Transfer Deadline Day: Two Days to Go_ Club In Focus: Everton_

Howard's end: Everton's no1 has picked the ball out of his net 10 times in three games

Howard’s end: Everton’s no1 has picked the ball out of his net 10 times in three games

The mad trolley-dash would appear to have started early for some clubs, while others may only just be realizing their freezers aren’t fully stocked for the long winter nights that lie ahead.

Mario Balotelli’s £16million move to Liverpool has inadvertently created a void that Harry Redknapp may now wish to fill at QPR: the knock-on effect of Loic Remy replacing Fernando Torres at Chelsea, with AC Milan choosing to replace one mercurial talent with another. It often takes a deal involving great sums of money to light the blue touch paper for fireworks elsewhere and while the media strive to cover all angles in the build-up to the final few hours, the permutations of one money-laden Premier League club choosing to part with their surplus stash are endless.

The domino effect of Marouane Fellaini joining Manchester United for £27 million was felt greatest by Wigan Athletic after losing a Championship play-off semi-final nine months further down the line. The Belgian’s exit immediately activated the arrival of Latics midfielder James McCarthy at Everton, and the cocktail of desperation and tough negotiation will no doubt again lead to there being outright winners and losers come the early hours of Tuesday morning. The biggest losers, however, may be those who only identify a growing cancer once the window has shut.

It’s been a gruelling start for Everton. Buoyed from an excellent campaign under Roberto Martinez in his first season at the club and fresh from making Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku’s presence at Finch Farm permanent, the Toffees cruelly lost Ross Barkley to a knee injury sustained in training 48 hours before the season opener at Leicester. The results, and most glaring the defensive performances in the opening three games have left the Blues looking like an ageing squad in need of an injection of players in their pomp. McCarthy has shown himself to be an exceptional talent, and at 23 he has many years at this level ahead of him, while Seamus Coleman and indeed Lukaku can claim to be shy of their best years. But only the front three behind him on Saturday – Aiden McGeady, Steven Naismith and Kevin Mirallas – out of a 25-man squad can be classified as ‘at their peak’.

Losing to title favourites Chelsea in a game more akin to a Sunday league match, not only in score line but in refereeing, is not enough on its own to warrant Martinez to flick the panic switch, but the perfectionist that he is will demand far more from his preferred defensive partnership of Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka, who looked every inch the oldest Premier League centre-half pairing against a rampant Chelsea front-line.  

John Stones performed with great composure and fearlessness during Jagielka’s absence in the second half of last campaign, but after a summer in which he narrowly missed out on World Cup selection, a spate of erratic pre-season outings would suggest throwing the 20-year-old into a defence low on confidence and high on goals conceded (10) may exacerbate Everton’s Achilles heel. Antolin Alcaraz is the other alternative, as well as being the other side of 30. The Paraguayan has only made six appearances since joining on a free transfer last summer, and will be remembered more for his unfortunate own goal which ended the side’s Champions League hopes at Southampton last April than the glimmers shown of being a deputy capable of taking the club onto the next level this time around.

The cameo from Samuel Eto’o was one of the few positives the ever-optimistic Martinez should rightfully glean from a performance bereft of defensive considerations against Jose Mourinho’s side. His instant impact at Goodison is all the more welcome given Lukaku’s unexpected poor start and Arouna Kone’s expected absence. Steven Naismith is most certainly doing his level best to offset the creative absence of Barkley, not least in terms of goals, but if Everton are to come through a winter schedule complicated by a tough Europa League draw unscathed, any money that remains in chairman Bill Kenwright’s coffers ought to be spent on reaffirming the Gwladys Street hymn of ‘playing from the back’ without the current tinge of irony it possesses.

Transfer Deadline Day Drama rating: 7/10

Transfer Deadline Day: Three Days to Go_ Club In Focus: QPR_

In the rough: Redknapp had hoped to attend a charity golf event on Monday.

In the rough: Redknapp had hoped to attend a charity golf event on Monday.

A Transfer Deadline Day wouldn’t be the same without Harry Redknapp sticking his head out of a battered old Range Rover, so it’s just as well his QPR side look in desperate need of a brand new set of tyres.

A week on from becoming the latest profile to offer Paul Gascoigne an olive branch, Redknapp knows that he himself is heading for the last-last saloon in the transfer market, after his Rangers side have welcomed the visit of Sunderland on Saturday.

Two defeats in a week, both embarrassing for differing reasons, have only served to highlight the growing concerns that the west Londoners are yet to learn from their last sojourn in the top flight, but Redknapp told a sparsely populated media hall on Friday that he foresees an upturn in fortunes.

“I’m back in the Premier League and I want to stay here. We will stay here this season, we will stay up,” Redknapp insisted. “People talk about systems, but it’s all about the players at the end of the day.

“We’re just a little bit short of gelling a team together. If we get the players we’re trying to get, I’m sure we’ll be strong. It takes time to knit a team together. I’m confident that after this break, we’ll see a very different QPR.”

Redknapp believes Ale Faurlin has the character to come back from a third anterior cruciate ligament injury in as many years, but with Armand Traore headed for Crystal Palace and Danny Simpson likely to join Leicester, the former Spurs manager may be faced with a shortage of full-backs going into Monday’s deadline.

Tony Fernandes had told Sky Sports News HQ on Thursday that the club were hopeful of concluding a deal with Reading over the services of goalkeeper Alex McCarthy, and that there was the potential of another midfielder joining the newly arrived Leroy Fer, but so far nothing has been forthcoming, with a move for West Ham United’s Mo Diame by all accounts dead in the water.

Redknapp says that he would like to ‘freshen things up’ if he can, but with many players – including Shaun Wright-Phillips and Jermaine Jenas – seemingly content to sit on their sizeable wages in the capital, the 67-year-old may find convincing members of his squad to look elsewhere for regular first-team football a hard sell.

Edu Vargas completed his move from Napoli over a week ago, but the Chilean is still in his native country finalising a work permit. “He’s not disappeared!” barked Redknapp. “As soon as he gets his passport, he’ll be back. We were hoping he would be back in time for tomorrow, but obviously it seems like he’s not going to make it.”

Vargas’ absence will no doubt add to the growing tension among those at Loftus Road tomorrow – something that would be exacerbated not so much by another defeat as if the likes of Loic Remy and Adel Taraabt are allowed to leave at the eleventh hour on Monday without new faces coming in the other direction.

“As far as I know, there’s been no offers for him,” Redknapp said of Remy. “I’m hopeful that he’ll be here. [Arsenal] have had plenty of time to come on, but nothing’s happened.”

Both Remy and Taraabt – who has again been linked with AC Milan – have buy-out clauses that Redknapp insists must be met, but if his side are to shrug off the moniker of Queen’s Park Strangers this campaign, they must hope whoever joins the discovered Vargas as a new recruit on Monday earn their hoops quickly and are not of the same ilk as those who relegated the club two seasons ago.

Transfer Deadline Day Drama rating: 9/10

Transfer Deadline Day: Four Days to Go_ Club In Focus: Man Utd_

There is little time left for LVG to announce new signings before the transfer window shuts

There is little time left for LVG to announce new signings before the transfer window shuts

What is there left to say about Manchester United this transfer window? What is there left to chew? Analysis of Louis van Gaal’s new-look side now verges on the obsessive following the 4-0 humbling in the Capital One Cup against MK Dons earlier this week, as the vultures already begin to circle over Old Trafford, not content with the scraps that remain of England’s World Cup carcass.

Is the 3-5-2 formation ever going to work? Where will Juan Mata fit in? When will Tom Cleverley be sold?

Roy Hodgson would appear to be on the same page as van Gaal not only on the Aston Villa-bound Cleverley, who was omitted from his latest England squad, but also when it comes to choosing the torchbearer of a new dawn. Wayne Rooney was named the new England captain on Thursday afternoon, with Hodgson following the Dutch coach in entrusting him to carry the ‘baggage’ of previous misdemeanours and the extra responsibility with aplomb.

Rooney will surely relish the prospect of playing alongside new British record transfer signing Angel Di Maria, who shall wear the famous no7 shirt of United previously worn by the likes of George Best, Eric Cantona David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo. Di Maria’s arrival brings the Red Devils’ total summer spending to £130.7m following the arrivals of Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera and Marcos Rojo, but early indications are that van Gaal is only likely to do further business if he allows one or two players to leave.

Speculation surrounding Arturo Vidal and Daley Blind’s futures at Juventus and Ajax respectively refuses to go away, but if United are to break the £200m mark for total expenditure this year, following Mata’s arrival in January, it has been widely reported that either one or both of Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez would have to join Cleverley in heading for the exit.

There were many, including myself, who swooned over the new managerial appointment at the 20-time champions of England, believing that in signing two excellent prospects van Gaal had brought the club back from the brink. Results have dictated otherwise, with the gulf in class between they and title favourites Chelsea and Man City never more apparent in all the months since Sir Alex Ferguson called time on his managerial career.

Di Maria has already been heavily dissected by the media, down to every last cross. No matter how much one searches, attempting to justify the £59.7m fee will be as futile as questioning whether Phil Jones or Chris Smalling will ever fulfil their potential. The acquisition of the Argentine at a premium price will allow for very little bedding-in time, but his 22 assists in La Liga last campaign was unrivalled and signals prosperity for Rooney, Robin van Persie, and company regardless of whether defensive concerns are addressed.

Transfer Deadline Day Drama rating: 8/10



Hodgson names Wayne Rooney as new England captain

New Roo: Rooney says captaining England is 'beyond his wildest dreams'.

New Roo: Rooney says captaining England is ‘beyond his wildest dreams’.

England manager Roy Hodgson has named Wayne Rooney as his new England captain ahead of next month’s friendly against Norway and the start of the European Championship Qualifiers.

Rooney, who has 95 international caps, replaces Steven Gerrard after the Liverpool midfielder called time on his England career following a disappointing World Cup in Brazil.

Hodgson said: “I gave it a lot of thought. But I think Wayne is an obvious choice and he certainly deserves it. He has the responsibility at Man United…these factors played in my thought process. He is prepared to accept the pressures that being England captain brings. You have to feel that whoever takes the captaincy can accept the responsibility.

“It’s dangerous to demand of people that if you get the captaincy you take [your performance] onto a new level. What he’s done from a young age we’ve seen is that he’s ready to accept the responsibility and to push on his in his career.

Hodgson believes that the question of Rooney’s temperament didn’t play a factor in his thoughts, as he judged the forward on his attitude during the two years he has worked with the player, who has twice captained England already, and not the ‘baggage’ that he has carried from his previous misdemeanours.

The England manager has called up four uncapped players ahead of the September internationals, with Calum Chambers, Jack Colback, Fabian Delph and Danny Rose entering the fold. Hodgson doesn’t see the arrival of fresh faces coupled with the retirement of experienced leaders as the turning of a new leaf at Wembley.

“I don’t see this as the start of a new era,” Hodgson said. “After the first game [at the World Cup] we had high hopes, but then they were dashed. I see this as us continuing a line we have already started on with players who we think have a great futures in front of them, which to some extent this has been force upon us. We hope the players can accept the responsibilities both for their club teams- in a protected environment – but also for England, where the scrutiny is far greater.

“[Calum] Chambers first impressed me at Southampton where he played a few games at right back before he lost his place to [Nathaniel] Clyne. I had a long chat with Arsene [Wenger] last night, to check if we weren’t pushing him too soon. He assured me that he was ready to accept whatever challenge we shall give him; selecting him does mean he jumps over the 21s, but with six injuries in the defensive part of the field, I didn’t have that luxury [of choosing].

Hodgson hopes that fellow newcomers Fabian Delph and Jack Colback will embrace the opportunity of stamping their mark on the midfield places vacated by the departed Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

“I don’t think there’s any reason for trepidation. Don’t forget there’s no [Theo] Walcott, [Ross] Barkley, [Adam] Lallana. I don’t see us to be fearful in any way. But on the other hand, it will be exciting and anxious to see how these players do step up.

“On paper, we’ve been unlucky that the opening game [of the European Championship Qualifiers] is perhaps the most difficult fixture we have [away at Switzerland]. The players will have to confront and assume a lot of responsibility without the softer introduction that might have come their way against somewhat lesser teams beforehand.”

England squad to face Norway and Switzerland: (GK) Hart, Foster, Forster; (DEF) Baines, Rose, Stones, Chambers, Cahill, Jagielka, Jones (MID) Delph, Townsend, Wilshere, Milner, Henderson,  Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sterling (ATT) Rooney, Sturridge, Welbeck, Lambert.

Transfer Deadline Day: Five Days to Go_ Club In Focus: Chelsea_

Arrivederci Fernando?: Torres has not yet featured for Chelsea this season.

Arrivederci Fernando?: Torres has not yet featured for Chelsea this season.

A former Premier League manager once said, ‘football is full of lies’. The manager fields questions from the press, insisting that a player is not for sale, while the chairman does his level best to contradict him by calling all broadcasters to express an asset’s availability, like a call for auction on eBay.

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho is King when it comes to conducting the quashing of a rumour in his press conferences. “We are very calm,” he told the media last Friday. The club got what we need, and the club did it in a record time – as though our deadline was July 31st.”

With a glance to Nick Collins came another unmistakable and unequivocal retort from the Portuguese: “This countdown clock you have at Sky Sports News all the time – for us, no tick-tock.”

The final five days of the transfer window that remain will bring with it an increased scrutiny from the media on managers such as Mourinho, whether they like it or not. History suggests it should be no different. Sky Sports News HQ reported this morning that the average percentage of total Premier league spending during the summer transfer window across the past three seasons amounted to 30 percent in the final week.

Whether the crescendo of transfer activity skirts the west Londoners is highly unlikely. Mourinho was responding to the uncertainty surrounding Petr Cech’s future last week, and this week brings forth speculation regarding Marco van Ginkel and Fernando Torres – both of whom are linked with AC Milan.

The Italian club are in search of a replacement for the departed Mario Balotelli and are ‘optimistic’ of securing the season-long loan signing of Torres, who has falled down the pecking order at Stamford Bridge, behind Diego Costa and Didier Drogba. Milan confirmed on Wednesday that an official approach has been made for the Spanish striker and any deal involving Torres is likely to include Chelsea having to pay £5m in wages for the former Liverpool forward.

Torres, 30, signed a five-and-a-half-year, £180,000-a-week deal with Chelsea back in January 2011, but has only managed 20 league goals since that £50m move made him the record transfer to a British club until this week. Chelsea, of course, have already decided to let Romelu Lukaku leave for £28m to Everton, who have also snapped up Samuel Eto’o on a free transfer this week after Chelsea released the four-time African Player of the Year.

Mourinho currently has a squad he is very happy with, however, having conducted his incomings very early on in the transfer window. The results and performances at this very early stage would suggest his side will be a formidable outfit this season, without the need to make further reinforcements. But he would be glad to see Big Ben striking 11pm this very second.

The sale of Lukaku made sound financial sense in this ever-constricting age of FFP, but were Cech and Torres to follow him out of West London, the commonly held perception of Chelsea having strength in depth would be the next topic to be brought before the Special One.

Transfer Deadline Day Drama rating: 8/10

Transfer Deadline Day: Six Days to Go_ Club In Focus: Arsenal_

Forward thinking: Arsenal's attacking options have been dealt a blow

Forward thinking: Arsenal’s attacking options have been dealt a blow by Giroud’s absence

New fitness coach, same old problems. Arsenal fans are coming to terms today with the news they and Shad Forsythe dreaded: Olivier Giroud will be out until the New Year after scans on the ankle he injured during the dying embers of last weekend’s 2-2 at Everton revealed damage that will take four months to repair.

The extent to which the injury will dent Arsenal’s title challenge is not yet known, however. The France international made an immediate impact upon replacing the ineffectual Alexis Sanchez on Saturday evening, but he will now have to wait until 2015 to add to his dramatic late equaliser at Goodison Park.

Gunners manager Arsene Wenger may now be forced to dip into the transfer market once more, but with previous target Mario Balotelli signed by Liverpool and Samuel Eto’o set to join Everton, the Frenchman may find the right option elusive in the final week of the transfer window.

Whilst Wenger will be solely focused on negotiating a tricky Champions League play-off second leg against Besiktas for the time being, next weekend’s trip to Leicester has become an unwanted distraction with the need for a striker ever-more apparent after the north London club’s worst fears over Giroud’s injury were confirmed on Tuesday.

Yaya Sanogo, who has been suffering with a minor hamstring problem himself, is yet to score a competitive goal, while Lukas Podolski’s absence from the squad that travelled to Merseyside would suggest the German forward doesn’t feature in Wenger’s plans.

Whether Giroud’s setback now enables Podolski to re-enter the fold will surely be apparent after the side to face Besiktas is announced, but with Theo Walcott still weeks away from full fitness, Arsenal surely cannot gamble again on making the Champions League at the very least for another season.

One manager who would have listened intently to news of Giroud’s plight is QPR boss Harry Redknapp. While the former Tottenham manager has stressed his keenness to keep Loic Remy at Loftus Road – especially given his side’s inability to score yet this season – the forward has not shied away from his desire to play for a Champions League club.

Redknapp has stated that he would not stand in Remy’s way should a club meet the £8.5 million valuation for the player, and be able to fork out £90,000 a week on his wages.

Wenger was hoping to make Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira and Olympiakos’ Kostas Manolas the last of his summer transfer business, but while he may yet move for defensive reinforcements, Arsenal fans will be desperate to avoid any more rudderless showings like the one produced in the opening 45 minutes at Everton, in the absence of a natural born centre forward.

Transfer Deadline Day Drama rating: 8/10

Transfer Deadline Day: Seven Days To Go_ Club in focus: Crystal Palace_

Palace fans were full of optimism 48 hours before the new season started...

Palace fans were full of optimism 48 hours before the new season started…

Few would’ve predicted the first ‘team in turmoil’ this season to be Crystal Palace as little as ten days ago. But that is precisely where the side that finished so strongly last season under Tony Pulis find themselves: Two league defeats from two doesn’t begin to tell the story.

West Ham showed precisely how to take advantage of a rudderless ship, but with a week remaining of the transfer window, this is no time for a squad with the same nucleus that accrued 45 points last term to sink without a trace.

That Palace are among the sides without a point so far cannot solely be explained by the off-field uncertainty regarding the identity of Pulis’ replacement, nor the resignation of disgraced sporting director Iain Moody. The Eagles produced a performance that matched the result at the weekend, when previously they’d left the Emirates unfortunate to succumb to a newly resolute Arsenal.

The logical question is how can a side without a manager or a sporting director recruit players? Who should they recruit? Well, the root cause of Palace’s problems arose from chairman Steve Parish’s disagreement with Pulis over transfer targets, so any arrival is likely to be either on loan or for a knockdown price.

Caretaker Keith Millen has said that the club is in no rush to appoint Pulis’ successor, and with only a week of the transfer window remaining, it may not be until January that we see new faces emerge at Selhurst Park at least among the playing staff.

Two players who found their chances limited under Pulis for differing reasons were Glenn Murray – who was ruled out for a large chunk of last season with a knee injury – and Jonathan Williams, who was kept on the periphery after the promise shown in the promotion-winning campaign of 2012/13.

Defensive reinforcements have already been made to a backline that conceded less than Liverpool last campaign, so Millen may be entrusted to bring in a more attack-minded player with a week of the window remaining.

Wilfried Zaha is the obvious choice, but realistically his return would be welcomed as much by the downbeat but never dejected Palace faithful as it would be by the player whose stock has fallen since moving to Manchester United.

Make no mistake however: Parish’s priority is finding the right man to stabilize a club that is striving to consolidate its top-flight status having achieved its highest league finish (11th) since 1992 last season.

Transfer Deadline Day Drama rating: 6/10

Harry Redknapp: Mackay is not a murderer, a rapist or a paedophile

Harry Redknapp told the media he believes in second chances

Harry Redknapp told the media he believes in second chances

QPR manager Harry Redknapp has spoken to the media on the Malky Mackay text messaging saga that has left a huge cloud over the state of British football.

A statement from Mackay’s agent on Thursday revealed the former Cardiff manager’s regret at being embroiled in what the LMA later described as ‘friendly text message banter’.

An FA investigation is on going into a dossier sent to them by Cardiff, and while Redknapp criticised the nature of the shocking exchanges – which contained sexist, racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic references – he was sympathetic towards the plight of his fellow manager. 

“Malky Mackay has made a big mistake, big mistake,” Redknapp told the media, ahead of his return to face Tottenham at White Hart Lane on Sunday.

“What they [Iain Moody and Mackay] have done is not right. But Malky is a fantastic fella and a great lad. People make mistakes in life – suddenly everyone else is an angel, but it shouldn’t end his life.

“No one is suffering like him as his family. If he has done what he’s alleged, I’m not condoning it. Show me someone whose never made a mistake, and I’ll show you a liar. He’s not a murderer, he’s not a rapist, he’s not a paedophile – it shouldn’t end his life, or his football career.

Mackay and Moody were on the verge of being reunited at Crystal Palace

Mackay and Moody were on the verge of being reunited at Crystal Palace

“It’s going to take time, but people get second chances in life who have committed bad crimes. He’s made a mistake, but we’re not going to hang him for it are we? Hopefully, he’s going to learn from what he’s done – and they are silly mistakes. Lots of people use Twitter, and I do get sick messages from people and I don’t read them, they make me ill.

“He’s not the only one who does it, I get these silly messages on my phone – so I hope he comes back. I can’t feel how much he’s suffering from the big mistake he made.”

Redknapp remains hopeful that Loic Remy will be a QPR player at the end of the summer transfer window.

An £8.5m move to Liverpool collapsed last month after Remy reputedly failed a medical, but speculation has grown over-night that the former Newcastle United loanee could join Sunday’s opponents Tottenham for a reported £11m.

Redknapp had admitted that the 27-year-old would only leave for ‘a club in the top seven’, and he me that one of the summer’s most protracted transfer sagas is no clearer to concluding with Remy exiting Loftus Road.

“I’m confident he’ll be here,” Redknapp told the media of the Frenchman, who scored one of his 14 goals for Alan Pardew’s side last season against Spurs at White Hart Lane.

“I’ve spoken with Loic, he’s been excellent in training and his attitude has been world class. Unless a top six club comes in, I think he’ll be happy to stay here. He’s seen we’ve brought some good players in.

“There’s been no Tottenham enquiry – there’s been talk of the chairman talking to Daniel, but certainly I’ve not been involved.”

Redknapp ruled out Remy leaving as part of an exchange deal involving Andros Townsend and Michael Dawson moving the other way, and revealed his delight in securing the services of Napoli’s Eduardo Vargas on a season-long loan.

“He had a great World Cup, we’ve watched lots of stuff on him. He’s a player that has been mentioned to us for a long time. When it came to the chance to loan him, it was a chance that was too good to miss. He’s a real livewire.

“It’s a great loan signing for us. We were the Loan Rangers in the Championship last season – and we’ve still got two loans that we can use from the Premier League if we want to.

“He has to get his work permit in, so he won’t be available this week. He should be available for next week against Sunderland.”

The QPR boss also signed Leroy Fer for a fee believed to be around £8m on Wednesday, and the Dutch international is available for selection on Sunday after training during the week – much to Redknapp’s relief.

“We came back pre-season, and we were really short of numbers. We’ve brought some really good players in, and it’s up to them now to do the job.”

 For the remaining transcript of Redknapp’s press conference – including his thoughts on Paul Gascoigne – ahead of this weekend’s match with Tottenham, read below:

On loaning Wilfried Zaha: ‘If they [Manchester United] were to loan him, he’s a player that lots of clubs would be interested in. We haven’t made any enquiries yet.’

On Hull defeat last week: “We played much better than we played at almost any stage last year – we played the system at Portsmouth, and for a long while at West ham, where we finished fifth in the league. It gets you two strikers in the team, which is a bonus. I like it, and I think it will work.”

On Rio Ferdinand moving into managing after retirement: “I’m sure he could go into management I’m sure he’s got a great future whatever he does. There’s no reason why he can’t go on and manage – he’ll have to manage a football club before he manages England! He’s a great role model.

“Managers nowadays don’t want the hassle of watching five matches a week [at a lower level]. They can earn what the do in a month lower down in a week. But in most cases, you have to work your way up.”

On going back to Spurs: “You look forward to going there – I had a fantastic time at Tottenham. I loved every minute of my time there. Looking forward to going back there, seeing a few of the old faces, but I’m here now and I’m going there to try and get three points.

“I like the manager there, he did a great job at Southampton, and I’m sure he’ll do a great job at Tottenham. It’s another game, I don’t get excited too much by anything nowadays. Hopefully I’ll bash in to Cliffy Jones, and the people in the dressing room were great guys. I didn’t have any bad relationships there.

“I’m sure it will be an attacking game – both teams will go for it. They’ve got fantastic players, they’ve spent over £100m in the transfer market, and so they’re entitled to be a good team. They should be pushing to get into the top four, and if they don’t it would be a disappointment for Tottenham – that’s what they’ve been trying to do the past couple of season, and anything below would be a disappointment.”

On accepting the Ice Bucket Challenge: “I could do without that today – that’s for sure! But it’s for a good cause – I’ll be nominating a few people that’s for sure.”

On Paul Gascoigne: “It’s a difficult one. I see Gazza around and I love Gazza. He’s got a heart of gold. He’s given his last penny away, and that’s how he is. Everyone’s tried but it’s up to him now.

“I said to him the other week, ‘I’ll pick you up in the mornings Gazza, do some work with the kids.’ I’d pick him up every morning at quarter to six, and let him help with the younger kids. That’s an open invitation to him. It’s sad to see how he’s looking at the moment.”

On Mario Balotelli: “I’d love to have him in my squad. Je’s had his problems of the pitch, by on it he’s a fantastic player – you look at this record. Brendan will not stand for him towing what the others players do. They wont stand for a player not putting a shift in. they’ve lost a striker who is the hardest working forward I’ve ever seen – I’m sure Balotelli wont work as hard as Luis, but I’m sure he’ll score goals.

“He comes with a bit of baggage, but it’s up to Brendan to manage him. It won’t be easy – but if he get 20 plus goals this year, he’ll be a great signing.”

 On Taarabt’s fitness: “I spoke to Adel Taarabt, he said if you think I’m bad, you should see Balotelli!”

Premier League 2014-15 Preview: Who will be crowned champions?


On the eve of the 2014-15 Premier League season, I take a look at the title contenders, and take a wild guess at where the teams shall finish.

Chelsea are many people’s favourites. Last season, they lacked the fire-power to mount a serious title challenge, but manager Jose Mourinho cannot make any vertically challenged horse analogies this campaign; Chelsea are in the box seat. The signature of Diego Costa – who Jamie Redknapp described as the perfect Bond villain – is a marksman of lethal ability.

Whether he can replicate the form that propelled Atletico Madrid to their first La Liga title in 15 years remains open to debate, but his pre-season form has been impressive and the manner in which he showed a disregard for the tight hamstring which curtailed his season was emblematic of a man who has the aggression and selfishness to succeed in Europe’s most competitive league.

Arsenal’s decision not to take up an option to re-sign Cesc Fabregas is Chelsea’s gain; the midfield playmaker is an upgrade on the departed Frank Lampard, and one suspects a return to familiar capital surroundings will not require a bedding-in period. Fabregas will flourish at Stamford Bridge and the only question mark is over where Mourinho will field the former Barcelona man.

With the likes of Willian, Ramires and Nemanja Matic tactically excellent, positioning Fabregas in a more advanced role with Oscar and Hazard either side, would allow him not to concern himself too much the defensive duties to which he is not accustomed. Another campaign for the West London club without a trophy simply won’t suffice – Mourinho would be fast on his way to drowning in his own words as a ‘specialist in failure’. The Portuguese has shown a decisiveness both in the transfer market and in drafting back Thibaut Courtois as his suspected number one; competition for places – even in goal – bodes well for a good season.

We may see the complaint of a side lacking a clinical striker shifting from London to Liverpool this campaign, as the red side of Merseyside look to life after Luis. Alberto Moreno is close to becoming manager Brendan Rodgers’ eighth signing of the summer, to the total tune of £100m. Having cleared up on all the Ls at Southampton, Liverpool have added depth to their squad, but it will take more than Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana to build on last year’s second-placed finish without Luis Suarez.

Last season will be remembered as much for Liverpool losing the title as Manchester City winning it. The eventual champions were an aberration at times, especially early on in the season when they won two of their opening eight away games. Although nobody would have tipped Liverpool at the start of the year, the 14-match winning run after Christmas and their swash-buckling approach to matches against the big teams, especially at Anfield, placed a side spurred on by the 25th Hillsborough anniversary to within touching distance of their first Premier League trophy.

The question is: can they go again? Captain Steven Gerrard has emerged from his ‘worst three months in football’ – his slip synonymous with the 2013-14 campaign, and his failure to galvanize England at the World Cup a contributing factor to his subsequent international retirement. But the Reds can’t rely on their talisman like Istanbul was still in fashion. Rodgers has developed a reputation for honing talent, with the likes of Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho expected to build on their abundance of promise. Suarez might have been sold (and good riddance many supporters might say) but the side’s aspirations will depend on whether Rodgers can lure a marquee striker in his stead between now and the summer transfer window closing.

You might ask the same question of Manchester City: can they go again? Manuel Pellegrini’s side eventually found a consistency to their performances last season, and showed the importance of having a squad to handle even the worst injury crisis. In the attacking third, it was a case of handing over the baton as once Alvaro Negredo’s goals had dried up and Sergio Aguero had spent more time on the treatment table, Edin Dzeko’s worth to the side shone through in the final furlong. The constant throughout the campaign was of course Yaya Toure, who now stands alone as the stand-out Premier league performer and clear favourite for the Football Writers’ Player of the Year, as he would have you believe.

They have underwhelmed punters and pundits alike in the transfer market this summer, but they have made crucial adjustments that should provide them with the perfect platform on which Pellegrini can defend his title: goalkeeper Willy Caballero has rejoined his former manager from Malaga to provide competition with Joe Hart, Lampard’s arrival has enabled Gareth Barry, Javi Garcia and Jack Rodwell to move on at a handsome profit, but it is the signing of defender Eliaquim Mangala for £32m that has appeased many anxious City fans concerned by a lack of a clean sheet during pre-season.

Pellegrini will be keen to avoid any second-season syndrome at the Etihad, but if the camp does become fractious, things can go horribly wrong at a club where many players have arrived for the money. The likes of Kompany and Zabaleta are in short supply; beyond this pair and judging by their resounding defeat to Arsenal in the FA Community Shield, there is a real lack of leadership about a side who by their manager’s admittance, don’t look ready for the new season.

Leadership is an area that may be lacking in Arsenal’s dressing room too following the departure of Thomas Vermaelen to Barcelona. While the Belgian’s appearances were restricted at the Gunners last season, manager Arsene Wenger will be acutely aware of the need for a stronger backbone if they are to mount of sustained tilt at the title.

The North London club struggled to cope with the injuries to Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey in the second half of last season, and the shrewd acquisition of World Cup-winning fitness coach Shad Forsythe may prove to be as crucial as the signature of Alexis Sanchez, but lacking an experienced campaigner with the nous to keep the momentum through the winter and beyond is the reason Arsenal may fall short again, despite the feel-good factor returning to the Emirates.

Like the return of Mourinho was the headline act of last summer, the most fascinating change going into this campaign has arguably happened on the sidelines. The intrigue surrounding Louis van Gaal’s appointment at Manchester United has made the Red Devils title contenders by default, despite the vast majority of the squad that finished seventh last season remaining in tact.

The experience of Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand has left the club, and while Ander Herrera has eventually arrived at Old Trafford, he and Luke Shaw need to be added upon in the remaining weeks of the window for the side to even secure Champions league football next season, especially with the young England full-back ruled out for a month.

Van Gaal favours a 3-5-2 system, and while that will cater for the revered trio of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata, it has never won a Premier league title. Liverpool came close last season with a similar formation, but the caliber of centre-half will surely need to extend beyond the capabilities of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans if they are to go one better than their Merseyside rivals.

The former Dutch coach will want to make Old Trafford a fortress again after much of the good work on the road was undone by seven home defeats last year, but he has warned fans that it will take three months for the side to find their rhythm under his tutelage. After 20 years where it was a case of league champions or nothing at the Manchester club, however, a return to the Champions League would be the minimum requirement in his first season.

1. Chelsea
2. Man City
3. Arsenal
4. Man Utd
5. Liverpool
6. Everton
7. Tottenham
8. Newcastle
9. Stoke City
10. West Ham United
11. Southampton
12. Hull City
13. QPR
14. Swansea
15. Crystal Palace
16. Sunderland
17. Leicester City
18. Aston Villa
19. West Brom
20. Burnley

Arsenal open the season in style with FA Community Shield stroll

Arsenal celebrate

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger praised his side following a resounding 3-0 win over Man City at Wembley this afternoon.

First-half strikes from Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey were added to by Olivier Giroud’s deflected long-range shot in the second half to give the Gunners the first domestic silverware of the new season.

Man City toiled in front of goal all afternoon, coming closest to a consolation when Stevan Jovetic’s header struck a post, but the day belonged to Arsenal, who open their Premier League account at home to Crystal Palace next weekend.

Wenger believes Sunday’s victory shows his side are focused for the new campaign, and a win of such a comfortable margin – albeit against an understrength City – will breed confidence and belief in the corridors of the Emirates Stadium.

“Two things were important today; to win a trophy, even though it is not a major one, and to play well and I am very happy because we played some very good football,” Wenger said.

“We had a good start and were convincing. We played with belief, which I liked – last time we were here were 2-0 down after 20 minutes but today we were 2-0 up.”

Two trophies in 85 days after going 3283 without one represents progress for the North London club, and with new arrivals Alexis Sanchez, Mathieu Debuchy and, most promisingly of all, Callum Chambers settling well in new surroundings, the early indications are that Arsenal will not be seven points adrift of next year’s league champions.

They were quickest out of the traps here. On a surface slickened by a brief downpour fifteen minutes prior to kick-off, there was a zip about the FA Cup holders’ play right from the off.

Sanchez, operating in a wide right berth to allocate for Ramsey’s surging central runs, was quickly into his stride, positioning himself high up the pitch, pinning back Aleksandar Kolarov’s attacking intent in the same way he had stifled England’s Leighton Baines from foraying too far forward in the international friendly for Chile last November.

Samir Nasri, who prior to kick-off had called for an end to the jeers he has received from Arsenal fans since leaving the Gunners for the Etihad Stadium three years ago, threatened early on, with his goal-bound effort striking the top of Debuchy’s arm inside the box. Referee Michael Oliver waved away the half-hearted penalty appeals and seven minutes later, another piece of excellent officiating led to Arsenal taking the lead.

Dedryck Boyata was sucked out of his defensive position to meet the on-rushing Jack Wilshere, but after he clattered into the England midfielder, Cazorla was waved on by Oliver and the Spaniard – who instigated the 3-2 comeback victory over Hull City last May – took full advantage, planting his left-foot shot across Willy Caballero and into the bottom corner.

City, fielding Jovetic alongside Edin Dzeko up front, were being over-ran in midfield, and Cazorla then tried to turn provider as his acute pass was flashed wide on the angle by Yaya Sanogo.

With confidence flowing through the Arsenal ranks, the Gunners doubled their lead with three minutes of the opening period remaining – ironically during City’s best spell of the half.

Ramsey, like Cazorla, showed he was in the mood to start the season as he finished the last, scoring at Wembley. Moments after Dzeko’s pull back nearly picked out Jovetic, typical counter-attacking play from Wenger’s side allowed Sanogo to bully Boyata and lay the ball onto Ramsey, who took a touch before drilling the ball across the hapless Caballero. It was the Welshman’s 26th goal in 35 competitive appearances for Arsenal, and one suspects the first of many more this campaign.

A raft of second-half substitutes failed to swing the tide in City’s favour, with midfield pair Fernando cautioned and Yaya Toure hobbling off following a late tackle from Olivier Giroud.

The Citizens threatened fleetingly, with Jesus Navas, their only real spark down the right, evading Kieran Gibbs’ challenge to stand up a cross to the far post for Jovetic to attack. The Montenegrin had the better of the aerial challenge with Debuchy but not Wojciech Szczesny’s right-hand post.

After Jovetic was again denied low down by the Polish keeper, Giroud then stretched Arsenal’s lead with a shot full of the dexterity of a player spearheading a side already comfortably in the ascendency.

Picking the ball up from Debuchy in the inside right channel, the France international shrugged off the challenge of Bruno Zuculini to bend a left-foot curler around Matija Nastasić and under Caballero’s crossbar to compound Man City’s misery.

Manuel Pellegrini, whose side conceded three or more goals for only the second time in their last 34 games in all competitions, refused to dwell on the result and insisted his side would be ready to begin their defence of the Premier League title next weekend at Newcastle.

“During the first 45 minutes, Arsenal scored two goals,” the Chilean told BT Sport. “We improved in the second half, we had chances to score but they had a chance and scored from it.

“These things happen before the season starts. It was not the pace we played in pre-season but I will talk with the players and I am sure we will be ready to start the Premier League.

“I think in the Premier League you have five or six teams who can win the league because all have a strong squad. We must demonstrate from the beginning why we won the title last year.”