Category Archives: Manchester United

Premier league 2020/21: WHO CAN WIN IT?

The new Premier League season begins this weekend, unbeleivably as it seems like only yesterday we were waving goodbye to the last season.

Ahead of the 2020/21 season, we have some questions surrounding the top of the table. Can Pep’s Manchester City rid themselves of last years frailties and compete for longer this time? Or will Liverpool continue their consistency and defend their title?

Let’s not rule out the possibility of Manchester United’s continuing their progression and it would be almost insanity to dismiss Chelsea, given their spends, wouldn’t it?

Here’s how I think the teams involved in the upper echelons of the Premier League title race will play out in 2020/21…

Liverpool

The reigning champions. Jurgen Klopp’s side may have ended the season in somewhat bizarre fashion as they rather limped over the line following lock-down and title celebrations. That should not take away from the sheer dominance the Reds imparted on the Premier League.

While many people question the business, or lack of business done by the champions up until now, its my belief only minor changes are required, if any at all.

Natural left-back cover for Andy Robertson was required and has been found in Greek international Kostas Tsimikas.

One saga, which rumbles on is the Thiago Alcantara links, now joined by the Gini Wijnaldum to Barcelona rumours. Whilst many Liverpool fans may argue why not have both? I’m not sure there is room both in the current group, a squad that already boasts a plethora of central midfield options and the two players are of a similar mould.

The main bone of contention continues to be the back-up options to the starting XI. Should Klopp face a long-term injury to his front-line options the understudies may not be of a level required, although in truth that is the case of almost every team in world football. Not many can be a suitable understudy to Virgil van Dijk.

Overall, I believe Liverpool will go on to retain their title, the relentless nature in which Klopp has his squad churning out results is very difficult to keep up with week on week. Don’t be surprised by the growing influence of some of the younger players, in particular Curtis Jones, and also Naby Keita may finally find his feet in English football.

Manchester City

The main contenders to take Liverpool’s crown, Pep Guardiola’s well furnished Man City side.

There is little doubt 2019/20 can be viewed as somewhat of a failure from a sky blue perspective in Manchester. As glorious a victory as the Carabao Cup may have been, a side comprised of such talent and expenditure is expected to finish closer than 18 points off the summit. Not to mention the dismal UEFA Champions League exit.

That, however, was last term, how about now? The arrival of Nathan Ake certainly plugs a crack in the issues faced at City, a forced to be reckoned with going forwards, just ask Watford, but defensively they were often found wanting, just ask Adama Traore. However, I’m not sure Ake is the answer, for one the Dutchman is very much a left-sided centre-back, similarly to Aymeric Laporte. On top of which, despite being a more than decent operator at Premier League level, he isn’t elite, and City are operating amongst that level.

Elsewhere, the club has seen the departure of David Silva from the Etihad, a fine servant to the football club who leaves with the knowledge he will be forever immortalised in statue form. On the field, in a more mobile capacity, Silva is likely to be replaced by the much praised but lesser seen Phil Foden.

Pep has also spent £20 million on former Valencia man Ferran Torres, a 20 year old right winger who arrives with plenty of plaudits and provides competition to the likes of Rihad Mahrez, Bernado Silva and Foden himself.

Whilst the transfer window remains open there is always the chance City could strengthen further, although the Lionel Messi links have now subsided, as things stand in the week of the season’s opening day they haven’t addressed the areas of the squad suitable to overcome an 18 point swing.

Manchester United

Despite the obvious improvement in the past six months, particularly since Bruno Fernandes arrived back in January, there are still areas of weakness at Old Trafford.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær is learning on the job somewhat and with that there is bound to come mistakes, certainly when up against seasoned campaigners over a prolonged period.

Despite the frailties, however, it should be another year of progression for the red half of Manchester, who have already bolstered their midfield ranks with the arrival of Donny van de Beek from Ajax. One or two more signings, particularly in defensive positions and they should find themselves cutting the gap to the top two.

Chelsea

Who haven’t they signed? One thing is for sure is the Blues are set to be an enthralling watch with the attacking prowess in their currently huge squad.

Boasting the likes of Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, to name but a few, Frank Lampard’s side will give anybody a match on their day, but it’s consistency they may lack to begin with.

They shipped goals all too regularly to maintain prolonged title challenge last term and as things stand that won’t change too much, despite the arrival of the vastly experienced Thiago Silva, it’ll remain a difficult ask to breach the gap to the top two.

Any Other Contenders

Whilst the Premier League has seen Leicester City win the title against the odds, it seems unlikely 2020/21 will see another Claudio Ranieri and Jamie Vardy shaped fairy-tale, but you never know. The main protagonists would of course be Tottenham and Arsenal, although the rivals may be best focusing on breaking into the top four instead of harbouring serious title ambitions.

Outside of the North Londoners, perhaps Wolves could be considered for a tilt for a time being, however a 38 game threat seems unlikely at this stage.

With over a month left in the transfer window anything can happen (Messi), but for now it’s back to back Liverpool glory. After-all, top flight domestic titles are like Mersey Ferries, you wait 30 years for one and two come along at once….

Where next for gareth bale?

On Thursday the footballing world was treated to a lesser seen phenomenon, Gareth Bale played football, on an actual football pitch.

The 31 year old perhaps now ex-superstar appeared in the first-half for Wales during their 1-0 victory over Finland. In truth it wasn’t Bale’s finest 45 minutes and his manager Ryan Giggs said the amount of time was all he was fit for given his lack of match fitness, having not played for months on end.

With a CV that matches some of the greats of the game Bale has found himself very much of the periphery of things at Real Madrid for around two seasons now. Having almost secured a move to China last summer, the former Tottenham man could be looking for a way out of the Bernabau once more.

In a recent, honest, interview with Sky Sports, the Welsh forward said Real Madrid: ”make things very difficult” when asked abut his desire to leave the club.

Surely the time has come for the four times Champions League winner to find himself a new club, and with it regular football once more.

Success at Madrid?

There can be no doubt prior to the fallout Bale’s time in the Spanish capital has ultimately been a success, however, fans of the club would perhaps suggest otherwise.

Since completing his £90 million move the forward has won two La Liga titles, one Copa Del Rey, three FIFA Club World Cups, and the aforementioned four UEFA Champions League crowns.

Individually the Cardiff born star has the incredible record of 105 Madrid goals in 251 appearances in all competitions, including one of the greatest goals to ever grace a Champions League final.

Despite falling dramatically out of favour with Zinedine Zidane and the fans, although in truth the fans always seemed to struggle to warm to the Welshman, seemingly because he wasn’t Cristiano Ronaldo and occasionally took the limelight off their darling, nobody can deny Bale still has something to offer at the highest level.

His fleeting international outings have proven his quality remains, often the go to man for a Welsh side which has reached higher than usual heights in recent times.

So where could, and should he end up…

Having been on the verge of a move to the Chinese Premier League last summer many may seem a repeat of that move as the logical switch,. Given his current wages and the two years left on his deal, it is going to take a club with deep pockets as well as some bargaining from all parties to make this move happen.

Without one aspect of the move forgoing some financial loss, Bale could continue to earn his money sitting on the bench and playing golf in his free time.

The romantics and Spurs fans will be dreaming of a return to White Hart Lane where he made his name, having been a struggling left-back before moving up the pitch and setting the Premier League alight.

In truth the powers that be and the wage structure in place is unlikely to see Bale back at Spurs. It is much more likely the Welshman heads to one of the other top six Premier League clubs, Manchester United have often been touted as potential suitors.

Opinion

Simply seeing Bale back playing football is the preferable option, however, not at one of Liverpool’s main rivals as adding a player of his abilltiy would enhance any squad, even if his days of playing two matches a week are behind him.

Whilst there is very little chance of it happening, given his wage demands and the type of player Liverpool sign. I would love to see Bale in the red of Liverpool, although I can’t foresee him being delighted with Jurgen Klopp’s running demands. A player of his immense quality would be beneficially to every team in world football, they simply need to let him play.

Aaron Ramsdale joins Sheffield United from Bournemouth on a four-year deal

Sheffield United have confirmed the signing of Aaron Ramsdale for £18.5 million from Bournemouth.

The Cherries had rejected a bid of £12 million for Ramsdale earlier in the month, before Sheffield United decided to return with an increased offer.

The move would see Ramsdale return to Bramall Lane, after leaving Sheffield for the South Coast in January 2017 for a fee of £1 million having made just two appearance for the Blades in the FA Cup.

He would spend his first two seasons at Bournemouth away from the Vitality Stadium, having loan spells at League Two Chesterfield as they suffered relegation to the National League, and at League One AFC Wimbledon as they miraculously stayed in the division.

It was at Wimbledon where Ramsdale really caught the eye, making 20 league appearances and scooping the club’s Young Player of the Year award.

He also has experience on the international stage, having been capped by England from U16 level, right through to U21 level. He started all five games and kept three clean sheets as the Young Lions cruised to victory in the UEFA U19 European Championships in 2017.

Ramsdale made his breakthrough at his parent club this season, becoming Bournemouth’s number one during a tumultuous season.

The 22 year old, made his debut for the club in their opening game of the campaign, a 1-1 draw against his former employers Sheffield United. He would go on to register a further 36 Premier League appearances, missing one game through injury.

He kept five clean sheets and produced a number of impressive displays, despite the Cherries finishing 18th and suffering relegation. He was named Bournemouth’s Player of the Year and his performances certainly merited an immediate return to the top flight.

The move for Ramsdale signifies the end of the Blades’ pursuit for fellow young English goalkeeper Dean Henderson, who looks set to stay at Old Trafford and challenge De Gea for the number one spot.

Sheffield United had hoped to take him on loan for another campaign after his two successful spells at the club but felt priced out of a move as Henderson is set to sign a £100,000 a week contract to remain at the Red Devils for the foreseeable future.

United will reportedly ask any club keen to borrow the player to pay his full wages or at least a substantial amount of them, and Sheffield United didn’t want to break their wage structure to do so.

By taking Henderson on loan once again, Chris Wilder’s side would be in the same position next year as they are now, looking for a permanent goalkeeper with proven quality, as the 23 year old would again be returning to United having signed a long term contract there.

Ramsdale could be snapped up by another Premier a League outfit by that time and so Sheffield United thought it was best to act now, to have their own goalkeeper between the sticks for next season.

The £18.5 million fee will be the third highest in Sheffield United history, which highlights the ambition of Wilder and his owners to help to establish the Blades as a top half side.

Yet, that will not be what United will pay up front after some cute business behind the scenes from the Blades. A 15% sell on clause included in the original deal that brought Ramsdale to the South Coast will be knocked off the price.

As well as that, Bournemouth still owe money to the Blades for the purchase of David Brooks in 2018, whilst United also inserted a sell on clause in that deal, which means that they will not be breaking the bank to sign Ramsdale.

A large part of the deal is incentive based and includes add ons, which will only be paid if requirements are met. It is therefore reported that Sheffield United will pay just £12 million up front, which represents a real bargain.

Ramsdale is an astute addition at that price, given his young age and the fact that he has played in the Premier League before. He is a very capable shot stopper, having saved 67% of the efforts on target he faced last year, which was a total of 129 saves during the course of the season.

While Ramsdale conceded 62 goals last term that number will surely fall with a more settled and defensively solid back three or back five in front of him.

He will be eager to build on his terrific performances last season to stake a claim to travel with England to the European Championships next summer and the only way he will do this is by playing regularly in the Premier League, which Sheffield United are offering him the chance to do.

Ramsdale has made it clear to Bournemouth that he wants to return to South Yorkshire, and Wilder is keen to work with the goalkeeper again having admired him from afar for a number of years after reluctantly selling him during United’s League One title winning season.

Having seen how much Henderson has kicked on under Wilder, Ramsdale will be jumping at the opportunity to work with him and will hope he has a similar impact on his career trajectory as he did on Henderson’s.

All in all, it represents a great deal for all parties involved, with Sheffield United getting themselves a long term number one, Bournemouth a substantial fee which they can invest in their promotion push and Ramsdale the opportunity to show his class at the highest level once again.

Jordan Henderson Wins FWA Player of the Year

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson is the recipient of this year’s Football Writers Association Player of the Year award, after a stellar season with the Reds.

The England international fended off stiff competition from Man City’s Kevin De Bruyne, Man United’s Marcus Rashford and club teammates Virgil Van Dijk and Sadio Mané to scoop the prize, the oldest individual honour, which has been handed out each year since 1948.

Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alisson were also in the running, but Henderson won it comfortably, taking home almost a quarter of the votes.

Speaking to the FWA after the announcement, Henderson said:

“I’d like to say how appreciative I am of the support of those who voted for me and the Football Writers’ Association in general.

You only have to look at the past winners of it, a number of whom I’ve been blessed to play with here at Liverpool, like Stevie (Gerrard), Luis (Suarez) and Mo (Salah) to know how prestigious it is.”

Henderson added:

“I accept it on behalf of this whole squad, because without them I’m not in a position to be receiving this honour. These lads have made me a better player – a better leader and a better person.”

The award takes into consideration a player’s performance both on and off the pitch during the season. Overall, there is no doubt Henderson has played a significant role in both those categories.

On the pitch, Henderson has inspired Liverpool to Premier League glory, netting four goals and providing five assists, as the all conquering Reds left numerous records in their wake. Yet, his influence on the side is much more than stats.

He is the lynchpin of Jürgen Klopp’s midfield and exemplifies the high energy, all action philosophy that Klopp has instilled at Anfield. He is often deployed as a deep lying playmaker, or in the a scene of Fabinho, as a defensive midfielder. He breaks up opposition play before starting Liverpool counter attacks with his excellent passing ability.

His stamina and tenacity, are some more of his admirable qualities along with his exemplary leadership. Many players have lauded his professionalism, evident in each of the interviews he conducts after every game, while they also applaud the way he trains and carries himself.

His importance to the team cannot be underestimated. Liverpool have won 27 games in which he has played this season and in his absence a loss of drive and purpose is felt. This was evident in Liverpool’s draw with Burnley and loss against Arsenal.

Off the pitch, Henderson also gained nationwide plaudits, as the leader of the #PlayersTogether campaign. He contacted each of the 19 other Premier League club captains to explain his vision for setting up the campaign which would help to raise millions for the NHS and various other causes during the coronavirus pandemic.

The initiative has already made a £4 million donation to the NHS, and is firmly behind the Black Lives Matter campaign.

Bournemouth captain Simon Francis explained in an interview how Henderson spearheaded has spearheaded campaign, stating, “He’s effectively been the captain of this group of players involved in the initiative.”

FWA chair Carrie Brown followed that up by commenting:

“Jordan is a player his team-mates look to on the pitch and who his rivals look up to off it.

“The voting criteria for the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year is one who leads by precept and example and in this country’s darkest moment, Jordan, unprompted, personally rallied club captains to establish #PlayersTogether. He is a truly worthy winner of our award.”

Despite Henderson’s great achievements this year, it was one of the closest races for the award in recent years.

Kevin De Bruyne, Marcus Rashford, Virgil Van Dijk and Sadio Mané could all feel aggrieved not have scooped the gong after their terrific showings this campaign.

Runner up De Bruyne has scored 11 and provided a further 22 assists this term despite City’s struggles, whilst Marcus Rashford has enjoyed his best season in front of goal this campaign.

The striker has 17 Premier League goals to his name in 2019-20 and has also contributed significantly off the pitch.

He lobbied successfully to reverse the government decision to end free school meals to vulnerable children during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as teaming up with the charity Fareshare to provide thousands more children with free meals.

Last year’s PFA Player of the Year winner Virgil Van Dijk has largely slipped under the radar this season, although this is through no fault of his own. He consistently performs at such a high level that only his rare mistakes are ever really highlighted.

He rarely seems to break a sweat and is so calm and composed in possession. He has helped Liverpool to keep 15 clean sheets this season and makes the players around him feel more secure.

Sadio Mané, a sure fire front runner for this year’s PFA Player of the Year (which is announced later today) along with Henderson and De Bruyne, will also be disappointed to miss out.

He has been Liverpool’s talisman for most of the campaign, scoring 17 Premier League goals, which has won the Reds a staggering 18 points in their title winning season.

Mané was one of the best players in the league, tormenting defenders with his remarkable turn of pace, his expert first touch, and clinical finishing. He was one of Klopp’s most important signings and his finely getting the recognition his performances over the past few years has deserved. He would be my pick for PFA Player of the Year.

For the FWA Player of the Year award however, I do think it is difficult to look past Henderson for all that he has achieved both on and off the pitch. He is a true leader, a remarkable athlete and fantastic midfielder who will go down as a Liverpool legend and deserving recipient of the award.

24-7 Football Webcast and Podcast Series

The next instalment in 24-7 football’s podcast series – This episode features writer Tom Parker and in the first part looks at his background in sports journalism and also how Manchester City were able to overturn their two year European football ban.

The second part of the third episode that features writer Tom Parker. We look at the race for the top four in the Premier League and also examine whether current RB Leipzig coach, Julian Nagelsmann will manage in England’s top flight.

You can listen to both parts of the podcast by clicking on links below:

https://soundcloud.com/adam-stephens-425096853/24-7-football-episode-three-part-one

https://soundcloud.com/adam-stephens-425096853/24-7-football-podcast-episode-three-part-two

You can also watch the webcast here: