Welcome to The Bloomgist review of the 2019-20 Premier League season. The Guardian, UK have nominated some contenders for this category but this is just to get the discussion going: offer your suggestions below the line …
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
This is only the third time the Guardian has had this category in its end-of-season awards, and Alexander-Arnold has been in all of them. Given that he doesn’t turn 22 until October, there’s still time for one more. It has been another season of wild achievement for the right-back, one of only three qualifying players to appear in every Premier League game (the others being West Ham’s Declan Rice, who hasn’t missed a single minute but who like his team has not always reached his full potential, and the excellent Burnley winger Dwight McNeil). For the second year in a row Alexander-Arnold hit double-figures in top-flight assists – only Kevin De Bruyne registered more – but he has improved his goal output; he scored with a lovely low shot in the Boxing Day thrashing of Leicester, probably his and his team’s finest display of the campaign. Jürgen Klopp says he is “one of the most relentless professionals I’ve met when it comes to focusing on getting better each and every day”. Cafu thinks “he will be regarded as one of the best players in the world”. He is still only 21.
Max Aarons (Norwich)
Most clubs are constantly searching for first-team-ready young talent, but Norwich seem particularly good at it. Perhaps, in fact, a little too good. The three defenders with the most appearances for the club this season are Aarons, a 20-year-old right-back, Jamal Lewis, a 22-year-old left-back, and Ben Godfrey, a centre-back born 10 days before Lewis in January 1998. All three qualify for this list, along with the midfielder Todd Cantwell, 22, while their key creative force, Emiliano Buendía, is only 23. But there is a value to experience, and starting a first Premier League season with a back four largely populated by players 21 and under with no top-flight experience is not the best way to secure a second Premier League season. They have duly conceded more goals than any other team. Individually, however, they remain excellent prospects, with Aarons perhaps the pick. Since making his league debut in the East Anglian derby against Ipswich in September 2018 he has started all but two league games and never been substituted, a remarkable record for one so young.
Mason Greenwood (Manchester United)
Last season Greenwood made three league appearances and played three minutes in the Champions League; this season he has crept slowly into the team – he didn’t start a league game until December – but it ends with him in Manchester United’s starting XI and looking ready to stay there, having developed the endearing habit of lashing balls into nets with either foot. He is clearly a fine instinctive finisher, is a faster sprinter even than Marcus Rashford, and has a knack for taking shots early that befuddles goalkeepers. “He’s developed fantastically this season,” says Ole Gunnar Solskjær. “The sky’s the limit.” One of three players at Manchester United who might easily have made the list, alongside Marcus Rashford and Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
Phil Foden (Manchester City)
In contrast to others on this list, Foden doesn’t really have the stats to back up his inclusion. For every game he has started he has spent one and a half on the bench; before the new year he spent more than 23 minutes on the pitch only once. But when he has played he has looked extremely classy. He is comfortable on either foot, has got more and more game time as the season has progressed, and has had Pep Guardiola gushing ever more effusively about his potential. “I’ve seen many players in my life – I have trained incredible, incredible players,” says the Spaniard, “and Phil will be one of them.”
Mason Mount (Chelsea)
It feels like a long time since England had so many young players bursting impressively into top-flight teams. Every side playing in Europe next season has at least one key player who is English and was 21 or younger when the campaign started (Leicester’s Harvey Barnes is the only one not to have got a mention elsewhere), and Chelsea have a handful (as well as the American Christian Pulisic, whose post-lockdown form has been sensational, and several impressive cameos from the 19-year-old Scot Billy Gilmour). Mount in particular has been exceptional. He has been involved in every league game but one – as well as every England match – this season, and brings dynamism and constant effort to midfield as well as attacking threat.
Aaron Ramsdale (Bournemouth)
Goalkeepers often catch the eye in struggling teams, but Ramsdale has played with consistency and maturity in his debut top-flight season despite the chaos sometimes taking place in front of him. He was particularly outstanding in the 2-0 defeat to Southampton, including a fine penalty save in which he refused to be taken in by Danny Ings’ mid-run dummy, and did not deserve the dejection with which he slumped to the turf on the final whistle. Six Premier League teams this season have first-choice goalkeepers aged 33 or above, and it takes a brave manager to put promise over experience in this of all positions. Not a lot has worked out for Eddie Howe this season, but for this at least, he deserves credit.
Odion Ighalo, former Super Eagles forward, looks set to leave Manchester United next week after Shanghai Shenhua, his parent club, reportedly refused to extend the striker’s loan deal.
The 30-year-old Nigerian was signed to his boyhood club by Ole Gunnar Solskjær on a temporary contract on the final day of the January transfer window.
He has also proved a success, scoring four times after eight appearances for the Old Trafford giant. His loan spell, however, looks to end next week with his initial deal only penned until May 31.
According to Daily Mail UK, Shenhua have rejected United’s requests to keep the player for another three months with the Asian club requesting that the former Watford star rejoin them to prepare for the start of the delayed Chinese Super League season.
United are keen to keep Ighalo until the end of this season and have held discussions with Shenhua about extending the loan deal.
It is understood that Shenhua would only be willing to accept a fee of £20 million to part ways with Ighalo, even though a permanent deal has not been discussed.
The development came after Gary Neville, a former United defender, had warned Solkjaer against signing the Nigerian for £20 million.
The original agreement between both clubs was to cover the end of the season but with the campaign postponed due to the COVID-19 crisis, Ighalo would likely be missing the remaining nine Premier League games, coupled with the FA Cup and Europa League matches.
Ighalo had earlier made it clear that he would love to finish the season at Old Trafford.
- Woodward understood not to be at home at the time
- ‘Anybody found guilty will be banned for life by the club’
The home of Ed Woodward was attacked on Tuesday night in a sickening escalation of the tensions between supporters and the Manchester United executive vice-chairman.
Fans, who are unhappy at the way in which the club is being run, have recently sung songs celebrating the death of the 48-year-old who has become a figure of hate among some sections of the United support. However, the situation took a sinister turn on Tuesday night when a group wearing balaclavas launched flares at Woodward’s Cheshire home. One video was then posted on social media with the caption: “Ed Woodward’s gonna die.”
It is understood neither Woodward nor his family were at home. He is married with two young daughters.
United quickly released a strongly worded statement condemning those involved and promising to hand out life bans to anyone found guilty of any criminal offence.
A spokesman said: “Manchester United Football Club have tonight been made aware of the incident outside the home of one of our employees.
“We know that the football world will unite behind us as we work with Greater Manchester Police to identify the perpetrators of this unwarranted attack.
“Anybody found guilty of a criminal offence, or found to be trespassing on this property, will be banned for life by the club and may face prosecution.
“Fans expressing opinion is one thing, criminal damage and intent to endanger life is another. There is simply no excuse for this.”
Defeats at Arsenal and at home to Burnley have increased the pressure on United, who are 33 points behind the Premier League leaders Liverpool.
José Mourinho has been sacked as Manchester United manager following Sunday’s defeat at Liverpool, ending a tenure that began in May 2016.United finally lost patience with a head coach who was not adhering to the club’s core attacking values and who had overseen their worst start to a campaign for 28 years.
Mourinho was also relieved of his duties due to a transfer spend of around £400m on 11 players that, it is understood, the club insist were all the Portuguese’s choice. In addition to the disquiet regarding the side’s stultifying style, there was further disappointment at Mourinho’s development and improvement of United’s younger players. The club also took into account the growing unhappiness from fans at the direction of the club under Mouinho.
Michael Carrick will take charge of training on Tuesday, before an interim boss is appointed. That move is expected to happen before the end of the week.
That caretaker role will last until the end of the season but this will not be Carrick, Nicky Butt or anyone from within the club. Instead, following a thorough and extensive process will have Mourinho’s permanent successor in place for next season.
A poor start to the Premier League season has seen United slip 19 points behind the leaders, Liverpool, and fall off the pace in the hunt for a top-four place. They have won only once in six league matches, drawing during that sequence with struggling Southampton and Crystal Palace.
The club issued a statement on Tuesday morning which read: “Manchester United announces that manager Jose Mourinho has left the club with immediate effect.
“The club would like to thank Jose for his work during his time at Manchester United and to wish him success in the future. A new caretaker manager will be appointed until the end of the current season, while the club conducts a thorough recruitment process for a new, full-time manager.”
In two full seasons at Old Trafford, Mourinho won the Europa League and League Cup (2016-17) before finishing second in the Premier League last season and reaching the FA Cup final. In that period since replacing Louis van Gaal, United’s spending stands at £364.3m on eight buys.
SOURCE: The Guardian, UK
- Spurs set for Dortmund test in last 16 of competition
- Manchester City land Schalke; Atlético meet Juventus
Manchester United face a monumental task to progress in the Champions League after being drawn to play Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16, while Liverpool face a tough tie against Bayern Munich, with Tottenham and Manchester City also paired with German opposition.
United’s defeat in Valencia last week meant they missed the opportunity to finish ahead of Juventus in their group after the Italian champions were surprisingly beaten by Young Boys in the final match of the group stages. That ensured José Mourinho’s side entered Monday’s draw as one of the eight runners-up and means they must now face a resurgent PSG side which beat Liverpool to top spot in Group C.
PSG coach Thomas Tuchel has confidence in his Ligue 1 leaders, but warned against complacency. “We have the quality to win at Old Trafford. I’m confident for my team, but it’s a great test, a challenge,” he said. “The round of 16 is always tough. Manchester United have a lot of experience in this competition, which they’ve won several times. I’m neither satisfied nor unsatisfied by the draw.”
Liverpool were the last to be drawn, with Jürgen Klopp handed an opportunity to avenge his defeat to Bayern in the 2013 final as manager of Borussia Dortmund, with an intriguing showdown with fellow five-time winners Bayern. They are currently third in the Bundesliga, nine points behind Lucien Favre’s Dortmund, who finished ahead of Atlético Madrid in their group and will also provide stiff opposition to reach the last eight.The Fiver: sign up and get our daily football email.
The Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic believes the Germans face a “tough nut to crack” in tackling Liverpool. “Liverpool are the hottest team right now and top of the Premier League table,” he said. “They play good football, very physical and with a high tempo. We’re looking forward to playing there. These are the challenges you have to master in your career.”
Competition favourites City were handed what appears, on paper at least, to be the most straightforward task against Schalke, who have struggled in the league this season under 33-year-old coach Domenico Tedesco. “This competition is getting hard,” said City’s director of football, Txiki Begiristain. “There are big draws and big games coming. Teams that are struggling in their league have done very well in the Champions League. German clubs are always very dangerous.”
Atlético will face Juventus in potentially the pick of the other ties, while second favourites Barcelona were paired with Lyon, Roma face Porto and holders Real Madrid were paired with Ajax.
Uefa later confirmed the dates of the last-16 ties, which will see United host PSG on 12 February, with the second leg in France on 6 March. Spurs host Dortmund on 13 February and will play in Germany on 5 March. Liverpool’s first leg against Bayern will be at Anfield on 19 February, with the return fixture in the final set of games on 13 March. City head to Schalke on 20 February and are at home on 12 March.
José Mourinho brushed aside questions about Anthony Martial’s and Marcus Rashford’s happiness as the Manchester United manager underlined how starting roles cannot be guaranteed.
With the World Cup coming into focus and the domestic season drawing to a close, questions over playing time and contentment have been raised about two of United’s forwards. Rashford is reportedly becoming increasingly disillusioned by his lack of starts, while there has been similar speculation about Martial amid suggestions of an Old Trafford exit.
Such talk was given short shift by Mourinho. “If I was you, I would go: ‘Why does Lukaku play every match? Why does Matic play every match?’” Mourinho said when asked about Martial.
“You always go to the one [who does not play]. If you want what I call dry answers, I have dry answers – and a dry answer is only 11 can start the match and we have 22.”
Mourinho had been similarly dismissive when asked about Rashford, countering a statistic about the forward’s lack of starts by saying he has more appearances than anyone since his appointment.
The United manager said the number of the England international’s appearances from the bench are “because I decide that way”, before downplaying the notion it was hard to keep the squad happy. “No, no, it’s just football,” Mourinho said. “We cannot have 11 players, it would be amazing economically for clubs to have only 11 players and play always with the same 11, no injuries, no suspension, no fatigue. Nothing.
“It would be better for everyone to only have 11 but it is not possible, so at every club at every level, from the top of the world to the amateur football clubs, you need more than 11 players. And only 11 can start, it is as simple as that. There is nothing I can do.”
Mourinho used that point again when explaining why he would not sign another striker this summer as competition for Romelu Lukaku, who will come up against one of his former clubs, on Sunday.
The back-up goalkeeper Sergio Romero is the only absentee for the visit of the embattled West Brom, whose struggles this term have shocked a manager looking to build on last weekend’s 3-2 comeback win at Manchester City.
“I am, I am surprised [to see West Brom in the relegation zone],” Mourinho said. “The quality, the experience of many of the players, the squad and the stability of the past years, it is a surprise for me that they find themselves in this position.
“I think it is a big challenge because they know that in football anything is possible until mathematically impossible. They know that, everybody knows. They still smell a chance but every match that is played if they don’t get points then they are closer to relegation, but I think they still believe.
“In our case, we come from a big result and during the week I was trying to fight that result by working well and hard and trying to make the players understand that it is not enough to deserve second.
“We need the points and obviously to finish fourth we need four or five points but to finish second we need much more than that. And after three important points last weekend, we have to try to do these three [points] and be closer to the end of the season and second position, which is in this moment our ambition.”
Alex Iwobi is drifting, Pellegrino is on dangerous ground and Manchester United produced a classic performance.
1. Iwobi missing something vital in his make up
It always feels unfair to single out a young player, not least one who seems with each performance these days to become a one-man Arsenal social media event, a living banter-meme. Just check out Alex Iwobi on Twitter the next time Arsenal are playing – and hope he never makes the mistake of searching his own name. But watching him against Watford it was tempting to wonder about stalled progress, and a comfort zone at the wrong moment in his career. He has been more productive since Christmas, has made an effort to make more decisive forward runs. But he remains a strange footballer, a creative midfielder who seems to be always shuttling in vaguely the right area, but who somehow ends up doing very little actual creating. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has shown the fruits of moving on to develop. Iwobi still seems unsure of his place in the pecking order, too mannered to have any real sharp edges, and in danger of becoming a poster boy for late-Wenger drift. Barney Ronay
2. Alli can shine in Kane’s absence
Mauricio Pochettino will have hoped he would never have to do without Harry Kane. But after the England striker limped off against Bournemouth he put his plan C into action as Fernando Llorente was left on the bench, with Erik Lamela coming on to form a potent front three to provide guile, speed and movement. The upshot was that Tottenham did not miss their talisman and they came from behind to win. Dele Alli was afforded the central role from where he converted a cross like a natural No 9, while Son Heung‑min reached 12 goals for the season, leaving the manager relieved and relatively optimistic, even if he needs to do without Kane for an extended period. In what has been a tough season for Alli, he may well be able to revel in being the focal point of a team living in Kane’s prolific shadow. Will Unwin
3. Conte at ease before Barcelona return
Chelsea should have won this by a country mile but were pegged back by the spirit of Crystal Palace and, specifically, Wilfried Zaha. When asked if he was disappointed at the way his team relaxed in the game, Antonio Conte said: “Sometimes you can think the situation is easier than it is.” That was about as far as the criticism got. To hear the Italian soft-pedalling on a matter is unusual given the voracity with which he has torn into so many aspects of his own club this season. Chelsea have largely performed to their capabilities in the bigger matches, so getting the players up for Barcelona on Wednesday should not require a confidence boost from the manager. Instead it was as if the Italian wanted a break from any of the nitpicking. Even the toughest, most obdurate of characters needs a day off sometimes. Paul MacInnes
4. Hodgson talking tough over relegation
The good news for Crystal Palace came with confirmation that Yohan Cabaye, Mamadou Sakho and Ruben Loftus-Cheek will resume full training on Monday morning, alongside the excellent Wilfried Zaha, ahead of the critical trip to Huddersfield on Saturday. More troubling had been the team’s slapdash first-half performance which even Zaha could not rectify. “There were a lot of players who didn’t give me the sort of commitment and desire,” Roy Hodgson said. Christian Benteke was the one player hooked at the break, “but it would be unfair to put it totally on him”. The manager retains belief in his group and has urged his players to show more mental courage, and Palace will attack a more appealing run-in with gusto. “We certainly won’t go gently out of the league,” he said. “We’re going to make it as big a fight as we can. They’re going to have to bash us over the head to get us down.” Their recovery must begin in west Yorkshire. Dominic Fifield
5. Tosun and Walcott make their mark
Sam Allardyce took extra satisfaction in Everton’s win not only because of the team’s first clean sheet since Boxing Day but also the impact of two January signings, Cenk Tosun and Theo Walcott, who both helped to quell discontent around Goodison Park. Tosun sealed victory with his second Everton goal – created by the crucially fit-again Leighton Baines – and showed the work-rate and commitment that supporters have craved from the team this season. After a slow start to his Everton career, the Turkey international is beginning to repay a transfer fee that could rise to £27m. “We had a winter break in Turkey but in England they don’t,” the striker said. “I had seven or eight days off and then played the Tottenham game without being in the best shape. I was not good physically but the training in Dubai and here made me better. Now I feel better physically and I feel sharper. I hope it will be better in the next few weeks.” Andy Hunter
6. Mawson deserves England call
The only upside for Swansea to Jordan Ayew’s 11th-minute sending off against Huddersfield was that it gave them another chance to demonstrate the defensive fortitude that they have developed under Carlos Carvalhal. They rose well to that challenge and truly earned their point, even if Huddersfield would have won if Tom Ince or Steve Mounié had finished more sharply, or if Scott Malone had been able to connect with the ball from close range after being picked out by Ince. Overall, Swansea’s three central defenders kept Huddersfield at bay, with Alfie Mawson particularly defiant. It was further evidence that Gareth Southgate should include the 24-year-old in the England squad to be announced this week, especially if the manager intends deploying a back three at times at the World Cup in Russia this summer. Paul Doyle
7. Sánchez shows his worth
Manchester United’s win was their most accomplished of the season, a classic demonstration of how José Mourinho feels all opposition should be dispatched. United were mentally tough, muscular and executed their chances ruthlessly. Unlike Manchester City, who fashion a glut of opportunities each time they step on to the turf, Mourinho’s blueprint relies on a killer touch in the rare openings his team manage. What he requires, then, to challenge seriously for the title next season is to up creativity and the goal return. The solution may be Alexis Sánchez, who again misfired but never stopped niggling away at Liverpool. There is no question about his attitude, so once form is discovered how high United might fly will fascinate. Last season the Chilean scored 30 in 51 outings for Arsenal. Imagine what that weight of goals could do for the Mourinho project. Jamie Jackson
8. Pellegrino rolls the dice
Where do Southampton go from here? On Saturday Mauricio Pellegrino pressed football’s equivalent of the nuclear button and accused his underachieving players of “giving up”. After one win in 17 league games, the Championship beckons and the fans are calling for the manager’s head. Pellegrino says senior professionals have much for which to answer. “I observed some players who gave up,” he said following a comprehensive Newcastle victory. “I’m really disappointed. We were never a threat to Newcastle. I must apologise to our supporters because we did not represent our club well enough. You can have good players but without personality it’s really difficult to compete. We have to switch on our spirit. The players are intelligent, they know what they did.” Pellegrino can only hope his side are shamed into improvement. Louise Taylor
9. Vardy keeps confounding the doubters
The sight of Jamie Vardy filing a contender for goal of the season with a brilliantly executed, controlled volley provided a gentle reminder, for anyone who needed one, that the 31-year-old is one of the Premier League’s outstanding strikers. Only Harry Kane, Sergio Agüero, Raheem Sterling and Mohamed Salah have scored more league goals than Vardy this season, and it is tempting to wonder whether the England international would have a few more to his name if he was playing for a top-six club. Vardy may not be everyone’s cup of tea but those who dismissed him as a one-season wonder after Leicester’s title triumph or, in Michael Owen’s case, as someone who is “not a natural finisher” could not have been more wrong. He has scored 51 Premier League goals in the past two and a half years and his latest – with his weaker foot, no less – was technically superb. Stuart James
10. West Ham protests overshadow another Hart mess
In different circumstances the story would have been a poor display by Joe Hart. The West Ham goalkeeper looked nervy on his first league start since 29 November and he was slightly fortunate that attention had turned to the crowd trouble at the London Stadium by the time his failure to hold Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s shot allowed Chris Wood to score Burnley’s third goal. Yet the protests against West Ham’s board by furious supporters did not completely overshadow Hart’s shoddiness. “I want Joe to have an opportunity to play,” David Moyes said. “But you cannot keep making mistakes. Joe is mentally strong. He has played for big teams in big games. He has a lot of England caps. Goalkeepers live with times when they will mistakes.” Yet Hart has made too many this season. It is impossible to see him keeping his spot as England’s No 1 at the World Cup. Jacob Steinberg
SOURCE: The Guardian UK – Sports
Liverpool will play on white and green
Green and white for #LFC today.
— Liverpool FC News (@LivEchoLFC) March 10, 2018
And now Jurgen Klopp, slightly more hyper but smiling nonetheless, has his say: “It’s always the same. You always have to bring through your own skills but you have to respect the quality of your opponent as well. We cannot be blind and go into the game and say come on, let’s play football and enjoy the game … it will be hard work, United is a group of unbelievably strong players. Mata is on the pitch, and he can change the game completely. Rashford’s speed on the wing changes the game a little bit. Lukaku is always a threat. We have to be really strong with and without the ball. I have tried to find a good set-up for this game, a good mixture.”
A relaxed-looking Jose Mourinho speaks to Sky Sports! “Juan Mata offers experience, and has the capacity to move into areas where he can connect our game, because he is very intelligent. Liverpool are a very strong team in fast counter attack, in transition, so the more times we lose the ball, the more chances they have for that transition. If we are more consistent, we try to reduce the possibility of their super-dangerous counter-attack. So let’s see if Mata can help us! They are not the kind of team to sit in a low block waiting for us. Is this aggressive defence? I don’t know. The objective is to be in front of them at the end of the season, not today. We want to win the game. Paul Pogba is injured, yesterday in training. He was in an unlucky situation. I really don’t know when he is back.”
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The big news for Manchester United: there’s no Paul Pogba. Their record signing is out injured, with Juan Mata, who has given Liverpool no little grief in the past, taking his place as midfield schemer. There are two other changes to the XI named at Crystal Palace on Monday: Eric Bailly replaces Victor Lindelof at the back, while Marcus Rashford comes in at the expense of Jesse Lingard.
Liverpool make five changes to the team that drew with Porto in midweek. Captain Jordan Henderson isn’t risked after suffering a dead leg during the closing stages of that particular non-event; he’s on the bench with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain taking his place. Virgil van Dijk, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold are restored to the defence, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez dropping to the bench while Alberto Moreno misses out altogether. And Mo Salah returns, Adam Lallana also just one of the subs today.
This will be the 200th meeting of these grand old clubs. Manchester United are well out in front in terms of victories: 79 to 65. The first match, for the record, was a Test Match play-off in April 1894 between Second Division champions Liverpool and First Division stragglers Newton Heath. Liverpool won the game, played on neutral territory at Ewood Park in Blackburn, 2-0, and with it a place in the following season’s top flight at the Manchester club’s expense. Patrick Gordon and Harry Bradshaw scored the first-half goals that did for the Heathens; the second half was a bit of a non-event, according to this paper, the play being “moderate” because the players were “suffering from excitement”. What price similarly modest, highly strung play today? The more things change, etc.
Can’t argue with the outcome, really – you always sensed Real had another gear there too. But United did have chances in the second half: Lukaku should have scored another in an up-and-down game from him, while Rashford had a great opportunity to equalise too.
The performance of Matic was a big plus in midfield, I think, too – if Mourinho gets the right blend around him, he’ll be a fine addition.
The prizegiving is now taking place. Mourinho congratulates Real’s players individually and gives Ronaldo a friendly pat on the cheek.
But the man with the big ‘L’ is the mighty one, Pogba, the ones-biggest-pay-in. He failed to impress the fans and the social media is on fire over his laziness and the inability to justify the big pay checks he receives weekely. Well, the fans always has something to say.
If Matic can’t FREE Pogba, Mourinho should go and sign Michael Scofield
— Anda (@LazyWrita) August 8, 2017
So even after Unlocking Pogba, he still needs original Charger to function properly. pic.twitter.com/DbosoGK5Ct
— Olisa Covfefe 🐦 (@oliskyz) August 8, 2017
Pogba has been fucken awful tonight, my clit can do more damage ffs
— Cazza ❤️ (@CarolineBusson) August 8, 2017
Seems the only way to unlock Pogba is to goan flash him at Computer village.
— MANÈ LIKE SALAH™ (@TCharis_DRO) August 8, 2017
— Omoniyi Israel (@omoissy) August 8, 2017
Dear Pogba – when they said Matic would free you up, they didn’t mean to have the night off.
— PrestwichBlue (@PrestwichBlue) August 8, 2017
If Pogba cost 100 million, then each Real Madrid midfielder should cost at least 4-5 times more than that
— Juan (@socraticjuan) August 8, 2017
Well, let the debate continue…
Manchester United are making a push to prise Marco Verratti away from PSG.
The Mirror says United’s hunt for £60million Verratti has been stopped in its tracks – with the French side demanding Anthony Martial as the deal-breaker.
Holding midfield star Verratti has emerged as a Jose Mourinho target with Chelsea refusing to budge on their £50m valuation of 28-year-old Nemanja Matic.
United negotiator Ed Woodward stepped up his pursuit of Italy ace Verratti, 24, after Barcelona cooled their interest last week.
Also read: Rooney back at Everton would be a story – but it may not end well
But PSG laid down the law to United, and said they will only do business if £56m former Monaco striker Martial is part of the deal.
United are unwilling to allow Martial to leave but are continuing dialogue with PSG in the hope an agreement can be struck.
In their favour is that Verratti has appointed Mino Raiola as his new agent.
Romelu Lukaku was always going to leave a big hole to fill at Everton but few would have predicted a combination of, say, Wayne Rooney and Olivier Giroud, perhaps to take over in the likely event of the Belgian striker’s departure.
Reported overtures to Arsenal’s Giroud make perfect sense; he is a reliable goalscorer, proven in the Premier League, at 30 he will have a few good years left in him and he was no longer a regular starter under Arsène Wenger. Those imagining Everton would seek a like-for-like replacement for Lukaku, as if similarly built striking powerhouses were in plentiful supply, might have to think again. Giroud, should he move to Merseyside, could be just the cutting edge required for the quick-passing side Ronald Koeman is looking to put together.
Rooney is an entirely different story. Once upon a time, as Everton remember only too well, he brought a cutting edge like no other. He has also been spending too much time in the shadows at his present club and it is entirely understandable he should wish to seek more game minutes with his boyhood team, though there is a reason why Rooney dropped off the radar at Manchester United.
Whether used as a striker or a No10 in recent seasons, José Mourinho and before him Louis van Gaal found it difficult to incorporate the club captain into a system that worked. Mourinho actually began by saying he had complete faith in Rooney’s striking abilities and would resist the temptation to drop him back to midfield, though as the season wore on it became plain – not that the manager ever admitted it or said anything over-critical – that the solution he had come up with was to drop the player altogether.
At 31 Rooney is only a year older than Giroud – not to mention four years younger than Zlatan Ibrahimovic – though perhaps because he started out so young, his playing career seems to have caught up with him. Ibrahimovic stole all the goalscoring headlines at United last season, with Rooney barely getting a look-in, and whereas Giroud was also relegated to a substitute’s role at Arsenal he frequently came off the bench and made a scoring impact. Rooney’s impact in his last few seasons at United has been muted, to put it as kindly as possible, and for that reason it is tempting to wonder not only why Koeman wants him, when there will be money in the kitty after Lukaku’s departure, but also where he plans on playing him.
As a No10 seems most likely, if only as the most effective way of making it plain to Ross Barkley other options are available. At this rate the latest homegrown Everton wunderkind is going to be making way for the previous one, 13 years after the latter left Merseyside for Manchester. Though he has lost much of his pace, Rooney retains an eye for a pass and an ability to deliver from set pieces – witness his free-kick at Stoke last season to score his 250th Manchester United goal and break Sir Bobby Charlton’s record – yet Mourinho was also interested in speeding up the tempo of attacks and in the end he preferred Ander Herrera or Juan Mata.
It is highly debatable whether Rooney is a better bet as a creative playmaker than Barkley, even if there are problems with the younger player’s contract. Gylfi Sigurdsson of Swansea is another player Koeman admires for the same position, and were Everton to be in a position to land the Iceland international it is hard to know what role Rooney may be asked to fulfil.
On the other hand, Everton stand to acquire a lot of leadership, experience and club tradition on a free transfer, even if the wage bill is likely to make Bill Kenwright’s eyes water. It should also be remembered Everton are in Europe this season, and are quite likely to opt for a significantly different lineup in cup competitions than the one they use for Premier League games. There is no problem about animosity from present Everton supporters towards a player who turned his back on the club in search of fame, fortune and trophies. Everton fans know better than most how the world works, and the famous (infamous?) “Once a blue always a blue” slogan is already being revisited approvingly rather than sarcastically.
Lots of United players have ended up at Everton in recent seasons, from Phil Neville and Tim Howard to Tom Cleverley and Morgan Schneiderlin, and looked at in such a way it is perhaps natural a player should wish to extend his career in the North-west without joining rivals such as Manchester City or Liverpool.
Yet City and Liverpool would not have been interested in signing Rooney anyway, and Neville, Howard, Schneiderlin et al still had plenty of career years left to contribute. Not everyone can keep up the peak performances United demand for the whole of their careers, and Everton have proved a useful alternative without dropping down the league too far. In one sense Rooney fits into that category and in another he does not.
Rooney has already spent all his peak years at United, that is precisely the point. To the naked eye he appears to have none left, but maybe Koeman knows better. Let us all hope so, for a homecoming hero is always a tale worth telling and it will be good to see Rooney in blue again rather than in China or on the front pages through some sort of boredom-related bother. Only a killjoy or a spoilsport would add a word of warning to such a feelgood story, but it is only a year since Mourinho had complete faith in Rooney’s undimmed ability and so did Roy Hodgson. Neither found a happy ending.
My fear for Manchester United in the Europa League final is they are weighed down by the pressure of having to win it to get into next season’s Champions League.
If United were heading to Stockholm having already qualified by finishing in the Premier League top four on top of having the EFL Cup in the bag, then I think their players would be a lot more relaxed.
Instead, all of United’s eggs are now in one basket, which is a dangerous situation to be in against a really good young Ajax team.
How to beat Ajax – play on the front foot
Ajax are very impressive technically and they have lots of energy too.
Their front five – with Bertrand Traore and Amin Younes either side of Kasper Dolberg in attack, and Davy Klaassen and Hakim Ziyech in the centre of midfield – give them goals and creativity, and a good mixture of pace and skill.
Traore is very quick down the right but a little bit erratic, while Younes on the left is a good dribbler – he is not rapid but he is pretty sharp.
What Peter Bosz’s team do well is play a high-tempo game – they like to press and win the ball back early.
To counter that, United have to be really brave and mirror the approach they had when they beat Chelsea at Old Trafford in April.
They tore out of the blocks in that game and went toe to toe with Antonio Conte’s side. They were positive and they put the champions under pressure, and never allowed them to settle.
United played on the front foot that day and used the speed of Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford to pester Chelsea. The energy in midfield of Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini and Paul Pogba overpowered them.
If they do the same again on Wednesday, I don’t think Ajax will be able to live with them.
Get past the Ajax press and their defence looks vulnerable
Klaassen and Ziyech, in particular, are capable of dictating play if you let them, but if United get in their faces early on then they will not be able to find their rhythm.
And Ajax’s defence is definitely their weakness. They press on transition – whenever they lose the ball – but if you get past that initial press then there are some big spaces behind it, and their back line looks vulnerable.
Kenny Tete at right-back is not quick, and centre-back Matthijs de Ligt is only 17 and erratic. The Europa League final is going to be a huge occasion for him.
What United definitely shouldn’t do is sit back like they did at Old Trafford in the second legs of their quarter-final and semi-final.
United cannot allow that to happen again. They should see this as a game where they have to go out and start fast.
If they put Ajax under pressure early on, and do some damage, they can seize control of the game.
Been there and done it all before
Ajax’s inexperience is definitely something United should try to exploit – none of their players have featured in a game as big as this before.
But the Dutch team also do not have to deal with the same expectation of winning that United do, and they are already into the third qualifying round of next season’s Champions League after finishing second in the Eredivisie – so the final is not make or break for them.
On occasions like this, you wonder whether players will freeze or play without fear, and it is the same for United’s younger players too.
If there was ever a game in which United needed the know-how of injured striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it might be this one – because he would not be scared of what was at stake.
Ibrahimovic has already delivered for United in the Community Shield and EFL Cup final. It is big games like this in which you need your big players, and there are none bigger at United than him.
I think United will miss Zlatan, but what they do have in their favour is a manager who has been there and done it all before.
Jose Mourinho has great experience, not just of the big occasions but of winning them. He is a serial winner and knows how to set up a team to win a final, and that is where I think United have the greatest advantage.
Mourinho will have a massive influence on the day but he has already got all of the energy back into his team before the final.
I don’t think he can complain about them being tired because he has given his players the rest they needed in the three Premier League games they have played since they reached the final.
United will be mentally fresh for this game, for the first time in about five or six weeks.
It is a one-off game and finals are so unpredictable – but, under Mourinho, they will be ready.
United mindset has echoes of glorious past
The difference between United’s form going into this final and the 1999 Champions League success that I was part of comes down to momentum.
Back then, we had just won the Premier League and then the FA Cup.
But there are still similarities this time – things that were drummed into you at Old Trafford when I was there, and still are under Mourinho.
It is still the case that you cannot enjoy a final unless you win it. Getting there is not enough, even if by doing so you have already created history, as United have done by reaching a Europa League final for the first time.
And United still measure themselves on trophies won, not the fact they have finished outside the Champions League positions in the Premier League.
Mourinho’s whole philosophy is about winning, so you have got to admire the fact that, if they beat Ajax, they have two major trophies to show for their season.
For me, that means they have been more successful than three of the clubs who finished above them in the table – Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool, who finished second, third and fourth.
I would rather finish sixth and win two major trophies than finish second with none – that was the mentality I was brought up with at Old Trafford and I am pleased it is the same there now.
Prizes and podiums worth more than league positions
Winning trophies gives you a taste of something you want more of, which is why success in Stockholm is important for this United team in the future, as well as the here and now.
If you finish second, third or fourth and you don’t get your hands on a trophy or a medal, you don’t get to step on to that winning podium. There are no prizes in fact.
There are several United players who have never won a trophy with the club, and I know what a boost getting some silverware gives you and how you get a thirst for more.
Beating Ajax would make a big difference for next season, not just by getting them into the Champions League but to give them an advantage over the teams who have finished above them but have not got anything to show for it.
Manchester United survived a huge late scare to edge past Spanish visitors Celta Vigo and set up a Europa League final against Dutch giants Ajax.
Leading 1-0 from the first leg, United took control as Marouane Fellaini headed home Marcus Rashford’s cross.
But Celta, needing two goals, levelled on the night through Facundo Roncaglia to set up a tense final few minutes.
United’s Eric Bailly and Roncaglia were sent off after a mass brawl, and the hosts hung on to reach the final.
Indeed they could only celebrate after Celta striker John Guidetti scuffed a golden chance to put the visitors through to their first major European final with the final kick of the game.
The aggregate victory took the Red Devils a step closer to their first Europa League triumph and a return to the Champions League.
They will meet Ajax, who beat Lyon in the other semi-final, in Stockholm on 24 May.
Functional not flashy – but in the final
United had never lost a two-legged European tie after winning the first leg away from home, and knew they would reach the final by keeping a clean sheet at an expectant Old Trafford.
The hosts looked nervy as Celta made an attacking start, before Fellaini settled the tension by converting his side’s first effort on target.
The Belgium midfielder sneaked in at the far post to powerfully head in Rashford’s clipped right-wing cross.
Jose Mourinho’s side created few other chances as they aimed to frustrate the visitors with an organised and largely defensive approach.
Although Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Rashford and Fellaini all drew saves from Celta keeper Sergio Alvarez after the break, it was a functional – not flashy – performance.
Celta, who had lost their previous five matches and are 12th in La Liga, had more possession than the home side, and forced United keeper Sergio Romero into instinctive saves at the start of each half.
They then ignited the tie with Roncaglia’s glancing header following a corner.
The away goal, which left them needing one more to eliminate United, increased the tension inside Old Trafford, leading to a scuffle involving almost all 22 players on the field.
Bailly was sent off for a swipe at former Manchester City striker Guidetti, with Roncaglia dismissed for retaliating.
With six minutes of added time, there was still opportunity for Celta to create one final chance – but Guidetti blew it.
While United’s players greeted the final whistle with a mixture of relief and jubilation, the visitors slumped to the turf with Guidetti in tears.
“You cannot win a semi-final easily, or be calm. We are in the final, that’s what counts,” said United midfielder Ander Herrera.
Europa League or bust for Mourinho
Winning the Europa League has become Mourinho’s priority as he looks to secure a return to the Champions League in his debut season at Old Trafford.
And the campaign will be deemed a disappointing one if his team lose to Ajax, who edged out Lyon 5-4 on aggregate.
Expectations were high that Mourinho’s arrival would bring an end to the malaise that has surrounded the Red Devils since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.
United have finished seventh, fourth and fifth in the three Premier League seasons since the Scot’s departure – and Mourinho arrived with loftier ambitions than simply scraping into the top four.
Ten months later, the Portuguese has been forced to drastically reassess his ambitions.
He appears to have conceded defeat in the top-four race, with his team sixth, four points adrift of Manchester City going into their final three matches.
With the return leg against Celta at the forefront of his mind, Mourinho made eight changes for Sunday’s 2-0 defeat at Arsenal – a clear admission he felt winning the Europa League was more attainable than breaking into the top four.
However, his decision will only be justified if they are successful in beating Ajax and claiming their sixth European trophy.
The missing piece in the jigsaw
The Red Devils have won 65 trophies in their illustrious 115-year history, a figure including 20 English league titles and three European Cup/Champions League victories.
However, there is one piece of silverware missing from the Old Trafford trophy room.
Winning the Europa League, or its predecessor the Uefa Cup, may have been considered an unwanted honour in previous Red Devils eras.
Now it is considered a must-win as the club looks to complete a clean sweep of the major competitions at home and abroad.
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