At this point, just before the dawn of another season, every single person has some thoughts. They think about who’s going to win the league and, to a lesser extent, who’s going to slip down into the mire of the Championship. And so it would be remiss if I didn’t share my thoughts on these key issues, well, until it becomes clear they’re further from the mark than a Soldado shot, when this post will quietly disappear.
Let’s start with the bottom and then go up top.
20th – Norwich. The Canaries are back in the big time after a brief stay in the Championship, but it looks like they’re set to continue the yo-yo motion of recent times. They have added bodies to the squad, but have added little in the way of quality, with the pick of the bunch being Andre Wisdom on loan from Liverpool and Brady, who spent almost all of last season out through injury, joining from Hull.
19th – Sunderland. They’ve been flirting with the drop for a few seasons in a row now, each struggle to survive seeming more desperate than the last. Although they have definitely done some decent work in the transfer window so far, with signings including former Spurs captain Kaboul, it seems as if it is only a matter of time until they slip out if the top tier, and there’s no time like the present.
18th – Bournemouth. Touted as the rags to riches story of the league this year, but don’t be taken in by the media haze that surrounds the club; Bournemouth have a history of spending big to get where they want to go, and it works. The Cherries do play good, attractive, attacking football too, but this could prove to be their downfall as they encounter the much more resolute back lines of the Premier League.
4th – Manchester City. Pellegrini’s men looked a pale shadow of themselves last season, compared to their title winning campaign, with Sergio Aguero the only man to play to his full potential. The squad certainly isn’t a youthful one anymore, with most of the established players around the dreaded 30 years of age. This could certainly cost them this year and a season without silverware could pave the way for Pep Guardiola to take the reins next year.
3rd – Manchester United. Not the greatest year for either side of Manchester then. Although there can be little doubt as to the quality of Van Gaals side going forward and in the centre of the park, after a big spending spree brought in some big names, but rumours persist that De Gea will complete a move to Real Madrid. That’s not mentioning the lack of a top quality centre back, a problem for some time now, or the fact that the side hasn’t really had time to gel yet. Again, another season without a trophy could easily spell the end for the manager
2nd – Chelsea. Last season’s champions might just be toppled this season. Mourinho looks set to play the same defensive style as last season, which will be figured out at some point and torn down. On top of this, concerns are lingering over Diego Costa’s fitness, which could lead to the Blues becoming over reliant on the sublime Hazard.
1st – Arsenal. Yes, the Gunners have a great shot at finally reclaiming the premier league title for the first time in a rather long time. They’ve already laid down a marker, beating Chelsea in the Community Shield final, which could spell the end of Arsenal’s history of struggling against the top sides. Petr Cech, brought in from Chelsea, is a fantastic signing, and adding Benzema to their forward line could be the final piece in the puzzle for Wenger. Injuries could spell the end of any title challenge though, with Jack Wilshere becoming the first casualty, before the season has even begun.
One thing is for certain, this will be another quality season of football, and the wait is nearly over.
Its back. The summer transfer window has once again opened, ushering in a plethora of clichés, fully reinstating the rumour mill and filling the back pages with endless stories and statements. So here’s another one. What do the biggest clubs really need, and who should they target so that they can come back stronger next season.
As for Chelsea, they were given their own in-depth piece on what they need, available right here. That’s what winning the League Cup and simply dominating the Premier League gets you nowadays.
Moving swiftly on then; Arsenal
For a long time the Gunners have lacked a top quality striker capable of delivering the goals needed to fuel a drive to the league title, which must be the clubs aim for next season. At the other end of the pitch, Wenger seems to have settled on Ospina over Szczęsny, but neither has the quality needed for a title challenge. In the middle of these two problem areas is another; a defensive midfielder.
The deposed champions were something of a damp squib this year, failing once again to mount a serious title defence. Oddly, there seem to be no particular areas needed for improvement, but a more general problem of an ageing squad came to the fore. An injection of youth might be what’s needed at the Etihad this summer. One area that this issue is very visible is at left back, where both first team options, Clichy and Kolarov, are 29 years of age. Whilst they are still capable of playing at the highest level, their powers are certainly declining. To avoid stagnating and withering away, City must bring in young talents to freshen up the squad.
Sticking in Manchester, but moving to the red side, Manchester United have had another season without silverware. One of the brightest lights of their newest managerial era has been the continued development of David de Gea into a world class goalkeeper, who has saved his side on several occasions. However his emergence onto the world stage, at the same time as the decline of fellow Spaniard Iker Casillas of Real Madrid, has turned the heads of the La Liga giants, with persistent rumours that de Gea will make the move to Madrid this summer. Obviously then, a new keeper will be needed at Old Trafford. Also at the back, Manchester United have looked shaky, to say the least, at centre back, with Carrick even being called upon to occupy that role. Surprisingly, Manchester United were also limp at the other end of the field at times, as Van Persie saw his season cut down with injury, while on loan Falcao flopped and Rooney was pushed back into a midfield role.
Well. Where to start with Liverpool’s problems? They’ve been dubbed the “new Spurs” after selling their star player to the eventual Champions League winners from Spain and spending big on a large number of players, performing badly in Europe, before being lumbered with Europa league action next season. Suárez is the man that they’ve failed to properly replace, with Balotelli, Borini and Lambert being entirely ineffective in front of goal and Sturridge spending the season on the treatment table while Suárez was off winning the treble at Barcelona. Another transfer flop, arguably the biggest, has been Lovren, who looked completely lost at Anfield. Premier League legend Steven Gerrard has also departed the club, joining the likes of Villa and Lampard in the MLS. It will be impossible to fill the holes in the hearts of the Kop faithful that Gerrard’s departure has left, but Liverpool must attempt to replace him on the pitch.
The question is then, who should these clubs look to in order solve their various problems?
For those who need a few more goals, Alexandre Lacazette has been the top scorer in Europe’s top 5 leagues, apart from a certain diminutive Argentinian and a towering Portuguese forward. Surprisingly, Falcao has been linked with moves to another top Premier League side, despite his barren stay at Old Trafford this season, with Chelsea rumoured to be the front runners in the race for his signature. Porto, famed for buying players on the cheap, then selling them on for huge sums, seem to have done it again with Jackson Martinez, although it seems he will move to AC Milan rather than grace the squad of a Premier League side.
If your side needs a midfielder, there’s one player that seems to be on everybody’s radar. Paul Pogba, released by Manchester United only to be snapped up by Juventus, where he has thrived, has been linked with pretty much every club going at some point over the past year. All that competition, as well as him being just 22, has meant he commands a huge price tag, rumoured to be up to £80 million. If that seems a bit much, or your club isn’t owned by billionaire sheiks or Russians, then Arturo Vidal, Pogba’s midfield companion at Juventus could be what you’re looking for. Staying in Serie A, young playmaker Mateo Kovačić has been strongly linked with a move to Liverpool.
At the back, Nicolás Otamendi has impressed in his first, and quite possibly only, season at Valencia, helping to steer the club to Champions League football for next season. The 27 year old centre back has apparently reached a “verbal agreement” to move to Manchester United this summer, where his talents are badly needed. Young Englishman John Stones is another potential target for the clubs looking to strengthen at the back. Also able to be deployed at right back, he has been one of the few bright lights in what was otherwise a season to forget for Everton. However, he is a young, talented, English player, meaning that he probably will be sold for a ridiculously high fee. Perhaps a cheaper option would be Schalke captain Benedikt Höwedes, who played a significant role in Germany’s World Cup triumph last year, going from strength to strength at club level. But it seems as if the versatile 27 year old is set to stay, reportedly rejecting two offers already from other clubs.
Between the sticks, there seem to be relatively few options. The one name that springs to mind is Petr Čech, who has been relegated to a place on the bench at Chelsea this season after Courtois returned from a successful loan spell at Atlético Madrid. He is still very capable though, despite seeing far less action than he would have liked to this season. His reputation as a top quality keeper has remained intact and he is thought to be the subject of some intense interest from Arsenal, where he would be the first choice keeper once again.
There’s a long summer ahead, and we can only expect the usual share of last minute deals, shock moves, frankly daft rumours, protracted sagas, sky news polls, Jim White and all the rest of it.
A dominant Chelsea side secured a Premier League and Capital One Cup double in the second season of Jose Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge, but how can they improve for the 2015/16 campaign?
If you aren’t moving forward each and every year, you risk stagnating and being caught and overtaken by your rivals, a lesson that Manchester City would do well to heed. So this is how Chelsea can avoid a similar fate to that which the men in sky blue endured this season and continue to win titles:
1. Add another striker
Suprisingly, veteran striker Didier Drogba, aslo in his second spell at the club, made more appearances for Chelsea than star man Diego Costa. Although Costa’s 20 goals in 26 appearances were key to Chelsea’s title triumph, the hamstring injury that he picked up whilst still in Madrid continued to trouble him with further injuries to Loic Remy forcing Mourinho to rely on the 37-year-old Drogba far more than he would have liked. This showed itself in the statistics, with Chelsea’s goal tally of 73 falling short of the average 80.45 needed to secure the title since the 1995/6 campaign.
Didier Drogba has already confirmed that he will again be leaving Chelsea in the summer, a wise decision, as the Ivorian legend was clearly struggling towards the end of the season, netting just once in his final 16 league appearances for the Blues. Remy showed he was capable notching 7 times in his 19 league appearances, but he is certainly not on the level of Costa, and he too has been plagued with injuries throughout the season, leaving Mourinho needing to add top quality up top.
So, who could Chelsea target? Mauro Icardi of Inter Milan is one option. The Argentine has scored 29 goals in 57 Serie A games over the last two seasons, finishing as joint top scorer in the league with 22 this season, ahead of the likes of Carlos Tévez and Gonzalo Higuaín. At only 22 years of age, there would be plenty of time for development in London. Elsewhere, Alexandre Lacazette’s tally of 29 goals for Lyon in 2014/15, a tally bettered in Europe’s top five leagues by only Messi and Ronaldo, is unlikely to have gone unnoticed. Unsurprisingly, he has been linked with almost all of the top clubs, meaning Chelsea would have to fight off stiff competition to secure his signature. The French international is just a year older than Icardi, but also has the versatility to play in the role of a winger. Mourinho certainly should look to replicate his success in the most recent transfer window this summer.
2. Add squad depth
Chelsea lack depth in other areas, too, most notably in defence. Their back five of Thibaut Courtois, Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, John Terry and Cesar Azpilicueta is a formidable unit, but they are short on numbers beyond that. Petr Cech will need replacing has been heavily linked with a move away after being ousted by Courtois, Kurt Zouma is still just 20 and Atletico Madrid are thought to be keen on re-signing Filipe Luis. Chelsea were lucky to avoid too many defensive injuries this season, but Terry will turn 35 later this year and another centre-back should be a priority.
Mourinho has never been one for heavy rotation, only starting 20 different players prior to wrapping up the title against Crystal Palace on May 3. He admits Chelsea were forced to adopt a “less artistic” approach in the second half of the season, rather than the exciting style they used in the earlier stages, but greater depth would have allowed him to conserve his key players’ energy and cope better when injuries and suspensions began to bite. Had it not been for their defensive grit and the sublime talents of Eden Hazard, their title march may have been ended in a haze of injuries in the final few months of the season.
Another position to add to is defensive midfield, where they lack cover for the brilliant Nemanja Matic, who was hugely influential in the grinding out of results that Chelsea became renowned for in the latter half of the season. Zouma has shown promise in the position, but John Obi Mikel and Ramires have fallen out of favour at Stamford Bridge, and are no longer considered good enough for first team duties. A high-quality addition in that role could fill in for Matic in the case of injury or suspension, and could also be deployed alongside the Serb in big European and domestic games should be the type of player that Mourinho searches for. The name that immediately springs to mind is Saint’s midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin, who has impressed over the last two seasons at St. Marys and has been strongly linked with following many of his old team mates inleaving Southampton.
3. Promote youth
Mourinho could solve his squad depth issues by promoting the talented crop of young players at his disposal, rather than condemning them to join the army of players out on loan. Chelsea have won four of the last six FA Youth Cups and their U19s are UEFA Youth League champions. Although youth development is not something that Mourinho is known for, he was clear enough about his intentions at the start of last season. “My conscience is simple. If, in a few years, (Lewis) Baker, (Isaiah) Brown and (Dominic) Solanke are not national team players, I should blame myself,” he said in July.
In fact, it is Ruben Loftus-Cheek who has shown the most first team promise having impressed on when handed his first start in the clash with against Liverpool in May. Brown, Solanke, Andreas Christensen and Nathan Ake have also made a handful of appearances, while Patrick Bamford could return to the fold following his impressive loan spell at Middlesbrough. Perhaps it is Bamford that Mourinho could turn to in order to address his issues up top, rather than forcing the young striker out by buying an expensive player from the continent.
4. Cut the complacency
Mourinho spent a lot of the 2013/14 season lamenting his side’s inability to “kill” opponents as they fell short of winning the title, and, although they romped to the league title, it remains a worry. In the Premier League this season, only West Ham, Swansea, Leicester, Sunderland and Everton have lost more points from winning positions than Chelsea (15). By contrast, runners-up Manchester City lost just nine points from similar positions.
However, the most notable examples came in the cup competitions. Chelsea were two goals up at home to league one outfit Bradford City in the FA Cup fourth round but conceded four goals without reply as the Bantams recorded one of the biggest cup upsets in history. Then there was their Champions League elimination by Paris Saint-Germain, as yet another English team floundered in Europe. Mourinho’s men failed to make the extra man count following Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s early sending off, and the French side equalised twice to go through on away goals.
"It was not good enough,” Mourinho said after the game. “The game was in our hands twice. They coped better with the pressure of the game. Maybe with 10 men we felt even more pressure to win. They had nothing to lose. They were just playing that game. We felt that extra pressure and couldn't cope.” Chelsea did, however, show true grit to battle their way through the final months of the Premier League season. They will need more of the same next year.
Before the start of the season, things weren’t looking great for the Saints, with many tipping the side to struggle to maintain a spot in the Premier League.
Several key, long serving players were part of a summer exodus from the club, including manager Mauricio Pochettino, the mastermind who had guided the club to an exceptional 8th place finish last season, just short of delivering European football.
Some of the club’s talented young players, such as Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers, were whisked away by top clubs Manchester and Arsenal, for £30 and £16 million respectively. Also amongst those to leave were the club captain, top striker and defensive rock; Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Dejan Lovren, who all joined Brendan Roger’s Liverpool side, where the £50 million trio have collectively flopped. A long term injury to top scorer Jay Rodriguez, who could have been in Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad, also meant that he would be unable to play for nearly a year.
With so much of the first team departing, there were serious questions asked of the Southampton owners and whether the team would be able to cling onto Premier League status.
But in reality, Southampton haven’t looked back, going from strength to strength this season.
After an impressive start, including an 8-0 thrashing of Sunderland, Southampton showed no signs of being a club in crisis. 12 games into the season, they sat 2nd in the table behind leaders Chelsea, with many believing that the Saints were capable of going the distance and securing Champions League football for the first time in the clubs history.
Whilst that may not be the case now, Southampton currently sit in 6th place, which would mean that they can expect to be playing in the Europa League next season, although a Harry Kane inspired Spurs, led by former Saints manager Pochettino, are close behind them.
Much of the credit for Southampton’s continued presence at the top end of the table must go to new manager Ronald Koeman, who arrived shortly after Pochettino’s departure in the summer.
The Dutch legend has brought several top quality imports with him from his native league, more than replacing those who moved on, such as playmaker Dušan Tadić, electric winger Sadio Mane and striker Graziano Pelle. Whilst the latter has recently endured a lengthy goal drought, he has still been impressive, especially the part he played on the Saints early season form. Tadić has racked up 7 assists so far, along with 4 goals, with Mane contributing another 8. James Ward-Prowse, yet another Southampton academy graduate has also continued his impressive rise, demonstrating his exceptional dead ball capabilities many times this season
Crucially though, Southampton have been very tight at the back this season. In this department, it is not about who Koeman has sold, but rather who he has kept, though it is likely that his own defensive qualities have rubbed off on his players. Defensive midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin has stayed put, despite interest from Arsenal, amongst others. Nathaniel Clyne, again from Southampton’s youth system, has filled the void left by the departure of Luke Shaw, along with on loan Chelsea player Ryan Bertrand. Fraser Forster has been solid between the sticks after arriving from Celtic, although the quality of Fonte and Yoshida as a centre back pairing has meant he has been rarely called upon. Southampton also managed to avoid selling off any key players in the January transfer window.
Looking forward toward the end of this season, Southampton certainly look placed to better their achievements from last season and have a realistic chance of competing in Europe next season.
However, European competition can exact a heavy toll on a team, as Roberto Martinez’s Everton have found this season, meaning it may be a blessing in disguise if Spurs do manage to reach the Europa League instead of the Saints.
Also in the back of the mind of every fan must be the exodus of last season; it happened before, why couldn't it happen again this year? This will be a major concern come the summer and you can expect to see the rumour mill churn out story after story linking players with moves away from St. Marys.
There will always be one bright spark for the club though: the youth academy. Having produced the likes of Theo Walcott, Matt Le Tissier, Alan Shearer, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and of course Gareth Bale, to name just a few that have moved on, it seems as if the Saints will always have a ready pool of young talent to dip into, if the first team is sold off again.
The English Premier League is often touted as the best league in the world by many, but this year, English clubs have failed spectacularly in European competitions. Each and every English team has been knocked out of both the Champions League and the Europa League, before even reaching the quarter final stage, despite no league having more clubs in the Champions League than the Premier League. So why do English teams perform so badly?
One reason that is often given is that English teams fail to develop “home-grown players” through club youth systems and that those players who do come out of youth academies aren’t given enough time in the first team, but sent on endless loan spells elsewhere. People often point to Barcelona and their famed youth system that has churned out players like Xavi, Iniesta, and of course, Lionel Messi, as a key example of this. These players have been hugely influential in Barcelona reaching a record 8th consecutive quarter final in the Champions League this season, after seeing off Manchester City, a club criticised for spending money on foreign talent rather than developing English players, over two legs that made for reasonably comfortable watching for the fans of the Catalan club.
But this seems pretty illogical really; after all teams like Manchester City and Chelsea have been characterised for spending large sums on bringing in players from abroad who are supposedly better than the talent already at the clubs. This should mean that these clubs are actually better equipped to compete in Europe, rather than suffering from lack of “home-grown players” – the origin of player shouldn’t make them play any less well in a certain game. In fact, buying players from European rivals should make those clubs less able to compete, but this does not appear to be the case. A great example that flies in the face of the home grown player argument is Real Madrid; a club who spend immense sums of money buying whoever they want in the transfer market, won a record 10th Champions League last season and knocked Liverpool, a team with several English players, out at the group stage.
Festive Fixture Congestion
One feature of the Premier League is a compact fixture schedule during the Christmas period, in which big teams can expect to face one another at least once over just a few weeks. In Spain and Germany, there is a huge contrast to this, in that teams are given a winter break, which allows players to restore their fitness levels halfway through the season. After Christmas, Premier League clubs are introduced into the FA cup, which means that there is no let up at all for players and they can expect their energy levels to suffer. This leaves clubs abroad with a distinct advantage when it is time for European competitions to start up again, their players are much more refreshed and ready, rather than tired and worn after a fixture pile up over Christmas.
Maybe the real root problem is that English teams at the top of the league are simply not as good as those who dominate the domestic league in other countries. English teams rarely spend huge amounts on bringing individual players in and when they do, the players often underperform, such as Torres at Chelsea or Di Maria at Manchester United (there are obvious exceptions to this, Sanchez has been the saviour for Arsenal many times this season). Generally speaking, English clubs are unable to keep hold of their very best players, as foreign clubs come sniffing around in the summer. Suarez and Bale are just two examples of world class players that English clubs haven’t managed to hang on to after an exceptional season in the Premier League.
In short, English teams simply aren’t as good as their European rivals anymore, and this problem is made worse by the demanding schedule that Premier League clubs suffer from over the Christmas period.
Which clubs should be happy with their business and which ones will be ruing the missed opportunity to strengthen for the rest of the season?
The January transfer window has finally slammed shut, bringing an end to the rumors, gossip and fantasies which take over the internet twice a season. Although this window certainly lacked much excitement, it remains a pivotal part of the season, and the impact of good January signings can determine who wins the league or avoid the trapdoor into the Championship.
The League leaders have done some brilliant business yet again and not just in bringing in quality, but selling those on the fringes of the squad deemed surplus to requirements for quite hefty fees.
Andre Schurrle, who played just 443 minutes this season, mostly coming off the bench, has ended up at Wolfsburg for more or less the amount Chelsea paid to Fiorentina to bring in star Juan Cuadrado, who drew many eyes after his impressive World Cup performance with Columbia, whilst last January's signing Mohamed Salah has been sent in the opposite direction on loan.
The West Londoners may be lighter in terms of numbers, but Jose Mourinho will certainly be delighted with the added quality in his squad.
It’s somewhat unusual that deadline day comes to pass and Arsenal fans are extremely relaxed and that is testament to the impressive business boss Arsene Wenger had sorted in the earlier weeks of the window.
Central defender Gabriel has arrived from Villarreal with the defensive depth issues in the squad finally being corrected and most significantly, Wenger has recalled 23 year old Francis Coquelin from his loan spell at Championship side Charlton, with the midfielder excelling in the holding midfield role which has troubled the Gunners in the past.
The North Londoners are now in a better position to continue pushing for yet another finish in the Champions League places.
The Selhurst Park faithful should be more than pleased with the business done by new manager Alan Pardew, with the former Newcastle United boss beginning to shape a team in his image.
Recently, Palace have been built on stern defensive performances, but Pardew has brought in a number of attacking talents to bolster his strike force and push the Eagles up the table. Wilfried Zaha has had his loan turned into a permanent deal for a reported £3 million (via BBC Sport), making a £12 million profit on the Manchester United flop, 24 months after Palace received £15 million for the wide man.
Premier League veteran Lee Chung-yong was brought in from Bolton Wanderers, whilst Pardew added Yaya Sanogo and Shola Ameobi to his squad. Former Cardiff City man Jordan Mutch was also signed from QPR.
It seems as though QPR’s Premier League nightmare will continue as the club aims to escape relegation having not significantly strengthened in the January transfer window. With QPR still yet to register a single point away from home this season, this could prove costly in the coming months
Mauro Zarate remained the only incoming player throughout the whole window, but was involved in a bizarre deadline day twist: QPR attempted to send the Argentine back to West Ham United in order to bring in Matt Jarvis on loan instead, only for the Premier League to put an end to that move – a truly messy situation.
The only silver lining for QPR fans is that they managed to keep hold of top scorer Charlie Austin, after rumored interest from Liverpool and Arsenal, whose goals could prove to be the difference between a stay in the top tier or a relapse to the Championship. QPR have also parted ways with veteran manager Harry Redknapp, officially due to his knee surgery, but his resignation just hours after the end of the window points to the possibility that he was not given the board backing to bring in the players he wanted.
Hull City may have hoped to conclude a number of deals towards the end of deadline day, but it seemed to be a transfer window full of nearly's for Steve Bruce's side.
Early on, Arsenal’s Yaya Sanogo decided to join Crystal Palace instead of Hull, which was quickly followed by the Jermaine Defoe’s arrival at the Stadium of Light, despite Bruce admitting to being interested in the England international.
However, the Tigers were able to conclude the signing of Senegalese international Dame N’Doye after being granted extra time by the FA. Hull may be in big trouble still though and will definitely be looking down the table towards the bottom three, rather than upwards to the relative security of mid-table.
A club which has now become a mainstay in the Premier League, Swansea could have been a team with different ambitions had they been able to properly replace Man City bound Wilfried Bony.
The £28 million fee received for the striker, currently on international leave at the African Cup of Nations with new team mate Yaya Toure, meant that keeping the star forward would become almost impossible, but having a want-away player in Bafetimbi Gomis as a back-up could prove fruitless. Swansea lack a real goal threat, with Michu still recovering from an ankle injury whilst on loan at Napoli.
The Swans showed a more resilient side to their game at the weekend and may have to produce a similar approach all season, but ultimately, the performances of Gylfi Sigurdsson, amongst others, so far, should be enough to ensure that they will be in the Premier League when the Summer Transfer Window opens in a few short months...
For those of you that are unfamiliar with FIFA, the organisation, rather than the video game that is, it is the worlds leading organisation for football. Essentially, FIFA runs football. It determines who hosts the World Cup, one of the greatest sporting events on the planet and the European Championships, which can greatly influence the performance of teams in these tournaments.
FIFA, or to give it its full name, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, is unbelievably corrupt. The level of the corruption may be debatable, but the fact that there is widespread corruption within FIFA is almost universally accepted.
Over the past three years, at least 12 of the organization’s 24 Executive Committee members have been accused of serious issues involving bribes, illegal ticket sales and other scandals. While Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s president since 1998, has escaped punishment—so far, at least—many of his colleagues have fallen or resigned. Blatter himself has already made his greatest contribution to the sport, and it is not a fantastic new innovation or the cleaning up of his own organisation, but a short clip in which he falls off a stage, which is quite funny and definitely worth a quick search on YouTube.
Despite being a registered charity, recently released financial results show that FIFA has over $1 Billion in it's reserves, a reserve which FIFA have deemed as a rainy day fund. Thankfully, FIFA have been putting all this money to good use, producing their own movie, about itself, showing that FIFA is the type of narcissistic organisation that churns out propaganda that portrays the founders of FIFA, whose names history has forgotten, a glorious heroes, devoted to creating an organisation that will promote fair play in football around the world. Unfortunately, they appear to have failed.
One of the latest and greatest scandals to rock footballing's governing body to the very core was the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. These went to Russia and Qatar respectively. Although I do have a reasonable knowledge of world geography, I had never heard of Qatar before they were awarded the greatest competition in the world. Needless to say I ,like the vast majority of people, was exceptionally surprised, but more than that, I was confused.
A quick Google search revealed that Qatar is a small middle Eastern country, made up mainly of desert, with no real history of football and average summer temperatures of 38 Celsius, which can easily rise to 47. Qatar also has a huge amount of oil money. Add all these factors together, along with the fact that FIFA is a rotten organisation and it becomes exceptionally difficult to imagine a scenario where the proverbial bags of money didn't change hands underneath the table. Qatar's plan to host the World Cup involves stadiums in cities that do not even exist yet. There is talk of rescheduling the World Cup to the winter months, when the temperatures are at least playable, but this would wreak havoc upon the domestic leagues. A World Cup in Qatar is simply not a good idea, and it is certainly not desirable.
But what really annoys me about FIFA is not the unbelievable corruption, it is the fact that the organisation even exists at all. Scandals cannot shake the corridors of power in football if they do not exist. Surely it would be much better for the game if FIFA were scrapped completely and replaced by an assembly of all the heads of each nations FA, who would then vote on major decisions, such as where to host World Cups. Whilst this is still far from perfect, it must be a better idea than the current system of government by an organisation that is grotesquely corrupt.
After an extremely impressive start to the season, Chelsea are currently unbeaten, with many wondering if they can manage to go the entire season without suffering a loss. Most recently, they dispatched a Spurs side that enjoyed several chances in the early stages of the game, but were ultimately outclassed by a far superior outfit
Chelsea are now playing attacking, free flowing football, the type rarely seen at all at Stamford Bridge as Jose Mourinho lamented the lack of top quality striker and relied upon strong defensive performances to snatch results. Now though times are changing; Mourinho has assembled a team of talented players and the balance between them all seems perfect. With Nemanja Matic acting as the anchor in the midfield players like Cesc Fabregas, Oscar and Eden Hazard are given the freedom they need to express themselves going forward.
Last season it felt like Hazard was the only focal point of the team, the only player in the team who could produce a moment of magic and win games by himself. Brazilian's Willian and Oscar were clearly focused on the World Cup and seeing out their defensive duties. However, now all three are playing towards the top of their games and they have benefited hugely from the arrival of Fabregas from Barcelona in the summer.
The Spaniard has brought calmness to the Chelsea midfield and whilst he may not offer the goal threat that recently departed Frank Lampard did, he can control games. He sees passes that others don’t, he isn’t afraid to try dangerous passes and nine times out of ten they come off, which has led to him registering the most assists in Europe's top 5 leagues.
Of course the added bonus of this is that teams are now focused on Fabregas and trying to stop him from playing those incisive passes and controlling the game. This allows Hazard the freedom to play how he wants to play. The Belgian has won an astonishing 66 take ons this season, more than any other player across Europe’s top five leagues. He is clearly loving playing football at the moment, like the rest of the Chelsea side.
Another joy of watching Chelsea play football is the way Branislav Ivanovic bombs forward from his position at right-back. The Serbian has a wonderful gung-ho style which has really developed over the past few years and at times his heat maps are closer to Hazard’s rather than his opposite full-back Cesar Azpilicueta, who certainly enjoys getting forward himself.
Although Arsenal and Manchester City are traditionally better teams to watch, this year Arsenal have suffered far too many injuries whilst the latter do not look as fluid as they did last year. Fans of other sides may not want to admit it but Chelsea are now the team to watch in the Premier League. Alexis Sanchez and Sergio Aguero are both brilliant players but as a team no-one can compete with Chelsea right now. Mourinho may not think that they can go the entire season unbeaten, it is a real possibility, and while all the team are performing the way they are right now, providing there is no sudden injury crisis, it should be Chelsea's aim. Certainly, I think that it is hard to make a case for anybody but Chelsea to win the league this year. It just remains to be seen how close the race is.
Manchester United have been renowned for their attacking mentality and style of play, built on world class wingers and unstoppable strikers. But with the likes of Giggs, Beckham, Cantona, Van Nistelrooy and Cristiano Ronaldo all moved on or retired after tasting seemingly endless glory under Sir Alex Ferguson, the players at other end of the pitch should not be forgotten.
In his autobiography, Ferguson revealed that he began building any new side with top quality centre-backs, most recently Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. Again, the top quality players who took trophies in their stride, Denis Irwin, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Gary Neville, Stam, Evra, the list goes on and on, have retired or left the club.
Rio Ferdinand left for QPR, Vidic and Evra traded Manchester for places in Serie A teams Inter Milan and Juventus respectively. So who does that leave at the back for Van Gaal this season?
Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling have all had careers riddled with injuries, which may have contributed to all three being unable to quite live up to their much discussed potential over the years. Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair have been handed first team places as the current injury crisis continues to escelate, and have performed admirably, but are still prone to errors and naive mistakes, as would be expected from such raw young players.
Summer purchases Luke Shaw, Marcus Rojo and Daley Blind have also failed to impress, in defence at least, as Daley Blind, who played in the role of left wing back for Van Gaals Dutch side in the World Cup, has been played in midfield so far. Luke Shaw, slated by Van Gaal for not being fit enough, has failed to recapture the top quality performances that saw him called up for England over Ashley Cole in the World Cup squad.
It is not as if Louis Van Gaal lacked the funds needed to seriously invest in his back line, spending huge sums of money on the attacking flair of Di Maria and Falcao, despite already having Rooney, Van Persie, Mata and Adnan Januzaj to fill these roles. Leaders at the back are what Manchester United are missing; the commanding and calming influence of experienced players like Vidic, whom they have completely failed to replace. It's alright spending fortunes on engine and body work tune ups for a flash car, but if you will not spend money on basics like tyres and fuel, the car, lovely as it may look, simply will not go anywhere. As Ferguson said "Attack will win you games, defence will win you titles", and he would know, he won everything after all, with his teams built on the quality defence that Manchester United do not have now, and it continues to cost them.