What squad should Quique Sanchez Flores pick for the FA Cup Semi Final?

After all but securing their Premier League place for next season at the weekend, Watford rested seven players for their final trip to the Boleyn Ground last night. A game which saw West Ham leave with a 3-1 victory as they keep up their hopes of securing a European Spot.

Watford Head Coach Quique Sanchez Flores said beforehand that he would be making a number of changes. This number was seven with Juan Carlos Paredes, Craig Cathcart, Jose Holebas, Mario Suarez, Valon Behrami, Almen Abdi and Nordin Amrabat coming into the side.

This was to give key players such as Ben Watson,Odion Ighalo, Étienne Capoue, Miguel Britos and Troy Deeney a rest, even though Deeney came on with 15 minutes remaining.

The resting of these players could be a key factor this weekend as the Hornets head to Wembley hoping to avenged their 2012 Play Off Final defeat to Crystal Palace, as they face the South London side in the FA Cup Semi Finals.

One position that is causing a lot of debate between the supporters is that of who should start the game in goal. All throughout the FA Cup, January Transfer Window signing from Sunderland, Costel Pantilimon, has started. However, over the weekend number one goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes saved two Saido Berahino penalties which has left some supporters feeling that the Brazilian deserves to start in goal.

Whoever gets the nod has the experience to lead Watford to victory as both have shown to be extremely good goalkeepers this season, with the highlight for Pantilimon being the Quarter Final win at Arsenal.

In the back four, the favourites to start will be Allan Nyom, Craig Cathcart, Miguel Britos and Nathan Ake. However, there could be calls for Sebastian Prodl to start after he scored an impressive goal against West Ham in the week, but most feel that the back four that have played the majority of the season deserve their starting place.

With Watford likely to stick to their 4321 formation, the three central midfielders will be key in the game. It is almost certain that two of the three places will be taken up by French midfielder Étienne Capoue and Englishman Ben Watson, a player who scored the winning goal in the 2013 FA Cup Final where Wigan beat Manchester City 1-0.

The other midfield position could go to one of three men. The first candidate is Algerian International Adlène Guedioura. The summer arrival from Palace scored the winning goal in the Quarter Final against Arsenal with a rocket of a shot. He has also been involved in league games in recent weeks and grabbed an assist on Watson’s game winner away to West Brom at the weekend.

Another summer arrival who has a chance at taking the place is former West Ham player Valon Behrami. The Swiss international has bags of experience but has been in and out of the side all season leaving his place in doubt.

The final option is former Atletico Madrid midfielder Mario Suarez. After arriving from Fiorentina in January, Suarez has struggled to make an impact on the side. He has the potential to be one of, if not the best midfielder in the Watford side, but he hasn’t adapted to the English game as of yet.

One of the two places behind the main striker will be taken by captain, and Watford legend Troy Deeney. The Englishman has already hit nine goals so far this season and is one of the few players that remain from the side that lost to Palace in 2012.

The other position could have been filled by ex-Malaga forward Nordin Amrabat. However the Moroccan international received two yellow cards in the midweek game so is suspended for the Semi Final.

The front runner to take this place in the side is another ex Atletico Madrid player in Jose Manuel Jurdao. The Spaniard has been involved in the side all season long after his summer arrival, and also played under Flores in Madrid so is a likely starter.

One player who might be a threat to Jurado for this position is Swiss midfielder Almen Abdi. He has struggled this season to break into the side, but on his day he has the potential to be a game changer, as he showed in his time with Watford in the Championship.

There is only really one option for Watford in the main striker role, but what an option it is in Nigerian International Odion Ighalo. The former Udinese man has 14 goals so far this season and was even rumoured with a move to Manchester United in the January Transfer Window.

Despite going off the boil since the turn of the year, Ighalo still has the skill to change a game on its head as he has shown multiple times this season and he is certain to start on Sunday.

Overall Watford have a good chance of making only their second FA Cup Final in their history on Sunday when they face Crystal Palace and will be hoping they can look forward to another trip to Wembley in May.

 

My Watford line up v Crystal Palace:

 

Pantilimon

Nyom        Cathcart            Britos           Ake

Capoue       Watson         Guedioura

Deeney           Jurado

Ighalo

Bench: Gomes, Prodl, Holebas, Suarez, Behrami, Abdi, Berghuis

What are England’s options up front at the 2016 Euros?

With the European Championships starting in the next few months, many people are questioning which strikers should be picked for the England national side. Should they stick with the tried and tested Wayne Rooney, or should new blood like Jamie Vardy be given a chance?

England make the short trip across the French Channel this summer to head to the Euros where they will be taking on Russia, Wales and Slovakia in the group stages. Having qualified with an unbeaten record, many feel this could be the first time in over 50 years that England could leave as the eventual winners of the competition.

The first striker likely to be named is the squad is the England record goal scorer, Wayne Rooney. Despite having an injury hit season, one in which he has only scored seven league goals, he is still going to be England’s main striker at the tournament.

Another striker who has had an injury hit season is Danny Welbeck. The Arsenal striker missed most of the season with a thigh injury. Despite missing all of this time, the former Manchester United player has hit the back of the net four times.

He was involved in the most recent England squad for friendlies against Germany and the Netherlands so this is an indicator that Welbeck has a good chance of claiming a place in the squad for the European Championships.

One striker that has almost certainly secured a spot in the squad is Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy. The Foxes striker has been one of the players of the season for the table topping side, scoring 22 goals so far this season.

He has been involved in the England set up for most of the season, and even scored in the 3-2 victory away at Germany last month. Many people feel that due to his impressive form this season for both club and country, he deserves to be in the starting line-up when England kick off their Euro 2016 campaign.

Harry Kane is currently the top goal scorer in the Premier League with 24 goals. He has been in extremely good form over the past 18 months for Tottenham Hotspur that has led to him becoming a main star for the national team.

He was also on the score sheet in the game against Germany, starting the comeback as England found themselves 2-0. Many people feel that if England are to keep their 442 formation that Kane should be starting upfront with Vardy. However, it is more likely that one of the pair will be on the bench with Rooney likely to be handed a starting berth.

Another player who has an outside chance of making the squad is West Ham United’s Andy Carroll. The former Liverpool striker has recently returned from injury and hit a hat trick against Arsenal which has many people thinking that he could give Roy Hodgson’s side another option going forward.

Daniel Sturridge is another striker who has struggled with injuries this season. He however is another potential option for England. In 17 international caps he has a return of five goals and if he can end the season well with Liverpool, which could include a Europa League win, he has an outside chance of making it into the international fold.

A striker who has made his debut in the Premier League this season and some feel could make the step up to international level is Watford striker Troy Deeney. The Hornets striker has had an impressive debut season with 10 goals and eight assists, most of which have come for his strike partner Odion Ighalo.

He could be perfect playing just behind the main striker, a position he has showed that he can play this season despite the fact that before he had been the main target man. There is the perception that Deeney is just a big lump who can’t play football, but he has proven with his performances this season that he is an all-round player.

England have a variety of options in the attacking department and these should be enough to see them through to the knockout stages of the tournament. From then on it will be a question of how well they can play as a team and see if they can reach the semi-finals of an international tournament for the first time since 1990.

 

How have Leicester City become title challengers

Leicester City currently sit at the top of the Barclays Premier League with a five point advantage over nearest rivals Tottenham Hotspur. But how impressive has their run to get into this position been, and is this because the top clubs failed to improve their squads during the summer transfer window?

There is no denying that the Foxes have proved everyone wrong this season. They were 5000/1 to win the Premier League at the start of the season, and were up there as relegation favourites with the three newly promoted sides in Watford, Norwich and Bournemouth.

This was not a surprise though. Leicester made a remarkable comeback last season when they looked doomed for relegation. They went into April with only four league wins all season, but went on a run that included six wins in their last eight games to secure safety.

Over the summer months they decided to part ways with Nigel Pearson and brought in the man known as the tinker man, Claudio Ranieri. The former Chelsea and Inter Milan manager made a number of shrewd signing. This included bringing in N’Golo Kanté from Caen, Shinji Okazaki from 1. FSV Mainz 05 and Christian Fuchs arrived via Schalke 04.

Kanté has been a revelation for City this season in the middle of the park, proving to be one of the signings of the summer. He is in the running for the PFA Player of the Season alongside teammates Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez.

Both Mahrez and Vardy have been in great form this season and have been the main attacking threat the Foxes have carried all season. Mahrez has 17 goals this season and Vardy is currently the league’s second top goal scorer with 22.

Despite all of this, you have to question how are a team of the size of Leicester City five points clear at the top of the Premier League, one of if not the best league in the world. Working hard as a team can get you so far but surely it’s not enough to get you to being the top team in England.

For example, Leicester have already qualified for next seasons Champions League. This means they could come up against teams such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, PSG, Juventus, AS Roma and Bayern Munich. This is not something that any Leicester fan would have expected to happen.

You have to wonder why teams like Manchester City, last season’s champions Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United are not occupying the top four spots in the League. Even a side like Tottenham Hotspur will be disappointed to be sitting behind Leicester, a team who have only been back in the Premier League for two seasons.

Manchester City’s league campaign seems to have derailed following the announcement that Pep Guardiola will be replacing Manuel Pellegrini as the Citizens boss next season. This along with their successful run in the Champions League, where they are set to face Spanish side Real Madrid in the Semi-Finals, means they have put their league form to one side.

The form of Chelsea this season is something nobody can explain. Heading into the season as reigning champions, many people had them down as their favourites for the title. However things have not gone to plan. Jose Mourinho was sacked in December with the side down near the relegation zone. Gus Hiddink took over and has guided them back into the top half of the table but this is still not enough to secure European football for next season.

Arsene Wenger will be extremely disappointed that his side have not been able to capitalize on the gap that has opened up this season with many of the other top sides performing poorly. This along with their defeat in the FA Cup Quarter Finals to Watford, their first defeat in the competition for two seasons, could possibly put his job in jeopardy this upcoming summer.

Louis Van Gaal has also had a disappointing season in his second full year as the Manchester United manager. The Dutchman is currently in a battle to get into the top four to secure his side Champions League football. This is looking like a tough ask as they currently sit four points back from Arsenal who sit in fourth.

All of these teams having off seasons combined with Leicester’s upturn in fortune has seen the Foxes rise to the summit in the Premier League. This is down to their hard working performances this season but partly is down to other teams who were expected to challenge at the start of the season coming up short.

Taking nothing away from Leicester’s achievements, they have had a fantastic season. The real challenge will come for them next season when they have multiple games a week with their participation in the Champions League. This along with the expected interest in their players during the summer months will be the making of the side going forward.

Does Heurelho Gomes deserve an international recall?

Brazil has an international squad filled with talent, but one position they have struggled to fill in recent years is that of the goalkeeper.

In the current squad there is Diego Alves who is the goalie for Valencia, Alisson who plays for Internacional and Marcelo Grohe the Grêmio player.

One man who isn’t in this list, and hasn’t been in the Brazil fold for a number of years is Watford goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes. The 35 year old has received 11 Brazilian caps from 2003-2010 but hasn’t been involved for six years.

He has shown in the past two seasons that he is a very capable goalie at the highest level. Only this past weekend he saved two penalties from West Brom striker Sadio Berahino which helped his side claim a vital 1-0 victory away from home. A win that all but secures his sides Premier League survival.

Since joining Watford in the summer of 2014, Gomes has been ever present in the side, only missing out a handful of games due to injury and being rested for the cup games.

Many people have the perception that Gomes is a goalkeeper that can’t be trusted and makes a lot of mistakes. So far this season the Brazilian has played 34 games and only on one occasion has he let his side down in a 2-1 defeat away to Leicester.

In fact, in the season in which the Hornets were promoted from the Championship he didn’t let his side down at all. He is the front runner for the Watford player of the season award, which is an impressive feat considering the success that Odion Ighalo has had this season.

Many people may think because he is 35 that he will miss a lot of games due to injury. However he has not missed a single league game this season, showing that he is reliable over the course of a long campaign.

Gomes probably only has a few years left in his career and I think that he deserves to play at one more major international tournament before he ends up hanging up his gloves.

He has been a great servant to all of the clubs he has played for and also when he has been called up internationally. They do say that goalkeepers get better with age and Gomes has certainly been proving this with his form in the past two seasons and he deserves to be recalled into the Brazil squad due to this form.

Are the San Jose Sharks Stanley Cup Contenders?

The San Jose Sharks currently hold a 2-0 series lead over the LA Kings heading back to the Shark Tank. This is a familiar situation for the northern Californian team though, after they blew a 3-0 series lead against the Kings in the 2014 NHL Play Offs.

However, this is a vastly different side, and could be a side that turn out to be a shock contender for the Stanley Cup.

Starting at the back in goal, the Sharks have two very capable starting netminders. Martin Jones arrived in San Jose from Boston, just days after the Bruins had received him in a trade that involved Milan Lucic going to LA. One of the reasons Jones ended up in Boston was that the Kings did not want him going to a fellow Pacific Division rival.

However the Sharks saw this as an opportunity to find their new starter after Antti Niemi departed for Dallas, and they quickly made the trade that saw a first round pick in 2016 and prospect Sean Kuraly heading the other way.

For most of the season, the Sharks had American goalie Alex Stalock as their backup. However just before the trade deadline closed they made a number of trades with the Toronto Maple Leafs that included Stalock heading to the Canadian side and James Reimer moving in the opposite direction.

This move gives the Sharks very good depth in the goaltending position, with the only problem being after this season Reimer is an unrestricted free agent and is likely to move on to become a starting goalie at another NHL side.

On the back end the Sharks also have a very capable defensive core. This starts with the reliable Marc-Édouard Vlasic. The 2005 draft pick has been with the Sharks organisation for over 10 years and has been one of the best defensive defensemen in the league in the past few years.

Alongside Vlasic is the Defenseman that holds the record for the number of goals in a single season on the back end for the Sharks, and that is Brent Burns.

A candidate for the Norris trophy this year, Burns ended the season with 27 goals and 48 assists in 82 games. He is a key part of the Sharks successful powerplay, providing a great shot from the point.

Other defensemen like Justin Braun, Roman Polak, Brendan Dillion and Paul Martin provide good coverage in front of goalie Jones that has led the Sharks to a return to the NHL Play Offs.

The forwards are led by the top line of Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl. Captain Pavelski can play either on the right wing or centre depending on his linemates and had almost a point a game as he ended the regular season with 38 goals and 40 assists. The Big Pavelski has already shown he has the touch for scoring in the Play Offs with three goals in the opening two games in the series against the Kings.

Joe Thornton, also known as Jumbo, has been key in getting the Sharks back into the Play Off picture. After losing the captaincy last season, Jumbo has got back to his best with stats of a point a game after he posted 19 goals and 63 assists in the 82 game season.

The second line has also provided a lot of scoring with Assistant Captain Logan Couture coming back from a fractured right fibula at the start of the season and ending up with a respectable 36 points in 52 games.

He has worked well alongside summer signing Joel Ward and Joonas Donskoi providing the Sharks with a good second offensive line.

Down on the third line is Sharks Veteran Patrick Marleau. He has shown that he can play at either left wing or centre. Melker Karlsson and Matt Nieto are on either side of Marleau showing that they have a player that could be playing on the top line on the third line providing great depth to their forward unit.

Despite being down deep in the roster, Marleau has come up with 25 goals and 23 assists in the regular season, showing that he still knows how to find the back of the net when it matters.

The fourth line that Coach Peter Debour has put together has long time Shark, Tommy Wingles, former Maple Leaf Nick Spalling and 2012 Sharks draft pick Chris Tierney. This is a fourth line that has moved on from being a line full of fighters, but still has the grittiness of Wingles showing that they are a force to be reckoned with.

With these four lines with depth, alongside the solid defensive unit and strength in goal, I can see the Sharks making a run all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. However being in the very tough Western Conference it will be no pushover, as the first round is showing where they are facing former Stanley Cup Champions in the Los Angeles Kings.

If the Sharks can improve their disappointing home form from the regular season and stay out of the penalty box and get their powerplay going then they have as good a chance as any to make a run late into the post season.