Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher were both full of praise for Arsenal defender William Saliba after his “really good” debut against Crystal Palace.
The Gunners kicked off their Premier League campaign with a superb 2-0 victory at Selhurst Park on Friday night.
Jesus, Saliba shine but Arsenal duo may force Arteta back to the drawing board
This performance was a huge improvement on last season’s opener at Brentford, where they were played off the park in a 2-0 defeat.
There is a huge amount of optimism at Arsenal this campaign after adding Gabriel Jesus, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Fabio Vieira in the summer transfer market.
One player who feels like a new signing is Saliba, who was given his competitive debut for the club on Friday despite the fact he was signed from Saint-Etienne three years ago.
He has spent time on loan in France for the last two-and-a-half seasons and enjoyed a particularly fruitful spell with Marseille in 2021/22.
The 21-year-old was named Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year and has come back to Arsenal ready to compete for a starting berth.
With Takehiro Tomiyasu not ready to start against Palace, Benjamin White was moved to right-back, with Saliba operating next to Gabriel in the heart of the defence.
It was a walk in the park for Saliba, who Sky named as their player of the match after a stellar performance in a very tricky fixture.
Pundits Carragher and Neville were both very impressed with the young Frenchman, with the latter comparing him to his former teammate, Rio Ferdinand.
Neville said (quotes via Metro): “I was massively impressed with Saliba. He actually reminded me of a young Rio Ferdinand.”
High praise indeed. Ferdinand won six Premier League titles, one Champions League and three League Cups in his career and is regarded as one of the best centre-back’s of all time.
Neville continued: “He’s such a young defender at 21. Getting through that second half, when Arsenal weren’t at their best, would have been the most pleasing thing for Mikel Arteta.
“Crystal Palace away, that’s a tough challenge and that’s a big performance from Saliba.”
Carragher added: “I thought he was really good. He didn’t have much to do in the first half but there was one long ball where he just came across, the way he dealt with it… he looked the business, he looked the part.
“At such a young age, the way he dealt with that second half… he looked the real deal.
“Bringing him in certainly adds something because you always thought that was a weakness for Arsenal. His physicality will certainly help Arsenal in those away games.”
Saliba spoke to Sky after the game, telling Geoff Shreeves: “We knew it would be hard here but we were strong and solid.
“I’ve waited a long time to make my debut and I’m happy to start with a clean sheet and a win. It’s important for confidence.”
Manchester United takeover developments and Erik ten Hag’s swanky dinner
Has defeat to Brighton accelerated Manchester United takeover plans? Obviously not, but there are clicks to be clicked. Meanwhile, Erik ten Hag has some dinner and Thomas Tuchel finally matches up to his Chelsea predecessor in one key metric. It’s a big ol’ Monday Mediawatch…
Coulda Woulda Shoulda
Sensational effort from the Express in finding a different angle to the latest Manchester United Unpleasantness. While other, lesser outlets focused on Erik ten Hag or McFred or Ronaldo or Paul Scholes doing a swear, the Express have earmarked the owners as a rightful target for opprobrium. So far, so good. But where to go with it? For the Express, just simply invent a story about a possible takeover based on precisely zero new information whatsoever.
“Man Utd could be rescued from the Glazers by Sir Jim Ratcliffe after woeful Brighton loss” barks the headline.
Seasoned Mediawatchers will be ahead of us and already prepared for the likelihood that “could” is doing more heavy lifting here than Emily Campbell. Let’s find out.
“Manchester United owners the Glazers are in the spotlight more than ever before after Sunday’s chastening 2-1 defeat to Brighton. The Red Devils are a club being mismanaged at the very top after nine years in the wilderness since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013. And Sir Jim Ratcliffe is one of the only people on the planet with the wealth to oust them.”
This is all accurate, but does nothing to dispel the idea that two and two are about to be added together to make three billion quid.
“Back in May, the Independent claimed industry insiders think Ratcliffe wasn’t bothered by his failure to buy Chelsea.
“The 69-year-old billionaire had been interested in purchasing the Blues from Roman Abramovich, before missing out to Todd Boehly.
“And it was stated there’s a feeling that the approach was ‘really about broadcasting to the Glazers’ that Ratcliffe is willing and ready to buy United.”
Hmm. Starting to all feel a bit flimsy, this. Surely something has happened since May beyond an admittedly disappointing opening-day defeat to Brighton to merit this entirely new story? Surely there have been some developments?
“Since then, obviously, there’s been no developments.”
Ah! Well. Nevertheless,
At least, as the Express themselves have noted, there are only a finite number of billionaires who can be linked with Manchester United based on zero new information after each subsequent defeat. Elon Musk next, please.
BREAKING: Man eats dinner
Top story on The Sun’s football page at 11.38 this bright Monday morning is the fact that Erik ten Hag still ate last night despite his Manchester United team losing to Brighton.
“Erik ten Hag had a nightmare with a German – so drowned his sorrows with an Italian,” clunks the intro to a story in which, you’ll be pleased to know, Italian restaurant Piccolino is described as both “plush” and a “swanky eatery”.
Our biggest gripe, though, is with the headline. We usually have a grudging respect for The Sun’s punning abilities even if what’s contained below contains no viable content whatsoever, but “TAGLIA-TEN-E” has divided opinion here between those who (wrongly) think it so bad it’s good and the rest of us who rightly believe it’s so bad it’s bad. At least try and find out if he had a starter…
Winners and Losers
A brilliant new concept from the Mirror, who have come up with the idea of listing the weekend’s “winners” and “losers” with a bit of explanatory copy for each entry. We think it could catch on.
But if we could give one note? If we were going to do a feature along these lines, we’d maybe think of doing it for the whole weekend’s action rather than just focusing in on one very high-profile game. Because the way you’ve done it just means your winners are “winning manager”, “man who scored two goals for winning team” and “famous player who wishes to leave losing team” while your losers are “losing manager” and “conspicuously crap players on losing team”. It’s almost like, in a way, the winners of Manchester United v Brighton were Brighton and the losers of Manchester United v Brighton were Manchester United.
Trust the process
Seems ages ago now, but Arsenal’s 2-0 win at Crystal Palace on Friday night was certainly impressive and there are plenty of reasons for optimism about the Gunners this season. But we’re not quite sure that Mikel Arteta’s 50th league win as Arsenal manager in “just” 98 matches quite justifies the Daily Star’s billing as a “telling stat” that “proves Arsenal are going in the right direction”.
It’s a record almost as good as Arsene Wenger’s, we’re told breathlessly, apart from the one tiny minor detail that Wenger’s first 98 league matches also produced a league title rather than a best of fifth in which a Champions League spot was handed meekly to Tottenham.
Manchester City are the best team in the country, a status apparently further cemented by Erling Haaland transforming from fraud to goal machine in the space of seven days, but the problem remains for all football outlets that they still just don’t drive traffic numbers in the same way as Liverpool and Manchester United. It’s a huge problem for the industry, but the Daily Star have hit upon a novel solution. Simply take the three good things about Manchester City you spotted (incidentally part of a wider trend for the industry-standard number of things to be spotted dropping from the previously standard five. Everyone is having to cut back in these difficult times) and rebadge them as three things to worry Liverpool.
The three things the Star’s eagle-eyed operatives noted, for completeness, were Haaland scoring two goals, City having quite a lot of possession, and Jack Grealish. These are, we imagine, the three thing most occupying Jurgen Klopp’s thoughts today.
And it’s live!
Not really sure what to do with this so we’re just putting it here that the Daily Star’s website treating day one of Ryan Giggs’ court case, where he is accused of attacking his ex, like a live minute-by-minute with the excited all-caps headline “WE’RE UNDERWAY IN MANCHESTER!” seems… a bit off?
For what it’s worth, we think the Mirror have gone slightly too hard and too early in highlighting the apparently “fatal flaw” that means Chelsea won’t win the league. That being that they aren’t quite as free-flowing in attack as your Liverpools and your Manchester Citys or even the Tottenhams of this world. They did actually win on the opening day, after all, which doesn’t seem fatal. And they almost certainly won’t win the league, but also nobody really expects them to fatal flaws or not.
But it’s still a fair enough observation to make about the team. They are less exciting than their likely top-four rivals. But we’re mainly interested because the piece contains a Thomas Tuchel quote that reveals the current Chelsea boss has now mastered the Lampardian Transition that has become his predecessor’s trademark.
“‘Well, we were joking at half-time, and saying maybe it is a typical Chelsea game: we win 1-0 and Jorgi scored with a penalty!’ Behind the joke, Tuchel says there is a serious point. Chelsea’s tactics are dictated by their formation, which is based around three experienced – but ageing – centre backs, which requires them to play deep.
“‘It is what it is. I think Raheem will lift Kai and Mason and Pulisic up. But our formation is a deep formation because the centre of the formation is in the three centre backs and the two number sixes.””
Modern Football Headline of the Day I
The Sun: “TOP MARCS: Meet Chelsea signing Marc Cucurella’s stunning Wag Claudia Rodriguez, who is a budding fashion designer”
Modern Football Headline of the Day II
Daily Star: “Brighton’s social media team hammer Man Utd with ‘next level banter’ tweet”
Raphinha is bringing the joy back to Barcelona one nutmeg at a time
Football is one of life’s most effective forms of escapism and that sentiment never rings truer than during pre-season.
A new signing can represent a pleasant diversion from the daily grind. Glimpses of their ability, ideally through a snatched clip on social media, only heightens the feeling of excitement; we could all do with some light-hearted relief these days.
This brings us nicely to Raphinha, one of Barcelona‘s hoard of shiny new toys they’ve picked up over the summer.
Their transfer activity this summer, resemblant of a seven-year-old given free rein in the supermarket with their mother’s debit card, has caused an epidemic of raised eyebrows across Europe.
Barcelona are supposed to be skint yet they’ve signed five top-class internationals. More are rumoured to be on their way to Catalonia. It’s all very weird, a sensation heightened by talk of ‘financial levers’ as Barca scramble to register their new signings before La Liga commences.
All these financial oddities, apart from making you want to lie down in a darkened room, take away from football’s beautiful escapism. But Raphinha can become the antidote to all that.
The €58million signing from Leeds United has wasted no time showcasing his ability at Barcelona, from scoring a delicious volley on his debut to his screamer against Real Madrid in the United States.
But it’s Raphinha’s bewitching ball control that has underpinned his rise and a string of defenders from Pumas UNAM were left needing blood transfusions after exposure to the Brazil international’s footwork.
Barcelona were already 4-0 ahead in their last pre-season friendly before the 25-year-old collected the ball on the far touchline and dared anybody to dispossess him.
Two Puma defenders took the bait. As they drew near, signposting their apprehension with hesitant footsteps, Raphinha dragged his foot over the ball before flicking it through an opponent’s legs in a manner we’re legally obliged to describe as filthy.
The Camp Nou crowd whooped appreciatively; life’s realities could wait until tomorrow.
— Vida Blaugrana FCB (@Vida_Blaugrana) August 7, 2022
With a bumper attendance of 83,000 in Camp Nou to watch the 6-0 win over their Mexican opponents, Barcelona have begun to reap the benefits of a summer in which they have looked to speculate to accumulate.
First have come the signings – Robert Lewandowski, Franck Kessie, Jules Kounde and Andreas Christensen have joined Raphinha at Barca – with revenue boosts, albeit through the sell-off of future income streams, following soon after.
Storm clouds hover ominously on the horizon. “I can no longer listen to the slogan Mes Que Un Club,” former Netherlands goalkeeper Ronald Waterreus said last week.
“Barcelona is a commercial monstrosity, in my eyes it symbolises everything that makes modern football so ugly.”
And it’s true the financial situation has clouded Barcelona’s reputation across Europe.
But Raphinha’s nutmeg bought a timely reminder of football’s escapist qualities that have never felt more important.
By Michael Lee
A celebration of Romario at Barca: Football, flights and f*cking
The 27 Brazilians Barcelona have signed since 1990, totalling £604m
Can you name every Barcelona manager since 2000?
Lionel Messi needed just 8 mins of 2022-23 to invent a new type of assist
It’s often worth consulting a flowchart when asking yourself football questions.
Did that player know what he was doing leaving a leg in like that? -> Was it Sergio Ramos? -> Yes.
Why on earth did he choose to backheel it there? -> Was it Guti? -> Because: Guti. Why wouldn’t he choose to backheel it there?
Did that player mean to pull off that utterly outrageous thing we’ve never seen before? -> Was it Lionel Messi? -> Of course he meant it. It’s Messi.
You should know by now. Never question Messi. Not now, not ever.
For almost two decades, the Argentinian has been doing ridiculous things with a football. Yet 332 assists and 772 goals into his dazzling career, he’s still finding new ways to surprise us.
He needed just eight minutes of the new season to remind us that we’re blessed to witness greatness in front of our very own eyes.
On first glance, it wasn’t a remarkable goal. Pablo Sarabia finding space and cutting the ball back, the ball swerving past Messi and into the path of Neymar, who took a touch before drilling it home into the bottom corner. Nice enough, but nothing to write home about.
PSG will probably score a hundred goals just like it this season as they cruise to yet another Ligue 1 title.
Messi 🤝 Neymar 💥 Goal
Good work down the left as Serabia’s cutback is flicked on by Messi to find Neymar who finds the bottom corner 🔥
PSG of the mark 🏎️ pic.twitter.com/8ryJTDTsEC
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) August 6, 2022
But wait for the replay. What’s this? Messi touched it – and in doing so set the ball up at a perfect height for Neymar to control it and take on the shot.
Were this any other player on the planet, you’d probably chalk it down to a stroke of luck. A miscontrol that ended up in just the right place.
Indeed, were this Messi midway through last season, we’d probably be saying the same thing. Whisper it, but for much of his first season in the French capital, he looked ordinary. For the first time in his career.
By January, he’d only scored one league goal – doing so from 44 shots.
Taking time to adapt to a new environment, a new club and new team-mates showed that Messi is human after all, to deploy the cliche to end all cliches for the very player it was designed for.
• • • •
READ: The 5 players with the most assists for Lionel Messi goals: Suarez, Xavi…
• • • •
He has admitted he didn’t find it easy last year in Paris.
“When I was halfway there, the Real Madrid thing happened and that killed us,” Messi told Argentinian broadcaster TYC Sports in May.
“It killed me and the whole locker room in general and all of Paris because we had this big dream in that competition. And the way it happened, the game, the result… it was a gut punch.”
He also revealed he struggled to recover from Covid-19.
“It left me with after effects. It left me with after effects in my lungs. I came back and it was like a month and a half without even being able to run because my lungs were affected.”
Could it be? Might Messi finally be on the wane?
The answer to that question is in one glorious touch. Here, we’ve slowed it down for you.
You know it wasn’t a fluke because Messi is looking back to his best once again.
He followed that assist up with two goals, including a superb overhead kick, to cap off a 5-0 victory away to Clermont Foot.
The 35-year-old scored and looked exceptionally sharp in the curtain-raising Super Cup victory over Nantes and seems to have picked up where he left off in the summer, when he scored five goals against Estonia and absolutely ran the show in a virtuoso performance against Italy in the Finalissma at Wembley.
And after a slow start to life at PSG, things are beginning to click into place. In fact, only team-mate Kylian Mbappe has registered more assists in Europe’s top five leagues in 2022.
Peak Messi is capable of impossible things. Never question him.
By Nestor Watach
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