It's a Knockaert

The ramblings of a football obsessive and Game of Thrones nerd.


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Premier League Half-Time Review

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We are now exactly half way through the season in the English football calendar, and it’s fair to say there are a few surprises to be found in the Premier League table – Arsenal top, Man Utd 6th, none of the newly promoted clubs in the bottom 3, but we have seen that things can change incredibly quickly, so the table at this stage may not look anything like the final table. With the January transfer window coming up, teams at the top and bottom will look to add to their squad to prepare for the final 5 months of the season, which is sure to be one of the closest in recent memory.

Arsenal – 1st

Last Season: 4th

Best Player: Aaron Ramsey

Arsenal have been underachieving for quite a few years now, but the deadline day signing of Mesut Ozil seems to have given the club a lift, despite Ozil himself not playing to his best thus far. The much lamented Aaron Ramsey has exploded into the best form of his career, and the centre back pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny has become arguably the best in the league.

January Targets

The general consensus is that a striker is needed to challenge with Olivier Giroud for a place, as the only other striker they have in backup in Nicklas Bendtner. With Bacary Sagna stalling on a new contract, a right back wouldn’t go amiss either, and possibly a left winger to compete with Lukas Podolski. Money isn’t an object either, so they can afford to go all out for the title.

They Should Sign: Alexandre Pato, Sime Vrsaljko, Julian Draxler

Aston Villa – 13th

Last Season: 15th

Best Player: Brad Guzan

After battling relegation for a long while, Villa seemed to be improving towards the end of last season, with a mix of young signings from the lower leagues in England, and bargain buys from abroad. However, they haven’t built on last seasons progress and sit just 4 points above the relegation zone at present, no doubt partly because of Christian Benteke’s lack of goals – he seemed to be carrying the whole team at times last season. Libor Kozak signed from Lazio in the summer, and he has partly filled in for Benteke, but will they have enough? Some fans think not, and are calling for Lambert to go.

January Targets

With such a youthful team, experience might be what is missing – an experienced midfielder who can inspire his team could be exactly what is missing. With not much money to spend, they could look at a loan for a player not getting game time at a bigger club to lift their season.

They Should Sign: Darren Fletcher (loan), Michael Essien (loan)

Cardiff City – 16th

Last Season: 1st in Championship

Best Player: David Marshall

Cardiff’s form has been overshadowed by the off-field drama between now ex-manager Malky Mackay and owner Vincent Tan. Despite this, Cardiff cannot complain about how they have begun life in the Premier League – the object of any promoted team should be to simply stay up, and right now they are looking a good bet to achieve that aim. With the right managerial appointment, they could even push on for a mid-table finish – but the question is, who would want to work for Tan?

January Targets

A consistent goal scorer – Fraizer Campbell has shone in fits and starts, but Odemwingie and Cornelius have yet to get going properly in a Cardiff shirt. Tan hasn’t been afraid to splash money in the past.

They Should Sign: Jordan Rhodes

Chelsea – 3rd

Last Season: 3rd

Best Player – Eden Hazard

Many peoples, including my own, tip for the title after appointing Jose Mourinho as manager for the second time, Chelsea started slowly but now are just 2 points off the top, and in with a good chance of winning their first title since 2010. I believe their summer transfer window was flawed, as they brought in more attacking midfielders, and disrupted the effective trident of Hazard – Mata – Oscar. Andre Schurrle and Willian haven’t convinced me they are a better option, while Van Ginkel has been ruled out for the season and De Bruyne, who had some good games at the start of the season, has barely featured since.

January Targets

A world-class central defender, Chelsea should take advantage of Juve’s failure to qualify for the knockout stage of the Champions League and put in a big money bid for Giorgio Chiellini. Many think they also need a striker, but I believe their system does not suit strikers – how else have so many quality strikers failed at Chelsea in the last few seasons. (Torres, Eto’o, Ba, Sturridge)

They Should Sign: Giorgio Chiellini, Falcao

Crystal Palace – 17th

Last Season: Play-off winners

Best Player: Marouane Chamakh

Palace were predicted by most to finish rock bottom, and seemed to be headed that way until Ian Holloway was replaced with Tony Pulis, who has completely transformed them. While they have probably the weakest squad in the league, they are looking an intimidating opponent at the moment – Man City could only beat them 1-0 at home, where they have scored freely all season. Continue like this, and they should stay up – but it’s a big if for me, as eventually quality will tell.

January Targets

Premier League rejects Cameron Jerome and Maroune Chamakh have somehow formed a decent partnership up front –  if they could add a quality creative player to provide them service, it would be a big help. While the defence has been very stubborn in recent games, a quality defender wouldn’t go amiss either.

They Should Sign: Tom Ince, Ezequiel Munoz

Everton – 4th

Last Season: 6th

Best Player: Romelu Lukaku

Everton’s target every season is to try and break into the top 4, but this season they are looking more likely than ever to do it, thanks to some excellent signings made by new manager Roberto Martinez, namely Lukaku, Deulofeu, Barry and McCarthy. That 3 of those players are only on loan must be a concern though – it is highly unlikely that Lukaku or Deulofeu could be tempted to stay permanently.

January Targets

The defence and midfield are solid, and Lukaku is a top striker, but the alternatives to Lukaku are not on his level. A experienced striker to keep Lukaku on his toes and fill in should he be injured is what they need.

They Should Sign: Jermaine Defoe

Fulham – 18th

Last Season: 12th

Best Player: Scott Parker

Fulham have been very disappointing this season, largely down to most of their star players massively underperforming, mainly Berbatov, Bent and Ruiz. Martin Jol paid the price, and Rene Meulensteen has been thrown into the hot seat. They have enough talent to survive comfortably, but do the players have the fight for it? The re-signing of Clint Dempsey on loan for 2 months might give them a kick start.

January Targets

Another quality defender to partner Brede Hangeland. Talent isn’t their problem, determination and a fighting spirit is what they need.

They Should Sign: Eder Alvarez Balanta

Hull City Tigers – 10th

Last Season: 2nd in Championship

Best Player: Tom Huddlestone

Hull would have scarcely believed it if you had told them they would be 10th at this point, yet they haven’t received the praise they perhaps deserve – although when things change as quickly as they do this season, it could be catastrophic if they were to get complacent.

January Targets

A consistent striker – Danny Graham, Yannick Sagbo and Matty Fryatt haven’t scored many goals between them.

They Should Sign: Abel Hernandez

Liverpool – 5th

Last Season: 7th

Best Player – Luis Suarez

Top on Christmas Day, 2 defeats to Man City and Chelsea since then have seen the Liverpool drop outside the top 4 where they have been most of the season. With Suarez in the form of his life, and Sturridge also in the best form of his career, Liverpool have played far better than many expected and in with a great chance of returning to the top 4, although it may be too early for a title challenge. Tying down Suarez until 2018 is massive for the club.

January Targets

Liverpool’s transfer targets depend on their aims for the season. They should have enough to reach the top 4, but are 3 or 4 players short of a title challenge. Main areas to strengthen are both full backs, centre back and centre midfield.

They Should Sign: Martin Montoya, Inigo Martinez, Ben Davies, Alex Song

Manchester City – 2nd

Last Season: 2nd

Best Player: Sergio Aguero

After sorting out their poor away form at the start of the season, City are looking good to win back the Premier League title. Aguero and Yaya Toure are both at their best, summer signings Negredo and Fernandinho have settled in well and the team can’t stop scoring, especially at home. Their aim must now be shifting to the Champions League, and a daunting last 16 tie with Barcelona. I believe they can defeat the Spanish giants if they play at their best, but can they maintain a challenge on multiple fronts for the whole season?

January Targets

Questions remain over Joe Hart, despite being returned to the starting line up, and they could do with a stronger left back, as neither Kolarov or Clichy has been consistent this season. Matija Nastasic is a promising centre back, but they could do with another defender on the level of Vincent Kompany until Nastasic is ready to become a regular.

They Should Sign: Julio Cesar, Fabio Coentrao, Mats Hummels

Manchester United – 6th

Last Season: 1st

Best Player – Wayne Rooney

The post-Ferguson era has not gone to plan for the current reigning champions – it would take a miracle at this point for them to retain their title. Failure to address problem areas in the summer, Van Persie being set back by niggling injuries, and a weak-looking defence and midfield mean their target now is simply to reach the top 4. Wayne Rooney has carried them for a lot of this season, but four straight wins to end the year could be a sign that things are turning around. It would be a brave man to rule out a big resurgence in 2014.

January Targets

Centre of defence and midfield are the weak areas, as well as both wings. To fix all these problems will be an expensive task, but necessary for United to return to the team they should be,

They Should Sign: Pepe, Hernanes, Pedro, Antoine Griezmann

Newcastle United – 8th

Last Season: 16th

Best Player: Loic Remy

Newcastle’s resurgence this season has come as a surprise to some, but in reality last season was a massive underachievement for them as they have one of the most talented squads in the league. With no Europa League this season, they sit in their rightful place in the top half, with strong performances from Remy, Ben Arfa and Cabaye. They should be aiming now to return to the Europe League, and to add more depth to their squad to challenge on multiple fronts.

January Targets

They have quality all over the squad, but for up front. Papiss Cisse has been a shadow of the player he was in his first 6 months at Newcastle, Remy has been playing left wing, and Gouffran and Ameobi haven’t been consistent. Ashley doesn’t have a record of big spending, they should look to get a good player in a bargain deal.

They Should Sign: Mame Biram Diouf

Norwich City – 14th

Last Season: 11th

Best Player: Gary Hooper

Norwich’s transfer business was praised by many, but they had a very shaky start to the season and need to play better to avoid a relegation fight. Chris Hughton is under mounting pressure from the fans, sick of the poor football and results. Hughton did well last season, and replacing him would be a risk – it could fire them to safety, as Pocchettino did for Southampton last season, or it could go very badly. Ricky Van Wolfswinkel has been poor so far, but he is a proven striker who could keep them up if he hits some form.

January Targets

A creative winger or attacking midfielder to give service to Hooper and Van Wolfswinkel, and maybe a right back too.

They Should Sign: Martin Kelly (loan), Anthony Knockaert

Southampton – 9th

Last Season: 14th

Best Player: Adam Lallana

Southampton made an explosive start to the season, correctly predicted by many after the progress made last season since appointing Mauricio Pocchettino, improving young stars Luke Shaw, James Ward-Prowse and Nathaniel Clyne and some excellent summer signings. Despite going off the boil in the last month, they were in the top 4 for a while and should not be ruled out of claiming a European place.

January Targets

A goalkeeper – they have used Artur Boruc and Gazzaniga this season, neither of whom inspires great confidence.

They Should Sign: Costel Pantilimon

Stoke City – 12th

Last Season: 13th

Best Player: Marko Arnautovic

Tipped to struggle to stay up by many, Stoke have been solid but unspectacular as usual. A consistent mid table team, they are unlikely to either go down or reach the top half unless something drastically changes.

January Targets

A prolific striker to provide the impetus they need to progress.

They Should Sign: Adrian Ramos

Sunderland – 20th

Last Season: 17th

Best Player: Steven Fletcher

The Paolo Di Canio experiment went disastrously wrong, and Sunderland sit rock bottom. If they were to stay up, it would be only the 2nd time a team bottom at Christmas has done so, so history is strongly against them. However, things have improved under Gus Poyet, and they are unbeaten in 4 games, including a battling a draw against Cardiff sealed with a 95th minute equaliser. Only 2 points from safety, the relegation battle is going to go to the wire, and don’t rule them out.

January Targets

A weak defence and goalkeeper need to be improved to give them a good chance of survival.

They Should Sign: David Ospina, Davide Astori

Swansea City – 11th

Last Season: 9th

Best Player: Jonjo Shelvey

The most improved side of last season, Swansea haven’t quite been as good as last season. Michu hasn’t hit the heights of last season, while Wilfried Bony hasn’t scored as many as predicted. They have been solid in the Europa League, but face Napoli in the last 16.

Januaray Targets

Another winger to provide quality service for Bony, and another striker to put pressure on him to perform.

They Should Sign: Alessio Cerci, Alvaro Vadillo, Alvaro Morata (loan)

Tottenham – 7th

Last Season: 5th

Best Player: Sandro

After splashing £100m on top quality players, Spurs have been the biggest disappointment of the season. A bloated squad and too much rotation made it difficult for players to hit form, Roberto Soldado hasn’t had the service to score regularly, and they have struggled with injuries in defence. Andre Villas-Boas paid the price for several embarrassing defeats, and Tim Sherwood was surprisingly given the job full time. It will take a big effort for Spurs to make the top 4 now, although they are only 3 points off and have a lot of quality in the squad.

January Targets

Left back is the problem area, and possibly another centre back.

They Should Sign: Stefan Radu, Mateo Musacchio

West Bromwich Albion – 15th

Last Season: 8th

Best Player: Saido Berahino

In reality, WBA overachieved last season, and Steve Clarke was somewhat harshly sacked and is yet to be replaced. Their summer signings have yet to get properly going, and none of their strikers are scoring consistently.

January Targets

A striker to score consistently, and maybe a creative midfielder/winger to provide for him.

They Should Sign: Will Hughes, Charlie Austin

West Ham United – 19th

Last Season: 10th

Best Player: Ravel Morrison

West Ham’s revival last season conicided with Andy Carroll’s return from injury, and this season he is yet to play after signing permanently for a record £15 million. They have struggled to score, often playing without a striker at all, although Ravel Morrison has started to show the potential we’ve known he has for a while. Right now, they look likely for the drop, unless Carroll can revitalise them again.

January Targets

A striker to take advantage of crosses from Jarvis and Downing.

They Should Sign: Fabio Quagliarella

Team of the Season So Far

Szczesny

Debuchy – Lovren – Mertesacker – Shaw

Nasri – Toure – Ramsey – Hazard

Aguero – Suarez

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Some stats about my Top 100 Footballers

Nationalities:

Spain – 20

Germany – 15

Brazil – 11

France – 11

Italy – 9

Argentina – 7

Belgium – 5

England – 2

Other – 20

Leagues

La Liga – 28

English Premier League – 27

Bundesliga – 19

Serie A – 18

Ligue 1 – 7

Other – 1

Clubs

Barcelona – 12

Bayern Munich – 11

Real Madrid – 11

Manchester City – 7

Juventus – 7

Borussia Dortmund – 6

Arsenal – 5

Chelsea – 4

PSG – 4

Atletico Madrid – 4

Manchester United – 3

Other – 26

Positions

Goalkeepers – 9

Defenders – 21

Midfielders – 49

Strikers – 21


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My Top 100 Footballers 2013

Trying to rank footballers is a largely pointless exercise – how can you ever say for sure that an ageing goalkeeper is better than an up-and-coming winger? Still, it’s good for creating debate and it’s kept me occupied for several hours of a boring Friday night, so here are my Top 100 Footballers for 2013 – and if I’m still doing this blog next year, I might even do it again, to see how it changes.

100. David Luiz – Chelsea and Brazil

99. Federico Marchetti – Lazio and Italy

98. Carlos Tevez – Juventus and Argentina

97. Antoine Griezmann – Real Sociedad and France

96. Mathieu Valbuena – Marseille and France

95. Lorenzo Insigne – Napoli and Italy

94. Shinji Kagawa – Manchester United and Japan

93. Simon Mignolet – Liverpool and Belgium

92. Samir Nasri – Manchester City and France

91. Yohan Cabaye – Newcastle and France

90. Gianluigi Buffon – Juventus and Italy

89. Mario Balotelli – AC Milan and Italy

88. Jan Vertonghen – Tottenham and Belgium

87. Laurent Koscielny – Arsenal and France

86. Alvaro Negredo – Manchester City and Spain

85. Daniel Agger – Liverpool and Denmark

84. Jack Wilshere – Arsenal and England

83. Per Mertesacker – Arsenal and Germany

82. Tim Krul – Newcastle and Holland

81. Joao Moutinho – Monaco and Portugal

80. Pedro – Barcelona and Spain

79. Mario Gomez – Fiorentina and Germany

78. Hulk – Zenit St Petersburg and Brazil

77. Koke – Atletico Madrid and Spain

76. Sandro – Tottenham and Brazil

75. Blaise Matuidi – PSG and France

74. Wayne Rooney – Manchester United and England

73. Julian Draxler – Schalke and Germany

72. Pablo Zabaleta – Manchester City and Argentina

71. Giuseppe Rossi – Fiorentina and Italy

70. Raphael Varane – Real Madrid and France

69. Javier Mascherano – Barcelona and Argentina

68. Ilkay Gundogan – Borussia Dortmund and Germany

67. Roman Weidenfeller – Borussia Dortmund and Germany

66. Stefan Kiessling – Bayer Leverkusen and Germany

65. Hernanes – Lazio and Brazil

64. Daniel Alves – Barcelona and Brazil

63. Claudio Marchisio – Juventus and Italy

62. Henrikh Mkhitaryan – Borussia Dortmund and Armenia

61. Borja Valero – Fiorentina and Spain

60. Gerard Pique – Barcelona and Spain

59. Santi Cazorla – Arsenal and Spain

58. Mehdi Benatia – Roma and Morocco

57. Thibaut Courtois – Chelsea (on loan at Atletico Madrid) and Belgium

56. Marcelo – Real Madrid and Brazil

55. David Villa – Atletico Madrid and Spain

54. Alexis Sanchez – Barcelona and Chile

53. Dante – Bayern Munich and Brazil

52. Eden Hazard – Chelsea and Belgium

51. Hugo Lloris – Tottenham and France

50. Thomas Muller – Bayern Munich and Germany

49. Sergio Ramos – Real Madrid and Spain

48. Diego Costa – Atletico Madrid and Spain

47. Xabi Alonso – Real Madrid and Spain

46. Oscar – Chelsea and Brazil

45. David Alaba – Bayern Munich and Austria

44. Andrea Pirlo – Juventus and Italy

43. Mats Hummels – Borussia Dortmund and Germany

42. Karim Benzema – Real Madrid and France

41. Paul Pogba – Juventus and France

40. Giorgio Chiellini – Juventus and Italy

39. Jordi Alba – Barcelona and Spain

38. Marco Reus – Borussia Dortmund and Germany

37. Daniele De Rossi – Roma and Italy

36. Angel Di Maria – Real Madrid and Argentina

35. Arjen Robben – Bayern Munich and Holland

34. Mario Gotze – Bayern Munich and Germany

33. Vincent Kompany – Manchester City and Belgium

32. Gonzalo Higuain – Napoli and Argentina

31. Iker Casillas – Real Madrid and Spain

30. Marek Hamsik – Napoli and Slovakia

29. Javi Martinez – Bayern Munich and Spain

28. Luka Modric – Real Madrid and Croatia

27. David Silva – Manchester City and Spain

26. Toni Kroos – Bayern Munich and Germany

25. Juan Mata – Chelsea and Spain

24. Robin Van Persie – Manchester United and Holland

23. Sergio Busquets – Barcelona and Spain

22. Manuel Neuer – Bayern Munich and Germany

21. Sergio Aguero – Manchester City and Argentina

20. Bastian Schweinsteiger – Bayern Munich and Germany

19. Radamel Falcao – Monaco and Colombia

18. Isco – Real Madrid and Spain

17. Edinson Cavani – PSG and Uruguay

16. Gareth Bale – Real Madrid and Wales

15. Cesc Fabregas – Barcelona and Spain

14. Mesut Ozil – Arsenal and Germany

13. Arturo Vidal – Juventus and Chile

12. Robert Lewandowski – Borussia Dortmund and Poland

11. Xavi – Barcelona and Spain

10. Neymar – Barcelona and Brazil

9. Yaya Toure – Manchester City and Ivory Coast

8. Philipp Lahm – Bayern Munich and Germany

7. Thiago Silva – PSG and Brazil

6. Franck Ribery – Bayern Munich and France

5. Zlatan Ibrahimovic – PSG and Sweden

4. Luis Suarez – Liverpool and Uruguay

3. Andres Iniesta – Barcelona and Spain

2. Cristiano Ronaldo – Real Madrid and Portugal

1. Lionel Messi – Barcelona and Argentina

Let the debate begin…


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An Alternate Under-21 XI

Football fans always love to speculate about which youngsters will go on to become the best in the world. However, it can get boring just seeing the same names bandied around – the talent of the likes of Pogba, Draxler, Lukaku, Shaw and Varane is all very well known, but there are so many other young players who don’t get as much recognition as they deserve, particularly from most English fans and media, possibly because they aren’t seen regularly on a big stage. So, here are 11 brilliant young players who could go on to be some of the best in the world.

GK: Mattia Perin, Genoa and Italy

Age: 21

Genoa: 16 apps

Padova (loan): 25 apps

Pescara (loan): 29 apps

One of only two goalkeepers to save a Mario Balotelli penalty, Perin won many plaudits last season on loan at Pescara. Depsite the newly-promoted club’s diabolical defensive record, Perin put in many heroic performances and kept them in games single-handedly for as long as he could. James Horncastle wrote a great piece about him here: http://eurosport.yahoo.com/blogs/pitchside-europe/rise-rise-mattia-perin-174303824.html. An outgoing character who loves practical jokes, he remains humble amid links with AC Milan and talk of a senior national team call up.

RB: Sime Vrsaljko, Genoa and Croatia

Age: 21

Dinamo Zagreb: 74 apps, 2 goals

Lokomotiva (loan): 17 apps

Genoa: 13 apps

Another Genoa player, this time a summer signing from Dinamo Zagreb rather than an academy product, Vrsaljko has named Dani Alves as his idol and the similarities are clear. He had been attracting interest at Zagreb for several years, and chose to move to Genoa this summer over several bigger clubs, but has impressed enough in Italy to already be linked with Arsenal as a replacement for Bacary Sagna. He also has four caps for the Croatia senior team, and when you consider that they have Darijo Srna for that position, this kid deserves attention.

CB: Kurt Zouma, Saint-Etienne and France

Age: 19

Saint-Etienne: 51 apps, 4 goals

Zouma has been a regular for Saint-Etienne since he was 17 years old, and has the physique of a far more experienced athlete, making him a formidable presence for opposition strikers to deal with. He doesn’t often need to go to ground to win back the ball thanks to his strength, and has made 102 clearances in his 11 appearances this season. He has won 80% of his headed duels and is one of the quickest defenders in Ligue 1. He was recently a stand-out performer as his side drew with Paris Saint-Germain. You may have heard about his current 10-match ban for breaking the leg of an opponent, but this was a ludicrous decision in my view as he clearly won the ball, and the leg break was more due to how the player fell: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhGVTEl6uRo.

CB: Eder Alvarez Balanta, River Plate and Colombia

Age: 20

River Plate: 24 apps, 2 goals

Players in South America often go unnoticed by mainstream sports media until they move to Europe, unless they are a truly world-class talent like Neymar. Perhaps Balanta deserves more attention for his performances for River Plate. Amid links with Barcelona, Javier Mascherano has praised the youngster, saying he stands out for his defensive prowess, but is also adept at bringing the ball out from the back, which would make him suited to Barca’s style of football. Despite only having made 24 appearances in Argentina, he has been called the best defender in that league, and the cash-strapped Argentine club have valued him at £12 million.

LB: Alex Grimaldo, Barcelona and Spain

Age: 18

Barcelona B: 25 apps

Barcelona’s academy La Masia is always a good place to find young talents, and left back Alex Grimaldo is just one of the current crop. Similar to Jordi Alba in style, he made his debut for Spain’s under-21s aged just 17. He suffered a serious injury this March however, which halted his progression, but it likely won’t be too long before he makes his debut for the senior Barcelona team, and attracts the attention of the world’s football giants.

CM: Bryan Cristante, AC Milan and Italy

Age: 18

AC Milan: 1 app

Cristante has only made one appearance for Milan this season, but was expected to appear more frequently for the struggling Italian giants, just as Stephan El Shaarawy and Mattia De Sciglio did last season. However, Milan’s struggles mean it is not the best time to be throwing largely untested 18-year-olds into the spotlight, so Cristante has had to wait. He has shown considerable promise in the youth team with his creativity and passing, and is considered by some Milan fans to be the creative midfield talent the team is lacking. Looking back on how well SES and De Sciglio did when thrown in to the team last season, could Cristante do the same for them this season?

CM: Alen Halilovic, Dinamo Zagreb and Croatia

Age: 17

Dinamo Zagreb: 30 apps, 2 goals

The youngest ever goalscorer in the Croatian first division, and the youngest debutant for the national team, Halilovic is the latest talented midfielder to emerge from Dinamo Zagreb, following on from Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic. He already has 3 senior appearances for Croatia, and their midfield certainly isn’t lacking in talent. Most at home operating behind a central striker, his contract at Dinamo expires at the end of the season, and has admitted he needs to leave Croatia for his career to progress. There will be no shortage of interested parties, and he was very close to joining either Tottenham or Bayern Munich this summer. He has already achieved an incredible amount for someone only 17 years old.

RW: Juan Fernando Quintero, Porto and Colombia

Age: 20

Envigado: 40 apps, 4 goals

Atletico Nacional: 16 apps, 1 goal

Pescara (loan): 17 apps, 1 goal

Porto: 9 apps, 2 goals

My personal favourite player on this list, Quintero stands just 5 foot 6, but has a playing style just like Lionel Messi, left footed with exquisite close control and dribbling, a rocket free kick and great passing ability. He was a bright spark in Pescara’s doomed Serie A campaign last season along with Perin, but it was at the under-20 South American Championships in January this year where he really showed off what he can do, leading Colombia to the title and winning the award for best player. Upon their relegation he joined Porto, where he already has 2 goals and 2 assists in 9 appearances, mainly as a substitute. Remember the name.

CAM: Hachim Mastour, AC Milan and Italy

Age: 15

Dubbed the Moroccan Messi, Mastour has elected to play for Italy at youth level. He attracted interest when this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfmTwrXck3M surfaced of him putting in a dazzling performance for Milan’s youth team. Milan reportedly applied for special dispensation to play him in Serie A this season, despite him being below the required age to do so. They have great faith in him, having paid 500,000 Euros for him when he was just 14! Milan have no lack of young talent at the moment, but Mastour could be the best of them all.

LW: Alvaro Vadillo, Real Betis and Spain

Age: 19

Betis B: 34 apps, 4 goals

Real Betis: 29 apps, 1 goal

Reportedly on the move to Arsenal this January in a big money transfer, Vadillo is a creative player who can play on either wing and enjoys dribbling past players. Considered one of the biggest young talents in Spain, despite Real Betis’s terrible season so far, he need to improve his final product but is still young enough to go on to become a very special player. He has been called the new Cristiano Ronaldo. He started taking English lessons while sidelined by injury in 2011-12, and at the time was the youngest player to play in La Liga.

ST: Domenico Berardi, Sassuolo/Juventus and Italy

Age: 19

Sassuolo: 46 apps, 18 goals

After helping little old Sassuolo to reach Serie A for the first time ever last season, Berardi has remained there this season and so far scored 7 goals in 11 games for a side currently 17th in the table. Currently co-owned by Juventus and Sassuolo, he is expected to eventually make the step up to the Old Lady’s first team. He is not just a goalscorer, making an average of 1.4 key passes per game, and is good at holding the ball up despite his slight frame. He could also become an important player for Italy, as only two Italians have more Serie A goals this season, Giuseppe Rossi and Alessio Cerci. However, there have been questions about his attitude, as he refused to report with the Italian under-19 squad when called up, but his coach has said he has acknowledged his mistake and is determined to make up for it.

Sub’s bench:

GK: Maxym Koval, Dynamo Kiev and Ukraine

LB: Abner, Coritiba and Brazil

CB: Samuel Umtiti, Lyon and France

CM: Lorenzo Crisetig, Inter Milan and Italy

CAM: Max Arnold, Wolfsburg and Germany

LW: Julian Brandt, Wolfsburg and Germany

ST: Timo Werner, Stuttgart and Germany


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Top 10 Players out of contract this summer

10. Mame Biram Diouf – Hannover

The former Manchester United youngster, who failed to make the grade at Old Trafford, has been very impressive for Hannover in the Bundesliga, scoring 32 goals in 63 games. He has refused to rule out signing a new contract, but as January arrives Hannover may be tempted to sell him rather than lose him for free. Stoke City have been linked with a January move.

9. Fernando – Porto

The Brazilian defensive midfielder almost moved to Everton in the summer for £15 million, but Porto grew fed up of waiting for Fellaini’s move to go through so that Everton could fund the transfer so he ended up staying. He has been one of Porto’s most important players over the last few years, and has been targeted by Napoli and Manchester United, so it seems likely he will move on to a big European club next summer.

8. Jeremy Menez – PSG

The hot-tempered right winger has fallen out with manager Laurent Blanc, and seems likely to move on for free next summer. He has been linked with several of Europe’s finest clubs, including Juventus, Chelsea and Liverpool. PSG are unlikely to put up a fight as he is out of favour and down the pecking order.

7. Diego – Wolfsburg

One of my personal favourite players, Diego was one of Brazil’s best players several years ago, but after his move to Juventus didn’t work out he has fallen off the radar somewhat, despite some much improved performances in the last two years. His next destination is anyone’s guess – he has been linked with a move to Qatar, back to Brazil with Botafogo and Santos, to Atletico Madrid where he has a successful loan spell, and Arsenal and Southampton in the Premier League. Whoever signs him will be very lucky, as he is a sensational player on his day, albeit a hot-tempered one. He had an impressive partnership with Mesut Ozil in their Werder Bremen days, which might be a clue to his next destination. Here are some of his best goals: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5L8tW_4MAyA#t=98

6. Blaise Matuidi – PSG

The all-action midfielder was one of PSG’s best players last season, and is stalling on signing a new deal. Manchester City and Chelsea are reportedly preparing pre-contract deals to offer to him in January, and he has also been linked with Manchester United and Barcelona. He could be available in January for as little as £7 million. He would be a perfect signing for United, as he fits the bill for the kind of midfielder they need.

5. Igor Akinfeev – CSKA Moscow

The Russian number one has spent his whole career so far at CSKA Moscow, racking up over 300 appearances after breaking into the first team 10 years ago, and is now their captain. Still only 27, he has mainly been linked with AC Milan as a replacement for Christian Abbiati.

4. Victor Valdes – Barcelona

Now another long-serving goalkeeper, and one that Akinfeev might replace at Barcelona. Victor Valdes has always divided opinion, but by the time he leaves Barcelona he will have made over 600 appearances for the club, which suggests a player of world class ability. He was at one point thought to be moving to Monaco in the summer, but he stayed to honour the last year of his contract. He may yet move to the rich French club, or to their rivals PSG, or to Arsenal.

3. Xabi Alonso – Real Madrid

Real Madrid’s £30 million signing looks to be on his way out for nothing. The iconic Spaniard is still one of the world’s finest midfielders, and at 32 still has several years at the top left. He has said he would like to finish his career at Madrid, but only is he is offered the terms he believes he deserves. A return to Liverpool, where he spent five highly successul years between 2004 and 2009, has been touted, as has a move to Chelsea where he would be reunited with Mourinho, or to Juventus, where he would replace the next man on this list..

2. Andrea Pirlo – Juventus

The man with the best beard in football, and one of the finest deep-lying playmakers of all time, has yet to sign a new deal with Juventus, where his career has been rejuvenated in the last three years. Despite still being an important player for them, he is no longer irreplaceable with the emergence of Paul Pogba. He has been linked with Tottenham, or to the MLS to see out his illustrious career in America.

1. Robert Lewandowski – Borussia Dortmund

Probably this is the player you had in mind when you started reading this list. One of the world’s best strikers, who scored an incredible poker against Real Madrid in last year’s Champions League semi finals, seems destined to join Dortmund’s nemesis Bayern Munich. He currently has a record of 91 goals in 163 games for Dortmund, and is a fantastic all-round striker – good in the air and on the ground, and always composed in front of goal. Despite his move to Bayern being all but official, there have been some rumours that they would look to sell him as soon as they sign him, as Guardiola doesn’t see him as fitting into his system – they have been playing with Mario Gotze as a false nine sometimes this season, emulating the role Messi played at Barcelona under Pep. If that does turn out to be true, Bayern will probably look for £30-40 million for one of the world’s top players (who shares my birthday by the way).


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Stopping the rot at Lazio

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After the euphoria of winning what was dubbed ‘the biggest Rome derby of all time’ last May, Lazio seemed like a club on the rise. Fast forward to this season and this trend has completely reversed, as the Super Eagles sit an unthinkable 12th in the table, with a measly 4 wins from 15 games, none away from home, 6 draws and only 19 goals scored. Pressure is increasing on coach Vladimir Petkovic, but the successes of last season will hopefully buy him some more time. Here I’ll have a look at Lazio’s problems, and possible solutions.

Weaknesses in defence and attack

While the midfield is relatively strong, there is a noticeable lack of quality in Lazio’s defence and attack. Of their centre backs, only Lorik Cana has shown anything decent this season. Giuseppe Biava and Andre Dias are both getting old, and the latter has made some horrendous mistakes this season. Michael Ciani is decent, but nothing special, while Diego Novaretti hasn’t had enough game time to adapt from the Mexican League to Serie A. Meanwhile in attack, which I believe is the team’s main problem as they simply don’t score enough goals, Miroslav Klose is struggling to shoulder the burden placed on him. The legendary German is 35 now, and has only 2 goals in 9 league games this season. He is expected to leave at the end of the season, possibly for the MLS or his first club Kaiserslautern. The reserve strikers, Sergio Floccari and Brayan Perea have only 1 goal between them, although 18-year-old Balde Keita has shown some good promise and is one to keep an eye on. Many strikers were scouted over the summer, and on deadline day it seemed that the prolific Galatasaray striker Burak Yilmaz would be arriving, but it surprisingly fell through at the last minute due to agent demands. I wonder if Chairman Claudio Lotito is regretting that he was not the man to take a gamble on Giuseppe Rossi…

The Hernanes Problem

Hernanes is Lazio’s best player on his best day, a regular in Brazil’s squads with a lethal long shot and excellent free kick ability. He was at his very best last season, scoring 11 league goals from centre midfield, many of them spectacular efforts. This unsurprisingly led to interest in his services over the summer, mainly from PSG but also from Atletico Madrid, Arsenal and Spurs. It seems certain that he has had his head turned, as he has been well below par this season, with only 2 league goals so far. His contract expires in the summer of 2015, and it seems ever more likely that he will depart either this January or then. This may not be such a bad thing, as he would bring in a transfer fee of £15-20 million which could be spent on a quality striker or defender, or both, and Lazio have good depth in centre midfield. The youngsters Ogenyi Onazi and Felipe Anderson have the quality to step up and replace him.

Mauri: MIA

Lazio’s captain Stefano Mauri will miss the entire season after being banned for 9 months for his role in a match fixing scandal. Mauri scored several vital goals last season, and as captain he surely played a big role in motivating the players. His absence is a big reason for their slump, I’m sure.

Roma’s Brilliance

Deadly rivals Roma could not be having a more different season to Lazio, sitting second in the table and still unbeaten. After being unbeaten in their last 5 games against their rivals, winning 4 of those games, Lazio lost 2-0 to Roma in week 4 of the season. This result, and then seeing them flying at the top of the table for so long, is bound to have had an effect on morale.

The Doctor’s Future

Manager Petkovic seems to be very popular amongst the squad – Hernanes posted a message of support for him on Facebook amid the recent speculation over his future. His contract is up at the end of the season, and he has been linked with taking over the Switzerland national team when their manager leaves after the world cup. I very much hope Petkovic stays, and is given a new contract as he seems a very capable manager, and I don’t think he deserves as much blame as he is getting – he didn’t get the squad reinforcements he needed in the summer, which is the chairman’s fault.

Europe – A Saving Grace

Despite the league troubles, Lazio have put in a good showing in the Europa League, qualifying in second place from a group containing Trabzonspor, Legia Warsaw and Apollon Limassol. They reached the quarter finals last season, and could have gone further but for a poor refereeing performance in the second leg against Fenerbahce. If the league form continues to be poor, Petkovic may focus on this competition, as reaching the semi finals or even the final could mean the season is still viewed as a success. However with the calibre of teams in the Europa League this season – Juventus, Napoli, Fiorentina, Spurs, Porto, Shakhtar – I don’t hold out much hope of reaching the later rounds.

So what is the answer?

Stick with Petkovic – the players love him and he’s a good manager. Cash in on Hernanes if he continues to appear demotivated in January, and invest the money in a quality striker. There aren’t many available at the moment, but managing director Igli Tare has a record of finding hidden gems in Europe’s smaller leagues, such as Kolarov, Lichtsteiner and Lulic. A quality centre back wouldn’t go amiss as well, or move Stefan Radu back to centre back and find a left back. Do these things, and maybe Lazio will have a much better second half of the season.


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What is the best strike-force in world football?

Partnerships between two strikers are becoming rarer and rarer in modern football, as teams gradually move away from the traditional 2 strikers. However there are still several teams who use this system, and a good partnership between strikers is something that will win you a lot of games and trophies. But which is the current best striking partnership in football?

Manchester United – Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney

Goals this season:

Van Persie: 8 in 15

Rooney: 10 in 18

With their average midfield and defense, Manchester United are pinning a lot of their hopes on their terrific strikers. Van Persie is the complete striker, with fantastic heading and finishing ability, and ice in his veins, while Rooney is more of a creator who complements Robin perfectly. The two’s lack of starts together is likely the main reason for United’s struggles this season, as the team are undefeated this season when their two main mean start together, winning 6 of the 8 games.

Manchester City – Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo

Goals this season:

Aguero: 21 in 22

Negredo: 11 in 20

City experimented with different striking combinations early this season, but Dzeko and Jovetic have been firmly relegated to the bench thanks to the excellent form of Aguero and Negredo. Just like United’s front two, they complement each other perfectly, with Negredo being strong and powerful in the air, while Aguero is fast and skilful. Their partnership has only been going for a few months, they could go on to bring many trophies to the blue half of Manchester if they continue in their current form.

Liverpool – Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge

Goals this season:

Suarez: 15 in 10

Sturridge: 9 in 12

Dubbed ‘SAS’, although no one with any self respect calls them that, the skilful and sometimes selfish front two at Anfield have propelled the club far higher than they would have expected to be at this stage. It takes a special player to score more goals than he has played games, but Suarez has done just that, and has been the stand-out player in the Premier League so far this season for many people. Sturridge’s career seemed to be going nowhere when he arrived at Anfield, and many Liverpool fans were unsure about him, but he has cemented himself not only as a crucial player for Liverpool, but as England’s first choice striker.

Juventus – Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente

Goals this season:

Tevez: 7 in 21

Llorente: 6 in 17

Juve have been in need of a top striker for a while now, and brought in 2 proven hit men this summer in bargain deals, however while they have made decent starts they will need to improve their goal tally. Another example of a little-and-large partnership, they have all the ability needed to form a prolific partnership.

Fiorentina – Giuseppe Rossi and Mario Gomez

Goals this season:

Rossi: 13 in 16

Gomez: 2 in 3

This partnerhip has yet to show it’s true potential due to Mario Gomez’s injury that has kept him out for several months, but if he plays to his best on his return and Rossi keeps up his sensational return, this could propel the Viola all the way into the Champions League. Rossi is more of a second striker than a proper number 9, but has filled that role excellently in Gomez’s absence, and when he returns Rossi will be able to play his more natural role while Gomez profits from his creativity.

Paris Saint-Germain – Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani

Goals this season:

Ibrahimovic: 21 in 21

Cavani: 15 in 21

I have saved the best (in my opinion) till last. Both of these formidable front men could make serious claims to be the best out-and-out striker in football, and PSG have shelled out massive money to bring them together. The only argument against them being the best front two, is that they play in the mediocre Ligue 1, rather than one of Europe’s top leagues. However, I have no doubt that no matter what league these two played in, they would stand out as the world-class strikers that they are.