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5 things we learnt from England’s series win over India


England once again have a seam attack to be feared

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Although still not the finished article, England’s bowling regained some of its old vigour and force under the masterly stewardship of James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Anderson, now just three wickets away from Ian Botham’s record of 383 test wickets, was back to his magical self in the final three matches. His control of a cricket ball is truly stunning and his ability to effortlessly swing the ball both ways surely makes him one of the best ever bowlers in English conditions. His partnership with Stuart Broad was once again resurrected, with the pair at times appearing infallible to the hapless Indian batsmen. I was privileged enough to witness their spell of bowling during the first session on Day One at Old Trafford first hand and I can honestly say, it was one of the most captivating pieces of sport I have ever witnessed. There are still question marks over England’s back-up seamers of Chris Jordan and Chris Woakes but both finished the series relatively strongly and should be in line for selection when test cricket resumes for England in eight months time.

One major criticism of the bowling attack must centre around their lack of pace however. It is all very well having the ability to move the ball on a grassy wicket but the real challenge to the English bowlers will come in sub-continent conditions when the ball’s not doing a great deal. 90mph pace and bounce then becomes much more favourable which is something England’s seamers simply aren’t able to achieve consistently at the moment. They do have a man waiting in the wings that can however. The exclusion of Steven Finn in the final two test matches did cause some raised eyebrows. Finn has experienced a return to form this season, taking wickets for Middlesex, and certainly possesses international pedigree.

 

The selectors have gone a way to fill the void left by Graeme Swann

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It may well be a touch too early to christen Moeen Ali as Graeme Swann’s heir just yet, but it is certainly not too soon to see the Worcestershire man as a genuine front line spinner rather than a batsman who can bowl a bit. The extra pace and dip Moeen found during the latter half of the series flummoxed the Indian batsman at times and led him to finish with an impressive total of nineteen wickets for the series as a whole. Captain Cook certainly seems to be placing much more trust in him and with a few more variations to his bowling still to come (Moeen claims to have a credible doosra up his sleeve), exciting things most certainly await England’s new off-spinner.

The only question mark lay in his batting, in particular his susceptibility to the short ball, a problem that won’t get any easier to solve with the arrival of Mitchell Johnson on these shores next summer. For now however, his test place is more than secure following his heroics with ball in hand and with a century to his name achieved at Headingly earlier this summer against Sri Lanka, Moeen is the epitome of why this new look England side is so exciting going into what looks like an incredibly challenging eighteen months or so.

 

Cook is the right man for the captaincy

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Alastair Cook’s position as captain was always going to rest on two things; runs and results, both of which he has achieved. Although still without a century since May 2013, Cook secured impressive scores of 79, 70* and 95 in his last four innings, showing the sort of mental resilience that he demonstrated in the Ashes tour of 2010/11 where he spent a monumental 36 hours at the crease scoring 766 runs. His run scoring still isn’t necessarily fluent but his development of being able to play straight and the work he has done in the nets on his footwork are both huge positives to take out of the series.

From the third test onwards, Cook has also appeared significantly more attackive as a captain and a lot more willing to take risks. Some of his declarations were, admittedly, still on the defensive side of things but some of his field settings (regularly playing with four slips and a gully) was an integral reason why England were able to reach scores of 8-5 as they did in that first session at Old Trafford. A team is a lot easier to captain when individuals are playing well but Cook’s personal improvement as both batsman and captain certainly shouldn’t go unrecognised.

 

Future is bright for England’s batting order

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With Gary Ballance, Joe Root and Jos Buttler all having excellent series’, the loss of batsmen such as Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen has been significantly appeased. Ballance and Root in particular were spectacular, able to modify their strike rate according to how quickly the team needed to score runs and both demonstrating the mental strength to be able to stay at the crease for a long period of time and score big hundreds. As for Buttler, we knew he was an exciting young cricketer from his performances in the shorter formats of the game but during this series, he has shown how capable he is as both a test batsman and a test wicketkeeper.

 

England still haven’t sold the problems up top

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Since the retirement of Andrew Strauss two years ago, England have failed to locate a suitable replacement to partner Cook at the top of the order. Sam Robson has been the most recent attempt but after a series of good starts ended in him failing to gain a half-century in his last six innings and an apparent inability to defend balls outside of his off-stump sufficiently, some have begun to question his position.

There are other options for England to turn to if the selectors see necessary. Both Adam Lyth and Alex Lees are impressing at Yorkshire whilst Nick Compton is still certainly an option at Somerset, even if he has been batting most of this campaign at number three. The most credible option in my opinion appears to be the Nottinghamshire opener Alex Hales however who has had an extremely impressive county campaign and is a proven international performer following his exploits in the T20 World Cup last spring. He has been selected for the one-day series against India so the decision will presumably be dependent on how he well he does partnering Cook in fifty over cricket but I would really like the selectors to follow Australia’s example of using David Warner as an opening batsman and have a hard-hitting, attackive partner to compliment Cook’s fairly low strike rate.

 

Do you agree England are on the road to recovery? What more do they need to do to stay on track? Have your say in the comments:

 

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The Oxstu Predicts: 2014/2015 Premier League

 

It’s that time of year again. Transfer silly season is in full flow, the usual managerial suspects have struck up the media circus for another term of mud flinging, the foreign tours the fans and players have pretended to care about have come to an end and it’s almost here. The 2014/15 Premier League season. For all the incessant media propaganda about the return of ‘THE MOST EXCITING LEAGUE IN THE WORLD©®™” this season is genuinely shaping up to be one of the most open in years, with at least 5 teams in with a shot of winning the title and battles for Champions League places and Premier League survival looking to be just as intriguing. So huddled around the (very cracked) Oxstu crystal ball are the Sport team to bring you the lowdown on what probably won’t end up happening this season:

 

Arsenal

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Rob – 1st

Resisting the urge to predict the usual 4th placed trophy following their perennial mid-season choke and injury crisis, something tells me this could be that year that Arsenal’s intelligent business model could finally pay off. They have the best midfield options in the league and Alexis Sanchez is the forward player they’ve been searching for, giving Wenger every chance to lead them to the title.

Dan – 3rd

Arsene Wenger has made a fantastic signing in Alexis Sanchez along with some decent additions to his defence but I still struggle to see them breaking into the top two. They will have drawn confidence from their FA Cup success last season but still don’t possess the strength in depth Man City and Chelsea both enjoy.

Emma – 3rd

Safe bet! They have finished 3rd or 4th for the last 9 years. With a strengthened squad this year (finally some serious money has been spent!) they should be able to improve on last year’s campaign.

James – 3rd

Sat at the top of the table for the longest period of time last season, the 9 year wait for a trophy was ended as the Gunners secured the FA Cup in May and a real sense of optimism is now around the Emirates. Alexis Sanchez is the standout signing and will add pace, power and goals as well the ability to run in behind that only Walcott truly offered before – Mathieu Debuchy and Callum Chambers have looked assured in pre-season as Arsenal build a squad set to challenge effectively again.

Rupert – 2nd

This is a new arsenal. Confident, organised and effective in the transfer window and following last seasons FA cup win and Sundays nerveless 3-0 dismantling of Man City in the Community Shield, starting to once again take on the air of a team fully at home amongst the elite. Could this be Arsenal’s year? Not quite. Despite now possessing a squad the equal of any in the league and a selection of attacking midfielders the envy of almost any club in Europe there are still a few doubts over the teams ability to beat the big clubs, as well as over Olivier Giroud up front and the ageing Arteta at defensive midfield. However expect the gunners to push Chelsea all the way this season and expect greater things to come in the future.

Overall Oxstu Prediction – 3rd


Aston Villa

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Rob – 17th

With Paul Lambert abandoning his policy of signing average League 2 talent for the equally dubious strategy of bringing in the aging bodies of Joe Cole and Philippe Senderos, the signs at Villa Park aren’t exactly good. A distinct lack of talent only points to another season flirting with relegation, although I expect Lambert to just about have the guile to keep them safe.

Dan – 18th

Villa have been towards the bottom of the table for the last couple of seasons now and, unless some serious business is conducted by Paul Lambert before the end of the transfer window, the Birmingham club could easily find themselves in an even worse position come next May. They do have promising youngsters but still miss the quality once provided by players such as Ashley Young and Gareth Barry.

Emma – 17th

Although they have been able to add some much needed experience to their squad, they’ll still be battling for survival in a long, hard campaign.

James – 16th

Much was expected of them last season having dismantled Arsenal 3-1 on the first day of the season but it did not materialise. Belgian powerhouse Christian Benteke struggled with injury and form as owner Randy Lerner made it no secret that the club is for sale. A squad crying out for strengthening remains uninspired, Kieran Richardson, Philippe Senderos and now-journeyman Joe Cole all are acceptable additions, but hardly the sparks the club needed to launch a revival.

Rupert – 19th

These are dark times at Villa Park. A playing squad that has been in decline for years, an increasingly lame duck of a manager in Paul Lambert and an owner in Randy Lerner who has spent the last year scrambling to sell the club and failing to find any buyers looks to be turning into a perfect storm ready to engulf the Villans this season. With an attack completely lacking in quality without the crocked Benteke and a defence that conceded more than all but the 3 relegated sides being ruined further by the additions of Phillipe Senderos and Kieran Richardson, Villa look to have a long and painful season ahead. Relegation looks a certainty, but a chance to rebuild in the championship may be exactly what Villa need.

Overall Oxstu Prediction – 17th


Burnley

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Rob – 20th

Absolutely no hope of survival. Although the talents of Danny Ings might gift the Turf Moor faithful a few plucky performances akin to their top flight exploits a few years ago, the club model just wasn’t geared towards last season’s promotion. Dealings in the transfer market could have saved them, but signing duo Marvin Sordell and Lukas Jutkiewicz, two players who didn’t exactly stand-out at Bolton in recent times to put it mildly, only tells me that the board already have one eye on minimising the damage of relegation.

Dan – 20th

Sean Dyche did well to take the Claret and Blues up from the Championship last season but are my favourites for the drop this year. They have a serious lack of top quality players who are used to playing in the Premier League and with a similarly inexperienced manager, I don’t expect much from the North West team.

Emma – 20th

They proved many doubters wrong last season by gaining automatic promotion to the Premier League, but will struggle with the quality of the top division.

James – 20th

Sean Dyche surprised many getting Burnley promoted and he will surprise even more if he can keep them up. Proven Premier League experience within the squad is almost a pre-requisite for newly promoted teams if they are to survive and with a considerably small budget Burnley will find it hard to compete all season. Signings of Jutkiewicz, Kightly and Sordell are good Championship players with a point to prove at this level but whether they can all perform is another question.

Rupert – 20th

The Clarets were among the favourites for relegation from the Championship last season, so Sean Dyche deserves enormous kudos for instead guiding the team to promotion. But realistically Burnley will be out of their depth at this level. They simply have not had the financial muscle to add any kind of Premier League quality to their squad and outside of a few of last season’s top performers, Danny Ings and Kieran Trippier should take to this level like ducks to water, they are desperately lacking in talent. Relegation for Burnley, but they will go down with their heads held high.

Overall Oxstu Prediction – 20th


Chelsea

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Rob – 2nd

Two fantastic signings of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa that should negate any Jose Mourinho whinging (of course it won’t) and stop him parking the bus quite so often (again, unlikely), mean that both myself and indeed Roman Abramovich expect Chelsea to be right in the shake-up this season. In what is a big season of expectation for Mourinho, I can see an injury to Costa derailing their campaign and causing them to fall slightly short once again.

Dan – 1st

My tip for the title this season. Chelsea now have arguably the strongest squad in the league following the signings they’ve made this summer and, combined with the most astute manager in the league, are surely the team to beat this term.

Emma – 2nd

With the exception of a few mistakes last season, Chelsea looked as though they could have won the title. With an even stronger team this year with Drogba back and the signing of Costa and Fabregas, they will certainly be strong contenders for the title.

James – 1st

Last season, it was only a total collapse of home form at the end of the season which stopped them from taking the title, that was without in Mourinho’s eyes a real striker. Diego Costa, proven and lethal in La Liga has come in along with a top quality Frank Lampard replacement in Cesc Fabregas as Chelsea with now an exceptional squad in all areas look favourites for the title.

Rupert – 1st

A disappointing 3rd in the league last season, Jose Mourinho’s little horses have strengthened in style this window, adding world class reinforcements in Felipe Luis, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa. The latter two, when added to the likes of Hazard and Oscar, should give them the firepower to overwhelm the smaller teams content to (ironically against the masters of the art) park the bus, something they sometimes struggled to do last season. Do this, and keep up their stellar record against the other big sides, and Chelsea will be champions this season.

Overall Oxstu Prediction – 1st


Crystal Palace

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Rob – 16th

After Tony Pulis performed an absolute miracle last time around, one would suspect that whoever follows the ex-Stoke boss into the door at the London outfit will find that their predecessor has already thumped his head on the glass ceiling of what can be achieved at Selhurst Park. The signing of Brede Hangeland will strengthen an already robust defence, but the acquisition of Stuart Pearce’s favourite striker Fraizer Campbell won’t particularly improve a front line already boasting the spurious talents of Chamakh and Jerome. Will probably stay up but could be an uninspiring season, and without the guile of Pulis the Selhurst faithful will be starting the season feeling a lot less secure.

Dan – 10th

Tony Pulis was desperately unlucky to miss out on manager of the season last year after he performed miracles saving Palace from the drop and steering them to an eleventh place finish. With some solid signings in the form of Frazier Campbell and Brede Hangeland, the London club certainly have the ability to progress from last season’s good form.

Emma – 10th

The Eagles will again have a battle on their hands to avoid a relegation fight, but they should be safe before the tough fixture schedule in May.

James – 12th

Last season’s great escape, Tony Pulis did a fantastic job to guide to safety a club that looked certain to be relegated. Without such a hopeless start to the season, Palace will be hard to beat and could replicate or better last seasons result, but question marks arise over their goal scoring capabilities as Chamakh, Gayle and new addition Frazier Campbell lead the line at Selhurst Park.

Rupert – 16th

Palace’s revival under Pulis last season was unbelievable. However the Eagles’ savior is gone, his ambition not matched by the board, and whoever succeeds him faces an unenviable task. Palace were able to survive last term due to Pulis’ blunt yet effective tactics getting the best out of a limited squad and the new manager will struggle to implement approach as effective in these circumstances, especially at such short notice. Having said that in Jedinak, Ward, Bolasie and new signings Hangeland and Campbell they have the spine of a top flight standard first XI and should they stick to the teachings of the baseball capped sensei Palace will manage to extend their stay in the Premier League.

Overall Oxstu Prediction – 13th


Everton

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Rob – 6th

After somehow finding £28 million to splash out on Romelu Lukaku, the spotlight of success has well and truly been put on Roberto Martinez for the coming campaign. The capture of Muhamed Besic could prove an astute one, as well as the permanent signing of Gareth Barry, but with the sheer quality of the other top sides it’s hard to see Everton improving on last season’s 5th place finish.

Dan – 6th

Roberto Martinez wasted no time settling in at Goodison Park last season and has demonstrated further intent with the permanent signing of Romelu Lukaku from Chelsea for £28m. Could potentially do with a few more quality signings before the end of August but will definitely be in and around the top four this season.

Emma – 7th

Martinez did a fantastic job in his first year, and it looked as though they could even win a Champions League spot at one point. It is unlikely, however, they will finish above United and Spurs again.

James – 7th

David Moyes’ pain having ultimately failed at Manchester United will have only been worsened by successor Roberto Martinez truly excelling at Goodison Park last season. The Toffees played attractive attacking football with McCarthy superb and Barkley’s displays earning him a place in Rio this summer – there is no reason why they can’t continue to perform at this level. Securing Lukaku was a statement that they mean business but they lack the depth in the squad to take the top positions.

Rupert – 6th

This is a club on the up. With an exciting and talented manager in Martinez and the newfound ambition to spend £28 million on a player of the quality of Romelu Lukaku, Everton have become an exciting and dangerous prospect ready to really push on after years of Moyesian austerity and stability. Unfortunately there are simply too many teams still in front of them. This vibrant Everton side will push for the Champions League places until the last, and expect a breakout season for Ross Barkley and John Stones, the future spine of the England team. However their lack of strength in depth will cost them dear, especially with Europa League commitments. Expect a 6th place finish with a large points total and perhaps even a cup win to boot.

Overall Oxstu Prediction – 6th


Hull City

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Rob – 15th

Facing a battle to avoid the fateful ‘second season blues’ after a steady league showing and an impressive FA Cup run in their first season back in the top flight, Steve Bruce’s summer business has so far been similarly solid. Wingers Tom Ince and Robert Snodgrass will certainly improve the squad without perhaps adding star quality, and Steve Bruce will have to hope the Jelavic-Long partnership continues to flourish in order to stave off relegation

Dan – 8th

There’s a good chance the Tigers may struggle balancing domestic and European football this year, but they made positive strides last term in establishing themselves as a respectable Premier League outfit and manager Steve Bruce will hope some shrewd early transfer business will help them secure a top-10 finish.

Emma – 13th

They struggled last year with the FA Cup run to the final and the second half of the league season. This year Europe could be another hindrance on their league performance, but they should be ok with an easy start to the season helping to get the campaign flying.

James – 17th

At 2-0 up within 20 minutes during the FA Cup final, Tigers fans were on course for a truly remarkable season. It unraveled unfortunately and despite a great cup run, Hull struggled in the league but signings of Jake Livermore and Robert Snodgrass will make the stronger for this season and seasons to come, but the pressures of the Europa League and the travelling schedule might lead to Steve Bruce’s men struggling this season.

Rupert – 14th

Last season’s FA cup heroics disguised the fact that the tigers only finished 4 points above the drop last season. They may well improve this season, the signings of Snodgrass and Livermore on a permanent after his successes on loan last year are shrewd moves but the impact of a Europa League campaign on such a thin squad could cause problems. The waste of valuable transfer funds on the insanely overrated Tom Ince and the loss of Shane Long may also be moves Bruce comes to regret. That being said Hull will have enough about them to keep their heads above water this term.

Overall Oxstu Prediction – 15th


Leicester City

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Rob – 19th

In what will perhaps be a similar story to Burnley, a lack of intelligent activity in the market looks like it might cost Leicester. Although they’ve shelled out £8 million on Leonardo Ulloa, the ex-Brighton may could well flop at Premier League level, while David Nugent simply isn’t good enough. Relegation probably beckons, along with a mid-season exit for Nigel Pearson.

Dan – 16th

Dominated the Championship last season and were worthy champions. This term will certainly prove more of a challenge but with a capable young manager in the form of Nigel Pearson at the helm, I expect them to finish just above the drop zone.

Emma – 18th

They were promoted as champions of the Championship, but have an extremely tough start to the season which could make it extremely difficult to get a run of results going.

James – 18th

Last season’s Champions, Nigel Pearson has a squad ready to compete in the Premier League but the first season is notably hard to survive for newly promoted teams and they might lack the cutting edge to secure the required big away results. Leandro Ulloa was a club record signing at £8m but having scored 16 goals in the Championship last season, it is entirely unpredictable as to how he will perform in the top division.

Rupert – 17th

Nigel Pearson’s Foxes were impressive in the championship last season but in the sagely words of (not) Big Sam: “last season they were feasting on little rabbits and the odd door mouse. Now they’re up against UKIP members on massive f*cking horses, with hordes of shroomed-up beagles baying for their blood”. However as the old adage goes, you don’t need to be faster than the bear, just faster than the slowest person running from the bear and fortunately there are worse sides in this division than Leicester. In Schmeichel, Drinkwater and Ulloa they have a sufficiently good spine and although it might be tight, the Foxes should just about escape the murderous Darwinian hooves of relegation this time round.

Overall Oxstu Prediction – 18th


Liverpool

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Rob – 4th

Although some of their transfer business could be questioned in terms of value for money and every pundit in the land is wondering ‘can they cope without Luis Suarez?’, Liverpool’s youthful and vibrant attack are still more than capable of making more waves this season. While the extremely welcome addition of Champions League football may make things slightly more difficult, if Brendan Rodgers can improve their porous defence while maintaining their pace and flair in attack, Liverpool still have more than enough to retain a place in the top 4.

Dan – 5th

Liverpool will definitely feel the loss of former striker Luis Suarez this season. A player who scored 31 goals in 33 games last term, Liverpool have yet to find a replacement of similar quality, regardless of their business in the transfer window so far.

Emma – 5th

With the loss of Suarez and European football this year, they’ll struggle to emulate the success of last season.

James – 5th

Few would have predicted the successes of last season, although without silverware, Liverpool looked odds-on to take the title at one point only to slip up, literally in Gerrard’s case, at Chelsea and fall apart in spectacular fashion at Palace. The loss of Suarez will hit them hard but they brought sensibly and looked strong in pre-season – that said, the signings have been of the nature that you would have expected had they finished outside of the top four again, not second.

Rupert – 4th

Last season was a once in a generation opportunity missed and, shorn of the 3rd best player on the planet in Luis Suarez, there is little prospect of a repeat of last term’s heroics. Instead a desperate battle with eternal rivals Manchester United for 4th place looms. However there is plenty for Liverpool fans to be optimistic about. Despite the loss of their top scorer last season, Liverpool still look deadly going forward. A move back to Rodgers’ favoured 4-3-3 formation will get the best out of last seasons 21 goal man Daniel Sturridge whilst setting out the midfield (within which Emre Can could prove signing of the season) to provide better cover for the Reds’ porous defense. Another season of Champions League football is on the cards for the Reds, although the signing of a world class forward could make this season much less stressful.

Overall Oxstu Prediction – 5th


Manchester City

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Rob – 3rd

With perhaps the most uninspiring transfer window the oil-rich Champions have seen in quite some time, I have a strange feeling that City might be a little flat this season. Relying so heavily on Yaya Toure may not be enough this season, and while Eliaquim Mangala is an excellent acquisition, I just can’t see City winning it again.

Dan – 2nd

All in all, City were probably deserving winners of the league last season and will certainly be Chelsea’s main rivals next term. Lampard, Sagna and Mangala are all good signings but not enough to make it two league titles in a row in my opinion.

Emma – 1st

The current champions have added defensive strength to their squad making them look even stronger for next season. Chelsea and Arsenal are likely to be their biggest threats, but with 2 titles in 3 years they will be tough to stop

James – 2nd

Champions last season, they have strength in depth in all areas of the pitch and the signings of Eliaquim Mangala, the most expensive defender in British football, and Bacary Sagna have shored up a defence that was their only weakness last season. That said, their hopes depend greatly on the performances of Yaya Toure who after the birthday cake fiasco of the early summer appears a little unsettled as well as the oft-injured but world-class Sergio Aguero.

Rupert – 3rd

Every City fan would be disappointed with 3rd place but finishing there would say more about the quality of the league than the quality of the champions. That being said, City have a number of problems to overcome if they are to have a chance of retaining their title. They have not strengthened to nearly the same extent as their rivals, only adding depth in the likes of Sagna rather than first team quality (bar £32 million gamble Mangala) and there are doubts over their star performers, the happiness of Yaya Toure and the fitness of Sergio Aguero respectively. This is a league where stagnation will be punished, something City may find out the hard way this season.

Overall Oxstu Prediction – 2nd


Manchester United

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Rob – 5th

Being touted as the new Messiah particularly after his display at the World Cup, United fans are already tipping Louis Van Gaal to bring the title back to Old Trafford this season. No chance. Still extremely weak in central midfield and not exactly convincing in defensive personnel either, this season will be one too soon for the Dutchman to even secure Champions League football for the Red Devils.

Dan – 4th

After a disastrous season last year, new manager Louis van Gaal will hope for a much improved 2014/15. Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw appear good signings but the loss of Messrs Vidic, Evra, Ferdinand and Giggs may prevent them mounting a serious title challenge. I do expect an improvement though and think with a few more signings (a defender and another midfielder at least) before August 31st, a top four finish could be on the horizon.

Emma – 4th

Although they have brought in 2 quality players in Herrera and Shaw, it will be the manager that makes all the difference. With no Europe to distract them, they will be far stronger this year. It seems unlikely that United will spend 2 seasons out of the top 4 and Champions League football.

James – 4th

Under the guidance of Louis van Gaal last years catastrophe will not be repeated and with no European football distraction at Old Trafford the Red Devils will be force to be reckoned with. Most interesting is the 3-5-2 formation that van Gaal has brought in as he looks to get the most out of Rooney, van Persie and Mata, but as it stands the defence looks shaky and is almost certain to be strengthened having lost leaders in Vidic and Ferdinand.

Rupert – 5th

For all the fanfare over Louis van Gaal’s arrival, all is not well at Manchester United. With just a few days until the start of the season they have failed to bring in anything like the quality required to ensure last season’s failures are not repeated. Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw should have been the tip of an iceberg of new signings but they have so far been the only reinforcements to a squad, outside of their stellar strike force of Rooney, Mata and van Persie, shockingly short of quality. Every striker in the league will be licking their lips over the prospect of facing a back 3 of Evans, Jones and Smalling. The strength of their attack means they should be around the Champions League places, but they will not trouble the title chasers and unless a number of major signings are made, and soon, this season will be another step along the road of decline for United.

Overall Oxstu Prediction – 4th


Newcastle United

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Rob – 8th

After managing to persuade Mike Ashley to dip into the Sports Direct coffers to procure some more potential gems from the French league, the Toon Army can look forward to a much more inspiring season than last time around. Remy Cabella and Siem de Jong in particular look like extremely useful additions, and were it not for the strength of teams above them then a run for European football wouldn’t be out of the question.

Dan – 11th

Alan Pardew has invested heavily during the first half of this summer’s transfer window and will hope his new arrivals will help mollify the loss of former midfielder Yohan Cabaye who left the club in January. The north-east club will almost certainly be in and around the top ten and without any European football clogging up their calendar, may do even better.

Emma – 8th

Will look to finish in the top half of the table next season, but will find it difficult to break into a strong top 7.

James – 8th

Alan Pardew and Newcastle endured a tough season last year, headbutting players and Joe Kinnear mispronouncing the names of key players like now-PSG star Yohan Cabaye led to unpredictable on-pitch performances. They have done good business this summer, former Ajax captain Siem De Jong will provide goals from midfield as will French international Remy Cabellla but in Emmanuel Rivière they have a fast finisher who should excite the St James’ Park faithful

Rupert – 8th

The Toon have been a complete conundrum for the past few seasons flirting with relegation and the champions league alike. On paper this Newcastle team should finish in the top half having made some shrewd signings such as Rivière and Jamaat and have replaced the lost creativity of Cabaye with former Ajax captain de Jong. However the truth is anything could happen. Players such as Papis Cisse, the currently frozen out Hatem Ben Arfa and new signing Remy Cabella are among the best in the world on their day but just as often utterly useless and their manager, wannabe hardman Alan Pardew is perhaps the loosest cannon among them. Newcastle are capable of having a good season but could just as easily implode and flirt with, or even suffer, relegation.

Overall Oxstu Prediction – 8th


QPR

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Rob – 9th

Inexplicably William Hill’s second favourites for the drop at the time of writing, QPR’s transfer dealings so far suggest they’ll be absolutely fine. Players such as Steven Caulker and Mauricio Isla, as well as the astute addition of Glenn Hoddle to the coaching staff, show that the Rs are likely to avoid any repeat of the Mark Hughes inflicted nightmare they suffered two years ago. And let’s face it, ‘Arry knows what he’s doing.

Dan – 15th

With the arrival of Steven Caulker and Rio Ferdinand, QPR boast one of the strongest central defensive partnerships in the league and with seasoned campaigner Harry Redknapp as manager, I am confident the London club will avoid the drop this year.

Emma – 16th

They look solid and ready for their return to the Premier League. With the experience of Ferdinand and Redknapp around the club, they should be able to battle through and survive.

James – 15th

The QPR this time around have not been and will not be as free-spending as before but Redknapp’s side might well fare better this time. Loic Remy supposedly failing a medical at Liverpool might end up being the best piece of transfer news for the R’s fans this season. That said, a new partnership of Steven Caulker who impressed last season at Cardiff and part-player part-pundit Rio Ferdinand could prove key as QPR look to stay up this season before consolidating next.

Rupert – 15th

The west London side were incredibly lucky to secure promotion, only a criminal last minute goal against Derby in the playoff final secured promotion for Redknapps men after a disappointing season. Chairman Tony Fernandes even went as far as to admit that last season’s squad, unaltered, would have no chance of survival in the premier league. Fortunately QPR have strengthened this summer, and impressively. In have come England international centre back Steven Caulker and Juventus wing back Mauricio Isla as well as Jordan Mutch and Ravel Morrison to strengthen the attack. These additions should give QPR the quality needed to survive this season, especially if Loic Remy ends up sticking around, in what could be ‘arry’s final season in management.

Overall Oxstu Prediction – 16th


Southampton

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Rob – 10th

After suffering through the mother of all mass exoduses, Ronald Koeman could be forgiven for thinking that he’s inherited somewhat of a poisoned chalice on the south coast. Losing the spine of an extremely successful team will clearly hurt them, but if useful additions from the Dutch league such as Dusan Tadic and Graziano Pelle come good in the Premier League, they should be able to cling onto some much-need mid-table stability.

Dan – 17th

Southampton will really struggle after this summer’s mass exodus and will definitely not replicate the sort of form that saw them finish 8th last season. Have got enough quality to stay up but I think it may be down to the wire.

Emma – 14th

They’ve had a tough summer with the loss of some of their best key players. Holding on to the likes of Rodriguez is now vital to retain some of the flair of last season. It will be interesting to see how the new manager fares.

James – 13th

A club this season that only perhaps Portsmouth fans could not feel sorry for. Having lost the spine of their team that were so effective last season as well as the manager – it is most unlikely that they can better last season’s eighth placed finish. They earned significant revenues though and have a fine manager in Ronald Koeman to rebuild the squad but perhaps it will take a season at least for Southampton to get back to where they were.

Rupert – 9th

Reports of the Saints’ demise are greatly exaggerated. Whilst the ease with which last season’s team that did so well has been dismantled is profoundly depressing, the fact is that the Saints are well on the way to repairing any damage done. Just as most of the sales they made represented sensible business, they have added shrewdly so far. Koeman is a talented replacement for Pochettino and in signing Pelle, Tadic and Forster they have added some real quality, even if a replacement for departed centre back Lovren is a matter of urgency. If midfield lynchpin Morgan Schneiderlin stays, and plays and Jay Rodriguez recovers well from injury Southampton may even end up with a squad superior to that which was so impressive last season. The saints will start slowly, but their new quality will shine through and expect them to finish comfortably in the top half.

Overall Oxstu Prediction – 12th


Stoke City

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Rob – 12th

Having made what many consider to be the coup of the summer window to date; Phil Bardsley, the signs for Mark Highes to continue a promising first season in charge are looking good. Bojan, of course, will input some welcome quality into the side, as will Steve Sidwell, but you still struggle to see them doing much more than grinding out a few home wins.

Dan – 9th

Mark Hughes made a solid start to life in the Potteries last season, steering Stoke to a ninth place finish. He hasn’t used the transfer window to great effect as of yet but the squad has enough quality to secure yet another a respectable league position.

Emma – 9th

Finishing strong last season will instil confidence at the start of the 2014/15 season. Mark Hughes is a seasoned campaigner and should be able to make sure the Potters are safe around the mid-table point.

James – 11th

Stoke finished last season extremely strongly and the change in style from under Pulis has been noted by all and appreciated by those at the Britannia. They have held onto star goalkeeper Asmir Begovic and strong centre-back Ryan Shawcross but strengthened by adding proven Premier League quality in Steve Sidwell and Phil Bardsley. Most exciting is the addition of Bojan, La Masia graduate and supremely talented, he could not break through at Barcelona but remains a top striker.

Rupert – 11th

The days of the physical and direct Stoke we have all grown to love or loathe over the past few years have gone. Instead Mark Hughes is going about the business of turning stoke into a passing side with admirable speed and last season, with success. Rory Delap long throws and Cameron Jerome and Kenwyne Jones rampaging around up front with the finesse of Eric Pickles at an all you can eat buffet have been replaced by players of genuine skill like Marco Arnautovic, Peter Odemwigne and, remarkably, Bojan Krkic, the youngest player ever to score for Barcelona, although fallen on hard times in recent years. Stoke will continue their attempts to exorcise the ghost of Pulis and will finish safely and respectably in mid table this season.

Overall Oxstu Prediction – 9th


Sunderland

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Rob – 11th

After doing an excellent job to keep his side in the division, one would suspect Gus Poyet to continue the good work with his side this term. Jack Rodwell looks to be an extremely good piece of business, and while keeping Steven Fletcher fit this time will be vital as always, there should be less turbulent times ahead at the Stadium of Light.

Dan – 14th

The arrival of Jack Rodwell from Manchester City is certainly a step in the right direction for Gus Poyet but at least another two signings of similar pedigree are needed to propel the Black Cats into the top half of the Premier League table in nine months time.

Emma – 15th

The aim for the club again will be to survive relegation, but with the addition of 2 ex-Man City players (Rodwell and Pantilimon) along with additions to other key positions they should avoid the drop.

James – 14th

Capital One Cup finalists and fourteenth placed Sunderland should avoid the relegation battle again this season having added talented but injury-plagued Manchester City substitute Jack Rodwell to the ranks having lost Jack Colback painfully on a free to rivals Newcastle. Their fortunes ride partly on whether they can secure a deal for Fabio Borini as while Jozy Altidore certainly provides a presence up front, he does not always provide goals.

Rupert – 12th

That Sunderland were able to make the scarcely believable escape they did at the end of last season is both to the credit and detriment of Gus Poyet and his players. The truth is with the quality Sunderland have at their disposal they never should have found themselves in that position in the first place. However Poyet seemed to have found a formula at the end of last season and with the squad he has at his disposal, along with some shrewd additions like Jordi Gomez and Jack Rodwell a much less eventful season for Black Cats looks to be on the cards this time round.

Overall Oxstu Prediction – 14th


Swansea City

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Rob – 14th

While most Swansea fans have probably spent the summer rejoicing in the knowledge that David N’Gog is off the squad list, Garry Monk has himself acknowledged that most people expect him to fail in his role as manager. The capture of former favourite Gylfi Sigurdsson will please the Liberty Stadium faithful and ably replace Jonathan de Guzman, but I wouldn’t expect overmuch from the Swans this campaign.

Dan – 12th

The only Welsh club left in the league now after Cardiff’s relegation last year, I am confident Swansea are in for a decent season next term, even if significant business is needed before the end of this month.

Emma – 12th

Although they have lost some key players since coming into the Premiership, they still have a decent core to the team and should avoid a close relegation fight towards the end of the season.

James – 10th

Appointing internally can be a risk but in Gary Monk they have found a real gem, having tied Ashley Williams and Kyle Bartley to new contracts and brought back ex-Swans superstar Gylfi Sigurdsson they look to be in fine shape for another mid-table finish. This will of course depend on whether they can hang onto 25 goal striker Wilfried Bony and that he can recreate or better last season’s form.

Rupert – 10th

Whilst Gary Monk may have seemed like a strange appointment by there are few people in football who know their clubs as well as he knows Swansea. While that does not mean he will necessarily be able to take the club forward it does mean he will be able to continue the attractive and effective style Swansea have played over the last few seasons and with players like Wilfred Bony added to new signings Montero, Gomis and Sigurdsson they should be lethal going forward. However defensive problems still persist, especially with the loss of Davis and Vorm and Monk’s biggest challenge will be to put this right. He will have learnt a lot from last season’s struggles and him and Swansea will have enough to finish respectfully this season.

Overall Oxstu Prediction – 11th


 

Tottenham Hotspur

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Rob – 7th

After last season’s disastrous spending spree and subsequent league showing, the smart money would be on Maurichio Pochettino replicating his success at Southampton with the North London outfit. Although activity has perhaps understandably been limited a few useful squad players, expect several of last summer’s signings to greatly improve and show a few green shoots at White Hart Lane.

Dan – 7th

Spurs have a number of exciting players but still don’t have the quality of the likes of Everton, Liverpool and Man Utd to seriously mount a challenge for a top four spot this year. Mauricio Pochettino may well prove to be out of his depth at a club with such ambition as well.

Emma – 6th

It will take time for Sherwood’s replacement to settle in and breaking into what seems to be an extremely strong top 5, with greater depth and quality, will be tough.

James – 6th

A shrewd businessman and chairman, Daniel Levy is under pressure this season, Tottenham have chased the Champions League for a number of seasons now and sacked many a manager on the way. Pochettino must be given time, almost regardless of results, if Spurs fans are to keep faith in Levy. The squad is talented and last year’s numerous imports will all be stronger for a season in Premier League – under Pochettino they will place good football and be tough to beat but fall short of the elusive fourth place.

Rupert – 7th

There is real mood of doom and gloom amongst the normally delusional Spurs fans at the moment but in reality there isn’t too much to be down about. Work experience manager Tim Sherwood has been replaced by one of the games most talented young coaches in Pochettino, a few shrewd signings have been made and although it looked after Bale’s departure last summer like they’d sold Elvis and brought S Club 7 it looks as if some of those signings are finally learning to sing. Expect big things from Erik Lamela this season and if they can bring in another top class centre back to partner Vertonghen and make sure Dawson never, ever sees the light of day again then they will be a team no one will relish facing.

Overall Oxstu Prediction – 7th


 

West Brom

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Rob – 18th

After Pepe Mel’s thoroughly uninspiring tenure, don’t count on it getting much better for fans of the Baggies. A large turnover of players over the summer combined with a manager in Alan Irvine who is totally untested in the top flight and could either sink or swim, it may well be relegation time once again for the Premier League’s original ‘yo-yo’ club.

Dan – 19th

Made a huge mistake in sacking the promising Steve Clarke last year and with unproven manager Alan Irvine in charge this time around, the Baggies are facing the serious prospect of relegation. Have made some positive signings so far but many more are needed to secure safety this season.

Emma – 19th

They only just managed to stay in the top flight last season and will find this season extremely tough again. With a new boss and tough end to the season, they might not be so lucky this year.

James – 19th

Another club with a revolving managerial door, replacing Steve Clarke with Pepe Mel was strange and replacing Pepe Mel with Alan Irvine was stranger still – West Brom look set to struggle this season unless they can score considerably more than last season. £10m signing Brown Ideye has Champions League experience and could be a real handful but is unproven in the Premier League and will simply have to perform consistently if the Baggies are to be safe.

Rupert – 18th

The Baggies were incredibly lucky that there were so many poor sides in the Premier League last year, they were awful all season and survived purely because of the incompetence of others. They will not be so lucky this time round. The additions of Joleon Lescott and intriguing striker Brown Ideye will not be enough to reverse the fortunes of a team that won just 7 times all last season and in manager Alan Irvine, last seen managing Preston in the Championship in 2011, they have a boss who will almost certainly find himself out of his depth. They are not a lost cause, in Morrison, Sessegnon and Berahino they have attackers dangerous at this level but unless they conspire to fire the Baggies to safety, it will be relegation for the West Midlands club

Overall Oxstu Prediction – 19th


West Ham

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Rob – 13th

Although it looks like another season of asking ‘when will Andy Carroll be fit?’, West Ham fans will certainly be encouraged by some decent summer business in the form of the exciting Enner Valencia and Cheikhou Kouyate, who’s arrival should at least mean they don’t have to turn to the likes of Roger Johnson for cover at centre back. As always, Big Sam Allardici will keep them up.

Dan – 13th

Ecuador World Cup star Enner Valencia looks a really a good buy but possibly not enough to ensure West Ham’s top ten status this year. In fact, a relegation battle may be more likely.

Emma – 11th

Allardyce might not play the most exciting football, but with the addition of Teddy Sheringham as attacking coach to the current solid play, they should finish around mid-table.

James – 9th

Alladyce spent much of last season under pressure with the team struggling to score and despite Andy Carroll being ‘unplayable on his day’, ‘his day’ was not often enough and sadly having injured himself in preseason, he will miss the start of the campaign. West Ham have strengthened though, Enner Valencia, one of the stars of the World Cup has come in to join Arsenal loanee Carl Jenkinson and Anderlecht midfielder Cheikou Kouyate as they look to build on last years fourteenth placed finish.

Rupert – 13th

Sam Allardyce is the 13th best paid manager in world football. Let that sink in for a second.  That figure makes the fact that Davids Gold and Sullivan have held fire on sacking him on the condition he play better football look a little less ridiculous. Big Sam has built a career on brutal, effective, route one football and it was an approach that kept a limited West Ham side well clear of relegation last season. Changing it will cause problems for the Hammers, and if Big Sam is jettisoned, a new manager will find it very difficult to coax attractive football from a squad built in his image. West Ham are probably too good to go down but they may be forced to choose between 21st century football or comfortable survival.

Overall Oxstu Prediction – 10th


Agree with our predictions? Who do you think will win the Premier League this season? Have your say in the poll below and in the comments:

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The 5 unlikeliest heroes of the Commonwealth Games

 

The Commonwealth Games have often been overlooked as a major sporting competition due to two interconnected factors: in the first instance, at least when compared to other sporting events, the Commonwealth is an unusual geographical field from which to allow athletes to compete. Whilst competition between England and  neighbouring Wales, Scotland and Northern Island merits notice, can there really be any tangible international rivalry between England and Kiribati, for example? 

It is partly due to this purported arbitrariness of the athletic field at the games that many see a Commonwealth gold to hold far less gravitas than a World or Olympic gold; to this can be added the fact that this year there is an apparent dearth of the biggest names: eligible and notable absentees include Mo Farah, Yohan Blake, Jessica Ennis, and (at least in the individual events) Usain Bolt. Though such absences have arguably weakened the strength of their respective disciplines, they have allowed for athletes to emerge whose stories might otherwise have gone unnoticed. Rather than produce a nationally-biased, medal-biased list of heroes of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, it seems better to take the opportunity offered by such a competition to shine a light on some of the more unlikely heroes, whose very participation on the Commonwealth stage should sufficiently prove its worth to anyone who considers the mantra of Pierre De Coubertin – considered the father of the modern Olympics – that ‘the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well’ as integral to the spirit of modern athletic competition.

 

Steve Way

Steve Way

Way has enjoyed a barrage of media coverage in the past few days, which his story entirely warrants. In 2007, at 16-and-a-half-stone, a heavy smoker and drinker, and self-confessedly wandering from one day to the next, Way decided to start running and by the next year had completed the London marathon in 2:35.26, finishing in 100th place. A few years of training later (whilst working 9-5 at a bank), Way qualified for the Commonwealth Games having completed the 2014 marathon in 2:16.27, coming in 15th place. He hadn’t trained for the race itself and at the start of the day had only intended to take the marathon as an easy warm-up for the UK 100km Championships later in the year (which he won by 46 minutes). His three goals for the Commonwealth Games marathon were to finish in the top 10, achieve a personal best, and beat the British veteran’s record, all of which he accomplished. Though such a dramatic improvement is helped by a clear natural aptitude for long-distance running, his story serves as a broader demonstration of the ability for self-improvement at any age.

 

Taoriba Biniati

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Biniati, who competed in the women’s flyweight boxing, is a resident of Kiribati, a Pacific island whose population numbers a little over 100,000. Before the Glasgow games, the 18-year-old had never previously left the island and received funding for her trip from the Kiribati government and the Commonwealth Games Federation. The selection process was explained by the Kiribati team official Derek Andrewartha: “She qualified because she is the best female boxer in our country – based on being the only one”. Biniati trained in Kiribati using a punch bag hanging from a breadfruit tree, had only taken up boxing last year, and had never entered a boxing gym before arriving in Glasgow; moreover, until her first round loss against the Mauritian Isabelle Ratna, she had never fought with another woman, as Andrewartha explained: “She has to spar with the boys, and the problem is they’re too shy to hit her”.

 

Rosefelo Siosi

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Siosi, a 5000m runner hailing from the Solomon Islands, finished his race two-and-a-half laps behind the winner Caleb Mwangangi Ndiku. Though his time would put him slower than the fastest under-14s in the Commonwealth, his closing laps form an enduring image, one which is – almost without fail – seen in at least one race at every international athletics event, and one which perhaps comes closest to symbolising Coubertin’s philosophy on athletic competition. He completed his two final laps on his own in terms of his fellow runners, but with the help of the wall of noise created by the 40,000 strong Hampden Park crowd, most of whom would not have even known his name before the race. Despite being lapped three times, the 17-year-old kept running to the race’s completion, achieving a national record in the process. His attitude is one to be admired: “I almost gave up, but the crowd were shouting, ‘Go! Go!’, so I had to finish the race. I’m privileged to compete against the fastest people in the world”.

 

Prakash Nanjappa

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Although Nanjappa had to endure the heartbreak of missing out on the men’s 10m air pistol gold by a single point, the 38-year-old has made a remarkable comeback since July 2013, during which he suffered a facial paralytic attack whilst competing in the World Cup in Granada. Diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, he was quoted in The Hindu as saying: “I was initially worried as the eye is the most crucial organ for a shooter. . . . I read up about it and realised that it was a condition that would last a maximum of six months’. He was back in training in a month-and-a-half (at the time the National Rifle Association of India secretary Rajiv Bhatia asserted that “though he has been discharged by the doctors, he [has been] asked strictly to keep off the ranges”. After three months he won silver in the 50m free pistol shooting event at the Asian Air Gun Championship, and now, nearly a year later, he has, against all the odds both medical and sporting, won a silver medal in the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

 

Jason Smyth

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Initially, there may seem to be nothing markedly impressive about Smyth finishing fifth in the 100m heats, until you realise that he is legally blind. Though the Northern Ireland athlete suffers from Stargardt’s disease, with which he has just 10% of what is considered to be normal vision, he only missed out on the qualification standard of the able-bodied 100m for the 2012 Olympics by 0.04 seconds. Indeed, he explained to Able Magazine the reasons behind his desire to compete alongside able-bodied athletes: “For me, it’s about being as best as I can possibly be and I don’t restrict myself to what I can be”. His participation alongside able-bodied athletes at these games is representative of Glasgow’s broader successful integration of the para-sport programme with the main schedules. The para-sports events medals count towards the national medal tallies and the para-sports are interspersed temporally with the able-bodied events. Smyth is one of a few athletes who have successfully bridged the gap between para-sport and able-bodied events, silencing anyone doubting the elite calibre of those eligible for para-sport.

 

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The 5 biggest stories of the Commonwealth Games

England dominate the team gymnastics

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As the crowds gathered inside the brand new SSE Hydro arena to see the days gymnastics, there were high hopes surrounding both the male and female English teams – but few could have predicted the extent of their domination.

 

The men took to the floor first and the team made up of Olympians, Max Whitlock, Kristian Thomas, Sam Oldham and Louis Smith MBE as well as Junior European all-around champion Nile Wilson were forced to draw on all of their experience at the highest level early on as Sam Oldham was rushed to hospital after a nasty landing from the vault. The men rallied, with Whitlock and Wilson in exceptional form, and Team England won with a fantastic score of 266.804 points, despite Oldham’s absence forcing him out of two of the rotations on the vault.

 

A strong Scottish team featuring 2012 stars Dan Purvis and Dan Keatings put on an inspired performance in front a loud home crowd and secured a silver medal with a team score of 257.603 points.

 

Next up, the women took to the arena, with Rebecca Downie, Ruby Harrold, Claudia Fragapane, Kelly Simm and Hannah Whelan representing the English. Like their male counterparts, the women were forced to show all of their quality in the later stages of the competition as a nervous start, in particular on the beam, meant that a gold medal place was far from certain. In a team that featured senior Olympians Hannah Whelan and Becky Downie as well as GB squad member Kelly Simm, it was the 16 year old Claudia Fragapane who produced the display of the afternoon and held her nerve to put in a performance of the highest quality both on the beam and on the floor to secure a gold medal after a team total of 167.555 points.

 

While the Australians impressed with a score of 161.546 points, enough for the silver medal, they were ran all the way to the wire by the Welsh, a team made up of Raer Theaker, Lizzie Beddoe, Jessica Hogg, Angel Romaeo and Georgina Hockenhull came impossibly close to the silver medal but had to settle from bronze despite an impressive 160.095 points.

 

Springboks end All Blacks Sevens run

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Rugby Sevens, a sport being planned for its first time inclusion at the Rio Olympics in 2016, was under close inspection by the organisers and it did not disappoint. The teams from the southern-hemisphere were dominant with New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Samoa all progressing to the semi-finals and England, Wales and Scotland crashing out at the quarter final stage.

 

The All-Blacks were understandably the favourites going into the final against South Africa having won their last 30 matches at the Commonwealth Games and the top prize at every Games since the sport’s introduction in 1998. Despite a strong start from New Zealand with Sherwin Stowers scoring, it was through Seabelo Senatia that the Springboks forced their way back into the tie and taking a 12-7 lead early in the second half. The memorable upset was secured by the flying back Cecil Afrika who scored the final try which was enough to fight off the late All Black resurgence and give South Africa a 17-12 victory.

 

English athletics medal haul

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Tuesday provided a fantastic night for English athletics with Will Sharman claiming silver in the 110m hurdles and narrowly falling short of the gold by an excruciating four hundredths of a second with Andrew Riley of Jamaica taking gold. The successes did not end there; Leicester and England’s Laura Samuel smashed her personal best by 34cm and took silver in the triple jump.

 

Ex-World Junior silver medalist Laura Weightman took silver again after a perfect execution of her race tactics in the 1500m, holding off Kenyan star Hellen Obiri and Canadian Kate van Buskirk to finish strongly only behind Kenya’s brilliant Faith Kipyegon. Finally, decathlete Ashley Bryant capped off a fine performance over the 10 events and brought home an astounding fifth silver for England that day.

 

Nigeria stun India in team table tennis

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The Nigerian table tennis team produced one of the most memorable displays of the Games to shock India in the bronze medal playoff. With Singapore proving too strong for Nigeria in the Semi Final and eventually England in the final, it was left for Nigeria and India to battle it out at the Scotstoun Sports Campus in front of a truly absorbed crowd.

 

In the deciding game, despite Indian opponent Achanta being ranked No.40 in the world and Nigerian Ojo Onaolapo ranking well outside of the top 300, it was the Nigerian who held his nerve and brought the crowd to their feet and many teammates to tears with a superb performance to secure the bronze medal for Nigeria.

 

13 year old Davies takes brilliant swimming bronze

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Few would have predicted that it would fall on 13 year old Erraid Davies and Scotland’s youngest competitor to provide one of the week’s biggest shocks and take a bronze medal in the SB9 100m breaststroke; much to the delight of her home crowd. Hailing from the Shetland Islands, Davies smashed her previous personal best twice on finals day and swam an amazing 1.21.38 to become the youngest ever Commonwealth medalist.

 

Such an incredible performance at such a young age only highlights her potential as a swimmer that could dominate the Paralympics for many years to come and a strong performance in Rio would be most impressive, but less surprising.

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The winners and losers of the transfer window so far

 

Winners


Chelsea

 

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By far the most successful club in July. Jose Mourinho has had to pay a premium for some of his new arrivals but has supplemented his already strong squad with genuine quality.

The signing of Douglas Costa from Atletico Madrid was a huge coup that means, with the return of Romelu Lukaku from his loan spell at Everton (provided rumours about his imminent departure are proven false) and Blues hero Didier Drogba resigning from Galatasaray, Chelsea now possess one of the strongest strike forces in the country.

The most impressive addition appears to be Cesc Fábregas from Barcelona however. A proven Premier League performer, the Spaniard is more than capable of emulating the success achieved by the departing Frank Lampard at the heart of the Chelsea midfield.

Filipe Luis in for Ashely Cole at left-back seems to be a fair swap considering Cole’s age, whilst the £50m received for David Luiz could potentially be Mourinho’s best bit of business this summer.


 

Arsenal

 

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The transfer window has traditionally been a more painful experience for Arsenal fans than most but in recent years, Arsene Wenger has looked less to the club’s youth academy and more to his cheque book in aiming to strengthen his squad.

The signing of Mesut Özil last summer signalled this adjustment and with another big-name arrival in the form of Alexis Sanchez this July, Arsenal’s attacking prowess is beginning to look formidable. Unfortunate to be forced out the door at Barcelona in the face of competition from the likes of Messi, Neymar and now Suarez; Sanchez had a fantastic World Cup and should be set for great things next season.

The purchases of French right-back Matheiu Debuchy from Newcastle, Chilean goalkeeper David Ospina from Nice and exciting young defender Calum Chambers from Southampton also appear favourable and may well help to spell an end to Arsenal’s recent defensive frailties.


 

Hull City

 

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After a remarkable campaign last term in which the Humberside club reached the FA Cup Final, Steve Bruce has built on this success by some early solid business in this summer’s transfer window.

The permanent signing of previous loanee Jake Livermore, one of Hull’s standout performers last season, along with the arrival of Robert Snodgrass from Norwich are both extremely impressive.

The addition of winger Tom Ince from Blackpool is also similarly encouraging. A midfielder blessed with pace and a remarkable ability to finish, the England Under-21 International may be the man to help propel the Tigers into the top half of the league table come next May.

 

 

Losers


 

Southampton

 

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By far and away the biggest losers of the first month of the transfer window.

The south-coast team have not only lost manager Mauricio Pochettino to Tottenham but have seen the backbone of their team completely implode. Luke Shaw has departed to Manchester United whilst Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren have all moved to Liverpool. With serious doubts over the future of the likes of Jay Rodriguez and Morgan Schneiderlin, the foundations of the Saints success in the last couple of seasons seem to have been completely torn apart.

Although they can expect a huge cash inflow from their sales, money isn’t necessarily everything if the right targets cannot be identified and signed as we saw with Tottenham last season. Success is built on consistency and Southampton certainly won’t have any of that this season.

The arrival of Dušan Tadić from FC Twente, who is seen as being a direct replacement for Lallana, and prolific Italian striker Graziano Pelle may help to curtail the Saints demise but I still struggle to see them reaching the heights they managed last season.


 

Sunderland

 

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Gus Poyet worked wonders towards the end of last season to keep the north-east club afloat but serious business needs to be done this transfer window to strengthen an average squad.

Unfortunately for the Black Cats, July has been an underwhelming month on Wearside and with the loss of seasoned performers such as Craig Gardener, Jack Colback and Phil Bardsley; new additions of genuine quality has become even more of a necessity.

The signings Poyet has made so far such as Billy Jones, Jordi Gómez and Costel Pantimillion are all a step in the right direction but are nowhere near the standard necessary to guarantee Sunderland’s safety next season.


 

Burnley

 

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Although the north-west club secured second position in the Championship last term by a considerable margin, one seriously worries about the club’s Premier League pedigree. With no real standout names in their squad, Sean Dyche is tasked with the job of securing players who possess the qualities that will help ensure Burnley’s safety.

As of yet, he has failed to fulfil this requirement. Although Steven Reid and Matt Taylor have both enjoyed some success in the league in recent years, neither of them are the answers to Burnley’s problems whilst the likes of Marvin Sordell and Lukas Jutkiewicz are similarly uninspiring.

Clearly operating on a limited budget, Dyche must cast his net in the upper echelons of the league and search for coups such as the one Harry Redknapp has pulled off at QPR, bringing Rio Ferdinand to Loftus Road. If not, Burnley surely must be amongst the favourites for the drop next season.

Credit: soccerblogger.com
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From David Luiz to Adrian Chiles: villains of the World Cup

David Luiz

When both Piers Morgan and FIFA name you as their current Player of the Tournament then you really are in trouble. Sure enough, the words of the vocal Arsenal fan combined with the seal of approval from football’s most transparent (in every sense) organisation inspired Luiz to go from eye-popping and fist-pumping leader to nervy and tearful mess in about 0.6 seconds, surely a feat even Jeremy Clarkson would be impressed by. His plethora of defensive ineptitudes signalled not only the death knell on Brazil’s World Cup hopes, but also on the career prospects of PSG’s scouting team. One witty Twitter profile remarked that Luiz ‘was on a mission to make every child in Brazil cry’, but after splashing 50 million big ones on the former Chelsea man’s spurious defensive talents you can be sure that Nasser Al–Khelaifi will be sitting on a yacht somewhere himself choking back the tears. Spraying wonderful cross-field passes one minute and then inexplicably switching off the next, the enormity of Luiz’ mistakes from the semi-final onwards made you think that he’d exhausted himself during his particularly passionate renditions of the national anthem. Apparently 27 years has neither been long enough for him to learn the basic arts of defending, nor for any coach bar Rafa Benitez to realise than his best position is in defensive midfield, and he heads off to the French capital with the tag of ‘liability’ still very much intact. Gary Neville once said that Luiz reminded him of a ten-year-old on the PlayStation, but on the evidence of this tournament I’d argue that most pre-adolescent FIFA players show a little more restraint.

Adrian Chiles

When ITV decided to set their World Cup coverage on the iconic Copacabana Beach they really didn’t take into account the amount of distress seeing Adrian Chiles in horribly tight shorts would cause millions of viewers on a daily basis. No doubt thousands of school children went to bed following the early kick-offs having nightmares about ITV’s much maligned frontman, and that’s before he’s even opened his mouth. In a sharp contrast to BBC’s knowledgeable and slick anchor Gary Lineker, Chiles’ constant bumbling and unwavering ability to call it totally wrong has made extremely painful watching for the last month, with special mention to his bizarre affront to Martin O’Neill, which was at least pretty funny. [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J125_gQwVDU]There are two types of buffoon; (vaguely) lovable ones like Boris Johnson, and then there’s the Adrian Chiles variety. Only slightly less baffling than Brendan Rodgers’ attempt to turn Stewart Downing into a left back, ITV’s decision to move Chiles from Daybreak to their flagship football coverage has gone about as well as Rene Meulensteen’s appointment at Fulham. The absence of Roy Keane didn’t help; what’s football coverage without the constant possibility of a fight breaking out between the pundits, and World Cup final viewing figures of 12.09 million for the BBC and 2.86 million actually do the advert-heavy purveyors of bang-average analysis a massive favour. Some would say that protecting events such as the World Cup on terrestrial television is to be celebrated, others long for the panache and insight of Sky Sports presenters such as Ed Chamberlain and lead analyst Gary Neville. One thing’s for sure, Adrian Chiles’ transfer to Metalist Kharkiv v Lokomotiv Plovdiv on Channel 5 can’t come soon enough.

Luis Suarez 

Speaking as founding member, president and secretary of the Luiz Suarez apologist society, I can tell you that the stupid, buck-toothed Uruguayan really has gone and done it this time. Not content with recovering from a knee injury infuriatingly quickly and proceeding to knock England out of the World Cup with two unbelievably clinical finishes, his ridiculous bite on Georgio Chiellini consigned us to the worst fate of all, having to watch an aging Uruguay side put eleven men behind the ball in a vain attempt to stop Colombia in the last 16. Rather than hamper his career prospects however, Suarez’ bite only served to grease the wheels of his Anfield departure and hand him a dream move to Barcelona, leaving his loyal Liverpool fans to look forward to Ricky Lambert and Fabio Borini playing upfront for them in the Champions League next season once Daniel Sturridge has suffered an inevitable injury. On the plus side however, at least Suarez’ carnivorous tendencies provided Phil Jagielka with an excuse for why he didn’t want to get within five yards of the striker in Sao Paulo.

Head injuries 

When Christoph Kramer remarked that “he thought he’d come straight off” after suffering a jarring head injury in the World Cup final when in actual fact he’d played the next 12 minutes of the game, your first reaction was ‘wow, that’s unbelievable’. Your second reaction was; ‘wow, that’s unbelievably scary’. For a player to continue playing for over ten minutes and have absolutely no recollection of it would be comical if it wasn’t so very, very serious, and Kramer’s injury was the last in a line of particularly nasty and noteworthy collisions we saw at this year’s tournament. From Dirk Kuyt having his head stapled back together in the third place play-off (probably not one for the faint-hearted) to Javier Mascherano going down heavier than George Groves after he was floored by Karl Froch’s brutal left hook, physios have been left with the unenviable task of deciding whether or not their players are able to return to action. Football players, with the possible exception of Jack Wilshere, are warriors who do not want to come off the pitch in World Cup semi-finals, but, using the doctrine that seems to have become Conservative party policy over the last four years, what people want isn’t always what’s best for them, and action does need to be taken on this. Perhaps it’s time for FIFA to stop playing around with vanishing spray paint and deciding how many zeroes to put on cheques they’re writing to themselves, and make some new rules on an issue that actually matters. Just a thought, Sepp.

FIFA’s Technical Committee

One would suspect that there have been precious few occasions that Lionel Messi has been give an award and the prevailing reaction has been, why him? At best, it would suggest that FIFA’s Technical Committee stopped watching the tournament after the group stage, at worst it betrays a wish on FIFA’s behalf to put commercial interests before footballing ones, and who would suspect such a thing from such a righteous and open administration? Despite being Argentina’s talisman and scoring some crucial goals to progress his side to the knock-out phase, Messi’s contribution after this point was scattergun at best, his in-out performances being epitomised by sending his shot inches wide of Manuel Neuer’s goal in what was a World Cup winning opportunity. While not quite having the sweet irony of Ryan Giggs receiving an award for marital loyalty or Cristiano Ronaldo getting a trophy for modesty of celebration, the fact remains that Messi probably wasn’t even Argentina’s best player, with that honour going to plucky warrior Javier Mascherano. According to the Technical Committee, Messi was so good that he was named player of the tournament but couldn’t get into the team of the tournament, although admittedly there are probably far worse discrepancies in the FIFA accounts book. In what was almost an insult to the abilities of the four time Ballon D’or winner himself, much more so to Madrid-bound James Rodriguez, Messi’s face as he stepped up to receive the Golden Ball, in what should be one of the highlights of a player’s career, really did say it all.

Fred

Frederico Chaves Guedes, more commonly known as Fred. One sounds like the kind of man ready to lead a Brazilian front line steeped in the history of illustrious forbears such as Pele and Ronaldo, the other sounds like a bald and aging mate from the pub you call to make up the numbers for the midweek game of five-a-side. Sadly for Brazil, they didn’t just get the guy from the pub, they got him after he’d had a few pints and was better equipped for propping up the bar than firing shots under one. In what can only be considered an accident of history, Fred somehow topped the goalscoring charts of last year’s Confederations Cup, prompting a fair amount of optimism about his ability to lead the Brazilian front line at the World Cup and an OxStu Sport editor, who shall remain unnamed in order to retain confidence in his ability to perform the role, to tip him for the Golden Boot. In reality, the public were treated to six vintage Fred performances in which he showed an alarming lack of ability to hold the ball up and, to quote the departing Alan Hansen, misfired in front of goal ‘time and time again’. Indeed, the penis heat maps designed on Twitter to mock him might actually have done him a favour, because in reality there’s no way he managed to cover that much of the pitch. Shortly before writing this Fred announced his retirement from international football, funny that; because I thought he did that before the tournament started. If 1950 goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa is the man who “made all of Brazil cry”, Fred is the man who made them look to the heavens in despair. Alexandre Pato, Leandro Damiao, take note; this man was picked ahead of you to go to the World Cup.

The Oxford Student

Oxford's Newspaper since 1991