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Sessegnon availability indicates change of priority at Paolo Di Canio’s Sunderland

Paolo Di Canio’s Sunderland is going to look rather different to Martin O’Neill’s. Since his arrival, Di Canio has very strongly prioritised hard work, fitness, energy and passion. That doesn’t sound too different from O’Neill though right? O’Neill became unpopular because his team was playing an uninteresting, uninventive, unsubtle and ultimately, unsuccessful brand of football in which honesty and effort was put to the fore of the game plan. Nothing summed this up more than the January signing of Danny Graham for £5.5m. A hard working good professional certainly, but not the right man to add fizzle and goal power to a moribund attack. Indeed the one man in the Sunderland squad who offers a bit of something genial and different is Stephane Sessegnon, and now the Italian has made him available for transfer. Is this a surprising move? Or is it just the next step of Di Canio’s purge of the squad he inherited?

Sessegnon’s 2011/12 season saw him score eight goals and make a further 12. He was one of the under the radar stars of the season, providing sparkle and production in his role behind the central striker. Last summer he was talked about as interesting Arsenal, PSG and Marseille. But this summer he is surplus to requirements. He must have had a terrible 2012/13 season then? Well, the odd thing is, the answer to that question is yes and no.

Stephane Sessegnon

The stats took a slight downturn; seven goals and six assists, but the perception of Sessegnon as something of a spent force came more from the fact that as Sunderland’s only creative player, when he struggled the whole team did. The burden of expectation to make things happen fell solely on him more often than not and although he wasn’t really that much worse than in 2011/12, the slight dip in his form, allied to big drops elsewhere exacerbated his apparent decline.

James McClean regressed horrendously last season, his run fast and hard and smash the ball towards the goal game was easily nullified once his debut season novelty had worn off. Adam Johnson’s one trick of cutting in from the right to try and bend in a shot resulted in some good goals and a solid nine assists but it all added in to the one dimensional play that plagued Sunderland all season. With no central midfielder capable of passing the ball, and both wingers struggling for consistent threat, the only imaginative presence was Sessegnon. It meant that for teams defending Sunderland, taking out Sessegnon as a threat meant they ran out of ideas. Short of giving it to Johnson and hoping he could do something or that when fit, Steven Fletcher kept scoring with every single shot he took, they couldn’t score goals.

Di Canio is trying to change this, but Sessegnon seems to fall foul of him mostly because of his lack of top end pace and even more because of his dubious work ethic defensively. The problem Sunderland could face though, is that their problems last season didn’t come from defensive or effort issues. They tried hard, but they didn’t have the variety and subtlety to get them out of trouble. Selling Sessegnon means that the club lose their one player capable of sparkle. Yes, he doesn’t run hard, he doesn’t press hard, but he can make something out of nothing.

The squad Sunderland are building next season are going to be modelled on the German model of pressing high, pressing constantly and breaking with speed. Clearly, there is no place for a meandering Sessegnon in that. But if Di Canio is copying Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, he needs to remember that they have the likes of Mario Gotze, Marco Reus, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Franck Ribery. Players of exceptional quality on the ball. Not just fast players and hard working players.

It seems as if Di Canio’s recruitment is swapping the strong, try hard qualities of Martin O’Neill for a team of athletic, try hard players, looking to press and squeeze at all times. But if he doesn’t add any quality and class it could be swapping one kind of inefficiency for another.

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Sunderland’s capture of Modibo Diakite a major coup for Black Cats

Paolo Di Canio and his new director of football Roberto De Fanti’s summer recruitment drive has begun with the capture of three Bosman free agents but it is the name, and stature, of Modibo Diakite that stands out. Diakite has long been on Premier League radars due to his sheer physicality and size. He is 6’4′ and also quick and very strong. He is an excellent aerial presence and capable of dominating games. He would appear at first glance to be an ideal partner to the more cerebral John O’Shea and the talk is that they beat several big teams such as Juventus, Napoli and Liverpool to get him.

Diakite is one of those players who has always been highly regarded, but at Lazio he struggled to impose himself on the first team. The 2011/12 was his best in terms of games played with 25 in Serie A, not playing at all last season. This is for a couple of reasons. When new manager Vladimir Petkovic arrived at Lazio last summer Diakite was out injured and he remained so until November. By that point Lazio had established a central defensive pairing of the more reliable, but less dominating, 36 and 34 year old pairing of Biava and Andre Dias. Petkovic is something of a disciplinarian, a man who expects nothing but endeavour and hard work at all times and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Sounds a little like Paolo Di Canio right?

Modibo Diakite

Under Petkovic Lazio play a more tactically sophisticated brand of football than most teams in the Premier League. One of the knocks on Diakite has been that his positioning and footballing intelligence is a weakness, and it is a weakness that didn’t sit right with what Petkovic needed from his defence. If he needed big physical athletes he wouldn’t have wheeled out a defence with a combined age of 70. He needed positional discipline and organisation and with two deep-sitting midfielders to protect them and do the running. It made Diakite expendable for Lazio’s specific system and personnel, but by no means undesirable for other teams.

Despite only playing once last season Diakite attracted interest from around Europe. Mostly, these teams were looking at his raw tools and wondering if, with the right coaching, they could make him a starter. But Diakite wanted to start right now, and so Sunderland had an advantage. If Diakite has a great year in England, as a starter, he still has a chance of making the French World Cup squad in an area that France aren’t overstocked with talent. Sunderland give him that platform.

Still, beating the likes of Napoli and Juventus to a player is still quite an achievement. All it would take is an injury there and he could be in the Champions League, so Sunderland obviously sold themselves well. The presence of Lazio idol Di Canio no doubt helps, and he will be more than aware of how best to use Diakite. He has all the physical capabilities needed for success in the Premier League and if they pair him with a positionally sound O’Shea, with some good midfield protection he can be a big hit.

Premier League preview: Big games for Tottenham, Arsenal, Wigan and Aston Villa

With Manchester United sealing their 20th league title with a 3-0 win over Aston Villa on Monday, all the attention now shifts to the relegation battle and the top four places.

Arsenal v Manchester United

The Gunners welcome the champions to the Emirates for a big game in their battle for the top four. Arsenal currently have a two-point advantage over fifth-placed Spurs and are one point in front of fourth-placed Chelsea. After their vital win at Fulham last weekend, this is another huge game for the home side as Chelsea and Spurs both have a game in hand on them.

Robin van Persie

Some people may be wondering what sort of attitude Manchester United will have toward this game having already clinched the title. Sir Alex Ferguson has set them the target of winning their last four games to break Chelsea’s Premier League record of 95 points, and with questions also being asked about how good this United team actually is, they will want to put down a marker against one of the top teams in the division. With both teams wanting the win there is sure to be goals and you would expect there to be a positive result one way or the other.

Aston Villa v Sunderland

A massive relegation battle at Villa Park as Paolo Di Canio’s in-form Sunderland look to secure their Premiership safety. Following impressive back-to-back wins against Newcastle and Everton, Sunderland know a win here would take them to 40 points and all-but secure their place in the league next season. Di Canio has got them playing attacking football by getting the ball wide to their creative players like Adam Johnson and James McClean and getting more men into the box than under the previous regime. Di Canio has also got them well organised with two clean sheets in his three games in charge so far. His passion on the touchline seems to be translating to the players and the fans, the players seem to be enjoying their football again and have pride in the shirt.

Paul Lambert

For Villa despite their defeat at Manchester United they have been in decent form, with three wins in their last six games. The problem remains with their home form though, as they still seem to suffer from nervousness at Villa Park, with just two wins in their last six. Despite this fact Luxbet have them as favorites at 2.20. They need to start improving their home form, as come Monday night Wigan may be level on points with them and the Latics still have a game in hand at home to Swansea to come. Paul Lambert will be desperate to avoid having to go to Wigan on the last day of the season needing a result but it is hard seeing them getting the win here against a rejuvenated Sunderland.

Wigan v Tottenham

Arguably the biggest game of the weekend comes at the DW Stadium as relegation-threatened Wigan welcome a Spurs side buoyed by their 3-1 victory over Manchester City last weekend. Wigan’s usual good form at this time of the season has not come to fruition, with just two wins in their last six and with trips to West Brom and Arsenal still to come they need to find some better form quickly. Despite what Roberto Martinez has claimed, the upcoming FA Cup final may well be a distraction to the players as in the back of their minds the players will want to keep themselves fit for their big day at Wembley.

André Villas-Boas

Spurs meanwhile will be full of confidence after their comeback victory against Manchester City and know that they need to keep winning before their big showdown against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in a couple of weeks. With Gareth Bale another week further along in terms of regaining fitness and so much pace and so many goal scoring threats it is hard to see how Wigan will cope with this Spurs side.

By Chris Newman

Newcastle vs Sunderland: The Premier League’s number one derby

The derby…a personal view on what it means

I’ve read a lot of articles recently, looked through a lot of Twitter feeds and a lot of forums in preparation for Sunday’s big Tyne-Wear derby, and it still makes me laugh when Sunderland fans feel the need to refer back to a game in 1908 to have a dig at Newcastle fans. Over 100 years ago, before the first of two world wars and before anyone could even envisage a television set, yet Sunderland fans still feel its necessary to chant the words, “we beat the scum 9-1″. I will point out that despite none of these fans (usually 13-16 year olds) will have witnessed the game, Newcastle fielded a reserve team after winning the league comfortably that season. Just a small pointer to get started.

With Sunderland hovering at the bottom end of the table, all their attention will be on Sunday’s crunch game, however for Newcastle it was all about Thursday night where they took on Benfica in the Europa League quarter-finals. Despite the bad timing of such a game I would be very surprised if any Newcastle fan wanted it any other way. To be back playing in Europe on the big stage is something we could only have dreamed about when we were in the Championship three seasons ago and to make the last eight, despite injuries and suspensions, is something to be very proud of. Just to compare the two teams in terms of European adventures Newcastle have played in Europe for 17 separate seasons playing over 120 competitive matches in cities such as Barcelona, Turin, Milan, Brugge, Moscow, Lisbon and Athens. Sunderland have played four games courtesy of an FA Cup win in 1973. And despite Newcastle’s hectic schedule this season, having to travel all over Europe clocking up thousands of air miles, they still find themselves above their rivals despite Sunderland’s longest European trip this season being away to Swansea City.

Alan Pardew

Back to Sunday’s game and despite some so-called pundits seemingly brushing our derby aside as a relatively small event in comparison to the so-called bigger derbies, it is without the question in my eyes the biggest and most fierce derby in the country. The passion that comes down from the stands onto the pitch is something the Manchester, North London, Midlands, and Merseyside derbies could only dream of having. As the famous saying goes, ‘you would have to see it to believe it’, and in this case that could not be more true. Having been to many derby games myself I can tell any neutral fan outside this forgotten part of the country that no matter how passionate you feel towards your own team, the passion your derby creates will never come close to what us north-east natives create.

The derby for us is not just a one-day event. When the fixtures are released in June that is when we start preparing for the two games and from then the countdown begins. As the game draws nearer the nerves become a little more increased and that is when you start getting the light-hearted banter between the two sets of fans, and as it gets closer and closer that banter more often then not turns a little bit more aggressive until you are so pumped up for the game it is the only thing that is keeping you awake. As a Newcastle fan I love both derbies, but nothing compares to a derby at the home of football, St James Park. The whole city is anticipating something special, and a lot of the time that is exactly what we get. The 5-1 demolition in 2010 instantly springs to mind as my best-ever derby experience. From waking up bright and early, from heading to the ground and to hearing the roar of the crowd as the players emerge to Local Hero. Nothing quite beats a derby day at Newcastle.

Newcastle fan celebrates

The word ‘obsessed’ is used all too often in this part of the world, when one of our teams get beat the fans find it comforting to label their rivals as obsessed with their club’s demise. I’ve done it after a defeat, as I am sure everyone who reads this will have done. It is a heat of the moment thing you feel obliged to do just because you cannot stand the thought of your rivals taunting you! For Sunderland though, it seems to come all too natural. With modern day technology I have seen NUFC Twitter feeds littered with Sunderland fans mocking us after a defeat, whether it is a friendly match or a massive European game. I would love to see the day when fans concentrate on their own team’s affairs without having to judge others. The derby is another matter. We live for day when we beat Sunderland and can label ourselves, as Sunderland fans call themselves ‘top dogs of the north-east’. The derby can either leave you feeling top of the world or literally rock bottom. After a defeat you do not want to show your face to anyone, let alone a rival fan. You log out of all social networking sites, switch off your mobile phones and lock yourselves away for a good two days. And when you decide to come back into the world, you turn your phone on to see missed calls and texts from the people you have been so keen to avoid.

I’ve been lucky enough to witness some great derby games. The 5-1 humiliation of 2010, the 3-2 win when Emre curled in that glorious free-kick past a helpless Kelvin Davies, the 4-1 win when Alan Shearer scored his last-ever competitive goal from the penalty spot in front of the travelling fans, and of course the memorable 1-0 away win when Ryan Taylor defied all the odds from the corner of the box. No matter what part of the country or the world you are from, if you support Newcastle United you know exactly what Sunday’s game means to us all. It simply means everything. So Paul Merson can take his beloved Midland Derby, Charlie Nicholas his Old Firm derby, Alan Smith his North London derby, Phil Thompson his Merseyside derby and Gary Neville his Manchester derby, put them all together and still not come anywhere near what our derby means. The Tyne-Wear derby is simply THE derby.

Premier League Preview: Big games for Manchester United, Stoke, Newcastle, Sunderland and Aston Villa

Premier League preview: Derby day on Tyneside, United look to bounce back and a big game for Villa

While most eyes will be on Wembley this weekend for the FA Cup semi-finals, there are still some massive games in the Premiership with a number of teams looking for the precious three points.

Newcastle v Sunderland

A massive derby game on Sunday at St James’ Park, with a huge three points on offer in this relegation battle. After their last-gasp victory against Fulham last Sunday, Newcastle know that three points here would all but secure their place in the Premier League for next season and possibly condemn their nearest rivals to a place in the relegation zone.

Paolo Di Canio

After an encouraging performance at Stamford Bridge, Paolo Di Canio will have his team fired up and want them showing the same passion that he will undoubtedly be putting across on the touchline. Sunderland may well see this as a big opportunity with Newcastle playing on Thursday night against Benfica and they may well find it tough to get themselves up for another big physical effort just over two days later. This fixture generally produces goals, cards and talking points so a high scoring draw may well be on the cards, and with a lot of combative midfielders on the pitch a red card or two would not be a surprise.

Stoke v Manchester United

A big game at both ends of the table as Manchester United travel to the Britannia to take on a Stoke City side who have been dragged into a relegation battle. Only Reading are in worst form in the last six games than the hosts, who haven’t won in their last six league games and have only won one of their last six at home. Manchester United meanwhile are at the top of the form table and have not lost an away league game since defeat at Norwich in November.

Sir Alex Ferguson

Stoke now sit just three points above the drop zone after the damaging home defeat to Villa last week and as the lowest scorers in the division and their usually tight defence beginning to leak goals, they are in real danger of falling back into the Championship. The last thing Stoke need now is a visit from the champions elect. Manchester United will be stung by their derby defeat on Monday and they know that defeat here will give Manchester City a chance to get back into the title race. The first goal here will be crucial as the Stoke fans will try and create their famous intimidating atmosphere straight from kick off, an early goal for United and it may well be another easy away day for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men. If Stoke could manage to get in front though a positive result will surely act as a springboard for them to retain Premier League status.

Aston Villa v Fulham

Another massive game down the bottom as Paul Lambert’s young side have an opportunity to put some daylight between themselves and Wigan, who are in FA Cup action this weekend. After their impressive win at Stoke last weekend, which dragged them into trouble, Villa could take a massive stride toward safety by making it back-to-back wins.

Christian Benteke

One problem for this Villa side is playing in front of their home fans as they have lost four out of their last six home games. The young players seem to freeze in front of their own fans and play with much more freedom in their away games. Fulham meanwhile have picked up slightly with their away form, losing just two of their last six games but they are generally poor on their travels and now that they are safe for another season Villa’s extra need for the win may sway this fixture in their favour.

By Chris Newman

Crucial games for Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea and Everton this weekend

Premier League Preview: Di Canio ready to prove a point, Last chance for QPR and a Manchester derby.

As the Premiership comes into its last two months every fixture has significance at both the top and bottom of the table. Here is a look at the key fixtures this weekend.

Chelsea v Sunderland

After a week of talking about his political beliefs, Paolo Di Canio finally gets a chance to focus on what he wants as he makes his managerial debut in the Premiership. He certainly couldn’t have asked for a much harder task as he takes his Sunderland side to Stamford Bridge. There is no doubt Di Canio will have his side well organised defensively, as he left a Swindon side with the best defensive record in the country.

Paolo Di Canio

He is also well known for watching hours of video of the opposition looking at collective and individual strengths and weaknesses. The only problem may well be working out what team Chelsea will play, as it is their fourth game in just over a week. With the incentive of impressing their new manager and Chelsea’s possible weariness it would not be a surprise to see Sunderland take a point here.

QPR v Wigan

This is surely the last chance for Harry Redknapp’s side to make up ground on the teams above them. They are currently seven points behind a Wigan side, who are in 17th. A defeat would leave them ten points behind with just six games left and surely facing an impossible task.

Roberto Martínez

This Wigan side are starting to hit form at just the right time with back-to-back home wins over Newcastle and Norwich. Home advantage may just sway this in QPR’s favour and the first goal will be vital. If Wigan get it then the home fans will be on their teams back but if Rangers can get it the fans may well inspire them to a vital home win.

Tottenham v Everton

The race for the European places enters another crucial weekend and there is no game bigger than at White Hart Lane. Everton travel to a Spurs side that may have Manchester City in their sights if results go their way this weekend. Before Thursday night Spurs were full of confidence and a home win was extremely likely, but after a poor defensive showing against Basel and injuries to key men Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale, this fixture is looking a lot more troublesome.

Andre Villas-Boas

Everton have responded well to their FA Cup humiliation against Wigan with back-to-back home wins against Manchester City and Stoke. Everton know a win here would leave them just three points behind Spurs with a game in hand and right in the thick of the race for the Champions League places. This will be a hard fought game but with Tottenham having played on Thursday and the injuries to key men Everton may well pick up an away win here.

Manchester United v Manchester City

While the title may well be pretty much won by the Old Trafford side, this game is still important for a number of reasons. Manchester United will see this as a chance for revenge for last season’s 6-1 defeat to their nearest rivals and an opportunity to do the double following their 3-2 win at the Etihad earlier this season.

Roberto Mancini

For City it is about laying down a marker for next season and proving that they can still match United. This game is also vital for the blue half of Manchester to keep the teams behind them out of reach. If results don’t go the right way for City before they play, then Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal may well be within a few points of them and City will find themselves in a fight for an automatic Champions League place.

By Chris Newman

Five players Sunderland should sign this summer

Martin O’Neill has a very-clear signing policy, which is to get British players first and foremost, ideally those with Premier League experience but he has dabbled in the Scottish market too. Sunderland seem to be able to pull together good amounts of money every transfer window, which is important considering how much more expensive it is to buy players domestically than from abroad. They will spend a lot if they find players O’Neill wants. The likes of Fletcher, Graham and Johnson have been bought for the top end of their value. O’Neill is an attractive manager for players and they have been willing to go to Sunderland for a good few years. They seem to be able to sign players from most teams in the league, particularly teams that usually hang around the bottom half of the table. With this in mind, who will they be looking at this summer?

Robert Snodgrass – Norwich

Scout Report Snodgrass has proven to be one of the shrewdest purchases of the summer 2012 window, not just for Norwich, but across the league. In his first season in the top flight he has looked like a natural, chipping in with four goals and four assists in the league from the right wing. He is skilful, technically exemplary and offers a direct threat. He is very creative and has often been the main flair player for Norwich this year.

Robert Snodgrass

Where does he fit? Sunderland have a chronic lack of creativity. Only Adam Johnson and Stephane Sessegnon offer anything even approaching flair. Johnson hasn’t been very good this year though, he hasn’t been able to impose himself on games like he did at Manchester City now that he is the main man. Sessegnon has been wretchedly inconsistent, but more often than not he’s been ineffective. So much so that he has been shifted out wide where he has had less impact. Snodgrass could play on one wing with whoever is in form on the other.

How much? Norwich aren’t a club that can turn down big offers so something in the £6-8m region would be about right.

James McCarthy – Wigan

Scout Report McCarthy is a footballing central midfielder who is a good and imaginative passer of the ball. At just 22 he has plenty of potential yet to unlock. He is an excellent technician and now needs to add goals and assists to his game to take him to the next level.

Jaes McCarthy

Where does he fit?
Sunderland have a bunch of plodders and workmen in the middle of their midfield. The likes of Larsson, Gardner and Colback are bits and pieces type players, none of them capable of passing the ball dangerously or creating something for the attackers. McCarthy would add something completely different to that. Sunderland have enough grit, they need some sparkle.

How much? Wigan will always sell and £5-6m would be good for both teams.

Gary Mackay-Steven – Dundee United

Scout Report Mackay-Steven is a flair-loaded attacking player capable of playing in any of the forward positions. He is fleet footed and well balanced and is now adding end product to his general threat having picked up four goals and four assists this season. He is raw, but capable of the unexpected.

Gary Mackay-Steven

Where does he fit? Sunderland’s attacking pattern is so obvious that every team they face knows how to shut it down. If the old, pass it wide, do a few step overs, cross aimlessly, doesn’t work they don’t have anything else to offer. Mackay-Steven would be an X-Factor; able to unlock defences with a jinking run or a bit of trickery. He might be frustrating and not as hard a worker as O’Neill likes but so was Ashley Young at Villa and he did OK for him.

How much? He would be a snip at around £1-2m.

Yannick Bolasie – Crystal Palace

Scout Report Bolasie has good versatility, able to operate near enough anywhere in midfield or attack. He is a real physical specimen, big, strong and quick, unusually so for the positions he operates in. He has a long languid style and looks disarmingly relaxed on the field. However, when he gets the ball at his feet he either runs straight at his opponents are finds a direct pass. He can score and make goals.

Yannick Bolasie

Where does he fit? Sunderland don’t really have any pure athletes in their attack. Bolasie is an all round package in that respect. He can operate in so many different positions, a useful asset for making the first team at a club with a small squad, and brings something the club don’t currently have. He could offer a real change of pace and a new angle of attack.

How much? Not for sale if Palace go up but if they don’t it would be hard for them to resist £3-4m, even with the Zaha money.

Sascha Riether – FC Koln

Scout Report Riether has shown on loan at Fulham that he is very much a Premier League full back. He is tactically sound, works hard and is capable of picking a pass when he ventures forward.

Sascha Riether

Where does he fit? Sunderland’s defence has been a revolving door this season. They have been particularly unsettled at full back where they have recently been deploying two central midfielders. They need a full back that they can just leave to get on with it, and Riether would be ideal for that. O’Neill can put him in and not worry about him whilst he tries to fix the attack.

How much? They would be bidding against Fulham in the £3m range.

You can read more by Max at the thefootballspace.com

Benitez, AVB or Rodgers? Premier League sack race

With Mark Hughes and Roberto Di Matteo already having lost their grip on the managerial merry-go-round long before the start of the imminent ‘silly season’, it’s time to consider who might be next in line. Crucial festive fixtures and the January transfer window are looming large and both are huge factors for managers looking to keep their jobs. Santi Cazorla’s hat-trick on Monday night only confirmed Brian McDermott’s place at the front of the grid but here NMO looks at all the runners and riders.

Brian McDermott

McDermott took over as bookies favourite to be next shown the door after his Reading side succumbed to fellow strugglers Southampton a few weeks ago. The stats for last season’s Championship Manager of the Year make grim reading and only serve as a stark reminder of how tough life can be in the top flight. The Royals have lost six on the bounce but perhaps most crucially three of those defeats have come against the teams around them, leaving McDermott’s side looking isolated from all but QPR. Only results can help the boss improve his chances. Unfortunately it’s Champions Manchester City up next. Boxing Day though sees the first of two home games against Swansea and then West Ham. At this point it looks like at least one win will be required to ensure McDermott escapes the axe before New Year.

Martin O’Neill

When Martin O’Neill arrived at Sunderland expectations were high. Fans in the Northeast felt, and probably rightly so, they were getting a manager who was capable of taking the club to the next level. Over a year now since the Northern Irishman took control and things have yet to turn out as planned. Sunderland have won only three times this season and the fact that O’Neill has been at the helm for some time makes the lack of progress even more difficult to take. There is no doubt Sunderland must improve and improve quickly if the former Villa and Celtic boss is to remain in charge. Plenty of money has been spent over the last 12 months and O’Neill will surely be making the case for further outlay but you get the feeling that unless the Black Cat’s form picks up then he may not be there to see it happen. The next fixture against fellow-strugglers Southampton is huge.

martin-o_neill_2081658c

Roberto Mancini

He may have clinched a historic title for the Citizens last season but clearly the majority believe Mancini’s position to be precarious. Mega-rich City have unquestionably made progress in recent seasons but whether that rate of progress is fast enough to satisfy the owners that the Italian can get the best from his phenomenally expensive squad is unclear. The manager escaped the chop after City’s dismal exit from the Champions League. The silver lining for Mancini perhaps, is the failure even to qualify for the Europa League, allowing his charges to focus fully on retaining their domestic title. The fact that he remains currently is indication that it will be the Premiership showing that ultimately decides his fate. The recent derby loss to United only tightened the noose while the former Azzurri man continues to grapple with multiple issues such as the twin terrors of Tevez and Balotelli. Despite this Mancini will remain at the helm as long as City remain within striking distance of table topping United.

Rafa Benitez

Rafael Benitez

Although only in charge for a matter of weeks, it is easy to see why Rafa is fairly short odds (10/1 with some bookmakers) to be gone as quickly as he arrived. Chelsea fans were less than hospitable in welcoming the former Liverpool boss to the Bridge and owner Roman Abramovich is certainly not one to hesitate in wielding the axe as Roberto Di Matteo would no doubt testify. Of course the odds are short because Benitez has only been officially confirmed as boss until the end of the season. One can’t help but think the appointment is perhaps merely a last experimental attempt by the owner to inject life into his £50m project within a project, the much discussed Fernando Torres. Benitez’s start has been poor and he missed an opportunity to bring back the feel-good factor that enveloped the club at the start of the campaign by failing to secure the World Club Cup. Torres though has at least bagged a few goals. Time will tell if Abramovich will allow his temporary manager to spend money in the transfer window. Despite all the questions raised by his appointment the Spaniard will surely at least see out the season barring any spectacular downturn in results for the European Champions.

Arsene Wenger

It’s almost unthinkable that Wenger should be considered at risk. The Frenchman these days seems constantly referred to as weary or beleaguered. Some bookies have him at 14/1 to be the next out of a job but the reality is that if his 16 year tenure is about to come to an end it will more likely be because the man himself has had enough. Recent weeks have seen the Gunners boss referred to as a dictator in the media and there have been rumours of a rift with his assistant Steve Bould. Surely it’s unlikely that an ultimately successful coach who has brought wonderful talents and a beautiful footballing ethos to the club could be sacked. There is no doubt though, that the current days are some of the darker ones Wenger has experienced during his reign. He continues to defy the odds and nurture young talent, maintaining the clubs Champions League status while repeatedly being forced to sell his star players. Arsenal must find some resilience in order for their form to improve. If they can close the gap on the top four then surely the media interest will subside and Wenger might find himself re-invigorated.

Alan Pardew

It was always going to be a tall order to improve on last season’s campaign for the Toon. Many anticipated that Pardew’s over-performing squad would be thoroughly raided during the summer but that failed to materialise. Newcastle managed to keep all their main assets. Still though, this season has been much worse than predicted and the drain of continental football has had the classic effect on the Magpies’ league form. Given the scale of his previous success Pardew will be afforded time but if Newcastle are still languishing in 15th come say, February then he will no doubt find himself on thin ice indeed. Owner Mike Ashley has a fairly ruthless reputation when it comes to firing managers and you get the feeling that although Pardew impressed last year, eighth or ninth place would be the bare minimum required this time around. Ashley may permit some spending in January but with no obvious priority areas, the manager will merely be looking to add strength in depth for when his side resume European competition.

Brendan Rodgers

This time last week, things were going alright for Brendan Rodgers. In between bouts of keeping his fingers crossed that Luis Suarez remained fit, the Northern Irishman must have taken time to reflect that Liverpool’s home form was solid and that if they could just pick up some more points on their travels and buy another striker then he would be onto a winner. Then Aston Villa, who until Saturday couldn’t score goals to save themselves, came to Anfield and helped themselves to three in front of a stunned kop. The good momentum gained in previous weeks vanished and the 39 year old’s side were left wallowing in 12th place. Most Liverpool fans are not expecting to be winning leagues right at the moment and probably not even considering Champions League football but Rodgers simply must do better. So far this season Suarez has carried the side and the need for another forward has been painfully clear. There are a few rays of light, the emergence of Raheem Sterling for example, the fact that Gerrard is currently injury free and that Rodgers has at least been partially successful in his attempts to forge an attractive attacking side. People will understand that his team remain a work in progress but if results don’t improve the club’s American owners may be left with little choice but to wield the axe.

Nigel Adkins

Nigel-Adkins-006

With Southampton hovering only just out of the drop zone the former goalkeeper is predictably considered one of the managers under threat. Thankfully for Adkins he has something some of his counterparts don’t; low club expectations. On the Saints first season back in the big time the supporters and the board will no doubt be satisfied if the 47 year old can ensure the club’s Premiership status is preserved. 17th place come May will be fine for Adkins and that’s where his side currently sit. The South coast outfit have shown encouraging form of late with three wins in five. If Adkins builds on this momentum and perhaps makes a couple of shrewd additions in January then he could still keep Southampton safe and keep his job in the process.

Martin Jol

In terms of the Premier League, Fulham are not really that big a club, therefore 13th position in the table should be perfectly acceptable. The problem for Martin Jol is that fans at Craven Cottage have seen their side exceed expectations in recent years and have become used to the idea of mixing it in the top half on the fringes of European football, and playing decent stuff in the process. At the moment the Dutchman is doing just enough to keep the wolves from his door as while they are having an unspectacular season by their recent standards, Fulham are in no immediate danger. The weekend’s defeat to QPR may have sounded a few alarm bells though and the Cottagers are not on a good run. Jol should be ok for now and could be allowed to add to his squad in January but he must find some consistency sooner rather than later.

Andre Villas-Boas

It was never going to be easy for AVB. The Portuguese arrived fresh from a doomed spell at London rivals Chelsea to a frosty reception from the Spurs faithful. This was always going to be somewhat of a transitional season for Tottenham and the fans begun it still smarting from the loss of former boss Harry Redknapp and midfield playmakers Modric and Van der Vaart. Villas-Boas as a young, foreign manager still has a long way to go to proving himself in the Premier League and a fairly shaky start did him no favours. A historic win at Old Trafford however, bought him some time and the form of both Gareth Bale and Jermaine Defoe have helped Spurs gradually ease themselves into the top four. Apart from somehow snatching defeat from the jaws of victory against Everton the results for AVB have been encouraging of late. With Arsenal stuttering and Liverpool floundering, the White Hart lane outfit currently look favourites for fourth spot. For the 35 year old former Porto boss this presents an opportunity to right the wrongs of his Chelsea spell. Unless his side slip out of top four contention his job looks secure.

Paul Lambert

It’s interesting how one man’s disaster can be another man’s saving grace. Villa’s shock win at Anfield was a massive boost and has given Lambert a good deal of breathing space. The fact, however, that some bookmakers are offering odds of as good as 50/1 on the Glasgow born boss to be next to bite the bullet is bemusing to say the least. Especially with his Villa Park charges currently toiling only three points above the bottom three. Villa’s more solid form of late has admittedly seen the Scot’s chances improve but if his side are to climb the table he will need to address a problem that has plagued Villa since long before his own tenure. They simply don’t score enough goals. Before last weekend their grand total was 12. With Darren Bent out of favour, Benteke and Weimann promising but inexperienced and Agbonlahor frustratingly inconsistent Lambert will surely be knocking on Randy Lerner’s door about a new striker come January. Whether Lerner will trust the manager long enough for that to happen remains to be seen.

Chelsea’s Mata, Man United’s Evans and the undervalued Premier League XI for 2011-12

It is that time of the year when everywhere you look there is a Premiership Best XI or team of the season, but what about all those unsung heroes and subs that have contributed to their team’s success in one way or another? Here is Ninety Minutes Online’s Undervalued XI of 2011-12.

GK: Tim Howard – The former Manchester United shot stopper has been one of the most consistent goalkeepers in the division for some time now. Capable of excellent reflex saves and with a commanding presence, the United States international has lead the Everton defence in conceding just 39 goals all season, which has included keeping 12 clean sheets. Having played every Premier League game this term, the goalkeeper has once more proved invaluable to the Merseyside team.

RB: Bacary Sagna – With the Arsenal defence being inconsistent, this man has been their shining light. Excellent defensively and dangerous going forward, the full-back has come to the fore this season, and is just as effective as Kyle Walker, Micah Richards etc. Another leg break at the tail-end of the campaign is a massive blow for the Gunners, and Arsene Wenger will hope to have the France international fit for the start of next season.

CB: Branislav Ivanovic – With John Terry seemingly in the limelight on a weekly basis, Ivanovic has been there going about his work effectively. Contributing three goals to the cause, including the decider against Napoli in the Champions League, and armed with an array of defensive capabilities, the Serb’s versatility and combativeness has been showcased this term.

CB: Johnny Evans – Evans has been a squad player in recent seasons, but with injury to Nemanja Vidic the centre half has had a run in the team and finally had the chance to show what he is capable of. The Northern Ireland international has played 27 games this year, and has been the subject of praise from Sir Alex Ferguson.

LB: Leighton Baines – Despite Ashley Cole being considered by many as England’s number one left-back, Leighton Baines has had an excellent campaign and will push the Chelsea man for a starting jersey at Euro 2012. With a deadly left foot and excellent delivery, the Toffees defender has been linked with a move to Manchester United this summer.

RM: This position was a hard call, but it is going to Stephane Sessegnon of Sunderland. Assured on the ball and with an eye for goal to match, the attacking midfielder seems destined for bigger things. Ten assists and seven goals for The Black Cats this year has confirmed the attacker’s importance to the Stadium of Light outfit; it remains to be seen whether he will stay or move on to a top six club.

CM: With a mass of players to choose from, the first central midfielder is Moussa Dembele from Fulham. He is quickly becoming integral in the Cottagers’ set up and seems another player with potential for the big time. Martin Jol’s men have had a steady season, and with Dembele providing athleticism, stamina, tackling, and scoring an occasional goal, he really is a lynchpin in the side.

CM: Yohan Cabaye – With Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse hogging the headlines, the strikers’ supply line can be overlooked. Cabaye is a critical member of Alan Pardew’s starting XI, and the talented midfielder drives their possession game. With eight assists and four goals, the France international has been one of the signings of the season.

LM: This position goes to Juan Mata of Chelsea. His countryman David Silva has been phenomenal in Manchester City’s challenge for the title, but Mata at the other end of the country has provided 13 assists and 6 goals in Chelsea’s inconsistent season.

CF: Jermain Defoe – Despite starting on the bench in 20 games this year, Defoe has still contributed vital goals for Spurs. One of England’s deadliest finishers, the diminutive marksman may be looking for a move away from White Hart Lane if he is not assured more than a bit-part role for next term.

CF: Grant Holt – The Norwich City targetman has led the line for the newly-promoted side, scoring 14 goals this year, to keep the Canaries safely up on their return to the Premier League. A potential candidate for Euro 2012; as the second highest scoring Englishman in the top flight behind Wayne Rooney, Holt is sure to be in Roy Hodgson’s thoughts.

There were literally dozens of players to choose from when compiling this team; it was almost impossible to choose. We may be blessed with the Rooney’s, Bale’s, Aguero’s, and Van Persie’s, but the competitive nature of the league means there is a vast array of talent that can at times get overlooked.

By Stephen Reid

Is the cost of English players forcing Premier League clubs to look abroad?

With the much publicised transfers of Phil Jones and Jordan Henderson being completed by Manchester United and Liverpool respectively in the last week for a combined total of £36.5 million, most Premier League managers will be looking to the continent and beyond for their summer signings. Both England under 21 players have quality and potential in abundance, with that there is no argument, but such extortionate transfer fees will leave the majority of top flight sides financially out of the equation when looking to sign British players, and bring more foreigners to English shores.

The grievance is not with Sunderland or Blackburn, as neither wanted to lose their prodigious talents, both of which have been cultivated and nurtured through the clubs’ youth ranks. It was obvious that both players wanted to go, so why not get as high a fee as possible? The staggering thing is the amount of money it takes, and the big clubs are willing to pay, to buy young English talent. With FIFA eager to bring quotas into the game surrounding the number of home-grown players, and the Premier League being acknowledged as having a style and pace of play that takes time to adjust to, young British players will continue to cost an arm and a leg.

This piece is not a slight against either of the players personally; as a Spurs fan I would have liked to see them at White Hart Lane, especially Jones. But for £16.5 million? The 19 year old has only made 35 appearances in senior football. Henderson’s £20 million buys you a midfielder who has found the net a mere four times in over 70 games. My argument is not that he should score more goals, it is that for £20 million you would expect a player with a more rounded game.

In Europe there are much cheaper alternatives. Newcastle United have just signed Yohan Cabaye from Lille for a fee believed to be around £5million, a player not dissimilar to Henderson. The 25 year old French midfielder is fresh from helping Lille to a league and cup double, playing the majority of the side’s games. He has featured in almost 200 first class matches, and has represented his country on four occasions; the key point however is that he cost a quarter of what Liverpool just splurged on Henderson.

Personally I believe Jones to be the better prospect of the two, but again the transfer fee seems excessive. £16.5million? If Gary Cahill is to leave Bolton in the next months the fee will be similar, whilst Arsenal target and Jones’ centre-half partner at Ewood Park Christopher Samba is reportedly available for £12 million. Lets put this in perspective, as it is not a new pricing trend. Sir Alex Ferguson paid £7 million for the best defender in the league in the form of Nemanja Vidic, but £30 million for Rio Ferdinand. Manchester rivals City signed bench-warmer Joleon Lescott for £22million but paid only £6 million for the first name on their teamsheet, Vincent Kompany. The cost of going home-grown is there for all to see.

I wish both Phil Jones and Jordan Henderson the very best of luck at their new clubs. I believe that both will excel in their new environments, and have the necessary ability to make the step up.  However the fees paid for their services are detrimental to the English game, and it will be to the cost of the national side and Fabio Capello, who will not have as many players to select for international duty due to the continued influx of cheaper foreign alternatives joining Premier League clubs this summer.

Published – http://afootballreport.com/post/6580583976/is-the-cost-of-english-players-forcing-premier-league

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