Bye Gabby its been emotional.

The electric pace and the bulky frame of Gabby Agbonlahor may never grace the turf of Villa Park again after Aston Villa have said they are willing to let Agbonlahor go. 

With Jonathan Kodija, Birkir Bjarnason, Albert Adomah and to an extent Jack Grealish all vying for positions on the pitch that Gabby could fill, it looks like his days could be numbered and in all honesty it will suit both parties.

With well documented off field issues with a certain ‘gas’, Gabby hasnt had the best of it lately and even he will feel its time to move on.

Gabby has had game time in recent weeks but mainly due to Kodija and Ayew away at the AFCON. However what with the recent flurry of influx of playing personnel this month his chances will now be near on nothing.

Early promise and England U21 games complimented his work rate and effort but over time his star has some what diminished. I liked him, still do but its time for new adventures for Villa and Gabby.

Gareth Cooper

Preview: Liverpool v Chelsea 31st Jan, 8pm, Anfield

Having not won any points since earning a draw at Old Trafford at the beginning of January, Jurgen Klopps men are under pressure to start picking up points. At this moment in time they are ten points off their opponents who are in a rich vein of form and with the two teams from Manchester hot on their heels the red half of Merseyside need to start picking up points again and quick. 

Liverpool could still be with out Adam Lallana who has a knock but should be fit for a place on the bench at the very least. Nathaniel Clyne still has an injury to his rib so won’t feature . Sadi Mane, who Liverpool have missed greatly flew back on a private jet after getting knocked out with Senegal from the AFCON, may start the game. Apart from long term absentee Danny Ings Liverpool are at full strength. Philippe Coutinho should start the game after being gradually introduced since coming back from injury. Conceding 6 goals in the last 3 games is a major concern and facing a free scoring Chelsea side will not appeal in the slightest.

Chelsea have no injury concerns. Keeping clean sheets in the last 3 games and scoring 9 Conte’s men are in top form and will be more than up for the game at Anfield. Chelsea put a modest 4 past Brentford in the FA Cup at the weekend and like their hosts have no European football to worry about. Chelsea’s Italian style 3-4-3 which has proved very successful will again test Liverpool. In the corresponding fixture in September Liverpool won 1-2 at Stamford Bridge on the back of a 4-1 home win against the fallen champions Leicester City. Including both those victories  Liverpool then went on a 13 game unbeaten streak winning 11 and drawing 2 before falling at Bournemouth.

Chelsea have  only lost four times in all competitions this season, winning every game apart from a draw and losses against their hosts tomorrow, West Ham in the League Cup and to a boisterous Spurs team.

Both sides know what a winning streak feels like but only one has managed to keep one going. 

The graphic above shows how the teams may line up. Lallana should start given Liverpools current circumstances. Mane may again start the game but may be kept in reserve given his travelling over the last two days but again Klopp may feel the situation warrants him coming straight back into the side.  Matip should also come back into the team in place of Klavan. Chelsea should be unchanged unless Conte feels he needs Fabregas into the midfield at the expense of Matic.  

In the second graphic above I have shown the job Liverpools midfield have on there hands trying to look after the threat of Eden Hazard. Henderson will have to be extremely mobile when in a defensive phase of play as we know Hazard moves across the frontline in the pocket between the midfield and the defence of the opposition. Hazard is hard to pick up and to pass him off as he moves across can be tricky so Liverpool could designate a man (Henderson?) to pick him up when he does this as long as Can, Milner (the defender on that right hand side) and Wijnaldum keep the cover in the spaces vacated by Hazard. Defensively it will be a tough night for Liverpool and down the flanks with Chelsea’s full backs pushing on as they like to do with great effectiveness. 

Klopp will know avoiding defeat is a must but is also easier said than done against this Chelsea side so how brave he will be we shall see but a win against in front of the Kop would give his team a much needed boost.

My prediction: 1-2

Gareth Cooper

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Antoine Griezmann: A Wanted Man

The £100 million man? Possibly, however you want to view Antoine Griezmann one of them should be that whichever way you look at it he will be leaving Atletico Madrid in the summer. His likely, oh ok most definite destination is our precious footballing island. Griezmann has never been short of admirers ever since his move to Atletico from Real Sociedad in July of 2014. In his first full season at the Vicente Calderon he scored 22 goals in 37 games, not bad for a player who like many of his kind was told he was too small to have a career in football. Griezmann has carried on in the same vein ever since scoring another 22 in 38 games in the 2015-16 season and currently has 8 in 19 in this campaign. 

International football is still a bit of a work in progress although in my opinion this isn’t helped by Griezmann playing in a 4-2-3-1 behind a less than mobile Giroud and in front of Paul Pogba more on that later.

 His best scoring season for Les Bleaus was in 2010 when he scored 6 goals in 6 appearances in the European Championships in his home country and was awarded for his displays with a place in the team of the tournament. France got to the final on merit and Giezmann was exceptional throughout the campaign and rightly so. His stock rose even higher and if they weren’t before, clubs were starting to take notice of what the little magician could potentially offer them.

So where are, or should I say who are, Griezmanns possible suitors. The main club being talked about are Manchester United who have been tracking the Frenchman for well over 18 months. Griezmanns release clause is a reported £85.5 (some say it is £76.5) million, a clause which United would have no trouble meeting and the clause basically means that if the fee is met by any club its job done and just personal terms would then have to be agreed. Inter Milan have reportedly said they would offer £110 million gazumping any other bids but Griezmann is said to favour a move to link up with his best pal and French international colleague Pogba.  

Now to the tactical bit. At Atletico Griezmann plays in a rigid 4-4-2 alongside either Fernado Torres or Kevin Gameiro. His role in the frontline allows him to wander in more of a false number nine position which suites his style perfectly. In Didier Deschamps French side he plays usually in a 4-2-3-1 just behind Olivier Giroud and in front of Pogba. The formation has changed but this is Deschamps favoured set up, one that doesn’t always play to Griezmanns strengths as he is sometimes crowded out by Pogba going forward into the final third as Ngolo Kante screens the back four. This isn’t to say it’s not a success as the Euro’s are testament to. But when there are 5 players around him Griezmann simply isn’t quite as effective but this is probably more down to personnel around him. To that end would he be better in a 4-3-3?

Above is how United could look in a 4-3-3 if they were to get their man. Griezmann would be afforded the space on his favoured left side and be able to cut inside knowing he had Pogba to back him up defensively. Mourinho has used the  4-3-3 in 10 games this year so Griezmann could slot straight in but most likely at the expense of a talked about Old Trafford exit for Wayne Rooney. I’m going to play devils advocate. Jose has also used 4-2-3-1 in 12 games this season now Simeone at Atletico has barely ever used this system in his tenure but like I said before Griezmann can play in this system as he has done for the national team.

This would be a system that could play to his strengths given the players around him. Playing off Ibrahimovic would be very similar to the role he currently occupies in Spain and essentially drops to a 4-4-2 when defending so Griezmann would still be able to hang around that central area ready to spring counter attacks, again knowing the supporting cast are never far away with Mata, Pogba and Ander Herrera all able to cover ground going forward.  This I feel is the best option for Griezmann and the club I feel would benefit from him being there.

One other English club he has been linked with is Arsenal so I want to take a quick look at what he could offer the Gunners.

Apart from yesterday at St Mary’s where Arsenal won 0-5 in the FA Cup, Wenger again prefers to set up in a 4-2-3-1 in fact yesterday has been the only time when faced with English opposition that he used a 4-3-3 (mainly due to playing some youngsters).

Arsenal in my opinion are more flexible in terms of the players they have who are able to play in a variety of positions across the frontline apart from Giroud who again is used to playing with Griezmann which always helps players settle when they come into a new club. Given Wengers preferred formation here’s how they would look with Griezmann in the starting eleven.


This would allow the Frenchman a lone striking role or alternating with Alexis Sanchez, which he can play as Gameiro at Atletico is usually the man who drops off when Griezmann is upfield. In this line up it could mean Giroud doesn’t get a starting birth unless Sanchez does end up leaving then Giroud would play up top with Griezmann just behind him. 

As I went on with this I pondered whether Wenger would ever delve back into the 4-3-3 if he was to get Griezmann, probably not but he may want to think about it.

This is possibly a more conservative set up used away in the UCL or at a high profile Premier League game nonetheless it’s a set up that could get the best out of that skilful, attacking and tactically aware front three.

In summary this all of course means nothing should Griezmann choose to stay at Atletico or head to Italy. Whatever he chooses the options he gives a team are well worth that release clause.

Gareth Cooper

Not a tall story

After yesterday’s  glut of headed goals I thought I would take a quick look at what seems a mini revival of teams finally utilising their aerial prowess.

Fernando Llorente scored his second goal for Swansea against Liverpool yesterday with a powerful header from a cross from Tom Carroll,who was making his Swansea debut. Swansea aren’t known for slinging cross upon cross into the box but yesterday they did just that, well to a degree anyway. Out of 8 crosses into the box 5 were met by a Swansea player also another 8 had to be blocked by a Liverpool player. Liverpool won 6/37 crosses in comparison but that isn’t their game. Compare this to the 2/22 success against Arsenal we can see Paul Clement is trying to get the best out of Llorente and his height. Swansea only had 26% of the possession at Anfield yesterday and out of a total of 6 shots 3 were on target I.e all goals and that is a 100% success rate not bad for a relegation threatened side. As with all strikers of Llorente kind they rely heavily for the team to play to their strengths but a team still needs players with the ability to put decent enough balls into the box for them to attack. Arsenal are an example who don’t have this. Walcott’s final ball isn’t good enough  which is one reason Olivier Giroud doesn’t score as many headed goals as he should as a) the service isn’t provided and b) Arsenal don’t tend to ping many crosses into the box as like Liverpool this isn’t really their style. But could they utilise it a bit more? Would it benefit them?

West Ham on the other hand do tend cross the ball a lot more than most Premier League sides this is due them having Andy Carroll. Carroll is back in the Hammers team and looks fitter than he has in a long time and is also back in the goals with 5 in his 7 appearances this season. With Antonio, Feghouli and Lanzini providing him with balls to attack,  Carroll has delivered with goals. 40% of West Ham’s attacks against Middlesborough came down the left side where Antonio plays a deliberate ploy. Andy Carroll has the highest aerial duels won per game in Europe with 10.0 second to him is Christian Benteke and third Monpellier striker Steve Mounie (a giant at only 22 years old by the way and a shot per game ratio of 3.39 remember the name). 

I know I know these are only statistics but it’s by no chance that some teams have finally gotten to realise that a passing game is not always the best way to beat the top teams in the Premier League and that going long or crossing the ball with more frequency can yield big results. It’s not great viewing at times but points are points and valuable nonetheless. 

The likes of Carroll, Peter Crouch, Mounie and to a lesser extent Benteke will all prosper given the right service but more importantly if some managers are brave enough to play that style of football.

Bravo, Bravo: A piece on Claudio Bravo and his Defensive Colleagues


We told you so Pep! Say the cynical voices of the Joe Hart supporters group tucked away inside the echelons of the Etihad Stadium. Whilst Mr Head and Shoulders enjoys a mini renaissance in Turin his replacement Claudio Bravo is starting to feel a bit well, chilly if you excuse the pun. Let’s get one thing straight Bravo hasn’t turned into a poor goalkeeper overnight but at Barcelona his goalkeeping skills were not tested as much as what they have been in the Premier League. An obvious statement I agree and here is another. In La Liga the pace of most games is no where near as fast and frantic as a game say at Stamford Bridge on a Saturday evening. City’s ageing defence and subsequent change of system since Guardiola has taken post has left Bravo exposed to the type of rough and tumble and go at em style by opponents he hasn’t been used to in La Liga.  In the 2015-16 season, his last at Barcelona, his successful passing percentage to his teammates was 84.3% compare that to this season at City 71.1% and you can see how he and his teammates are struggling to come together. In my opinion City’s current back 3 defenders are not capable of copying their Catalan counterparts and seem to rush and panic when Bravo lays the ball off to them and not have the composure that Pique et al have so in theory poor old Claudio isn’t solely to blame. Both teams play pretty much the same system so this could be or even must be the common denominator.

Bravo is also having to come and claim more crosses in the Premier League (0.3 per game compared to 0.1 at Barca). 4 clean sheets in 21 games so far at City doesn’t make good reading for a side looking to challenge for their 3rd league title. He concedes an average of 1.28 goals per game again not great. However in the Barcelona team he was conceding 0.69 per game a big difference. Marc Ter Stegen, Barca’s current man between the sticks, concedes an average 0.81 per game. It is also pretty much the same personnel in that Barcalona defence as it was when Bravo was there. Obviously there are different amounts of games involved here for Bravo (less at City more at Barca).

In conclusion, stats are stats, and the variables and time frame are different and of course we can interpret them how we please but they are facts and they are relevant In the way that going forward City need to change something. Bravo is being exposed and is almost being made a scapegoat covering wider problems. My view is that the personnel in that City defence is the primary factor in making Bravo look like an average Joe.

Scouting Report Jan 2016: 7 young players to watch

Gabriel Jesus- Man City

19 year old striker Jesus signed for City in August of last year on a deal that runs until 2021 he stayed with Palmeiras until December and has yet to be officially unveiled but he is now available to face Spurs at the weekend. He is firmly bedded in as Brazil’s number 9 aswell. City expect big things for the young Brazilian but will not be rushed into playing him immediately.

Sergio Samper- Barcelona

Spanish under 21 international Samper can play in central midfield or as a defensive midfielder and has recently been on loan to Granada in La Liga and has impressed with his composed and disciplined displays in a struggling team. Having turned down a move to Arsenal in the last few days to fight for a place at Barcelona the young Spaniard looks to have a bright future and will be included most probably in the Copa Del Rey games for the Catalans in the immediate future.


The Brazilian under 23 international goalkeeper has been earning rave reviews in Portugal. Keeping his compatriot and experienced colleague Julio Cesar out of the Benfica team is no mean feat. Averaging 6.2 saves per game and being a ‘sweeper keeper’ it wont be long before even bigger clubs than Benfica come calling.

Borja Mayoral- Real Madrid (Wolfsburg loan)

Another Spanish under 21 international, Mayoral is currently on loan at Wolfsburg gaining more experience away from the Bernabeau where playing time will be limited for the 19 year old. Mayoral hasn’t had any football at Madrid worth noting but coming up through the academy with the Castilla enough is thought of him to send him abroad to get footballing minutes under his belt and used to competing for a place, although with Mario Gomez competing for a starting birth aswell things may not be easy for the youngster.

James Horsfield- Manchester City

Horsfield is only 21 but City have thought it wise to send him to Holland to gain experience with NAC Brada. Not much is known about the English midfielder but it will be interesting to see how he gets on with the Dutch side.

Jesus Vallejo- Real Madrid (Eintracht Frankfurt loan)

Central defender Vallejo is another Real Madrid graduate and what’s more is getting valuable game time in Germany with the Bundesliga outfit. Playing in 16 games this season with an 86% pass rate Vallejo is a composed centre half still learning his trade.

Alban Lafont- Toulouse

At 16 years and 310 days Lafont is the youngest goalkeeper to feature in a Ligue 1 game. Having been labelled in like to Milan’s young keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, Labont is now 17 and is one of the best keepers in the league without a doubt. Arsenal are one club keeping a close eye on the youngster from Burkina Faso. 22 appearances in all competitions this season and the only registered goalkeeper at the club Labont must have wide shoulders and seems to be wiser than his years for sure.



Falcao and Santini: Two strikers on point in Ligue 1

In Ligue 1 this season it’s fair to say some things have occurred that very few could have predicted. PSG aren’t having the best time of late and possibly suffering a Zlatan withdrawal. Nice, having the time of their lives in 3rd place,  the infamous Mario Ballotelli leading the line with 8 goals and his fellow strike partner Alessane Plea with 10. Guingamp, Lyon and Rennes also upping their quality game by game, the second more so maybe than the other two. Monaco however have surprised most by topping Ligue 1 at the time of writing and are europes top scorers with 60 goals in all competitions and one man has come to the fore to guide them to the summit in France.

Step forward Radamel Falcao. Written off by more people than who would admit it. The Columbian international suffered heartbreak in January of 2014 when in a cup game against lowly Chasselay in his first stint with Monaco he sustained a knee injury that would rule him out of the World Cup in Brazil. Falcao was playing well and in good form when the injury occurred. Subsequent loan moves to Chelsea and Manchester United on recovery proved fruitless and frustrating. This season Falcao has found fitness and form and the two combined have seen him score 15 goals in 19 games in all competitions (7 from open play, 4 penalties for example). At 30 years old he may not have that many seasons left in that injury ravaged body but every Monaco fan and neutrals alike are now seeing the form he showed at Atletico Madrid. A recent bid of £45 million from Chinese outfit Tianjin Quanjian has been rejected mind you.

 Monaco are a much improved, focused team under Leonardo Jardim and really are firing on all cylinders. Losing only 3 games, drawing 3 and winning 14 in the league so far and conceding 21 goals aswell a scoring the aforementioned 60 goals (45 in the league). Some impressive stats include Monaco have the highest shots per game ration in the league (5.9) Most goals scored from set pieces (13) and Most percentage of goals scored in the 6 yard box (9%). Do these stats mean anything? Depends on how you want to perceive them, short term of course they are impressive but will it last for Monaco long term resulting in a league title remains to be seen.

Another centre forward who is being monitored by a host of European clubs is Caen’s Ivan Santini. The Croatian has scored 10 goals in 17 games this season in a struggling Caen side. Signed from Standard Liege in August of last year for a fee of just over £2 million. This is his debut season in Ligue 1 and Santini has excelled in the games when I have seen him play. Good in the air and with a touch of class to his finishing notably against Lyon scoring two goals to win the game in the 61st minute. Not much is known about Santini as most of his football in his early career was in Croatia before spells at Red Bull Salzburg, Freiburg and Standard Liege where opportunities were few and far between it seems although if he carries on as he is a move even further up the football chain could present itself. Santini would do well to give a certain Radamel Falcao a call for a spot of club advice maybe although if Falcao does indeed seek a last payday in the Far East Santini could be a capable replacement. 

 I have included some radars below on both players and the similarities are striking so far this season.  First is Falcao then Santini below. 

Wolves v Aston Villa 530pm Sky Sports 1

Wolverhampton Wanderers and Aston Villa meet at Molineux tonight with both sides hoping to gain a bit of momentum after some mixed results of late. Wolves should be at full strength with no new injury concerns but Boovarssen drops down to the bench with Nouha Dicko coming in . Villa have Jonathan Kodja away with the Ivory Coast at the AFCON championships and he will be a miss for Steve Bruce’s men.

Wolves- Lost once in last 5 games in all competitions. Also kept two clean sheets in last two games. Failed to score in 8 games this season. Average goals Conc per game- 1.36. Average goals score per game- 1.28

Aston Villa- Not won since beating Burton Albion. No clean sheet in 4. Failed to score in 7 games in this season. Average goals Conc per game- 0.96. Average goals scored per game- 1.04

Both sides have similar scoring/defensive records.

How the teams line up today.

My prediction 2-2

Silva and Rakitic, a fly by comparison.

If recent rumours are to be believed Rakitic could well be heading to play for the blue half of Manchester. The Croatian is out of favour at the Nou Camp and looks to be on his way out. He would ideally be a ready made replacement for a certain Yaya Toure and what with Ilkay Gundogan suffering a long term injury City are in need of an injection of experienced quality into their midfield. Fernandinho is now suspended for the next four matches and Pablo Zabaleta will not want to be playing in the midfield regularly as he did against West Ham. 

Barcelona are expected to hold firm with coach Luis Enrique quoted as saying that the speculation is ‘unreliable’. City have also said that they are not expecting to make an offer and Guardiola has said the only signing he hopes to make is a defender to cover the loss of Vincent Kompany. However true or false these rumours are the flexibility that Rakitic offers in midfield is of great value as he can play in the CDM deep lying role or indeed further up in a central midfield role. Although his goal record isn’t great (the season in the graph below shows this) he chips in with assists and keeps possession of the ball as per the Barca way. To be clear Rakitic in all probability will not move to the Etihad this month but a summer move could well be the way this deal will go and it remains to be seen whether he will wear the coveted Blaugrana shirt again this season.

David Silva on the other hand is still one of the first names on Pep’s team sheet and surely his place wouldn’t be under threat should Rakitic arrive in the summer. Or would it?. Silva, like Rakitic, is an exceptional user of a football but is more of a dictator of play in a way Rakitic is not. Silva has the ability to control the tempo of a game and can see passes most midfielders can’t and this part of his game is what stands out for me. In a parallel universe we could be talking of this the other way round in that Barcelona could be after signing the former Valencia man only his age would be a stumbling block you would think. 

It remains to be seen as with all rumoured transfers if this ever comes to fruition and of course the data I used in the graphs below is only a snapshot of these midfield maestros careers but it’s always worth the comparison to see what each player can bring to a team.

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Badstuber to Schalke as Premier League clubs miss out.

As Holger Badstuber goes to Schalke from Bayern on loan for the remainder of the season here are his stats for the 7 games he played in the 2015-16 season for Bayern. Not a great representation of his class but a brief insight into what our clubs have missed out on again.