Who will win the Premier League?

Manchester City won the title last season in the last minute of the last game which ended one of the best ever Premier League seasons.

This year in my opinion there are only three real contenders for the title but I will include five with two of them being very outside chances that even I don’t believe they could actually win it but you never know, football is a very strange game and even Blackburn Rovers have won a Premier League title (things were slightly different when they won it though).

Obviously, Manchester City are the favourites to once again win the title and they will be hoping it is a little more straight forward than last year. I don’t think I need to go into too much detail on why they could win the title because it is obvious, they have the players and now the experience of winning the big one, and they will want even more success. One thing that does worry me though is this change of formation manager Roberto Mancini is trying and maybe he should remember the saying if it isn’t broke then don’t fix it.

Alex Ferguson will want his title back and I think this is his last objective as manager of Manchester United. He won’t retire in my opinion until he has toppled the noisy neighbours and he obviously wants to do it this year with the signings of Shinji Kagawa and they expected arrival of Robin Van Persie. They already look a more attacking threat and if all the players click then it may be an even closer title race than last year, if that is even possible.

Chelsea will be hoping for a much better season than last year and they have made their intentions known to the rest of the country with their signings this summer, in particular, Eden Hazard who was wanted by pretty much all of Europe so it was quite a coup for them. The big question is whether Roberto Di Matteo is good enough to challenge for the title? Yes he won the Champions League and FA Cup last year but he was also sacked as manager of West Brom not long ago, to me , this was a harsh decision but it happened nevertheless.

Now, we get onto the outsiders. Arsenal could challenge for the title if there team can perform well together both offensively and defensively. Their new signings Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud all have a lot of ability but with their lack of Premier League experience they may not be at their best till half way through the season and by then it will be too late. Losing Van Persie will obviously weaken them so they cannot afford to lose anyone else and with Alex Song linked with a move to Barcelona they definitely need to keep hold of him.

From Arsenal to a team that may not even finish in the top six in the coming season, Liverpool. This can only go in one of two ways for me, 1) Brendan Rodgers gets the team playing brilliantly and they adapt to his style of play and new signing Fabio Borini and Luis Suarez both score goals for fun leading them to at least a place in the top four, or 2) The players just can’t get to grips with the new tactics and have yet another season of disappointment, finishing around 7th place.

Who will Jose Bosingwa sign for?

Jose Bosingwa has been told he can leave Chelsea after four seasons with the club and may be looking to stay in the Premier League.

Jose Bosingwa has won the Champions League twice in his career

Since moving to Chelsea in 2008 he has had an indifferent time sometimes being a very good full back as he looked good going forward and was also solid defensively, but at other times he has looked very poor when defending and was often dropped. Nevertheless he picked up three FA Cups, a Premier League winners medal and to top it off a Champions League winners medal so he can count his time in England as very successful. In his first season at the club he looked quite impressive and barely missed a game, playing 48 times, he also added two goals and six assists. But, after that he struggled with injuries and form and couldn’t really put a string of performances together. In the season just finished he played 34 times which was the most since his first season in England and he may have done enough to stay at the club, unfortunately for him, it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

So what does the future hold for Jose Bosingwa? Will he go back to Portugal and finish his playing career over there or will he remain in England? In my opinion there are a few teams that would be interested in him and could use his services. I don’t think he is good enough for a top four team but the 29 year old could make a massive difference to one of those that are challenging for Europe. Firstly, I think Newcastle United could be interested in him, although he doesn’t quite fit into the way they are conducting themselves in the transfer market, I think he would be worth a look at. With Danny Simpson not yet signing a new contract the club will be in need of an experienced right back, plus he has played a lot of games in Europe which would also benefit the team. However, they do have Ryan Taylor and James Perch who can play in there but I think that Newcastle will be looking elsewhere this summer so a move for Bosingwa is possible but unlikely.

Everton could be looking for a new right back this summer with Phil Neville getting older and may struggle to play every week. They do have Tony Hibbert as back up but for some reason he never seems to be able to keep his place in the side. A problem with signing Bosingwa could be his lack of consistency and his wages but if they can get him to lower his wage demands he should be interested in joining a club like Everton because every year they do fantastically well and have some of the best supporters in the country. Plus, David Moyes has a good record of getting the best out of players that didn’t quite cut it at teams like Chelsea and Manchester United.

Finally, I believe Fulham could maybe look at Bosingwa because they may look to improve that position this summer. With Aaron Hughes playing some of this season at right back it just shows that Martin Jol maybe doesn’t fancy Chris Baird or Stephen Kelly in that position. Jol likes his teams to attack and Bosingwa would certainly add a lot going forward so he could be a very good option. Fulham are a good attacking side under Jol and I think they would be a good team for Bosingwa to join.

With the Portuguese international being a free transfer it would be silly for teams not to look at him, I have enjoyed him in the Premier League when he has been on form but too often he has had off days. However, maybe it was the pressure of playing for a team like Chelsea that stopped him from playing his best football and every mistake he made was criticised heavily by the media and pundits alike.

Who will win the Championship playoffs?

It is that time of the year again and the unpredictability is bound to cause a lot of excitement for the neutrals but for West Ham, Birmingham City, Blackpool and Cardiff City fans it is one of the most nerve wracking times of the season.

So who is going to come out on top? West Ham will playing Cardiff at home in the second leg so does that give them an advantage over their Welsh rivals or does it not matter like in the Champions League this season where both away teams in the second leg went through. Will Blackpool’s attacking and sometimes gung ho tactics work against a hard working Birmingham side or will Chris Hughton secure a second promotion to the Premier League?

First of all, let’s start with West Ham as they finished third and were in contention of an automatic spot right up until the final day but ultimately lost out to Southampton. This can sometimes knock your confidence and the players may feel quite disappointed with their season as they were favourites to return to the top flight. But in there squad they have enough experience to steer them to Wembley and into the promised land once again. Their key player will be Kevin Nolan who is a fantastic player and in my opinion has been unlucky not to receive an England cap in his career. He can grab a goal from midfield and always seems to score important goals when he is needed, he may not have done as well as the last time he was in the Championship but he still needs to be watched and 12 goals this season has been quite a good return.

Birmingham City have had such a long season and there is a worry that they might burn out as they have played in the Europa League and took Chelsea to a replay in the FA Cup. But  don’t see this as a problem as they just keep getting better and better. With manager Chris Hughton in charge you know the camp will be in high spirits and everyone will be enjoying themselves. But maybe the speculation that West Brom are interested in Hughton might just put the players off slightly and they might lose focus but I honestly don’t think this will happen. The key player in my opinion will be Curtis Davies who has had a fantastic season and will want to play Premier League football next season. He has been a rock at the back for the club and has been crucial in their good form all season, he knows he will have to be at his best to keep out the opposition in the next few games.

Blackpool are also looking for an instant return to the Premier League under the always entertaining Ian Holloway. The way the team play their football is fantastic to watch and his players are very brave to keep playing the way they do which may give them the advantage in the playoffs and the fact they have won the playoffs with a very similar team only two years ago will also help their cause. Key player to watch for me is Kevin Phillips, he has scored 17 goals this season and is looking as threatening as ever, he may not be able to start both legs because of his age but when he is on the pitch his movement will worry defenders and like Nolan always has an important goal in him. With him on the pitch I think defenders know they need to mark him which gives more space for wingers Matt Phillips and Thomas Ince who on their day can take apart any defence in the Championship.

Cardiff City have possibly been one of the most unlucky teams in the playoffs with them losing in them time and time again. What has made it worse is that Swansea City are in the Premier League and are doing well. But manager Malky Mackay has brought together a new squad this year who look hungry and determined to get to the Premier League. The goals haven’t quite flowed as much this season as they have done previously but all that matters is that they are in the playoffs once again. Key player will be Peter Whittingham as he has really quality from midfield whether he plays out wide or in the middle and has contributed 13 goals this season as well as many assists. If he is on form it will be difficult for their opponents to stop him and he can change a game in the blink of an eye.

So now it is prediction time, I believe that the final will be between Cardiff and Birmingham with Birmingham winning the final. I just think that West Ham may crumble under the pressure and the expectations and Blackpool will be unable to break down the Birmingham defence often enough. In the final I think it will be a case of déjà vu for Cardiff and they will sadly underperform on the big stage.

Do you agree with my key players and my predictions?

Chelsea’s best performance for years is enough to beat Barcelona

Chelsea beat Barcelona 1-0 to give them an excellent chance of qualifying for the Champions League final but it is still a tough task.

Di Matteo has now won 10 of his 13 games in charge of Chelsea

First things first, Barcelona were not at their best and even though they weren’t at their best they still dominated the game and possibly should have won the game. They had numerous chances to work Petr Cech who did pull off a few wonderful saves but on the whole they just missed chances, hitting the woodwork and missing guilt edged opportunities. In particular the Cesc Fabregas chance which was brilliantly cleared off the line by Ashley Cole, but in all honesty should have been a goal and Fabregas should never have given Cole the chance to hack it away.

Onto Chelsea and what has on a whole been quite disappointing, it was  a very good performance by them and the goal they now take to the Nou Camp should give them at least a lift and a bit of confidence. Roberto Di Matteo should be getting praised for what he has done because under Villas Boas the team from London were going out of the Champions League and may have not got as far as they have done in the FA Cup. His team selection turned out to be perfect, choosing Didier Drogba instead of Fernando Torres. This was a very big decision and in the end it made the difference with Drogba scoring the only goal of the game. He may have split opinion on his performance with him at times looking very strong and powerful with the Barcelona defence struggling to cope with him then at other times flopping to the floor at the slightest touch. With a lot of controversy about diving at the minute Drogba didn’t do anything to help the situation but in his defence the opposition players were doing very similar things and maybe it was just a little more embarrassing to watch him do it because of his size. However, I thought he had a decent game and held the ball up well and allowed his team to push out at times, he also took his goal brilliantly.

The defence deserves the most praise out of everyone and that includes John Obi Mikel who was fantastic and sat in the back four cutting out a lot of the little through balls that Barcelona like to play. He did give away a few free kicks in dangerous areas but he kept possession well when he had it and nullified the threat of the oppositions attacking players. In the centre of defence John Terry had arguably one of his best performances for a number of years but man of the match for me was Gary Cahill, for a player to play the way he did just a few months after being in a relegation threatened side was unbelievable. I think Cahill is good but I have said it before that he struggles when a striker has clever movement. He dealt with Lionel Messi better than most this season and even when his team were under pressure he bailed them out with a last ditch tackle or block.

It must have been a fantastic night for the Chelsea fans but they and the team know this tie is not over and it will be a lot more difficult in the away leg but at least they have something to hold onto. There is far more optimism that they will be in the final now than there was when the draw was made.

Who will be the Premier League manager of the year?

As the season is nearing its conclusion it is going to be a very exciting time in the Premier League with the title yet to be decided, European places still up for grabs and the battle to avoid the drop going down to the wire. But now is also is the time of the year when awards are handed out and there are many contenders for manager of the year.

Harry Redknapp and Roy Hodgson both deserve a shout as they have done very well and are obviously the front runners for the England job because of the job they have done at club level but in my opinion Tottenham have done exactly as expected, challenged for the title for a while and then inevitably fell away and are now looking to finish in the Champions League places. West Brom have done slightly better than I expected but mid table is about right for them, however, they were pushing for a top 10 place before their recent slump.

So here are my five nominations for manager of the year.

Brendan Rodgers – Swansea City

Swansea have performed better than anyone could have imagined with an impressive home record and an improving away record, they have took to the Premier League like a duck to water. It is not only the results Swansea have picked up, it is the way they have done it and Rodgers deserves a lot of praise for this as he gives his players the confidence to go out and play. The play arguably the best passing game in the country and are never fazed by anyone and will continue to play their way no matter the opposition and Rodgers deserves credit for this. He has done it with a shoestring budget also and he is now linked with a move away from the Liberty Stadium because of how impressive he has been

Alan Pardew – Newcastle United

Newcastle yet again are another team that has performed a lot better than expected. After losing key players in the summer, they were expected to struggle but the players Pardew has brought in have been fantastic signings. Demba Ba, scored goals for fun in the first half of the Premier League and even though the goals have dried up, he is still playing very well. Yohan Cabaye, has dictated a lot of games from the centre of midfield and, although he would have liked more goals, has formed a very good partnership with Cheick Tiote. Finally Papiss Cisse has set the Premier League on fire with seven goals in his first seven games. Pardew hasn’t been given a lot of money but has spent it wisely and now Newcastle are back where they belong challenging for a place in Europe.

Paul Lambert- Norwich City

Yet another overachiever in Paul Lambert, Norwich have shown everyone why they deserve their place in the Premier League. Lambert went for determined players instead of experienced players for this campaign and it has worked out magnificently with Grant Holt being the second highest English scorer in the league even though it is his first season. The players clearly love Lambert for giving them this chance and they are repaying him for that. Maybe an outside shot for manager of the year but definitely deserves a lot of praise for the job he has done.

Sir Alex Ferguson – Manchester United

Fergie needs no introduction and it seems like he has masterminded yet another league title. Their rivals may have splashed the cash but this still has not been enough for them to wrestle the title away from the Red Devils, however, this could all change if United slip up in the coming weeks. Do we really see this happening though? This may be one of Ferguson’s greatest title wins because of the pressure they were under from the noisy neighbours but there is no sign that he is about to slow down and will be wanting even more success in the years to come.

David Moyes – Everton

Still the most underrated manager in the Premier League in my opinion because year after year he gets Everton into the top half of the table even when he loses his best players and is not given a lot of money to replace them. With his team currently in the semi final of the FA Cup and above Liverpool in the table, it has been yet another fantastic year. If he can add a trophy then he will surely go down as one of Everton’s greatest managers ever. Also, I think he is the man to replace Alex Ferguson at Manchester United so the Everton fans will need to enjoy this success while it lasts because I do not believe anyone else can do as good a job as he has done in the past 10 years.

Here are the five managers that I think deserve to be manager of the year and they are difficult to separate but I think Brendan Rogers should win the award and English teams should try and replicate what Swansea have done. So, who do you think should be manager of the year?

Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta makes it to 200 games in the Premier League

Mikel Arteta is set to become only the third Spanish players to reach 200 games in the Premier League when Arsenal take on QPR.

Arteta will be trying to help Arsenal finish third season

Cesc Fabregas and Pepe Reina are the only other two to reach the landmark but Arteta will be hoping that he will play a lot more games before he leaves England or retires. He first came to England in the January transfer window of 2005 when he signed for Everton on loan with a view to a permanent move at the end of the season to fill the gap left by the departed Thomas Gravesen. He was relatively unknown to English football even though he had a relatively successful spell in Scotland with Rangers but by the end of the season he was well known all around the country as he showed his fantastic passing abilities and his eye for a goal. He scored the first of his 33 goals for the club against Crystal Palace and was then signed by David Moyes at the end of the season for £2 million which now seems like a bargain.

In his first two full seasons with the Toffees he won the Player of the Year award and it seemed to be a pretty easy choice with him scoring three goals and providing seven assists in the 2005-06 season. The following year he arguably had the best season of his whole career scoring nine times and finishing third in the assists table in the entire Premier League with 12. In my opinion, Moyes deserves credit for Arteta’s career in England because he had been playing as more of a holding midfielder for his previous clubs and was just sitting in front of the back four so he could play passes but Moyes changed his game and made him more of an attacking midfielder so his passes would create more chances for teammates to score. In his remaining years at Everton, he didn’t quite hit the same amount of goals or assists but he was still very consistent and was one of the most underrated players in the Premier League. The Everton fans loved him but I think a lot of other fans didn’t quite see how effective he was but in their defence, to see how good he is you probably have to watch him for a full 90 minutes.

At the age of 30, it seemed to me like he was going to stay at Everton for the rest of his career but Arsenal reportedly offered £10 million for him. It must have been hard to take for the Everton fans that he got sold but in their manager and chairman’s defence they got a lot of good service out of him and made a profit of £8 million on him. He already has five goals for the Gunners and three assists which shows that his career is not coming to an end anytime soon. His free kick against Aston Villa was one of the best this season and with him already captaining the side in an FA Cup game against Leeds United, he could still play a very important part in Arsenal’s future.

A prayer for Fabrice Muamba

Bill Shankly once said ‘Football isn’t a matter of life and death, it is more important than that’ but right now football should mean nothing to any person after seeing what happened to Fabrice Muamba.

On the pitch we saw players demoralised, the tears were flowing from both sets of players and both sets of supporters with many of them including Rafael Van Der Vaart saying a quiet prayer. Everyone was very respectful and Howard Webb deserves some praise as he did not interfere with anything and didn’t even want to blow his whistle in case it distracted the medical team that were working on the young Bolton midfielder. Webb quietly spoke to all the players and both managers and made the obvious decision to abandon the game.

They were heartbreaking scenes even though anyone watching the TV coverage like myself did not see the actual moment when it happened. Afterwards, Kevin Keegan was clearly traumatised by the whole event as he was choked up and struggled to do his punditry work for ESPN. Just hearing people talk about the incident made people fear the worse and remember similar incidents over the years such as Marc Vivien Foe.

Football does not matter today and this will overshadow other players’ accomplishments today but who cares that Rickie Lambert scored a hatrick for Southampton or that Swansea beat Fulham comfortably, these events are massively insignificant. Just like if you are a Newcastle fan and are gutted that Sunderland are now close to getting to Wembley in the FA Cup, it literally does not matter what is going on anywhere else in the world of football, everyone should be thinking of the health of Muamba and not stupid petty rivalries.

The reaction of every footballer on Twitter has been very good as they have forgotten their allegiances and are just praying for Muamba like we all should be tonight.

Some people will argue there are more important things in this world and that people die every day all around the world but what they have to realise is that this young lad, he is only 23, was doing something he loved and was involved in the oldest cup competition in the world and would not have expected anything like this in a stadium full of people. He is a model professional and I will be hoping and praying that he pulls through even if he never kicks a football again I will be very happy and delighted because he always seemed like a good person and a good role model for young people. He has never really been in the papers for his personal life and when I wake up tomorrow I will be hoping that the football families’ prayers are answered and Fabrice Muamba is healthy and can enjoy more time with his family.

Ten years at Everton for David Moyes

David Moyes has reached a landmark that not many others do in modern day football and he deserves every bit of praise that he receives.

For 10 years he has been at Everton and has taken them to the FA Cup final and also to Champions League qualification. Who could have imagined this when he first took charge? Especially when at times in his reign he has been given very little money and had to replace players with cheaper options who he has made into very good Premier League players. Tim Cahill is one of these who owes his Premier League career to Moyes and he has served club and manager brilliantly. At the time of his signing a lot of clubs were looking at him but Moyes took a chance on him and he has repaid the faith with eight years loyal service and scoring many important goals.

Moyes became Everton manager on the 14th March 2002

Sometimes in football the stats do lie though and I believe the Scottish manager has been overlooked for arguably bigger jobs because of his win percentage which is surprisingly only 41.74%. But during this time he has got Everton into Europe on four occasions and in the last two seasons came very close to getting the team there again. But his real skill is in the transfer market, yes he hasn’t got them all right but nobody ever will, just looking at the players he has bought, when he signed them they were not necessarily household names but after a season or two they were considered some of the best in the league. Mikel Arteta is one of these who not many had heard of but he was vital in the way the team played and this led to speculation that he could leave the club which he eventually did when he joined Arsenal. Steven Pienaar is another great example of this.

He also doesn’t mind giving players a chance for example he signed Joleon Lescott and in my opinion he would not be at Manchester City if it wasn’t for the Everton manager because he took a chance on him even though he had never played a Premier League game. Leighton Baines is another, as well as Phil Jagielka. The lists just go on for him and his success far out way his disappointments in the transfer marker, even the experienced players he has brought in have made a positive impact, a lot of people may not have thought the Phil Neville signing was going to be good but his versatility has proved vital over the years and Tim Howard who was deemed a failure in the Premier League but was given another shot and he is arguably one of the best keepers in the league.

Finally, Moyes does not only rely on transfers, he is very good with the youth team, when they bring a player through he treats them right and does not let the spotlight get on them too much. When Wayne Rooney burst onto the scene it would have been easy for the pressure to get to him but Moyes didn’t allow that and I hope that Rooney realises one day how much Moyes did for him. You can add Jack Rodwell and Ross Barkley to that list as well.

It is remarkable looking back at his Everton career because there are so many positives in everything he has done but how different it could have been if he got sacked after finishing 2003-4 season in 17th place. But the board stuck with him and well done to them too. He three time LMA Manager of the Year and eight time Premier League manager of the Month will no doubt continue to do a very good job at Everton and I also believe he is one of the reasons why Everton are a lot of football fans ‘second team’ and this cannot be a bad thing for the club on a whole.

Stevenage on the promotion charge

I have been really impressed with Stevenage this season as they have been the surprise package in League 1 and could force themselves into the playoffs.

They gave Tottenham a real fright in the FA Cup actually taking the lead at White Hart Lane after earning a replay against them. Their league form has suffered slightly since the first game but still they have had a fantastic season and if they do end up in the playoffs they know they can give the bigger names in the division a really good game as results have proven this season. They are currently three points behind Notts County in sixth place but remarkably they have three games in hand so if they take full advantage they will comfortably overtake them.

Some people have criticised the way they play football because it is a lot of long balls but that is a harsh assessment of the team because they have some very good footballers especially in the midfield. They have also just confirmed the signing of Patrick Agyemang which could be a brilliant signing as he has fantastic ability with the ball at his feet and therefore will not want balls lumped up to him. If he produces to the standard he is capable then Stevenage have a really good player on their hands and could be the difference between winning the playoffs and just competing in them.

The only worry for the team is that they don’t have an out and out goal scorer but Agyemang may be able to change this. Currently their top scorer only has nine goals. However, Chris Beardsley adds so much to the game than just putting the ball in the back of the net and those nine goals could prove vital at the end of the season. He has fantastic work rate and holds up the ball fantastically, he knows he has to challenge for every ball and every defender who he has come up against leaves the field knowing they have been in a battle.

They do have some talent in their side and Scott Laird is one of them, he has now played over 200 games for the club and he has been very consistent for the team and might be attracting interest from clubs in the Championship. He has looked very composed at the back and rarely makes a mistake but it is also his attacking threat that makes him vital to the squad. He has seven goals this season and recently scored the winner away to Sheffield Wednesday.

Gary Smith hopes to lead Stevenage into the playoffs

It has not been an easy season for the club with former manager Graham Westley leaving after four years in charge and two promotions. He was replaced by Gary Smith who is adapting quite well to his first role in England and I’m sure will improve as time goes on. If they make the playoffs they are as dangerous as anyone and if I was another team in them I wouldn’t want to play them.

Sheffield Wednesday’s new manager Dave Jones

Dave Jones has been given the Sheffield Wednesday job after the club decided to sack their manager Gary Megson.

It was an interesting decision it itself to sack Megson who had just led his team to victory against Sheffield United, however club chairman Milan Mandaric had already decided to sack the manager after his team got beat away to Chesterfield. He said he did not want to ruin the Sheffield United game for the supporters and this is why he kept Megson in charge for it. So, at least he allowed Megson, the Wednesday fan himself, enjoy a victory over their biggest rivals which must be a moment he will never forget especially as more than 36,000 were at the game.

But, football moves on quickly so let’s have a look at Dave Jones, he has always been a respected manager and has always got his teams to play good football. He was most recently at Cardiff City where he was sacked because he failed to get them promoted. This might seem a bit harsh as they finished in the playoffs the year he got sacked but they failed to get promoted and it probably hurt that little bit more that Swansea did. He was very well received by the Cardiff fans and he had a good win percentage of nearly 42% at the club and did get them to an FA Cup final which is a very good achievement for a Championship side.

He did achieve promotion to the Premier League with Wolves and the Wednesday fans will be happy with this as they beat Sheffield United 3-0 in the playoff final. Jones, was however also sacked from this job after having an appalling season in the Premier League followed by just four wins from 15 games on their return to the Championship. He knows what it is liked to get sacked and with Mandaric in charge, who likes to sack managers, this will probably only end in one way. The Owls will only hope that this happens when the club are at least in the Championship and he has taken them as far as they can go.

The new man at Hillsborough needs to hit the ground running and get some victories under his belt as the fans may not take to him as quickly as they had done to Megson. Yes, Megson did play a long ball game but this was expected as all his teams have played that way and now it might be difficult for the players to get out of this mindset. But, Jones encourages passing football and it won’t happen overnight but when it does click all of his teams have played fluent attacking football and have been one of the most entertaining teams in the league. However, looking over his track record it hasn’t always brought success and this may be a bit worrying. Wednesday should finish in the playoffs but when a new manager comes in, the players step it up to impress and if they string a very good set of results together they could still end up in the top two.