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.”

Americans Abroad: Johnson, Yedlin register starts; Miazga injured in FA Cup bout

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After last weekend served as the year’s best weekend yet for Americans abroad, positive activity was scarce this time around.

Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin returned to their respective team’s starting lineups, but neither them or any other American abroad managed to put the ball in the back of the net.

To make matters worse, Matt Miazga left Reading’s match on Saturday with an apparent ankle injury.

Here is a list of several other USMNT affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) abroad this weekend.

FA Cup

DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle — Yedlin was back on Steve Bruce‘s starting lineup on Saturday. The fullback played all 90 minutes in Newcastle’s draw with Oxford United.

Duane Holmes, Derby County — Holmes remianed on the bench in Derby’s 0-0 draw with Northampton Town on Friday.

Matt Miazga, Reading (loan from Chelsea) — The 24-year-old captain started and played 66 minutes before exiting the field with an apparent ankle injury against Cardiff City on Saturday.

Eric Lichaj, Hull City — The Tigers’ defender started and played 90 minutes in Hull’s 2-1 loss to Chelsea.

Geoff Cameron, QPR — The 34-year-old defender stayed on the bench in QPR’s 2-1 loss to Sheffield Wednesday on Friday.

Tim Ream, Fulham — Ream played the final six minutes in Fulham’s 4-0 loss to Manchester City on Sunday.

Ligue 1

Timothy Weah, Lille — Weah didn’t feature on the field or on Lille’s bench this weekend.

Theoson Jordan-Siebatcheu, Rennes — Jordon-Siebatcheu watched Rennes draw 1-1 with Nice from the bench.

Eredivisie

Haji Wright, VVV-Venlo — Wright remained on the bench in Venlo’s 2-1 win over RKC Waalwijk on Sunday.

Sergino Dest, Ajax — Dest started and played 90 minutes in Ajax’s 2-1 defeat to Groningen.

Desevio Payne, FC Emmen — The U-23 MNT fullback didn’t dress for FC Emmen on Sunday.

Bundesliga

Timmy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt — The fullback played 89 minutes in Frankfurt’s 2-0 win over RB Leipzig on Saturday.

Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig — Adams started and played 71 minutes for Leipzig.

Weston McKennie, Schalke — McKennie is back and running, playing 10 minutes for Schalke in their 5-0 loss to Bayern Munich.

Zack Steffen, Fortuna Dusseldorf — Steffen is inactive with an injury.

Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf — Morales started and played 90 minutes in Fortuna’s 3-0 loss to Bayer Leverkusen.

Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen  The 19-year-old started and played 66 minutes in Werder Bremen’s 3-0 loss to Hoffenheim.

Fabian Johnson, Borussia Mönchengladbach — Johnson made his way back into Mönchengladbach’s starting cast, playing 87 minutes on Sunday.

Honorable Mentions

Alex Mendez, Jong Ajax — Mendez played all 90 minutes and registered an assist in Jong Ajax’s 3-3 draw with  NEC Nijmegen.

Mexicans Abroad: Vela starts preseason with a bang; Davila continues to shine in A-League

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It took Carlos Vela 10 minutes to prove that he didn’t lose a step over Major League Soccer’s lengthy offseason.

Vela, 30, started his third preseason in grandiose fashion, scoring a trademark left-footed curler against Uruguayan giants Peñarol. The Mexican winger, who scored a league-record 34 goals in 31 matches, inspired LAFC’s 2-0 win at the Banc of California Stadium.

Thousands of miles away, an old friend of Vela, Ulises Davila, delivered the good for his club once again. The Chivas academy product scored a goal and provided an assist in Wellington Phoenix’s 2-1 win over Newcastle Jets.

Here is a list of several other Mexico national team affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) outside of Mexico this weekend.


Premier League

Raul Jimenez, Wolverhampton Wanderers —  Jimenez and Wolves did not feature this weekend, but they did on Thursday, and the Mexican shined then. Jimenez scored his 11th goal of the season in Wolves’ 2-1 loss to leaders Liverpool, equalling Harry Kane‘s and Sadio Mane’s count. Thhe goal, itself, was a masterpiece:

La Liga

Hector Herrera, Atletico Madrid — Herrera took the field in the 62nd minute for Angel Correa and completed 25 passes in Atletico’s 0-0 draw with Leganes.

Andres Guardado, Real Betis —  Guardado started but left the field 34 minutes in after picking up an injury. Betis dropped three points after losing to Getafe 1-0.

Diego Lainez, Real Betis — The 19-year-old was not called up to Betis’ bench on Sunday. 

Nestor Araujo, Celta Vigo — Araujo started and played 90 minutes in Celta’s draw with Eibar on Sunday.

Serie A

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Napoli —  With reports linking the frenetic winger to Everton, Lozano continues lack playing minutes with Napoli. The 24-year-old was on Genaro Gattuso’s bench on Sunday, but was not substituted on in Napoli’s 2-1 win over Juventus.

Primeira Liga

Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, FC Porto — Tecatito started and played all 90 minutes in Porto’s 1-0 loss to Braga in the Taca da Liga final. It was reported that the 27-year-old’s home in Portugal was burglarized during the match.

Eredivisie

Erick Gutierrez, PSV Eindhoven —  Gutierrez earned his first minutes of competitive playing time of the year on Sunday. The midfielder played the final eight minutes of PSV’s draw with FC Twente on Sunday.

Edson Alvarez, Ajax — Alvarez dressed but remained on the bench for Ajax on Sunday.

Major League Soccer

Carlos Vela, LAFC – Vela kickstarted LAFC’s 2020 preseason in spectacular fashion. Take a look for yourself:

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Omar Govea, Zulte Waregem — Govea and Zulte were inactive this weekend.

Elsewhere around the globe:

Ulises Davila, Wellington Phoenix – On Thursday, Davila played a tremendous role in Phoenix’s 2-1 win, scoring a goal and adding an assist against Newcastle Jets. Davila is the A-League’s fourth highest scoring this season with 10 goals.

Serie A roundup: Struggling Napoli stun leaders Juventus (video)

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Napoli’s much-needed win against leaders Juventus highlights Sunday’s busy Serie A action.

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Napoli 2-1 Juventus

Second-half goals from Piotr Zielinski and Lorenzo Insigne earned Napoli a hard-earned 2-1 win over leaders Juventus in San Paolo. 

Gli Azzurri’s win marks their first in three Serie A bouts and ended the Old lady’s five-game winning streak.

Cristiano Ronaldo managed to extend his goalscoring streak to eight games in the final minutes of the match, but Juventus failed to go six point clear of second best Inter Milan, who drew on Sunday.

Following the game, the visitor’s boss, Maurizio Sarri, was delighted for Napoli, who he managed from 2015 to 2018.

“I am happy for the lads, as I will always be fond of them,” he told Sky Sport Italia. “If you have to lose, I guess I’d rather it be here to help Napoli get out of their current problems. I’d rather they started winning next week, of course.”

“Clearly, the game takes over and you have to detach yourself from everything around that,” he added. “Napoli represented a special moment in my life and it’s always pleasing and emotional to be back here.”

As for Napoli, the home league victory – their first since October – takes loads of pressure from their back. The club, under the guidance of Gennaro Gattuso, had been struggling.

The club stands 10th with 27 points after 21 games, but has a long ways to go, according to Gattuso.

“We beat two good teams now, fine, but we are still in trouble, still a long way back and need to keep pushing,” he said. “I congratulate the lads for the work they’ve done over the last seven days, but we have to keep going like this now, do not let up, focus on Napoli 24 hours a day.”

Up next for Napoli is Sampdoria, while Juventus host Fiorentina.

Elsewhere in Serie A 

Inter Milan 1-1 Cagliari

Parma 2-0 Udinese

Sampdoria 0-0 Sassuolo 

Verona 3-0 Lecce

Roma 1-1 Lazio

La Liga roundup: Nacho header powers Real Madrid to top of table (video)

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Real Madrid’s close win at the Estadio Jose Zorilla to go atop of Spain’s top-flight highlights La Liga’s Sunday action.

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Real Valladolid 0-1 Real Madrid

Real Madrid is three points clear at the top of La Liga after Nacho Fernandez’s header in the 78th minute against Real Valladolid on Sunday.

With defending champions Barcelona dropping three, crucial points against Valencia on Saturday, Zinedine Zidane and company take a giant leap in the tight title race. Los Blancos’ 46 points are the most within La Liga with less than a half a season to go.

But even then, the French manager was reluctant to accept that his team did enough against Valladolid to claim league triumph.

“For us, nothing changes,” Zidane said. “We are happy with the victory, the work done having fought until the end, but nothing changes. There are 17 games left and we will continue fighting until the end.

“I don’t want to talk about being champions because there is still a lot left to play. It changes nothing to be leaders, they are three important points but nothing more.

“There are a lot of league games left and it will be difficult for all teams, including us.”

Madrid’s defense shined all 90 minutes, denying the hosts from registering a shot on target and producing the match-winning goal via Nacho.

“Defensively, what we are doing, we are doing well. It is our strength,” Zidane also told reporters. “We defend all and when we lose the ball we recover it very high, and if we keep it we have a good chance of scoring.”

“Nacho scored and that is part of football. We know that we can improve in this aspect,” he added. “Nacho is a professional. When he has to compete he does well. I’m glad for his goal; he doesn’t usually score them but from time-to-time we can also create chances for defenders.”

Debuting for Madrid in 2011, Nacho has made 133 appearances and scored seven goals. His goal on Sunday perhaps the most important, earning his team what is arguably their most crucial league win this season.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Atletico Madrid 0-0 Leganes

Celta Vigo 0-0 Eibar

Getafe 1-0 Real Betis

Real Sociedad 3-0 Mallorca