• After a dreadful drop in form this season, Antonio Conte played a masterstroke in dropping Son Heung-Min — a move he had discussed with his assistants and which was a shock to Son.
• Jurgen Klopp is worried that Mo Salah has underperformed recently and Darwin Nunez is find the Premier League difficult after a blistering start.
Newly-installed Chelsea manager Graham Potter has already set out his plan for rescuing the Blues’ season.
Converting Raheem Sterling to a wing-back role has, against all predictions, paid off and instead of the mercurial winger reacting negatively, he has embraced his new role. Potter still wants Raheem to dribble his way along the wing, cut inside and get forward in order to score goals or provide assists.
He is less sure of his two new signings, Wesley Fofana and Kalidou Koulibaly, who are both taking time to fit in with Potter’s style of play. Potter’s ace card, he says, is Thiago Silva playing in between the two newcomers and he has the experience to keep things together.
Edouard Mendy has overcome a shaky start to the season and Potter said: “He has worked well in training, improves every day and I have complete confidence in his ability to play at the very highest level.” Not good news for Kepa Arrizabalaga, who will keep the sub’s bench warm for the time being.
Son shining brightly!
After a dreadful drop in form this season, Antonio Conte played a masterstroke in dropping Son Heung-Min — a move he had discussed with his assistants and which was a shock to Son.
He came on with 30 minutes to go against Leicester City and hit that blitz of goals and was voted Man of the Match. Conte considers Harry Kane and Son as his main pairing and now that Son has improved his form, he will again be selected ahead of Dejan Kulusevski.
Richarlison also expects to start but will have to come off the bench unless he proves in training that he can do a better job than Son. Kane is undroppable and he prefers to work with Son so that solves the problem for Conte.
The coach says: “Sonny is perfect for us and he always plays with his heart and never lets me down.”
Where do Ronaldo, Maguire and Shaw go now?
Erik Ten Hag has largely ignored Ronaldo this season and the Portuguese captain is getting frustrated.
The coach knows he has to play his strongest squad in order to get any points at Manchester City next week. Traditionally, United have favoured a counter-attacking strategy but Ten Hag prefers to rely on his strikers to make the difference rather than concentrating on stopping opponents.
However, he also relies on his strikers to help out in defence. An ageing Cristiano Ronaldo no longer tracks back to help his defence. That is not Ten Hag’s way and, consequently, Ronaldo’s omission. Luke Shaw was poor in early 2020 but he responded to the signing of Alex Telles with world-class performances in 2020/21.
His form has suffered recently and Ten Hag will rely on his favoured back four, Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez alongside Diogo Dalot and Tyrell Malacia, who has impressed the manager. It is difficult for Ten Hag to reinstate Harry Maguire back into the team and there has been rumours in Manchester of him possibly leaving in January.
Meanwhile, Ten Hag is spending the international break considering transfer targets for January.
Klopp trying to ‘mend’ Salah and Nunez
Jurgen Klopp is worried that Mo Salah has underperformed recently and Darwin Nunez is find the Premier League difficult after a blistering start. Nunez outperformed Erling Haaland in the Community Shield and changed the game after coming on from the bench.
However, since being suspended for violent behaviour, he has lost his confidence and is finding Klopp’s complicated system difficult. His role at Benfica was much simpler and defences were not as strong as in the Premier League.
Klopp believes Nunez will improve and will give the Uruguayan time to adjust whilst using Luis Diaz and Roberto Firmino as his starters alongside Salah. Klopp is still spending several hours a day with Salah as he tries to restore his goal-scoring technique to match last season, when he shared the Golden Boot with Tottenham’s Son.
Many assistants at Anfield believe it was the game against Manchester United, when Mo was tormented by Lisandro Martinez, that robbed him of his confidence but Klopp says his ‘natural ability’ will shine through.
Arsenal respond to Arteta to stay top
Arsenal are at last playing the way coach Mikel Arteta wants. This was the way he was taught by Pep Guardiola when he worked as the maestro’s assistant at Manchester City and everything he has been practicing on the training ground is bearing fruit.
Against Brentford, Arsenal were lethal. If they lost the ball, they pressured their opponents, passed with speed and accuracy and with strikers like Gabriel Jesus, they scored with perfect finishing. William Saliba was excellent in defence and ably assisted by Gabriel, White, Tierney and Magalhaes.
Brentford’s main man, Ivan Toney, did not get a chance to shine. Arsenal’s next game against Tottenham doesn’t get any bigger and will be a test at the Emirates Stadium.
Which one will be sacked first?
Two managers who could be saying goodbye to the Premier League even before this column is published are Leicester’s Brendan Rodgers and Forest’s Steve Cooper.
Leicester, with one point from their first seven games, are in desperate after being hammered 6-2 and 5-2 in their last two games. Rodgers has also witnessed a serious drop in performance from his striker, Jamie Vardy, who is without a goal this season.
Rodgers has fallen out with his board of directors following a poor January transfer window. The club are deciding whether to appoint a long-term managerial prospect or bring in a ‘firefighter’ such as Sean Dyche or Sam Allardyce to maintain their Premier League status. Forest’s Cooper had an impressive win against West Ham at the start of the season.
But since then, it has all been downhill even after leading against his fellow promoted teams but ended up losing both matches. Rodgers blames little investment by his club and Cooper has a team that is not bonding. The international break has seen him at the training centre every day, working with his players.
A warning note for both managers: Rodgers should not be publicly criticising his board of directors and Cooper’s team is owned but billionaire Evangelos Marinakis, who also owns Greek club Olympiacos, and sacked his manager after only six weeks in the job.
Phillips fights to get fit for Qatar
Manchester City midfielder Kalvin Phillips is facing a challenge with his shoulder injury. He has been unable to gain a place in City’s team because of the injury following his £45million transfer from Leeds United.
He has managed only 13 minutes for Guardiola’s title holders and now I understand that surgery might be necessary to put the shoulder right. That means he will also not make the Qatar World Cup finals in six weeks time unless he recovers at an extraordinary rate.
He was voted England’s Player of the Tournament at the European Championships and this week he expressed his frustration and disappointment with his latest setback.
You can’t win with inexperience
Ralf Hassenhutl certainly has problems at Southampton. His team is inexperienced and that is a recipe for non-survival in the Premier League. New goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu and centreback Armel Bella-Kotchap are players for the future but that does not help Southampton now.
Even his experienced players like Che Adams and James Ward-Prowse are playing below par because they don’t feel the players around them are good enough. At the beginning of the season, I picked Nottingham Forest, Bournemouth and Southampton as the most likely to be threatened with relegation. I haven’t seen anything to change my mind so far.
Brighton go for De Zebri as head coach
Having lost the Premier League’s most upcoming coach Graham Potter to Chelsea, Brighton have beaten Juventus in signing Roberto De Zerbi as their new head coach.
In addressing the media, chairman Tony Bloom said this week: “I am absolutely thrilled Roberto has agreed to become our new head coach. His teams play an exciting and courageous brand of football and I am confident his style and tactical approach will suit our existing squad superbly.”
Brighton added to his statement by saying that he fitted in with the club’s cultural and technical approach. Zebri left Shakhtar Donetsk in July after only a year in charge, due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Zebri has coached in Italy and prefers a 4-3-3 system.
Brighton are currently fourth but Zebri is jumping straight into the fire with a game at Liverpool next Saturday.