Shaqiri leads Switzerland to come-from-behind win

Branislav Ivanović played a long into the box, where Manuel Akanji headed it away safely to Granit Xhaka. Early in the match, Serbia’s crosses had presented Switzerland with plenty of trouble, and a headed goal had left them behind in the fifth minute. The centre-backs had improved, however, and Serbia hadn’t really threatened with a cross since half time. Switzerland had been chasing the game since going behind early, and though they had controlled the second half they still found themselves level with the Serbs, with less than a minute of normal time remaining. A draw seemed the likely result.

Serbia couldn’t have started the game any better. Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer was forced into action early, making a reflex save to deny Aleksandar Mitrović as the big striker rose to meet Luka Milivojević’s cross. Less than a minute later, the Swiss weren’t so lucky. It was Dušan Tadić who put the cross in, beating Ricardo Rodríguez with a nice touch and swinging it in on his left foot. Once again, Mitrović was there. Once again, he got his head to it, beating Fabian Schär to the ball. This time, he looped it past Sommer and left the Swiss goalkeeper with no chance. For the second match in a row, Switzerland found themselves behind early, and needed to chase the game.

On the edge of his own penalty area, Xhaka was faced with a sea of red. Serbia were perfectly organised, and the Swiss seemed to be trapped inside their own half. Xhaka had space, but he had very few options. After holding the ball for a few seconds, Serbia came at the central midfielder, and he could hold onto the ball no longer. Finding back-up striker Mario Gavranović in space, he picked him out with a straightforward pass.

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Vladimir Stojković (in yellow) makes a diving save to deny Blerim Džemaili (centre) from close range. Džemaili had a couple of great chances to equalise, but couldn’t find the back of the net.

Switzerland had started to control possession after going behind, but their lack of composure in attack cost them. Blerim Džemaili had two great chances, once missing the target when Rodríguez found him in the penalty area and then forcing Vladimir Stojković into an excellent save when he latched on to Steven Zuber’s clever pass into the box. At the other end, Mitrović’s confidence was through the roof, and he was winning aerial duels in the box and creating plenty of issues for the Swiss. At one point, the big striker even unleashed a bicycle kick from the edge of the box. Unsurprisingly, it missed. Alongside Mitrović, Tadić was creating issues with his brilliant control and excellent delivery. As the half drew to the close, he nearly teed up Duško Tošić and Nemanja Matić with one perfectly taken corner, and he thundered a volley over the bar. The Swiss were under pressure as the sides went into the break, and they needed to do something different.

Gavranović had the ball, and he faced a solid four-man Serbian defence. Switzerland’s attack had passed the midfield, but Gavranović still found himself fairly deep in his own half with little chance of breaking through. Serbia had done a good job restricting his options, and the half time replacement for the ineffective Haris Seferović could only run at the defence, unsure of what to do. Then, spotting something, he threaded a neat ball in behind the Serbian defenders.

The leveller came just after half time, and out of nowhere. It started with a counter-attack, as the Swiss looked to rebound from a Serbian corner and found themselves facing a slightly stretched defence. The ball made its way to Xherdan Shaqiri, who wheeled around on his left and attempted a shot which was solidly blocked by Aleksandar Kolarov. The ball trailed into space outside the area, seemingly harmless. Then Xhaka ran onto the loose ball. He didn’t worry about taking a touch, or setting himself. He just ran at the ball, aimed, and, without breaking stride, sent an unstoppable strike into the back of the net from a long way out. Stojković was caught flat-footed, and didn’t move as the ball rocketed past him. Minutes later, Shaqiri hit the top of the post with an incredible bending effort, regaining the ball after being tackled by Kolarov and nearly beating Stojković with a remarkable first time strike. Switzerland were starting to make things happen.

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Xherdan Shaqiri (back) scores the winning goal past a diving Vladimir Stojković (right) and a sliding Duško Tošić. Shaqiri was Switzerland’s best player, and thoroughly deserved his late goal.

Shaqiri was there to get on the end of it. All day, the diminutive star had been testing the Serbian defence, and now he found himself in on goal, with no defenders to beat. Tošić was the culprit, allowing the dangerous winger to slip in behind him and run onto the ball unimpeded. The ball had only just crossed the halfway line when Shaqiri got the ball at his feet, but the Serbian defence was already out of the equation and all Tošić could do was chase and hope for the best. As Shaqiri closed in on his target, the centre-back could have fouled him, got himself sent off and possibly prevented the goal. Instead, he chose to keep chasing, and Shaqiri kept running.

The game had soon become a more free-flowing affair. Mitrović thought he should have received a penalty when he tangled with two opponents in the box, but Felix Brych ignored his appeals and rubbed salt into the wound by paying a foul against him. It was Serbia’s best chance of the second half, as Switzerland began to pepper Stojković’s goal. For a fleeting moment, Switzerland thought Gavranović was one-on-one with the Serbian keeper after a nice pass from Shaqiri. The shot missed, and, seconds later, the offside flag was raised. Ivanović’s attempt to deny Zuber nearly ended in disaster, as the experienced right-back stabbed it past Stojković and only narrowly avoiding putting it into his own net. Soon after, Breel Embolo headed Rodríguez’s cross down for Gavranović, whose effort was poor and easily saved by Stojković. The Swiss had more chances, but Serbia continued to hold firm.

Tošić waited until the last moment to attempt his tackle, choosing to hold his challenge until Stojković rushed at Shaqiri. The diminutive Swiss dynamo would have won a penalty had he been fouled. Instead, sandwiched by two defenders, he just threaded it between them. Tošić lay on the ground after his last-gasp challenge. Stojković was on the deck after attempting in vain to make a save. Shaqiri was still on his feet as the ball rolled into the back of the net, and he wheeled away in celebration. He received a yellow card for removing his shirt during the celebration, but he didn’t care. Switzerland had won.

Kaliningrad – Kaliningrad Stadium
Serbia 1 (Mitrović 5)
Switzerland 2 (Xhaka 52, Shaqiri 90)
Referee: Felix Brych (Ger)
Serbia (4-2-3-1): Stojković – Ivanović, Milenković, Tošić, Kolarov; Matić, Milivojević (Radonjić 81); Tadić, Milinković-Savić, Kostić (Ljajić 64); Mitrović.
Switzerland (4-2-3-1): Sommer – Lichtsteiner, Schär, Akanji, Rodríguez; Behrami, Xhaka; Shaqiri, Džemaili (Embolo 73), Zuber (Drmić 90+4); Seferović (Gavranović 46).

Top 5
1. Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland)
Shaqiri’s dominant second half display got Switzerland over the line, and his late winner was a fair reward for a brilliant individual performance. He was quick and skilled, and he seemed to be able to find space in almost any situation. He was always a threat, especially when wheeling around to shoot with his lethal left boot.
2. Aleksandar Mitrović (Serbia)
Mitrović managed to find the back of the net in the first five minutes, and it helped his confidence for the rest of the game. He was constantly challenging the Swiss defenders in the air, and he was unlucky not to grab another goal with his excellent aerial presence and good positioning.
3. Dušan Tadić (Serbia)
Tadić was in very good touch in the first half, collecting the ball on the right wing and using his excellent skills to put Switzerland under the pump. His cross allowed Mitrović to head in Serbia’s only goal, and his delivery from both set pieces and open play created plenty of chances.
4. Granit Xhaka (Switzerland)
Xhaka turned the game in Switzerland’s favour with one brilliant first-time shot, showing both his incredible skills and his ability to change the game in the space of seconds. He had a hand in the second goal as well, and his composure in possession helped Switzerland to build their attacks.
5. Yann Sommer (Switzerland)
Sommer started the game with a tremendous reflex save, and although he conceded moments later he kept that good form up for the rest of the match. His judgement and composure when dealing with dangerous balls into the box was impeccable, as was his distribution from the back.

Kolarov the difference as Serbia grind out victory

Serbian captain Aleksandar Kolarov stood over the free-kick with a stern look on his face. His side had dominated possession and territory for most of their game against Costa Rica, but they hadn’t turned that advantage into goals. Now, thanks to David Guzmán’s crude challenge on the edge of the area, Serbia’s dead-ball specialist had a chance to change that. From the moment it left his foot the free-kick was destined for the top corner. It was driven with enough height to beat the wall and enough dip to ensure it was on target, and it curved devilishly to evade the desperate dive of Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas. It slipped just inside the right goalpost, ensuring the perfect result came from a perfect strike. When the final whistle sounded, Kolarov’s stunning free-kick was all that separated the sides.

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Aleksandar Kolarov’s free kick flies past Keylor Navas into the Costa Rican goal. Kolarov’s goal was the difference between the sides at the end of the match.

Both sides had nervous moments early on in the match, but the game soon settled into a clear pattern of Serbian control. Less than 30 seconds had elapsed when Serbia won their first corner, with a speculative long ball from Branislav Ivanović very sloppily handled by the Costa Rican defence. At the other end, Vladimir Stojković was called into action early, first to intercept a dangerous run from Marco Ureña and then to save a Giancarlo González header which could have, had it not been directed straight at the turtle-neck sporting Serbian keeper, been much worse. Another chance came when Guzmán’s cross found González in an even better position, but Serbia escaped as the experienced centre-back put the second chance over the bar. Then the Serbians began to find their feet, and Costa Rica’s threat on the break began to fall away.

For the rest of the first half Serbia were content to retain possession while Los Ticos happily sat back and allowed their solid five-man defence to absorb the pressure. There were chances, most involving young star Sergej Milinković-Savić. He showed the skill and strength on the ball that led Serbia to sack Slavoljub Muslin when he wasn’t getting a game with the national team, and a bicycle kick (alas from an offside position) showed his athleticism. Neither side had troubled the scorers by the end of the first half, as Serbia’s attack was too slow and Costa Rica’s defence too comfortable sitting back for anything to happen.

There was a noticeable change in tempo as the second half commenced. Aleksandar Mitrović, after a quiet first half, had a one-on-one chance against Keylor Navas within a couple of minutes of resumption. The Serbians were probing more aggressively, and for the first time they looked capable of penetrating Costa Rica’s defensive wall. The goal came shortly afterwards, and Serbia seemed to be in complete control. Nothing Costa Rica did from that point on suggested their lead was ever under threat. Navas was called upon to make some more excellent saves, with a slight touch on a dangerous ball across the six-yard box preventing Filip Kostić from bundling it home from close range. Serbia still looked the more likely team to score, even as Costa Rica sought to defend higher up the ground.

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Officials attempt to break up a melee sparked by Nemanja Matić’s rough treatment of a Costa Rican assistant. The melee was one of a few late incidents sparked by odd Serbian actions.

Then, with 20 minutes to go, the Serbians stopped pushing, sitting back in defence and copying Los Ticos’ earlier strategy. It worked as Costa Rica didn’t have enough urgency, let alone quality, to break through the determined defensive wall. Their ball movement was comatose, and despite the need to push for an equaliser Óscar Ramírez didn’t sacrifice one of his defenders in pursuit of a goal. By the end of the 90 minutes, Costa Rica were playing as if they were drawing a meaningless late-season game. Serbia, on the other hand, were all business. Nemanja Matić got into a fight with the Costa Rican technical staff in his attempts to delay Costa Rica’s attacking play, and substitute Aleksandar Prijović nearly got himself sent off when he hit Johnny Acosta in the face chasing after an uncontested ball. Then, after a seemingly interminable second half, it was over. It wasn’t pretty, but it was what Serbia needed to kick off their campaign. For Costa Rica, their surrender in the latter moments doesn’t bode well for tougher assignments to come against Brazil and Switzerland, and their inability to score could put an early stopper on their hopes of progression.

Samara – Cosmos Arena
Costa Rica 0
Serbia 1 (Kolarov 56)
Referee: Malang Diedhiou (Sen)
Costa Rica (5-4-1): Navas – Gamboa, Acosta, González, Duarte, Calvo; Ruiz, Borges, Guzmán (Colindres 73), Venegas (Bolaños 60); Ureña (Campbell 66).
Serbia (4-2-3-1): Stojković – Ivanović, Milenković, Tošić, Kolarov; Matić, Milivojević; Tadić (Rukavina 82), Milinković-Savić, Ljajić (Kostić 70); Mitrović (Prijović 90).

Top 5
1. Sergej Milinković-Savić (Serbia)
Milinković-Savić started slightly slowly, but he improved as the game went on and created plenty of chances for himself and others. His imposing physique and excellent skills allowed him to shield the ball well and his vision allowed him to find teammates in dangerous positions, making him an all-around attacking threat. On another day, he could have easily found the back of the net.
2. Aleksandar Kolarov (Serbia)
Kolarov deserves credit for breaking the deadlock with an unstoppable free-kick, and his goal put the cherry on top of a quality performance. His defensive work at left-back was always solid, and his work on the overlap allowed him to contribute to the attack with dangerous balls drilled into the penalty box.
3. Keylor Navas (Costa Rica)
Navas made plenty of brilliant saves throughout, and was part of the reason Costa Rica hung on to a clean sheet for so long. He denied Mitrović one-on-one shortly after the break, and did well to prevent two dangerous chances for Milinković-Savić (even if both came from an offside position). His inability to save Kolarov’s stunner should not detract from his strong performance.
4. Dušan Tadić (Serbia)
Tadić was in good form on the right wing, showing his skills and putting plenty of pressure on the Costa Rican defence. He put in good crosses and made life difficult for his opponents, and his combinations with Milinković-Savić and Ivanović provided Serbia with a series of good opportunities.
5. Marco Ureña (Costa Rica)
Ureña was Costa Rica’s most dynamic attacker, and his substitution in the 66th minute deprived them of some of the spark they had early in the game. He made plenty of incisive runs and worked well with Bryan Ruiz, and his hard work both pressing and chasing up long balls kept the Serbian defenders honest.

2016-17 Premier League Preview – The Europa League Challengers

As the Premier League gets closer, I am continuing my look at the teams in the English top flight by assessing the teams who will be looking for spots in European competitions come the end of the season. Enjoy.

Everton

Manager: Ronald Koeman
Captain: Phil Jagielka
Ground: Goodison Park
Last Season: 11th
Top Scorer: Romelu Lukaku (18)
Most Assists: Ross Barkley, Gerard Deulofeu (8)
Prediction: 11th

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Joel Robles, 22. Maarten Stekelenburg.
Defenders: 3. Leighton Baines, 5. John Stones, 6. Phil Jagielka, 8. Bryan Oviedo, 23. Seamus Coleman, 25. Ramiro Funes Mori, 26. Matthew Pennington, 27. Tyias Browning, 29. Luke Garbutt, 30. Mason Holgate, 32. Brendan Galloway.
Midfielders: 4. Darron Gibson, 7. Aiden McGeady, 11. Kevin Mirallas, 12. Aaron Lennon, 15. Tom Cleverley, 16. James McCarthy, 18. Gareth Barry, 19. Gerard Deulofeu, 20. Ross Barkley, 21. Muhamed Besic, 31. Kieran Dowell, 34. Tom Davies.
Forwards: 9. Arouna Kone, 10. Romelu Lukaku, 14. Oumar Niasse, 24. Shani Tarashaj, 35. Conor McAleny.

Everton were disappointing last season, with Roberto Martinez making way after a run of bad results left them in the bottom half of the table. Ronald Koeman has moved from Southampton to manage the team, and the former Dutch international has already added Maarten Stekelenburg to replace the departed Tim Howard in goal. The new boss is yet to sign an outfield player, but Everton still have quality all over the park. Romelu Lukaku (pictured) is one of the best strikers in the Premier League, and Ross Barkley will ensure that he gets excellent supply. John Stones and Phil Jaigielka form an excellent combination in the centre of defence, and they are well backed-up by Ramiro Funes Mori. Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines are both fullbacks who provide plenty of attacking support, and they will cause big problems for opposition defences.

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Everton have some excellent players, but they are very dependent on Lukaku for goals. The Belgian striker scored nearly a third of the team’s goals last campaign, with no other player scoring more than eight. Chelsea are very interested in bringing him back to Stamford Bridge, and this could leave Everton with a massive hole and not much time to fill it. Even if he stays the 23 year-old will be under immense pressure to perform, as will 22 year-old playmaker Barkley. Both players are still very young, and the burden of holding up Everton’s attack could prove too much for them. Everton were very disappointing last season, but Koeman has not made any moves to improve the squad. He will need to make some changes fast, or Everton could slip back to the same lows as last season. Overall, the Toffees are a fairly strong side and could challenge for the Europa League under the right guidance, but there are some issues which need to be resolved before this can happen.

Star Player: Romelu Lukaku

Lukaku led the Belgian Pro League for scoring at just 17, and he has only improved since then. He was signed by Everton in 2014 after a successful loan spell yielded 15 goals, and he has become the focal point of their attack. He managed 18 goals last season despite the side’s poor performance, and he could take them very far if he is on his game.

Key Player: Ross Barkley

Barkley has developed into one of the best playmakers in the Premier League, and he has drawn comparisons with Michel Ballack and Paul Gascoigne due to his pace and technical ability. He is Everton’s main creator, and he will be relied upon to provide plenty of chances for Lukaku. If he fails to fire then it will be very difficult for Everton to score, and they will struggle as a result.

One to watch: Gerard Deulofeu

Deulofeu is a product of the Barcelona academy, and he was sold by the Catalan giants after an unsuccessful loan spell at Sevilla. He is not a prolific scorer, but he is a dangerous presence on the wing and can ease some of the pressure on Barkley with his ability to create chances. He has enormous potential, and he should benefit from increased first-team action this season.

Likely team (4-2-3-1): Stekelenburg – Coleman, Stones, Jagielka, Baines; McCarthy, Barry; Lennon, Barkley, Deulofeu; Lukaku.

Liverpool

Manager: Jurgen Klopp
Captain: Jordan Henderson
Ground: Anfield
Last Season: 8th
Top Scorer: Roberto Firmino (10)
Most Assists: James Milner (11)
Prediction: 7th

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Loris Karius, 13. Alex Manninger, 22. Simon Mignolet.
Defenders: 2. Nathaniel Clyne, 3. Mamadou Sakho, 6. Dejan Lovren, 12. Joe Gomez, 17. Ragnar Klavan, 18. Alberto Moreno, 26. Tiago Ilori, 32. Joel Matip, 38. Jon Flanagan, 47. Andre Wisdom, 56. Connor Randall.
Midfielders: 5. Georginio Wijnaldum, 7. James Milner, 10. Philippe Coutinho, 14. Jordan Henderson, 16. Marko Grujic, 20. Adam Lallana, 21. Lucas Leiva, 23. Emre Can, 25. Cameron Brannagan, 35. Kevin Stewart, 50. Lazar Markovic, 54. Sheyi Ojo, 68. Pedro Chirivella, Luis Alberto, Allan.
Forwards: 9. Christian Benteke, 11. Roberto Firmino, 15. Daniel Sturridge, 19. Sadio Mane, 27. Divock Origi, 28. Danny Ings, 45. Mario Balotelli, Taiwo Awoniyi.

Liverpool have been very active over the off-season, bringing in Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum to bolster the attack and adding Ragnar Klavan, Joel Matip and Loris Karius in an effort to improve the defence. Jurgen Klopp has no shortage of options all over the park, and he will be aided by the versatility of Mane, Philippe Coutinho (pictured) and Roberto Firmino. Wijnaldum is likely to drop deeper than he did at Newcastle, and the Dutchman will form an excellent combination with Emre Can and Jordan Henderson in the centre of the park. Karius should replace Simon Mignolet in goal after showing excellent form at Mainz, and Matip and Klavan look set to form a solid combination in the heart of the defence. Daniel Sturridge, Christian Benteke, Divock Origi and Danny Ings are all quality players who will be pushing for a start in attack, and there is sure to be plenty of competition for spots throughout the season.

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Klopp has been very smart in the transfer market, but the same cannot be said of his predecessors and he has inherited a squad with too many expensive flops. There has been a lack of continuity over past seasons, with the large number of strikers signed from other clubs in the last couple of years often taking time on the pitch away from each other. As it stands, none of them are playing well enough to command a place in the first team, and Klopp may decide to use Coutinho up front instead. There is a general lack of depth on either side of the defence, and while Nathaniel Clyne is a top level right back the same cannot be said of left back Alberto Moreno. Moreno is currently in the first team by virtue of being the only option, and if no other left back is added then Liverpool could experience some serious issues. Liverpool are likely to contend for a spot in European competitions, but they are not good enough to contend for the title.

Star Player: Philippe Coutinho

Coutinho’s career has taken off since joining Liverpool from Internazionale in 2013, and the Brazilian has firmly established himself as one of the Premier League’s most dangerous playmakers. He is skilled and pacey, and he is sure to provide plenty of problems for defenders over the course of the season.

Key Player: Jordan Henderson

Henderson has progressed quickly, and at 26 he is already coming into his second season as Liverpool captain. He will be a constant presence for the Reds this season, and they will need him to be in top form throughout. He will function as the side’s main link between defence and attack, and he will need to move well through the middle of the park.

One to watch: Loris Karius

Karius was one of the best goalkeepers in the Bundesliga last season, keeping nine clean sheets and saving two penalties. He has been brought in from Mainz to replace Mignolet, and the former Manchester City reject now has a chance to perform on the big stage. He is an excellent player, and has the potential to serve Liverpool well for a long time.

Likely team (4-3-3): Karius – Clyne, Matip, Klavan, Moreno; Can, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Mane, Coutinho, Firmino.

Southampton

Manager: Claude Puel
Captain: Jose Fonte
Ground: St Mary’s Stadium
Last Season: 6th
Top Scorer: Sadio Mane, Graziano Pelle (11)
Most Assists: Dusan Tadic (12)
Prediction: 8th

Squad

Goalkeepers: 44. Fraser Forster.
Defenders: 2. Cedric Soares, 3. Maya Yoshida, 5. Florin Gardos, 6. Jose Fonte, 15. Cuco Martina, 17. Virgil van Dijk, 21. Ryan Bertrand, 33. Matt Targett.
Midfielders: 4. Jordy Clasie, 8. Steven Davis, 11. Dusan Tadic, 14. Oriol Romeu, 16. James Ward-Prowse, 18. Harrison Reed, 27. Lloyd Isgrove, Nathan Redmond, Pierre-Emile Hojberg.
Forwards: 7. Shane Long, 9. Jay Rodriguez, 28. Charlie Austin.

Southampton have turned plenty of heads since they won promotion to the Premier League in 2012, and in 2015-16 they recorded their best finish since their return to the top flight. Ronald Koeman has departed for Everton after two successful seasons as manager, and the Saints have recruited Claude Puel from Nice as his replacement. Puel has inherited an excellent side, and new signings Nathan Redmond and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg will provide a massive boost to a midfield containing Steven Davis, James Ward-Prowse, Jordy Clasie and Dusan Tadic (pictured). Fraser Forster is a solid presence in goal, and he will receive excellent support from the defence of Jose Fonte, Cedric Soares, Ryan Bertrand and Virgil van Dijk. Shane Long is an excellent option up front, and Charlie Austin and Jay Rodriguez are likely to see more first team action this season after the departures of Graziano Pelle and Sadio Mane.

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Southampton have long relied on the transfer strategy of selling off their best players for a massive profit, and while it has not adversely affected the side in the past the losses of Pelle and Mane will make things very difficult. Redmond can fill Mane’s spot on the right wing, but he will not necessarily be able to provide the same level of performance as the Senegalese star. Long will lead the attack in Pelle’s absence, but it is unclear who will partner him up front. Rodriguez has only played eight times in the last two seasons, and Austin was unable to take his performances with him when he moved to the Saints from QPR. Southampton have lost a key midfield player in Victor Wanyama, and the Kenyan will be difficult to replace. These issues will make life difficult for Southampton, but Puel has had plenty of success before and can take them a long way.

Star Player: Dusan Tadic

Tadic is very fast and incredibly skilful, and the Serbian winger will be relied upon to provide consistent delivery for the strikers. He was not able to find that consistency under Koeman, but his talent is undeniable and he is sure to bounce back under a new manager. He has become one of Southampton’s most important players, and he will need to use all of his skill if they are to succeed.

Key Player: Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg

Wanyama’s departure has left a big void in the Southampton midfield, and new signing Hojbjerg will be expected to fill it. He has plenty of potential, and after successful loan spells with Augsburg and Schalke he has moved to the Premier League from Bayern Munich. He may take some time to adjust to his new surroundings, but he is an excellent player and Southampton will need him to step up.

One to watch: James Ward-Prowse

Ward-Prowse is a product of Southampton’s brilliant academy system, and he is sure to feature heavily for the Saints this season. He already has plenty of first team experience with the Saints, and he is likely to provide plenty of opportunities for the forwards with his pace and skill. He is still developing, and has the potential to become one of the best players in the Premier League.

Likely team (4-2-3-1): Forster – Cedric, van Dijk, Fonte, Bertrand; Hojbjerg, Clasie; Redmond, Ward-Prowse, Tadic; Long.

West Ham United

Manager: Slaven Bilic
Captain: Mark Noble
Ground: Boleyn Ground
Last Season: 7th
Top Scorer: Andy Carroll, Dimitri Payet (9)
Most Assists: Dimitri Payet (12)
Prediction: 10th

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Darren Randolph, 13. Adrian, 34. Raphael Spiegel.
Defenders: 2. Winston Reid, 3. Aaron Cresswell, 19. James Collins, 21. Angelo Ogbonna, 22. Sam Byram, 25. Doneil Henry, 32. Reece Burke, 37. Lewis Page.
Midfielders: 4. Havard Nordtveit, 7. Sofiane Feghouli, 8. Cheikhou Kouyate, 14. Pedro Obiang, 16. Mark Noble, 17. Gokhan Tore, 23. Diego Poyet, 27. Dimitri Payet, 28. Manuel Lanzini, 30. Michail Antonio, 35. Reece Oxford, 39. Josh Cullen, 42. Martin Samuelson.
Forwards: 9. Andy Carroll, 11. Enner Valencia, 15. Diafra Sakho, 24. Ashley Fletcher.

Slaven Bilic’s first season at West Ham United was a massive success, with the Croatian manager taking them within striking distance of the Champions League. They have not been particularly active in the transfer market, but they have not lost many players either and they are in strong form heading into the season. Dimitri Payet (pictured) starred at Euro 2016, and the versatile French international will be looking to continue his incredible form throughout this campaign. He will provide excellent service to the likes of Andy Carroll, Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia, and he will be well backed up by Michail Antonio and Sofiane Feghouli. Angelo Ogbonna and Winston Reid will anchor a solid defence and provide plenty of support for Adrian in goal. Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate are steadying presences in midfield, and the former will be looking to build on the excellent form he showed last season.

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West Ham are a fairly solid side, but there are some problems which they have to deal with. Carroll, Valencia and Sakho are all decent options, but Bilic is still in need of a top-quality striker. Further issues exist down back, where the squad is lacking defensive depth. Central defender James Collins is currently the Hammers’ best option at right back after the end of Carl Jenkinson’s loan spell, and there is no real cover for Reid and Ogbonna should either player suffer an injury. There is a general lack of depth which exists throughout the squad, and West Ham may struggle as a result. They are a strong side and could go a long way this season, but they are not good enough to keep up with the big clubs and are unlikely to perform as well as they did last campaign.

Star Player: Dimitri Payet

Payet was brilliant in the Premier League last season, and the versatile French midfielder backed it up with his performances at Euro 2016. He starred as France made it to the final of their home tournament, and this season he will be looking to cause plenty of problems for defenders with his pace, skill and ability to put the ball into dangerous positions. He is a class act, and can take West Ham to the next level.

Key Player: Angelo Ogbonna

Ogbonna was a strong presence at the back for West Ham last season, and he will be needed more than ever this time around. He will marshal the defence, and he will need to stay on the park given the lack of depth that exists down back. The defence is seriously undermanned, and he will need to step up if the Hammers are to perform as well as they did last campaign.

One to watch: Reece Oxford

Oxford became the second youngest player to start in a Premier League game last season when he took the field in West Ham’s opening match against Arsenal. He is still only 17, and he is sure to get more of a chance this campaign. He has shown glimpses of his ability to perform at the highest level, and he could be the future of English football.

Likely team (4-2-3-1): Adrian – Collins, Reid, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Kouyate, Noble; Feghouli, Payet, Antonio; Carroll.