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Geelong will need to execute their plan to perfection to prise the 2020 premiership cup from Richmond's iron grip as they head into the decider at the Gabba on Saturday night as slight underdogs against a Tigers team that has won two of the past three flags.
The Cats' champion skipper Joel Selwood – who played in three flags with Geelong before becoming captain in 2012 – said their challenge was clear as they knew Richmond would not just hand over the title.
Richmond captain Trent Cotchin (left) and Geelong counterpart Joel Selwood with the premiership cup.Credit:Getty Images
Both coaches said they would take unchanged teams into the grand final with Scott set to join Hardwick as a two-time premiership coach if the Cats prevail at the Gabba.
Scott said although the Cats were confident that their plan could beat the Tigers, its execution under pressure remained Geelong's big challenge. He said Richmond deserved to be slight favourites.
"I'd said over and over again they have clearly been the best team of the last three or four years, there is no doubting that," Scott said.
"They have been the benchmark and they should – and I am sure they do – have real confidence in their system."
Selwood will lead the team into a grand final for the first time after playing in three premierships before he turned 24 and will played alongside Gary Ablett for the final time in their fourth grand final as teammates.
Selwood said the desire to send Ablett off in style would provide "very little" extra motivation, however he hoped they would be able to celebrate together at the end of the match.
Cotchin will become the first Richmond player to be a three-time premiership captain if the Tigers win and the eighth person in the game's history to be captain in three flags.
The Tigers are looking to win back-to-back flags for the first time since 1973-74 with Cotchin defending their culture despite a number of off-field incidents throughout 2020.
"We are really proud of what we have created and continue to create," Cotchin said.
How the mouths of Chelsea fans would have been watering at 3.30pm on Saturday.
Chelsea’s front four had the freedom of Stamford Bridge, interchanging at will and causing Southampton all manner of problems from which they had no right to recover.
Mason Mount, Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic looked free, with no set position, while Timo Werner created two fine goals for himself. Any potential talk of a Premier League goal drought was put to bed.
But again, Chelsea’s defence let them down. From 2-0 up they were pegged back 2-2, the first goal from Danny Ings coming from thin air following a Havertz mistake, and the second a joint Kurt Zouma-Kepa Arrizabalaga error. They then squandered a 3-2 lead late on from the second phase of a set piece.
Chelsea 3-3 Southampton – Match report and higlights
How Chelsea and Saints lined up | Match stats
For all their attacking potential – and that’s even before Hakim Ziyech sees more than 20 minutes – Frank Lampard’s side are continuously shooting themselves in the foot.
Errors have punctuated their season, and questions over defensive solidity have hung over Lampard since he took the job last August.
Chelsea have conceded an average of 1.5 goals per game in the Premier League under Lampard (63 in 43 games), the Blues’ worst rate under any boss to oversee more than one game in the competition.
Chelsea’s defensive discrepancy (Premier League only)
Since Lampard arrived, only Saints, Aston Villa, West Ham and Brighton have conceded more goals of current Premier League teams. But the goals against column does not tally with other metrics.
They have conceded just 379 shots – only Manchester City have faced fewer – and their expected goals against is just 44.7, over 18 goals fewer than they have actually conceded. That is by far the largest difference between expected goals conceded and actual goals conceded in the Premier League.
This points to individual mistakes. Seven of the nine goals Chelsea have conceded this season have been down to individual mistakes in some form: Sadio Mane’s first in Liverpool’s 2-0 win on September 20 and Jannik Vestegaard’s late equaliser on Saturday the only two that have not.
Lampard is fully aware, and wants game management, something that seems to have been abandoned across the Premier League this season.
“They are mistakes that concern you. [The second goal] was a situation that we should have clearly dealt with in a much better and simpler terms. If you are going to concede those kind of goals, then it doesn’t matter how well you play in periods of games, it is something that we can’t have in our game.
“There is certainly a game management element of it in a game. We want to have a lead and see it off.”
Could it also a structural issue? Chelsea have switched to a 4-2-3-1 this season – unavoidable with their attacking options – but it often becomes a front five with Ben Chilwell comfortable and effective up the pitch.
But for all his attacking qualities, Chilwell’s high position stretches Chelsea’s defence on the turnover. Southampton targeted their full-backs with the press from the first minute on Saturday – in the first half it failed miserably, in the second half it worked wonderfully.
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Either way, and as with Saints’ own approach, it’s risk and reward. At present, as can be seen across the Premier League, games are resembling a coin toss; teams are getting it wrong just as much as they are getting it right.
Building shape and solidity takes time, and that may be lacking on the training ground at present.
“I don’t think we are conceding goals due to the shape of the team,” Lampard insisted after Saturday’s game. “Of course we have changed the shape and I have to make those decisions with the personnel we have and getting the best out of them. That is something I have to think about, but it doesn’t mean I am dead set on sticking with that formation and there can be changes and tweaks to it as we go along. It’s something we need to continue working on. It is a change.
“Change needs work on the training ground, we haven’t had much of that so sometimes the work in progress is in games and today there were loads of great things from the 4-2-3-1, particularly in the first half. In the second half I wouldn’t blame the shape of the team, more that we didn’t deal with the fact that Southampton were really keen to put us under pressure in their own half.
“We wanted to miss out their press, we didn’t do enough and that meant we turned the ball over in our own half, which irrespective of shape is always a problem.”
In this, the most bizarre of Premier League season, it feels like the first big team to play it safe, cynical and eradicate mistakes will set the pace at the top.
Last season, Lampard was guilty of playing free-flowing football in games that begged for patience and attrition, surprising given his three-and-a-half successful years under the professor of game management Jose Mourinho.
He has match winners in abundance, so it’s time his Chelsea side cut out the blunders and shut up shop.
Chelsea host Sevilla in their opening Champions League group game on Tuesday at 8pm, before going to Manchester United on Saturday, live on Sky Sports Premier League at 5.30pm.
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It was in conversation with Sky Sports in July that Mikel Arteta first outlined his desire for Arsenal to become tactically adaptable.
“We want to have versatility,” he said. “We will be more difficult to control if we are able to master two or three different formations without driving the players crazy.
“Always with the same principles, but being able to change system, and to attack and defend in different ways.”
It was with that in mind that Arsenal completed the £45m signing of Thomas Partey on Deadline Day. The Ghanaian is known for his physical and technical qualities, but that’s not all he brings.
“I think he allows us to play different formations,” explained Arteta after his arrival. “He can fit within those formations in different positions. He is going to give us a little bit more adaptability.”
Arsenal supporters hope to see the 27-year-old in action for the first time in Saturday’s visit to Manchester City, live on Sky Sports Premier League, but what are the formations Arteta is alluding to? And where exactly will Partey fit into them?
A back three with Partey as a pivot
Arteta used a 3-4-3 formation to good effect in the latter stages of last season, continuing with the same system in the new campaign after the switch from the previously favoured 4-2-3-1 helped the Gunners on their way to FA Cup glory in August.
The deployment of three centre-backs has given Arsenal greater defensive solidity – they have only conceded 15 goals in 18 games since the change of formation – so it would be no surprise to see Arteta continue in the same way in the short-term.
Partey rarely played in a 3-4-3 system at Atletico Madrid – Diego Simeone favours a 4-4-2 – but he is certainly accustomed to playing in a two-man pivot in central midfield.
As a right-footer who primarily operates on his natural side, he would most likely be paired with the left-footed Granit Xhaka.
There are plenty of reasons to believe he would be a good fit for this role in a 3-4-3. Partey excels at initiating attacks from deep positions, able to withstand pressure on the ball and beat the opposition’s press either through passing or dribbling.
His one-on-one ability is one of his biggest strengths. Partey is an imposing physical presence at 6ft 1in, but he also boasts impressive skill, a light touch and excellent close control. Last season, only one Atletico player – winger Vitolo – averaged more successful dribbles than him per 90 minutes in La Liga.
That dribbling ability would complement Xhaka’s ball-playing prowess in a 3-4-3 formation, and it would be especially useful to Arteta given the manager’s preference for inviting pressure in deep areas and playing out from the back at every opportunity.
Partey, like Xhaka, is an accomplished passer, and as well as being an excellent dribbler, he possesses the power and stamina to shuttle between his own box and the opposition’s at speed – his former coaches describe him as a “physical marvel” – meaning he could contribute effectively at both ends of the pitch.
Partey on right of midfield three
Partey also gives Arteta the option of using a 4-3-3. The 27-year-old could play in the holding role in that system, but it is perhaps more likely that he would line up on the right of the midfield three.
It is worth noting that Arteta initially intended to use a 4-3-3 formation following the restart last season, but his plans were wrecked when Xhaka and Pablo Mari suffered injuries in the first half of Arsenal’s 3-0 loss to Manchester City on their last visit to the Etihad Stadium in June.
Arteta persisted with the system against Brighton three days after that game at the Etihad, but the 2-1 reverse at the Amex Stadium prompted him to make the change to a back three.
Arteta has not looked back since, but Partey’s arrival may change his plans again. A 4-3-3 formation would put more responsibility on the shoulders of his centre-backs, who would become a two-man pairing rather than a trio, but it would give the Gunners an extra body in midfield and allow them greater numbers going forward.
With Partey on the right, Xhaka would likely occupy the holding role. The left-sided Bukayo Saka might be a better fit than the right-footed Dani Ceballos for the third midfield spot in that system, but that duo could be fielded together if Partey took the deeper role in place of Xhaka.
Partey would still be expected to contribute defensively if he lined up on the right-hand side of the three, but the presence of an extra man in midfield would also give him more attacking licence, which is no bad thing for a player with a keen eye for goal and an excellent long-range shot.
Since the start of the 2017/18 campaign, Partey has scored more open-play goals from outside the box in La Liga (five) than any other player.
He is also adept at linking the midfield and the attack, as shown by the fact he made more passes into the final third than any other Atletico player during their run to the Champions League quarter-finals last season. In a 4-3-3, he would be expected to provide the same kind of service for Arsenal’s front three.
A deeper role in a 4-2-3-1 formation
If Arteta does decide to revert to a back four, he might prefer to use a 4-2-3-1 shape, with Partey again forming a double pivot with Xhaka. Unlike in the 3-4-3, however, there would also be room in the line-up for a third midfielder to be pushed forward into the No 10 role.
This may be an attractive option for Arteta given his side’s issues with creativity. For all Arsenal’s obvious progress since his appointment, only Sheffield United have had fewer shots among teams to have been in the Premier League in both seasons. The Gunners also rank low for expected goals.
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Mesut Ozil is the most obvious fit for the No 10 role given his pedigree, but the German has fallen out of favour with Arteta and may well have played his last game for the club having been omitted from their Europa League squad last week.
In Ozil’s absence, Ceballos is perhaps the best candidate to step into the role. The Spaniard has impressed since being re-purposed as a deep-lying midfielder by Arteta in the second half of last season, but he is a naturally attacking player and admitted he would prefer to play further forward in an interview with Sky Sports in July.
With Partey and Xhaka mopping up behind him, Ceballos would be free to focus on creating scoring chances.
Arsenal’s current system leaves a gap between their midfield and their attack in the middle third of the pitch, but Partey’s arrival will allow Arteta to fill it. It will also allow a level of tactical adaptability he has long strived for.
Partey’s adaptability explained
Partey’s adaptability dates back to the early years of his career.
He was used in the same position he plays now during his breakthrough season on loan from Atletico Madrid at Mallorca in Spain’s second division in 2013/14, but in the subsequent campaign with Almeria in La Liga, he showed the necessary aptitude to fill in elsewhere too.
“I used him as an attacking midfielder, a central midfield and even a centre-back,” recalled former Almeria manager Sergi Barjuan in a recent interview.
That adaptability proved useful to Simeone when he returned to Atletico. Partey originally found himself a long way down the midfield pecking order there, but he impressed his coaches when filling in at right-back and on the wing.
The circumstances were challenging, but being moved between positions ultimately helped his development. By the time he was eventually deployed in his preferred central midfield role by Simeone, he was a far more complete player than before.
“He is not just a defensive midfielder,” Javi Baños, his former youth coach at Atletico, told Sky Sports recently. “He is now a more adventurous player, with freedom in his movements and scoring ability.”
With Partey entering his prime and preparing for a possible Premier League debut on Saturday, the hope for Arteta is that his £45m man will have a transformative impact in his new surroundings.
Watch Manchester City vs Arsenal live on Sky Sports Premier League HD from 5pm on Saturday; kick-off 5.30pm
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It is also why a lot of the plans are so appealing. Who could argue against a bail-out that immediately saves EFL cubs, and instantly puts in place structures that mitigate against financial failure in future? Who could have an issue with huge reparations, especially to the FA and grassroots good causes, that many in football have demanded from the Premier League for so long?
This would stabilise English football, and during the most volatile crisis the sport has ever seen. But this is also the problem, and one of the most profound arguments against Project Big Picture. It doesn’t just stabilise the game but put it in stasis, ossifying the existing power structure, freezing it at this point. It doesn’t just put in safeguards, but hard ceilings.
EFL clubs would be safe, but little more. It would be virtually impossible to ever rise up in that vintage way that is supposed to be one of the great virtues of the pyramid that Glazer professes to love.
A potential veto on club owners only further illustrates that. That is an incredible level of power, and yet still not as much as the change to the voting system. That, whereby six of the nine “legacy” clubs – the longest serving in the Premier League – would have the casting vote on any of the major decisions, is where the counter-argument really centres. It is actually what would really unanchor the top clubs from the rest of the game, in a manner that has only really been feared up to now, but never quite come true.
This would change that. It would be an evolution of the existing unequal system, rather than the true revolution required.
It could also have major unintended consequences. The big six would really be able to reshape the division as they see fit, something they are currently only capable of influencing. And whatever about the intentions of the current owners, there is the totally unknown problem of who their own next owners are.
All through any future changes, mind, the big six would persist as the monolith at the peak of the game. And why? Just because they managed to be big enough at a certain moment in time. It is only a few years since Henry himself complained it was only a big four that were attractive.
The flip side to all this is that the current status quo isn’t just a moment in time susceptible to the usual fluctuations of the game, but a situation already set in place by the game’s wider economic forces. Football has unintentionally manoeuvred itself so the super clubs are going to be the supremacy indefinitely. That’s now how the game is loaded. There is a strong argument, as articulated in these very pages, that it’s gone past the point of no return.
That’s the reality. The big six are not exactly going to be sanctioning the sport’s version of Das Kapital any time soon, so perhaps this is also the only realistic solution: accepting these circumstances and working within them.
It is also pointed that many see the changes as creating space for allowing Juventus owner Andrea Agnelli’s plans for an expanded Champions League, because some view all of this as an Agnelli-style move in the first place: putting out the most extreme version of the idea – said to be “draft 18” – so as to pre-emptively position the debate and get more changes through than might have been envisioned.
Whatever the truth in that, it doesn’t feel like this current plan is the full solution for English football. It has broader merits, but the fundamental and inescapable problem is that you don’t truly solve inequality by further institutionalising inequality. It is never a good idea in sport to ring-fence any set of teams.
This is the start and end of the argument, even if it is not the start and end of the wider discussion. Football needs drastic change – just not all the changes here.
The only truly workable solution to all of this is mass change to the distribution of TV money. It is the main source of inequality, and the upward drag that creates so many financial problems for clubs, and distorts competitive balance. For the big clubs, however, that is an idea that is certainly dead in the water. It leaves us with this…
Barcelona are willing to sell Ousmane Dembele to Manchester United in the January transfer window in a deal starting at €50 million (£45m), according to reports in Spain.
United made a late push to sign Dembele in the closing stages of the transfer window last week after failing to land Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund.
Dembele, however, turned down the chance to join United and was intent on staying at Barcelona in order to win a place in Ronald Koeman’s side.
United and Barcelona also ran out of time in negotiations as the Premier League side wanted to sign Dembele on loan with a purchase option, while Barca’s preference was to permanently sell the French winger.
According to Sport, Barcelona’s stance remains unchanged and the club will be open to offers for Dembele in the next transfer window and are willing to sell for an initial €50m (£45m) fee.
The report claims that Barca want Dembele to renew his contract, which would increase his valuation, but if the 23-year-old refuses then the club will look to offload him permanently.
Barca had been holding out for €100m (£90.6m) fee for Dembele a few months ago but the Spanish club have been forced to drastically cut their asking price.
Dembele has less than two years remaining on his current deal and Barca do not want the player to enter the final year of his contract without signing a renewal.
Barca’s hierarchy are reportedly annoyed with Dembele over his refusal to join United as the decision ended up scuppering Memphis Depay’s proposed move from Lyon to Camp Nou.
Dembele had reportedly held talks with Paul Pogba regarding a potential move to United and was said to have been open to the idea of playing for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side having initially had doubts.
A move for Dembele to the Premier League could now be on the cards in January, with Liverpool also expressing their interest in the winger during the summer.
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Ansu Fati and Adama Traore set to form explosive partnership for Spain as boss Luis Enrique eyes lightning-fast duo for Nations League clashes
Luis Enrique believes Ansu Fati and Adama Traore can work well together
Enrique gave Wolves star Traore his international debut against Portugal
Barcelona youngster Fati burst onto the international stage for Spain last month
Spain manager Luis Enrique believes that Adama Traore and Ansu Fati can form an impressive partnership.
Wolves star Traore made his Spain debut as a substitute in the goalless draw against Portugal this week, while Barcelona prospect Fati was also on the bench but didn’t get onto the pitch.
Enrique feels that the two players, who both possess impressive speed and technique, are capable of working well together.
Luis Enrique believes Adama Traore and Ansu Fati can form a partnership for Spain
Enrique told AS: ‘Of course they can play together, just like everyone in this squad,’
‘The problem is that I can only play 11 players at one time.
‘I have no incompatible players in this squad, and Ansu and Adama can definitely play together.’
Traore’s versatility – he can play as a wing-back, a winger or up front – makes him a useful option for Enrique.
Enrique is considering the different options at his disposal ahead of Spain’s upcoming games
Traore made his international debut for Spain in the goalless draw against Portugal this week
Fati, meanwhile, looks set for a very bright future on the international stage.
Last month he found the net against Ukraine on his first start for Spain, becoming his country’s youngest ever goalscorer aged 17 years and 311 days.
Like Fati, Traore developed at Barcelona’s renowned La Masia academy, although it has taken him rather longer to get international recognition.
Spain, who have an array of other attacking options at their disposal including Rodrigo, Gerard and Ferran Torres, are back in Nations League action on Saturday when they host Switzerland. Following that Spain will face Ukraine away on Tuesday.