Thursday, 22 August 2019

Preview: Serie A 2019/20 Season

Serie A makes its return this weekend with plenty of changes across the league. The Max Allegri era is over at Juventus after deciding to leave at the end of last season. Maurizio Sarri is tasked with continuing Juventus' dominance of Serie A but Napoli, Inter, Roma, Atalanta and AC Milan will push them hard meaning it promises to be an enthralling season in Italy.

Juventus head into the new season as overwhelming favourites after collecting an 8th straight league title at the end of last season but Max Allegri waves arrivederci citing he needed a break from football. His replacement is Maurizio Sarri who arrives after a sole season at Chelsea where he secured his first trophy as a manager. Sarri struggled with the culture of England and English football and now returns to his homeland determined to continue the success Juventus have had over the last decade. It has been a busy summer in Turin with the likes of Moise Kean, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Spinnazzola and Joao Cancelo all leaving the Old Lady this summer but once again Juventus' shrewd approach at free transfers have come up trumps again. Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot have arrived on free transfers to enhance their midfield while Gianluigi Buffon has returned after leaving PSG. The experienced keeper is expected to challenge current number 1, Wojciech Szczesny. However, the Old Lady's big investment this summer is the most highly rated centre back in world football in Matthijs De Ligt. The young Dutchman arrives after a stellar season at Ajax and now he is hungry for even more success after completing a bargain £67M move to the Serie A champions. Juventus are desperate to dominate Europe and with the league expected to go their way, can they finally become kings of Europe again? We shall watch with interest. 

Meanwhile, Carlo Ancelotti is plotting a serious title challenge in his second season in charge of Napoli. Ancelotti's team finished runners-up and were a long way behind Juventus overall but a summer of reflection has taken place and Ancelotti is aiming to bring glory back to Naples. It has been a quiet summer in the transfer window for Napoli with their main business consisting of tying down their three goalkeepers on permanent deals. But they have made a statement signing in Kostas Manolas from Roma for a cool £32M. The Greek has impressed in the Italian capital but with Roma struggling to sustain a title charge, the defender felt a change was needed. Napoli are determined to challenge this season and more business is expected in the window with a deal for Mexican winger Hirving Lozano close. Napoli has plenty of talent across the pitch but consistency let them down last season and Ancelotti must address that if they are to topple Juventus this season. But could last season's dark horses Atalanta spring a surprise this season? Well, they were outstanding last season in securing a first-ever season in the Champions League and Gianpiero Gasperini is determined to continue the success this season. Duvan Zapata was sensational in the attack and he will be crucial once again this season if Atalanta is going to challenge for the league title. There is always one team that can cause shockwaves in any league and could that be Atalanta?

It is all change in Milan in more ways than one. Both Milan clubs begin the season with new managers and a new stadium is on the horizon meaning it is the end of the iconic San Siro. Inter Milan have Antonio Conte at the helm following the sacking of Luciano Spalletti. Conte is back in management after leaving Chelsea in May last year. He is back in Italian domestic football for the first time in 5 seasons since his title wins at Juventus. Conte is tasked with putting Inter back into title contention as well as impressing on the Champions League stage. Inter are determined to make a splash both in Europe and the transfer market. Conte has so far got targets he wanted in Italian midfielders Stefano Sensi and Nicolo Barella, flying wing-back Valentin Lazaro, veteran defender Diego Godin and big signing Romelu Lukaku from Manchester United. He is Inter's record signing and the game-changing player the fans and manager wanted. Lukaku is a goalscorer but also has pace, skill and strong physique which will be suited perfectly to Serie A. Lukaku and Conte are in to bring glory back to Internazionale and the fans are expectant and excited ahead of the new season. The red of Milan is also looking to make waves this season. Gennaro Gattuso is gone after getting the chop and his replacement is Marco Giampaolo who arrives after an excellent spell at Sampdoria. AC Milan are desperate to bring the glory days back after constant seasons of struggle. Their determination to bring success back has seen them make a splash in the transfer market. Theo Hernandez, Rade Krunic, Rafael Leao, Ismael Bennacer and Leo Duarte have all arrived while Frank Kessie's move is now permanent following his 2-year loan. Giampaolo and Milan are not done there with a few more signings being lined up. Rafael Leao is their big signing so far costing £27M from Lille. The Portuguese teenager has lighting pace and skill and does have an eye for goal so the Milan fans are very excited at what he can bring to the table. AC Milan are expected to cause a few surprises this season and with no European football, could this be the year they finally return to the Champions League? We shall see but there is an air of optimism at both Milan clubs and while the title is unlikely to return to Milan this season, don't rule out the title coming back to Milan in the near future. 

It is also plenty of change in the Italian capital as Roma have waved goodbye to Daniele De Rossi and Claudio Ranieri with the latter leaving at the end of his short-term contract. Roma has appointed Shaktar Donetsk manager Paulo Fonseca as the man to lead Roma back into the Champions League. Roma finished outside the top 4 last season and the fans were left frustrated and disappointment in what was a poor campaign. But there is a real sense of optimism this season with Fonseca targeting success after a terrific spell in charge of the Ukrainian club. He has trimmed the older members of the squad out including Daniele De Rossi who leaves at the end of his deal while Steven Nzonzi, Kostas Manolas, Ivan Marcano and Stephane El Shaarawy also exiting the club this summer. While fresh, younger blood has arrived with the likes of Jordan Veretout, Leonardo Spinnazzola, Mert Cetin and Amadou Diawara all ready and raring to impress this season. Diawara, in particular, is expected to be a big player this season after an inconsistent season at Napoli. Fonseca is expected to play high pressing, attacking football and this will cause a few waves this season and while a title fight is unlikely this season, a place back in the Champions League is very much a possibility.

The summer offers the opportunity to make changes and like the giants of Serie A, some of the other clubs have also changed their leader. Sampdoria's hands were tied when Marco Giampaolo decided to join AC Milan this summer but acted quickly in sourcing a replacement in former Sassuolo and Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco. Di Francesco arrives determined to push Sampdoria forward this season after their 9th placed finish last season. Europa League football is their target and with the squad they have, expectations are high. Meanwhile, Sampdoria's city rivals Genoa also start the new season with a new manager after Cesare Prandelli left at the end of last season. His replacement is Aurelio Andreazzoli who arrives from Empoli despite failing to keep them in Serie A but clearly, he has impressed and earned the right to have another crack at Serie A. He will be tasked with improving on Genoa's disappointing 17th place finish.  The final Serie A to change boss is newly promoted Hellas Verona who start the season with a new manager after Alfredo Aglietti left on a high at the end of his contract. Experienced Serie A coach Ivan Juric is Aglietti's replacement and he is tasked with ensuring Serie A football remains in Verona.

Along with Hellas Verona, Brescia and Lecce have joined the Serie A elite after earning promotion from Serie B. It was a fantastic campaign last time out for Brescia and Lecce who both secured automatic promotion. Brescia went up as Champions and are determined to make a statement in Serie A this season. Mario Balotelli is their big signing, returning to his home club determined to fire them to safety. He is excited as are the Brescia fans who would love to rock the boat this season. Lecce are also looking to cause a few surprises. Fabio Liverani's team got promoted because of their rock-solid defence and hardworking team ethos. Survival will be tough and they are going to need a regular goalscorer to step up this campaign but the overall feeling is excitment for Liverani's team. Survival would represent a tremendous season for all three of the promoted sides but it will be tough with Serie A becoming a difficult league for promoted teams to survive in.

It promises to be another exciting season in Serie A with plenty of quality goals and fantastic football on display. Juventus remain clear favourites for title glory but can someone knock the Old Lady off her perch? We shall see but it promises to be an enterprising, enthralling season of Serie A football.

My Predictions:

Champions: Juventus
Champions League: Napoli, Inter, AC Milan
Europa League: Roma, Lazio, Atalanta
Relegation: Hellas Verona, Brescia, Leece

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Preview: Bundesliga 2019/2020 Season

The new Bundesliga season is here after a summer of change across the league with various clubs changing managers and a host of new players arriving on German shores. However, one thing that remains is Bayern Munich's dominance of the Bundesliga and once again they are favourites to clinch the title heading into the new season. But they are stiff competition from Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig with both believing they can become the kings of Germany.

Bayern Munich head into the new season expecting to win the league and compete in the Champions League. It was a mixed first season under Niko Kovac with the Bavarian giants struggling to click into the gear until they rallied and eventually toppled Borussia Dortmund. However, an exit at the quarter-final stages of the Champions League didn't go down well and the pressure is on Kovac this season to improve their performances in Europe. There is a real sense of change at Bayern Munich with key players of past seasons departing the club. Long servants Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Rafinha and Mats Hummels have all left emphasising a real shift in how Bayern Munich conduct their transfer business. Initially, Bayern's business had focused on defenders with Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard's transfers to the club confirmed during the previous season. Both have real potential to be regulars in the defence week in, week out. But attacking reinforcements have been the focus ahead of the new season with Ivan Perisic and Philippe Coutinho joining the club on loan with options to buy. Perisic is well known to Kovac having worked with him during Kovac's spell as Croatia manager and Perisic is confident he can fill the big boots of Robben and Ribery. But the signing of Coutinho from Barcelona could a be a game-changer for Bayern with the fans excited to see the Brazilian in action. A disappointing 18 months at Barcelona are over for the talented Brazilian and he will be hoping to recapture the form he showed at Liverpool which made him a £100M signing. The fans are expectant this season and Kovac must deliver after a mixed campaign last time out.

Bayern Munich will face stiff competition this season with Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig aiming to topple the Bavarian giants. It was a fantastic first season in charge of Dortmund for Lucien Favre with the Swiss getting an enterprising, exciting brand of football out of his very talented squad. Marco Reus, Jadon Sancho, Paco Alcacer all found new levels last season, winning plaudits across Europe for their attacking endeavour and creative flair. However, Dortmund's big problem last season was their ability to keep goals out their own net. For all of Dortmund's brilliance going forward, their young defence was extremely fragile at times and it ultimately cost them the title. The club will believe they have solved their issue by bringing back Dortmund stalwart Mats Hummels. Hummels is back at Dortmund after his six years in Munich came to an end. Hummels is back and he will be vital this season for Dortmund's chances of success. Others to arrive this summer include Julian Brandt and Thorgen Hazard who will add even more goals and creativity. There is real excitement in Dortmund with the fans believing this is their year and they will certainly push Bayern Munich hard. But so will RB Leipzig with Julen Naglesmann finally in charge after his terrific spell at Hoffenheim came to an end. A year in the making and now the Bundesliga's youngest ever manager is ready to cause a few waves in the Bundesliga. He inherits a talented squad that performed well under Ralf Rangnick last season and Naglesmann will believe they can go one step further and pinch the title. RB Leipzig has a young, talented squad full of potential and they are only going to get better. Leipzig's philosophy is built around young players with potential and their transfer business accompanies this. Hannes Wolf, Luan, Christopher Nkunku and Ademola Lookman have all joined Die Rotenbull this summer and the fans are excited ahead of the new campaign. Could they collect a first-ever Bundesliga title? We shall wait and see.

Many of the Bundesliga clubs have changed their manager over the summer with some deciding to leave while others have felt the axe dropdown. Borussia Monchengladbach sacked Dieter Hecking despite a respectable top 6 finish last season but they proved to not to be enough. His replacement is Marco Rose who arrives after an excellent spell in charge of RB Salzburg. Rose arrives with a reputation of playing expansive, attacking football. Gladbach want Champions League football and that will be Rose's target in his first season at the club. Pal Dardai decided he needed a break from Hertha Berlin after his four years in charge. He will be back next year in a technical role at the capital club but his replacement in the dugout is Ante Covic. Covic has been promoted after running the B team at the club. He will be looking to push Hertha Berlin towards the top 6 this season and their big signing Dodi Lukebakio will be key to their chances of success this season. Julen Naglesmann's departure was known to Hoffenheim for a while and they have replaced him with former Ajax assistant Alfred Schreuder. He arrives tasked with continuing the terrific job done by Naglesmann. Bruno Labbadia departs Wolfsburg on a high after guiding them to a top 6 finish and a place in the Europa League. Labbadia left at the end of his contract with LASK manager Oliver Glasner arriving as his replacement. Glasner joins after getting LASK into the Champions League qualifying rounds. He wants to push Wolfsburg towards the Champions League after several years of underachieving. He brings Xavier Schlager with him who was instrumental in the LASK side last season. Wolfsburg fans are excited to see what he and their new manager can bring this season. Despite leading Koln to promotion from the Bundesliga 2, caretaker manager Andre Pawlak wasn't given the job full time, instead, the Billy Goats appointed Achim Beierlorzer. He arrives after two excellent seasons in charge of Jahn Regensburg. He is tasked with stabilising Koln in the Bundesliga following their promotion. It is fair to say the 2018/19 season was very disappointing for Schalke. The Gelsenkirchen club struggled with the demands of the league and Champions League and ulitmately just about survived the drop. Huub Stevens finished as caretaker manager after Domenico Tedesco's sacking. Schalke's new manager is David Wagner who arrives after a terrific spell in charge of Huddersfield but has been without a club since leaving the Terriers in January. Wagner inherits a young, unbalanced squad that needs work and an arm around the shoulders ahead of the new season. Wagner will want to push them back towards the top 6 after last season's very poor campaign.

Joining Koln in returning to the Bundesliga is Paderborn who finished 2nd in Bundesliga 2 while the Bundesliga gains a new team after Union Berlin secured their first-ever promotion to the top flight after beating Stuttgart over two legs. The capital has two Bundesliga clubs and that is a huge plus for the league and the city itself. Union Berlin have made a host of new signings to make themselves a competitive force in the league including signing experienced campaigners Anthony Ujah, Christian Gentner and Manuel Schmidebach. There is real excitement at all three promoted clubs but survival in the Bundesliga will be their sole aim this season.

The Bundesliga promises to be competitive this season with a fight for title well and truly on. Bayern Munich are favourites but could Dortmund, Leipzig or even Leverkusen, Gladbach and Eintracht Frankfurt take it away? Time will tell, but it promises to be an exciting season. The Bundesliga is growing and improving with each season. Expect quality goals, excellent football and plenty of twists and turns at both ends of the table.

My Predictions:

Champions: Borussia Dortmund
Champions League Places: Bayern Munich, RB Leipzig, Bayer Leverkusen
Europa League Places: Borussia Monchengladbach, Eintracht Frankfurt
Relegation: Union Berlin, Paderborn
Relegation Play-Off Place: FC Augsburg 

Friday, 16 August 2019

Preview: La Liga 2019/20 Season

La Liga makes its long-awaited return this weekend after a summer full of controversy and unhappy clubs with the way the league is being run. Issues with TV deals and commercial rights has put a very dark cloud over one of Europe's most exciting leagues to watch. Despite, the off-field issues, on the pitch, things are looking exciting. Barcelona are seeking a third-straight league title and now have Antoine Greizmann in their ranks. Real Madrid has spent over £300M in a desperate attempt to bring glory back to the Bernabeu. Meanwhile, other contenders Atletico Madrid, Sevilla and Valencia have spent big meaning an exciting title race lies ahead this season.

Barcelona are looking for a third-straight league title under Ernesto Valverde. They have continued to dominate La Liga since Valverde's arrival but they are desperate to bring the Champions League back to the Nou Camp. Their Achilles heel in Valverde's two seasons at the club is poor performances in the latter stages of the Champions League throwing first-leg advantages away in both Valverde seasons. Antoine Greizmann has arrived from Atletico Madrid and Barcelona are hoping he is the man that can lead them to Champions League glory. Frankie De Jong and Junior Firpo have also arrived emphasising Barcelona's look towards the future with Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba nearing the end of their illustrious careers. But with Neymar also on the horizon its a sign Barcelona are determined to dominate Europe once again. Barcelona are looking strong ahead off the new season but the Barcelona hierarchy will demand improvement in the Champions League. Meanwhile, Barcelona's El Clasico rivals Real Madrid have had a summer revolution following an abysmal 2018/19 season. 3 managers, poor performances and disappointing results at the Bernabeu all culminated into a season of disaster for Los Blancos. Zinedine Zidane returned for a second spell in charge towards the end of the season and he has spent over £320M on new signings aiming to bring glory back to the club. Young, talented players Ferland Mendy, Rodrygo, Luka Jovic and Eder Militao have arrived at the club along with their big marquee, galactico signing Eden Hazard. Hazard has won everything during his 7 years at Chelsea and leaves full of admiration and respect for the Londoners. He will be determined to prove why Madrid invested over £100M in him. Hazard has sparkled in England and now he will test himself in Spain and amongst Europe's elite on a consistent basis. Zidane wants the La Liga title but he will have to fight Barcelona for that as the two big Spanish clubs scrap it out to be kings of Spain.

It has been a huge summer of transition at Atletico Madrid with several first-teamers and long servants of the club departing the Wanda Metropolitano. Greizmann, Godin, Juanfran, Filipe Luis, Rodri and Lucas Hernandez have all departed the club for new challenges. Diego Simeone has been left to re-build his squad but with many of his signings not living up to expectation, there is some trepidation heading into the new season. Experienced duo Felipe and Hector Herrera have arrived from Porto, Marcos Llorente has crossed the Madrid divide, Alvaro Morata is in on a permanent deal while Kieran Trippier has arrived from Tottenham. But Atletico's big summer signing is highly-rated Portuguese attacker Joao Felix. Atletico have given Benfica £113M for the talented teenager and big expectations are on his shoulders this season. Felix has starred at Benfica and now he steps up, determined to impress in Spain. Atletico fans are hoping to spring a surprise on their two big title rivals this season despite being unfancied due to their huge turnover of players. Meanwhile, Marcelino's well-organised, dangerous Valencia team are hoping they can ruffle a few feathers in the new season. Valencia quietly took 4th place and secured another Champions League campaign and they've also quietly gone about their transfer business. Jasper Cillessen, Jason Morales, Eliaquim Mangala and Juame Costa have arrived as has big money signing Maxi Gomez. The young Uruguayan has impressed in his two seasons at Celta Vigo and now gets to showcase his skills at Europe's top table. Valencia are always hovering around that top 4 but could they go one better and challenge for the title? Only time will tell but Valencia will be as competitive as ever under Marcelino.

Some of La Liga's other sides will head into the new season with a new manager with some teams deciding to make a change. Despite an excellent season in which a top-half finish was secured, Abelardo Fernandez left Alaves citing he couldn't commit long-term to the club. His replacement is the former Leganes and Real Sociedad manager Asier Garitano. Garitano impressed in his five years at Leganes stabilising them in La Liga before an unsuccessful stint at Real Sociedad. Garitano is excited as are the fans and another top-half finish would represent a great first season under Garitano. In contrast, a disappointing bottom-half finish with Real Betis spelt the end of Quique Seiten's two years at the Benito Villamarin. His replacement is Rubi who has left Espanyol to take the reigns. It has been a huge summer at the club with Nabil Fekir and Borja Iglesias arriving for big money so expectations are high at Betis this season. Espanyol's 7th place finish last season earned Rubi a move to Betis so Espanyol have replaced him with former caretaker manager and Espanyol B coach David Gallego. Gallego inherits a squad competing in the Europa League qualifiers but have lost key players to bigger clubs so a small re-build is likely at the Catalonian club. The final club to change manager and it seems to be a recurring theme every summer is Sevilla who have installed Julen Lopetegui after Joaquin Caparros moved back upstairs. And with a new manager at Sevilla comes a whole host of player changes. 11 new signings have arrived after returning sporting director Monchi sanctioned the deals while 8 have departed the Roman Sanchez Pizjuan. Lopoetegui arrives after a disappointing stint at Real Madrid at the beginning of last season. He is tasked with getting Sevilla back in the Champions League.

There is plenty of excitement for the promoted clubs who are all returning to La Liga after stint aways. Osasuna, Granada and Mallorca are all back in the big league and determined to stay there as well as make their presence known. Osasuna went up as Champions of the Segunda and they are fully ready to go. Osasuna have added experienced La Liga players so far this summer with Raul Garcia, Marc Cardona, Chimy Avila, Adrian Lopez and Darko Brasanac joining the Basque club. Survival is the target and that would represent an excellent season. Granada have been up and down for several seasons and once again they are back determined to stay in the league this time following their last disastrous La Liga campaign. Roberto Soldado is going to be key for them this season having arrived from Fenebahce on a free transfer. He is going to be their firepower in La Liga this season and if he can recapture the form he showed at Villarreal, Granada should survive comfortably.  After losing the first leg of the play-offs 2-0, I don't think even the most die-hard Mallorca fan thought they would turn the tie around but in football anything is possible and their 3-0 success in the second leg secured their return to the big league. Mallorca have been busy over the summer strengthening their survival bid. Their play-off hero Ante Budimir is also back on a permanent deal so there is plenty of reasons to be excited on the small island off the coast of Spain.

The new season is here and excitement is in the air. La Liga is always entertaining and no doubt fantastic goals, quality football and individual skill and brilliance will be in abundance throughout the summer. Barcelona remain favourites for a third straight league title but could Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid or even Valencia stop them? One thing for sure it is going to be a fantastic season and fingers crossed the Spanish FA and La Liga sort out the issues ruining the tremendous football La Liga puts on.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Preview: Premier League 2019/20 Season

The new Premier League season is here and this season could be the best yet. Manchester City are aiming for a third consecutive title but will face stiff competition from last seasons' runners up Liverpool. While Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United are hoping that maybe they could spring a surprise. The rest of the sides are all looking to push on this season and it promises to be a competitive, engaging, high-quality Premier League campaign.

Manchester City are record-breakers in more ways than one in recent Premier League seasons and they will be hoping to become the first club since Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United to win three consecutive Premier League titles. Pep Guardiola has ensembled a magnificent squad and the summer additions of Rodri, Angelino and Joao Cancelo will add even more depth and quality to an already talented squad. Guardiola will aim to build on City's domestic dominance this season by adding the Champions League to their collection of trophies. Manchester City want to continue their dominance of English football in the new season and in David Silva's final season at the club, the Spanish playmaker who has become a Manchester City legend will want to depart on a high like Vincent Kompany did in the previous campaign. 

In any other Premier League season, excluding Manchester City's title wins of 2018 and 2019, 97 points would have been enough for Liverpool to secure their first title in the Premier League era. Plenty of positives for the European Champions to build on in the new season. Virgil Van Dijk was outstanding last season and he will be more determined than ever to bring the title back to Anfield. Its been a case off if it's not broke don't fix it at Anfield with Jurgen Klopp having a very quiet transfer window only adding experienced goalkeeper Adrian following Simon Mignolet's departure to Club Brugge. Liverpool's other dealings were players for the future in Sepp Van Der Berg and Harvey Elliott. Salah, Firmino, Mane and Co will be hoping this is their year to dethrone Manchester City and if they maintain the levels of performance they showed last season, they have a very good chance of upsetting their rivals from Manchester.

The chasers below City and Liverpool have all been busy building a squad capable of challenging for the top 4 as well as the title. Tottenham finally added to their squad after going two transfer windows without signing any players. Spurs smashed their transfer record to sign highly-rated French midfielder Tanguy Ndombele for an initial fee of £55M. Ndombele adds pace, skill, quality and a robust nature to the Spurs midfield. Mauricio Pochettino has also brought in Argentine midfield Giovani Lo Celso and Fulham youngster Ryan Sessegnon who were both long term targets for the Spurs manager. There is plenty of reasons to be optimistic at Tottenham this season with the beaten Champions League finalists looking to finally add some much-needed silverware to their cabinets.  Harry Kane is fit and raring to go and is more determined than ever to bring glory back to the club close to his heart. Meanwhile, across North London, Unai Emery has quietly gone about his business and built a very strong Arsenal team. Emery has finally added much-needed defensive reinforcements in David Luiz and Kieran Tierney. The latter has been brilliant at Celtic and is ready to test himself at a higher level after serving Celtic so brilliantly. Luiz leaves Chelsea to reunite with Emery at Arsenal and could he finally be the man to sort Arsenal's leaky backline? Time will tell but, the name on every Arsenal fans lips is new record signing Nicolas Pepe who joins for a cool £72M. The Ivorian attacker enjoyed an amazing season at Lille and his goals, assists and work ethic has earnt him a big-money move. Pepe completes a deadly trio in attack for Arsenal with Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre Emerick Aubameyang in line to join him when all fit and available. An attack that has Arsenal fans excited and even dreaming for toppling the rest to be kings of England again. It isn't just North London who is a buzz of excitement as West London is gearing up for a season of excitement as Frank Lampard is back at Chelsea as their new manager. Lampard arrives after a terrific year at Derby County to replace Maurizio Sarri who left for Juventus. Lampard is determined to bring continued success to the Europa League champions but takes over with the difficulties of issues beyond his control. Chelsea have a two-window transfer ban meaning he cannot sign any players in his first season at the club. Despite that issue, Lampard has stuck to his guns and is building a squad using the huge crop of talented young players at his disposal. Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Reece James and Fikayo Tomori are all expected to be involved this season after excellent Championship campaigns while Ruben Loftus Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi are also expected to be big parts of Lampard's plans once back from their injuries. So although, Chelsea haven't brought in new players, there is excitement at Chelsea finally using the talented academy players who have caught the eye elsewhere. Meanwhile, in the North West of England, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer's Manchester United re-build has begun following a disappointing 6th place finish. Solksjaer's first full season is expected to bring the so-called 'United Way' back from the doldrums. Manchester United have invested in young, British players to bring back the glory days as well as using their talented academy to put them back on the map. Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Daniel James and Harry Maguire have arrived at Old Trafford for a combined fee of £145M and the fans are excited by those signings with all expected to be key figures this season. As are some of Manchester United's young players with Solksjaer determined to open a pathway to the first team. Mason Greenwood, Axel Tuanzebe, Angel Gomes and James Garner are all expected to be apart of Solksjaer's plans this season. There is real optimism at Old Trafford despite the frustration towards chairman Ed Woodward and Solksjaer will be aiming for the top 4 at the bare minimum this season.

The summer offers a chance to change things at clubs following the conclusion of the previous season. The day after their final match of the season, Brighton sacked Chris Hughton following a 17th place finish. Despite leading Brighton to safety and an FA Cup semi-final, chairman Tony Bloom decided to dispense the likeable manager who will be a legend in Brighton folklore having got them promoted to the Premier League for the first time in their history but 2 wins in 21 league games saw the writing on the wall for him. His replacement is Graham Potter who arrives after a season at Championship side Swansea City. Potter is tasked with ensuring Premier League football remains at the Amex Stadium and he has spent big this summer. £20M spent on both Neal Maupay and Adam Webster as well as £15M on winger Leandro Trossard. Brighton fans are optimistic and cheerful heading into the new campaign but this certainly isn't the case for the Newcastle United fans. The Geordie faithful are far from happy with what has gone on over the summer. A failed takeover bid and the fact the club couldn't agree a new deal for Rafa Benitez has left the fans majorly unhappy and disillusioned with their club. Disliked owner Mike Ashley has tried to get back onside with the club-record signing of Brazilian striker Joelinton for £40M and the signing of exciting winger Allan Saint-Maximin. New manager Steve Bruce has been backed but the fans remain unhappy and underwhelmed with his appointment as manager and the signings don't paper over the cracks at the club. Steve Bruce has a massive job on his hands uniting the club he supported as a boy and trying to win over a disillusioned fan base.

While Newcastle fans are disillusioned and unhappy, the fans of the promoted clubs are full of excitement and belief that their clubs can make a statement this season. Norwich, Sheffield United and Aston Villa are back in the top league after their respective times away. Norwich are back as after winning the Championship title and their attacking style and flair has won plenty of admirers and the Canaries are hoping to make more than a song and dance this season. Norwich have had a very quiet summer spending just £1M in the transfer market with the club more focused on tying down what they already have. Key players Max Aarons, Onel Hernandez, Marco Vrancic, Marco Steipermann and Teemu Pukki have signed new deals at the club. Daniel Farke has done an excellent job at Norwich and survival in the big league would represent another successful season. Sheffield United are back after 12 years away and the fans are fully behind beloved manager Chris Wilder who is a blade through and through. Two promotions in his three years so far at the club and United are going from strength to strength. Chris Wilder's back three formation and high pressing style are expected to catch a few out this season and the general feeling around the club is that survival is very much in their reach. The fans can relate to the manager and their captain with both bleeding Sheffield United as much as they do. Billy Sharp finally gets the chance to test himself in the Premier League after years in the lower leagues and he is ready to seize his opportunity. And if all those reasons weren't enough for the fans to be excited, the Blades broke their transfer record 4 times this summer. Luke Freeman, Callum Robinson, Lys Mousset and Oli McBurnie have all been record signings with the latter still holding that title after arriving for £20M from Swansea. The Blades are ready to make a big impression but survival remains the main objective. It has been an amazing 2019 for Aston Villa and their fans. The club went on a record-breaking winning run to secure a top 6 place and secured promotion after beating Derby in the play-off final. Dean Smith has done a magnificent job at the club he bleeds for and adores as much as the fans do. The Villa faithful are full of excitement ahead of the new season after spending £127M in the transfer window tying down loan signings and adding new players after the Villians lost 15 players following their play-off success. Key loan signings Tyrone Mings, Anwar El Ghazi and Kortney Hause are back on permanent deals while Tom Heaton and Matt Targett arrive with plenty of Premier League experience but their eye-catching signings have been Brazilian players Douglas Luiz and Wesley Moraes. Luiz arrives from Manchester City after Pep Guardiola couldn't get a work permit for the defensive midfielder he rates very highly. He will bring steel and composure to the Villa midfield. While striker Wesley is Aston Villa's new record signing eclipsing what they paid for Darren Bent in 2010. The Brazilian arrives from Club Brugge for £22M and Dean Smith is backing him immensely heading into the new season. The striker brings pace, power, an ability to score and assist goals and a big physical presence up top. Villa will pay enterprising, attacking football this season with Smith promising his philosophy will not change for any opponent this season. Big things are expected from the Midlanders this season but survival in the league would certainly represent an excellent season back in the Premier League.

The Premier League 2019/20 season is shaping up to be one of the best and most competitive. Quality goals, excellent football and drama will be in huge supply throughout the season. Manchester City are favourites once again as Guardiola seeks a third straight league title but the chasers behind will be aiming to take the glory away from City. While the rest of the sides will be competing for Europe, cup glory and Premier League survival. Competition is rife across the league and the season promised to be exciting with plenty of twists and turns along the way.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Preview: Ligue 1 2019/20 Season

The 2019/20 Ligue 1 season is on the horizon with the twenty teams gearing up for another competitive campaign. PSG continue to be strides above the rest but complacency kicked in a few seasons ago when Monaco stole the title from them, so could we see another sting this season? Ligue 1 promises to have plenty of battle lines being drawn with Champions League football as well as the avoiding relegation being at the forefront of many teams' minds ahead of the big kick-off.

PSG continue to be strides above the rest and dominated once again last season as Thomas Tuchel secured the title in his first season at the club. However, PSG disappointed in all the cup competitions last season including the Champions League and Tuchel will demand improvement heading into the new season. Pablo Sarabia, Ander Herrera and Idrissa Gueye have arrived to boost an already strong midfield and Abdou Diallo has arrived from Borussia Dortmund to boost their defensive options. However, Neymar's future is in doubt following his decision to tell the Parisian club that he wants to leave. PSG are seemingly open to selling him but want a good chunk of the 200M they paid for him. PSG have handled themselves excellently through this saga with Tuchel seemingly focused on the players that want to be at the club. Tuchel will push on all fronts in his second season in charge with the league and Champions League high on the agenda once again.

Can someone stop PSG this season? While its unlikely anyone will stop them, there are a few contenders behind them. Last seasons' runners up Lille had a tremendous season, defying all expectations to somehow secure Champions League football a year on from their narrow escape from relegation. Christophe Galtier has overseen a sensational transformation but his squad has been ripped apart by larger clubs and Lille's desperation to comply with Financial Fair Play. Key players Tiago Mendes, Rafael Leao, Youssouf Kone and Nicolas Pepe have all departed the club this summer for a combined fee of £126M. A huge loss of players at the club and more could follow with interest in other outstanding performers. Its a case of starting again for Christophe Galtier as he prepares for a Champions League campaign. It is also a summer of change for last seasons' 3rd place team Lyon. Bruno Genesio has departed at the end of his contract with Sylvinho coming in to replace him. The Brazilian had a fantastic playing career and he will be hoping his management career goes the same way. But like Lille, Lyon have lost key players in this window. Tanguy Ndombele, Ferland Mendy and Nabil Fekir have all waved au revoir this summer for a combined total of £128M. Sylvinho has been active in this summer moulding a squad in his eyes. He has pouched Tiago Mendes and Youssouf Kone from Lille as well as adding highly-regarded midfielder Jean Lucas from Flamengo. But his big signing has been so far has been Sampdoria defender Joachim Andersen. Seen as one of the bright prospects in Europe, Andersen arrives to add more defensive options for Sylvinho ahead of the new season.

Two sides who flattered to deceive last season were Marseille and Monaco. So much was promised at Marseille last season but the club comfortably missed out on securing Champions League football and consequently dismissed Rudi Garcia. A season of poor performances, fan unrest and poor ownership ultimately culminated into a disastrous season. But the summer has brought some optimism with former Chelsea and Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas arriving as their new manager. He is tasked with simply getting Marseille back at Europe's top table. Meanwhile, across the sea, Monaco's season was just as bad if not worse than Marseille's previous campaign. The Principality club had a disastrous season on the pitch finishing in 17th place in Ligue 1 and flirted with relegation for the whole season. Leonardo Jardim started last season, ended up being sacked but came back in January to rescue the club after Thierry Henry's horrendous spell in charge. Jardim steered them to safety but he will be well aware that Monaco must improve this season and have added a few players in the window. Benjamin Lecomte and Ruben Aguilar have arrived from Montpellier while Gelson Martins have made a permanent move to the club after a good loan spell in the second half of last season. Monaco are looking for a stronger campaign this time around and will be hoping to challenge for the Champions League places once again.

The summer allows clubs to make changes and some Ligue 1 clubs have decided a change was needed at the top. Despite an excellent season, Jean-Louis Gasset left St Etienne following the conclusion of his contract at the club. His replacement is his assistant Ghislain Printant who will be tasked with going one better this season by securing a place in the Champions League. Amiens have also changed their manager following Christophe Pellissier's departure. Pellissier has left to take the reigns at second-tier Lorient and has been replaced by Luka Elsner. Elsner arrives following a spell at Belgian club Union Saint-Gilloise and he will be tasked with securing safety in Ligue 1. Amiens have made a host of signings this summer as Elsner looks to stamp his authority at the club. Survival the aim at Amiens this season but ambition has been hugely questioned at Nantes which consequently saw Vahid Halilhodzic resign as their manager. The constant fueding at the top of the club, the lack of ambition and the tragic death of Emiliano Sala have proved too much for the Bosnian. Nantes have yet to name his replacement following his sudden departure but have placed Patrick Collot in caretaker charge. Christian Gourcuff is expected to take over at Nantes after their opening league game. Last season's play-off winners Dijon also have a new man at the helm following Antoine Kombouare's resignation and that man is Stephane Jobard who is tasked with improving on last season's 18th place finish. The final side to change manager over the summer is newly promoted Brest with promotion-winning manager Jean-Michael Furlan leaving at the end of his contract. Furlan departs on a high and new manager Olivier Dall'oglio has big shoes to fill. The latter spent six seasons at Dijon before being sacked last season. He will be tasked with ensuring Brest survive in their first season back in Ligue 1.

Joining Brest back in Ligue 1 this season is Metz following their title success in May. The club had an excellent season in Ligue 1 and bounced back at the first attempt. Metz have kept the core that got them promoted and they will be looking forward to the season ahead. As will Europa League challengers St Etienne, Rennes and Strasbourg. St Etienne secured automatic qualification following their 4th place finish last season, Rennes also have automatic qualification following their French Cup success. Strasbourg will have to do it through the qualifying rounds but what a sensational two years it has been for the club. Promoted for the first time in 2017 and they haven't looked back. Thierry Laurey has done a wonderful job and will be hoping their ride on the crest of a wave continues in the new season with a European adventure.

The new Ligue 1 season promises to bring quality goals, excellent football and surprises but can anyone stop PSG's dominance of French football? The challengers will try but it is a huge challenge to take the crown off the kings.

My Predictions:
Champions: PSG
Champions League places: Lyon, Monaco
Europa League places: Marseille, St Etienne
Relegation: Dijon, Brest
Relegation Play-off Place: Amiens

Friday, 2 August 2019

Preview: Championship 2019/20 Season

The most unpredictable league in world football is back. Yes, the Championship returns with plenty of sides feeling that this could be there year to shine. Cardiff and Fulham are straight back after a sole Premier League season and are joined by Huddersfield who are back after two seasons away. Meanwhile, Luton, Barnsley and Charlton have made triumphant returns after securing promotion. The Championship is going to be as competitive as ever this season with some much at stake for many clubs.

Cardiff, Fulham and Huddersfield are back in the Championship following their relegation from the Premier League. Cardiff and Fulham are back after just one season in the Premier League. Neil Warnock and Cardiff ultimately fell short with Premier League quality lacking in their squad but the Cardiff has dusted down and added fresh faces to begin a promotion bid once again with Warnock a serial winner in the Championship. Fulham's £100M experiment backfired severely and along with going through 3 managers, relegation seemed inevitable for some time. But the Londoners have reflected over the summer and have fully backed Scott Parker to lead Fulham back to Premier League having overseen their relegation. Fulham have had a very good summer so far adding Ivan Cavaliero and Anthony Knockaert to their attack but a crucial move was tying Aleksandar Mitrovic to a new long term deal and the big Serbian striker is determined to lead Fulham back to the Premier League. Huddersfield finished with the second-lowest points total in Premier League history last season but despite that, there is optimism around the John Smith's Stadium with the club heading into a new era. Jan Siewert begins a first full season in charge while long-term owner Dean Hoyle has sold the club to Phil Hodgkinson who is hoping to bring the good times to the club once again. The play-offs would represent a good season for the Terriers and anything above that would be magnificent. Siewert has scouted the lower leagues and brought hungry players in Reece Brown and Josh Koroma to the club but also added experience in Tommy Elphick who arrives after helping Aston Villa to promotion.

Momentum is a huge factor in the Championship and the three promoted sides will bring plenty of it as they gear up for their returns. Luton, Barnsley and Charlton are gearing up for a season of battle and excitement. It has been a magnificent two years for Luton who secured back to back promotions to get to the Championship. Despite losing Nathan Jones to Stoke midway through last season, club legend Mick Harford steered the club to promotion and the League 1 title. Harford has returned to his usual role at Luton and Graeme Jones has arrived as the club's new manager. Jones has been Roberto Martinez's right-hand man at several clubs but this will be his first management job. Jones has been busy adding experience to a young, vibrant Luton squad by adding the likes of Callum McMananman and Martin Cranie. However, the club has lost prized assets James Justin and Jack Stacey to the Premier League. Despite that, optimism is high at Kenilworth with the club breaking their transfer record to sign Simon Sluga. It was a fantastic first season in English football for Barnsley boss Daniel Stendel. The German delivered an instant return to the Championship and has spent the summer moulding a squad capable of competing at this level. Like Luton, Barnsley have also broken their transfer record as Barnsley snapped up defender Bambo Diaby from Belgian club Lokeren. However, the club have seen key players Adam Davies, Liam Lindsay, Ethan Pinnock leave the club while Kieffer Moore is also expected to go. A huge transition of players from the Tykes but the fans are excited ahead of the new season. It's fair to say Lee Bowyer's reign at Charlton has been full of difficulties especially off the pitch with disliked owner Roland Duchatelet struggling to find a buyer. Bowyer even left Charlton during the summer after struggling to agree on a new deal but they managed to resolve that issue and the Addicks will head into the new season hoping to consolidate themselves and avoid the drop. Lyle Taylor will be vital to them this season with the striker aiming to make the step up to the Championship and deliver the goods.

The Championship is renowned for changes in the summer and plenty of clubs have changed managers over the summer. Birmingham controversially sacked Garry Monk despite having an excellent season at the club. A nine-point deduction ended their play-off hopes but there was plenty of happy Blues fans at the end of last season. Monk's replacement is his assistant Pep Clotet whose only previous number 1 role was a disappointing spell at Oxford United. The Blues have lost Jota and Che Adams to the Premier League so goals and creativity are missing for the Blues so Clotet needs replacements fast. Derby also have a new manager following Frank Lampard's move to Chelsea. His replacement is former Dutch international midfielder Philip Cocu who arrives in the East Midlands after a disappointing stint at Fenebahce but a tremendous few seasons in charge of PSV Eindhoven. Derby fell short in the play-off final but with Cocu at hand, they will be hoping to go one step further this season with chairman Mel Morris looking for an emphasis on players the club are producing to bring the success. A real astute appointment from Derby and Cocu is well aware of the challenge ahead. Hull also have a new manager after failing to agree on a new deal with Nigel Adkins. His replacement is Grant McCann who arrives after a terrific spell in charge of Doncaster in League 1. McCann wants to bring success to the KCOM this season but any success hinges on the club keeping Jarrod Bowen. A tremendous season for him last time out and he wants to prove himself at the highest possible level but will be hoping to help his boyhood club return to the top flight. Middlesbrough have gone down the sentimental route after Tony Pulis left the Riverside. Jonathan Woodgate steps up from the coaching set up into the top job at the club he served well as a player. He is determined to bring exciting, attacking football to the Riverside after Tony Pulis's style was heavily criticised in his 18 months at Middlesbrough. Woodgate is gonna need time and players to fit his style of play but the Boro fans are excited ahead of the new season. Seems to be a recurring theme at Nottingham Forest, starting a new season with a new manager. The new man this season is Sabri Lamouchi who arrives after managing Rennes and the Ivory Coast national team. Lamouchi replaces Martin O'Neill who was sacked at the end of the season. Lamouchi is tasked with getting Forest back into the Premier League. Forest have challenged in recent seasons but fallen short but could this finally be their year to break into the top 6? QPR also begin the new season with a new manager in Mark Warburton who replaces John Eustace who was in caretaker charge at the end of last season. It has been a big summer of transition at QPR with Warburton arriving and a whole host of changes and new signings. 13 players have left QPR while 13 have arrived at the club. Warburton has also emphasised the importance of QPR's academy with many youngsters expected to be involved this season. Eberechi Eze is the star at QPR and he will be hoping to sparkle once again this season. Sheffield Wednesday will also begin the season with a new manager after Steve Bruce left for Newcastle United. Wednesday are yet to name Bruce's successor so for now, goalkeeping coach Lee Bullen is in charge of the team but they hope to announce a new manager soon. Wednesday's pre-season has been disrupted but they will be hoping a new manager will bring the necessary stability. Swansea have also been forced to change managers after Graham Potter left to take over at Brighton. His replacement is former England Under 17s manager Steve Cooper who arrives determined to carry on from where Graham Potter left off. Cooper believes Swansea can be promoted but he needs a good start and a few new faces with the club on a limited budget this summer. A tough season could arrive in South Wales but Cooper believes Swansea can challenge and the fans will hope they can do the same. The final club to charge their manager is West Bromwich Albion who have confirmed Slaven Bilic as their new manager replacing Jimmy Shan who was in caretaker charge at the end of the last season following Darren Moore's sacking in March. Bilic arrives tasked with bringing Premier League football back to the Hawthorns. Bilic is building a good squad to compete but the loss of Jay Rodriguez and Dwight Gayle is hard to replace with those two notching over 20 goals each last season. Bilic has brought in Kenneth Zohore from Cardiff to add goals and he is expected to add another before the transfer window closes. Bilic wants a vibrant team built on solid foundations which West Brom lacked last season conceding too many goals ultimately costing them.

The promotion battle is going to be exciting this season with plenty of clubs believing they can reach the Premier League. Bielsa begins a second season in charge at Leeds after seeing their season dwindle away in the final weeks of the season. Leeds missed out on automatic promotion to Sheffield United and lost in the play-offs to Derby despite having a lead after the first leg. Can they go one better this time around? Derby and West Brom are also aiming to go one better after losses in the play-offs. Bristol City, Stoke, Nottingham Forest, Brentford, Middlesbrough also fancy their chances of at least finishing in the play-offs. The relegated clubs are also expected to challenge with expectations high at Cardiff and Fulham. Could unfancied clubs like Blackburn, Birmingham, Hull and Swansea gatecrash the playoff picture? Only time will tell but this is going to be one of the most intense promotion battles the football league has ever seen.

The most unpredictable league in the world is upon us and excitement is building for the new season. Quality football, brilliant goals and the odd few twists and turns are certainly gonna be on offer because that is what the Championship brings.

My Predictions:
Champions: Leeds
Automatic Promotion: Fulham
Play-Offs: Cardiff, West Brom, Derby, Stoke. West Brom to win the play-offs.
Relegation: Reading, Barnsley, Millwall

Preview: League One 2019/20 Season

League 1 makes a triumphant return with a host of sides battling to be the top side in the third tier of English Football. Ipswich, Rotherham and Bolton have fallen down but are hoping to get back on their feet while optimism newly promoted clubs Bury, Lincoln, MK Dons and Tranmere will all be looking to make an impression this campaign.

It has been a very mixed summer for the three relegated sides. Ipswich and Rotherham have quietly gone about their business this summer as they aim for an instant return to the Championship. However, it has been a horrendous off-season for Bolton Wanderers. A takeover bid fell through ultimately put Bolton in administration meaning they start League 1 with -12 points. Players and Staff haven't been paid for 20 weeks and with remaining senior players on strike, times are very tough. However, a light at the end of the tunnel has appeared with Football Ventures expected to complete their takeover soon but Bolton will begin their season at Wycombe with a team full of youngsters thrown into the fire. A difficult season lies ahead for Phil Parkinson and Bolton but this protracted takeover needs to happen quickly. Ipswich have quietly got things done this window as they build for a League 1 campaign following a very disappointing relegation. Paul Lambert has stayed at the club determined to bring them back straight away. Goals were Ipswich's problem last season in the Championship but they will hope the football league's top scorer last season James Norwood can lead them to promotion. The big striker fired Tranmere to promotion and he will hope to do the same with the Tractor Boys. Rotherham have been busy this summer moulding a squad capable of challenging at the top. Paul Warne won plenty of plaudits despite Rotherham's relegation last season. Optimism is high at the New York Stadium with the fans seeing the club break their transfer record to sign Freddie Ladapo from Plymouth as well as sign the likes of Daniel Iversen and Jamie Lindsay as well as experienced campaigner Shaun MacDonald. However, the Millers have lost key players Semi Ajayi, Will Vaulks and Ryan Williams so they may be some concern for the fans but they will still expect Rotherham to be pushing the top 6 this season.

Promotion should bring excitement, confidence and optimism but all of these have been in very short supply at Bury. The Shakers promotion in May papered over the cracks at the club with huge debts behind the scenes which have now come into the attention of the footballing world. The club is on its knees with virtually all their promotion-winning squad leaving the club as well as manager Ryan Lowe whose departed for Plymouth. Former Truro City manager Paul Wilkinson has replaced Lowe and been left in a very difficult situation. Steve Dale has a huge mess to deal with and it's even got to a point where Bury's opening league game against the MK Dons was suspended because of a lack of funding. Bury desperately need something to happen and fast because like Bolton, they also start on -12 points due to insolvers coming into the football club.

In contrast, the other three promoted clubs Lincoln, MK Dons and Tranmere head into the new season full of confidence, momentum and belief. Danny Cowley has done a magnificent job at Lincoln City with the Imps ready to give League 1 a real good go. Cowley has kept the core of the promotion-winning squad and added a few new faces including Jack Payne who impressed a very poor Bradford side last season. MK Dons are back in League 1 at the first attempt following their second-place finish last season. Paul Tisdale delivered promotion in his first season in charge having suffered play-off heartache two seasons in a row with Exeter City. Tisdale has lost talisman Chuks Aneke to Charlton but has been active in adding to his squad. Rhys Healy is back on a permanent deal from Cardiff while Ben Reeves returns to the club following two years at Charlton. Tisdale has also added players from League 2 in Regan Poole, Hiram Boateng and Brennan Dickensen who he believes can make the step up to League 1. It has been an amazing 2 years for Tranmere. Back to back promotions were secured at Wembley in May when they beat Newport in extra time. Since then, Micky Mellon has been busy strengthening his squad and building a team good enough to compete in League 1. Mellon has added experienced heads in Stefan Payne and Darren Potter while also adding young talent in Sid Nelson, Jordan Ponticelli, George Ray and Corey Blackett-Taylor. Tranmere fans are excited but will be aware the loss of James Norwood is gonna be difficult to replace but Micky Mellon will no doubt be looking to add further attacking reinforcements.

The summer brings the opportunity for clubs to make changes and some clubs have decided to make changes. Blackpool finally has new owners with the insolvers finding a buyer in local businessman Simon Sadler who finally ends the Oyston family's three-decade spell in charge. However, they were left surprised when Terry McPhillips resigned as manager despite an excellent season in charge of the club. He admitted management wasn't for him but was grateful for the opportunity. His replacement is Simon Grayson who is back for a second crack at Blackpool having managed them for three years before leaving in 2008. Grayson has inherited a good squad which he believes can break into the top 6 this season. There is a real sense of belief around Blackpool that this could be a special season. Another side who has changed manager is Doncaster following Grant McCann's exit to join Hull City. His replacement is former West Brom manager and Doncaster defender Darren Moore who is tasked with building on the good work done by McCann as Doncaster look to go that one step further on last season and secure promotion. However, they have lost John Marquis to Portsmouth and Mallik Wilks to Barnsley so goals are short in supply for Darren Moore so no doubt he will be looking to strengthen his squad in the remaining weeks of the transfer window. Gillingham also begin the new season with a new manager after sacking Steve Lovell with two games left of the previous season. His replacement is the charismatic Steve Evans who is back in management after he was last at Peterborough. Evans has been busy throughout the summer moulding a squad in his eyes can challenge the top 6. However, like Darren Moore at Doncaster, Evans has lost his top scorer as Tom Eaves has departed for the Championship. Gillingham fans are quietly optimistic about their chances and with a serial winner in Evans its hard to see why they shouldn't be. The final club to announce a new manager was Southend United but he isn't new to them as they have given Kevin Bond the top job having come in late last season when he saved the Shrimpers from relegation.

The battle for promotion will be fascinating this season with so many clubs fancying their chances of securing promotion. Can the fallen giants Sunderland, Portsmouth and Coventry finally get back on their feet and secure a return to the Championship. Sunderland came so close last season but lost in the 94th minute to Charlton ultimately sealing their fate. Jack Ross has been given another crack at getting them up but an investment deal from outsider interest has gone very quiet meaning its a more conservative push this season but they are fancied by many to go one better this season. Portsmouth like Sunderland, suffered in the playoffs losing to the Black Cats in the semi-finals but Kenny Jackett has gone back to drawing board and built again but Pompey will be without Jamal Lowe whose left for Wigan. Portsmouth fell away at the end of last season but can they put their past mistakes behind them this time around? Coventry narrowly missed out on the play-offs last season after an excellent first season back in League 1. Mark Robins has done a wonderful job at the club where off-field issues shadow the good work on the pitch. Robins has built a squad capable of gatecrashing the play-offs this season and the fans are rightly excited but will be frustrated at playing their good games at St Andrews which is Birmingham City's stadium.

Plenty of other teams will be battling for promotion this season. Peterborough, Fleetwood, Burton, Oxford United all fell short of the playoffs last season but all four clubs head into the new season believing they can break into the top 6. Meanwhile, Bristol Rovers, Rochdale, AFC Wimbledon, Accrington Stanley and Wycombe will all be looking to improve on their previous seasons with only Accrington avoiding the relegation battle last season.

League 1 will no doubt bring plenty of excitement, quality goals and plenty of twists and turns along the way with the quality of the lower English leagues getting better and better. Half of the league will fancy their chances of securing promotion while others will be hoping League 1 football remains at their respective clubs.

My Predictions:
Champions: Portsmouth
Automatic Promotion: Sunderland
Play-Offs: Ipswich, Peterborough, Rotherham, Blackpool. Peterborough to win the play-offs.
Relegation: Bolton, Bury, Wycombe, Rochdale

Preview: League Two 2019/20 Season

The League 2 is upon us with promotion, relegation and quality football to come from England's 4th tier this season. Can fallen clubs Bradford, Plymouth, Scunthorpe, and Walsall bounce back to the top? Or will a few surprises be sprung? League 2 is one of the most unpredictable leagues and there are going to be plenty of twists and turns along the way.

Bradford, Plymouth, Scunthorpe and Walsall all find themselves back in the 4th tier following their relegation from League 1. Three of the four clubs begin the new season with new managers. Plymouth have turned to Ryan Lowe the man who guided Bury to promotion from League 2 last season. The Pilgrims are looking to bounce back straight away following a poor season last time out. Lowe has brought key men from Bury with him. Steven Schumacher arrives as his assistant manager while 5 of Bury's playing squad have moved to the South coast including talisman Danny Mayor who will be a key player for the Pilgrims this season. Scunthorpe also have a new manager with former Shrewsbury and Ipswich manager Paul Hurst taking over from caretaker boss Andy Dawson. Hurst has an excellent record but his failed spell at Ipswich would off hurt him. However, he will be determined to get Scunthorpe back up at the first attempt. Hurst has largely kept last season's squad with the exception of a few including Josh Morris who left at the end of the season. Expectations will be high at Scunthorpe with promotion top of their agenda. It has been a big summer of transition at Walsall following their relegation. The club has a new manager in Darrell Clarke who guided Bristol Rovers to promotion from League 2 in 2017. There has been a huge transition in players with 15 departures and 14 new arrivals and according to Clarke, that figure will rise. Walsall also have a new owner with long-serving owner Jeff Bonser selling the club to Liam Pomlett whose been a director at the club. There is plenty of optimism at the Bescot Stadium but they are going to need striking reinforcements after selling top scorers Andy Cook and Morgan Ferrier. Walsall will want to be challenging but they need a good start to the season to put belief in the players and fans. It has been a disastrous year for Bradford following their relegation. The club went through 3 managers and signed nearly 20 players last summer but the season ended in complete failure. The fans turned on the German owners with the fans demanding change. But, despite the off-field problems with the owners, the fans have plenty of reasons to be optimistic heading into the new season. Gary Bowyer has stayed at the club after arriving too late to save them from relegation. Bowyer has culled the deadwood at the club and brought in players to push towards promotion. The Bantams are full of optimism and are fancied by many to be celebrating in May.

Other sides feeling excited and optimistic for the new season will be the two clubs promoted from the National League Leyton Orient and Salford City. It has been a time of elation and sadness at Leyton Orient because following their promotion as champions, the club was rocked by the death of their manager Justin Edinburgh. The club has mourned throughout the summer and no doubt tributes will be made when Orient face Cheltenham in their league opener. Edinburgh's assistant Ross Embleton is in charge and he has vowed to carry on Edinburgh's hard work and the legacy he has left at the club. Orient will head into the season aiming to make Edinburgh proud but will have to do without star assets MacAulay Bonne and Josh Koroma who have left for the Championship. Meanwhile, it will be the very first time that Salford City have played in the Football League. The club is regularly in media eyes with five of Manchester United's most gifted footballers owning the club and the money put into the club has brought success. However, it is not going to be easy stepping into the Football League and no doubt Graham Alexander will be well aware consolidation would represent an excellent first season. However, the Penisula Stadium is full of optimism with the fans dreaming of a third consecutive promotion so expectations will be high this season.

The end of season and summer period allows clubs to make changes and a few clubs have made a change in management. Port Vale have given John Askey a long term deal following his brief spell at the end of last season when he managed to steer the club clear of relegation. Port Vale is certainly full of optimism heading into the new season following the departure of controversial owner Norman Smurthwaite. The new owners quickly tied down Askey and have allowed him to build his squad. In contrast, it was a surprise to see Mansfield sack David Flitcroft following a failed attempt at getting promoted. Mansfield were pipped to the final automatic promotion spot on the final day of last season and suffered defeat to Newport in the play-off semi-finals. Flitcroft will feel hard done by but that is how football is in these current times. His replacement is Mansfield's academy manager John Dempster who steps up to the top job. He will be tasked with going one better than Flitcroft and securing promotion for the Stags. The only other side to change boss this summer is Oldham following Pete Wild's resignation. His replacement is the former Monaco manager Laurent Binade who is tasked with pushing Oldham towards the play-off places having disappointingly finished in the bottom half last season. Binade has made a host of new signings as he moulds his squad. Excitement and trepidation will no doubt be high at Oldham with the club heading into the unknown with their relatively unknown manager.

The battle for promotion will be intense and exciting this season. Last season's play-off losers Newport, Mansfield and Forest Green will all be hoping to go one better this season while other sides including Carlisle, Colchester, Swindon, Stevenage, Exeter and Northampton will be looking to break into that top 7 this season. It is going to be hugely competitive with some many teams believing they can be promoted this season. Steven Pressley, Richie Wellens and Keith Curle all begin their first full seasons at their respective clubs and all have moulded squads capable of challenging. John McGreal begins his third season in charge at Colchester and despite the loss of Sammie Szmodics, he has moulded a good squad expected to challenge. Dino Maamria likewise at Stevenage has moulded a strong squad determined to gatecrash the play-offs this season. Matt Taylor at Exeter is confident about the Grecians' chances heading into his second season in charge as is Mark Cooper at Forest Green who despite losing key men Reece Brown and Christian Doidge, believes they will be pushing at the top once again this season.

Unfortunately, there will be losers in May with relegation for two sides. Macclesfield defied all expectations last season as Sol Campbell worked miracles in difficult circumstances to keep the Silkmen in the football league. Survival again would represent a tremendous season. Cambridge, Morecambe and Port Vale all narrowly escaped relegation and all will want to improve this time around. Grimsby, Morecambe and Cheltenham also struggled at the wrong end for much of last season and all will want to push away from the scrap for survival this season.

It is going to be another exciting season in the 4th tier with so many sides believing promotion is up for grabs while others are hoping to avoid the dreaded drop. One thing for sure there is going to be plenty of twists, turns, excitement, quality goals and an odd surprise along the way.

My Predictions:
Champions: Plymouth
Automatic Promotion: Scunthorpe, Mansfield
Play-Offs: Stevenage, Bradford, Colchester, Northampton. Stevenage to win the play-offs
Relegation: Macclesfield, Morecambe