IS LAMPARD’S REASSURING MESSAGE TO $81M STAR ENOUGH?
Another game and another string of missed opportunities for Timo Werner had Chelsea boss Frank Lampard leaping to the under-fire star’s defence.
Werner, who signed on a deal worth €50m ($81m), has now gone 10 Premier League games without a goal, spraying the ball wide at one point after being put one-on-one with Fulham keeper Alphonse Areola.
ESPN pundit Craig Burley said Werner “couldn’t hit a barn door at the moment” and he may be right but even as pressure continues to build, there is plenty of merit to Lampard’s approach.
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While Werner may be stuck in a goal-scoring funk, he still is the club’s leading goal scorer, so it is not like he has failed to produce anything of note.
Just as important is the fact he is getting himself in the right position – it is the either the first touch or final strike of the ball that is letting Werner down.
But Lampard has been consistent in his messaging since the external noise surrounding Werner’s woes really started to build momentum.
“I don’t know, I think it’s normal [lacking confidence], I think if you don’t score as regularly as you want, he scored last week in the FA Cup,” Lampard said.
“But those are goals I’ve seen him score many a time. His bread and butter is going through like that and scoring and it happens. He has to just keep working, it’s the only way out of it… it’ll go in for him because he’s high quality.”
Sure, there have been question marks over the way Lampard has used Werner but he is desperately trying to give the 24-year old exactly what he needs right now – self-belief.
If there is anyone qualified to speak about just what it will take to get Werner believing in himself again it is former Premier League goal-scoring legend Alan Shearer.
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“What’s interesting is just how that lack of confidence can wheedle its way into your body, how it can affect your balance and technique and body shape, creating a classic vicious circle and I think my own experience is worth mentioning here, if only because I played the same position and went through the same thing,” he wrote in The Athletic in December.
“Your technique can desert you, 100 per cent. It’s the same with golf; when you’re playing well, you don’t even think about the four-foot putt or when you line up for a drive on the first tee. You just hit it. When form goes, your whole technique can go. You over-think it, you over-analyse and compensate. Nothing comes naturally any more.”
While Werner’s struggles may come back to his movement away from central striker this season, it goes beyond a simple case of a positional switch.
His basic finishing leaves a lot to be desired and while Lampard has nailed his public messaging on the matter, the big challenge is whether he is the coach who can help Werner rediscover his spark.
It then becomes a tough balancing act between reassuring Werner that he can overcome his current slump while still being willing to make tough calls to get the best out of him.
It may require more tactical flexibility form Lampard, even if it means freeing up Werner to roam and better position himself to find space to run into, in a similar fashion to his time at RB Leipzig.
Werner may be “high quality” but if the management he is playing in is not, it spells trouble.
MAN CITY’S TITLE TILT CONTINUES TO BUILD MOMENTUM
Manchester United may sit up the top of the Premier League ladder while Liverpool have done exceptionally well to maintain strong results despite a disrupted campaign.
But United legend Gary Neville has backflipped on his insistence that the Reds will take out the crown this season.
Speaking on Sky Sports after Manchester City’s thumping 4-0 win over Crystal Palace, Neville revealed the key reason why he thinks Pep Guardiola’s men are the new favourites.
“The title race is swinging back and forward,” he said.
“City are dangerous and emerging, and look like their form is good. Are Liverpool hitting their own standard? No.
“City just look like they’re getting to a level where, if they maintain it, they could cause damage in this league. They’re in a really good moment where confidence is good. But like most teams this season, it’s been short-lived. It’s been four or five weeks and then teams have that dip.
“Who is going to have that consistent run? I’ve said Liverpool all season, but I would transfer it to Man City now looking at the way they’re playing. Liverpool aren’t going to get Van Dijk back quickly, and then they can’t get Fabinho into midfield.”
City climbed to second on the ladder with the emphatic victory over Palace and now can go one better to top spot with a win over Aston Villa in the coming days (although United can reclaim first place with a win at Fulham later that night).
While rivals Liverpool and United played out a goalless draw, City put in a clinic against Palace and look ominously primed for the title.
$161M STAR THE KEY FOR MANCHESTER UNITED
Meanwhile, speaking on the Gary Neville Podcast, Neville claimed that United’s title hopes may rest on the brilliance of Paul Pogba.
The 27-year-old joined United in 2016 for a then world record £89 million ($A161 million) but his manager claimed back in December he was “unhappy” and wanted to leave.
Pogba’s form has lifted since then though and Neville says he could be the key.
“I think Manchester United’s chances of winning this league are slim – Liverpool and Man City are still the best two teams in this league,” he said.
“But the slim chance they have to win this league will depend on something like Paul Pogba delivering a cameo of two or three months of brilliance, which he is capable of.
“He’s got confidence, he’s got arrogance – good arrogance, in a sense that he believes in himself. He thinks he should be playing in the biggest games in the world, and winning titles, and thinking positive thoughts, thinking you’re the best is a big thing when you’re looking to win.”
MOURINHO’S PERPLEXING BALE DILEMMA
Gareth Bale’s future is uncertain as Tottenham Hotspur manager Jose Mourinho said “not one second” has been spent talking about extending his season-long loan from Real Madrid.
Bale enjoyed a popular homecoming as he was swarmed on by fans when he arrived at Tottenham’s training ground in September on a deal reported at the time to be worth £230,000 per week ($A408,000).
The 31-year-old’s second spell at Spurs has so fair failed to live up to expectations as a lack of fitness and form has prevented Bale from making an impact for Mourinho’s men.
Bale has played just 45 minutes in the Premier League since November 8 and has been overlooked even as Tottenham’s bright start to the season has faltered in recent weeks.
“He is a player on loan until the end of the season, not one second of discussion,” Mourinho said when asked about extending the loan.
Bale has one more season remaining on a highly-lucrative contract with Madrid where he also fell down the pecking order in the Spanish capital under Zinedine Zidane last season.
The vast majority of Bale’s playing time since returning to the club where he made his name in September has come in the Europa League.
However, Mourinho pleaded for patience with the four-time Champions League winner due to a number of injury problems.
“The Europa League group stage is a different level to the Premier League, in the Premier League he didn’t play many minutes,” added Mourinho.
“Everyone knew in the last couple of seasons at Madrid it was not easy for him. “Let’s go step-by-step and try and get the best out of him.”