Winners and losers of the Premier League 2011/12 part one

A roller coaster season ended with a roller coaster Sunday with Manchester City claiming the title thanks to Sergio Aguero’s las gasp strike, however who were the real winners and losers of the closest Premier League season for several years? 

Roberto Mancini

The main victor of the season has to be Roberto Mancini, as yesterday’s game moved into injury team with his Manchester City side 2-1 down to QPR the likelihood was he would be shown the door at the Etihad stadium. 

Instead he spent today touring around Manchester on an open top bus celebrating with his players after  taking City to the their title since 1968. 

It is a massive step for Mancini and his squad, many of whom have joined since Mancini took over in 2009. 

Throw into a season marred by constant speculation around his future, Carlos Tevez’s exile to his native Argentina and Mancini’s personal battle against the troublesome Mario Balotelli and you begin to see what he has achieved this season. 

Obviously he will need more than one major trophy per season to satisfy the big wigs at the Etihad, however it is certainly a start. 

Robin van Persie

It has been another fruitless season for Arsenal however once again the Emirates was lit up on more than one occasion by the irresistable van Persie. 

37 goals over the entire campaign led Arsenal to third place and Champions League football next season, something that was unthinkable before Christmas.

Speculation has rumbled on throughout the season regarding the Dutchman’s future and now as we head into a sport filled summer the rumours will grow and it is likely van Persie will depart the Emirates in a hunt for major silverware, similar to the departure of Cesc Fabregas last season. 

Newcastle United

The suggestion that Newcastle United would finish in the European positions would have been laughed at back in August before the season kicked-off. 

However a fifth placed finish has taken everyone by suprise this season with manager Alan Pardew even being talked about for the England manager’s position following the departure of Fabio Capello. 

He has built a squad of players, few of whom are household names and let them gel as the season progressed, a Champions League position was still achievable heading into the final game of the season. 

Players such as Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa and Papiss Cisse were unknown quantities when they were brought into the club. 

However they have been the fulcrum around which Newcastle have performed this season with Cisse netting 13 goals in 14 league games, not bad for a striker few people had heard of before his January move. 

Later in the week, the losers of the season will be analysed

 

 

 

 

Pietersen pushes England forward

Kevin Pietersen scored his first test century since March 2009, as he lead England to a commanding lead over Australia, before rain curtailed play on day three in Adelaide.

For the first time in history, England went past 500 in two consecutive innings, ending the day on 551-4, a lead of 306 with Pietersen leading the way with an unbeaten 213.

Resuming on 312-2, ‘KP’ and Alastair Cook began extending the overnight lead of 77, a simple push into the leg side bringing up Pietersen’s 17th test century, however Cook fell for 148 edging to Brad Haddin off Ryan Harris to end his 1068 minute stay at the crease.

Not to be deterred, Pietersen pushed on to his 200 ably supported by Paul Collingwood and then Ian Bell , as the Australian attack toiled in the afternoon heat. It must seem a long time since Australia took more than one wicket in a session, they have to all the way back to day one of the series.

However they got a glimmer of hope in the afternoon session as Paul Collingwood was struck in front to fall LBW to Shane Watson, before the rain set in for the evening at tea.

That first day must seem a while back for Ricky Ponting and his Australia as once again the skipper cut a frustrated picture in the field.

And that is the way England will want to keep it, as they look to win this test at some point over the next two days.

All about preperation for England

There has been one major difference in this Ashes preperation than previous years. And that is exactly it, preperation.

Three tour matches before a weeks rest is something unheard of for England players, who landed on enemy territory nearly a month before the first test in Brisbane.

However with batsmen scoring runs and bowlers taking wickets, it is all smiles for Andrew Strauss and his men, as the skipper tries to become the first captain since Mike Gatting to go to Australia and win the Ashes.

Strauss has already notched up two centuries, Alastair Cook has silenced his critics with a string of good knocks, Kevin Pietersen seems to have recaptured some form with the bat whilst sporting a new moustache and Ian Bell’s magnificent 192 against Australia A cemented his place at number six.

Paul Collingwood’s knocks of 94 and 89 have meant only Jonathan Trott hasn’t passed 50 yet, something that England’s number three will be wanting to put right in Brisbane this week.

The bowlers, who seem to have been in good form since the Ashes series in 2009, were sent ahead to Brisbane to ‘acclimatise’ after all four performed well in the first two warm-up games.

Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Steven Finn and spinner Graeme Swann all took wickets in the opening two games and have spent the last few days perfecting their sprinkler dance moves and getting their hair cut if you believe everything you read on Twitter.

That left the bowling work against the Aussie ‘A’ side to be done by the support bowlers who all performed admirably, Chris Tremlett snaring seven wickets in the match. Tim Bresnan also claiming six, whilst he scored a well timed 37 with the bat.

England have been very shrewed in their selection of back-up seamers. Each is a replica of one of the frontline three, meaning they have cover if any of Broad, Anderson and Finn get injured.

At 6ft 8 Chris Tremlett is the perfect stand in for the 6ft 7 Finn, whilst the skiddy swinger Ajmal Shahzad is the perfect foil for Anderson. If Stuart Broad is struck down by injury Tim Bresnan is the ideal replacement, probably giving England more options with the bat.

Everybody in the touring party bar Steven Davies and Eoin Morgan have played some form of cricket since being in Australia, this shows the confidence the selectors and especially coach Andy Flower have in the top seven, whilst they have given the bowlers the chance to rest, allowing the supporting cast to bowl their way into form.

Without organising to play three games ahead of what could be the biggest series of these players lives, England would not be in the shape they are, concerns would still be rife over Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen, the selection of Tim Bresnan and Chris Tremlett in the squad would still be questioned and the role Monty Panesar is meant to be playing would be seriously in doubt.

Instead, England are in form, in high spirits and have had their odds for retaining the Ashes slashed. Why? Well practice makes perfect doesn’t it?

Yorkshire season review

It has been a strange season for Yorkshire this year, so impressive yet without reward, the Tykes end 2010 with no silverware, despite having their best campaign for several seasons.

Beginning the first-class season as favourites for the drop and with no outstanding chances in either of the shorter format, Andrew Gale and his men have had a top three finish in the County Championship, whilst they reached the semi-final of the new CB40 tournament.

They even topped the County Championship for a few weeks at the beginning of the season, whilst the Tykes’ won their opening four CB40 games in a undeniably impressive start to the campaign.

It is however the emergence of the younger players which has been even more impressive, with the likes of Adam Lyth, Ajmal Shahzad and Jonny Bairstow to name a few have had fantastic season.

All three along with Adil Rashid are in contention for at least an England Lion’s tour place this winter, Shahzad and Rashid maybe vying for a spot in the Ashes tour party.

But it has been a well balance squad this year for Yorkshire, throw in with the youth the ever impressive Jacques Rudolph and the ever reliable skipper Andrew Gale and you have the spine of an excellent outfit.

It is fair to say the White Rose will be disappointed not to end the season with either the County Championship crown or the CB40 trophy, but there is always next season and lets face it, this young side is only going to get better.

With the nucleus of a strong side already in place at Headingley Carnegie the future is bright, something people were not saying 12 months ago.

Maturity the key for Bairstow

From a wicket-keeper who could bat a bit, to a batsmen who can keep if need be, it has been a season of transformation for Yorkshire’s Jonny Bairstow in 2010.

Having made his county debut half way through the 2009 campaign, he has become one of the first names on the team sheet at Headingley Carnegie this year, hitting 845 runs in the county championship this year at a little over 42.

That isn’t too bad for a lad who doesn’t turn 21 for another few weeks.

However it is the maturity in his performance that have had so many people talking, many of whom cannot believe his tender age.

During this season he has taken his side to victory on several occasions, not least in the penultimate game, a vital win over league leaders Nottinghamshire, the youngster hitting an unbeaten 63 from 51 balls to make sure the title race went to the final week.

Beginning the season as the first choice wicket-keeper, injuries and England call-ups meant Yorkshire Director of Professional Cricket Martyn Moxon picked Gerard Brophy as keeper and stuck Bairstow in solely as a top order batsman.

And he hasn’t disappointed, hitting eight half centuries this season, whilst also showing that he is more than capable in the field.

Even if Yorkshire finish the season without any silverware, they can be proud of a season in which the side have allowed the class of their youth to shine through and excel.

England v Pakistan day one

A century stand between Matt Prior and Stuart Broad saved England from embarrassment, after Pakistan dominated the first day at the Oval.

Debutant seamer, Wahib Riza was the pick of the tourist attack, claiming 5-63 as England were reduced to 94-7 just after lunch.

However Prior (84*) and Broad (48) added a valuable 119, Broad showing glimpses of his best with the bat, whilst Prior was again the orchestrator of England’s fightback, with a well crafted 84 as the hosts were dismissed for 233.

Pakistan’s openers Imran Farhat and Yasir Hameed almost got through to the close unbeaten, however James Anderson removed Farhat in the final over the day, seaming one through the gate, leaving the tourists 48-1, trailing by 185 runs.

It was  a poor day for England, after dominating much of the series so far, they would have expected similar proceedings today, however the tourists finally showed real potential, bowling well and taking all but one of their chances.

England will need early wickets in the morning, or could see their chances of wrapping up the four match series deminish at the hands of their much improved opponents.

The weekend review

It is not often that the opening weekend of fixtures in the Premier League is rivalled by other sports, however this weekend sport lovers have enjoyed a fantastic and somewhat controversial few days.

We have seen goals galore in the Premier League, last ball finishes in the Twenty20 final on Saturday night, Andy Murray defending his Toronto Masters title and then Martin Kaymer winning the final major of the golfing season, at the expense of poor old Dustin Johnson.

So where to start in looking back over the weekends action?

Football

How about at the beginning? 12:45pm Saturday afternoon, the opening match of the new Premier League campaign between two of the sides that should be vying for the Champions League spots this season.

Spurs against Manchester City is one of the games you look forward to when the fixtures are released and this match lived up to the hype, despite their being no goals. However it is a testament to the lower leagues that with all the money Man City have spent this summer, bringing in Europe’s best, it was a £600k buy from Shrewsbury Town that received the man of the match award.

Joe Hart followed up his first start in an England shirt in midweek with a domineering performance between the posts, denying Spurs on several occasions, reinforcing his position ahead of Shay Given as the Eastland’s outfits number one.

After a goalless beginning to the new season, there were goals in all but one of the seven afternoon matches, including Blackpool putting four past Wigan Athletic on their way to a three-hour stay at the top of the league, before being dethroned by current champions Chelsea, a Didier Drogba hat-trick leading them to a 6-0 win over West Brom.

Elsewhere there were wins for Aston Villa, Blackburn and Wolves with the highlight being a James Milner goal in Villa’s 3-0 win over West Ham, will it be his last before a move to Man City? Only time will tell.

Cricket

Whilst 21 goals were being hammered home in Saturday’s Premier League games, there were runs galore at the Rose Bowl on finals day of the Friends Provident Twent20 competition.

Overall there were 958 runs in three matches, Hamphire  running out winners despite their last ball drama against the Somerset in a thrilling final.

After overcoming Essex and Nottinghamshire respectively, Hampshire became the first side to win the tournament on home soil, whilst for Somerset it was their second consecutive loss in the final, losing out to Sussex.

Needing four to win with two balls remaining Dan Christian slogged Zander De Bruyn through cow corner and it looked to be game set and match, but for Nick Compton’s excellent fielding, his full length dive and stop meant the Hampshire pair could only run two.

However, in running for the second Christian pulled his Hamstring, leaving him on strike with one needed to tie and win on more wickets remaining. He called for a runner, Jimmy Adams arrived however, a wait ensued as the groundsman sprinted out to mark a line at either end for Adams to run and finally we thought the drama might be over.

Christian went for a one-legged flick through the offside which came off his pad. Cue mayhem. The Somerset players appealed for LBW, all three batsmen ran and were home safely and the Hampshire squad began sprinting onto the pitch thinking they had won.

But had they? Why had Dan Christian run? If Somerset realised he had and returned the ball the Craig Kieswetter he could be run out forcing a bowl out.

They didn’t realise, like giddy school children all appealing for LBW they forgot the rules and lost the chance of a win.

It was unfortunate for Somerset, however Hampshire deserved their win, despite an injury crisis at the club, they had the perfect blend of youth and experience (without Kevin Pietersen don’t forget!) to win it, led by the warhorse of county cricket Dominic Cork.

Golf

If the ending of the cricket was pure mayhem, the ending of the USPGA across the Atlantic at Whistling Straights was controversial.

After his superb birdie on the 17th, Dustin Johnson stood on the tee at 18 knowing a par would seal him a first major win, however skewed his drive 40 people deep into the rough.

He walked up to his ball, the gallery stood inches away, had a couple of practice swings, swishing at the surface near his ball, before  mashing his iron shot out and greenwards, landing just short and leaving him a pitch and a putt for glory.

His pitch was brilliant, landing it feet away from the hole, however he missed his par putt, meaning the title would be decided through a play-off between Johnson, Bubba Watson and Germany’s Martin Kaymer.

Or did it?

As he walked of the green a course official put his arm around him and told him there was an unresolved issue and let him into the scorers hut.

It turned out Johnson’s lie for his second shot was in a bunker, Johnson’s ‘couple of practice swings’ were classed as grounding his club and he had to take a two shot penalty.

The small stretch of sand his ball lay in, which had been trampled on all day by spectators was supposedly a bunker, the smallest bunker many have ever seen. And boy did it cost him.

Eventually Martin Kaymer won the three hole play-off becoming the second European to win a major this year, after Graeme MacDowell’s win at the U.S. Open. Providing more force to the argument that European Golf is now stronger than its American equivalent.

I suppose we’ll see come the Ryder Cup in around six weeks time.

Tennis

Before things are wound up, lets not forget Andy Murray, who has been going about his business quietly this season, however burst onto back on the scene this week, beating Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer on the way to defending his Toronto Masters title. More impressively he did not lose a set to either Roger or Rafa, looking in good form ahead of the U.S. Open at Flushing Meadows.

So what a weekend of sport, lots of good performances, fantastic results, another title for Murray and another European major winner.

The winners and losers of the Premier League 2010/11

It has barely been away has it?

What with the World Cup and England’s dismal campaign, along with managerial changes at several clubs and huge summer transfers, it has been a summer dominated by the Premier League and now it is back on our screens,ready to thrill us for the next ten months as it gets under way this Saturday.

However, as usual before the season has kicked off, everybody has been predicting outcomes like; who’ll win the league, who’ll go down along with importantly, will El Hadj Diouf every be liked in this country?

Whilst the latter is very predictable, the two other are not, so here is my take on the winners and losers of the forthcoming Premier League season.

Firstly hats off to myself, last year I correctly predicted Chelsea would take the Premier League crown, however I also said Grimsby Town would take the glory in League Two and this year they begin life in the non-league.

Champions

In previous seasons we have seen the title race go from a four-way race, down to just a two-horse race last year, the 2010/11 season in my opinion will be a three-way fight. Chelsea will obviously want to defend their crown, whilst previous winners Manchester United will want to regain the title they lost three months ago and money bags Manchester City will look to buy their first Premier League trophy under Roberto Mancini.

Last year I based my prediction on which team had kept hold of their best players, this year I will do the same and pick Manchester United to take the league title, mainly because they have kept hold of a strong squad (not like losing that Portuguese fella last year) and strengthened the areas they needed to.

Chelsea on the other hand, have not lost any of their stand out players, however they have lost five of their playing squad, leaving it looking a little thin on the ground. At least last year if they lost Frank Lampard, then they could replace him with a Deco or a Joe Cole, this year Carlo Ancelotti will be scratching his head with his replacement.

Losing Ricardo Carvalho will also be a huge loss to the Stamford Bridge outfit, alright getting £6.7,m for him at 32 is good, hopefully they will act before the transfer window slams shut, but for that money they could buy an able deputy to John Terry and Alex.

Manchester City would be an excellent choice for the title if you could imagine Mancini playing a settled side each week. The problem is he has bought that many players in his eight months in charge, that his squad is massive, easily making the new 25 player limit.

Therefore to keep everyone happy he is going to have to do some serious squad rotation and ask Rafa Benitez is squad rotation on a large-scale works and wins titles.

So my prediction is the top three will be Manchester United to win it, then Chelsea and Manchester City occupying the next two spots, probably around five points behind.

Chase for Europe

Similar to last season, the race for the fourth Champions League spot and then the places for the Europa League will be between four sides. At the moment Arsenal look the strongest, the Gunners will never fail to score goals, however the question will always remain, do they have enough back-up if they lose a Cesc Fabregas or Robin Van Persie? The answer to that is no.

Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham had an immensely good season last year, finishing fourth in the league and qualifying for Europe. Can they do that again? Yes, in terms of a squad of players, Redknapp probably possesses the strongest out of all four sides. Much will depend on his defence, the fitness of Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate will be key, along with the form of Michael Dawson and Gareth Bale.

The managerial changes at Liverpool and Aston Villa have given both a set back, the latter increasingly so as to the timing of Marin O’Neill’s departure. Roy Hodgson taking over at Liverpool could actually be one of the best things the club could do in its current turbulent state.

Neither side have heavily strengthened their squads, Liverpool did however bring in a bargain in Joe Cole, who should light up the left flank at Anfield this season. Villa on the other hand could still lose their most prized asset, James Milner, whilst Ashley Young could also depart Villa Park before the end of the month which would leave whoever takes over from O’Neill with a tough task to match last seasons form.

I think Arsenal will just pip Spurs into fourth, whilst Liverpool will cling onto a sixth place, but that could change if their impending takeover is completed before the end of the month. Villa sadly will not finish in the top seven this year, even if they cling onto their better players, I think they peaked last year.

Facing the drop

Simple, Blackpool will go down bottom. No money as they had to spend it getting the ground up to Premier League standard, Championship level players and not a big enough squad. I feel sorry for them as they did so well last year to go up, but the fun will stop this year.

West Brom will join them, the countries Yo-Yo team will struggle for goals, making it yet another one year stay in the top flight.

The last team to disappear out of the league in 10 months time will be Wolves, Mick McCarthy’s side did very well to avoid the drop last season, but they will be the second side from the West Midlands to drop down a tier in 2010/11.

Where did they come from?

Complete outsider for a top half finish, maybe even Europe will be Blackburn Rovers.Expect Sam Allardyce’s side to be tough to beat at home, hard to break down away and always pose a goal threat with Nikola Kalinic and Mama Diouf up front.

So there you go, another pre-season prediction which we can reflect on in 10 months time, after Arsenal have won the league, Man Utd only finish fifth and Newcastle qualify for the Champions League, not mentioning Blackpool stay up.

Season of uncertainty awaits Mariners

Grimsby Town fans will be wondering what to do this Saturday, the second Saturday of August would usually see the start to the Mariners season, however this year they will start a week later, in the Blue Square Premier.

It is uncharted territory for the club and fans alike, the first season in their history where Grimsby are not competing in the Football League, but what can fans expect this season?

Manager Neil Woods has spent his summer building a new look Mariner’s side, with many new faces coming into Blundell Park, whilst there were also many departures from the club.

And it is the latter which Woods needed to do before he began looking where he could take the club. The likes of Adam Proudlock, Tommy Wright and Peter Sweeney, none of whom fulfilled their potential at the club, were kept. Whilst the impressive Jean-Louis Akpa-Akpro and Joe Widdowson were both allowed to leave, both moving to League One newcomers Rochdale.

In contrast, Wood’s has been able to keep hold of the spine of his squad, Rob Atkinson, Mark Hudson and Lee Peacock all staying at Blundell Park, ready for the new Blue Square season.

Around them Woods has brought in a good mix of youth and experience, several of whom have impressed in pre season, with the most promising acquisition being Alan Connell, who has netted twice in three games already.

Younger players such as Charlie Ademendo, Lewis Gobern and Scott Garner have all arrived, all of them a far cry from the usual journeyman signings the Mariner’s fans are used to between seasons.

Garner is especially impressive, the young central defender has shown much promise at Mansfield and although there was little or no fee involved,  there has been a large sell-on clause included in the deal.

As well as youth, Neil Woods has also added experience to his side, the signings of players like Darren Kempson, Lee Ridley and Alan Connell has shown Wood’s want to bring in players who have been there and done that before.

On paper, Grimsby have a strong-looking side which has been backed up with some Bookmakers have the Mariners at 7/1 to win the league. However, the squad needs to show the competitiveness that was so evident towards the end of last season, if they are going to have a successful first and hopefully only season in the Blue Square Premier.

Hughes back in Australia test fold?

Phillip Hughes has been signed by Hampshire as their overseas player for the remainder of the domestic season, replacing Neil McKenzie who is playing in the ICL.

This could be a sign that Cricket Australia are looking at Hughes ahead of this winter’s Ashes, with a view to a possible recall.

The 21-year-old hasn’t been selected in the last few Australia squads, due to a shoulder injury, but has been given the opportunity to prove his worth against English bowling.

This is another case of Australia using the English domestic season to prepare their players for future series, Hughes of course played for Middlesex at the beginning of the 2009 season, amassing 574 runs in three matches, averaging 143.50.

However, Hughes then flopped in the test team, the England bowlers latching onto the fact Hughes is poor against the short ball. He was then dropped from the test outfit for the last three tests.

With Shane Watson (who replaced Hughes in 2009) in a run of poor form with the bat, this could be a test to see if Hughes is ready for a recall to the test fold, seven months since his last.

Hughes will be available for Hampshire from the 31st August, to the end of the season.