The Curious Career of Anthony Vanden Borre

3/4/10 – the biggest moment in Vanden Borre’s career.

You’re probably thinking; hang on, he was at Portsmouth then, a side bound for relegation. Well yes, he was. This was a dull 0-0 draw, livened up for avid Gillette Soccer Saturday viewers as Chris Kamara’s inexplicably missed Vanden Borre’s dismissal from the game, in a comedic or unprofessional manner, depending on how you view Sky’s comedy vehicle.

In fairness to Kammy, most people have missed Vanden Borre’s career since he left Anderlecht in 2007. If Football Manager were an indication of how Vanden Borre’s should have developed, then he’d certainly be at a top club by now as Mr Utility Man (he’s definitely better than John O’Shea). But as we all know, a football management simulator is not a good judgement of potential, as much as we claim it to be.

Vanden Borre is a true product of the Anderlecht youth-system having joined them as an 8 year old. He made his senior debut around the same time as Vincent Kompany did but their careers are seemingly poles apart now. Whilst Kompany’s reputation as a tough tackling centre-back is reaching near world-class proportions, Vanden Borre’s career stagnated.

The early signs were promising for Vanden Borre as he made his debut in March 2004. Operating normally at right-back (yet capable of playing right midfield, defensive midfield or even centre-back), Vanden Borre would roam right along the flank, daring opponents to face up to him but the pace of the teenager would leave many far behind. He showed great versatility whenever he was called upon in his rookie years, filling in for other players adeptly.

A month later a shock international call-up against Turkey. To put that in perspective, he had played 5 senior games for Anderlecht and it also made him the second youngest Belgian international of all-time, at 16 years and 187 days. He ended 2003/04 with his first league medal with the club.

Vanden Borre quickly established himself as one of  Anderlecht’s key players – sticking at right back most of the time, pacey with a powerful shot. Several European clubs circled (notably Inter Milan and Ajax) but he favoured first-team action and development in Belgium.

The huge pressure placed upon him took its toll in the next few years. After all when Paul Van Himst refers to you as one of the best talents he’s ever seen, it’s fairly insurmountable pressure. Several niggling injuries saw Anderlecht bring in Marcin Wasilewski in 2007, who quickly usurped him at right-back. Vanden Borre also had personal problems at the time, with his mother falling serious ill in the early months of 2007.

His good friend Kompany still backed him to succeed, even saying “He remains the greatest talent on Anderlecht. The club must adapt themselves a bit also to him.  He plays the best on his position on the middle field. In his position he can become the best player from the history of the Belgium football.” High praise, unfortunately never fulfilled as in the summer of  2007, Vanden Borre headed to Serie A to join Fiorentina who paid around 4 million euros for his services.

Vanden Borre said upon leaving “”It was a bitter end, the Anderlecht chapter is now behind me. But I’m not bitter, I don’t have any hard feelings. I owe the club a lot and I won’t forget that. I hoped for a different ending but that’s life,”

Things in Florence couldn’t have started any worse for Vanden Borre as his mother passed away in September 2007; a traumatic event for anyone to deal with, even harder when you’re only 20.

He only made 2 appearances for Viola before joining Genoa on loan (as they were co-owners, with Papa Waigo going the other way). He was unlucky at Fiorentina, in my opinion, as he was unable to get a game with a incredibly strong defence featuring Per Koldrup and Tomáš Ujfaluši for example.

The short drive north to Genoa in January was an attempt to prove his worth to Fiorentina, but it never really got going there either, failing to impress Italians with his apparent eagerness to get forward and distinct lack of positioning. Vanden Borre couldn’t adapt to the more defensive game in Italy, although not helped by his lack of consistency.

Last season saw him join doomed club Portsmouth. Paul Hart who signed him, said: “Now’s the time for him to come up with the goods. We’re looking forward to being a part of that.” Once again, Vanden Borre failed to live up to the billing although you could argue the chances of succeeding at Portsmouth last year were nigh on impossible given the club’s financial woes, which translated onto the pitch. He made 19 appearances in a threadbare squad, and at least showed some fight albeit in vain.

Genoa severed their ties with Vanden Borre in the summer, leaving him to join Belgian club Genk, hence why this piece has been written. Unavailable to play until this January (after playing for 2 clubs in 2010), Vanden Borre has been training and playing reserve games biding his time. But on Saturday, he should hopefully make his debut for the team against Kortrijk.

Vanden Borre was unveiled in September yet has been unavailable until now

Genk have been performing far and above expectations this year with their young squad. Currently 2nd in the league and 6 points off Anderlecht (with a game in-hand), they’ll certainly be there or thereabouts come playoff time. It’s a big game for them, with Anderlecht vs Standard Liege the day after, they could claim back some ground with a Liege win.

But will Vanden Borre’s presence unbalance the side? Early signs suggest no. For one, their manager Frankie Vercauteren coached Vanden Borre at Anderlecht. Secondly, he’s good friends with some of the squad and gives the team a further option in their back four, with Vanden Borre bombing on forward for the defence of Joao Carlos, Torben Joneleit and Eric Matoukou. He’s certainly a useful addition to the Genk team, along with Liverpool loanee Chris Mavinga. Media reports suggest he’s already become a leader in the dressing room too.

You have to feel this move could be Last Chance Saloon for Vanden Borre. He’s been given his opportunity abroad, failed to seize it and returned to the league that made him such a talent. Still only 23 and shaped by tragedies in the last few years, Vanden Borre has to grasp this chance, if he is ever to live up to those early claims of becoming a Belgian superstar. Maybe he might be the catalyst that sees Genk win the league title, above the club that made him.

Here’s a hint of why he was so highly rated circa 2004-2007

Manchester United – A dissection of 2010

Manchester United still remain unbeaten this season, despite being put through the wringer. Crippling debt, several draws, uninspiring performances and a certain striker allegedly wanting out of the club. Dave Stubbings looks in-depth at United’s problems on the field.

Another match and another draw for Manchester United. Two more goals conceded as questions are asked again about their defence, questions which failed to be answered.

It is worth pointing out that United have not lost yet this season. However they’ve conceded two goals or more in five games already this season, something that happened only six times in the whole of last year.

Wayne Rooney’s form (or lack of) continues to be a hotly debated topic with many wondering what happened to the player who, before Man United’s quarter-final against Bayern Munich appeared to be scoring for fun.

Rooney’s problems though appear to be much more than just a lack of form as he continues to be a shadow of the player he was last season. His ability to control a ball and run with it have deserted him and his shooting has been just awful at times this season. The cliché ‘can’t hit a barn door’ would be a suitable one to use, however after recent performances Rooney would be lucky if he even hit the barn.

Two goals in 21 games and only one this term for his club after 34 in the 09/10 season is a shocking return by any striker’s standards.However the poor performances of United’s number 10 are distracting from other areas which could harm their chances of picking up silverware this season.

Let’s start with the defence.

 

Patrice Evra: now becoming the French national side version for club.

 

Three years ago Patrice Evra was being raved about by the United fans. His tackling, constant running and persistent attacking threat made him an Old Trafford favourite with some claiming he was the best left-back in the world. However since France’s disastrous World Cup he’s lacked most of these qualities as mistakes come thick and fast.

You only have to watch the build up to the West Brom equaliser last weekend to see what I mean, as he failed to clear his lines not once but twice and just ambles back after giving away possession, a far cry from a few years ago. His other habit of 2010, attempted overhead clearances have also failed dismally. Ronaldinho’s goal at the San Siro and Pienaar’s strike last month are two examples of a terrible idea, poorly executed.

On the opposite flank though, things are much worse. John O’Shea’s season has been poor to say the least, both when playing right back and centre midfield.

Whereas Chelsea’s full backs, Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic get forward and provide crosses and even goals, without abandoning any of their defensive responsibilities (usually as the other stays back and helps the centre-backs), it’s a skill O’Shea simply doesn’t have as he timidly passes, match after match. O’Shea’s inability send over a decent cross restricts the winger ahead of him (whether it be Nani or Valencia) and whenever he does decide to venture into the opponents’ penalty area, he turns into a hindrance for his team-mates.

From one extreme to the other though, as Rafael is the opposite. While some of his crossing at times is superb, he appears to forget that he is a defender and constantly wanders off leaving a huge hole on United’s right flank, dragging one of the centre backs out wide.

Rafael is Old Trafford’s version of Glen Johnson. Yes he’s good at crossing and can occasionally score but doesn’t track back enough and rashly dives in for many a tackle; both players play like wing backs in a 4-4-2 formation and it simply doesn’t work. In other European leagues, Rafael would excel but unfortunately the Premier League isn’t a forgiving mistress and you get found out quickly when not in line with the rest of the back four.

What about the other two right backs? Well Wes Brown never appears to be fit enough while Gary Neville is past it and should no longer be considered for most matches.

The centre backs are exactly blameless either. Rio Ferdinand may be fit now but he’s been in and out with injuries so often he struggles to find consistency. However a half-fit Ferdinand is still better than a fully fit Johnny Evans, a man who brings a wonderful air of panic to the United defence the opposition come forward. Also, if anyone can explain the definition of the word ‘mark’ to the Northern Irishman, please write to Carrington Training Ground, Birch Road, Manchester.

This ramble about the defences lets the midfield off however. Owen Hargreaves must surely have a season ticket with Virgin Atlantic now, with his frequent flying to America to see his knee specialist.

 

 

Fletcher and Scholes: dynamic midfield for 70 minutes.

 

Ferguson’s first choice midfield partnership this season of Darren Fletcher and Paul Scholes are solid but perhaps no longer good enough to help United push for the league or European success.

Whilst Fletcher remains as tenacious as ever, he lacks that presence which other top teams have. Chelsea’s Michael Essien is a shining example of the sort of midfielder United need; a tough tackler who can dominate a game. His partner Paul Scholes still has the vision to pick out a fantastic pass, but at 35 is getting on a bit and struggles to play 90 minutes, let alone play week in week out.

Don’t get me wrong, Scholes is a fantastic player and he’s still a joy to watch with his range of passing and shots but he can’t run like he used to, and it’s plain for all to see, especially in the last 15-20 minutes of a game.

However the lack of depth in midfield is apparent as Scholes’ younger team-mates struggle to make a case to be picked. The out of favour Anderson and Michael Carrick, both bought for large amounts of money, continue to frustrate with neither ever given a run of games long enough to force their way into Fergie’s plans.

As for Darron Gibson, one long range shot on target every other match does not constitute a top quality midfielder. He may have scored nine goals in a United shirt but strikes against Southampton, Derby and Scunthorpe make up a third of this tally with two of his league goals coming against Hull and West Ham.

This air of nostalgia around Old Trafford and a misguided belief that the likes of Scholes and fellow midfielder Ryan Giggs can dig United out of a hole whenever the going gets tough.While Giggs and Scholes can still link up wonderfully, as shown by the Welshman’s volley against Newcastle in August, it is worth mentioning that against quicker, more skilful opponents they will not have the time and freedom offered by the Magpies/James Perch.

The lack of outstanding replacements means that they are still being picked regularly, when at other clubs they’d be considered squad players by now. Can United afford the replacements?

The Glazers have always said they can afford any player Sir Alex chooses. However the common consensus appears to be that the Old Trafford coffers are running dry. How true that is remains to be seen. After all Ferguson did splash out £16m on Valencia in 2009 and £7.4m on Bebe this time round (quite why remains to be seen) hints that there is some money there.

Maybe questions should be asked of the manager’s judgement. Shocking as it may sound, he may not be quite the master he once was. Stagnant performances against Rangers and Sunderland as well as a subdued second half against West Brom were a far cry from the United of years gone by.

The decision to replace Fabio da Silva with another defender in the 0-0 draw against Rangers while overlooking Anderson and striker Federico Macheda was a curious one.

While the 1-0 win in Valencia was achieved through the classic counter-attack, it was against the run of play and a type of goal rarely scored by United at the moment; a far cry from the free-flowing football which was common as recently as 2008.

The gap left by Cristiano Ronaldo is evident. If you want an example of the classic counter attacking football United played when he was there, cast your mind back to the 2006/7 season when he and Rooney ripped Bolton to shreds.

A season later United had a strike force of Rooney, Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez  and Nani which was boosted in the summer of 2008 with Berbatov and Macheda (for two matches anyway). Add to the mix an in-form Carrick plus Scholes and Giggs, both two years younger and it was a much more free flowing United side.

However with the loss of Ronaldo and Tevez (officially £105m worth of talent) has made United a much more rigid side. Valencia and Nani are much more orthodox wingers, and as good as they are, do not have that ability to roam which Ronaldo did. There’s no point in asking them to be like Ronaldo but it appears United did not prepare for life after the £80m man and have become too predictable.

This air of nostalgia could hamper United moving forward in the next few years. It’s worth noting that nobody is infallible and as good as the likes of Ferguson, Scholes and Giggs have been for Old Trafford, nothing lasts forever.

Just ask Liverpool.

Follow Dave on Twitter @dstubbings14 and read his brilliant motorsport blog, Hitting the apex, if you are that way inclined.

Six Pointer: Opening Day

The Premier League has returned after what seems a very short amount of time since John Terry lifted that famous trophy above his head in front of a packed Stamford Bridge. Well, of course we’ve had the worst World Cup ever in between all that, if you are to gauge punditry opinion across the board. I can ramble and rant about that again (believe me you don’t want me to) but instead we shall focus on a spectacular opening day in the English top flight and other events across Europe. Yes, that’s right the format is back. Six points recapping the best European football topics of the last week. Let’s crack on shall we?

1 Blackpool tower above woeful Wigan

Tangerine sea, amazing scenes

The start of the 10/11 Premier League will only be remembered for this game I feel. Chelsea and United played their opposition off the park, the chasing pack drew with each other. Not that these games were particularly low quality, far from it. But there was no shocking result. Fortunately for us, Blackpool announced their arrival to the big stage in the best possible manner, humiliating Wigan at the DW Stadium.

As good as Ian Holloway’s side were, Wigan’s first half performance was utterly shambolic at the back. It’s quite clear to me for the £9.5 million Wigan have spent this year, they lack a leader. No Scharner, Bramble or Melchiot to lead the troops and it showed. The back four weren’t organised, and Martinez looked despondent at what was going on. He needs to sign someone with experience to get Wigan structured. To be fair to Martinez, his substitutes worked at half time. Ronnie Stam looked decent when he came on. But all in all it was a fairly disasterous day for Wigan.

Full credit to Blackpool was laying down a superb marker in what is sure to be a tough season. Holloway is certainly creating the right atmosphere and team ethos and they’ll love every minute of being the underdog in practically every game. Doesn’t exactly get any harder than Arsenal away next. Wigan have Chelsea at home, but they did win that fixture last year. Can’t really see it this time.

2. Bellamy comes home (sort of)

39- Number of clubs Bellamy is either wanted by or played for

The first real casualty of the mega-bucks spending of Manchester City, for this year at least, looks to be Craig Bellamy. As much as I find some of his behaviour in the past to be reprehensible, I can’t really deny how good he was last year for them. His performance in the first Manchester derby last year was brilliant. It’s real shame that at the time he’s got his act together, he gets treated fairly badly by City and shipped off on a season loan to Cardiff City.

A very shrewd business move by City. He was highly sought after by their rivals, so why not give him to an aspiring club one tier lower. No doubt for me now that Bellamy will be sensational in that league and he might obtain cult status at the club (more than likely already has with that amount of Bellamy shirts printed).

It still baffles me how Bellamy didn’t make the 25 man squad for the league considering his level of performances last year, and I kind of hope that decision backfires on City. It probably won’t and of course this is me being slightly biased.

3. Steve Bruce loses rag, contrast between red face and blonde hair stark

Anthony Taylor gives Cattermole a record 234,690th red card,

He may well be one of the best centre-backs I’ve seen at United, but he’s becoming an irritating fool now. As we all know, Lee Cattermole is prone to a rush of blood to his noggin, and also drawing it from opponents with his elbow. How Bruce can slag off the ref for his officiating in the game against Birmingham is beyond me really. First yellow card may seem harsh, but I think the second offence warranted a red so it balanced out.

Bruce complained at the fast-tracking of referees. He said: “The ref (Anthony Taylor) was totally inadequate. I believe he’s only been refereeing four years so that is a huge decision to promote him to the Premier League.” Has it not occurred to you, Mr Bruce that for a referee to obtain Premier League status that quickly, he must be doing something correctly and furthermore, for us to get good referees, they need to officiate at the highest level sooner or later.

Bruce added “The last thing I want to do is criticise a young lad trying to make his way in the game but he was absolutely awful” Yeah well done there, Steve. Do exactly what you say you’re trying to avoid.

It’s opening day, it’s not going to cost you in the long run surely. He’ll escape FA punishment as well it seems.

4. European elites get off to slow start

A change of pace now as we take a Euro-trip across the other top leagues, except not as beer-fuelled.

  • Things in France are certainly intriguing and not just with the France national team investigation that has just concluded. Champions Marseille are in an early season crisis (and no I don’t mean an Arsenal crisis as hinted at by the Telegraph). Didier Deschamps hinted at club unrest, most likely down to the decisions of Mamadou Niang, who has since left to join Fenerbahce, and Hatem Ben Arfa trying to broker a Premier League move.Deschamps said: “There are a lot of negative things going on off the pitch, but we are making a lot of mistakes on the pitch also. They are not excuses, they are explanations”. Marseille have lost both their games in Ligue 1 this season against Caen and Valenciennes.
  • Over in Portugal, Benfica were stunned with an opening day defeat to Academica, with a glorious last minute winner from Laionel. Interesting to see how Benfica do this year, they’ve been well and truly raided by other European clubs, and I for one am amazed to see Fabio Coentrao still at the club. I don’t think this defeat will lead to a slide, but I think it will be a lot closer title race that last year, with Porto and Sporting both hoping to improve on last years efforts. Here’s that strike by the way, the first winner of 6Pointer Goal of the Week

5.  How to make your debut, Joe Cole style

Not that type of player.... apparently

The biggest talking point from the Super Sunday game between Liverpool and Arsenal. Now remember ‘Joe Cole isn’t that sort of player’, what a ludcrious argument that is. It was in an area of the pitch where tackles like that aren’t needed and Martin Atkinson was right to send off Joe Cole. The Koscielny red card was more contentious only for the fact he wasn’t consistent with hand balls but I thought he looked reasonably assured on his debut.

Not that it really mattered, Joe Cole was kept incredibly quiet by Arsenal and was outlassed by his Arsenal counterpart in Samir Nasri. Liverpool kicked on from that to take the lead through David N’Gog, who often recieves harsh criticism and unfair comparisons to Fernando Torres. He was aided by some poor defending from Arsenal though.

Arsenal came back, as you’d expect and grabbed a late equaliser from Pepe Reina not being able to see a football through the sun. According to Andy Gray. Either way it ended in a draw, no surprises.

6. Toon Army  Facial Hair Watch – Fixture 1

Every villain needs a moustache. Mr March perhaps for Joey?

Last night Twitter exploded with the news of Joey Barton’s moustache. The Newcastle squad have vowed not to shave until they win a league game.

Now some people can pull of facial hair. Tom Selleck, Ian Rush (sort of) and the Red Baron from the Wacky Races. Unfortunately for none of the Newcastle players can and it could be seen for a long time yet with the way Newcastle performed last night. It wasn’t bad but they were outclassed.

Could we see Joey go through different stages as the season progress? In fact I call for a calendar just for Joey Barton’s Moustaches. May’s offering could be a Fu Manchu if the situation doesn’t improve. 6pointer will keep you informed with a new feature – Toon Tash Watch.

I’m off to watch Zenit Auxerre, hopefully an entertaining game, see you next week

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.

Community Shield Preview – Chelsea vs Manchester United

At last the discussion over England’s worst World Cup in the history of all time can temporarily cease, as we prepare ourselves for the traditional curtain raiser: The Community Shield.

This will be the 88th Community Shield and the 5th contested between these two heavyweights. Chelsea of course won the double last year so United qualify as league runners-up. This is the first real opportunity to see how the two of the big sides will do this season, and more importantly for Chelsea and Manchester United to claim first blood in what is sure to be an interesting campaign.

Both have had contrasting pre-seasons. Ancelotti’s Chelsea have suffered 3 three straight defeats whilst travelling through Europe (against Ajax, Eintracht Frankfurt and Hamburg). Defeats on pre-season are never an indication of how things will turn out for a side clearly, but it was the manner of these defeats that must irk Carlo Ancelotti. Particularly against Ajax, a Chelsea fringe team were outplayed by Martin Jol’s side.

More worringly however is the fitness of goalkeeper Petr Cech who will certainly miss this game, and is in a race against time to make the Premier League day opener. He will be replaced by Hilario as Ross Turnbull who has been deputising in recent weeks hasn’t impressed.

The Bison is back

One real bonus for Ancelotti is the return of Michael Essien in midfield. Missing most of last year, he will link up well with Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel in the midfield engine-room.

For Manchester United, pre-season has been considered a success with some impressive results against ‘All-Star’ sides. The recent 7-1 victory over the Airtricity League XI allowed United to make proverbial mince-meat of inferior opposition and turn on the style. Of course this tie won’t be so easy.

They’ve also accumulated some injuries, most notably Michael Carrick (ankle) and Ferguson’s side will certainly miss his technical attributes. He may have had a reasonably poor season last time out, but his passing in one of the best in the league in my opinion, and he is the epitome of the underrated central midfielder as highlighted by Zonal Marking recently. He also allows United to retain possession well too. I don’t see being a major issue as Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher can operate well as the two holding midfielders.

Other players missing for Manchester United are Gabriel Obertan (ankle), Anderson (knee and stunt driving), Rafael and Fabio (food poisoning) and Owen Hargreaves and Rio Ferdinand are long term injury concerns. On the subject of Anderson, I think his days are limited at Manchester United following his near-death experience. Shame, but two major injuries at a young age could curtail a promising career.

Summer savings

Neither side has really been on a pre-season splurge over the summer months. Chelsea have added Yossi Benayoun, who will fit nicely into the Joe Cole mould of squad player. Roman Abramovich has yet to break the bank with a signing but the £17m transfer of Benfica and Brazil winger Ramires is certainly imminent.

Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez - the next big thing?

Ferguson on the other hand decided to delve into the market early with the signings of Chris Smalling from Fulham and Javier Hernandez. The decision to bring in Chicharito for £7million pre-World Cup looks to be a Ferguson master-stroke after he excelled in South Africa. His positioning and off the ball running look superb and a friend likened him to a young Michael Owen. I whole-heartedly agree that this guy looks a hot prospect. The only area where Manchester United really need some strengthening is at right-back (Gary Neville and Wes Brown don’t help) and on the left side of midfield, unless Nani finally realises his potential. His inconsistency wasn’t as bad last year however.

Strikeforce options

Speaking of which, if Owen does start it will mark the first competitive game he’ll have played since the League Cup final in March. I doubt this will happen however as risking him on a Wembley pitch before the season starts could turn out disastrously. Expect Rooney and Berbatov to start, with Owen and Hernandez making 2nd half appearances possibly. Then again Ferguson could decide to play Rooney up to with 2 of Valencia/Nani/Park making up the support. This would likely match Chelsea, allowing flexibility to match their 4-3-3 formation in attack or 4-5-1/4-2-3-1 in other situations.

Rooney will need to hit the ground running again this season in a attempt to mask the performances in South Africa where he looked lethargic and uninterested. I have no doubt that this will happen.

Carlo Ancelotti has named his side this afternoon. He’s decided to leave Drogba on the bench, favouring Nicolas Anelka. He will be supported by Salomon Kalou and Florent Malouda on the flanks.

Teams

Chelsea (4-3-3) – Hilario; Paulo Ferreira, John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Ashley Cole; Michael Essien, John Obi Mikel, Frank Lampard; Salomon Kalou, Nicolas Anelka, Florent Malouda

Verdict – As expected. Near full strength. Interesting to see if Ivanovic can continue his improvement in the centre-back role alongside the increasingly outspoken and erratic John Terry.

Manchester United – TBA

Prediction

It will be tight and possibly a tense affair. I have an inkling that United will win here, mainly due to Chelsea’s pre-season form being sketchy. Ancelotti has complained that his players aren’t showing good enough fitness levels yet and that showing of his deck could prove costly. It might end with a penalty shoot-out but I think United will edge it 1-0.

Community Shield Trivia

  • The last three winners of the Community Shield went on to win the league that year. Will that trend continue this year?
  • Also the last three games have ended in a penalty shootout.
  • Andre Marriner will take charge of the game on Sunday. Not exactly one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s favourite referees after sending off Nemanja Vidic at Anfield last season.
  • A win for Ryan Giggs on Sunday would mean 8 Community Shields, the same as Everton have won.

To whet your appetite, here’s last season’s game highlights. Featuring general Nani goal.

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.