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Monthly Archives: May 2013

Australia Press Conference - ICC Champions Trophy

All eyes will be on Australia as the defending champions begin their quest to retain the Champions Trophy in their hands. Since its convincing victory over South Africa in 2009, the Australian cricket team has seen some turbulent times – ups and downs that have impacted its long-worn aura of invincibility in all major forms of the game.

After the team’s Test debacle in India, which was followed by some unwanted internal controversial interruptions, Australia will be looking forward to cast the old, troubled shadows aside and regain their pride of place in the global cricketing hierarchy. Also, given that the next most important fixture is the Ashes, Australian expectations will be on the surge in their English cricketing outing, this year.

Team Australia Strengths

In their last ODI series against the West Indies, that concluded a few months ago, Australia was an emphatic winner, trouncing the West Indian side 5-0. In the Champions Trophy, Australia will be in pole position to ensure the continuation of this winning streak with a good team composition and depth. Shane Watson, Michael Clarke, David Warner, Matthew Wade, Mitchell Marsh, Mitchell Johnson, Xavier Doherty, James Faulkner, Mitchell Starc and George Bailey will be the players to watch out for.

Team Australia Weaknesses

Though their recent performance at ODI far outshines their performances in tests, Australia could be hit hard with their recent campaign at the IPL. For players like Faulkner, Watson, Warner and Mitchell Johnson, the comparatively lesser preparation time window between the IPL and Champions League could prove to be a difficulty.

Opportunities and Threats

Australia has won the Champions Trophy twice. Considering that this is the last edition of the Champions Trophy, winning the title would put Australia in quite a unique position in all of the cricketing record books, as the only team to win the tournament thrice, consecutively.

But whether or not the Australian squad makes it to the cricketing record books, the team needs to avoid being complacent at all times. Over-confidence in its abilities – in spite of the team’s depth – could prove to be costly for the Australians and their title defence chances.

Matches to watch out for

Placed in Group A along with hosts England, Sri Lanka and New Zealand, Australia will start their Champions Trophy defence on the 8th of June, against England at Edgbaston. Their next league match is scheduled for the 12th of June against New Zealand the last, against Sri Lanka, on the 17th of June.

Ambuj Gupta

1. Scott Sinclair (From Swansea to Manchester City, £8 million)

FBL-ENG-PR-MAN CITY-STOKE

It’s always a pleasure to see young players moving to big teams after spending a few good seasons with the comparatively lower placed team. But Sinclair’s move from Swansea to Manchester City came too soon for even the winger’s liking. After playing an important role in ensuring promotion for the Welsh side back in 2011, Sinclair played another season for the Swans in the Premier League and scored 8 goals in 38 appearances, but with just one year left on his contract, refused to sign an extension and demanded a transfer ahead of the 2012-13 season. Manchester City had recently agreed to sell Adam Johnson to Sunderland and were on a look out for a winger to replace him. The 23-year-old seemed to be a perfect replacement for Johnson at that time but what followed was a lengthy spell on the bench for the youngster. Manager Roberto Mancini gave Sinclair a couple of league starts in September but since then even full-back Aleksandar Kolarov has made more appearances on the wings.

sinclair table

So, in around seven-and-a-half months, Sinclair could manage only 69 minutes of league football. We know the sum of £8m that City paid to secure Sinclair’s services is nothing for the cash-rich Manchester City owners but what a spectacular waste of the lad’s talent. No wonder we don’t see much of ‘home-grown’ talent in the Premier League these days. Not just Sinclair, even Everton’s Jack Rodwell moved to Manchester City at the beginning of the season and stayed invisible till the final day of the season when he scored twice.

To make matters worse, Sinclair missed the end of the season with a blood-clot on his shoulder and that was followed by a rib surgery whereby the doctors removed his top rib which was pushing on a vein and causing the clot. Sinclair will not be able to play football at all for the next three months at least. With Mancini getting the sack at City, Sinclair will surely sit down with the next manager and discuss his future with the Etihad club and a return to Swansea City on loan is highly probable. Even Liverpool are said to be circling around the player in order to reunite him with Brendan Rodgers.

2. Esteban Granero (From Real Madrid to QPR, £9million)

The Real Madrid administration must be having a laugh. Unable to find a place in the starting XI at Madrid owing to the presence of highly accomplished players like Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira, Granero joined the QPR bandwagon and signed a four-year deal with the London club. The player was given a free role in the midfield by former manager Mark Hughes and the 25-year-old also took charge of set-piece situations. But his easy-going nature harmed QPR’s play as he failed to make any significant impact. The player could be excused considering it was his first season outside Spain but Granero simply refused to improve and never really looked bothered as his side continued to stay at the bottom of the league table.

Having scored 1 goal and assisting one another in the 23 league appearances, Granero is tipped to return to Spain following QPR’s relegation into the Championship.

3. Marko Marin (from Werder Bremen to Chelsea, £7million)

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Why Chelsea signed Marko Marin still remains a million dollar question. Fondly known as the “German Messi”, Marin left Bremen after spending three eventful seasons with the German club. A hamstring injury delayed his competitive debut for Chelsea and he first made an appearance as a substitute in Chelsea’s 6-0 win over Wolves in the League Cup match on 25th September. Breaking into the starting XI in the presence of Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard in midfield is always difficult but both Roberto Di Matteo and Rafael Benitez preferred even Victor Moses and Yossi Benayoun ahead of Marin. This limited his chances even further and all the 24-year-old could muster was six Premier League appearances in the entire season, that too from the bench.

Chelsea are set to appoint a new manager in the summer (read Jose Mourinho) who will come with his own ideas and splurge Abramovich’s seemingly endless cash on his style of players and though Marin is under contract until 2017, it is unlikely the new manager will waste time on him. The writing is on the wall for Marin and his agent has also insisted that several Bundesliga clubs are interested in signing him. A move away seems best for the club as well as for the player who would like to make a place for himself in the German contingent for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

4. Javi Garcia (from Benfica to Manchester City, £16million)

Signed from Portuguese club Benfica, Garcia has proved to be just another one of Roberto Mancini’s lavish recruits. After failing to sign Roma’s De Rossi, Mancini targeted Javi Martinez who decided to join Bayern Munich instead. With Nigel de Jong leaving the club, Mancini was forced to buy a holding midfielder and Benfica made most of the situation and imposed a heavy price tag on the former Real Madrid player.

Not denying the fact that Garcia is a quality player who is more than capable of playing in the deep holding role, the 26-year-old has found it hard to create a place for himself in the already packed Manchester City midfield that boasts the likes of Gareth Barry, Yaya Toure, James Milner, Samir Nasri and David Silva. Garcia made 24 league appearances, 7 from the bench and scored a couple of goals. With City captain and defender Vincent Kompany missing out on few games owing to an injury and Kolo Toure suspended for taking illegal drugs, Mancini was forced to start with Garcia in the defence for a few games. However his full potential is yet to be fulfilled and it remains to be seen whether the new arriving manager would hold on to the midfielder or sell him to his suitors.

5. Fabio Borini (from AS Roma to Liverpool, £10million)

Liverpool v Gomel - UEFA Europa League Third Round Qualifier

Not so long ago Liverpool splurged big money on the likes of Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing. And this season, newly appointed manager Brendan Rodgers decided to buy Fabio Borini from Italian club AS Roma. Borini’s arrival in England was followed by a goal on his home debut in the second leg of a Europa League match against Belarusian club FC Gomel. Borini then was sidelined due to a broken foot and made his return in January only to return to the treatment table following a dislocated shoulder. His season seemed to be over but the former Chelsea man returned to score his first premier league goal for Liverpool against Newcastle in a 6-0 rout at St.James’. He might be quality, but Borini has performed nowhere near the level to justify his huge price tag.

Another of Brendan Rodgers’ signing, Joe Allen has failed to reproduce his form at Liverpool.

Pakistan v India - ICC World Twenty20 2012: Super Eights Group 2

Rupam Bagish

After all the hullabaloo for almost eight weeks in the Indian Premier League, it’s time now for the players to switch over from their franchise colours to the national colours. ICC Champions Trophy, which is more like a mini World Cup, is returning after 3 years, when all the big international teams will join in the race to claim the ultimate crown. The tournament will be opening with a big one between India and South Africa on 6th June. England will be hosting the tournament this time.

Being the current world champions, India are definitely one of the strong contenders to lift the trophy this year. But following the recent spot-fixing controversies, it will be tough for Dhoni and his team to put all the negativity behind them and play to their potential. The selectors have gone largely with the IPL form of the players to pick the 15-member squad for the tournament. Even though the exclusion of Sehwag was not a surprise, their decision to not pick Gautam Gambhir, who was in some decent form during the IPL, and India’s World Cup winning hero Yuvraj Singh, surprised many cricket experts around India.

The 15-member squad picked for the ICC Champions Trophy is:

Mahendra Singh Dhoni (c/wk), Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Dinesh Karthik, Murali Vijay, Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Irfan Pathan, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Amit Mishra and R Vinay Kumar.

Looking at the squad, it seems almost certain that Shikhar Dhawan will be opening the batting. But who would be the other batsman to open with him is still under the clouds of suspicion. Murali Vijay didn’t look comfortable at all during the IPL and also doesn’t have an impressive record outside the subcontinent. For the selectors to be choosing him ahead of an experienced player like Gambhir could prove to be a huge blunder, especially on the seaming wickets in England. Dinesh Karthik looks like an another option who could be filling in the opener’s slot. The Tamil Nadu batsman looked ominous in the first part of the IPL and might be a good choice at the top.

Virat Kohli has been magnificent at number three for India in the past few years, and is likely to bat at the same spot in this tournament too. Coming to the middle order, Suresh Raina looks good to play at number four, considering there is no Yuvraj Singh in the side. Raina was craving to bat up the order all these years, and it will be great chance for him to prove his mettle up there. However, he has to improve his technique against the short ball, as the teams are likely to pamper him with a lot of short pitched stuff all through the tournament. MS Dhoni has been batting a tad lower than where he actually should. He is easily India’s best ODI batsman currently, and needs to bat at number five to give his team the extra value of his capabilities. He is currently one of the best finishers in the game too and will have to take the responsibility of staying at the crease for most of the innings. But this brings Rohit Sharma at number 6, which is again a bit of a gamble, considering Sharma’s talent with the bat. He can be a certain match-winner if he gets going.

Coming to the lower order, Ravindra Jadeja looks certain to take the number 7 spot following his good performances in the recent ODIs India played. However, his left-arm spin might prove to be a bit ineffective on the wickets which are not so spinner-friendly. There might be a close competition between Irfan Pathan and Jadeja for the number 7 spot, as Pathan’s medium pacers will add to the advantage on some seam-friendly wickets there, apart from his ability to hit it long with the bat as well.

R Ashwin is certain to lead the spin department. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, with his ability to swing the ball both ways, will lead India’s new ball attack there. Umesh Yadav is likely to be the second pacer with his pace and bounce. But, who the third pacer will be, is a question which the team management will be scratching their heads upon. Vinay Kumar was incredible in the IPL, but was very disappointing on the fast wickets in Australia, which could be a disadvantage for him. On the other hand, Ishant Sharma, with his height and a bit more pace than Kumar looks a good prospect for taking the third pacer’s role.

Probable team order for India in the tournament will be:

Shikhar Dhawan, Dinesh Karthik, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (c/wk), Rohit Sharma, Irfan Pathan/ Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma/Vinay Kumar and Umesh Yadav.

Sherry Phillips

A total of 69 games were played by Chelsea in a season where they were thrashed 4-1, knocked out of the Club World Cup and became the 4th and only British club to win all major European competitions. Let’s have a look at the Blues’ top 5 games this seasons which were not only pivotal in their success but will also go down into the history books as memorable matches:

5. Chelsea 8-0 Aston Villa [December 23, 2012] [Home]

Chelsea equaled their previous high-scoring Premier League record

It was undoubtedly one of the most memorable games under Rafael Benitez. Every game was crucial for Chelsea, as they looked to cement a top 4 position and there was no better way to do it than an emphatic 8-nil scoreline. Torres opened the scoreline with a magnificent header in the 3rd minute, while a Luiz free-kick and Ivanovic header saw Chelsea being solid as the first half came to a close. Lampard then scored from 30 yards out in the 59th minute, and Piazon found Ramires with a beautiful through ball that had Brazilian genes etched all over it to make it 5 for the night. Oscar then scored from the spot after being brought down, and Hazard scored the best goal of the night with a fiery shot past Brad Guzan. Piazon missed from the penalty spot but Ramires made up for it after scoring the 8th goal of the day.

Contrary to proper belief, Brad Guzan had a very good game. It was the young and inexperienced defence that leaked all the 8 goals. They couldn’t handle the movement of Chelsea’s midfield, and were punished heavily.

4. Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal [January 20, 2013] [Home]

Chelsea had done the double against Arsenal

What makes this game so significant is that Chelsea had finally done the double against their London rivals, by winning both the derbies in the English league. Mata scored in the 6th minute as Chelsea’s midfield looked a class above their opponents. An absolute rampant first half for Chelsea saw them dominate all areas of the game.

Lampard doubled their lead in the 16th minute via a penalty after Ramires was brought down by the Arsenal goalkeeper. Arsenal could not keep possession for more than 5 minutes as the referee brought the first half to an end. The side that came out after 45 minutes was however much better. Chelsea were put under heavy pressure and they finally cracked when Walcott made it 2-1.

However, they couldn’t get past the resilient Chelsea defence, which put bodies in the way and made sure they picked up all 3 points and the bragging rights for this year. Jack Wilshere played with a lot of passion in that game, as he looked frustrated every time Arsenal lost the ball and was first to react when they got it back.

3. Chelsea 5-4 Manchester United (AET) [October 31, 2012] [Home]

Chelsea had got their revenge in the Capital One Cup

It was a game of comebacks for Chelsea, after avenging their controversial loss which they suffered against the same opponents a weekend before. The scoring was opened by veteran Ryan Giggs after a naive mistake by Chelsea’s young Oriol Romeu. This just gave Chelsea added incentive to bring it back on level terms. Moses was brought down in the box by Buttner, and Luiz calmly put it past Anders Lindegaard.

Chicharito scored against Chelsea, which he was now used to after scoring against the Blues a few days back from an offside position, which was unfortunately not spotted by the linesman. Gary Cahill then headed in from a Mata corner in the second half to bring Chelsea back once again but Nani exchanged passes with Anderson and waltzed through Chelsea’s stuttering defence to make it 3-2.

Things became tense as the 90 minutes neared an end. Chelsea threw everyone at the young defensive partnership of United and they finally gave in. Ramires was brought down in the  box in the 94th minute and Hazard put the ball into the back of the net in dramatic fashion.

Into extra-time they went and another mistake by the United defenders allowed Sturridge to give Chelsea the lead for the first time. Hazard then weaved his magic to play Ramires in, who twisted and turned away from the goalkeeper to slot the ball home. A late consolation was awarded for United, after Giggs scored from the penalty spot.

2. Manchester United 2-2 Chelsea [March 10, 2013] [Away]

Hazard scored from a beautiful right foot curler

Chelsea were completely outclassed for the first 45 minutes. It had become a habit for Chicharito to score against Chelsea, and he did in the 5th minute. Rooney scored from a free-kick in the 11th minute which looked more like a cross. Chelsea failed to keep hold of the ball with too many misplaced passes that could be read by the United players.

Moreover, the absence of John Terry made it worse for Chelsea, as the captain disappointedly looked on from the sidelines. Eden Hazard came on in the 52nd minute for Frank Lampard and scored from a wonderful curler in the 59th minute. The game was now swinging towards Chelsea as the Blues were rampant every time they attacked.

The ball then eventually landed in front of Ramires in the 68th minute, who calmly placed the ball through De Gea’s hands and into the back of the net. Chelsea had another chance with Mata’s shot, however United’s Spanish goalkeeper got a splendid touch with his right leg in time to parry it away. Chelsea had rescued their FA Cup hopes and went on for a replay at Stamford Bridge which they won.

1. Benfica 1-2 Chelsea [May 15, 2013] [Neutral]

The defining moment that rescued Chelsea’s season

Chelsea’s defence was tested again and again as Benfica controlled majority of the game. However, all their weak attempts could never find their way past Petr Cech. The first solid chance of the night came to Frank Lampard, whose powerful weaving shot was saved by the goalkeeper who could not believe his luck after moving towards the wrong direction.

In the second half, Benfica finally found the net, thanks to Oscar Cardozo, but he was rightly deemed offside by the officials. Torres, who had been working hard all night, was finally rewarded with a spectacular solo goal that resembled a lot like the one against Barcelona. Azpilicueta then committed the grave mistake of handling inside the penalty box, after his waving hand was caught by a wandering shot. Cardozo put away an inch perfect penalty as Cech went the wrong way.

Though Lampard hit the cross bar again, Branislav Ivanovic headed in from a corner in the 93rd minute, and it was all but decided that Chelsea were to be the first team that held both the major European trophies at the same time.

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Thibaut Courtois is the best young goalkeeper in the world. At just 21. he has already spent two years starting for Atletico Madrid, where he is on loan from Chelsea; a spell that has seen him break the La Liga record for minutes without conceding and, this season on the back of his 20 clean sheets, saw the club lift the Copa Del Rey and secure a Champions League berth. The old flimsy, flaky Atletico defence is long gone, in no small part due to the enormous impact of Courtois.

But Chelsea have a problem. A good problem, one that will be the envy of almost every other team in the world, but a problem nonetheless. The issue is that their own goalkeeper, Petr Cech, has just enjoyed his best season in years and is still only 31. By normal football lore, this is the time goalkeepers are supposed to have their best years. Like Courtois, Cech arrived as a wonderkid goalkeeper but faced only the obstacle of the good, not great, Carlo Cudicini, so he was put straight in. The club bought Courtois as a 19-year-old prospect who they believed they could prepare to take over from Cech a few years down the line; perhaps they even had next summer in mind when they bought him. However, things have gone so well for both Courtois and Cech that they are faced with a decision they probably didn’t expect to make so quickly.

Remember, in 2011 when the club signed Courtois, Cech’s future was being questioned. He wasn’t the dominant figure of the Jose Mourinho years and there was a feeling he may have been on the downward slope. Perhaps because of the signing of Courtois, Cech has raised his game manifestly since. They also were probably not expecting that Courtois would get so good so quickly, forcing himself in to the equation. They want to keep the Belgian because in two years time he could be the best in the world, but they want to keep Cech because he is already near that level.

In terms of whether Courtois is ready to start for Chelsea, the answer is yes. However, at this stage he and Cech are pretty much level pegging in terms of ability. Both are tall with incredible reflexes – which means they can make saves others can’t – both have phenomenal penalty box presence and command and both are good distributors. The advantage Cech has is experience and leadership. The Chelsea defence is in transition post-Terry, and neither Gary Cahill or David Luiz are defensive leaders. They need Cech to organise them and keep them in shape.

At Atletico, Courtois has been playing behind a defence which has an average age of 28, comprised of four internationals. He has been able to develop his goalkeeping techniques and qualities without the added concern of organising the defence. This is a similar situation to Cech’s own start at Chelsea as he had the pairing of Terry and Ricardo Carvalho in front, who didn’t need him to focus on them.

With this in mind, it would be best for Courtois to stay on loan for maybe another two years. He can return as a four-year starter, confident in his own game, and it gives Chelsea a chance to settle on a defence. It wouldn’t be optimum team-building strategy to put the whole defence in transition and sling in a young goalkeeper. Of course, he is playing in the Champions League for a top La Liga side so it is wonderful experience for him anyway.

The final consideration that makes Atletico his best home for the next couple of years is the expected new Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho. Mourinho builds his teams from the defence out and prefers more experience, and having worked with Cech so successfully, will surely favour him initially.

Courtois will be Chelsea’s goalkeeper in a couple of years and should be one of the best in the world by that point. Adding him in to a defence that has worked under Mourinho for two years previously is the best possible thing to do for Chelsea and Courtois.

As we move in the off-season an unprecedented amount of managerial movement around Europe will surely see an already frantic transfer market go in to overdrive. This will give plenty of opportunities for transfer rumour and gossip. So how much of it is realistic?


Real Madrid are prepared to offer Luis Suarez a £140,000-a-week, four-year contract and are confident they will be able to sign the Liverpool forward, 27, for £20m plus Spanish striker Jose Callejon, 26.
Luis Suarez

Liverpool v Sunderland - Premier League

Full story: Daily Mirror

What’s the story?
It seems as if Madrid have zeroed in on Suarez now as first choice. They can offer him as much as they want but unless Liverpool accept a bid he’s not going anywhere. Callejon is highly regarded but hasn’t found consistency. There is also a certain Portugese in his way from getting a first team spot.
Does it make sense? Madrid evidently feel the attack needs upgrading and Suarez is capable of making the unexpected happen. His mazy, tight dribbling will be a good weapon against tight La Liga defences. The issue will be, he loves a shot, so does Ronaldo. Will they be able to play together? Losing him would remove Liverpool of a PR headache but create a footballing one. Callejon is the type of technical quick forward that Rodgers likes.
Is the price right? If Suarez is being valued at £40m I don’t see where £20m and Callejon fits in. £35m and Callejon perhaps.
Will it happen? 8/10 – It’s all the usual Madrid to and fro so far, so it probably will.


Incoming Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho wants to make Porto central defender Eliaquim Mangala, 22, the first signing of his second spell at Stamford Bridge – but not at the £30m asking price.

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Full story: the Sun

What’s the story? Which club in Europe are going to be hardest to buy from right now? Porto. With £60m in their pockets, they’re not going to give Mangala away now are they? He’s a big physical unit of a centre back and Chelsea are on the lookout for defenders
Does it make sense? Mourinho doesn’t have reputation for choosing young players, so it would be out of character. Also, Mangala is raw, so if he is David Luiz’s replacement it’s not really changing much.
Is the price right? No. £30m is insanity but then Porto have full pockets and no pressure to take anything less.
Will it happen? 2/10 – Never say never at Chelsea but this doesn’t look right.


Mourinho, meanwhile, wants to sell Brazilian defender David Luiz, 26, to boost his transfer budget.

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Full story: the Times

What’s the story? Hang on, to boost his transfer budget? At Chelsea? He might sell him because he doesn’t have a position for him though.
Does it make sense? David Luiz is talented but volatile. Is he a centre back? Is he a defensive midfielder? Mourinho doesn’t really have time for his type of game in his tighter system.
Is the price right? They paid £24m and the new Financial Fair Play regulations mean they can’t gulp down a big loss. Who is seriously going to offer them that?
Will it happen? 3/10 – Who are they selling him to?


Cesc Fabregas will make a decision on his future next week and wants to return to former club Arsenal, who he left for the Nou Camp in 2011.

Barcelona v Sporting Gijon - La Liga

Full story: Daily Mirror

What’s the story? Fabregas has been linked with Man United and Man City lately, but it can’t be forgotten that Arsenal have exclusive negotiation rights with him. However, reports from Spain suggest he’s going nowhere.
Does it make sense? Even despite the reports he’s staying there is reason to be doubtful. He’s not getting enough game time and this is World Cup year. He needs to get the minutes if he’s to stave off the raft of other attackers for a starting spot. Obviously a huge upgrade wherever he goes.
Is the price right? Barcelona paid £35m, why take less? Still, it’s a mighty tempting proposition even at that money.
Will it happen? 5/10 – I’m as 50:50 as he seems to be.


Fulham are on the verge of signing Netherlands international goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg, 30, in a £3m deal from Roma as they move to replace Mark Schwarzer.

AS Roma v Juventus FC - Serie A

Full story: Daily Mail

What’s the story? This has been close for months and finally settles in. Schwarzer was good last year but is the wrong side of 40.
Does it make sense? Yes. Stekelenburg’s star has waned over the last 5 years but he’s a decent keeper at a good price with plenty of football still to come.
Is the price right? Can’t complain, solid value.
Will it happen? 10/10 – Close for weeks, now to be sealed.


Sunderland are weighing up a move for Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster, 25, if current first choice Simon Mignolet, also 25, leaves this summer.

Juventus v Celtic - UEFA Champions League Round of 16

Full story: Daily Record

What’s the story? Forster has been exceptional for Celtic over the last couple of seasons and may want to play in England to push his chances of making the World Cup squad (if England qualify).
Does it make sense? If they do sell Mignolet, perhaps to Arsenal, then he’d be a worthy replacement.
Is the price right? This could be a sticking point. The last goalie Sunderland bought from Scotland was £8m Craig Gordon which was a disaster. Celtic might ask for that though.
Will it happen? 7/10 – If Mignolet goes, obviously 0/10 if not.


Manager Paolo Di Canio has agreed a deal to sign Lazio centre-back Modibo Diakite, 26.

SS Lazio v Cagliari Calcio  - Serie A

Full story: Sunderland Echo

What’s the story? Not many know Lazio better than Di Canio who badly needs to improve his central defence. Diakite is massive, good in the air and an athlete. Exactly what you need in the Premier League.
Does it make sense? Yes. He has the tools that can be moulded alongside John O’Shea. Will be desperate to prove himself again after a long suspension.
Is the price right? He’s free, so yes.
Will it happen? 10/10 – Seems to be a done deal.


Bayern Munich’s Germany striker Mario Gomez, 27, is a target for Italian clubs Napoli and Fiorentina.

Bayer 04 Leverkusen v FC Bayern Muenchen - Bundesliga

Full story: Kicker

What’s the story? Gomez doesn’t fit for Pep Guardiola, there’s no doubting that. But he should be very desirable. He does have his well know weaknesses but if supplied properly he’s a proven goal machine.
Does it make sense? Napoli may need to replace Cavani and Fiorentina to replace Jovetic so I guess that’s the link. However, I think he’d be an excellent signing for Arsenal who just need a big physical pure finisher like Gomez.
Is the price right? Bayern paid £30m but he’s worth nothing like that now. If someone dangles them £18m or so it’ll be tempting. I doubt Fiorentina’s capacity to spend that on a single player, Napoli only could if they sell Cavani. Arsenal however…
Will it happen? 2/10 – Fiorentina: Too much money 7/10 – Napoli: a good replacement for Cavani. He’s almost certainly leaving though.

Souvik

Who doesn’t like freebies? The word “free” always draws the attention of any potential consumer and when those freebies are Premier League-quality players, the prospect seems even more appealing.

Free agents who are capable of performing at the highest level are a scarce commodity and it’s not every day that any club lets talent walk out of the front door for nothing. Yet, every season a few seep out through the cracks after failing to come to an agreement with their paymasters, as ambitions and directions of the individual do not walk hand in hand with those of their previous club’s.

It takes great prudence on the part of both the scouting network as well as the manager to seek them out and convince them to sign on the dotted line.

Here are the five best free agent signings of the Premier league season which made their managers look like geniuses:

5. Giorgos Karagounis (Fulham)

Fulham v Wigan Athletic - Premier League

The Greek international midfielder was signed up by Martin Jol to strengthen the midfield and add experience amongst the ranks at Craven Cottage. However, with the swift departures of Clint Dempsey and Mousa Dembélé to their London rivals Tottenham, a lot more responsibility was placed upon the shoulders of the experienced Karagounis.

The 36-year-old ended up as one of the most consistent performers for the Cottagers (rated in the top 10 in Opta’s passing accuracy stats), racking up 24 appearances in the Premier league. His contributions were duly recognised by the Fulham fans as they voted him as the second best player in the fans’ player of the season polls.

4. Artur Boruc (Southampton)

Wigan Athletic v Southampton - Premier League

Nigel Adkins took a punt on Artur Boruc when he signed up the ex-Celtic and Fiorentina goalkeeper on a free in September. The Southampton defence looked real shaky at the beginning of the season, with neither Kelvin Davis nor Paulo Gazzaniga able to instil any kind of confidence in the backline as the Saints conceded 28 goals in their first 10 games. Although conceding 4 goals on his debut away to West Ham was not the ideal start for the Polish international, he came into his own as the campaign wore on.

With Boruc between the sticks providing some impressive saves and commanding the back line effectively, the Saints finished a comfortable 14th in their first season back in the Premier League. The Polish international has since been awarded with a new contract at the end of the season.

3. Claudio Yacob (West Bromwich Albion)

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Nobody except West Brom fans was particularly thrilled when a certain Claudio Yacob signed on the dotted line for the Baggies after being released by Racing Club de Avellaneda. The Argentine midfielder’s signing however proved to be one of the most brilliant pieces of business done in the summer and another brilliant addition to the resume of ex-technical director of the club, Dan Ashworth, before he departed the club for national duties.

The Argentine, in his first season on England, captured the imagination of most, becoming one of the stalwarts for West Brom and forming a formidable partnership with Youssouf Mulumbu in the middle. The Argentine’s ability to do the “dirty work” enabled others around the park in White and Blue stripes to flourish in their own game as the side from the Midlands ostensibly punched above their weight. Yacob thrived on the Premier League stage from the get go, which helped flatten the steep learning curve for Steve Clark who was learning the tricks of the trade himself in his first season as manager in the Premier League. The Argentine was awarded with the club’s player of the month award in the month of March 2013, as the Baggies coasted to an 8th place finish.

2) Jussi Jaaskelainen (West Ham United)

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Jussi Jaaskelainen did his reputation as one of the most talented of shot blockers in the country no harm with his performances this season for West Ham. Sam Allardyce took a chance on the Finland international after he was released by Bolton the previous season as the Trotters suffered the ignominy of relegation, while Jaaskelainen himself had to relinquish the ‘first choice’ tag to Ádám Bogdán.

If you thought that Jaaskelainen was past his due date, the flying Finn made all the doubters eat their words. Allardyce, at the end of the campaign, said, “When I signed him my fear was not about his ability, as I knew he had ability after working with him at Bolton. But I wasn’t sure he still had the drive and determination to put that back into this league again”.

In the space of 38 games, the 38-year-old had laid to rest all the question marks that had risen upon his signing for the Hammers. For Jaaskelainen, age was just another number. The number that mattered was 166. The Finn produced 166 saves (highest for any goalkeeper in the EPL this season) throughout the campaign and kept West Ham in many a game literally single-handedly. His performances on the field resulted in rewards off it as the Hammers hammered out a deal to keep Jaaskaleinen at Upton Park for one more year.

1) Mohamed Diamé (West Ham United)

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When you walk away with three awards at your club’s award dinner, you certainly have had a stellar season. The word “stellar” would be apt to describe Mohamed Diamé in his first season in the claret and blue of West Ham. If Jaaskalainen was the rock at the back for West Ham, Diamé was the pillar in the middle.

Sam Allardyce pulled off yet another coup at West Ham when he was able to lure Diamé to Upton Park after his contract ran out at Wigan. Diamé’s abilities were evident in his performances at Wigan, but he seemed to have found another gear this time around. He used the season as his coming out party, taking his performances up a notch as added some real horse power in the West Ham engine room.

The Senegalese international’s performances have certainly caught the eye of all and sundry. Diamé remained at West Ham after being heavily tipped to join Arsenal in the January transfer window and let his feet do the talking as he put in one robust performance after another in the midfield. A shield for the back four and adept at going forward to help things out, the box-to-box midfielder was a joy to watch, a manager’s dream, someone was able to put in shifts on both ends of the field. Throughout the course of the season, Diamé put in a total of 114 tackles (good enough for 3rd in the league) and helped others like Kevin Nolan and Mark Noble flourish in their own games. The game which really brought out the vitality of the Senegalese was the 3-1 victory over Chelsea at Upton Park, where he changed the outlook of the whole game upon his introduction at half-time.