Football Insights - Bacary Sagna
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Football Insights - Bacary Sagna

With the Premier League season heading into week 11 former Arsenal, and Man City defender Bacary Sagna gives his verdict on players that have impressed him the most, Champions League favourites, the early season form of City and Arsenal and more.

Read the full interview with Bacary below.


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On Players That Have Impressed

Naming Phil Foden, Gabriel Martinelli as players that have stood out in the Premier League this season 

Phil Foden has impressed me again this season. It is not unusual to see what he is doing for his club and what he is doing at such a young age. Honestly, when I saw him training at sixteen, his progression, maturity and development as a player is just magnificent. The way that he plays is so brave. He takes responsibility on the pitch and tries to make things happen for his team.  

He has the character and the personality to play in the biggest matches. I think he has also shown fantastic leadership, not through shouting and screaming, but with his ability on the pitch. The impact that he has had on this Manchester City team in the last few years is absolutely phenomenal. You forget that he is only twenty-three years old.  

I really love Gabriel Martinelli. He is having a big impact for Arsenal whenever he plays. He is a completely fearless player. When he gets the ball, he has one thing on his mind and that is to take on players and beat them. He has audacity. That is what you need if you want to be a top player at a big club, you need to have audacity and courage to perform from a very young age. Martinelli has that.  

It's not easy to do what he is doing in the best league in the world. It’s not easy to make an impact at one of the biggest clubs in the world, but Martinelli does it without any pressure. Everything that he does on the pitch is impactful for Arsenal and he gives them so much with and without the ball.  

Why William Saliba is the best centre back in the league 

William Saliba is a monster. I remember when he joined Arsenal, there were a lot of people questioning the signing. A lot of people questioned Arsenal spending nearly £30 million on an eighteen-year-old defender.  

If you look at the players development, both Arsenal and Saliba deserve a huge amount of credit for the player that he has become. Saliba went to Marseille, one of the biggest clubs in France where there is a lot of pressure, and he came back a much better player.  

I think he is Arsenal’s most important player. When he got injured last year, Arsenal started to lose points because he is the pillar of the defence. I think Arsenal could have been champions if Saliba stayed fit. 

There aren’t many players that can keep Erling Haaland, the best striker in the world, quiet. Saliba is one of them.  

He is so composed on the ball. Physically, he doesn’t get bullied. His performances are so mature. He is a natural leader. He is humble; he never shows off on the pitch after he does something well. You never see him react. He is always so cold-blooded. He does things on the pitch naturally and performs his job perfectly. He has a brilliant focus. That is the mark of the best players, when they do something well on the pitch, they treat it as just a part of their job.  

He reminds me a little bit of Carlos Puyol the legendary Barcelona defender. When Puyol did something great, he didn’t get too carried away. He led his team with personality, courage and focus.  

Saliba is praised by the Arsenal fans a lot – they have a great song for him – but he doesn’t let it get to his head or affect his performances.  

I think Saliba is the best centre back in the league. With his spirit and humility, he will continue to get better and better.  

Why Brighton will be the surprise package in the Premier League again this season but won’t qualify for the Champions League 

I think Brighton still have the capacity to surprise people in the Premier League. When you watch Brighton play, it is magnificent. I think they play the third best football in the Premier League behind Manchester City and Arsenal. I haven’t seen any other team (apart from Manchester City and Arsenal) playing as well as Brighton. They play with a wonderful spirit and all of the players fight for each other. You can tell that all of the players are enjoying this type of football, and they deserve a lot of credit for the way that they play.  

With De Zerbi, I said as soon as he came into the Premier League that he would be fantastic. I played under him at Benevento in Serie A. After one training session, I could tell he was going to be a great coach. It was a feeling I had based on how much he loved football but also by how much he wanted his players to take responsibility on the ball and to play. He wanted the players to enjoy what they’re doing. His passion and attention to detail in every single training session was magnificent.  

I had a feeling after working with him that he reminded me of Pep Guardiola. In Italy, when I said this to some of my teammates, they made fun of me. They didn’t believe me and thought I was complimenting him to get into the team (laughs)! I didn’t compliment him for those reasons, I complimented him because I had total belief in his abilities as a coach.  

It looks like I was spot on with my opinion. Some people understood what I meant, some didn’t.   

I’m glad that he is showing the world what he is capable of as a manager.  

I think Brighton will be a little bit short to challenge for the top four in the Premier League. They play amazing football, but they are competing against teams with bigger squads and bigger budgets. There are other teams in the Premier League that are in front of them.  

I also think that Brighton will find it difficult to juggle playing in the Europa League and in the Premier League. They will have to rotate their players so it will be hard for them to find a rhythm and consistency that can carry you to the top of the table. That is why I think they will be a little bit short to challenge for the top four this season.  

Why Francesco Farioli is the next big manager in world football  

Francesco Farioli will be the next big manager that is in demand. He was part the goalkeeping coach in Roberto De Zerbi’s team at Benevento. Believe me, he is the next great coach in a similar mould to Roberto De Zerbi. He is currently managing Nice in France and they are top of the table. Remember the name!  

Teams that will challenge for a place in the Champions League this season 

Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City, Liverpool. These are the teams that I think will be in the top four at the end of the season at the moment.  

Comparing Manchester United to Manchester City 

It’s difficult to compare Manchester United and Manchester City because they are two clubs at very different stages of their development.  

The City that we’re seeing now took years to build and it took years for them to consistently challenge for titles. This City team is probably the best team in the world at the moment. They proved that last season (by winning the Champions League).  

Manchester United are struggling to find the same level of consistency that was there under Sir Alex Ferguson. They’ve changed a lot of things at the club following his departure – many coaches and players have come and gone.  

We don’t know what is happening with the ownership of the club. I think there are many doubts around the direction and leadership of the club, so it isn’t surprising that the players are finding things difficult on the pitch.  

Manchester United are in a rebuilding process. They have a lot of good players, but some of them are struggling to adapt to the demands of the Premier League and the demands of playing for Manchester United. There is a lot of pressure on these players. It looks like there are a number of things that are happening at the club that are affecting United’s performances and the quality of the team. 

On the pressure that is mounting for Erik ten Hag and some of his tactical decisions 

It’s difficult for Erik ten Hag to manage all of the players that he has in his squad. There are a lot of good players in the Manchester United squad with big profiles, but a manager can only pick eleven players in his team. It’s very difficult to keep all of your players happy, but he will be picking a team that he believes is the best team to win a game.  

Ten Hag spends more time with the players than anyone else. He sees them on a daily basis, so he will have a reason for not starting Raphael Varane against City. Only Erik ten Hag knows why he made that decision. Maybe it was on the fitness of the player, or it could have been a tactical decision. Varane is an amazing player but since he has been at United injuries have stopped him being at his very best, but he remains an important player when he does play, so I don’t think he didn’t play based on his performances. There are always reasons why certain players do not start games.  

Fans will always complain (about a managers decision-making). It’s easy for fans to do that and they are entitled to their opinion. I think some fans, not just United fans, can be too harsh on managers and players. There are a lot of things that fans don’t see.  

Ten Hag would have wanted to win the match against Manchester City. He didn’t put Varane on the bench to lose the game.  

Football isn’t rocket science. Sometimes managers make decisions that go against them. It doesn’t make Erik ten Hag a bad coach, but he has to take the responsibility for the decisions that he makes. When he decided not to play Varane, he would have been advised by his coaching team, his fitness coach. Ultimately, he will have made the final decision, but it would have been a (coaching) team decision. He hasn’t become a bad coach because he got one decision wrong or Manchester United lost this game. That isn’t fair on Erik ten Hag.  

Concerns about United’s weak performance in the Manchester derby 

Manchester City are a very clever team. They analysed Manchester United’s previous performances and pinpointed weaknesses to exploit in the match.  

Tactically, Manchester City are the best. Technically, Manchester City have players that are also the best. Bernardo Silva, everything he does with the ball whether it’s a pass or a cross is always spot on. Every decision that the (Manchester City) players make on the pitch is correct. It’s difficult to play this team. They are the best in every single aspect of the game, both offensively and defensively. Manchester City are the best team in the world. 

Ederson makes key contributions. He makes big saves when his team needs them, but he is also always perfect with the ball at his feet. Their defenders also make vital contributions at both ends of the pitch. They are a complete team.  

I think it is very harsh to criticise Manchester United based on the derby. Manchester City were better than Manchester United in every single aspect of the game. Most teams would have lost (against Manchester City).  

There are bad vibes at Manchester United 

Manchester United are in a really tricky moment. When I look at the vibe at the club and the way some of their players are being criticised by people, things don’t look good. The vibe in the club isn’t the best at the moment.  

I think the United fans should back up the manager and the players. They need to be united, no matter what happens. In the match against Manchester City, some fans left early. They lost a game against their rivals, which hurts, but there is no shame in being beaten by the best team in the world.  


On Manchester City 

United victory was City’s best performance in the Premier League so far this season 

I thought that Manchester City’s performance in the derby was probably their best performance in the Premier League so far this season. City are doing really well, and they are doing everything brilliantly. They don’t make bad decisions on the pitch and the players have a wonderful connection and understanding with each other. Everything is perfect at City at the moment.  

Why Manchester City are still title favourites and what caused the club’s slow start to the season  

Manchester City are still the team to beat if you want to become English champions. I expect them to climb the table and get into first position over the next few weeks. Manchester City have two squads. Every player that comes into the team is performing at a very high level.  

Manchester City got off to a slow start to the season after winning the treble. They had a slow start because City played more games than any other team in the Premier League last season. The City players had a longer holiday, so pre-season started a little bit later with the first team squad. Now they are finding their way. They are starting to show with their performances on the pitch why Manchester City are the best team in the world.  

It didn’t surprise me that they started the season a little bit slowly and found some things difficult. They are the team to beat and every weekend is a battle; a cup game. All the players that come up against them want to impress because it’s good for their careers if they can make an impact against Manchester City.  

Bernardo Silva typifies what Pep Guardiola looks for in a player 

Bernardo Silva is so unpredictable. He can play in so many different positions and he pops up in so many different areas of the pitch to contribute.  

He is a magical player. The way that he plays is typical of a Guardiola player. He always makes the right decision with and without the ball. His accuracy is crazy, and he is a very hard player for opponents to mark because he always find holes and spaces on the pitch.  

I was delighted that he stayed this season. I was worried about the rumours linking him with a move because I didn’t want to see him leave the club.  

He was magnificent against Manchester United. He is such an intelligent player, so it’s very difficult for the opponent to stop him having an impact on the game. He is such a difficult challenge for defenders because he has the ability to dribble past most people. He can answer any question an opponent throws at him.  

Technically, he has a higher ability than most players in the Manchester City team. He is so comfortable with the ball, and he is the one player in the Manchester City squad that can cover the absence of Kevin de Bruyne. Bernardo Silva is the player that is closest to Kevin’s technical ability.  

John Stones development into one of the best players in the world 

What a player John Stones is! You know, when he joined Manchester City, he was a very good player, but he had a little mistake in him. In some games he was a little bit too confident and would try things that didn’t work or make the wrong decision when he had the ball.  

Everything he does now is perfect. It doesn’t matter who he is facing, he rises to the challenge. Technically, I think he is one of the best players in the world at both centre back and in centre midfield. As a number six, he is one of the best in the Premier League and he isn’t a natural midfield player.  

His composure on the ball is magnificent. He can read the game brilliantly and he does well in his duels. He can also play at right back – he is like a Swiss Army Knife. John Stones is four players in one.  

On Jeremy Doku’s impressive start to his Manchester City career 

When you put Doku in a one-against-one battle against a defender, with his pace and dribbling ability, you expect him to come out on top. He is exactly the type of player that Manchester City needed to sign after Riyad Mahrez left in the summer. Mahrez was the master of beating a defender one-against-one, and I think Doku could be the perfect replacement for him.  

As a right back, it wouldn’t be much fun playing against Doku! He is so fast and skilful. The only way that you can stop him is if you get really tight to him and go one-on-one with him from the beginning of a match.  

He is the type of player that thrives in open spaces. It is hard to slow him down when he is carrying the ball. He has the pace to knock it past players. He can have a huge impact at Manchester City. I expect him to improve. I expect him to improve in front of goal and to start scoring more goals. I also think that he will improve his decision-making working with Pep and his team.  

Doku has a bright future. He was amazing at Rennes last season, and he has been amazing playing for the Belgian national team. The impact that he is having on this Manchester City team is also amazing.  

Is Rodri City’s most important player?  

I think that Rodri the most important player in the Manchester City team. You notice the difference in the way that Manchester City set-up and play when he is not available for them. When Rodri isn’t available, then Manchester City are not the same. Of course, when he was out, some players tried to replace him, but they couldn’t.  

Rodri has been an important player for Manchester City since he joined. Last season, he showed his value. He was the most important player for Manchester City along with Ilkay Gundogan.  

Rodri sets the tempo for everything that Manchester City do on the pitch. He has scored vital goals for the club, his shooting ability from distance is very good.  

He was involved in the third goal against Manchester United, he won the penalty for the first (goal). He knows how to attract midfield players which creates space for the attackers. When City don’t have the ball, he is always in the right position.  

He is so calm on the ball. His composure reminds me of Yaya Toure. He is intelligent like Toure also.  

He is also very smart in many other elements of the game. He can get his opponent excited, which gives him an advantage.  

Bayern’s Jamal Musiala could be the perfect replacement for Kevin de Bruyne 

Jamal Musiala is a player that could step into Kevin de Bruyne’s shoes in the future. He is a young player with a lot of quality. He is good in the one-against-one battles and over short spaces with and without the ball.  

Musiala is decisive in every game (for Bayern). He was in Chelsea’s youth system, so he knows the demands of English football and wouldn’t have to adjust to learning a new language or culture.  

He has a bright future. If he worked under Pep, he would learn so much in such a short space of time. He would become an even better player under Pep and working with the players at Manchester City every single day. I am not saying that Bayern’s players are not good, they are a brilliant team, but they play a more direct style of football and their football isn’t as dynamic as Manchester City’s. At Manchester City, he would have more space on the pitch because Pep would make sure that he set up his team to put Musiala in areas where he would have space. Pep is all about the tactics and the way that City play would suit his game perfectly. I think Musiala would improve so much under Pep Guardiola.  


On Arsenal 

On Arsenal’s start to the season?  

Arsenal have had a very good start to the season. Unfortunately, they dropped stupid points at home to Fulham when they had to win the match. Against Tottenham, they should have won that game too. It could have been an even better start to the season for Arsenal, they could be four points better off at the moment. 

They are unbeaten. It looks like they are continuing to improve as a team. My worry for Arsenal would be injuries. They have a few injured players at the moment, and we saw last season how much impact William Saliba’s absence affected the team.  

Sagna urges Arsenal fans to support Nketiah 

Nketiah have proven that he can score goals for Arsenal. Mikel Arteta clearly trusts the player, he hast started eight of Arsenal’s ten games so far this season. I think now is the time for the fans of the club to show him that support and back him on the pitch.  

Every time he has played, he has performed well. He has scored some vital goals already this season. There are doubts about his ability from some people. Why? Because Arsenal didn’t spend lots of money on him and he is an academy player? He has proven his ability while he has been at the football club.  

People need to support Nketiah. There is a continuing debate about his ability and his future at the football club – Nketiah will be aware of this. As a player, when you feel the support of the entire stadium, you become a different player. When you have the full backing (of the fans), you play without any pressure.  

Every team would like to have more strikers! The season is long but at the same time, you want to give your players that are on the pitch the confidence to do well.  

People should stop questioning Nketiah. There has been a debate about his ability to play for Arsenal since he got into the first team squad.  

Do you think his hattrick will silence some critics?  

Eddie Nketiah has the quality to be a very good player for Arsenal. He is already a very good player, but he has the ability to go even further and take the next steps in his development as a player. I think he can go and become a prolific striker in the Premier League, but he needs to have that confidence from his supporters. Arsenal fans need to back him up and Nketiah needs to feel the love. He needs to feel like Arsenal fans are happy when he starts games, and he needs to see that support.  

As soon as he has 100% of the fans support, he will become a different animal. He will become an even better player.  

I love his desire and his ability – he is fighting for his position at Arsenal. He plays knowing that he will be criticised. How well do you think he would play with full confidence? He always performs knowing that not everyone is with him. If the manager thinks he is good enough to play for Arsenal, then the fans should as well.  

On Martin Odegaard’s form at the moment 

This is the problem with football. Players will always be criticised and people will always have opinions (on players). It’s human nature to question why a player that has performed so brilliantly isn’t doing so well at any given moment, but if you looked at Odegaard’s last 100 games for Arsenal, you could say that in 95 of them he has been amazing.   

It is possible for a player to have a few bad games. At the moment, Odegaard isn’t playing his best football, but that is normal. Look at what he has done throughout his time wearing the shirt. It’s crazy to be critical of Odegaard without considering his body of work when playing for Arsenal.  

He had a little rest against Sheffield United and the team won. Perhaps he isn’t at 100% in terms of his fitness. I don’t think it’s fair to be critical of Martin Odegaard this season.  

Odegaard will have a huge impact on Arsenal this season. I was pleased to see him sign a new contract with the club and commit himself to the club for a long time. He loves the club has been a wonderful player since he joined.  

Arteta’s goalkeeping policy 

The first point to make is that Arsenal have two amazing goalkeepers. They are lucky to have that level of quality.  

For David Raya to come into the club and replace Aaron Ramsdale, who was one of the best goalies in the league last season, it shows the quality (that Arsenal have in their squad). 

You want to have competition in a squad. People will complain and wonder why Arteta made the decision to sign David Raya. I would ask why wouldn’t you sign him?  

Every manager wants his players to improve and respond to challenges. All of the top, top teams have quality depth in all of their outfield positions; the only reason why there is a debate about this is because this is the goalkeepers position and managers have historically had one number one in that role. Everyone needs to fight for their place.  

I think Arteta sees the goalkeeper position like any other on the field. A lot of people think that it is better to have one number one, to give the goalkeeper security. Why? For the wellbeing of a goalkeeper, for the development of a goalkeeper, they need to train as hard as any other player. They need to fight (for their position).  

All players want to have security, but they also want to develop and improve. Football is a competition, and you need to prove yourself every single day. Unfortunately, with the role of a goalkeeper, there is always a debate. This is football.  

Mikel knows what he is doing. Ramsdale will be arriving at training with more hunger and desire to get back into the first team. I think that the competition between the two players is only a good thing for the club.  

On Kai Havertz’Arsenal career 

I think that Kai Havertz has had a difficult start to his Arsenal career. It’s been difficult for him because he joined the club for a lot of money and that comes with a lot of expectation. I think people need to forget about Kai’s price tag.  

He has come from a different team that played very different football. Kai Havertz is being asked to play a completely different style of football and in a new role. The way that Arsenal play football is very different from any other team. The demands are different. What Arteta needs from Havertz is different (to the role he played at Chelsea).  

Arsenal fans are demanding. When you play, you have to play well otherwise you will be criticised. That creates even more pressure for him. I think it is only a matter of time before he adapts to Arteta’s demands and the demands of his teammates because he has the quality to play for Arsenal. I think the people that are criticising him need to be a little bit more patient and I think he needs to be backed by the fans.  

When you come with a big price tag, people will always talk. There have been a lot of pundits criticising him; a lot of articles in the media. He will be aware of that – players find out about these things. That is part of the game of being a player, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt.  

All players want to be loved by their fans. If you don’t feel that level of support, you don’t play the same.  

Can Arsenal win the Premier League? 

I think Arsenal can become Premier League champions this year. When you watch them play, they have the ability to hurt many teams. I still think they haven’t reached their top level yet this season – I expect them to play better than they are at the moment. Arsenal definitely have the quality to compete for the title this season.  

I would love Arsenal to keep Saliba fit for the entire season. Arsenal really missed him last year. He is such a key player for Arsenal.  


On Liverpool 

On Liverpool’s ability to challenge for the title 

I think Liverpool have had a very good start to the season. They are performing well at the moment. Liverpool were challenging Manchester City for a few years – they won the Premier League title and the Champions League in this period. They were magnificent, but all things come to an end, and you have to start again.  

This Liverpool team is not even eighteen months into that process of its development. Last season they started from zero. This season they are doing better and next season they will do even better because the team is developing together.  

I think there are better teams in the league than Liverpool this season. They have improved. Darwin Nunez is developing nicely, and the other new players look more confident. They are building towards something. I think Liverpool will only get better and better, but I don’t think they will be challenging for the title this year. Next year they will be ready.  


On Tottenham  

On Tottenham’s ability to challenge for the title 

I want to clarify my comments on Tottenham and the club’s ability to challenge for the Premier League title. I don’t think that this team will crumble, but I don’t think they will be champions.  

When you get to the last ten games of the season, the pressure is very different. We saw how Arsenal did brilliantly last season, but in the run-in to the end of the season, the pressure was different.  

I respect the project at Tottenham. They have a good coach and good players. The facilities at the club are top class, but whenever you’re under pressure to win the title, the vibe changes. It requires a different mentality, and the expectations change.  

At the moment, Tottenham are playing without pressure. It’s difficult when you are not used to playing every single weekend with pressure, that is what the top, top teams have.  

When the expectation ramps up at the end of the season, that will be a new challenge for a lot of these players. I don’t see them being able to handle that type of pressure.  

I also have doubts about some of their players. I expect some of them to have bad patches in the season, which will have an effect on their ability to win games.  

Tottenham will not crumble. They will have a great season, but I just don’t think they have enough to win the Premier League this season. This team will not fall apart, but I don’t think they are ready to go the distance.  


On Chelsea 

Another home defeat for Chelsea. Can you see any signs of improvement under Poch?  

I’ve seen a little bit of improvement in Chelsea this season under Pochettino. This is a team that is also in a rebuilding process.  

There are many teams that have historically been challenging for the Premier League title like Manchester United and Chelsea, but they are starting from the bottom at the moment.  

Chelsea are in the same position as Manchester United. They will have to go on similar journeys if they want to be successful again. This will not be an easy season for Chelsea, especially after shining so brightly for so many years in the Premier League. I am sure that they will get back to those levels again one day, but I couldn’t tell you when.  

They have so many new players. It’s really difficult for a coach to integrate so many new players at the same time. Chelsea have also been unlucky with injuries. They have lost a lot of key players to long-term injury, which has made things even more difficult for Pochettino.  

Christopher Nkunku hasn’t been able to play for the club in a meaningful game yet. Injuries are part of football, but Chelsea have had some bad luck. Nkunku is coming back now, and we will see what type of impact he can have on the team.  

Mudryk is a player that has brilliant ability, but he struggled to settle when he joined the club. He struggled with the pressure of his price tag, but he is an amazing player, and you can’t expect him to make the difference in the Premier League straight away after joining from a Ukrainian team.  


On Aston Villa 

Unai Emery was considered a bit of a laughing stock when he was at Arsenal, do you think his impact at Aston Villa is forcing the critics in the UK to eat their words? 

The Premier League is an unforgiving league. Unai Emery is a good coach and he proved that before he joined Arsenal. You don’t get the opportunity to be the manager of clubs like PSG and Sevilla if you can’t coach.  

To get the opportunities that he has had, you have to be one of the best coaches in the world.  

I think he joined Arsenal at the wrong moment – it was going to be so difficult for any manager that went into the club after Wenger. He joined Arsenal when the club needed to be completely rebuilt. It’s not far to judge his ability on his time at Arsenal and to criticise his coaching level because that was such a difficult job for him.  

The Arsenal team that he inherited wasn’t in good shape. Look at United when Sir Alex Ferguson left – the club still haven’t really found the right direction since his departure. It was so hard for Emery to follow a legend like Wenger. Any manager would have struggled. I think he had some good ideas at Arsenal, and he did some good things at the club, but those are often forgotten. He gave Martinelli and Saka their starts. If he looked back on his time at the club, then I also think there would have been things that he would have done differently.  

Coaches have to take responsibility. When a team does well, the players get all of the credit, and the coach is often ignored. When a team loses, it is always the coaches fault! That is the life of a coach. It’s not easy.  

I really like what he is showing us with his Aston Villa team. Aston Villa are one of the most prestigious clubs in England – they are a giant of a club. They have a brilliant academy and the potential there is massive. The fanbase is great. The team is doing really well and playing well. I like what I’m seeing from them. Could they qualify for the Champions League? It is too early for me to say.  


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