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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Players of the day- Andrea Pirlo and Mario Mandzukic

The games in Group C kicked off and all eyes were on Spain, Italy, Croatia and Republic of Ireland.

The first game saw Spain kick of the defence of their European Championship against Italy in what showed two very different styles of football. Spain with their short, sharp passing style and Italy with their focus more on defending and counter attacks. As expected Spain had more of the ball but strangely they decided to start the game without a recognised striker so they had six midfielders in their starting line up. However, it was the Italians who had the better opportunities and looked the more likely to score the opening goal which they did through Antonio Di Natale who scored with almost his first touch after coming off the bench with a fantastic finish. But, Spain hit back quickly with a very good goal themselves, David Silva slipped through a perfect through ball for Cesc Fabregas to run onto and score past the advancing Gianluigi Buffon. That is how it ended, but not before Fernando Torres missed two very good opportunities to win the game.

Man of the match- Andrea Pirlo- The midfielder proved his worth to the team and a lot of people that don’t watch Italian football would have been surprised that a player of his age still gets into their national side. Bu for Juventus this season he contributed a lot to their title winning side and provided a lot of assists. His game today was slightly different as he got through a lot of work defensively and had to follow the Spanish midfielders around and he was always there putting them under pressure, forcing them into errors. His pass to set up the goal in my opinion could be the pass of the whole tournament as it was perfectly weighted and allowed Di Natale to finish first time.

Pirlo got 13 assists for Juventus this season

In the second game, the goals came at perfect times for Croatia, just a few minutes into the game they scored, then just before halftime they added another. They finished the game off just after halftime. Ireland did manage to pull back an equaliser to Mario Mandzukic opener through Sean St Ledger but were never really at the races, although they should have had a penalty when Robbie Keane was fouled and Keith Andrews put a few efforts wide. The Croatians just looked the better side and they may not be the best at the back but going forward they will cause Spain and Italy problems.

Man of the match- Mario Mandzukic- The striker looked on top form and scored twice (the second one did hit the post and then Shay Given but I think it should be his goal). He caused the Ireland team so many problems in the air and on the floor, Richard Dunne couldn’t handle him in the air and Sean St Ledger couldn’t handle his movement so they will be happy to see the back of him. He even outperformed Nikica Jelavic which not a lot of players have done since he joined Everton in the Premier League so that shows how well he played. I’m sure Croatia’s playmakers Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic love playing with him as he always makes himself available for a pass and wants to get balls both into his feet and in the air.

Mandzukic has 30 caps for Croatia

Trapattoni’s Republic of Ireland looking good for Euro 2012

Sunderland’s James McClean has been rewarded for his brilliant form at club level with a call up to the Republic of Ireland squad for their forthcoming game against Czech Republic.

Trapattoni must have been impressed with the way he has took to the Premier League instantaneously after being pushed into the starting line up by new Black Cats manager Martin O’Neill. The winger will be hoping his good form continues as he looks to secure a place in the squad for Euro 2012. This may have been slightly surprising as the Italian manager had stated that he will stick with the squad that qualified for the tournament in the summer but when a player is on form, he has to be given a chance. Maybe some former England managers should have followed his lead as they have constantly picked players that are their favourites rather than giving someone else a chance.

But back to Ireland and the rest of their squad is pretty similar to what we are used to and the only other inclusion which may have raised a few eyebrows is Derby County midfielder Paul Green. Green, scored on his first international start and will be hoping to add to this against the Czechs and give the manager more selection headaches.

The rest of the team is as you would expect, Shay Given the undoubted number one is in there being backed up by Kieran Westwood and David Forde who have both played quite well this season when called upon but unfortunately for them, Given has remained as consistent as ever and will definitely start the Euros in goal unless there is an injury. In the defence, they are missing Richard Dunne who could be a big loss as he is a leader at the back and has been one of the best defenders and possibly most underrated in the Premier League. Shane Duffy has been called up as a possible replacement after looking solid for Everton in the five games he has played this season. So, the only problem is whether he is experienced enough to cope at international level. But, they do still have John O’Shea who has had a new lease of life at Sunderland and is benefiting from playing every week.

The midfield is looking exciting with quick direct wingers in McClean, McGeady and to a lesser extent Damien Duff, but in fairness to Duff in recent seasons he has adapted his game and is still causing opposition defences problems. Also Seamus Coleman is able to play on the wing and when he is on form he is most definitely an Irish version of Gareth Bale as he has the pace to beat players and can produce moments of real magic when his team need it.

Robbie Keane is still in the squad and during his loan spell at Aston Villa he has proved that playing in America has not made him a worse player and his career is not coming to an end. He scored some fantastic goals and his movement is still fantastic and he seems to have a good partnership with Kevin Doyle at international level and could be key not only in the upcoming friendly but the tournament itself. Jon Walters is another underrated player in the Premier League as he does a very good job at Stoke and works his socks off every game so the two upfront know that he will be waiting to take their place. Also the West Brom pair of Shane Long and Simon Cox are decent strikers that have scored quite a few goals in the Premier League between them this season.

Ireland are shaping up nicely for the Euros with a hardworking and organised squad combined with their little bit of flair and skill they could just spring a surprise this summer and give some of the bigger teams a shock. It wouldn’t shock me if they got further in the competition than England.

Young guns save Arsene Wenger and Arsenal

When you go 2-0 down at home, you look towards your experienced players to get you back into the game but not at Arsenal, although Robin Van Persie, Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott all played in part in rescuing the game, all the plaudits should go to a young Englishman and a Young Welshman.

Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain may have saved Arsene Wenger’s job and kept Arsenal in the FA Cup because they both played brilliantly in the second half to get Arsenal a victory that looked very unlikely at halftime. I have been praising Ramsey all season as one of Arsenal’s best players this season and if it wasn’t for the incredible form of Van Persie he would have easily won the Player of the Year trophy at the club. He plays with football in the right way always wanting the ball to feet and most of the time plays it simple and just gives it to a teammate but he also has the quality to unlock defences with his driving runs and precise through balls. The Welsh captain has so much energy and covers the whole pitch in a game, he is a proper box to box midfielder and although he may not be the best at defending he is always prepared to get back and help out his defence. The goal that got Arsenal back into the game was from the penalty spot which Ramsey won after a clumsy challenge from Villa centre back Richard Dunne who was lucky to stay on the pitch. However, it was fortunate that Dunne flung himself into the tackle because Ramsey had taken a loose touch and the ball was trickling through to the goalkeeper.

On the wing Alex Oxlade Chamberlain impressed me yet again after a good performance against Manchester United. His willingness to take players on and commit defenders shows that he is not scared of taking on the Premier League and maybe Wenger waited too long to put him into the action as Andrei Arshavin has had a horrendous season. In my opinion he has an outside chance of making Fabio Capello’s squad for the Euro 2012 because he would give England some additional pace and seems quite powerful especially for someone quite young. Although the problem is he will have to get past Aaron Lennon, Theo Walcott, Ashley Young and Adam Johnson just to have a chance of getting in the squad. In my opinion he actually looks better than Walcott, it would be fantastic to see them in a straight race as they both have exceptional pace but I believe that Oxlade Chamberlain may possess a better final ball and in time will create more chances for teammates and score more goals.

Yes Van Persie needed to stay calm and composed to score the two penalties and Walcott did show some great skill for his goal even though it did just end up deflecting off him but the two young guns deserve more praise as even in the first half they looked the best players on the pitch. Wenger deserves credit too as his team talk must have inspired his troops and maybe even Thierry Henry had a role to play in the dressing room. This is the type of heart and desire Arsenal fans were expecting all season and they have got to hope that the players show this type of commitment for the rest of the season so they can end their long run without a trophy