Five strikers the Premier League’s best should be targeting

With the end of the season approaching, the summer transfer market will be back in full swing from June, and the Premier League’s leading sides will look to bolster their squads to challenge again in 2012-13. There is a case for all top six English clubs – Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool – to add a new striker to their ranks, with the following five hitmen in-form and within the English sides’ reach.

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

Club – Schalke
Valuation – 15 million +
Would suit – Tottenham

Huntelaar is a product of the famed Ajax youth academy, but after ill-fated stints at AC Milan and Real Madrid, has come into his own at Schalke. The 28-year-old has scored 22 goals in the Bundesliga this term, challenging for the German top flight and Europa League Golden Boots, and is clearly confident and clinical.

On the international stage, KJH topped the Euro 2012 qualification goalscoring charts with 12 strikes, and is sure to participate for the Netherlands this summer if he stays fit. With the marksman’s contract in Gelsenkirchen expiring in the summer of 2013, the Veltins-Arena outfit may be tempted to cash-in on their star attacker.

Olivier Giroud

Club – Montpellier
Valuation – 15 million +
Would suit – Manchester United

The 25-year-old French forward has come into his own after taking a while to establish himself in his homeland, and has become a difficult opponent for opponents across Ligue 1. Giroud is good with the ball at his feet, powerful in the air and has an eye for goal.

Giroud’s continued goalscoring has powered Montpellier from a mid-table side to title challengers in a year, and seen him break into the senior France squad. Likely to be given his opportunity to really shine at Euro 2012, the suitors may well be queuing up for his services come June.

Roberto Soldado

Club – Valencia
Valuation – 20 million +
Would suit – Chelsea

Since leaving Real Madrid in 2008, Roberto Soldado has been one of the most consistent and clinical strikers in Spain, and this term has been no exception. The intelligent forward has led Los Che’s attack after the summer sale of Juan Mata, and with 16 La Liga goals to his name is in great form.

Soldado’s club efforts have been recognised on the international stage, and despite competition from Alvaro Negredo, Fernando Torres, Fernando Llorente and the returning David Villa, should lead the line for the World Cup holders in Poland and Ukraine.

Leandro Damiao

Club – Internacional
Valuation – 15 million +
Would Suit – Arsenal

Along with Santos’ Neymar, Leandro Damiao of Internacional is in high-demand in Europe after excellent and exciting performances in Brazil. The sprightly 22-year-old has scored almost a goal per game for the Port Alegre outfit over two years, and has been the subject of transfer speculation over the last 12 months.

Damiao’s constant threat at club level has been rewarded with international recognition, with five caps to his name for the Selecao currently. With the player recently announcing that he is ready to go to Europe, there is sure to be a scramble for his signature this summer.

Ricky van Wolfswinkel

Club – Sporting Lisbon
Valuation – 12 million +
Would suit – Liverpool

Another Dutch striker trying to live up to so many legends from the nation before him, Van Wolfswinkel has slowly but surely become a well-known and highly-rated forward across Europe. The 23-year-old has continued where he left of at Utrecht with new club Sporting Lisbon after moving to Portugal last summer, and has seen his stock rise.

A goal against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium for Sa Pinto’s men will have done nothing to harm his already burdening reputation, whilst the versatile attacker has also broke into the Netherlands senior squad. With United’s links to Sporting Sir Alex Ferguson will be keeping a close eye on Van Wolfswinkel, but others will be sure to rival the Red Devils for the star-in-the-making’s signature.

Published – Bleacher Report

Wednesday’s Premier League fixtures to have a big impact on race for top four

With the race for third and fourth place in the Premier League set to go down to the wire, the eventual winners and losers can make great strides this Wednesday, as they are all in action. Third-placed Tottenham host Stoke at White Hart Lane, fourth placed Arsenal travel to take on Everton at Goodison Park, whilst Chelsea take on Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.

Tottenham vs Stoke

Spurs looked to be home and dry three matches ago, but consecutive defeats at the hands of Arsenal, Manchester United and Everton has seen their ten-point lead over the chasing pack reduced to a solitary point. Whether it is talk of Harry Redknapp taking the England job or just a difficult run of fixtures is irrelevant; Tottenham need to stop the rot against Stoke on Wednesday.

The north London side will want revenge against Tony Pulis’ men, as the Britannia outfit sneaked home 2-1 in the reverse fixture earlier in the campaign under dubious circumstances. If Spurs beat the Potters they could reopen a bit of breathing room due to difficult games for their two London rivals, and with a trip to Stamford Bridge on Saturday the White Hart Lane team need three points. If they do not get victory, pressure and the record of experience of their two bigger rivals could start to weigh heavy on the attacking, but at times naïve side.

Everton vs Arsenal

Arsenal have been on a good run of form of late and have won their last four games in all competitions, which ironically started with their 5-2 north London derby demolition of Tottenham. Arsene Wenger’s men now sit only a point behind Tottenham, and will be eager to stay in touch with their bitter rivals.

However Everton will not pose an easy opponent; David Moyes’ men have beaten Manchester City, Tottenham and Chelsea at Goodison Park in the last six weeks and are starting to look more combative, confident and clinical in attack. The January introductions of Steven Pienaar and Nikica Jerlavic have given the Merseysiders added bite going forward, and the Gunners will know that a tricky fixture awaits. A win could mean they jump up to third, anything else and they may drop to fifth.

Manchester City vs Chelsea

Chelsea’s poor season to date saw the end of Andre Villas Boas as coach, but the dismissal has seemingly instilled a breath of fresh air into the underfire club. With former midfielder Roberto Di Matteo now at the helm, the senior players have started to stand up and regained their pride with four consecutive victories under the Italian coach.

The Stamford Bridge outfit will feel that Manchester City are there for the taking after their recent wobble at home and on the continent, but Roberto Mancini’s men have an imperious home record this term and know that they have to close the four-point gap on Manchester United at the top. Arguably the most mouth-watering of three good games, this match could go either way and will be a real test to Chelsea’s newfound confidence. The Blues are currently three points behind Arsenal and four behind Spurs, so victory here and at home against Redknapp’s men could put them back in contention. However defeat could mean an uphill struggle for a team in transition.

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.

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The £30 million transfer shortlist

With the end of the season upon us, the transfer window re-opens in June and the biggest clubs in European football will look to strengthen their playing squads for the forthcoming campaign. The continued investment in the world game has resulted in transfer fees rising, and there are a number of players that this summer could conceivably cost £30 million and up.

1) Javier Pastore
The Palermo playmaker has had another sparkling season and has led the Sicilan side to the Coppa Italia final; ‘El Flaco’ or ‘the skinny one’ is one of world football’s hottest properties. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, AC Milan and Roma are all ready to part with £30 million to secure the services of the 21 year old, however this may not be enough as controversial Palermo president Maurizio Zamperini has been quoted as saying he feels the player is worth €100 million.

2) Kaka
With Real Madrid in the hunt for Pastore and already signed creative midfielder Nuri Sahin from Borussia Dortmund, first team opportunities for Kaka may be limited. Since his world record £56 million move from Milan to Los Blancos in 2009 the Brazilian has failed to make the required impact, and is currently playing second fiddle to Bernabeu main-man Cristiano Ronaldo. I Rossoneri president Silvio Berlusconi has ruled out a return to the San Siro, so England looks the most likely destination, with long term admirers Manchester City and Chelsea battling it out for his signature.

3) Alexis Sanchez
The Chilean left sided midfielder has been one of the main reasons for Udinese’s charge towards Champions League football, with pundits raving over the 22 year old’s performances. Both Milan and Inter are believed to want the ex-River Plate attacker, but Manchester City again seem to be the frontrunners, with a £30 million summer transfer touted in the Italian press.

4) Cesc Fabregas
Arsenal’s captain has been linked with a move back to Barcelona for a number of seasons, and the move may happen this summer as The Gunners may look to cash in on the 24 year old whilst he is out of form. With Jack Wilshere emerging this season to potentially take Fabregas’ place as Arsenal’s go to midfield man, a move back to the Nou Camp for £30 million or more could be on the cards.

5) Gareth Bale
The PFA Player of the Year has had a strong season domestically and in Europe, and shot to worldwide acclaim with a hat-trick against Inter at the San Siro in the Champions League Group Stages. Due to Tottenham missing out on the competition for next season, Bale may be tempted by the bright lights of Italy or Spain, with Inter and Barcelona linked with the player. United and City are also thought to want the Welshman to come to Manchester, and given his performances the fee would exceed £30 million.

6) Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Carlos Tevez
Big spending City may find a change of personnel in attack, with any big name departures or arrivals costing more than £30 million. The club have been linked with an audacious move for Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whilst club captain Carlos Tevez’s future at Eastlands is under scrutiny, with Inter the reported chosen destination for the Argentine forward.

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Manchester City or Tottenham; the race for fourth place continues

With Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea looking almost certain to finish in the top three places in the Premier League, the fight for fourth place is well and truly on between big spending Manchester City and Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham Hotspur for the last remaining Champions League place. Qualification for football’s most prestigious and lucrative club competition would be a major reward on the Abu Dhabi Group’s investment into the Eastlands club, whilst Spurs have had their first outing amongst Europe’s elite and are keen to build on this season’s heroics.

The situation was not dissimilar this time last season, as with Liverpool’s drop in form an opening in ‘the big four’ had emerged for City or Spurs to grab with both hands. With the clubs neck and neck, Harry Redknapp took his side to Eastlands with two games remaining and his team outplayed the home side, with a Peter Crouch header securing a 1-0 win and fourth place for the London club. At the time of writing City hold the much valued fourth place on 59 points, whilst Redknapp’s men are four points back on 55 points and just five games to go. City have the superior goal difference of +21, compared to Spurs’ +8. While City are still to play Tottenham, the points difference, goal difference and lack of games mean City are favourites to play in the Champions League next season.

City manager Roberto Mancini is under increasing pressure to deliver the next step in the money men’s master plan, and the Manchester club’s failure to finish in the top four would certainly lead to the Italian’s stint at Eastlands ending. His side started the season well and up to Christmas were challenging their city rivals United for the title, but a drop in confidence and what looks like fatigue in the squad has led to faltering performances and results. The club has over-relied on captain and talisman Carlos Tevez to deliver goals and inspiration, and with the Argentine currently injured City are not the same potent attacking force.

Spurs have had a rollercoaster ride in their first season in the Champions League, with victories over both Milan clubs leading to widespread acclaim for their leading players and a quarter final appearance in the first time of asking. Unfortunately their progression in Europe has been their downfall domestically, as in the build up to their highly publicised European meetings with Milan and Real Madrid, the club dropped league points against Blackpool, West Ham, Wigan and Wolves.

Of the two clubs Tottenham have the tougher run in, as they still have to travel to Stamford Bridge and Anfield, however the defining match that will decide the fate of fourth place will occur on May 10th, as like last season, Spurs travel to Eastlands to take on City. The game will be a marker for the home side as Mancini can see just how far his team has come in a year, whilst Tottenham will know that they will need to win the game, as they did last year, in order to be rewarded with future trips to the San Siro and Santiago Bernabeu.

Mario Balotelli; Change Your Attitude or Leave

Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini has something every other manager in world club football would give a right arm for; a blank cheque book. The City manager has vast financial backing and the ability to throw millions of pounds at international footballers around the globe to try and attract them to ply their trade at Eastlands. The Italian has selected countryman Mario Balotelli as one of the players he believes can fire City into Champions League qualification contention and lead the club into a new era. However, despite being a talented and physically able forward, the ex-Inter striker’s appeal is jaded by the fact that he has a terrible attitude and temperament, something that a leading club paying massive wages shouldn’t need to endure. Despite showing glimpses of excellence on the pitch in his first season in England, ‘Super Mario’ is often distant, lazy and disrespectful, and if the striker’s attitude doesn’t change Mancini would be best advised sending Balotelli back to Italy.

Balotelli signed for City back in August 2010 for a fee of £24 million from Italian Champions Inter Milan. In his time with the Nerazzuri, the forward scored 20 goals in 59 appearances and helped his club to a domestic and European double. With all eyes on the 20 year old striker in his move to England, Balotelli started brightly showing good touches and technique with the ball at his feet, a strong physical side to his play with good pace and an ability to compete in the air, and an eye for goal. This campaign the Italian has netted 10 times in 21 games for his new employers and has started to feature internationally for Italy, making his but against the Ivory Coast. With the additional accompaniment of Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko and David Silva, City have an exciting and threatening front line.

However, despite Baloteli’s many footballing talents, which are not in doubt, the youngster comes with comprehensive baggage and his attitude on and off the pitch leaves much to be desired. What ever happened to playing the game with a smile on your face? Balotelli constantly looks angry and unhappy, something a young man of his abilities really should not. This negative attitude is of no use to anyone; fellow players can (and have) become annoyed with his apparent disinterest and unapproachable outlook, whilst fans will read this as a sign the player’s heart is not with the club, and his efforts will not be part of the greater good for Manchester City.

Balotelli’s discipline must also be called into question, with his annoyance at events on the pitch turning into petulance on occasion, which is costing Manchester City. Never more was this exemplified than in his club’s exit from the Europa League, with the striker’s dismissal on 36 minutes against Dynamo Kiev for a ludicrous challenge turning City’s uphill struggle into an eventually unsuccessful one. Balotelli’s energies need to be channeled in a more productive fashion, and if Roberto Mancini wasn’t furious with his striker after the red card then he should have been. Balotelli attracts controversy, does not shy away from confrontations and generally acts in an unprofessional and unsporting manner at times, which again have no place at The City of Manchester Stadium or in English football.

His comments in the media off the pitch at times are baffling and counter productive, with the claims that he is a better player than Lionel Messi, and that he had never heard of Jack Wilshere both being spouted this season, and really not doing anything of note apart from building his already colossal ego. Few, if any, are as good as or better than Messi and of the list of potential candidates Mario Balotelli would be a long way down any footballing experts lists. Also, if you are going to move to England to play your club football then insulting one of the country’s brightest talents and arguably best players is not any way to endear yourself to fans across the land. Instead it alienates him, and fans and players alike will be out to dent his confidence and do anything they can to make him lose his cool.

Balotelli reminds me of another ex-City forward, Nicolas Anelka. The Frenchman has not been without controversy in his career (far from it), and in his younger days had a poor attitude and a big ego. As he has matured Anelka has become more of a team player and put behind him the petulant and arrogant nature that stifled his career, and he is a better player for it. Balotelli must do the same and commit himself to improving as a player and being an asset to his team; if he doesn’t he will soon find that managers and fans, like they did with young Anelka, will get bored of his antics and he will be transferred.

Rumours continue surrounding Balotelli’s future, with a summer move to Milan apparently on the cards. With City’s ambitions clear, they need to unite their relatively new and foreign squad into a team that plays for each other and for the club. For Mario Balotelli to be a part of this process he must clean up his act, get rid of whatever chip he has on his shoulder and try to enjoy his football. If he doesn’t remedy some of the childish and selfish traits that have been showcased in his first season at Eastlands, Mancini would be best advised to be rid of the troubled youngster, as despite his talents, he is a hinderance to City moving forward as a football club.

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Carlos Tevez: Talismanic Clubman or Money Motivated Mercenary?

Carlos Tevez typifies the modern day professional Premiership footballer, both the good and the bad. The Argentine striker has had quite an effect on English football since his arrival in 2006, firstly scoring at Old Trafford for West Ham on the last day of the season to salvage The Hammers Premier League status, then being adored by the United fans for his work ethic and goals that led to Champions League and domestic titles for The Reds, and now as the figurehead of the Manchester City revolution. Tevez is a mercurial talent; a ruthless hitman with all the ability and skill to carve open any defence in world football. However, Tevez’s temperament and loyalty can, and in this article will, be questioned, as he also epitomises the financially motivated footballer, who due to player power can hold clubs to ransom and whose loyalty seemingly can be bought.

So what do fans want and expect from their captain and/or striker? As British and English clubs they expect the traditional values of hard work, determination, loyalty and dedication, and they want to idolise someone who cares about the team’s cause as much as they do. Added to this, fans can unfortunately be inconsiderate and want a role model who delivers, game in, game out, week in, week out.

The Good

Carlos Tevez fulfils most of these attributes, and has showcased his skills for all to see. It takes a specific type of creative player that yes, can cut open defences, but is also willing to track back, chase down fullbacks and do what is necessary to aid the team in the greater good of winning the game. No-one can dispute Carlos Tevez’s effort and physical commitment on the pitch; he typifies the hard working centre forward that will chase lost causes and work harder than most players on the pitch. His skill, ability and goal scoring prowess cannot be questioned either, as the frontman has the deftness of touch, turn of speed and clinical finishing ability to give Premiership defenders nightmares. It is for these reasons that West Ham chanted ‘There is only one Carlos Tevez’ on the striker’s return to Upton Park; these reasons that the Old Trafford faithful implored Sir Alex Ferguson to sign him up on a long term deal and why they worshipped him. It is these reasons that Manchester City fans feel a wave of optimism every time their team steps foot on the park, as although they have a multi-million pound team wearing their colours, their pride and joy is their talisman who heads the home team attack.

The Bad

However, Tevez’s Manchester City career has been dogged by controversy. Firstly the fact that the player moved from one team to its bitter rivals must raise questions; sure, many players have done this in the past, but to leave champions Manchester United to go to up and coming, but when he signed, mid table Manchester City, shows that the move must be predominantly financially motivated. Alex Ferguson was willing to pay £25.5 million to capture his permanent signature and offered the player a five year deal, which was spurned to join City in a reported £150,000 per week deal.

Tevez’s actions against his former club United were questionable at best in the January 2010 Carling Cup semi final, as he argued with Gary Neville and infuriated this former worshippers after scoring against his ex-employers and celebrating in an over the top manner. For a player to switch clubs to their rivals for career reasons can be frustrating for fans, but for purely financial reasons and to act so inappropriately and without respect against the club that used to pay his wages reeks of unprofessionalism.

Following this Tevez has fired City into title contention, but not without a wobble and doubts over his commitment and loyalty along the way. The Argentine stated a breakdown in “relationships with certain executives and individuals at the club” as the reason for his written transfer request in December 2010, before a week later rescinding his wishes to leave the club and expressing his ‘absolute commitment’ to City after personal matters were cleared; Manchester City fans at that time didn’t know whether to love or hate their captain. These decisions again do not replicate the ideal of a dedicated club man or fans idol.

The Future

What now for Carlos? Tevez’s City career will largely depend on where the team finishes, and this will dictate whether it is Doctor Jekyll or Mr Hyde we see come the summer. If City finish in the top four the Argentine will dedicate himself to City and be an attacking threat to defences across Europe next season, with the club’s supporters bowing at his gifted feet. However if City continue to lag and drop out of Champions League contention don’t be surprised if a certain South American striker feels homesick or expresses his desire to leave, and both sets of Manchester fans are united in labeling him a Judas.

In conclusion, Carlos Tevez’s ability and the things he does on the pitch make him a entertaining and gifted addition to English football, and should Manchester City make the top four he will have a major part to play. However Tevez typifies the new age of professional footballers who unfortunately have limited allegiances to any one side, and has the potential to be a fair weather fans favorite, leaving his team in the lurch should more money or a better offer present itself.

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