Top 10 January 2016 Transfer Window Signings

10 – Anthony Knockaert (Standard Liege to Brighton)

Brighton had a fantastic start to the season but recently they have lost their form and are in a real battle to stay in the playoffs. They needed a spark and Knockaert could just make the difference come the end of the season.

Anthony Knockaert

9 – Steven Caulker (QPR to Liverpool)

This might seem a strange one but Caulker has a lot of potential and at the age of 24 he could go on to become one of England’s leading centre backs. He is better than what Liverpool have, if Klopp stops playing him upfront.

Steven Caulker

8 – Leroy Fer (QPR – Swansea)

Yet another QPR departure and with them getting relegated from the Premier League last year it would seem like they don’t have the quality but in Fer they had a midfielder that can really grab hold of a game which Swansea are in need of.

Leroy Fer

7 – Gianelli Imbula (Porto to Stoke City)

When he joined Stoke eyebrows were raised, especially when they broke their transfer record to bring him in. £18.3 million is a lot of money but Mark Hughes feels he needs more power in central midfield and is the replacement for Steven N’Zonzi.

Gianelli Imbula.jpg

6 – Steven Naismith (Everton to Norwich City)

He was not prolific for Everton but he can score goals when given the chance. He has got off to a decent start at Norwich and they certainly need more goals in their team if they want to stay in the top flight.

Steven Naismith

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Reading in the Championship

Reading have returned to the Championship after just one season in the Premier League and they will be hoping to return under Nigel Adkins.
Reading
Adkins is a good Championship manager and I expect him to put together a side that will challenge for promotion and I personally feel that Reading could be the most likely of all the relegated teams to get back into the Premier League at the first time of asking. The former Southampton manager does obviously have a promotion under his belt and this will stand him and the players in good stead as they already know what the Championship is about. It may have been an unsuccessful season in the Premier League but I do not think the club are in a bad position and relegation is not a disaster, but the most worrying thing for the fans is the fact that they did not invest very much in the playing squad and that ultimately cost them. They have recently released five players and I was a little confused by some of the decisions because they would have been good players in the Championship. Noel Hunt and Simon Church can score goals in the second tier so I expected at least one of them to stay.

Looking at the players that can get them promoted they certainly do have some quality especially for the Championship. Alex McCarthy was called up to the England squad for the game against Brazil and this just goes to show that he has a lot of quality and they do need to keep hold of him because he impressed me and will be vital. New signing Wayne Bridge is also a good addition because he proved at Brighton last season that he can be one of the best left backs in the division and his experience will be crucial.
Wayne Bridge
Reading’s midfield is interesting because a lot of them fall into the category of too good for the Championship but not good enough for the Premier League. This includes Jobi McAnuff and Jimmy Kebe, their pace and directness is effective in the Championship but for some reason they just could not replicate it last season. I do really like Danny Guthrie and think he should still be a Premier League player and he proved at Newcastle that he can be a good player and is usually consistent but it has not quite worked out for him at Reading and I think he owes the fans a good season next year.
Reading v Crystal Palace
Adam Le Fondre needs to be used more next season because in my opinion and especially under Adkins he was not played anywhere near enough. He is a goal scorer, yes he might not add much in terms of build up but he certainly knows where the goal is. Reading are lacking in the forward positions but Nick Blackman could be a good signing in the long run, he only played 11 times and eight of these were from the bench so he also did not get much of a chance.
Reading v Everton

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 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.

Intersting ties in the 3rd of the FA Cup

The draw for the 3rd round of the FA Cup is one of the most exciting days in the football calendar as it can throw up fixtures that nobody will have even imagined.

Clubs from the lower leagues want to draw a big Premier League side and this year hasn’t disappointed in that respect, with the winner of Lincoln City and Mansfield Town hosting Liverpool. This will add even more incentive to the replay and both teams will be hoping that the likes of Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez will be visiting their stadiums in the very near future. Personally, this is what makes the FA Cup special and in recent years the competition has lost a little of its spark but a tie like this will get a lot of attention and possibly even a giant killing.

Two other teams that have to play again are Harrogate Town and Hastings Town and these will be equally looking to win their game after seeing the draw as they will get to travel to former Premier League side Middlesbrough. The team from Teeside may not be in the top league anymore but under Tony Mowbray they are certainly challenging for a place in the playoffs at least.

Looking at potential upsets in this round, you certainly don’t have to look further than Brighton as they have been drawn against Newcastle United, who they also beat in the competition last year and with the Europa League participants not having the best of times at the moment, I expect this game to be on television so more viewers can see if Brighton can win. Other similar to this are high flying Crystal Palace against Stoke City. The Championship side will be looking to test themselves against an experienced and consistent Premier League side and if they can get through the tie then their fans will be optimistic for the rest of the season and their challenge in the Premier League if they do get promoted at the end of the season.

Two more potential shocks in my mind are Crawley Town vs Reading because Reading may be distracted by their own league form and may discount the cup this season. Also, Luton Town vs Wolves could be a potential shock as going away to a non-league side is always difficult, no matter what position you are in.

Finally, the FA Cup also throws up a few interesting all Premier League ties and this year the biggest one is probably West Ham United and Manchester United who will both be looking for good cup runs this year. West Ham may have hoped for an easier tie but you cannot count them out and will be doing all they can to qualify for the fourth round. Swansea have been given an equally difficult draw at home to Arsenal, but their last performance against the Gunners will give them a lot of confidence but Arsene Wenger really needs a trophy this year and the FA Cup may be the last one they can realistically go for.

Who will be the next Swansea manager?

Swansea City are looking for a new manager after Brendan Rodgers decided to leave for Liverpool and will be hoping their new man can continue the good work of Rodgers.

Swansea finished 11th in the Premier League

It was a bit of a shock to me how well Swansea did in the Premier League this year and the problem with success is that your best players will get linked with moves away from the club and on some occasions like this, the manager also gets offered new jobs. Liverpool must have been difficult for the Northern Irish man to turn down and I’m sure all the Swansea fans will wish him every success but personally I believe he has took the job too early and could be yet another flop at Anfield. He should have stayed with the Welsh side and tried to keep them up for another season because of a few reasons. One being they gave him a chance in the Championship and Premier League after he failed at Reading and another reason being second season syndrome. Towards the end of last season, Swansea were getting found out and teams knew how to beat them for example Newcastle United set a blueprint of how to beat them when they won at the Liberty Stadium 2-0 and they may struggle next season.

So I think the next manager has to get it right and not only continue the work that Rodgers has started but also develop a little bit more of a plan B. Graeme Jones has been made the favourite, this seems strange to me as he has no experience of managing in the Premier League and even though he is a very good assistant we have seen recently that it doesn’t always mean you will be a good manager. Terry Connor failed to win a single game when he was appointed Wolves manager and a few years ago when Sammy Lee took over from Sam Allardyce at Bolton he ultimately failed. So I think this would be very risky and they should look elsewhere.

Personally, I think they should try and get Ian Holloway, he has proved he can overachieve with teams in the past and it was very impressive the way he has got Blackpool challenging for promotion again after losing many key players in the summer. However, he has only managed one season  in the Premier League and it obviously ended in relegation which would be quite worrying for the fans. Holloway, would follow the same style of football as Rodgers and may even make them more adventurous which would add something to their game.

Gus Poyet, is also linked with the job and he also likes to play a passing game at his current club Brighton so it would be easy for him to adapt his tactics to the way Swansea already play. At Brighton he has won 46.15% of his games which is quite impressive considering they only just gained promotion to the Championship and were close to getting into the playoffs last season. It may be too early in his career to get a Premier League job like this but he could still succeed as I think he will become a very good Premier League manager in the future so could just need a chance.

Dave Jones is also one of the favourites for the job and I just think this is a very strange one as he has just got Sheffield Wednesday promoted and will not want to leave them so soon and I cannot imagine the fans taking too kindly to a former Cardiff manager being in charge. He does have Premier League experience and does like to play good short passing football but other than that, I don’t see why he is even linked with the job.

This could be one of the most important managerial decisions Swansea will have to make as staying in the Premier League is a must not only for them, but for English football, as more teams that get promoted will feel that playing football can keep them up, instead of long ball tactics as a lot of teams revert to when they gain promotion.

Solid defensive work at Newcastle United

Newcastle moved up to fifth place with a victory over Blackburn with a very good defensive performance. Mike Williamson, Fabricio Coloccini and Tim Krul have been getting praise and all season and rightfully so as yet again they both out in flawless performance. Mike Williamson has came back into the team in recent weeks and yes he has problems when dealing with players with a bit of pace and good movement but when the ball is in the air he is one of the best as he very rarely loses a header. With Steven Taylor missing, the club needed Williamson to step up as last year he started off very well but fell away towards the back end of the season and was dropped after a few dismal performances particularly against Liverpool at Anfield.

In the full back areas they also have players that are consistent rather than brilliant but this has worked for the team so far this season. Danny Simpson at right back at times looks very good and dependable but then at other times he looks very suspect like against Brighton in the FA Cup when he was beaten far too easily on the halfway line and it eventually led to the winning goal. He does always provide an attacking threat and constantly tries to put crosses in although his final delivery can also be very inconsistent and lack the necessary quality for the Premier League. On the other side Davide Santon has had a decent start to his Newcastle career, but like Simpson can look suspect defensively, like against Fulham when in the second half he was targeted and led to a capitulation eventually losing the game 5-2. But going forward he is confident with both feet and likes to play the ball around, he seems to be developing a good understanding with Jonas Gutierrez who in my opinion can make any left back look good because he is always helping them and providing support and not leaving them too exposed. It is a great credit to Gutierrez but you can definitely see why Santon was very highly rated at Inter Milan.

But I am going to give a lot of praise to James Perch who for long periods has been criticised by the Toon faithful because of some of his performances from the early part of last season. He tried to make tackles he couldn’t win and was inevitably booked, he was caught out of position and I’m sure not many will forget his own goal against Stoke. But this season he has turned a corner and has become a fantastic addition to the Newcastle squad as he has played at centre back and the centre of midfield and has not disappointed anyone. He came on at halftime in the game against Blackburn and deserved man of the match because he changed the game as at the end of the first half Rovers began to take control of the game and it looked as though they would get an equaliser. But Perch came on and steadied the ship and made some vital blocks and put in some good challenges and then when he had the ball played it simple.

It just shows in football how quickly opinions of certain players can change very quickly and James Perch deserves praise because he has clearly trained hard and wants to become a success at St James’ Park so he deserves a lot of credit for this and I just hope the fans will now cheer his name when it’s read out.