From Maguire to Winks: Which England Hopefuls might Make the Plane to Russia?

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London – 1) Butland hardly tested but should stay second choice

Despite having made his England debut in August 2012, Jack Butland had to wait three years for his competitive bow and another two to double the tally when lining up here. England qualified for Russia 2018 on Thursday so here was invaluable game-time for the 24-year-old Stoke City goalkeeper. Yet the contest gave Butland scant chance to show he can be relied upon. The man most likely to dislodge Joe Hart watched an early Fiodor Cernych shot carefully, then gathered a later one with ease. This was all that was required until just after the half-hour. Then, he dealt with a Kieran Trippier backpass by booting it towards halfway. On 54 minutes Butland did make a crucial save, though, by stopping Michael Keane scoring an own goal. Butland is next in line after Hart, ahead of Fraser Forster, Jordan Pickford and the injured Tom Heaton, and competitive action will have done his confidence no harm.

2) West Ham’s Cresswell can deliver a set piece

Inside five minutes Aaron Cresswell made an impact by hitting a cross in from the left that landed plum on Harry Maguire’s head and which should have led to the opener. A later free-kick from the right again showcased Cresswell’s ability to strike a ball as the defender spun in a cross that posed the Lithuania defence a question. The West Ham United defender had been handed a third cap and chance to further his claim for a World Cup berth in a defence that featured three centre-backs. In this the 27-year-old operated at left wing-back, a demand familiar to him as his club manager, Slaven Bilic, uses the system. Cresswell was near faultless and when pushing ahead suggested he can be a factor: a second-half header forced Ernestas Setkus into a sharp save. Ryan Bertrand and Danny Rose – who is injured – are ahead of him, while Luke Shaw and Ashley Young may also change Gareth Southgate’s mind.

3) Winks tidy but may be too late to join the party

Harry Winks could be proud of a first taste of senior international football as the 21-year-old offered a tidy all‑round midfield display. The Tottenham man often roved forward to link though on occasion his control let him down. Winks’s first contribution in an England shirt was to beat Vykintas Slivka with some slick footwork. Later he combined with Marcus Rashford but the latter ball watched. Next came an illustration of Winks’s energy as he raced back to break up a Lithuania attack. While he came close to a first England goal early in the second half, the challenge he faces comes from those players ahead of him in Gareth Southgate’s thinking. Winks was only drafted into the squad after Fabian Delph dropped out. The Manchester City midfielder, Jordan Henderson, Eric Dier, Adam Lallana, Jake Livermore, and even a consistently fit Jack Wilshere are those whose claim is stronger.

4) Maguire’s dream could take him all way to Russia

Harry Maguire’s debut came close to a dream start five minutes in as the central defender lurked near Setkus’s goal. Yet when Cresswell delivered the ball where the Leicester City man – an ever-present this season – wanted it, Maguire spurned the header. But accomplished defending is his prime concern, and at this the 24-year-old was largely reliable on the left of Southgate’s trio of centre-halves. Yet it was his error that allowed Lithuania to turn defence into attack and which led to Keane nearly scoring an own goal after the interval. Earlier he made amends for the missed header by initiating the attack from which Harry Kane opened the scoring. It was Maguire’s clever dinked ball to Henderson from which Dele Alli won the penalty, converted by Kane. Again, though, competition is fierce. Gary Cahill, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, John Stones, and Keane are those who are ahead in the reckoning.

5) Trippier gives it his all in quest to be on the plane

One of four Tottenham players in the XI, Kieran Trippier made an uneven start but he improved as the contest developed. After winning their first corner the 27-year-old allowed Vytautas Andriuskevicius to find a cross from which Darvydas Sernas flashed wide of Butland. This was followed with a diagonal ball that was intercepted and he later failed to get close enough to Sernas. From here, though, Trippier began hustling better and was a constant outlet along the right, though he was not always noticed by team-mates. When he was – by Kane, just after the latter’s penalty – Trippier used the ball aptly by moving it inside quickly to Winks. This second England appearance ended as a note to Southgate that he is worth consideration. With Kyle Walker first choice, Trippier’s competition appears to be only Nathaniel Clyne, who is injured, and perhaps a left-field option, like Manchester United’s Ashley Young.

The Guardian Sport

Pressure on José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola to Produce Title Challenges

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London- After Antonio Conte led Chelsea to their fifth Premier League crown in his first campaign, Pep Guardiola and José Mourinho embark on a defining 2017-18 season. Defining because the pair were granted a free pass last term. However, Conte’s feat casts a harsh light on how poorly Guardiola and Mourinho performed. Guardiola guided City to an unconvincing third and Mourinho took United to a lowly sixth. As the positions suggest, neither manager was able to mount a serious tilt at the title and thus their respective employers have to find excuses for them and succour from elsewhere.

The City chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak, pointed to the rebuilding job his man began, while Mourinho’s two-trophy return, which included the prize of Champions League qualification for claiming the Europa League, was enough for Ed Woodward, the United executive vice-chairman, to move on.

Now, they have to achieve more. The minimum requirement is that Guardiola and Mourinho ensure their team challenge for the title until May. If not, one or both may find themselves out of a job.

Chelsea should be viewed as favourites, despite the bookmakers awarding City the status. Whatever, it is difficult to look beyond a big four of the champions, the two Manchester clubs and Tottenham, last season’s runners-up, in the search for potential champions.

At Chelsea, Diego Costa has become persona non grata and will leave. He is a sizeable loss to Conte’s cause given the Brazilian’s edge and a strike-rate of 20 goals in 35 Premier League appearances last year, which followed 20 in 26 in the 2014-15 title-winning season.

In Costa’s place is Álvaro Morata, bought from Real Madrid for a club record £70m. The test is whether the 24-year-old can be a classic Chelsea Premier League centre-forward in the mould of Costa and Didier Drogba. Last season, Morata scored 15 in 26 appearances – 14 were starts – that totalled 1,334 minutes, an impressive average of one goal every 88.9 minutes. Morata, almost 6ft 3in, also scored the most headers in La Liga.

At City, Guardiola has splurged £199.79m on five players. Four of these are in defensive positions – Ederson, the new No1, and the full-backs Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo, the latter also being a stop-gap holding midfielder. Bernardo Silva signed for £43.6m and joins Guardiola’s ever-burgeoning rank of attacking players. This also numbers Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva, Leroy Sané, Sergio Agüero, Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling. The old joke about Arsène Wenger adding another No10 to his Arsenal squad when in doubt might apply to Guardiola and forwards.

Following last season’s travails, City’s campaign will depend on how well a leaky defence is tightened up. Guardiola’s summer spend is yet to include a centre-back despite this being a problem position. Currently, Vincent Kompany is the only established first-choice centre-half and he has been injury plagued in recent seasons. The captain’s two potential partners are the yet-to-do-it John Stones and the underwhelming Nicolás Otamendi. Tosin Adarabioyo is the only other recognised central defender and he is 19 and unproven.

Mourinho’s recruitment has taken in striker Romelu Lukaku, centre-back Victor Lindelöf and midfielder Nemanja Matic at the cost of around £146m. At the transfer window’s start the 54-year-old identified Lukaku as the prime target. After Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s serious knee injury, Mourinho decided Lukaku’s 88 league goals since 2012 – only Agüero has more in that time– made him the ideal spearhead.

Yet might Matic be the recruit that tips the title away from Chelsea and into United’s grasp? His significance can be read from Mourinho describing the midfielder as a genius following his debut in the 2-1 friendly win over Sampdoria. It remains a puzzle why Conte allowed Matic to be sold to United.

His arrival means Paul Pogba will no longer be asked to operate on the peripatetic basis that had him flitting between No6 and No8 and even, at times, No10. Pogba can concentrate on being the surging midfielder the manager wishes, though after United scored a meagre 54 goals – the poorest of last season’s top seven – this has to improved or it will not matter how the Frenchman plays.

Mourinho, who still wants to add a forward, has talked up Tottenham as challengers as they have kept all the players Mauricio Pochettino wants to retain. Yet the manager has, in turn, failed to freshen up his squad – recently he stressed the need to do so to ensure the competition that will help Harry Kane, Dele Alli and company elevate their game. Even if this changes Spurs are unlikely to better their rivals’ strengthening. Chelsea have also added Tiemoué Bakayoko (for £39.7m) and Antonio Rüdiger (£34m), so for Tottenham to finish second again would represent a small triumph.

For Watford, Burnley and Swansea City, the three clubs that finished last year 17th, 16th and 15th respectively, their cause for celebration will surely be if they once more avoid the drop. Watford have a seventh manager in three years in Marco Silva, and he oversaw Hull City’s relegation. Sean Dyche managed to keep the Clarets up for the first time in the Premier League but bringing in just Phil Bardsley, Jon Walters and Jack Cork suggests they will repeat their struggle. And if Gylfi Sigurdsson moves to Everton Swansea will earn a £50m fee but lose his playmaking abilities and last year’s nine priceless finishes. The promoted sides – Brighton & Hove Albion, Huddersfield Town and Newcastle United may – also be in the dogfight at the bottom.

At both ends of the division it promises to be a riveting watch.

The Guardian Sport

Paul Pogba’s Big-Game Experience and Academy Roots Key for Mourinho

Mourinho

London – On a sunny morning at Georgetown University José Mourinho is discussing why Paul Pogba can be Manchester United’s driving force in the Champions League, how “it is difficult to like players” as he does his squad and the rare sadness felt when Wayne Rooney left for Everton.

United are back in Europe’s elite club competition after Mourinho led them to a Europa League triumph last season, defeating Ajax 2-0 in the final. Speaking before United’s training session at the university’s Shaw Field, the manager believes Pogba’s experience in some of the world’s biggest matches will be vital for the forthcoming campaign.

“He played Champions League final, Euro [2016] final with France, Europa League final with us, so he has played three finals in Europe, all that he can play,” Mourinho says of the 24-year-old former Juventus midfielder. “He is probably the oldest guy of the young guys, of that group that comes from the academy. He is still an academy boy, he is still the guy that his relationship with the club and the structure, his relationship with the people in the club is still the relationship of the kid that was here. So I think he has a fantastic role to play with us and much more ready to do it than last season.”

While the homegrown contingent includes Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Axel Tuanzebe, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Scott McTominay, Andreas Pereira and Demi Mitchell, Mourinho speaks tenderly of his whole squad. “I like to work with them, I like to live with them and I like them,” he adds. “That is something during your career that does not happen every season. It’s difficult to like players the way I like these guys. It’s difficult to like them all. In teams there are always guys you like a lot and some others that you don’t enjoy so much. You don’t like their personality. But these guys are phenomenal, to live with them is phenomenal.”

Despite that, Mourinho suggested his squad may lack the stardust present at other clubs. “I keep saying the same thing: we are not the best squad in the world and don’t have the best players in the world – or if we do, then we have [only] some – not eight or nine or 10 like some other big clubs have,” the 54-year-old admits. “But I like them.”

Rooney left for Everton in July as record scorer with 253 goals after 13 years. “I miss the guy a lot,” his former manager says. “I’m not the kind of guy that gets normally emotional in my job and I did it with him when he left. But I am sure that he’s going to be very, very good for Everton and Everton is going to be very, very good for him. At his age [31] with his genetic [makeup] of his body, with his personality, too, he’s the kind of player to be less motivated, not so happy because he’s not playing every minute. So he deserves that respect from us – if you want to go we have to make it easy for you to go.”

Mourinho is concerned at the high fees paid for what he describes as middling footballers in the £30m-£50m price band. While Neymar is reported to be close to joining Paris Saint-Germain for a world record £199m, this summer Manchester City have bought the right-back Kyle Walker for £50m, the goalkeeper Ederson for £34.9m, the left-back Benjamin Mendy for £52m and Bernardo Silva for £43.6m. United have, however, paid £31m for Victor Lindelof.

“I don’t think the problem is what you pay for Pogba, I don’t think the problem is going to pay crazy for Neymar,” he says. “The problem is with the other group [lower band], which is a big group because players like Pogba, you buy once and there is one or two [big] transfers per transfer window. The other ones is where you have 100 transfers – that is the dangerous area of the market and when some clubs are paying or they don’t buy because they don’t accept the numbers that are now ruling the market, or to do it [because] they have to go the same levels, for me that’s what worries because now we speak about 30 40 50 [million] in such an easy way.”

Mourinho also suggests the football authorities may need to scrutinize how some clubs operate financially because they may use “strategies of disguise”.

“I don’t think it [the market] will ever kill the big clubs because the big clubs will always have the potential and conditions to produce this kind of money and not to be in problems. Some other clubs, there will be problems when they realize [what] the money is coming in and going out. I also think the financial fair play authorities, they have big work to do. Big work to do because probably there are some strategies of disguise but I have to believe that the financial fair play is going to have difficult work to do.”

The Guardian Sport

If Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City are to Succeed, Ederson Needs to Hit Ground Running

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London- The success of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City tenure could hinge on a 23-year-old goalkeeper who is untested in English football and has only one full season behind him at a major Portuguese club.

Ederson Santana de Moraes was bought for £34.9m from Benfica this summer. The size of a fee close to the world record for his position indicates two things: how good the Brazilian is believed to be and how keenly Guardiola wishes to remedy his problem at No1.

In last Thursday’s Manchester derby in Houston the Catalan manager got a first glimpse of Ederson in City colours. Guardiola will hope the display is not an augury.

When Paul Pogba chipped a pass over the top towards Romelu Lukaku the goalkeeper’s classic conundrum of should-I-stay-or-should-I-go was posed. Ederson chose the latter and rushed from his area but failed to take either ball or man. Lukaku carried on, finished from an acute angle and that was 1-0 to Manchester United. Moments later the keeper might also have got a glove to Marcus Rashford’s shot but did not and so a less than satisfactory debut was sealed.

All players make mistakes and a keeper’s are highlighted more because they can be so costly. For Ederson these are also very early days and Guardiola’s hope will be that Thursday night was an aberration that will prove rare.

The unignorable truth, though, is the manager cannot afford another dodgy operator between the posts. This follows an underwhelming first season in charge, of which the bottom-line assessment of Guardiola’s City might be: attack good, back four poor, goalkeeping poorer.

Last season City were knocked out of the EFL Cup after two rounds and reached only the FA Cup semi-finals. They were eliminated from the Champions League at the last-16 stage, two phases earlier than 12 months before. And they failed to mount a serious title challenge, finishing in third place. It meant City won nothing and Guardiola endured a first trophyless year in his gilded managerial career.

To blame all of this on the head coach’s decision over the first-choice keeper is a stretch. But Ederson’s arrival means the 45-year-old moves on to a third No1 keeper in 12 months; when assuming control Guardiola’s first major decision was to bomb out Joe Hart and the England No1 spent 2016-17 on loan at Torino. In his place Guardiola plumped for Claudio Bravo, bought from Barcelona. Here was brave and decisive management from Guardiola. All big calls, though, have an inherent demand they should not backfire and this is precisely what occurred as the Chilean endured a disastrous first season in England.

This is the peril facing Ederson and by proxy Guardiola. If the Brazilian freezes as Bravo did, City can surely not be successful and it will fall directly at the manager’s door.

Bravo boasted a longer and more impressive CV than Ederson when he signed. At 33 he was a professional of 14 years, a decade of these played in La Liga, with Real Sociedad and Barcelona. At the latter he claimed two Spanish titles, two Copa del Reys, one Uefa Super Cup and one Fifa Club World Cup. As an international Bravo won the 2015 Copa América and has won more than 100 caps for Chile.

He was vastly experienced and still he failed. The hint of the troubled season ahead came on debut. Two minutes before the break in last season’s opening Manchester derby, with City cruising at 2-0, Wayne Rooney sent a free-kick into the visitors’ area, Bravo spilled the ball and Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored. Two more errors arrived before half-time and the second should have led to an Ibrahimovic equaliser after Bravo raced out to clear, had a mix-up with Bacary Sagna, and Jesse Lingard squared to the Swede who fluffed the chance.

A major reason why Bravo was bought and Hart demoted was because of his supposedly slicker footwork. Yet the second half featured Bravo messing up a dribble inside the area. He showed too much ball to Rooney and Bravo was lucky to avoid conceding a penalty when scrambling to recover. City hung on to win 2-1 but the seeds of doubt over the goalkeeper were sown.

Ederson’s resumé is more modest than Bravo’s but still impressive. In three seasons with Rio Ave, a mid-ranking Portuguese club, he managed 37 Primeira Liga appearances before transferring to Benfica in 2015. He did not make his debut until March 2016, though he did subsequently feature enough to win a championship medal. He became an integral part of a Benfica side that won the Portuguese treble, yet this was his first campaign as a regular starter for one of Portugal’s elite. On departure for City he had made 37 league appearances and accrued Champions League experience.

If this record plus City’s scouting reports formed the evidence on which Guardiola moved for Ederson, the next question isthis: can he step straight into the Premier League’s spotlight and perform with the instant quality required?

In Houston last week Guardiola said: “Ederson will be for many years a good goalkeeper for Manchester City.” He had similar hopes of Bravo. Now the stakes could not be higher – for City and for Guardiola. With Monaco’s Benjamin Mendy, a left-back, signed as expected, he has joined Kyle Walker, Real Madrid’s utility full-back Danilo and Ederson as new faces for the defensive unit recruited this close season.

The cost of the quartet is around £162m. But the cost to Guardiola if Ederson fails could be far more: his job. It may be harsh but this is why City hired him: to make vital decisions that are subsequently vindicated.

Khaldoon al-Mubarak, the chairman, admitted disappointment at last year’s lack of success while praising Guardiola’s long-term vision for the club. That future is about to start and he will not succeed unless his No1 performs reliably.

The Guardian Sport

Wayne Rooney: A Manchester United Great Who Departs to Muted Applause

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London- The oddity of Wayne Rooney’s glittering 13-year Manchester United career is that he departs for Everton to only muted applause. Despite a record that features a glut of trophies and personal achievements a strong sense of “Ta-ra Wayne, it’s about time” prevails among supporters.

This can be traced to the perception Rooney never adopted the fitness regime required to reach the heights of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi and the disquiet he caused when twice in three years nearly exiting the club.

This is a footballer who last season passed Sir Bobby Charlton’s mark to rank as United’s record scorer with 253 goals; a footballer who claimed five Premier League titles, the Champions League, the Europa League, the FA Cup, three League Cups, the Fifa Club World Cup, was twice PFA Young Footballer of the Year and voted the 2010 PFA and Football Writers Player of the Year; a footballer who arrived as the 18-year-old starlet who seemed destined to become a global great and registered a debut hat-trick against Fenerbahce in September 2004; a footballer whose aerial volley against Manchester City Sir Alex Ferguson described as the best he witnessed at Old Trafford in 26 and a half years as manager.

That finish came in February 2011 and Rooney’s fall in the eyes of many of the United congregation began with the saga of four months before. On 20 October 2010 Rooney questioned United’s ambition when stating he wanted to leave. Further insult to this injury came when his preferred destination emerged: Manchester City, many fans’ bitterest rivals. Two days later came a scarcely credible Rooney U-turn. This featured him agreeing a new contract at United and apologising to Ferguson and team-mates for his behaviour.

It began the reservations among United devotees, though. The bottom line was Rooney had doubled his salary to £180,000 a week and so his questioning of the club was viewed as a cynical act of brinkmanship aimed at squeezing the best terms possible.

Rooney vowed to rebuild trust with supporters but in the six years since the relationship has remained uneasy, suffering a gradual, irreversible decline.

This was accelerated in summer 2013, following Ferguson’s retirement that May. Towards the end of the campaign Rooney had fallen out with the manager and entered the close season again wishing to depart despite David Moyes now being in charge.

This time another fierce rival – Chelsea – was his intended new club. In autumn 2010 the faithful had not wanted Rooney to go. Now, though, unconditional love was replaced by an acceptance that it might be best if he did.

When the episode once more closed with the Liverpudlian staying and the following February he agreed a bumper new deal – a basic £250,000 a week – this killed any lingering love felt for him among a large constituency of fans.

This erosion of affection was caused by another factor: the perception of a steep decline in Rooney’s powers. In February 2014 he was 28 and should have been at his peak. Yet despite that campaign ending with 17 league goals, his highest tally in the following three years – 12 – came the next season, with the last two featuring eight and five.

It is rare now to hear unqualified praise for Rooney the player. Mention the man-boy who arrived in August 2004 and it is different. United fans freely gush about the menacing tyro whose blistering turn of pace and firebrand mentality tore up contests.

This last point is of particular note. Perhaps the most telling observation Moyes made during an ill-fated tenure of 34 league matches was what he told Rooney when persuading the forward not to go to Chelsea. “He came up to my house. I said to him: ‘If you ask me what’s missing – I think you’ve gone a bit soft,’” the Scot said.

Moyes’s view proved prescient. The late-career Rooney is a footballer whose mental edge has become as dulled as the zip that was also once a prime asset.

Under José Mourinho last season the fall-off was dramatic. Suddenly Rooney’s legs were heavy and he was reduced to a lumbering spectator of many of the games he played in.

Mourinho may have executed a shrewd ploy when replacing Louis van Gaal last summer. In an opening press conference the Portuguese killed any notion Rooney could move back into midfield, stating “with me, he will never be a No6”. Mourinho insisted Rooney remained a finisher, watched as he managed one goal in his first seven matches and dropped him for a 4-1 win over Leicester City on 24 September. This ended Rooney’s status as an automatic starter and United’s captain eventually lost his England place and with it leadership of the national side.

To find Rooney’s last moment of unadulterated brilliance in a United shirt rewind to 15 March 2015. This was also, though, a microcosm of Rooney’s chequered time at the club as it began with a Sunday newspaper splash that featured him being knocked out in his kitchen by Stoke City’s Phil Bardsley.

In the afternoon Rooney responded with a vintage goal in a 3-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur at OId Trafford. Collecting the ball near halfway Rooney was again the rampaging force of his youth as he made a mug of Eric Dier with a veer to the left, before allowing Hugo Lloris no chance.

The recent revelations that Rooney lost £500,000 in a casino illustrated his private life still lacks cast-iron discipline. But, in time, memories of the off-field indiscretions and slights against United should fade.

Then fans will surely recall how the £27m that Ferguson paid Everton for Rooney allowed them to witness the best years of his generation’s finest domestic footballer, a player who has a case for being one of the greats in the United firmament.

The Guardian Sport

Pep Guardiola Under Pressure While He Oversees Manchester City Spending Spree

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London- “I have high confidence we are going in the right direction. I am very excited about how we are developing as a team, how Pep has taken the squad and really started a process of going through that natural cycle of development.”

Khaldoon al-Mubarak, Manchester City chairman, May 2017

In August Pep Guardiola embarks on a defining second season as the Manchester City manager. After finishing third in the Premier League and being knocked out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage he cannot fail again.

Guardiola can read the above comments and be reassured of Mubarak’s support but he knows patience will wear thin if City are not contenders in both competitions as effectively demanded by Mubarak in the same interview.

The pressure is increased by the record spending Guardiola hopes to oversee. In summer 2009 Real Madrid spent £218m, with Cristiano Ronaldo at £85m the headline arrival to follow Kaká (£56m) and Karim Benzema (£31m).

Guardiola could pass that amount with an outlay that may reach £220m-plus and he could spend a quarter of a billion before the window closes on 31 August, especially if the club’s confidence over signing Alexis Sánchez proves well-founded.

There is, though, a glaring irony at work here. Guardiola is the attack-only coach (to paraphrase him) whose hopes of achieving success rest on defence, which is why he aims to sign three wide defenders. The left-back Gaël Clichy (aged 31) and the right-backs Pablo Zabaleta (32) and Bacary Sagna (34) have been allowed to leave. Critics might assert their departures come two years too late, given their age and obvious decline, and Guardiola should have addressed the problem when taking over 12 months ago.

If that and the calamitous exiling of Joe Hart in favour of Claudio Bravo as goalkeeper were the glaring mistakes of a first season in charge, Guardiola is determined to make amends.

The world record for a goalkeeper came close to being broken with the €40m (£34.69m) paid to Benfica for Ederson. Now Guardiola’s focus is on full-back. Brazil’s Dani Alves is expected to arrive on a free after his release from Juventus. Guardiola is also pursuing another right-back, Kyle Walker from Tottenham, and the Monaco left-back Benjamin Mendy.

Alves was bought by Guardiola for Barcelona in summer 2008. The 34-year-old has vast experience and a winning mentality. He has won six La Liga titles, three Champions Leagues, two Uefa Cups, five Copa del Reys, one Serie A title, one Coppa Italia and one Copa América, plus 100 caps. At 27 Walker has won little but is the England right-back and nearing his peak. He would be expected to push Alves for a starting place.

Alves and Walker offer the attacking potency Guardiola craves. So too Mendy, the 23-year-old who was part of the fine Monaco side who dumped City out of the Champions League in March. If the France left-back signs he would slot straight into the first team.
Add this trio and City will be transformed from a lop-sided squad to one with a surfeit of riches front to back.

At No9 the 20-year-old Gabriel Jesus, a rising star, would vie with Sergio Agüero. The attack’s support cast would be drawn from a clutch of top players: Leroy Sané, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Raheem Sterling, and Bernardo Silva. In central midfield Ilkay Gündogan, Yaya Touré and Fernandinho are a trio of high-class playmakers and stoppers.

Central defence is the other area that requires strengthening. City dropped out of the bidding for Virgil van Dijk only when Southampton set the 25-year-old’s price too high. The need for a centre-back arises because Nicolás Otamendi and Aleksandar Kolarov are questionable deputies. Guardiola does have the rejuvenated captain, Vincent Kompany, plus the huge potential of John Stones as a first-choice partnership.

Between now and 1 September Guardiola has much surgery to perform. He is only two players into the rebuild and elite transfers are never easy. Yet his reputation plus City’s financial muscle is a combination many players will find hard to resist.

The combined £79m paid for Ederson and Silva is the opening outlay. The minimum £45m each for Walker and Mendy would take the sum to £169m. If the going rate for an established centre-back has risen to around £55m (Stones was an initial £47.5m) then Guardiola will have splurged £224m even before the cherry-on-the-cake addition of Arsenal’s Sánchez (£50m) or Monaco’s Kylian Mbappé (£100m–plus). Purchase one of these and Guardiola would shatter the £250m mark.

The corollary is the increased expectation all of this heaps on the manager. He is conscious of having being granted a season’s grace. Last season he reminded himself more than once that the axe is never far away. In mid-May Guardiola went further by admitting that at previous clubs, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, he would have been sacked.

The truth is stark: a manager who has won two European Cups, three La Liga titles, two Copa del Reys, two German doubles and a further Bundesliga has won zero for City.

Guardiola is being given strong backing by Mubarak publicly and financially. He dare not fail.

The Guardian Sport

How Manchester United Can Be Improved to Compete with the Elite

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London – 1 Strengthen the squad

How the manager recruits in the transfer window will be key and the priority is a top-class goalscorer. Antoine Griezmann got 27 goals for Atlético Madrid this season. Everton’s Romelu Lukaku scored 25 in the Premier League. Ideally the manager would like both: Lukaku to be the spearhead in the mould of a Didier Drogba at Chelsea or Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Griezmann to play off him – or Marcus Rashford – as Mourinho has reservations about Jesse Lingard, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial. In midfield, Michael Carrick is 36 in July so support is required for Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini. Another centre-back may also be on the list as this season Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Eric Bailly and Marcos Rojo were hardly ever available at the same time because of a variety of injuries. Daley Blind performed well in the position in the Europa League final but the sense is one of Smalling and Jones may leave.

2 Hold on to David de Gea

Just as crucial as who Mourinho acquires is whether he can keep the Spaniard at the club. David de Gea has a case for being the world’s best goalkeeper and has just returned another flawless campaign. If he were to depart this would leave a particularly difficult hole to fill. Real Madrid continue to lurk and it will be a surprise if they do not try to prise the 26-year-old away. The clubs have been here before, of course, as De Gea nearly left in the summer of 2015. “We have a situation that is not favourable for David de Gea but neither for us and neither for the club that maybe he wants to go [to],” Louis van Gaal, the former manager, said at the time. De Gea’s sentiment might not have changed so it may prove difficult for Mourinho to hold on to him.

3 Score more

In a nutshell, that is why United finished only sixth in the Premier League, 24 points behind Chelsea and scored 54 times to the 85 of Antonio Conte’s champions. The tally is only five more than Van Gaal’s side managed 12 months ago. This is partly a function of Mourinho’s defence-first approach and also the lack of a regular goalscorer to support Ibrahimovic, who struck 28 before a knee injury. As Wayne Rooney says: “The manager makes us so hard to beat and hopes we’ll get a goal or two to win the game.” The good news is that United offer more attacking-danger than Van Gaal’s side and if Pogba, Lingard, Mkhitaryan and Martial had been more clinical then many of the 15 league draws may have been wins. In a tight Champions League knockout round a lethal striker could be the difference.

4 Move the ball faster

The prevailing criticism of Mourinho’s United is that they can be as plodding in their approach as Van Gaal’s. Privately, Mourinho might say this is because some of his players are not yet accomplished enough for a slick-quick style. A hint is dropped regarding who the manager believes is lacking when in describing Rashford as able to “cope with pressure” he failed to mention Martial, Mkhitaryan and Lingard. “For me what’s more difficult is the fragile mentality,” the manager says. “It’s probably my weakness that it’s difficult for me to understand people with a different mentality to what I have. It takes me time to understand and sometimes I’m not able to feel attracted again [to the player]. Because for me I want to be in love with the player, with this character, with this personality and that kid Marcus is the best example of it, especially in this club.”

5 Avoid major upheaval

Mourinho is entitled to an if-it-ain’t-broke-just-tweak-it approach given he finishes the season with two major trophies – the EFL Cup and Europa League – and has returned United to the Champions League group stage after Van Gaal’s failure to finish fourth. This is the first time they will not have to play a qualifying tie to enter the competition proper since David Moyes inherited Sir Alex Ferguson’s champions of 2012‑13. The Europa League success means Mourinho has now won four European trophies – two Champions Leagues and two Uefa Cups/Europa Leagues. “I think he just knows,” Rooney says. “Having this season with him, I’ve seen how he works. I feel we’re progressing as a team and a club, and I’m sure there’ll be many more.”

The Guardian Sport

Raheem Sterling: ‘I’ve Got that Face People Don’t Like but I’m not a Brat’

Sterling

Manchester – Raheem Sterling strides into a sunlit room at Manchester City’s sprawling academy, shakes hands politely, then offers a killer quip. “Is that really 14 questions?” he says, peering at the paper on the table with its long list of possible inquiries before breaking into laughter.

Sterling maintains this open manner during a conversation that takes in his often crass treatment in the news pages of some publications as well as the death of his father in Maverley, a particularly dangerous area of Kingston, Jamaica, when Raheem was still a child.

The way Sterling discusses himself, his career and image reveals a 22-year‑old who is fast maturing. The response to the criticism he received at the turn of the year offers an illustration. In January one tabloid decided to highlight that Sterling – wait for it – ate a sausage roll from popular bakery, Greggs, and had the temerity to eat it in a “£500,000 limited edition Bentley”. Sterling laughed it off with an Instagram post that highlighted the story with the simple question: “What’s my life come 2?” along with three laughing emojis, while stating he was unaware Bentleys cost this much.

Discussing it now there is only bemusement. “I see it and think, ‘Why does that story have to be about me?’” he says. “If you’re doing something wrong – the times I’ve been caught doing balloons, whatever, yeah, no problem. I accept if you’re a silly boy you get dealt with.

“But there’s these times when you’ve been thinking about football, been at home, just trying to stay out of everyone’s way, and you’re still getting stuff. I see it as I can’t win.”

He has a point. Accepting responsibility for inhaling “balloons” (which are filled with nitrous oxide) when at Liverpool is rather far from eating a sausage roll or being reported in the same tabloid as having a muddy car, as also occurred.

Sterling’s explanation for why he can be unfairly hammered is charmingly self-deprecating. “I’ve got that face,” he says, and laughs. “You know when you see someone on TV and go, ‘I don’t like him?’ Some people have that face and I’ve got it. I can’t do anything about it. I’ve just got face: he looks like a brat. The ‘I don’t like face’. That’s how I see it. And I’m not a brat. Sometimes I’m watching a movie and you see a character and go, ‘I don’t like him’ – that’s me.

“There’s not even any point stressing. When I actually saw those stories I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, are you winding me up?’ I could not believe what I was seeing. I thought, ‘Has it really come to this? Like really?’”

Pep Guardiola, his manager, is particularly supportive. During last summer’s European Championship the Catalan telephoned him after Sterling had dubbed himself “The Hated One” on Instagram following England’s opening game against Russia.

He says: “It is massive – every player wants to feel welcome and he did that from the first moment. It is a massive bonus and all I try to do is my best and hopefully I can keep doing better.”

One high-stakes match Sterling did shine in was England’s opening 2014 World Cup encounter with Italy in Manaus. To field Sterling at No10 Wayne Rooney was shunted wide by Roy Hodgson, the manager. Although England lost, Sterling took Italy’s best defenders apart in a scintillating man-of-the-match display. He was only 19 and says his late father drove him on.

Sterling smiles at the memory. “I remember the game like it was no time ago,” he says. “It was a massive game for me – I just thought to myself: ‘If only my dad was here.’ I wish my dad could have been there but he passed away. So to myself I said: ‘I need to play well for him because he’s never been at a football match. He’s never seen me on a football pitch.’ So I wanted to win that game and we never won in the end but it was an alright performance from me. I was just so determined to do well.

“Performing for my dad does drive me on. Especially in big games, massive games. Like the [FA Cup] semi-final against Arsenal coming up, that’ll be the next thing in my head about him. Whenever it comes to an important day like that he always runs through my head. You’re always thinking, ‘It’s a great atmosphere, great scenery, he never experienced this.’”

The Cup semi-final against Arsène Wenger’s side is on 23 April at Wembley. After Nadine, Sterling’s mother, moved the family from Jamaica to north London he grew up a corner kick away from the national stadium. Sterling has played there before in club competition – for Liverpool and City – as well as for England.

Yet he still talks of the “magic” of Wembley. “It’s amazing – that night before, then you wake up and it’s that day, crazy,” he says. “Coming off the motorway – you see Brent Cross right there, where I did my shopping, seeing places as we drive round, where my mum gets the car washed….”

Just as fond a destination is his native Jamaica, which he visits regularly. “When I go down there I’m in paradise,” Sterling says. “Beaches every day – just chilling, literally chilling. Time moves so slow. That’s why I have to go back: the beaches, the food, I love every moment of it.

“I actually feel emotional when I have to leave. Really emotional because … because the food is just fresh, you sit on the beach and it’s coming out from the sea – fresh, the fish is fresh. Oh please don’t – please don’t remind me!”

Before the Cup date with the Gunners, City traveled to the Emirates on Sunday where they tied 2-2 in the Premier League. While Guardiola’s men are fourth, four points behind Tottenham Hotspur in second place and five clear of fifth-place Manchester United, Arsenal are seven points poorer and languishing in sixth.

Sterling, who scored the winner in December’s reverse fixture against Arsenal, believes “the semi-final will be a special day. I’ve enjoyed playing against Arsenal from a young age.”

A night that was not too much fun was the 3-1 defeat at Monaco that knocked City out of the Champions League on away goals, after a 6-6 aggregate draw. Sterling offers an honest assessment. “We stopped playing, we weren’t playing our normal football,” he says. “No matter the scenario, what’s in front of us, what the next round is. We’ve got to keep playing our football because there’s not many teams that can stop us.

“That’s what we did – we stopped. We were a bit naive and were trying to be safe and stuff as we wanted to get through. We just needed to be ourselves. It’s the first year with the manager in the Champions League and it’s definitely something we’ll learn from.”

Sterling has never scored more than 11 goals in a club season. He is currently on nine and enters joke mode again to criticize himself for not having more. “Oh mate, there’s something wrong with me – there’s actually something wrong with me,” he says. “I should have so many more goals. It’s terrible. I should be on about 15-16 goals right now and that’s what I need to do to get to the player I want to be.

“Goals can help lift me to be one of the best two or three in the world, most definitely. You score the goal that wins the football match five, six, seven times a season: you are one of the best in the world. And that’s what I need to do. I need to keep being consistent. I know I’m joking and laughing here – but I take that very seriously. Next year I’m getting there, 100 percent. But this year I’ve got enough time to get a few more goals – it’s just one of those, you need to start scoring goals. I’m putting too much pressure on myself at times.”

Sterling is not 23 until December but his cocktail of talent and increasing maturity gives him every chance of reaching the peak of the sport.

City’s style under Guardiola is aiding that ambition. “I’m probably playing a bit more direct, once I get in the final third I make an action, use instinct,” he says. “Before I was a bit more slow, I tried to mix it up. Now I’m just going at it 100 percent. Before I was trying to be silky. It’s just the way we’re playing under the manager.”

Sterling constantly dreams of being one of the world’s finest footballers. “Oh every day – every day,” he says. “I’m not going to sit here and say I don’t. That’s my aim. I’m not here to be a number. I’m here to be one of the best, as simple as that. I just need to raise my game – I know exactly what I need to do to go where I want.”

English Football’s Overseas Arrivals Who Began with a Gabriel Jesus-Style Bang

Hitting the ground running (clockwise from top left): Allan Simonsen, Hernán Crespo, Sergio Agüero, Ángel Di Maria and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Gabriel Jesus’s stellar start for Manchester City has dislodged Sergio Agüero from Pep Guardiola’s side. The 19-year-old Brazilian, a £27m signing from Palmeiras last month, scored on his full Premier League debut – at West Ham United – and twice in the following game, against Swansea City last Sunday. Here are five other overseas signings who stormed into the English game.

1- Allan Simonsen Charlton Athletic, 1982

Charlton were not in the top flight, which is one reason why this bizarre move is worth recalling. The Dane was 29 and at his peak when he swapped Barcelona for the Addicks in a £300,000 transfer that would never occur in the current age. Even in 1982 Simonsen’s choice of The Valley over the Camp Nou was a shock. Simonsen was the 1977 European Footballer of the Year. He was a treble Bundesliga champion and double Uefa Cup winner with Borussia Mönchengladbach and a Cup Winners’ Cup winner with Barça, and had also lost a European Cup final, to Liverpool, with the German club. Yet Diego Maradona’s arrival forced him from Barça, and on joining Charlton in October Simonsen’s manager was Ken Craggs, who had never played professionally and was in charge only because of Alan Mullery’s departure; he was sacked a month later. None of this fazed Simonsen. The forward scored on debut, a 3-2 defeat by Middlesbrough on 13 November, and would register a further eight times in 16 games. Within three months, though, Simonsen was gone, his move having caused Charlton serious financial problems and the club were unable to pay him.

2- Hernán Crespo Chelsea, 2003

The Argentinian was the first headline signing of Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea ownership, the Russian spending £16.8m to take Crespo from Internazionale in August 2003, a month after buying the club. Crespo missed out on debut, a 1-0 win at Sparta Prague on 16 September, then began seriously firing. He scored twice in a 5-0 victory at Wolverhampton Wanderers next time out and collected four in the following six games for a tally of six in eight. From here, though, Crespo tailed off and managed only six more goals all season to end with 12 in 31 appearances for Chelsea.

3- Sergio Agüero Manchester City, 2011

Given Jesus’s impressive start it is instructive to rewind six years to recall the impact of the striker he has, for the moment, supplanted. Agüero arrived in summer 2011 for £38m from Atlético Madrid and remains the finest signing of the Sheikh Mansour era. The then 21-year-old’s debut featured two goals in the 4-0 rout of Swansea City in the season opener and he followed that up by scoring in his third game, a 5-1 win at Tottenham Hotspur, a hat-trick in the 3-0 victory over Wigan Athletic, and both goals in a 2-2 draw with Fulham. In all, Agüero plundered eight goals in six games and he finished with 30 in all competitions in his first season in English football.

4- Ángel Di María Manchester United, 2014

The second of Louis van Gaal’s galácticos bombed as spectacularly as the other, Radamel Falcao, though the start from British football’s most expensive footballer at the time at £59.7m was the diametric opposite. Di María was the best performer on the pitch on debut, the 0-0 draw at Burnley on 30 August, operating in a left-sided midfield berth where he ran proceedings. In his next two appearances he scored against Queens Park Rangers and Leicester City, the latter of these a delightful sand-wedge over Kasper Schmeichel that came laced with South American flair. Two matches later Di María struck again, in a 2-1 win over Everton at Old Trafford on 5 October. Three goals in four games and scintillating displays in each suggested Di María would be a force. But this was as a good as it got. He netted only once more – at Yeovil Town in the FA Cup in January – and by summer 2015 he was gone.

5- Zlatan Ibrahimovic Manchester United, 2016

Last spring the always bullish Swede announced he was “warming up” and that age was “just a number”, yet when José Mourinho signed a player who turned 35 in October eyebrows were raised. Ibrahimovic, a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain, instantly ended the view he was a flat-track bully whose previous four years in France’s second-rate Ligue One had been almost a holiday. Handed United’s No9 shirt by Mourinho Ibrahimovic scored four times in his opening three games – against Leicester City, Bournemouth and Southampton – drew a blank at Hull City and struck again in the Manchester derby to make it five in five outings.


(The Guardian)

Wayne Rooney has Equalled the Record – but What does the Future Hold for Striker?

Rooney

The question for Wayne Rooney now is how many more can be added to the joint-record 249th goal he scored for Manchester United against Reading on Saturday.

Rooney’s contract includes a one-way clause that allows the club to extend it by a year if desired. The current terms end in summer 2019, so if United decide to exercise the option the Liverpudlian would be at Old Trafford as he approaches his 35th birthday.

Rooney wants to stay on but will United do it? Will the forward be given an extra season to add to his goals for the club? This is what fascinates about the late-career Rooney: how long can he go on performing for United?

The 31-year-old lit up the 4-0 victory against Jaap Stam’s team that put the FA Cup holders into the fourth round. His was an all-round display of finishing and creativity in the classic No10 mould as he tormented Reading all afternoon.

However, this is a player whose form has been poor all term – his seventh-minute opener was only a fourth goal this season – and who is no longer a regular in José Mourinho’s strongest XI. At 31 any remnants of the youthful zip that tore through defences is gone. And he is a calmer footballer than the once quick-to-anger force of nature who constantly performed on the edge.

So, how many more goals for him for United? After the strike off the top of his knee which put Rooney alongside Sir Bobby Charlton, he is almost certain to move on to 250 goals and stand alone at the head of the charts. He is also, of course, already England’s record marksman with 53 goals in 119 appearances.

To be leading scorer for club and country is an inarguable statement of quality. So longevity is the next challenge. Afterwards Rooney offered a tacit acknowledgment of this, his most illuminating reaction to reaching the 249 being when he said: “I’m enjoying my football.”

This pointed reference to having no thoughts of his career being near its end echoed the statement he issued following the pictures of him being out late when on England duty. Then, Rooney felt moved to call his treatment “disgraceful” as he said: “It feels as if the media are trying to write my obituary and I won’t let that happen. It’s not finished yet.”

Rooney-battering has become an unpalatable national quasi-pastime. He constantly hears how he is not the footballer he once was. The eagerness to play on at United beyond his current contract will hardly please his detractors yet his enthusiasm is admirable considering the 15 years at the very top amid the constant stream of negativity.

Rooney may be more appreciated by his critics when he does finally retire. Yet as Marcus Rashford, who scored twice on Saturday, said: “It’s an unbelievable achievement. If you look back at all the games he’s played and all the goals he’s scored for the club, it’s amazing and, for young players coming up and any striker growing up, then it’s amazing for them to be able to watch him. We all have to [enjoy] the [record-breaking] moment once it goes in.”

Rooney’s dressing-room influence is viewed as a key asset by Mourinho and it is also acknowledged by senior squad members. As Daley Blind, a seasoned and, in his own way, similarly versatile operator for United and Holland, said: “It’s great for Wayne with how many goals he’s scored. He’s a great personality and a great legend at the club. I’m happy for him.”

At the moment it appears unlikely United will trigger the 12-month extension. But this is football and Rooney is a special player, so who knows? For him to force his way back and become integral to United again would surely thrill anyone who is invigorated by sport’s romance.

For the time being witnessing Rooney reach 250 strikes, whenever he reaches the milestone, should suffice. Mourinho has said a changed side will face Hull in Tuesday’s EFL Cup semi-final first leg so it may not be then.

However, the next visitors to Old Trafford are Liverpool in the Premier League on Sunday. As a confirmed Evertonian, how Rooney would love to break the record against the fiercest rivals of both his boyhood club and United.

The Guardian Sport