Premier League 2017/18 Preview – Chelsea

chelsea

Image: Premier League

Chelsea’s dominance last season was not predicted by many, but the real test will be whether their squad can maintain a title push whilst also challenging in Europe. The main problem that Chelsea face is the expected loss of Diego Costa. Conte has replaced him, with Alvaro Morata coming in for £70m. Morata averaged a goal every 88 minutes last season for Real Madrid, but whether he can adapt to the Premier League straight away and replace the presence that Costa brought to the team. Michy Batshuayi will hope to get a chance to prove himself in Costa’s absence, after scoring 5 goals in just 239 minutes of game time last season. The Blues have also splashed out on Antonio Rudiger, providing them with a natural centre-back, rather than having to play full-back Cesar Azpilicueta as a part of the back three. Tiemoue Bakayoko has arrived from Monaco as an upgrade on Nemanja Matic, who has left for Manchester United, and support for N’golo Kante. Chelsea’s new signings will have to bed in quickly, as they face European-chasing rivals Tottenham, Everton, Arsenal and Manchester City before the end of September.

Key Player: Eden Hazard. The Belgian was Chelsea’s stand out player last season, contributing 16 goals and 5 assists. This was a huge improvement on his 2015/16 season, and Hazard will again be key to Chelsea retaining their title. With Morata being less of a complete forward than Costa, Hazard’s creativity will be relied upon to maintain Chelsea’s goals.

One to Watch: Andreas Christensen. It’s hard to pin-point a player to watch for Chelsea, as most of these are out on loan across Europe. But Andreas Christensen may be given a chance this season after impressing on loan at Borussia Mönchengladbach. With Kurt Zouma heading out on loan, Christensen could offer the rotation option as a part of the back three. The 21-year-old has experience of playing in Europe so should not look out of his depth when given a chance.

Last Season: 1st

Predicted Finish: 2nd

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Vinales Continues Pre-Season Form

Maverick Vinales is looking in top form ahead of the start of the 2017 MotoGP season. The Spaniard, who replaced Jorge Lorenzo at the factory Yamaha team, has topped the time sheets again after the three day test at Phillip Island.

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Vinales has now topped every test since his move to Yamaha (Valencia, the private test at Sepang, the Official Sepang test, and Phillip Island). Image: crash.net

Vinales was one of only two riders to record a lap time in the 1:28s, with world champion Marc Marquez also breaking the barrier. However it was the former Suzuki man that won out, topping the charts on both the second and third days and finishing 0.294s clear of the Repsol Honda rider.

It was a good test for Honda, as Dani Pedrosa, who missed the majority of day two due to a throat infection, finished third overall, and Cal Crutchlow was fifth. The LCR man was on form throughout the weekend, with a third place on day two and two fifth places.

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Jonas Folger finished the test as top rookie, less than half a second behind Vinales. Image: Motorsport.com

Rookies Jonas Folger and Alex Rins offered up some very promising performances, with Folger managing to shoot up to fourth on the final day. Rins managed to recover from a poor first day to best his Suzuki teammate Andrea Iannone, who struggled after a strong first day. The top rookie from the Sepang test, Johann Zarco, struggled in Australia, only recording a 1:29.67, putting him in fifteenth.

The title this year may be a two horse race between Marquez and Vinales. Valentino Rossi only finished in the middle of the pack, 0.921s behind his teammate. The Ducatis were improving though, as Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo finished seventh and eighth respectively.

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The KTM team unveiled their 2017 livery after the Australian test. Image: crash.net

It was a miserable test for the other Brits, as Bradley Smith, Scott Redding and Sam Lowes occupied three of the bottom four places. Smith and Pol Espargaro both showed signs of improvement on their KTMs, finishing half a second closer to the leader than they did at Sepang. Sam Lowes also improved on his Aprilia, despite not breaking the 1 minute 30 barrier, as he was 0.3 seconds closer to Vinales.

The final MotoGP test will be at Losail, Qatar, from the 10-12 March, with the season kicking off at the same track on 26 March.

Premier League gameweek 2: Unhappy return for Redknapp

Harry Redknapp’s return to White Hart Lane was a disaster for QPR, as they were demolished 4-0. Nacer Chadli bagged two goals, whilst Eric Dier grabbed his second goal of the season and Emmanuel Adebayor completed the rout. Louis Van Gaal’s reign at Manchester United continues to be unimpressive, as they were held to a draw at Sunderland. Juan Mata opened the scoring, but ex-Manchester City midfielder Jack Rodwell equalised with a header. In the final game on Sunday, a late Ryan Shawcross goal saved Stoke’s blushes against 10 man Hull City. James Chester saw red early on for the Tigers, but Nikica Jelavic managed to give them the lead from close range. However Shawcross’ scrappy finish gave Stoke the draw.

Chelsea maintained their perfect start to the season as they overcame a tricky game against Leicester. Diego Costa netted on his home debut and Edin Hazard made sure of the points. Swansea are another team with a perfect start, as the edged past Burnley 1-0, with Nathan Dyer breaking clear to score the winner.

Arsenal came from two goals down to draw 2-2 away at Everton. Seamus Coleman and Steven Naismith scored in the first half, but late goals from Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud maintained the Gunners unbeaten start. West Ham demolished managerless Crystal Palace 3-1 at Selhurst Park. Débutante Mauro Zarate and Stewart Downing scored two quick first half goals. Marouane Chamakh brought Palace back into the game, but Carlton Cole wrapped up the win for the Hammers.

Aston Villa drew 0-0 with Newcastle in this season’s first goalless draw. Newcastle were reduced to ten men late in the game as Mike Williamson earned two yellow cards. It didn’t take long for a second goalless draw, as Southampton drew with West Brom. James Ward-Prowse came closest for the Saints as his free kick struck the post, whilst summer signing Brown Ideye came closest for the Baggies, with Fraser Forster denying the striker after a clever turn.

On Monday, last season’s top two face off at the Etihad Stadium, as Manchester City play Liverpool.

Premier League gameweek 1: Swans stun Van Gaal

The biggest story of the opening weekend of the new Premier League season was Swansea’s stunning 2-1 victory over Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United at Old Trafford. Returning midfielders Ki Sung-Yueng and Gylfi Sigurdsson scored either side of a Wayne Rooney goal to secure Gary Monk’s team their first win at Old Trafford.

Newly promoted Leicester City secured a late draw at home to Everton through a Chris Wood strike. Aiden McGeady opened the scoring with his first Everton goal before Leonardo Ulloa equalised on his Foxes debut. Steven Naismith put Everton back in the lead but Martinez’s men were unable to hold on to the three points. QPR lost on their return to the Premier League as James Chester capitalised on some poor marking to head Hull ahead. Rangers had a chance to equalise from the spot as Chester was harshly punished for an alleged handball, but Alan McGregor saved Charlie Austin’s penalty.

Arsenal, fresh from their Community Shield victory, came from behind to beat manager-less Crystal Palace 2-1. Brede Hangeland headed Palace ahead, but Laurent Koscielny and Aaron Ramsey scored in injury time in each half to secure the win. Palace also had Jason Puncheon sent off. Arsenal’s north London rivals Spurs also opened their season with a win, 1-0 at West Ham. Spurs had Kyle Naughton sent off for blocking a goal bound shot with his arms, however Mark Noble sent the penalty wide. In the second half, things were evened up as James Collins was sent off for a second bookable offence. Débutante Eric Dier rescued Pochettino’s men as the defender broke through and scored in injury time.

At the Hawthorns, Lee Cattermole hit a superb opener to put Sunderland ahead but West Brom pulled level as Saido Berahino converted a very soft penalty. Berahino doubled his tally with a second half volley, but Seb Larsson rescued a late point for Sunderland. In the other match on Saturday, Aston Villa beat Stoke 1-0 through an Andreas Weimann goal, which Stoke’s Asmir Begovic would have felt he should have kept out .

On Sunday, champions Manchester City weren’t at their best as they edged past Newcastle 2-0. David Silva put the champions ahead after an excellent assist from Dzeko. But Newcastle responded well and had plenty of chances to equalise. Their inefficiency was punished as Sergio Aguero tidily finished in stoppage time to put City top of the league. Liverpool coped well without Luis Suarez as they narrowly beat Southampton 2-1. Raheem Sterling beat the offside trap to open the scoring, but Nathaniel Clyne powered in an equaliser after some nice interplay with Dusan Tadic. Southampton really should have taken the lead, but Morgan Schneiderlin crashed his effort against the bar whilst new signing Shane Long headed the follow up wide. Liverpool took full advantage of that, as Daniel Sturridge netted the winner after Southampton failed to clear the ball.

On Monday, newly promoted Burnley host championship favourites Chelsea.

World Cup 2014 preview – Groups A-D

In the first half of this World Cup preview, Groups A to D will be analysed to find out who will be the first eight teams in to the Round of 16. Brazil and Spain will have the highest hopes, but Croatia, Chile, Columbia, Uruguay and even England could be looking to be the tournament’s dark horses. A preview for Groups E-H will follow soon.

Group A

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Hosts Brazil kick off the tournament tomorrow against Croatia and are widely expected to claim a full nine points. Much of the pressure will be on Neymar, as he is expected to carry his nation to the trophy. Mexico, Croatia and Cameroon will all be fighting for the second spot, and with the Africans only arriving in Brazil a couple of days ago due to pay disputes, it seems that they won’t be gone for long. Croatia have the makings of a really strong side, with Modric, Mandzukic, Rakitic, Kovacic and Lovren all performing well in Europe’s top divisions. Mexico narrowly qualified for the finals, and are without the likes of Carlos Vela in their squad. Much of the Mexican goalscoring hopes will rest on Javier Hernandez, who has had a dismal year at Manchester United.

Qualifiers: Brazil (9 points), Croatia (6 points)

Group B

ImageGroup B is certainly a contender for the ‘Group of Death’ title, boasting Spain, Netherlands, Chile and Australia. Many are writing Spain off, and with a front line containing Fernando Torres, David Villa and a not fully fit Diego Costa goals might be hard to come by. Spain’s possession football should see them conserve energy in the tropical heat, which may be an advantage. The Netherlands squad contains a lot of players from the Eredivisie, especially defenders. This could be an advantage with the players knowing each other, but the strength of the Dutch division can be questioned. There will also be fitness concerns over talisman and captain Robin Van Persie and Wesley Sneijder. Chile showed their credentials last year as they stunned England 2-0 at Wembley. They have the potential to be dark horses in this World Cup, however Arturo Vidal may not be fully fit, resting much of the pressure on Alexis Sanchez. Australia have picked a relatively young side, with Mark Bresciano and Tim Cahill the obvious exceptions. In this way, this tournament will just be a learning experience for the Aussies, so expect them to take a few hidings.

Qualifiers: Spain (9 points), Netherlands (4 points – on goal difference)

Group C

ImageGroup C is possibly the most open group, as any of the teams could realistically hope to qualify. Columbia are the favourites, even without the injured Falcao. They will instead call on Jackson Martinez and James Rodriguez to carry the team, with a potential star Juan Fernando Quintero (above) of Porto tipped to be one of the tournament’s golden boys. It could be argued that the Ivory Coast’s golden generation is no past it’s peak, but they too could still qualify from this group. An ageing Drogba could be replaced by Wilfred Bony or Seydou Doumbia up front, whilst Yaya Toure is coming to Brazil on the back of his best season ever. Japan have the potential to spring a surprise or two. Playmakers Shinji Kagawa and Kensuke Honda will be looking to put their indifferent seasons behind them, whilst Shinji Okazaki scored 15 goals for Mainz last season in the Bundasliga. Greece are the outsiders of the group. They scored just 12 goals in 10 games a qualifying group that contained Latvia, Lithuania and Liechtenstein. Samaras and Mitroglou will have the unenviable job of trying to get Greece scoring, but they will probably rely on getting three 0-0 draws.

Qualifiers: Columbia (9 points), Ivory Coast (6 points)

Group D

ImageMuch of England’s hopes in Group D will rely on the mental strength of Roy Hodgson, and whether he is prepared to drop the likes of Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck should they not be on form – which they aren’t. Despite the low expectations, England’s squad has more than enough talent to beat anyone on their day, but with the nation behind them the question is: will they crumble? The likes of Sterling, Lallana and Barkley (above) could all be bright sparks in Brazil, but will Roy utilise them? Italy could go far at this tournament, with a very talented squad. The possible frontline of Balotelli and Immobile is a mouthwatering prospect, and with Pirlo and Verratti pulling the strings, Italy pose a serious threat. However they are slow starters, so England have the best chance of beating them by playing them first. The defence is also beginning to slow up, so the pace of Sturridge and Sterling could prove a vital weapon. Uruguay are much fancied to go far in this tournament, but they really have not shown any reason for this. With Luis Suarez an injury doubt, the only real threat they pose is through Edison Cavani, with an ancient Diego Forlan and Palermo’s Abel Hernandez joining him up front. In defence Uruguay look ropey at best, with West Brom bench-warmer Diego Lugano and Liverpool’s injury prone defender Sebastian Coates at the back. They struggled through to a play-off with Jordan to qualify, and again will struggle in this group. Costa Rica proved strong at home during CONCACAF qualifying, but struggled when playing away. Brian Oviedo will be missing due to injury, whilst English fans will recognise Arsenal’s Joel Campbell and Fulham’s Bryan Ruiz.

Qualifiers: England (7 points), Italy (5 points)

My team of the season

 The Premier League PFA team of the year (4-4-2):

Petr Cech (Chelsea)

Seamus Coleman (Everton), Vincent Kompany (Man City), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Luke Shaw (Southampton)

Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Yaya Toure (Man City), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Southampton)

Luis Suarez (Liverpool), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool)


The PFA team of the season was announced last night, with Chelsea and Liverpool dominating the team, with 3 players included from each. Manchester City and Southampton each have two players included whilst Seamus Coleman is Everton’s sole representative. Some notable exceptions from the team are David Marshall and Hugo Lloris, Chelsea’s John Terry, Liverpool’s much improved Jordan Henderson and Everton’s highly under-rated Gareth Barry.

This got me thinking about who I would include in my team of the season, and I have produced a First and Second XI of my players of the year.

First XI (4-4-2)

David Marshall

Seamus Coleman, John Terry, Gary Cahill, Luke Shaw

Eded Hazard, Yaya Toure, Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana

Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge

David Marshall has been a sensation this season, and has almost single handedly kept Cardiff from being relegated already. Boasting the highest amount of saves this season, in my opinion he deserves to be in the team. I agree with the defence on the whole, except I would pick Terry over Kompany. This is more an endorsement of John Terry’s performances over the season rather than an attack on Kompany’s ability. The Chelsea defence has been sublime this year, and John Terry has been at the heart of that. In midfield, I generally agree again, however I would select Jordan Henderson over his Captain Steven Gerrard. Henderson has improved so much over the past year and he really has stepped up when Gerrard was injured earlier in the season. Obviously, no team of the year would exclude the SAS strike partnership, who have made any other strikers look like Grant Holt. They have catapulted Liverpool to a Champions League spot and possibly more, and Suarez missed the first five games! They have netted 49 goals between them (with two games left!) and 33 assists, forming potentially the most formidable partnership in Europe.

Second XI (4-3-3)

Petr Cech

Nathaniel Clyne, Vincent Kompany, Laurent Koscielny, Leighton Baines

Steven Gerrard, Gareth Barry, Aaron Ramsey

Raheem Sterling, Wilfred Bony, Jay Rodriguez

It was a tough choice to leave Petr Cech out of the First XI. He has been as reliable as ever in goal for Chelsea and has the most clean sheets in the league. Nathaniel Clyne is a highly under-rated full back who many consider England’s best Right Back. Although he has had a tough season competing with Calum Chambers at Southampton, this has ultimately led to him improving as a player both offensively and defensively. Kompany and Koscielny have both had solid seasons, with the latter being part of a much improved Arsenal defence. Leighton Baines has been as you would expect – solid defensively and excellent going forward, and a constant threat from set-pieces.

Steven Gerrard has been sublime this year, but I believe that Jordan Henderson should be selected above him due to his improvement throughout the year. Gareth Barry has been hugely under-rated, and along with James McCarthy has covered every blade of grass at every Premier League ground this year. His discipline has allowed Everton’s more attacking players to flourish, sitting back so that Baines and Coleman could bomb forward. With his injury, everyone seems to have forgotten Aaron Ramsey’s heroics in the first half of the season. Although he has missed a large chunk of the season, Ramsey has improved massively and was a key factor in Arsenal’s early season rise to the top.

Raheem Sterling has really stepped up this season. Last year, I was unsure whether he was the real thing or whether he was just a quick winger with no real talent. But this year, he has stepped up with nine goals and six assists, proving that he has more to his game than just pace. Wilfred Bony has been one of the signings of the season, scoring 16 goals so far. Without his goals, and with Michu’s injury problems, Swansea could quite easily have slipped into the relegation dogfight. Jay Rodriguez has been in superb form for Southampton, with the only Englishmen scoring more goals than him being Sturridge and Rooney. Cutting in from the left with his pace, Rodriguez would probably have made Roy Hodgson’s World Cup Squad if he didn’t get injured against Manchester City.

Other players that I could have included:

Hugo Lloris, Tim Howard, Julian Speroni, Cesar Azpilicueta, Dejan Lovren, Curtis Davies, John Flanagan, Sylvain Distin, Joel Ward, Bacary Sagna, Pablo Zabaleta, Jonjo Shelvey, Steven Davis, Jack Cork, Tom Huddlestone, Jason Puncheon, Oscar, Christian Eriksen, Adam Johnson, Kevin Mirallas, Rickie Lambert, Sergio Aguero, Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie and more recently Connor Wickham.

Woeful Saints in City shambles

Manchester City 4 – 1 Southampton

Toure (Pen) 3′ , Nasri 45′, Dzeko 45+3′ , Jovetic 80′

Lambert (Pen) 37′


An injury which could potentially rule Jay Rodriguez out of this summer’s World cup summed up Southampton’s day, as they slumped to a 4-1 defeat at the Etihad Stadium. However, the big story of the day was more closely run, with a woeful display from both the officials and Paolo Gazzaniga competing for this.

Saints had made two changes to the team that beat Newcastle last week, with Gazzaniga in for the injured Boruc and Schneiderlin replacing Ward-Prowse, who dropped to the bench. City were unchanged from the side that drew with Arsenal, with Sergio Aguero deemed not fit enough to return to the squad.

The game began miserably for Saints, with Edin Dzeko taking on Jose Fonte in the box. Fonte lazily hung out his leg, and although there wasn’t enough contact to send the City striker sprawling, the referee gave the spot kick. Yaya Toure stepped up and sent Gazzaniga the wrong way. The early goal seemed to settle Southampton, though, as the away team controlled the possession throughout the first half. Despite a series of corners, Saints lacked a killer instinct, which wasn’t helped on 26 minutes with an injury to their top scorer. Jay Rodriguez landed awkwardly when attempting to control the ball. It was clearly a bad injury, with the England striker being stretchered off the pitch. It could potentially rule him out of the World Cup, which would be a real blow for him and England given his form this season.

Saints had their first real shot of the match from a free-kick, which Rickie Lambert curled wide from a distance. The Saints got their much deserved equaliser as Jack Cork burst into the edge of the box before being brought down by Pablo Zabaleta. Zabaleta protested, quickly moving himself outside of the box; however it didn’t stop Chris Foy awarding a penalty. Rickie Lambert stepped up and hit a powerful penalty just out of Joe Hart’s reach to maintain his impeccable penalty record for Saints. This came just minutes after City had a chance to go two up, when Edin Dzeko saw a free header crash back off the bar when he really should have scored.

Perhaps the turning point of the game happened on the stroke of half time, with Samir Nasri slotting home David Silva’s pass. Saints were aggrieved though, as Silva was clearly standing about five yards offside when he received Nasri’s flick through. Pochettino had hardly had time to make his point to the fourth official before City added a third, with a fantastic cross from Kolarov being glanced in by Dzeko. Gazzaniga will have to take the blame for this, as he was poorly positioned for the cross and completely missed it as he came flying out.

This appeared to knock the stuffing out of Saints, as they seemed unable to perform in the second half. Dzeko and Navas both had chances to put the game out of sight, and at the other end, Lambert dragged a powerful shot wide. Yaya Toure was booked for a second dive of the game, and Negredo was set through on goal, but he lingered on the ball for long enough for Jose Fonte to get a crucial tackle in. Any chance of a Saints comeback was put to bed with ten minutes to go, when Navas found space out wide to place a low cross past a flailing Gazzaniga for Stefan Jovetic to slot in to an empty net. Toure and Negredo had chances to add a fifth, but Gazzangia managed to keep them out.

As the final whistle went, it was clear that Pochettino felt aggrieved by the official’s decisions, even breaking in to English in his post-match interview, saying: “This action killed the game. The linesman killed the game.” Manuel Pellegrini was not in agreement though, explaining after the match: “They had the possession, but they didn’t have the chances to score. I cannot remember Joe Hart having to make a save”.

All in all, City clearly deserved the three points, but Southampton fans will have every right to feel hard-done-by by the officials today.

Ratings:

Manchester City:Hart 6; Zabaleta 5, Kompany 6, Demichelis 6, Kolarov 7; Fernandinho 6(Javi García, 45, 5), Yaya Touré 6, Nasri 7, Jesús Navas 6, Silva 7 (Jovetic, 77, 7), Dzeko 7 (Negredo, 65, 6)

Unused: Pantilimon, Richards, Lescott, Milner

Booked: Fernandinho, Javi Garcia, Yaya Toure

Southampton: Gazzaniga 2; Chambers 5, Fonte 4, Lovren 5, Shaw 5; Cork 7 (Wanyama, 80, 6), Schneiderlin 6, Davis 6 (Gallagher, 75, 6); Rodriguez 6 (Ward-Prowse, 26, 6), Lallana 6, Lambert 7

Unused: Cropper, Hooiveld, Clyne, Do Prado

Booked: None

Referee: Chris Foy 4

Match Stats

Manchester City – Southampton

Goals: 4 – 1

Shots On Target: 8 – 1

Shots Off Target: 7 – 4

Possession: 44% – 56%

Corners: 5 – 9

Fouls: 9 – 15

Bookings: 3 – 0