The 31st of August. Deadline day cometh.

In only a couple of days the most dramatic, frustrating, agonising and joyful day of the year arrives once more. It’s only deadline day! The end of the summer transfer window for the European football season is within sniffing distance and speculation is once more increasing as rapidly as Tiger Woods’ phonebook.

Managers are worried. Players are worried. Chief Executives are worried. Most importantly the fans are worried. It’s an ambivalent time for football clubs. Should we console are losses and risk the possibility for stagnation with performance? Or go hell for leather regardless of knowing how much money we can afford to throw at rival clubs and agents a la Portsmouth? The scenario is stick or twist.

One club guaranteed not to be involved in acquisitions is Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson has spoken to the media already declaring business is complete at Old Trafford. With Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa added to the team that lost the title with 90 seconds left of the season. Enough senior talent has joined to make sure the title doesn’t remain with the ‘Noisy Neighbours’. For the 19 remaining Premier League teams an aggressive twist approach is being formalised as I write. Some need only minor tweaks, whereas others need total upheaval of the first team if they wish to perform to creditable standards.

Over the last few summers, the last day of the window has seen constant action up until midnight. The most iconic is surely 2008 with Robinho moving to Manchester City and Dimitar Berbatov arriving at Manchester United in the early hours. Last year Arsenal were the big movers in the market with Mikel Arteta, Yossi Benayoun and Park Chu Young arriving from Everton, Chelsea and AS Monaco respectively. We can only speculate about the goings on of this year but it will be interesting to see which club car park Chris Kamara will end up at on the eve of September.

Arsenal

A lot of talk has been about replacements for Alex Song and Robin van Persie. Pundits are already vilifying them for not scoring in there opening games and the scapegoat is the summer arrival Olivier Giroud. Harshly criticised for his performances so far, people are always open to scrutinise Arsene Wenger and his dealings. Personally, the public have been ignorant towards Giroud. He should have scored against Sunderland but it’s about how you adapt physically to the English game. Against Stoke the Frenchman held the ball up well, was strong in the air and adept at bringing others into the attack. The only issue is that there seems to be a lack of match sharpness. This will come, as will the goals that in time Giroud will be rated on.

Arsenal arguably needs another striker and one who has a proven record in the Premier League. Not many have been mooted but an attempt to grab Clint Dempsey may be a good idea. In fairness, looking internally could solve the issue. If Nicklas Bendtner is given a chance he has the potential. Prolific for Denmark and superb at Euro 2012 many see the Dane as a nuisance. At times his attitude stinks, but by turning this into motivation for him, the goals may flow. If Wenger isn’t willing to aid, Bendtner needs to leave. Nobody wants a bad egg.

Focus on Alex Song’s transfer to Barcelona has according to many left a chasm in the centre of midfield. Wenger has publicly backed the midfield. With Santi Cazorla coming in and the returns of Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby and Emmanuel Frimpong, there is clearly quality in abundance at the Emirates.

Areas to strengthen: Central Midfield and Attack.

Players Linked: Cheik Tiote, Yohan Cabaye (both Newcastle United), Yann Mvila (Rennes).

Aston Villa

What can you say about Aston Villa? Well, they have a good youth system.

That’s all there is to say about the Villa. An awful start to the season with a battering from Everton at home last weekend, it can safely be said that the Midlanders are a team in transition. They have been so for the last couple of seasons since Martin O’Neill vacated the Villa Park dugout. The club has become a mini-Eredivisie enclave, with three players joining from the Dutch league in pre-season.

Seemingly, they have a solid spine to their team. Shay Given, Richard Dunne, Charles N’Zogbia, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Darren Bent. That’s a reasonable 5-a-side team in terms of premier league history. The problem is the rest of the squad. Made up mainly of youth team graduates and a few steady players, they lack any real depth. Barry Bannan is a player capable of developing into the team. Comfortable on the ball, with good vision and dead ball accuracy, the Scot could potential be a real gem for Villa. It is important however, to get players around him that can support this talent. Paul Lambert has a tricky few days assembling his squad for the season and a lot may ride on who he can bring on whether they stay in the division.

Areas to strengthen: Everywhere except goalkeeper.

Players Linked: Christian Benteke (Genk), Michael Owen, Nigel Reo-Coker (both free agents), Charlie Adam (Liverpool).

Chelsea

It has been a rollercoaster year for Chelsea fans and manager Roberto Di Matteo. Following the Champions League triumph in May, the Italian moved quick to acquire Eden Hazard from Lille, Oscar of Internacional and Marko Marin from Werder Bremen. Hazard has been a revelation thus far and with Cesar Azpillicueta joining from Marseille at right back they have covered the release of Jose Bosingwa.

One area they need to strengthen is in attack. Chelsea only have Fernando Torres as the sole recognised centre forward in the squad. They possess many talented wingers but no depth through the middle. There is a chance Di Matteo could enforce the Spanish ghost centre forward role but I don’t envisage any coming anywhere near to the role Cesc Fabregas so brilliantly performs. Torres can’t be expected to play in the seven competitions Chelsea are committed to this year so experienced backup is needed. Romelu Lukaku may return from West Bromwich Albion at some point and youngster Lucas Piazon has been touted as a first team player by Di Matteo in pre-season. That is not enough for a team with so much ambition. A centre forward is a must.

Areas to strengthen: Attack

Players Linked: Leandro Damaio (Internacional), Moussa Dembele (Fulham), Hulk (Porto), Falcao (Atletico Madrid).

Fulham and Liverpool

Martin Jol has had to deal with a lot this summer. Losing out on Pavel Pogrebnyak to newly promoted Reading and then having to deal with the petulant child that is Clint Dempsey (pictured right). The hoorah surrounding the American has continued into the new season, with Jol leaving Dempsey out of both matchday squads so far. Liverpool have been reported to the FA for trying to unsettle and turn the head of Fulham’s top scorer last season. It is clear that he wants to leave and similarly Jol wants him to. The Fulham manager is not one to beat around the bush when it comes to player mutiny. After the proceedings it may be preferable for Jol to treat Liverpool to a rather expensive sale or push Dempsey elsewhere. Sunderland have shown interest and Arsenal were interested last season so there is plenty of options available to palm him off.

Moussa Dembele is off greater importance to Fulham. Linked with several clubs including Real Madrid, the Belgian has been a great acquisition since Mark Hughes signed him in 2010 from AZ. Creative, physical, skilful and quick, Dembele really drives the team on. Losing him could be catastrophic for the team if they cannot get a reasonable replacement in time.

Liverpool on the other hand, would feel comfortable with their transfer dealings thus far. Nuri Sahin has been a clever bit of business thanks to Xabi Alonso’s quite word. It is adequate to suggest that Clint Dempsey aside, they may be finished in this window but another striker may be necessary if the American fails to debut for the Merseyside club. Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea is the rumoured target in the last few days. The ability of the youngster to play anywhere across the frontline is of benefit to the 4-3-3 system Brendan Rogers likes to play. Whether Chelsea are willing to let a play with such potential and versatility leave Stamford Bridge is a different matter.

Fulham: Areas to strengthen: Creative Midfielder and a striker.

Players Linked: Charlie Adam (Liverpool), Kieran Richardson (Sunderland).

Liverpool: Areas to strengthen: Frontline.

Players Linked: Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Daniel Sturridge (Chelsea).

Manchester City

Not a day has gone by recently where Roberto Mancini hasn’t threatened to quit over the lack of transfer activity his club has had this summer. Of course this is likely to happen. I remember when he said Carlos Tevez wouldn’t play for the club again. Has Tevez played again? Mario Balotelli wouldn’t play for the rest of last season. Balotelli definitely didn’t provide an assist for the championship winning goal. Indeed that was actually Iain Dowie.

In fairness to the Sheikh’s who own the club it is not a necessity for them to start splurging cash on big name players. They have the strongest squad in the league but Mancini will continue to come out and suggest that the owners are extremely tight with their cash.

The only potential position they need to strengthen is in central defence. Vincent Kompany lacks a consistent partner. Joleon Lescott lacks reliability and then there is the woeful Stefan Savic. The young Fiorentina centre half Matija Nastasic and Liverpool’s Daniel Agger are the wanted men. Whether Agger wants to leave or will be allowed, I am not convinced all parties involved will agree terms.

Scott Sinclair, does however, look set to join from Swansea at some point to warm Adam Johnson’s spot on the bench and get a severe lack of game time. Mancini is still ogling Daniele De Rossi as he has been ever since he arrived at The Etihad but that looks unlikely as the Gladiator is loyal to his boyhood club Roma. It could well be a rather disappointing summer for Mancini, quitting his job and all.

Areas to strengthen: Central defence and defensive midfield.

Players Linked: Agger (Liverpool), Nastasic (Fiorentina), Sinclair (Swansea), De Rossi (Roma).

Scott SInclair looks set to complete his transfer to Manchester City this week.

QPR

It has been a transfer merry-go-round at Loftus Road this summer with seven players arriving and fourteen heading out the door, including World Footballer of the Year nominee Patrick Agyemang. Mark Hughes has been on a quest to remove the entire deadwood from the club. He has replaced them with experience and hungry young players. A surprise acquisition of Park Ji-Sung is the most eye catching of transfers but it is heavily rumoured that the 2009 and 2010 Serie A goalkeeper of the year Julio Cesar will be joining the club. The Brazilian is being moved on by Italian Giants Internazionale due to the high wages he demands and QPR are willing to satisfy him. Further movement is expected over the next couple of days in regards to their leaky defence. Talks with both Michael Dawson and Ricardo Carvalho have broken down but I am sure Hughes will try and rekindle this affair.

A lot of movement is expected with the nouveau riche West Londoners and it may well take a while for the squad to gel. This may be noteworthy come next May.

Areas to strengthen: Defence.

Players Linked: Michael Dawson (Tottenham), Ricardo Carvalho (Real Madrid), Julio Cesar (Inter), Owen Hargreaves (Free Agent).

Tottenham Hotspur

After many years of debate Luka Modric has finally been given the green light to leave Spurs. Real Madrid have taken the baton from North London and given the Croatian a real battle to even get in to the starting XI at the Bernabeu. The issue for Andre Villas Boas now is to get a replacement. Negotiations have begun with Shakhtar Donetsk over the Brazilian Willian. Fulham’s Dembele and Ibrahim Afellay of Barcelona have been discussed. What was more interesting about the Modric deal is the new ‘partnership’ between Spurs and Real Madrid. Are they now a feeder club? Do we expect Gareth Bale to be at the Bernabeu next season? One thing we do now is that opens the door for Kaka to finally arrive in the Premier League after many a year of speculation. The Brazilian is surplus to requirements now and it is of interest for Real to remove his high wages from the bill. A loan may be more likely to happen as it is well known that Spurs will not break their wage limit. Whether or not Kaka would be interested is another mitigating factor. No Champions League football may deter him, but regular first team football is surely of priority for a player who is 30 this year and has a home World Cup in two years time.

AVB is rather mysterious when it comes to transfers. He has already outlined that Harry Kane will be third choice striker with Rafael van der Vaart taking up a more advanced role to play directly with Emmanuel Adebayor or Jermain Defoe. The youngster did well on loan at Millwall in the second half of last season but it would be a lot of pressure should he be needed for a regular starting berth over the season. A back up striker would be necessary but AVB is playing his cards close to his chest.

Areas to strengthen: Creative midfielder and a striker.

Players Linked: Yann Mvila (Rennes), Moussa Dembele (Fulham), Willian (Shakhtar Donetsk), Ibrahim Afellay (Barcelona), Hugo Lloris (Lyon), Kaka (Real Madrid), Anderson (Manchester United).

Kaka to the Premier League?

With only days left it is exciting to see who will grace the Premier League this season. Everyone has their own opinion on who they want to see in the league but I firmly believe that Kaka could be the big story this year, well apart from Michael Owen’s new club. I couldn’t talk about deadline day without mentioning Owen. Heavily linked with Everton and Stoke City so far he expects to find a club this week according to Twitter. After much deliberation, I personally believe the right choice may in fact be Wigan Athletic. Notorious for being horrendous in front of goal despite the chances they create, Owen could well be the answer to their prayers and them to his.

Advertisements

Arise Major Murray?

London 2012 Olympic Gold winner Andy Murray in commemerative stamp mode.

Some remarkable feats have been accomplished over the last two weeks. Great Britain winning Olympic gold in non seated sports, Arsene Wenger has been opening his chequebook and of course Andy Murray finally gained revenge over Roger Federer.

The 5th August 2012 could forever be remembered as the day Andy Murray became a major force in tennis and not just the nearly man of several grand slam tournaments. The defeat of Federer in less than two hours, that included a nine game consecutive winning streak, was a stunning repost to the Wimbledon final of four weeks ago. Tim Henman stated that Murray had ‘not only beaten Federer, he (had) taken him apart.’ The combative approach from the Scot gave the Swiss no room for error. He was effectively forcing Federer to place each shot on the fringes of the playing surface. Even a player with the record of the world number one cannot consistently compete with the pressure of doing this. It did seem, however, that there were other mitigating factors amalgamated into the performance.

It became clear that Federer had been affected by his route to the final. Maybe the mammoth final set against Juan Martin del Potro (19-17) had taken its toll. The elation after the semi final showed the enormous degree of emotion it meant to have a duel in the sun for Olympic singles gold on Sunday. At Beijing, the supreme Swiss was defeated by the American James Blake in the quarters and in Athens, he only managed one win before succumbing to the then 19 year old Tomáš Berdych of the Czech Republic.

Throughout the final it was clear that there was something not completely right with the 17 grand slam champion. Fatigue would have taken its toll on the 30 year old but it seemed that Federer was losing a battle with himself. The pressure was solely on him after 4 weeks ago, giving Murray a freedom to swing. The only major title Federer has not claimed in his glittering career may burden him forever.

The outcome cannot be pressed upon the shoulders of a poor performer whilst ignoring the example set by the eventual winner. Minimal unforced errors, a catalogue of gigantic winners off both sides and a first serve percentage of a champion oozed from the sweat in the GB wristband of the man from Dunblane. The consistency of first serve has been the major problem for Murray. It is often wavered in key matches over his career; it has been known to slip below 55%, especially in games against the big three of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and of course Federer. The catalyst for this may have been nerves and more likely a loss of confidence within himself as the big match appetite of these athletes kicks in. The approach on Sunday was to get on top of Federer as quickly as possible following the illustration set in the Wimbledon final.

The result of this was excellent for Murray until at 2-0 on his serve in the second set, there began a sequence of several deuces upon the Brits serve. The correlation between the two finals was remarkable as the same event occurred prior. This time the ending was different, leaving Murray to leave Federer in his wake. This was the impact of Ivan Lendl that many have been talking about. We were witness to the iceman approach to everything on a tennis court. Where previously Murray would have cursed towards his team in the stands, it was a case of focus and forget. There are instances where certain shots have completely derailed the performance of Murray. One such example is the 2011 Wimbledon semi final against Nadal. Having missed an easy volley to go a set and two breaks of serve up against the Spaniard, he didn’t win another game until the fourth and final set. The tenure of such meltdowns is clearly over for the foreseeable future and great praise should be given to Team Murray, in particular Ivan Lendl. With the winner of eight grand slams in your camp, it is highly likely that Murray will improve his all time number 7 ranking for winning the first set and converting it to a victory.

For Murray now, the next 3 weeks is integral. The US Open begins on the 27th August at Flushing Meadows, New York and the time from the Olympics to the Open has to be used sensibly. The Scot beat Flavio Cipolla before withdrawing with a knee injury in Toronto. The withdrawal from Toronto would be to recover his vigour in advance of defending the title in Cincinnati. Murray heads to Cincinnati next week to build some hard court experience. By beating Cipolla, Murray had already gained ranking points on last year. With Nadal’s fitness questionable, upon arrival in New York there is a real chance that the Spaniard will be replaced as the new number 3 in the World.

The return to imperious form of Juan Martin del Potro will strike fear into the field at Flushing Meadows.

The big threat to the big names at Flushing Meadows is the return of the Argentine giant del Potro. At 6’6 del Potro is one of the taller players on the tour but he is no lumbering oaf across the court. The 2009 US Open winner has footwork akin to a boxer and certainly contains similar strength and counterpunch mentality to these athletes. Blistering forehands and consistent serving brought home the bronze medal for Argentina in London. The upturn in form at the Olympics has sealed the progression back to the upper echelons of the ATP tour and it looks like the wrist injury that effectively saw him out of the game for the 18 months following his only grand slam victory has been forgotten. Del Potro is a real threat again and I for sure believe that there is an outside chance to claim glory at the US Open. The Argentinean is back on equal par with the big 4 in the mens game as they clamber for the trophy. So much so I may even take a trip to the bookies.