Panthers powerless to stop far superior Steelers

Known as the ‘biggest game in British ice hockey’, this fixture seriously lived up to its hugely hyped up pre-match billing as the two-time reigning champions Sheffield Steelers thrashed the Nottingham Panthers 8-1.

Mathieu Roy and Colton Fretter both scored twice for the Steelers with further strikes coming from Jesse Schultz, Robert Dowd and Ben O’Connor. Panthers captain Brad Moran scored with the consolation very late on.

In a physical confrontation it was the Steelers who made their time with the puck count most which left boss Paul Thompson delighted with the result, adding in his post-match press conference that “it was all very rewarding, very pleasing” despite the last second Panthers goal.

With over 8,000 fans packing into Sheffield Arena on Saturday evening, the battle between the Sheffield Steelers and Nottingham Panthers was one not to be missed. With the Steelers bang inform and two of the strongest rosters in the league going head-to-head the ice hockey on display from the Steelers in particular was amongst some of the finest you’ll see all season in the EIHL as they easily overpowered the Panthers. The Panthers were looking to stop the rot and obtain a win for the first time in their last five outings.

It was Nottingham’s early poor discipline that paved the way for the Steelers to take the lead as forward Robert Dowd redirected a powerful Christoffer Bjorklund shot from the point to give them the lead after 9 minutes whilst on the powerplay. Steelers fans only had to wait 25 seconds until the goal sirens were sounded again as Colton Fretter fired past Panthers goaltender Jindrich Pacl from close range.

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Colton Fretter celebrates his first tally of the night

Granted, the Panthers were without four players through injury and others on the ice were struggling on less than full fitness but they offered very little in the opening period of the match and found themselves 3-0 down going into the break as man of the match Mathieu Roy scored a rebound from a John Armstrong shot on goal.

Showing a worrying lack of team spirit in the first the Panthers were slow out of the blocks once again in the second period, struggling to hold the puck and possession confidently at any point on the night. As Steelers Davey Phillips put out a big hit on an opposing player, him and the Panthers Jeff Brown traded punches as Nottingham looked for a way back into the contest.

phillips-fight
Steelers Davey Phillips and Panthers Jeff Brown dropped gloves at the start of the second period

But it wasn’t to be as first Fretter struck again from close range before Roy also grabbed his second of the night with a sweet slapshot from mid-range.

If Panthers fans thought it couldn’t get any worse before the second period ended, they were wrong. Ben O’Connor this time taking advantage of more poor defending to score the goal of the night with a fantastic solo effort, taking on two Panthers before coolly slotting home. The Steelers were having a party and the Panthers weren’t invited.

The third period followed suit and saw the Steelers increase their lead to 8-0 thanks to a tip in from forward Jesse Schultz and an easy finish from Markus Nilsson who ghosted into the Panthers goal mouth and deked round keeper Pacl with alarming ease. There was a late consolation for captain Brad Moran and the Panthers in the final second of the game which ruined the home teams’ potential shut out but it did little to lift the embarrassment of the result for the away side, a team that are much, much better than how they performed on the night.

steelers-goal-7-schultz
Jesse Schultz redirected a shot from the point to put the Steelers 7-0 up.

Speaking to media after the match Sheffield Steelers boss Paul Thompson was quick to heap praise on his side as expected. “It’s two big points against our biggest rivals. It does make our heart smile tonight” whilst man of the match and ‘the king of Sheffield’ as he’s known by Sheffield fans Matheiu Roy added “we never stopped, we never looked back and we got the result.”

The win keeps the Steelers in 4th place in the EIHC, 7 points behind leaders Cardiff Devils but with 5 games in hand. The Panthers stay 5th place in the table and will want to quickly forget about their extremely poor showing at Sheffield Arena.

Photo credit: http://sheffieldsteelers.co.uk/steelers-8-1-panthers/

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The starting XI Roy should let loose in France

With just over two weeks left until the Euro 2016 party begins, Roy Hodgson still faces some difficult decisions in regards to his chosen England squad and to whom will be in his starting XI for our first game against Russia on Saturday 11th June. After a 2-1 win over Turkey in a close and competitive match at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester and with two more friendlies coming up before the England squad travel to the continent against Australia and Portugal, Hodgson is close to making some big calls on his England team and squad.

Firstly I want to quickly disclose who the three players are that I would drop from the 26 man squad currently participating in the three friendly matches prior to EURO 2016. The three in question are Ryan Bertrand, Andros Townsend and Fabian Delph in my opinion. I think most would agree with that call. Despite having a great season for Southampton, Ryan Betrand misses out for me purely because I don’t think we need two extra full backs in the squad with Nathaniel Clyne too in the 26 man selection. Fabian Delph too for the same reason as I believe Henderson, Lallana, Milner, Alli, Drinkwater and Wilshere are simply stronger players right now and Andros Townsend misses out in my opinion as I don’t think he’s good enough to play for England currently in my honest opinion.

England fixtures at Euro 2016

England vs Russia – Saturday 11th June. 20:00 kick off

England vs Wales – Thursday 16th June. 14:00 kick off

England vs Slovakia – Monday 20th June. 20:00 kick off

 

My England starting XI for Euro 2016.

The formation Roy Hodgson will adopt for his England side at Euro 2016 is further up for debate. With a lack of pure wingers in the England squad this time around I would personally play a central based diamond formation. Despite the lack of width this formation possesses it offers us stability both going forward and at the back. With Eric Dier in that central defensive midfielder slot it allows the forward five players the chance to roam and attack at will, I want to see this England side attack other teams rather than sitting back and inviting the pressure on.

Joe Hart
Goalkeeper
58 England caps

Joe Hart

England’s number one, England’s England’s number one. Arguably the most straight forward selection in this team. Even though Burnley’s Tom Heaton had a fantastic season culminating in his sides promotion back to the Premier League and Fraser Forster had another fine season with Southampton resulting in them finishing sixth this term, neither have the pedigree to really worry the Manchester City shot stopper.

Despite Manchester City’s poor performance in the league this term under Manuel Pellegrini, 29 year-old Joe Hart had another solid season for the Citizens keeping an impressive 15 clean sheets in 35 Premier league appearances. As well as that Hart put in some man of the match performances as City reached the Champions League semi-final for the first time in their history. With a low average of only 1.03 goal conceded per match and a 96% claim success rate, Joe Hart is surely a shoo-in for England’s number one spot in France at the 2016 European Championship.

Kyle Walker
Right back
15 England caps

Kyle Walker

This was a difficult call because I really rate Liverpool full back Nathaniel Clyne but for me right now Kyle Walker just edges him out. The Tottenham right-back has had a great season this time around as Spurs secured third spot in the Premier League behind champions Leicester City and bitter rivals Arsenal. With his raw pace, his strength and his composure on the ball, Kyle Walker has excelled over the past few years at the London club.

Still only 25 years of age, although it feels like he has been around for a longer period of time than he actually has, Kyle Walker made 35 appearances this year for Tottenham. In comparison with Nathaniel Clyne who he is in direct competition with, Walker has created more chances, averages a higher amount of defensive actions and has a higher percentage of duels won all whilst making the same amount of appearances as Clyne. Both made 33 appearances and scored one goal each this season. For me Kyle Walker just edges out his competitor on this occasion.

Chris Smalling
Centre back
23 England caps

Chris Smalling

After the solid season he’s had with Manchester United Chris Smalling is England’s number one centre back going into Euro 2016 for me. Up until the 2015/16 season Chris Smalling has had his doubters and rightly so as in past seasons he’s largely struggled to keep the high level of consistency needed to be a starting international with England. However this term he has been a rock at the back for United and would likely be claiming player of the year for the Red Devils if it weren’t for ‘keeper David De Gea.

Making 35 appearances this season for Manchester United, Chris Smalling has made 0 clear defensive errors across those league matches, has on average made three key interceptions per game and has on average completed over 7 tackles per game. Chris Smalling further has the ability to pass the ball out of defence, has developed a better understanding of the game over the course of this season and has the pace to get him out of trouble when needed.

Gary Cahill
Centre back
42 England caps

Gary Cahill

Choosing a centre back to play alongside Chris Smalling was the hardest decision to be made in picking my starting eleven for England at the European Championships come June. My choice is Gary Cahill.

I’m going to be brutally honest here, for me Gary Cahill is playing nowhere near his best at the moment but we need some experience at centre back in France and Cahill has that over Everton’s John Stones. Stones is the better player here although he has struggled at points this season with Everton who had a very poor campaign by their own standards but as I said, this team needs experience and I think Roy will go down the same route.

Despite John Stones having a better pass accuracy and better average duels won stat than Gary Cahill, the youngster has made 4 defensive errors this term in the league and at the international level in a major tournament England simply cannot afford defensive slip ups.

Gary Cahill gets the nod from me over John Stones and seems to be motivated to undo his poor performances at the 2014 World Cup, this week stating; “I have never been as hungry to go. I want to make it right” when discussion Euro 2016.

Danny Rose
Left Back
3 England caps

Danny Rose

After a solid season with Spurs, Danny Rose has to be England’s starting left-back in France. This is perhaps the easiest selection for Roy Hodgson this summer as Rose has come on leaps and bounds in his last few Premier League seasons.

Due to the fact that I firmly believe Ryan Bertrand will be dropped from the current 26 man squad by manager Roy Hodgson, Danny Rose has hardly any competition for his spot at left-back at Euro 2016, even though Nathaniel Clyne can play there if needed.

Danny Rose has excelled this season, he’s been solid, put in some huge performances for Tottenham and has kept a high level of consistency throughout his 24 appearances in the league during his sides 2015/16 campaign. With only 1 key defensive error to his name this term he has improved the defensive side of his game substantially whilst still obtaining the traits needed to move forward from the full back slot. Creating 24 chances for his teammates in the Premier League this year, Rose’s lightning pace and ability to deliver a quality ball into the box will worry any defender he is put up against at Euro 2016.

Eric Dier
Central defensive midfielder
5 England caps

Eric Dier

Eric Dier is a fantastic addition to this England squad and could well prove to be one of our country’s key players in France next month. Making his debut for England back in November of last year, Eric Dier only has five caps to his name so far for his country but offers the national side something they have been missing for a long time, an anchor man in midfield. The Tottenham man can play as a central defender if needed too.

Enjoying a break out season with Spurs this year, Eric Dier has had an exceptional season and is already growing into one of England’s best prospects alongside teammate Dele Alli. Joining Tottenham for only £4 million from Sporting Lisbon in 2014, Dier has made 65 appearances for the London side, 37 of them coming in the league this term.

Dier’s presence in this England side is crucial as it allows our forward players the freedom they need, he’s a player that England have missed in recent times to some extent. With the ability to both go forward when needed and stay back defensively, Eric Dier has created some 18 chances for his Tottenham team mates this season in the league whilst suffering 0 key defensive mistakes. The defensive midfielder managed 3 goals for Spurs this year and scored the winner in England’s recent comeback win in Berlin against World champions Germany.

Eric Dier has to start in France at Euro 2016.

Danny Drinkwater
Central midfielder
2 England caps

Danny Drinkwater

When it comes to international football, form is vital and nobody has been more in-form than central midfielder Danny Drinkwater this season. After all he is a Premier League champion with Leicester City.

Drinkwater is a complete, all-round central midfielder who enjoys both influencing the game going forward but is also prepared to put the effort in to get back and help his respective side out defensively. This year he enjoyed 78% pass accuracy on average and created 44 chances for the likes of Riyad Mahrez and fellow England international Jaime Vardy at Leicester City. As mentioned before he is not scared of tracking back and breaking up opposition play when needed and this season in the league made on average 4 defensive actions per game. His red card against Manchester United at Old Trafford highlights his rash decision making at times though, something Roy should be wary of.

Dele Alli
Central midfielder
7 England caps

Dele Alli

What an absolute star Dele Alli is. Claiming the ‘Young Player of the Year’ award in the Premier League this season, won by the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale previously, Dele Alli has enjoyed one of the best breakout seasons in Premier League history. Influential in an attacking midfield role, Alli has lit up the league this season with some fantastic man of the match performances for Tottenham and arguably scored the goal of the season against Crystal Palace with an exquisite flick and volley finish from outside the penalty area.

Looking at the stats, Dele Alli managed an impressive 10 goals and 9 assists from midfield this season for Spurs in 33 league appearances as well as two further assists in his 7 Europa League starts.

Dele Alli is English footballs brightest talent right now, simple as that.

In this formation it can be expected that Dele Alli and Wayne Rooney would casually swap positions during the match from time to time.

Wayne Rooney (C)
Central attacking midfielder
109 England caps

Wayne Rooney

England’s captain and record goal scorer but arguably one of the players least wanted in England’s starting XI at Euro 2016 according to most fans. Wayne Rooney has suffered a major slip in form over the past couple of seasons and has rarely lived up to the standard of football the Manchester United forward once dazzled the Premier League with.

However Wayne Rooney’s position in the England squad is interesting. In a recent press conference he stated that he saw himself more as a central midfielder than a striker nowadays after a few recent positive performances for the Red Devils in a central role. Rightly so. This season Rooney can’t be compared to Harry Kane and Jaime Vardy going forward due to the sheer amount of goals the pair has in comparison but his influence is still there. Wayne is an extremely hard working player and since he lost that extra bit of pace, his defensive displays have become much stronger. His vast international experience is vital too as this England side lacks in their sheer amount of England caps.

In my opinion Wayne Rooney has more drive than Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson and Jack Wilshere to name but a few and due to his nature as England’s highest ever goal scorer and captain, it would be foolish to drop him going into a major tournament. His 7 goals in our Euro 2016 qualifiers show he still has an eye for goal.

As mentioned before his positioning in this formation if it were to be adopted by Roy Hodgson would  be flexible as him and Dele Alli would frequently swap positions during matches.

Jamie Vardy
Striker
6 England caps

Jamie Vardy

Mr Roy of the Rovers himself, Jamie Vardy has brought a fresh of breath air with him into the England set up. His true underdog story has inspired a nation and his inclusion in the England squad has excited many a fan since his debut against Ireland back in June last year. On his day Jaime Vardy can be lethal, best highlighted with his 24 goals for new Premier League champions Leicester City in his 36 league appearances this year. Jaime Vardy finished as the second highest scorer in the Prem this season coming only second to England partner and Spurs striker Harry Kane.

Vardy has all the key attributes a forward needs to succeed at the highest level. His pace is electric; his finishing is magnificent whilst his decision making is strong for a forward. As well as his 24 league goals for Leicester, Vardy further assisted on 6 occasions and created a further 40 chances this season for the Midlands side. Vardy had a total of 93 attempts on goal this season with 57% of those efforts landing on target, a higher percentage than Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero. The striker is not shy to get his foot stuck in either, winning 37% of his duels this term which for a forward is very good reading.

With 4 goals in his last 4 England matches Vardy could prove to be England’s talisman in France. In this selection I fully believe that Jaime Vardy compliments Harry Kane very well and could form an explosive partnership with his England colleague at the European Championships in June.

Harry Kane
Striker
11 England caps

Harry Kane during England's 3-0 win against Lithuania in Vilnius on Monday

Last but not least comes Tottenham forward Harry Kane. The striker, who largely carried Spurs to their highest ever Premier League finish, has been in scintillating form this season once again. With 25 goals in 38 league appearances, Harry Kane deservedly grabbed this seasons Premier League golden boot award from under the nose of England counterpart Jaime Vardy.

Over the last two seasons no player in the Premier League has scored more goals than Kane who has 46 goals in 70 league appearances for Spurs. His impressive goal scoring record has led many a football fan and critic alike to believe that Kane will overtake Alan Shearer for the title of most Premier League goals later on in his career. With 124 attempts at goal over the course of the 2015/16 EPL campaign, with a 60% shots on target ratio, it is evident that the Spurs forward is not shy in front of goal. At the international level the talisman has further impressed since making his debut against Lithuania last March, scoring on five occasions in only 11 matches for England’s first team.

Alongside Jamie Vardy, Harry Kane could be prolific; the pair complement each other perfectly. Kane is a complete centre forward. He has the finishing, the height, the strength and the composure that all world class forwards need and with the Tottenham man still only at the young age of 22, Harry Kane has a very bright future ahead of him for the England team.

A new era at Valley Parade begins

With the news that broke on Sunday evening regarding a takeover at Valley Parade, the club has ushered in a new start and hopefully a new exciting era under new ownership. Although details are still sceptical on the takeover and our two new German based owners a keen sense of intrigue has been widely felt among Bantams fans.

First of all we have to thank the Rhodes family and Mark Lawn for their help in stabilising our great club. The significance of both Rhodes and Lawn cannot be overlooked. The amount of time, effort and investment the pair have put into Bradford City saved a club that was tumbling down the football league pyramid, it’s as simple as that. Julian Rhodes especially deserves credit. Taking full charge of City back in 2002 the Rhodes family inherited a club leaking money after the Premier League overspend during Richmond’s time with the club, picked up the pieces and built the club from the ground up, all whilst risking their own livelihood. A phenomenally selfless act that not too many fans truly know about.

Julian Rhodes is further responsible for the way that the club changed their philosophy on season ticket pricing, an aspect of the club still hugely appreciated by their own fans and widely admired across the whole of the British footballing landscape. It was a fantastic idea at first from Julian Rhodes to introduce the £138 ticket offer back then at the start of the 2007-2008 season at a time where the club was struggling in general and was lacking any real support as the Bantams plummeted through the football league but he leaves Valley Parade knowing that his idea was a complete success and a key aspect as to how the club has grown in recent times.

Julian Rhodes was the brains behind lower season ticket prices at Valley Parade. This season the club had over 18,000 season ticket holders, an English third division record.

Our new chairmen come in the form of Stefan Rupp and Edin Rahic after the German based businessmen reportedly bought Bradford City for a fee in the region of £6 million according to reports. As of yet information on both individuals is scarce and it is thought that their involvement in the footballing world before is lacking although Rahic was a scout for a short while at Bundesliga side VFB Stuttgart. It is being said that Edin Rahic currently owns a recruitment company in the German city of Munich whilst Stefan Rupp’s background is in the world of manufacturing and helicopter seats. Our friends at Width Of A Post understand that as part of the takeover deal, the pair want James Mason to stay on for continuity and for his expertise in the club.

Every Bradford City supporter has their own set of changes they want to see at the club with this takeover and rightly so as football is a sport where different opinions are always welcomed. Personally I believe our football club is functioning very well at present although I further think that investment has been needed. The low season ticket prices work for both fans and the club alike whilst on the pitch under Phil Parkinson and his coaching team, our status is only growing; enjoying improved league finishes every season under the manager during his time at Valley Parade.

First of all as most City fans will agree the new investors have to keep the faith in manager Phil Parkinson. Parkinson has driven this club forward, with the help of Rhodes and Lawn, on every possible occasion. Under his leadership Bradford fans have seen history made on more than a few occasions with the Capital One Cup run and final appearance of 2013, the FA Cup wins against Chelsea and Sunderland last season and the League Two play-off victory of 2013 against Northampton. With Parkinson at the helm the excitement of the fans is heightened due to the clubs recent history and if our new investors first move was to replace him, Rupp and Rahic wouldn’t be welcomed by fans in the manner that all involved should want. As we’ve seen over Phil’s time with the club, stability is key to success in football.

Phil Parkinson has enjoyed massive success with Bradford so far including a run to the Capital One Cup final, promotion from League Two and some fantastic wins in the FA Cup including the fantastic 4-2 comeback win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in 2014.
Phil Parkinson has enjoyed massive success with Bradford so far including a run to the Capital One Cup final, promotion from League Two and some fantastic wins in the FA Cup including the fantastic 4-2 comeback win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in 2014.

The concept of cheaper season tickets needs to be kept too. Our club has thrived this season once again under the brilliant £149 season ticket deal, bringing in some 18,000 season ticket holders which for a League One club is an unbelievable feat and has massively improved the atmosphere around the club and the city in general. It gives the team on the pitch a better chance of winning in my opinion with the huge support they receive coming out of the tunnel at Valley Parade and a clear advantage over travelling opposing teams. It must be said though that I do support any decision by the club to increase season ticket prices if we are promoted in the coming seasons by a small percentage as extra revenue is always vital to any clubs success.

Going forward with our new German investors, I among other City fans would love to finally see some money transfers and signings made by the Bantams. Ever since our drop from the Premier League back in 2001 the club has spent little to no money on transfer fees despite selling some key players during that time such as Nahki Wells to Huddersfield and so on. What better way to introduce yourself to a new fan base than to splash the cash and bring in some talented players. Imagine if we were the club to be loaning out stars like Lee Evans, Reece Burke and Josh Cullen in the coming years..

Lastly I would love for our youth setup to be upgraded as I feel that it’s an aspect of the club that is sometimes overlooked. For a club based in a city with an estimated population of around 528,000, the fourth largest metropolitan district in the country, not enough youngsters are brought through the youth set up at Valley Parade. The Bantams have brought some talented players to light through their youth recruitment in the past in players such as Andre Wisdom, Fabian Delph and Tom Cleverley however none of those mentioned actually went on to make an appearance for the first team at Bradford. The volume of quality youth players still lacks massively at the club and should be a concern for a team with ambitions of reaching the Championship next term. Mistakes seem to occur at the club in terms of letting youth players leave too soon as well. Take Matty Foulds as an example, the 18 year old full back left the Bantams at the end of last season, moved to Bury, made a few first team appearances for them then was recently sold to Premier League side Everton for a decent fee. For me this is an area of the club that needs to be upgraded urgently and should be a focus for our new chairmen.

It must be said too that I wouldn’t half mind the club selling Bratwursts at half time either along with some crisp German beer instead of a half warm crappy pint of Carlsberg..

In all seriousness though of course the thought of new owners can be a daunting experience however everyone should agree in the fact that this club desperately needed some form of investment to carry on its journey back towards the upper echelons of English football.

Five more rising English talents

With the likes of young English Premier League stars such as Dele Alli securing much of the recent footballing limelight thanks to his impressive performances for both Spurs and England, we take a look at five more promising talents England has to offer that have perhaps been flying under the radar until this current season.

Reece Burke

Burke

To start off in a somewhat biased manner due to the fact I am a Bantams supporter of 15 plus years, we have 19 year old central defender Reece Burke first up on the list. The 6ft 2in West Ham centre half whom has been on loan at League One side Bradford City for most of the season is enjoying a fantastic loan period with the Bantams as an influential figure in their push for promotion to the Championship next season. Featuring in 30 league games so far this term, scoring twice in the process, Burke is enjoying his time with the West Yorkshire side as he looks to gain valuable playing experience for his future career. With him potentially taking the ‘Player of the season’ award at Valley Parade which has recently commenced it’s not difficult to see why the young defender is being touted as a future England star.

With a similar playing style to that of Everton star John Stones, Reece Burke has fantastic positioning and strength for a young lad and further possesses great footballing prowess for his age. An old head on young shoulders, Burke is comfortable in possession and regularly dribbles the ball calmly out of the back line to alleviate pressure on his team.

Adam Armstrong

Soccer - Sky Bet League One - Coventry City v Crewe Alexandra - Ricoh Arena

From defence to attack and next up on the list is 19 year old striker Adam Armstrong. Currently on loan at League One side Coventry City from parent club Newcastle United, Armstrong has enjoyed a successful season with the Sky Blues which has seen him net on 19 occasions since his loan spell began with the Midlands side back in August.

A fast and tricky forward, Adam Armstrong has already represented England at the U16, U17, U18 and U19 levels making a combined total of 39 appearances, netting 23 goals in them. Touted as a ‘natural born goalscorer’ by most of those who have seen him in action, Armstrong’s mixture of pace and agility is enough to cause any defence a problem.

His impressive displays have not gone unnoticed by his parent side Newcastle United who this season have reportedly come close to bringing him back to St James’ Park to help the club in their own battle against Premier League relegation. If the likely scenario is to play out and Newcastle are relegated to the Championship at the end of the season expect to see Adam Armstrong leading the line in a Newcastle shirt next year.

Ben Chilwell

Leicester City v Manchester City - FA Youth Cup Semi Final: Second Leg

Ben Chilwell is another England star in the making. Still only 19 years old, the left-back currently plies his trade with runaway Premier League leaders Leicester City and is a product of the Midlands side academy. Winning Leicester’s Academy Player of the Year award at the end of the 2014–15 season, Chilwell has gone on to make a handful of appearances for the side so far this term in both the League and FA Cup.

It was during his loan spell with Championship side Huddersfield Town however where the youngster shone this term. Making eight appearances in his short spell with the Yorkshire outfit, Chilwell put in some solid displays for the Terriers under manager David Wagner. Wagner was so impressed with the youngster during his stay at the John Smith’s stadium that the German himself put in a good word to fellow coach and former Dortmund friend Jürgen Klopp whom is now proposing a transfer to Liverpool for the young left-back.

Rico Henry

Rico Henry

Already short-listed for the Football League Young Player of the Year, Rico Henry has had a fantastic first full season for League One outfit Walsall. Making 37 appearances in all competitions for the Saddlers so far this season, Henry has been a key member for the Midlands side in their quest for promotion come the end of this term.

Likened to both former England internationals Ashley Cole and Kenny Sansom in regards to his playing style, left-back Rico Henry is small in height standing at 5ft 10in but is both extremely quick and agile. In defence the full back gets stuck in when necessary, is calm in possession of the ball and has the ability to both run and dribble out from the back. Going forward his pace gives him the possibility of taking on players when possible and his two goals from left-back this term for Walsall prove that Henry can finish when in the position to do so.

Already being watched by some of the top English teams including likely Premier League champions Leicester, Arsenal and Tottenham among others, Rico Henry has a very bright future ahead of him.

Kemar Roofe

Oxford United v Swansea City - The Emirates FA Cup Third Round

Even though Kemar Roofe turned 23 back in January, the Oxford striker is still considered a fine young English talent whom has largely been ignored since his early days at West Bromwich Albion. With his Oxford United side vying for promotion from League Two and his recent fantastic performance at Wembley in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final against Barnsley, Roofe is now being courted by some of the biggest clubs in English football thanks to another impressive season from the forward.

Over the past couple of seasons with Oxford, the young striker has lit up League Two with some stunning strikes and some top drawer performances. This season alone Roofe has managed to bag himself 25 goals in all competitions and is now reportedly firmly on the radar of teams such as Arsenal, Manchester United and Sunderland to name but a few.

With the ability to play both as an out-and-out striker and as an attacking midfielder, Roofe has made 62 appearances for the U’s over his two spells with the League Two club. In those 63 appearances for Oxford United, the pacey forward has bagged himself 31 goals in all competitions, a fantastic return from Kemar Roofe.

Capital One Cup: Quarter Final Preview

Tonight see’s the return of this years Capital One Cup campaign with three of the four quarter final matches kicking off at 19:45. The three matches in the competition tonight see three in-form Championship sides face tough tasks in playing Manchester City, Everton and Stoke respectively with Southampton taking on Liverpool at St Mary’s Stadium on Wednesday night.

Although nothing is certain in cup competitions in England as upsets are becoming common place in the various different tournaments that are played out throughout the course of the season, I can only envisage three wins for the Premier League sides in tonight’s showdowns.

MANCHESTER CITY VS HULL CITY

In positive news for fans of the Manchester outfit, Manchester City playmaker David Silva could make his first start in nearly two months in the League Cup quarter-final against Hull. The Spaniard came on as a late substitute in City’s last outing against Southampton in the Premier League last Saturday.

David Silva could start for the first time in two months.
David Silva could start for the first time in two months.

As for their opposition, Hull sit fourth in the Championship after a very strong start to the season in which Steve Bruce’s side have conceded the fewest goals, alongside Derby County, in the league. Despite this, the Tigers will be without experienced centre back Michael Dawson who is struggling to overcome a hamstring injury.

Michael Dawson is out for Hull. Will his experience be missed in the heart of their defence?
Michael Dawson is out for Hull. Will his experience be missed in the heart of their defence?

Manchester City boss Pellegrini: “Maybe for teams that are out of some competitions – the Champions League or the Capital One Cup – it is easier to play in the Premier League. But we always want to continue in all the competitions.”

Hull boss Steve Bruce: “We have got to have the belief that we can go and take them on. Last year in the Premier League we caused them a few problems. Up until Friday we hadn’t been beaten for four months. We’ve had a really consistent run – we’ve only lost three out of 22 games, and so we can feel a bit confident.”

Although I fully expect Hull to play a tough game and make it difficult for the Premier League leaders, Manchester City should overcome the Championship outfit at the Etihad Stadium tonight. Manuel Pellegrini will recognise that with the other ‘bigger’ teams already out of the tournament, the opportunity presents itself here for Manchester City to take the first piece of silverware on offer this season.

MIDDLESBROUGH VS EVERTON

Aitor Karanka has a full-strength Boro squad to choose from after their 2-0 win over Huddersfield on Saturday. Striker Cristhian Stuani could make his first start since he recovered from an injury sustained on international duty. Middlesbrough are currently second placed in the Championship this season and are one of the free scoring teams in the second tier of English football. The side from the North-East also beat Manchester United at Old Trafford in the last sixteen round of the competition and will be confident after their success against the Red Devils.

Middlesbrough beat Manchester United on penalties to reach tonight's quarter final tie.
Middlesbrough beat Manchester United on penalties to reach tonight’s quarter final tie.

Roberto Martinez will give James McCarthy (groin) and Gareth Barry (shin) late fitness checks ahead of the League Cup quarter-final against Middlesbrough. The Toffees boss has also confirmed keeper Joel Robles will start in goal.

Ross Barkley has been in impressive form for Everton this season. Could he help the Merseysiders win the cup this season?
Ross Barkley has been in impressive form for Everton this season. Could he help the Merseysiders win the cup this season?

Middlesbrough boss Karanka, whose side have beaten Manchester City and Manchester United in cup competitions in the last two seasons: “That can be our biggest problem – to think that because we beat Manchester City and Manchester United and played well against Liverpool and Arsenal, the game will be easy. The reason we did well against those teams is that we worked hard for 90 minutes or more. Just because we are close to the top of the table and we beat Manchester United in the last round and we’re playing at home and will be feeling the atmosphere, to be over-confident would be a big mistake.”

Everton manager Roberto Martinez: “In this competition I don’t think divisional status gives you a benefit. You need to be ready for the game with a clear understanding of how to perform. Clearly the mentality in our camp is to be ready – we can’t not be ready after the feeling at the weekend [drew 3-3 at Bournemouth].”

Along a similar vein to Manchester City vs Hull City, I think Middlesbrough will play well against their Premier League opposition but I fully expect Everton’s class to shine through and win the game for Roberto Martinez and the teams travelling supporters. Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley are in great form for the Merseyside club and if they feature in the match, I can only see an away win.

STOKE CITY VS SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY

Stoke City will be without skipper Ryan Shawcross for the League Cup quarter-final visit of Sheffield Wednesday after he was dismissed in his sides loss to Sunderland last weekend. Mark Hughes will also be without goalkeeper Shay Given (knee) and centre back Marc Muniesa (hamstring) for this Capital One cup tie.

Stoke captain Ryan Shawcross was dismissed at the weekend against Sunderland.
Stoke captain Ryan Shawcross was dismissed at the weekend against Sunderland.

Sheffield Wednesday head coach Carlos Carvalhal has only one injury to contend with as the Yorkshire sides manager is without key midfielder Barry Bannan (knee) for the trip to the Potteries who has been in great form this season for the Owls.

Sheffield Wednesday outclassed Arsenal in the last round of the Capital One cup.
Sheffield Wednesday outclassed Arsenal in the last round of the Capital One cup.

Stoke boss Mark Hughes: “We won’t underestimate Sheffield Wednesday in any way, shape or form. If you look at their progression in the competition they have beaten two Premier League sides already. We’re at home and when the draw was made if we’re honest enough we can say they were one of the teams we wanted to have. You can’t argue about that. If we’re going to progress it should be in our favour.”

Sheffield Wednesday head coach Carvalhal: “It will be cold and there will be rain probably. It’s not a good day to go to the football. There will be 4,000 fans in the rain and cold and they pay for a ticket to see us play. This means we must play to them. It happened at Blackburn on Saturday and it will happen again. We must play to all the fans. We will give 300%, give everything on the pitch and we will do that.”

In my opinion this will be the closest tie of the night in the Capital One cup as Sheffield Wednesday have already dumped Newcastle and Arsenal out of the competition en route to the quarter final stage this season. However much like the other two encounters tonight I think that the Premier League side will have a narrow advantage and expect Stoke City’s Premier League class to shine through on the night.

Predicted Premier League positions for this season.

We take a look at what I believe the Premier League table will look like at the end of the 2015/2016 season including my predictions on which teams will win the two English domestic trophies during the course of the season as well.

1st – Chelsea
2nd –Arsenal
3rd – Manchester City
4th – Manchester United
5th – Liverpool
6th – Tottenham
7th – Southampton
8th – Everton
9th – Crystal Palace
10th – Stoke
11th – Swansea
12th – West Ham
13th – Newcastle
14th – Aston Villa
15th – West Bromwich Albion
16th – Bournemouth
17th – Sunderland
18th – Watford
19th – Leicester City
20th – Norwich

Capital One Cup winners – Liverpool
FA Cup winners – Manchester United

Transfer of Christian Benteke to Liverpool agreed.

It is been reported this morning that Aston Villa’s Belgian striker Christian Benteke is on the verge of signing for Premier League rivals Liverpool in a deal eventually worth £32.5 million. It is said that the Anfield based club have triggered the strikers release clause that was in his Aston Villa contract and that the forward is due to travel to Merseyside for a medical early next week, likely to be on Monday.

Christian Benteke is expected to join Liverpool early next week in a transfer worth around £32.5 million.
Christian Benteke is expected to join Liverpool early next week in a transfer worth around £32.5 million.

Ian Ayre, Liverpool’s chief executive, worked through into the early hours of Sunday morning in Australia, where Liverpool are on their pre-season tour, in discussions with Aston Villa chief executive Tom Fox in order to strike a deal for the forward and hand manager Brendan Rodgers the player he has coveted all summer and whom he has admired for more than 18 months. Liverpool’s club doctor Andy Massey will now fly back to Liverpool to oversee the tests in London and should all go according to plan, Christian Benteke will be able to start his new career with Liverpool at their Melwood training base.

It has been decided it would be asking too much to fly Benteke out to Malaysia to join Liverpool’s squad for the final game of their pre-season tour in Kuala Lumpur on Friday and instead he will work with Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho, who are due back at Melwood on Wednesday.

The Belgian striker has been a massive success at Aston Villa where he has managed to score 49 goals in 100 total appearances for the club. This represents a ratio of just under a goal in every two appearances at the Midlands side.

Christian Benteke in action last season for Aston Villa.
Christian Benteke in action last season for Aston Villa.

Although a massive transfer fee is being touted in order for Liverpool to sign the striker, it represents a great outlay of funds for the club. This is due to the fact that Liverpool need a big name striker to play alongside and fill in for the injury prone Daniel Sturridge who can bag plenty of goals during his stay at the club. Christian Benteke is already a proven Premier League striker and his conversion rate in front of goal  will only increase playing in front of star names such as Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Jordan Henderson. Expect Benteke to make an impact at Anfield if this transfer is completed.