Crunch time for some in EPL

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Brendan Rodgers

There are many reasons to want Brendan Rodgers to succeed. He is young, from the UK, tactically adventurous and is in charge of one of football's great institutions. And yet he is favourite to be the first Premier League manager to lose his job.

How you finish one campaign often determines how you start the next and Liverpool's end to last season proved a shambles.

There was the limp surrender to Aston Villa in the FA Cup semi-final, topped off by a 6-1 thrashing at Stoke. The end-of-season review led to Rodgers firing his assistant manager and first-team coach, which produced a jaw-dropping response on Merseyside. There is now only one head left on the block.

Liverpool's owner, John W Henry, is a disciple of Moneyball, buying cheap and selling dear. Liverpool's selling has been excellent, fetching £116m for Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling.

However, the Suarez money was spent on young, promising players who ended the season still promising but a year older. The £32m spent on Christian Benteke has to produce instant results and Rodgers is charged with taking Liverpool back into the Champions League while being tied to the Thursday-Sunday treadmill of the Europa League.

This summer the long-awaited rebuilding of Anfield has begun and Rodgers must hope it is a metaphor.

Radamel Falcao

If you wondered why you should hire a super-agent, look no further than Jorge Mendes' work for Radamel Falcao. Last year, with Monaco desperate to get him off their books, Mendes negotiated a salary of £265,000 a week with Manchester United for a striker whose serious knee injury had kept him out of Colombia's World Cup squad and which was still evidently troubling him.

Falcao's return was four goals, none of which came against a top-six club. Mendes' response has been to negotiate another, if less lucrative, contract with the Premier League champions, Chelsea.

This season Falcao will turn 30. Perhaps because he has a habit of leaving a club just as they have qualified for the Champions League his reputation has never quite matched his talent.

Now, however, he is being reunited with Diego Costa, who proved a magnificent foil in Falcao's final season with Atletico Madrid, in which he scored 34 goals. Costa's role at the Vicente Calderon was to make the space for Falcao to exploit. If he can repeat the trick at Stamford Bridge, Falcao's transfer will be held up as an example of Jose Mourinho's skills as well as Mendes'.

John Stones

His is not the pressure that comes with feeling you might be past your prime - he is 21. It is not the pressure that comes with being unwanted - any club in the Premier League would have the Yorkshireman at the heart of their defence. It is the pressure of having to make a choice.

Does he go to Chelsea, with its guarantee of Champions League football, or does he remain at Everton and allow the club to build a side around him that he will one day captain? While on pre-season tour in Singapore, Stones delivered a public pledge of loyalty to Everton, but he knows the chance may not come again and Mourinho is a manager who moves on.

Stones has had to choose before. In January 2013, it was between Wigan Athletic, then managed by Roberto Martinez, and Everton. Stones called correctly.

If Chelsea's bid does reach £30m, then Everton may be prepared to do business but Martinez, now their manager, should recall the words of David Flitcroft, Stones' manager at Barnsley when he left for Goodison Park. “It was like losing a member of your own family,” he said. “How do you replace the best young defender in England?”

Steve McClaren

It is time for the real Steve McClaren to reveal himself. Is it the man who took Middlesbrough to the first trophy in their history and a European final and little Twente Enschede to the Dutch title?

Or is it the man hopelessly out of his depth with England, who lasted a few months at Wolfsburg and even less at Nottingham Forest?

Because of Newcastle United's reluctance to deal with any media who do not pay them, McClaren must know that every error will be seized upon as proof he has lashed himself to a rotting regime at St James' Park.

And yet Newcastle remains a grand stage, perhaps the grandest he has had since he departed Wembley with his umbrella as an unqualified failure in November 2007.

Since then his time in England has consisted of a few nondescript weeks at Forest and a promising spell at Derby that ended with him pledging his loyalty to the club and then being fired.

The signings of Chancel Mbemba and Aleksandar Mitrovic from Anderlecht and Georgino Wijnaldum from PSV Eindhoven for £30m are a sign of ambition. Slowly, surely, McClaren might make the Newcastle brand a little less toxic.

Raheem Sterling

He has got what he wants, or rather what he thinks he wants - an enormous contract, worth £150,000 a week, and a club capable of winning major silverware. He has left a club, Liverpool, who were prepared to make him the very fulcrum of their attack for one where he will be considered an add-on. Sterling may be young, he may be promising but he is no Sergio Aguero. At Anfield, Sterling was regarded as very good but not exceptional.

At £49m, the boy who used to play in the shadow of Wembley Stadium is the most expensive English footballer on the planet. And yet if you examine the 10 highest transfer fees paid for an Englishman only three - James Milner, Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand - could be counted a success. Milner eventually had to leave the Etihad Stadium because he felt that he was given insufficient opportunity.

Manchester City did bid big and now their director of football, Txiki Begiristain, will have to hope that Sterling delivers. And after a raft of unimpressive footballers brought in by the Spaniard that included signing a cheque for £42m for Eliaquim Mangala, the pressure is bearing down on Begiristain as much as it is on Sterling's slimmer shoulders.

Ed Woodward

How we yearned for the press conferences at Carrington, where Sir Alex Ferguson, questioned about Manchester United's lack of transfer activity, would mutter that there was “no value in the market”.

The United chief executive who followed the doggedly dependable David Gill has found value everywhere. Perhaps stung by the realisation that in his first transfer window both he and David Moyes moved far too slowly, Woodward has kept on signing Louis van Gaal's cheques. A quarter-of-a-million a week for Radamel Falcao, £60m for Angel Di Maria, nearly £30m for Luke Shaw, these were the kind of signings that excited supporters and bank managers across Manchester.

Some of these players turned out to have brought only their reputation. This summer Woodward has authorised a similar level of spending that, in Bastian Schweinsteiger, brought this year's Di Maria or Falcao to Old Trafford. The kind of player your mum would have heard of, who is being paid vast sums to replicate his past at Old Trafford. Pre-season has not been encouraging. This time last year Woodward set Van Gaal the lowest conceivable bar for any United manager - finishing fourth. This season will have to be a whole lot better.

Daniel Levy

Tony Benn's favourite Methodist hymn was called “Dare To Be a Daniel” and was all about standing up for what you believe in while not caring what other people thought. Tottenham Hotspur's chairman is not a Methodist but he would be familiar with the sentiments. Levy has done it his way even when that way becomes a cul-de-sac.

This summer has been spent swallowing the Premier League's diktat that they will not be allowed to play at Milton Keynes and Wembley while White Hart Lane is rebuilt and getting rid of all the players - bar the elegant Christian Eriksen - they bought with the Gareth Bale cash. There seems to be a realisation along the Seven Sisters Road that there have been too many signings and too many sackings during Levy's 14 years at the helm. This summer has been more measured.

In Harry Kane, Tottenham possess the most exciting English talent since Wayne Rooney. But Rooney left Everton for something better and, unless Levy gets it right, Kane might do the same. The new stadium will be Levy's great monument that will secure his club's future but it requires Champions League football, a competition that has been missed far too many times for it to be coincidence.

Jack Wilshere

When Roy Keane was asked to sum up Arsenal's title chances, he made a withering reference to their being obsessed by “selfies and six-packs”. His remarks were illustrated by images of Wilshere taking a selfie with the Barclays Asia Trophy after Arsenal had beaten Everton in the final in Singapore last month.

Quite a few photos of Wilshere have provoked comment. The one of him holding a cigarette and the one of him chanting anti-Tottenham songs during the club's FA Cup parade caused the usual phoney outrage on social media. But it is the photo of him celebrating after scoring for England in Slovenia in June that is more important.

Wilshere is 23, an age at which a footballer has to turn potential into performances. The next 10 months are all about delivery rather than promise.

At Bolton and the Emirates, he has been given a proper upbringing. For the first time in his career he is part of an Arsenal side that could win the title. At the end of it there is a summer at the European Championship. If he takes a selfie with the trophy in Paris,

nobody will mind if the next picture is of him lighting a celebratory Marlboro. – The Independent

Original source: Crunch time for some in EPL

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