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Premier League Column for week ending 6th Feb 2021

Klopp’s weighs up all options against Man City on Sunday

Sunday’s big game sees a reversal of last season when Liverpool were running away with the league. Now it is Manchester City who sit at the top of the table and are seven points ahead of Liverpool with a game in hand.

This week Jurgen Klopp has been concentrating on his midfield and defence because he recognizes that he has to stop City’s impressive goal scoring record this season. Losing Joel Matip, probably for the rest of the season and with goalkeeper

Alisson still feeling unwell after missing the match against Brighton on Tuesday, two vital positions need to be filled. During training Klopp concentrated on preparing reserve goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher with the 22 year-old making only his ninth senior appearance in all competitions.

Word from inside the club is that Klopp’s options against City are starting Jordan Henderson and Nat Phillips as centre-backs with possibly new signing Ben Davies starting or Ozan Kabak making his debut for the club. Klopp will make his decisions on Saturday but he recognizes that it will be a long afternoon and a tough match.

 

Abramovich approves Haaland move

I have received news from Chelsea that both owner Roman Abramovich and the two most senior directors have dangled a carrot in front of Thomas Tuchel if he performs to their wishes this season.

Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland is arguably the hottest striker available in Europe and Tuchel has been told the club could bring him to Stamford Bridge in the coming summer providing they qualify for the Champions League next season.

The 20-year-old has scored 37 goals in 38 matches since joining Dortmund in December 2019. Abramovich is frustrated that Chelsea have failed to make a serious title challenge since Antonio Conte’s first season in charge in 2016/17.

I understand that Abramovich has already agreed to release the funds providing they can come to an agreement with Dortmund and Tuchel secures a top four spot in the table.

 

Maitland-Niles chooses West Brom over Southampton

Arsenal’s Ainsley Maitland-Niles sat down with manager Mikel Arteta over last weekend and they talked over his prospects of playing regularly for the first team squad.

Arteta explained that he did not want to lose Ainsley and sees him as a bright star for the future of the team but his playing time would be limited this season.

After discussing possibilities Arteta told the attacking full back and midfielder that he had received positive enquiries from his old club Southampton and West Bromwich Albion. Ainsley rejected Southampton who wanted him purely as a full back and accepted Sam Allardyce’s offer to join West Brom on loan.

Ainsley wants to play regular first team Premier League football in order to get himself back into the reckoning for a place in the England team.

 

Reports of Van Dijk’s return are false

Speaking to us this week, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said it would be a “miracle” if defender Virgil van Djik plays again this season.

Reports during the last few days have suggested that Virgil could return this season when he is fully recovered from his cruciate knee ligament injury but Liverpool told me this is highly unlikely.

Klopp said, “I don’t know where these reports come from because no doctor has told me there is a chance Virgil will play again this season. Jurgen also said that sending Takumi Minamino out on loan to Southampton was a “win win” for everyone.

He confirmed that the Japanese player is a part of his long term plans but has been restricted to only two starts in the Premier League this season. Klopp said this was mainly because of his height which has left him vulnerable to bigger midfield and defence opponents.

 

Alonso impresses new manager Thomas Tuchel

New Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel was all smiles on Sunday as his team beat Burnley 2-0 and beamed his biggest smile when when Marcus Alonso slotted home the Blue’s second goal.

Alonso had been left off of Frank Lampard’s team sheet since the 3-3 draw with West Bromwich Albion last September. He was on Lampard’s list of players to be sold during the January transfer window.

Tuchel saw things quite differently and gave Alonso his chance to get back into the first team reckoning. The Spaniard took his chance and was Chelsea’s best player and demonstrated his skill by taking a pass from Pulisic, controlling the ball with his chest and then his thigh and putting the ball past goalkeeper Nick Pope with his left foot.

Tuchel was ecstatic on the touchline. Both Alonso and Callum Hudson-Odoi have pressed home their cases for inclusion in the starting eleven.

 

Aguero back in the gym

Manchester City tell me that Sergio Aguero has recovered from Covid-19 and will soon be back in full training. The current season has been injury plagued for the striker and having already served a period of isolation, when a close friend caught the virus, he then proved positive himself.

That caused him to miss four games in January and then another three games because of the virus effects. Sergio visited the club’s gym on Sunday and intends to work back to full fitness in order to add to his current season total of only two goals.

He hasn’t scored in the Premier League for a year and underwent major knee surgery during last summer. Manager Pep Guardiola recognises that the Argentine striker will play a major role in the final months of this season and does not intend to rush him back into first team matches because the longer-term effects of the virus are still unknown.

City had nine players testing positive for Covid-19, four members of the playing staff, an academy player and four from the women’s team.

Manchester United face uphill battle
READ

 

Ramos for Premier League?

Personally I believe that Real Madrid star Sergio Ramos will end his career at the Bernabeu. However, I cannot ignore all the reports reaching my desk that he is reluctant to sign a new contract when his current deal expires at the end of the season.

The 34 year-old has been with Real for 16 years during which he has won five La Ligue titles and four Champions Leagues.

He is not happy with Real who have offered him only a new 2 year contract but with a 10% pay cut and Sergio has expressed a desire to play in the Premier League. That has alerted both Liverpool and Manchester United. United is said to be his choice destination and the Old Trafford club have shown with the signing of Edinson Cavani just how successful and valuable older players

of great experience can be in stabilizing and improving Premier League teams. As I say, it would surprise me if Ramos left his beloved Madrid however as the old saying goes: “There is no smoke without fire”.

 

Nuno Espirito Santo is worried about Wolves’ current form

Wolves manager Nuno Espirito admitted this week that he is worried and “disappointed” with Wolves’ current form which has seen them drop down the table. Wolves have won only once in nine games and Nuno points out that they are missing star striker Raul Jimenez and winger Adama Traore is still not hitting the heights of his exceptional form last season when he terrorized defences.

In training this week, however, it was the defence which demanded most of his attention. Wolves have been shipping goals at a vast rate and the manager accepts it is their own fault and is due mainly to their own mistakes rather than the brilliance of their opponents.

He said on Tuesday, “We have been making too many mistakes. It is happening too many times and everybody must improve.” The 2-1 win over Arsenal is a little misleading because the Gunners were reduced to nine men after David Luiz was wrongly dismissed by the referee and goalkeeper Bernd Leno followed him after handling outside the area and preventing a scoring chance.

 

Thomas Tuchel gets it right

During an interview this week, Thomas Tuchel was asked about the length of his new Chelsea contract. He replied, “I was worried to get only an 18-month deal but then I realized they would sack me anyway!” There’s a man who understands the Chelsea management.

 

Eze the new star at Crystal Palace

People used to joke that Crystal Palace were a one-man team. Wilfried Zaha was that man and he was the player defenders feared. Manager Roy Hodgson points out that things are different now and Eberechi Eze is constantly picking up man of the match awards.

The summer signing again scored the winning goal – this time against Wolves – and Hodgson was the first to point out the difference the Nigerian has made to the South London team.

Hodgson has already contacted England manager Gareth Southgate and suggested he looks carefully at Eze for the England team however he also has claims on playing for Nigeria and will make his choice in due course.

 

Spirit sky high with the Leed’s jokers

Leeds have been revitalised by manager Marco Bielsa. He is under pressure to begin negotiations to extend his stay at the club where he has spent more time than any other during his 31-year-coaching career. Bielsa’s player transfer funds have been increased since the American football team, the San Francisco 49ers, increased their stake in the club to 31%.

There is definitely an upbeat atmosphere at the club these days. The players are relaxed and in the dressing room there is complete harmony and admiration for Bielsa who has the respect of the entire team.

The players are so content at the club that they have started playing practical jokes on each other. Club stars Patrick Bamford and Kalvin Phillips removed teammate Ben White’s car from the club car park and moved it to a prison car park across the road from the training ground! It was two months before White discovered who had played the practical joke on him.

 

Bamford puts children online and Rodriguez reaches out

I enjoy telling you stories of players doing good deeds to help supporters or the community. Leed’s Patrick Bamford has donated £5,000 to a local Leeds primary school to buy iPads for the children. He discovered that many children were missing out on school lessons during the lockdown.

The lessons were being delivered by computer and poorer families did not have the equipment. After a Zoom conversation with the headmistress of the school, Patrick showed his generosity.

Meanwhile, at Burnley, I was truly impressed by striker Jay Rodriguez who has been praised by his manager Sean Dyche because he sent out a message through Twitter offering to help any local families who are struggling because of the Covid-19 virus. He has requested that families contact him with their details.

 

United’s 133-year record!

Ole Gunner Solskjaer has had more than his fair share of critics but it was pointed out to me this week that Manchester United’s unbeaten run of 25 Premier League and FA cup away games is four more than any other team has achieved since the formation of the league in 1888!

They have achieved 18 League, four League Cup and three FA Cup matches without losing.

 

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