Hodgson must decide on his best x11

Hodgson must decide on his best x11

June the 27th; the morning of England’s last 16 tie with Iceland.

Three group games have been played producing 5 points with mixed performances, mixed results, mixed squad selections and mixed squad formations.

The opening group game against Russia saw England concede an injury-time equaliser via Vasili Berezutski in a 1-1 draw that Hodgson’s men dominated. Eric Dier, (who has arguably been England’s player of the tournament until this point) had earlier crashed a 20-yard free-kick high past Igor Akinfeev on 73 minutes.  The Three Lions had put in an excellent commanding performance but the game highlighted the lack of a clinical edge in the team. Jamie Vardy (Barclays Player of the Season 2015-2016) was bizarrely left on the bench with Raheem Sterling earning a place on the left side of attack in support of Harry Kane. Sterling; a player who has suffered from a much-publicised lack of form at his club Man City this season.

England’s second game of the group saw Daniel Sturridge snatch a dramatic injury-time winner in a 2-1 victory over home-nations rivals Wales. A cagey and tentative first-half performance was made more difficult when England walked in at half-time 1-0 down after Joe Hart’s blunder allowed Gareth Bale’s 30-yard free-kick creep in.

Hodgson stuck with the same team who started the opening fixture but it immediately appeared that England were being outmuscled in the midfield and were stale in creating any sort of chances. Wayne Rooney and Dele Ali were being dragged back far too deep by the movement of Wales’ midfield, leaving a jaded-looking Harry Kane isolated. Raheem Sterling was just an ineffectual as against Russia. Changes were clearly necessary or a tournament exit was imminent.

Hodgson gambled by taking off Sterling and Kane for Sturridge and Vardy. Momentum immediately shifted as England were then able to dominate possession and camp inside the Wales half. Eventually, the much-admirable Welsh resistance was broken as the English kitchen sink was thrown at Wales and Daniel Sturridge poked home a close-range finish on 91 minutes to the nation’s immense relief.

With the knowledge that a win would have ensured England’s qualification as group winners, Hodgson took a risk in the last game against Slovakia by making as many as six selection changes. Hodgson chose to leave out Rooney, Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Dele Ali, Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane and introduced Vardy and Daniel Sturridge, as well as Clyne, Ryan Bertrand, Wilshere and Jordan Henderson. Predictably, England looked disjointed and unclear as to player roles, formation and despite boasting 61% possession in the game, really stuggled to carve out notable chances in the game; 0-0 was the final score.

Hodgson has had two years of the European qualification campaign to experiment and consider his strongest players in a formation that suits them individually to allow them to build team chemistry for this tournament. The fact that we are still tinkering with players in unfamiliar positions like Jamie Vardy on the left-hand side against Slovakia is a worrying indication of the leadership in the current dressing room at management level.

Iceland on Monday evening (20.00 hrs); it’s a time for Roy to be bold. If he picks Jamie Vardy to start the game, play him alongside Harry Kane as a central striker (instead of on the wing) to ensure the Icelandic defence have no time on the ball. Push Dele Ali or Wayne Rooney further forward to play in the hole. Ensure the full-backs Kyle Walker and Danny Rose are disciplined in how they balance attacking and defending.

Be bold Roy and seal our quarter-final tie against France.

 

 

Euro 2016 promises the unknown

Euro 2016 promises the unknown

On the 10th June, the 15th edition of the UEFA European Championships will commence in France (for the third time following inaugural tournament in 1960 and 1984 respectively).  The matches will be played in ten stadia in ten cities including Bordeaux,Lens, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Paris, Saint-Denis, Saint-Étienne, and Toulouse. Safety concerns following the Paris terror attacks of November 2016, Wales’ first major tournament qualification since 1958, and England’s inclusion of 18-year old striker Marcus Rashford all dominate the pre-tournament headlines. However it is the nation’s squad dissection that is the most significant topic at this stage.

Group A

Albania-

The countries’ first major tournament in their footballing history. The lowest scorers out of all the euro qualifiers do not possess a natural goal-threat and are certainly not fancied to progress from the group stages. They have relied on a stable defence throughout qualification so opposition may find them a tough nut to crack.

Player to watchLorik Cana (Nantes)

Paddy Power odds- 500/1

France-

The hosts and favourites for the competition. An emergence of first-class talent into the national team has given Les Bleus real hope going into the tournament. A dynamic midfield up of Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi, Dimitri Payet and N’Golo Kante is a quartet of real envy other tournament favourites. Potential weakness may prove to be the full-back areas in the ageing Bacary Sagna (33) and Patrice Evra (35).

Player to watch- Anthony Martial (Man Utd)

Paddy Power odds- 3/1

Romania

Possess an organised and tough defence, with only two goals conceded during qualification. Anghel Iordanescu’s side may not have some of the creative talents from previous Romanian football generations but will still be a difficult team to overcome for anyone.

Player to watch- Vlad Chiriches (Napoli)

Paddy Power odds- 150/1

Switzerland-

Expected to progress from the group. The Swiss have an exciting balance to their team of young and old with a settled defence and real creativity in their midfield ranks. Arsenal’s new signing Granit Xhaka will typically play a deep midfield anchor role with Xherdan Shaqiri being utilised either in the hole behind the striker or on either wing.

Player to watch- Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City)

Paddy Power odds-50/1

Group B

England-

Roy Hodgson’s outfit is younger and more versatile than in previous recent tournaments. A smooth qualification campaign and the emergence of Tottenham’s fledgling quartet of Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Danny Rose and Harry Kane gives great reason for optimism. However, the real problem still remains in that Hodgson does know not his best X11. Constant experimentation and rotation is proving unfruitful. Wayne Rooney’s role within the side appears as unclear as it has ever been.

Player to watchHarry Kane (Tottenham)

Paddy Power odds-8/1

Russia-

Since Fabio Capello’s departure in July 2015, the Russian national side appear to be enjoying their football more. In Aleksandr Kerzhakov, Artyom Dzyuba and Fyodor Smolov they have speed on the flanks and goals up front. The age of the squad may prove a real concern however; the majority of their first-choice defenders and midfielders are over or nearing 30.

Player to watchRoman Shirokov (CSKA Moscow)

Paddy Power odds- 40/1

Slovakia-

Will be no pushovers. This is the first time in Slovakia’s history they have qualified for the Euros. They possess real quality within the ranks but to tend to become over-reliant on star-man Marek Hamsik. They did hand Spain a 2-1 defeat in the qualifying period and on their day can prove a match for any top side.

Player to watchMarek Hamsik (Napoli)

Paddy Power odds-150/1

Wales-

Chris Coleman has performed miracles in guiding Wales to their first major tournament in 58 years. His unit are organised, disciplined and channel their game through Gareth Bale. They will be fired up and aiming to impress in France, determined to make the most of the long-awaited opportunity. The lack of goals from the forward-line is the main concern with the absence of a Premier League striker in the ranks.

Player to watch- Gareth Bale (Real Madrid)

Paddy Power odds-80/1

Group C

Germany

The World Champions (WC 2014) are second favourites for the competition having won qualifying Group D. The Germans possess a strong spine to their X11 with a healthy blend of young and old experience. The only worry for Joachim Low’s men may be the inexperienced full-backs with Philip Lahm out (Jonas Hector is expected to be his replacement) and the uncharacteristic recent qualifying defeat by the Republic of Ireland.

Player to watch-Mario Gotze (Bayern Munich)

Paddy Power odds-4/1

Northern Ireland

Another home-nation miracle. Michael O’Neil’s side topped their qualifying group to enter their first European Championship tournament in their history. They are dangerous from set-pieces, often out-run oppositions and are a difficult unit to break down. Inexperience is one of their key weaknesses in the side with only 4 out of the predicted first 11 playing top-flight domestic football.

Player to watch-Kyle Lafferty (Norwich City)

Paddy Power odds-300/1

Poland

Poland possess a far more potent attacking force these days than in tournaments gone by. In Robert Lewandowski, they have one of the most sought-after, clinical strikers in the continent; 13 goals in the qualifying campaign alone to back this. If the Poles can sharpen up their defensive frailties, they will certainly be a dark horse for the competition.

Player to watch- Arkadiusz Milik (Ajax)

Paddy Power odds-40/1

Ukraine

Mykhaylo Fomenko’s team are a pacy outfit that always place a real emphasis on counter-attacking play. The two wingers Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka are the gems of the team and will provide the majority of chances created. An organised defence compliments this to give them a good chance of progressing through the group but the lack of a general plan B or creative central midfielders/strikers is likely to limit their potential in the tournament.

Player to watch-Andriy Yarmolenko (Dynamo Kiev)

Paddy Power odds-90/1

Group D

Croatia

Croatia find themselves in the toughest group in the competition. Their qualifying campaign certainly wasn’t smooth; finishing behind Italy, Niko Kovac being dismissed from position of head coach and crowd violence forcing a point deduction. World-class quality can be found in central-midfielders Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic but their backline is far from stable and do leak goals. Will have to perform to their maximum to qualify from the group.

Player to watch-Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona)

Paddy Power odds-25/1

Czech Republic

Despite no longer having players like Pavel Nedved or Karel Poborsky from days gone by, the Czech Republic are a strong unity and have a never-say-die attitude. They tend to try and outscore teams which often proves their downfall as their defence is one of the most vulnerable in the competition; despite having a world-class, experienced goalkeeper in Petr Cech. An unpredictable outfit.

Player to watch-Borek Dockal (Sparta Prague)

Paddy Power odds-125/1

Spain

For a team aiming to seal their third consecutive European Championship, the Spanish squad are strangely doubted by many quarters. Manager Vincent Del Bosque stated that if his team made the semi-finals, he would regard the tournament as a success. A host of surprise exclusions from the squad selection include Diego Costa, Fernando Torres, Santi Carzola and Juan Mata. The inclusion of the lesser-experienced Saul Niguez and Lucas Vazquez may signal a transitional tournament for the Spanish squad. However, an abundance of world-class midfield creative talent still makes them one of the favourites.

Player to watch-David Silva (Man City)

Paddy Power odds-5/1

Turkey

Managed to qualify as “third-placed team with best record”. Despite qualification not being a smooth campaign, Fatih Terim’s side possesses great attacking threat from midfield. Oghuzan Ozyukap is the playmaker and showed in qualifying what a talent he is, with dazzling runs and able to dictate midfield at all times. Barcelona’s Arda Turan has world-class talent on his day. Like many other sides in the competition, they lack a clinical, killer striker.

Player to watch- Arda Turan (Barcelona)

Paddy Power odds-75/1

Group E

Belgium

Marc Wilmots arguably has one of the best squads in the championships. Their front line and choice of attacking midfielders is brimming with world-class options; including Romelu Lukaku, Michy Batshuayi, Eden Hazard and Yannick Carrasco. Centre-back Vincent Kompany’s absence through injury is a huge loss however and their lack of experience in latter knockout rounds of major tournaments may well prove significant.

Player to watch-Kevin De Bruyne (Man City)

Paddy Power odds-11/1

Italy

Recently-appointed Chelsea manager approaches his final swansong as national team manager as outsiders for the competition. He will feel confident that the Juventus back-line of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, defenders Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini (West Ham’s Angelo Ogbonna may well also start) will give the team a firm defensive resoluteness for the tournament. However, his options are rather limited in attack with five of Italy’s seven wins in qualifying being by a one goal margin.

Player to watch-Antonio Candreva (Lazio)

Paddy Power odds-18/1

Republic of Ireland

The Republic of Ireland qualified via the play-offs beating Bosnia-Herzegovina 3-1 on aggregate. Martin O’Neil’s side are a hard working outfit that will be likely to adapt to a 4-2-3-1 formation. The combination of the pressing and aerial power of Jon Walters and pace of Shane Long will prove a problem to any defence in the tournament. Do not rule the Irish out.

Player to watch-Shane Long(Southampton)

Paddy Power odds-100/1

Sweden

An unpredictable team as ever. Manager Erik Hamren tends to stick to a fairly rigid formation of 4-4-2. In Zlatan Ibrahimovic, they possess a world superstar, a player who has the magic to turn any game in a split second. It is no understatement to say that the Swede’s hopes of progressing in the tournament are fully pinned on him staying fit. A worrying lack of pace is evident in the centre-backs which may hinder their chances.

Player to watch-Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG)

Paddy Power odds-100/1

Group F

Austria

The Austrians experienced a near perfect winning record in qualifying (28 points). They are certainly a nation seeming to be going under the radar as they are now up to 10th in the latest FIFA rankings, although they have never made it beyond the group stages of the euros in their history. A strong squad including Bayern Munich full-back David Alaba, Leicester City’s title-winning Christian Fuchs as well as Stoke City’s Marko Arnautovic- Watch this space.

Player to watch-Marko Arnautovic (Stoke City)

Paddy Power odds-40/1

Hungary

Tipped to struggle. They are likely to play a 4-2-3-1 formation with an emphasis on possession to relieve some of the pressure off the defence. They are a strong on set-pieces and teams facing them will need to be wary of this. However, a real lack of pace and creativity in the final third means they are not being backed by many to cause any upsets.

Player to watch-Laszlo Kleinheisler (Werder Bremen)

Paddy Power odds-400/1

Iceland

Iceland are entering their first ever major tournament in their history. They are managed by former Sweden manager Lars Lagerback who adopts a mix of attack and defend philosophy in his style of play. The central midfield area will be the key for them; with the duo of Aron Gunnarsson and Gylfi Sigurdsson having built up a promising chemistry during qualification.

Player to watch-Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea City)

Paddy Power odds-150/1

Portugal

The 2004 runners-up are expected to progress into the knockout stages from one of the weaker groups in the competition. Manager Fernando Santos is expected to play Cristiano Ronaldo as a central striker with Nani behind in support. They will be relying on Ronaldo to adapt to the centre forward role (unlike his normal wing position) to make up for the lack of a natural striker of a world-class ilk since the days of Nuno Gomes.

Player to watch-Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

Paddy Power odds-14/1

Remi Garde’s exit the latest episode in the wretched Villa charade

Remi Garde’s exit the latest episode in the wretched Villa charade

Over the past eight years, Aston Villa, one of the most traditional well-supported clubs in the midlands and Britain have descended into a modern-day farce and sadly are now truly on the brink of freefall.

Tim Sherwood (Villa’s fifth manager in as many years) was dismissed on the 25th October after little more than eight months in charge of the club. At the time they were sitting in 19th place, four points adrift of safety.

The club then moved quickly to secure the services of former Lyon manager Remi Garde on a three and a half year deal. Unfortunately, for the 1982 European Cup winning club, since the Frenchman’s arrival the first team’s form worsened from poor and lacklustre to desperate and toothless.

Garde leaves with only two wins and 12 defeats from 20 games, that 10% win ratio the lowest for any Villa manager who has been in charge for at least 15 games, even worse that the 18.4% for Alex McLeish, who won only seven of his 38 games.

As hopeless as the Frenchman’s reign has proved, Remi Garde can rightfully point to the lack of January transfer activity as a major factor in their fate being sealed so early in the season.

Loan deals for CSKA Moscow striker Seydou Doumbia and Croatian goalkeeper Lovre Kalinic failed to materialise and the spirit began sapping from the ranks. Aston Villa’s first relegation in their Premier League history was consequently sealed on the 16th April 2016 after a 1-0 loss at Old Trafford.

The blunt reality behind Villa’s plight is that they have been a club in serious decline from the day of Martin O’Neil’s shock walkout in August 2010. The past 6 years since have been dominated by a series of poor managerial appointments, ill-judged transfer policies and significant fan discontent; a slow tale of woe that has resulted in the inevitable slide in the Championship for such a great club.

Ex-Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier was the first appointment post-Martin O’Neil which produced a solid if unspectacular campaign finishing 9th. Continuing health issues forced the Frenchman to resign by mutual consent on the 1st June 2011.

Lerner’s next appointment proved to be beginning of the end as far as the Villa faithfuls’ relationship with the American was concerned. He moved swiftly to appoint Alex McLeish, much to the fans complete disgust, only five days after leaving bitter local rivals Birmingham City. Vigilant protests were held outside Villa Park and anti-McLeish graffiti had to be removed from the training ground. Owner-fan relations had already hit an all-time low. The campaign proved to be a dismal season; finishing in 16th place and producing a win percentage of 18% from the 38 games.

Paul Lambert was the next to suffer in the hot-seat, surprisingly lasting two and a half seasons at the Villa. In the same period the owner’s long-term commitment to the club and transfer policies took a desperate turn for the worst whilst the fans resentment to the hierarchy turned further into hostility and despair.

A significant drain away of talent (mostly for top dollar transfer fees) has hurt the squad’s quality on the pitch and ability to compete in the top division.

Ashley Young went to Manchester United for £17m in June 2011, Stewart Downing to Liverpool for £20m in July 2011 and only last summer, main goalscorer Christian Benteke joined Liverpool for £32.5m whilst captain Fabian Delph was another off – to Manchester City for £8m.

Incomings to the club have been active throughout Lerner’s tenure but for hugely overpriced players identified in the foreign markets who have looked so far off the pace and unsuited to the English game it has been questioned by all quarters as to who has been responsible for identifying these players.

In the summer of 2015, £30 million was spent on Adama Traore, Jordan Veretout, Jordan Ayew and Jordan Amavi. Between this quartet, a desperately poor return of eight goals has been the outcome and has reflected the tale of their relegation season this year.

Fans understandably feel that non-football businessman are in charge of their club and fear they are on the brink of complete freefall. The American owner is a detached and disconnected figure around the club and has been searching for a buyer since the club was put on the market in July 2014.

Since relegation has been mathematically confirmed, the boardroom has undergone a re-shuffle with West Midlands businessman Steve Hollis acting as chairman. Ex-Villa striker and manager Brian Little has also joined the boardroom; an appointment seen by many around the club as a unlikely positive, albeit one that is overdue and frankly too late.

Any change in future fortunes next season will arise from the top down. The board must appoint the right man. A personality who will be charismatic and experienced enough to take on board a tapered, low-on-confidence squad and deal with the poisonous atmosphere that has perturbed the club for the past eight years. This is an appointment they simply have to get right.

 

Foxes on the brink

Foxes on the brink

Only twelve months ago, Leicester City were rock bottom of the Premier League facing the prospect of having to re-build for a season in the Championship, barring a Great Escape.

That Great Escape happened. The City witnessed an incredible salvation job carried out under Nigel Pearson, winning 7 of their final 9 games.

Pearson left on the back of this incredible achievement- possibly with the thought that he had taken the club as far he could take them.

Much experienced manager Claudio “the Tinkerman” Ranieri was drafted in with the aim of improving on this finish and stabilising the club as a secure Premier League club. Tinkered he did, recruiting a careful selection of reasonable signings by using his knowledge of the foreign market. Robert Huth (£3m), Shinji Okazaki (£7m), N’Golo Kante (£5.6m) and the experienced Christian Fuchs (£3m) were signed.

Eight months on and a Jamie Vardy double at the Stadium of Light has mathematically sealed the Foxes Champions League football at the Kingpower Stadium next year, the first time in their Premier League history. Implausibly, Ranieri’s men also sit 10 points clear above second-place Tottenham, having only been beaten three times in the whole season.

 

For the first half of the season, Leicester were blowing away the majority of sides with devastating counter-attacking play. They were conceding plenty but simply out-scoring teams with the score line victory of 3-2 away at The Hawthorns on the 31st October a result that typified City’s style of play pre-Christmas.

Since the New Year, Ranieri’s influence has provided more stubborn defensive resoluteness, conceding far fewer goals and maintaining the winning run with a number of recent crucial, hard-fought 1-0 wins over Norwich (h), Watford (a), Newcastle (h), Crystal Palace (a) and Southampton (h).

Two players who played full part in last year’s survival bid in Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have 38 goals between them in this campaign and are both nominees for the PFA Shortlist for Player.

However, the team’s success and dominance have been down to more than just Mahrez and Vardy. Centre-backs Robert Huth and Wes Morgan have been defensive stalwarts, keeping clean sheets in nine of their last thirteen league fixtures.

Watford striker Troy Deeney has described Huth as “the toughest opponent he has faced this season”.

Leicester City defender Wes Morgan’s rise has been just as remarkable as that of the team he leads. Until the age of 30, Morgan had plied his entire career at Championship level with Nottingham Forest (2003-2012) and with Leicester City until the Foxes promotion in 2014. In his second season in the top-flight at the age of 32, Wes Morgan is on the brink of leading Leicester to a Premier League title; an achievement that will go down in history as one of; if not the most remarkable achievement in domestic British football history.

Full-backs Danny Simpson (a player with a troubled football past) and Christian Fuchs have been reliable, solid and have been commended for their defensive performances throughout the season, nullifying the most talented Premier League wingers this season.

Danny Drinkwater and N’Golo Kante have formed a formidable central midfield pairing that has enabled Leicester to control games so effectively. Drinkwater (26) has displayed such impressive form that Roy Hodgson has come calling, rewarding Drinkwater with his first England cap against the Netherlands in a 2-1 defeat at Wembley. N’Golo Kante has been in sensational form for the Foxes this season, proving to be one of the signings of the season and another real contender for the PFA Player of the Year award. His tireless running in midfield has been key to their league title surge, providing the basis for the likes of Vardy and Mahrez to flourish up front.

Ranieri’s men have the most balanced first x11 and boast team chemistry top clubs can only look in envy at. They have recruited so shrewdly and wisely. They are the model for those clubs in the lower echelons of the Premier League and newly promoted teams.

With four games remaining and sitting eight points clear of second-place, it is simply their title to throw away. No one will begrudge them this. The impossible can be achieved.

Premier League retaining its engrossing nature

8th April 2016

With six weeks left of the season, the Barclays Premier League remains wide open with every sector of the table still wide open with crucial outcomes to be decided; the title, top four, and the dreaded drop:

The title chase

Leicester City

The story of the season.

The Foxes are seven points clear of 2nd place and will clinch the title if they win the next four league games. These fixtures will be Sunderland (a), West Ham (h), Swansea (h) and Man United (a). Ranieri’s men show no signs of wilting under pressure, playing breath-taking counter-attacking play throughout the campaign. Such an achievement will send shockwaves throughout the game.  The ultimate football fairy-tale is well and truly on.

Paddy Power title odds= 4/11

 

 

Tottenham Hotspur-

After a rather predictable 5th place finish last season, Mauricio Pocchetino’s side have strung an incredible run of wins together from the start of the New Year making the North London outfit Leicester City’s most serious title challengers. Boasting the best goal difference tally in the league will almost serve as an extra point as they attempt to capitalise on any potential Leicester slip-up.

Paddy Power title odds= 9/2

 

 

Arsenal-

Inconsistency has cost the Gunners heavily this season. In a campaign, where the so-called “big-spenders” have largely struggled throughout, Arsene Wenger will be so disappointed his squad have been unable to capitalise on their expected title rivals’ poor form. The Gunners are 11 points off the top runners Leicester with a game in-hand. No doubt they will have to win every remaining fixture and hope Leicester slip up more than twice along the way.

Paddy Power title odds= 6/1

 

The top 4 race

Man City-

Since announcing his impending summer departure, Manuel Pellegrini’s side’s form has tailed off poorly. Home form is of particular concern, having suffered more defeats this season at the Etihad than the last four seasons combined. Focus and priorities may well be shifting towards the Champions League as their title aspirations appear all but mathematically impossible. However, 3 points clear of 5th place, a healthy goal difference and an abundance of star quality in the squad makes them highly fancied to finish in the top four.

Paddy Power Top 4 odds= 8/15

 

 

 

 

Man Utd-

The Red Devils are currently sitting just one point behind their Blue Neighbours in 5th place. They have also been guilty of inconsistency, but have won three of the last four in the league. If Van Gaal is going to have any hope of keeping his job, United must build on recent successes and finish in at least fourth. A tough run of fixtures awaits including Tottenham (a), Leicester (h) and West Ham (a) but young Marcus Rashford’s exciting first-team breakthrough and Anthony Martial’s excellent form will make them strong challengers for a top four spot.

Paddy Power Top 4 odds=6/4

 

West Ham-

The Hammers are enjoying one of their finest campaigns in many years in the season they bid farewell to the notorious Boleyn Ground. They have pulled off a number of shock wins including away victories at The Emirates, Anfield & The Etihad and foreign imports Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini have proved a revelation. Only trailing Man Utd by three points; however the fact that they are still in the F.A Cup as well as having one of the smaller squads may well impact negatively on their final league run-in.

Paddy Power Top 4 odds=11/1

 

 

Southampton-

Ronald Koeman’s men are seven points from Man City in 4th and at this point are rank outsiders to break through. However, on their day the Saints are a match for anyone and with Graziano Pelle and Charlie Austin on the mend, do not rule them out just yet.

Paddy Power Top 4 odds=150/1

 

 

 

 

 

The Relegation Battle

Norwich City-

Only a couple of weeks ago, Alex Neil’s Canaries were strong favourites from the drop appearing to lack any quality firepower or creative goal threat. However, two vital and hard-fought victories over West Brom and Newcatsle have propelled the Norfolk side four points clear of the relegation zone.   They are showing the necessary fighting qualities for survival and are hitting form at the right time.

Paddy Power Survival Odds= 4/11

 

 

 

 

Sunderland-

For the 4th consecutive season, The Black Cats are deep in the relegation mire. Trailing Norwich by four points (with a game in  hand) and with a tough run-in with upcoming games against Leicester (h), Arsenal (h), Stoke (a) and Chelsea (h), the odds are against them. However, in Big Sam they possess one of the most experienced British managers who has been in this situation on more than one occasion and has never been relegated in his entire career. Jermaine Defoe is still one of the most lethal finishers in the League so do not rule them out just yet.

Paddy Power Survival Odds=13/5

 

Newcastle-

The Magpies have endured a largely torrid season up to now and sit 6 points behind Norwich with an inferior. Steve McClaren’s tenure at the club came to an end on the 11th March after he was sacked and the board have moved swiftly to bring in Rafa Benitez. The appointment appears to be popular on Tyneside and the fans feel more buoyant about survival prospects under the Spaniard. The team are not fancied to beat the drop as concede too many goals, and find scoring them very difficult. Benitez’s task is to make Newcastle more solid, but also increase their creativity and goal threat.

Paddy Power Survival Odds=7/2