Category Archives: Soccer

USMNT World Cup Review

This World Cup ended the same way as the last one for the US: a hard-fought defeat in the Round of 16. Many pundits observed this fact and noted the defensive style the US used for most of the tournament. Strangely, some pundits have used these observations to criticize Jurgen Klinsmann, claiming that he didn’t provide the kind of attacking soccer that he promised when he took over from Bob Bradley. These people couldn’t be more off base.

sadjurgen

Sad Jurgen

Klinsmann made just two mistakes the entire tournament: first, he put Chris Wondolowski in the squad. Second, he used him. Wondo is a fantastic MLS player, and he excels at getting into dangerous spaces without the ball. But he lacks the physical tools and the finishing touch to succeed on the international level, as he showed by missing a sitter against Belgium, bringing back memories of his miss in the 2011 Gold Cup. The US would have been better off with Terrence Boyd, who would have been an ideal backup for Jozy Altidore as the two share similar skill sets, or Juan Agudelo, who would have brought pace and creativity to the side. The inclusion of Agudelo also would have helped the young American’s club career; his lack of international appearances prevented him from gaining a work permit, and ultimately led to his release.

Chris-Wondolowski-miss1

Déjà vu for Wondo

But enough criticism. Klinsmann was one of the best managers in the tournament. The controversial inclusions in the final squad–chiefly DeAndre Yedlin, Julian Green, and John Brooks –paid off wonderfully. He used his substitutes to perfection. And most importantly, he got the US out of a group in which no one gave them a chance. This accomplishment can’t go overlooked. And to those who claim that the US only advanced by playing defensively, I would suggest that they go back and rewatch the Portugal game. For almost an entire game, the US outpassed, outpossessed, outshot, and outplayed a team that entered the tournament ranked fourth in the world. And of course, the US did this while the team’s most creative player, Clint Dempsey, was forced to play as a lone striker due to an injury to Altidore. Even if the US didn’t play like that for the entire tournament, the fact that they played like that at all against a top team should be considered a success. And with quite a few bright young prospects (looking at you Gedion Zelalem) potentially ready to make an impact in the next cycle, it won’t be long before American fans will be seeing more performances like the one against Portugal.

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Premier League Preview

After a wait that seemed much longer than it actually was, the English Premier League is back. That name is actually something of a misnomer, particularly this year, as for the first time ever two Welsh teams- Swansea and Cardiff- will be sharing the limelight in the top flight. Maybe it would be better to call the league the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Premier League.” That doesn’t have the same ring to it, and Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland all have their own soccer leagues. So for now, we’ll stick with the EPL.

But I digress. This post will attempt to make a prediction about a league that is basically unpredictable. Three teams have a good shot at winning this year, more will contend for a Champions League spot, and even more will fight to stave off relegation and to keep that sweet, sweet EPL money. I don’t want someone to throw this in my face after some team plays surprisingly well/horribly, so I will give a best and worst scenario for each team. I hope you enjoy this, and all I ask is that you keep your criticism good-natured (assuming anyone actually reads this). Beware, this is way too long to read in one sitting. If you actually manage to finish the whole thing, please let me know in the comment section. So, without further ado, I present to you the official College Sports Town Premier League Preview:

1. Manchester City

Manchester City has undergone some turmoil this offseason following the departure of Roberto Mancini and the hiring of Manuel Pelligrini. But the Citizens seem all the better for it, as Pellegrini should be an upgrade over Mancini, particularly in European football. Pellegrini found Champions League success in less than ideal circumstances with Malaga, while Mancini found no success with City. The team suffered few losses over the summer, the only notable one being the departure of embattled striker Carlos Tevez. The loss of Tevez and Balotelli (who left in January) should remove much of the drama from the team. City added two new strikers- Steven Jovetic and Alvaro Negredo- to pick up the scoring load. The two newcomers will join Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero to form a deadly strike-force.

City will find goals from the wings as well, thanks to new signing Jesus Navas. Navas and Negredo should link well with midfield maestro and fellow Spaniard David Silva, who will once again look to lead the City midfield. The addition of Fernandinho  should help alleviate Silva’s workload, which is huge as Silva looked exhausted for much of last season. Yaya Toure is still an absolute monster in the midfield, and Javi Garcia can only get better with another year under his belt. Gareth Barry and James Milner help provide much needed depth. Jack Rodwell could also be very good if he is able to avoid the injury bug.

Defensively, City will also be superb, with Joe Hart playing behind a back four headlined by Vincent Kompany and Micah Richards. Gael Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov give City depth at outside back, although grabbing another one following the departure of Maicon wouldn’t hurt. Centerback is also a bit thin, with Joleon Lescott and Matija Nastasic (who could develop into a star this year) as the only other viable options.

Grabbing Pepe from Real Madrid would be huge, but even without him City are my pick to win the title. This team simply has too much quality- both in star power and in depth- not to win the title this season.

Best Case Scenario: If you actually need me to tell you this, you probably shouldn’t be reading this article.

Worst Case Scenario: City fails to mount a title challenge from the start, finishing a disappointing third while also failing to get past the group stage of the Champions League.

2. Chelsea

This year, Chelsea will continue their tradition of only employing the most likable players in the Premier League. Owner Roman Abromavich, long known for being one of the most caring, understanding, and patient owners around, has built what may be the most likable team of all time. Starting with the manager Jose Mourinho, so humble that he calls himself “The Special One,” and continuing to the captain John Terry, who is living proof that the EPL has no race problem,this team is full of great human beings.

Despite the fact that just about everyone on the team is a massive a-hole (or maybe because of it), Chelsea is actually quite good, good enough that a title is a distinct possibility. The team’s main issue will be scoring goals. Chelsea is only three deep at striker. The greatly named Demba Ba is joined by the giant Romelu Lukaku and the odious Fernando Torres. All three strikers have big question marks. Lukaku was great for West Brom last year, but playing for Chelsea is a different story altogether. Ba is not good enough to be a major contributor to a team like Chelsea; he really should be a third choice, and he will at times this year be asked to be the first choice. And Fernando Torres is Fernando Torres. The same man who once did this (although to be fair he also made Gary Neville do this). Luckily for Chelsea, their wingers have plenty of goals in them. Between Eden Hazard, Juan Mata, the newly signed Andre Schurrle, and the underrated Victor Moses, Chelsea’s wingers should be able to make the net bulge this year, and help others do so as well. The young Belgian Kevin De Bruyne may also play out on the wing.

The midfield will be quite good at scoring goals, but potentially less so at helping prevent them. Mata and De Bruyne can slide back to help give the midfield attacking flair, joining Marco van Ginkel, Oscar, Ramires,  and the aging Frank Lampard. The team features just two defensively minded midfielders in John Obi Mikel and Michael Essien. Essien is old and isn’t used to the league after spending last year with Real Madrid, which may force Mikel into a bigger role than he may be capable of handling. The Blues may look to Josh McEachran to step up.

Chelsea should be able to defend well this year, with the aforementioned Terry teaming up with Gary Cahill and potentially David Luiz in the center. Chelsea is deep on the outside, with Ashley Cole, Branislav Ivanovic, Ryan Bertrand, and Cesar Azpilicueta. Czech youngster Tomas Kalas may also step up into a bigger role this year. The team should be set at keeper with Petr Cech now backed up by Mark Schwarzer, a man with quite a bit of Prem experience.

Overall, Chelsea is quite strong at every position, but lack depth outside of the midfield. Even though Mourinho will likely only use one striker, playing either a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1, I worry that Chelsea won’t be able to find goals from their strikers consistently enough to win the title.

Best Case Scenario: See above.

Worst Case Scenario: The Special One isn’t so special, the team’s strikers can’t find goals, and a late collapse sees Chelsea finish outside the top four, resulting in Mourinho’s firing. Alternatively, the team may be destroyed by God, still angry about Chelsea releasing his chosen player Yossi Benayoun.

3. Manchester United

David Moyes is in for a tough first year. Moyes has big shoes to fill, and with his current squad it appears unlikely that he will be able to do so–at least not right away. The team won’t lack for goals as long as Robin van Persie is up top, and despite his grumblings I find it hard to believe that Wayne Rooney is actually on his way out. Despite some struggles, Danny Welbeck has the ability to contribute, but he will be behind Chicharito on the depth chart. Nani, Ashley Young, and Antonio Valencia will once again combine to form a deadly trio of wingers, and Shinji Kagawa looks ready to contribute, either in an midfield role similar to the one he had at Dortmund or potentially as a winger. Wilfried Zaha has impressed enough in the preseason to earn a chance at getting some playing time on the wings as well.

The real problem is the midfield. Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs, Tom Celeverly, and Anderson aren’t good enough to win a Premier League title, let alone a Champions League one. United needsa new midfielder, whether it be Fabregas or Modric or God knows who else. But the current stable just isn’t going to cut it, even if Darren Fletcher manages to return from his nasty case of irritable bowl syndrome.

The defense also has some holes. David de Gea morphed into the goalie Sir Alex thought he would be last year, and Nemanja Vidic is still one of the best in the world. But outside of Vidic the back line is shaky. Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra are aging. Phil Jones is good at a number of positions, although not having a consistent position may stunt his growth, and Chris Smalling appears destined to be a bench player. Jonny Evans, whom I will forever hate for injuring Stuart Holden, is also suspect. Alexander Buttner may need to step up to help fill in for Evra, as will Fabio. Rafael showed much promise last year, and the Red Devils will hope that he can continue to improve.

At the end of the day, although the young defenders will take a step forward, it won’t be enough to compensate for the decline of two all-time greats in Ferdinand and Evra. The midfield isn’t strong enough, and as good as the strikers are, they can’t do it all themselves. United fans should gear up for a disappointing season, unless United gets midfield help and keeps Rooney. In that case, the team would be able to mount a serious title bid.

Best Case Scenario: Again, see above

Worst Case Scenario: The Red Devils are done in by a lackluster midfield and an aging back four, causing the team to slump to fourth. David Moyes is shown the exit door after just one year, due to his failure to win a trophy and to bring in anyone of note. Wayne Rooney moves to fellow title contenders Chelsea.

4. Tottenham

Andre Villas Boas turned down overtures from PSG to manage Spurs this season. Gareth Bale may actually be staying. The arrival of Roberto Soldado finally gives Tottenham a world class striker. Things are looking up for the North London club, and it all should result in the Champions League place that Spurs have so desperately sought over the past few seasons. Soldado should play just about every minute at striker, while Jermaine Defoe should be able to provide some goals off the bench and in the occasional start. Hopefully the team can rid itself of the odious Emmanuel Adebayor. Aaron Lennon and new signing Nacer Chadli (as well as Andros Townsend once he returns from his suspension) should provide pace out wide. Of course, Gareth Bale will provide most of the team’s goals, whether he plays out on the left or in the middle. Bale is a truly special player, and Spurs should avoid selling him at all costs.

The midfield is also full of attacking talent. Moussa Dembele and new signing Paulinho both have the ability to hit double digit goals from the midfield. Lewis Holtby and Gylfi Sigurdsson can also provide goals from the bench. The team is also deep at defensive midfielder, as Sandro is joined by new signing Etienne Capoue. Scott Parker may be on his way out; if he isn’t, Tottenham will arguably have the deepest midfield in the league.

The back four will be strong as well; Jan Vertonghen proved himself to be a beast last season, and a versatile one at that, able to play out on the left or in the center. Benoit Assou-Ekotto will see time on the left as well, and Danny Rose may potentially see some as well. Kyle Walker looks to continue to be a mainstay at right back, with Kyle Naughton occasionally getting a start. Younes Kaboul and Michael Dawson are the team’s two best centerbacks. Spurs should look to add some depth there before the season starts. The goalkeeping tandem of Hugo Lloris and Brad Friedel ensures that Tottenham will always have a top-notch, in-form keeper between the sticks.

If Spurs can hang on to Bale, the sky is the limit for this team, though they may lack the depth up top and at the back to top Manchester United. But don’t be surprised if at the end of the year it’s Tottenham celebrating a Premier League title.

Best Case Scenario: Gareth Bale and the rest of the team play out of their collective minds and Tottenham emerge with a shocking Premier League Title.

Worst Case Scenario: Bale and Andre Villas-Boas both leave as Tottenham fails once again to qualify for the Champions League, forcing the team to undergo a rebuilding process.

5. Arsenal

This summer was a disappointing one for Arsenal fans, as the Gunners struck out on every high profile target they had. As it stands now, Arsenal will need some top drawer performances to qualify for another year of Champions League football. The strikeforce appears to be good but not great. Olivier Giroud will be the main man up top. New signing Yaya Sanogo can provide some cover, but he is unproven. Nicklas Bendtner may also see some time if Arsenal is unable to unload him. Lukas Podolski can also play centrally, but is best on the wing. Fellow winger Theo Walcott was fantastic last year, and he may be the biggest goal scoring threat for the Gunners. Youngsters Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ryo Miyaichi look set for big seasons as well.

Santi Cazorla can provide creativity and goals from the midfield. Aaron Ramsey must live up to his potential this year, or risk being stuck behind Mikel Arteta and Tomas  Rosicky. Jack Wilshere will also be a mainstay in the midfield, but he suffers from injury issues.

Defensively, Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal should excel, although an aging Bacary Sagna and an unproven Carl Jenkinson are suspect on the right. In the center, captain Thomas Vermaelen will need to step up his performance after struggling for most of last year. A combination of him, Per Mertesacker, and Laurent Koscielny will not be enough, especially considering that Wojciech Szczesny is the man between the sticks.

Arsenal still lacks a top-notch striker, a Champions League quality goalie, and depth at centerback. Barring anymore food poisoning incidents, the Gunners should find themselves in the Europa League next season.

Best Case Scenario: Arsene Wegner shows why he is one of the best managers in the world as Arsenal blossoms into legitimate title contenders before finally settling for a top three finish, coupled with a successful Champions League campaign.

Worst Case Scenario: Another trophy-less season along with a failure to finish in the top four causes Wegner’s seat to get awfully hot.

6. Liverpool

Brendan Rogers has done a great job trying to undo the misdeeds of the past few years; no longer will Liverpool shell out absurd sums for bad players. Rogers has surrounded star striker Louie Suarez with quite a bit of quality. Daniel Sturridge was fantastic last season, and new signing Iago Aspas has impressed in the preseason. Raheem Sterling should improve on a solid season last year, and the team will hope that Fabio Borini can have some success (although I suspect he will not). New signing Luis Alberto could figure into the team’s plans as well.

The midfield is thin; captain Steven Gerrard is joined by wonderkid Philippe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson, Lucas Leiva, and Joe Allen. Gerrard and Coutinho should be able to score goals and help with the attack, and Leiva has the ability to be a solid defensive mid, if he can stay out of injury trouble. Henderson and Allen are both question marks who have failed to make major impacts during their time at Liverpool.

The back four should be alright; Daniel Agger looks to be staying in Liverpool following Barcelona’s decision to stop their hunt for another centerback. Martin Skrtel and Sebastian Coates are both solid. New signing Kolo Toure and Martin Kelly should also be able to provide to depth. Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique will form an outside back tandem that will certainly not lack for pace. New goalkeeper Simon Mignolet is one the league’s best, and will be an upgrade over Pepe Reina.

Liverpool will be able to put the ball in the back of the net, even without Suarez, but a lack of depth in the midfield and quite frankly a lack of the quality of the teams that I have ranked above them will consign Liverpool to another season outside of the top four. But as long as Rodgers keeps making smart signings, the Reds will find themselves back in the Champions League sooner rather than later.

Best Case Scenario: Liverpool’s new signings continue to amaze and Brendan Rogers’ men finish in the top four.

Worst Case Scenario: Liverpool struggles once again, Louie Suarez leaves- but not before biting and racially abusing someone- and an obscure clause in Andy Carroll’s contract forces Liverpool to pay Newcastle an extra 35 million pounds.

7. Swansea

Let me be the first to say it: I have Swan fever. I am high on Swansea! Michael Laudrup has assembled a squad that could contend for a spot in the Europa League this year. New signing Wilfired Bony has already shown what he can do when paired with last year’s star Michu, grabbing a brace in a 4-0 thrashing of Malmo. Either Leroy Lita or Marvin Emnes will be the main backup at striker. Wingers Wayne Routledge, Pablo Hernandez, and Nathan Dyer should all also be able to make positive contributions to the attack.

In the midfield, passing master Leon Britton is joined by ex-Liverpuglian Jonjo Shelvey. Shelvey brings valuable experience to the side, and is joined by fellow newcomer Jose Canas, freshly arrived from Spain. Jonathan de Guzman, born in Canada, returns for another loan spell and can add an attacking punch from the midfield, or from out wide. Alejandro Pozuelo and Ki Sung-Yeung add to the midfield’s depth. Hopefully, Jazz Richards will find some playing time, if only because he is named Jazz.

The defense features a variety of good but not great players, headlined by captain Ashley Williams. Jordi Amar, Chico Flores (literally “Boy Flower”), and Gary Monk will combine to be strong at centerback, while Ben Davies and Neil Taylor will hold on the outside. Michel Vorm will have the goalkeeper position covered, with Gerhard Tremmel prepared to step up should Vorm get injured again.

Swansea certainly has talent everyone, but depth will be an issue, particularly now that the team is playing the Europa League. Squad rotation will be key, but even if Laudrup handles everything perfectly the Swans will be hard pressed to finish in the top six.

Best Case Scenario: The new signings mesh well and the Swans qualify for another year of European football.

Worst Case Scenario: Playing in the Europa League drains the squad’s energy and Swansea is unable to make much of an impact on the league.

8. Everton

Roberto Martinez was brilliant during his time with Wigan, although it did end on a sour note when the Latics were relegated. He will have to work some more magic to take an Everton team that may lose its best player in Marouane Fellaini back to the Champions league. With this squad, simply making it into the top six would be an impressive accomplishment. Everton has quite a few solid players, but no one (other than Fellaini and Leighton Baines) really stands out. Up top, new singing Arouna Kone joins Nikica Jelavic, Steven Naismith, Victor Anichebe, and Kevin Mirallas. Apostolos Vellios may be ready for a bigger role and thus could figure into the plans as well. With this much depth, squad rotation will be key. Everton will not lack for choice, but none of these strikers can be relied on to consistently score goals. Hopefully, winger Gerard Deulofeu, on loan from Barcelona, will be able to help with the scoring.

Beyond Fellaini, the midfield is solid, with Leon Osman, Ross Barkley, and Darren Gibson holding down the middle, Steven Pienaar will play out wide, and should be able to score some goals.

At the back, Brian Oviedo provides an attacking threat from left back, where he will backup Leighton Baines. On the right, Tony Hibbert and Seamus Coleman will be relied upon. John Heitinga, Phil Jaglieka, and Antolin Alcaraz will be the main central defenders, with the ageless Sylvian Distin also getting some playing time. Tim Howard should be the starter in net, although Joel Robles is certainly good enough to start. In the end, a lack of star power and consistent goalscoring will keep Martinez from tasting sucess in his first season with the Toffees.

Best Case Scenario: Roberto Martinez works his magic and Everton contend for a place in the top four.

Worst Case Scenario: The lack of a consistent goalscorer and losing Marouane Fellaini dooms Everton to a bottom ten finish.

9. Fulham

Fulham struggled at times last year following the acrimonious departure of Clint Dempsey. Loanee Darren Bent will help to score goals, along with Dimitar Berbatov- the man signed to replace Dempsey- and Bryan Ruiz. Hugo Rodallega must improve after a disappointing season in which he netted just three goals. Another loanee, Adel Taarabt, should help with goalscoring, and winger/center mid Alexander Kacaniklic and right winger Ashkan Dejagah will be expected to help as well, although neither look to be any more than mildly threatening.

The midfield should be strong defensively, with stalwarts like Giorgos Karagounis and new singing Derek Boateng locking things down. Youngster Kerim Frei looks ready to make an impact, and mainstays like Damien Duff and Steve Sidwell are solid as well.

John Arne Riise, Sascha Riether, and Kieran Richardson will be the main outside backs, while Philippe Senderos, captain Brede Hangeland, and new singing Fernando Amorebieta will play centerback. Aaron Hughes is versatile enough to play anywhere on the back line. New goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg struggled for Roma last season and will need to improve.

Fulham won’t have the ability to take down the top teams, but their solid play should be enough to elevate them to a mid table finish.

Best Case Scenario: Dimitar Berbatov and co. prove that they still have something left in the tank, allowing the Cottagers to make a run at a spot in the Europa league.

Worst Case Scenario: An aging team finds itself over the hill and locked in a relegation battle.

10. Sunderland

Paolo di Canio is emphasizing attacking football this year for Sunderland, and it looks like he may be successful in that endeavour. Jozy Altidore looks like he could be the real deal, and he could form a deadly 1-2 punch with Steven Fletcher. Connor Wickham and Ji Dong-Won should be able to provide goals off the bench, and Sebastian Larsson will set up many of those off of set pieces. Right winger Adam Johnson should improve after a disappointing season last year, and he could be helped by new singing David Moberg Karlsson.

The midfield looks strong as well. Craig Gardner, Jack Colback, Lee Cattermole, and David Vaughan will be joined by new signings Cabral and Emanuele Giaccherini. Stephane Sessegnon will continue to provide goals and assists from the midfield as well.

The defense is the main area of concern. Keiren Westwood and Vito Mannone will fight to start in net, and neither looks too promising. The aging Wes Brown, Carlos Cuellar, and John O’Shea will be joined by new imports Valentin Roberge, Modibo Diakite, and Ondrej Celustka.

It’s attack or bust for Sunderland this year, as the team has the firepower to pull off some big victories but also the porous defense that can allow them to lose some big ones as well. It will be an up and down season for Sunderland, but if the new signings can play well, the rest of the league should be on notice.

Best Case Scenario: Paolo di Canio’s attacking style takes the league by storm as Sunderland fights for a spot in the top six.

Worst Case Scenario: Di Canio is fired after claiming that, “Hitler wasn’t all that bad,” Jozy Altidore plays like he did for Hull City, and the Black Cats find themselves hovering around the bottom of the table the entire season.

11. Newcastle

Last season was a complete disaster for Alan Pardew and his Frenchmen. The Magpies were basically one big expensive flop, and the fans won’t stand for another year of it. The controversial appointment of Joe Kinnear as director of football means that Newcastle is already off to a rough start. But Newcastle simply has too much talent to repeat last season. Papiss Cisse leads the front line, with help from French internationals Yoan Gouffran and Loic Remy. Hatem Ben Arfa, another Frenchman, adds creativity and pace on the wing.

The midfield is deep, led by Moussa Sissoko and Yohan Cabaye. Cheick Tiote is a strong defensive midfielder when he isn’t getting red carded, and Vurnun Anita showed promise in a similar role last season.

The back four is led by Fabricio Coloccini. Davide Santon, Massadio Haidara, Steven Taylor, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, and Mathieu Debuchy will all be major contributors, protecting the goal that is kept by the Dutchman Tim Krul.

The Magpies feature 10 Frenchmen, which last year caused the team to split into two factions: those who were on strike and those who weren’t French. Given more time to get acquainted, Newcastle should have fewer of those issues this year, although I suspect that not all of them will go away, and many will still remain. This team has the talent to compete for a spot in the top six. The question is simply whether or not they can play to their ability. While they may turn in some good performances this year, Newcastle will turn in another disappointing season.

Best Case Scenario: The team finally gels and repeats its performance of two years ago.

Worst Case Scenario: Overpowered by the pure stench of his team, Alan Pardew steps down, and Newcastle fans are forced to suffer through another season of locker room turmoil and bad soccer.

12. Norwich City

Chris Hughton’s squad spent big this summer in the hopes of turning Norwich City into a side that has the ability to consistently play solid Premier League Soccer. The plan appears to have worked, as the new imports strenthen a squad that was already fantastic at home. Although the Canaries probably can’t play quite as well at home this year, the team should be in better overall shape than last year. Despite losing top scorer Grant Holt, Norwich has a strong attack, led by two newcomers: Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Gary Hooper. Both have the ability to turn in double digit goals, giving the Canaries a huge offensive upgrade. Luciano Becchio is the only striker option off the bench, which means that the new signings will be under even more pressure. New winger Nathan Redmond may be under some pressure to perform right away as Norwich lack options on the wings.

Norwich City’s strength this year will be the midfield. Robert Snodgrass earned a reputation as an assist machine with his performances last year, and he will be the creative force behind Norwich’s attack. New signing Leroy Fer looks to be a rock in the center midfield. Alexander Tettey, Jonny Howson, Bradley Johnson, Anthony Pilkington, Wes Hoolihan, David Fox, and Luke Bennett round out the midfield.

Unlike many teams in the bottom half, Norwich won’t struggle to defend. John Ruddy is not a great keeper by any stretch, and Sebastien Bassong will be hard pressed to repeat his performance from last year, but even so the back line looks strong. Russell Martin and Steven Whittaker are both quality plays, as is centerback Michael Turner. Javier Garrido should be good on the left, where he will share time with Martin Olsson. Daniel Ayala will also see time at centerback.

If Norwich can stay injury free, they could easily make a run at the top half, led by their pricey new signings.

Best Case Scenario: The Canaries play solidly, and are able to easily secure another season in the top flight by finishing in the top half of the league.

Worst Case Scenario: An injury to van Wolfswinkel and/or Hooper lead to a season-long relegation struggle.

13. Aston Villa

Paul Lambert will once again preside over one of the youngest squads in the Prem this year. That can be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it means that the team has a lot of promise. On the other, it lacks experience. But most of this Villa side has the experience of going through a relegation fight, so that shouldn’t be as big of an issue as it was last year. Christian Benteke is the star, and he will lead what looks to be a potent attack. He is joined by the Austrian Andreas Weimann and the new singing Niklas Helenius. Gabriel Agbonlahor is good for seven or eight goals a year as well. Charles N’Zogbia hasn’t been particularly impressive since signing for Villa, and he will need to take a step forward this year, lest new signing and fellow winger Aleksandar supplant him.

The Villa midfield will be mediocre this year, probably because it is full of mediocre players. Guys like Barry Bannan, Stephen Ireland, Karim El Ahmadi, Chris Herd, and Fabian Delph don’t exactly exude class. But there is some quality here. Marc Albrighton is an experienced outside mid, Ashley Westwood is a quite promising, and Yacouba Scylla is a solid defensive mid. Newcomer Leandro Bacuna should add some attacking talent to the midfield as well.

After defensive struggles nearly did Villa in last year, the team made a concerted effort to improve over the summer, brining in Antonio Luna and Jores Okore. Those two join a back line that should already be improved, as youngsters Matthew Lowton and Nathan Baker now have another year of experience under their belts. Ron Vlaar, Ciaran Clark, and Alan Hutton will be thankful for the help. Brad Guzan will be as well, as last year’s Aston Villa Player of the Year was often helpless to stop the onslaught of goals.

Smart signings coupled with improving youngsters should help Villa steer clear of relegation this year. But this team is still not quite at the level where it can be totally assured of safety. But after one more year of growth and good signings, Villa could make the jump to European contenders.

Best Case Scenario: The youngsters step up their game and Villa finds itself in the top half for most of the season.

Worst Case Scenario: No one develops, Benteke leaves, and Villa is relegated.

14. West Ham

This year, it appears that West Ham will be relying on crosses for much of their offense. As soon as I read this, I dropped the Hammers in my rankings. Any team that is relying heavily on Andy Carroll for goals is bound to come up disappointed. Amazingly, West Ham was’t content with just one terrible ex-Liverpool player. They also signed Stwart Downing. Remember, this is the same man who just two years ago played in 36 Premier League games and scored one fewer goal than Tim Howard. Fellow forwards Modibo Maiga and Ricardo Vaz Te aren’t exactly studs either. Winger Matthew Jarvis may once again find himself as the best offensive player on a team that lacks anyone else capable of scoring.

The midfield should be better, thanks to Kevin Nolan and Mark Noble. Nolan is good for at least ten goals this season. Joe Cole is also good, providing creativity from the midfield. Mohamed Diame and Alou Diarra will handle the defensive midfield responsibilites. Diarra was an absolute nightmare last year, and must improve this year.

The ageless and greatly named Jussi Jaaskelainen is the starting goalkeeper for the Hammers. Although he was brilliant last year, at his age he could collapse at any moment. The team brought in Razvan Rat to help shore up the back line, which should be solid. Guy Demel, Winston Reid, James Tomkins, and James Collins are the other headliners.

West Ham could be a solid midtable side this year. But they will struggle to score goals, and buying both Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing is a bad omen. The combination of those two is enough to ruin even the greatest of teams.

Best Case Scenario: Sam Allardyce coaxes another solid season from West Ham as the teams finishes in the top half and even gets some solid results against teams in the top four.

Worst Case Scenario: The Hammers play the kind of boring football that Allardyce is known for, but with few positive results to justify it. Relegation is not out of the question.

15. Southampton

Southampton is another young team that could be much improved this year. They plays attacking football, and often this results in exciting games. Rickie Lambert is the go-to man, and he appears to be in good form heading into the season. Jay Rodriguez is a solid striker as well, and the young Emmanuel Mayuka should be better now that he has some Premier League experience. Jason Puncheon is solid off the bench.

The midfield is the strongest part of this Saints team. Gaston Ramirez is extremely talented, but he didn’t justify his large transfer fee last year. The creative Uruguayan must improve this year. New signing Victor Wanyama is a stalwart at defensive mid, and Morgan Schneiderlin is also a potential star in the center midfield. Adam Lallana plays out wide, and from their the team captain can score goals or set them up. Jack Cork and James Ward-Prowse provide some depth.

The back four features some interesting players. Nathaniel Clyne and Luke Shaw are among the best young English outside backs around (which is a bigger deal than it sounds). Jos Hooiveld  and Maya Yoshida handle the center, along with new signing Dejan Lovren. Danny Fox and Jose Fonte will feature as well. The goalkeeper position is a bit of a carousel, with Kelvin Davies, Artur Baruc, and Paul Gazzaniga all seeing time last year. Boruc looks to be the main man this year, but that could change in a heartbeat.

Southampton is definitely better than they were last year; unfortunately so is everyone else. The uncertainty in net worries me, as does the overall lack of depth. The Saints could potentially push for a top ten finish, but in the end a lack of experience will doom them to duke it out near the bottom of the table.

Best Case Scenario: The Saints rally around Ricky Lambert and push for a spot in the top half.

Worst Case Scenario: Mauricio Pochettino can’t find the right goalkeeper and the Saints can’t do enough to avoid relegation.

16. West Bromwich Albion

West Brom is another team that I’m not as high on as many others. Last season the team got off to a hot start before cooling down late in the season. I’m not convinced that their start wasn’t a fluke. Up top, Czech loanee Matej Vydra will join with new signing Nicolas Anelka, as well as the Irishman Shane Long. That trio should be able to come up with a solid number of goals, although none of them will be able to replicate the success that Romelu Lukaku had last year. Markus Rosenberg was a complete disaster last season, and less will be asked of him this year. Peter Odemwingie’s situation is still up in the air. If he does decide to play for West Brom, he will need some time to get re-acclimated after sitting out for much of the end of last season.

The midfield will be about average this season. Chris Brunt, James Morrison, Zoltan Gera, Graham Dorrans, Youssouf Mulumbu and  Claudio Yacob are all solid. But none of these players are real difference makers. The Baggies will lack creativity and goals from the midfield, which will hurt.

Ben Foster will put up another good season in goal for West Brom, while Goran Popov and co. will play average football around him. New signing Diego Lugano will give the team quite a bit of depth at centerback, although West Brom are quite thin at outside back.

West Brom has the talent to finish in the top half again. But they lost their best player in Romelu Lukaku, and an over the hill Nicolas Anelka and an unproven Matej Vydra will not be enough to make up for his departure. The midfield won’t be much help offensively. The defense will be under more pressure than it can handle, and the Baggies will be fighting off relegation come season’s end. That being said, this is the pick that I’m least sure about. I wouldn’t be too surprised if West Brom was able to pull off a top ten finish.

Best Case Scenario: The Baggies again finish above rivals Aston Villa, and repeat last year’s surprising early success.

Worst Case Scenario: Clarke is sacked as the team struggles, ending up locked in a fierce relegation battle.

17. Cardiff City

Cardiff City fans are on the road to forgiving their owner for rebranding the team last year. Staying in the Premier League might make them forget all about it. The team will struggle to score goals this year, which will put a large burden on the defense. City paid 8.5 million pounds for the Danish striker Andreas Cornelius, who will have big expectations. Frazier Campbell, once the next big thing but now just a thing, has a chance to finally live up to his potential. Rudy Gestede is not very good, but could be the third option at striker for City. Joe Mason and Nicky Maynard also will fight for time at striker, but neither of them appear to be good enough to make an impact in the top flight. Craig Bellamy, back for what may be his last go-round, will be relied upon to score goals as well.

The midfield is highlighted by new signing Gary Medel. The Chilean defensive midfielder will do wonders to help the team’s defense. Aron Gunnarsson on the other hand will help out with the attack. Kim Bo-Kyung, Tommy Smith, Jordan Mutch, Don Cowie, Craig Conway, Craig Noone, and Peter Whittingham round out the midfield.

The Defense will be the strong suit for Cardiff. Captain Mark Hudson is joined by new singings Steven Caulker and John Brayford, as well as Kevin McNaughton, among others. The team will rely on David Marshall between the sticks. Cardiff had the second best defense in the Championship last year, and will rely on it again this year.

Everyone seems to be high on Cardiff this year and I’m not quite sure why. I think Cornelius will be good, but this team will still struggle to score goals. The midfield looks weak, and the defense may not be as good as people think. I think that manager Malky Mackay will be haunted (literally) by his decision not to sign Lex Immers, and Cardiff will spend the year locked in a relegation fight.

Best Case Scenario: Cardiff does its best Swansea impression and grabs a few scalps on its way to a top ten finish.

Worst Case Scenario: City can’t score enough goals to stay in the top flight for more than a season.

18. Stoke City

After a rough season, Stoke City decided to part ways with their tracksuit and baseball cap wearing manager Tony Pulis. Say what you will about Stoke’s style of play under Pulis, he got results and the team had a distinct identity. New manager Mark Hughes is trying to move away from that, which is not a great idea considering the squad he has. Jonathan Walters, Kenwyne Jones, Peter Crouch, and Cameron Jerome form a physical foursome of strikers. Juan Agudelo will join the team in January.

The midfield features some solid players such as Wilson Palacios and Matthew Etherington. Charlie Adam is a bit of a bust, while Brek Shea and Maurice Edu will see little playing time. Steve N’Zonzi, Jamie Ness, and Glenn Whelan can all contribute as well.

The defense is heavily reliant on foreigners such as the Germans Robert Huth and new singings Marc Muniesa (Spanish) and Erik Pieters (Dutch). Captain Ryan Shwcross is the team’s best defender. In goal, Asmir Begovic is a transfer waiting to happen, leaving Thomas Sorensen and Jack Butland to fight for the starting spot once he inevitably leaves.

Stoke won’t be quite as physical this year as they were in past years, which will hurt them. The team will struggle to score goals without any creative players. The Potters seem to lack the necessary wide players to use crosses to their advantage, a problem which Hughes should have rectified over the summer. In the end, Stoke will earn some draws but not enough wins, causing them to go back to the Championship.

Best Case Scenario: Mark Hughes is able to turn the physical team into a mid-table side.

Worst Case Scenario: A lack of goals leads to Hughes’ sacking and relegation.

19. Hull City

The bottom two teams this year are pretty terrible. Hull City gets the nod over Crystal Palace because they made better signings. Yannick Sagbo and Danny Graham will be relied on to score most of the goals this season. Fellow new signing George Boyd can contribute to the attack as well. The strikers that helped lift the Tigers to promotion are not of Premier League quality.

The midfield is led by captain and Slovenian international Robert Koren. Koren is joined by two former Tottenham Hotspur players: Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore, who is on loan for the season. the rest of the midfield looks pretty weak, although Robbie Brady has some promise.

Things only get worse for Hull defensively. The team brought in Steve Harper from Newcastle on a free transfer; he will fight with Allan McGregor for the starting goalie spot. No matter who’s in goal, Hull will allow a lot of goals this year. All you need to know about the Hull City defenders is that Maynor Figueroa is the best one, and he may not have even been the best defender on a Wigan team that got relegated.

All in all, this team lacks the quality to play Premier League football. It will be one and done for the Tigers.

Best Case Scenario: Steve Bruce earns the love of Hull fans and gives the Tigers another season in the Premier League.

Worst Case Scenario: Bruce becomes even more hated than he was at Blackburn near the end and Hull City finish the season at the very bottom of the table.

20. Crystal Palace

This year will be a rough one for Palace. Star striker Glenn Murray is out for much of the season, and to replace him the team went and got Marouane Chamkh, who is best known for being terrible. The team’s second best striker is the newly signed Dwight Gayle, who scored 13 goals last year in the Championship. Not exactly inspiring stuff. The drop off after Gayle is steep, which is surprising because Gayle is so terrible. The 40 year old Kevin Phillips will be the third choice, if he does not die of natural causes first.

The midfield is slightly better, led by the young Welshman Jonathan Williams. Williams is a creative, speedy player who could make a big impression this year. Expect him to move to a better club once Palace are relegated at the end of the season. The rest of the midfield is made of no one that you have ever heard of. I actually am familiar with many of them, due to the fact that I have spent much of my time playing in both FIFA 12 and FIFA 13 doing a career mode with Crystal Palace (although that was entirely because I got to start with Wilfried Zaha).

Julian Speroni will be picking the ball out of his net quite a bit this year playing behind the likes of Peter Ramage, Jonathan Parr, Danny Gabbidon, Darcy Blake, and Joe Ward. That’s really all there is to say about that.

Although it’s theoretically possible for Crystal Palace to stay up, it looks extraordinarily unlikely. There is nary a Premier League quality player on this roster. The season will start with Palace getting thrashed by Spurs and it will only go downhill from there.

Best Case Scenario: Ian Holloway works the tactical magic he did with Blackpool, but this time for the entire season, allowing Palace to stay up.

Worst Case Scenario: Palace is just atrocious, and no one has anything nice to say about them come season’s end.

Well there you have it. College Sports Town’s official Premier League Preview. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments, especially if you read the entire thing. If you actually do, you deserve some sort of reward. Maybe Lex Immers won’t eat you or something. Anyway, that’s all for now. Hopefully I’ll have another post ready soon. But until then, all of my fans will just have to be content with this.

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Looking Forward to the US Friendly

On Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. the US will take on Bosnia-Herzegovina in an international friendly. Normally, friendlies aren’t very exciting, but this one has grabbed my attention due to the players that Jurgen Klinsmann decided to call up. Let’s take a  look at the most interesting ones, starting with the young players:

Cody Cropper

Cropper is a goalkeeper who currently plays for Southampton in England. Previously, he had only appeared for the US u20 team.  Cropper has a chance at being the goalkeeper of the future for the US. The fact that he has already caught on with a foreign team is huge, and hopefully he can find playing time on loan this season. It’s unlikely that he will play, however, as Tim Howard wouldn’t be leaving Everton just before the start of the season if he wasn’t guaranteed to play the entire match. For a demonstration of Cropper’s unique talents, see here: http://www.101greatgoals.com/blog/usa-u20-keeper-cody-cropper-did-not-enjoy-julio-gomezs-acrobatic-golazo-for-mexico/

Cody Cropper is way too well dressed to be playing soccer.

John Anthony Brooks

John Anthony Brooks’ decision to accept the call-up for this game is the biggest story surrounding this friendly. The 6′ 4″ left-footed center back- who has lived in Germany his whole life- is another one of the many German-Americans who have become so vital to the US as of late. Brooks may end up being the best of them all–high praise considering the success that Fabian Johnson, Timothy Chandler, and Jermaine Jones have had. Although the friendly is not binding, it is a huge step towards getting Brooks to commit to playing for the US. He recently accepted a call-up to a German u20 camp, forcing US fans to recall the painful memories of Neven Subotic and Giuseppe Rossi. Hopefully, this friendly will help convince Brooks that his future lies with the US.

There is a chance that John Anthony Brooks doesn’t even know know how to speak English.

Aron Johannsson

Johannsson is the other big story surrounding the friendly. Just today, FIFA officially cleared Johannsson to switch his nationality from Iceland to the US, binding him to play for the Stars and Stripes. Johannsson was brought in by AZ Alkmaar in the January transfer window as the team anticipated the loss of Jozy Altidore. So far, Johannsson has lived up to the task, scoring five goals in seven games for the Dutch side, including one in the team’s recent 3-2 upset victory over Ajax. Just 22, Johannsson could be a force for years to come.

Due to the recent FIFA ruling, Aron Johannsson is now bound to the US … FOREVER!!!!

Bobby Wood

Klinsmann’s decision to give Wood a chance to earn his first international cap was the most surprising choice that Klinsmann made with the roster. The 20 year old Hawaiian  plays for 1860 Munich in the German Second Division. Wood looks quite promising, and hopefully he can team with Johannsson to provide a deadly young scoring duo for the US in the years to come.

Bobby Wood just watched Lex Immers eat his whole family.

A few other players are also deserve mentions. Jozy Altidore, Danny Williams, and Alejandro Bedoya are all making their first appearances for the US since moving to new clubs (Sunderland, Reading, and Nantes respectively). Centerback Tim Ream returns to the US squad for the first time since October 2011, back in the early days of Jurgen’s reign, before the backlash against him (which fellow blogger Tim was a part of) started, and thus before all the haters realized their stupidity and started loving him, as we all should.

How could you hate this man? He just looks so lovable!

That’s all for now. A sure-to-be-ridiculed Premier League Preview will be posted this Friday, and some sort of transfer wrap-up can be expected at the end of the month. Until then, goodbye, or- as the French would say- “I am smelly Frenchman who hates Americans and is constantly on strike.”

A stereotypical smelly Frenchman.

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Some More Disconnected Thoughts About Soccer

Guess who’s back …. back again …. harvardfan94’s back … tell a friend.

Yes, it’s about that time, folks. Time for me to concoct an excuse as to why I haven’t posted a blog in forever. I’m going with hemorrhoids. Before we start, a brief note: my series chronicling Premier League Summer Transfers has been changed slightly. It will now simply be a wrap-up that will be posted around the same time that I post my Premier League Preview. So the five people who actually read my soccer articles have that to look forward to, although I’m pretty sure that at least three of them are robots. Anyway, let’s get started.

  • The US beat Panama 1-0 in the Gold Cup final, courtesy of Brek Shea doing his best Rafael Van der Vaart impression and tapping in a ball that was already going in. In my mind, this tournament should serve as a sign that Mexico is no longer the dominant team in CONCACAF. The US is certainly deeper, and currently tops the hexagonal. The US is stronger in the midfield and in goal, potentially at the back as well. The emergence of Jozy Altidore also means that the US is closing the gap up top.

    The US celebrates it’s shocking upset of Panama.


  • The obvious success story from the World Cup is Landon Donovan, who earned himself a place in the first team with a stunning performance. Joe Corona, Clarence Goodson, and Brek Shea should also earn looks. Stuart Holden is still not quite the same player, but he is getting there. Holden, Mix Diskerud, and Alejandro Bedoya may be able to make a push for a spot on the bench come 2014. The news that Holden tore his ACL is devastating, and it may prevent Holden from making the World Cup roster. Hopefully he can recover in time.

    What the hell kind of a name is Mix? Mr. and Mrs. Diskerud have some explaining to do.

  • Despite his early success, Chris Wondolowski faded as the tournament wore on. The fact of the matter is that he is not a good enough striker to start, or even be a substitute, for the US. He simply lacks the talent to succeed against anyone other than the minnows of CONCACAF.

    Chris Wondolowski, seen here rejoicing in his mediocrity.

  • Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the Gold Cup was the reminder of how bad of a state refereeing is right now in FIFA. Like in many other sports leagues, FIFA refuses to publicly criticize refs, even when it is clearly deserved. Honduras’ dangerous play towards the end of the semifinal against the US was outrageous, as was the decision to eject and then suspend Jurgen Klinsmann. In the final, the referee had no control over the game, letting some clear fouls (and a handball) go, while calling a huge number of phantom fouls. The whole ridiculous enterprise culminated in Brek Shea receiving a yellow card for being elbowed in the face by a Panamanian defender. FIFA needs to step up and do something about referees, before we have more disasters like the 2010 World Cup.
  • Another FIFA problem: assigning which nation hosts the World Cup. It now appears that Brazil will not be ready for the 2014 edition of soccer’s biggest tournament due to a lack of infrastructure. The selection of Qatar to host in 2022 also presents many problems, one of which is infrastructure. The heat will be unbearable, and the Qatari soccer team is really not very good (it is currently ranked 112, and has never been in the top 50). And I haven’t even mentioned the bribery allegations that surrounded the selection.

    Be honest: Without this helpful arrow, you would have no idea where Qatar was.

  • In rather somber news, Ecuadorian striker Christian Benitez died suddenly at the age of 27. The cause of death appears to be related to a heart issue.
  • Real Madrid has offered 100 million metric dollars (also known as Euros) for Tottenham “chicken standing on a soccer ball” Hotspur’s star player Gareth Bale. To be honest, this deal doesn’t make a great deal of sense for either side. Real Madrid’s best player (Christiano Ronaldo) plays the same position as Bale, and, while Bale can move into the middle, he won’t be quite as effective. Tottenham loses an irreplaceable player, and suddenly loses the chance to contend for a spot in the Champion’s League. Although the money is nice, not many top class players really want to come to Tottenham, and almost none will once that shot at a top four finish is gone. Spurs appear to be on the brink of adding Roberto Soldado, which would give the team the striker they so desperately needs. With Soldado, Spurs could certainly finish in the top four, and perhaps challenge for a title.

    Andre Villas-Boas, wondering what in the world he was smoking when he decided that a team that started Emmanuel Adebayor at striker would win anything.

  • And, just for good measure, here’s a picture of everyone’s favorite monster/soccer player, Lex Immers:

    Although he is usually a lone wolf, Immers occasionally hunts with a pack.

    That’s all for now. Expect a post on baseball in the days ahead.

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2012-2013 Breakout Soccer Performances: Michu

Micchu

Hello fellow soccer enthusiasts!  For my first series as an author on this blog, I will be taking a look at the some of the soccer players, from leagues throughout the world, who stood out to me this season with breakout years.

To start things off with a bang, the subject today will be the undisputed Swansea star, Miguel Perez Cuesta, better known as Michu.  This Spanish wonder boy is partially interesting because he actually is not a boy at all.  At 27 years of age, Michu is considered to be a seasoned veteran, having already played at Real Oviedo (his local team), Celta de Vigo, and Rayo Vallecano before finally making his move to Swansea in 2012. The early portions of his career were unremarkable and, for a while, it seemed that he would finish his career as an average Spanish footballer for an average Spanish team.  Between 2008 and 2011, he scored a mere 15 goals in total for Celta de Vigo.  At the end of that period, he was hovering into the prime of his career without leaving any indication of a coming explosion.

However, the 2011-2012 season was a major turning point in Michu’s career.  After a transfer into Spain’s top division, La Liga, to play for Rayo Vallecano, Michu finally began to hit his form.  Scoring 17 goals in 38 games, he matched the goal scoring tally of his last 4 seasons combined.  At 26 years of age, things were finally looking up for the Spaniard, and his good fortune continued when he caught the eye of recently promoted Swansea.

This past season was by far Michu’s best, and the reason for his inclusion in this blog series.  As a summer addition to a Swansea team looking for more depth in the attacking midfield role, he was swept up for a very reasonably $3.1 million in American dollars.  The transfer was not a big news story by any means and there was not much media coverage surrounding it.  However, when the start of the season rolled around the next month, it was very clear that it was going to be a season to remember for Michu.  In his league debut, he got off to a spectacular start, netting two goals and providing an assist in a 5-0 romp of QPR.  Fans and players alike were startled to see such a performance from a player they hadn’t heard much about previously.  The fun didn’t end there.  By the end of August he was sitting confidently atop the scoring charts of the Premier League and the Swans were soaring.  On January 23rd, he scored to help his team demolish Bradford City 5-0, and win their first League Cup in team history.  In total, Michu finished his very first season for Swansea with 22 goals and 4 assists in 41 games.  Quite a remarkable tally when you consider his age and the general blandness of his previous seasons.

Looking back on the 2012-2013 season, Michu is the name that immediately comes to mind as a player who exploded into stardom, coming out of nowhere.  At 27, his career appeared to be over the hill, and it looked like his impressive last season in Spain was his last hoorah.  Had you told anyone that he would score 22 times in his first season in England, they would have laughed in your face, assuming they knew who Michu was.  However, with his stellar season, he clearly established himself as a player to watch for in seasons to come.

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Premier League Summer Transfer Preview: Cardiff City

It’s time for part three of my ongoing 20 part series previewing this summer’s Premier League Transfers. This segment will cover Cardiff City, who will join fellow Welsh team Swansea City in the Premier League this year, following promotion from the Championship.

Last Season: Cardiff City were winners of the Championship, relying on a strong defense to capture the title. As with most newly-promoted teams, Cardiff will need to add quite a bit in order to stay up.

Forwards: This will be a problem area for Cardiff. Last year, neither of their leading goalscorers in the Championship were forwards, and their top goalscorer in all competitions, Heidar Helguson, scored only 9; Helguson was released recently, leaving Cardiff sorely lacking options up top. The strike force is currently led by two players: Welshman Craig Bellamy and the Englishman Frazier Campbell. Bellamy has the most Premier League experience of anyone in the side, but was more of a provider than a goalscorer last season, dishing out 10 assists as compared to just 4 goals. Campbell arrived in January from Sunderland, and shone, scoring 7 goals in just 12 games. Cardiff will need a similar performance this year. Joe Mason and Tommy Smith are also  among the top strikers for Cardiff, although neither were particularly impressive last season, and both lack experience in the top flight. Nicky Maynard and Rudy Gestede suffer from similar problems. The team is looking at a few strikers. Lyon’s Bafetimbi Gomis, rated at 12 million pounds, is a major target, although rival Swansea has also shown interest. Danny Graham could move back to Wales as well, as he finds himself a transfer target. Disgruntled West Brom striker Peter Odemwingie is also a target, although he will be rusty after barely playing last season. Free agent Carlton Cole has also had his name bandied about. Looking towards the future, 17 year old Tyler Harvey of Plymouth Argyle has been the subject of a bid.

After spending last year on the bench, the disgruntled Peter Odemwingie could be on his way to Cardiff.

Cardiff may switch things up this season to find more goals. To help with this- and to give themselves the flexibility to play formations other than a 4-4-2- Cardiff has pursued a number of wingers. Chief among them are Salomon Kalou, formerly of Chelsea and currently of Lyon, and Liverpool’s Oussama Assaidi, who struggled to find playing time last year. Cardiff has also shown interest in Reading’s Hal Robson-Kanu, who has drawn the interest of West Brom and Aston Villa as well. St. Etienne’s Max Gradel has ruled out a move back to the Premier League; previously, Cardiff had him down as a top target. Recently, former Liverpool winger Dirk Kuyt has emerged as a legitimate option for Cardiff, as he would provide the team with both goals and valuable experience. The young Blackpool winger Tom Ince is also a target. It is rumored that Cardiff are currently finalizing an 8 million pound deal for the Englishman. Bristol City’s Ghanian international Albert Adomah has also drawn interest.

Salomon Kalou is a potential target for City.

Midfielders: Cardiff had a solid midfield last season, but are looking to add depth. Center Midfielders Aron Gunnarsson and Peter Whittingham led the team with 8 goals apiece last season. Whittingham is a versatile player who can also player winger or second striker. On the oustide, Craig Noone and Craig Conway are the starters, although any of Cardiff’s new wingers could play outside mid. Some feel that Conway may not be cut out for the top flight. Kim Bo-Kyung, Don Cowie and Jordan Mutch also saw time in the midfield with Byo-Kyung and Cowie playing on the outside and Mutch in the center. The team’s top midfield target is Brighton’s Liam Bridcutt, who has also drawn the interest of Hull City. Crystal Palace’s young attacking midfielder Jonathan Williams has also been linked with Cardiff. Feynoord have refused to confirm speculation that Lex Immers could be on the move to Cardiff.

Is Lex Immers Lex Luthor? We’ll see.

Defenders: This was the team’s strongest position last season. Matthew Connolly and Andrew Taylor led the outside backs, while captain Mark Hudson and Ben Turner held things down in the middle. Kevin McNaughton turned in yet another solid year at right back, and he was rewarded with a new contract. 20 year old Ben Nugent looks to build on a solid season and earn himself some more playing time. Former Everton centerback Joseph Yobo could bring much needed experience to the side, and it is rumored the Newcastle’s Mike Williamson is interested in playing again for his former manager Mackay. Norwich City’s Leon Barnett spent part of last season on loan with Cardiff, and City are looking to make the move permanent.

Joesph Yobo can’t hear you. And he can’t see a smiling Joleon Lescott.

Goalkeepers: David Marshall started last year for Cardiff and performed quite well. Currently, there are no goalkeepers linked with the team.

Cardiff City are confident that David Marshall is good enough for the Premier League.

Manager: Malkay Mackay did well last year. Cardiff City dominated, and from week 18 to the final week the team held a firm grip on first place. But as Southampton’s Nigel Adkins and Reading’s Brian McDermott showed last season, promotion is not enough for a manager to keep his job. Staying up will be vital to Mackay’s.

Malkay Mackay succumbs to the will of the crowd and spares a gladiator’s life.

Potentially In: Bafetimbi Gomis, Danny Graham, Peter Odemwingie, Carlton Cole, Tyler Harvey, Salomon Kalou, Hal Robson-Kanu, Oussama Assaidi, Dirk Kuyt, Max Gradel, Tom Ince, Joseph Yobo, Mike Williamson, Jonathan Williams, Liam Bridcutt, Albert Adomah, Leon Barnett, Lex Immers

Here, Lex Immers lets out a primal roar after capturing and eating his prey.

Potentially Out: None

Already In: None

Already Out: Heidar Helguson, Stephen McPhail

Heidar Helguson won’t be scoring any goals for Cardiff next year.

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Premier League Summer Transfer Preview: Aston Villa

What?!?!? Two posts in three days?!?!!? What is this madness?!?!? Yes, it’s already time for part 2 of 20 of my series previewing Premier League Summer transfers. In case you didn’t read the title of this post (which would be a strange thing to do), this installment will cover Aston Villa.

Last Season: Villa fans were forced to suffer through one of the worst seasons in the storied history of the team. Villa narrowly avoided relegation, and finished the season in 15th. The team allowed the third most goals in the Premier League.

Christian Benteke will likely be scoring goals somewhere else next year.

Forwards: The big name here is Christian Benteke. The Belgian scored 23 goals in all competitions to lead the team, and looks to make a move to a bigger team like Tottenham or Arsenal this summer. The young Danish striker Niklas Helenius, who has a somewhat similar playing style to Benteke, is being looked at as a potential replacement. Andreas Weimann also had some success, and appeared to be on his way out until he signed a contract extension, seemingly putting the kibosh on a future move. Darren Bent, former Villa star, struggled to find playing time and now wants out, with Newcastle and Hull City among the frontrunners to grab him. Australian forward Brett Holman also didn’t find as much playing time as he wanted, and looks to make a move as well. The pacy but inconsistent Gabriel Agbonlahor looks to still have a place on the team. Nathan Delfouneso could finally break into the first team after spending time on loan at Blackpool, and the 21 year old Jordan Bowery looks to see increased playing time as well. Reading’s winger Hal Robson-Kanu is another potential target, although Villa will have to compete with West Brom for his signature. The team has also shown interest in the Bulgarian striker Ivelin Popov, who plays in Russia. Scott Sinclair has also had his name bandied about, although he may try to give things at Man City another go.

Midfielders: Villa does have some depth in the midfield, although they lack anyone great. Too many of their players are merely average; no one is really “great.”  Barry Bannan was okay last year, as was wide man Marc Albrighton. French winger Charles N’Zogbia continues to be a disappointment since his arrival from Wigan, and must improve. Yacouba Sylla, Karim el Ahmadi, Fabian Delph, and the young Gary Gardner all see playing time in the center midfield, with Gardner showing the most promise for the future. Ashley Westwood flashed promise last year as well. Attacking Midfielder Stephen Ireland could be on the way out due to his large wages. New signings Aleksandar Tonev and Leandro Bacuna should add to the attacking flair of the midfield. Villa has been linked with 12 million pound rated Montpellier midfielder Younes Belhanda. Belhanda may be too pricy for Villa, but his signing would be a coup for the team. Crewe Alexandria midfielder Luke Murphy is another target, and his transfer now appears to be more likely than not.

Defenders: Aston Vila’s horrid defense will be boosted by the continued development of defenders Matthew Lowton and Nathan Baker. Ciaran Clark and captain Ron Vlaar both had their moments last season, Vlaar in particular. The team desperately needs to improve its back line in order to prevent more games like their 8-0 defeat to Chelsea. Sevilla’s Antonio Luna has all but sealed a move to Villa; he should help shore up the left side of the defense, which was weak last year and was made even weaker by the release of the American Eric Lichaj. The team also brought in the young Dutchmen Jans Okore to shore up the defense. Villa is set to compete with Norwich for the signature of young Dagenham defender Luke Wilkinson.

Goalkeepers: Shay Given lost the starting job to Brad Guzan last season, and appears to be ready to leave this summer, with newly promoted Hull City being a potential destination. Guzan looks set to be the starter for the next few years, although Real Madrid reserve goalkeeper Jesus Fernandez has been floated as a potential target.

Manager: Paul Lambert is Villa’s manager. Although the team’s poor performance was somewhat unexpected, Villa did well considering that the team was the youngest in the Premier League. The future could be bright for Villa if the team builds on this past season and continues to improve. Lambert’s job should be safe as long as the team continues to grow.

Paul Lambert will have his work cut out for him with a young Villa side next season.

Potentially In: Antonio Luna, Niklas Helenius, Hal Robson-Kanu, Luke Wilkinson, Ivelian Popov, Younes Belhanda, Luke Murphy, Scott Sinclair

Potentially Out: Christian Benteke, Darren Bent, Stephan Ireland

Already in: Jores Okore, Leandro Bacuna, Aleksandar Tonev

Already Out: Richard Dunne, Jean Makoun, Eric Lichaj

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