Celtic Opinion: It would be a real shame for the Hoops to sell Olivier Ntcham for a bargain fee in the summer
Football Scotland understands that Celtic had previously turned down a £14 million offer from Porto for the 23-year-old central midfielder back in the January transfer window, with former manager Brendan Rodgers reluctant to lose the talented youngster.
However, the Portuguese giants are set to go back in the market for Ntcham in the summer, albeit for a significantly less sum of money, following the 23-year-old’s struggles with injuries this season. (h/t Football Scotland)
A youth product of French club Le Havre, Ntcham refused to sign a professional contract with his boyhood club and moved to Man City in 2012 before signing a deal with the Citizens in 2015. Ntcham was loaned out to Serie A outfit Genoa on a two-season loan deal where he showed rapid development, prompting Celtic to snap him up for a fee of £4.5 million back in the summer of 2017.
Ntcham was an instant hit in Scottish football and went on to play a pivotal role in Celtic’s treble-winning campaign under Rodgers in his very first season at the club. The 23-year-old was an ever-present for the Hoops last season and accumulated 9 goals and 6 assists from 48 appearances in all competitions. The former French youth international also impressed in the group stages of the Champions League and the Europa League, which prompted Porto to pursue a keen interest in him.
However, things haven’t been the same for the young Frenchman in his second season at Parkhead. He has featured 35 times for the Hoops in all competitions this season but his returns haven’t been as good as they were the last term, with Ntcham managing just 6 goals and a single assist.
It would be harsh to blame the 23-year-old for his lack of significant contribution this season, given that he has missed large chunks of the current campaign due to injuries.
A thigh injury towards the end of last year was followed by a knee injury towards the end of January and he has missed about 15-20 games for the Hoops. Also, his fitness levels haven’t been great and he hasn’t been entrusted with a starting role in too many games this term.
However, Celtic should remember that Olivier Ntcham continues to be a wonderful young midfielder with plenty of potential. He showed how good he can be last season and, had it not been for those recurrent injuries this term, he would probably have contributed a lot more. Celtic have good depth in their midfield options but losing a versatile player like Ntcham could deplete their resources greatly.
The 23-year-old has played almost every role in the midfield for the Hoops. Essentially a central midfielder by trade, Ntcham has the versatility to play in an attacking role behind the striker and also on either side of the pitch as a wide player.
Noted for his high work-rate, composure in possession, well-rounded passing attributes, intelligence and vision, the Frenchman has plenty of time to make significant improvements to his game in the days to come and Celtic would be foolish to let him go.
The Hoops have the likes of Tom Rogic, Callum McGregor and Ryan Christie, both of whom are quite creative and can play in multiple positions in the middle of the park, but Ntcham is also an immensely talented player who ensures healthy competition for places.
Having rejected the chance to offload him for £14 million back in January, it would be a real shame if the Hoops decide to let him go for a bargain fee in the summer. Celtic could have made a huge profit by selling Ntcham in January but they opted against it and there is no reason why they should alter their stance now.
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Olivier Ntcham still has plenty to offer at Celtic and he could probably be back to his best next season. That said, the Hoops should hold on to him at all costs.
3 Winners and 3 Losers from PL gameweek 5 including Tottenham and Arsenal
3 Winners and 3 Losers from Premier League gameweek 5
Premier League action returned with a bang after the end of the first international break of the season and Round 5 of the 2019-20 campaign produced some mesmerizing football for all sets of fans to savour and admire.
Man City’s shock 3-2 defeat away at Norwich City was arguably the hottest talking point from this weekend, while a few of the other big-six clubs, including Man United, Liverpool, Spurs and Chelsea should also be happy with how things panned out for them in Round 5.
Arsenal blew away a two-goal lead at Vicarage Road to share the spoils in a 2-2 draw against Watford, while top-six hopefuls Everton were beaten 3-1 away at Bournemouth.
Watford and Wolves once again finished the week as the only two sides in the Premier League who are yet to register a single victory thus far.
Without further ado, let us take a look at 3 winners and 3 losers from Round 5 of the Premier League:
Jurgen Klopp’s side stretched their lead over defending champions Man City to five points at the top of the table, as a first-half brace from Sadio Mane followed by a third goal from Mo Salah in the second half guided the Reds to a comfortable 3-1 comeback victory over Newcastle United.
Jetro Willems put the Magpies in the driver’s seat early in the game with his pile driver from the edge of the box but heroics from Mane, and Roberto Firminio who came on as a substitute for Divock Origi midway through the first half ensured that Liverpool stretched their winning run in the Premier League to 14 games in a row, becoming only the fourth team to achieve such a feat.
While it was more of a regulation victory for Liverpool, the fans at Anfield have every reason to hope that Man City’s stumble at Carrow Road proves to be one of the title-defining moments later on in the season.
Nevertheless, for the time being, Liverpool have a lot of breathing space with a five-point lead at the top of the standings.
It was a treat to watch how Chelsea’s young guns completely whitewashed an underwhelming Wolves side 2-5 away from home on Saturday, with Tammy Abraham’s hat-trick making him the youngest Blues player to achieve such a feat in the Premier League.
Frank Lampard’s side had come under criticism for blowing away a two-goal lead at home against Sheffield United prior to the international break but the Blues absolutely demolished Wolves in ruthless fashion to get back to winning ways and finished the week placed 6th in the standings.
While Abraham stole much of the limelight with his hat-trick, fellow academy graduate Fikayo Tomori also got the crowd off its feet with an absolute stunner from 35 yards out, as did Mason Mount, who bagged his third goal of the league season.
3. Tottenham Hotspur
Having lost 1-0 to Newcastle United and drawn 2-2 away at Arsenal prior to the international break, Spurs came into the game against Crystal Palace with only a solitary victory in their first four games.
However, the home fans will be relieved after the Lilywhites produced arguably their best display of the season thus far and cruised to a comfortable 4-0 victory over Roy Hodgson’s side, who dropped down to 12th place in the standings after that defeat.
An own goal from Patrick van Aanholt, sandwiched by Heung-min Son’s brace and Erik Lamela’s strike made the score 4-0 before the interval and though Spurs moved up to 3rd place in the standings this week, they still have plenty of catch-up to do if they are to get back in the title race.
1. Man City
It was always going to be interesting to see how Man City would cope with the opposition in the Premier League following Aymeric Laporte’s injury and the defensive blunders against Norwich City are sure to have Pep Guardiola scratching his head to find a solution for the upcoming fixtures.
Some poor marking allowed Kenny McLean to head home the opener for the Canaries early in the first-half before Teemu Pukki took advantage of some ineffective coordination at the back to set up Todd Cantwell for the second.
Sergio Aguero pulled one back just at the stroke of the interval but a horrible error from Nicolas Otamendi allowed Pukki to make it 3-1 in favour of the hosts. It stayed that way until Rodrigo found a late goal. City struggled to hit great heights against a Norwich side that ran them ragged with their never-say-die mentality on the pitch.
Undoubtedly, Man City’s defeat comes as the first big twist in the title race and Guardiola will be aware that his team cannot afford such slip-ups if they are to keep themselves within striking distance of Liverpool at the top of the table.
Arsenal didn’t have the worst of results in Round 5 but Unai Emery is likely to be disappointed to have come away with just a draw from the trip to Watford, with the Gunners blowing away a two-goal lead in the second half to somehow salvage a point.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s brace in the first half was cancelled out by goals from Tom Cleverly and Roberto Pereyra after the interval, the latter coming from the penalty spot after the Argentine was tripped by David Luiz inside the box.
A victory over Watford would have propelled the Gunners to 3rd place in the standings, ahead of Spurs, who currently hold that position, but some poor defending and lack of resilience at the back cost Arsenal heavily once again.
A victory over Bournemouth would have seen Everton finish the week in the top four but instead, the Toffees currently find themselves outside the top-ten, languishing at 11th place in the standings after suffering a 3-1 defeat to the Cherries away on the south coast.
Callum Wilson’s opener was cancelled out by Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s header just at the stroke of the interval before Ryan Fraser made it 2-1 with a free-kick and Wilson put the game to bed with his second goal midway through the second half.
The Toffees failed to capitalise on their chances and this defeat definitely comes as a big blow to their hopes of challenging for a top-six place.
3 Positives Norwich City should take from the 3-2 defeat to Chelsea
3 Positives Norwich City should take from Chelsea defeat
Having claimed their first three points of the season with a clinical 3-1 victory over Newcastle United in Round 2, Norwich came into the game against Chelsea at home brimming with confidence.
Although hardly anybody would have given the Canaries a realistic chance of coming away with anything from the fixture, Daniel Farke’s side certainly pushed Chelsea to the limit on their home turf and they were probably a bit unlucky to not have picked up a point on Saturday.
Indeed, that is what the majority of the fans at Carrow Road would be thinking after that defeat and quite rightly so because Norwich gave Chelsea a real run for their money.
However, their efforts were eclipsed by the Blues’ academy duo of Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount, both of whom were the key architects of Lampard’s first victory as a manager at Stamford Bridge.
Norwich, though, should take heart from the goals scored by Teemu Pukki and homegrown sensation Todd Cantwell, whilst Farke is likely to be pleased with another solid team performance.
Surely, the Canaries have made a bright start to their Premier League campaign and with that in mind, here are 3 reasons why the fans at Carrow Road can look forward to better things over the next few weeks.
1. Norwich played the way they intended to
Noted for his bravery and fearless approach as a manager, Daniel Farke has never been a big fan of parking the bus to deal with stronger opposition, and Norwich City hardly seemed to have been overwhelmed by Chelsea’s quality and reputation.
The Canaries opted to continue with their playing-out-from-the-back philosophy and pressed Chelsea higher up the pitch in an attempt to take the game to Lampard’s side and impose their authority.
And while Chelsea’s counter-press caused them some problems and ultimately contributed to Mount’s goal, Norwich should be happy that their tactics worked to a considerable extent.
In the midfield and the attacking third, Norwich adopted a short passing game and relied on the likes of Todd Cantwell, Emi Buendia and Teemu Pukki to link up and find the openings in a bid to break down the opposition.
Thanks to Chelsea’s vulnerable backline, Norwich’s ploy worked to perfection and both the goals came from some fantastic as well as aesthetic build-up play.
Looking at the numbers, Norwich had 46% of the possession and registered a total of 481 passes at an accuracy of 81%.
Well, it is not very often that we see promoted teams showing the audacity to play out from the back and register so many passes against Chelsea, which, inherently, is a big accomplishment by Norwich City.
2. High rate of chance conversion
Chelsea enjoyed 56% of the possession and managed as many as 23 attempts although only 8 of those were on target. Norwich, on the contrary, managed 5 shots on goal from only 6 attempts.
Hence, it probably doesn’t require a rocket scientist to figure out that the Canaries made the most of their chances and found the net more often than not whenever opportunities presented themselves. That is some achievement against a big-six side.
3. Star trio Teemu Pukki, Todd Cantwell and Emi Buendia continued their fine run of form
Pukki came into the game surrounding a lot of media hype following his match-winning hat-trick against Newcastle United and the Finnish international was once again one of the standout performers for his team in the 3-2 defeat, taking his goal tally to 5 for the season, whilst also assisting Todd Cantwell’s opener.
One of Norwich’s own, Cantwell, scored his first Premier League goal against the Blues, having registered a couple of assists in Pukki’s hat-trick against Newcastle in the previous fixture.
The 21-year-old impressed with his energy, composure and ability to exploit the spaces, however, Buendia was perhaps the best creative player for the Canaries on Saturday.
The Argentine’s twisting and turning in the final third got the better of Jorginho and ultimately led to Cantwell’s opener before he played Pukki in behind the backline with a delightful through ball for the second goal.
If these three players, particularly Pukki, continue to deliver the goods over the entirety of the campaign, Norwich can be quite hopeful of beating the drop comfortably.
Liverpool 3-1 Arsenal: How Unai Emery’s tactical gamble failed to disrupt the Reds’ juggernaut
Where did Unai Emery go wrong against Liverpool?
The high-octane encounter featuring Liverpool and Arsenal was expected to be one of the games to watch out for in Round 3 of the Premier League but the Reds absolutely destroyed the Gunners, thus turning a much-anticipated fixture into a rather one-sided affair.
The fans at Anfield might argue that they had their money’s worth, watching Jurgen Klopp’s army continue their juggernaut in the Premier League, however, from a neutral perspective, it wasn’t a great game to witness.
Having lost just once in the Premier League since the start of the 2018-19 campaign, Liverpool were the outright favourites on paper but one would have expected Arsenal to put up a better fight, especially after encouraging performances against Newcastle United and Burnley in their first couple of fixtures this term.
Klopp hardly made any significant changes to the starting eleven that won 2-1 against Southampton, with only a couple of changes coming in the midfield.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner dropped to the bench to make way for Fabinho and Jordan Henderson, with the manager making no further alterations to his defence and the prolific front three of Mane, Salah and Firmino.
Unai Emery, on the other hand, went for a completely different shape, opting for a narrow 4-3-1-2 formation as opposed to the regular 4-2-3-1 style that he had fielded against Burnley.
However, there were only a couple of changes in personnel, with Reiss Nelson and Alexandre Lacazette making way for Granit Xhaka and Nicolas Pepe, who was handed his first Premier League start.
Dani Ceballos, who played in the No.10 position, filled the gap behind Aubameyang and Pepe, and complemented a midfield trio consisting of Matteo Guendouzi, Granit Xhaka and Joe Willock.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Nacho Monreal started as the two full-backs, with Emery choosing to continue with the centre-back pairing of David Luiz and Sokratis Papastathopoulos.
As evident from the way Arsenal went about things in the first half, Emery’s motive was to block the passing lanes in the middle of the park, press Liverpool off the ball, win possession back and then hit the opposition on the counter-attack.
Indeed, Arsenal had the pace of Pepe and Aubameyang up top to hurt the hosts badly on the break but their narrow shape in the midfield didn’t really pay rich dividends.
Apparently, Emery wanted to field a compact formation to deny Liverpool any space to exploit between the lines but the Spaniard missed a big trick with his reading of the game.
Emery seemed to have forgotten that Liverpool rely heavily on the full-back pairing of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson to offer width on either side of the pitch and allow the likes of Salah and Mane to drift inside and occupy the spaces between the opposition’s defenders.
Turning the clock back to last season, Alexander-Arnold and Robertson had amassed a staggering 23 assists between them in the Premier League, thus making up for the lack of a natural No.10 in Liverpool’s ranks.
Ideally, even a layman would know that Liverpool do not have a world-class creative midfielder to exploit the gaps between the lines and create space in the midfield, which is exactly the reason why Arsenal’s ploy to play a narrow line never looked justified.
Going by what Liverpool had to offer, Arsenal should have emphasized on blocking the supply of crosses from the wide areas but instead, they chose to defend narrow and virtually played the game into Liverpool’s hands from a tactical point of view.
As a result, Alexander-Arnold and Robertson found themselves in acres of space down the wide areas and although Robertson’s crossing wasn’t up to his usual standards, Liverpool’s relentless attacking play from the flanks finally produced the desired results.
Yet, realistically, Arsenal’s tactics apparently worked to good effect for almost the entirety of the first half, as they sat back deep inside their own half and coped quite well with the barrage of crosses coming into the box from the flanks.
However, it was always going to be a matter of time before that risky ploy backfired and Joel Matip’s headed goal at the stroke of the interval opened the floodgates for Mo Salah to completely demolish the Gunners in the second half.
Emery should have known that David Luiz, despite all his technical abilities, power and experience, has a habit of being rash and indecisive against quality attacking players. And that was on display twice in the second half as the Brazilian played a part in each of Salah’s goals.
Arsenal’s tactical blunder to leave wide open spaces on the flanks allowed Liverpool’s full-backs to attempt a total of 23 crosses on Saturday, with Robertson and Alexander-Arnold accumulating a total of 9 key passes.
Surely, with their calibre, it’s hard to see how they wouldn’t have made a telling difference when provided with so much room to torment the opposition.
Interestingly, some of the Arsenal fans might argue that things could have been different had Pepe and Aubameyang managed to capitalise on the chances on the counter-attack in the first half.
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That, however, would sound more like a protective measure to keep the manager away from the firing line after the 3-1 loss.
Liverpool, on the contrary, should be happy with the three points and that victory leaves Klopp’s side at the top of the standings as the only team in the Premier League with a perfect record after three games.
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