Premier League Team of the Year 2013-14



Like this, but good, here’s my alternative team of the year. It’s inevitably worse, less witty and more tiresome than yours, but I don’t care.


Goalkeeper – Heurelho Gomes

It takes some effort to go from being first choice for your club and a squad mainstay for your country to playing back-up to a 42-year-old back-up keeper and losing out to Toronto’s number one on the international stage. Many would have struggled to pull it off, but Gomes has that never-say-die attitude needed to keep Richard Wright out of the starting XI.


Right-back – Ryan Taylor

“But Ryan Taylor left Newcastle ages ago, he’s probably retired, or playing in MLS or something. Actually it’s probably Australia. There’s a Newcastle there too, right? He can’t still be in the Premier League, right?” Wrong. He’s still there despite injuries restricting him to three games in the last two seasons, which itself is probably more than you’d thought he’d played. See, this is educational.


Centre-back – Garry Monk

A few weeks ago, when Ryan Giggs took over as Manchester United player-manager, people wracked their brains to try and think of the last person to fill that role at a Premier League club. Either they didn’t realise that Monk was still registered as a player for Swansea, or they didn’t care. Probably the latter in fairness.


Centre-back – Antolín Alcaraz

It takes a special kind of defender to see his teammates overachieving and deciding “I’ll do something about that”. Step forward Antolín Alcaraz. Clearly distraught by his contribution to Wigan’s survival in 2012, the Paraguayan sought to redress the balance by sabotaging new club Everton’s pursuit of Champions League football.


Left-back – Florian Marange

Sometimes when you join a new club you expect it to take a while to be given a game. However you probably rarely expect your new manager to make you ineligible for Premier League games. When Ian Holloway can’t even think of a woodland animal analogy when criticising you, you know it’s bad. Thankfully things have improved in the new year, as Marange has realised his name is an anagram of ‘Granola Fireman’.


Central midfield – Abou Diaby

Forget that meaningless Koscielny and Mertesacker stat, Arsenal have a 100% record this season in games where Abou Diaby has been named in the matchday squad. If he’d been fit the whole season then they’d have 111 points – you can’t argue with cold hard numbers like that.


Central midfield – Jonas Gutiérrez

He might have only made five league appearances this season, but the man’s Twitter game puts sees him lock down a midfield berth. A mesmerising blend of dog photos, Bon Jovi lyrics and so much more, El Galgo puts us all to shame.


Right midfield – Sylvain Marveaux (captain)

Not going to lie, I’ve only included him here so I can use the line ‘Captain Marveaux’.


Left midfield – Iago Aspas

Just look at him. The focus. The precision. The drive. And then this.


Striker – Jordan Bowery

Apparently a real person, with skin and bones and Premier League appearances and everything. He’s yet to live up to the illustrious career of his father, who scored one goal in a prolific 10-game spell for Team Hawaii in the 70s (this is actually true).


Striker – Moussa Dembélé

When we look back on Fulham’s season, we will remember two things: The first is Rene Meulensteen’s attempt at a Schrödingeresque teamsheet against Manchester United (I’m at least 70% sure Muamer Tanković isn’t real, or at the very least he’s part of an inside joke shared by only Meulensteen, Chris Morris and the Stonecutters).

Second is Martin Jol’s decision to pre-empt his sacking by calling upon Football Manager regens as early as November. In much the same way that Swansea tried to trick their fans into thinking Jordi Gómez hadn’t left by signing Jordi López, Jol fasttracked Dembélé into the first team despite him being nine years younger than his recently departed namesake, not to mention a different nationality and a different position. Did it work? See for yourself.


Premier League Round-Up 22/11/10

Arsenal v Newcastle United, Premier League 7/11/2010 Arsenal Manager, Arsene Wenger clasps his hands to his face as the fourth official shows four minutes of injury time  Photo Marc Atkins Fotosports International Photo via Newscom

When summing up this week’s Premier League programme there is only one place to start.

Not that long ago it looked as though Arsenal had banished the fragility which has plagued them in previous seasons, but their capitulation at home to Spurs suggested nothing has really changed.

Credit to Harry Redknapp for inspiring the second-half comeback which earned Spurs a first win at the home of their fiercest rivals in 17 years, but the game was really about Arsenal snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

They should have been home and dry by half-time but – in scenes reminiscent of their visit to Wigan’s DW Stadium last season – once the fightback begun there was no sign of the Gunners arresting their slide towards defeat.

One team without such fragility issues is Bolton, and Owen Coyle’s side continued their march up the table with a crushing 5-1 win over Newcastle.

Neither Johan Elmander nor Kevin Davies has been particularly prolific while ploughing a lone furrow at the Reebok, yet by bringing the duo together Coyle has formed one of the most dangerous strike partnerships in the league.

Both struck twice on Saturday, with Chung-Yong Lee – one of the most underrated players in the top-flight – getting the other goal for the Trotters. Andy Carroll’s eighth of the season gave the visitors a glimmer of hope but ultimately proved academic.

Just as impressive was Manchester City’s 4-1 win at Fulham. Roberto Mancini’s side have received their fair share of criticism for negative displays but attack was the order of the day, with even the much-maligned Yaya Toure breaking forward to get on the scoresheet.

Mark Hughes’ side, on the other hand, will be nervously looking over their shoulders after the early-season unbeaten run is now starting to look like, well, just loads of draws.

Fulham are now just one place above the relegation zone, thanks in no small part to Birmingham’s surprise win over Chelsea.

While Lee Bowyer scored the goal, taking advantage of a centre-back in Alex whose pain-killing injection seemingly had side-effects of drowsiness, the star of the show was Ben Foster.

After his unconvincing display for England on Wednesday, Foster proved he is still a viable contender for the national side by keeping out everything Chelsea threw at him and earning his sixth clean sheet of the campaign.

As Birmingham are on the up, their west midlands neighbours are all heading in the opposite direction after defeats this weekend.

Aston Villa, missing several key players, were nonetheless outclassed by a Blackburn side comfortable from the moment Morten Gamst Pedersen put them into a first-half lead on Sunday.

The spirit remained from last week’s draw against Manchester United, but Gerard Houllier’s side lacked a cutting edge in the absence of Marc Albrighton.

That result leaves Villa a point ahead of West Brom, who are in freefall with one point from four games.

West Bromwich Albion/Stoke City Premiership 20.11.10 Photo: Tim Parker Fotosports International John Walters Stoke City celebrates 2nd goal with team mates Photo via Newscom

Stoke were the beneficiaries of some generous defending this time around, Jon Walters adding to Matty Etherington’s penalty with a second-half brace in the Potters’ biggest away win since their return to the Premier League.

But the situation remains far from desperate for the Baggies, which is more than can be said for local rivals Wolves.

A fourth successive defeat leaves them on a paltry nine points, although any side would have been hard-pressed to respond to the opening goal from Blackpool’s Luke Varney.

Varney’s effort, a volley from way out which arced over a helpless Marcus Hahnemann, conjured up memories of Hugo Rodallega’s goal of the season contender last year.

On the subject of Rodallega, the Colombian striker did not enjoy quite as fruitful an afternoon at Old Trafford on Saturday.

A two-footed lunge saw him sent off, after team-mate Antolin Alcaraz had seen red just minutes earlier, and Manchester United’s margin of victory could have been far greater than 2-0.

Defeat for Wigan saw them slip into the bottom three, where they have Wolves and West Ham for company.

Saturday’s defeat at Anfield was comfortably the Hammers’ worst performance of the season, which is really saying something given their record of seven defeats and just one win in their opening 14 games.

Liverpool barely needed to break a sweat, racing into a three-goal lead before half-time, and one gets the feeling they could have not turned up for the second half and still scored a couple more without reply, had they so wished.

Monday night’s game was one of the most exciting since Richard Keys returned to out screens on a weeknight, Everton and Sunderland sharing the spoils in a pulsating 2-2 draw.

Danny Welbeck made up for the absence of Asamoah Gyan by scoring both goals for the Black Cats, sandwiched between efforts from Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta.

But both sides missed golden chances to win the game in stoppage time: first Welbeck snatched at his shot when well-placed, then Everton substitute Jermaine Beckford prodded wastefully over after being put clean through on goal.

Team of the week (4-4-2): Foster (Birmingham); Eardley (Blackpool), Gallas (Tottenham), Johnson (Birmingham), Evra (Man Utd); Holden (Bolton), Meireles (Liverpool), Pedersen (Blackburn), Silva (Man City); Tevez (Man City), Elmander (Bolton)

Premier League Round-Up 16/11/2010

Nemanja Vidic Celebrates Scoring 2nd goal with team mates Wes Brown and Federico Macheda Manchester United 2010/11 Aston Villa V Manchester United (2-2) 13/11/10 The Premier League Photo: Robin Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom Photo via Newscom

The Premier League threw up yet more surprise results this week, none more shocking than Sunderland’s 3-0 win at Stamford Bridge. The Black Cats had lost their last 11 games against Chelsea, but looked far more up for the game than their depleted opponents.

A fine individual effort from Nedum Onuoha was followed by second-half goals for Asamoah Gyan and the splendid Danny Welbeck, boosting Steve Bruce’s confidence in his side after the midweek draw with Tottenham but raising concerns for Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti.

Title rivals Manchester United remain unbeaten in the league thanks to a late comeback against Aston Villa, but their seventh draw in 13 games means Sir Alex Ferguson’s men are three points adrift of Chelsea in third.

The points looked to be going the way of Gerard Houllier’s Villa after Ashley Young and Marc Albrighton found the net, but the hosts were made to pay for a hatful of missed chances as Federico Macheda halved the deficit and Nemanja Vidic headed home a late leveller.

Houllier can still be proud of his charges, though, with Stewart Downing marshalling a relatively-inexperienced midfield and almost earning his side a win.

Arsenal provide the meat in the United-Chelsea sandwich at the top after a 2-1 win away at Everton on Sunday.

Tim Cahill missed a glorious chance to give the Toffees the lead, and when he did finally find the net his team were trailing to strikes from Bacary Sagna and Cesc Fabregas.

Back-to-back wins provide a welcome relief to Arsene Wenger, after defeats against Shakhtar and Newcastle threatened to derail their season following a promising start.

An interesting dynamic was created at Eastlands as Manchester City and Birmingham played out a drab goalless draw.

The hosts will be disappointed with the draw despite it leaving them in the top four, while the visitors might see it as a point gained despite dropping into the bottom three as a result.

One of the main talking points will be Roberto Mancini’s decision to withdraw Carlos Tevez and introduce Gareth Barry, but in truth his side created some of their best chances after the Argentinian left the field.

Bolton are the latest team to step into the revolving door of fifth place, and proved how deserving they are of the position with a stunning attacking peformance for three quarters of their game at Molineux.

Johan Elmander’s fine solo effort was book-ended by a Richard Stearman own goal and Stuart Holden’s first goal in English football, although Owen Coyle may be disappointed with the lax defending which let in Kevin Foley and Steven Fletcher to narrow the deficit late on.

Defeat for Wolves in that game leaves them 19th in the table, five points from safety and only above West Ham on goal difference.

The Hammers missed a glorious chance to make up ground on their relegation rivals when they failed to convert any of their 17 shots on goal in a goalless draw at home to Blackpool.

It could have been even worse as former Upton Park favourite Marlon Harewood had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside, but the home faithful will point to the denial of an early penalty appeal when Pablo Barrera was chopped down by Stephen Crainey.

May 03, 2010 - 05859439 date 03 05 2010 Copyright imago Victor Moses of Wigan Athletic Celebrates Scoring His Goal by completing A cartwheel Barclays Premier League Wigan Athletic v Hull City 3rd May 2010 PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxUK men Football England Premier League 2009 Single cut out Action shot Vdig xmk 2010 horizontal Highlight premiumd funny comic.

Wigan climbed out of the bottom three with a win against West Brom, who themselves are sliding in the wrong direction after one point from four games.

Victor Moses scored the only goal of the game after unselfish work from Charles N’Zogbia, and Albion failed to find an equaliser despite ending the game with three strikers on the field.

Perhaps the most exciting game of the weekend came at White Hart Lane, where Gareth Bale produced another virtuoso display to help Tottenham to a 4-2 win over Blackburn.

Bale scored two and made another, before late strikes from Ryan Nelsen and Gael Givet made their own defensive shortcomings seem less embarrassing with a couple of late consolation goals.

In a battle between two sides rooted in mid-table, Stoke got the better of a dismal Liverpool outfit to leapfrog their opponents and move into the top half.

Ricardo Fuller and Kenwyne Jones netted as Liverpool looked a shadow of the side which beat Chelsea last week, and to add insult to injury they saw Lucas dismissed for two yellow cards.

The final game of the weekend will most likely be forgotten quickly by anyone who wasn’t at St James’ Park, and maybe even by some of those who were there.

Neither Newcastle nor Fulham lacked hunger, but both were lacking in the necessary spark to break the deadlock. Moussa Dembele came close when he hit the bar, but Fulham are missing the presence of Bobby Zamora up front as much as Newcastle missed Joey Barton’s midfield organisation.

Team of the week (4-4-2): Foster (Birmingham); Carr (Birmingham), Cathcart (Blackpool), Alcaraz (Wigan), Warnock (Aston Villa); Holden (Bolton), Fahey (Birmingham), Downing (Aston Villa), Bale (Tottenham); Welbeck (Sunderland), Fuller (Stoke)

Premier League Round-up 13/09/2010

This weekend showed once again why the Premier League is so popular, with one of the most thrilling encounters of recent years being played out at Goodison Park.

Manchester United were without Wayne Rooney for the trip to Everton, but – whatever Henry Winter tells you – his absence did not lessen their capacity to win the game. Dimitar Berbatov led the line well and scored the third goal which seemingly clinched victory for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, but Leighton Baines’ crosses caused havoc in the United box, allowing the hosts to score two injury-time goals and salvage a remarkable 3-3 draw.

Ferguson – who later saw his son’s team Preston throw away a similar lead to lose 4-3 at Burnley – must be concerned at his side’s failure to close out games, and he might begin to question the concentration of stand-in defenders Gary Neville and Jonny Evans. While the two are at opposite ends of their respective careers, they are perhaps equidistant from the pinnacle of their abilities.

Michael Essien

United’s late collapse allowed Chelsea to move four points clear at the top of the table with a comfortable 3-1 win against West Ham. Early goals from Michael Essien and Salomon Kalou meant the champions barely had to break sweat, as they sat back and allowed their hosts plenty of possession.

It is difficult to judge Chelsea’s start to the season based on the opposition they have faced so far, but you can only beat what is placed in front of you – something Manchester United have failed to do twice now.

While their rivals continue to hog the headlines, Arsenal are going about their business quietly yet effectively. The odd defensive hiccup remained in their 4-1 victory over Bolton, but Arsene Wenger’s side adjusted well to the loss of Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie.

The scoreline was harsh on a Bolton side very much in the game until the laughable dismissal of Gary Cahill, but Owen Coyle’s side needed to capitalise more on their concerted spells of possession and take the chances presented to them. If you don’t do that, Arsenal will punish you.

The ‘big three’ were joined in the top four by Blackpool, who continued their fairytale start to the season with a surprisingly-comfortable 2-0 win at Newcastle’s St James Park.

Ian Holloway’s men were reliant on goalkeeper Matt Gilks to preserve the lead given to them by Charlie Adam’s first-half penalty, before DJ Campbell sealed the win in stoppage time. Toon Army manager Chris Hughton may be regretting his decision to leave new signing Hatem ben Arfa on the bench, with the midfield trio of Nolan, Smith and Barton failing to provide the necessary creative spark.

Elsewhere Fulham saw off a spirited but indisciplined Wolves outfit at Craven Cottage, in a game which will be remembered for a distressing injury suffered by Bobby Zamora. The England man’s leg snapped under a challenge from Karl Henry, bringing back memories of former Arsenal striker Eduardo’s horrific break in January 2008.

Moussa Dembele

But unlike Arsenal on that fateful day, Fulham were spurred on to record a hard-fought win, Moussa Dembele’s double placating Mark Hughes’ misery somewhat. His opposite number Mick McCarthy, meanwhile, will be concerned that Christophe Berra’s late red card is one of three which could have realistically been awarded against his side.

Another player to see red on Saturday was Sunderland captain Lee Cattermole, who did not even last half an hour against former club Wigan. Two yellow cards in the space of five minutes brought an early end to the combative midfielder’s afternoon for the second time this season.

£13m man Asamoah Gyan still came close to securing an unlikely three points for the 10 men of Sunderland, but his well-taken volley was cancelled out by an instinctive finish from Antolin Alcaraz, who turned in Tom Cleverley’s wayward shot for his first goal in Wigan colours.

1-1 seemed to be the scoreline of the weekend, with Manchester City’s tie against Blackburn and Tottenham’s trip to West Brom both ending in the same scoreline.

City will rue defensive errors and attacking complacency, as they made a meal of coming back into the game after Joe Hart gifted the opener to Nikola Kalinic. Roberto Mancini’s men had 20 shots on goal to Blackburn’s 4, but could not find a way past a determined Rovers back-line.

Chris Brunt

And Spurs were similarly guilty of gifting a goal to their opponents, with a static defence failing to respond when Marc-Antoine Fortune’s shot looped up and spun towards the back post, allowing Chris Brunt to equalise with a rare headed goal from all of a yard out.

Sunday’s televised game was not one for the purists, with Birmingham and Liverpool playing out a dull goalless draw. The hosts had the better chances, but Pepe Reina was equal to everything thrown at him by the Blues, while at the other end an uncharacteristically-negative selection from Roy Hodgson left Fernando Torres feeding off scraps for the most part.

Team of the week (4-2-3-1)*:

Reina (Liverpool); Kaboul (Tottenham), Jones (Blackburn), Dann (Birmingham), Cole (Chelsea); Song (Arsenal), Scharner (West Brom); Arteta (Everton), Fabregas (Arsenal), Adam (Blackpool); Berbatov (Man Utd)

*Team selected ahead of Monday night game between Aston Villa and Stoke

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Premier league predictions 2010/11 – part 2

As promised, here is the rest of my team-by-team preview of the new season.

Manchester City:

Manager: Roberto Mancini

Last season: 5th

Players in: David Silva (Valencia, £25m); Yaya Touré (Barcelona, £24m); Aleksandar Kolarov (Lazio, £17m); Jérôme Boateng (Hamburg, £10.4m)

Players out: Valeri Bojinov (Parma, undisclosed); Gunnar Nielsen (Tranmere Rovers, loan); Martin Petrov (Bolton Wanderers, free); Benjani Mwaruwari, Sylvinho (released).


It goes without saying that this is a crucial season, both for City and for their manager Roberto Mancini. Anything less than Champions League qualification will almost certainly see him sacked, especially given the £75million worth of new signings. Mancini has sensibly recognised there is no need to tamper with his side’s prolific strikeforce, instead spending most of his money on shoring up an unreliable defence. With more competition for places, the likes of Gareth Barry and Joleon Lescott will be looking to improve on disappointing debut seasons, and Mancini will hope his whole team steps up a gear.

Prediction: 3rd

Manchester United:

Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson

Last season: 2nd

Players in: Chris Smalling (Fulham, undisclosed); Javier Hernández (Guadalajara, undisclosed)

Players out: Zoran Tošić (CSKA Moscow, undisclosed); Matty James (Preston North End, loan); David Gray (Preston North End, free); Tom Heaton (Cardiff City, free); Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover, free); Febian Brandy, Sam Hewson, Scott Moffatt (released)


Last season was a huge disappointment for Manchester United. No one can argue with that. Aside from losing their Premier League crown and disheartening exits from the Champions League and FA Cup, Ferguson’s side simply did not play that well. If previous form is anything to go by, the Scottish manager will not let his side do the same again. The return of Owen Hargreaves will be a massive boost for United, while some of their younger players will have learned valuable lessons from last season, not least Rafael da Silva. If Rooney and Nani repeat their dazzling form of last season, and are joined in doing so by any one of Hernández, Berbatov and Owen, then the title is well within their grasp.

Prediction: 1st

Newcastle United:

Manager: Chris Hughton

Last season: 1st (Championship)

Players in: James Perch (Nottingham Forest, undisclosed); Dan Gosling (Everton, free)

Players out: Jonny Godsmark (Ashington, free); Max Johnson (Inverness Caledonian Thistle, free); Michael McCrudden (Derry City, free); Wesley Ngo Baheng, Nicky Butt, Frank Wiafe Danquah, Darren Lough, Callum Morris (released)


About a year ago, Newcastle United seemed to be in complete disarray, losing 6-1 to Leyton Orient just weeks before their Championship campaign. But then something clicked, and they brushed aside all competition, racing to the title. Credit must be given to Chris Hughton for getting a group of players used to playing at a higher level to give their all in the second tier. They have enough quality and enough know-how to stave off relegation this time round, but without the funding for further signings Newcastle look unlikely to trouble the top half of the table.

Prediction: 14th

Stoke City:

Manager: Tony Pulis

Last season: 11th

Players in: Florent Cuvelier (Portsmouth, undisclosed); Carlo Nash (Everton, free)

Players out: Andy Griffin (Reading, nominal fee); Diego Arismendi (Barnsley, loan); Ibrahima Sonko (Portsmouth, loan); Steve Simonsen (Sheffield United, free); Nathaniel Wedderburn (Northampton Town, free); Amdy Faye (released)


Last season’s improvement on an impressive debut Premier League season was a bit of an illusion, and Stoke will do well to avoid resting on their laurels. Their 11th place finish was achieved largely due to the paucity of the teams below them, and even then Tony Pulis’s side needed a couple of results towards the end of the season to steer them away from danger. A relatively small squad may struggle if players start to pick up injuries, but they should have enough grit and determination to keep their heads above water. It looks like the board have given Pulis some money to spend, and a strike partner for Ricardo Fuller will be high on his list of priorities after the Potters only netted 34 goals last year.

Prediction: 16th


Manager: Steve Bruce

Last season: 13th

Players in: Simon Mignolet (Sint-Truidense, £2m); Marcos Angeleri (Estudiantes, £1.5m); Titus Bramble (Wigan Athletic, £1m); Ahmed Al-Muhammadi (ENPPI, loan); Cristian Riveros (Cruz Azul, free)

Players out: Lorik Cana (Galatasaray, £5m); Daryl Murphy (Celtic, £1.4m); Nyron Nosworthy (Sheffield United, loan); Roy O’Donovan (Coventry City, free)


2009/10 was a season of two halves for Sunderland, with an impressive few months overshadowed by a seemingly-irreversible slide down the table in the new year. One would hope Steve Bruce has recognised his side’s faults, and indeed he looks to have spent wisely so far this summer. If the strike-partnership between Darren Bent and Kenwyne Jones kicks into gear properly – and with Riveros’s distribution there is no reason for it not to – this should be a comfortable season for the Black Cats.

Prediction: 9th

Tottenham Hotspur:

Manager: Harry Redknapp

Last season: 4th

Players in: Sandro (Internacional, undisclosed)

Players out: Lee Butcher (Leyton Orient, free); Sam Cox (Barnet, free); Jimmy Walker (released)


Harry Redknapp was recently ridiculed by opposition fans for suggesting Tottenham could win the league this season, but in truth such outlandish statements may be just what the club needs. While a Premier League title may be beyond Spurs, Redknapp is surely aware of the need to spend big to even maintain the club’s place in the top four. With Manchester City breaking the bank once again, Spurs’ efforts to repeat last season’s achievements are very much under threat, and it is important for chairman Daniel Levy to appreciate that – unless he makes more funds available – 5th place is not a terrible result given the strength of their squad.

Prediction: 5th

West Bromwich Albion:

Manager: Roberto di Matteo

Last season: 2nd (Championship)

Players in: Gabriel Tamaş (AJ Auxerre, £800,000); Steven Reid (Blackburn Rovers, free); Pablo Ibáñez (Atlético Madrid, free)

Players out: Jonathan Greening (Fulham, undisclosed); Borja Valero (Villarreal, loan); Joss Labadie (Tranmere Rovers, free); Robert Koren, Filipe Teixeira, Andwélé Slory (released)


Roberto di Matteo may not have any top-flight managerial experience, but his signings and style of play suggest he may be more capable of keeping the Baggies in the Premier League than previous boss Tony Mowbray. Tamas impressed both on loan last season and in Euro 2008 for Romania, while Reid and Ibáñez are dependable individuals with experience at this level. Albion have a large squad with a number of internationals, and – more importantly – they have a team spirit to go along with their individual quality. It is this which will help them grind out those much-needed 1-0s come March and April.

Prediction: 17th

West Ham United:

Manager: Avram Grant

Last season: 17th

Players in: Pablo Barrera (Pumas UNAM, £4m); Frédéric Piquionne (Olympique Lyonnais, undisclosed); Thomas Hitzlsperger (SS Lazio, free)

Players out: Bondz N’Gala (Plymouth Argyle, free); Guillermo Franco, Ilan, Josh Payne, Danny Kearns (released)


It is a strange thing to say given their lowly finish last season, but West Ham’s success this campaign depends greatly on their ability to keep hold of the core of their first team. New signing Hitzlsperger may be able to provide the creative spark which was often missing under previous manager Gianfranco Zola, but Zola’s replacement Avram Grant seems to be bringing in new faces simply to complement the likes of Scott Parker and Carlton Cole. If the squad remains in one piece, last season’s relegation scare should be avoided relatively comfortably.

Prediction: 13th

Wigan Athletic:

Manager: Roberto Martínez

Last season: 16th

Players in: Mauro Boselli (Estudiantes, £5.8m); Antolín Alcaraz (Club Brugge, undisclosed); James McArthur (Hamilton Academical, undisclosed); Ali Al-Habsi (Bolton Wanderers, loan)

Players out: Titus Bramble (Sunderland, £1m); Tomas Cywka (Derby County, free); Tomas Kupisz (Jagiellonia Bialystok, free); Mario Melchiot (Umm Salal, free); Nick Meace, Paul Scharner (released)


Wigan have flirted with relegation for several years now, and I for one do not expect this year to be any exception. They have the individual quality to unlock matches, as they showed in their remarkable comeback against Arsenal last April, but their remains a defensive frailty which leaves Martínez’s side vulnerable to the odd momentum-sapping defeat. While Alcaraz looks like a great signing, the departure of Bramble, Melchiot and Scharner leaves defensive cover rather thin on the ground, and the Latics’ fans will be hoping new man Boselli doesn’t take too long to adapt to the Premier League.

Prediction: 15th

Wolverhampton Wanderers:

Manager: Mick McCarthy

Last season: 15th

Players in: Steven Fletcher (Burnley, £6.5m); Adlène Guedioura (RSC Charleroi, undisclosed); Jelle van Damme (Anderlecht, undisclosed); Steven Mouyokolo (Hull City, undisclosed); Stephen Hunt (Hull City, undisclosed); Geoffrey Mujangi Bia (RSC Charleroi, loan)

Players out: Chris Iwelumo (Burnley, undisclosed); Jason Shackell (Barnsley, undisclosed); Andrew Surman (Norwich City, undisclosed); Nathaniel Mendez-Laing (Peterborough United, loan); George Friend (Doncaster Rovers, free); Daniel Jones (Sheffield Wednesday, free); Mark Little (Peterborough United, free)


Wolves were relatively comfortable last season, at least in comparison with their fans’ expectations before the campaign. However one should not ignore the fact that a number of teams were incredibly poor, and their tally of 38 points may have seen them relegated in other circumstances. With teams around them strengthening, the counter-attacking style employed so effectively towards the end of last season may be less successful, and boss McCarthy will need to be prepared to abandon his usual style if he wants to make effective use of new signings Fletcher and Hunt. With the energy and enthusiasm of players like Matt Jarvis perhaps unlikely to carry the same impact as last season, Wolves may lack the quality to stay afloat for a second successive campaign.

Prediction: 19th

So, in the unlikely event that all my predictions come true, the final Premier League table will look something like this:

1. Manchester United

2. Chelsea

3. Manchester City

4. Arsenal

5. Tottenham Hotspur

6. Everton

7. Liverpool

8. Aston Villa

9. Sunderland

10. Bolton Wanderers

11. Blackburn Rovers

12. Birmingham City

13. West Ham United

14. Newcastle United

15. Wigan Athletic

16. Stoke City

17. West Bromwich Albion

18. Fulham

19. Wolverhampton Wanderers

20. Blackpool

World Cup 2010 – Team of the Tournament

It has been a tough task picking a team of the tournament for this World Cup. For all the talk of defensive tactics ruling the day, I was strangely spoilt for choice when it came to attacking players.

In keeping with the spirit of the tournament, I have decided to go with the 4-2-3-1 formation which has served many countries so well. I am sure you will disagree with some of my choices, so please let me know who would make your XI.

Goalkeeper – Diego Benaglio (Switzerland)

Club: Wolfsburg. 30 caps (0 goals)

Yes, before you point it out to me, I know Switzerland didn’t make it past the group stage. That was not for want of trying though, and Benaglio did everything in his power to see his side escape a tricky group.

He was the only goalkeeper to stop champions Spain from scoring, while he was comfortable against Honduras and gave his country every chance of pulling off an impressive draw with 10 men against a Chile side who recorded 19 shots on goal.

While he only played three games, Benaglio undoubtedly made his mark on this year’s World Cup.

Right-back – Sergio Ramos (Spain)

Club: Real Madrid. 67 caps (5 goals)

In a tournament where many right-backs have flourished, Ramos still managed to stand out.

While Philipp Lahm caught the eye with his leadership and defensive strength, and Maicon thrilled fans with his attacking exploits, the Real Madrid man showed he has the complete package.

Getting forward well without neglecting his defensive duties, Ramos was an integral part of a side which cruised to four successive one-nil victories in the knockout stages. He has certainly come a long way from the naive teenager who starred intermittently for Sevilla in the early 2000s.

Left-back – Fabio Coentrão (Portugal)

Club: Benfica. 8 caps (0 goals)

In a Portuguese team full of stars like Ronaldo, Carvalho and Simão, little was expected of the young Benfica left-back.

A converted winger, Coentrão emerged as one of the stars of the tournament in a strangely defensive Selecção side.

He never once looked overawed, even in the face of some of the best right-sided players in world football. Maicon, Gervinho and Iniesta all pitted their wits against the 22-year-old, but their efforts reaped little reward.

Centre-back – Antolin Alcaraz (Paraguay)

Club: Wigan Athletic. 10 caps (1 goal)

Managers Europe-wide may feel they have missed a trick in allowing Alcaraz to join Wigan on the cheap just before the World Cup.

A late-bloomer, the former Club Brugge man only made his international debut at the age of 26. Nevertheless, he looked imperious alongside captain Paulo da Silva as Paraguay cruised through a potentially-tricky group.

Latics boss Roberto Martinez must be looking forward to seeing how Alcaraz adapts to the Premier League. If this tournament is anything to go by, he should go some way to shoring up a defence which shipped 79 goals last season.

Centre-back – Diego Lugano (Uruguay)

Club: Fenerbahçe. 47 caps (4 goals)

Known in Turkey for his uncompromising style, the Uruguayan captain showed in this tournament that there is a lot more to his game than merely kicking opponents.

Dealing excellently with dangerous strikers Nicolas Anelka and Guille Franco, in the group stage, the Fenerbahçe man was sorely missed after suffering a knee injury against Ghana.

The stats speak for themselves: Before Lugano’s injury, Uruguay conceded only one goal in nearly 400 minutes of football. In his absence, they let in four in less than two games.

Central midfield – Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany)

Club: Bayern München. 81 caps (21 goals)

When Michael Ballack pulled out of the Germany squad on the eve of the tournament, few would have predicted them to make the semi-finals. Even less would have expected them to do so in the style they did.

Much of this is down to the new midfield combination in Jogi Löw’s youthful side. In Ballack’s absence some felt the burden would be too much for ‘Schweini’ to handle, but he has stepped up to the plate…and then some.

Anchoring the midfield to perfection, the Bayern man showed wonderful patience and restraint, affording team-mates Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira the opportunity to play higher up the field. Commentators have often said attack is the best form of defence, but – in Schweinsteiger’s case – defence proved to be the best form of attack.

Central midfield – Xavi (Spain)

Club: Barcelona. 94 caps (8 goals)

While Villa and Iniesta gained the plaudits, Spain would not have been able to win the World Cup without the contribution of the Barça maestro.

Barely putting a foot wrong over the course of the champions’ seven games (no mean feat considering the demanding season he had faced in La Liga), Xavi quietly went about his business, stretching the opposition so his team-mates had space to work their magic.

While Iniesta may have been earmarked as the creative influence in the team, it might be noted that Xavi completed nearly twice as many passes as his club and international team-mate.

Attacking midfield – Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands)

Club: Internazionale. 67 caps (19 goals)

The creative spark in an at-times rustic Dutch side, Sneijder can consider himself unfortunate to have missed out on the Ballon d’Or award.

Picking up where he left off with Inter, the playmaker went into the final with the chance of becoming the first player to win domestic league and cup trophies, the Champions League, World Cup, Ballon d’Or and Golden Boot all within the space of one season.

While team-mates Mark van Bommel, Nigel de Jong (and Demy de Zeeuw, when he was called upon) acted as destroyers, Sneijder was the man who Bert van Marwijk’s side turned to when a breakthrough was needed.

If his first goal against Brazil was fortunate, the same cannot be said of his marvellous through-ball for Arjen Robben’s opener against Slovakia in the second round, and for numerous other passes throughout the tournament. After a poor domestic season for Kaká, Real Madrid must be regretting their decision to let Sneijder leave last summer.

Right-wing – Thomas Müller (Germany)

Club: Bayern München. 8 caps (5 goals)

Of all the coming-of-age stories to emerge at this World Cup, Müller’s is perhaps both the most impressive and the most surprising.

Little over a year ago he was plying his trade in Bayern’s reserve team, and his displays in last season’s Champions League – though full of honesty and hard graft – were largely unremarkable.

Yet now he will return home with the World Cup Golden Boot, after netting his first five goals for Germany in the space of a month, as well as the award for best young player of the tournament.

The secret to his success has been a change in position. At club level he has often ploughed a lone furrow up front, frozen out of the wide positions by star names such as Ribery and Robben. But Germany coach Jogi Löw has sensibly – whether by choice or necessity – deployed the 20-year-old on the right wing.

Müller’s striking instinct and great movement have allowed him to get into goalscoring positions, time after time finding an extra yard of space, and his performance at this World Cup was matched by team-mates Mesut Özil and Miroslav Klose as Löw’s team narrowly missed out on a place in the final.

Left wing – Diego Forlán (Uruguay)

Club: Atlético Madrid. 69 caps (29 goals)

It was a difficult task fitting Forlán into this team, given the free role he has been granted by Uruguay boss Óscar Tabárez. But there was no way I could leave him out.

Another player to have enjoyed a fruitful season before the World Cup, Forlán starred in a Uruguayan side which exceeded all expectations in reaching the semi-finals.

As is often the case with a country’s most high-profile player, the Atlético frontman acted as a real talisman for his country. Doing almost everything, Forlán drifted between the right and left wings, sometimes joining team-mate Luis Suárez in the middle, replicating the role played by Diego Maradona in 1986.

Had his team-mates matched his skill and incisiveness, rather than merely (on the whole) providing effort and commitment, semi-final defeat need not have been the extent of Uruguay’s achievement.

Striker – David Villa (Spain)

Club: Barcelona. 65 caps (43 goals)

In a tournament where many world-class strikers struggled to reach the heights expected of them, Villa showed once again why he is one of the hottest properties in world football.

The striker signed for Barcelona shortly before the tournament started, and on the evidence of this tournament he should have no trouble fitting in with new team-mates Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol, Pedro, Pique and Busquets.

In stark contrast to strike-partner Fernando Torres, Villa got into his stride almost as soon as the tournament began, netting five of his country’s eight goals. In a low-scoring tournament, Villa’s consistency saw Spain through a number of challenging ties on the way to their final triumph.


Vincent Enyeama (Nigeria, goalkeeper) – pulled off a number of stunning saves, although tournament may be remembered for error against Greece

Philipp Lahm (Germany, right-back) – great leader in the absence of Ballack, gave an inexperienced team the confidence to perform

Gerard Pique (Spain, centre-back) – calm and assured throughout, outshone club team-mate Puyol

Diego Pérez (Uruguay, midfield) – performed the ‘Makelele role’ admirably, seemed never to run out of energy

Mesut Özil (Germany, attacking midfield) – a real bright spark in an underwhelming group stage, goal against Ghana was a real highlight

Arjen Robben (Netherlands, left wing) – appearances were limited by injury, but worried defences whenever he received the ball

Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon, striker) – perhaps a surprising choice, but carried an abysmal Cameroon side. Surely frustrated by team-mates’ lack of industry.