Arsenal’s demise from a European force to a club hanging on to European qualification via the Premier League has been well documented. Much of the blame is attributed to the quality of the players and manager Arsene Wenger’s transfer policy. Both are entirely reasonable assessments, but they ignore an important feature of the club’s evolution in recent years. Arsenal’s trophy-winning years seemingly dried up after the departures of stars like Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry, but Wenger’s tactical changes have been just as damaging… (Read more)
Carlo Ancelotti has seemingly adopted a 4-2-2-2 shape at Paris Saint-Germain to include Lucas Moura as an extra playmaker alongside Javier Pastore. The Brazilian is in a race to be fit for Sunday’s game against Marseille – should he fail to recover he could be replaced by Jeremy Menez, or Ancelotti may opt to return to a more conservative 4-3-1-2 shape, with Pastore as the sole playmaker and Clement Chantome coming in as an extra midfielder.
For Marseille, Ellie Baup has no selection concerns and should start with their usual 4-2-3-1 formation.
With Marseille trailing league leaders PSG by five points, the visitors travel to the French capital needing a result, yet knowing a defeat will all but end their title aspirations… (Read more)
It isn’t often the reigning Premier League Champions will base their team selection on a routine cup victory over lower-league opposition, but then Manchester City have rarely acted like reigning Champions this season. Jolean Lescott appears to fall further out of favour as Kolo Toure overtakes him in the central defensive pecking order, although Vincent Kompany’s mooted return from injury would see them both dropped to the bench. Elsewhere Roberto Mancini may finally be persuaded to persist with a forward pairing of Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez, and Gareth Barry’s poor form may see him dropped in favour of Javi Garcia.
Rafael Benitez has struggled to settle on a favoured system let alone a preferred starting XI during his few months at Chelsea. Initial attempts to withdraw the wide forwards into a 4-4-1-1 appear to have been abandoned, but Benitez will still need to decide between fielding Chelsea’s ‘three amigos’ of Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar behind a lone striker or selecting Victor Moses as a natural wide option. Alternatively the Spaniard could opt for caution and deploy either Ramires or Ryan Bertrand in a wide midfield role as he has done on previous occasions. Defensively Benitez still seems unsure of his best back four, with Cesar Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanovic in contention for the right back slot, and Gary Cahill, David Luiz and John Terry options at centre back. In attack the Demba Ba/Fernando Torres debate continues… (Read more)
AC Milan have been a team searching for an identity this season, with key players leaving in the summer, but Massimiliano Allegri has done remarkably well to keep the club competitive. Milan’s most regular system is a 4-3-3 variation, with a designated holding midfielder and a narrow front three. Mario Balotelli has recently starred as the central forward but will be cup-tied, so either Stephan El Shaarawy or Giampaolo Pazzini will play in his place. Kevin-Prince Boateng is likely to start on the left in place of the injured Robinho to offer defensive solidity, while Allegri can choose between Riccardo Montilivo, Sulley Muntari, Antonio Nocerino and Mathieu Flamini for midfield positions. With Nigel De Jong injured, Massimo Ambrosini will probably play in the holding role.
Milan face Barcelona, the team that have defined the 4-3-3 shape more than any other in recent years. With manager Tito Vilanova recovering from cancer treatment in New York, assistant Jordi Roura will continue to take charge of the team but has no major injury concerns… (Read more)
Wigan will begin their fourth season under celebrated manager Roberto Martinez, but just like the last three years they will continue to be amongst the favourites for relegation. It is this that ultimately lies at the paradox of Martinez’s reputation. For all the nice interviews he gives and the sporadic moments of genuine quality from his team, it seems that Wigan are no better off in 2012 than they were in 2009. With this record it seems bizarre that Martinez could have ended up managing Aston Villa and Liverpool. Like a boxer rallying towards the end of a round to impress the judges, Wigan’s traditional end of season form seems to falsely place Martinez on other clubs’ wish-lists… (Read more)
Sam Allardyce was hired to get West Ham back to the Premier League and, to his credit, he did just that. Club owners David Sullivan and David Gold would have been aware of the reputation of Allardyce’s teams but clearly felt he was the best man to get the team promoted. Now they are back in the top division, Sullivan and Gold will also expect Allardyce to keep them there and re-establish them as a Premier League mainstay… (Read more)
Like Steve Kean and Terry Connor last year, Steve Clarke makes the bold step from assistant to manager of a Premier League club. Equally bold was West Brom’s appointment of Clarke, and the club must have taken into consideration the poor performance of assistants in recent seasons. While he has a fine reputation as an assistant and a coach, it is widely acknowledged that the skills necessary for a successful career in management are not forged on the training ground. Yet West Brom’s new manager does the advantage of starting afresh at a new club and doesn’t face the challenge of having to adapt existing relationships with the players… (Read more)
With all the talk around Brendan Rodgers’ appointment at Liverpool, it may actually be that Andre Villas-Boas moving to Tottenham is the most interesting managerial development of the summer. Villas-Boas has had a turbulent twelve months, having arrived at Chelsea as a treble winner with Porto and considered one of the hottest managerial prospects in Europe and leaving nine months later with his reputation tarnished. However, reported interest from Inter Milan and a number of other European clubs will testify that the Portuguese manager still has his admirers and Tottenham seem to have found a top class replacement for Harry Redknapp… (Read more)
As with Norwich, Swansea achieved a fantastic league position last year with a squad largely comprising Championship players. Brendan Rodgers’ success was not only keeping the team up, but keeping the team up playing the possession-based game they carried from the division below. To have the third most possession and the second best pass completion rate in the league with a newly promoted side is an incredible accomplishment. The bad news for Swansea is that Rodgers’ reputation grew with his team’s success and resulted in a move to Liverpool… (Read more)
Trying to second guess Martin O’Neill isn’t easy, but it seems likely that after the turbulence of the Steve Bruce era Sunderland are returning to a degree of stability under the Northern Irishman. The number of signings brought in by Bruce bordered on the ridiculous, but O’Neill has quickly built a team from the squad he inherited and is a few new faces away from having a side that could challenge for a European place… (Read more)