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Real Madrid, Gareth Bale and why it’s not just about the football

At the Santiago Bernabeu, the stage is literally set for what could be the unveiling of the world’s most-expensive footballer. Gareth Bale’s proposed move from Tottenham to Real Madrid has understandably monopolised recent back pages as fans await the conclusion of a transfer saga that has left many questioning the financial implications of the reported £85 million deal.

Aside from the moral qualms many have about such an astronomical figure, most fans have been left querying whether Bale is worth the record-breaking fee. The Welshman is a phenomenal footballer on a par with other Premier League heavyweights; Luis Suarez, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. Yet these players aren’t nearly attracting the astronomical figures to their names as Bale. Robin van Persie, last season’s top goalscorer, was bought for a measly £22.5 million last year. One of the finest all-round English players of the last decade, Wayne Rooney, was only recently valued at a mere £25 million by Chelsea. Luis Suarez, scorer of 30 goals last season, has attracted massive offers from Arsenal but that famous 40 million and a one pound pales in comparison to the reported Bale fee.

The residing question then is this: what exactly are Madrid up to? Gareth Bale is undoubtedly a superb footballer. Not even the most ardent of Arsenal fans would question that. For club and country, the midfielder scored 31 goals last term. He single-handedly won games for his team in sublime fashion on more than a handful of occasions. These are facts that nobody can deny. They are also facts that fans of Manchester United (Rooney and van Persie) and Liverpool can boast of their stars yet no record transfer fee hangs over the heads of these players. Real Madrid president Florentine Perez obviously sees value in the Welshman and is willing to part with £85 million to prove it.

Real Madrid are no strangers to blockbuster signings. In 2001 it was Zinedine Zidane (a then world record £45.6 million). In 2009, it was Kaka (another world record of around £56m) and then Cristiano Ronaldo (yet another world record fee of £80 million). At a cheaper, but no less significant, level they signed David Beckham from Manchester United in 2003 for £24.5 million.

Real Madrid is unashamedly a brand and each of the players mentioned slotted perfectly into the on-going mission to solidify the Galácticos as the largest global brand in football. Through sponsorships and worldwide touring Madrid have become the most recognised football club on the planet.

Gareth Bale

With Beckham they acquired Europe’s most valuable sporting personality. From the very beginning of his Spanish adventure David Beckham was helping his new club recoup the money they had dished out on him – even his medical was sponsored by a health-care firm. Add this to multi-million pound Adidas deal to match Madrid’s and a merchandising agreement that reportedly had Beckham handing 50% of his personal sponsorship earnings to Madrid then it is safe to say that the Spanish giants have an idea of how to spend money to make money.

‘Brand Madrid’ seek players that are able to enhance not just their on-field success but also that off it. Jose Mourinho’s managerial credentials need no clarification yet he was considered surplus to requirements at Madrid as his controversial antics were just not in keeping with the angelic sheen of the nine-time European Cup winners. When Mourinho was seen to poke then Barcelona assistant Tito Vilanova in the eye the Spanish press called it ‘deplorable’. Not an image football’s biggest commercial club wished to convey.

Madrid were often linked to Liverpool’s Luis Suarez this summer, a player with statistics that at times outshine Bale’s, yet this interest never gathered any momentum and it can only be assumed that this is down to the tainted image of the Uruguayan. Like Mourinho, Suarez is capable of too much brand-damaging controversy to justify spending such amounts of money regardless of his talent.

Just a quick glance at Real Madrid’s history of signings provides a clearer picture of why they are willing to spend such an enormous amount on a clean-cut, fresh faced, superstar in the making. In Bale, Madrid have a young star in the making that they will be able to mould and shape to fit their own needs. In Madrid, Bale has a platform to expand his own brand. It was not so long that it was revealed Bale was attempting to trademark his heart-shaped goal celebration – he is clearly aware of the benefits of building his own brand beyond the game and the benefits of a Madrid move will not be lost on the 24-year-old.

Even on a brand-building level, Bale at such a price will still be seen as a gamble for Madrid. Unlike, Zidane, Kaka, Ronaldo or Beckham, he is not a pre-packaged global star just waiting to become a shirt-selling machine. He doesn’t yet transcend sport like, say, Beckham did. The more cynical of supporters will assume the long drawn-out pursuit of Bale by Madrid is merely a clever marketing ploy to allow the world time to catch up and get to know the world’s most expensive footballer-elect before the eventual finalities are complete.

Simply by being attached to such lucrative and high-profile transfers in recent history, Real Madrid have ensured their names in both the history books and newspapers all around the world; the Gareth Bale situation is no different. Madrid are being talked about by football fans and non-fans alike the world over, and that is just the way the like it as the brand continues to flourish with the latest star commodity preparing his keepy-up skills for the big Bernabeu reveal.

by Jack Poland

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Why Paulinho should choose Tottenham over Real Madrid

Tottenham and Real Madrid seem intertwined this summer when it comes to the transfer market. We all know about the Gareth Bale saga but recently Real have also emerged as suitors for Spurs’ midfield target, the Brazilian Paulinho. It looks increasingly like Paulinho may choose Spurs, and if he does it would be an excellent decision. Not only that, but perversely for Spurs’ fans he would actually be doing Real Madrid a favour if he decides to move to London. With Real Madrid making big statements about Bale having to request a transfer and previous tension over similar tactics with Luka Modric last year, Spurs losing Paulinho to Real would near enough set Bale’s future at Spurs in stone. If Real pinched what looks like Spurs’ number one transfer target, it would only harden the already tough resolve of chairman Daniel Levy to keep his star Welshman.

Paulinho

As far as Paulinho is concerned though, a move to Spurs is a better idea than Madrid. Paulinho needs to be playing first-team football in this year of the Brazilian World Cup to keep his place in the team. He’ll get that at Spurs, but not necessarily at Real Madrid. At Spurs, the only player of a similar type is Mousa Dembele. Paulinho drives through midfield with authority, has a nice range of passing and has also shown that he can score goals as well as being defensively tenacious. He is a complete modern midfielder, able to do everything Spurs need of him in the Premier League. It would depend on what system Spurs are going to be playing next year as to whether he is in a two or three man midfield, but he has all the tools to play with Sandro and Dembele is some combination. He would immediately become the main man, the guaranteed starter.

At Real Madrid this would not be the case. Real’s personnel means they are likely to play a 4-2-3-1 system in which Paulinho would have to compete for one of the two spots deep in midfield. Real already have Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira and Luka Modric that they are struggling to find game time for. As the new man Paulinho would probably start at the back of that particular queue and may not be able to force himself in to view in the major games. The glamour of Real Madrid is an enticing prospect, but the reality can be very harshly different. When even the likes of Gonzalo Higuain and Mesut Ozil are struggling to get in to the first team despite years of Champions League experience, it will be hard for Paulinho to swan straight in to the side.

Spurs are trying to show that they are serious about getting in to the top four once more. Over the last few years they have made some real quality signings for good value. However, this summer it is important that they are making the signings without having to sell anyone. Although he hasn’t shown any sign of wanting to leave, it is still vital that Spurs show Bale that they are doing everything they can to get back to the Champions League, and Paulinho would be a great start.

Is Alvaro Negredo an option for Tottenham?

It speaks for the quality that Spain have in their squad that Alvaro Negredo is currently their fourth choice striker. Last season he scored 31 goals and also has two more 20+ goal seasons in the last few years. At 6’1” he has good size, and as you might expect of a Spaniard, excellent touch and technique. It is these qualities that have seen him catch the attention of Spurs, and plenty of other clubs around Europe. Having seen Sevilla sell Jesus Navas, he has told the club that he wants to leave in order to play in the Champions League. With big Champions League clubs with space for a new striker thin on the ground, Spurs should not be intimidated of making a move for him.

Spurs need a goalscoring striker more than anything. The inconsistency of Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor is one of the reasons they couldn’t quite get in to the top four last season. They both have their strengths and at times scored spectacular goals, but neither of them are consistent. Neither can be relied upon to get the club in to the Champions League. They need less of the spectacular and more of the consistent, the clinical. This is where Negredo fits in. He doesn’t have the raw pace of Defoe or genial feet of Adebayor, but he is a relentless goal scorer. He scored 17 goals in 20 league games for Sevilla in 2013 including four, three and two-goal outbursts. This is exactly the kind of reliability Spurs need.

Alvaro Negredo

Unlike some other options Spurs have been linked with, Negredo is no one-season wonder. In the 2010/11 season he scored 29 goals and in 2008/09 he scored 21. In between he got 14 and 15 goals respectively. So even on a relative down year he’d still have been the second highest scorer at Spurs last season. He has good size and strength for the Premier League, having played most of his career as a lone front man in front of three attacking midfielders, which is exactly what Spurs would need him to do.

Sevilla don’t sell cheaply but a bid of £20m would give them a big decision to make. Although they are not desperate to sell, they have always been willing to for the right price. Navas was sold to City and they sold Sergio Ramos to Real Madrid for big money. It’s a lot of money for Spurs to be paying but if they have serious intentions of keeping Gareth Bale and getting in to the Champions League, they need to make moves like this. Negredo doesn’t have the raw physical talent of a Christian Benteke or Leandro Damiao but Spurs have been down the athlete route many times before. They just need someone to put the ball in the net from the endless supply provided by Gareth Bale.

Of course, this sort of quality won’t go unnoticed. Negredo has made it clear he wants Champions League football but that somewhat limits his potential landing spots. Atletico Madrid are known admirers and are looking to replace Radamel Falcao. There’s a possibility that a sale of Robert Lewandowski could see Borussia Dortmund attracted but beyond that, short of a move to Russia, the Champions League options are limited. Although there is one other Premier League club who could be a dark horse. If Chelsea miss out on all of their other targets they can’t be discounted.

However, Spurs are in a very strong position to attract Negredo. It’s pretty much a fight between them and Atletico in all likelihood and the prospect of being crossed to by Gareth Bale should be an enticing one.

Would Tottenham rather have Gareth Bale or £100 million?

After another season missing out on Champions League qualification, Tottenham are looking down the barrel and could potentially be ready to lose their best player. Gareth Bale had an outstanding campaign for the north London side, winning the PFA Player and Young Player of the Year awards, and proving himself as one of the most devastating attackers in the European game.

Rightly so, Bale has been linked with a number of top clubs, with Real Madrid thought to be ready to spend a world record transfer amount on the Wales international. The 23-year-old has so many positive assets. His physical attributes such as speed, agility and strength make him difficult to play against, while his delivery and shooting are excellent. He has added a real goalscoring threat to his game, and is also good in the air. There is little wonder that Bale is being compared to Cristiano Ronaldo.

Gareth Bale

Bale has been pivotal in proving the spark needed to win games for Spurs this term. He has scored last-gasp goals on a number of occasions to turn one point into three, and the side looks galvanised and confident with him at his best. Tottenham also need players that can hold their nerve and have the ability to deal with stress in big games, and would excel at the Strongbow penalty challenge when put under pressure. It is this winning mentality and ability to play to your best under pressure that could be the difference between a top four place or not.

Should Madrid offer Tottenham a new world record fee of close to £100 million, it would be a real boost to the club financially, and Andre Villas-Boas would be able to bring in four or five really top-class players to boost other areas of the team. However, whether Bale could be replaced is another matter. There are few players in world football with the attributes that he possesses, and as such Tottenham would lose a great deal of their cutting edge, even with new additions.

Spurs have consistently sold top players in recent years when a bigger club comes knocking. Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov and Luka Modric have all jumped ship when given the opportunity. This is an opportunity for Tottenham to state their intentions of consistently challenging for the top four, and more. If they keep Bale and strengthen with one or two good players in the summer, there is no reason Spurs won’t finish in the top four next season. If they sell Bale, despite the money they would receive, the club could struggle without their main man.

Tottenham to sign Barcelona’s Afellay?

Amongst the list of forwards and attacking midfielders at Barcelona, one-time Dutch wonderboy Ibrahim Afellay is not the first you would name. He might not even be in the top five or even ten, but this only reflects on the strength Barcelona have in that department rather than being a slight on his qualities. He’s apparently on Spurs’ radar, as much for what he has shown previously because over the last two seasons he has suffered two major injuries and thus not even played 20 games.

A cruciate ligament tear at the start of the 2011/12 season curtailed what had been a positive start to life at the Camp Nouwhere he’d made 21 appearances after arriving in January 2011. At the time his move was considered something of a surprise as he seemed destined for first team football elsewhere but he managed to force his way in to the team and kept his spot with his extreme pace, trickery and direct running. Even back then Pep Guardiola was concerned about his team being one paced, and Afellay was purchased to add the kind of speed they didn’t really have. His potential importance to the team as a pace outlet was dampened when the club spent over £30m to get Alexis Sanchez in the summer of 2011, thus putting another obstacle in Afellay’s path.

Ibrahim Afellay

Despite this there was still optimism about his chances but a cruciate ligament rupture in pre-season saw him sit out the entire 2011/12 season. When Guardiola moved on, the new manager Tito Vilanova placed much less of an emphasis on pace, as Barcelona moved back to their roots of fluid movement and ball retention with players trained at La Masia. It pretty much made Afellay a bench warmer at best so despite his impressive early flashes he was loaned out to Schalke. After a decent enough start he was injured in November and out for the rest of the season once more.

So why should Spurs be interested in someone so injury prone? Well, the key is the talent he possesses. Afellay got his move to Barcelona having enjoyed a 13-goal season in Holland and was in red hot form on a run of seven goals in 19 games in the season in which they signed him. His combination of speed, smoothness, trickery and goal threat made him a great prospect, desired around Europe.

Afellay is best when played wide on the left in a 4-2-3-1 type system where he has the freedom to roam centrally as well as using his pace to outstrip full backs and get crosses in. The one flaw in his game historically is that his assists totals aren’t great. He tends to do things a full speed all the time which can lead to some imprecision and frustration but also spells of devastation.

With or without Bale in the side, Spurs still need pace on the left. Moving Bale centrally was a great decision but they necessarily lost the width he provides on the left. Spurs should be planning the squad on the assumption that they will have Bale next season and so signing a player who would allow Bale to remain central could be key. Afellay has injury concerns certainly, but so did Rafael van der Vaart when he arrived. If they can get him fit and use him properly he could be a real bargain. It’s a big if considering his injury history but an intriguing option nonetheless.

Tottenham’s AVB to PSG? Should he stay or should he go? It all depends on Bale

Real Madrid are not going to be popular with Spurs fans this summer. Not only are they actively courting their star man Gareth Bale but they may now also be responsible for them losing their manager Andre Villas-Boas. Real’s first choice to succeed Jose Mourinho as manager is PSG boss Carlo Ancelotti, and Ancelotti hasn’t hidden his desire to take up the offer. If he goes, PSG will need a new manager, and with their own first choice Guus Hiddink committing to another season in Russia the French champions have turned their attention to Villas-Boas. It is conceivable that Real Madrid may even cost Spurs both Bale and AVB. In fact, one may cause the other.

Andre Villas-Boas came to Spurs last summer with plenty to prove after his disastrous spell at Chelsea ended in disarray and sacking. He had been the hottest managerial name in Europe in the summer of 2011, fresh from an unbeaten and Europa League winning season with Porto and as one of the Jose Mourinho stable he had impeccable pedigree. However, by 2012 his reputation was sullied, seemingly unable to impose himself on the Chelsea dressing room that he had once been a mere analyst to. It was therefore a big leap of faith from Spurs to appoint him, and to essentially sack Harry Redknapp in order to do so. He was very grateful to the club for trusting him and he repaid them with fifth place and a points total that would have guaranteed Champions League qualification in most seasons. He took Gareth Bale from star to megastar and helped turn Jan Vertonghen in to one of the signings of the season. He did a great job at Spurs, and his reputation is quickly regathering, particularly in light of his work with Bale.

André Villas-Boas

This has made him a desirable proposition for PSG. They have their own burgeoning megastar in Lucas Moura who they will feel AVB can teach and coach up in the way he did with Bale. PSG invested nearly £40m in the young Brazilian so they need to get the most out of him and AVB has shown he can do that. The other reason they are turning to him is that they are very big on the ‘project’ in Paris. They want a long-term manager and they want him to win them multiple Champions League titles. Well, Villas-Boas is only 35 and has already shown he can win a European trophy, so he is a very logical choice. PSG play a 4-2-3-1 system, which is what Spurs used last year, so PSG wouldn’t need to overhaul the personnel either. It all makes sense.

The pros to staying at Spurs are that if Bale stays he has one of the best players in the world at his disposal. His job is under absolutely no threat, the club seem willing to commit money to him in the transfer market and they gave him his opportunity to return to management at a major club. He may feel a sense of loyalty.

The cons to staying at Spurs mostly revolve around Bale. If Spurs sell him then despite pocketing a massive transfer fee they would have sold one of the top five players in the world. It’s all well and good signing decent replacements in different positions, but without Bale it will be much harder to get in to the Champions League. This could be something AVB feels he can’t achieve at Spurs. With such congestion at the top of the Premier League, seven teams to fit in to four, three will always miss out and more often than not Spurs would likely be in that three without Bale.

The pros of going to PSG are that he will have a ton of money at his disposal, far more than Spurs could offer. He also would be taking over a better team. Spurs have three elite players, but PSG have twice that. They are near enough guaranteed to get in to the Champions League every year, which then gives him an opportunity to win it. PSG seem willing to be patient with a manager.

The cons to moving to PSG are that the club has only had success so far. If, as is likely, they struggle to make an impact on the market this year despite their money and don’t progress in Europe the patience of the ownership would be tested. They haven’t had to experience a negative outcome yet. If he did fail he would have failed at two of the richest clubs in the world, pretty much ending his chances of getting another go somewhere else.

It would be a big decision for AVB to make. If Spurs keep Gareth Bale and add to their squad he should stay. No one in the Premier League has a player like Bale so with the right additions they could even compete to win the league. If they sell Bale he should go to PSG where he would have more chance at winning regularly.

Leandro Damiao – a good signing for Tottenham?

Spurs and Leandro Damiao, two names that have been linked together for the last two years; could this summer see them come together at last? Well, maybe, but more importantly, would he be a good signing? Is he worth such a long pursuit? The key thing to remember with him is this; don’t just look at the stats, you have to understand the whole story first.

The short answer to the question is, yes. Spurs have a big problem up front. Jermaine Defoe has a long established career pattern. He scores goals in bursts and bundles, scores spectacular goals, scores big goals, but doesn’t score reliably. He is also ‘just’ a goal scorer. That in itself isn’t a slight on him, someone needs to just score, but it makes him less than ideal for Andre Villas-Boas’ system and means that he can never get to the level above really good Premier League striker. His touch is decent and despite his small stature he can hold it up well enough but his distribution is basic and his inventiveness almost non existent. He’s sharp paced but not electric. Good but not great. As for Emmanuel Adebayor, his ceiling is much higher than Defoe’s, his optimum performance of a higher class but he’s even more inconsistent. His physical gifts are manna from heaven for Premier League success, but he doesn’t use them effectively enough. He should dominate defenders with his strength and pace, he should score 25 goals a season with his technical quality and positioning. He should be the fulcrum of the attack, allowing Gareth Bale, Lewis Holtby and Aaron Lennon to buzz around him causing chaos. But only sometimes does he do that. More often than not he doesn’t. This is where Damiao comes in.

Leandro Damiao

Leandro Damiao will be 24 at season’s start, is 6ft 1 1/2′, quick, strong, tough and has a poacher’s eye for goal. He draws comparisons to Brazilian Ronaldo in his pomp in his homeland. One of things that might alarm Spurs fans is his goals stats. In his years as a starter he has scored 8, 18, and 17 all competitions goals. That is a strike rate of less than the desired one in two. That is in an open Brazilian championship, more known for goals than for defence. Spurs fans may read that and wonder how he can be worth all the fuss. Is he not another Adebayor/Defoe type, all the gifts but not reliable enough?

The key thing to look at are his team mates at Internacional whilst he has been there. There’s no Bale, Lennon or Dembele supplying him. He’s pretty much had to make all of his goals himself. In the current squad, the only other international quality player is defensive midfielder Willians. Last season the club finished 10th in the league, which was proceeded by 5th and 7th placed finishes. He’s not like Neymar, playing in a team where he is surrounded by talent. He’s the only  top-quality player and yet still has managed good returns.

This is why he can be a big success at Spurs: He’s a prototypical build for the Premier League, he is used to playing as a lone front man, both for Internacional and for Brazil, he has good touch and the ability to bring others in to play high up the field. He has scored well despite poor quality supply in Brazil. If Spurs keep Gareth Bale he will have the best supply line in the world. Add him to Lewis Holtby who should improve markedly with a full pre-season, Aaron Lennon and Moussa Dembele and even the overlapping full backs and he will have all the supply he can dream of. Spurs have lacked for a clinical finisher, and that is exactly what Damiao is. You don’t score 35 goals in two seasons with negligible opportunities unless you are a potent finisher. He is exactly that, and exactly what Spurs need.

Tottenham must break Manchester City hoodoo if they are to challenge for top four

Tottenham take on Manchester City this Sunday knowing that they need to pick up three points to get their challenge for a top four finish in the Premier League back on track. The north London side have suffered against City of late, with no wins in the last five meetings between the sides, but Andre Villas-Boas’ men will need to end this three-year hoodoo to salvage their campaign.

Tottenham’s last victory over Manchester City came back in May 2010, with a Peter Crouch goal securing victory, and fourth place in the league, at Eastlands. Since then it has been one draw and four defeats for the White Hart Lane club, and Spurs fans may well be thinking that a bit of revenge is on the cards.

Sergio Aguero and Gareth Bale

The defeats of late include a 5-1 drubbing on the first day of last season at White Hart Lane, but a game that sticks more in the memory is the 3-2 loss at the Etihad Stadium in the reverse fixture. Spurs had put their terrible start to the campaign behind them and were all guns blazing towards a place in the Champions League – some were even touting Harry Redknapp’s men as an outside contender for the title. However, an end-to-end game proved heartbreak for the travelling support, as Jermain Defoe came within inches of winning the game in the dying moments, before City went up the other end and Mario Balotelli scored a penalty. Tottenham’s characteristic second half of the season demise started there.

The predictable demise has started to take effect again this term with unnecessary defeats in the league to Liverpool and Fulham, and elimination from the Europa League at the hands of Basel. The slip up means that Villas-Boas’ men have dropped from third to fifth place, two points behind Arsenal (with a game in hand) and three adrift of Chelsea.

All is not yet lost, but this weekend could be a real factor in who ends up in the Champions League next term and who is awarded the runners-up prize of the Europa League. With Chelsea travelling to Liverpool on Sunday and having cup success in the back of their mind, there is every chance that Spurs can claw back some, if not all, of the deficit that separates the clubs. Arsenal should win at Fulham, but ex-Spurs boss Martin Jol will want a reaction from his side after their midweek home defeat to Chelsea.

Spurs have Gareth Bale back in contention for the clash with City, which is a real boost for the hosts. However Spurs should not solely rely on their Welsh wizard to individually win them the game – a team effort and belief in the camp is needed to pick up three points. If they don’t, wins for Chelsea and Arsenal could mean that the gap is too great for Spurs to come back from with only five games remaining.

Tottenham’s Bale, Liverpool’s Suarez and Manchester United’s Van Persie – but where is Swansea’s Michu?

The nominees for the Premier League Player of the Year award have been named, with a notable absence amongst the six candidates. All the discussion about the accolade have rightly focussed on Tottenham’s Gareth Bale, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Manchester United’s Robin van Persie, however the addition of Juan Mata, Michael Carrick and Eden Hazard leaves me scratching my head that a certain Spaniard missed out.

I am not saying that Michu of Swansea City should be awarded the Premier League Player of the Year awaed, however the versatile attacker has had a fantastic debut season in England and was certainly great value for a nomination. It will boil down to Bale, Suarez or Van Persie, however Michu’s excellent season should have been acknowledged with a nomination.

Michu

Carrick has long been the unsung worker in the United midfield, and is only now being recognised for the tireless work he puts in and the range of passing he brings to the soon-to-be champions. Juan Mata has grown in stature this season and deserves his place in the six. The ex-Valencia playmaker has been superb throughout the season and will play a key role in Chelsea’s attempts to forge a Premier League title challenge next season. Hazard at times has shown brilliance, especially towards the start of the season, however I feel he has not done enough to warrant a place on the shortlist.

It is unfortunate that bargain £2 million buy Michu is not included. He has netted 21 times in all competitions for Michael Laudrup’s men, 17 in the league, and been a figurehead in the Liberty Stadium side overcoming the often tricky second season to become a well-established Premier League side. He also played his part in the club winning the Capital One Cup, the first major trophy in the Welsh club’s history.

Michu was never going to be the Player of the Year, but a nomination would have been just reward for a cracking debut campaign. The fact that he plays for one of the less glamorous sides in the division has clearly worked against him, the powers that be should have widened their net to include the likes of the Spaniard in their shortlist.

Premier League preview: A big weekend for Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool

This weekend features three massive games in the race for the Champions League places as the season enters its final few weeks.

Fulham v Arsenal

Arsenal’s late season charge to make the top four takes them to Craven Cottage. After a midweek draw against Everton, the Gunners will feel they need three points from this away trip before Manchester United come to the Emirates next weekend.

Santi Cazorla

After their surprise away win at Spurs a few weeks ago guaranteed their Premiership status for another season, Fulham’s season is drifting towards its conclusion with no win in their last three games, which included a crushing home defeat to local rivals Chelsea in midweek. Arsenal’s greater desire and need to win should be enough to see them to a comfortable three points at the Cottage.

Tottenham v Manchester City

A huge game at White Hart Lane as Spurs host the current champions. Spurs have been feeling the pressure once again late in the season with their last two home games ending in defeat to Fulham and a draw with Everton, whilst also crashing out of the Europa League to Basel. This is a big opportunity for them to get themselves back in a prime position for the top four against a Manchester City side who looked jaded in their 1-0 home win over Wigan in midweek.

Gareth Bale

The crowd will certainly be up for this game as well and with the likely return of Gareth Bale, Spurs will fancy their chances of getting a positive result out of this game. City know that they are not going to catch Manchester United and that they have second place pretty much sown up. For them all the focus is now on the FA Cup final and they may make a few changes after playing three games in a week. Spurs know a win is vital as they still have tough away games to come against Chelsea and two teams who are battling for survival in Stoke and Wigan.

Liverpool v Chelsea

Rafael Benitez returns to Anfield for the first time as an opposing manager with his Chelsea side. The Spaniard is sure to get a terrific reception from the home supporters and it will be interesting to see how it affects the Chelsea team. When Gerard Houllier returned with his Aston Villa team a couple of years ago and got an amazing reception Liverpool cruised to a 3-0 victory. This Chelsea team though are a lot more experienced than that Villa side and you would expect them to be able to cope with what is sure to be a passionate atmosphere.

Rafa Benitez

On the pitch Liverpool have won four of their last five meetings in the league against Chelsea and they drew the other. Liverpool have once again saved most of their best performances for games against the bigger clubs this season, even though this may not be borne out by results. Benitez continues to rotate his squad well to cope with their demanding fixture list and their 3-0 away win at Fulham in midweek was certainly impressive, whilst they were unfortunate not to take Manchester City to extra time in last Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final. Liverpool’s recent record against the Blues may well swing this game in their favour and Daniel Sturridge may well be out to prove a point against the club who he feels never gave him a proper chance to make his mark in his time there.

By Chris Newman

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