Author Archives: SamCox

Three Reasons Arsenal’s Chilean Star Must Not Leave

Manchester City are circling Alexis Sanchez like vultures. Vultures returning to their favourite feeding site, in fact. Gael Clichy, Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Toure and Samir Nasri have all been sold by Arsenal to the blue segment of Manchester. Depending on who you listen to and how many unhealthily speculative rumours you care to read, Alexis is either destined to become a City player or is happy to stay at the Emirates despite not having Champions League football in 2017/18.

It’s going to be ‘saga of the summer’. Well, that’s what Sky Sports and rumour mill beneficiaries would like us to believe, isn’t it? In reality, it’s a football transfer and one that seems to be covered with more mindless speculation than truth. Opinions presented as fact – which is seemingly the norm now – and a whole barrage of unpleasantries between fans on social media.

The transfer, however, is not one that Alexis should be really considering at this juncture in his career.

Five Strikers Chelsea Simply Must Consider After Transfer Embarrassment

Romelu Lukaku’s career will remain in the northwest of England. Though a transfer to Chelsea was seemingly nailed on for the Belgian, a twist towards Old Trafford has led Everton’s dominating striker to join up with his good friend Paul Pogba and former boss, Jose Mourinho. Whatever went on in the background to secure the deal is as good as irrelevant now; Manchester United have got their man and Chelsea are floundering in the market once again.

Antonio Conte might be furious, the Italian may even consider walking out of the club, but Chelsea cannot afford an internal crisis or post-mortem right now.

With Diego Costa edging towards an Atletico Madrid return, Michy Bathsuayi out of favour, Tammy Abraham on loan at Swansea and Bertrand Traore sold to Lyon, Chelsea’s line-leading options are perilously short. Lukaku’s signature was a matter of when, not if, until Mourinho swept in to snatch his man and the once Special One has potentially delivered a knockout uppercut to the club he once called home.

All is not lost for the Blues, mind, and here are FIVE players who can give them hope…

Chelsea’s Double Denial Reinforces Need For Summer Spending

Chelsea weren’t meant to lose this FA Cup final. Everything was pointing towards the Blues sweeping an injury-riddled Arsenal aside having been able to rest after securing the title. Antonio Conte was going to notch the club’s second double and Arsene Wenger would be left in a muddle once again.

From the off Arsenal were far the better side. Chelsea were dominated centrally, as N’golo Kante and Nemanja Matic could not handle the quartet of Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez. Conte could have seen his side fall behind by several goals and, in truth, the Blues were fortunate not be humiliated.

Whether we want to buy the ‘complacent’ narrative or see this as a renaissance for an Arsenal side that have recently embarked on a rare tactical adaptation, it was a reminder that this Chelsea incarnation are far from invincible. Impressive at their best, sure, the Blues have been flawed all too often and comparatively limped over the line this season. Defeats to Crystal Palace and Manchester United are hauntingly familiar memories, while the 93 point total still represents a remarkable achievement.

Chelsea’s squad appeared weak in August. Those weaknesses have been masked by a lack of injuries and superb management from the ever-likeable Italian manager. Those holes remain, however, and cannot be simply papered over this summer.

After other title wins, Chelsea have floundered and faffed in the transfer market. Cutting corners or pinching pennies, the Blues have left themselves in too weak a position the next season to reach their objectives or been forced to splash excessively in January.

As a Manchester arms race begins, Liverpool are linked with half the Bundesliga and Spurs’ young squad will improve, Chelsea cannot afford to lean on a roster that’s flaws have gradually reached greater prominence. It does not need to be brash, flash or brutally expensive like the spending from the northwest will be, but Chelsea’s summer is as definitive as anyone’s.

Bad team performances like Saturday’s will happen, but the club will not compete domestically or in Europe without significant additions, even if the financial burden can be lessened by the return of Andreas Christensen and Bertrand Traore from loan spells at Borussia Monchengladbach and Ajax respectively.

Tiemoue Bakayoko or Romelu Lukaku would not have avoided defeat at Wembley, but the defeat and relative indifference in 2017 should serve as a stark wake up call for a club that must be ruthless in this window.

Three vital contests as Chelsea look to complete double

Chelsea and Arsenal have not met in an FA Cup final since 2002. The Gunners were victorious that day, with each club having enjoyed numerous Wembley successes since. Didier Drogba has dominated this fixture in the 2000s, but the Ivorian is now no more than a nightmare for Arsenal.

Antonio Conte’s Chelsea are Premier League champions and are shooting for a double on Saturday. Arsenal, meanwhile, remain a club on the cusp of turmoil. Stan Kroenke is a man criticised frequently, Arsene Wenger’s future is unknown and key players are yet to sign on the dotted line.

With defenders missing and off the back of an underwhelming campaign, Arsenal are underdogs. Strong underdogs at that, too, with Wenger a man splitting opinion. Everything can change under the arch, and Arsenal have a good recent record at Wembley, but Chelsea are a fearsome unit led by a manager a driven as anyone in the game.

The man-to-man duels could decide this encounter. We don’t want controversy, we don’t want it to be decided on a foolish red card, we want a classic final showdown. These three matchups will be crucial if that is to happen…

Chelsea’s Italian Love Affair Destined To Continue At Wembley

Gianluca Vialli, Claudio Ranieri, Carlo Ancelotti, Roberto di Matteo and Antonio Conte. Chelsea adore Italians.

Roman Abramovich flitted with Barcelona imitation, but when that fell short, the Italian norm returned. Vialli was widely admired, Ranieri loved as the nicest man in the sport, Ancelotti brought dazzling football and a double, Di Matteo finally delivered that elusive Champions League and now Conte could produce a double of his own.

Chelsea have only won one double in their 112 year history. Ancelotti’s team in 2010 scored more goals than anyone has done in the Premier League era and entertained throughout as they teamed power with exceptional talent. Irrepressible at times, that team is one of the best in recent memory. It was a joy to watch as stalwarts Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard were accompanied by a magnificent Florent Malouda, graceful Nicolas Anelka and destructive Michael Ballack. They wrapped up their title with an 8-0 final day destruction of Wigan. Fitting.

Saturday evening brings Conte’s chance to emulate his journeyman compatriot in completing a debut season double. Conte’s would be all the more remarkable.

Chelsea finished 10th last season, they were abysmal despite being reigning champions and were a club in turmoil once again. Players were almost universally unrecognisable, controversy rumbled and they were once again being led by a caretaker manager. When Jose Mourinho joined Manchester United, Pep Guardiola joined Manchester City and Conte signed at Stamford Bridge, even a top four finish would have been deemed a stellar campaign.

Fans split over Mourinho’s departure, fans bickered over the role of the players in the sacking of their greatest ever manager. Everything looked bleak.

Then followed a summer transfer window dominated by the pursuit of Kalidou Koulibaly. Left-back was still an issue, and no one knew whether Eden Hazard and Diego Costa in particular would return to their dominant form of 2014/15. The window ended with Michy Batshuayi, Marcos Alonso, N’golo Kante and David Luiz arriving at Stamford Bridge.

Alonso suffered from the Premier League centric thinking that costs English football, Luiz’s harsh reputation went before him, Batshuayi’s price tag sat heavily on his shoulders and Kante’s brilliance at Leicester was yet to be truly accepted. Alonso, Luiz and Kante set about becoming crucial players in a Chelsea team that equalled the league’s consecutive wins record and notched 93 points. Batshuayi was a threat when called upon, but remained on the bench for the most part as Costa’s lack of injuries surprised us all.

Conte glued together a fractured squad, he showed tactical adaptability and reinvigorated careers. It should not be a surprise after a quick glance at his glorious CV, but the Italian picked up a club from the doldrums and charged to an emphatic title.

We may never know quite what happened at Chelsea in 2015/16. Conte, though, found a way to make sure it was a freak blip rather than a startling regression towards upper mid-table suffering. Chelsea could have gone the way of Liverpool and post-Ferguson Manchester United, it was down to Conte that they did not.

Their league dominance makes them clear favourites on Saturday. Fairly so, but it also takes the pressure off. Whatever happens under the arch, Chelsea have had a season far beyond the most optimistic of predictions.

Abramovich craved Chelsea recreating Guardiola’s Barcelona, but the Italian way has so often been the way for the Blues.

Sunderland Deserve Nothing More Than Years In Championship Purgatory

Relegation for Sunderland has been a game they have narrowly defeated with a fourth quarter run sometimes topped by a buzzer-beating winner.

This year, however, the deficit was too great, the changes non-existent and they were sent into the Championship way before a buzzer-beater could drift into their consciousness.

The Black Cats have cobbled together squad after squad lacking in Premier League quality. Jermain Defoe saved them last season along with the typical Sam Allardyce booster, but this season they fell early and they fell without a spluttering of a fight. The club symbolic of relegation avoidance has succumbed to life in the Championship.

David Moyes has taken a barrage of flak. Understandable given his very public pessimism, but Moyes is – as he was at Manchester United – little more than a scapegoat for a club in dire need of a substantial rebuild. Fingernails have been decimated by Sunderland fans year upon year and that is no coincidence. They are a club with an immense fan base, yet they have accepted for nip-and-tuck relegation dodging for year upon year.

Ambition has been lacking for many years and the team has been not only inefficient in the market, but accepted players who struggle to make the Premier League par. Whether through acts of cost-cutting or poor judgement of player standard, Sunderland have been a club lurching from turmoil to turmoil. Manager changes have prolonged the inevitable relegation for long enough, now the club must re-evaluate their standing in the English game and be open-minded as an overhaul becomes necessity.

The Championship is no cake walk. It may be an exhausted cliché, but teams that fall out of the Premier League as emphatically as Sunderland infrequently return immediately. Rivals Newcastle were in a far stronger position 12 months ago and spent more than anyone would expect (due to the sales of Moussa Sissoko and Georginio Wijnaldum) from Sunderland this summer, but the Magpies were not the runaway dominant force everyone expected. Aston Villa, Norwich, Blackburn and several others have been relegated in recent years without as much as a sniff of returning.

With a squad needing renovation and managerial uncertainty, the Black Cats are in desperate need of redirection. From the very top the club needs to adapt or they face a real risk of the dreaded double-drop. Jermain Defoe, Didier N’dong, Lamine Kone and Jordan Pickford will likely be nabbed from their clutches early this summer and – one can only hope – that the scouting team has not only identified replacements, but has an extensive list of other additions.

Having been engaged in a relegation battle every season since 2011/12, to expect a contingency for such an eventuality is barely unreasonable. Sunderland have a pivotal summer approaching and early noises about the position of David Moyes suggest hesitancy that they cannot afford. Moyes’ demeanour this season was far from a positive influence and, while it would be foolish to place all the blame on him, going into another season with his dour presence on the touchline would be a mistake.

Options to take his dugout space are vast given Sunderland’s reputation. One manager will not fix-all in a club that has fallen to the least dramatic of relegation after years of teetering on the brink. It might take years to get the club back in Premier League-ready shape, but they will be all the better for it.

The fans can enjoy victories on a more frequent basis and, with hindsight, there may be a realisation that this relegation came at the right time for the club. An immediate return to the top flight could ignite another period of papering over cracks for the Black Cats. They must embrace relegation with realism and broadmindedness to come back as a stronger club from top to bottom.

Arsenal And Manchester United Stoppers Show Backup Goalkeepers Deserve Their Moments Of Fame

Being a backup goalkeeper is a strange life. Some players build an entire career on being happy to be second fiddle. Up and down the footballing world there are players who accept that they will never be first choice at their club. At the top level, they are usually treated to a few cup outings throughout the season so they remember how to stop the ball if they are ever needed on a regular basis.

Those outings extend if the club continues to succeed; at least they do most of the time. Some managers revert to their ‘number one’ once the latter rounds appear, but it seems increasingly common that managers continue to twist with their backup rather than the supposedly safer alternative.

David Ospina is in line to start for Arsenal in the FA Cup final in the same week Sergio Romero was preferred to David de Gea in the Europa League final. Both of the South American goalkeepers are exceptional backups, though neither have the slightest of chances of superseding de Gea or Petr Cech. Reputation holds for a long time as a goalkeeper.

Ospina will leave Arsenal this summer, while Romero remains firmly in de Gea’s shadow with Manchester United destined to sign another goalkeeper should the Spaniard finally return to Madrid. Their careers are unorthodox, and unlike any other position in football. Ospina has 77 caps for Chile, Romero has 87 caps for Argentina, yet they had a combined four Premier League appearances this season.

They each enjoyed their cup berths, with Romero collecting 12 matches in the Europa League and Ospina playing eight in the Champions League. The role as second choice is not as clear cut as it is at other clubs, but is this really what these two talented, experienced internationals envisaged their career to be?

They are superb assets for Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho. Both are unruffled by tense situations and have proven themselves to be up to more than an acceptable standard. Neither, though, can truly fill fulfilled by a campaign of being so obviously a secondary option as this, however much professionalism they show.

In a summer when Asmir Begovic is set to leave Chelsea and Willy Caballero has left Manchester City, goalkeepers may just be realising their own value. Caballero, Begovic, Romero and Ospina would walk into the majority of European teams, maybe contributing on the pitch will take priority over fledgling cup outings.

Stoke City’s Lack Of Identity Needs To Be Changed This Summer

After a turbulent campaign for the Potters, Stoke City have a big summer ahead of them if they are to get back-on-track with their potential.

Stoke City are a team lacking identity and Mark Hughes’ sweeping changes have begun to be reversed, the team are eking into the bottom half of the table for the first time in several seasons and the fan base is split in a way similar to the turmoil at Arsenal.

Hughes was met with scepticism by many upon his appointment after the mess he oversaw at Queen’s Park Rangers. Those who felt Tony Pulis was a club icon deserving of a longer tenure questioned the arrival of the former Manchester United striker, while others were appreciative of a club stuck in the mid-table mud pushing for greater things stylistically.

The Potters discarded players synonymous with the Pulis era in favour of glitzier names. Eventually they were the proud owners of multiple Champions League winners, while retaining the hardened core of the squad lead by Ryan Shawcross, Jon Walters and Glenn Whelan. While Whelan particularly needed replacing, the Potters were a team who could fight you in the car park and dazzle with charm in the form of Xherdan Shaqiri, Marko Arnatuovic, Bojan and others.

This came to a head during the first part of the 2015/16 campaign. Operating with a false nine – yes, that’s Stoke City with a false nine – the team was one of the best to watch around Europe. Bojan dropped into pockets of space, goals were easy to come by and the diagonal left footed pings from Shaqiri to Arnautovic were edging towards trademark status. Briefly, in fact, a European finish looked within range as Chelsea, Liverpool, Everton and Manchester United all vastly underachieved.

The January window saw the arrival of Giannelli Imbula for a club record transfer fee. Imbula was started 14 matches in the second half of the campaign and injected something new to the Potters’ midfield. A player once sought after by some European giants was doing it in the chilly early spring months at a windy Britannia.

The summer, however, saw another few months of bizarre transfer activity and the signing of Joe Allen. Allen and Imbula were unlikely to be able to function in a team with Bojan, Shaqiri and Arnatuovic. A problem was rife immediately and Imbula was the first to suffer. The Frenchman has started just nine Premier League games this season and is on course to leave the club, with a move to Roma being touted. He has played seven Premier League minutes since 2016.

A 4-3-3 may have worked had a defensive midfielder been signed to allow Allen and Imbula to play in box-to-box roles behind the magic triumvirate. The arrival of Wilfried Bony – and latterly Saido Berhaino – further muddied the waters and led to the departure of Bojan.

All of this was after the club’s style had regressed towards the making-do days of Pulis. Imbula was clearly deemed surplus despite seldom being given opportunity and a midfield of Allen, Geoff Cameron and Whelan became common. Imbula even vanished from the matchday squad after a while as his fate became clear. The club went from king killers of giants to a team incapable of upsetting the odds in 2016/17; winning when they should and losing when they should.

Imbula’s impending departure is a sign of a club accepting mediocrity at this juncture. The ambition and flair of Hughes’ appointment and 18 months ago are no longer felt amongst the fans or the club. The divide over the manager’s future is a debate for another time – as is their transfer shortcomings – but the Potters must be wary of their current status. This – unlike last season – has been a campaign of slumps outlasting hot streaks, which is a trend that will only edge towards unpleasantly warm waters.