Tom Killick: “I’m driven by my fear of failure… and it’s my dream to take Poole Town to the Conference South!”

Tom Killick
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The Poole Town manager talks his managerial style, balancing his day job with Non-League football management and explains to me why he’s considered resigning as Poole boss, as well as what it was like to manage Premier League star Charlie Austin.

As he walks into the Tatnam ground on a cold Tuesday night for a big cup semi-final, and his 600th game in charge, the Poole Town boss greats everyone, from the directors to the stewards. As he walks into the club bar, the elderly barman jokes “we’re not open yet,” in response to which he laughs. Killick looks visibly relieved to have a sit down after a long day at work, his attention now turns to the football.

Killick was a Non-League playing star back in the early 1990s, and was awarded Non-League Player of the Year in 1992, after winning the FA Vase Trophy whilst playing for Wimborne at the Old Wembley stadium. “It was surreal,” he explains. The Poole Town boss then jokes that it felt “not quite right” to be playing at Wembley at the age of only 23. “You’re used to seeing people playing there on the tele,” he says.

You’re there, but you don’t belong there”

However, Killick then mentions how he almost dramatically missed the final due to a “bad knee injury”. “For a time the injury looked like it would keep me out of the game,” he reveals. Injury meant that he missed the semi-final, and he told of the “empty feeling” during the semi-final win celebrations.

“Thankfully I went from a situation where I was going to miss the final to playing a big part in it” he says. “Even during the final I was apprehensive that my knee wouldn’t last the day. Only after about 20 minutes of the game did I start to relax, feeling that it was going to be ok,” he admits.

Killick scored twice on the day as Wimborne won 5-3 to lift the FA Vase Trophy. “I played quite well in that final” he says nodding his head, adding with a humble smile:

I think that’s why I won the player of the year award”

Killick’s win percentage in his 11 years, and 600 games as manager of Poole is almost 70%, an unbelievable record, in response to which he widens his eyes and smiles. But what’s his secret?

“I try to create an environment that the players enjoy being in, and establish a winning mentality,” he explains, then adds: “I manage in accordance with my personality.”

Killick shrugs a shoulder and smiles again, as he explains why he chose to go into management after his successful Non-League playing career: “I wasn’t ready to end my involvement in football,” he says.

His worst moment in football? “There’s two that stick in my mind,” he reveals. In a two legged FA Vase semi-final against Whitley Bay in 2011, with the winner going to Wembley, Poole were defeated. “It would have been a momentous day for the club,” Killick says with a disappointed tone. He sighs and says:

The other was the play-off final.”

1-0 up against Gosport Borough in the Evo-Stik League Southern Division 1 2011/12 play-off final with a minute to go, “it looked as if we’d been promoted,” Killick says, but Poole threw promotion away as their opponents equalised and went on to win in extra time, 3-1. “It was devastating,” he says looking down to the floor. “I remember being really nervous, we were so close, there are so many things I wish we somehow could have done, we could have easily avoided what happened,” he says shaking his head.

“So many things stick in my mind. For example, we broke and their ‘keeper had come up for a corner. All what had to do was run the ball into the corner and the game would have been over,” Killick explained. “Instead, our player had a shot, and the defender ran back and got it, punted it forward, and that was how they scored,” he says.

It was horrendous. That was probably the worst feeling I’ve ever had in football”

“I feel I’m quite good at assessing merits of teams and players, and we were much better than them. We were a better team, with better players. With respect, they were inferior to us, it was just horrendous,” he admits.

The next season was very different though, as the Dolphins were promoted as Southern League South & West Champions, in what was a memorable season for the club, where they won a league and cup double. “There was an unbelievable determination, from me, and the players that we wouldn’t be involved in the lottery of the play-offs,” Killick says.

“Some people are motivated by their successes and wanting to replicate those, but I’m much more motivated by the pain of previous defeats,” he reveals.

“I could tell you details of all the games I’ve been involved in as a manager where we’ve lost,” he explains.

Killick then reveals, nodding his head:

I’m driven by my fear of failure”

The Poole Town boss goes on, and explains that he sometimes loses his temper during matches. “I’m quite emotional when it comes to football… it comes from my desire to succeed,” he admits. “I don’t react well to defeats, I find it hard to be sociable after them. I try not to make plans for Saturday evenings!” he jokes.

The Dolphins boss also managed now Premier League star Charlie Austin in 2009, when the English striker netted 46 times in his 46 appearances for Poole that season. “People get a bit carried away when they talk about Charlie. They say that from the minute he walked through the door of the club he was an amazing player and everyone knew the success he would have. That’s just not true,” Killick reveals.

With him I saw a bigger improvement in a shorter space of time than I have ever seen in a player”

“It was only at the end where he had outgrown the club and you could see he was destined for bigger and better things,” he says.

“Charlie was fun to manage, he was a big personality and a very sociable lad. I enjoyed having him around,” Killick says. “I have a lot of affection for him. Killick then reveals with a big smile:

I’m going to his wedding and stag trip in the summer!”

Alongside his duties as manager of Poole, (and when he is isn’t attending Charlie Austin’s stag do!) Killick is a solicitor at Jacobs and Reeves firm in Poole. He explains how it is “horrendous” during the summer when he is sorting player contracts alongside his day job, as well as balancing his personal life.

Killick reveals that he has considered quitting as Poole Town boss “reasonably regularly”. “At times I’ve felt worn out by it all,” he admits. During Killick’s 11 years in charge at Poole, 10 of the seasons he has been in contention to win the league. “Every match there is major significance, that takes its toll,” he says.

You’re trying to work, be a football manager, sometimes other things in your life suffer. You perhaps feel you’re letting down your family”

“Some games you’re stood in the dugout and wonder why you’re doing it to yourself. I wonder: ‘do I even know what I’m doing?'” he admits with a smile.

“As long as I feel the positives are outweighing the negatives I will carry on,” he says defiantly.

When I leave, I want to leave on a high”

But what of his personal aspirations? Killick finishes by saying: “It’s my dream to get Poole into the Conference South and I want to achieve that before I even consider stopping.”

Alexis Sanchez v Eden Hazard: Who’s the best winger in the Premier League?

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Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez and Chelsea’s Eden Hazard are both world class stars, but who is better? Let’s have a look…

Goals

Alexis Sanchez has bagged 13 league goals this season in what has been a ferocious first season for Arsenal, after his £32 million move last summer. The Chilean has been a goal machine, winning Arsenal games with his brilliance in front of goal. His finishing is outstanding, and Sanchez will be looking to reach the 20 goal mark before the Premier League season has finished.

In comparison, Eden Hazard has also had a good goal scoring season so far, netting 10 times this campaign. The Chelsea star has been forced to play second fiddle in front of goal due to the arrival of Diego Costa, but the Belgian is still on course to reach his tally of 14 from last season.

With Sanchez currently leading Hazard on the goal scoring front (and when also considering that two of Hazard’s goals have come from the penalty spot), the Chilean win’s this category and takes the lead.

Alexis Sanchez 1-0 Eden Hazard.

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Creativity

Creativity is an interesting area, as both are very creative players with great innovation, with their tricks and flicks on show every week. Both players also like to go inside and drop into midfield to probe opposition defences, and do so very successfully, but what do the stats say?

Sanchez has grabbed seven assists so far this season, to Hazard’s six. The Chilean may edge it on assists, but the other statistics are where the Belgian comes into his own.

Part of a very polished and well put together attacking unit, Hazard contributes in more ways than just being on the end of Chelsea’s slick moves. The Chelsea man has completed 65 key passes to Sanchez’s 54, whilst completing almost double the amount of passes (1255 to 737) than Sanchez. Hazard also has interestingly made almost 200 more forward passes than Sanchez this season, displaying his attacking intent. It’s also worth noting that Hazard’s pass completion (88%) is far superior to Sanchez’s (77%).

Sanchez may have more assists, but Hazard is no doubt the more effective, creative player, and therefore equalises.

Alexis Sanchez 1-1 Eden Hazard.

Duels

Both players are involved in countless duels every week. Both players love taking on, and beating their fullback, leaving them on their backsides. It’s a huge part of both their games, but who is better at beating their man?

Alexis Sanchez has completed 83 take-ons at a success rate of 56% so far this season, with his delightful drop of a shoulder. His trademark skill that he embarrasses defenders with every week is sublime. As the ball is running out of play Sanchez slows down and does a step over as he fakes to go one way, drops a shoulder and flicks the ball the opposite way with the outside of his boot, leaving the defender for dead. You all know what I’m talking about.

However, Eden Hazard’s stats are far more impressive. The Belgian loves a drop of the shoulder, with his burst of acceleration giving defenders no chance. Hazard has managed to complete a mammoth 119 take-ons this season at a 63% success rate. Extremely impressive.

The Belgian winger has also suffered the most fouls in the Premier League this season, being upended 75 times to Sanchez’s 52 times, showing himself to be a bigger terror to defences.

Sorry Sanchez, you’re good, but Hazard is better. Hazard takes the lead.

Alexis Sanchez 1-2 Eden Hazard.

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Work rate

This category is more cut and dry.

Alexis Sanchez’s work rate is next to none. He is an animal. There are rumours that he refuses to take rest days and trains anyway, and it’s no surprise, the man works the hardest of any player in the Arsenal team. He has unbelievable stamina and isn’t afraid to get stuck in with the dirty side of the game, committing 34 fouls whilst tracking back this season.

Eden Hazard works harder under Jose Mourinho than he had done in previous years, but the Belgian is no-where near Sanchez in terms of work rate. Sanchez equalises.

Alexis Sanchez 2-2 Eden Hazard.

Importance and versatility

Sanchez is certainly the more important to his team. Arsenal need the Chilean firing on all cylinders if they are to secure a top four place.

However, Hazard is also of huge importance to Chelsea in their hunt for the title. Would Hazard have better stats if he played in a worse team, like Sanchez is? That’s very much up for debate, but it does seem that Sanchez is more of a key player for Arsenal than Hazard is for Chelsea, purely due to the fact Chelsea have more quality players.

Sanchez is also the more versatile player, able to play anywhere in the ‘front four’, on either wing, behind the striker or upfront. He could probably do a job at left-back if you asked him to.

Hazard on the other hand is a left sided midfielder, and not much more. He could no doubt play centrally, but he just doesn’t get the chance.

Unfortunately for Hazard, he does seem to be less important to his team when compared to Sanchez, and with Sanchez’s versatility being far better, the Chilean takes the lead.

Alexis Sanchez 3-2 Eden Hazard.

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So who is better?

Alexis Sanchez has won the comparison here, but no doubt Chelsea fans will have a point to argue. Eden Hazard is a world class star, just as Sanchez is, and comparisons between the two will go on until one of them leaves the Premier League.

One thing is for sure, having them both in one team would be outstanding, with Hazard’s creativity on one wing, and Sanchez’s work rate and goal scoring prowess on the other, defenders would be having nightmares.

Thanks for reading.

Who do you think is better? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter: @LukeHastings1.

Arsenal’s season so far, Alexis Sanchez and #WengerOut?

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Arsene Wenger

Wenger in? Wenger out? Let’s shake it all about and have a look at Arsenal’s season so far, our Chilean star Alexis Sanchez, and some strong opinions on the boss himself. Enjoy.

No doubt about it, Arsenal have been absolutely dire so far this season, and were once again last week at Swansea. Performances that have bordered on embarrassing have stifled any talk of the title, with most fans very angry and once again settling for a scrappy fight for 4th.

Due to the performances and results, some fans have launched a quite vicious assault towards Arsene Wenger on social media, with a quite frankly embarrassing and pathetic protest being organised against our greatest ever manager.

Arsene Wenger

Whether you want Arsene Wenger out or not, have some respect. If anyone who is planning to support this protest thinks it’s genuinely going to make any shred of difference, you are sorely mistaken. Arsene Wenger will leave the club when he sees fit, not when a bunch of fans make a few posters to tell him to do so.

Whether you think that’s right or not, I’m sorry, but it’s the reality. Yes, I know how much some fans love to remind us all that “it is not Arsene FC blah blah”… But quite frankly, he will not be sacked.

The fickleness of our fans is sometimes bordering on insanity, with opinions changing on the future of our club every weekend. Arsene Wenger stayed at Arsenal through the very tough times during the stadium build even though he had several opportunities to leave, some perspective which fans seem to forget.

We owe Arsene Wenger a lot for the stadium and the consistency to stay in the top 4 throughout that transitional era. Yes, I’m aware he didn’t win any trophies in that time, but would you when you are selling all your best players, and having the likes of Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh as your striking options? The answer is a resounding no.

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However, the notion that we ‘owe’ Arsene Wenger anything is NOT a reason to keep him on as manager. The FA Cup win signified the end of the transitional era, whilst the departure of Bacary Sagna to Man City signalled the end of the mass player exodus to rival clubs. Therefore, this season so far, which promised so much, is not good enough.

The summer transfer window was an overall success, but the much talked about defensive-midfielder position was not filled, whilst the squad was left without defensive cover. Both these neglected areas are to put it bluntly, destroying our season. An unreliable Nacho Monreal has been forced to cover at centre-back and a completely useless Mathieu Flamini is playing in midfield. Honestly, Flamini should be playing for a relegation threatened side, not Arsenal.

monreal and flamini

The failure in this area of the transfer market is down to one man, Arsene Wenger. There were options quite literally everywhere for players to sign, and we have the money too.

However, it would be ridiculous to suggest that our only problems lie in these neglected areas of the squad. Arsene Wenger is week in, week out proving himself to be tactically naive, especially in the big games. The use of the 4-1-4-1 formation in the early season with Mesut Ozil out wide was actually baffling. Some would say idiotic. Our use of the zonal marking system is costing us again and again from defensive set-pieces, I don’t even know why we bother with attacking corners we are so bad at them, whilst our propensity to be counter attacked every time we go forward is appalling.

In Wenger’s defence, his tactical switch of Alexis Sanchez to the no.10 role has been a revelation in the past few games, with Sanchez being the best player on the park every single week. Sanchez is a magical player, and in my opinion is the best forward player we have had at the club since Thierry Henry left all those years ago. He has the ability to beat 4 or 5 players and bury it, with Alexis providing the flair and clinical finishing we have been missing for so many years.

sanchez

Our reliance on Sanchez is bordering on the point that if he were to get injured, our season would be in tatters. This is why we can’t just look at Arsene Wenger as the sole reason for our poor form this season. Yes, he does pick the players, but they MUST take more responsibility than they have been.

Alexis Sanchez has left the pitch the last few games shaking his head, and rightly so. He’s a winner, and must be wondering what he has signed up to. When he looks around he must wonder how some of these players are starting for Arsenal. For example, Aaron Ramsey appears to think he’s now ‘big time’ after last season, with no care in the world about defending. Over the past few weeks all he’s been doing is looking to score (might I say, unsuccessfully), leaving the team with no balance. Per Mertesacker looks lost at the back without his partner Laurent Koscielny, alongside an abysmal Nacho Monreal, whilst Santi Cazorla can’t hit a barn door with a shovel, spooning every chance he gets into row Z of the Emirates, making it no surprise he hasn’t scored a league goal since January.

The fact is, I could pick out every player in the starting 11 (bar Sanchez) and criticise their performances, which is ultimately the issue. The players look lost, and you could put that just down to poor management, but I think a lot comes from the players themselves.

The worrying lack of rotation so far this season will (and already has) cost us injury wise, but the fact is that if Wenger rotates, the squad players just aren’t good enough.Joel Campbell appears to have disappeared off the face of the Earth, despite Wenger claiming earlier in the season that his time would come. When would that be Arsene? 2016? Replacing him on the bench with Yaya Sanogo last weekend was shocking. To clarify, this is the man who couldn’t score if Alexis left 11 players on the deck and squared it to him. Thomas Rosicky and Lukas Podolski have piped up publicly about their lack of game time, but when they come off the bench they show nothing to suggest they should be starting. It’s just a poor state of affairs, and a lose-lose situation for Wenger.

podolski and rosicky

I personally believe that the players have just as much responsibility as Arsene Wenger in this dismal situation, and until they pull together, we will get nowhere. The ultimate question is though, are you Wenger in or Wenger out? I think sacking him mid-season would be ridiculous, and quite frankly it won’t happen. I also can’t see a suitable candidate to replace him either. However, if the season continues on this path and we end up with just the “4th place trophy”, then this debate will be red hot, with even more fans calling for Wenger’s head than they are now.

What do YOU think on Wenger, the players, and the team as a whole? Let me know on Twitter: @LukeHastings1, or in the comments below!

Thanks for reading.

(Images sourced from gettyimages.co.uk)

An insight from my Emirates Stadium tour…

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As I’ve been writing for other sites, I’ve been neglecting my own blog, so after I went on a tour of the beautiful Emirates Stadium today, I thought it would be perfect to write about what I saw and learnt. It truly was a great insight, and I heard some interesting stories that I would love to share with you…

The Tunnel.

The Tunnel.

I went on the Legends Tour with Perry Groves, who was a great guy, and a passionate Gooner. He made the tour a great experience with his humour, insight, stories and incredible knowledge of every inch of the stadium itself. After clearing up that his views expressed on the tour “were his views, and not the views of Arsenal Football Club”, he proceeded to pull no punches in his criticism of our players, and our rivals. After hilariously calling Spurs “tin-pot”, branding Wayne Rooney “fat” (in reference to his blatant dive that ended our unbeaten run in 2004), and mocking Nicklas Bendtner’s “ridiculous” pony-tail, the tour began…

After having a look at how the other half live, learning about the astonishing prices the boxes cost (one was £52,000 a game!), and after looking down at the pitch from the directors box and from club level, we went on to the meat of the tour, and looked at the home dressing room. Arsene Wenger, is quite frankly, a genius in his design of it. Perry told us that he believes that Wenger will only be truly appreciated for his revolutionising of football management when he leaves, and after today, I agree. After visiting Japan before the stadium was built, Wenger got immersed in their culture and used features from it in the design of the dressing room.

The Dressing Room.

The Dressing Room.

Firstly, the changing facilities have no corners, as to not allow players to hide away. It is designed so that the players can see each other and Wenger can see them, with special acoustics in the ceiling meaning that every player, wherever they are sat, can hear Arsene without him requiring to raise his voice. From Wenger’s time in Japan he learnt that square shapes have negative energy, whereas one’s with rounded edges give out more positives. This is why the away dressing room is one the squarest room’s you will see, as to psychologically advantage the home side. To add to this, the dressing room floor’s are completely non-slip, as to not allow new £35 million signing Alexis Sanchez to slip over on the wet floor and break his back. Unfortunately, this floor was SO expensive, that we unfortunately couldn’t afford to put it in the away dressing room! (Perry’s joke, not mine). In the changing area itself, the traditional order for the players to change is used, where from right to left the players change depending on position (goalkeeper nearest to the showers and strikers on the far side).

The Dusty Tactics Board.

The Dusty Tactics Board.

Other aspects to the room, such as the apparently rarely used tactic’s board (as Wenger concentrates only on Arsenal), and the treatment room, were fairly basic. The ice bath has apparently never been used willingly by the players; however, Perry revealed that the Arsenal players, on their final stop of the FA Cup trophy parade at the stadium, used the ice bath to chill the champagne for the celebrations! Hilarious if true. Perry also interestingly mentioned here that the players, when they returned from the parade, such as Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain, were stunned by the passion in the fans eyes during the parade. This was the apparent moment they realised how much trophies truly mean to us fans. Hopefully now they will provide some more!

One of the player's 30 degree pools, with a vibrating metal bench for muscle recovery.

One of the player’s 30 degree pools, with a vibrating metal bench for muscle recovery.

Just before the players leave the dressing room, filled with nerves, they have a room just as you go towards the tunnel in which they mess around with a few footballs and try to calm down just before they come out. This is where there is another interesting story, as the pillar in the centre of this warm-up room wasn’t originally where it is today. Just before the first game at the stadium in 2006, Wenger surveyed the facilities to see if he was happy with it. At that time, the pillar was in the middle of the players dressing room, and Wenger was not at all happy. He ordered it to be removed at any cost, and when it was moved just down the corridor, it cost a mammoth £1.1 million. Everything had to be perfect for Arsene, and rightly so.

The pillar worth £1.1 million.

The infamous pillar (worth £1.1 million) in the warm-up area.

In the changing room, the players all have cushions on their seats, and this is not just because they are pampered millionaires. In 2006 when the stadium opened, during the first game, a certain Freddie Ljungberg complained that his legs felt heavy and tired after half-time and complained about the wooden benches they had to sit on. Everyone thought Freddie was just moaning, but in the second game of the season, he pulled his hamstring, leading Wenger to investigate… It was then found that hard surfaces such as the wood caused negative effects on the muscles, and therefore, there are cushions for every player to sit on. 

Another great insight from Perry was regarding Arsene Wenger’s half-time team talks. Apparently, Arsene has his own room (his office), where he will stay, out of the players way until about 5 minutes before the second half begins. He believes that it is pointless to talk to the players for 15 whole minutes as they will only remember the last thing you say, so to combat this he squeezes his team talk into a concise 5 minute period, and allows the players to talk tactics to each other or have knocks tended to in the first 10 minutes of the break. A fascinating insight into the Arsenal dressing room, where Arsene rarely gives out the infamous ‘hair-dryer treatment’. 

Learning about the technology in the pitch was incredible, and the sustainable water supply used to intensely water the pitch was fascinating to hear about. The tunnel area was great to see as well, and it all looks fantastic too.

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The view from the technical area.

As this is getting a bit on the long side, I will leave you with one final interesting thing that I found out: The substitutes have a heated step just below their seats to ensure that their feet don’t get cold sat on the bench… Yep, the player’s are unbelievably pampered, and I haven’t even mentioned the special pools and rub-downs the players get all the time. It’s a hard life for them…

Overall, the stadium was truly beautiful, and it was a fantastic day, so if you get a chance, go and take this tour, because this blog is only a taster of the things you will learn! Oh, and if you go at the moment, the FA Cup and Community Shield are available to have pictures with, which was a very nice surprise!

Me with the two trophies.

Me with the two trophies.

The Premier League’s WORST XI this season

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At the end of another Premier League season filled with great performances, it’s always a bit of fun to look back at the worst performers that have graced the English top division this year. At a time when everyone is choosing their best team team of the year, I’ve chosen 11 players who I believe have performed the poorest this season.

Goalkeeper-

This year, Michel Vorm has had a pretty poor year by the standards he set last season. With only 7 clean sheets in his 24 appearances this year and a goals to save ratio of a minuscule 1.6, he has far from impressed. He has also performed much below par in comparison to the high standard of goalkeeping set by ‘keepers in the bottom half such as by Marshall, Speroni and Mannone (bar the odd error), who have almost single handedly kept their teams in games, something Vorm has failed to do, making errors and ultimately looking uncomfortable between the sticks.

Defenders-

Up first, I’ve gone with Left-Back Patrice Evra who seems to have lost his ability to defend this season. Evra has been part of the leaking Manchester United back line 30 times this season, being out of position too often, getting beaten on the flank and ultimately adding to United’s dramatic demise that has seen David Moyes lose his job.

Now onto another leaking defence belonging to Tottenham, and their centre-half Jan Vertonghen. Vertonghen has been very poor this year, making 3 major defensive errors, all of which led to goals scored by the opposition. After a great first season in the Premier League he has fallen off the pace, performing well under-par for large spells.

Alongside Vertonghen we have Kolo Toure who has sadly become the laughing-stock of the division. His almost laughable performances in his 20 games this year has seen him look a shadow of his former self from his time at Arsenal, making 3 major defensive errors, 2 of which led directly to goals. His highlight of his season being that comical own goal (and his reaction to it) against Fulham. However, Toure may have the last laugh as he looks likely to pick up another Premier League winners medal.

To complete the back-four, I’ve gone with another left-back in the form of Liverpool defender Aly Cissokho. Admittedly, both he and Toure have fallen out of favour at Liverpool mostly due to poor performances, but it really does emphasise how essential the forwards have been this year (most notably the ‘SAS’) for the potential champions. Cissokho’s 20 games this season led TalkSport presenter and former footballer Stan Collymore to describe him as the worst left-back he has ever seen, which sums up the Frenchman perfectly.

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Midfielders-

I’ve gone with a midfield trio, first up being Sunderland captain Lee Cattermole. The central-midfielder is a walking red card, but to give him some credit he has only received his marching orders once this year; however, with 6 yellow cards he still lacks discipline. He’s only scored 1 time this year and got no assists, admittedly this isn’t his role, but a pass accuracy of 82% is poor for a central-midfielder. He also made 2 errors leading directly to goals, adding to his poor season with bottom placed Sunderland.

Alongside Cattermole we’ve got 27 million pound man Marouane Fellaini who in his 18 games this season has far from justified his transfer fee. Fellaini has notched up no goals or assists this year, summing up David Moyes’ tenure as boss at Manchester United, with Fellaini looking a shadow of his former self from his time at Everton.

The final midfielder in my side has to be Ramires. Ramires has become the dirtiest player in the league, stamping on and kicking other players all season, leading to him receiving 8 yellow cards and 1 red in his 30 appearances this term. Antics on the pitch such as the dive against West Brom at Stamford Bridge and poor discipline such as that seen just last weekend against Sunderland (when he struck Sebastian Larsson), have made him one of the most unpopular players in the league.

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Forwards-

Just as I did in midfield, I’ve gone with a striking trio who couldn’t hit a barn door between them. Firstly, we have Ricky van Wolfswinkel. Saying the Dutchman has struggled since his reported 8.5 million move to Norwich would be an understatement, scoring only 1 goal since his arrival in the Summer. His shyness in front of goal has been the biggest issue, only having 32 shots in his 24 appearances this season. Just to put this into perspective, (although an extreme example), top goalscorer Luis Suarez has taken 166 shots in his games so far.

The final two in this team pick themselves. Roberto Soldado struggles to finish his dinner from anywhere other than the penalty spot since joining Spurs, amazingly going 1032 minutes of football during the season (October to March) without scoring a goal from open play. The 26 million pound man has far from lived up to his goalscoring reputation he gained playing in Spain, proving a disappointing signing.

To complete the team (and the bluntest forward trio you will find), we have Fernando Torres who has AGAIN had a disappointing season at Chelsea. No man has been ‘back’ more times than the 50 million pound striker, who has scored a mere 4 league goals this season. This of course frustrating his manager Jose Mourinho who has publicly claimed he has “no strikers”, adding further to Torres’ torment in another failure of a season since joining the blues from Merseyside.

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So that’s my worst XI from this season. You probably agree/disagree with several of my choices and I encourage you to leave a comment (or tweet me @LukeHastings1) to tell me YOUR worst XI from this season or alternatively any changes you would make to my team.

[ Please note that I chose these 11 from players who have played a significant amount of games this season (mostly over 20 games), which is why the likes of Erik Lamela don’t feature. ]

Thank you for reading!

(Source for statistics: Squawka.com)

 

The Title Race: The Four Contenders.

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The Premier League title race is the most open for years, with four teams still in with a real chance of claiming the title. Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool are all right in the title race with only a few points separating the contenders. All of them believe that they can come out on top of what is shaping up to be one of the hardest fought title races in Premier League history. Here’s my analysis of the title contenders and their key men.

Manchester City-

Man City must be the favourites to win it this year as they have the strongest and most talented squad in the league. They have three games in hand on the leaders Chelsea, which if they win all of will catapult them up to first place. Man City have struggled slightly defensively this year, with Martin Demichelis looking a real weak link in their back four. However, their fire power has more than made up for this as they have smashed in countless amounts of goals all season. Being almost unbeatable at home helps their cause too, however the same could be said about Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. They brushed aside Hull last weekend despite going down to ten men, showing their determination to win the title this year.

Key man- Yaya Toure

City’s midfield powerhouse will be key to their title challenge in the coming weeks. He had racked up 13 goals from midfield so far this season, showing him to be one of the best midfielder’s in the division. Equally important to City’s charge will be Sergio Aguero, as if they can get him fit he has the ability to fire them to glory.

Arsenal-

Arsenal’s huge win against rivals Tottenham this weekend fired them right back into the title race. Their challenge had been fading in recent weeks but a big win last weekend means they are right back in the thick of it. Arsenal’s side looks to be a different animal to previous seasons with more fight, hunger and spirit in the squad. For the first time in many years the back four can now be relied upon too, with the central defensive partnership of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny being the cornerstone to Arsenal much improved season this time out. Lack of depth upfront is the real worry though, with Arsenal’s midfield craving a world class striker that they just don’t have. Arsenal have been the experts of brushing aside the ‘lesser’ teams this season; however, have struggled against the bigger sides with heavy defeats against title rivals Man City and Liverpool putting their title credentials into question.

Key man- Colin Lewin (Physio)

Arsenal have had horrendous luck with injuries this season, having the highest number of injuries compared to any other club in the Premier League. If the medical department can keep the players fit, whilst also getting key players such as Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere back in time to play a big part in the title race, Arsenal have every chance of coming out victorious at the end of the season.

Chelsea-

Chelsea under Jose Mourinho look a real force. Mourinho, whether you love him or hate him, is one of the top managers in the world. His tactical guile, clever mind games and outrageous statements mean that the media’s attention is all on him, meaning any criticism towards his players is deflected. The prime example of this of course being his comments about Chelsea being the ‘little horse’ in the title race, taking all the pressure of his players. The money the club spends on players means that the squad is huge and can really challenge at the top. However, the damaging defeat against Aston Villa last weekend throws their title credentials slightly into doubt, whilst the lack of fire power upfront is a real worry for Mourinho’s men.

Key manEden Hazard

The 23 year old wide man has had an outstanding season thus far notching up 13 goals and 7 assists. If he can continue his form, Chelsea have a real chance of lifting the Premier League trophy with him creating and putting away chances week in week out.

Liverpool-

Any team with the world class forward partnership of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge have a real chance of claiming the Premier League crown. The ‘SAS’ have notched up a mesmerising 43 Premier League goals between them so far, with no indication of them slowing down their form. With Captain Steven Gerrard anchoring the midfield, spraying passes all over the place from his new deeper position, Liverpool have a real chance this year. Their lack of European cup commitments this season has left them with a lot of time to recover whilst rivals have been dealing with gruelling schedules, meaning that their small squad hasn’t been exposed at all so far. A win against Man United at Old Trafford last weekend will only add to their belief that they can go all the way. However, Liverpool’s real weakness appears to be at the back, as they are prone to leaking goals. but with the ‘SAS’ upfront this isn’t an issue as they can outscore most teams.

Key man- Luis Suarez

Suarez has been sensational this season scoring 25 goals and picking up 10 assists too. His partnership with Sturridge has been the stuff of dreams for Liverpool fans, who will be delighted they managed to hold on to Suarez last summer, a player who is capable of firing them to the title.

So who will win it?

The title race is really spicing up in a fight that promises to provide one of the tightest and greatest finishes in Premier League history. This season is truly remarkable as I can’t remember the last time four teams were still in with a real chance of winning the title at this late stage of the season.

For me, Man City should come out victorious as long as they capitalise on their games in hand and get Aguero fit and firing. They ultimately have the strongest and most talented squad to pick up points in the critical latter stages of the season as well.

What is for sure is that there will be plenty of twists and turns to come in another exciting Premier League season finale.

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Make sure to leave a comment and let me know who you think (or hope!) will win the title and why, plus feel free to answer the poll below.

Arsenal’s transfer failings, the media and Mesut Ozil

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Arsenal’s January transfer window was nothing less than a disaster, with Kim Kallstrom being the only new signing arriving at the Emirates on a short term loan. This move went from underwhelming, to almost comical, as it was revealed he would be out for a month with a back injury. A late enquire for Salomon Kalou was thankfully rejected by Lille, and hopes that Julian Draxler would be joining the Gunners were dashed by Arsene Wenger who revealed early on Transfer Deadline Day that Draxler would be staying at Schalke.

With no striker arriving in January angering some Arsenal fans, it appears Arsenal are stranded with Nicklas Bendtner to provide the backup to Olivier Giroud. Giroud started the season well, but his form has faded in recent weeks, scoring only 2 goals in his last 6 Premier League appearances. It is clear for all to see that Arsenal crave a world class striker to complement the world class midfield players at their disposal, but Arsene Wenger decided to stick with the strikers in the squad to try and fire Arsenal to the title. Whether this be down to the lack of availability of world class strikers, or Arsene’s stubbornness to pay up (or perhaps faith in the players he has), whichever reason there was, it ended up with no new (fit) players at the Emirates.

Today we received the news that youngster Yaya Sanogo has returned from the injury that has seen him take part in no competitive matches for Arsenal, with his only appearance being in the Emirates Cup last summer. Sanogo is certainly not going to ride in heroically and fire Arsenal to title; however, he is another body to provide a bit of depth upfront that is desperately needed if the worst was to happen to Giroud.

After the car crash of a defeat to Liverpool at the weekend, the media have come out in force with their stories that place Arsenal in ‘turmoil’. Sanogo returned to training just in time to give Per Mertesacker a black eye, with Giroud apparently cheating on his wife in a ‘3am romp’ with another woman. That is of course, if you believe everything you read in the papers. It is very convenient that these stories have been released after a damaging defeat at Anfield, where the Gunners may as well of stayed on the team coach. The media are keen to promote Arsenal’s turmoil, with my favourite commentator (not) Michael Owen and the Match of the Day pundits licking their lips at Arsenal’s potential downfall to prove their negative predictions to be true.

One player that the media may be right in criticising recently is Mesut Ozil, who has been in worryingly poor form. With only 1 assist in his last 9 Premier League games and no goals, he has certainly gone off the boil since the very positive start to his Arsenal career. He was very poor against Liverpool at the weekend (but so was everyone in yellow) with two of his errors directly leading to goals, leading to him being substituted after an hour. There are calls for him to be dropped, but I think this might be a slight overreaction. There is no doubt that Ozil is a player that enjoys providing for others, on several occasions this season he has had the chance to shoot but chose a pass instead. Arsene Wenger said in September that Ozil’s “passing and his retention of the ball gives everyone time to move” so it could be possible that Ozil’s worth to the team is been overlooked due to the lack of fireworks he is providing at the moment. With Theo Walcott’s season ending knee injury, there is no pace around Ozil and a lack of runners in behind meaning that his trademark eye of a needle through balls cannot be used effectively. There is no doubt in my mind that Ozil will get better when he adapts properly to the pace and physicality of the English Premier League and settles properly into his new life in North London. Watch out for him next season.

I leave you with these stats from star playmakers in the Premier League: Juan Mata’s first season at Chelsea- 6 goals, 13 assists. David Silva’s first season at Man City- 4 goals, 7 assists. Mesut Ozil’s first 5 months at Arsenal- 4 goals, 8 assists. Not a bad start eh?

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Let me know what you think about Arsenal’s transfer window, the media and Mesut Ozil in the comments below!