Sunday 22 April 2018

Brian Kerr: Dizzying array of attacking talent makes City the team to beat

Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero
Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero
'Conte knows Morata from Juventus and has faith in him.' Photo: PA

Brian Kerr

When you look at the way Danny Rose is behaving with Spurs you can understand why players get so much abuse from the media and the fans.

Here have you someone who's on 65 grand a week, who got a new contract not long ago that he said he was over the moon with and who hasn't even played since January because of injury, and he's saying, 'I know what I'm worth, I want more money'.

If you can't do your bloody job but your employers keep paying you big money, you'd imagine you'd feel you owed them something, that there'd be a bit of loyalty. Instead there's a lack of principles, of morals, of cop-on really. The mind boggles.

Maybe I just don't get it. I can remember the days of the maximum wage of 20 quid a week and I can remember, after that came to an end, my uncle who lived in London bringing me to my first English game at Craven Cottage on Stephen's Day 1962.

This Bentley drove past us and my uncle said to me, "Take a good look at that man. He earns A HUNDRED POUNDS A WEEK." That was Johnny Haynes, who was the highest-paid player back then. It seemed like unbelievable money.

Wage inflation can cause trouble for clubs and I think it'll cause trouble for Spurs. Their policy has been to renew contracts often but only give a small increase. So when their players hear that guys at West Ham or Watford are getting more or when agents tell them that instead of getting 65 or 70 grand a week they could get 200 or 300 grand at Manchester United and Manchester City, I don't think they'll be able to resist.

Spurs have been brilliant the last two seasons but I don't see them figuring in the title race this time. The money question will unsettle them and so will moving out of White Hart Lane.

They won 17 games out of 19 there in the league last season and drew the other two. They got 53 points at home and 33 away.

No other leading club had that difference between home and away form and they'll be moving to Wembley where they played badly in Europe last season.

Small things like your most passionate fans being diluted by the day trippers and being less obvious in the ground and the journey there being longer, can make a difference for footballers and they'll miss their cosy home patch.

It's a dangerous game predicting who'll win the League when the transfer window hasn't closed yet. Spurs will surely make some move and we don't know if Philippe Coutinho will stay with Liverpool. If he goes the money from that fee will be sloshing around in the system and probably lead to other moves.

I also think Man City would look even better if they bought a quality centre-back. All the same they deserve to be favourites. They've addressed the weaknesses from last year. They've brought in Ederson from Benfica, who looks big and strong and capable, and they've cleared out all last season's aging full-backs and bought in Kyle Walker, who'll be good, Benjamin Mendy from Monaco and Danilo from Real Madrid.

City have so many attacking options, they have the goals of Sergio Aguero and Jesus, pace and dribbling from Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane, the brilliance of David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne, to which they've added Bernardo Silva, who was highly impressive for Monaco in the Champions League - they just need to get things right at the other end.

They'll be lovely to watch because Pep Guardiola doesn't just want to win, he wants to do it in a beautiful way. When City flow it's fabulous, and sometimes I think they deserve a more compact stadium and more passionate supporters.

The City ground is one of those new ones without a lot of atmosphere and the crowd are more like interested onlookers than actual supporters. The team have to win the game on their own because the supporters won't give them much help.

But you have to wish Guardiola well because his approach is all about beating packed defences through complicated attacking football with small, skilful players. I don't think the same approach would necessarily work if you were coaching Finn Harps or Sligo Rovers - I'd like to see how he'd get on there - but when you have the money to buy the right players it does work.

Antonio Conte seems like he is never satisfied on the touchline; he is consistently giving out information and signals. His passion was obvious as was his influence on Chelsea.

On the face of it it's quite amazing that Diego Costa has been told he can go after scoring 20 goals last year. He didn't just score goals, he was a complete pain in the arse for the opposition, he led the line well and linked up efficiently with the other players. But Conte seems to have made the decision in January that he didn't want him.

It's the problem of how you manage a non-conformist. The same thing happens in business: you might have a lad who won't wear a tie and who'll arrive in to work a bit later than everyone else looking like he's been out all night but when the figures come in it turns out he's the best salesman in the company.

But over time the others become frustrated with the way he carries on. They put up with it till it becomes so disruptive that things start falling apart.

The problem is that you might get rid of the lad and find out that he's selling £1,000 worth of stuff down the road when you can't sell £100 worth. Or in football that he scores 20 goals somewhere else and you come fourth.

Conte thinks that Alvaro Morata can replace him, even though Morata wasn't a regular at Real Madrid. Conte knows Morata from Juventus and has faith in him. I'd have faith in Conte because he's a serious manager. Nemanja Matic going to United is a very strange one too. Matic doesn't come across as a player who'd cause any problems. He just gets on with his game and does simple things so well it makes him really effective. I can't see why Chelsea would sell him to one of their main rivals.

They have brought in Tiemoue Bakayoko from Monaco who was very good at times in the Champions League. But in the semi-finals against Juventus he didn't really affect the game at all so it remains to be seen how he'll adapt. Defender Antonio Rudiger is a great signing, he was brilliant for Germany in the Confederations Cup.

I don't see an awful lot wrong with Chelsea but Hazard being out for two months is a big blow because he's exceptional at unlocking packed defences and most teams will come to Stamford Bridge will defend with a bank of four and five midfielders protecting the penalty area.

United will be better but it's hard to see them being better enough. Mourinho is already complaining that he doesn't have the players, that only Paul Pogba is up to the standard he needs, and his demeanour is unhappy and frustrated most of the time.

I wouldn't write them off because we know the ability Mourinho has got and if they get a good start and start believing early on they'll have a shot at the title.

I liked the look of Victor Lindelof at Benfica and I felt he had the potential to make a move to a bigger club. Romelu Lukaku will get goals and he'll give them more options than Zlatan Ibrahimovic did - they can play the counter attacking game Mourinho likes now.

It's crucial that they get the most out of Marcus Rashford. He needs to be in a central role, getting in the box where he can use his fast feet, but Mourinho tends to stick him out on the wing.

Pogba needs to score more goals, and he'll get the opportunity with Matic minding the house in midfield. But so do the likes of Juan Mata and Herikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial.

I'd like to see Liverpool do well. Jurgen Klopp has been a good manager, and a charismatic one with that big smiley head on him going round the place. The Liverpool fans like him and they're a discerning crowd. They recognise spoofers, and they recognised that Brendan Rodgers was one at times.

Liverpool will do better than Spurs and Arsenal but I can't see them winning the title. Didi Hamann is probably right when he says that a team gets worn out from trying to play that high pressing game 90 minutes a match, 50 matches a season.

Their other problem is a lack of width - there were times last year when you could have taken one of those big blankets you used to get in Clerys and covered their midfield and attack with it they were so close together.

The only width came from Nathaniel Clyne and James Milner as full-backs. Philippe Coutinho's creativity camouflaged to a large extent their difficulties in this area. His departure would represent a massive blow to their chances of landing big trophies. You might have the money in the bag but where will you find a replacement of the same calibre with less than three weeks left in the transfer window?

I said last year that Arsene Wenger should leave Arsenal. He thinks he proved people wrong by winning the FA Cup and being a bit more flexible with his tactics but there's still a latent toxic atmosphere at the Emirates.

Alexis Sanchez is by far their best player and they need him to sign a new contract. But think of all the times last season you saw Sanchez looking back down the pitch as if to say, "I'm bursting me bollocks working magic up at this end and you're letting me down at yours". There'll be lots of good football and excitement at Arsenal but they'll be just as vulnerable and inconsistent as ever.

The one thing I don't see is a team coming out of the pack like Leicester because the top clubs are spending so much money now. They don't always get their signings right but statistics consistently show that the more you spend on transfer fees and wages, the better you do.

There will be no fairytales this season.

Irish Independent

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