Off Season Previews: Bournemouth

With the World Cup drawing to a close, focus soon turns to club football once again. In this series I will be previewing the new season for each Premier League club. This piece will look ahead to Bournemouth’s upcoming 2018/19 season.

Bournemouth

Ins: 

David Brookes, AM.

(Notable) Loan Returns:

None

Outs: 

Benik Afobe, ST. Max Gradel, LW. Lewis Grabban, ST. Adam Federici, GK. Ryan Allsop, GK.

Net Spend: -£8.01m

How do you judge Bournemouth? Often when watching them, you leave wanting more. Take in the bigger picture and its remarkable a club that size are sitting comfortably in mid table of the Premier League. They beat Arsenal and Chelsea one month. The next, Huddersfield wipe the floor with them. A lot of money has been invested in players, yet most of their key contributors were with them in the Championship. Bournemouth seem destined to be the team who wins matches they shouldn’t and loses matches they should win, until they don’t.

Looking at the transfer market, there is only really one position they can realistically improve. Begovic is as good a goalkeeper a team with no European football is likely to attain. Nathan Ake, Steve Cook and Tyrone Mings make up an impressive young core, with Ake showing to be an asset only increasing in value. They’re solid in the full back department, with perhaps a young prospect making the shortlist. It is central midfield were Bournemouth are at their strongest. With plenty of passing, ball carrying and energy between them, it is unlikely the club will target an upgrade, particularly if Harry Arter continues on his upwards curve. Up front, Josh King and Callum Wilson will stretch any defence with their pace, whilst Defoe provides the wily veteran presence the team needs.  That leaves us with just the wide areas.

The Cherries will certainly hope ex Liverpool prospect Jordon Ibe turns his late season into something more tangible, but aside from him they lack in such positions. Ryan Fraser has impressed in cameo’s but asking him to provide consistent minutes may be too big an ask. It could well be versatile 31 year old Marc Pugh’s last season at the club, who is certainly a player big Championship clubs will keep tabs on. This leaves them with only Junior Stanislas as an established option out wide, a player who is currently fighting through a knee injury.

If Bournemouth’s past blue print is anything to go by, expect the players targeted to be young and likely British. New signing David Brookes certainly fits this mould, likely playing a rotation role on the wing in his first season. Liverpool’s Harry Wilson could be a fit after an impressive loan spell at Championship club Hull. Recently relegated forward Jay Rodriguez may also hit the clubs radar. A loan signing is an option if not ideal, with Chelsea looking to find Charlie Musonda regular playing time. My personal wild card choice? Danny Welbeck. Bournemouth have shown a willingness to make a splash in seasons prior, and if Arsenal are willing to play ball who knows.

Season Aims:

Avoiding relegation will always represent some level of success, can they make a push for the top half? Develop young players already at the club and entertain the fans. Hold on to best players.

My (way too early) Prediction:  10th

The Premier League’s midtable is impossible to predict, but a points tally in the mid 40’s should see them safely wedged between European football and the battle for survival. Bournemouth are the ideal small club right now. They punch above their weight whilst looking like they belong. Their playing style entertains the fans under the stewardship of a potential England manager and they have a fun core of players to root for. It should be another sunny season on the south coast.

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Off Season Previews : Arsenal

Off Season Previews: Arsenal

With the World Cup drawing to a close, focus soon turns to club football once again. In this series I will be previewing the new season for each Premier League club. This piece will look ahead to Arsenal’s upcoming 2018/19 season.

Arsenal

Ins: 

Bernd Leno, GK. Sokratis, CB. Stephan Lichtsteiner, RB. Lucas Torreira, CDM. Matteo Guendouzi, CM.

(Notable) Loan Returns:

Joel Campbell, RW. Lucas Perez, ST. Carl Jenkinson, RB.

Outs: 

Santi Cazorla, CM. Jack Wilshere, CM. Per Mertesacker, CB.

Net Spend:  £70.20m

In summers gone by, Arsenal have often been accused of leaving their business until too late. The same cannot be said of this years transfer window. The end of Arsene Wenger’s 22 year reign has brought a new sense of urgency, with heir to the throne Unai Emery looking to put his own stamp on the team.

The blue print has been clear to see immediately. Arsenal have had no trouble scoring goals for years now, however their defensive troubles have been well documented, regularly proving to be their Achilles heel in any title challenge. As a result, their attack has largely remained untouched. The new manager has immediately identified positions of weakness’ in the squad, aiming to strengthen the spine of the team with his three major signings.

Emery will be hoping £18m arrival Bernd Leno will finally give the team a long term solution at the keeper position, with Petr Cech’s age beginning to show at what has historically been a problem position for them. After over 100 Bundesliga appearances for Dortmund, Sokratis will be expected to slot straight in to the centre of defence to provide an experienced partner to any of their three young options, (likely Mustafi, aged 26), whilst first choice Lauren Koscielny recovers from injury. After appearing in all five games for Uruguay at this World Cup, 22 year old Lucas Torreira did not come cheap in his move from Sampdoria. The tenacious midfielder has been targeted to provide the bite in that position Arsenal  have so sorely lacked, whilst his simple passing game should allow him to fit in to the club’s famous style of play. In a more under the radar move, experienced right back Stephan Lichtsteiner was signed after his deal with Juventus expired. Hector Bellerin has done nothing to suggest he will lose his place, with Lichtsteiner likely brought in to provide depth and tutelage to his younger counter part.

The price tags also tell their own story about Arsenal’s long term goals. Whilst this is a team who clearly want to make immediate improvements to be competitive now, the larger fees have been reserved strictly for younger players. Whether or not it goes to plan is another thing, but the club will have desires for Bernd Leno, Lucas Torreira and France u20 Matteo Guendouzi to make contributions for well over 5 years. 

Arsenal have been criticised in the past for focusing on young talent ahead of ready made established players, but on this occasion the time is right for the club to rebuild. Back in January I wrote about why the Gunners should focus their efforts on young players here. This current squad isn’t equipped to compete for a title, so building the next great Arsenal team has to be the aim.

Rarely do Arsenal have their main business wrapped up so early, so going forward there is little else to expect. Depending on their evaluation of Sead Kolasinac, a younger option at left back may be a potential move to make, with perhaps some smaller dealings on the edges still to come. That aside, anticipate improvement to come from within. With less emphasis to win right away, alongside added Europa League fixtures,  more opportunities should be given to the likes of Rob Holding and Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Mustafi has an opportunity to show he can replace Koscielny, Iwobi must take the next step and Bellerin can stake a claim to be a top full back in the division.

The majority of Arsenal’s remaining transfer business should be outgoings as they look to balance the books. Defensive midfielder Mohamed Elneny could be deemed surplus to requirements, whilst returning loan players Carl Jenkinson, Joel Campbell, Emiliano Martinez and Lucas Perez appear to have no place at the club. With all four players at the prime of their career, they will likely want their long term futures secured at a club who will utilize their talents better.

Season Aims:

Compete for 4th place whilst blooding through younger players, hope for a breakout star. Cup run either in Europe/domestic.

My (way too early) Prediction:   6th

An attacking tandem of Aubameyang, Lacazette, Ozil and Mkhitaryan with Ramsey supporting will keep them in the race for Champions League football as the younger players behind them develop. However, whilst clearly a level above the teams below them, the top five teams should be able to outlast them. That said, a successful season could still be had without a top 4 finish. A good cup run, visible improvement on the pitch and a number of young players showing promise whilst the club gets back on its feet would constitute a good season for Arsenal.

Arsenal’s Darkest Timeline

Six Of One

Picture back to 2012. One picture in particular. After years of seeing their best foreign stars leave for pastures new, Wenger posed with 5 young British players signing long term contracts. A year later, Arsenal signed Mesut Ozil, smashing the club record fee to do so. The following summer, the club beat out competition from Liverpool to acquire Alexis Sanchez. This was the template. This was a team with a young British core that has added two genuine superstars to finally push them over the line, just as Ferguson’s dominance had ended and the top spot was vacant in England. The selling club tag had been shaken. Arsenal were ready to compete. So, as these contracts all run to an end this summer, lets take a look back on how this generation has performed so far and consider what lies ahead.

For starters, the British core didn’t exactly work out…

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Pub Chatter: Best of the Rest XI

My Premier League Best of the Rest XI!

Not for the first time, I have found myself taking a typical pub conversation a little too far. On this occasion, the topic of discussion over a bag of nuts was: pick a team choosing only Premier League players playing for clubs outside the Big 6. The “Big 6” being of course – Man Utd, Man City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs. Being the way I am, I took this home with me and after far too much thought, this is what I came up with!

best of rest XI

Honary mentions: Xherdan Shaqiri, Jermain Defoe, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Salomon Rondon, Winston Reid, Nathan Redmond, Manuel Lanzini, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Jonny Evans

Goalkeeper: Kasper Schmeichel

This was probably the easiest decision I had to make in the whole process. The stand out keeper from those available, especially given Forster’s poor form and the decline of Joe Hart. Jack Butland (for me, England’s no.1) is still someway off Schmeichel’s level despite his obvious potential. Begovic could maybe be inserted in to this conversation but he’s not quite on the level. Schmeichel could quite easily be playing for one of the top 6 clubs, Liverpool stands out as a great fit.

Defence: Matt Lowton, Harry Maguire, Virgil van Diijk, Ryan Betrand

From the easiest decision to what was certainly the hardest; right back. It was noticeable how top heavy the league is at the position. Seamus Coleman was the probable favourite for the position, but after not playing due to injury this term and coming off a down year last season, it was hard to justify. Matt Lowton has had a solid season in a solid defence, and represents what is currently the highest placed side outside the Big 6.

Virgil Van Diijk was an easy pick, not many centre halves in the league get quoted £50million plus. After picking up plenty of caps and forcing his way in as an England regular, Betrand beat out the competition at what is a very deep position.

The second centre back position was a more difficult choice. In the end, it was between Harry Maguire and Jonny Evans. I could be accused of slight bias here, after predicting Maguire would play for England when watching him play reserve football years ago, I have a slight affinity towards him. Whilst he probably has a mistake or two more in him than the more experienced Evans, I feel like he also offers more upside in terms of positive impact on a game. This one could have gone either way though. I’ve arguably missed out Mamadou Sahko here, but from a personal point of view he’s a player I struggle to really define.

Midfield: Wilfried Zaha, Yohan Cabaye, Morgan Schneiderlin, Riyad Mahrez, 

This is certainly the deepest position area outside the top six. Mahrez is far and away the best player in this side, but the other wing required a lot more deliberation. In the end I opted for Zaha, with his goal return fending off the likes of Nathan Redmond and the elusive Xherdan Shaqiri.

In the middle, there really were a lot of ways this could have gone. There seemed to be an abundance of solid but not spectacular players to choose from. Harry Arter came to mind, along with consistent Premier League stalwarts such as Darren Fletcher, but West Brom’s Grzegorz Krychowiak felt like the biggest snub here after impressing for his new club despite their poor season. Ive probably leant towards reputation slightly with these picks, going for two players with impressive bodies of work but not so impressive recent form. However, Cabaye and Schneiderlin, feel like apt players to anchor a Best of the Rest XI after both earning moves to bigger clubs, only to return due to not living up to the standard.

Forwards: Wayne Rooney, Jamie Vardy

It would have been easy to over-complicate this one and I very nearly did. It was difficult to leave Lanzini out the side, a really aesthetically pleasing attacking player who is consistently having an impact on games. I initially had Sigurdsson ahead of Rooney, but a quick look at the leading league scorers and this debate was over. Rooney has had a mini-resurgence in recent weeks and reminded us all of his quality. Whilst Vardy is not at his record setting pace of a couple of years ago, he’s still consistently the biggest goal threat outside of the top echelon.

  • It was noticeable how many Leicester players I picked. That said, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise given their league position, 8th.
  • I only picked one Burnley player and that came at a stretch, which is testament to the job Sean Dyche has done. Regression to the mean is to be expected but this side consistently overachieves. His uncompromising manner and rigid, high tempo style of play may not win him too many suitors, but the results are unquestionable.
  • I had a hard time picking any Everton players. Whilst of course being a completely subjective exercise, the lack of stand out obvious picks should be a concern for a team with their net outlay and supposed ambitions.

Feel free to respond with your own XI’s or argue against my picks!

Derby Day

Bragging rights up for grabs in the North West.

Bragging rights up for grabs in the North West.

It was derby day in the North West of England this weekend. United played host to Manchester City, but first Everton had to go to Anfield.

Everton has had somewhat of a renaissance since Sam Allardyce arrived. Let me rephrase that. The ship has steadied on the blue side of Merseyside. 3 wins and 3 clean sheets (one of which came in the Europa League) have managed to stave off relegation battle whispers for the meantime. That said, Everton still find themselves inherently flawed and were not given much of a hope going in to this one. Liverpool were fresh off a resounding 7-0 win to top their Champions League group, 16 points in their last 6 Premier League fixtures and scoring goals a-plenty.

Then the team sheets came in. Liverpool’s two Brazilian stars, Coutinho and Firmino were named on the bench. Suddenly the topic of conversation pre game around the ground goes from wondering how many goals, to simply asking why? Why leave the two who make that offence tick sat on the bench in a local derby?

Cut to 75 minutes in. Liverpool seemingly haven’t missed their stars at all. They’ve dominated the whole game. Top goalscorer Mo Salah has opened the scoring and is giving the Everton full back Martina a torrid time. There’s been chances to make it two. Namely when Mane was guilty of not squaring the ball in a 4 on 1 situation before promptly dragging a left footed shot horribly wide. Everton have mustered up only one shot on target and quite frankly are barely threatening to even get out their whole half.

Yet there was something quite inevitable about this game, as there often is when Liverpool find themselves up only a goal in a contest they’ve had much the better of. If they can just get that illusive second goal, it quite often becomes three, four and five. If not, you always fear that one costly mistake that results in dropped points. That mistake came right on cue. There are just two blue shirts in the Liverpool half, compared to six in a red shirt. One long pass behind the defence from wide, one naive lunge inside his own box from Dejan Lovren. Suddenly Rooney finds himself placing the ball on the penalty spot. 1-1. That’s all it took. Its a trend that plagues Liverpool far too often. In fact, their recent form is a perfect example of that.

 

In their last seven Premier League games, Klopp’s team have found themselves 1-0 ahead on every occasion. Five of those times, they have gone on to make it 2-0. Liverpool have won all of those games, finishing with a +16 goal difference in those matches. When failing to get the second goal, they have gone on to draw the two remaining games. In fact, you have to go back to the second game of the season to find a Liverpool 1-0 victory, beating a Palace team that took a record 8 games to score a goal this season. Just 16 games in, Liverpool have already dropped 8 points from winning positions this year. Klopp’s team selection will get questioned here, but this is a recurring theme on Merseyside.

Everton looked like a Sam Allardyce team. They limited the opposition to just 3 shots on target, despite 23 against. They conceded the possession battle. If it wasn’t obvious Big Sam would be satisfied with a point before the game, it certainly was when he brought on Phil Jagielka on for skipper Wayne Rooney with 10 minutes still left to play. Who can blame him?

Whilst a good result for Everton to take them to 7 points from 9 available under Allardyce, this game was the red’s to lose. Jurgen Klopp and the Anfield faithful will be hoping such lapses don’t cost them a place in the top four come May.

Some things are just too predictable…

The clock struck 4:30pm and all focus moved 30 miles east at the Theatre of Dreams. For all the attacking quality on the pitch, all three goals came in a scrappy manner. Despite controlling the game, The Citizens hadn’t once got in behind the United defence. 42 minutes in, left back Ashley Young found himself caught underneath opposing left back Fabian Delph’s cross. Leroy Sane took the ball down with a neat touch using his thigh, worked the ball on to his right foot, and lashed a shot towards the near post. De Gea tipped over. A poor Lukaku header in front of his own goal dropped to David Silva inside the 6 yard box, which he promptly volleyed in.

Facing going in at half time, behind and being outplayed by local and title rivals, United pressed forward. This time, it was Young providing the cross. A simple chip forward, Otamendi misjudged the flight, only flicking the ball on into an unsuspecting Fabian Delph’s midriff. Marcus Rashford latched on to the loose ball, opened his foot and placed the ball past the onrushing City keeper. Honours even at the break.

Just 10 minutes in to the second half, another City set piece created chaos in the box. Lukaku again the culprit, his right foot clearance only going back into the crowd of bodies and Otamendi latched on to the loose ball to regain the lead.

Despite being the side in need of a goal, United if anything found themselves pinned back. An attack spearheaded by Martial, Lukaku, Lingard and Rashford struggled to get anything going. The only time they did look like scoring was from a City mistake, always a possibility given Guardiola’s intent to play from the back. The one time Mourinho’s men did cut open the defence of Manchester City, Lukaku couldn’t convert. A lovely move, Ibrahimovic layed the ball to Mata who’s first time lofted pass allowed Martial to punch a volleyed cross across the face of the City box. Despite the brilliant ensuing double save from Ederson, it’s a chance Lukaku will know he has to take. His poor record against the big sides continued after he again struggled to have an impact on the game.

Mourinho and his players may feel frustrated after only conceding to set pieces when the scouting report will have focused on City’s intricate play far more heavily. Rightly so. However, Manchester City just had an air about them. Watching them, you always felt they could score another if they really needed to. There is a long way to go of course, but after making a record breaking start and looking so comfortable in their closest challengers home, the only thing potentially standing in their way will be themselves.

The scary thing for the rest of the league? Given the sheer number of young players playing an important part in the squads success; today’s front three of Sterling, Sane and Jesus to name a few, along with arguably the worlds best coach, a generation of dominance could be headed to the blue side of the Manchester.

Away day in my own town

Up in the rafters – the St James’ Park experience

St James’ Park. Possibly the best away end in England?

Watched as a neutral from the Leicester end today. The Foxes came out deservedly on top, 3-2 winners in a game which both sides had leads.

Little takeaways:

  • Mahrez just looked on a higher level to anybody else, Leicester have done incredibly well to keep him for this long. Begs the question, how much longer can it last? His departure for bigger & better things seems inevitable.
  • Demari Gray really impressed. England are expected to take a young squad to the World Cup this summer. Southgate knows him well from his u21 coaching days. Could he make a late push to make the squad?
  • Speaking of international duty, Leicester left back Ben Chilwell looks like a player who will pick up England caps in the future.
  • Newcastle look like a Championship squad (because they are). Rafa feels forced to play incredibly defensive. A struggle to entertain as well as a struggle to stay up lies ahead for this club.