Welcome to the Briefing, where every Monday during this season, Atletico will discuss three of the biggest questions to arise from weekend football.
This was the weekend when injuries started to bite Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United, when Manchester United almost escaped a home match against Luton Town with all three points and when Everton got another win to get them further out of trouble.
Here we will ask whether Manchester City should have made an exception to their policy of selling a player, whether Liverpool should reject any approach for Mohamed Salah in January, and what exactly Roberto De Zerbi’s comments about referees were for…
Will Manchester City regret selling Cole Palmer to Chelsea?
You’d be hard-pressed to argue that Premier League leaders and treble holders Manchester City made a mistake by selling Raheem Sterling to Chelsea.
Their policy of being perfectly happy to sell a player who wants to leave as long as a reasonable offer comes along hasn’t exactly held them back in recent years. Sterling would be phased out of City’s squad in his final season, so a departure made sense for everyone involved.
The fact that he was the beating heart of Chelsea’s multiple comebacks in Sunday’s crazy 4-4 draw against City probably still won’t make Pep Guardiola or anyone at the club think they’ve made a mistake: he served City well, but they replaced him and if you never sold a player because you thought he could have a good match against you… well, you would never sell a player.
2009 – Chelsea 4-4 Manchester City was the first Premier League match to see four equalizers scored since Liverpool and Arsenal’s iconic 4-4 draw in April 2009. Classic. pic.twitter.com/ZtGfy18i3X
—OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 12, 2023
However, you wonder if they will come to regret, on some level, selling Cole Palmer. Sterling was at City for seven seasons, scored 131 goals and won four Premier League titles. There’s no sense of “what might have been” there: he served his purpose and then some.
Palmer is different. The 21-year-old had not yet become a regular starter for City when, according to Guardiola, he decided he wouldn’t have much playing time, so he moved to Chelsea. He was all potential, an immensely talented prospect who clearly had the style and technical ability to adapt to multiple positions. Guardiola wanted him to stay, presumably because he knew how good he was.
Guardiola knew it before Sunday’s match and he certainly knew it afterwards too. It wasn’t just Palmer’s superbly scored penalty (who believes his claim that he doesn’t take them, by the way?), but the way he played the entire match. It was enough to make you think that, for all Chelsea’s lavish spending, he might just be a guy bought on deadline day, almost as an afterthought, that they could build their team around.
Cole Palmer tries to listen to the Manchester City meeting 👂
Erling Haaland didn’t want to hear of it! 😂 pic.twitter.com/gd1sDiHw3K
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) November 12, 2023
Sterling was also outstanding, as he has been for much of the season, and there was understandable consternation at his omission from Gareth Southgate’s England squad. But if you were to bet on whether it will be Palmer or Sterling in that squad for next summer’s Euros, the best bet could be on the youngster, who has just earned his first senior call-up to the England squad ahead of the qualifiers. against Malta and North Macedonia.
Palmer, Lewis called up to the England team
Why should Liverpool consider selling Salah in January?
It’s easy to forget how quickly this Liverpool team has changed.
Of the six attackers who won the Champions League in 2019 and the Premier League a year later, only one remains. Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Roberto Firmino left last summer, Sadio Mané a year before that and Georginio Wijnaldum the year before that.
This is, as Jurgen Klopp proclaimed, Liverpool 2.0, the reinvention of a team in style (in a sense) and personnel. They realistically recruited new strikers well and did the best job possible replacing an entire midfield in one summer.
Yet what remains is their best and most powerful player.
Salah’s two goals in Liverpool’s 3-0 win over Brentford represent his ninth and tenth league goals of the season, with a further pair (in limited playing time) in the Europa League. You can also add four assists.
He is responsible for 37% of Liverpool’s Premier League goals this season, a percentage that is not scandalous or unusual for a team’s best striker (Erling Haaland has 41% of Manchester City’s goals), but next on the list Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez (who has had one since September, but is essential in providing assists to his Egyptian teammate) and Diogo Jota, both with four.
This is a roundabout way of saying that he is still Liverpool’s most important player and to reiterate that they must not sell him, however in January he is offered a lot of money by Al Ittihad or any Saudi Arabian team that wants the ultimate prize of championship.
Sorry for introducing transfers now while it’s still November, but there’s only 48 more days of gossip left before the window opens and the wheels start turning.
There is a school of thought that, not unreasonably, says Liverpool would be foolish to turn down a £100 million ($122 million) offer for a 31-year-old with 18 months left on his contract. It would be a sensible business decision and would allow them to get ahead of the game in finding a replacement.
But without him, Liverpool could be at risk of a Champions League place, not to mention the possibility of a convincing title bid.
That aside, Salah is one of the greatest players Liverpool will ever have – clubs shouldn’t necessarily make decisions like this based on feelings, but it’s almost a duty to their fans to make sure he plays for them for as long as possible .
What purpose do De Zerbi’s complaints about the referees serve?
“I am honest and clear. I don’t like 80% of English referees. It’s not something new. I do not like them.
“The behavior. “I don’t like their behavior on the pitch.”
It would be interesting in a couple of years if De Zerbi manages to succeed Guardiola at Manchester City, as some believe he will.
He currently plays for Brighton & Hove Albion, a team that most neutrals generally like and where he receives almost universal praise for his exciting and progressive football. At a club that, to put it lightly, is not as universally popular and that plays many, many more high-profile games, we may see the first example of a manager actually exploding on the touchline.
His comments after Brighton’s 1-1 draw against Sheffield United were extraordinary, especially when he acknowledged that the big refereeing call of the match was correct. “If I see the new rules, it’s a red card, of course,” he said of Mahmoud Dahoud’s dismissal for a foul on Ben Osborn. “But I was a player and the dynamics of the situation were not a red card.” It was a shame that he didn’t explain what kind of “dynamic” would constitute a red in his mind, other than a player missing the ball by a yard and digging his studs into an opponent’s calf.
We rarely go a weekend without at least one manager lashing out at the referees, but most of the time they at least complain about decisions they don’t think are correct.
What’s the thinking here? Do you think referees don’t get enough criticism? They just make too much fun of the decisions they make, so thought about adding “I don’t know, I just don’t like their vibe” into the mix?
What is he trying to achieve here? Clubs and managers will say they just want to improve the standard of refereeing when they criticise, but how can this sort of thing be constructive? Presumably De Zerbi is referring to the perception that some referees have as ‘peacocks’ and try to focus the matches on them. But even if that were true, who cares?
It’s the sort of thing you’d expect fans and neutral observers to be angry about, but managers? Aside from the fact that they probably should have other things to worry about, managers need to understand that their words carry far more weight than fans, broadcasters or journalists. An observation such as this adds further weight to an already intolerable burden placed on officials.
Managers complaining about refereeing decisions is annoying and we could probably do without it, but it’s at least understandable if the decision is wrong or questionable. When you admit that the referee did things right but still have some excuse to try… it’s just not understandable.
- It’s international week, honey. But don’t worry, all your die-hard national fans: there are still a few club games to keep you happy before the nations start getting involved. FA Cup first round replays, for example, when small Isthmian League side Horsham have another go at League One Barnsley before, even more improbably, Cray Valley Paper Mills take on Charlton Athletic.
- There is also the Women’s Champions League, a little light on the English teams but still with some flaws: Emma Hayes’ journey to win the big success in what will be (for the moment) her last season at Chelsea begins with a away to Real Madrid, while holders Barcelona begin their defense against Benfica and former perennial champions Lyon take on Slavia Prague.
- Then it’s the national team’s turn: England, already qualified for Euro 2024, will face Malta on Friday evening at Wembley and then travel to North Macedonia on Monday. Scotland can also take it easy having already secured their place, but Wales will progress if they beat both Armenia and Turkey.
- Holland vs Ireland next Saturday is worth keeping an eye on if you like the weird things/whims of UEFA’s qualifying rules as it will help Ireland’s hopes if they lose (although it would still take a little more to get their way).
- Elsewhere, Italy will have to beat both Ukraine and old foes North Macedonia to avoid another rather embarrassing failure; all to play for in Group E where Albania, Czech Republic, Poland and Moldova are all competing for the two automatic places; Technically everything is up for grabs in group G too, but Serbia and Hungary will probably go through; while in Group J there is the delightful, if somewhat unlikely, prospect of Luxembourg qualifying, which however will have to beat both Lichtenstein and Bosnia-Herzegovina and hope that Slovakia loses both matches… but it could still happen…
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(Top photo: Getty Images)