Should Steven Taylor have been called up to the England squad?

Steven Taylor has been in very good form in the last couple of weeks and possibly deserved a call up to the England squad this month.

Against Anzhi, he was yet again sublime particularly when Lassana Diarra looked certain to score not once but twice. The 27 year old put in two blocks and his contribution was arguably as important as Papiss Cisse’s last minute winner. This season it has been no surprise that when Taylor has been in Newcastle’s starting 11 they have performed better and looked a lot more solid with him at the back. One thing that does go unnoticed though a lot of the time is his passing accuracy, in recent games he has been close to 100% and he clearly has learnt a lot from his regular centre back partner Fabricio Coloccini in being composed at the back and building attacks from there rather than just sending it long and pointless as others do so often.

Taylor has been around the squad for a long time now since making his debut in the 2003-04 season and may feel that in that time he has deserved a call up to the full England squad. His record at youth level has been good for England and he even has a cap at B level but that full England cap still seems to allude him. He is everything you want in a centre back, he is brave and rarely loses the ball when it is in the air and has improved immensely when strikers or quick wingers are running at him.

With England struggling for options at the back these days it is a surprise to me that he didn’t get called up this time but if he keeps his current form for the rest of the season there is no doubt in my mind that the calls for him to be included in a squad will get louder and louder. There are only a few reasons why I think he won’t get called up and they are simply because England managers, including Roy Hodgson seem reluctant to come to the North East to watch Newcastle and Sunderland games so there is very little chance of a call up from either squad. But, possibly another reason is because he sometimes does things that are very strange and his antics could be costing him. He seems to do some things to get the crowd going and to get a cheer rather than just being more professional, an example of this is when he has laid on the ground to header the ball instead of just clearing it with his foot. Also, his actions towards Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic in the recent win showed a different side to him and if he did that on a national level it would be much bigger news and he would be criticised for it.

For me though, Steven Taylor should be in this England squad and could have even started because he is in better form than Chris Smalling. With Michael Dawson and Gary Cahill given opportunities already and not really making the position there own it may have been better to try someone like Taylor. Then there is Rio Ferdinand, is he still good enough? He probably is and I think Taylor and Ferdinand would have formed a great partnership.

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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?

Game, Team and Player of Matchday 4

Yet another weekend has passed and the league is now starting to take shape with the likely frontrunners being Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City. The bottom of the table is also one many expect it to be come the end of the season with Southampton propping up the table and Reading only just above them. But with Liverpool, Sunderland and Norwich still not tasting victory they are not too far away from the other teams in the league. However, Liverpool showed signs of improvement at the weekend and will not be down there at the end of the season.

Now onto team of the weekend and I would just like to say that the game at Goodison Park between Everton and Newcastle United was definitely a tale of two halves. If Everton had played the way they did in the first half for the full game they would have won the game comfortably, but then again if Newcastle had played the way they did in the second half they could have come away with all three points. But football is a 90 minute game and a team that did perform for most of the 90 was definitely Aston Villa who have been steadily improving under new manager Paul Lambert. They picked up a great point away to Newcastle and followed that up with against previously unbeaten Swansea City. It will be a morale boosting win and exactly what the club needed as a whole because a defeat would have been hard to take especially when they played so well. Along with the good result, Paul Lambert will be pleased that two of his summer signings Matthew Lowton and Christian Benteke scored their first goals for the club. But, the clear and deserved winners are Arsenal. The only disappointing thing about their game is that they conceded a goal after a mistake by Wojciech Szczesny. However, their impressive front line made easy work of Southampton and they could have had more than the six they did score. The goals came from Lukas Podolski, Gervinho and Theo Walcott and two own goals. A lot of people wrote off Arsenal and I still don’t think they will challenge for the title but they should have a great chance of finally winning a trophy. A word of warning though to Arsenal fans getting carried away, every season there is a score line like this at the Emirates and the players haven’t been able to maintain this kind of form in the bigger games.

Player of the weekend is a battle between the players that scored twice for their clubs in my opinion and they are Demba Ba, Jermain Defoe and Dimitar Berbatov. So, let’s start with the Fulham striker because when he is happy, he plays sensational football and at home in particular he will be a threat to every team. The way he took his first goal was sublime and the way he placed it was so casual that you can just tell that he does that sort of thing every day and doesn’t think anything of it. It wasn’t just his goals that was impressive, it was his movement and he just has a knack of finding space near the opponents goal. His ability has never been in doubt but he showed the Fulham fans that if they play to his strengths he will score and create chances for his teammates. Jermain Defoe is playing in a position that he is slightly unfamiliar and that is as a lone striker. Usually, a lone striker is someone that can hold up play and bring others into play but this is almost the opposite of what Defoe wants to do. As soon as he gets the ball, there is only one thing on his mind and that is to get a strike in on goal. Reading had no answer to his movement and could only watch on as he expertly finished two of his chances in their game. My player of the weekend though is Demba Ba and I know he only played 45 minutes but when a single player can change the fortunes of a team in that short space of time, he deserves a lot of praise. Within a few minutes of coming on he had got Newcastle level and they looked a completely different team and then when it looked like his team were going home with nothing he reacted brilliantly to a superb knockdown from Shola Ameobi and placed a shot underneath Tim Howard.

I think it is pretty obvious which game impressed me the most and got me the most excited but still there were some entertaining games, in particular the Arsenal game and the Tottenham games. Arsenal created chances at will and scored goals for fun and Tottenham followed suit a day later but couldn’t quite get as many goals. Both of the newly promoted teams also scored past them so that may give them confidence for the future, but they should probably put these games behind them and move on. So, my game of the weekend, Everton versus Newcastle, this game had absolutely everything, goals that should have been given and ridiculous refereeing calls, as well as goals and missed chances. The most entertaining few moments of possibly the whole season occurred during this game, Victor Anichebe got a header in on goal which goalkeeper Steve Harper tipped onto the bar with Mike Williamson clearing it, however the ball was over the line, but the referee and his assistants missed it which led to a counter attack for Newcastle which saw Hatem Ben Arfa running with the ball against one defender with Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse breaking either side of him making it a three on one situation. However, they were stopped in their tracks when the referee called the game back for a free kick on Ben Arfa even though he had regained his balance and was looking to beat the defender. Two very bad decisions in the space of about 15 seconds. A draw was probably a fair result even though both will feel they could have grabbed all three points. Plus, Everton had a goal disallowed for offside even though Marouane Fellaini was onside so they may feel slightly more annoyed by the result.

Do you agree with me? Who stood out for your team this week?

Will Clint Dempsey leave Fulham this summer?

The Clint Dempsey transfer saga could run and run for the whole of the summer and come down to the last day.

Dempsey has scored 50 Premier League goals

Fulham will definitely not want to lose one of their main players and it seems like the player is very happy at the club but money talks in football and I am sure he is a very ambitious man and will want to have a better chance of challenging for trophies. Also, he seemed to thrive under the pressure of playing in Europe so he will want to have another go in the Europa League as well seen as though he got so close to winning it a few years ago. Dempsey scored 23 goals in 46 appearances last year and this has made him hot property with a number of clubs keeping tabs on the situation. With 17 goals in the Premier League he has just proved his quality finally as I believe he has been one of the most underrated players in the league for a number of years now. If he was slightly younger then he would go for a much bigger price but he is 29 and can be a star for a while to come.

Liverpool have been the team chasing his signature all summer so far with manager Brendan Rodgers confirming the club have had contact with Fulham over the player and they have been reported several times to be close to signing him. However, not everything you read in the papers is true and they may not have bid for him as they may not want to pay the price Fulham want for him. He is a very good player and can fit into many different systems which is obviously very beneficial to any side and he will provide a goal scoring threat from either one of the front three or even one of the three midfielders.

The American international would be a very good fit in my opinion at Arsenal as they seem to lack a goal scoring midfielder these days and with the expected departure of Robin Van Persie they need to try and replace his goals with someone experienced in the Premier League. For too long Arsene Wenger has tried to bring players through or sign younger players but now they could be dropping out of the top four and something needs to change if they want to keep up with the top teams. If they could get him for £10 million then it would be an absolute steal.

Finally and a little surprisingly Newcastle United are linked with him and as much as this would be a good move for all parties, I just cannot see it happening with Newcastle seemingly focused on other players and them targeting younger players so they have a better resale value in years to come. It is a possibility as he would add a lot of quality to the squad and take a bit of the goal scoring pressure off Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse, plus they are playing in Europe this year so he probably would be willing to join. But I really just don’t see it happening at all.

Who will Junior Hoilett sign for?

Junior Hoilett is looking for a new club this summer after leaving relegated Blackburn Rovers and has plenty of options.

Hoilett scored 14 goals in 92 games for Blackburn Rovers

The wide man enjoyed a very good season last year in a struggling Rovers side and was one of their bright spots in a poor season. In his 34 league games he scored seven goals and got seven assists which is impressive for a lot of wingers, however, it is just not good enough for a team in the Champions League in my opinion. Chelsea would be the most likely as they are heavily linked with Victor Moses and I think Hoilett is slightly better than him. There are rumours that he could still sign a new contract at the Ewood Park club but I don’t think he wants to play in the Championship and he is better than that. He served the club well playing almost 100 games and I’m sure the fans were happy with his commitment and his performances over the last few seasons.

QPR are currently the favourites to sign him and he does seem to be a Mark Hughes type of player and that is someone that likes to play wide but cut in and get shots away. They are in need of wingers too as Shaun Wright-Phillips has struggled and never really made a positive impact since moving to the club and Jamie Mackie who had an ok season in my opinion is just not good enough if QPR want to move forward. I’m sure Bobby Zamora, Andy Johnson and Djibril Cisse would much prefer to see Hoilett on the ball out wide than their current players as he just has that unpredictability that is needed at times.

Another club that could be interested is Newcastle United as he would fit into the style of football manager Alan Pardew wants them to play. If he did sign then they would have a frightening attacking line up in Hatem Ben Arfa, Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse and Junior Hoilett on the left. The only problem that this would lead to is their fullbacks wouldn’t get much protection and it would be very harsh just to drop Jonas Gutierrez after everything he has done for the club. I think this could be a good move for both club and player but I don’t see it happening because Hoilett may want too high a wage.

Finally, a little surprisingly to me Everton have been linked with him as just said he will probably want a high wage and Everton don’t usually give out that big a wage. But, if they could convince him to sign then he would certainly create chances for Nikica Jelavic and with the team already having a lot of good passers in their midfield, he would just add something different and if he could get crosses in then it would probably help Tim Cahill rediscover his goal scoring touch.

I think he will sign for QPR as they could be a surprise team this year and challenge for the top half of the table and with a bit of luck maybe a European place through a cup competition. Plus, they have the finances to give him a very good wage.

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?

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.

Shola Ameobi slays Sunderland yet again

Shola Ameobi has done it again against Sunderland and secured a vital point for Newcastle in a game that seemed to be drifting away from them.

He has not always been the most liked player and has been slated by many fans over the years but when it comes to the Tyne Wear Derby you know exactly what you are going to get from him. This was his seventh goal against Sunderland in only 12 games and this is why he will always be a cult hero. Only Jackie Milburn has scored more league goals in the derby than him. He may have got a bit lucky with his goal as Mignolet should never have been beaten at his near post with such a weak effort but at least he was in the position and connected with the ball.

It was a blood and thunder derby especially in the first half with many bookings and eventually early in the second half a red card which meant that recent signing Papiss Cisse could not really get into the game and makes you wonder if Pardew made the wrong choice. Everyone knows that Sunderland are sacred of Ameobi and he should have started. He didn’t have the greatest of days, Pardew, as Davide Santon was not looking very weak at the back and maybe Ryan Taylor should have started over at left back because when Hatem Ben Arfa came on he changed the game and put Newcastle on the front foot. He has at least given himself a good chance to start in the next game just like Ameobi has.

This day is about Shola and even though his record overall isn’t the best he does add something to the team whenever he plays, it was only a few weeks ago that he was a very important player in the game against Manchester United and although he didn’t score he should have been given a lot of praise for his performance. He has been at Newcastle his whole career (apart from a short loan spell at Stoke City) and you can see how much he loves the club and will do anything for it and anything to secure points for the team.

Shola now has 7 goals against Sunderland

He has never been a prolific goal scorer with him never getting to double figures in the Premier League and this is quite remarkable as he has played a lot of games and should have a higher scoring ratio but there is no doubt that he was a vital part of the team that won the Championship and got the team back to where they belong.

I hope he enjoys his goal and it lives long in the memory of the Toon fans because it has allowed them to have the bragging rights this season and if you are from the North East you understand how important not losing this game is. Sunderland will be devastated and they should feel a little ashamed of themselves especially club captain, Lee Cattermole who got himself sent off after the final whistle for verbally abusing the referee. You had your chance Sunderland and you blew it.

Papiss Cisse to sign for Newcastle

Newcastle United have once again shocked fans but this time somewhat surprisingly it is in a positive way. Papiss Demba Cisse is close to joining the club from German side Freiburg. The Senegalese striker is expected to sign before he goes away for the Africa Cup of Nations to join up with current Newcastle striker Demba Ba.

This may come as a surprise to the Toon faithful as they were not expecting to sign a striker this January because their manager Alan Pardew said it was unlikely they were going to sign one after Modibo Maiga failed a medical. There were rumours that they were in the market for other strikers and in particular Andy Carroll who left the club at this stage last season.

Mike Ashley will be hoping this will at least get the fans off his back for a short period of time after he controversially renamed St James’ Park, The Sports Direct Arena which caused a backlash not only from fans but also from pundits who categorically said they will always call the ground St James’ Park. Adding this to the many other things he has done such as sell the club’s best players such as Carroll, Kevin Nolan, Jose Enrique and Joey Barton and then not spending a great deal of this money on replacements. All you have to look at is the fact that they sold for Carroll for £35 million and replaced him with Demba Ba who was a free transfer. Although, with Ba already hitting 15 goals for the club and Carroll struggling at Liverpool this seems to be a good decision.

But back to Cisse who has been on fire this year scoring nine goals in 15 games and last season scoring 24 goals in 34 games. He is the type of striker you need in your team because he is a great finisher and seems to put away a lot of chances as his goals to game ratio suggests. He likes to play on the last man and never panics when running through on goal in a one on one situation with the goalkeeper. A major plus for Newcastle is that he has played with Ba before with Senegal where he also has a good record scoring seven goals in 12 games. He is a goal scorer and the Newcastle fans will be hoping if and when he does sign that he can adapt to the Premier League quickly and aid them in their quest to finish in the top six this season.

However, there will be a few cynical Newcastle fans who will be thinking that they are only trying to sing Cisse because they have already accepted a bid from someone for their leading marksman Demba Ba. Therefore Mike Ashley has only signed Cisse as a replacement for Ba rather than to pair the two together, but in my opinion this seems unlikely as the two will be together with the Senegal squad and surely Ba will have a major influence on whether he signs. If he is leaving why would he tell another player to join the club?