PEP’S BRAVO CALL
Pep Guardiola spent most of the summer dealing with the fallout from his decision that England goalkeeper Joe Hart would not play a role in his Manchester City revolution.
Just over halfway through the season and, of all the questionable decisions taken by the City manager, his choice of goalkeeper remains high on the list.
Claudio Bravo was Guardiola’s replacement of choice, passed off as the model “sweeper keeper” who could carry out the manager’s instruction to build play patiently from the back. Even before Everton took the lead at Goodison, City fans had their collective hearts in their mouths when Bravo mis-controlled a back-pass and narrowly escaped losing the ball and, not for the first time in recent weeks, there were question marks over whether the former Barca keeper could have done more in keeping out at least three Everton goals.
Hart, on loan at Torino, clearly has no future at City. The question is, come season’s end, whether Bravo does either.
Antonio Conte may have been bullish in his belief that the millions on offer from China are not a threat to the Premier League, but the advances from the East surely must be taken seriously.
If reports are to believed Diego Costa could claim a wage of €34m-a-year if he heads to the Chinese Super League and it is difficult to see how English clubs can compete with such figures.
Conte may be correct in claiming that the competitive nature of the Premier League makes it a major attraction — but money talks. And if the Far East can lure the likes of Costa away from England then the strength of their league will only increase.
Right now it is difficult to predict the future of the Chinese Super League, but if its financial clout continues to grow then it will surely only be a matter of time before Conte and his fellow managers feel threatened.
EARLY AND AWFUL
Arsenal are pretty. There is little doubt about that. They pop the ball around for fun and have an ability to counterattack at pace. They have quality in the box, willing runners out wide and a deep seated midfield quality when the ball is at their feet.
However, one wonders if they have the physical and mental steel to mix it with the big boys in the second half of the season? Of course, only time will tell. But on Saturday, there were signs of weakness in the first half. They were second best in contact and allowed Swansea to build momentum. On another day, against a better side, they would have conceded. That was precisely what happened at Bournemouth. Arsene Wenger needs to ensure a quicker start to game and that means showing greater strength of character and greater physicality. If that can be achieved, Arsenal will become genuine contenders.
SPURS? WHY NOT...
It has been said often that if Tottenham were to win their first league title since 1961, last season was the year to do it.
With the big guns all under-performing, and Liverpool changing managers mid-season, Mauricio Pochettino’s young side had a golden chance. Instead it was Leicester who stepped from the shadows, and Spurs fell away in May to finish third.
So with Klopp, Conte, Mourinho and Guardiola now in place and spending big last summer, the title race is tougher than ever.
Spurs started slowly, disrupted by injuries to key players such as Kane, Alderweireld and Alli, but they have now really hit their stride.
After beating leaders Chelsea they are still seven points behind, and don’t have the experience of winning a title.
But Pochettino insists they have learned from last year’s experience, and doubts about the future of Diego Costa may yet disrupt Chelsea’s run-in. Next week Spurs go to Manchester City, having won the past three battles. Another victory could really make it interesting, while defeat might leave them too much to do again. To borrow a line from Sherlock, ‘the game is on’.
HOT AIR AT OT
Despite the heat of England’s biggest derby, there was little in the way of contentious incident until the closing moments.
United manager Jose Mourinho was happy to play down the spat with Liverpool counterpart Jurgen Klopp after Roberto Firmino and Ander Herrera got booked.
Herrara had been tugging Firmino’s shirt and the Brazilian retaliated by pushing him in the face.
Mourinho said: “He thought I was asking for his player to be sent off. I wasn’t. There was no problem at all. I think the game was correct. I think the players gave everything but in an emotional and professional way so the referee did very well in that part of the game — emotional and in control of good professionals.
“There was aggression but it was good so I think it was great publicity for the Premier League all around the world.”
- Liam Mackey and Chris Hatherall talk Manchester United-Liverpool
- Simon Curtis on Pep Guardiola's latest setback
- Simon Collings on Diego Costa's Chelsea future
- And Ken Rooney tries to lift Fantasy Football managers out of their mid-season slump