As one glances over the Premier League table, there is certainly more than one club in a surprisingly high position given preseason expectations.
Those surprises often command most of the talk for Manager of the Year, but Arsene Wenger believes the deciders should look a little lower down the table.
While it’s hard to argue with likely winner Brendan Rodgers if Liverpool win the Premier League, there are certainly some dark horse candidates.
Speaking at his pre-match press conference ahead of this weekend’s games, Wenger told English media, “The easy way is to pick the guy who has won the league but he has not always done the best job.”
Those are some harsh words towards Rodgers, but he had another pair of names.
“Steve Bruce and Tony Pulis have done exceptional work.”
Certainly those are two worthy candidates. Pulis took over for Ian Holloway at Crystal Palace at the end of December with the club bottom of the league and looking every bit the part. He’s since brought them to 11th and essentially out of the running for relegation, a remarkable turnaround that’s seen the team give a better and better performance week in and week out.
Steve Bruce is a fantastic shout as well, steering recently promoted Hull City to sit currently in 13th, also likely safe from the drop having shown consistency throughout the year.
While Hull haven’t recorded a shocking amount of upsets, they’ve regularly beaten teams below them and avoided a number of bad losses, a great achievement for any newly promoted club.
Roberto Martinez at Everton will also get looks, but it’s hard to argue with Rodgers as the runaway winner if the Reds win the league, or even if they just miss out. With Liverpool not even given a chance to make the Champions League by many prior to the season, the leap he’s taken with the Reds is remarkable.
Who do you believe has earned Manager of the Year? Is there a clear-cut winner or are the waters muddy?
Marca claims that the two-time reigning European champions have agreed the fee with Monaco just days after the French champs made a formal complaint to FIFA about illegal approaches towards Mbappe and his representatives.
Per the report Mbappe will sign a six-year deal and earn $8.1 million net per year at the Santiago Bernabeu.
If it went through the transfer would be a clear world-record by almost doubling the fee Manchester United paid Juventus for Paul Pogba last summer, however via Sky Sports in the UK, Monaco have denied any deal has been agreed for Mbappe.
Mbappe, 18, burst onto the scene last season, scoring 26 goals as Monaco won Ligue 1 and reached the UEFA Champions League semifinals.
After selling Bernardo Silva and Benajamin Mendy to Manchester City for a combined total of $123 million, plus Tiemoue Bakayoko to Chelsea for another $55 million, Leonardo Jardim is seeing his talented squad ripped apart.
That said, the likes of Fabinho, Thomas Lemar and until this point Mbappe are still around at the Stade Louis II.
Mbappe has been chased by Manchester City, Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain and Real all summer long with the powerful, pacey French international able to lead the line and finish clinically when given the chance.
He is mature beyond his years but this bid from Real seems outrageous after just one season in the spotlight for Mbappe.
That said, Zidane’s men have offloaded plenty of talent this summer with Danilo and Alvaro Morata sold, plus James Rodriguez sent on loan to Bayern Munich for two years. The departures of Morata and Rodriguez suggest space has been opened up for Mbappe’s arrival.
Given his form last season he would certainly flourish at Real and with Cristiano Ronaldo now 32 and Karim Benzema 29, the Spanish champs have to start planning for the future.
“I’m 24 years of age, I cannot say I am the complete package, I can’t say I’m in my prime.
“There is still a lot of work to be done and I am delighted there is still a lot of work to be done. That means I can become even better than I am now.”
Lukaku most needs consistency in his game. Even in his massive campaign last season, he twice went four matches without a goal. While it’s possible to have fine performances but not find finish, Everton went 1W-3D-4L in those combined stretches and five of those matches were against bottom half sides.
PST spoke to a quartet of AS Roma players this week as the club contends the 2017 International Champions Cup in the United States with the aim of a profile piece on i Lupi captain Daniele De Rossi’s quest for an elusive scudetto.
Plenty has changed since Dzeko scored in Man City’s wild title-clinching finish against QPR. Dzeko talked about his surprising and explosive 29-goal Serie A season, his interest in a UEFA Champions League return to the Etihad Stadium, and a love for representing his home nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Enjoy.
PST: Obviously we know your quality from having scored 25-plus goals three times in seasons at Wolfsburg and Manchester City, but what was it like going from 10 goals to 39 in your second season at Roma?
Edin Dzeko: “It was definitely one of the best in my career. When you get up in your years you are supposed to go down, but actually I’ve gone up. I felt good and from the beginning of preseason I trained hard and it was an important season after getting to know the qualities of the teams and players in the league after my first season in Italy. Last year was big proof of it and like it always is, it was harder than it looked.”
PST: You’ve won the Bundesliga and the Premier League, the latter twice. Last season you shaved Juventus’ table advantage to four points. Can this be the year?
Dzeko: “I have hope that I can do the same in Italy. It’s definitely not easy with Juventus having it the last few years and not selling, only buying new players. Last season was really good for us. We were very close but we still dropped some easy points against the small teams and that cost us at the end. Next year we play Champions League. We changed coaches and a few players left and others came so we have to gather up to the new style of the coach and the new players have to learn what it is to play in Italy. Hopefully this season can be better than last, but we have to go step-by-step.”
PST: Wolfsburg had never won, and Man City hadn’t in 40-plus years. Can those experiences help in pushing Roma to its first scudetto since 2001?
Dzeko: “Hopefully. Also when I went to City and we won the first and second title, the team was probably was one of the best in England where it’s also not so easy to win the title. I have another three years contract in Rome and this town and these fans deserve a title. It’s such a shame, every year without a title for this club.”
PST: What would it mean?
Dzeko: “It would mean everything. Hopefully we will manage to do this in the next few years, but it would mean everything to them. I’d habe a lot of good feelings if Roma would manage to win the title. It would be amazing for all the players. They will love us and never forget. The people in Rome, they live for football. They live for us.”
PST: Hector Moreno mentioned that hunger in training was evident in just the few days he’s been there.
Dzeko: “You have to be hungry for good things because it’s a new young team, a new coach, and the team is step-by-step building itself in new directions. We lost four, five players from last seasons so it’s never easy to bring seven, eight new players and immediately work it out. So this preseason is important.”
PST: You’re Bosnia and Herzegovina’s all-time leading scorer, and you seem to relish international breaks and pulling on the shirt.
Dzeko: “I’m proud of myself for what I’ve achieved because I remember when I was young and I was looking to the players, my idols, who were playing with Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s something special, we can take it to heart and I’m proud that I can be the idol of some young boys in Bosnia that can still believe they can do some good things and positive stuff in the future. When someone from our small country goes out and plays in a league like Italy, it gives the confidence for the rest of the young people that they can know that everything is possible.”
PST: You’re also pretty active in causes around Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Dzeko: “It’s important for me because it’s my country, it’s the country that gave me everything, where I grew up for 18 years before I left for Czech Republic first and then Germany, England, Italy. I want to help the people who need help because I have the possibility to do it. I will always be there for them and I’m also the UNICEF ambassador that makes me even more proud because I love kids.”
PST: Finally, Roma is in a different pot than Manchester City for this year’s UEFA Champions League. Would you like to be drawn with your old team, or prefer the clubs stay separate?
Dzeko: “I would love it, to be fair. I would love to go back there and even against City I bring so many good memories from the beautiful days and my connection with the fans and club. I would definitely look forward to it.”
Sigurdsson, 27, scored nine goals last season and teamed with Fernando Llorente to form a potent duo. He first made his PL impression with seven goals during a half-season loan from Hoffenheim, and moved to Spurs for a tumultuous two seasons.
He’s since recorded seven-, 11-, and 9-goal seasons for Swans.
Everton has spent big this summer and look set to have the depth to compete in both the Premier League and UEFA Europa League.