In The Zone - Marcel Desailly

In The Zone - Marcel Desailly

Q. What did you think of the Burnley game and is Pochettino turning it around?

MD: “I still believe Pochettino has to recreate the winning mentality and the basics. He has raw, talented players, but he has to build their knowledge and their basics. They need to swallow the intensity of the Premier League! When I arrived in England, I was already a World Cup and Champions League winner, but I had to understand the intensity of the matches in the Premier League. 

“The Premier League's spirit is something special and you need a couple of months to swallow that. Luckily, Chelsea's players are young, and they won't feel the pressure in the same way that experienced internationals will. That being said, Pochettino will have to change and switch from a coach who previously had experienced players in the past to one who now has to give young players knowledge and develop their understanding of the game. If Chelsea are able to play the way they did against Burnley, they might be able to do that against other sides.”

Q. After wins against Fulham and Burnley, do you back Chelsea to finish top-four?

MD: “No, I don't see Chelsea achieving a top-four finish. It pains me to say that, but it's the truth! I hope I'm wrong, but I don't see how they can do that. Chelsea have too many players who need to adapt and perform week in, and week out. There'll be no hiding, and every player needs to step up. The team has had their drop in form, and now it looks like they're getting better. 

“The closer they get to the top four, the greater the pressure on them will be. People will be congratulating them the better the results get, but with that comes an increase in pressure. Chelsea also need to digest the belief of becoming one of the top four. It's all about rebuilding a new foundation of the club with talented players. It's good to see them generating confidence because they were so poor for so long. There were so many mistakes. Sometimes I watch Chelsea and I'm so disappointed, but other times I think they're amazing. The potential is there.”

Q. After Arsenal’s win over Manchester City, who wins the league and makes the top-four?

MD: “Everybody will laugh at me if I say Tottenham will make the top four, so I'll put them aside! I'll say the same names most are saying. I think Liverpool will be up there, but the inconsistency of Man United will cost them. There's just too much pain there when it comes to the administration level and the players. The management of Erik ten Hag is also too strong for the players they have. He doesn't have the players in his hands - you can tell. 

“You can feel that very strongly. That's why I believe the best management we have today is at Arsenal. Arteta had a very bad season two years ago and almost got sacked a couple of times. However, he managed to build up a really nice philosophy and built belief with both the owners and the players. Arteta got the player he wanted this summer and he almost made it last year - but the talent of City was just too strong. He's rebuilt the belief this season, and you could see that in the last twenty minutes of the game against City yesterday. Arsenal were unbelievable! They had all the possesion and City weren't able to lift their level and match Arsenal's intensity. I'll mention Arsenal, City, and Liverpool. All of those teams operate like diesel - slow, steady power.”

Arteta celebrating Arsenal's win

Q. Who else would you put in that fourth spot?

MD: “I have no idea who else will finish in the top-four, but I'm waiting for a surprise. Newcastle were magnificent against PSG, but if you look at the match deeply, you realise that PSG allowed them to express themselves on the highest possible level. Luis Enrique made the mistake of going to St James' Park with four offensive players, none of whom understood the intensity Newcastle planned. 

“Howe is a typical English coach with a strong fighting spirit. Nobody was expecting Newcastle to play like that. However, it's a 38-game season, and I'm not sure how Newcastle can maintain that whilst balancing Premier League and Champions League games. They haven't been in the Champions League for two decades, and suddenly they're here! I'm not sure about Newcastle, but I was so happy to see them play like they did against PSG. That wasn't supposed to happen, as quality players can play through high-presses and opposition teams can't sustain ninety minutes of pressuring defences. Despite the result, Newcastle had 29% of the ball. It was an amazing result.

Q. Cole Palmer was praised for his performance against Chelsea. Should he keep playing him ahead of Mudryk?

MD: “I wouldn't say Mudryk should be dropped. He's young and he has a great foundation. He can identify the tempo and knows when to go, when to stay, and when to run. I believe Mudyrk should be one of the main names on the team sheet. I don't know what he's like in training, but he's a key player for Pochettino - more so than Palmer.”

Q. France play the Netherlands in a huge game. What are you predicting for that?

MD: “I spoke with Didier Deschamps this morning over text and the French team are quite confident. They have the opportunity to lose as they don't have as much pressure on them to qualify. The Netherlands will come, and open up, and then France will look to take advantage of that situation. The Dutch will be at home and they'll need to open up. With the type of players that France have, I'm sure they'll take advantage and be the difference. 

“They'll have to stick to what they know and the foundation they have. They have the confidence and they'll be entering the field knowing they can win 4-0! Holland have a good generation of players, but they don't have a clinical striker. I like Memphis Depay up front, but he doesn't have the ability to be able to win a game on his own, especially not against France.

Q. William Saliba was outstanding in keeping Erling Haaland quiet. Is he the best centre-back in the world right now?

MD: “I wouldn't say Saliba is the best in the world yet. I believe that Dayot Upamecano and Virgil Van Dijk are above Saliba, even though Van Dijk has dropped a little bit. We do, however, need to give Saliba time. He only arrived two years ago and, back then, nobody knew his name. He was never mentioned! Let's allow him to exercise and practice his craft at the highest level. 

“He didn't keep Haaland quite by himself - it was also due to the other players. Arsenal pressed City high and cut out the passes to Haaland. Saliba has done well and he has the potential, but let's wait and see what else he can do. The potential is there. He's surely an international-level player for France. He needs to build up his relationship with the other players in the France camp before he can show what he can do individually.”

Q. Who do you think is the best centre-back in the world right now?

MD: “Sergio Ramos was the best centre-back of the last generation, and the generation before that one had Alessandro Nesta, Fabio Cannavaro, myself, Jaap Staam, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, and so many more. Today, I really like Upamecano, even if he still believes a bit too much in his athletic capacity. That causes him to make mistakes. I'd say he needs a bit more humility in his physical capability and reads the game better, he'd be the best centre-back in the world. Virgil Van Dijk's drop has been so disappointing as, for three seasons, we all believed he could be the best. Can you name any more?

High praise for Upamecano

Q. Ruben Dias?

MD: “Yes, Ruben Dias. I thought Rice could have been a very good central defender at one point, but he's too clever and he has too much on-the-ball ability to stay in that position. I will still say Upamecano as my best. I thought Marquinhos was going to be the best, but it's such a pain to see the mistakes he's making.”

Q. Arsenal have been linked with a move for Ousmane Dembele. Would he be a success at Arsenal, or in the Premier League in general?

MD: “Arsenal couldn't pay Ousmane Dembele's salary. I don't see why he should move. I'd like to know where those reports are coming from. Are they coming from him?”

Q. Several online reports suggest he could move.

A. I don't foresee Dembele moving from Paris. He has his mates there, his salary is big, and there's still hope that he can become one of their main players. He would be a good addition to Arsenal's system of 4-3-3, but he's still too expensive for Arsenal as far as I'm concerned.

Q. Aurélien Tchouaméni is another French name linked with a move to the Premier League, but with Liverpool. Would he be a hit in the Premier League? 

MD: “Tchouaméni is playing for Real Madrid! He wasn't playing last year due to Camavinga, and you could see him wanting a move then. He's a young player and he would've been frustrated with his lack of playing time. His blood could've been boiling at him being a second choice for Carlo Ancelotti. 

“However, I think things are quite stable now and Tchouaméni is playing in association with Camavinga in the 4-3-3. Ancelotti has changed now, though, and now he plays a 4-2-3-1 with Jude Bellingham, his key player. I'm not sure what to say about Tchouaméni! There's no reason for him to move. He's playing regularly now and now he's ahead of Camavinga in the French squad. Didier Deschamps is starting to consider him a lot more. Yes, it's the Premier League we're talking about, but I don't see any reason why he should leave Real Madrid.”

Q. After the international break, Chelsea play Arsenal at Stamford Bridge. What are you predicting for that?

MD: “All of what I said about Chelsea before can be brushed away if Chelsea beat Arsenal! A victory won't just mean three points, it'll also mean you've been physically, technically, and tactically superior to Arsenal. That'll give the players a lot of belief, and Pochettino can build on that. 

“Everyone now knows that Arsenal are a part of the great teams in the Premier League, and Chelsea will know how important the psychological aspects of the game are. I do believe Chelsea can win, even if it's Arsenal. I'm not taking away from Arsenal's level, but Chelsea can win and build up from there.”

Q. Do you have a score prediction in mind?

MD: “It looks impossible, but I'll go for a 3-1 win. I'll go for 3-1 Chelsea. Why not? This is the beauty of the Premier League. As soon as a team has a mental drop and isn't ready for the intensity of a match, they can lose. When Arsenal players arrive at Chelsea, they may believe that it won't be as difficult as it would at Tottenham, City, or eventually, Man United. The spirit of Ferguson is still there. Those kinds of stadiums get players ready for the battle. When teams come to Chelsea, they'll think they can win, despite how talented their players are. The mental preparation will automatically drop, even if you try to control it.” 

Q. David Beckham has been in the spotlight after the release of his new Netflix documentary. As a world-class defender, were his crosses, corners, and free-kicks the toughest you faced in your career? If not, who?

MD: “David Beckham was one of the good ones as far as set-pieces go. Beckham initiated the usage of set-pieces in his generation, but we also had Juninho, who was also spectacular. Juninho may have been capable of better set-pieces, but Beckham was consistent on his delivery. It was perfect all the time! Either he'd score a goal directly, or he'd get an assist. 

“He'd be the best for that ability. Luckily, Beckham was on the correct team and he managed to adapt himself to the United system. When people want to compare him with Ronaldo, who played on the other side, it's obvious that Ronaldo had more than Beckham. However, Beckham was so smart to adapt. himself on the tactical side. That, plus his ability on set-pieces, made him a good player. His marriage helped him make a name for himself in the football world, too!”

Beckham's marriage helped profile on pitch

Q. Definitely! Who else comes to mind when it comes to difficult set pieces? You played against Andrea Pirlo a few times.

MD: “Andrea Pirlo, Gianfranco Zola, and Diego Armando Maradona come to mind! Dennis Bergkamp was good, but I'm not sure if he was on their level on set pieces. You'll have to give me some names! I can't think of too many others.”

Q. You mentioned Juninho, he was a legend. David Beckham, Pirlo. There aren't too many who are as good as them!

MD: “There aren't many names at that level. Whenever these players stood up to take a free kick, you knew something was going to happen. We didn't have anyone like that in France. Zidane eventually got there but in his latter days. I can't think of any from this generation of French players.”

Q. Why do you think PSG struggle in the Champions League? What do they need to do to finally land the elusive trophy? Can you see them winning it in the next few years?

MD: “I talked about Luis Enrique's decision to play with four offensive players against Newcastle. None of these players were able to deal with the intensity that Newcastle brought. It's strange because we were all impressed with PSG's performance against Dortmund. They had stars before, but we were saying that PSG now have a team that can go far in the competition. They showed great ability in pressing, movement, and passing, and it's now become a disaster! PSG won in the French league this weekend, but there is a mental drop and they've lost some of the belief in the coach. Enquire made a mistake, and he came out and said that. In the Champions League, individual players cannot make the difference. He played all his stars - Goncalo Romas, Kolo Muani, Kylian Mbappe, with no options on the bench. I wondered why he did that! We all knew that Newcastle were willing to die on the pitch. The talent of Newcastle is lower, but Enrique said he believed too much in his individual players. That was the mistake. It's a matter of readjusting and fixing those errors. That's what needs to happen if PSG want to see better European results.”

Q. Gael Clichy said he believes Manchester City are the only club who could tempt Kylian Mbappe out of his proposed move to Real Madrid, but that would be “game over” for football. Do you agree?

MD: “It won't be easy if Mbappe goes to City. It sounds strange, but I don't think Mbappe is meant to play for City. There is too much discipline. In France, we say that the way City play doesn't leave much room for individuals. With all their passing, they don't really suit players who want to take defenders on. They pass, they move. Silva and Grealish both have the ability to play number ten, but that's been killed by Guardiola's philosophy. 

“He wants them to stay on their side, get the ball, show speed, play the balls, and receive the ball back, and play one-twos. Mbappe doesn't do that. He uses the ball to make the difference. The other players will look at him with confusion as he's not supposed to do that! There'll be a drop in his confidence if he doesn't start well there, either. He's a top player, but not a Man City player.”


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