The Premier League is up and running and I've found it really strange watching the games without supporters, I'm sure everybody has felt the same.
It's been my thought process all along that the empty stadiums will be helping some players who were struggling before lockdown. Now there isn't a lot of pressure on them without the crowds, so it has benefitted those types of players. There will be players who thrive on the adrenaline rush of large crowds and they've probably found it difficult. For me personally I would have found it difficult. That was the big thing for me, the adrenaline rush of playing in front of those big crowds on a regular basis.
NEWCASTLE'S RISING STAR…
One player who has thrived since the restart is Allan Saint-Maximin.
The big worry for Newcastle fans and everyone connected with the club is whether they can keep him beyond this summer. He has been in such outstanding form, the standout player. He is somebody who can take the team from defence to attack in a matter of seconds and has such a fantastic balance and ability to go past players at speed as well. He also seems to do a lot of unseen work off the ball which goes down with his manager and his teammates
He's a player that will have fans on the edge of their seats when they return to St. James' Park. But what happens with a player like that when he stands out is other clubs show an interest, clubs who could potentially be in a better position than Newcastle when the season ends and provide him with European football. It's going to be imperative that the club can try and hold onto him.
It looks like he has a really strong relationship with Steve Bruce, so that could be an important part of him staying. He seems to enjoy playing for the club and has a really strong relationship with the supporters. Hopefully that is enough for him to stick around next season, where the club can build and show him that they have their own ambitions to try and get higher up the Premier League and to be competing for European places.
The Frenchman certainly has the ability to emulate David Ginola and Laurent Robert. All he has to do is show it over over a consistent and long period like those two did. And it was probably easier for those two lads because they were probably playing in stronger squads and in teams that were playing higher up the league and always challenging for Europe and titles.
Saint-Maximin has played in a team that hasn't always been allowed to express themselves going forward because they haven't always been so dominant in matches. I think the change in formation that Steve has implemented over the last few months has helped them immensely, so there certainly is the potential for him and that's why it would be exciting if the club could make the squad stronger so those lads could become even better and become stronger players. But for Saint-Maximin to do it in a squad that's not always dominant it just shows he has a huge amount of ability.
LOWER LEAGUE HELP
I totally agree with Steve Bruce's recent comments about lower league clubs being given support by the Premier League.
Let's get it right, these clubs can only work in financial terms by their gate money. They work from week to week, month to month, they haven't got large slush funds knocking around their clubs, there are certain clubs who have boards of directors who are well financed and can do that but not a massive percentage.
And the money that is generated in the Premier League, for the sake of a couple of million pounds to each league, it is not even scratching the surface with the finances that are available to them. I think that would be massive for those lower league clubs. It is something that has been called upon even before COVID-19 to make sure that none of them go out of business, we don't want to see any club go out of business. It is a difficult time for all of them, the owners, the supporters, the players.
Everyone just pigeon holes footballers with earning substantial amounts of money, but with these lower league lads it's not the case. It's just like a normal 9-5 job in terms of the types of wages they take home, so it is tough for them, especially when a large number have probably been furloughed. That's the reality and that's why I totally back all those people calling for help from the Premier League to those lower league clubs without a shadow of a doubt.
Newcastle obviously released Rob Elliot and Mark Gillespie has had a really strong career since he left Newcastle United as a youngster. He went and played for Carlisle and been up to Scotland and was part of a real resurgent Motherwell, helping them get into Europe. He's done really well to play first-team football. This was probably a dream move for him. He knows he will be third-choice goalkeeper but after that it's up to him, so it works for everyone.
Newcastle have got themselves a very competent third-choice keeper' who is very hungry and is going to train extremely hard and if he gets his chance he'll be desperate to grasp it. When you're doing those type of signings for a third-choice keeper and they come in then it is up to them to try and force themselves to number two and then number one. I think it is a decent enough signing. You would find it very difficult to get a real top goalkeeper to come in knowing he was going to start the season as a number three, not even on the bench, so it is important you pick the right personality because they have to understand where they are in the structure and then it is up to them on the training ground.
I think a big reason behind Jorginho's lack of playing time at Chelsea has to do with the fact that he plays at a slower tempo.
He dictates the tempo of the game because he demands the ball and he's always making himself available. And Frank seems to be wanting a high tempo, high intensity team out on the park and maybe he feels Jorginho is counter-productive for his vision because he slows it down.
But Frank also has some outstanding midfielders to choose from. Most clubs would do anything for the depth he has in central midfield. You've got Jorginho, N'Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic, Billy Gilmour, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Ross Barkley, Mason Mount. So there are many players there to fill those roles and only a few positions in the team. That's what happens when you're the manager of a big club, you have those options and you will have to leave out some outstanding footballers.
Unfortunately you can only pick 11 and up until I think things had been going quite okay for Chelsea, I think Frank had seen the team playing in the right way and looking exciting for the future, despite losing convincingly to Sheffield United last week. I read Frank's quotes after the game and he was spot on.
He said he'll learn a hell of a lot more from his players with a result like that. You don't always learn a lot when you're winning matches. You learn a lot about them in defeat and how they will bounce back, have they got that fight in them to do that. And although they didn't perform particularly well against Norwich, they picked up a valuable win and that's all that matters at this stage of the season.
OZIL AND ARSENAL MUST SPLIT
Mesut Ozil has to move this summer, first and foremost. The German is obviously not in the club's future plans.
He is an unbelievably talented footballer, but I don't think he has endeared himself greatly to the English game and also Arsenal, because of his apparent unwillingness to work hard and do the things when you haven't got the ball.
His ability and what he has achieved in his career is astonishing, but Mikel Arteta is not the first person at Arsenal, Unai Emery is the same. He believed there wasn't enough being given back to the group to make sure he was in the team, and Arteta thinks the same.
And when you've got a big personality like that, someone who is taking up a substantial amount of the budget because he doesn't come cheap, it is probably best for everyone, Mesut himself will want to play. So it is probably best for everyone at the end of the season to have a parting of ways, without a doubt.
I've been watching Fulham very closely in recent weeks and Scotty continues to do a fantastic job there. It looks likely they will miss out on direct promotion after Tuesday's draw with West Bromwich Albion. But either way, they look strong, play with confidence and are getting some good results. They've showed they can win without Mitrovic - when he missed those three games - which was important.
If they don't win automatic promotion, I certainly believe they have more than the capabilities to go via the play-offs. So my fingers are crossed, I want them back in the Premier League, I want to see them doing well, my old club and old teammate in charge so I want them back where I believe they should be. Especially with the redevelopment of Craven Cottage, I think they will be a fantastic addition to the Premier League. I've got no allegiance to them but I would also love to see Leeds United back in the Premier League. A huge club, huge fan base and a Premier League club in waiting.
The Championship is actually becoming really exciting as well because the top end and the bottom end is extremely tight so I'm enjoying watching both leagues. Both of my former clubs Huddersfield and Birmingham City have had disappointing results and performances recently so they need to dust themselves down and get that win.
I think both of them just need that one win, unfortunately Huddersfield could only muster a point in the derby against Sheffield Wednesday. It's not getting any easier for them either with West Brom up next, but fingers crossed that both of those clubs can get that one win which will hopefully be enough for them to stay in the league.
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