Jurgen Klopp: Liverpool Savior

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By Greg Hudson

It would be unfair to say that when Steven Gerrard slipped in front of the Kop in April of 2014, Brendan Rodgers’ days as manager of Liverpool Football Club were numbered.

But the then-34-year-old captain’s untimely error which allowed Chelsea to open the scoring in a 2-0 victory over the Reds at Anfield was the beginning of a downward trend which saw the Reds miss out on their first title in over two decades in 2014, crash out of the Champions’ League in the group stage, fail to reach the final of either domestic cup after reaching the semifinal in both competitions, and finish a lowly sixth in the Premier League last season.

So the slip wasn’t the critical moment. But it was certainly a trigger for an avalanche which eventually cost Rodgers his job. After failing to impress in their first few matches of the season – a 1-1 draw against Everton on October 4 – was the final nail in the coffin, Rodgers’ contract was terminated, and the search for a new manager began.

It didn’t last long.

One name, linked with the Merseyside giants since the end of last season’s depressing campaign, immediately came to the forefront: the name of a 48-year-old German who used a combination of stalwart defense and lethal counter attacking football to lead an industrious Borussia Dortmund side to back-to-back Bundesliga titles to topple German giants Bayern Munich: Jurgen Klopp.

There are few names in European football more synonymous with excitement. Watching a Jurgen Klopp side at their best is like watching an artist paint a masterpiece. Klopp brings several core values to his side: hard work, communication, intensity and common sense.

And those are qualities this Liverpool side need desperately.

The side that took the field against Everton last week was a shadow of the team that thrashed the Toffees 4-0 at Anfield just 18 months prior. The departure of star players Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling didn’t help, but there was more at play than just a lack of starpower. The team lacked intensity, it lacked bite. The side that had cut opposing squads to ribbons looked anything but incisive, and it had a lot to do with their manager’s playing style: or lack thereof.

Brendan Rodgers blew us away during that 2013-14 league campaign by adapting his style to suit the needs of the team, whether to account for player injury or suspension, to incorporate young players into the starting lineup, or to adjust the tactics to best exploit the weakness of the opponent. No matter the game, Liverpool always seemed to look the better side: they always seized and maintained the initiative.

But a regrouping period after the departure of Suarez left Liverpool needing to break in several new players, not all of whom adapted to the existing playing style. Rodgers fell into a habit of almost constant tactical changes in a desperate attempt to improve results, and this lack of consistency resulted in a general lack of identity, not only for supporters who were left scratching their heads at the decision to leave Steven Gerrard out of the side that faced Real Madrid in the Champions’ League in Spain and the depleted side the team fielded at Wembley in the FA Cup semifinal defeat to Aston Villa.

That general lack of identity carried over into the 2015/16 campaign, as the club lost its face when Gerrard left the club to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy in MLS, and Rodgers tried in vain to throw together a squad that could consistently earn positive results. Injuries to captain Jordan Henderson and striker Daniel Sturridge didn’t help the cause, but in the end, the manager takes the fall, and after another disappointing result at Goodison Park sealed his fate.

Just days later, Klopp was announced manager, and the similarities between the two managers cannot be stressed enough: both prefer to employ a high-speed, counter attacking brand of football; both are relatively young; and both transformed underperforming teams into contenders.

The main difference between Rodgers and Klopp is mentality, the German being the more aggressive tactical leader. And this is not necessarily a bad thing, although it will almost certainly take some time to bring to full fruition.

Klopp is the champion of gegenpressing – counter pressing, in English – and it may be the key to Liverpool’s resurgence.

Gegenpressing is more than a simple counter attack, it is a full-on assault of the opponent after losing possession. It can take multiple forms: pressing high to mark all forward passing options and force the man on the ball to play the ball backwards; attacking the passing lanes to force the man on the ball to either make a run himself or play the ball backwards; or most rewarding – and most dangerous – an all-out assault on the man with the ball.

Liverpool achieved great success with a high press in the 2013/14 campaign, and Southampton used it to great effect last season. But gegenpressing goes beyond a simple high press. It is a high-intensity, physically demanding way to play football – and it doesn’t stop. Unlike the high press which is effective in short bursts especially at the beginning of a game or in its final stages, gegenpressing is a full-match tactic, require players to give 100 per cent from opening kickoff to final whistle.

And that might be a problem. Liverpool have some true grinders, players who never seem to tire out no matter how hard they run. Jordan Henderson earned the captaincy for his tireless play, and Emre Can also seems to always have something in the tank.

But for many of Liverpool’s top players, fitness is an issue. Sturridge and Benteke have had struggles with injury and high-intensity play always increases the risk of injury: ask Klopp’s former Dortmund stars Marco Reus and Ilkay Gundogan. Meanwhile Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho have consistently proven they lack the stamina to play at full capacity for 90 minutes at a time.

But that’s where the time comes in. Liverpool aren’t where they want to be, but they aren’t exactly in trouble either. They sit 10th in the Premier League, with 12 points from eight matches. But they’re just six points removed from Arsenal at the top of the league with over 75 percent of the season remaining.

That means that Klopp, who led his first training session at Melwood on Monday with a depleted side while most of the starting contingent were away on international duty, has a period of time in which to instill in his players that hard-working, counter-attacking brand of football: an identity.

It’s not likely we’ll see gegenpressing on Saturday against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. It’s not likely we’ll see it against Southampton at home a week later. It isn’t even necessarily likely that we’ll see it against Chelsea at Anfield on Halloween.

But there’s a chance we will.

That match against Chelsea will be a massive occasion for the Reds. A chance to avenge a defeat that cost them a championship 18 months ago comes at a time when Chelsea are reeling: the defending champions have endured a terrible start under Jose Mourinho, who’s now facing the same criticism levelled at Rodgers during his final season at Liverpool. A victory for Klopp’s boys – especially if it results from tactically outplaying Chelsea with gegenpressing – could well be the turning point in Liverpool’s season. And after a less that stellar start, that’s exactly what Liverpool need.

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2015-16 Premier League Preview

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The 2015/16 Barclay’s Premier League season is just days away, and while the spending and the speculation are far from over, the countdown clock to opening day is all but spent. The big boys will fight for glory and the minnows will fight for survival, and to kick off the 2015/16 season preview, The Starting Point takes a look at the clubs to watch in the hunt for glory this season, courtesy of Premier League analyst Greg Hudson.

Club to Win it All: Chelsea F.C.

Jose Mourinho’s men won it all last season, and there’s no reason to think they won’t do it again in 2015/16. They have a seemingly irresistible mix of solid defense anchored by John Terry, quality midfield play in the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Oscar, and clinical attack through Eden Hazard and Diego Costa, and that makes them a danger on their worst days, and a juggernaut on their best.

The summer has been fairly quiet at Stamford Bridge, with the biggest activities being the departures of backup goalkeeper Petr Cech to Arsenal and the return of defender Felipe Luis to Atletico Madrid after an unremarkable year with the London side.

But the relative quietude for Chelsea is more a sign of their confidence than of a lack of initiative. It’s often said that champions who don’t improve don’t remain champions very long. It’s true, but although they haven’t added to their squad, this is a fairly young group of players – goalkeeper Thibault Courtois, defender Cesar Azpilicueta, midfielders Oscar and Nemanja Matic, and both Hazard and Costa are still at-or-before their prime – and they’ve spent the summer gelling into an even better side. A 1-0 setback in the Charity Shield to Arsenal won’t bother them much: they’re still the favorites to win the title – and for good reason.

Dark Horse Title Contenders – Arsenal F.C.

Arsenal were the in-form team of the second half of last season, and they’ll look to continue that hot streak in 2015/16, as star forward Alexis Sanchez begins his second season with the club and home-grown talent Francois Coquelin and Hector Bellerin look to become staples in the fiber of the club.

The biggest action of the summer was the acquisition of goalkeeper Petr Cech from Chelsea, and while he’d been supplanted at Stamford Bridge by young hotshot Thibault Courtois, expect Cech to step right into the Arsenal squad between the sticks and make an immediate impact for Arsene Wenger’s side at the Emirates this season. Goalkeeping was Arsenal’s Achilles heel last term, as both Wojciech Szczesny and David Ospina failed to really bolster the defensive unit.

With Cech in goal, Arsenal can fully commit to the kind of attacking play that saw them finish third last season. That gives the likes of Mezut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey the confidence to get forward and help Sanchez, Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott with the goals Arsenal need to mount a title challenge.

Most Overrated Club – Manchester United F.C.

Yes, yes, I’m on the Hate United bandwagon. But not really. If you look at Manchester United, you see the single most imbalanced team in all of European football – world class attacking talent in front of a back line with no true leader and a goalkeeper whose days at Old Trafford are numbered – and that number is alarmingly small.

There’s no denying that United have some world class attacking ability. Even with the departures of Angel di Maria and Robin van Persie, the Red Devils still have Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Ander Herrera helping create magical moments on the pitch. So when I looked at Man U’s situation at the end of last season – particularly given that they’d be returning to European competition in the Champions’ League – I assumed their top priority would be defensive strength. With Mats Hummels strongly linked to Old Trafford and Chelsea’s Petr Cech available to replace goalkeeper David de Gea, whose move to Real Madrid is somewhat of a foregone conclusion, it seemed compulsory that United make the move to bring world class defending to the Theatre of Dreams, in a necessary attempt to improve a side which allowed five goals to Leicester City last season.

But they didn’t. The only defensive move the team has made has been the addition of fullback Mateo Darmian, which was followed with the departure of long-time right back Rafael. Instead, the side have brought on Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger to improve the midfield, and world-class winger Memphis Depay to add to the goals department. But where is the defense!? It’s a question manager Louis van Gaal has ignored, or else he’s lost the memo. When your top defensive unit includes Chris Smalling, you’re in big trouble. And with de Gea gone in the coming weeks, there’s no way United can mount a serious title challenge. If you want proof that an all-attack-no-defense system doesn’t win the title, just ask Liverpool: they came about as close to pulling it off two seasons ago before it all unraveled at the finish line. Don’t be looking to see Manchester United at the top of the pile this season – unless they make some serious moves between now and deadline day.

Most Underrated Club – Liverpool F.C.

Two seasons ago, the Reds came as close to winning the title as a team can come without a solid defensive unit. Sadly, two years later, that defensive unit hasn’t improved much. But Brendan Rodgers has a much more all-around team now than he had in that (un)forgettable campaign in 2013/14. The likes of Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic are beginning to come into their own, and Emre Can looks set to finally make a difference for Liverpool in his natural position in midfield. Yes, the team has lost three of its core players in the last 13 months in Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling. And yes, last season was an unmitigated disaster with Mario Balotelli proving perhaps the transfer blunder of the season and Daniel Sturridge finding the net just four times as he missed three quarters of the season through injury.

But the Reds still managed to finish sixth for Rodgers and the Anfield faithful, and another summer of spending has again highlighted Rodgers’ smart mentality. Joe Gomez is a top defender of the future, and while he’s unlikely to make a big difference now, Nathaniel Clyne is a top fullback and his addition to the back line will make an immediate impact, both at the back and going forward. Roberto Firmino will partner well with Philippe Countinho in the attacking midfield, and young Jordan Ibe will feature a lot in the side after making some breakthrough performances in the preseason. But the move of the summer was the addition of Christian Benteke, a man whose numbers at Aston Villa nearly mirrored those of Luis Suarez in his time with Liverpool and whose strong attacking presence will surely help the Reds with their biggest problem from last term: goals.

They aren’t title contenders. They simply aren’t that quality a side yet. But this is a predominantly young team, one of the youngest in the league, and the talent and creativity is undeniable. Of all the teams that failed to finish in the top four last year, I rate Liverpool as most likely to do it this season.

Stay tuned to The Starting Point for more of Greg’s preseason thoughts as he looks at teams who will be fighting for their Premier League futures in the upcoming campaign – and who might just make it out alive.

Who Wants It More ??

By Aaron Hampton

As we enter the stretch run of the Premier League season, Manchester United and Liverpool stand within two points of each other in the race for England’s last Champion’s League spot.  With such little to separate these clubs in the standings, Sunday’s match-up at Anfield is the most crucial test for either club yet, and will ultimately prove pivotal in determining the fate of England’s most fierce rivals.

Much has been made about Manchester United and their struggles this season, and yet for every complaint about Louis Van Gaal’s questionable tactics or for every snide about expensive signings not living up to their wage bill, if the season ended today Manchester United would be playing Champion’s League football.  One could also argue that despite losing to Newcastle in the league and Arsenal in the FA Cup in back-to-back weeks, they come into Sunday’s match against Liverpool riding their best from after drubbing Tottenham 3-0 at Old Trafford.

And yet, it would certainly be foolish to read too much into one result given what we’ve seen from Manchester United thus far this season.  The Jekyll and Hyde nature of their form this season gives way to this type of skepticism, even after seeing guys like Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick, and Juan Mata put in there best performances of the season against Tottenham.  Let’s not forget, December also saw United post a 3-0 result against an opponent, only to follow that up with an unremarkable 1-1 away draw to Aston Villa the following week.  That December night saw Manchester United beat Liverpool, who themselves have went on to become the hottest team in England after that loss.

Just how hot have Liverpool since that loss to United?  Not only have they gone unbeaten since losing to United at Old Trafford in December, but a once leaky Liverpool defense has not conceded a goal in the Premier League since Van Persie scored United’s third in their previous meeting.  Liverpool have also looked reinvigorated in attack, not quite matching the SAS level’s of yesteryear, but still look extremely dangerous in attack when their pressing game is working, and they are able to win the ball back high up the pitch and get the ball out quickly to their attackers.  With United’s defense anything but settled, and Johnny Evans missing Sunday’s clash, Liverpool will surely look to push the pace against the visitors in front of a raucous Anfield crowd and put a couple goals through early to push the contest out of reach.

Despite getting the 1-0 result at Swansea, Liverpool showed that wing-back in particular is an area for concern in their coveted 3-4-2-1 system that has given so many fits during their run.  With that, Liverpool will have to be careful in leaving too much space behind in attack, specifically on the wings where guys like Ashley Young or Angel Di Maria can exploit that space quickly.  Even with  Louis Van Gaal’s disdain, United remain extremely partial to the long ball, and can make Liverpool pay on the counter if they are overly ambitious in front of the home faithful.

The sheer intensity and magnitude of any Liverpool-Manchester United clash means the stakes are high whenever these two lock horns.  Both are accustomed to battling it out with the other for titles, and while those circumstances changed, both yearn to return to Europe’s elite and compete in the Champion’s League.  One moves a step closer to those aspirations after Sunday’s result is read, the other left to scramble one of the closest races for Champion’s League qualification in recent memory.

Premier League Pick ‘Em

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We’re two-thirds of the way through the 2014/15 Barclay’s Premier League season and things are heating up at the top of the table – and the bottom – as the fight for Premier League glory – and survival – hits the home stretch.

At the top, Chelsea (60 points) hold a five-point lead over defending champions Manchester City (55). The real fight lies between positions three through seven, where Arsenal (48 points), Manchester United (47), Southampton (46), Liverpool (45), and Tottenham Hotspur (44) are separated by a total of four points.

Meanwhile, at the bottom, Leicester City are four points from safety with 18, while Burnley, Aston Villa, and Queen’s Park Rangers are knotted at 22 points apiece.

Starting Point’s Greg Hudson takes a look at who he thinks will earn a place among the elite, who will fall short of glory, and who will find a way to survive the most challenging league in world football.

Top-Four Contenders

Arsenal

The Gunners have been a consistent side this season, scoring goals with their mobile, free-flowing offense. They haven’t always been in the top four, but they haven’t always been fit either, as injuries to Aaron Ramsey and star forward Alexis Sanchez have hurt their form at times, but Arsenal have looked strong throughout the campaign. Defensively they’ve been strong and have played well against teams that like to play a physical game, and while their zonal-marking scheme at set pieces is an achilles heel, they aren’t easy to beat, and I’ll pick them to finish in the top four.

Liverpool

The Reds came oh-so-close to winning their first league title in a quarter century last season, and the departure of Luis Suarez and the addition of several new players meant they were never likely to challenge for the title this season. A slow start and injuries to Daniel Sturridge and departing captain Steven Gerrard have left them without a star player at times, but the team as a whole is progressing well. They’ve lost just one of their last 18 games in all competitions, and that was an extra-time defeat to Chelsea in the League Cup, and new boys Adam Lallana, Alberto Moreno and Lazar Markovic have been weighing in with needed goals as the Reds offense has found its feet. Meanwhile, the shaky defense that cost them the title last year has come into its own with a new formation, and the Reds defense has kept a clean sheet in five of their last six games in the league. I think they’ll overcome the slow start and book themselves a place among Europe’s elite with a top-four finish.

Top-Four Failures

Southampton

Make no mistake, Southampton are the surprise of the season. They’re a team that many picked to be relegated this year after so many of their key players left for higher places, but the “replacements” brought in by Ronald Koeman have not only filled their shoes – they’ve improved the side. Saints always looked like a team that could beat anybody on the day, but this season their fearless style of play and high-pressure defense has seen them sit as high as third. They’re on the outside looking in at the moment, in fifth, but wins over Arsenal and Manchester United should give them confidence as they head into the final push for the top four. That being said, they players at Koeman’s disposal aren’t used to the kind of pressure they’ll face in the fight to the finish this season. They simply haven’t been in this position before. A 2-0 loss at home to Liverpool offers evidence that perhaps they just aren’t quite there yet. I think they’ll fight hard, but I think they’ll come up just short.

 

Manchester United

United have responded well to new manager Louis van Gaal, but they’re a very unbalanced team. They’ve put on some great performances this season, including a 3-0 home win over top rivals Liverpool, but they’ve also suffered a 5-3 defeat to Leicester City, who currently sit bottom of the league, and have been beaten for a double by Swansea, losing both games by a 2-1 margin. The simple fact about the Red Devils is that they’re a team of very talented attackers – Rooney, Di Maria, Mata, van Persie and Falcao are household names across Europe and South America – but a team who’s standout defender is Chris Smalling is doomed to failure. I’m not knocking the man, but a team that has aspirations of greatness in domestic and international competitions needs world-class defenders as well as attackers. They don’t have that at this point, and a failure to bring in any new men at the back during the January transfer window indicates that van Gaal or the United board simply don’t understand the severity of the situation. I don’t think they’ll finish in the top four, since good sides like Liverpool and Arsenal will take a lesson from Swansea and exploit the huge achilles heel United seem to ignore, and the Red Devils will have a lot to answer for when that happens.

Premier League Survivors

Hull City

The Tigers struggled immensely over the Christmas period and fell as low as 19th in early February. But new signing Dame N’Doye has given the Tigers a spark, and it’s taken a lot of pressure off their other big man, Nikica Jelavic. N’Doye has weighed in with goals in both his starts, and Jelavic has found the target as well, helping the Tigers to back-to-back wins for the first time this season, and seeing them go four points safe. The form isn’t permanent but their fighting spirit and an improved performance at home suggests that Hull City will not fall victim to the sophomore drop the way they did in their first Premier League visit. I’ll pick them to beat the drop, not necessarily in easy style, but I think they’ll stay up at least another term.

Burnley

They’re right where they’ve spent most of the season: in the drop zone. But they’re a side that fights, and their 1-1 draw at Chelsea at the weekend is an example of it. They were on the road against the league leaders, but when given a man advantage after Nemanja Matic was sent off, the Clarets pulled level, and they’ve got the players to get the goals they need to survive. Youngster Danny Ings is one of the highest-scoring Englishmen in the league this term, and fullbacks Ben Mee and Kieren Trippier have been effective at supplying him. Ashley Barnes and Sam Vokes have been valuable attacking assets as well, and Tom Heaton has done his part in net, as the Clarets look for survival. I think they’ve got the fight they need, but unlike Leicester City who embody that same spirit, the points suggest Burnley might just live to fight another day in the league.

Premier League Dropouts

Queen’s Park Rangers

The Hoops are an weird bunch. They have name – good names – filling their team sheets each week, but the results they’ve earned hardly reflect the talent. The simple fact about Rangers is that they’re a team without a purpose. Watching them play, they lack spirit, they seem to believe that they’re going to lose before the opening kickoff, and once they fall behind there’s not much getting back into the game. Charlie Austin is the league’s highest-scoring Englishmen, and he’s just been given no support. Bobby Zamora and Eduardo Vargas have provided sparks of intensity from time to time, but the Hoops just don’t connect. They’re all on different pages, and a book that isn’t in the right order ends up at the bottom of the stack, which is where QPR will finish: in the drop zone.

Aston Villa

The Villans have the players and they have the money. But they don’t have the quality. They’re a collection whose whole has yet to equal the sum of its parts. They’ve lost their last six in the league, and they’ve fired manager Paul Lambert two thirds of the way through the season. Norwich City tried it last year, hoping it would give them a spark that would ignite a resurgence. It didn’t work, and the move is typical of desperation that’s setting in at Villa Park. They sit 19th and boast the league’s worst defensive record. It wouldn’t be so bad if the offensive weapons at interim manager Tim Sherwood’s disposal could find the net, but since the new year they often appear as if they don’t know what the goal looks like, let alone how to put a ball in it. They’ve failed to score in four of their last six, including matches against Hull City and Leicester. Their inability to beat the teams around them in the table bodes very ill indeed for a team that’s one of just seven never to be relegated from the Premier League, and I expect we’ll be watching a league without the Villans in 2015/16.

Who’s Hot ? Whose Not ?

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By Greg Hudson

The 2014/15 Barclay’s Premier League season is one-third complete, and some clubs are emerging as potential contenders while others falter in the hunt for supremacy. Here’s a list of who’s hot, who’s not, and which side remains a mystery:

WHO’S HOT:

Chelsea: Jose Mourinho’s men have gotten off to one of the hottest starts in Premier League history, winning ten of their first 13 contests and going unbeaten. Their free-flowing and creative attack has belied Mourinho’s reputation as a defensive-minded manager, but the defense has been almost unbreakable all season. They sit atop the league by six points over champions Manchester City and frankly don’t look like they can be caught at this point. It’s a foolish thing to say at such an early point in the season, with so much time remaining for players to lose their form or suffer the injury bug, but all signs point to a reality that anyone wanting to win the title this season will have to do so over Chelsea’s dead bodies.

Southampton: The Saints were almost everyone’s – including my own – favorites for relegation after Liverpool and other top clubs raided the club of its best talent during the summer transfer window. But Southampton have not only replaced them, they look like an improved side for it, with new striker Graziano Pelle benefitting from excellent link-up play from new winger Susan Tadiç. Saints currently sit third in the table and based on current form, could put up a good fight for a spot in the Champions’ League next year.

WHO’S NOT

Manchester City: Last year’s champions won’t be pleased with their performance so far this season. It’s almost unfair to say that the team which sits second isn’t hot but they simply haven’t lived up to expectations as the most talented group of players in England. They’ve been too reliant on Sergio Agüero for goals and their once-solid defense has at times looked porous. They’re only six points behind Chelsea but based on current form they might as well be 12 points back because they have their work cut out.

Liverpool: Like City, the Reds came down hard off a great season. They lost superstar striker Luis Suarez to Barcelona and invested in several good players but they simply haven’t meshed yet, and with star striker Daniel Sturbridge out since the end of August, things have looked dire for Liverpool who have just 17 points and sit 11th. It is very reminiscent of Tottenham Hotspur last season, when they lost Gareth Bale and struggled to find chemistry with the seven new players they signed. The good news for the Reds is that Spurs look strong a year later, and so while this season isn’t set to amount to much, improved form next season could see them again return to a fight at the top.

MYSTERY:

Manchester United: I say United are a mystery because they are a very inconsistent and unbalanced side with four world class attackers but a defense which remains a shambles. Somehow they sit in fourth but how they’ve gotten there is indeed quite a mystery. A team which loses 5-3 to bottom side Leicester but beats Arsenal 2-0 away from home is without question an unknown quantity which we’ll need to watch more closely to learn more about, to see if they’re contenders or pretenders

A Tale of Two Cities

By Greg Hudson

Liverpool and Manchester United both made headlines this summer as the two English giants completed several majors moves, signing and selling big names throughout the pre-season. But looking at each club’s outlook for the future, it is indeed a tale of two cities.

Let’s start in Liverpool, where things look to be heading for the best of times. The club handled the departure of volatile striker Luis Suarez with class, and considered it wiser to invest the over $100 million revenue from his sale into strengthening the squad as a whole, particularly the defense, and to do so primarily by signing young talent.

Defenders Dejan Lovren, Javier Manquillo, and Alberto Moreno all joined the club in the summer, while midfielder Adam Lallana and winger Lazar Markovic also arrived at Melwood to complete their transfers. Lovren and Lallana are already established and highly-rated in the Premier League after success at Southampton last season, while Manquillo, Markovic, and Moreno all arrive from the Iberian Peninsula – Manquillo and Moreno from Spain and Markovic from Benfica in Portugal – and none of the trio is over the age of 21.

Meanwhile Manchester United look headed for the worst of times, and the desperate moves they made this summer show the fear at the heart of the once-great club. Three of last year’s starting four defenders are gone, as Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra have all sought pastures new. Meanwhile strikers Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck have left the club, and veteran leader Ryan Giggs has announced his formal retirement. It left the Devils with many holes to fill and they generally did a poor job of it.

They did sign big names. Angel Di Maria and Ander Herrera join as positive attacking midfield options and Daley Blind could serve useful as a holding midfielder. But they did not sign any quality defenders. Fullback Luke Shaw, the 20-year-old Southampton prodigy, was pried from Saints for a handy $45 million, but no other moves were made to shore up a back line which was porous at best last season when Vidic and company were still around.

They made a desperation move on the transfer deadline day, signing Monaco striker Radamel Falcao on loan. Not only is the deal temporary, it doesn’t solve the problem. An already top-heavy side with great attacking options and a shaky defense now sits even more precariously balanced, with such a plethora of attackers that new maager Louis van Gaal will have difficulty finding a way to use them all, and such a blight of quality defenders that he’ll need his 3-5-2 system to work to avoid fielding four defenders when only three are really worthy of a shirt.

United have stated that their goal is to finish in the top four, to secure Champions’ League action next season after missing out for this year. But the simple fact is that there’s no balance at Old Trafford and the Devils are doomed to stumble and fall short of those ambitions until they can create a squad that’s top-rate from front to back. Until they can, they’ll fall behind their northwest rivals Liverpool, who have made a move to strengthen the club for the present AND the future.

For the two biggest clubs in the history of English football, the summers were very similar, as players joined and departed with regular frequency. But for these two neighbor clubs who play just 35 miles apart, it was indeed a tale of two cities.

For the two biggest clubs in the history of English football, the summers were very similar, as players joined and departed with regular frequency. But for these two neighbor clubs who play just 35 miles apart, it was indeed a tale of two cities.

Premier League Preview Part II

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By Greg Hudson

EVERTON F.C.

Nickmame: The Toffees
Kit Colors: Blue; Black
Home: Goodison Park
 
Everton impressed last season under Roberto Martinez, and the manager looks to continue his side’s new-found success in 2014-15. Romelu Lukaku, who scored 14 goals for them last term on loan from Chelsea, joins the team on a permanent move this season, while Gareth Barry rejoins his old club from champions Manchester City.
 
Make no mistake, Everton are capable of beating the best. But their young talent still needs time to develop, with players like Ross Barkley, John Stones, and Lukaku still a few years from their peak of performance, while their veterans like Barry, Phil Jagielka, and keeper Tim Howard are past their peak. So don’t expect the Toffees to finish above their Merseyside rivals Liverpool, let alone challenge for the title. But beware, don’t bet against Everton to play spoiler in the title race by taking points from the big fish.
 
Predicted Finish: 7th
 
HULL CITY F.C.
Nickname: The Tigers
Kit Colors: Gold/Black; Black
Home: The KC Stadium
 
The Tigers surprised a few last season with a fearless approach to football, as they characterized their first season of their return to the Premier League by taking games to their opponent, especially at home, where they recorded seven wins and an additional four draws. But their road form was less than stellar, as they lost 13 of their 19 fixtures. But while their goal tally wasn’t exceptional, they found the goals they needed to win games against teams around them in the bottom half of the table, and among their victories was a shock 3-1 triumph over Liverpool at the KC Stadium.
 
To strengthen the squad, manager Steve Bruce brought in some new names, most notably highly-rated young winger Tom Ince from Blackpool on a free transfer and Robert Snodgrass, the standout of a Norwich City team that was relegated at the end of last season. Holding midfielder Jake Livermore, who spent 2013-14 on loan with the Tigers, joined on a permanent deal, while defender Andrew Robertson joins a five-man back line that includes up-and-coming defenders Alex Bruce and James Chester.
 
Don’t expect the Tigers to finish in the top half of the table, but you can certainly expect this stay in the top flight to last longer than their one previous stay in the top flight, which lasted only two seasons.
 
Predicted Finish: 13th
 
LEICESTER CITY F.C.
Nickname: The Foxes
Kit Colors: Blue/Gold; Gold/Black
Home: The King Power Stadium
 
The Foxes make their return to the Premiership in 2014-15 after an 11-season absence since their relegation in 2002-03. Manager Nigel Pearson saw his side to the championship of the League Championship last season, and the Foxes certainly have quality. Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, son of legendary Manchester United ‘keeper Peter Schmeichel, helps lead the way, while defender Wes Morgan wears the armband.
 
But the gulf in class between the Premier League and the Championship is massive, and Pearson has made several additions to his squad in the hopes of bolstering it enough to survive their first season in the Premiership. Matthew Upson and Marc Albrighton, veterans of the top flight, join the side, while striker Leonardo Ulloa will look to contribute the goals the Foxes need to survive.
 
But the simple fact is that while they will play good football on more than few occasions, without making more signings and getting help from the teams around them, the Foxes aren’t likely to produce the results needed to survive the season. But they’re certain to be entertaining as they’re bound to go down fighting.
 
Predicted Finish: 18th
 
LIVERPOOL F.C.
Nickname: The Reds
Kit Colors: Red; Yellow/Red
Home: Anfield
 
Liverpool were both the Premier League’s top entertainers last season, and the league’s biggest surprise. The Reds had finished seventh the season before, but they developed into a fearsome offensive juggernaut over the course of the season, as strikers Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez, known simply as SAS, finished the season as the league’s two highest scorers and teen phenoms Raheem Sterling and John Flanagan both became regular fixtures in the starting eleven. But defensive weaknesses let them down in the late stages of the season and they came up two points short of their first league title in 24 years, finishing as runners-up to Manchester City.
 
Manager Brendan Rodgers knew that to become a championship-calibre side Liverpool would need new players, but his hopes for becoming title favourites ended when Suarez left the club in disgrace after biting Italian defender Georgio Chiellini while representing Uruguay in the World Cup. But Rodgers cashed in on his troublesome striker, profiting to the tune of 75 million pounds, and he put that cash to work, adding several new players to the side. Attacking midfielder Adam Lallana and striker Rickie Lambert join the club from Southampton, as does highly-touted defender Dejan Lovren, brought in to help shore up the Reds’ too-often porous defense. Joining him in the back line are fullbacks Alberto Moreno from Sevilla and Javier Manquillo, a loanee from Atletico Madrid. Meanwhile the Reds continue to look for goals by adding young prospect Lazar Markovic and holding midfield up-and-comer Emre Can.
 
If the Reds’ defense can avoid the costly mistakes that plagued them last season, while continuing to find goals from players all across the lineup, they can challenge for the title. But as Tottenham Hotspur proved last season, replacing a superstar with several new additions can take time to produce results. Don’t expect them to win it this season, but expect them to be there right on the heels of the title favorites ready to pounce if they slip up.
 
Predicted Finish: 3rd
 
MANCHESTER CITY F.C.
Nickname: The Citizens
Kit Colors: SkyBlue/Navy; Navy/SkyBlue
Home: The City of Manchester Stadium
 
The Citizens captured their second title in two years last season, and the holders look stronger than ever. Manager Manuel Pellegrini had few moves to make this summer, as there are few ways to realistically improve this squad. Strikers Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko, and Alvaro Negredo all scored 20 or more goals across all competitions last season, while their defense was the best in the league, especially at home, where they were beaten just once all season.
 
While they were somewhat fortunate to win the title as Liverpool faltered in the final fixtures of the season, there is no squad as deep or as talented in all departments as City’s. The only department they moved to strengthen was the defense, with fullback Bacary Sagna joining from Arsenal and centre-half Eliaquim Mangala arriving from FC Porto along with teammate Fernando, acquired to fill the hole between the back line and the midfield.
 
There’s no team with better players, and only Brendan Rodgers and Jose Mourinho could claim to be tactically better managers than Pellegrini, so there’s little doubt that the title holders are the odds-on favourites to retain their silverware, but they need to beware: they’re there to be shot at, and they can’t let their approach be changed by their good fortunes last season. That being said, this is a hungry outfit that isn’t likely to be satisfied by anything other than a second title in as many years.
 
Predicted Finish: 1st