Arsenal’s Transfer Requirements.

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After an embarrassing 3-1 defeat at home to Aston Villa, it became truly apparent that Arsenal were short a number of players.  In the typical Wenger style, there has been a lot of talk about signing players without any actual signing of players.  There is a gazillion pounds worth of money in the Arsenal coffers (according to Wenger and Gazidis), yet so far Arsenal’s only signing of the transfer window has been a 19 year old free transfer (hardly something to set the hearts racing at the Emirates).  With less than two weeks now left in the transfer window, the inevitable Wenger rush to sign average players at the last minute is approaching.  The question is what positions do Arsenal need to improve?

 

Goalkeeper

Szczesny isn’t a bad player, but he is an over rated player.  In his first season at Arsenal everyone was banging on about how Arsenal had found their GK of the future, now everybody isn’t so sure.  Szczesny has the ability and he has that cockiness that all great keepers have.  The problem however is that he has way to much confidence and often finds himself conceding goals which he never should be conceding because he is trying to make a save for the cameras or is rushing out trying to be a sweeper (such as against Villa).

What Szczesny needs is competition, Fabianski isn’t good enough to give that; so what Arsenal need is a keeper who will offer a challenge to keep Szczesny on his toes but won’t necessarily need to play first team.  A perfect player for this would have been Mark Schwarzer but he went to Chelsea, but a player of a similar ilk would be perfect (Julio Cesar is available).  This isn’t a position of instant need, but the need for a good back up keeper to push Szczesny is required if he is to develop into the keeper Arsenal thought they had 2 years ago.

 

Right Back

Bacary Sagna is not a great player, and is constantly found wanting when he comes up against fast wingers or better opposition.  His back up Jenkinson isn’t much better but is still only 21 and should push on and take the position from Sagna this season.  This is one of the few areas of serious need for Arsenal, although they could do with improving the position at future transfer windows.

 

Left Back

Kieran Gibbs is another over rated Arsenal player (feel like I may say that a lot), there is a good chance he is over rated because he is English but he just doesn’t add that much to the team.  It isn’t that Gibbs is an awful player (he is not) but he is constantly injured and when he isn’t he doesn’t look good enough to play for Arsenal.  Nacho Monreal I imagine will play if he is fit and is a decent player; the major issue with Monreal is that he isn’t a great defender but he is good going forward.  Similar to right back, left back isn’t a major area of concern that Arsenal need to solve right now.

 

Centre Back

The only way to describe the Arsenal centre back set up is complete mess.  All three are solid enough players when they are fit, but each has their own flaws.  Vermaelen can never stay fit, and hasn’t been the same player he was in his first season since he had all his injuries.  Koscielny is a decent player but he is incredibly clumsy and too often has a rush of blood to the head.  Mertesacker is just really really slow, and that is totally useless up against anyone who has any pace.

The perfect situation for a club is to have around 5 centre backs, to cover any circumstance (suspension, injury, loss of form).  Arsenal has 3, one of which is constantly injured.  Against Fenerbache when Koscielny went off injured, Arsenal had to bring on Jenkinson (a slight but tall right back) because they had already run out of centre back; that is after 2 games.

If I was Wenger I would be looking to bring in 2 centre back before the transfer window closes.  Arsenal has been linked with Ashley Williams the whole of the summer and he would give them a solid, although not spectacular signing to shore up their defence.  Micah Richards would surely be a good pick up and I imagine would be available for a reasonable price (because he surely is looking for first team football before the World Cup).  He does have injury problems, but is a physical beast and could Arsenal a bit of nastiness that they lack.

 

Right/Left Midfield

This is a weird one because Arsenal don’t have any real wide players.  The only two that could be argued as such are Walcott (who claims to be a striker) and Oxlade-Chamberlain (who often plays in the middle).  The only other player that I can see that is a wide man is Ryo Miyaichi who has never played a Premier League game for Arsenal (2 League Cup appearances) and is likely to be loaned out again.

Theo Walcott is an odd player, because he has something but I’m not sure what he has is actually very good, to me he doesn’t seem like a starter.  He seems like he is the perfect sub player, the problem here however is that he is one of Arsenal’s most important and best players.  There is no doubt he is incredibly quick, and he can score from amazingly tight angles.  However Walcott doesn’t have a footballer’s brain; he often struggles to see passes, he doesn’t have the technique required to deliver high quality crosses and when you expect him to score often he doesn’t.  He looks like a track star that plays football.  Chamberlain looks like a really good young player, but for some reason he struggles to start for Arsenal.  It does seem odd (because Arsenal lack wide men) that he doesn’t start more often, but he picked up a bad injury in the game against Villa and could be out for 3 months, which would be a major blow for Arsenal.

This is surely a major problem for Wenger because often against the smaller teams Arsenal struggle to break them down because there is a lack of space, and without width this will allow teams to become even narrower against them.  I know that Arsenal are a team that likes to play through the middle, but as Man City found out last season, sometimes you need a bit of width to change a game and to give you something different..

Again if I were Wenger I would be looking to sign two wingers before the transfer window closes.  Hatem Ben Arfa is an excellent player who for some reason finds himself at Newcastle (I believe he had attitude problems), I am sure he would jump at a chance to go to Arsenal.  He is a talent and has bags of technique and skills that Arsenal is sorely missing.  Georgino Wijnaldum is a 22 year old Dutch internationalist that is ready to take that step up to the next level.  He has played for both PSV and Feyenord and is an exciting and electric winger who loves to dribble the ball.  Both players would add a little bit of electricity to Arsenal and give them the width they are sorely lacking.

 

Central Midfield.

Arsenal have lots of central midfielders, the problem is that they don’t have enough quality central midfielders.  Tomas Rosicky has never quite hit the heights that Wenger would have hoped when he signed him; also is it me or does Rosicky only seem to turn it on when his contract is running out?  Mikel Arteta is a good solid player who I like, but he should be a squad player not the main cog in your central midfield.  Jack Wilshere is over rated (yes I said it!), he hasn’t shown nearly enough to be considered as highly as he is.  There are also major concerns over his attitude (he’s a wee chav) and his body is made out of glass.  If he could stay fit and develop his game he could be a very good player, but at this rate he is destined to be a major disappointment.  Aaron Ramsey has never been able to fulfil the potential he showed at Cardiff, and really is a very ordinary player, reminding me of a less talented Arteta.  Santi Cazorla is the diamond in a team that is struggling for pure quality, he is it and I am surprised that a bigger club didn’t come in for him in the summer because he showed last season that he is better than where Arsenal currently are (sorry Arsenal fans).  Frimpong (33 appearances in 3 seasons) and Diaby (40 games in 3 seasons) are identical to each other because they cannot be relied upon to stay fit.

There isn’t an issue of depth at central midfield at Arsenal, there is however a major issue of quality.  The only players worth keeping in this group are Cazorla, Wilshere and Arteta; that would be Cazorla and Wilshere to start and Arteta as a solid squad player.  Essentially Arsenal need a holding midfielder, a centre midfielder and an attacking midfielder to create enough all round depth.

There are lots of players available for Wenger to sign here; Geoffrey Kondogbia looks like he may be the next big thing for French football.  He has already been capped by the French national side and played an important role in the Sevilla team last season, all at the ripe age of 20.  He would give Arsenal some height and toughness that they are sorely lacking in their midfield.  Kondogbia has stated that he would like to move to the Premier League, Arsenal should be in for him.  Yohan Cabaye is already an established star in the Premier League and has been linked with Arsenal already.  He has got everything you want from a central midfielder; he can pass, tackle, score, take set pieces and has a rocket of a shot.  He would be a great compliment to Jack Wilshere and would help push him to improve as a player.  Finally if I were Wenger I would look at bringing in Fellaini from Everton; much like Cabaye he is a proven Premier League player, and much like Kondogbia he has that toughness and height that Arsenal are sorely lacking.  Fellaini can blow a bit hot and cold, but when he is hot he is almost unstoppable and he is ready to take that step up.

 

Striker

Arsenal don’t have enough strikers, it is as simple as that.  Olivier Giroud is their main striker currently and if that doesn’t start warning lights I don’t know what does.  He just hasn’t been able to recreate his form that he had in Ligue 1, and who knows if he ever will; currently he doesn’t look quick enough or prolific enough to be a successful striker in the Premier League.  Lukas Podolski I like, but clearly he has attitude problems and he and Wenger rub each other the wrong way, which is a shame for Podolski and for the league because he is an excellent player when he tries.  However as was shown when he was at Bayern, he doesn’t try enough.  Yaya Sanogo (only signing so far) I have never seen play but I know he is good in Football Manager, so that must mean something….  The less said about Nicklas Bendtner the better.

They need 2 strikers, but could maybe get away with just signing the one.  Arsenal need someone who can score around 20+ goals a season, currently they don’t have that and much like Tottenham (pre-Soldado) it is holding them back.

If I were Wenger I would be going out to sign Benteke, the guy is an absolute beast.  He has everything; he is fast, good in the air, strong, has a great shot and is prolific in front of the net.  Much like many of the other players that I think Wenger should be trying to sign Benteke would give Arsenal the nastiness and height that they are sorely lacking at the current moment.  The other player I think Wenger should go for is Burak Yilmaz.  I have seen him play several times for Galatasaray in the Champions League and he is very prolific in front of goal (32 goals in 39 appearances last year).  He has never played outside of Turkey though, and could well be another Giroud but it is surely worth a shot for a player who could potentially be a 20+ a season player.

 

Conclusion

If Wenger were to go out and buy all the players that I think he should then he would have to make 10 signings which is never going to happen.  This is however a best case scenario, if Arsenal were able to fix every single position and problem they have.  It isn’t surprising that Arsenal have so many holes in their squad, because Wenger has allowed the squad to deteriorate over the past 5 years.

If I were to pick the 5 signings that I think that Arsenal should make over the others I would say Benteke, Kondogbia, Ben Arfa, Williams and Richards should be the main priorities.

It is interesting to note that very little of the squad is made up of Arsenal academy players.  What happened to Arsenal’s acclaimed youth system?  Only Szczesny, Wilshere and Gibbs are academy products, which isn’t great and there doesn’t seem to be much coming through in the future.

As things stand it looks like it will be a long season for Arsenal fans, as they look at the increasingly likely chances of their arch rivals Spurs finishing above them in the league.  The only way this won’t happen is if Arsenal go out and make a number of quality signings to address the weaknesses in their squad.

 

 

So let me know what you think about the current Arsenal transfer dealings, or rather lack of them.  What players do you think that Arsenal should be trying to sign in the last week and a half of the transfer window?  It would be good to hear from Arsenal fans on how they see the situation and their feelings on the current squad and Arsene Wenger.  All comments are welcome.

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The Premier League Season Preview.

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For weeks I have been putting writing this off because I was waiting for the big transfers to go through (Rooney, Bale and Suarez) as it would naturally affect how I wrote this preview.  Here we are sitting a night before the season starts and not even one of them has moved (gutted).  Something almost unthinkable a fortnight ago has surprisingly happened as all three players are still at their respective clubs.  Funnily enough at the current moment it looks like Bale is still going, Suarez is staying and Rooney may be staying (although I personally doubt it).

This year is building up to be the most exciting Premier League season ever, with three out of three of the top clubs bringing in new managers, ultimately giving the league a large amount of uncertainty which is usually doesn’t have (especially on the Man Utd side).  There isn’t only an amount of uncertainty at the top, there is also a large amount of uncertainty at the bottom with what seems like a large number of teams who are too good to go down.

Premier League Champions

Manchester United

The current Premier League champions walked the league last year, winning it by a massive 11 points which in reality could have been around 20 if Utd hadn’t stopped playing after they were certainties for the title.

This is the first ever Premier League season where Utd will start a season without Alex Ferguson in the dugout, and that is where the biggest question mark about their ability to retain their title comes from.  David Moyes has his first season at one of the biggest clubs in the world and he has never won a major title.  Is this an issue?  To an extent yes, because you can have really talented people who are unable to win regardless of how hard they try.  Winning is not something you are born with, winning is something you learn; and as a manager Moyes has won nothing.  I however think that these fears are over exaggerated; people say things like ‘he should have at least have won an FA Cup in all his time at Everton’, but when you look at it only Wigan and Portsmouth (both of whom got relegated soon after ironically) have actually won the FA Cup out with the big teams (Utd, City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea) since 1995 when Everton won it.  I think the concerns over Moyes are exaggerated because he is undoubtedly a talented manager (look at what he did at Everton) and he is walking into a squad that knows how to win.

The other major concern that Utd are suffering from is that of Wayne Rooney.  The Rooney saga has ran and ran, and became the distraction that Utd haven’t really wanted.  I have wrote about it previously and most of the views are still relevant.  I really don’t think Rooney will see the end of the transfer window at Utd, and the perfect time for Utd to sell him would be after the Chelsea game.

When you look at the current Utd squad it is almost identical to the squad that walked the league last year; the natural concern if you are a Utd fan however is the lack of movement in the transfer market.  There is a massive hole in the Utd midfield next to Michael Carrick and Utd have not filled it despite their numerous attempts.  Outside of central midfield Utd are looking good, with a good young goalkeeper, a strong well depthed defence, good young wingers (Januzaj, Lingard and Zaha all look to have great potential) and with Rooney the best strike force in the league.

Utd are one big signing away from being the league favourite and retaining their title.  Whether that be a Ozil, a Ronaldo, a Modric, a Fabregas or even a Fellaini, that is all that would be required for Utd to win their 21st league title.

 

Manchester City

After what was a truly awful defence of their title, Man City are back with a new manager and a new outlook on life.  The best move City made this summer was to get rid of Mancini and bring in Pellegrini.  Pellegrini brings the calmness and tactical intelligence that Mancini never had and he should be able to take City to that next level.  I do find it interesting that nobody is talking about how Pellegrini hasn’t won anything, when everyone goes on about it all the time with Moyes; but much like Moyes I don’t think this is a big issue, because Pellegrini is a talented manager and unlike Mancini (who always got an easy ride from the press) seems like a genuinely nice guy.

City has been very busy in the transfer market; but the area that I think they did the best in was getting rid of the problem makers.  Not only did Mancini leave, Tevez also left (a man who should never have played another game for the club, if the club had any respect for itself), Maicon was sold (always looked overweight) and Kolo Toure (also looked over weight and seemed to cause problems behind the scene).  This is the biggest issue that City still have with the squad, they have a lot of big names and players on high wages that aren’t considered first team; this is fine but when you are half way through the season and these players aren’t happy they cause locker room disharmony and there is nothing worse for morale than this.  The players I refer to are Nasri, Dzeko, Kolarov, Lescott, Pantilimon and to a lesser extent Barry and Richards.  All excluding Barry and Richards have previously shown their displeasure at their position at the club and this will be further heightened because it is a World Cup year, and no player will want to play second fiddle when they believe they have a chance of playing in Brazil.

City have been by far the busiest of all the Premier League teams in the transfer market, spending around £90 million.  With that they have bought Fernandinho (a player who I struggle to comment on because I have never seen him play, but he is 28, has played most of his career in Ukraine and has managed only 5 caps for Brazil; doesn’t sound like a £35 million player to me), Jesus Navas (who I think is a good player and for £15 million seems like a bargain; but he has in the past suffered from serious homesickness and Manchester is no Seville, he is very slight and can only play on one side (without a left foot), he does however offer City the width they were seriously lacking last year), Stevan Jovetic (a bit over rated but a good enough young player who will be reasonably happy to sit and play more of a squad role) and Alvaro Negredo (who is never worth £25 million and feels like a carbon copy of Dzeko, odd signing).

 

Chelsea

The big news this year at Chelsea was the return of Jose Mourinho to the club, in a ‘I wanted the Man Utd job but I settled for you because they didn’t want me and I couldn’t get another job cause I have upset too many people’ and a ‘I wanted Pep Guardiola but didn’t get him and was left with no option but you because I didn’t want to have to keep Rafa Benitez’.

Chelsea are by far the most over rated team in the league.  Could someone explain to me how the signing of Andre Schurlle and the comeback of Mourinho has made Chelsea so many peoples favourite for the league?  They shouldn’t be favourites with their current squad, they will challenge to an extent but by the end of the season they won’t be there.  It isn’t that Chelsea don’t have an ok squad, but for the top that is all they have, an ok squad.  Cech is past his best, there are major defensive questions which are being ignored (poor centre back [Terry is past it, Luiz can’t defend and Cahill isn’t good] and Cole hasn’t been good for about 4 years), they only have one good wide player (Schurlle) which isn’t ideal for a manager that likes to play width, there are no good holding midfielders which is useless for a manager that must play holding midfielders and they have a total lack of strikers (Torres has been guff for years, Ba has shown that he isn’t good enough for this level and Lukaku couldn’t play regularly for WBA last year [although he does have potential]).  The one area that Chelsea do have an abundance of players is in midfield, to the extent that they probably have the best midfielders in the league.  This however shouldn’t make them favourites because the rest of their squad is rotten.

As far as the Rooney thing goes, maybe I am wrong but it very much seems like Chelsea may be getting themselves into another Fernando Torres situation (overpaying for a player past his best).  Until (or if) he moves you can’t really tell if it was a mistake, but even if Rooney were to go to Chelsea it would not be enough to propel Chelsea beyond Utd or City.

 

Overall

It saddens me to say it but as things stand Man City look like they will win the league.  As I have already said, if Utd make that marquee signing then my opinion on who will win the league will change, but as it stands I think City are deservedly favourites because of the signings they have made, the players they have sold and the manager they now have.  Chelsea would have to sign Rooney, Ronaldo and Jesus to even be considered in my opinion.

 

Champions League Place

Arsenal

Could Arsenal have had a more embarrassing transfer window than this?  It seems every year I ask the exact same question.  You know you are doing something wrong when a Brazil international who is desperate for first team football for the World Cup would rather play for a mid-table German side than a Champions League playing one.

Every year Arsenal uses the same line that there is lots of money to spend, but it never actually gets spent; which I know in talking to Arsenal fans is a constant frustration.  Instead Arsenal partakes in the farce that is their pursuit of Luis Suarez.  I find it hard to believe that Arsenal would want a player who has been banned for racism and biting on several occasions, he doesn’t seem to fit the Wenger prototype of a player.  It is sad but it wouldn’t shock me if they actually had no real interest in Suarez but put the bid in because it was public and would make their fans think they were actually doing something.

The biggest mistake which Arsenal made in the transfer market was not firing Arsene Wenger.  What is happening at Arsenal this year (and the last few years also) is why Arsenal need new blood.  When did it become ok for a club the size of Arsenal to finish fourth and that to be considered an achievement?

 

Tottenham Hotspur

Spurs’ challenge for 4th depends on one big thing, whether or not Gareth Bale is going to be playing at White Hart Lane this season.  Spurs have done very well in the transfer market this year adding players to strengthen their squad (Soldado, Paulinho, Chadli and Capoue), and all these players have made Spurs a better team, however it all won’t matter if Bale is not there.

Spurs look very strong in midfield, they have a good keeper and if neither Defoe nor Adebayor leaves they have a good strike force.  What I really don’t understand is why AVB has totally ignored the defensive frailties that Spurs suffered so greatly from last year.  To make it even worse, Spurs then sold Caulker to Cardiff in a total bone head move.

 

Overall

If Spurs keep Bale (which I doubt they will) then they will walk to 4th and possibly even challenge higher up.  However if Bale were to leave then it would be a very tight contest which I think Arsenal would just edge.

 

Top Half Finish

Everton

The big change this year for Everton is that no longer will David Moyes be sitting in the dugout; instead they will have the very talented Roberto Martinez.  Everton are interesting because with Martinez there is a great deal of uncertainty.  Will they continue to push into those European places?  Or will they slip down the table under new management?  It is hard to say, because Martinez worked wonders at Wigan (winning the FA Cup, yes the FA Cup) but he also got them relegated with exciting football which lacked in defending.  It will be interesting to see what Martinez can do with a group of much better players, but a lot of this will depend on whether or not he can hold onto his two best players (Fellaini and Baines), either way Everton will finish in the top half.

 

Liverpool

The once great giants of the game have taken another step towards the unknown under Brendan Rodgers this year.  There are so many problems at Liverpool and they are at every level as well; the board has constant infighting and at times doesn’t seem to know what they are doing, the management seem to be headless chickens often unable to handle the easiest of situations (Rodgers seems very much out of his depth) and they have a squad who isn’t fit to wear the shirt.  Unluckily for the Liverpool fans things this pre-season haven’t changed at all, as the club has handled the Suarez situation atrociously.  Have Liverpool fallen so far that a player who slags the team, the players and the fans off so blatantly still cannot be sold?  The answer is yes, and it continues the fall of a once mammoth of the game of football.

 

West Bromwich Albion

West Brom did well last season but tailed off towards the end of the season, I expect them to do much the same this year.  They have a good squad with plenty of depth and a good first team.  They haven’t lost anyone except for Lukaku (who wasn’t first team anyway) and have improved the squad slightly, although I would question the Anelka signing.  It looks like Steve Clarke (good manager) will lead WBA to another strong season.

 

Swansea City

Swansea finished 9th last year, and it felt like they played so much better than that.  Another season into his role as manager, Michael Laudrup has made Swansea a much better squad again.  The signings of Jonjo Shelvey (why did Liverpool sell him?) and especially Wilfred Bony have made Swansea a team which could potentially push for 6th in the league.  With Bony and Michu up front, Swansea could potentially have the most lethal strike force in the league, this combined with a good midfield and a solid defence make me believe that the League Cup holders are heading for another good season.

 

West Ham United

A team that plays a good old fashioned British style and make it work very well for themselves.  Nobody wants to play at Upton Park, the atmosphere is excellent and West Ham play a physical game and Big Sam has helped create a fortress.  Big Sam has also done well in the transfer window raiding Liverpool for their cast offs; adding Downing and Carroll, two players who will fit in at West Ham very well and make the team better.  I expect West Ham to build on their successful season last year with another strong showing.

 

Fulham

Fulham should have finished higher than 12th last season, but somehow found themselves in the relegation mix with 5 games to go.  Fulham took their foot off the pedal (like so many teams do) and paid the price.  Fulham have however bettered themselves through the transfer market with excellent signings such as Maarten Stekelenburg, Adel Taraabt and Darren Bent.  Fulham shouldn’t be threatened by relegation and if they play the whole season should push for a top half finish.

 

Mid-Table

Norwich City

I thought Norwich was a certainty to go down last year and they proved me wrong.  This year I think that with the signings they have made once again they are heading for a mid-table finish.  They don’t have the best squad, but they have cleared out a lot of the deadwood this year and replaced it with good quality signings like Van Wolfswinkel, Hooper and Garrido.  Norwich currently look like they are establishing themselves as a Premier League mainstay.

 

Aston Villa

Villa flirted with relegation all of last season and that experience will stand them in good stead for this season.  Villa has a good young team and by retaining Benteke as well as adding others to the squad they will have improved greatly.  Lambert is a talented young manager and given time I am sure he will be able to take Villa back to the top half of the table where they belong.

 

Newcastle United

The biggest anomaly of the season is what is happening at Newcastle United?  They have a squad that is comparable to Everton and Liverpool, yet you get the feeling that because of how poorly the club is run and the whole Joe Kinnear thing that they will struggle again this year.  I doubt Alan Pardew will see the end of the season, and sadly for Newcastle fans everywhere it seems his most likely replacement is Joe Kinnear, and if that is the case then relegation is a possibility.

 

Cardiff City

Of the promoted teams Cardiff City are the ones who are built most ready for a successful first season of Premier League football.  They won the Championship fairly easily last year, and have a very solid squad.  The squad has only been improved by the signings of Steven Caulker (why did Spurs sell him?) and Gary Medel (bit nuts but a good player).  I think that Cardiff will take the momentum that they gained from winning the Championship and take it into a solid first season in the Premier League.  Look out for the first Welsh derby in the Premier League, could be very tense.

Relegation

Stoke City

I think Stoke are going to really struggle this year.  Tony Pulis has left after a long spell in charge and although he spent a lot of money, he never actually created a very good squad.  Mark Hughes isn’t what I’d describe as a good manager either and has struggled in the past to maximise a large squad to its full potential.  It is made worse by the fact that Stoke haven’t really signed anyone of notable extent.  It is going to be a long season for Stoke, one which I believe will end in relegation.

 

Southampton

Southampton had a good first year in the Premier League, but often the second year is the hardest.  Mauricio Pauchettino replaced Nigel Adkins during last season and made a very good initial impact, however the team dropped off towards the end of the year and it will be interesting to see how well they cope with higher expectations this year.  One of the best signings of the transfer window so far was Southampton’s signing of Victor Wanyama from Celtic.  Wanyama was a beast for Celtic last year and probably should have been signing for a top of the table side; a steal for Southampton.

 

Sunderland

I don’t know what they are drinking up in the north east, but something isn’t right.  Paolo Di Canio is what I would kindly describe as someone who is unstable; it seems that he falls out with a player every fortnight and has some of the oddest rules in football.  As a player I imagine that it is awful to play under Di Canio, because he is very incessant.  He has a good squad and much like Newcastle they should be a top half team, but they are lacking in strikers and are consistent under achievers.  Expect another long season if you are a Sunderland fan.

 

Hull City (or whatever they are getting called now)

Not a great team, were incredibly lucky to be promoted in front of Watford last season.  Hull have signed a lot of new players and released a whole bunch of others; there will be large growing pains for Hull this season and the worst thing that could happen for them is a slow start.  This is not a Premier League squad; expect to see Hull back in the Championship next year.

 

Crystal Palace

I’m not quite sure how Crystal Palace was able to win the play-offs, considering they were the 4th best team in them.  This is a team that should never have been promoted to the Premier League and then on top of that have lost by far their best player in the transfer window.  Palace has by far the worst squad in the league and I think it will show early on.  If Hull are going back down this season, then Crystal Palace will be there before them.  19th would be an achievement.

 

Conclusion

Currently I am leaning towards City winning the league, but all it would take is a couple of transfers and I could have a different opinion on the matter.  Spurs will take 4th if they keep Bale.  Palace and Hull will be relegated and then it will be a tight fight for 3rd bottom and I am thinking that Stoke will be filling that place.

1st –Man City

2nd –Man Utd

3rd -Chelsea

4th -Spurs

5th -Arsenal

6th -Everton

7th -Swansea

8th– Liverpool

9th -WBA

10th –West Ham

11th -Fulham

12th -Newcastle

13th –Villa

14th -Cardiff

15th -Norwich

16th– Southampton

17th -Sunderland

18th -Stoke

19th -Hull

20th –Palace

 

Naturally I wouldn’t be shocked if the teams in the middle of the table all interchanged with each other.  I think it will be a Manchester 1-2, and the champions will depend on how Utd finish the transfer window.  Spurs should take 4th with their current squad but without Bale Arsenal are the favourites.  I don’t see Hull or Palace having a chance, with both struggling heavily.  The 3rd relegation place is much harder to predict but I feel that Stoke are currently the team that look the most likely to go down.

 

 

So let me know what you think about the Premier League season and how you think it will go.  Send me your opinions on who the champions, European and relegation teams will be.  All comments are welcome, and let’s hope for an exciting season.

England vs Scotland The Review.

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So the friendly that is not really a friendly has ended and it is the home team who are taking away the bragging rights from the first Scotland-England in 14 years.  The final score was 3-2 with goals from Walcott, Welbeck and Lambert for England and goals from Morrison and Miller for Scotland.

As far as the game went I think that 3-2 was a fair reflection on how the game played out.  If I was to break it into sectors, I would say that Scotland controlled the first 25 minutes, England had the better of the next 20 minutes taking us up to half time.  The second half was much more level and both sides played well for the first 25 minutes, and England absolutely battered Scotland in the last 20 minutes.  In all honestly Scotland were the better team and deserved to be leading before Lambert scored, but after Lambert scored Scotland seemed to lose all their rhythm and by the end of the game England were deserved winners.

I’ll break it down into analysis from a Scottish stand point and then an English stand point, before rapping it up overall.

 

Scotland

To be honest if you had offered Scotland that they would take the lead twice in the match, I am sure they would have taken it and hoped they won.  They did take the lead twice but still managed to lose 3-2, but in doing so showed a lot of promise for the future. 

What is interesting for Scotland is that since Strachan has become the manager there has been a clear and obvious change in mentality and in playing style.  No longer are Scotland booting the ball from back to front and hoping for the best, instead Scotland are playing a nice passing game and at many times (especially in the first half) totally out passed England.

When you look at the goals Scotland conceded, it really is very disappointing.  The first goal was scored when Hanley was off the pitch receiving treatment for a cut, and the area of the pitch he occupied was cleverly exploited by Walcott’s pace and Cleverley’s excellent pass.  The second goal was just a bit of a mess; I wouldn’t describe Welbeck as a prolific headerer but somehow he managed to pull off of both Hanley and Martin (both of whom are taller) to fire a header into the bottom corner which McGregor probably should have saved.  The third goal was in many ways similar to the second; Lambert’s movement to get off of Brown is very good, but you have to wonder why both Martin and Hanley crash the front post and why neither of them was marking Lambert who is surely a bigger threat to score than a centre back.  The three goals weren’t scored against Scotland with 11 men in open play, which is in many ways a very nice accomplishment.  However Strachan will be disappointed that Scotland lost two goals to set pieces, an area before the game I am sure Strachan believed to be a strength, instead of a weakness.

As far as the players go:

McGregor was solid but poor on the second goal.

Hutton seemed to have a good game and made a number of last ditch tackles and blocks, bur was non effectual going forward.

Whittaker is a player I couldn’t believe got called up never mind started and played the whole game.  Was poor for the 1st goal and added little going forward.

Hanley was poor for the 2nd goal but in open play had an excellent game with many blocks and last ditch tackles.  Was missed for the 1st goal as England exploited his gap.

Martin was poor on the last 2 goals, but played very well in open play with lots of blocks and tackles.

Snodgrass showed signs of life at times but disappeared at many times as well.

Morrison was excellent in the middle and did very well for the first goal.

Brown had a very quiet game and for me was at fault for the 1st goal because he didn’t help Whittaker track Walcott’s run and left a massive gap in defence.  He also allowed Lambert to get away from him on the 3rd goal.  Not a great night for one of Scotland’s more experienced players.

Forrest had little to no impact and sadly only about twice went on a mazy run and both times ended in fouls.

Maloney also had very little impact on the game, although showed touches of nice passes.

Miller played well (for Kenny Miller that is) and scored a very good 2nd goal (even if it did seem to be handled).

All the subs did pretty much nothing and had very little effect on the game whatsoever, which is disappointing when Scotland needed a jolt when they went 3-2 down and none of these guys could step it up.

When you look at the individual performances it is interesting to note that although England didn’t play well, Scotland also didn’t play well.  Scotland played better (for Scotland) than England (for England) did, and that is noteworthy because both sides were in a similar position in terms of fitness.

 

England

First and foremost England wanted to win; anything but a win would have been an embarrassment.  Luckily for England they accomplished their win, regardless of how unconvincing it was.  There are a lot of question marks over the performance that England put in against Scotland and it puts further doubts over where the squad is going.

As far as the players go:

Well what can I say about Joe Hart?  Absolute stinker?  Terrible?  One of the worst attempts at a save I have ever seen from a professional footballer?  The answer to all of these questions is a resounding yes.  Hart had nothing to do and still managed to basically throw the ball into his net once and pick it out the back of the net again later (his positioning wasn’t great for the goal either).  Surely there has to be questions and competition for the England number 1, because Hart recently just hasn’t been doing it.

Walker had a poor game and never really got forward like you would expect and managed to get skinned a number of times.  Should have been sent off for a second bookable offence on an off the ball tackle on Snodgrass (who knows how the game would’ve went then, 2-2 at the time).

Baines was poor in the first 60 minutes but came to life and took the game by the scruff of the neck to finish the game, becoming very deadly down the left.  Assist on the 3rd goal.

Cahill and Jagielka were bossed around by Kenny Miller which is a mean feat indeed, very embarrassing.  Cahill didn’t look great for the 2nd goal.  Surely major questions over the centre of England’s defence.

Cleverley showed some great passing ability and is probably the future at centre midfield for England along with Wilshere.  Set up the 1st goal but wasted two very good opportunities to score himself.

Wilshere was an odd one, he is so over-rated that unless he plays amazing you think he played poorly; and he did play poorly because his passing wasn’t crisp and he clearly isn’t fit (getting hooked at half time).  You wonder if Wilshere will ever overcome these injury problems or ever truly realise his potential, it seems so long ago that he broke through into the England squad yet has only achieved 8 caps.

Gerrard has lost a step, and you could really tell in this game.  His time as being the engine room of the English midfield is over, his role should be given over to a younger player who can actually do the work for 90 minutes.  One thing that Gerrard has not lost is his passing ability and his assist for the 2nd goal was a classic precision ball from Gerrard.

Walcott did what Walcott does, he ran into open space and caused problems.  His run for the ball was very nice and perfectly timed; he did well on the finish.  He was giving Whittaker problems all night (which isn’t very hard); however Walcott has a tendency to bounce in and out of matches and this match was no different.

Rooney looked like a man that hadn’t played for several months, and that is exactly what he is.  At no point did Rooney look threatening to the Scottish backline (by far the weakest part of the Scotland team), in fact England looked much better when Rooney went off and Lambert came on.  He looked unfit and a bit overweight and didn’t really deserve his starting role up front, but it does tell you a lot about England’s limited options.

Welbeck was the man of the match; the boy just didn’t stop running and unlike Rooney was a threat to the Scotland back line all night.  The biggest complaint about Welbeck is he doesn’t score enough, however his scoring record for England is very good and he added to his tally with the 2nd goal.

The English subs fared a lot better than the Scottish subs, with good performances from Zaha and Jones.  However a special mention goes out to Rickie Lambert who I didn’t think would make it onto the pitch never mind score.  He scored with almost his first touch and should have scored two more before the game was over.  His performance shows what picking form over a name (Lambert over Rooney) can do to the team, because there is no doubt (maybe it is coincidental) that when Lambert came on it changed the game, and in 23 minutes Lambert did so much more than Rooney did in 67 minutes.

 

Overall

I enjoyed the match, I thought for a friendly it was a very intense and exciting game and was actually very enjoyable.  Naturally I am not happy about the result (I am Scottish) but I thought Scotland (although not at their best) put in a very respectable performance.  I felt that both teams had almost their full team’s outs (with Scotland missing bigger players than England) and it made for a very good competition.

On the counter to Scotland I thought that England were very poor; I know the season hasn’t started yet but the players looked very unsharp.  England should qualify for Brazil, but by no means is it a guarantee.  With one game away from home against Ukraine (which will be tough) and three home games (against Moldova, Poland and Montenegro) it isn’t an easy stretch.  It is made even worse when you consider Ukraine have to play San Marino twice and then England and Poland at home.  Montenegro also has a home game against Moldova and away games against England and Poland.  It is by no means a guarantee that England will go through and will need to both get a result in Ukraine, as well as to win all three home games otherwise they won’t be making the trip to Brazil.  I imagine that the most likely route will be through the play-offs, with Ukraine winning the group.

In comparison Scotland should be looking at concentrating on Euro 2016 and getting the ranking up.  Old players like Kenny Miller should stop being called up and younger players (the future) such as Johnny Russell, Gary Mackay-Steven and James Forrest should be getting more chances to shine.  By no means do Scotland have easy competitive games left in their group but after a win away to Croatia (4th best team in the world……really?) and a good performance against England anything is possible under Strachan.

Personally I loved the comeback of the England-Scotland rivalry, and would love to see a match played every two years (alternating between Scotland and England, similar to Ryder Cup) when there are no major competitions on (odd years).  Surely it won’t be another 14 years before football’s oldest rivalry is renewed, or I certainly hope it won’t be.

 

 

So what did you guys think of the match?  Did you enjoy the renewal of the rivalry?  What did you think of the performance of England and what their chances are for qualifying to Brazil?  What did you think of the rejuvenated Scotland team under Gordon Strachan?  All comments are welcome and I’d love to hear from both sides.  Thanks.

The 2013 PGA Championship Review.

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The 2013 PGA Championship is over and the champion is first time major winner Jason Dufner.  With a final round worthy of any major champion, Dufner took the PGA finishing on -10, 2 shots clear of Jim Furyk.

Dufner played perfect golf all week (with the exception of the 3rd round, and even it was ok), even breaking the course record with an impressive 63 which could have been much better if not for a few missed putts.

 

Jason Dufner

Before the start of the tournament I tipped Dufner as my top value pick (and personally bet him as well) saying:

Dufner has the ability to go out and play aggressive golf and score very well.  I said it at the Open and I’ll say it again here, if Dufner can put himself within around 4 or 5 shots on the last day he could very well shoot himself to the trophy.

and at the half way point:

it wouldn’t surprise me if the winning score at the end of Sunday was higher than -10

and before the last round:

if I were to go out on a limb and choose one I think it is most likely going to be Dufner

So not bad overall for my predictions

Dufner was imperious throughout the week, and I felt that if he was able to go out today and shoot a couple under he would be the winner.  He kindly obliged and played an incredible 16 holes, before cramping up a touch with two holes to go and bogeying each of them.  However when he bogeyed those holes, he knew that he had the shots to spare and could afford to take those bogey’s.

As I have already shown, I really liked Dufner at the start of the tournament and he delivered as only he can, with a calm and composed performance.  Dufner’s iron play, driving and putting were all fantastic over the whole week.  His only weakness this week was his short putting and even some of the dodgy ones still dropped.  Dufner’s play was fantastic, and his 63 on Friday was just sublime. He very much is a deserving PGA champion and I congratulate him on it.

 

Jim Furyk

I said this about Furyk after the 3rd round:

Furyk Is currently sitting on-9 and I am positive (hope this doesn’t come back and bite me on the ass) that he will not win this

Well I took a risk and got one right, which always feels nice.  I just didn’t see Furyk being able to do anything and he accommodated me and managed to throw away any chance he had of winning.

Furyk was within 2 of Dufner with two holes to play and still managed to finish bogey bogey, making what Dufner did over the last two holes irrelevant.  It is made all the worse by the fact that Dufner also went bogey bogey, meaning that if Furyk had went par par, he would have forced a play-off.  Now maybe Dufner doesn’t make two bogies if he knows he can’t but Furyk didn’t ask the question, and that is criminal.  He bottled it and at his age he isn’t going to receive many more chances to win another major.

 

Henrik Stenson

An odd tournament for Stenson who once again had a good showing without ever really challenging.  That is the thing about Stenson, he finished 2nd at the Open but never looked like winning it, and he followed that up with a 3rd in the PGA but never looked like winning it.  It isn’t that he played poorly in the last round (he played ok), it is more that he never stepped it up a level.  At one point he got within two and looked like he may make a push, but never got any closer.

I doubt it would have mattered what Stenson did, because Dufner went out and won the tournament and Stenson would have needed at worst a 67 to force a play-off.  Still a good result for Stenson once again in his comeback to the top of world golf.

 

Jonas Blixt & Scott Piercy

Both guys will be ecstatic with their performance in the PGA.  Blixt never shot a round over par, which is an incredible achievement when you consider that this is only his 2nd major championship.  I didn’t expect anything of Blixt on Sunday and was pleasantly surprised that he was able to maintain his position in the field, finishing a nice 4th.

Scott Piercy shot the round of the day and came from out of nowhere to finish T-5th.  I’m sure Piercy was more than pleased with his excellent final round, and although he never had a chance to win the title he will go home pleased with his overall performance.

 

Adam Scott

I didn’t like Scott’s chances all week, because as I keep saying it is very rare for someone to win their first major and then win one of the next three in their next attempt (with the last 4 being O’Meara, Seve, Jacklin and Nicklaus).  I also think that although he finally won a well-deserved major at the Masters, there are still serious questions about his bottle.

The reason for this is that if you look at his last round at this year’s Open and this year’s PGA, you see Scott up the top of the leader board going into the last day.  Yet at the end of the day he isn’t lifting the trophy above his head.  Maybe it is harsh, but when you look at it in both tournaments he had a chance to win (especially the Open) and in both tournaments he didn’t show up on the last day.  I think Scott is a very good golfer and he will win another major one day, but I think there are still serious questions about his bottle.  He should have been able to put in a challenge of some kind on Sunday but didn’t and shot 5 bogeys instead in a level par round.

 

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy flattered to deceive in his defence of his PGA title, and although he managed to finish T-8th, the final position was more flattering than his play deserved.  At no point did McIlroy look like he was actually challenging and was very sloppy with his play the whole week.  He clearly is still struggling with his new clubs and it has definitely had an adverse effect on his game  Maybe my comments are harsh but you expect more from McIlroy.

 

Tiger Woods

Why am I including a player that didn’t even compete in anyway throughout the week in my review?  Well I thought that Woods was going to win (and win comfortably) and he went out and played some really poor golf.  In the end Woods finished +4 and in T-40th, not quite what you’d expect from the best player in the world.  It is incredible that this is the same player who ripped the field to bits at Firestone.  Everything was off for Woods, his putting over the first two days was awful and his driving over the last two days killed any slight hope he may have had.  Overall Woods’ performance at the PGA was incredibly disappointing and will only add fuel to the fire of the haters who say he will never win a major again.

 

My Tips

Pre-tournament I made 5 tips for the Open Championship and recommended betting each way.  They were Jason Dufner (1st) who won (yay me), Zach Johnson (T-8th) never really challenged but played the golf I expected him to, Francesco Molinari (T-33rd) thought he would have done better, Paul Lawrie and Branden Grace (MC) they were outside bets but thought they would at least make the cut.

After the 2nd round I made another three picks based on the half way odds.  They were Steve Stricker (T-12th) who had a poor final round taking him out of contention, Martin Kaymer (T-33rd) a 78 on Saturday took him totally out of contention and Sergio Garcia (T-61st) pathetic weekend with a 75 and 76 should really be doing better with his ability after putting in two solid rounds previously.

After the 3rd round I picked a further 3 players; they were Steve Stricker again, Dustin Johnson (T-8th) shot a 69 but really needed a 65 to give himself a chance of challenging (not in the end it would have mattered) and Lee Westwood (T-33rd) who managed to putt like a 25 handicapper and shot a 76, when he also needed a 65.

Overall I had 10 picks (1 double) and didn’t really do well overall except for the fact that I tipped Dufner to win pre-tournament (the Johnson’s also did ok).  I liked Dufner from the start and thought that 40/1 were great odds for a player of the Dufman’s ability.  I thought at the halfway point he was the most likely man to win and I thought with one round to go he was the most likely man to win, and so (luckily for my bank balance) he was the winner, and a deserving one too.

 

Conclusion

I thought that the 2013 PGA Championship was another excellent week of golf and once again showed the depth and quality of players that the game of golf has.  The only major complaint I could have, was over the ridiculous crowds; why is it cool to shout and holler stupid things like ‘mashed potatoes’?  That is not golf.  Why aren’t these people being ejected?  The PGA need to get this sorted out because it is ruining the spectacle and it is also only a matter of time before someone shouts to early and puts a player off his shot and costs them the title.

I also have to complain about the way that the American crowds just cheer if the player hits the ball hard; it is really annoying if you are watching TV and you naturally think it is a good shot, only to see it land in thick rough.  Do these people not know how to follow the flight of a ball?  Or do they think the game is about hitting the ball hard and that is it?  Who knows, but it makes American crowds look stupid and that is not a good article to the rest of the world.

This year, all four majors have been excellent tournaments; and it is nice to see 4 deserving winners of the 4 majors also.  The only thing missing from this year’s majors is the comeback of Tiger Woods which everyone is waiting for.  I don’t even mean that he wins one, more so that he actually goes out and seriously challenges for one.  Golf doesn’t need Tiger Woods, but it is better with him than without him.

 

So let me know what you thought of the PGA Championship.  Do you think that Jason Dufner is a deserving winner?  Are you as disappointed in Tiger Woods as I am?  Or any other views you may have on the tournament, all comments are welcome.

5 Tips for the PGA Championship *4th Round Update*

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So heading into the last day of the PGA Championship has seen Jim Furyk shoot a cool -2 to take the lead at -9, 1 shot clear of my man Jason Dufner.  I still have 2 players in serious contention (Dufner and Stricker) which isn’t too great but then again they are both in the top 5.

As is the way of golf the complexion of the tournament, and those who are in contention changes from round to round.  You can find some of the best value by betting on the 4thround of a tournament, because realistically there are fewer people who could potentially win the tournament.

The men that I am touting to bet on are based upon their chances of winning, their play this week and their odds (from Bet365).  So it is not going to be a list of favourites, rather a list of value bets.  At this stage of the tournament you are still able to receive 3 places if you bet each way and that is recommended.

Oak Hill is playing much easier than everyone was expecting and because of that the winning score is going to be quite low.  I’d imagine the winner will be on around -8, so anyone within 5 shots has a very good chance of winning or at least getting a play-off.  Furyk Is currently sitting on-9 and I am positive (hope this doesn’t come back and bite me on the ass) that he will not win this.  So we are looking at one of the other men who are sitting at worst -2 (10 players, excluding Furyk).  There are a lot of top golfers fighting for the title going into the last round and I think the winner has a great chance of coming from behind to win.  Oak Hill has shown that this week it is a course which you can score very well on but also score very poorly on if you are playing badly.

 

Steve Stricker             12/1

I liked Stricker before the 3rd round and I still like him going into the 4th, he played a solid 3rd round but only shot E keeping him at -5 (T-5th).  One thing Stricker isn’t going to do is play himself out of it (a la Rose or Kuchar); the bigger question is whether or not he is going to play himself into it.  I think he will need to shoot at worst -2 to be in contention, and that will be a test under pressure on the last day of a major; Stricker is good enough and maybe this is his time, he certainly is playing well enough and at only 4 shots (and 4 spots) off the lead 12/1 is good odds.

 

Lee Westwood           25/1

I thought Westwood would need to shoot a 65 in the 3rd round to still be in contention going into the final day, and that was a big if.  Instead he shot a 68 and has somehow found himself in 7th position.  I’m not shocked that he is 6 shots off the lead, more so that I’m shocked that he has found himself only 6 places off the lead.  I thought anyone under -2 didn’t have a chance because there were too many players between them and the leader and the shot difference was too much to realistically make up.  However the opposite of this happened and a large number of the leaders found themselves throwing their chances away and allowing guys like Westwood to get back into the championship.

Don’t get me wrong Westwood is still going to have to go out and score at worst a 66 to have a realistic chance, but he has actually played better this weekend than his -3 score indicates.  All it will take is Westwood to get on a roll and to post a score and he could find himself the PGA champion.  The biggest issue with Westwood is that he has shown that he is unable to go out and win a major when put under pressure; however he is far enough back that he will be able to post a score and potentially watch the leaders crumble under the pressure.  He is also playing with McIlroy, which I imagine will egg him onto shooting a better score and this can only help Westwood in his hunt for the elusive first major.  At 25/1 he is an outsider, but at 25/1 you are getting one of the world’s best golfers who is only 6 places off of 1st and those are great odds.

 

Dustin Johnson          66/1

This was a tough third pick, because I also liked McIlroy (25/1, -3), who I thought was in a very similar position to Westwood and as he has shown in the past he can run away with major championships on the last day; but because of his dreadful form this year (his play has been worse than his score) I can’t see it.

So I decided to plump for Dustin Johnson who managed to shoot the round of the day in the 3rd round with a 65, leaving him at -2 and in T-9th.  At the start of the day I would have laughed at you if you had told me that Dustin Johnson would’ve been in the top 10, let alone in contention but with a great round he has managed to prove me wrong.  Much like Westwood it isn’t the fact he is 7 shots behind that is making me think he has a chance, rather that he is only 8 places behind.  In all likelihood Johnson probably won’t shoot another 65, but he has shown that he is able to score on this course and at 66/1 it is worth a go (especially with an each way bet).

Another 65 would put him on -7 and at that he would very much be in the hunt, and more so than Westwood he would be able to post a relatively early score and watch as the leaders potentially fell away.  Johnson has already shown that he is capable of scoring, and it is unlikely (because of how far back he is) that his bottle will come into question.  Johnson will be looking to post a score early and back into it and that is why he is worth a punt on the last day.

 

 

I’ve already said that I really don’t like Furyk, and I’m pretty sure he won’t win.  The same could be said about Adam Scott (who putted terribly in the 3rd round) because only a handful of players have ever won one of the next 3 majors after winning their first one (last four being O’Meara, Seve, Jacklin & Nicklaus).  Blixt also is unlikely to win (only his 2nd major).

The big question is what Dufner, Stenson and Stricker are going to do; all three are a bit of an anomaly because they have never won a major before, and there are genuine and legitimate questions over if the players will have the bottle to win a major.  If the answer is yes they have the bottle, then I think one of these three will win.

If the answer is no they don’t have the bottle, then that is when players like Johnson, Westwood and McIlroy will come into it; these three either have to shoot a fantastic round or have the other players above them play so poorly that they come back to them.  Realistically a bit of both is the most likely scenario.  I think that the winner of the PGA will be one of these 6 players, and if I were to go out on a limb and choose one I think it is most likely going to be Dufner (I also want Dufner to win because he is the man who I personally bet).

It is an interesting scenario that we have found ourselves in going into the final day of the PGA Championship, and it looks like Sunday is stepping up to be a very exciting day of golf.  Hopefully we get a deserving winner, rather than someone who has just played well over the week (a la Blixt, not that I have anything against him, I’d just rather see someone who is one of the best golfers in the world win).

 

So leave a comment on how well you think that the PGA Championship is going so far and on who you think is in pole position heading into the last day to be crowned the final major champion of the year.