In his exclusive column for CaughtOffside, former Aston Villa and Liverpool striker Stan Collymore discusses some of football’s biggest talking points, including Arsenal’s striker problems, Graham Potter being under pressure, and a look at the return of the Premier League on Boxing Day.
A little look at the first round of fixtures as the Premier League returns
Lionel Messi doesn’t play in the Premier League, but Alexis MacAllister does. It will be interesting to see how quickly Brighton try to get him back playing. In my experience, a four or five-week gap means you’re a little bit off the pace – you need to get five, six, or seven matches under your belt. I think there are going to be some interesting results. It wouldn’t surprise me at all that around Christmas time when players will be seeing their family, or traveling to see friends, there will be some bizarre results. I don’t think things will calm down until we get to the point where the European games return in February. Pep Guardiola has said that Kalvin Phillips, who was in the England squad at the World Cup, has come back overweight. He’s going to have to train harder to get back fit and get into the Manchester City team, that’s just one example.
Some players will be coming off the back of a quarter-final, semi-final, or a final. Their adrenaline is high, they’re fit, and they’ll be able to walk back into the team. It’ll be interesting to see how clubs that really need to claw back points, Liverpool or Chelsea, for example, will react during the January transfer window. I think we could see some unexpected results in this round of fixtures. For those who have a number of players that haven’t played at the World Cup, I think it will take them a bit more time to get into the rhythm.
On the last day of the Premier League before the World Cup, I mentioned that clubs will be insistent on letting their players know that they need to finish that part of the season really well. Being competitive away, winning games, and making sure they communicate with the players during the World Cup. If you’ve left a good situation before heading off to the World Cup, it’s important to continue this when you return. Manchester United have got rid of the Cristiano Ronaldo issue, a recurring, weekly issue. Erik ten Hag isn’t going to be asked about Ronaldo during press conferences, so I think Manchester United could go on a run now. The likes of Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez have been playing as recently as only a week or so ago, so they’ll be ready for the upcoming fixtures. Harry Maguire was excellent during the World Cup, so I expect United to do well.
Chelsea’s a bit of a different one. You’ve got a manager that’s under pressure already. After their defeat to Brighton, some Chelsea fans are concerned that Graham Potter doesn’t have the credentials to manage a club like Chelsea. That’s very different to Ten Hag, who came from Ajax who were winning things. It will be interesting to see what Manchester United and Chelsea do. They have good squads and good players – if they can get through matchday one and matchday two of the return without losing, then they could go on a run by giving themselves something to hold on to.
Between now and February when European football comes back, the clubs that are in these competitions have a real opportunity to get some results on the board and move forward. My hunch and experience as a player tells me that if you’ve played at a higher level in the last few weeks, for example at the World Cup, that will get you into the slipstream quicker than not having a game for four or five weeks . Chelsea and Manchester United both have a number of players who have played in the tournament.
Will Chelsea and Liverpool look to reinforce their squad in January?
There are players that played at the World Cup that clubs will be looking ahead of the January transfer window. Some of the Moroccan, Senegalese, and Ghanaian players will have been watched hundreds of times. What happens with players that have played at the World Cup with ‘smaller nations’ is that they tend to play in their home country a lot and can be bought on the cheap. If you’re a Premier League club, you may consider taking a risk on one of these players if you can get them for a few million – peanuts in comparison to the usual transfer fees we see.
I can see several of those deals happening during the January transfer window. What I can’t see is a Chelsea or a Liverpool going and trying to sign their primary targets as they could be costly. Potter now has a new technical director to work with who will be coming with ideas, but these big transfers don’t tend to happen in January. The selling club doesn’t want to lose their players and the buying club are asked to pay a premium. I’ve heard a lot coming out of Liverpool that the players are confident of being able to put a run together, similar to the run they produced during the pandemic. For Liverpool and Chelsea, I don’t think they have to do a hell of a lot with the squad that they’ve got to get into the Champions League places.
Clubs now have to prioritize whether Europe is important to them or not, and this could help the likes of Newcastle and Brighton who aren’t competing in these competitions this season. For both Liverpool and Chelsea, they’ll have done a little audit on their current squad, assessing who they have and what they need, but if everybody manages to stay fit, they should still be finishing in the top four. I don’t think either club will be looking to pay above £30m-£40m for players that they may not feel have a long-term future at those clubs.
Trust the latest Arsenal academy graduate
It’s very difficult because Eddie Nketiah is a young man who hasn’t learned his trade yet, but he’s also a goalscorer. Arteta and the technical staff will have watched him train and an old-school approach would be to throw him in. Let’s give him those 6-12 games to see what he’s got, and I’m a big fan of that. If you look back at the history of great strikers, Alan Shearer was a 17-year-old at Southampton, they stick him in for his debut and he scores a hat-trick against Arsenal and did n’t look back. That can happen.
Think coaches are much less likely to do that these days for a few reasons. Firstly, there’s a huge marketplace for relatively cheap players if you have multi-millions coming into your club. Arsenal could go out and look to sign an international striker from a European club, and bring him in to compete with Nketiah. Arsenal could look to sign this sort of player, possibly towards the end of his career, but they are an experienced goalscorer. I think Arsenal will get someone in but maybe just a loan for the remainder of the season.
In terms of Nketiah, I would give him the opportunity. You’re in the dressing room, you’re in-house. They’ve done it with the likes of Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka, so why wouldn’t you want to try again? At this point, if it was me and he’s training hard and shown the desire, chuck him in for six full games. Not one or two and pull him out – put your arm round him and say ‘I believe in you’. Promote your own, Arsenal have done that with other players and let’s make it the hat trick by giving Nketiah the opportunity.