2014-15 Premier League: Fans’ Preview (Part II)

With English’s top-flight once again relevant now the famous Leicester City F.C. have bounced back, there are just four weeks to go until the football season starts up once more.

 

Manchester United

@Edward_Walsh96

Last season: 7th
Manager: Louis Van Gaal
Rivals: Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal
Odds: 11/2

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
A top four finish in the PL. After the poor finish last season, we need to quickly recover to play in the top tier of European football.

2.What’s your biggest fear?
My greatest fear is the lack of experience with a winning team. In addition, the adaptation to a new manager could be a struggle.

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
The back four needs to be strengthened for next season. Bringing in Luke Shaw as LB was a good decision but with his big price tag and his young age it’s a gamble,

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
I want to beat Liverpool the most next season. Our biggest and oldest rivals in the football history for Man Utd. After their impressive season last year, it made them perk up!

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Herrera will be a player to look out for in the midfield. I’ve seen him play and he is a very talented midfielder with a lot to bring to Manchester. RVP will be another player to look out for next season. Finally Luke Shaw will bring some freshness to the LB position.

6. Who will win the league?
I think Chelsea will win the league. They have brought in two very good players and have come close to winning the title, I feel it’s time they won it.

7. Who will go down?
Burnley, West Ham and Sunderland. I think Leicester City will finish a close 17th.

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
I think QPR will be surprise a few with a mid-table finish. Other than that I think everything will be as expected.

9. Where will you finish?
I believe we will finish a close third, which will be a massive improvement on last season under David Moyes.

Newcastle United

@nufc4me

Last season: 10th
Manager: Alan Pardew
Rivals: Sunderland, Manchester United, Middlesbrough
Odds: 1000/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
Mike Ashley to sell and leave

2.What’s your biggest fear?
Relegation

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
Two strikers

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
I want to beat Sunderland

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Caldwell

6. Who will win the league?
Chelsea

7. Who will go down?
Sunderland

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Newcastle

9. Where will you finish?
8th

Queens Park Rangers

@DazzerQPR

Last season: 4th (Championship)
Manager: Harry Redknapp
Rivals: Fulham, Chelsea, Watford
Odds: 7500/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
QPR to stay up.

2.What’s your biggest fear?
QPR to go down.

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
All over. 1 LB as cover, 1 RB as cover, 2 CB’s, 2 CM’s, 1 Winger & a striker as well as keep Loic Remy.

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
Chelsea (and everyone around us who’ll be fighting for relegation)

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Joey Barton, Matty Philips and Charlie Austin are my dark horses

6. Who will win the league?
Man City

7. Who will go down?
Burnley, West Brom and Aston Villa

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Everton pushing on, Southampton could struggle big time!

9. Where will you finish?
Hopefully 17th or above!

 

Southampton

@ConnorArmstrong

Last season: 8th
Manager: Ronald Koeman
Rivals: Portsmouth, Brighton & Hove Albion, Bournemouth
Odds: 1250/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
I hope that this season ahead provides us with signs of improvement as it progresses, as it seems pretty obvious that Ronald Koeman is going to have to rebuild. It’d be great if we could have a good cup run along the way.

2.What’s your biggest fear?
That Koeman’s new side can’t adapt quickly enough and we end up playing catch up, possibly leading to relegation.

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
I think the only place we don’t actually need to strengthen is central midfield. We’ve had players plucked from defence and attack, and we still need a goalkeeper to compete with Artur Boruc.

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
For obvious player/manager related reasons from this summer, I most want to beat Liverpool and Tottenham. West Ham is another big one for me personally, living in Essex – there’s a lot of Hammers about!

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
A bit difficult to say right now, seeing as the key men seem to be leaving, with new faces arriving. Dušan Tadić looks an exciting acquisition, though.

6. Who will win the league?
Chelsea

7. Who will go down?
Burnley, West Brom and Aston Villa

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Leicester – I can’t see them flirting with relegation in the slightest and I think they’ll causes some upsets.

9. Where will you finish?
Somewhere between 10th and 15th. I’ll be happy so long as we stay up with a few games to go and show progression as the new manager builds his own Saints team. 

Stoke City

@JessySCFC

Last season: 9th
Manager: Mark Hughes 
Rivals: Port Vale, West Bromwich Albion, Wolverhampton Wanderers
Odds: 2500/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
My greatest hope is that we’ll finish higher than our current highest finish (9th). 

2.What’s your biggest fear?
My biggest fear is injuries to our best players! 

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
We really need to strengthen our strike force, it’s what lets us down the most.

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
As per with every season, I’d most want to beat Arsenal and West Brom. 

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Arnautovic. His pace is unbelievable and this season he’ll be better than he was in the previous because he’s finally started to get used to our playing style and the league itself. 

6. Who will win the league?
Chelsea.

7. Who will go down?
Burnley, QPR, West Brom

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Leicester, I hope. (You’re welcome Chris)

9. Where will you finish?
I hope that we’ll finish 7th or 8th, which may be optimistic to say the least. 

Sunderland

@TonySAFC1973

Last season: 14th
Manager: Gus Poyet
Rivals: Newcastle United, Middlesbrough, Leeds United
Odds: 5000/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
A solid consistent season

2.What’s your biggest fear?
A relegation battle

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
A right-back and left-back

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
Hull City

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Jordi Gomez and Giaccherini

6. Who will win the league?
Arsenal

7. Who will go down?
West Brom, Aston Villa and Burnley

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Swansea or Leicester

9. Where will you finish?
10th

Swansea City

@luseax

Last season: 12th
Manager: Garry Monk
Rivals: Cardiff City, Bristol City. Bristol Rovers
Odds: 4000/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
For Garry Monk to have a great first season in charge of us.

2.What’s your biggest fear?
Relegation.

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
I’d say with the signings we’ve already made we’re okay. Although I would like to see us bring in a central defender and right back. Feel like we need stronger cover for Rangel if he can’t play some games.

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
I’d like to see us beat everyone naturally. Although a win against Everton would be nice as it’s never happened before. Not that I hate Everton, it just would be nice to beat them once. 

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Bafetimbi Gomis. Great signing for us, and could be lethal combining with Bony, providing he stays. 

6. Who will win the league?
Man City

7. Who will go down?
Argh, I hate this question. West Brom, Villa and Burnley.

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Dark horses hmm.. Have a feeling Leicester might surprise a few this coming season.

9. Where will you finish?
Mid table again, going for 11th.

Tottenham Hotspur

@samhyde97

Last season: 6th
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino
Rivals: Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham United
Odds: 66/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
Mauricio Pochettino taking us back to the Champions League, or perhaps even better, some silverware: the Europa League.

2.What’s your biggest fear?
Losing Lloris before the season and/or losing Eriksen after the season.

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
Left Back, Centre Back; Rose and Dawson are worse than useless.

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
As usual, Arsenal, of course.

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Bentaleb and Tom Carroll, as well as the usuals; Eriksen, Lloris, Walker, Vertonghen etc.

6. Who will win the league?
City; no one can compete with that much money except Chelsea but I still don’t think they’ve got a good enough striker in Diego Costa.

7. Who will go down?
QPR (they’ll spend too much trying to create a whole new team again), West Brom, and Burnley.

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Leicester City; great squad and the money to keep it together and improve it, and Southampton; they may have lost their stars but with Koeman as manager and Tadic, Fonte and Rodriguez they can still do well.

9. Where will you finish?
Unfortunately and rather pessimistically, I think, without a solid defence it will be another 5th or 6th place finish.

West Bromwich Albion

@TheDelaney24

Last season: 17th
Manager: Alan Irvine 
Rivals: Wolverhampton Wanderers, Aston Villa, Stoke City
Odds: 5000/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
Mid table mediocrity. Sounds uninspiring but there’s a rebuilding job going on at the Hawthorns this summer, having lost a few players in the close season. I’m sure most Baggies would take safety & continue good progress we had made. 

2.What’s your biggest fear?
Relegation. I think it would be very hard for us to come back if we were relegated. Financially, we’d be fine, but we’d lose a lot of very good, established players.

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
Defence & attack. The signing of Lescott was a major statement, & it looks like the club are addressing our lack of full backs. We really need one top striker and a winger though.

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
Would have to be Villa again. Midlands derbies are few & far between these days, with Wolves & Birmingham in the Championship. Beating one of the big boys is always pleasing. 

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Everyone knows about Lescott and he will be a great addition to our squad. On his day, Stephane Sessegnon is a joy to watch, & Mulumbu has been courted by bigger clubs for a while. Squad is a bit thin at the moment but hopefully we can add a couple of the new lads to that list in time. 

6. Who will win the league?
Chelsea. If Costa transfers his La Liga form to the PL Chelsea will be a formidable outfit. They’ve been crying out for a goalscorer. Cesc was an excellent addition too.

7. Who will go down?
I think Villa will struggle with Lerner having put the block on any major expenditure until they’re sold. Burnley will find it tough, but the last one could come from anywhere. Southampton? Interesting to see how they cope after the firesale. 

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
If they continue the progress from last season, then Palace will surprise a few people. Think Leicester will do ok too, they have a few £ to spend and have a good set up in Pearson and his team.

9. Where will you finish?
I think it’ll be tight but I think we’ll stop up. Anywhere between 10th and 17th would be deemed a reasonable season for us. 

West Ham United

@IAmKieranA

Last season: 13th
Manager: Sam Allardyce
Rivals: Tottenham Hotspur, Millwall, Arsenal
Odds: 5000/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
My greatest hope is for us to have a very solid finish around mid-table.

2.What’s your biggest fear?
My biggest fear of the new season is that we will struggle again due to the lack of funds but hopefully Lambert can find a few cheap gems.

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
We need more depth in defence as in a new centre back and right back

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
Spurs, of course!

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Aaron Cresswell and Ravel Morrison can shine and also Kouyate

6. Who will win the league?
Manchester City

7. Who will go down?
Burnley, Leicester and West Brom

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Everton.

9. Where will you finish?
I’ll go for 8th

The Profound Beauty of the World Cup

There is something profoundly beautiful about the World Cup. I don’t spend a lot of time following international football – forgive me, I’m English. Of course, I, like everyone else in my home nation pay attention only to the big events. We watch the European Championships, the World Cup, the qualifiers and even England friendlies, if only the latter two to moan about how dismal and uninspiring we are whilst we await Stoke vs. Hull on next week’s Super Sunday. Anyway, I always found the big international tournaments enjoyable, maybe the novelty of not paying much notice in the intermittent years made them more special, who knows? But it wasn’t until this year’s tournament in Brazil that I realised just how special the World Cup really is.

It’s a simple concept really. 32 nations sending 23 players to one country to kick a ball around a patch of grass for four weeks. We all watch, we all enjoy then we go back to the sustenance of league football straight after. However, when this basic idea is pulled together, it sparks off something quite unbelievable.

One billion. That is the estimated viewership for this year’s final. It’s prodigious that so many people are encapsulated by the spectacle of it all. Of course, the World Cup isn’t the only sporting event to do such things. The Olympics, as a prime example, too captures a worldwide audience, but this is different. There are few instances of simultaneousness in the World Cup, meaning for ninety minutes, Honduras and Ecuador and Croatia and Cameroon are the centre of the world, and with the greatest of respect, these four nations don’t always carry the greatest global presence.

What too is special about the World Cup’s engulfing appeal is its ability to transcend virtually everything. People of all races, genders, ethnicities, sexualities, religions and backgrounds come together to enjoy this four week footballing festival. Plenty of people I know don’t give a thought about football except for these four weeks where they’re actually fairly engrossed in the action too. You’ll find non-football fans just as entranced by Tim Cahill’s wonder-strike or Neuer’s sweeper-keeper spectacular as an away day regular.

The World Cup is like the best drama on television, chock full of underdog stories, upsets and moments of brilliance. Who foresaw Spain and Brazil getting pasted by the Netherlands and Germany? Who predicted Costa Rica to shame three former world champions in the ‘group of death’? Who predicted the USA to teach the rest of the footballing world a lesson in passion?

What’s really beautiful about the World Cup is it’s communal embrace. When England bowed out, after such a lacklustre display, my interest in the tournament never waned. I found Colombia’s infectious rhythm endearing, Chile’s gut and style seductive and Argentina’s conservatism exhausting – and I ‘rooted’ based on that. That’s the funny thing about the World Cup, you don’t even need to be involved or even invited to enjoy it – just ask the Welsh or the Scots. It’s a very special four week window for the world’s greatest sport, the world’s most passionate fans and some of the world’s proudest nations to put it all on the line for glory – and if yours doesn’t, you simply sit back and enjoy the profoundly beautiful ride.

2014-15 Premier League: Fans’ Preview (Part I)

With English’s top-flight once again relevant now the famous Leicester City F.C. have bounced back, there are just four weeks to go until the football season starts up once more.

 

Arsenal

@DanFromahier

Last season: 4th 
Manager: Arsene Wenger
Rivals: Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Manchester United
Odds: 9/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
To have a consistent injury free season and win the Premiership and the FA cup

2.What’s your biggest fear?
Another injury plagued season ending in failure, and the sale of a couple of big players to top it off

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
I would say another keeper to make sure there is completion for the #1 spot and a quality holding midfielder

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
Chelsea purely because of the whole Fabregas situation and I hate Jose Mourinho

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Definitely the Ox providing he stays injury free can see him being one of arsenals star performers this upcoming season. I also think a young player to look out for is S.Gnabry , although the arrival of Sanchez will make it hard for him to break into the team

6. Who will win the league?
Hopefully Arsenal, but being realistic the signings that Chelsea have made has to make them favourites.

7. Who will go down?
Newcastle , Sunderland and QPR (if they can’t keep hold of Remy) if they can then Burnley will go down

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Stuck between Leicester and Stoke for dark horses, both will achieve way more than expected this season 

9. Where will you finish?
With the signings that are being made I would like to say 2nd or 3rd, not having to qualify for Champions League would be nice.

Aston Villa

@totteyvilla07

Last season: 15th
Manager: Paul Lambert
Rivals: Birmingham City, West Bromwich Albion, Wolverhampton Wanderers
Odds: 4000/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
My greatest hope is for us to have a very solid finish around mid-table.

2.What’s your biggest fear?
My biggest fear of the new season is that we will struggle again due to the lack of funds but hopefully lambert can find a few cheap gems

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
In my opinion our main priority is getting a left back that is solid and consistent.

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
Every season the teams I most want to beat are the teams that finished top 6 the previous season.

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
I think the main player in our squad to look out for is someone who we saw very little of last season and that is jores okore think he can come in to the team and really tighten up the defence and form a solid partnership with Ron Vlaar

6. Who will win the league?
Personally I can see Chelsea winning the league this season and with the 2 signings already made Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa they can be an absolute force next season

7. Who will go down?
I think Burnley will go down due to just not having a good enough squad to cope in the Premier League also I can see Sunderland going down the last team going down might be a surprise but I think Swansea

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
This season’s darkhorses will be either Queens Park Rangers or Leicester City because I think both teams will improve alot in the transfer window

9. Where will you finish?
I think we will finish 13th/14th as long as we don’t lose any of our key players through injury or even selling them.

Burnley

@NorAmClarets

Last season: 2nd (Championship)
Manager: Sean Dyche
Rivals: Blackburn Rovers, Preston North End, Bolton Wanderers
Odds: 10000/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
I hope the side plays well, we’re competitive in every game we play and Sean Dyche shows that a side built around a strong team work ethic and players who passionately want to play for the shirt can survive and prosper in today’s Premier League.

2.What’s your biggest fear?
That it’ll be 2009-10 all over again. We’ll show promise, do well, and then some fundamental part of the side will leave and it will all fall apart. This time it might not be the manager; it might be the sale of a key player or even an injury.

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
We have a relatively small squad, so Sean Dyche needs to bring in some depth, which he’s started to do. The core of our squad is quality but lacks experience in the Premier League, and so Dyche is adding that too. Most supporters agree that we need another, faster, central defender to pair with Jason Shackell, another central midfielder and a striker to partner with Danny Ings.

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
Being a small, unfashionable club taking the scalp of a big money club is very satisfying.  We host Chelsea and Man Utd. at Turf Moor for our first two home games so either one of those would get us off to a great start. The last time we played Man City at home they pasted us 6-1, so it’d be nice to gain some revenge by beating the reigning champions. And of course we’d love to beat Blackburn Rovers again, but sadly they’re in the division below us.

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Danny Ings was Championship Player of the Year last year ahead of Ross McCormack and Danny Drinkwater, and we’re looking forward to seeing him take his game to the next level. Right back Keiran Trippier was named in the PFA Championship team for the last two years and seems poised to to become England’s best right back. Michael Kightly, who was on loan from Stoke last season, has now joined us permanently and seems ready to star. 

6. Who will win the league?
As much as I’d like to see someone new push for the title I think it will come down to one of Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea or Arsenal with Liverpool as a bit of a dark horse. If pushed I’d have to go with City.

7. Who will go down?
Interesting that the three promoted teams are the favourites to go down.  I’m going to be optimistic and choose Hull, Crystal Palace and West Brom to go down.

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
I’ve already said that I think Liverpool have an outsiders chance of winning the league. I also think Southampton will do well in spite of how the bigger clubs are plundering their young talent.

9. Where will you finish?
I’m predicting we’ll finish in 14th place. I think we’ll get enough points to be out of the danger zone and give ourselves another year to continue to establish ourselves in the Premier League. Unfortunately, that’ll mean another year without an East Lancs Derby, but it’ll be worth it.

Chelsea

@JonathanCDavies

Last season: 3rd
Manager: Jose Mourinho
Rivals: Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool
Odds: 2/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
Last season was strong despite falling at the final hurdles. My greatest hope is that we can push on and go further in the league and Champions League.

2.What’s your biggest fear?
That’s a really tough one. I suppose the biggest fears probably aren’t realistic- getting relegated, not qualifying for the Champions League etc. I suppose it would have to be finishing fourth and having a poor Champions League (don’t think it’ll happen though!)

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?

We all knew where Chelsea needed to strengthen, and they have with the signing of Diego Costa.

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
Probably Manchester City. The two wins last year were probably our best performances of the season – it would be great to do it again at the Etihad after a few rough years there.

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
I’d say Andre Schurrle. He had an okay first year, not bad not great, but he had a brilliant World Cup and will be coming back with the added boost of being a World Champion.

6. Who will win the league?
Chelsea.

7. Who will go down?
West Brom, Burnley and QPR (in no particular order)

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
I’m not sure there will be a dark horse this year. I don’t think Liverpool will compete to the same extent this year, and United will be closer. Arsenal are always there or thereabouts but you wouldn’t consider them dark horses.

9. Where will you finish?
Top of the pile!

 

Crystal Palace

@russell2103

Last season: 11th
Manager: Tony Pulis
Rivals: Brighton & Hove Albion, Millwall, Charlton Athletic
Odds: 10000/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
Survival is still the biggest priority. Same as last year is good enough for me

2.What’s your biggest fear?
Relegation & losing Pulis

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
Left back. We don’t have one.

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
We don’t really have a rival in the Premier league. So a big scalp like Chelsea/Man U is more appealing than London rivals like West Ham

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Gayle was very impressive in the last few games and could really step up this season.

6. Who will win the league?
Chelsea

7. Who will go down?
Burnley – Ings could be off & he’s being replaced by Marvin Sordell
QPR – another season of players there for the money not the club with the same outcome as before
Hull – strains of Europe will take their toll despise big signings

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Leicester. A very strong squad in the championship and money to spend they could really surprise people & finish top 10 

9. Where will you finish?
14th, comfortably mid table but stability instead of progression in our second season

Everton

@AdamRathe

Last season: 5th
Manager: Roberto Martinez
Rivals: Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City
Odds: 150/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
To achieve the Champion’s League. With other sides strengthening yet again, it’ll be another battle, but with Martinez surpassing everyone’s expectations we’re the most optimistic we’ve been.
.
2.What’s your biggest fear?
To not spend the money we all know we have. Martinez MUST be backed.

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
Up front – Lukaku will be a miss and we’ll need a reliable goal-scorer if we want to achieve our aspirations.

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
Liverpool – After we should have beat them at Goodison and their mauling of us at Anfield last season – in addition to our higher league finishes from 11-13 – we want to show the gulf isn’t what it seems. It’ll be a huge marker to put down for our aspirations too.

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
John Stones – a potential England captain. The expected defensive attributes and the composure and technique to accompany it, all in a 20-year old.
Ross Barkley – Vital player and he’s honing his decision-making, which has always an issue before last season.
Aiden McGeady – could be really important next season. Showed glimpses of his Celtic form and he should find himself a starter at the beginning of the season.

6. Who will win the league?
Chelsea – Mourinho has got the type of striker that is conducive to Chelsea’s style. On paper, he should grab them the goals they lacked last season.

7. Who will go down?
Burnley, West Brom and Swansea

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Tricky one, but if I had to choose I’d go with Sunderland. I can’t work out whether Poyet’s a bit of a gem or just incredibly fortuitous, but I’d say you don’t see that run that kept them up if you’re the latter. I think with a full season to have a crack at the PL, Poyet will put them in the top half. Now watch them go down…

9. Where will you finish?
6th – I hate to say it, but I’d be lying if I expected us to finish above one of Liverpool, United, City, Chelsea or Arsenal. Then again, we’ve not spend significantly yet, so I’d say that answer isn’t quite set in stone.

Hull City

@scottfarrow88

Last season: 16th
Manager: Steve Bruce
Rivals: Leeds United, Scunthorpe United, Grimsby Town
Odds: 5000/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
On the pitch, improving on our points tally and position of last season. Off the pitch, the club to stop forcing the Hull Tigers issue

2.What’s your biggest fear?
Relegation. Bruce and the owner are starting to assemble a potentially brilliant side, but god only knows the financial state the club will be in if we go down.

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
Maynor Figueroa showed signs of promise at the beginning of the season, but it was easily the most vulnerable position last season. Saying that, Robbie Brady will be like a new signing for us this season and Joe Dudgeon will be returning from injury to provide some options in this position.

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
Most fans would say Leicester and Nigel Pearson, but a repeat feeling of Arsenal in 2008 would be nice.

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Curtis Davies. He was solid in the centre of defence for us last year. Robbie Brady was starting to show his worth too before his injury, so keep an eye on him.

6. Who will win the league?
On current signings, I can’t see Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool winning it, and Manchester United I think will struggle to get close to the top 4, so I would have to say Manchester City.

7. Who will go down?
I think it will be a tight one in the bottom half again this season. But I’d go for Burnley, QPR and West Brom.

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Leicester. Really liked the work Pearson did when he was at Hull, made some great signings too. They’ve been threatening promotion now for a couple of seasons and I think they’ll surprise a few people. 

9. Where will you finish?
I’d be delighted to make an improvement on last season’s position of 16th. But, if (and hopefully we will) we progress to the group stages in the Europa League, then I’ll be happy if we stay up!

 

Leicester City

@beckytlcfc

Last season: 1st (Championship)
Manager: Nigel Pearson
Rivals: Nottingham Forest, Derby County, Coventry City
Odds: 5000/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
Staying comfortably in the Premier League with minimal stress (yeah right on the latter)
.
2.What’s your biggest fear?
Getting less points than Derby THAT season.

 

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
RB- Although RDL is very good and I think will be effective in the prem we need comfortable back up in that position.
Striker – linked with Ulloa & Wickham, think either would be ideal. People are really worried about this but I’m happy we have Nuge, Wood and Vardy who are capable
CB is questionable; we do have, Morgan, Wasyl, Moore & Upson, but considering the age and speed of Wasyl & Upson think we could do with another to strengthen, I think Morgan May struggle a bit.

 

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
Everton at home first game. Going into our first game back into the Premier League with a win would be the most incredible thing, other than that I’ll take any wins, no particular massive hate for any Premier League teams.

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Matty James – not only one of most promising young players of our squad who was vital for our success last year, but you should look out for him for his pretty face.
Riyad Mahrez – fresh from brilliant experience at the World Cup with Algeria, only getting better, think his trickery and class could be vital for us to catch teams out.
Jeff Schlupp – honestly believe he’ll flourish at new position of LB. Full pre season of training and learning in that position, speed and power he’s got going forward could be a real asset.
Chris Wood – unlucky with injury last year has been a bit off the radar on our success of last year, think will play a bigger part than people would imagine for next season. 

6. Who will win the league?
Chelsea. I think if the imminent signings of Diego Costa, Fabregas and a few others succeed ‘The Special One’ will have a team too strong for the rest of the league, will be a close one think Man City, United & possibly Arsenal could be pushing; providing transfers go through. 

7. Who will go down?
Villa, West Brom/Burnley & QPR – QPR looking to continue with marquee signings they’ll be another team of individuals, think they were lucky to come up last year so think (& hope) they’ll head back down.
Villa were lucky it was a poor league down the bottom last year, haven’t had many inspiring signings which make me feel like they’ll be any better next year.
Then West Brom/ Burnley – didn’t want to say Burnley as think & wanted them to stay up, but their recent signing of Marvin Sordell didn’t show much ambition imo, West Brom just seem uninspiring and haven’t been down in a while. They’ll be scrapping I reckon. 

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Leicester have the potential to be dark horses for success but I’m a massive pessimist when it comes to us, so I can’t choose us.
So, if they complete their potential signings they’ve been linked with I’d say Palace could do very well, considering they were bottom by a long way last Xmas they’re on the up. – not dark horses for the league, but higher than imagined.

9. Where will you finish?
16th, I really believe we have the right backbone of the club and squad to survive and establish ourselves as a Premier League club, but I am scared and think it will be more of a struggle than some people are thinking, but I’m always pessimistic about LCFC.

 

Liverpool

@AcresOfSeven

Last season: 2nd
Manager: Brendan Rogers
Rivals: Manchester United, Everton, Chelsea
Odds: 10/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
Mignolet to come into his own, the back four to exude efficiency, Lallana to hit the ground running and Sturridge to build on his form of last season and edge towards ‘World Class’ territory. A trophy would be nice, too.

2.What’s your biggest fear?
Squandering the money garnered from the sale of one of the world’s best players on mediocre talent, otherwise known as ‘doing a Spurs’.

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
Full Back – Johnson, Flanagan, Enrique doesn’t quite cut it at Champions League level – Centre Back, and now of course striker. There are some who think Sturridge is capable of being our lone striker and predominant goal scorer. 24 strikes last season speaks for itself, but his bouts of inconsistency worry me, as does his ability to replicate last season’s form without Suarez. 

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
I don’t think I’m alone in saying Chelsea would be a particularly gratifying win. They took 6 points off of us last year, and essentially destroyed our title aspirations. 

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
 Jordon Ibe, merely 18, a pacy winger of the Sterling Ilk though arguably a more clinical finisher. Expect him to light up pre-season and receive opportunities in the first team before Christmas. Additionally, Jordan Henderson should improve on his Goal Scoring/Assisting from last season. 

6. Who will win the league?
Chelsea, though City will run them Close. I see 4 teams still competing for the title well into April.

7. Who will go down?
West Ham, West Brom and QPR stand out as potential candidates. 

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Burnley to finish top 12, Sunderland in the top 10

9. Where will you finish?
3rd if we make accomplished signings that flourish early, 5th if not. An Fa Cup win is due as well…

 

Manchester City

@mcfc_kyle_nyr

Last season: 1st
Manager: Manuel Pellegrini
Rivals: Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea
Odds: 21/10

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
At least one trophy and improve in European competitions.
.
2.What’s your biggest fear?
No trophies.

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
Centre back, but it is a minor concern.

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
Man Utd.

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Fernando Reges and Stefan Jovetic.

6. Who will win the league?
One of Chelsea, Liverpool or Man City.

7. Who will go down?
QPR, Burnley, and Sunderland.

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Leicester

9. Where will you finish?
Top 3

 

Let’s Get One Thing Straight: Why “Heterosexual Pride” Marches Don’t Happen

This weekend, thousands rejoiced and celebrated gay pride events held in the cosmopolitan cities of London and New York. LGBT pride events as they’re perhaps more appropriately named take place across many cities every year, and in turn they produce the painfully offensive and irritating question from many; “why isn’t there a ‘straight pride’?”

On the surface, it almost seems an equitable question. We have gay or LGBT pride movements so why not a heterosexual one? After all, those movements’ sole aim is to establish equality for all regardless of sexual orientation. But when you spend more than half a second considering why no such events take place it becomes glaringly obvious why the question itself is just a little bit stupid.

Quite simply put, there isn’t ‘straight pride’ because nobody has ever tried to quash the mass pride of heterosexuals. The LGBT community has suffered and still suffers discrimination and persecution from all walks of life for the sole reason of being a part of that community.A straight female holding hands with her partner as she walks down the street would be unlikely to draw any attention. A lesbian woman doing the same with her girlfriend is far more likely to be met with negativity or abuse. Heterosexuality is outlawed in a total of zero countries, homosexuality is still illegal in 81. And even now is punishable by death in seven of them.

Death.

People are still legally killed for being gay in 2014.

Shameful… The countries in red show where homosexuality is a crime.

Of course, things aren’t as barbaric and oppressive here. In most parts of the UK and indeed many parts of the US, homosexuality is legal and the right to change legal gender is allowed too, but these changes only came in to place as recently as 30 years ago, and same-sex marriage was only approbated last year. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that homophobia is a myth in the Western world. Let’s not forget that two of the three highest polling political parties in the UK possess a significant proportion of members who still oppose the strive for sexual orientation equality.

LGBT youth are still prone to discrimination in the UK, some will be ostracised by their friends and family for the simple crime of being who they are; the same can thankfully not be said for straight people. This year, a BBC Newsbeat survey found that 42% of LGBT though have sought help for depression and anxiety and 52% have reported self-harm at some point in their lives, considerably higher rates than found in heterosexual youths. Stonewall found that in 2012, 55% of LGBT workers experienced bullying in the workplace and 99% ceaselessly heard homophobic phrases. In fact, in the last week alone, nohomophobes.com have tallied 290,754 tweets referencing such homophobic phrases as ‘faggot’, ‘dyke’ and ‘so gay’ – this is just on Twitter, just of English speakers and just one week’s worth of data.

Still wondering when ‘straight pride’ day is? It’s every day. It’s being able to kiss your partner in public without fear of being heckled, segregated or vilified. What would a ‘straight pride’ event even consist of? Shared memories of that time when everyone of the like was free to love who they wanted? Or maybe a fond reflection on the hard-work heterosexuals have put in to win the basic rights they were never traditionally afforded? Maybe, it’s that ‘pride’ is the wrong word – or perhaps the concept itself is misinterpreted. LGBT pride is not about boasting about sexuality, it’s not about showing off or self worship. It is to commemorate the progress made towards triumphing over the legal and societal oppression of the minority, a time to celebrate and feel safe in an all-encompassing environment (including heterosexuals) to be your whole self, for just one or two days a year.

It doesn’t make you homophobic to have ever wondered why ‘straight pride’ doesn’t exist. But when you look at why LGBT pride events are held and indeed needed, it should answer the question. It’s not about revoking the equal right of straight people to celebrate their sexuality. In truth, heterosexuals should be thankful that ‘straight pride’ isn’t required. After all, LGBT pride events are not state-run initiatives, so if you still think an event to bask in the adversity-free existence of the majority as some oddly coveted equivalent to the celebration of a minority’s push for victory over injustice should occur, then organise it yourself.

Football Isn’t Home… But I Think It’s On Its Way

England bowed out of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil after a short stay of just eight days and two games. Costa Rica’s shock 1-0 win over Italy, meant a top two spot was unassailable for the Three Lions who have already suffered defeats to Uruguay and Italy themselves, both 2-1.

Despite the rawness and sadness felt by England fans tonight, the team didn’t disgrace themselves in either of the defeats that ultimately cost them a place at this year’s tournament. Against Uruguay, England enjoyed twice as much possession and three times as many shots on target but still suffered due to a lack of ruthlessness. The story was similar in the first match where England out shot Italy but were still undone by an inferior conversion rate of 5.6% compared to Italy’s 15.4%. England’s performances are synonymous with my club, Leicester City’s at the start of the 2012-13 season – statistically doing things right but lacking the experience to grind out the results. It took City until the season after for them to gain that cutting edge and winning know-how, romping to the Championship title in 2014. Unfortunately, the World Cup doesn’t afford that length of time to grow in to the competition. In fact, despite our failures in this tournament, England’s attacking is the most exciting it has been in years with the likes of Sturridge, Sterling and Welbeck attacking with pace and intent. England’s youthful approach however does mean the squad lacks experience.

Not only was England’s incapacity to convert the chances they created the reason for their early exit, their leaky defence was also to blame. In England only faced six shots on target in their opening two games but managed to concede four or 75%. Roy Hodgson has arguably done himself no favours by leaving perhaps England’s two best defenders in John Terry and Ashley Cole not only out of the starting XI but out of the 23-man-squad altogether. However, Hodgson was too encouraged and initially applauded for championing England’s youth stars but is now facing a ferocious backlash for failing to deliver with them.

England have also faced criticism for lacking passion in recent years. You often hear fans bemoan the lack of gusto with which the national anthem is sung, if it is at all. The England sides of recent years have largely been viewed as overpaid, primadonna disappointments – and perhaps with good reason. In reality, the football fans on these shores are too less passionate about the international game. In fact, a Sky Sports poll in 2010 found that 74% of fans would favour success for their club to success for their country – a trend you’d be hard to come by outside the British Isles. Perhaps the fact that England boasts the best league system in the world detracts from our international efforts. Many will place blame at players like Rooney for not replicating their club performances (maybe not this season’s) for country. Have you ever seen Luis Suarez as passionate for Liverpool as he was for Uruguay last night?

Clearly something has to be done for England to correct their international misfortunes. Similar nations such as France and Germany have looked impressive in this World Cup as they have consistently over the past decade while the Three Lions haven’t. The answer isn’t the introduction of ‘B teams’ in to the English league system; Spain took seventy years to win a major tournament after the introduction of reserve sides, is Dyke lining up success for the 2086 World Cup held on the rings of Saturn? Spain certainly didn’t tear up any trees this campaign and Germany are trying to move away from ‘B teams’ to stop them tainting their domestic divisions. Punishing the lower league clubs won’t benefit anyone in international football, it will only serve the behemoth Premier League that is already taking so much from England’s international chances. All the talk of a Winter break must be intriguing for the FA. There is evidence the break can improve the fitness of players heading in to major tournaments. Portugal are the only other European country not to enforce a break and it doesn’t seem to affect them – though admittedly many of their squad play league football in neighbouring Spain. However, sacrificing festive football and detracting from the domestic leagues, the crown jewel of English football would not be popular. The real solution is surely a quota on foreign footballers in the Premier League. There’s no need to go overboard but imposing a limit will allow the best of our homegrown talent a much larger chance of playing regular competitive football at the highest level – not a scrappy tie against Forest Green Rovers in League Three. 68% of Premier League players come from overseas, much higher than the other four major European leagues; Italy (55%), Germany (50%), France (49%) and Spain (41%). This is where the FA need to be looking.

Whilst, England’s performance this summer was bleak, there are plenty of reasons to be positive. And despite the work that needs to be done and the changes that ought to be made, Roy Hodgson has it in him to deliver in 2016. England’s inexperienced squad will learn from their outing in Brazil. The new boys philosophy of attractive attacking football is a step in the right direction, when experience is put in the mix, England can again be genuine contenders in future tournaments – like it happened with Leicester City. There is need to change but there isn’t a demand for upheaval. Football isn’t home in 2014…but I think it’s on its way.

Euro Crisis: UKIP surge as Lib Dems falter

The Liberal Democrats hit the skids in the 2014 European elections as four parties polled ahead of them including victors, UKIP. Nigel Farage’s “people’s army” (frightening bombast I know) topped the polls with 4.35m votes and 24 MEPs, a whopping increase of 11 seats. Labour scored 20 MEPS whilst the Conservatives elected 19, finishing third in the popular vote for the first time in their 180-year history. Both the Green party and the Scottish Nationals captured more MEPs than the Liberal Democrats, who lost eleven of their twelve seats.

The main story of the European elections in Britain was the charge up the polls by UKIP. The success of the pestiferous purple clan can be attributed to  two things; UKIP’s forthrightness in approaching the subject of immigration and their ability to make sure their candidates and in particular, their leader come across as down-to-earth rather than as the political elite he actually is. Despite the BBC’s protestations, UKIP has not caused an earthquake in British politics. Whilst, it is a remarkable if not irresponsible achievement for a party outside the ‘big three’ to win an election, it’s worth noting only 29% of the 33% of people that bothered to vote voted UKIP, accounting for just 9% of the UK’s electorate. Given how staunch ‘Kippers’ are in their support of UKIP’s ‘imbecillic trailblazer and that solitary view they have, it’s safe to say that the majority of ‘Kippers’ voted. In fact, the powers that be in Westminster have alienated much of the public and driven them in to the arms of ale-swilling fox, Nige (you still have no MPs by the way).

Helping hand… The right-wing media fed the electorate a diet of fear and xenophobia.

Unsurprisingly to anyone who doesn’t turn a blind eye to UKIP’s plethora of scandals; there are several falsities surrounding their campaign. Ones that have done nothing to harm their vote share in these elections. On last Thursday’s Question Time, UKIP were questioned about their reliance on anti-EU and anti-immigration propaganda and the reasons to why they don’t focus on any other policies. Simply, they wouldn’t have won if they did. Unfortunately for the rest of us, Nigel Farage is an adept yet duplicitous man. Do you think people would vote for UKIP if it was common knowledge that they oppose equal gender rights, they campaign for reintroduction of hand guns and would allow the ivory trade to continue? Well, let’s hope they won’t seeing as the rest of UKIP’s views are likely to get a greater airing now this European business is put to bed. UKIP’s anti-establishment disposition is also not all it appears to be, in fact one of the party’s MEPs is better known by his title; the 10th Earl of Dartmouth. And Nigel Farage is hardly the average Joe he claims to be either. He was pictured modestly addressing his subjects from the golden staircase of the Ritz for his birthday just a couple of months ago.

Adversely, it was a horror show for the Liberal Democrats. Whilst, it was predicted that the yellow party would suffer in this election, losing all but one MEP and falling behind the Green party as well as Lab-Con and UKIP was a monumental blow. The media of course have been declaring that the Lib Dems have flatlined and are heading for extinction, but that is not the case. David Dimbleby even claimed that the Lib Dems only held on to their one MEP by 16 votes rather than by the actual 7,000. There will always be a market for liberalism in British politics. Despite their reputation for moderation and fence-sitting, the Lib Dems were staunch in their support of the EU leading in to the election, assuming a rather extreme view – declaring themselves the “party of IN”. Despite the party taking a hammering, having their vote share halved, Britain actually voted more in favour of pro-EU parties than the Eurosceptics, surely demonstrating that the Lib Dems’ message isn’t the problem but the messenger himself. Time is surely up for Nick Clegg, who has led the Lib Dems from an opinion poll rating above Labour’s in 2010 to one below the Green party just four years later. In actuality, the Liberal Democrats have always been fairly popular on a policy basis but as Lynne Featherstone touched upon on BBC News, the Liberal Democrats and particularly Nick Clegg have disillusioned far too many voters, and irreparably so.

 

Europhilic…The UK have demonstrated support for pro-EU parties.

There were very few positives that came from Thursday’s election. But at the very least, the contemptible British National Party are seemingly on their way out, having had their share cut drastically. However, it’s not as good as it seems as UKIP have effectively monopolised the jingoistic vote. UKIP are still not on course to win a single seat at next year’s elections but these results may give Britain and other nation’s greater bargaining power in renegotiating terms of membership in the EU – something I’m definitely not opposed to (and nor are the Liberal Democrats for that matter).

The real problem… Voter turnout allowed UKIP’s victory.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of negatives to take from these elections too. For instance, people like Roger Helmer will continue to represent my constituency in the European parliament, as an anti-foreign, anti-gay, anti-female politician. It’s almost unthinkable that he has been elected by a landslide in 2014. The electorate have replaced some of the hardest working MEPs in the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Conservatives with the indolent UKIP, a party whose representatives regularly don’t even turn up. Actually, it seems only right to congratulate UKIP and their millions of voters for surrendering control of our affairs in Europe to a party who deems the very process to be pointless. Overall, the right-wing media and their corresponding parties have changed the climate of the European parliament. The bombastically charged temper of fear has swept control of Europe in all too familiar fashion and mostly because “voting isn’t important”.

 

What Leicester City will bring to the Premier League

Leicester City have finally returned to the pinnacle of the English league ladder. It’s been a decade of ups and mainly downs for the Foxes, in their quest to make it back in to the elite twenty. In such time, the club has had a complete makeover, so here is what fans of the Premier League can expect from the East Midlands’ new boys next term.

An abundance of young talent and players with a point to prove

The saying goes that “you can’t win anything with kids”. City disproved that among many other clichés last season when their young squad led them to Championship glory with 102 points. Whilst, Leicester have benefited from the experience of older players such as Gary Taylor-Fletcher, Marcin Wasilewski and club captain, Wes Morgan, several of City’s key players of last term were under the age of 24.

In defence, academy graduates Liam Moore and Jeff Schlupp, both 21 have asserted themselves as major players with the former attracting interest from top Premier League clubs and the latter being named amongst Ghana’s provisional World Cup squad after adapting to a new position last term.

However, it’s Leicester’s midfield that boasts the greatest plethora of young talent. Centre midfield maestros, player of the season Danny Drinkwater, 24 and young player of the season Matty James, 22 have formed an impenetrable partnership in midfield, building on their synergy whilst youngsters at Manchester United. City can also boast continental flair on the wings in the form of  terrace hero Anthony Knockaert, 22 and Algerian international Riyad Mahrez, 23 who are both capable of producing flashes of brilliance. Both will surely make the step up in to the classier surroundings of the top flight.

City also possess a crowd of players with points to prove in the top-flight. Fierce competitor Kasper Schmeichel will be hoping to shake his father’s reputation and establish himself in his own right whist showing he’s worthy of being linked with the likes of Milan and Real Madrid. David Nugent and Paul Konchesky each will be eager to demonstrate that they’re still good enough for top level football whilst top-flight débutant Wes Morgan would love to show he can make the step up having twice been named in the Championship team of the Season. But most of all, ex-Fleetwood Town striker Jamie Vardy will be desperate to complete his remarkable journey from the Conference to the Premier League in just three short years. The Sheffield-born striker’s lightning pace and eye for a finish will certainly only propel his unfathomably meteoric rise through the divisions.

Star…Danny Drinkwater was the 2013-14 Player of the Season at just 24 [Picture: Getty Images]

A ‘boring’ but prudent manager with super staff

Despite what Sean Dyche may have told you, Nigel Pearson has worked wonders to transform a team full of Sven’s high-earning flops in to a hungry side ready for the Premier League. Having spent next to nothing this season, Pearson’s desire to stick largely with the same side that fell agonisingly short the season prior has clearly paid off.

In truth, when Pearson and his head of recruitment Steve Walsh (no, not the City legend) do pull off a wonder signing, it is usually on the cheap for an unknown talent like the aforementioned Knockaert and Mahrez. In fact, expect any Summer City signings to impress – Steve Walsh was the man that recommended Chelsea legend Didier Drogba to Jose Mourinho.

The Foxes also boast a rigorous and meticulous work ethic among their backroom staff as documented on Late Kick Off. Pearson’s staff’s attention to detail as well as their genuine talent to manage the game with precision in all areas will be crucial if the Foxes are to stay up next year.

Champion…LMA Championship Manager of the Year Nigel Pearson may surprise the Premier League [Image: Getty]

A desire to win

Make no mistake, Nigel Pearson does not implement a negative philosophy in to his sides playing style, no matter what the now thoroughly entertaining Hull City tell you *rolls eyes*. Actually, City’s current leader has the two highest win rates of any of Leicester’s permanent managers, both at over 50%.

Leicester  managed to salvage a remarkable 21 points from losing positions during the last campaign. The Foxes also managed to pick up 47 points on the road including wins at promotion rivals Burnley, Derby County and Queens Park Rangers. In total, City managed to win thirty-one of their league games last season, drawing just nine.

The  philosophy of playing to win against the sides around you, even away from home, is one that Pearson has expressed an unwillingness to change in the Premier League, so expect Leicester to play to their strengths at the likes of Selhurst Park and The Hawthorns next season.

Promotion…Knockaert celebrates his crucial winner against Sheffield Wednesday [Photo: Getty Images]

Foreign owners who aren’t egomaniacs

Thankfully, Leicester seem to possess owners with their heads screwed on. Despite the initially wrong approach adopted in 2011, the Srivaddhanaprabhas have been a blessing for the club. Both Vichai, the chairman and his son, vice chairman Aiyawatt, have implemented the practices of patience and progress in their bid to restore Leicester’s lost stature.

In fact, just today in a press conference in Thailand, Vichai outlined his commitment to re-establishing Leicester in the Premier League by pledging to spend up to £180m in order for the club to reach Europe, not that the shrewd Nigel Pearson will spend anywhere near that amount. However, their aims have remained somewhat realistic albeit ambitious by acknowledging the need to consolidate for three seasons before Leicester launch a surge for intercontinental competition.

Since their arrival, the billionaires from Thailand have bought the stadium, introduced state of the art training and playing facilities and effectively written off £100m worth of debt. It’s safe to say, despite some incorrect portrayals, the club are in safe hands with Srivaddhanaprabhas. In fact, in an interview with a national newspaper Top (as Aiyawatt likes to be known) assured fans that he would not follow in the footsteps of Cardiff’s Vincent Tan or Hull’s Assem Allam, saying; “we respect our history and culture so we do the same here. We don’t want to change the history or the culture of the club…we appreciate history. We respect that this place didn’t belong to us before. We come from outside the country and we are here to make the team successful.”

Respectful… Nigel Pearson with Chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha

I’m probably a little biased when I say that Leicester City will enhance the Premier League next season.  A proud, well supported, traditional club with the funds and facilities to make a real go of things next season. Maybe it’s because of the reasons above or the fact that no side has ever gone down after winning promotion with 100+ points or maybe it’s just blind loyalty. But I just cannot see Leicester City relinquishing their coveted place in the top flight next season. I say this with the great risk of looking a total arse in twelve months time but Leicester City are in the Premier League and they are here to stay.

B Gone! : Why Reserve Sides in the Football League Would Ruin The English Game

Today, Greg Dyke’s FA commission of morons outlined plans to introduce the ‘B’ teams of Premier League clubs in to the Football League and Football Conference to compete among lower league professional clubs. Dyke and his cohorts believe this will serve to benefit the England national team and those poor old Premier League clubs who seemingly have their hands tied in the prison of too much choice.

To me it seems entirely nonsensical. The idea that shoving a team of up and coming players in to the newly formed ‘Football League Three’ to compete against the likes of Wycombe Wanderers and Torquay United will not excel their development. It certainly wouldn’t make them better suited for the transition to top-level football, well no more so than actually playing in the top-flight. Besides, what’s wrong with the existing U21 and U18 leagues? They’re competitive divisions for progressing players. There isn’t a huge gap in quality between lower league football and the top-end of youth football, so why risk undermining the entirety of the English game for the same results?

Help for Hodgson… Dyke thinks the new proposals will improve the national side. [Image: Getty]

Dyke’s committee seems to think that Premier League sides are unable to provide young English players with enough opportunities, so why not place greater emphasis on increasing the compulsory number of home-grown players in the matchday squad? Current Premier League leaders Manchester City had just four in their seventeen that beat Aston Villa 4-0 last night. A number that has been lower at times during this season.

The system isn’t unfamiliar in European football leagues with Spain implementing the system since the 1940s and only recently have Spain’s national side been a major world force in football. An impressively quick turn around, I’m sure you’ll agree. Another international giant in Germany is trying to move away from ‘B’ teams in domestic leagues citing money issues as a major problem. It’s also worth noting that Brazil, the world’s most successful international team has never had ‘B’ sides in their leagues and it has seemingly never hampered them. To put it plainly, the evidence to suggest ‘B’ teams improves national sides is not really there.

Tenuous links… Spain’s system took just 70 years to pay dividends. [Image: Getty]


Why seems even more unjust is the fact that the elite’s preference for foreign talent will only serve to damage the Football League clubs. It doesn’t seem right that teams such as Portsmouth and Sheffield United will deign to play Hull City’s reserves whilst Port Vale could face a Potteries derby against Stoke City’s second string in front of 63 people. And we’re supposed to believe these occurrences will better our fortunes on the international stage? League One and League Two boast higher aggregate attendances than the top tiers in Russia, Ukraine, Belgium and Portugal. The English league ladder is admired around the globe, the passion and intensity in lower league football is scarcely found away from England and the FA seemingly want to dismantle that just because Premier League sides won’t take a punt on home-grown talent. Attendances will fall as clubs are forced to play the overlooked players of the elite English sides, a prospect Football League fans will not be ‘excited about’ in spire of Danny Mills’ moronic prediction. Regardless, how much of a difference would it make to Aston Villa to have players like Jack Grealish play for their ‘B’ side rather than playing on loan for Notts County, who would actually care about their placing in the league ladder?

Furthermore, the boot is put in to the Conference sides too who struggle enough to gain promotion to the Football League with just two spots available, having traditional clubs like Grimsby Town, Wrexham and Cambridge United suffer because Newcastle United would rather turn to France than England for their personnel doesn’t seem fair.

Shafted… Lower league fans would suffer to benefit the top clubs. [Image: Getty]

The FA are out of touch with English football, the fans don’t want to see their proud clubs reduced to competing against reserves. It’s humiliating, unnecessary and more importantly unfair to the existing Football League Clubs. Whilst it might prove beneficial to the top tier clubs, it will do more harm to the lower leagues. Why is the FA so intent on furthering the gap between the elite of English football and the rest? Even now, as a fan of a Premier League club, I don’t want to see Leicester City B lining up at Spotland in 2017. England’s footballing body would do better to shift focus on player development and increasing top-flight opportunities for young players by putting a cap on foreign players in match-day squads. There’s nothing that English football fans love more than club football and ‘B’ teams would simply destroy that.

The Leicester City Alternative End of Season Awards for 2013-14

The Claridge Shin ‘Scenes of the Season’ Award

Scenes… Kasper spares Leicester’s blushes

After a flurry of late goals this campaign there are plenty of contenders for ‘scenes of the season’. Contenders included Dyer’s late strikes to take ties against Bolton Wanderers and Fulham to 4–3, Danny Drinkwater’s stunning late equaliser against Watford and Andy King’s rocket at Bloomfield Road. But this year’s recipient is Kasper Schmeichel’s ‘goal’ against Yeovil.

Of course, the records state that Chris Wood was the man that netted City’s dramatic last-gasp leveller at home to the Glovers this March but those there, know the truth of how The Foxes keeper headed the ball on to the cross bar and over the line before the Kiwi made it count. As the goals hit the net or fell visibly over the line, whichever you prefer, the King Power Stadium erupted as the unbeaten run was kept alive. It may have ‘only’ been against Yeovil but the Glovers’ spoiling tactics were providing the Foxes with a real test that only a Great Dane had the answer to.

The Dennis Wise ‘Twunt of the Year’ Award

 

No photos… Billy Davies unfinished business of making Forest completely crap was finally completed.

After some intense deliberation (inside my own head), there were only a few stand-out candidates for this award. Harry Redknapp and Joey Barton’s futile attempts to unsettle City’s promotion bid weren’t successful enough for either to scoop the award. Yet another trophy to elude Rangers this season. The Football League could too take a roasting for their inability to correct the aforementioned goal farce against Yeovil Town and Pavel Pogrebnyak made a late charge for the dong with his amateur dramatics on Monday night. But the winner simply has to be the head of Britain’s biggest bottling job 30 miles north of Filbert Way, Billy Davies.

Injuries, injuries, bad referees. Baggy-eyed Billy Davies is an odious little prick. Let’s not beat around the bush, nobody likes him. In the rare event of a disappointing result, Foxes fans have found solace in the circus taking place at Nottingham Forest this year, who failed once more to ‘show us how to win the league’. Billy’s bottlers lie just 31 points behind their local non-rivals and of course that’s the referee’s fault for allowing 10-man Leicester to deservedly leave the City Ground with a point. Nae comment.

The Filbert Fox ‘Foxiest Fox Of The Year’ Award

Thumbs up… Kasper gets fans’ tails up

This award is strictly for the ladies and gays or indeed any admirer of the male form. Plenty lay a claim to the award this season, David Nugent remains ever popular as does the unfathomable cuteness of Anthony Knockaert. But neither did enough to take first place. In fact, not even the emerging beauty of pretty-boy Matty James is enough to take the gong from Belvoir Drive’s resident stud, Kasper Schmeichel.

Is this a surprise? Probably not, he’s always been a strapping man, and with the addition of facial hair well… well… there’s not much more to say at all. Just take 30 seconds or minutes to stare and take the full beauty of this Nordic God in.

 

The Frank Sinclair ‘Comedy Goal of the Year’ Award

Bullet… Wood’s stunner won worldwide acclaim.

The own-goal for City against Derby, Nugent’s first against Derby at home, blah blah blah. Now, the other ‘contenders’ are out of the way we can swiftly award this prestigious title to Chris Wood.

Ironically, the New Zealand international’s goal at Burnley would go down as one of the actual best of the season but was it better than his crunching header at Watford from all of 18 yards? I don’t think so. Manuel Almunia provided a stunning assist to allow Wood to expertly adjust his position and plunge his head forward in the space of milliseconds. Unfathomable skill, I’m sure you agree.

The Yann Kermorgant ‘Stupid Decision of the Year’ Award

For fox sake… Kasper makes an uncharacteristic error.

I know we’ve had very little to moan about this season (long may it continue) but that doesn’t mean our blue and white heroes haven’t been prone to the odd head-scratching error. Jamie Vardy’s reluctance to punish Yeovil whilst one-on-one with the keeper, mistaking himself as offside had fans slamming their heads in to their hands as if Sol Bamba was back and on one of his infamous midfield runs. But the winning moment is Schmeichel’s punch at Blackpool.

In truth, Kasper’s dropping the ball in to his own net at Donny, as if he’d been juggling butter and Durex play before the match could too have scooped the prize. However, it wasn’t quite as bad as Schmeichel’s ill-advised decision to lay the smack down on a Blackpool player in the 90th minute, costing City a penalty and ultimately two points. It also tarnished some pretty scenic scenes after King’s wonder strike 15 minutes before. Bloody hell, Kasper. You’re lucky you’re so gorgeous.

The Aman Verma ‘Signing of the Season’ Award

Algerian ace… Mahrez has been a bright spark since January.

As always with Pearson at the helm, his right-hand man Steve Walsh has produced some stunning signings for the Foxes. Despite their deceptive appearances silver foxes Gary Taylor-Fletcher and Kevin Phillips have possessed the attacking intelligence to win points. Polish brute Marcin Wasilewski has possessed the elbows defensive presence to force Liam Moore out of the starting XI and Dean Hammond too has contributed well when needed but this year’s recipient is silky Algerian, Riyad Mahrez.

Leicester have been missing FLAIR and PASHUUNNNN since Danns left to join Bolton on loan (I’m being totally facetious) but Riyad Mahrez fills the gap nicely. Mahrez’s pace, attacking vision and his capability to score goals like ‘that one’ against Blackpool have earned him many admirers in just a few short weeks.

The Alan Birchenall & Tony Currie ‘Romantic Moment of the Season’ Award

Don’t Sell Knockaert… Tony K sends Leicester up.

The romance of Kasper’s goal against Yeovil Town pales in to insignificance against two classic Tony K moments. It’s hard to pick between his goal at Watford and his goal against Sheffield Wednesday but the latter just pips the other to the post.

It was overwhelmingly satisfying to see Leicester’s favourite Frenchman vanquish his demons as Knockaert scored the second goal of Leicester’s rout at Vicarage Road. The cute little bastard stormed over to the away end celebrating, surrounded by every single outfield team mate. As they returned to the pitch, Knockaert looked up once more at the travelling City fans and kissed the shirt’s famous badge. Knockaert’s goal against Sheffield Wednesday was typically even more poetic of football. Having not scored in a fair old while, it seemed only right that the same man who had inadvertently caused so much heartbreak the year before was the one that had given the Foxes their return to the top flight. Majestic stuff.

The Andy King ‘We Forgot That You Were Here’ Award

Cakewalk… The Foxes win promotion with 6 games to spare.

In truth this award should justly go to the noisy swarms of Watford, Forest and Derby fans after May 12th last year. However, I am going to go ahead and award this to every single club in the league.

Let’s be honest, it’s been a relatively comfortable season for Leicester ever since Boxing Day and even the most ungracious of fans would struggle to ignore our dominance in the second half of the campaign. So thanks to all the other 23 clubs for propping us up this season. I hope not to see any of you any time soon.

We are Premier League!

Bottles are strewn everywhere, party streamers litter the floor and thirty thousand headaches are felt across Leicestershire as Jamie Vardy’s party started three days earlier than planned.

Results on Saturday, accompanied by a 2–1 victory over Sheffield Wednesday saw Leicester City end their painful decade of exile from the top-flight. It wasn’t how we wanted to go up but how could we complain? Almost a year after what can only be described as the cruelest play-off defeat in football history, the Foxes sewed up promotion with an incredible six games to spare. Fans around the country went berzerk. The players took to the city to get intoxicated and Pearson, well, Pearson probably did the same in some sleepy Shropshire village.

Move over, Ellen... The squad celebrate promotion with a selfie

Move over, Ellen… The squad celebrate promotion with a selfie

To many, City’s inevitable return to the top flight will not be a big deal. Some will say it had been merely a formality for City to go up, that other clubs have spent longer trying to get back to the promised land. But in truth, Leicester’s jubilation was not measured in time last night rather the pain that had foregone this memorable day. Since City’s last relegation in 2004, the Foxes sunk lower and lower in the second tier before finally being relegated to League One for the first time in their history. City are known for being ‘bridesmaids of football’ – we’ve never won the FA Cup, we’ve never won the league, we’ve come as close as you can get but we’ve never done it. It was a badge of pride for us that City had never left the top two divisions, a club now restricted to just eight sides, so to lose that was a big deal – the club’s lowest ever point. Manager chopping Mandaric astutely brought in Nigel Pearson and ironically, Leicester’s lowest ebb produced one of the club’s best seasons for years. Champions with 96 points.

Despair… Foxes fans see the club at its lowest

The next season too was a dream for the Foxes. Whilst not the best squad on paper, Pearson’s ability to instill character in to his sides helped City along the way to securing an unlikely play-off place. Leicester played out an enthralling play-off semi-final against Cardiff that ended 3-3 on aggregate after two legs and after extra time. Penalties awaited and things were all square until Yann Kermorgant, a player who had featured very little in the rest of the season, arrogantly chipped the ball, for it to be easily swatted away. City went on to lose. A stunning comeback for Leicester ended in the cruelest fashion. Signs were good for the Foxes, who were now backed by current owners, the Srivdhannaprabbhas. The owners were willing to ring the changes and spend to get the Foxes back to the top. Leicester City were bombarded with media talk for the next two seasons about how promotion would be merely a cakewalk with the new investment. However both Paulo Sousa and ex-England boss Sven Goran Eriksson failed to deliver, and too left City in a poor financial state.

The Srivdhannaprabbhas looked once more to Nigel Pearson to lead the Foxes out of a tough patch. Pearson up sticks and left the better-placed Hull City for a romantic return to Filbert Way. Pearson lead Leicester to 9th in the remainder of the 2011–12 season. His first full year back in charge saw City reach 6th, having been in poll position for automatic promotion as late as February. Pearson led City to a memorable 3–2 win at local rivals Nottingham Forest on the last day of the season, their first league triumph at the City Ground since 1972. As a result, Leicester nicked the last play-off spot at the expense of both Forest and Bolton Wanderers. In the first leg of the semi-final against Watford, Nugent scored a header to give Leicester the advantage. However, it was the second leg that would be the more memorable. The aggregate score was 2–2 going in to the 90th minute, Anthony Knockaert was judged to have been fouled, giving Leicester a penalty and a chance to get to Wembley. The Frenchman stepped up and saw his penalty saved, allowing Watford to counter and Deeney score the sucker punch that sparked a pitch invasion from the Watford fans. Leicester players and fans collapsed to the ground in pure despair. Many saw that as Leicester’s best chance to return to the top flight with money looking tight and Financial Fair Play rearing its ugly head. But few envisaged City using this heartache as the catalyst for a record breaking 2013–14 (I did…sort of).

Allez les bleus… Knockaert was Leicester’s hero once more.

This season has been a blast. Leicester have taken the league by the scruff of their neck. From the get go, Leicester have looked to rid the monkeys on their back starting with Middlesbrough away on the opening day, it was a crucial for City to recover from a play-off hangover as quickly as possible and they did with a scintillating second half comeback. The Foxes too went back to Vicarage Road and exorcised their demons with a 3–0 drubbing, complete with a stunning volley from Anthony Knockaert. The character from the squad is, for me, the reason why Leicester find themselves promoted with a month of the league campaign to spare. Late points won against Birmingham, Bolton, Leeds, Forest, Blackpool, Yeovil, Wigan and Watford (ha) have gone a long way to sewing up promotion – proving the mantra “Foxes never Quit!” to be nothing but true.

This season has been a dream come true. Foxes of this generation, myself included have had so little to shout about. It was only fitting that Anthony Knockaert was the man to send the Foxes up after his shortcomings at Watford last season. His character was rewarded as he took to Twitter to boast about “the best day in his life”, the day Leicester made it back to the big time. And with a manager as successful as Nigel Pearson, a young, hungry squad likely to improve and owners willing to do all they can, there is no reason why the Foxes can’t establish themselves. So maybe we haven’t had to wait as long as for this as say Wednesday or Forest but we have been through the mill these last 10 years and yesterday, all of a sudden the pain we felt at Stoke, Cardiff and Watford was worth it for this moment. So let’s pack Filbert Way on Tuesday night. Get out the blue and white, turn up the Status Quo and pour a Singha beer because Jamie Vardy’s having a party – and you’re all invited!

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