Scouting report: Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny much more than a destroyer

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Following Arsenal’s $11 million capture of Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Elneny from FC Basel last week, many Gunners fans will be wondering what to expect from the central midfielder.

Elneny, 23, has excelled in Switzerland over the past three years and that led Arsene Wenger to snap him up for a relatively modest fee during the January window.

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The rangy midfielder was in Arsenal’s 18-man squad for their 0-0 draw at Stoke City last Sunday but didn’t get on so everyone is still waiting to get a glimpse of him in action.

This week I tracked down a man who knows Elneny better than most: former USMNT and Egypt coach, Bob Bradley. Bradley 57, is currently the head coach of French side Le Havre AC who are chasing promotion to France’s Ligue 1 and currently sit in third spot in France’s second-tier.

Bradley helped nurture Elneny from the youth teams into a full international as he appeared for Egypt’s U-23 side at the 2012 Olympics and has gone on to become an influential figure for the Pharaohs. The experienced American coach believes that Arsenal fans expecting Elneny to be only a true destroyer in central midfield will be pleasantly surprised.

“He is an all-round midfielder capable of playing different roles. He reads the game, he moves well and he can play a little bit deeper,” Bradley explained. “He’s an all-round midfielder who can play deeper when needed, he can move forward and shoot from distance but he’s not just a guy who stays in there and breaks up plays.”

Elneny is said to be smooth on the ball, has an impressive range of passing and can link defense and attack seamlessly. He sounds like a very Arsenal-esque acquisition and could complement Francis Coquelin rather than replace him. So the questions surrounding where he will slot in to this Arsenal side may have changed a little.

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However, one of the big question marks surrounding players who have played on the European continent but then arrive in England is: “can they handle the pace of the Premier League?”

“It is an adjustment for anybody but I think that his experience of playing against Premier League teams in the Champions League and Europa League is going to help,” Bradley said.

Dia El-Sayed, the coach of Egypt’s U-20 team while Bradley was in charge of the Pharaohs from 2011-13, played a huge role in the development of Elneny and his teammate at El Mokawloon El Arab Sporting Club and then at Basel, former Chelsea player Mohamed Salah. Under his tutelage Elneny, the boy from the small northern Egyptian town of El-Mahalla, grew into a man.

Around the time of Elneny’s emergence into the full Egyptian national team, the Port Said Massacre occurred in Feb. 2012 meaning that the Egyptian league was cancelled indefinitely amid the violent uprising against the government.

That meant the Egyptian players had nowhere to play, so Bradley often took his national team squad and several youngsters out of the country for trips to train and play friendlies in the likes of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Tripoli and Lebanon ahead of 2014 World Cup qualifying. El-Sayed — someone who Bradley describes as his “brother” and said everything he achieved with the national team wouldn’t have been possible without the coach by his side — was instrumental in setting up those trips with plenty of his young stars making their way through under Bradley.

To start with Elneny was tentative, but the more Bradley saw him the more he liked him.

“When Elneny started he was still young, he was only 19, but you could see that he trained really well every day. In the training he was improving technically. You could tell how he worked and how he wanted to get better. Little by little he became an important part of our team,” Bradley said. “His passing got sharper. He started to improve his ability with long passes. He was always a player who didn’t hesitate to shoot from distance and at that time it wasn’t always that he was scoring a lot, but you could see all these starting points.”

With Salah heading to FC Basel in 2012, Elneny followed him in 2013 with Bradley speaking to the Swiss club direct (sporting director George Heitz to be exact) to help arrange the moves for his players who were still without regular action as the nationwide ban on professional soccer continued in Egypt. Those restrictions helped the likes of Salah and Elneny move to Europe and they haven’t looked back since.

“Salah went first to Basel and then at some point when I spoke to the people at Basel we mentioned Elneny,” Bradley said. “We said that he is a player who is on the way up. He trains hard, he is improving. They waited six months after Salah had gone and then were able to get him as they were both at the same team in Egypt, El Mokawloon El Arab Sporting Club. When he got to Basel it was over that time that he matured a little bit. He covers a lot of ground and can play a more defensive role, he is an all-round midfielder, has a good passing range and has ability to score from outside of the box. Most of all, I think he is still improving. The thing that was very good for him at Basel was the experience in Champions League and Europa League.”

With a few Egyptians flourishing in the PL for short periods of time in the past — Mido and Amir Zaki spring to mind, while Salah has spent two spells on loan before moving permanently to Roma from Chelsea — Bradley expects Elneny to grab the chance with both hands and revealed a little about his character and his journey to the Emirates Stadium from Egypt.

“Now is a great opportunity and I know how excited he is,” Bradley revealed. “His English — Salah went to Basel and learnt English quickly — he hasn’t learned as fast. But that will come. He is a good guy, he is married. And if you remember, there is a scene in American Pharaoh (PBS documentary on Bradley’s time coaching Egypt) when we were all together playing the final matches of World Cup qualifying Elneny’s wife gave birth to a son, Malik Mohamed Elneny. There is the scene in the documentary where we are all cutting the cake and all cheering for Elneny.

“You think about this young guy that Dia knew so well, he came into the national team and how he grew and we were obviously able to help with the move to Basel and how he has continued to improve. For Dia, myself, my coaching staff in Egypt and all the Egyptians, this is something that everyone feels very good about and we are excited for him to have his chance.”

Lletget and Dos Santos send Galaxy through past Minnesota United

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The fans were buzzing at Allianz Field as Minnesota United got its first playoff campaign under way at home, but the jubilation didn’t last long as the LA Galaxy spoiled the party with a 2-1 win over the wasteful hosts. Sebastian Lletget and Jonathan dos Santos were on hand to lift the visitors on a night to forget for strikers on both sides.

Just seven minutes in the porous LA Galaxy defense parted beautifully for Minnesota, but the home side couldn’t capitalize. On the break a wonderful cross reached Angelo Rodriguez with the goal gaping, but he completely whiffed on the chance with Dave Bingham charging.

The home side produced much of the attacking intent through the first half-hour, and again nearly went in front as Robin Lod blasted over the bar with a glorious chance to smash home the opener. Bingham turned sweeper keeper to smother another chance minutes before the break as a ball long for Ethan Finlay got behind the Galaxy defense.

After the break, Minnesota again had a chance to go in front as Romain Metanire sent in a delicious ball in front of net, but Rodriguez couldn’t head on target, flailing at the ball and ending up with his back to the net when he made contact. The Galaxy’s best chance of the first hour fell to Zlatan Ibrahimovic who found himself all alone near the far post on a corner, but he too flubbed the chance, unable to make solid contact while instead sending the ball skittering out of play off the side of his foot.

With strikers on both sides struggling mightily to make the most of chances, the LA Galaxy went in front against the run of play. Christian Pavon found Zlatan all alone about six yards in front of net, and while his shot was blocked, the rebound fell right to the feet of a charging Lletget who deposited his chance in a game begging for a finish.

Ibrahimovic’s struggles continued as his one-on-one chance with Vito Mannone was smothered by the goalkeeper, but moments later Jonathan dos Santos produced a wonderful curler that Mannone couldn’t reach and put the Galaxy 2-0 up.

There was still hope for Minnesota as they got a consolation with four minutes to go as Jan Gregus pulled one back for the hosts with a vicious low strike that rocketed into the bottom corner for the first real moment of tenacity up front for Minnesota United. Unfortunately, that would be it for the visitors as they sent Mannone forward for a late corner but nothing came of it and the final whistle blew.

The Galaxy move on to a dream matchup with their neighbors LAFC, while Minnesota United falls for the first time in 13 home games and their season comes to an end.

Rumblings that Real Madrid has contact with Jose Mourinho

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Real Madrid sits second in the La Liga table and has only just lost its first league match of the season, but manager Zinedine Zidane is reportedly already on the hot seat.

With a loss to Mallorca this weekend adding to a pair of Champions League disappointments to start group stage play, Zidane’s status is in question. While there is nothing from the more concrete sources, Spanish tabloids have begun to whisper that the club has been in contact with former manager Jose Mourinho, as Florentino Perez has flirted multiple times with returning the Portuguese boss to the Spanish capital over the last 12 months.

El Churingito reports that with Zidane under pressure, Perez has reached out to Moruinho to judge his interest in the position. The two have a history, with Mourinho taking charge of the side from 2010-2013 before a mutual split after what Mourinho called “the worst [season] of my career.” The reports state that Mourinho has a great relationship with Perez which could convince him to return. Rumors of his return are not new, as two months ago another tabloid report claimed an eventual reunion was possible.

Mourinho has been out of the game since he left Manchester United in December, serving as a pundit in a number of different capacities. At Old Trafford, Mourinho was unable to help the Red Devils return to the glory days of Sir Alex Ferguson, plagued by negative tactics and inconsistent results.

This season, Madrid has fallen victim to poor defending and a lack of finishing. Luka Jovic has not enjoyed a flying start to his Madrid career, while Gareth Bale again has found himself injured. Raphael Varane was benched for the Mallorca match in favor of Eder Militao and Dani Carvajal was rested, but a seventh minute Lago Junior goal was enough to down the giants. Carvajal’s stand-in Alvaro Odriozola was sent off in the 74th minute, making things even more difficult. With the club failing to win either of its first two European matches against PSG and Club Brugge, the pressure has risen on Zidane despite his past successes with the club.

La Liga: Sevilla squeaks by Levante, La Real back to winning ways

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Real Sociedad put its two-game losing streak to bed and remained in the mix at the top of the La Liga table, turning around an early 1-0 deficit and winning 3-1 at home over Real Betis.

Lorenzo Moron scored 12 minutes in for the visitors, but a Javi Garcia own-goal leveled the score while Willian Jose and Portu sealed the three points. Martin Odegaard was fantastic again for La Real, constantly proving a threat in the buildup. Man of the Match, however, was Mikel Merino who was active in the midfield and popped up occasionally in the attacking third. The win pushes La Real up to fourth in the table, two points behind second-placed Real Madrid and three back of leaders Barcelona.

Sevilla was held for 86 minutes at home by Levante, but Luuk De Jong gave the hosts all three points as he rose high above Erick Cabaco to head home Jesus Navas’s cross from deep. Sevilla held over 60% possession throughout the match and racked up nine corners to Levante’s one, but didn’t create much in front of net until the final 15 minutes. Chicharito and De Jong both missed within two minutes of each other, and the latter eventually converted to push Sevilla to sixth in the La Liga table.

Alaves picked up a big three points over Celta Vigo with a 2-0 home win on second half goals from Lisandro Magallan and Lucas Perez. The visitors managed just two shots on target and had just one clear cut chance that Santi Mina failed to put on frame seconds out of halftime. Former Newcastle striker Joselu had a bad miss past the half-hour mark but proved a threat for much of the match, ripping off six shots on his own. Alaves also picked up five yellow cards in the match, but ultimately jumped out of the relegation zone and past Celta Vigo into 14th.

Villareal moved to seventh in the table with a 1-0 road victory at Espanyol. Cameroon international Karl Toko Ekambi scored his third goal of the season in the 17th minute and the visiting defense spoiled the Espanyol attack all game long. The hosts put forth 18 shots but managed to get just three of them on target. Santi Cazorla has been stellar all season for Villareal, and he went the full 90 minutes again, not adding much up front but proving a menace in midfield.

Athletic Club drew 1-1 with Real Valladolid as Inaki Williams put Athletic up just after the half-hour mark, but an Inigo Martinez own-goal pegged them back with 20 minutes to go. Athletic popped off 17 shots to Real Valladolid’s seven but Jordi Masip made six saves in net for Real Valladolid to spoil the home side’s day, leaving Athletic in eighth with 13 points.

Fabian downs Red Bulls in extra time, sends Philadelphia to conference semis

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A wild and wacky game saw Philadelphia come from two goals down to force extra time, and Marco Fabian bagged the eventual winner in the 105th minute to put the Union into the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 4-3 win. The victory is the first in playoff action for the Union in club history.

New York held a 3-1 advantage at halftime as Josh Sims, Tim Parker, and Tom Barlow all found the back of the net for the visitors in the opening 45 minutes, while Alejandro Bedoya found the back of the net himself.

After the break, things got even more wild. New York coughed up the lead, with Jack Elliott and Fabrice Picault each striking once despite a solid display from Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles. With the game level, the final 15 minutes were all Philadelphia as the Eastern Conference three seed peppered New York’s penalty area, but Robles made a fabulous save on a Jamiro Monteiro effort from point blank range at the back post.

In extra time, Fabian found the back of the net with what appeared to be a chipped cross that took a slight deflection and snuck into the top corner from a tight angle.

The Union will get a matchup with Atlanta United in the semifinals, after Frank De Boer engineered a 1-0 win over New England.