Steve McManaman: Why Perfect Power is the one to beat for the July Cup

Check out Steve McManaman's thoughts on all things racing.
Check out Steve McManaman's thoughts on all things racing.

Perfect Power put in a very dominant display in the Commonwealth Cup after overcoming Flaming Rib who finished in second place. Returning with his monthly column, Steve McManaman discusses why Perfect Power remains the one to beat when the two face off again in the July Cup at Newmarket. McManaman also discusses the Frankie Dettori / John Gosden sabbatical, why Baaeed is his one to watch for the remainder of the flat season and Hollie Doyle’s first Classic victory. 

Despite speculation that the two have repaired their working relationship, the Frankie Dettori / John Gosden sabbatical caught many off guard.

“It’s a strange one really because they’ve both been so successful. I don’t know whether this was the final straw or if there’s been any internal conversations between them. Unfortunately the ride of Stradivarius, given Dettori’s ride on Stradivarius last year, was more of the same. I don’t believe Gosden’s instructions were to do that. If anything, it looked like there was more space this year for him to extricate himself out of trouble. Stradivarius has been an incredibly successful horse but to fail by half a length in the end, you would have thought that if he got himself out in time then he may have won. You can understand why John Gosden and the owner were slightly upset. I don’t like to be critical because I’m not a jockey but you can understand why they were upset after the race because he got so close. He got hemmed in and lost by a couple of lengths.”

July Cup Odds

Baaeed is the pick of the horses to watch for the remainder of the flat season.

“There’s a few to look out for. Inspiral is running on Friday at Newmarket and Mishriff was unfortunate the other day and probably should have won the Coral-Eclipse. I believe he’s one to keep an eye on in particular because he ran well despite having a long layoff. There were also a number of horses that ran really well at Royal Ascot, especially Baaeed, a superstar like Inspiral that hasn’t been beaten yet. Those are the horses you keep an eye on because there’s something nice about going through a campaign unbeaten. Looking over to Ireland, Statuette ran really well the other day at Curragh. She’s one of Aidan O'Brien’s horses to look out for and she has a really good pedigree. We all want to watch horses that we can look at and go ‘this is the next superstar’. Baaeed has ten wins from ten and that’s something to look out for.”

Mishriff was an unlucky loser more than Vadeni was a great winner in the Coral-Eclipse.

“I was impressed with Vadeni, but I believe Mishriff should have won. Mishriff did get blocked in and he tried to come through a gap. The gap closed and he tried to go back around Vadeni, who got first run on him and was catching him up on the line. If Vadeni had won by five lengths then I would have been more impressed. I thought that Mishriff was an unlucky loser more than Vadeni was a great winner. However, for Vadeni to come over to the UK and win was a really great achievement.”

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It was excellent to see Hollie Doyle win her first classic over in France with Nashwa.

“It was brilliant for Hollie Doyle. Nashwa just hung on and she ran very well in May when she won at Newbury. Anything that can make headlines on a Monday morning is great for the sport. We’ve spoken about Rachael Blackmore winning the Grand National and the Gold Cup, which produced brilliant, brilliant headlines, so for Hollie to do that as well is fantastic. She, like Rachael Blackmore, is a wonderful Jockey.”

Perfect Power was very impressive in the Commonwealth Cup and for me he’s the one to beat for the July Cup at Newmarket.

“On current form you’d have to say you can’t see anyone beating Perfect Power in the July Cup. His form going into Royal Ascot was brilliant and he was the favourite for it. Flaming Rib at Michael Owen’s stable ran really well in the Commonwealth Cup and he’s likely to face off against Perfect Power once again at Newmarket. However, Perfect Power backed up his excellent form at Royal Ascot and unless there’s something wrong with him, then you’d have to say he’s the pick of the bunch. Any horse competing with Perfect Power will have to improve by three or four lengths to get anywhere near him.”

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Mohamed Salah’s new contract is the best bit of business Liverpool could have done this summer. 

“He’s the Player of the Year in my opinion. I don’t think it will have too much of an impact on Liverpool competing for honours this season because Liverpool are already the strongest team along with Manchester City in both England and Europe. I just believe that Mo signing a new deal will put everyone at ease and Jürgen [Klopp] will stop being asked questions regarding Mo’s future. Is it the best bit of business Liverpool could have done this summer? Well, yes, because he’s their best player. I did always believe he would sign a new contract and especially when Sadio Mané left that made me believe even more that Mo would sign. He always seemed really happy, he always seemed really settled and he always seemed well loved. When you’re playing your best football at a particular club then sometimes you don’t want to change it. It’s great that he’s signed and it’s put an end to a lot of the rumours. It will make Liverpool stronger with him staying at the club and we won’t have to hear speculation regarding his future hopefully for the next three or so years.”

There’s no pressure on Darwin Núñez to be an immediate success at Anfield. 

“I don’t believe Darwin has to hit the ground running, but I believe he will have to contribute without a shadow or a doubt. Liverpool still have four other forwards, so he’s not going to be expected to score ten goals in August or whatever ‘hit the ground running’ means. Myself and other Liverpool fans have been spoiled, especially by Luis Díaz coming in and making an instant impact. Luis Díaz didn’t play every game but his level of form was excellent. I don’t expect Darwin Núñez to play every single game and I don’t believe he has to score all the time. I just believe he has to contribute when he’s called upon, like Luis Díaz did. He’s a 22 year-old Uruguayan, who doesn't know the language so he has to be given time to settle and then you’ll see the best of him. When you’ve already got Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Diogo Jota and Luis Díaz, then I don’t think there’s going to be a tonne of pressure on Darwin Núñez to put ten goals in the back of the net in the first six weeks of the season.”

Liverpool have had a good transfer window and it might not be over yet, but it’ll be difficult to accommodate Nicolò Barella.

“Takumi Minamino is gone but I don’t think that is a space that Barella will fill, and I don’t necessarily think Liverpool will bring anyone else in. Liverpool’s business is done unless one of Liverpool’s fringe midfielders goes in and says “I want to leave”. Of course, Fábio Carvalho, the young kid, has come in and you’ve got Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones and you’ve got the experienced players. So unless one of those experienced players says they want to leave, I can’t see Liverpool bringing another midfielder in right now, only because they seem to have so many: Naby Keïta, James Milner, Thiago, Jordan Henderson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Fabinho. And then you talk about Carvalho, Elliott, Jones. And then of course people are talking about next year with Jude Bellingham, so it just doesn’t make any sense at this moment in time, unless one of them leaves. 

Jude Bellingham may have a €120m asking price, but I don’t think he’d cost that much.

“I don’t think he’ll cost that much. I don’t see how you can put a price tag on someone when they’re not going to go until next year. So I wouldn’t dare speculate on how much he will cost or if he’s got a release clause. Vinicius Jr. will sign a release clause that is about £1billion, that doesn’t matter, and Frank Kessie has just signed one for nearly £500m, so all that is nonsense really, you just have to negotiate at the right place at the right time, and a year down the line you don’t know whether he will be injured, or if his form is still at a very high level. Likewise, you can’t say Liverpool and Real Madrid will go head to head because another club might need a centre-midfielder and if he has the most incredible season he could be worth even more than that. He’s a very talented boy and he’s young, he’s English, but he plays in a foreign country. Real Madrid have just bought Aurélien Tchouaméni, they’ve got Eduardo Camavinga, and they would happily take Jude Bellingham as well. So would Manchester United if they can’t get Frenkie de Jong. So there’s so many questions about who would like Bellingham, but if his form is good, there will be 15 clubs who’d love to take him.”

Keeping Mo Salah has retained that extra cannon upfront, but a player like Serge Gnabry would be a good fit for anybody.

“I think Liverpool could accommodate Serge Gnabry. He offers something a bit different, he offers pace. He’s shown he’s more of a winger than Salah is, because Mo likes to cut in from the right and get on his left. Gnabry more so as in he’ll drop the shoulder like a typical old-school orthodox winger. So I think they could accommodate him from a playing point of view but again having six forwards would be madness. Sometimes it just causes more problems than you need, and Liverpool’s squad is big enough when everybody is fit and well, and if it stays like that, you probably don’t need any more players. That’s the thing in the end, ideally, as a manager, you’d want 36 internationals in your squad, but when you can only pick 11 every week, it’s harder because everyone gets unhappy. So I think Serge Gnabry is a great player and when I’ve seen him at Bayern Munich I think he’s expectational. They’ve got Kingsley Coman, Leroy Sané and other players and I think at times he just feels as if he’s not loved and he is. As a player and what he’s done recently at Bayern, I think he’s very talented and very exciting, I think he’d be a good fit for anybody.”

Would Serge Gnabry be a good replacement for Raheem Sterling at Manchester City instead? Possibly.

“Manchester City have got so many players. Pep got rid of Leroy Sané bu they've got Riyad Mahrez, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva, and now Erling Haaland. Again it’s about fitting people in, and making sure that they’re happy enough. They’re not going to play 60 games or even 40 games, they might be left out at times and as long as they can go along with that, they’re fine. And also some of the time it stops you from bringing some of the academy kids in, and City’s academy is always very good, like Liverpool’s is, and sometimes you have to have a little bit of patience and bring those players in. That’s nothing against Gnabry, I think he’s excellent and I love the way they play at Bayern with two wide men who have got pace and of course Robert Lewandowski up front, who might be leaving, so there might just be some change at Bayern this year. You never know.” 

I’m glad Liverpool didn’t go in for Raheem Sterling.

“I think that’s gone now. His relationship with Liverpool and the fans unfortunately has gone. He’s an excellent player and he’s shown it in an England shirt and been great at City, but I don’t think Liverpool are interested in Raheem at this moment in time. Sadio is gone but they’ve bought Darwin and they’ve still got five forwards now that Mo has re-signed, and they’ve got kids coming through. So they’ve got a lot of players that can play in those positions and sometimes one more can suffocate someone else.”

Bringing back Nathan Aké wouldn’t be a bad call from Chelsea.

“I don’t see why not. It’s hard because there aren’t many good central defenders around. I know Chelsea have been interested in de Ligt but he hasn’t had the greatest time since he went to Juventus and Juve have struggled. The fact that Aké has played in the Premier League plenty of times and just won the title with Man City, you know what he can do when he’s called upon. I’d have no qualms taking him, the way Chelsea play with five at the back. I don’t think there’s any problems because they normally play with five defenders, not three centre halves and two forward wingbacks, whether it’s César Azpilicueta, Reece James and Ben Chilwell when he comes back from injury. If Nathan Aké went he would be protected in that back five and when you have N'Golo Kanté and Jorginho in front of you, you’ve got enough defenders on the pitch so I wouldn’t think that’d be a problem.

“I wouldn’t think Chelsea fans will be underwhelmed by signing Aké. You’re putting him directly against Rüdiger but if you put him against Christensen, you’d probably say Aké was better. So I’ve got no problem with that, and it will be interesting to see how Rüdiger plays this year because Real Madrid play in a four. At Chelsea, playing in a five, he was protected; more protected than normal. So, it’ll be interesting to see how he does. But if Chelsea play in a five, I think Aké will be completely fine, and I don’t think the fans should be underwhelmed at all.”

Matthijs de Ligt has got lots of talent but he’s not worthy of Chelsea or Manchester City paying a world record fee for him.

“He wouldn’t go for £103m. There’s absolutely no chance. Not on the form he’s in. But the good thing is that he’s a very good and talented player. Maybe Juventus was the wrong club, at the wrong time. They were in a huge transitional period when he went there. They struggled, they went through different managers. Of course, they played about four or five different defenders with him - Bonucci and Chiellini have been injured and now Chiellini’s left for LA at 37 years old - so I almost felt sorry for him. I don’t think his form is what we’ve seen. I think he’s a better player than what we’ve seen. And maybe he’ll be better in a better team that has more possession of the ball, with a different style of football. With all respect to the different leagues, Ajax’s style in the Eredivisie was different to Juve’s in Serie A. So I think you’d definitely take a chance on De Ligt - but there’s no way you would pay a record £103m for him! Not from what we’ve seen over the last couple of years. If anything, he should be wanting to prove that he’s that good.

“To throw him into Manchester City’s team when you’ve got [John] Stones, [Aymeric] Laporte, and [Ruben] Dias. You’re going to have to tell two of them ‘you’re not playing today’ for De Ligt, and that’s hard. They’re all internationals, all playing really well. To say that to them two or three months before a World Cup - and you don’t necessarily want to mess around with central defenders, chopping and changing, because of their relationship with the full-backs and the goalkeeper - is hard. I don’t think City would go there at this moment in time.

“But a 22-year-old central defender who’s got loads of talent - they don’t come around that often. They’re hard to buy as there’s not many around.”

It’s mad that, just a year after he returned, it actually might be best for Erik ten Hag and Manchester United to sell Cristiano Ronaldo.

“It’s a very strange one. He only joined a year ago, and that’s just madness in itself. And really he shouldn’t want to leave Manchester United just because they had a poor year. You should want to stay and fight your cause. But I could understand that it might be beneficial to both parties.

“Erik ten Hag’s come in and all he’s been asked about is Ronaldo. It might be better for Ten Hag to make a clean start without him, because he does warrant a lot of press, questions and talking points all season. If Ten Hag wants to get rid and thinks it’s great and all the numbers add up, then there’s not a problem.

“Ronny’s 37. I completely understand that he wants to carry on playing in the Champions League but firstly I wouldn’t know who would take him. The deal would be big. Manchester United have given him a lot of money in wages. I have no idea who would pay half-a-million a week, for one more year. He’s a superstar but if Manchester United could recoup their money, a new manager coming in might be better to say ‘OK, a new start. Get rid of everybody who doesn’t want to be here. Let’s start afresh’. That’s cool and might be beneficial to Ten Hag. Secretly he might be thinking, ‘this is amazing’. But how this deal is going to materialise when you look at the bigger picture, I just can’t see how it’s going to turn out. You can see Ronny wanting to play in the Champions League but, sometimes, you can’t get what you want.

“It’s not a nice end to everything with Man United.”

Ronaldo to Chelsea surely won’t happen…will it?

“I’d be amazed if he went to Chelsea. Amazed. I can’t see him going to another English team. I just cannot see it happening. It’ll spoil his legacy after everything he has done at Manchester United.

“PSG don’t need Ronaldo. It just muddies the water. It might be a newspaper writer’s dream to have Messi and Ronaldo in the same team three months before the Qatar World Cup but, come on, it just seems nonsensical.”

Ronaldo to Barcelona?! That’s just mad. I mean, surely not. 

“There’s certain things in football that just don’t happen - Messi wouldn’t go to Madrid for example. It just doesn’t happen. I just can’t see Ronny leaving to go and play for Barcelona - plus Barcelona can’t afford anything!  But nothing surprises me these days! “

Tottenham will certainly be good, but maybe not ‘great’.

“I can see them being a lot better than they were. Of course that is easy to say. When you look at these players individually; we know [Ivan] Perišić has got experience but he’s now 33; Djed Spence is untried but looks talented; with [Yves] Bissouma I don’t know whether Conte will play with two midfielders in there. Again, they’ll have to improve a fair bit more. I think they’re going to need a little bit more than what they’ve got. These players will solidify their squad, but there’s nothing there that makes me go ‘Wow’. When I look at Tottenham Hotspur, even after mentioning all of their new signings, I still think Harry Kane and Son Heung-min will drive the team forward. It’ll be down to them. They’ve still got a collective of players in and around the areas of the players they’ve brought in, and if they’ve done the business, you’ll see an exodus of players there - you have to see an exodus of players there, because once their loan deals start coming back into Tottenham, they’re going to have to get rid of about five or six to keep everybody happy, because they’ve bulked up their squad really, really well. I just don’t know whether they’ve added that real piece of quality, to go alongside Kane and Son.”

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