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2021 AFCON Group B Preview

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While the Africa Cup of Nations is set to begin on January 9, Group B’s fixtures commence on Monday. The second group in the tournament will be using the Kouekong stadium.

Premier League News Now turns its attention to Group B, where we have last year finalist Senegal, Guinea, Zimbabwe and Malawi, look at the favourites to advance from the group as well the teams’ performances in their involvement at the continental showpiece, their best players to watch and the skippers from each side.

SENEGAL

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Senegal come into this year’s tournament following a convincing second-place finish in the 32nd edition in Egypt. The Teranga Lions lost to Algeria in the final in 2019.

Senegal come into this year’s event as big favourites and they have every right to be given that tag considering the performances they have churned out in the last few years on the continent.

Allou Cisse’s side qualified for the Afcon with an unbeaten record, keeping a threatening character in front of the goal in all their games. Sadio Mane will be relieved to have found the back of the net just before the start of the continental showdown. The Liverpool forward scored against Chelsea in the 2-2 draw in the Premier League.

A parade of stars in the Senegal squad include the likes of Edouard Mendy, Iddrisa Gueye and Kalidou Koulibaly. The team also hopes Watford‘s Ismaila Sarr could be given the go-ahead to participate in the competition should he recover in time.

His incredible form for Liverpool means, Mane will be key for Senegal and it will only be right to have eyes on him.

SENEGAL AFCON SQUAD:

Goalkeepers: Edouard Mendy (Chelsea, England), Alfred Gomis (Rennes, France), Seny Dieng (Queens Park Rangers, England).

Defenders: Bouna Sarr (Bayern Munich, Germany), Saliou Ciss (Nancy, France), Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli, Italy), Pape Abou Cisse (Olympiakos, Greece), Abdoulaye Seck (Royal Antwerp, Belgium), Abdou Diallo (Paris Saint-Germain, France), Ibrahima Mbaye (Bologna, Italy), Fode Ballo-Toure (AC Milan, Italy), Cheikhou Kouyate (Crystal Palace, England).

Midfielders: Pape Matar Sarr (Metz, France), Pape Gueye (Marseille, France), Nampalys Mendy (Leicester City, England), Idrissa Gana Gueye (Paris Saint-Germain, France), Moustapha Name (Paris FC, France), Mamadou Loum (Alaves, Spain), Joseph Lopy (Sochaux, France).

Forwards: Boulaye Dia (Villarreal, Spain), Sadio Mane (Liverpool, England), Habib Diallo (Strasbourg, France), Bamba Dieng (Marseille, France), Ismaila Sarr (Watford, England), Famara Diedhiou (Alanyaspor, Turkey), Mame Baba Thiam (Kayserispor,Turkey), Keita Balde (Cagliari, Italy).

GUINEA

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Guinea could only manage a one-eight finish in the last Africa Cup of Nations as they were beaten by Algeria, who went on to lift the trophy. The 2021 Afcon will be Guinea’s 13th appearance at the continental showpiece with their best ever performance coming in 1976, when they finished as runners up.

Liverpool’s Naby Keita is included in the Syli National’s final 28-man squad for the tournament. Keita is likely to wear the armband for Guinea as they go into another major tournament.

Former Arsenal striker, Kaba Diawara will be on the touchlines for the team as they seek their first competitive win since March 2021.

Keita will be the player to watch on the path of the Guineans in Group B.

GUINEA AFCON SQUAD:

Goalkeepers: Aly Keita (Ostersund, Sweden), Ibrahima Kone (Hibernians, Malta), Moussa Camara (Horoya, Guinea).

Defenders: Saidou Sow (St Etienne, France), Ibrahima Conte (Niort, France), Florentin Pogba (Sochaux, France), Ousmane Kante (Paris FC, France), Mohamed Aly Camara (Young Boys, Switzerland), Pa Konate (Botev Plovdiv, Bulgaria), Issiaga Sylla (Toulouse, France), Antoine Conte (Universitatea Craiova, Romania), Mikael Dyrestam (Sarpsborg 08, Norway).

Midfielders: Amadou Diawara (Roma, Italy), Ibrahima Cisse (Seriang, Belgium), Mory Konate (Sint-Truidense, Belgium), Ibrahima Sory Conte (Bnei Sakhnin, Israel), Ilaix Moriba (RB Leipzig), Mamadou Kane (Neftci, Azerbaijan), Morlaye Sylla (Horoya, Guinea), Aguibou Camara (Olympiacos, Greece), Naby Keita (Liverpool, England).

Forwards: Seydouba Soumah (Kuwait SC, Kuwait), Morgan Guilavogui (Paris FC, France), Mamadou Diallo (Grenoble, France), Jose Kante (Kairat, Kazakhstan), Mohamed Bayo (Clermont France), Sory Kaba (OH Leuven, Belgium).

ZIMBABWE

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Zimbabwe have huge injury concerns ahead of the tournament with Marvelous Nakamba (Aston Villa), Brendan Galloway (Plymouth) and Marshall Munetsi (Reims) all expected to miss the competition. The Warriors will also be without starman Khama Billiat, who has announced his retirement from international football.

Zimbabwe’s last Afcon appearance saw them take home just one point in three games as they finished bottom, conceding six goals in the games they played.

Breaking it down, Zimbabwe last won an Afcon game in 2006.

The inexperienced Zimbabwe side will be looking at leader, Knowledge Musona to take their inspiration. They are also fortunate to have Olympique Lyon forward Tino Kadewere as they go into the tournament.

ZIMBABWE AFCON SQUAD:

Goalkeepers: Petros Mhari, Martin Mapisa, Talbert Shumba.

Defenders: Peter Muduhwa, Alec Mudimu, Teenage Hadebe, Jordan Zemura, Godknows Murwira, Gerald Takwara, Gilroy Chimwemwe, Bruce Kangwa, Onismor Bhasera.

Midfielders: Kelvin Madzongwe, Thabani Kamusoko, Kudakwashe Mahachi, Ishmael Wadi, Never Tigere, Kundai Benyu.

Strikers: Admiral Muskwe, Prince Dube, David Moyo, Knowledge Musona, Tinotenda Kadewere.

MALAWI

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For the first time since 2010, Malawi will be making an appearance at the continental showpiece. The team has not been to the last five editions of the Afcon but would be excited to have the opportunity to fight with some of Africa’s biggest teams in Cameroon.

The tournament in the Central African country will be the Flames third appearance at the Afcon since their maiden appearance. In the previous two they have played in, they have failed to go past the group stage.

Charles Petro, who is the only European-based player in the squad, will look to help his side with his experience upon their return to the competition.

Malawi can only get better from here and it will be interesting to see how far they can go this time.

MALAWI PROVISIONAL AFCON SQUAD:

Goalkeepers: William Thole (Be Forward Wanderers), Ernest Kakhobwe (Nyasa Big Bullets), Charles Thom (Silver Strikers).

Defenders: Limbikani Mzava (Amazulu), Dennis Chembezi (Polokwane City), Nickson Nyasulu, Mark Fodya (Silver Strikers), Sankhani Mkandawire (Nyasa Big Bullets), Gomezgani Chirwa(Nyasa Big Bullets), Lawrence Chaziya (CIVO Sporting), Paul Ndlovu (Mafco), Stanley Sanudi (Be Forward Wanderers), Peter Cholopi(Be Forward Wanderers).

Midfielders: John Banda (UD Songo), Charles Petro (Sheriff Tiraspol), Chimwemwe Idana (Nyasa Big Bullets), Chikoti Chirwa (Red Lions), Micium Mhone (Blue Eagles), Gerald Phiri Junior (Al Hillal).

Strikers: Robin Ngalande (St. George), Yamikani Chester (Be Forward Wanderers), Schumacker Kuwali (UD Songo), Francisco Madinga (FC Dilla Gori), Peter Banda (Simba Sporting Club), Zebron Kalima (Silver Strikers), Richard Mbulu (Baroka FC), Khuda Muyaba (Polokwane City), Henry Kumwenda (Butler Bulldogs), Gabadinho Mhango (Orlando Pirates), Stain Davie (Silver Strikers).

GROUP B FIXTURES

Monday, 10 January: Senegal vs Zimbabwe, Guinea vs Malawi.

Friday, 14 JanuarySenegal vs Guinea, Malawi vs Zimbabwe.

Tuesday, 18 January: Malawi vs Senegal, Zimbabwe vs Guinea.

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One year of Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea – Back or Sack?

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This week marks a year since Thomas Tuchel was confirmed to take over Chelsea as the head coach after club legend Frank Lampard faced the sack at the West London club on an initial 18-month contract with an option to extend it. Tuchel took over the reigns with a squad which was heavily invested in the previous summer with more than 200 million pounds spent on world-class players like Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech, Ben Chilwell, Edouard Mendy and Thiago Silva. Chelsea were languishing in 9th place when the managerial change took place and Tuchel faced an uphill task of finishing in the top 4 with a squad who were low on morale and signings who were taking time to adjust to the new league and new culture. Known for his gegenpressing and fluid style of play, the German came in with a reputation of being a tactically flexible coach and being similar to Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool both being prodigies of Ralf Rangnick the present interim manager of Manchester United.

Tuchel’s first game was a home game against Wolverhampton Wanderers where he switched to a 3 at the back formation which was something Lampard rarely used during his tenure. The match ended in a stalemate 0-0 draw but there were already encouraging signs for the fans watching the match on their TVs as they could see the new system was working and the team looked defensively solid with that one extra man in defence.

As the season progressed, the results of the team kept improving and Chelsea managed to avoid finishing without a trophy for yet another season. Tuchel became the fifth German manager to win the Champions League after defeating Manchester City 1-0 thanks to a goal by Kai Havertz who almost paid back the 60 odd million pounds spent on acquiring him in one night. It was Tuchel’s second ever Champions League final having lost the first one in the 2019/2020 season when he was at PSG to Bayern Munich. The Chelsea board clearly were left impressed by Tuchel with the club winning their second Champions League after that night in Munich.

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Over the summer, Tuchel extended his contract at Chelsea for further 2 more years as the Champions League win triggered the extension clause. During the 21/22 season’s transfer window, the club were quiet for the most part of it with the major focus being on managing to sell deadwood players to free up the wage bill and sign a world-class no.9 to compete for the title. Romelu Lukaku was the man chosen to fill the void up top and was signed for a whopping fee of 97.5 million pounds which was the second most expensive transfer in that window behind Jack Grealish’s transfer to Manchester City worth 100 million pounds. Lukaku came back to the club having previously played once for Chelsea in the 2012-2013 season. This was the time for him to redeem himself and try to be the man to win Chelsea the title after 4 years since they last won it.

Fast forward to today, Chelsea are potentially out of the title race this season after lingering behind Manchester city by 10 points. They are third in the league 1 point off Liverpool in second place and the title charge seems to be over. This may have disappointed a lot of Chelsea fans but Tuchel needs to be appreciated in the way he has managed to keep Chelsea 3rd in the league, reach the Carabao Cup final and R-16 in the champions league despite losing their two creative fullbacks in the likes of Ben Chilwell and Reece James to long term injuries with the former being out for the season with an ACL tear, players contracting COVID-19 and having 16 first team players available to play majority of the December month. Chelsea have played 18 games since the November international break in all competitions which is the most in the league with Liverpool in second playing 16 games. Fixture congestion and the uncertainty of the pandemic has derailed the season but being alive in 4 other competitions (FA cup, Carabao Cup, Club world cup and UCL) is still something to look forward to before the season ends.

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Keeping the dressing room environment healthy and avoiding a clash of egos is something Chelsea has struggled to do over the last years. During the Roman Abramovich era, there are a number of instances where player power has led to the end of a manager’s tenure at the club. Tuchel’s predecessor Frank Lampard reportedly lost the dressing room in his final weeks which was one of the reasons behind the dip in form. A source told the Athletic: ‘The problem was, the manager didn’t talk to the players — well only the ones he liked. I know of players who weren’t in the team that didn’t hear from him for many months. That’s very frustrating for a player because you don’t know what you have to do to do better, what the manager is thinking. It’s crazy.’ A similar situation was faced by Thomas Tuchel when an interview of Lukaku speaking to Sky Italia was published by the Italian media on 31st December wherein he was quoted saying, “Physically I’m fine, even better than before. After two years in Italy, in which I worked a lot at Inter with trainers and nutritionists, I am physically fine. But I’m not happy with the situation, this is normal. I think the coach has chosen to play with another module, I just have to not give up and continue to work and be a professional. I am not happy with the situation, but I am a worker and I must not give up.” These kind of statements by a club-record signing and one of the leaders of the dressing room certainly sent the fans into a frenzy and Tuchel was left surprised with the Belgian striker. Lukaku has scored 8 goals in 24 appearances across all competitions which is definitely not upto the mark by the striker’s standards who managed to score 30 goals in 44 matches the previous season wherein he won the Scudetto with Inter Milan in the Serie A. Tuchel decided to address this situation behind closed doors and spoke to Lukaku privately rather than doing it in front of the media and making the situation worse. Chelsea were preparing for a crucial match against Liverpool at home when this interview was published and it was thus decided that Lukaku will be entirely dropped from the squad for the game. A £500,000 fine was imposed on Romelu for his actions and the situation cooled down with Tuchel managing to handle the media in his press conferences in a composed manner. The punishment of being dropped from the squad was reportedly taken with consultation of senior squad players like N’Golo Kante, Jorginho, Antonio Rudiger and club captain Cesar Azpilicueta.

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Having the senior players have the manager’s back is a positive sign indicating that there is enormous trust between the players and the manager. This saga not only revealed the unity of the dressing room at the club and the trust they have in the manager, but also strengthened Tuchel’s ties with the upper hierarchy at the club. Sources close to the club reported that the way in which this situation was handled by Tuchel impressed Roman Abramovich and the board members. Past experiences in similar situations with different managers haven’t being very kind to the club with managers publicly addressing problems which led to harming the ties with the board and damaging the club’s reputation in the media.

Performance-wise, the German manager overall has done a very good job at the club with his backroom staff and looking at his record against the world’s best managers he has faced makes his FIFA world’s best manager Award look absolutely justified.

Managers Games Played Wins Draw Losses
Pep Guardiola 5 3 0 2
Jurgen Klopp 3 1 2 0
Zinedine Zidane 2 1 1 0
Diego Simeone 2 2 0 0
Antonio Conte 3 3 0 0

Fair to say Tuchel has been a success so far for Chelsea and if he is given time and backing the transfer windows, he can have a similar managerial career as Pep Guardiola in the Premier League and build a dynasty with Chelsea. The champions league triumph within 5 months of taking over the club and winning games comfortably against the big teams could work in his favour and he might end up being a manager who breaks the “Hire and Fire” policy at the club. With the squad backing the manager, the upper hierarchy left impressed in the direction the club is headed to and the fans showing their complete support, Thomas Tuchel is backed from all possible sides and continuing to win games is the only way he can continue at Chelsea Football Club.












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Arsenal pre-match shirt for 2022/23 season LEAKED!!

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Over the last few years, Arsenal have been known for churning out the best outfits in the Premier League, rather than playing out their best on the pitch. The Gunners have had some outstanding kits to don over the years and if the leaked images of their 2022/23 pre-match shirt are anything to go by, Arsenal could be continuing the routine while Mikel Arteta also works his way to get his side to play in the prestigious UEFA Champions League.

With assistance from Footy Headlines, we take a look at Arsenal 2022/23 pre-match shirt.

With their deal with Adidas yet to be over, the leaked pre-match shirt for Arsenal is made by the manufacturing company.

Arsenal 2022/23 pre-match kit sees an introduction of an outstanding yellow look with black and green graphics. With the exception of the collar of the shirt, the graphic is printed on the entire shirt.

With connections with other clubs such as AC Milan, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, the Adidas Arsenal pre-match shirt template is similar to photos leaked of the Los Blancos’ pre-match shirt for next season.

The logos of the parties involved with the club’s shirt, Adidas and Fly Emirates, are printed in black and white according to the leaked images. This is to give a decent contrast against the multicolour base.

The Adidas Arsenal 2022/23 pre-match shirt is expected to be worn for warm-up ahead of the team’s games. The top will be launched later this year before the start of next season.

What will be your rating of the jersey based on the leaked pictures?












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Getting senses into WHY Arsenal are pushing for Arthur Melo

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Arthur Melo is a player most famously known for the strange and often-joked-about transfer saga he was involved in when Juventus purchased him in the summer of 2020 for more than 80 million pounds, swapping Miralem Pjanic to Barcelona in the process. Arthur is now back in the news as reports have surfaced linking the former Grêmio and current Juventus midfielder to Arsenal this month. Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is apparently a fan of Arthur’s and, with a depleted midfield core that has recently lost players like Ainsley Maitland-Niles to transfer and Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey to red cards, Arteta and Arsenal are clearly looking at the potential of bringing in a new player to restore some balance.

Arthur is an interesting player, he specializes as a number 8 who links the backline to the frontline and likes to be heavily involved in overall play, drifting to the ball-side frequently when he isn’t. Arthur’s qualities are hard to miss, he is a mazey dribbler with a consistent first touch and at his best he can act as a metronome to retain possession for his team, give them a comfortable out-ball, and recycle play when the pressure is on. Contrary to his ability to recycle play and retain possession, underlying stats show that he also likes to pass into the final third with regularity and isn’t afraid to try and break the lines if he spots a forward player making a run. One of the issues when evaluating Arthur is that he has only amassed 1096 minutes over the past 365 days according to FBref, this means that a majority of his underlying metrics are potentially very misleading and don’t accurately reflect his ability or his form. Using mostly the eye test for the rest of this piece, I will attempt to analyze Arthur as a player and evaluate his potential impact on Arsenal if his reported loan comes to fruition.

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I want to start with the things Arthur is known for and how well he’s done those things during his time at Juventus. Arthur is a classic metronomic number 8 with vision, active scanning, an excellent first touch, and great dribbling ability which allows him to retain possession and keep the play alive. It is understandable why Barcelona decided to purchase him given their connection to possession-based football and high-volume midfield passers. His job, which he has done quite for spells since his move to Europe, is to keep his team in the game and on the ball. He does this by dropping between the center backs or just ahead of them in the left half-spaces and making himself available either with his back to goal or on the half-turn, looking to progress the ball further upfield or beat a man to break the press. Arthur is a strong dribbler with great lower body strength and the ability to essentially bump defenders off him when he is pressed, this makes him a fairly safe option to pass to in these scenarios. He is mobile as well and likes to drift around the pitch to stay involved in the build-up. While his vision is also pretty good, Arthur does struggle to execute long balls, particularly in the air, preferring to keep the ball on the ground whenever possible. It is hard to tell if this is an issue of weakness in his muscles or if it’s just a reflex or gap in his game.

Some smaller details I noticed while watching Arthur play; He has a consistent ground diagonal pass in his repertoire that he uses quite often to link play to attackers dropping in. You can see this during his time at Barcelona playing with Luis Suarez, often Arthur would receive the ball in the left-half space just below or just above the halfway line, assuming he isn’t being pressed, Arthur would take a few touches toward the opposition goal before zipping and perfectly weight ball diagonally across the pitch the aforementioned Suarez who is dropping deep to receive. The quality of these passes and the vision to execute them cannot be overstated and would be a great addition to the Arsenal system which often deploys it’s striker in a deeper, more creative role. Another thing Arthur is great at is losing his defender with a drop of the shoulder, it’s not something I saw a lot in the footage I watched of him at Juventus but, again, it’s something he has in his toolkit and it can be vitally important in breaking lines to spring an attack. Arthur has lost a bit of his explosiveness due to injury in recent years but this skill can still be applicable in certain situations and shows that he has the tools to be very press resistant when he’s at the top of his game.

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Arthur’s weaknesses aren’t as concerning as some on Twitter or in the media may suggest but in regards to his ability to play in the Premier League, they may be exacerbated by a move to England. Firstly, Arthur has been fairly injury-ridden since leaving his boyhood club Grêmio in March 2018, in total he missed 135 days of action due to injury during his time at Barcelona according to Transfermarkt, which amounted to 24 games out. His time at Juventus hasn’t been much better, he’s missed 17 games for the Bianconeri since joining, including a 77 day absence after having surgery done on his right leg. A move to the Premier League will likely not help fix these injury woes as many foreign players and managers alike have called the PL the most physically demanding and brutal league in Europe. Another issue Arthur has is his overall physique, at about 5 foot 6, Arthur is not the most physically imposing player on the pitch, while this may not be a huge issue when playing in a less physical league like La Liga or a less active league like Serie A, it may cause problems for Arthur if he were to join Arsenal in England. While he does possess wonderful lower body strength, this does not guarantee he will be able to fight off tacklers with the same consistency as he does in Serie A for Juventus.

When it comes to how Arthur would fit into Mikel Arteta’s system at Arsenal, I can only speculate that he would be signed as a backup to Granit Xhaka who has played as a box-to-box number 8 this season when Arsenal move to a 4-3-3 setup. Arthur plays in almost the same positions as Xhaka but also has the mobility to drift which is something Xhaka doesn’t do a lot of at all. Arthur would be tasked primarily with ball retention and with progressing the ball through the lines to an attacking player. Overall, this fit looks good on paper but I question it in practice given Arthur’s weaknesses and his lack of physical and aerial presence. With a plethora of exciting attacking talents at his disposal, Arteta is most in need of a physically imposing number 8 who can break up play, win 50-50s and do all the on-ball work mentioned above. In this regard, Arthur feels like 50% of the player Arsenal need right now. All of this being said, Arthur Melo is far from washed up or a bad player, he possesses high technical ability, great vision, and has tools to play line-breaking passes. He is also a clever dribbler and at his best, is very hard to press due to his low center of gravity and comfort, turning either way and driving at different angles. Regardless of how his latest transfer saga plays out, there is a place for Arthur somewhere at a top team in Europe, whether that team is Arsenal or Juventus, or neither is a question we may still be pondering long after deadline day.












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