By David Billington
Manchester United face uphill battle
There is a crisis going on at Manchester United. In a “clear the air” meeting early this week between Ole Gunner Solskjaer and his assistants there was a painful analysis of the 1-0 defeat to Arsenal.
This was held just after the manager spoke with Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward who then duly reported United’s loss and lowly Premier League position to his bosses, the Glazer brothers in America. Solskjaer’s team just isn’t working despite his Champions League successes this season against PSG and RB Leipzig.
However, they were again found wanting this week by a defeat to mediocre Istanbul Basaksehir.
Now pressure is mounting on the manager to take Paul Pogba out of the team and it remains to be seen if he plays against Everton. The joke around Manchester at the moment (not that many people are laughing) is that Paul Pogba’s best position is on the bench.
In answer to the many questions put to Solskjaer, he tried to explain the new role he has given to Pogba now that Bruno Fernandes and Donny Van de Beek are established United players.
The manager thinks he is better playing nearer to the strikers in a more forward position. Originally Solskjaer played Pogba in a left midfield position but then switched him to a deeper role last season.
Now Pogba has switched back to his more forward role. In their 5-0 win against RB Leipzig in the Champions League, Pogba played in that left midfield position in a diamond formation.
Talking about his midfielder Solskjaer said, “He can do everything on a football pitch. He can play long passes into the box and play combinations outside the box. We love seeing him drive forward and affecting the game.
What is important is his fitness and being out of the game through illness and injury has proved to be a challenge in getting him back to full fitness because the fitter he is the more he can do.” On the other side of United’s diamond, Fred has been impressive and has won Solskjaer’s confidence.
He continued, “He’s got incredible attributes and we are seeing the better side of Fred, definitely. We’ve waited for it. He had a fantastic season last year and did what we wanted.
He’s a humble boy, works really hard and after a game he will point out that he missed a couple of passes – it’s in his genes. At the moment we are looking like a Man United squad and I have opportunities and competition for places.
Any successful team in the modern era of football has to have the option to rest players, to rotate and that is the only way you can survive in the most intense league in the world and with Champions League involved you want to go for trophies.”
Unfortunately for Solskjaer his many of his critics do not agree and claim that his rotating squad members is confusing and depressing for players.
Many ex-United players including Paul Scholes and Roy Keane accused the players of lacking courage and spirit in the match against Arsenal.
Even Solskjaer himself said, “In the first half there were no tackles, no fighting. In football, without the crowd support, you have to create your own atmosphere.
He accused his players of lacking “energy” and “enthusiasm.” Even national hero Marcus Rashford was accused of lacking effort and having “shocking” body language.
Solskjaer assembled his players at the Carrington Training centre and spent four hours going through the game against Arsenal.
Some players tried to sneak to the back of the room rather than sit at the front but there was nowhere for them to hide.
They recognised they had done a poor job.Several high-profile critics of United are suggesting they clear out some of their highly paid players such as Pogba and reset the team.
Whether Solskjaer will survive is also up for discussion. The reason why Solskjaer’s position is constantly under review is because the Glazer brother owners demand success. They have no allegiance to United legend Solskjaer.
They were not part of the United glory days and to them the club is a business. The more games they win, the more United merchandise they sell around the world. That is why so many loyal club fans have turned against them.
Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward is all powerful in the day to day running of the club but he is employed by the Glazers and if things are not going well on the pitch it reflects on him and the marketing revenue of the club and he is not going to remain loyal to Solskjaer if it threatens his own position.
Fifteenth position in the Premier League table is not a place where supporters, owners, directors and the world at large expect to see this famous club.
Shaqiri important in Klopp’s quest for title repeat
It was Xherdan Shaqiri’s own decision not to leave Liverpool during the last transfer window and his choice has started to pay dividends.
Manager Jurgen Klopp believes the Swiss international can play a big part in the club’s quest to repeat last season’s title win. As Klopp put it this week, “His versatility means he can play in a number of positions.”
The 29-year-old delivered a great pass to enable Diogo Jota to score the winner against West Ham after coming off the bench. He took up an attacking midfield role for only his third appearance of the year. Klopp continued, “Shaq can play on the wings, he has everything for that.
He’s a great player and has played for Switzerland as a No 8 & 10. He is a versatile offensive player who can also slot into midfield or as a striker. He is gifted in so many positions.”
Shaqiri has started only five times since May 2019 but Klopp pointed out that it was not because of disciplinary reasons or being out of favour but Shaqiri’s injuries just kept piling up.
His calf muscles gave him a lot of pain but now everything is fine. He will be looking to take on Manchester City on Sunday in this weekend’s high-profile match.
Fun and games at Chelsea
I heard of two very funny jokes at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground this week. As you will know, retired ex-Chelsea goalkeeper and now Technical & Performance Advisor, Petr Cech has been drafted into the squad as extra cover in case of injuries. He has been added to the regular list of Edouard Mendy, Kepa Arrizabalaga and Willy Caballero for this season.
The joke going round Chelsea is that on hearing the news, ex-Blue’s captain John Terry, who still lives nearby in Cobham, put on his old Chelsea kit and turned up at the training ground saying he was ready to return alongside Petr Cech to strengthen the defence. I
t was a great joke and everyone, including best pal Frank Lampard had a good laugh. Second funny joke had all the players laughing in the canteen after training. “Why do Chelsea keep all their drinking mugs covered in bubble wrap?”
Answer: Because Kepa Arrizabalaga keeps dropping them!”
Reguilon and Bale prove Zidan wrong
I had to laugh this week. As you know, there is no love lost between Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane and Gareth Bale. Zidane tried to get rid of Bale for nearly two years as he wanted to spend his huge £650k a week salary on bringing in other players.
Zidane also let Sergio Reguilon go as he did not feature in the Frenchman’s plans for this season. Against Brighton last Sunday it was Bale who scored a lovely header from a Reguilon cross.
On Monday morning the Spanish press in Madrid had plenty to say about losing their star players who are performing well for Spurs! Ex-Real Madrid manager and now Spur’s boss Jose Mourinho was joking that he couldn’t wait to see what the Twitter and Instagram comments were saying about his gain being Madrid’s loss!
Rogers tipped for Manchester City
Interesting rumours are flying around at Leicester at the moment. If Pep Guardiola does not sign a new contract at Manchester City it is likely that their manager Brendan Rogers will be approached to take over at City. It is either that job or possibly taking over from Gareth Southgate as England manager.
Leicester were unlucky to finish just out of the top four last season after spending almost the whole year in a Champions League spot. This year Leicester have destroyed Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium and beat Arsenal on their own ground.
They are also looking strong in the Europa League. Rogers will not be drawn on the subject but he would find it hard to refuse City with their vast resources and world class players.
Arteta and Ozil continue their war of words
The war of words between Arsenal playmaker Mesut Ozil and manager Mikel Arteta has reached new depths as the two exchange words to claim the moral high ground.
Arteta said he had tried his best with the German midfielder however he has not registered the Ozil for the Premier League for the foreseeable future which means he cannot play.
The 32-year-old has not played in the first team since lockdown and his return to the club after the summer.
Arteta insists he has treated Ozil with respect and said, “What I can tell you is that I tried my best, I tried to give him as many opportunities as I could…I am here to make decisions, the best decisions for the team and the club.”
Arteta was defending his position after Ozil and his manager accused Arsenal of lacking loyalty. In a stinging message Ozil wrote, “Upon signing my new contract in 2018, I pledged my loyalty and allegiance to the club that I love, Arsenal, and it saddens me that this has not been reciprocated. As I have found out, loyalty is hard to come by nowadays.”
Guardiola still demands a return to five substitutes
Pep Guardiola has joined the voices calling for the re-introduction of five substitutes instead of the usual three. The league introduced five but reverted to three when the season restarted and was called Project restart.
Guardiola’s Manchester City has sustained a number of muscular injuries over the last four weeks and he attributes much of the problem to having only three substitutes because teams have such heavy schedules.
Teams who are outside of the recognised Top Six voted against five substitutes because they felt it gave an advantage to the bigger, more wealthy clubs with stronger squads.
Guardiola responded by stating, “There are statistics which do not lie – 47% more muscular injuries than the previous season.”