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Grealish and De Bruyne run the show for Manchester City as sorry Liverpool beaten comfortably

Jonathan Fadugba 2023-04-01 16:26

Manchester City showed they are not prepared to give up their Premier League crown without a fight as they came from a goal down to thrash rivals Liverpool 4-1.

Mo Salah had given Liverpool an early lead at the Etihad Stadium, and for a few moments the red half of north London rejoiced as it looked as though the title race could well be over by the end of the day. Defeat for City would have given Arsenal the chance to go eleven points clear with ten games remaining.

But Pep Guardiola’s side fought back brilliantly. A superbly worked move led to an equaliser from Julian Alvarez, and further goals from Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan and Jack Grealish – who put in perhaps his best performance in a Manchester City shirt – buried Liverpool to give City renewed hope in the race for the Premier League crown.


Manchester City fans taunted Liverpool with chants of ‘ole!’ every time their players completed a pass in the final minutes of this game, a triumphant marker of just how one-sided this game eventually became in the second half. 

City were riveting in spells before and after half time that simply blew their opponents away. Control in possession, clever switches of play, excellent in transition. By contrast Liverpool fell apart, bright in the early parts of the match but slow and sluggish as the game wore on. They could not cope.

Before the match the big news came in the absence of Erling Haaland who was left out of the squad completely due to injury. But City composed themselves after going a goal down, De Bruyne and Grealish ran the show and World Cup winner Alvarez proved he is good enough to lead the line for City in Holland’s absence as all three grabbed goals to make it 4-1, together with Gundogan’s 53rd minute strike.


City were simply too good for Liverpool, and Jurgen Klopp had a sorry look on his face for the majority of the second half as he contemplated what could be a long and tough battle to secure Champions League football next season. 

The defeat is Liverpool’s third in a row, after losing at Bournemouth and Real Madrid before the international break, and their eighth away defeat of the campaign. It leaves them sixth in the table and seven points behind Spurs in fourth, though they do have a game in hand.

For a team that was expected to compete for the title this season it has been a largely horrendous campaign for Liverpool. A few notable wins aside, the Reds have been terrible in several games in all competitions – from the 4-1 beating they took at Napoli to the 3-0 defeat at Brighton and Hove Albion in the FA Cup and several unexpected Premier League reversals to teams like Leeds, Brentford and Wolves. 


Chants of ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ rang down from the stands from City fans aimed at Klopp, and while his position is surely secure, it is mainly thanks to his achievements in past years rather than performances this season. 

After a summer spend that included €80 million on Darwin Nunez, Liverpool are underachieving in the league dramatically. Any other manager would surely have their position more heavily scrutinised.

Klopp has plenty of credit in the bank but some of the players may be on borrowed time at Anfield. Liverpool made four changes in the 70th minute including Mo Salah and Andrew Robertson off, a move that almost felt like an admission of defeat from Liverpool’s manager. The likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, set to leave on a free transfer in the summer, and Konstantinos Tsimikas came on, and minutes later the Reds meekly conceded a fourth goal as Grealish finished them off. 


But this game was about the class and style of Manchester City. The win makes it seven in a row for Guardiola’s team who, while still showing some cracks at times like in the first half, are starting to gain momentum. 

In the second half City played with a swagger and a confidence that was too much for Liverpool, who floundered out of possession and conceded big spaces in transition. 

Grealish’s growing influence was a key factor in the victory, the man who signed the most lucrative boot deal of any British footballer in history last month celebrating his reported new £10million-a-season commercial deal in style with a brilliant all-round performance.

His tackle on Salah in the first half summed up an energetic display, a crucial intervention to stop Liverpool going 2-0 up that was pivotal in the match. From there Grealish went straight up the other end to assist Alvarez, a sign of his huge influence on this key win. 


There are still question marks about City’s strength in depth and ability to catch a rampant Arsenal in the long run. Without Haaland, City’s bench showed signs of a lack of depth: Cole Palmer and Bernardo Silva were the only real attacking options and the likes of Sergio Gomez, Rico Lewis and Maximo Perrone are far from the finished article. 

John Stones also took up an unfamiliar position in the centre of midfield, another sign of City’s lack of options after a long list of departures over the past two transfer windows. 

But Pep Guardiola has his team focused and well-drilled. On the evidence of this performance, the hunger and class is still there to keep going and give Arsenal a real battle for the title. 

Will they stay or will they go? Glazers’ Manchester United sale not guaranteed as bids come in

Jonathan Fadugba 2023-03-31 10:30

Manchester United announced their Q2 financial results this week, with the club’s debt rising from £447.1million to £535.7m (6,876,679,735.05 SEK – Swedish Kronor) in the year to December 31st 2022. It is against this backdrop that the race to buy the football club and take over from the Glazer family continues.

Despite being one of the biggest and most financially powerful clubs in world football, United are in mountains of debt due to the nature of Malcolm Glazer’s takeover in 2005. The Glazers acquired the club for £750million in a highly-leveraged deal in 2005, using just £270million of their own money and borrowing the rest to subsequently load the club with around £500m worth of debts. The club was debt-free before the takeover.

18 years later, the club remains in £535.7m debt. During that time roughly another £1billion has been spent on servicing that debt through interest payments, dividend payments to the Glazer family and staff, bank charges and other associated costs. £1billion that could have been spent on keeping the team competitive or upgrading a creaking and increasingly dated stadium. 


Instead the Glazers have overseen a decade of decline which has seen United fall well behind rivals such as Manchester City and Liverpool, both on the pitch in terms of league titles won and off it in terms of stadium maintenance, club infrastructure and training ground improvements. In the past ten years, no other club owner has taken more money out of their club than the Glazers at Manchester United.

It is amidst this backdrop of on-pitch decline and off-field financial chicanery that Manchester United fans have, predominantly, been fiercely and consistently opposed to the Glazers. Anti-Glazer banners and chants of ‘We want the Glazers out’ have rang from the Old Trafford terraces for close to two decades now, and continue to this day.

Some hope came for United fans last year however when it was announced that the Glazer family would explore ‘strategic alternatives’ for financing and a possible sale of the football club. A first round of bidding took place in February before, in the past week, a second round where interested parties were encouraged to make improved offers to buy the club.


But do the Glazers really want to sell? Or is this a play aimed at raising the club’s value on the stock market and attracting further investment? And after two rounds of bidding, just who are the main candidates to buy Manchester United?

The main bidders

Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani

(Rumoured bid price estimate: £5 billion)

The son of former Qatari prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Bin Jaber Al Thani and chair of the Qatar Islamic Bank, Sheikh Jassim is one of the two reported frontrunners to buy Manchester United. 

Educated in the UK and reportedly a fan of United from a young age, Sheikh Jassim and his Nine Two Foundation launched a first bid in February thought to be in the region of £4.5 billion ($5.5bn). A spokesperson for the sheikh said at the time the bid was completely debt-free and aimed at returning United to “its former glories”.


Though available information surrounding his own personal net worth is scarce, Sheikh Jassim’s family net worth is estimated to be in the region of £275 billion, although this is unlikely to be at his own personal disposal. 

The question from outsiders and some United supporters will be whether Sheikh Jassim really is an independently wealthy United fan with access to the funds necessary for a takeover, or more of a face for the policy objectives of the Qatari state, which is closely linked to the country’s sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority, whose subsidiary QSI, or Qatar Sports Investments, owns Paris Saint-Germain.

As an individual in his own right Sheikh Jassim has expressed a passion to bring prestige back to Manchester United, through his foundation, who visited Old Trafford after the first bid for talks and to look around the club. A second bid was then made last week, after a deadline for offers set by the Glazers for 9pm on Wednesday 22nd March had been extended. 


Sir Jim Ratcliffe

(Rumoured bid price estimate: £5 billion)

Sir Jim Ratcliffe, billionaire founder of UK chemicals group Ineos, has also made an initial and then improved offer to buy Manchester United. 

The UK’s 27th wealthiest man with a net worth of £6.075billion according to The Sunday Times Rich List, Ratcliffe was born in Failsworth, Greater Manchester. He has emphasised these local roots as a trump card in the battle to buy United, despite being said to be a Leave campaigner in the Brexit referendum who reportedly moved from the UK to Monaco in 2020. His group Ineos are also the owners of French club OGC Nice.

Ratcliffe’s initial statement pledged to invest in the club with a “fan-centred approach to ownership”. He hired JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs to be advisers with an aim to position himself as the ‘British alternative’, according to the Financial Times and his desire according to reports is to be a sensible custodian for the club he supported as a boy.


Ratcliffe, like Sheikh Jassim, is a lifelong Manchester United fan. In May 2022 he made an unsuccessful £4.25billion offer to buy Chelsea. He also visited Old Trafford after the first round of bids.

Thomas Zilliacus

Though perhaps not a frontrunner, Finnish businessman Thomas Zilliacus also announced he has submitted a bid for Manchester United.

The founder and chairman of investment company Mobile FutureWorks, Zilliacus appeared publicly on sports news TV channels to declare his intention to buy United in a 50-50 partnership with fans, who would supposedly cover a portion of the takeover costs and have a say in the club’s decision-making process through an app

Whether a serious bid or more of an unrealistic publicity stunt, Zilliacus has at least succeeded in getting his name into the conversation. ”My group wants to first buy the club, then open it up for the fans to ultimately own 50% and have a say in all major decisions. That is a model that works perfectly in Scandinavia, no reason it wouldn’t in the UK,” he wrote on Twitter.


Any successful bid for Manchester United is likely to come at a world record fee for a sports club or franchise, eclipsing the $4.65billion paid for the NFL’s Denver Broncos in 2022

The Glazers are thought to want a figure of up to or above £6billion for United, and may not sell the club at all should their valuation not be matched. 

Publicity stunt or a genuine attempt to sell up? We’ll soon find out. If they do sell, it will be for an enormous personal profit for a family whose late father Malcolm bought the club nearly twenty years ago, plunged it into mountains of debt and, post-Sir Alex Ferguson, subsequently oversaw its most unsuccessful period of the past 30 years. 

Antonio Conte appears to talk himself out of a job in stunning rant - so who next for Spurs?

Jonathan Fadugba 2023-03-21 15:58

Tottenham Hotspur manager Antonio Conte looks set to leave the club after one of the most memorable Premier League press conferences ever delivered on Saturday, following a 3-3 draw away to Southampton.

After watching his team throw away a two-goal lead with two late goals, including a 93rd minute penalty, Conte marched into the post-match press conference to deliver an all-timer, up there with Kevin Keegan’s ‘I would love it’ outburst in 1996 or Rafa Benitez’s ‘facts’ rant against Sir Alex Ferguson that was the beginning of Liverpool’s downfall in the 2009 title race.

In an extraordinary five-minute blast, Conte slammed Spurs as a club, the players, the owners (though he denies he meant to do so), Spurs’ recent history and, well, pretty much everything about the team he manages, claiming, among other things, that his players “don’t want to play under pressure, don’t want to play under stress” and cannot handle the demands of a top club.


“Tottenham’s story is this, 20 years!” Conte raged, slamming his own club and all but talking himself out of a job inside a few wild minutes of candid, furious ranting. 

The blowback is expected to arrive this week when, according to multiple sources, Antonio Conte will be sacked by Spurs, his relationship with both players and the club hierarchy close to broken. 

The Italian has just a few months remaining on his contract at Spurs, and the way things had been going it seemed inevitable he would walk away at the end of the season regardless. This may have been his chance to get out early and an attempt to preserve his own reputation in the process. As he put it, “I’m not used to this position!”


Truth be told, and looking away from the headlines, Conte has had a troubling season that would be tough for any person to deal with. Personal tragedy off the field, including the death of his fitness coach Gian Piero Ventrone last October and personal friends such as Gianluca Vialli, have been tough to take.

Meanwhile the Italian has also had his own health issues, missing several weeks after gall bladder surgery mid-season that will no doubt also have been a challenging issue to deal with on a personal level. We sometimes tend to forget the day-to-day stresses on a manager.

All that said, the unity between Spurs and Conte has been somewhat fraught all season. After a fantastic year in which he managed to get Tottenham to pip Arsenal to the top four and Champions League football last season, this year Spurs have had to watch their biggest rivals all but cruise to the Premier League title, while Spurs languish around the top four and have crashed out of all three cup competitions, meekly at best.


A parting of the ways seems inevitable, now or in the summer.

So who next to take on this confused, downtrodden but no doubt still glamorous and attractive football club? 

With their state-of-the-art stadium and brilliant, modern training facilities Tottenham Hotspur is still a hugely attractive proposal, with huge potential if the right manager can get it all to click. Here are the likely candidates…

Ryan Mason

A former Spurs player who was forced to retire early and abruptly due to a severe head injury, Ryan Mason has already acted as an interim head coach for Tottenham in 2021, after the sacking of Jose Mourinho. Mason, 31, took charge of seven games including the League Cup final, winning four games and losing three including that final to Manchester City. 

Seemingly highly-rated as a coach among the hierarchy in north London, Mason could again take charge until the end of the season, allowing the club to cast their eye over more candidates ahead of the summer. 


Luis Enrique

The former Spain head coach comes with an excellent managerial track record, having won the UEFA Champions League with FC Barcelona as well as two La Liga titles, three Spanish Copa Del Reys, the FIFA Club World Cup and the UEFA Super Cup.

The Spaniard left his national team job after a disappointing World Cup campaign ended at the hands of Morocco, and has also managed Celta Vigo and AS Roma as well as Barcelona. He is an excellent coach with interesting ideas, and comes with the added bonus of being available now, should he want the job.

Whether a top coach would be willing to take the job now remains to be seen, but Spurs are still in contention for a top four position with plenty to play for. 

Mauricio Pochettino

The fans’ favourite. A romantic reunion with former manager Mauricio Pochettino appears to be the dream of most Spurs fans, the comforting nostalgia of his vibrant, energetic, exciting Spurs team of 2014-2019 still looming large in the memory.


It seems almost a trick of the mind to cast your memory back and remember that Spurs – under this same hierarchy – still went on to sack Pochettino. He asked for time and money to rebuild a squad he considered to be stagnating. But like shooting Bambi, the Argentinian was given no mercy and subsequently relieved of his duties.

Still, the dust has settled now. Pochettino loved Spurs and Spurs fans loved him. They say never go back to your ex, but a reunion could well be on the cards for the out of work manager – if not now then perhaps in the summer. Reports suggest that a line of contact has already been established.

Roberto De Zerbi

Arguably one of the managers of the season, Roberto De Zerbi has come to the Premier League and settled almost immediately, continuing the excellent work at Brighton and Hove Albion and arguably making the team as good as if not better than Graham Potter’s version.


The Italian is thought to be highly-rated by executives at several of the top Premier League clubs – indeed anyone at Brighton for more than five minutes seems to be automatically these days, a sign of how well-run the football club is. De Zerbi has implemented an attractive, modern, exciting tactical style of play and given his club a real shot at Europa League football, with an FA Cup semi-final still to come.

The question is would he seriously consider leaving Brighton after less than a year at a club that gave him his big shot in the Premier League?

Ruben Amorim

Perhaps more of an outside choice, Ruben Amorim reminded everyone of his managerial stock just last week when his Sporting CP side knocked Arsenal out of Europe. 

Reportedly on Chelsea’s shortlist before they appointed Graham Potter last year, the Sporting boss is, like Mason, still in his 30s but has shown his managerial promise in Portugal already in some style, winning the Portuguese Primeira Liga title with Sporting as well as the Taça da Liga (League Cup) three times – once as manager at Braga and twice with Sporting. 


Amorim’s tactical ingenuity and 3-4-3 shape could also be a good stylistic fit for the current profile of Spurs’ squad. He also comes with the bonus of having already worked with players like Pedro Porro before. 

His long-term contract at Sporting and their involvement still in the Europa League quarter finals may be stumbling blocks right now, though.

Thomas Tuchel

If there’s one thing Spurs have been good at in recent years it is hiring former Chelsea managers. So why not continue that trend by appointing the out-of-work Thomas Tuchel?

There is a sense that the way he was ruthlessly booted out of Chelsea still stings Tuchel. An abrupt and unexpected exit at the hands of Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital, Tuchel was settled in London, loved Chelsea and appeared committed to finding solutions to their problems. He may also have felt protected by his status as a Champions League winner for the club, but this provided him with no shield in the end. 


A move to Spurs would offer the bright German coach a route back to London and a chance to show Chelsea what they missed out on, but would it be the right fit?

As shown in his career to date in spells at Borussia Dortmund, PSG and Chelsea, Tuchel is no shrinking violet and is not afraid to give his views frankly to those in charge of the club. A bit like a certain Antonio Conte, you might say. 

Six of the best - Championship top talents who you could see in the Premier League next season

Jonathan Fadugba 2023-03-18 08:00

Whether thanks to the dreaded ‘B’ word… Brexit, or otherwise, the Championship has become an increasingly popular hunting ground for Premier League clubs in recent years. 

You need only look at the Premier League top scorer charts to see the evidence: two of the league’s top eight scorers this season have either emerged from or had recent spells in England’s second tier (Ivan Toney and Alexsandar Mitrovic). 

Below them, players like Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins (9 goals) and Nottingham Forest’s Brennan Johnson (7 goals) also round off the list of top 20 goalscorers, demonstrating the fact there are some real gems to be found.

The relentless 46-game schedule in Championship football can be an ideal sharpening ground for some of the rough diamonds in England’s lower leagues, preparing them for the intensity that is Premier League football. And with relative bargains to be had price-wise one may wonder why more top flight clubs aren’t looking at the Championship as a place to recruit.


With that in mind, and the Championship heading towards the last stretch of its long season, let’s take a look at six of the best – a list of talents that you might expect to see in the Premier League next season, including a certain Swede raising eyebrows in the Midlands…

Viktor Gyokeres – Coventry City

One of the most talked about players in the Championship this season, the big Swede will surely be on the radar of several Premier League clubs this summer. 

Gyokeres, 24, is a bit of a throwback in some ways, a traditional ‘classic’ style number nine for whom the penalty area is his office. He operates as a target man for Coventry City, an agile, strong forward who can score goals with left foot, right foot or head. 

Gyokeres can score goals from outside the box but is a penalty area predator who thrives on good service from the wide areas. There are some stylistic similarities with Ivan Toney in terms of his physical capabilities and the 19 goals he has scored for the Sky Blues this season represent his best return for the club since joining. He also has seven assists.


A full Swedish international, the former IF Brommapojkarna graduate was described as ‘the best [striker] in the league’ by Huddersfield Town’s legendary manager Neil Warnock and it appears unlikely that Coventry will be able to keep him past this season. 

Interested clubs: Everton, Fulham, Leeds United

Chuba Akpom – Middlesbrough

A player transformed under new Middlesbrough manager Michael Carrick, Chuba Akpom is the most prolific goalscorer in the Championship this season and has been in electric form.

Akpom is an Arsenal academy graduate who has always had talent. A storied career saw him leave London for Greece, with brief spells in Belgium and elsewhere. Back in England now though Akpom has really upped his game this season, hitting 23 goals in 30 Championship games to really showcase his ability in front of goal.


Ironically Akpom, 27, has been playing in a deeper position under Carrick, no longer confined to a number 9 role but used deeper for his ability to get on the ball, turn and run at defenders. Carrick’s fluid system allows Akpom the flexibility to also get in behind and he has thrived in this new position to enjoy the best spell of his career. He could help fire Middlesbrough back to the Premier League, or equally he could be the target of Prem clubs come the summer. 

Interested clubs: Wolves, Leeds United

Iliman Ndiaye – Sheffield United

From non-league (part-time) football to the Premier League, Iliman Ndiaye could be set to complete an incredible climb up the mountain to the top of English football if his trajectory continues. 

The former Sunday league player has progressed from Boreham Wood to Sheffield United to featuring in a World Cup for Senegal. The next step in this remarkable journey could be Premier League football, whether with our without his current club.


Ndiaye is an expert dribbler who has hit 11 goals and seven assists in 37 games this season.

An assist he registered last December against Huddersfield Town demonstrated all the 23-year-old’s qualities perfectly: expert first touch and close control to bring down a header with his back to goal and turn, supreme dribbling skills to wriggle his way around two defenders in a tight space and then a killer through ball for Billy Sharp to finish. 

A really exciting player who gets fans off their seats, Ndiaye’s contract at Sheffield United runs out next summer. They will be desperate to keep him but financial circumstances at the club may dictate a sale if they are not promoted.

Interested clubs: Newcastle United, West Ham United, Everton

Joao Pedro – Watford 

This could go down as cheating slightly so forgive me but in this humble writer’s opinion Joao Pedro has to go on any list of top talents in the Championship.


A simply wonderful talent, the Brazilian has already played Premier League football for Watford but was part of the team relegated to the Championship last year. Having said that, the level of his ability is so good and the ceiling so high that it would feel wrong not to include him.

With a similar profile in some aspects of his game to Spurs forward Richarlison, Joao Pedro is comfortable on the ball, a classy finisher, dynamic, quick-witted and surprisingly good in the air from set pieces. A Watford fan favourite, the 21-year-old has hit nine goals and two assists in 28 appearances – not spectacular but enough to show his promise in what is a turbulent club with constant managerial upheavals. 

Former Watford manager Claudio Ranieri described Joao Pedro as ‘one of the best young players in the Premier League’ a year ago, so it seems almost crazy he is playing in the second tier. He has the class, ability and potential to play for a Champions League level club in the near future should his form and fitness continue. 


Interested clubs: AC Milan, Newcastle United

Taylor Harwood-Bellis – Burnley

A 21-year-old Stockport-born defender on loan from Manchester City, Taylor Harwood-Bellis will probably end up in the Premier League one way or another next season after an excellent year at Burnley. 

His loan club are well clear at the top of the Championship and his parent club are the reigning Premier League champions. The Vincent Kompany link between Burnley and City also means if Harwood-Bellis is loaned out again it could likely be back to Burnley for a year’s experience in English football’s top tier.

A strong central defender who graduated through City’s academy, Harwood-Bellis is also extremely impressive in possession. Of all Championship players who have played a minimum of 1500 league minutes, no player has registered more accurate forward passes than Harwood-Bellis, an indicator of his pro-active style when on the ball and ability to build play from the back. (Keep an eye on Nathan Wood at Swansea by the way whose stats come up well here.)


His contract runs out in 2024 but it seems Manchester City are keen to offer a new deal. Watching him play, you can see why.

Ben Brereton Diaz – Blackburn Rovers

It’s not often that you see a Chile international playing in the Championship, but this has been the case for Ben Brereton Diaz ever since the discovery via Football Manager that the Stoke-on-Trent-born forward has a Chilean mother. 

The 23-year-old started his career at Manchester United but was released from both there and Stoke City before emerging at Nottingham Forest. There he was signed by Blackburn Rovers for roughly €8 million Euros in 2019 after a successful loan spell. 


At Blackburn the striker has developed his all-round game from a number 9 to a more rounded forward, capable of not only scoring but creating and assisting in build-up play. He has scored 44 goals for Rovers, 13 this season, has a fantastic shot on him, can score off both feet, can hit free-kicks and has an all-action, energetic style of play. 

Out of contract this summer, his manager – former Malmo FF boss Jon Dahl Tomasson – has admitted: “Everyone knows that there is a good chance the boy will be going, we know that.”

Where to is unknown as yet but if not the Premier League he could well end up plying his trade in a top league abroad. 

Interested clubs: Villarreal, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur


Manchester United train runs out of steam as Liverpool batter rivals 7-0 - as Gakpo and Weghorst highlight key contrast

Jonathan Fadugba 2023-03-05 20:19

Manchester United had been on an extraordinary run of 12 games without defeat in recent months, but it meant nothing as old enemies Liverpool brought them back down to earth by absolutely destroying them 7-0.

Two goals from Cody Gakpo, two for Darwin Nunez, a Mo Salah brace and one from Roberto Firmino embarrassed Erik Ten Hag’s team and all but ended any slim hopes of a surprise Premier League title this season, as Liverpool ripped into the Red Devils. Defeat was United’s biggest since 1931, a generational trouncing that will not be forgotten in both cities any time soon. 

The win puts Liverpool firmly in the race for top four and a coveted UEFA Champions league place. In fact it probably makes them favourites for fourth ahead of both Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur, who both dropped points this weekend. 


Jurgen Klopp described this weekend’s game between eternal arch rivals Liverpool and Manchester United as ‘worth more than three points’. This is a rivalry steeped in history and tradition, the two most successful sides in English football history with 39 league championship titles between them and countless other trophies. A contest between two north-western cities just 56 kilometres apart, immigrant cities who became key cornerstones of the industrial revolution – Liverpool a world-renowned port city and Manchester famous for its ‘Cottonopolis’, the first city of the industrial revolution. 

Casemiro had the ball in the back of the net with 41 minutes played but it was disallowed for offside before Liverpool went up the other end opened the scoring. Cody Gakpo got on the end of a well-worked move and made a fine finish past David De Gea. From there, Liverpool took their rival apart. 


Two quick goals in the 47th and 50th minute made it 3-0 and after Salah’s effort in the 66th minute three goals in the last 15 minutes completed the demolition, as ten Hag’s side completely fell apart.

Klopp had asked his team to be ‘aggressive’ and ‘wild in the right moments’ against United, a philosophy that has generally epitomised his Liverpool during his time and charge. And they heeded the call in rampant style. Gakpo looked sharp, Nunez a bundle of energy while Harvey Elliott put in one of his better performances in a Liverpool shirt with a brilliantly composed performance for a 19-year-old.

Going into this game United had not won at Anfield for 7 years and the last time the Red Devils travelled to Anfield it ended in one of the most chastening United defeats in the rivalry’s history (4-0), a dark day that rather summed up the drab Ralf Rangnick interim era.


This is a wholly different Manchester United team: blessed with far greater resilience, character and desire to win, but this game went one better, a 7-0 demolishing that will give ten Hag real cause for concern. 

United looked tired, lacking in energy and – bar a spell during the first half – slow. Like a team emotionally drained from a long few months winning ten out of 12 games, beating FC Barcelona over two legs and winning a first major trophy for six years. They seemed physically and mentally unable to go again after a huge few weeks emotionally, which is understandable to a point but not excusable to the point of losing 7-0 to a major rival.

The weaknesses in United’s squad were there to see. Key men like Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, Luke Shaw and Lisandro Martinez were beneath their recent level. Meanwhile January signing Wout Weghorst struggled, failing to register a single shot. 


Weghorst has become something of a cult figure among United fans for his work rate and attitude, but he is also a symbol of the Glazer family’s austerity at key times when United need a boost. Contrast Weghorst, signed for a minor loan fee, to Cody Gakpo for example. Serious January investment (£40 million) from Liverpool on one of the top young talents at the recent World Cup vs a 30-year-old on loan with one goal to his name so far. Gakpo’s impact on this game was remarkable.

It is well documented that this particular Klopp team is coming to a natural end of its cycle. Sadio Mane has already departed, and earlier in the week news broke that another long servant  Roberto Firmino will be leaving Liverpool at the end of the season and has informed Klopp of his decision. 

With that in mind the Brazilian’s goal in the 88th minute was a cherry on the icing of Liverpool’s cake. Firmino has been a wonderful servant to Liverpool and received one of the biggest cheers of the night from a raucous Anfield crowd after tucking away the goal to make it a magnificent 7-0 for Reds fans.


Gerrard or Lampard? - As managers, the answer may once again be Michael Carrick

Jonathan Fadugba 2023-02-24 16:12

Though Manchester United’s campaign last season was an unmitigated disaster, there were three games that did raise this humble correspondent’s eyebrows: Villarreal away, Chelsea away, Arsenal at home. 

Sandwiched in late November 2021 between the end of the wholly unsatisfactory Ole Gunnar Solskjaer era and Ralf Rangnick’s reign of terror, these were arguably the three best games of the season for United, from both a performance and tactical competence perspective. An oasis in a desert of despair.

The interim manager for this trio of games made changes that would prove a precursor to Erik ten Hag’s reign: he dropped Cristiano Ronaldo, then still the club hero in the middle of a 24-goal season. He rejigged the team tactically. And he showed he was not afraid to make big decisions – dropping another key player, Bruno Fernandes, for a crucial Champions League game against Villarreal. 


The manager? Michael Carrick.

At the time, I distinctly remember thinking that Carrick had shown enough in three matches to suggest a promising managerial career could be in store for him. Three games, two wins, one draw. 

However, a victim of circumstance, the club’s hierarchy were never going to appoint another popular former player as interim manager to replace Solskjaer, himself a popular former player-turned-interim-turned-permanent manager. They possessed neither the foresight nor the courage, despite the signs of promise under Carrick.

The amiable Geordie, who won five Premier League titles as a player at Old Trafford, the UEFA Champions League, the FA Cup and countless other trophies, announced his own surprise departure from the club during a post-match interview after the Arsenal game, saying he would be cutting ties to spend more time with his family and plot his next move. 


His next move, as we are seeing now, has been to completely revolutionise his local team Middlesbrough. 

Michael Carrick was appointed as the manager of Middlesbrough in October 2022. Since then, he has already made the best start of any manager in Boro’s history. He has turned the club from possible relegation candidates to a team with a genuine and unexpected chance of promotion back to the Premier League. 

In his first 17 league games as a permanent manager at any level Carrick has won a club record-breaking 14 of them, including five in a row. During that time Middlesbrough have climbed from 21st in the table to 3rd with a real chance of automatic promotion. 

Carrick has transformed the entire mood of the club, on and off the pitch. And he has done so displaying the tactical nous and man management skills of a man who could go on to have a very successful career in coaching. 



Middlesbrough’s style of play under Michael Carrick is winning the club rave reviews from both outside observers and fans alike. “I’ve been watching Boro for 32 years and I genuinely think this could be the best football I’ve ever seen us play,” enthused one supporter on Twitter, and many are in agreement that Carrick’s modern, attractive style of football marks him down as a potentially top manager in the making.

Tactically, Carrick’s playing style is akin to some of the game’s brightest minds. Middlesbrough have switched to four at the back under his tutelage, but play in a similar way in possession to how Pep Guardiola often sets up his Manchester City side. 


In what is nominally a 4-2-3-1 system, when Middlesbrough have the ball they switch more akin to a 3-2-4-1, with a box of four in midfield, one full-back tucking in to form a three-man central defence and one pushing up to create wide overloads. 

The centre-backs are unafraid to get on the ball and step into midfield. The full-backs, Tom Smith and Ryan Giles, push high in attacking situations. The deep-lying midfielders, Jonny Howson or new signing Dan Barlaser, together with the promising young talent Hayden Hackney, control midfield. 

When Middlesbrough get forward the left wide forward, Riley McGree, often comes inside or takes up a free role off his left wing, with left-back Giles providing driving attacking bursts from the full-back position. 

The dangerous striker Cameron Archer, on loan from Aston Villa, tends to come out to the left also to create overloads.


Chuba Akpom, playing some of the best football of his career under Carrick in a new deeper no.10 role, is able to get on the ball and drive at defences, and push higher into the number 9 position that Archer vacates. And wide right, Marcus Forss, increasingly unfancied under previous manager Chris Wilder, can either stay wide, play as an inside forward or push further upfront.

It is a fluid, attractive way of playing that gives every player an element of attacking freedom and flexibility in the possession-based style Carrick was known for as a player, whilst remaining robust defensively.

Motivation and enjoyment

The results have been astonishing. But not only has Carrick found the right formula tactically, he has rejuvenated the careers of several players and has them fit, motivated and enjoying their football like never before. 


“I feel like this season I’ve had the environment and when the gaffer’s come in he has taken my level up again,” says Chuba Akpom, once of Arsenal. “Everything’s just clicking for me.” Akpom has scored 20 goals this season – 16 of them under Michael Carrick – and won Championship Player of the Month in December and January.

“When you’re enjoying yourself the intensity of everyone goes up as well. Subconsciously you just go out there, enjoy, run, work hard and the team benefits from that. It’s a good environment in the changing room and at the training ground with the staff, with the gaffer (Carrick), with everyone to be honest with you and we’re going in the right direction.”

Dael Fry too cannot praise Carrick highly enough, saying this is the most enjoyable time of his entire career so far. 


“He’s just got such a calm approach and that reflects with what we try and do on the pitch,” says 25-year-old defender Fry. “We’re really calm on the ball, we try to play out from the back and I know at times the fans get a bit nervy because I can hear them in their seats.

“But honestly, on that pitch we’re just so confident. Even when it doesn’t work, his message is keep doing it, keep trying it, and he (Carrick) takes full ownership. We’re just so confident on that pitch and we all believe in each other. It’s a fantastic way of playing.

“I think right now I’m enjoying my football more than I’ve ever enjoyed it in my whole career.”


‘Subconscious’ learning

A wonderfully gifted, cerebral midfield player whose understated style and personality meant his influence on Manchester United’s Champions League winning team of 2008 often went slightly unappreciated by some, it is clear that Michael Carrick has studied his craft and learned lessons working under the management of some of the game’s great managers. 

First as a player under Sir Alex Ferguson and then as a coach, working under managers like Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal, Carrick has absorbed the environments he has been in and admits that these learnings have filtered subconsciously into his own emerging managerial style.

“I was always conscious of how all coaches and managers behaved and what they said at certain times – half-time, full-time, during the week. It’s something that’s just always kind of taken my attention. Obviously I learned a huge amount from him (Ferguson).”


“In situations, I’ve found that it’s not always in the moment where you think, ‘Yeah, I need to do this because this coach did it or that manager did it’. It’s more subconsciously, with experience, when things happen I’ll react in a certain way and then it’s afterwards I’ll reflect and think, ‘I’ve done that because I’ve seen Jose do it, I’ve seen Louis do it, I’ve seen Sir Alex or whoever’.

“It’s not something you draw on in the moment, quickly flipping through your experiences to see how to deal with it. It’s more that it’s just in there instinctively, and that’s the beauty of experience, both good and bad.”

At a certain point earlier this season Middlesbrough fans were despondently gearing themselves up for a long, hard battle with relegation. But all that has changed since Carrick walked through the door for his first senior managerial role. The Boro are bouncing again. There is even talk he could one day be the next England manager, premature as that may be.


First as players, now as managers – in the never-ending debate between Gerrard and Lampard perhaps the answer once again is Michael Carrick after all.

Arsenal are back… but can they win the title? Three keys to the Gunners’ success under Mikel Arteta

Jonathan Fadugba 2023-02-15 08:00

With 17 games left to play Arsenal are top of the Premier League and a leading contender to win the title in what would be their first league championship in close to twenty years. 

During that time the Gunners have gone from the ‘Invincibles’, through a ‘banter era’ made famous by Arsenal Fan TV and back again to their position now as one of the country’s most formidable teams. Whisper it quietly but, as many of their fans have been saying lately – ‘Arsenal are back’.

This revival has been a long time coming since the Arsene Wenger years. A look at Arsenal’s league positions over the past decade show just how barren a time it has been for the north London club: 5th, 6th, 5th, 8th, 8th and then fifth again last season. 

Arsenal have not finished in the top two since 2016, and last played a Champions League game six years ago. Two FA Cup triumphs did help to quell the dissatisfaction in that time, irking Tottenham fans in the process as their rivals continued to outdo them in trophies. But for one of England’s most successful clubs historically, it has been a bad run.


This, though, may all be about to change. Arsenal have a real chance at being crowned champions of England again. This season Liverpool have been weak, Chelsea are undergoing a complete overhaul and Manchester City have levelled off, selling several players that were key to their recent success. Meanwhile over in north London, Arsenal’s revival has continued at pace. 

An exciting, well-coached side filled with talent has emerged and seen off almost every challenge in their 21 league games so far. There are many keys to Arsenal’s revival but here are three main pillars – both on and off the field…

Mikel Arteta

The appointment of Mikel Arteta in December 2019 has had a huge impact on the club in all areas. An emerging coach with bright ideas who served under Pep Guardiola as an assistant manager at Manchester City, the former Arsenal player has been given carte blanche at The Emirates to rebuild the entire team and squad in his own image. Arteta has almost total control over the team, training, recruitment (of both players and backroom staff) and overall vision and philosophy.


While handing Arteta the keys to the whole club looks a great idea now that results start to bear fruit, there have been many times over the past three years where the Spaniard’s job seemed in jeopardy. 

Many Arsenal fans wanted Arteta out as recently as last season, and so the club hierarchy deserve praise for allowing such a young coach in his first major job the time and patience to build Arsenal in his own way. 

Arteta is a student of the game who has many coaching influences and mentors. He is part of a private group of elite coaches across different sports who share ideas and visions of sport, leadership and management in general. 


“I guess what is stunning about both Eddie (Jones – former England rugby head coach) and Mikel is their intelligence and their ideas,’ says Mike Dunlap, assistant coach of the Milwaukee Bucks and part of this private group.

Arteta thinks outside the box for ideas on how to motivate his players and create team unity. He clearly has the discipline, intelligence and conviction in his own ideas required to coach at a high level.

He has built Arsenal with a youthful core that gave fans hope to cling onto during darker times, the emergence of Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe for example becoming a popular terrace chant as Arsenal reconnected to their excellent academy and Hale End philosophy. 

Important signings, which we’ll come onto, have rejuvenated the team. But it is this core of youth that has helped Arsenal find its identity again, ridding the club of an at-times poisonous match day atmosphere and giving supporters something to buy into. 


Then there is the on-pitch transformation.


Arsenal’s tactical setup is set by their inspiring coach and primarily involves using the full-backs in midfield to gain control and create overloads in key areas high up the field in attacking situations. 

Arteta places a strong emphasis on having his wide players – usually Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli – stay as high and wide up the field as possible, to stretch the pitch and make his team harder to defend against. To be able to do this without losing shape though, his full-backs are hugely important. 

Ben White and Oleksandr Zinchenko start games as full-backs on the left and right side, but often invert in Arsenal’s build-up play and come inside almost as central midfielders. This creates overloads that allow 2 v 1 or 3 v 2 situations, allowing Arsenal superiority to outnumber the opposition in central and wide areas and passing triangles to advance up the field. 


Zinchenko, for example, is a key part of this and a hugely important signing for Arteta’s game model. He understands how to play this role extremely well from his time at Manchester City, where Arteta of course was an assistant to Guardiola. Arteta’s tactical philosophy generally is highly influenced by Guardiola.

In Arsenal’s build-up play, Zinchenko will often come inside into half spaces in midfield and link with the central midfielders, Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka and Martin Odegaard. This allows Arsenal to outnumber opponents and create one v one situations for either Gabriel Martinelli down the left, or for a quick switch out to the right side for Bukayo Saka. 

Both Saka and Martinelli are in the top three players in the Premier League for number of dribbles this season, according to Wyscout, and as two of the most skilled dribblers in the division – particularly Saka whose one v one ability is up there with the finest players in Europe – this tactic makes total sense. 


It allows for penalty box entries, cutbacks and crosses for attackers in the box, destabilising defences and allowing for tap-ins at the near or far post – just as we’ve seen so often from the great Manchester City teams of the past five years.

Off the ball, Arsenal are a highly aggressive defensive unit. Their PPDA (passes per defensive action – a metric that illustrates pressing – is one of the best in the division. This means they hunt opponents down when out of possession in attempts to win the ball back as soon as possible. 

As the team with the youngest average age in the league, this energetic style helps them pressure and suffocate opponents, a hungry pack of wolves ready to pounce.


In order to play in such a modern, successful playing style, attracting the right personnel is also hugely important. This is another area in which Arsenal have improved massively, from years of questionable or unsuccessful signings to this new era of transfer smarts.


For any club to win trophies, effective player recruitment is needed and in this area Arsenal, with Arteta at the top and sporting director Edu in charge on the ground, have really shown signs of improvement. 

Compare the team now to the one that started the 2020/21 season: Leno, Bellerin, Gabriel, Holding, Tierney, Maitland-Niles, Xhaka, Elneny, Willian, Aubameyang, Lacazette. 

The club has recruited top players like Gabriel Jesus, Martin Odegaard, Thomas Partey, Ben White, William Saliba and Olexsandr Zinchenko – all for respectable prices. Odegaard cost €40 million. Saliba – £27m. Zinchenko – £30m. The days of throwing £72 million on a player like Nicolas Pepe, who failed to ever even establish himself as a first team regular, seem over. 


Arsenal now appear to make smart recruitment moves at the right price. They are on top of the market, spying opportunities early (such as Jesus or Odegaard) and are not afraid to walk away if they feel a deal becomes too out of hand price-wise, as they showed with Mykhailo Mudryk.

The squad is lean, young, fit and hungry and there appear to be no bad apples. As famously seen in the All or Nothing Amazon documentary in the case of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, any dissent or indiscipline is cut out immediately and ruthlessly by Arteta. 

Put all this together and you start to understand why Arsenal are just 14 wins away from a return to the very top of English football, 19 years on from their last Premier League title. 

Eight Premier League January signings that could transform their team’s fortunes

Jonathan Fadugba 2023-02-11 10:25

Premier League clubs spent a total of a staggering £815 million during the January transfer window. That figure is nearly double the previous January Premier League transfer window record of £430m in 2018 and more than three times more than the money spent in January 2022.

Just to show how powerful the Premier League has now become financially, by the end of this past window Chelsea alone had spent more on transfers than the entire gross transfer expenditure of every single club in the German Bundesliga, Serie A, La Liga and Ligue 1 combined. 

Now although these numbers are of course stratospheric, spending lots of money on transfers is never a sure-fire indicator of future success. Statistically speaking more than 50% of transfers over £10 million fail, according to research provided by Liverpool’s outgoing head of research Ian Graham, and you only need look at the top 10 transfers in Premier League history to see proof of the mixed success rate of big money transfers over the years.


Nonetheless, the financial might of the Premier League now allows even the smallest clubs in the league to compete for players all over Europe, and that is what some have done this January to try and maintain their Premier League status, as well as the clubs higher up the division signing players to try and achieve loftier goals.

Let’s look at eight January signings that caught the eye, from the British transfer record to the more low-key but no-less eye-catching deals further down the table…

Enzo Fernandez (Benfica to Chelsea)

After a lengthy, drawn out transfer saga finally concluded on deadline day for a British record £107 million fee, Enzo Fernandez immediately went about showing everybody why Chelsea were so desperate to secure his signature with a thoroughly impressive home debut against Fulham.


Despite only being 22 Fernandez put in a dominant performance in a deep-lying midfield role, making seven interceptions and distributing play excellently with his excellent range of short and long passing. 

Winning a World Cup is bound to give any player confidence, and Fernandez was indeed one of the best midfielders in Qatar. But the way he immediately took to life in the Premier League, wanting the ball and assuming responsibility despite only having joined Chelsea a few days earlier, bodes really well for the future. A potential star who could transform Chelsea’s ailing midfield. 

Pedro Porro (Sporting CP to Tottenham Hotspur)

Tottenham Hotspur were desperate for upgrades to their defensive department this January and after much back and forth between themselves and Sporting CP, finally managed to sign Pedro Porro on a £5 million loan deal with obligation to buy in the summer for £39m.


Porro is a full-back whose ability to get forward and operate as more of a right wing-back will suit manager Antonio Conte’s formation and tactical style perfectly.

Previously on the books at Manchester City, Porro never made an appearance for Pep Guardiola’s side, settling for loan moves to FC Girona and Sporting CP before the move to Lisbon was made permanent. This season Porro has six assists and two goals in the Portuguese league in 14 appearances and his dribbling and crossing ability have stood out, including against Spurs who he faced in the Champions League group stages. 

Porro will compete for places with Emerson Royal, and could quickly establish himself as an important part of Conte’s tactical setup.

Benoit Badiashile (AS Monaco to Chelsea)

Arguably the man of the match against Fulham, Benoit Badiashile is another player who has come from Ligue 1 that seems perfectly suited to Premier League football. 


A left-sided centre-back with fearsome physical attributes – strong, quick, aggressive in the duels and able to read play fairly well for such a young player, the former AS Monaco man has almost coasted through his first few games for Chelsea. He looks like he has been playing for the club for years. 

Though curiously left out of Chelsea’s UEFA Champions League squad for the knockout stages, the 21-year-old has already displaced the experienced Kalidou Koulibaly to cement his place in Graham Potter’s team. 

A staggering 94.5% pass completion success rate and 22 interceptions in his first three Premier League games shows this is a player who could develop into one of the best defenders in Europe. 


Kamaldeen Sulemana (Stade Rennais to Southampton)

A relatively low-key, end of window arrival to England, there is no doubt that if he continues along his current trajectory Kamaldeen Sulemana is going to be a name Premier League followers wil be talking about for a long time to come. 

The Ghanaian winger thrived in Denmark at FC Nordsjælland where he became one of the best players in the league before leaving for a Danish record fee to Stade Rennais in France. While in France, his insane speed and one-v-one dribbling skills saw him up there alongside Kylian Mbappe and Neymar as one of the most prolific and successful dribblers in Ligue 1 – some achievement for a player so young. 

Sulemana made a handful of appearances at the World Cup but at only 20 is still establishing himself. His stock is rising rapidly.


“He will be one of the best players in the world,” says Tom Vernon, the man who helped discover Sulemana through the esteemed Right to Dream academy in Ghana. Sulemana is that good he could end up closely following the trajectory of another Ligue 1 to Southampton wide forward: Sadio Mane.

Tete (Olympique Lyonnais to Leicester City)

Having moved to Ligue 1 after the cancellation of his contract at Shakhtar Donetsk, Tete was quite an inconsistent player in France at times, but did show glimpses of his quality and that exciting combination of energy, dynamism and speed that he brings in forward areas. 


His impact at Leicester City however has been immediate. The Brazilian scored on his debut against Aston Villa and completed more dribbles in his first ever Premier League game (4) than he did in all but one of his 17 games in Ligue 1 for Lyon this season. 

He will offer cut and thrust and a dangerous counter-attacking threat for Leicester, a side who have often looked laboured and devoid of ideas this season so far. 

Dango Ouattara (FC Lorient to AFC Bournemouth)

A brilliant start to this season in France saw Dango Ouattara fast-tracked from a player with real potential to one ready to go straight into the starting XI of a Premier League club. 

The 20-year-old African gem hit six goals and six assists in 18 games for FC Lorient, helping carry them up the table in Ligue 1 with some outstanding performances. This prompted Bournemouth to swiftly pay £20m for his services.


Ouattara is a player who first came to my eye during the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, where he was hugely impressive for a resurgent Burkina Faso side that made it to the semi-finals. Ouattara can play across midfield, predominantly as a wide player but also centrally if required, is quick-witted, sharp, intelligent and has an eye for goal. 

He has already started games for the Cherries, grabbing an assist on his debut. 

Paul Onuachu (KRC Genk to Southampton)

Paul Onuachu scored a total of 85 goals in 134 appearances for KRC Genk in Belgium, earning a move to the Premier League where he will battle to help keep struggling Southampton in the division.

At 28 years old and making such a big step up, the move could be seen as a gamble. These days it is quite rare to see a player move in his late 20s as many clubs think about resale value. Onuachu has little of that, so this is a deal the Saints need to work immediately. At roughly £15 million the fee is not extortionate, and Southampton know what they are getting: a 6ft 7in physical forward who will look to bully opponents and provide a much-need focal point upfront.


According to Southampton’s website, in moving to England Onuachu becomes the tallest player in the Premier League. “It had to be now or never” the player himself commented on moving to England.

It is a risk for a player who has predominantly spent his career in Denmark and Belgium, but if he can use his height to get on the end of a few of the fantastic set-piece deliveries of James Ward-Prowse and score some goals, the deal could prove worthwhile. He is a potential difference-maker. 

Illia Zabarnyi (Dynamo Kyiv to AFC Bournemouth)

Highly-thought of around Europe, young central defender Illia Zabarnyi is a full international for Ukraine who offers good recovery pace, distribution and defensive strength.


In times gone by, such a promising young talent would surely opt for a bigger club than Bournemouth. However, some smart scouting on their part together with the increasing financial might of the Premier League, even at the lower end of the table, saw the south-coast club swoop in to sign the 20-year-old for a fee of £20 million.

There is optimism from many that Zabarnyi could go on to become a world class player in the future. The signing went under many people’s radars but it could well turn out to be one of the most shrewd deals done anywhere around Europe in January. 

Big money Chelsea’s change of strategy raises concerns for famous academy

Jonathan Fadugba 2023-02-02 14:54

The Chelsea January transfer window of 2023 will go down as one for the ages. 

The Blues spent £288 million (328.5m Euros) to add to the £270m spree last summer – which itself broke the Premier League record for total summer transfer outlay. It brings Chelsea’s total spend under new owners Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital to upwards of £558 million in eight months. 

Much has already been written about this seemingly reckless spending. Chelsea have signed 17 players since Boehly’s takeover. The current squad sits at a total of 33 players. The club has spent more on transfers in 2022/23 than all 20 clubs in Spain’s La Liga combined. 

The final piece de resistance to this month of wild splurging came on deadline day, when Chelsea saved the most for last by breaking the British transfer record to sign World Cup winner Enzo Fernandez for £107 million (121m €). 


Clearly there are question marks about this new strategy, the implications for European football in general, and around how exactly Chelsea are managing to get around Financial Fair Play (the answer: amortisation).

But amidst all the glitz and glamour of Chelsea’s January transfer window, tucked away below the fold of spending sprees, media headlines and ‘Here We Go’s there is another storyline. 

A curious thing happened at Chelsea this past month. 

On a cold January night in Cambridge in front of just a few hundred spectators, Chelsea’s Under-18s suffered a stunning 1-0 defeat in the FA Youth Cup fourth round to Cambridge United, a result described as “one of the biggest shocks of the 2022/23 season”.


The defeat marked the earliest stage Chelsea have been knocked out of the competition in five years, an embarrassing exit for a club with such a proud FA Youth Cup record. 

For the past two decades Chelsea’s academy has been one of the standard-bearers of youth football in England, a dominant force that has won the prestigious FA Youth Cup seven times since 2010 and appeared in nine finals. 

They are second only to Manchester United as the most successful club in the competition’s history, and Chelsea’s academy during that time has grown to be considered arguably the place to be for any aspiring young footballer. 

Countless top-class footballers have come through Chelsea’s academy to go on and enjoy high level careers. Mason Mount, Reece James, Tammy Abraham, Nathan Ake, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Dominic Solanke, Fikayo Tomori, Tariq Lamptey – the list of talents Chelsea have produced goes on, and that’s not to mention past graduates such as famous former captain John Terry. 


The academy at Chelsea has become a source of pride for Blues fans. So losing in the fourth round to a Category 3 academy like Cambridge United, who have nowhere near the resources of their opponents, is a huge shock. 

Taken individually it can be seen as a minor blip. Accidents happen after all. 

But it does raise a question looking forward. With a bloated Stamford Bridge squad filled with 33 senior players, will a change of strategy from the top risk threatening the status of one of English football’s finest talent-producing academies?

When Chelsea’s new owners completed their takeover in May 2022, they announced their intentions clearly. “Along with our commitment to developing the youth squad and acquiring the best talent, our plan of action is to invest in the Club for the long-term and build on Chelsea’s remarkable history of success.” 


“Further investment in the academy” was one of the key areas of focus mentioned by Boehly and Clearlake. Admirable words in theory. But after £550 million splashed on new players in eight months, can Chelsea fans really trust they will be applied in practice?

Marc Cucurella, Raheem Sterling, Kalidou Koulibaly, Carney Chukwuemeka, Cesare Casadei, Wesley Fofana, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Gabriel Slonina, Denis Zakaria, Benoit Badiashile, David Datro Fofana, Andrey Santos, Joao Felix, Mykhailo Mudryk, Noni Madueke, Malo Gusto and Enzo Fernandez have all come in for more than half a billion pounds. 

Many of these players are under-23 themselves, meaning Chelsea’s academy prospects may have to share minutes with multi-million pound stars even in development squad football – let alone first team.


Chukwuemeka is 19, signed from Aston Villa. Badiashile is 21. Andrey Santos is 18, Madueke 20. These signings are all older than Callum Hudson-Odoi, for example the one-time Chelsea golden boy who now finds himself far away from first team matters, loaned out to Bayer Leverkusen at 22.  

The departure of Jude Soonsup-Bell to Spurs on deadline day, a 19-year-old described as ‘one of the finest players in the Blues’ academy’ also raises eyebrows.

Chelsea’s strategy appears to have shifted to signing the best young talents in the world as quickly and as aggressively as possible. Shopping at Waitrose rather than growing your own.


In itself it could be seen as a smart strategy that has seen them find a loophole around Financial Fair Play (putting players on seven- or eight-year contracts to reduce annual amortisation costs) and exploit it to their advantage. 

But will the plan to continue developing their own young talents through the academy system soon become an afterthought?

Last year, prior to the Boehly / Clearlake takeover Chelsea unveiled their ‘Vision 2030’ for the academy, an ambitious plan they are working on at youth level with the following five main aims:

  • 15% of their Premier League minutes to be from Academy players 
  • 25% of their first team squad to be from the Academy
  • to have above national average GCSE and A-Level results
  • to have more Academy players in the professional game than any other Academy
  • to win more national and international competitions than other Academies

Will the new regime at Chelsea truly commit to helping realise these admirably lofty ambitions?

Anthony Elanga - From ‘United’s saviour’ to a loan move two years in the making

Jonathan Fadugba 2023-01-19 20:53

The chaotic nature of professional football means you can never take anything for granted. You can be the next big thing one minute. The next minute you’re out of the door. 

This is the situation currently facing Anthony Elanga at Manchester United. 

The Swedish international has gone from Old Trafford star boy, shining on the biggest stage in a Champions League last 16 knockout game last February to nearing the exit door, with strong reports of a loan move imminent in this January transfer window. 

Borussia Dortmund look favourites to sign him on a loan deal until the end of the season but other clubs around Europe are also interested, with Erik ten Hag reportedly willing to let Elanga leave the club.

The Swede last started a league game for United before the World Cup and has only made five league starts all season. 


So what’s the situation with Anthony Elanga and how did it come to this? And where next?

“He’s United’s saviour”

It all started so well for the youngster. Son of former Malmö FF star Joseph Elanga and born in the Swedish city himself, Anthony shone for Manchester United’s youth teams after joining as a 12-year-old in 2014. 

Regularly talked about as one of the most exciting youth prospects within Manchester United’s famous academy, which holds an incredible record of having featured a youth academy or homegrown player in every single matchday squad for the past 85 years, Elanga has been fast-tracked into the first team at Old Trafford over the past eighteen months.

Outstanding performances at youth level and a desire from former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to integrate more academy players into the first team setup saw Elanga get his chance perhaps ahead of schedule, when in May 2021 he made his Premier League debut in a home defeat to Leicester City. 


Just weeks later Elanga scored his first Premier League goal in a final day win away to Wolves. 

“What you don’t see is his attitude, desire and personality. He has a great attitude and is really humble, works really hard,” said his then-manager Solskjaer. “The future is bright for him, I think, and I know I can trust him to keep his feet on the ground and make the most of his talent.”

The plan was for 19-year-old Elanga to go out on loan that summer. In a sense therefore, any loan deal now could be seen as his development plan simply being reversed in motion, after initially fast-tracking beyond expectations. 

A string of brilliant performances by Elanga in pre-season of 2021 however changed Solskjaer’s mind. 

“”It would be easy to say the boy should go on loan, but he’s doing so well. He’s electric, his pace, his skill, he’s not afraid of anything and he’s got the courage and the bravery of a Man United player,” Solskjaer said after Elanga’s top performance against QPR. “If he keeps on like he is I might want to keep him.”


Solskjaer did eventually decide to keep Elanga, but despite his comments no game time was forthcoming. The youngster did not play a single minute of Premier League football in 2021/22 under Solskjaer despite his pre-season comments, and we all know what happened next. United’s form nosedived, Solskjaer was sacked and another transition period began.

As seen on YouTube

Elanga remained at Old Trafford, picking up minutes in cup games here and there and the UEFA Youth League. But when Ralf Rangnick was announced as Solskjaer’s interim replacement, Anthony Elanga’s fortunes changed. 

Six more or less wasted months of development time turned into a major opportunity for Elanga when Rangnick stumbled upon him seemingly at random, after browsing clips of him on YouTube one day.

“I must say, from the very first day of my first training session, he showed up,” said new manager Rangnick. “l had heard his name before and I was in my hotel room watching videos of him on YouTube and I thought ‘this boy is really good’.


“He was almost on his way out on loan. I told him ‘You will not go out on loan, you will stay here’ and he has developed in training.”

Another loan move denied, but this time Rangnick kept his promise. Game time came Elanga’s way and he took advantage of it, dazzling in several games playing off either right or left hand side as a wide forward as United tried to rediscover their form. 

The highlight was that goal away against Atletico Madrid to briefly give United hopes of reaching a Champions League quarter final. Elanga took his goal brilliantly to rescue a 1-1 draw, and by this time the United fans had penned a song about the Swedish international, raining it down from the Wanda Metropolitano terraces that night in glee to the tune of Snap!’s Rhythm is a Dancer:

“Rhythm is a dancer, Anthony Elanga, you won’t stop him if you dare!
He’s from Scandinavia he’s United’s saviour, scoring goals from everywhere!


Woaahhhhhh it’s Elanga! Woaahhhh you should see him in the air!

Woaahhhhhh it’s Elanga!”

It was arguably the high point of an ultimately disastrous season for the Reds. 

Elanga became a regular under Rangnick, making 14 Premier League starts and won his first cap for Sweden at senior international level. But Rangnick’s demise and exit has been to Elanga’s detriment. 

Where next?

This season the arrival of Antony and the emergence of Alejandro Garnacho mean Elanga’s minutes have been limited to just 392, compared to 1,214 in 2021/22. A long-delayed loan move – first stalled by Solskjaer and then Rangnick a year later – now looks inevitable. 

Fortunately the door does not look completely closed for Elanga at Old Trafford. Once again, his attitude has been praised, this time by Erik ten Hag, a really positive sign given three managers have now congratulated him on his character.


“He’s doing well and he’s a young guy,” Ten Hag told Viaplay Sweden last October. “Last year, he came in for a lot of games and this year, obviously, I would say it’s normal to drop down in minutes. He is a great kid to work with. Always positive and I think his brightness, his positive attitude and by working hard, he has the capabilities so now we have to improve that.”

While Everton have been strongly linked, the club is currently a toxic environment for a young player to come into due to their on and off-field situation, as well as huge supporter unrest.

A move to Borussia Dortmund however could be perfect. A club with an exceptional track record of developing young talents, where Elanga would almost certainly get game time in an expansive league where he can show all his attacking prowess, speed and creativity.


A fellow Swedish international, Alexander Isak, would be a reference point for such a move, and it need not spell the end of Elanga’s time at Manchester United. As Ten Hag has shown with players like Jadon Sancho and Facundo Pellestri, his development of young players is not linear. Each player is observed on a case by case basis, and so far he is getting results.

For Anthony Elanga, it could simply be a case of absence makes the heart grow fonder. A chance to prove himself in a fresh environment, with a loan move that has been two years in the making. 



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