Paper Talk: City struggling, VVD out, and Zlatan's still got it
Here's football4football's insight on the big stories in the game right now.
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Are Manchester City struggling?
CONSISTENCY: Despite not being a regular starter for City, Gundogan has always been a consistent performer when called upon.
And even after Wednesday night’s winning start to a new Champions League campaign, the 29-year-old openly admitted that things could be going better. "If I'm being honest we are struggling at the moment,” he said, despite scoring the free-kick which led City on their way to a fractious, hard-fought but ultimately deserved 3-1 win over Porto. Gundogan was speaking not long after seeing Fernandinho limp off the Etihad pitch and Pep Guardiola later confirmed that City’s captain will be unavailable for up to six weeks with an injury he sustained in a five-minute cameo off the substitutes’ bench. Fernandinho joins Gabriel Jesus and Benjamin Mendy on the treatment table. Nathan Ake missed Wednesday’s game with a minor groin problem. Kevin de Bruyne and Aymeric Laporte are expected back in training but still may not be available this weekend’s trip to West Ham.
We are not all at the same moment. That is the challenge for this season, it's not going to end for a while.
It's quite unusual to hear a Premier League player speak so openly about his team's struggles, especially after a respectable win against FC Porto. The recent injury to Virgil Van Dijk seems to have put the ball in Manchester City's court in regard to winning the title this year, but City have troubles of their own. Fernandinho went off injured in the Champion's League, which is a huge loss. He adds stability and grit to a team that often looks suspect in defence. The error from new centre-back Ruben Dias won't have instilled much confidence in fans, and they're light up top after Gabriel Jesus's injury. Of course, there's still immense levels of quality in that squad, but it's potentially the weakest City have looked for a few years. How the balance the fixtures will be very interesting to see.
Verdict: Top 4 still seems a formality, but there might not be much of a title charge from City this year.
How will Liverpool cope without Van Dijk?
COLOSSUS: Van Dijk has staked his claim as the best centre-back in world football since joining Liverpool for £75 million.
The genuine fear is that the cost of the derby to Liverpool will be far greater than two dropped points. Anfield officials are reluctant to put a time frame on Van Dijk’s spell on the sidelines as it will depend on the recovery process but it would be a major surprise if he featured again this season. Van Dijk’s injury will once again lead to scrutiny of the club’s summer transfer activity and the decision not to replace Dejan Lovren, who was sold to Zenit St Petersburg for £10.9 million in July. It means that Joel Matip and Joe Gomez are the only two senior specialist centre-backs left standing. Both have previously benefited from having the calming presence and leadership of Van Dijk alongside them, cajoling and organising. Now they will need to find their own voice and take on greater responsibility.
He had a hyperextension injury which can typically injure the back of the knee and posterior cruciate ligament (PCL).
Virgil Van Dijk's injury looks to be even worse than a standard anterior cruciate ligament injury. It's incredibly unlikely that he'll play again this season. Many fans are also concerned about what performance level he can reach upon his return. This sort of injury for a 29-year-old player can be very extreme. In regard to Liverpool's season, it's created a serious problem at the back. They've been found out for not buying another centre-back in the cruelest way possible. Whilst Fabinho looks very capable of filling in at the back, a replacement needs to be signed in January. This coupled with Alisson Becker's injury means the destination of the title doesn't seem like a foregone conclusion anymore. The next few weeks are absolutely crucial for Liverpool.
Verdict: There is still the quality in this Liverpool squad to comfortably win the league, but one more major injury could open the door for someone else.
Zlatan's still got it
TIMELESS: Zlatan Ibrahimovic has now amassed over 550 career goals, and is one of the most decorated players in football.
(Translated from Italian): Dio Ibrahimovic is the right epithet for someone who at 39 still decides the derbies with a brace and a super performance. Against Inter he withstood the attack of Milan , he played on the bank, in depth, he fought with the central Inter who obviously lost the duel. Ibra has purged twice and even when he made a mistake from the spot he still managed to fix things. Divine. And in fact on social media he wrote: "Milan has never had a king, but a god".
Corriere Dello Sport
I don’t understand when people say he is a difficult guy to work with or a difficult personality. When you have somebody that is a winner and wants to win all the time, I think he is very, very easy.
The logic-defying longevity of Zlatan Ibrahimovic's career can actually offer some reassurance to Liverpool fans. He suffered a similar injury for Manchester United aged 35, and made his comeback after seven months on the sideline. It goes to show that these injuries don't have to be a career-ender for older players. Of course Zlatan's physical fitness is a huge factor, but there's nothing to suggest Virgil Van Dijk doesn't look after himself impeccably too. The Swede is now 39, and is still scoring hugely important goals at the highest level. He bagged two in the Milan Derby recently, look set for another high scoring campaign in Serie A. He's not showing any signs of stopping.
Verdict: Ibrahimovic could break all sorts of records with the length and quality of his career.
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