Gonzo Sports Digest; the Worst of 2015

I’ve done the best bits of 2015, here’s a look at some of the worst.  Not necessarily the very worst just what came to mind at the time of writing.

Rugby World Cup

There were some great moments at the Rugby World Cup as New Zealand,  the undisputed best team in the tournament, took the title and Japan produced a stunning win over South Africa.  There were brave displays from an injury-ravaged Wales and Scotland came out of it with a lot of credit too, but there were some real low points.

The manner of the Scots’ exit to Australia and running referee Craig Joubert would have been comical if it wasn’t so unjust.  Whenever poor officiating ruins a big event it is always a shame but this was one of the worst incidents I can remember at a Rugby World Cup.  Granted Australia may have won in any case but we’ll never know for sure.

Then there was the whole England debacle as the hosts crashed out at the Pool Stages.  The fact the press couldn’t handle it with any dignity and chose to single out Sam Burgess’ involvement was also disappointing, possibly even embarrassing.  Burgess had the tools to be a success in union but their loss is rugby league’s gain, and I look forward to seeing him tear it up at the Four Nations next year.

Drugs

Drugs are generally awesome, but not when they’re used for cheating in sport. In athletics the Russians have hit the headlines like a nation of Lance Armstrongs in 2015 and there have been incidents in other sports too.  I won’t wax on about it too much, enough has been written by others anyway.  I quite like the idea of clean and ‘dirty’ competitions though, just let people jack up on whatever but keep them in separate tournaments.  Maybe we could try magic mushroom boxing or darts on crack, just a thought.

FIFA Corruption

The FIFA Corruption scandal just keeps rolling on, and on and on…  Sepp Blatter refuses to go away despite being handed a lengthy ban, while Michel Platini should have gone down as one of the game’s great talents but instead he’ll be remembered as a morally bankrupt old fucker, and his achievements on the pitch will forever be overshadowed if not tainted.

The beautiful game is seemingly being run by a bunch of criminals, swindlers and self-serving egotists – this has to change, but whether it will or not is anyone’s guess, my guess would be it won’t.

Perhaps one day I’ll do a full piece on both Fifa and drugs in sport, they deserve more than just a mention and to go into either deeper in this article would be pointless as when I do get round to doing a bigger article I’ll be covering old ground. But that’s all for 2016, maybe – if I don’t get distracted along the way.

Further Reading Drugs;

Telegraph article on allowing drugs in sport.

Guardian’s Drugs In Sport homepage.

Further reading FIFA;

BBC key questions and Wikipedia.

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Gonzo Sports Digest; the Best of 2015

As we approach the new year I thought I’d have a round-up of the best and worst bits of 2015.  Initially I was going to just write one article but I’ve got a lot of gripes so I’ve split it in two, we’ll start with the best bits of the year before delving into misery, confusion, despair and disappointment.

Tyson Fury and the end of the Klitschko era

Whatever you think of Tyson Fury, nothing can devalue his achievement in ending Wladimir Klitschko’s dominance of the heavyweight division (what has been devalued incidentally is the petition, it used to be something you could use to make those in power take note of important issues that had previously been ignored, now any fool can start one to try and get a boxer removed from an awards show – nonsense).  There will be a rematch so essentially it is only a job half done for the ‘Gypsy King’ but either way it was some victory.  It wasn’t a fight for the purists but Fury executed his game plan brilliantly as he demonstrated a tactical nous few realised he had beforehand.

The emergence of Anthony Joshua is also worth a mention after he proved he’s more than just a puncher with his win over Dillian Whyte, who could also become a big player in the heavyweight division, and with David Haye returning 2016 could be a great year for British fight fans.

Great Escapes

Leicester City looked dead and buried in April but seven wins in their final nine games saw them finish mid table in what I understand is the best ever Premier League relegation escape, mathematically at least.  What they have done since is also impressive but as they’ve not actually achieved anything yet we’ll leave that alone for the time being, that’s a conversation we may be able to have at the end of the current season.

Hartlepool United produced a similarly dramatic escape from relegation out of the Football League altogether following Ronnie Moore’s arrival as manager.  Pools were 10 points adrift of safety at one stage and had managed a meagre 14 points from their opening 24 games, in the final 22 games they picked up 31 points to finish four points clear of the bottom two – incredible stuff.

England Rugby League

2015 may well go down as a vintage year for Rugby League in England as Leeds Rhinos won the treble in Kevin Sinfield and Jamie Peacock’s final season with the club. The international game usually takes a back seat to club action in the sport, probably due to the fact only three teams – Australia, New Zealand and England – can be considered ‘competitive’ for want of a better word.  I’d always considered England the weakest of the three and I had little hope of a series win over the visiting Kiwis after the end of the Super League season but England came away with a 2-1 series win.

They did it without Sam Burgess as well to make the achievement even more impressive, and he should be back in the fold for next year’s Four Nations after a brief and disappointing stint in Rugby Union, but more on that in part 2 of this piece.

Barcelona

I had planned to leave it at three but we’ll finish with a note on Barca.  The Camp Nou club lost their way, to a degree at least, when Pep Guardiola went but under Luis Enrique they’re back at the summit.  2015 was the year we really got to see Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez form one of the most incredible attacking partnerships world football has ever seen – nice, and long may it continue.

Obviously there are loads of things I could have mentioned, the inception of the Gonzo Sports Desk for one, but I’ll call it a day here, until tomorrow (or maybe the day after) when we’ll take a look at the low points.

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Gonzo’s Betting Diary; Lurching from One Disaster to Another

Boxing Day was a bust as only Derby came in, and that was a very safe pick anyway.  No one expected that Arsenal performance at Southampton, or indeed the Saints performance as manager Ronald Koeman conceded afterwards.  As for Shrewsbury… they were winning for basically the whole game only to let in a late equaliser, the bastards.

But we go again, otherwise how am I going to start winning back some of my now sizeable losses?

Bolton v Blackburn

With a heavy heart I’m predicting a Rovers win in the Championship’s early kick off tomorrow.  Wanderers crashed to a 4-0 defeat at Rotherham on Boxing Day as their chances of avoiding the drop took what could well be a terminal blow, regardless of whether or not they are forced into administration.  To swing this one even further in Blackburn’s favour they had a day off as their game against Middlesbrough was cancelled so they head to the Macron Stadium having had an unexpected festive rest.

Blackburn are 6/5 and at the time of publishing they’re shortening too according to the good people at Oddschecker, they might even go off at even money by the time the game itself rolls around.

Norwich V Aston Villa

The Premier League is proving incredibly hard to predict this season, even more so than usual, and I’m not particularly confident about this but I’m going to side with the hosts here.  The Canaries are unbeaten in three at home having drawn with Everton and Arsenal, with one win coming against Swansea in their last five at Carrow Road.  Villa have picked up a little under Remi Garde but not enough to inspire any confidence they’re going to beat the drop.

Norwich are 11/10 and as long as they’re odds against I’d say they were worth a punt, if they come in any more I’d leave it alone.

Middlesbrough V Sheffield Wednesday

This is the safest of the bunch as far as I’m concerned and I’m going for a home win here.  Boro should have played Blackburn on Boxing Day so like the Rovers they’ve had a break, whereas the Owls were in action.  Wednesday don’t travel well and Middlesbrough are flying, and at 7/10 they’re possibly a bigger price than they should be.

As a multiple that pays out at 7.57 so as per I’ll be putting a point on each as a single and a point on the treble.  Profit and loss calculations will resume after this round as I can’t be bothered to do the maths right now,  but suffice to say I’m way down at the moment.

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Gonzo’s Betting Diary; Boxing Day Betting Bonanza

OK, ‘bonanza’ might be a bit much… in any case here’s what I’ll be backing on Boxing Day.

Southampton v Arsenal

Saints have been poor lately and they’re playing like a team low on confidence, meaning a game against Arsenal is probably exactly what they don’t need on Boxing Day.  For some reason the Gunners are odds against and at a top price 23/20 I’ll be having a nibble on them.

*Olivier Giroud has six goals in his last four games and he’s 8/5 to score at any time, if the Frenchman starts I’ll be backing that.  You’d think he’ll start but the games come thick and fast over Christmas so there’s a chance he might not, but if he does that’s worth backing too.

I’m struggling with the rest of the Premier League to be honest, they’re either too hard to call or the odds aren’t good enough to make me want to back anyone in the standard match betting markets.  Spurs could be worth a look even at 4/9 but Norwich go into that game on the back of a win at Old Trafford so there is a question mark to a degree.  Similarly both teams to score in Newcastle against Everton looks a good bet but at 4/7 probably not worth adding to a coupon.

Derby v Fulham

Spurs may not have tempted me at 4/9 but Derby do at 8/15 against a Fulham side who couldn’t beat Bolton on the road in their last away day.  The Rams have won four of their last five home games and only Brighton managed to avoid defeat, or indeed score, in Derby over that period, as such this looks a home banker.

Shrewsbury v Fleetwood

This is a bit of a relegation six pointer in League One and at 7/4 I reckon the Shrews are worth backing.  Fleetwood have picked up a bit of late but only at home and on their travels they’re still struggling, having managed just a point at Crewe in their last away day, prior to that they lost at Blackpool. Of the three this is definitely the risk but the home side represent good value for me.

As a treble this pays out at around 8/1, so as always I’ll stick another ‘point’ on that and if Giroud starts a point on that too.  Obviously, this is my last post until after Christmas so have a good one and I’ll see you on the other side.

Total profit/loss – 17.14 from 37 points spent.

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LVG; Why Are You Still Here?

Part of me finds Louis van Gaal quite entertaining but for a while now I’ve wondered why I’m still listening to him. The man, quite clearly, hasn’t got a clue what he is doing.

After Manchester United were dumped out of the Champions League by Wolfsburg I thought he might go, after the defeat at Bournemouth I thought he probably would go and after that loss to Norwich, at fortress Old Trafford, I expected him on a plane back to Amsterdam by Monday.

But Monday has been and gone and yet here he still is.  The game at Stoke on Boxing Day is surely a must win, it has to be, doesn’t it? But we’ve been here before.

Credit where credit is due he’s great value in press conferences, he has so much misplaced confidence it’s like he’s snorted all the coke in Manchester, then got a cab down the M62 and cleared out Merseyside.  But being a character will only get you so far and Van Gaal has reached the end of that ride.

I say misplaced because United have looked so poor, how can he retain this unshakable belief that he is one of the world’s elite managers? Perhaps if Chelsea’s season had panned out differently there would be more attention on LVG but the struggles of the defending champions have deflected attention and bought the Dutchman a bit of time. That time may now be running out.

It isn’t just a lack of ambition in United’s play, there’s also his poor recruitment record.  His transfer dealings are as equally bizarre as his tactics… spending money like he’s just come home from the pub and decided that’s the right time to do a bit of clothes shopping online.  Then when the stuff arrives he just leaves it in the cupboard, wasting away.

Let’s have a look at some of those signings.

Angel Di Maria

Should have been great, wasn’t.  They paid £50+ million for him and made an £8million loss when he went to Paris Saint-Germain, admittedly that could have been a lot worse – but considering the calibre of player he is it should have been so much better. The Argentina international should really be in Old Trafford tearing it up now and I think under a different, some may say better, manager he would be.

Ander Herrera

LVG paid £25million for Herrera and there is a very good player there, but he never uses him and doesn’t seem to trust him fully.  This is the one that probably works best with my questionable clothes analogy. Herrera could well go on to be a United regular and maybe even a great but not until the current boss has gone.

Daley Blind

Good value at just over £10million – but why the shit is he playing at centre-half?  (I know he doesn’t play there all the time, but when he does I just think why?) Get a centre-half to play there, and get Blind in a role he’s more comfortable in, probably as a defensive midfielder.

Memphis Depay

I fear the same thing that happened to Di Maria is happening to Memphis, LVG just doesn’t know what to do with anyone with a bit of flair.  He feels he should buy them but when they arrive he struggles to fit them in to his system.  Anthony Martial is the exception at the moment but you fear the young Frenchman could fall by the wayside under Van Gaal at some point, if it can happen to Di Maria it could happen to anyone.

There are loads of others – he’s spent £250million since arriving and are United any better than they were when he took over? I would argue no, no they are not.   They may have a better standard of player, but even if they do he is not getting the best out of them.

Manchester United were always going to struggle after Alex Ferguson retired – there was no way to avoid that – but that period should be over now and there should be, at the very least, shoots of recovery.

There may not be a great deal of insight or analysis in this but I think we’re past that now.  You don’t need stats to tell you this is not how a Manchester United side should be playing.

Speaking after that loss to Norwich, he said: “I don’t think a change of management shall bring direct success – but that is what I believe. Maybe that is not so interesting.”

I think we’ll find out in the next few weeks whether a change in manager will bring ‘direct success’ or not.

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Bolton Wanderers, Gary Neville and the Northern decline

Earlier this month Bolton Wanderers were issued with a winding up order by HMRC.  Administration could follow and with it all but certain relegation to League One – but the four-time FA Cup winners, founding members of the Football League and losing protagonists of the Matthews Final are not the only northern powerhouse to fall on hard times.

In September Gary Neville wrote an interesting – or at the very least thought provoking – piece for the Telegraph with the rather lengthy title ‘The north is being cut adrift in English football – and I fear the damage may be permanent’.

This is his opening paragraph and loosely the premise:

“A North-South divide is developing in English football that reflects the drift in economic power towards London. I worry that the north of England will end up with only a token presence in the Premier League – with Manchester as an island in a sea of decline.”

Neville was a Sky pundit at the time and like his then employer I think he’s focused a little too much on the Premier League.  He addresses the states of Newcastle and Sunderland but I’d argue the mess those clubs find themselves in is more to do with poor choices at the very highest level, rather than an economic decline in the area.  The TV and sponsorship money in the Premier League make it possible to put together a strong squad regardless; Bournemouth paid £8million for a defender this summer as a newly promoted side – they got less than 12,000 for the recent win over Manchester United, meanwhile Newcastle have one of the highest average attendances in the Premier League and nearly five times capacity of the Cherries’ Dean Court available to them for home games.  If you can pay big money for players, as Newcastle and Sunderland have done in recent years, and command decent crowds but you’re still not getting results location isn’t a major factor there. They both have the resources they’ve just not been used correctly for various, and I would suggest fundamentally different, reasons.

No, any problems chancellor George Osborne’s ‘Northern Powerhouse‘ concept will inevitably fail to solve can be seen much clearer further down the divisions, through the Football League and way below.

Bolton, sadly, are just the latest in a long line of clubs north of Watford to fall from grace. Their problems are also the result of miscalculations and downright failings at the highest level. They made what turned out to be a few poor managerial choices and then waited too long before putting said managers out of their misery, they paid too much for players on short deals and in a similar vein they failed to sell at the right time or for the right price. Gary Cahill went to Chelsea for £5million as the end of his deal approached – I can’t believe there wasn’t a better offer beforehand.  But how they got there isn’t the key issue, Crystal Palace fell on hard times and look at them now, it is what happens afterwards that is the worry.

Once you’re in the promise land of the Premier League you should be fine, but getting back there is the problem for the fallen northern clubs.  Southampton, Norwich and current Premier League pacesetters Leicester City have all been League One sides in the not too distant past and now all three are top flight clubs, admittedly for the Canaries a newly-promoted one but they have yo-yoed. Now think about Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday, both have been in League One and both are meandering in the Championship – the Owls are arguably in the promotion picture but Leeds are flirting with trouble.  Sheffield United are still in League One after their rapid fall from the top level, which perhaps even some West Ham fans will concede was incredibly harsh in the first place.

Leeds should be a stellar investment; they are a one-club city and they get an average of 25,000 or so and could expect up to 35,000 and possibly beyond if they get a good team together.  They’re also well supported around the country but for some reason the only owners they attract are sub-standard.  The recovery problems after losing a Premier League place are having a  far greater impact on the northern outfits and that is where the problem lies.

Blackpool, Barnsley and Oldham could conceivably be relegated to League Two this season.  At the moment only Swindon Town have been down into the fourth tier having also competed in the Premier League (in the current guise, not simply the top flight) aside from Wimbledon, who have since reformed.  That’s an excellent pub quiz question incidentally but if those three northern clubs go down we can’t use that one anymore*.

League Two is where it becomes even more apparent however, as there are just five northern clubs, and three of those are in the bottom half.  You could perhaps argue Mansfield and Notts County can be classed as ‘northern’ for the sake of this argument, but that’s still only seven.

Why is this so significant?  Think about all of those northern teams that are out of the Football League altogether.  Darlington, Halifax Town, Stockport County, Tranmere Rovers (who reached a play-off final but failed to win promotion to the Premier League and lost the 2000 League Cup final), Macclesfield Town, Scarborough and Grimsby Town were all once well established League clubs, for some of them that seems an almost impossible dream now. Some of those clubs don’t even exist in their previous states any more.

It doesn’t even stop there – Northwich Victoria were a constant in what is now known as the National League, the fifth tier.  Now they’re languishing in the eighth tier having sold their ground and split into two clubs, a phoenix club and the remaining scraps of the original.  Hereford United admittedly weren’t a northern team but as a regional club they have a place in this discussion and they’re now a new club, Hereford FC, playing in the ninth tier of the football system, essentially as low as you can go.  The now defunct Bulls had been as high as the second division in their history, and were in League One as recently as 2009.

Sadly there was no saving Hereford United, Halifax Town AFC, Darlington FC and others, no football fan likes to see any team go bust regardless of previous rivalries, but I fear they won’t be the last clubs to fall by the wayside. The Wanderers luck might be turning with the Bolton News all but claiming a takeover deal seemingly led by former record capture Dean Holdsworth is close, and not only that former hero Kevin Nolan is coming back if it goes through. That scenario would be a Christmas miracle for the troubled club but the way it has been reported it feels as if the local paper doesn’t believe the hype. If it does happen good luck to them, but it doesn’t always work out so well when a new owner comes in, just ask the Leeds fans.

There is a North-South divide in football and like Gary Neville I too think that is a reflection of the country’s economic issues/structure, but the Premier League is sheltered from that by the money competing in it provides.  When a club can no longer suckle on the teat of that cash-cow, that’s when the harsh realities of life cut adrift from the top flight hit home and for the northern sides that seems to be markedly worse than it is for their southern counterparts.  The reasons the various clubs I’ve mentioned here fell into disrepair are varied and there are a number of different factors that came into play in each individual case – but the one common denominator is all are located away from the economic haven of London.

The only way to really protect the futures of all Football League clubs, and lower, in my view is to spread money from the Premier League out more across the entire pyramid. That would at least soften the blow of any disparities between the wealth of different regions and level the playing field a bit.  That however, is simply not going to happen.

You can read Gary Neville’s full article here.

*It has since been pointed out to me this isn’t correct, I’d forgotten about Bradford City – really should have remembered that, they reached a League Cup final as a League Two team and have been in the top flight more recently that Oldham or Barnsley. This is why I’m not on any pub quiz teams.

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Gonzo Sports Digest; Managerial Madness and More

We’ve had a busy day for a Wednesday, that’s what happens when there’s no Champions League football people get antsy, so I’ve decided to smash out a daily round up.

Chelsea hold discussions

Yep, Chelsea having a chat about whether or not to stick or twist when it comes to Jose Mourinho is big news today.  To be honest I don’t see why the Leicester result has taken such significance; the Foxes are top of the league on merit and their 2-1 win over Mourinho’s men on Monday  – who are at the wrong end of the table on merit – was no real surprise.

No one seems to have any clue as to whether or not the ‘not so special anymore one’ will be in the hot seat for the visit of fellow strugglers Sunderland at the weekend.  My hunch is he will be but I could be wrong, if he is then that’s the must win – if you can’t beat Sunderland at home you deserve to be sacked.  The Times have claimed Juande Ramos could replace him until the end of the season if he does go, but that is surely bullshit.

Guardiola will make a decision and when he does he’ll tell us about it

More potential managerial merry-go-round murmurings and Pep Guardiola’s announcement that he will make another announcement next week has sent the speculation peddlers into a frenzy.  Essentially we know nothing new, he’s still out of contract at the end of the season and he’s still saying “I’ll tell you before the end of 2015” but there you go, the former Barcelona boss speaks and everyone else listens.

Sky ‘football expert’ (when did expert start to mean gobshite? Has anyone alerted the Oxford Dictionary people yet?) Guillem Balague obviously jumped on this like a ravenous polar bear on an already wounded, blind and abandoned baby seal. He thinks Guardiola is Premier League bound, or at least wants to be, and Man City are the likely candidates. If that’s the case we won’t know that until the summer – if he is leaving Bayern but plans to stay until the end of the campaign then whoever he’s replacing, be it Manuel Pellegrini or Louis van Gaal at Man United, probably won’t be informed by their own club, although Jupp Heynckes was…  It’s all ifs and buts – and if he does say he’s leaving this could rumble on for a while, when he left Barca he took a year off and perhaps he’ll do that again, maybe he’ll agree new terms in Munich who knows?

Andy Murray could quit the Australian Open

Andy Murray’s first child is due in February but if his wife Kim drops the sprog early he’ll quit the Australian Open to be there.  That’s a big statement from the world number two, I’d imagine a title in Melbourne is top of his agenda aside from another Wimbledon win.

It has been a case of always the bridesmaid never the bride Down Under for the Scot, who has lost the final on four separate occasions.  That’s got to hurt, imagine if he has to walk away if he’s already in the semis or the final…

Chances are it won’t come to that, but it would be interesting if his noble words were put to the test.  Will he get straight back on a plane to Blighty?  Or will he be screaming “keep yer legs crossed ye radge bastard!” down the phone in Australia?

Brett Ferres’ dirty deeds earn NRL move

Huddersfield Giants have transfer listed England international Brett Ferres after suspending him for “conduct away from the field”, they haven’t reported what but The Sun ran a story about him nailing his team-mate’s Mrs on the sly so there you go.

Like most people who stayed in school beyond the age of 13, I’m usually sceptical when it comes to that nonsense rag but in the absence of anything else to go on I’m going to assume they’re correct.  Anyway, apparently his wandering schlong hasn’t put off interested parties as two NRL clubs – Gold Coast Titans and Wests Tigers – are reportedly keen.

Ferres must be in dreamland if that’s true, he gets to shag around and leave dreary Huddersfield for sunny Australia – that’s got to be a result in anyone’s eyes.  The other options are Salford and Hull FC, both notable shit holes (cheap shot I know, but it helps my point here so I’ve gone with it), so if you believe in karma he’ll be staying in the Super League and kept well away from any already taken womenfolk.

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Gonzo Sports Digest; The Best of the Summer

As we approach the midway point in the season and with the January transfer window nearly upon us I thought I’d have a run through of some of the Premier League’s best signings of the summer.

Transfer news is where the real interest is in football in terms of what people want to read online. When I have a look through some of the traffic that comes through the various sites I work for you quickly realise that transfer speculation far outweighs anything else in terms of views, and sometimes the more ridiculous stuff is the more people go for it.  Think about all those rumours you get about Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – no one is really buying it, I presume, but that doesn’t stop the curiosity clicks. Then again sometimes the unlikely ones come off, the first man on this list is one of those where I thought ‘really?’ when the speculation first arose and I probably wasn’t alone in that.

Xherdan Shaqiri, Stoke City

The ‘Alpine Messi’ first came to my attention when he tore Manchester United in two during his days with Swiss outfit FC Basel (or Basle, whichever you prefer) in the Champions League, take a look at the video below if you’ve not seen it or fancy a refresher.  I’ve followed his career since then but Bayern Munich turned out to be a bad move.  Granted, he had Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery ahead of him in the pecking order and there’s no shame in being kept out of the side by those two but a move to Inter Milan should have worked out better.

He was a bit of a surprise signing for Roberto Mancini in his first transfer window back at the Giuseppe Meazza as he’s not the type of player the pragmatic Italian usually goes for. A switch to Stoke still raised a few eyebrows in the summer though, despite the Potters’ bid to take Shaqiri before he joined the Nerazzurri.  We haven’t seen the best of him at the Britannia Stadium yet, or we have but only in patches, and there is definitely more to come.  Consistency has always been a bit of a problem for the little fella but then again he’s not managed to command a regular starting berth since his days with Basel and this move to the Potteries could see him become the player he’s always threatened to be.  I was highly sceptical when Stoke decided to axe Tony Pulis and bring in Mark Hughes and a new direction in terms of their style of football but credit to them – so far it’s working, which goes to prove fortune favours the brave and that’s the mantra Shaqiri plays with when he’s on top form.

Gerard Deulofeu, Everton

Deulofeu returned to Goodison Park with a bit of a point to prove.  He did ok in his first season in Merseyside in a then loan move from Barcelona in 2013-14 but took a backward step last year with a forgettable temporary stint at Sevilla.  In fact Marca named him in their ‘Worst Team of the Season’ in La Liga, and his Sevilla stint possibly convinced Barca to let him go permanently.

That worked out nicely for Everton of course but the Catalans did insist on a fairly complicated buy-back clause, which can be used at the end of the season or at the end of the following campaign. That shows he is still rated at Camp Nou and from what we’ve seen this season you can see why.  If there were any confidence issues leftover from the Sevilla stint I’ve not noticed them and he’s now a key man in that Everton attack.  So far he’s got three goals in all competitions and eight Premier League assists, not bad for a 21-year-old who will develop further.  Bizarrely Everton just have to hope he doesn’t do too well or Barca may come calling.

Georginio Wijnaldum, Newcastle

Considering how poor Newcastle have been for much of this season going for one of their summer buys might seem a bit strange but Wijnaldum has been one of the few bright sparks this term on Tyneside.  For what it’s worth I don’t think the Toon will be down there by the time May rolls around, there’s too much in the squad for that, but only time will tell if I’m right there and in any case that would have been a far braver thing to say prior to the back-to-back wins over Liverpool and Spurs.

On occasion Wijnaldum’s been a driving force in the Newcastle side when others have been only too happy to hide.  You’d expect the senior members of the team to take on more responsibility when they’re under pressure but it seems to be the Dutchman who has taken that on.  His leadership qualities probably came into Newcastle’s thoughts when they brought him in as the 25-year-old was the PSV Eindhoven captain, but perhaps they weren’t expecting those attributes to come to the fore so quickly.

He gets played out wide a bit and personally I’d rather see him down the middle more, he’s got a good engine and you want to see him involved as much as possible, but wherever he is deployed he seems to do a job.  Like both Shaqiri and Deulofeu there’s clearly more to come but with eight goals in 17 appearances in all competitions (admittedly, four of those came in one game) and eight Premier League assists he’s already making a statement.

Deulofeu was the bargain buy of these three at under £5million, providing Barca don’t buy him back of course – although I would suggest that is an unlikely scenario.  Wijnaldum was a snip at around £15million and Shaqiri cost Stoke a club record £12million; again an absolute steal and I’d imagine there are probably a few fans in Milan wondering why he wasn’t given more of a chance there over their morning cappuccinos, but possibly England suits his game more than the slower Serie A does.

There are obviously loads of players who could have been included in this list and Manchester City pair Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling deserve a mention, but when you’re spending £50million on a player you expect top class – anything else and you’re in flop territory.  I still think City aren’t the same team without Sergio Aguero in the side and when they bring in someone who takes that away that’s when they’ve made a real quality signing. They could also do with a decent centre-half and that may, and probably should, be something Manuel Pellegrini has a look at next month.

Crystal Palace did really well to get Yohan Cabaye in and Connor Wickham may also prove to be excellent business if he can stay fit, he might just be the big man in attack they need to get even more out of Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie. Spurs man Dele Alli was in my thoughts but technically he was a January recruit and besides there’s been enough written about him already after those England games without me adding my spunk to that particular bucket.

Arsenal landing Petr Cech was also a coup but way too obvious, they needed a keeper and brought in a top notch one. Getting him from a rival adds to that transfer success I suppose but we all knew about him already, it was hardly an inspired move.  I also think Asmir Begovic was a quality capture as without him Chelsea could be in more trouble having been without Thibaut Courtois for so long, the Bosnian’s displays were solid and at times impressive when others struggled but I doubt we’ll see much more of Begovic at Stamford Bridge now the big Belgian is back.

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Golden State Warriors; When Losing Makes You Better

No one likes losing, but the Golden State Warriors seem to have taken it pretty well.

Records tumbled, praise was heaped on them from all angles and they even got a bit of a mention over here in the UK.

The Warriors tend to get overlooked by the British press, who only really cover the Lakers and Celtics, and maybe the Bulls, Knicks and LeBron James (not really the Cavs or before that the Heat, just the man himself).  Maybe it’ll get to that stage too with Steph Curry we’ll see, Golden State would probably have to grab a ‘three-peat’ to get that kind of recognition and have kids on this side of the pond buy their merchandise, but then again that’s not beyond this team.

Anyway, having managed 24 wins to kick off the season with they crashed to a first loss in Milwaukee over the weekend that I doubt anybody saw coming, and it was a 108-95 defeat they couldn’t really complain about either.

When big streaks come to an end often a bit of a dip in form follows but Golden State are making all the right noises.

Here’s what Draymond Green had to say, via ESPN.

“I think probably the last seven or eight games, I think we’ve stopped getting better.

“We just know how to win, and so our playing and knowing how to win has just gotten us through. But our playing and knowing how to win won’t get us another NBA championship.”

I don’t really buy into that myself, for one I’m not sure I agree that over the last seven or eight games they’ve not been impressing – they’ve looked fine to me.  Sure, it could be hard to concentrate on what needs improving when everyone’s licking your balls but that’s what coaches are for, keeping everyone grounded and focused and away from any media hype. And analysing what needs improving, obviously.

As for ‘knowing how to win’ won’t get them another Championship… well, that’s just ridiculous.  Grinding out results when not at your best is a big part of being a great champion, think Floyd Mayweather Jr or Chelsea (not right now), but maybe the Warriors want to do it a different way.

How this loss will impact on them remains to be seen but you’d expect them to bounce back in their next game against Phoenix Suns, although the manner of the win could and will be analysed.

The big tests come a little further down the line, a rematch against the Bucks (this time at home) is the first one I’ll look out for, and then there’s the visit of Cleveland later in December.  Then we’ll see if this loss actually does help Golden State step up another level. I’m sceptical but I’d love to be proved very wrong in this case – they’re one hell of a team to watch and worth losing sleep for if, like me, you’re watching on from Europe.

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Gonzo’s Betting Diary; Shoot Me Now

After a decent showing last weekend I totally tanked in the Champions League as none of my three picks came in.

Credit to Chelsea, I didn’t think they had that performance in them.  As for Juventus and Barcelona… I should have listened to my own advice and not backed teams who have already qualified.

Common sense says I should give up on these betting pieces, at least for the time being, but the true gambler doesn’t know when to quit – besides it has been a quiet week at Gonzo Towers and I need to throw a bit more content up to keep the all powerful Google keen.

Crystal Palace v Southampton

I’ll be commentating on this game tomorrow so I’ve had a little think about it and I reckon Palace might just take all three points.  Both sides have endured mixed form of late and it really could go either way but the return of Wilfried Zaha from suspension might just swing this one in the Eagles’ favour.

Southampton do know where the goal is though and that’s why I’m going for a Palace win with both teams to score at a top price of 9/2.

MK Dons v Ipswich

The Championship’s early kick off sees a resurgent Ipswich head to a stuttering MK Dons so I’m going to go with the away side in this one.  The Tractor Boys have managed eight goals in their last two away games and at a top price of 13/10 I’ll be backing them.

Las Palmas v Real Betis

I’m going to delve into La Liga for my last pick as Real Betis take on rock bottom Las Palmas. Betis have managed four wins in their last five away games, while Las Palmas have won just twice in seven attempts at home in Spain’s top flight this season.  Betis are a top price 14/5, not too shabby all things considered.

As a treble that pays out at around 50/1, so as usual I’ll be putting a one point stake on each selection as a single and a one point stake on the treble.

Current profit/loss: -15.44 from 33 points spent.

This is a bet diary rather than tips and if you choose to follow me that’s on you, although I’d be amazed if anyone did considering my record of late.

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*I’m not affiliated with any bookmakers, I just use Oddschecker for the best odds and again I have no links to them either.