Who will win the Championship?

The Championship is always one of the most exciting leagues in the world and is always one of the hardest to predict.

The relegated teams have a good chance of going straight back if they can keep hold of their best players and as we have seen in previous seasons sometimes the teams that get promoted into the league carry on their momentum and get a second promotion on the bounce.

The favourites to win the league are Harry Redknapp’s QPR and he does have experience of leading a team to the Premier League in Portsmouth so does know what it is all about and will surely get more out of his team than he did last year. The signings he has made so far have been very good and they will definitely be committed to the cause. Richard Dunne and Danny Simpson are both good enough defenders to still be in the Premier League. Karl Henry will add steel to the midfield and Charlie Austin is a proven goal scorer at this level.

Reading only had one season in the Premier League but they have got rid of quite a few of the players that helped them to promotion the last time but they have brought in some good players themselves that have Champions League experience in the shape of Wayne Bridge and Royston Drenthe. Nigel Adkins is a good manager and I feel that he will get the team playing decent football and will be right near the top of the table come the end of the season.

Bolton Wanderers will be hoping for a better year than last year and will hope that Dougie Freedman can do what he started at Crystal Palace in the early part of the season. He has made some strange choices in my opinion letting Marvin Sordell got out on loan when he has proved his ability in the Championship before. But in his defence he has replaced him with Jermaine Beckford who will be looking to prove some of his doubters wrong. Alex Baptiste, Marc Tierney and Andre Moritz are also solid signings.

Whether you agree with what they did last season you have to give Gianfranco Zola and Watford credit for getting the team together and playing as well as they did straight away. It looks like it is a similar story this year but using a slightly different loophole to bring in the players that they want from their owners ‘parent’ clubs. But the most exciting signing they have made in my opinion is Lewis McGugan because he has a decent goalscoring record and will be hoping that he can add something to the already talented team.

The team that I personally think will win the league are Wigan Athletic. The signings new manager Owen Coyle has made are already really consistent players, they may not grab the headlines but they do everything that is asked of them. James Perch, Stephen Crainey and Chris McCann all fall into this category. Then they have brought in more attacking players that will definitely get goals in Grant Holt and Marc Antoine Fortune. Also Scott Carson will be a brilliant goalkeeper and could get the most clean sheets. The only worry I have is if their campaign in Europe takes too much out of them.

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Assesment of English teams in Europe this week

The English teams in Europe this week all had tough tests and it ended up being a difficult time for some.

Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United all had games this week. To start with Manchester United were at home to Real Madrid and after getting a 1-1 draw in the away leg, they may have been slight favourites to go through and when they went 1-0 up at Old Trafford they seemed to have one foot in the next round. However, Nani was sent off and the game was taken away from the quickly with goals from Luka Modric and the returning Cristiano Ronaldo ending their hopes this season. The turning point was the red card and it was dangerous play but in my opinion it should have only been a yellow card and Man United should have been in the next round.

Should Nani have been sent off?

Should Nani have been sent off?


Now, the Europa League first legs were taking place and Chelsea were playing Steaua Bucuresti and Rafa Benitez wasn’t given any help from his opponents. His time at Chelsea has been pretty close to a disaster with a lot of people unhappy with him in charge and the players not exactly playing to the best of their ability. They lost 1-0 but should go through by winning comfortably at Stamford Bridge but it is going to be more difficult than Benitez would have hoped.
Will it ever turn round for Benitez at Chelsea?

Will it ever turn round for Benitez at Chelsea?


Tottenham Hotspur had possibly the best looking tie on paper and one that could have went either way against Inter Milan. But they were too strong against the team from Italy and made them look very poor. 3-0 did not flatter them and they possibly should have had more. Gareth Bale added to his growing reputation by scoring the first and Gylfi Sigurdsson and Jan Vertonghen were the other two scorers. Spurs do need to be careful and not concede early in the away leg but I feel they have done enough to get into the next round.
Will Bale become one of the best in the world?

Will Bale become one of the best in the world?


Finally, Newcastle United had the toughest tie in the Europa League but got through it and defensively performed brilliantly against Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala. They did not offer a lot going forward but could have nicked a result had Hatem Ben Arfa went for power instead of a chip. The two centre back James Perch and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa were fantastic and neither of them have been first choice in that position so far this year (with Yanga-Mbiwa only signing in January) and with Fabricio Coloccini injured at the moment they have both staked a claim for a starting place.
Newcastle's new Mr Consistent

Newcastle’s new Mr Consistent


So who had the best result in Europe this week? Who was the best player for an English team?

What is going wrong at Newcastle United?

Newcastle United slumped to their fourth straight defeat and look a long way off the team that challenged for a place in the Champions League last season.

So, what has went wrong? For me, personally, after watching them a lot both last season and this year there isn’t much of a difference at all, especially going forward. Last year, Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse didn’t click as a pairing and it is only in the spotlight now because the team aren’t picking up the points and anyone who points to this, has obviously not been watching the games from last year closely enough.

What has changed then? Defensively they look awful this year and last year Tim Krul kept a lot of clean sheets and this was a massive part of their success. All it required was one piece of magic from one of their main attacking players, whether that be Ba, Cisse, Hatem Ben Arfa or Yohan Cabaye. Last season, if Newcastle kept a clean sheet I was very confident they would nick a goal but this year they can’t keep clean sheets so they need something extra.

Injuries have obviously hampered the team, in particular the two French players, Cabaye and Ben Arfa because without them there is a clear lack of creativity. Just look at the midfield that started against Stoke City, Vurnon Anita, Cheick Tiote, James Perch and Jonas Gutierrez, every one of them gives something to the team, in terms of workrate and commitment but they aren’t going to create many chances for the front two, who can’t seem to link up, so a lot of the long balls which, Mike Williamson loves to play is pointless and is resulting in the opposition getting the ball back and launching an attack.

So, what can manager Alan Pardew really do? He needed to be backed in the summer by Mike Ashley but unfortunately he wasn’t and with the extra games in Europe and the injuries that are adding up, he is fighting a losing battle. He wanted to bring in quite a few players but it just didn’t happen and he actually wanted a goal scoring centre back and one point which turned into nothing and maybe that is part of the reason why the team can’t score from set pieces. Which is another thing that has been awful, both defensively and offensively.

I think the team will sort itself out and anyone that thinks Pardew should be sacked really needs to understand that stability is the way forward. The only worry I can see at the moment is if Newcastle finish midtable, other clubs will be looking to take their better players and with no Europe next season, they will be a lot more likely to leave. He needs to bring in players in January just to convince the rest of the players to stay, but the potential is there and we all seen last season that at times they can be unbeatable and have the players to really hurt the opposition. Finally, I would just like to say fair play to Pardew for not blaming the injury list on the teams form but if he had brought in more players in the summer, where would Newcastle be now?

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.

Newcastle United sign Romain Amalfitano

Newcastle United have signed French midfielder Romain Amalfitano as they look to add depth to their squad for next season.

Amalfitano scored six goals for Reims in the league

The club are obviously wanting to get their squad together for next year as they will be competing in Europe and will be hoping to progress quite far in the Europa League while still being competitive in the Premier League. The signing of a midfielder suggests that some players are going to be leaving later in the summer. Danny Guthrie’s contract is up and although I think he should get a new contract, the player himself probably wants to leave to get more first team chances as he is behind Cheick Tiote and Yohan Cabaye in the pecking order. With this news, he will most certainly be going and I’m sure he would have been a very good squad player which another team can take advantage of and he is currently being linked with Sunderland. The signing also adds to the speculation that Dan Gosling could be leaving as he has been continually frustrated that he hasn’t played that often and been restricted to substitute appearances. Since signing in 2010 he has only played 13 league games due to the fact he has had a lot of injuries and has been overlooked by Pardew many times when he has decided to play James Perch in the middle of midfield.

So onto Amalfitano himself, he is yet another player that has signed for the club that nobody knows and will be hoping to emulate the performances of players like Cabaye and Tiote. He is regarded as player with a lot of potential and now that he is 22 he also has enough experience to be able to cope with the move to England. The attacking midfielder will join the club on the 1st July after his contract expires at Reims. He has previously played for Evian and looked as though he was going to make an impact in the French leagues with some impressive early performances. He managed to score three goals 22 appearances.

Looking at his abilities and he is definitely a confident player that can change a game as he has a very good first touch and can see a pass. He also has a good strike on him and likes to try long ranged efforts. But his best attribute is his ability to break into the box at the right time and finish off chances, he is a similar player to Frank Lampard and if he can adapt to the Premier League quickly he could become a vital part of the team and could be crucial in coming off the bench and grabbing an equaliser or a winner.

This season he helped Reims get promoted back to the top French division and he will obviously join Newcastle with a lot of confidence and will be helped by Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye and Demba Ba who will all help him settle in. Hopefully this will be a signing to add to squad depth rather than replace one of their starters because their current first 11 have been linked away from the club.

 

Newcastle United’s front three the best in the Premier League?

Newcastle United’s first half display against West Brom was one of the best performances of this season as there three attacking players tore open Albion’s defence time and time again.

Hatem Ben Arfa, Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse all played a part in making it a torrid afternoon for their opposition and most teams in the country would have struggled against the pace and the movement of Newcastle’s front three. Hatem Ben Arfa had been criticised for his defensive work this season and this is why he struggled to get into Alan Pardew’s first 11 for a large part of the season but today proved why you cannot leave him out. He just gives the team something different, there are very few players in the world that can pick up the ball from inside their own half and beat three or four players before shooting or laying it off to someone else. He was simply unplayable in the first half and even in the second he managed to get on the ball and relieve some of the pressure that was being put on the defence.

The first goal was pretty simple but still required some craft as Jonas Gutierrez (he had a very good game and will not get the credit he deserves for his performance as the front three stole the limelight, any other game and he would have been close to man of the match) had to play through Ben Arfa who was not being tracked by a defender. His part in the goal was simple as all he had to do was put the ball across the six yard box which doesn’t seem that hard however we see it week after week that wingers struggle to put it in the right spot and the chance is missed. Demba Ba slid in and missed the ball but Papiss Cisse was on hand to finish first time, this does show natural strikers instinct from both of them as they were both onside but unchallenged. So it was fantastic movement from them both and very good concentration from Cisse as he had to watch the ball onto his foot and steer expertly into the net.

The second goal showed everyone what a quick counter attack is with Ben Arfa picking up the ball inside his own half and playing a few neat little passes with his teammates and then placing the ball past the diving Ben Foster. Cisse yet again played a part in the goal but the Frenchman will take all the credit as he ran a long way and there was no chance he was going to be stopped by the defence. His finish was pretty good too which any striker would have been proud of.

The third goal was pretty similar to the second as it was on the counter attack. Ben Arfa yet again picked up the ball deep and ran with it before sliding it to Ba who cleverly flicked it round the corner for Ben Arfa to put the ball into the danger area. It was slightly fortuitous as he was looking for Ba but he was bundled over and may have been awarded a penalty, and the ball rolled to Cisse who yet again produced a very good finish with his left foot.

A fantastic display from the Newcastle attackers but what I want to know is, why when Newcastle are performing well and have good attacking players do the defence look so weak and vulnerable to any attack? Mike Williamson had a shocker for the goal and he struggles when dealing with pace and movement. Danny Simpson is quite consistent but he does occasionally get beaten too easily and the winger has a clear cross or shot at goal. Davide Santon always looks more interested in attacking and taking players on. James Perch has actually proved he is quite good and was the best defender in the second half although he sometimes struggles too. When Coloccini went off injured the alarm bells must have been ringing in the Toon fans heads as he is a very good defender and is arguably one of the most in from defenders in the Premier League.

If they could sort out the defence Newcastle would certainly be a top 6 side consistently. This summer is massive for the Toon and if they can keep their best players and add to their defence they will have a very good chance of winning trophies which the fans desperately crave.

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.