The Best Players of the Premier League Season So Far…

Goalkeepers

Michel Vorm (Swansea City), Joe Hart (Manchester City), Tim Krul (Newcastle United)

When Swansea City won promotion to the Premier League, I thought it was a steal by Wolverhampton Wanderers when Mick McCarthy signed their keeper Dorius de Vries, but half a season gone, it appears they’ve not missed him at all.

City boss Brendan Rodgers signed another Dutch keeper in Michel Vorm, who’s been one of the best performers in the EPL so far, with 9 Clean Sheets already, a superb stat for a newly promoted club to the ‘best league in the world’.

City’s Joe Hart continues to keep his high level of performance with a number of outstanding saves, including one-on-ones which is only good news for England fans. And Tim Krul’s efforts in goal for Newcastle have not gone unnoticed.

Defenders

Micah Richards (Manchester City), Benoit Assou-Ekotto (Tottenham Hotspur), Fabricio Coloccini (Newcastle United), Phil Jones (Manchester United)

Full-Backs have stolen the limelight so far this season with Micah Richards of City and Assou-Ekotto of Spurs putting in consistent performances which go ignored more than centre backs. How Fabio Capello can exclude Richards from the England squads still amazes me.

Newcastle’s impressive half to the season was down to their back Four being unchanged until injuries interrupted form. Steven Taylor certainly looks to have improved on his game, whilst his fellow defensive partner in the middle, Coloccini has got a whole lot better since he first arrived on Tyneside.

Is he a defender or a midfielder? Maybe he’s both, it’s Phil Jones, who’s had a good spell in midfield for United but I’ll include him in the Defenders section. Despite his own goal at Newcastle, Jones has still had a good season and has taken to United like a duck to water. Good things to come, for many years.

Midfielders

David Silva (Manchester City), Nani (Manchester United), Tottenham’s Quartet, Swansea City, Mikel Arteta (Arsenal), Anthony Pilkington (Norwich City), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Juan Mata (Chelsea)

The arrival of David Silva to the Premier League has been a joy to behold, his class has been entertaining on many occasions this season but he’s also joined by other good performers in the middle for City in the likes of Yaya Toure and Gareth Barry.

Silva and Nani, top performers

United’s Nani has been fairly consistent this season, perhaps considered more of an attacker than a midfielder, the dazzling winger has provided a fair share of goals and assists. Does he have enough in his engine to keep going?

I have been wholly impressed with Spurs quartet or quintet. The signing of Scott Parker has been important as well keeping Luka Modric, whilst Aaron Lennon, Gareth Bale and Van der Vaart are always dangerous going forward.

Impressive

Swansea City’s flair can be founded in their midfield, various stats have appeared this season which show Mark Gower, Joe Allen and Leon Britton to have better passing rates than Barcelona’s, although stats can be misconstrued, Brendan Rodgers has Swansea playing attractive possession football with an attacking threat. Also, Scott Sinclair has taken the Premier League by storm on the wing having been let go by Chelsea many seasons ago.

No Fear for the Premier League

The other impressive promoted club Norwich City have Anthony Pilkington, signed from League One Huddersfield Town, in the summer. The versatile midfielder has chipped in with a few goals already and does not look out of place like his team-mates and manager in the EPL.

As for Chelsea, Juan Mata has added the creativity they needed in an ageing team and whilst they may have missed Michael Essien, Frank Lampard has had a better season than most people would lead you to believe. He’s got 9 goals from the middle, despite missing a number of games and although he’s now the wrong side of 30, he’s still got quality.

Attackers

Demba Ba (Newcastle United), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City) Emmanuel Adebayor (Tottenham Hotspur), Jonathan Walters (Stoke City), Steve Morison (Norwich City), Danny Graham (Swansea City)

Of course, plaudits go to Magpies forward Demba Ba, who’s certainly made the Toon Army forget about Andy Carroll a year since their prodigal son departed for pastures new. Ba has been sensational and he’ll be sorely missed whilst he plays in the African Nations Cup.

Sensational So Far...

What I like most about Ba, is his eye for goal. He has composure at times, but also stays positive and even chases down lost cause, a player certainly playing with confidence and class.

Sergio Aguero has been an ideal replacement for Carlos Tevez for Manchester City and they’ll hope he continues his scoring form in the business end of the season. Whilst they loaned out of favour Adebayor to Spurs, they probably did not expect he’d have helped them challenge for the Title.

Jonathan Walters was one of my favourite Championship players for many years and I was delighted to see him have a bright start to the Premier League and Stoke City. The same can be said for Steve Morison at Norwich and Danny Graham at Swansea, their summer transfers from the Football League were criticised but both have popped up with 8 goals each already this season.

Morison winning a header versus Sunderland

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The Worst Players of the Premier League Season So Far…

Goalkeepers

David De Gea (Manchester United), Petr Cech (Chelsea)

De Gea Has Not Has The Best Of Starts At United

The criticism may be harsh for the young United keeper, especially having just moved over from Spain it is fair to say he has not hit the ground running. The reigning Champions could’ve done with a more experienced keeper between the sticks, with the injuries and changes in defence, De Gea has had a disruptive time. However, when a United keeper makes a mistake, it’s more highlighted than any other and he’s made a few already this season.

Has Cech Lost His Class?

The Chelsea keeper is a victim of his own success, with 5 clean sheets already, he’s not done too bad between the sticks for the Blues but by his own standards he has been poor, perhaps hampered by the confusion in tactics with the Defensive line and new boss Andre Villas-Boas but it’s clear to say Cech isn’t the world class keeper we saw a few seasons ago.

Defenders

David Luiz (Chelsea), Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Arsenal & QPR…

Out of his Depth?

At times, David Luiz looked like an excited kid picked for the big team in the Chelsea defence, his rocky performances in defence has made John Terry look poor, when he’s actually had a pretty good season (in football terms only). Ashley Cole too, hasn’t had a terrible season but his standards have certainly dropped.

Rio Ferdinand has had his fitness problems but I believe his overall game has dropped massively and will not be surprised if he leaves Old Trafford in the summer to find first-team football.

Arsenal's Defensive Woes Continue

Arsenal’s defence is all-inclusive in this list, and you can throw in Queens Park Rangers too. Some of the defending that both clubs have shown this season have been dismal, so much so, you wonder if they bother with Defensive training drills in between games.

Per Mertesacker of Arsenal has looked suspect since his arrival. Surprising, considering that the Gunners needed a big presence in defence but still look twice as vulnerable with him there.

Midfielders

Tim Cahill (Everton), Stuart Downing (Liverpool), Man United, Adel Taarabt (QPR)

No Goals This Season

Everton’s Tim Cahill usually pops up with several goals a season but so far he’s failed to hit the back of the net during 2011/2012. Has he lost his touch or is it because Everton’s quality in the final third has declined?

£20 Million = 0 Goals and 0 Assists..so far!

Stuart Downing joins the list due to the amount of criticism I’ve heard from Liverpool fans who watch him week in and week out. Personally, I’ve seen glimpses of him playing some decent crosses and pot shots, but with no goals and no assists so far this season is an extremely poor record considering his price tag.

Big Time Charlie

Last season’s Championship player of the year was QPR’s Adel Taarabt but for one reason or another the Moroccan attacking midfielder has not been able to continue his form in the Premier League. It’s disappointing, considering how well he’d done last year, whether or not he can come back under the guidance of new manager Mark Hughes remains to be seen.

Attackers

Hugo Rodallega (Wigan Athletic), Fernando Torres (Chelsea), Andy Carroll (Liverpool), Carlos Tevez (Manchester City), Maroune Chamakh (Arsenal), Peter Odemwingie (West Brom)

Wigan Athletic are spending another season battling relegation and their star striker Hugo Rodallega only has 1 goal to his name. He once quoted as saying he can be as good as Lionel Messi, I still haven’t seen this come true.

Obvious choices are Fernando Torress and Andy Carroll, with a year since their big money transfers occurred neither of them have had the success on the pitch their price tags suggested. The common Twitter and Facebook status has been “Yakubu & Demba Ba, £1.5 Million = 27 goals – Torres & Carroll , £85 Million = 4 goals”.

Looking Fat

At least both strikers are willing to play football, Carlos Tevez, despite the skill and talent he possesses as a Footballer has had a terrible season when he refused to come on as a substitute for Manchester City in the Champions League. He’s never played a game since. What a waste of talent (& wages).

West Brom’s Peter Odemwingie scored 15 in 32 games last season, so far this season he’s only got 5 in 19. The Baggies expected big things from him but it appears he’s having a bit of “second season syndrome”.

Another shout is Arsenal striker Maroune Chamakh, who may not get many starts with in-form Van Persie, but the forward appears to be getting worse. He was signed as someone who could take the pressure off his Dutch team mate, but he’s looking like another Wenger failure. The same can be said about Nikolas Bendtner who’s failed to shine at Sunderland, instead he’s been more keen on trying to blag free pizza’s back in Denmark and smashing up Newcastle City Centre with new team mate Lee Cattermole.

Poor & Poorer

January Transfer Window Update….Where are the Big Deals?

We’re almost half way through January the month that sees the transfer window open for European clubs to buy, sell or loan players during the 31 days of the month. However, there appears to be heavy negotiations behind the scenes with managers, players and more correctly agents and chairmen. Where are the big deals?

The likes of Gary Cahill and Carlos Tevez were rumoured to make moves come January but neither deals have taken place with the latest of Tevez’s switch to Milan appears to have been stalled. Rumours are linking the want away Argentinean striker to Queens Park Rangers, who appointed his former boss at City, Mark Hughes as their manager.

It may just be because they share the same agent but could Tevez play his football in London again? Crazier things have happened.

Whatever happens, QPR is one club that’s expected to be very busy this month but have only acquired Federico Macheda on loan from Manchester United.

Whilst across west London, Chelsea were expected to make some signings for manager Andres Villas Boas to boost his squad. Gary Cahill of Bolton Wanderers has been heavily linked with a move to Stamford Bridge although the likes of Tottenham Hotspur could be after him too.

The most interesting deals of the 12 days we’ve had so far have been Nicolas Anelka’s move to China, whilst he may be well past his prime you didn’t expect the Frenchman to end his playing days in the Chinese Premier Division. ‘The Sulk’ has been one the best finisher’s the Premier League has ever seen.

Some interesting loan deals have taken place with Emmanuel Frimpong joining Wolverhampton Wanderers on loan from Arsenal, a midfield with him and Jamie O’Hara sounds very combative.

Whilst away from the top flight, League Two side AFC Wimbledon have made a double scoop with the return of Jason Euell to the South London club from Charlton Athletic on loan and young midfield George Moncur (son of John) from West Ham.

The biggest signing of this transfer window so far has to be Thierry Henry returning to Arsenal on loan. Whilst players look to end their careers in the MLS, the fact they’re able to come back on loan is a very attractive prospect for players and clubs alike.

Robbie Keane also joins Henry in a short term loan by signing for Aston Villa. The player who never lived up to expectations in his loan move at West Ham United last season has caused a flurry of ‘boyhood club’ jokes on Twitter, as standard.

What’s to come in the remaining days of January? It’s hard to say.

Will Manchester United buy a midfielder? Where will Christopher Samba ditch Blackburn for? And just how many players will Mark Hughes sign at QPR?

I’ll be back in a week to see what’s taken place…

Friday Focus: European Draws and key Weekend Games…

A rare edition of Friday Focus sees me look forward to 2012 and the European ties involving English clubs. Today saw the draw of the next round in the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League, and all draws involving 5 English clubs were very interesting fixtures indeed.

Arsenal and Chelsea were the unlikely lads to be left in the Champions League by this stage compared to the Premier League dominant Manchester clubs. However, both London teams have tough games to get through if they want to get further in this year’s competition.

Arsenal take on AC Milan, a side they defeated 3 years ago in the quarter-finals. But this Milan side has gone through a transitional period since then and will be tougher competition that some Gooners may be expecting come February.

Chelsea meanwhile have a tricky task of facing Napoli, the side that advanced in the group stages at the expense of Manchester City. The Italian side showed their counter attacking prowess and with Chelsea looking rocky under AVB this season, it could be a very tough fixture for the Blues to get through.

The Europa League may have taken a beating from fans, pundits and managers alike it has served up three extremely interesting fixtures which should prove to put the spark back into this once famous European competition.

Manchester United take on Dutch side Ajax Amsterdam, whilst Manchester City take on FC Porto from Portugal. Whilst European newboys Stoke City play Valencia, I wonder if these fixtures will even make it to air on Channel 5 and ITV 4, the usual home of Europa League fixtures. I expect ITV 1 including either Manchester clubs on their channel this time around.

The Weekend…

The games I am looking forward to this weekend are in the Premier League with Blackburn hosting West Brom which is already being touted as a relegation decider/six pointer this early into the season. Fulham host Bolton in a similar fixture between sides in the bottom 8 of the table. No one wants to be bottom by Christmas and all clubs will be desperate to beat each other.

Sunday provides four Premier League games, with QPR hosting Manchester United, Liverpool travelling to Aston Villa and Spurs welcoming a rejuvenated Sunderland under Martin O’Neill.

The game of the weekend however has to be Manchester City versus Arsenal which will surely be one of the games of the season, with Arsenal in good form and City under some scrutiny, could it open the title race more?

Why Daniel Sturridge Should Go To EURO 2012

As it stands at present England star striker Wayne Rooney is set to fulfil his 3-match International suspension at Euro 2012. Whilst the English FA desperately try and get it reduced or overturned it is looking likely that England will have to do without Rooney for the Group games against France, Sweden and Ukraine.

It’s going to make it tougher to be without Rooney’s class but we are not left with terrible strikers as his replacement by any means. In fact, England has more quality up front now than in recent years with plenty of young talent breaking through that could and should, in my opinion be given their chance.

Michael Owen was given his chance at France ’98 and the same with Rooney at Euro ’04. Which young striker could make his name at next year’s tournament?

Daniel Sturridge.

The Chelsea striker has been one of the Blues’ better players so far this season in a squad of forwards that boast Didier Drogba, Saloman Kalou, Nicholas Anelka and of course Fernando Torres.

However, Sturridge who was signed on a free transfer from Manchester City has got 7 goals in 10 games and could be the impact player that England need in the wake of Rooney’s absence.

Of course, Sturridge at 22 is still inexperienced but he’s starting to prove the potential that has been with him since his days as a teenager in City’s youth academy. There’s no chance of the player being overwhelmed with recent form either, with both his Uncle’s Simon and Dean Sturridge both having played in the Premier League/Old Division One in the past.

Danny Wellbeck has impressed since returning to Manchester United but I believe Sturridge is more developed. Sturridge could play well with most other striking options, as part of a 3 up top or in a traditional 4-4-2, with the likes of Zamora or Carroll alongside him.

Whilst Sturridge may be criticised for being too lightweight, his dribbling and pace is to be admired but most importantly is his finishing, which is one attribute I’ve always admired in him and believe it is comparable to that of Robbie Fowler.

Of course Sturridge as a lot of living up to with that comparison but I believe he can succeed, for Chelsea and for England if given the opportunity. If England play well as a team and feed Sturridge the ball, he’ll be the one to put it in the back of the net and get us through the Group stage.

The Large Pool of Ex-Managers (Part Two)

Long overdue, I’ve returned to this article for the 2nd part which focuses on Football Managers who have been out of management for a long time, for one reason or another despite being great players themselves and in some cases very good managers.

With only 92 clubs in the top four divisions I suppose there is bound to be a long list of those left out of the game without the right luck or motivation to get back into management. Here are a number of candidates that haven’t managed in awhile.

Alan Curbishley: Despite not managing a football club since 2008, his name is still linked to a host of clubs looking for a new manager but for one reason or another he’s never been appointed. Maybe his last spell in management at West Ham United had severely damaged a reputation that’d been impeccable in his 15 years with Charlton Athletic. However I am still surprised he’s not taken/given an opportunity at another club in recent seasons.

His long spell in charge of Charlton saw the club achieve two promotions and consolidation in the Premier League for many seasons. Since his departure from the club in 2006, the Addicks suffered two relegations in 3 seasons and found themselves back where they started.

He saved West Ham from relegation in the 2006/2007 season and finished in the top ten of the EPL the following season, signing players like Scott Parker and Craig Bellamy. However, he left the club after the sale of two players which he wasn’t consulted about and said that it had breached a clause in his contract.

By 2009 he won a court case and the Hammers paid him £2.2 million in compensation. I imagine many Hammers fans were Continue reading

Monday Muse: FA Cup Frolics & Draw

 The weekends football action served up a treat, not only did we have the Premier League and Championship in action but also the FA Cup 2nd Round where teams from League 1, League 2 and those from the Non-League pyramid compete in order for a place in the 3rd Round come the new year, all hoping to be drawn against the big boys.

FA Cup Shocks

Maybe their could’ve been more shocks in the FA Cup 2nd Round this weekend than it really produced, but some teams caused upsets. Most impressively were that of Wrexham, the former members of the Football League have had a rocky road on and off the pitch in recent seasons but they’ll be delighted with the 1-0 victory at League One side Brentford.

Wrexham, who lost manager Dean Saunders to Championship side Doncaster Rovers, are currently top of the Blue Square Bet Premier Division (Football Conference Premier in old money) and managed by former player and Wrexham legend Andy Morrell. The Jamie Tolley strike that settled the tie was fitting of an upset in a game that made Wrexham appear like the Football League side in terms of style and commitment.

Tamworth came out victors in their away tie with fellow Non-Leaguers Gateshead, in which Tamworth won 2-1 with a last minute winner. Whilst Chelmsford and Fleetwood both held Football League sides to draws at home and will be desperate to get a better result in the replays.

Unfortunately, the lowest place sides AFC Totton and Redbridge could not get past strong League Two opposition and were on the back of 5-0 and 6-1 defeats to Bristol Rovers and Crawley Town respectively.

FA Cup 3rd Round Draw Provides Great Fixtures

The tie of the round belongs to the dominant clubs from Manchester as holders City were drawn at home to neighbours Manchester United thus adding an extra derby to the already enthralling rivalry this season.

Other interesting draws elsewhere belong to Cheltenham Town from League Two earning the chance to play Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. Whilst Arsenal play hosts to Championship big boys Leeds United.

More one sided has to belong to Everton who will host Non-League outfit Tamworth at Goodison Park. It’d be remarkable if an upset would be on the cards but many would be hoping that Tamworth can give a good account.

Elsewhere, Fleetwood could host locals Blackpool if they’re able to perform a shock result in their replay at Yeovil Town. And Chelmsford could host Premier League Bolton if they’re to do the same in the replay at Macclesfield.

There’s another derby on the cards as Nottingham Forest are home to rivals Leicester City, whilst Sheffield Wednesday could perform an upset as they will take on West Ham United at Hillsborough.

There are Premier League teams travelling to lower league opposition that could prove tricky with Aston Villa going to Bristol Rovers and Queens Park Rangers away to Milton Keynes Dons.

Liverpool will welcome either Southend or Oldham to Anfield whilst Chelsea do battle against Portsmouth. All in all it shall be a great weekend come January for the FA Cup 3rd Round, one of the best times of the season in our historic football calendar.

Friday Focus: FA Cup Weekend

Its FA Cup weekend once again as the 2nd Round proper kicks off tonight with Blue Square Bet Premier side Fleetwood Town hosting League One Yeovil. With plenty of Non-League sides still competing in the prestigious competition many will be hoping to be in the pot for the 3rd Round draw comes Sunday afternoon. A home tie to Liverpool or an away trip to Old Trafford could financially fund a Non-League team for a whole season which is why this is a big, big deal.

Some interested fixtures in tomorrow’s games sees Stourbridge who previously knocked out Plymouth Argyle in a replay host Stevenage which could see another upset. One of the lowest ranked teams left in the Cup, Redbridge have a tough task travelling to Crawley Town.

There are some guaranteed Non-Leaguers entering the 3rd Round in January with a few all-non-league fixtures like Salisbury versus Grimsby and Gateshead versus Tamworth. Both Sheffield clubs host League Two opposition with Torquay going to United and Aldershot playing at Wednesday.

On Sunday, the televised games see AFC Totton, another one of the lowest ranked teams in the Cup this year host League Two Bristol Rovers. Could the part timers cause an upset? Sutton United also host Martin Allen’s Notts County side.

Meanwhile there’s Premier League and Championship action to also enjoy that is set to be a weekend Football feast.

Can Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas change things around with a win at Newcastle United? And will Martin O’Neill be in the dugout for Sunderland’s trip to Wolves on Sunday?

Football Future: Ground Sharing

A new feature for the Verbal Football blog is called ‘Football Future’ where we will be discussing topics to do with the beautiful game beyond the present day.

In this first edition the topic in question is one that has started to make headlines in the media lately, especially in West London with the new Queens Park Rangers owner Tony Fernandes and Co vocalising the fact that the club need to seriously consider moving out of Loftus Road into a new bigger size stadium if the club is to reach their ambitions.

Of course this has raised rumours and speculating that a new West London stadium would in fact be shared by QPR’s rivals, Chelsea who despite owning a Stadium almost twice the size as Loftus Road, in Stamford Bridge, are faced with the Continue reading

The Friday Focus: Midlands Derby, Fergie Dilemma & More…

Friday Focus

The Midlands Derby

If Alex McLeish can steer his Aston Villa side to victory over their midland rivals Wolves, then it’d go even further to endearing himself to the Holte End faithful. Wolves on the other hand, are still buoyant over their home win over Fulham last week. Expect a keenly fought local derby on Saturday afternoon.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s Selection Dilemma

With Phil Jones and Chris Smalling performing with distinction on Monday evening against Spurs, what thoughts are occupying Ferguson in terms of Manchester United’s clash with Arsenal?. I was curious to see Jones being deployed as a right centre-back with Jonny Evans deployed on the left of him. Is Chris Smalling seen as a long term option at right back? Will Tom Cleverley continue to flourish or flounder as a central midfielder? All these questions and more will be answered when Arsenal visit the Theatre of Dreams.

Nottingham Forest v West Ham

Another clash of the big name managers in The Championship. With Steve Mc Claren and Sam Allardyce in the dugout, there’s bound to be more focus on their touchline antics rather than the game itself. West Ham’s form under Allardyce has been far from sparkling and they’ll be keen to find some form at the City Ground.

AVB aka Andre Villas-Boas

The man of the managerial moment, Mr Villas-Boas hasn’t had things go all his own way since he touched down in England. Judging by Villas-Boas’ firm rebuttal to the audible boos from the Chelsea crowd during their win over West Brom, it seems that Villas-Boas was starting to believe his own hype. It looks like Villas-Boas is becoming a prickly character even at this early stage of his debut season in the Premier League. He’ll definitely be one to watch.

Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger is being criticised from all corners (Arsenal fans included). Despite the recent sales of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasir, Wenger has remained defiant to all the naysayers. Arsenal’s clash with Manchester United won’t provide the death knell that many people predicted. Arsenal’s win over Udinese has given the players and Wenger a fillip. Arsene Wenger will leave Old Trafford after the match with his head held high, win, lose or draw.