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A Million Ways To Avoid Relegation

The Boot Room



There are a thousand different approaches to staying in the Premier League, but ultimately the goal is to stay in the Premier League. We have seen some of those different approaches in the past – Ian Holloway’s expansive, attacking Blackpool side almost caught a few sides unaware but ultimately were ended by their own defensive frailties while through much of the 1990s Southampton built a hard working side around the incredibly talented Matt Le Tissier hoping that he would do enough to keep them up.

There are differing approaches from this season’s strugglers. Hull’s struggles have come as a surprise considering some of the talent they have within their squad and their strengthening of that in the transfer windows. Uruguayan striker Abel Hernandez is an exciting talent with a goal scoring record that is nothing spectacular while his countryman Gaston Ramirez may have cost Southampton £12 million but that didn’t stop them shipping him out on loan to Hull. Hatem Ben Arfa is incredibly talented but his attitude ended his time at Hull and Newcastle early and now he’s threatening to retire. Mohammed Diame is a physical beast in the middle of the park and was even linked with a switch to Liverpool not too long ago so to get him in a cut price deal in the summer looked to be a revelation yet he’s struggled to recreate his best form so far. Steve Bruce’s remedy to their struggles – sign more players. Senegalese striker Dame N’Doye joined from Lokomotiv Moscow to try and get more goals but only time will tell.

Paul Lambert has built a talented young side at Aston Villa that has served him reasonably well but it looks like this season they are struggling more than ever. The burden of Darren Bent has been lifted slightly by his loan moves to the Championship but the goals are not flowing at all for a Villa side that are becoming all too familiar with alarming mid-season slumps. There is some real talent at Villa Park though – Christian Benteke was almost a near £30 million striker about 18 months ago; Ashley Westwood is a lovely passer of the ball; Ron Vlaar has been linked with Manchester United while Brad Guzan has kept some of Villa’s scores respectable. There is real pressure building on Lambert as many feel he’s underachieving despite being unable to spend what some of his predecessors could.

Nigel Pearson’s Championship winners Leicester boasted little Premier League experience and he obviously focused on that as a big part of his transfer activity. In came Mark Schwarzer on a free in January to join fellow free signing Danny Simpson to bring a bit more Premier League know-how. Esteban Cambiasso has done pretty much everything there is to do in football and was brought in for a little bit of added quality and steel in midfield. Big money was thrown at strikers too to aid David Nugent and Jamie Vardy but Pearson took a big risk in going for two unproven at Premier League level. Leandro Ulloa cost Leicester £7 million and was excellent in the Championship for Brighton but there is a quality gap between Championship and Premier League. Ulloa started well but has not been massively prolific. Despite that, he has experience in English football unlike Leicester’s record signing – Croatian striker Andrej Kramaric. The talent is there considering Chelsea were very interested in signing him and he has scored goals but there is (with all due respect to Croatian football) a massive gap between the Croatian league and Premier League. And at £9 million, Kramaric has to deliver and deliver quickly for a Leicester side that are struggling to get wins.

What of all these teams have in common, generally, is that they have brought in a number of players many of whom have not quite performed to the level expected. Strikers aren’t striking and defenders aren’t defending is their simple problem. Their solution to this problem is to simply buy more players that they believe will do the job in keeping them up that won’t massively break the bank. Two of the other teams in the mire have polar opposite ideas of how to avoid relegation – QPR and Burnley.

Where do you start with Queens Park Rangers? The last few years has seen an incredible number of players walk through the doors of Loftus Road with very few actually proving to be resounding successes. They’ve been so poor in the league thus far but the only way Harry Redknapp seemed to know how to fix it was by suggesting that he should be able to buy more players. In around two years at the club, Redknapp bought a staggering 25 players. To put it simply, QPR have had essentially a whole Premier League squad of players arrive in the last two years and they still haven’t got it right. Some of these players that have been brought in have done so at great expense and then left at a fraction of their price – Jordon Mutch is the perfect example having joined in the summer for £6 million before leaving in the last window for £4.75 million. They signed Mauro Zarate on loan last month only to realise that they didn’t want him anymore but couldn’t get rid of him. It is almost comical at Loftus Road and performances on the pitch haven’t been much better. Their away record is, to be kind, abysmal and they have leaked goals like nobody’s business. There doesn’t seem to be a clear identity at QPR with the constant chopping and changing of personnel meaning that the players, despite their obvious quality, are struggling to string together remotely commendable performances. It’s not all bad news for Rangers though. Tony Fernandes has reportedly put his foot down and said that the days of signing fifteen players a window are gone while the recent late defeat to Southampton showed the side had fight within it. The performances of some the big names in the squad is nothing new at QPR with memories of Stephane Mbia’s single season at the club lingering in the minds of QPR fans everywhere. There does look to be some fight within the side though as they battled to get their first away win on Tuesday night at Sunderland

Burnley meanwhile have a whole different approach to staying up. In both seasons in the Premier League, the club has kept faith with the majority of their promotion winning squad and added cheap depth (usually from the lower leagues) to try and stay up. They are a modest club who are fully aware that they will not outspend most clubs but don’t aim to. To put it in perspective, Angel Di Maria cost Manchester United more in one go than what every Burnley signing has cost the Clarets combined. Danny Ings cost the club very little when he joined from Bournemouth a couple of years ago but will bring in a good fee when he leaves in the summer. There is an acceptance at Burnley that the club will lose Ings regardless of if they stay up because they won’t break the bank for any one player. It is not a lack of ambition though as they operate on a clear budget and won’t hedge their long-term for short-term glory (see Leeds United). It’s admirable and they have stuck to their guns throughout the season even when teams around them have went and spent huge sums. Sean Dyche has got a well-drilled and effective side that is direct without being considered “long ball” and they have capable enough players to stay up. Performances have been reasonably good as well this season but some defensive frailties have cost them plenty of points and they could do with scoring a few more goals too – their big summer signing Lukas Jutkiewicz has not scored so far while the next top scorers after Danny Ings (who only has 8 to date) are George Boyd and Ashley Barnes with 5 and 4 goals respectively. Unlike QPR, there is a clear understanding of how the team is supposed to play and Sean Dyche should be commended for getting his side into a position where they are not only competitive but also have an excellent chance of pushing hard to stay in the Premier League.

There are a million ways to stay up in the Premier League – throw everyone forward, park the bus, lump it long, pass it through, spend millions or spend what you can afford – it is always interesting to see how the bottom clubs approach it. One thing is for sure though. However they play and whatever their strategy is, anything can happen in the Premier League. Especially at the bottom of the table.

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Aston Villa

Birkir Bjarnason highlights Steve Bruce error by shackling Messi and co

The Icelandic midfielder put in an exceptional performance at the World Cup this weekend.

Mathew Nash



Two years ago saw Iceland midfielder Birkir Bjarnason first come to Europe’s attention with some excellent performances in the European Championships. Now, he is doing the same thing on the world stage.

The 30-year-old midfielder put in an exceptional performance for his country this weekend as they drew 1-1 with Argentina. He delivered a brilliant man-marking exercise on Lionel Messi which kept the Barcelona hero quiet for much of the 90 minutes.

The Aston Villa star was the talk of Twitter with his crunching challenges and relentless pressure telling on the Argentina superstars. Pictures comparing him to Thor abounded.

What this performance also showed is how big a mistake Aston Villa boss Steve Bruce made in the Championship play-off final.

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Bjarnason was left on the bench by Bruce for the biggest game of Villa’s season. Bjarnason is a big game player. He has played in the Champions League and Europa League with Basel and in numerous crunch fixtures with Iceland. Leaving a player of this magnitude on the bench v Fulham was a massive error and it was highlighted yesterday afternoon as he shackled the Albiceleste.

Bjarnason turned his Villa career around after nearly leaving in January and wants to stay next season, despite the play-off snub. However, with the World Cup a massive showcase more performances like this will see him hit the radar of other teams.

Given Aston Villa’s current financial situation a handsome offer for the midfielder would be accepted.

But if not, ‘Thor’ could play a huge role in keeping Aston Villa competitive next season.

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Aston Villa

Jack Grealish could become next Dele Alli at Tottenham under Mauricio Pochettino

Tottenham are in pursuit of the Championship talent.

Jamie Watts



Tottenham Hotspur are said to have offered £15 million for Aston Villa’s midfield prodigy Jack Grealish this week, according reports from Sky Sports, and the Englishman would be well equipped for success under Mauricio Pochettino.

The club are said to be vying for another attacking talent to improve the supply line for Harry Kane, but many were surprised by Spurs’ decision to venture into the lower divisions in search of talent.

However, Pochettino has made a name for himself with developing young players, last time notably producing the Tottenham and England regular we all rave about today, Dele Alli.

Photo: Getty Images

The Argentine delved into League One for the first time in six years to secure the midfielder’s signature from MK Dons in 2015, and it’s safe to say he made a brilliant decision three-years on.

Grealish is clearly developing year by year, and his time in the Championship has improved his game significantly. In-fact, Villa have won 58% of games that the 22-year-old started, compared to 48% without.

He models his game around creating openings for teammates in the final third, which is why Pochettino and co are so interested this summer. His 83.7% pass succession in the opposition half was among the best in the division, bettering the likes of Championship Player of the Season, Ryan Sessegnon.

It’s evident from his natural ability, and confidence in possession that Grealish has an incredible amount of potential, and if one man is capable of unlocking it, it’s Pochettino.

Photo: Getty Images

The Argentine has a knack for developing players in their ideal positions, accommodating them in the right tactical set-up with the right teammates around them, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Grealish in the starting lineup for both club and country three years down the line should he join.

Financially the deal is also a bonus, as other attacking targets are being touted for fees far in excess of £18 million and Grealish could be considered a bargain in the near future.

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Aston Villa

Aston Villa should accept Jack Grealish offer, if Cameron Carter-Vickers comes the other way

Aston Villa may have to sell their star man this summer but should bring in an exchange player to build on.

Mathew Nash



It is being reported that Tottenham Hotspur are set to offer Aston Villa a £15 million take-it-or-leave-it offer for their star playmaker Jack Grealish. The Sun claims Daniel Levy is ready to test the financial worries at Villa Park, by making the move as a one-time offer.

Of course, Villa were hoping for much more in the sale of Grealish. Their star young talent, previous reports have put his asking price at around £40 million.

But considering their current financial woes, it will be hard for Villa not to accept the bid. However, given their current situation, Aston Villa should only accept a £15 million bid on one condition. It involves the addition of a player into the Tottenham deal as an exchange.

The player in question is Cameron Carter-Vickers. The American talent had two loan spells in the Championship last term, with Sheffield United and Ipswich Town. His future at Spurs once looked promising, but whether he has a long-term Spurs career now seems to be up in the air.

(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Aston Villa need a new centre-back. With John Terry and Chris Samba leaving, James Chester’s future in doubt and Axel Tuanzebe’s loan move finishing only the injured and out-of-favour Tommy Elphick remains.

Bringing in a player like Carter-Vickers would be one step toward the club’s rebuilding process. His wages would be manageable and he would fill a definite hole in the team.

Letting Grealish go is going to be hard for Aston Villa. Judging by recent reports, it seems the club is in serious financial peril. Eventually, the playmaker has to go and if they can get £15 million and a player to build the future on, it is a deal they might have to snap up.

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