Madrid’s loss is Arsenal’s gain as playmaker Ceballos shines
As he bewildered two Burnley midfielders with a center-field pirouette, delivered a stream of dangerous set-pieces and generally controlled play, it was easy to see why there was so much hype around Dani Ceballos this time last year.
The playmaker was about to be an early-season regular for Real Madrid — at the time the European champion — and went on to play well enough to get a call-up to Spain’s senior squad.
Just 22, he was one of the new hopes of Spanish soccer.
So why was it that, on Saturday, he was turning out in the red and white of Arsenal, making his full debut in the English Premier League and producing one of the best individual performances of the weekend in a 2-1 win over Burnley ?
The answer lies in a mid-season change of coach at Madrid — Julen Lopetegui, a big fan of Ceballos, was fired in October — and the subsequent return of Zinedine Zidane for the second spell at the Santiago Bernabeu a few months later.
Ceballos joined Madrid from Real Betis in the summer of 2017 but was rarely used by Zidane in the player’s first year there. Upon Zidane’s return as coach, Ceballos made only three appearances in the final two months of last season.
It was inevitable Ceballos would leave Madrid in the offseason. Arsenal was a willing taker, on a season-long loan, and is already reaping the benefits.
“The truth is that, for me, it has been one of the most special days of my life,” Ceballos said after his man-of-the-match display against Burnley. He set up both goals — the first for Alexandre Lacazette from a corner and the second for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after winning the ball back high up the field.
“I really want this year to truly demonstrate the football that I have inside,” Ceballos added. “I have a lot of enthusiasm for this season.”
That’s just what Arsenal coach Unai Emery wants to hear. Arsenal’s fans, too, with their team’s midfield sorely lacking a consistently creative player last season with Mesut Ozil in and out of the side.
Emery said he plans to use Ceballos as a No. 10 behind the striker but also as a central midfielder, which should give Arsenal greater control of the ball — just like the team had when another Spanish playmaker, Santi Cazorla, was in north London.
As for Ceballos, he just wants to play. He was a second-half substitute against Newcastle on the opening weekend but started at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
Zidane, the player, was an idol for Ceballos. How he’d love to win the favor of Zidane, the coach, and become a regular for arguably the biggest soccer team in the world.
A strong, consistent loan spell at Arsenal could help him realize that aim.
We all now know about the inverted-fullback tactic at Manchester City under Pep Guardiola. Now for something very different at Sheffield United.
Under Chris Wilder, the promoted club’s 3-5-2 formation sees its two wide center backs get forward and overlap to cause overloads in attacking situations.
From one such attack, United scored its goal in a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace on Sunday, as central defender Jack O’Connell powered down the left flank to create some chaos in Palace’s defense.
Wilder plays three quite defensive players in central midfield, meaning any of them can drop deeper should the center backs pile forward.
DE BRUYNE’S DELIVERY
The dramatic ending to Manchester City’s 2-2 draw with Tottenham ended up overshadowing another stunning individual display by Kevin De Bruyne, whose injury worries from last season seem to be behind him.
The king of the assists in the Premier League, the City playmaker is already up to three this season after laying on goals for Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero with superb crosses from the right — the first high to the back post and the second low to the near post.
De Bruyne has already set up 12 chances in City’s opening two games and is a threat with his driving runs forward from central midfield.
De Bruyne had three separate spells out last season because of a variety of injuries, yet City still won an unprecedented domestic treble.
Now he is fully fit, expect City to be even harder to stop this season.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80