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Balotelli as biggest flop and other BPL half-term verdicts

Balotelli as biggest flop and other BPL half-term verdicts
January 01
02:00 2015
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New Year’s Day fixtures and a weekend of third round matches of the FA Cup mean the Barclays Premier League (BPL) is in its halfway mark.

Our analysts comprising Kayode Tijani, Aisha Falode and Sunday Omeike are here to give their views on the first half of the season and expectations of the remaining half.

Welcome to BPL half term report!

WHO HAS BEEN THE BEST SIGNING OF THE SEASON

Aisha: Most Chelsea strikers (including the legend Didier Drogba) have struggled in their first season in the league. But Diego Costa has fitted in seamlessly and the 32 million pounds Chelsea paid for him is looking like a bargain. His 13 goals so far have helped to propel Chelsea to the top of the league. It is generally agreed that Chelsea failed to win the title last season because they lacked a quality striker. With the presence of Costa this season, the Blues are likely to end up champions.

Kayode: My pick is Alexis Sanchez. Who else can it be if not the Chilean predator? Sanchez is red hot in all areas: he score consistently, he provides telling assists, he’s an expert in set pieces, a great team player and his attitude is exemplary. His goals are keeping Arsenal on the top four table watch. For Sanchez, it’s an enviable 15 goals in 17 games in all competitions with seven goals in 10 BPL games. He’s simply amazing in his first season. You can start comparing him to Chelsea’s top scorers for instance but you must realise that he does not get the kind of assists they get.

Sunday: BPL clubs doled out over £857million in transfer money last summer, a transfer record and the highest when compared to other leagues. Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa have propelled Chelsea to the top of the table thus far and it is arguable that without the duo Chelsea could still be top of the pile due to manager Jose Mourinho’s managerial prowess. Leicester City made Argentine striker Leonardo Ulloa their record signing and he has repaid the club with goals. Although the goals return is now inconsistent, Leicester would have been relegated by now without him. When Manchester City did a transfer trick by re-routing Frank Lampard to the BPL via New York Cosmos, little did they know that his goals would win them games and keep them in the title race. Dusan Tadic and Graziano Pelle have played creator and goal scorer for Southampton while Bojan Krkic, Lukasz Fabianski and Diafra Sakho have been excellent for their respective sides since joining. However, the best signing so far has to be Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean has come from playing alongside Leo Messi at Barca and gone straight into the Arsenal’s first team to make the difference. Without his goals and inspired attacking plays, Wenger’s boys would be lost in mid-table and closer to relegation battle. The 26-year old Chilean’s total of 10 goals and 6 assists in 18 games shows that he has had an impact in every game he’s featured in this season and Wenger has duly praised his £33million signing’s “huge desire” and movement in the box as the difference in their indifferent season so far.

alexis-sanchez

AND THE BIGGEST FLOP?

Kayode: Mario Balotelli by a long mile! This is a no brainer, nothing much to say. The thinking at Anfield at the moment is one of regret that they should definitely have signed Wilfried Bony of Swansea rather than Balotelli. Bony was ready, his club was ready to sell but Liverpool went for Balotelli in spite of all the favourable conditions to get Bony. Fast forward now and Bony has scored eight goals in 13 games. But BALOTELLI? NO BPL GOAL (screaming), only negligible goals against Ludogorets in the Champions League and one goal in the Capital One Cup. End of story. Waste of money, needless controversies, and too much expectation. Interesting to note that without Balotelli, Liverpool are surely better off. His absence in three games coincided in good fortunes for the team with the sweet victory over Swansea for instance seeing goals from Raheem Sterling, Phillip Coutinho and Adam Lallana. These are aside the normal distractions that Balotelli’s personal life brings, the needless arrogance and bad behaviours that’s a distraction to team mates, club and fans.

Aisha: Indeed, none other than Liverpool’s Italian striker, Mario Balotelli. What gave manager Brendan Rodgers the slightest belief that the troublesome former Manchester City striker could do a quarter of Luis Suarez still baffles me? A player who doesn’t help the team without the ball and has questionable movement on the pitch is not worth the hassle at all. Add this to his many misdemeanour off the field and you have the perfect example of a player wasting away his career. Jose Mourinho could laugh all day about his behaviour because one thing is evident: He cannot change! The sooner Liverpool dispose of him, the better for the team.

Sunday: Like others have said, it’s Mario Balotelli. He was always going to be a risky gamble but the concern was more about his off the pitch antics. However, not only has Super Mario failed to sparkle on the pitch, he has also managed to get into trouble as usual with his actions outside the football field. A massive flop.

mario-balotelli_

HOW HAS THE NIGERIAN CONTINGENT FARED?

Aisha: So so. There hasn’t really been an outstanding performance from a Nigerian in the BPL. West Brom’s record signing Brown Ideye is still struggling to find his feet, Victor Anichebe has not really set the league alight, John Obi Mikel hardly starts for Chelsea and Sone Aluko finds it difficult to get into Hull City’s squad. It’s a shame that the two Nigerians who really showed flashes of brilliance this season are out injured at the moment. Osaze Odemwingie of Stoke City and his teammate Victor Moses (on loan from Chelsea). Before the injuries, these two were Nigeria’s shining light in the BPL.

Kayode: Like Aisha said, no Nigerian has really had an outstanding first half of the season. Moses started brightly but injury has curtailed him. I hope he gets back soon and reignite his career.

Sunday: We used to be ably represented in the BPL few seasons back. Now what we are left with are Sone Aluko, Mikel Obi, Brown Ideye, Victor Anichebe and Osaze Odemwingie. All players have made more appearances from the bench than being picked for their team’s first 11! Mikel has played the most games (12) but eight of them were as substitute. Sone Aluko also has 12 games with struggling Hull City, making seven of those from the bench. West Brom’s record signing Brown Ideye has played a paltry nine times with just a goal to show for it and four of those games were as substitute. He couldn’t get a game in over two months and only recently featured due to desperation on the part of former coach Alan Irvine who was sacked on Monday night. Osaze has been injured since September; I think he would have featured more. Therefore in my opinion, the Nigerian contingent has not fared well even in the minimum.

victor-moses-stoke-..

YOUR SURPRISE TEAM?

Sunday: Everyone would agree that Southampton have been a breath of fresh air this season and West Ham as well, so the duo are my surprise teams of the season so far. Allardyce was ridiculed last season as an out-dated tactician and with his West Ham only managing to keep their noses out of relegation, was expected to be relieved of his position. The co-owners however stood by “Big Sam” and the reward is a top-six position at this halfway stage, with same number of wins as perennial big boys Arsenal and Tottenham. It is hoped that they do not fall off in the second half of the season. Even more good news is Southampton who have been in the top four for 11 weeks in total and are currently fourth after a blip in form, something all commentators and analysts thought was impossible after a summer in which the nearly all the first team was sold and a whole new team was bought. Although Saints manager, Ronald Koeman also came in the summer and made fun of his team when they barely had a first team squad to train with in July, he should be applauded and given the manager of the year for this incredible feat.

Aisha: It has to be Southampton. Fourth on the log and playing exciting football, Ronald Koeman’s side have surprised bookmakers and analysts with their performances so far. When you consider the number of first team players they lost at the start of the season, you become more impressed by their achievements so far.

Kayode: At mid-season, Southampton are still in the top four with 33 points, winning 10 games, losing six, drawing three. Their last game was a 1-1 home draw with Chelsea. And it sums up a sweet fairy tale season. Southampton are a TEAM and you don’t see superstars. When they thumped Sunderland 8-0,   SEVEN players scored with the eight goal being an own goal. There’s no undue reliance on any major player. There are no big names. The names you find are absolutely fantastic technical players who fight for an astute manager in Ronald Koeman. They were all bought at the start and bonded; attacking in waves with a style unique to them. And they are much organised. Serbian Dusan Tadic (£10.9m) from Twente, Italian striker Graziano Pelle(Feyenoord £8m), Algerian midfielder Ryan Bertrand, goalkeeper Fraser Forster, Shane Long, Sadio Mane and so on. A dedicated team.

Graziano_Pelle_of_Southam

GOAL OF THE HALF-SEASON

Aisha: Graziano Pelle in Southampton’s 2-1 win against QPR. The Italian striker’s wonderful control oozed class but more was yet to come as he acrobatically scored to win the game for the Saints.

Sunday: Angel Di Maria’s sublimely and nonchalantly lofting the ball over the goalkeeper from 17 yards while under pressure from two defenders to give Manchester United a 2-1 lead against Leicester City in a game the Red Devils eventually lost 5-3. The goal bore similarity with Karel Poborsky’s for Czech Republic in their 1-0 win over Portugal at the UEFA Euro ’96. Although the execution was same, what makes Di Maria’s goal better than Poborsky’s is the fact that Di Maria’s effort came from a yard less and the elevation was lower than that of 1996. GENIUS.

Kayode: Though the goal was not enough to win the game for my team, I’ll go for Angel Di Maria’s angelic strike against Leicester City.

di maria

BEST GAME

Aisha: Leicester City 5-3 Manchester United. The Red Devils took a 3-1 lead and everyone expected an easy win. But Leicester City fought resolutely and got a deserved win. The game had everything which makes the Barclays Premier League the most exciting football league in the world.

Sunday: I will stay with the surprising 5-3 annihilation of Man United by Leicester City. It was such a topsy-turvy affair which United could have won more convincingly in the first half, while Leicester could have scored more goals had the game gone on for 10 more minutes. Manchester United’s defence, as we all know, is an apology and every team that takes a go at them will get something. However, the manner of their collapse after gifting Leicester a penalty to make the game 3-2 and from then on the defence lost its shape and head totally. Reminiscent of the 4-4 game between Arsenal and Newcastle United some years back, it was another good advert for the BPL.

Kayode: I agree with the others, it’s the Leicester v United game.

leicester

WHICH TEAMS WILL FINISH IN THE TOP-FOUR?

Sunday: Chelsea are leading the pack and I think they will win the league. Manchester City are coming in at second because they still have the big guns to play away from home. Manchester United’s aim is to return to the Champions League next season and their third position is all but assured. Arsenal are masters at nicking that fourth spot – it is their trophy anyway – and I think they should nick it again this season, although it would be interesting to see one of the trio of Southampton, Liverpool and Tottenham brush the Gunners aside.

Kayode: Chelsea are at their best, very consistent, they will get better, they will stand the test of time. They adapt well to challenges. Mourinho is a great tactician, he will get it right. Manchester City will chase Chelsea, it will be close but they are dropping points they have no business dropping but they will chase Chelsea till the end. Manchester United are stuttering, blowing hot and cold but will get it right.  Who thought they will be here early season when they were really folding up. They are good for third. Well, Arsenal are Arsenal but when the chips are down Arsenal always have a way of getting that UEFA Champions League slot in fourth place, but they will not win the BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE.

Aisha: Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal

man city..

WHICH POSITION WILL YOUR CLUB BE AT THE END OF THE SEASON?

Aisha: Chelsea will be first at the end of the season.

Sunday: Although Alan Pardew has abandoned the Newcastle United ship, we the Geordies are more than happy to see his back through the front door. Despite the Pardew conundrum, I think Newcastle will finish in the top half of the table no matter who the new manager is.

Kayode: Against all expectations United will be in the top four for sure, definitely cannot win the league but will use this season to stabilise after Van Gaals coming. The team has struggled at the back, but the youngsters are getting a hang on things. If Falcao can keep fit and Van Persie hits form with Wayne Rooney at his best, second position is assured.

Newcastle United v Hull City - Premier League

WHO WILL WIN THE TITLE?

Aisha: Chelsea will win the title because they’ve got the most balanced side and the shrewdest manager.

Sunday: Unless Jose Mourinho’s boys suffer a cataclysmic dip in form, they will win the league.

Kayode: Everywhere I look I see Chelsea. Chelsea and Chelsea again!

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