More success for Roger Federer as he picks up a third Miami Open Title

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Roger Federer has won the 2017 Miami Open Presented by Itau as he beat Spaniard Rafael Nadal in straight sets 6-3 6-4.

The 35-year-old Swiss had already won this year’s Australian Open in January and Indian Wells a fortnight ago going into this final, and he ‘rolled back the years’ with some fantastic tennis and stroke-playing and will move up to World Number 4 on Monday as there were early exits and players that were forced not to enter into the tournament.

A lot of neutrals were hoping for an entertaining final and we certainly got one as you could not separate the two in a quite entertaining first set, with it being on serve until Federer broke Nadal to take a 5-3 lead in the opening set. The ‘GOAT’ (‘Greatest Of All Time’), went on to close out the first set 6-3 and the Spaniard was visibly deflated.

Federer was sublime in set two as he did not concede a point in his first three service games and was piling on the pressure as Nadal had to hold his serve to even stay in the match. But Federer got his all important break in the second set, to take a 5-4 lead in the all-important set, which then gave him the platform to successfully serve his way to the title and it will stand him in good stead going into the clay court season.

In my opinion, it was a fantastic final as two juggernauts of the sport faced each other and it failed to disappoint. There was no definitive shot that amazed the crowd, but it was two rivals with contrasting styles going at each other, and you just couldn’t take your eye off it. It was textbook tennis. The only issue that Federer might have is how long he can keep this run going. You can’t criticise his motivation because he has so much of it. He will have to select his tournaments carefully if he wants to be in contention for the grand slam events which are the pinnacles of the sport. It is likely that he will make the year-end ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in London, but he has to determine which tournaments will benefit him the most.  Will we see Nadal vs Federer again? Many will hope that is the case, and at this moment, there will be many more to come.

 

 

 

A great 12 months for the British No.3 but will now have to face the consequences after yet another setback

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British tennis’ number three, Dan Evans released a statement last Friday evening at a hotel near Queen’s Tennis Club in West London, that he had been tested positive for cocaine after taking a drugs test back in April of this year. My first reaction was of shock, but he has had many downfalls in his career. However, over the last year, he has had his best season by reaching the third round in three of the last four grand slams and has dipped inside the world’s top 50. The main question is that will he come back from this?

Dan Evans said in his statement: “I made a mistake and I must face up to it… It’s really important you know this was taken out of competition and in a context completely unrelated to tennis”.

Of course, there will be severe sanctions for the 27-year-old from Solihull, but the International Tennis Federation (ITF) have obviously not stated how long he will be out of the game for. A previous case back in 2009, where Frenchman, Richard Gasquet was tested positive for cocaine after kissing a girl in a nightclub, had initially been given a two-year ban by the ITF under the terms of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). But it could be more unpleasant for Evans as Jose-Manuel Roman Gomez from Spain received a four-year ban for testing positive for the same illegal substance. There has been a wide discussion about a lifetime ban if players are caught taking drugs, and I think that is very extreme, but it is one way of stopping players from going down that path. We don’t know the full extent as to what happened with Dan Evans, so we can’t make rash opinions or conspiracies as to what happened. I am glad he came out within days of finding out the result. This might influence the length of his ban.

The complete juxtaposition of his career is astonishing. Back in April 2015, he was at one of his low career points, down in the lower tiers of tennis, at world number 772. But after he revived his career, he reached one of his highest points in his career in March 2017, reaching world no.41, and knocking out a top-10 player in Marin Čilić, from Croatia in the Australia Open earlier this year. Evans has not been short of controversy after he made comments that Aljaž Bedene is ‘not British’, as he cannot play in the Davis Cup for Great Britain after previously playing for Slovenia.

He has a very different character compared to most players on the circuit, some like that, some not so much. One of the things he makes people do, is to watch him play to see what happens. He breaks the stereotypical tennis mould. He has the potential to inspire a lot of young and upcoming tennis players in Britain, but what he has done has unfortunately put him in a bad position. If he has already been in the lower depths of the sport, then he is more than likely to come back again. If he does get presented with a two-year ban, will he want to restore his career aged 29? When he comes back, he will be at the lower ends of the future tournaments, and I doubt whether he will get the opportunities (e.g. wildcards to major events) like Maria Sharapova has after coming back from her 15-month ban.

Whatever happens, he will be missed on the circuit, as he is one of the sport’s most entertaining players on and off the court. But what he did was no question, a horrendous mistake and he must learn from it and come back even stronger.

The most important person on the pitch

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Are we being too harsh on referees? Do we need to cut a bit of slack? Do you think you could be a referee? Referees have been put in the limelight for a long time a lot of them have been scrutinised by fans, players, and even the media, and I went to find out the pressures of becoming a referee.

Coming from no experience of refereeing, I was very naive in how they train and learn the game. So I travelled to the Hampshire FA Headquarters, for a CORE meeting with young referees who have the potential to be a Football League Official.  It consisted of referees from the Southern Region, who came from the counties of Hampshire, Sussex, Surrey and Dorset. This is the first season that it has come into place, and it has previously been successful with UEFA referees. I had no expectations on what was going to happen on the day.

The morning session started outside on the pitch, where they practiced certain game scenarios. The three drills were penalties, assistant refereeing, and a counter attack from a corner. The most interesting point to make from those scenarios were the differences in opinions when discussing what the referee should do. What surprised me the most about the practical session was the amount of decisions they had to make within a small period of time.

In the afternoon, there was a theory session, which started with penalties, which had no coincidence with the unfortunate mistake by Keith Stroud when Newcastle United played Burton Albion last Wednesday, when he gave a free kick to Burton Albion. The silver lining was that it was the perfect example for the referees to discuss what the match officials should have done to have prevented that from happening. Fortunately for Stroud, ‘The Magpies’ did go on win the three points, so the implications weren’t as heavy as what they could have been. The referees and coaches discussed about what makes a second yellow card and how it affects the dynamics of the game, whether it’s a mandatory yellow card or whether the player should stay on the pitch. Once again, the differences in opinion made it interesting to hear in terms of what the referees were thinking when looking at various situations.

Overall, it was an enjoyable experience and it was great to get some insight and the pressures of being a referee. It got the balance of having fun but also a serious tone to the coaching aspect. It got a sense of being ran like a football club but for referees. Some will stay on for next season, but some will no longer be on the course, which is similar to having football trials.

With video technology coming into fruition in the next season or two, this could help or hinder the beautiful game. I think that there should be an appeal/challenge system like in tennis and cricket, because if only the referees are allowed to use the video technology, the game will become slower and it damages the fun of the sport. Also, there will be some decisions where you look at the footage 20-30 times and there will be no conclusive answer. The sport is made for humans, not for computers. People make mistakes and that is what makes sport, sport. It’s what makes the back pages and gets people talking. It’s what makes people turn the TV or radio on. On the whole, goal-line technology has been a success, but by going too far will ruin the game that we all love. Use video technology, but don’t abuse it!

Referees are there to be inspected, but some of the scrutiny is over-exaggerated. We should be more lenient, because at the end of the day, they are only human.

Leicester’s defeat last night will turn their season around

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Yes, I said it, but I strongly believe that Leicester’s loss last night to Sevilla will get their season going, and will be safe for the rest of the season. Even though the Foxes lost 2-1 at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium, it’s that important away goal that will spur them on not just for the second leg at the King Power Stadium, but for the rest of the season. All they need now in that second leg, is an away goal, and my word will they be hungry for it.

Watching Leicester in that game last night was like a game of two halves. It was a complete juxtaposition. In the first half, Leicester looked lethargic, they played halfheartedly, and the chemistry wasn’t working like it did so successfully last season. You can’t put the excuses on Kante leaving anymore, you’ve had over half a season to sort it out. They conceded an early penalty, which was crucially saved by Schmeichel, however it was a poor strike from 22-year-old, Joaquin Correa. But then 25 minutes in, Sevilla opened the scoring through Pablo Sarabia’s fantastic header, which came off the post. But the reaction from the Leicester players was non-existent for the remainder of the first half.

When the ‘tinker-man’, Claudio Ranieri, changed Ahmed Musa for Demarai Gray, it was like the Foxes had a whole new lease of life. However, Sevilla doubled their lead, when Joaquin Correa scored, lifting the ball over Kasper Schmeichel. But then a perfect ball from Danny Drinkwater, set up Jamie Vardy for a tap in, which was his first Champions League goal, and of course, that crucial away goal.

Could Leicester’s away goal be the turning point for the rest of the season? Yes. Only because it was Jamie Vardy who scored it. If it was a defender or central midfielder who scored it, it wouldn’t have been as important, as Jamie Vardy was on a goal drought, and that goal will do him the world of good. They are one point from the drop, and recently got knocked out of the FA Cup by Milwall, so confidence was very low, but I believe if they put out similar performances to what they did in the second half last night, they will be fine.

Don’t worry, I’m not Gary Lineker in disguise, and will not wear over-sized Leicester City pants is they stay up, or win the Champions League. They’ll need more than a ‘brief’ run of results. Their next match is at home against unpredictable Liverpool on Monday. If they put out a performance similar to their 4-2 win over Manchester City earlier in the season, they could pick up the three points that they desperately need.

One thing that they’ll have to majorly improve is there defending, it has been poor all season. It is a stark contrast to last season where they didn’t leak as many goals. The most interesting thing is that it is the same back five (including goalkeeper) as it was last season, so how can it be so different? Both Wes Morgan and Roberth Huth are in their earlty thirties and are not the quickest of centre halves, so they’re ability to read the game has to be crucial in order to win the ball back. They’ll have some protection due to their new signing in Wilfred Ndidi.

In terms of going forward, the summer signings haven’t lived up to their billing. Islam Slimani and Ahmed Musa don’t help in terms of defending when Leicester are trying to press high up the field. To me, I think that Ranieri should start Demarai Gray in the return leg and for the rest of the season, he has been their brightest player this season. And behind Jamie Vardy, it looks to be last season’s player of the year, Riyad Mahrez, in that no.10 role.

Leicester City will be safe this season, but it will be tight. If they win one match, then surely that’ll snowball into a run of wins. It’s what got West Ham United out of danger, and it will happen to the Foxes, if they do the same.

An eight-goal thriller as Manchester City knock five past an impressive Monaco

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A fantastic match in the UEFA Champions League as Manchester City beat Monaco 5-3 in an enthralling game at the Etihad Stadium. Sergio Aguero and Radamel Falcao both scored twice for their respected clubs. A match definitely to tell your grandchildren all about.

Manchester City opened the scoring midway through the first half, which was scored by Raheem Sterling, who was questionably offside. But then two quick goals from Monaco, scored by Falcao, and French teenager Kylian Mbappe, put the game on a knife-edge.

The tie was almost put to bed but Falcao missed a penalty early on in the second half. City then leveled it with an absolute howler from the Monaco keeper Danijel Subasic, who misjudged the shot from Aguero. Then, came one of the goals of the season from the Colombian striker to put Monaco 3-2 up. You would have thought that the game would be over. You could sense that this game would be written into the Champions League history book, because this was an absolute classic. But that was only half of the story.

Aguero put the game in the balance once again, as he scored from a sublime volley to make it 3-3 with 20 minutes to go. And then two late goals from John Stones and Leroy Sane put Manchester City in prime position to go to the Stade Louis II in three weeks time.

A great advertisement for an attacking and expensive brand of football. However, not so much for the defending though.

Meanwhile In Leverkusen, Atletico Madrid will take a two goal advantage back home, as they beat Bayer Leverkusen, 4-2.

17 minutes on, Los Rojiblancos took the lead with a ‘Robben-esque’ wonder-goal from the 22-year-old, Saul. Atleti made it two midway through the second half from the Frenchman, Antoine Griezmann, whose shot came off the crossbar. Atletico Madrid almost killed the tie off, when Griezmann had the chance to make it three, but the shot was well-saved by Bernd Leno

Bayer Leverkusen got one back three minutes into the second half when Karim Bellarabi tucked his shot into the far bottom corner. However, Los Colchoneros (The Mattressers) restored their two goal advantage, when Kevin Gameiro scored from the penalty spot, to make it 3-1 on the night.

An own goal from former Manchester City defender, Stefan Savic, gave Leverkusen little hope with only one goal in it. And 8 minutes from time, another chance went begging when Javier Hernandez’s shot was blocked by the former Chelsea left-back, Filipe Luis. But with 5 minutes of normal time left, Fernando Torres sealed the first leg for the Red and Whites, and added to his quite superb tally in the Champions League, with yet another goal.

Manchester City and Atletico Madrid have put themselves in great positions to book a place in the Quarter-Finals of the Champions League. However, it is not a guarantee that it will be both teams going through. Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen are very dangerous sides, especially going forward, and could cause an upset. Be sure for plenty of goals, and comical defending. So make sure you book the 15th March for Champions League night, because both games will be crackers.

 

The magic of the FA Cup on a new level! Is there hope for non-league football?

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As Lincoln City booked their place in the Quarter-Finals of the Emirates FA Cup, the first time in 103 years that a non-league club has reached the last eight, and also Sutton United reaching the fifth round, is the gap really closing between professional and non-league teams?

As a neutral, I am delighted that a non-league club has made it to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. I don’t think you’ll see that in any other country. Does this suggest that National League teams are vastly improving? Or is this just a ‘one-off’? Most people would assume that the latter is not the case. However, the contrast in finances between Premier League clubs and semi-professional alliances really are quite astonishing. Comparing Arsenal to Sutton United, manager Arsene Wenger takes home a yearly salary of £8.3 million, whereas Paul Doswell (manager of Sutton United) earns no money from the club.

To get more insight into the day-to-day running of a non-league football club, I spoke to my local team’s Vice-Chairman of Bognor Regis Town Football Club (and a member of the FA Council), Jack Pearce. He started off by saying that running a non-league club is totally different than running a professional team, because you have to rely on volunteers giving up a lot of their time in order for the players to be paid. If there is no commitment from the volunteers, then the club can’t run properly. He also mentioned that the FA places 95% of its input into non-league football, which will surprise a few.

Sutton United are reported to earn over £1 million from the FA Cup this season, which shows the importance for lower league teams to get a cup run going because it can save them from going extinct. And now Lincoln City’s prize for reaching the quarter-finals of the FA Cup after beating Burnley, is a trip to the Emirates Stadium, to face the conquerors of Sutton United, Arsenal.

An honourable mention goes to League One side, Milwall Football Club as they overcame three Premier League clubs (Bournemouth, Watford, and Leicester City) already, and have booked themselves a quarter-final against Tottenham Hotspur, for a place at Wembley Stadium in April. Sutton United, Lincoln City, and Milwall, really have put the FA Cup back on the map.

I am a big fan of non-league football and watch the odd game or two on the television, and I strongly believe that it is the beating heart of the game. This is where clubs treat you like fans, and not customers. You have a great relationship with the players, the coaches and the backroom staff, and they will treat you with respect, because that’s how a club should run. It’s that overwhelming passion for the club which is second-to-none, and it definitely comes across. This will be unquestionably, the biggest game for Lincoln City in their history, and they will have nothing to lose.

Will it be another giant-killing for the Imps? Or will it be plain sailing for the Gunners? This really is ‘the Magic of the FA Cup’.

Is the future of British tennis in safe hands?

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As we have the first ever British World Number One tennis player, does this mean that the future of tennis in the UK is looking good? It’ll be very interesting to see whether in 10, 20 years time, we’ll see another World Number One from the British Isles. Has the LTA done enough to inspire children to get into the sport, rather than playing the more mainstream football or rugby?

I play tennis at my local club, and I absolutely love the sport, and we need to share this passion across the country. However, the problem that the sport is facing in this country is that tennis is so expensive. The average cost of a tennis membership in London is £241.50 per year. Hiring a court for an hour is very costly, and the price of a good tennis racket is too dear, so the parents are sometimes put off sending their children to tennis, and will rather let them play football, where it is much cheaper. If the LTA could try and enforce tennis clubs to bring the price down for memberships, then we will see a rise in tennis players of all ages.

As we have seen recently, the BBC have invested in extending the rights for the Wimbledon Championships and the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals. It is fantastic to see that tennis is gaining exposure from terrestrial television. In order to be fully inspired by a sport, you have to see the best in the game, and by having grand slams and other big tournaments being televised on free-to-air channels, we will see young children turning up to tennis, rather than being pulled towards football and rugby.

At a school level, tennis isn’t very high up on the priority list, as other summer sports tends to dominate the Physical Education Curriculum. It gives me the impression that tennis is only a sport to be played as an after-school club, which is a shame, because I strongly believe that children would enjoy tennis more if it was promoted to them at a younger age. From my years as a primary school child, it was very rare that we would be able to play tennis, and there would have to be a specific tennis coach to come in and teach us.

However, I do admire some ideas that the LTA are coming up with, such as various weekends where you could play various tennis activities for free. I imagine that its aim is to get young children involved and help them develop a passion to play tennis. To really enjoy a sport, you have to play it, and this is a fantastic opportunity to get the ball rolling.

We will have to see in the next five years whether British tennis is making a step in the right direction, or is ruining the moment to get children into tennis when Andy Murray is World Number One.

BT and Sky lock horns as there are TV rights deals to be signed

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As we are getting ever closer to Christmas, all the avid sports viewers, like me, will be anticipating the new TV deals on a wide range of sports. Some will win, some will lose, but we all look forward to what BT and Sky have to offer over the next year or two. Or will there be another rival waiting to pounce?

As we are midway through BT Sport’s exclusive rights for the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, the next deal will be arriving soon. The question on some peoples’ lips are, will we ever see exclusive rights for the Champions League happen again? I assume not. UEFA admitted that BT Sport’s TV deal was ‘a mistake’. So we could see perhaps a return for terrestrial channels to broadcast Champions League. The front runner will of course be ITV, as the BBC are still making cuts to the sport sector, as they try to retain Wimbledon, the FA Cup, and Premier League highlights. But you never know. Obviously, the free-to-air channels will not have the majority of the rights, so it will come down to either BT or Sky to battle it out.

Moving away from football, the next big one to mention is cricket, as it is becoming even more competitive. The most recent deal went in favour of BT Sport, as they sealed an £80 million, five year deal with Cricket Australia, which most notably will include next year’s Ashes series, and the KFC Big Bash League. With their fantastic work with Sunset+Vine Productions (who also work on Channel 5’s cricket highlights programme) on their cricket coverage, they could be in good contention to pick up the ECB rights, which could be decided within the near future. However, the ECB have pushed for terrestrial channels to play a huge part in this deal, as the BBC have been contacted about being a part of the new rights deal. The deal will not be finalised until a new Twenty20 format has been finalised, so there might have to be a lot of patience.

Onto tennis, and it has been yet another crucial year for Andy Murray, as he clinched the year-end World No.1. So is he the saviour of tennis coverage on British TV? As soon as Great Britain reached the World Group of the Davis Cup, the BBC airs live coverage of Britain’s matches, which last year included the final. Also, the BBC have extended rights for Wimbledon and the ATP World Tour Finals. There have been rumours that BT, EuroSport and ITV are ready to take on Sky for the ATP rights from 2019. From Sky’s three main rivals, it looks like EuroSport will be the favourites, as they have coverage of all four grand slams and some ATP World Tour events, and of course took exclusive rights of the US Open from Sky Sports. BT have rights for the WTA Tour, and have recently extended that deal as well. It’s so hard to predict whether the rights for the ATP World Tour would go to a rival broadcaster or not.

In terms of Rugby Union, there isn’t very much to talk about, but it is very interesting to mention the European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, which of course the rights are shared. But will we see exclusivity in the future? We’ll just have to wait and see about that. It’ll also be interesting to see whether the Six Nations Championships will stay on Terrestrial television, but that can be discussed at a future date.

Could we see a rise in Internet sports broadcasting? There have been rumours flying around the United States that Amazon are looking to add live sports coverage to their Amazon Prime customers. They have been contacting the major sports leagues in the US, such as the NFL, MLS and the NBA to discuss a rights deal for the US company. Twitter, also have rights to stream 10 ‘Thursday Night Football’ NFL games. this will change the whole complexity of how people can view sporting events.

As sporting events are moving away from terrestrial events, does this mean that subscription channels are getting stronger, or is the rivalry between Sky and BT too strong, and could we see it damaging both their businesses. Will Amazon look to spoil the party, or will it be one step too far for them? There’ll only be one way to find out. Keep watching.

Summer transfer window goes wild as transfers in the Premier League reaches £1bn

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Some of the craziest signings I have seen in my lifetime as yet another transfer window closes, I will look back at some of the ‘deals’ that have been done within the last couple of months.

Whether it was Pogba’s record transfer deal, or Jack Wilshere moving to the south coast on a loan deal, it has been one of the most astonishing transfer windows there has ever been. It was always going to be that way because of the new Premier League TV rights deal which was over £8bn and would be spread between the 20 clubs. It has been effective for some clubs, not so for others. Ever since Guardiola and Mourinho became managers of rival clubs in the Premier League, there was always going to be a battle as to who would spend the most amount of money, with the two teams spending £323.6m.

Starting at the Etihad Stadium, with Manchester City spending a huge amount of money, the most being on England centre-back John Stones. Also, they have bought players that are young and promising with Leroy Sané joining the club as well. Pep Guardiola has made it clear who he wants to stay or go, with Joe Hart, Samir Nasri, Eliaquim Mangala and Wilfried Bony going out on loan, and Yaya Touré not making the Champions League team, with perhaps his lack of effort and lathragic movement. I tip them to be title contenders along with their rivals, Manchester United.

Manchester United have made some bold signings with Eric Bailly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibrahimović. But most notably, the world record signing of Paul Pogba. After three league games, Manchester United look the strongest as they look rock solid at the back and look threatening going forward, but it’s to early to make a real judgment as to who’s going to win the league. Coming up is a massive game between the two Manchester clubs on the next match day.

The reigning champions Leicester City have had a successful transfer window as they have kept the main core of the title winning team by giving new contracts to Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, and have bolstered the line-up with Ahmed Musa and Islam Slimani joining the Foxes. Meanwhile, at White Hart Lane, Tottenham Hotspur have added a few players into their young squad with Vincent Janssen, Victor Wanyama and Moussa Sissoko, who joined in the last hour of deadline day and rejecting Everton along the way.

Once again, Arsenal left it late by signing two players in Lucas Perez from Deportivo La Coruña and Shkodran Mustafi from Valencia. A lot of former players have been very critical at Arsenal as they have had the same problems each year and haven’t resolved them. Will we see improvements? We’ll have to wait and see how the season progresses. They’ve gone after Karim Benzema and Alexandre Lacazette in previous seasons and have failed. Arsenal either don’t want to spend that amount of money, or they have lost their pulling power as they haven’t won a league title in over a decade.

After a poor season, there has been an instant revival at the bridge, as Chelsea have made a promising start to the new campaign and have made one of the signings of the summer in N’Golo Kanté. After re-signing David Luiz on deadline day, there has been talk of Antonio Conte moving to a back three with added signings of Kanté, Michy Batshuayi and Marcos Alonso. With the start they have had, they should get a Champions League spot as they have no European distractions this season.

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I bet Liverpool will be relishing the chance of being back at Anfield after the international break as they have had an inconsistent start to the season, with an attacking win against Arsenal, but a loss to Burnley and then a draw to Tottenham. They will want a run in order to get Champions League football next season. They have made some good signings in Sadio Mané and Georginio Wijnaldum, but lack a left back and a centre-back after a poor start from the back four.

West Brom, Sunderland, Stoke City, Watford, West Ham, Crystal Palace and Southampton have had slow starts to the first few games but have made some late signings so might settle within the upcoming month. Whereas Hull City and Everton have commenced positively with more than one win to their name. Middlesbrough are unbeaten as well, with their experienced players, they look like staying up. Bournemouth have made the transfer of the summer for me, after signing Jack Wilshere on a loan deal. He will add quality and some goals to the team and look like they could stay up this season as well. However, the signing of Jordan Ibe does confuse me in terms of £15 million being spent on him. You could get Cristiano Ronaldo for that amount of money 10 years ago. It just shows how money is effecting the sport we love.

As we head into the mundane international break, it will be interesting how new players will gel into their new clubs and who will prevail in the all acclaimed Manchester derby. Was it money well spent? Was it a rush signing? Or did your club pay too much for a player? We’ll have to wait and see!