I have been one of Brendan Rodgers biggest critics in the last six months with very little positive to say about the work he has been doing. I would like to believe that I have been justified in my criticism. That being said my unrelenting flow of negative remarks about how the Ulsterman has brought the club from second to sixth place in twelve months has been interrupted by a surprising allowance for optimism. The Reds have successfully negotiated six first-team singings with a number of academy transfers also being completed. This quick and effective negotiating has been a breath of absolutely fresh air in contrast to the stuttering negotiations of seasons past. It may be a wee bit soon but many on Twitter have been heralding Ian Ayre as a masterful negotiator.
Liverpool Football Club has become synonymous with leaky defence. Last season Liverpool conceded 48 goals and it was ultimately due to the lack of an actual defensive coach. While that hasn’t been totally taken care of Liverpool of signed Southampton’s Nathaniel Clyne for £12.5 million. This is a superb addition to the first team and will have the right back role sorted at Liverpool for the next several years should the Englishman continue developing in the stead that he has been and suffers no serious injuries. Joe Gomez, an 18 year old centre back, has been signed from Charlton Athletic and while he is likely to be loaned back out he has a bright future ahead of him. Adam Bogdan has also in been brought in to reinforce the defence and to provide competition for Simon Mignolet. The Belgian goalkeeper has been noted as performing best when decent competition has been provided.
Liverpool have bolstered the midfield with two astute signings. James Milner signed from Manchester City on a free transfer with his contract expiring on July 1st. Liverpool negotiated his move on the premise of assured first team football on a consistent basis which he saw very little of at City. His addition to the ranks will mean that he will bring confidence and quality going forward as well as decent defence simultaneously. Rodgers would do well to bring back the midfield diamond in order to accommodate his now numerous midfield options. Emre Can at the base with Jordan Henderson and Milner in the wider holding roles and then Philippe Coutinho at the top of the diamond, diamond’s tip, spearheading the midfield proceedings.
The other signing in midfield is at the tip of the diamond so to speak. Roberto Firmino has signed from Hoffenheim for £29 million. He is the signing that has brought the most excitement to Merseyside, and globally for Liverpool fans. The Brazilian will provide more of the ‘X’ factor which Philippe Coutinho showed so consistently for Liverpool last season. However, by having two players able to provide the samba magic that the Red’s number 10 has led fans to expect from Brazilians it will make Liverpool more of a threat going forward. The threat will come from goals being scored as well as more chances created. Firmino scored 10 goals in 36 appearances for the German club last term.
Creating chances and getting into dangerous areas of the pitch is all well and good but when you don’t have a striker who can put these opportunities away then it is all a bit pointless really. Liverpool suffered greatly last season where this was concerned with new top-men Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert scoring a combined total of three Premier League goals. Perhaps the reason they performed so miserably was because they aren’t suited to the Red’s intense and mobile system. Regardless of what it is that caused them to perform so dreadfully, the point remains that the club is in great need of a top striker that will score 20+ goals a season.
The links to Colombian forward Carlos Bacca proved fruitless with the South American securing a move to Italy to play for AC Milan. Similarly links to Salomon Rondon don’t seem to hold the weight which is coming from rumours linking Christian Benteke to Liverpool. I have read a lot of the opinions from all the experts on Twitter and note a few articles discussing Benteke’s possible success at Anfield. The “Twitter Experts” seem to be 50/50. One half of these pleading with Liverpool to stay away from anything coming out of Aston Villa and the other half believe the club could do much worse than a proven Premier League scorer.
Personally, I would love to sign the likes of Alexandre Lacazette and Gonzalo Higuaín who I strongly believe could guide the Reds back to regular European football and help attract other top talents. The fact of the matter is that Liverpool finished sixth in the Premier League. As a result expectations for signings can’t be of the class that Higuaín really is. Until the league starts Liverpool are essentially a sixth place team in all logic. In this line of thinking Benteke would the most likely of targets to occupy the first striking spot which will be challenged by new signing Danny Ings, Daniel Sturridge (when he returns from injury in September), Mario Balotelli, Fabio Borini and Rickie Lambert. Latter three players are very likely to depart from Merseyside but should they decide to stay they will be hard pressed to break into a front line of either Benteke and Sturridge or even Benteke and Firmino.
Liverpool are expected to launch a bid in the region of £27 million which will greatly test Aston Villa’s resolve given their asking price of £32 million. Widespread reports indicate that a bid for the Belgian is only possible if Sterling is sold. This is to ensure that the club’s net spend is reduced. Regardless of how it might happen, it needs to happen. Liverpool cannot go another season without signing a capable replacement for Luis Suarez.[interaction id=”559d351afb9aedae21655396"] [s[separator type=”thin”]p style="text-align: center;">
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Victory in Milan, but is this another false dawn for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger?
Arsenal were triumphant in Milan despite their recent miserable form.
Arsenal ended their losing run of four matches with an excellent performance away to AC Milan in the Europa League. This competition has the potential to save the Gunners season and the commitment from every player suggested that they want to go all the way.
They were coming up against a team full of confidence under Gennaro Gattuso. Milan hadn’t lost a match since the end of December. The Serie A club hadn’t conceded a goal in six and had won five of those inside ninety minutes.
These sides came into this fixture in remarkably different form, but football is played on grass and not on paper.
Despite Milan having more attempts, it was Arsenal who created the better chances. They had a couple of half-chances early on before the opening goal.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has had a hot and cold start to life in a Gunners’ shirt, but he was one of the best players on the pitch in Italy. His goal was emphatically taken as he drove the ball past Gianluigi Donnarumma.
It is important to capitalise when you are on top, especially away from home in European competitions and Arsenal did just that. As the first-half progressed, they continued to create the better opportunities. Both Danny Welbeck and Mkhitaryan had good chances to double the visitors’ lead, but they were squandered.
In stoppage-time of half-time, Arsenal scored a second to give them a commanding lead in the tie. It was a great move from the team and Mesut Ozil found Aaron Ramsey who coolly rounded Donnarumma before putting the ball into the net.
The first-half performance from Arsenal was one of the best that supporters have seen this season. They were better all over the pitch and showed the work rate that they had lacked in previous weeks. Milan pushed in the second half, but they couldn’t penetrate the Gunners’ defence.
Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi were both excellent. Arsene Wenger will be hoping that both are returning to their best after some uncharacteristic errors in previous matches. The centre-back pairing made eight ball recoveries and were always in the right position on Thursday.
Patrick Cutrone is a teenager with a big future, but the young striker had no luck out of the Arsenal defence and that will encourage the manager.
Another player to emerge with credit is Danny Welbeck. The ineligibility of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the injury of Alexandre Lacazette means that the Englishman started the game up front for Arsenal. It was a huge opportunity for him after being pushed down the pecking order at the club and he took it with both hands.
The Englishman worked tirelessly and caused problems with his movement.
Although his final product wasn’t great, he was a constant threat and led the defensive effort from the front. Welbeck will never be a leading Premier League striker, but he is effective in matches such as this one. He deserves more opportunities during the run-in.
It would be too soon to get carried away for Arsenal fans. There are still questions regarding Arsene Wenger and the work rate of the players, but this was an excellent performance that finally provides the club with positive momentum. They have had a miserable few weeks and the supporters can get excited about their team once again.
When the draw was made, a lot of supporters checked their expectations when it came to the Europa League. Milan were the overwhelming favourites, but Arsenal have taken a dominant position in the tie and should be able to finish the job in London.
If they can do that, they will move into the quarter-final stage. Although it will be difficult to win it, they will have as good a chance as any.
There have been many false dawns for Arsenal in recent years and this could be another one. That said, it takes enormous character to go away to a huge stadium like the San Siro after a poor run of form and win comfortably.
Considering the criticism that they have had for their lack of desire, few would have thought the Gunners to be capable of a result like this.
It is now up to Wenger to prove that he can get this level of effort and performance out of his players on a regular basis. The Frenchman remains in a difficult position with no margin for error. If he is going to keep his job, he needs to finish the season strongly and win the Europa League.
It won’t be an easy challenge, but this performance and result will give him hope that he can upset the odds to claim his first European trophy.
Patience required at AC Milan after a slow start to the season
AC Milan’s new board will have to exercise some patience early in their reign. The Italian outfit have four wins and four losses so far in the Serie A, leaving them in tenth position with minus one goal differential. It is certainly not the start that was hoped for but it was not out of the realm of possibility.
The transfer activity during the summer, sparked by a change in ownership, led to plenty of excitement and intrigue around the Rossoneri. AC brought in 10 new first-team players during the summer and a majority of those regularly start.
The lack of cohesion has been clear in the biggest games of the season so far, all of which have been losses. Sampdoria, Lazio, Roma and Inter have beaten Milan. The one positive from that is that only one of those games, against Roma, was at home.
We mentioned during the summer that Vincenzo Montella would be the most under-pressure manager in Europe. The pressure on the hot seat has definitely been turned up to 100 after the late defeat in the Milan Derby.
Montella’s side came from behind twice to equalise, yet another mistake cost them what would have been a well-earned point. Part of the problem is that the Italian head coach is yet to settle on his best team and formation.
Injuries and lack of form have played a part in that but the manager has not helped his players. The key player, where form and leadership is concerned, is Leonardo Bonucci. It was considered a huge coup for Milan when they stole arguably the best defender in the league from the champions, Juventus. However, the new captain has disappointed so far.
While a period of acclimatisation is expected for any player, Bonucci’s quality suggested an immediate upgrade would be on hand for Milan’s defense. Nonetheless, taking on the mantle of leader, without the likes of Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini beside him, has proven tough so far. He also hasn’t been helped by Montella’s formation tinkering and having to line-up with different defensive partners.
For Montella, a settled side, with or without a plethora of newcomers, would perform better in the long run. Milan have a number of options in defense and midfield but it is in attack where the focus will be, come January.
Carlos Bacca is on loan and seemingly on his way out as he does not fit Montella’s style of play. A quality forward needs to be brought in to replace him as newcomers Andre Silva and Niko Kalinic have shared the load so far this season, but the duo only have two goals between them in the Serie A.
Silva is one for the future and a solid enough option but he is playing his first season in arguably the toughest competition for attackers in Europe. If Milan want to meet their goals they need consistent quality leading the line.
According to AC’s sporting director Massimiliano Mirabelli, who spoke to Radio Rossonera, Torino’s Andrea Belotti is still being considered as a target.
While the start to the season has been lukewarm it is not time for the new owners to panic. If Milan continue to win the games they have both domestically and on the continent then the season should be a good one.
The Rossoneri are undefeated so far in the Europa League and should continue that trend to make into the knockout rounds. How far they progress from there is dependent on Montella working out all the kinks.
If Milan continue to win the games they have domestically that should keep them within touching distance of the minimum goal, a return to the Champions League. One would expect that the quality of the likes of Bonucci and Lucas Biglia will help propel the club in the big games still to come.
Milan are now seven points away from a Champions League spot but that does not mean the axe should fall. Montella was given a vast upgrade in quality but, as with any other team in this situation, the new players will take some time to gel.
The board will be watching the team’s progress carefully and will be especially keen on the result of the next big game which is a home visit from Juventus.
At least Milan fans can be assured of one thing, if patience is not a concept for the new board then old favourite Carlo Ancelotti is available. Over to you Montella.
Could AC Milan be set to make a move for Chelsea’s Diego Costa?
Diego Costa doesn’t seem to have a future at Chelsea, but he has yet to leave Stamford Bridge this summer and time is running out for the striker to find a new club.
AC Milan have been one of the busiest clubs in this transfer window and they have been linked to the Spanish international in recent days.
Chairman Marco Fassone has told Sky Sports that he has spoken with Jorge Mendes about his client:
“We went to see Jorge Mendes; there is a lot you can talk to him about. Costa is a great player but he is of Chelsea. That’s all.”
Antonio Conte will want to see the striker leave the club this summer, as he caused problems last season and didn’t show the commitment that is demanded by the Chelsea boss.
Alvaro Morata has moved to West London, while Michy Batshuayi is showing good form in pre-season.
There is no longer a place for Costa and it would be in everyone’s best interests if he did depart before September.
Would he be a good signing for AC Milan?
The Italian giants are trying to once again compete at the top end of the European game. It won’t be a quick rebuilding process, but they have big finances behind them and their recruitment this summer has been superb.
They have managed to sign several great players, including arguably the best defender in the world, Leonardo Bonucci. There will be a desire to add one more quality player and Costa could be that man.
There are few better strikers in world football when Costa is in the mood. Last season, he was superb for the majority of the campaign as he played a significant role in Chelsea regaining the Premier League title.
He is an intelligent mover and his aggressive style means that defenders don’t get a moment to rest when he is on the pitch.
The 28-year-old is a great finisher with either foot and capable of scoring with his head. Milan will want to add another goal threat to their attack and Costa would be a great signing for them in their current state.
How likely is a transfer?
Chelsea will be keen to sell him this summer in order to bring in funds and get him off the books.
There is no longer a place for him at Stamford Bridge and he could become a huge problem if he were to stay past this transfer window, as he isn’t the type of character to react well to being sidelined.
The club will be pressing for a departure and if AC Milan do have a serious interest, they will have a good chance of signing him.
It would be another significant transfer for Milan and they would improve their Serie A title chances considerably if they were to add Costa to their striking ranks.
He showed last season that he can play a major role in a title-winning side and Milan would benefit from that.
For the striker, himself, it would give him a new challenge and an opportunity to lead the revival of a huge European club. Everyone would be a winner if this did go through.
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