Why N’Golo Kante is the Premier League’s Best Player

Since moving to England in the summer of 2015, N’Golo Kante’s 276 tackles lead the league by a comfortable margin. The little French wizard played a key role in Leicester’s shock title run a year ago. This season Kante has been a catalyst of Chelsea’s great form which sees Antonio Conte’s side ten points ahead of their nearest competitor.

It is no coincidence that Kante has been a regular starter on both teams. In addition to his tackling, he excels at reading the game and understanding when to tackle and when to kick-start the counter attack.

Kante is widely considered to be the best tackler in the Premier League

This was extremely vital to Leicester’s style of play last season. As a side that never had much possession and struck quickly and decisively on the counter attack, Kante’s ability to win the ball anywhere on the pitch helped set up Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez in their respective breakout seasons. Perhaps under-appreciated last season, the Foxes’ struggles this season show how big of a piece Kante was to their title winning side.

This season, Kante has taken his talents to Stamford Bridge and has been a part of Chelsea’s season of redemption following a tenth place showing last season. Kante’s presence in the midfield has allowed Antonio Conte to run his three back formation, which has taken the Premier League by storm this season. Kante is such a great tackler and defensive mind that Chelsea’s wing backs can go forward and threaten.

Kante has also improved his attacking this season. He has scored important goals for Chelsea against Manchester United and West Ham this season.

Kante is one of the few players capable of making significant contributions anywhere on the pitch.

The impact that Kante has had on the teams he joins is without question. His one title-winning year in Leicester has been sandwiched by two relegation battles for the Foxes. And although he can’t take all of the credit for Chelsea’s resurgence, he has been a major contributor. In a game that is all about winning, the best in England at the moment is the one who brings success with him.

 

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Unclear Futures for Some of the Prem’s Biggest Stars

Since the beginning of the decade, several players have made a name for themselves in the Premier League and have basked in the major dividends that stardom has paid. Players such as Sergio Aguero, Diego Costa, Philippe Coutinho and Alexis Sanchez are all world-class, but their time at their respective clubs, and in England, may be coming to a close.

Sergio Aguero

The Manchester City talisman and scorer of the most famous goal in Premier League history has seen his role at the club come under threat this season. The Argentine was absent for large portions of December and January in favor of Brazilian starlet Gabriel Jesus. However, Jesus’s injury has seemingly given a new spark to Aguero.

With 22 goals across all competitions, it is easy to see why Aguero is still considered a top striker. While there is no doubt he can still contribute to City, there are still several issues that could force an Aguero exit in the summer.

The first is whether or not Pep Guardiola wants to move on from the 28 year old in favor of youth. Jesus’ potential is so great that he could easily be equally if not more productive than Aguero one day. This is certainly a gamble as Aguero is one of the few experienced players in a youthful attack that includes Jesus, Kelechi Iheanacho, Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling among others.

Secondly, it is unknown how Aguero feels about his spot in the starting XI being up for grabs. As he approaches the end of his prime years, a move to another European powerhouse seems likely for Aguero with an eye towards one day returning to play in this native Argentina.

Diego Costa

Diego Costa’s alleged frosty relationship with Antonio Conte could force the striker out this summer.

The Brazilian-born, Spanish-international striker is seemingly constantly at odds with someone. Like Aguero, Costa is one of the premier strikers in England. His 17 goals in the league this season have helped propel Chelsea to a ten point lead at the top of the table. Unlike Aguero, Costa’s problems stem more off the field than on it.

Costa has publicly feuded with teammates before and allegedly has had multiple conflicts with manager Antonio Conte. If these “conflicts” were to get to a point of no return, it would likely be the striker who would move on as Conte has completely turned around Chelsea after last season’s embarrassing performance.

However difficult he may be, Costa is a supreme talent and it is difficult to foresee a scenario where the club let tensions rise to a point where Costa would leave. Now that they have found their footing again, Chelsea would be foolish to let their top scorer leave.

Philippe Coutinho

Philippe Coutinho’s immense skill set has caught the eye of Barcelona.

Since Liverpool signed him from Inter in 2013, Philippe Coutinho’s immense promise and potential have been on display at Anfield. The Brazilian is already a top player in England and possesses the skill, pace, and mentality to become a superstar.

What has been frustrating for Reds’ fans is the inconsistency shown by Coutinho and the team as a whole in recent seasons. Coutinho has shown improvements under Jurgen Klopp and it really only seems to be a matter of when and not if he breaks into the top echelon of players in Europe.

Liverpool are not the only side that are aware of Coutinho’s talent. Barcelona have been heavily rumored to be weighing a move for him in the summer. With an aging Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi’s contract negotiations ongoing, Barca see Coutinho as a future catalyst in their side.

While Coutinho has all the tools to become a Barcelona player, he is not there yet. Barcelona will likely realize this and wait until Klopp has worked further with the dynamic play-maker before the seriously pursue him. It wasn’t until a 33 goal season in 2013-14 that Luis Suarez sealed his move from Anfield to the Camp Nou. Coutinho will need to mimic Suarez if he hopes to join his former teammate at the Catalan club.

Alexis Sanchez

As speculation on Arsene Wenger’s future in North London has stolen the headlines, Sanchez has taken a back seat. The Chilean winger is widely rumored to be unsettled at Arsenal and is frustrated by poor results in the league and Europe this season. Regardless of whether Wenger or Mesut Ozil stay at the Emirates past this summer, it seems a foregone conclusion that Sanchez will not be back next season.

23 goals and 12 assists across all competitions show how tremendous Sanchez has been this season. At the turn of the calendar year, there was a strong case to be made that Sanchez had been the best player in Europe to that point in the season. His departure would cripple Arsenal in a manner in which there is very little they could do to make up for it.

Now, as he is expected to miss an extended amount of time with an ankle problem, we will get a good look at Arsenal without Sanchez and how they cope.

If Sanchez does leave, Juventus and PSG have been rumored to be keeping an eye on him. A move to Juventus would make sense as they still have money to spend from the Paul Pogba sale. With a rock solid defense and legendary goalkeeper in Gianluigi Buffon, the addition of Sanchez on the wing would certainly put Juve among the favorites to win the Champions League next season.

 

 

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Preview & Predictions: Matchweek 25

Following a dominating 3-1 victory over Arsenal on Saturday, Chelsea still enjoy that comfortable nine point cushion at the top of the table. The only side showing any signs of catching them this season is Tottenham, who face a very real test against an albeit struggling, but desperate and dangerous Liverpool at Anfield. The relegation battle is very exciting however, as five team including Leicester could be in safe or in last at the end of fixtures this weekend.

Jurgen Klopp has been under fire as Liverpool have endured a brutal start to 2017

Liverpool vs Tottenham:

The weekends’ marquee match-up takes place at the home of the desperate Reds. Jurgen Klopp & Co. haven’t won in five matches and will not have it easy against a Tottenham side that is oozing confidence as they have jumped to second in the table.

Liverpool have dominated most if not all of their recent defeats. Their failure to convert chances has been their downfall. Now, against the best defense in the league, Sadio Mane and Co. will need to be sharp in the final third. For Spurs, they also could improve their finishing as they have been reliant on penalties to get them three points this season. Dele Alli is the highest scoring midfielder in the league.

Liverpool are known to play well against big competition, expect them to give Spurs a tough test on Saturday.

Liverpool 1 Tottenham 1

Leicester’s star striker Jamie Vardy has been mostly quiet this season and will look to score against Swansea.

Swansea City vs Leicester City

A surprisingly big matchup this weekend in Wales. Leicester, following an embarrassing display against Manchester United, will likely be in the relegation zone if they lose this one. The same can be said for Swansea, who know what its like to be threatened by relegation this season. A recent spike in form under new manager Paul Clement has the Swans temporarily safe.

Leicester have the talent to succeed in this league, as they proved last season. Their stars have been quiet the entire year and that will need to change if the Foxes hope to avoid the drop. Jamie Vardy will look to end a seven game dry run against a team that has allowed the most goals at home this season in the Premier League.

For Swansea, they need to lean on their veterans to save them from relegation. Striker Fernando Lllorente is a proper threat in the air and midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson plays at a Champions League level. If the Swans sure up at the back, they have the firepower up front to make Leicester trouble.

Swansea 1 Leicester 2

Other Matches

Arsenal 1 Hull 1: Hull in improved form and Gunners have been shaky without Wenger on the touchline.

West Ham 1 West Brom 1: Two sides in good form, expecting a hard fought draw here.

Man United 2 Watford 1: Watford are dangerous but United have confidence after thrashing Leicester

Middlesborough 0 Everton 1: Everton are very underrated and have enough to win at pesky ‘Borough.

Stoke 2 Crystal Palace 1: Palace will look to regroup after embarrassing outing vs Sunderland. Wont happen at stingy Stoke.

Sunderland 1 Southampton 1: Sunderland gained confidence last weekend. Lets see what they can do with it.

Burnley 1 Chelsea 1: Burnley one of the best home sides in the league will steal a point against league leaders Chelsea.

Bournemouth 1 Man City 2: City’s youth revival will continue at Bournemouth.

 

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Premier League Matchweek 23 Preview and Predictions

A rare midweek slate for the Prem offers some enticing match-ups this week. Headlined by Liverpool hosting Chelsea at Anfield, Arsenal and Manchester City also have tough games.

Something to watch for will be if some managers opt to rest a few starters in preparation for another slate of games this weekend. However teams like Chelsea, with matches against Liverpool and Arsenal are likely to play their full lineup in both matches.

Liverpool vs Chelsea:

Jurgen Klopp’s men have endured a horrible recent run of form. Three consecutive home defeats in the last nine days has seen the Reds exit both domestic cups as well as falling back in the Prem table.

However, Liverpool have a reputation for performing very well against good sides while underperforming against lesser teams. The team has suffered from the absence of dynamic wimger Sadio Mane who was representing Senegal at the Africa Cup of Nations. It doesn’t look like he will be able to start as he missed training due to travel problems.

The good news for Klopp and Co. is that they will have Roberto Firmino, who managed to get a drunken driving court date pushed back 24 hours. At home, Liverpool will not make it easy on the league leaders.

Chelsea sit eight points clear of second at the moment and have recovered nicely since losing at Tottenham a few weeks back. The Blues have arguably their most important two game stretch of the season this week (@ Liverpool, vs Arsenal). If they can manage four points from these games, Conte would be satisfied and it would make it unlikely for Chelsea to fall back.

Leading goalscorer Diego Costa and the talented Eden Hazard will look to have a field day against an underwhelming Liverpool defense. But can Chelsea’s own defense hold against Liverpool’s dynamic and versatile attack?

Liverpool 2 Chelsea 2

 

West Ham United vs Manchester City:

Brazilian starlet Gabriel Jesus is expected to feature against West Ham.

The post-Dimitri Payet era begins at West Ham with a brutal matchup against a desperate Manchester City. Despite Payet causing distractions for much of the past month, West Ham have actually been in a good run of form. Slaven Bilic has guided the Hammers to 10th after flirting with relegation early in the season.

Even sans Payet, West Ham is not short on talent. Michail Antonio can defend while being a threat going forward from the midfield and Andy Carroll is a threat in the air and has been in a good run of form.

For the visitors, three points are paramount if City want to get back on track as they battle for a top four spot. Guardiola and Co. thrashed West Ham 5-0 here a few weeks ago in a cup tie and will look to build on that performance. West Ham’s struggles defending on the wing means that young wingers such as Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and the new kid in town Gabriel Jesus could be in for big games.

West Ham 1 Manchester City 2

 

Arsenal vs Watford

Arsene Wenger is suspended for the Gunners’ match against Watford following his altercation with an assistant official vs Burnley

The second place Gunners will be doing a bit of scoreboard watching on Tuesday as a home victory and a Chelsea loss at Anfield would move Arsenal to within five points of the leaders. Such a result would reignite the title race for the Gunners. Arsene Wenger will have to watch the match from the stands as he is suspended from the touchline for his antics during last week’s match against Burnley.

The Gunners will be expected to win as they have arguably the league’s best player the season in Alexis Sanchez (20 goals and 7 assists in all competitions). Combine that with Mesut Ozil, who just oozes class and it isn’t hard to see why the Gunners are expected to win this match.

Watford have been miserable recently, but possess the players and they ability to play ninety tough minutes against anyone. Troy Deeney is Mr. Watford and the captain enters the match coming off a good performance against Watford. If Deeney finds the net and Etienne Capoue can navigate the midfield easily, Arsenal will have a game on their hands.

Arsenal 2 Watford 1

 

Other Matchups:

Manchester United 3 Hull City 0: Hull’s miserable defense will be exploited by Zlatan, Pogba and Co.

Sunderland 0 Tottenham 2: Sunderland have not improved in January window while Tottenham remain in good form. Dele Alli to score.

Bournemouth 3 Crystal Palace 2: Youth trumps experience as Eddie Howe’s Cherries edge out Sam Allardyce’s Palace in an exciting one.

Burnley 1 Leicester City 1: Burnley are really good at home but Leicester have to turn it around at some point.

Middlesborough 0 West Brom 1: Low scoring affair predicted here as ‘Borough park the bus. Im thinking ninth-place West Brom eek it out.

Swansea 1 Southampton 1: The Saints are the better side but home field and improvements under a new manager earn Swansea a point.

Stoke City 1 Everton 1: Another big game as two of the best sides outside of the top six duke it out. Everton to steal a draw late.

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What is Going on With Leicester?

May 2, 2016

Chelsea’s Eden Hazard scores against Tottenham to force a 2-2 draw and clinch the unlikeliest of Premier League titles for Leicester City. One of the greatest underdog stories of all time, Leicester’s story is now well known. They had been fighting relegation the season before and were expected to go down last season before going on an unbelievable run.

The individual stories within Leicester’s team made the story even better. Whether it was Jamie Vardy rising from the seventh tier of English football to breaking the consecutive Premier League goals record in the matter of a few years or Kasper Schmeichel finally escaping the shadow of his legendary father. There were great feel good stories throughout the Foxes’ team last season that made them very likable as many rooted them on to the title.

Title Hangover

Unfortunately, Claudio Ranieri and his men have put up a less than encouraging following act. At this point last season, the Foxes were tied at the top of the table with Arsenal on 44 points. This year?, they have 21 points, less than half of last years points. Many predicted a setback for Leicester, but few could have guesses they would regress as severely as they have. Leicester stand only three points clear of relegation! They will look to avoid the unflattering title as the first reigning champ to go since Manchester City in 1938. There are many possible causes behind Leicester’s sharp decline. The first and foremost may be that last year was an anomaly. Leicester were fortunate to be the healthiest team in the league last year. They also enjoyed down years from many of the top contenders. Finally, the lack of an impact from last years stars have all likely contributed to Leicester’s decline.

The 2015-16 championship team was guided by three previously unknown commodities. Vardy scored 24 goals last season to lead the team but has only managed five to this point. Riyad Mahrez emerged as the team’s best play-maker but has also regressed. Mahrez looks set to take his talents to greener pastures in the summer, deepening Leicester’s future anxieties. The third was N’Golo Kante, a tenacious midfielder who only stayed at the King Power for one season before leaving for Chelsea in the summer. Kante led the Premier League in tackles last season. His ability to regain possession for the Foxes allowed them to get on their deadly counter attack. Kante’s departure forced Ranieri to tinker the way the team plays. He clearly still hasn’t figures out the right way.

N’Golo Kante’s departure in the summer was a big blow to the reigning champions.

Other contributors have also fallen off. The veterans on defense who saw Leicester through so many 1-0 victories last season have started to show their age. The lack of athleticism has seemingly caught up with the center back pairing of Wes Morgan and Robert Huth as Leicester have nearly flip flopped their goal differential from last season, going from +13 to -13 at this point in the season. Christian Fuchs and Danny Simpson have also struggled to give Ranieri’s men a threat going forward as they did last year from their fullback positions.

It is not all trending down for Leicester. They have talent with Vardy and Mahrez as well as summer signings Islam Slimani and Ahmed Musa. The Foxes are also home to some of the more talented young players in the Prem. Ben Chilwell (age 20), Demarai Gray (20), Daniel Amartey (22), and Wilfred Ndidi (20) have all shown potential at Leicester.

Quick winger Demarai Gray is one of the brightest young talents at Leicester.

If the Foxes can avoid the drop this season, the future is still bright. Maintaining key players and developing youth will determine if Leicester can use its shock title to build its future. If the transition from the veterans of the title team to the exciting youth is seamless, Leicester will be a force to reckon with.

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Weekend Preview and Predictions: Matchweek 22

Another weekend of important matches is nearly upon us in the Premier League. This slate of games has potential to shake up the table quite a bit. The marquee matchup of the weekend is between a red hot Tottenham Hotspur side and desperate Pep Guardiola-led Manchester City. Manchester United faces a test to stay relevant. Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal all face manageable games, which they must take advantage of.

 

Manchester City vs Tottenham Hotspur

Man City Goalkeeper Claudio Bravo has been heavily criticized in recent days. He will need to be stellar in between the sticks on Sunday against Tottenham.

The difference in current form between the two sides could not be larger. Tottenham are winners of seven straight in the league dating back to last month. They are also enjoying second spot in the table on goal differential over Liverpool. As for City, they have lost two of their last three including an embarrassing performance last weekend at Everton. City’s slim title hopes and fading Champions League aspirations are on the line this weekend.

The key player in this match will be City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. Bravo was brought in from Barcelona to replaced the out of favor Joe Hart. His play has been heavily scrutinized as he owns the worst save percentage in the league this year. Tottenham is playing too well to not get their chances, but can Bravo make enough saves to keep City in it? Man City’s attack has also stalled recently and must get back on track. Although it won’t be easy against league-best defense. Can City break through? Maybe, but it won’t be enough for three points at home.

Manchester City 1 Tottenham Hotspur 1

 

 

Stoke City vs Manchester United

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will look to get on the score sheet against Stoke City.

 

The Red Devils travel to Stoke this weekend in what is always a tricky match to get three points from. Stoke have long prided themselves on tripping up title contenders late in the season and derailing their hopes. If Mourinho wants to keep any chance of a title this year, United must get three points from this match.

One thing to watch for will be who controls the aerial game. This match features the top two aerial sides in the Prem according to WhoScored.com. It is not hard to see why, with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Stoke’s 6’7 striker Peter Crouch featuring in the game. In the end, it will come down to what it always has this season for United, finishing chances. Mourinho’s men will dominate possession, but can they score enough?

Stoke City 1 Manchester United 2

 

 

 

Chelsea vs Hull City

 

Chelsea will reportedly welcome back star striker Diego Costa to the lineup.

 

The Blues have built a seven point lead for themselves already in their first year under the guidance of Antonio Conte. They managed to win last week despite the absence of Diego Costa and the drama surrounding his situation. Costa will reportedly be back on the pitch at Stamford Bridge this weekend against Hull City. The Blues will be heavy favorites to continue to build on their impressive point total.

Unfortunately for Hull, a David and Goliath story doesn’t seem to be in the cards this weekend. The Tigers have only taken four points away from home all season and Chelsea have taken 29 of a possible 33 at Stamford Bridge. Look for Chelsea’s attacking trident of Costa, Eden Hazard, and Willian/Pedro to feast on one of the worst defenses in the league. Unless Conte’s men show up horribly under-prepared, I would expect no problems for the hosts here.

Chelsea 4 Hull City 0

 

Other Matches: 

Arsenal 2 Burnley 0: Burnley is worst in the league away from home, and Arsenal don’t seem in the mood to drop points at the Emirates.

Liverpool 4 Swansea 1: League-worst Swans are badly undermanned defensively to deal with Liverpool’s attack.

Middlesborough 0 West Ham 0: Two stingy, conservative defenses play to a stale mate with no Dimitri Payet to guide the Hammers.

Bournemouth 1 Watford 1: Interesting match up, thinking Watford sneaks one in here to salvage an away point.

Crystal Palace 1 Everton 2: Everton look good were very impressive last week, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them lay an egg here.

West Brom 1 Sunderland 0: West Brom are very sound defensively and aren’t in eighth for no reason.

Southampton 1 Leicester 1: Maybe a bit optimistic for Foxes to get an away point sans Mahrez and Slimani.

 

Weekend Preview & Predictions: Matchweek 21

As we round into January, the chances to make up for past mistakes become fewer and far between. It seems that this is where the eventual champion makes a move every year. This weekend could potentially show a shake up in the table.

Manchester United vs Liverpool:

Paul Pogba (right) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be two of Man United’s most important players Sunday vs Liverpool

A truly classic rivalry between two of the most storied clubs in England. Man U-Liverpool entertains every time these two sides meet. This weekend, the stakes are much higher in a virtually must-win game for Mourinho’s men. United, winner of ten consecutive in all competitions, at least need a point to have any chance of catching Chelsea.

One way they can possibly snag all three is off set pieces and crosses. With players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba, as well as Chris Smalling coming up on corners, United will have an advantage in the air. Expect Manchester United to create plenty of opportunities in this game. The real question is whether they will be able to capitalize on those.

For Liverpool, they sit in second, so their situation is not as dire as United’s. However a win and a Chelsea loss would move the Reds within two points. Liverpool will be missing dynamic winger Sadio Mane, who is participating in the Africa Cup of Nations. Exciting Brazilians Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho will look to make up for some of what Liverpool will miss from Mane. Firmino and Coutinho will look to make Man United sorely miss their own Africa Cup of Nations participant. The Red Devils will be without Eric Bailly’s patience and athleticism at the back.

Manchester United 2  Liverpool 2

 

Leicester City vs Chelsea:

N’Golo Kante makes his return to the King Power Stadium on Saturday

Chelsea still maintain a solid grip on the league at this point in the season. The Blues will look to further distance themselves from the pack with a win against reigning champions Leicester. The Foxes have been underwhelming this season, but still remain dangerous at home.

This match got much more interesting Friday, when reports that Chelsea star striker Diego Costa had been dropped from the starting lineup. Costa and manager Antonio Conte had an apparent argument in training and Costa hasn’t trained in three days. This puts an interesting strain on Chelsea from a tactical standpoint. Young Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi is Costa’s backup. Conte could play Eden Hazard as a False 9 and Willian and Pedro as wingers. Chelsea are still favorites, but it will be interesting to see how this in addition to coming off a 2-0 defeat to Spurs affects them.

Leicester will also be missing a key piece in Riyad Mahrez. The Foxes’ most creative player is representing Algeria at the Africa Cup of Nations along with striker Islam Slimani. They do have the benefit of playing at the King Power, which they play significantly better at. Leicester could potentially cause Chelsea problems with their lightning quick counter attacks finished by Jamie Vardy. This match also marks the return of N’Golo Kante to the King Power, where he won the title last season with Leicester.

Leicester City 1 Chelsea 1

 

Everton vs Manchester City

Kevin De Bruyne will look to exploit an undermanned Everton midfield.

As we approach this critical stretch of the season, very few have as much on the line as Pep Guardiola. Guardiola’s debut season in Manchester has had its bumps. City are only seven points back and games like this can be crucial. Everton aren’t quite top tier quality, but they can certainly surprise at Goodison Park.

Expect league leaders in possession, Man City to do exactly that. David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne should run free as Everton will miss Idrissa Gueye. Gueye, the leader in tackles this season, is also playing in Africa. Sergio Aguero’s prospects look good for a goal this weekend. If City control the pace and limit counter attacks, they should cruise by the Toffees.

For Ronald Koeman’s men, they must make the most of every opportunity. When you play against a team that likes to control the game, your chances are going to be limited. Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley will need to be in top form if Everton are to keep up with the visitors.

Everton 1 Manchester City 3

 

Other Matches:

Swansea 0 Arsenal 1: I sense a late winner from Olivier Giroud saving the day for the Gunners.

Spurs 2 West Brom 0: Dele Alli’s form as of late has been stunning and playing at home will be too much for West Brom.

Burnley 0 Southampton 1: Burnley’s Tom Heaton is a quality goalkeeper. But I think one slips through for the Saints.

Hull 0 Bournemouth 3: Eddie Howe is one of the world’s best young managers. Bournemouth power by weak Hull.

Sunderland 0 Stoke 2: Sunderland are not focused with all these transfer rumors surrounding them.

Watford 1 M’Borough 0: Watford continue successful season, Deeney and Co. break through vs stingy Borough defense.

West Ham 1 Palace 3: The Payet rumors cannot be good for morale. Zaha and Puncheon always make Palace dynamic.

 

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One Signing Each Premier League Contender Should Make in January

 

We are just past the halfway point in this Premier League season. As it stands, six teams are within ten points of the top. January is the final chance for these sides to polish their team as the final dash for the title is in sight.

Chelsea: Tiemoue Bakayoko, Monaco

Monaco’s Tiemoue Bakayoko could help stabilize Chelsea’s midfield.

The Blues have been tearing through the league this season. New manager Antonio Conte has instilled his 3-4-3 formation into the side and Chelsea has rocketed to the top of the league. The brilliant play of summer signing N’Golo Kante has been a large reason behind Chelsea’s turnaround season. The ability to win the ball in the midfield has allowed the Blues to feed their very talented attacking players. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa have each enjoyed bounce-back seasons.

If a side is going to run the 3-4-3 effectively, they need excellent defensive midfield play to make up for the one less defender at the back. While Kante and Nemanja Matic have done well thus far, Chelsea is still thin at the position. Bakayoko is just 22 years old and is enjoying a breakout season for Monaco. His dribbling ability through the middle would allow Hazard and Willian to play more wide. From there they can whip in crosses to Costa, one of the best in the air in all of England. Bakayoko’s youth is enticing as Matic is 28 and has been inconsistent at times this season. Although his playing time could be limited initially, Bakayoko will undoubtedly be a big part of the future at Stamford Bridge if Conte is able to acquire his services.

Liverpool: Quincy Promes, Spartak Moscow

Liverpool target Quincy Promes has helped Spartak Moscow to the top of the Russian Premier League

In Jurgen Klopp’s second season at Anfield, Liverpool have arisen as serious title contenders at this point in the season. Their plethora of attacking players, including Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho, and Roberto Firmino have been very efficient in the attacking third.

However, Klopp will be without Mane for a large part of the next month. The Senegal international will be participating in the Africa Cup of Nations. The tournament comes at a critical time in Liverpool’s season with matches against Manchester United and Chelsea on there horizon. Promes has had a great season at Spartak. He has netted six goals and also has six assists in the Russian Premier League as Spartak have surprised by leading at this point in the season. It may be tough to coax Promes from Spartak, but Klopp should try. Promes will give Liverpool some width while Mane is away. He can play opposite Mane, which will benefit the Reds when Mane returns from international duty.

Tottenham: Wilfried Zaha, Crystal Palace

Wilfried Zaha would bring creativity on the wing to White Hart Lane

Once again, Mauricio Pochettino has put Spurs squarely in the title conversation. Tottenham sit third in the table at the turn of the calendar year. Young players have stepped up this season, including 20-year-old midfielder Dele Alli. Spurs are fighting off Real Madrid for his services.

However, Spurs could use an outside threat to compliment their plethora of middle attacking players. Alli, Harry Kane, and Christian Eriksen have combined to score 25 goals in the league this season. All of those players are under the age of 25. 24-year-old Zaha could add to this “young core” that Pochettino has built at White Hart Lane. Zaha, who plays on the left wing at Crystal Palace, would compliment Kane, Eriksen, and Alli in the middle. Zaha is extremely skilled with the ball at his feet and has a tremendous ability to get crosses in from tough angles. Erik Lamela has been underwhelming again this season and Zaha could fill the void for Spurs.

Manchester City: Holger Badstuber, Bayern Munich

Holger Badstuber’s experience at the back could prove invaluable for Guardiola’s Manchester City.

Pep Guardiola’s highly anticipated first year at the Etihad has been up and down. A victory against Barcelona in the Champions League showed City’s potential under Pep. However, they have been very inconsistent at times domestically. Their inconsistency, especially at the back, is the primary reason why they find themselves seven points adrift at this juncture.

Man City payed quite a bit to sign promising young English center back John Stones from Everton over the summer. Stones, while very talented and promising, is still raw. There has been more than one occasion where he has looked lost this season. Captain Vincent Kompany’s injury woes have continued and it is difficult to rely on him for an extended period of time. Eliaquim Mangala consistently underperforms when given a chance in the starting XI. Badstuber is very experienced at just 27 years of age. He has 119 caps for Bayern and 31 for the German National Team. While a permanent deal is unlikely, Pep could explore a six-month loan deal for Badstuber. This would give City added security and depth at the center back for the remainder of the season while Stones continues to develop.

 

 

 

Arsenal: Ricardo Pereira, Porto (on loan at Nice)

Ricardo Pereira is a perfect solution to Arsenal’s right-back injury crisis.

Arsene Wenger is notorious for not making moves in the January transfer window, even when his team could really use them. Fifth place Arsenal have been by no means bad this season, but there is always room for improvement at the Emirates.

Promising young right back Hector Bellerin will be out for an extended period of time with an injury and his predecessor Mathieu Debuchy is rumored to be at odds with Wenger and on his way out of North London. This leaves the underwhelming Carl Jenkinson as the only right back on the Gunners’ roster. Ricardo, who is on loan at Ligue 1 leaders Nice from Porto has exploded this season. His 7.6 match rating on WhoScored.com has him placed in their Ligue XI team of the season. He provides sound defending and security at the back. Pereira is also a threat going forward, with a goal and three assists this season. He could be a perfect solution in the interim while Bellerin is injured. And his ability going forward could see him utilized as a wing-back or midfielder when the Spaniard returns.

Manchester United: Antoine Griezmann, Atletico Madrid

Antoine Griezmann would be an expensive, but worthwhile signing for Manchester United.

After a disastrous start to the season, Jose Mourinho has begun to right the ship at Old Trafford. Despite being ten points back of Chelsea, things are looking up at Old Trafford. Manchester United have played well throughout the season, but have failed to convert the many chances they create. 31 goals in the League is significantly less than the other five “contenders”.

Griezmann is widely considered one of the best players in the world and would not come cheap. However is precision in the final third is exactly what United need. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a pure striker who doesn’t create, and while Paul Pogba is one of the most creative midfielders in the world, he is limited going forward to do the teams reliance on him from a defensive standpoint. Griezmann would fit right into Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1 as an attacking midfielder. He played this role brilliantly for France in this summer’s European Championships where he scored a tournament-high six goals. It also doesn’t hurt that Griezmann is close friends with fellow Frenchman Pogba. The two could do lots of damage if they play together under Mourinho.

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Mourinho has United Rolling, and the Rest of the Prem Should Take Notice

Paul Pogba’s 86th minute header gave Man United a vital three points on New Years Day against a scrappy Middlesborough side.

Bumpy Beginnings

Manchester United entered the year full of optimism following a Summer Transfer Window which saw them bolster their squad. Marquee signings include star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, crafty midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and promising defender Eric Bailly. United also signed young superstar midfielder Paul Pogba for a whopping world record €105 million.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s thirteen league goals have been a major factor in United’s recent success. (Courtesy of, i.dailymail.co.uk)

In addition to on the field signings, the Red Devils were also able to lock down the services of former Chelsea, Inter, and Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho. Mourinho has won the Premier League, Serie A, and La Liga a combined six times. He also won the 09-10 Champions League with Inter.

For a club who have struggled mightily in recent years in comparison for the lofty standard set under the reign of the great Sir Alex Ferguson, Mourinho offered a ream of hope that Champions League football, and even possibly a Premier League title challenge were on the horizon.

Autumn was not kind to United, as the club dropped points against lowly opponents such as Burnley, Watford, and Stoke City on their way to dropping as low as eighth after ten match days. The side looked out of sync, Pogba was trying to do too much on his own and prove he was worth his massive transfer fee, and Mkhitaryan was not even making Mourinho’s Starting XI on most match days.

Jose Mourinho signed a three-year contract with the club in May 2016.

Hitting Their Stride

United has gained traction in recent weeks, now winners of six consecutive league matches dating back over a month. Mourinho’s famed 4-2-3-1 formation is clicking as Mkhitaryan and Pogba have been brilliant over the last month.

Pogba’s 8.3 average match rating on WhoScored.com was the highest in the Premier League for the month of December. Ibrahimovic’s 13 goals is only one off the pace set by Chelsea’s Diego Costa.

It took time, but Mourinho has begun to instill a winning culture in the dressing room at Old Trafford. Pogba won four consecutive league titles in Italy before returning to United. Ibrahimovic has won a title everywhere he has been. United are finding ways to win games that they were not winning earlier in the year or last year under Louis Van Gaal.

Take the New Years’ Eve match against Middlesborough for example. United dominated possession and momentum throughout the match and even had a questionable disallowed goal in the first half. This was before conceding to Middlesborough midway through the second half. But Mourinho’s men showed their grit. Anthony Martial equalized with five minutes to go off a great pass from Ibrahimovic. And a minute later, Pogba secured the three points for the Red Devils with an emphatic header into the back of the Middlesborough net.

They are still ten points behind league leaders Chelsea. But sixth-place United are hitting their stride at the right time. If they continue their current form, United are very much a threat for a top four finish, and possibly to challenge for the title if Chelsea continues to slip. A January 15 showdown with rivals Liverpool will give Mourinho and Co. a chance to really make some noise.