It's a Knockaert

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


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My Top 100 Footballers 2015

You know the drill.

100. Philippe Coutinho – Liverpool and Brazil (NEW)

99. Domenico Berardi – Sassuolo and Italy (NEW)

98. Paulo Dybala – Juventus and Argentina (NEW)

97. Oscar – Chelsea and Brazil (Down 27)

96. Mathieu Valbuena – Lyon and France (No move)

95. Gianluigi Buffon – Juventus and Italy (Down 8)

94. Raheem Sterling – Manchester City and England (NEW)

93. Alex Teixeira – Shakhtar Donetsk and Brazil (NEW)

92. Hulk – Zenit St Petersburg and Brazil (NEW)

91. Yevhen Konoplyanka – Sevilla and Ukraine (NEW)

90. Harry Kane – Tottenham and England (NEW)

89. Kurt Zouma – Chelsea and France (NEW)

88. Miranda – Inter Milan and Brazil (NEW)

87. Roberto Firmino – Liverpool and Brazil (Down 27)

86. Javier Pastore – Paris St Germain and Argentina (NEW)

85. Carlos Bacca – AC Milan and Colombia (NEW)

84. Nolito – Celta Vigo and Spain (NEW)

83. Pablo Zabaleta – Manchester City and Argentina (Down 27)

82. Ricardo Rodriguez – Wolfsburg and Switzerland (Down 27)

81. Alexandre Lacazette – Lyon and France (NEW)

80. Grzegorz Krychowiak – Sevilla and Poland (NEW)

79. Raphael Varane – Real Madrid and France (Down 12)

78. Arda Turan – Barcelona and Turkey (Down 12)

77. Radja Nainggolan – Roma and Belgium (Up 23)

76. Samir Handanovic – Inter Milan and Slovenia (Down 2)

75. Marek Hamsik – Napoli and Slovakia (Down 7)

74. Claudio Marchisio – Juventus and Italy (NEW)

73. Daniel Alves – Barcelona and Brazil (NEW)

72. Mauro Icardi – Inter Milan and Argentina (NEW)

71. Hugo Lloris – Tottenham and France (Down 14)

70. Giorgio Chiellini – Juventus and Italy (Down 7)

69. Petr Cech – Arsenal and Czech Republic (NEW)

68. Carlos Tevez – Boca Juniors and Argentina (Down 16)

67. Daniele De Rossi – Roma and Italy (Down 9)

66. Blaise Matuidi – Paris St Germain and France (Up 9)

65. Shinji Kagawa – Borussia Dortmund and Japan (NEW)

64. Thiago Alcantara – Bayern Munich and Spain (NEW)

63. Vincent Kompany – Manchester City and Belgium (Up 1)

62. Franck Ribery – Bayern Munich and France (Down 15)

61. Cesar Azpilicueta – Chelsea and Spain (Down 11)

60. Henrikh Mkhitaryan – Borussia Dortmund and Armenia (NEW)

59. Nemanja Matic – Chelsea and Serbia (Down 8)

58. Javi Martinez – Bayern Munich and Spain (Down 9)

57. Mats Hummels – Borussia Dortmund and Germany (Down 17)

56. Mehdi Benatia – Bayern Munich and Morocco (Down 11)

55. Mario Gotze – Bayern Munich and Germany (Down 26)

54. Diego Costa – Chelsea and Spain (Down 29)

53. Edinson Cavani – Paris St Germain and Uruguay (Down 15)

52. Xabi Alonso – Bayern Munich and Spain (Down 4)

51. David De Gea – Manchester United and Spain (Up 3)

50. Juan Mata – Manchester United and Spain (Down 4)

49. Gareth Bale – Real Madrid and Wales (Down 13)

48. Alexis Sanchez – Arsenal and Chile (Down 9)

47. Sergio Ramos – Real Madrid and Spain (Down 13)

46. Douglas Costa – Bayern Munich and Brazil (NEW)

45. Antoine Griezmann – Atletico Madrid and France (Up 33)

44. Gerard Pique – Barcelona and Spain (NEW)

43. Miralem Pjanic – Roma and Bosnia (Down 2)

42. Isco – Real Madrid and Spain (Down 19)

41. Cesc Fabregas – Chelsea and Spain (Down 24)

40. Marcelo – Real Madrid and Brazil (Up 41)

39. Koke – Atletico Madrid and Spain (Down 13)

38. Karim Benzema – Real Madrid and France (Down 3)

37. Kevin De Bruyne – Manchester City and Belgium (Up 39)

36. Gonzalo Higuain – Napoli and Argentina (Up 29)

35. Yaya Toure – Manchester City and Ivory Coast (Down 14)

34. Ilkay Gundogan – Borussia Dortmund and Germany (Up 45)

33. Javier Mascherano – Barcelona and Argentina (Down 1)

32. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – Borussia Dortmund and Gabon (Up 59)

31. Ivan Rakitic – Barcelona and Croatia (No move)

30. Paul Pogba – Juventus and France (Up 31)

29. Diego Godin – Atletico Madrid and Uruguay (Down 7)

28. Keylor Navas – Real Madrid and Costa Rica (NEW)

27. Marco Reus – Borussia Dortmund and Germany (Up 6)

26. Marco Verratti – Paris St Germain and Italy (Up 57)

25. David Alaba – Bayern Munich and Austria (Up 18)

24. James Rodriguez – Real Madrid and Colombia (Up 13)

23. Eden Hazard – Chelsea and Belgium (Up 7)

22. Jerome Boateng – Bayern Munich and Germany (Down 4)

21. Toni Kroos – Real Madrid and Germany (Down 9)

20. Thibaut Courtois – Chelsea and Belgium (Down 1)

19. Angel Di Maria – Paris St Germain and Argentina (Down 4)

18. Arturo Vidal – Bayern Munich and Chile (Up 2)

17. Philipp Lahm – Bayern Munich and Germany (Down 13)

16. David Silva – Manchester City and Spain (Up 11)

15. Arjen Robben – Bayern Munich and Holland (Down 1)

14. Thiago Silva – Paris St Germain and Brazil (Down 4)

13. Robert Lewandowski – Bayern Munich and Poland (Up 11)

12. Mesut Ozil – Arsenal and Germany (Up 32)

11. Luka Modric – Real Madrid and Croatia (Down 2)

10. Thomas Muller – Bayern Munich and Germany (Up 6)

9. Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Paris St Germain and Sweden (Down 2)

8. Sergio Busquets – Barcelona and Spain (Up 5)

7. Manuel Neuer – Bayern Munich and Germany (Down 2)

6. Andres Iniesta – Barcelona and Spain (Up 2)

5. Sergio Aguero – Manchester City and Argentina (Up 1)

4. Cristiano Ronaldo – Real Madrid and Portugal (Down 2)

3. Luis Suarez – Barcelona and Uruguay (No move)

2. Neymar – Barcelona and Brazil (Up 9)

1. Lionel Messi – Barcelona and Argentina (No move)

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Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora

I saw quite a bit of hype for this book on Twitter and was really excited to read it. It had been built up as a story featuring a fantastic antihero in the titular Locke Lamora. What I found wasn’t by any means a bad book, it just wasn’t what I had expected it to be.

Lies is set in the city of Camorr, a city utilising canals to get around, and follows Locke Lamora and his band of thieves, the Gentlemen Bastards. They carry out impossibly complex heists on the wealthy merchants of Camorr, and the opening of the book follows their latest one. This is great fun to read about, but sadly, this isn’t the main storyline of the book. Locke and his band certainly have the potential to be great antiheroes, but they find themselves in the position of just the normal kind of hero when they come up against a rather generic Bad Guy™. The rest of the story then plays out in a fairly predictable, albeit bloody, fashion, leaving me wishing they could just go back to their heists.

There’s also a second story going on, telling us the origins of Locke and his friend Jean. I found that these interludes took me out of the story quite jarringly, and not much of note really happens in any of them, although I did enjoy the character of Chains, and they gave some more development to Locke and Jean.

The real triumph of this book is the setting. Camorr is a fascinating and hugely complex city, and I’m disappointed that the sequel isn’t also set there, although hopefully Tal Verrar will be just as rich.

Much has been made of Locke’s wit, and his great friendship with Jean, but I didn’t find him a particularly memorable character. He has a couple of cool lines, but overall I’m left hoping for more in the next book, which I will be reading as this world has plenty of promise.

Rating: 12/20

Confused Direwolf


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Premier League Predictions 2015/16

Arsenal

In

Petr Cech – Chelsea, £10m

Out

Carl Jenkinson – West Ham, Loan

Wojciech Szczesny – Roma, Loan

Abou Diaby – Released

Lukas Podolski – Galatasaray, £1.8m

Ryo Myaichi – St Pauli, Undisclosed

Yaya Sanogo – Ajax, Loan

Best XI:

Cech

Bellerin Mertesacker Koscielny Monreal

Ramsey Wilshere

Walcott Ozil Alexis

Giroud

The Gunners ended last season strongly, with players such as Ozil, Walcott, Wilshere and Giroud in good form. Cech is an excellent signing, albeit the only one they’ve made so far. There is very little between them and the two Manchester sides at the moment, and if they can get off to a strong start there is no reason why they can’t finish as high as second, or even make a strong title challenge.

Aston Villa

In

Scott Sinclair – Man City, £2.5m

Micah Richards – Man City, Free

Jordan Amavi – Nice, £7m

Idrissa Gueye – Lille, £9m

Mark Bunn – Norwich, Free

Jordan Ayew – Lorient, £10m

Jose Angel Crespo – Cordoba, Undisclosed

Out

Christian Benteke – Liverpool, £32.5m

Fabian Delph – Man City, £8m

Shay Given – Stoke, Free

Darren Bent – Derby County, Free

Enda Stevens – Portsmouth, Free

Andreas Weimann – Derby County, Undisclosed

Matthew Lowton – Burnley, Undisclosed

Yacouba Sylla – Rennes, Undisclosed

Antonio Luna – Eibar, Undisclosed

Best XI:

Guzan

Richards Okore Clarke Amavi

Grealish Sanchez Veretout Sinclair

Ayew Gestede

Despite the renewed optimism at Villa Park since the arrival of Tim Sherwood, Villa only managed to finish 17th last season. They’ve made some intriguing signings this summer, but in losing Vlaar, Delph and Benteke, they’ve lost the entire spine of their team, and they go into this season with a lot of unknown quantities and youngsters. If the new foreign starlets can hit the ground running, and players like Sinclair and Richards rediscover their best form, they could push for a mid-table finish. It’s a big if, though.

Bournemouth

In

Tyrone Mings – Ipswich Town, £8m

Sylvain Distin – Everton, Free

Artur Boruc – Southampton, Free

Adam Federici – Reading, Free

Joshua King – Blackburn Rovers, Tribunal

Christian Atsu – Chelsea, Loan

Filippo Costa – Chievo, Loan

Out

Ian Harte – Released

Josh McQuoid – Luton, Free

Darryl Flavahan – Released

Mohamed Coulibaly – Released

Miles Addison – Released

Brett Pitman – Ipswich Town, Undisclosed

Best XI:

Boruc

Francis Cook Distin Mings

Ritchie Surman Arter Atsu

Wilson Kermorgant

Bournemouth were the story of last season, securing an improbably Championship title and Premier League football for the first time ever. Now however they face the biggest challenge in their club’s history to stay up. There’s a huge lack of top-flight experience in their squad, but momentum can be crucial, and they have plenty of that.

Chelsea

In

Radamel Falcao – AS Monaco, Loan

Asmir Begovic – Stoke, £8m

Nathan – Atletico Paranaense, £4.5m

Danilo Pantic – Partizan Belgrade, £1.25m

Out

Petr Cech – Arsenal,  £10m

Patrick Bamford – Crystal Palace, Loan

Didier Drogba – Released

Filipe Luis – Atletico Madrid, £6m

Marco van Ginkel – Stoke, Loan

Danilo Pantic – Vitesse Arnhem, Loan

Christian Atsu – Bournemouth, Loan (subject to Premier League approval)

Josh McEachran – Brentford, Undisclosed

Tomas Kalas – Middlesbrough, Loan

Gael Kakuta – Sevilla, Undisclosed

Mario Pasalic – Monaco, Loan

Kenneth Omeruo – Kasimpasa, Loan

Andreas Christensen – Borussia Monchengladbach, Loan

Isaiah Brown – Vitesse Arnhem, Loan

Lewis Baker – Vitesse Arnhem, Loan

Best XI:

Courtois

Ivanovic Terry Zouma Azpilicueta

Matic Fabregas

Cuadrado Oscar Hazard

Costa

Chelsea are the strongest team in the country by some distance at the moment, and it would be a huge surprise if they were not to retain their crown. They’ve yet to properly improve their first eleven, bringing in only rotation options thus far, although the rumoured signing of Baba Rahman would be a good addition. Their main target this season has to be the Champions League, after last year’s disappointment.

Crystal Palace

In

Patrick Bamford – Chelsea, Loan

Yohan Cabaye – PSG, £13m

Alex McCarthy – QPR, £3.5m

Out

Jack Hunt – Sheffield Wednesday, Loan

Shola Ameobi – Released

Lewis Price – Sheffield Wednesday, Free

Owen Garvan – Released

Peter Ramage – Released

Stephen Dobbie – Released

Jerome Thomas – Released

Best XI:

Speroni

Kelly Mariappa Dann Souare

Cabaye Jedinak McArthur

Puncheon Bamford Bolasie

Palace have defied all expectations made for them and cemented themselves as a solid mid table side. In Yohan Cabaye they have made one of the signings of the summer, and their target now has to be pushing on to a top half finish. What they really lack is a prolific forward – could Patrick Bamford be that man?

Everton

In

Gerard Deulofeu – Barcelona, £4.25m

Tom Cleverley – Manchester United, Free

David Henen – Olympiakos, £0.2m

Out

Sylvain Distin – Bournemouth, Free

Luke Garbutt – Fulham, Loan

Antolin Alcaraz – Released

George Green – Oldham, Free

Best XI:

Howard

Coleman Stones Jagielka Baines

McCarthy Besic

Mirallas Naismith Deulofeu

Lukaku

Last season was bitterly disappointing for Everton, and Roberto Martinez simply must return to the top half if he is to keep his job. The return of Deulofeu is exciting, and Lukaku will want to improve on his solid if unspectacular first season as a permanent Everton player. Ross Barkley also has a point to prove after going off the boil, and keeping hold of John Stones is crucial. Top half should be the minimum requirement, and they seem well placed to achieve it without the distraction of the Europa League.

Leicester City

In

Robert Huth – Stoke, £3m

Shinji Okazaki – Mainz, £7.5m

Christian Fuchs – Schalke, Free

Out

Esteban Cambiasso – released

Anthony Knockaert – Standard Liege, free

Ben Hamer – Nottingham Forest, Loan

Paul Gallagher – Preston, Free

Chris Wood – Leeds, Undisclosed

Tom Hopper – Scunthorpe, Free

Adam Smith – Northampton, Free

Best XI:

Schmeichel

De Laet Huth Wasilewski Fuchs

Mahrez James Drinkwater Schlupp

Ulloa Kramaric/Okazaki

The future prospects of my club are shrouded in uncertainty. Nigel Pearson, idolised by Leicester fans and despised by everyone else, has finally gone after a fantastic spell in charge. Esteban Cambiasso has followed him out the door, along with fan favourite Anthony Knockaert. The Thailand sex scandal has done further dampened the club’s image after several bizarre incidents involving Pearson last season. And on the pitch, we have no idea what to expect. The great escape was simply a thrilling time to be a City fan, but for much of the season we looked totally out of our depth at this level. Claudio Ranieri is a big name, but it has been a good few years since he was an elite manager, and most fans would have liked to see more signings but this stage. N’Golo Kante seems set to be announced imminently, and he would go some way to filling a certain Argentine’s shoes, but the midfield still looks like a weak area, especially with Matty James facing several months out. The good news is we have plenty of strong attacking options, and have kept hold of Riyad Mahrez, our most creative player. This season could go one of two ways – we build on the brilliant end to the season, or all the turmoil and upheaval causes us to implode. Most likely it’ll be something inbetween.

Liverpool

In

Christian Benteke – Aston Villa, £32.5m

James Milner – Manchester City, Free

Danny Ings – Burnley, Tribunal

Roberto Firmino – Hoffenheim, £29m

Nathaniel Clyne – Southampton, £12.5m

Joe Gomez – Charlton, £3.5m

Adam Bogdan – Bolton, Free

Out

Raheem Sterling – Man City, £49m

Glen Johnson – Stoke, Free

Steven Gerrard – LA Galaxy, Free

Andre Wisdom – Norwich, Loan

Lloyd Jones – Blackpool, Loan

Jordan Williams – Swindon, Loan

Kevin Stewart – Swindon, Loan

Sebastian Coates – Sunderland, Undisclosed

Brad Jones – Released

Javi Manquillo – Atletico Madrid, Loan terminated

Best XI:

Mignolet

Can Skrtel Sakho

Clyne Henderson Milner Moreno

Firmino Coutinho

Sturridge/Benteke

The much-publicised departures of club icon Steven Gerrard, and Raheem Sterling for a huge fee have had much attention, but Liverpool have quietly made some very good signings. Nathaniel Clyne, Christian Benteke and James Milner are established Premier League players who would improve any team they played in, while Roberto Firmino has been one of the Bundesliga’s best players for the last few years. The gaps are narrowing between the top clubs, and the Reds have a great opportunity to make a return to the top four, after missing out last year.

Manchester City

In

Raheem Sterling – Liverpool, £49m

Patrick Roberts – Fulham, £12m

Fabian Delph – Aston Villa, £8m

Enes Unal – Bursaspor, £2m

David Faupala – Lens, Free

Out

Stevan Jovetic – Inter, loan

Edin Dzeko – Roma, £14m (pending)

James Milner – Liverpool, Free

Scott Sinclair – Aston Villa, Undisclosed

Micah Richards – Aston Villa, Free

John Guidetti – Celta Vigo, Free

Dedryck Boyata – Celtic, Undisclosed

Seko Fofana – Bastia, Loan

Best XI:

Hart

Zabaleta Kompany Mangala Kolarov

Sterling Toure Fernandinho Silva

Aguero Bony

City are looking a lot weaker going into this season than they have done for quite some time. Sergio Aguero remains the best player in the league, and can win games on his own, but there are a lot of questions about the rest of the team. Vincent Kompany is no longer the elite defender he was, and Mangala hardly made the best impression in his debut season. Yaya Toure is starting to show his age, and they have lost the always reliable Edin Dzeko, along with Stevan Jovetic, leaving their forward options depleted in the likely event of an Aguero injury. Raheem Sterling has arrived for a record sum, and has shown good form in pre-season, but this squad needs much more.

Manchester United

In

Morgan Schneiderlin – Southampton, £25m

Bastian Schweinsteiger – Bayern Munich, £14.4m

Memphis Depay – PSV Eindhoven, £31m

Matteo Darmian – Torino, £12.7m

Sergio Romero – Sampdoria, Free

Out

Robin van Persie – Fenerbahce, fee to be agreed

Nani – Fenerbahce, £4.5m

Tom Cleverley – Everton, Free

Reece James – Wigan, Undisclosed

Saidy Janko – Celtic, Compensation

Ben Amos – Bolton, Free

Tom Thorpe – Rotherham, Free

Will Keane – Preston, Loan

Angelo Henriquez – Dinamo Zagreb, Undisclosed

Best XI:

De Gea

Darmian Jones Rojo Shaw

Schneiderlin Schweinsteiger

Di Maria Mata Depay

Rooney

It looked touch-and-go at times, but Louis Van Gaal’s extremely expensive United side made their return to the top four after the horror show that was the David Moyes era. The spending has not stopped this summer, with the midfield issues being well addressed, and the additions of Memphis Depay and Matteo Darmian are also highly impressive. Angel Di Maria seems set to leave for PSG, but going on last season’s performances, he won’t be a huge miss. The possible departure of David De Gea is another matter entirely – he would be very hard to replace. Another striker needs to come in, after the departures of Van Persie and Falcao left Wayne Rooney as the only established forward. A title challenge beckons.

Newcastle

In

Chancel Mbemba – Anderlecht, £8.5m

Aleksandar Mitrovic – Anderlecht, £13m

Georginio Wijnaldum – PSV, 14.5m

Out

Sammy Ameobi – Cardiff City, Loan

Jonas Gutierrez – Released

Ryan Taylor – Released

Adam Campbell – Notts County, Free

Remie Streete – Port Vale, Free

Best XI:

Krul

Janmaat Coloccini Taylor Haidara

Sissoko Tiote

Cabella Wijnaldum De Jong

Cisse

Newcastle fans finally got their wish for the departure of Alan Pardew, only to be saddled with the double inept Steve Carver, who did his very best to send them down the second tier. Steve McLaren now holds the reins, and he has made one very impressive signing in Georginio Wijnaldum. They probably won’t go down, but they’re a long way from making the top half.

Norwich

In

Graham Dorrans – West Brom, £3m

Youssuf Mulumbu – West Brom, Free

Andre Wisdom – Liverpool, Loan

Robbie Brady – Hull, £7m

Out

Javier Garrido – released

Mark Bunn – Aston Villa, Free

Carlton Morris – Hamilton, Loan

Cameron McGeehan – Luton Town, Undisclosed

Sam Kelly – Port Vale, Free

Remi Matthews – Burton, Loan

Best XI:

Ruddy

Martin Turner Bassong Olsson

Tettey Mulumbu Howson

Redmond Jerome Hoolahan

Norwich have bounced back up to the Premier League at the first time of asking, and their squad seems almost the same as the one that went down two years ago. A stable, if somewhat boring team, Norwich will probably be fighting off relegation for most of the season.

Southampton

In

Jordy Clasie – Feyenoord, £8m

Juanmi – Malaga, £5m

Cuco Martina – FC Twente, £1m

Cedric Soares – Sporting CP, £4.7m

Maarten Stekelenburg – Fulham, Loan

Steven Caulker – QPR, Loan

Out

Morgan Schneiderlin – Manchester United, £25m

Nathaniel Clyne – Liverpool, Undisclosed (fee understood to be £10m plus add-ons)

Artur Boruc – Bournemouth, Free

Jos Hooiveld – Released

Cody Cropper – MK Dons, Free

Omar Rowe – Released

Jake Sinclair – Released

Dani Osvaldo – Released

Best XI:

Forster

Soares Fonte Caulker Bertrand

Clasie Wanyama Ward-Prowse

Rodriguez Pelle Mane

Southampton were perhaps the most impressive side in the league last season, finishing a hugely credible 7th despite a host of big departures. They have lost two more important players in Clyne and Schneiderlin, but Ronaldo Koeman seems a hugely impressive manager who can cope with it. The Europa League will have some impact on their league form, but it will also raise their profile around Europe and allow them to attract better players. Another strong season beckons.

Stoke

In

Glen Johnson – Liverpool, Free

Phillipp Wollscheid – Bayer Leverkusen, £2.75m

Joselu – Hannover 96, £5.75m

Shay Given – Aston Villa, Free

Marko van Ginkel – Chelsea, Loan

Jakob Haugaard – FC Midtyjlland, £0.6m

Moha El Ouriachi – Barcelona, Undisclosed

Ibrahim Afellay – Barcelona, Free

Out

Asmir Begovic – Chelsea, Undisclosed

Steven Nzonzi – Sevilla, £7m

Robert Huth – Leicester City, Undisclosed

Jamie Ness – Scunthorpe, Free

Thomas Sorensen – Released

Wilson Palacios – Released

Andy Wilkinson – Released

Best XI:

Butland

Johnson Shawcross Muniesa Pieters

Arnautovic Whelan Van Ginkel Afellay

Bojan Diouf

Stoke continue to go under the radar despite two successive top half finishes. They have shed their ‘physical’ tag under Mark Hughes and are now attracting more skilful players such as Bojan and Ibrahim Afellay. Begovic and Nzonzi will be missed but they will endure as they always do.

Sunderland

In

Jeremain Lens – Dynamo Kiev, £8.5m

Younes Kaboul – Tottenham, £3m

Adam Matthews – Celtic, £2m

Sebastian Coates – Liverpool, £1.96m

Out

El-Hadji Ba – Charlton

Santiago Vergini – Getafe, Loan

Best XI:

Pantilimon

Matthews Coates Kaboul Van Aanholt

Larsson Giaccherini Gomez Cattermole Johnson

Defoe

The Black Cat’s nine lives are surely almost up. Sunderland always seem to get out of relegation, but no team can sustain that forever. Another long season beckons.

Swansea

In

Andre Ayew – Marseille, Free

Franck Tabanou – St Etienne, £3.5m

Eder – Braga, £5.2m

Kristoffer Nordfelt – Heerenveen, £0.6m

Oliver McBurnie – Bradford City, £0.25m

Out

Jazz Richards – Fulham, Undisclosed

David Cornell – Oldham, Free

Alan Tate – Released

Gerhard Tremmel – Released

Best XI:

Fabianski

Rangel Williams Fernandez Taylor

Ki Shelvey

Montero Sigurdsson Ayew

Gomis

Despite the loss of Wilfried Bony, Swansea continue to be one of the most upwardly mobile clubs in the league. Andre Ayew was one of the most in-demand free agents this summer, and Swansea did well to secure him. They will fancy their chances of claiming a Europa League spot.

Spurs

In

Toby Alderweireld – Atletico Madrid, £11.5m

Kevin Wimmer – Cologne, £4.3m

Kieran Trippier – Burnley, £3.5m

Out

Paulinho – Guangzhou Evergrande, £9.8m

Benjamin Stambouli – PSG, £6m

Etienne Capoue – Watford, Undisclosed (fee believed to be in the region of £6m)

Younes Kaboul – Sunderland, Undisclosed

Lewis Holtby – Hamburg

Best XI:

Lloris

Walker Alderweireld Vertonghen Rose

Dembele Mason

Lamela Eriksen Chadli

Kane

Spurs continue to float around in their zone of not good enough for the top four, too good to fall out of the top seven. The excellent Eriksen and Kane will provide goals, and Alderweireld is a solid defender to protect one of the league’s best keepers. Erik Lamela will surely come good eventually, and young midfielders Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb established themselves last season. Will it be enough for the top four? Probably not, but we’ll see.

Watford

In

Etienne Capoue – Tottenham, £6m

Valon Behrami – Hamburg, £3m

Jose Holebas – Roma, £1.8m

Miguel Britos – Napoli, Undisclosed

Jose Jurado – Spartak Moscow, Undisclosed

Matej Vydra – Udinese, £6m

Allan Nyom – Udinese, Undisclosed

Sebastian Prodl – Werder Bremen, Free

Giedrius Arlauskis – Steaua Bucharest, Free

Steven Berghuis – AZ Alkmaar, £4.6m

Out

Jonathan Bond – Reading, Undisclosed

Lewis McGugan – Sheffield Wednesday, Undisclosed

Juanfran – Deportivo La Coruna, Loan

Best XI:

Gomes

Britos Angella Ekstrand

Anya Abdi Capoue Jurado Holebas

Deeney Ighalo

Watford seem to be going down the QPR route of spending big and spending often in their quest for survival. Many players from Serie A have come in, thanks to their link with Udinese, and long serving players like Troy Deeney will be itching to show what they can do at the top level. They have huge depth to their squad, which could be crucial.

West Brom

In

James McClean – Wigan, £1.5m

James Chester – Hull, £8m

Rickie Lambert – Liverpool, Undisclosed

Out

Graham Dorrans – Norwich, Undisclosed

Youssuf Mulumbu – Norwich, Free

Chris Baird – Derby County, Free

Best XI:

Foster

Dawson Chester Lescott Pocognoli

McManaman Yacob Fletcher McLean

Berahino Lambert

West Brom were many people’s favourites to go down last season, but the appointment of Tony Pulis kept them up. With Pulis in charge, it’s hard to see them going down, but their first eleven is hardly the most inspiring. They will certainly be around the bottom three for most of the season.

West Ham

In

Angelo Ogbonna – Juventus, £7.9m

Dimitri Payet – Marseille, £10.7m

Carl Jenkinson – Arsenal, Loan

Pedro Obiang – Sampdoria, £4.3m

Manuel Lanzini – Al Jazira, Loan

Darren Randolph – Birmingham City, Free

Out

Stewart Downing – Middlesbrough, £5.5m

Dan Potts – Luton Town, Free

Paul McCallum – Leyton Orient, Free

Carlton Cole – Released

Guy Demel – Released

Jussi Jaaskelainen – Released

Nene – Released

Best XI:

Adrian

Jenkinson Tomkins Ogbonna Cresswell

Noble Obiang

Payet Zarate Jarvis

Sakho

West Ham had a decent season, but decided to part ways with Sam Allardyce in favour of Slaven Bilic. They pulled off quite the coup in luring Dimitri Payet, one of the best players in Europe last season, and they will hope to land a top half finish.

Table Prediction

1. Chelsea

2. Manchester United

3. Arsenal

4. Manchester City

5. Liverpool

6. Tottenham

7. Swansea

8. Southampton.

9. Everton

10. Stoke

11. Crystal Palace

12. West Ham

13. Newcastle

14. Watford

15. West Brom

16. Aston Villa

17. Leicester 

18. Norwich

19. Bournemouth

20. Sunderland

Championship Prediction

1. Middlesbrough

2. Derby

3. Ipswich

4. Brentford

5. Wolves

6. QPR

7. Hull

8. Birmingham

9. Burnley

10. Blackburn

11. Cardiff

12. Nottingham Forest

13. Bristol City

14. Sheffield Wednesday

15. Charlton

16. Bolton

17. Leeds

18. Fulham

19. Preston

20. Reading

21. Huddersfield

22. MK Dons

23. Brighton

24. Rotherham


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The Mummer’s Farce is Almost Done

I’ve experienced almost every emotion that exists during season five of Game of Thrones. Scepticism became hope, which became disgust, which became hope again before very quickly returning to disgust, and has now settled down with a state of blissful nirvana. Because Game of Thrones has finally jumped the shark. Any semblance of a story as deep as A Song of Ice and Fire is gone, and in it’s place is a clusterfuck of scenes designed to provoke shock and outrage, characters forced together for no logical reason, characters contradiction themselves and making brainless decisions, and the complete death of character development.

S P O I L E R S

Jon and the Night’s Watch

Jon is one of very few, perhaps the only, character to emerge from this season in a better-than-terrible state. Most people’s highlight of the season is his dramatic battle with the white walkers at Hardhome, which is possibly the only change made which improved on the books. Jon’s arc in ADWD isn’t one of my favourites, and another glimpse of the real enemy would have certainly livened it up a bit, as there have been precious few thus far. Also, a long-standing theory that Valyrian steel can be used to kill the walkers was confirmed.

In other episodes, we had the death of Maester Aemon, which was the most moving moment of the season. Peter Vaughn has been an underrated actor on the show and will be missed. Mance Rayder was burnt by Stannis, and it was seemingly the real deal, not Rattleshirt wearing a glamour as in the books, rendering Mance’s character on the show basically pointless. We had our unnecessary Melisandre nude scene when she bared all to seduce Jon, and failed. Sam came to the rescue of Gilly, who was going to be raped by some more disreputable watchmen (because they just love using rape as a catalyst for male character development), and she rewarded him with sex! Yay! Except no, just no.

The climax, which everyone had been dreading, came in the final scene of the season. The Benjen tease in the ‘previously on’ turned out to be nothing more than bait for Jon to come out into the courtyard and get stabbed. Olly had the last stab, in the most heavily foreshadowed event possibly of all time.

Plotline Overall Rating: 6/10

Stannis Baratheon

Oh, it all started off so well. The Stannis scenes in the first few episodes gave us all hope that he was finally getting the treatment he deserved as one of the most beloved characters. A bonding moment with Shireen had us all delighted, and when Melisandre suggested burning her, he told her to get to fuck. And then he burned her. In the next episode. Because he lost some supplies.

Seriously???

Stannis LOVES Shireen. He may not express it often, but he told his knights to seat her on the throne of DIE TRYING if something should happen to him. And when she was burning, it was SELYSE who came running to her and fell to the ground crying. And then there’s the fact that Stannis Baratheon, the finest military commander still alive, was somehow thwarted by Ramsay Snow, a bastard with no military training. Did he not have guards posted? How did twenty men just ride into his camp and burn his supplies?

Selyse promptly hung herself in the next episode, in a frankly pathetic reason to get her off screen now that they had no further use for her. Stannis and his forces marched on Winterfell, having no idea that the Bolton’s were charging straight for them, and were routed. Stannis fought off a couple of soldiers before collapsing to the ground wounded. And there was Brienne, who must have some kind of GPS given that she can track down any character she pleases. A far cry from the Brienne who spent a whole book walking around hopelessly looking for Sansa. She also seems to be acting as some sort of eraser for D&D, removing characters they no longer want. And that was that. Stannis Baratheon was dead. It’s fine though, because Book Stannis won’t be anywhere near as incompetent.

Plotline Overall Rating: 3/10

Sansa, Theon, and the Boltons

After Sansa’s transformation to Darth Sansa at the end of season four, all the build up focussed on how she was going to become a major player in the game of thrones. She would learn from Littlefinger, and finally gain some agency after being constantly at the mercy of the series’ cruellest characters. So how did that turn out?

She was married to Ramsay Snow by Littlefinger, in a move that made absolutely no sense for him, and had him force himself upon her in the most harrowing piece of television I’ve ever seen.

Even the rape scene, horrendous as it was, focussed more on Theon’s reaction to it, because rape is only there to develop male characters. And given that it was Theon who rescued her in the end, and not Sansa herself, it’s clear that it was there purely for shock value, not as a catalyst for her to develop agency. Their story ended with Theon chucking Myranda off a wall, and then the two of them leaping from the same walls to an unknown fate. Book readers will know that they land in a deep patch of snow, but show watchers are probably assuming that they’re dead, or at the least have broken bones. Ramsay meanwhile, seems to have become D&D’s favourite character, having a ridiculous amount of screen time. They’ve really gone overboard with the whole ‘bad guys always win’ thing.

Plotline Overall Rating: 2/10

Dorne

Oh, boy.

Dorne is one of my favourite plotlines in the books. Arianne is the strongest female character in the series, the Sand Snakes, while cartoonish, are pretty badass, the unveiling of Doran’s plot led to an insane amount of hype, and Ellaria’s impassioned plea for peace was a welcome relief from all the lusting for vengeance.

None of that made it in.

Instead, we had the Sand Worms wearing matching costumes, an Ellaria who seems to have gone a little bit mad, giving Myrcella the kiss of death just one season after she said ‘We don’t hurt little girls in Dorne’, a passive Doran who seemingly has no plan at all, and a vomit-inducing romance between Myrcella and Trystane. What was the point of recasting Myrcella if she was just going to die?? Every Sand Snake scene was awfully cringeworthy, not least the farcical battle in the Water Gardens when they happened to show up at exactly the same time as Jaime and Bronn. Oh yeah, Jaime and Bronn are in Dorne. No one really knows why.

A complex and fascinating plot featuring multiple strong female characters was totally discarded for a buddy comedy with two characters who deserve better. I’m done here.

Plotline Overall Rating: 0/10

King’s Landing

King’s Landing has been at the heart of Game of Thrones’ best storylines so far. This continued in AFFC, with Cersei’s ascent to power and following descent into madness and imprisonment, made for great reading. By contrast, Cersei seemed to have her shit together more this season than ever before. Littlefinger rocked up, for… reasons unknown. Meanwhile, Margaery and Tommen…

Yeah, that scene was as weird as you can imagine.

Loras was finally punished for the heinous crime of being a token gay character. The High Sparrow apparently has more power than anyone in Westeros. Olenna had a half-hearted attempt to have her grandchldren set free, but he put her in her place. Then there was another highly anticipated scene, Cersei’s walk of atonement. It certainly captured the spirit of the scene from the books, and Lena Headey put in surely the acting performance of the season. An acceptable effort. And we got a glimpse of Robert Strong. Hype.

Plotline Overall Rating: 5/10

Tyrion, Daenerys and Meereen

Tyrion seemed at a bit of a loose end this season. He spent most of the season travelling to Meereen, forming a short lived partnership with Jorah Mormont. It wasn’t a patch on meeting the long-thought-dead Aegon motherfucking Targaryen, and exiled lord Jon Connington. He finally met Daenerys, something long awaited, but they weren’t together long before Daznak’s pit, the scene I had been most eagerly awaiting,. It came immediately after the burning of Shireen, and I wasn’t paying much attention due to my disgust, but it was a huge let down. Whereas in the book, everything was going swimmingly before Drogon showed up, and he began burning innocents by the dozen, in this adaptation he arrived as a deus ex machina to save Dany from a random Sons of the Harpy attack. Despite the fact the whole reason Dany married Hizdahr and re-opened the fighting pits was to achieve peace, but what is logic. Dany flying away on Drogon’s back was badly CG’d, and her story ended with her surrounded by Dothraki while Jorah and Daario set off on a merry quest to find her. The buddy comedy is sorted for next season, have no fear. Jorah was incredibly annoying this season, btw.

Oh, and then there was Barristan’s death. The most noble and celebrated living knight, cut down by some randoms in masks while the Unsullied continued to be more useless than the Stormtroopers from A New Hope. What was the point in even reintroducing him?

Plotline Overall Rating: 6/10 (only because the dragons look so cool)

Arya, Braavos, and the Faceless Men

This storyline actually turned out alright.

Having Jaqen back was cool, even if it completely contradicted the point of the Faceless Men, there were some very impressive special effects on show, and the hall of faces looked awesome. Arya spent a lot of time training, before Meryn fucking Trant showed up with Mace Tyrell. Apparently we didn’t have enough reason to hate Meryn yet, so we got to see him picking out young girls to fuck (he’s a pedo apparently?) and then knocking them about a bit. Lucky us. Arya killed him in predictable bloody and psychopathic fashion, and then she was blinded. I actually have hope that this story could turn out ok, because they really love Arya on this show.

Plotline Overall Rating: 7/10

To sum up, the show is now so far removed from believability, enjoyability, and the canon of ASOIAF that I don’t have it in me to get angry any more. They’ve tossed out depth and complex plots for cheap shocks (raping Sansa, burning Shireen), having characters contradict themselves (Stannis, Ellaria), and giving us CGI heavy action sequences to make up for it. The simple fact is that D&D are poor writers. Good writers let the characters drive the story, whereas they are trying to force characters into the book storylines that they want, no matter how illogical they are. Next season we enter the complete unknown, as we’re at the end of the the book’s timeline. What will happen is anyone’s guess, but I’m not too worried about the possibility of The Winds of Winter being spoiled, because we’re now so far away from what most of the characters are actually doing. Sansa is in the Vale, flirting with Harry the Heir. Theon and Asha (remember her?) are captives of Stannis, who all agree is likely to defeat the Boltons. Jaime and Brienne are headed for deadly showdown with Lady Stoneheart (who??) in an encounter that keeps me up at night with worry. Euron is ravaging the Reach, with a potential dragon on the way. Barristan is marshalling the defence of Meereen against all the scum of the world. The storylines of major characters, especially the big four (Tyrion, Dany, Arya and Jon) most likely will be spoilt however, and for that reason I’ll be giving next season a miss.

Overall review of Season Five:

I’ll conclude with a formal congratulations for Balon Greyjoy, sole remaining contestant of the War of Five Kings. Long may he reign!


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11 Truly Underrated Players

The word ‘underrated’ has become misused in football. The same old players are always mentioned, to the extent that they are no longer underrated, but overrated if anything. A truly underrated player is someone who consistently plays well, but doesn’t receive much attention for it. So with that in mind, here are 11 players who could be called truly underrated.

Nabil Fekir – Lyon and France, CAM/ST, 21

The subject of an international tussle between Algeria and France, Nabil Fekir has elected to represent France, the country of his birth. He has been overshadowed by the remarkable scoring exploits of team-mate Alexandre Lacazette, but he has been just as crucial to Lyon’s good season. Capable of playing as an attacking midfielder or a striker, he has 11 goals and 7 assists in Ligue 1 this season. Probably the best-known player on this list, he is destined for great things.

Nicola Sansone – Sassuolo and Italy, LW, 23

Sassuolo have defied expectations of a swift relegation and become a solid mid-table side in Serie A over the last two seasons. Their first choice XI features ten Italian players, and the attacking trident of Sansone, Zaza and Berardi has attracted rave reviews. Sansone is the least heralded of these three, An inside forward with a powerful long-range shot, it would not be a huge surprise to see him called up by the Azzurri in time to come.

Franco Vazquez – Palermo and Italy, CAM/ST, 26

Another Serie A player who is overshadowed by a team-mate is Franco Vazquez of Palermo. His partnership with Paulo Dybala has been described as mesmerising, and unlike anything else in Serie A. He is the top assister in Serie A this season, with 9 assists, as well as 7 goals. Despite being born in Argentina, he has just accepted his first call up to the senior Italian team. When Dybala inevitable moves on in the summer, his new club would do well to consider bringing Vazquez in as well.

Robin Knoche – Wolfsburg and Germany, CB, 22

Wolfsburg have been having an excellent season, and the strong centre-back partnership of Naldo and Knoche is a big reason for it. A local lad who came through Wolfsburg’s academy, he has been a regular for the last two seasons and is rumoured to be close to a call up to the world champions’ senior squad. Knoche boasts maturity beyond his years with his calmness in possession and ability to position himself perfectly.

Jordan Amavi – Nice and France, LB, 21

France seem to have an endless conveyer belt of talented young left backs, Amavi has both the attacking and defensive qualities to make it ahead of competitors such as Lucas Digne and Layvin Kurzawa. Already a regular for OGC Nice, he also currently holds a place in whoscored.com’s Team of the Season.

Wissam Ben Yedder – Toulouse and France, ST, 24

Toulouse are currently staring down the barrel of relegation from Ligue 1, and should they suffer that fate there will be a long queue of teams interested in striker Ben Yedder. The player of Tunisian descent managed to score over 15 goals in each of the last two seasons, and currently stands on 10 for this season. He has skill and speed in abundance, but he is also decent in the air. His biggest problem is consistency.

Nolito – Celta Vigo and Spain, LW, 28

The La Masia graduate has found his home at Celta Vigo, after bouncing around various clubs for most of his career. 14 goals last season led to a debut cap for Spain, and he has followed that up with 8 goals and 8 assists this season. Lots of players struggle after leaving Barcelona, but Nolito has thrived.

Giannelli Imbula – Marseille and France, DM, 22

Marcelo Bielsa has revolutionised Marseille this season, and Imbula has been ever-present for them this season. Chelsea were reportedly prepared to part with £25m to acquire his services. A tough-tackling holding player, he is also strong in possession and excellent at carrying the ball forward. Eligible to play for the Democratic Republic of Congo or Belgium, he has elected to represent France, and should do just that in the near future.

Denis Cheryshev – Villarreal and Russia, LW, 24

Russian winger Cheryshev has been Villarreal’s player of the season so far, and has impressed so much that Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti, from whom he is on loan, has said he plans to incorporate him into his first team next season. He has an impressive 9 assists, and after a long time spent at Castilla, next season could finally be the time for his Bernabeu breakthrough.

Allan – Udinese and Brazil, CM, 24

Udinese have a fantastic track record of turning unknown South Americans into stars, and combative midfielder Allan has the potential to be the next. An excellent all-rounder, he has been crucial for the Zebrette this season, and has been linked with both Milan clubs. He is Serie A’s top tackler, averaging 4.6 per game, but he is also a skilful attacker.

Felipe Anderson – Lazio and Brazil, LW/RW, 21

Formerly Neymar’s partner in crime at Santos, Anderson will not remain an unknown for much longer, as on current form he is arguable the best player in Italy. He struggled with injury and form in his debut season for Lazio, but this season he has become absolutely crucial. Despite only starting 12 games, he has 8 goals and 6 assists so far. He has spectacular pace and dribbling ability, as well as a lethal long shot, as evidenced by his wonderful goal in the Rome derby. He is also equally comfortable on either foot. This array of attributes, as well as his young age, should propel him to a brilliant career.


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My Top 100 Footballers 2014

After the release of FourFourTwo’s annual ranking of the top 100 footballers currently playing, I was prompted to compile my own ranking, following on from last year. It’s impossible that a perfect ranking could be created that everyone agrees with, because it’s entirely based on opinion, but here is my list for this year anyway. It isn’t based on who had the best 2014, simply who I think the best players are overall right now. In brackets is how their position has changed from last year’s list, which you can find here: https://mattdale95.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/my-top-100-footballers-2013/

100. Radja Nainggolan – Roma and Belgium (NEW)

100

99. Memphis Depay – PSV Eindhoven and Holland (NEW)

98

98. Marc-Andre ter Stegen – Barcelona and Germany (NEW)

Recreativo de Huelva v FC Barcelona: Pre-Season Friendly

97. Alessio Cerci – Atletico Madrid and Italy (NEW)

96

96. Mathieu Valbuena – Dynamo Moscow and France (No move)

95

95. Daley Blind – Manchester United and Holland (NEW)

94

94. Santi Cazorla – Arsenal and Spain (Down 35)

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93. Simon Kjaer – Lille and Denmark (NEW)

92

92. Luiz Gustavo – Wolfsburg and Brazil (NEW)

91

91. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – Borussia Dortmund and Gabon (NEW)

90

90. Giuseppe Rossi – Fiorentina and Italy (Down 19)

Giuseppe Rossi

89. Jose Callejon – Napoli and Spain (NEW)

88

88. Jackson Martinez – Porto and Colombia (NEW)

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87. Gianluigi Buffon – Juventus and Italy (Up 3)

Juventus FC v AS Roma - Serie A

86. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – Schalke and Holland (NEW)

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85. Borja Valero – Fiorentina and Spain (Down 24)

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84. Stevan Jovetic – Manchester City and Montenegro (NEW)

83

83. Marco Verratti – Paris Saint-Germain and Italy (NEW)

82

82. Carlos Vela – Real Sociedad and Mexico (NEW)

81

81. Marcelo – Real Madrid and Brazil (Down 25)

80

80. Daniel Sturridge  – Liverpool and England (NEW)

79

79. Ilkay Gundogan – Borussia Dortmund and Germany (Down 11)

78

78. Antoine Griezmann – Atletico Madrid and France (Up 19)

77

77. Antonio Candreva – Lazio and Italy (NEW)

76

76. Kevin De Bruyne – Wolfsburg and Belgium (NEW)

75

75. Blaise Matuidi – Paris Saint-Germain and France (No move)

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74. Samir Handanovic – Inter Milan and Slovenia (NEW)

73

73. Mario Mandzukic – Atletico Madrid and Croatia (NEW)

72

72. Kevin Strootman – Roma and Holland (NEW)

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71. Lukasz Piszczek – Borussia Dortmund and Poland (NEW)

70

70. Oscar – Chelsea and Brazil (Down 24)

69

69. Andrea Pirlo – Juventus and Italy (Down 25)

68

68. Marek Hamsik – Napoli and Slovakia (Down 38)

67

67. Raphael Varane – Real Madrid and France (Up 3)

66

66. Arda Turan – Atletico Madrid and Turkey (NEW)

65

65. Gonzalo Higuain – Napoli and Argentina (Down 33)

64

64. Vincent Kompany – Manchester City and Belgium (Down 31)

63

63. Giorgio Chiellini – Juventus and Italy (Down 23)

62

62. Juan Cuadrado – Fiorentina and Colombia (NEW)

61

61. Paul Pogba – Juventus and France (Down 20)

SS Lazio v FC Juventus - TIM Supercup

60. Roberto Firmino – Hoffenheim and Brazil (NEW)

59

59. Wayne Rooney – Manchester United and England (Up 15)

58

58. Daniele De Rossi – Roma and Italy (Down 21)

27-3-2010 Roma-Inter

57. Hugo Lloris – Tottenham and France (Down 6)

56

56. Pablo Zabaleta – Manchester City and Argentina (Up 16)

55

55. Ricardo Rodriguez – Wolfsburg and Switzerland (NEW)

54

54. David De Gea – Manchester United and Spain (NEW)

53

53. Robin van Persie – Manchester United and Holland (Down 29)

52

52. Carlos Tevez – Juventus and Argentina (Up 46)

51

51. Nemanja Matic – Chelsea and Serbia (NEW)

50

50. Cesar Azpilicueta – Chelsea and Spain (NEW)

49

49. Javi Martinez – Bayern Munich and Spain (Down 20)

48

48. Xabi Alonso – Bayern Munich and Spain (Down 1)

47

47. Franck Ribery – Bayern Munich and France (Down 41)

46

46. Juan Mata – Manchester United and Spain (Down 21)

45

45. Mehdi Benatia – Bayern Munich and Morocco (Up 13)

44

44. Mesut Ozil – Arsenal and Germany (Down 30)

mesut ozil

43. David Alaba – Bayern Munich and Austria (Up 2)

42

42. Radamel Falcao – Manchester United and Colombia (Down 23)

0

41. Miralem Pjanic – Roma and Bosnia (NEW)

41

40. Mats Hummels – Borussia Dortmund and Germany (Up 3)

40

39. Alexis Sanchez – Arsenal and Chile (Up 15)

39

38. Edinson Cavani – Paris Saint-Germain and Uruguay (Down 21)

38

37. James Rodriguez – Real Madrid and Colombia (NEW)

37

36. Gareth Bale – Real Madrid and Wales (Down 20)

36

35. Karim Benzema – Real Madrid and France (Up 7)

Real Madrid's Benzema celebrates after scoring during their Spanish first division match in Madrid

34. Sergio Ramos – Real Madrid and Spain (Up 15)

34

33. Marco Reus – Borussia Dortmund and Germany (Up 5)

33

32. Javier Mascherano – Barcelona and Argentina (Up 37)

32

31. Ivan Rakitic – Barcelona and Croatia (NEW)

31

30. Eden Hazard – Chelsea and Belgium (Up 22)

30

29. Mario Gotze – Bayern Munich and Germany (Up 5)

29

28. Bastian Schweinsteiger – Bayern Munich and Germany (Down 8)

28

27. David Silva – Manchester City and Spain (No move)

27

26. Koke – Atletico Madrid and Spain (Up 51)

26

25. Diego Costa – Chelsea and Spain (Up 23)

25

24. Robert Lewandowski – Bayern Munich and Poland (Down 12)

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23. Isco – Real Madrid and Spain (Down 5)

23

22. Diego Godin – Atletico Madrid and Uruguay (NEW)

22

21. Yaya Toure – Manchester City and Ivory Coast (Down 12)

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20. Arturo Vidal – Juventus and Chile (Down 7)

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19. Thibaut Courtois – Chelsea and Belgium (Up 38)

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18. Jerome Boateng – Bayern Munich and Germany (NEW)

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17. Cesc Fabregas – Chelsea and Spain (Down 2)

17

16. Thomas Muller –  Bayern Munich and Germany (Up 34)

16

15. Angel Di Maria – Manchester United and Argentina (Up 21)

15

14. Arjen Robben – Bayern Munich and Holland (Up 21)

14

13. Sergio Busquets – Barcelona and Spain (Up 10)

13

12. Toni Kroos – Real Madrid and Germany (Up 14)

12

11. Neymar – Barcelona and Brazil (Down 1)

11

10. Thiago Silva – Paris Saint-Germain and Brazil (Down 3)

10

9. Luka Modric – Real Madrid and Croatia (Up 19)

Real Madrid's Luka Modric celebrates after scoring in their La Liga victory against Real Mallorca

8. Andres Iniesta – Barcelona and Spain (Down 5)

8

7. Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Paris Saint-Germain and Sweden (Down 2)

7

6. Sergio Aguero – Manchester City and Argentina (Up 15)

6

5. Manuel Neuer – Bayern Munich and Germany (Up 17)

Borussia Dortmund v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Final

4. Philipp Lahm – Bayern Munich and Germany (Up 4)

Philipp Lahm playing for Bayern

3. Luis Suarez – Barcelona and Uruguay (Up 1)

3

2. Cristiano Ronaldo – Real Madrid and Portugal (No move)

2

1. Lionel Messi – Barcelona and Argentina (No move)

1


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Top 20 Favourite Moments of ASOIAF

It’s pretty much common knowledge now that A Song of Ice and Fire is the greatest story of all time, and that the books are unfathomably better than that terrible fan fiction show on HBO. Recently on Twitter, some people have been working out their top ten favourite moments of the story, however when I began compiling my list I realised that there were far too many amazing moments to narrow it down to just ten, so I have listed my top twenty. Included herein are moments that made me laugh, moments that made me cry, moments that made me think about life. This story has it all.

20. A Feast for Crows – Jaime VII

There was a rap upon his door. “See who that is, Peck.”

It was Riverrun’s old maester, with a message clutched in his lined and wrinkled hand. Vyman’s face was as pale as the new-fallen snow. “I know,” Jaime said, “there has been a white raven from the Citadel. Winter has come.”

“No, my lord. The bird was from King’s Landing. I took the liberty … I did not know …” He held the letter out.

Jaime read it in the window seat, bathed in the light of that cold white morning. Qyburn’s words were terse and to the point, Cersei’s fevered and fervent. Come at once, she said. Help me. Save me. I need you now as I have never needed you before. I love you. I love you. I love you. Come at once.

Vyman was hovering by the door, waiting, and Jaime sensed that Peck was watching too. “Does my lord wish to answer?” the maester asked, after a long silence.

A snowflake landed on the letter. As it melted, the ink began to blur. Jaime rolled the parchment up again, as tight as one hand would allow, and handed it to Peck. “No,” he said. “Put this in the fire.”

19. A Dance with Dragons – Jon II

This is wrong, Jon thought. “Stop.”

Emmett turned back, frowning. “My lord?”

“I will not hang him,” said Jon. “Bring him here.”

“Oh, Seven save us,” he heard Bowen Marsh cry out.

The smile that Lord Janos Slynt smiled then had all the sweetness of rancid butter. Until Jon said, “Edd, fetch me a block,” and unsheathed Longclaw.

By the time a suitable chopping block was found, Lord Janos had retreated into the winch cage, but Iron Emmett went in after him and dragged him out. “No,” Slynt cried, as Emmett half-shoved and half-pulled him across the yard. “Unhand me … you cannot … when Tywin Lannister hears of this, you will all rue-“

Emmett kicked his legs out from under him. Dolorous Edd planted a foot on his back to keep him on his knees as Emmett shoved the block beneath his head. “This will go easier if you stay still,” Jon Snow promised him. “Move to avoid the cut, and you will still die, but your dying will be uglier. Stretch out your neck, my lord.” The pale morning sunlight ran up and down his blade as Jon clasped the hilt of the bastard sword with both hands and raised it high. “If you have any last words, now is the time to speak them,” he said, expecting one last curse.

Janos Slynt twisted his neck around to stare up at him.  “Please, my lord. Mercy. I’ll … I’ll go, I will, I …”

No, thought Jon. You closed that door. Longclaw descended.

“Can I have his boots?” asked Owen the Oaf, as Janos Slynt’s head went rolling across the muddy ground. “They’re almost new, those boots. Lined with fur.”

Jon glanced back at Stannis. For an instant their eyes met. Then the king nodded and went back inside his tower.

18. A Dance with Dragons – Epilogue

File:Mike Capprotti Varys.JPG

“Varys?”

The eunuch set the crossbow down. “Ser Kevan. Forgive me if you can. I bear you no ill will. This was not done from malice. It was for the realm. For the children.”

I have children. I have a wife. Oh, Dorna. Pain washed over him. He closed his eyes, opened them again. “There are … there are hundreds of Lannister guardsmen in this castle.”

“But none in this room, thankfully. This pains me, my lord. You do not deserve to die alone on such a cold dark night. There are many like you, good men in service to bad causes … but you were threatening to undo all the queen’s good work, to reconcile Highgarden and Casterly Rock, bind the Faith to your little king, unite the Seven Kingdoms under Tommen’s rule. So …”

A gust of wind blew up. Ser Kevan shivered violently.

“Are you cold, my lord?” asked Varys. “Do forgive me. The Grand Maester befouled himself in dying, and the stink was so abominable that I thought I might choke.”

Ser Kevan tried to rise, but the strength had left him. He could not feel his legs.

“I thought the crossbow fitting. You shared so much with Lord Tywin, why not that? Your niece will think the Tyrells had you murdered, mayhaps with the connivance of the Imp. The Tyrells will suspect her. Someone somewhere will find a way to blame the Dornishmen. Doubt, division, and mistrust will eat the very ground beneath your boy king, whilst Aegon raises his banner above Storm’s End and the lords of the realm gather round him.”

“Aegon?” For a moment he did not understand. Then he remembered. A babe swaddled in a crimson cloak, the cloth stained with his blood and brains. “Dead. He’s dead.”

“No.” The eunuch’s voice seemed deeper. “He is here. Aegon has been shaped for rule since before he could walk. He has been trained in arms, as befits a knight to be, but that was not the end of his education. He reads and writes, he speaks several tongues, he has studied history and law and poetry. A septa has instructed him in the mysteries of the Faith since he was old enough to understand them. He has lived with fisherfolk, worked with his hands, swum in rivers and mended nets and learned to wash his own clothes at need. He can fish and cook and bind up a wound, he knows what it is like to be hungry, to be hunted, to be afraid. Tommen has been taught that kingship is his right. Aegon knows that kingship is his duty, that a king must put his people first, and live and rule for them.”

17. A Storm of Swords – Epilogue

The outlaws parted as she came through, saying no word. When she lowered her hood, something tightened inside Merrett’s chest, and for a moment he could not breathe. No. No, I saw her die. She was dead for a day and a night before they stripped her naked and threw her body in the river. Raymund opened her throat from ear to ear. She was dead.

Her cloak and collar hid the gash his brother’s blade had made, but her face was even worse than her remembered. The flesh had gone pudding soft in the water and turned the colour of curdled milk. Half her hair was gone and the rest had turned as white and brittle as a crone’s. Beneath her ravaged scalp, her face was shredded skin and black blood where she had raked herself with her nails. But her eyes were the most terrible thing. Her eyes saw him, and they hated.

“She don’t speak,” said the big man in the yellow cloak. “You bloody bastards cut her throat too deep for that. But she remembers.” He turned to the dead woman and said, “What do you say, m’lady? Was he part of it?”

Lady Catelyn’s eyes never left him. She nodded.

Merrett Frey opened his mouth to plead, but the noose choked off his words. His feet left the ground, the rope cutting deep into the soft flesh beneath his chin. Up into the air he jerked, kicking and twisting, up and up and up.

16. A Storm of Swords – Jaime IX

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Jaime sat alone at the table while the shadows crept across the room. As dusk began to settle, he lit a candle and opened the White Book to his own page. Quill and ink he found in a drawer. Beneath the last line Ser Barristan had entered, he wrote in an awkward hand that might have done credit to a six-year-old being taught his first letters by a maester:

Defeated in the Whispering Wood by the Young Wolf Robb Stark during the War of the Five Kings. Held captive at Riverrun and ransomed for a promise unfulfilled. Captured again by the Brave Companions, and maimed at the word of Vargo Hoat their captain, losing his sword hand to the blade of Zollo the Fat. Returned safely to King’s Landing by Brienne, the Maid of Tarth.

When he was done, more than three-quarters of his page still remained to be filled between the gold lion on the crimson shield on top and the blank white shield at the bottom. Ser Gerold Hightower had begun his history, and Ser Barristan Selmy had continued it, but the rest Jaime Lannister would need to write for himself. He could write whatever he chose, henceforth.

Whatever he chose …

15. A Feast for Crows – Samwell IV

Sam donned his blacks to say the words, though the afternoon was warm and muggy, with nary a breath of wind. “He was a good man,” he began … but as soon as he had said the words he knew that they were wrong. “No. He was a great man. A maester of the Citadel, chained and sworn, and Sworn Brother of the Night’s Watch, ever faithful. When he was born they named him for a hero who had died too young, but though he lived a long long time, his own life was no less heroic. No man was wiser, or gentler, or kinder. At the Wall, a dozen lords commander came and went during his years of service, but he was always there to counsel them. He counselled kings as well. He could have been a king himself, but when they offered him the crown he told them they should give it to his younger brother. How many men would do that?” Sam felt the tears welling in his eyes, and knew he could not go on much longer. “He was the blood of the dragon, but now his fire has gone out. He was Aemon Targaryen. And now his watch has ended.”

14. A Storm of Swords – Arya XIII

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I have no home, Arya thought. I have no pack. And now I don’t even have a horse.

The captain was turning away when she said, “What ship is this, my lord?”

He paused long enough to give her a weary smile. “This is the galleas Titan’s Daughter, of the Free City of Braavos.”

“Wait,” Arya said suddenly. “I have something else.” She had stuffed it down inside her smallclothes to keep it safe, so she had to dig deep to find it, while the oarsmen laughed and the captain lingered with obvious impatience. “One more silver will make no difference, child,” he finally said.

“It’s not silver.” Her fingers closed on it. “It’s iron. Here.” She pressed it into his hand, the small black iron coin that Jaqen H’ghar had given her, so worn the man whose head it bore had no features. It’s probably worthless, but …

The captain turned it over and blinked at it, then looked at her again. “This … how …?”

Jaqen said to say the words too.  Arya crossed her arms against her chest. “Valar morghulis,” she said, as loud as if she’d known what she meant.

“Valar dohaeris,” he replied, touching his brow with two fingers. “Of course you shall have a cabin.”

13. A Dance with Dragons – The Sacrifice

The banker studied her with shrewd dark eyes. “You are the Lady Asha of House Greyjoy, unless I am mistaken.”

“I am Asha of House Greyjoy, aye. Opinions differ on whether I’m a lady.”

“The Braavosi smiled. “We’ve brought a gift for you.” He beckoned to the men behind him. “We had expected to find the king at Winterfell. This same blizzard has engulfed the castle, alas. Beneath its walls we found Mors Umber with a troop of raw green boys, waiting for the king’s coming. He gave us this.”

A girl and an old man, thought Asha, as the two were dumped rudely in the snow before her. The girl was shivering violently, even in her furs. If she had not been so frightened, she might even have been pretty, though the top of her nose was black from frostbite. The old man … no one would ever think him comely. She had seen scarecrows with more flesh. His face was a skull with skin, his hair bone-white and filthy. And he stank. Just the sight of him filled Asha with revulsion.

He raised his eyes. “Sister. See. This time I know you.”

Asha’s heart skipped a beat. “Theon?

His lips skinned back in what might have been a grin. Half his teeth were gone, and half of those still left him were broken and splintered. “Theon,” he repeated. “My name is Theon. You have to know your name.”

12. A Storm of Swords – Arya XIII

The boy didn’t seem to hear him. “I came for the girls,” he whimpered. “… make me a man, Polly said … oh gods, please, take me to a castle … a maester, take me to a maester, my father’s got gold … it was only for the girls … mercy, ser.”

The Hound gave him a crack across the face that made him scream again. “Don’t call me ser.” He turned back to Arya. “This one is yours, she-wolf. You do it.”

She knew what he meant. Arya went to Polliver and knelt in his blood long enough to undo his swordbelt. Hanging beside his dagger was a slimmer blade, too long to be a dirk, too short to be a man’s sword … but it felt just right in her hand.

“You remember where the heart is?” the Hound asked.

She nodded. The squire rolled his eyes. “Mercy.”

Needle slipped between his ribs and gave it to him.

11. A Game of Thrones – Jon VIII

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“Jon, did you ever wonder why the men of the Night’s Watch take no wives and father no children?” Maester Aemon asked.

Jon shrugged. “No.” He scattered more meat. The fingers of his left hand were slimy with blood, and his right throbbed from the weight of the bucket.

“So they will not love,” the old man answered, “for love is the bane of honour, the death of duty.”

That did not sound right to Jon, yet he said nothing. The maester was a hundred years old, and a high officer of the Night’s Watch; it was not his place to contradict him.

The old man seemed to sense his doubts. “Tell me, Jon, if the day should ever come when your lord father must needs choose between honour on the one hand and those he loves on the other, what would he do?”

Jon hesitated. He wanted to say that Lord Eddard would never dishonour himself, not even for love, yet inside a small sly voice whispered, He fathered a bastard, where was the honour in that? And your mother, what of his duty to her, he will not even say her name. “He would do whatever was right,” he said … ringingly, to make up for his hesitation. “No matter what.”

“Then Lord Eddard is a man in then thousand. Most of us are not so strong. What is honour compared to a woman’s love? What is duty against the feel of a newborn son in your arms … or the memory of a brother’s smile? Wind and words. Wind and words. We are only human, and the gods have fashioned us for love. That is our great glory, and our great tragedy.”

10. A Dance with Dragons – Davos IV

“Soon I must return to the feast to toast my friends of Frey,” Manderly continued. “They watch me, ser. Day and night their eyes are on me, noses sniffing for some whiff of treachery. You saw them, the arrogant Ser Jared and his nephew Rhaegar, that smirking worm who wears a dragon’s name. Behind them both stands Symond, clinking coins. That one has bought and paid for several of my servants and two of my knights. One of his wife’s handmaids has found her way into the bed of my own fool. If Stannis wonders that my letters say so little, it is because I dare not even trust my maester. Theomore is all head and no heart. You heard him in my hall. Maesters are supposed to put aside old loyalties when they don their chains, but I cannot forget that Theomore was born a Lannister of Lannisport and claims some distant kinship to the Lannisters of Casterly Rock. Foes and false friends are all around me, Lord Davos. They infest my city like roaches, and at night I feel them crawling over me.” The fat man’s fingers coiled into a fist, and all his chins trembled. “My son Wendel came to the Twins a guest. He ate Lord Walder’s bread and salt, and hung his sword upon the wall to feast with friends. And they murdered him. Murdered, I say, and may the Freys choke upon their fables. I drink with Jared, jape with Symond, promise Rhaegar the hand of my own beloved granddaughter … but never think that means I have forgotten. The north remembers, Lord Davos. The north remembers, and the mummer’s farce is almost done. My son is home.”

9. A Storm of Swords – Tyrion X

Tyrion stared up at his father’s hard green eyes with their flecks of cold bright gold. “Guilty, “ he said, “so guilty. Is that what you wanted to hear?”

Lord Tywin said nothing. Mace Tyrell nodded. Prince Oberyn looked mildly disappointed. “You admit you poisoned the king?”

“Nothing of the sort,” said Tyrion. “Of Joffrey’s death, I am innocent. I am guilty of a far more monstrous crime.” He took a step toward his father. “I was born. I lived. I am guilty of being a dwarf, I confess it. And no matter how many times my good father forgave me, I have persisted in my infamy.”

“This is folly, Tyrion,” declared Lord Tywin. “Speak to the matter at hand. You are not on trial for being a dwarf.”

“That is where you err, my lord. I have been on trial for being a dwarf my entire life.”

“Have you nothing to say in your defence?”

“Nothing but this: I did not do it. Yet now I wish I had.” He turned to face the hall, that sea of pale faces. “I wish I had enough poison for you all. You make me sorry that I am not the monster you would have me be, yet there it is. I am innocent, but I will get no justice here. You leave me no choice but to appeal to the gods. I demand trial by battle.”

“Have you taken leave of your wits?” his father said.

“No, I’ve found them. I demand trial by battle!”

His sweet sister could not have been more pleased. “He has that right, my lords,” she reminded the judges. “Let the gods judge. Ser Gregor Clegane will stand for Joffrey. He returned to the city the night before last, to put his sword at my service.”

Lord Tywin’s face was so dark that for half a heartbeat Tyrion wondered if he’d drunk some poisoned wine as well. He slammed his fist down on the table, too angry to speak. It was Mace Tyrell who turned to Tyrion and asked the question. “Do you have a champion to defend your innocence?”

“He does, my lord.” Prince Oberyn of Dorne rose to his feet. “The dwarf has quite convinced me.”

8. A Storm of Swords – Jon X

It’s done, Jon thought, they’re breaking. The wildlings were running, throwing down their weapons, Hornfoot men and cave dwellers and Thenns in bronze scales, they were running. Mance was gone, someone was waving Harma’s head on a pole, Tormund’s lines had broken. Only the giants on their mammoths were holding hairy islands in a red steel sea. The fires were leaping from tent to tent and some of the tall pines were going up as well. And through the smoke another wedge of armoured riders came, on barded horses. Floating above them were the largest banners yet, royal standards as big as sheets; a yellow one with long pointed tongues that showed a flaming heart, and another like a sheet of beaten gold, with a black stag prancing and rippling in the wind. Robert, Jon though for one mad moment, remembering poor Owen, but when the trumpets blew again and the knights charged, the name they cried was “Stannis! Stannis! STANNIS!”

7. A Dance with Dragons – Theon I

theon robb

Theon led the way up the stairs. I have climbed these steps a thousand times before. As a boy he would run up; descending, he would take the steps three at a time, leaping. Once he leapt right into Old Nan and knocked her to the floor. That earned him the worst thrashing he ever had at Winterfell, though it was almost tender compared to the beatings his brothers used to give him back on Pyke. He and Robb had fought many a heroic battle on these steps, slashing at one another with wooden swords. Good training, that; it brought home how hard it was to fight your way up a spiral stair against determined opposition. Ser Rodrik liked to say that one good man could hold a hundred, fighting down.

That was long ago, though. They were all dead now. Jory, old Ser Rodrik, Lord Eddard, Harwin and Hullen, Cayn and Desmond and Fat Tom, Alyn with his dreams of knighthood, Mikken who had given him his first real sword. Even Old Nan, like as not.

And Robb. Robb who had been more a brother to Theon than any son born of Balon Greyjoy’s loins. Murdered at the Red Wedding, butchered by the Freys. I should have been with him. Where was I? I should have died with him.

6. A Game of Thrones – Bran IV

That night, after the plates had been cleared, Robb carried Bran up to bed himself. Grey Wind led the way, and Summer came close behind. His brother was strong for his age, and Bran was as light as a bundle of rags, but the stairs were steep and dark, and Robb was breathing hard by the time they reached the top.

He put Bran into bed, covered him with blankets, and blew out the candle. For a time, Robb sat beside him in the dark. Bran wanted to talk to him, but he did not know what to say. “We’ll find a horse for you, I promise,” Robb whispered at last.

“Are they ever coming back?” Bran asked him.

“Yes,” Robb said with such hope in his voice that Bran knew he was hearing his brother and not just Robb the Lord. “Mother will be home soon. Maybe we can ride out to meet her when she comes. Wouldn’t that surprise her, to see you ahorse?” Even in the dark room, Bran could feel his brother’s smile. “And afterward, we’ll ride north to see the Wall. We won’t even tell Jon we’re coming, we’ll just be there one day, you and me. It will be an adventure.”

“An adventure,” Bran repeated wistfully. He heard his brother sob. The room was so dark he could not see the tears on Robb’s face, so he reached out and found his hand. Their fingers twined together.

5. A Clash of Kings – Tyrion XIV

Finally, he rolled over the side and lay breathless and exhausted, flat on his back. Balls of green and orange flame crackled overhead, leaving streaks between the stars. He had a moment to think how pretty it was before Ser Mandon blocked out the view. The knight was a white steel shadow, his eyes shining darkly behind his helm. Tyrion had no more strength than a rag doll. Ser Mandon put the point of his sword to the hollow of his throat and curled both hands around the hilt.

And suddenly he lurched to the left, staggering into the rail. Wood split, and Ser Mandon Moore vanished with a shout and a splash. An instant later, the hulls came slamming together again, so hard the deck seemed to jump. Then someone was kneeling over him. “Jaime?” he croaked, almost choking on the blood that filled his mouth. Who else would save him, if not his brother?

“Be still, my lord, you’re hurt bad.” A boy’s voice, that makes no sense, thought Tyrion. It sounded almost like Pod.

4. A Clash of Kings – Bran VII

At the edge of the wolfswood, Bran turned in his basket for one last glimpse of the castle that had been his life. Wisps of smoke still rose into the night sky, but no more than might have risen from Winterfell’s chimneys on a cold autumn afternoon. Soot stains marked some of the arrow loops, and here and there a crack or a missing merlon could be seen in the curtain wall, but it seemed little enough from this distance. Beyond, the tops of the keeps and towers still stood as they had for hundreds of years, and it was hard to tell that the castle had been burned and sacked at all. The stone is strong, Bran told himself, the roots of the trees go deep, and under the ground the Kings of Winter sit their thrones. So long as those remained, Winterfell remained. It was not dead, just broken. Like me, he thought. I’m not dead either.

3. A Storm of Swords – Jaime V

“Has my tale turned you speechless? Come, curse me or kiss me or call me a liar. Something.

“If this is true, how is it no one knows?”

“The knights of the Kingsguard are sworn to keep the kings secrets. Would you have me break my oath?” Jaime laughed. “Do you think the noble Lord of Winterfell wanted to hear my feeble explanations? Such an honourable man. He only had to look at me to judge me guilty.” Jaime lurched to his feet, the water running cold down his chest. “By what right does the wolf judge the lion? By what right?” A violent shiver took him, and he smashed his stump against the rim of the tub as he tried to climb out. Pain shuddered through him … and suddenly the bathhouse was spinning. Brienne caught him before he could fall. Her arm was all gooseflesh, clammy and chilled, but she was strong, and gentler than he would have thought. Gentler than Cersei, he thought as she helped him from the tub, his legs wobbly as a limp cock. “Guards!” he heard the wench shout. “The Kingslayer!”

Jaime, he thought, my name is Jaime.

2. A Feast for Crows – Arya II

She stood on the end of the dock, pale and goosefleshed and shivering in the fog. In her hand, Needle seemed to whisper to her. Stick them with the pointy end, it said, and, don’t tell Sansa! Mikken’s mark was on the blade. It’s just a sword. If she needed a sword, there were a hundred under the temple. Needle was too small to be a proper sword, it was hardly more than a toy. She’d been a stupid little girl when Jon had it made for her. “It’s just a sword,” she said, aloud this time …

… but it wasn’t.

Needle was Robb and Bran and Rickon, her mother and her father,  even Sansa. Needle was Winterfell’s grey walls, and the laughter of its people. Needle was the summer snows, Old Nan’s stories, the heart tree with its red leaves and scary face, the warm earthy smell of the glass gardens, the sound of the north wind rattling the shutters of her room. Needle was Jon Snow’s smile. He used to mess my hair and call me “little sister,” she remembered, and suddenly there were tears in her eyes.

Polliver has stolen the sword from her when the Mountain’s men took her captive, but when she and the Hound walked into the inn at the crossroads, there it was. The gods wanted me to have it. Not the Seven, nor Him of Many Faces, but her father’s gods, the old gods of the north. The Many-Faced God can have the rest, she thought, but he can’t have this.

1. A Storm of Swords – Jaime IV

“Jaime,” Brienne whispered, so faintly he thought he was dreaming it. “Jaime, what are you doing?”

“Dying,” he whispered back.

“No,” she said, “no, you must live.”

He wanted to laugh. “Stop telling me what to do, wench. I’ll die if it pleases me.”

“Are you so craven?”

The word shocked him. He was Jaime Lannister, a knight of the Kingsguard, he was the Kingslayer. No man had ever called him craven. Other things they called him, yes; oathbreaker, liar, murderer. They said he was cruel, treacherous, reckless. But never craven. “What else can I do, but die?”

“Live,” she said, “live, and fight, and take revenge.” But she spoke too loudly. Rorge heard her voice, if not her words, and came over to kick her, shouting at her to hold her bloody tongue if she wanted to keep it.

Craven, Jaime thought as Brienne fought to stifle her moans. Can it be? They took my sword hand. Was that all I was, a sword hand? Gods be good, is it true?

The wench had the right of it. He could not die. Cersei was waiting for him. She would have need of him. And Tyrion, his little brother, who loved him for a lie. And his enemies were waiting too; the Young Wolf who had beaten him in the Whispering Wood and killed his men around him, Edmure Tully who had kept him in darkness and chains, these Brave Companions.

When morning came, he made himself eat. They fed him a mush of oats, horse food, but he forced down every spoon. He ate again at evenfall, and the next day. Live, he told himself harshly, when the mush was like to gag him, live for Cersei, live for Tyrion. Live for vengeance. A Lannister always pays his debts. His missing hand throbbed and burned and stank. When I reach King’s Landing I’ll have a new hand forged, a golden hand, and one day I’ll use it to rip out Vargo Hoat’s throat.