Category Archives: Premier League

Premier League Related Posts

Manchester City to Juventus: Will Carlos Tevez be Missed?

Last year the term “Mancini Roulette” was used frequently by the FantasyYIRMA team. Selecting a Striker from Manchester City striker always carried an element of risk. With Tevez leaving for Juventus, new FY regular Walt provides his thoughts on the recent Transfer

Adios Carlos Tevez – A Fond FPL Farewell ?

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You’ve probably read the news by now.  Carlos “I don’t want to warm-up” Tevez has agreed a move to Italian giants Juventus because “they wanted him more” than AC Milan did.  He leaves behind a newly reorganized Manchester City squad that drove FPL managers bonkers last year as crazy-man Roberto Mancini played musical chairs with virtually every position on the pitch.

Personally, Mancini scared me away from so many City players during #FPL season that Tevez’s move away came as a breath of fresh air to me when I heard everything was finalized.  After initially admiring the work rate and tenacity Tevez showed following his move to Manchester United and the way he “stood up” to Sir Alex Ferguson when things went south and he flew the coop across town to City, it gradually dawned on me during his multiple excursions on the wrong side of sanity that it wasn’t Sir Alex who had been the problem; it was Carlos.

So seeing Tevez move away initially seemed like just the kind of move that both Manchester City and us #FPL managers needed.  Freed from Mancini’s unpredictability, the offloading of Tevez seemingly reduces the rotation risk of City’s front line by a full 33% as it leaves those minutes to be filled by Sergio Aguero and/or Edin Dzeko, unless of course a third quality striker is brought in or recalled from loan who Pellegrini decides to drive us equally mad with.  But that remains to be seen.

Manchester City

City’s forward rotation was great for City; don’t get me wrong.  But it was an #FPL manager’s nightmare.  Looking at the statistics from the 2012-2013 season, Mancini actually did a very good job of spreading the minutes around and keeping people fresh when they weren’t injured.  Aguero, Tevez and Dzeko averaged 51, 63 and 48 minutes per gameweek respectively, a very even distribution, while scoring 5.6, 6.3 and 6.4 points per 90 minutes each.  On the face of it, Mancini did exactly what he should have done; keeping things fresh and maintaining consistent returns.

Despite the rotation, Tevez finished the year as City’s up-front leader in both minutes played and points scored.  From a statistical perspective, he scored 6.35 points per game to Aguero’s 5.60 and based on year-end values tallied 18.37 points per million pounds in price compared to Aguero’s 10.90.  Financially speaking, Tevez was a bargain.  At 18.84 points per million pounds in price, so was Dzeko.

Purely from a numbers standpoint – City may have let the wrong guy leave.  Based purely on statistics, for what it’s worth, the Tevez and Dzeko show, based on the 2012-2013 season, is more productive and profitable than an FPL Aguero-Dzeko combination.

When setting the City dynamic to the side and looking at Tevez strictly compared to other FPL forwards in his price bracket (9.2m at season end), he also outscored every forward in the 8.3 – 9.3m bracket quite comfortably.  Of Torres, Adebayor, Podolski, Carroll and Cisse, only Podolski even comes close to Tevez’s points and value statistics.
So we’re left, as oftentimes is the case, with a double-edged sword.  When looking at City coverage, Tevez’s move to Juventus simplifies things and makes both Aguero and Dzeko much more attractive investments than they were last year (Dzeko statistically would be the guy to pick up due to his points/price ratio, but I have a sneaky suspicion Aguero will have a good year assuming he doesn’t get assaulted in the 13th minute of the first fixture like he did last year).  At the same time, Tevez’s outstanding performance in the mid-premium price bracket leaves a significant void to be filled by somebody.  Who that person will be is anyone’s guess, as Tevez decidedly outperformed everyone else in that bracket last season.

At this point, only one thing is for sure.  Carlos can show up and caddie at the British Open practice rounds all he wants, but no one will be getting any FPL points from him this time around.  He’s going the way of Balotelli and Mancini, and taking all of the pointing, laughing and snickering with him.

Seeya Carlitos.  Good luck.

Please follow me on Twitter:  @EPLFanForLife

2013/2014 Premier League glory: A deep-lying midfielder away?

2013/2014 Premier League glory: A deep-lying midfielder away?

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A sharp increase in TV revenues should supplement an active summer transfer window this year, and with activity already well underway, this could well be the highest spending window of all time.

The activity of England’s top four teams will naturally invite a greater sense of intrigue. Manchester City, Manchester United, and Chelsea all have new managers who will make the changes they deem necessary, while Arsenal chief-executive Ivan Gazidis has publicly stated on multiple occasions that this will be a ‘big summer’ for the Gunners.

While every squad has its own unique strengths and weaknesses, all four of England’s top four teams arguably need to strengthen their midfield. City have already addressed this issue with the acquisition of the excellent Fernandinho, but Arsenal, Chelsea and United are still yet to make any significant moves.

The prominence of the 4-2-3-1 is perhaps the best explanation for the weakness of this zone in each respective squad. With top teams intent on playing attractive football, clubs have chosen to splash out the ‘big money’ on technically adept attacking midfielders (Cazorla, Hazard, Silva), hence neglecting the two deeper players within such a system.

Arsenal

Arsenal’s midfield combination has been relatively inconsistent this season. Injuries to Abou Diaby and Jack Wilshere have meant Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsay have had more opportunities. In their excellent end of season form, they set up most frequently with Ramsey and Arteta supporting Rosicky- and the team only conceded 5 goals in their last 10 matches.

Hence, its somewhat difficult to properly assess where Arsenal need to strengthen based on that 10 match run. But if Wenger has the funds Gazidis publicly states that he has, then significant investment in the link role occupied by Ramsey would be most beneficial.
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While Ramsay is still young and always improving, he is perhaps the weakest of Arsenal’s midfield three. With Abou Diaby seemingly completely out of the picture with his latest long term injury, a dynamic physical player to accompany the less energetic Arteta would give Arsenal the complete midfield variety they need. Arsenal’s midfield combinations have been discussed in detail before on this blog, but its also worth remembering that Arteta is now 31 and Francis Coquelin is not the most experienced cover. The issue of Arteta has not been significant this season because the Spaniard has managed to start 34 times. Yet it is unlikely the Spaniard will be able to maintain such consistency in seasons to come, and if Arsenal seek genuine Premier League glory then perhaps a huge investment to a younger player would take them to the next level.

Marouane Fellaini has been heavily linked so far, and he would be an excellent acquisition.  Fellaini has played mainly behind a striker at Everton, but would often find himself starting as a holder if Moyes wanted greater defensive cover, especially during his early years at Goodison Park. Hence, his ability to contribute to both attack and defence, as well as provide some much needed Vieira-esque muscle in midfield would make him a definite purchase.

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Chelsea

Roberto Di Matteo’s controversial sacking could be put down to a number of reasons. But if the Italian made one obvious mistake, it was the way he neglected the defensive midfield area, especially when it needed to support such a fluid and defensively naive attacking quartet. Prior to the start of the 12/13 season Raul Meireles was sold and Michael Essien was sent out on loan, meaning Chelsea only had one genuine defensive midfielder- the inexperienced Oriol Romeu. Granted, John Obi Mikel is decent player, but it is often forgotten that he was naturally a number 10- that was the role he took up before he joined the Blues. Ramires and Frank Lampard are not holders, despite their individual excellence.

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The key to Chelsea’s midfield is that a creative deep lying playmaker is entirely unnecessary. The intelligence and guile provided by Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard in the final third means the supporting players behind them need only be defensively adept and dynamic.

With Mr. Mourinho taking charge- primarily a defensive coach- there should be some investment here. In his debut 04/05 campaign, he guided Chelsea to the title conceding just 15 goals, an incredible feat. This season, Man City conceded the least amount of any team with 34- a clear sign that while attacking standards have improved, defensive responsibilities have been compromised. In Mourinho’s previous reigns players such as Costinho (Porto) and Esteban Cambiasso (Inter) have received considerable acclaim for their roles in excellent defensive systems. Claude Makélélé became the iconic bedrock of that Chelsea defence; Mourinho will surely be searching for another big player of that mould.

Manchester City

City’s £30m acquisition of Shaktar’s Fernandinho is the club’s acknowledgement of problems in this area of the pitch. But interestingly, the defensive midfield area had been the defining tactical issue in recent years.
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At first it was an issue of creativity- Nigel de Jong, Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure lacked guile from deep, and a number of pundits recognised this as the main reason for their disappointing performances in Europe.

Mancini tried to rectify the situation with the signing of David Pizarro on loan last season, and then settled with Benfica’s Javi Garcia and Jack Rodwell last summer. Garcia, theoretically, was supposed to offer additional intelligence with the same defensive strengths, but in reality was an inferior player.

The acquisition of Fernandinho should change the complexion of City’s midfield. Based on the Brazilian’s tendency to get forward from deep, it is likely Pellegrini may adopt a ‘double pivot’ system which allows for a more flexible midfield. Instead of playing a designated holder and a designated link player, both Fernandinho and Yaya Toure would alternative in either staying back or getting forward. If they can replicate the standards of Germany’s Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira operating in the same system, their midfield should finally have the variety and quality to strike a fine balance between defensive cover and attacking creativity.

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Manchester United

While Arsenal, Chelsea and City all roughly play 4-2-3-1s and have reasons to strengthen in order to build upon their positions from last year, the case is quite different at Old Trafford.

For sometime now the central midfield zone has been seen as United’s weak point, with Michael Carrick in need of a either an outright playmaker or an outright destroyer next to him. But given how Ryan Giggs, Phil Jones, Anderson, Tom Cleverley and even Wayne Rooney have filled might suggest that investment is unnecessary.

How Moyes will choose to act in this market will be interesting. On one hand, investment here would stamp his authority on the team and signify a change in direction. On the other, based on Moyes’ tendency to play a similar 4-4-1-1 formation to that of Alex Ferguson, investment may again be wholly unnecessary. Also consider that there is arguably no need to change an already established winning formula, and it could be unlikely that he’ll be forced into pressure signings.

The 2013/14 season will be an intersting season, and marks the beginning of a new era. With Ferguson gone, City and Chelsea galvanised, and Arsenal financially empowered, this could well be one of the most competitive seasons of all time. Perhaps- therefore- it is not unreasonable to think that the team that invests most astutely in the defensive midfield role could be in with a genuine chance of success.

The groundbreaking, most influential signing of the 2012/13 season? Undoubtedly Javi Martinez; the Spaniard was a catalyst for Bayern’s historic treble winning season. England’s top teams will surely be looking to replicate such an inspirational piece of business.

Follow the Football Butler on Twitter, @footballbutler

Many thanks to @footballbutler for the guest post. You can read more from them at http://thefootballbutler.blogspot.co.uk/

If you would like to get involved and submit a guest post on FY please contact Ryan at FantasyYIRMA@hotmail.com

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If you Play Fantasy Football don’t forget to get signed up for our free mini league for 2013/14… Free to play and as Always Cash Prize available to the winner

http://fantasy.premierleague.com/my-leagues/15005/join/?autojoin-code=44397-15005

If you have never played before you will need to register a team first.

 

 

Crystal Palace FC: The Road To The Premier League

With the Premier League finished for the season FantasyYIRMA.com will be featuring a number of guest posts.

To kick things off we have @FNW_Blogs with their overview of Crystal Palace’s road to the Premier League.

Guest Post: Crystal Palace FC: The Road To The Premier League

By @FNW_Blogs

The Eagles had a shaky start to the season. They had a small squad and an inexperienced but loved manager. (Dougie Freedman) Having lost their first 3 Npower Championship games, they were sitting at the bottom of the table and looking like favourites for relegation. (During this period they also lost 4-1 to league 1 side Preston in the League Cup.)

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Dougie Freedman left Selhurst Park half way through the season

 

It looked like Palace were going to have a difficult season, but Dougie made some intriguing signings. He brought in a young skilful player: Yannick Bolasie. He bulked up the defence with an attacking fullback: Joel Ward. He also brought in attacking technicians like Andre Moritz. This immediately helped Palace and they went into their 4th game of the season hoping to get a win against Sheffield Wednesday, a side just promoted from league 1. Dougie’s signings seemed to have paid off because Palace came away from that game with a 2-1 win and the first points of the season.

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Bolasie sparkled in his first season at Palace

 

Crystal Palace built on this win and went on an astonishing 14 game undefeated streak, which saw them have a period at the top of the table. During this run, the Palace players and fans were shocked by the news that their manager and former Palace hero Dougie Freedman had left the club to manage Bolton. His move was baffling for the fans. At the time Palace were at the top of the table and Bolton were in the middle. Freedman said that it was based on the fact that Bolton had a better chance of getting to the Premier League and staying there, however fans believed it was for the money.  The big question was who would replace him?  This probably surprised fans even more. The result was Ian Holloway. The fans were delighted with the decision. Holloway had a lot of experience in getting teams promoted to the Premier League and this made Palace’s push for promotion seem even more possible. He started his reign with an easy 5-0 win over Ipswich.

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Holloway becomes Manager

 

Their run was ended in late November, away to Leeds. Holloway’s boys did not buckle under the loss however. Two games later, they thrashed their main rivals Brighton 3-0.

In January, Holloway brought in a couple of players. One being veteran Kevin Phillips and the other Stephen Dobbie who helped in Palace’s push for promotion.

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Super Kevin” Phillips showing that he could still produce great goals at the age of 39

Palace continued to pick up points in most games and come March it seemed like Palace would easily get Play-Off position. However these words might have been muttered too early. Palace’s form started to dip at the worse time possible. They travelled to their rivals Brighton and the Seagulls got payback for the result earlier in the season by beating the Eagles 3-0. After this game Palace were at home to Birmingham. Before this game, Palace had only lost once at home, and that was the first game of the season. This statistic was demolished. Birmingham defeated Palace 4-0. The fans and players were devastated. Surely Palace wouldn’t lose their play-off place this close to the end of the season?

This abysmal run continued, Palace had seven games left. In these seven games Palace lost 2, drew 4 and won 1. Their one win was on the last day of the season against relegation battling Peterborough. Palace needed the 3 points to be 5th in the league and gain a play-off place. There were 4 teams battling for 5th and 6th, (including Dougie Freedman’s Bolton). The game against Peterborough was not easily won, Palace edging the game 3-2 and Crystal Palace’s Player of the Year Mile Jedinak scoring the winner in the 89th minute. Bolton missed out on Play-offs by goal difference.

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Jedinak secures a play-off position for Palace and sends Peterborough down

 

(Crystal Palace’s striker Glen Murray was top goal scorer in the League, reaching a tally of 30 goals.)

The Eagles had stumbled, but they reached the Play-Offs, only to find out that their 2 legged Semi Finals would be against bitter rivals Brighton. Brighton came to Palace for the first leg. The game was a battle; however Brighton seemed the better team. They had very good chances but they didn’t capitalise and the game ended 0-0. Palace would not have been the happiest with the result but at the time they were more worried about their top goal scorer, Glen Murray, who had to be taken off in the second half. It turned out that Murray would be out for 6 months.

 

The 2nd leg had arrived and Brighton were labelled as the favourites. Both teams were pumped for the game and tensions were high. It seemed like experience had pulled through. In the first half, Brighton had more possession but Palace were pressurising and all the Seagulls could do was pass it around the back and try and find an opportunity. Very few came and Palace were trying to counter, but again both teams cancelled each other out.

 

Half Time came and for one team this would be their last game of the season, for the other, it would be their route to Wembley and hopefully the Premier League. In the first game and the first half of the 2nd game both teams seemed very nervous because of what was at stake. However this all changed in the 2nd half. The game was end-to-end. Good chances coming from both teams. Then Holloway changed tactics. He brought on Yannick Bolasie for Williams and Andre Moritz for Garvan.  Brighton also brought on attacker Barnes, who straight away had a chance, but Julian Speroni made an excellent save which tipped the ball onto the crossbar. Then at the resulting corner, Dean Moxey cleared the ball off the line. These moments proved to be key. The game carried on and in the 69th minute, Mile Jedinak played a lofted through ball from the half way line to the corner flag. Bolasie was on the end of it, and after a bit of trickery, he played in a perfect cross into the box. Wilbraham was at the near post and the ball flew over into the middle of the box. It looked like the chance was lost. However Zaha had a different idea as he ran into the middle of the box and headed the ball into the top corner. The fans, players, and managers were ecstatic! Palace had taken the lead! Now all they had to do was hold on.

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Zaha celebrates after his second goal

 

The last 20 minutes were tense. Brighton were trying their best to attack and Palace were trying to keep their solid defence. In the 89th minute, a ball was played into the box to Zaha, he took an amazing touch which moved the ball away from the defender and smashed the ball into the net. It was basically over! Brighton fans were leaving while the Palace fans were singing. The referee blew the whistle and Crystal Palace, who had come into the game as underdogs, were delighted. They had done it! They won the semi-final and are now going to Wembley!

Every Palace player on the pitch played a superb game, everyone played their best and Brighton could not handle it.

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Holloway celebrates with the players after their victory over Brighton

 

Crystal Palace have nearly reached the end of their journey. They have had many highs and lows and are now training for a chance to be in the Premier league next season. They have faced many opponents but now they are just left with one more. Watford. Will they be able to beat them in the Play-Off Final? Only time can tell.

The 120 million pound game had arrived on a sunny bank holiday Monday. The fans seemed happy and nervous at the same time. As the players warmed up, the atmosphere grew.

 

The game was not the best, there were many opportunities but they all came to nothing.

The game went to extra time with the score being 0-0. In the second half of normal time, Palace were on top and looked to continue their momentum into extra time, and they did. On the stroke of the first half in extra time, the young superstar Wilfried Zaha got tripped up stupidly in the box! The Palace fans cheered, this was their chance! The veteran Kevin Phillips immediately nominated himself to take the penalty. He lined himself up, and was somehow very calm, even though the Watford fans were right in front of him and booing to their hearts content. Phillips smashed the ball into the top left corner of the net, it was unbeatable. The Palace fans could not believe it, they were ecstatic! All they had to do was defend this lead and they would be in the Premier League next season.

 

They successfully held their lead and when the referee blew his whistle a massive cheer came from the Palace supporters. Crystal Palace were back in the Premier League!

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Crystal Palace celebrate their promotion

 

This season has been a great one for Palace, bearing in mind that just over two years ago, they went into administration and were battling to survive in the Championship. They did make it difficult for themselves, but as the fans say, “if they did it the easy way then they would not really be Crystal Palace.”

 

Now we wait to see who Palace will sign in the summer and who will replace Zaha (who is now a Manchester United player) and Glen Murray, who is out for 9 months with a cruciate ligament injury. Next season will be a challenge for the Eagles but it will also be an enjoyable one. The fans just hope that they do not bounce back to the Championship after one season. They want to make themselves a strong team which can stay in the Premier League.

 

Many thanks to @FNW_Blogs for the guest post. You can read more from them at http://footballingnewsweekly.blogspot.co.uk/

If you would like to get involved and submit a guest post on FY please contact Ryan at FantasyYIRMA@hotmail.com

 

Premier League: And now, the end is near…

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And so in a flash of Robin van Persie’s left boot, of Shaun Maloney’s set-pieces, of Luis Suarez’s nutmegs and of Santi Cazorla’s passes it was all but gone. The 2012/13 Premier League season has nearly finished.

In terms of games played and of goals scored it might not be remembered as a vintage one, but it will always be recalled as the last campaign of the greatest old campaigner of the lot.

Sir Alex Ferguson has called it a day at Manchester United, something that will not perhaps hit home until we see David Moyes sat in his fellow Scotsman’s seat in the dugout when the new campaign begins in August.

United without Ferguson is a little like salt without pepper, like eggs without bacon and like Ant without Dec. It doesn’t look right, it doesn’t feel right and we don’t necessarily want to consider one without the other.

Typically, Ferguson bowed out with a Premier League title success which was as serene as any of the 12 he’d won previously, something in part down to the lack of a credible challenge put up by others but largely due to the remarkable consistency shown by his team.

With Van Persie leading from the front and thriving on the proper title challenge that he had left Arsenal for, United never really looked like letting the lead slip once they took it in November, and there have been few more worthy champions.

Previous holders Manchester City were never quite so convincing, with their failure to mount an impressive enough challenge ultimately seeing Roberto Mancini fall upon the sword which had been dangling nearer and nearer to him following yet another failed Champions League campaign. Next season promises to be an interesting one for a new look City.

But then the same can be said for United, Everton, Chelsea, Jose Mourinho and quite possibly Wayne Rooney. It’ll be more than just the kits that have changed come 2013/14, it’ll be the men wearing them too.

They, as ever, will be the focus of so much drama, glory, outrage and expectation.

Suarez, Gareth Bale, Juan Mata, Christian Benteke, Michu, Rickie Lambert. There were so many stars that lit up this campaign that it was hard to keep track of them.

You always knew where QPR and Reading were throughout their seasons, but that they have been joined by Roberto Martinez’s Wigan in being demoted to the Championship is a great shame.

Just 72 hours after completing one of the greatest stories in modern English football the Latics set a rather unwanted record. They are the first team to win the FA Cup and be relegated in the same season.

Yet their Wembley success as well as that of Swansea City – and indeed League Two’s Bradford City, their beaten opponents in the Capital One Cup final – has shown that the potential for glory is there whoever you are. Perhaps we’ll see more teams grasp the nettle and go for broke in the Premier League next season as a result.

With United, City, Everton and Chelsea all in somewhat of a transitional stage – although Chelsea have one of those every six months – perhaps this could be a time for Arsenal, Tottenham and maybe even Liverpool to shine?

All have impressed at various points throughout this campaign and all can do so going into the next, when they’ll be joined by promoted Cardiff City, Hull City and one of Watford and Crystal Palace.

Such talk is for another day though, a day when we can really look forward to the new campaign as we put the old one behind us.

That day will come on Sunday, about 30 seconds after the final whistle on a season which sadly brings an end to the careers of men as distinguished as Ferguson, Paul Scholes and Jamie Carragher.

They’ll be gone but not forgotten, just like this season will be too.

See you in August for the next one.

@Mark_Jones86

Premier League: Team of the Year 2012/13 by @Mark_Jones86

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The players themselves have had their say, and so it’s high time that we should all give our view on the 2012/13 Premier League team of the year.

There are plenty of matters to take into consideration – this isn’t just going to be a team of eleven players who picked up the most Fantasy Premier League points – and so with that in mind take a look at the XI and tell us just what yours would be.

Get involved in the comments section and on Twitter @FantasyYirma.

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David De Gea – Manchester United

A tough category and one in which the likes of Simon Mignolet, Asmir Begovic and Brad Guzan deserve mentions, but it is Manchester United’s Spanish shot-stopper who takes the No. 1 jersey.

De Gea had a tough start to life in England and hadn’t really got over those problems by the beginning of this season, but he has gradually learned more and more about Premier League and Old Trafford life and only looks like getting the confidence to do better and better.

Having a league winners’ medal around his neck will do that for you.

Rafael – Manchester United

De Gea’s Old Trafford teammate gets the nod at right-back at the end of a season in which he was forced to grow up.

With his twin brother Fabio shipped out on loan to QPR, Rafael grew into his position in Sir Alex Ferguson’s side and even popped up with important goals at venues such as Anfield and against his brother’s team at Loftus Road.

At just 22 years old, United look to have found their right-back for the next few years.

Matija Nastasic – Manchester City

A name that will surprise many, but Manchester City’s Serb deserves recognition for a fine first season in English football.

Nastasic only turned 20 last month, but the composure and quality he showed during a campaign in which he ousted Joleon Lescott from the side makes you believe he’s much older.

City kept five clean sheets in Nastasic’s first six Premier League 90 minute appearances, and that wasn’t a coincidence.

Jan Vertonghen – Tottenham

A stellar first season in England for Tottenham’s Belgian, who has scored five goals as well as showcased his fine defensive attributes.

The highlight of those goalscoring exploits came with two goals in a 3-2 defeat at Anfield, but Vertonghen has been a key man in the many games that Spurs have won this season and looks like being around in these teams of the year for years to come.

He’s set the bar pretty high for himself.

Leighton Baines – Everton

There have been plenty of calls for the nation to recognise Baines as the No. 1 left-back in the country for the past couple of years, and this has been the season in which he’s confirmed those beliefs.

An ever-present threat from set pieces, Baines is so important to everything that Everton do, and can arguably be viewed as the key attacker in David Moyes’ side.

He’s likely to attract plenty of attention this summer.

Juan Mata – Chelsea

The twinkle-toed Spaniard has faced competition from teammate Eden Hazard this season, but he remains the best thing about the current Chelsea side.

A player with gifts which would light up any team in the world, Mata has registered 10 goals and an astonishing 17 assists in the Premier League alone during the campaign, and there is little wonder that Stamford Bridge fans love him.

Whoever the Chelsea manager is next season will be inheriting a gem.

Marouane Fellaini – Everton

Previously seen by many as merely a clumsy figure who could often look like a foul waiting to happen, Fellaini silenced any remaining doubters with a fine season which began with a stunning display and the winning goal against Manchester United.

He and Everton went from strength to strength from there, and with Fellaini playing in a variety of positions the Blues went on to enjoy surely their most consistent season under Moyes.

The Belgian was the key figure behind that, and is another who could attract bids this summer.

Michu – Swansea

Easily the most impressive of the Premier League players in their debut season, Swansea’s Spaniard had a terrific campaign and provided the inspiration for a comfortable top half position and success in the Capital One Cup.

Often used as a forward – although squeezed into midfield here – Michu’s penalty area predatory instincts frequently saved Swansea in tight contests, as the stylish Spaniard followed up strong goalscoring seasons in his homeland as he took to Premier League life like a swan to water.

The task now is to repeat it again next season.

Gareth Bale – Tottenham

The professionals’ choice as Player of the Year was arguably the first name on our teamsheet following a season which saw him elevate his game to yet another level.

There was a time over the campaign when the Welshman looked simply unstoppable, and even if he doesn’t reach that level again in the closing weeks of the season a total of 19 league goals and nine assists is pretty special.

Bale can seemingly be as good as he wants to be, and next season he’ll be fascinating to watch again.

Robin van Persie – Manchester United

When last season’s second best team buys the forward and main source of goals from the third best team then what do you think will happen?

The title happened for Manchester United in the most emphatic of manners, with 25 goals from their Dutch forward going a huge way towards sealing a 20th domestic league triumph for the men from Old Trafford.

The outlay on a player who will turn 30 before the start of next season doesn’t look so silly now, and Van Persie will already be eyeing goals in next season’s defence of what is his first league title.

Luis Suarez – Liverpool

You don’t have to like him, but you do have to respect his quality.

The most entertaining player to watch in the Premier League either scored or assisted 33 goals during his 33 appearances in the competition this season – a season which is now over following the much publicised against Chelsea at Anfield.

Suarez is box office though, and at times dragged Liverpool through matches during a campaign in which he was simply a compelling watch.

He’s a force of nature.

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So that’s it then, that’s the 2012/13 team of the year.

Yes, it may be a bit too attacking but would you fancy playing against them? Who’d be in your team?

Drop your comments/advice/abuse either in the comments box below or on Twitter. See you there!

@Mark_Jones86

 

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Is stupid Suarez worth the hassle? Well, yes (@Mark_Jones86)

Luis Suárez

You didn’t think he’d let the season end without hitting the headlines again did you?

A campaign which featured him admitting diving in an attempt to win a penalty against Stoke and an FA Cup goal against Mansfield scored with the aid of his hand represented a pretty quiet one for Luis Suarez. There was always going to be more to come.

When it arrived though, it was as shocking to witness as anything that has gone on before in the Premier League.

His bite on Branislav Ivanovic in Sunday’s meeting between Liverpool and Chelsea was always going to provoke the kind of outrage which the Uruguayan seems to specialise in. The moment Suarez opened his mouth millions of fingers began tapping at millions of keyboards worldwide.

Regardless of that, it was a stupid, bizarre and downright unacceptable act.

Suarez was wrong, which he has since admitted. His club – a club who finally seem to have the people in place to deal with the fallout from one of their star forward’s brain freezes – have made all the right noises so far. Manager Brendan Rodgers and managing director Ian Ayre spoke quickly and correctly.

That isn’t enough to appease the masses though. Nothing short of Liverpool firing Suarez out of a cannon and into the River Mersey was going to do that.

There have been shrill, breathless calls to sack the forward from all quarters, but such a belief is backward.

Suarez is Liverpool’s key asset. His 30 goals this season – a season which is now surely over for him – have transformed what is still very much a team in transition into one capable of troubling the elite. Why would any club want to get rid of their best player? You can rest assured that each and every football club would make the same decision that Liverpool have. Yes, even yours.

The sense of tribalism, morality tales and finger pointing that exists in football means that your rival is always there to be judged. Referees can be pushed over, fans and ballboys can be kicked and players can be bitten but does that ever lead to sackings? No, it just leads to disapproving tut-tutting from supporters and a lingering sense that their club would do things differently. They wouldn’t.

Blame the current football climate if you want, but it has almost reached a stage that the only thing a modern club cannot afford to have is values.

Were Liverpool to sack or actively look to sell Suarez then what happens then? Well another club buys him obviously. He becomes someone else’s problem.

But when that problem is so crucial, so vital and so integral to each and every thing that you do, what then?

Liverpool had already put their neck on the line for Suarez once too often before the incident on Sunday, and so now he has to put his neck on the line for them.

He needs to prove that he can be just as effective a player without this devilment that infiltrates his character.

That may take time, but he’s likely to be offered that time and the help he needs by a club who simply can’t afford to see a £22.8m investment leave whilst they battle to rejoin the elite of the world game.

Liverpool knew about his character flaws – they signed him from Ajax whilst he was still serving a ban for biting PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal in 2010 – and so it would be pretty hypocritical of the club to distance themselves from Suarez now.

You only need to have a limited knowledge of football to know that they were never going to do that anyway of course, he is far too important and far too influential for that.

He is not though, as Rodgers made clear, ‘bigger than the club.’

It is high time that Suarez started to think along those lines too.

Just thinking at all would be a good start.

@Mark_Jones86

Everton: More fuel required (@Mark_Jones86)

Arsenal v Everton

It was there again on Tuesday night, that famous battling spirit that David Moyes has instilled in Everton and watched grow for the past 11 years.

The Blues battled to a goalless draw with Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in a match that was very much a contrast of styles but one played out with all the passion and intensity of the best Premier League contests.

It was the second of back-to-back draws that Everton have played out at the home of the two North London clubs who they have been battling with to secure a top four place all season, and whilst such results would no doubt be looked upon favourably earlier in the campaign there was a sense that they simply weren’t enough now.

With five matches left, Everton sit four points off third-placed Arsenal and two behind Chelsea and Tottenham sides who at the time of writing have two and one games in hand on Moyes’ men respectively.

Everton face a tricky trip to a revitalised Sunderland, a Merseyside derby at Anfield – where they’ve not won this century – and a final day visit to Chelsea before the season is out, leaving their hopes of reaching European football’s elite competition for the second time under Moyes somewhat hanging by a thread.

Despite using the least amount of players in the Premier League, undoubtedly this has been the most consistent season that the Blues have enjoyed under the Scot, and that probably makes it the best.

Their uncharacteristically lightning quick start all sparked from an opening weekend win over Manchester United, and from there they only seemed to grow stronger and stronger.

The likes of Leighton Baines, Marouane Fellaini, Steven Pienaar and recently Kevin Mirallas have turned in performances that indicate they’d look at home in any team in the division, and there is a real sense that Everton are performing as best they can right now. That though, could present a problem.

Although not widely covered in the mainstream media, Everton’s fans are desperate for investment in a club which needs a financial injection to move forward.

Current chairman Bill Kenwright is undoubtedly a fine man judging by the speech he gave at this week’s Hillsborough memorial service at Anfield, but in this age of billionaires and with the money swirling around the Premier League an old fashioned, homegrown owner such as him simply can’t compete. He and his team have been punching above their weight.

Investment in that team is what is needed now, especially as Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham are all likely to strengthen over the summer, whilst Liverpool continue to gain in momentum and confidence following their rocky few years.

At the moment, Everton are going flat out to keep up with them all. There has to be a question over whether or not they can sustain that going into a new season.

As well as facing the battle to keep hold of his key men, Moyes – if of course he stays at the club –  must also come up with a couple of squad additions that will both freshen the Blues up and keep them at the level they’ve shown this season. Anything less and there is a danger that there won’t be an awful lot left in the tank.

Young talents like Ross Barkley and Seamus Coleman, as well as the improvement of Victor Anichebe mean that the club is certainly showing promise, but what use is that when you’ve run out of gas?

If Everton thought it was tough to keep up with the big boys this season then that is only likely to get even tougher next time around, and they’ll need reinforcements to do that.

That tank deserves to be filled based on this season’s efforts alone.

@Mark_Jones86

@Mark_Jones86: Cup semi-finalists deserve more credit

wembley

This year has seen one of the better FA Cup competitions in recent memory.

The high-profile shocks have never been too far away, with Liverpool losing to Oldham, Arsenal bowing out at home to Blackburn and Brentford taking Chelsea to a replay.

It can be too easy to focus on the top sides and their efforts in the competition though.

Chelsea’s remarkable FA Cup run has continued with a run to yet another semi-final, with last year’s Cup winners now holding an astonishing record which has seen them unbeaten in 90 minutes in the competition since a loss to Barnsley in 2008.

They’ll face the 2011 Cup winners Manchester City in Sunday’s semi-final in a tie which brings together the winners of the last four FA Cups. It is also a tie which will have an air of a final about it, given the fact that there would have to be a huge shock in May’s showpiece event if whichever of the duo who wins on Sunday doesn’t end up holding the Cup aloft.

That’s because the line-up in the other semi-final would have been impossible to predict.

No-one would have envisaged seeing Wigan Athletic and Millwall walk out side-by-side early on Saturday evening, and perhaps most tellingly not many people would have wanted to.

We’ve spoken on how Wigan don’t get enough credit for their remarkable, logic-defying stay in the top-flight before, and that lack of respect can be traced in the reaction to their Cup run too.

Within minutes of their superb quarter-final demolition of Everton at Goodison Park – as good a performance as you could wish to see against one of the better teams in the division this season – the old cracks about Wigan supporters not filling Wembley were evident.

Yet the club are no stranger to the big events.

It was only 2006 when they reached the League Cup final against Manchester United in Cardiff, whilst they have been routinely performing well at the big Premier League grounds for the past few years.

As ever, an obsession with just how many fans are there to watch the team play is likely to be seen again over the weekend, but Wigan is a small place to begin with, and they have been competing with big boys such as Manchester United, Liverpool, Everton and Manchester City on their doorstep all their lives. A second major final inside a decade awaits them on Saturday. To date, Everton and City have only reached one.

In the other corner, reasons for a dislike of Millwall are a little more sinister, but a win for the 2004 FA Cup finalists would also see them be able to boast about two final appearances in a decade.

However for years the club have been a byword for supporter behaviour that can be regarded as less than welcoming.

As football fans we have a tendency to group our opinions on fellow supporters by whichever team they follow – “all Arsenal fans think like this, all Ayr United fans think like that” etc – but is it too far-fetched to look little deeper?

Speaking from personal experience as someone who has moved from the north to live in a heartland of Millwall supporters, the vast majority I’ve met are just football fans like you or I. Of course there are those who you’d steer clear of, but that’s part of life and not just football.

Mud sticks though, and so there will be many who don’t want either team to win on Saturday because of circumstances beyond the actual football clubs’ control.

But both Roberto Martinez and Kenny Jackett have done excellent jobs at their respective clubs, the players from both sides have excelled in reaching Wembley and the fans deserve their day out and the prospect of another one in May.

After all, these two clubs are one of the main reasons why this year’s FA Cup has rediscovered a bit of its magic.

@Mark_Jones86

@Mark_Jones86 : Di Canio, a few wins and all will be forgotten

Paolo Di Canio at The Academy of Light training ground

We hadn’t had a good one in a while had we? An English football scandal that we could all obsess over for a few days.

Luis Suarez hasn’t handled a ball against plucky FA Cup minnows in weeks, whilst Eden Hazard has probably been put off kicking cheeky Welsh ball boys for the remainder of his career.

What was the best one we’ve had recently? Callum McManaman’s tackle? Rio Ferdinand pulling out of the England squad? They were hardly scandals to get the pulses racing were they? Enter Paolo Di Canio.

Except Di Canio hasn’t just entered English football at all.

Following a season at Celtic in 1996/97 the Italian spent six years as a player in the Premier League with Sheffield Wednesday, West Ham and Charlton, achieving cult hero status at the Hammers.

Now a manager, for the past two years he’s been stationed down the divisions with Swindon Town, earning them promotion from League Two in 2012 before resigning due to an ownership row this February with the club challenging for elevation to the Championship.

All of which makes the events of the past few days a little odd.

Following Di Canio’s appointment as the new manager of Sunderland on Sunday, talk has been rife of his alleged fascist beliefs and sympathies.

Of course using the word ‘alleged’ is a bit difficult when you see some of the words that have come out of Di Canio’s mouth in the past, but the focus on his words and much-publicised act in 2005 has dominated the unveiling of the Italian, who had a tough enough job keeping Sunderland in the Premier League without all of this.

The answer to the scrutiny can of course be found in Di Canio’s change of destination, because the journey from Swindon to Sunderland didn’t just take him from south west to north east England, but it took him from the Football League to the Premier League as well. Everything looks bigger from up here.

This is in no way an attempt to defend Di Canio’s past comments, but if they didn’t seem such a big problem in Swindon then why should they be now? Of course the Robins didn’t have a figure as well known as the former Shadow Foreign Secretary David Milliband around to register his displeasure, but any opposition to his Swindon appointment received little attention and was soon forgotten once he started winning.

Under the Premier League magnifying glass everything appears bigger and more exposed though, none more so than during the last major scandals in the division which occurred within a week of each other in October 2011.

Just as there will always be those who now prefer to see Suarez and John Terry as card carrying members of the Ku Klux Klan as opposed to individuals who made a snap decision and ultimately a huge mistake – intentionally or otherwise – so now there will be others who instantly judge Di Canio without ever looking deeper into the story.

Supporters of Liverpool and Chelsea’s rivals repeatedly bring up the Suarez and Terry incidents because they like to see their opponents squirm. It is another one of the less tasteful aspects of the whole sorry business, but doesn’t often get mentioned.

The chances are that most of them and you won’t have heard of the Reading player John Mackie, who was banned for three matches for racist abuse in 2003. That occurred in the old Division One though, where headlines weren’t sought and reputations weren’t damaged as rapidly as they are in the Premier League.

Most of that is beside the point though, because Di Canio’s off-field beliefs will soon become yesterday’s story too.

A couple of wins from his early matches in charge – and given that the first two of them are away to Chelsea and then a derby match against Newcastle then he’s not entering quietly – will see the focus mercifully switch to football for Di Canio, just as it ended up doing for him at Swindon.

Even if he fails to keep the Mackems up in these final seven matches of the season then he deserves a tilt at the Championship in 2013/14, and if he achieves promotion there then you can be certain that all of the talk will be of his managerial skills and nothing else.

We’ll have had plenty of new scandals by then anyway.

Di Canio will be old news.

@Mark_Jones86

The Mark Jones Column: Tottenham’s slip ups have Arsenal fans checking calendars

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur - Emirates Stadium

For much of the season, Arsenal fans have been living in fear of missing out on one of their favourite days of the year.

When Tottenham Hotspur beat the Gunners 2-1 in the North London derby at White Hart Lane just three-and-a-half short weeks ago, Spurs moved seven points ahead of their local rivals and looked to be sailing towards a top four place at the expense of Arsene Wenger’s side.

Plans for Arsenal supporters’ annual ‘St. Totteringham’s Day’ – a mickey-taking celebration they hold on the day that it becomes impossible for Spurs to catch and surpass the Gunners in the league table, something that they haven’t done for 18 years – were in danger of being shelved.

The repercussions of a club not just missing out on a Champions League place that they take great pride in clinging on to, but missing out on it to their biggest rivals was impossible not to discuss, but suddenly it looks a lot less certain that it will be Tottenham who finish in that all important fourth spot. Things are now a lot less clear.

That win over Arsenal represents the last points that Andre Villas-Boas’ side have picked up, given that in their following matches they threw away a lead to lose a thriller to Liverpool at Anfield and then somewhat inexplicably lost 1-0 at home to Fulham.

They are defeats which have let Arsenal – a club apparently always on the verge of a crisis – firmly back into the race for a status which they have always been able to cling on to through their past eight trophyless years.

Now four points behind Spurs with a crucial game in hand, the fixture list should also be a source of comfort of Arsenal and those supporters who are so keen to celebrate that day they hold so dear.

Tottenham go to Swansea on Saturday, whilst they also face tough matches against Everton, Chelsea and Manchester City before the end of April.

With seven of Arsenal’s nine remaining matches coming against teams in eighth place or lower, the opportunities for Wenger’s side to pick up points should be there for all to see – most notably of course Tottenham.

Already unfortunate to miss out on a return to the top European stage following Chelsea’s remarkable Champions League win last season, another narrow failure for Spurs would be tough to take for their supporters – supporters who are sick and tired of hearing the gloating coming from across North London.

The frequently thrilling performances from Gareth Bale have lit up Tottenham’s season, but even the Welshman has off days such as he did in the Fulham loss. There is an argument that Arsenal are currently the stronger outfit because they can rely upon more of their stars to perform.

The Gunners have won five of their last seven Premier League games, with that narrow loss at Spurs and a draw at home to Liverpool in which they came from two down their only failures to pick up three points.

Given that there is often so much hysteria surrounding the club it is often difficult to ascertain just when Arsenal are doing well, but they might just be coming into form at just the right time.

Of course Chelsea’s top four position isn’t set in stone just yet and so there remains a chance that both North London clubs could find themselves in the Champions League next season, but the overwhelming belief has to be that it will be the presence or not of a special day in 2013 which will determine just which of these two great rivals are smiling come the end of the season.

With Spurs stalling it could just be that Arsenal take their customary place in the top four after all, sparking St Totteringham’s Day celebrations like never before.

@Mark_Jones86

Who do YOU think will finish higher?? Spurs or Arsenal. Drop your response in the comment section below.

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