Six Nations Preview

Six Nations Preview

The Six Nations is looming and this year it looks to be a close run affair as Wales and Ireland will look to build on relatively successful campaigns, Scotland try to carry on their World Cup form, England and France rebuild and Italy attempt to recover from a disappointing autumn.

Ireland are the favourites having won the last two championships under Joe Schmidt, a canny operator and he knows which players get the men in green to tick. To add to the old guard are a crop of youngsters coming through such as Ringrose who could add something to an already strong side.1390761721_0

Wales seem to have built a team that can beat anybody at the moment and with many of their home grown players back playing for a top side has given them optimism even. Warren’s Law could affect them down the line but they still look like they will be mounting a title challenge.

Scotland were one refereeing decision away from a World Cup semi-final, it seems Vern Cotter’s style is beginning to rub off on Scotland as they continue to build. This Six Nations could be a defining tournament for the men north of the border.

England are an unknown quantity under Eddie Jones, he has said he wants to base England’s game around their traditional strengths like the scrum, his selection though seems some very exciting talents in the squad.

France also have a new coach in former Toulouse boss Novés, he has reshaped the team and hopefully can bring back some je ne sais quoi. Saint-André’s pragmatic nature stifled what was once the best team in the world to watch.

Italy will look to this championship as a chance to redeem themselves, the World Cup ran to the script for Italy and saw them crash out after the group once again. They need to find something special if they are to get anywhere near the title this year.
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Head Coach: Eddie Jones
Stadium: Twickenham Stadium, London (82,500)
Last Season: 2nd
Prediction: Champions

Fixtures

Scotland, BT Murrayfield, 16:50. Sat 6th February
Italy, Stadio Olimpico, 14:00, Sun 14th February
Ireland, Twickenham, 16:50, Sat 27th February
Wales, Twickenham, 16:00, Sat 12th March
France, Stade de France, 20:00, Sat 19th March

England have faced some pretty tough criticism recently after their World Cup. This lead to the appointment of Eddie Jones.

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England head coach, Eddie Jones

The squad has been named and has a blend of experience and youth, on paper it looks competitive. If England can get their pack moving forward and pick an exciting backline with distributors and finishers this England team could be brutally efficient.

I expect England to pick up wins in Rome and Edinburgh, they should be routine for this England side. I think playing at Twickenham could give them the edge against wales and Ireland but the trip to Paris looks a game too far for this developing English side.

Billy Vunipola

Vunipola on the charge

This Six Nations is a stepping stone for bigger things for the likes of Itoje, Daly, Beaumont, Clifford and Paul Hill. It looks as though they will be key in England’s future joining the likes of Ford, Farrell, Joseph, Launchbury and Vunipola all still young but players that could have 40 to 50 caps come 2019.

My England XV
1 Mako Vunipola (Saracens)
2 Dylan Hartley (Captain, Northampton Saints)
3 Paul Hill (Northampton Saints)
4 Joe Launhcbury (Wasps)
5 Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints)
6 Maro Itoje (Saracens)
7 Matt Kvesic (Gloucester Rugby)
8 Billy Vunipola (Saracens)

9 Danny Care (Harlequins)
10 George Ford (Bath Rugby)
11 Chris Ashton (Saracens)
12 Owen Farrell (Saracens)
13 Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby)
14 Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby)
15 Mike Brown (Harlequins)

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Head Coach: Guy Novés
Stadium: Stade de France, Paris (81,338)
Last Season: 4th
Prediction: 3rd

Fixtures

Italy, Stade de France, 14:25, Sat 6th February
Ireland, Stade de France, 14:25, Sat 13th February
Wales, Principality Stadium, 20:05, Fri 26th February
Scotland, BT Murrayfield, 15:00, Sun 13th March
England, Stade de France, 20:00, Sat 19th March

France like England have been criticised for not just results but what has been dubbed a boring and drab style in attack and bring weak in defence.

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New France boss, Guy Novés

Novés’ first squad suggests a very extreme change in tactics and a more of a swing towards that attacking play we have loved to watch in the past. With the reintroduction of Médard in the backline and Gaël Fickou coming in there is some flair there.

I think France can pick up wins over Italy and Ireland despite the strength in Ireland’s squad I think Paris will be tough to win in. I think they will also defeat England at home. Tough away trips to Edinburgh and Cardiff could be their undoing.

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Maxime Médard scoring a try against Scotland.

Flair in the backs and power in the forwards could be a glorious combination. This fresh approach could be either brilliant or horrendous. I for one hope that it brings a new era of running rugby with the likes of Médard and Fofana providing excitement.

 

 

My France XV

1 Eddy Ben Arous (Racing 92)
2 Guilhem Guirado (Captain, RC Toulon)
3 Rabah Slimani (Stade Français)
4 Alexandre Flanquart (Stade Français)
5 Yoann Maestri (Toulouse)
6 Damien Chouly (Clermont Auvergne)
7 Bernard le Roux (Racing 92)
8 Louis Picamoles (Toulouse)

9 Maxime Machenaud (Racing 92)
10 François Trinh-Duc (Montpellier)
11 Benjamin Fall (Montpellier)
12 Wesley Fofana (Clermont Auvergne)
13 Gaël Fickou (Toulouse)
14 Maxime Médard (Toulouse)
15 Scott Spedding (Clermont Auvergne)

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Head Coach: Joe Schmidt
Stadium: Aviva Stadium, Dublin (51,700)
Last Season: Champions
Prediction: 2nd

Fixtures

Wales, Aviva Stadium, 15:00, Sun 7th February
France, Stade de France, 14:25, Sat 13th February
England, Twickehham, 16:50, Sat 27th February
Italy, Aviva Stadium, 13:30, Sat 12th March
Scotland, Aviva Stadium, 17:00, Sat 19th March

Ireland won the championship last year and put in some impressive displays at the World Cup including a memorable win over France. This year they look to retain the title.

With Ireland’s squad due to be announced next week at some stage it is a fairly settled image we expect to see despite some high profile retirements and injuries for Ireland to come to terms with.

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Ireland legend, Paul O’Connell

Ireland should win all three of their home games against Wales, Italy and Scotland. Hoever away trips to Paris and London could be tough games especially as both England and France will be smarting after a tough World Cup.

Among the players Ringrose is an exciting prospect and big things are expected of the centre. Henshaw is in the form of is life at the moment and the pack will see who can fill the void left by O’Connell.

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Garry Ringrose scores for Leinster

My Ireland XV

1 Cian Healy (Leinster)
2 Sean Cronin (Leinster)
3 Mike Ross (Leinster)
4 Donnacha Ryan (Munster)
5 Devin Toner (Leinster)
6 John Muldoon (Connacht)
7 Sean O’Brien (Captain, Leinster)
8 Robin Copeland (Munster)

9 Conor Murray (Munster)
10 Jonathan Sexton (Leinster)
11 Craig Gilroy (Ulster)
12 Robbie Henshaw (Ulster)
13 Garry Ringrose (Leinster)
14 Simon Zebo (Munster)
15 Rob Kearney (Leinster)

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Head Coach: Jacques Brunel
Stadium: Stadio Olimpico, Rome (73,000)
Last Season: 5th
Prediction: 6th

Fixtures

France, Stade de France, 14:25, Sat 6th February
England, Stadio Olimpico, 14:00, Sun 14th February
Scotland, Stadio Olimpico, 14:25, Sat 27th February
Ireland, Aviva Stadium, 13:30, Sat 12th March
Wales, Principality Stadium, 14:30, Sat 19th March

Italy had a disappointing World Cup and still are struggling to give that extra 20% that could take them from also rans to join the top table of international rugby where Argentina now dine and Japan are approaching.

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Sergio Parisse

Italy have announced their squad and it really is a mixture of the Italian stalwarts and a few new names as Brunel will try to make Italy competitive it’s a strong enough side.

Italy have two home games against England and Scotland, I don’t think they will win either of those England should have enough to win convincingly and Scotland too. I think repeat heroics in Paris or Cardiff are also unlikely whilst Ireland is a tough trip for any team let alone Italy.

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Marco Susio is one of 18 uncapped players

Italy have picked an astonishing 18 players in a 38 man training squad that convened in November in Treviso assuming the squad will be cut with the France and England based players also to be added.

My Italy XV

1 Dario Chistolini (Zebre)
2 Davide Giazzon (Benneton Treviso)
3 Lorenzo Cittadini (Wasps)
4 George Biagi (Zebre)
5 Qunitin Geldenhuys (Zebre)
6 Alessandro Zanni (Benneton Treviso)
7 Paul Derbyshire (Zebre)
8 Sergio Parisse (Captain, Stade Français)

9 Edoardo Gori (Benneton Treviso)
10 Carlo Canna (Zebre)
11 Gio Venditti (Newcastle Falcons)
12 Luca Morisi (Benneton Treviso)
13 Michele Campagnaro (Exeter Chiefs)
14 Marco Susio (Rugby Calvisano)
15 Luke McLean (Benneton Treviso)
ScotlandScotlandlogo

Head Coach: Vern Cotter
Stadium: BT Murrayfield, Ediburgh (67,144)
Last Season: 6th
Prediction: 5th

Fixtures

England, BT Murrayfield, 16:50, Sat 6th February
Wales, Principality Stadium, 16:50, Sat 13th February
Italy, Stadio Olimpico, 14:25, Sat 27th February
France, BT Murrayfield, 15:00, Sun 13th March
Ireland, Aviva Stadium, 17:00, Sat 19th March

Scotland’s World Cup heroics may be the turning point and rugby in Scotland could be headed for a period of success, this Six Nations they’ll be hoping to kick on.

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Greig Laidlaw has been important for Scotland

Scotland are yet to announce their squad but are due to towards the middle of next week. I expect Cotter will retain the vast majority of his World Cup squad who performed so well. There may be a couple of additions after seeing how well Edinburgh are playing this season.

Scotland should be able to beat Italy in what has for a long time become the wooden spoon decider. I also think that at Murrayfield they should be too much for the French. Trips to Cardiff and Dublin are tough and England should be able to beat them.

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Gray brothers

Scotland’s second row is the frightening Gray brothers who the pack is being built on add to that some pace in the backs they will be formidable opposition.

My Scotland XV

1 Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors)
2 Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby)
3 WP Nel (Edinburgh Rugby)
4 Richie Gray (Castres Olympique)
5 Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors)
6 Josh Strauss (Edinburgh Rugby)
7 Blair Cowan (London Irish)
8 David Denton (Bath Rugby)

9 Greig Laidlaw (Gloucester Rugby)
10 Finn Russell (Captain, Glasgow Warriors)
11 Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors)
12 Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby)
13 Mark Bennett (Glasgow Warriors)
14 Tim Visser (Harlequins)
15 Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors)
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Head Coach: Warren Gatland
Stadium: Principality Stadium, Cardiff (74,500)
Last Season: 3rd
Prediction: 4th

Fixtures

Ireland, Aviva Stadium, 15:00, Sun 7th February
Scotland, Principality Stadium, 16:50, Sat 13th February
France, Principality Stadium, 20:05, Fri 26th February
England, Twickenham, 16:00, Sat 12th March
Italy, Principality Stadium, 14:30, Sat 19th March

Wales will be enthused after a strong World Cup that meant they would only crash out thanks to a sumptuous offload from Duane Vermeulen.

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George North

The core of the squad is settled and is due to be announced soon although the exact date is not set in stone. The squad will be much unchanged from the team last year.

Wales face tough trips to Dublin and London which I can’t see them winning however they should be able to see off the challenges of France, Italy and Scotland at home. Although Scotland and France could go either way.

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Wales captain, Sam Warburton

Wales have the old guard such as Warburton and Alun Wyn Jones in their ranks they know how to perform on the big stage there is very little room for manoeuvre in the current squad.

My Wales XV

1 Paul James (Ospreys)
2 Kristian Dacey (Cardiff)
3 Samson Lee (Scarlets)
4 Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys)
5 Luke Charteris (Racing 92)
6 Dan Lydiate (Ospreys)
7 Sam Warburton (Captain, Cardiff)
8 Taulupe Faletau (Dragons)

9 Gareth Davies (Scarlets)
10 Dan Biggar (Ospreys)
11 George North (Northampton Saints)
12 Jamie Roberts (Harlequins)
13 Jonathan Davies (Clermont Auvergne)
14 Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff)
15 Liam Williams (Scarlets)

 

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Watford Preview

Manager: Quique Flores
Stadium: Vicarage Road
Captain: Troy Deeney
Top Scorer: Troy Deeney (21)

Watford have achieved promotion and congratulations to the north London club however staying up could be a real challenge and they’ll be hoping the likes of Deeney and Forestieri can continue to keep Watford picking up the points.

Watford in ecstasy having won promotion to England's top flight.

Watford in ecstasy having won promotion to England’s top flight.

Watford had an excellent start to the season only losing 2 games up until the 4th November these included an impressive 3-0 demolition of Bolton and 4-1 thumping of Leeds United. October and September saw Watford tear the rule books up and find themselves in the promotion race before Christmas that was until November having started the month in pole position they then lost 4 games in a row and with that slipped 6 places to 7th in the league their lowest position in the league bar week 2 when they were in 12th. Following that run they produced a wonderful display away agains former Premiership boys Fulham and ran riot winning 5-0 at Craven Cottage. This result was huge coup for the Londoners and gave them some real thrust heading into the new year and was a relief for the fans after the horror show of November. They closed out the year with an impressive 4-2 win in Cardiff.

January was a big month for Watford and saw some incredible results they smashed Charlton 5-0 at Vicarage Road then 7 days later would hammer Blackpool 7-2. That was huge for the club 2 massive wins over formidable opposition. This saw Watford once again launch an assault on the upper reaches of the table and automatic promotion to England’s top flight. Following the thrashing of Blackpool the club would only lose 3 more games that season 2 of them to their fellow promoted clubs Bournemouth and Norwich. Ipswich claiming the final win over Watford. A 6 game unbeaten streak through the end of February and the majority of March was enough to give Watford the points they needed to burst up the table and send shockwaves through the Championship. This preceded their final loss of the season as they then finished the season with a 7 game unbeaten streak to finish 2nd in the table just behind the brilliant Bournemouth.

Watford had a style of play that many found enticing to watch and with players like captain Troy Deeney and Italian striker Forestieri up front the way they were scoring was quite incredible summed up by the club managing to bang in 5+ goals in three games. They scored 91 over the course of the season with only Bournemouth scoring more. Hopefully having a more settled coach will make Watford even more deadly this season having had 4 coaches last season before the 8th October. They will be a joy to watch if they can string together some wins and don’t over complicate things.

Their skipper and striker Deeney is certainly the key man at Vicarage Road and will hope continue his form that made him such an asset last season. His finishing ability is quite something and that led to him scoring a quite astonishing 21 goals for the club last season in all competitions. Deeney’s eye for goal makes him quite an asset however if the striker continues this upward curve it is hard to see Watford keeping hold of him should the heavyweights come knocking in January. One thing is for sure Watford will hope he can once again be the difference for them as he was so many times last season.

Troy Deeney celebrates a goal against Brighton on last years opening day.

Troy Deeney celebrates a goal against Brighton on last years opening day.

Recruitment has been a large part of the club’s summer bringing in 11 new faces to try an help the club remain in the Premier League. They’ve also cut loose 5 players to try and shift some of the supposed ‘deadwood’ that were deemed surplus to requirements. The signing that really catches my eye is that of Vydra, an extremely potent finisher and quite a coup for he new boys. He is a much coveted striker and Flores will be keen to show off his shiny new man. They have also brought in former Spurs man Capoue a very experienced midfielder that they can build around a man that will bring priceless knowledge to a squad short of Premier League know-how. Juanfran is also an exciting prospect for Watford to bring in a playmaker from La Liga club Real Betis. He could be a huge player for the club over the coming months. Behrami the Switzerland and former West Ham player also brings that Premier League knowledge to the table and could be influential in Watford’s bid to stay up.

Hydra could be key to Watford's season.

Hydra could be key to Watford’s season.

No really influential figures leave Vicarage Road this summer just a few players that were barely holding on to a spot in the squad, Watford should not miss these departures.

IN: Matej Vydra (Udinese, Undisclosed)
Valon Behrami (Hamburger SV, Undisclosed)
Étienne Capoue (Tottenham Hotspur, Undisclosed)
Juanfran (Real Betis, £1.5 million)
Steven Berghuis (AZ, £4.6 million)
Allan Nyom (Udinese, Undisclosed)
Miguel Britos (Napoli, Free)
Giedrius Arlauskis (Steaua Bucuresti, Free)
Sebastian Prödl (Werder Bremen, Free)
José Holebas (Roma, Undisclosed)
José Manuel Jurado (Spartak Moscow, Undislclosed)

OUT: Jonathan Bond (Reading, Undisclosed)
Lewis McGugan (Sheffield Wednesday, Undisclosed)
Marco Motta (Free Agents, Free)
Luke O’Nien (Free Agents, Free)
Vujadin Savic (Free Agents, Free)

Watford will hope for consistency this season and with a few wins they might stay up it’s going to be tight at the bottom.

My Watford XI (4-4-1-1): 1 H.Gomes; 2 A.Nyom 15 C.Cathcart 25 J.Holebas 5 S.Prödl; 19 M.Layún 8 V.Behrami 29 É.Capoue 21 I.Anya; 10 M.Vyrdra; 9 T.Deeney

Bench: 13 R.Gilmartin 3 M.Britos 14 J.Paredes 23 B.Watson 7 J.Jurado 24 O.Ighalo 11 F.Forestieri

Last Season: Championship Runners-Up
Prediction: 19th (Relegated)

Sunderland Preview

Manager: Dick Advocaat
Stadium: Stadium of Light
Captain: Lee Cattermole
Top Scorer: Connor Wickham/ Jordi Gomez (6)

Sunderland a season that saw them head for relegation before a sterling fightback under Advocaat saw them find a way to stay in England’s top flight. Sunderland live to fight another day.

Sunderland had a fairly average start to the season although they failed to secure a win until 4th October, they only lost 1 match and that was a 1-0 defeat away at QPR. They had managed wonderful draws against both Manchester United and Tottenham setting them up rather nicely. The 3-1 win over Stoke was unfortunately not a sign of things to come for Poyet and the Black Cats as 14 days later they would suffer a 8-0 humbling at the hands of Southampton. This would be a should destroying result for any side they returned home the week after only to once again fail to score as Arsenal won 2-0. Sunderland did manage 2 more wins before Christmas defeating Crystal Palace 3-1 in early November, and a crucial win over Tyneside rivals Newcastle just before Christmas. They finished the year in 14th place and relatively safe but with only 3 wins under their belts.

Ecstasy for Sunderland as they beat Newcastle.

Ecstasy for Sunderland as they beat Newcastle.

After Christmas Poyet could only manage 1 more win before he was sacked mid-March and that was only a routine victory over strugglers Burnley. Prior to this rare win they had lost 3 games in a row and were looking in bad shape. Following the win over Burnley Poyet only survived a further 6 games. The final nail in the former Brighton bosses coffin was Aston Villa defeating Sunderland 4-0 at the Stadium of Light leading to Poyet’s departure 2 days later. Sunderland were now languishing in 17th place just above the drop zone. Dick Advocaat took over and would only lose 3 times with Sunderland before the season was over. In just his 2nd game in charge Sunderland once again defeated Newcastle to do the double over their local rivals which has become something of a regular occurrence.

Sunderland would see May as the month they recovered as they won their 1st two games exacting revenge over Southampton with a 2-1 win and also beating Everton before 2 draws against Arsenal and Leicester before a loss to Chelsea on the final day. It was not perfect but Sunderland had done what they set out to do and Advocaat had taken Sunderland to 16th place and they were safe for at least one more season. Sunderland are going to need one hell of a change in fortune and gameplan if they want to get higher than they did last season.

Connor Wickham was by far their best player last year and it is hard to see where the goals will come from now he has joined Crystal Palace for an extortionate £9 million. Jack Rodwell is a promising midfielder his time at Manchester City stunted his career after limited success at Everton but it seems the 24 year old is trying to now rebuild his career in the north east and he is a very good player, his passing game is an asset to any time he sees space and has the talent to exploit it. His work rate is impeccable and with players like M’Vila and Cattermole around him they form a very hard working midfield. Jack Rodwell is sure to be in Advocaat’s plans leading into this season. This could be a huge season for the 3 cap England midfielder.

Jack Rodwell is all smiles after scoring his first goal for Sunderland against Manchester United.

Jack Rodwell is all smiles after scoring his first goal for Sunderland against Manchester United.

Sunderland have gone on a recruitment drive as well as securing M’Vila on loan from Rubin Kazan they have closed the deal on 4 new players whilst losing 3. Former Tottenham man Younés Kaboul is a big signing he not only brings Premier League experience but a defensive game that was something that was greatly lacking in Sunderland’s armoury last season. They have also brought in Coates from Premier League rivals Liverpool another worthy addition to the side. Sunderland’s recruitment doesn’t see any big names but the new faces are more necessity than luxury.

Kaboul in action for former club Spurs.

Kaboul in action for former club Spurs.

Departures are fairly insignificant bar Wickham who leaves after 2 big seasons. It seems the striker got bored of the Sunderland circus and heads off to London. His goals will be missed. As will his searing pace and creativity a rare bright spark in the black clouds that gathered over the Stadium of Light last season.

IN: Younés Kaboul (Tottenham Hotspur, £3 million)
Jeremain Lens (Dynamo Kyiv (£8 million)
Sebastián Coates (Liverpool, £2 million)
Adam Matthews (Celtic, £2 million)

OUT: Connor Wickham (Crystal Palace, £9 million)
El Hadji-Ba (Charlton Athletic, £500,000)
Anthony Réveillére (Free Agents, Free)

Sunderland have recruited well and Dick Advocaat is a very clever manager he will have a trick or 2 up his sleeve but in my eyes survival is highly unlikely.

My Sunderland XI (4-1-3-2-1): 1 C.Pantilimon; 15 Y.Kaboul, 5 W.Brown 22 S.Coates 3 P.van Aanholt; 14 J.Gomez; 8 J.Rodwell 4 L.Cattermole (C), 21 Y.M’Vila; 17 J.Lens, 19 D.Graham; 18 J.Defoe

Bench: 25 V.Mannone 12 A.Matthews 16 J.O’Shea 7 S.Larsson 4 L.Bridcutt 23 E.Giaccherini 26 S.Fletcher

Last Season: 16th

Prediction: 20th (Relegated)

Manchester United Preview

Manager: Louis van Gaal
Stadium: Old Trafford
Captain: Wayne Rooney
Top Scorer: Wayne Rooney (14)

Manchester United have kept van Gaal in charge after a satisfactory season bringing the Red Devils that 4th place and a return to Europe which is what they wanted at the end of last season.

Manchester United seemed to have recruited well spending a lot of money on players like former Real Madrid Di Maria being the record signing for the Barclays Premier League he arrived with Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera, Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo all of whom played a part albeit some bigger than others over the course of the season. Di Maria went from being the saviour of souls at Old Trafford to the pantomime villain. From 22nd November van Gaal’s team didn’t fall lower than 4th a very consistent performance from the most successful English team of all time.

After Manchester United’s assault on the leaders of the league in March including impressive victories over their 2 biggest rivals Manchester City and Liverpool came unstuck in April as they suffered 3 straight defeats to Chelsea, Everton and West Bromwich Albion which saw Manchester United concede 5 goals and fail to score. These 3 games saw Manchester United fall to 4th behind London club Arsenal a deficit they would fail to recover. Rooney’s leadership over the course of the season has been sensational not just in his leadership but he has also scored a number of sensational goals. The England striker did seem to go off the boil in front of goal towards the end of the season but he still led his club to 4th and the fans have their faith restored in the world class squad.

Di Maria celebrates scoring a goal with captain Wayne Rooney.

Di Maria celebrates scoring a goal with captain Wayne Rooney.

Despite the money spent of Luke Shaw and Angel Di Maria they couldn’t be consistently brilliant, pre-Christmas Di Maria was the hero after Christmas the devil. Shaw the young English fullback was not given nearly enough game time to build on last season where he had a wonderful season for Southampton who suddenly burst into life last season despite the raids on the young riches available on the south coast. The question was would van Gaal spend the money more wisely come this summer and be able to build on the 4th placed finish they achieved last time out.

Manchester United needed a player to step up last season, there was a lot of fanfare for David de Gea who did a wonderful job despite the poor excuse of a defence that he plays behind. Only God knows why van Gaal insists on buying midfielders rather than a solid centre half. My player of the season for Manchester United though has to be Fellaini, the midfielder became a monstrous presence for United in the midfield, directing play aerially or otherwise. A long ball style was adapted by Manchester United mid-season and that really helped the Belgian achieve what he set out to when he was signed by former boss David Moyes. Fellaini is now rightly regarded as one of the best midfielders in the Premier League, his excellent displays of power and aerial ability did seem to fall a little limp as fatigue set in but we are sure to see these displays come to the fore once again most probably over the winter months.

Marouane Fellaini on the ball for Manchester United.

Marouane Fellaini on the ball for Manchester United.

Recruitment of expensive players a theme of van Gaal’s tenure at the helm so far bringing in players like Di Maria and Shaw for inflated prices and the Dutch manager has brought in a fair few players again. Bastain Schweinsteiger, Germany World Cup Winner and former Bayern Munich captain is amont the new names on the United roster. The midfielder brings both experience and a wealth of class, his passing game and organisation are outstanding, his success could breed a new generation of success and achievement at the club. Another midfielder is French maestro Schneiderlin who has been outstanding at Southampton over the past few seasons, key to the success at St Mary’s. The French midfielder made 230 appearances for the Saints and became a club hero, he will hope to repeat that feat in the north west. Dutch youngster Memphis Depay also arrived over the summer, the talented forward is likely to be deployed alongside former England whizzkid Rooney in what is shaping up to be a very deadly attacking force that could rival Manchester City and Chelsea. Matteo Darmian finally a player United actually need came in the defender will provide a solid choice to play in defence to help out the mediocre centre backs at Old Trafford. All their signings at profile as they also add Argentina international Romero to the ranks and after his World Cup in Brazil you can understand why, the shot stopper had been brought in because they feared the departure of De Gea but he’s staying so now van Gaal has 3 international keepers to choose from.

Schweinsteiger lifting the World Cup for Germany.

Schweinsteiger lifting the World Cup for Germany.

The saga of De Gea staying or going took a long time to sort itself out which depended on the future of defender Ramos at Real Madrid. Di Maria is on his way out it would seem as every day he edges towards a move to the French capital to link up with stars like Ibrahimovic and Silva. This is yet to be confirmed but I doubt the Argentine player will be staying in England. Colombian striker Falcao has gone on another loan this time to Chelsea another high profile flop for Manchester United. Van Persie heads abroad after failing to make an impact this season and with the signing of Depay the writing was on the wall for the Dutch international. He heads to Fenerbahçe along with Nani who never really won over the crowd in Manchester. Tom Cleverley has also left heading for Everton in another move for a United flop.

IN: Memphis Depay (PSV Eindhoven, £24.6 million)
Bastain Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich, Undisclosed)
Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton, Undisclosed)
Matteo Darmian (Torino, Undisclosed)
Sergio Romero (Unattached, Free)

OUT: Robin van Persie (Fenerbahçe, Undisclosed)
Nani (Fenerbahçe, £4.25 million)
Tom Cleverley (Everton, Free)
Angelo Henríquez (Dinamo Zagreb, Undisclosed)
Reece James (Wigan Athletic, Undisclosed)
Saidy Janko (Celtic, Free)
Ben Amos (Free Agents, Free)
Callum Evans (Free Agents, Free)
Tom Thorpe (Free Agents, Free)
Ryan McConnell (Free Agents, Free)

So Manchester United have recruited well and add to a fairly strong squad already. If van Gaal can get United on the right path building on last season is possible however with the way Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea are looking I strongly suspect Manchester United fans will be left disappointed.

My Manchester United XI (4-2-3-1): 1 D.de Gea; NA M.Darmian 12 C.Smalling 5 M.Rojo 3 L.Shaw; 31 M.Fellaini NA B.Schweinsteiger; NA M.Depay 8 J.Mata 11 A.Januzaj; 10 W.Rooney (C)

Bench: NA S.Romero 2 Rafael 42 T.Blackett 17 D.Blind 18 A.Young NA M.Schneiderlin 14 J.Hernández

Last Season: 4th
Prediction: 4th

Liverpool Preview

Manager: Brendan Rodgers
Stadium: Anfield
Captain: Jordan Henderson
Top Scorer: Steven Gerrard (13)

Liverpool will be disappointed with their campaign last season after a slow start they were given life after Christmas by none other than their captain and hero Gerrard. A crazy finish saw the Anfield club finish 6th a finish that surprised many including Rodgers who will have been surprised considering his team was lacking in goals.

Liverpool had a dream a dream to send Steven Gerrard off with that 1 trophy missing from his personal trophy cabinet laden with honours including captaining England and a Champions League. Alas it was not to be for the Reds. The run of 3 straight defeats in November to Newcastle, Chelsea and Crystal Palace highlighted the difficult opening few months for the club. This saw them only net 2 goals and concede 6. The lowest point came in the grudge match at Old Trafford as their nemesis won 3-0.

Steven Gerrard walking out for his final game at Anfield.

Steven Gerrard walking out for his final game at Anfield.

This was followed by an outstanding run from 21st December until 16th March as Liverpool failed to lose a game and managed some tough away wins against Swansea and Southampton both of whom were strong at their respective homes last season. But this run was ended by Manchester United who did the double with a 2-1 win at Anfield in March stalling the progress made by Liverpool in the preceding months of wins and draws. A stuttering end to the season saw many Liverpool fans experience a case of deja vu as Crystal Palace took a 3-1 win before Stoke bullied Liverpool into submission by beating Gerrard in his last Premier League game 6-1 at the Brittania Stadium.

The elephant in the Liverpool dressing room will be can anybody step up and replace Gerrard. The candidate that many have cited is of course Jordan Henderson, but it’s not the same it never will be as the last giant of Liverpool leaves and heads for Hollywood and the MLS. Henderson will obviously have a large part to play in the coming months and seasons should he stay at Anfield unlike Raheem Sterling. There is also big things expected of Sturridge who has an injury plagued season last season which saw him struggle and deprived Liverpool of the goals as Balotelli and Lambert failed to hit the target. If Liverpool are to succeed they will need to improve in front of goal and find that player that can change the game from the middle of the park.

Last season there were few players to choose from that really performed bar Gerrard and Sterling. Lazar Markovic turned up more often than not for the club with some good attacking displays and a varied passing game he was one of the shining lights in Liverpool’s darkest times. Adam Lallana had a fairly good second half of the season with some good displays at times as he finally replicated some of the form he had shown at St Mary’s on the south coast. Phillipe Coutinho also had a sterling run of form as the season and closed and many fans hope he can continue in that vein when the new season kicks off.

Phillipe Coutinho celebrates scoring a goal with Gerrard.

Phillipe Coutinho celebrates scoring a goal with Gerrard.

Liverpool have been busy in the transfer market bringing in 7 players all high profile names whilst offloading 6 players that have played a part in Liverpool’s recent history. Liverpool have decided that they need goals and have brought in 2 new strikers and an attacking midfielder in Ings, Benteke and Firmino all of whom will provide goals. Former Villa hitman Benteke scored managed 15 goals last season, Ings netted 11 goals for Burnley whilst Brazilian Firmino scored 10 goals. Rodgers will be desperate that the new boys can score their goals and win games. He’s also visited his favourite hunting ground Southampton and snapped up Nathaniel Clyne, right back being a problem position for Liverpool Glen Johnson never really made that shirt his own. The England right back could be a really good signing should he perform to his best ability. James Milner and Ádám Bogdán are 2 experienced players to bring in Milner could bring that professionalism and high standard in training that Gerrard offered, that air of confidence and experience that Gerrard exuded. Ádám Bogdán comes in as back-up and adds some experience to the squad.

Nathaniel Clyne in action for England.

Nathaniel Clyne in action for England.

The league’s worst kept secret was that England midfielder Gerrard was thinking of leaving, he left the club to join MLS side LA Galaxy. Another secret was Raheem Sterling wanted to leave and win trophies, his transfer saga went on too long before he finally made the move to Manchester City. Glen Johnson also leaves the club after a difficult couple of seasons at Anfield as his performance level dipped leaving him being dropped by Roy Hodgson for his replacement at Liverpool Clyne.

IN: Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton, £10 million)
Joe Gomez (Charlton Athletic, £3.5 million)
Roberto Firmino (1899 Hoffenheim, £21.3 million)
Christian Benteke (Aston Villa, £32.5 million)
Ádám Bogdán (Bolton Wanderers, Free)
James Milner (Manchester City, Free)
Danny Ings (Burnley, Tribunal)

OUT: Raheem Sterling (Manchester City, £44 million)
Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo, £5 million)
Sebastián Coates (Sunderland, £4 million)
Steven Gerrard (LA Galaxy, Released)
Glen Johnson (Stoke City, Released)
Brad Jones (Free Agents, Free)
Javier Manquilo (Atlético Madrid, Loan Cancelled)

Liverpool will be different without Gerrard and will be a completely different prospect with the team. They have also lost their most complete, creative, attacking player Sterling to Premier League rivals. Their squad and recruitment make them a tough team to face this season and they will be confident of being able to fight but they will struggle to compete at the top of the table.

Steven Gerrard celebrates scoring against Leicester.

Steven Gerrard celebrates scoring against Leicester.

My Liverpool XI (4-3-3): 22 S.Mignolet; 2 N.Clyne 37 M.Skrtel 17 M.Sakho 38 J.Flanagan; 20 A.Lallana 14 J.Henderson (C) 10 P.Coutinho; 11 R.Firmino NA C.Benteke 15 D.Sturridge

Bench: 34 Á.Bogdán 6 D.Lovren 18 A.Moreno 4 K.Touré 23 E.Can 50 L.Markovic 28 D.Ings

Last Season: 6th

Prediction: 7th