Aviva Premiership Preview: Gloucester Rugby

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: David Humphreys and Laurie Fisher

Captain: Greig Laidlaw

Stadium: Kingsholm Stadium (Capacity: 16,115)

Last Season: 8th

Prediction: 9th

Gloucester have languished in the lower reaches of the table in recent seasons, the Cherry and Whites have been unable to field and formidable outfit but are building a squad under Humphreys to challenge once again.

Gloucester have some of the best back rowers in the league such as Kvesic and Moriarty who are both pushing for international recognition this year. With international, experienced players such as James Hook, Greig Laidlaw and Matt Scott who all have amassed a large number of test caps.

KVESIC

Flanker, Matt Kvesic.

Gloucester have always traditionally had a large pack with forwards that dominate the set piece. The Shed faithful enjoy their forwards bossing the scrum and with that strong pack the breakdown has become an area of strength.

Fisher and Humphreys are looking to focus on the backs this year, Sharples and May are lethal and their sheer speed makes them deadly in the final third.

THREE TO WATCH

Matt Kvesic

Position: Flanker  Nationality: English  Age: 24  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 105kg

Probably England’s closest answer to the Richie McCaw, David Pocock type favoured openside you see playing in Super Rugby and for the SANZAR nations.

He is crucial to Gloucester at the breakdown, he tackles strongly and his work on the floor is among the best in Europe. The English seven gives Gloucester quick, workable ball for the West Country club.

Greig Laidlaw

Position: Scrum-Half/ Fly-Half  Nationality: Scottish  Age: 30  Height: 1.75m  Weight: 80kg

The skipper is important to Gloucester especially when kicking the points. His metronomic boot is among the best in the business. His range is short but accuracy unerring.

LAIDLAW.jpg

Ludlow lines up a kick.

Laidlaw is also an expert at unlocking defences, his passing is accurate and his vision is good. This allows him to set strike moves from anywhere on the field.

Ross Moriarty

Position: Flanker  Nationality: Welsh  Age: 22  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 104kg

Moriarty is a quick flanker that is exceptionally effective in the wide channels with the centres and wings trying to open up defensive lines with either his pace or his upper body strength.

Moriarty’s close quarters defence is also a massively important asset for Gloucester and is becoming as important for Wales.

TRANSFERS

IN (6)

Tom Denton (Leinster, IRE)

Josh Hohneck (Highlanders, NZL)

Motu Matu’u (Wellington Hurricanes, NZL)

Cameron Orr (Greater Sydney Rams, AUS)

Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby, SCO)

Andy Symons (Worcester Warriors, ENG)

OUT (10)

Luke Cole (Rotherham Titans, ENG)

Rob Cook (Retired, RET)

James Gibbons (Ealing Trailfinders, ENG)

Tom Hicks (Rotherham Titans, ENG)

Steve McColl (Yorkshire Carnegie, ENG)

Bill Meakes (Western Force, AUS)

Dan Murphy (Released, REL)

Steph Reynolds (Released, REL)

Elliott Stooke (Bath Rugby, ENG)

Nick Wood (Retired, RET)

Matt Scott is a fantastic signing for Gloucester, he will give them a distributing option and along with Andy Symons there is depth at centre. Tom Denton is also a promising name.

SCOTT.jpg

Scott in action for Scotland.

Nick Wood and Rob Cook have been great for the squad over the years and losing them will hurt Gloucester. Many of the departures will not be too badly missed.

My Gloucester Rugby 23

15 Billy Burns 14 Jonny May 13 Henry Trinder 12 Matt Scott 11 Charlie Sharples 10 Billy Twelvetrees 9 Greig Laidlaw (Captain)

1 Nicky Thomas 2 Richard Hibbard 3 John Afoa 4 Tom Savage 5 Jeremy Thrush 6 Ross Moriarty 7 Matt Kvesic 8 Ben Morgan

16 Tom Lindsay 17 Yann Thomas 18 Paul Doran-Jones 19 James Hudson 20 Sione Kalamfoni 21 Callum Braley 22 James Hook 23 David Halaifonua

Gloucester have the squad to build on last season but other teams have strengthened better than Gloucester.

Advertisements

Aviva Premiership Preview: Harlequins

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: John Kingston and Mark Mapletoft

Captain: Danny Care

Stadium: Twickenham Stoop (Capacity: 14,800)

Last Season: 7th

Prediction: 6th

Harlequins will ultimately be disappointed with last season along with the likes of Bath and Gloucester the Londoners failed to live up to the pre-season hype.

Harlequins have a backbone of proven, international stars with Danny Care, Mike Brown and Nick Evans leading the backs. In the pack there is Chris Robshaw and Joe Marler leading from the front.

ROBSHAW.jpg

Former England captain, Chris Robshaw.

Under Conor O’Shea Harlequins won the league by playing expansive rugby, they like to go wide. John Kingston is likely to keep to that gameplan and they certainly have the personnel to stick to that.

Harlequins lineout is one thing that did go right last season, they have a plethora of hookers all of which have been selected in an England squad, couple that with a group of experienced locks makes their lineout among the most efficient in Europe.

THREE TO WATCH

Jack Clifford

Position: Back Row  Nationality: English  Age: 23  Height: 1.91m  Weight: 111kg

The openside flanker is exceptional at the breakdown more like a southern hemisphere openside than his predecessor at Harlequins, Chris Robshaw.

He has a scary amount of pace which was on display as he burst to score against Wales back in May at Twickenham. His attacking pace and powerful legs make him a dangerous carrier from the second or third receiver position.

Jamie Roberts

Position: Centre  Nationality: Welsh  Age: 29  Height: 1.93m  Weight: 110kg

The explosive Wales centre bursts open defences with his considerable strength, his upper body strength makes him hard to bring down and this along with an explosive leg drive sees him able to break tackles.

ROBERTS.jpg

Jamie Roberts will be key this season.

Roberts crash ball carrying can suck in defenders opening space for the more speedy players out wide such as Marland Yarde and Tim Visser.

Kyle Sinckler

Position: Prop  Nationality: English  Age: 23  Height: 1.82m  Weight: 122kg

The abrasive, explosive youngster is finally getting recognised by Eddie Jones as an option for England behind Leicester prop, Dan Cole.

Sinckler can be prone to penalties at the scrum and that has long been a weakness for the Harlequins star. This season is surely the one where the 23 year old can start to push on not just for his club but also England.

TRANSFERS

IN (7)

Alofa Alofa (Stade Rochelais, FRA)

Cameron Holenstein (Pau, FRA)

Ruaridh Jackson (Wasps, ENG)

Aaron Morris (Saracens, ENG)

Charlie Mulchrone (Worcester Warriors, ENG)

George Naoupu (Connacht, IRE)

Mark Reddish (Highlanders, NZL)

OUT (6)

Ben Botica (Montpellier Herault, FRA)

Nick Easter (Retired, RET)

Ollie Lindsay-Hague (Released, REL)

Beau Robinson (Doncaster Knights, ENG)

Tito Tebladi (Benetton Treviso, ITA)

Kieran Treadwell (Ulster, IRE)

The addition of Jackson is a hugely beneficial signing, he offers a more pragmatic playmaking option to play at fly-half. Charlie Mulchrone improves the depth at scrum-half and with Naoupu at eight Harlequins have recruited well.

JACKSON.jpg

Jackson in action for Wasps.

Nick Easter, a fantastic servant to Harlequins and England. Botica has been a good player for Harlequins and in attack is really important outlet, he may well be the biggest miss.

My Harlequins 23

15 Mike Brown 14 Marland Yarde 13 Joe Marchant 12 Jamie Roberts 11 Tim Visser 10 Nick Evans 9 Danny Care (Captain)

1 Joe Marler 2 Dave Ward 3 Kyle Sinckler 4 Charlie Matthews 5 James Horwill 6 Chris Robshaw 7 Jack Clifford 8 George Naoupu

16 Joe Gray 17 Owen Evans 18 Mark Lambert 19 Netani Talei 20 Luke Wallace 21 Charlie Mulchrone 22 Ruaridh Jackson 23 Alofa Alofa

The play-offs should be a step too far for the Harlequins squad under Kingston, qualification for the Champions Cup is likely.

Aviva Premiership Preview: Sale Sharks

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Steve Diamond

Captain: Josh Beaumont

Stadium: AJ Bell Stadium (Capacity: 12,000)

Last Season: 6th

Prediction: 7th

Sale Sharks overperformed last year with a solid pack providing some quality ball for a backline lead by the maverick Danny Cipriani.

Sale despite having lost a few big names have a squad with some special players finally getting the recognition they deserve. Mike Haley and Sam James provide the excitement whilst Josh Beaumont is developing into an elite back row forward who is now captaining Sale.

HALEY.jpg

Sale fullback, Mike Haley.

Sale’s strike plays from deep make them hugely dangerous, the ability to attack at pace and without structure makes them deadly from 60-70 metres out. Sale use their pacey wingers and centres to score tries.

Sale have done exceptionally well to become such a successful club near Manchester having to compete with football and rugby league. The defence built by director of rugby Steve Diamond is excellent, they make hit after hit and can absorb pressure and work their way out of trouble.

THREE TO WATCH

Josh Beaumont

Position: Number Eight  Nationality: English  Age: 24  Height: 2.01m  Weight: 113kg

The captain is unlucky to be around at a time where Billy Vunipola, Nathan Hughes and Ben Morgan are playing. Beaumont is around the England squad and will fight his hardest as do his club to grab a place.

He will lead by example his work around the field are beneficial to the signature strike plays as he runs off the first and second receiver offering an effective crash ball carrier in the midfield.

Mike Haley

Position: Fullback  Nationality: English  Age: 22  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 91kg

Mike Haley is a very dangerous fullback, he can attack with loose ball and that puts him up there with the very best fullbacks in the league. Haley has an attacking mindset and it makes him the focal point for Sale.

The fullbacks also has an abrasive edge and he certainly has time on his side having only turned 22 in June.

AJ MacGinty

Position: Fly-Half  Nationality: American  Age: 26  Height: 1.85m  Weight: 95kg

MacGinty won the Pro12 with Connacht last season and with him bringing that winning mentality and also a big game mentality to the club.

MACGINTY

AJ MacGinty lines up a kick for USA.

The international fly-half will hope to ignite the Sharks backline and get them firing in the absence of England international Danny Cipriani. MacGinty can act as a playmaker and one of the strike runners.

TRANSFERS

IN (11)

Halanki Aulika (London Irish, ENG)

Josh Charnley (Wigan Warriors (rugby league), ENG)

Curtis Langdon (London Irish, ENG)

Kieran Longbottom (Saracens, ENG)

AJ MacGinty (Connacht, IRE)

Bryon McGuigan (Exeter Chiefs, ENG)

Dan Mugford (Nottingham, ENG)
Laurence Pearce (Leicester Tigers, ENG)

Mike Phillips (Racing 92, FRA)

Lou Reed (Cardiff Blues, WAL)

Rob Webber (Bath Rugby, ENG)

OUT (10)

Tom Brady (Leicester Tigers, ENG)

Danny Cipriani (Wasps, ENG)

Vadim Cobilas (Bordeaux Begles, FRA)

Chris Cusiter (Retired, RET)

Mark Easter (Retired, RET)

Viliami Fihaki (Edinburgh Rugby, SCO)

Joe Ford (Yorkshire Carnegie, ENG)

Phil Mackenzie (San Diego Breakers, USA)

Nick Macleod (Dragons, WAL)

Tommy Taylor (Wasps, ENG)

The signing of MacGinty is huge, he couples playmaking with serious pace and will be key to Sale’s play off chances. The recruitment of Aulika, Longbottom and Webber in itself is a frightening front row they add depth to Sale. Phillips is also a massive coup for the northern powerhouse. And as for Charnley…Jason Robinson comes to mind.

CHARNLEY.jpg

Former Wigan Warrior, Josh Charnley.

The loss of English duo Taylor and Danny Cipriani will be big misses. Chris Cusiter brings his illustrious career to a close having represented his country 70 times and the Lions on one occasion. Tom Brady heading to Leicester depletes the wingers slightly, and losing Macleod sees the club have few playmakers left.

My Sale Sharks 23

15 Mike Haley 14 Tom Arscott 13 Johnny Leota 12 Sam James 11 Nev Edwards 10 AJ MacGinty 9 Peter Stringer

1 Ross Harrison 2 Rob Webber 3 Brian Mujati 4 George Nott 5 Lou Reed 6 David Seymour 7 TJ Ioane 8 Josh Beaumont

16 Neil Briggs 17 James Flynn 18 Halani Aulika 19 Andrei Ostrikov 20 Magnus Lund 21 Mike Phillips 22 Will Addison 23 Josh Charnley
Sale’s squad has very few star players. They do have a team that compliments each other and I believe a stronger team than last year, then again who does not this season will see them challenge for Champions Cup rugby.

Aviva Premiership Preview: Leicester Tigers

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Richard Cockerel and Aaron Mauger

Captain: Tom Youngs

Stadium: Welford Road (Capacity: 25,800)

Last Season: 4th

Prediction: Runners-Up

Leicester were a changed team last season just as happy to spread the ball wide as they were to crash through the middle.

Cockerill’s influence has seen Leicester become one again renowned for their physical, powerful scrum including the likes of Puma Marcos Ayerza and England international Dan Cole.  Former All Black Aaron Mauger however has made their backline the star attraction at Welford Road.

COLE.jpg

England prop, Dan Cole.

Leicester’s formidable set piece is built on having a belligerent front row and with the capture of Bristol’s Ellis Genge they have bolstered their options here. They build quick first phase ball off either a scrum or line-out.

The backs had some real pace last season bursting up the middle using quick feet and with a midfield boasting the considerable size of Manu Tuilagi the Tigers will be strong behind the scrum.

THREE TO WATCH

Brendon O’Connor

Position: Flanker  Nationality: New Zealander  Age: 26  Height: 1.86m  Weight: 102kg

The specialist Kiwi openside was limited to only a few performances last season and we are yet to see his best.

His breakdown work is fast and effective and the way in which he commands the fringes is quite superb as well as having a devastating tackle.

Manu Tuilagi

Position: Centre  Nationality: English  Age: 25  Height: 1.85m  Weight: 110kg

The Samoan born centre is an absolute machine, his power and weight make him a nightmare for fly-halves. He also has some turn of pace for a man his size.

TUILAGI.jpg

Tuilagi on the charge.

He provides go forward ball and crosses the gain line allowing pacey wingers like Betham to thrive in the open spaces. His power in defence is also frightening although his willingness to make a hit can leave a hole in the Leicester defence.

Telusa Veainu

Position: Fullback/ Wing  Nationality: Tongan  Age: 25  Height: 1.80m  Weight: 103kg

Arguably the signing of last season for Leicester. The fullback is electric, he was winning over many of the fans last season it’s easy to see why Aaron Mauger is such a fan of the Tongan back.

His dancing feet and sizzling pace make him so dangerous from all over the field, he breaks lines and stands defenders up, such a talented player with so much to give.

TRANSFERS

IN (7)

Tom Brady (Sale Sharks, ENG)

Pat Cilliers (Montpellier Herault, FRA)

Ellis Genge (Bristol Rugby, ENG)

Luke Hamilton (SU Agen, FRA)

George McGuigan (Newcastle Falcons, ENG)

JP Pietersen (Natal Sharks, SAF)

Matt Toomua (ACT Brumbies, AUS)

OUT (17)

Matias Aguero (Provence, FRA)

Seremaia Bai (Retired, RET)

Tommy Bell (London Irish, ENG)

Miles Benjamin (Retired, RET)

Jordan Crane (Bristol Rugby, ENG)

Sebastian De Chaves (London Irish, ENG)

Jean de Villiers (Retired, RET)

Opeti Fonua (Newcastle Falcons, ENG)

Leonardo Ghiraldini (Toulouse, FRA)

Vereniki Goneva (Newcastle Falcons, ENG)

Christian Loamanu (Provence, FRA)

Niall Morris (Leinster, IRE)

Tiziano Pasquali (Benetton Treviso, ITA)

Laurence Pearce (Sale Sharks, ENG)

George Tressider (Rotherham Titans, ENG)

Michael van Vuuren (Bath Rugby, ENG)

Matt Toomua is a huge coup and provides Leicester with a second playmaker option at 12 as well as cover for fly-half. Pietersen adds some pace out wide. Genge having recently toured with England is one of the most promising props around.

TOOMUA.jpg

Tommie training for the Wallabies.

A sad end for Jean de Villiers who retires along with a host of other stars. Crane will be a loss as he joins Premiership rival Bristol and Goneva who has been Leicester’s standout performer will be greatly missed as he joins Newcastle.

My Leicester Tigers 23: 15 Telusa Veainu 14 Peter Betham 13 Manu Tuilagi 12 Matt Toomua 11 JP Pietersen 10 Freddie Burns 9 Ben Youngs (Captain)

1 Marcos Ayerza 2 Harry Thacker 3 Dan Cole 4 Ed Slater 5 Dominic Barrow 6 Tom Croft 7 Brendon O’Connor 8 Lachlan McCaffrey

16 Tom Youngs 17 Ellis Genge 18 Logovi’i Mulipola 19 Graham Kitchener 20 Will Evans 21 Sam Harrison 22 Owen Williams 23 Mathew Tait

Leicester Tigers are certainly looking like a real force once again.

 

Aviva Premiership Preview: Saracens

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Mark McCall

Captain: Brad Barritt

Stadium: Allianz Park (Capacity: 10,000)

Last Season: Champions

Prediction: Champions

Saracens had a hugely successful season last time out completing a European-Premiership double.

The London based club are awash with international talent with seven of the squad picked to tour with England in June to Australia. Alex Goode, Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola, George Kruis, Maro Itoje, Jamie George and Mako Vunipola all playing a part in the tour.

FARRELL

Farrell kicking a goal as Saracens defeat Zebre. 

Saracens solid defensive style due to the ‘wolfpack’ instilled by former defence coach Paul Gustard and the the ability of Owen Farrell to manage the game makes them the most well drilled side in the Premiership.

Patterned play and effective breakdown work sets them apart from their rivals. Their ability to carry round the corner and explode past the defender in the ruck allows them to use phase play as an attacking weapon.

THREE TO WATCH

Owen Farrell

Position: Fly-Half/Centre  Nationality: English  Age: 24  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 96kg

The England fly-half is the key to Saracens attacking play, his goal kicking and game management allow Saracens to continue playing in the right areas of the field so he can kick the points.

His defensive game is the best of any Premiership fly-half and his attacking game has come on leaps and bounds over the past season. He now has this style of playing whats in front of him which has given Saracens an extra gear.

He’ll be on the Lions tour come June.

Maro Itoje

Position: Lock/Flanker  Nationality: English  Age: 21  Height: 1.95m  Weight: 116kg

The Saracens lock had an outstanding year winning every game he started for both Saracens and England. He became an international superstar, people in Australia will know the name now.

ITOJE

Maro Itoje with the European Champions Cup.

The 21 year old was an outstanding presence to have in the dressing room, almost a lucky charm. The power and pace he possesses is extraordinary but the lock just wants to keep improving and continue to grow as a rugby player.

Billy Vunipola

Position; Number Eight  Nationality: English  Age: 23  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 126kg

The number eight was undoubtedly England’s player of the season form which was equally impressive for his club.

His ball carrying and size make him a really dangerous player to have attacking the fringes and the way he works with a back row is really important to Saracens breakdown work, the addition of Schalk Burger will further improve this dynamic.

TRANSFERS

IN (6)

Schalk Burger (Western Stormers, SAF)

Mark Flanagan (Bedford Blues, ENG)

Vincent Koch (Western Stormers, SAF)

Alex Lozowski (Wasps, ENG)

Sean Maitland (London Irish, ENG)

Savenaca Rawaca (Fiji Sevens, INT)

OUT (10)

Biyi Alo (Worcester Warriors, ENG)

Jacques Burger (Retired, RET)

Catalin Fercu (Timisora Saracens, ROM)

Rhys Gill (Cardiff Blues, WAL)

Charlie Hodgson (Retired, RET)

Kieran Longbottom (Sale Sharks, ENG)

Aaron Morris (Harlequins, ENG)

Thretton Palamo (Bristol Rugby, ENG)

Dave Porecki (London Irish, ENG)

Ben Ransom (London Irish, ENG)

The capture of Burger is a hugely impressive signing and he will add to Saracens already impressive back row resources. Maitland adds some pace out wide and Koch will provide depth in the front row.

BURGER.jpg

New signing, Schalk Burger.

Hodgson and Burger have been great servants to the club and leave with heavy hearts. Gill will be missed for his scrum work and Biyi Alo is an exciting prospect.

My Saracens 23

15 Alex Goode 14 Chris Ashton 13 Duncan Taylor 12 Brad Barritt (Captain) 11 Chris Wyles 10 Owen Farrell 9 Richard Wigglesworth

1 Mako Vunipola 2 Schalk Brits 3 Petrus Du Plessis 4 Maro Itoje 5 George Kruis 6 Jackson Wray 7 Schalk Burger 8 Billy Vunipola

16 Jamie George 17 Vincent Koch 18 Billy Walker 19 Alistair Hargreaves 20 Will Fraser 21 Ben Spencer 22 Alex Lozowski 23 Sean Maitland

Saracens are clearly the side to beat this season.

Barclays Premier League Previews (SW-WA)

Barclays Premier League Preview: Swansea City

Manager: Francesco Guidolin

Stadium: Liberty Stadium (Capacity: 20,972)

Captain: Ashley Williams

Top Scorer: Andre Ayew (12)

Biggest Signing: Leroy Fer (£4.8 million)

Last Season: 12th

Prediction: Relegated

Swansea have become a shining beacon for Welsh sport over the past few seasons as a rugby heartland has seen their local football team become household names and dominate the back pages.

Swansea City despite not performing the tricks they should have last season managed to pull themselves well clear of the relegation fight that was captivating to the last.

ASHLEY WILLIAMS

Swansea captain, Ashley Williams.

The Welsh club do seem to often bring some attacking verve to their play and they certainly aren’t frightened of hitting teams on the break with the pace some of their midfielders possess to not use that talent would be absurd.

The Swans will have their work cut out this season though, Middlesborough, Hull and Burnley all have strong squads and with teams such as Sunderland strengthening over the summer it could be a tough season at the Liberty Stadium.

Recruitment is in one word, underwhelming. The capture of Fer is a coup for the club but other than that the other names don’t scream quality. No really high profile departures is big plus especially keeping skipper Williams despite interest from Premier League rivals, Everton.

LEROY FER

Leroy Fer in action for Norwich.

IN

Leroy Fer (Queens Park Rangers, £4.8 million)

Mike van der Hoorn (Ajax, Undisclosed)

Mark Birighitti (Unattached, Free)

OUT

Alberto Paloschi (Atalanta, Undisclosed)

Raheem Hanley (Northampton Town, Free)

Kyle Bartley (Leeds United, Loan)

The pursuit of Fernando Llorente is ongoing but other than that business looks to be done at the Liberty Stadium any other outgoings would be a shock with Everton cooling their interest in Ashley Williams.

My Swansea City XI (4-5-1): 1 L.Fabianski; 22 A.Rangel, 5 M.van der Hoorn, 6 A.Williams (Captain), 3 N.Taylor; 23 G.Sigurdsson, 7 L.Britton, 8 L.Fer, 24 J.Cork, 20 J.Montero; 10 A.Ayew

Barclays Premier League Preview: Tottenham Hotspur

Manager: Mauricio Pochettino

Stadium: White Hart Lane (Capacity: 36,284)

Captain: Hugo Lloris

Top Scorer: Harry Kane (25)

Biggest Signing: Vincent Janssen, Victor Wanyama (Undisclosed)

Last Season: 3rd

Prediction: Champions League

Tottenham would have been the story of the season if it weren’t for Leicester and their unbelievable title win.

Packed full of England stars Dier, Kane, Alli, Walker, Rose they should be match for any team even though many of those players were so under par at this summers Euros.

KANE

Harry Kane was singled out for his poor performances at Euro 2016.

The squad believe they can do it, they know they have the quality and fanbase to win the league, Pochettino is a very capable manager and he has taken the league by storm first at Southampton and now Spurs.

If the big clubs falter again it could be another chance for Tottenham to shock the fans and pundits alike. The top four has to be the aim for this ambitious club and they should look to make this a regular occurrence.

Recruitment has been strong bringing in some talented players whilst not losing any players so far.

Victor Wanyama scores for Southampton against Hull City in the Premier League at the KC Stadium

Wanyama bolsters options in midfield.

IN

Victor Wanyama (Southampton, Undisclosed)

Vincent Janssen (AZ Alkmaar, Undisclosed)

OUT

There are rumours we could yet see both the departures of Fazio to Roma and Alex Pritchard is generating interest from Championship duo Brighton and Norwich. No big names have been linked with moves though.

My Tottenham Hotspur XI (4-2-3-1): 1 H.Lloris (Captain); 2 K.Walker, 4 T.Aldeweireld, 5 J.Vertonghen, 3 D.Rose; 15 E.Dier, NA V.Wanyama; 20 D.Alli, 23 C.Eriksen, 11 E.Lamela; 10 H.Kane

Barclays Premier League Preview: Watford

Manager: Walter Mazzarri

Stadium: Vicarage Road (Capacity: 21,500)

Captain: Troy Deeney

Top Scorer: Odion Ighalo (14)

Biggest Signing:  Isaac Success Ajayi, Jerome Sinclair, Christian Kabsele (Undisclosed)

Last Season: 13th

Prediction: Safety

Watford had a good season last time out and found themselves well above the drop zone and keeping themselves well away from danger.

The Hornets played well and and former manager, Flores gave Watford, led by Deeney and Ighalo up front a distinctive style, a style that saw the side score goals and made them difficult to beat.

DEENEY

Troy Deeney is key to Watford

Teams travelling to Vicarage Road will face a very tough task of breaking down a thoroughly prepared team with a huge amount of desire to prove they have what it takes to succeed in arguably Europe’s most competitive league.

The north London club will look to their new manager and hope for consolidation this season and while I expect Bournemouth a team that came up with Watford to struggle this squad seem a lot more likely to build on last seasons form.

Recruitment wise a few clever signings have been made, they mostly increase depth within the side, not really any stars involved but with 38 games in a Premier League season, depth is key.

IN

Isaac Success Ajayi (Granada, Undisclosed)

Jerome Sinclair (Liverpool, Undisclosed)

Chrisitan Kabsele (Genk, Undisclosed)

OUT

Almen Abdi (Sheffield Wednesday, £4 million)

Gabriele Angella (Udinese, Undisclosed)

Josh Doherty (Leyton Orient, Free)

Joel Ekstrand (Released)

Lille forward Boufal remains a target but it is unlikely a move will be done this summer, transfer business looks like it is done for Watford.

IGHALO

Igahlo celebrates a goal with the mascot.

My Watford XI (4-4-2): 1 H.Gomes; 2 A.Nyom, 6 C.Kabasele, 15 C.Cathcart NA J.Zuniga; 11 N.Amrabat, 8 V.Behrami, 4 M.Suarez; 21 I.Anya; 9 T.Deeney (Captain), 24 O.Ighalo

Barclays Premier League Previews (SO-SU)

Barclays Premier League Preview: Southampton

Manager: Claude Puel

Stadium: St. Mary’s Stadium (Capacity: 32,505)

Captain: Jose Fonté

Top Scorer: Graziano Pelle and Sadio Mané (11)

Biggest Signing: Nathan Redmond (£11 million)

Last Season: 6th

Prediction: Safety

Southampton have overachieved over the last two years and Koeman has built a squad capable of challenging the best..that is until he left this summer.

Although the club have seen a large number of departures over the last two years it feels as though the loss of Koeman could be the one that is felt the most on the south coast.

Southampton have an ability to play an attacking, exciting brand of football with a talented set of midfielders and attacking wide players offering width and pace. This coupled with prolific finishers made Southampton a feared force last year.

AUSTIN.jpg

Austin will be hoping to start more this season as Pelle moves to China.

They have lost many of their core players that were there to create the chances whilst also losing both their top scorers, it will be interesting to see if they have ready made replacements or if they may become a poor man’s Arsenal, all this talent and excitement but without the glue to hold it all together.

Saints will not be threatened by relegation but I also think the top half will be unattainable for the club. A lot of this though will depend on the man management and gameplan utilised by new manager Puel.

In terms of recruitment the outgoing list dwarfs the incoming one, they have lost some seriously talented players that were key to Southampton’s outstanding 6th placed finish this season.

IN

Nathan Redmond (Norwich City, £11 million)

Pierre Emile-Hojbjerg (Bayern Munich, Undisclosed)

OUT

Sadio Mané (Liverpool, £34 million)

Graziano Pelle (Shandong Luneng, Undisclosed)

Victor Wanyama (Tottenham Hotspur, Undisclosed)

Juanmi (Real Sociedad, Undisclosed)

Gaston Ramirez (Middlesborough, Released)

Kelvin Davis (Retired)

Southampton will be looking to bolster their squad further with them currently looking at goalkeeper Alex McCarthy.

REDMOND.jpg

Redmond could be an important capture.

My Southampton XI (4-2-3-1): 44 F.Forster; 2 C.Soares, 6 J.Fonté (Captain), 17 V. Van Dijk, 21 R.Bertrand; 16 J.Ward-Prowse, 8 S.Davis; NA N.Redmond, 7 S.Long, 11 D.Tadic; 28 C.Austin

 

 

 

 

Barclays Premier League Preview: Stoke City

Manager: Mark Hughes

Stadium: Brittania Stadium (Capacity: 27,902)

Captain: Ryan Shawcross

Top Scorer: Marko Arnautovic (11)

Biggest Signing: Joe Allen (£13 million)

Last Season: 9th

Prediction: Mid-Table

Stoke have made some impressing strides of late and have clambered up to being a fairly consistent mid-table side even if they did start the season struggling to find goals.

When you have quality like Xherdan Shaqiri and Ibrahim Afellay you can produce some good football whoever your opponents may be.

SHAQIRI.jpg

Shaqiri is one of Stoke’s stars.

Stoke have the following to keep building and keep striving to outdo their nearest rivals with some good football and entertaining attacking coupled with strong defending makes them a formidable side.

They have leaders across the pitch, Shawcross, Adam, Crouch all of whom have huge amounts of experience and have given this team a real identity.

In terms of transfers Stoke have made the most of their money brining in two acquisition to make a difference whilst cutting the deadweight loose.

IN

Joe Allen (Liverpool, £13 million)

Ramadan Sobhi (Al Ahly, £5 million)

OUT

Ben Barber (York City, Free)

Yusuf Coban (1899 Hoffenheim, Free)

Dominic Kurasik (Brentford, Free)

Alex Grant (Perth Glory, Released)

Peter Odemwingie (Released)

It looks as though much of Stoke’s business is now completed, the chase for Berahino has gone cold now. It remains to be seen what else could be done before the season starts.

ALLEN.jpg

Joe Allen could make a real difference.

My Stoke City XI (4-2-3-1): 1 J.Butland; 8 G.Johnson, 20 G.Cameron, 17 R.Shawcross (Captain), 3 E.Pieters; 4 J.Allen, 6 G.Whelan; 10 M.Arnautovic, 14 I.Afellay, 22 X.Shaqiri; 18 MB Diouf

 

 

Barclays Premier League Preview: Sunderland AFC

Manager: David Moyes

Stadium: Stadium of Light (Capacity: 49,000)

Captain: John O’Shea

Top Scorer: Jermain Defoe (15)

Biggest Signing: Not Applicable

Last Season: 17th

Prediction: Safety

Sunderland did very well at the tail end of last season as Allardyce steered them to safety sending Newcastle and Norwich down on the penultimate match of the season.

One man that was instrumental in Sunderland’s survival was former Tottenham striker Defoe who picked up a healthy 15 Premier League goals last season for the Black Cats.

DEFOE.jpg

Defoe has a stunning strike record.

Sunderland have lost Sam Allardyce to England and must rebuild under Scotsman Moyes who takes his first job since being sacked as Real Sociedad manager. Sunderland are much a club in the Everton mould when Moyes first took over there.

The squad is full of experienced international players who most of whom are past their best but possess a wealth of knowledge regarding the Premier League.

Sunderland should have enough quality to see off other strugglers like Bournemouth and Swansea and if Defoe is kept well supplied up front there is no reason the veteran striker cannot score the tally he racked up this season.

Recruitment wise it has been very poor, no new faces plus a bunch of high profile departures, Sunderland’s transfer strategy has been woeful.

MOYES.jpg

David Moyes is the only new face.

IN

OUT

Emanuele Giaccherini (Napoli, £2 million)

Santigo Vergini (Boca Juniors, £1.5 million)

Steven Fletcher (Sheffield Wednesday, Free)

Martin Smith (Kilmarnock, Free)

Danny Graham (Blackburn Rovers, Released)

Wes Brown (Released)

Steve Harper (Released)

They have lost some big names there, Giaccherini will be missed the most, failure to pull in any other players and with very few rumours, panic buying may be Moyes’ strategy come August.

My Sunderland XI (4-1-3-1-1): 25 V.Mannone; 2 B.Jones, 16 J.O’Shea (Captain), 15 Y.Kaboul, 3 P. Van Aanholt; 6 L.Cattermole; 14 J.Gomez, 8 J.Rodwell, 7 S.Larsson; 22 W.Khazri; 18 J.Defoe

 

Barclays Premier League Previews (M)

Barclays Premier League Preview: Manchester City

Manager: Pep Guardiola

Stadium: Etihad Stadium (Capacity: 55,097)

Captain: Vincent Kompany

Top Scorer: Sergio Agüero (24)

Biggest Signing: Ilkay Gundogan (£21 million)

Last Season: 4th

Prediction: Champions League

Manchester City have one of the most exciting sets of players in the league, they have players that can do things most players can only dream of.

The big spending club under performed last season unable to covert the many chances created by the likes of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne two players who were key to Manuel Pellegrini’s reign.

GUARDIOLA.jpg

Guardiola is well respected all over Europe.

Guardiola comes in having had successful spells at Bayern Munich and Barcelona and the Spanish coach has already made a good impression bringing in some high profile signings on low fees which has made him popular among the fans.

Compared to their neighbours the fees they are paying for their newest stars are pennies.

Pep Guardiola is also hugely good at bringing through youth something that sets him apart from Jose Mourinho and he is blessed at Manchester City with player such as Kelechi Iheanacho and Jason Denayer developing at a ridiculous rate.

DENAYER.jpg

Denayer is a promising prospect for Manchester City.

Guardiola has strengthened the depth in certain areas and only recruited the very best. He has recruited from Spain and Germany in an effort to make Manchester City a formidable outfit.

IN

Ilkay Gundogan (Borussia Dortmund, £21 million)

Nolito (Celta Vigo, £13.8 million)

Alexander Zinchenko (FC Ufa, Undisclosed)

Aaron Mooy (Unattached, Free)

OUT

Richard Wright (Released)

Martin Demichelis (Released)

Manchester City are from done with business, Leroy Sane remains a priority target having told Schalke he wants to leave. Deals are also expected to be done for two of South America’s hottest property in Manolas Moreno and Gabriel Jesus. City are also still interested in John Stones of Everton or failing that Roma defender Kostas Manolas.

My Manchester City XI (4-2-3-1): 1 J.Hart; 5 P.Zabaleta, 28 J.Denayer, 20 E.Mangala, 11 A.Kolarov; 25 Fernandinho, 16 I.Gundogan; 15 J.Navas, 21 D.Silva, 17 K.De Bruyne; 16 S.Agüero (Captain)

Barclays Premier League Preview: Manchester United

Manager: Jose Mourinho

Stadium: Old Trafford (Capacity: 75.653)

Captain: Wayne Rooney

Top Scorer: Anthony Martial (11)

Biggest Signing: Eric Bailly (£30 million)

Last Season: 5th

Prediction: Champions League

Manchester United, a failed transition from Sir Alex Ferguson has seen them depart from two managers in three years. David Moyes failed and as for Louis van Gaal the saviour of Manchester United, there will be no Champions League at Old Trafford this year.

MKHITARYAN.jpg

Mkhitaryan celebrates scoring for Dortmund.

In comes a proven Premier League manager, Mourinho, arguably the best short term manager in the world, he will paper over the cracks left by Louis van Gaal.

Mourinho knows how to win this league and he has signed players accordingly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic arrives with a reputation as does Mkhitaryan. Players with international and European pedigree.

They have the quality, players like Wayne Rooney, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Chris Smalling coupled with the exuberant youth of Luke Shaw, Jesse Lingered and Marcus Rashford. The squad is packed with stars.

Old Trafford will be tough trip for many this year and the Champions League must be the bare minimum for this new look Red Devils.

IBRAHIMOVIC.jpg

Ibrahimovic is undoubtedly a star.

Three new faces with more to come no doubt Mourinho was handed more money than he knew what to with and he has not wasted time in spending it.

IN

Eric Bailly (Villareal, £30 million)

Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Borussia Dortmund, Undisclosed)

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Unattached, Free)

OUT

Joe Rothwell (Oxford United, Undisclosed)

Nick Powell (Released)

Victor Valdes (Middlesborough, Released)

One of the most highly anticipated transfers is soon to be down with Paul Pogba all set to arrive in Manchester. Kostas Manolas also remains a target but a deal looks unlikely.

My Manchester United XI (4-1-3-2): 1 D.De Gea; 5 M.Rojo, 3 E.Bailly, 12 C.Smalling, 23 L.Shaw; 28 M.Schneiderlin; 8 J.Mata, 10 W.Rooney (Captain), 14 J.Lingard; 11 A.Martial, 19 M.Rashford

Barclays Premier League Preview: Middlesbrough FC

Manager: Aitor Karanka

Stadium: Riverside Stadium (Capacity: 33,746)

Captain: Grant Leadbitter

Top Scorer: David Nugent (8)

Biggest Signing: Viktor Fischer (£3.8 million)

Last Season: Promoted

Prediction: Safety

Middlesbrough are a team that can go places, they have an ambitious manager in Aitor Karanka.

The off season has already seen a lot of activity at the Riverside developing a squad that is capable of playing in the Premier League and also giving the club an identity and personality to set it apart from Sunderland and Newcastle their neighbours.

KARANKA.jpg

Karanka has made Middlesbrough a tough team to beat.

Middlesbrough’s long exile from the Premier League may turn out to be a blessing in disguise as they have bolstered the squad with talented players and found that they can be team that are very hard to beat.

One thing that strikes when you look through how Middlesbrough have scored their goals there is an endless list of scorers, unlike Spurs where you have Kane or Leicester where there is Kane, they have four or five players who are netting five, six, seven goals a season with Nugent of course leading the way.

Being able to bring in Valdes for free and also sign up a few other talented players for such small fees has made the already talented squad stronger and with this strength in depth comes competition for places.

IN

Viktor Fischer (Ajax, £3.8 million)

Antonio Barragan (Valencia CF, £3 million)

Marten De Roon (Atalanta, Undisclosed)

Victor Valdes (Unattached, Free)

Gaston Ramirez (Unattached, Free)

Bernardo Espinosa (Spoting Gijon, Free)

Alvaro Negredo (Valencia CF, Loan)

OUT

Paul Weldon (Darlington, Free)

Already some high quality names coming in. Add into the mix Harry Maguire who is set to be under a £4 million offer, Aston Villa keeper Guzan which is believed to be a done deal and an offer for Tottenham’s Nail Bentaleb expected soon they are not short of quality.

DOWNING.jpg

Boro stalwart, Downing.

My Middlesbrough XI (4-4-2): 23 V.Valdes; NA A.Barragan, 4 D.Ayala, NA B.Espinosa, 2 G.Friend; 8 A.Clayton, 7 G.Leadbitter (Captain), 21 G.Ramirez, 19 S.Downing; 35 D.Nugent, NA V.Fischer

England Series Significance

England have secured what could be possibly their biggest achievement since winning the World Cup in 2003 as they stormed to a 3-0 series victory in Australia.

England have been transformed by the brilliant Eddie Jones, he has made England a force among the best in the world. Of course the All Blacks are still number one but England are leading the chasing pack.

Players have also emerged from the tour as greats, Maro Itoje, Billy Vunipola and Owen Farrell are all now world class, I think you could argue at least two would get into the All Blacks team right now.

hask

James Haskell stood out over the course of the series.

The third test was by no means perfect, but neither was the first or second, but England won the games so none of that matters. England will grow and are already early favourites to win the Six Nations which will follow England’s four tests in November against South Africa, Fiji, Argentina and Australia.

The back row were mightily impressive, Haskell and Robshaw are well and truly redeemed following this tour. Both were very high on the tackles made list every week and both showed such a huge amount of heart throughout June.

Couple those two flankers with the immense power of Billy Vunipola and there you have a world class back row. Vunipola has been England’s best player since Jones took over, his carrying and powerhouse runs give England some much needed go forward at vital points.

This tour has also seen the return of George Ford, the Bath fly-half was in inspired form for the duration of the tour. Since he replaced Burrell in Brisbane he grew, kicked well, managed the game well and got England playing in the right parts of the field.

Joe Marler will be ruing his decision to miss the tour, Mako Vunipola was sensational for the tour he was on fire, his carrying around the park have always set him apart but his tight game has improved so much over the last year.

forddddddd

Ford looked reborn in Australia.

The fact that as this was happening the England Saxons stormed to a 2-0 series win in South Africa and the Under-20’s won the world championship is a hugely encouraging sign for England and Eddie Jones.

England may have a break now but the hard work is not over, come November the journey continues as England push for supremacy in their four matches at Twickenham, all roads lead to Tokyo and Jones is very much aware of how he is going to get there.

My England 23 to play South Africa

15 Mike Brown 14 Anthony Watson 13 Jonathan Joseph 12 Owen Farrell 11 Jack Nowell 10 George Ford 9 Ben Youngs

1 Mako Vunipola 2 Dylan Hartley (C) 3 Dan Cole 4 Courtney Lawes 5 George Kruis 6 Maro Itoje 7 James Haskell 8 Billy Vunipola

16 Jamie George 17 Joe Marler 18 Paul Hill 19 Chris Robshaw 20 Jack Clifford 21 Danny Care 22 Henry Slade 23 Manu Tuilagi

History Made

Wales are through to the semi-finals of the Euro’s, they beat Belgium 3-1.

Not such a one man team anymore, goals from Ashley Williams, Hal Robson-Kanu and Sam Vokes sealed the win. A win orchestrated by Chris Coleman.

Gareth Bale is the star he puts his team on this level, this unattainable level without the Real Madrid star.

BALE.jpg

Wales’ star man, Gareth Bale.

Bale’s sheer brilliance, this raw talent honing his skills amongst the best players in the world, he in his right up there with the best in the world.

It is not just Bale that has been good though, Aaron Ramsey has endured a mixed season for London club, Arsenal but in the red of Wales has been immense.

Robson-Kanu looks like a quality striker, surely a club won’t be too hard to find after a performance like that.

The whole back four including captain Ashley Williams has been tremendous, the team have only conceded four goals, two of which came against England in the only game in which Wales looked slow.

England have been humiliated whilst Wales have risen to a level that may well take them to a European title.

It’s all set up to be a cracker brilliance v belligerence, Bale v Ronaldo, Wales v Portugal.