Premier League preview! (Part 1)

The Premier League starts again on Saturday with what promises to be an intriguing season after a summer of changes throughout the league. This blog takes a look at the first 5 teams and my prediction of how they will do.

Arsenal 4th

In a summer of change, things have stayed very familiar at Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal.

Transfers: As of now, Arsenal’s only new recruit has been young France striker Yaya Sanogo but much is about players they have failed to sign, such as Higuin. Arsenal are involved in an ongoing transfer saga with want away Liverpool striker Luis Suárez.

Manager: Arsène Wenger. Although he has come under much criticism in recent times, Wenger is a much experienced Premier League manager and one of only two in the division to have won the title and Arsenal are in safe hands with him at the helm. Longest serving manager in the division.

Expectations: Much will depend on whether Arsenal can bring in Luis Suárez, or other big name players. What has worked in their favour this summer is the transfer saga’s involving rival stars such as Gareth Bale, the fore mentioned Suárez and Wayne Rooney. For this reason I have predicted another solid 4th place finish but will this be enough for the fans after many trophy-less seasons?

Key player: Oliver Giroud. After a decent first season adapting to the Premier League, the France international striker will look to push on and score more goals for the North London club in his second season. With the likes of Walcott, Wilshere and Cazorla, the supple should be there for the former Montpellier striker.

Aston Villa 10th

After avoiding relegation last season, Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa will look to improve with age this time around.

Transfers: Most important for Aston Villa this summer has been keeping old of star player Christian Benteke. Villa have strengthened though, will a lot of new young blood coming into the club. 20 year old Danish center back Jores Okore has joined the club along with felow countryman Nicklas Helenius. Other players to join include winger Aleksander Tonev, midfielder Leandro Bacuna and full back Antonio Luna.

Manager: Paul Lambert. Lambert is starting his second season at Villa. The young manager has received many plaudits for the way he kept his young Aston Villa side up last season and will hope to continue his, and his sides, progression up the league.

Expectations: After narrowly avoiding relegation last season, Paul Lambert will hope for his young stars, strengthened after a season of Premier League football, to improve and I think with this age and experience, they will and enough to finish in the top half.

Key player: Christian Benteke. The Belgium international striker is without doubt the midlands club key player. After an impressive first season in the Premier Leauge, Benteke handed in a transfer request, which he later withdrew. Will he be the same player this year round? Villa will certainly hope so.

Cardiff 16th

Malky Mackay’s Cardiff look the best place of the Premier League new boys to avoid the drop.

Transfers: Cardiff shocked many when they signed England international defender Steven Caulker from Spurs for a then club record fee. They then broke this record by signing Chilean international Gary Medel from Sevilla. The Welsh club have also spent big to bring in young Danish striker Andreas Cornelius. They have also brought in John Brayford from Derby and Simon Moore from Brentford.

Manager: Malky Mackay. As a player Mackay achieved many promotions to the Premier League, now he has done it as a manager. The former Watford manager has been linked to Premier League jobs in the past and will relish the challenge of trying to keep Cardiff in the Premier League.

Expectations: Cardiff City’s first aim will be survival, that would be a successful season. The club do have Premier League experience in attack with both Craig Bellamy and Fraizer Campbell and this might help them to survival. Much will depend on the ability of their key players in the Championship, like Peter Whittingham, David Marshall and the fore mentioned strikers, to make the step up. I think they will.

Key player: Steven Caulker. The England center half will be key to any success of Cardiff. With Premier League experience at Spurs and rivals Swansea, he will have to lead by example around less experienced colleagues.

Chelsea 1st

The much anticipated return of the ‘Special One’ will boost Chelsea.

Transfers: José Mourinho is Chelsea’s biggest transfer. Returning to the club where he had so much success will boost the whole club after a turbulent few years.  On the playing front, the Blues have bought in attacking duo Andre Schurrle and Marco van Ginkel. Experienced goal keeper Mark Schwarzer has also joined the club. Center half David Luiz is rumoured to be receiving interest from Barcelona but Mourinho will be keen to keep hold of the defender.

Manager: José Mourinho. it’s a case of return of the special one at Chelsea, with Jose Mourinho returning after spells at Inter Milan and Real Madrid. Expect a more reserved character this time around from the eccentric, flamboyant young manager who was at Chelsea before. Alongside Arsene Wenger, he is the only manager to have won the Premier League currently managing in the league.

Expectations: Roman Abramovich brought José Mourinho back to the Bridge for one reason, to win the Premier League. Managerial changes and both Manchester clubs may help Chelsea regain the title won by Jose Mourinho on two occasions. Their exciting new signings as well as the Mourinho factors, may well help them back to the title.

Key player: Juan Mata. The Spanish international really came into his own last season, impressing in the Chelsea midfield. His creativity is a match for any player and if Chelsea can get the midfielder ticking again then he, and Chelsea, will be hard to stop.

Crystal Palace 20th

Holloway’s attacking football may not be enough to save Palace on their return to the top flight.

Transfers: Crystal Palace had to spend money, and they have. Dwight Gayle has joined the club for a record fee. Elliott Grandin has also linked back up with Holloway after they were together at Blackpool. Premier League experience has joined in the shape of Jerome Thomas as well as Stephen Dobbie, on loan at Palace last season and Spanish defender José Campana. Marouane Chamakh has also joined the Eagles after an somewhat disappointing spell at Arsenal.

Manager: Ian Holloway. Holloway has been here before as manager of the underdogs entering the Premier League. He so nearly kept Blackpool up in 2011 only being relegated on the last day of the season. He is known for his attacking style of play and his approach to the media.

Expectations: Ian Holloway will hope his Crystal Palace side can avoid the drop. Realistically it will be difficult for the Championship playoff winners. There is a real lack of Premier League experience and quality in the squad but Holloway will hope to create the same sort of camaraderie he did with Blackpool a few years ago as his unfancied side came within 90 minutes of avoiding the drop. It will be tough.

Key player: Dwight Gayle. New signing Dwight Gayle has completed a metaphoric rise to the Premier League. He spent the 2011/12 season on loan at Bishop’s Stortford in the Conference North. The Eagles’ hopes will be pinned on this mans shoulders and whether or not he can adapt to the Premier League.

  1. Chelsea
  2. Manchester City
  3. Manchester United
  4. Arsenal
  5. Tottenham
  6. Liverpool
  7. Swansea
  8. Newcastle
  9. Everton
  10. Aston Villa
  11. Norwich
  12. Southampton
  13. West Ham
  14. Fulham
  15. West Brom
  16. Cardiff 
  17. Hull
  18. Sunderland
  19. Stoke
  20. Crystal Palace
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Football League: Ones to watch!

Championship

Name: Will Hughes

Club: Derby County

Age: 18

England Under 21 Midfielder Will Hughes has come through the academy at Derby County in recent years. Last season he began to establish himself as a regular in the Rams side, making 35 league appearances, scoring 2 goals. His strengths are his technical ability and his passing. For his age, Hughes has a wise head on his shoulders and is an intelligent footballer who has already attracted the big clubs in English football.

Name: Dale Jennings

Club: Barnsley

Age: 20

When Dale Jennings left Tranmere for Bayern Munich in 2011, big things were expected from such a young man. He had just won the League One Apprentice of the season award after an incredible first season in professional football. After two years playing for Bayern Munich II, he has returned to England with Barnsley, where he will hope to progress his career. At 5 ft 9 he is predominantly a left winger with a lot of pace and an eye for goal.

Name: Anthony Knockaert

Club: Leicester

Age: 21

After the heartbreaking penalty miss in the playoff semi final last year, Anthony Knockaert will look to bounce back this season. The French Under 21 international attacking midfielder arrived at Leicester in the summer of 2012 and had an impressive first season for the Foxes scoring 8 goals. A good technical player, Knockaert will look to improve to help his club go one further and achieve promotion this time around.

Name: Johnny Russell

Club: Derby County

Age: 23

Forward Johnny Russell swapped Dundee United for Derby County this summer to help further his career. The former Scotland Under 21 international will hope good performances for Derby will help him break into the full senior side. The 23 year old comes with a big reputation having scored 13 times last season in the SPL. At 5 ft 10, the Dundee United trainee is a nifty character with plenty of potential to still improve. Russell has had an impressive pre season, netting 5 goals along the way.

League One

Name: Nahki Wells

Club: Bradford

Age: 23

It took Nahki Wells a few years to find his feet in football before joining Bradford City in 2011. He exploded onto the scene during Bradford’s Capital One Cup run last year scoring against Premier League Aston Villa in the semi final. This year he has the chance to prove himself in a higher division after netting 26 goals in all competitions last season. The Bermudan international still has time on his side at 23 and will hope for a big future in the game.

Name: Leigh Griffiths

Club: Wolves

Age: 22

Leigh Griffiths returns to Wolves this season after spending the last two season on loan at Hibs in Scotland,  where last season he scored 23 league goals. This impressive season was followed with a number of personal accolades for the Scotland international striker, including young player of the year and being included in the SPL team of the year. Now back in League One with Wolves, the former Livingston and Dundee man will look to continue his rich scoring form.

Name: George Long

Club: Sheff Utd

Age: 19

After being backup for a few years, young goalkeeper George Long established himself in the Sheffield United first team last season, making 38 appearances, including the playoff semi final defeat over 2 legs to Yeovil. At 19, he has already made 50 senior appearances for the Blades. Long was named in the England Under 20’s squad for the World Cup, featuring in a warm up game against Uruguay. This season he will look to continue impressing as number 1 as Sheffield United look for promotion back to the Championship.

Name: Britt Assombalonga

Club: Peterborough

Age: 20

Peterborough signed Britt Assombalonga from Watford this summer for what is believed to be a club record fee. The 20 year old has scored whether he has played in his short career, including at Southend, where he scored 15 league goals in an impressive loan spell last season. Born in Zaire, Britt can play upfront or as a winger. He is blessed with great pace and goal scoring ability, which will make him an handful at League One level. 

League Two

Name: George Francomb

Club: AFC Wimbledon

Age: 21

AFC Wimbledon raised a few eyebrows when they signed George Francomb on a free transfer following his release from Norwich City. Francomb can play in midfield or at right back and his versatility is key. The youngster impressed on loan at Wimbledon last season and has had previous loan spells at Barnet and Hibernian, as well as making senior appearances for Norwich City. He is known for his crossing ability and wide range of passing, as well as a good set piece. 

Name: Jed Wallace

Club: Portsmouth

Age: 19

A graduate of the Portsmouth academy, Jed Wallace is a central midfielder with a big future in the game. He broke into the Portsmouth first team in the second half of last season after an impressive loan spell at non league Whitehawk. He scored 6 goals in 22 appearances for the struggling club last term as they succumbed to relegation. His impressive goal tally from midfield received wide recognition in the lower leagues and in March 2013 he won his first England Under 19 cap. Wallace has been attracting interest from bigger sides so Portsmouth will be hoping to keep hold of him. 

Name: Jamie Cureton

Club: Cheltenham

Age: 37

At 37 it seems strange to mention Jamie Cureton as a player to watch for next season. However the former Norwich, Reading and QPR man has just signed for Cheltenham, his 13th different club. He last season scored 15 goals in 20 games for Exeter, proving his eye for goal still remains despite his advancing years. Cureton, who once had a spell in South Korea, is known for his poaching instincts, having scored 245 goals in his illustrious Football League career. The 5 ft 8 striker has had an impressive pre-season as he is about to begin his 20th season as a proffessional footballer.

Name: Jeff Hughes

Club: Fleetwood

Age: 28

When Northern Ireland international Jeff Hughes left Notts County last season on a free transfer, many expected him to stay at League One level, if not move to the Championship. Instead, Fleetwood Town acquired the services of the talented midfielder, who can play in the center or on the left. Hughes impressed at League One level with Bristol Rovers and then Notts County after moving to England from Ireland earlier on in his career. The 6ft midfielder Hughes will expect to have a big influence on games in League Two as Fleetwood hope to push for promotion.

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Championship preview!

This weekend The Championship returns with what promises to be another pulsating season. This blog takes a look at the contenders for promotion and relegation. 

After relegation last season, Harry Redknapp’s QPR have been made favourites by the bookies to gain promotion.

A summer of fire sales continues as the club continue to get the big names off of the wage bill. The club has brought in experience, with the likes of Richard Dunne, Danny Simpson and Karl Henry.

Key to the clubs success will be Redknapp’s ability to get the best out of the big names, who expect to be playing at a higher level than the Championship.

Second favourites are also recently relegated Reading. Manager Nigel Adkins has also spent the summer streamlining his squad with a lot of fringe players, such as Noel Hunt and Nicky Shorey leave the club. The Royals have also signed wisely, with 3 additions in the shape of Daniel Williams, Royston Drenthe and Wayne Bridge.

Other teams tipped for a promotion chase this season are Dougie Freedman’s Bolton and another recently relegated club, Wigan. After a strong end to the season, Bolton nearly climbed into the playoffs, just missing out on the final day. The club has strengthened bringing players such as Jermiane Beckford, Marc Tierney and Alex Baptiste. FA Cup winners Wigan have perhaps been the most impressive in the transfer market, acquiring players such as Grant Holt, James Perch, Scott Carson and Marc Antoine Fortune. Wigan will have to cope with the pressures of European football in order to have a good league campaign, something which is easier said than done.

Losing playoff finalists Watford will be hoping to go one further this year but may find it difficult to match the heights without loan stars like Matej Vydra and Cristian Battocchio. New players have arrived from parent clubs Udinese and Grenada but there will always be doubts to as whether these foreign players can gel and adapt.

Leicester and Nottingham Forest are also tipped for big things this season. Leicester’s young squad remains largely the same with only Zoumana Bakayogo arriving. Nigel Pearson will look for promising youngsters Chris Wood and Anthony Knockaert to improve. Forest on the other hand have made an abundance of signings. Jamie Mackie, Eric Lichaj, Gonzalo Jara, Dorus de Vries and Jamie Pattison have joined amongst others.

Brighton, Leeds and Blackburn will hoping to push for the playoffs. Brighton lost the playoff semi finals last season and after a controversial managerial change which saw Gus Poyet be replaced by Oscar Garcia, will hope for the same again. The club has bought in experienced center half Matthew Upson to help sure up their defence. Blackburn will look for more stability in their second season back in the Championship. With the goals of Jordan Rhodes, they always have a chance. The club has also bought in Matt Killgallon, DJ Campbell and Alan Judge. Under Brian Mcdermott, Leeds have a manager who knows how to gain promotion. He has bought in his former Reading striker Noel Hunt along with Luke Murphy and Matt Smith from League One.

The suprise package could come from Derby County or AFC Bournemouth. Derby have signed impressively, with the likes of England Under 21 international Adam Smith on loan, the impressive Johnny Russell, Chris Martin and Lee Grant. After promotion from League One last season Bournemouth, under the guidance of impressive young manager Eddie Howe, will be some what a suprise package. How has bought in experience in Ian Harte and Elliott Ward with exciting midfielder Andrew Surman joining the club on loan.

The best the likes of Birmingham, IpswichMiddlesbrough and Charlton can hope for is mid table mediocrity. Birmingham are struggling financially and have seen key players like Nathan Redmond depart for pastures new. They have signed youngsters Tom Adeyemi, Lee Novak and Andrew Shinnie as well as Kyle Bartley on loan from Swansea.  Charlton, now in their second season of Championship football, have failed to strengthen. Only Richard Wood and Mark Gower have joined the London club. The Championship’s longest serving club Ipswich will more than likely remain in the league for another season. Manager Mick McCarthy has brought in Christophe Berra from his former club Wolves, as well as some of last season’s loan players David McGoldrick, Jay Tabb and Daryl Murphy. ‘Boro had an awful second half to last season and have only signed Dean Whitehead on a permanent deal.

Favourites for relegation are League One playoff winners Yeovil. The club will have to over-perform to stand any chance of surviving in the division. Key to any chance they may have will be the performance of experienced signing Alan Tate and youngsters Paddy Madden and loan signing Michael Ngoo.

Fellow promoted side Doncaster are also tipped to struggle on their return to the Championship. The club have signed goalkeeper Ross Turnbull from Chelsea and Harry Forrester from Brentford, the club they beat to promotion in such dramatic circumstances. Bongani Khumalo has joined on loan from Spurs and will be key in providing defensive security.

The trio of Yorkshire clubs, Barnsley, Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield, who all survived last season, look set to struggle again. Huddersfield may well be alright if new signing James Vaughan can continue to score goals as he did on his loan spell last season. The club has also signed strikers Martin Paterson and Cristian Lopez to provide more firepower. After staying up miraculously last season, Barnsley will have a job to do the same again. The club has signed exciting youngster Dale Jennings from Bayern Munich and John Cofie from Manchester United and will rely on them to provide goals. Sheffield Wednesday have struggled in the transfer market, signing just 4 players including Jacques Maghoma from Burton.

Burnley and Blackpool might both struggle this season after both teams have failed to gain promotion back to the Premier League in recent seasons. The ongoing transfer saga involving Thomas Ince will do Blackpool no favours. The seasiders have signed strikers Michael Chopra, Steve Davies and Bobby Grant to bolster their attacking force. Burnley have lost key players this summer in the shape of Lee Grant and Chris McCann. Keeper Tom Heaton has joined the club from Bristol City and young full back Joseph Mills from Reading.

Finally, Millwall will rely on whether the returning Steve Morison can fire them the goals to keep them up. The club lost long term manager Kenny Jackett in the summer and may suffer from a hangover going into the season. New manager Steve Lomas has also signed Scott Mcdonald and Nicky Bailey from Charlton to avoid this.

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League One Preview

The League One season kicks off on Friday night. This blog takes a look at the season ahead and the chances of the teams plying their trade in the division. 

After back to back relegations, Wolves have to be favourites. Now under the guidance of Kenny Jackett, the midlands club will hope of bouncing back at the first time of asking.

The club has only bought in Sam Ricketts but have Leigh Griffiths returning on loan from Hibs, where he banged in goals all season. Griffiths could be key for the team as they look for promotion.

The other two relegated teams Peterborough and Bristol City must also be favourites to go up. Peterborough have the know how to get promoted under Darren Ferguson. The team remains fairly the same but expect the club to continue to spend after selling Dwight Gayle to Crystal Palace for a fee believed to have been around £5 million. Bristol City, unlike the others, have signed players impressively including Jay Emmanuel Thomas and Frank Fielding.

Brentford missed out on promotion in the last seconds of the last game of last season before losing the play off final. Uwe Rosler has made a number of signings at the London club look to make that extra step this time around. David Button and Will Grigg have both joined aswell as impressive loan signings Conor McAleny and George Saville from Chelsea.

Other teams who will hope to push for promotion are Preston and Sheffield United, both now experienced League One sides. The latter now under the management of former Everton defender David Weir. Preston have signed experienced England international Kevin Davies.

There will be a number of mid table teams, including Notts County, MK Dons, Swindon and Tranmere will hope to push for the play off spots. All have experienced changes this summer. Notts County replaced the likes of Alan Judge and Jeff Hughes with Danny Haynes and Mark Fotheringham. MK Dons will look to improve on last season after a poor season last time around. Karl Robsinson is a young manager who continues to learn about the game. Swindon have been blessed with a number of players on loan from Spurs, including Massimo Luongo and Ryan Mason.

Coventry‘s financial situation could see them struggle as they move out of the Ricoh Arena and into Northampton.

The suprise package could come from one of the promoted teams. League Two champions Gillingham have acquired an exciting front pair in former players Adebayo Akinfenwa and Cody McDonald. Play off winners Bradford City could continue their push up the league after finally managing to get out of League Two last season. They showed their credentials last season during their epic Capital One Cup run to the final. Phil Parkinson has only bought in two players in Jason Kennedy and Mark Yeates but have impressive youngster Nahki Wells who will be looking to impress at a higher level. Rotherham have made some impressive signings, including young Richard Brindley and Michael Tidser and Rob Milsom from Scotland. The final of the promoted teams, Port Vale, are the most likely to struggle. The club has strengthened in midfield and defence bringing in the likes of Carl Dickinson and Chris Lines but will heavily rely on whether Tom Pope can make the step up.

The likes of Crawley, Leyton Orient and Crewe look set for another mid table finish. Crawley have lost momentum after back to back promotions and with only Andy Drury and James Hurst arriving at the club they could see themselves being dragged down the table this time around. Leyton Orient’s lack of signings could also see them looking down rather than up with just 3 new additions including Shaun Batt from Millwall. Crewe may have lost Luke Murphy, but their conveyor belt of young talent will surely produce new stars to fill his shoes. They have brought in the likes of Anthony Grant and impressive youngster Vadaine Oliver from Lincoln.

The bookies favourites for the drop are Colchester. The Essex club have been slowly falling down the league in previous years and after narrowly avoiding relegation last time around, look set for more trouble this term. The signings of Sanchez Watt and Craig Eastmond may provide fans of the club some hope of brighter times.

Shrewsbury have also been tipped to go down. The club have resigned James Tavernier and Awasi Asanta on loan. Stevenage are also favourites with the bookies to make the drop. After missing out in the playoffs in 2011/12, the club found life tougher last season and this fall is predicted to continue. The club has signed mainly from League Two with the likes of Simon Heslop and Luke Jones and the club will be hoping they can adapt at a higher standard.

League One stalwarts Carlisle, Oldham and Walsall may also struggle but will hope for a mid table finish. Oldham have lost a number of key players including goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis, Lee Croft and Matt Smith, who has joined Leeds. They have loaned in Mark Oxley from Hull and signed former Norwich midfielder Korey Smith. Carlisle have stuggled with signing managing only 3 permanent players, including Lewis Guy and David Amoo. Walsall may have problems replacing top scorer Will Grigg after his departure from the club. They hope Troy Hewitt and loan signing Milan Lalkovic may provide more options in the final third.

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League Two preview

The Football League starts this season and in League Two it looks set to be an interesting season. This blog takes a look at the teams involved and the summer they have had, assessing their chances. 

Portsmouth are the favourites with the bookies to return to League One at the first time of asking.

Despite a free-fall that has seen the club drop from the Premier League to League Two in just 4 seasons things are beginning to look up for the south coast club as their Supporter’s Club has finally taken over the club.

Guy Whittingham has bought in a whole host of signings, including Patrick Agyemang, Simon Ferry and Tom Craddock, whilst keeping hold of young stars such as defender Adam Webster, striker Ashley Harris and midfielder Jed Wallace.

Another of the relegated clubs Scunthorpe will also hoping to bounce back at the first time of asking. Brian Laws has signed a lot of experienced players, including Scottish international Chris Iwelumo, Deon Burton and Andy Dawson.

Other teams hoping to challenge will be the other relegated clubs, Hartlepool and Bury. Hartlepool will have to look to continue to rebuild their squad however, with Jack Compton the only player to join the club on a permanent basis this summer. Both look likely to struggle however with their finances coming under serious pressure following relegation and promotion at this current stage seems a long way away.

Last years beaten play off teams, Northampton, Cheltenham and Burton, where Rory Delap has brought his long throw to League Two, will be looking to go one step further and achieve promotion. Northampton have lost a lot of experience this summer as Adebayo Akinfenwa and Clarke Carlisle have left the club but Matt Duke and Darren Carter have both joined the club. Cheltenham have brought in goals with the signing of experienced striker Jamie Cureton on a free transfer.

Fleetwood and Chesterfield have also been placed among the favourites by bookies to gain promotion this season. Fleetwood have made some impressive signings in former Notts County midfielder Jeff Hughes and Stevenage defender Mark Roberts. Chesterfield will be looking to continue their strong run of form towards the back end of last season into the coming season and with the signing of former Ipswich and Huddersfield man Gary Roberts will give them extra quality in the wide areas.

Teams that could make the playoffs but could look set for a top half finish are Rochdale, Southend, Oxford and Exeter, all of whom had top half finishes last season, as well as Bristol Rovers, who have acquired John-Joe O’Toole from manager John Ward’s old club Colchester. Dave Kitson has joined Oxford whilst Rochdale under Keith Hill have signed no less than 10 players. Southend, managed by former Hull manager Phil Brown, have had a lack of signings and may struggle after losing a number of key players such as Bilel Moshni, Michael Spillane and the retiring pair of Neil Harris and Graham Coughlan.

Both of last years promoted teams Newport County, returning to the Football League for the first time in 25 years, and Mansfield Town, could be the teams to look out for next season. Both have been given a decent chance with the bookies and with momentum could push for that back to back promotion, the likes of with Crawley and Stevenage have achieved in recent years.

In the bottom half of the table York, managed by Nigel Worthington, Wycombe, under the guidance of Gareth Ainsworth, and Torquay, will look to have comfortable seasons, avoiding the relegation battle and hopefully pushing for the top half. York have made a whole host of signings including Ryan Jarvis, who Worthington nurtured in his earlier career at Norwich City. Paris Cowan-Hall and Jon-Paul Pitman have joined Wycombe and Torquay have made 6 signings including Krystian Pearce from Notts County.

Favourites for relegation with the bookies are Dagenham & Redbridge. With a summer short of transfers they will be expected to struggle again. They have signed former Arsenal striker Rhys Murphy on a free transfer but have seen a numbers of players such as Jonathan Fortune and Ben Strevens leave the club.

AFC Wimbledon and Plymouth both struggled last season but have bought well in the transfer market. AFC Wimbledon have acquired former Norwich City full back George Francomb and Charlie Sheringham as well as George Porter and Michael Smith on loan. Plymouth have signed the likes of Andre Blackman, Dominic Blizzard and Reuben Reid on loan from Yeovil.

Accrington Stanley, managed by James Beattie, and Morecombe. Both teams struggled last season and could be dragged into the relegation mix again this time around. Stanley have brought in experience in with the likes of Nicky Hunt and Danny Webber. Morecombe have signed 5 players including winger Marcus Marshall.

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Free Agent XI

With all 20 Premier League clubs announcing the players they will not be maintaining next season, here’s a look at some of the players yet to sign for another club. 

Mucha

Simpson – Dunne – Gallas – Ferreira

Benayoun – Whitehead – Denilson – Arshavin

Santa Cruz – Cole

Jan Mucha

The 30 year old goalkeeper was released by Everton in the summer. He has 35 caps for the Slovakian national team but has found things tough as Tim Howard’s understudy.

Danny Simpson

The former Manchester United trainee finally settled down at Newcastle after a number of loan spells. The 26 year old right back was almost an ever present in the 2011/12 season but found first team action harder to come by this term featuring only 19 times with the arrival of Mathieu Debuchy.

Richard Dunne

The experienced center half was released by Aston Villa after 4 years at the club. Injury kept him out for all of last season but the man with 77 Republic of Ireland caps still has a lot to offer in the twilight of his career.

William Gallas

Another experienced center half who was released by Spurs. Gallas who has also played in the Premier League for Chelsea and Arsenal is now 35 and is more than likely to move away from the Premier League.

Paulo Ferreira

The 35 year old full back ended his 9 year association with Chelsea this summer. Again more likely to move abroad to end his career rather than stay in the Premier League.

Yossi Benayoun

33 year old midfielder who made his name in England at West Ham and Liverpool. Career has faded in the last few years but still has a lot to offer with his technical abilities.

Dean Whitehead

31 year old released by Stoke, a club where he had been a regular for the majority of his 4 years at the club. Energetic and a battler in midfield, his experience has a lot to offer to a new Premier League club.

Denilson

After spending the last two years on loan at Sao Paulo, Arsenal finally took the decision to release Denilson in the summer. At the age of only 25, he still has the potential to have a big future in the game. Would be a decent signing for many Premier League teams.

Andrey Arshavin

Arshavin signed for Arsenal back in 2009 for a fee believed to be around £20 million. However in the last 2 years he has fallen out of favour and in 2012 rejoined Zenit on loan. Now at 32, he has been released.

Roque Santa Cruz

The very much forgotten man, Roque Santa Cruz has been released by Man City. He has spent the last two seasons out on loan at Betis and this season Malaga, playing in the Champions League. At 31 he still has goals left in him.

Carlton Cole

England international Carlton Cole was released by West Ham after 7 years at the club, including helping the club back into the Premier League in 2012. At 29, Cole still has the ability and age to continue playing in the Premier League for a number of years.

Subs: Ross Turnbull, Titus Bramble, Chris Baird, Florent Malouda,  David Bentley, Jerome Thomas, Mladen Petric.

The bench has plenty of Premier League and international experience. Players that have fallen out of form in the last few years, players who have been Premier League regulars for many years.

Without the need for a transfer fee, you can bet many Premier League sides are considering moves for a large number of these players. Only time will help establish the destination of these players come August.

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Champions League final shows current strength of German Football

This evening Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich play each other for the rights to be called the Champions of Europe at Wembley. 

It will be the first all German Champions League final in the history of the competition.

The winner will become the first German winner of the competition since 2001, when Bayern lifted the trophy. The Munich club have lost in 2 of the last 3 finals, last year to Chelsea and 3 years ago to Mourinho’s Inter.

Dortmund have also won the competition, back in 1997, beating Juventus 3-1 in the final.

Perhaps more impressive are the paths the two teams took in reaching the final.

Dortmund we’re in ‘the group of death’ alongside 9 times winners Real Madrid and oil rich Manchester City.

Not only did Jurgen Klopp’s men manage to qualify, they won the group with 14 points, remaining unbeaten throughout. Impressive when you consider their group.

In the first knockout round they faced a tricky tie against Shakhtar Donetsk. A comfortable 3-0 home win was enough to see them win 5-2 on aggregate.

In the Quater finals they revealed a different side to their game. 2-1 down at home to Malaga going into stoppage time after a 0-0 draw in Spain, Dortmund needed to score twice. Something which they astonishingly did to reach the semi final.

In the Semi final they were again drawn against Real Madrid. In the first leg they tore the Spanish giants apart with arguably the best performance of the tournament, winning 4-1. To reach the final they held on in 2nd leg, despite losing 2-0. A monumental achievement.

Bayern had a slightly easier group, but there run through the knockout stages was incredible.

Grouped with Valencia, BATE and Lille, they topped the group with 13 points.

In the first knockout round, they were pitted against 2006 finalists, Arsenal. Bayern scored 3 away goals at the Emirates in an impressive 3-1 win. Despite a shaky second leg 2-0 defeat, they went through on away goals.

In the Quater finals they dealt with Italian champions Juventus, with great ease. Two 2-0 wins saw Bayern canter into the semi finals 4-0 on aggregate.

In the semi’s is where Bayern really showed their strength. They were given the plumb task of taking on Lionel Messi’s Barcelona, winners twice in the last 4 years and arguably, the ‘best team in the world.’ Bayern didn’t just beat Barca, they smashed them. A 7-0 aggregate win humiliated the Spanish club. At home Munich won 4-0 and then followed that up with a 3-0 win in Spain.

Whoever wins the final, the reputation of German football will have definitely improved over the last 12 months. 

The two teams have earned their right to be in the final, playing some incredible football along the way. After Germany’s poor performance at Euro 2000, they changed the structure of football in the country. 13 years on, they are finally starting to see the benefit.

The number of German players amongst the teams is incredible, something that is missing within the Premier League.

Bayern have the likes of Neuer, Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Muller, Gomez, Kroos, Badstuber and Boateng,  whilst Dortmund have key players such as Weidenfeller, Kehl, Bender, Gotze (who will join Bayern in the summer), Reus, Hummels, Schmelzer and Großkreutz. This makes up almost half of the national squad from just two teams.

Next year, Pep Guardiola takes over at Bayern and having already signed Gotze, will only strengthen. Dortmund, under Klopp, will continue to progress, despite losing one of their key players.

German football is on the up. How will Spain, England and Italy react?

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Posted in Champions League, Football
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