herald

Wednesday 19 September 2018

Superstars on the brink

As the 2017/18 Premier League prepares for kick-off some of the biggest names in the game are unsettled, looking to leave or simply absent

Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho is believed to be a target for Barcelona. Photo: PA
Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho is believed to be a target for Barcelona. Photo: PA

By the time the transfer window closes on August 31, teams will have contested nine points.

The value of each of those points will weigh more heavily next April and May.

Right now, managers worry about having their squad in top shape. Strength, conditioning a nd match fitness are being worked on.

New players are being introduced to the squad and tactics outlined and rehearsed.

Some managers are having to cope with players who are psychologically unfit.

Diego Costa. Photo: PA
Diego Costa. Photo: PA

Managers want their players fully committed. Having key squad members expressing a desire to be with another club leads to a complex game of bluff and double-bluff.

Of course, some managers can afford to begin planning for the new season even before the old season ends.

In April, Jose Mourinho was claiming his players had regained the belief that brings resilience and competitiveness. He claimed new signings would "find a group more ready to go for big things."

Impressive

Mourinho's handling of Wayne Rooney's departure was impressive.

The club's record goal scorer left for Everton w ith a warm glow and his former team-mates were spared a period of unsettling speculation and having an air of uncertainty hang over the squad into the new season.

Having finished fifteen points behind League winners Chelsea last season, Manchester City's gifted manager Pep Guardiola appeared to have mis-judged life in the Premier League.

Yaya Toure. Photo: Reuters
Yaya Toure. Photo: Reuters

His demeanour wasn't helped by the unwelcome intrusion of Yaya Touré's agent Dimitry Seluk, who claimed the player was being "humiliated" by Guardiola.

The Ivory Coast player, who'd previously complained because the club didn't celebrate his birthday with cake, did seem to have a fragile ego.

In benching Touré until his agent apologised, Guardiola laid down a marker.

Touré isn't the only problem player Guardiola has on his mind as he rebuilds his team.

Former France international Samir Nasri is accused by club sources of having an "arrogant attitude" in training camp.

With two years to run on his £120k-a-week contract with City, Nasri remains under investigation for an alleged break of doping rules while he was on loan at Sevilla last season.

Virgil van Dijk. Photo: PA Wire
Virgil van Dijk. Photo: PA Wire

Regarded as an unsettling presence in the dressing room, both for club and country, Nasri is likely to find himself peripheral to Guardiola's plans.

Even Touré (34), who says, "I was not close to leaving", will have to work for his place in a dramatically revamped squad that's recently added goalkeeper Ederson, Kyle Walker, Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy, Danilo and Douglas Luiz for a staggering €223 million.

And Guardian isn't finished buying yet. A player rumoured to be in his sights is Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal, who's willing to take less from City than the £300K a week Arsenal are offering him.

Losing battle

While the Chile international has a year left on his contract, Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger appears to be fighting a losing battle to hold onto his 28-year old striker.

Wenger's answer to the old refrain "How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm..?" is to dig his heels in and refuse to negotiate.

With Sanchez telling friends he wants to play Champions League football, Arsenal seem to be on the losing side of this argument.

While Arsenal are thought to be eyeing up a possible replacement for Sanchez, Wenger insists he's sticking with the decision the club's decision not to sell.

A player who has been delivering the goods for Liverpool in pre-season, despite being the subject of intense interest from Barcelona, is Philippe Coutinho.

Perhaps realising he signed a five year contract in January, Coutinho is keeping quiet on reports from Spain that he wants to move to the Catalan giants.

With Neymar anxious to have the Brazilian playmaker in the team, Barca are expected to up their offer to Liverpool. Would the Anfield club accept an offer of €100 million? Or will manager Jurgen Klopp be allowed to hold on to the player he says is "a key player for us "?

Back in the Champions League, Liverpool would likely suffer if they lose their key man. But might his head be turned by the attention from Spain?

Either way, Klopp is hoping to add some fresh talent to his squad. Southampton, less than impressed by Liverpool's overtures to their captain Virgil Van Dijk, reported illegal approaches to their player.

Not in the club's squad for a pre-season trip to France, the defender appears to have his heart set on a move to Anfield.

While manager Mauricio Pellegrino insists that he's hopeful of retaining Van Dijk, the player's demeanour suggests he's anxious to push through a deal.

Diego Costa's situation is even more confusing. Informed by text that he wasn't needed by Chelsea, he's in Brazil hoping of joining Atletico Madrid, when their transfer ban is lifted in January. Until then, Costa is out in the cold.

Challenges

Another who wants away is Leicester City's Riyad Mahrez.

With three years left on his contract, there's little contractual room for manoeuvre for the Algerian international who's showing good form in pre-season as he craves a deal that will offer him new challenges.

There's still time for deft negotiations between now and the transfer window closing as owners and managers weigh up their options and wonder if it's worth the risk holding players who've already psychologically cut ties with their clubs.

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