EPL

Heskey expects Liverpool to trail in Man City's wake but says Nunez can follow Henry and Vieira example

By Sports Desk September 30, 2022

Emile Heskey has dismissed Liverpool's title chances because he fears they will be unable to keep pace with "relentless" Manchester City.

The Premier League returns this weekend, with City already flying high and on the coat-tails of early leaders Arsenal.

Pep Guardiola's City team are undefeated with five wins and two draws so far, plus a league-high goal difference of plus 17, six better than any other side.

By contrast, Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool have won only two of six games to date, struggling to match the high standards they set when pushing City all the way to the final day in last season's championship.

Former Reds striker Heskey declared Liverpool are "probably not" in this season's title race, telling Stats Perform: "I think their main focus is top four now because Champions League is a must.

"I think City are relentless. Give them an inch, they'll take a mile. They know how to exploit things.

"They might be 1-0 down, but you know that they're going to come back. And this is the relentlessness that I think Liverpool had a couple of seasons ago, and they're trying to get back now.

"I don't think it's going to be a particularly bad season getting into the top four, I think it is still massive."

Heskey said "everyone knows" losing Sadio Mane to Bayern Munich amounted to "a huge miss" for Liverpool, with the sale having gone through in late June, ending a six-year Anfield stay for the Senegalese forward.

Former England international Heskey rates Luis Diaz and is hopeful Mohamed Salah will roar back to Golden Boot form, having made a somewhat underwhelming start to the campaign, with two goals and two assists in six league games.

"The thing with Mo, is we are so used to it," Heskey said of the Egyptian's prolific scoring. "But when it wasn't Mo, we had another person that could take up that mantle.

"And if you haven't got that other person to take up that mantle, who will get you the goals that Mo used to as well, you can then start pointing back at Mo and saying, 'Well, he's not doing this, he's not doing that'.

"But the pressures come with that and he understands that, and he's able to get on with that and deal with it. He's a fantastic player.

"I think just give him the ball and let him go and enjoy himself again. When you saw Mo Salah smiling, that's when you know that you've got something good. Even when he's missing chances and he's smiling, you know that he's on form."

Liverpool face Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League on Saturday, their first domestic game in four weeks, after two postponements in the wake of Queen Elizabeth II's death were followed by the international break.

Darwin Nunez has yet to show his peak Benfica form in a Liverpool shirt since switching from the Portuguese giants in the close season, but Heskey suspects the talent is there for the Uruguayan striker to become a "phenomenal" Premier League performer.

As was the case with a pair of Arsenal greats, Heskey feels Nunez could come good after a settling-in period.

Heskey said: "He's still a young player and one thing we've got to understand is, these players coming from abroad who are coming and adapting, not all of them adapt straight away.

"It's a bit of an anomaly for the ones who just come in and just fit straight in.

"You need to give them time. You've got to remember Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry didn't just fit in and click straight away, and we're talking about Premier League greats. So give him the opportunity, and give them the time to settle in. I know we don't have time, but give them time to settle in and he will be a phenomenal player."

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    Tite will rotate his Brazil squad for their final Group G match, but opponents Cameroon still face an uphill battle to make the last 16 of the World Cup.

    Brazil are already through to the knockout stage and will top the pool unless they lose and Switzerland win with a significant goal swing.

    Opponents Cameroon have plenty still to play for, on the other hand, as they must win to have any hope of reaching the second round for the first time since 1990.

    They have never won their final group game at a finals, however, while Brazil are unbeaten at this stage in a record 17 matches.

    And the Selecao have their own goals in mind, looking to take nine points from a possible nine for the first time since 2006.

    "Being first is always the goal, regardless of who the opponent is in the next match," said Fabinho, one of the men set to come into the XI.

    "Our focus is always to win the games, try to earn nine points and give our best. 

    "Whoever will play will have the opportunity to wear the shirt of the Brazilian national team in a World Cup, so the thought of a winning team has to always be this, to enter, give the best, win and be the first."

    Tite's first-choice stars have set a high standard, winning both games without conceding or even facing a single shot on target. They are the first team not to face a shot on target in their first two games at a World Cup since France in 1998.

    "Personally, I don't think [maintaining the standard] brings pressure to us," added Fabinho. "I think playing in a World Cup is every player's dream. It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

    "We have to face this with great joy, knowing the responsibility, come in and give our best. We know the way the team plays, the team is solid defensively.

    "Sure, you have the worries of keeping that, the ideas, but I don't think it adds pressure. We don't feel that."

    Cameroon have lost only two World Cup matches to South American teams, but both have been in their two meetings with Brazil, who have won all seven of their finals clashes with African opposition, scoring 20 goals and conceding just two.

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    Cameroon – Vincent Aboubakar

    Aboubakar has twice appeared from the bench, yet he could hardly have done more to earn a starting berth. Against Serbia, he became the first substitute to both score and assist a goal in a World Cup match for an African nation, bringing Cameroon back from 3-1 down to 3-3 within 11 minutes of his introduction.

    Brazil – Vinicius Junior

    The Selecao may not need to risk playing Vinicius, with Neymar already injured, but it must be tough not to pick a man in this form. Only Kylian Mbappe (23) was involved in more open play sequences that ended with a shot than the winger (15) through two matchdays. Only Mbappe and Ismaila Sarr (four) created more chances following a carry (three).

    PREDICTION

    Even with the potential for changes in the Brazil XI, the supercomputer has no doubts about this one. Tite's men are massive 72.7 per cent favourites.

    Cameroon must win but are given only a 10.6 per cent chance, with a draw that would confirm Brazil as group winners rated at 16.7 per cent.

  • Serbia v Switzerland: Milinkovic-Savic happy with must-win situation Serbia v Switzerland: Milinkovic-Savic happy with must-win situation

    Serbia midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic would have accepted knowing a win in their final Group G game against Switzerland would likely be enough to secure progression to the World Cup knockout stages.

    Dragan Stojkovic's side have taken just one point from their two games so far, coming in a 3-3 draw against Cameroon last time out, but are still in with a chance of going through, although they need Cameroon to lose to Brazil.

    Assuming that happens, a Serbia win would be enough with Switzerland requiring just a draw.

    They find themselves in a perilous position but Milinkovic-Savic insists it is not a surprise. Asked if he would have taken this situation beforehand, he said: "Of course. When we saw the draw and the schedule, we knew that everything would depend on the last game.

    "We need to take this opportunity with both hands."

    Serbia's draw with Cameroon was arguably an opportunity lost given they were leading 3-1 in the second half.

    Captain Dusan Tadic said: "It's certainly hard because we led 3-1 and you're not happy when you end up with a draw.

    "We created a lot of chances, but of course the goals we conceded should not happen. It starts with the midfield and the defence. We know now we need a win in the last round."

    Avoiding defeat is likely to be enough for the Swiss, but boss Murat Yakin will send his players out with clear instructions to try to win the game.

    He said: "We’ll have to find the right balance. I think we can be the dominant team, we’ve proven that in the past. It will be exciting, we'll need a good start. 

    "As a head coach, you can’t send out a team and tell them a draw is enough.

    "Of course we want to try to win this game, we know we have the skills and quality to do so. Hopefully we’ll be well prepared, and then I’m convinced we’ll be the dominant team, we will take more risks.

    "It will be an exciting game, we want to focus on football, everything else I don’t really care about."


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    Serbia - Aleksandar Mitrovic

    The Fulham striker produced a mixed performance in the draw with Cameroon. While he was a nuisance all afternoon and scored a goal, he failed to capitalise on many of the chances that came his way. Twice in the first half he should have done better while he also missed another clear opportunity in the closing stages.

    He will need to improve markedly if Serbia are to get the win they require.

    Switzerland - Yann Sommer

    A clean sheet would likely guarantee Switzerland's progression, and Yakin will be reassured by the fact he can count on one of the tournament's in-form goalkeepers.

    Only two men have made more saves than Sommer's nine, the Netherlands' Andries Noppert (albeit from three matches rather than Sommer's two) and his opposite number on Friday, Vanja Milinkovic-Savic (12).


    PREDICTION

    Stats Perform's AI model believes all three outcomes are a distinct possibility with little to separate them.

    Serbia are ranked a 39 per cent chance to claim the three points they require, with Switzerland a 34.6 per cent chance. A draw comes in at 26.4 per cent. As is often the case, it will come down to fine margins - a mistake or a moment of genius.

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    The Atlas Lions finished first in Group F after beating Canada 2-1 at Al Thumama Stadium while the other pool game, between Croatia and Belgium, ended goalless.

    First-half goals from Hakim Ziyech and Youssef En-Nesyri proved enough with Nayef Aguerd's own goal - the first of the tournament - nothing more than a consolation for a Canada side who return home without a point.

    Regragui said: "We set ourselves an objective of giving everything we’ve got and trying to get past the group stage. We’ve done that, so why not aim for the sky?

    "We’re not going to stop here, we are a very difficult team to beat, so why not dream of lifting the trophy?

    "Let's not get carried away but, if we are fighting fit, we know we are capable of great things."

    After a dominant first-half performance, Morocco went into their shells in the second but determination and a little luck – Canada substitute Atiba Hutchinson planting a header off the underside of the bar – saw them through.

    Regragui added: "It wasn’t easy and when you have this kind of opportunity to make history you think about it.

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    Regragui was only appointed at the end of August and Paris Saint-Germain full-back Achraf Hakimi had nothing but praise for the 47-year-old.

    He said: "The coach has done an amazing job. He hasn’t had much time but he’s formed an amazing group. We trust in him."

    For Canada, Thursday represented the end of a remarkable journey that saw them top the final round of CONCACAF qualifying ahead of Mexico and the United States to reach their first World Cup in 36 years.

    English coach John Herdman said: "It’s the first time in a long time that we’ve got here and we’d like to have been here longer.

    "We’ve enjoyed the ride, our players have turned up to compete, we’ve been fearless and we’ve had something to celebrate in every game. We’re a young team and we’re developing.

    "As a football country we can be proud of the performance and the external world will be talking positively about Canada. We were front-footed and fearless.

    "We raised the bar by finishing top of the CONCACAF group and we were two inches away tonight from getting our first point. We had the penalty against Belgium and battled all the way through against Croatia.

    "The stats will tell you we weren’t far away. We’ll ask the hard questions as we head towards 2026 but this is not Canada walking away with our heads down, we can keep our heads up."

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