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We begin our 2016-17 Premier League season at Bournemouth on Sunday with more optimism among fans than at any point over the past three seasons since Sir Alex’s retirement.
The arrival of José Mourinho, Zlatan Ibrahimovi?, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and imminent transfer of Paul Pogba has certainly got many fans excited.
Mourinho has already played down our chances of the title after finishing 5th last season and work to do strengthening the deference and getting goals out of the attackers. The smart manager playing his mind games already!
Here’s a look at how far we can go this season:
Here's a look at Middlesbrough's 2016-17 season. Aitor Karanka has masterminded Boro's return to the big time after seven seasons in the Football League, but now he must keep them there.
All eyes will be on a rejuvenated Middlesbrough team who make their return to the Premier League looking much more primed for action than promoted counterparts Burnley and Hull.
The smile still hadn’t left Chris Coleman’s face two days after a place at Euro 2016 had been sealed. “It’s not often you spell Wales with a ‘Q’,” the manager beamed. But there it was, the capital Q, for “Qualification”, solidly next to the name of a country whose last experience of tournament football was more than half a century earlier, at the 1958 World Cup.
Before that exile from major finals was ended, Wales had the dubious claim of boasting some of the best players never to grace International football’s greatest stages. Ian Rush, Neville Southall and Ryan Giggs were all left at home rather than competing, with qualification campaigns often ending in final-hurdle heartbreak.
Bobby Robson knew a thing or two about home advantage and the former England manager hit the nail on the head when he said: “If we’re sitting together in my house, who’s more comfortable: you or me?” France are on home turf for Euro 2016, so that automatically gives them an advantage over the other 23 teams taking part.
Yes, the pressure of expectation is perhaps greater on the hosts, but being at home, with the sense of comfort and familiarity that brings, far outweighs any negatives. If France get off to a good start when the tournament kicks off on June 10, then being “chez eux” will surely help them in their bid to become European champions for a third time.
With a number of world-class players, backed by others who are arguably among the Premier League’s finest, Belgium topped FIFA’s world rankings for five months earlier this year. Yet Marc Wilmots’ men have yet to win a trophy and have hardly ever beaten a top team in a competitive match.
Frustratingly for their followers, Belgium have regularly failed to impress in games, while their coach is frequently accused of lacking tactical nous. Back in 2014, ahead of the World Cup, observers looked at players such as Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku and asked why they didn’t perform for their country as they did for their clubs. To an extent, Hazard has nullified that question, but the fact remains that Wilmots rarely elicits top performances from his charges.
And the Reds go marching in! An ecstatic Wembley Stadium celebrated as Manchester United won the FA Cup in style, with Jesse Lingard coming off the bench and scoring the cup winner in extra-time. It was Juan Mata’s goal that cancelled out Jason Puncheon’s goal in regulation time, and despite being down to ten men, the Red Devils held their nerve and performed magnificently well to win the oldest club tournament in the world: The FA Cup. It was yet another trophy added to the gloriou...
The game in Sweden orbits around one man, so it is no wonder that the hopes of the country start and end with his name. And it is not just that the public adores him; the team is also completely reliant on Zlatan Ibrahimovic. This will probably be his last major tournament and Swedes hope that he will inspire this side to scale new heights. In reality, these heights are still far from the top. Ten years have passed since Sweden last reached the knockout stage of a major tournament; in the meantime, they’ve missed two World Cups and disappointed in a group stage in Austria (2008) and Ukraine (2012). And this is why their only goal this year will be to end that jinx and reach the last 16.
Roy Hodgson’s England were the only team to win all 10 games in qualifying for Euro 2016 and, although they were only really tested by closest challengers Switzerland, there is optimism about their chances. They have the talent to go a long way – but there is also an awareness that things could go very wrong, very quickly, as in Brazil two years ago.
The mood is best summed up by the reaction to two recent friendlies. A 3-2 victory over world champions Germany in Berlin was celebrated as a sign of England’s new potency; four days later, the reality check of a Wembley defeat by an experimental Holland side brought expectations back to more manageable levels. Inevitably, the same old weaknesses could come back to haunt England. There are still defensive frailties and a lack of comfort on the ball – problems that are only exposed in a competitive environment against the very best opposition.
At first glance, it is not difficult to find reasons why Italy’s Euro 2016 campaign could go badly wrong. For a start, there is the continuing decline and fall of Serie A in European club competition. This season, for the first time since 2001, no Italian club qualified for a continental quarter-final.
On top of that, the national side has bombed out in the first round of the last two World Cups, in South Africa and Brazil. And a 4-1 drubbing in a March friendly by Germany hardly augurs well, either. Yet despite all that, Italy will be expected to give a good account of themselves in France. Two considerations justify a cautious optimism: the nature of the coach Antonio Conte, and the solid if not spectacular progress that his side has made since he took over from Cesare Prandelli in August 2014.