‘Fred Stanley Sport’s’ Premier League Team of the Year

Did Chelsea centre back Gary Cahill make our team of the year?

Did Chelsea centre back Gary Cahill make our team of the year?

As the Premier League season approaches its climax it’s time to reflect on what has been a truly memorable season thus far, with much yet to be decided with two weeks of the campaign still remaining. Last week the Professional Footballers Association awards were held, where the Team of the Year, Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year were all revealed after the Premier League players cast their ballots a few weeks ago. In response to that here is ‘Fred Stanley Sport’s’ choices for Team of the Year, in addition to awards for Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year.

First, lets run down some of the rules of the selection process. With regards to young player of the year, the age limit we’re imposing is 23. So anyone over the age of 22, which includes PFA Young Player of the Year winner Eden Hazard, is out of luck. As far as the Team of the Year is concerned there are few restrictions. However although the formation of the players can be fluid because almost every team in the Premier League plays a flat back four that is what this ‘team’ will shape up like in front of the ‘keeper. So without further ado, let’s get started.

Team of the Year

Goalkeeper

David De Gea – Manchester United

The Spanish stopper has been one of very few bright spots at Old Trafford this season, and there have been many occasions where things would’ve been even worse for United had they not had one of the game’s top young ‘keepers between the sticks. De Gea’s shot stopping has always been excellent but it’s the strides he’s made when it comes to dealing with crosses that have impressed the most, as this perceived ‘weakness’ has been almost totally eradicated from his game. The save De Gea made from Luis Suarez at Old Trafford in March was truly breathtaking, although the game had already gone by that point. Honourable mention: Petr Cech – Chelsea

Right Back

Pablo Zabaleta – Manchester City

Zabaleta has, for a few years now, been one of the premier right backs in world football. Defensively he’s solid and his work often goes unnoticed in a team where he’s surrounded by world-class talent. Yet the Argentinian has once again stepped up to the mark during the 2013/14 campaign and it’s often the sign of a good full back when his work is under appreciated, much like Ashley Cole has been for the best part of a decade now. Another part of Zabaleta’s game that slides under the radar is his attacking prowess. He often pops up in the right place at the right time, and his delivery from wide is of a very good standard for a full back. Honourable mention: Seamus Coleman – Everton

Centre Backs

Gary Cahill – Chelsea

At £7 million Cahill has proved value for money for Chelsea, a wise investment just over two years ago when a host of top sides had been circling round the then-Bolton centre half. Cahill has been fortunate with the circumstances he’s been in, coached by the defensive wizard Jose Mourinho and paired alongside club legend John Terry, but this season he has truly come into his own as a top class player in his own right. Relatively fleet of foot for a centre back, Cahill has improved his reading of the game immeasurably and he is rarely defeated in aerial battles. If England are to succeed at this summer’s World Cup in Brazil they’ll need Cahill to replicate his club form for his country and lead from the front, or more appropriately, back.

Vincent Kompany – Manchester City

While Kompany has been injured at times this season he has been as important as ever to the City defense when he’s in the starting eleven. Despite being forced to partner the likes of Joleon Lescott and Martin Demichelis, Kompany has marshalled City’s defense to a League Cup victory and potentially a second Premier League crown, with his value to the team perhaps best exemplified when he is unavailable for selection. If City fans could identify one player who they can least afford to lose then it almost certainly would be their captain, who so often leads from the front. Yes, he had a torrid time of it against Liverpool at Anfield a few weeks ago but Kompany was clearly unfit and questions need to be asked of Manuel Pellegrini for risking his skipper when he was so blatantly off the pace. Honourable mentions: John Terry – Chelsea, Jose Fonte – Southampton

Left Back

Cesar Azpilicueta – Chelsea

Thrust into the left back position at the expense of the vastly experienced Ashley Cole, Azpilicueta has excelled under Jose Mourinho’s guidance and his performance last weekend against Raheem Sterling at Anfield was exceptional. Azpilicueta has pace to burn and his positional sense is well-developed for a player so young, which could lead him to be at the top of his profession for a long, long time. Whether or not he remains at left back or shifts back to the right side is up for debate, but unless Chelsea sign a left-sided player in the summer it’s likely that Azpilicueta will continue to roam the left back position at Stamford Bridge for at least another season. Honourable mention: Luke Shaw – Southampton

Right Midfielder

David Silva – Manchester City

Silva has returned to the heights he scaled during Manchester City’s title-winning season of 2011/12, when he almost single-handedly ripped open Manchester United at Old Trafford during City’s famous 6-1 drubbing of their neighbours. Despite his lack of size, of perhaps because of it, Silva is almost impossible to win the ball off and his low centre of gravity enables him to twist and turn with frightening agility. His passing is pinpoint to the level of Paul Scholes in his prime, and the fact that he pops up on the score sheet every so often is another string to his bow. When Silva is on his game City score goals, and lots of them. It’s that simple. Honourable mention: Adam Lallana – Southampton

Central Midfielders

Yaya Toure – Manchester City

One of the luxuries of having the kind of money to spend that Manchester City do is that you can build a team containing so many talented players, such as Silva and Toure. While Silva provides the guile to break teams down with, Toure is pure power and his combination of size and speed is unmatched almost across world football. Of course, he’s fairly handy with the ball at his feet too and his goal tally speaks of his ability to test the goalkeeper from anywhere within 25-yards of the goal. His goal in the League Cup final against Sunderland was an incredible demonstration of technique, while his solo effort last weekend against Crystal Palace also sticks in the memory as he breezed past more than a couple of players before curling the ball into the top corner from 12 yards out – with his weaker left foot.

Steven Gerrard – Liverpool

Despite his potentially costly slip against Chelsea, Gerrard has enjoyed his finest Premier League season for at least four years. Having re-invented himself in a deep-lying role, the Liverpool captain has seemingly mastered the ‘quarterback’ position despite having to curb his natural box-to-box instincts. While he hasn’t been as much of a goal threat as in the past Gerrard remains an elite penalty taker, and his importance to Liverpool has perhaps not been as high since his 2004-2009 peak. Even if Liverpool fail to lift the Premier League trophy it should be Gerrard’s fantastic season as a whole, not one unfortunate slip, that people remember from this campaign. Honourable mentions: Aaron Ramsey – Arsenal, Christian Eriksen – Tottenham

Left Midfielder

Eden Hazard – Chelsea

Former Lille playmaker Hazard has enjoyed a breakout season for the Blues, finding his goalscoring touch and creating plenty of opportunities for his teammates to boot. His quick feet and incredible balance make him a tricky proposition for any full back, but it’s Hazard’s work rate that sees him stand out from other similarly talented players. It’s primarily because of Hazard that Chelsea’s player of the year from last season, Juan Mata, was deemed expendable by Jose Mourinho and the ‘Special One’ has seen his decision justified by a string of impressive showings from the Belgian winger. Hazard may not be one of the top five players in world football at the moment but make no mistake about it – he’s not far off becoming one. Honourable mention: Raheem Sterling – Liverpool

Strikers

Luis Suarez – Liverpool

There’s little left to say about Suarez that hasn’t already been said after his best year yet on Merseyside. His goals and assists have enabled Liverpool to challenge for the title, and his four goal haul against Norwich back in November was simply breathtaking. The diminutive Uruguayan has the ability to literally make something of nothing and without him there is no question Liverpool would not be in the title hunt this far into the season.

Daniel Sturridge – Liverpool

The other half of Liverpool’s famed ‘SAS’ duo, Sturridge has finally matured into a top-level Premier League striker after bouncing around from Manchester City to Chelsea, before finally finding his comfort level under Brendan Rodgers at Anfield. Sturridge has demonstrated a natural ability to find the back of the net and his left foot is as deadly as any other in the top flight. In addition to his silky skills Sturridge is also blessed with immense raw pace, making him the perfect foil for Suarez as defence’s have failed to deal with Liverpool’s double-edged attacking sword. Honourable mentions: Romelu Lukaku – Everton, Wayne Rooney – Manchester United, Carlton Cole – West Ham

Player of the Year

Luis Suarez – Liverpool

Again, what can you say about Suarez? He’s eclipsed the 30 goal mark this campaign, the first time that’s been done since Cristiano Ronaldo did so five years ago, with the achievement being made all the more remarkable by the fact he’s not a selfish, goal crazed striker in the mould of Ruud Van Nistlerooy. Suarez may rub some people up the wrong way (with good reason) but he is unquestionably the stand out talent in the Premier League at present. Runner-Up: Yaya Toure – Manchester City

Young Player of the Year

Raheem Sterling – Liverpool

Even if he might not be the best young player in Europe as Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers claimed, Sterling isn’t far off that level and his play in the second half of the season has been nothing short of exceptional. Much like Sturridge, Sterling has raw pace in abundance and he has also immeasurably improved his on-field intelligence since he began working with Rodgers. Now no longer strictly a winger, Sterling has been played centrally more often than not of late and on current form he deserves not only a place on the plane to Brazil this summer but a place in Roy Hodgson’s starting eleven when England face Italy on June 14. Runner-Up: Luke Shaw – Southampton

That’s how ‘Fred Stanley Sport’ sees the 2013/14 season and its standout performers, but you can have your say in the comments or tweet @fredjstanley. Let us know if there’s anyone you think we’ve missed out!

 

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The Weekend That Was – 29/4/14

Could Alan Pardew be on the way out at Newcastle?

Could Alan Pardew be on the way out at Newcastle?

Another weekend of sport is in the books, with the destination of the Premier League title no clearer after yet another shocking twist on Sunday afternoon at Anfield. However that wasn’t the only headline grabbing action, so keep reading to find out just what happened in the latest installment of ‘The Weekend That Was’.

Mourinho Masterminds Chelsea’s 2-0 Victory Over Shocked Reds

After dropping hints he’d change almost the entirety of his usual first team lineup for Chelsea’s visit to Anfield to take on table topping Liverpool, Jose Mourinho pulled off the ultimate heist by fielding a near full strength eleven and coming away from Merseyside with a 2-0 win, courtesy of goals from Demba Ba and Willian. Although I’m a huge fan of Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers and the work he’s done this season I’m sure even the most ardent Reds supporter will admit that ‘The Special One’ outfoxed his former assistant on this occasion, with his defensive unit impenetrable despite being up against the leagues leading scorers while his attacking players took advantage of any Liverpool mistakes. The turning point in the game, and perhaps the title race, was Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard’s slip, a cruel twist of fate after he told his teammates “this does not f****** slip now” following their victory over Manchester City a fortnight ago. The league crown is now City’s to lose, and should they win their remaining three fixtures and therefore the title they’ll owe Jose Mourinho more than a hint of gratitude.

Unrest Grows in the Northeast After Another Newcastle Defeat

Newcastle lost 3-0 against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium to record their sixth successive defeat, a harrowing run for the Geordies which is their worst for over two decades. Manager Alan Pardew has never been overly popular with Newcastle fans for a number of reasons, but this most recent desertion of form has seen him slip to perhaps his lowest ever status with those on Tyneside. Mix in his attempted headbutt on Hull City’s David Meyler and it hasn’t been a brilliant 2014 so far for Pardew, who could see his job come under threat once the season is finished.

Meanwhile, thanks to his side’s win and Everton’s loss to Southampton on Saturday Arsene Wenger looks all but certain to guide the Gunners to Champions League qualification for the umpteenth season in a row. With an F.A Cup final on the horizon against Hull, Arsenal could even end their nine year trophyless run at Wembley next month. While their title push may have faltered some weeks ago after they’d sat top of the pile for so long the season would still surely register as a success should Arsenal do the top four and F.A Cup double.

Farbrace and Newell Given Roles in England Set-Up

After former Lancashire and Sussex coach Peter Moores was appointed as Andy Flower’s successor with the senior England team there were still a few roles to be finalised on his staff. Those roles would now appear to be filled, with Nottinghamshire coach Mick Newell the man chosen to replace Ashley Giles as a selector and Paul Farbrace hired away from his role in charge of the Sri Lankan national team to fill the role as Moores’ number two. Farbrace brings a wealth of experience  to the position, and it’s widely thought that after Moores made several mistakes with regards to man management during his first spell in the role the ECB were keen to surround him with someone else who has experience at the highest level. Newell’s appointment came after Giles stepped down as a selector, presumably because he decided the role wasn’t right for him after he was overlooked for the role of head coach. Newell is well known for his disagreement with Kevin Pietersen back when the South African born batsman played for Notts, dampening the chances of Pietersen earning an international reprieve further still with the anti-KP Moores already in a position of power.

That’s it for this weeks installment of ‘The Week That Was’, have your say on the action in the comments or tweet @fredjstanley.

Manager of the Season: The Case for Brendan Rodgers

Brendan Rodgers has transformed Liverpool into potential Premier League winners

Brendan Rodgers has transformed Liverpool into potential Premier League winners

This article is the second in the ‘Manager of the Season’ series, and makes the case for Liverpool supremo Brendan Rodgers as the Reds chase a first Premier League title.

Even after yesterday’s 2-0 home defeat to Chelsea, Liverpool remain top of the Premier League. Manchester City have a game in hand and can return to the summit of the division with a victory, yet even if they manage to do so and remain their until the season’s climax it shouldn’t take away from what has been a memorable season for the red half of Merseyside. A seventh place finish in Brendan Rodgers inaugural season at the Anfield helm last year may have been uninspiring on the face of it, but it laid the foundations for what has been a thrilling campaign for all involved at Liverpool, who have already guaranteed a top four finish and a return to Champions League football next season.

Rodgers arrived at Anfield having overseen Swansea’s promotion to the top flight via the play-offs in 2011, before helping the Welsh club establish themselves in the top division with a mid table finish the following season. His teams have always had a reputation for playing exciting, forward thinking possession based football and his impact on Liverpool and their players has been clear to see. Luis Suarez has developed into an elite goal scoring and chance creating centre forward, while Daniel Sturridge has grown into a dangerous weapon capable of destroying even the best of defenses. Steven Gerrard has been reinvented in a deeper midfield role under Rodgers, while Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling have begun to make good on the promise they had previously shown as talented youngsters.

Another of Rodgers’ successes this season has been his ability to interact with the Liverpool supporters and project a confident persona at all times, something that David Moyes failed to do during his short stint across Lancashire with Manchester United. The Anfield faithful have taken to Rodgers as if he were a former player, a remarkable achievement in a short space of time after current England manager Roy Hodgson failed to earn their favour. Rodgers has also outwitted some of the brightest tactical minds in the game, Jose Mourinho notwithstanding, including Manuel Pellegrini earlier this month in Liverpool’s 3-2 over their title rivals Manchester City, and it’s under his guidance that Gerrard, crucially, has returned to the top of his game. Once perceived by some pundits as a one trick pony tactically, Rodgers has shown the adaptability with Liverpool’s tactics to dismiss that notion and prove that he has more than one bow to his tactical arrow. While in some games he has adopted a possession based blueprint, others have seen him instruct his players to play deeper and hit their opponents with deadly counter attacks, utilising the pace of Sturridge, Sterling and others excellently.

However one area where Rodgers record has been mixed this season is the transfer market. Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet started the season in fine form but mistakes have crept into his game at an alarming rate, making his addition for £15 million look questionable when Rodgers already had Pepe Reina at his disposal. Strikers Iago Aspas and Victor Moses have rarely featured, although it should be noted that the latter was acquired on loan and therefore didn’t cost a fee. Midfielder Joe Allen, signed away from Rodgers’ former club Swansea, has been disappointing and although he is still a useful squad member his significant price tag of £20 million looks to be a tad on the expensive side. Yet for these questionable additions Rodgers has also done well to sign top quality talent such as Sturridge and Phillipe Coutinho for below market value sums. Factor in his ability to develop existing squad members markedly and Rodgers deserves to be cut some slack over his spotty transfer record.

This season has been the first time in almost a quarter of a century that Liverpool have been genuine title contenders. Brendan Rodgers deserves almost all of the credit for that, from his exquisite handling of senior and young players alike to his tactical nous in the heat of a title race. Should the Reds capture the title he’ll be immortalized on Merseyside; if they don’t then he’ll have still laid some solid foundations for an assault on the Premier League crown in the years ahead.

Do you think Brendan  Rodgers is the Premier League manager of the year? Have your say in the comments or tweet @fredjstanley

Moyes’ Sacking Shows United to be no Better Than Chelsea, Any Other Club

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David Moyes has been shown the door at Old Trafford

Every Monday night, you can tune into Sky Sports and listen to Gary Neville preach the importance of managerial stability and patience at any given football club. Often Neville will slam chairman of clubs such as West Brom, Chelsea and Fulham for their hastiness with regards to removing one manager after another as they seek to fulfill their ambition, be it winning trophies or merely surviving in the top flight. If you brought Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography last Autumn you’d have read the immortal manager’s words about how he was afforded time to stamp his authority on the famous Old Trafford club, despite him finishing just 11th, 2nd, 11th again and 13th in his first four seasons at the helm of Manchester United. Ferguson even pleaded with supporters to give Moyes their support last May when he stepped down as manager of United after 20 years of near unprecedented success. Manchester United’s own supporters preached the same message throughout last summer after Malcolm Glazer and the United directors passed up the opportunity to hire Jose Mourinho, despite his resume including league titles in four different countries and two European Cup victories, instead opting for the “long term” option of David Moyes.

It is clear that Moyes’ first season in charge was not going to plan. He’d inherited the previous season’s champions and seen them become Premier League also rans, destined for a 7th place finish. Yet he’d been without the services of Robin Van Persie for more than half the campaign, and one wonders whether or not he’d have inherited champions at all if the Dutchman had proven so fragile in his first season at Old Trafford. Elder statesmen such as Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs have also looked well past their best while Ashley Young, Nani and Micheal Carrick have suffered through severe dips in form. This squad was not a squad of champions. Last season they were eliminated in the quarter finals of the Champions League. This season? They suffered the same fate. On the European stage it has been a few years now since United have been able to compete with the very best, witness their 3-1 defeat to Barcelona in 2011, which perhaps demonstrates the lack of quality in the current side.

Yet there’s no denying that Moyes had his faults. He failed to bring in the required calibre of player last summer, when Marouane Fellaini was his only buy. Juan Mata, it cannot be argued, was a better piece of business in January but he hasn’t been utilised in his favoured “number 10” role. He has failed to project an air of confidence in press conferences, or on the touchline. But what is the point of giving a manager a six-year contract if he is not allowed time to mature into the role? It took Ferguson four years to win his first trophy with United. Think about that for a second. Brendan Rodgers, currently atop the Premier League with Liverpool, is yet to win a major trophy in his managerial career. That will probably change in a few short weeks but where would Liverpool be now if they had sacked Rodgers after a 7th place finish last season? United are actually four points better off than Liverpool were at the same stage in 2013. When the Glazer’s hired a man with no Champions League experience and no background of managing a top European club surely, surely, they must’ve anticipated growing pains. To sack a manager so soon after appointing him demonstrates a stunning lack of faith in both their own judgement and that of Sir Alex Ferguson.

When Chelsea sack manager after manager they are derided as being a joke, a plastic club with plastic fans. Fortunately for them they have an owner with billions of pounds behind him. United aren’t so fortunate, and they’ve set a dangerous precedent for their future. What if the next manager, be it Louis Van Gaal or whoever else, fails to net a trophy next season? It won’t be easy. Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City look almost certain to retain top four status next year. Then there’s Arsenal, Tottenham and Everton all vying for that final Champions League spot. They might not even be playing in Europe next year, so that’s another potential trophy out the window.

Sacking Moyes does not make Tom Cleverly a better player, nor does it reverse the aging process that has set in with the likes of Evra, Van Persie and Giggs. Moyes was this morning sacked nine months into a six-year contract. If that’s a long-term appointment, what makes a short one?

The Weekend That Was – 21/4/14

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Connor Wickham has played a pivotal role in this season’s Premier League title race

Another weekend has been and gone in the sporting calendar and here’s my take on the top stories from the last few days, including Jose Mourinho’s first Premier League defeat at Stamford Bridge and Lewis Hamilton’s third Formula One victory in a row..

Chelsea’s Title Hopes Dealt a Terminal Blow

Sunderland were given little chance of picking up points this week ahead of visits to both Manchester City and Chelsea. Yet here we are, with the Black Cats four points better off than they were seven days ago and both of their hosts nearly eliminated from the title race. Connor Wickham, recalled from his loan spell at Leeds United, has scored three times in two games and the former Ipswich youngster will be popular on Merseyside thanks to his exploits against Liverpool’s title rivals. Fabio Borini, who ironically is on loan at Sunderland from Liverpool, will also be the toast of the Kop after his late penalty sunk Jose Mourinho’s men in Saturday’s shock 2-1 win for Gus Poyet’s team.

Perhaps most surprisingly of all, Sunderland’s success was completely deserved against a well below par Chelsea outfit. Although the Blues had taken the lead early on, Wickham’s equaliser saw Chelsea resort to long ball tactics for the final 45 minutes as Eden Hazard’s absence was felt. Despite the vast sums of money invested on the likes of Oscar, Andre Shurrle, Ramires and Fernando Torres none of Mourinho’s play-maker’s could make an impact and when Cesar Azpilicueta brought down Jozy Altidore in the box Borini was able to take full advantage and give Sunderland a Premier League lifeline, in the process quelling Mourinho’s title ambitions.

Hamilton Makes it Three in a Row in China

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes continued their domination of Formula One this season after the British driver and his German teammate Nico Rosberg completed another one-two in Shanghai. Hamilton won by over 18 seconds from Rosberg as he recorded the first hat-trick of wins in his career, which of course already includes one World Championship title. Fernando Alonso came third as Ferrari showed improvement from their early season form, but four time World Champion Sebastien Vettel struggled mightily yet again as he was beaten comfortably by his Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo. Mercedes appear to have adjusted to this season’s new engines far better than any team and a two man race for the title looks likely, although with Hamilton already well in front he’ll take some catching as the the drivers head to Catalunya.

Norwich Run Liverpool Close in Carrow Road Thriller

For the second week in succession Liverpool ran out 3-2 winners, although they would have anticipated a much easier ride when they took a 2-0 lead against struggling Norwich after just 15 minutes on Sunday. Raheem Sterling continued his breathless run of form by scoring two goals, the first a brilliant long range effort with his second taking an unfortunate (for Norwich) deflection. However his most impressive contribution may have been his exquisite through ball to Luis Suarez for the Reds second goal of the afternoon, a well weighted left footed cross that had Suarez licking his lips as he bore down on John Ruddy’s goal.

Brendan Rodgers assertion that Sterling is the top young player in Europe may be hyperbolic to say the least, but his recent performances shouldn’t go unnoticed and it would now be a surprise if the 19-year old wasn’t starting for England in their first game of this summer’s World Cup against Italy. Sterling’s pace and dribbling ability is enough to challenge even the best of defenders, and Roy Hodgson would be wise to capitalise on his playing relationship with Liverpool team-mates Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge. The title is Liverpool’s to lose and one of the main reasons behind that has been the stellar play of their English core, although Luis Suarez has also had a slight impact.

Moyes Season Goes from Bad to Worse.. Again

It hasn’t been a brilliant first season in charge of Manchester United for David Moyes and things took another disastrous turn for his team yesterday as his former club Everton completed the double over the Old Trafford side. Moyes has become somewhat of a record breaker this term and he’s set to break another in the coming weeks as Everton are almost certain to finish above United for the first time since 1990. Phil Jones handball led to Leighton Baines stroking home the hosts opening goal, while Kevin Mirallas doubled Everton’s advantage as the game finished 2-0. The win means Everton remain just a point behind Arsenal in the race for fourth place and Champions League football, something that is mathematically beyond United after their latest humbling result.

Have your say on the weekend’s action in the comments, or tweet @fredjstanley to get your views heard.

 

England’s Re-Appointment of Moores A Familiar Tale

Peter Moores was unveiled as the new England coach on Saturday

Peter Moores was unveiled as the new England coach on Saturday

If conventional wisdom suggests that you should never go back, the England Cricket Board have turned their back on that old adage with their re-appointment of Peter Moores as the head coach in all three formats of the national side. Moores’ previous reign, you may remember, ended after two tumultuous years in 2009 when then-captain Kevin Pietersen (remember him?) attempted to have the former Sussex coach cast aside by the ECB. The attempted coup cost Pietersen his role as captain and Moores his position as head coach; however after the ECB sacked Pietersen earlier this year the door dramatically opened for Moores reintroduction to the national set-up.

In fairness to Moores his pedigree at county level is unmatched over the past decade, with ECB managing director Paul Downton’s assertion that he is the “outstanding coach of his generation” not too far from the mark. Moores helped secure Sussex’s first ever County Championship title in 2003 and that achievement was the main cause of his hiring as England head coach back in 2007 following Duncan Fletcher’s resignation. That changing of the guard occurred after a 5-0 reverse down under, and with Moores inheriting an equally dire situation in the present day the circumstances should feel all too familiar.

This time around it has been Moores’ success with Lancashire, whom he led to the County Championship crown in 2011, that has seen his reputation return to its previously esteemed level. The red rose county’s victory was their first in 71 years and was achieved despite a lack of marquee names and England test caps, with veteran bowler Glenn Chapple leading both the bowling attack and the side as captain. Relegation followed in 2012 but last season saw an immediate return to the top flight. Left arm spin bowler Simon Kerrigan enjoyed a fantastic campaign and although his test debut was a disaster last September it is he who stands to benefit the most from Moores’ appointment. The England team is in desperate need of a genuine wicket taking threat in the spin department following the retirement of Graeme Swann and with options thin on the ground Moores is likely to look in the direction of the man who performed reliably for him last season.

Back in 2007 a similar situation played out when Sussex wicket keeper Matt Prior was given a chance at test level by his former county coach, and following his omission from the side for the final two Ashes tests last winter Prior will be hoping to be given one last shot at a test career by his original mentor. However it shouldn’t be forgotten that Moores is also the man who persuaded the mercurial Jos Buttler to join Lancashire this past off-season, which could narrow the battle for the England wicket keeping role down to those two individuals. One near certainty is that Jonny Bairstow, who plays for Lancashire’s fierce rivals Yorkshire, is currently a distant third in the race to don the gloves come the first test match of the summer.

While originally it seemed the job was Ashley Giles’ to lose a terrible run of limited overs results, firstly in the Caribbean and then in the World T20 in Bangladesh, may have seen him do just that. A loss to the Netherlands may well have been the final straw for the ECB, who after a winter of PR nightmares would have detested being forced to defend yet another decision after the Kevin Pietersen episode. Speaking of Pietersen, its not unlikely that his removal from the international scene played a role in Downton deciding that going back to Moores was a realistic possibility. The two clearly couldn’t co-exist and following the batsman’s latest fallout with senior management perhaps Downton and his colleagues at the ECB decided Moores was treated unfairly when dismissed five years ago. Moores close relationship with Andy Flower, who was originally introduced the the England fold by Moores as his assistant, couldn’t have hurt either.

Moores’ task won’t be an easy one, quite the opposite in fact, but he brings an intimate knowledge of the county game with him to the role as well as international experience and a familiarity with many of the current squad. Don’t forget that it was Moores who gave James Anderson and Stuart Broad their first prolonged international exposure, not to mention handing a test debut to current captain Alistair Cook. If he can find some equally talented players from the county circuit then Moores may just be the right man to lead the new era, sans Kevin Pietersen, of English cricket.

 

Manager of the Season: The Case for Tony Pulis

 

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Tony Pulis has led Crystal Palace to Premier League safety against all the odds

Over the next few days Fred Stanley Sport will take a look at some of the leading candidates for the 2013/14 Premier League Manager of the Season award, putting a case forward for each candidate. The series starts with Tony Pulis, the Crystal Palace manager who was hired 12 games into the current campaign after the shock resignation of Ian Holloway.

When former Stoke manager Tony Pulis agreed to take over Crystal Palace after some lengthy negotiations last November few people gave the Eagles any chance of staying in the Premier League beyond this season. A meager haul of just seven points from the club’s first 12 games back in the top flight of English football saw them joint last in the table with the equally hapless Sunderland, who themselves had changed manager in the season’s infancy when they sacked the controversial Paulo Di Canio and hired former Brighton and Hove Albion boss Gus Poyet. However while Sunderland remain deep in relegation trouble, bottom of the table and six points from safety, Pulis’s Crystal Palace have reached the magical 40 point mark and are certain to enjoy at least one more season in the top flight.

When Palace got off to such a slow start talk wasn’t of survival. In fact many observers thought that the south London club would be better off simply aiming to overhaul Derby County’s record low Premier League points total of 11, which was “achieved” in the 2007/8 season. With all due respect to the Crystal Palace players such low expectations were reasonable; their top scorer from their promotion campaign, Glenn Murray, was still recovering from cruciate ligament damage and wouldn’t be fit until February at the earliest, while star player and talisman Wilfried Zaha had been sold to Manchester United. Even Kevin Phillips, Premier League veteran and scorer of Palace’s winning goal in the play-off final, was allowed to join Championship side Leicester and in the process left Pulis’s squad woefully short of Premier League experience.

Yet Pulis has still been able to manufacture some incredible results against more experienced, and undoubtedly wealthier opposition. Mega-bucks Chelsea were put to the sword 1-0 at Selhurst Park, while top-four challenging Everton saw their bid for Champions League football derailed when Palace came away from Merseyside with a shock 3-2 victory earlier this week. Jason Puncheon, brought in by Pulis in January, has provided Miles Jedinak with an able central midfield partner while loanee Thomas Ince has replaced some of the pace lost when Zaha departed for Old Trafford.

The basis of these results has by and large been a rock solid defence. Pulis’s Stoke sides were famed for their grit and defensive resilience, something replicated at Palace as they’ve conceded just 1.21 goals per game over the duration of this campaign, good for fifth in the division. Wins against Chelsea, Stoke, West Ham, Hull City (twice) and Aston Villa (twice) have all come by a solitary goal to nil, while Cardiff have also been defeated 2-0 and 3-0 by the Eagles this year. Julian Speroni has been almost unbeatable at times in the Palace goal, forming the backbone of a mid-table Premier League side and perhaps representing Pulis’s finest achievement in football to date.

You’d have got long odds last August on Palace staying off the bottom of the table let alone out of the bottom three this season. Yet here we are with four games to go and Palace are just eight points behind the much heralded Southampton, they of the four England internationals and acclaimed manager Mauricio Pochettino. It wasn’t a decision they themselves made, but Ian Holloway walking away from Crystal Palace might just have been the best thing that’s happened to the Londoners in a long, long time.