The Premier League Returns!

IT’S BACK! 

They call it the best league in the world and, of course, it is hard to disagree. A plethora of talent is disbursed across the whole league, on any given day a team challenging for the title can be beaten by a side struggling in the bottom three and it all kicks off at 19:45 as Arsenal host Leicester City at the Emirates.

Of course, this season is not just another season, it marks 25 years since the very first Premier League season and Manchester United fans across the world will be hoping that the Red Devils can mark this season with the same title-winning performances as they did all those years ago.

It will be a tough ask for them now they are back in the Champions League but like the last few summer transfer windows, they’ve not been afraid to splash the cash. They currently stand at having spent an eye-watering £179.5m on three players.  It’s hard to see them finishing outside of the Top 4 this season, but you never know.

By far and away the biggest spenders of the window have been Manchester City and this will heap the pressure on Pep, as the board and fans alike will expect instant and long-lasting results. There can be no fade away, no bad patches, no dips in form. This will create a new pressure for the squad he is building and it will take the likes of Otamendi and Kompany in the dressing room to make sure this does not affect the team performances. It will be a tough ask but they have a very capable squad.

Turning to the reigning and defending champions, Chelsea. They have had a very mixed summer, losing Matic, trying to offload Costa and missing out on Lukaku before settling on Morata. The general thought of the football world is that they cannot defend their title and there are also reports that Antonio Conte is not a happy man and may even consider resigning. This would be a massive shock and not something I expect to happen. They should still finish Top 4, comfortably, but they cannot afford to rest on their laurels.

Of course, they aren’t the only teams involved in the Premier League and the standout transfer window so far has been for Everton. They have bought quickly and filled in key areas of the squad. Davy Klaassen is a fantastic addition and also bringing Wayne Rooney back is a real confidence booster for the club.  There have been no other real fantastic windows for clubs, although odd signings have peaked the football fans interest. Namely Lacazette coming over to England and joining Arsenal, it is worth noting he had a decent debut in the Community Shield and will hopefully settle well in England so we get to see the best of him.

This time of year always calls for predictions. Here at Taylor’s Football Talk, we have had a few discussions and the general consensus is that nobody can agree on a title winner. There have been tips for both Manchester clubs and having looked at the signings, I feel like Manchester City ought to win the league but I believe the red side of Manchester will be the ones celebrating, as Pep needs to tweak his tactical style, which I am unsure he will want to do.

At the other end of the table, it is generally agreed that Huddersfield will feature in the bottom three come May 2018 and both Brighton and Swansea have featured on more than one prediction. My own personal predictions are as follows:

  • Manchester United
  • Manchester City
  • Chelsea
  • Arsenal

There are now two notable absences from the Top 4; Liverpool and Spurs but this is not without justification. Tottenham are playing home games at Wembley and this will affect their phenomenal home form from the last couple of seasons and Liverpool could well lose Coutinho before the end of the transfer window.

My thoughts on the bottom three are:

  • Brighton
  • Swansea
  • Huddersfield

I am a Burnley fan, and I have some serious concerns about this season but I believe the Clarets will survive by the skin of their teeth. Also Newcastle will be in the mix, as will Watford. Ultimately, I believe that if Swansea lose Gylfi they will struggle to pick up the necessary points to stay in the league. Other than that, I feel a lack of Premier League experience will hurt Brighton and Huddersfield, which will undoubtedly impact their points tally come the end of the season.

As so many others will be, I am so happy the Premier League is back. Make sure you’ve got your fantasy football teams done, crack open a cold one and enjoy the season long rollercoaster!

Speculation, it’s all just a Gray area.

Burnley Football Club have achieved so much more than we should have done at this stage of the season, we have 31 points and are only three points off surpassing our efforts from a couple of seasons ago. It truly has been a phenomenal season so far.

We have been amazing at home, having got 29 of our 31 points at Turf Moor with our away form being nothing short of awful. There have been signs of improvement recently but the most recent performance away at Swansea was poor and saw a dramatic late goal that ensured all points were thrown away.

Our fantastic season has had a few key players, and with Burnley being a club of a small stature in comparison to other Premier League teams, there will be increased speculation as to whether we can keep hold of the players we have.

The key players that are coming under transfer speculation are Tom Heaton, Michael Keane and Andre Gray. All three have either featured in, or been heavily linked to, the England squad and with this will come increased transfer speculation, as purists will argue that little old Burnley should not have three players in the England squad.

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It is clear to see why Everton would be interested in Tom Heaton as the ‘keeper position has been the weakest area for them since David Moyes left the club and Roberto Martinez attempted to replace the ageing Tim Howard with the unremarkable Joel Robles. Stekelenburg has been brought in by Ronald Koeman but again, he has not set the world alight and is easily replaceable.

Tom Heaton has been a phenomenal servant to Burnley since joining on a free transfer  from Bristol City, he has become club captain and a fan favourite. In addition to that, he has to have been our most consistent performer over the past three or four seasons and is a key component to our team.

You have to wonder, would it be possible to replace him? Ability wise, you could possibly look at Jordan Pickford from Sunderland but he looks destined for a bigger club than Burnley and also, he wouldn’t replace the influence that would be lost should Heaton leave. I don’t think we would get an offer with a fee great enough to tempt the Burnley board to sell.

Verdict – Irreplaceable and least likely to leave the club.

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Andre Gray, what a conundrum. Until the last couple of weeks I hadn’t seen his name linked to a move away from Turf Moor but now I barely see anything else. Tottenham Hotspur are considering a bid of around £30m to secure the signing of our key striker, which, if we’re honest, is an astronomical amount of money.

Andre has had a mixed season to say the least, his season has had fantastic highs and miserable lows. Old tweets came back to haunt him just hours after scoring his first Premier League goal against Liverpool in a 2-0 win earlier this season, so the ‘bad-boy done good‘ story was surpassed by the story of a Premier League striker being embroiled in homophobia.

Despite suffering a four-game ban for the abhorrent tweets, Gray has still managed 8 Premier League goals this season, which is a phenomenal return. A brace against Swansea, and a first ever Premier League hat trick for both Gray and Burnley against Sunderland have been the highlights.

There have been concerns about the striker’s consistency this season and his deal does run out in the summer of 2018. If we do receive an offer of around £30m for the striker, it would be very hard to turn down. He is our best striker and that is without question but I think Gray could be replaced, there are strikers out there that could come in and get goals with just as much frequency, so it is possible he could be sold.

Verdict – Replaceable (just about). As likely to leave as he is to stay, however if a new deal is not signed by the end of June, I’d expect to see Gray packing his things and moving on.

Michael Keane

As with Tom Heaton, Everton are the club that are most interested in signing Keane. Whilst there has been talk of him going back to Manchester United or even joining Manchester City, I think the Toffees would be a perfect fit for the centre half.

We have seen Michael Keane mature immensely whilst being at Burnley. He joined as a young centre half with all the potential of a top Premier League player, he had a fantastic pedigree and has gone from strength to strength whilst playing first team football.

He is a player that has outgrown Burnley with our current stature and therefore needs to move on. He has given his all during his time with the club, he has popped up with some vital goals (away at Hull being the most recent) and really should go on to be England’s best centre half. I don’t think any Clarets fan would begrudge him a move away but it is important any potential deal in the summer does not turn into a fiasco.

It is important to remember we signed James Tarkowski for a reason, to replace Michael Keane. Tarkowski is a tank; big, strong, powerful and almost as good on the ball as Michael Keane. He is a ready-made replacement for Keane and this should facilitate a faster sale.

Verdict – Nailed on to leave. Whilst he is our best defender, and with the exception of Steven Defour, probably our best player on the ball, he is not irreplaceable. We should cash in during the summer and focus on strengthening other areas of the pitch (midfield).

Will these players move come the summer transfer window, nobody really knows but with expiring contracts and as it’s now easier than ever for a player to manufacture a move away from a club anything can always happen. As Sean Dyche has said, other managers looking at our players and tempting them away with media releases is something we cannot control but I have faith in Dyche and the Burnley board to do the right thing for the club, as they have always done.

Personally, I believe that both Andre Gray and Michael Keane will leave the club in the summer but with reported sums of around £20m-£25m it might not be the worst thing in the world to have them leave. Arguably, neither are irreplaceable and we would effectively have £40m-£50m to spend on a striker, as we have a somebody ready to step up and take Keane’s place.

What do you think? Will we see any of the much touted trio leave Turf Moor this summer? I would really appreciate your thoughts on this, so get in touch!

How to solve a problem like Arsene Wenger?

There are two camps of Arsenal fans and there have been for some time; ‘Wenger in‘ and ‘Wenger out‘. The numbers fluctuate all the time, with fans swinging from camp to camp depending on the result that has just come.

With that in mind, the members of the latter of the two groups will be at possibly the highest level for some time. A 5-1 demolition by Bayern Munich brought the cloud of doom over the Emirates team, as the club are pretty much out of the Champions League in the last 16, again. Couple that with the most recent result, a 3-1 loss away at Anfield, and the subsequent drop to fifth place in the league table, the pressure is really mounting on the Frenchman.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times about football being a business, and nobody embodies this more than Arsene Wenger. From a boardroom level, he has been the single most consistent Premier League manager of all time (bar Sir Alex Ferguson) and kept, what once was, a very poor squad in the top four and therefore in the Champions League.

He has guided them through a turbulent financial period, as the club moved from Highbury to the Emirates and become one of the most profitable clubs in England. Arsene Wenger has always guaranteed top four football, and with that the additional revenue of the Champions League.

When you look at his record pre-2004, it was extremely good. Having taken charge in October 1996, Arsene guided the Gunners to three Premier League titles and three FA Cup wins. This was followed up in the 04-05 season with another FA Cup and then followed a move to the Emirates. It took another nine years for a trophy to be brought back to Arsenal when they won the FA Cup in 13-14, narrowly beating Hull 3-2 after extra time.

The lack of trophies aside, there is the transfer history. Looking at Arsenal’s transfer history it is more a case of good players seemingly slipping through the net and into an Arsenal shirt, rather than a list of exemplary players and big characters.

For every Thierry Henry, there is a Francis Jeffers. Every Van Persie has his Chu-Young Park. The lists seem to be endless and what is more evident is that over the last few seasons there has been a lack of real improvement. For about 5 seasons, if not longer, it has been blatantly obvious where Arsenal’s squad was lacking, but it hasn’t been addressed. We’ve seen the arrivals of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, amongst others, but Arsene Wenger has failed to address the lack of grit in the middle of the park and not brought in a centre half that is a leader and organiser.

The club attempted to finally sort these issues in the summer by completing the signings of Granit Xhaka and Mustafi at centre half. Famed for stuttering in the transfer market, they got the Granit Xhaka deal done early and this was a promising sign for the Gunners but they stalled over the Mustafi deal and this cost the club dearly.

Whether Granit Xhaka will flourish into a Premier League enforcer, or even a top midfielder, is still very much in doubt. Whilst Mustafi does look like a good signing, Koscielny is now getting to the very edge of his peak so you would think a title would have to happen sooner rather than later, and with Wenger in charge it doesn’t look like happening.

Alongside the transfer flops, there are the near misses, Benzema should have signed for Arsenal in the last four summers, Gonzalo Higuain has been rumoured, Suarez nearly happened, and so on, and so forth. Again, this is another understandable bone of contention for most Arsenal fans. I appreciate there is a wage structure at Arsenal, but an unwillingness to push the envelope and increase this has no doubt hampered the recruitment process.

It is really easy to see why Arsenal fans move themselves into the ‘Wenger out‘ camp, and it is hard not to forget the history when it is exactly that, history. He has won a lot with Arsenal, and has also had one hand on the Champions League trophy in 2006. Despite all of this, it cannot be argued that he has not delivered the amount of silverware required for one of the biggest clubs in England.

I generally think consistency is the key to success, but there comes a time when your former glory can transform into anger from the fans, where Arsene Wenger was once adored by all, he is now resented by a slight majority of fans and it is conceivable this number could sky-rocket by the end of the season. In the immortal words of Harvey ‘Two-Face‘ Dent in ‘Batman: The Dark Knight’ “You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain”.

Arsene Wenger is perilously close to becoming the villain for all Arsenal fans and another FA Cup with a fourth place might not be enough to see him get through the summer with the full support of Arsenal fans.

There is the question of who would replace him, there has been mention of Eddie Howe but Bournemouth’s form over the last couple of months has put pay to that. The resignation of Luis Enrique from Barcelona will put a bit of pressure on Arsene as well, not only because it is another candidate for his current job but there is speculation that Arsene could move the other way.

The main target appears to be Max Allegri from Juventus. Reports vary, with some stating this is simply a rumour and others advising he has pretty much already signed on the dotted line. Whether or not Allegri would be a success is a matter for another blog, but Arsenal fans will look to Antonio Conte, and Chelsea’s current dominance, and will have a great deal of excitement.

Ultimately, I think it will be Arsene Wenger himself that makes a decision as to whether he will be at Arsenal next season, although it is looking less and less likely.

Wayne Rooney – English Premier League or Chinese Super League?

There has been an intense speculation regarding the future of Wayne Rooney in the past few days, although it should be noted he has come out and said he will not be leaving Old Trafford, as it is an exciting time to be with Manchester United. The question remains, how long will this be the case?

The speculation is that Wayne Rooney, Manchester United and England captain would be leaving our shores for the Chinese Super League before the end of their transfer window on the 28th of February. Indeed, his agent has been out in China to speak with the appropriate representatives regarding this move and, as is usually the case, there is no smoke without fire.

I want to take a bit of time to discuss the career of Wayne Rooney and the way in which he is viewed by sections of the media and football fans across the country. His career has not run without its fair share of controversy, whether it be his personal antics with women of a certain age or berating the England fans that had travelled to South Africa to watch an abject draw with Algeria. That being said, he has often shown fantastic ability and has racked up some phenomenal stats!

In 50 years time, when you look back on the career of Wayne Rooney purely on paper, he will have a claim at having been the most successful career of any England player to have played the beautiful game. He currently has 119 caps to his name, which is second in the all-time list, and only six behind Peter Shilton. Further to this, he has scored more goals than anybody else for his country, having surpassed Bobby Charlton in 2015.

If you add to this the fact he is one of the most decorated club players ever, and has won every club competition possible with Manchester United, again having surpassed Bobby Charlton’s goalscoring record, this time for Manchester United, in early 2017, he has had a phenomenal career and it is hard to believe that he is only 31.

However, there are some quarters that do not view Wayne Rooney’s career in the way the stats read, and rightly so. He is a professional footballer, currently earning in the region of £300,000 per week to play for arguably the biggest club in the country, but his performances for them have generally been below par. Add to that, no stand out England performances since Euro 2004, it is difficult to judge the manner in which he should be viewed.

He has never truly shown up for his country, and appears to have stumbled over the line for the records he has achieved, much like a worn out marathon runner, which he may well be, as he debuted what seems like a life time ago and has never had a long period of rest from the game.

Setting my stall out, I believe he is a phenomenal player and I would go as far as saying he is the best footballer that England has ever produced (again this is heavily influenced by his stats). I have wanted him to regain the kind of form that saw him scoring goals such as the volley against Newcastle United just seconds after arguing with the referee. The kind of form that he showed when he burst on to the scene for Everton scoring a fantastic goal against Arsenal, alas that has not yet happened. Fans of Wayne Rooney will probably have to accept this will not happen again, as he is now a different kind of player, one that has to rely on his football intelligence to produce performances but, again, this is yet to materialise fully.

Wayne Rooney is currently in transition, I do think he needs to pick his poison. In a sense that he either needs to try and morph into Zlatan, a man that will be the main striker and whilst they want to win, they also know their place is up front and battling with the centre halves. Or the other option is that he demands to drop deeper, and attempts to become a Steven Gerrard type player, but he might not have defensive mind or ability for that.

Whilst there would be a large amount of suitors for Rooney, they would have to be able to pay his hefty weekly wages and stump up a healthy fee, which Manchester United are likely to want before letting him go. Also, seeing Rooney leave would surely end his international career, as Gareth Southgate cannot continue to pick a player that is plying their trade in a league with such a poor standard.

The stats should speak for themselves, yet they do not. Rooney is full of passion and desire but is marred by poor form and the questionable tactics he used to obtain a bumper contract at Manchester United. I do not feel people will look back upon Wayne Rooney and miss him, in the same way players like Scholes, Gerrard and Beckham will be missed.

It would be the end of an era not only for Rooney himself, but also Manchester United, their fans and the entirety of English football. It could also see the beginning of a shift in world football power, with more and more British players potentially looking to leave to maximise their wealth in what can be such a short footballing career. Whatever happens, the whole of English football should salute his career but this cannot be guaranteed.

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