Friday, 30 September 2011

New boys can spring a surprise

You would have got decent odds on all three newly-promoted teams staying up in the Premier League this season, but early indications are that may yet happen.

Having runaway with the Championship last season, much was expected of QPR this term but it couldn't have started much worse. A 4-0 home defeat to Bolton on the opening day seemed to indicate that the R's could expect a relegation tussle.

But the takeover deal, which saw Tony Fernandes take charge at Loftus Road, has made a massive impact and the summer transfer business looks to have move the club to the next level. Those looking to place football bets won't see them as relegation favourites.

Neil Warnock has persuaded established Premier League stars to join the QPR revolution, with Joey Barton, Shaun Wright-Phillips and DJ Campbell already making a big impact.

Even though there are questions to asked about their defence, having already secured away wins at the likes of Everton and Wolves, Rangers are likely to have their sights set on a mid-table finish come may.

Swansea impressed many with their style of football last season and Brendan Rodgers has stuck with the same pass-and-move philosophy in the top flight.

The most impressive factor in the Swans useful start to the season has been their solid defensive form, which has seen the Welsh side already keep clean sheets against the likes of West Brom, Sunderland and Wigan. Fans of Betfair will be keen to see how they get on.

Goals have been harder to come by and that may yet be their downfall, but when teams have attacking pace as Swansea have, they will always pose a threat.

Of the three new boys, Norwich were tipped to be the most likely to return to the Championship after just a season, but they have started the best of the trio.

Paul Lambert took a different route to QPR, choosing to bring in Championship players that had something to prove at the top level – the likes of Bradley Johnson, and Steve Morrison – along with players who hadn't made the break through at other clubs.

Two wins and two draws from their opening six games is a solid start and many teams will struggle at a compact Carrow Road this season, but they will need to make sure they win the games against the teams in and around them in the table.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Real ace sets Euro target

Ricardo Carvalho has targeted Champions League success with Real Madrid this season, but admits they may need a "little luck" in order to lift the trophy.

The former Chelsea defender was part of the Real squad that reached the semi-finals last year, but they came off second best to their major rivals and eventual winners, Barcelona.

It's been nine years since the Bernabeu giants last won Europe's top club competition, with success back in 2002. Surprisingly, they have only reached the semis twice since that victory and more is expected this term.

Carvalho feels Real can live up to the expectation though, and remains confident that they will go one better and reach this season's final in Munich, even if the Champions League betting(Champions League betting)shows they face a tough task.

The Portuguese international told the Real club website: "After the present (group) stage, we'll play two games in each ensuing round and you have to play very well in both.

"You can't afford to do well in one and then so-so or badly in the other. We'll have to give good performances in both and also have a little luck to go through."

Jose Mourinho's record in the tournament is second to none – lifting the trophy with both Porto and Inter Milan, whilst reaching the last four with both Chelsea and Real and anyone looking at the Betfair football odds (Betfair football odds)can't rule him out.

Carvalho says the manager works on "every single detail" to make sure his team is the best and feels he has "grown as a player" after working with him.

The 33-year-old is likely to play a key role in Real's next Champions League clash – at home to Ajax – with fellow countrymen Pepe and Fabio Coentrao out for two weeks through injury.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

How will Man City cope in Champions League?

Man City begin their Champions League campaign with a game against Italian side Napoli but can they cope with the demands of Europe's main competition and, perhaps more to the point, can they cope with the demands of competing in the Champions League as well as challenging for the Premiership title.

To me, the answer to the the first question is fairly obvious. Man City have undoubted quality and, on paper have one of the best squads in Europe. With the additions of Samir Nasri, Sergio Aguero and Gael Clichy, all of whom have Champions League experience, they look even more prepared to challenge Europe's elite.

In addition, the style of football often seen in the Champions League seems to suit Man City perfectly. Man City's approach play if often slow and patient, which differs from most Premiership team's but is similar to many European teams who focus more on technical ability. The creativity of people like Samir Nasri and David Silva and the obvious quality that they possess in front of goal should mean they will be able to unlock some of Europe's tightest defences.

One slight concern for them is their poor performance in the europa League last year, a cmpetition many thought they might win. Does this give us an indication of how they will perform in a much harder and more demanding competition? Probably not, but they will have to raisde their game considerably if they are to take on the challenges of the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Man Utd and Chelsea.

The bigger question is how well can they compete in both the league and in Europe. Very often this season they will have to face the demands of playing a midweek game followed by a game at the weekend. Can they really sustain a title bid as well as compete in Europe? Of course, they aren't the only side who'll have to deal with this, but Man Utd have the experience and have proven in the past they are more than capable of doing it, having reached 3 of the last 4 Champions League finals and almost always been in the race for the title.

It remains to be seen whether City have enough quality throughout their whole squad and the experience to challenge on all fronts this season.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Transfer Window Round Up

As always, transfer deadline day was a frantic and chaotic day with managers up and down the country desperately trying to strengthen their squads with new players. It is a day when many football fans get very excited about who their team might be signing and it certainly didn't disappoint. After the chaos that we saw last night, it's time to reflect on who were the winners and losers of the transfer window in the Premier League.

After their humiliation at Old Trafford, it was so obvious that Arsenal needed to add new players to their squad that Arsene Wenger finally spent some money. What's more he finally signed some new defenders at centre back and left back. Andre Santos was added at left back which Arsenal desperately needed and Per Mertesacker came in at centre half. Whilst Per Mertesacker is a recognised name and proven at international level, question marks still remain over the little known Andre Santos and whether he'll be able to cope with the Premier League. Arsenal also signed Yossi Benayoun on loan and Mikel Arteta to replace Nasri and Fabregas who have left the club. Although Gunners fans will be delighted they've actually replaced their former stars, it's hard to argue that they are of the same calibre of Nasri and Fabregas. We mustn't also forget the signing of Gervinho who looks like a decent signing and replaces the departing Bendtner who never looked like he cut it at the Emirates.

Rating: 6/10

Aston Villa
Two deadline day signings for Aston Villa cover up an otherwise poor window in which they allowed their two star players to leave. Ashley Young left for Old Trafford and Stewart Downing was sold to Liverpool. Charles N'Zogbia was signed from Wigan but he doesn't come close to replacing their departed stars. Alan Hutton replaces Luke Young, Jenas comes in on loan and one top class goalkeeper (Shay Given) replaces another (Brad Freidel).

Rating: 5/10

Blackburn Rovers

A pretty good window for Rovers saw them replace Phil Jones, who was always likely to leave, with the cheaper Scott Dann who had been linked with the likes of Liverpool this window. That signing reinforces Blackburn's excellent defensive options which already include Christopher Samba and Ryan Nelsen. They also signed Yakubu from Everton in an attempt to find more goals. I'm not sure that he's the answer but, if he can find his best form, can be a real handful.

Rating: 7/10

Bolton Wanderers
Owen Coyle continues to exploit the loan market well as he captured more promising young stars this way. If Dedryk Boyata or Gael Kakuta prove to be half as effective as Jack Wilshere and Daniel Sturridge, they will be excellent additions to Bolton's squad. They also brought in the sometimes brilliant Tuncay and David N'Gog who may prosper at a smaller club with regular first team football. These signings bolster an attack looking a little short after the departure of Johan Elmander.

Rating: 7/10

Andre Villas Boas wasn't as busy as some expected this window, but managed to secure some good signings. Raul Meireles completed a surprise late move from Liverpool and could add some more creativity from midfield. Chelsea also signed Juan Mata from Valencia who has already scored his first Chelsea goal and the early signs show he, too could add more pace and creativity to the team. Villas Boas's earlier signings in the window showed his intent to add younger players to an ageing squad which was a sensible idea and we will simply have to wait to see how effective the likes of Romelu Lukaku can be.

Rating: 7/10

David Moyes's team have to be considered as one of the main losers of this transfer window. Yet again, no money was spent on players and on deadline day they lost one of their key players in the shape of Mikel Arteta with no chance to replace him. The only incomings were the unproven Drenthe and Denis Stracqualursi. The departures of Jermaine Beckford and Yakubu also leave them very short up front.

Rating: 3/10

Fulham only splashed the cash on one player this summer and the £10.6m they spent for Bryan Ruiz shows their confidence in the player. His record in Holland is very good but that doesn't always reflect how they will do in the Premier League. Fulham also signed Jon Arne Riise and Zdenek Grygera from Italy who both bring a wealth of experience while they also got rid of a few unwanted players such as Zoltan Gera.

Rating: 6/10

After last season's disappointment, Kenny Dalglish moved quickly to secure deals to strengthen Liverpool in just about every position so they can challenge again for the top 4. And with Arsenal struggling, things are looking quite good. Dalglish moved to strengthen the midfield area with three of last season's best players. Charlie Adam was superb in Blackpool's struggling team, as was Stewart Downing at Villa and Jordan Henderson continued to show his potential at Sunderland. They also strengthened defensively. Jose Enrique looks to have solved a problematic left back position and could prove to be a bargain and Sebastian Coates has also joined. Craig Bellamy was added in a suprise move on deadline day and if he can get back to the form he was in at Man City, he could prove to be a good signing. Perhaps, the only downside for Liverpool, is the amount of money they've needed to spend in order to get these players in.

Rating: 9/10

Man City
Considering the financial advantage Man City have over everyone else, it's unsurprising that they were one of the main winners in this transfer window. Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri have both signed to add yet more attacking quality to the City squad and seemed to have settled in quickly. They have also bolstered their defensive options with Gael Clichy and Stefan Savic also joining. Owen Hargreaves deadline day arrival surprised many and is undoubtedly a gamble considering his record. However, it could prove to be a shrewd move for City bearing in mind that Yaya Toure will play at the African Nations Cup and when fit Hargreaves is an excellent player. They also somehow managed to keep Carlos Tevez at Eastands but did shift some dead wood with the likes of Shaun Wright-Phillips and Roque Santa Cruz leaving.

Rating: 10/10

Man Utd
After losing Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Edwin Van der Sar, Sir Alex Ferguson moved early in the transfer window to get the players he wanted. He replaced the experience that departed Old Trafford with youth, bringing in Phil Jones, Ashley Young and David de Gea. All three have huge potential to improve but Ferguson seems to have plans for them in the first team now. Phil Jones and Ashley Young already seemed to have settled in brilliantly but David de Gea has already dropped some clangers. Time will tell whether he is up to being Edwin van der Sar's long-term replacement.

Rating: 9/10

Newcastle United
Newcastle's excellent start to the season can't hide the fact that they were on of the main losers in this transfer window. Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton and Jose Enrique have all left the club leaving as Newcastle attempted to reduce their wage bill. The signings of young full-back Davide Santon and Yohan Cabaye could prove to be good business for Newcastle but don't replace the three key players that have left. Demba Ba has also left the club but their doesn't seem to be a clear replacement for Andy Caroll. Newcastle fans have been left disappointed at the board's lack of ambition and their unwillingness to spend the £35m from Andy Caroll's January switch to Liverpool.

Rating: 4/10

Norwich haven't spent big money on big names this window but have attracted some potentially useful players to the club and managed to get the majority of their business done early in the window. They have exploited the loan market well with Kyle Naughton and Ritchie de Laet both joining to improve their defensive options.James Vaughan could also prove to be a good signing from Everton.

Rating: 6/10

Queens Park Rangers
QPR were the busiest team in this summer's transfer window and with good reason. They looked favourites to go down after the first few games but Joey Barton on a free transfer is excellent business but Barton is prone to causing trouble off the pitch. They also managed to bring in many more players with Premiership experience. However, those players include the injury prone Kieron Dyer and the mistake prone Anton Ferdinand. Nevertheless, Shaun Wright-Phillips could prove to be a superb signing and is certainly a sign of the club's ambition to stay in the league.

Rating: 7/10

Stoke City
Stoke City have signalled their intent to move to the next level with 3 deadline day signings. They left it late, but eventually managed to convince Peter Crouch to join them which could prove to be an excellent signing particularly considering their more direct style and their ability to exploit the wings. Wilson Palacios seems like an upgrade on their current midfield options and Cameron Jerome offers them strength in depth which will be crucial to them considering the added fixtures from the Europa League. We mustn't also forget the signings of Upson and Woodgate, both of whom bring a wealth of experience to the Stoke side. Despite Woodgate's poor record with injuries, Stoke have him tied down on a pay as you play deal which means a far smaller risk for them.

Rating: 9/10

Sunderland' biggest problem last season was a lack of depth to their squad so it was always likely Steve Bruce would be busy this summer. The signings of O'Shea and Brown from Man Utd add a huge amount of Premiership experience but don't show much long term ambition. However, the attacking signings of Niklas Bendtner and Connor Wickham certainly do. If Niklas Bendtner gets his head down rather than thinking he's do good for Sunderland, he could be an excellent signing. The additions of David Vaughan and Seb Larsson could also prove to be shrewd additions.

Rating: 8/10

Swansea have brought in Danny Graham and Leroy Lita to bolster their front line while Wayne Routledge can provide pace and skill from the wing. Michel Vorm is not well known in England but, based on is early performances, he could prove to be a bargain.

Rating: 7/10

Tottenham Hotspur
Tottenham managed to attract Emmanuel Adebayor and Scott Parker and have shifted some of their fringe players to reduce the wages. However, it's likely many Tottenham fans will be disappointed they didn't do more especially as Gary Cahill seemed to be on he cards.

Rating: 6/10

West Brom
Shane Long's early season form suggests Roy Hodgson has pulled of a fantastic signing with the former Reading man. Ben Foster has also signed on loan after an outstanding season at Birmingham last season replacing the mistake prone Scott Carson.

Rating: 7/10

Wigan, rather inevitab;y, lost their star man, Charles N'Zogbia to Aston Villa but did manage to get the signing of last season's player of the year Ali Al-Habsi who was a big hit with the Wigan fans.


Wolves were quiet in this window but still managed to complete the excellent signing of Roger Johnson at center half who was superb for Birmingham last season and has already been made captain at Molineux. They also made the signing of Jamie O'Hara permanent.

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