All posts by Tom Parker

Football Journalist covering a host of topics

Martial, Rashford and Greenwood – the Premier League’s deadliest front three

Much has been made of Manchester United over the past five/six years of football, with the loss of a plethora of attacking talent the club has been criticised for its poor recruitment. Yet for all the money they have spent two of their dangerous front three are academy graduates.

Perhaps slightly under the radar is the fact they have scored more goals than Liverpool’s much-talked about front three of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino. Granted United have played lesser opposition in Europe but it is still an impressive feat nonetheless. This article takes a look at their development as a front three.

Mason Greenwood

Possibly the most exciting out of these talents is 18-year-old Mason Greenwood. The Bradford-born striker scored two wonderful goals against Bournemouth as his side tore them apart 5-2. This took him on to a tally of 15 goals in all competitions this season.

For a young player playing his full debut season that record certainly makes for impressive reading. ESPN even tweeted out how he has scored more goals than Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria put together.

 

If Greenwood was to score another five goals during the rest of the campaign, he would help break a very impressive long-standing club record.

It will be the first time that three United players have scored 20 or more goals in the same season since 1964-65, when Denis Law (39), David Herd (28) and John Connelly (20) did the same thing.

 

Given the fact he only recently started playing consistently in the Premier League you have to be impressed with numbers he’s managed to put up.

A real earmark of his play has been the quality of his finishing, his two goals against Bournemouth showed fantastic shot power and accurate finishing, the ability to do that at this level and at only 18 years old, it shows he could be the real deal. In fact he has already outscored Marcus Rashford’s debut season. So in that sense he’s showing more promise.

In fact, only Michael Owen , Robbie Fowler and Wayne Rooney have scored more goals in a single Premier League campaign at the age of 18 and under. The esteem of that company alone should give you an idea of his talent.

United have been longing for their academy talents to replicate the class of 92, and while a group of that caliber is extremely rare, Greenwood certainly has the potential to be a superstar for club and country.

Marcus Rashford

A hero on and off the pitch this season. It feels as though Marcus Rashford has been around for a while and you’d be right in thinking that considering he has played 206 games for the club (according to transfermarkt). Alongside this he also had 38 caps and 10 goals for the England first team – so he has plenty of match experience for a 22-year-old.

Over his time at the club he has amassed 65 goals and 35 assists, which when looked at is a pretty impressive number. Rashford has long been criticised for his lack of goals, particularly in the Premier League.

That is within reason, before this campaign the most he’d scored was 10 goals, and he’s smashed that with 15 this time around. The England striker has improved every season – scoring 5, 5, 7, 10 and now 15 goals. A steady rise but a clear improvement in form.

He’s now hit 20 first the season in all competitions, easily performing at his best, which could be due in part to the creative talents around him like Bruno Fernandes, Anthony Martial, Paul Pogba, etc.

Perhaps the role of a Manchester United no.9 is one that has put added pressure on his ability to perform at the highest level. The controversy surrounding his position (was he an inverted winger or a striker?) stunted his growth as he was moved around the pitch constantly.

This campaign has shown that he does have a real ability to grow and evolve into a word-class attacking player, and if this steady upwards trajectory continues who knows how many goals he could get.

His positive charity work outside the game has also earned him respect and admiration, and he has proved he has a mature head on his shoulders and at such a young age too – that can only bode well for his attitude on the pitch.

Anthony Martial

Martial has had an odd time at Manchester United. The Frenchman came in for a lot of money and has always had buckets of ability. His debut goal against Liverpool is still a thing of beauty. Despite this we have yet to really see his true potential.

Perhaps his disappointing career for France has removed him from the spotlight – scoring one goal in 18 caps. In 213 appearances for United he has 68 goals and 35 assists, only marginally better than Marcus Rashford.

Now at the age of 24, Martial would ideally need to find his form and we have seen his talents fully with this post-lockdown campaign.

He equaled Rashford’s tally of 20 goals for this season and at times has looked unplayable. His long range goal against Bournemouth tells you all you need to know about the ability of the man.

A lot has been made of his attitude and at times he hasn’t looked settled at the club but the return of this post-lockdown United has seen a complete u-turn in the player. Pogba and Martial both look happy at the club – the addition of Bruno Fernandes has apparently had a great impact on the dressing room atmosphere.

Martial seems like a player that thrives off the ability of those around him and this allows to play with a great deal of confidence. At times, he has looked lost but others he has looked like a real superstar.

His current form suggests that he is happy to stay and has found a team he can believe in and enjoy playing with. So from a United point of view, long may it continue.

What can they achieve?

The question on every United fans lips is now, can they achieve greater heights?

The beginning of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign as manager was faultless but it took a real nose dive and you could forgive people for thinking the same thing could happen again.

If the form of these three players continues in the same fashion, we could see a very dangerous United side going into the next campaign. With the Europa League still to content for, there is a lot of hope surrounding the club that a season, which looked dead and buried, produce a European trophy and Champions League football.

With such a small gap between this and next season though, you have to wonder how United will compete next year. It appears, however, Solskjaer could be building a fantastic team. Defensively there is still work to be done – but the future certainly looks a lot brighter for the red side of Manchester.

Vardy hits 100, But should Leicester be worried?

Jamie Vardy was back in the goals in usual fashion as the foxes comfortably dispatched Crystal Palace 3-0. However the fact this result was somewhat of a surprise represents the poor form Leicester have been in since the turn of the year.

Before the Palace game, Vardy had been on a barren run in front of goal and the race for top 4 was seemingly ready to kick Leicester out. So can they keep this run of form or is it just a rare win? Let’s take a look:

The pessimist and optimist view

Their start of season form saw them compete with Liverpool for the title but a huge drop off since then has seen them come within only 3 points of dropping out the top 4 entirely.

So should their fans be concerned? Yes, it was a convincing win but it bucks a trend of poor performances. Their restart began with 2 losses and 2 draws – scoring only two goals in the process and being knocked out of the FA cup.

A common critique of this Leicester side is where the goals would come from should Vardy lose his form, and that has been shown with their recent form. This included being knocked out of the EFL cup semi-finals by strugglers Aston Villa, and a February month with no wins from 4 matches – only scoring two goals and losing to bottom club Norwich.

Looking at them in the Premier League form table since matchday 20 until now they sit in 9th, whereas the teams they are competing with all sit in the top 6, so if they are to retain their position they could do well with picking up some form.

Vardy was struggling with form during this period and results reflected that. It’s no coincidence that they won this game comfortably with him scoring. Whether Leicester can pick up some form depends highly on their star man performing, which really shows just how good Vardy is.

Whilst this all stacks up as just a buck in the trend, those results have a history of kickstarting a season again. When a team goes through a rough patch, a win can completely change the mentality. Just look at Arsenal in the last few games.

So whilst you could say their overall form hasn’t shown the consistency needed, maybe this result was what the club needed to get that going again – you don’t become a bad team overnight after all.

A Fairytale story

Let’s forget the slightly pessimistic view for a second and appreciate the story of Jamie Vardy. He made his Premier League debut at 27 years of age and has flow into a prestigious 100 club.

Considering the relatively short amount of time he has spent in the top flight the company he holds now in Thierry Henry, Didier Drogba, Wayne Rooney, Alan Shearer and many more is remarkable.

His rise to prominence of course came when Leicester won their unbelievable Premier League trophy; with him, Mahrez and Kante being highlighted as key players.

He was even linked with Arsenal once the season had ended, but many brushed him off as a one season wonder. Despite his amazing goal record you could be forgiven for thinking he was a one season wonder.

He still remains quite the underrated striker, with many people talking about Aguero, Aubameyang, Rashford, etc.

Taking a look at his goal record you can see he has consistently been up there with the best strikers in the league:

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Yet we don’t always here the same praise for him as we do for the other top strikers in the league. Maybe the unfashionable name and controversy with his wife has had some form of subconscious effect.

Whether he is talked about or not, the fact of the matter remains that he is Leicester’s key man, and if he can pick up the goals again, the golden boot and Champions League football could be on the way to the King Power.

We had a chat with FoxesFancast about Leicester’s season and form since the restart. The interview also features the fans relationship with the owners and the future.  

Full video here:

 

Who is Jude Bellingham?

Jadon Sancho. Lautaro Martinez. Erling Haaland. We see plenty of names being branded about as the next best young players but one player that has flown into the public eye recently is Birmingham City’s Jude Bellingham.

The 16 year-old turns 17 on the 29th and has amassed 33 Championship appearances since 2019, scoring four goals. He caught the attention of FourFourTwo magazine when he scored the winner for the Birmingham U23’s side against Nottingham Forest at the ripe age of 15. By March 2019, he’d made 10 development side appearances and bagged three goals. He was also being linked with top clubs around Europe, Borussia Dortmund being the most talked about name at first.

Bellingham then signed a two-year scholarship with Birmingham to begin in July 2019. He was part of the first-team squad in their pre-season training, played and scored in some pre-season friendlies and was subsequently given the number 22 shirt for the 2019/20 campaign .

On the 6th August 2019, Bellingham became Birmingham City’s youngest ever first-team player when he started an EFL cup tie with Portsmouth. At the age of 16 years and 38 days, he beat the record of 16 years 139 days that Trevor Francis had previously held. The Englishman also captained England U15’s in the 17/18 season and went on to do the same for the U16’s by the end of 2018.

In the current season he has played 33 times, as mentioned before and has played a mix of wing and central midfield positions. He has the physical presence needed for a central midfielder and has a good eye for a pass. For a young player he seems very composed and plays with a maturity beyond his years.

With four goals from midfield, you could also say he has a decent eye for goal, which at 16 is highly impressive. The Championship is a notoriously difficult league to play in and with him being able to establish himself, you would have to say the hype surrounding his talents is justified.

Pep Clotet and the club staff feel he is most suited to an advanced central midfield role.

Speaking in October, Clotet said:

“The only difference between a player who is 16 and a player that has a lot of years as a pro is the way they handle the load.

“He’s handling it very well at the moment and he’s a strong player so I don’t see why he can’t hack it.”

His performances have certainly garnered a lot of attention from Europe’s top clubs, with Bayern Munich now entering the fray alongside Dortmund and Manchester United. There were reports in January linking the youngster with a £50 million move to United, a deal that never seemed likely.

However, it does bring up the topic of English players going for a certain premium. As £50 million for a player who had only played half a Championship season seems very steep.

Bellingham will be able to sign his first professional contract when he turns 17 on Monday – he earns a measly £145 per week at Birmingham, which means clubs have just a few days to convince him to join them. Bayern Munich have made an effort to potentially hijack a deal to Dortmund, with Bellingham choosing the latter over United because of the success Jadon Sancho has had.

It would be difficult to see where he fits in at Bayern, whereas Dortmund you could assume Bellingham would get more playing time. Wherever his career path takes him, you can be sure that we haven’t heard the last of this starlet.

Wolves vs Bournemouth: Match Preview

Bournemouth travel to Molineux on the back of a disappointing 2-0 defeat to Crystal Palace, which leaves them marred in the relegation scrap. The home side enjoyed a much more successful return to the campaign, brushing aside West Ham United 2-0 at the London Stadium.

Eddie Howe’s side have been inconsistent this season and have struggled for goals with injuries keeping out key players such as David Brooks, and Callum Wilson and with Ryan Fraser not wanting to play due to contract issues.

Wolves on the other hand have enjoyed another stellar season and are pushing for the Champions League places. Favourable results have put them right into contention and against an underperforming Bournemouth side it would be difficult to see them drop points. Subsequently, both sides are desperate to compete in their own battles, so, this could provide an entertaining contest.

Team News

Wolves come into this game with no injury issues to worry about. Despite having such a small squad they seem to have coped magnificently with the commitments they’ve had this season and the enforced break has given them time to relax and recover. Adama Traore was brought off the bench in the last game to great effect and you wonder whether that strong performance will warrant him a place in the starting 11. Pedro Neto also proved to be a productive substitute with that stunning volley he scored last time out.

Nuno Espirito Santo stated after the West Ham game:

“In the first half, we were organised. We didn’t finish too many actions but we kept West Ham – a good team with good players – away from our goal.

“In the second half, we started and introduced some speed. We were more accurate and were able to create more danger.”

You would expect the back three to remain the same having put in a solid display and depending on whether Nuno goes with the 3-4-3, the midfield could see Leander Dendoncker drop out. Daniel Podence was an unused substitute and so he could get some game time as Wolves look to rotate and utilise their squad in this packed schedule.

Bournemouth are of course without their star winger Fraser after Howe announced last Friday that he wouldn’t take part in any of their remaining games due to his ongoing contract issues. Brooks has of course made a welcome return to the squad after a long time out with an ACL injury and he will be crucial in the Cherries’ survival bid.

However, defensive issues have plagued Bournemouth for some time now, and despite them having key men fit like Nathan Ake and Steve Cook, they still seem to struggle keeping a compact shape.

Howe also seem displeased with his team’s performance last time out as he stated:

“We know now we have one game less to achieve our objective.

“The table is still so tight, the difference is so tight and we could look at back-to-back wins as being the difference for us. We have to believe that is going to happen but we have to play better than we did in the first half an hour in this game.”

You could expect him to make some changes and potentially match Wolves with a back five.  Due to the amount of pace and creative flair Wolves possess, particularly on the counter attack, you would think Bournemouth would need to utilise a lower defensive block. This change could enforce Howe into switching around his defence.

Score Prediction: Wolves 2-0 Bournemouth

The form of both these sides makes it tough to look past Wolves and with their attacking players starting well with the return. I could see them closing out another 2-0 victory.

What is going wrong at Arsenal?

In years gone by the defensive woes that have plagued Arsenal would surprise many. Now it’s commonplace, and there are many fans bemoaning the lack of improvement in the last three to four years. The same soft underbelly is hurting them and defensive mistakes seem to never go away.

The return to the Premier League has probably left most, if not all Arsenal fans wishing it had never come back. Their 3-0 defeat to Manchester City was gifted to their opponents on a platter by David Luiz ( a real symbol for the defensive woes) and plenty of fans were straight on his back.

The issues stem further than simply David Luiz however. Despite his dismal performance, mistakes have always been in his DNA and with their other defenders not really up to scratch, you have to wonder what Arsenal’s recruitment system is doing.

The Brazilian is also set to sign his one-year extension, albeit as a 5th choice centre-half, if talks go smoothly. This ultimately shows how Arsenal are seemingly content with average players.

Aside from that there seems to be attitude problems at the club, issues that were brought to light by Neal Maupay in his post-match interview after Brighton’s 2-1 win.

The centre-half position has been a real issue for the Gunners and for several years they have failed to replace what is a glaring issue. Pablo Mari was brought in on loan in January but he’s only played two times and picked up an injury against Man City.

Sokratis had the potential to be an excellent addition but has proved inconsistent too. The same issues have also affected Shkodran Mustafi, who was solid at Valencia but has struggled in London. It seems as though no matter who they sign, the deals don’t work out.

The higher-ups at the club also have to take responsibility for the clubs failings, fans were crying out for defensive reinforcements this summer but the club spent £72 million on Nicolas Pepe instead.

While fans were pleased, you have to sit and wonder why they couldn’t have spent that on their defence. Kieran Tierney was a decent signing for £25 million but one man won’t be able to fix the issues they currently have.

Mikel Arteta said from the start he had a lot of work to do when he joined the club, and the Spaniard was certainly right on the mark. His starting lineups against Manchester City and Brighton weren’t convincing and the mystery surrounding Mesut Ozil is confusing as ever.

He hasn’t started either games, they surely needed him against Brighton but he was nowhere to be seen. The decision to bring Luiz on has to rest with Arteta but even he couldn’t have predicted the ‘disasterclass’ his player would’ve produced.

He has a lot to do with this squad of players, and he needs quality to be able to play the style of football he wants. Whether the club back him is another story.

Charlie Nicholas stated for Sky Sports:

“Wednesday was what I expected. The one scenario I did not expect was the team that Mikel Arteta picked. Mesut Ozil was dropped – he has been dropped before in these types of games. He went for youth and he can see where the future is,” 

Nicholas continued:

“I do not see it as a massive debate or crisis for Arsenal. They are ninth for a reason. There is a reason behind just the nine wins from 29. Over the last five or six years, Arsenal’s defence has been poor, not average, but poor. How a team can let this go on for so long is mind-blowing.

“They spent around £8m on David Luiz, who has won the Premier League and the Champions League. The craziness is that he was better than what was already there. That should show those players just how bad it is and also how bad it is for Arteta.

“There is nothing to say that it will take years. The board and owners do not have years as the crowd will turn on them if they do not identify that the defence is everything. It is the area that matters right now. If they do not address it they will get further and further away from it. This is a must. Whoever you must sell, the funds must go on defenders, and you start building again.”

Arteta will need time but the Emirates has become a toxic place over recent years and whether time is even a factor here is another question altogether. They played City with the mentality of a side scrapping around the relegation places rather than a team competing for titles.

The club very much needs a change in the way they think if they are to progress, in other words being a ‘big club’ with actions instead of pretending to be like one.

A lot of issues come down to Stan Kroenke and his mismanagement of the club. They had hope when Sven Mislintat joined the club as Recruitment Chief to try and revolutionise the way the club approached the transfer market.

The German had great success at Borussia Dortmund but things didn’t quite work out well for either party. Their Director of Football Raul Sanllehi has come under fire recently, with some of their signings under-performing.

Many fans are discontent with Kroenke’s reign and a lot feel there is no clear plan for Arsenal moving forward. They’ve taken a chance in a promising young coach in Arteta and if he’s anything like his former boss Pep Guardiola then they have a great coach at their disposal. However, he needs the support of a stable board and you have to question whether Arsenal have that at the moment.

The post-Wenger Arsenal was supposed to be one of promise and endeavour. Many neutral fans did say to be careful what you wish for and it looks like there could be more truth in that than first thought. Without a revamp in the board we might not see Arsenal improve much over the next couple of seasons.