EPL: What Next Season’s Contenders Need to Do to Improve in the Summer (Part 1)

With Chelsea having one hand on the Premier League trophy, those who fell short are already looking to new hope next season. A highly anticipated transfer window awaits in the summer, and there are improvements to be made for all the top clubs.

Chelsea

Romelu Lukaku is seen as a potential replacement for Diego Costa at Stamford Bridge. (Photo by Goal.com)

For presumed champions, Chelsea faces quite a bit of uncertainty heading into next season. Rifts between manager Antonio Conte and striker Diego Costa have caused the latter to be linked with a move to China. Real Madrid is also reportedly interested in superstar Eden Hazard.

 

It is paramount that the Blues hang on to Hazard and find an adequate replacement for Costa if he leaves. Two options are Everton’s Romelu Lukaku and Real Madrid’s Alvaro Morata. Both are quick, strong and left-footed handfuls for defenders. Lukaku once played with Chelsea and a deal featuring Hazard for Morata and money has been rumored as a possibility.

Chelsea will also want to make sure they hang onto goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who is seemingly always linked to leaving Stamford Bridge.

Tottenham

Mauricio Pochettino will be searching for the final piece to his Spurs title puzzle. After likely coming up short back to back seasons, the Spurs need to sign players to upgrade the wing and midfield positions.

Despite a great second half to the season, Son Heung-Min is not a true winger, and Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha, who has been linked to Tottenham, would be a great fit. He would add a pacy threat and could cross the ball into Harry Kane.

In the midfield, Moussa Dembele will turn 30 this summer. A young, dominant midfield presence alongside Dele Alli would boost the Spurs. The Monaco duo of Fabinho and Tiemoue Bakayoko are options, as well as Nice’s Wylan Cyprien.

As far as departures, Kyle Walker has been linked to a move to Man City. While his departure would be a blow, the Spurs should be fine as long as they retain Kane, Alli, Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld.

Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp has continued to deliver results despite what many consider to be an underwhelming squad. Liverpool can perhaps improve more than any of their competitors with a good transfer window this summer.

Signing Virgil Van Dijk would sure up Liverpool’s woes at the back. (Photo by Sports Mole)

Klopp’s most glaring issue is at the back where Liverpool was repeatedly vulnerable. Alberto Moreno is not a true left back, and the Reds could use a solid center-back to pair with Joel Matip. Klopp is looking at Southampton duo Ryan Bertrand and Virgil van Dijk to fill the void. He also has his eyes on Burnley center-back Michael Keane.

Liverpool could also target a true striker this summer. While Roberto Firmino is great, he is not a true striker. Daniel Sturridge can’t stay healthy, and Divock Origi has been inconsistent. Romelu Lukaku or Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette could work in Klopp’s system.

The good news for Liverpool is that they aren’t expected to lose anyone major in the summer. If Klopp can be smart with his buying, the Reds could be really improved ahead of a likely Champions League campaign.

 

(Featured Image by Sportskeeda.com)

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An Update on World Cup Qualifying (Part 3)

Europe (UEFA)

Europe’s qualification process for the World Cup involves nine groups of six teams. The winner of each group automatically qualifies for the tournament while eight out of nine second place teams advance to a separate head to head playoff. With so many prominent footballing nations in Europe, the spots are highly competitive.

Group A

Halfway through the qualifiers, France sit at the top of Group A. Sure to be one of the favorites in Russia next summer, Les Bleus are  having no problems in qualifying. The Netherlands, who missed out on Euro 2016, are in danger of missing out on Russia as well. Despite talent such as Arjen Robben, the Dutch sit fourth on 7 points, six behind the French. Sweden sits in second with 10 points, despite the retirement of Zlatan Ibrahimovic from the national team.

 

Group B

Granit Xhaka (Photo courtesy: goal.com)

The top two in Group B seem to be clear cut at this point, with Switzerland and Portugal distancing themselves from the field. The question is, who will qualify automatically and who will have to go to the gruesome two leg playoff stage? Switzerland are well rounded with players such as Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka, Wolfsburg’s Ricardo Rodriguez, and Borussia Monchengladbach keeper Yann Sommer. Portugal, of course, are Euro 2016 champions and led by the brilliant Cristiano Ronaldo. Switzerland have a three point advantage over Portugal with 15. Hungary sit third with 7.

 

Group C

Group C was always going to be Germany’s from the get go. The reigning world champions sit comfortably atop the group with 15 points. The fight for a potential playoff spot is in progress between Northern Ireland, Czech Republic, and Azerbaijan. The Northern Irish, who sit second with ten, are looking to build on a strong performance at Euro 2016. The Czech team are without longtime goalkeeper and current Arsenal player Petr Cech.

 

Group D

Serbia and Ireland currently sit atop Group D with 11 points. The Serbians have many prominent Premier League players such as Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matic, Man City left back Aleksandr Kolarov, and former Chelsea man Branislav Ivanovic who now plays for Zenit St. Petersburg. Ireland made it to the knockout stages of Euro 2016. Sitting four points back with 7 are dangerous customers in Wales and Austria. Led by Gareth Bale and David Alaba respectively, both teams are capable of finding themselves in Russia next summer.

 

Group E

Robert Lewandowski looks set to play in his first World Cup next summer as Poland have taken a six point lead in their group. The Polish team also features Monaco defender Kamil Glik and Napoli striker Arkadiusz Milik among others. The battle for second is close, so close that the one second place team omitted from the playoff on points scored could very well be from this group. Christian Eriksen-led Denmark is in contention for that spot along with Romania and Montenegro.

 

Group F

England have put themselves in a good position to win Group F. The Three Lions have a four point lead on Slovakia and five point lead on Slovenia. The Liverpool duo of Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana have each scored twice in the campaign. Scotland is also in the group and sits in fourth. Slovakia played in Euro 2016 and enjoy the services of Napoli midfielder Marek Hamsik.

 

Group G

Gigi Buffon (Photo courtesy: zimbio.com)

Another group that has seemingly erupted into a two horse race, Group G contains two of the games’ greatest nations in Spain and Italy. Both sides have had to rebuild from the remains of golden generations in recent years. Spain now has David de Gea and Thiago while Italy boasts Marco Verratti and Leonardo Bonucci. However veteran presence still exists with Andres Iniesta and Gianluigi Buffon. The third place team fighting to stay alive is an up and coming Israel side which should see more players move to Europe soon.

 

Group H

After disappointing in recent tournaments, Belgium look set to get another opportunity next summer. They lead their group by two points over Greece and three points over Bosnia and Herzegovina. Belgium is loaded with talent such as Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Thibaut Cortouis and Romelu Lukaku in the Premier League alone. Greece is a scrappy defensive side with solid players such as Roma’s Kostas Manolas. Manolas’ current teammate and former Man City striker Edin Dzeko features for Bosnia and Herzegovina along with Juventus midfielder and free-kick maestro Miralem Pjanic.

 

Group I

Following a heartbreaking Euro 2016 exit, Croatia and its “golden generation” currently have the upper hand on an automatic spot in Russia. Led by a superb midfield of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and up and comer Marcelo Brozovic of Inter Milan, Croatia are certainly favorites to maintain their top spot. In second is Iceland, who grabbed headlines last summer with an incredible run in France culminating with a victory over England. Swansea playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson is their vocal point. Ukraine and Turkey sit two points behind the Icemen. Players such as Yovhan Konoplyanka and Arda Turan bring quality to those sides.

 

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Preview and Predictions: Matchweek 27

Solid recent play has maintained helped Chelsea maintain a double digit lead in the Prem as we round into March. While the Blues have excelled, other top teams have struggled, which has lead to a tight race for the top four.

Two of the teams firmly entrenched in the top four race are Arsenal and Liverpool, who meet this weekend in a critical match-up between two sides who have had less than encouraging starts to 2017. This match-up headlines a weekend full of potential traps for teams toward the top of the table to trip on.

Liverpool vs Arsenal

 A rematch of Liverpool’s victory at the Emirates on the opening weekend of the season, both sides could desperately use three points to jump-start their respective starts to the new year.

Liverpool are coming off an embarrassing defeat to Leicester on Monday, in which their defense crumbled as Jamie Vardy had a field day retrieving long balls. Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane headline an always dangerous attack, but Liverpool’s defense is always a concern. Alberto Moreno is not a true full back and there is a lack of depth at the center back position behind starters Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren. If Liverpool’s defense can bend and not break against the Gunners, then Jurgen Klopp’s men will have a good chance Saturday.

For Arsenal, it appears to be another season where they are simply fighting for the top four. Uncertainty over the futures of manager Arsene Wenger and stars Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil has put a damper on the Gunners’ season. Arsenal’s defense will be severely tested by Liverpool’s attack at Anfield on Saturday and Arsenal will need to take advantage of the hosts’ shaky defense.

Liverpool 2 Arsenal 1

 

Tottenham vs Everton

 Both sides are in stunning form domestically at the moment. Everton are yet to lose in the new year and Tottenham are coming off a 4-0 thrashing of Stoke City. Spurs’ faint title hopes are on the line every week now as they must get three points every fixture.

The hosts are very tough to handle this season when playing in the confines of White Hart Lane. Star striker Harry Kane is coming off a hat trick and midfielders Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen have had masterful seasons. Spurs must be consistent for all ninety minutes and not let discipline cause dangerous set piece situations against a team that excels in scoring off of them.

Everton are nipping at the heels of Manchester United at the bottom of the “top six”. Romelul Lukaku shares the title of leading goalscorer this season. Ross Barkley brings creativity to the midfield and Joel Robles has been somewhat of a revelation in goal this season. Ronald Koeman is very good at getting his players prepared for big games like this one and these are the types of games that the Toffee’s will need to perform in if they want to be viewed as a top English side.

Tottenham 3 Everton 2

 

Other Predictions: (Home in Bold)

Manchester United 2 Bournemouth 0

Stoke City 1 Middlesbrough 0

Leicester 1 Hull 0

Swansea 2 Burnley 1

Watford 2 Southampton 2

West Brom 1 Crystal Palace 1

Manchester City 3 Sunderland 1

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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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