Fantasy Football League: Game Day 5

Mercenaries XI

After an international football break where WhatApp audio clips were the order of the day for anyone interested in Republic of Ireland training ground shenanigans, it is a welcome relief that the EPL is back and with it some decisions for the FPL side which struggled last time out. A couple of team changes as my patience with the pup Sane and a quite clearly not required Cenk Tosun (Everton) have forced my hand. 

Goalkeeper

Ederson continues in goal. A home game against a Fulham side who will not be afraid to pass the ball around should see an exciting spectacle and perhaps an opportunity for the Brazilian keeper to provide a quick assist for his outfield colleagues. Clean sheet is the aim this week. 

Defenders

The back three remains unchanged; going to give Alexander-Arnold one more chance. A tough fixture against Tottenham, the likelihood of another yellow card but the player did show some genuine attacking threat. One more chance for the player, otherwise Robertson could be getting the nod. 

Azpilicueta is solid and with a home fixture against a Cardiff City side who are struggling to score goals, clean sheet should be well achievable and perhaps a foray on the attacking set piece could yield a goal. An added bonus (here’s hoping). 

Vertonghen has being an ever present in the side, tough fixture with Liverpool at the weekend but his threat at the Tottenham set piece could be an added bonus. Clean sheet looks remote to be honest given the pace of this Liverpool attacking unit; hoping perhaps for a goal / assist from the player. 

Midfield

I have had enough of Leroy. I have had enough of the bench warming sulking body language antics so Sane is gone from the squad, slotting Mane into the side and could be a permanent fixture given his early season form.

Pace to burn and has chipped in with a couple of goals as well, hoping for the same against Tottenham along with Salah as the counter attack style of Liverpool in this fixture could be too much for Tottenham defensively. Question marks on Lloris fitness as well.

Neves continues to impress; cannot see the player being at Wolves next season and hopefully he showcases his talent against a Burnley side who are struggling for goals and defensively have looked vulnerable. Kante will continue to do his thing; protect his back four and keep a clean sheet against Cardiff City. A goal from the French World Cup winner would be dreamland territory. 

Strikers

Sergio has proclaimed that he is in good fitness and physical condition, that will do for me and he continues. Fulham will provide opportunities for City and Aguero should be in the middle of all that will be good in City’s attacking play. 

The two other strikers are questionable picks. Zaha’s absence against Southampton last weekend was massive for Palace so I think if Zaha can stand up, he will be playing against Huddersfield Town who are ripe for another thrashing.

Calvin-Lewin should play against West Ham United in the absence of Richarlison. West Ham United defensively are not doing it for me at the moment and Everton should produce good chances. Cenk Tosun looks to have no future at the club so Calvin-Lewin will get the nod and hopefully score a couple of goals.

Fantasy Premier League: Game Day 4

A mediocre week for yours truly last week and Hawkeye Sidekick is starting to ponder team selection ahead of this weekend’s fixture list. 

Hawkeye Sidekick Mercenaries XI

No change in goal as Ederson continues to put solid performances; a near certain clean sheet last weekend denied by dubious officiating at Wolves. A game against under pressure Newcastle United should see more points from the net minder and his distribution to outfield colleagues could yield assists like in game day two. 

The back three continues as is for now; have my concerns on Alexander-Arnold, yet another booking to his name but was prominent in a couple of attacking opportunities for Liverpool. I will give him another week to impress; otherwise it could be time to look elsewhere. Azpilicueta and Vertonghen continue to impress and expect good numbers from each player with games against Bournemouth and Watford. 

The midfield four is unchanged, hoping Neves can impress against a clearly struggling West Ham United on the road. Neves is a class act and with West Ham United struggling to keep clean sheets (even against AFC Wimbledon) , Neves should be prominent.

Salah continued his good start to the season with another strike against Brighton Hove & Albion and I cannot see Leicester City defense able to contain the Liverpool attacking threat. Speed kills and Liverpool could give Leicester City a serious hiding. 

Sane is another player which I am pondering over. Minimal starts for City this season; will keep the faith for another week and hope Pep gives the German international the nod. If not, then time to look at my options. Newcastle United look so vulnerable right now and City could have the proverbial field day if they score early. 

Kante should be prominent against Bournemouth; consistent points throughout the season and he should chip in with additional goals this season as Sarri looks for the French international to contribute more from an attacking sense which is very much a work in progress. 

The key change this week is upfront. My patience with Rashford has gone; a player of serious ability but with the Manchester United crisis in full flow, it remains to be seen when Rashford will get more game time so is dropped from my squad.

Cenk Tosun comes into the lineup. He will replace Richarlison who is suspended and with a home game against a vulnerable Huddersfield Town side missing Jonathan Hogg in midfield, Tosun should get plenty of opportunities to score. 

Aguero lines the lead as always for City. Newcastle United at home and should be a good game to pick up additional goals and assists with Jesus providing searing pace alongside. 

Zaha has started the season really well and a home game against a Southampton side who are a mixed bag at present should see the key Palace attacking threat add to his goals and assist tally. 

The objective is clear this week, start to claw back points lost last week. If not, Hawkeye Sidekick may be looking at a long season of defending himself from his mates down the local!

Fantasy Premier League: Week 2

Solid if unspectacular start to the league last week, the gamble to introduce Neves in my starting lineup was fully merited but Sessegnon did not and with Kante on the bench, easy points were dropped last week. 

Mercenaries Xi

Ederson was comfortable last weekend against Arsenal; a clean sheet secured with the minimum of fuss and more of the same expected at home to a Huddersfield Town side who look devoid of any scoring threat. 

Alexander-Arnold continues to feature in my side; clean sheet last weekend in the rout of West Ham United but an early yellow card blotched the copybook and with his defensive colleague Robertson started well with an assist for Salah’s opening strike; Hawkeye Sidekick may wield the axe pronto here. 

Vertonghen continued his World Cup form; standout defensive performance and scored the opening goal in Tottenham’s 2-1 road trip win to Newcastle United. Fulham next for Tottenham at Wembley and suspect that the Belgian may get more chances to score at the set piece. 

Cesar Azpilicueta for me is such a solid pick right now; the guy will tally points throughout the year and chip in potentially with a goal or two throughout the season; expecting Chelsea to be solid defensively with Sarri in charge. No need to change the Spaniard from the side. 

The one change to side is including Kante for Sessegnon who showed flashes of promise but ultimately offered little to test Palace last weekend. Tottenham this weekend was the decisive reason to drop the youngster from my squad entirely. Kante scored last week and all indications suggest that the World Cup winner will play a more advanced role; decent finish to start Chelsea’s account last weekend, more to follow I hope. 

Salah, Sane and Neves retain their spots. Sane hopefully gets game time this weekend. Huddersfield Town look ripe for the picking; imagine Sane rampaging on the flank but given the form of Mahrez and Bernardo Silva last week, will Pep Guardiola look to keep as it is? 

Salah opened his account for the season with a regulation strike from close range following great work from Robertson; the front four should prove too much for Palace on MNF and hopefully the Egyptian focuses on scoring goals and not using his mobile phone while driving!

Neves was the pick of my team last weekend. The player will not be at Wolves come January; the Portuguese player looks a standout for the side and his cameo was superb. Expect some of the big fish to make queries on the player come next January. Neves play a Leicester City side who to be honest were inconsistent at best against United last weekend so Neves could have another good day in the Wolves midfield. 

The attacking options remain unchanged. Even though, I think Liverpool should have too much for Palace, Zaha if given decent supply could pose issues to the Liverpool defense; another goal would be nice. Rashford has the talent but the goal ratio is not matching up; a road trip to Brighton Hove & Albion looks a mixed bag so it is all down to Sergio Aguero to hit the goals against Huddersfield Town; otherwise the points tally will look meek with the vulture they call relegation form looming large on the horizon. 

English Premier League 2018-19 Preview

August 10th is suddenly upon us and that means the start of the English Premier League season as Manchester United play host to Leicester City at Old Trafford. Hawkeye Sidekick runs the rule over the twenty teams on the starting blocks. 

City still the team to catch? 

The century point winning league champions were the standout team of the league last season. Their passing game was too much for the rest. City have secured the services of Mahrez from Leicester City, an excellent squad depth signing.

City are happy with their defensive setup and will hope that Vincent Kompany is injury free this season. Stones and Otamendi will have come on from their World Cup experience. The midfield is stacked with quality and De Bruyne, Sane, Silva will look to continue where they left off last season terrorizing league defenses. 

The attacking options for Manchester City will be in the form of Aguero and Jesus and they should be expecting plenty of opportunities to score given the players around them. They are the side to beat this season and are a good bet (provided the players are hungry for further glory) to retain their title. 

Pep also wielded the axe during the off-season. Toure and Hart bide farewell from the club; two players who have had indifferent relations with the manager. Several promising young players have also left the club for first team opportunity with Angus Gunn looking to impress at Southampton.

Liverpool poised to deliver title push? 

Is this the season where Liverpool deliver a league title? This is a crucial season for Jurgen Klopp and squad given the investment on new talent this off-season. Four marquee signings may their debuts for the club this season. Fabinho, Keita, Shaqiri and Alisson will need time to settle but in doing so, will Liverpool lose valuable points to the likes of Manchester City early doors?

A second season for Mo Salah to confirm his talent and goal scoring prowess; an opening day home fixture against West Ham United should be the perfect platform for the player and club to start the season in the right fashion. 

The defensive side of the team has being highlighted last season but the central defensive positions look strong. van Djik and Lovren struck an effective partnership in the second half of last season.

Robertson and Alexander-Arnold are two full backs full of potential and pace. The keeper situation has being addressed with Alisson but the Brazilian keeper will need to answer early questions on his aerial ability. If he can come through this unscathed, Liverpool are in with a great chance of securing a much coveted league title.

Tottenham content with squad depth? 

For the first time since the transfer window was introduced, Tottenham Hotspur decided not to sign any player (much to the disappointment of Jack Grealish). The club have sent out the statement that squad depth is sufficient as they prepare to move back to the Lane. The home fixture with title rival Liverpool should be a standout moment of the season.

Massive onus on Harry Kane to continue to be the main man to score the goals. Alli, Song and Eriksen will provide the creativity and flair in the side. The question is when Kane is injured, who will provide the scoring threat? Defensive solid with the likes of Vertonghen and Sanchez in the ranks, expect Trippier to become an even more prominent player from the set piece given his impressive World Cup cameo. 

The question is with respect to the striking options when Kane is injured or unavailable for team selection; it is the biggest concern for the club and Llorente will need to contribute more than last season which was brief cameo appearances. 

Manchester United in limbo? 

What to expect from United this season? A mixed bag truth be told. Can the manager get the best out of Paul Pogba who showed with France this summer that he is capable of playing a disciplined midfield role? The prospect of Matic being absent for the start of the season places pressure on McTominay and no discernible replacement for retired Carrick.

It has being an interesting off season at the club.  Early summer signings with Fred the standout but the end of this window has proved increasingly frustrating. The chase for a central defender foiled several times; Maguire, Godin, Boateng and any other defensive player they approached were out of reach. A messy end to transfer dealings which has only increased Mourinho’s frustration to the media yesterday.

The performance of Sanchez will be keenly watched; an interrupted preseason showed glimpses of brilliance from the player and he will need to be the focal point for attacking flair in the side. Rashford and Lukaku will be the main scoring threats as Martial looks primed to play a peripheral role given his extended absence from preseason. A season where Mourinho may decide that it is time to look elsewhere; the dreaded third season in charge, watch this space. United are not winning the title and top four is the priority this season with a cup run the likely outcome.

Arsenal: Post Wenger Era

The start of the Unai Emery era at Arsenal. The Arsenal TV fans will need to give the experienced manager the time to settle into the club. There have being key departures from the squad. No Mertesacker, Wilshere, Cazorla in the squad but Arsenal have secured the services of Lichtsteiner, Leno and Papastahopoulous who should contribute from the opening weekend. 

What to expect from Arsenal this season? It is a good question. A daunting home game to start against Manchester City but the new manager will look for his side to express themselves with the ball and be compact when in defensive duties. Patrick Aubameyang should enjoy an excellent full season with the club; his pace, power and scoring prowess should see Arsenal take a couple of top four scalps but defensively there are concerns particularly in the central defensive areas. Top four finish is the priority for the club. 

Are Everton the dark horse top four bet?

Everton have had on paper a strong transfer window and the board have backed new manager Silva in the transfer market. Richarlison is a risky buy given his record with Watford. Where now for Cenk Tosun? Digne from Barcelona will provide good options in the full back berth.

Bernard, Mina and Gomes if they can settle quickly into the side are quality additions. Mina has the skill set, power to settle the Everton defensive issues seen last season.

Silva is a well respected manager but the fact that he has being dismissed by Watford last season has cast a shadow on the appointment. Will Silva last the full season? Everton need a stable managerial tenure to grow but Silva has questions to answer particularly when the club have backed the manager to the hilt. 

The fact that Jordan Pickford remained at the football club was almost another signing in the off-season as well as the fully fit Seamus Coleman to the ranks. This is a season which could deliver great promise for the club provided that they start the season well. 

Everton were shrewd in their departures this off season. They cut their losses on Klaassen and Williams who did not settle at the club. The fortunes of the club rest on the new manager and Silva needs to deliver. Top six is attainable given the personnel assembled.

Burnley steady as she goes 

Sean Dyche and squad should be applauded for the sixth position in the league last season. UEFA Europa League secured but it brings its own challenges to the club. The squad depth will be fully tested this season and if early season form dips, an uncomfortable relegation battle will ensue which would be a big disappointment. 

The goalkeeper crisis at the club forced Dyche’s hand and it has provided Joe Hart with the perfect opportunity to restore his reputation as a top keeper in this league. Given the side’s defensive organization is usually on point, Hart should revel in the surroundings. When Pope and Heaton come back to the first team squad, the competition for the number one jersey will be epic. 

Other transfer dealings were to reinforce the defensive squad depth with the capture of Gibson and Vydra arrives to bolster the attacking options. If Burnley finish in the top half of the table given their UEFA Europa League commitments, it would be regarded as a good season.

Leicester City after Mahrez

The departure of Mahrez from the club has being long in the offing. It is now a reality and we will see if the likes of Gray can fill the shoes and provide the ammunition for the likes of Vardy to score the goals. 

Claude Puel and club held their ground with Manchester United’s advances of Harry Maguire. The England international defender will play a key role in the side defensively and with Kasper Schmeichel still at the club, the side look extremely strong defensively. 

The squad has being reinforced with the signings of Pereira (Porto), Evans (WBA), Maddison (Norwich), Ward (Liverpool), Ghezzal, Benkovic (Dinamo Zagreb) and Soyuncu (Freiburg). Maddison is a player of tremendous upside and is one of the young players to watch in the league this season; good feet and his delivery from set piece should create goal scoring opportunities. 

The attacking options without Vardy is the chief concern for the club, a top eight league berth should be attainable given the experience and defensive cover signed. Gray will be asked to be the Mahrez effect at the club. 

Wolves: Mendes United

The Championship winners from last season have wasted no time to strengthen their squad depth for the challenge of the top flight. Exciting signings come in the form of Boly, Patricio, Moutinho, Traore. Afobe arrives with EPL experience from AFC Bournemouth and then you have one of the potential shrewd signings of the window with Leander Dendoncker arriving to bolster the midfield ranks. 

I am genuinely excited to see how the new signings blend in with the current squad and their footballing style was so easy on the eye last season. The time to integrate the new signings is key here and could be an issue early doors but expect Wolves given their squad quality to have more than enough to secure a respectable mid-table position. Moutinho’s experience to midfield also a real positive for the Midlands club. A quality addition to the league; great stadium and fan base. 

AFC Bournemouth look to move onwards


Eddie Howe has being given transfer funds to bolster the squad after an inconsistent past season. The performances were a mixed bag and the squad needed rejuvenation. 

Several squad members have departed the club. Arter , Gradel and Federici lead the list. Howe has reinvested in the squad with three targeted signings. Brooks arrives from Sheffield United, an exciting midfielder who will look to create from the wide channels. Rico is an established La Liga defender who comes from Leganes and their chief summer target was finally secured with the capture of midfielder Jefferson Lerma from Levante. 

The team’s passing style is lovely on the eye but do the team have sufficient quality at both ends of the pitch to contend in the UEFA Europa League race? Initial answer would be no and I think mid-table position is the prediction for the club this season. King and Wilson will be required to produce the goods upfront. 

Chelsea In Transition? 

This is a season into the unknown for Chelsea. The unceremonious dismissal of Antonio Conte resulted in the appointment of Maurizio Sarri from Napoli. The managerial appointment will have to be judged on its merits as the season progresses but a good start is vital for the Italian to win over the board and fans that he is the man to lead the side on. 

The off season has seen the departure of Thibault Courtois to Real Madrid. Kepa and Kovacic arrive to offset the loss but the two new arrivals will take time to acclimatize to the EPL style of play. Chelsea’s keeper options are Caballero and Green; enough said so the signing of Kepa is a win or bust scenario. 

The potential signing for Chelsea of most promise is Jorginho, the player had a superb season with Napoli last season and will provide the side with attacking and defensive nous to complement the likes of Kante and Fabregas in the side. 

The big question upfront is whether Morata can fulfill his potential and start to score goals on a regular basis. After a strong start, confidence quickly faded from the Spaniard with some glaring missed opportunities. If Morata fails to fire, questions will be asked of the side in the attacking department so more onus on Hazard to rescue the side. 

I don’t see Chelsea as a title contender this season. The new head coach is an unknown quantity and his ability to adapt quickly to the EPL will be key for Chelsea to have a successful season. Chelsea will pick up momentum as the season wears on but early season dropped points will prove costly. Potential top four finish but it will be a close run thing. 

Brighton & Hove Albion spending big to get to the next level 

Chris Hughton has being backed in this transfer window with several arrivals of note which will look to increase squad depth and quality.  Defensive options are boosted with Balogun, Bernardo and Montoya. Goalkeeper competition is increased with Steele and Button’s arrivals. The attacking options see Andone, Jahanbaksh (club record signing), Dreyer to provide goals and support to the likes of Glenn Murray.  The middle of the park now contains Bissouma who will be well suited to the league. The key point for the club is how quickly these signings bed in and start to contribute. A quick start is required; otherwise Hughton may be looking over his shoulder as fans and board start to become impatient. Brighton & Hove Albion should be well safe this season; top half finish is a realistic aim. 

Crystal Palace looking for goals

Roy Hodgson and squad deserve massive credit for their great escape last season. A dreadful start to the season saw the De Boer era finish as soon as it started and it was up to local boy Hodgson to pick up the pieces with the club securing their top flight place this season with a couple of games to go in the season. 

The club has seen key arrivals and departures.  Guaita is a key acquisition to increase competition for the number one spot. Kouyate provides defensive and midfield presence for Cabaye who has left. Zaha is the standout goal threat but there needs to be more goal scoring threat. Benteke will look to right the wrongs of last season but Hodgson is looking for alternatives as Max Meyer and Jordan Ayew arrive to bolster the strike force. Meyer potentially is a dark horse. Ayew is a mystery; not sure of the lure for the player who has not delivered for Swansea last season. 

Palace will look to Zaha for the attacking inspiration and there will be moments of anxiety defensively but the side are well placed with Hodgson to reach forty point and secure their place in the league next season. Mid-table finish. 

Newcastle United look vulnerable 

Rafa Benitez is a worried man. The lack of off season activity from the club means that the manager will have to use all his tactical nous to stave off a lengthy relegation battle. 

Dubravka and Kenedy were key recruits at the start of the calendar year. Muto, Rondon will look to provide the goals for a side who struggled in this department last season. Fernandez signing is astute; defensive experience but nothing standing out in terms of any summer arrivals truth be told. 

I fear for Newcastle United this season; thought this off season was an opportunity missed by the club to consolidate their league position as clubs around them have invested big in their squads, sense a relegation battle and if Benitez walks away could go down. 

West Ham United splash the cash

Last season was a scene from Dream Team for the football club. Fan protests against the board, fans invading the pitch were all too common. The board have responded with support to Pellegrini in the transfer market and the recruits joining look potentially astute. 

Fabianski is a goalkeeper well respected in the league and he will provide excellent squad depth with Adrian. All areas of the pitch have being covered with particular attention on Wilshere for the coming season. If the player can remain fit, his passing style and play will be ignite West Ham as an attacking side. The striking options will see Arnautovic playing a key role; the Austrian was superb in the second half of last season and will be the main target man. 

Squad depth looks on point with the acquisitions of Anderson, Yarmolenko as well so the club should not be in a relegation battle this season. Top ten finish potentially if the side can start the season with aplomb. Otherwise, fan hostility to the club and team will intensify leading to a hideous atmosphere and relegation battle will loom large. 

Huddersfield Town look doomed

Huddersfield Town did something no-one expected last season; stave off relegation. A great achievement for the town, the club, the squad and the fans. This season sees added challenges for management and playing group and the sense of surprise is no longer a trick card to play for Wagner’s side. 

Experienced campaigners in Whitehead and Green have departed and the arrivals are uninspiring. Sobhi struggled for form at Stoke City last season. Hamer will provide backup for Lossl. Durm, Kongolo, Diakhaby and Mbenza are quite frankly unknown quantities which is a worry and concern. 

Dressing room leadership is further eroded by the loss of Hefele who has left for Nottingham Forest; a popular figure around the club. This is a season where the harsh realities of EPL life will be exposed; do not see another fairytale survival this season and could be down by next March. An early season winning stretch is required to have any chance as squad depth will be ruthlessly exposed. 

Southampton start the Hughes era 

Mark Hughes must have being a relieved man at the end of the season. He staved off relegation with Southampton which he could not do with Stoke City who were well on their way to the Championship when he was sacked. 

Southampton have responded with that near miss with a shrewd transfer window. Tadic has left for Eredivisie and his replacement comes in the form of Stuart Armstrong from Celtic. Angus Gunn arrives with an excellent reputation and will provide additional keeping squad depth for Forster, McCarthy. Vestergaard has the ability to be an excellent defensive and set piece signing. Danny Ings will provide pace and goal scoring nous for the side who struggled in front of goal last season (particularly Shane Long). 

A season of consolidation and I suspect Southampton may have to battle for a time around the lower half of the league before moving away from relegation trouble by Christmas. Hughes and January transfer window looks pivotal if they harbor any aspirations for a top ten berth. 

Fulham keen to impress 

Fulham have had an active transfer window with several marquee signings in all areas of the park. Seri was an early standout signing. The Nice player was courted by the likes of Liverpool before deciding to join Fulham. Schurrle provides a wealth of EPL experience from his time at Chelsea. Mitrovic provides attacking and goal threat; a player who could be a key player for the side if he hits the ground running.  

The new signings will provide good quality depth options for management to complement the talent of Cairney and Sessegnon who will look to impress in the top flight; two superb young talents. With an owner looking for the club to grow at a massive rate, the world is at Fulham’s feet and if a deal to purchase Wembley is pulled off, the revenue streams could be incredible. Top mid-table position to start off their top fight stay. 

Cardiff City could struggle 

Neil Warnock has done a superb job at Cardiff City, a club who were spiraling out of the control before his arrival. His classic man management approach has worked a treat and the side were a cohesive unit last season with the likes of Hoilett, Connolly, Etheridge to the fore. 

This season has seen several key signings to complement the talent in the squad containing Gunnarsson, experienced operator in both international and top flight level. The issue is that the arrivals lack top flight experience, good Championship players who are looking to get to the next level. 

Only Harry Arter has EPL experience from the players signed and this is a concern if the new arrivals such as Murphy, Reid, Camarasa, Smithies struggle early doors. The fact that Warnock has not kept a team up in the top flight is another concern whose post-game comments could get the manager into disciplinary trouble. 

After a promising start, squad depth and experience will kick in and I sense that Cardiff City could be relegated come next May. January transfer window will be pivotal for the club to acquire key loan signings to stave this predicament. 

Watford Jekyll and Hyde 

Watford are a mysterious club; they wheel and deal managers and players like no one else in the league and this off season was no different in the squad department. 

The marquee signings of Deulofeu (Barcelona), Navarro (Barcelona), Foster (WBA), Sema (Ostersund)  will provide strength in depth but the side have being inconsistent over recent seasons at the cost of the manager who has being sacked. 

Silva was shown the door last season and Garcia will get the same treatment if Watford perform in the same vain; don’t think they will go down but might struggle at the bottom half of the league for long stretches so the games against teams around them will be key. 

The big issue for Watford is who will score the goals in the side with the departure of Richarlison from the club? Interesting to see how Garcia manages that big issue if he is given the time. Lower half of the league with the odd top four scalp thrown in for good measure; their inconsistency must drive their fans demented. 

Predictions: 

League Champions: Manchester City

Top Four: Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea 

Europa League: Manchester United, Arsenal

Relegation: Cardiff City, Newcastle United, Huddersfield Town 

Fantasy Premier League XI

The FIFA World Cup withdrawals have started to ease as we enter August and that means one thing and one thing only, it is the start of the English Premier League. Thirty-eight rounds filled with excitement, drama, horrific officiating decisions and sublime moments of skill to win key fixtures.

The banter has started in earnest amongst my friends and this season, Hawkeye Sidekick will summon the courage to chart his progress as the season progresses. In this opening article, we will look at his opening season fixture team selection. The words hope and fingers crossed come to mind.

My past seasons with Fantasy Premier League have being horrific; last season was a particular low point as a couple of bargain buys in week one for the likes of Erik Pieters, Jeff Cameron (don’t laugh) got what they deserved; utter derision and slagging from my friends and no points on the board. I gave up after the week eight such was the gap to everyone else, hoping that the team would produce miracles in my absence (or let the players mature and improve). Nope, it did not work.  

My team selection looks okay on paper but there are a couple of potential gotchas in the mix for this weekend. What if Arsenal beat Manchester City? Bye Bye Ederson clean sheet and potentially subdued performances from Sane and Sergio; knowing my luck that will happen.

Alexander-Arnold, Azpilicueta and Vertonghen should deliver good points throughout the season. The Liverpool youngster hopefully providing some good assists and goals this season, nice price if I am may say so myself. 

There is a bold leap of faith with the newly promoted teams. Neves from Wolves is an interesting selection; his scored an absolute screamer last season but will he able to step up to the top league? Sessegnon is a player of undoubted potential, hope rather than optimism on those picks.

Mo Salah hopefully rescues the situation; a fixture at home to West Ham United who look defensively short with the absence of Reid a good omen. Rashford and Zaha will provide the attacking scoring threat to supplement Aguero who should have another standout season.

Time for you good readers to poke holes in this team selection; looking forward to the season kickoff, hopefully I am still respectable by the time week eight comes around this season but given my past track record in this format, it is 50/50. Best of luck everyone! 

EPL Reflections

Six games down. Thirty-two games to go. Several subplots already at the start of the season and the ever evolving managerial merry go round has already started. Hawkeye Sidekick reviews the good, the mediocre and the god damn awful teams so far.

Happy Days F.C.

Shout out to Huddersfield Town, Newcastle and Brighton & Hove Albion who have competed well in the first set of fixtures. Defensively solid so far but this will be tested severely this weekend with fixtures against the big guns. Huddersfield Town look to stop the Harry Kane show. Newcastle entertain Liverpool at the raucous St. James’ Park while Brighton & Hove Albion will hope that Arsenal suffer an UEFA Europa League at the Emirates. It will be interesting to see how from these teams takes the mantle as chief goalscorer. Goals have being a rare commodity for these sides; needs to improve and you suspect that these teams will be dragged into a relegation battle come December if this area of play does not improve. Good start but the real test starts now with squad depth tested due to injuries and suspensions now.

Shout out to Manchester City and Manchester United for their respective starts this season. City have played some superb football in recent weeks but we were saying the same this time last year as well. Questions still defensively for Guardiola but going forward, they have wrecked havoc with Aguero, Silva, De Bruyne, Sterling and Jesus catching the eye. A tough test awaits at the Bridge this weekend; a true acid test to see if City are the real deal this season or will their defensive issues of last season rear its head again. Manchester United are unrecognizable this season; goals are flying in and the signings of Lukaku and Matic (still baffled why Chelsea let him go) have propelled the side to new levels. Lukaku’s pace is a new dimension to United’s play and his goal rate against the mid-table and bottom league teams will mean that United are not far off the title. Lindelof has not set the world alight, patience required for the Swede as Bailly / Jones / Smalling are ahead of him in the pecking order. De Gea continues to perform at an incredibly high level and with the return of Zlatan come January, United fans will look with optimism for the league. A home fixture against a Crystal Palace side who will park the bus Roy Hodgson Fulham F.C. on the road style will test out the theory whether United can take care of these teams this season; something they failed to do last season. No genuine acid test for United and Jose Mourinho. Roll on October to see if United cut the mustard!

Chelsea have started to gain momentum in recent weeks. After a nightmare opening day loss to Burnley, Chelsea have gone back to basics, defensively solid and with Morata scoring at will along with the return of Hazard, the reigning champions will have a huge say on where the title resides next May. Conte may face squad depth issues particularly if Morata or Kante go down with any significant injury. The Costa episode is now consigned to the history books thankfully. Onwards and upward.

Tottenham. Wembley is their new home and there are still teething problems but their form on the road has being superb in recent weeks. Harry Kane cannot stop scoring. Ali and Eriksen are performing at a high level and Tottenham have looked reasonably solid defensively. A team which needs to produce a meaningful title tilt this season; last two season’s have being unconvincing at best. Tottenham when the pressure and title questions were applied had no answers. They need to answer the critics on this question this season. With Kane scoring at will, surely the Spanish juggernauts are having a look?

Watford under Silva have played some excellent football this season. Their speed and pace in attacking positions means that Troy Deeney must accept a place on the bench. Silva and Watford have recruited extremely well. Richarlison and Gray are excellent signings; offer genuine pace and threat in the penalty area. Watford will be hovering around the top ten this season. The only concern is at times defensively they can be opened up. City had a field day at Vicarage Road where the full back positions were given a torrid time. Thankfully, for the Hornets, they don’t play City every week!

Burnley have had a good start to the season. A memorable road trip win over Chelsea on the opening day has provided impetus for Sean Dyche’s side to sit comfortably in the league. Summer transfer policy has being smart; sold Andre Gray for a considerable return on investment and then used the money to bring in experienced Walters and the abrasive Chris Wood to support Sam Vokes in the goals department. Burnley will be defensively organized but they will be tested in the coming months with the injury lay-off to Tom Heaton who was excellent for the club last season. Pope and Lingaard will look to provide continuity but it is a big ask. Tarkowski has being a revelation this season to offset the loss of Michael Keane who was also sold for a tidy sum. Burnley provided that the Heaton injury does not impact the side massively defensively should be mid-table / lower mid-table this season. The goal threat looks good provided that Brady can provide the required quality on the set piece which will be their primary source for chances.

Mediocrity Central F.C.

Liverpool should be in the top four this season but their reluctance to change tact and address their defensive issues is bordering on the ridiculous. After a summer dominated by the Coutinho / Barcelona saga, the defensive woes have quickly taken over as the chief headline. The goalkeeping position was not addressed in the summer. Mignolet and Karius are excellent shot stoppers but fail to inspire confidence dealing with set pieces or command of their areas. The back four have being left exposed by a marauding midfield unit who are cavalier to their attacking play, leaving massive space for teams to counter on the break. Yes, there have being poor defensive moments from the center backs this season but no cover from midfield is a key confidence issue. Can or Henderson have to provide defensive leadership and support Matip / Lovren in defensive duties. Mane and Salah are superb threats out wide but question marks on Firminho as the genuine twenty goal a league striker remain; too inconsistent. Klopp is under pressure and it will be interesting to see how he and his backroom staff look to address the obvious flaws in their performance. A distinct lack of edge upfront converting chances and of course how to tighten up the team defensively. Coutinho’s work rate defensively is under the microscope as well.

Arsenal. 4-0 loss to Liverpool has seemed to spark a reaction from the players and manager as the results have improved since. A draw at the Bridge. The 2-0 win against WBA was noteworthy as they have now a striker in Lacazette who will score twenty goals in the league this season. An exciting player and a genuine goal poacher. The issues for Arsenal though is defensively. I am not convinced by their back three / four formation. Leicester City provided the warning shots on the opening day of the season. The heart of that defense lacks leadership and they are prone to be opened up too easily. WBA should have scored in the previous fixture only for Monreal to produce a heroic clearance off the line. Add the penalty incident and there is two clear goal chances. Better sides will punish Arsenal defensively. Sanchez situation is also an issue; the player wants out, expect City to look to sign the player in January. Arsenal will struggle for top four contention. Europa League commitments will not help either; player recovery and squad depth will be severely tested.

WBA. Tony Pulis will have the team safe as houses again this season but it should be more than that this season and potentially chasing a top six finish is the objective. The Arsenal game was a fixture which if the officiating was on point should have seen WBA win a penalty and potentially see Arsenal down a player. It failed to materialize and Arsenal went onto win 2-0. WBA will look to Rondon again for the goal threat required. Rodriguez has looked sharp as well this season and with improved service from the likes of Philips and McClean, WBA will be secure in the league for another season. Hovering on the good but they need to push on now.

The Shits F.C

Southampton are a club in a transitional phase. Pellegrino has arrived at the club and the initial results and performances have being underwhelming. Goal threat and support for the striker is a serious issues evident in their 1-0 loss to Manchester United. Long’s work rate and running down the channels could not be questioned but he struggled with a distinct lack of support. The second issue is the situation with Virgil van Djik. The Dutch center back wants away but Liverpool ducked away from the deal early in the summer and the player was left in limbo. Southampton need the player back in the first team squad, provide solidity at the back. A tough season beckons for Soton and one wonders if Pellegrino will be still in the post come January. The fans are not impressed.

Stoke City. 2-2 draw against Manchester United, take the complements like a fattened puppy near an open fire, all cosy and happy with life. Fast forward since then and the performances have being abject. Chelsea did not have to get out of second gear last weekend. Bristol City have already knocked them out of the League Cup. The squad depth looks questionable even with the likes of Jese in the books. Bojan, Walters, Whelan have all left the club and you wonder if there is an extensive injury list, how Stoke will cope? Stoke need to get their season back on track. They have flattered to deceive this season in the league apart from the Manchester United game. Time to get back to business.

Swansea City. Tammy Abraham is a striker who will be a work in progress. The key player for Paul Clements is Renato Sanchez but the Portuguese player has not set the EPL alight with his early performances. The brand of football is nice on the eye but there have being woeful defensive lapses this season already. The concession of the Watford game winner ample evidence; a terrible Swansea pass exposing the team defensively. Mawson looks like he has a mistake in him every game and surely Swansea will look to recruit defensively in the next window.  Swansea just about got away with it last season and staved off relegation but until Sanchez starts to fire, the trap door could be a reality this season. Cut out the stupid defensive mistakes and try to get Bony and Abraham chances to provide the goals to win games as defensively. They look well short currently. Clements could be on the tightrope in a couple of weeks.

Everton. Money bags in the summer but the squad have being slow to gel. Take the Rooney night out and it has being a miserable start to the season. Niasse saved Everton last weekend, a player which Koeman did not rate at the start of the season. The genuine striker goal threat is missing right now. The Lukaku effect is glaring. Rooney and Glyfi are going to have to produce the goods for Everton to propel them up the table. The Barkley saga when he comes back to full fitness will be intriguing as well. The only good news is that Coleman is back in training and Calvert-Lewin has shown good glimpses but is a work in progress. Cohesion is required and the Europa League demands will not help in this regard. Top ten position in the league considering the investment this summer is not what the owners envisaged.

Leicester City. The former league champions have hit the skids again. Shakespeare is a manager under pressure. The team have shown flashes of excellence but defensive lapses and lack of scoring threat in games have seen the team just off the relegation zone. Gray’s future plans has being a distraction. Mahrez’s future looks as uncertain as a shaky fence in hurricane season. Leicester City need results fast, whether Shakespeare gets the time to get those results is another story. In Vardy, Leicester City must trust for the goals. Must win game against Bournemouth at the weekend or Shakespeare will be written out of the EPL annals this season.

West Ham United have spent again with gusto in the summer but clearly no further along to propel themselves into the top ten of the league. Joe Hart has looked vulnerable as the team have struggled. Chicharito has being a shining light but Slaven Bilic is under the gun. A good run of results ended with a defeat to Tottenham, time to get on another run soon and with Swansea City visiting, hopes should be high. If a loss occurs though, then expect Bilic to be given his marching order during the international break. The squad under his management has being a mixed bag. Snodgrass transfer spoke volumes. How can you dispense with a player who you only signed at the start of the year? Fonte has arrived but minimal impact. Onus again on Noble, Cresswell, Reid to get the team going in the right direction.

AFC Bournemouth have had a tough start to the season. Arsenal and City in the first six games but three points was a disappointing haul considering other teams played. Everton last weekend was a game that got away in the final quarter. Defensively have looked weak this season. The lack of a clean sheet in the league speaks volumes. Midfield has lacked work rate, quality passing and tempo at times and Defoe has not received the service to score goals. Worrying times. Eddie Howe needs a result this weekend. Leicester City the visitors and one wonders what will happen if AFC Bournemouth lose again? Hope they can get out of the relegation mire but it is a tough ask given the start.

Crystal Palace have already disposed of their manager; their footballing vision and identify done in four league games. It is over to Roy Hodgson to rescue the side with a brand of football which involve defensive solidity and counter attack prowess considering the likes of Zaha, Puncheon and Benteke in the ranks. The squad contains Cabaye as well so there is genuine game winners in the pack. Goals are an issue for the club and some of the chances spurned have beggared belief. Defensively, Palace have being exposed in the central defensive positions. Dann and Delaney have being isolated at times and it is now time for Sakho to come in and produce heroics like last season. United this weekend, best of luck as well as the game against Chelsea. How morale will be then will be interesting. Palace’s board must take flak for this mess; transfer policy lacked cohesion and their inability to support De Boer in the transfer market spoke volumes. The nice passing football brand they required could never be achieved with the squad assembled. A sorry mess at the moment. Hodgson will do well to keep Palace up; confidence is fragile but he has a knack of getting teams to perform as his days with Fulham will testify.

EPL Review: Part 3

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The final installment of this season so far. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at the teams at the lower reaches of the league and wonders if some clubs are already condemned.

Stoke: 

The Good: 

The resurgence in form in the last five games has being admirable given their horrendous start. Joe Allen has being sublime in recent weeks; his goals and performances have given Stoke much needed momentum in midfield. Defensively solid in recent weeks and it has allowed Stoke to move up the table. Relegation concerns should be allayed in the next couple of weeks.

The Bad: 

Set piece defensive woes early doors were compounded with a couple of penalty decisions given against Mark Hughes’ side. The loss of Jack Butland has being huge albeit Lee Grant has deputized superbly in recent weeks. Stoke need more from Bojan, Arnautovic and Bony needs to be the main goal threat provided that the service is up to scratch. Shrewd transfer deals are required to inject fresh blood into a squad profile which has several players entering the twilight of their careers.

Verdict: 

After a shaky start, Mark Hughes’ charges have improved in recent weeks on both ends of the pitch. Joe Allen will be the talisman for the club this season. Squad should be good enough to battle for a top ten league placing but there are issues ahead for this club with an aging squad next season.

Leicester City: 

The Good: 

There has being flashes of Leicester from last season where Mahrez and Vardy have shown the form of last season. Slimani is a good signing but opponents are wise to Leicester’s style of play this term which is one of the factors why they are in the bottom half of the table. Champions League form has being superb, four clean sheets. Gray is a player with massive upside, one to watch this season.

The Bad: 

Champions League involvement has meant that squad focus in the league has not being what it should have being. The defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford spoke volumes; squad selection and the subsequent team performance was nowhere near the standard produced last season. Leicester defensively in the league have being caught on a couple of occasions resulting in penalty and set piece concessions. Kasper Schmeichel’s injury woes have not helped matter in that respect. Transfers focused on attacking options but failed to shore up midfield and defensively gaps.

The Verdict: 

The league is gone but Leicester City should not be involved in a relegation battle. A top twelve position is where they end up considering the European commitments at play this season. December and January will be pivotal for Leicester City to get enough points in the bag to focus again on the Champions League tournament; their form after these fixtures in the league speaks volumes.

Middlesbrough: 

The Good: 

Great addition to the league, great fans and superb stadium to match. Boro’s result at Manchester City and Arsenal have being the standouts. Their defensive shape was superb in those results. Karanka is a manager whose tactical nous in away games will mean that Middlesbrough will be hard to break down. Gibson has being superb; one to watch this season. Valdes signing in goals adds experience to the Boro rearguard.

The Bad: 

Goal shy. Their ten goals in the league this season joint second last in the league. This ratio has to improve and puts much pressure on their defense to keep clean sheets. Jordan Rhodes could help in that regard but Negredo is first choice striking option currently. Karanka will need to recruit a couple of players in the January window to get the club over the line particularly in midfield and striker areas.

Verdict: 

40 points is the target but it all depends on Middlesbrough being able to find the net. Their goal average thus far is poor and lends itself to the club being involved in a relegation battle. The fixtures against the likes of Hull, Sunderland, Watford, Burnley will decide their fate. Middlesbrough have no problem performing against the top teams, it has being their performances against teams around them mostly which has them in this position. Hopefully will stay up and think they will by the skin of their teeth!

Crystal Palace: 

The Good: 

The new investment in the football club. Selhurst Park and their fans produce a superb match day atmosphere. Good business with the Bolasie deal (30 million). Steve Mandanda signing has being a plus point.

The Bad: 

Alan Pardew’s decision to offload Dwight Gayle to Newcastle is looking more baffling by the day. The lack of goals upfront is seriously undermining the football club and if not addressed will result in a lengthy relegation battle. Pressure aplenty for Benteke to produce the goods and score the goals to get the side to the magic forty point figure. Palace’s pace has being undermined by Bolasie’s departure. Zaha and Puncheon have struggled for form this season along with Cabaye. Palace need to keep clean sheets but at times defensively have looked vulnerable evident in the Burnley display.

Verdict: 

January cannot come quick enough for Alan Pardew. Benteke is an upgrade but needs more quality striking options. Palace will finish in the bottom six of the league but should do enough to survive for another season. Whether the new investors want Pardew to remain as manager given the shaky start to the season is another story.

West Ham United: 

The Good: 

New dawn with the arrival to the London Olympic Stadium surroundings, increased gates and revenue streams, shame that the new venue has failed to lift off in the manner expected. Payet is still at the football club.

The Bad: 

The ever increasing mess that is London Stadium. A steward’s worse nightmare and with a fan base who look more disillusioned in the new surroundings, the move has not gone to plan. West Ham United defensively have being all at sea; central defensive gaps exposed at times which beggars why James Tomkins was allowed to leave the club. Cresswell’s injury woes have not helped either or the early Europa League exit. A squad where the cheque book has being thrown at players who quite frankly have not produced. Ayew looks questionable even at this early stage.

Verdict: 

Slaven Bilic’s second season will be a long and frustrating one; results will continue to be inconsistent given the current squad makeup. Payet will provide the flair and attacking inspiration but defensively, question marks are there for all to see. Mark Noble will provide leadership to see the Hammers get to the coveted forty points but there will be few cheers this season. Club transfer policy rethink required.

Hull City: 

The Good: 

The opening day result against reigning champions Leicester and the victory against a Southampton side who were suffer the after effects of Europa League action. Apart from this, not much to write home about.

The Bad: 

A club in crisis; the boardroom instability was evident in the time it took to appoint Mike Phelan as manager. The lack of first team squad numbers indicates bad planning in the offseason which will come back to haunt them in the coming months. The squad will work hard for the manager but they will suffer some horrific hammerings against teams who are incisive in their passing evident in their drubbing away to Bournemouth. A season which will see relegation unless January window recruits are identified in all areas of the pitch. Phelan may lose his job before season end; unfortunate but given the way that the club is being run, not that surprising.

Swansea City: 

The Good: 

The opening day result away win to Burnley and that is about it.

The Bad: 

The squad looks weak defensively particularly with the departure of Ashley Williams, their talisman. The central defensive options look incredibly weak at this time; set piece leadership is non-existent and more goals will be conceded because of it. The attacking options need to improve fast. Llorente has had an unremarkable start to his Swans career. Sigurdsson cannot keep this team up on his own. Bob Bradley’s appointment goes against the passing ethos of the football club. Gary Monk will look like a rock star in the next couple of months.

Verdict: 

South Wales, it has being a pleasure but the EPL dream will be over at the end of the season. Classic relegation ingredients in abundance at Swansea, cannot keep clean sheets and cannot score too many goals. Their meek effort against Stoke and Manchester United does not inspire confidence that fortunes will change anytime soon.

Sunderland: 

The Good: 

Jermain Defoe is still at the football club. First away win before the international break against an in-form Bournemouth.

The Bad: 

Underwhelming start to the season. Poor preseason transfer planning, signings came and gone and left massive squad depth issues in the club. David Moyes’ defensive options are the stuff of nightmares. Pickford in goals has being superb but defensively have being all at sea. January transfer window will be the difference between the Mackems staying up or not. Ellis Short needs to support Moyes in the transfer market or sell up.

Verdict: 

Will lull everyone into a false sense of security that they are definitely down and then come up with a most unlikely set of results around Easter to save their top flight status. Moyes if allowed to build a squad will improve the club long term but whether Short gives him that time is another story. Big Sam looming large in the horizon does not help matters. A pivotal couple of weeks beckon for Moyes and Sunderland.

 

 

EPL Review: Part 2

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In this review of the first eleven games of the EPL season, Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on teams ranked between sixth to thirteenth. It is a mixed bag with teams who have excelled while others who frankly have being extremely poor.

Manchester United

The Good: 

Struggling to find one, perhaps Zlatan’s good early form and goals which has dried up. De Gea’s performances again in the goals to rescue his increasingly under pressure back four. The emergence of Juan Mata in midfield chipping in with a couple of goals. Rashford continues to develop into a decent striking option for the club.

The Bad: 

Central defensive options currently at the football club.When has Phil Jones last featured in a league game? Bailly aside, distinctly average performance from this unit. The underwhelming start of Henrikh Mkhitaryan to his club career; another Borussia Dortmund bust? Wayne Rooney’s lack of form and rumors about his future. Increasing isolation of young players such as Lingard and Martial. The manager’s constant moaning about absolutely everything. Past season signings look more rubbish every single day. Fellaini, Darmian to name but a few.

Verdict: 

There is no quick fix; the club will need a couple of seasons to rebuild and buy the right players in the right areas. Ed Woodward’s transfer policy is coming back to haunt the football club; chasing the wrong players. The lack of defensive options in the squad is damning. A good cup run and potential top six finish is the objective. UEFA Europa League campaign is a hindrance at this stage.

Everton: 

The Good: 

The arrival of Ronald Koeman to the football club, a manager who given the right finances will build an improved footballing side. The retention of Romelu Lukaku, his goal tally so far has being impressive. Steklenberg’s form in goals has being superb at times; his cameo away to City was a standout. Ashley Williams’ signing was one of the most astute in the preseason. Everton’s win is Swansea’s massive loss.

The Bad: 

The continous spat between Everton management and Republic of Ireland with injured players. James McCarthy saga has being embarrassing. The end of Phil Jagielka as a viable central defensive option; his lack of pace is giving teams opportunities. The continuous rumors on Lukaku’s future this season. Can Ross Barkley fulfil his potential? All the traits are there but sheer inconsistency is plighting his game.

Verdict: 

A solid start to the season has stalled with recent losses to Burnley and the hammering at Stamford Bridge. Koeman will look to improve the squad defensively and central midfield in January and next summer with several long serving players being shown the door. Top eight finish beckons unless the team produces a couple of upsets against the top four currently in the league.

Watford:

The Good: 

Solid start to the top flight this season considering managerial departure at the end of last term. Troy Deeney continues to impress; leadership and creativity is to the fore.

The Bad: 

Defensively vulnerable when faced against pacy teams evident in their losses to Arsenal and Liverpool so far this season. Where has Ighalo gone? Second season syndrome. No goals and precious little to report from a player who was pivotal in the Hornet’s survival last season. The lingering club registration player issues from seasons gone by; this could become a story come the New Year.

Verdict: 

Top eight standing is misleading; squad depth in the next two months will be exposed and  the Herfordshire club will be looking at a relegation battle come Christmas unless Ighalo gets back to scoring form. January window will be pivotal for Watford to shore up gaps defensively and provide midfield depth.

Burnley: 

The Good: 

Sean Dyche, his man management and ability to make his side extremely tough to breakdown have led to this ninth position in the league. Tom Heaton has being sublime in goals; his saves against former club Manchester United were world class. Shrewd signings in the offseason. Gudmonson and Hendricks have added depth to the midfield. Michael Keane continues to excel in centre back; his partnership with Ben Mee has being pivotal to the club’s fine start to the season. Financially stable. Turf Moor is a tough place to get a result; ask Arsenal. Set piece is king; goal source.

The Bad: 

Apart from Sam Vokes, struggling to see who in the striking department will score goals. The midfield and defense have chipped in with a couple of goals. A problem area. Michael Keane’s future will the subject of much debate; will he go in January? Squad depth again may be exposed due to suspensions in the next couple of months.

Verdict: 

Given the points difference between Burnley and West Ham, a couple of bad results will have Burnley back in the relegation battle which is the forte this season. Burnley have learned from past mistakes in their first eleven games but whether their squad is good enough to score enough goals to get to forty points is a different story. Tough and go whether they stay in the top flight.

Southampton: 

The Good: 

Charlie Austin has provided goals a plenty since joining from QPR. Virgil van Djik has being sensational at center back; his partnership with Forte has being fundamental to the club recovering from a shaky start to the season. The club’s policy to bring home local underage talent to the first team is an example for the rest of the league. McQueen, another decent local youth player to be given his nod.

The Bad: 

Involvement in UEFA Europa League has hindered EPL form. The start of the season was a by product of European involvement. The form of Steven Davis has being inconsistent so far; his goals were pivotal in securing Europa League football last season. The constant transfer links to the club’s marquee stars. Tadic, Forester, Fonte and van Djik will persist. The transfer policy has being on point but there will be dud signings soon which will see the club suffer. Top eight spot is achievable provided that Europa League does not expose the squad.

West Bromwich Albion: 

The Good: 

Tony Pulis’ side has being typically abrasive defensively but have also added goals from the likes of Rondon and McClean. The set piece is pivotal; goals from corners and free kicks have being paramount. Their performance against Tottenham was a standout. Forty points will be secured by February.

The Bad: 

Creativity is sometimes limited with the Baggies but as long as forty points is secured, happy days? The goals scored is in the bottom five of the league; needs to improve.

Verdict: 

Survival will be secured with ease; top twelve berth would be a good acheivement. Experienced squad with Evans, Fletcher in the ranks so a potential cup run may be a bonus. Tony Pulis – Mr. Forty Points.

AFC Bournemouth

The Good: 

Eddie Howe did not bite on the England football job (nibble maybe). The acquisition of Jack Wilshere on loan has aided more creativity to the side. Exciting front three loaded with pace and power. Ibe could be an astute signing long term.

The Bad: 

Defensively vulnerable at times due to their footballing style. Sunderland loss was a poor result considering their recent form leading into this fixture. January defensive options need to be added. The front three’s goal record has being mediocre; need to up the goals tally as defensively, they look like a team who will not keep clean sheets.

Verdict:

Top ten finish is on provided defensively they can tighten up. Eddie Howe’s admirers to continue to wax lyrically about the manager. Arsenal link? England link? Club to establish themselves in the top flight but how do they grow financially?

EPL Review: MidTerm Report (Part 1)

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November International football break has arrived. Perfect time for all EPL teams to assess how their season is going after eleven games. Liverpool fans and dreaming of a much coveted league title gathers pace? Jose is just not a happy camper around Manchester whether it is in Carrington, Old Trafford or his hotel digs. Arsenal making a genuine case of challenging for league honours. City’s Champion League focus is causing indifferent form in the league. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the season to date.  Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the top five currently sitting in the league and assess their strong / weak points.

 

Top Five:

It may be only eleven games into the season but the makeup of the top five currently looks like could be potentially seen come next May. Let us start with Liverpool. Klopp’s appointment was a masterstroke; his managerial approach is so refreshing and the fluid attacking play of Liverpool where Adam Lalanna is a different player to the one under Rodgers has being sublime. When you add the likes of Coutinho, Firminho, Mane whose pace and runs from deep has being a distinct plus – it is easy to see how Liverpool are the leading goalscorers in the division. The midfield area has being solid. If there is a weak point for Liverpool, it is their defensive side. Fourteen goals conceded so far in the league and question marks in the full back berths (particularly Moreno) should see some January transfer window activity. Matip has being a shrewd investment; looks very assured and has shown presence in the attacking set pieces. Lovren must tighten up to allow Liverpool to become a realistic title contender. The Karius / Mignolet debate will rage in the coming weeks. The German keeper looks vulnerable on crosses but his distribution looks assured. Does Mignolet ask to leave in January? Liverpool with a few tweaks and improvements defensively could run Manchester City extremely close.

The Eastlands club started like a house on fire; running scores against the likes of Bournemouth suggested that Guardiola’s side were already embracing the fast tempo, incisive passing football style of their manager. Attacking options are endless; spoiled for choice and De Bruyne has being sensational this season. Aguero has provided the goals with Silva also orchestrating affairs. Sterling has shown flashes but it will be interesting to see if Guardiola looks to the transfer market in January. The central midfield area is workman like with Fernandinho marshalling well. The weak point like Liverpool is defensively. Bravo in goals is a signing which is flattering to deceive; his ball distribution is decent but his command of his area when crosses are launched is another story. Stones has shown the odd lapse and there is questions on Kompany’s fitness. Olamendi has had good games but has being exposed a couple of times by more clinical strikers. Once City conclude their CL group stage business, expect them to go on a ten / eleven league game winning run. It will be interesting to see if any other team can then keep pace before and after Christmas.

Chelsea for me are an enigma. Conte has found a potential potent team containing Pedro, Hazard and Costa who is back to his annoying best for opponents; scoring goals at will and being physical down the channels. Matic is a player reborn under Conte after a disappointing season under Mourinho last year. The defensive side of the side looks quite solid. Luiz is back at the Bridge; likes to play his football and likes to make the party piece brain fart moment. Cahill’s form has being indifferent and with John Terry playing a more backup role, Chelsea’s title challenge will rest on the central defense’s ability to keep clean sheets. The jury is still out on Chelsea; emphatics wins over Manchester United and Everton (who were both extremely poor) so Chelsea have to show their ambitions by delivering against their top five foes in the coming months.

Tottenham. It is all about Harry Kane. When Kane is in the side, Tottenham are a different side. Janssen has being a disaster signing and Tottenham may need to dip further into the transfer market come January to shore up the attacking options. Tottenham have superb midfield options. Wanyama is a superb acquisition; box to box player with defensive / ball winning his forte. Eriksen on his day is a superb attacking player; his passing range is on point but can be an isolated figure at times during games. Ali is growing more and more into the side; second season and teams have looked to stifle his influence but that has allowed Lamela more room to express himself. Tottenham defensively look solid. Rose, Davies, Trippier, Wimmer are adequate full back options. Alderweld and Vertonghen are on a par with any of the top central defensive partnerships in the league. The weak point is the squad depth; the same players are playing week in, week out – wholly exposed at the business end of the season last term and the squad does not look strong enough in midfield and striker department to win the title. Top four definitely.

Arsenal. Is this the season where Arsene Wenger and team deliver some league title silverware? Once December is out of the way, then pundits can talk about their title ambitions. Offensively stacked, Arsenal are on a rich vein of form. Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud, Walcott have fired in goals and assists. The midfield unit has being strong. Ramsay continuing his Euro 2016 form. Cech is still producing superb goalkeeping performances. The weak point is potentially in the back four. Paulinha and Mertesacker as central defensive options does not inspire confidence; one vulnerable in the air while the other’s lack of pace is a negative. Arsenal will be a title challenger but when they hit their sticky patch, how will the team respond? Lack of leadership on the pitch last season in the league cannot be repeated again. Wenger has taken enough flak from the fans and media; it is up to Arsenal’s players to deliver.

Verdict:

All top five sides have massive attacking options but there are certainly weak points defensively and squad depth. I still fancy Manchester City to build a four point lead over the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal come year end. Chelsea and Arsenal need to prove more to yours truly but they are nicely positioned. These top five are miles ahead of the rest of the league. They will battle it out for the CL qualification spots. Fact.