NAPLES, ITALY — Pep Guardiola says he is not interested in playing for a draw away to Napoli despite Manchester City needing only a point to qualify for the round-of-16 of the Champions League.
City have won their opening three games in Group F, including a 2-1 win at home to the Serie A leaders in their last fixture as part of a club record 13 successive victories.
And Guardiola wants to extend that run — ruling out the option of playing more defensively despite a draw being enough to be certain of reaching the knockout stages for a fifth successive season.
“Why would we play for a draw when we can play for a win?” the City boss told a news conference. “We are going to try to win the game against Napoli like at West Brom [last Saturday]. They are athletes, they play a game — we want to win.”
Earlier, Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri described both Guardiola and City as “the best in Europe” although he added that the Premier League leaders are not unbeatable.
The Spaniard has also been complimentary of Sarri and his side but insists his side will not go to the Stadio San Paolo with anything to fear.
“I think we are going to have the same approach — both us and Napoli, we are two similar teams,” Guardiola said. “Obviously it’s always difficult to play away in these stadiums but I’m very honoured to be here as a coach in this stadium as I’ve never had the opportunity before.
“There is no fear, just a lot of respect for the way Napoli play. It’s just a game so there should never be fear. We must remember we are a very young club in Europe, we don’t have a history like Juventus, Milan, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid.
“We only have four players that have played at this level and a lot of young ones. Tomorrow is going to be an important new task for us to try to improve and grow as a club.”
Jonathan is ESPN FC’s Manchester City correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @jonnysmiffy.
LONDON — Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has warned Tottenham that the Spanish giants will use the shock defeat to Girona as motivation in Wednesday’s Champions League match.
Catalan minnows Girona came from behind to beat the Spanish and European champions 2-1 on Sunday, leaving Zidane’s side eights points adrift of leaders Barcelona in La Liga.
Spurs and Real are level on seven points and with identical records at the top of their Champions League group ahead of their meeting at Wembley and Zidane is now under pressure to get a result. But the Frenchman says he actually enjoys the added pressure of big occasions.
“After a defeat, of course people aren’t happy but in some way I actually like this,” Zidane told a news conference. “I like having the motivation of a big match so we can get back to winning ways. This is something that inspires me. When the going gets tough I think I work my best. Life is like this, there are always hard moments, but you have to trust in the way you work and come back stronger.
“Perhaps some people are thinking from the outside that a defeat might leave us down in the dumps but that is not at all the case. We are good, we have a big match tomorrow. We are working well and are ready to perform well against great opposition in Tottenham Hotspur.
“I don’t think it [Girona] is my worst match [as a manager], this is football. We all know how football works, that sometimes you’re going to lose matches and it’s obviously frustrating particularly when you are 1-0 up and you need to push home that advantage.
“The little moments in that match got away from us and we ended up losing. It is important we don’t dwell on that, that we think about tomorrow, go again and give our all as we always do to get the right result. Nothing will change our approach when we prepare and are going out to win.”
It will Real Madrid’s first visit to the new Wembley and the Zidane said that would be another motivation for his players, before praising opposite number Mauricio Pochettino.
“It’s a great stage for us to play on against really great opposition. This is something we like and a great arena in football. The players are very prepared for this match. It is not without its complications in the build-up but we are prepared to go out and do our job,” he said.
“I really think very highly of Mauricio Pochettino. I think he’s doing a fantastic job at Tottenham. He is building a team and building a club that has high aspirations. You don’t need to rely on what I say, the results speak for themselves.”
Real Madrid left-back Marcelo echoed his manager, saying Los Blancos can use the surprise defeat as added motivation against Spurs.
“We can’t think about that now, in fact we can use that as motivation to bounce back and end the stumbling run we’ve had. We know we didn’t play well and now we have the chance to put that right tomorrow,” the Brazilian said.
Asked about the possibility of Harry Kane, who is a doubt with a slight hamstring strain, missing the match, Marcelo said: “It does not make, for me, a big difference. Harry Kane is a very important player but Tottenham are more than just one player.
“I’ve seen many matches where Harry Kane does great things but I’ve also seen the team produce great things. It is important for us not to think just about Harry Kane, whether it is harder with him there or not. We have to consider the group and take on the team as a whole.”
Dan is ESPN FC’s Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.
Inter Milan earned a 2-1 win over Verona on Monday night, with Ivan Perisic underlining his credentials as one of Serie A’s best players with the winning goal.
With the home side putting in a strong shift in the first half, Inter were rather limited, only to break the deadlock when a wonderful Antonio Candreva cross found Borja Valero on 36 minutes. Verona equalised on the hour mark, when Alessio Cerci was downed by Samir Handanovic in the box.
But the Nerazzurri fought back, Perisic firing a stunner past Nicolas Andrade from outside the box. Luciano Spalletti’s men are second and still unbeaten.
Nine wins, two draws: the Nerazzurri have made their best start to a league season ever. Who’d have thought that after this summer’s transfer window? And they’re 13 points ahead of mega-bucks Milan.
The Inter of old would have collapsed here. Instead, they struck back inside nine minutes after Verona’s penalty, and managed the game after. Joao Miranda is looking better, and so is Valero.
VAR was a success, too: it corrected a refereeing mistake and gave Verona what was a stonewall penalty.
The full-backs were pretty ghastly and a number of players put in sloppy performances. This wasn’t a pretty game, but criticism on style seems ridiculous.
Verona were hardly besieging Inter, but you wouldn’t have known that reading social media. Would the press rather have a 7-0 win (plenty of those in the bad years) followed by three points in as many games (plenty of those too).
Are people forgetting that Juventus tend to win ugly on the road, especially after a rebuild?
Manager rating out of 10
7 — Spalletti generally got things right, and he seems to be coaxing the best out of Candreva, while Matias Vecino is getting better and better. Despite appearances, Inter were better here than they were on the road to Benevento and Crotone.
They really didn’t concede any big chances, barring the penalty.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Samir Handanovic, 6 — Didn’t have a lot to do except for the penalty. Hard to blame him for coming out of the goal as he didn’t have much of a choice.
DF Danilo D’Ambrosio, 5 — One of his sloppiest games, despite lending a hand in attack, being found by a wonderful Valero pass. Gave away a needless corner late on and his blocked clearance led to Verona’s equaliser.
DF Milan Skriniar, 7 — Didn’t get anything wrong, except for an errant header and a miscommunication with Handanovic.
DF Joao Miranda, 7 — Still looks careless in possession, but made two key early blocks. Moise Kean was invisible, at least in attack.
DF Yuto Nagatomo, 5 — Was turned inside out by Romulo and made plenty of mistakes. He’s reverted to form, alright.
MF Matias Vecino, 8 — Had one of his best games and consistently burst through the midfield and got himself into interesting positions.
MF Roberto Gagliardini, 6 — Was lax in the first half, but recovered after the break. Gave it away a couple of times too many, but also read the game beautifully and intercepted several key balls in the opposition half.
MF Borja Valero, 7 — Didn’t have the best of games, but his goal was beautifully taken. Was also fouled for what should have been a penalty a few seconds before.
MF Antonio Candreva, 8 — Inter’s guardian angel on the right. He had better corner delivery, no silly crosses, and had an excellent assist for Valero. His long-rangers make a lot more sense when the box is stacked, because the awkward bounce he generates can end up in goalkeeping error.
MF Ivan Perisic, 7 — Not one of his better games, but came up with a superb winner. A lot of ink has been wasted on how he’s not a “top” player. He would be if he scored easier goals. All he does is bang in the difficult ones!
FW, Mauro Icardi, 6 — Worked hard and was nearly successful with a finish from outside the box following a nice Perisic layoff. Also launched a counter with a fine tackle in midfield, but finished a move with a mishit effort.
MF Marcelo Brozovic, 5 — Had enough time to earn a talking-to (or yelling-to) from Spalletti. What is this guy doing here?
MF Joao Cancelo, N/R — Tried a dribble or two, but was ineffective.
MF Eder, N/R — Came on very late and held the ball up well.
Edoardo Dalmonte covers Inter Milan for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @EdoDalmonte.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen is not getting carried away with the excellent start Barcelona have made under new coach Ernesto Valverde and is all too aware that “one bad match” could cost them dearly.
Barca have made their best ever start to a La Liga season, picking up 28 of a possible 30 points and building an eight-point lead over Real Madrid, who lost to Girona at the weekend.
However, last season it was Barca who unexpectedly slipped up, beaten by the likes of Alaves, Malaga and Deportivo La Coruna, and ter Stegen knows there is still a long way to go.
“Barcelona want to be at their best in every match,” he said in an interview with WAZ. “One bad match could cost you the league. That’s the motivation.
“You have [to have] a good diet, be well-prepared and go to training and want to be at your best. Sometimes it’s just about that few percent which can make the difference. Only through that are you able to achieve everything.”
With Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer injured, he is also the current first choice for Germany’s national team after winning the Confederations Cup with his country in the summer.
Despite his good form, though, he is concentrating on taking things one game at a time.
“I only focus on the next step,” he said when asked if he was targeting Neuer’s place at the World Cup next summer. “The next step is [Barca’s] match against Olympiakos [on Tuesday].
“If you start thinking about eventualities, you lose your focus and you can soon forget about it. If you think two steps ahead, you forget what’s important in the now. I learned that from coach Lucien Favre at [Borussia Monchengladbach]. He was right about that, too.”
Ter Stegen also had words of praise for international teammate Leon Goretzka. The Schalke midfielder is out of contract next summer and has been linked with both Barca and Bayern.
“Whoever ends up getting him, I can only congratulate the club,” ter Stegen said. “Maybe he will stay at Schalke.”
He added: “I think that he will get even better in the future.”
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.
Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick has no plans to leave the club despite interest from Leicester, West Brom and Aston Villa, sources close to the player have told ESPN FC.
Premier League duo Leicester and West Brom and Championship outfit Villa have made enquiries about signing Carrick following his lack of action at United this season.
Carrick has made just one appearance for United in the Carabao Cup win over Burton Albion last month and has missed the last six weeks through injury.
However, sources have told ESPN FC that despite his lack of regular action this season under Jose Mourinho, Carrick plans to remain at Old Trafford and the United boss is happy for him to stay.
Carrick finds himself behind Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba, Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera in the United midfield, but Mourinho is keen to have him around for his experience and leadership qualities, with the 36-year-old named club captain in the summer following the departure of Wayne Rooney.
Carrick is also keen to stay at United as he is currently coaching the club’s under-14s as he looks to gain his coaching badges so that he can move into coaching when he does decide to hang up his boots.
He is in the final year of his contract at United after signing a new one-year deal at the end of last season and celebrated his testimonial at Old Trafford in the summer, having joined the club in 2006 from Tottenham.
Peter O’Rourke is ESPN FC’s transfer news correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @SportsPeteO.
On Saturday, Wood played for 56 minutes in Hamburg’s 2-1 defeat at Hertha Berlin, touching the ball only 19 times in a largely anonymous display. His replacement, 17-year-old Jann-Fiete Arp, then scored just 17 minutes after his introduction.
“We do everything to support him, but we can’t do more than we do right now,” Gisdol told reporters. “It’s up to Bobby to drag himself out of it.”
Hamburg host Stuttgart ahead of the upcoming international break and Gisdol suggested Wood could be dropped, saying: “In the end, the performance principle also applies to him.
“It all falls together. He’s descended into a negative spiral from which he has to free himself. He has the potential to be a good forward, but he is not in any sort of form right now. He might give it his all, but things are not going well for him somehow.”
Wood is also dealing with the disappointment of the U.S.’s shocking failure to qualify for the World Cup. He scored a crucial equaliser in a draw against Honduras on Sept. 5 and another goal in a rout of Panama earlier this month, but it turned out to be for naught as he failed to find the net against Trinidad and Tobago on Oct. 10.
Meanwhile, Hamburg are 16th in the 18-team Bundesliga, taking just seven points from 10 games, with six of them coming from two wins on the first two match days of the season.
They have scored three goals in the eight matches since then, taking just one further point in a goalless home draw with fellow strugglers Werder Bremen.
Stephan Uersfeld is the Germany correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @uersfeld.
The United States international started his career with the Red Bulls and believes he should have been treated better by his old supporters, though he understands their frustration at the national team having missed out on next summer’s World Cup.
“I thought it was a little bit classless, with a place I gave a lot to, and they gave a lot to me, had some good memories,” Altidore is quoted as saying by MLS’ official website. “But it is what it is. There’s no loyalty anymore. I guess all bets are off.
“Being disappointed with the World Cup, I get, I understand. But the other stuff is a bit disappointing. I never was disrespectful towards these people. It’s my first club, and I have so much admiration for the club.”
Altidore added that United States’ players are hurting just as much as the fans following their World Cup failure.
“Nobody suffers more than the players,” he said. “I get fans, they put a lot into it. We are nothing without our fans. But at the end of it, the biggest losers are the players and the program, not being able to further so much good work that we’ve done over the past 10 years.”
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It was a Halloween horror show for Atletico Madrid as they failed to beat 10-man Qarabag for the second game in a row, drawing 1-1 to leave their chances of qualifying for the Champions League knockout stages all but dead.
The performance was woeful from start to finish, with few — if any — players willing to take responsibility. They looked nervous in the opening exchanges, misplacing simple passes and that only got worse when they allowed Michel to ghost in unmarked to put the visitors ahead.
Thomas Partey levelled things with a stunning strike, but truth be told that was the only way Los Rojiblancos could score. There was not really a sense they would bag a second — nor would they have deserved it. A disappointing season reaches a new low.
There is absolutely nothing positive to take from this. Nada. Zilch. Zero.
Where to start? Scared players, too many hiding or taking the easy option. And the bench: that Nicolas Gaitan and Fernando Torres are the cavalry is embarrassing. Seven of the 10 goals the side have shipped this season have been headers, too. Should I continue?
Manager rating out of 10
1 — No excuses for Diego Simeone tonight. He insisted luck was against them but was clutching at straws. The players looked terrified from the first whistle and his substitutions are as infuriating as they are baffling.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Jan Oblak, 5 — Helpless for the goal. Had literally nothing else to do all night.
DF Juanfran, 3 — Saw plenty of the ball going forward but too often took the easy option in passing backwards or sideways. When he did decide to cross, it invariably hit the first defender.
DF Stefan Savic, 5 — Until his sending off in the 88th minute he was one of Atleti’s best outfield performers, which tells you all you need to know about how the side played. A crucial last-ditch block under the crossbar at 1-0 saved Los Colchoneros from further embarrassment.
DF Diego Godin, 3 — Looked to be the target from every set piece and often found space, but kept trying to control the ball and take on the opposition instead of putting his head through itl. Got a boot in the face from Pedro Henrique and was lucky to avoid serious injury.
DF Filipe Luis, 4 — Did not have a lot to do in defence but was a willing attacker. Was twice the wrong man in the right place in the second half as he missed two good chances. Finished the game doing the job of two men as the hapless Gaitan laboured in front of him.
MF Angel Correa, 6 — The only attacking player that did not look like a terrified rabbit in the headlights. Tried his best, won his battles and fought hard. Can leave with his head held high — unlike most of his teammates.
MF Thomas Partey, 4 — Was woeful in possession, however she cored a wonderful goal to give Atletico a fighting chance. That is his problem, though. He makes the easy look impossible and the impossible look easy. Having said that, the side looked worse without him — albeit that was because the man who replaced him (Gaitan) is inept.
MF Gabi, 5 — Kept a calm head as everyone else appeared to be losing theirs. Was often being given passes by teammates too scared to make a decision themselves, ready to shift the responsibility over to him.
MF Saul Niguez, 3 — Is in rotten form and his misses in the first game against Roma are looking like they are going to cost the team their place in the last 16. Saw a header cleared off the line but did nothing bar that. Had the chance to put in a cross at the death and spooned it.
FW Antoine Griezmann, 3 — Looks a million miles off the €100 million striker he was touted as in the summer. Touch and passing was almost as AWOL as his decision making.
FW Kevin Gameiro, 3 — Missed a glorious chance in either half. The one just after the break almost killed the atmosphere entirely.
Nico Gaitan (for Thomas), 2 — Brought on as Qarabag were reduced to 10 men, almost as if to even things up. Did nothing, yet had a glorious opportunity to win it at the death but shot straight at the keeper, summing up his utterly underwhelming Atleti career.
Fernando Torres (for Gameiro), 3 — Not much better than the man he replaced.
Joseph Walker covers Atletico Madrid for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @Joe_in_espana.
Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone said his team were arm wrestling with destiny after a 1-1 Champions League Group C draw at home to Qarabag left the 2014 and 2016 finalists looking highly unlikely to make the last 16 this season.
A bright Atletico start saw Antoine Griezmann, Kevin Gameiro and Diego Godin all missing early chances, but the Azerbaijani visitors grew in confidence and ex-Getafe midfielder Michel headed them into a deserved lead just before half-time.
Soon after the break Qarabag almost made it 2-0, with the home team and crowd increasingly nervy, before Thomas Partey swept a superb 25-yarder to the top corner to equalise.
Visiting midfielder Pedro Henrique was then shown a straight red card by referee Deniz Aytekin with 25 minutes remaining. But the outsiders continued to hold out against increasingly desperate home attacks with substitute Nico Gaitan missing the clearest chance in added time, after Stefan Savic’s second yellow card had left it 10 players versus 10.
“All explanations, after this result, are excuses,” Simeone told the postmatch news conference. “We did not start badly, had some chances but could not take them. Then we got anxious, nervous, at end of the first half. We played as we needed to in second half, I have the feeling team did everything they could do.
“Their goalkeeper had a great game, Qarabag defended very well. Clearly the result is not what we were looking for, and we are in this arm-wrestle with the goal. We must keep insisting to overcome this situation.”
With Roma beating Chelsea 3-0 in the night’s other Group C game, Simeone’s side must win both their remaining games and hope Qarabag can pull off another shock result to have any chance to make the last 16.
“When Roma come here we will try and win our game,” Simeone said when asked about the permutations. “You get what you deserve. We will know after the Roma game if we can continue, or are out already.”
Atletico have now drawn six of their last seven games in all comps — against teams ranging from Barcelona to third-tier Elche in the Copa del Rey.
“In many games recently we have conceded when the rival had just a few chances,” Simeone said. “By contrast we have been looking to score, to win the game.
“The second half today the team did enough to win, but fortune has not favoured us. I am the most responsible for what happens with this team. We must try and win this arm wrestle with destiny, which at the moment is not going our way.”
Asked about Qarabag’s ex-Getafe midfielder Michel saying Atletico were not the usual “electric” Simeone side, the Argentine did not disagree, then pointed out that in previous seasons his team had often not played any worse but managed to find a goal to win tight games.
“I respect opinions of everyone, the players especially, as they are the ones who know what happens in the game,” he said. “We always play in the same way. We have won 30 or 40 games like this in my six years here.
“When you score the goal you need, people talk about your strength, your courage. When you don’t find that goal, people have a different opinion.”
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan
He had initially told media the strike in his team’s 2-0 win had been down to “maximum luck” and had perhaps been inspired by a similar but less spectacular goal by Manchester United’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan just days before.
However, in an interview with France 2, the former Montpellier forward said contemporary dance classes taken in his youth had been key to his goal.
“I’m going to have the mickey taken out of me,” the France international said. “It was very bizarre, it wasn’t the situation in which I was most at ease. It was part of the curriculum to become a PE teacher.
“But our teacher considered that kind of dancing a form of art, and the move I did could have been part of a choreography of my dance teacher at the time.”
Ian is ESPN’s French football correspondent. Twitter: @ian_holyman
Hibernian ruined Steve Clarke’s first home game as Kilmarnock manager and moved into third place in the Ladbrokes Premiership with a 3-0 victory. Goals from John McGinn, Simon Murray and Martin Boyle earned Hibs to a third consecutive win. Clarke had guided Killie to draws at Ibrox and Celtic Park in his first two games in charge after watching them win at Partick Thistle, and their displays in Glasgow and enthusiasm over his appointment helped attract a crowd of 5,005 – more than 1,500 up on their previous home game. But Clarke’s early impact did not stretch to an upturn in home results, although Rory McKenzie and Kris Boyd, twice, hit the woodwork for the hosts, who were given a warm reception for their efforts. Killie have now taken two points from a possible 21 this season at Rugby Park. The home crowd’s optimism was dented in the 10th minute when Boyle laid the ball back for David Gray to whip a pinpoint cross on to the head of McGinn six yards out. The midfielder powered a header into the bottom corner. The tables were soon turned when McGinn’s corner found Gray, who was in for the absent Steven Whittaker, completely unmarked at the back post. But Jamie MacDonald blocked the right-back’s header with his feet. Killie immediately broke but Lewis Stevenson raced back to put in a goal-saving tackle on Jordan Jones and the visitors continued to look threatening with McGinn and Dylan McGeouch impressing on the ball and Gray and Boyle finding space down the right. But the hosts found their feet around the half-hour mark after McKenzie hit the outside of the post from 25 yards. They came even closer four minutes later when Greg Taylor turned in the box and crossed for Boyd, whose header bounced down off the underside of the bar. The striker out-muscled Marvin Bartley seconds later at a corner but headed wide off balance and claimed unsuccessfully for a penalty to referee Stephen Finnie. Boyd missed a glorious chance three minutes into the second half after Jones waltzed to the bye-line and found the 34-year-old in space in the six-yard box, but Ofir Marciano blocked his attempted tap-at close range. Marciano tipped over well-struck long-range strikes from Boyd and Jones and the home side were made to pay for their misses when Hibs carved them open on the hour mark. McGinn flighted a ball over the top of the home defence and Gray sent an inviting first-time ball across the face of goal for Murray to knock home. Killie had several penalty claims rejected – notably when Stevenson fouled Jones right on the edge of the box and when the winger got in front of Gray and went to ground, but Finnie was not interested. Marciano saved Lee Erwin’s header, Adam Frizzell missed the target from 16 yards and Boyd’s free-kick deflected off the post. Boyle raced through the heart of the home defence to make it three in stoppage-time. ends
PARIS — To say that Kylian Mbappe is not living up to expectations with Paris Saint-Germain just 10 matches into his time with his hometown club is unfair. More to the point, it is also ridiculously early. However, to say that the France international is not hitting the same high standards he set for himself when breaking through with AS Monaco last season is more accurate.
Four goals and five assists from 10 appearances across Ligue 1 and the UEFA Champions League, which is what Mbappe boasts right now, is not bad by any stretch of the imagination. But when you compare that with superstar teammate Neymar’s 10 goals and seven assists from 11 outings in all competitions, it’s clear that Mbappe has some way to go.
The Brazil international himself has come in for criticism by some for making a slow start at Parc des Princes but that is largely down the controversy created when he tried to usurp teammate Edinson Cavani as PSG’s main penalty taker mid-match against Olympique Lyonnais. Seven years Neymar’s junior, Mbappe deserves to be cut some slack: after all, it’s not as though he has turned into a bad player overnight. Besides, “bad” players don’t maintain a ratio of almost one goal every two games when they have been as wasteful in front of goal as Mbappe has been of late.
It’s the first real knock to the teenage sensation’s confidence since his meteoric rise to stardom and as PSG coach Unai Emery pointed out, it is “a new experience” for him and that he is learning “each and every day.”
“Kylian’s recent form? I have analysed his 10 matches with us so far and generally speaking, his performances were of a high quality,” said Emery of Mbappe during Monday’s pre-match press conference. “However, it is also true that some of his showings were less good than others.
“He has come here to develop and to help PSG to grow. Competition within the squad is good. I want displays to be collective in their nature. I am satisfied with the way things have gone with Kylian, so far. He is fine, both mentally and physically.
“I have spoken with him and it is a new experience for him — he reads all of the comments in the media. It is important to overcome these tough moments. You learn each and every day — even more so when you are still just 18. It is normal that he is going through a learning process.
“With his humility, he will grow much, much more. PSG will be champions in the future and he will be (a champion), too.”
It’s been suggested in France that Emery might opt to give Mbappe a breather against Anderlecht in the Champions League on Tuesday with PSG already looking good for top spot in Group B and with the Belgian giants expected to rest many of their regular starters. The Basque tactician didn’t deny the possibility of Mbappe starting out as a substitute against Anderlecht, but he insisted that he would be the first to tell the young France international if it happens.
“Like the others, he might start but he also might not,” Emery responded when asked about the mooted move. “The most important thing is that the players are respected and told first (if they are not going to start). The players will only discover this pre-match.”
Considering PSG’s current position — sitting pretty atop Group B with a trip to face Bayern Munich in December and currently four points clear of Monaco in Ligue 1 — rotating Mbappe here is not a bad idea. In fact, there are a couple of other members of Emery’s squad who could do with some rest, while some others deserve a few more starts. The former Sevilla boss could address that here, already knowing his team will almost certainly face a depleted opponent.
Taking the pressure off Mbappe from the start in Paris and bringing him on mid-match, possibly away at Angers SCO this weekend as well, is the sort of break he could use to get back to his explosive best. It could also stop him from uncharacteristically missing some of the chances he has been spurning of late.
“Kylian is fine,” said PSG and France teammate Adrien Rabiot pre-match. “What is going on in his mind, I do not know too much about that. However, these are big changes for him and he is still quite young. To me, Kylian is fine and I think he is doing well. If he has suffered a dip in form, surely it is something physical. He performed very well, very early on. He has joined a club where he gets greater exposure.
“Kylian is a star. It is difficult to cope with that at his age. However, he is handling it well. Our situations are different because I was educated here in the youth academy.”
Rabiot is right: his and Mbappe’s situations are different and his compatriot is also already a star despite his tender age. It is for that reason that expectations are so high and the former Monaco starlet has already been criticised for a slight and not severe dip in form. Admittedly, he did not help himself with his silly comments after PSG’s 2-2 draw at Marseille but that simply reflected a young player putting himself under a lot of pressure — most of it unnecessarily so.
At Mbappe’s age, there’s no shame in having one or two below-par showings and there is also no shame in starting one or two games as a substitute. Perhaps that is exactly what he needs to escape the pressure he is currently under from not only the media but also himself.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.
Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon have shrugged off suggestions that Paulo Dybala is suffering from a form crisis.
The 23-year-old has scored just one in his past five appearances in Serie A, but that is not causing any concern to his coach or captain.
“He’s fine and he’s ready to play tomorrow,” said Allegri at the news conference ahead of his side’s Champions League clash with Sporting Lisbon on Tuesday.
“He played well against AC Milan and his performances are getting better and better, and this is the most important thing because he’s going to get his goals, either from set-pieces or open play.
“Against Milan, his first control and pass for Gonzalo were great, and then Gonzalo scored an extraordinary goal, so in the end, Paulo is still decisive. There are moments when you do a bit more or a bit less, but this happens to every player over the course of a season.”
The important thing for Juve is that somebody is scoring goals, and that is currently Higuain. The Argentina international said Buffon had found the right words to help him rediscover his form, and the Juve captain has not ruled out having the same effect on Dybala.
It would have to be something impulsive, though, as it was with Higuain.
“Some things I do aren’t planned, I do them at the time and let my feelings guide me,” Buffon said. “What I said to Higuain after Udinese was something that matured in me during the game — I saw he was regaining his spirit in a moment of huge difficulty.
“He’d hit the post from a great chance and, considering in that game there was also Sami for the hat trick, and me for some good saves — we all took something out of it.
“For Paulo, there’s nothing to say. He had such an extraordinary start to the season that, if for just two weeks — and we’re only talking about the past two weeks — he’s not able to deliver his very best, I think it’s totally normal.”
A win for Juve in Portugal would be enough to secure their place in the knockout stages, assuming Barcelona do not falter against Olympiakos.
“It would be a present for the fans and for all of us,” said Allegri. “This is a game we need to come out of with a positive result. A win would allow us to seal qualification, while a draw would also be a step forward.”
Ben Gladwell reports on Serie A, the Italian national team and the Bundesliga for ESPN FC, UEFA and the Press Association. @UEFAcomBenG.