Tag Archive: Jordan Henderson

Michael Carrick’s noble statement that he would definitely “consider” an England call up, this season, yet again exposes the problems footballers have with being a reserve.

The Manchester United star withdrew his name from selection in January, after a dissatisfying 2010 World Cup campaign.

Being withdrawn, he was not selected for Roy Hodgson’s side for this summer’s Euro 2012 tournament, and he recently admitted to Betfair.com that he would have rejected a call-up, even if it were formally made.

Carrick outlined the situation at the World Cup as the reasons for his decision to focus on club football. Having made the squad, he trained and camped with his teammates but did not get a minute of play in South Africa, a predicament he foresaw should he join the Euro 2012 set-up.

But, when Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry pulled out of the campaign injured, the perfect replacement in the centre of the park was back at home. Instead of Carrick partnering Steven Gerrard in midfield, responsibility was handed to the inexperienced Jordan Henderson, who was largely ineffectual in Ukraine.

Carrick’s presence may well have bolstered England’s midfield during their quarter-final defeat to Italy, where Andrea Pirlo ran the show in the centre of the pitch. In deciding not to represent his country – even simply as a substitute – Carrick has surely rejected any chance of getting back into the side.

For why should a man dissatisfied with life on the subs bench be awarded a starting role?

Jamie Carragher, Liverpool’s rock in defence for the past decade, retired from international football as he was not getting a game. His appearance in South Africa, therefore, was disheartening to say the least, as he had not earned the right from playing England qualifiers.

The noble Carrick, if he wants to be part of England again at a major tournament, must prove himself willing to work with the squad during their next qualification campaign.

Visit the Betfair Premiership website for the best odds, picks, and tips for the upcoming campaign, as well as the 2012/13 Champions League.


By Laurie Fitzgerald

12 months ago, Liverpool were a club in turmoil after undergoing severe problems both on and off the pitch.

A bitter takeover embroiled Anfield, with John W. Henry taking over from the despised fellow Americans of George Gillett and Tom Hicks.

Meanwhile, Liverpool were at the wrong end of the table as new manager Roy Hodgson was unable to turn their fortunes after they began to fade under previous boss Rafa Benitez.

But a new year brought new hope; with Henry’s takeover rubber stamped, he brought back the Kop’s prodigal son to try and revive the glory days on Merseyside.

Having won eight league titles and three European Cups in 14 years as a player and manager, Kenny Dalglish was re-appointed almost 20 years after he resigned.

After being given a contract until the end of the season, it soon became apparent that the Scot was the right appointment in the long-term.

Having been firmly consigned to the bottom half of the table, Dalglish guided the team on run that saw them move to the brink of an unlikely European spot.

The Reds went on 14-game run that saw them win ten and draw two matches to propel them within touchings distance of the Europa League.

Despite eventually missing out on Europe, a 6th placed finish was secured and the 60 year-old was rewarded with a three-year deal.

Now Dalglish has had almost a year to mould the squad in his image and the way he wants them to play, and there has been a marked improvement.

Gone is the one-dimensional style adopted under Hodgson of being well-organised but limited in an attacking approach.

Now Liverpool are dominating games with their constant pressing and high tempo that allows them to get on top of their opponents, as well as having the best defensive record in the top flight.

There was no need to make any changes in goal, with Pepe Reina one of the top goalkeepers in the Premier League.

Defensively there has been some re-adjusting; Jose Enrique has been brought in at left-back, while Martin Kelly has emerged from the academy to contest with Glen Johnson on the right.

At the heart of defence, both Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger have become first-choice centre-backs, whilst the experienced Jamie Carragher and new addition Sebastian Coates provide reliable cover.

The midfield has seen the biggest overhaul; out have gone the likes of Christian Poulsen and Joe Cole, and in have come the likes of Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson.

Possibly the best example of the improvement under Dalglish has been holding midfielder Lucas.

For two years the Brazilian was unable to win over the Kop faithful, looking unable to cope with the pace and physicality of England’s top flight.

However, in the last 12 months he has made a host of excellent performances to make him the heartbeat of the Liverpool side before being ruled out for the rest of the season with a cruciate knee ligament injury.

It is a problem that Dalglish will look to address in January, especially with their other midfield talisman in Steven Gerrard struggling with injury problems throughout 2011.

There has been investment within the flanks, with Stewart Downing and Craig Bellamy brought in to add width on the flanks, although Downing has found it difficult to maintain a regular place with the form of Maxi Rodriguez and the tireless Dirk Kuyt.

Up front has seen a big turnaround. Out went star man Fernando Torres and the less than prolific David N’Gog, and in came Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll for a combined total of £57 million.

This has seen differing returns though, as while Suarez has been a revelation in the no. 7 shirt, Carroll has been unable to live up to his £35 million price tag and settle into Liverpool’s style of play.

It has been the one aspect of Dalglish’s first year back in charge that has raised eyebrows – the money spent on the new additions.

The likes of Carroll, Henderson and Downing were brought into the club for over-inflated sums of money, and all have so far had mixed success.

But as with any major overhaul, time has to be given to the big-money arrivals before they are deemed a success or failure, especially when Henderson and Carroll are in their early twenties.

While the squad is in a far healthier state than it was before, the primary aim has to be getting back their place in the top four before ending their long wait for a 19th title.

If there’s one thing we can take from Dalglish’s second coming, it is that Liverpool are a lot closer to the glory days than they were a year ago.

By Laurie Fitzgerald

This summer has seen the return of some big-spending moves from some of the biggest clubs in the Premier League, with three clubs in particular leading the way.

Both Manchester clubs in United and City have flexed their muscles in the transfer market with the likes of Ashley Young, David De Gea, Sergio Aguero and Gael Clichy making the move up North.

However, the third of the big spenders have seen eyebrows raised with their purchases. In 2011, Liverpool have spent over £100 million on five players alone, with a signing policy seemingly on investing in potential as well as those proven.

In January, Andy Carroll joined for a record fee for a British player, with £35 million spent on the 21 year-old Newcastle forward. Luis Suarez also joined in a £22 million deal from Ajax.

Since the end of the season, manager Kenny Dalglish has got the chequebook of new owner John Henry (pictured above) out for three more arrivals; Sunerland midfielder Jordan Henderson for £20 million, Blackpool playmaker Charlie Adam for £7.5 million and Aston Villa winger Stewart Downing, also for £20 million.

Much has been made of the amount of money spent on these players, in particular on Carroll and Henderson who, despite having a lot of potential, are largely unproven.

It should be made clear at this point that this policy may be down to a belief carried not only by Henry but also their new Sporting Director Damien Comolli – the philosophy of ‘Moneyball.’

Comolli implemented a policy of buying young players with real potential whilst in a similar position at Tottenham, while Henry has used this ideology during his time as owner of Major League Baseball side Boston Red Sox – and he has been rewarded with two World Series so far. 

But what is Moneyball? Well it’s effectively where investment in players is based on statistics and potential instead of those proven here and now.

While Carroll and Henderson’s price tags may seem overtly excessive, they have been bought for what they can develop into in the next few years, with the duo just 21 and 20 years old respectively.

In regards to the signings of Adam and Downing, they have been brought into the squad based on what they can add to the team based on their statistics.

So the Liverpool management will have looked at stats such as Opta in areas such as set piece deliveries, goals from set pieces, assists, etc. and will have identified the both of them as ideal investments in bringing something to the squad where it was lacking before.

The Moneyball philosophy has led to differing opinions ranging from those who believe the Reds will launch a title challenge, to those who feel that Dalglish & Comolli have spent too much considering what they are getting for their money.

However, the only way we can make a fair observation is in a few years time, when we can analyse how much potential the likes of Carroll and Henderson have unearthed, and seen if the statistics of Suarez, Adam and Downing backs up their investment.

Then we can say whether the likes of Henry and Comolli were pioneers instead of foolhardy.

So what do you think? Is it too early to make a judgement on the arrivals at Anfield this year? Or has too much money been spent on players that will never reach the potential that their valuation states? Let us know your thoughts. 

Luka Modric is doing his best to engineer a move away from White Hart Lane

By Laurie Fitzgerald

It’s a year ending in one, and with no major tournament involving and ultimately disappointing English football fans, the summer transfer sagas have taken centre stage.

The likes of Ashley Young, Phil Jones, Luka Modric, Jordan Henderson, Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas, Carlos Tevez and Stewart Downing have become embroiled in potential departures from their respective clubs, either successfully or ongoing.

Young and Jones completed their moves to Manchester United from Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers respectively, while Henderson’s move from Sunderland to Liverpool remains the biggest transfer of the summer so far at £20 million.

But if a few other players get their way, then Henderson’s fee will seem almost paltry in comparison to the potential deals in store by the end of August.

Spurs midfielder Modric seems to be spouting his hard luck story on a daily basis, painting a picture that club chairman Daniel Levy is holding the Croatian against his will – 12 months after signing a new six-year deal with the club.

“I reminded Mr Levy of the gentlemen’s agreement we made last summer…I mentioned that if a concrete offer of a big club comes in we will then look at the offer and agree the best solution for all of us,” said the 25 year-old.

If Modric was so concerned about this ‘agreement’ then maybe he should have asked his agent Nikky Vuksan to implement it into the legally-binding contract he was actually signing instead of using it to justify his recent actions.

As a Tottenham fan, it’s easy to be angered by the past couple of weeks. There’s no doubting Modric’s ability; his wonderful balance, excellent vision and touch, as well as being deceptively strong, would make him an asset to any team in the Premier League.

You cannot criticise someone for wanting to better themselves in any walk of life, and with the opportunity to potentially triple his wages at Chelsea and Champions League football, it’s easy to see why Luka’s head is turned.

However, if Modric knew he’d be so determined to get a bigger move in the short-term, then making such a long-term commitment was incredibly naïve, and the anger of the supporters is justified.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident this summer, with a raft of players seeming to forget the agreement they have in writing when something seemingly better comes along.

For the past 12 months, all we’ve heard about Cesc Fabregas is how the Arsenal skipper’s heart belongs to Barcelona, and how it always has ever since he was a boy growing up in Cataluna.

Fair enough. So forgive my perplexity that the Spaniard started to yearn for a move to the Nou Camp just a few years into an EIGHT-year contract at the Emirates.

It’s not just a foreign mentality; In May, Stewart Downing professed his joy at being at Aston Villa, with the England winger even talking about signing a new deal at Villa Park.

The 26 year-old claimed, “The important thing in football is, if you’re happy, then why change it? I know it’s been a disappointing season, but I can see the bigger picture.”

It turns out the bigger picture is a potential £18 million move to Anfield, with Downing apparently wanting to make the move just two months after expressing a desire to commit long-term.

You can’t help but have sympathy for Villa supporters that for the past three summers have seen their best players leave (Gareth Barry, James Milner and Young) and could be about to see another key player depart.

Other cases are more open to debate; Tevez has said he wants to leave England so he can be closer to a family that is unwilling to move to Manchester, while Nasri has reportedly told Arsenal he wants to leave, giving the club the option to cash in with just a year remaining on his current deal.

But for fans not only of those clubs affected this summer, but for almost any supporter out there, it seems loyalty has finally disintegrated once and for all.

Supporters turn up week in week out and show adulation for those out on the pitch due to the players seeming to show their commitment off it – only to find their backing was misguided.

It’s disheartening for fans to see a key component of a developing squad leave when they think their team has a chance of progressing.

No doubt the likes of Modric, Fabregas and Downing will get the moves they crave, but the worst part is that none of this is a surprise anymore in modern day football.

We’re all used to it by now.

Sources: Daily Mail, BBC Sport, Birmingham Post

So what do you think? Do the likes of Modric, Fabregas and Downing deserve criticism for forcing moves away from their clubs? Or is it another setback for supporters that put their faith in modern day footballers? Let us know your thoughts.

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By Tony Alvarez

Although we have had a few movements in the transfer market as well as managers leaving jobs, searching and finding new jobs in the last week I want to look at some on the pitch action and more specificallyEngland’s failed under 21 campaign.

I’m sure many of you would of seen or at least heard that Stuart Pearce’s side crashed out of the tournament after losing 2-1 to theCzechRepublicwhen nothing but a victory was enough for the young lions.

There was of course some positive’s form this tournament however there were many more negative’s.

I’ll start with the positives of which there are not too many, Phil Jones was a colossus at the back through out the tournament and Smalling showed potential if not a bit too much confidence. Kyle Walker looked promising going forward but questions will be asked of his defence ability, not that they were found wanting they were just not tested. Frank Fielding was impressive in goal and showed signs that he could have a real future in andEnglandshirt.

Much of the rest were a shambles and it was not always the specific players fault. Jordan Henderson was nothing short of awful I am not attacking him as I rate him as a player, he is coming back off his first full season and could of done with the summer off, his performances proved that Jack Wilshere was correct to omit himself from the squad.

In the first two fixtures Mancienne was completely lost in midfield again not his fault he is a Defender and was asked to play as a holding midfielder, many players can make this conversion if they are simply there to break up play but this wasn’t the case, as well as breaking up play it looked like Mancienne was expecting to play the “quarterback” role, decent defender he is, cultured passer he certainly isn’t.

The pure absence of Marc Albrighton completely puzzled me too, he was left out with both Tom Cleverly and Henri Lansbury picked ahead of him, club form tells you things should be different Albrighton was a key figure in a mid table Premier League side, Cleverly was a big part of a Wigan side that scrapped to survival yet did not set the world alight with his goals and assists return. Lansbury was not a guaranteed starter forNorwichso how did the one that performed best for his club side and the only winger amongst the three only get the last 10 minutes of the tournament.

Another problem I have is that Sturridge was deployed on the right of the front three despite being left footed and the form striker of the squad. Welbeck is a good player but his goal return leaves a lot to be desired whilst Sturridge was arguably the form striker in the Premier League from January onwards.

The main problem above all of the above was the system England often deployed the long ball as they had no creativity in the middle, the front three consisted of Welbeck, Sturridge and Rose or Sinclair none of whom are target men. It is clear that plan A was to play the ball through the middle but with our lack of creativity plan B (hit it long) was used on many occasions, surely the height and strength Connor Wickham should have been utilised.

Many will blame the players for not being up to the required level, personally I blame the flawed management of Stuart Pearce there was no change to circumstances, he put what he felt were the 11 best players on the pitch regardless of system, Sturridge and Welbeck whilst being England’s two best forwards were not the “Horses for courses” England needed.

 What do you think? Who is to blame for England’s poor showing? Does Pearce have the managerial know how to be in the England dugout? Is he being employed for his passion alone? Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts

By Tony Alvarez

Many of you whom keep up with sports news will kn

ow that yesterday the provisional squad for the under 21 European championships was chosen and included some full internationals such as Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson and despite much debate Jack Wilshere.

I will start off by saying the views in this article are in response to those posted by a drive time radio station with in my opinion two of the most biased and unknowledgeable presenters in the media, I will not name this station or the presenters because who knows one day I could find myself in their offices.

The debate is centered around the fact that Arsene Wenger said he would not stop his teenage prodigy being part of the squad should he be selected but he would of preferred Wilshire to of been given the summer off as he has played in what essentially is his debut full season and he did not want fatigue to be a factor in the midfielders development.

The lead presenter on the radio show in question in response to Wenger’s comments about fatigue that Arsenal should use Wilshere less as their season is over in terms of honours he also continued to say Wilshere is at more risk of being fatigued due to the amount of games he ahs played in an Arsenal shirt which is down to a lack of quality in the Arsenal squad which means Wilshere is having to play above his age group.

I have two problems with this statement the main one being that the club pay his wages so can use him how they feel best there is also very few people in football who can question the way Wenger develops young talent, so its comical that this radio presenter has done so.

Another thing the presenter called into question was Wenger’s statement that Wilshere would certainly miss England’s friendly in August and possibly the qualifier in September as Wenger would treat Wilshere the same as the rest of his players and give them 4-6 weeks off in the summer.

Both of the radio “experts” questioned this saying who needs 4-6 weeks up give him 2 and he will be fine, to the best of my knowledge FIFA laws state that a player must be given at least 4 weeks break in the summer rather than accusing Wenger of provoking a club vs country row they should learn the rules and give fair impartial comment.

Another factor that needs to be considered is that Fabio Capello has made it quite clear that for the rest of his time in the hot seat he is going to build the side around Jack Wilshere, which means a fully fit Wilshere will be vital should England qualify for Euro 2012, many fans will know first hand from watching their sides first hand will know that a full pre season often brings a player on leaps and bounds look at Nasri and Nani in this current season for proof of that, so if England are expecting Wilshere to be firing in summer 2012 despite having barely any rest since 2010 the nation could be in for a massive disappointment.

For what its worth I think the player should decide whether they go to the tournament or not, Wilshere has made it clear he wants to go and play so he should be allowed to do so, its brilliant to have a player who is proud to wear the England shirt rather than years of pre madonna’s who pull out of an international at every opportunity unless it’s a vital tie where they can be a headline maker or it’s a glamour tie.

However, its not just my Arsenal biased but I don’t think Wenger has done any wrong he would of preferred to give possibly the future of his club a rest but if he is so selected Wilshere would be sent with Wenger’s blessings, however the attack received from the radio station for simply looking out for his player was in my view scandalous.

What are your thoughts? Should Wilshere be in the squad for the under 21 Europeans? Is the radio station correct to question the way Wenger deals with his players? Are you as sick of clueless “pundits” across all formats of the media as I am?

Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts

Jack Wilshere has come of age for the Gunners this season

By Laurie Fitzgerald

With the awards season coming up, the focus turns to which players deserve the acclaim and recognition for their efforts throughout what has been an engrossing campaign.

Over the next few days we are going to be looking at what players should be commended in four different categories; best player, most underrated, best young player and best signing of the season.

Today, having looked at the contenders for best player and most underrated, we will study those who should be in with a chance for best young player:

Jack Wilshere – There have been high hopes for a couple of years over the Arsenal midfielder, but this has been the season where the 19 year-old has come of age. After impressing in the second half of last season with Bolton, Wilshere went back to the Emirates in the summer and hasn’t looked back since. His composure on the ball, finding a killer pass and developing space with such ease, has cemented his place in the Arsenal midfield alongside Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song. Not only that, but Wilshere has become a regular in the England side even at this tender age. A superstar in the making.

Gareth Bale – Talking of getting the footballing world raving about you at the start of your career, 21 year-old Bale has had an unforgettable 18 months. At the beginning of 2010, the Welsh left-winger couldn’t get into the Tottenham side. But he ended up having a terrific second half to the season, helping Harry Redknapp’s side secure a Champions League place. Not resting on his laurels, he’s carried on where he left off this season. A number of rampaging displays, as well as 12 goals and 3 assists to his name, have made Bale one of the most feared wingers in Europe. His highlight was that famous demolition of the world’s best right-back Maicon in Tottenham’s 3-1 win over Champions League holders Inter Milan at White Hart Lane. 

Jordan Henderson – As the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry the wrong side of 30, the need for flourishing young midfield talents is growing. With Wilshere coming to the fore, 20 year-old Henderson has shown not all future hopes rest on the Arsenal midfielder. The local lad was instrumental in the Black Cats’ excellent start, typified by his mature display in their 3-0 win away at champions Chelsea. While Steve Bruce’s side have found it tougher going since the turn of the year, Henderson has still been a shining light this term, and got his reward when he was given his first cap for England in a home friendly against France in November.

Andy Carroll – In the summer of 2009, Newcastle had reportedly put their young striker up for sale for just £1 million after their relegation from the Premier League. Less than two years on, he is now a £35 million who has a massive future ahead for his new club as well as his country. Having helped his hometown club gain promotion from the Championship, Carroll has had a seamless transition to the top-flight. His 11 league goals and enormous physical presence, as well as his impressive hold-up play, was enough for Kenny Dalglish to break the transfer record for a British player to bring the 22 year-old to Liverpool on January transfer deadline day. Having recently got his first goal for England in just his second cap, only Carroll himself seems capable of preventing a fantastic career.

Marc Albrighton – While this has turned into a season to forget for Aston Villa and their supporters, there has been one shining light to come from it. 21 year-old Albrighton has fought his way into the Villa side with a string of impressive performances on the wing for Gerard Houllier’s side. Having gained a reputation for his unnerving accuracy in his crosses, as well as never being afraid to run at the opposition, Albrighton’s six goals and six assists in all competitions have aided a side that has been drawn into an unlikely relegation fight. With the future of Ashley Young in doubt, the Villa faithful will be in no doubt that they have a ready-made replacement already at Villa Park.

So what do you think? Do you agree with those chosen by us for young players of the year? Who has been your young player of the season? Are there any other contenders you feel should be considered? Let us know your thoughts


By Tony Alvarez

Following his big money move from Sunderland in a deal which could reportedly end up costing the midlands club £24 million, many fans and pundits alike have questioned whether the front man can live up to his hefty price tag.

Sky sports panellist and ex Liverpool and Tottenham man Jamie Redknapp has described the move as a huge gamble due to the fee involved and described it as a move that “smacks a little of desperation.”

Whilst Bent’s goals could go along way to keeping Villa in the Premier League or gaining Villa those extra league places, which is worth around half a million per place, I cannot see him ever scoring enough goals to ever earn they money back he has cost the club.

In the current trend of the transfer market where big money is not being branded about Bent’s value is never going to rise which means this is more than likely the biggest move he will ever have, should he see out his contract at Villa it will end when he is 30 years old.

Whilst at 30 some people still have one big move left in them (Steven Gerrard would still command a decent transfer fee)  Bent relies heavily on his pace something that at the age of 30 he wont have in the same capacity he does currently.

Despite all of the above I am not saying Darren Bent will be a flop, I can actually see him doing well, he will have good service from the likes of Young and Downing as well as a good supporting striker in either Heskey or Agbonlahor.

I can see him notching up 20 league goals a season and will probably still be the highest scoring English striker. On the subject of being English I think this move could better his chances at international level.

At Sunderland he was playing with a hard working and talented bunch of players, but aside from Jordan Henderson’s single cap none of the others were England internationals, at Villa as was mentioned above he will be playing with players who are in or on the fringes of the England squad and could build a good partnership with them.

I personally think Bent is very underrated amongst fans he has always scored goals when he has been given the chance, however whilst he is under rated amongst fans judging by the transfer fee paid for him he is over rated amongst the Villa manager and backroom staff.

For the amount of goals you can expect from Bent in the current market where goal scorers are at a premium I would value Bent at around the 12-15 million pound mark not the 18 rising to 24 million.

What do you think? Villa fan are you happy with your purchase? Do you think Bent will prove he is worth the transfer fee paid? Sunderland fans are you happy with the money received or would you of rather kept him? What do you value him at? Let us know your thoughts

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By Laurie Fitzgerald

Thirteen months ago, Darren Bent scored the winner in a 1-0 win at home to Arsenal that saw Sunderland nicely placed to push on and clinch a European spot at the end of the season.

But the next fourteen league games saw the Black Cats undergo a horrific run of form, with not a single win gained from those matches. It was a run that completely undid all the hard work they had done in the first few months of the campaign.

A year on, and Steve Bruce’s side have made a similar, if not more impressive start to the season. They currently sit in sixth place, level on points with fifth-placed Tottenham and just four points off of a Champions League spot.

The results have been impressive in the process. Wins over Chelsea and Manchester City, and draws against Arsenal, Manchester United and Spurs have shown how they have been such a hard team to beat this season.

So can Sunderland learn from the mistakes of last campaign? There’s certainly no reason why they can’t when looking at the squad in place.

Not only is it a better squad in terms of overall quality than 12 months previously, but more importantly there is more balance to the squad, with strength in depth added to positions that needed strengthening.

Defensively, Sunderland have been superb this season. A lot of people scoffed at the signing of Titus Bramble, but when you look at his £1 million price tag, I think many people will struggle to find a better bargain of the season than the 29 year-old centre back.

He has developed an excellent partnership with Michael Turner at the heart of the defence, and excluding the horror show that was the Tyne-Wear derby at St James Park in October, they have helped the side keep nine clean sheets already, and are on a run of three clean sheets in a row.

Perhaps the main difference has arrived up front. If there was one criticism that could be aimed at Sunderland, it was their over-reliance on goals from Darren Bent. The 25 year-old striker had an outstanding first season at the Stadium of Light, scoring 24 goals, the rest of the squad added just the same amount as the former Charlton and Tottenham forward.

But this season, while Bent has carried on where he left off, the goalscoring responsibility is being shared by others now.

Asamoah Gyan has all the attributes to be a top striker in the Premier League (pace, power, awareness) while Danny Welbeck is maturing enormously in his loan spell from Manchester United, scoring five goals in his last six league games. People cannot accuse Sunderland of being a one-man team going forward anymore.

The heart of the midfield is also blossoming. Despite the loss of Lorik Cana in the summer, it seems to have been a blessing in disguise, with more energy and creativity from the midfield now.

Jordan Henderson has developed enormously over the past year, which is great news for club and country, while if Lee Cattermole can permanently curb his over-enthusiasm that gets him into less disciplinary trouble, we will see a big talent fully evolve. Boudewijn Zenden’s class and experience should not be underestimated either.

For Bruce, the platform is there for him and his squad to push on this time around. The 49 year-old has been backed by owner Ellis Short and chairman Niall Quinn. This is an expensively-assembled squad. There is no reason why the Black Cats cannot push on for a top-six finish now. They have a solid defence, a blossoming midfield and a potent strike-force.

A repeat of last season’s fade from a promising start will bear no excuses this time around.

So what do you think? Sunderland fans, where do you think you can finish this season? Do you need any new additions to gain a European spot? Let us know

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