The Premier League and the race to Rio


TFN’s Piers Barber on the Premier League players who will be fighting desperately to make it into their national squads before the season is out.

The Spanish contingent

Spain, current defending World champions and winners of the last two European Championships, are extremely strong contenders for the title of Best Team To Have Ever Played Anywhere In The World Ever, or something like that. Their embarrassment of midfield riches has meant they are once again one of the favourites to walk away with football’s biggest prize in Brazil, yet their strength in depth has also laid on a substantial challenge for some of the nation’s most talented players to even make it on to the plane to South America. Juan Mata, who scored in the Euro 2012 final, felt his place in the national squad under such threat that he recently initiated a move from Chelsea to Manchester United in a quest to secure some playing time in the lead up to the tournament. Jesus Navas at Manchester City and Santi Cazorla at Arsenal, meanwhile, will have to ensure they are on top form throughout the rest of the season if they hope to figure in Brazil.

The suffering Man United players

It’s been a calamitous start to 2014 for Manchester United, who have lost five of their nine games since the turn of the year. Their dramatic post-Alex Ferguson slump has not only put the Old Trafford club in serious danger of failing to qualify for European football next year, but has also threatened to jeopardise several of their highest profile players’ international careers. Marouane Fellaini, for instance, desperately needs to find some form if he is to make the starting line-up for highly fancied Belgium, whilst Nani – who, through a combination of bad form and injury, has barely figured throughout 2013/14 – must also improve if he is to feature for Portugal. Elsewhere, whilst an excellent season last year put Michael Carrick in contention for a starting berth for England in Brazil, a dire first half to the current campaign has cast even his spot on the plane in substantial doubt. Continue reading

Benteke: Why Arsenal or Spurs would be ideal for Villa’s want-away star


Guest writer Chris Francis weighs up the options for Christian Benteke, and sees North London as an ideal home for Villa’s want-away hitman…

It hardly came as a surprise when Christian Benteke handed in a transfer request earlier this week. In his debut season, he was comfortably the best player in an Aston Villa team that narrowly, although confidently, avoided relegation, putting to bed any questions as to why Paul Lamber had made the Belgian his focal point rather than Darren Bent.

Benteke scored 19 goals in the Premier League last season – 23 in all competitions – bullying defences at both ends of the league, and showing himself to be a dauntless force of goals and attacking composure, taking on the load of heaving Villa to safety across his young yet broad shoulders. Though he is still only 22 Benteke lead from the front like a hardened veteran with years of experience, driving on Villa’s other youngsters to follow his example.

Having shown the league what he can do with limited support, he now wants to play in bigger competitions in a side able to challenge for trophies in the immediate future. Unfortunately for Lambert and those on the Holte End, their’s is a project that will still take time despite the considerable improvement made by Villa’s potential packed squad as last season’s campaign matured.

This week’s transfer request indicates an understanding of the realities of his ambitions and needs, but there are of course a number of asterisk over his name that any potential suitor would need to consider before seeking to snatch him from Villa Park. Continue reading

The 23 Transfer Target Strikers to watch this Summer: from Lewandowski to Andy Carroll


With a host of top clubs on high alert for a new frontman to lead the line, David Dodds looks at the 23 strikers making up the most sought-after shopping list in world football this summer…

This summer is going to be fun. After the failure of last year’s transfer window to deliver the gross manifestations of über-affluence we’ve now come to expect, plenty of clubs will be looking to splash out this summer. One thing this window looks likely to be defined by is the lucrative movement of blockbuster strikers to the titans of contemporary football. And, as always, cash-strapped teams will also be on the prowl for a new man up top.

So here’s a look at some of the men whose painfully-protracted transfer sagas are likely to dominate media narratives this summer: players whose exorbitant transfer fees we’ll either be laughing about or lauding this time next year; cheaper options whose progress is worth keeping an eye on; a crop of youngsters so good they’ll leave you questioning how the striker could have ever been declared dead; and just a jolly good chance to acknowledge the entertainment value of speculation. Whether such media pressure lifts them to the status of icons or causes their careers to crash and burn is another story all together. Continue reading