Manchester City Justify Pep Guardiola’s £130m Spent on Full-Backs

Manchester City’s left-back Benjamin Mendy bursts past Daryl Janmaat of Watford during the visitors 6-0 win at Vicarage Road.

Jaws dropped and heads shook when Manchester City spent around £130m on three full-backs this summer. In financial terms that sum meant little to City’s infinitely rich Abu Dhabi rulers. But on the pitch the sense of those investments is becoming clear. They nearly complete City’s team.

The two most expensive of those full-backs, Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy, each cost more than £50m, about double what City paid Real Madrid for the third, Danilo. Walker and Mendy could not be deployed together for the first few matches of this campaign because of injury and suspension, but they have started City’s last three games and the opposition have paid a heavy price. Liverpool, Feyenoord and Watford have been demolished by a combined score of 15-0.

In those matches Mendy and Walker dominated their flanks, flying up and down relentlessly in a way that showed “full-back” to be an outdated label. They also showed how far past it last season’s counterparts were, once-fine performers such as Bacary Sagna, Gaël Clichy, Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandar Kolarov having become creaking thirty-somethings unable to contribute like the new thrusters.

“[Mendy and Walker] are having a big impact, Danilo too,” says Pep Guardiola. “They are young – Mendy is 23 and Kyle (27) is also young enough. They have huge energy to go up and it stretches our play and means we can have more players in the middle to do the short passes. I like our passes to be three, four, five or six metres, no more than that. It gives us continuity. We create spaces in behind and you need players in those positions. Without these signings it would have been more complicated.”

Guardiola’s description of the impact was particularly accurate at Vicarage Road, as Mendy and Walker’s raids enabled Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva to flit in-field as they pleased. The pair tormented the hosts. De Bruyne, mind you, is evidently exempt from his manager’s six-metre guideline, his visionary short- and long-range passing making him a marvellous law unto himself.

Silva, too, conjures at will. His cross from the left led to Nicolás Otamendi nodding in City’s fourth goal at Watford. With Sergio Agüero scoring a hat-trick, creating a goal for Gabriel Jesus and allowing Raheem Sterling to convert a late penalty, the hosts were overwhelmed despite not playing badly. City could have hit double figures.

For all that, City have also benefitted from other factors during their recent run: Liverpool were weakened by the sending-off of Sadio Mané, and Watford were missing their first-choice centre-backs through injury and complained, correctly, that two of City’s first three goals should have been disallowed for offside. Those are important details even if it can feel like nitpicking to point them out given how formidable City have seemed. Similarly, the fact that Watford hinted at lingering problems in City’s central defence when they threatened from a couple of late set-pieces does not mean that Guardiola’s team did not deserve to win heavily. But the Catalan knows his team are not perfect. “After this [win at Watford] it looks like ‘oh no, we cannot improve. But of course we can improve! There are still movements and actions we can improve.”

Guardiola notes the progress from last season but also knows that the biggest gauge so far of how much they have improved will come at the end of this month, when they travel to Stamford Bridge. Antonio Conte’s team beat City home and away on their way to the title last season.

“I think we have made steps forward,” he says. “Last season we did not win a game away in the Champions League and now we have done that. We won a lot of games away in the Premier League [12 out of 19] but this kind of performance [against Watford] we did not see. We will see when we go to face last season’s champions what our level is.”

(The Gurdian)

Police, Stewards Should Stop Treating Football Fans as the Enemy


London – The outcry against the treatment of Manchester City fans at Bournemouth is a reminder – heavy-handed police and stewards should be shown the red card, writes Nick Glynn in the Guardian Sport.

It’s great. Your football team scores, first minute, last minute, last minute of injury time, any time. There are 30 seconds of ecstasy, exuberance, jumping around, hugging people you would never hug anywhere else. It is accompanied by smiles, laughter, singing.

For 99.99 percent of football fans, violence could not be further from their minds. Goals are rare in football – I am a lifelong Birmingham City fan, I know this. This is not rugby, or cricket, or tennis, where players score with dreary repetition. This is football, where you can watch a brilliant 90-minute game where there isn’t a single goal.

I remember shaking the hand of a Millwall fan when they beat Leicester away with an 87th-minute goal and saying to him “It’s the best feeling in the world”. He was shocked, expecting me as the police bronze commander for the match to have some sort of action taken against him. Decades earlier I remember rescuing one of my colleagues from the Coventry pen in the Spion Kop at Leicester, as he tried to stop their fans singing George and John’s Sky Blue Army, like singing was some sort of dangerous pastime.

There has been an outcry about the recent treatment of Manchester City fans (and Sergio Agüero) at Bournemouth on August 26 – after Raheem Sterling scored a 97th-minute winner. To be clear, pitch invasions are wrong, but there is a difference between a pitch invasion and joyful celebrations momentarily spilling over the white line and on to the turf – and that is where a bit of common sense is needed.

It is always interesting to watch the reaction of stewards and police officers when a goal is scored. I see fear, anger, aggression, sometimes panic. For many, it seems the overriding desire is to stop a perfectly normal and natural human reaction to a rare event, rather than taking a few steps back, a few deep breaths, remaining calm, and observing and giving half a minute for things to calm down.

And the crowd almost always will calm down, especially where the situation isn’t aggravated by stewards and police officers diving in and unnecessarily intervening. When players go to their own fans to celebrate, don’t worry – there’s nothing to worry about. The fans will be safely back in their seats in a minute, and the players will be getting on with the game.

The reaction of stewards and police officers to goal celebrations is symptomatic of a wider problem with the rules and regulations that govern football fans, and the way that authorities treat them as a group. Many regulations apply only to football fans, and please, don’t try to claim we all deserve it. We don’t.

The Football (Offenses) Act 1991 was written in the flawed and biased times after the Hillsborough disaster, when the public were conned by a tabloid newspaper’s lying headlines and the perception supported by politicians of the time that all football fans were “scum”, capable of urinating on dying fans.

Those lies are perpetuated in the Football (Offenses) Act and the underlying sentiment of dislike and suspicion of football fans is preserved in its use by the police and stewards across the country. We’re all hooligans, deep down, goes the thinking.

Some of the laws that govern football are ridiculous. The rules on pitch encroachment are too broad. We want to prevent pitch invasions, not criminalize and throttle someone who steps over a line by a few centimeters while celebrating.

Throwing coins can blind someone or cause other serious injury. If the individuals who throw coins can be identified, I welcome the full force of the law being used. Technically, within the “missile throwing” provisions, throwing the match ball back on to the pitch can be a criminal offense. So can throwing the ball to the kid who desperately wants to be the one who throws the ball back on to the pitch. Simply drinking alcohol in sight of the pitch is a criminal offense. The rules are outdated and ridiculous.

Now that the Hillsborough victims and their families are finally on their way to seeing real justice, and trials of safe standing are finally on the cards – at last – a review of the Football (Offenses) Act and other relevant rules and regulations that cover football is long overdue. Inconsistencies in how football is policed and stewarded cannot continue. It is time for an independent, national review.

As for headlocks – as suffered by the fan on the pitch at Bournemouth last weekend, who Agüero seemed so keen to help – there is no need for a review or new laws. Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 makes it clear that force used by the police, and anyone else, including football stewards, must be reasonable in the circumstances. Force has to be proportionate to the threat being dealt with.

Headlocks are not outlawed (any use of force could be reasonable in the right circumstances), but the only circumstances that could justify use of a headlock are where the violence or risk being averted is so serious that causing death or really serious injury to the “assailant” would be justified.

Make no mistake, headlocks can kill. Therefore justification for their use is rare. A simple reminder of that fact to police officers and football stewards might be enough to avert an easily avoided tragedy.

*Nick Glynn is a retired senior police officer. He is an expert witness on police use of force, and was a football commander and adviser for nearly two decades.

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)

Player Simulation Continues to Fool Football Association


London – What a disappointment. Only three weeks into the Premier League season and already it looks as if the Football Association’s initiative on diving and simulation is struggling to keep pace.

Towards the end of last season we were told, if you recall, that the FA now had powers that would permit it to punish divers and cheaters retrospectively with two-match bans, subject to their attempts to con referees being exposed by video replays to the satisfaction of a panel of experts.

The intention, it was made clear, was to charge players believed to have cheated to win a penalty or get a player sent off, be that for a straight red card or a second yellow. A new offense would appear on the FA charge sheet, to wit: “Successful deception of a match official.”

One suspected at the time that such a tricky area might not prove so simple to police, and those fears were borne out in the 1-1 draw between Manchester City and Everton at the Etihad on Monday night. Most commentators on television and in print concluded that Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin had exaggerated both the force and the nature of contact with Kyle Walker to deceive the match officials into thinking some sort of assault had taken place, possibly an elbow to the face. As a result the City player received a second yellow shortly after his first one, and the home side had to play more than 50 minutes with 10 men. When Everton themselves went down to 10 men a couple of minutes before the end of normal time there was a vehement protest from Morgan Schneiderlin that Sergio Agüero had also given the impression he had been kicked when in fact he had not. That incident was less crucial given the stage of the game by then, but few disagreed with Ronald Koeman’s suggestion that the referee, Bobby Madley, had attempted to even up the situation in recognition of his earlier mistake.

A bit of a mess, then, with Pep Guardiola refusing to discuss the officials’ performance or the disciplinary aspects of a feisty game, and Gary Neville suggesting on Sky the “high hurdle” it is supposed to require for a player to receive a second yellow when already on a booking had not been reached. That high hurdle would have been reached had Walker actually elbowed Calvert-Lewin, though television replays clearly established that he had not. One for the peacekeepers at the FA to sort out, surely.

Or perhaps not. It turns out neither incident was clear-cut enough for the governing body’s new machinery to get involved, because while the degree of fouling in each case was debatable, some contact was made on both occasions so it is apparently far too risky to go around accusing anyone of diving. Quite clearly, what the FA needs before it wheels its panel of experts into action is a bona fide dive, one with a take-off, a flight and a landing, quite possibly with a half-pike or two in the middle. At which point, presumably, the panel will respond with scores out of 10, including marks for artistic impression.

What this means in practice is the FA will take action over swan dives in search of penalties, the sort of thing that is usually easy to spot with a couple of television replays anyway if there is no actual contact, but stay away from more difficult areas such as players overreacting to challenges from opponents who have already been booked. That, too, is unsporting conduct. And by falling poleaxed to the floor clutching his face, Calvert-Lewin appeared to have deceived the match officials, whether or not he realized he was going to get Walker dismissed. Agüero’s overreaction, if that is what it was, seemed less reprehensible. Schneiderlin did catch him on the follow-through, and though it did not appear the most heinous act or obvious of fouls, modern professionals know they have to draw the referee’s attention to contact if they expect to win a free-kick.

That, however, is not what Calvert-Lewin seemed to be doing. The FA probably needs to add another new offense to its charge sheet as soon as possible. It should be known as “doing a Rivaldo”, in the same way that chipped penalties are now named after Antonin Panenka, and it should lead to an extremely dim view being taken of players who clutch their face in an attempt to convince the referee that they have been struck rather than simply touched. It is hard to know exactly what Calvert-Lewin was thinking without asking him, but one could readily understand why both Madley and his fourth official reached the conclusion that an elbow might have been involved. It is not always easy for referees to spot everything that takes place on the pitch but that is precisely why it was anticipated that television replays might come in handy after the event.

If we are not going to get such situations reviewed, there is probably no need for a panel of experts after all. Most people sitting at home in their armchairs are able to spot the more blatant dives. If the FA is serious about tackling simulation/cheating/deception, call it what you will, it ought to realize that not everything worth investigation takes place in the penalty area and that players who have already been booked just might be being targeted by opponents.

Retrospective trial by video might still have its uses, though. It would be worth pursuing if only to deter the face-clutchers. A clearer case of attempting to deceive the referee is hard to imagine and it would be relatively easy to stamp out. If the standard punishment for being caught doing a Rivaldo was a two-match ban, dished out retrospectively if necessary, referees would suddenly find their jobs a whole lot easier.

The Guardian Sport

How Samir Nasri Went from Being the ‘New Zidane’ to an Outcast


London – Samir Nasri had taken to Premier League life straightaway but within three months of his Arsenal debut something was bothering him. The season had, on a collective level, lapsed into a now familiar pattern of inconsistency but Nasri thought he and his team-mates were being treated poorly. They had just beaten Chelsea at Stamford Bridge but before the next match, a home game with Wigan Athletic that became infamous for the treatment meted out to Emmanuel Eboué from the stands, he railed against the “acharnement” – widely translated as relentless criticism and perhaps better shortened to invective – he felt Arsenal had received from the press.

Almost nine years have passed and Nasri may reflect that those were the days when, at 21 and hyped as the “new Zidane”, there was far less to worry about. He is in limbo now, remaining within a Manchester City set-up that has little choice but to integrate him while concrete interest from elsewhere fails to materialize. The obvious question is: how has it come to this for a player who still seems too young for such a sharp decline in status?

The most immediate concern for Nasri is the doping case, being overseen by Uefa, that hangs over him following an intravenous drip therapy treatment he is said to have received at a Los Angeles clinic late last year. City are yet to be given a date for its resolution and the effect is obvious: nobody, whether Roma or one of the other Italian and Chinese clubs to have been linked with his services, will exercise anything but caution while the possibility of a lengthy ban remains.

It may turn out Nasri was simply unlucky but the wider picture is that he tends to bring problems on himself. Few more infuriating characters have competed in the Premier League over recent years; the one thing no one questions about Nasri is his talent and it is only three years since, having frustrated Roberto Mancini with inconsistency to the extent the former City manager said he would like to “give him a punch”, he rallied under Manuel Pellegrini to star in a second title-winning campaign. Perhaps he will come good again but the suggestions are of burned bridges, with team-mates reported to have bridled against his perceived arrogance in pre-season.

That flash of annoyance with the media in December 2008, a month after he had scored twice in a defeat of Manchester United, betrayed more than seemed obvious at the time. Nasri is a sensitive, touchy character who reads his reviews and has a habit of reacting to them. It is a trait whose most high-profile effect came in the foul-mouthed row with a French journalist during Euro 2012 that led to his being phased out of the international set-up; it has rubbed others, too, up the wrong way and the impression is of an individual whose reflex for self-preservation has had the opposite effect to the one he intended.

Vikash Dhorasoo, a former France international who knows the alienation a free footballing spirit can feel, expressed it well – and sympathetically – when saying in a newspaper column five years ago: “I just hope when he retires Nasri will discover the joys of the collective.”

It was a telling remark because Nasri, famously accused of disrespecting Thierry Henry by sitting in his seat on the France team bus, has rarely been one to go with the crowd. In football that does not get one very far and perhaps Nasri has suffered on the pitch by not being the player a manager is willing to build an attack round.

At Arsenal he jostled for prominence with Cesc Fàbregas and Robin van Persie, outdoing both in an excellent 2010-11 season; at City he has tended to play his best football when David Silva, a less explosive player but one more conducive to a team’s continuity, has been sidelined.

Nasri has never quite had the place he feels his abilities deserve; that has not always translated into a positive influence elsewhere and his head has shown a tendency to drop. The red card he received after his loan club last season, Sevilla, fell behind to Leicester in their Champions League last-16 match is recent evidence and it tainted an otherwise respectable spell in Spain.

It all adds up to the image of a self-centered, unreliable individual and that is unfortunate because, where ideas about football are concerned, Nasri has always been more switched-on than many. On arriving at Arsenal he described himself as a “non-axial playmaker”; coming from an onlooker’s mouth that would run the risk of being unfathomable jargon but in this instance it suggested a refreshing degree of thought about his role.

During his early seasons in England Nasri would talk with particular knowledge and clarity about other players and teams; no one could say he does not know the game, and perhaps a kind reading of his plight would be that it is a consequence of consistently overthinking while others simply get on with the job.

He will need somebody to be similarly sympathetic if he is to achieve what looked possible a decade ago. He will also need enough people to care. In France Nasri’s name is a near-irrelevance as players such as Kylian Mbappé and Ousmane Dembélé brim with the promise he once held. In England players of inferior ability are shuttled between top-flight clubs for fees several times what it would cost to prise him from City.

Nasri has time to avoid being yesterday’s man. If he makes any more mistakes, then relentless criticism will, when looking back at a career of such possibility, be an enduring norm.

The Guardian Sport

How Will Monaco Cope after Losing So Many of their Title-Winning Stars?


London- Monaco have made a staggering amount of money from transfers this summer and the rumours continue to swirl about Thomas Lemar leaving for Arsenal and Kylian Mbappé joining Real Madrid. Even if their frenzied selling stops now, manager Leonardo Jardim will have to rebuild and re-energise a team that has won Ligue 1, made it to the Champions League semi-finals and then lost £150m worth of talent in three months.

Mendy (£52m), Tiemoué Bakayoko (£39.6m) and Bernardo Silva (£43.6m) have generated the biggest fees so far, but one shouldn’t underestimate how much Monaco will miss players such as Valère Germain (who has joined Marseille for £6.80m) and Nabil Dirar (who is off to Fenerbahce for £4m); the depth they provided last season will be sorely missed, especially if Monaco progress in the Champions League and in France’s two cup competitions.

The club have been proactive in finding replacements, with Youri Tielemans joining from Anderlecht for £21.5m and Terence Kongolo arriving from Feyenoord for £11.5m. Tielemans, a 20-year-old Belgium international, has the dynamism and attacking flair required to become an immediate upgrade on Bakayoko in central midfield; while the versatile Kongolo, who was the youngest player to represent Holland at the last World Cup, can play at left-back or centre-back. Monaco also have a clutch of highly touted loanees returning, including Rony Lopes (Lille), Adama Traoré (Rio Ave) and Allan Saint-Maximin (Bastia). Their spells away were a bit of mixed bag, but given the lack of attacking talent brought in this summer, Jardim will clearly rely on them to some extent.

Monaco’s success in the upcoming season – which starts in earnest on Saturday when they face Paris Saint-Germain in the Trophée des Champions in Tangier – will depend on Jardim’s tactical approach. In his first season at the club, in 2014-15, the team were quite dour and negative. They advanced to the quarter-finals of the Champions League but only really started to impress once Silva, Yannick Carrasco and Anthony Martial were given free rein in attack. The departures of Ferreira Carrasco and Martial – along with Layvin Kurzawa and Geoffrey Kondogbia – the following summer left them lacking in identity the 2015-16 season, when they had to rely on a raft of underwhelming loanees.

The story of Monaco’s achievements last season, however, needs little retelling. Jardim took the bold steps of bringing back Radamel Falcao after his frustrating loan spells with Manchester United and Chelsea, signing Mendy from Marseille and bringing in Djibril Sidibé from Lille to build a 4-4-2 that was attack-minded to say the least. They overhauled the mighty Paris Saint-Germain to win the league and made it to the semi-finals of the Champions League as a result, but now Jardim must once again demonstrate his ability to construct a first XI and squad from the set of players he has been given.

While blessed with the effervescence of Mbappé and the presence of Falcao, the manager is unlikely to deviate from the 4-4-2 system that served him so well last season. Tielemans (or João Moutinho) will replace Bakayoko in midfield and one of Kongolo or Jorge (who was signed from Flamengo for £8m in January) can step in for Mendy at full-back.

What complicates matters, however, is the role that Silva played in the team. Nominally the right-sided midfielder, the little Portuguese playmaker was never limited by his position. He popped up on either flank or in the centre, controlling matches not merely by dint of his individual ability, but by an innate, uncanny ability to adapt his role in different situations. Adept at scoring, playing the creator, cutting inside or stretching play, Silva contributed a thoroughly unique skill-set to Monaco’s approach.

Lopes and Saint-Maximin are both capable of supreme bits of skill, but neither have really been tested at the top level. Saint-Maximin is a superb talent, but he often cut a frustrated figure at Bastia; while a season of managerial tumult and injury made Lopes’ loan spell at Lille more often than not underwhelming.

Both are useful players and full of potential (Lopes is 21, Saint-Maximin 20), and will they will certainly be called upon as the team rotates ahead of European fixtures, but they cannot really be counted upon. In Monaco’s recent friendlies, Jardim has persisted with a flat 4-4-2, with either Lopes or Saint-Maximin playing in Silva’s place. Lopes has played slightly more (Saint-Maximin has also been used as part of the front two) but perhaps a different formation would suit the squad better and not place so much responsibility on two returning loanees.

Sticking with the formation that was so successful last season might seem like the smart move, but Monaco have used different systems in each of Jardim’s years in charge and they might benefit from another tactical tinker this year. Thomas Lemar has been sublime on the left since arriving from Caen, but he also showed some promise as a No10 when he made several appearances in a central role in 2015-16. Freed from having to cover the runs of an overlapping full-back, he could improve further. Playing Lemar off the front two could also give Tielemans more licence to attack – he scored 18 goals and laid on 15 assists last season so clearly has an eye for goal – and it might help Moutinho, who occasionally struggled in a midfield two last season.

Jorge and Terence Kongolo are battling to supplant Mendy at left-back and Sidibé is firmly installed on the right. Neither situation is ideal but if the team operated with a diamond, it would force more positional responsibility from the full-backs. Sidibé struggles in that regard but Almamy Touré, who is a much more capable defender, could step up. The youth-team product is a bit too reliant on his pace in attack but he may already be a more complete player than Sidibé.

Whatever Jardim opts for tactically, a bigger concern could be a lack of depth. Much of Monaco’s rotation last season was down to Silva, Andrea Raggi and Sidibé, a trio of versatile players who can play multiple positions. However, with Silva off to Manchester City, Raggi recently turning 33 and Sidibé doing nothing to convince at left-back, the team are severely lacking in options from the bench.

The willing workers Germain and Dirar are big misses, but Guido Carrillo is a decent enough third striker, and Saint-Maximin, having played a variety of positions in Corsica, may be better suited as a bench player for the time being given his ability to play across the attack. In central midfield, academy product Kévin N’Doram has been increasingly important in friendlies, while former Lille midfielder Soualiho Meïté has also been used extensively, completing a massive overhaul of the side.

The bottom line is that, whether with changed tactics, a less attacking philosophy or some degree of continuity, Jardim will be forced to rely on an even younger squad. It would be foolish to expect the team to contend on multiple fronts as they had last season, but Jardim’s willingness to manage without being wedded to any one approach has paid dividends during his time in Monaco. If he can get the best out of this callow group, the talent is certainly there for similar success, even if it will take a miraculous effort from the manager to do so.

The Guardian Sport

Clint Dempsey’s Taste for Havoc Shows He’s Not Done Yet


London- Clint Dempsey’s star turn against Costa Rica in the Gold Cup semi-final did more than win his team the game and help the striker match the US goalscoring record — it may have extended his meaningful international career by another season.

There was a danger that by the time the Russia World Cup came around, Dempsey would represent the kind of selection headache for Bruce Arena that Landon Donovan became for Jürgen Klinsmann in 2014 — no longer a player a coach could build a team around, and potentially as much of a distraction as an asset on the sidelines.

Klinsmann needlessly expended a lot of personal capital in leaving Donovan at home, and the pragmatic Arena is likely to take the trusted quantity of Dempsey to the World Cup. But perhaps until this Saturday’s game there was still a hint that sentiment would be playing a part as much as technical value. It didn’t help that the rapid emergence of Christian Pulisic as the star playmaker for the team, had crowded the area of the field where Dempsey thrives.

Even when Dempsey scored a hat-trick against Honduras this spring to cap his return from a heart problem that ended his 2016 MLS season, he had to share the headlines with Pulisic, whose career stretches in front of him. Dempsey, by contrast, impressed but was a familiar presence.

Or at least it may have appeared that way. Dempsey, after all, has made a career out of being hard to define. Is he a second forward? A false nine? An attacking midfielder? A playmaker? A wide player in a three? He’s been all of those of course. And now you can add international supersub to that list.

In between those incarnations there’s often been a period that looks like a lull, but is often the prelude to a re-emergence, if not outright reinvention, and once again that’s the point we’re at with Dempsey going into the Gold Cup final.
In a deadlocked game against Costa Rica, Dempsey’s introduction was the difference. He might no longer be the player whose inventiveness and force of will can dominate the final third of the field for a full 90 minutes, but when he was brought in as a substitute to open up a tight game, Dempsey suggested a key role for himself for the coming year.

It’s that process of instantly animating his peers, as much as the assist and the goal he chimed in with, that was the most promising aspect of Dempsey’s cameo. If Pulisic sits below lone striker Jozy Altidore in most US line ups, there’s not necessarily a natural place for Dempsey to be on the field, even if he was still at his peak. Pulisic wasn’t on the field on Saturday of course but the transformation when Demspey came on gave a glimpse of how the US could function if (US fans should shudder now) Pulisic is injured, or if he is marked out of a tight game.

Dempsey still has that X-factor — a taste for causing havoc. Or as Arena once put it admiringly, “He tries shit.” In that sense, the recent wait for him to finally match Donovan’s international goalscoring record was an odd period — it cast “Deuce” as a crumbling national treasure rather than the more iconoclastic figure we’re used to seeing him as. Watching team-mates feed him passes in search of the telling goal might not have happened on the same industrial scale that once saw the USWNT send cross after cross to Abby Wambach as she chased Mia Hamm’s record, but there was a palpable sense that the sooner the record was out of the way, the better it would be to assess Dempsey’s worth to the team without nostalgia clouding judgements.

Not that Dempsey wants anyone’s charity — it’s to his immense credit that he’s remained single-mindedly focused on the team’s needs, despite the potential indignity of being relegated to an 18-year-old’s understudy. But these few months can’t have been easy.

And yet Dempsey has navigated them — he’s back to looking like a player with a distinct trajectory towards Russia. And with one more goal he’ll be out on his own as the USA’s record goalscorer. Pulisic may be the long-term future, but with the US event horizon all about next summer, Dempsey’s reminded us that he’s still one of the most potent options for the present.

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


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

Premier League: 20 Players Ready to Make a Breakthrough Next Season


London – A club-by-club guide to the rising stars who could make a mark in 2017-18 Premier League season, including Arsenal’s Reiss Nelson and West Brom’s Sam Field:

Arsenal: Reiss Nelson
The 17-year-old was trending on Twitter last Thursday morning during his first appearance for Arsène Wenger’s first team – against Sydney FC – and it was because his pace, power and trickery are always going to be popular. The attacking midfielder played in an unfamiliar right wing-back role but there were no nerves, only a determination to show what he could do. Will Wenger give him his professional debut this season? According to the manager, Nelson is “very, very close”.

Bournemouth: Connor Mahoney
The club has a habit of developing rough gems and Mahoney, a summer signing from Blackburn Rovers, could be the next relatively unknown quantity to showcase his talents at the highest level. Eddie Howe has been integral to the upward trajectory of the careers of Harry Arter, Steve Cook and Ryan Fraser, among others, and the 20-year-old winger arrives with exciting potential. Mahoney, an England youth international, was a team-mate of last season’s top scorer for Bournemouth, Joshua King, when he was at Rovers. Meanwhile, there are high hopes for the 19-year-old midfielder Matthew Worthington, who finished the season by making his Premier League debut at Leicester City.

Brighton & Hove Albion: Solly March
The midfielder scored the goal that effectively secured promotion towards the end of last season, reward for the patience he had shown over an 11-month recovery from a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament. The former Lewes youth-team winger progressed initially in Brighton’s academy and, having made his senior debut in 2014, has started 35 league games. The injury served to check eye-catching progress but the England Under-21 international will be eager to make a mark at the higher level. Quick and inventive, he will also put in a shift for a team who may find themselves defending for prolonged periods. The potential is there for him to thrive.

Burnley: Chris Long
Long joined Burnley from Everton’s academy in 2015 and has made 10 appearances in the Championship but has yet to make his Premier League debut because of spending last season on loan at Fleetwood then Bolton. A 22-year-old striker, Long has scored goals wherever he has played, including Brentford, Milton Keynes Dons and several England youth teams, though has rarely been awarded enough games to make a real impact. That is unlikely to change massively this season, though he is in Ireland with the Burnley first-team training camp, has been given a squad number rather than directions to a new club and must he hopeful of at least breaking his Premier League duck.

Chelsea: Ruben Loftus-Cheek
Loftus-Cheek’s career with Chelsea amounts to six Premier League starts, none of which was secured in last season’s championship success. Yet he remains a player of considerable potential, an impressive performer for England Under-21s and an attack-minded midfielder ready to step up his workload at the higher level. Crystal Palace do not have a great track record when it comes to Chelsea loanees but the 21-year-old will have opportunities under Frank de Boer over his season-long switch. He has the tools to impress but needs to find the right position in which to thrive, whether as a box-to-box worker or a creative No10, and justify the reputation he has gained as a player capable of breaking into the full England set-up.

Crystal Palace: Luke Dreher
The talented midfielder had impressed Alan Pardew sufficiently to earn a place on the bench in a Premier League match at Manchester United in April 2016 and might have gained greater opportunities last term had his progress not been badly interrupted by calf and hip injuries. That restricted the former Whitgift school pupil to 15 appearances for Richard Shaw’s under-23s but, while he may not gain first-team game time at Palace, he could well have a chance to prove his credentials on loan at a Football League club. A talented passer and midfield creator, the 18-year-old boasts an eye for goal and appears the most promising player in his age group at the club.

Everton: Jonjoe Kenny
The current absence of a squad number plus the arrival of Cuco Martina on a free transfer do not bode well for the 20-year-old at Everton but there is no question he has the ability and opportunity to push himself into Ronald Koeman’s plans this season. The right-back was an influential and impressive figure throughout England’s triumphant Under-20 World Cup campaign and, with Seamus Coleman recovering from a double leg fracture, the academy graduate merits the chance to rival Mason Holgate and Martina for a regular role.

Huddersfield Town: Kasey Palmer
The 20-year-old is back at Huddersfield for a second successive season on loan from Chelsea, having impressed David Wagner with his performances last term before a serious hamstring injury ended his campaign in February. After scoring within 90 seconds of his Huddersfield debut last season, Palmer showed the talent that made him a star of Chelsea’s youth teams, offering dynamism, flair and a goal threat from an advanced central midfield role. Now fit again, he could flourish this season.

Leicester City: Harvey Barnes
Aged 19, Barnes is viewed as Leicester’s brightest prospect. He has football in his blood – Paul, his father, played for Birmingham, Burnley and Huddersfield – and there will be no shortage of Football League clubs keen to take the teenager on loan. Barnes made his Leicester debut as a substitute in the 5-0 Champions League defeat in Porto and went onto enjoy an excellent 2016-17 season, winning the MK Dons’ young player of the year award after a superb loan spell. Barnes has also made an impression at international level, finishing as top scorer in last month’s Toulon tournament, which England won on penalties, and earned praise from Craig Shakespeare, Leicester’s manager, who said that he sees “a real hunger and desire” in the youngster to succeed at the club.

Liverpool: Rhian Brewster
The 17-year-old went close to becoming the first player born in the 21st century to appear for Liverpool’s first team when named as a substitute against Crystal Palace last season. The striker did not get on during the 2-1 defeat but his selection reflected a rapid development with the under-23s side and Jürgen Klopp’s thoughts on the teenager signed from Chelsea. A foot injury, requiring an eight-week lay-off, has derailed Brewster’s hopes of a full pre-season with Klopp’s squad but he will aim to secure a slice of history upon his return.

Manchester City: Jadon Sancho
The 17-year-old forward has been named by Khaldoon al-Mubarak, City’s chairman, as a youngster who will be promoted to Pep Guardiola’s squad and he is considered the brightest prospect at the club. He was named Golden Player at the European Under-17 Championship, scoring or creating a goal in each of the six games as England reached the final. Previous winners of the accolade include Wayne Rooney, Mario Götze and Toni Kroos. There is reported interest from other Premier League clubs but it seems highly unlikely City will allow Sancho to depart.

Manchester United: Axel Tuanzebe
Primarily a defender, Tuanzebe also turned in an impressive midfield display against Crystal Palace in the fourth of his senior league appearances last year. Following United’s 2-0 defeat by Arsenal on 7 May, the United manager, José Mourinho praised how he had shackled Alexis Sánchez. “The kid did an amazing job. I think Alexis now knows his name. The kid played very well,” said the Portuguese. Although Timothy Fosu-Mensah, who is also 19, has played more times for United Tuanzebe may be the one to make the serious breakthrough next term.

Newcastle United: Freddie Woodman
Gareth Southgate’s godson shone in this summer’s Under-20 World Cup in South Korea, with his penalty save helping England to a 1-0 win in the final against Venezuela. Named goalkeeper of the tournament, the 20-year-old’s attitude and professionalism have impressed Rafael Benítez, who will almost certainly loan Woodman – who has been borrowed by Hartlepool, Crawley and Kilmarnock – to a Championship side this season. That should help him add to his one under-21 cap before a return to Tyneside as Newcastle’s potential first choice in 2018-19.

Southampton: Sam Gallagher
The striker has already burst on to the scene once – in 2013-14 under Mauricio Pochettino – before a difficult couple of years, typified by a goalless loan stint at MK Dons. But after a fruitful loan at Blackburn Rovers last season, the 21-year-old seems ready to return to the first-team fold with a bounce. Gallagher signed a new four-year contract this month and will hope to impress Mauricio Pellegrino as he wrestles with Manolo Gabbiadini, Charlie Austin and Shane Long for game time. Elsewhere, the England Under-20s midfielder Callum Slattery, who joined from Chelsea aged eight, has been training with the first team.

Stoke City: Ramadan Sobhi
Stoke run more of an old folks’ home than a creche – Peter Crouch, Charlie Adam and Stephen Ireland are all still around – so respect is due to Sobhi for last season becoming the first teenager to start a game for the Potters in nine seasons. Now 20, and with a handful of Premier League starts behind him, the Egyptian winger is well on his way to establishing himself as a fans’ favorite and could feature much more prominently after Marko Arnautovic’s move to West Ham. Many believe Sobhi can more than fill the gap; in fact Stoke’s only worry may be the number of bigger clubs already tracking his progress. Not only English teams either. They don’t call him Ramadona for nothing.

Swansea City: Oli McBurnie
The first thing to flag up is that McBurnie has five Premier League appearances to his name. At times last season the 21-year-old was getting picked ahead of Borja Bastón, Swansea’s £15m club-record signing, and he has wasted no time in developing a rapport with the supporters. A tall, lean striker who plays with his socks rolled down to his ankles, McBurnie has some impressive statistics to go with his distinctive look. He scored 23 times in all competitions last season and was the driving force behind the club’s successful under-23 team. The challenge is to take that goalscoring form into the Football League, assuming that Paul Clement believes a loan spell would be more beneficial to McBurnie than spending another season on the fringe of the Swansea squad while turning out for the under-23s.

Tottenham Hotspur: Marcus Edwards
The 18-year-old attacking midfielder made his Tottenham debut last season, as a substitute against Gillingham in the EFL Cup, and there can be no doubting the wow factor that has built around him, which is down, in large part, to his ability to trick past opponents – hence, the “Mini Messi” nickname. Injury held him up last season but Mauricio Pochettino is a big fan and he wants to work with him more closely. Edwards conjured a few moments of magic for the England Under-19s at the European Championship.

Watford: Steven Berghuis
Quiqué Sánchez Flores did not give Berghuis much of a chance to make an impression in his one season as Watford’s manager, restricting him to nine substitute appearances because “he needed to suffer at the training ground”. There were, however, occasional glimpses of the winger’s abilities, particularly a wonderful dipping cross to create a goal for Troy Deeney against Aston Villa in April 2016. He returned to the Netherlands last season, winning the league on loan at Feyenoord. The Dutch club want him back and say the desire is reciprocal but the 25-year-old could shine if Marco Silva convinces him to stay.

West Bromwich Albion: Sam Field
Field made four Premier League starts, two at each end of the season, for West Brom in 2016-17 and his development is expected to step up a gear. Tony Pulis says that technically the 19-year-old is “as gifted as any footballer I’ve seen at that age”; he is certainly an astute distributor of the ball and his manager has had the chance to see plenty of him this pre-season after pulling him out of England’s Under-19 squad for the European Championship. Regular first-team football, even if on loan in the Championship, is a logical next step and Field has genuine hope of a long-term future at a club he has represented since the age of seven.

West Ham United: Declan Rice
Josh Cullen excelled during a loan spell with League One’s Bradford City last season and the promising 21-year-old midfielder looks likely to be sent out to gain more experience in the Championship. Reece Oxford, meanwhile, has joined Borussia Mönchengladbach on loan, so Rice could be the youngster to make a breakthrough this year. The 18-year-old Irish center-back made his Premier League debut as a substitute on the final day of last season before receiving his first international call-up in the summer.

The Guardian Sport

Where are the Young Goalscorers Available to Buy?


London – According to just about every manager interviewed on the subject, not to mention the accumulated wisdom of more than 100 years of professional football, the hardest task in the game is putting the ball into the back of the net. It often looks deceptively easy, a tap over the line here, a well-timed header there, but at the highest level you are up against organized defenses and highly-trained goalkeepers. Opportunities do not normally come along that often in a game, and frequently most of the team will have been involved in some way in creating the space to set up the attack, so that when you finally arrive – as Pep Guardiola is fond of putting it, meaning arrive in front of goal – the pressure on the guy on the end of the move is considerable.

Some find it easy to handle and finish almost instinctively; think Jamie Vardy in Leicester’s title-winning season. Then when it becomes expected it becomes harder to do; think Vardy last term or even Diego Costa drying up for Chelsea. Some players seem to emerge from their teenage years as born goalscorers – think Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen or Wayne Rooney – only to find the necessary fearlessness and decisiveness more difficult to reproduce once they are marked men in their mid-20s. Occasionally strikers manage to improve with age and experience, by looking after themselves and bringing all their knowledge and maturity to bear, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Jermain Defoe demonstrated last season. A reliable goalscorer at any age is an invaluable asset, which is why Manchester United have happily handed over £75m to Everton to secure Romelu Lukaku’s best years.

Though many thought the Belgian overpriced, especially as the deal will rise to £90m with add-ons, a club such as Everton could not be expected to part with their leading scorer cheaply. United may have the wherewithal to be constantly in the market for established goalscorers but Everton will not find it easy to replace Lukaku. He was their record signing when he arrived, their record transfer fee received when he left, and in-between the extent to which the club came to rely on his goals was almost embarrassing. While Lukaku scored 25 league goals last season, Everton’s second-highest scorer was Ross Barkley with only five, and after that came Kevin Mirallas and own goals with four apiece. Not good enough, Ronald Koeman has said, indicating he would prefer four or five players contributing or approaching double figure totals to one man doing all the finishing by himself. That theory not only makes sense, it is about to be put to the test this season, for Koeman has little choice in the matter. Lukaku has gone and like-for-like replacements are thin on the ground.

There has been a lot of talk about strikers this summer, though so far not much movement. Lukaku is one of the few reliable scorers to have changed clubs. Alexis Sánchez has not yet done so; despite having only a year left on his contract. Arsenal seem happier to keep hold of him than to trade him. Sergio Agüero is still at Manchester City, even though when he lost his first-team place last season it was thought a quick summer transfer would be the likely result. City could still make a swoop for a stellar name before the end of the window, though when you already have Agüero there are not many realistic targets who would count as an improvement and even Sánchez may not score as many goals.

James Rodríguez has been snapped up by Bayern Munich, and he is not as prolific as Agüero in any case. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, perhaps a more likely target for Chelsea than City, has been told he cannot leave Borussia Dortmund this summer and, although the German club’s resolve would probably be tested by a bid of £100m or so, that is a great deal of money to pay for a 28-year-old. The same could be said of Robert Lewandowski, who has been linked with a move to the Premier League ever since a volcanic ash cloud scuppered his chances of joining Sam Allardyce’s Blackburn when still a Lech Poznan player, though by now he has spent most of his peak years in Germany.

Most of the goalscorers out there, in short, are the ones we have already heard of, the ones who have been around for a few years. Apart from Kylian Mbappé, one of the very few strikers around who may actually be worth £100m, exciting and emerging young goal-scoring talent is not exactly flooding the market at the moment. Arsenal have broken their transfer record for Alexandre Lacazette, though at 26 the French striker is hardly a new discovery. It seems unlikely that Arsène Wenger will follow that capture by shelling out more than twice as much to beat Real Madrid to the signature of Mbappé but even if he does it will be a remarkable turnaround from the way the Arsenal manager used to do business, using his contacts to unearth young French talent before any significant reputation or transfer value had been established.

Perhaps the truth is there is simply a dearth of young goal-scoring talent, French or otherwise. Manchester City seem to be putting a lot of store in the prospects of Gabriel Jesus, or at least they did last season, though they are keeping Agüero close at hand just in case. Manchester United already have Marcus Rashford but still deemed it necessary to bring in Lukaku to replace Ibrahimovic. José Mourinho praised Rashford’s work rate on many occasions last season but was not so complimentary about his strike rate.

In Premier League terms, with Defoe getting a move to Bournemouth, Rooney returning to Everton and only injury forcing Ibrahimovic out, goal-scoring seems a task for thirty-somethings rather than teenage young guns. Yet, as they used to say in all the best gunslinging westerns, there is always a kid. You may not know his name yet but rarely does a season go by without someone new making a name for himself. This year the field is wide open.

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