This is controversial, something I do not normally involve this column in, but I am afraid I cannot agree with Lionel Messi winning the Ballon d’Or this year. Messi is of course one of the greatest to ever play our favourite game but winning the prized Ballon d’Dor because he captained Argentina’s winning World Cup campaign is not what the coveted prize is all about. It is meant to recognise the best performing and most impressive player in Europe during the year and Argentina winning was a team effort not exclusively by Messi although he played well. His performances in America’s MLS have been good this season but the standard is that of League 1 or 2 and an MLS club could not compete with a Premier League team. Manchester City say Erling Haaland stands head and shoulders above anyone else in Europe with his incredible goal scoring record against top European and Premier League teams. Messi might arguably be the greatest but not this last 12 months. One thing we do all agree on is the Young Players’ award going to Jude Bellingham who has started his Real Madrid career with astonishing success and the ever demanding supporters at the Bernabeu have taken him into their hearts already.
Liverpool face selection headache
Jurgen Klopp is facing a difficult team selection for the match against Brentford this weekend. In midfield Ryan Gravenberch and Curtis Jones were left out of the midweek clash against Toulouse because both suffered injuries. Club captain Virgil van Dijk has reported to the medical staff that he has been taken ill. Gravenberch suffered a knee injury in training this week and Jones has not recovered from his hamstring injury sustained in the League Cup against Bournemouth last week. Gravenberch is doubtful for the Brentford match but Jones is definitely out. Alexis Mac Allister is suspended and Thiago Alcantara and Stefan Bajectic are also injured. That means five midfielders are unavailable for selection this weekend.
Erikson and McTominay partnership to replace Casimero?
Casemiro arrived at Manchester United with a golden pedigree. He had been a star at Real Madrid and likewise for Brazil. He seemed to be the defensive rock needed by United and was worth the £70million transfer fee. Last year he reigned supreme. What a difference this year…his performances have been considerably below the high standards he set last season but injuries have also played a big part in his lack of form. Erik Ten Hag is under severe pressure to produce results and he again partnered Christian Erikson and Scott McTominay in training and played them together for the match against Fulham. It is however not a new set up as the two played together last season and were included in four victories before Casemiro moved in and replaced Scott. Ten Hag pointed out that with the Brazilian out for a few weeks with a hamstring problem, Eriksen and McTominay could strengthen their positions within the team to be regular starting partners and Casimero might find it difficult to win back his place.
It is likely both Casimero and Lisandro Martinez will not return before the end of December. Martinez recently underwent a second operation on his metatarsal fracture suffered in April. United face Aston Villa at home on December 26th and Nottingham Forest on December 30th. Left backs Tyrell Malacia and Luke Shaw are likely to be back and available after the November internationals. Malacia had knee surgery in the summer and Shaw sustained a hamstring injury in August.
Mitrovich needs replacing at Fulham
Fulham were always going to find it difficult to replace Aleksandar Mitrovic. Their current main strikers Raul Jimenez, Rodrigo Muniz and Carlos Vinicius are nowhere near as effective and Marco Silva’s team are struggling despite expecting to win or draw with Manchester United given their current problems. Fulham fans pay for the most expensive season tickets in the Premier League and expect the best players which they clearly do not see in front of them at the moment. Silva has made representations to the club board of directors to spend on new talent in the coming January transfer window to enable him to compete with clubs in the top half of the table. At the moment, with the current crop of players, Fulham are in danger of being sucked down into a relegation fight, something their supporters do not deserve.
Brain charity calls for head injury temporary substitutes
Harry Maguire’s head injury last weekend at Fulham has caused much controversy in the medical world. The brain charity Headway have questioned the wisdom and medical decision to allow Maguire to continue playing after falling to the ground in the first minute of play following a clash of heads with Rodrigo Muniz when he suffered a cut above the eye. He then surprisingly played on until the referee checked his condition after 58 minutes when Harry appeared to be in difficulty however I was told the stoppage was unrelated to his head injury. Headway said, “An opponent’s shoulder strikes the side of his head; minutes later he goes down on his haunches showing clear signs of discomfort.” They continued, “We are not privy to discussions with his medical team, nor should their professionalism be questioned. This is an issue with the very culture of football and its stubborn refusal to put players’ health above all else. Temporary concussion substitutions would immediately help return some credibility to the process, but an evolution of attitude is urgently needed.”
Guardiola believes Grealish and Doku can play together
Jack Grealish cemented his place in Manchester City’s starting line-up against Manchester United with an excellent display against Swiss side Young Boys in the Champions League. Jeremy Doku has also hit the ground running with a superb display in the 6-1 demolition of Bournemouth when he made four assists and scored. Next up is Chelsea, confident again given their win against Tottenham on Monday evening despite playing against nine men. Everyone at City wants to play against Chelsea including Grealish and Doku. It is Pep’s problem with two first class players fighting for the same position but he has raised the possibility of playing both men in the same team although both excel on the left wing. They played together against Young Boys but never in the Premier League.
Pep was giving nothing away when I asked for his Chelsea line up and it will be interesting to see how he solves his left wing riches problem however this week he revealed that he is considering moving Grealish to a more central role.
**John Stones has again been unlucky and this time Pep Guardiola says he could be out for some time. Stones suffered a recurrence of his hip injury that has restricted the defender to play 90 minutes only once this season.
Arsenal protect Gabriel Jesus
Arsenal striker Gabriel Jesus will not be rushed back into Arsenal’s frontline despite a lack of goals from the Gunners. Arsenal are worried that if they put him back into the team too early he will be called up by the Brazil national team. Jesus has missed the last three games with a hamstring injury and although he is recovering well, if he plays this weekend against Burnley he could be called up for two World Cup qualifiers against Columbia and Argentina. Despite an Eddie Nketiah hat-trick against Sheffield United, Arsenal have missed Jesus’ goals and they crashed out of the Carabao Cup against West Ham and they didn’t score against Newcastle last weekend. As I reported to you, Mikel Arteta and Arsenal’s recruitment team have clearly set their sights on signing Brentford’s Ivan Toney in January. However, over at Chelsea Mauricio Pochettino has recognised that despite his hat-trick last weekend against Tottenham, Nicolas Jackson is a good centre-forward but lacks Premier League experience whereas Ivan Toney ticks all the boxes for Chelsea. It will be an interesting bidding fight.