• Watch Manchester United vs. Watford live on Sportsnet on Saturday at 9:30 am ET.
Ahead of every weekend this season I will give you my three thoughts on what’s going on in the Premier League and the soccer world at large. These might not always be the biggest stories, but rather my personal observations as the games approach each Saturday.
Paying homage to Philipp Lahm
There are certain players who just seem a little different. It might be the way they move around the pitch, or the way they always seem to be on the ball, always involved, always looked as outlets. Players such as Xavi, Zinedine Zidane, and Paul Scholes are just able to boss games, even when they are not at 100 per cent. Philipp Lahm is one of these players.
This week Lahm announced he will retire after this season. At 33, it probably should come as no surprise, but much like Scholes (the first time he retired) it can be argued that it is premature. That is why I respect this move so much. The Bayern Munich man says he has realized that he cannot continue to operate at an elite level, and that rather than change position, or move to a lesser club, or another league, he would rather quit. I have nothing against players who look to prolong their careers. I get it, hang on to the sport you love as long as possible, but there is something so dignified when a player says farewell before he slips.
Lahm is back to playing at right back, a far more athletic position than in the middle of the park where Pep Guardiola had often used him before departing for Manchester City. However, Lahm has not thrown any arrows at manager Carlo Ancelotti or the Bayern brass, even if the fact that he turned down an executive position with club is rather telling. Instead, the World Cup winner shows class, just as he has on the pitch for the last 15 years at Bayern. He will retire a true one-club man, he will retire at the very top, and he will be missed.
Chelsea’s Kante a pure joy to watch
Another player who has that ability to affect games on a weekly basis is the diminutive N’Golo Kante at Chelsea. Rather than boss a match by always being in possession, Kante seems to always be on any opponent with the ball. It is truly uncanny, he is like a magnet, his victims iron.
Add to this the fact that he rarely picks up fouls, and you begin to understand the importance of Kante to Chelsea as it marches to the title, just as he was for Leicester City last season. It is rare that a deep lying destroyer gets many kudos in the end of season awards, but surely Kante will receive his due this time around? Over the last two years he has 41 wins and six losses to his name, and I am sure if you asked Wes Morgan and Robert Huth why this season they have looked so aged, the Frenchman’s absence from the Leicester’s starting 11 would be the answer given.
The fact is, Kante is just fun to watch, and not since Claude Makelele patrolled Chelsea’s midfield can we say that such a player is one of the main reasons why you need to watch a team play. I am serious about that; sure there’s a lot to like about Chelsea this season, and certainly its attacking play gets most of the press. But this weekend, if you are watching Chelsea, give the little fella wearing No. 7 your attention; you won’t be disappointed.
Ibrahimovic’s future at Manchester United
Another of this season’s players to watch has, of course, been Manchester United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He has been a goal machine for United, and has come as advertised in being a larger than life figure.
I thought it was fitting to mention the big man on this, the 25th anniversary of Eric Cantona’s arrival in English football. I am not sure if there has been another player since Cantona who has brought with him such brashness, swagger and the ability to deliver on the pitch.
The one fascinating question with regards to Ibra is what his future will be at United. At age 35, it is unlikely the club sees him as a long-term fix, despite his excellent condition and continued vintage form. Rumours persist that Antoine Griezmann is a target this summer. If not Griezmann, then expect someone of similar stature to come in. Pace in the United attack is essential, and if we are to pick holes at the current side, it can look slow and devoid of ideas at times with Ibra as the focal point. So, let’s assume the Red Devils purchase a new striker next season, what then of the Super Swede? Is he ready for a reduced role? It is a story to follow.