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Liverpool – Perception v Reality
I have noticed an odd narrative developing around Liverpool this season and I couldn’t help but vent my frustration about it.

The narrative is best exemplified by Ian Watson’s piece this morning “Comebacks alone cannot sustain Klopp’s ‘mentality monsters…” Well written as usual, but the article itself is a classic straw man argument in my opinion. The title and the piece itself suggest that Liverpool and their impressive progress so far this season are being sustained on comebacks. It’s a nice idea, just not actually true. You know, like with facts and stuff.

Liverpool have played 20 competitive games this season (if you count the Community Shield – no sniggering at the back) and of these I could only identify 5 where anything resembling a ‘comeback’ was needed. That’s 25%, for clarity, which is hardly reliance by any standards. Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup involved coming from behind to win on penalties, which is barely even a ‘comeback’. The win against Newcastle involved falling behind early but being back in front after 40 minutes and never really looking in danger. Against Man Utd a 1-0 deficit was turned into a 1-1 draw, which again is hardly a comeback when a win was expected by most. Spurs and Villa in recent weeks are probably the two matches where I would agree the comebacks felt far from certain and if Liverpool were relying on those kind of results for their current position I could see the argument. But they evidently aren’t.

This narrative (sorry, everything is a narrative these days but it works in this instance) seems rife across most media. Last night on the BT Sport coverage, Jake Humprey argued that Liverpool do not look as convincing as last season and seem a bit shaky in defence. This is quite obviously a ludicrous argument given that after 11 games in the Premier League only 2 sides have conceded fewer goals than Liverpool, who are also unbeaten in all competitions this season. This doesn’t stop this idea being trotted out again and again though.

To me, Liverpool’s form and results this season are overwhelmingly a positive indicator for the rest of the season and beyond. The rampant (and arguably more outwardly convincing) bulldozer of last season has largely been replaced by a team with the kind of immovable confidence and will to win that, to borrow a cliche, is usually only seen in title winners (or at least clear contenders). During Man Utd’s dominance in the 90s and 00s they squeaked results and had the sort of comebacks that are apparently now unsustainable on a regular basis. Coming from behind, late goals, plenty of ‘luck’ (with luck in this case being the inevitable by product of dominance and creating lots of opportunities). These are all things that used to annoy the hell out of me with Utd under Ferguson, as a lot of the time it was hard to explain how they managed to get a result given the way the match panned out.

At some point the penny will drop that Liverpool are now just an outstanding football team, breaking records and currently arguably putting the most expensively assembled squad in the history of football in the shade. If they are doing this with late goals, comebacks, borderline decisions or anything else that is apparently ‘unsustainable’ then all the better. These are the circumstances that breed winners and give teams more and more belief going forward. The things Man City have done in recent years seems to have distorted people’s perception of what a title challenging team should look like. If that continues to feed the fawning over City and the cynicism around Liverpool’s form then all the better in my mind.

And please, before writing the inevitable “boo hoo we aren’t getting the credit we deserve” response, read again.

The Reds are on the march!
Gaz

 

Stop comparing everyone to Klopp
Can we stop with every other top club using Klopp as a barometer for giving their manager time??
Give OGS/Lampard/Emery time,look at Klopp.
You are comparing apples/oranges/bananas.

6 months before Klopp came in Liverpool lost 6-1 away to Stoke. Gerrard had left when he took over. Coutinho & Lallana were his 2 best players when he took over (Firminio was only there 2 months,the jury was out). His centre backs were Sakho & Skrtel,his midfield had Allen & Lucas Leiva in it,the bench had Jordan Ibe & Adam Bogdan on it.

In 15/16 he took the squad to 2 cup finals(would have won both but for Moreno & Mignolet) & the team got improved results.
In 16/17 Liverpool were top of the league by Xmas but tailed off when Mane went to the African Nations & the squad was threadbare(Lucas at centre back for gods sake!!) but he made top 4.
In 17/18 they got to the CL final-Karius howlers,Salah injured,Bale freak goal- & would have finished second but Klopp rested players for the CL quarters & semis and took 3 points from 12 v Stoke,WBA,Everton & Chelsea & finished 6 off second.
They also sold Coutinho mid season.
Last year they lost 1 league game,they won the CL.
They managed a points total that would have won the league the year the invincibles won it,even would have won it when teams played 42 games.

They have never lost a home european tie under Klopp,never lost a 2 legged european tie under Klopp,haven’t lost a league game at home in two & a half years,haven’t lost at home at all in over a year & have lost 1 game out of their last 49 league games.
They have played sublime,swashbuckling football every season.

OGS lost to PSG at home(& has already lost more league games then Klopp has despite managing 105 fewer games).
Lampard has lost at home to Valencia & lost more league ganes this season then Klopp has in his last 50.
Don’t even get me started on Emery.

My point is every single season Klopp improved,got results & delivered.
Anyone with half a brain could see that even though trophies weren’t being delivered they were getting there & they were challenging.
He improved the defence immeasurably culiminating in last season having the best defence in the league & the CL.

He managed this with a net spend of 80m(20m per season).
If Pep sold KDB,Sterling,Silva & Aguero for a combined £400m he still would have spent more then Klopp…would City be challenging for the league??..I highly doubt it.

Klopp didn’t get a free pass,he delivered season in season out.Don’t forget Feb 2018 was the first time Liverpool made the knockout stages of the CL in 10 YEARS!!

Now people are complaining if it takes Liverpool to the last game to get out of the group.
Ferg, Cork

 

Arsenal are a shambles
How sad to see the once proud and globally respected Arsenal Football Club in such a shambles. The rot started when the American owner, whose only interest was in empire building and money making, became involved and things have gone downhill from top to bottom.

Traditionally the Board was renowned for doing things in the proper, efficient, and sensible way but how that has changed ! Firstly, with great respect for what he had done for the club , why did they give Arsene Wenger such an extended contract when clearly the game had overtaken him both on and off the pitch and to extend it for a further two years was foolhardy and irresponsible. Did they really expect him to achieve something in two years after ten years of failure ? It is now becoming abundantly clear that severe doubts must be expressed regarding their choice of the replacement manager as this appears to be yet another ill considered Boardroom mistake. Over the past eighteen months the quality of the football, the achievement of results , and the reputation of the club is simply not acceptable for a club of the stature of Arsenal.

Mr.Emery may well have been a successful manager in the middle regions of Spanish football but he is clearly not up to the standard required for the English Premier League (or PSG.) The same applies to Granit Zhaka who played well in the German league and  indeed as captain of Switzerland but he is not EPL material. This is not a unique situation as several other players have come from overseas with a good reputations to  other clubs but have not made it over here.

Football has always been my main source of entertainment  but as well as the demise of my own club the game as a whole is not what it used to be. The overall quality has declined, there is so much cheating with diving and faking injuries, the ridiculous, childlike goal celebrations, and the last straw VAR which should be consigned the dustbin along with the man who runs it- Mike Reilly , without doubt the worst referee of his generation.

For these reasons attendances throughout the game will continue to recede as they already have at the Emirates.
Macca ( thank goodness for fond memories), Herts.

 

Integrity compromised
I have written before about how the FA Cup has gradually been eroded in its importance over the last 30 years for numerous reasons . Now it seems that the League cup in its various guises whilst always being a “secondary” competition is now on dangerous ground as regards its future.

The decision for Liverpool to play the quarter final one day before a game of arguably more importance on another continent is wrong. I appreciate that this is the clubs decision as much as the authorities due to fixture pile up , and basically the club has given up on the competition as it gets to the final stages.

There are rules in place to stop clubs playing weakened teams to ensure the integrity of all the competitions.In this instance there is no conceivable way that LFC can play a team that even resembles the one put out in the last round against Arsenal. Assuming LFC take 20 players for the two games Club World Cup that means the likes of Gomez , Ox , Keita , Lallana , Origi and Milner who all started in the game against Arsenal will be unavailable as they will be in Qatar.

This essentially means a LFC under 23 side will play against Villa. Now it is normal for the bigger clubs with their larger squads to play a few youngsters in the early rounds of the league cup to give them experience and then if the team progresses to gradually increase the number of senior players as the prospect of winning a trophy comes nearer.  Chelsea and Man City particularly have monopolized this competition over the last few seasons , bedding in a few youngsters and using the trophy as a springboard to push on to other successes.

There is also the issue of the fans who have paid full price to essentially see a reserve side play. Fans can go and see the reserves at any point but no doubt ticket prices will not be reduced in this instance despite a different but arguably lesser quality side on show.

Klopp is correct , the fixture list needs looking at . Clearly this year is compounded by LFC taking part in the Club World Cup but they are representing Europe in this instance so it has to unfortunately take precedence over the Carabao Cup . Perhaps next year if an English side is fortunate enough to win the champions league they will be excused from league cup duty , however this is not ideal as UTD’s( not their fault) enforced abscence from the FA Cup some 20 odd years ago demeaned the competition overall.

The authorities need to sort this out but I doubt anything will be done , competing interests from the premier league , UEFA , FA etc will all fight their corner as they push their product at the detriment to others .

The league cup is at a crossroads not entirely of its own doing. Its needs to be looked at or it’s integrity is doomed.
DL , LFC , Geneva

 

Prisoner’s Dilemma
I really enjoyed Banjo, Prague’s proposal to give teams who play a score draw of 3-3 or higher 2 points each, as well as the Editor’s hypothesis that this would lead to the teams just agreeing to score 3 goals each before the game really began.

You guys have basically just set up the Game Theory scenario, The Prisoner’s Dilemma.

Other mailbox contributors probably understand Game Theory better than I do, but my feeling is that if two teams agreed to each score 3 goals before the game really began, the team who scores the 3rd goal first would have a rational reason to betray their opponents and prevent them from scoring their own 3rd goal. This in turn would affect the next iteration of the scenario, and so on. Its hard to predict exactly what would happen in the long run – my guess is that most teams would eventually revert back to not allowing each other to score at all.
Oliver (hey, at least this was more interesting than discussing Conflicts of Interest + Separation of Duties) Dziggel, Geneva Switzerland 

 

Pretty sure the fun in crazy scores is at least partially due to the fact that they’re rare events. If you make them commonplace, you’ll ruin football. Think about 6s in a T20 cricket game.
Rahul, India

 

It’s not double jeopardy it’s playing advantage
Kwab said it was unfair that Ajax were hit with double jeopardy misses the point. Blinds foul was noted but rightly the advantage was with the attacking team was allowed to play on. Play is still ‘live’ the defender handles the ball a penalty called and defender then abuses the referee receives a 2nd booking and is off. Blind who committed a bookable offence is sent from the field.

It’s not the refs fault that Ajax’s discipline was so poor. Blame lies squarely with Ajax not the ref.
Anon

 

Chill out, Winty…
Hi Guys,

Could someone please tell Sarah Winterburn to chill the f**k out.

Nobody with any sense is saying this Chelsea team is the finished article. There is a lot of work to be done and we do need to replace a few aging and outdated players.

That being said we are exceeding the expectations of almost everybody and the positives far outweigh the negatives for the time being.

May I also remind Sarah/F365 that Lampard didn’t declare himself the new Fergie so please stop using it as a stick to beat Chelsea/Lampard with.

Cheers
Conor, Dublin

 

Help save WSC
To all mailboxes and 365 staff,

I’m an extremely busy man, I often find myself thinking up a decent mail to send in on a current topic only to get sidelined by work etc and never getting around to it. But today I’m making sure I find the time to write on something very close to the heart.

I’m sure a lot of people here have heard of the wonderful When Saturday Comes monthly football magazine, and I’m sure there are fellow subscribers out there. In these days of the world wide interweb print writing is very much struggling. Progress some might say. While there are some excellent sites about, this one especially, there is a lot of dross drowning out the more traditional format which, because it is not free to access, has to be extra special to survive.

In this months copy the editorial spelt out just how difficult they are finding it to keep afloat. I dread the thought of it going under. I urge all readers to buy a copy of this months When Saturday Comes. You will not regret it. Most of you would consider a subscription for yourselves or as a great Christmas gift (this is how I got my first copy, Christmas present from mum in 2007).The writing is fantastic. It has helped launch the careers of many writers like Barney Ronay and Harry Pearson. It even played a part in campaigning against the implementation of football fan ID cards in the 80s

Please help keep a much loved institution in business and enjoy some top quality journalism to boot!

Yours hopefully,
Will (the analysis of Roy Keane on itv had me in stitches) CFC

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Winners

Manchester City
Another 3-0 win in Kharkiv, but this was a far more important victory than a year ago. City did not play with any great style, or at least only did so in short bursts, but what mattered is that they showed their teeth.

People like it when City lose and, back home, the defeat to Norwich is still a punchline. The schadenfreude has evidently tweaked Pep Guardiola, too, and he was irritated enough to call back to the media’s heckling of him during his first season. A little strange; it has been more than three years.

But that just underlines how important this was. To get off to a good start in the Champions League, of course, because that’s always useful, but also to change the conversation. With that in mind, this was precisely the right moment for City to effortlessly dominate a side on their own pitch and remind everyone of their power.

And what a terrific performance from Fernandinho. Yes, Guardiola can afford to be a bit experimental with his centre-backs, but don’t underestimate the challenge of occupying an unfamiliar position at this level of the game.

 

Valencia
Our early winners. despite the chaos.

 

Erling Haaland
How much fun was that to watch? Haaland had scored three hat-tricks in the Austrian Bundesliga already this season, but for most of us this was a first glimpse. He’s a spectacle, in the true, ‘who the f**k is that?’ sense? By all accounts he possesses a slightly alternative personality away from the game (Google the story about the Champions League anthem) and he seems very off-beat in front of the press. On the pitch, though, he plays like a PG monster from a child’s nightmare.

He shouldn’t be able to move like that. Does that make sense? He’s too big, he’s too square and he has that ever-so-slightly crouched posture when runs which makes it looks like he’s swimming. So: a vast body with disproportionate limbs and a big, friendly looking face. If he was chasing you, you’d definitely run away.

Soon, he’ll take up residence in the gossip columns. He’ll be seized by the have-a-go analysts and lavished by the kind of hyperbole that will make it impossible for him to surprise us ever again. For now, though, he’s just a big, goofy teenager doing amazing things at the summit of the game.

And he also looks like he could eat Roy Keane for breakfast, which his dad probably doesn’t hate.

 

Jesse Marsch
The only shame of Haaland’s hat-trick was that it overshadowed his manager’s own accomplishment. On Tuesday night, Jesse Marsch became the first American to coach a team in the Champions League. By half-time, after a staggering 45 minutes and with a 5-1 lead, he knew he was about to become the first American to win in the Champions League too.

It’s quite a story. Five years ago, Marsch was coaching at Princeton University, and even then just as an assistant. He did spend three years in charge of the New York Red Bulls and, obviously, has benefited from the club’s network and pathways, but this has still been jet-powered rise. And a challenge, too. When he was appointed by Salzburg, the home fans hung a banner behind one of the goals in protest. A couple of months later, his team have won their first seven league games of the season, a division record, and currently boast a goal-difference of +28.

Add six more goals and three Champions League to that growing CV.

 

Mats Hummels
What a performance. That Barcelona forward line obviously isn’t what it was, but Hummels was outstanding in that goalless draw and clearly the game’s best player.

Which might be of interest to Jogi Loew, who forcefully retired Hummels from international duty at the age of just 30. You suspect that it wasn’t an entirely sporting decision, because Hummels is no wallflower, but it doesn’t look like a particularly smart one, either – particularly given how poorly Germany defended in that recent lost to Holland.

It’s not just that Hummels remains an excellent player, it’s that he comprises the balance of attributes that Loew seems to need at the centre of his defence. On this evidence, none of those abilities are on the wane yet.

 

Adrian
Just for his save, because if he never makes another appearance in the Champions League, which he probably won’t, then that’s quite a memory to take away.

It was fortuitous, because when a cross is hung up to the back post like that, there’s only so much a goalkeeper can do. The coaching instruction is presumably for him to just put himself in position to hopefully be hit by the ball – the Schmeichel starfish technique, for instance, which was actually a very passive position.

But this wasn’t just that; Adrian wasn’t just hit by the ball. Dries Merten’s technique was perfect; it was a really well-struck shot and, no matter how many times you watch, it still seems unlikely that – 1) Adrian will be able to hang in the air long enough to make the save and 2) have the necessary finger strength to gain proper purchase on the ball.

Let’s not rank it. Who cares how it measures against other excellent saves? This was just brilliant, brilliant goalkeeping.

 

Losers

Tottenham
Back to where they were, then, because everything that was good about Spurs at the weekend dissipated during the flight to Greece. They played with no pace, no accuracy or control and, most concerningly, without any authority over the game even after finding themselves two goals ahead.

That’s one of the anomalies about Tottenham under Mauricio Pochettino. No matter how long this group stays together and what they experience, they never seem to acquire the ability to properly protect leads. Sometimes that can be excused on account of the opposition or scenario. More often, though, it can be traced back to inexplicable errors which, really, have no justification.

As they didn’t on Wednesday, when Christian Eriksen’s cheap turnover and Jan Vertonghen’s rash challenge allowed Mathieu Valbuena to equalise from the penalty spot.

Just calling it ‘Spursy’ is irritating, because it implies that the players have no responsibility and that, ultimately, the club’s flawed DNA can always just be used as an excuse. It’s not a curse, it’s just rubbish defending and Tottenham are guilty of it far too often.

“It’s not about tactics or quality players but the level of fight. You need to match the opponent in aggressivity, excitement, motivation. That is the first demand – you need to work. It’s not only the responsibility of one person; it’s everyone’s responsibility.”

Mauricio Pochettino is correct in his diagnosis, but so what? Five years in and his team are still kicking themselves in the balls on a semi-regular basis. This is why they haven’t won anything. It’s not the absence of some elusive fortitude, it’s because – for all their very real, very substantial improvements – they remain a fundamentally sloppy football team, prone to wavering concentration and poor decisions. They can still be brilliant to watch and their fans rightly love them for that, but how precise are they? How much detail lies behind Pochettino’s approach?

Those aren’t rhetorical questions, it’s genuinely difficult to know the answers.

Let’s not lose sight of a bigger picture: it wasn’t important that Tottenham won in Greece, it was just essential that they didn’t lose. But that not withstanding, this was still a dreadful performance which will have to be their worst of the campaign if they’re to do anything of note in the Champions League this season.

 

Christian Eriksen
And that’s why nobody bought him. He’s regularly (and correctly) identified as the side’s most important component, but he still takes far too many games off to be worth the kind of fee that Daniel Levy was asking for.

It’s not intentional, Eriksen is far from lazy, he just doesn’t possess the mental appetite for the game that very best players all share. He doesn’t have the slightly sociopathic quality that instructs that sort of drive and that’s probably why, unfortunately, he’s prone to making the same mistakes so often.

Think back to the Champions League quarter-final last season and the pass he gave away in the build up to Raheem Sterling’s disallowed goal. How does a player not learn from that kind of mistake? How is that, four months later, he can find himself in a similar situation, leave the ball hopelessly unprotected, and then fail to react properly when it’s stolen from him?

 

Liverpool
No, it shouldn’t have been a penalty but, yes, Liverpool still deserved to lose.

More here on a sloppy first night which has made a simple group much harder than it should have been.

 

Chelsea
There isn’t much point in doing game-by-game analysis of Frank Lampard, because we know he’s still learning and we knew that these kind of games would be a feature of this season. No, the defeat to Valencia wasn’t good, but it didn’t feature any new concerns or present problems with Chelsea that hadn’t already been diagnosed.

One thing though: get those set-pieces sorted. Rodrigo scored from one and Kevin Gameiro might have scored from another. Liverpool aren’t Tony Pulis’s Stoke City,

  

Antonio Conte in Europe
Conte can’t really do European football. Last time we saw him, his Chelsea side were being dumped out of the Champions League by Barcelona at the Round of 16 stage in 2017. True, he was likely preoccupied by that redundancy-baiting sulk at the time, but his Serie A-dominating Juventus side were hardly a European power either, exiting meekly to Bayern Munich in 2013 and, more embarrassingly, in the group stage a year later.

Stranger still, Juventus went all the way to the final the very next year, in Max Allegri’s first season in charge.

So there’s a something here and, as a result, familiarity in seeing Conte’s Inter, who are currently top of Serie A, being outplayed by Slavia Prague. They salvaged a late point through a fortunate deflection, but that flattered a horribly disconnected performance which Slavia didn’t quite have the composure to punish properly.

Conte’s football could never be described as exhilarating. Actually, its greatest virtue is its repetitive nature and percussive attrition, but it’s concerning just how loose Inter were and how far away from his ideals they seem to be. It’s early in his reign, that’s only to fair, but they really were hopeless.

 

Mason Mount
The last time Francis Coquelin played at Stamford Bridge he left humiliated, having been rag-dolled by Eden Hazard. On his return, he was evidently determined to leave more of an impression.

And he did. Whether there was any malice in his first half follow-through on Mason Mount is debatable – almost certainly there wasn’t – but the effect will be that one of the stories of the season will now be placed on pause. At the time of writing it’s not clear how serious the ankle injury is (although a scan has precluded ligament damage), but it was bad enough to see Mount leave the field and, presumably, will cost him a place in the team which faces Liverpool at the weekend.

Urgh. He’s one of the reasons to watch the Premier League at the moment and who wasn’t intrigued by Mount’s first steps in European football?

 

VAR
The sentiment behind Clear & Obvious is right, because nobody wants endless interference or to see tiny parts of the game being refereed. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what makes VAR such a difficult sell. The problem with this ‘high bar’ is that incidents are occurring which should be reversed – the Callejon penalty, Marc-Andre ter Stegen leaving his line – but which invariably aren’t because of that determination not to interfere.

The more that happens, whatever the intention may be, the more antagonistic it will ultimately become.

 

Lyon
The draw with Zenit now makes it eight Champions League games without a win. Stranger still, the last time they did win in the competition was against Manchester City at the Etihad.

Lyon are obviously no longer the club that won eight straight Ligue 1 titles at the beginning of the Millennium. The nature of French football has changed and their place in the domestic and continental hierarchy has been permanently altered. But this is still a team capable of doing more than they are.

Dembele, Depay, Aouar and Tousart may not be Juninho, Benzema and Govou, but it’s not as if they’re without talent.

 

Real Madrid
Big clubs have suffered at Parc des Princes during the group stage before, but this defeat felt more instructive. Not least because it was inflicted by a Paris Saint-Germain side without Neymar and Kylian Mbappe and without the customary reliance on individual power.

They just looked like the better team and, given what PSG represent in the modern game, that’s absolutely damning. But still very fair, because Real are in a terrible muddle and this felt like an accurate portrayal of what they are.

And what is that? A head coach with a very tenuous relationship with a few of his key players. A midfield which now looks tired and imbalanced and improperly weighted with attacking players. And a forward line which, last night at least, was propped up a by a player who the club tried to sell to the Chinese Super League over the summer.

When Zinedine Zidane first resigned, he made an excellent decision. He had his European Cups and a reputation which, because of that success, was very difficult to argue with. What he identified, most likely, was that the squad he’d been managing was reaching the end of its lifespan and that whomever was in charge over the next few years would have to suffer through transition.

And, unfortunately, although turning Florentino Perez down must be difficult, Zidane has stumbled his way back into the situation he did so well to extricate himself from. Remember that episode of The Simpsons in which Homer jumps out of a car which is heading off the edge of a cliff but somehow, inadvertently, rolls back in? Yeah, that.

 

Seb Stafford-Bloor is on Twitter.

 

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Tottenham have finally agreed a fee with Real Betis for Giovani Lo Celso with the midfielder agreeing a five-year deal, according to reports.

The Argentine midfielder has been heavily linked with a move to Tottenham over the last month as Mauricio Pochettino looks to strengthen his squad to mount a more credible title challenge this season.

The 23-year-old moved Betis from PSG on loan last summer with the La Liga side making the move permanent in April.

Despite the fact he has only been in Spain permanently for a matter of months, Pochettino has seen enough to convince him that the playmaker is worth bringing to north London – though the Spurs boss was giving little away when questioned about the player earlier in the week.

“Sell, buy players, sign contract, not sign contract – I think it is not in my hands, it’s in the club’s hands and (chairman) Daniel Levy,” Pochettino commented.

“The club need to change my title and description. Of course I am the boss deciding the strategic play, but in another area I don’t know. Today, I feel like I am the coach.”

However, Spanish newspaper El Transistor claims Spurs have finally settled on a fee of €60m (£54.6m) with Real Betis for the Argentinian – a deal which would make the midfielder their second costliest signing of all time behind Tanguy Ndombele, who arrived from Lyon earlier this summer.

And La Gazzetta dello Sport journalist Nicolo Schira has shed further light on the deal that will take Lo Celso to Tottenham, with the player thought to have agreed a five-year deal to the summer of 2024.

Furthermore, it’s claimed Lo Celso will €4m a year, which equates to £70,000 a week – a figure that will no doubt delight chairman Daniel Levy.

Assuming all goes to plan, Lo Celso will become a Tottenham player before the end of the weekend and will be their third new arrival of the summer after Ndombele and Leeds’ Jack Clarke.

 

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Nicolas Pepe looks set to become the latest player to move from Ligue 1 to the top end of the Premier League. Here, we rank the last 10 stars to cross the Channel for the Big Six…

 

10) Tiemoue Bakayoko – Chelsea
The Paris-born midfielder, who joined Chelsea from Monaco for £40million – their second most expensive signing at the time – had somewhat rebuilt his reputation during a season-long loan at AC Milan after a ropey start at the San Siro, but Bakayoko has reportedly failed to impress Frank Lampard any more than he managed with Antonio Conte.

The mere mention of his name transports Chelsea fans straight back to Vicarage Road where the 24-year-old was sent off for two bookings before the half-hour in a 4-1 defeat in February last year. Milan may take him off their hands permanently but Chelsea will have to take a big hit on the once-capped France midfielder.

 

9) Michy Batshuayi – Chelsea
It seems Chelsea still don’t know what to do with Batshuayi. Presumably he would be away if they could sign replacements but circumstances could give the 25-year-old an opportunity to nail down a place in Lampard’s squad following three loan moves in the last 18 months during which he has scored 18 goals for Borussia Dortmund, Valencia and Crystal Palace.

Whatever they decide, it certainly wasn’t the plan when Chelsea paid Marseille £33million for the Belgium centre-forward three years ago.

 

8) Benjamin Mendy – Man City
Injuries have restricted the £52million signing to 17 Premier League appearances in two seasons but knee problems haven’t stopped the former Monaco man from playing the clown. Pep Guardiola would rather have a left-back than a globetrotting cheerleader, which presumably forced City to buy back Angelino. Who was ‘absolutely awful’ last week…

7) Serge Aurier – Spurs
The Ivory Coast defender showed signs of improvement last season – among some trouser-dirtying moments for Spurs fans too – but he managed only six starts in the Premier League as fitness concerns linger.

With Mauricio Pochettino having sold Kieran Trippier to Atletico Madrid, Aurier needs to get his act together in this, his third season in English football. Unless the Spurs boss has indeed decided to play Juan Foyth as his starting right-back.

 

6) David Luiz – Chelsea
The Brazilian’s £34million move from PSG in 2016 was his second stab at a Chelsea career after he was sold to the French champions for £50million two years previously and though he has largely made a better fist of it than the first attempt, most Blues would probably just have shrugged at the sight of the 32-year-old walking away upon the expiry of his contract last season.

As it is, because Chelsea can’t sign anyone else, they have given Luiz two more years to get them through a transfer ban and to give the likes of Kurt Zouma, Andreas Christensen and Ethan Ampadu time to blossom into centre-backs worthy of phasing him out.

 

5) Fabinho – Liverpool
Liverpool’s £40million capture of the Brazilian was kept weirdly quiet until it was announced shortly after their 2018 Champions League final defeat and the start of his Anfield career was equally bizarre. Jurgen Klopp appeared petrified of using the former Monaco midfielder amid the hustle and bustle of the Premier League and the Liverpool boss was reportedly considering sending Fabinho away at the first opportunity in January.

But the patient approach paid off. Fabinho was eased in and grew over the course of the season which he ended as first choice in Klopp’s midfield. The 25-year-old also proved his versatility by slotting in a right-back and centre-back.

 

4) Lucas Moura – Spurs
It didn’t seem to matter what Moura did last season – if everyone was fit, the Brazilian was usually out. Even after scoring the incredible hat-trick which took Spurs to the Champions League final, he was benched for the Madrid meeting with Liverpool.

It speaks well of his form since arriving from PSG in January 2018 that many felt Moura was Spurs’ best chance of troubling Virgil van Dijk. But Pochettino opted for a half-fit Kane and Van Dijk pocketed the Spurs centre-forward and a winner’s medal leaving the Brazilian understandably miffed.

3) Alexandre Lacazette – Arsenal
The £46million signing carried the goalscoring burden for Arsenal before his mate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang showed up six months later to share the load. Together they have forged one of the Premier League’s best strike partnerships and emerged as just about the only good thing about Arsenal last season.

Aubameyang took a share of the Premier League Golden Boot with 22 goals but Lacazette weighed in 13 while laying on another 10. Unai Emery will be expecting 20 plus in all competitions this season, especially if Nicolas Pepe is providing the ammunition.

 

2) Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Man Utd
We shouldn’t forget how good Zlatan was in his first season at United, which turned out to be his only full campaign in the Premier League and even that was ended prematurely by a knee injury. He notched 28 goals in all competitions and was nominated for the PFA Player of the Season for helping United to win the League Cup – he scored twice in the final – and Europa League.

Ibrahimovic didn’t hit the same heights upon re-signing for United after his knee injury but allowing him to join LA Galaxy might still be seen as a mistake given the influence he had upon the dressing room at Old Trafford. When Zlatan went, the mentality shifted, leaving Jose Mourinho to fight a losing battle.

 

1) Bernardo Silva – Man City
“For me, to drop Bernardo Silva right now is almost impossible. Right now it is Bernardo and 10 more players,” said Pep Guardiola as City geared up in February for the sprint to the Premier League finish line. “I don’t know what this guy has done this season. Playing in the middle and outside, every single game he played perfect.”

Pep likes to talk his players up but Bernardo’s contribution spoke for itself. The Portuguese schemer, a £43million signing from Monaco two years ago, was City’s best player in a Treble-winning season, combining creativity with endless graft.

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Send your innermost thoughts to theeditor@football365.com…

 

It just Ney work
Re the Neymar situation, I have a quite bonkers idea which may suit all parties. Neymar should move to the premier league. More specifically, he should move to ARSENAL.

Take a moment to stop sniggering and hear me out. The guy is obviously at sixes with PSG so would need to leave pronto. No one can afford his astronomical fee, so the best solution would be to go out on loan for the year. Realistically, there are only a handful of teams in Europe that can afford his ridiculous wage, so let’s whittle them down. Barca have just got Griezmann and are almost a billion dollars in dept, so probably won’t sort a deal out this summer. Real don’t need another winger/attacker and have invested the GDP of a small country to bring players in this window. The only Italian team who could afford him have CR7, and could you imagine the two vying for the spotlight in Turin? No Way.

Bayern could afford and do need a winger, but they are genuinely quite sensible and know full well that Neymar would screw up the team dynamics within the squad. This leaves the prem teams. City don’t need another attacker, Chelsea can’t sign anyone and seem to be giving youth a chance, Ney Ney is the complete opposite of a Klopp player, and Levy + Neymar is something I can’t envisage happening in this universe. Noodle sponser United would probably be a great fit, but perhaps the north of England wouldn’t be as jazzy as London for our Brazilian prima donna. That leaves Arsenal… They are obviously not going to get Zaha, and may get Tierney as their only major signing, thus leaving about £20 Mill left in the kitty. Arsenal need a winger, need a signing to uplift the fans, need someone to ensure 60,000 are willing renew their joke of a season ticket cost. He’s worked with Emery before, and although they had their differences, Emery knows how good of a player he can be.

F365 has mentioned it already, Neymar needs to be a footballer first again, and what better place to roll his sleeves up then a massive club like Arsenal, but without the pressures of being in the biggest of spotlights like he would at Barca or City.

It’s a win win situation in my books, as without the signing, the immediate future holds nothing but darkness for the club.  Give the man 400K per week  for the year, and if (albiet a big if) he can get his act together, at least there would be a buzz around the club, and they can fail/progress gloriously. Its so mad, it just Ney work…
Henry Innes

 

Arsenal’s new formation?
Interesting plan being hatched by Ian, LFC this morning. I did some quick maths however and wonder how fitting Aubameyang, Lacazette, Ozil, Mhkitaryan, Bellerin, Kolasinac, three centre backs and obviously a goalkeeper into a team will leave our midfield? Also, losing Koscielny on a free will pretty much guarantee Mustafi a start every week so I don’t think there’s legs in this approach.

I do generally agree with the ‘riding out the storm’ sentiment though.  I would much rather we spent all of our money on the defence and used the likes of Nelson, Smith Rowe, Sako, Martinelli as attacking squad options, give Maitland Niles a run of games in his favoured position once Bellerin is fit again and see where that takes us.

Much has been made of the supposed transfer budget and whilst I believe the figures being mentioned aren’t too far from the truth, I suspect there is some kidology involved. Whether it’s so the selling club can’t ask for too much money etc. I don’t know but I reckon there’s a few more quid available to get Tierney and another centre back in.
James, Kent.

 

Arsenal mess
Hello Ian, riding a storm would mean rebuilding after a short period of time (Like after Hurricane Kartina). Arsenal are more like Chernobyl, after a nuclear meltdown in 2006. They have been in abysmal shape ever since. Blaming the stadium costs, other teams money, board, manager, player attitude, coaching, staff, purchases, sales, contracts and everything else. There is no rebuilding to do. The only option there is to scorch the current team to the ground and start anew.

Other than Auba & Laca, there is not a player in the 28 man arsenal squad that would be a value addition to the top teams in the world (Barca, Madrid, Bayern, PSG, City, Liverpool, United, Juventus, Chelsea, Atletico). Most would struggle to get into the Wolves, Inter, Leicester, Everton line ups too. The entire squad is horrific to be honest, and as a United fan, that is the only solace i find in these difficult times. This scorched earth policy will take either time, or immense money (500m+ over 2 seasons) to rebuild. Do the Arsenal board have that in them ?? Is Stan really that passionate? I doubt it.

The only way this gets better for Arsenal fans is for the club to be sold (preferably to someone with a decent human rights record and a passionate football man or a supporters trust). But there is not value in Arsenal for the price Stan will ask for. So they are stuck in the radioactive & harmful environment till the people at the top realize the suffocation and hurt of the people who live Arsenal.

As a United fan, wish them the best, and hope they can be good enough for 2nd but never 1st 🙂 🙂
Aman (No expectations from United, only hope).

 

Hi,

It’s actually the first time I write to the mailbox, I’ve been an arsenal fan for more than 15 years and a keen f365 follower. I’m sorry to say this but I believe the current mess we are in partly because of our fans. Don’t get me wrong, the current ownership is a joke and the club is clearly is getting worse under their stewardship, however we were doomed since the day David Dein left our club.

Arsenal became scared of the fans’ reaction of selling our best players, even though it might be in the best interest of the club in doing so.
Remember the time where we had to sell our best player year in year out? Think of Fabregas, Nasri, RVP, Adebayor, Alex Song and Alex Hleb.
The club had to sell their best players because the players were impatient and didn’t believe in the project at the time, where as it was an extremely talented young squad that was so close so success, but for bad luck with a series of long term injuries, such as Rosicky, Diaby, Eduardo and RVP, and some stubbornness from the manager, where he assembled a gifted squad with huge potential but lacked 1 or two wise heads at the back and a decent goal keeper.
We mounted a series challenge in the PL culminated in the game where Eduardo suffered a double leg fracture and Gallas sitting at the Centre circle when Clichy conceded a late penalty. Had we won that game I think we would have been 8 points ahead of United.
Players didn’t want to stay because they didn’t believe in themselves and the project and the club had to sell to protect the value of the players so they don’t risk losing them for nothing, as is happening now.
This led to despise and extreme anger from Arsenal fans towards the club, and Arsenal was too nice to come out publicly and throw the player under the bus by announcing they clearly want to leave. And Arsenal were also too nice to them to allow them to train and play while they clearly indicated they will not renew their contacts. Look at what Liverpool did when Suarez publicly indicated he wanted to join Arsenal, even though he had an agreement with Liverpool they would allow him to leave. They ousted him form the first team and made him train with the kids until he changed his mind. Wenger was a gentleman and father figure and the players used this against him.
At Wenger’s last five years at the club, he allowed a lot of first team players to run out their contracts and leave for nothing, which they though was a better option than facing the wrath of fans.
We arsenal fans were the first to witness player power and were quick to criticize the club for selling the players who don’t want to play for us, rather than the ungrateful players that we gave them their name and career but could stand by the club when they needed them the most. Remember Arsenal didn’t buy stars at the time, they bought talented youngsters and invested time money and a lot of points for them to play and develop. All of them came here Unkown and left one the the most sought after players

Arsenal should’ve been more transparent and tougher with the players and the fans should’ve been more understanding of the situation the club were in.

The most depressing fact about the whole situation is that the 08/09 team were miles better than the 18/19 team.
Ahmed Ammar, Egypt

 

Which player would you swap with your rival?
So after seeing the lack of mails this morning I thought I would write in with this question that I recently had on my Podcast (don’t worry I won’t be plugging it……yet) anyway, the question was “If you could do a straight swap deal with a Premier League rival for a player which one would you choose and why?”

Now the rules we had were you couldn’t just pick your worst player and choose your rivals best, it had to be a deal that would benefit both parties, my choice was Jorginho for Sergio Aguero, City at the time needed a Jorginho type player and Chelsea always need a striker, so what are some of the mailboxers choices?
Mikey, CFC (It is a Podcast all about Chelsea and football in general if you’re curious)

 

Equality and womens football
I’m very glad that the debate on the USNWT’s equal pay lawsuit has continued and developed in the mailbox. I think it is a more nuanced subject than many acknowledge.

In my opinion (as an American and as someone who has long considered himself to be a Feminist/ally), from a political and legal perspective, the USWNT seems to clearly deserve equal pay and equal conditions to those provided to the men’s team, and I believe their fight for equality is very important in the US’ current sociopolitical climate.

However, if you remove politics and law, and instead focus on the matter from a purely sporting/competitive* perspective, I think there are strong arguments which show why treating the USWNT equally is problematic.

I have followed the USWNT for a few years now, and much more closely over the course of this world cup. They are often praised for their togetherness and team spirit; they are criticized for their perceived arrogance. My observation is that they are entirely inwardly-focused and oblivious to what goes on outside their circle. This is fantastic for team building and their competitive record evidences that, but this is how you end up with Alex Morgan doing a “sipping tea” celebration and earnestly believing it was obvious that she was mimicking the Kermit the Frog internet meme, rather than taking the p*ss out of her English opponents (Ugh. Millenials). This obliviousness leads to what could be seen as a lack of solidarity towards their competitors:

1. Women playing for other national teams face similar institutional sexism that women in America face. However, female athletes in America are provided with vastly superior conditions from a young age through adulthood, compared to conditions female athletes experience elsewhere. This takes the shape of practical considerations like training facilities and budgets (Title IX), but also in the way American society encourages girls to take up competitive sports more than in other nations. Despite the USWNT not being treated equally over the past 30 years, they have won 4 out of 8 world cups, several Olympics, and have only finished below third once. What effect will providing even-better facilities and incentives to the next generation of American female footballers have on the competitiveness of the women’s game? The USNWT might argue it’s not their problem and they don’t care. I would argue that if they want to be as irrelevant to the world as the US men’s basketball team winning the Olympics every 4 years, this is exactly the right attitude to take.

2. The women’s league in America, NWSL, is subsidized by US Soccer. The men’s leagues in America (MLS, NASL, USL) are not – in fact, from what I can tell, IS Soccer actually draws revenue from MLS indirectly via Soccer United Marketing (SUM). There are 28 players on the USWNT; there are many women who are not. The 28 women are using for equality. If US Soccer treated genders equally, the 28 women would reap the rewards but NWSL would no longer be viable. It is problematic to demand equality while simultaneously expecting continued subsidization. Not impossible, not hypocritical – just problematic.

The compensation scheme for the USWNT (and other WNT’s) seems to have been specifically designed to provide its members with additional remuneration, to compensate for female club football not being able to pay players much. If you want to read details on the subject, I would recommend the ones written on FiveThirtyEight, WaPo and Sports Illustrated (the ones cited by Paul, T.Wells don’t actually contain much detail or thoughtful analysis). Basically, WNT’s seem to all pay their players annual salaries on top of bonuses, while MNT’s pay larger bonuses for selections/appearances/results without paying any annual salary. This provides the female players with additional financial security protecting them from non-selection due to poor form or injury, given that their club salaries aren’t enough of a safety net, while Male players at international level have financial security from club careers. WNT’s, especially the USWNT, also seem to organize additional friendlies and other tournaments outside of the official FIFA international fixture calendar. The purpose of these additional games would appear to be promoting the women’s game, generating extra revenue to support the annual salaries, and provide players with opportunity to earn more via bonuses. This accounts for why the record for men’s international caps is 184, while there are 20+ women with 200+ international caps (including two with 300+).

To be absolutely clear, i think that the political and legal perspective is far more important than the sporting/competitive perspective in the grand scheme of things. I believe that all female football players representing their countries should be given identical conditions and benefits to male players, despite any arguments against and any potential drawbacks. I believe that if there is any inequality it should be completely limited to club football and directly quantifiably justified by revenue generation (and hopefully one day female club football will generate billions too). The purpose of this mail was to highlight many nuances which do not seem to ever get discussed, NOT to argue against equal treatment.
Oliver Dziggel, Geneva Switzerland

 

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

As a leading player among the established elite, Manchester United would likely baulk at the prospect of imitating nouveau-riche Paris-Saint Germain. But despite rising to power from contrasting backgrounds, the two clubs currently have more in common than the Red Devils might be prepared to admit.

United and PSG are in the unfamiliar position of finding themselves on the sh*tty end of the transfer saga stick, bogged down in palavers which threaten to overshadow pivotal summers for both clubs. The hierarchies in Manchester and Paris would rather the world focused on them flexing their own financial muscles as they pillage other clubs but, instead, both boards are preoccupied by attempts by Spanish giants to plunder their prized assets.

Neymar and Paul Pogba are each desperate to leave PSG and United respectively and neither are afraid to say it. Both have spoken of their desire for ‘new challenges’, Neymar seeking another only two years after he arrived in Paris looking for his last one.

There is one crucial difference amid the ever-changing landscape of the transfer window. Pogba reluctantly reported for United duty at the end of his summer holidays; Neymar interpreted PSG’s summons back to Paris as a request rather than a demand. Subsequently, he is officially AWOL.

Pogba certainly looked as though he would rather be anywhere else when he returned to Carrington on Sunday morning before being ushered onto the plane which took the midfielder and his United team-mates as far away from Manchester as they could feasibly travel. His presence in Australia grants United further licence to maintain their ‘nothing to see here’ stance over Pogba’s future. But refusing to acknowledge the problem in public does not resolve a huge problem in the dressing room.

Ed Woodward and his minions within the boardroom seem to view Pogba’s desire to quit as a personal affront. In many ways it is. The France star, like everyone outside the club, has observed the shambles enveloping Old Trafford – though he evidently lacks the self-awareness to recognise his role in its development – and he does not want his reputation to be tarnished by association any further.

United’s attempts to save face by refusing to publicly acknowledge the Pogba problem are having the opposite of the desired effect. It is widely reported that United would be willing to sell their record signing for a hefty profit on the £89million they paid Juventus three years ago but Woodward is too proud to say so. Which is strange because a sale of anything close to £150million would represent savvy business, which is what United value most these days.

Instead, while Pogba’s stated desire for a move hangs over Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad while Mino Raiola blows enough hot air to keep the discontent rising, United are maintaining what they presumably see as a dignified silence.

PSG, on the other hand, confronted their problem head on and, consequently, seized control of an unwanted situation.

Within hours of Neymar’s no-show on Monday, the Parisians had responded with a pitch-perfect statement of their regret and the promise of recrimination for the world’s most expensive player. Almost immediately, sporting director Leonardo doubled down on the club’s stance.

“Only one thing is certain today: he is under contract with us for three years. And since we have not received an offer, there is nothing to discuss.

“We have not received any offers. But we have had, it is true, superficial contact (with Barcelona). They said they want to buy him but that we are not selling. It was [Barca president] Bartomeu who said that. But we have not seen that Barcelona are truly in a position to buy him.

“A move of this magnitude is not just a question of emotions. It is a financial question. Neymar can leave PSG, if there is an offer which suits everyone. But up to now, we do not know if anyone wants to buy him, or at what price. It will not be done in a day, that’s for sure.

“PSG want to count on players who want to be here and build something big. We do not need players who are doing a favour to the club by being here.”

Leonardo could barely have stated any more clearly PSG’s reluctant readiness to part with their most-talented player. But rather than paint the Parisians as surrendering or submissive, PSG have now assumed the high ground.

If Woodward is struggling to find the words to address United’s Pogba problem, he should simply lift Leonardo’s statement, replacing the words ‘Neymar’, ‘PSG’, ‘Barcelona’, ‘Bartomeu’ and ‘three years’ with ‘Pogba’, ‘United’, ‘Real Madrid’, ‘Perez’ and ‘two years’.

Immediately, it would lift the Pogba fog (Fogba? No, sorry…) currently stretching the 15,000 miles from Old Trafford to Perth while shifting the spotlight on to Florentino Perez. Real have willfully fluffed Pogba’s ego and the player’s belief that a deal will be done, despite demonstrating little appetite to stump up the necessary funds.

Real’s approach in this instance, unlike the other five big-money transfers they have completed so far this summer, seems to be to wait and play on Pogba’s desperation and United’s exasperation as the deadline approaches. The Red Devils’ silence only serves to encourage Perez to sit tight.

In the meantime, United’s pre-season preparations will mostly be spent on the back foot while PSG run with the initiative.

Ian Watson

 

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

New Juventus signing Adrien Rabiot explains why he rejected offers to move elsewhere after a report claims he snubbed Manchester United.

The France international wrapped up a free-transfer move to the Old Lady yesterday before being presented to the media on Tuesday morning.

The Sun claims that United were in for the former Paris Saint-Germain midfielder and their interest intensified after finding out that Ander Herrera was leaving the club.

Rabiot though decided against a move to Old Trafford, despite the offer of a £9million-a-year salary. Instead he will pick up £6.2million-a-year in Turin and a reported £9million signing on fee with the Serie A champions.

Arsenal, Real Madrid, Real Betis and Everton were also said to be in for Rabiot, who was frozen out at PSG during the second half of last season and was suspended until the end of March after he was seen nightclubbing following PSG’s defeat to Manchester United.

Rabiot, who refused to sign a new deal in the French capital, admitted that the lure of playing alongside Cristiano Ronaldo swayed his thinking and claimed the move to Italy was a “step up”.

“The last few months have been complicated both from a sporting and personal level, but today I am ready to leave everything behind and begin a new adventure,” said Rabiot at his unveiling.

“The whole thing came to fruition a short time ago and we came to an agreement very quickly. Juve have a great history with some many great French players that have played for them and I hope that I will be able to bring something as well.

“Juve are a great club, one that is very prestigious with a lot of history and a European tradition. In my opinion and with all respect, it’s a step up from PSG.

“Gianluigi Buffon told me many interesting things about Juventus. He told me that Juve was the best way for me to take a step forwards in my career. A season here is worth more than anywhere else.

“The Champions League doesn’t come overnight. I’m here to help the club win it and achieve other goals.

“I had the chance to develop playing with superstars. The chance to play with Cristiano Ronaldo definitely had a bearing on my decision. However, I know that the whole locker room is full of superstars with a positive spirit.”

“I had the chance to meet Aaron Ramsey yesterday but only very briefly. We will get the chance to know each other better in the coming days.”

 

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