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.”

Serie A: Leaders Inter Milan open door for Juve by drawing Roma

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MILAN (AP) Italian league leader Inter Milan was held by Roma to 0-0 on Friday, giving second-placed Juventus a chance to return to the top.

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The home draw left Inter only two points ahead of Juventus, which can regain the lead when it visits third-placed Lazio on Saturday.The result also wasn’t good for Roma, which moved from fifth to fourth place in the standings but remained nine points off the lead after 15 matches.

Inter forward Lautaro Martinez had one of the game’s best chances when he got past a defender and entered the area in the 68th minute, but his shot was blocked at the last minute. He called for a handball by the defender but the referee let play continue.

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Inter was coming off five straight wins in the league, with its last setback in all competitions last month against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. Its last league loss was against Juventus in October, nine matches ago.

Roma was seeking its third straight league win. It had won five of its last six matches since last month.

Inter visits Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Premier League Preview: Man City v. Man United

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  • Man City (3rd) trail Liverpool by 11 points
  • Man United (6th) eight points out of 4th
  • Last meeting: Man United 0-2 Man City

For the first time in recent memory, Manchester City and Manchester United each find themselves failing to meet expectations — by their own respective standards, at least — as they prepare to meet at the Etihad Stadium in the 179th Manchester derby on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Man City, the two-time defending Premier League champions, are looking increasingly unlikely to retain their crown for a third straight season but look a surefire bet to finish in the top-four, which is a place for which Man United would bite your hand off as they currently trail leaders Liverpool by more points (22) than they have points of their own (21).

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The struggles for United have been all about consistency as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side hasn’t won back-to-back games all season. The Red Devils haven’t won two in a row in the PL since March. On the bright side, United turned in one of their complete performances of the season on Wednesday, spoiling Jose Mourinho’s return to Old Trafford and beating Tottenham Hotspur 2-1. Marcus Rashford scored both goals and Solskjaer couldn’t rave enough about his 22-year-old forward after the game. From start to finish, United were the better team and looked in majority control, which isn’t something they’ve been able to say often in 2019.

As for City, they’ve simply been “not good enough” without ever actually being “bad” this season, given Liverpool’s scintillating form (14W-1D-0L thus far). Realistically, City likely need to pick up all 69 remaining points this season, and even then they might still come up short.

Injuries/suspensions

Man City: OUT – Sergio Aguero (thigh), Aymeric Laporte (knee), Leroy Sane (knee), Oleksandr Zinchenko (knee)

Man United: OUT – Anthony Martial (hamstring), Eric Bailly (knee), Marcos Rojo (undisclosed); QUESTIONABLE: Paul Pogba (ankle), Nemanja Matic (groin), Diogo Dalot (groin)


Projected lineups

Man City: Ederson — Walker, Otamendi, Fernandinho, Angeliño — Rodri, De Bruyne, Silva — Bernardo, Jesus, Sterling

Man United: De Gea — Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Young — Fred, McTominay, James, Mata, Lingard — Rashford


What they’re saying

Pep Guardiola, on the derby: “It’s Man United. I respect what they’ve done for English football, European, and world football. United have huge history and their quality is always there but we must try to beat them. We play against a good team, try to follow the performances we’ve put in and try to win the game. You know my opinion on the title race.”

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, on his derby memories: “It took many years before I played a Manchester derby myself. Of course, Man City are a better team now than when I was playing. … Confidence is a strange thing in football; you can get performances and results like Wednesday night and it boosts it so much. And I know our boys will be up for it. 24 hours less recovery time [than City] shouldn’t matter, you go on adrenaline.”


Prediction

The win over Tottenham was impressive, no doubt about it, but City remain a challenge of an entirely different class, no matter what their points total says. If the title is well and truly gone for Guardiola’s side, then retaining superiority in Manchester will have to suffice. City 3-1 United.

Premier League Preview: Everton v. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea sit 4th, with 29 points
  • Everton sit 18th, with 11 points
  • Last meeting: Everton 2-0 Chelsea

Everton’s start to the 2019-20 Premier League season has been beyond woeful (4W-2D-9L in 15 games) for any club, let alone one that had dreams of breaking into the top-six this season, resulting in manager Marco Silva losing his job on Thursday. Now, fewer than 48 hours later, the Toffees have to pick themselves back up and face a top-four side for the third straight game when Chelsea visit Goodison Park on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Having lost three straight PL games, including defeats to second-place Leicester City and leaders Liverpool this week alone, the next few weeks will go a long way toward seeing Everton leave the relegation zone in the rearview mirror or sink deeper and deeper into the muck of a season-long relegation battle. A piece of potentially positive news for Everton ahead of Saturday’s game: they are currently three games unbeaten against Chelsea (1W-2D-0L).

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As for the Blues, this could turn out to be a decisive week in their season. After losing to West Ham United last weekend, Frank Lampard‘s side bounced back with a win over Aston Villa on Wednesday. Then came the best news of all on Friday: Chelsea’s transfer ban has been cut in half and they will be able to sign players in January, meaning their young, thin squad can be bolstered as the look to solidify their Champions League place for next season.

With a floundering side like Everton next up on the fixtures list, the chance to move further clear of the Champions League chasing pack is perfectly ripe. Tammy Abraham (hip) returned for the game against Villa and scored the opening goal to take is season’s tally to 11 (second, behind Jamie Vardy). The 22-year-old has benefited more than anyone from what turned out to be Chelsea’s one-window transfer ban, doing more than enough to secure his place for the second half of the season, no matter what business they do in January.

Injuries/suspensions

Everton: OUT – Andre Gomes (ankle), Jean-Philippe Gbamin (thigh), Fabian Delph (hamstring), Cuco Martina (knee)

Chelsea: OUT – Ruben Loftus-Cheek (achilles), Antonio Rudiger (groin)


Projected lineups

Everton: Pickford — Sidibe, Keane, Mina, Digne — Schneiderlin, Davies, Sigurdsson — Iwobi, Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison

Chelsea: Kepa — James, Christensen, Zouma, Azpilicueta — Kante, Kovacic, Willian, Mount, Pulisic — Abraham


What they’re saying

Interim Everton boss Duncan Ferguson: “I’m a coach at the moment so I don’t think that is something I am considering at this time. It is my dream to be Everton manager but I am also realistic. Who wouldn’t want to be manager of Everton? There will be many top managers who want this job.”

Frank Lampard, on the new-manager bounce: “[Marco] Silva tried everything for the club and I’m sure that he will go on to manage well elsewhere. They might have an extra energy tomorrow as they rally.”


Prediction

Chelsea have far too much balance between defense and attack to hand Everton the glaring opportunities they will need to beat a genuine top-four side. That said, there’s far too much talent in that squad to continue to get beaten every time out, and perhaps seeing someone else take the blame will lift the burden off them and allow them to perform. Everton 2-2 Chelsea.

Klinsmann gets first point as Hertha Berlin manager

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FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) Jurgen Klinsmann claimed his first point since returning to coaching as his Hertha Berlin team let slip a two-goal lead to draw with Frankfurt 2-2 in the Bundesliga on Friday.

[ MORE: Chelsea transfer ban reduced; can sign players in January ]

Hertha was clinging to a 2-1 lead in the 86th minute when Sebastian Rode hammered the ball in from a corner for Frankfurt to deny the Berlin team the win.

Hertha is in the relegation playoff spot in 16th and winless in its last six league games, while Frankfurt is 10th.

Dodi Lukebakio gave Hertha the lead with a shot through Frederik Ronnow’s legs. That goal was assisted by Marko Grujic, who later made it 2-0 with a header from a free kick.

However, Frankfurt almost immediately replied with a header of its own from Martin Hinteregger, the Austrian defender with five Bundesliga goals.

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Frankfurt’s fans expressed their disapproval of the video assistant referee after it ruled out two goals for the hosts. There was a rare disallowed own goal when Hertha goalkeeper Thomas Kraft palmed a cross into his own net but was found to have been pushed while jumping.

Klinsmann took over Hertha last week on a temporary deal until the end of the season, after Ante Covic was fired with the team under threat of relegation. Klinsmann hadn’t coached since being fired in 2016 by the United States, and last worked at a club in 2009 at Bayern Munich.