Football Features

Five things learned from today’s major friendlies as Pulisic gets off the mark for Chelsea

By Steve Jennings

Published: 21:29, 31 July 2019

Four of the Premier League’s ‘Big Six’ were in action in pre-season friendlies on Wednesday.

Liverpool beat Lyon 3-1 in Switzerland before Tottenham won the Audi Cup with a penalty shootout victory over Bayern Munich.

Meanwhile, Chelsea thumped RB Salzburg and Arsenal drew with French side Angers. Real Madrid were also in action, overcoming Fenerbahce in a frantic Audi Cup game.

Here are five things we learned from today’s major friendlies.

1. Zidane has serious defensive concerns

After their humiliating 7-3 defeat to Atletico Madrid last week, Real Madrid tightened things up against Tottenham in the Audi Cup on Tuesday. They still fell to a 1-0 defeat, but Zinedine Zidane’s at least stemmed the flow of goals they were conceding all too easily.

However, it was a return to the pre-season status quo against Fenerbahce. Madrid were all over the place at the back in the first half, conceding two goals as the sides went in at the break level at 2-2. If not for Keylor Navas, Fenerbahce could have scored five.

In five pre-season matches, the La Liga giants now have shipped nine goals in the opening half hour of games. Nacho – the scorer of Real’s fourth goal in the 5-3 win – and Raphael Varane looked far from convincing as a centre-back partnership, while full-backs Alvaro Odriozola and Marcelo were constantly caught out of position.

Substitute goalkeeper Andriy Lunin could do little about Ozan Tufan’s long-range strike in the second half. Zidane will at least be pleased with his side’s attacking performance, especially Karim Benzema’s hat-trick. Fenerbahce, meanwhile, have conceded 11 goals in two days – talk about defensive concerns.

2. Erik Lamela still loves pre-season

There is a long-running joke among Tottenham fans that this will be Erik Lamela’s season. Indeed, that line is sincerely put out there by a number of Spurs supporters every summer, when Lamela is fit and firing during the pre-season campaign.

Once again, the Argentinian has been among the team’s best performers so far this summer. He has looked sharper than many of his teammates and proved it with a well-taken finish midway through the first half against Bayern Munich, building on his eager display in Tuesday’s victory over Real Madrid

Generally, Lamela starts the season well and begins to suffer from the first of countless niggling injuries around Christmas. That isn’t a massive problem for Tottenham per se; the Londoners have better attacking players than Lamela, who has been a useful squad option rather than a regular starter under Mauricio Pochettino.

Yet there is always a feint hope this will indeed be Lamela’s year. Fitness is the key, but it’s impossible to tell what kind of shape he will be in months down the line.

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3. Bayern and Spurs suffer potentially costly injuries

After Serge Gnabry left the pitch after 20 minutes of Bayern’s thrashing of Fernbahce on Tuesday, the last thing the Germans needed was another injury to an attacking midfielder – but that’s exactly what happened with 15 minutes to go against Spurs.

It started when Kingsley Coman got the better of Juan Foyth in a one-on-one duel down the left wing. Foyth ended up dragging Coman down by his arm and accidentally standing on the winger’s knee. It looked innocuous at first, but Coman could not continue after trying to put weight on his leg.

Moments after the injury, Foyth was also forced off with what appeared to be an achilles problem. The young defender was stretchered down the tunnel, so Bayern weren’t alone in their bad luck. Mauricio Pochettino will rue Foyth’s misfortune, particularly after he suggested the youngster could be Tottenham’s first-choice right-back this term.

4. Pulisic off the mark as Pedro scores wonder goal

Much has been said about Christian Pulisic’s ability to make up for Eden Hazard’s absence at Chelsea. The American has denied he is Hazard’s direct replacement, but he certainly looked up to the job as Chelsea swept past RB Salzburg in Austria.

Pulisic scored twice in the 5-3 win, utilising his rapid pace and finishing well twice in eight minutes. For both goals, the 20-year-old peeled off the left flank and caught out the opposition centrally – remind you of anyone? – before keeping his cool and slotting past the goalkeeper in impressive fashion.

With doubts over whether Olivier Giroud will increase his output in the Premier League this term, Frank Lampard will need his other attackers to chip in with their fair share of goals. Pulisic has the potential to work off a centre-forward, whether that’s Giroud or Tammy Abraham, and create opportunities for himself with his agility and movement.

Pulisic’s contribution was only outdone by a stunning Pedro goal. The Spaniard made it 4-1 with an incredible flick past the goalkeeper.

5. Reiss Nelson stakes his Arsenal claim

Arsenal continued their mixed pre-season run of results with a 1-1 draw against French side Angers. Reiss Nelson scored the Gunners’ only goal of the game, slotting home after an initial effort rebounded back off the goalkeeper.

Unai Emery’s side went on to win the game on penalties, bouncing back from their 2-1 defeat to Lyon in the Emirates Cup. But more importantly, Nelson’s first goal of pre-season strengthens his claim to be involved in Arsenal’s first Premier League match of the season against Newcastle United at St James’ Park.

The 19-year-old spent last season on loan at German side Hoffenheim, where he did enough to convince Emery to include him in the first-team squad this term. Nelson will provide Emery with a game-changing option in 2019/20, although the teenager will hope he can be more than a substitute.