez, Jose Mourinho was uncovered as the next boss of Chelsea this summer which sees him in his second spell at Stamford Bridge. With managers changing at both the Manchester clubs, Chelsea fans may start to believe that this season may give them one of the best chances of winning the league. Chelsea have had a good pre season which has seen new arrivals in the shape of Marco van Ginkel and Andre Schurle. Romelu Lukaku has also returned to London having had an excellent loan spell at West Brom last season. Having made a number of appearances scoring four goals in pre season, Lukaku may be given his chance to shine in a Chelsea shirt under Mourinho this season.

Alongside Demba Ba and Fernando Torres, there are a number of options available to Mourinho in attack. However with the uncertainty of Wayne Rooney's future at Manchester United, 'The Special One' has made it clear he is interested in adding the England front man to the Chelsea attack. Juan Mata will be key to Chelsea's success this season with the Spaniard having been essential in Chelsea's success last season. Despite talk of him being unsettled, Mourinho would be daft to let a player of his calibre leave.

Chelsea will certainly be one of the teams to watch this season especially with the arrival of Mourinho back at Stamford Bridge. With new managers at both United and City, Mourinho has new rivals to play mind games with, in what is set to become one of the most exciting and close seasons in the Premier League.

Key Player: Juan Mata

Predicted finish: 1st

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Euro 2013: England Women 0-3 France Women

England Ladies were knocked out of Euro 2013 tonight as they were handsomely beaten 3-0 France in their final group game.
The defeat means the Lionesses finished bottom of Group C with just the one point having been beaten by Spain and only managing a draw against Russia.
A draw with France may have been enough for England, but the quality shown by their opponents was too much and were left second best for much of the game.
An early strike from Eugenie le Sommer, and two goals inside six minutes of the second half, was enough for the French to cruise through, finishing top of the group with nine points.
Despite having already qualified for the quarter finals, the French dominated from the off and it was Le Sommer who came closest as she struck the inside of the post in the eight minute.
The striker who plays for Lyon, was involved again just 60 seconds later receiving the ball inside the 18-yard box allowing her to guide the ball past the despairing Karen Bardsley in the England goal.  
France could have been two goals up seconds later as captain Sandrine Soubeyrand unleashed a powerful 25 yard drive that flew inches over the England crossbar. 
picture: gettyimages
England couldn't handle the French pace and attack and were undone once again allowing Elodie Thomis to fire an effort at goal only for Bardsley to save well at her near post.
The second half began a lot brighter for England, as Hope Powell introduced Jill Scott to the game replacing Anita Asante in midfield. 
However the French continued their attack and Thomis was involved again as she raced through on goal, only to see her effort fly wide of the upright.
With England beginning to get back into the game, Hope Powell brought on Kelly Smith, but within moments of the change, the French added two quick fire goals.
Louisa Necib curled home from outside the box to double the lead, and she then turned provider moments later as her cross was met by defender Renard, whose powerful header flew past the helpless Bardsley. 
Despite being three goals down, and out of the competition, England showed great fight in the last 20 minutes of the game, with Ellen White guilty of missing England's best chance.
The defeat meant an early exit for the England Women who fail to get out of the group stage for the first time since 2005. 
England: Bardsley, A. Scott, Houghton, Bradley, Stoney, Asante (J. Scott 46') Williams, Aluko (Smith 60') White, Carney (Clarke 73') Duggan
France: Deville, Renard, Franco, Houara, Delannoy, Soubeyrand (Bussaglia 46') Henry (Catala 61') Necib, Le Sommer, Thomis, Thiney (Abily 46')