Category Archives: Manchester United

The Battle for Sixth

10 to 15 years ago, the Premier League was a far simpler place. The established top four were Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. Generally, the excitement came from seeing what order those teams would finish in. 

Nowadays, we have a top six after the rise of Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur. And not just that, we appear to have a few more teams who are looking to gate crash the big boys. 

With the recent declines of United, Chelsea and Arsenal, sixth spot, at least, is starting to look like it may be up for grabs. One of the teams vying for it is Leicester City. 

Harry Maguire is 26 years old. He’s probably just about old enough to vaguely remember Man United’s treble, and certainly old enough to have grown up in a time when the Red Devils still dominated English football. 

It’s a frame of mind that may have stuck in his head over the summer, as he eventually got his £85 million move to Old Trafford. At the moment though, a move from Leicester to United could arguably be seen as reducing your chances of finishing in a coveted European spot. 

The two teams now go head to head on Saturday, and it is already looking like the match could be an important marker for both sides this season. 

The Foxes have some excellent players, and their midfield is packed with talent. Wilfred Ndidi has proved himself superbly in a holding midfield role, and Hamza Choudhury is developing into a fearsome player. 

On the more attacking front, Leicester have the talents of James Maddison and Youri Tielemans. Maddison adapted brilliantly from the Championship to the Premier League last season, creating the more chances than anyone else in the league. 

Tielemans, meanwhile, was arguably one of the most underrated transfers of the summer. The talented young Belgian impressed in the second half of last season, and has started this season in great form with a goal and an assist from his opening matches. 

Kasper Schmeichel is a fine keeper, and the Foxes have good options at full back with Ricardo Pereira and Ben Chilwell. And who could forget Jamie Vardy, who has started this season excellently. Keeping him fit will be key to Leicester’s top six charge. 

Things seem to be coming together nicely under Brendan Rodgers at the King Power stadium. The same can’t really be said for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the north west. 

It would be foolish to label United’s squad as being generally limited. They still have David de Gea. Paul Pogba – for all that pundits like to slander him – is a brilliant player, and they have the talents of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford up front. 

But nothing seems to have really gelled for the Red Devils. Really, they are a counter-attacking side with two pacy forwards in Rashford and Martial combined with the superb long range passing of Pogba. 

But teams are happy enough to sit back against them. Maybe it’s a hangover from 10 years ago when you’d expect to be beaten by Manchester United, or perhaps most managers have cottoned on to the fact that if United have a lot of the ball, they tend to struggle. 

United lack any true creative presences further up the pitch. Pogba seems to operate better from deeper positions and while they do have a former No10 supremo in Juan Mata, his powers are fading as the pace of the game appears to be getting away from the Spaniard. 

All hope should not be lost though. Maguire and Victor Lindelof have the potential to become a solid defensive partnership, and their backline has been further strengthened by the addition of Aaron Wan-Bissaka. 

And then there is the form of Daniel James, who has exceeded all expectations. His first goal for United may have been a tad lucky courtesy of a deflection, but it seems to have given him great confidence and belief – he is now scoring fine goals for both club and country. 

But United cannot be solely reliant on Pogba hitting long balls to Rashford and Martial, and James smashing in screamers. They need to forge more of a style – perhaps they would be better off hunkering down and attempting to focus on counter-attacking. For the moment at least, they lack the personnel to truly dominate and successfully wear down the opposition. 

They come up against a Leicester side who have a highly technically proficient midfield, one that arguably has the potential to cut through most Premier League sides. 

Getting an edge over United on Saturday will be vital for Rodgers’ and his side, while Solskjaer will be looking to stop the rot at Old Trafford after just three wins in his last 16 games. 

Advertisements

A big question mark over Paul Pogba’s future

Since arriving for a substantial fee of $90m in 2016, its fair to say, Paul Pogba hasn’t lived up to expectations and has consistently created disputes for Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

While Paul Pogba has produced moments of magic in a Manchester United Shirt, the Frenchman has gained a considerable amount of media attention with rumours linking Pogba with a move to Real Madrid.

When arriving in Manchester, Pogba was the most expensive signing in the world. The Frenchman was undoubtedly a marquee signing and brought plenty of excitement amongst the Manchester United Fanbase. However after a season of disappointment, its fair to say that Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba’s relationship became rather volatile. Shortly before Jose Mourinho lost his Job at Manchester United, the 56 year old labelled Pogba as a “virus” in the Manchester United dressing room. Jose likewise mentioned that Pogba had disrespected the players and most importantly the supporters.

Many Manchester United fans still love Pogba, however its become noticeable that there is a divide of opinions on the midfielder. Manchester United supporters are frustrated at the Frenchman’s inconsistency and attitude towards the club.

When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer arrived as caretaker manager, he had an instant impact on Paul Pogba. Earlier this year Pogba revealed that he wanted Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to get the full time job at Manchester United. Nonetheless since getting the full time Job, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has faced complications with Paul Pogba.

Its been no secret that Pogba wants to leave Manchester United. Paul Pogba’s brother confirmed he wants to leave the club, and is “waiting” for the Real Madrid transfer. Paul’s agent has also revealed Pogba has intentions of leaving.

There has been interest from Spanish side Real Madrid for a number of months now, the latest we’ve seen from the rumour is a bid of £27.4m and James Rodriguez. Manchester United declined the bid as it was way below their valuation. There have been reports of Real Madrid making one last push for Pogba this summer. However the Spanish giants have already spent a colossal £270m in their window.

We’ve also seen interest from Maurizio Sarri’s Juventus. Not withstanding, the Old Lady are yet to launch a bid for Paul Pogba. Furthermore we see Pogba making a return to Italy improbable.

Despite the transfer window closing for English sides in early August, teams from the rest of Europe will have until September 2nd to secure their summer signings.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has insisted that Paul Pogba will remain a Manchester United player. In an interview last week the Manchester United boss said “Yeah, for me he [Pogba] is going to stay”.

Will we see Pogba make a late exit out of Manchester United, or will he have to wait another 6 months for his “dream” move?

The Paul Pogba Dilemma

On August 9th 2016, Manchester United completed a deal, for a then world record £89 million fee, to bring Paul Pogba back to Old Trafford after he had left the Red Devils for £1.5 million in compensation to join Juventus in 2012.

Now almost like a yo-yo, it has been reported that the Old Lady are in talks to bring Pogba back to Italy. This could be bad news for Manchester United as Paul Pogba was arguably their best player in the 2018/19 season, despite the negative criticism he seemed to constantly receive. He scored 16 goals and contributed 11 assists in all competitions for Manchester United last season. If United were to cash in on the Frenchman, what effect would the transfer have off and on the pitch?

Off the Pitch

There are many issues that arise away from the game played on match days if Paul Pogba were to be sold. Firstly, there is his social media presence and the exposure it brings to the club. The tweet that announced Pogba’s return to United using the hashtag ‘#POGBACK’ gained 84,000+ retweets and 89,000+ likes on twitter, showing how United used the player to gain massive worldwide exposure upon the transfer’s announcement. Pogba himself also has 34.9 million followers on Instagram, which these two examples show the influence the Frenchman has on the ever-growing platform of social media.

However, despite the added exposure the player brings to the brand, his performance on the field has been brought into question and this has been related back to his antics on social media. By selling Paul Pogba and buying someone less present on the site it may reduce the pressure to perform on the pitch and there promote a more positive image of the club’s brand. Also, by not relying on promotion through players it may improve the quality and the strength of the club’s own social media channels.

In terms of sponsorship, despite his constant criticism from fans, Ed Woodward is very impressive in his ability to gain and maintain high level sponsorship for Manchester United, such as the sleeve sponsor of Kohler and the shirt sponsor of Chevrolet, so the departure of one player would not be a problem. If Pogba was to leave and the team was not improved in his absence, then the problem would arise, as the team would significantly decrease in quality and therefore be a less marketable product for Woodward to bargain with.

Finally, in terms of shirt sales, it seems that despite being the top selling shirt when he first joined, when Alexis Sanchez joined United in 2018, the Manchester Evening News reported that he was the top selling shirt for that season. It seems that the shirts will still sell regardless of who is on the back, be it due to hype or performance, and if another player steps up to be United’s star player, they will more than likely occupy the shirt sales Pogba once had. This shows how off the pitch there may be an initial dip in financial gain due to Pogba leaving but in the long term it will be negligible.

On the Pitch

Losing Paul Pogba creates a major creative deficit in the United team. As the team’s top goal scorer and top assister last season, it leaves a big hole for any prospective new signings to fill. However, the transfer does not need to be like for like. A central midfielder could provide the similar level of chance creation needed for United to succeed, but a No.10, or a winger could also be the spark that will drive United’s attack. We will look at some of the prospective transfers United could make to solve their problems.

Paulo Dybala

We begin with the 25 year old Argentinian that could be involved as part of the Pogba transfer, as Juventus will look for a more cost-effective way to bring their former European Golden Boy winner back to the Allianz Stadium. Paulo Dybala’s impact in the Juventus team has suffered since the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo, with a return of 10 goals and 4 assists. This drop-in form has been consistent with all of Juventus’ attacking line; Dybala was joint 2nd topscorer with Mandzukic, Bernadeschi contributing 2 goals and Douglas Costa contributed 1, such is the effect of Cristiano Ronaldo, with his high level of shots taken and his commanding presence on the field. To base the quality of the player on this season would not give a true representation of his ability.

Therefore, to get a better representation of what Manchester United would be getting as part of the deal, it would be better to look at Dybala’s 2017/18 season; his best in a Juventus shirt. Dybala scored a team high 22 goals in the Serie and contributed 5 assists, he also completed 1.6 key passes a game according to WhoScored.com, the same as Pogba contributed this season. Dybala also completed 2.8 dribbles a game compared to Pogba’s 1.7, this meant that Dybala was a more direct attacking force, taking more players out of the game. Slotting in just behind the striker, Dybala would provide a similar number of goal contributions while adding a great goalscoring threat.

Bruno Fernandes

The most natural replacement for Paul Pogba that Manchester United have been heavily linked to is the 24 year old Portuguese playmaker. Bruno Fernandes has contributed to 42 goals in 48 games for Sporting CP this season. With 33 of these coming in the league, this means that Fernandes has contributed to 46% of Sporting’s goals in the Liga NOS this season, compared to Pogba who has contributed to 34% of Manchester United’s league goals. This means that that Fernandes would not be fazed by the weight of expectation to be the creative centre of the Red Devils midfield.

He is also a versatile player, having played on the wing at times this season and in this position, he has shown an aptitude for crossing. Along with his 3.6 key passes per game, Bruno Fernandes completes 1.8 crosses per game. This would allow for a multi-pronged attack for the Red Devils and help them improve greatly in an area where they struggle, despite the relative height of their team, with players such as Lukaku being able to get on the end of high quality crosses. The further tactical versatility this would provide for Solskjaer would be an attractive proposition

With a reported price tag of anywhere between £62-72 million for the midfielder, he would be an expensive risk given that he is unproven in a big league, but his numbers and impact seem to lean towards him being a smart signing to help with United’s rebuild and plug the hole that losing Pogba would leave.

Jadon Sancho

The final player that could be the creative force for United next season is the young English prodigy and winger, Jadon Sancho. Sancho obviously plays in a completely different position than Pogba, but as previously stated it does not need to be a ‘like for like’ replacement, the player just needs to be able to consistently create chances and therefore improve the goalscoring form of the team.

Sancho is 19 years old and English, therefore fitting the young home grown profile linked with Solskjaer’s rebuild, together with other players United have been linked such as Sean Longstaff and Declan Rice. This means his hefty price tag would be justified in United’s long-term plan.

In the league this season, Sancho contributed to 26 goals in the league, 12 goals and 14 assists. He was the second top assister in the top 5 leagues, only coming behind Eden Hazard who contributed 15 assists. As a right sided winger he would also address the problem United have had for many years now where the players they play there, such as Lingard and Mata, prefer to cut in and act as number 10s rather than act as natural wingers.

His pace and skill on the ball would also be a great weapon for Manchester United to start counter attacks and that is probably why Dortmund value him so highly. With the purchase of Julian Brandt and Thorgan Hazard, losing Sancho would not be a great issue for Dortmund, however that does not mean they will sell him any cheaper, meaning United would have to break the bank to get their man.

What’s the damage?

Overall while losing Paul Pogba would be indicative of the revolving door policy that seems to have haunted United since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, it would not be the end of the world for Manchester United. The dependence the squad has on him is more due to the lack of quality overall and with proper investment and a good replacement, his influence will not be sorely missed. While an exceptional world class player on his day, he does at times, suffer from inconsistency, which is problematic when he is the player that United depend upon to operate.

In terms of revenue streams, Manchester United are more than likely to recoup the entire fee plus profit that they paid for Pogba back in 2016 and on pitch performance provides financial results. If the rebuild goes to plan and general performance improves, things such as social media interaction and shirt sales will improve along side this. Some fans, such as myself, will be sad to see Pogba go, but if he was to leave, the impact would hopefully (if all things fall into place) not be the worst thing in the world.

Five young Championship players who could step up to the Premier League this summer

The quality of the Championship has undoubtedly soared over recent years and as a result their are many young players making a name for themselves in English footballs second tier. With players such as Dele Alli and Harry Maguire beginning their careers outside the top flight and now starring in the Premier League with full international honours, it is clear that there is real talent out there. But which young Championship stars are ready to make the step up now?

Mason Mount, Derby (Loan)- The young loanee from Chelsea has really made an impact at Derby this season and has led them all the way to the play off final. With 11 goals and 6 assists the 20 year old has been in fine form despite a few injury troubles, and with Chelsea’s current transfer embargo Mount could become a key player for Sarri’s side next term. If not he will almost definitely be on loan at another Premier League club after proving he is a cut above Championship level. He has all the key skills a good attacking midfielder needs but is also not afraid to do the dirty work, tracking back and putting challenges in, expect big things from Mount over the coming years.

Daniel James, Swansea- Heavily linked with a big money move to Manchester United, Swansea winger Daniel James has turned heads with his incredible pace, dribbling skills and end product. The 21 year old was close to joining Leeds in January but the deal fell through at the last minute, contrary to many other players who’s form nosedives after a failed transfer, James continued his stellar form and recorded three goals and five assists after Christmas to take his overall tally to 5 goals and 10 assists in 38 games. The Welsh international went viral earlier this season after a goal he scored against Brentford highlighted his immense pace as he sped through the whole defence from just inside his own box and finished well.

Marcus Tavernier, Middlesbrough- Brother of Rangers captain James Tavernier, Marcus has made a name for himself on his own right after a string of promising performances for Tony Pulis Middlesbrough during 18/19. The left winger has broke through this season making 27 appearances and recording four goals and three assists with many feeling he would be the perfect replacement for Ryan Fraser at Bournemouth. Eddie Howe has a reputation for giving football league prospects a chance such as Callum Wilson and David Brooks and a move to the South Coast could be the perfect place for the 20 year old to develop.

Che Adams, Birmingham- The 22 year old striker has just enjoyed the best season of his career with Birmingham and has bagged 22 goals in 48 games, not missing a single League game and finally turning that potential into consistent performances. His finishing has dramatically improved and he is now much stronger, allowing him to hold the ball up much better and bring teammates into play. Premier League clubs such as Burnley, Crystal Palace and Southampton are interested in Adams and it seems inevitable the Leicester born goal scorer will be playing Premier League football next season, the only question is where?

Jarrod Bowen, Hull- Winger Jarrod Bowen has built on a very good 17/18 and upped the ante this term grabbing more goals, assists and playing more games. Playing predominantly off the right hand side cutting inside onto his left foot, Bowen has bewildered many fullbacks this season and almost managed the impossible of carrying a very average Hull side to the play offs. Unsurprisingly he picked up the player of the year, the fans player of the year and the players player of the year at the end of season awards and rumour has it Champions League finalists Tottenham are sniffing around the 22 year old.

Who do you think would have the biggest impact on the Premier League?

Manchester United vs Manchester City – The 178th Derby

This Wednesday isn’t just hosting any other mid-week fixture. When red and blue collide, it will mark the 178th competitive meeting between United and City. And with United aiming for 3rd spot, and City going for the title; it promises to be a cracker. 

Still drying off after a stormy 4-0 loss to Everton, Solskjaer’s men will be looking to make a statement against Guardiola’s boys in blue. United currently sit down in 6th place, just three points adrift from Tottenham, who areclinging onto 3rd spot by goal difference over Chelsea. With their Champions League dream left in tatters following successive losses to Barcelona in the quarter finals, The Red Devils are desperate for a top four finish. Anything less than three points on Wednesday will hinder their hopes in earning a Champions League place for the 2019/20season. 

On the other side of Manchester, City are throwing everything they have at earning a top spot finish. The title race with Liverpool is as exhilarating as everyone expected; and anything less than a win for City would leave their hopes for the trophy hanging in the balance. The citizens have had a week of ups and downs, a crazy champions league exit from Tottenham was followed by a narrow 1-0 win against them on the weekend, and Wednesday is expected to pose a greater challenge.

In the victory over Tottenham, City star Kevin De Bruyne hobbled off the pitch with a hamstring injury, and has since been ruled out of Wednesdays encounter, a major blow for Guardiola and the team. United’s injury list is deeper however; with Bailly, Valencia and Herrera expecting to remain side-lined for selection. Argentinian striker Sergio Aguero is expected to start, currently tied for first place forthe Premier League Golden Boot with Liverpool’s Mohammed Salah. 

Over the weekend, the PFA Player of The Year nominations were announced, and it comes unsurprising that The Blues dominate the six-man shortlist. Aguero finds himself on the list, netting nineteen times so far this season. He’s joined byfellow teammates Bernado Silva and Raheem Sterling, who have both played a significant role in City’s efforts to retain the title. Although none of the United players feature in the shortlist, they have a brilliant team none-the-less. Players like Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford have shone under Solskjaer’s new management. Playing more freely and open, you’d expect them to cause trouble for Guardiola on Wednesday. Although the last line of defence, David De Gea has proven to be one of The Reds all-time best shot-stoppers, and City’s strike force must be on top form if they expect to get past him. 

It is without doubt that the clash will be exciting. Both teams have everything to play for, and with major bragging rights at stake too, all twenty-two players must give it their all. This will be Solskjaer’s first time as a manager in the Manchester Derby. The previous encounter in the season saw Mourinho succumb to a 3-1 loss at The Etihad. Will Guardiola manage the double over his local rivals? Or will Solskjaer manage to put a dent in his title hopes?

The game can be watched on Sky Sports Main Event, with coverage starting from 7pm.