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Matchday Wrap Up

Overreaction Monday - The Cups

by Neal Thurman
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

The post-Premier League has already been incredibly active.  Between Manchester United winning the Europa League final and gaining back door entry into the Champions League after a mediocre-at-best league campaign, Arsenal have won a trophy in the FA Cup, and there have already been a number of interesting transfers announced on official sources as complete.  Who said that the Premier League had an off-season?  


Which is it? 

I have planted myself firmly in the "Wenger Out (with all due respect for previous accomplishments)" camp for a couple of years now and the FA Cup win doesn't do a thing to change that.  In fact, the sight of Arsenal full of energy and quality after the major potential accomplishments - Champions League knockout, Premier League title, and top four - have come and gone are as much an advertisement for "Wenger Out" than they are a celebration of what he can and has achieved.  Supporters rightly wonder where this sort of effort and result were when the couple extra points needed to qualify for the Champions League during bad losses to Crystal Palace and West Brom to say nothing of where it might have been against the likes of Bayern Munich or Chelsea or Liverpool over the second half of the campaign.  


That said, it would be fantastic to get some consistency from the press that covers the Premier League.  Either Champions League qualification is a "trophy" or it isn't.  The big boys of Premier League journalism just wrapped up their paeans (look it up) to Spurs for finishing second, securing Champions League football, and doing so in a visually pleasing manner while winning exactly nothing.  These same pundits wrote slightly less flowerly prose in praise of Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp finishing fourth and playing occasionally enjoyable and often comical football and giving out big hugs on the sidelines.  By contrast, the years since Arsenal and Arsene Wenger last won the title have seen them and him crushed in the press for failing to win a trophy while playing attractive football and finishing in the Champions League places.  This season he won a trophy (his third in the past four seasons) and failed to achieve the oft-maligned "non-trophy" of Champions League qualification and the season is still considered a bust.  


At some level, it seems like we, as the footballing punditry, have to decide what the bar is for calling a season a success.  I suspect that Antonio Conte would have received extra, unqualified praise for "winning a famous double" if Chelsea had prevailed yesterday but the narrative in the wake of Arsenal winning seems to be rooted in the negative which is a shame.  Again, I'm still in the camp that says that Wenger has been given ample time to adapt and he hasn't achieved as much as I'd like given Arsenal's resources, history, location, and position as a Champions League participant for the past 20 seasons.  That said, I remain unqualified in my support of the club when they are on the pitch and would love to see the media apply the same standards of criticism to Wenger as they do to the other "super managers" in the Premier League.  


Was it a success? 

Speaking of super managers, Jose Mourinho completed his first campaign at Old Trafford with some clear improvements over his two most recent predecessors but, like Wenger, he mostly seems to be getting backhanded compliments for what he accomplished.  There are certainly some slings and arrows that can be thrown at Mourinho related to the style in which he achieved what he achieved and the notion that the Community Shield is a "third trophy" is laughable but if the goal was to undertake the task of restoring Manchester United to what it sees as its rightful place among the elite of Europe, there were definitely clear steps in the right direction.  


Even if supporters would have preferred doing so in a more direct way, qualifying for the Champions League by winning the Europa League was a big deal.  Not only does Champions League qualification mean that the elite talents of the game will be more willing to say "yes" to Manchester United's big piles of cash but it also means that there will be bigger piles of cash to be had both directly (via Champions League prize/TV money) but also indirectly (in the form of not having to give money back to Chevrolet and adidas as part of their sponsorship contracts with both).  The ability to attract the likes of Antoine Griezmann to replace Zlatan and/or Wayne Rooney or Ivan Perisic to ensure that Ashley Young and Jesse Lingard aren't playing important minutes as starters is a big deal as a still not-close-to-complete squad continues to come together. 


The second point that's useful to make in Mourinho's defense is that his history has always pointed to his second season as the time to look for big results.  He typically uses his first season at a new stop to make sure he has "his guys" while he builds spirit within the squad and tries to shepherd them through some success experiences.  It may well be that he hasn't found as many of "his guys" on the existing squad as he'd like this time around but he seemed to bring the squad along and identify at least some throughout the season while providing the sort of lower level success experiences - League Cup and Europa League title - that can help a group build toward bigger things like Premier Leagues or Champions Leagues.  


I'm not suggesting that Manchester United are particularly close to catching Chelsea in the Premier League standings as it currently stands but if United add say four high caliber starters over the summer of the Griezmann/Perisic variety (with the other two presumably being more defensively focused) and can keep the rest of the squad fairly stable then they will be markedly better while Chelsea will be figuring out how to fight on one more important and draining front than they did last season as they add the Champions League to their portfolio.  


The style issue makes it difficult to call this an unqualified success at Old Trafford and the vitriol that the names Manchester United and Jose Mourinho engender from just about everyone makes it even more difficult to praise what has gone on.  Setting those issues aside, if we ask the questions incumbent politicians suggest you ask yourself when it is time for reelection, "are you better off than you were when I started?" then it's hard to answer with anything other than a pretty emphatic "yes".


Summer Moves

It's rare that clubs start announcing official moves so early in the off-season since, you know, the transfer window isn't actually open yet but apparently that's where we are now so there's no time like the present to start analyzing what these moves may mean for Premier League fantasy purposes heading into next season.


Bernardo Silva to Manchester City - Over the weekend, Jeremy Spitzberg posed the question as to whether Silva's arrival at Manchester City meant that Raheem Sterling might now be surplus to requirements.  It struck me that, while I've heard Silva's name mentioned frequently and probably watched him a couple of times in the Champions League, I didn't necessarily know enough about his position and style to comment on who he might be displacing.  After doing some research, I'm still not sure I know where he might fit at City and who, if anyone, his arrival might displace immediately.  


As Manchester City closed the season, they were lining up with a lethal front three of Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus flanking Sergio Aguero with Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva supplying the creativity and Yaya Toure anchoring the midfield.  That's just a ton of firepower.  Looking at that group as your presumed starters, the most vulnerable-looking players in the squad are Yaya Toure, who was out of favor for much of last season and is old enough that he probably shouldn't be expected to start regularly, and David Silva, who is aging, slight of frame, and increasingly hit by niggling injuries.  The other question is whether Sergio Aguero, who it seemed Pep Guardiola was phasing out in January/February before Gabriel Jesus got injured, will be around to kick off the 2017-18 season. 


Bernardo Silva is certainly not replacing Yaya Toure at the base of midfield so I think we can rule that out.  He has played at least occasionally in a central attacking midfield role so it isn't out of the question that he'd replace David Silva but that would likely be a slow process over the next season or two with the elder Silva the presumed starter.  The third scenario could see Sergio Aguero sold, Gabriel Jesus moved to a central attacking role to replace the Argentine, and Bernardo Silva fighting it out with Raheem Sterling to replace Gabriel Jesus on the rigth side of the attack.  


If you ask me, none of those scenarios make it seem incredibly likely that Bernardo Silva is going to be a regular starter for City next season.  More likely, he will follow a path similar to what we saw from Pep and his usage of Leroy Sane this season.  Sane started the season playing very little and being given time to adapt to a new style and a new league as well as continuing to develop as the young player that he was (and is).  Between Champions League, Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup there will be enough minutes to go around and my suspicion is that Pep will look to ration Aguero's minutes somewhat as he ages giving chances for Sterling and Bernardo Silva to come into the wide positions.  Across all competitions, Jesus Navas started 19 matches and came on as a substitute in a further 17 and, minus the minutes he received late in the season as a right back, I'd suspect that's a reasonable target for Bernardo Silva in season one at the Etihad. 


Pablo Zabaleta to West Ham United - In the real world, I love the Zabaleta-to-West Ham move for a club who treated me and my family to a fantastic evening when we saw them beat Spurs at the London Stadium late in the season.  The atmosphere that was often criticized during their initial season was electric on the night we attended and the addition of a player like Zabaleta who is used to success and you can see pushing teammates to match his expectations will likely help see the club host more electric nights like that in their second season at the former Olympic venue.  


In the fantasy world, I'm not sure how Zabaleta fits into the picture.  Perhaps the most important thing he can do is serve as a mentor to Aaron Cresswell who seemed to take a step back in his development.  His second important function can be ensuring that Michail Antonio never has to line up as a right back again even if Cresswell gets injured again.  Thirdly, like Branislav Ivanovic briefly at Chelsea, you could see Zabaleta moving infield and playing some central defense as his ability to bomb up and down the wing recedes as his hairline did so long ago.  Zabaleta will certainly feature more often that now-departed big name right back signing Alvaro Arbeloa who started only once for the Hammers this season and came in as a substitute on two additional occasions but I wouldn't expect much more than 10 to 15 starts between right back and center back unless the Hammers suffer an epic injury crisis. 


Sead Kolasinac to Arsenal - There hasn't yet been an official announcement from the club but the rumblings are sufficiently loud and definitive that I'm ready to pronounce this one done.  What I know of the player indicates that Arsene Wenger (yes, he's staying) will be staying with a 3-4-3.  The profile for Kolasinac doesn't read that differently from that of Marcos Alonso arriving at Chelsea.  He's a solid, but not spectacular, left back when it comes to actually defending but will come into the attack and be an asset going forward.  

What I take from this is that Kieran Gibbs will be allowed to leave in search of a starting job while Nacho Monreal will stay on and play as a reserve/mentor at both left back and as an occasional reserve as the left-most center back in the 3-CB alignment.  Monreal was surprisingly effective in the latter role coming down the stretch this season and having both he and Per Mertesacker behind Koscielny, Mustafi, Holding, Gabriel, Calum Chambers, and any further new signings for the central defense is some pretty nice depth to have.  


I would expect Kolasinac to start regularly for the Gunners and, as he will likely be listed in fantasy games as a defender while actually playing as an attack-oriented position.  I'm very high on the fantasty value that Kolasinac is likely to have for both draft and salary cap fantasy game formats.


That's all for now, more as the summer progresses.

Neal Thurman

Neal Thurman manages the NBC Sports Edge's Premier League coverage and contributes to Never Manage Alone which he co-founded. He is also a diehard Arsenal supporter. You can find him on Twitter @NealJThurman.