“We’ve missed a player on the right wing. All the players, they can play there, like Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford, but they prefer the centre or the left side. Now we have a player who can play good from the right wing – a missing link.”
Erik ten Hag has pushed hard for Manchester United to sign Antony all summer, and his trust and desires were given early vindication on Sunday afternoon at a raucous Old Trafford. Antony marked his United bow with a goal, and while not perfect, as debuts go, this was one of the better ones.
Last week Manchester United finally caved in to the €100m price tag their former club, Ajax, had put on his head for the final days of the transfer window – a massive price and a large overspend, granted, but it’s what Ten Hag wanted. Now he has his man and the early signs are good.
We’ve had plenty of experience of Manchester United buying players for a lot of money. It often goes wrong. Ten Hag has sidelined club captain Harry Maguire over the last three weeks – United’s third most expensive signing – and wasn’t able to stop United losing Paul Pogba, their most expensive ever, leaving on a free transfer for the second time in his career earlier this summer.
Neither Pogba, at £89m, nor Maguire, £80m, have proven successful in United red. Antony’s fee now sits between the two but his appearance on Sunday inspired enough confidence to think his United fate may not follow the same path as theirs – at least early on.
Antony was brought to Europe by Ten Hag two seasons ago, and elevated to the levels of a (debatably of course) €100m player under his guidance. Ten Hag has been adamant in his belief Antony is capable of the step up and able to deal with the pressure that comes with it. And it’s only taken 55 minutes of one appearance to see the qualities in the Brazilian he wanted to bring across with him from Amsterdam.
The 22-year-old slotted straight in to the starting lineup after minimal training with his new team in large part due to his familiarity with the Ten Hag way of playing, which United, though they’ve won four on the bounce in the Premier League, have not yet mastered. Even Casemiro, a multiple time Champions League winner, isn’t up to speed from the get go and can’t earn a place. He has the mighty Scott McTominay to oust.
There’s a long road to getting this team playing in the manager’s image and while some boxes have been ticked, there are plenty more to come. Familiarity is key to ticking the boxes faster.
Antony may bring fancy flicks and neat tricks, but he does have down the first requirement of a Ten Hag unit – to put the work in. The 22-year-old is more than willing to track back and while not yet fit enough to complete 90 minutes – Ten Hag said he was “lacking a bit of power” after missing training during the process of his transfer in his post-match press meet – he is prepared to put in the effort to help set standards for his new teammates.
He also fits in a positional sense, and helps balance this United team out with a player type United haven’t had for years – a natural on the right.
Antony is willing to play on the touchline, from out to in, to hold United’s width and allow more space in the middle for creative players Christian Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes to work their own magic. And when the time comes, not a moment before, Antony comes alive.
His debut goal was an early justification for Ten Hag’s methods and willingness to part with such extraordinary money in an extraordinary market. United worked the ball to the point where Antony became a spare man and once afforded the opportunity, he took it with a calm we haven’t really seen from recent carnations of Manchester United right wingers. The square pegs in round holes.
Simple though the finish was and as easy as he made it look, you struggle to think of an alternative in the United squad who would guarantee a goal in that situation, 37-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo aside. All of United’s attacking options are right footed, and we’ve seen countless occasions in recent years of players afforded similar chances in similar spaces, only for the opportunity to go astray.
Antony offers Ten Hag’s United a natural balance from the right for the first time in years. A missing link, as the Dutchman called it earlier.
But as well as the tactical fits, Antony strikes you as a personality capable of dealing with the expectation. A debut goal will help his confidence, but he already has it in spades. How many players do you know are prepared to whip out a direct-to-camera pose showing claws in celebration?
It’s clear to see already Antony sits on the fine line between confidence and arrogance, and while it won’t always work out in his favour, United have been lacking that kind of personality in their squad for some time.
He even took it upon himself to attempt to lob Aaron Ramsdale from 35 yards, because why not.
Ten Hag’s United are far from complete and have a ton of work to do in order to follow the path to complete. Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal proved for large spells of Sunday’s game that they are built in their manager’s image and United are far behind them in that sense. But they’ve at least got the basic requirements back and a foundation to build from.
Antony is here and has slotted straight in, blessed with the confidence of a potential United favourite and the humbleness to work in a modern-thinking manager’s tactical plan.
A long-time problem position may finally have its fix.
RUMOUR: Man Utd could launch shock Pickford swoop as they consider letting De Gea go
Manchester United may consider a shock bid for Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in the midst of uncertainty encompassing David De Gea’s future, reports propose.
As per the Telegraph, United are not persuaded they need to broaden De Gea’s agreement, which runs out in June and procures him an astounding £350,000, and could allow him to go free of charge in June.
The Spanish shot-stopper, who was omitted from Luis Enrique’s Spain squad for the international break, suffered a poor start to the season with a raft of errors most notably at Brentford.
And United are also dealing with a high wage bill that reached a Premier League record of £384million last season.
The Red Devils announced earlier this week that their salaries have increased by a whopping £61.6m from the previous year.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s return as well as Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane’s arrivals led to a 19.1 per cent increase in their salary bill as well as a net loss amounting to £115.5m.
United are assessing their long-term plans and a change between the sticks can’t be ruled out, even though De Gea, 31, has improved recently and has been integral in the last 11 years at Old Trafford.
That could bring England’s No1 Pickford, 28, into the frame come January.
The Everton shot stopper has various clubs carefully monitoring his situation as he will have just one year left on his Everton contract at the end of the season.
The England international is also a homegrown player, which is very appealing to his suitors.
The new signings that will dominate the Premier League this season
In every league around the world, there are players who stand head and shoulders above the competition. The players who dominate those around them and put teams to sword.
When it comes to the Premier League, there’s a number of new signings looking to do just that in 2022/23 – and they will take some serious stopping.
Liverpool’s new shiny striker Darwin Nunez was an imperious force in Portugal’s Premeira Liga last season, racking up 26 goals in just 28 appearances for Benfica.
The Uruguayan was equally as effective on the Champions League stage, and it was his performance in the two-legged game against Liverpool that convinced Jurgen Klopp and the club’s hierarchy to part ways with £64m – potentially rising to £85m if Nunez activates all the bonus payments and clauses added on to the deal.
A strong, powerful player, Nunez has already shown what’s to come in some impressive early season performances.
Arsenal have been crying out for a central striker oozing quality ever since Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fell out of favour before leaving.
In Gabriel Jesus, they have acquired a proven winner, stemming from a number of hugely successful seasons with Manchester City. A versatile player who possesses skill, pace and a keen eye for goal, 25-year-old Jesus is only just entering the prime of his career – and brings so much experience to the table.
The Gunners are looking to bag a top-four finish in the Champions League and, with Jesus leading the line, they have every chance of dominating games this season.
Tottenham manager Antonio Conte demands the very best from each and every one of his players, with the Italian’s standards set as high as anybody in the game.
Croatian winger Ivan Perisic is somebody Conte worked with at Inter, and the pair lifted the Serie A title together in convincing fashion. The 33-year-old is heading towards the twilight of his career, but his incredible fitness, work ethic and mental strength means he remains one of the world’s very best wide players.
Operating as a wing-back these days, Perisic can dominate games in any third of the field, and Premier League defences will be terrified by the unknown threat he carries.
Kalidou Koulibaly has long been recognised as one of Serie A’s best defenders, but now he’s got the opportunity to show that he’s one of the very best the world has to offer.
A terrific reader of the game and fiercely strong in the tackle, Koulibaly has made a habit of pocketing forwards and dominating play from the back – something Chelsea have been crying out since Antonio Rudiger departed for Real Madrid.
Now in his peak years as a centre-half, Koulibaly has all the tools to ensure Chelsea dominate the vast majority of games they play in.
One of the standout performers at Manchester City for a number of years, Raheem Sterling decided to try something new after accepting that Pep Guardiola could no longer offer him the number of his starts his talent deserves.
City’s loss is very much Chelsea’s gain, with 27-year-old Sterling established as one of the Premier League’s most consistent forwards. Be it scoring goals, creating chances or breaking on the counter at pace, the England international continues to strike fear into defences up and down the country.
Already a member of the Premier League’s ‘100 club’, expect Sterling to deliver in spades full for Graham Potter and Chelsea.
Fulham returned to the Premier League in style last season, storming to the Championship title at a canter.
Life won’t be so easy for the Cottagers in the Premier League, but in Joao Palhinha they may have completed one of the most impressive bits of transfer business in the division. A star player at Sporting CP, Palhinha has all the attributes required to dominate Premier League midfields – with his stunning goal at Nottingham Forest a glimpse of what he can do.
Standing 6’3 tall, Palhinha was once named in the Premeira Liga Team of the Year, and he could push Fulham towards safety with some commanding displays.
Chances are if one player is going to dominate the Premier League above all else, it’s going to be Erling Haaland.
In the interest of sporting fairness, it was probably a touch unnecessary for Manchester City to sign Haaland, given how good they are already and given how unbelievably good he is. Nevertheless, the reigning Premier League champions got the deal done for a steal of a price – and the Norwegian now looks primed to tear defences apart week after week.
Unbelievably athletic and incredibly consistent, Haaland’s career statistics speak for themselves, and his opening day double-salvo against West Ham was the first warning shot to the rest of the Premier League – the 22-year-old is here and he is here to dominate.
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