Should Nicolas Pepe be Manchester United’s next big purchase?

There has been talk for many years about updating Manchester United’s right wing, given the lack of out-and-out wide players that occupy their flank. Both Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard, more natural to the number 10 position, have routinely been placed out wide, while centre forwards Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford have also had stints in unfamiliar territory. 

The Red Devils have lost a part of their attacking force due to the predictability of their right wing.Ashley Young, who has been filling in at right back, is usually ever present in offensive positions, but with his teammate ahead of him usually cutting inside, the opposition know that if they can put two players on Young and cover the space effectively, United’s attacks will come to void.

The Englishman has also received stark criticism over his poor execution of crosses, which is prohibiting their chances of putting the ball into the box.

And so it is about time that Manchester United reinforced their ring with some new talent, with Nicolas Pepe of Lille being the name on the tip of many fans’ tongues.

Ligue 1 is consistently slandered by supporters claiming it is a ‘farmer’s league’, suggesting that because of Paris Saint-Germain’s dominance, the whole division is weak in comparison to the almighty Premier League. But there is a clear reason why English and European clubs continually go to the French market, and that is because they produce some of the best players in the world.

From Ousmane Dembélé  to Samuel Umtiti to Bernardo Silva and Kylian Mbappé, Ligue 1 has nurtured some of the finest players this generation has and will see, so it remains bemusing as to see why the mockery continues to grow.

This year, the 23 year old Pepe has become a household name, rising to prominence with a high-flying Lille side. Coming into his prime years, the Ivory Coast international would be a catch to Manchester United given his directness and ability to create something from nothing – he is fantastic at unbalancing his opposite man and creating space for either the key pass or incisive shot.

Remarkably, so far this season, Pepe has 17 goals and 11 assists in 28 games, averaging a goal contribution in every single match in all competitions. While the Ivorian traditionally is not an orthodox winger in the sense that he will take on his defender at every opportunity, he does hold his width far more than the likes of Lingard and Mata, and has speed to burn.

Over the last few years, under Louis van Gaal and José Mourinho, Man United’s players have somewhat lacked the courage to move in a direct manner. There have been a lot of sideways passes and a crowding in the middle of the pitch – a lack of considerable width was missing from their game.

That has somewhat changed under Ole Gunnar Solskjær, but the right wing is still a problem area, with not enough happening down it in comparison to the left. Pepe, on the other hand, is an incredibly direct and forward-thinking player, he has the confidence to beat the player in front of him and the ability to pull it off nine times out of 10.

What has been so impressive about Pepe’s performances this season is the consistency. Some players can start explosively and peter out, but the Ivorian has kept up his goal rate and assist tally throughout the season, which is why some of Europe’s biggest clubs will be eyeing him up for a summer transfer.

Even if Lille are in a spot of financial bother, Pepe is unlikely to be sold for anything less than £50 million this summer. Given his age, ability shown and potential to take his game to the next level, the French club are going to play the long game during the transfer window and make sure that a bidding war arises. Based on what has been shown this season, Pepe looks to be one of the outstanding candidates from Europe’s top five leagues.

For a long time now, United have been longing for a goal-scoring right winger, someone to take the game by the horns and provide a threat every time they get the ball. In Martial, they have that on the left, and with Rashford they have it through the middle, but no one of the same ilk on the right. Pepe stakes a commendable claim to be the missing piece to Solskjær’s puzzle in attack.

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Modern Love and The Manchester United Way

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Manchester United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer appear more of a revelation as time passes by. Last week there were rumblings of the wheels having come off, the extended honeymoon being over but how premature we all were.

Let’s be fair. On the face of it I’m not sure any credible football person really believed post Moyes, VG and Mourinho that Man United were anywhere near a Champions League credible force.

However, what a way to bounce back. Stamford Bridge hasn’t been the best of hunting grounds for the reds even in the Ferguson era yet on Monday night, United cruised through the tie like a classic car on a demonstration circuit through the streets of Monaco. Continue reading

Talking Points: Fulham 0-3 Manchester United

Manchester United made the best possible preparation for Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League knockout rounds with a comfortable win against Fulham.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær has now, remarkably, won more games in the Premier League than his predecessor José Mourinho had. The Norwegian is making all the right impressions at the club and has once again delighted the fans with his brand of football.

Fulham have been a major disappointment after an immense £100 million investment last summer, preparing them for life in the Premier League. Instead of competing for a mid-table position, they are languishing down in 19th place.

The Red Devils will be inspired for their next match, which takes place at Old Trafford on Tuesday against PSG.

Paul Pogba masterclass

Paul Pogba’s resurgence under Solskjær has been well documented and his performance at Craven Cottage was indicative of the newfound form he has been in.

Two goals this time out, the France international has been a pioneering figure in United’s turnaround and will be tasked with doing similar against PSG in the midweek Champions League fixture.

Pogba has a total effortlessness attributed to his game whereby he makes everything he does look so simple. The way he dribbles past players with his impressive strides, bustling defenders off his shoulders, and picks the right pass at the right time shows what a world-class player he can be.

His consistency over the past 10 games has been sensational – which includes two performances against Arsenal and Tottenham from the top six – and fans will hope that this continues heading into a period of important matches for Manchester United. 

Anthony Martial’s dizzying footwork 

After just penning a new contract until 2024, it didn’t take long for Anthony Martial to see his name on the scoresheet. Just after the 20th minute mark, the Frenchman had recorded an assist as well as his dizzying goal.

Martial picked the ball up inside his own half and channelled his inner Cristiano Ronaldo. Dribbling past Fulham’s defenders with absolute ease, the left winger turned them inside and out and found himself one-on-one with goalkeeper Sergio Rico in no time. Keeping his composure and cool in front of goal, Martial tucked it away in the far right-hand corner, leaving Rico with absolutely no chance of saving it.

The Frenchman now has nine Premier League goals in 20 appearances this season and will hope that he can add to his singular European goal on Tuesday night.

Ander Herrera controlled as ever 

Solskjær has lifted every player’s performance since taking over in late December, but perhaps none more so than Ander Herrera. The Spain international used to be one of Mourinho’s trusted lieutenants on the pitch, but for one reason or another, the manager begun to ostracise him from the first-team.

Herrera, having now rekindled his magic, has been one of the Red Devils’ most important players. Winning virtually all his battles in midfield, he is not only giving Pogba the freedom to move up the pitch, he is also contributing himself to United’s attacks. Whether that is lurking around the edge of the box or quickly releasing the forward players, Herrera has been a pivotal cog in United’s wheel.

PSG will come to Old Trafford with a game plan that is based around Marco Verratti’s time on the ball to dictate proceedings. Herrera’s job, as it usually is, will be to disrupt the Parisian’s distribution and stop it at source. The Spaniard will follow the Italian around the pitch, practically man-marking him and making sure he is not awarded the time nor space to play his game.

It is paramount for Manchester United to tie Herrera down to a new contract given his heart, desire and quality he has shown for the club over the years.

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Talking Points: Leicester City 0-1 Manchester United

It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t the best performance yet, but Ole Gunnar Solskjær extended his unbeaten run to 10 games in charge of Manchester United with the team’s latest win over Leicester City. 

Marucs Rashford’s well-taken, solitary goal was enough to come away with the all-important three points at the end of the 90 minutes, which was under threat for the best part of 60 minutes as the Foxes were pouring men forward, looking for a way past David de Gea.

The Red Devils moved up into fifth – which is where they will stay after Arsenal’s loss to Manchester City – only two points off Chelsea in fourth. Given where the club were when the Norwegian took over, it is hugely impressive what he has done in a short period of time.

Man Utd are on the rise 

While they had a temporary setback in their 2-2 draw against Burnley last week, the Red Devils emphatically grafted their way back into the match and prevented their first loss, which looked inevitable with how the team were finding it frustrating to put the ball into the back of the net.

With another win, this time away at Leicester, Solskjær’s record now reads nine wins and one draw. Given he has equalled the amount of wins in 10 games as he did from when he was manager of Cardiff City, it’s clear as day to see how well he has gelled with the first-team players.

A lot of the good work also goes to Mike Phelan, Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna, who have gone back to basics with the emphasis on what it means to play for a team like Manchester United. The players have adapted to the Norwegian’s man-management and appear happier in both training and on the pitch.

Man United are still an outside bet to finish in the top four given Chelsea and Arsenal are still in the running, but fans can only be enthused by what they are now seeing on a weekly basis.

There is clear optimism from everyone around the club, which stands them in good stead to tackle the second half of the season.

Paul Pogba is a dream player

It became obvious in José Mourinho’s third and final year in charge that he had endured a falling out with Paul Pogba. It became siege mentality where the Portuguese coach tried to isolate the France international, while telling the club he was more than happy to sell him if the right offer came to the fore.

Thankfully for Manchester United fans, that never arrived and Pogba is now excelling just as the fans knew he would be under a different coach. Playing in a more attacking role for the Red Devils, Pogba can influence the game in the final third and has done just that since the end of December.

Scoring six goals and recording five assists in eight Premier League matches since the arrival of Solskjær is telling. Pogba has been at the heart of everything positive around the club, and his performances on the pitch speak volumes about how he was misunderstood by Mourinho.

As long as the match-winning shows of quality keep coming from the World Cup winner, Manchester United fans will be more than delighted to keep him throughout the prime years of his career.

Anthony Martial pens a new deal

With the good news that Anthony Martial has signed a contract extension until 2024, Manchester United fans will be desperate to see the Frenchman starting once more.

After an injury niggle that prevented him from making a starting berth against Leicester, as well as not being in the squad against Burnley, it’s only a matter of time before Martial returns to goal-scoring fashion.

The Red Devils have some incredibly important fixtures coming up in February – such as the two Paris Saint-Germain Champions League ties and Liverpool at Old Trafford – and so will be hoping that the left winger will be back to match fitness to lead the charge.

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Jose Mourinho needs to choose his best attackers and stick with them

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Anthony Martial said this week that his recent run of form is down to Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho giving him a prolonged run of games in the starting XI.

The Frenchman has scored six goals in seven league games since establishing himself as a regular starter at the end of September, having previously started just one match out of a possible seven.

“The key to it is playing games,” Martial explained. “For me, when you play in a game, that’s when you get back your enjoyment and you start to pick up your form once again.

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EPL Weekend Picks – Round 13

David Silva

The 13th week of the 2018-19 Premier League season sees Manchester City travel to West Ham, while Tottenham host Chelsea in one of the biggest games of the campaign so far. Let’s take a look at 11 players who you should consider for your EPL Fantasy team this weekend…

GK – Rui Patricio (Wolves)
Wolves play two of the Premier League’s lowest-scoring sides — Huddersfield and Cardiff — over the next week, so Rui Patricio is well worth considering. The Portuguese goalkeeper has 18 points so far this season.

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Manchester United need to add an identity to their game

José Mourinho’s men might have orchestrated a famous victory in Turin against Juventus just before the international break, but they also suffered a crippling defeat to across-town rivals Manchester City in what was a lifeless display.

This season has been tumultuous at best for the Red Devils and their inconsistency has been born out of a lack of identity. It seems as if every three days they are refreshing their philosophy of the way they want to play and not attempting to adopt a style that suits them week in, week out.

It is clear that Chelsea, under Maurizio Sarri, have a possession-based footballing identity, as do Man City under Pep Guardiola, whereas Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool are more about the punch and ferociousness of the attack after dispossessing the opposition high up the pitch. Arsenal are starting to find form under Unai Emery, who is slowly starting to implement a more creative and free-flowing Arsenal, while Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs have arguably the best team chemistry in the Premier League.

That leaves Manchester United out of the top six without a clear identity. When they take to the field, it is always in a pragmatic sense. There are times when pragmatism is useful, as Mourinho has shown through his celebrated career in Europe, but United fans, and players, have been brought up on an attacking style that has suited them from the first day Sir Alex Ferguson took charge until his last.

Of course, with a new manager after such a long time at the helm there would have to be change. And there was, with David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, but they both failed in their respective work and were not enigmatic enough for the job. Mourinho has the charisma and personality, as well as the big-game performances in his locker, but the Portuguese coach needs to find his own identity at the club that appeases the fans as well.

When the Red Devils took on Brighton & Hove Albion earlier this season, it was case in point over United’s clear lack of direction. Players were abandoning their post and all sense of responsibility, with Brighton playing in second gear and carving them apart with absolute ease. It was a training exercise at times and the Seagulls were in total control.

Similarly, last season, against Sevilla in the Champions League round of 16, Mourinho had the chance to take the game to the Spaniards in the second leg after drawing 0-0 away from home. Instead of playing on the front foot, once again, United were idle in possession and allowed the Spaniards to dictate the game. At no point under Ferguson would that have been allowed and, as a result, it cost United their place in the Champions League after a whimpering performance that they lost 2-1.

Sevilla were not the better team on paper and Manchester United should have dispatched of them with relative ease. Vincenzo Montella was later sacked for his defensive ineptitude, but United failed to find that out due to their stagnant approach. With 70,000 cheering on the Red Devils, it was a punch to the stomach to witness Mourinho so timid in attack and without the ability to alter the game.

No one is realistically expecting Man United to match City’s excellence game by game, because they simply do not have the same quality, but it is expected that United should be on the front foot against the ‘lesser’ teams in the Premier League such as Brighton. With no disrespect intended to Chris Hughton’s team, but the way United folded against the Seagulls was an embarrassment of the highest order.

It must be said that United’s recruitment has been poor and Mourinho does have a leg to stand on when addressing his issues with the centre back position after Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman, ignored his request of signing a new player last summer.

Although United’s squad looks short of quality compared to some of their top four rivals, it should not give Mourinho the mandate to roll over and deploy a negative strategy.

Manchester United still have quality within their ranks and Anthony Martial is a prime example of what happens when the shackles are removed and Mourinho allows freedom to enter their attacking play. After getting back on good terms with the Portuguese coach, the France international has six Premier League goals in his last seven appearances, practically winning games on his own.

By all accounts, it appears Mourinho will last until the end of the season unless the team have an absolute meltdown. But if the former Chelsea title-winning manager wants to remain in charge for the foreseeable future, he simply must adopt a philosophy that gets United’s fans on the edge of their seats and something to cheer for. Without it, United are the most predictable team in the league and these one-off triumphs will not hold any weight.

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Three things we learned from Manchester United’s performance in the derby

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When the Manchester United line-up was announced, there was instant feeling that the 90 minutes played at the Etihad Stadium would feel like a long evening for Jose Mourinho’s men. Meanwhile, Manchester City treated the game like a normal one as they controlled and dominated the match.

As Pep Guardiola’s side started the match on a high note, it took them only 12 minutes to score with David Silva giving the hosts the lead whilst the visitors were having serious issues defensively. Luckily enough for United, they managed to concede just the single goal as the first half came to an end.

A couple of minutes into the second half, hitman Sergio Aguero doubled the team’s lead as his incredible shot rifled into the back of the net. However, out of nowhere, United were offered a life line and it was from the penalty spot, which was calmly and perfectly taken by Anthony Martial.

The remainder of the match, City showed their usual class on both sides of the pitch whilst United were not able to string a couple of passes together. The game was done and dusted in the 86th minute, when Ilkay Gundogan scored City’s third and final goal to complete a move of 44 passes.

Here are three valuable factors we learnt from the Manchester derby…

1. Sitting deep is not the way to beat Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City

Although Manchester City’s style of play and system is more possession-based and attacking-minded compared to Manchester United’s way under Jose Mourinho, it can be easily stated that the latter’s mindset and mentality going into the Manchester derby was focused to nullify the opposition’s dangerous attack and hope for some individual brilliance to guide the team to a potential victory.

In the end, United had one shot on target throughout the game and it was from the penalty spot, which evidently shows how the team played without an actual plan. When it comes to playing Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and looking to pick up a result against them, a team must play them at their own game by looking to constantly press high up the pitch and by being clinical in front of goal.

2. Paul Pogba’s presence was missed in the midfield

Yesterday, United’s unconvincing midfield showed how important and crucial Paul Pogba is to the side, someone that has the ability to drop deep and help the team to play out from the back to helping the team to be effective in the final third of the pitch. When he is not in the line-up, the side are often blamed for being one-dimension or accused of not doing enough to win the match.

The Frenchman tends to receive a lot of criticism from the English media as well as the Premier League journalists, however, he has played a huge part towards any positives that one can see in Manchester United so far this season and to why majority of the fanbase still have faith in the manager and the team. Overall, when Paul Pogba is on top of his game so are Manchester United.

 3. Anthony Martial’s fine form continues on a regular basis

At this moment of time, Anthony Martial is Manchester United’s most in-form player within the squad and arguably the most clinical and ruthless attacker in front of goal. Having scored in each of his last five league appearances, the immense turnaround to his career at Old Trafford has recently allowed him to be re-introduced into the France international team by coach Didier Deschamps.

If there was one objective that the manager and the club had to complete during the international break, it would be to extend Martial’s contract, which comes to an end on 30th June 2019. The contract situation of the former Lyon and Monaco winger does really show how Manchester United are poorly ran, given that the club are toying around with the future of one of their best players.

How many Manchester United players would get in Manchester City’s matchday squad?

Jose Mourinho Paul Pogba

One of the biggest matches of the 2018-19 Premier League season so far takes place on Sunday when Manchester United make the short trip to the Etihad Stadium to face Manchester City.

Jose Mourinho’s United have had a resurgence of late but their tally of 20 points from 11 games is still below expectations, while Pep Guardiola’s table-topping City have continued their fine form from last season and remain unbeaten in the league.

Every time two of the Premier League’s elite go head-to-head, you can expect to see people comparing the teams by putting together a combined XI from both squads.

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Is Manchester United’s Anthony Martial finally back to his best?

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Everyone has mixed thoughts and opinions on Anthony Martial. Majority of the Manchester United supporters see him as one of the best players in the squad as well as one of the best wingers in the league, whilst the rest see him as an individual that still needs to improve his overall game play.

No matter what your feelings and stance are towards the player, you cannot deny the Frenchman’s monumental performance against the likes of Bournemouth, Chelsea and Everton over the last couple of weeks. In that time, he has scored four goals in three league games, which has allowed the team to return to fine form whilst reminding everyone in England about his number of abilities.

For sure, many will constantly talk about his rumoured fallout with the manager Jose Mourinho, but both parties have somehow turned the situation around and are benefitting from the presence of one another. Towards the end of the previous season, it seemed more than certain that Martial would leave Old Trafford in the summer, as he was not selected for France national team that was heading to the World Cup and he was simply not receiving enough game time from the coach.

However, the former Lyon and Monaco attacker stayed put at Manchester United and was willing to prove the critics and the English media wrong once again. Although he did not start the season regularly due to the competition with Alexis Sanchez and Marcus Rashford for left-wing position, he has found his way back into the team and is not expected to be dropped to the bench anytime soon.

The criticism that Martial receives is vastly needless and unnecessary, especially when he was utilised as a super sub at the start of last season and was only given back-to-back league starts a few months later. On top of that, the 22-year-old was dealt with a major blow once Alexis Sanchez arrived to the club in January, who took the left-wing position into his own hands and never looked back. Despite not providing the goods in the final third, Mourinho still preferred him over Martial.

On the other hand, Martial’s link-up play with the likes of Luke Shaw and Paul Pogba on the left side of the pitch has proven to be more than effective, where the trio’s movement on and off the ball as well as their quick passes to one another allows the team to attack fluently. If all three of these individuals can remain consistent, then Mourinho’s men have a chance of finishing in the top-four.

With Martial as a main outlet on the left-wing once again, Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United are now seen as a dangerous team going forward and are also expected to score two to three goals per game. Also, the side having a winger that has bags of skills and trickery helps the team to find that extra space and time in the final third of the pitch to create constant chances in front of goal.

Overall, Manchester United have started to perform well and are beginning to pick up a number of victories in recent weeks within the league, with the main reason being the resurgence of Martial and the fact that he is the club’s most clinical player in attack. With the Frenchman being unplayable on his day, all the Manchester United supporters will be hoping that he signs the contract extension.

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