On 9 November, 2019, Tanguy Ndombele started for Tottenham against Sheffield United, but he managed just 45 minutes of humiliation before being hauled off at half-time.
He was carrying an injury and looked well off the pace, and it was a performance which sparked questions about his future. Was the club’s record signing genuinely good enough to play for Tottenham?
On January 17, 2021, he started for Tottenham against Sheffield United, and he put in an utterly outstanding 90-minute display.
Ndombele looked nothing like the player who struggled to adjust to life in London, shining at both ends of the field and looking every bit like the £60m player Spurs expected him to be when he was brought over from Lyon.
Forming a terrifyingly impressive pivot with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Ndombele was the one given more license to play forward. He was given permission to try some audacious passes to unlock Sheffield United’s defence, and importantly, he had the quality needed to pull most of them off.
He passed the ball with pin-point accuracy and always wanted to make things happen, but it was Ndombele himself who stole the headlines with an utterly outstanding lob to bag Spurs’ third goal.
While he was the forward-thinker in midfield, Ndombele didn’t shirk his defensive duties. He was dominant in the tackle and constantly hoovered up possession, forming a two-man wrecking crew alongside Hojbjerg.
The duo make up a complete pairing who are capable of excelling at both ends of the field. They’ve barely even played together, and yet appear to have built up a perfect understanding with one another.
Jose Mourinho appears to have finally gotten through to Ndombele, and the results have been outstanding.
The Frenchman now has to be seen as one of the Premier League’s finest midfielders. He can do everything at an incredibly high level, and if he can maintain this level of form, the sky really is the limit.
We all know Timo Werner is in a bit of a rough patch right now, but it felt like his time at Chelsea hit a new low in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Fulham.
The German, who set Chelsea back a cool £47.5m in the summer, stretched his run to ten Premier League games without a goal as he fired a blank against the struggling Cottagers, with one miss stealing the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Late on in the game, Werner latched on to a ball over the top and had the entire Fulham half to run at Alphonse Areola. It was the exact situation from which Werner had made his name. This was destined to be the moment he turned things around.
But he missed.
Werner sliced his effort well wide of the goal and looked visibly distraught at doing so, but it’s something he’s had to get used to in recent weeks. The shooting boots simply aren’t there right now.
His struggles have provided joy to a lot of rival fans on Twitter, with Chelsea’s wretched history with strikers being mentioned time and time again. Werner has already been billed as a new Fernando Torres, Alvaro Morata or Falcao – big-name strikers who forgot how to play football in London.
His form is obviously something to be concerned about – to not score in ten league games when he bagged 28 in 34 last season is hardly ideal – but to compare Werner to some of the club’s most historically poor strikers is ludicrous.
For starters, it seems as though Werner’s struggles have been massively blown out of context. This is a man who has nine goals and six assists in 26 appearances in all competitions. They’re by no means elite numbers, but they’re solid. To suggest he’s flopped already doesn’t make sense.
However, there’s no denying he’s not playing like a £47.5m striker who just went toe-to-toe with Robert Lewandowski for 12 months. Chelsea expected the goals to flood in, and simply put, they haven’t.
The blame needs to be shared around for this one. Werner obviously hasn’t been playing well enough, and he’ll know that he has to do more to justify his price tag, but Frank Lampard hasn’t always given him the tools he needs to impress.
On this ten-game dry streak, Werner spent the first seven games as a left winger, a position he is comfortable in but would never argue is his strongest. He’s only been a striker in the last three, two of which came as a post-70th minute substitute.
Of his 26 appearances this year, just nine have been as a striker, so his return of nine goals suddenly doesn’t seem so bad.
The talent is obviously in there, but it’s up to Werner, Lampard and everyone else at Chelsea to find a way to maximise it.
He’s still finding himself in the right positions to score, and crucially, that means he’s good enough. Werner has been showing the positioning and movement needed to be a deadly striker, but he’s yet to piece that together with the finishing skills he left in the Bundesliga.
It’s a confidence thing. We saw this with Torres and we definitely saw this with Morata, who looked like he was carrying the weight of Stamford Bridge on his shoulders every waking minute of his existence. It’s up to Werner to do what the others could not and show he’s strong enough to get out of this slump.
What Werner does have on his side is recent pedigree. While Torres was declining by the time he joined and Morata had very little experience as the undisputed starting striker for a team, we know for a fact that Werner is just getting going.
He’s up for the challenge, but he could do with rising to it soon.
Fikayo Tomori is set to join Serie A leaders Milan on loan until the end of the season with an option to make the transfer permanent, as he looks to gain more playing time away from Chelsea.
The 23-year-old made 15 league appearances for the Blues last season, but the arrival of Thiago Silva and the return of Kurt Zouma from a loan spell at Everton has restricted the youth academy product to featuring only once in the league this year.
Tomori’s exclusion from Frank Lampard’s plans has left him in search of minutes elsewhere, and Fabrizio Romano reports that he is set to join Milan on loan for the rest of the season, with an option to buy included in the deal.
The England international will help the Serie A outfit in their bid to topple Juventus as Italian champions, and he may be relied upon in the thick of a hectic end of season schedule.
I Rossoneri have suffered with injury troubles at the heart of their defence this year, with talisman Simon Kjaer succumbing to fitness issues in December.
The possibility of further injuries to either Kjaer or captain Alessio Romagnoli has left Stefano Pioli scrambling to finding a viable alternative, having been forced to rely on starlet Pierre Kalulu at times during this campaign.
The Milan boss will also be wary of a potential coronavirus outbreak decimating his squad, and with the Italian giants in the midst of an unexpected title charge, he’ll be hoping to reinforce his team in as many positions as possible.
Tomori will receive the minutes he craves in Italy, having fallen out of favour under Lampard at Stamford Bridge. He gained some vital experience at Derby County in the 2018/19 campaign, when the Chelsea boss was also cutting his teeth with the Championship side.
Milan are also closing in on the signing of Mario Mandzukic, according to the same reporter, with the Croatian striker set to sign a contract that will run until the end of the season once the medical examinations are complete.
Mandzukic last played for Qatari side Al-Duhail but made his name in the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich before a successful spell with Serie A giants Juventus.
Premier League teams are on the hunt for reinforcements, and it seems as though plenty of clubs have set their sights set on Marseille midfielder Morgan Sanson.
The Frenchman has long attracted interest from English teams of various shapes and sizes, but as he approaches the final year of his contract, there are rumours that we could finally be about to see Sanson in England.
Here’s everything you need to know about him.
When Sanson broke through at Le Mans as an 18-year-old, it seemed as though he had the world at his feet. He seemed destined to become a superstar.
Links to the Premier League and some of Europe’s top clubs emerged between 2012 and 2014, when Sanson was billed as one of the game’s brightest youngsters, but things slowed down somewhat.
Four years at Montpellier didn’t bring the kind of progression most expected but, at 26, Sanson has got things back on track at Marseille.
It’s no surprise that Sanson went a little quiet for a season or two during his time at Montpellier as he actually had to recover from a nasty cruciate ligament in 2015.
He went down in April and didn’t make it back until November, only to pick up a fresh knee injury in January 2016 which kept him sidelined for another two months.
He admits that beefing up and learning how to cope with the physicality of Ligue 1 was a real struggle for him, but it’s safe to say that he’s made it through to the other side now.
Sanson’s recent resurgence can largely be attributed to the fact he’s actually figured out what kind of player he is.
During his time with Montpellier, Sanson was deployed all over the midfield, playing in deep, attacking and wide roles when needed. Thanks to his versatile skill set, he did everything pretty well, but he’s now getting the chance to play in his favoured position in central midfield.
“I would say I’m an 8, a player who likes to throw himself forward, but also recover the ball to raise cleanly, in the heart of the pitch,” he told Foot Mercato.
In his preferred position, Sanson gets to showcase all of his skills, but his bread-and-butter is starting counters.
With outstanding stamina, Sanson loves pressing opponents and is incredibly reliable in the tackle, but the fun really starts once he’s got the ball back.
You’ll regularly see Sanson pick himself up from a successful challenge and instantly look forward, and he’s never afraid to use his passing range to kick-start a counter. Defence to attack in a heartbeat.
Sanson openly admits that the arrival of Andre Villas-Boas at Marseille last summer is the reason he is still at the French club, and he’s in no urgent rush to leave now.
His agent told 20 Minutes: “For Morgan, his priority is Marseille. But he continues to be willing to listen to offers, so long as they are adequately in line with his sporting ambitions. Morgan has been approached a lot, but he will not leave if from a football perspective, what is being offered is not better than at Marseille. His aim is not to earn more money, but to improve in his football.”
He’s currently loving life at a side in the hunt for Champions League football, so it might take something special to lure him away.
Sanson might not be rushing towards the exit door at Marseille, but he’s admitted in the past that he would listen to any offers from the Premier League.
“What I like is the enthusiasm around this league,” he told So Foot. “The stadiums are full at all matches. They eat and sleep football.
“It’s not the only league that attracts me, but there is a big overall quality, so yes, it attracts me.”
For someone with Sanson’s versatility, it should come as no surprise to hear that the midfielder modelled his game off a handful of different players.
“As a kid, I was a fan of Kaka and Ronaldinho,” he said. “I tried to be inspired by them, the same for [Andres] Iniesta afterwards.”
In other interviews, he’s also named Wayne Rooney and Luka Modric as another two of his inspirations, so it’s not hard to see where his do-it-all style of play has come from.
Earlier in his career, Sanson used to exclusively wear Nike boots, but the summer of 2018 saw him switch to Puma as he felt Nike’s footwear wasn’t protective enough for a player in his position.
“For a very long time, I had a heel problem that was triggered while I was playing in Nike Tiempo and that’s why comfort in the heel is so important to me,” he told Foot Pack. “I then switched to the Magista but the problem never really disappeared.
“Since the start of the season with Puma, I haven’t felt this pain anymore, which is a big positive for me. Beyond all the marketing aspects that I like about Puma, they mainly convinced me with the product which is essential to me as a professional player.”
Sanson’s move to Marseille wasn’t exactly met positively as a handful of tweets emerged suggesting that the midfielder was actually a fan of arch rivals PSG.
He was even spotted in a PSG shirt, but he has repeatedly insisted that he has never supported the French side.
Sanson told La Provence: “Marseille supporters can wonder. But I have never been a lover of Paris or a supporter of PSG. Many things that have been said are false.”
Sampdoria versus Udinese might not normally be the most captivating prospect for your choice of Saturday night viewing, but the contest may well have enjoyed a strangely boosted number of onlookers in the area of Merseyside.
Particularly, among the households who support the red of Liverpool.
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Now, that spike in ratings probably had little to do with a sudden passion for Claudio Ranieri’s Blucerchiati, although witnessing that beautiful strip in full flight is a real joy to behold.
No, it more likely has something to do with the presence of a certain attacking playmaker donning the yellow of Udinese, who goes by the name of Rodrigo De Paul.
The Argentine has been linked with a potential move to Anfield this winter, and with the Reds taking to the field on Sunday afternoon, it gave supporters a chance to see their transfer target in action.
One question must have been on every Liverpool fan’s lips after seeing De Paul dismantle Samp on Saturday: What the hell is this guy doing at a team like Udinese? In fairness, it’s a very valid question.
The 26-year-old put in a simply breathtaking display of individual brilliance, teamwork and maverick genius at the Marassi, but even his talents could not compensate for the shoddy companions which surrounded him.
After another brilliant performance which yielded zero points, De Paul himself is probably pondering exactly what he’s doing in Udine, too.
Speaking after his teammates allowed all his majestic work to go to waste once again in the 2-1 defeat to Sampdoria, the Argentine admitted to Sky Sport that he ‘sets no limits’ for himself, fluttering those eyelashes at Europe’s heavyweights.
“I set no limits for myself.
“Once you join a National team like Argentina, you feel you are ready to play with anyone. I hope I am going to have a great career and I am working to achieve it.”
Let’s hope Jurgen Klopp tuned in to Serie A’s Saturday night showdown, too.
The German coach clearly demonstrated that he is searching for players to make this Liverpool side more unpredictable in the summer transfer window, starting with the signings of Thiago Alcantara and Diogo Jota.
Thiago offers a creative outlet in the centre of the park which is lacking among his teammates, and the speed at which he moves the ball can help the Reds to unlock the deepest and most stubborn of backlines.
The Spaniard’s injuries – along with Jota’s long-term absence – have left Liverpool far more entrenched in a title race than Klopp would have hoped, and he must be wondering if a January addition will prove the difference between a title defence or an unexpected collapse.
If the answer is spend spend spend, then De Paul is your man.
The attacking midfielder is the closest clone to Jack Grealish that money can buy. The number 10 jersey, the captain’s armband, the weight and expectations of an entire city on his shoulders, the undeniable heart-throb good looks.
They’re extremely similar on the pitch, too. De Paul can play out on the left, centrally, or literally do the work of 10 other players while covering every blade of grass. Think back to when you played ‘Be a Pro’ mode on FIFA, and forced the computer to pass to your one player every second, purely because they couldn’t process thoughts on your level. That’s De Paul.
His ability to carry the ball, shoot from distance, use either foot effectively and produce sublime passes to pick out teammates makes him impossible to read as a defender, and equally as problematic to stop. Goals, assists and an incomparable work rate. He’s got the lot.
His almost perfect display against Samp typifies everything he can offer over the course of 90 minutes.
The midfielder provided his first major contribution by collecting the ball in his own half, rolling his marker and then speeding towards the penalty area. Despite being chased by two and surrounded by three, he still had the composure to roll a perfect cross into the six-yard box, only for his striker to frustratingly miscue.
De Paul’s next big play was prime Grealish. He received the ball in a congested midfield area, used some neat footwork to shift left and roll a pass out wide. Instead of darting into the box, he lingered in that left channel, and possession was handed back to him.
Dropping his shoulder and taking two touches to get the ball out of his feet, he curled a missile towards the far corner, and was desperately unlucky to see his shot rattle the crossbar. He was getting closer, though.
The talisman’s big moment finally arrived in the second half. Loitering between the Samp midfield and defence, he picked up possession, and was awarded three cracks at goal. The first was blocked, the second saved, and the third – bingo.
We can add persistence to his list of skills, then.
Ultimately, his goal wasn’t enough to save Udinese from their below-average-selves, and a final 25 minute collapse left De Paul crestfallen and downbeat yet again. It must be difficult being such an incredibly gifted player in such a disappointingly drab side, all the while knowing that your departure could signal the downfall of an entire club.
But the Argentine has carried the pressure of Udine for too long, and he deserves to be surrounded by players who can think on a similar wavelength and allow him to enjoy his football in the upper echelons of the game. Men of his ability should not be fighting relegation or settling for mid-table obscurity.
Liverpool would be the perfect home for De Paul, where his flashes of brilliance and tendency to create chances from any area of the pitch would pull the Reds over the line in the tightest of affairs.
All Klopp needs to do is say the word, and the title race will swing back in their favour.