Man City and Man United capitalise on lost art of defending while Dembele's injury was result of disrupted pre-season

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It’s difficult to find top defenders. You’ve seen how much it cost Manchester City to sign Kyle Walker, Danilo and Benjamin Mendy – two right-backs and one left-back – and how much they had to spend on John Stones.

With Vincent Kompany still being in and out they’ve got problems in the middle of their defence.

Liverpool have Joel Matip but I don’t think they’ve got enough strength there to win the title. Every centreback partnership they have seems ill-equipped for a title push and after the deal for Virgil van Dijk fell through, they had no Plan B.

In the market I think Tottenham have done the best acquisitions in Europe in terms of prospects, Davinson Sanchez and Juan Foyth. The reason why it’s so hard to find quality defenders is because of what the academies are focusing on producing.

Since the era of social media, all the publicity goes to the tricks and step-overs and taking on people on-on-one – even the fullbacks are attacking more than they are defending.

In general, the focus is on this and it is just natural for the players growing up to be more concerned about ‘how can I beat this player?’ – even the defenders.

Liverpool's Joel Matip puts in a tackle against Burnley's Chris Wood.

Liverpool’s Joel Matip puts in a tackle against Burnley’s Chris Wood.

The art of defending is not something as recognised anymore. It is hard to sign players who are proper defenders like in the old days because it’s not fashionable.

Premier League teams are finding it very hard to defend against Manchester United and City but they’ve got really high quality going forward.

There are two elements – the individual talents and the collective play going forward. Both Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola recognise that in the Premier League, the transition going forward is to be quick because that’s what the English culture demands.

They are really good at it because they’ve got great passers of the ball and intelligent players, and when you’ve got wingers and finishers who can win one-on-one, two-on-one, which is the case for both of them, you can break any defence and create chances.

You can’t ‘park the bus’ against them, but you don’t want to defend too high up the pitch. Try to form your two lines of four in front of them as much as you can, but the aim of the game is to score goals as well.

It’s easy to say that, but much harder to realise. There’s too many good players to focus on. There’s not one man you have to stop them, it’s three or four.

DYBALA’S DELIVERING

Paulo Dybala has already scored 10 goals for Juventus this season.

He’s showing a lot of character because of the expectation of playing for Juve and the pressure that goes with wearing the No10 shirt after Michel Platini, Roberto Baggio and Alessandro Del Piero.

If he stays another 10 years at Juve, he could also be in that world-class bracket. He may move to the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid, but it depends because Serie A is strong with the two Milan teams back in the race – with Roma and Napoli remaining dangerous, you could have an attractive league.

Juve has enough money to hold on to Dybala, it’s just a question of reaching targets with Juve –the Champions League, which they are failing to do.

If Juve give him the sense they are really going for it by buying the world’s top players, it would be fantastic for him to stay there. Juve, certainly in terms of history and legacy, are as good as Real and Barcelona.

Paulo Dybala (C)

Paulo Dybala (C)

DEMBELE HAMSTRUNG

Ousmane Dembele has been ruled out of action with a hamstring injury for four months, and for me it is a consequence of his situation in the summer.

With Borussia Dortmund he was not going to training, going through a lot of stress, and then straight into training at Barcelona.

He was trying to play catch-up with the team and go through a pre-season in 10 days that he wasn’t able to do in Germany.

I think he was unfortunate, but it wasn’t the ideal preparation. Will he bounce back? Yes I think he will, it’s a serious injury but he can overcome it.

The question is will he have enough to impact on Barcelona’s title charge and also with the France team. That’s his first big injury and as a young player it’s difficult to deal with.

Hopefully, Barcelona will take care of him because it will be a long process.

Ousmane Dembele (C)

Ousmane Dembele (C)

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Ander Herrera says there is more pressure on Manchester City than Manchester United

Simon Peach 19/09/2017
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Ander Herrera

Ander Herrera says Manchester City’s summer spending makes them Premier League favourites, with Pep Guardiola’s trophyless first season meaning they currently have a greater obligation to win titles than Manchester United.

The Manchester rivals have shone in the opening weeks of the 2017-18 season, with the teams joint atop of the table with a haul of 13 points and plus-14 goal difference.

United certainly look far better than the toothless side that stuttered home in sixth last season, although Europa League, EFL Cup and Community Shield glory was a decent return in Jose Mourinho’s first campaign at the helm.

City ended third in the Premier League after a fine start under Guardiola petered out in an ultimately trophyless campaign – something that United midfielder Herrera suggests has increased the pressure at the Etihad Stadium, as has their free-spending summer.

“Man City have spent the biggest amount in the Premier League so they are the principle contenders for the title,” he said.

“We will try to be there as well, we have quality as well, and we will fight for every title. But I think because of the money they have spent they are the favourites.

“We will try to be there but they have spent the biggest money in the league.

“There is always pressure when you spend a lot but there is also pressure on us because we are the biggest club in England.

“We won three titles last season and City didn’t win anything. They are under pressure.

“They are obligated to win titles. We won three last season so they have more obligation than us.

“But you know when you play for Man United wining is an expectation and an obligation but I like that obligation to be honest.”

United kick off their defence of the EFL Cup against Burton on Wednesday, when Sergio Romero may well get his first run out of the season in place of the ever-impressive David De Gea.

Another summer of speculation did not bring about a move to Real Madrid, but the 26-year-old does not seem unsettled and produced another fine display in Sunday’s 4-0 defeat of Everton.

Herrera believes De Gea is the best goalkeeper in the world right now – “it is a gift from God,” he said of his compatriot – and hopes they play together at United for years to come.

“We are going to enjoy having him here and try to keep him at the club for as long as possible,” the Spain midfielder said.

“I think he wants to be a legend in the club which is important for us. If he is not a legend already, he is not too far away from being one of the legends of the club.

“Of course I can see him staying here for more years. How good is David now? We need to win titles to keep him with us. That is what we did last season.

“David is really happy at the moment because we are fighting for everything. We won three titles last season, and the FA Cup the year before and that is what he wants.

“Real Madrid are going to talk about it every summer because he is the best keeper in the world. But we don’t think we are far from Real Madrid, we won three titles last season, the only English team to do it.

“We are going to fight for everything. I just try to watch him and enjoy it. He is incredible. He has the ability to take one hand when nobody expects that.”

While De Gea is the first name on the team sheet, the man that succeeded him as United’s Player of the Year has struggled for game time this term.

Herrera has made just two starts for United this season and did not even make the matchday squad for the Champions League opener against Basel, but the midfielder is not getting het up by the situation.

“I feel as important as I did last season,” he said.

“I am a team player and I always say that and if the manager decides to keep me on the bench I will be ready. I said that last season and it is the same now.

“I know how lucky I am to play for Manchester United. That’s all.

“I will try to enjoy every minute I have on the pitch. I want to win titles and feel part of the team and feel important and I really do feel important because the manager makes me feel important.”

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Liverpool's Mohamed Salah and Huddersfield's Abdelhamid Sabiri in our Arab footballers Premier League watch

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Mohamed Salah

In this column, we track the best Arab football talents plying their trade in the Premier League and round-up their accomplishments every week.

Liverpool star Mohamed Salah is never far from the headlines, especially this season due to his scintillating form for the Reds, and he features this week despite Jurgen Klopp’s men being held 1-1 at home to Burnley.

Meanwhile, Huddersfield midfielder Abdelhamid Sabiri impressed as well as did West Brom’s Ahmed Hegazy who secured another clean sheet.

Here’s a look at how these Arab footballers fared this weekend.

MOHAMED SALAH | LIVERPOOL 1-1 BURNLEY

With Sadio Mane missing through suspension, the bulk of Liverpool’s pace and penetration in attack came from the Egyptian. Salah was tireless in his efforts to make inroads into the opposition’s defence.

He carried Liverpool’s chief threat and took his goal with aplomb, cushioning Emre Can’s ball over the top with his thigh to bring it down, taking a touch to evade the defender and drilling in a low effort past the keeper.

He peppered the Burnley goal with shots throughout, six in total with four on the target.

Rating – 8/10

KEY STATS

Minutes – 90

Shots – 6

Shots on target – 4

Assists – 0

Key Passes – 3

Passing Accuracy – 80.5%

Touches – 68

Passes – 41

Dribbles – 3

Mohamed Salah

Mohamed Salah

ABDELHAMID SABIRI | HUDDERSFIELD 1-1 LEICESTER CITY

The Moroccan impressed in his first Premier League start. He made his bow when he was introduced off the bench in a 2-0 defeat to West Ham United last week.

This time around though, the 20-year-old featured in his favoured attacking midfield role and although he drifted in and out of the game, he came up with the goods when it mattered.

A superb pass to Laurent Depoitre saw the striker give the hosts the lead at the start of the second half before Jamie Vardy equalised from the spot four minutes later. Sabiri’s contribution proved vital as Huddersfield secured a valuable point.

Rating – 6/10

KEY STATS

Minutes – 81

Shots – 1

Assists – 1

Key Passes – 2

Passing Accuracy – 71.1%

Touches – 51

Passes – 38

Dribbles – 0

Abdelhamid Sabiri (R)

Abdelhamid Sabiri (R)

AHMED HEGAZY | WEST BROM 0-0 WEST HAM

The Egyptian burst onto the Premier League scene with a goal on debut and has continued his good form with some stellar defensive displays since.

He nearly played a hand in the opening goal too. From a corner, he flicked the ball on to Jonny Evans who pushed his effort marginally wide.

Despite a comprehensive defeat to Premier League newboys Brighton, Hegazy has had a positive start to the season alongside Craig Dawson at the heart of the Baggies defence.

Rating – 7/10

KEY STATS

Minutes – 90

Tackles – 1

Clearances – 6

Blocks – 1

Passing Accuracy – 60%

Touches – 29

Passes – 20

Aerials Won – 1

Ahmed Hegazy

Ahmed Hegazy

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