Petr Cech edges Bernd Leno at Arsenal - so what's Unai Emery's plan?
When Liverpool's much vaunted "Fab Four" were lighting it up in the opening months of last season, Sadio Mane was very much the George Harrison of the group. Philippe Coutinho and Mohamed Salah were John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the headliners, while Roberto Firmino was Ringo Starr -- not always fully appreciated by the mainstream audience but with his own cult of dedicated followers.
Like Harrison, Mane was an important part of a successful group and everybody knew who he was, but he was overshadowed by his colleagues and was often in the background. Not exactly a peripheral figure, just not as heralded as the rest.
Coutinho moved on midway through last season and the "Fab Four" became a trio, yet Mane still remains very much third man. At most other clubs he'd be the star, but in Liverpool's forward line he remains the least glorified. Justifiably so given the accomplishments of Firmino and Salah.
All that could change this year, though. Mane struck twice in Liverpool's 4-0 win over West Ham United on opening weekend, continuing an impressive run that has seen him find the net 13 times in his past 17 appearances for the Reds.
It's only natural that Salah and -- to a lesser extent -- Firmino will get most of the attention. They performed at a higher level and more consistently than Mane did last year and the numbers are there to prove it. There's no shame in riding the coattails of "the Egyptian King" though, and Mane more than played his part in the success Liverpool's forward line enjoyed last year. Between the three of them, they plundered 91 goals. More than any trio in club history.
As a result of that you'll struggle to find any Liverpool fan (the sane ones anyway) calling for Mane to be replaced. He's a popular and a valued member of the side, but he isn't generally looked upon in quite the same lofty esteem as Firmino and Salah.
Put it this way: What if next summer Fabinho were to make good on his tongue-in-cheek promise of persuading Kylian Mbappe to move to Anfield? Who would be most under threat if the French sensation were to join the Reds? Certainly not Salah or Firmino. Mane has an opportunity to change that this year. He can make himself virtually untouchable, just like his two pals.
How? By upping his goal tally and avoiding the inconsistency that dogged him through parts of last season. Last year was a successful one for the former Southampton man, but his 20-goal return almost went under the radar because of the astonishing numbers posted by his two fellow forwards. Twenty goals would make him the top scorer for many clubs, but he was seven behind Firmino and a whopping 24 short of Salah's tally.
Most sides would give anything to get 20 goals from their third top scorer, so nobody at Liverpool has any complaints about Mane. But the truth is that as well as he did last year, he could easily have done better. In Europe he was on fire, bagging half of his goals during Liverpool's swashbuckling run to the Champions League final.
Domestically though, there was room for improvement. Ten Premier League goals was not a great tally for a player of Mane's quality in a team that creates as many chances as Liverpool do. Significantly, he's already a fifth of the way to matching that number after just one game this season. Realistically he should have ten by Christmas.
He began last year in scintillating form too until an unfortunate red card at Manchester City resulted in a three-game suspension and interrupted his rhythm. He was also hampered by a minor injury and it took him a little while to get going again.
He then suffered a midseason dip in form and looked to be struggling for confidence. It took a hat trick away at Porto in mid-February to get him fully back on track, and since then he hasn't looked back.
The great thing about Mane is that even when he's not playing particularly well he still makes things happen. If he doesn't score then he'll probably have an assist, or win a penalty, or make some sort of telling contribution. It's very rare that he makes no impression on a game, regardless of form.
When Liverpool play, all eyes are usually on Salah now, and that can work to Mane's advantage. While no one should rule out the possibility of Salah repeating what he did last year, it certainly won't be easy for him given the extra attention opponents will afford him given his sudden elevation into the realms of superstardom.
Being able to do it year in, year out is what has separated Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo from everybody else. Salah is yet to prove he can do it over a longer period of time, but that doesn't mean he won't. Perhaps he can pick up right where he left off last year, but the more likely scenario is there might be a slight drop off in production from the Egyptian.
If that happens, Mane can be the main beneficiary. Liverpool's forward line should still be able to reach somewhere between 90-100 goals this season, but they will perhaps be shared around a little more equally than last year.
If Mane can avoid a repeat of last year's slump and produce his best form consistently, 30 goals is a more than realistic target for him this year. Should that happen, then perhaps he will no longer be the third name mentioned when people talk about Liverpool's brilliant front three.
Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri doesn't want to turn his new side into Napoli 2.0.
The appointment of a new manager always creates some winners and losers. Maurizio Sarri's arrival has spelt good news for David Luiz and Willian, both set for a promising future at Chelsea having both been bound for the exit after falling out with Antonio Conte. But while both Brazilians look suited to Sarri's football philosophy, Cesc Fabregas' future looks decidedly precarious.
It would be interesting to know Fabregas' inner thoughts at Sarri's appointment. The emphasis on technical, possession-based football will surely have excited him though the additional focus on energy and effort will have worried him. Technically excellent yet seemingly lacking the tenacity required by his new manager, the Spain international could find himself in limbo over the coming months.
Fabregas' mood is unlikely to have been improved by the club's transfer activity that was focussed on enhancing the midfield options at Sarri's disposal. The acquisition of Jorginho from Napoli for an initial £50 million meant Fabregas' hopes of assuming the central playmaking role in a midfield three had now evaporated. Mateo Kovacic's loan switch from Real Madrid has seen Fabregas' opportunities diminish further. The temporary deal with no option to buy suggests that Sarri sees the Croatian as an immediate fixture in the first team rather than one for the future and Kovacic's blend of creativity and defensive diligence means he should slot comfortably into the system.
As well as the two fresh arrivals, there are now two other potential obstacles to the first team for Fabregas. Ross Barkley barely featured after joining for £15m in January, partly due to his own recovery from injury and also due to never gaining Conte's trust. Now, with a full preseason under his belt, the former Everton man feels like a brand new signing and is another to possess the two essential traits required in a Sarri midfield, namely energy and technique.
In a similar vein, Ruben Loftus-Cheek is now starting afresh at Stamford Bridge following his successful loan spell at Crystal Palace. Having been on the club's books since he was eight and impressing throughout the age groups, he has long been on the radar of Chelsea fans desperate to see the club's youth policy bear fruit in the first team. Now 22 and returning to the club after a summer spent involved with England's World Cup squad, Loftus-Cheek feels primed to make an impact at his boyhood club, reportedly rejecting a loan move to Bundesliga club Schalke.
While having young and enthusiastic midfield prospects at his command will be delighting Sarri, it will only serve to make Fabregas' attempts to impress the Italian all the more difficult. His dwindling dynamism means that he is not ideally suited to the rotation in midfield where each of the three can fill in for another when required. But that doesn't mean his cause is definitively lost.
At 31, he is not suddenly going to develop searing pace -- especially judging by the way Manchester City's Benjamin Mendy strolled past him during the Community Shield -- nor is he going to become a midfield enforcer overnight. He can, however, lean on the talents that have defined his glittering career: his vision, composure and peerless passing range.
Those assets are always valued and Sarri would be unwise to disregard Fabregas' quality and vast experience simply because he doesn't run around as much as others. Sure, he stuck out like a sore thumb in the 2-0 defeat to Manchester City though nobody in a Chelsea shirt covered themselves in glory that afternoon.
But there are few players in Europe that can both see and execute the type of pass that Fabregas can deliver and he is excellent at establishing successful on-pitch relationships with centre-forwards as seen with his almost telepathic connection with Diego Costa. With Alvaro Morata searching for goals and confidence, it might just be that his compatriot is the key to him finding the back of the net regularly once again.
That said, it is hard to see him regularly being part of the first team picture as long as the squad is fully fit and suspension-free. One of the hallmarks of Sarri's tenure at Napoli was his tendency to settle on a preferred starting XI and stick with it continuously unless disrupted by injuries or disciplinary action. With Fabregas not quite fitting the profile of his typical midfielder, he will almost certainly be considered as a fall back option rather than as one of Sarri's key lieutenants.
The former Barcelona man faced a very similar problem when Conte arrived in 2016 with the incoming boss dismissing him almost instantly. To Fabregas' great credit he thrust himself back into his manager's thoughts and into the first team through desire, application and no shortage of ability. Now two years older, it remains to be seen whether he can make history repeat itself or be forced to accept that his days on the frontline at Chelsea might just be coming to an end.
Alisher Usmanov has told Bloomberg he would consider investing in Everton if there was the right "proposal or a possibility."
Usmanov, who has agreed to sell his 30 percent stake in Arsenal to Stan Kroenke, is a business partner of Everton majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri.
The Russian tycoon, whose USM Holdings company sponsors Everton's Finch Farm training ground, bought his Arsenal stake in 2007, with his shares reported to be valued around £550 million.
"Should there be a proposal or a possibility to invest in them with good potential returns, I would consider the deal," Usmanov said.
"We are friends with Farhad Moshiri. If he needs the support, I am happy to help.
"When I bought the stake in Arsenal I believed that football brands would be able to generate profit. This is happening now."
Everton deputy chairman Keith Harris said Usmanov "understands his football very well and support can come in many ways, not just financial," adding that he could also offer "advice or moral support."
Earlier this month, Kroenke announced that Alisher Usmanov had agreed to sell his Arsenal stake to him.
The development has angered some Gunners fans because it would mean Kroenke could force the remaining smaller shareholders to sell their combined three percent stake, taking Arsenal into private ownership.
Manchester City winger Patrick Roberts is set to join Spanish club Girona on a season-long loan deal, sources have told ESPN FC.
Roberts, 21, has spent the last two seasons on loan at Scottish champions Celtic, who had been keen to sign him for a third year.
But he is now set to switch to City Football Group club Girona, who finished 10th in La Liga last season, with Celtic set to take Australia winger Daniel Arzani from City on a two-year loan deal instead.
Arzani, 19, completed a move to the Etihad Stadium from another CFG club, Melbourne City, on deadline day and a move to Scotland is seen as a good way to help with his development.
City could conclude a number of loan deals before European transfer windows shut.
Brazilian midfielder Douglas Luiz, 20, may follow Roberts to Girona, where he spent last season, after being denied a work permit, while Spanish midfielder Aleix Garcia joined Girona on loan for a second season earlier in the summer.
Belgium defender Jason Denayer is another expected to leave the club in August, with his former clubs Celtic and Galatasaray interested, according to reports.
ESPN's Stewart Robson shares his analysis on where Unai Emery's Arsenal side fell short in their 2-0 loss to Manchester City at the Emirates.
Arsenal's Unai Emery admits his side still have lots of work to do, as he aims to take the club back into Europe's elite.
Following Arsenal's Premier League opener, the FC crew assess Unai Emery's tactics, including the decision to include teenager Matteo Guendouzi.
Craig Burley and Paul Mariner believe Arsenal will have to be judged against the rest of the Prem because the gulf in quality against Man City was too great.
Arguably the most appealing thing for Arsenal fans this season is the sense of the unknown. Most supporters don't have any realistic aspirations to win the Premier League title -- and even the wildest dreamers at the Emirates would have had their ambition quelled by Manchester City's comprehensive 2-0 victory last Sunday.
Instead, Arsenal are engaged in a recognisable fight for the top four. Familiar though that particular fight is, there are many new elements this time round to stave off the ennui: a new head coach, a new style of play and a renewed enthusiasm in the stands. However, as of yet, Arsenal don't have a new first-choice goalkeeper. Despite the summer acquisition of Bernd Leno, Petr Cech is still in possession of the gloves and many Arsenal fans find themselves wondering why.
It was clear to most observers last season that Arsenal needed to make identifying a new keeper a priority in the transfer window. Cech made a number of individual errors which suggested that time was finally catching up with the former Chelsea man. Behind him, David Ospina had neither the height nor the temperament to offer a convincing alternative.
A number of names were linked with the position, but Arsenal plumped for Leno. Perhaps we should have seen that coming: after all, the club's new head of recruitmen, former Borussia Dortmund scout Sven Mislintat, has not been shy about returning to the Bundesliga on his shopping trips. It's safe to assume that Leno was his pick.
However, he does not yet appear to be Unai Emery's. The Spaniard alternated between his goalkeepers during preseason, but when it came to the opening Premier League match he stuck with Cech. Perhaps his experience played a part -- Cech has been named as one of Emery's five captains, and after a summer of upheaval perhaps he favoured steadying the ship with continuity in a goal. A new centre-half partnership in front of a new goalkeeper might simply have been too big a risk against a side as good as Manchester City.
Nevertheless, Arsenal fans will be a little concerned. After all, Leno was hardly a bargain purchase at £22.5 million. The subsequent fees Liverpool paid for Alisson and Chelsea for Kepa Arrizabalaga may have dramatically changed what goalkeepers cost moving forward, but it shouldn't be forgotten that when Arsenal signed Leno he instantly became the sixth most expensive keeper of all time. Given their comparably limited resources, a player with that kind of cost really ought to be good enough to be an automatic starter.
It's particularly concerning given the style of play Emery wants to adopt. It was clear from the City match that Arsenal will be attempting a short-passing approach, splitting the centre-backs and requiring the goalkeeper to be accurate and confident with his distribution. As Sunday proved, that is far from Cech's strong point.
Leno's preseason performances demonstrated that he is comfortable with the ball at his feet -- certainly more so than Cech. However, he did look positionally questionable and unable to dominate his penalty box. Ultimately, Emery had had a good look at both his goalkeepers and decided that he's going to stick with Cech, despite him being fundamentally ill-suited to the way he wants to play. To put it bluntly: Cech is so bad with his feet that it makes you wonder how bad Leno must be with his hands.
Perhaps an alternative logic behind Emery's decision. Leno, 26, is a decade younger than Cech, and it's possible that Emery simply wants to give him time to acclimatise to English football rather than throw him straight in at the deep end. However, his decision to start a midfielder in Matteo Guendouzi who is more accustomed to playing in Ligue 2 against City does seem to suggest that Emery is not inclined to that manner of conservative thinking.
Whatever happens, Leno will eventually get his chance to impress. Arsenal's participation in the Europa League means he's likely to pick up plenty of game time even as second choice. When he does eventually take the field in a competitive game, the scrutiny will be considerable. Emery's selection of Cech is the first indicator of a bit of dissonance between the head coach and the recruitment team. If Arsenal have really spent more than £20m on a goalkeeper Emery does not consider good enough to start, it does not reflect well on Mislintat.