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‘Nobody wants to touch it’



Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel.

Thomas Tuchel has insisted Chelsea did not deliberately leave the number nine shirt free with a future new signing in mind.

Chelsea’s no.9 remains vacant after Romelu Lukaku’s return to Inter Milan on loan, and Tuchel said none of the Blues’ current stars wanted to take the shirt.

The Stamford Bridge club will continue to look at adding a striker to their ranks this summer, with Barcelona’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang understood to remain in consideration.

The last six Chelsea stars to wear the nine shirt have struggled for a lasting impact in west London, leaving Tuchel to joke that the Blues’ central striking number still harbours bad luck.

“It’s cursed, it’s cursed, people tell me it’s cursed!” joked Tuchel.

“It’s not the case that we leave it open for tactical reasons, or for some players in the pipeline that come in and naturally take it.

“There was not a big demand for number nine, when like players sometimes want to change numbers. But, surprisingly, nobody wants to touch it.

“Everybody who is longer than me in the club tells me ‘ah, you know, like he had the nine and he did not score and he had the nine and did also not score’.

“So now we have a moment where nobody wants to touch the number nine.”

Tammy Abraham insisted he had no qualms taking on the number nine challenge when sporting the squad number for two years at Chelsea, before heading off to Serie A to impress with Roma.

Abraham still left Chelsea with unfinished business, however, and then Lukaku’s solitary campaign back at Stamford Bridge ended sourly.

Fernando Torres, Radamel Falcao, Alvaro Morata and Gonzalo Higuain have all tried and failed for a lasting impression as Chelsea’s number nine.

Tuchel remains relaxed enough about the situation to have joked openly about it though, and the Blues could yet recruit a central striker who would naturally take the shirt.


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Chelsea have pushed hard for a transformative summer under new owners Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital, with Marc Cucurella the latest high-profile and big-money recruit.

Tuchel still believes the Blues are in transition but vowed not to limit his team’s potential for the new campaign.

“I think we will not have our highest level we can reach throughout the whole season,” said Tuchel.

“I think that’s normal for everybody but, for us, it’s absolutely normal and we should not be too concerned because it’s been turbulent not only since the new owners are in but also how they came in and the situation before.

Reported Chelsea target Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with Thomas Tuchel

“So we did not have the platform to have everything fixed, go on holiday and have the five weeks preparation to know who is in our squad and how do we train.

“There was constant changing within the squad and within the process. I think the first step is to admit it, be fine with it and not to be wanting more than there could be. This is the situation.

“We tried to refocus completely this week on Everton and that’s the right approach because I felt the team refocus, it’s calmed down everybody and I feel we are ready to go to Everton for the win.

“We will see if I’m right. Then we will analyse it and then prepare for Tottenham in the same way and I’m convinced by doing this we will find our shape, we will find our level that we demand of ourselves and it’s like I said, I don’t want to lower our expectations before the season but at the same time I don’t want to put too much pressure on ourselves.”

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Manchester United takeover developments and Erik ten Hag’s swanky dinner



New Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag waves to fans ahead of the opening Premier League game against Brighton at Old Trafford

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.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta embraces Bukayo Saka.

Liver spots
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?

Tuchelian Transition
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”


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Raphinha is bringing the joy back to Barcelona one nutmeg at a time



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.

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

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Lionel Messi needed just 8 mins of 2022-23 to invent a new type of assist



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.

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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