Sunday, August 18, 2013

Five Talking Points from the opening day of the Premier League

 Benteke celebrates his goal after more poor Arsenal defending.
The Gunners gave away two penalties.

1. Arsenal still need to spend money.

A 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa is not how most Arsenal fans would have expected to start their season. After a summer of positive rumours, the Gunners crowd were optimistic that Arsene Wenger might finally spend some money in order to strengthen the squad. However, several unsuccessful and misguided transfer attempts later, and the only new face at the club is 20-year-old striker Yaya Sanogo, who was injured for the opening day. The erratic performance of goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, the sending off of centre-half Laurent Kosielny and the injuries to both full-backs Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna prove once again, that the defence needs to be improved, despite Wenger’s summer of flirting with big name forward players such as Suarez, Rooney and Higuain. Queens Park Rangers goalkeeper Julio Cesar is still available for relatively little money as the Championship club seek to reduce their wage bill. Surely Wenger should bid for the Brazilian before the end of the transfer window, and sooner rather than later with a Champions League Qualifier away at Fenerbache on Wednesday night.

2. It was a promising day for England fans.

After England struggled to beat Scotland at Wembley on Wednesday night, there was understandably some negativity about their chances at the World Cup in 2014, should they even manage to qualify. However, on the opening day of the Premier League season, there was much cause for optimism. One of Roy Hodgson’s first choice strikers, Danny Welbeck, has seemingly taken on the advice of new Manchester United manager David Moyes, who has challenged him to score more goals this season. The forward played in a slightly withdrawn role behind Robin Van Persie during United’s 1-4 away win at Swansea. He looked hungry to get in more dangerous positions, resulting firstly in a tap in from Antonio Valencia’s clever first time cross, before doubling his overall goals tally from last season in just one game with a sublime chipped finish beyond Michel Vorm. Fellow countryman and striker Daniel Sturridge lead the line for Bredan Rodger’s new look Liverpool side, scoring the opening goal of the new Premier League season with a sweet left footed drive. Young, attacking midfielder Ross Barkley was given a rare start by his new manager Roberto Martinez and repaid the new Everton boss with an impressive all-round performance, capped with an exceptional left-footed strike from the edge of the box that most English players aren’t quite capable of producing, especially at the age of 20.  Jonjo Shelvey was also Swansea’s outstanding performer, as he dominated the Manchester United midfield in the opening stages of the game. He also delivered a series of dangerous set-pieces, creating many chances for his new club. Rickie Lambert once again made the headlines with his second late match-winner in a week, scoring in the 90th minute with a perfect penalty. Something else you wouldn’t usually associate with English players.

3. Di Canio didn’t get dream start he'd been hoping for.

After reports of an incredibly gruelling pre-season programme implemented by the Italian manager, many were expecting Sunderland to come flying out at the start of their match with Fulham with high tempo and attacking intensity. They did to some degree, with new signings Emanuele Giaccherini and Jozy Altidore looking dangerous in the opening stages as they dominated for most of the game. However, Sunderland failed to create any serious scoring opportunities throughout the duration of the match, and were undone by a set piece, a familiar theme carried over from last season. Young Fulham midfielder Pajtim Kasami headed in the winner from a corner in the 52nd minute, and Di Canio’s side failed to find an equaliser, despite substitute striker Ji Dong-Won going closest with a header.  The Black Cats were unlucky, but they need to avoid home defeats to the likes of Fulham if they are to stay in the Premier League this season.

4. New faces announce themselves to the Premier League.

There were plenty of new faces making an appearance in the Premier League for the first time after a busy summer of transfer window activity for the majority of clubs. Injury prevented a few new signings from making their debuts, but others took their chance at their new clubs with some eye-catching performances. Antonio Luna, or ‘Tony Moon’ as he’s hilariously known to the Villa fans, made himself an instant favourite with a solid performance at left back against Arsenal winger Theo Walcott, completed with an extremely well taken goal that compatriot Jordy Alba would have been proud of, as he finished an exciting Villa counter attack. There has been much excitement surrounding Swansea’s record transfer signing, Wilfried Bony. The Ivorian started on the bench against Manchester United as Michael Laudrup set up a cautious team, with Michu up front on his own. The £12m striker, signed from Vitesse Arnhem in the summer was eventually given a chance after being introduced at half time. In the 82nd minute, Bony opened his Premier League account, sweeping home a first time finish beyond David De Gea and in to the bottom corner. If he can score a goal in one half of football against Premier League Champions Manchester United, it’s easy to see Bony becoming a regular on the scoresheet in the coming fixtures. Norwich are another team to have spent boldly during the transfer window, and their club record signing Ricky Van Wolfswinkel was in the starting line-up against Everton. Facing English football veterans Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin in your first match as a Premier League striker is not the easiest of tasks, but Van Wolfswinkel claimed a point for his team with a perfectly guided header to make it 2-2. If he wasn’t already a cult hero at Carrow Road with a name like that, he soon will be if he keeps scoring such important goals.

5. Staying in the Premier League is the most difficult task of all.

Only one of the newly promoted clubs were in action yesterday, as Malky Mackay’s Cardiff City took on West Ham United at Upton Park. The visitors gave debuts to new signings Steven Caulker and Gary Medel, but were unable to get their first points of the season as an experienced West Ham side looked comfortable during their 2-0 victory. Premier League stalwarts Joe Cole and Kevin Nolan scored the goals, demonstrating that experience and know-how is key when you’re in this league. With Hull away to Chelsea on Sunday, and Crystal Palace yet to host Tottenham Hotspur, it is difficult to see anything but three defeats for the Premier League new boys. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Cardiff City - Can they avoid the drop?

It is a recurring theme at the beginning of every Premier League season. The three teams to have just been promoted from the Championship are cast as the three most likely relegation candidates for the coming season. Cardiff City, managed by Malky Mackay and Championship winners last campaign will be looking to break that unfortunate trend as they compete in the top division for the first time since 1962.

Creative midfielder Kim Bo-Kyung could have an impact
 on the Premier League this season


Cardiff City have the strongest of the squads to have been promoted, which no doubt contributed to them finishing above Hull and Crystal Palace last season. However, there is a worrying lack of experienced Premier League playing staff at the club. Notable exceptions include Craig Bellamy, who has scored goals consistently in the Premier League for the past decade,  but at 34-years-old, he's lost the pace that was once so frightening. The club will look to Fraizer Campbell for goals, a player who only left top-flight Sunderland to join the Bluebirds last season, scoring a prolific 7 goals in 12 appearances. Tommy Smith, Peter Whittingham and Jordon Mutch have also had some involvement in the Premier League and will need to have a major influence on the rest of the squad if they are to stay in the top flight.

One player who has the ability to make an impact on the Premier League is South Korean Kim Bo-Kyung. The 23-year-old is an attacking midfielder who has demonstrated the ability to unlock top flight defences with his creative passing and technical ability. Added to that an eye for goal, with three pre-season strikes to his name, including the winner against an accomplished Chievo Verona side and it's clear to see why manager Malky Mackay has tipped him for a successful debut campaign in the Premier League.


Any newly promoted side need to spend well in the transfer market to have a chance of staying up. Their budgets are hugely limited compared to established top-flight sides, so need to be wise with the money available to spend. Bluebirds owner Vincent Tam may have received severe criticism for changing the club's badge and kit colour, but he seems happy to supply manager Mackay with a generous amount to spend on players.

First to arrive was Andreas Cornelius, a 20-year-old Danish striker, signed from FC Copenhagen for a club record fee of around £8m; a dangerous amount to spend on such a young player with no previous Premier League experience, but time will tell if he is capable of scoring goals in England. The club record fee was broken again in this transfer window, to secure the services of England International centre-back Steven Caulker from Tottenham. The 21-year-old will be determined to earn a place in the England squad for the 2014 World Cup and Cardiff are likely to benefit from such an incentive. If Caulker performs like he did for bitter rivals Swansea last year, he could be the signing of the season at £8.5m, a relative bargain in today's inflated market.

It has also been widely reported that the Bluebirds are in advanced talks to sign Toulouse midfield enforcer Etienne Capoue. Capoue has been linked with prestigious clubs like Arsenal and Valencia in the past, and with five France caps, he's exactly the kind of quality Cardiff should be looking to recruit if they hope to beat the drop this season.


On paper at least, Cardiff are stronger than their newly promoted rivals Hull City and Crystal Palace. However, the issue arrives when trying to find another team in the Premier League that are likely to finish below the Bluebirds. At a push you could argue Stoke City under Mark Hughes will be in for a tough season, as well as Fulham who have failed to strengthen during the summer. It will be a long season for the Welsh club, but I think they can narrowly avoid relegation, which should give them the opportunity to consolidate for future seasons in the Barclays Premier League.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Six Timid Transfers: Not quite Bale and Suarez, but just as likely to make a difference.

People cry tears of boredom and begin to fall asleep on the back pages of their morning newspapers as another one hundred column inches are devoted to Gareth Bale and Real Madrid, Luis Suarez to Arsenal and Wayne Rooney to Chelsea. As these extremely high profile transfer debacles continue to dominate the headlines, so many other transfer dealings have gone unnoticed. Take a look at some of the quietly astute signings to have been made under the radar;

Jose Canas - Real Betis to Swansea - Free 

The 26-year-old Spanish defensive midfielder was one of the earliest signings to have been completed this transfer window. He almost joined Swansea last January as Betis looked to cash in on the player during the final year of his contract but nothing materialised and he was picked up as a free agent by Michael Laudrup on June 6. Canas is one of three Spanish signings made by Swansea this summer, as Alejandro Pozuelo and Jordi Amat also join up with fellow countrymen and established regulars Michu, Pablo Hernandez, Chico Flores and Angel Rangel. This should create an understanding between a squad of real quality that will allow Swansea to build on their impressive cup-winning campaign last season. 

Dejan Lovren - Lyon to Southampton - £8.5m

Croatian defender Dejan Lovren has already received heavy praise from new manager Mauricio Pochettino during Southampton's pre-season schedule. The Argentinian described him as a 'quality defender with the ability to read difficult situations with a great on field presence'. The Saints were thought to have fought off extremely tough competition for his signature, with Tottenham and Inter Milan both interested in buying the International defender, who has made 17 appearances for his country at the age of 23. Southampton are looking to strengthen the spine of their high-pressing team, and with hard-tackling midfielder Victor Wanyama joining Lovren as a new arrival, they look set for a top-half finish next season. 

Diego Lugano - PSG to West Brom - Free

West Brom manager Steve Clarke seems to be in a competition with himself to find the transfer bargain of the summer. As if completing the signing of free agent and former Arsenal, Real Madrid and Chelsea exquisite finisher Nicolas Anelka wasn't enough, the Baggies have also signed Uruguay captain and no-nonsense centre-half, Diego Lugano. Lugano was named captain of the South Africa World Cup Team of the Tournament in 2010 and is known for his combative nature and merciless tackling style. Dubbed a 'natural leader' by Steve Clarke, it wouldn't be at all surprising to see Lugano given the armband on his competitive debut for the club. Lugano also has excellent European pedigree after recent spells with Fenerbache, PSG and Champions League quarter-finalists, Malaga. 

Leroy Fer - FC Twente to Norwich - Undisclosed

The exact amount Norwich City and Chris Hughton paid for Leroy Fer remains undisclosed, but it is thought to be in the region of £6m. The 23-year-old Dutchman is a box to box midfielder with the ability to dominate games and opposition players. His rangy tackling and incredible speed across the ground, combined with his build and physical appearance will draw inevitable comparisons to past and present Premier League favourites Patrick Vieira and Yaya Toure. There are continued concerns over his fitness after he failed a medical at Everton last January but if Norwich hope to progress, they can only improve with signings like Fer and the prolific Gary Hooper from Celtic. 

Dwight Gayle - Peterborough to Crystal Palace - £8m

The story of Dwight Gayle is an almost unbelievable one. The striker was playing as lowly as the Essex Senior League during the 2011/12 season, but finds himself an £8m signing for a Premier League side two years later after consistent goal-scoring spells with Bishop's Stortford and Peterborough United. If you are to have a chance of staying in the Premier League, you need to score goals, and it seems Palace manager Ian Holloway is putting a huge amount of faith in 22-year-old Gayle, telling Sky Sports News: "I think he'll score goals at Premier League level, I really do. He's born to score goals."

Steven Caulker - Tottenham Hotspur to Cardiff City - £8m

Cardiff City broke their transfer record to sign young centre-back Steven Caulker from Spurs in what could be the signing of the season. After an impressive loan spell with Swansea City last season and a first goal-scoring appearance for England, you could be forgiven for thinking Caulker would have been first choice at White Hart Lane. Andre Villas-Boas however decided to accept Cardiff's bid, thought to have been in excess of £8m. Caulker is a proven defender at Premier League level and Cardiff may have doubled their chances of staying up by securing his services. At only 21-years-old, Caulker has the potential to improve at Cardiff City under new manager Malky Mackay and push for a regular position in the England squad.