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  1. With the January transfer window in full swing, we are looking at some of the players who could potentially strengthen each of the top 6 Premier League clubs. Our selections have been made around a number of factors, including current rumours, players who would suit each team, and signings who would be realistic in terms of expenditure. Manchester City We start with the team who are poised to become champions of England for the third time in 6 years. Pep Guardiola has once again set up a team that plays the beautiful game exactly how it should be played, which makes it hard to pick out any players who will make a real difference to them. Harry Maguire Age: 24 Position: Centre back Current club: Leicester City Previous clubs: Sheffield United, Hull City How realistic is the transfer?: 5/10 Cost: £45-55m Our first suggestion is someone who could potentially form an all-English future defensive pairing with John Stones. Harry Maguire has impressed many with his brave style of play at the heart of the Leicester defence, and he is someone that Guardiola could look to as a long-term replacement for captain Vincent Kompany. Like compatriot Stones, Maguire is more than comfortable with the ball at his feet, and can often be seen driving into midfield trying to take his side forward. He is someone that would suit Guardiola’s style of play to perfection, and under the Spaniard’s coaching, he could become part of a very exciting centre-half pairing. The prospect of those two playing together on a regular basis is also in the best interests of the England national team, who could benefit from a defence that boasts experience at the heart of a Pep Guardiola side. This is a signing that is unlikely to happen in this transfer window, but certainly one to keep an eye out for in the summer. Jose Gimenez Age: 22 Position: Centre back/right back Current club: Atletico Madrid Previous clubs: Danubio How realistic is the transfer?: 3/10 Cost: £50m A man who established himself in the Atletico Madrid starting XI in the 2014/15 season, Jose Gimenez has fallen out of favour in Diego Simeone’s plans this season. City may see him as a replacement for Eliaquim Mangala, who was loaned out to Valencia last season, has struggled for game time this term. He primarily plays at centre back, although he can put a shift in at right back when called upon. Simeone appears to prefer a pairing of Diego Godin and Stefan Savic in the middle of the defence, whilst the emergence of Sime Vrsalijko at right back has seen his chances of game time at all cut short. Although he proves a worthy back up, Gimenez will surely be looking for a move away from Madrid sooner rather than later, and Manchester City, along with rivals Manchester United, have been long term admirers of the Uruguayan international. At the age of just 22, Gimenez still has a lot to learn, and a coach like Guardiola would certainly bring the best out of him and turn him into a more complete player. Manchester United Having already sealed the deal to sign Alexis Sanchez ad make him the highest earner in the Premier League, Manchester United are highly unlikely to making any more signings, but here’s a couple of players that could catch their eye in terms of who to look at in the summer. Samuel Umtiti Age: 24 Position: Centre back Current club: Barcelona Previous clubs: Lyon How realistic is the transfer?: 6/10 Cost: £50-55m Long gone are the days of Manchester United’s hard-battling, feared defensive partnerships. Eric Bailly is a start, but finding someone to go alongside him at the back has proved hard for Jose Mourinho, after the disappointing beginning to Victor Lindelof’s life in Manchester. Samuel Umtiti could prove a worthy partner for Bailly, after impressing in La Liga with Barcelona over the last season and a half. He might not be the tall, strong centre half that we are used to in the Premier League, standing at 1.82m, however what he lacks in height, he compensates in ability. The £75m paid by Liverpool for Dutch defender Virgil Van Dijk makes Umtiti’s release clause of roughly £50m look like an absolute bargain, especially considering he still has a number of playing years ahead of him. United would surely be looking to offload at least one of their current defenders before diving into the market for another one, but they may need to act quickly to ensure they beat rivals Manchester City to his signature. Danny Rose Age: 27 Position: Left back Current club: Tottenham Hotspur Previous clubs: Leeds United, Watford (loan), Peterborough United (loan), Bristol City (loan), Sunderland (loan) How realistic is the transfer?: 6/10 Cost: £45m Danny Rose would bring something to Manchester United that they have been lacking in recent times, a fast-paced attacking left back, much like they have on the right hand side in Antonio Valencia. Luke Shaw offers a similar style of play, however he has not quite lived up to his potential since his big money move from Southampton in 2014, mainly due to injury. Rose still has a few years left ahead of him, and he offers experience as part of Mauricio Pochettino’s well organised Tottenham side of recent seasons. He’s established himself in the England starting team over the last couple of years, although he has been forced out of Tottenham’s defence after returning from a long injury, due to the emergence of Ben Davies. This could tempt Spurs to offload Rose, and Manchester United would certainly be potential suitors for the full back. Chelsea Chelsea are having a mixed season up until this point. They remain in both domestic cup competitions, as well as the Champions League, but fans would get more satisfaction out of being closer to Manchester City at the top of the table, as impossible as it may seem. Chelsea always seem to loom towards more experienced figures in the transfer market, which is shown in the two suggestions that we’ve made. Oscar De Marcos Age: 28 Position: Right back Current club: Athletic Bilbao Previous clubs: Alaves How realistic is the transfer?: 5/10 Cost: £25-35m Oscar De Marcos is the player that Chelsea thought they were getting when they signed Davide Zappacosta. The Italian has failed to impress since signing in the summer of 2017, and Conte might already be looking for an adequate replacement. De Marcos has been a key figure at Athletic Bilbao since joining them in 2009, however he has seen his playing time cut short this season due to a number of injuries, leaving Bilbao seeming to prefer second choice right back Inigo Lekue due to the consistency that he can bring. De Marcos might see this as his opportunity to get a move to the Premier League, and Chelsea would certainly be a potential destination for him. Chelsea already boast a strong Spanish contingent, with the likes of first team players Fabregas, Morata, Alonso and Azpilicueta which would play a part in helping him to fit in. Arturo Vidal Age: 30 Position: Central midfielder Current club: Bayern Munich Previous clubs: Colo-Colo, Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus How realistic is the transfer?: 6/10 Cost: £40-50m Another man who has failed to win over Chelsea fans is Tiemoue Bakayoko. He hasn’t necessarily had a poor season, but he certainly has not lived up expectations since his big money move last Summer. Arturo Vidal is a name that pops up in every transfer window, with regards to Chelsea. Currently plying his trade for Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga, he has previously worked under Conte when the pair were at Juventus. The midfielder is a passionate player who is not afraid to get stuck in to challenges, a play style which will suit him to the Premier League. He might come at a hefty price for the Blues, however this is something which does not normally put them off of transfers. Rumours circled at the start of January that potential deal could be struck for Vidal once the Bosman transfer of Leon Goretzka to Bayern was sealed, and with the latter being completed within the last few days, these rumours are likely to start up again between now and the Summer. Liverpool Liverpool’s potent attack was damaged by the sale of Phillipe Coutinho to Barcelona. Having not made any acquisitions so far in this window, Klopp has come under pressure from expectant fans waiting for a big-name replacement. Here’s a couple of ways in which they could splash the cash in the final days of the window. Naby Keita Age: 22 Position: Central midfielder Current club: RB Leipzig Previous clubs: Red Bull Salzburg How realistic is the transfer?: 3/10 Cost: ? Although Naby Keita will officially be a Liverpool player when the summer transfer window opens on the 1st of July, the Reds could look to bring him in early, as a way to spend some of that staggering £140m they received for Coutinho. A midfield of Jordan Henderson, Emre Can and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is certainly not the most appealing to all Liverpool fans, and it’s clear that some extra quality needs to be brought in if they are to continue their strong challenge for a Champions League place. There are not many players that we can compare Keita to in terms of giving an idea of what to expect from the midfielder. He possesses a very unique style of play, which has allowed him to stand out in the Bundesliga since RB Leipzig’s promotion in 2016. At the age of just 22, the Guinea international has bags of energy, which would further compliment Liverpool’s pacy counter attacking style of football. Although it is very unlikely that he will move early, Liverpool have nothing to lose in trying to negotiate a deal. Alisson Age: 25 Position: Goalkeeper Current club: Roma Previous clubs: Internacional How realistic is the transfer?: 7/10 Cost: £40m Since the days of Pepe Reina, Liverpool have struggled to find a worthy replacement in the goalkeeper position, leaving Jurgen Klopp still unsure over his 1st choice between the sticks. Simon Mignolet had been his preferred choice for most of the season so far, however Loris Karius has played in 3 of the Reds last 4 fixtures. With the money coming from the sale of Coutinho, Klopp might see it as an opportunity to finally bring someone with a little more quality in his last line of defence. Alisson saw his game time limited last season, acting as a backup for Wojciech Szczesny however he did get his chance in Europe, impressing in the Europa League. In 2017/18, he has further improved his reputation, and is joint top of the clean sheet table in Serie A with 9 in 19 appearances. He is only 25, leaving him a many playing years ahead of him, and he could the man Liverpool are looking for. Tottenham Hotspur In recent years, Tottenham may not have been able to compete with the rest of the teams on this list financially. That being said, the gap is starting to close and they have become a force to be reckoned with both domestically, and in Europe. Even so, Spurs have failed to win a trophy since the 2007/08 season which is becoming increasingly frustrating for fans. Here’s who they could look at to bolster their side. Ryan Sessegnon Age: 17 Position: Left back Current club: Fulham Previous clubs: - How realistic is the transfer?: 8/10 Cost: £30-35m Ryan Sessegnon has made quite the impression on English football since his emergence in 2016. The youngster helped England lift the UEFA Euro u19 championship in the summer of 2017, having only just turned 17 himself. He currently plays in the Championship for Fulham where he has been involved in 21 goals in just over 50 appearances, an impressive record for a man who primarily plays at full back. Although Spurs might not be in the market for a left back, Sessegnon is a versatile player who can play anywhere down the left flank. When playing in a more attacking role, he has scored 7 and assisted 2 in just 8 league matches, a record which even a world class striker would be proud of. Tottenham have been known for developing young talent in recent years, with the likes of Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli improving vastly under Pochettino, and Harry Kane coming through the ranks of the academy which is why Spurs would seem like a very interesting proposition in the eyes of Sessegnon. Amadou Diawara Age: 20 Position: Holding midfielder Current club: Napoli Previous clubs: San Marino, Bologna How realistic is the transfer?: 5/10 Cost: £40m Diawara is another player that has made his breakthrough in the last couple of seasons. Napoli snapped up the midfielder after he had a successful season in Serie A with Bologna, and he has caught the eye of many top European clubs after impressing at the San Paolo. Tottenham could look to Diawara as a long-term replacement for Moussa Dembele, who is now 30 years of age. The Guinean would be an ideal signing for Spurs, as we know that Pochettino likes to develop players over time to fit into his style of football, and at the age of just 20 the Argentine manager could turn him into something special. He is a deep-lying playmaker, who boasts a 92% passing accuracy, and has also shown positive signs of defensive awareness, helping to put him on the wish-list of many of Europe’s elite. Arsenal Arsenal are more split than ever. The departure of Alexis Sanchez has brought out both the best and the worst in the club. It shows that they have not learned their mistakes from the Robin van Persie situation, although it also shows their desire to strengthen, with the signing of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and the pursuit of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Age: 28 Position: Centre forward Current club: Borussia Dortmund Previous clubs: AC Milan, Dijon (loan), Lille (loan), Monaco (loan), Saint-Etienne (loan), Saint-Etienne How realistic is the transfer?: 7.5/10 Cost: £50-55m Aubameyang would simply be a start to resolving Arsenal’s many problems. It’s going to take a lot more than one signing, and most likely more than one or even two transfer windows to reach the level expected of fans. The potential signing of Aubameyang, which is the Gunners are viewing with optimism, would form a fantastic partnership, on paper, with Frenchman Alexandre Lacazette, and German Mesut Ozil. With 13 goals in 15 appearances this season in the Bundesliga, the Gabon international is a proven goalscorer, and has been since his very first league match in Dortmund’s colours, in which he scored a hattrick. Whether he would be used as a replacement for Alexis Sanchez or Theo Walcott, Aubameyang has the pace to offer the same counter attacking style football that Arsenal have been known for under Wenger. Time will tell over this one. Steven N'Zonzi Age: 29 Position: Defensive midfielder Current club: Sevilla Previous clubs: Amiens, Blackburn Rovers, Stoke City How realistic is the transfer?: 4/10 Cost: £27m Even Arsenal fans are struggling to stand up for Granit Xhaka. He seems out of place, like he is not a natural defensive midfielder. The solution? Buy a defensive midfielder that can defend of course, but with Arsene Wenger it is never that simple. That being said, Steven NZonzi is a name that was linked with the North London side in the summer, and the rumours returned just before the January transfer window opened. No one would have predicted the success of the French international when he moved to Sevilla from Stoke in 2015, however he became a well recognised force in La Liga under Unai Emery and Jorge Sampaoli. Sevilla are struggling this season, and a change of manager last month has further scarred a somewhat disappointing campaign as of yet. The midfielder might cost more than Arsenal would be willing to pay for a 29 year old, however it would show true ambition for success to make a signing like this one. Share your thoughts about this feature article on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the chat with fellow football fans.
  2. Recently in the media there have been rumours about Alexis Sanchez, and how Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is pondering whether or not to rest the Chilean over the winter period. We've decided to delve further into these rumours to see just how much a break for Alexis could affect the Gunners and their title chances, and help you make your opinion on the matter. We start with the winter break in general, which has proven controversial in England in recent seasons. With both the German and Spanish teams given a lengthy time off over Christmas, the Football Association have decided to plough on with their tightly-packed schedule, which sees teams play at least three matches in the space of about seven days. Whilst this is usually a great time for football lovers in England, and indeed gates go up during the festive period, clubs fear this time as it often leads to fatigue and injuries. This is why it's not hard to understand Wenger's hesitation when it comes to his talisman. You have to put yourself in the mind of the manager. When it comes to options, I think that there is three main ones that Wenger could choose: - He keeps Sanchez in the squad for all matches and risks a needless (and much unwanted) injury - He doesn't play Sanchez over the winter and keeps him fresh for the close of the season where he could prove to be much more important - He rotates the squad, using a mixture of Sanchez, Olivier Giroud and Lucas Perez in the striker role Option number one, and of course this is only my opinion, would not be the wisest of choices, and is one that Wenger will surely ignore straight away. He has too much experience in the injury department to even think about risking the health and fitness of Sanchez. This could have a devastating effect on the fate of Arsenal's season. Option number two is one that Wenger, I'm sure, will consider much more safe and efficient in terms of what it could bring for Arsenal in the long term. With Arsenal's three fixtures in the festive period being all relatively winnable on paper, West Bromwich Albion (H) Crystal Palace (H) and Bournemouth (A), I'm sure that he will be much more likely to choose this option than the first. But then there is option three, which anyone with any common sense and/or knowledge of the sport would surely choose. Keep Alexis in the squad to bring his passion and influence, whilst also rotating him with Arsenal's other two high-profile forwards to keep his fitness levels high. This must be the answer! But we are talking about the most unpredictable of managers in Arsene Wenger here, so in terms of what to expect, it's a waiting game! The man who scored his 50th Arsenal goal earlier this season, bagged a hat-trick against West Ham this weekend and currently stands on 55 goals and 32 assists from 112 appearances is undoubtedly one of the few world class players in the Premier League, and would certainly be missed at the Emirates if he was to be rested for a short period. Tactically he offers a certain creativity that no one else at the club comes close to, with the exception of German playmaker Mesut Ozil. With the recent injury news regarding Santi Cazorla, Arsene Wenger certainly can't afford to lose another source of artistry in attack. Sanchez is clearly a player that is integral to both Arsenal's character and ability on the pitch, so it would be difficult for the Gunners if he were to be left out for a few matches. Share your thoughts about this story on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the conversation.
  3. After an underwhelming start to the season which has seen Arsenal pick up just four points from three matches, pressure built on Arsene Wenger to add to his squad over the summer. After agreeing deals for Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez, Arsenal’s expenditure in this transfer window is said to have surpassed the £90m mark, but is it money well spent? Here, I analyse each of the players that Wenger has brought in during the last few weeks, in an attempt to work out whether the Gunners have spent their money wisely. 1st Signing – Granit Xhaka (Borussia Monchengladbach) Age: 23 Position: Holding Midfield Fee: £34m Value for Money: 6/10 Importance of the Signing: 8.5/10 Arsenal fans finally have one of the signings that they’ve been crying out for since the departure of Patrick Vieira. A talented holding midfielder who combines eagle-eyed vision with undeniable strength, Granit Xhaka’s £34m price tag certainly raised a few eyebrows when he signed back in May. However, with overly inflated prices being paid across Europe recently, Xhaka’s fee doesn’t necessarily stand out. The capture of the 23-year-old gives Arsenal seemingly endless midfield options and combinations which will play a large part in their defensive stability, as well as efficiency in going forward, which is why the importance of the signing has been rated highly. Xhaka was named in the Bundesliga Team of the Season in 2014/15, which is impressive considering he is battling with the likes of players from Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, and after a Euro 2016 campaign which saw him pick up three Man of the Match awards in four matches, the Swiss looks to be an exciting player. 2nd Signing – Takuma Asano (Sanfreece Hiroshima) Age: 21 Position: Forward Fee: £3m Value for Money: ? Importance of the Signing: 2/10 Having joined Arsenal from Sanfreece Hiroshima in the Japanese J-League, it’s hard to determine just how much of a prospect Arsenal have on their hands in Takuma Asano. We saw a mere glimpse of his potential in the Olympics, where he scored two goals in three matches, including a fine backheel in a thrilling 5-4 defeat to Nigeria. At just 21 years of age, Asano has won the J1 League twice, as well as three Japanese Super Cups in his time at Sanfreece, where he has been since he was 18. The question mark next to his value for money is simply down to the fact that we haven’t seen him play any football whatsoever in any of Europe’s top leagues, and the reason for his low rating in the importance of the signing speaks for itself, with the forward being loaned out to German side Stuttgart on his return from the Olympics. 3rd Signing – Rob Holding (Bolton Wanderers) Age: 20 Position: Centre-Back Fee: £2.5m Value for Money: 9/10 Importance of the Signing: 5/10 Although Arsenal were in desperate search of a central defender in this window, I have rated the importance of the signing at just 5/10 because they simply didn’t need a young and promising defender at the time of the signing. They needed a top quality, experienced player, which isn’t a criteria that Holding fits, although Arsenal did eventually get their man in the shape of Shkodran Mustafi. Despite this, Gunners fans welcomed him to the club, and after a successful pre-season, Holding started all three of Arsenal’s opening Premier League matches. At just 20 years old, the £2.5m spent on him by Wenger looks to be a great piece of business. He should be a great prospect for the future, if he can ‘keep his head on his shoulders’ for the next couple of seasons. Even at his young age, Holding seems to have so much composure when on the ball, which fits in with Arsenal’s style of play perfectly, and he is a great option for Arsene to have. 4th Signing – Lucas Perez (Deportivo) Age: 27 Position: Forward Fee: £17.1 Value for Money: 8/10 Importance of the Signing: 6.5/10 Lucas Perez has become well-known in Spain in the last 12 months, after a fantastic season with Deportivo la Coruna. The Spaniard’s £17.1m buy-out clause was met by Arsenal, and made to look a bargain by his goal scoring record in La Liga last term, where he hit the back of the net 17 times. Wenger even referred to Perez as his “own Jamie Vardy”, with the pair both making their rise to fame late on in their respective careers. Although he isn’t the world class striker that fans wanted, Perez offers an alternative to Frenchman Olivier Giroud, and a different style of play across the forward line. As with Rob Holding, I have rated the importance of the signing relatively low, as the club didn’t necessarily need another back up striker, yet it remains to be seen whether Lucas can be the consistent forward that Arsenal have been lacking since the departure of Robin Van Persie. 5th Signing – Shkodran Mustafi (Valencia) Age: 24 Position: Centre-Back Fee: £35m Value for Money: 6.5/10 Importance of the Signing: 10/10 Signing a top quality centre-back was imperative for Arsenal in this transfer window, as it has been for a couple of seasons now. Since Per Mertesacker’s decline in form, Arsene Wenger has been subject to much scrutiny for his hesitation in ‘splashing the cash’, However, Mertesacker’s compatriot Shkodran Mustafi offers exactly what the Gunners need. At just 24 years of age, the defender has much experience under his belt, even being part of Germany’s 2014 World Cup winning squad. He does also have a small amount of experience in the Premier League, having played for Everton between 2009 and 2012. He didn’t actually play any league matches, but this period will have allowed him to get a taste of English football, and that could set him up nicely for his Arsenal career. I have rated Mustafi’s value for money relatively low at 6.5/10, as I think that £35m is a steep price for a defender. Whilst I appreciate his quality and the inflated prices of this transfer window, it is a signing that Wenger would not usually make, and it seems like he has bought Mustafi out of pressure, as opposed to willingness.
  4. With both news outlets and social media being dominated by Paul Pogba’s world record £89m return to Manchester United, Football Manics writer Sam Fuller has taken the time to put together a list of other players who have, successfully or not, made the move back to their former club. 10. Mario Gotze (BORUSSIA DORTMUND) First on the list is Mario Gotze, who swapped Bayern Munich for Borussia Dortmund this summer after 3 years away from the ‘black and yellows’. Gotze was adored by fans in his first spell in Dortmund, where he was regarded as a top quality prospect for the future, a standard he lived up to in his early Bayern Munich career. After scoring the only goal in Germany’s World Cup final win in 2014, Gotze has failed to make much of an impact for the Bundesliga champions, making just 16 starts in all competitions last season. Despite his poor form, we can’t forget that famous saying, ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’, which is why Dortmund snapped up the 24-year-old in July this year for a fee of £18m, a bargain for a player of his quality. 9. Thierry Henry (ARSENAL) Thierry Henry would have been placed higher on this list due to his legendary status at the Gunners in the Premier League, were his return more than just a short loan spell during the MLS winter break. Despite this, it was a success as far as Arsenal were concerned, as it gave their fans possibly the best moment at the Emirates Stadium to date. With the Gunners being held to a 0-0 draw by Leeds in an FA Cup 3rd round clash, Henry came off the bench to score the winner in typical Thierry fashion, sending the Arsenal faithful into pandemonium – and even the opposition fans stood to applaud. His only other goal during the two-month loan spell came against Sunderland in stoppage time which won the match for the North London side, a fitting send off. 8. Teddy Sheringham (TOTTENHAM) Teddy Sheringham was a fan favourite at Spurs, even winning the Golden Boot in the first ever Premier League season with 22 goals. Despite being loved, he was becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of trophies at Tottenham, and this resulted in him moving to the red side of Manchester in a deal worth roughly £3.5m. After a 4-year-spell at Manchester United, Sheringham made the move back to North London, where he couldn’t quite reach the heights that he had during his first stay at the club, but he still goes down in the Tottenham history books for his goalscoring record. 7. Kaka (AC MILAN) Kaka was exceptional at Milan. There’s no other way to put it. Costing them just £7m, Kaka won the Champions League, Serie A and the Club World Cup in his six-year stay in Italy. The Brazilian also picked up the 2007 Ballon D’Or, which labelled him as the world’s best, and it wasn’t hard to see why. He made a world record, at the time, £56m move to Real Madrid in the summer of 2009, but in all honesty, Kaka’s career went downhill at the Bernabeu, with injury problems hindering his progress, and he handed in his transfer request in 2013. After interest from England, it was announced that Kaka was rejoining AC Milan on a free transfer, and his second stint at the club helped him reach landmarks such as scoring his 100th goal for Milan, as well as playing his 300th match in Italy. 6. Jermain Defoe (TOTTENHAM) After emerging at West Ham side early in his career, Jermain Defoe moved across London to Tottenham in 2004 for a fee of £6m, but he was overlooked for a starting place following the arrival of Darren Bent in the summer of 2007. After a short loan spell at Portsmouth, the move was quickly made permanent, which saw Spurs recoup the £6m they paid for his services, but after continued hassle from Tottenham fans, the club resigned the forward from Portsmouth just a year later in a deal believed to be worth more than double what Pompey paid for him. Defoe kept hold of a starting place for most of the 5 years that he stayed, with his best moment coming in a 9-1 win against Wigan, in which he scored 5. 5. Nemanja Matic (CHELSEA) Not many knew of Nemanja Matic during his first spell at Chelsea, as he made just two appearances in his one-and-a-half year stay, but the Blues ended up paying Benfica £21m for his return. He was pivotal in Chelsea’s title winning campaign of 2014/15, even getting named as one of the midfielders in the PFA Team of the Season from that season. Currently, Matic is still plying his trade for the Blues, and at the age of 28, he certainly still has a number of years left under his belt. 4. Robbie Fowler (LIVERPOOL) Starting his football career at Liverpool at the age of 8, Fowler came up through the ranks on Merseyside, and made a name for himself at Anfield. In a professional career at Liverpool that lasted for 8 years, the forward was much loved by fans, until his starting place up front was taken over by the prolific Michael Owen. Fowler was sold to Leeds for £12m in 2001, and had a spell at Manchester City before returning to Liverpool on a free transfer in the winter of 2006. His return was met with much praise from Reds fans, however it’s fair to say that he didn’t enjoy much success, due to Rafa Benitez’s hesitation to play him, through fears of fitness concerns. Despite this, Liverpool still regard Fowler as a legend, and no one can deny that he was unstoppable on his day. 3. Didier Drogba (CHELSEA) After parting company with Chelsea in 2012, winning them the Champions League final with the deciding spot kick, Didier Drogba made the move to the money-fuelled Chinese Super League. After a short stint with Galatasaray, the Ivory Coast man found himself with without a team, but Jose Mourinho took Drogba in once again. Although Drogba’s return to Stamford Bridge only lasted for a season, the reason he has been placed so high on this list is due to the success that he was a part of over the year. As Chelsea won the Premier League and the Capital One Cup, he mainly played as a back-up striker to Diego Costa but showed hints of the world class striker that we saw in his first spell in West London. 2. Mark Hughes (MANCHESTER UNITED) Mark Hughes’ emergence into the Manchester United squad was welcomed at the young age of 17, after, like Fowler, moving up through the ranks. After a mildly successful opening to his career at Old Trafford, Hughes was sold to Barcelona, where he endured a tough year, before going out on loan to Bayern Munich. Manchester United, with Sir Alex Ferguson now in charge, paid a club record £1.8m fee to bring him back. His second spell brought much success, as he was part of a revolution under Ferguson. He won 2 Premier League titles, 2 FA Cups, and the UEFA Super Cup, as well as picking up 2 Players’ Player of the Season awards after his return. A great success as far as Manchester United and Mark Hughes are concerned. 1. Ian Rush (LIVERPOOL) There is not a strong enough superlative to describe Ian Rush’s success at Liverpool. After winning the European Cup twice and 4 league titles with the club, he set out for pastures new in Italy with Juventus. His move was short-lived however, as he returned to Liverpool on loan for a season, and then moved back to Anfield on a permanent basis after a season in Turin. He spent a further 8 years there, where he secured his status as a Liverpool legend, winning another league title, 2 FA Cups and a League Cup, as well as becoming Liverpool’s all time record scorer with 346 goals. Defenders simply couldn’t handle the Welshman who was always in top form, and his achievements on Merseyside see him top this list. Notable Mentions Carlos Tevez (BOCA JUNIORS) Graeme Le Saux (CHELSEA) Joe Cole (WEST HAM UNITED) Do you agree with Sam's list? Share your thoughts on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the conversation.
  5. In this article, Football Manics writer Sam Fuller looks at the teams in the Championship that will be expected to challenge for the title, as well as those who may be struggling at the wrong end of the table. THE TITLE CONTENDERS NEWCASTLE UNITED Newly relegated Newcastle United are strong favourites to gain automatic promotion next season for a number of reasons. A squad full of Premier League quality players and an owner with deep pockets will certainly encourage the Magpies, as will their recent additions of Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle, who both bring Championship experience. The club have also managed to keep hold of veteran manager Rafa Benitez, which will give them a huge boost in confidence for the season. Newcastle certainly have a passionate and vocal fan base on their side, but the Championship is a very different league to the Premier League. A drawn-out campaign of 46 matches tests players’ fitness and physical condition, however a strong-willed Toon side look set for a fruitful season in the second division as they hope to make a swift return to the top. ASTON VILLA Aston Villa have used the same approach as Newcastle in their captures, with the recent additions of Aaron Tshibola from Reading and Tommy Elphick from Bournemouth as they look to give themselves some experience, having not played in the second tier since the 1987-88 campaign. It is hard to believe that just a mere six years ago, the Villans were competing for a Champions League spot themselves. A recent takeover funded by Dr Tony Xia has proved to be a silver lining for Villa after their poor performances last season, which saw them finish with a total of 17 points. His first signing could turn out to be the most important, as he convinced Champions League winner Roberto Di Matteo to take over the reins at Villa Park, a manager who will offer a certain fluidity in his style of play. The club doesn’t have the same quality of firepower up front as Newcastle, however with a top signing in this sector, it would be reasonable to predict them as automatic promotion fighters. NORWICH CITY Uncertainty awaits Norwich City for the season ahead, as they look to deal with the departure of Nathan Redmond, who recently made an £11m move to Southampton. Manager Alex Neil will no doubt bring in the players needed to fill his gap, but nevertheless it is a face that will be missed at Carrow Road. Having only been promoted to the top tier in the 2014-15 season, it will be fresh in the minds of the Norwich players that they can indeed make a quick-fire return. Norwich do have much experience in the Championship, and there could be a sign of things to come as they gained straight promotion back to the Premier League after their previous relegation to the second division. This fact might not have any effect at all on Norwich’s chances, however it does prove that promotion in the forthcoming season isn’t beyond them, which is why they shouldn’t be taken lightly. BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION The thrilling three-horse-race in the Championship last season saw Brighton & Hove Albion cruelly miss out on automatic promotion, but their squad seem to get closer to promotion with each season that passes. Manager Chris Hughton has given the side newfound hope in recent seasons and the belief that they can reach the Premier League, as they so nearly did last season. With only the additions of 19-year-old centre-back Ben Hall and Glenn Murray on loan, the Seagulls clearly fancy their chances with the squad that they already have under Chris Hughton. While there is still time in the transfer window, Brighton fans should expect a couple more new faces as they look to further prolong their status as promotion contenders, after reaching the play-off semi-finals frequently in the last few seasons. SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY Wednesday were perhaps the unluckiest of the unlucky in the Championship last season after missing out on a Premier League spot due to a play-off final defeat. Although it was widely unexpected that the club would get as far as they did in the first place, it was still a crushing defeat for them, but it is one that will give them valuable experience in playing in important matches this season For those of you who watched the Championship play-offs, you will have seen the commitment and passion from manager Carlos Carvalhal. It is managers like these that have the sacred bond with their players that forms a formidable relationship in football, and this will be a hard bond to break down next season, which is why Wednesday have been included in this list. DERBY COUNTY It was another poor display from the Rams last season as they once again failed to show the quality that is needed to gain promotion. It seems a long time ago now that Derby broke the hard-to-forget record of being relegated with only 11 points from 38 matches, but with a much changed, younger squad, Derby have come close in past seasons. Reaching the play-offs in the 2013-14 season, as well as in the last campaign shows that their integrity to succeed is undeniable. The club’s place on this list comes purely from their experience in the top end of the Championship, having finished in the top ten in the past 4 seasons. Players like Chris Martin, who has been Derby’s top scorer in the league for three seasons running, will encourage the side, and could spur them on to promotion in the upcoming season. QUEENS PARK RANGERS After finishing 12th in a bitterly disappointing campaign last season, QPR have already acted quickly in the transfer market, bringing a number of new faces to Loftus Road. These signings have by no means been high-profile, but with the large budget that the Rangers boast, more signings will be expected. In recent seasons, the club have been very unpredictable both on and off the pitch, especially since their takeover, however a couple of seasons of stability might allow them to push forward. Manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink offers a fresh approach in coaching styles, after retiring himself just 8 years ago, and his success at his previous club Burton Albion shows that he isn’t a manager to disregard due to a lack of experience. Although he couldn’t steer QPR to a respectable finish last season, quality will come with time as far as managers are concerned, which is why Hasselbaink could be a useful man next season. THE RELEGATION CANDIDATES BURTON ALBION Burton’s rise from humble beginnings to where they are now is a testament to how you establish a hard working team. The Brewers were founded in 1950, making them the third youngest professional outlet with the Football League. However, they are expect to fall back down to League One next season and here’s why. Currently, they’re lacking that extra quality which makes all the difference when adapting to life within the Championship and so far none of Nigel Cloughs signing are players whom on paper seem to able of changing this. However, they do have a unity within their ranks and the belief that they can beat the expectations placed on them – yet it looks like they will have a hard season, which may compare to Yeovil’s brief stint in the English second division a few years back. Burton will have to call on all the efforts of the squad that enabled them to push for promotion if they’re to survive the drop, whist making sure they do not concede many goals, as it’s unlikely they will have much goalscoring firepower. ROTHERHAM UNITED The Millers fought bravely against relegation last term – under Neil Warnock they turned their fortunes and had they have retained his services, there would be no questions regarding their Championship status. However, they taken on Alan Stubbs, who is unproven as a manager in English football, and lack leaders in the team, is vital for building on from a season when you were favourites for relegation. Rotherham United desperately requires a Championship standard goalscorer, along with much need creativity in midfield in order to survive the drop of the 2016-17 season. They’re proof of just how important chemistry is, yet with no real signing to note, they look certain to expect another difficult campaign. WIGAN ATHLETIC Newly promoted Wigan will have much optimism within their camp ahead of the 2016-17 season. Having enjoyed a successful return from League One and dismissing the odds that they may struggle to adapting to life within league. They return to the Championship with a certain level of promise, much like Barnsley who gone about making some screwed signings. However the Latics will have to re-adapt to life within the Championship, which is proving itself to be a difficult league for newly promoted sides to survive. Gary Caldwell will have them well prepared and organized, yet they will require further strength coming from signings, and it seems unlikely that they will avoid the bottom half of the table. FULHAM The Cottagers almost fell victim to relegation last term, suffering from money worries – not much has changed since and although Fulham have several very promising youngsters coming through their ranks, they lack a squad able to rotate well. Scoring shouldn’t be the issue for the Cottagers – their main concern will be injuries and a lack of defensive options suitable for keeping quality opposition players at bay. Fulham are expected to flirt again with relegation, so their senior players and attacking options will be the expected catalysts for potential survival – yet their downfall may come from the uncertainty around the club. If they’re unable to progress during this upcoming season, there is no doubt that the once Premier League side may return back to where they came from. NOTTINGHAM FOREST After years of being absent from the Premier League, Forest have fallen on difficult times – they’re currently up for sale and have been dealt the blow of having to reduce their wages after being struck last season with a transfer embargo for breaching the fair-play rules, which has seen many of their talented player depart the club, not to mention the reduction in capacity at the City Ground. Defensively, they don’t look that strong – especially when you look at their fringe players. If injury hits, not only are they like to struggle with conceding goals but scoring them is likely to be difficult. Much of their creativity would have come from players like Andy Reid and Britt Assombalonga, both of which were noticeably missing from their side last season, and a further blow for the Reds is the retirement of Reid following a spate of injuries. With a lack of reinforcements ahead of the 2016-17 season, it seems almost certain that Forest will struggle to move away from the turmoil and difficulties that have been present to-date and unless their takeover is completed, it is unlikely they will sign the quality required to push forward.
  6. With a proven world-class manager, elite summer signings and a seemingly infinite squad depth, what more could Manchester United want? Here, I analyse what chances the Red Devils have for the forthcoming season and what else is left for Jose Mourinho to do to ensure United’s status as serious title contenders. The pre-season buzz is as strong as ever and for the first time in a few seasons, Manchester United is the name on everyone’s lips. This is surely their best chance to win the title since they parted company with club legend Sir Alex Ferguson and fans should definitely be optimistic for the domestic season ahead. Despite the flurry of outstanding managers joining top teams in the Premier League, United have possibly one of the most proven in England, giving them a great advantage over their rivals, which is why they really shouldn’t be taken lightly. The disappointment of not reaching the Champions League has worn off for most of the United fan base, predominantly due to their captures in the transfer market, giving them belief that they can win their first European competition since that famous night in Russia. As far as the Europa League is concerned, it would be a huge disappointment if they weren’t to win the cup or at least get to the final. With the European experience of Mourinho, as well as the experience many of the clubs’ players, it looks set to be an exciting campaign on the continent for them. Traditionally, the big clubs use their younger generation of players in cup competitions and luckily for Mourinho, one of the few benefits that Louis Van Gaal can leave his successor is a squad brimming with youth players high in potential. The Dutchman brought many players from the lower ranks into the first team, giving Manchester United a bright future with names like Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson emerging under Van Gaal, which will allow them to play a less experienced, yet talented back-up side in cup competition. There could be a treble on the cards for Manchester United, as long as they can pull themselves together as a team. Here is how they can do that effectively. After much speculation, the captures of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan haven’t necessarily surprised the footballing world, although they have made people see the club in a new light. We can’t forget the promising defender in Eric Bailly who brings some pace to the comparatively young backline and the expected arrival of Paul Pogba will also add a combination of skill and power in the artistic midfield. Despite these high-profile additions, it is always hard to tell whether any signing will come to fruition until the commence of the season, as Manchester United have learnt with Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria and even more recently Memphis Depay. The point I am making is that Mourinho needs to guarantee unity within the squad to make sure that all of his players are content in working with each other, to build a good team spirit. This is vital in success, just look at Leicester. The manager will need to effectively welcome his signings into the team to get the best out of them, something which Van Gaal clearly didn’t manage so successfully. This being said, it’s not all up to Mourinho to bring the best out of his captures, as it is the players themselves who will be on the pitch controlling the match. It is time for some signings to finally step up for Manchester United, an area which has failed the club in recent seasons. Ibrahimovic has established himself as one of the worlds’ best in Serie A and Ligue 1, and now it is time to do the same in Manchester in the Premier League. This shouldn’t be a problem for him due to his working relationship with the new Portuguese boss, having been together at Inter Milan, however with Zlatan, you never quite know what’s going on in his mind. Henrikh Mkhitaryan comes from the tough German Bundesliga, which should theoretically suit him for the similarly tough Premier League, however it all depends on how he copes with change. It will be interesting to see how Mkhitaryan, along with Gundogan and Hojbjerg adapt to play in England and how differently they cope to playing in the EPL compared to in Germany. Any big signing for any club, from any league needs time and this is why although these signings need to step up to the plate, fans shouldn’t expect too much in the early weeks of the season. So with the top quality side that Mourinho has built in a matter of weeks and the coming of Paul Pogba, it looks set to be a successful season on the red side of Manchester.
  7. SamFuller00

    Championship: The Title Contenders

    Newcastle Newly relegated Newcastle are strong favourites to gain automatic promotion next season for a number of reasons. A squad full of premier league quality players and an owner with a deep pocket will certainly encourage the Magpies, as will their recent additions of Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle, who both bring Championship experience. The club have also managed to keep hold of veteran manager Rafa Benitez, which will give them a huge boost in confidence for the season. Newcastle certainly have a passionate and vocal fan base on their side, but the Championship is a very different league to the Premier League. A drawn-out campaign of 46 matches tests players’ fitness and physical condition, however a strong-willed Toon side look for a firm season in the second division, as they hope to make a swift return to the top. Aston Villa Aston Villa have used the same approach as Newcastle in their captures, with the recent additions of Aaron Tshibola from Reading and Tommy Elphick from Bournemouth as they look to give themselves some experience, having not played in the second tier since the 1987/88 campaign. It is hard to believe that just a mere 6 years ago, the Villans were competing for a Champions League spot themselves. A recent takeover funded by Dr Tony Xia of China has proved to be a silver lining for Villa after their poor performances last season, which saw them finish with a total of 17 points. His first signing could turn out to be the most important, as he convinced Champions League winner Roberto Di Matteo to take over the reins at Villa Park, a manager who will offer a certain fluidity in his style of play. The club doesn’t have the same quality of firepower up front as Newcastle, however with a top signing in this sector, it would be reasonable to predict them as automatic promotion fighters. Norwich Uncertainty awaits Norwich for the season ahead, as they look to deal with the departure of Nathan Redmond, who recently made an £11m move to Southampton. Manager Alex Neil will no doubt bring in the player(s) needed to fill his gap, but nevertheless it is a face that will be missed at Carrow Road. Having only been promoted to the top tier in the 2014/15 season, it will be fresh in the minds of the Norwich players that they can indeed make a quick-fire return. Norwich do have much experience in the Championship, and there could be a sign of things to come as Norwich gained straight promotion back to the Premier League after their previous relegation to the second division. This fact might not have any effect at all on Norwich’s chances, however it does prove that promotion in the forthcoming season isn’t beyond them, which is why they shouldn’t be taken lightly. Brighton The thrilling three-horse-race in the Championship last season saw Brighton cruelly miss out on automatic promotion, however their squad seem to get closer to promotion with each season that passes. Manager Chris Hughton has given the side new-found hope in recent seasons, and given them the belief that they can reach the Premier League, as they so nearly did last season. With only the additions of 19-year-old centre-back Ben Hall and Glen Murray on loan, the Seagulls clearly fancy their chances with the squad that they already have under Chris Hughton. While there is still time in the transfer window, Brighton fans should expect a couple more new faces as they look to further prolong their status as promotion contenders, after reaching the play-off semi-finals frequently in the last few seasons. Sheffield Wednesday Wednesday were perhaps the unluckiest of the unlucky in the Championship last season after missing out on a Premier League spot due to a play-off final defeat. Although it was widely unexpected that the club would get as far as they did in the first place, it was still a crushing defeat for them, but it is a defeat that will give them valuable experience in playing in important matches. For those of you who watched the Championship play-offs, you will have seen the commitment and passion from manager Carlos Carvalhal. It is managers like these that have the sacred bond with their players that forms a formidable relationship in football, and this will be a hard bond to break down next season, which is why Sheffield Wednesday have been included in this list. Derby It was another poor display from the Rams last season, as they once again failed to show the quality that is needed to gain promotion. It seems a long time ago now that Derby broke the hard-to-forget record of being relegated with only 11 points from 38 matches, however with a much changed, younger squad, Derby have come close in past seasons. Reaching the play-offs in the 2013/14 season, as well as in the last campaign shows that their integrity to succeed is undeniable. The club’s place on this list comes purely from their experience in the top end of the Championship, having finished in the top ten in the past 4 seasons. Players like Chris Martin, who has been Derby’s top scorer in the league for three seasons running, will encourage the side, and could spur them on to victory in the upcoming season. QPR After finishing 12th in a bitterly disappointing campaign last season, QPR have already acted quickly in the transfer market, bringing a number of new faces to Loftus Road. These signings have by no means been high-profile, however with the large budget that the Rangers boast, more signings will be expected. In recent seasons, the club have been very unpredictable both on and off the pitch, especially since their takeover, however a couple of seasons of stability might allow them to push forward. Manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink offers a fresh approach in coaching styles, after retiring himself just 8 years ago, and his success at his previous club Burton Albion shows that he isn’t a manager to disregard due to a lack of experience. Although he couldn’t steer QPR to a respectable finish last season, quality will come with time as far as managers are concerned, which is why Hasselbaink could be a useful man next season.
  8. SamFuller00

    Euro 2016: Team of the Tournament

    Many players have excelled on the big stage at Euro 2016, several of which surprised us all to say the least. In this article, Football Manics writer Sam Fuller picks out the best of the best from the tournament and inducts them into the Euro 2016 Team of the Tournament. Goalkeeper – Manuel Neuer (GERMANY) The world’s best goalkeeper hasn’t disappointed at the Euros, keeping 4 clean sheets and stringing together an array of impressive performances. The German did not concede a single goal during the group stage, and then proved his quality by stringing together some stunning acrobatic stops against Slovakia in the Round of 16. Although Neuer did have to pick the ball out of his net 3 times in Germany’s last 2 games, it is hard to single out a poor performance from him at Euro 2016, which is why he has beaten the likes of Hugo Lloris and Gianluigi Buffon to this spot. Right-Back – Darijo Srna (CROATIA) Coping with the loss of your father at any time is an extremely hard thing to go through, and when the Croatian captain was told of his loss after his first match in France, he didn’t let it get to him, proving to be an important figure in Croatia’s progression to the round of 16. The 34-year-old helped his side beat Turkey and Spain in the group stage, which saw the Croats finish top of Group D. His defensive ability and attacking threat caught the eye of many spectators, and this is why he has pipped Chris Gunter and Alessandro Florenzi to the right-back position in this team. Centre-Back – Leonardo Bonucci (ITALY) Leonardo Bonucci has been an established centre-back in the heart of the Italian defence since his fantastic Euro 2012 campaign, and there was a repeat of this in the past month as he proved his worth in Antonio Conte’s unusual formation with 3 at the back. Making an average of 3.2 interceptions and 6 clearances per match, Bonucci has certainly made himself noticeable, which is why he has beaten fellow Italian Giorgio Chiellini to this spot in defence. Centre-Back – Pepe (PORTUGAL) Prior to the start of the European Championship, the Portuguese defender was under much scrutiny for his theatrics in the Champions League final, but he has stepped up in France, and has played a huge part in them winning the tournament. Pepe’s performance in the final was certainly eye-catching, and his pairing with Jose Fonte proved to be unbreakable. And while there is no doubt about his defensive ability, there is doubt about his on-pitch behaviour, but Pepe has shown no signs of cracking in the tournament, and this is why he’s been picked ahead of Jerome Boateng in this side. Left-Back – Jonas Hector (GERMANY) Jonas Hector wasn’t a surprise inclusion in Germany’s 23-man squad after playing in all of their warm-up games before the start of the Euros, but his brimming form in the left-back position has surprised a few. The Cologne left back played in all 6 of Die Mannschaft’s matches at Euro 2016, and he has proved a useful attacking threat, providing a passing accuracy of 90%, and an average of 2.5 through balls per game from the back. His top form sees him beat Neil Taylor and Raphael Guerreiro to the left back position. Central Midfield – Aaron Ramsey (WALES) The Welsh midfielder has definitely shown the quality that we didn’t see too much of last season, in a side that, unexpectedly, reached the semi-finals. The 25 year old has been The Dragons’ star playmaker, racking up 4 assists and a goal in just 5 matches, quite a feat for a midfielder. Ramsey was dearly missed when suspended for the semi-final clash against Portugal, but he will go down in the Wales history books for his superb form at the Euros, and that’s why he has beaten Arsenal teammate Mesut Ozil to this midfield spot. Central Midfield – Renato Sanches (PORTUGAL) Aged just 18 years and 326 days, Renato Sanches became the youngest ever player to represent his country in a European Championship final, but his relative inexperience in the senior game has had no effect on his form, as he has been instrumental in Portugal’s success. His strength and pace has highlighted his immense power as a box-to-box midfielder, and helped to justify his recent big money move to Bayern Munich. Renato is a fantastic all-round player, which is why he’s fended off Frenchman N’Golo Kante to this position. Central Midfield – Dimitri Payet (FRANCE) France’s saviour in their opening match against Romania didn’t let his form drop throughout the rest of their matches, adding a further 2 goals and 2 assists to his winner. He averaged 3 shots per game, showing his desire to spur on his country from midfield, and attempted to unlock defences, averaging 3.5 key passes per match. Dimitri’s overwhelming form at West Ham last season ensured him a place in Les Bleus’ 23-man squad, but not even Didier Deschamps himself could have predicted the 29-year-old’s success, seeing him pip Luka Modric to the starting XI. Forward– Gareth Bale (WALES) The most expensive player in the world hit the ground running from the off, netting a free kick inside the opening 10 minutes of Wales’ clash against Slovakia. Bale then scored a goal in each of their next 2 matches, completing a fantastic group stage. His power and determination to succeed has inspired the players around him, culminating in an unimaginable campaign for the Welsh. He averaged 4.3 shots per game, and his quality on the ball has allowed him to beat Real Madrid teammate Cristiano Ronaldo. Forward– Antoine Griezmann (FRANCE) What can be said that hasn’t already about Euro 2016’s golden boy? With 6 goals, 2 assists and 2 man of the match awards it has been a near-perfect campaign for him personally, and despite France’s failure in the final, Griezmann will be remembered for his jaw dropping performances. He individually won matches for France, with his last-minute winner against Albania and his double against the Republic of Ireland, and it could set him up for a big-money move in the summer. There is no competition for him in this team of the tournament. Forward – Nani (PORTUGAL) Nani has been exceptional at the Euros, hitting the back of the net 3 times, as well as providing an assist for Portugal, who have now made 2 finals in the last 4 European Championship finals. He combined pace and skill excellently, and scored important goals at important times to help Portugal lift the trophy. In a Portuguese side that didn’t win a match inside 90 minutes until the semi-final, Nani was one of the stand-out players, which puts him ahead of Ivan Perisic in this team.

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