Joe Hart no longer the best English Goalkeeper?

Since 2012, Joe Hart has been England’s first choice goalkeeper. Three successive England managers – Fabio Capello, Roy Hodgson and Gareth Southgate – have all showed great faith in the Manchester City goalkeeper over the course of the last seven years.

While he has largely repaid their faith, he is also prone to making errors, such as allowing Gareth Bale to score from a long range free-kick in England’s 2-1 win over Wales in the group stage of Euro 2016. Therefore, there is room for other goalkeepers to challenge Hart for a place in manager Southgate’s side.

Joe Hart

A few contenders exist.  Some have done so for a bit longer, whilst others are starting to establishing themselves as potential England candidates. Already with some playing experience for The Three Lions and perhaps part of a group of possible replacements for Hart are Jack Butland and Fraser Forster.

One name catching the eye of pundits and fans alike is Burnley’s backup goalkeeper Nick Pope who is taking advantage of the injury to Tom Heaton to stake a claim as a starter in the English Premier League. Pope remains a rather fresh face in EPL, with no prior experience at the top level, yet his recent performances for Burnley show he is worth keeping eyes on.

Another goalkeeper worth mentioning whilst he is gradually developing a good reputation is Jordan Pickford. Despite Sunderland being defensively susceptible last season, the 23-year-old Pickford excelled to earn himself a move to Everton.

At Everton he trains with the assured Dutchman Maarten Stekelenburg, who provides healthy competition for Pickford and can play a role in his progression. Pickford has represented England at every level from U-16’s to U-21’s.

At present, Hart remains England’s no.1, but his hold on the position is not as strong as it once was.  He has the opportunity to earn a spot to play at his second World Cup finals by doing well for West Ham.  Additional incentive exist for him to do so, from the way Pep Guardiola set him aside at Manchester City to his struggles with Torino in Serie A.

Perhaps an even greater motivation for Hart is the presence of goalkeepers such as Butland and Forster, along with the emergence of Pickford and Pope. Nevertheless, the greatest incentive of all, for any footballer, would be to participate in a World Cup tournament so Hart needs to step up for the Hammers in order to secure his place in England’s squad for Russia 2018!

Chelsea on verge of league title as Tottenham blow their chance

West-Ham-United-1-0-Tottenham-Hotspur (1)

And so a huge swing in the Premier League title may well boil down to Monday evening when Chelsea host Middlesbrough at Stamford Bridge. Antonio Conte’s team will have the chance to go 7 points clear at the top with just 9 more points on the board.

Tottenham have put up a brave effort this season which has saw them go unbeaten so far this season at home, which incidentally will be their last season at White Hart Lane. They will also finish 2nd and in doing so finish above their eternal rivals Arsenal for the first time since the mid 1990′s. Harry Kane has turned into one of the hottest properties in European football and Dele Alli has shown his maturity. The team pound for pound has arguably been the best in the Premier League, and yet the usual collapsing Tottenham antics remains.

Rewind to Friday evening where Spurs had to travel to West Ham, a club who simply loathe their north London rivals. The Hammers who have had an unspectacular and difficult debut season in their new ground got a surprise 1-0 victory over Tottenham. This defeat was only Tottenham’s 4th all season and had come at such a reminding and one could say nightmarish time for them. Who remembers the meltdown from last season where Spurs destined for 2nd place, gave it up predictability to Arsenal, which ended up with losses meshed with red cards and a bad taste in the mouth after such a solid season?

Four points behind Chelsea and with the Blues having  a game in hand in the last furlong of a 9 month season, the odds look helplessly stacked against Tottenham who have not won the league since 1961.

If Chelsea do claim their 5th league title it will be richly deserved, as they have been so dominating this season, apart from a few speed bumps- namely the surprise loss at home to Crystal Palace a few weeks ago. The hard truth for Spurs is that even if Chelsea failed to beat Middlesbrough, they would still be holding all of the cards- with another game wiped off the board and still a 4 point advantage.

Eden Hazard et all will be aiming to put one hand on the Premier League trophy one that they have won 3 times alone this decade with victory over Boro.

Sorry Tottenham, but the league title is evidently going south of the river once again.

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Premier League relegation battle hotting up

Euro 2016

It’s an intriguing battle at the bottom end of the Premier League table and any one of 9 teams can still realistically face the drop. Swansea are currently 18th in the table, however, with just 8 points between them and 11th placed Leicester, a poor run of results for any side in between could see them playing Championship football next season.

40 points is normally the target for Premier League survival and there are a few teams lurking around that mark. Leicester City, Burnley and Watford all look likely to reach that target within the coming weeks, however, teams like Stoke City, West Ham, Crystal Palace and Hull City are still right in the mix.

Stoke City, since drawing with Manchester City are in horrific form at the moment. They have lost their last 4 matches and face Hull City in a real six-pointer this weekend. Should they lose, Hull will close the gap to just 3 and with matches coming up against all their rivals at the bottom end of the table, they will need to find a winning formula soon.

West Ham managed their first win in 6 last weekend with a home win against Swansea. A win against a truly awful Sunderland side this weekend should be enough to ensure survival, but a loss could see them in trouble as they have a tough run in with games against Everton, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur on the horizon.

Crystal Palace, with 5 wins in their last 6, should be safe. They are definitely on an upward curve and with Christian Benteke and Wilfried Zaha on top-form, they should have enough about them to ensure their survival in the coming weeks. Impressive wins over Chelsea and their 3-0 destruction of an Arsenal side in crisis, looks to have installed a belief that was sorely missing at the start of the season.

Hull City’s recent form has been decent, but they are far from safe. They have a reasonable run-in and from the top sides, they have just to face Tottenham Hotspur on the last day of the season. Remarkably, they have won 6 and drawn 1 of their last 7 home matches and no team will relish going to the KCOM Stadium in the coming weeks.

Middlesbrough and Sunderland look doomed this season. Between them, they have scored 19 goals less than Chelsea and an over reliance on veteran striker Jermaine Defoe looks to have cost Sunderland their place in the Premier League.

This weekend will tell us a lot about the relegation battle and which team has the heart for the upcoming fight.

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Why Dimitri Payet’s possible move to Marseille makes zero sense

Dimitri-Payet-West-Ham

There is a classic London fog that has descended over east London of late, the Olympic Stadium and West Ham football club to be precise. All that was calm is no more. The reason? West Ham striker Dimitri Payet wants to leave the club mid-season.

Payet joined West Ham in the summer of 2015 for a reported £11m from Marseille. It should be noted that Payet did not want to leave the Ligue 1 side but was told to because of financial strains. Once sold Payet wooed in the Hammers crowd with some glorious play and goals and was named West Ham player of the season, not only that the fans warmed to the French international so much that they even gave him his own song:

“We’ve got Payet, Dimitri Payet! I just don’t think you understand. ’He’s Super Slav’s man. He’s better than Zidane. We’ve got Dimtri Payet!”

But since Payet’s request to not play for the club and effectively gone on strike, the fans have created another song- one way too explicit to be shown here, but it’s safe to say that the older song will never be sung again around the stadium.

Payet is currently at 29 West Ham’s highest paid player on a reported £125,000 a week, at first it seemed to have two offers to be lured away from the Premier league. One was an unconfirmed offer from China which we can guess would have saw his weekly salary tripled. The other was from his old club Marseille, they went even further and even approached West Ham with an money offer. Reportedly the last bid of £20m has been rejected by the club, who would most probably be looking for at least £28m plus.

Payet is determined to leave, right now he plays in the Premier league for a side that won’t win it. If Payet’s motivation is to win a league title why would he choose Marseille? If truth be told Marseille have recently been invested well into with a cash injection of £400m and more to come. However Ligue 1 has turned into the PSG show at present and teams such as Monaco, Lyon and Nice have also stepped up their game.

Whilst Marseille did win the league in 2010, this was also off the back of Lyon’s downward spiral after a superb decade that saw them win 7 titles in a row. But let’s slow down a little, the game even in a short period has changed so much. PSG has won the title for the last 4 years and even though they are not exactly up to par this season they are the type of club who have the ultimate pulling power to bring in a new coach and new players. Marseille have this too but to a much lesser extent. In essence Marseille are a long way from PSG, that is the reality. If Marseille push on then there is every possibility that they can go up the level they need to, but by then Payet will be too old, he has three seasons tops at the highest level.

So if Payet does want to leave West Ham shouldn’t he be banging on bigger doors? Or does this all boil down to wanting to rejoin a team he has nostalgic leanings for? In the short term he will be welcomed like a son, but in the long term he may be warming up the bench and watching the next generation of PSG and Monaco hoisting the trophies up.


A spell of continuous improvement for West Ham

Euro 2016

Defensive fragility defines poor start to the season

This season started very disappointingly for West Ham United, whereby Slaven Bilic’s side struggled throughout the months of both August and September.

Specifically, whilst losing their UEFA Europa League qualifying play-off to Astra Giurgiu for a second successive year, West Ham collected just three points from their first six English Premier League games.

In the process of doing so, they conceded 16 goals, with West Ham’s defensive fragility being compounded by a lack of cohesion, creativity and inventiveness in their attacking play.

Whilst goalkeeper Adrian delivered several unconvincing displays, with his decision-making and handling in particularly lacking conviction, the 29-year-old Spaniard was left severely exposed by a back four, who were guilty of haphazard and irresponsible defending.

Payet produces cataclysmic moment

However since witnessing his team lose 3-0 at home to Southampton at the end of September, when they were comprehensively outplayed, Bilic has galvanised his players to embark upon a markedly improved run of form, which began with a sublime solo goal by the mercurially talented Dimitri Payet.

With West Ham 1-0 down at home to Middlesbrough, Payet brilliantly drifted past several defenders, before angling a fine finish beyond Victor Valdes.  Although unable to score a winning goal, West Ham earned a valuable point to end a run of four successive league defeats.

Subsequently Payet’s moment of individual magic has proved to be the catalyst for West Ham’s players to collectively rediscover their belief and confidence, as testified by their last two English Premier League performances.

Successive league wins for the Hammers

After securing their first away win of the season by beating Crystal Palace 1-0 at Selhurst Park, as Manuel Lanzini scored following excellent work undertaken by Aaron Cresswell, West Ham then overcame Sunderland.

In order to do so, they showed great determination, perseverance and resolve, since despite being frustrated by a resolute Sunderland defence for the majority of the game, West Ham once again won 1-0 courtesy of a 94th minute goal by Winston Reid.

The 28-year-old New Zealander scored with a powerful 18-yard shot to inject further momentum into West Ham’s season.

Progression in League Cup

That improved yet further as they progressed to the quarter finals of the English League Cup by thoroughly deservedly beating Chelsea 2-1.

Whilst Cheikou Kouyate gave West Ham the lead with an excellent header, Edmilson Fernandes scored a second goal, before Gary Cahill replied for Chelsea.  Nevertheless by reassuming control of the game, West Ham emerged victorious after producing a cohesive, high-octane and intense performance, which was wonderfully appreciated by their loyal supporters.

Bilic oversees a marked upturn in West Ham’s fortunes

Therefore by winning two and drawing one of their three English Premier League games during October, whilst also reaching the quarter finals of the League cup, West Ham are amidst a spell of continuous improvement, which Slaven Bilic will aspire to mastermind a continuation of against Everton, whom the 48-year-old Croatian served as a player.

It is Ronald Koeman’s side whom West Ham are next due to play in the English Premier League, with the Hammers aim being to end the month of October unbeaten and move towards the top half of the league table, so that they can once challenge to qualify for European competition.

Although West Ham’s outlook for the season was bleak a month ago, it is now far brighter with their prospects of enjoying a strong campaign having greatly improved as a result of a excellent run of results.

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Bottom three earn valuable points in the English Premier League

Euro 2016

The three teams currently occupying the relegation zone in the English Premier League all recovered from a goal down to earn a point from their latest game.

Whereas Sunderland and West Ham staged comebacks to draw 1-1 at home against West Brom and Middlesbrough respectively, Stoke City’s achieved the same accomplishment in their game with Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Swansea surrender home lead

In contrast Swansea City, who sits just one point above the bottom three, lost 2-1 at home to Liverpool after surrendering a one goal lead at the Liberty Stadium.

Whilst Leroy Fer capitalised upon indecision among the Liverpool defence to open the scoring, goals from Roberto Firmino and James Milner, with the 32-year-old midfielder converting a Panenka style like penalty, gave Jurgen Klopp’s side their fourth successive league victory.

In order to achieve that Liverpool displayed great determination and resolve, amidst testing conditions to vividly illustrate their evolution into an excellent side under the guidance of Klopp is continuing to undergo steady progress.

Conversely, Klopp’s Swansea counterpart Francesco Guidolin is experiencing difficulty in his efforts to engineer an improvement in the current form of his team, since of the six games they have played after beating Burnley on the opening day of the season, the Welsh club have drawn one and lost five.

Payet rediscovers magic touch

Subsequently the 2012-2013 League Cup winners are now level on four points with West Ham, after Dimitri Payet scored a wonderful solo goal to salvage a point for Slaven Bilic’s side from their game with Middlesbrough at the Olympic Stadium.

The French internationalist embarked upon a slaloming run to brilliantly drift past several defenders before finishing precisely beyond Victor Valdes.

A palpable wave of relief swept through West Ham’s support following Payet’s goal, which arrived shortly after Middlesbrough had taken an early second half lead courtesy of a header from Christian Stuani.

The 30-year-old is Aitor Karanka’s team’s leading marksman this season, with him previously scoring twice as Middlesbrough recorded a 2-1 win over Sunderland.

Light relief at the Stadium of Light

The Black Cats are currently at the foot of the table, despite earning their second point of the season against a dominant West Brom, with Patrick Van Aanholt scoring a late equaliser, following Nacer Chadli’s first half goal.

Although the result ended a run of three successive defeats for David Moyes’ team, they are still searching for their first win of the season whilst so too are Stoke City.

Stoke secure precious point

Nevertheless given that Joe Allen scored a late equaliser to deny victory to Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United, who had taken the lead courtesy of an Anthony Martial goal, Stoke are now unbeaten in two games, since prior to their excellent performance at Old Trafford, they had drawn 1-1 at home to West Brom.

Trio strive to enhance their prospects for the season

Therefore Stoke have now constructed a platform from which they can potentially climb up the English Premier League table, with that ultimately also being an aspiration shared by both Sunderland and West Ham.

Although none of the trio won their latest league game’s they each, earned valuable points, to brighten their respective outlooks for the season.

Nevertheless in the case of Sunderland, they currently have two less points than that amassed after the same number of games by the club’s team who ended the 2005-2006 Premier League season with just 15 points, which is the lowest total in their top flight history.

Subsequently so as to prevent the materialisation of a similarly dismal campaign, Moyes must galvanise his players to embark upon an improved run of form after the international break.

Such a task also faces both Mark Hughes and Bilic at Stoke and West Ham respectively, as the bottom three clubs aspire to ensure they remain competitive in the English Premier League and avoid spending the entire season at embroiled in a battle at the bottom of the division.

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Greizmann and Payet make markedly different starts to the season

Euro 2016

Two players who played starring roles in France’s Euro 2016 campaign are currently experiencing markedly contrasting fortunes at club level.

Greizmann flourishes whilst Payet toils

Influential in their country’s progression to the final of Euro 2016, which the French lost 1-0 to Portugal, Antoine Greizmann and Dimitri Payet performed superbly well throughout the tournament.

Furthermore the pair’s fine summer exploits on the international stage followed them enjoying great club seasons.  Whilst Greizmann excelled at Atletico Madrid, a similar assessment can be attributed to Payet’s contribution for West Ham during the 2015-2016 campaign.

However at present whereas Greizmann continues to flourish in La Liga, Payet is enduring a difficult start to the English Premier League season, as the 29-year-old winger toils in a team on a dismal run of form.

Payet plagued by West Ham’s woes

Specifically Southampton consigned West Ham to a fourth successive league defeat by beating Slaven Bilic’s side 3-0 at the Olympic Stadium.  Furthermore that result marks the first time in West Ham’s history that they have lost five of their opening six games in a top-flight season.

Consquently they currently languish in 18th position, as Payet struggles to rediscover his wonderful form of last season, following his Euro 2016 exertions for France.  The toll which those exertions potentially took on Payet was sensitively recognised by Bilic.

As well as resting Payet for the Europa League qualifiers, the 48-year-old Croatian did not start the former Olympique Marseille player in any of his team’s first three league games of the season.

After appearing as a second half substitute as West Ham opened their league campaign with a 2-1 away defeat to Chelsea, Payet was then omitted from the Hammers squad’s which Bilic named to face Bournemouth and Manchester City.

Subsequently a refreshed Payet provided assists for both of West Ham’s goals, as he made his first start of the season in their 4-2 home loss to Watford. For the first half-an-hour of that game, Payet was magnificent, with the highlight of his performance arriving when he delivered a wonderful rabona cross that Michail Antonio headed home to give West Ham a 2-0 lead.  Thereafter however Payet was powerless to prevent West Ham surrendering their advantage as he became a peripheral figure in the game.

Whilst that was a source of great frustration for the Frenchman so too has been the limited influence he has had on West Ham’s two most recent performances as they have lost 4-2 and 3-0 to West Bromwich Albion and Southampton respectively.  It is neither a lack of desire nor effort that governs Payet’s current struggles since he continues to abundantly display those attributes.  Conversely although this season he showed glimpses of his class against Watford and scored a wonderful injury time free-kick to help West Ham to a 1-0 League Cup victory over Accrington Stanley, Payet is simply out-of-form among a team low on confidence.

That is not a problem with which Payet’s French teammate Antoine Greizemann currently requires to contend.

Atletico remain grateful for Greizmann

The former Real Sociedad forward, who won the Euro 2016 player of the tournament and golden boot awards, has scored five goals in five La Liga appearances this season, to help Atletico Madrid remain unbeaten in, and amass twelve points from, their opening six league games.  After not playing in the first of those, a 1-1 draw against Alaves, Greizmann has been an ever present in Diego Simeone’s side.

They climbed to third place in La Liga, following a 1-0 home victory over Deportivo La Coruna, as Greizmann scored the decisive goal with a calm side – footed finish from Kevin Gameiro’s precise cross.

For both of Atletico’s past two La Liga campaigns, since joining the club from Sociedad for €30m in July 2014, Greizmann has scored 22 goals, with great potential existing for him to surpass that total this season.  That is particularly the case given his current rich vein of form, which represents a healthy extension of that which he produced both for Atletico last season and France at Euro 2016.

In addition to being the joint top scorer in La Liga alongside Barcelona’s Luis Suarez, Greizmann is also one of the division’s most outstanding general performers, as the 25 year-old has brilliantly recuperated from inspiring France to reach the final of Euro 2016.

Subsequently Greizmann has responded superbly well to the disappointment of losing that game, by helping Atletico construct a strong platform upon which the can build a successful season.

French Euro 2016′s duo’s current plights in stark contrast

At present Los Rojiblancos prospects of achieving that appear healthy, as they will aspire to extend their unbeaten run in their next La Liga game at the Mestalla against Valencia, from whom Sofiane Feghouli joined Greizmann’s French team mate Payet at West Ham.

The East London club will host Middlesbrough in their English Premier League fixture, with their aim being to end a run of five humbling successive league defeats.

Therefore although Greizmann and Payet were both stars of France’s impressive but eventually unsuccessful Euro 2016 campaign, their current fortunes at club level are in stark contrast.

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West Ham and Slaven Bilic must avoid honeymoon curse in new Premier League campaign

Manchester City v West Ham United - Premier League

When Slaven Bilic took over from Sam Allardyce as manager of West Ham United last season there was a huge relief. And the pay off was pretty immense.

Bilic had his team playing positive football with no fears and the Hammers faithful looked like they had found exactly the right man in what was to be their final season at the Boleyn Ground in nearly 100 years of football.

And they had- The Hammers certainly had wobbles but they also recorded the most points ever in a Premier League campaign- and they didn’t just do it, they eased over that winning line with games to spare. They also secured European football for this season via the Europa League and the future in a new 60,000 plus stadium does look bright for the East Londoners.

But how bright will that be? Football analysts will be aware of the so called honeymoon period in for managers. Look at the recent case of Alan Pardew- so successful and respected when he switched mid season from Newcastle United to Crystal Palace- and there can be no doubts that he made the right decision. Palace had a new self belief about them and went on a string of brilliant results to push themselves into the top half of the table.

However last season despite some terrific results Pardew’s team were lost at sea somewhat and the reality soon came thundering in of Pardew and Palace’s limitations. Last season they finished 15th. Champions Leicester City almost finished with double those points.

So back to West Ham and with a new stadium and the popularity of Bilic as manager, players and fans both love the former Hammers player, there is, on the face of it, space for optimism.

However if pre season and their Europa League first leg match is anything to go by then fans will be slightly worried. The Irons have recorded just a single win from those six matches. The other worrying factor is that the Hammers have not been able to arrange a match against a top side in anyone of those fixtures.

They will of course play Juventus on August 7th to officially ‘open’ their new Olympic Stadium.

Until then they have other matters to contend with as they prepare to come back from a 2-1 deficit against Slovakians NK Domzale in the Europa League qualifier in London, just three days prior to the friendly match.

A shock exit at this stage could well be the lay of the land for the season ahead. West Ham’s ambitions under Bilic at this time will be to get near the ball park figure of their total points haul and try to win for the first time in 36 years some silverware. It will be interesting if Bilic and his team can escape the honeymoon curse that has fallen on many a manager.

Arsenal not interested in Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette

alexandre lacazette lyon france

Arsenal have been linked with a move for Olympique Lyonnais striker Alexandre Lacazette this summer, with reports suggesting manager Arsene Wenger is keen on bolstering his frontline after a long-term injury suffered by Danny Welbeck. The Gunners failed in their bid to sign Jamie Vardy from Leicester City during this summer’s 2016 European Championships, and are keen for more competition for centre-forward Olivier Giroud.

Lacazette’s name has been on Arsenal’s radar for many years, and while his stock has risen and fallen in recent years, manager Arsene Wenger is said to have taken a fancy to the 25-year-old. However, president Jean-Michel Aulas recently downplayed any transfer talk of the sides chief striker, insisting Wenger hadn’t contacted him this summer about Lacazette’s availability.

“I saw Arsene a lot during France’s matches (in Euro 2016) and he didn’t talk to me about it. So I don’t think that there is something, and it seems to me that Alex wants to spend this season with Lyon in the new stadium. He wants to experience an adventure in the Champions League that could prove to be much better than last season. I think he’s going to stay with us and we’re very happy about that,” he said.

Lacazette has talked up the prospect of moving to a top European side in the future, and it was expected he would make the switch to continue his development to get back into the France national team for the 2018 World Cup. However, the 25-year-old seems content for now to stay with his boyhood club so no move looks to be on the cards.

Its potentially a big loss for Arsenal as Lacazette has been in fantastic scoring form in Ligue 1. He scored 21 goals in 34 games last season for Lyon, and has notched 15 league goals and more in each of his previous three campaigns. Boasting pace and power, Lacazette has a skill set that could well see him shine in the Premier League, but Arsenal could well be overlooking him.

The Gunners are still expected to sign another centre-forward to compete with Olivier Giroud for a starting place ahead of the 2016/17 season, but it’s largely unknown who is on the list this summer. Lacazette is a transfer target for West Ham United but rebuffed their interest recently too. Lyon have slapped a big price tag on his head, and the striker is yet to force the issue of a transfer which suggests they still hold the cards to his future.