It is safe to say that every club would bite at the chance of featuring on the European stage and West Ham will be doing exactly that after topping the Premier League Fair Play Table. It will be an early start for the Hammers as they will be entering the competition in the first qualifying round starting on the 2nd of July –alongside 104 other sides fighting for their own place in Europe’s secondary club tournament. It will mark West Ham’s first return to the European stage following a brief campaign lasting only two games before losing to Palermo in the 2006-07 season. They are not strangers to more successful campaigns however – with an Intertoto Cup victory in 1999, and perhaps slightly more impressively, a European Cup Winner’s Cup victory in 1965. However, many consider European competition to be of a huge detriment to a successful domestic campaign. It is clear that European fixtures can offer a source of income and a source of great excitement and pride for fans, but with the increased demand on squad depth, player fitness, and the possibility of suffering domestically – is the Europa League worth the hassle that comes with it?
Joint-Chairmen David Sullivan and David Gold have announced that while the start in early July will be challenging, that they “want to ensure the Boleyn Ground the best possible send-off possible, and progress in this competition will certainly help with that”. Along with the promise that the new manager of West Ham will be given “significant transfer funds” with which to enhance the team for the upcoming campaign; this all points to a competition that West Ham are going to be taking very seriously. However, a quick look into recent finishes in the Premier League of teams that are competing in European tournaments shows that clubs on average experience a drop of 2.3 league places; and this becomes 3.2 places if the side qualified through the league rather than the cup. The most extreme example of this decline in league form was experienced by Newcastle who dropped a massive 11 places in 2012-13 following a league position qualification in the previous campaign. Likewise, West Ham’s last campaign in Europe saw them drop 6 positions in the following season.
The distraction that is caused by the Europa League is well documented and it is often shown that sides who don’t have to play in European competition tend to fair far better in domestic affairs. For example, Liverpool finished 2nd in the 2013/14 campaign and without the distraction of European fixtures; Louis Van Gaal has led Manchester United back into the Champion’s League.
One possible factor that could cause the Europa League campaign to become a hindrance to West Ham is the change in routine. Footballers are a superstitious bunch and are trained using a strict regime which rarely changes throughout the course of a season. European competition changes all of that as players will find themselves playing on Thursdays and Sundays as long as they remain in the Europa League. This may prove to be a tough test for the less experienced players in the squad as they struggle with the irregular training, and constantly travel to the other ends of Europe for a cold, wet, and possibly hostile away fixture.
Since 2004, the average length of a European campaign for an English side is 9 matches. There have been calls from some managers for the Premier League to allow sides who are in the Europa League to play on Monday nights – mostly notably Tony Pulis and Mauricio Pochettino. The Premier League themselves have stated that this wouldn’t be possible as they are keen for a fixture list that allows no team an advantage over another. However, as already mentioned, teams in the Europa League are already at a massive disadvantage and 64% of sides saw a poorer domestic performance as a result. Pulis bemoaned a “lack of preparation” stating that “you can’t get the lads out on the training field to do what you need”. Although, all fixtures have been allotted strict time slots following the Premier League’s new TV rights deal until the 2018/19 season; which makes fixture changes almost impossible. West Ham’s aim following their respectable 12th placed finish will be to push into the top half of the table and perhaps start to pursue the more conventional method of reaching Europe than through the Fair Play System. However, many argue that the Europa League hinders any attempts to reach the higher reaches of the Premier League and compete with the best sides as the workload the competition demands are far too great. Tony Pulis has also previously stated that the league games were “devalued” in the eyes of the players; leading to a poorer performance.
However, it may not all be doom and gloom for the Hammers as they march into European competition this summer. Former Bolton man and very recent promotion winner Kevin Davies feels that when European football is managed well, it can be a real boost for a team – “It is a different story when you are winning, games come thick and fast but you can’t wait for them”. Phil Neville has said that he feels the Europa League should not be viewed as a detriment to a season – “We embraced the competition at Everton and that is what you have to do”. This could potentially mean good news for West Ham, as their owners have already announced that they aim to take the Europa League seriously and will invest heavily in the next campaign. In addition to this, the board now have the opportunity to sign a manager with more recent European experience that Big Sam Allardyce in the likes of former West Ham man Slaven Bili? – who has been linked with a move to east London in recent days.
West Ham will have to be careful to not focus too much on the glamour of European competition however. While the Europa League does offer some financial windfall in the form of ticket sales and prize money; it is important to remember that while the money from the competition is very welcome – dropping a couple of places down the division can cost a club millions in potential income.
Football is an incredibly unpredictable game and I am sure next season will be no different. It is clear that the domestic demise experienced by so many teams is not purely a result of competing in Europe; but that it is down to a huge amount of demands of ever-improving sides, the game reaching higher stakes than ever before, and the sense of hope and expectation that all fans feel going into a new campaign. It remains to be seen as to whether West Ham can experience a successful campaign while also battling on the European stage. No doubt large investment, strong leadership, and a sense of pride of playing the final season at the Boleyn Ground will fuel the players into giving it one hell of a go. However, when modern game is one that so highly values success in domestic affairs, is it worth going into the furthest corners of Europe whilst running the risk of detriment to your own home campaign? We’ll see what West Ham reckon.
After shock international call is Antonee Robinson a future Everton star
The defender has been in good form for Bolton Wanderers this season.
Bolton Wanderers have recently seen one of their players called up to international duty for the first time. Antonee Robinson has been included in the senior USA squad for the upcoming fixture against Paraguay
The left-back was born in Milton Keynes but his father is from New York state so qualifies for the USMNT. Robinson has previously played for the USA under-18 side and received a call-up to the under-20s but this is his first senior call.
For Everton fans, it will be a sign of the excellent work he has been putting in with the Championship strugglers. Robinson is on a season long loan at the Macron Stadium from Everton.
The 20-year-old has been a revelation for the Trotters, performing brilliantly and featuring in 26 league games this campaign. Despite recently losing his place to the more experienced Andrew Taylor it has been an excellent campaign for Robinson.
Everton must be keeping track of his development, especially considering that left-back is a position that they need to improve.
This season has seen Cuco Martina play out of position to fill the role. Leighton Baines is still an excellent operator, as he is shown since his return from injury. The issue however is that Baines seems to be picking up injuries on far to regular a basis for Everton’s liking.
Robinson therefore could be the answer on the long-term. There has been talk of Everton diving into the transfer market to fill the role but in the 20-year-old the Toffees have a potential long-term replacement.
Everton have a long history of bringing through young talent and at the moment have a queue of youngsters knocking at the first-team door.
One of those players is Robinson. Considering the problem area that is left-back, it should not be ruled out that Robinson is a potential solution to Everton’s positional trouble.
Tieumoue Bakayoko disappoints again for Chelsea against Leicester City
The Frenchman looked to struggle against his FA Cup opponents.
Tieumoue Bakayoko was one of the big-name signings for Chelsea during the summer as the club tried to push on under Antonio Conte after their Premier League triumph.
The Frenchman had been a standout player for AS Monaco during their surprise Ligue 1 winning campaign and cost the Blues a reported £40 million.
Although they are one of the richest clubs in the world, that remains a big spend and they would have been expecting a first-team ready player.
That hasn’t been the case as Bakayoko has struggled to adapt to English football and has found himself sidelined for Danny Drinkwater on several occasions.
The England international is an experienced Premier League player, but he was brought in to provide cover. It is a worry that he has been performing better than the player brought in to partner N’Golo Kante.
Chelsea managed to qualify for the semi-final of the FA Cup with an extra-time victory over Leicester City. However, Bakayoko was underwhelming once again after being brought back into the starting eleven.
He lasted until half-time before being replaced by Cesc Fabregas. During the first half, the Blues were too predictable in central midfield as neither player offered creativity from deep.
Wilfred Ndidi was arguably the best player in that area of the pitch as he dominated Bakayoko and Kante for the first-half.
The summer signing from Monaco was booked just before the break and didn’t re-emerge for the second-half. It was another disappointing performance from him as he failed to take the opportunity provided by Antonio Conte.
During the match, Bakayoko had a tackle success rate of 33% and he failed to make a single key pass to influence proceedings in the attacking half.
It was obvious that he was lacking in confidence as he often chose the simple pass and wasn’t as aggressive as the Leicester midfield players that he was competing with.
As the season has progressed, central midfield has emerged as an area of weakness for Chelsea. They often play with two defensive-minded midfielders and that makes them predictable to play against.
Last season, Nemanja Matic was more dynamic in central areas and he wasn’t afraid to step into the attacking half to contribute to attacks. The decision to sell him to a rival club now looks a huge mistake as the Blues are less effective in the middle of the park.
It was hoped that Ross Barkley would provide more energy to that position, but he has struggled with injuries since moving to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea have a difficult task to save their season, as they must finish in the top four and lift the FA Cup to restore pride.
Bakayoko needs to have a strong end to his season if he is to prove himself worthy of another chance next season. There is likely to be a new manager at Stamford Bridge with Antonio Conte’s position looking more untenable by the day.
A managerial change will lead to a squad overhaul and the 23-year-old will be one of the first to go. He doesn’t offer anything different to Kante and his compatriot is far superior in every area.
His most ardent supporters will allude to his inexperience and suggest that he needs to be given more time. However, when watching him against the 21-year-old Ndidi, it became clear that he isn’t good enough for a club like Chelsea. He was outclassed and outbattled by his younger opponent.
Since Roman Abramovich bought the club, there have been several mistakes made in the transfer market. The decision to sell Matic and sign Bakayoko was another.
Junior Stanislas winner cliches Premier League survival for Bournemouth
The Cherries came from behind to beat West Brom on Saturday.
Bournemouth fought back from 1-0 down to secure a vital three points against West Bromwich Albion, as they took a huge step towards Premier League survival.
It wasn’t the best performance from the Cherries, but one player to standout was Junior Stanislas. The winger has been in good form during recent weeks and scored the winning goal on Saturday with a superb free-kick from range.
The 28-year-old is reaching the peak years of his career and he will want to be a regular starter in the top-flight. Bournemouth are a good fit for him, as there are no superstars and the team is greater than the sum of its parts. There are sprinklings of quality throughout and Stanislas is one of the players that can produce moments of brilliance on the pitch.
During the second half of the season, he has been one of the key attacking elements for Bournemouth. He has scored four goals in his last seven Premier League matches, but the one on Saturday was the most important of those as it was directly responsible for the win.
There were only minutes remaining and the chance came from a free-kick that was a long way out. Stanislas showed great confidence to take a shot and the resulting goal will go down as one of the best in his career to date.
The overall performance from Stanislas was a positive one, as he worked hard and contributed in both halves of the pitch from the left wing. The 28-year-old completed two dribbles and made one key pass during the contest, while his pass completion rate was 80%.
He was effective in possession and rarely gave the ball away, which aided the team’s attacking play. In addition to his goal, the winger offered a threat for the entire game and had four attempts on goal. This was the joint-most of any player on the pitch.
Eddie Howe demands total commitment from his players and everyone is expected to contribute to the defensive effort. Stanislas certainly did that on Saturday as he completed both of his attempted tackles. It is important for the wingers to work back and help their full-backs in a 4-4-2 formation. Both Stanislas and Jordon Ibe did their bit for the team.
With their victory over West Brom, Bournemouth moved into the top ten of the Premier League and sit on 36 points. That should put an end to their relegation worries, as they are eight points clear of the bottom three with only seven matches left to play. Although the Cherries have been in the top-flight for three seasons now, it remains a huge achievement to stay in the division given the size of the club.
The success has been due to the team spirit and players stepping up to the highest level. Stanislas is a great example of that, as he has spent the majority of his career in the Football League. He helped Bournemouth get promoted and has continued to improve since the club arrived in the Premier League. Now he is one of the Cherries’ best players and moments like his goal on Saturday reflect that.
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