Jürgen Klopp Eases Liverpool’s Pressing Game in the Search for Solidity

Liverpool

Liverpool – It is not something you often have to consider but what if José Mourinho was right? What if, on Saturday, there was for once no bluff or manipulation, no attempt to provoke or deflect attention: what if the analysis he gave of Manchester United’s 0-0 draw at Liverpool was straightforward and correct?

There was, of course, a passive aggressive jibe dividing the world into those who watch football for entertainment (the monsters!) and those who actually understand the game but beyond that his words seemed fairly straightforward. There was a – grudging – respect towards Jürgen Klopp for the way he had held his nerve, and perhaps that is evidence of a change in the Liverpool manager. The game never broke, Mourinho said, and so “for me the second half was a bit of chess”; this is not chess the actual game, of course, which can be played in as many ways as football, but “chess” the metaphor for something cagey.

“We came for three points but in the second half we felt it was difficult to do that with the dynamic of the match. I was waiting for Jürgen Klopp to change, waiting for him to go more attacking but he kept three strong midfielders all the time.” Klopp substituted all of his forward line but kept the three of Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Emre Can in midfield; had he chosen to chase the game, he could have perhaps withdrawn one of them for a forward and pushed Philippe Coutinho deeper or into a central role in a 4-2-3-1.

That restricted United’s capacity to break, something about which Klopp was clearly delighted: he kept stressing after the game how United are “one of the best counterattacking sides in the world”, yet they threatened only once, on the one occasion when Henrikh Mkhitaryan had an impact, opening up the game for Romelu Lukaku’s one-two with Anthony Martial that led to United’s only shot on target. The Armenian’s anonymity was indicative of how well Liverpool countered United’s counters.

Whether Klopp was right, given Mourinho’s set-up, to remain so cautious is a matter of interpretation – as is the issue of whether Mourinho was right to sit so deep, given Liverpool’s recent form – but it was further evidence of a general shift in Liverpool’s play this season.

The question for Klopp at Liverpool was always going to be whether his hyperactive approach could be as effective in the Premier League in which everybody plays at a high tempo. Even towards the end in Germany, there was a suspicion that with other teams also pressing hard and high, Dortmund were diminished. It was no longer sufficient to run further or faster than other sides in the league. In addition, as teams become more used to counteracting gegenpressing, as their players become more inclined to hit long balls over the press, the tactic loses its power to shock. Klopp’s approach is no longer unique; it’s not even unusual.

Familiarity is one issue; fatigue, or rather efforts to stave it off, is another. Last season Liverpool’s form collapsed in January. This season, with the Champions League to worry about as well, the sense is that Liverpool have eased back. They are no longer pressing with the same ferocity. In Klopp’s first two seasons at Anfield, the average length of each spell of possession enjoyed by an opponent was 5.9 seconds. This season that is up to 6.5, which is lower than the league average but far from exceptional. Distance run and high-intensity sprint stats have dropped.

That, presumably, is part of a conscious plan – the fear for Liverpool is that it is a result of players losing faith in Klopp and not pushing themselves to their physical limits as a result – and given what happened in the second half of last season it makes sense. The problem is that by not engaging opponents high up the pitch, Liverpool are having to do more traditional defending in their own final third – and they are not very good at that. It would be misleading to say that the high pressing of the past two seasons masked defensive flaws, for pressing is itself a means of defense. But what is true is that by pressing less hard, Liverpool are inviting a form of pressure they are ill-equipped to resist, which is why going into the weekend they had the third-worst defensive record in the league.

On Saturday, though, that vulnerability was barely tested; United had only six touches in the Liverpool box. The nature of the game and the identity of the opponent perhaps legitimized a more cautious approach but it is hard then to avoid the conclusion that Mourinho might have tried to expose that weakness a little more rigorously. Just because his analysis was right doesn’t necessarily mean his approach was. In a game of chicken, neither manager blinked.

The Guardian Sport

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

Chelsea

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

Mata-Marouane: The Moyesian Odd Couple Nearing a United Redemption

Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini

In the years after the fall of the Berlin Wall a phenomenon bubbled up in Eastern Europe called “ostalgie”, or nostalgia for the old east. Seized with ostalgie, citizens of the new world found themselves tiring of the glories of capitalism, with its treacly soft drinks, unfettered access to soft-rock music and a natureless ecstasy of identical consumer products; and yearning instead for the old certainties of communism, the gulag and mass-produced cardboard trousers. As recently as last year a majority of Romanians said they missed the murderous despot Nicolae Ceausescu. Presumably, again, because you knew where you stood and the statues were nice.

It goes to show you can miss anything if you really want to. With exceptions of course. For example there are to date no documented examples of what social scientists might call “Moyestalgia”, which is defined as nostalgia for the events and personnel of David Moyes’s time in charge of Manchester United over 10 grippingly doomed months between July 2013 and April 2014.

I think I know why this is. I think it’s because it was a terrible time when nothing good happened. But for the neutral there is still something grippingly cinematic about the basic category-mistake of Moyes at United, a man not so much out of his depth as tossed and tumbled head over heels in a vast tide of industrial-scale confusion. Squint and you can still just about see his pale, frazzled ghost wandering about on the touchline, still looking like a doomed wedding cake figurine in his sad blue suit, shouting at shadows, pointing at things that never happened, feeling the ground beneath his shiny little shoes shift and fall away.

At the end of which there is a still a chance to take a different memory from this. On the face of it José Mourinho’s current title contenders have almost nothing in common with the brown-paper-and-string stylings of the Moyes succession. From De Gea to Lukaku, through Bailly-Jones-Pogba-Matic and the controlled creativity of Rashford-Martial this second-season team has a classic Mourinho spine in place, those powerful interlocking units that have marked his most successful moments.

Almost nothing, but not quite. In the last few weeks it has been fascinating to see a couple of Moyesian hangovers integrated into the machine. Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata were the only players signed under Moyes. Even at the time they seemed oddly mismatched, evidence in their silhouettes alone of a certain confusion. On the one hand an awkward, angular midfield wardrobe. On the other a technician whose entire career has been a triumph of vision and skill over his own slight physique.

In the years since both players have been a little bruised and marginalized. Mata and Fellaini are both 29 now and in the last year of their contracts. No other player has come to United for that much money and stayed for this long without winning a league title (even Juan Sebastián Verón got one of those). For all the good moments, they are still on some level, a part of the unforgiven.

Except there is a chance now for an alternative ending. Neither looks like a first-choice starter with everyone fit. But both have become functioning parts in a team that has drawn drooling reviews for its power, its unity of purpose, the sheer relief of no longer looking like an odd-job of high-priced parts. This is in its own way an act of genuine team building, the ability to integrate a pair of wobbly wheels and weld them to the main frame.

Even then Mata and Fellaini stand out. And not only for that air of shared survivor-dom but for something agreeably timeless and touching, a little soul, a few scars. If Fellaini can recover his fitness in time they may even appear against Crystal Palace on Saturday, yoked together on the touchline like an odd-couple man-child double act in a Steinbeck novella. Watching the pair of them answer questions in front of the post-match cameras you half expect to hear things like: “I’m sorry mister my brother he gone strangled your rabbit he don’t mean no harm he just kinda clumsy whoah put the gun down mister.”

Perhaps just me, but something does seem to be working here. The last time Manchester United lost a game that Fellaini started was the 4-0 to Chelsea in October 2016. Of his last 45 first-team appearances only three have ended in defeat. One was as an 89th-minute sub in the EFL Cup semi-final second leg. Another was the FA Cup game at Chelsea where Ander Herrera was sent off. The last was against Real Madrid in the European Super Cup in August, when United actually “won” during Fellaini’s 35 minutes on the pitch.

Still, though, Fellaini divides opinion. Some see a blunt, stodgy, elbow-flailing obstacle. Others see only his bad points. But he is a high-class team player when the system works for him. This season he has seemed to do a little less to good effect, having fewer shots, fewer fouls, fewer headers, holding his position and still able to reel out his most outstanding quality, that astonishing Velcro chest control, a footballer with a chest like a hand, able to rise like a huge, angular sea and simply clutch the ball out of the sky with a wriggle of the shoulders.

Mata is obviously a different type, all bandy-legged fine-point craft. His time at Old Trafford has been a bit easier, maybe because he looks like a United player, maybe because he is such an endearing, likeable figure, and maybe because he’s changed a bit. The idea Mata doesn’t track back should always be judged against the fact hustling and harrying for 90 minutes is so much harder for a player of his size and stamina. But this season he has clearly taken the Mourinho pill. These are early days, of course. We are still grinding through the high gears. If a United title challenge does come Mata-Marouane will add another shade to the pursuit, plus perhaps a deeper emotional tone. It is easy to dismiss footballers’ finer feelings, to see only pampered traveling contractors. But these are still creatures of ambition and anxiety. Both Mata and Fellaini may end up with more appearances for United than any other club by the end of this season, the current febrile four-year spell the dominant segment of their careers. Whatever happens this could, in its own way, end up a redemption story. Perhaps even – the pallor, the panic, the ghosts – a minor sporting exorcism.

(The Guardian)

Champions League: Group-by-Group Analysis

League

London – Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United all look likely to reach the last 16 of the Champions League, but Tottenham have been dealt a harsh hand with favorites Real Madrid. The Guardian Sport examines the draw with a group-by-group analysis of who will likely qualify to the next round and who will leave the tournament early:

Group A
Benfica, Basel, Manchester United, CSKA Moscow

José Mourinho will be pleased with the draw, no doubt. United have bought wisely in the summer – Romelu Lukaku has added goals and will be joined by Zlatan Ibrahimovic if they get through the group – and Nemanja Matic looks an inspired piece of business to strengthen the midfield. Benfica are still the best Portuguese team in the competition despite selling Ederson, Victor Lindelof and Nélson Semedo this summer. Bruno Varela is a very good replacement for Ederson and they have kept Pizzi and Álex Grimaldo. CSKA, meanwhile, have had a relatively poor start but have improved in the past few weeks. Igor Akinfeev has finally kept a clean sheet in the Champions League after 11 years of failing to do so and in the new manager, Viktor Goncharenko, they have a more attack-minded man in charge compared to Leonid Slutsky. Basel, who have just been hit by the retirement of club legend Matias Delgado could well finish bottom. Ricky van Wolfswinkel now leads their line.

Prediction 1 Manchester United 2 Benfica 3 CSKA Moscow 4 Basel

Star player Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Manchester United)

Group B
Bayern Munich, Anderlecht, Paris St-Germain, Celtic

All eyes will be on the French club this season as they have finally, after years of trying, made the kind of signing that should see them elevated to the level of Real Madrid and Barcelona. The impact of Neymar’s arrival on PSG cannot be overestimated and it is easy to forget now that they came within minutes of eliminating Barça last season, even without the brilliant Brazilian in their team. In Bayern they have a superb group opponent but are the German champions stronger than last season? Arguably not with Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso having retired. Corentin Tolisso has arrived from Lyon for £36.4m and James Rodríguez joined on loan from Real Madrid, but he has struggled to recapture his 2014 World Cup form. Celtic can probably snatch third place from Anderlecht – and possibly trouble Bayern and/or PSG at home – but this, sadly, looks like quite an uneven group.

Prediction 1 Bayern Munich 2 Paris Saint-Germain 3 Celtic 4 Anderlecht

Star player Neymar (PSG)

Group C
Chelsea, Roma, Atlético Madrid, Qarabag

Atlético Madrid are the team to beat considering their Champions League record of two finals in the past four years. They are working under a transfer ban and have had to loan out their only summer signing, Vitolo, who arrived from Sevilla for £31.8m. At least Antoine Griezmann decided to stay. Chelsea looked out of sorts against Burnley and then back to their defensive best in their 2-1 win against Tottenham, however Antonio Conte had two attempts at the Champions League at Juventus but was eliminated in the quarter-finals in 2012-13 and at the group stage the following year. Roma have had a summer of wholesale changes under their new sporting director, Monchi. Mohamed Salah, Antonio Rüdiger (to Chelsea) and Francesco Totti will be hard to replace but they have brought in 10 players. Qarabag became the first team from Azerbaijan to qualify for the group stage. The manager, Gurban Gurbanov, has been there since 2008 and prefers to play three up front with the South African Dino Ndlovu as the focal point.

Prediction 1 Atlético Madrid 2 Chelsea 3 Roma 4 Qarabag

Star player Antoine Griezmann (Atlético Madrid)

Group D
Juventus, Olympiakos, Barcelona, Sporting Lisbon

A horribly competitive group with Juventus favorites having eliminated Barcelona in the quarter-finals last season. Both teams, however, have lost important players with Leonardo Bonucci joining Milan in a shock move and Neymar jumping the Barça ship for Paris Saint‑Germain. Juve looked defensively shaky in the Italian Super Cup defeat against Lazio but they still have a superb squad and have added Federico Bernardeschi from Fiorentina for a whopping £35.7m. There is unhappiness among Barça fans after a summer during which they failed to secure Marco Verratti and signed the former Spurs midfielder Paulinho instead. They are still pursuing Philippe Coutinho and have signed Ousmane Dembélé, though. Olympiakos should finish third and are enjoying a renaissance under their new manager, Besnik Hasi. The Greek club have spent almost £20m on players this summer; Sporting, third in Portugal last season, will struggle to compete against the other three teams and Jorge Jesus’s side could still sell the midfield linchpin William Carvalho.

Prediction 1 Juventus 2 Barcelona 3 Olympiakos 4 Sporting

Star player Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

Group E
Spartak Moscow, Liverpool, Sevilla, Maribor

An even group with Liverpool slight favorites ahead of Sevilla, who are on their third manager in three years. Sevilla, who beat Liverpool in the 2016 Europa League final, now have Eduardo Berizzo in charge and while they have sold Vitolo to Atlético they have signed Éver Banega, Jesús Navas and Nolito. Jürgen Klopp has assembled a squad with an enormous amount of speed up front but they are still suspect at the back. Spartak were outstanding last season as they won their first title since 2001 but are 11th in the league and Massimo Carrera (Antonio Conte’s former assistant) may get the sack. The Dutch winger Quincy Promes, though, is a huge threat. Maribor have won one of 12 Champions League group games in their history and the former Leeds manager Darko Milanic has a huge task to improve on that record, especially as they have lost their best player, the attacking midfielder Dare Vrsic, after failing to agree a new contract.

Prediction 1 Liverpool 2 Sevilla 3 Spartak Moscow 4 Maribor

Star player Sadio Mané (Liverpool)

Group F
Shakhtar Donetsk, Napoli, Manchester City, Feyenoord

There can be no excuses for Pep Guardiola this season. He has spent more than £220m this summer with an astonishing £128.5m on full-backs. They should qualify comfortably but already, this season, Everton have exposed weaknesses at the back. Napoli are one of the most exciting sides in Europe, Maurizio Sarri’s side crushing Nice 4-0 on aggregate in the play‑offs. Goals can come from everywhere with Dries Mertens, José Callejón, Lorenzo Insigne, Arkadiusz Milik and Marek Hamsik all in the squad. Shakhtar won the Ukrainian league by 13 points last season but they have lost their best Brazilians, such as Alex Teixeira and Douglas Costa, in recent seasons. Playing in Kharkiv rather than Lviv should help the atmosphere. Feyenoord won the Dutch title for the first time in 18 years last season under Gio van Bronckhorst but they are now without arguably their three most influential players in Dirk Kuyt (retired), Terence Kongolo (Monaco) and Rick Karsdorp (Roma).

Prediction 1 Manchester City 2 Napoli 3 Shakhtar Donetsk 4 Feyenoord

Star player Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli)

Group G
Monaco, Besiktas, Porto, Leipzig

One of the more even groups with, frankly, all teams capable of going through. Monaco are the favorites despite losing some of their key players, with Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy and Tiémoué Bakayoko all joining Premier League clubs. And there has been the saga about Kylian Mbappé’s future. Not helpful. Porto have a new manager, Sérgio Conceição, and have sold the prolific André Silva to Milan but have retained the even more prolific Tiquinho Soares. Rúben Neves, of course, has joined Wolves. RB Leipzig will make their Champions League debut having kept Naby Keïta and Emil Forsberg but they lost their first league game of the season, against Schalke, and looked lackluster. Big-spending Besiktas will hope to do well as part of their president’s plan for a more global profile. They have won the past two league titles and have a competitive team with this summer’s additions of Álvaro Negredo, Pepe, Jeremain Lens and Gary Medel among others.

Prediction 1 Monaco 2 Porto 3 RB Leipzig 4 Besiktas

Star player Youri Tielemans (Monaco)

Group H
Real Madrid, Tottenham, Borussia Dortmund, Apoel Nicosia

The reigning champions look favorites to complete the first hat-trick of European Cup wins since Bayern Munich in 1974-76. All their stars have stayed and are now being pushed to even greater heights by younger players such as Mateo Kovacic, Marco Asensio and Dani Ceballos. Dortmund are still a force to be reckoned with but there is no doubt the departure of Ousmane Dembélé has cast a long shadow over the club. Thomas Tuchel has been replaced by Peter Bosz as manager while Pierre‑Emerick Aubameyang is staying and Julian Weigl is fit again. Spurs’ chances probably depend on whether they can perform at Wembley and why shouldn’t they be able to now that they are playing league games there, too? In Harry Kane and Dele Alli they have a pairing that can hurt most defenses. Apoel are likely to finish last in the group, having lost Pieros Sotiriou, their top scorer last season, to FC Copenhagen.

Prediction 1 Real Madrid 2 Borussia Dortmund 3 Tottenham 4 Apoel

Star player Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

*The Guardian Sport

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

sport

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

Louis Saha: ‘I Really Liked Playing Football but This Is a Real Challenge’

One of Louis Saha’s objectives through his Axis Stars network is to take some of the power back from agents. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

It is inevitable, yet so many footballers seem unprepared for it. The end of a player’s career is a key moment – a huge change – and how he deals with it will shape the rest of his life. Many players struggle. Gone are the routines of daily training, the adrenaline of the matches, the interaction with team-mates and club staff, and the adulation from fans. There is a massive void to fill.

It is an enormous challenge that requires a different set of skills to the ones used on the pitch. Some players stay in football and become pundits or coaches; there are those who turn their focus to charity work and others who struggle to fill their days; and then there are those who are busier than ever. Louis Saha falls into that final category.

On the day we meet in London he has already spoken at an eSports masterclass. After the interview, he is going for dinner with some investors and possible new contributors to his company, Axis Stars. The two previous weeks he was traveling through Asia, conducting business.

“I have a 25-hour-a-day job now. It’s really demanding,” he says. And as if that was not enough, there is still a football part of his life. The next evening he will be in Spain to play in a Barcelona v Manchester United legends match. The following day he will return to Cannes, his home town. His life is hectic but he seems very content.

Saha had a hugely successful, yet somehow also unfulfilled, career. He played for Metz, Newcastle, Fulham, Manchester United, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur, Sunderland and Lazio. He won two Premier League titles and the Champions League with United. He played 20 times for France, scoring four goals.

The final years of his playing days, however, were overshadowed by injuries. He was forced to miss the Champions League final in 2008 and all his spells post-Manchester United were interrupted by physical problems. But the injuries helped Saha prepare for life after football. In the aftermath of that Champions League final in Moscow, when United beat Chelsea on penalties, he found a way to express his feelings. “I needed to talk, to get something out of my system,” he says. “I started to write about it and it worked in a therapeutic way. It was a way to process things, like a communication.”

After a while, Saha realized how much he enjoyed the writing process. “When I write, I feel I get to understand what’s in my head. And when I write I feel whether what I’m thinking about is right or not. Also, it’s striking that when you lose what you have written down, you can’t rewrite it, it’s gone. Writing is very much about what you feel at that particular moment.”

Saha, now 38, developed the idea of creating a book, which he hoped would inspire others. He decided to make it about the life of a footballer in general, containing advice for young players – partly aimed at his younger brother, who had footballing ambitions as well. To get the best possible insights, he included as many different voices from the football world as possible.

Saha spoke not only to players and managers but also to a press officer and even a hooligan. He was living like a professional writer – and it proved a long process. “It was really demanding, because I was reading a lot, getting memos, chasing people, interviewing them, trying to comprehend everything and getting it all together in the book. I don’t think people realize the amount of work I put into it.”

Saha was pleased with the feedback on the book, Thinking Inside the Box, but there was also frustration. “I really like it when people understand what you are writing; it’s amazing but even though I got good reviews for the book, I got the sense that not many people read it. And I’m a guy who is all about results. It’s difficult to do all that work, and maybe only several thousand people reading it, even if the majority tell you it was good.”

After he finished the book, he thought of ways to extend it to a bigger platform. “I realized that I really wanted to help young people. So being an agent was a possibility. Being a coach or a consultant was also an option. I had to choose a channel. In the end, mine was to create a digital platform. I felt that was way stronger, because basically anybody can use it.

“So I was like: ‘How can I implement the book idea?’ It was already a guide in some extent. Because it was not only my story, I took the story from other players as well. It’s pretty much the same. Axis Stars is a virtual book in a way.”

It launched in 2014 and since then he has been working pretty much nonstop for the company, which aims to help people with their careers. Anyone, from footballers, to musicians and actors, can join the network.

Saha’s experiences provide the inspiration for the project, where participants can speak to peers and advisers about all sorts of career-related issues. That could include the assistance of coaches or physiotherapists, for example, but also help performers get access to sponsorship and investment opportunities.

“I still get asked for advice by different people on a daily basis,” Saha says. “For instance, my agent called me to say he had a talented French footballer who he wants to bring to England, and asked me for advice on how to create a tailor-made training program. I put him in touch with people I used to work with. This kind of player could join Axis as he can then search for a personal coach in his region.”

Companies and individuals can approach the members too, so that not all of the money ends up with agents. “If a company wants to run an advert with a player, they normally have to go through his agent. That representative might say: ‘I want 5K commission for the deal. Whatever you will give to my player, I won’t move my ass from my chair before I get 5K.’ If the company says no, the player will never know about that opportunity. The opportunity should be controlled by the one who is offering the possibility and the athlete.”

Saha admits agents still play an important role in the background but he believes the initial contact should be made between the recruiter and the possible client. “There are some really good athletes who have the chance to represent their country at the Olympics but they’re struggling to get a sponsor. What we try to provide is an extra platform for them to promote themselves and see if there are any companies that could sponsor them.”

While other footballers might dread the moment they hang up their boots, it was not the case for Saha. When he realized his body had reached a physical barrier, he switched to other endeavors but the former forward says his projects were a result of how his career unfolded. “Obviously, if I had all the luck in the world and played the amount of games Cristiano Ronaldo has played, for instance – who is never injured and got improved contracts because of his successes – I wouldn’t even have been thinking all this.”

But now Saha thinks his new career could become even more meaningful than his time as a player. “In my bad luck, I was lucky, because now I’ve seen the big picture and I have the opportunity to really help. And I think I feel more excited as an entrepreneur than I did on the field. I really liked being a footballer, and it felt very natural to play the game, but this is a real challenge. It is a hard process but it’s so rewarding, because if I can help 100,000 people, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. When you’re on the field, yes, you have excitement. But did I really create something that will last? I’m not sure. This project is something I think is going to last, because the youth – or maybe even my kids if one day they become professional – are going to use it. I really hope players understand they have the opportunity to help the people close to them. Because it’s a headache to be the family member of a star, as you get dragged in to a lot of situations you have never thought about.”

That is also something based on his experience. The fact Saha kept the same intensity level after his career had finished made for a difficult situation at home. He concedes that players who maintain a busy lifestyle may pay a price for it. “I think for a relationship it’s really hard. I think most women feel like they have to sacrifice for the player, that they’re standing in the shadows in a way. So it’s quite hard for them to say: ‘After the football career has finished it’s going to be the same.’ That made it difficult in my situation, because I was not about stopping, I was about to create a new company.”

Saha and his wife split up, and he believes it is common for footballers to get divorced after they stop playing. “I think it happens to 75% of footballers. They disconnect from their partner. There are all different kinds of situations. Some couples may face a different atmosphere at home, as the player might be a bit depressed and is not that excited any more when he retires from football.”

That was clearly not the case with Saha. At one stage he was keen to ghost-write the autobiography of his former France team-mate Patrice Evra and now he wants to write an animated film for children.

Sometimes, however, having too many things to do is better than not having enough.

(The Guardian)

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

Mourinho

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian Sport

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

Sobhi

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