Is Ross Barkley set to be the biggest waste of talent since Paul Gascoigne?

During the 2013-14 season, a young attacking midfielder named Ross Barkley burst onto the scene for Everton. Barkley scored his first goal for the blues and was named “man of the match” during a 2-2 draw with Norwich on the opening day of the season, and went on to score 7 goals in 37 appearances in all competitions that season. he then scored just twice in 35 appearances the net season and 12 in 47 the next. He has scored 5 goals in 32 appearances so far this season.

Ross Barkley seemed to be exactly what English football needed. A quick, skilful attacking midfielder who can run at players through the middle and create chances and wear down the opposition defence. He seemed to reinvent the creative midfielder role, and effectively play with the style of a winger, but in the position of a midfielder. He was compared to Paul Gascoigne early on in his career and consistently showed brilliant potential.

But so far, Barkley has failed to achieve what he could. It’s a well-known fact that he has shown a lack maturity, running when he should pass and passing when he should run, the latter being the much less common. This was clear in the toffee’s recent game against rivals Liverpool. There was a moment where he took the ball under control and had forward Romelu Lukaku to his left. It was seemingly obvious. Slide in the big Belgian, and put him one on one and let Lukaku do the rest, but instead, he took a heavy touch to his left and gave it to Dejan Lovren like a Mother to their Baby. He then shoved his studs into the Croatian’s leg and earned a yellow card for his troubles.

However, it’s not all Barkley’s fault. Everton fans will probably slaughter me for saying this, but some of the blame has to be put onto Gareth Barry. When Barkley receives the ball, he should be using his experience and ordering the team forwards to support him, and also, he should be ordering Barkley as to what to do. This would help the Englishman immensely on the experience front, and would for sure add another tooth to the Everton attack.

Barkley cannot be regarded as a young talent for much longer. He is 23 years old, which may not sound much, but seeing as teammate Romelu Lukaku is the same age and has already scored over 80 premier league goals and is their all-time top European competitions scorer, it’s hard to see him as a success.

But, there is still time. He’s playing regularly for Everton, and with Lukaku supposedly leaving at the end of the season he could soon find himself as the man they rely on to attack with. He’s also getting consistent(ish) caps for England and is certainly filled with potential, so keep an eye on him.



Who will be in the Premier League next season?

So this year, with the title race being practically done and dusted, there are only two ‘battles’ to keep up with; the race for the top 4, and the race to stay in the premier league, and seeing as I’ve already written a post on the race for Europe, and with Middlesborough and Swansea playing out a dull, goalless draw earlier today, I thought “what better time to write a post on the relegation place?”, so here it is.

First, let’s look at the current stats and standings. Right now, the battle to stay in England’s top division is possibly the most open there has been in the last decade, with just 9 points separating Hull, in 18th, and Stoke, in 9th.  Sunderland, who sit bottom, have just 20 points from 29  games, winning just 5 games all season, and losing 19. They’ve only scored 24 goals too, and with top goalscorer Jermain Defoe turning 35 in October, they cannot rely on him for much longer to put them into the onion bag. They seem all but gone already. From there, it gets much more open, with Middlesborough placed 19th, with 23 points, 4 behind Hull on 27, but with a game in hand.

Then, just avoiding the bottom 3, comes welsh side, Swansea, who are just a point above Hull, and have lost 18 of their 30 games this season, and from there it’s only 8 points to Stoke, in 9th.

But, on the flip side, in terms of who will be entering the premier league next season, Brighton and Newcastle seem to have the automatic promotion spots secured, and Huddersfield, Reading, Leeds and Fulham will play it out after the end of the main season for the final promotion spot. My money (if I wasn’t under the age restriction on gambling) would be on Leeds. I think that they’ve been quality this year and could certainly cope with the top flight, whereas we’ve seen Huddersfield and Reading both really struggle against top-flight opposition in the cups this season, losing 5-1 to Man city and 4-0 to United respectively.

Defending champions Leicester also showed signs of danger just before sacking Ranieri, but interim manager Craig Shakespeare’s record-breaking run of form seems to have steered them in the right direction. We saw a similar sudden change in form towards this point in Leicester’s season in 2015/16, and they carried through this form to prove everybody wrong and win the league next year. Could they do it again, or is it just a coincidence there’s certainly a feeling of Deja Vu here.

To conclude, The premier league, as always, will look very different next years, with sides like Brighton and possibly Leeds, who haven’t been in for many years, and long standing premier league side Sunderland leaving. But the question is, how will the new sides cope with the big boys?


Are Spurs Reinventing Classic English Football?

Firstly, I’d like to apologise for this blog post being a day behind schedule, I had a good blog post written out and saved in my drafts section, but when I logged on it had disappeared, and I would much rather put out a good standard blog a day late, than a rushed and poor one on time. I know this is no excuse.

So, this Thursday’s blog is going to be all about North-London side Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs currently sit second in the league, 10 points behind fellow Londoners, Chelsea, losing just 3 all season, to Liverpool, Man United and Chelsea themselves. Chelsea seem to have the trophy already in their cabinet and are showing no sign of letting up, so it seems to be shaping up to be another ‘nearly’ season.

I have a soft spot for The Lilywhites. I do tend to see them as a more likeable side than clubs like Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester city. This is not without reason, though. I believe that Spurs are the last of a dying breed, yet they are doing it brilliantly. In years gone by, sides relied on their youth academy to create their winning sides, this was all before we started paying £50 million for players who are, quite frankly, not worth £50. I’m looking at you Hebei China Fortune.

If goals by only English players counted this season, Spurs would be sitting at the top with a 13 point cushion over Burnley in Second. Manchester City would be in a relegation battle at 17th, with just 26 points, and real life leaders, Chelsea, would be down to 13th with 31 points.

Spurs have a steady stream of excellent young English talent coming out of their youth academy. Take, for example, forward Harry Kane, who has scored 24 goals in 30 appearances in all competitions this season, and has spent a while out injured too.  Also, defensive midfielder/attacking defender Eric Dier has been excellent over the last two seasons or so, playing at Euro 2016. I realise that teammate Dele Alli was bought from MK Dons, but he still classes as a homegrown player as he graduated from an English side’s football academy, yet Dier would not, as he graduated from a Portuguese side’s academy, namely Sporting Lisbon. However, he is still English and I believe would not have reached the level he has reached should he not have signed for Spurs.

Full backs Danny Rose and Kyle walker are also great examples of young English talent being signed and nurtured by The Lilywhites, both receiving multiple England caps, and being the Three Lions first choice options for Euro 2016.

You see many clubs trying to replicate this Spurs system, but to not much avail. The reason it works for spurs is because they have the perfect balance of buying talent in and bringing through the young players. Harry Kane may be the first spurs player to spring to mind, but purchases such as creative midfielders Heung-Min Son and Christian Eriksen have been vital in the team’s success this season, and with the way they’re going at the moment, I can see spurs winning the league in the next two seasons.

To conclude, I think we could see Spurs becoming the next big hotshot in world football, thanks to their excellent youth system, but also because of their genius combonation of assured talent and risks.

The International Break; Good Or Bad?

So this week the world of football has turned its eyes to their national team, as club football takes a break, and international sides play two matches against each other. For me, I watched England face Germany on Wednesday, and am watching them play Lithuania right now. However, although clubs themselves aren’t playing, a few of their players will be, and to a few clubs, this can be rather frustrating.

For example, a few managers, such as former QPR, Portsmouth and Southampton boss Harry Redknapp, have voiced their disapproval of international breaks, with Redkanpp quoting “that fortnight, for me, is a dead fortnight.”. The Poplar-born Boss, who has previously also coached the Jordanian national side, says that he thinks that international break weeks, such as this one, that are just friendlies, are pointless and he would rather be watching the Premier League.

The stats can back Mr Redkanpp up here too. If you look at Stoke City’s form before and after the international break in November, you will notice a large difference. Going into the break, The Potters were in fine fettle, unbeaten in the league since mid-September, yet, after the break, they won just 2 of their next nine games, both 2-0 wins at home, to Watford and Burnley.

It’s not just clubs that are affected by international breaks, it’s players too. Burnley’s Sam Vokes is a good example. The Welshman had scored 3 times and got 1 assist in the four games leading up to the international break in November, however, he has scored only one goal in the league since. It’s not just players affected by the break, it’s teams too. Liverpool are notoriously poor returning from international breaks, as are Arsenal and Chelsea (the blues barring this season)

Injuries are also a huge problem to club sides. Both Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have returned to Manchester United with problems, Seamus Coleman, a huge cog in the Everton defence, has also suffered a leg break whilst playing for Ireland, ruling him out for at least the remainder of the season and likely into next campaign too. This will be hugely frustrating for the clubs, especially with the England game being a perhaps unnecessary friendly to honour Galatasaray forward Lucas Podolski.

On the contrary, it could be argued that, without these mid-season matches, our international side would be even poorer than current at international tournaments. We all complain and long for England to do well in an international tournament, however, they always seem to let us down. The Three Lions often tend to look very disjointed and out of sync when playing, and the only clear solution to this is for the side to spend more time together and get used to the system that they are using, but dare they increase the number of international breaks when both the fans and the clubs despise them so much? I guess it comes down to whether we value domestic success over international success.

To conclude, international breaks are a huge frustration to both fans and clubs in the short term, but maybe they are vital to our international hopes, even if they do cause club sides problems during their domestic campaign.

Football’s Future: my predicted England side for the 2022 world cup

In 5 years the 22nd FIFA world cup will be held in the Middle-Eastern-peninsula country of Qatar, and no doubt everybody will all have their eye on our, forever inconsistent, national side. Year upon year we hope and pray that finally the England side will live up to its huge expectation and potential, and year upon year we see them build up our hope in the group stages, to just be crushed like an attacker taking on Roy Keane when they reach the knockouts.

Under Roy Hodgson at Euro 2016, England often opted for a 4-3-3 formation, with Dier, Alli and Rooney in midfield with Sterling out left and Sturridge out right, with Harry Kane or Jamie Vardy through the centre, but with big players like Rooney, Hart, Smalling, Cahill and Sturridge ageing and losing their best form, in 5 years the England side will look very different.

English clubs are world renowned for producing some of the world’s best young talents, take for example Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley, and I have no doubt that in 5 years we will have plenty of new talent, but who will be the next big breakthrough? I watched Marcus Rashford in his last game for the Man United reserves in the youth derby at the Etihad, and he was excellent. I remember saying to my dad: “He looks like the kind of player the first team needs,” and next thing you know he was being thrust into the first side for the FC Midtjylland match.

Everton are always a side to watch for youth prospects, producing talents like Wayne Rooney, Michael Ball and Shkodran Mustafi, as are Man Utd, with graduates including David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. Current prospects for these sides, for me, are Tom Davies and Ademola Lookman for Everton, and Angel Gomez, Tahith Chong and Callum Gribbin for Man Utd. These players are all attackers, but clearly, defence is just as important as attack. Less hype is normally associated with defensive players, unsurprisingly, as fans remember goals and pretty play more than solid tackles and defensive organisation, but this possibly works better for the players themselves. Less hype means less pressure, and this means that if a defender makes a mistake, he doesn’t have to worry as much about keeping everybody so excited as you would be if you were an attacker.

For example, a non-Man United fan may not have heard of Timothy Fosu-Mensah, but you will definitely have heard of Marcus Rashford. Yet, in my opinion, he is just as promising.

Other clubs will obviously have huge talents coming through their ranks, for example, Manchester city’s Bersant Celina and Brandon Barker, Fulham’s 26-year-old Ryan Sessegnon, and the whole host of players coming through Borussia Dortmund at the moment, like Christian Pulisic, Ousmane Dembele and Raphael Guerreiro. Obviously, many of these players aren’t English, but are definitely something to look out for.

So, here’s my predicted lineup for the England side at The Qatar World Cup in 2022:

PS, player future age stats are based upon the assumption The World Cup will be held in the summer as usual, not the winter, which is a possibility.

In goal – Jack Butland- currently 24, will be 29- Stoke City

In defence – Luke Shaw-21 now, 26/27* then – Man Utd, John Stones-now 22, 28 then- Man City, Trent Alexander-Arnold – now 18, 23 then – Liverpool

In Midfield – Ruben Loftus-Cheek – now 21, 26 then – Chelsea, Eric Dier – now 23, 27 then – Spurs, Dele Alli – 20 now, 26 then – Spurs.

In Attack – Raheem Sterling – now 22, 27 then – Man City, Harry Kane – 23 now, 27/28* then – Spurs, Marcus Rashford- 19 now, 24 then – Man Utd

*dependant on what time in June the World cup is played.

To summarise, England has some of the hottest young prospects in world football, and we all know that England can win the world cup, it’s just a matter of will they.



Race for the top 4; it’s getting close

The Champions League. European competition. The ultimate goal of every single club in the football league, and only four will get it. Right now, Chelsea look like the only side with it completely secure, with just 7 points separating Spurs in second and Man United in seventh, however United currently have between 1 and 3 games in hand on the teams above them.

Man United face ‘Boro away tomorrow, and a win, which would be expected against a Middlesbrough side who are managerless and have only scored twice in 2017, would take them up to fifth thanks to Arsenal’s loss to West Brom earlier today. Should they then win their game after that, at home to The Baggies, they would be up to fifth and behind Liverpool only on goal difference. Arsenal could soon find themselves in even more bother, with their next game away to Man City on April 1st. However, so could the blue side of Manchester, with their next games being away to Arsenal and away to league leaders, Chelsea.

Yet, Man United could have a place in the champions league without having to finish in the top four, as their Europa League campaign this season is looking very promising, with the draw for the Quarter-Finals going excellently for them, with their main rivals for the competition, Besikitas, Lyon, Schalke and Ajax, all being drawn against each other, while The Red Devils face a seemingly easy trip to Belgian outfit Anderlecht. However, the Belgian side aren’t to be taken lightly, having recently won their domestic league title, and youngster Youri Tielemans should be watched eagerly. He has a brilliant long shot on him, his passing is brilliantly accurate and his work rate is like that of a prime N’golo Kante. Definitely one to watch.

Should Man United win The Europa League, and finish fourth, this would then mean that whatever team in 5th position, should it be Liverpool, Arsenal or possibly Everton, would then be given the place in the final qualifying round that United would have been given for finishing fourth. This would then mean that the side finishing 6th would get the place in The Europa League the 5th side would have been given. This extends to all the qualifying round positions in the league too.

But what would become of Arsenal, and Wenger for that matter, should they not achieve the Champions League position they have done consistently for the last 20 years? Well, if Wenger isn’t already gone by then, it would certainly mean him getting the chop, and I’m rather confident that Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil wouldn’t be far from the exit door either. This would then possibly create the same domino effect at the north London side that happened to Manchester United when 26-year-reigning manager Sir Alex Ferguson left in 2013, with their best players leaving, and with nobody experienced to guide the team, which would mean a huge rebuilding job for Arsenal, and maybe yet another great side falling down the table.

I can see the top four going one of three ways. Either, Man United capitalise on Liverpool and Arsenal’s slip ups and finish either fifth or fourth, or they bottle it again and finish sixth and the table finished roughly as it is now, or Arsenal completely lose it and end up in sixth, United follow through on their form with the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and force Liverpool into a slip up, and it finishes with Arsenal sixth, Liverpool fifth and United fourth.

Overall, the top four race is far from over, and every team needs to be careful as to not slip up at the wrong time, or they could find themselves in a daunting position, away from the glory, money and fame of the UEFA Champions League.



Watching football: grassroots to premier league

Football is a game that is played and watched all across the country at many different levels, ranging from your local Sunday league team to the giants of the English Premier League. We all know that football changes dramatically as you go down the leagues, but how is this?

There are the obvious ones that spring to mind straight away; quality of football being the biggest, and getting paid full time for playing in the top four leagues too, but there are others aswell.

I’ve had experience watching football across every major level. My Main side is Manchester united (you may not know this but I collect match day scarfs for every game I go to!), but I often go and see League 2 side Morecambe as my local team when I’m at my mum’s, and I also go and see grassroots side West Didsbury and Chorlton when I’m staying at my dads. I’ve noticed many differences I not just quality of play, but in the style of play too.

Watching Man United, United are happier to start an attack with David De Gea in goal, start to just probe the midfield until they see an opening, then release either Rashford, Martial of Valencia down the wing, who will get it into Ibrahimovic and hope he can put it in. This is because United are not just demanded to win games but to play well and to score lots of goals. Yet, watching Morecambe play is an altogether different experience. The Shrimps, as they are known, still try to do this where they can, but as they’re much lower down the pyramid they are driven more by pure results than playing with style, so they are willing to, every so often, play it back to ‘keeper Barry Roche, who will thump it upfield and let the attackers try to make something of it, after all, they can’t score from there own half unless they have David Beckham or Memphis Depay in their side.

However, West Didsbury and Chorlton are a very oddly styled side. They’re more than happy to play it long onto the head of the over six foot tall forward Saul Henderson, to nod it down and hope for the best, but they often use their fullbacks to pull forwards and start an attack. The midfield is unafraid of crunching tackles, risky passes and quick counter attacks, but so many times this season they’ve come to rue missed chances and thrown the game away in the dying minutes. But for me, The mindset is great at west, and that’s what makes me want to watch them. They always seem to put enjoyment first and really work well as a team, and that makes for a great afternoon enjoying the local passion for the world’s greatest game.

So, to summarise, I think we can all learn a lesson from the smaller sides in our local town on just enjoying football while you can. It is a game after all. And, If you haven’t got an interest in watching your local, lower league side play, then I beg to you, just search up some local teams in your area, and give the next home game a go! You never know, it might surprise you, and even if you don’t like it, it only cost you a fiver.

Wenger in? Wenger out? Should Sanchez stay at Arsenal?

This weekends blog will be moving on from champions league football for now, and covering the intensifying situation at Arsenal, their management of the club, and what is causing them problems. On the 22nd September, 1996, Arsene Wenger was officially unveiled as Arsenal manger, making him the second longest serving manager of the premier league era in British football, at 20 years, second only to the great Sir Alex Ferguson. In those 20 years he has won 9 major trophies, including 6 FA cups and 4 league titles, but also including a painful 7 year wait for a major trophy, and a 12-years-and-counting wait for the premier league, which they haven’t won since they went the whole season unbeaten in 2003/04. Yet now, Arsene Wenger and his management team face troubles, as their whole empire seems to be crumbling around them. The fans are turning on them, they lost their champions league round of 16 tie 10-2 on aggregate, and hevn’t found themselves a prolific striker to replace Thierry Henry since he left them in 2007!

Arsenal’s team is based around three key players, one in each part of the field. Sanchez in attack, Ozil in midfield and Koscielny in defence, and they rely on these players far far too much for my liking. As we saw in each leg of their recent tie with Bayern, Arsenal’s defence falls to pieces without Laurent Koscielny. They only conceded one goal with Koscielny playing, and conceded 9 when he was injured or suspended. We also see that Arsenal’s midfield if very lacklustre going forwards if they don’t have Mesut Ozil at his best. I talked last time about how important it is to have a balance in midfield of attack and defence, and without Ozil playing well, Arsenal miss the vital link from Midfield into Attack. It’s a bad move from Arsene to rely totally on such an unpredictable player to do the main job in starting attacks.

But the biggest mistake that Wenger has made in his current team lies in their best player, Alexi Sanchez, or more accurately, how the team is built around him. Sanchez works best when he has a prolific goal scorer alongside him to play in middle when he has to use his pace out wide, and you cannot rely on a man who cares more about his hair and his apperance than his goals to do that. Yes, Oliver Giroud, I’m looking at you. What I’m getting at is that Arsenal need a striker they can depend on! Giroud is too inconsistant, Welbeck’s always injured, we all know Theo Walcott’s a wide right, not a striker, and Lucas Perez, for some odd reason, is always on the bench! In the summer Arsenal have to bring in someone like Romelu Lukaku, or Karim Benzema, else, to put it frankly, next season will just be another blowout. Yet, knowing Arsenal’s tendancy to completely ignore this, they’ll probably just bring in another tiny french guy who nobody’s ever heard of who’s “set to be the next big thing” and they flops miserably and ends up getting paid £100,000 a week to come to training every other day and spend match days sat at home watching on the telly.

All this must be getting hugely frustrating for Alexi Sanchez. At Barcelona he had players like Messi and Pedro coming short and going long whenever he need them to, if he needed help, Messi was there to pick it up, glide past a defender or two and open the game out, if he got a cross into the box, there was always someone there to make use of it. This is he kind of help that he needs at Arsenal. Here, if he’s surrounded, he ends up either losing possession, having to try and take them on and lose possession, or having to turn around and play it back to Bellerin or Mustafi. If I was Sanchez I would for sure be thinking about an exit, and why shouldn’t he? He’s 28 and getting nowhere in his career, and needs a change! However, I would give it one more year. If Wenger does leave at the end of the season, he will be vital in the plans of the new manager, and should give life under him a try. if Wenger stays, I would then think more about an exit, but it might be a good idea to stay and see if the club can bring in the strike partner he needs, if not, there’s always the January transfer window. There’s no doubt he would be able to find himself a new club

Personally, I think it’s time for Wenger to go, but not in the brutal and savage way some of the fans want, but in a sort of “thanks for everything, but we need something new” kind of way. Wenger should be regarded as a departing legend, not like a decrepid old bag who’s dragged his tenure out the the thinness of strudel pastry. He has brought Arsenal greatness, and has, somehow, always found them a way into the champions league, but it’s time for him to go.

The importance of diversity in midfield

So I am currently watching the Barcelona vs PSG game, and it’s 3-1 Barcelona on the night, and 5-3 PSG on aggregate at the moment, and I have realised that there is so much that can be learned from just looking at the lineups.

As a defensive midfielder myself, I know how important it is to have a  defensive man to just sit in front of the back line, and sure up the defence. Our side normally plays a 3-5-2, with two defensive midfielders, one box to box and two who move out wide to support the forwards. It is normally quite secure when it comes to defence, and is capable of providing options to the forwards when attacking, but sometimes we can be caught a bit thin in midfield when our wide midfielders haven’t properly got back into position after an attack.

But anyway, I have noticed that all Barca, PSG and Bayern last night played three in central midfield, with Rakatic, Busquets , and Iniesta for Barca, Veratti, Matuidi and Draxler for PSG and Thiago Alcantara, Xabi Alonso and Vidal for Bayern. All three sides have had great goal scoring prowess with this tactic, and unsurprisingly so too.

Barcelona Know they have hugely quick wingers in Neymar and Messi, and a reliable striker in Suarez, and have learnt how to exploit this. They know they can rely on Iniesta to play long passes through to them, then all they have to do i run off their marker and create space, which they are naturally brilliant at . They can also rely on Sergio Busquets to make tackles and break up play, so they can focus on attacking and getting the goals they need to win the tie. They also have Rakitic who is very naturally talented at breaking forwards and creating momentum, which is a huge asset to the attackers out wide.

I think this is the reason behind Barcelona’s success over the last few years. If you think, who was their biggest signing since the completion of MSN with Luis Suarez in 2014? Arda Turan, who can barely get a game. Luis Enrique knows he has his squad sorted with top class players in every position, perhaps barring right back, and the only tactic you cannot defend against is the pure class that players like Messi, Neymar and Suarez exude on a regular basis. It’s when these players under perform that the team really suffers, for example the poor performance of Lionel Messi in the first leg of the Barca – PSG tie. When messi lost the ball he didn’t do the normal thing and fight to win the ball back, he just stood there and seemed to be reflecting on his mistake like a young child in trouble with his mum. He was awful that game, and I think that he had to play well to prove himself worthy of his status, and he’s been marginally better, but not what was needed by the Catalan side. Saying that, I’ve just seen Neymar curl a beauty into the top left.

Tell you what, Barca have a penalty here, this could be huge! Neymar tucks it home! Level on aggregate, PSG through as it stands on away goals, but theres still time for Barcelona! I do apologise for this little commentary section, it’s just too good to miss! 5 minutes kick! Ter Stegen up! Roberto taps it in in! I do not believe it! This has to be one of the best games i have seen! And thats it! Barca through!

Well I guess that’s the end of the blog! I’m very sorry for the unorthodox end to the post, but i guess that’s football all over, and that’s why we love the beautiful game. So goodnight!