Monday, June 27, 2022

Important Week For Manchester United

After a largely somnolent and often negative offseason to date, this could be the week that Manchester United takes a positive step toward rebuilding its reeling side. Manger Erik ten Hag will take to the pitch in leading his first practice sessions for the club at their Carrington Road facility.

Players not involved with recent international duty will go through the paces for the Dutch manager who will be happy to lose himself in actual football for at least some respite from the frustration of this offseason. United is one of only two clubs comprising the traditional Top Six of English football which have yet to add a player in this transfer window. Chelsea can be excused for a late start in the face of a disruptive ownership change. It is more difficult to excuse the lack of progress made at Manchester United.

The advent of a new managerial regime follows on the wreckage of last season which saw the club’s worst ever Premier League finish. On field embarrassment has been matched in the post-Ferguson era by off-field incompetence. Chief Executive Officer Richard Arnold exclaimed to fans in a pub some weeks ago that the club had burned money on wasted transfers in the recent past. Supporters looked for hopeful beginnings under new manager ten Hag and football director John Murtough. Instead, Manchester United dealings have lagged in a manner not uncommon for the club in recent windows.

The primary focus has been a well-publicized chase for Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong. The impact on negotiations of publicly identifying one player as the key to their fortunes has been a debatable ploy from a negotiating perspective. The player has also been reported to have misgivings about joining his former manager in the attempted rescue of the broken Manchester club. The Dutch international played under ten Hag at Ajax where the two helped lead the Eredivisie champions to a European Champions League semifinal. De Jong joins current Ajax defender Jurrien Timber as former players for ten Hag who seem disposed to wish their old manager well from afar.

The attraction of Old Trafford has dimmed so greatly that former Tottenham Hotspur and Inter Milan star Christian Ericksen is supposedly undecided between the opportunity to play for the legendary Red Devils or a Brentford club which has played just one season in the Premier League. Eriksen would be a free transfer. United needs to reach agreement on price with Barcelona on the still under contract de Jong. The clubs have been wrangling for over a month now. United supporters were angry this past week on word of a dividend being paid to Glazer led ownership in an amount which would have likely sealed the de Jong transfer if so applied. This week will be telling for new Manchester United transfer decision makers ten Hag and Murtough. Barcelona is under pressure to balance their books before the end of their financial year on June 30th.

The financial reporting deadline adds to the already present need for the Spanish club to raise monies to fund incoming player transfers. De Jong is not deemed critical to Barcelona Manager Xavi’s plans. Barcelona is thus highly motivated. Ten Hag, on the other hand, would like to have his pivotal player on board before his other international players arrive next week for one week of practice together before they depart the training ground for preseason matches. This is an important week for Manchester United to give its fans encouragement and instill faith in the ten Hag project. 


Friday, June 24, 2022

A Look Into Arsenal’s Window

Arsenal has closed a few low-profile signings in the current window, but major splashes might still lie ahead for the Gunners. Gabriel Jesus remains the marquee name associated with Arsenal. The Manchester City forward is currently in the shop window for Manchester City and is linked with a move to the Gunners. Jesus would clearly be an upgrade over any attacker currently on the Arsenal roster. The forward has scored 95 goals in 236 appearances for City. Despite a lack of Champions League football next season, Arsenal offers the Manchester City forward an opportunity to reunite with Mikel Arteta who worked with Jesus while the Arsenal manager was an assistant at Manchester City. Jesus will need to trust in an Arteta commitment to provide the additional playing time the player is unlikely to find in Manchester, particularly after the arrival of Erling Haaland.

A potential Jesus signing is not without questions for Arsenal. Arsenal desperately needs a striker to bolster a deficient attack but does Jesus, despite his obvious talents, fulfill that role? Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola played several players in a “false nine” role last season in a clear indictment of Jesus as a central force. The Brazilian has often seemed more comfortable on the right flank where Arsenal already has rising home grown star Bukayo Saka. Gabriel Martinelli, who is on the fringes of the Brazilian national team as is Jesus, also plays on the right-hand side of Arsenal’s front line with occasional appearances in the middle.

The Gunner’s need a solution to their striker problem after the ugly departure of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to Barcelona last season and the departure of Alexander Lacazette on a free transfer after his contract expires this month. Arsenal academy product Eddie Nketiah showed flashes at striker last season but remains an uncertain option. Lacazette’s departure is just the latest example of poor business conducted by the Gunners. Arsenal’s net spending on transfers is higher than any other Premier League club for the period covering the last five transfer windows. Unfortunately, the failure to recoup any value from the departure of top players such as Aubameyang and Lacazette accounts for this standing rather than any incoming big-ticket stars. Recently signed deals have been relatively modest. Fabio Vieira was signed from Porto earlier this month. The young attacking midfielder scored six goals in 27 Primeira Liga appearances last season and has noteworthy playmaking skills. Vieira’s top-level experience, however, is limited to two seasons of regular duty in the Porto line-up and the small framed youngster is expected to take time to adapt to the physical play of the Premier League. 19-year-old Brazilian forward Marquinhos, singed from Sao Palo, also represents a longer-term investment. US goalkeeper Matt Turner was signed during the January window and joins Arsenal this month from MLS ‘s New England Revolution. Jesus would be a different level acquisition. Similarly, Arsenal supporters would be thrilled if the Gunners could also secure the services of Jesus’s fellow Brazilian Rafinha. The attacking midfielder for Leeds has been linked with Arsenal and PSG but the Brazilian supposedly covets playing for Barcelona.

Arsenal is also rumored to be in the running for the signature of Ajax defender Lisandro Martinez. The Gunners, however, are unlikely to splash the cash on multiple star players without generating monies from clearing the roster of some current players. Standing in that departures queue should be winger Nicolas Pepe who has disappointed after his club record signing. However, there is little interest from other clubs after Pepe netted just one goal in 20 Premier League appearances last season. As with Aubameyang, whose transfer cost was the Gunner’s previous record before Pepe’s arrival, the Gunners will have difficulty salvaging any reasonable portion of their original transfer investment. That type of business impacts the monies available as Manager Mikel Arteta attempts to strengthen his club. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Chelsea Rumored As Raheem Sterling Suitor

Chelsea’s reported interest in Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling raises questions for both clubs. Sterling is the subject of a rumored move from Manchester City for a second consecutive summer as the dynamic forward was reportedly offered by Manchester City to Tottenham Hotspur in last summer’s failed bid to acquire Harry Kane. Former Liverpool player Sterling has one year remaining on his contract with Manchester City and the club would clearly like to recoup some value rather than have Sterling leave on a free transfer one year hence. Sterling, meanwhile, is looking to play a bigger role for a club as his minutes for Manager Pep Guardiola’s side have diminished.

Sterling started only 28 of 50 matches for Manchester City in Premier League and Champions League competition this past season. Sterling’s 13 goals in league play were five more than any current Chelsea player. Manchester City has now added striker Erling Haaland who is expected to become the focus of the Manchester City attack. Young Argentinian striker Julian Alvarez is also expected to join the front line options for City following conclusion of his current loan stint at River Plate The problem for Manchester City is that Gabriel Jesus is expected to leave during this transfer window, potentially to Arsenal, and  Sterling and Jesus have added an element of athleticism to City’s attacking options which can’t be found elsewhere on the roster. The loss of both Sterling and Jesus in the same window could thus be risky.

Another talented Manchester City wing player, Bernardo Silva, is also rumored to be leaving in favor of long-desired employment in Barcelona. Chelsea Manager Thomas Tuchel has certainly been frustrated with his attacking options and appears on the verge of shipping Romelu Lukaku back to Inter Milan via loan or outright sale just one year after the club’s record signing was purchased. Lukaku contributed only eight goals in the Premier League this past season amid reported unhappiness by both player and manager. Sterling is a much different player from central striker Lukaku and is most comfortable being deployed on the left wing where Chelsea currently have Christian Pulisic and Timo Werner. Like Lukaku, Werner has been a disappointment for Manager Tuchel and saw his minutes dwindle this past season. The former RB Leipzig forward has had difficulty converting golden chances, a trait Sterling also displays to a far lesser extent. The much more accomplished Sterling has 131 goals in 339 appearances for City while winning 10 major trophies with the club. Pulisic, meanwhile, has had continual fitness issues at Chelsea which have limited his opportunity to shine in blue. Chelsea’s initial bid for Sterling was reported to be well below Manchester City’s valuation so the extent of interest by Chelsea to bring Sterling to London, where he grew up from the age of five, is questionable.

The interest by Chelsea in Sterling could be merely exploratory as the club monitors the situation with Robert Lewandowski. The Bayern Munich striker has exceeded 40 goals in seven consecutive seasons for the Bundesliga club which he now wants to leave for a fresh opportunity with Barcelona. Chelsea Manager Thomas Tuchel would love nothing more than to swoop in for the Polish international should talks fail between financially strapped Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Other rumored attack targets for Chelsea include Barcelona forward Ousmane Dembele and RB Leipzig striker Christopher Nkunku. Dembele, however, is injured more often than Pulisic and Chelsea and may have reservations about dealing for another young RB Leipzig striker in Nkunku after its disappointing returns from Werner.  

Friday, June 17, 2022

Nations League

England Humiliated

England’s national team suffered its worst home defeat since 1928 in a 4-0 European Nations League defeat to Hungary on Tuesday. A lineup laden with Premier League stars delivered England’s worst result at any venue in 12 years. The loss at Wolverhampton’s Molineux Stadium was England’s second Nations League loss to Hungary this month and puts England at serious risk of relegation from its Nations League group when play resumes in September.

England’s two losses to Hungary, which included a 1-0 defeat in the first meeting with the Hungarians, have been accompanied in group play this month by 0-0 and 1-1 draws with Italy and Germany, respectively. Offensive futility was wed with defensive fragility on Tuesday. Manchester City center back John Stones had a difficult evening before being sent off with a second yellow card late in the match. A poorly headed clearance attempt by Stones set up Hungary’s first goal. A missed tackle by Leeds’s Kalvin Philips led to Hungary’s second goal. Kyle Walker was out of position for Hungary’s third goal. Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale allowed four of Hungary’s five shots on goal into the net. The collapse of the defense increased the angst of supporters who were already concerned about the club’s attack. England has scored but one goal in its four Nations League matches during this international run of play, a penalty kick by Harry Kane against Germany. England’s power outage and unappealing style of play has increased criticism of England Manager Gareth Southgate despite his success in recent major tournaments. England reached the semifinals of the last World Cup followed by a finals appearance in last year’s European Championship. Southgate made nine changes to the line-up he used in the draw with Italy last weekend and accepted his share of responsibility for the debacle against Hungary that ensued. Supporters at Molineux roundly booed the England team after the club’s worst embarrassment since a loss to Iceland in the 2016 World Cup. Nations League play resumes September 23rd with England sitting bottom of its four-nation group.

Three Goals from Premier Leaguers in Germany Win

Timo Werner, whose Chelsea club future may be uncertain, scored a brace for country in a 5-2 Germany mauling of Italy in Nations League competition. Werner scored his two goals inside a two-minute span of the second half for the final two goals of Germany’s romp.

Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan had earlier scored a penalty kick to give Germany a two goal first half advantage. The win surprisingly marked Germany’s first competitive victory over Italy in 11 meetings between the countries. German manager Hansi Flick extended his undefeated run as manager of Die Mannschaft to 13 matches. Werner scored just four goals in 21 matches for Chelsea last season. The scorer of 28 goals in the Bundesliga for RB Leipzig just three seasons ago has had a difficult time in the Premier League. Compounding a lack of production by Werner has been his head scratching lack of marksmanship in converting clear chances. Werner provides an element of speed and high work rate, but Manager Thomas Tuchel seemed to lose confidence in his forward this past season and looked to the club’s numerous other attack options. Werner’s future with Chelsea could benefit should the London side part ways with unhappy center forward Romelu Lukaku this transfer window.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Transfer Window Update: The Rich Get Richer

The transfer window for Premier League clubs opened on June 10th and the league’s top clubs surged from the starting line.

Manchester City officially confirmed their signing of Erling Haaland. The 21-year-old terrorized the Bundesliga over the last three seasons, scoring 62 goals in 67 league appearances for Borussia Dortmund. The German side was the beneficiary of 86 goals from the young phenom across all competitions. Haaland is interchangeably mentioned with Kylian Mbappe as the world’s top young forward.

Manchester City won the league title this past season without a true Number 9 in its line-up. That void is now filled by the Norwegian center forward and the Haaland addition could put further distance between the Citizens and the rest of the league with the possible exception of Liverpool.

The Haaland addition is not without its questions, however. League followers will be interested to see how City Manager Pep Guardiola will integrate Haaland into his high-speed passing style of play which has utilized attacking midfielders as the focal point for his attack. Midfielders Kevin de Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan led Manchester City in goals scored in the 2021/22 and 2020/21 Premier League seasons, respectively. Eight different players scored seven or more goals in Manchester City’s recently completed title winning season. Haaland’s need for service and notable ego will require adjustment by both club and player.

Haaland will also be expected to end a recent trend of Bundesliga attacking players who have had difficulty transitioning their talents to the Premier League. Both Timo Werner and Kai Havertz have underwhelmed at Chelsea after impressive Bundesliga stints. Christian Pulisic has shown flashes for Chelsea but is too often injured to be counted on. Manchester United’s Jadon Sancho has been the greatest disappointment. The former teammate of Haaland at Borussia Dortmund, and a highly priced transfer last season, was terrible in his maiden season at Manchester United where he scored just three goals in his 29 league appearances for the Red Devils. Manchester City expects Haaland to make a much bigger splash and hopefully position the club to finally capture a first ever Champions League title.

Liverpool, meanwhile, has also been busy. The league’s runner-up and winner of both English domestic cup competitions (EFL and FA) has reportedly reached agreement to sign Benfica striker Darwin Nunez. Nunez is expected to undergo his medical this week before a formal announcement of the signing is made.

The center forward found the net 26 times in 28 Portuguese Primeira Liga appearances and scored against Liverpool in each leg of Benfica’s Champions League quarterfinal with the Reds this past season. Nunez, as a traditional Number 9, provides a different dimension to a Liverpool attack which has been dominated by wing players Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane in recent years. Previous transfer additions Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz also play on the wing. Mane had taken a turn at the central position in the latter half last season and the anticipated departure of the Senegalese international makes Nunez an even more welcome addition. Nunez enjoyed a breakout season with Benfica this past season, scoring 20 more goals across all competitions than he had in his first season with Benfica. Liverpool is counting on the 22-year-old continuing and improving on last year’s success.

Chelsea has been understandably slow to get its transfer dealings underway due to its government mandated change in ownership. That will need to change quickly in coming weeks.

Tottenham Hotspur has been focused on strengthening its midfield. The club is expected to sign Yves Bissouma from Brighton this week after having already secured 33-year-old Ivan Perisic from Inter Milan. Bissouma was coveted by several Premier League clubs including rival Arsenal.

Arsenal and Manchester United have yet to make a meaningful signing despite being associated with numerous players. Mikel Arteta has been reported to be frustrated with the Gunners’ lack of progress. Rumored interest by the Gunners in Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus and Everton’s Richarlison has failed to come to fruition. New Manchester United Manger Eric ten Hag has been reportedly focused on a reunion with his former Ajax midfielder Frenkie de Jong. Barcelona, however, has been unimpressed by Manchester United’s proposed valuation of the Dutch international and the Red Devils may need to focus their midfield rebuilding efforts elsewhere. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Wales Completes World Cup Draw

Gareth Bale’s free kick led to the match’s only goal and goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey kept Ukraine at bay to give Wales a 1-0 victory Sunday and secure the final spot in this year’s World Cup in Qatar. Bale’s kick deflected off the head of West Ham’s Andrij Yarmolenko for a Ukrainian own goal in the 34th minute. The rest of the match was in Hennessey’s hands with the former Crystal Palace keeper helped by a dogged Wales back line which included Tottenham Hotspur’s Ben Davies. Once the front-line keeper for Palace, Hennessey was a backup for now relegated Burnley this past year and has made only nine Premier League appearances in the last three years. The 35-year-old was at his best versus Ukraine, however, as his nine saves were the most of his international career. His clean sheet helped lift Wales to its first World Cup qualification in 64 years.

The loss ended an emotional journey for Ukraine who inspired supporters from their war-torn country. Manchester City defender Oleksandr Zinchenko again played a forward midfield position for the Ukrainians against Wales after effectively playing that role in Ukraine’s 3-1 win last Wednesday over Scotland. Qualification means Wales will join England, the United States and Iran in Group B when the World Cup begins in November. Gareth Bale has a decision to make regarding his club future. He is out of contract with Real Madrid after this month and was rumored to be considering retirement. With a World Cup in November, Wales’s main man must now weigh the benefit of keeping his competitive edge versus potentially incurring one of his all too frequent injuries. Another return to Spurs will, of course, be one speculated destination. 

England Falls In Nations League to Hungary

A weary England side sleepwalked to a 1-0 Nations League defeat to Hungary on Saturday. Players are showing the strain of the now completed club season as fatigue influences the outcome of these pseudo-competitive Nations League matches. England right back Trent Alexander-Arnold, for example, played his 47th club match of the season in Liverpool’s Champions League final loss just one week before starting versus Hungary. Hungary’s second half penalty kick proved enough as FIFA’s 40th ranked side beat the English for the first time in 60 years. A surreal atmosphere in Budapest saw England players booed by schoolchildren when the players knelt in their traditional anti-racism gesture before the match. The match was initially scheduled to be played behind closed doors as penalty for previous racist behavior by the Hungarian crowd before the decision to fill half the capacity with schoolchildren. The lackluster match which ensued was otherwise notable only for the international debuts of West Ham’s Jarrod Bowen and Leicester’s James Justin. Bowen injected some energy to the dreary match. Justin, the oft injured defender, was replaced at halftime after picking up a knock. England heads to Munich to face Germany in a Nations League match as the two clubs meet for the first time since England defeated their European rival in the Euro Round of Sixteen last year. Germany has not lost in the 10 matches since that Euro defeat at Wembley. German Manager Hansi Flick will need to decide which Chelsea forward, Timo Werner or Kai Havertz, starts for his side. Departing Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger remains a fixture in Germany's back line while Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan should see action in the midfield. Phil Foden remains sidelined for England due to a Covid diagnosis. Crystal Palace defender Marc Guehi may return from injury. Raheem Sterling should be available to liven England’s attack after the Manchester City star missed the Hungary game due to illness.

Farewell to Pogba

Manchester United has officially acknowledged that Paul Pogba will be leaving the club when his contract expires this month. The player for who Manchester United paid a then world record transfer fee six years ago will thus move on via a free transfer. The departure ends a disappointing six year run for Pogba in his second stint with the Red Devils.

Pogba experienced success at Juventus after first leaving Manchester United in 2012 and great things were expected from the French international when he returned to the club six years ago. Things didn't work out as planned, however. Pogba continued to excel for his national team as he won a World Cup with France, but his club career stalled after helping Manchester United win the Europa League in his first year back with the club. Frequent injury was only part of the problem as three different managers would fail to get consistent performances from the midfielder. Jose Mourinho, who had hoped to rebuild Manchester United around the Frenchmen, would infamously label the underperforming star a “virus.” Pogba and Manchester United part ways for a second time with the 29-year-old having contributed a single goal in two of the last three seasons. A return to Juventus is rumored.