Stoke City Preview

Manager: Mark Hughes
Stadium: Britannia Stadium
Captain: Ryan Shawcross
Top Scorer: Mame Biram Diouf (12)

Stoke City seem to have surprised many in recent years by not being involved in the basement battle which has seen many good sides go down. Stoke always seem to be able to achieve that safe mid-table finish.

Stoke’s squad is built around having technically gifted midfielders they are solid and reliable but lack the attacking spark of say Everton or Spurs teams with a similar budget but a different play style. The gameplan has not changed much since the departure of former manager Pulis who was the man that built this side into the team that don the red and white today. They started last season with an indifferent run of form really setting the tone for the season. Their away form looked good until the 4th October when a trip to Sunderland derailed that as Stoke were beaten 3-1 with Adam scoring the only goal for Stoke. Their most promising early season display was a great win over Manchester City as Stoke won 1-0 courtesy of Diouf, it was made all the more impressive with the game having been at the Etihad Stadium.

Mame Biram Diouf celebrates a goal against QPR.

Mame Biram Diouf celebrates a goal against QPR.

Stoke’s life in mid-season was made more difficult by a tough run of 3 games against Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. After 2 losses to both Liverpool and Manchester United, Stoke were on a run of 3 straight losses, an emphatic 3-2 win over Arsenal at the Brittania Stadium saw Stoke pick themselves up and give their team a fighting chance of European football, the end goal for Stoke in any given season. This win however was avenged on 11th January as Arsenal won 3-0 in the return leg. Undoubtedly Stoke’s best football was played at the end of the season smashed Tottenham 3-0 before a draw with Burnley followed by the 6-1 destruction of Liverpool ruining Gerarrd’s leaving party.

Cup runs seem to be a thing of the past for Stoke, the FA Cup threw up what seemed a routine game against Wrexham which Stoke were losing until the final 10 minutes as Stoke fired home 3 goals in the final 10 minutes the 2nd coming 2 minutes from time and the 3rd in the 4th minute of stoppage time both thanks to former Manchester City player Stephen Ireland. They eventually crashed out to Blackburn Rovers who slaughtered Stoke 4-1 in the 5th round.

The best player for Stoke last season has to be Charlie Adam, the midfielder was in inspired form especially following Christmas. Ryan Shawcross may be the captain but the midfielder has a role to play in leadership of the club. Adam is tireless and fits the Stoke mould of a powerful, solid midfielder with little creativity, he is the heartbeat of the Stoke midfield offering himself as the man to go through linking the solid defenders with the towering strikers. His passing game is something to be admired whether you are a Stoke fan or a neutral Charlie Adam is a player to watch.

Charlie Adam after his outrageous long range effort against Chelsea.

Charlie Adam after his outrageous long range effort against Chelsea.

Business in the market has seen Stoke snap up 6 new faces and part company with 8 first team players. The signing of Irish keeper Given is big news having lost Begovic to title holders Chelsea resources were looking rather thin on the ground with Butland the only first team keeper but Stoke have boosted the ranks by signing the Irish veteran and the Danish 23 year old Jakob Haugaard. They have also signed England right back Glen Johnson, it was inevitable he would the leave the club what with Nathaniel Clyne moving to Anfield. Johnson will add experience to this squad and bring a wealth of Premier League knowledge. Stoke have also brought in Afellay from La Liga giants Barcelona. The midfielder has 50 Netherlands caps to his name and could be a hugely exciting player to watch should he play a big role in Stoke’s forthcoming campaign.

Shay Given making a save for former club Aston Villa.

Shay Given making a save for former club Aston Villa.

The loss of keeper Begovic is huge for the club, he was a massive asset and he will be missed by fans at the Brittania Stadium but with the pulling power Chelsea have the move was never in doubt especially after the departure of Cech. Steven N’Zonzi is also on his way out the midfielder has been a big part if the club for so many years and was impressive last season for The Potters he will be missed by the club as he leaves for Spain. They have also lost another club stalwart in Robert Huth the 30 year old spent 6 seasons at Stoke and established himself as 1 of the 1st names on the team sheet, he will be missed.

IN: Jakob Haugaard (FC Midtjylland, Undisclosed)
Phillip Wollscheid (Bayer Leverkusen, Undisclosed)
Shay Given (Aston Villa, Free)
Glen Johnson (Liverpool, Free)
Joselu (Hannover 96, £5.75 million)
Ibrahim Afellay (Barcelona, Free)

OUT: Asmir Begovic (Chelsea, £8 million)
Steven N’Zonzi (Sevilla, £7 million)
Charlie Ward (Free Agents, Free)
Tom Sorensen (Free Agents, Free)
Andy Wilkinson (Free Agents, Free)
Wilson Palacios (Free Agents, Free)
Robert Huth (Leicester City, Undisclosed)
Jamie Ness (Scunthorpe United, Free)

Stoke have recruited well and could well mount a challenge for Europe this season they must try and make the Brittania Stadium a fortress and if they can find a plan B alternative to the ‘long ball’ game they have made their own.

My Stoke City XI (4-3-1-2): 24 S.Given; 8 G.Johnson, 17 R.Shawcross, 26 P.Wollscheid, 12 M.Wilson; 16 C.Adam, 6 G.Whelan 7 S.Ireland; 14 I.Afellay; 18 MB. Diouf 25 P.Crouch

Bench: 1 J.Butland, 2 P.Bardsley 3 E.Pieters 15 M.Van Ginkel 21 S.Sidwell 10 M.Arnautovic 11 Joselu

Last Season: 9th
Prediction: 13th

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Manchester City Preview

Manager: Manuel Pellegrini
Stadium: Etihad Stadium
Captain: Vincent Kompany
Top Scorer: Segio Agüero (32)

Ultimately Manchester City will view last year as a failure losing the title to Londoners Chelsea with barely a whimper as the trophy went to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea finished a clear 8 ahead of Manchester City in what was a very easy title race.

Manchester City’s record at home is wonderful having lost just twice at home in the league with 14 wins that is a record that most teams in Europe would die for including the Spanish giants of Real Madrid and Barcelona or the likes of German heavyweight Bayern Munich. Their attack was something to behold over the course of the season they scored 83 goals which is an outstanding total for any club. With strikers like Agüero, Bony and Jovetic in the team are simply terrific at doing a forwards job with their pace and shooting accuracy. Their 83 goals is 10 more than the nearest team which is Chelsea who only managed 73 goals over the course of the campaign.

Agüero celebrates a goal against Arsenal.

Agüero celebrates a goal against Arsenal.

Manchester City’s clinical ability was clear to see with their impressive 5-0 demolition of Newcastle on 21st February and an incredible 6-0 annihilation of QPR in early May they were no stranger to banging home goals that at times they had no right to score. The quality in the squad is scary to have that much money sat on the bench which included names like England midfielder Lampard, Bony and Navas. The Sky Blues have endured some tough times over the years but now they are a top team the fans will not settle for anything but the very best from their star studded, expensive squad. The squad that saw them rack up a 12 game unbeaten streak from 2nd November until the 18th January when Arsenal beat Manchester City 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium.

Silva, Toure and Navas are the undeniably superb creative players full of flair and energy with their attacking brilliance. The midfield at the Etihad Stadium is a blend of attacking geniuses and defensive organisers they are a well oiled machine that keep the blistering attackers connected to the able defence with players like Vincent Kompany and Kolarov who have been hugely important for their club. Manchester City had a wonderful few results last season but their humbling at the hands of Middlesborough in the FA Cup and Newcastle in the League Cup ensured that Pellegrini’s team would not be winning a trophy this season.

David Silva celebrating at the Emirates Stadium.

David Silva celebrating at the Emirates Stadium.

The key man for Manchester City was undoubtedly the goalkeeper Joe Hart who for a number of seasons has been key to the team’s success. Hart has a very good record in goal and the England goalkeeper made 36 of the 38 Premier League appearances last season an amazing feat in itself. To have the world’s best attackers Suarez, Messi and Neymar only put 3 goals past you in all seriousness is not bad. Yes Manchester City did concede the most goals out of the top 4 in the league but once again the goalkeeper has been huge if the defence was slightly shaper it is undoubtedly the weakest part of Pellegrini’s arsenal.

The transfer market a familiar place for Manchester City however they have only brought in 2 first team players. 2 very goof players of course with England internationals Raheem Sterling and Fabian Delph joining Manchester City. Sterling wants to win trophies and play in the Champions League that he will get at Manchester City but can he become a star at Manchester City I for one do not think so, he could of course end up as another starlet on the scrapheap like Scott Sinclair. Fabian Delph joins amidst him pledging his loyalty to former club Aston Villa. There are calls that Manchester City are just trying to boost their English quota. This is no surprise looking at their academy compared to the other big team Chelsea who have a wonderful academy. The only player to graduate from the Manchester City academy in recent years is of course Micah Richards who has left for Aston Villa as Delph heads north.

New signing Sterling on the ball for England.

New signing Sterling on the ball for England.mil

Manchester City have lost 9 players over the summer high profile names like Negredo who has been lacklustre in the Premier League but is nonetheless a very good finisher. Lampard finally ends up across the pond in New York. The aforementioned Sinclair heads to Aston Villa along with Richards to try and resurrect his career which stalled in the north west. Milner also leaves the Etihad to join Premier League rivals Liverpool in a deal that could be huge for the Anfield club.

IN: Raheem Sterling (Liverpool, £44 million)
Fabian Delph (Aston Villa, £8 million)

OUT: Micah Richards (Aston Villa, Free)
Scott Sinclair (Aston Villa, £3 million)
John Guidetti (Celta Vigo, Free)
Álvaro Negredo (Valencia, £22 million)
Frank Lampard (New York City, Free)
James Milner (Liverpool, Free)
Majita Natasic (Schalke 04, £8.3 million)
Dedryck Boyata (Celtic, £1.7 million)
Karim Rekik (Marseille, £3.9 million)

An already great and expensive team has been bolstered with impressive yet expensive acquisitions with their 2 English assets. They are by no means bargains but if their 2 new recruits can continue their development and Manchester City can continue to play good football then they can win the league but their competitors Arsenal and Chelsea look too strong.

My Manchester City XI (4-2-3-1): 1 J.Hart 5 P.Zabaleta 4 V.Kompany (C) 20 E.Mangala 11 A.Kolarov; 18 F.Delph 25 Fernandinho; 7 R.Sterling 42 Y.Touré 21 D.Silva; 16 S.Agüero

Bench: 13 W.Caballero 22 G.Clichy 26 M.Demichelis 6 Fernando 14 W.Bony 15 J.Navas 8 S.Nasri

Last Season: 2nd
Prediction: 3rd

Chelsea Preview

Manger: José Mourinho
Stadium: Stamford Bridge
Captain: John Terry
Top Scorer: Diego Costa (21)

Chelsea had a wonderful season last term with the return of the ‘Special One’ to steer Chelsea to a wonderful League Cup and Premier League double. He signed some deadly players last season snapping up the duo of Luis and Costa from the Spanish capital as well as Cuadrado developing this team into one of the most dangerous and coveted in Europe.

Chelsea after winning the Barclays Premier League.

Chelsea after winning the Barclays Premier League.

Chelsea only lost 4 games all season, 3 coming in the Premier League and the final 1 in the FA Cup 4th round. That is an astonishing achievement they went a whole Champions League campaign without losing still to get knocked out by French giant PSG who went through due to the frankly ridiculous away goals rule. Chelsea also only lost away from home with trips to St James’ Park, White Hart Lane and The Hawthorns proving too tricky for the champions. It took them until 6th December to lose their first match as Newcastle beat them 2-1. Chelsea were to beat them just over a month later in the return leg for sweet revenge but not before an excellent solo Harry Kane performance handed Chelsea defeat number 2.

Following the loss to Tottenham they went 16 matches unbeaten including a 5-0 thrashing of Swansea away from home and 1-0 win over Manchester United in impressive fashion. Chelsea were strong in attack and defence ending the season 8 points clear of 2nd placed Manchester City. Having conceded just 32 goals Mourinho could rest assured his team was not just the brilliant Costa, Fabregas combination that seemed unstoppable for the first half of the season leading to Costa’s 21 goals over the course of the season.

Chelsea’s Champions League run was also impressive only conceding 3 goals over the course of the group stage but racked up 17 including a 6-0 hammering of Maribor and a 5-0 thrashing of Schalke which was hugely impressive. Chelsea have just been outstanding in every facet of the game, nobody can quite get close to Chelsea in terms of class and strength in depth as well as the world class names like Hazard, Costa and Cahill they have the youngsters such as Loftus-Cheek and Solanke coming through to join the side that cannot stop winning trophies.

Costa was impressive last season, so was Fabregas, Courtois, Ivanovic, Cahill the list goes on but the best player for Chelsea was Eden Hazard. An innovative, magic attacking player. his turn of pace and touch make him one of the most desirable midfielders in the world, he’s young as well at only 24 the Belgian has plenty more time to develop into one of the best players in world football. I’m surprised the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, PSG and Bayern Munich haven’t come knocking for Hazard, if he continue this form into next season nobody will have a chance.

Eden Hazard celebrates a goal against Hull.

Eden Hazard celebrates a goal against Hull.

Chelsea’s title winning season meant they didn’t need to bring in a huge amount of players especially with the youth coming through the ranks at Stamford Bridge. They have signed 4 players with Begovic being the most significant bringing in back up for the fabulous Courtois who has been the standout goalkeeper in the league ahead of De Gea, Hart and anybody else in England. That signing could prove to be hugely important ahead of the new season where depth could be important for Chelsea.

New signing Begovic in action for Stoke.

New signing Begovic in action for Stoke.

Chelsea have lost two veterans in Ivorian striker Drogba and Czech keeper Cech and they were sent off in style by the stylish London club. Czech was sold to rivals Arsenal which probably led to the capture of Begovic from Premier League rivals Stoke. They have also sold young midfielder McEachran to Brentford for a surprisingly low fee for such a talented player who has been crying out to be played more which shouldn’t be a problem at Brentford.

IN: Asmir Begovic (Stoke City, £8 million)
Kenedy (Fluminese, £6.3 million)
Nathan (Atletico Paranaense, £4.5 million)
Danilo Pantic (Partizan, 1.25 million)

OUT: Petr Cech (Arsenal, £10.9 million)
Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Monchengladbach, £5.85 million)
Gael Kakuta (Sevilla, £2.5 million)
Josh McEachran (Brentford, £750,000)
Didier Drogba (Free Agent, Free)
George Brady (Sunderland, Free)

Chelsea have made some worthwhile additions to an already strong squad. Chelsea are dangerous and they are well on course to bag the trophy again for Mourinho and Stamford Bridge. A back to back Premier League winning season would be something special but you’d have to be crazy to bet against it.

My Chelsea XI (4-2-3-1): 13 T.Courtois; 2 B.Ivanovic 24 G.Cahill 26 J.Terry (C) 28 C.Azpilicueta; 21 N.Matic 4 C.Fabregas; 10 E.Hazard 8 Oscar 11 J.Cuadrado; 19 D.Costa

Bench: 1 A.Begovic 3 F.Luis 5 K.Zouma 12 J. Obi Mikel 7 Ramires 36 R.Loftus-Cheek 9 R.Falcao

Last Season: Champions
Prediction: Champions

Latin Dancing

Latin America, the home of the salsa, a dance full of passion and flair much like that of Barcelona’s invincible strike force. A trio that boasts in my opinion the greatest player of all time Lionel Messi, skilful and trickmaster Neymar and goal scoring glutton Suarez. A frontline lethal in front of goal and a force that has taken Barcelona to the Spanish treble, with triumph over their Madrid rivals in La Liga, dispatching of Bilbao in the Copa del Rey and a Champions League win to write themselves into the history books, Barcelona are thriving.

Messi the trickery of a magician, aim of a sniper and daring of a stuntman, he just epitomises talent. The Argentinian has been sensational all season and made huge contributions to this Barcelona team as they grow into becoming greats of the beautiful game from goalkeeper to the deadly 3 forwards. The greatest player of our generation has the ability to silence tens of thousands of people within seconds he can take the Nou Camp from a state of utter despair into ecstasy and a dreamland filled with the shouts of joyous fans that have come to watch their heroes. You watch Lionel Messi take the field and the reaction that precedes the demagogue as he leaves defenders trailing in his wake as he dances past defenders.

Lionel Messi celebrates scoring a goal for Barcelona.

Lionel Messi celebrates scoring a goal for Barcelona.

Neymar what to say about the Brazilian trickster, only a few years ago the Brazilian forward was plying his trade in his home country before moving to arguably the greatest club in the world. He went from a Brazilian league that is short of international class to training among Messi, Iniesta, Xavi and Alves a team that contain many stars that have won the World Cup, the Euros and everything else there is to win. He now has that swagger that is definitive with the Barcelona squad, that reputation that comes with being a player at the super club. Undoubtedly brilliant, deceptively influential without Neymar you doubt Messi or Suarez would be as effective in scything open Europe’s best defences as German champions Bayern Munich found out all too well in the semi-final.

Neymar celebrates a goal for his native Brazil.

Neymar celebrates a goal for his native Brazil.

Luis Suarez, the striker that couldn’t stop scoring for Liverpool has come to Barcelona and when you thought that Barcelona couldn’t get any better the Uruguayan hitman added another attacking outlet to the Spanish giants, and it’s not just goals that the former Liverpool forward brings it’s service to his other Latin American counterparts in this wonderful dance that is why Barcelona are the best in not just Europe but the world. Suarez had this art at Anfield and was providing the opportunities for England forward Sturridge to score. At the Nou Camp this art has developed and his masterpiece is greatly appreciated by the thousands that watch the Uruguayan win their blessed team trophies with relative ease.

Luis Suarez celebrates a pivotal goal against rivals Real Madrid.

Luis Suarez celebrates a pivotal goal against rivals Real Madrid.

A club awash with history and former stars, they have had an unbelievable year first capturing Suarez then winning all they had to win and in doing so raising up this trio as the greatest strike force football has to offer. There’s something quite romantic about the Latin American style of football, the trickery, the beauty, the individual brilliance, one thing is for sure Barcelona’s place as the best team in Europe is assured…until August that is.