World Cup preview – Group C

From two groups with perhaps clearer outcomes, we turn next in our previews of Brazil to Group C, AKA Group of Chaos. This looks like being a cracker.

Columbia

Falcao will be a huge loss, but perhaps not a decisive one for the group stages.

It would be entirely easy to look at Columbia and assume they’ll be at an advantage due to being a South American team playing in South America. But you have to turn back to France ’98 in the midst of the Faustino Asprilla era for their last World Cup appearance, and Italia ’90 for the last time they got past the group stages.

That said, there’s something about this Columbian team. An impressive qualifying campaign saw them finish 2nd to Argentina, with Radamel Falcao scoring 9 in 13. He will be a huge loss, but in Ramos, Bacca and Martinez they do still have goals in the side.

Prediction: 1st, as a result reaching the Round of 16 for the first time in 24 years.

Greece

A great day for football…

A resigned sigh is quite often the reaction you get from many to news Greece will be at a major footballing tournament. Dull to watch, destroyers of the beautiful game, they know all the labels people have thrown at them over the years. But credit where credit’s due – they’ve achieved success in the past with limited talent. Were Greece a Premier League manager they’d be Tony Pulis – you may disagree with their methods but you can’t disagree with their results.

And they’re at it again. They are somehow at the World Cup despite scoring just 12 in 10 games. To put that in context, that’s 1 more goal than Wales managed, having played 2 more qualifying games. The Greeks conceded just 4 in qualifying, the Italy-based Vangelis Moras and Vasilis Torosidis playing a large part. The Giorgoses Karagounis and Samaras add the experience further afield.

Prediction: A 2nd place finish that will frustrate the neutral the same way the Greeks frustrate their opponents.

Ivory Coast

A magnificent season at City, but can Yaya single-handedly push the Elephants through the group stages?

In Yaya Toure, the Ivory Coast undoubtedly have the star player of the group, and arguably one of the best midfielders at the tournament – at the peak of his game, joining them after a fine season. Him aside, the Elephants also have Wilfried Bony fresh from an excellent first season with Swansea, and the seasoned Didier Drogba comes into the tournament with a reasonable year at Galatasaray.

On paper there are goals in this side. But you can’t paper over the cracks of the Ivorian defence, which as ever looks like being their Achilles Heel. They could be in for some high-scoring games in the group, Greece apart. If they’re on their game, they could win the group – overly shaky at the back and they could finish last. Fine margins, and difficult to predict.

Prediction: 3rd, with a critical clanger or two from their defence which the Elephants will never forget.

Japan

Honda – key man.

In a group too close to call, Japan also represent a genuine contender for first. Quarter finalists 4 years ago, they come into the tournament after a qualifying campaign they flew through with ease – the first team to qualify for Brazil. Yet they failed to get out of the group stage at the Confederations Cup last year and are again another very unpredictable outfit.

The Shinjis Okazaki and Kagawa offer goal threat up front, despite the latter Shinji’s rather lacklustre season at Old Trafford (though he’s certainly not alone there). Milan’s Keisuke Honda will as ever be central to any success.

Prediction: an unlucky 4th, with fine margins denying them success this time out.

Written by @josephclift

World Cup preview – Group B

Our look at the World Cup switches to Group B, which sees the finalists in South Africa reunited straight away. Dreadful bad luck on the other two, but is there a surprise on the cards?

Spain

New York City FC – the first team ever to have 100% of it’s playing staff at a World Cup

Despite their disastrous final against Brazil in the Confederations Cup, Spain remain in an strong position to become only the third nation to retain the World Cup trophy – the first since Brazil in 1962. But no European team has ever won the tournament on South American soil.

Iniesta remains key, and both David Villa and Diego Costa will want to carry their good form with Atletico through to this tournament. A slight question mark has got to hover over Casillas in goal given his bit-part role at Real last season and his clear rustiness in the Champions League final.

Prediction: 1st

The Netherlands

Can van Persie ensure van Gaal heads to Old Trafford on a high?

Louis van Gaal has nothing to lose, the Man United job safe and secure regardless of how the Dutch perform, but he’ll want to leave on a high. It’s tough to see them replicating their performance in South Africa, but a team with van Persie, Sneijder, and Robben will always have a decent chance of progressing.

Though they were frustrated for large parts by a Baleless and Ramsey-free Wales side recently, Spain apart they should clearly have the beating of the rest of the group. And the world can’t wait to see de Jong have another go at the Spanish midfield.

Prediction: 2nd

Chile

Expect Sanchez and Chile to give the others in the group a run for their money

The possible surprise package of the group, Chile raised a few eyebrows in their friendly with England. The ever-busy Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal comes to Brazil in fine form, while Alexis Sanchez did well at the Nou Camp last season and scored both goals in that win over England.

Chile have the misfortune of being in a group with the previous finalists. They reached the knockout stages last time out, and in 1998, but you have to go back to their 3rd place finish in 1962 for any spell past the Round of 16. Pleasing on the eye, unpredictable, with stars in good form, there’s definite shock potential here.

Prediction: 3rd, just missing out narrowly. But they will have three decent games.

Australia

The lone bit of Aussie goal-threat, but Cahill is not what he was – much like his national team.

If Chile represent the one uncertainty of the group, Australia represents the cast iron guarantee of a bottom place finish. 8 years ago in Germany, they matched an Italian side that went on to win the tournament, losing only to the dodgiest of dodgy penalties. But that golden team of Viduka, Kewell, Schwarzer, and Craig Moore, is no more.

Tim Cahill and an unfit Mark Bresciano represent the experienced heads in an otherwise youthful Socceroos squad, which is captained by Palace’s Mile Jedinak. But this is very much a developing team, and it’s tough to see them mustering any sort of challenge to the group.

Prediction: Cannon fodder for the other three, 4th all the way.

Written by @josephclift

World Cup preview – Group A

In the run-up to Rio, it’s time for our preview of the group stages of the World Cup. First up, it’s Group A, aka the ‘Brazil and one other’ group.

Brazil

It’s all about this guy

A weight of expectation on the shoulders of this team and coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. The one-time Chelsea flop has made some tough decisions on this squad, with Coutinho, Kaka, Robinho, Ronaldinho and Moura all enjoying the tournament with a caipirinha in hand as they watch from their living room.

Their absence reflects an abundance of exciting talent in Scolari’s squad, which stormed through last year’s Confederations Cup. Neymar ran the show in their recent friendly, scoring his 32 in 49 games for Brazil. He and Fred should have excellent tournaments, with Sideshow Bob at the back providing the unpredictable entertainment.

Prediction: comfortably 1st

Croatia

Best World Cup run since 1998 for the Kovac Bros?

Disappointed not to qualify for South Africa, Croatia come into the tournament with low expectations. With the Kovac brothers at the helm, they could be the surprise team of the group stages, with an attractive-looking midfield in Modric, Rakitic and young hopeful Kovacic potentially causing a few problems.

At the back, they have in Southampton’s Lovren a player in fine form, while up from they will miss Mandzukic through suspension for their opener in Brazil. It’s 6 years since the horror tackle on Eduardo, who with 29 goals for Croatia is 2nd only to Davor Suker. When people think of great Croatian moments in tournaments, his chip over Schmeichel remains the main notable one. It’s time for them to add to it.

Prediction: 2nd, and their first knockout stages since their excellent France ’98 showing.

Mexico

Four Mexican coaches since 2013. Chaotic.

Four Mexican coaches since 2013. Chaotic.

With a qualification run that seemed more turbulent than busting a Mexican drug cartel, Mexico will need to really rise to the occasion to avoid an early trip home. Firing de la Torre, Tena, Vucetich all in 2013, and winning just two of ten qualifiers, they ultimately arrive in Brazil due to the fortune of having faced New Zealand in a playoff.

Current coach Manuel Herrera has not had a great lead-up to the tournament, losing to Bosnia and Herzegovina 1-0 in a recent friendly and seeing players like Javier Hernandez coming to Brazil off the back of a poor season domestically. It’s tough to see how they get out the group

Prediction: 4th, and adios.

Cameroon

Who will create chances for Eto’o?

Ever unpredictable, Cameroon also arrive in Brazil with very low expectations. And we’re not going to raise them here. Two dire qualification rounds for the Cup of Nations that saw them fail to meet the finals, and off the field there has been all sorts of turmoil.

They do of course have Samuel Eto’o as an option up front and the promising Vincent Aboubakar, but it’s tough to see where the creativity will come from as much rests on the shoulders of Alex Song. Stephane Mbia has had a great season Sevilla, putting to rest that disastrous season at Loftus Road.

Prediction: 3rd

Written by @josephclift

With Hope Everything Is Beautiful. Pochettino to Spurs

Five years.

A PR gesture, or a change of tact?

Hopefully the latter. In my opinion we’ve picked the best man for the job, considering the options. LVG would have been an interesting choice, but did he ever want it?

Poch quickly won over the Saints faithful with his attractive style, and the media with his canny attitude (photo: Telegraph)

It’s easy to see why Spurs have gone for Poch. He managed the media well at Southampton – using an interpreter to act almost like a shield at times, as everyone knows he speaks English. But he was canny in how he managed his communication. Spurs are nothing if not PR-sensitive, that would not have gone unnoticed. He will also be a young face for the Spurs brand to sell to marketing departments of brands around the world, in the US and China especially.

He was dropped into a civil war it seems with some players and fans unhappy at Adkins’s departure and the British press even more happy to jump on him at any opportunity. But he won them round. He did that by playing fantastic football, putting youth at the centre and adding smart signings like Lovren at the back.

Similarly, we can look at Espanyol, his only other job. He had 3 years there, bringing them from the bottom to a respectful place in La Liga, with Pep even saying: “There are teams that wait for you and teams that look for you: Espanyol look for you. I feel very close to their style of football.”

But Poch is no pushover, “He makes you work like a dog,” said Osvaldo in a fantastic piece by Sid Lowe on Poch’s time at Espanyol, “But it works.”

The Spurs squad is a funny mix. Less English than before and with players who have seen a lot of managers in their time. It will be key to see how some of those players, Lennon (if he stays) and Dawson (ditto) in particular, respond to it. Attitude is an interesting facet of that squad and of modern football, will our players respond?

The newer players, especially those from the continent – and I am guessing this is the hope – will be looking forward to it. So will, one would especially hope,  Eric Lamela. You do not make a £30 million investment without trying to bring out the best in him, or indeed Soldado. Both are players we want to see the best of, both the Club and the fans will be hoping Poch will be able to.

In youth Spurs trust? (photo: AP)

On to youth. We have the best training complex in the Premier League, bar none, if not the best in Europe. We will, and are, producing better players in the younger age groups. Bentaleb was subject to some awful abuse at times, for simply being appreciated by Sherwood. That reaction was unfair – we should want our young players to be tested. If they fail, then we learn fast, but we should be mixing youth and experienced talent. We’re not going to compete with City and Chelsea for big players, we need to be smart in purchasing the best young players and developing our own. More Dortmund than Bayern.

I am excited for Poch’s arrival. It is a risk, but I hope that the players respond. I also hope that the management and fans give him time. He may just be the right one.

In the Spurs lifecycle, we’re at the ‘Hope Stage’, it’s pre-season, the best time to be a Spurs fan and we have another new Head Coach. Let’s hope we don’t repeat the last 2 years and become another Tottenham statistic.

As ever. We hope. Because with hope, everything is beautiful, right?

Written by @rktweets

 

Season review 2013/14 – Southampton

As Mauricio Pochettino is confirmed as the new boss at White Hart Lane, and with Lallana and Shaw linked with big money moves away from St Mary’s this summer, we ask @louisekyme to put aside the panic and anger and look back at another excellent season on the pitch for Southampton.

Pleasure to watch or utter disaster?

It won’t be a surprise for anyone to hear a Saints FC supporter say what a phenomenal season it has been. This was the season when even the most patronising ‘top 6′ fan got scared to play us. There have been peaks and troughs – from beating Liverpool at Anfield, sitting pretty in 3rd place 11 games in, followed by a tough Christmas period, then regaining form in the New Year, before finally finishing with the highest points tally the club has ever experienced. We stated we were aiming for the Champions League, and we weren’t far off. From day one to the last, following this team and their efforts has left every resident of Southampton bursting with pride. And it’s not just the results, it’s the way they did it – sublime, dominant football. With a team full of home grown talent. And proper nice guys. That has been the Southampton Way.

Who’s been this season’s hero?

England’s star at Brazil? (photo: Football365)

Adam Lallana – captain, player of the season, he took his play to the next level this season. He’s always been the most talented Saints player on this pitch, but under The Manager’s influence he got more ruthless, more direct, less lightweight. The Manager compares him to Messi, and while some might mock, the fact he’s being discussed as England’s big hope in Brazil shows how much we need him to be that great. And I think he will be – the thing about Lallana is he’s always involved – there’s never the Rooney-style risk of loss of form or ‘disappearing’ from the game. Lallana has been on form from start to end of season, and his workrate is as good as any defensive midfielder. Get ready for something special this summer.

And the villain?

Dani Osvaldo. Headbutting team mate Jose Fonte. The less said the better!

Manager’s report

The Manager had a fantastic 2013/14 – he’ll be elsewhere in 2014/15 sadly. And, knowing Spurs, somewhere else again in 2015/16 (photo: Express)

I could write so much about him, but news today is he’s left for Spurs, and right now I’m struggling to write his name. Hopefully I’ll be in a better place next week, because he deserves to be written about as a Saints legend. But right now, that’s what makes it all the more sickening.

Best signing

Lovren. Taught our defense how to communicate. Classy player.

Worst signing

Osvaldo. Needs no explanation!

Rising star

Tough to pick as so many rising stars at Southampton. But I’ll go for Sam Gallagher – an 18 year old who made his debut against Arsenal and pulled them apart. He hasn’t quite hit his stride yet, but I don’t think it will take long. His movement just needs a visionary to spot. Maybe Gaston Ramirez is the one to provide that. If he stays…

Highlight of the season

Too many highlights to choose from. But in order:

  • Rickie Lambert scoring for England on his debut with his first touch.
  • Sitting at 3rd in the table 11 games in.
  • Lallana, Shaw and Lambert selected for World Cup.
  • Beating Liverpool.

Low point of the season

Right this moment. The picking apart of the most talented team in the League. A team that were proving you can challenge the depressing inevitability of the English Premier League.

And Cortese leaving – because we all know what is happening now wouldn’t have happened under him. But, by god, what a five year journey it was under Cortese. I feel privileged to have experienced it. Thank you Nicola.

It’s now up to the Southampton board to show their hand. Are they aiming for Champions League? Or are they satisfied with lower/mid-table results? We’ll understand more once we see how ambitious their managerial choice is…

I’ll remember this season for…

The most exciting, raw, talent-filled sporting experience to have witnessed. I can’t overstate how much fun it’s been. Even if it’s now disintegrating.

Season review 2013/14 – Sheffield Wednesday

While most neutrals will have seen the cup exploits of their Steel City neighbours this season, events at Hillsborough have largely gone under the radar other than Dave Jones’s removal. Wednesdayite Neil Piper gives his take on what exactly has happened to Sheffield Wednesday this season.

Pleasure to watch or utter disaster? 

‘Poor, good, average.’ Those were the words Head Coach (not Manager) Stuart Gray used when asked to describe the season in three words at a recent Hillsborough fan event. It is hard to disagree with this honest assessment. The start of the season was perhaps a little more than poor, given that it took until 2nd November for Wednesday to register their first win. To put this stat in even starker terms, the game was the Owls’ fourteenth of the season in all competitions. Most Wednesday fans hoped that a similar pattern to last season would follow; that the 5-2 thrashing of playoff contenders Reading, delivering the first victory, would be a springboard to greater things. However the result was merely a ray of sunshine in a rainy autumn as three consecutive defeats followed – a run that resulted in the removal of Dave Jones on 1st December.

Under Gray, the Owls secured safety with three games to spare, which considering they were six points adrift and bereft of confidence on his appointment is quite an achievement. In terms of the quality of football on display, Gray’s three words above are perhaps the best assessment I can give. There have been some excellent performances, such as the 4-1 home defeat of Birmingham and the 3-0 win over ‘Arry’s QPR. These have been interspersed with some shockers – the 2-1 home defeat to Charlton in the FA Cup with a quarter final date against Sheffield United beckoning, was particularly tough to take. Overall, we finished two places higher than last season but with less points gleaned. Average seems about right then.

Who’s been this season’s hero? 

It would be difficult to lay this accolade at one player’s door, so I’m going to go with Stuart Gray. At the time of his appointment he was considered a placeholder for a bigger name and I believe he has done as well as, if not better, than any of the names (Ian Holloway, Steve Evans, even Neil Warnock) bandied around at the time would have done.

And the villain?

Llerror-prone – the Spaniard’s leaves Hillsborough following a patchy year

It’s probably too easy to give this one to Dave Jones, although I’m sure a large number of Wednesday fans would. In recent games, the error-prone ‘defending’ of Miguel Llera has been reason for a number of goals conceded so sadly, as great a servant and fan favourite as he has been, I’m going to have to give it to the departing Spaniard.

Manager’s report

After a difficult start to the season, it was always going to be an uphill battle for Dave Jones. Jones is very much a manager in the true sense of the word, leaving the majority of the training ground work to his coaches and seeing himself as a ‘wheeler-dealer’ in the transfer market. Results on the pitch were awful and other than a couple of exceptions, the performances even worse. It does make you wonder exactly what he spent his time doing considering the turnaround his successor achieved in such a short space of time. Where Jones can be given some credit is in the development of the football side of the club off the field. The introduction of the development squad and the expansion of our previously threadbare scouting staff were areas of progress that the Liverpudlian played a hand in. It’s just a shame that he didn’t spend more time focusing on the primary objective of any football team – winning first-team football matches.

As above, I think Stuart Gray has done an excellent job with limited resources. He has played our most intelligent footballers and brought in some useful loan players. After announcing the release of eight players earlier this week, it will be interesting to see how the career-assistant /interim manager will handle building his own squad.

Best signing

There were a number of players who joined on loan or short-term deals that contributed to the Wednesday cause over the season: Connor Wickham, Matty Fryatt, Leon Best, Glenn Loovens to name a few. But I’m actually going to cheat a little here and say our best signing was Chris Maguire. Although signed under Dave Jones in the summer of 2012, Maguire saw little to no playing time in his first season at Hillsborough and under Gray he has been arguably like a new player and our best performer, chipping in with vital goals and finishing top of the scoring charts with ten goals from an unfamiliar midfield position. If he continues to develop next season, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him earn a place in the Scotland squad.

Worst signing 

If you’d have polled Wednesday fans on this question at the turn of the year, it would have been Atdhe Nuhiu. The 6ft 6inch striker struggled to adapt in the early stages of the season but he has gradually won fans over and at the age of twenty-four, he could play a big role next season. So, perhaps by default, I will have to go with Kamil Zayatte. The ex-Hull defender showed promise in pre-season to earn a two year deal but was at the heart of a leaky defence in the early stages of the season before spending the final few months injured.

Rising star

Liam Palmer won the Owls Player of the Year award and his versatility and maturity beyond his years, should be valuable assets for years to come. But I’m going to go with Caolan Lavery. An early-season loan to Plymouth gave the young striker the opportunity to play league football and his goal-scoring and general play were highly praised. He returned to Hillsborough, scored twice in the 6-0 drubbing of Leeds and hasn’t looked back.

Highlight of the season

Jubilation following Maguire’s injury time winner in the Yorkshire derby (Photo: Sheffield Star)

I hate to mention that win over Leeds again and whilst that was particularly enjoyable, it wasn’t my personal highlight. Chris Maguire’s 97th minute winner over local rivals Barnsley brings back great memories not least for the celebrations that followed. The sight of the afore-mentioned Nuhiu sprinting from the substitutes bench (he had been taken off earlier having missed numerous chances) down the Hillsborough side line to slide in celebration in front of the Kop was both fantastic and hilarious to watch.

Low point of the season

The one nil defeat to Doncaster Rovers at home in late September. We had dominated the game and a quick break away led to the only goal of the match. After that result, it was hard to see where our first win of the season was going to come from, or if it ever would.

I’ll remember this season for…

…being eerily similar to last season, with a little more breathing room at the end. There are some encouraging signs at Hillsborough. Milan Mandaric’s investment at academy level is starting to prove beneficial and the cull of out-of-contract players raises optimism that one year stop-gap solutions won’t be sought as readily as they were last season. With three or four quality-over-quantity signings, we could be challenging for a top half finish, but it wouldn’t surprise me if history repeated itself for a third season in a row.

Season review 2013/14 – Liverpool

With Brendan Rodgers’s spell as David Brent in Being Liverpool a distant memory following the progress made across the previous season, expectations at Anfield were already high last August. We asked Nick Moss (@dnsandnick) for his take on their eventful season. 

Pleasure to watch or utter disaster?

One prong on the Liverpool trident (Photo: PA)

This barely needs to be covered! Watching Liverpool stream forwards – the trident of Sterling, Suarez and Sturridge – was so thrilling for their movement, pace, and incisiveness. And because, like any good action film, disaster was only just around the corner. Or more accurately, at the other end.

Who’s been this season’s hero?
Suarez, then Sturridge, then Gerrard, then Sterling as the season went on. Underpinned by Henderson’s persistence.

And the villain?
Sad to say it but Sakho gives everyone the jitters. Mignolet does nothing to calm them, then Skrtel finds himself in a desperate situation. That trio kept one clean sheet in eighteen games. But ‘villian’ might be too strong. Moses probably takes that, for his missed open goals at crucial times.

Manager’s report
Well, as a manager might say, Brodgers has ‘done fantastic’. He tweaked and moved things around all season until the diamond shone through (anyone remember the 3-5-2?). Gerrard’s move to deep playmaker, or the ‘quarterback’ as it’s uncomfortably described, was the most publicised example of this.

Best signing
Securing Suarez on a long-term contract is the banal answer. Er, looking at other signings….it’s still Suarez.

Worst signing
Aspas? Moses? Cissokho for me, even on loan. Poor lad. Not only did he look uncomfortable playing left-back, he looked uncomfortable playing football.

Rising star

A big season for Sterling, who’s grown at some rate over the year (Photo: Metro)

Clearly Sterling. It was only at Christmas I was bemoaning his utter lack of composure in or around the box. How fickle we are! But it was the unlikely move to a more a central role that has seen him flourish. The option of going left or right, in space, with his zip, has really worked (it makes me wonder, perhaps foolishly, what Lennon may have done if freed from the right at 19). Honourable mention to Flanagan. Strange year for Coutinho – surely more to come from him next year.

Highlight of the season
Beating Man City. Even the most cautious Liverpool fans began to whisper ‘what if?’, even the most neutral fans began to say ‘why not?’.

Low point of the season
Chelsea.

I’ll remember this season for…
For the whopping 101 goals scored. And a shocking 50 conceded. For Gerrard’s chest pumping speech. And his heartbreaking slip. For Hillsborough. For making Anfield dream.

Season review 2013/14 – Chelsea

Jose Mourinho’s first season back with Chelsea certainly frustrated a lot of neutrals, but what’s the fans’ perspective? We asked Dan Northcote-Smith (@dnsandnick) for his views on the season.

Pleasure to watch or utter disaster?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – victories at Anfield and the Etihad, plus not losing to any of the big five, makes the supporters happy. Have we played (as Ruud Gullit would call it) ‘sexy football’? The answer is a resounding no.

Chelsea's hero and villain for 2013/14

Chelsea’s hero and villain for 2013/14

Who’s been this season’s hero?
Jose Mourinho. Without a doubt he’s brought solidity to the back four, he’s got the team playing as a unit, he’s made John Terry into the best centre back in the league again. Three of our back four could have easily made it into the team of the year.

And the villain?
Jose Mourinho. He’s got big performances out of the players but his big mouth has made us into the least popular team in the country. Mind games are one thing but throwing unprovoked attacks at Wenger just makes us look unprofessional. And throwing your toys from the pram after losing to Sunderland was simply ungraceful.

Manager’s report
As above, but I think next season will be different. A couple of big signings will help the team play the way he wants and hopefully Jose will let the football do the talking.

Best signing
Hard to pick between Willian and Matic. The Brazilian works harder than anyone I’ve ever seen on a football pitch and has a great touch and shot, but I think Matic takes the prize. He is everything a modern defensive midfielder should be – strong, equally good in the air and on the ground, calm on the ball and can play a forward pass. If he adds a goal or five to his repertoire he could take the title back to the Bridge next year.

Worst signing
Less of the signing, more of a departure. Mata had to go apparently. No place is Chelsea’s robust, hard working eleven. I can see the thinking and £45 million is a decent return but given the shut outs we’ve been on the receiving end of to teams nearer the bottom the prem, the little Spanish trequartista could have been the man to unlock a stubborn rearguard.

Rising star
Mohammed Salah. Snatched right out from under the nose of Liverpool at Christmas. He had recently scored his second goal for Basle against Chelsea in successive years. The 21 year old Egyptian has phenomenal pace and a great touch, he can beat a player and has shown good finishing skills, scoring in successive matches. He’s a team player, not afraid of tracking his fullback. This is a requirement at Chelsea at the moment and with Hazard receiving criticism from Jose for this very matter, Salah could see a lot more game time over the next few years.

Highlight of the season
Sorry Liverpool fans but it has to be the shut out at Anfield. The win at the Etihad was a better performance but because of the significance of the game and the ‘weakened’ team we put out this has been the moment for me.

Low point of the season
Losing our unbeaten home record to Sunderland. I never believed we could win the league but losing a 77 game unbeaten streak hurt more than anything else.

I’ll remember this season for…
…Demba Ba bundling in the last minute goal against PSG – a vintage European night.

Ba bundles home (credit: NDTV)

Season review 2013/14 – Sheffield United

A third successive year in League 1, it’s been an interesting one at Bramall Lane. Co-editor Joe looks back at the season.

Pleasure to watch or utter disaster?
Such a crazy and unexpected season at Bramall Lane. There was mild optimism in the summer that David Weir would bring a new style and better fortune to a club that had failed in the League 1 playoffs two seasons running. This evaporated from the second game in. Attempts to remedy the poor start by strengthening the team at the end of August (the result of Saudi businessman Prince Abdullah becoming a co-owner of the club) only seemed to make things worse. With the Prince no doubt concerned to see his new investment spiralling towards League 2, Weir was removed.

Clough has now repaired the damage caused by David Weir's first managerial job

Nigel Clough has now repaired the damage caused by David Weir’s first few months in charge

Nigel Clough began a difficult process of completely remoulding the style of a team that was low on confidence, leaking goals, and ineffective going forward. And it’s taken some perseverance at times – even on Feb 1st the club was 23rd, but thereafter the team has been a joy to watch, unrecognisable from the group Weir managed. The cup run, for a League 1 club battling relegation, was superb – with at last the club putting in a decent performance at Wembley. Rising to 7th, the season’s ended too quickly for us in the end.

What started off as a club entering difficult financial times under an untested manager with a long-suffering and despondent following has really been transformed. The club appears to have the right people off the field, and an excellent manager that’s playing exciting football at a positive Bramall Lane. It’s the worst league position the club’s finished a season in since 1982/83. And yet, it’s the most optimistic I’ve been at the end of a season since we were promoted from the Championship 8 years ago.

Who’s been this season’s hero?
Harry Maguire. The third season in a row where he’s been in League 1’s team of the year, and at Christmas he was still the club’s top goalscorer. Not bad for a player that only turned 21 in March. You suspect the club may have to fend off bids this summer – a big test for the new owners.

And the villain?
David Weir by default, though by freeing up the job in October he helped enable the club to get the then-out-of-work Clough, who wasn’t available in the summer. I think most won’t therefore hold a grudge against the guy.

Manager’s report
David Weir – on paper, he should have been great. In reality it was a disaster. Not at all helped by the sale of Kevin McDonald, who he’d appeared to base his entire system around, but there was a sense he tried to change too much too quickly, bringing in the wrong people and shattering the confidence of existing players. His sacking, criticised as rash in the media, couldn’t have been better timed.

Nigel Clough – he’s surpassed all expectations. Watching some of his early unsuccessful games, I was concerned we might have made a wrong choice. I needn’t have been. Once he had re-coached the players in some basic necessities (primarily reminding them how to defend), he added some serious quality in January (John Brayford, Bob Harris, Stefan Scougall) and brought the best out of existing talent (Ryan Flynn, Jamie Murphy, Conor Coady). Above all, he’s brought back optimism to the club. With a good pre-season, and the addition of one or two players that meet Clough’s quality & character criteria (particularly up front), next season could be great.

Best signing
Stefan Scougall. I’m not sure how we’ve managed to sign Wee Scougs – his acceleration, heart, and footballing brain suggest he could be a huge player for us.

Worst signing
Marlon King. A symbol of just how desperate things got under David Weir that he signed an unfit striker, with a history of off-the-field baggage, that nobody else would touch with a barge pole. Mercifully released by Clough in December.

Rising star
Connor Dimaio. He’s made his debut and pushed ahead of other youngsters to get first team experience in the middle of midfield – the signs are Clough will use him more next season.

Highlight of the season
Chris Porter’s late double to complete the comeback against Notts Forest in the cup.

Low point of the season
On February 1st we lost 3-0 away at fellow strugglers Crewe, dropping us to 23rd. A low point, but also a turning point for the team – they haven’t looked back since.

I’ll remember this season for…
…John Brayford’s beard.

The Brayford Beard in full flight.

Written by Joseph Clift (@josephclift)

Season review 2013/14 – Tottenham Hotspur

In the first of our end-of-season reviews, 1FITG Co-Editor and Founder Roberto digests 2013/14 at White Hart Lane. The fact it can be written before the season officially finishes perhaps sums it up.

Pleasure to watch or utter disaster?
Mostly very difficult to watch. Apparently we sold Elvis and bought the Beatles. But it turns out we bought N-Sync, there could be one star between them. It started with defensive resolution but too much this season we’ve lacked any fluidity and cohesion, both up front and any kind of defensive organisation apart from the first 11 games. Pepper that with a variety of humiliating defeats against decent sides (Chelsea & Liverpool) and some awful sides (West Ham 3 times, need to say more). It will be remembered for Andre’s sacking and Tim’s rise and inevitable fall. It was, in essence, the most Tottenham of seasons. Hope at the start, off the rails in the middle, token sacking with no plan and now the end of the season – hope again. Rinse and repeat. Until we die.

Who’s been this season’s hero?
Eriksen has probably been the stand out performer, certainly towards the end of the season. Hugo Lloris has had far too much work to do and you can see why he looks so fed up. Kyle Walker had a decent start, after a season of inconsistency the year before. Adebayor’s redemption and leadership qualities (no, really) came through when he was brought back from the cold. But no real consistency. No real leaders.

And the villain?
At any point different players have been poor. Naughton (especially) has not been good enough even in his natural position. Rose has not been as good as we’d hoped and seems to lose concentration far too often. Kaboul is back to the player we first bought rather than one of our best players from 2 years ago, Dawson’s pace lets him down time and time again. But for the true villain we must look potentially at the Club generally who seemingly sacked Andre Villas Boas which I can understand, broke promises and even worse didn’t have a real plan, other than transition. The Goose chase for another manager begins.

Manager’s report
Andre Villas Boas – it all seemed to go wrong so early. Another summer of players a manager wanted not being bought in, with people perhaps he didn’t want taking their place (as with the summer before, Moutinho anyone?). He seemingly got bored of it all, with PSG having flirted with him perhaps he had his head swayed, I don’t know. He probably thought he’d have more say. But alas. He didn’t.

Tim Sherwood – Tottenham’s best manager in the PL era. He won’t let you forget. He has brought goals and a barrow boy spirit to the Club. But what really changed? We got hammered like we did with AVB with seemingly no game plan against the top Clubs. His demeanour has been that of a work experience boy trying to show he’s hard. An English Mourinho – brash and funny in press conferences, but unlike Mourinho lacking in any substance or experience. Having watched him with the U-21s the year before I cannot say I am surprised. People suggest AVB could not get his players playing and alienated some and that Sherwood bringing Adebayor back shows he’s inclusive. A few players may disagree, especially Club linchpin Sandro, Lamela, Capoue and more.

Best signing
Eriksen. Guile, technique and crossing to die for.

Worst signing
Very harsh but difficult season for Lamela. I thought he would be fantastic at Spurs and I still think he may be. But at the price and the lack of appearances it’s hard to look past him. People may point to Soldado but his goals have won us more points than any other player (it wasn’t a high bar).

Rising star
Bentaleb. Unfairly criticised by some. But the boy has quality and is still playing slightly out of position. Tom Carroll served a good apprenticeship at QPR and should come back into the first team squad next year.

Highlight of the season
The day before the start of the season was good. Ledley King’s testimonial will probably be it. Beating United at Old Trafford again was nice.

Oh this last night may have been it, for so many reasons, the awful tweet in the first place (human error, get over it) to the even worse handling (lies?) of the aftermath.

 

Low point of the season
Too many to mention, not even getting close to Arsenal in 3 ties, losing three times to West Ham, being spanked by City and Liverpool twice.

I’ll remember this season for…
…being another definition of Tottenham. Hope. Sackings. Repeat.

Written by Roberto Kusabbi (@rktweets)

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