Dean Smith declared that Aston Villa’s 4-1 loss to Leicester was their biggest setback of the season.

Jamie Vardy scored a brace either side of goals from Kelechi Iheanacho and Jonny Evans to condemn the hosts to defeat, despite Jack Grealish’s goal.

Smith was frustrated with the way they allowed the game to open up – claiming Leicester didn’t outclass them tactically.

“We were too open and they were clinical,” he admitted to Match of the Day. “It became a basketball game and they were more clinical than we were.

“The lads don’t give up, they kept going. Leicester are a good team, they have confidence but we felt we could have a go.

“There wasn’t much tactics involved, Vardy has gone over the top a couple of times and scored. We have a lot of lessons, we are still growing.

“That is the biggest kick in the teeth and set back we have had.”

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Leicester will hope to pile the pressure on Marco Silva while keeping up the title chase on Everton’s Merseyside rivals with victory on Sunday.

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As ever, this represents our estimation of Gareth Southgate’s thoughts. And we feel like we know him well. Numbers in brackets pertain to this ladder from October…

 

1 (2) Harry Kane
Twelve goals and five assists in eight qualifying games. His goal against Kosovo saw him become the first England player to score in every game of a qualifying campaign and it also took him back to the top of this ladder, mostly because he has never grabbed somebody by the throat in a canteen. Or at least he has never been caught grabbing somebody by the throat in a canteen.

 

2 (1) Raheem Sterling
Oh you daft bugger. There is no defending that. He is still England’s second-best source of goals and best source of running really fast and scaring the sh*t out of full-backs, mind.

 

3 (5) Harry Maguire
The only player to feature in all 720 minutes of European qualifying. And yet he still looks about half a second from dropping a bo**ock and a full second slower than most strikers he faces.

 

4 (4) Jordan Pickford
His place is safer than his hands.

 

5 (6) Marcus Rashford
Three goals in his last three England games as part of a really encouraging return to form. We would be astonished if Rashford is not in every England squad for which he is fit until the end of the next decade at least…

 

6 (3) Jordan Henderson
Two victories in his absence have damaged his cause a little, but it still feels like Henderson + 2 in that central midfield.

 

7 (7) Trent Alexander-Arnold
Remarkably, that’s the first time he has started back-to-back England games. Even more remarkably, ‘he’s yet to produce a performance for his country which doesn’t look like this one did – distracted, inaccurate, lacking in the locked-in intensity which seems as standard at Liverpool’ (and I absolutely agree with Seb Stafford-Bloor).

 

8 (10) Ben Chilwell
Perhaps those three assists against Montenegro – and solid defensive performance against Kosovo – will put an end to Gareth Southgate’s lingering and needless flirtation with Danny Rose. Chilwell is and should remain England’s first-choice left-back.

 

9 (18) Harry Winks
Six England caps, six England wins. And a goal and a man-of-the-match performance against Kosovo. It might well be Henderson, Winks + 1 with Declan Rice hopefully sidelined until he learns some of the basics of defensive midfield play.

 

10 (13) John Stones
‘Needs to play football. Absolutely needs to play football,’ is what I wrote last month. Now back in the Manchester City side and an England recall duly followed. 

 

11 (16) Nick Pope
Confirmation that he is England’s No. 2. And a clean sheet is lovely.

 

12 (17) Joe Gomez
What has become very clear is that Southgate has picked his four centre-halves and Gomez is on that list despite not playing a great deal of Premier League football. Luckily for him, Liverpool have an awful lot of games coming up. He might still be the big man.

 

13 (8) Jadon Sancho
His form has dipped for Borussia Dortmund
and he failed to pad his stats against Montenegro; just one assist from 90 minutes on the wing is not a compelling return from a 7-0 victory. Right now, he has slipped some way behind Rashford.

 

14 (15) Tyrone Mings
And there’s centre-half No. 4, who has (slightly awkwardly) claimed another cap and another clean sheet. He is literally the big man.

 

15 (9) Ross Barkley
It’s telling that he has played more minutes in this qualifying campaign than any other midfielder bar Henderson and yet almost nobody thinks he should start for England. Will he eventually be ejected like a stockier Ryan Bertrand? The initials are a clue.

 

16 (11) Declan Rice
As I wrote last month: ‘He is only 20, so there are caveats, but right now he looks far from good enough to anchor that England midfield. Still, we persuaded him not to be Irish anymore, so his squad place is probably safe for the foreseeable.’ We wanted him to be so much better than Eric Dier; he isn’t.

 

17 (12) Mason Mount
He has played a part in England’s last six games so he is clearly integrated into this England squad. Unfortunately for him, he has started twice and struggled twice. Fortunately, he can do this from the bench…

 

18 (14) Kieran Trippier
Called up but then left on the bench. It could be worse; he could be Kyle Walker.

 

19 (20) Tammy Abraham
His first England goal and confirmation – were it needed – that he is Southgate’s first-choice back-up to Kane.

 

20 (22) Fabian Delph
Even grown men need a comfort blanket. Let it go, people, let it go…

 

21 (19) Danny Rose
Clinging onto a place in the squad but for how long? Until Luke Shaw gets and stays fit, you should think. Right now, Rose is holding off Aaron Cresswell and Matt Targett in the battle to be the left-sided fireguard with the thinner chocolate coating.

 

22 (32) Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Back-to-back England starts for the first time since March 2018, when he was set to start in England’s World Cup midfield before injury struck. “We’ve a huge belief in him,” said Southgate. “Whether it’s as a midfield player – where he’s excellent with or without the ball, provides a goalscoring threat, works hard for the team and presses well – or a wide player or a forward player, we’ve got huge belief in him.” And that versatility might well be what keeps in this 23 ahead of more vaunted competition.

 

23 (23) Tom Heaton
The old man completes the 23. For now.

 

24 (21) Callum Hudson-Odoi
Reclaimed and then lost his Chelsea place, while his 59 wasteful, hesitant minutes against Kosovo suggested that he might be better getting some more England experience with the Under-21s this season while he searches for his form.

 

25 (24) Callum Wilson
Nobody takes three strikers for a one-striker system. Especially when the third striker on the list has stopped scoring.

 

26 (26) James Maddison
Most chances created by Englishmen this season:
Trent Alexander-Arnold (42)
Jack Grealish (25)
James Maddison (24)
Mason Mount (23)
Raheem Sterling (22)

Sorry James, but we don’t think Gareth likes the cut of your gib. Or the gib of…

 

27 (35) Jack Grealish
Though at least Southgate hinted that Grealish could be the next cab off the attacking midfielder rank. That’s progress.

 

28 (25) Kyle Walker
Sip sliding away. Slip-sliding a-way.

 

29 (31) Fikayo Tomori
They definitely didn’t bring him on for a few minutes to claim him from Nigeria (oh yes they did). But most importantly for this ladder, he was in the squad ahead of the falling Michael Keane.

 

30 (30) Dean Henderson
England’s…No. 4. England’s, England’s No. 4.

 

31 (29) Aaron Wan-Bissaka
Clearly, Southgate is not a fan of a 90s-style full-back.

 

32 (34) Dele Alli
Back in the Tottenham side at least. Shame it’s a really poor Tottenham side.

 

33 (27) Michael Keane
We may never see him in an England shirt again.

 

34 (28) Jesse Lingard
We may never see him in an England shirt again.

 

35 (33) Eric Dier
We may never see him in an England shirt again.

 

36 (40) Phil Foden
We will surely see him in a (senior) England shirt soon, but first Pep Guardiola needs to give him more than Carabao Cup football.

 

37 (NE) Aaron Ramsdale
The Bournemouth goalkeeper is making a compelling case for a long-term battle with Henderson.

 

38 (36) Ruben Loftus-Cheek
Love the player, hate the injury.

 

39 (37) Luke Shaw
Love the player, hate the injury. And the body type.

 

40 (42) Dwight McNeil

 

41 (41) Rob Holding
42 (38) Angus Gunn
43 (39) Ryan Sessegnon
44 (43) Max Aarons
45 (NE) John Lundstram
46 (NE) Harvey Barnes
47 (44) Reiss Nelson
48 (45) James Tarkowski
49 (47) James Ward-Prowse
50 (50) Phil Neville

 

Sarah Winterburn

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Crystal Palace and Leicester City go head-to-head as both clubs look to build on their impressive starts to the campaign. Follow it live…

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Gary Neville thinks Brendan Rodgers has the managerial ability to take over at Manchester City when Pep Guardiola’s time at the helm eventually comes to an end.

The Northern Irishman led his Leicester City side to an impressive 9-0 victory on the road at Southampton on Friday night, a win that moved them temporarily second in the Premier League table.

And that result has led Neville to talk about the former Liverpool boss as a potential successor to Guardiola.

“I think if you look at what he achieved at Liverpool and then Celtic and now what he is doing at Leicester, we always talk about international coaches having philosophies and values, but he improves teams and plays great football,” Neville told Sky Sports.

“He is quite innovative and he does seem to be a great coach, the players enjoy working with him, and I’m asking the question now, why wouldn’t he be seen as a coach of one of the big clubs?

“You look at Manchester City changing to Pep Guardiola and you probably won’t see Brendan Rodgers‘ name linked with that job because people at the club will be thinking, maybe, someone else.

“But why not? If you look at what he’s done in terms of the football he plays and the improvement he has on players on the pitch.”

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Calum Chambers
“I’m delighted Calum has extended his stay with us,” said Unai Emery in July 2018. “He played an important role last season and will be part of my plans this season.”

What the Arsenal manager failed to disclose is that his “plans” involved Calum Chambers taking his new Arsenal contract with him across the city to Fulham. But as strange as the apparent U-turn was, Emery’s justification that a second loan spell “will be an important part of his development” seems particularly pertinent.

While the 24-year-old added a second Premier League relegation to his CV at Craven Cottage, the boy returned as a man. A campaign that started with him featuring at centre-half included some brief sojourns at right-back before carving out a role in defensive midfield. Upon his being named Fulham’s Player of the Season, the club’s official website described him as ‘one of our most popular ever loanees’.

And so to Tuesday, where Chambers was in sensational form against Nottingham Forest, assisting a goal apiece from either flank and balancing his new-found attacking instincts with a defensive resolve not often seen in these parts. His physical improvement in particular was eye-opening.

Rob Holding, Kieran Tierney, Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson and Gabriel Martinelli all impressed at the Emirates, but only one player was “amazing” enough to be singled out by the manager. He might well have earned a start against Manchester United in their 12-12 draw on Monday.

 

Taylor Harwood-Bellis
‘Man City already have a Harry Maguire-style centre back in Taylor Harwood-Bellis’ read the Manchester Evening News summer headline. But if one performance in a League Cup third-round game against lower-league opposition is anything to go by, the 17-year-old will surpass his new city brethren within a month.

The comparison carries little weight beyond height, of course, with Harwood-Bellis marrying obvious aerial prowess with calm and comfort on the ball against Preston. Only fellow central defender Eric Garcia completed more passes (90) than his 84, and his partner on Tuesday was making a fourth League Cup start of his career, having appeared in last season’s quarter-final and semi-final.

Pep Guardiola saw fit to praise both of his “exceptional human beings” after the 3-0 win, but for a player who only turned 17 this year, a professional first-team debut was a monumental step forward.

Regular Premier League football remains a distant objective, and Fernandinho will likely return by the weekend. But Harwood-Bellis at least justified his place in the central defensive queue, even if it is towards the back after pushing in front of Guardiola himself.

 

Danny Ings
It’s safe to say that Danny Ings expected his Southampton career to go a little differently. His gentleman’s bet that he would outscore Mo Salah was “just a bit of banter” with no money involved, but a final result of 7-22 won’t have been great for his confidence.

There was a silver lining of 23 Premier League starts, a tally beaten only by his first campaign in the competition with Burnley in 2014/15 (35), and almost four times as many as he made throughout his entire Liverpool career (6). With those injury issues thankfully and hopefully behind him, the 27-year-old is looking to push on.

Ralph Hasenhuttl ensured to freshen his competition this season with the signings of Che Adams and Moussa Djenepo, but Ings has risen to the challenge. Two goals in the derby win over Portsmouth takes his seasonal tally to three with one assist and a respectable return.

Perseverance – and a quite wonderful first touch – laid on his first strike against Pompey, while the deft finish applied to Michael Obafemi’s excellent through ball made for a rather pleasing second, and a boyhood dream realised.

Hasenhuttl has started Adams as a lone striker and alongside Nathan Redmond in Saints’ last two Premier League games, with Ings afforded 16 and 13 minutes as a substitute. He will fancy his chances from the start against a panicky Tottenham on Saturday.

 

James Justin
Somewhat lost amid Leicester’s excellent start to the season is that continuity, not revolution, has been the key. The eight Foxes with the most minutes played were all at the club in 2018/19, with Ayoze Perez the only player in the top 13 not to have been signed this summer – January arrival Youri Tielemans notwithstanding.

While Dennis Praet will need more than one Premier League start and one and a half League Cup games to prove that his purchase was not at least a little pointless, James Justin will be afforded a considerable amount of time. The 21-year-old joined under no pretences: two of the Premier League’s best full-backs are well ahead of him and Ricardo Pereira and Ben Chilwell would both take some shifting. The versatility of being able to play on either flank mattered not.

So it proved. Six Premier League games have passed with Justin acclimatising to the bench as an unused substitute in each. Even against Newcastle in the League Cup second round he watched on from the sidelines. But when former club Luton played host to Leicester on Tuesday, Brendan Rodgers gave him the nod.

A goal, four chances created, two tackles, two clearances and what the Leicester Mercury described as ‘a dream debut’ justified the call. The opportunities for such a naturally gifted and supremely talented player will come, particularly if he makes a habit of taking them in such an impressive manner.

 

Dominic Calvert-Lewin
The standard of the opposition will likely be used as a stick to beat him rather than praise him with. There always tends to be an asterisk next to the name of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who is constantly willing but not always able.

Perhaps a Premier League defence would not have afforded him the freedom of Hillsborough to score his first goal, nor would they have suffered the lapse in concentration that preceded his second. But Calvert-Lewin showcased both a fine touch and unstoppable finishing technique, as well as an awareness and instinct to put Everton through to the next round.

It will take more than that to convince many of the sceptics, but only a fool would suggest the 22-year-old is responsible for a shoddy record at set-pieces and an inability to win away. Richarlison (17) and Gylfi Sigurdsson (15) are the only other Toffees to register double figures for goals in all competitions since the start of last season, with Calvert-Lewin – who neither cost upwards of £35m nor has been allowed to settle into one position – on 11.

Whether he is part of the solution remains to be seen – although every club tends to have a similar style of player in their ranks somewhere. But Calvert-Lewin is most certainly not the problem.

Matt Stead

 

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Harry Maguire will find it “sh*t” playing against former club Leicester on Saturday, according to Dimitar Berbatov.

Maguire faces the club that shaped him into the world’s most expensive defender for the first time since leaving at the weekend.

The England international has had an indifferent start at Old Trafford, with the opening-day clean sheet proving a false dawn.

United have since drawn with both Wolves and Southampton, losing to Crystal Palace in a below-par start – although Maguire has been one of their better players.

Former United striker Berbatov still believes the centre-half will endure “a particularly difficult” match against his old club.

“United have a tough match against Leicester at Old Trafford on Saturday,” Berbatov told Betfair.

“It could be a particularly difficult one for Harry Maguire who joined them from Leicester in August.

“Playing against your old club is sh*t. It’s very difficult to spend two seasons somewhere – as Maguire did at Leicester and I did at Spurs – showing what you can do then get a big move and have to play against your old teammates with whom you’re probably still in touch.

“As hard as you try to be professional, friendships can sometimes get in the way.

“United’s performance against Southampton last time out was not what I want to see from United. They need a win but that can make for a tense atmosphere and prevent you playing good football.

“It will be interesting to see which United players go looking for the ball on Saturday. I really hope they start as if they’re desperate to win. An early goal would ease the tension but Maguire and his team-mates will need to keep it tight at the back, as they failed to hold on to the lead at Southampton.

“I’m backing United to win a close match and, as they’ve only kept one clean sheet so far, will go with 2-1 as the score.”

 

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Send your thoughts to theeditor@football365.com in time for the afternoon Mailbox…

 

Johnny Nic neologism
I think it is time time for Football365 to add another new word to our lexicon. Now taking pride of place alongside the Proper Football Man is the Proper Football Fan (John Nicholson). The PFF only supports their hometown team–preferably while watching them loose in a driving rain storm while his friend in a trench coat . . . (long-time JN readers will know how story ends); uses the trope of everyone having their own idea about football to deny anyone who has an idea about football different from theirs from expressing it; hates the idea that people make money by presenting football to the wider public; believes that anyone who deviates from these principles is sell-out-tool of the man.

Sincerely,
Peter

 

…I admittedly struggled to understand the point JN was making in his piece. I was with him for paragraphs 1 and 2 (and that 2best” is subjective) then didn’t really get what he was trying to say. My summary is rather long, but I think that says more about the article…:

1. Nostalgia (declinism) is a real psychological phenomenon.

2. People with ideological views don’t necessarily identify their own hypocrisy (#Brexit)

3. Brexit, but also football

4. The opposite of “then was better” is “now is better”. (DS invents “hindshite”)

5. THE PREMIER LEAGUE INVENTED HINDSHITE TO MARKET THEIR BRAND

6. All Hindshiters call anyone who doesn’t agree a “dinosaur” and therefore (implicitly) fail to identify there is a middle ground

7. “Best” is subjective, it is therefore impossible to prove ether way.

8. 1/3 – paragraph discussing what “best” is despite concluding it is subjective.

9. 2/3 – paragraph discussing what “best” is despite concluding it is subjective.

10. 3/3 – paragraph discussing what “best” is despite concluding it is subjective.

11. Facts should be used to guide our decision on “best”. (finally building on para 7).

12. In reality then and now was/is a mixed bag of the good, the bad and the average.

13. The “Premier League Era” is an arbitrary line with zero use other than to reinforce the brand.

14. Any “in the Premier League Era” stat proves is proof you buy into hindshite.

15. We’re too polarised as a nation

16. We’re all miserable

17. Communism references, the PL re-wrote the past and we’re all buying it.

18. See the league for what it is.

Finally, I get it, and completely agree, you should judge the premier league based on what it is. However, I have some comments on the following paragraphs.

14. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the premier league era was a 20 team league (except for the 1st PL season), whereas the old first division was more. For goals in a season, I’d argue the different total number of game is a relevant factor to the statistic. If I had a good enough memory to use club sponsor to differentiate between a 38 and 46 game season you better believe I would. True it is arbitrary, but so is a season as opposed to a calendar year, yet one has a trophy.

15. I agree with this point, however the article polarises football supporters, so this article is more a symptom of the problem than it is offering a solution or a root cause (unless you actually believe the PL is to blame for Brexit).

17. This isn’t 1984. There’s nothing which says the Premier League is, and always has been the supreme league in the land. In fact, you mentioned “in the premier league era” in your article, therefore we (and you) clearly know there was a before.

So finally, in relation to real point of the article, when was it ever really “our” football? I think this is a generalised term for a time when clubs actually relied on match day revenue and therefore in effect fans had more power than they do now. If that’s your definition, start following the national league, or the Bundesliga with their lovely fan ownership models. If people stop going to PL games, or buying Sky Sports or BT subscriptions the next sale of broadcasting rights won’t bring in as much if they can’t gain revenue from advertising and subscriptions. This will increase as a % the reliance on match day revenue. Rinse and repeat, and football will be all “ours” again.

Just a thought, once gambling advertising gets banned from sports, we might already see a reduction of this, and it is betting companies who are willing to pay the big bucks for advertising.
Richard

 

Comparing Man Utd’s XI
Just read somewhere that Micheal Owen said that there is not much difference between Manchester united squad and the liverpool squad, wow…seriously? Lets not even talk about Manchester United bench with the likes of Rojo, Young, Mata, Matic, Fred, Greenwood, et all sitting pretty, instead lets compare Manchester United best XI with LEICESTER CITY’s XI (it would be an insult on Liverpool to make that comparison with Liverpool’s best 11).
De Gea is better than Schmeichel, yea..but Wan Bissaka, Shaw and Lindelof, are on current form inferior to Evans, Peirera and Chilwell.. Pogba has more pedigree than Tielemans (and I like Pogba), but comparing Ndidi and Maddison to McTomminay and Lingard is a non starter, James is good, but so is Ayoze…
Vardy is miles better than Martial or Rashford.. so a combined Man Utd/Leicester 11 will look like this.
DE GEA – Peirera, Evans, MAGUIRE, Chilwel – Ndidi, POGBA – JAMES, Maddison, MARTIAL/RASHFORD – Vardy
Kufre, Nigeria

 

More weight to the manager window argument
Further to my mail yesterday, today the news breaks that Huddersfield have appointed Lincoln City’s coach Danny Cowley six games into the season. To add insult to injury, Cowley is bringing his brother along, currently Lincoln’s assistant coach.

Of course Huddersfield’s Chairman Phil Hodgkinson was happy to say “We firmly believed that they were the best men to take us forward, and we didn’t want to give up on them”.

Did anyone of the assembled media multitude think to ask him the question “What about Lincoln City? You’ve taken not just their head coach but his assistant too, where does that leave them? Six games into the season, and they have no coach and no assistant, how do you feel about that?”

I’m sure you’d have got some platitude-ridden response, but internally Hodgkinson would be saying “F*ck Lincoln, not my problem”.

It’s time to stop the coach-poaching madness. The transfer window was introduced to stabilize the playing staff situation, and for the most part, it has succeeded. It’s high time to put the same controls in place for the people who (hopefully) have the most influence over the performance of a team and the well-being of the players from week-to-week.

Huddersfield want The Cowley Chuckle Brothers? OK, get the deal done in July. Don’t wait until September when you have one point from a possible eighteen and then kick Mark Hudson to the curb and pull the rug out from under the feet of another club.
Steve, Los Angeles.

 

Assessing Chelsea
Seeing as it’s international break, it seemed like a good idea to assess Chelsea’s performance so far. Results-wise, they could have been a bit better, but they could have been a hell of a lot worse. As games to watch, however, they’ve been great. That isn’t to say it’s all been dizzying highs, although I guess that’s pretty obvious to everyone. As well as some great attacking play and lovely goals, there have been plenty of moments of nail-biting tension at the ends of the games, particularly against Leicester, where Leicester could have easily grabbed a winner, and Sheffield United, where Chelsea unsuccessfully tried to prevent United from equalising. And of course, the opening game at Old Trafford, which is officially the terrifying low of the season so far. Ultimately though, we watch football for the entertainment, which is exactly what the games are providing this season (credit to the opposition too) and that’s why you’ll find that most Chelsea fans are happy with the way things are going this season.

The Old Trafford result seemed, and has indeed been treated like, a freak result. They scraped a point against Leicester, who I think have proven to be a good team so far and will do very well this year, and the game against Norwich was absolutely fantastic, with the first win and Abraham and Mount getting some wonderful goals. The only real disappointment has been the draw at home to Sheffield United, considering the way that they conceded in both the first and last minutes of the second half, denying them a win to take into the international break. There are plenty of more difficult fixtures coming up (Wolves, Valencia, Liverpool in quick succession after the break, how about that?), but there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful too, namely players to come back like Rudiger, Loftus-Cheek, Hudson-Odoi, and of course, Kante. Reece James is another one everybody is looking forward to seeing play soon, particularly given Azpilicueta’s unfortunate Ivanovic-esque decline.

Another Chelsea fan wrote in fairly recently, seemingly pretty positive about Chelsea’s chances of making it out of their Champion’s League group. Most other Chelsea fans I’ve spoken to do not share his optimism, and while we certainly believe it’s possible, it’s going to be no walk in the park and possibly too tall an order. Anyway, it’s nice to be playing some strong but beatable European teams, all of which are relatively close too, which is great for the fans. That’s what you want from the Champion’s League isn’t it? And if these things mean anything, Ajax’s stadium was where Chelsea won the 2013 Europa League, and Lille was where Hazard was signed from, who won the Europa League with Chelsea in his first and last season. Which means Chelsea… will finish third and win the Europa League..? Yes, that’s what it must mean. But then, the last time Chelsea played Valencia in the group stage of the Champion’s League was in 2011, which means….

A cautiously optimistic and entertained plastic armchair Chelsea fan,
Juanito

 

De Bruyne on fire
I don’t know how he does it, but that guy is extraordinary, I just love watching him. He is the only player I still wish we never sold, never over complicating things; keeps doing simple things extraordinarily. By the way last night he had a hat-trick of assists and off course added a goal, and if he remains fit all through the season, Man City might win the UCL as well.
All hail the Midfield Maestro, KDB.
Meziri CFC, Anambra, Nigeria

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1) Eight months after winning at Stamford Bridge, Leicester returned emboldened by that result but aware that the public perception of them has changed. Brendan Rodgers has arrived to guide one of the most talented group of players in the country and with that comes expectation.

Ordinarily, a visit to Chelsea in August would be no kind of context, but Frank Lampard’s side are very much a work in progress. If Leicester are a credible threat to the top six, which should be their aim, then these are the days on which to prove that that’s built on something more than Rodgers’ frothy optimism.

 

2) Chelsea’s objective was simpler. Lampard could legitimately claim positives from that defeat to Manchester United and many more from the Super Cup on Wednesday night. But while it’s accepted that the club are now between eras and that this transition to something more organic will take time, the native expectations have been tempered rather than changed entirely. Leicester at home is a match to win and so, for Lampard, this was the first game with real pressure.

 

3) With that in mind, his selection of Mason Mount was significant. How refreshing to see a Chelsea head coach not just give cursory minutes to a young player, but to actually offer a proper opportunity. Mount will have good days and bad over the course of the season and most likely his potential will show as often as his naivety.

But that’s okay, because Lampard’s patronage means that he isn’t one bad game from the substitutes’ bench. Young footballers need that. Particularly one like Mount, who has to be expressive and cannot be inhibited by fear over how misplaced passes could impact his short-term career.

 

4) That faith instructed his performance; he didn’t look like someone making a home debut.

That first Premier League appearance at Stamford Bridge came with a first Premier League goal and swift vindication of Lampard’s decision. Mount might actually have scored earlier than he did, breaking between the Leicester centre-backs but choking his shot into the ground. When his goal came, though, it was really his own work, robbing Wilfred Ndidi and cutting a shot across and beyond Kasper Schmeichel.

Lampard will have been delighted. With the goal, of course, and Chelsea’s quick lead, but also because it showed the rainbow of Mount’s abilities and his capacity to follow tactical instruction. Modern coaches love a press, particularly when it’s led by technically gifted young players showing a determination to impose themselves on a game.

 

5) The opening 20 minutes saw Chelsea in furious mood; there was no Istanbul hangover. Key seemed to be Olivier Giroud’s inclusion. He has his limitations and he’ll never be a prolific goalscorer, but there are few Premier League forwards who play quite as selflessly.

An urgent tone was set right from kick-off – that was very important – but there was so much activity around Giroud, too. He smartly chested into Pedro’s stride for a volley which crashed into the side netting and, minutes later, it was his movement which allowed Mount to snipe in for his early chance. On 25 minutes, his cute, clever backheel might have created a rare goal for N’Golo Kante.

Maybe it’s a little unkind on Tammy Abraham, but at the moment there’s no debate about who should be Chelsea’s starting centre-forward. With Giroud in the side, the supporting players all look more potent.

 

6) About that frothy Rodgers optimism…

Leicester’s foundation wasn’t right here. In the 15 minutes before half-time, there were a few of the sharp exchanges you’d expect to see from this group of players, but not nearly enough to present a proper challenge. Jamie Vardy was barely involved, save for that strange Kepa moment, and neither James Maddison nor Youri Tielmans was much of an attacking presence. But that seemed tied to the more general problem of security.

Chelsea moved the ball up the field with little difficulty. Even when their opponents were in proper shape behind the ball, the ease with which they were able to fashion space around – and sometimes inside – the box was alarming. Maybe this is an early season problem, perhaps it’s a consequence of Harry Maguire’s recent departure, but it was still concerning.

 

7) There isn’t an obvious diagnosis for it either. Caglar Soyuncu looks a bit immobile – that’s probably not ideal – but Hamza Choudhury and Ndidi were equipped to protect their defence better than they did and, outside the centre-backs, Ricardo Pereira and Christian Fuchs are hardly security risks, even if the latter has seen better days.

The intensity was wrong. That’s woolly and tenuous, apologies for that, but this wasn’t a side determined to control the middle of the pitch and – clearly – that’s a prerequisite to competing at these grounds.

 

8) An observation, one obviously wise with hindsight: it was interesting to note the body language during Leicester’s warm-up. Lots of smiles, all very casual. When players are pointing and laughing at team-mates for slashing their shots over during shooting practice, maybe that’s not indicative of an appropriate focus.

There’s no value in going too far down this road, because it’s over-analysis based on very little, but it certainly tallied with what followed.

 

9) And another lurching, knee-jerk reaction: has James Maddison been over-estimated?

Originally, before the equaliser, this was a deeply frustrated paragraph bemoaning his inability to release the ball earlier and also his tendency to make bad decisions at important moments. Let’s be fair, though: he got a lot better and, by full-time, he had become a big influence on the game.

Some of the issues are still pertinent, though. There’s a lot to like about Maddison, not least that ebullient self-belief which allowed him to adapt so quickly last season. On Sunday, he also played predominantly from the left, which doesn’t seem to suit him. However, if he is to have a England future, then his ratios still need to change. He cannot waste four opportunities for every one he creates and, at the moment, that’s still the difference between what he is and how he carries himself.

 

10) The shame of Leicester’s start was in how well they began to play after half-time. Chelsea lost their way and while Ndidi’s (splendid) headed equaliser wasn’t exactly ‘coming’, it was reward for their significant improvement.

Suddenly, there were the slick interchanges between the attacking players. Tielemans became a factor, Vardy’s back-shoulder running began to frighten Christensen and Zouma and, at last, Maddison started to become much more productive.

Credit to Rodgers and his players for that: Stamford Bridge is one of those places where it’s easy to roll over and accept defeat. Leicester didn’t.

 

11) And Maddison should have won it for them. On reflection, his stumbling run across the box and wild finish over the bar was an encapsulation of the issues described above. He’s so nearly a very good player.

 

12) What is the difference between Giroud and Abraham? Probably that the latter has no one outstanding attribute. He’s quite skilful, but not very. He’s quick, but not exceptionally so, and his finishing is quite good, but not all the time.

Giroud isn’t an all-round forward in anyone’s eyes, but the reliability of his hold-up play is such that it gives Chelsea a constant base around which to build.

By contrast, Abraham’s contributions remain erratic. He can do some of what Giroud does, but not to a high enough standard to engender any real confidence. Without that, his supporting teammates are unable to play around him in a pre-emptive way and, as a result, Chelsea inevitably lose their attacking fluidity with him as their pivot. If he is to have a future here, then that has to change.

 

13) Whether Jorginho has a long-term future here is a different issue. After a year in England, his tendencies are well established: when Chelsea are secure in games, he looks composed and impressive. When they’re not, he doesn’t.

There are bigger issues at work in Lampard’s team, because the regularity with which Leicester were able to transition out of defence and into attack – and the space they enjoyed when they did – suggested a serious imbalance somewhere. Against a more ruthless opponent, this would almost certainly ended in defeat.

So while the more frequent debate is over N’Golo Kante’s role and whether his abilities are slightly misused further forward, perhaps the better way of framing the issue is to ask whether Jorginho is really suited to being the deepest man. Is he good enough defensively? Is he athletically capable of coping when counter-attacks develop?

We’re still waiting to find out.

 

14)  It’s in those Leicester transitions that Rodgers’ best work can be seen. With the advantage of having two or three players who can occupy a traditional No.10 role, the range of movement around the ball-carrier – particularly on the counter-attack – is hugely impressive. Those runners splay out in every direction and they create panic in a defence; it’s exciting to watch and, as and when the passes are attuned to exploiting it, the goals will follow.

It’s possibly why Maddison is subject to such scrutiny. When those options exist and there’s an obvious path to goal, the right decisions have to be made. Leicester aren’t capitalising on that at the moment, but the framework is at least in place.

 

15)  And what are they, more broadly?

A threat to the top six, but probably not more than that at this stage. It would be easier to assess if we knew what Chelsea were and what this point was actually worth. Nevertheless, some of the associations they grew under Puel clearly remain – not least that bizarre tendency to look like three different sides within the space of a single game.

That has to go. They need to be more efficient in front of goal, that’s a given, but the teams at the top of the table are typically very consistent and keeping pace with them requires a high baseline of performance. Leicester don’t have that yet; they still play well for periods, rather than for entire games.

 

16) And Chelsea?

Don’t underestimate the size of the project Lampard inherited or how many problems Eden Hazard’s form was able to disguise last season.

The defence has been rebuilt and remains without Antonio Rudiger. The midfield continues to be nebulous in definition. And the attack is having to compensate for the departure of the best player in the country without the benefit of investment. It’s difficult and it’s probably going to look unconvincing for a while longer.

 

Seb Stafford-Bloor is on Twitter.

The post Chelsea 1-1 Leicester: 16 Conclusions appeared first on Football365.

Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Why wouldn’t you want to watch this one? It is without doubt the biggest fixture of the opening weekend and Sky Sports have saved it until last.

Chelsea have been less active in the summer than usual due to a transfer ban, and have lost both their manager, Maurizio Sarri, and star player, Eden Hazard. Christian Pulisic arrived before the ban to replace the latter, and club legend Frank Lampard has stepped into the managerial breach.

They may also be more reliant on younger talent than previous years, which makes for an exciting prospect.

Man Utd have had a mixed summer. They have failed to land top attacking targets and haven’t been able to off-load expensive wantaway duo Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku.

They have, though, acquired Harry Maguire – from Leicester City – making him the most expensive defender in history in the process. Daniel James, an £18million signing from Swansea, looks an exciting talent too, and they have managed to prise Aaron Wan-Bisska away from Crystal Palace to hopefully solve their right-back struggles.

The 4pm kick-off is a blockbuster way to end the first weekend of the season, and it’s one you’re unlikely going to want to miss.

Why wouldn’t you want to watch this one? It is without doubt the biggest fixture of the opening weekend and Sky Sports have saved it until last.

Chelsea have been less active in the summer than usual due to a transfer ban, and have lost both their manager, Maurizio Sarri, and star player, Eden Hazard. Christian Pulisic arrived before the ban to replace the latter, and club legend Frank Lampard has stepped into the managerial breach.

They may also be more reliant on younger talent than previous years, which makes for an exciting prospect.

Man Utd have had a mixed summer. They have failed to land top attacking targets and haven’t been able to off-load expensive wantaway duo Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku.

They have, though, acquired Harry Maguire – from Leicester City – making him the most expensive defender in history in the process. Daniel James, an £18million signing from Swansea, looks an exciting talent too, and they have managed to prise Aaron Wan-Bisska away from Crystal Palace to hopefully solve their right-back struggles.

The 4pm kick-off is a blockbuster way to end the first weekend of the season, and it’s one you’re unlikely going to want to miss.

 

The post How and why to watch Man Utd v Chelsea (Sunday, August 11 2019) appeared first on Football365.

Posted in EPL, FA Premier League