Premier League 2022/23: New signings to watch (Part 2)

Premier League 2022/23: New signings to watch (Part 2)

Ahead of the start of the new Premier League season, I looked at the transfers teams had made over the summer and selected 8 who I thought were worth keeping an eye on. Well the timing of Transfer Deadline Day meant that there was still over a month for teams to make transfers after the point that I released this article, so I’m back with a part 2, looking at a handful more signings, with the caveat being that they were signed after 27ᵗʰ July, when I wrote Part 1.

Part 1’s list has already seen a number of players putting in fantastic performances, so can the players below continue the trend?


Alexander Isak

With the takeover of Newcastle United and the end of years of stagnation under Mike Ashley, there was talk of all the superstars that the club could afford to sign. And while Eddie Howe has focused on solid and reliable players rather than “superstars”, the signing of Swedish international Isak is a signal of intent. At just 22 years old, Isak already has 37 caps (9 goals) and has averaged a goal every 2-3 games throughout his club career. A huge upgrade on Callum Wilson and Chris Wood (while also much younger), expect him to quickly become a fan-favourite at St James’ Park.

Neal Maupay

Last season showed just how desperately Everton needed to find a capable back-up striker for whenever Dominic Calvert-Lewin was unavailable, as Anthony Gordon is not a striker and players like him, Demarai Gray and Dwight McNeil desperately needed someone to target in the box. Is Maupay the answer though? While an experienced player, goals have never been his specialty, with his 2018/19 Championship season for Brentford (28 goals in 49 matches—all competitions) a clear outlier as he has only hit double figures for a season 4 other times, with 13 goals in all competitions his best return. Can Lampard get the best out of Maupay? At least he should still be an upgrade on Salomón Rondón…

Emmanuel Dennis

Making the jump from Championship to Premier League survival is far from easy and needs some good work in the transfer market. And while Forest have been very busy this summer, Dennis could be a key signing. While the Nigerian’s goal returns are far from the most impressive, he was one of the more impressive players for Watford during the nightmare that was last season, with his 10 goals double that of any of his teammates. With players like Jesse Lingard and Neco Williams now looking to set him up, Dennis has the opportunity of a breakout year in England, which will be crucial for Forest as Dean Henderson does his best to keep out the goals at the other end.

Mikkel Damsgaard

When Christian Eriksen became unavailable following his collapse during the Euros, it was the young Damsgaard who came in for him and made a name for himself with his impressive performances through the rest of the competition. Now, with Eriksen choosing Manchester United over a return to Brentford after they gave him a return to professional football, the Bees have made the same move as Denmark by signing the 22-year old from Sampdoria. The Dane has shown himself as an impressive technical player and should thrive with target men like Toney and Mbeumo in the box, while the Danish contingent at the club will also hopefully help him settle quickly.


Which new signings are you keeping an eye on?

Thanks for reading.

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They brought it home

They brought it home

I’ll keep this one brief, because first of all, I wouldn’t consider myself even close to an expert on the subject, and second, because even 24 hours on, I’m still struggling to find the right words.

In 1996, 30 years on from England’s World Cup triumph and with the European Championships coming up in England, David Baddiel, Frank Skinner, and The Lightning Seeds released the song “Three Lions” with the hope that 30 years of hurt would end with Terry Venables’ England would go the distance and in their first major trophy since 1966. England eventually fell to Germany in the semifinals on penalties.

But last night, Sunday 31ˢᵗ August 2022, I watched on with barely-controlled emotion as, after 56 years of hurt, England won a major tournament. But it wasn’t Harry Kane and his gang of millionaires. Instead it was Leah Williamson’s Lionesses as Chloe Kelly’s 110ᵗʰ minute goal secured a 2-1 victory over Germany (of all teams!) after extra time in the final of the UEFA Women’s Championship!

The Lionesses have made the country proud. But much more than that, they have helped take women’s football to a new level, with packed stadiums throughout the competition ending with a crowd of 87,192 fans watching at Wembley (a European Championships record, regardless of gender) and a a peak BBC One television audience of 17.4 million making it the most-watched women’s football game on UK television.

At a time like this, you must spare a moment for those who came before. The Steph Houghtons, the Alex Scotts, the Kelly Smiths… those who played and represented their country at a time when there was less support and visibility. They set women’s football on the path and were the heroes the current generation needed to encourage them to take up the sport and then make a career out of it. Now the vital thing is that this is seen not as the destination, but simply the next step on the road to making women’s football equal to the men’s game.

We are clearly making strides. Women’s football is getting more coverage and it sounds as if FIFA 23 will even be giving the women’s game a lot more focus that previous iterations, which only recently began to feature a handful of national teams. But the key is to keep the momentum, with fans now going to WSL games—let’s be honest, they’re bound to be much less expensive than Premier League games—while it is also important that sponsors and broadcasters continue to give more and more focus to the game. One shot fired at the England squad was how white it has become, as the increasing professionalism has seen the clubs move their training bases to more affluent areas, which leaves girls from poorer areas unable to afford travel to training, and so it is vital that money continues to come into the game so that solutions can be found to stop this being an issue.

20 years from now when I’m an old man and talk about this Championship, of how Beth Mead came back from Olympics snub to become Player of the Tournament and win the Golden Boot, I hope that I will not be looking at one shining moment in English football, but instead remembering how this was just the next step in the growth of women’s football. After all, it’s Her Game Too.

Premier League 2022/23: New signings (so far) to watch

Premier League 2022/23: New signings (so far) to watch

The new Premier League season is almost here, and with it, a chance. For Manchester City: to defend their title. For a couple of others: to fight City for said title. For a few more: to fight for European football in the 2023/24 season. And for the rest, to secure their spot in the league for another season.

All 20 teams have been strengthening themselves (or at least trying to) in the transfer window. And today, I will be looking at those signings and picking out 8 of them that I really think will be worth keeping an eye on during the season. In making this list, I have forced myself to pick a maximum of 1 new player per team, while please be aware that this is correct as of 27ᵗʰ July, though I may do a second list once the transfer window closes picking up any new signings. *Crosses fingers and hopes United sign Frenkie de Jong and hold onto Ronaldo*


Dean Henderson

I’ll start this off with the one loan signing on this list. Henderson had an incredible 2019/20 season with Sheffield United and broke into the Manchester United XI the next season, putting himself on Gareth Southgate’s radar. But a return to form for David de Gea saw him only make 3 appearances last season. With de Gea holding the starting spot, Henderson has been given the chance to go back out on loan this season to newly-promoted Nottingham Forest, and will be hoping for a repeat of his exploits with Sheffield United, with a strong start to the season potentially earning him a spot on the plane to Qatar.

Richarlison

This is a very interesting signing, with the Brazilian leaving Everton for Spurs. He has impressed in some poor teams, so in theory becoming part of a strike team that contains Son Heung-min and Harry Kane, who could perhaps now drop into a slightly deeper position where his range of passing can be utilised. However, at a reported £60m, Richarison seems a very expensive signing, especially when you look at some of the other forwards who are on this list, and he can also be a little hot-headed at times, which could cause trouble if Spurs have some issues.

Sékou Mara

At 19 years old, Southampton’s signing from Bordeaux feels like a risk. Southampton struggled for goals last season, with their top scorer being James Ward-Prowse, with 11 in all competitions. Is Mara going to be the answer to that? Granted he is still young so should be improving by the year, but with just 12 goals in 50 professional appearances, is he really going to be the answer, especially considering that he will have to get used to a new team and an arguably more difficult league. Could develop into a great player over the next few years, but will be interesting to see what chances he gets this year and how quickly he adapts.

Nick Pope

I talked earlier about Dean Henderson’s loan to Forest giving him the chance to push for a spot in England’s World Cup squad. Well if we assume that Jordan Pickford and Aaron Ramsdale are the top 2 choices, Henderson is likely competing with Nick Pope for the final spot. Pope shot onto the scene years ago now when Tom Heaton got injured, and though he has continued to play well, Burnley’s form kept him far too busy and eventually saw them relegated. Now having moved to a Newcastle team that has been on the up since the Mike Ashley era ended, this looks like a great chance for Pope to remind everyone of his quality an help secure the Magpies in the top half of the table.

Lisandro Martínez

Manchester United’s defence has been a mess in recent year, not helped by the form of Captain Calamity Harry Maguire, while the signing of Raphaël Varane did not quite go as expected as he struggled with injuries. With other options not overly reliable, Martínez could be a huge signing. Coming fro Ajax, you can imagine that he is a player Erik ten Hag knows a lot about if he feels confident to shell out £57m for him, but if he can start making United more secure at the back and reducing David de Gea’s workload, then he’ll be worth every penny.

Erling Haaland

The big signing of the summer. After a couple of seasons of Manchester City largely playing without a recognised striker, they have signed the 22-year-old Norwegian to lead their line. If he can quickly adapt to the league (coming from the Bundesliga, Ithink this is more likely than from La Liga or Ligue 1) then I expect to see him taking the City attack to a new level as they once again have a focal point in front of goal. Signed for a reported £51.2m, it won’t take long for him to start paying Pep Guardiola back with goals.

James Tarkowski

Was linked with Arsenal a few years ago but stayed with Burnley and saw the team decline and eventually get relegated. Now he moves to Everton looking to remind everyone why he was in and around the England squad 4 years ago, while at 29 he is still in his prime for a centreback and can help the Toffees fight back from an awful season that saw then just avoid relegation and get back to the top half of the table.

Gabriel Jesus

I could have picked either of the players who have made the move from the Etihad to the Emirates (or to sound much cheaper, from Manchester to London), but Jesus just beats out Zinchenko here. The Brazilian will finally get the chance to lead the line, while his ability to play out wider keeps the fluidity up front that highlighted the young Arsenal attack last season. At £45m he feels a much better signing that rivals Spurs have got with Richarlison, can he prove it by helping propel Arsenal into a title fight?


Which new signings are you keeping an eye on?

Thanks for reading.

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“Idiots. Scumbags. Disgrace.”

“Idiots. Scumbags. Disgrace.”

“Idiots. Scumbags. Disgrace.”

Those were the words of Roy Keane following the final whistle of Manchester City’s come from behind victory over Aston Villa to secure the Premier League trophy. But he wasn’t talking about the football; he was talking about the actions of fans, who assaulted Villa keeper Robin Olsen. Olsen took a hit to the back of the head, and footage captured 2 more moments as stewards escorted him off the pitch, with one fan accidentally clocking him around the head as filming the spectacle on his mobile, and another clearly shoving him.

Sadly, this was just one of a number of incidents during recent weeks during pitch invasions by fans:

  • During a pitch invasion following Everton’s win over Crystal Palace (which secured the Toffees’ place in the league next season, assuming no penalties for questionable finances) a fan taunted Palace manager Patrick Viera, which led to the Frenchman apparently kicking out at the fan
  • A Nottingham Forest fan was jailed for 24 weeks after headbutting Sheffield United striker Billy Sharp following their play-off semi-final tie
  • Swindon Town manager Ben Garner said his players were “physically and verbally abused” after their League Two play-off semi-final defeat by Port Vale

And that’s not even counting all the cases of people in the crowd throwing items at the players, or racist abuse. Or that absolute travesty we saw from England fans after the final of the Euros.

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

It’s time for the FA, UEFA, FIFA and all other governing bodies to step up and take action, with a zero-tolerance approach. A fan’s place is in the stands, so anyone invading the pitch should get a lifetime ban, as should any fan found abusing players or throwing projectiles. Get them out of the grounds so that the people who love the game and will represent it in the right way are present.

But the punishment for clubs/national teams should be huge as well, in order to set a deterrent. Any misbehaviour from fans has to be punished. Fines must be much larger to actually impact these clubs ran by the richest men on earth. But more than that, it’s time to make playing in empty stadiums (or at least banning home fans) and points deductions (or being thrown out of the competition if a cup match) the norm for fans misbehaving. If every incident of fans misbehaving is going to result in a fine, a further financial hit by being forced to play a match without fans (an refunding any tickets out of their own books) and a points deduction/disqualification from a cup, then teams would suddenly put a lot more emphasis on controlling and improving the behaviour of it’s fans.

If something doesn’t change soon, the beautiful game will be forever tarnished by the ugliest of smears…

2022 FIFA World Cup: The Pools

2022 FIFA World Cup: The Pools

The first November/December World Cup is getting closer by the day and now with just 3 places still to be decided, the pools have been drawn. 37 teams (who will be whittled down to 32 in the final couple of qualification matches) were sorted into 8 pools of 4, with the top 2 from each pool proceeding into the knockouts.

As always, the pools were selected by a random draw, with confirmed teams split over 4 bands depending on their spot in the FIFA World Rankings to keep the pools somewhat balanced (though as hosts, Qatar earned a spot in the top band despite being ranked at 51), while nations from he same confederation could not be drawn in the same pool, with the exception of 5 pools having 2 European nations.

So how are the pools looking and who will be making the last 16? I’ve taken a look at each pool to give my thoughts. For each pool, I’ve listed the teams included in the order of the bands they were in (top to bottom), with their current pot in the FIFA World Rankings in [brackets].

Pool A

Teams: Qatar [51], Netherlands [10], Senegal [20], Ecuador [46]

The pool that everyone in Bands B-D would have wanted to end up in due to Qatar taking the Band A spot. The rankings certainly suggest that the Netherlands and Senegal should go through, but could home comforts give Qatar a boost and see them pull off an upset? And further to that, don’t ever rule out Senegal from an upset against a European team in the World Cup—France learned the hard way in 2002.

Pool B

Teams: England [5], USA [15], Iran [21], Euro Playoff Winner (Wales [18]/Scotland [39]/Ukraine [27])

The first pool still awaiting confirmation of their final team, and as such it makes it a little more difficult to predict. That said, this should be England’s pool for the taking with the quality of players they have. While the rankings would suggest that the USA would join them in the last 16, I can’t help but feel that Scotland or Wales could take the second spot should they qualify. But what of Ukraine? Well if they qualify, could they find that the current events going on in their country gives them extra impetus, similar to Denmark in the Euros following the loss of Christian Eriksen.

Pool C

Teams: Argentina [4], Mexico [9], Poland [26], Saudi Arabia [49]

The rankings are certainly a little misleading here in regards to Mexico, as they so rarely play teams who are currently ranked in the top 20. As such, I expect things to be relatively comfortable for Argentina, while the match between Poland and Mexico will be crucial in deciding who joins them. Don’t be shocked if this goes down to goal difference.

Pool D

Teams: France [3], Denmark [11], Tunisia [35], Inter-Confederation Playoff Winner (UAE [68]/Australia [42]/Peru [22])

While there are still 3 possible teams to fill the last spot, I must be honest and admit that I can’t see any of them seriously influencing the outcome here. France will be the obvious favorites to top the group, while I expect Denmark to be too strong for the other nations and secure the runner-up spot.

Pool E

Teams: Spain [7], Germany [12], Japan [23], Inter-Confederation Playoff Winner (Costa Rica [31]/New Zealand [101])

Again no offence to Costa Rica or New Zealand, but I can’t see either of them really troubling the other teams in this pool. A European 1-2 looks the obvious call here with the match between the pair deciding who tops the pool, but if one of them comes in struggling for form, then Japan could become a threat.

Pool F

Teams: Belgium [2], Croatia [16], Morocco [24], Canada [38]

Another pool where a European 1-2 looks the most likely, as the rankings don’t give justice to the difference in strength of squads between Croatia and Morocco. Meanwhile Belgium find themselves with a squad brimming with talent but without the trophies to back it up; could a solid group performance to top the pool set them up for their first appearance in a World Cup final?

Pool G

Teams: Brazil [1], Switzerland [14], Serbia [25], Cameroon [37]

A favourable draw for Brazil, who should be able to rotate and qualify comfortably for the knock-outs. Meanwhile I expect a tight affair behind that, but think that Switzerland have the experience to qualify just ahead of Serbia.

Pool H

Teams: Portugal [8], Uruguay [13], Republic of Korea [29], Ghana [60]

Oh how Ghana would love to get some revenge in Qatar for Uruguay controversially knocking them out of the 2010 World Cup on penalties, but I can’t see it happening here. Portugal v Uruguay will likely decide the pool winner as the pair qualify comfortably. I will however predict Uruguay getting the top spot in this pool.

How do you see these pools finishing?

Premier League 2021/22: December

Premier League 2021/22: December

Happy New Year! I hope you have all had a fun festive season. The good news is that the time off has allowed me to catch up with all the action so you’re finally not left waiting til halfway through the next month for my thoughts.

And what an intriguing December it was. COVID reared its ugly head with a number of matches being postponed throughout the month. Manchester City may not have faced any of their rivals in December, but it was still a crucial month for their campaign, as they won 7 of 7 matches, while rivals Chelsea and Liverpool both dropped points, allowing the Sky Blues to welcome in the New Year with an 8-point lead over Chelsea and a 9-point lead over Liverpool, who have a game in hand.

The rest of the Big 6 saw their seasons getting back on track, and all 3 of Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur found themselves in European positions, with 5ᵗʰ-placed West Ham completing the top 7.

At the other end of the table, Newcastle earned their first league win of the season against fellow relegation scrappers Burnley, who also picked up points with a series of draws this month that leaves both teams within a win of Watford, who are currently just outside the bottom 3 after a poor month, though Burnley have a game in hand over Watford, who themselves have a further 2 games in hand over Newcastle. Meanwhile, despite having as many league victories this season as Newcastle and Burnley combined, Norwich find themselves rooted to the bottom of the table and still waiting to hit double digits for goals scored in the campaign.


The race is on!

The race for the Golden Boot: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – 15 goals; Diogo Jota (Liverpool) – 10 goals; Jamie Vardy (Leicester City) – 9 goals

The race for Playmaker of the Season: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – 9 assists; Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool) – 8 assists; Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Jarrod Bowen (West Ham) & Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City) – 7 assists

The race for the Golden Glove: Ederson (Manchester City) – 11 clean sheets; Alisson (Liverpool) & Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal) – 9 clean sheets; Édouard Mendy (Chelsea) – 8 clean sheets


Covid chaos

We just can’t seem to escape the impact of COVID on the sport, but December saw it really rear its ugly head. Whether due to the new Omicron variant or not, players and managers were routinely missing games as they self-isolated, while a whopping 15 matches were postponed during the second half of the month.

The festive period is one of the busiest in the Premier League calendar, now that calendar is in disarray. You just need to look at the table, where the amount of matches a team has played by the end of 2021 ranges from 20 to 16. And it’s not as if the issue is over, with one match having already been postponed this year at time of writing.

At some point, these games will need to be played, and unless the FA chooses to take advantage of a winter World Cup and extend the season, these games will need to be played wherever there is a gap, and that’s just going to make things even busier for some teams.

Stripped

It’s been an interesting month for Arsenal. A team who started with a pointless opening month before going perfect the next found themselves back in an awkward spot as captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was dropped from the matchday squad for the 3-0 win over Southampton for a disciplinary breach. This was the second time that disciplinary action had been taken against the club captain, which is a bad look, so it was no surprise to see Aubameyang officially stripped of the captaincy a few days later.

And since then, things have gone well for the team. It’s not as if he had been firing on all cylinders this season, and having Lacazette regularly starting up front has created some better consistency and chemistry that is bringing the best out of the attack.

The one thing that is missing somewhat is clear leadership. Given Granit Xhaka’s captaincy tenure did not end well I can’t see him taking the armband in more than just the occasional match, while the team on the whole is largely quite young. But this could be a blessing in disguise, as it forces players to stand up and take on a more important role. It may not have been an easy 2 years under Mikel Arteta, but this looks like a team finally going in the right direction.

Breaking through the ceiling

While West Ham have been having a good season, December was somewhat of a blip for them, with draws against Brighton and Burnley and losses to Arsenal and Southampton. Following the Southampton game, an interview with Michail Antonio caught my attention as he talked about the team probably suffering from some mental fatigue, as they were not used to the high number of matches they were playing this season due to their involvement in the Europa League.

This got me thinking about just how hard it is for a team to break into the Europan positions on a regular basis. It’s so rare that you see a team come out of nowhere to win the league like Leicester did, because it is so hard for a team outside the Big 6 to have a squad that has a strong enough starting XI to defeat their rivals and a squad deep enough in quality to keep a challenge going all season. When you add in the extra matches that European football gives you, and it just adds to that necessity for a strong and deep squad.

But that isn’t something that you can just generate overnight. You need to develop players within your squad, spend money wisely on players that will improve the squad and also try to hold onto the stars that got to into these positions as the traditional big teams come calling.

If you can successfully keep yourself in the European positions for a number of seasons then you have broken the glass ceiling, but right now, in a league that is so competitive, there’s no team that has yet managed to consistently break through. Could West Ham be the ones?


Team of the Month

Manchester City

Who else could I really pick here? City went 100% from 7 matches this month, and while they may not have had to play any rivals, the manner of many victories was impressive, with a 6-3 win against Leicester and a 7-0 rout of Leeds.

With 23 goals scored and just 5 conceded, it was another dominant display from the league leaders, and with their closest rivals dropping points, the title seems all but certain to come back to the Etihad this season.


Premier League 2021/22: November

Premier League 2021/22: November

It feels like only days since I was posting about October’s football, but now I’m back on track and it’s time to look at November in the Premier League!

The month started with Nuno Espírito Santo being removed from his role at Tottenham, and that started off a crazy month of 4 managerial casualties, with Dean Smith (Aston Villa), Daniel Farke (Norwich City) and Ole Gunnar Solskjær (Manchester United) all being relieved of duty, with Antonio Conte, Steven Gerrard, Dean Smith and Ralf Rangnick filling these roles and Eddie Howe also finally being named as Newcastle’s new manager.

On the pitch, Chelsea finished the month top of the table, but draws at home to Burnley and Michael Carrick’s Manchester United allowed their rivals to close the gap, with Manchester City going a perfect 3/3 and Liverpool recovering from a 3-2 loss at West Ham with a pair of 4-0 victories. Newcastle still may not have been able to get a win in November, but 3 draws and a 2-0 loss to Arsenal kept them in touch with their rivals as they remained bottom of the table, with Burnley and Norwich joining then in the danger zone.


The race is on!

The race for the Golden Boot: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – 11 goals; Jamie Vardy (Leicester City) – 9 goals; Sadio Mané (Liverpool) & Diogo Jota (Liverpool) – 7 goals

The race for the Golden Glove: Édouard Mendy (Chelsea), Alisson (Liverpool) & Ederson (Manchester City) – 7 clean sheets; Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal) – 6 clean sheets; Alex McCarthy (Southampton) & Robert Sánchez (Brighton & Hove Albion) – 5 clean sheets


Managerial moves

As detailed above, this was a big month for manager changes, with an international break giving a number of teams a chance to get a new manager in and have some time with the team before playing a match, while it also leaves a manager a handful of matches to evaluate their team ahead of the January transfer window. Throughout the month, the following managerial changes were made:

  • Newcastle, who had already sacked Steve Bruce last month, brought in Eddie Howe, moving on from interim manager Graeme Jones
  • Tottenham replaced Nuno Espírito Santo with Antonio Conte
  • Aston Villa replaced Dean Smith with Steven Gerrard
  • Norwich City replaced Daniel Farke with Dean Smith
  • Manchester United replace Ole Gunnar Solskjær with Ralf Rangnick, with Michael Carrick taking temporary charge until his arrival

So how are these working out?

Things are going in the right direction at Newcastle. A 2-0 loss at Arsenal would never have been a match where they realistically targeted points, and while I’m sure they would have preferred a win against Norwich, draws against the Canaries and Brentford could have very easily been losses earlier this season, and at time of writing they have now earned their first league win of the season at Burnley. This team needs to get better at the back, but they are clearly going in the right direction.

While he wasn’t given much time, Nuno sadly always felt like someone who got the job because everyone Spurs really wanted wasn’t available or willing to join. And he was immediately dealt a questionable hand with Harry Kane missing early games as his future was decided, and then forgetting how to score once he was back on the pitch. However with Conte now in, it feels like this is what Spurs really wanted in the summer, and while things may not have been perfect, 4 points from 2 games in November (their match at Burnley was postponed due to snow) suggests that things may be going in the right direction.

This was always likely to be a tough season for Villa after losing Jack Grealish, but this was a team who, with only 10 points, were running dangerously close to a relegation battle if the teams below them began to improve. Steven Gerrard may have been a risk due a lack of experience but he has done well at Rangers and a move to a Premiership team seemed the next logical step towards eventually becoming Liverpool manager. And sometimes what a great player who has not long left the game lacks in managerial experience, they can make up for in the empathy they can have for the team. Whatever the case, 2 wins from 2 in November has been the perfect start to life in the Premier League.

At Norwich things desperately needed to change. It was getting to the point that strikers Teemu Pukki and Josh Sargent would more likely miss than score if given an open goal and put just an inch out from the line in the middle of the goal. But much more damning was how Billy Gilmour was brought in on loan from Chelsea after an impressive summer at the Euros and then rarely played, as Farke preferred to grow the players on permanent contracts with the club. It would seem that there was a difference of thinking, and with the poor results, change was clear. In picking up Smith just days after his sacking by Villa, they have a manager with Premiership experience who you will hope will be driven to do well after having just been sacked. The return of Gilmour and Todd Cantwell brought immediate success with a win over Southampton, and while their strike force may still look questionable, 5 points from 3 games under Smith in November is a step in the right direction.

And finally we come to Old Trafford. I’m a big fan of Solskjær but something had to change. It’s just a shame that the manager is the one who pays the price while Ed Woodward still gets a long drawn out farewell after ruining the club for seasons, while yet another manager falls due to having to balance Paul Pogba’s incredible cost with an attitude that will see him put in effort for about 3 games a season. Rangnick seems a good move on paper, but as he is only being given a contract until the end of the season, how much support will he get in the January transfer window if he feels that he needs a new player or 2?

Time will tell, but right now it seems that all the month’s managerial moves were the right call.

Proving the doubters wrong

“Elsewhere, signing Aaron Ramsdale for more money than the vastly superior Emiliano Martínez was sold for is just bad business.”

Premier League 2021/22: August

While I still think that the business side of this whole story is a little questionable, I must admit that I have been proved wrong by Aaron Ramsdale. Despite the club’s relegation, Ramsdale looked promising for Bournemouth, but appeared to regress last season for Sheffield United despite being named their player of the Year. Being signed by Arsenal for a fee of up to £30m, I felt that he was going to be playing the role of an expensive back-up to Bernd Leno.

However that has not been the case and I must apologise to Ramsdale, as his form as the Arsenal starter has been incredible. He finds himself just 1 clean sheet off the pace in the race for the Golden Glove, and while part of that is also down to an improved defence, he is pulling off top class saves with regularity and this is likely helping to improve the defence as he is giving them more confidence.

And this leaves Gareth Southgate with an interesting decision to make for the World Cup. Jordan Pickford is his man but still rarely shows the same level of reliability for Everton as Ramsdale has been. Meanwhile Dean Henderson finds himself stuck behind a resurgent David de Gea—don’t be shocked to see him go out on loan to another club in January—and Nick Pope is in a struggling Burnley team.

To me, Ramsdale should be at least the back-up to Pickford by this point, but I would give Ramsdale the starting spot for any more matches this season in order to get him and the defence working on the same page and give him every chance of beating out Pickford. Even if he doesn’t quite manage that, he would at least be in a position to seamlessly take over should Pickford get injured or suspended during or right before the tournament.


Team of the Month

Manchester City

While Chelsea may have finished the month top of the table, it’s City who get the Team of the Month ward. The Sky Blues went 3 wins from 3 in November to finish just 1 point behind the league leaders, scoring 7 goals to just 1 conceded.

Granted Manchester United’s form was poor, but a trip to Old Trafford could have been a banana skin and yet they dominated the derby, while also beating Everton and a West Ham team that defeated Liverpool. And all that without a recognised striker (Gabriel Jesus the only one who could be considered such, if he wasn’t starting on the wing), and with Kevin De Bruyne only playing in the Manchester Derby.

City are just going from strength to strength and at this rate, I won’t be surprised to see them top at Christmas.


Premier League 2021/22: October

Premier League 2021/22: October

Hey all! Once again, apologies for how late this is, I get that we’re over halfway through November but it’s been a busy couple of months!

What a month October was! Liverpool kicked took big steps towards a league title with a draw at home to Manchester City and huge wins away at Watford and Manchester United, before giving away a 2-goal lead to draw against Brighton. It was a mixed month for City, whose draw at Anfield accompanied losses to Leicester and Crystal Palace and wins against Burnley and Brighton. Ahead of both these teams by the end of the month was Chelsea, whose 100% record in the month leaves them top of the table with 25 points.

At the other end of the table, Norwich earned their first points with draws against Burnley and Brighton, but any hope was soon gone following a 7-0 humiliation at Stamford Bridge and they remain bottom of the table, just behind Newcastle, who finally got rid of Mike Ashley but ended the month without a manager and with just 1 point more than they started. Meanwhile Burnley may still fill the final spot in the drop zone, but earned 5 points during the month to edge closer to the teams above them.


The race is on!

The race for the Golden Boot: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – 10 goals; Jamie Vardy (Leicester City) – 7 goals; Sadio Mané & Michail Antonio (West Ham) – 6 goals

The race for Playmaker of the Season: Paul Pogba (Manchester United) – 7 assists; Mo Salah (Liverpool) – 6 assists; Mateo Kovacic (Chelsea) & Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City) – 5 assists

The race for the Golden Glove: Édouard Mendy (Chelsea) – 6 clean sheets; Alisson (Liverpool) & Ederson (Manchester City) – 5 clean sheets; Alex McCarthy (Southampton), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal) & Robert Sánchez (Brighton & Hove Albion) – 4 clean sheets


A new era

It finally happened! After years of being ruined by Mike Ashley, October saw Newcastle finally taken over by new ownership. While it’s obviously not been their ideal start to their era—Steve Bruce sacked after 1 more game; then a protracted search for a new manager that included Unai Emery pulling out after news of his appointment breaking prematurely, before Eddie Howe was finally announced earlier this month; 1 point from their first 3 matches—but this ownership needs to learn, and it will take a little while for the rot of the Ashley era to fully go away, but things are going in the right direction.

The atmosphere at St James’ Park in that first match after the sale was incredible, and it certainly seemed that the players were buoyed by this, scoring almost immediately against Spurs. They have some quality players like Allan Saint-Maximin, Jonjo Shelvey, Callum Wilson, Jamaal Lascelles and Joe Willock, while the appointment of Howe a the start of the international break gives him tie to start working with the majority of his squad before his first match, while still having a couple of weeks in November and all of December’s fixtures to assess what he needs to bring in this January, and while it’s probably too early to imagine the club bringing in the world class players that many have been imagining, the new ownership should at least be looking to make a statement in their first transfer window and give Howe the financial support to bring in who he can.

With just 5 points and a goal difference of -12 (at time of writing) it’s not going to be easy for the Magpies to escape the drop, especially considering the potential quality of some of the teams just above them and Southampton’s recent run of results—10 points from 4 matches has left them with 14 points—but a year down in the Championship to begin a rebuild under new ownership would be far from the worst thing.

If nothing else, the future feels more promising than it has for a long time.

Major improvement

It’s no secret in the past that I have been critical under Graham Potter. The Seagulls have often been far from impressive in the past, earning enough results to avoid the drop in seasons where there were significantly less impressive teams. However, despite this year’s league looking tighter on the whole, they found themselves finishing the month not just in the top half of the table, but in 7ᵗʰ, behind just the Big 5 and West Ham!

The main reason for it is their defence. At time of writing, they have conceded just 12 goals in 11 games, which can only be bettered by 3 teams. This was also the case last season, where their 46 goals conceded was bettered by only 6 teams. In fact, only Manchester City and Chelsea have kept more clean sheets than Brighton’s 13 in this calendar year. Last year however, they seriously struggled with goals, as a constantly rotating front line struggled for consistency. Well this year it has been much more consistent and though 12 goals may still not sound much, it is a 1:1 ratio, whereas last year they ended up conceding more than they scored.

It may just be small changes in the numbers, but it makes a massive difference. Last season they won 9, drew 14 and lost 15 in the league, whereas they find themselves on 4 wins, 5 draws and 2 defeats to date this season. With just a small change in the number of goals, they have turned losses into draws and draws into victories, making a drastic change to the to the most important number: the points earned.

A high-scoring offence and leaky defence will only work for so long, until defences find a way to nullify you, but by going the route Graham Potter has by building on a strong defence, he is giving the team a chance for a much longer term success.

Offside?

While Liverpool’s 0-5 win at Watford may have been most notable for the game being Claudio Ranieri’s first game in charge of the Hornets, there was also a goal that was of real note to me.

With the score at 0-2, Andrew Robertson sent in a cross towards Mo Salah, who was in an offside position. The cross was cut out by Craig Cathcart, but in doing so the ball was directed goalward and needed to be saved by Ben Foster, allowing Roberto Firmino to tap in the rebound for his second goal of the match. He would go on to complete his hat-trick.

Now granted the offside rule has already become more harsh over the years, with daylight originally needed between the striker and defender, and now one out of place strand of facial hair is enough to condemn a striker, however I think further amendment needs making. Much as a player is considered offside if they are in an offside position that obstructs the sight of a keeper—as we have seen a number of times—I feel that a player should be considered offside in situations like this, when the ball is played in their direction and a defender is forced to account for them, as they are interfering with play by forcing the defender to stop the ball coming to them. You could perhaps argue that the defender should just let the ball go to this player, but that is too big a risk in case they have missed someone playing them on, or if the ball stays in play and is ignored by the offside player, allowing a supporting player to come from an onside position to take the ball.

Will the rule change? Probably not, but I think will argue that situations like this need looking at.


Team of the Month

Chelsea

I’ve already mentioned their 100% record this month, so it’s probably not much of a surprise to see the Blues get the pick here. Thomas Tuchel’s men finished the month with 4 wins from 4, scoring 14 goals and conceding just 1. Granted 2 of these wins came against the bottom two sides in the table, Newcastle and Norwich (which accounted for 10 of the goals), but when you consider that these 2 games were played without a recognised striker, it becomes more impressive.

The defence has improved under Tuchel, and Romelu Lukaku has shown that he was one of the missing pieces of the puzzle, while partnering him with Timo Werner has helped get the best out of the German, who often played well but was just lacking the goals last season. Meanwhile, they have a range of attacking talents to create chances for the strikes, and arguably 2 of the form fullbacks going forward or back in Ben Chilwell and Reece James.

It’s been 4 years since Chelsea’s last title, with performances like this, that could all be about to change.


Movember 2021: Day 16

Movember 2021: Day 16

It’s that time of year again! That time when I brave cold cheeks in the name of charity. Yes it’s Movember!

I’ve been doing Movember for about 10 years now as it’s a cause that is close to my heart, and this year, as we are now able to be more sociable again, I am back to fundraising for the Movember Foundation. For those who haven’t heard of the Movember Foundation, they focus on “changing the face of men’s health” with a focus on testicular cancer, prostate cancer, mental health and suicide prevention. If you wish to donate, every little helps, and there are 3 ways you can do so:

  • Head to my Mo Space
  • Check out my Instagram (@pstetheridge), where I have set up a second fundraiser
  • Write a cheque to ‘Movember’ referencing my registration ID (13438480) and mail it to: Movember Europe, PO Box 485, Wilstead, Bedford, MK45 3XN

This year, I’m planning to chart my “Mo-gression” with a series of posts on here. I’m aiming for one every 5-6 days but don’t hold me to that. For each one, I’ll let you have an update on how things are going along with my latest picture so that you can see how the growth is going. But this site is all about sport, so of course I have added a slight sporting twist, as each of my Mo-gression posts will also include a quick look at someone in the sporting world who has a notable moustache. I won’t promise that they will be the most famous moustached sport stars in the world, purely the ones who first came to mind as I put this together.

So… let’s get underway!

Day 16

We’re at the halfway point already and as is always the case around this point in the month, I’m growing attached to the Monkeytail and having to stop myself not thinking about keeping it long term!

Once again, a big thank you to those who have already donated this year. I set myself a relatively low initial target of £100, and thanks to your generosity I am already 60% of the way there, but I would love to hit this target ASAP and push for a higher amount. I’ve have also had my first donation on the Instagram fundraiser, which has been great! As always, any donations would be greatly appreciated!

Sporting Mo

So for Day 16, I move away from the racetrack and to the football pitch, with a look at David Seaman

David Seaman is an English former footballer, who played as goalkeeper in a career spanning from 1981-2004. At his peak, Seaman was regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the world during the 1990s.

Seaman began his career at Leeds United, the club he supported as a boy, and eventually retired as a Manchester City player due to a recurring shoulder injury, but is most famous for his time at Arsenal, where he won three league championships (1991, 1998, 2002), four FA Cups (1993, 1998, 2002, 2003), the League Cup in 1993 and the European Cup Winners Cup in 1994. The full list of teams he played for is:

  • Leeds United (1981-1982) – 0 appearances
  • Peterborough United (1982-1984) – 91 appearances
  • Birmingham City (1984-1986) – 75 appearances
  • Queens Park Rangers (1986-1990) – 141 appearances
  • Arsenal (1990-2003) – 405 appearances
  • Manchester City (2003-2004) – 19 appearances

Seaman made his England debut in 1988 and appeared for the side in fifteen consecutive years, which was a national record. He went on to earn 75 caps, leaving him as the joint-second most capped English goalkeeper, level with Joe Hart and behind only Peter Shilton.

Movember_Iconic Mo_Black

Premier League 2021/22: September

Premier League 2021/22: September

Hey all! So before we get into everything, apologies for how late this is coming out. These last few weeks at work have been super busy, while my free time has been largely taken up recently moving house and a world that is slowly opening up again. With everything going on, it took be the best part of a week to realise we were even in a new month!

September may have only had 3 rounds of matches, but there was plenty to get football fans talking. Early pacesetters Tottenham followed up their 3-0 start to the season with 3 consecutive losses, including at local rivals Arsenal, which has dropped them behind the Gunners and into the bottom half of the table. The Top 4 has a rather unsurprising look, with Liverpool, Chelsea and the 2 Manchester clubs filling the spots, but the big surprises early in the season are Everton and Brighton, who are just 1 point behind leaders Liverpool and level with the other big names. Meanwhile at the other end of the table, newly-promoted Norwich ended the month still without a point, with Burnley and Leeds joining them in the bottom 3 and Newcastle on level points with Marcelo Bielsa’s side.


The race is on!

The race for the Golden Boot: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Jamie Vardy (Leicester) & Michail Antonio (West Ham) – 5 goals; Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United), Neal Maupay (Brighton & Hove Albion) & Ismaïla Sarr (Watford) – 4 goals

The race for the Golden Glove: Ederson (Manchester City) – 5 clean sheets; Alisson (Liverpool) – 4 clean sheets; Hugo Loris (Tottenham Hotspur), Édouard Mendy (Chelsea), Emiliano Martínez (Aston Villa), & David Raya (Brentford) – 3 clean sheets


Crucial posting

Football tactics have changed a lot over the years, even just the 30 I’ve been alive! We’ve seen the 4-4-2 go from the most common formation to a rarity at the top level, we’ve seen centrebacks requiring the ball skills of a midfielder… and let’s not even start on the sweeper keeper!

But there is one tactical change that I just can’t wrap my head around: no longer putting a man on the posts at a corner. The goalmouth is extremely wide and even if you assume a keeper stays on his line rather than trying to come claim the corner, they will struggle to reach the ball if it’s right at the far edges of the goal, and that is where having a man on the posts could save you a goal, as it likely would have in Manchester United’s 0-1 loss to Aston Villa.

The only reason that I can think a team would not do that is in the hopes that they can catch a player in an offside position “interfering” with the keeper, as happened twice to Harvey Barnes in Leicester’s 2-1 loss to Brighton. But that seems highly risky, as you are relying on the in-stadium officials to decide that the player has impacted the game, or VAR to feel that there was sufficient interference to overrule.

To me, the man on the post will always be the way forward.

Shades of Gray

Ahead of the new Premier League season, I was considering doing a post looking at some of the newly-transferred players to watch out for this season, similar to what I did with rugby’s Premiership and Ultimate Rugby Championship. While I ended up not going ahead with it, one player who I had circled to talk about was Demarai Gray.

When the winger signed for Leicester from Birmingham, he looked like a player who had an incredible potential. And while he showed flashes of quality, he never quite managed to step on in the way the Foxes hoped. However, after a short spell in Gerany with Bayer Leverkusen, he returned to the Premier League with Everton this summer for a fee of just £1m.

With such a small transfer fee, Gray always looked like he could be in a decent spot, with a chance to shine in a team who should have been on the up, and a small price tag leading to not too much pressure. Well after just 2 months of football, Gray is looking like he could be in the running for the bargain of the season, with 3 goals already in the league this season (he only scored 10 in 133 league matches for Leicester) just the tip of the iceberg. He is already becoming a key player for Rafael Benítez, while Everton have been one of the top-scoring teams in the league over the opening 2 months, despite both Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin missing games.

Keep an eye on this lad as the season goes on.


Team of the Month

Arsenal

Granted a 1-0 win at home to fellow pointless team Norwich isn’t anything spectacular, but you could have easily imagined the Gunners dropping a couple of points here after such a poor start, while a trip to Turf Moor always feels like a potential banana skin for them, and yet they came away with the win. But then to end the month with a dominant 3-1 win over your biggest rivals to leapfrog them in the table was perfect.

The Gunners were always better than a 0-3 start suggested, and while I never felt that they could compete for a top 4 spot, October and November will be crucial for how their season goes.