Monday, 22 August 2011

Scout and about - Ross Barkley

With this new season, we bring a new feature to our blog. Every week one of our scouts will be complying their dossier of one of footballs up and coming talents from all the divisions. They'll be travelling up and down the country using their encyclopedic footballing knowledge and contacts in the beautiful game to keep us up to date on all the latest players that you should be keeping your eye out for.
First up, we visit Goodison Park and a young scouser making an impressive first team debut. Sound familiar? No not Rooney this time, Ross Barkley - the seventeen year old Midfielder who would have made his debut at the same age as Rooney if it wasn't for a double leg break he suffered playing for England U19s. But one year later and he has already been compared to Steve Gerrard and of having the same impact that Rooney had in his first game back in 2002.

Starting out in his career Ross played in a more advanced striker's role and once scored a hat-trick for his school team in a final that saw him named Man of The Match with the award presented to him by Rafa Benitez. By this time he'd already signed with Everton and would go on to play for England U16s at the age of fourteen, before going on the captain the side.
The Stevie G comparisons come from his ability to arrive late in the box to latch onto the ball much like the Liverpool captain.
Coming back from his injury Ross featured predominately in Everton's pre-season friendlies and David Moyes had no hesitation throwing him into first team football.

Although on the losing side against QPR this weekend he was named Man of The Match (again) with his confident, intelligent play, having more shots on target than the rest of his more experienced teammates.
His fellow pros have also been quick to heap praise on the youngster, with Tim Cahill quoted as saying that "He is going to be a massive asset to Everton" as well as adding that "I have been lucky enough to have played with some great players in my career but I do not think I have ever seen a talent like Ross"
With Everton's recent financial problems now out in the open, Barkley could be saving David Moyes a pretty penny for years to come.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Britain, Britain, Britain.....

Tonight sees last season's Champions League surprise package Tottenham Hotspur start out on their Europa League campaign and of all the names pulled out of the hat for Spurs' two-legged qualifying tie it was Heart of Midlothian (to give them their full title) from The Premier League North of the Border that the North Londoners will face.

Arguably tie of the round for the simple reason - it pits England against Scotland, albeit in club form. The footballing rivalry between both countries goes back nearly as far as the day the builder's put their estimate in on Hadrian's Wall and after the usually "eventful" Home Internationals are now a thing of the past it gives both fans and players alike the chance to claim bragging rights across the North/South divide.
With Scotland's Premier League much maligned it's a chance for Hearts to get all William Wallace and show those weak lager drinking southern softies a thing or two about football in a country where men are so tough they wear skirts in broad daylight and no one dares laugh at them or call them a sissy.
While Spurs in the English corner (who aren't too shy about boasting that they invented the game) have the opportunity to remind their 'noisy neighbours' that although the divide isn't that great success wise their country are still higher in the FIFA rankings and the league they play in is often billed as the best in the world.
But although this hasn't been billed by many as a true 'Battle of Britain' it still offers a tantalising prospect and has some living up to do to compete with North V South meetings of the past.

Nowadays Anglo/Scottish clashes are limited (competitively) to European football, but back in 1870 with the FA as the only footballing governing body Queens Park from Glasgow entered the FA Cup, losing in the final twice to English opposition. Queen's Park also hold the honour of fielding the entire team for Scotland's first official international meeting with England, the country even went on to adopt the same colour strip that was worn that day by the clubs players.

With the advent of European competition, the rivalry to be the best of Britain increased as did the chances of clubs from both countries meeting.
On the way to becoming the first British team to lift a European Trophy in '62 Tottenham met Rangers, Jimmy Greaves was the star over both legs, scoring direct from a corner at White Hart Lane and contributing a dazzling individual goal beating three defenders before slotting past the 'keeper in front of 80,000 at Ibrox in the return.
Celtic would be the first British team to win the big prize and became European Cup winners in 1967, in this era of dominance they made it to the semi-final stage three years in a row, albeit in the Cup Winner's Cup in '66. Liverpool were the opponents and with both teams winning their home legs, Liverpool went through 2-1 on aggregate. The year after their triumph in Lisbon, Celtic met English opposition again in the Semi, this time the Champions of England Leeds Utd. A crowd of 130,000 saw the second leg at Hampden which the Hoops won after an early scare from Billy Bremner.

Probably the best remembered Anglo-Scottish clash of recent times was the 'Battle of Britain' of 1992/93.
Leeds Utd were champions in England a year before the start of the Premier League, while Rangers had won their respective Scottish League. This was also the first season of the newly revamped and renamed Champions League so there was much hype surrounding it.
Great Scott Gary McAllister put Leeds ahead, but in goal John Lukic dropped an almighty clanger by punching the ball into his own net (or fisting as Brian Moore puts it) from a corner to make it even at Ibrox before future Rangers Boss Ally McCoist made it two one to the Glasgow team.
Back at Elland Road it was McCoist again who wrapped things up after ex-England International Mark Hateley had scored a cracker from the edge of the area to put Rangers ahead on the night, Eric Cantona scored a consolation but it was too little too late in the end.

Recent history will favour Spurs tonight, although over the years if we were to judge these type of games as a series it's been a close run thing. Victories in the Eighties for Liverpool & Man Utd over Scottish opposition were followed by two meetings of Celtic & Liverpool that were closer run things, The Reds needed away goals in '97 - although to be fair one of those was a stunner from McManaman who scored after a mazy 70 yard run through defenders. The re-run in 2003 went in Celtic's favour after another draw at Parkhead John Hartson silenced The Kop to seal a two-nil win.

Since then it's been pretty much one way traffic for England, but with a hot Tynecastle reception on the cards for Tottenham can they carry on the recent traditions? Or will Hearts under new management yet again put all their upheavels to one side and put one over the Fancy Dan's of North London.

I predict Spurs taking it back down South with scores level and then seeing Hearts off with a home win.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

One To Watch

Next up in our one to watch series is Chelsea's young Midfielder Josh McEachran.
Still only eighteen Josh is a rare thing @ Chelsea these days, a product of the youth set up. Joining the club aged only seven he has risen through the ranks to make a few brief cameo appearances for the Blues over the last couple of seasons.

McEachran idolised Zinedine Zidane growing up and has been likened by ex-Chelsea Assistant Manager Ray Wilkins to Irish legend Liam Brady with his deft passing and movement, he's vision and ability for defence spitting passes received praise from England Under 21 Manager Stuart Pearce and he has already represented his country at that level.

Preferring a more Central/Attacking Midfield position he has been used in the past by Carlo Ancelotti more defensively and started training with the first team aged just fifteen.
New Boss Andre Villas-Boas is a fan and Chelsea obviously see him as part of future plans after recently offering the youngster a new five year deal. While he is still maturing psychically he has a footballing brain and an ability to read the game which is beyond his years.

If Abramovich can keep his itchy finger off of the trigger for a few seasons allowing the players to work under a settled Manager with a little patience it won't be long before McEachran is a first team regular.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The Midweeker V The Weekender

The predictions are in! It's a football things pundit's have given us their views on the season ahead! So who's gonna claim the bragging rights come May next year?

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

That sinking feeling!

I predict a riot! With the start of the season only a few days away its all kicking off! The amount of money spent has reached upwards of  £269,075,000!

With all this dosh being spent by 'The Big Boys' The other teams located up and down the country have been looting other clubs for any freebees they can get their hands on! Stoke snapping up former England international Jonathan Woodgate from Spurs, Sunderland have taken Westwood, Larsson & David Vaughan without even spending a penny! The QPR management team have also been @ it! Walking out of Upton Park with Welshman Danny Gabbidon & Kieron Dyer under their arms! While Neil Warnock was photographed taking Jay Bothroyd  for a spin in his new bright pink Bugatti Veyron, next thing you know Bothroyd's pictured in the QPR team photo!

So who's in danger of heading South come the end of the season? The usual so called know it all pundit's are going for the likes of The new boys, QPR, Norwich & Swansea to head straight back down, but where's the fun in that hey? With so many clubs just keeping their toes out of administration there's bound to be a couple of surprises this season, So grab a cup of tea as we go through the four four two it's a football thing's guide to who's heading down!

After a great start to last season, It all went a bit pear shaped up in Newcastle, After working wonders Chris Hughton was sent packing. In came have a go-hero Alan Pardew and after a mixture of good & bad results Newcastle lived to fight another season. The sale of Andy Carroll didn't go down to well the start of the year, add that to the fact that the board then decided to sell their player of the year Kevin Nolan for next to nothing & now it looks like another piece of the Newcastle puzzle is about to be lost in the shape of Joey Barton. Newcastle fans deserve better, they have a fantastic fan-base and have followed the team through thick 'n' thin! Although they have added a few 'Squad players' to their ranks, Alan Pardew's team look like they are heading back into The Championship after a short fling back in the big time. The best thing Ashley can do, apart from selling the club of course, is bring in some proven quality players. The likes of Defoe, Keane, Parker, Bridge, SWP have all been mentioned as possible targets but none of them have signed on the dotted line! It's the only way Newcastle are gonna beat the drop come May.

Aston Villa are another team that i feel will be around the bottom of the league come the end of the season. After getting rid of GĂ©rard Houllier Villa fans were hoping for a big name, Not the chap that got their local rivals relegated! Alex McLeish managed to get Birmingham relegated twice from the top tier! Ok he won them the Carling Cup last season, which saw them beat the much fancied Arsenal side, but One game doesn't make a season! With their two wing men sold and their star right back returning to his parent club for the new season Villa are short on quality! Charles N'Zogbia is a cracking signing but he has a history of throwing his toys out the pram and one man can't keep the team up! Just ask Scott Parker!

Wolves left it late last season, after beating the likes of United, Chelsea, Man City & Liverpool many would be forgiven to think that they should of been miles away from danger! The problem with Mick McCarthy's team is that they can't string together a run of positive results! It's been that way for a few seasons now! The signing of Roger Johnson was a master stroke by Mick! A born leader and it wont be long before he leads out the 3 Lions @ Wembley! But the rest of the team is made up from players that are punching above their weight, Craddock, Hennessey, Hunt & Ebanks-Blake would be better suited in the Championship! I really fear for the Wolves this season! If they don't sign anymore players before the start of the season then they may as well just throw in the towel!

Everton need to sort out their cash flow problems sooner rather than later, on the brink of administration they could be faced with a massive point's Penalty! With the likes of Jagielka & Arteta being linked with moves away, Everton may have to sell to keep their head above water! It won't be down to poor results that will see The Toffees head down to the 2nd tier of The English league, it will be down to finances!

Add into the mix the likes of Wigan, Sunderland & Blackburn as well as the 3 that came up from The Championship it's gonna be an interesting battle @ the bottom!

One to Watch

One To Watch

In the third of our series of One's to Watch we have Swansea's Scott Sinclair

It may be his club's first season in the top flight since 1983 but winger Scott Sinclair will have had previous experience at a one time Premiership winning team under his belt.

There's always a surprise package of the teams coming up every year and this season it could be Swansea's turn, but a lot will be riding on the young Englishman's shoulders. Not many teams will fancy a trip to Wales on a murky night in December and The Swans will use that the their advantage.

Sinclair will start the season in a positive mood after his hat-trick @ Wembley helped secure the club victory against Reading in the Play-Off Finals. His tally of 27 goals in all competitions was no mean feat either especially for a winger and although he didn't feature much in England's ill fated U21 campaign in Denmark he was one of the bright spots when he was on the pitch.

Starting out at Bristol Rovers he moved to Chelsea in 2005 when The Special One was providing the magic touch at Stamford Bridge, it's a case of "what could have been" for Sinclair at The Pensioners.

Loaned out time and again by the West London club, Sinclair gained valuable experience helping Birmingham in their push for promotion from the Championship in 2009 as well as getting games for QPR, Charlton & Crystal Palace. The revolving door managerial policy of Roman Abramovich didn't help his cause and although he made a handful of first team appearances under various managers @ the Blues his last season at Chelsea was in fact spent on loan at Wigan.

After swapping Stamford Bridge for the Severn Bridge his first season in Wales saw him play roughly fifty games on Swansea's journey through the play-offs and on to the Premiership. That long, tough season will have stood him in good stead for what awaits him in the top flight with more of the same to be expected if The Swans are to stay up.

With the shoots of youth emerging through the ranks last season and the fresh arrival of young blood from the Continent adding to the mix this August, it looks like Chelsea are looking to replace some of their aging stars, the departure of Sinclair could be cause for regret at the club and certainly @ only £750,000 would have saved Mr Abramovich a few rubles with the new financial restraints coming in from UEFA.

But he has shown his commitment to his team (the first Welsh side to play in the Premiership) and with a good start in the Premierhip vital, we can expect to see him terrorising defences from the word go.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Welcome to The North?

With the start of the new Premiership season less than a week away, we thought it would be best to sit around the 4-4-2 table with a pot of tea & some cornish scones & take a look @ who we feel will be making the headlines come May next year.


With a massive £252,725,000 spent already on players, The likes of United & City have strengthened wisely. With the pair going head to head with each other in the race to sign 'The Dutchman' Wesley Sneijder, there's gonna be a lot of talented players playing their trade up in Manchester this season.

In North London it's a different story for Spurs & Arsenal, with the pair of them struggling to keep hold of their prized assets. Cesc Fabregas will be a massive loss to Arsenal and many believe that the likes of Van Persie & Samir Nasri will also follow Cesc out of the door. With Gervinho the only Notable Signing made, it could be the first time in a while that Arsenal fail to make The Champions League spots!

@ White Hart Lane it's a similar story, With Modric being tipped to move before the end of the window, the likes of Bale, Defoe & Sandro have also voiced concerns over the lack of money available for Harry to strengthen the team ahead of the new season.

Liverpool have been busy bringing back the British core to their team, Adams, Henderson & Downing all being added to the squad over the summer. It remains to be seen if they have enough quality to get back into Europe next season.

Chelsea meanwhile have gone about their business unsettling players like usual in trying to regain the tag of the biggest spenders! Talk of Kaka being the last piece of the jigsaw. With the new manager under pressure even before the first balls been kicked, it will be interesting to see how Chelsea and Torres cope this time around.

So who's gonna finish top?

Although The Midweeker would like QPR to finish top as he has stuck a pony on them! Realistically only 3 teams have a chance of lifting the title come May. With United, City & Chelsea being the most likely to do it! Out of the 3 Chelsea still look a fair bit short of the pace. With aging players, no real leadership, lack of discipline & spiraling costs Abramovich's pet project might not get the full attention needed.

A shift in the waters looks possible, but not the in the way many fans would of liked. The likes of Arsenal, Spurs & Liverpool are miles behind the big 3, in spending terms, in quality terms and in footballing terms. This gap will only get bigger & bigger over the next few years. With none of them being able to match wages or transfer prices that the big 3 can. Spurs for example had a fantastic chance last season of cementing their place in the top 4, but without being able to offer mega bucks the players in question went elsewhere. Arsenal looked like title contenders @ the start of the season...... they were lucky to finish 4th in the end! Liverpool have brought too many mediocre players over the last few years and disposing of them is proving tricky. Another season without a trophy while watching United win another could prove a step to far for some of their loyal fans.

So with each member of the team undecided who will finish top next season, all we can say is that it will be between United, City or if The Midweeker is lucky QPR.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

One to Watch

One to Watch

The second in our series of ones to watch next season in The Premiership is young Scottish midfielder Barry Bannon of Aston Villa.

With all the managerial controversy surrounding the club supporters haven't had much to smile about,  but one thing they have had to look forward to is the fresh crop of young talent emerging and any knowledgeable Villa fan has Bannon earmarked as a player with great potential.

While all eyes were on young Marc Albrighton @ Villa Park last season the young Scot slipped by almost unnoticed
Turning down a chance at boyhood team Celtic's Youth Academy Bannon instead opted for a trial at Villa. After impressing in a youth tournament he signed a two year contract with the club and was part of the successful Youth & Reserve teams where his talent shone through as one for the future.

He eventually made his first team debut in 2009 during Villa's UEFA Cup campaign and as with the majority of young players he served his apprenticeship in the lower Leagues before making his first team debut.

Although small in stature his intelligent play, movement and passing has brought praise from managers and teammates alike. Still only twenty-one this central midfielder who can also play on the wing has already been compared to that of  the now retired Paul Scholes and Barca's Xavi or Iniesta.

With a new season, new manager and some top players leaving Villa this August it could be Bannon's season to shine and just don't so I didn't tell you so when Sir Alex comes knocking!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Coming Up? - Lower League Preview

Coming Up - A Lower League Preview

Welcome along to our soon to be regular lower league feature, we've realised here @ 442 that we have a lot of fans following the lower leagues and while the main spotlight is on the Premiership the "Big Four" (or five?) with their "loadsamoney look at my wad" mentality have started to make each season a fairly predictable scenario.
A dip into the lower leagues will show some quality young players, goals and action that some people may be missing out on. The Premiership teams have always been sniffing around the lower Leagues looking to unearth a gem, Connor Wickham - snapped up by Sunderland was wanted by a host of clubs in the top tier before signing on the dotted line for Steve Bruce and Arsenal's pursuit of Oxlade-Chamberlain is well documented, the lower leagues are also used by the "Big Boys" to blood their own youngsters and get vital first team experience in a tough physical league.
It's not just just the players either with a fresh crop of young and more importantly (to me anyway) English managers starting out on their careers in the lower divisions,  when meanwhile on the top table you'd be hard pushed to find an Englishman.

The Championship

The hardest to get out of and the one offering the biggest prize, teams that have been relegated the season before will be looking to bounce straight back up, getting in some experienced players up for a dogfight or two and trying desperately to hold onto the stars they have.
West Ham will be early favourites to come back up and with Big Sam in charge they have arguably not only one of the most experienced managers for getting the best of out his players but in Kevin Nolan one of the signings of the season (in any division)
Elsewhere, a Thai revolution is taking over at Leicester City and some of the Premiership-style fortune has fluttered it's way down a league into Sven Goran Eriksson's pockets, who's been snapping up new players like a fat kid in a sweet shop. Whether those players can gel and also whether Sven can stay there long enough are two factors to be looked at though.
Elsewhere in the league there's the return of another England manager to club management "the wally with the brolly" (he must be sick of that!) Steve McClaren who's been practising his Nottingham accent, Chris Hughton (probably one of the nicest blokes in football) taking charge at Birmingham who have the odds staked against them financially but could still come straight back up, Ollie @ Blackpool no doubt still adopting a cavalier approach to the game and a wicked sound bite in a press conference and amongst overs Brighton - under Gus Poyet playing the sort of sexy football his one time boss Ruud Gullitt would be proud of.

Predictions: Champions - West Ham; Promoted - Leicester City & Notts Forest

League One

Moving on down to League One doesn't necessarily mean a drop in quality and with two former Premiership clubs in the shape of The Blades of United & Owls of Wednesday renewing their local rivalry it's a great time to come from Sheffield.
Other clubs worth looking out for include Huddersfield Town who narrowly missed out on promotion last term under Lee Clark with the help of Kevin Keegan's former number two Terry McDermott, League Two's runaway Champions Chesterfield who were packing them in @ their new stadium last season will be a welcome addition, Brentford with one time Man City striker Uwe Rosler taking over a team that's on the rise who'll be hoping for more heroics from their highly rated 'keeper Richard Lee, the MK Dons who's set up may not be everyone's cup of tea (and a cheeky hob nob) but young English manager Karl Robinson could be one to watch for the future and on a personal note two local teams we here @ 442 who will be looking out for Leyton Orient and Stevenage.

Predictions: Champions - Huddersfield Town; Promoted - Sheffield Wednesday & Leyton Orient

League Two

In League Two teams have the added threat of relegation out of the Football League entirely (and possibly in some cases, existence) to contend with as well as trying climb up and out at the top.
This season the two teams which came up will be on every lower league watchers radar, Crawley Town who after last seasons FA Cup exploits are one of the favourites to continue their ascent, while another chapter in the fairytale that is AFC Wimbledon will be written as the club aim to build on the hard work that has been put in by players and fans alike after the demise of the parent club from Plough Lane.
Other teams of note will include Swindon Town where former West Ham, Sheffield Wednesday & Celtic cult hero was a surprise appointment earlier this year, whether he'll be a success or not is anyone's guess but it's sure to be entertaining, Shrewsbury Town you have a great record of making the play-offs - can they go that extra step this season? And over @ Crewe Dario Gradi (who with 24 years in residence was the longest serving manager in English football) is well respected for finding and coaching young players that have gone on to bigger things including Neil Lennon, Danny Murphy & David Platt so his team could be one to watch for you the talent spotters out there.

Predictions: Champions - Crawley Town; Promoted - Torquay United, Accrington Stanley & Shrewsbury Town

So, that's my little bite-sized nugget of a preview, any lower league fans out there feel free to drop us a line or comment. It's going to be a regular feature so look out for the next installment.