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  • As the year comes to a close, its time for Ballsy Banters finest to tell you who they think has made 2013 their own in the Ballsy D'or. Who was the best player? Who scored the greatest goal? Who are we sick of hearing aobut? All these questions and more as we review the year that was.

  • As the year comes to a close, its time for Ballsy Banter's finest to tell you who they think has made 2013 their own in the Ballsy D'or. Who was the best player? Who scored the greatest goal? Who are we sick of hearing about? All these questions and more as Johnny reviews the year that was.

  • 1)The closest Title race in Premier League history.

          Four different teams could technically be top of the league as 2013 walks off into that good night and 2014 dawns. Only eight points separate Arsenal in 1st and Spurs in 8th place, only six between 1st and Newcastle in 6th, and only three from 1st to Liverpool in 4th. This isn’t the first couple of weeks either; this is half way through the season.

  • Many pundits have labeled this game as the one that is going to decide the Premier League title. Even though it is premature to make such claims in December, it is a fact that Manchester City and Liverpool have been it outstanding form in recent weeks. They have been scoring for fun, while defeating their close rivals in emphatic fashion. It is fair to say that this was a game between two genuine title contenders.

  • It was around this time two years ago that things were looking so rosy for Reading Football Club. After a slow start to their Championship campaign, perhaps understandably after suffering playoff heartbreak at Wembley, they eventually stormed to the league title.

    1. Malky Mackay’s last game.

      Vincent Tan continued his quest to become the second incarnation of Venky’s this week when in arguably one of the most tactful and considered moves ever, he sent an email to current manager Malky Mackay, telling him to resign or he’ll be sacked. Looking past the ignorance of this move, if Mackay knows his time is up either way, why would he resign and sacrifice a huge pay-off?

  • Wednesday's edition of the League Cup not only saw Spurs lose at home again but also David Moyes managed to win a game without Wayne Rooney - is this an early sign of the changing fortunes at Manchester United?

    Tottenham 1 - 2 West Ham

  • Yesterday, we had the pleasure of seeing four teams duke it out in the most pointless trophy among England's elite teams - the Capital One Cup. Often used as a reason to give reserves a run out, towards the end of the tournament teams generally start to field stronger teams as they have hopes of lifting it. But how did that go last night? Ahead of today's games between Stoke and Man Utd, coupled with Tottenham vs. West Ham United, we take a look back at yesterday's action.

  • Matty, Hux & Lizzi tackle all the recent sackings in football in recent weeks. From AVB at Spurs to Owen Coyle at Wigan; we ask whether chairman are sacking too early and who might be up for the chop next!

  • Until a few days ago there was a bit of a quandary facing the fans and owners of Watford football club. What to do with a problem like Zola? On the one hand Gianfranco Zola had done a great job getting Watford Football Club to the final of the play-offs last season, playing the best football in the Championship and arguably in the country.

  • Yesterday’s UEFA Champions League draw for the first knock-out stages of this season’s competition didn’t fail to excite with the mouth-watering ties it produced. English football is well represented in the Round of 16 this year, with all four Premier League sides making it through their groups, Chelsea and Manchester United as winners and therefore seeds, Manchester City and Arsenal as non-seeded second placers.

  • So, where now?

    I’m serious, where the fuck do Tottenham Hotspur go now?

    Because going into the busiest part of the year with no manager, with players who seem to barely know each other, while only eight points away from the top of the table doesn’t really seem like a good situation to me.

  • In modern-era football, the playmaker has evolved into one of the most crucial positions on the field. Be it a deep-laying midfielder, or one of the three more advanced players behind the striker in a 4-2-3-1, almost all teams rely on a no. 10 to pull the strings in midfield and add some creativity to the side. Even more so, this classic no. 10 role has changed in recent times, with the offensive pressing game of Guardiola’s Barca becoming so popular. The advanced playmaker is required to be very versatile; mobility, determination, vision, passing range, attacking threat and defensive contribution are all very equally important aspects of this player’s game. In today’s game, the saying that ‘the forwards are the most important defenders’ carries a lot of weight.

  • Arsenal’s visit to the Etihad Stadium was touted as the game that could decide the Premier League title. Even though I think it is premature to talk about title deciding games with less than the half of the season gone, no one could have questioned Arsenal’s quality had they won this game. At the same time Manchester City has been irresistible at home. This game was undoubtedly their best chance of shortening the gap between them and the league leaders.

  • Liverpool put in a performance of the highest quality at White Hart Lane on Sunday to leave André Villas-Boas staring down the barrel at his second sacking in English football. For Liverpool, it was their first win at White Hart Lane for five-and-a-half years, but for Spurs, they failed to muster a shot on target for the first time since Opta Stats began.

  • Last year was a bad year for the English Clubs in the Champions League, make no mistake. Manchester City and tournament holders Chelsea were both eliminated in the group stage, City set an all-time record for the lowest point total by an English team in the process, and Chelsea offered one of the most feeble defences of a Champions League title in history, confirming most people’s theories that they won it the previous year through luck rather than design.

  • Last Tuesday night, all Arsenal had to do to qualify from the so-called Champions League ‘Group of Death’ was to not lose to Napoli by more than 3 goals. The Gunners did not fail to deliver, qualifying in the most boring, underachieving and stumbling way possible.

     

  • Now, before you assume, I’m not being typically English – I understand we probably won’t win the World Cup and I’m not setting high expectations of England in Brazil next year. However, some of the coverage of the World Cup group draw, mainly England’s group, has somewhat annoyed me.

  • Manuel Pellegrini achieved the task he was brought to East Manchester to do with two games to spare, after City’s stonking 5-2 victory over CSKA Moscow at the beginning of last month. With qualification assured, City went into Tuesday’s game against the reigning Champions of Europe with the weight temporarily off their shoulders; here was a chance to avenge Bayern’s 3-1 victory over the Blues at the Etihad back in October, and to avoid utter humiliation at the hands of the best team in the world before Saturday’s crunch Premier League tie against Arsenal.

     

  • Last season was a difficult one for Black Cats fans, seeing their team finish in 17th place, only three points away from relegation and having to be saved by Paolo Di Canio. But will ditching Martin O’Neill for the fiery Italian lead to a more positive outcome this season?

  • If David Moyes can finalize a deal to sign Thiago Alcantara this week, he may never pull of a better signing at Manchester United. A bold claim, I will admit. Here’s why I think so;

    Foremost is Thiago’s obvious talent. Regular followers of football will know all about Thiago and his rise to the Barcelona first team squad, the comparisons to Xavi, and match-winning performances in consecutive under-21 European Championships. In the final two years ago, Thiago scored a stunning goal from 40 yards. Last week, he scored a perfect hat-trick; header, left foot, right foot.

  • It seems that we have finally arrived at the moment that could bring some real joy to Arsenal fans after many disillusioned summers of transfers. Gonzalo Higuain has agreed terms with Arsenal, which in effect means that a transfer could be completed in the early days of the transfer window opening, as reported by the Guardian. There is no doubt that Arsenal fans will be licking their lips at the prospect of this transfer, but how will he fit into the structure of Arsenal’s formation?

  • At the end of every transfer window, football clubs throw sums of money most of us will never see in our lifetime at each other in a bid to try and put value on a single person’s worth.

    Sounds a bit odd if put like that, but what if the rest of the day was that odd? Hmm…

  • A superb game from Serie A this weekend – it has it all, dodgy penalties, even dodgier celebrations, A KEVIN PRINCE BOATENG HAT-TRICK OF BULLETS and a dramatic last gasp winner. Who needs the Manchester derby, ay?

     

  • Classic Match: Portugal Vs. Greece, Euro 2004 Final, Estadio da Luz, Lisbon. July 4th 2004 “If you want entertainment, go and watch clowns” Tony Waddington, Stoke Manager 1960-77 I don’t think it would be too controversial to say that football isn’t the most gentlemanly of sports. It’s a game where all is fair in love and war, and if that means a whole generation of kids emulating Ronaldo’s abilities to dive in their parks and back-yards as much as his skills then so be it. After all, the cost of winning is no cost at all.

  • With both the red and blue of Manchester making some very good business over the summer it’s going to be even harder for Andre Villas-Boas to keep his job, or in other words bring some major silverware back to the bridge. The biggest challenge I can see for the young manager is getting the frontline right.

  • Last Year: 3rd in Regular Season, loss in semi-final to Gold Coast, loss in Round of 16 in Asian Champions League Adelaide surprised many in 2010 by coming from bottom of the table the previous season to a 12-match unbeaten streak to start the year, holding onto top spot until after that loss. The latter two thirds of the season weren’t quite as strong for the Reds, with more losses than other results combined from that point onwards. Their strong start still allowed them to grab third place after the home and away season, however, they were unable to capitalise on this, as after a win in the first round of the finals against Wellington Phoenix, Adelaide fell to Gold Coast. The loss could in part be attributed to the beginning of their Asian Champions League play in the week between their first and second finals matches. Their early finals exit did however allow them to record three consecutive wins to start their continental play, which was enough to put them through to the final 16 of the Champions League where they were driven over by Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. All things considered, the 2010/11 season was a success for Adelaide, with three players making the A-League All-Star team, including Johnny Warren Medal winner Marcos Flores, Golden Boot Award winner Sergio Van Dijk and non-major award winner Cássio. Flores was a revelation for the Reds, coming in from Chilean side Curicó Unido and quickly becoming one of the A-League’s premiere playmakers. The midfielder recorded nine goals for the season – four of them Goal of the Year contenders – and did enough to take home the aforementioned Johnny Warren Medal, the award for the top player of the year in the league. Meanwhile, Van Dijk came over from Brisbane Roar before the season and won the Golden Boot Award with 16 goals on the year. However, Flores departs in 2011 for China, leaving behind a medallion-sized gap in midfield. Matthew Leckie and Robert Cornthwaite also moved out of the country, to the Bundesliga and South Korea respctively. Van Dijk remains and Adelaide were active in the off-season, signing Gold Coast striker Bruce Djite, former Wellington defender Jonathan McKain and Dario Vidošić, all players with national caps. With a lack of continental football to consider, but the loss of the A-League’s top player from last season, the Reds look to be very hit or miss. If their new Socceroos stars can shine, they could repeat their 2010 successes. However, their end of season performance even with Flores leaves questions that may not be fully answered. Look for them to play finals football, if not overly convincingly. Prediction: 5th Elsewhere in the A-League… The biggest story with just under 2 months remaining until the season kicks off is where Socceroos star Harry Kewell will end up. Kewell has been in talks with the two biggest clubs in the A-League, Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC, for what feels like the entire off-season. Kewell is one of the biggest names in football in Australia, as one of our most recognisable stars over the past decade and a half. Kewell has 16 goals in 54 caps for the national side while, in 12 years with Leeds and Liverpool, recording 57 goals in 274 appearances. The Herald Sun reports that Kewell is deciding between an incentive-laden deal with Victory, which would pay him based on the increases he gives the team in attendance and merchandise sales, and 3 deals of up to $4 million each with squads in UAE and Saudi Arabia. One of the squads mentioned in these possible deals, Al Nassr, has recently signed former Socceroo Mark Bresciano from Lazio, while Al Jazira is targeting Aussie captain Lucas Neill. As a Melbourne Heart supporter, I ask Kewell to report back next year as to why football in the Middle East is dumb.
  • Liverpool Vs. AC Milan, UEFA Champions League Final, 25th May 2005, Ataturk Olympic Stadium, Istanbul Ballsy Banter are very happy to introduce to you our on-going classic match series. Louis Baxter will be taking a trip down memory lane for Ballsy Banter and re-visiting some of the best games of our generation. If you have any suggestions for Classic Matches you can email us, Tweet us or get us on Facebook. First up Louis looks at that unforgettable night in Istanbul back in 2005. Gerrard Off the pitch, Steven Gerrard has always cut a less than enigmatic figure. He seems to have a permanent look of dissatisfaction on his face, a look that implies annoyance at having to be anywhere doing anything ever. He carries out press conferences and interviews with the charisma of a 10×10 ton of bricks, answering every question with such rigid, militant disinterest and boredom that hearing him talk about playing in the quarter finals of the world cup is equivalent to hearing a neighbour discuss their feelings regarding mowing their lawn. He rarely has opinions about anything, most notably footballing matters, where he chooses to speak in tried and tested clichés with fragmented eye contact until Gabriel Clarke finally leaves him the fuck alone. He is not a rock star, like almost every other top class English player of his generation, keeping his personal life out of the headlines and perhaps as a consequence becoming less of a ‘celebrity’. You get the sense that Gerrard is just another boring, average guy who just happened to be the best British born player of my lifetime. I do not say that lightly. There are players with more flair and perhaps more god-given talent, but throughout the last decade, when Gerrard put on his Liverpool jersey and stepped on that pitch, he was a force like no other. He’s a player that’s always deserved more, deserved to be part of a team that would set the world alight, but instead he chose to play for the club he loved and spent his whole career swimming upstream because of it. Dragging a misfiring, uneven and often inadequate series of Liverpool teams, kicking and screaming, to glory in what should have been their darkest years. This is a team that didn’t have a chance in hell of winning the league in this period, but in the 2005 Champions League, a tournament Liverpool joined in the earliest qualifying round in August and ended as champions in May, he did exactly that, forcing by sheer strength of will a team that had no business getting anywhere near silverware all the way to the final. A game which to my mind is certainly the greatest final the Champions League has ever seen and was the crowning moment for one of our generation’s greatest. Now on paper, Liverpool seemed to be outclassed in every department here. Cafu Vs. Steve Finnan, Paolo Maldini vs. Djimi Traore, Andriy Shevchenko vs. Jamie Carragher. Everything about Milan’s team read class, composure and experience. They were a great team with world class players, where almost everyone would carry a 20 million price tag and creativity was in abundance. Liverpool were at best at team with strong aspects and promise but glaring holes all over the pitch, particularly in their defence, where an ageing Sami Hyypia and a plucky but unathletic Jamie Carragher were going to be expected to deal with Kaka, with Rui Costa… I mean Xabi Alonso was solid and Luis Garcia or Milan Baros could have their day but it just seemed like a respectable result here was going to be not getting embarrassed. And it half time, it looked that even an embarrassment was something Liverpool were going to have to get on their knees and beg for. Their presence here felt like a joke, with Milan passing the ball sublimely, taking every chance they got and looking like worthy European champions through and through. An expert volley by living legend scorer of one goal every three seasons Paolo Maldini and two pieces of sublime finishing by Hernan Crespo (On loan from Chelsea, and looking nothing like the awkward, disappointing player he was at Stamford Bridge) His second in particular was world class, pouncing on an inch perfect through ball by Kaka to deftly chip it past a helpless Jerzy Dudek. When the half-time whistle blew, even Gerrard looked like he had no answer and it looked like it was going to be the best night of Everton fans lives. Liverpool were the clueless, ill-disciplined and mediocre team we all knew they could be and it seemed like it could only get worse. But then a couple of things changed. Rafa Benitez brought on old head Dietmar Hamann for Steve Finnan, plugging the central midfield and freeing Gerrard from all defensive responsibilities and essentially giving him the freedom to go forward, almost daring him to save a day that couldn’t be saved. Surely. Well almost from the whistle he became the player Zidane was talking about when he called him the best in the world. He was involved in everything. Every pass, every tackle, somehow everywhere on the pitch all at once. He scored a deceptively difficult header on 54 minutes, which on paper looked like a mere consolation, but to someone watching the game it was something more. Milan had so much time on the ball in the first half, it appeared effortless. But now they could barely touch it, and running didn’t seem to suit them. You got the sense that Liverpool were again going to defy the laws of nature and pull something out here, and the minute you got to the end of that thought, it was 3-2 thanks to a long range effort from Vladimir Smicer. Vladimir Smicer. If there was a single player to single out Liverpool’s early 00’s failings it would be Smicer. He was a winger who couldn’t run, a striker who couldn’t finish, if you were to ask me what exactly his strengths were I’d stare at you silently until you got bored and walked away. But Liverpool were on fire, their fans roaring, the will of the world behind them and suddenly Smicer was fucking Ronaldo. The third seemed inevitable, and it came 4 minutes later where an explosive Gerrard run into the box could only be stopped by a cynical trip from Gattuso, an act which seemed to define Milan’s response. They had nothing. All they could do was blankly stare while this infinitely inferior team bulldozed past them on the back of a world class player playing the best and most important game of his career. Alonso took one of the worst penalties ever taken, but luckily got the rebound and Liverpool were level. In fifteen minutes. What would have looked impossible for even the greatest of teams, had happened with time to spare. Of course Liverpool let reality creep back in and the rest of the game was played as an edgy stalemate, all the way up to penalties. But it felt like it was written, and you knew what was going to happen before it did (Smicer by the way, buried his penalty without a sweat) and there Liverpool were, European Champions. People under-rate the achievement because of all Liverpool’s success in the past, but Liverpool came 4th in the premier League the previous year. They came 5th in this very season; they had played the highest amount of games it was possible to play in the tournament. They wouldn’t have broken the top 15 teams competing in terms of quality, nor the top three even from England. The jury was undecided on Benitez and Milan Baros wasn’t exactly prolific. Gerrard had pretty much won the champions league by himself, and I honestly don’t think there’s been a more impressive feat performed in football in my lifetime. This match served as a testament to just how bad the Liverpool team around him could be, but also to the way Gerrard could inspire them, the way he could pull them up by their bootstraps and seem almost superhuman on the pitch. He was a great player not just for the passes he made and the goals he scored, but because he had that incredibly rare ability to rise to the occasion, something he could never quite replicate for England, to make no excuses and just be extra-ordinary. And what he did in the 2005 Champions league with Liverpool, is a feat that could be matched by very few in the history of the game. A truly classic game because in the increasingly elitist world of the Champions league, evidence that the underdog could have his moment inspired by a normal guy who became anything but for this club.
  • We hope you have like the opening week of Ballsybanter.com – we ended up having EIGHT posts in Seven days thanks to Mr. Joey Barton, so you got more bang for your virtual buck. Tomorrow will be the recording of the debut episode of the Ballsy Banter podcast, looking to be out sometime before Wednesday. The podcasts will happen every two weeks, but do not worry – we will keep you informed on the website and on both Facebook and Twitter. If your not following those, make sure you get on the social networking pillars of our fledgling football home. The blogs will continue as well, with some of the best up-and-coming young football writers giving their thoughts of football from both home and abroad. Don’t forget to tell your friends, and we thank everyone who has wrote for us this past week for their excellent contirubtions and our readers for giving us over 400 views in the first week. Thank you all. As a token of our love, here is a video of Real Madrid playing some Chinese schoolchildren. And by some, I mean 109. It beggars belief, I mean some of the marking.
  • I think it’s always difficult to define your expectations for a coming season. If you support a team in the ‘big four’ (or is it ‘small five’ or ‘big three’), I think in many ways your expectations are based on other top teams around you, who’s spending what on who. I’m an Everton fan and I actually don’t know what my season expectations are. The teams around us haven’t strengthened significantly and with 50p in the bank I don’t see much activity on the blue side of Stanley Park. Ask anyone and they’ll list somewhere between 6th and 10th. Before I vocalise my expectations I think I need to summarise Everton Football Club from my perspective. I think a lot of fans and the footballing media have quite a positive view of Everton. It is however, a weird, quasi-patronising admiration. We’re the plucky, tightknit squad, punching above our weight on a shoe-string budget. This is probably true but as an Everton fan it’s hard to not to level criticism at all areas of the club. Moyes has turned my club from a hopeless mid-table/relegation battling team into a strong, hard to beat, well balanced team of players, who when fully fit and playing well can be competitive against any team in the league. However, I do think it is fair to criticise his tactics in the big games and his apparent unwillingness to change the system when it’s not working. Too many times last season I was frustrated with the same formation of players that lost in the previous game set-up in the exact same way. I would hesitate though in criticising the signing of Bilyaletdinov. The player came in and has admittedly looked poor but with such little money to spend on players and the players we’ve managed to attain for nominal fees, I’ll let Moyes off on that one and hope rather than expect that the mercurial Russian can improve next season. Moyes has however, shown a consistent inability to provide competitive pre-season campaigns for the club (arguable exception of this year). Some regard pre-season as a meaningless excuse for shirt sales and PR tours, others see them as vitally important in how a club starts its campaign. I think for me the most important aspect of pre-season is integrating new players into the squad and club’s set-up. Having signed no one, does losing to Werder Bremen and Villarreal in pre-season leave me worrying for our start to the season? No. We have developed a reputation of frequently starting poorly in the league. I don’t think losing to good European teams or beating lower league teams will affect that start. Assuming we avoid any massive injuries and battles to keep our players I see no reason why we wouldn’t have a decent start to the season. While many Evertonians have voiced their dissatisfaction with the manager and to greater degree with the Chairman and the board I do see some positives going into the new season. Firstly, as it stands our squad is pretty much at full fitness. For the first time since joining the club, striker Louis Saha has had a full pre-season and Fellaini returning from injury is also a big boost for the team. Midway through last season there was a lot of speculation regarding Fellaini, Rodwell, Baines and Jagielka. By failing to perform at a high level for any significant part of last season I think Rodwell will remain with us for the foreseeable future, if we get a full season out of him I think we’ll get a good offer and sell him, giving us more funds for the squad depth we so sorely need. Fellaini was playing at close to his peak midway through last season and was rife with transfer speculation only to get injured in the latter half of the season. For us to maintain a strong squad and move forward I think securing a new contract for him should be the club’s number one priority. Finally Baines and Jagielka both apparently snubbed Champions League clubs (Bayern Munich and Arsenal) which is encouraging given the stagnant nature of the Everton (maybe they know something I don’t). While there are many aspects of the club that concern me (the lack of any money and a failing search for investment being the main ones) I do feel cautiously optimistic going into the new season. I think on paper when our squad is fully fit we are capable of playing some impressive football. I hope next season to see more of our youth players getting a run in the side. 17 year old Ross Barkley has looked impressive and I can certainly see more game time for players like Gueye and Vellios also. Moyes has proven with Coleman that these players are capable of breaking into the squad and any competition for our first-team can only be a good thing given our lack of experienced depth. As much as I’d like to say we’ll finish 4th like in 2004 and this time win our qualifier, the realist in me is saying 8th, which would seem to fit most scripts nicely.
  • Top flight football in Australia is an interesting beast. Top flight football in Australia is an interesting beast. Historically, football was almost entirely followed in Australia by migrants. Clubs followed cultural divides, with Melbourne being a hotbed with its mixture of European ethnicities. Eventually, however, the powers that be became sick of race riots at every second match, creating the A-League. Instead of divisions by ethnicity, the A-League placed (mostly new) clubs in Australia’s major cities and provincial capitals. 2011/12 is its seventh season. You may be asking yourself at this point, why should I care? And for along while, I thought the same thing. I’ll admit that I got into football majorly after the World Cup last year, and coming into theA-League was an interesting proposition. On the surface, it appeared to just be a place for old European players to retire. Robbie Fowler,for instance, was still kicking around down here in 2010/11. Unfortunately. In actuality, however, the A-League provides some quality football andat times, proper excitement. Here’s three reasons why you should at the very least read what I have to say about it. 1. The Grand Final last season was brilliant. (Yes, we have a playoff system to decide our champion. We have to make it simple enough for Aussie Rules fans to understand.) The Brisbane Roar came back from two goals down at home, with three minutes left in extra time, to win on penalties. This was, in fact, the second straight Grand Final to be decided on penalties. So if you love penalties, you’ll love the A-League! 2. We have our own Champions League too! The side on top of the table at the end of the regular season and the Grand Final winner (or, if they’re the same team, the Grand Final loser) head onto the Asian Champions League. Sure, we don’t have Barca vs Man U, but we have got Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma vs Zob Ahan! FEEL THE EXCITEMENT! 3. It’s football. Come on. If you’re reading this, you probably loveit. And think of it this way – our crowds are 33% hot women in bikinis, 33% deadly spiders and snakes, and 33% drunks. So just like in Britain, but with hot women and deadly creatures. So maybe some of those points aren’t great, but there’s still some great football going on down under. According to Wikipedia, Sky Sports shows the A-League over there. The season starts on October 8. Before then, I’ll guide you through the teams and who, if anyone, you might know. Plus, I’ll tell you who to care for! (I’ll give you a hint – it’ll be my team.) Anyway, as the motherland, it’s your duty to care about what your children do, right? Well look at me, mummy! I can play football too!
  • With the summer months being football free and the absence of international football this year, the only thing to fill the back pages and for football fans to threat over is the summer transfer window. Here’s our take on the big clubs and what they have been up to … As an Arsenal fan this year has been as predictable as any other despite Arsene Wenger claiming he would be ‘very active’ in the market. Whilst Gervinho has impressed during pre-season it is hardly up front where Arsenal need to strengthen. Gooners across the globe are crying out for some proven central defenders to fill the holes that were so evident last season and so far Wenger has given them … Carl Jenkinson, a 19-year-old right back. Arsenal fans can only hope that the rumour mill proves correct and at least one of Jagielka, Samba or and Cahill will be wearing red and white next season. It could be a long season for the manager and fans alike if Sebastien Squillaci makes another appearance. We would mention Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas but to be honest, everyone here at Ballsy Banter has had enough of the two most boring transfer sagas of the summer. Whilst Arsenal fans may be frustrated, the Man City and Liverpool fans amongst you must be eagerly awaiting the new season. City have been splashing their limitless cash bringing in Gael Clichy, Stefan Savic and of course Sergio Aguero. With Samuel Eto’o, Aaron Lennon and Samir Nasri all being linked with the Manchester outfit, the possible loss of Carlos Tevez would barely register on the radar. Don’t be surprised to see City adding even more superstars to their squad making them genuine title contenders for the upcoming season. Kenny Dalgliesh has been something of a saviour for the red half of Merseyside and additions such as Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing have only made the Liverpool revival even stronger. Whilst these players have not come cheap, Liverpool fans will feel there is no price limit for bringing the glory days (even just Champions League football!) back to Anfield. It is however looking more and more likely that the unsettled Aquilani will return to Italy, possibly for as little as 10 million Euros. Another team missing out on Champions League football this season and desperate to bring it back are Spurs. The North London club have been fairly quiet in the transfer market with their only notable signing being Brad Friedel from Villa. Their main issue is keeping hold of their star man Luka Modric. With the Croatian being heavily linked with a move to Chelsea and Tottenham’s main rivals going from strength to strength, Harry will need to live up to his ‘Wheeler Dealer’ reputation and bring in some new talent to his squad if he is to bring Champions League football back to White Hart Lane anytime soon. Aside from the rumours linking Luka Modric with a move West, Chelsea have been unusually quiet in the transfer market this summer with Man City taking their crown as the big spenders. The big news was of course the appointment of new manager Andre Villas-Boas. With The Blues narrowly missing out to Manchester United last season as Premier League champions, many were expecting Roman Abromovic to splash the cash. However Chelsea being Chelsea, don’t be surprised to see a few new faces at The Bridge before the end of August. Despite coming top of the pile last season United have bolstered their squad with Ashley Young, Phil Jones and the young goalkeeper, David De Gea. Not to mention the rumours constantly linking Wesley Sneijder with the club. Whilst they have lost two top class players in Paul Scholes and Edwin Van Der Sar, Sir Alex has done his best to replace them. Squads as they stand, it is hard to look past Manchester United retaining their crown, despite the spending power of their local rivals.
  • A new season normally means a new sense of optimism among football fans. Especially this season for my beloved Brighton and Hove Albion. After an impressive season which saw the nPower League One title find its way to the seaside, Gus Poyet’s side are gearing up for life in the second tier of English football, five years after they were relegated. As a Brighton fan this is the most exiting pre season and eagerly anticipated campaign that I can remember, not only are they competing against the likes of Birmingham, West Ham and Nottingham Forest, but it is the first season in the brand spanking new American Express Community Stadium, Brighton’s first permanent home since the Goldstone Ground was sold by their once greedy owners back in 1997. After having to make the 200 mile round trip to home games in Gillingham for two seasons, and then temporarily (which ended out being 11 years!) moving back to Brighton at the converted athletics track, Brighton fans now have somewhere they can call home, thanks to chairman and life long Brighton fan Tony Bloom. Pre-season is a time when it’s exciting both on and off the pitch and this is no exception in Brighton. The football has been a joy to watch and Poyet and Bloom have made some impressive additions to the squad. The obvious new signing that sticks out is Craig Mackail-Smith, a £2.5 million signing from Peterborough, who chose Brighton ahead of Leicester City, West Ham and Premiership new boys Norwich City. His 30 goals in League One last season showed how much of a coup it was for Brighton, however it just signals their ambition and the ‘wow factor’ of the new stadium and having Gus Poyet at the helm. Kazenga Lua Lua re-signing on loan for 6 months is another massive signing, and if the flying winger can rekindle his form which he had for Brighton before breaking his leg away at Hartlepool last season then we are all in for a treat. Netherlands under 21 international striker Roland Bergkamp, nephew of Dennis, is another ‘big name’ signing. If he has a quarter of his Uncles talent then the ‘Gus Bus’ will be rocking. It’s not all about the players bought in which is exciting us Brighton fans, two up and coming products of our very own youth system Lewis Dunk, 19 and Jake Forster-Caskey, 16 are starting to break in to the first team scene. Gus Poyet has dubbed them both as future Premiership stars (not too much pressure then!). Lewis Dunk, a centre back and local lad made his debut in a 0-0 draw away at MK Dons the season before last, followed up with his second appearance being away at Southampton last season where he was just as impressive! Jake Forster-Caskey, an England u16 international and step son of former Brighton legend Nicky Forster become the youngest ever player to grace ‘the stripes’ just after his 16th birthday at home to Yeovil. A born star. Throughout the close season, however, it has not all been rosy, with last seasons top scorer Glenn ‘judas’ Murray, refusing to sign a new contact, and as a result moving to arch rivals Crystal Palace, leaving a bitter taste in the Seagulls’ fans mouths. ‘Assist King’ Elliot Bennett also left, to Premiership new boys Norwich City for £1.5 million will certainly be a big loss to the Albion. This coming season we will most definitely miss the quality and flair of Elliot Bennett. Not Judas though. Many pundits this season predicting a successful campaign for Brighton saying how they can emulate Norwich from last season, which is possible, however in an extremely competitive league, with a lot of strong teams, I don’t share that faith. My prediction: An impressive 10th. Key player: Kazenga Lua Lua. Now thats Brighton but what about the two that followed them? Southampton and Peterborough followed Brighton into the Championship, but how will they fare in this highly competitive division. Both teams, like Brighton play attractive football, which proves the point that you can play pretty football in the lower leagues, and be successful! Southampton, a big club are most certainly going to be a force to be reckoned with this season. With a strong squad already in place Nigel Adkins wont need to improve on it too much to have a successful campaign. However the signing of Jack Cork on an undisclosed fee from Chelsea is a big signing and will definitely be a hit on the south coast. If Southampton can keep hold of hot property Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and winger Adam Lallana I could definitely see them having a fairly successful campaign. Nevertheless their physio turned manager Nigel Adkins is not a manager that I particularly rate, so although they have a strong squad, the management team could be a downfall for them. My prediction: 12th. Key player: If they can keep hold of him, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. League One Play-Off winners Peterborough are gearing up for a tough season. Having been relegated convincingly from the Championship two seasons ago, then going back up at the first time of asking, they have lost star man Craig Mackail-Smith to Brighton, and it looks like other star players George Boyd and Joe Lewis will follow soon. Darren Ferguson hasn’t really been astute in the transfer window either, with his only notable signings being a favour from Daddy, two loan players from Manchester United Scott Wooton and Ryan Tunnicliffe. A struggling season beckons. My prediction: 23rd. Key player: George Boyd. It’s always going to be a challenge for any promoted team to bode well in the next division up, especially one with the quality that The Championship has. Around 14 teams will have an eye on the top 6 which makes it extremely competitive. We’ve seen the likes of Norwich, Blackpool and Hull in recent years all get promoted through the Play-Offs, even though the odds were stacked against them, this gives most teams hope that they can emulate them. I expect West Ham, under the tenure of Big Sam to be up there come May, also mega bucks Leicester City, as well as the likes of Birmingham City, Nottingham Forest and Cardiff will all be pushing for those automatic promotion spots. With so many teams hoping to get into them top 6 places another tantalizing season awaits and I, for one, cannot wait!
  • I think it’s fair to say in life that we take things for granted until they are no longer there. Seeing your football club fall from grace and slip from the promised land of the English game is no exception. West Ham, you break my heart. But the show must go on. As a regular at the Boleyn Ground, I’d seen many a poor game the season past. The odd high yet uncountable lows left me with that sinking feeling all throughout. Yet the moment the maths meant survival was impossible was still emotion fuelled. Every single Iron wanted Mr. Grant’s head on a stick. No need though, the two David’s and Miss Brady had that one taken care of within the hour. Class it may have lacked, but impact it did not. In the weeks that followed, amongst others either released or sold for the pittance they were worth, gone too were the likes of ‘Captain Bottle-Job’ Upson & ‘Sick-note’ Kieron Dyer. Some contracts (dear one’s at that) just aren’t worth renewing. Premier League exits are rumoured to be worth a loss in excess £40m, but it all goes deeper than money. After leaving the Premier League with a whimper, the sights are clearly set on returning with a bang. Enter Mr Allardyce. I believe it fair to call him one of the bigger fish in the Championship pond. Big Sam is a Premier League gaffer punching below his weight, unjustly dismissed in his last two tenures by over-exuberant owners. Forget the long ball tag, as the man himself said ‘What is it the West Ham way? It can’t be getting relegated.’ A good workman will use tools he is familiar with. When the famous Sky Sports yellow ticker bar confirmed a Kevin Nolan medical, I couldn’t quite believe it. A player I’d have been happy to sign in the top flight, let alone in lesser world. A sensation at Newcastle, but a difference in opinions saw him re-united with the manger who he’d done it all with before. Stepping down a league is a big commitment. Is this money-motivated madness, or adrenaline-aided ambition? The coming season will tell. Along with Abdoulaye Faye, Matty Taylor and now Joey O’Brien (Ex-Bolton theme occurring), Big Sam continues the necessary reshaping, which will progress until the window closes. Links to the likes of Max Gradel & Shane Long add to the promise too. Clinging onto ‘prized assets’ however is also key. Although yet to lose many of the more quality players that comes hand-in-hand with relegation, it somewhat feels like only a matter of time. Questions over Super Scotty Parker’s future continue to roll off the tongue, and while Carlton Cole may have snubbed Stoke, Rob Green’s next card is no closer to being revealed. These 3 could have a huge role in this clubs future, whether they are still here or not. However where others may fail, youth could prevail. The likes of promising full-back Jordan Spence, attacker Cristian Montano and powerful forward Frank Nouble will have a chance to make a stand. Even flop Pablo Barrera has that second chance to try re-ignite his Hammer’s career following an impressive showing for the Mexicans in their successful Gold Cup campaign. Let’s take off the Claret & Blue tinted specs for just a second though. Nothing is cut and thrust, and they’ll be other teams in the hunt. Notably Leicester City have turned into the Man City of the Championship and seem to have cash to burn with their flurry of signings. This puts them in good stead to prevail. The likes of Cardiff and Nottingham Forest have reacted to back-to-back play-off failures with managerial and player changes, showing pure intent to make it third time lucky. As for Reading, well they were out swam by the Swans last season, and will surely be out to correct this misfortune. These for me make it far from a forgone conclusion; it won’t be easy with them fighting it out alongside. So what do I expect? A long, tough old campaign, however it will hopefully reap its reward. I am genuinely excited for the coming season, however feel instant return is a nothing less than a must. The likes of Coventry, Middlesbrough, Derby and several more have shown that if you can’t quite make it back first time round then a rapid spiralling into the abyss could duly follow. It’s time to sink or swim.
  • After Roman Abramovich became the owner of Chelsea in 2003 an elite group of clubs dominated the higher echelons of the Premier League for over half a decade. The vast sums of money generated by continued Champions League qualification formed the so-called ‘Big Four’. Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool created a gaping hole between themselves and the rest of the Premier League almost every year from 2003 and 2010. But with the emergence of Harry Redknapp’s talented squad at Tottenham and Manchester City’s endless supply of money the status quo has been broken up over the last couple of years and both clubs taken it in turns to replace Liverpool in the coveted Champions League places. And although Liverpool looked in danger of falling away for the foreseeable future; a mixture of new owners, a returning legend and new players has put the club in a much more promising direction. So it is looking increasingly likely that the hierarchy of the Premier League is changing one way or another and it hard to look past these six teams making up the top six in the Premier League. However, the order in which they finish isn’t so clear cut and although it is difficult to gage how well a team will do based on pre-season, here are my top six predictions for next season: 6th – Tottenham After Tottenham finished 4th in the 2009/10 season I was expecting them to step things up a level but I would argue that they have stalled from that point onwards. In all fairness they had their first Champions League campaign but as memorable as it was, their league form suffered after midweek outings in Europe. I think they will have learnt a lot from that experience but for me they are in need of a top striker and whilst it isn’t easy to find one, they don’t seem any nearer to bringing one in and I think that will be their downfall as it was last season. Another issue is the future of Luka Modric because I doubt they would be able to replace his quality if he left so securing his future is essential. They are capable of some of the best football in the league and have some outstanding players so there is no reason why they can’t challenge for those top four places again. I just think they will fall short. 5th – Liverpool I find Liverpool very hard to predict at present. On the one hand they were one of the forms teams from January onwards last season and displayed a real togetherness and camaraderie that I hadn’t seen there for a while. They also have a player in Luis Suarez who looks to have the makings of a top player. But on the other hand I have been less than impressed with their summer acquisitions and struggle to see how they will all fit in. I liked the fact they were giving some academy players a chance at the end of last season but I can see them getting pushed back due to the new arrivals. Whether they can find a balance next season with all their midfielders will be interesting and I am intrigued to find out how they will line up with everybody fit. I do think that if they get it right the will be genuine top four contenders and Dalglish seems to have a Midas touch so despite my doubts over his signings I think he probably knows what he’s doing. 4th – Arsenal After last season’s dramatic yet predictable collapse a lot of people were anticipating big changes at Arsenal this summer. Even Arsene Wenger himself said Arsenal will be ‘very active’ in the transfer market but it’s been the same old Arsenal pre-season with speculation of their best players leaving whilst some relatively unproven of players coming in. Everybody recognises Arsenal need to improve their flappable defence but they have yet to address this problem and are surely in for another season of frailty at the back unless they resolve this ongoing predicament. They are still a force going forward with Gervinho looking a good addition and if Robin Van Persie can stay fit it seems they have a constant source of goals. But the success of their season most likely depends on the uncertain futures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri as if they were to leave and Arsenal were to start badly then it would be difficult times ahead for Wenger. 3rd – Chelsea I found the appointment of Andre Villa-Boas a very interesting one in this Abramovich era at Chelsea. Are they just hoping that he will turn out to be the new Mourinho and be an instant success like the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’, or are they taking a different direction and hoping that this young managerial prodigy can build success over time and help lead a new era at Chelsea? It is likely to be the former but it still comes with risks. Chelsea have a squad full of big names and big egos and a lot of them are coming into the latter part of their careers. How they take to being managed by a man who is only months older than talismanic figures Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, will be interesting to see. Will they have enough respect for him? Only time will tell. One would assume that Fernando Torres would be the figurehead for a possible new era at Chelsea but apparently he has continued his struggles into pre-season. This is an ageing Chelsea side but it is still a very strong squad and if their key players are performing they will be title challenging again. 2nd – Man City For much of last season I was unconvinced by Manchester City. Yet at the end of May they were sitting pretty with an F.A Cup trophy and Champions League qualification via a 3rd place finish. That’s quite a frightening thought really. If they can get through a season in such lacklustre, negative fashion then what are they capable of when they get things right. Admittedly, the last six weeks of the season they pulled it together and achieved what was in there sights. If Mancini can bring that cohesion, spirit and togetherness to their game from the off next season then they’ll be a force. But Tevez leaving would be a massive blow because he is not just the goals of the team, he’s the captain and figurehead for all that is good about City. Aguero is a fine player and may turn out to be a more than adequate replacement but they’ve signed big name strikers before to no avail. Assuming Tevez does leave then City’s fortunes may depend on whether his boots can be filled. If Aguero is that man then he might be the difference between City being title contenders or just top four settlers. 1st – Man United It is hard to look past Man United for a twentieth championship. By their standards, an average Man United side won the Premier League in eventual comfortable circumstances last season. Only an exceptional Barcelona side stopped them from claiming a quite brilliant double. And since last may, they have strengthened with the additions of Phil Jones, Ashley Young and David De Gea. Of course, the retirements of Edwin Van Der Sar and Paul Scholes will have an impact but you would think the squad will be to adapt without them. They will notice Van Der Sar’s absence more and they will be hoping De Gea settles quickly as they do not want another hangover regarding the departure of a great keeper, a la Schmeichel. There is a degree of ‘out with the old, in with the new’ going on at United and it will be interesting to see how the new are integrated but there still a wealth of experience there to carry them through to another league title.
  • Pre-Season is normally my favourite part of the footballing calendar. As a Blackburn Rovers fan, I can be safe in the knowledge that we are safe from the clutches of relegation; and the turmoil of week in, week out defeats. Pre-season also gives every football fan across the country the sense of optimism; it reminds us that last season is gone and now is the chance for our teams to crack on and do better. Optimism is also the by word of every Rovers fan throughout the country. Despite only one signing, and losing the formidable Phil Jones; I feel that we can survive in the top flight and do a lot better than many people expect. As a Rovers fan I would class myself as a relegation expert, each year we are there or thereabouts so I’ve decided to have a look at who I believe will be the bottom five clubs come the end of the season. And believe or not; I’ve excluded Blackburn. Last year the bottom five featured Wolves, Wigan, Birmingham, Blackpool and West Ham. It created one of the most astonishing final days of a football season for a long time; and I’m hoping that this year it will be just as entertaining. So here goes: 16 - Newcastle I’m afraid nothing positive ever comes from this club. They have sold their top scorer Kevin Nolan and then announced the news that they are to ship out arguable one of their top players from last year, Joey Barton. Andy Carroll has been replaced by Demba Ba, but it wasn’t a like for like switch. Sylvain Marveaux, Mehdi Abeid and Yohan Cabaye have also been signed but are unproven in the league and may take time to bed into the squad. I don’t think that relegation is a possibility but the side have got a lot of issues that need resolving, so for me 16th seems a fair bet. 17- Wolves They only survived the final day last year because of other results and I believe that this year may end up with the same result. Any Wolves fan would happily take 17th this season as relegation is simply not an option for the perennial yo-yoing Midlanders. Mick McCarthy has once more shown his canniness in the transfer window and signed Roger Johnson, Jamie O’Hara and Dorus De Vries. For me the season will depend on how good O’Hara plays; as when he is on top form he is virtually unstoppable. I like Wolves and therefore would like them to remain a Premier League side. 18- QPR Another side who seem in trouble at the moment. The on off saga over whether Neil Warnock remains as manager has played on throughout the pre season and seems indicative of their new signings. All free transfers Danny Gabbidon, Jay Bothroyd and Kieron Dyer, which is surprising considering QPR are touted as the richest club in the World. The squad needs more beefing up to even get close to the quality needed in the Premier League; and for the time being would seem like a real bet for relegation. In my opinion they need to keep Warnock and back him big. The club seemed to finally have some stability under Warnock and the sooner it returns then the sooner more signings can be made. 19 - Wigan Roberto Martinez somehow prevented the impossible last year; but only with the help of Charles N’Zogbia who has since moved onto Aston Villa. Wigan’s squad has always seemed impressive with lots of flair but with the absence of N’Zogbia there may now be a gaping hole in the shape of a final product. Hugo Rodellaga is a fine player, but the likes of Victor Moses and James McCarthey will need to show the Premier League their potential this season for Wigan to prosper. I can’t see them avoiding relegation though, which is unfortunate. 20 -Norwich Norwich club officials revealed to me recently that the promotion to the Premier League came a year earlier than they had expected and that can be seen by their choice of signings. Anthony Pilkington was £2 million from Huddersfield, Elliott Bennett came in from Brighton, and Bradley Johnson was snapped up on a free from Leeds. The side for me seems to be one destined for glory in the Championship and not the Premier League, as there is a gulf in class between the leagues. Unfortunately there always needs to be a team that finishes last. Just ask Sunderland in 2003, Southampton in 2005, Derby County in 2008 or even West Ham this year. Lets just hope they don’t set a new record for the least amount of points accumulated over a season. And before you ask me about where I think my side will finish. All I’ve got to say is I would happily take 17th, I would be ever happier with 14th and would be ecstatic with 10th. I do believe though that sometimes the words of optimism and realism need to merge so my prediction for Blackburn Rovers is a respectable 15th.
  • We’ve only been up and running for one day and we’ve already have to cram in an extra blog post for the day. With the news that Joey Barton has been placed on the transfer list by Newcastle United and also available to leave for no fee whatsoever. Here is the rather straight-forward official statement from Newcastle United; Newcastle United can confirm that Joey Barton has been placed on the transfer list today (Monday). The player has been advised that he can leave the club on a free transfer. Source: NUFC.com So, why has this happened? Well it appears Mr. Barton has taken to Twitter - and like most footballers - does not appear to have the ability to take into account that EVERYONE ON THE PLANET can see what your saying. Be it Rooney threatening an abusive tweeter or the heydey of Darren Bent telling Levy to stop f**king about with his transfer, it seems to have become the new way for players to royally balls up PR wise. Now in this instance, it has appeared to have thrown Joey Barton straight into the bear pit of the transfer window. Simply for speaking his mind. Now whilst this seems harsh on the surface, you cannot simply throw the club into disrepute with a few careless tweets about supposed turmoil at the club. Ironically, he has been told he is ‘persona non grata’ as he so eloquantly put it for probably the tamest thing he’s done in his career. This whole episode throws up in the air three questions; First off; What is exactly going on at Newcastle United? First Jose Enrique comes onto Twitter bemoaning the lack of harmony and ambition at the club, now Joey Barton speaks his mind. This is the kind of stuff that was around in the Newcastle relegation campaign a few years ago. It seemed to have bubbled under slightly, but now is all this anger and resentment at the way this club is run has returned with a a vengeance. Now only the insiders know what is going there, but it must worry the fans to see this rearing its ugly head. Secondly, when will players learn that Twitter is all well and good to talk to the fans, engage in banter with other players and perhaps plug sponsorship deals shamelessly in a Brooke L. Vincent fashion (If you dont know about that, its not important), but they need to tread carefully with opinions on matters that are sensitive to their playing career and the club they play for. Tabloid journalists are sitting by their smartphones 24/7 waiting for a player to vent via 140 character blasts so they have a story to sell to the editor, so players need to tread very carefully with what they say via their keyboard. Someone WILL see it, it WILL end up being sent around, and you WILL get into hot water over it. And thats not even mentioning the utter stupidity of Nile Ranger and THAT picture incident. And finally, what shall happen to Joey Barton now he is basically a free agent. Rumours are abound that Arsenal and Tottenham are ‘on alert’ to bring the player to North London - and I could see him going to the Emirates and bringing some bite to the midfield if the fans had their way. But I just don’t see Arsene bringing him in and Spurs really don’t need him (even if old ‘Arry loves a transfer) so maybe if he looked at the likes of maybe a Fulham (no bias here), a Stoke, or even Aston Villa - to join the McLeish revolution at Villa Park. Wherever he goes, he wil bring great potential of being a vital part of whatever midfield if he gets his head down and shows what he can do. A final thought on this, well I could say that footballers need to keep their tweets simple and banal until they retire, then they can go mental and say whatever they want. But they aren’t going to learn, and we all enjoy seeing them fall flat on their face and then critizing them for being silly boys after. Football fans are a fickle bunch. And we’re OK with that. Matty.
  • Glad to see you’ve found us. I would like to welcome you to the ALL new Ballsybanter.com website! Gone are the days where we we’re merely a .blog.com, we’ve gone all ligit. This is the new home for the Ballsy Banter blog network and Ballsy Banter podcast, which I can exclusively announce that the first episode will be recorded on the 8TH OF AUGUST, and it will be relased onto itunes that week. Exciting times indeed. Also, we will be restarting the Ballsy Banter fantasy leauge, which is named rather cleverly ‘the ballsybanter.com official fantasy league’. It is on www.premierleague.com, and the code is 602909-157923. So feel free to join us and get competitive. My own personal team is called AFC Junichi Inamoto, so look out for that. Finally, we will be be the premier site for some of the best up-and-coming football bloggers on the internet. To show this, we will be having seven blogs over the next seven days showcasing some of our best talent. We will have broad range of topics from Premier League to even A-League, with our correspondant Max Laughton telling all about football on the other side of the world. We hope to entertain and inform on ballsybanter.com, and hopefully you will enjoy. We are really excited to kick off this project - and hope it will become something big. But most of all we hope you enjoy it. Tomorrow we will have a Premier League preview to kick off the blogs proper. We hope you enjoy it. Ooh, before I forget - follow us on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/ballsybanter) and like us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/ballsybanter) for the most up-to-date information on the website. Thank you for joining us, and welcome aboard. Matty Deller, on behalf of Jamie King, Manish Doolabh and the Ballsy Banter team.
  • Well, if the headline wasn’t self-explanatory enough for you, I would say I’m not exactly hopeful of England’s World Cup prospects, no matter how much Roy implores me to ‘put a tenner on them’. Picture it though; wasn’t it just written in the stars? All the teams from the first three pots were drawn. England were in the final pot. You could see which groups you would want to be drawn in (E & H). But then, the media pauses. They realise what the next group involves. Uruguay. Italy. They start to sweat. Could this be the proverbial group of death England desperately needed to avoid? Then, Sir Geoff Hurst steps up. He hands over the ball he has chosen. They open it. They think it’s all over….. IT IS NOW! England are drawn in Group D with Uruguay and Italy, as well as Costa Rica.

  • I don’t think it would be too controversial to say there’s not a lot of love lost for Steve McClaren in England. He probably has to go down as the worst England Manager in the Modern Era, and in that ill-advised moment of brashness one day, when he thought saying ‘ Judge me on the results’ was a good idea, he created the noose with which he was hanged when England failed to qualify for Euro 2008 under his leadership.

  • Because, when Berbatov put through Dejagah for 1-0, I thought it was over for Andre Villas-Boas. The media’s turned on him and (allegedly) so have the board and for good reason – no wins in four games, including utter humiliation at the hands of Manchester City meant that things weren’t going to stay easy for long. Added to his needlessly abrasive style with the press of late and it seemed like the writing was on the wall.

  • Let’s start with some facts. Joao Moutinho is one of the players produced at Sporting’s world-class academy and is a regular in the Portuguese national team, having made 48 appearances since 2005. He has two league titles, three cup titles, five Supercups, and a Europa League winners medal, all at the age of 25. He became the second youngest man ever to captain Sporting, aged 20. On the face of it, it sounds like the tireless midfielder has had a flawless career, free of controversy. But that could not be further from the truth.

  • After an opening 12 games which saw the Reds lose just twice and revealed the emergence of Daniel Sturridge as the country’s leading striker, Hull City brought Brendan Rodgers’ team back down to earth with a bang in a chastening 3-1 victory on Sunday, the first defeat of Liverpool in their history.

  • Despite last night’s 2-1 loss to bottom of the league Barnsley, a result that ended Brighton’s unbeaten run of six games, many fans are now asking if the Seagulls can repeat last year’s success of reaching the play-offs and possibly taking it one step further by securing promotion.

  • Chelsea hosted Southampton on Sunday evening. The Londoners have almost lost their unbeaten record at home against West Bromwich Albion prior to losing against Basel in the Champions League. Southampton were looking to bounce back from their defeat against Arsenal with a victory.

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  • Ladies and gentlemen, we bring you the Ballsy Banter Roll of Honour 2011.

    At the end of every year, our presenters and bloggers will tell you who and what they think was the best of the best over the past 365 days. They have carefully chosen from every kick of the ball and player to cross the white line on the planet to show you who they think deserve to be on this illustrious list.

    Okay – it was decided over a pint of beer and a few messages on Facebook, but the first one sounds better.

    The categories this year are:

    Player of 2011

    Goal of 2011

    One to watch in 2012


    So, here are our thoughts on the year in football, two thousand and eleven.

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    Matty Deller

    Player of 2011: Mario Gomez

    There is another Super Mario in world football you know. A man who has scored a half century of goals in a calendar year cannot be sniffed at. After a so-so first season at Bayern, scoring just 10 goals in 29 appearances, 2011 became Mario’s redemption,bagging 38 goals in the 2010/2011 and netting three braces and two hat-tricks in the start of this years Bundesliga. He has also netted six times in just five games in the Champions League for Bayern, showing his pedigree on a wider skill. A lethal finisher, an all-round complete striker and I feel one of the best forwards in the world today. Euro 2012 looks to be his apex, if the past year is anything to go by. The scary thing is, it looks like he is only going to score more in 2012.

    Goal of 2011: Kevin Prince-Boateng: AC MILAN vs Barca

    This boy has come on leaps and bounds since joining AC Milan, and this superb goal highlights his skills in a classic Champions League tie. Beautiful trap down, flick between the legs to lose the defend and drilled near-post finish. Never mind that this is against Barcelona, and it’s in the Champions League. A great world-class finish in a world-class game.

     

     

    Player to watch in 2012: Christian Eriksen When a 19-year old is named Dutch football talent of the year and Danish player of the year in the same year, you know he is something special. Christian Eriksen has been lighting up the Eredivisie and only the second player to gain the dutch honour alongside Jon-Dahl Tomasson in 1996, voted on by a panel lead by Johan Cruyff (high praise indeed). He was influential to Ajax’s league title win last season, and has kept the form up since. He has also recently scored his first goal in the Champions League and although his team are now in the Europa League, I will be looking to the game at Old Trafford for Eriksen to announce himself on the world stage as a great striker and push on in 2012. ———————————————————————————————————————- Manish Doolabh Player of 2011: Yaya Toure I’m going to stay away from the Messis and Ronaldos because they go without saying, but the person that has really impressed me this year is Yaya Toure of Man City. For me he has been instrumental for city’s development into a great team, and he really commands the centre of the field like no other. He is great at attacking as well as defending, tall strong and good in the air, and this makes him practically a comeplete central mifefielder. He even pops up with about important goal or two. When city play without him, for me, they lack that commanding presence in the centre, despite having an array of talent as backup. Yaya plays the central to defensive role the best and he has a knack of reading an opposing attack and organizing to clear his lines. He’s had a great year, not for goal scoring, but for everything else. Goal of 2011: Wayne Rooney: MANCHESTER UNITED vs Manchester City As a Man Utd fan it was hard not be biased for this one, and i wouldnt be suprised if someone else picks this too. For me it was Rooney’s overhead kick against City. It was a great goal with some brilliant tekkers, but it was (back then) what the goal meant that made if even better. It was the winning goal in a thrilling Manchester derby and it is one that will be in all it’s and City fans memories for a good while. Player to watch in 2012: Sergio Aguero I’m gonna try and be slightly different with my choice by saying Sergio Aguero. Now I know he is already an established player, but I think he could do great things at City. His first game for city against Swansea showed what unbelievable talent he has, being involved in all 4 goals, and going on to be an integral part of City’s strike force. it was a close race for me though, because I will also be watching Mario Balotelli (it’s really not hard to follow what he does anyway) as he is always in the right place at the right time (on the pitch anyway) as well as scoring key goals in key games. City have a bright future. Annoyingly. ———————————————————————————————————————— Jamie King Player of 2011: Robin Van Persie Plenty of choices I could have gone for but at the end of the day you can’t argue with the facts and Robin Van Persie’s goalscoring in 2011 has been nothing short of outstanding. But this is not the main reason why I’m giving the Dutchman the title to my player of 2011. I never saw Robin Van Persie as a captain, but he proved me wrong, he has became a leader. Looking at ex-Arsenal captains the likes of Tony Adams and Patrick Viera are natural born leaders, something I didn’t think RVP had in his locker. But he has seemed to become more vocal and has developed as the perfect example of how a Premiership footballer should be, on and off the pitch. It’s been tough times for Arsenal loosing so many vital players and in some big games they have had to rely on younger players, whom Van Persie has helped develop. With transfer rumours flying around after his impressive year, it is clear that Robin Van Persie is up there as one of the best Premiership players at present. Goal of 2011: David Luiz: CHELSEA Vs Manchester United et me take you back to the 1st March, a bitterly cold Tuesday night when the league champions, Manchester United came to Stamford Bridge. A packed stadium in which I was amongst the 40,000 odd sporting my Chelsea winter wear. The atmosphere was unreal as I took my seat in the Matthew Harding Lower stand. But that atmposhere was about to be turned up a notch or two over the next 90 minutes. Especially when I saw my goal of 2011. Now it wasn’t a fantastic team goal, or a 40-yard volley but it was a great finish and the moment when that goal went in I was on top of the world. This is how it happened. The ball is with Michael Essien about half way in his own half, he crossed it in for Branislav Ivaonvic, he fails to get a clean head on the ball. The ball is now bouncing in the box towards an unmarked David Luiz, who patiently waits for the ball to drop and hits the ball as sweetly as you like into the bottom corner. The stadium erupts. I love watching this goal back. I love the fact that camera is shaking so much – it just begins to show you how much that goal meant to the Chelsea faithful and the atmosphere inside the Bridge at that point. Player to watch in 2012: Phil Jones The reason why I’ve gone for Phil Jones as my player for 2012 is because I think he is going to become an integral player for both club and country. Euro 2012 is coming up this summer and I think if Phil Jones keeps progressing the way he is then he is going to become vital for England this summer in Poland and Ukraine. I also feel that if Manchester United don’t win the league this season, they will come very close and I think at the end of the season people will be looking at the consistent performances of Phil Jones as one of the main factors for the success of Manchester United. This summer I predict the first of many big performances on the biggest stage of them all – a major international tournament. I know he gets talked about a lot and this may be quite an obvious choice, but I think 2012 will see a future England captain shine. ———————————————————————————————————————— Aman Pathiara Player of 2011: David Silva My player of the year is David Silva. The popular choice, Robin van Persie, has been a goal machine this year, but it is already a common belief that he is the difference between Arsenal being a good team and a great team. Silva, on the other hand, has made himself indispensible to Manchester City in 2011, becoming one of the best players in the Premier League and even forcing his way into a Spain squad which he stayed firmly out of during last year’s World Cup. He is the archetypal creative playmaker that other top teams covet, and City simply look a lot more complete with Silva in the team. Definitely player of the year for me. Goal of 2011: Fredy Guarin: PORTO Vs Maritimo Looking outside of the Premier League for this one brings me to Portugal in January, with Porto’s Colombian star Fredy Guarin launching a 40 yard rocket into the top corner against Maritimo. Guarin has been linked with Chelsea this year, and it’s no real surprise when he can score like that. A goal from the very top drawer, even he can’t believe it. Player to watch in 2012: Roberto Soldado David Villa’s long-term injury means that Spain will have to rely on another striker for their Euro 2012 campaign, and this opens the doors for several Spanish strikers to take his place. Chelsea’s Fernando Torres has really lost his way of late, and so player such as Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Negredo could have their chance to make a name for themselves. This could also be the chance for the relatively prolific Roberto Soldado of Valencia to make his name on the international stage and become a better known name. More akin to Spain’s style than the larger, stronger Llorente, Soldado has been an odd omission from Spain’s national team despite his 40+ goals in the last three seasons and could use 2012 to stake his claim. ———————————————————————————————————————— Gavin Duke Player of 2011: Scott Parker For this one I could look no further than one man, Scott Parker. I have a lot of time for this guy, understandably, and it broke my heart to see him leave West Ham on deadline day in August. Clearing that from my eye line though, this man has absolutely stolen the show in 2011. Many people say to me now: ‘Scott Parker, what a player!’ – something I could have told them at least two years ago. The Football Writer’s player of the year (an award won at a club who finished bottom of the league – unheard of achievement) broke back into the England fold in February, and following performance after solid performance, he just hasn’t looked back. The first name on everyone’s National team sheet, and a lynch pin (sometimes even wearing the captain’s armband) in Tottenham’s current charge of form. He is quite simply for me, a no-brainer of a choice for this accolade. Goal of 2011: Robin Van Persie: ARSENAL vs Everton I feel that there are only two real contenders for this one, but my heart told me that Robin Van Persie Vs Everton takes gold. Of course for many Wayne Rooney’s belting bicycle kick against Manchester City back in February would be the winner. Not me. Although a earth-shattering effort, the deflected cross and hint of shin in the finish is left in the shadows by RVP. Wow. What a goal at the Emirates. Couple Alex Songs pin-point delivery, along with the hottest striker on the planet’s blistering volleyed strike, which sizzled with just such power and precision into the far bottom corner. Then add in a bit of ‘in-off-the-post magic’, and it just sends shivers down the spine. A goal I could watch all day, he knew the exact spot he was putting that ball before even struck. With echoes of the Best Goal Premier League History courtesy of a certain Mr. Di Canio (and yes, only echoes, let’s not get carried way), for me it takes the prize this year. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okltbBh2JR4 Player to watch in 2012: Oriol Romeu After seeing him in the flesh in a neutral visit to Stamford Bridge, I predict that Oriol Romeu will catch eyes in 2012, just like he did mine. I’d heard of him before, anybody who is a product of the Barcelona academy will have their name floating about, but this lad really shone for me and actually showed why he’d come from where he had. To come out as the top man in a game where your side beats Genk 5-0 is an impressive feat. Just the raw composure on the ball, the casualness in distribution and the way he has delicately slipped comfortably into the Chelsea midfield is outstanding. He’s kept Frank Lampard on the bench at the times, and that truly does take some doing. Of course to then have frantic rumours hitting the surface the Barca want him back already (and they have first refusual), make this man quite easily the guy who you should not take your pupils off in the coming 12 months. A star of the future – remember the name. ———————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————— Jamie Levitt Player of 2011: Mario Balotelli It could only be Mario Balotelli, who has entertained us on and off the pitch. In a game taken ridiculously seriously it’s great to have a player who appears to coast through his football career nonchalantly. He doesn’t beat his chest and roar at the fans, he doesn’t really celebrate goals properly, he acts as though he’s above it all. He’s the Patrick Bateman of football, involved in it but not really part of it and just kind of doing whatever he feels like. Comparisons are being made already with Cantona and there are certainly similarities. Balotelli’s footballing talent is undeniable, he’s strong, fast, skilful and clever with the ball but that’s kind of not the point. The only other player who could shrug in a goal is Berbatov and sure Berbatov is casual and cool and skillful, but would he dress up as Santa Claus and walk the streets of Manchester handing out money? Maybe Balotelli is a player who understands the absurdity of the money, the fickle fans and the short timespan of a footballers career. Maybe he’s a moody 21 year old who’s been given everything and is consequently a bit of an idiot. Either way he does it for the lols and feels more relevant in football than anyone else I can think of this year. Goal of 2011: Neymar: SANTOS vs Flamengo When I was thinking about my favourite goal of 2011 I immediately thought of long range shots, outrageous volleys and crazy curling freekicks. I love those goals but for me the best goals are either superb team goals or superb individual goals. Carlos Alberto’s finish from a 30 pass spell by Brazil and Maradona’s solo goal against England are among the best. The goal I chose is Neymar’s third of a hattrick against Flemengo (Neymar’s team Santos went on to the lose the amazing game 5-4). I love these instinctive goals that seems to happen so quickly and out of nowhere, Neymar’s skill to beat the defender and put him through is just so fast but also accurate and intricate. It’s also a really great finish as the goalkeeper storms out giving him almost no time to chip the ball past him with the outside of his foot. All the top teams in Europe are after the tricky striker and with individual goals like this one showing his undeniable talent I think we can all look forward to seeing more great goals from the 20 year old. Sign him up Everton. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUwVvyXkElY Player to watch in 2012: Junior Hoilett My player to watch for 2012 plays Blackburn Rovers and isn’t Reuben Rochina. No, it’s winger/auxiliary striker Junior Hoilett (otherwise known as ‘the only Canadian footballer anyone could name’. The 21 year old joined Rovers in January 2009 and I didn’t really see much of him until the later stages of the 10/11 season but I think he’s a real talent to watch out for (even if that does mean watching Blackburn play). The thing I really like about Hoilett is that he’s a winger but he’s got a lot more to his game than many other wingers in the league. It feels very much that the modern winger is either a speedster who is unable to deliver or a crossing specialist with no pace who is lost in midfield. Hoilett can operate effectively on either winger and is capable of coming inside and play in others through the middle. He can also finish well, scoring a great solo goal against Wolves last season (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3B8qzd7_UI). There are rumours linking the Canadian with Spurs. While I imagine it must be frustrating for player being stuck in a team that is struggling, with a manager under pressure and a no communication from the board, I can’t help feeling joining Spurs would be a bad move for Hoilett. It’s hard not to look at talented players such Dos Santos, Kranjcar and Pienaar who’ve joined Spurs only to fall out of Harry’s favour and rot on the bench. At the rumoured 8 million price tag, Hoilett would certainly seem to fit the bill as one of these players, particularly if Spurs do well this season and Harry is given more funds in the summer. I do believe that if Hoilett stays with Blackburn and their situation becomes more secure or if he joins a team that will play him and nurture his talent, he will be a very good player in the future. What the really great thing is folks, is that none of the Ballsy Banter contributors discussed their choices with each other, making this a brilliant collection of the best of 2011. Enjoy!

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