It’s (nearly) back
TOMORROW’S FA Community Shield game between last season’s champions and FA Cup winners is the traditional curtain-raiser for the new season and both Citeh and Chelsea will be hoping to make a statement prior to the big kick-off next week.
Of course in the greater scheme of things tomorrow is merely a glorified friendly, but the occasion with a near-certain full house at Wembley is usually one to savour with an open, entertaining game being the norm.
It’s also the first chance to see how ex-Napoli boss Maurizio Sarri sets out Chelsea tactically. At Napoli he garnered a reputation for fast, open football with the emphasis on attack, whereas the Blues, particularly under Mourinho and Conte, were the polar opposites of this ideal. They were, however, successful on the silverware front, whereas Sarri hasn’t had much use for the Brasso in his career thus far. Abramovich has allegedly craved for a truly exciting team for a long time now and he might be about to get his wish, but will it bring him more baubles for his bulging cabinet? We shall see.
By contrast we pretty much know the score with Citeh, with the only real talking-point being where will Guardiola deploy his shiny new toy, Riyad Mahrez? When the Algerian was Footballer of the Year as Leicester won the title he was a one-man wrecking crew out on the right wing; if Guardiola has plans to play him in the same way what effect will that have on Raheem Sterling’s job security at the Etihad? If it comes down to a straight choice between Mahrez and Sterling for that position then Sterling is toast.
The transfer window is a fickle thing; some clubs spend too much, some spend too little. Some buy too many players, some buy not enough. Some buy well, some buy badly. Who of the so-called Big Six has done what in this transfer window?
Arsenal — under the tutelage of new broom Unai Emery Gooner fans are waiting with bated breath to see whether or not this is truly a new beginning after the last few years of stagnation with Arsene Wenger at the helm. They have long complained of a lack of spine in the team and the purchases of Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendozi look like good business in that regard. Additionally the vastly experienced Stephan Lichtsteiner provides much-needed guile at right back and Bernd Leno should put pressure on the ageing Petr Cech in goal.
Chelsea — the only incoming transfer of note is that of Jorginho from Maurizio Sarri’s former club Napoli. The Italian playmaker looks to have the skills to boss the Chelsea midfield and should be a good buy, but they still look light up front with Olivier Giroud virtually a non-scoring centre forward and the lightweight Alvaro Morata just not looking like a good fit for the Premier League.
Liverpool — if any team can be said to have “won the window” it’s Liverpool. Naby Keita and Fabinho are frighteningly good additions to what was already a sterling midfield posse, while the signing of Xherdan Shaquiri from Stoke may turn out to be a cracking bit of business. The icing on an already impressive cake was the much-needed acquisition of a safe pair of hands and they don’t come much safer than ex-Roma custodian Alisson.
Manchester City — Aymeric Laporte brings some much-needed youthful zest to an ageing back line while Riyad Mahrez is a fine addition to an already formidable forward line. Citeh have been otherwise fairly quiet in the window but given the strength of their squad that should be no surprise.
Manchester United — to the shock of absolutely no-one, Jose Mourinho isn’t happy; he says that he gave the board five transfer targets for this summer and they haven’t granted his wishes. Instead he’s had to put up with a 19-year-old full back who goes by the name of Diogo Dalot, (me neither), a Brazilian squad player called Fred, and Stoke’s reserve keeper.
Spurs — as per usual chairman Daniel Levy is keeping his cheque book safely locked away in his desk drawer, from where it will emerge blinking in the light on deadline day and be used to facilitate the transfer of either a promising 18-year-old from Europe or a not-quite-hasbeen who never really was from a mid-table Premier League side.
Best of the rest — whisper it, but under ex-Citeh boss Manuel Pellegrini West Ham seem to have had a decent window. Eight players have been brought in and I have been impressed at the quality of some of those signings. Ryan Fredericks is a very good full back and Andriy Yarmalenko is someone I have coveted for Spurs in the past. Anderson from Lazio is no slouch, while we all know what a fit Jack Wilshere (oxymoron personified) can bring to the table. Of course the downside is that it’s not easy to integrate so many new players into a squad, but if Pellegrino can wave his magic wand the Hammers could well be chasing a top seven place.
Games to watch
FA Community Shield — tomorrow: 5pm Chelsea v Citeh. Championship selected fixtures — today: 5pm Birmingham v Norwich, Millwall v Middlesbrough, West Brom v Bolton; 7.30pm Sheffield United v Swansea. Tomorrow: 6.30pm Leeds v Stoke. Monday: 9.45pm; Hull v Villa. Tuesday: 9.45pm Middlesbrough v Sheffield United, Forest v West Brom.
Scottish Premiership — today: 5pm Celtic v Livingston. Tomorrow: 3pm Aberdeen v Rangers; 5pm Hibs v Motherwell. Champions League qualifying first leg — Tuesday: 9.45pm Celtic vs AEK Athens. Europa League qualifying — Thursday: ties to be confirmed.
Last week I asked who was Everton’s most capped player and a couple of blue Scousers replied with Tim Howard, who earned 93 US caps. Another one said Neville Southall who played 91 times for Wales. However I did say that this was a bit of a sneaky question and the alternative answer would be Pat Jennings, who played 119 times for Northern Ireland. Spurs and, I hate to say it, Arsenal legend Jennings signed for Everton as cover for Bobby Mimms (Southall was injured) in the weeks leading up to the 1986 FA Cup final, though of course he never actually played for the Toffees.
This week: who was the first player in English football to play 1,000 top-level matches?