Manchester United: Can Mourinho’s men make it to Stockholm?

Manchester United: Can Mourinho’s men make it to Stockholm?

In his first season at the helm at Old Trafford Jose Mourinho has quickly become a fan favourite.

Not because of their performances in the Premier League – although they haven’t been too shabby  – but due to their continued impressive results in the Europa League. The Red Devils have made it into the semi-finals of the prestigious competition and have been drawn against Spanish outfit Celta Vigo.

Eduardo Berizzo’s side haven’t been the shining stars in the league this season – currently sitting in 11th – but have surprised everyone in Europe with some impressive victories. Some may say that their route to the final four has been a fairly simple one, but they’ll show their true potential if they manage to overcome one of the biggest sides in England.

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Celta celebrate their victory over Belgian side K.R.C Genk. 
It’s hardly a surprise at how well Celta have done this season, as they boast some brilliant players within their ranks. Three of those are all attackers who are well known names across England, and although their careers might not have reached their peak in the Premier League, they have proved many wrong in their exploits abroad.

The first of those being Iago Aspas, who some will still label as the “worst Liverpool signing of all time.” After making the move to Merseyside from Celta in 2013, Aspas didn’t cover himself in glory with just 14 appearances to his name, not managing to find the net once.

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Aspas has been a regular starter for Vigo this season. 
However, he will be in Mourinho’s mind when deciding which side to start with on Thursday scoring 31 goals in 64 appearances since he returned to Vigo in 2015.

Another who may cause United a threat, will be a name the fans know well. John Guidetti spent seven years at rivals Manchester City – although he didn’t make a senior appearance – as well as loan spells at Burnley, Stoke and Celtic.

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Guidetti has been part of the Vigo set up for almost 2 years. 
Now somewhat settled in Spain, the 25 year-old only has 10 goals in his 49 appearances for the club, but is known for his attacking prowess and his striker’s brain.

The final attacker will also be known by United fans as he spent two years at the club in his early career. Giuseppe Rossi is currently on loan from Italian side Fiorentina and has four goals in his 16 appearances. A regular Italian international from the age of 16, United have to consider Rossi as a potential threat.

With the mounting injury list that Mourinho is having to deal with, his starting XI tomorrow is anyone’s guess. However, with such a talented amount of players available to him, the Portuguese manager should not be worried.

Developing the nickname of the draw specialists thanks to their Premier League form, United will do very well to travel to Spain and come home with the victory. A draw will be extremely useful, however having come the far Mourinho will want the win and their superior quality will provide them with just that.

Prediction: Celta Vigo 1-2 Manchester United

Cardiff City: Who’s the mystery centre half lined up by Neil Warnock?

Cardiff City: Who’s the mystery centre half lined up by Neil Warnock?

It’s no secret that Neil Warnock wants to put his own stamp on his Cardiff City side as they challenge for promotion to the Premier League next season.

The 68 year-old has expressed his desire to bring in his own recruits as he looks for a record eighth promotion in his time as a manager.

It was revealed this morning that the probability of central defender Bruno Manga remaining in South Wales past this summer was very unlikely, with the former QPR boss saying that he has already set his sights on a more than capable replacement.

Manga’s departure would leave just three senior centre-backs at the club in the form of Sol Bamba, Sean Morrison and Matthew Connolly which begs the question, who could this mystery defender be?

Damien Delaney 

Part of Warnock’s Crystal Palace side in 2014, Delaney’s current deal at Selhurst Park is due to expire in the summer.

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Delaney before Palace’s FA Cup encounter against Bolton Wanderers. 

At the age of 35, Delaney is somewhat a more experienced option but would be more than suited for the Championship.

The former Hull City man would be inclined to sign a one-year deal with the option of an extra year should the Bluebirds get promoted, and would be a reliable body to have in the middle of a slightly in-experinced City back line.

James Tarkowski

Currently plying his trade in the Premier League, Tarkowski is a bench warmer for recently promoted Burnley.

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Tarkowski after Burnley’s FA Cup shock defeat against Lincoln City

Making just 17 appearances for Sean Dyche’s side after his move in 2016, the 24 year-old has vast Championship experience with Brentford. Likely to be in with a chance of first-team football would be a huge factor in trying to lure Tarkowski away from Turf Moor.

However, with Michael Keane set to leave in this summer’s transfer window the former Oldham man might see this as his chance to get some much needed Premier League experience.

Marc Roberts

Roberts has been in fine form for Barnsley this season and may have caught the eye of the ever observant Warnock.

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Roberts is set to be sought after by a number of clubs this summer. 

80 appearances since his move from Halifax Town in 2015 has seen the 26 year-old score four goals and become a solid central defender in a successful season for Barnsley.

The Tykes might demand a large fee for Roberts who was subject to Premier League interest in January – with a figure of 3.5m apparently sounding appealing to the Yorkshire side.

Charlie Mulgrew

Should Blackburn be relegated from the Championship at the end of this season, Mulgrew would be keen on a move away from League One.

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Mulgrew against Manchester United in the FA Cup. 

Signed by Owen Coyle, Mulgrew hasn’t played for Blackburn since their 1-1 draw with the Bluebirds back at the beginning of March.

Signing a three-year deal in the summer, the 31 year-old might cost the Bluebirds a slightly inflated fee but with Warnock suggesting he only wants to spend six million over the course of the transfer window, splashing the cash on a solid centre half such as Mulgrew would put his mind at rest.

 

 

PFA Player of the Year: An analysis of the candidates

PFA Player of the Year: An analysis of the candidates

After the heroics of Leicester City last season, there’s no surprise that Riyad Mahrez scooped the PFA Player of the Year in 2016. He, Jamie Vardy and N’Golo Kanté all shocked the Premier League last season, as well as the rest of the Leicester City squad.

However this year – despite their recent resurgence under Craig Shakespeare – the Foxes don’t boast any names on the nominations list.

It’s Chelsea that take the title for most players available for selection, with Eden Hazard and Kanté accompanying Manchester United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic. While Harry Kane, Alexis Sanchez and former Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku make up the remaining places.

With Kane and Lukaku also featuring among the PFA Young Player of the Year award nominations, eyebrows have been raised over what age counts as “young” when it comes to these competitions. Both players are 23 – which is still very young – but they should only be nominated for one award, to give other players a chance.

However, despite this slight confusion they have been in incredible form this year. Although, their competition have also been scintillating for their respective clubs, so who would be a worthy winner this year?

 

Hazard and Kanté have been ever-present in Antonio Conté’s charge for the Premier League title.

Kanté – who could have easily won the award last year while at Leicester – has done incredibly well to continue impressing despite heightened expectation. A £32 million transfer to one of the biggest teams in England would easily distract some players from their game, but the 26 year-old has done brilliantly well along side Nemanja Matić in-front of that three man Chelsea defence.

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Kanté and Hazard in action for Chelsea (Getty Images)

And Hazard has become one of those players who is feared as soon as the ball is at his feet. With similar traits to Cristiano Ronaldo, Hazard glides past players effortlessly and has also become somewhat of a goal threat with 14 goals in all competitions this season. Only three behind top-scorer Diego Costa, there’s no doubt that the former Lille winger would be a worthy winner.

Sanchez has been a shinning star in a disappointing season for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal. Currently third behind Lukaku and Kane in the goalscoring charts, the Chilean has scored and set up some crucial goals for the Gunners this season.

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Sanchez before Arsenal’s 3-0 defeat to Crystal Palace (Getty Images)

His nomination doesn’t come as a surprise, and to be recognised for his performances in a season where Arsenal have stumbled gives enough of an incentive for him to win the award. This could also be the last season we see him in an Arsenal jersey, with rumours suggesting the 28 year-old could be on his way out of North London.

Despite Kane being nominated for both awards, he should be considered for the more senior award due to his maturity when it comes to matters on the field. It’s easy to forget that he is just 23 years old when he scores week in, week out as if he has been leading Spurs’ front line for over a decade.

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Kane looks back to his best after three weeks out with injury (Getty Images)

Only behind an equally impressive Lukaku in terms of goals, Kane was awarded with the Young Player of the Year in 2014/15. To continue his development over the last couple of years despite critics suggesting he could be a ‘one season wonder’ has seen the Spurs No.10 sky rocket to the top. An award for him would be a compliment to his management and his teammates, as well as being a justified decision.

Ibrahimovic has been in the Premier League for less than a season, and for him to have been nominated for such prestigious award in his first season is nothing short of masterful. His personality divides opinion, but when it comes to what he does on the pitch everyone is in agreement, he is phenomenal.

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Ibrahimovic opens the scoring against Sunderland (Getty Images)

17 goals and five assists for Mourinho and Manchester United has seen him become a club legend in less than 12 months, and with the £89 million fee of Paul Pogba looming over Old Trafford, it’s a relief that Zlatan has come to the Frenchman’s rescue. If he decides to extend his contract and stay in England for another year, it’s easy to predict another impeccable season for the Swedish striker.

Ronald Koeman has been a huge influence over Romelu Lukaku since is arrival from Southampton in June. The Belgian has been the picture of consistency his his permanent move from Chelsea, but having Koeman – who is an expert in man management – watching his every move has seen him become a striker that defenders fear when they see his name on the team sheet.

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Lukaku could soon be leaving the Blue side of Merseyside (Getty Images)

Although, the 23 year-old knows he’s a good player. With ambitions of Champions League football, he has rejected Everton’s most recent contract offer in search of a bigger club, a bold decision that could come back to bite him in the future.

 

WORLD CUP QUALIFYING: Will all of the home nations make it to Russia?

WORLD CUP QUALIFYING: Will all of the home nations make it to Russia?

With just over a year before Russia hosts the 2018 FIFA World Cup, countries hoping to make it to the prestigious tournament have taken to the field once again over the past week.

England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland  are all still staking a claim to travel to Eastern Europe next summer, but as qualifying continues there’s a possibility that more than one could miss out.

How did each home nation got on over this international break? Do they have what it takes to progress into the 2018 World Cup final group stages?

England 

Many criticised the appointment of Gareth Southgate as one that showed a lack of ambition, although those doubters seem to have vanished as his England side sit top of their group.

It could be argued that they don’t share competition with the most reputable of teams, but outlines how problematic a group it could be.

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England before their WCQ against Lithuania (Getty Images)

However, Southgate has done extremely well. Four points clear at the top of the group and slowly integrating a new, young system into the England set-up which has been needed for a lengthy amount of time.

With no other team in their group looking like they can compete, it wouldn’t be outrageous to suggest that the Three Lions will make it to Russia. The question is, can they perform once they get there?

Wales

The Welsh had a brilliant tournament last time around. Nobody could forget that impressive victory over Belgium to reach the semi-final. Although, it hasn’t been plain sailing since then.

Just seven points from five games in this qualifying stage is slightly disappointing. Critics have said this is down to Chris Coleman’s side not playing much as a team, as they chose to disregard the suggestion of friendly matches.

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Wales before their fixture against Rep of Ireland (Getty Images)

Their ride didn’t get any better as Neil Taylor picked up a red card in their most recent game against Republic of Ireland, and Gareth Bale also being suspended for one too many yellow cards.

However, still only four points off top spot and a chance to redeem themselves when they fly out to Serbia in June, Coleman and his side will be determined to make it to Russia. Will they? With the character they showed in France last summer, there’s an easy possibility.

Scotland

Gordon Strachan and his Scottish team are in a similar predicament to that of Wales. They haven’t had the best of qualifying campaigns earning the same seven points from five games as the Welsh. Although, they are six points behind leaders England and down in fourth place.

An impressive 1-0 win over Slovenia this past week has seen them move into a much better place than before, but Scottish football isn’t turning heads at this moment in time.

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Scotland’s team photo against Slovenia (Getty Images)

Hosting England in their next qualifying game has come at the right time, though. Full of confidence after that Slovenia win will give them a lease of life to go out and have no fear against their fierce rivals, it should be a feisty affair.

Not qualifying for a major tournament since 1998, the players will be extremely motivated to change that. Games against Lithuania and Malta after that fixture with England might be just what the doctor ordered and puts them in good stead for a first qualification for 20 years.

Northern Ireland 

Northern Ireland didn’t look like they stood any chance of qualifying for Russia when their group was pulled from the hat, but how they proved everyone wrong.

Second in their group behind European heavyweights Germany, Michael O’Neil deserves more all the plaudits for this achievement. They also did so well in France last summer – eventually losing to Wales – but that didn’t dampen their spirits and the Green and White army are certainly looking good for next summer.

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Jamie Ward and Stuart Dallas celebrate (Getty Images)

Just five points behind Germany they face both Azerbaijan and San Marino in their next two qualifiers, which O’Neil and his team will surely be looking to earn maximum from.

Norn Iron look like they are going to qualify for a second, consecutive major tournament which is an amazing achievement. Lets hope they last the duration though, with Germany and Czech Republic at home still to come.

Cardiff City: Who could the Bluebirds face in Cornwall?

Cardiff City: Who could the Bluebirds face in Cornwall?

Cardiff City won’t be going abroad when pre-season begins in July of the 2017/18 season.

The Bluebirds spent last summer competing in the Osnabrück tournament in Germany under Paul Trollope and had a pretty successful time, winning three and drawing once in the four games they played in Western Europe.

However, Neil Warnock revealed that his side won’t be going to any sun-soaked locations in four months time. The 68 year-old has decided that Cornwall will be the destination for his first pre-season as City manager.

With the South-West only boasting a handful of football teams – many of them not even professional – who are the teams that the Bluebirds could face in August?

Truro City

Currently plying their trade in the National League South, Truro haven’t had the best of seasons, hovering five points about the relegation zone. A complete contrast from last season, in which they finished 4th and lost in the play-off semi-finals to Maidstone, who went on to get promoted to the National League.

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Truro City before their fixture against Oxford City this season. (Flikr)

Their stadium holds just 3,800 people – almost 30,000 less than the Cardiff City Stadium – with 1,675 seats.

Former Spurs midfielder Lee Hodges is currently in his second spell in-charge of the Tigers, after leaving at the end of the 2013 season, the 43 year-old has been at the helm for just over a year.

Plymouth Argyle 

Technically not in Cornwall, Plymouth Argyle are at a much higher level in the footballing pyramid. Currently second in League Two, the Devon-based side would provide much more of a test for the Bluebirds.

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City could travel to Home Park in August.(Getty Images)

Losing in the play-off final to Neil Ardley’s AFC Wimbledon last season, Argyle have been on the cusp of League One for the last few seasons, but haven’t managed to earn promotion.

Manager Derek Adams has been with the club since 2015, and was very unlucky not to gain promotion in his first season in-charge. Looking a lot better this time around, the Pilgrims are 11 points clear of the play-offs and will surely be aiming for automatic promotion.

Warnock has a good relationship with Adams, loaning winger Matty Kennedy to the Green Army on deadline day. City’s current manager was also in-charge of Argyle in 1995 until 1997 winning the play-offs in his first season. He also achieved promotion to Division Two, before being sacked in February 1997.

Exeter City 

Another side who play in League Two, Exeter are having a much more successful season compared to last. Currently occupying the final play-off place, the Grecians finished 14th last season, and would provide a stern contest for the Bluebirds.

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City in action against Exeter last season. (Getty Images)

Paul Tisdale is their manager, and the longest serving manager in the Football League. The 44 year-old has been in-charge for 11 years and will know his squad inside out.

City have played Exeter in pre-season before, travelling there last season losing 3-0 to Tisdale’s side.

St James Park has a capacity of just over eight and a half thousand, and with the potential of being a League One side next season, Exeter could have a number of new players that will provide city with a good sense of competition.

Torquay United 

Torquay would be the furthest trip for City if they were to travel to Plainmoor. Kevin Nicholson (not the former City academy coach) has been a player manager for two years.

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Torquay’s Plainmoor – a ground Warnock will be familiar with. (Flikr)

Currently sitting just one point above the National League relegation zone, The Gulls are a professional side, while teams around them still in the semi-professional category.

Plainmoor is a considerably large stadium for the fifth tear of English football, having an impressive 6,500 capacity, with just under 3000 seats.

Warnock again has good ties with the club – managing them in 1993 – after being invited to be a club consultant by then manager Paul Compton. Compton resigned shortly after, and Warnock stayed on until the end of the season, finishing 8th in the third division.

 

Arsene Wenger and Alexis Sanchez: Trouble in Paradise?

Arsene Wenger and Alexis Sanchez: Trouble in Paradise?

Arsene Wenger is facing an uncertain future with Arsenal – not for the first time. However, on this occasion it seems a little more serious, with the Frenchman’s contract ending at the end of the season and his relationship with a few of the stars becoming extremely distant.

This, along with an apparent falling out with forward Alexis Sanchez, could see the end of the 67 year-old’s tenure. With the pair reportedly involved in a training ground bust up, football fans and pundits alike have revealed they wouldn’t be surprised if Sanchez leaves North London in the summer transfer window.

It all started so well. After years of criticising Wenger for not splashing the cash, the Arsenal supporters were in awe as they spent 35 million pounds to sign the Chilean from Spanish giants Barcelona.

90 appearances and 46 goals later, the 28 year-old has become a fan favourite, linking up with Mesut Ozil to create a huge sense of excitement around the Emirates. Despite their 5-1 drubbing by Bayern Munich in the Champions League a few weeks ago, Sanchez was the standout player for Wenger’s side. This prompted suggestions that he – to use the cliché – is a ‘big fish in a small pond’.

With this supposed training ground bust-up making their relationship even more frosty, should an offer come in for Sanchez in the summer, I don’t think anyone would be surprised if he makes the move away. Sanchez is a natural born winner, so Arsenal need to put a shift in and buck up their ideas if they want to convince him to stay.

There’s no doubt that this will cause a rift between fans and manager, but the club owes a lot to this man. He’s not the longest serving manager in the Premier League for nothing. He and the Gunners have been a match made in heaven for so many years, and it would be a shame for the former Monaco manager to leave in these circumstances.

Yes, he hasn’t worked his magic in the Champions League, but Arsenal fans are taking for granted the fact that they are qualifying for the tournament year in, year out. Whoever is next to come in – be it Diego Simeone or anyone else – if they achieve European football in the duration of their stay in North London, they’ll receive all the plaudits.

Should Wenger sign a new contract – which he still has the option to – he needs to ensure that Champions League is the priority. He and his players need to go for that European glory. If they get knocked out by a team that is dominant in every area, then nobody can complain. However if they just role over like recent years, there’s always going to be a problem.

 

Sam Allardyce: Can he actually save Crystal Palace from relegation?

Sam Allardyce: Can he actually save Crystal Palace from relegation?

After Sam Allardyce was relieved of his England duties after taking charge of just one game, many thought his career in management could be over.

However, just four months later, Crystal Palace came calling for help after Alan Pardew’s reign came to an end. The 62 year-old was the first name on the fans’ lips to save their beloved club from relegation.

After their 4-0 defeat to relegation rivals Sunderland last weekend, is the former West Ham boss running out of time?

It started fairly well, with a respectable 1-1 draw away at Watford. Since then, the Eagles have only managed one Premier League win from seven outings, and supporters are starting to realise that ‘Big Sam’ may not have been the best choice for the job.

It was extremely important that the Palace hierarchy brought someone into the club before the January transfer window, so they had time to shape the squad in the way they desired. Allardyce definitely did this, spending upwards of thirty million pounds.

Highlighting the defence as the reason why the Eagles are stumbling so far this season, Allardyce has addressed the issue by bringing in Jeffrey Schlupp, Patrick van Aanholt and Mamadou Sakho.

Some have questioned the decision to sign two left sided in Schlupp and van Aanholt, because they are both very similar players. Spending a combined total of 20 million pounds is risky, but Palace have been without a predominant left winger/midfielder for some time and these two new acquisitions could be the answer.

Bringing Sakho in from Liverpool for the remainder of the season is another good signing, with the potential to sign him permanently in the summer being a real possibility. The 26 year-old has been in the Premier League for almost four years and will provide some much needed depth in the Palace defence.

The other January purchase was Luka Milivojevic, who arrived on deadline day from Greece. With his preferred position being a defensive midfielder, Allardyce has more than equipped himself with the players needed to stop conceding goals.

Only time will tell, with Sakho and Milivojevic set for their debuts against Stoke City tomorrow. Hosting Middlesbrough the week after could be the turning point for the South London club. Six points from their next two games will give them confidence and push them right up into the depths of mid-table.