S57 Premier League Team of the Season

TOTS 17


Goalkeeper – Tom Heaton (Burnley, 31)

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Burnley have had a solid season. Staying in the top flight was the aim, they have achieved that. Key to that success has been their goalkeeper Heaton. The ex Manchester United man has played 34 times for the Clarets this term keeping 10 clean sheets and while he may not be top of the clean sheet table for the season, being so successful at a newly promoted side must be given huge credit. Heaton’s success this season is solidified with the 139 saves he has made, the most out of any goalkeeper in the league. There is even more good news for fans of the Turf Moor club as Heaton has recently confirmed he is not seeking a move away from Burnley.

Right-back – Kyle Walker (Tottenham, 26)

Walker

Walker has been a great full-back for many seasons. His pace is useful both going forward and when he is defending. His side pushed eventual winners Chelsea the closest in the title race. In his 33 appearances Spurs have gone on to win 21 of those games. He has also supplied 5 assists this season. As well as providing great attacking opportunities he has no shirked his defensive responsibilities. He has made 72 tackles at a success rate of 71%. However, his relationship with manager, Mauricio Pochettino, has reportedly broken down and Walker is looking to leave the London club.

Center-Back – Eric Bailly ( Manchester United, 23)

Bailly

Jose Mourinho is famed for having brilliant defenders. Everywhere he has been he has had a great back line. When he spent £30 million on Villarreal prospect Eric Bailly it became apparent he was one to watch this year. His athleticism is fantastic and he has displayed some other excellent qualities in his debut season in English football. In a side that have struggled for consistency Bailly has showed he will be vital to the Red Devil’s future. In his 24 appearances this year the team has kept 11 clean sheets and only conceded 15 goals. The physical nature of his game is underlined with the fact he has won 133 physical duals this season.

Centre-Back – David Luiz (Chelsea, 30)

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We must admit we raised our eyebrows when Chelsea’s new boss Antonio Conte decided to splash out £34 million to bring back Luiz at the start of the season. How he proved us wrong. In his 32 games Chelsea have won 25 of them. Luiz has matured and looks confident operating in the new Chelsea system. Luiz has scored the one goal in the Premier League this season, but he brings other qualities to the side. One of his strengths has always been how good he is on the ball and this year he has made 1,515 passes which is a very good amount for a central defender.

Left-back – Marcos Alonso (Chelsea, 26)

Marcos Alonso

Another Conte signing and one we must admit has worked very well. He has had tastes of the Premier League before with Bolton and Sunderland but he has never had the impact he has had at Chelsea. Alonso, who was a Real Madrid youth player, came to London from Fiorentina for £24 million this summer. He has ensured that he is in the starting line up week in week out with quality performances. The Blues have kept 15 of their 16 clean sheets when he has played. Not only does he give you great defensive cover he also excels going forward. He has scored six times and assisted three times this term. He has also put in 101 crosses this season.

Defensive Midfield – N’Golo Kante (Chelsea, 26)

Kante

The third Conte signing to make it in to the team of the season. This one was a bit more clear cut and straight forward however. After helping Leicester to an unlikely Premier League championship he switched to Chelsea for £32 million. At Stamford Bridge he was able to retain the title and make it back to back medals for himself. In his 34 appearances Chelsea have managed 26 wins. He shields the back line brilliantly and this year he has made 124 tackles and 82 interceptions.

Right Wing – Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal, 28)

Arsenal v Chelsea

Sanchez was a no-brainer really. Season after season he seems to lift Arsenal and be their shining star. He has been involved in every one of the Gunner’s matches so far this season making 37 appearances. He showed his versatility this by playing in a number of positions across the front line. This season has seen him score 23 times at a rate of 0.62 goals a game. He has also provided 10 assists for his team mates. Alexis is the man that Arsenal look to when they need something special and this is proven by the fact he took 125 shots this season, with 47 of those hitting the target.

Left Wing – Eden Hazard (Chelsea, 26)

Hazard

The Belgian star has struggled to find the sparkling form that saw him win the PFA Player of the Year award in 2014/15. However, he has had a quality season this time round. While he has not hit the heights of the 14/15 season he has been a constant threat for Chelsea and he has been a big influence on the trophy returning to Stamford Bridge. He has played 35 times for the Royals this season in which they have won 27 times. He has hit the back of the net 15 times and created 5 goals for his colleagues. Hazard has a high shot accuracy percentage shooting 75 times this campaign and hitting the target 32 times. This gives him a shooting accuracy of 43%.

Attacking Midfield – Dele Alli (Tottenham, 21)

Alli

The youngest member of our Team of the Season has carried on where he left off last season. Alli is flying at the moment in the world of football. He is a star for club and country and considered the future for both. Unfortunately his Spurs side have  come up just short again this season but the experience the squad are having fighting for titles will do them no harm in the long run. The ex MK Dons player has played 36 times for Spurs this season winning in 25 of those games. He has scored an impressive 17 goals in the league this season bettering last seasons tally of 10. He has assisted 6 times in addiction to his goal scoring achievement.

Striker – Harry Kane (Tottenham, 23)

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Alli has a brilliant understanding and on field relationship with Tottenham’s main man, Harry Kane. It would be almost impossible for somebody to argue that this man should not be in the Team of the Season. In his 29 appearances Spurs have won 20 times. He has almost scored a goal a game reach 26 goals this season. Kane is two ahead at the summit of the Golden Boot award for this season with one game to go. He looks set to retain that award after winning it last year with 25 goals. He has also provided 7 assists this season and has had a shot accuracy of 52%.

Striker – Romelu Lukaku (Everton, 24)

Lukaku

Lukaku is the reason we had to opt for the diamond in midfield. It was impossible for us to justify leaving him out. Lukaku has been dominant for Everton this year. However, it looks as if he wants away from Goodison Park. Lukaku is looking for a move to one of the Premier League super powers. Manchester United and Chelsea have been heavily linked with the Belgian striker. This year he has been in free goal scoring form. He is the player who is two behind Kane on 24 goals in 36 appearances. He has also created goals with 6 assists. His strength has been a key factor for Everton this year. His ability to hold the ball up and allow the midfield players to drive forward is evident. The toffees must keep hold of him!

 

Back to Business for Brook

Brook Spence Poster


Kell Brook will return to action for the first time on the 27th May. This fight will be his first since suffering his first professional defeat last September. His defeat came against one of the most feared boxers on the planet, Gennady Golovkin, who overpowered Brook but certainly did not out box him. The Sheffield born fighter’s stock was definitely on the rise after the fight. Eventually his corner were forced to throw the towel in due to their fighter suffering a broken eye socket. He fought well but moving up two weight divisions proved a step too far for ‘Special K’.

Now he’s back! But he has to take care of business. Coming back at his more favoured weight, the weight at which he holds a World tittle. Even he has has had to admit it has been difficult for him to return to 147 after fighting up at middleweight. But he’s done it. He looks in great shape, which is what you expect from Kell. In fact he tucked in to a three course feast according to images uploaded to twitter by his nutritionist recently. Garlic prawns and mushrooms with a helping of white bread, followed by steak in Jack Daniels sauce and finishing with a nice big piece of double chocolate fudge cake. This just goes to show how confident he is of making weight. His camp must have been excellent.

He will be defending his IBF welterweight strap against unbeaten and highly rated American Errol Spence JR at Bramall Lane. The significance of the location? Brook will be fighting at the home of the football team he is a lifelong supporter of, Sheffield United. He will be hoping to emulate Tony Bellew, who beat Ilunga Mukabu at Goodison Park, the home of ‘The Bombers’ favourite football team Everton. Brook will be looking for a hostile atmosphere in Sheffield to potentially intimidate Spence. After all all of Spence’s pro fights have been in America bar one, which took place in Toronto, Canada. The unbeaten American has travelled to the UK before in his amateur days. He competed in the 2012 London Olympics but lost in the quarter finals. ‘The Truth’ will be looking to tick this box and show he can continue his great record away from home and he will be hoping to bring the title back to the US. Of course Brook had to travel to the states to win the belt when he was involved in a classic against Shawn Porter.

Spence is the favourite in the eyes of the bookmakers. This comes as a slight surprise as he is the challenger and the away fighter. The fight is a tough one to call though. Both can box and both can dish out punishment. Brook’s trainer, Dominic Ingle made comments regarding Spence’s record and the lack of fights he has had against top class opponents. Stating that Brook has been in against the superior fighters like Porter. As we know with boxing styles make fights. Looking at who beat who in the past does not give us a clear indication of how the fight will go.

The American fighter seems to have left no stone unturned. He’s come out the the UK two weeks before the fight to ensure he is settled in his new surrounding. In the press conference he seemed cool, took it all in his stride as Brook seemed to get frustrated and begin to lose his temper. Triggering the question, is this a fight that Brook wants? It is a mandatory defence after Spence disposed of Leonard Bundu in six. Brook will need to be at the top of his game to keep hold of his IBF belt.

The fight will be tight and both fighters have the potential to make it an extremely special night for boxing. An American rising star travelling to England to face a World Champion in his own back yard. It’s a mouth watering prospect. We predict that Brook will come out on top. His experience, great boxing technique and solid chin will all need to be present if he is to do so. If he overlooks Spence he will be in trouble. Spence throws a lot of punches with accuracy and forces his opponents back. Anything other than a flawless performance from the champion will open the door for Spence. The fight will come down to fine margins. Roll on the 27th.

Real Assert European Dominance and Zidane is the Man

ZZ


Not since the turn of the century have Real Madrid stood at the peak of European football and been able to look down.

Champions League winners in 1997/98, 1999/00 and 2001/02, they were inundated with ‘nearly’ moments and close calls. But ultimately, the money that was pumped into the club counted for little in their search for the European glory of the past.

Now, they have a June 3rd date in Cardiff with Juventus to attend to. A third final in four years the summary of a dramatic twelve months for Los Blancos in which they may very well have found both the consistency and success they crave.

At the very heart of this has been the latest managerial incumbent – Real Madrid’s former Galactico Zinedine Zidane. In the wake of Rafael Benitez’ departure, Zidane was somewhat hurriedly promoted from Real’s B Team coach to running the senior squad. A move that was hardly synonymous with the appointment of a new Real manager. Zidane, while a club legend, was only baby steps into management.

Benitez departed in a mist of bewilderment, having safely negotiated the Champions League group stages, and sitting third in a tightly run La Liga race. He won 17 of the 25 games in charge but rumours were rife that he was losing control of the titanic egos in the dressing room – notably Cristiano Ronaldo, James Rodriguez and Isco.

Zidane’s arrival heralded a legend taking control of superstars and future legends of the sport. Amid the galaxy of stars at his disposal, he cooled the egos of several and combined expensive purchases and home grown talent for his staring XI.

It began steadily enough for the Frenchman. A thunderous 5-0 win against Deportivo la Coruna brought back a rejuvenation that seemed almost lost under Benitez. The season was a success which saw the Frenchman’s side conquer Europe to take undecima back to the Bernabeu, beating local rivals Atletico Madrid on penalties.

Since then, Zidane has emulated the clean up operation he was asked to oversee, and taken full advantage of Atleti’s and Barca’s domestic stumbles. With just two games of La Liga left, his side have control.

But his side have established European dominance when it mattered. Facing off against contenders like Napoli, Bayern Munich and Atleti, Zidane seems to demand his side step up an extra notch. Notably, Ronaldo, Marcelo and Casmeiro fought hard in Germany to attack for their result, but battled relentlessly to keep the Bundesliga champions at bay.

These are true tests of strength that seem to suggest that Real’s players are now battling for Zidane rather than themselves – such a work ethic his legendary status almost compels. The sight of his XI picking themselves up in extra time during that wonderful battle against Bayern, in which Dani Carvajal sprinted a full 15 yards just to get the ball back to the centre in the wake of Ronaldo’s equalising goal, was symptomatic of the aura Zidane appears to cast on his side 

It comes to a head against Italian side Juventus in Cardiff, and Real are in the driving seat to retain the famous trophy.

Mourinho’s Rashford Dilemma

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It has been a funny old season for football in Manchester. Two mega coaches touched down in the summer and United and City were supposed to battle for the title. The recent Manchester derby saw the two clubs fighting for an advantage over each other in securing a top four finish. The arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic was met with great excitement from the red side of Manchester and their new superstar coach Jose Mourihno. The Swede’s record is superb. If his style of play helps or hinders the team is debatable but the volume of goals he has scored suggests that bringing him to the club has been a success. When his season ended in the Europa League quarter-final with Anderlecht attention shifted to Marcus Rashford.

Rashford had shown signs of improving his form leading up to his latest run in the side. He had scored coming off the bench in the away game at Sunderland. He looked quick and sharp after Jose introduced him after the hour mark. Then Rashford was preferred to Zlatan as the number nine against Chelsea at Old Trafford. Possibly United’s best result of the season and a much needed one for their new coach against his former club. Rashford scored in the seventh minute, running in behind Chelsea’s back line and keeping his composure to slip the ball beyond Asmir Begovic. He then went on to score the winner in extra time against Anderlecht, the game in which Zlatan was injured.

The ninteen year old’s season up until this point had been slow. After his heroics against Hull, scoring in the final moments of the game at the end of August he had been unable to claim a regular starting place in the team.

Being rested in the majority of United’s remaining Premier League games shows the importance of the youngster in Zlatan’s absence. Jose has focused on the Euoropa League to gain qualification to the Champions League next season. Rashford delivered a moment of brilliance in the away leg of the semi-final in Vigo, a goal which turned out to be extremely important in the context of this two legged tie. His free-kick handed United a 1-0 win and a vital away goal. His movement and coolness under pressure exceed his age. His potential is immeasurable. Should he lead the line for Manchester United next season?

This was the debate Rio Ferdinand, Owen Hargreaves and Michael Owen had after the Celta Vigo game at Old Trafford were United held on (only just) to reach the final of the Europa League. Owen questioned whether Rashford was the type of player to score 30 goals a season playing as the centre forward for Manchester United. Who knows how Rashford’s game will develop? He has all the qualities to score that amount of goals and if he is given the chance for a full season he may well do it. But his tally of five league goals in the Premier League this year, even with his inconsistent selection, shows he still has a lot of work to do to achieve this.

However, can United afford to take that risk given how competitive the domestic league has been this year? Hargreaves cast his doubts over Rashford becoming United’s leading man next term. He went on to ask how many of the top teams in Europe start a 19 year old striker week in week out? Well if you look around the Premier League and the top teams here not many. The recently crowned English champions have Diego Costa at 28 and Michy Batshuayi aged 23 as back up. Tottenham have Hary Kane at 23 and Vincent Janssen 22. United’s rivals, Man City have Sergio Aguero aged 28 leading the line. The trend doe not stop here. The elite teams in Europe have big names in their prime as their leading forwards. As well as Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid have Karim Benzema and Alvaro Morata. Barcelona posses great attacking skills with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar. Juventus have Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala and German giants Bayern Munich have Robert Lewandowski. Hargreaves made a very good point here and United relying so heavily on a young star with huge potential could have damaging effects on the longevity of his career.

United will be linked with every striker under the sun over the next few weeks. Whether it be Antoine Griezmann, Romelu Lukaku or Kylian Mbappe it is fair to say that the red devils need a new striker. It is just what type of striker they think is best to balance the squad. To challenge for numerous trophies at the top level United need various players who can score goals. They need players to step in when others are injured or out of form. This is not an attempt to say Rashford is not the future, he almost certainly is. He just is not the right player for a club like Manchester United to be soley depending on to fire thenm back to their former glory. No single player can achieve that.

Juventus look to forget Champions League heartbreak in Cardiff

Juve Landscape Poster


Juventus did the job in Monaco. The home leg was nothing more than a formality for them against one of the most exciting teams in Europe. It took Monaco over two and a half hours to break Juve down in their two game contest. This was the first time the Italian giants had conceded in the knock out phase of this years competition, not bad to say they had met Barcelona in the previous round. They are seven points ahead of Roma in Serie A with three games left to play. They have every right to be confident. However, it is their history that could fill Juve fans with worry ahead of their big day in Cardiff.

Juventus have contested the final top European club competition eight times in their history. Their record is not an enviable one. They have won the trophy on two occasions in their eight final appearances. The first success came in 1985, they played against Liverpool. A single goal separated the two teams and it came from the penalty spot. Michel Platini stepped up to send Bruce Grobbelaar the wrong way after the penalty was given controversially. The football was overshadowed by an event in the stands. A wall collapsed after Liverpool fans charged at Juventus supporters who had gained access to the neutral zone which was set up for local football supporters. This became know as the Heysel Stadium disaster where 39 fans lost their lives.

The second of their triumphs came 11 years later when Juventus beat Ajax on penalties in Rome. Marcello Lippi’s side took the lead early in the first half through Fabrizio Ravanelli who capitilised on a mistake from Frank de Boer and Edwin van der Sar. The sides were level just before half time when Jari Litmanen scored for Ajax. The game went to penalties and Juve keeper Angelo Peruzzi saved Ajax’s first and fourth penalty to hand the Italians their second European cup winning 4-2 on penalties.

That is as good as it got for the Old Lady in terms of success. The next two years saw them reach the final in both campaigns. Borussia Dortmund beat them in the 1997 final and Real Madrid suceeded over them the following year. These two defeats doubled Juve’s losses in the elite European competitions final as they had earlier lost to Ajax (1973) and Hambury (1983).

It was five years later when they reached the final again. It was an all Italian final with A.C Milan also fighting their way to Old Trafford It was a technical game which entertained. Neither team scored in regular or extra time which meant that it would go to penalties to decide who would lift the trophy. Juve lost the penalty shoot out to put another final defeat on their record.

It was 12 years before Juve would make their way to the final again. In that time the club had been wrapped up in a match fixing scandal and been forced to drop down to Serie B. They achieved promotion back to Italy’s top flight and had to rebuild from there. On the way to this final Juventus had beaten Real Madrid in the semi finals to earn the right to contest the final against Barcelona. However, it was not the ending they hoped for. They were beaten 3-1. Outclassed on the night by Messi et al.

So why should Juventus be positive about this final? After all they face the most successful team in the competitions history, Real Madrid. Cristiano Ronaldo has been dominant in the tournament scoring 10 goals, one behind Messi who is the top scorer in the Champions League as it stands.

For one Juve have an incredible defensive record. In the Champions League this season they have conceeded three goals in 12 games. This is no fluke as their domestic form has seen a similar trend, they have conceed just 23 goals in 35 games so far. Their defence is full of experienced international players. Gianluigi Buffon sets the tone. At 39 years old this may be his last chance to taste success in this tournament. He’s has had a brilliant career and this would be a marvelous send off for him. Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Dani Alves are all 30 or above and have a vast amount of experience at this level. This really is a foundation for the Italian team to build on.

Their stratergy is based on defence, but they have more to their game than that. They have some of the best players going forward in the world. Gonzalo Higuain has been their top scorer in this years competition with five goals. He joined Juve from Napoli at the start of the season for £75 million and has given their front line something different. A classy striker who moves well and is one of the deadliest finishers in the business. He will be out for something to prove in Cardiff having played for Real Madrid for six years. After comments earlier this year he said that Juventus fans would never boo their own players as Madrid have done recently with Ronaldo. If Higuain feels he has something to prove he could be vital to a Juventus win. With players around him like Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic it could be a very long night for Real Madrid’s inconsistent defense.

Can Juventus defeat the mighty Real Madrid at the Millenium Stadium on Saturday 3rd June? If they perform to the standard they have been doing in the Champions League – of course they can.