6 Players to Watch in Premier League 2010/11

Well it’s time for that obligatory Premier League Preview. However due to lack of time and the fact that several esteemed journalists (and some not at all esteemed) have previewed the league, I feel it’s best to highlight 6 players who have all the tools needed to be proficient and efficient in the Premier League.

It’s been a strange transfer window really. Very quiet bar the big spenders Manchester City and also a case of ‘chase the hottest prospect around Europe’ game (Loic Remy, Mesut Ozil) in which several managers have participated in and ultimately coming up with no signing.

I’ve imposed certain rulings here. Firstly I cannot go with obvious suggestions that media darling pundits have, so this means Javier Hernandez will not be selected due to the fact the world and his dog know he will be good this year and if you’re a eagle-eyed World Cup viewer, you’ll know exactly what he will bring to Manchester United. This also means no David Silva, Jack Wilshere, Gareth Bale, Joe Hart et al.

The other ruling is that I’m going to try and highlight players outside the Big Four if possible unless I feel a certain player at a big club deserves attention. So sorry Joe Cole, but I wouldn’t have picked you anyway despite the fact that you are clearly more  skilful than Lionel Messi, according to your club captain (surely a contender for Biggest Heaping of Pressure on an Overrated midfielder.)

So here we go, 6pointer’s guide to 6 players you should put into your fantasy football team if you can:

1. Mauro Boselli (Wigan)

I’ll be honest I was worried about Wigan at the beginning of this transfer window. Several players have left the club after their contracts expired, such as Mario Melchiot (who was beginning to become a liability anyway) and Paul Scharner. Other key players had jumped ship too, like Titus Bramble joining his former manager Steve Bruce at Sunderland.

Martinez had a massive summer scouting mission ahead of him. Fortunately, he’s managed to make some great signings. Antolin Alcaraz from Club Bruges, was instrumental in Paraguay’s World Cup success, forged upon a tightly knit defence. Ronnie Stam has signed from FC Twente, who’s continually improved there as a right-back and got a Holland call-up too.

But one thing that Wigan have always lacked at this level is an out and out frontman, who’s capable of consistently performing. Step forward Mauro Boselli. Signed from Estudiantes for an estimated £6.5million, he swaps the bustling streets of Buenos Aires for a wet and windy Wigan.

He’d managed to build quite a reputation for himself in Argentina, scoring 32 goals in 57 appearances for Estudiantes. He’s an intelligent striker, who knows exactly where to be at the right time.

Martinez describes him as ‘a goalscorer, who lives to put the ball in the back of the net’ and if he links up well with Hugo Rodallega or Jordi Gomez, I feel we might see a barrage of goals at Wigan this year.

Why Terry Venables thinks they’ll be 19th I don’t know, when Martinez has added some quality to a pretty ropey side. Boselli has even made a Argentinian call-up. You may see this as Diego Maradona experimenting, after all he’s used about 50 players in the last 2 years, but you have to some sort of quality to challenge that front-line.

He could flop like so many South Americans before him in this league, but I feel the top scorer in the Copa Libertadores in 2009 might just be this season’s best purchase, and will warrant a big move the year after.

EDIT – 23/9/10 – After seeing Mauro Boselli, live in the flesh, discount any information you see here. He looked sluggish against Preston. Sean St Ledger kept him in his pocket the entire night pretty much. Don’t listen to me, I have sinned.

2.Daniel Sturridge (Chelsea)

Ok, I’ve broken the Top Four amnesty. But I don’t think many people realise the quality of this young English centre-forward. This decision was mainly down to his performance in last week’s Community Shield, where came on 2nd half replacing Nicolas Anelka. I feel this might happen a lot this year, since I think Anelka is under serious threat of finding himself at another club. He’s hardly had a good summer either, and I think his time at a top level is coming to an end.

This is why I feel Daniel Sturridge is an ideal replacement. He has power and pace in abundance and Carlo Ancelotti found opportunity to play him a lot in the later months of last season, particularly in Chelsea’s FA Cup winning side. He ended up with 4 goals in the FA Cup and finished as the leading scorer for Chelsea.

If Carlo Ancelotti integrates him more this season, we may well see Sturridge challenge for national selection. The future’s bright for this young man I reckon.

3.Jerome Boateng (Man City)

If you were to ask me last season where City needed strengthening, the answer is obvious. The back four last year began superbly but then collapsed as the season progressed. For all your attacking options, you need players capable of offering protection to a solid goalkeeper. Roberto Mancini has acted this summer and brought in German international Jerome Boateng from Hamburg. Of course £11 million isn’t cheap but compared to the £24million City paid for Joleon Lescott, it looks a bargain.

Boateng is a strong and versatile defender, capable of playing really anywhere across the defence. He’ll thrive in this league, as he’s renowned for last-ditch defending. He was unsung really in Germany’s World Cup exploits, the plaudits of a free-flowing attack were well noted but it was underpinned by a strong defence. City should be improved this season as I think their major weakness has been sorted out to some extent.

4.Dani Pacheco (Liverpool)

He’s often been touted as the next best thing at Liverpool, but former manager Rafa Benitez never really used him or got the best out of him when he did. I think under Roy Hodsgon we may see that change. Pacheco was instrumental along with Sergio Canales in the Spanish side that were runners-up in this year’s U19’s European Championship in France. What Dani lacks in height, he makes up double in creativity and all-round trickiness, a general requirement of any Barcelona youth player.

If given the chance this season under Hodgson, he could link up well with a fully fit Fernando Torres (will this ever happen?) and we should see more of the man nicknamed The Assassin by team-mates due to his ability to score from anywhere.

5.Graham Dorrans (West Brom)

I feel it’s only fair to highlight someone from the promoted teams, and while Charlie Adam seems a good pick, I’ve decided to go with the Baggies playmaker. He was unbelievable last season in the Championship, and certainly worthy of his place in the Team of the Year. He’s the linchpin of the side, and his partnership with Chris Brunt was key to West Brom’s promotion last year. He’s an all-round central midfielder with a sweet shot on him too.

I still think West Brom are relegation candidates, after all the club is a yo-yo side, but if they want to avoid the drop look no further to their young midfield driving force. All they need a good striker and they may have a chance to get mid-table. Even if West Brom go down, I get the feeling he won’t find it hard to garner some Premier League interest.

Scotland, there is something to get excited about from a upcoming star.

6. Pablo Barrera (West Ham)

Another player to shine in Javier Aguirre’s exciting Mexican side, this winger could prove a real handful for some Premier League teams. The thing I remember most about Barrera at the World Cup was the torrid time he gave Eric Abidal in the France game (arguably Mexico’s best performance at the World Cup). He looks nippy and a decent crosser too, something that West Ham will need to feed Carlton Cole up top, or maybe Frank Nouble if he’s given a chance.

The 23 year old moved from Mexican side Pumas for £4 million. I’m not totally convinced about West Ham’s plans under Avram Grant but I think Barrera could be a hugely influential midfielder for them.

So there we have it. Let’s see next May how badly wrong I was.

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The Premier League Fashion Fix – Kits for 10/11 (Manchester City to Wolves)

Manchester City

Rather begrudgingly, I have to admit City have got their shirt spot on once again this year. They have changed their kit maker to Umbro, which seems to be a good move. Once again the phrase simplicity crops up Sky blue, white arm trim. Done. Very similar to England’s away kit with the fabric and look used.Also like the nice touch inside of the collar, of the classic City scarf. I think that was Mancini’s idea, he just loves striped scarves that fella.

Good work Umbro though, I’m liking your shirt philosophy. Man City are again sponsored by Etihad Airways will reveal their away kit on Friday (but it’s likely going to be red and black)

Verdict – 8/10

Manchester United

I’ve got mixed opinions on these two offerings by Manchester United. The home shirt is a big improvement on last year in my opinion, with Nike dismissing the black chevron for the traditional all red. Not that keen on the white sleeve stripes as it reminds me of the Umbro kit from 99/00. But other than that, it’s an above average effort boosted by the return of a collar. Eric would be proud

The away kit on the otherhand is hideous. I’ve always preferred a black away kit for United. White ones rarely work and the shoulder/sleeve design here is just weird, with the red stripes just tacked on there. Actually maybe United should be sponsored by Red Stripe. No that’s a bad idea.  Manchester United are now sponsored by Aon

Verdict – 6/10 (away kit drags it down)

Newcastle United

After last year’s shirt show-stealing performance for all the wrong reasons. Newcastle opt for a more conservative option this time round in their return to the top flight. The Championship winners of course have their black and white striped shirts, but it’s a pretty rubbish shirt. Puma have gone for some weird fabric that doesn’t look high quality, plus they’ve kept with the unorthodox collar (I like it but many don’t). The back is all white, which goes against the Geordie grain.

Also don’t really like the black shoulder design. There’s too much black there and it’s very reminiscent of the kit they wore to relegation. The away shirt is a peculiar shade of blue and to be honest I prefer the 3rd kit to it.

Newcastle are once again sponsored by Northern Rock.

Verdict – 4/10

Stoke City

Oh dear. Stoke’s new agreement with Adidas couldn’t have produced a more unsatisfying shirt. It looks like a patchwork quilt. Too many ideas are meshed together to create a monstrosity. Harsh?

The red and white stripes are accompanied by dashes in between. Why, I do not know. The neck/collar area looks strange and again Adidas have had to put a space for a Premier League badge. Speaking of badges, the Adidas one on the left is weirdly places. Yes, it is safe to say I hate this kit. The away kit arrives on the 2nd August, I’m hoping for something better.

Stoke continue their sponsorship with Britannia for this season.

Verdict – 2/10

Sunderland

Umbro make it a three peat of superb kits. As you can tell by the promo shot of Darren Bent with a ancient football, Umbro have gone for the classic look. The new sponsor, bingo website Tombola is put onto the shirt, without it looking out place. Interwoven if you will. The red and white stripes are complemented by a good red collar look.

The away kit as you can see is all white with a subtle hint of burgundy. I really like this kit as well. Fantastic effort.

Note- Tombola will not appear on junior shirts to comply with UK law

Verdict – 9/10

Tottenham Hotspur

Puma have gone a bit crazy with the Spurs shirt. Once again, don’t understand the decsion to move the Puma badge up to the shoulder on the home kit. The diagonal navy blue strip across the top of the shirt would be fine apart from the white stripes added along it. It just looks a bit off to me. The change strip is now sky blue. It’s been a while since it has and I think it’s a move for the better.

Overall not terrible but not great either. Spurs have a new sponsor in Autonomy

Verdict – 5/10

West Bromwich Albion

Well we finally have one Umbro kit I don’t like. The Baggies have bounced back to the Premier League for the umpteenth time and brought a polostyle home shirt with them. I don’t like polo shirt in general so I may be biased here, but the contrast between that and the sponsor Homeserve offsets the vintage look Umbro went for. Shame really.

The away kit however is a lot better. Subtle black stripes are simple and effective. Only downside for me as a traditionalist is West Brom not having green and yellow in their away kit.

Verdict – 6/10

West Ham United

It was unavoidable. This promotional picture had to be used. Mark Noble and Thomas Hitzlsperger eating a full English down a East Lahndan caff. Not fulfilling any Cockney stereotypes there then are we, West Ham PR department. The kit itself is unique in a way. The claret and blue hoops around the middle of the shirt seem to be in honour of Sampdoria possibly. Then again maybe not. Overall, not a bad away kit although slightly tarnished by Macron’s logo on the sleeve.

And of course away days are very much like this. Hash browns and bacon at a service station in your change strip.

West Ham have yet to reveal their home kit but they’ll still be sponsored by Sbobet

Verdict – 6/10 so far

Wigan Athletic

Wigan have finally unveiled their kit, in a friendly with Oldham last night. The cost-cutting decision to make their kit ‘in-house’ with company Mifit seems to have paid off. I really like this kit. The off-centre vertical stripe is different and I think it sets them apart. The sponsor slightly ruins a very good shirt as it looks out of place

The wait was worth it I guess. Wigan are sponsored by 188Bet again for 10/11.

Verdict – 7/10

Wolves

They are Premier League but not in the shirt stakes. Burrda have poorly imitated Umbro in the traditionalist approach but this could well be Mick McCarthy’s desire to hark back to the Molineux of old.  Muddy pitches and parasite football as Mick moaned all summer long.

Anyway, the shirt is not too bad until you realise that the retro idea is ruined by the Sportingbet sponsor. Alternatively buy the kids shirt since it won’t have. Although this might arouse suspicion.

The away kit is the reverse sans the silly collar.

Verdict – 5/10

There we have it. The Champions League places belong to Blackburn, Man City and Sunderland (Umbro). The fashion police have relegated Bolton, Stoke and Everton. Enough with this fashion facade. Back to normal running soon

The Premier League Fashion Fix – Kits for 10/11 (Arsenal to Liverpool)

With the World Cup well and truly buried (as well as Emile Heskey’s international career), it’s time to look forward to the new season. And obviously the first way to gauge how your team’s going to do is via the kit they’ve chosen to wear for 9 months. So allow me to become the footballing equivalent of Karl Lagerfeld and guide you through what your team is sporting for the coming season.

Arsenal

The home kit is very simple but works so well. Not convinced on the goalkeeper’s shirt, with the crazy lightning-like stripes on the sleeves. The away kit has returned to yellow, which is the colour Arsenal away kits should be. The ‘redcurrant’ pays homage to the Woolwich Arsenal days, like the home kit from 05/06 from the last Highbury season. Solid effort but I sort of get a Gryffindor vibe off the away kit. May as well tie in a film deal. Arsenal are of course still sponsored by Fly Emirates.

Verdict – 7/10

Aston Villa

Aston Villa’s claret and blue remains but there’s some changes from last year. Firstly, new sponsor in FxPro(Fulham share the same sponsor). Also  for some bizarre reason, Villa/Nike have chosen to have a chequered design down the side.  Don’t particularly understand why unless they fancy adding several Croatians to the side to make it valid. No blue outline around the collar this time.

The away kit is a bog standard black affair, again with the claret and blue chequered down the side. I assume it’s black to appease John Carew and Emile Heskey, not the slimmest of lads. Not a terrible kit by any means, I remember Villa’s away kit from 93 to 95

Verdict 6/10

Birmingham City


Their West Midlands rivals told the fans to vote for their favourite home kit at the end of the season. They went for the white chevron option, which I think is a good choice. F&C Investments continue their sponsorship of the Blues but the kit is now made by Chinese sportwear company Xtep, a decision mostly likely made by Hong Kong millionaire owner Carson Yeung. The away kit is plain and simple, which is what an away kit should be. Nothing fancy

Verdict – 7/10

Blackburn Rovers

Umbro once again continue their ‘Tailored by Umbro’ campaign and have produced a traditional set of kits for Blackburn. The vintage look works very well indeed, simplicity at its best. The away kit is all red for this season, with a black trim. Both are better than last year’s efforts, and if you’re a Blackburn fan crying out for new colours, I don’t understand you. Blackburn are still sponsored by Crown Paints

Verdict – 8/10

Blackpool

The Premier League turns tangerine and Blackpool have earned themselves some Wonga for the season. Ignoring the very bad pun, they are indeed sponsored by finance company Wonga.com. Pretty standard kit from Cabrini. All orange with a white collar. Simple and unfortunately the only season we’ll see this kit (yes I’ve joined the relegation parade before a ball is kicked)

Verdict – 6/10 (gains an extra point for the sponsor)

Bolton Wanderers

Finally, we have an abombination of a kit. I haven’t even edited this picture from the website. The kit looks like it’s in a heavenly place but it belongs in ‘Football Shirt Hell’. Or a bargain bin.

Bolton are again sponsored by 188BET (along with Wigan) and where do I start here? Firstly the red piping is just weird and all over the place. Next we have the sort of navy undone cravat shape around the collar. Don’t know why that’s there. Finally along the shoulders we have a massive Reebok logo. Just in case you didn’t know that Bolton are associated with Reebok.

Chavs will love it. I hate it, a horrible mish mash of ideas that could have been done so much better. An away kit has yet to be released, but I fear for the worst.

Verdict – 2/10

Chelsea

The champions kit has been out for a while now. In fact they wore it in the FA Cup Final. So this home kit has a perfect record. But it’s anything from perfect. The red collar is a bit strange, although I approve of the V-neck shape itself.  I also think the badge and sponsors are a bit too close together really. Otherwise the usual Adidas kit design is there.

The away kit I like. Orange and black are a good combo (yeah because I’m a football fashionista. However it looks like a Wolves away kit to me, not a Chelsea one. I suppose that happens when you chuck out loads of colours each year. Not a big fan of the orange stripe bit towards the bottom (technical terms there). Still it’s better than looking like a steward.

Overall average. Chelsea are sponsored by Samsung.

Overall 6/10

Everton

Oh Everton. Why do you let yourself be sponsored by LeCoq Sportif. I’ve seen them make one good kit in their history (a French national kit I cannot find). But wow. Home kit doesn’t really need discussion here. It’s fairly standard and simple and I’m glad they’ve got rid of the Dairylea triangle bib from last year’s kit.

But my god is the away kit bad. Last year’s wasn’t good either, although I liked the concept of black and neon pink. The execution was lacking though, and this year’s designer deserves some sort of metaphorical execution. Pink kits work if you go for a pastel pink (like Palermo) but bright neon is a no no. Don’t even like the dark blue splodge across it either.

And guess what we’ll see this shirt at least 5 times. Hoorah for chavtastic kits. Everton are sponsored by Chang Beer once again.

Verdict – 3/10 (home kit would get a 7 by itself)

Fulham

Roy Hodgson has gone and so has big sponsor Nike. Kappa now produce the kit and it’s not a bad effort. Again simplicity works well, although the kit is slightly ruined by the decision to put the sponsor way up the shirt. Otherwise a good effort. Away shirt yet to be revealed, although I’d expect a red/black shirt.

Verdict – 5/10

Liverpool

Arguably the biggest talking point is saved til last. Liverpool without Carlsberg as a sponsor. I never thought I’d see the day but as Carlsberg say ‘If Carlsberg made a football team’, it wouldn’t be the state Liverpool is currently in.

Standard Chartered take up the mantle as club sponsor. The home shirt is of course blood red, but with some strange decisions, mainly the gap in the Adidas stripes. I like the use of the triangle pattern, that works quite well. The away kit I dislike purely on the basis of the vastly spread apart pin-stripes. Why are they there?

The third kit, again part of the Adidas neon piping range, would be good without one major flaw. The neon club badge. Ghastly. But weirdly enough, this is one of Liverpool’s best shirt designs in recent years because they usually get it very wrong. Like grey, who wears grey.

Damn it. You were so close Liverpool until you gave Pepe Reina a shade of grey to wear.

Verdict – 5/10

So there are the first 10 clubs. Join me soon to look at the Manchester club kits and hopefully no Newcastle away kit in sight. All kits are available in club shops and all good sportswear stores and sites. My preference – Kitbag.

World Cup Preview – The rest of Group D

Group D certainly is a tough group to call. Germany and Ghana are both missing arguably their best players from the heart of midfield. Meanwhile the other two teams, Serbia and Australia are really starting to push forward as solid international sides. This could go either way.

AUSTRALIA

It has taken several years, but Australia have finally gained the respect of the elite nations  The turning point was on a cold wintry night at Upton Park in February 2003, where Australia dismantled a full strength England side. It made the global press sit up and take notice.

That game also marked the international debut of Wayne Rooney and also Sven Goran Eriksson’s worst night in charge of England, where he lived up to his tinkering nature and gave 22 players caps (including Francis Jeffers)

It was last time out in Germany 2006, where they made a big impact under super coach Guus Hiddink. Placed in a group with the footballing behemoth, Brazil, they came out runners up. The match with Croatia is often remembered for refereeing mistakes rather than the convincing show they put on. They were cruelly eliminated in the first knock-out stage by the champions elect, Italy, after Fabio Grosso dove in the last minute for a penalty, which Francesco Totti duly converted. Within that tournament, Australia felt the highs and lows of World Cup football. This tournament, Australia hope to erase the memories of that World Cup exit, and certainly hope progression is on the cards.

STRENGTHS

Several players ply their trade at some top European clubs, most notably Tim Cahill at Everton and Mark Bresciano at Palermo. Australia didn’t lose during their qualifying campaign (which saw them play in the Asian Confederation, as this gave them a better chance of qualifying, rather than playing off against an South American team) although the sides on show here will be a much tougher challenge. Their goalkeeper, Fulham’s Mark Schwarzer has become more consistent in both the league and European competition (and in my opinion is one of the best keepers of the Premier League) and has excelled under the tutelage of Roy Hodgson.

The Australian midfield looks like the best part of the side, assuming Pim Verbeek plays the 4-2-3-1 formation he used in qualifying. Both Vince Grella and Brett Emerton (Blackburn) have improved with age and will provide a tough obstacle to overcome. Jason Culina, who plays at Gold Coast, should also help this experienced side keep the ball in midfield.

WEAKNESSES

The Australians don’t have a quality front line. Often whoever is left up top is isolated. I expect Josh Kennedy to lead the line and the majority of you may be asking who he is. Kennedy is a journeyman of mediocre European teams, most notably Wolfsburg, Nurnberg and Karlsruhe. Finding Europe a tough nut to crack, he know plays for Nagoya Grampus (the side managed by Arsene Wenger before Arsenal). I don’t seem him scoring many goals, so Tim Cahill will be key to them progressing.

Question marks also surround the form and fitness of Harry Kewell who hasn’t been on the radar since 2005. Verbeek only picked 3 strikers, this risk may prove costly.

Australia's answer to Rocky Balboa

KEY PLAYER – Tim Cahill

Time and time again, Tim Cahill pops up with important headers for club and country. He’s certainly one of Everton’s best players, and ultimately Moyes’s best buy as manager. His leap is superb for his size, and Australia could be very dangerous from set-pieces. However, the Serbians and Germans both have strong centre-backs which should be told to keep Cahill out of the game. He is that dangerous at times.

MANAGER – Pim Verbeek

A veteran manager, who will make his 3rd successive appearance at the World Cup, having assisted Guus Hiddink in 2002 and Dick Advocaat in 2006. Unlike Hiddink, he opts for cautious attacking play which could be a good strategy. An unbeaten qualifying campaign proves he’s got national support as well.

ODDS OF LIFTING THE WORLD CUP – 125/1

PREDICTION – If Australia adopt the team spirit they had in 2006, they’ll make it out of the group. I don’t see it happening this time.

SERBIA

Serbia undoubtedly have the most talented side they’ve ever had. In 2006, they entered the tournament with a sensational defensive record in qualifying (one goal conceded in ten games) but the experience is largely remembered for them buckling in that tournament’s ‘Group of Death’, including a 6-0 defeat to Argentina. In South Africa, the squad is largely unchanged but importantly, the majority of that side has gained experience at top European sides.

STRENGTHS

This side is littered with high-calibre players and the right balance between strength and speed. Nemanja Vidic has excelled at Manchester United since 2006 and is often considered one of the best no-nonsense centre backs in Europe. Branislav Ivanovic has become a regular at Chelsea, and was undoubtedly the best right-back in the league.

Champions League winner, Dejan Stankovic is the captain of this side and also their playmaker, creating great moves from the centre. Milos Krasic (who has an eerie similarity to Raiden from Metal Gear Solid 2) has burst onto the scene at CSKA Moscow and provided a superb performance against Manchester United earlier this season. He can be a real handful on the wing and expect him to show his flair in South Africa.

Up front is Birmingham’s new signing, Nikola Zigic. Think Peter Crouch, but taller and twice as potent.

WEAKNESSES

It doesn’t really matter the amount of talent at your disposal if the man between the sticks isn’t up to the job. Vladimir Stojkovic was loaned out to Wigan this season and made 4 appearances. A goalkeeper with a lack of matches doesn’t bode well for them. Serbia have also been very dodgy in preparation for the tournament, losing t0 outsider New Zealand and drawing against Poland.

KEY PLAYER – Dejan Stankovic

The Serbia captain will hope to be the gel in this youthful side. He is renowned for accurate passing and starting moves in the attack. He can also deftly place from long range as this goal proves. His opportunities have been limited this season as Wesley Sneijder’s form was superb, but there’s no doubt ‘Deki’ is the instigator in Serbia’s strong and flowing play

That goal. The preceding pitch invasion haunts me

MANAGER – Raddy Antic

Fondly remembered for sending Manchester City down in 1983 with a late goal. It also sent David Pleat galloping on the Maine Road pitch in his beige suit, a sight etched into the memories of fans for many years to come. A sight I don’t want to relive. Antic’s policy of involving younger players could prove astute especially against older teams. He’s got the balance spot on.

ODDS OF LIFTING THE WORLD CUP – 66/1

PREDICTION – The potential is there. The pressure is mounting. Should make it out of the groups at least.

GHANA

The Ghanaians will have been rocked by Michael Essien’s withdrawal from the side, after a massive injury lay-off this season. It will be interesting to see how they cope, and also if any younger players, especially in defence, manage to make some headway on the biggest stage.

STRENGTHS

Despite missing Essien, the midfield is still full of good players. Inter Milan’s Sulley Muntari will be given the role of creator and he will hope to provide the drive forward. Captain Stephen Appiah will hope to avoid constant fitness criticism and deputise where Essien played. He is clearly talented, a former Juventus player after all but he’ll need to rekindle that form.

Kevin Prince Boateng has already made a impact at the World Cup even before it started, after his rash tackle on Germany captain Michael Ballack. A decent season at Pompey might see him make his debut at the tournament.

WEAKNESSES

The strong defence of the African Cup of Nations, which was held together brilliantly by 20 year old Sammy Inkoom, looked terrible against tougher opposition. They lost  a recent friendly to Holland 4-1. Hardly an indication of how things will play out, but its clear that their defence might well struggle to hold teams with great strikers.

Also, Wigan keeper Richard Kingson has never impressed me at his spell at the Latics. And he will be first choice. I expect Ghana to get hammered once in the group stage, most probably by Serbia.

The frontman is profilic for Ghana

KEY PLAYER – Asamoah Gyan

A perfect lone striker that bagged several goals at the African Cup on Nations. It remains to be seen in the supporting cast can help Gyan hit the net here.

MANAGER – Milovan Rajevac

Unknown Serbian that took over 2008, but has turned this side into a very tactically aware unit. Can also be complemented for giving all 23 members of the squad time to prove their worth.

ODDS OF LIFTING THE WORLD CUP –  100/1

PREDICTION – No Essien = No progression

Join my next time where I preview the Dutch, a team often backed to end their trophy draught. Are they realistic favourites after a superb qualifying campaign?

I leave you with my favourite World Cup song this year. Simple but effective is always the best way I’m told.

And also the  funniest moment in World Cup History

World Cup Preview – The rest of Group C

So we’ve had a look at the 3 Lions, but how will the other three teams in Group C do. The USA side have finally hit their potential by making the Confederations Cup final last year. Algeria have surged up the FIFA rankings in recent years, and had a good African Cup of Nations campaign. Slovenia could be a dark-horse in this competition. England better not get overconfident here then.

USA

The US were ridiculed throughout the 90s when it came to football. After holding at the World Cup in 1994, they went to France 98 full of optimism; only to be the worst team in the competition (this could be down to a certain situation reminiscent of a certain England player however).

Just over ten years later, the US made the Confederations Cup final in 2009 proving they had finally overcome the barrage of criticism aimed at ‘the rebirth of soccer’ initiative set up in the early 90’s . They even beat European champs and tournament favourites Spain along the way.

But last time out in the World Cup, things didn’t exactly go to plan as the Yanks crashed out of the group stage. They will hope to emulate their 2002 campaign where they made the Quarter finals.

STRENGTHS

One thing they can rely on is certainly their goalkeepers. All three selected play at Premier League clubs and Tim Howard has had a pretty solid season at Everton this year. They can also count upon some great midfielders at their disposal, who have made a name for themselves at various European clubs. Fulham’s Clint Dempsey is fairly adept in midfield and can be a decent frontman when called upon. Landon Donovan showed exactly what he can do from his loan at Everton.  This side isn’t about style and flair, but build upon strong foundations of being tenacious at times.

WEAKNESSES

Where some players thrive in the Premier League and Europe, others flounder. Jozy Altidore barely scored at relegated Hull. Former Rangers winger, Da Marcus Beasley has barely played in the last few months and hasn’t looked anywhere near as good as he was at PSV Eindhoven. Former wonderkid, Freddy Adu now finds himself at Greek side Aris. The fact that many of these players  failed to live up the hype shows that the Americans don’t have a strong enough side to contend.

They also lack an out and out goalscorer. Donovan and Altidore will lead the line and neither are complete strikers. The defence seems a bit weak as well, and certainly injury prone. Milan’s Oguchi Onyewu has only made fleeting appearances for them, last playing in October. His partner in defence will likely be Jay Demerit, who has had a terrible season on the sidelines with a serious eye injury and currently nursing an abdominal strain. The defence doesn’t look formidable and Tim Howard will have his work cut out.

Will Donovan inspire?

KEY PLAYER – Landon Donovan

A move to Germany early in his career didn’t prove to the smartest move, and he struggled to make an impact. Back from the Bundesliga, in the MLS, he became the league’s most valuable player at LA Galaxy (until a certain superstar transferred). He is the US’s all time leading goalscorer and became the catalyst at Everton on loan, turning their season around.

MANAGER – Bob Bradley

Took over from Bruce Arena after the last World Cup, he made a slow start and fans called for his removal because of his style of play. But after the 2009 Confederations Cup run, he’s finally been accepted by the fans. This will be the 6th straight World Cup for the US and anything better than 2006 is expected as a minimum requirement.

ODDS OF LIFTING THE WORLD CUP –  66-1

PREDICTION – Should make it out of the group as runners up

SLOVENIA

Much is unknown about the Slovenians but they managed to knock out a good Russian side in the playoffs to South Africa. A Russian side with multi-million pound talent available to it in Andrei Arshavin and Roman Pavluchenko to name two. This isn’t their first World Cup either, after appearing in 2002, in what I can describe as the weirdest group of World Cup history. But I shouldn’t knock this side, to make 2 World Cups in only 20 years after declaring independence from Yugoslavia, is pretty impressive. This side is completely different to the previous side as well.

STRENGTHS

Keeping it simple. Straight out 4-4-2 with short neat passing. By looking at their qualifying campaign, it seems they keep clean sheets and work hard to achieve good results.They have a decent young keeper in Samir Handanovic who has made over 100 appearances for Udinese. Other players that you should look out for are former West Brom player Robert Koren, who will captain the side from the centre of midfield. Another good player is frontman Mile Novakovic, who’s scored 14 goals for his country and 51 in 108 league games for Cologne. He could grab a few here.

Slovenia also have some gifted youth players. Rene Khrin plays for Inter and has yet to become a household name in that side, but to even be at a club of that stature shows his talent.

WEAKNESSES

Their greatest strength looks set to be their downfall. Keeping the football simple works against sides worse than you, but against the US and England, they might well be torn apart. Several players are fringe players at their clubs across Europe, which isn’t going to help either. Pure determination won’t be enough unfortunately.

KEY PLAYER – Zatko Dedic

The scorer of the winner against Russia, he’s a tireless worker for the side. Will support Novakovic up front. Think Carlos Tevez but not as profilic.

MANAGER – Matjaz Kek

He got this side to the World Cup, so should be loved in his country. After wining titles with Maribor, he was appointed in 2006 as the national coach of the smallest country in this World Cup.

ODDS OF LIFTING THE WORLD CUP – 200/1

PREDICTION – Out at the group stage, not enough quality here

ALGERIA

The Desert Foxes (what a nickname) endured what can only be described as the most long winded and dramatic route into the World Cup. Facing fierce rivals Egypt in a playoff, which included 15,000 police being deployed in Sudan to control riots after the game, the Algerians came out on top and make the trip to South Africa.

They will make their first appearance at World Cup since Mexico 86 after more than 20 years in the wilderness. They had a reasonable successful Cup of Nations earlier this year, which was marred by stupidity against Egypt in the semi final. This game saw several red cards, one of which for a headbutt on the referee, and Algeria finished the game with 8 men.

STRENGTHS

Algeria have a lot of pace. Nadir Belhadj was one of Portsmouth’s better players this season, and can fly down the left side, and even grab a goal or two if needed. Hassan Yebda, also of Pompey this season, can also trouble defenders on the right. Expect a counter attacking nature from this side.

Majid Bougherra, who often turned up late from international duty with Rangers, can be a very good centre-back and will aid a defence who will be under siege at times.

WEAKNESSES

Algeria are very ‘Jekyll and Hyde’. It all depends which side turns up in South Africa. As shown as against Egypt, the heat of the moment can get the better of them at times. Occasionally tactical suicide occurs as well, after deploying a 3-5-2 against Malawi in the group stage at the Cup of Nations. They lost 3-0.

They undoubtedly have the desire and capability but this might be one tournament too far for them.

Can Belhadj translate club form to the national side?

KEY PLAYER – Nadir Belhadj

He certainly made an impact at Portsmouth, with some exceptional running from left-back and he grabbed a few goals as well, notably in a 1-0 win against Liverpool. Looks certain to leave the relegated club with West Ham (under Avram Grant) or Roma being possibilities.

MANAGER – Rabah Saadane

Little is known of the 64 year old former defender. Vast experience throughout African football and has managed Algeria 5 times. You just can’t get rid of him, so he must be good.

ODDS ON LIFTING THE WORLD CUP – 500/1

PREDICTION – Too crazy, not enough talent. Group stage exit

Overall, it has to be England and the US going through. Next time on 6 Pointer, we take a look at Group D, and more specfically the Germans, but never count out the Aussies or the Serbs.

I leave you with the greatest Algerian never to play for Algeria, Zinedine Zidane


World Cup Preview – Group A

The football season has ended. Some pundits will tell you this season has lacked quality, with the departure of the league’s biggest player, CR-9, it was thought that the league would struggle to compete with its Spanish and Italian counterparts. But for my money, this season has been one of the most level contests going. The gap between the supposed ‘Big Four’ and the rest closed, and Spurs sneaked in for the coveted 4th place. The relegation battle was intriguing for a while, with several sides struggling with payments, and other teams such as Wigan received several thrashings.

But anyway, that’s all done and dusted. The greatest tournament of them all is up for grabs once again, this time in South Africa. So, in a change to the blog, I’ve decided this week to preview a group each day to give you an insight into the vast array of teams that will compete for the trophy. Some hot favourites, other complete long shots, the World Cup truly unites the globe with a veritable footballing fest. And I can’t wait for it.

South Africa is ready, are you?

Here’s a promise, it won’t be as complicated as Alan Partridge’s World Cup Countdown to 94

GROUP A

SOUTH AFRICA

Well it makes sense to start off with the unfancied hosts. When South Africa won the bid for the World Cup, it represented more than just making money, it represented an opportunity to show the world that they had overcome the past tragedies of Apartheid. One thing is certain, Bafana Bafana will make the tournament vibrant and full of colour. The sheer effort put in to make South Africa ready to host a World Cup is astounding.

The pressure is truly on for them as well. No host nation has gone out at the group stage and it’s fair to say that they wouldn’t be in the World Cup if they weren’t hosting. The team has gone backwards since they last reached the group stage in 2002. But, to say they don’t have a chance of making it out of Group A is truly disrespectful. There are some decent players within the side, and being on home soil will enhance their chances.

STRENGTHS – The defence is fairly strong and full of Kaizer Chiefs (the clearly superior version, as opposed to the band) players. Captain Aaron Mokoena will lead the hosts out, after a turbulent year at Pompey and will want to make his side not seem like pushovers. Fulham’s Kagiso Dikgachoi will partner Mokoena in the centre in midfield. He’s used sparingly at Fulham, but given a chance here, he will hopefully prove to be a decent player.

WEAKNESSES – The attack. Only Benny McCarthy seems capable of scoring for them, and he’s been a bit part in West Ham’s poor season. Someone will need to become a hero if South Africa are to make it anywhere near the knock-out stage.

KEY PLAYER – Steven Pienaar

The Everton winger has come off the back of an impressive season, often taking games by the scruff of the neck (see Man City home) and he has finally hit good form after disappointing in Dortmund and Ajax. Whether the contract discussions and constant links to the European elites will distract him, remains to be seen.

MANAGER – Carlos Alberto Parreira

A Brazilian with massive World Cup pedigree, after lifting the World Cup with Brazil in 94. That side were hated by the Brazilians, but South Africa have taken Parreira to heart in his 2nd stint as their coach. Also managed Kuwait in 82, UAE in 90, Saudi Arabia in 98 and Brazil again in 2006. If there’s one man who knows the World Cup, it is him.

ODDS OF LIFTING THE TROPHY – 100/1 at best.

PREDICTION – I put a sneaky bet on with my housemate that South Africa would make it out of the group stage so I’m praying that they do. Realistically, it’s a long shot.

FRANCE

Never has a French side been detested so much internally and externally. After Thierry’s handball in the play-off for a place at the finals, the side, and the man himself has faced a constant barrage from the media over their side. Raymond Domenech has turned a side who were world-class into a unit that struggles. Just by looking at their qualifying campaign shows you how poor this French side is on paper.

STRENGTHS – The spine of the side is full of absolute quality players. Les Bleus midfield contains experienced players in Jeremy Toulalan and Alou Diarra  (both have had great seasons) plus adept wingers in Florent Malouda and the man to watch Franck Ribery. France are also blessed with two superb keepers. Hugo Lloris has been exceptional for Lyon, which has seen him linked with every European heavyweight going and Steve Mandanda has just won the league with Marseille.

WEAKNESSES – Age is a major factor in France’s decline, especially up front. Anelka and Henry aren’t setting the world alight anymore, and are both bit-part players at their clubs. Another problem is the lack of players coming through to replace. Karim Benzema hasn’t made the squad after a poor debut season as a Galactico, and the supporting cast don’t look up to much either. Domenech has called up forgotten man, Djibril Cisse to attempt to find a striker in some sort of form, after all he has scored 29 goals for Panathiniakos this year. I completely understand the decision to not take Benzema. In Euro 2000, France took Anelka, who at the time had been poor at Real. Result being that he didn’t play well in the tournament either.

The defence isn’t the best either with only William Gallas being the only true centre-back as he will be partnered by Eric Abidal.

Key Player – Franck Ribery

Bayern’s star player will hope to translate his club form onto the big stage. He has all the attributes to make an impact in South Africa. He will probably make mincemeat of most right-backs in the group.

Manager – Raymond DomenechRay-Dom adopts Wenger approach 'He did not see it'

Alistair Darling impersonator, with even less popularity. He made the final last time out, but that was with better players; players he chose to ignore this time, such as Patrick Vieira. His PR man has a massive job ahead of him to avoid Ray becoming Public Enemy 1,2 and 3. Well known for his proposal to TV girlfriend, live on air, after crashing out of Euro 2008.

ODDS OF LIFTING THE TROPHY – 12/1

PREDICTION – Should walk the group but tension within the ranks may prove costly to Le Bleus

MEXICO

A massive turnaround was needed in qualifying for the Mexicans. Sven came and Sven left, with a side on the verge of failure to qualify from CONCACAF. But under Javier Aguirre, Mexico improved and continue their run of World Cups since 1994.

They are full of some decent youth players, namely Arsenal’s Carlos Vela, who has huge potential, yet it hasn’t had the chance to be unlocked under Arsene Wenger. West Ham and Manchester United are also represented by strikers Guillermo Franco and Javier Hernandez.

STRENGTHS – Counter attacking. With some many young players, the speed of the team is key, especially when Mexico are under the kosh. They also have experience in Barca’s Rafael Marquez.

WEAKNESSES – Not enough quality throughout the side, to mount a serious challenge for the trophy. They are also known as a dirty side, which is backed up by of course, Rafael Marquez.

KEY PLAYER – Carlos Vela

The 21 year-old front-man hasn’t shown a lot at Arsenal, but in Mexico, he’s the linchpin of the Mexican front-line. Arsenal fans should see more of his quality here than at the Emirates.

MANAGER – Javier Aguirre

The former Atletico Madrid manager found a side lacking confidence and points in their qualifying campaign. after Sven’s defensive play didn’t suit ‘El Tri’. Focuses on counter-attacking flowing play which is sorely needed in this group

ODDS ON LIFTING THE TROPHY – 50/1

PREDICTION – Lack enough quality to go far, so will fall at the first hurdle.

URUGUAY

The first team to lift the World Cup and 2 time winners. Uruguay certainly thrive on the big stage, but their recent record in the competition isn’t as glittering. They missed out in 2006 and will be looking for a marked improvement from Japan/South Korea 2002 after being knocked out in the groups (along with France).

STRENGTHS

The frontline. Diego Forlan is now a veteran in this side, and after leading Atletico Madrid to Europa League success, he’ll want another medal in his trophy cabinet. Alongside him , should be Ajax’s Luis Suarez, who is a terrific player, who will provide the foil for Forlan to pop up for important goals. Like he does regularly.

There is also a decent defence, with Juve’s Martin Caceres being the most talented. He’s made the squad but has been injured for most of the season, meaning his quality will have to outweight his lack of form.

WEAKNESSES

Inconsistency. In qualifying they beat Peru 6-0 but got destroyed by Brazil 4-0. Suggests that they don’t have what it takes to hang with the best countries in the competition.  But this group is wide open, with all teams in for shout of qualifying. They shouldn’t fear France, that’s for sure.

KEY PLAYER – Diego Forlan

He comes from Uruguay. he makes the English cry. The fox in the box who didn’t live up to the billing in Manchester. Coming off the back of a great season, including goals against Fulham and Liverpool in the final rounds of the Europa League, could this be Forlan’s finest performance yet?

Manager – Oscar Washington Tabarez

Great name and an even great following in Uruguay after he took them to Italia 90. Has also managed AC Milan and Boca Juniors throughout his career, so he clearly knows pressure.

ODDS OF LIFTING THE TROPHY – 80/1


PREDICTION – Going to be close, but I think 2nd in the group, thanks to Diego Forlan’s form.

So to go through, France and Uruguay. Both won’t go far. Join me next time for Group B  and to discuss Maradona in general

Ciao. I leave you with one of my favourite goals from World Cup 98.

Adrian Ilie, please stand up

Odds courtesy of bet.fourfourtwo.com