Who will win the Championship playoffs?

The Championship had one of the best ever endings to a season with nobody knowing who will be in the playoffs until the last whistle.

Watford, Brighton, Crystal Palace and Leicester City will be hoping to win the playoffs and gain a place in the Premier League alongside Cardiff City and Hull City. Bolton Wanderers missed out on the playoffs by goal difference and Nottingham Forest only missed out on the last day after losing to Leicester. For me this is one of the most difficult to predict simply because of how close it all was at the end of the season.

Watford finished third and have been one of the most entertaining teams this season but they had such a disappointing end to the final game. They lost 2-1 to Leeds United but in their defence they conceded a late goal from a counter attack. If only they had managed to score a goal they would have actually finished second and gained automatic promotion. Troy Deeney got a red card in that game and so that means there will be more pressure on top goal scorer Matej Vydra. But, he isn’t in the greatest of form himself. Watford have been criticised this season because of all their loan signings but Gianfranco Zola deserves more credit for getting them to perform.

Brighton finished fourth and are going into the playoffs in the best form and with their experience they may be the team to go up. Wayne Bridge and Matthew Upson at the back shows they have a lot of quality and experience and they have been a large part of their rise to towards the top of the league. In midfield they have a lot of young and talented players like Liam Bridcutt , Will Buckley and Kazenga Lua Lua that probably deserve a chance to show their talents in the Premier League. Even though their top scorer only has 11 goals they still have good strikers with the efforts and determination of Craig Mackail-Smith and Jose Ulloa who has had an impressive start to his Brighton career, scoring 9 in 17 league games.

Crystal Palace under Ian Holloway have been very hit and miss and they need to find some form and quickly. Their win over Peterborough on the last day of the season could be crucial as it showed that they can come from behind to win games and still have a lot of quality in their team. Glenn Murray, the top scorer in the Championship scored one of the goals and Kevin Phillips got another so they have players that can score at anytime in a game. Their defence is a little bit of a worry but in midfield they have a lot of talented players like Wilifried Zaha and Jonathan Williams.

Leicester were the last team to qualify for the playoffs and I was really surprised that they got in there because they had to beat Nottingham Forest away and hope Bolton didn’t win. So this could push the team on because they will be very confident and maybe seen as outsiders. They have a lot of talent in their team and this could be Nigel Pearson’s last chance to get promotion with Leicester so there could be extra motivation for the players.

However, I do think Watford will beat Leicester and Brighton will beat Crystal Palace in the semi finals and then it will be a very exciting final. Then I am going to go for Brighton to win the playoffs and compete in the Premier League next season.

Who will win the League 1 playoffs?

League 1 had a very exciting finish to it with Doncaster Rovers winning the league and Bournemouth also going up automatically.

Now it is time to turn to the playoffs and with Brentford, Yeovil Town, Sheffield United and Swindon Town looking to secure a place in the Championship it will certainly be nail biting for all the fans involved. All of the teams were guaranteed a place in the playoffs before the final game so they didn’t have to worry about that too much and could concentrate on trying to get promotion.

Brentford may be coming into the playoffs in the worse position because they were a penalty kick away from gaining automatic promotion and that might have damaged the confidence of all the players, particularly Marcello Trotta who missed the chance to be a hero. However, this may drive the team on and with them finishing third they should be favourites to go up. A worry I do have about them in the playoffs is simply the fact that manager Uwe Rosler has criticised the whole team for missing the penalty. I don’t think he should have blamed anyone, especially when there is still possibly another three huge games before the end of the season.

Yeovil Town are the surprise team in the playoffs in my opinion because they cannot have a big budget and there are some big teams in the division this year. But under Gary Johnson, who I do think is a good manager, they have been brilliant and even if they don’t manage to go up this year, the fans and the club should be proud of what they have accomplished. Striker Paddy Madden has probably been the signing of the season not only in League 1 but possibly the whole of the Football League and he will be crucial in these playoffs.

Sheffield United will probably be most people’s picks to win promotion through the playoffs this season but they are out of form and certainly need a lift, they haven’t scored for three games and lost two of those. Chris Morgan has recently took over from Danny Wilson as manager and that to me was a very poor decision, Wilson was really unlucky to have missed out on promotion last season and I felt that he would have got them up this year. The problem for them is they are missing a regular goal scorer so will be relying on good defensive displays to win the playoffs.

Swindon Town are also another team that have had to appoint a new manager recently and this could prove to be a problem because they haven’t quite been as good under Kevin MacDonald. Swindon have an amazing goal difference with plus 33 and this is better than both Doncaster and Bournemouth. They lost their last league game to relegated Scunthorpe United 3-1 and this will not have put the team in the best of moods. It was very different under departed Paolo Di Canio and maybe the players just haven’t responded to MacDonald’s training methods.

I think Brentford will beat Swindon and Sheffield United will beat Yeovil in the semi finals and then the final is very difficult to call but I will go for Brentford as they have had a very good season and hopefully they can pick themselves up.

Who will win the League 2 playoffs?

The League 2 playoffs will be very exciting this year and it is one of the toughest to call.

Burton Albion, Cheltenham Town, Northampton Town and Bradford City are all hoping to get through the semi finals and win the playoff final so they can be competing in League 1 next season. They will be hoping to join Gillingham, Rotherham United and Port Vale in getting promotion this year and now I will look at each team and give my verdict on who I think will go up. Each team could easily win it so it is quite difficult to choose.

Fourth place Burton Albion should be confident going into the playoffs as they were the closest to getting automatic promotion and have just beaten Gillingham 3-2. However, in recent weeks they did also lose 7-1 to Port Vale. I am surprised that they are actually in the playoffs because I expected them to struggle this season but they have proved me and many others wrong. One thing that has been impressive is the amount of goals they have scored, particularly at home. Jacques Maghoma has scored 15 league goals this year with Billy Kee and Calvin Zola also scoring double figures this year.

Next are another team that have a fantastic home record but for a completely different reason. Cheltenham may not score as many goals as their rivals but they certainly have a very good defensive record. They also have some good midfielders and I believe they have the ability to play at a much higher level. Marlon Pack is the standout player for me and has already played over 150 games in his club career even though he is only 22. Darren Carter and Jermaine McGlashan will also be key in these playoffs. The club are hoping to go one better than last year when they were beaten in the final.

Northampton Town are probably the most out of form team in the playoffs but that does not mean you can count them out. With a striker like Adebayo Akinfenwa they will also cause problems to any defence even though he is not in the greatest form himself. Getting a victory over Barnet on the final game of the season will also give the team confidence. They have a good manager in Aidy Boothroyd and I would like to see him managing higher up in the English leagues once again.

Bradford City will be hoping they can visit Wembley for the second time this season after getting to the League Cup Final earlier this year. Phil Parkinson has done a fantastic job and to get a promotion would be just a cap off an amazing season for the fans and the players. I do like their attacking players, especially Nahki Wells who has scored 18 goals in 39 league games. But they also have James Hanson who adds more than just goals to the side and he will be vital. I would like to see Bradford go up and get back to where they once were.

I think Bradford will beat Burton Albion and Cheltenham will beat Northampton in the semi finals. So the final will be against two teams that have lost at Wembley in the last year. But, I think this time Cheltenham will come out on top.

Cardiff City are promoted to the Premier League

Cardiff City have been promoted to the Premier League as champions under the guidance of manager Malky Mackay.
Malky Mackay
It will be the first time the Welsh club have played in the Premier League and it will also be a great moment for their manager as he gained three promotions in a row towards the end of his career but was released each time. So he will be hoping he does keep his job in the summer but that surely will happen after such a fantastic year. At the start of the season there was a lot of controversy around the club with them changing the strip colour and a few other changes but when it actually came down to what was happening on the pitch, they have been by far the best team in the division and deserve to be champions in my opinion. Cardiff do still have two games to play and there should be a brilliant atmosphere at home to Bolton Wanderers when they collect the trophy. They will be the second Welsh team in the Premier League and their rivalry with Swansea City will be more high profile than ever and just shows that football may slowly be catching up to rugby in Wales these days as the main sport.

Looking at the team though, it may be surprising to see that their top scorer only has nine goals. Heidar Helguson is the man that has got these goals and at the start of the season I backed him to be one of the top goal scorers in the league, it hasn’t quite turned out that way but he has certainly done a lot to help the club get promoted. Along with Craig Bellamy who must be the happiest player at the club as he gets to play Premier League football for his boyhood club.
Craig Bellamy
Cardiff do have some good players in the midfield but the two that stick out for me are Peter Whittingham and Aron Gunnarsson. Whittingham has been one of those players that has looked too good for the Championship over the years but no Premier League club has been willing to take a chance on him yet, so finally the former Aston Villa player can show his talents in the top division. Gunnarsson is a very good player too and his eight league goals is quite impressive, add to this his brilliant long throw the Iceland international will be crucial to the side if they are to have a any chance of staying up.

Defensively I do not think they are great and will certainly need to bring players in during the summer but they do have a good full back in Andrew Taylor, who is decent going forward and also looks solid enough when defending. Ben Turner is another with some potential but it could be very tough for him next season playing against strikers that have better movement and only need half a chance to score.
Andrew Taylor
It will be very tough for Cardiff next season but everyone was saying that about Swansea and they have so far never been in danger of relegation.

Manchester United have won the Premier League

Manchester United have won their 20th title with four games still to play and could finish the season on 96 points.

It has been a very good season for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side and one that will be remembered, especially after last season’s heartbreaking ending. They clearly didn’t want a repeat of that this year and have only lost four games all season as well as having a much better goal difference than their closest rivals which was once again Manchester City. At times earlier in the season there were questions about their defence but in recent weeks it has tightened up brilliantly which has taken the pressure off their attacking players.

One of these attacking players is Robin Van Persie who in my opinion has been the difference this season from last year. It is not only his goals that has made him such a good signing but his movement and his ability on the ball, he drags defenders out of position giving other players opportunities to score and even when he was on a goal scoring drought, he was still playing pretty well. 28 goals in all competitions is a great return and he will be hoping to hit 30 before the season is out. The other two main strikers have also chipped in with goals and Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez will have profited from playing alongside the former Arsenal man. Although there may be a few concerns with Rooney as it is the first time he is not the main man for a long time. Another slight concern might be the goal scoring return of Danny Welbeck but he has played on the wing at times this season and some of his appearances have been off the bench. In my opinion though he is certainly good enough to be the fourth choice striker.

It has been quite a strange season for the clubs midfielders though as none of the attacking ones have really stood out for prolonged periods of time. Nani, Ashley Young, Shinji Kagawa and Antonio Valencia just haven’t quite been at their best this season and will be hoping they get another chance to impress next season because I am a little worried about the future of some of these at the club. However, Michael Carrick, whether rightly or wrongly has been included in the PFA Player of the Year nominations, has had a fantastic season and just proved why he should have more England caps than he does.

Yet again the defence has been good at times but there have also been mistakes in their defence that have not quite cost them but made a few games more difficult than they should have been. Rafael at right back looks very promising and in a few years could be considered the best in the world, as long as he improves his defending slightly. However, these days it seems more important to be able to attack from full back than to actually defend so he is ok in that respect. Also David De Gea deserves a mention because everyone was jumping on his mistakes but when he was keeping clean sheet after clean sheet nobody was praising him. He is another that will get better and I don’t think people consider his age when criticising him. He is only young (especially for a goalkeeper) and will make mistakes but he has bounced back from every one of them.

Portsmouth have been relegated to League 2

Portsmouth may have been relegated from League 1 but they probably have the happiest fans in the country right now.

It has been tough being a Pompey fan in the last couple of years (this is a massive understatement) but finally they will be able to start again and support the team that they love and hopefully they can get back to where they belong. The Pompey Supporters Trust now own the club and they will put the club first rather than any of their other owners recently and this has just lifted the whole club and with the 3-0 win over Sheffield United, the future looks bright for the club that many believed would go out of business.

One thing that does need sorting now though is the future of the caretaker manager Guy Whittingham and personally I believe he should be given the job as he has done remarkably well under the circumstances. The 48 year old who also had two spells at the club as a player has been in charge since November and although results haven’t always been the greatest he has at least kept up morale in the squad and seems to have got some players playing quite well at times.

It is unclear who will stay at the club over the summer but there are still a few that the fans will be hoping stay. One of those is Jed Wallace who has impressed me every time I have seen him and will get even better as he is only 19. Six goals in 21 league games is a good record for any midfielder in any division and if Portsmouth can keep hold of him, he could be crucial to the ambition of the team and whether they want to come straight back up from League 2. Johnny Ertl is another that has been quite impressive this season even when things haven’t been going well, he has always been committed and one that will definitely perform a lot better now that the future of the club is secured. Another player that has been quite impressive is the former Republic of Ireland striker David Connolly who has seven goals in 17 appearances which yet again is quite good. If he stays then the 35 year old could grab a few more important goals for the club.

The problem with assessing how well Portsmouth are going to do next season is that it is unclear what players are staying, what sort of budget the manager is going to receive and simply what their ambitions are? Maybe as it is their first season owned by the fans they will just want to consolidate and make sure they stay in the league and build from there. However, right now it must be an exciting time being a Portsmouth fan and how many clubs can say that after suffering yet another relegation in just a few short years. I am happy that Portsmouth have sorted out their problems because it doesn’t matter who you support nobody wants to see a club die.

Bury are relegated to League 2

Bury have been relegated from League 1 this season but there may be more problems on the way for the club.
Bury
Recently it was reported that they need another £1 million just to survive and this could be a real problem as it is a lot of money especially for a club that will be playing football in League 2 next season. They have only picked up 37 points from their 44 games this season but their victory over Scunthorpe United would have been a moral boosting performance for everyone involved with the club, most importantly the fans because they haven’t had much to shout about for a long time.

Their current manager is Kevin Blackwell and I was actually quite surprised when he took the job as I thought he might have been holding out for a job closer to the top of the league or even a lower positioned Championship club. It hasn’t all been his fault but only nine wins in 41 games is quite a poor record and maybe he owes it to the club to stay and try and get them promoted at the first time of asking. Blackwell has recently talked about Bury’s plight and does fear they could drop out of the Football League which isn’t the greatest thing to say but at least he is being honest with the supporters and letting them know how bad the situation is.
Kevin Blackwell
On the playing side of things obviously the players haven’t performed that well but there is still some good players at the club. Midfielder Stephen Schumacher is definitely someone that deserves praise as he has 10 goals this season which is a good haul but unfortunately he is their top scorer and that certainly isn’t good enough. So, you would have to point to the strikers and wonder what has happened this year, and there are some quite recognisable names in the squad with the most notable being David Healy. Healy has over 100 goals in club career and has 36 international goals so he clearly does have a lot of quality but it simply has not worked out for him and 1 goals in 19 appearances is very poor for someone that could have had the potential to have played at a much higher level. Craig Fagan is another player that during his career has played at a higher level and even though he may not have been prolific at any point, he should still have a better record than 1 goal in 10 games. Finally, Nicky Ajose is also at the club and unfortunately for him, he couldn’t recapture his form the last time he was at the club when he scored 13 goals in 28 games, this time only contributing 3 in 17.
David Healy
Obviously you cannot just blame the strikers as the midfielders haven’t chipped in and at the back at times they haven’t looked the greatest. It is going to be very tough for them now to get straight back up and may just want to concentrate on making sure the club stay alive.

Gillingham are promoted to League 1

Gillingham are the first team in England to gain promotion this season and they will now have eyes on the League 2 title.
Gillingham
I expected Gillingham to do well this season, especially with Martin Allen in charge because he is a very good manager in League 2 and has produced many times in the division, particularly in relegation battles with Barnet but he has made the step up. In all competitions he has been in charge of 48 games, winning 25 of them and only losing 10 which is a fantastic record and I believe he should be managing at a higher level anyway.

But onto the team and what has been successful this year is the strike force because even though they haven’t exactly put much pressure on the top scorers in the division they have been very consistent. Danny Kedwell has got 13 league goals in 36 games and Deon Burton has 11 in 38 therefore they have caused defences problems and have each popped up with important goals and whenever the score has been 0-0 you would always expect either of them to produce something. The only problem with Burton is the fact that he is 36 and the big question is whether he will be good enough to compete in League 1, however his experience could be vital.
Deon Burton
Winger Myles Weston is another that has contributed goals to the team and sometimes these goals from wide players are actually more important for the strikers because you expect the wingers to cause problems and if they can add goals then they are worth their weight in gold. 7 goals in 35 games is quite an impressive return. Another player that has got 7 goals from midfield is Chris Whelpdale and since he has joined the club permanently, he is another player that has consistently found the net with 19 goals in 78 league games. Both of these players will be very important in League 1 and if they are to succeed they certainly need to keep up their goal scoring form.

In goal they have Stuart Nelson who I actually rate quite highly and have liked him since his days at Brentford. Unfortunately his career has quite blossomed as well as some hoped but now it seems like he is getting it back on track under Martin Allen. But a defender that has impressed a lot this season is Matt Fish, the 24 year old right back has been very consistent defensively and has also grabbed two goals this season. Defensively I think they are a little light and will need to bring in some more experience but they have only conceded 33 goals in their 43 games so they all know what each other are doing and have been solid all year.
Matt Fish
Do I think they will succeed in League 1? I think they will but only if they improve their home form because even though it does look quite good if they had a similar record to their away form they would have ran away with the league more than they have. They have only lost one game away from home and concede just 14 which is impressive in any division.

Who is Cheikhou Kouyate and can he solve Arsenal’s defensive problems?

Cheikhou Kouyate has recently been linked with a move to the Premier League and in particular Arsenal but who is he?

Can Kouyate solve Arsenal's problems?

Can Kouyate solve Arsenal’s problems?


The Senegalese defender is currently playing in Belgium for Anderlecht and has been in impressive form and with him only be 23 will have a lot of time to develop and get better. He can also play in the holding midfielder role so his distribution is very good and not only does he stop attacks but he also starts them from the back, which means that he would certainly fit into Arsene Wenger’s style of play. Kouyate has nearly played 100 league games for Anderlecht and also has five international caps to his name and played at the London Olympics for his country in 2012.

Kouyate has already announced that he will be leaving the Belgian side in the summer and with Anzhi Makhachkala and Borussia Dortmund also said to be keen on the player, Arsenal may have to move quickly if they are to sign him. Arsenal have expressed their interest in the player a few times but that has never came to anything, however this time could be different and it seems a lot more likely that a transfer will come off.

But what does this mean for Arsenal’s other centre backs? At the minute they only really have three centre backs anyway, so it doesn’t mean that somebody has to leave. Sebastien Squillaci is still at the club but he really shouldn’t be and has been an awful signing and I fully expect him to leave this summer. On to the other three and in my opinion there isn’t much between them at all and that is because they are all as inconsistent as each other.

Firstly, Thomas Vermaelen has got quite a lot of praise for his time at Arsenal but for me he hasn’t been that great and at times looked more interested in adding to his goal tally than actually defending his own goal. He can be very good at times and got away with some poor performances in his first season because he did score eight goals but now they have dried up, fans have been more critical. In his defence though he did miss almost a full season through injury so I am possibly being a bit harsh.

Per Mertesacker is another defender that came to Arsenal with a good reputation but on the whole has been too slow and cost his team on several occasions. It is surprising that he has struggled at times because he is a German international and has a lot of caps to his name but put him in a one on one situation with basically any Premier League striker and he is struggling.

Finally, Laurent Koscielny is possibly the most frustrating to me because he looks very good for spells and then he will just have an awful game and seems to lack the required concentration to be a first choice centre back in the Premier League. All the defenders have good qualities and maybe if they weren’t in a team competing in the Champions League and expected to win trophies they would be seen as brilliant players. But to put it simply, Arsenal score enough goals to win trophies they just simply cannot defend and a lot of this is because of how poor they are in the centre of their defence.

Who is to blame?

Who is to blame?

Who will be Leeds United’s next manager?

Leeds United are looking for a new manager after Neil Warnock failed to get them closer to the Championship playoffs.
Leeds
Leeds have been on a poor run of form lately and losing to Derby County 2-1 last time out was the final nail in the coffin for Warnock as he and the club must have realised that they were not going to get promotion this season and are more likely to face a relegation battle with the table so tight at the moment. Even though they are 12th they are only five points above the drop zone and if the slide continues then it could be a very nervous end to the season.

Warnock isn’t a bad manager but maybe Leeds wasn’t quite the right club for him, he only won 23 of his 63 games in charge and with his previous experience of getting teams promoted, a lot more was expected of him. But in his defence he did lose his top scorer Luciano Becchio in January and it is difficult to replace someone that has scored 19 goals in the first half of the season. This could be Warnock’s last job in football and it is unfortunate that he ultimately failed but it just wasn’t to be and Leeds now need to move on.

Brian McDermott is the current favourite to be the new manager and with his recent record with Reading it is no surprise that he tops the list. He has a win record of 44.97% and it would have been even better had they not been on such a bad run in the Premier League before he was sacked. McDermott does bring some solidarity to his team and all of his players know their jobs, the only negative to that is maybe he doesn’t know how to change things when they aren’t going well. But I do think he would be a good choice.
Brian McDermott
Another name linked with the role is current Brighton manager and Leeds coach Gus Poyet and this would be an interesting choice and if they could convince him to leave Brighton then it would be a good move. In his first spell at Leeds he was quite well liked by supporters and some say that he was the better half of the partnership between him and Dennis Wise which could be true given what the two have done in recent years.
Gus Poyet
Finally, recently sacked Sunderland manager martin O’Neill could be in the running, however I don’t think he will want to drop down to the Championship just yet, unless it is with a club that is definitely going to back him and give him a chance of promotion straight away. O’Neill didn’t have a great time at Sunderland but it would be a great appointment if Leeds could get him, he would surely bring good attacking football back to the club and get them challenging at the right end of the table. I, personally don’t think he will join Leeds but they are a big club with a good fan base and that might just persuade him.
Martin O'Neill
Others linked with the job are Mark Hughes, Darren Ferguson and Owen Coyle.