Nine things we (absolutely did not) learn from pre-season
1: It is the illustrious tournament that has seen Nicklas Bendtner, Carlos Vela and Marouane Chamakh all tease Arsenal fans by scoring in the lead-up to the new season, those same Gunners fans once boo Gonzalo Higuain literally just for joining Napoli instead of them, and the platform which Yaya Sanogo used to score four goals in a single game once.
Despite all this, the Emirates Cup has lost its magic. The competition that players often speak of as having grown up watching it on television, it has been overlooked one too many times. Clubs now prioritise success in the Premier and Champions League over lifting silverware in the first week of August. It’s sickening.
Even Arsenal, the proud five-time victors, took the competition for granted this year. Arsene Wenger rested a number of players ahead of the new season, playing youngsters in Reiss Nelson, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Cohen Bramall and Joe Willock. Mohamed Elneny even featured as a centre-half.
That Arsenal were able to retain the trophy on the basis of points awarded for every goals scored, this despite Sevilla being the only team to win both of their matches, did restore some pride to this once brilliant tournament. But there is only so much a noble rule can do.
Quite what the organisers of the Emirates Cup can do to repair this broken institution of pre-season is difficult to say. Perhaps the winner should be rewarded with a Champions League place? Maybe the prize money can be increased?
It is just a shame to see such a wonderful, historic competition lose its magic.
2: Thankfully, the successor to the Emirates Cup may already have been found. The Audi Cup was a breath of fresh air, an enthralling addition to the pre-season calendar.
But one can only worry about the effect that a penalty shoot-out defeat in the final can have on Liverpool. The Reds fought valiantly to reach the last two, but Atletico Madrid proved their mettle from 12 yards to lift the trophy.
Jurgen Klopp justifiably took aim at Atletico after the game. “Atletico wanted to win the cup,” he said, holding back the tears after missing out on football’s new greatest prize. “We did also, but we also wanted to play football, Atletico only wanted to win the cup.”
Jose Mourinho said it back in May: “There are lots of poets in football but poets, they don’t win many titles.”
If Klopp is fortunate enough to survive this setback with his position still safe, and his players are strong enough to overcome the mental blow of the defeat, then Liverpool might have a chance this season. But that’s a big if.
3: What do Alexandre Lacazette, Sead Kolasinac, Alvaro Morata, Mohamed Salah, Andrew Robertson, Dominic Solanke, Romelu Lukaku, Victor Lindelof, Nemanja Matic and many, many other players all have in common?
4: In terms of current betting odds, the top five candidates for the 2017/18 Premier League Golden Boot are as follows: Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku, Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus and Alvaro Morata.
The bookmakers, unsurprisingly, have got it wrong. That quintet is, to a man, wonderful, talented, and more than capable of punishing any defence. But the fact is that there is one huge omission from that list. One incredible oversight. One embarrassing mistake.
No player has scored more goals for a Premier League side in pre-season than new Huddersfield signing Tom Ince (4). You can get him at 500/1. You’re welcome. Don’t mention it.
5: In a similar vein, Football365 can reveal how the Premier League 2017/18 table will look come May. This is based on pre-season results, with point handed out in the traditional manner for draws and wins. Even though some clubs played considerably fewer games than others this summer, and some still haven’t actually completed their full schedule, this is pretty much certain:
- Liverpool (17 points)
- Manchester United (16 points)
- Burnley (14 points)
- Bournemouth (12 points)
- Brighton (11 points)
- Huddersfield (11 points)
- Arsenal (10 points)
- Newcastle (10 points)
- Manchester City (9 points)
- Leicester (8 points)
- Swansea (8 points)
- West Brom (8 points)
- Everton (7 points)
- Stoke (7 points)
- Watford (7 points)
- Crystal Palace (6 points)
- Southampton (5 points)
- West Ham (5 points)
- Chelsea (3 points)
- Tottenham (3 points)
There it is, folks. Liverpool are pipping Manchester United to the title, with Burnley and Bournemouth qualifying for the champions League. Last season’s top two and this season’s bottom two, with Chelsea and Tottenham joined in dropping to the Championship by West Ham. The Hammers are relegated by virtue of the alphabet.
6: When anyone is asked for the single greatest Premier League team of all-time, the answers are varied.
Numeorus iterations of Manchester United sides are mentioned, from the 1998/99 Treble-winning squad, to the 2008 European champion vintage.
Chelsea sides of lore are regarded highly, from Jose Mourinho’s winning machines in 2005 and 2006 to Carlo Ancelotti’s free-scoring team at the turn of the decade.
Recent Manchester City teams are fondly remembered by many a neutral, with the Sergio Aguero-inspired side celebrated for their thwarting of United on the final day of the 2011/12 season.
Liverpool, Newcastle and Tottenham can also offer memorable entries, while I’ll be damned if Ricky Sbragia’s legendary Sunderland side are ever forgotten.
But for many people, Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ of the 2003/04 achieved something that sets them apart from the rest: They went a whole Premier League season unbeaten.
Expect their record to be equalled this campaign. Brighton, Burnley and Everton have all avoided defeat in pre-season, while Liverpool have also not been beaten in 90 minutes. But with the Reds ruled out due to the emotional turmoil caused by the aforementioned penalty shoot-out loss in the Audi Cup, Seagulls, Clarets and Toffees can look forward to 38-game unbeaten runs.
7: Jose Mourinho hates little people.
Jose Mourinho tried to discover and subseqently contact the publishers of the Bible after being incensed by the irresponsible lack of realism involved in David defeating Goliath in battle.
Jose Mourinho was equally angered when reading Jack and the Beanstalk, and he celebrates whenever San Francisco’s baseball team is victorious.
Jose Mourinho is surrounding himself with an army of giants at Manchester United.
The Portuguese’s three summer signings in Victor Lindelof, Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic are all man mountains, and have been added to an already physically imposing squad at Old Trafford.
In total, the manager has used 15 players who are 6ft or over in pre-season. It will be a tall order to beat them.
8: In news that will surprise absolutely no-one, Tony Pulis is a hero.
For the Welshman, pre-season is complete bliss. He has a full summer to devise set-pieces, tactics, and ways of breaking records for lowest possession in a 90-minute game.
The West Brom manager kicked off June by falling out with club-record signing Nacer Chadli over his training schedule which, according to the Daily Telegraph, ‘includes 5am starts and back-to-back jogs up Austrian hills’. All presumably while wearing branded merchandise from the club shop.
Predicting West Brom’s collapse in March after reaching the 40-point mark is hardly outlandish, but looking at their pre-season fixtures, it seems that history will repeat itself at The Hawthorns. The Baggies have played more friendlies than any other Premier League side this summer (9), including two fixtures each on two separate days.
9: With Diego Costa now an outcast at Stamford Bridge, and Antonio Conte expressing doubts over Alvaro Morata’s fitness, perhaps there is a spot as Chelsea’s first-choice striker nwow up for grabs.
Michy Batshuayi has done his best to ensure that he is in the frame if so. The striker has scored three goals in three pre-season fixtures, leading the line wonderfully in each for the champions. Combined with scoring the decisive goal which eventually sealed the Premier League title at the end of last season, the £30million purchase might finally have earned his opportunity in London.
The forward’s first chance will surely come from the start against Arsenal in the Community Shield on Sunday, and he should fare well against Arsenal’s three-man defence. If he impresses, Conte will find it impossible to ignore him again.
Who else is excited for Morata to quickly build his match fitness and start against Burnley on August 12?