Chelsea Handed Major Chance to Make up Lost Ground in Gentler October


London – Most of the Premier League attention will be on Anfield and the north-west derby on Saturday, even if Liverpool’s stuttering start to the season means Jürgen Klopp’s side already have seven points to make up on Manchester United. For different reasons that will probably suit Crystal Palace and Chelsea, who meet at Selhurst Park in one of the lesser London derbies.

Roy Hodgson said his struggling Palace side were like a boxer on the ropes after their last outing at Old Trafford, trying to fight in a class above their weight and taking too many blows to the chin. Just what you need in those circumstances is a visit from the defending champions, though the only sliver of good news for Hodgson and his stricken side – apart from Wilfried Zaha nearing a return – is that Saturday’s game is the last of a daunting run of fixtures. Palace take on Chelsea after two successive trips to Manchester, where City and then United hit them with a total of nine goals to no reply.

Normality resumes a week after Chelsea, in the form of a trip to Newcastle. Not exactly a doddle, but that’s the Premier League for you. After three Champions League sides in a row, Palace just have to be grateful for opponents more familiar with the Championship.

Hodgson is right in saying his side will not have to face top-four teams every week, though the awkward truth is that they have not been doing so. Admittedly mostly before he arrived, Palace were also beaten and held scoreless by such Premier League powerhouses as Southampton, Burnley, Swansea and Huddersfield. As Burnley are now sixth as a result of picking up points against some of the stronger sides around, it seems the Palace chairman, Steve Parish, blundered in not recruiting Sean Dyche in summer when he appeared to have the chance.

It remains to be seen whether Hodgson can turn Palace around in time to secure survival but no one is kidding themselves that the season will not be one long relegation battle after the most unpromising of starts. Should Hodgson succeed from here he will deserve even more credit than Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce for Palace’s latest astounding feat of escapology.

With each side having played seven games, this is the stage of the season when most of the zeros have disappeared from the Premier League table. Most of the way down there are only two that remain – no defeats yet for either Manchester City or Manchester United – but then you reach the bottom line and Palace have four of their own. No wins, no draws, no goals and no points. Hodgson’s side have twice as many zeros to their name as the rest of the division put together and, depending on what mood Chelsea are in, the situation may not have significantly altered by Saturday night.

Chelsea’s mood will not be improved by defeat in their last match against Manchester City, or by the hamstring injury Álvaro Morato picked up that is likely keep him on the sidelines for another week, though on the other hand the news from Belgium appears to be that Eden Hazard is fully recovered.

Chelsea never seem to kick on from winning the title; not since José Mourinho’s first couple of years in England has one successful season been followed by another. They managed to sack both Carlo Ancelotti and Mourinho the season after their next two titles and it was hardly a surprise to hear Antonio Conte yearning for a return to his native Italy so soon after delivering the latest.

Given Chelsea’s record no one could blame him for fearing the worst, although that wily old fox Claudio Ranieri probably read the situation most accurately when suggesting Conte was simply disappointed with the club’s summer transfer business and apprehensive about what was turning into an uneven financial contest with the two Manchester clubs. Romelu Lukaku, in other words. Or perhaps, come January, Lukaku and Alexis Sánchez.

Yet before writing Chelsea off as also-rans it might be as well to remember that this time last year they were not doing particularly well either. They had just been thumped 3-0 by Arsenal and Conte was so dismayed he decided to change his system. They came back after the international break with three at the back and wing-backs, handed out a 3-0 thumping of their own to the defending champions, Leicester City, and never looked back.

It is already clear that Chelsea miss Diego Costa’s aggressive input up front, although Morata when fit has shown plenty of promise, though it is equally evident that Lukaku is working for United in a way that Conte must have hoped he would at Stamford Bridge. Especially bearing in mind that Conte probably thought Lukaku was coming as a replacement when ill-advisedly alienating Costa.

Again, it may be best not to form too hasty a judgment. While Lukaku at present leads the Premier League goalscorers’ table, United have not had the most demanding of starts to the league season. On Saturday at Liverpool they will be facing a side from the top half of the table for the first time. Chelsea, in contrast, have already come up against Arsenal, City and Spurs. Among the criticisms leveled at Lukaku after his move for an initial £75m from Everton, in addition to the legitimate concerns that his first touch is unreliable and his proportion of missed chances high, was that he does not always perform against top opposition. The cricketing expression would be flat-track bully, for Lukaku’s record suggests he picks up a lot of his goals against lesser teams and does not show up so well in games against title contenders.

The same could be said of Everton, of course, who did not always provide Lukaku with a platform to score against leading sides, so now he is at United he should have a better chance to answer his critics. Beginning this month, for in addition to Liverpool on Saturday United will meet Tottenham before the end of October. Spurs themselves face Liverpool and United in their next three games, meaning Liverpool have United and Spurs in the same period.

If Lukaku can keep up his scoring sequence through October he will go a long way to proving his worth. Conte will probably end up even more disappointed should that happen, though on paper there is no reason why Chelsea too should not have another productive October. While teams above and around them are playing each other, Chelsea’s next three games involve Palace, Watford and Bournemouth.

While it is a truth universally acknowledged that there are no easy games in the Premier League, it perhaps might be admitted that some runs of fixtures are slightly gentler than others, and Palace, Watford and Bournemouth certainly sounds a gentler October than the month facing United, Spurs and Liverpool. As ever, Champions League exertions can easily upset domestic calculations, though at least Chelsea’s game against Roma is at home, as is their Carabao Cup tie against Everton.

October, in short, could put the smile back on Conte’s face. Chelsea will know it is time to worry if he is still dropping hints about returning home come the end of the month.

The Guardian Sport

There is Irony in Diego Costa’s Deal with Atlético


London- There is an irony that Diego Costa’s tortuous departure from Chelsea should be finalised, pending the results of a stringent medical, just after a fixture when his absence had been so keenly felt.

Not the Champions League stroll beyond Qarabag or even the midweek saunter past Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup. But, last Sunday, Arsenal ventured across the capital and earned a point with Shkodran Mustafi, in most people’s eyes, emerging from the stalemate as man of the match. Even accepting that the centre-half is a Germany international and clearly a player of pedigree, it is hard to envisage he would have been quite so unruffled had Costa lined up for the hosts at Stamford Bridge.

Neither is that supposed to be a criticism of Álvaro Morata, the striker filling the void. The Spaniard secured from Real Madrid has been excellent, scoring goals and buying almost instantly into everything Antonio Conte demands of one of his players. Chelsea’s record signing will be a roaring success at Stamford Bridge. It is just that Costa would have disturbed Arsenal in a very different way.

Once it was clear the visitors were steeled for the contest, he would have bullied their backline, resorting to those same sly tactics that provoked a reaction from Gabriel in late 2015, when he was only retrospectively sanctioned for raising his hands at Laurent Koscielny moments before Gabriel’s dismissal. He would have niggled, scrapped, pinched and whinged, driving Arsenal to distraction until they let down their guard, and then he would have pounced.

That is the theory but it is a familiar scenario and one most Chelsea supporters celebrated regularly during the striker’s three‑year spell in the Premier League. That stint resulted in Costa scoring 52 goals in 89 top-flight appearances, finishing as leading scorer in each campaign and playing a major part in the winning of two league titles. He was downright prolific and not all those finishes were bludgeoned.

There could be subtlety to his game when the mood took him. But, most memorably, he led the line like a man possessed, fuelled by streetwise aggression and canny opportunism. There were 33 yellow cards but only one red, for two bookable offences at Everton in an FA Cup tie, for all the times he pushed gamesmanship to the limit. The 28‑year‑old was a player Chelsea readily cherished when he was one of their own and his last appearance, in the FA Cup final in May, was one of his brutal best. His performance that day warranted more than merely his 58th, and last, goal for the club.

José Mourinho had praised him as complete and Conte as fundamental to the team’s all-action approach. There was even a time when the Italian appeared to be transforming the player’s disciplinary record. The striker went 10 games without accruing a fifth booking of the season, and a one-match ban, towards the end of last year.

When he was finally cautioned for dissent at Crystal Palace in December he still departed Selhurst Park having scored the game’s only goal and, upon his return from the ban, would go on to play another 10 domestic matches without a yellow. Aside from his impact on the pitch he was popular among the playing staff – some team-mates have been in regular contact over the summer during his self-imposed exile in Brazil – a bundle of energy in the dressing room, a source of practical jokes and positivity when it suited him and a figure who had to be involved at all times. He was an edgy life and soul and his enthusiasm could be infectious.

The problem was that he was so high maintenance and just as likely to be stroppy as playful. The unpredictability was always likely to become a problem in the end. Rewind to January when Conte had instigated that remarkable revival within a group who had finished mid-table the previous year, Spurs having just curtailed a 13-match winning run, and it was Costa threatening to disrupt the newfound harmony at Cobham by expressing a sudden desire to depart for a money-flushed Chinese Super League. Or retreat to when he had pined for a move back to Atlético in the summer of 2016 or even further to 2015 when he had returned for pre-season overweight. There were regular reminders this was an unsettled player.

Management is about steering a route through such crises. The Italian readily recognised the forward’s qualities at the tip of his team and, in truth, felt he had no real alternative option available in January, with Michy Batshuayi still adjusting to life in England. Conte’s show of strength was designed to ensure Chelsea were not knocked off their stride. But once it became clear the negatives outweighed the positives, and with good warning conveyed to the board to find a replacement, Costa’s time was up.

The brevity of Chelsea’s 30-word statement, posted on the club’s website, announcing an agreement over an eventual £57m transfer had been reached in principle with Atlético on Thursday hinted at a club who had tired of the circus that comes with Costa. The same could be said for Conte’s text message over the summer, which prompted public outrage from the striker’s camp but was hardly revelatory in its content. The divorce had become inevitable back in January. That Chelsea squeezed six league goals from 16 appearances from the forward post‑dispute is testament to Conte’s motivational skills and Costa’s desire to be involved but it was only an uneasy truce. The fact the champions included the forward in their 25-man Premier League squad, submitted this month, was effectively for show. It made clear a potential route back into the fold existed, though, in reality, neither side ever truly thought it would be required.

Everything since ‘textgate’ has been horribly messy, all legal threats and weekly fines played out to a backdrop of painfully slow negotiations between Chelsea and Atlético while Costa trained on his own back in Brazil. Sold at a profit with loyalty bonuses waived, he will relish playing for Diego Simeone again and can now work more concertedly on his fitness to ensure he can feature from January once his new club’s transfer embargo has been lifted.

It seems inevitable that he will be in the stands next week when Chelsea visit the Wanda Metropolitano in the Champions League and it would be in keeping with his provocative character if he finds himself on screen at some point brandishing an Atlético scarf. Yet the visitors will not rise to it. They saw the best of him over two of his three years at the club and Conte has long since moved on.

The Guardian Sport

A Footballer Has Set Up a Careers Site to Help Retired Athletes Find Work


London- Football dressing rooms can be ruthless places. The social hierarchy is established, the wisecracks are often merciless and there aren’t many moments for introspection or worrying about what to do once your career finishes. Exeter City forward Robbie Simpson understands the culture but at the age of 32 he has realised that a change in tone could help his fellow athletes. Simpson, who has played in all four divisions below the Premier League, has set up Life After Professional Sport (LAPS), an organisation that aims to help former professional athletes find full-time work.

“In professional football, it is very difficult to show any vulnerability whatsoever, never mind in the dressing room. It’s a place with banter and bravado. All of that is great, but also people don’t want to show any fear or even talk about what will happen next after their careers are over, which needs to change. At League Two level, the reality is, after it’s over, you’re going to have to get a job almost straight away, so we need to start this conversation now and think of life after sport.”

Simpson is a relative rarity in football. He had balanced non-league football at Cambridge United with his sports science and mathematics degree until 2007, when he graduated and joined Championship club Coventry City as a full-time professional. Simpson made his competitive debut in the League Cup against Notts County. He came on as a substitute in the 73rd minute and scored in the 78th minute. But things were about to get even better.

After a handful of substitute performances in the Championship, Simpson made his first start for Coventry against Manchester United in the League Cup. A few days after his graduation ceremony he was lining up at Old Trafford against a central defensive pairing of Gerard Piqué and Jonny Evans. United would go on to win the Premier League and the Champions League that season, but they were knocked out of the League Cup by Coventry City.

“I think the whole of Loughborough University was there at that game,” remembers Simpson. “I had been balancing my studies with non-league football, the perfect compromise I thought. Then after a great season in non-league, I got the opportunity to sign with Coventry and eventually gain that first start at Old Trafford. It was just ridiculous having been a student not long before. My path to the full-time game wasn’t normal, but it did give me a good perspective of life outside the game.”

Simpson’s degree earned him the nickname “the student” at Coventry. “It always made me laugh, I was no different to any of these lads. But I found myself, at 22, being brought into these pseudo-intellectual debates in the dressing room to settle an argument because I had been to uni. I was also asked by these senior pros for advice on tax returns. It was all quite bemusing for a young guy.”

In Simpson’s experience, football clubs rarely offer pathways to employment after the final whistle has blown on their players’ careers. He commends the efforts of the Professional Footballers’ Association but thinks more could be done. “We work with a lot of different sports in LAPS and rugby particularly impresses me. Saracens, who are at the top of their game professionally, are also running day visits to the trading floor in the city to give players a taste of something else. We need to encourage that wider perspective across sports.”

Simpson has enjoyed a successful football career at clubs across the country, including Huddersfield Town, Oldham Athletic, Leyton Orient, Cambridge United and, currently, Exeter City. However, after one difficult summer four years ago when he was out of contract and looking for a club, he began to think about his future: could he get a job if his football career was over? He wasn’t fully convinced. His professional work experience was all in football and he started to wonder whether his skills had any value elsewhere.

“I had that fear one summer when I was out of contract that this could be it. I had dedicated the last number of years to professional football, but I was lucky in that I had a degree at least. What about the people who have left school at 16 with no qualifications to dedicate themselves to football? I knew that there were transferable skills available and after linking up with a friend who works in recruitment, we set up LAPS to create a vital resource.”

LAPS is an online tool available to former athletes who are searching for a career after the final whistle has blown on their careers. It contains a job board, networking opportunities, advice and case studies of former athletes who have moved into different lines of work. Simpson has spoken to hundreds of athletes since setting up LAPS. Many of them mental health issues and financial concerns and he wants to empower them.

“Not everyone can be an athlete and one of the things that makes them stand out in their profession is their commitment to a set goal. We want to inspire these men and women to think that there is absolutely a life after sport, and we are going to do everything we can to show them that there can be a fulfilling professional life after they’ve stopped as an athlete.”

Simpson is running LAPS while playing in League Two. Over the last few years he has seen positive changes in the attitudes of his colleagues. Eleven of his team-mates at Exeter City have either finished or are completing degree-level studies. Simpson’s former nickname “the student” makes little sense at his club these days and he is determined to help more athletes find productive careers after sport.

The Guardian Sport

Premier League: 10 Talking Points from This Weekend’s Action

Clockwise from the left: Raheem Sterling, Arsene Wenger, Harry Kane, Antonio Conte, and Frank de Boer.

1) Guardiola learning from Sterling, rather than vice versa
After Raheem Sterling again came to the fore, for the second time in six days, it was inevitable that Pep Guardiola would face questions about the in-form winger. What was not quite so expected was the Manchester City manager’s revelation that he has not been inspiring Sterling in training but that it has, in fact, been the other way around. “I learn from him,” Guardiola said. “The players improve the managers, believe me. The players have the talent, the talent from Sterling to dribble one against one, two against one, I am not involved in absolutely anything about that.” Guardiola insisted he cannot teach Sterling’s instincts in front of goal, saying that is purely his “talent”, but how then do his players improve? “I don’t know, maybe you improve, maybe you have to find another manager, I don’t know,” he said, grinning. Ben Fisher

2) Conte tries to reassure Chelsea he won’t walk out
Tension has been festering at Chelsea all summer, born of frustrations in the transfer market, but Antonio Conte has at least attempted to reassure the club’s support that his future will be at Stamford Bridge regardless of the board’s successes over the next four days. “My message for the fans is: I’m totally committed to the club,” he said. “Totally committed to improve my players. I’m a coach, not a manager. When you want to strengthen your squad, you have to give your opinion and speak with your club, but then the club goes into the transfer market to try and sort the situation. To try and help us. Sometimes it is possible. Sometimes it’s not possible. But I must be focused with things on the pitch and continue to work with my players.” That was not the outburst of a man likely to stomp away from a new two-year contract in a huff this week if things go poorly. Dominic Fifield

3) What next for Crystal Palace? The return of Allardyce?
Managers do not last long in the Premier League. I know that, you know that, Claudio Ranieri knows that. Nevertheless, the news that Frank de Boer is in danger of losing his job at Crystal Palace after four games in charge is pretty astonishing. Yes, Palace have been terrible under the Dutchman, no more so than against Swansea City on Saturday when they deservedly lost a third league match in succession, performing in a manner that was as shoddy as it was toothless, but a new approach – one that is also meant to benefit Palace in the long term in regards to how they nurture young talent – was always going to take time to bed in and having taken a leap of faith the least Palace’s board could do is hold their nerve longer than they appear willing. And what if they do sack De Boer– persuade Sam Allardyce to return? Good luck with that, Steve Parish. Sachin Nakrani

4) Saints should sell Van Dijk unless the circumstances are just right
The official line from Southampton is that they expect Virgil van Dijk to remain in their employment beyond transfer deadline day on Thursday. That makes perfect sense if: (a) the club are convinced that the player will swallow his disappointment and resume performing at his imperious best; and (b) the club have enough money to improve their misfiring attack without selling their best defender. If those two conditions cannot be met, then Southampton should sell Van Dijk this week, even to Liverpool – especially if they could get Daniel Sturridge as part of the deal. Paul Doyle

5) Arsenal brought a paintbrush to a gunfight
Liverpool will swarm plenty of teams this season, but few will collapse with Arsenal’s alacrity. It is important to state how well the hosts played at Anfield, and this must reflect how well they prepared because there are no secrets to Liverpool: they are fast, hard and aggressive, especially at the start. Yet Arsenal sauntered about cluelessly, bringing a paintbrush to a gunfight and the hiding they received was richly deserved. Arsène Wenger will take most of the flak, but his board and players are culpable too. Daniel Harris

6) Will Old Trafford finally make some noise under Mourinho?
What will it take for the Old Trafford atmosphere to rise above the lukewarm? José Mourinho was critical of the noise levels at home last season and was at it again after the win against Leicester on Saturday, making an unprompted half-joke that he knew Marcus Rashford had scored because it was the first time he had heard the crowd. The clearly premeditated point came as no surprise to anyone who, a couple of minutes after Marouane Fellaini had made victory certain, saw Mourinho turn to the fans behind his dugout, cup his ears and shrug his shoulders. The disappointments of the post-Ferguson era may well have taken a cumulative toll but there is clear evidence that Mourinho is taking United in the right direction and perhaps he is right to wonder whether everyone might pull together a little more. United are going well, but there will be days when they need the kind of push he feels they are not receiving. Nick Ames

7) Merino reminds Benítez of Xabi Alonso
If the cold war between Rafael Benítez and Mike Ashley is far from over, victory against West Ham United prompted a temporary resumption of normal life with the manager answering questions about pure football rather than internecine politics. These included a query as to whether Mikel Merino, the Spain Under-21 midfielder and Borussia Dortmund loanee, who excelled in central midfield, showcasing some defence splitting passing, reminded him of Xabi Alonso. “There are similarities with Alonso,” Benítez said. “They’re both Basques and they’re similar because of the way they read the game. Alonso’s long passing was better but Merino is more mobile and dynamic.” Aleksandar Mitrovic simply remains a liability. The scorer of Newcastle’s third goal could well receive a retrospective red card for an off-ball elbow on Manuel Lanzini. While it will be no surprise if Mitrovic departs Tyneside this week, Slaven Bilic’s future at West Ham seems almost as uncertain. Louise Taylor

8) Heaton the reason why Kane’s ‘August drought’ continues
Harry Kane has scored a goal for Spurs in August; against AEL Limassol in a 2014 Europa League qualifier. So let that be the end of that talk. He is still to get one in the Premier League for sure and the wait will continue for another year after several chances came and went against Burnley. As with the question over whether Wembley affects the Tottenham team, it is tempting to speculate whether this quirky statistic might have been playing on Kane’s mind. Was he nervous? Unlikely. Was he too keen to score? Perhaps. But the most prominent factor in his failure to find the net was the positioning and anticipation of the Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton. In fact, when Spurs forced the game too much at 1-0 up in an attempt to kill the Wembley hoodoo for good, Kane stayed calm and did the rational, optimal thing. It’s what he always does. He’ll be back in the goals soon enough.Paul MacInnes

9) Brighton badly need a striker before the transfer window shuts
For a team yet to score a goal after three matches, the biggest problem Brighton & Hove Albion face is to try to solve the shortage of striking options. Chris Hughton did not shy away from the fact that his team did not even have a centre forward on the bench as they tried to engineer a match-winner at Watford. Unluckily, one of their main summer targets, Raphael Dwamena, failed a medical last week. “It’s not a usual set of circumstances, but all you can do is move on from that and go to the next set of targets,” says Hughton. He acknowledges that is easier said than done with the market unrecognisable from the last time he was in Premier League football. “I’ve not seen a jump in the [transfer fee] levels like we have seen this summer,” the Brighton manager says. The clock is ticking to recruit a striker before the window shuts. Amy Lawrence

10) Does Pulis deserve to be ‘slaughtered’ by his old fans?
Tony Pulis may not be everyone’s cup of tea and it would be fair to say that freeflowing, expansive attacking football has never been his thing, yet it still felt strange to hear the Stoke City supporters at the Hawthorns turning on their former manager and a style of football that they accepted for many years. “Tony Pulis, your football is shit,” was the chant that surfaced from the away end on several occasions. Pulis spent seven years at Stoke in his second spell, taking the club back into the top flight for the first time since 1985. By the end he had outstayed his welcome – the fans were no longer willing to tolerate direct, uncompromising football when Pulis had better players at his disposal, which is fair enough. Whether Pulis deserves to be publicly slaughtered in the way that he was at Albion on Sunday, however, is another matter. Stuart James

(The Guardian)

Transfer Window: Players Who Should Move to Help Their World Cup Chances

Transfer window

Diego Costa
Diego Costa’s situation at Chelsea keeps rumbling on. Back in June Antonio Conte sent the player a text message to tell him he had no future at the club, but Costa’s preferred move to Atlético Madrid is yet to materialise. Costa has accused Chelsea of pricing him out of the move but the situation at Atlético is complicated by their transfer ban, which prevents them from registering new players until January 2018.

Monaco, Marseille and Milan have apparently shown an interest in Costa but he is adamant about Atlético. “Chelsea have offered me to several clubs, but I was very clear with them,” he said. “I said that if I’m not part of the manager’s plans, I would like to choose my destination. I’m not going to let them decide just to get more money.”

Costa may have to compromise to keep his place in the Spain squad. Álvaro Morata, the player who was signed to replace him at Chelsea, is likely to lead the line for Spain in their World Cup qualifiers against Italy and Liechtenstein next weekend. Costa didn’t make the squad, with 35-year-old New York City forward David Villa called up to take his place. Costa has been playing five-a-side football with his friends in Brazil to stay fit but, if he wants to make an impact in what could be the final World Cup of his career, he will need to prove himself against tougher opponents over the next nine months.

Michy Batshuayi
Michy Batshuayi isn’t out in the cold at Chelsea like Costa, but the 23-year-old is still very much on the fringes of the first team and may struggle to push his way into the Belgium side unless he can earn more starts in the Premier League. Romelu Lukaku will almost certainly lead the line for Roberto Martínez’s team next summer but Batshuayi needs to be ready to pounce if the Manchester United striker suffers an injury or a dip in form.

As things stand, Batshuayi is not even guaranteed a place in the squad. Last season – his seventh as a senior professional – he was only on the pitch for 239 minutes in the Premier League. Ambitious interest from Lille has emerged this week and a return to France would make sense for a player who made his name in Ligue 1, where he scored 17 goals and laid on nine assists in his final campaign with Marseille.

Anthony Martial

Sticking to the topic of strikers who are playing second fiddle to Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial will be hoping his early season form as an impact substitute for Manchester United will convince José Mourinho to give him more chances. With two goals and one assist in just 26 minutes of action this season, the 21-year-old has been key for United; five of their eight goals so far have come with him on the pitch.

He’ll hope to play a bigger part for his country next summer too, but France have an abundance of attacking competition. Didier Deschamps’ squad for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Holland and Luxembourg contained seven attackers – Kingsley Coman, Nabil Fekir, Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann, Alexandre Lacazette, Kylian Mbappé and Florian Thauvin – leaving Martial to compete on the outside alongside Dimitri Payet and Ousmane Dembéle. If Mbappé signs for Paris Saint-Germain, Martial could do worse than returning to Monaco and leading the line for them in the Champions League.

Julian Draxler
Mbappé’s potential move to Paris Saint-Germain could also affect Julian Draxler, who only joined the club in January but already looks surplus to requirements. Paris Saint-Germain need to balance their books after signing Neymar for £197m and Draxler has been linked with all sorts of clubs: Bayern Munich, Arsenal if Alexis Sánchez leaves, Liverpool if Philippe Coutinho leaves, and Monaco as part of a deal for Mbappé.

The 23-year-old winger captained Germany to glory at the Confederations Cup earlier this summer and is very much a part of Jogi Löw’s plans, but limited league appearances would significantly harm his chances of finding a place in the starting XI once Germany’s senior stars return. The world champions are not short of attacking talent so the last thing he needs is a season on the bench.

Ross Barkley
Everton valued Ross Barkley at £50m earlier this year but he could leave the club in the next week for half that fee given the understandable lack of interest. With just one year remaining on his deal, the midfielder refused to extend his contract having been given an ultimatum by manager Ronald Koeman. With no serious bids forthcoming, both he and the club are left in a sticky situation.

A hamstring injury suffered in pre-season has also held up a transfer, though Tottenham and Chelsea appear to be interested in the 23-year-old if the price is right. Barkley has hopes of playing in Russia next year despite a lack of action under Gareth Southgate so far. Playing Champions League football for either Mauricio Pochettino or Antonio Conte could prove a godsend for a player with undoubted ability – no Englishman has registered more assists over the last two Premier League seasons (16).

(The Guardian)

We All Suffer When Matches Are Played With The Transfer Window Open

London- It’s that time of year again folks … so who’s excited? Are you ready for the excitable sports reporters wearing yellow? Ready to see hordes of football supporters hanging around training grounds waiting to see a glimpse of a new signing or making inappropriate signs in the background shot of camera?

I know I can’t wait to see another shot of our ’Arry hanging out of his car window telling reporters about his “triffick” new signing, either. Transfer deadline day for all of us has become a staple part of our traditional footballing diet, where we sit in front of a TV screen hoping that yellow bar at the bottom of our screen tells us about a new record signing for our club and that the “missing link” to our team’s ambitions for the season has been snapped up in the nick of time.

It is an exciting, symbolic day for the fans, which gives them an indication of their respective football club’s strengths and weaknesses before embarking on another season of hope.

For us players it is a little bit different. Imagine spending your summer where every time you switch on the TV, read the newspaper or even check your social media there’s a different, more “exciting”, more expensive player being linked to your position in the team, ready to take your job, maybe forcing you to move on, finding not only a new club but a new home for your family.

Imagine getting a call two days before the transfer window closes and being told your time at the club is up, you need to find a new job and you’re not needed any more. You are now dependent on your agent to conjure up a minor miracle. And, oh, he’s got about 48 hours to do it.

Then you turn to your wife and kids and break the news that their lives – schools, friends, home – are about to be turned upside down and all you can do is hope that the unknown location of your new club enables you and your family to settle down as quickly and smoothly as possible.

And then you’re sitting in a hotel room at 11.30pm praying that the paperwork has been completed and processed in time for you to sign a contract that not only affects your playing career but the lives of all of those around you who you support and care for. If you miss that deadline by a minute your life is completely up in the air and you have no idea what to say to your loved ones.

(Not so) funnily enough, I have been through all of those situations at one point or another throughout my career and trust me, the fear, paranoia and trepidation an impending deadline day can bring affects players, families and dressing rooms up and down this country. At this time every year as players leave the morning training session to go home, the in-joke between us always is: “Keep that phone on!” or: “Maybe see you tomorrow,” because we’re all wary of the fact that any one of our lives could dramatically be changed by just a call or email.

You would think that in today’s multimillion-pound football industry every transfer is planned meticulously and worked on for days and weeks on end but in reality, as the deadline approaches and teams are searching for plan F, G or H in their hunt for a position rather than A, B or C, transfer deals can be reached in a matter of minutes, leaving that player in question in a situation that he could never have foreseen.

In recent weeks, a lot has been made of the proposal of the transfer window closing before the start of the season. I completely agree that if all clubs throughout Europe were to adhere to an agreed earlier date before the start of the competitive season it would be beneficial to managers, players, clubs and even supporters.

For all of the reasons I have listed above I know that at every football club there are players who have had their “heads turned” by bigger clubs with huge, life-changing financial incentives but at the same time are asked to focus on the task in hand at their football club at the start of a season. There are also players playing competitive matches knowing that their football club is in negotiations with another player who is in line to replace them in the squad and in turn force them out. There are players who are even subconsciously worried about injury while playing in a competitive match and then wrecking their chances of a move to a bigger club. This situation is not fair to managers trying to win games, team-mates who want to do well or supporters who pay their hard-earned cash to watch their heroes at least give 100% to win a game of football.

Now in a perfect world we say: “These are professionals who should do the job they are asked to.” I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment except that football – like any industry – does not operate in a perfect world.

This is still a game played by people, with families, with ambitions for what is a short career, with different personalities and different motivations. It is impossible to guarantee the focus of every member of a squad in competitive matches when a huge transfer cloud hangs above them. For these reasons it’s time to close shop that little bit earlier.

The Guardian Sport

Nemanja Matic’s Manchester United Move May Leave Chelsea Feeling Blue


London- It was the cartoon, published on the Daily Telegraph website a few years ago, that probably demonstrated the perception at the time that the man in charge of Manchester United’s transfer business was straying dangerously close to getting the reputation of being a bit of a pushover.

Entitled “Manchester United and the Transfer Market” and published shortly after the arrival of Ángel Di María and Radamel Falcao, the cartoon showed the club’s executive vice‑chairman, Ed Woodward, walking into a convenience store called Costless and asking to be shown the “very finest” chocolate they had for sale before handing over £80 for a Mars Bar.

He returned to the same store a while later and the shopkeeper, sensing another easy kill, offered him a packet of wine gums for £100. Woodward offered the “far more realistic price of £95” and they started haggling.

Shopkeeper: “£98.” Woodward: “£99.” Shopkeeper: “£110.” Woodward: “£100.” Shopkeeper: “Deal!” Woodward (triumphantly): “Still got it …”

It’s an easy laugh. Yet it’s not entirely fair to portray Woodward as a soft touch and, if we think back to his first transfer window in the role, he never really got the credit he deserved for the way he faced down Wayne Rooney and refused, point-blank, to bend to the requirements of Chelsea and Roman Abramovich.

Chelsea, you might recall, had lodged two bids for Rooney after José Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2013. The player was doing all he could to make the move happen and Mourinho was under the impression it was only a matter of time. Yet Woodward held firm. Bending to player power, he concluded, would be weak in the extreme. It wasn’t a question of money. It was a case of self-preservation, assessing the dangers and looking after his own club’s reputation. Chelsea’s £50m signing of Fernando Torres from Liverpool was seen throughout the sport as a shift in dynamic between the two clubs. Woodward decided his position was irreversible and that he could not risk United going the same way.

Most people would conclude that was the right decision when Rooney, at 27, was still capable of scoring 20 goals a season for the next three years. Yet it is also fair to say Woodward was under considerable pressure to change his mind. Rooney went to see him, making it clear he wanted to go, but it made no difference. And of course it was the sensible thing to do when the alternative, as Chelsea might yet find out with Nemanja Matic, risks a scenario where the selling club see a former player lift the Premier League trophy in another team’s ribbons.

Chelsea evidently thought they could take that risk, bearing in mind their favourable reaction when Mourinho, now their former manager, identified Matic as an ideal wearer of United’s colours and found out that his former club were happy to do business with his current one. Matic has fitted in seamlessly to his new team, immediately giving the impression his contribution to United’s season is going to be considerable, and it is easy to understand why throughout the sport there is an element of mystery why a club with Chelsea’s ambitions have been so obliging.

To put it into context, perhaps the best place to start is an interview last February in which Mourinho was asked whether it was possible in the Premier League for the top clubs to sign players from their leading rivals. “This is not Germany,” he pointed out. “In Germany, Bayern Munich starts winning the league in the summer. They go to Borussia Dortmund every year and buy their best player. One day they go there and [Robert] Lewandowski. The next year, they go there, Mario Götze. The next year, Mats Hummels.

“Do you think I can go to Tottenham Hotspur and bring two Tottenham players to kill Tottenham? I can’t. I cannot go to Arsenal and bring the two best Arsenal players. I cannot go to Chelsea and bring two of the players that I love very, very much. That time is over. That time of attacking your direct opponents in the country is over. You cannot attack your rivals that way any more.”

It turned out he was wrong, or at least partly wrong, given that one of his favourites from Chelsea is now exerting his influence in a red shirt. Mourinho seems as surprised as anyone and there may come a time when Chelsea have to concede that maybe Woodward had the right idea. Why help out the team that could be going head to head against you for the title? Why facilitate a club who would never dream of being so generous in return? And how much will the £40m transfer fee matter to a man of Abramovich’s wealth if Matic’s contribution for his new team helps to return the championship trophy to Old Trafford?

Arsenal were guilty of an even more reckless form of business when they allowed Robin van Persie to move to Old Trafford in 2012 and handed over a player who had just won the Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year award. They seemed quite happy with the money they received for the player – £22.5m, initially – but not so much when he scored 35 times the following season and Sir Alex Ferguson’s team won the league with four games to spare. For that, Arsenal received a £1.5m top-up payment. Who would you imagine was the happier?

United made a calculated risk of their own when Danny Welbeck went the other way during the Louis van Gaal era. Yet Welbeck was not a performer with Van Persie’s intuitive brilliance and there have been only a few other occasions – Mickaël Silvestre to Arsenal and Juan Sebastian Verón to Chelsea, being the notable ones – when the modern United have broken away from their position that it makes absolutely no sense to solve your rivals’ problems.

United even brought in lawyers in 2007 to prevent Gabriel Heinze from moving to Liverpool. Heinze had a written agreement that he could leave Old Trafford if a potential buyer offered £6m. He ended up employing Liverpool’s solicitors to act for him against his own club – an incredible story of politics, rivalry and legal manoeuvring – but it got him nowhere and Phil Chisnall remains the last player, in April 1964, to move from one club to the other, in the same week that BBC2 was flickering on to the nation’s black-and-white televisions for the first time.

The strange thing, perhaps, is that some of the other clubs with realistic aspirations of going for the title are nothing like as particular about who they do business with. Spurs, for one, have regularly pained their own supporters that way and Arsenal, similarly, have spent a number of years helping the Manchester clubs assemble title-winning sides.

For the reigning champions to risk the same, however, doesn’t make obvious sense. Matic might not have been an automatic starter after Tiémoué Bakayoko’s arrival from Monaco but the Serb has gone straight into United’s midfield and, at 29, could feasibly stay there for the next four years. It defies logic and the popular theory, namely that Abramovich apparently ticked off the deal after a personal request from the player, doesn’t make it any less perplexing. Very decent of him, you might think, but if the question is whether United would do the same in return then Rooney can probably provide the answer.

Costa blank when it comes to blame

It shouldn’t be a great surprise, if you have followed the pattern of Diego Costa’s career, that this is not the first time he has failed to report for duty after a summer of self-indulgence.

Costa was so out of shape when he turned up late for pre-season training one year at Atlético Madrid one of the journalists who covers the club, José David Palacio, recalls the player trying to strike a deal with the local media. “He tried to avoid the cameras as much as possible and insisted that we didn’t film his whole body,” Palacio says.

Costa had been awol for the first four days of training and was made to issue a public apology in which he initially blamed his mother’s cooking. “It was just a breakdown in communication. I lost my Spanish mobile and didn’t realise that the club don’t have my Brazilian number. Otherwise they could have called me on that. But I came back the minute they called and I’m really sorry this happened. Something seems to go wrong every year. Problems seem to seek me out.”

He is right. Problems do seek him out. Yet Costa seems to labour under the misapprehension that it is merely misfortune and, in that regard, one imagines it will be a considerable relief for Chelsea when they have finally removed one of the more tiring characters in the business from their payroll.

FA’s odd omission in Aluko inquiry

The FA’s decision to publish the barrister’s report relevant to the Eni Aluko “hush money” case detailed why the governing body had not upheld her complaints about an alleged racial remark and ruled there had been no wrongdoing by the England women’s team manager, Mark Sampson.

What it did not address was the well‑sourced claim that the mixed‑race player he was said to have left “distressed” during the China Cup in 2015 – Sampson was alleged to have asked her how many times she had been in trouble with the police – was not among the people to be interviewed in the wake of Aluko’s varied complaints.

It feels bizarre, yet there have been no denials from the FA. Can it really be true? Can there really have been an allegation of that nature and an investigation took place without actually speaking to the player in question?

The Guardian Sport

Chelsea Looking Ill-Equipped after a Summer of Stagnation


London – José Mourinho takes so many swings at so many perceived enemies that it is easy to forget there are times that he may be right. As his final season at Chelsea spiraled out of control, Mourinho flailed in all directions: at referees, at his medical staff, at opponents, at the media and eventually at his own players.

But with retrospect a couple of his jabs look well-directed. “I gave my club the report of the season projection on 21 April,” he said after the defeat by Crystal Palace in August 2015. “This is a moment for everybody to assume their responsibilities,” he added during his seven-minute monologue after the loss to Southampton. He had highlighted targets and the club – specifically the transfer committee comprising the director of football Michael Emenalo and the directors Marina Granovskaia and Eugene Tenenbaum – had failed to deliver them.

Nobody expects a similar collapse from Chelsea this season but now, as then, they begin their defense of the title after a Community Shield defeat by Arsenal following a summer of barely explicable stagnation and frustration. It is two and half weeks since Antonio Conte landed in Beijing on Chelsea’s pre-season tour and explicitly outlined how thin he felt the squad was. Since then no further players have been signed and even Gary Cahill, the image of the uncontroversial solid club pro, was moved after the Community Shield to point out the disparity in the length of the squad lists on the back of the program.

The players who have arrived – Álvaro Morata, Tiémoué Bakayoko and Antonio Rüdiger – essentially replace players who have left (or are apparently leaving). A tight squad worked last season because Chelsea were lucky with injuries and had no European football. They cannot hope to get away with it again.

Chelsea have excelled in recent years at selling players at a profit, often when they have barely made an appearance and the aim to make the club self-sufficient is a laudable one. But their strategy clearly has flaws. The squad might look rather healthier had Nathaniel Chalobah and Dominic Solanke not become so disillusioned their lack of game time that they left, and had Tammy Abraham (among a host of others) not been sent out on loan, but given their departures, there is a clear lack of cover at wing-back, in the creative midfield positions and at center-forward.

A small part of the mess, it should be acknowledged, is of Conte’s making. Had he not sent Diego Costa that text in June telling the striker he was not in his plans for next season, then he would at least have the option of the 28-year-old. Costa burgled late goals in both Chelsea’s first two games of last season to get them off to a decent start; with Eden Hazard injured and Morata settling in, that sort of streetwise opportunism might have been quite useful this time round as well.

As it is, Costa remains in limbo, his probable transfer to Atlético on hold because of their transfer ban. But in a sense of more long-term significance than the specifics of who will conjure goals for Chelsea is the issue of why Conte sent that text in the first place. Perhaps it was just clumsy diplomacy, a desire to make a clean break. The striker’s level, after all, had dipped significantly after January when a mooted transfer to China didn’t materialize – only five of his 20 league goals came in the final four months of the season.

Even then it seems strange that Conte, who does not seem a man to shirk confrontation, would choose to text rather than meet face-to-face or phone.

There is a danger with Chelsea of seeing Machiavellian games at every turn, of assuming the spirit of Mourinho has so permeated the walls at Stamford Bridge that nobody does anything without an ulterior motive, but it does not seem a ridiculous explanation to suggest the text may have been meant to force the club’s hand. The text leaked, as Conte must have known it would, and once it did, it became all but impossible for Costa to remain at Chelsea. Even then, Chelsea allowed themselves to be gazumped for Romelu Lukaku.

Conte is clearly unhappy about transfer policy. His comment, “You have to ask the club about this,” when asked last Friday about the sale of Nemanja Matic to Manchester United made clear what he thought. He followed that up this week by describing Matic as “a gross loss, a great loss”.

His post-Community Shield performance, meanwhile, was a masterpiece of passive aggression, refusing to take questions about the make-up of the squad on the grounds he had answered the same questions two days earlier. If all managers refused to answer questions they have recently addressed, most clubs could probably get away with two or three press-conferences a season, as Conte must be well aware: a point was being made.

With Hazard and Bakayoko ruled out for the start of the season, and with Chelsea facing Tottenham, Everton, Arsenal and Manchester City before the end of September, the deficiencies in the squad have been brought into sharp relief. Conte is clearly unhappy, and the squad at the moment looks frankly inadequate. As and when new signings arrive, there will be enormous pressure on them to settle instantly.

Once again Chelsea begin a season as champions far closer to crisis that seemed possible in May. And this time, Mourinho cannot be blamed.

The Guardian Sport

Premier League Bubble Keeps on Growing before a Season Rich in Intrigue


London- This is the age of the full-back – and that says a lot. For years full-backs were scorned as players who were not defensively sound enough to play in the middle of the back four nor technically good enough to play in midfield – “Nobody,” as Jamie Carragher has observed, “grows up wanting to be Gary Neville” – but this summer an astonishing amount of money has been spent on them. Most of the money, admittedly, has been splurged by Manchester City, who made Kyle Walker the most expensive defender in history at £50m then bought a back-up in Danilo for £26.5m before breaking their own record to sign Benjamin Mendy for £52m.

This is not just a Premier League phenomenon. Barcelona and Real Madrid have spent more than £26m on full-backs, while Milan have picked up a pair for the better part of £50m. But it is a phenomenon centred on City, where Pep Guardiola, having chosen not to augment his four thirtysomething full-backs last season, has swung to the opposite extreme. In City’s outlay on full-backs, three trends meet: Chelsea’s success with a back three last season has brought the lateral centre-stage; English clubs are spending mind-boggling amounts of money; and City, perhaps frustrated at how last season turned out, are spending (or, at least, have spent) the most of the lot.

But it is the overall figures that are most eye-catching. Romelu Lukaku for £75m. Álvaro Morata for £58m. Alexandre Lacazette for £46m. Bernardo Silva for £43.6m. Tiémoué Bakayoko for £39.7m. Mohamed Salah for £36.9m. Ederson for £34.9m. Victor Lindelof for £31m. These are not normal figures. These are not prices that have undergone the usual process of inflation; it may be, as Daniel Levy has said, that they are unsustainable. This is a market in which Jordan Pickford, an uncapped 23-year-old goalkeeper who has played 31 Premier League games (most of them very well, admittedly), can move for £25m with barely an eyebrow being raised.

Whether the prices are unjustifiable or immoral depends on perspective, but looking at the flurry of £30m, £40m and £50m deals, it doesn’t take a great cynic to wonder whether there might not be some sort of mass hysteria at work. Is this a bubble just waiting to pop? Will there come a day on which someone thinks: “£50m for Kyle Walker? What were we doing?” and the market collapses, vindicating the caution of Levy and, to a lesser extent, Arsène Wenger?

There are reasons for concern. Sky’s rebranding of its sports channels comes in response to falling viewing figures last season. Illegal streaming is a major problem, so significant that more than half those surveyed by the Football Supporters’ Federation in July admitted to using a Kodi box – more than had a BT subscription. Nonetheless, the expectation is for the next broadcast deal, which will come into force in 2019‑20, to be even larger than the present one, driven by a significant increase in overseas rights. The Premier League may be coming to the top of the market but it is not there just yet.

Perhaps we get the league we deserve. English football in the 1920s was characterised by innovation and pragmatism as the flux created by the first world war gave managerial opportunities to a class of people who had previously been excluded from such positions and who concerned themselves less with playing in the right way than with winning, because that was what guaranteed an income. The result was increasing use of the offside trap and ultimately, in response to that, an epochal change in the offside law. Or England’s 6-3 defeat by Hungary in 1953, followed three years later by the Suez crisis, creating an atmosphere of imperial decline that led to introspection, a questioning of tradition and the creative wave of the 60s, of which Alf Ramsey’s radical development of 4-4-2 and the World Cup win were an incongruous part.

Football is a part of culture, a reflection of the wider world – and that image is not a comfortable one. Ours is a society in which the people’s game has led to the extraordinary enrichment of a tiny few, in which we pay for our tickets and our satellite subscriptions, handing more and more money over to billionaires, and gawp when the amounts are relayed back to us via ridiculous transfer fees, salaries and agents’ commissions.

Not only do few seem to be appalled by the preposterousness of it all but there is an odd sense that for some fans this is the most enjoyable part of the season, when messiahs loom behind every contorted meme announcing a new deal and the game exists as pure, unsullied potential. The high point of Mesut Özil’s Arsenal career remains the day he signed. Far rather that, far rather the soap opera of agents and whispers, swoops and rumours, tactical projection and imagined combinations, the idealised simulacrum of the game, than the football itself. Behind those falling Sky figures a suspicion lurks that 90 minutes of play is too long to hold the modern attention span.

Yet unsettling as the nonsense of summer is, this is another season rich with promise. The fleet of new signings are part of that. This is what the Premier League is best at: turning the generation of cash and its expenditure into a spectator sport in itself. This remains the league of superstar managers and, if last season never quite ignited, that in a sense has only whetted the appetite for this campaign.

José Mourinho’s season was salvaged by the Europa League and Guardiola’s by a third-place finish, but neither really impressed in their first campaigns at their new clubs. The expected Rumble by the Irwell never quite came to pass, both too troubled by their own side’s failings – one couldn’t score; the other couldn’t defend – to be able to spend too much time needling. For this season that adds jeopardy. Neither club, having invested so much in appointing them, were going to sack their manager last season; this season they might.

Since joining Porto, Mourinho has always won the league in his second season at a club. There was little in 2016-17 to suggest he can do so again and become only the fourth manager ever to win the league with Manchester United, a club that have overwhelmed each of their leaders in the past century other than Matt Busby and Alex Ferguson – but the way they dragged themselves to the Europa League offers encouragement. The signing of Lukaku should help with the dispatching of the lesser clubs who so often frustrated them last season but the fear nags that football has moved on and Mourinho, energy sapped and charm exhausted, is struggling to keep up. Few managers, after all, have lasted more than a decade at the very top.

There is pressure too on Guardiola, all the more so now that his reaction to last season’s failure has been an extraordinary spree. Does juego de posición have any place in the harum-scarum world of the Premier League?

Elsewhere, can Jürgen Klopp’s high‑tempo philosophy prosper over a full season at Liverpool? Can Wenger survive another year with Arsenal? Can Mauricio Pochettino keep his young Spurs players invested in his project, even when they could be earning in some cases £5m more a season elsewhere? And what of Everton, expectations raised by spending unthinkable before Farhad Moshiri’s takeover?

And then there’s Antonio Conte, seemingly frustrated by his club’s transfer policy, who last season outshone them all to win the title and offered a new tactical template. Has he another trick to pull at Chelsea? It was, after all, his deployment of the 3-4-2-1 system that confirmed the importance of full-backs as attacking players, he who provided the structural underpinning for a world in which a club see their best way of reacting to a poor season as splurging £130m on a position once regarded as an afterthought.

The Guardian Sport

Arsène Wenger Confident Arsenal Can Prosper from Champions League Absence


London – For Arsène Wenger, the boot is on the other foot – well, almost. The Arsenal manager flagged up a trend at the end of last season when he noted that Chelsea and Leicester City, the two most recent Premier League champions, were unencumbered by the demands of European football during their triumphant campaigns.

“Because the league is so physically difficult, maybe it is very difficult to cope with both,” Wenger said. “We will see how Chelsea respond next season.”

Arsenal’s league campaign ended in frustration when they finished fifth, meaning they missed out on Champions League qualification for the first time since 1997. But at least they had freed themselves up for a clear run at the domestic title. Not quite.

One of the keys to Arsenal’s season will be how they contend with the Europa League, with the unique Thursday-Sunday scheduling that it entails. Will Wenger rest his first-choice players to have them firing for the more serious business of the league? Yes, he suggested. That would be the plan.

“I will always play a team that has a good chance to win the next game,” Wenger said. “In the Europa League, if we can afford sometimes to rest some players, we will do it. But we have to adapt to the level of the competition and see, first, what kind of group we play in.”

Wenger had earlier been asked how he felt before a season with no Champions League football. “For us, it is a good opportunity to focus completely on the Premier League,” he replied.

The manager has signposted his intentions and it may be a popular move to give some of the club’s younger players – such as Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock – an opportunity in the Europa League. Wenger intends to sell a clutch of players, including Calum Chambers, Mathieu Debuchy, Carl Jenkinson, Kieran Gibbs and Lucas Pérez, but his squad will remain extremely deep.

Wenger offered further insight into his feelings towards the Europa League when he said the winners ought not to be granted entry into the Champions League. He even revealed he had voted against the proposal, which came into force in the 2014-15 season. To him, a big club should not view the Europa League as a kind of insurance policy in terms of Champions League qualification.

“You cannot go into the season and think that,” Wenger said. “I was always against it [the Europa League winners qualifying for the Champions League] because, at some stage, it can influence the championship. If a team is in a position in April where they have more chance to win the Europa League, they can let some games go in the championship and not completely focus on the regularity of the competition.

“Apart from Manchester United last season, who won the Europa League [having started in the competition], all the years before it was always a team who was kicked out of the Champions League [that won it]. That’s why, when we voted in Geneva [for the route into the Champions League], I was always against it.”

Wenger’s numbers do not bear scrutiny. Since the format of the Europa League – then the Uefa Cup – was changed in 1999-2000, only seven clubs have lifted the trophy after dropping down from the Champions League. Arsenal almost won it in that first season, after entering through the Champions League, only to lose the final to Galatasaray on penalties.

Wenger’s team finished last season 18 points adrift of Chelsea but they showed in the FA Cup final they could get the better of them over 90 minutes. “Last year, Chelsea did not play in the European Cup and, certainly, they were a bit more consistent in the Premier League,” Wenger said. “In the final, we have shown that the gap was not as high, maybe. I expect Chelsea to fight for the championship again and for us, when we have made 75 points, as we did last season, the target is to get 10 points more. With 10 points more, you are in there.”

Wenger is still there, in situ at the Emirates Stadium after all of the uncertainty over his contract renewal last season, and he is gripped by that eternal optimism. “I am sorry I am still here,” he said, with a smile. “I can understand that you want to kill me but, at the moment, I survive.”

The Guardian Sport