What should Manchester United be searching for in January?

With just under a month to go until the transfer window opens up for its mid-season appearance, Manchester United will be active in bringing in new faces to Old Trafford.

The season has, so far, not gone to plan, as they currently languish in 11th place, a point behind Crystal Palace and eight from fourth-place Chelsea. Hopes and aspirations of a Champions League position come May 2020 now appear far away with the season ticking on.

A priority position to strengthen for Ole Gunnar Solskjær will be his midfield, which looks feeble and weak when coming up against teams that have quick transitions. The absence of Paul Pogba since the end of September has not eased matters, but even so, the failure to replace both Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera has been detrimental.

Ideally, the Red Devils want and need a player like Leicester City’s James Maddison. But for all intents and purposes, the Foxes are not going to be easy negotiators, especially halfway through the season when they are in second and the possibility of top-tier European football is more than realistic.

All season, Man United have lacked a midfielder that can pick defences and thread cute passes in between the lines. Fred and Andreas Pereira having taken up the more advanced roles in midfield, but neither have had the success on a regular basis that is needed to threaten teams week in, week out.

There are a lack of world-class midfielders that would want to come to Old Trafford for anything but a pay cheque, and so the market that is accessible for the Red Devils becomes increasingly small.

Emre Can is a name that has been touted around the Premier League once more ahead of January due to his lack of minutes under Maurizio Sarri at Juventus, but there will, rightly, be some reservations over the German international’s potential arrival, mainly due to being a stop-gap filler as well as a player who has been registered with Liverpool.

It is known that Solskjær wants an experienced centre forward that can hold play up and be versatile in his positioning on the pitch. The Red Devils tried to secure a late deal for Juventus’ Mario Mandzukic but ran out of time in the end. Their interest remains in the Croatian, even if, like his team-mate Can, his minutes have been shelved.

Mandzukic would offer a more rounded approach to the club than Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, as well as giving them invaluable advice on and off the pitch. Mandzukic is an extremely hard-working individual that has thrived off the bigger moments: such as his performance for his country against England in the World Cup semi-final.

The centre forward has 18 months left on his contract, but the Bianconeri will do business on him for around £10 million. He might be 33-years-old, but the wealth of experience and positional flexibility he could bring would be a welcome sight.

A lot can change in football in the second half of the season, but one thing is for certain and that is Manchester United need reinforcements.

How well do you know English football? Want to challenge the best English Fantasy Managers? Play www.epl-fantasy.com now.

Manchester United have to be flexible to get the best out of Anthony Martial

There is no doubt about the scary potential that Anthony Martial has. Even if the last two to three seasons have been really difficult for him at a personal level, where he has had issues ongoing off the pitch and has not been a regular starter under either Jose Mourinho or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

However, after receiving his number nine jersey once again and following the departure of Romelu Lukaku, he is expected to play on a more regular basis and will be hoping to reach 20-25 league goals this season. The Red Devils will be hoping for a much better season as a whole, as they failed to be constantly effective on both sides of the pitch last season, from being defensively reckless to limited and predictable on the attacking area of the game. And if they can do that, their hopes for a top four finish is surely not impossible.

Focusing more on Martial, he’s been scoring on a few occasions over the last couple of weeks, with two goals in two games against Partizan Belgrade to help United qualify for the knockout stages of the Europa League, as well as a crucial and much needed goal away at Norwich City. He’s come in at the right time with the goals as both Daniel James and Marcus Rashford have gone quiet recently.

Since his debut for the club in August 2015, he has gone on to score 50 goals for Manchester United, more than any other player within the squad from the beginning of the period. Just on that note, one can immediately understand the qualities and abilities he brings to the team, especially in the final third of the pitch and his impressive personal composure whilst having his back to goal.

It has taken some time to find out the player’s best position, given that he can be effectively and deadly either as a left-sided winger or a lone centre-forward, thanks to his movement on and off the ball and his creativity in the dangerous areas of the pitch. On top of that, he has shown what he offers to the team when he isn’t scoring, as he notched two key assists recently against Brighton.

As long as all the attackers stay fit and in fine form, Ole will need to keep a consistent and dominant attacking setup from now till the end of the campaign, with Martial as the number nine and both Daniel James and Rashford as the wide players being the ideal idea. If this does happen, it would allow Martial to be freed from his defensive duties and be utilised within the advanced areas.

The 23-year-old’s standout attribute just happens to be his one on one dribbling and his intelligence to take on two to three players within the matter of seconds, as he has the pace as well as the trickery to be the difference on the flanks. However, when he is played in this role, he can easily be marked by two players and left isolated, forcing him to remain unknown for the rest of the game.

Given that both Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez left Old Trafford in the summer, without the club bringing in a replacement at all, Martial’s qualities and potential is more required through the middle than the flanks. His goals and assists in all competitions have come from the central position, where he has the much needed licence to roam and move around to lead the side’s attack and build-up play.

Overall, Solskjaer should not use his favouritism of Rashford and push Martial back out onto the wings, as the former is not a clinical goal-scorer and is unable to bring other players into the game whilst the latter is arguably the side’s best forward in front of goal. Martial is one of the most important players in the squad and has the quality to be a game-changer or match-winner when required, and he can start or continue to be one for the Red Devils as long as he is used centrally.

Man Utd 3-1 Brighton: Ole’s men enjoyed a straightforward afternoon at Old Trafford

Although the main focus of gameweek 12 was the head-to-head clash between Liverpool and Manchester City, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United had a must-win match of they own as took on Brighton & Hove Albion, with the aim of turning their form and momentum in the league around. This was the perfect chance for the Red Devils to pick up the win with a solid display.

When looking back at the game as a whole, the hosts were without a doubt the most dominant and attacking-minded side and were on top on both sides of the pitch, whilst the visitors were sat quite deep in their own half and were unable to create enough chances or moments. Nevertheless, United played on the front foot straightaway and it allowed them to gain full control of the end outcome.

The Red Devils got the lead through a good move which went from defence to attack in the matter of seconds, as Andreas Pereira’s shot took quite a deflection before going into the back of net. And then a few minutes later, United got their second from a set-piece which was poorly defended by Brighton, with the loose ball in the penalty box being put into the wrong net by Davy Propper.

Graham Potter’s men were able to pick themselves up from the floor, as they grew in confidence and began to work well on and off the ball for the remainder of the first half. With the tactical changes being made and utilised during the half-time break, the Seagulls were able to get a goal back through Lewis Dunk, who dominantly headed Pascal Gross’ corner passed David De Gea.

Fortunately for Solskjaer and United, Marcus Rashford impressively managed to get the third and final goal for the hosts, which was once again worked well by the team to prevent the visitors from coming up with a potential comeback. Had the side been more ruthless in the final third, they could have ended the match with five to six goals, something that hasn’t happened in quite a long time.

In the end, the Red Devils picked up the much needed three points and their third league victory at home this season as they go up to seventh-place in the table. Meanwhile, Brighton and Hove Albion sit comfortably in eleventh-place, currently seven valuable points away from the relegation zone.

Here are the three valuable factors we learnt from United’s latest league fixture…

One of the best attacking displays at Old Trafford this season

For sure, the goals in the first half came down to a bit of luck and Brighton’s overall quality is not the greatest, but no one could deny the intensity and movement on and off the ball that United had showed, which had been lacking for quite some time. However, if it wasn’t for this early and positive mindset, the side wouldn’t have had the two important goals before the half-time break, something they haven’t shockingly completed for the first time at Old Trafford since the middle of January.

The Red Devils ended the match with five big chances created, 21 shots attempted and with 11 of them going on target. If the team are able to keep this up on a regular basis, especially once the injured players are back from the sidelines, then there should be no doubt that they could possibly push for a top four finish from the middle of the season as well as compete in the domestic cups.

The chemistry between Martial and Rashford is growing once again

After both Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukuaku had left the club in the final days of the transfer windows, majority of Manchester United supporters were quite concerned about the quality and depth available in the attacking department, as no replacements were brought in at all. Though, with Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford getting into their stride recently, the side are now able to counter-attack effectively through the pace, movement and understanding they offer to the team.

If we’re being honest, neither of Martial and Rashford have been consistent goal-scorers week in and out, but as long as they work off one another and get into good positions, there shouldn’t be a problem in both players chipping in with 30-35 goals in the league together. United’s attacking options are quite thin at the moment, but they will be hoping that the current individuals will be able to guide them till the end of the year, with the hopes of signing someone in January being high.

Brandon Williams will make the left-back position his own very soon

It had seemed like United had some rising issues in the left-back area, given the injury problems that Diogo Dalot and Luke Shaw have been having as well as Ashley Young’s time as a regular player coming to an end. On the other hand, Brandon Williams’ recent introduction has worked wonders for all parties, as he slotted into the position like a glove and is beginning to stamp his own mark.

He may not be seen as the next big thing or the finished article as of yet, but the 19-year-old has been showing his quality and potential on both sides of the pitch, being able to defend with composure, play confidently with both feet and prove to be a threat going forward. If he can continue to perform on a consistent basis and get into the good books of Solskjaer, then the Old Trafford faithful will definitely see the younger be on the team sheet more often than predicted.

Should Manchester United be targeting Moussa Dembele?

The January transfer window might still be a few months away, but decisions behind the scenes are now being made and lists with potential targets being drawn up.

Manchester United know, given their results, they have to recruit in the winter market, even if it is not a preferred course of action. There is a reason as to why few clubs operate in January, and it is primarily due to the hike in already inflated transfer fees.

However, the Red Devils, currently sitting in 12th place, having scored less goals than Wolves, Aston Villa and Norwich, are having monumental problems at the top of the pitch and simply have to address it halfway through the season.

After moving Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez on in the summer, and then failing to replace them, there is little wonder as to why they are in the position they are in now. Mason Greenwood might have had more opportunities to play, but he is still only 17-years-old, and is not in a position to have authority in matches.

Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are the two registered centre forwards, although there is a strong case to suggest that the England international is better suited on the wing. Unlike the Frenchman, Rashford does not possess the killer instincts and composure in front of goal when tasked with a one-on-one situation.

As seasons progress, injuries occur, which is exactly what has hampered Martial and caused him to remain on the sidelines. And so Rashford is then left with the pressure to be the out-and-out goalscorer – something he does not look comfortable with at all.

One striker on the continent that has been linked with Manchester United time and time again is Olympique Lyon’s Moussa Dembele.

The Frenchman has an impressive record already this season, having scored six Ligue 1 goals in only eight appearances so far this campaign. In 2018/19, Dembele mustered up 23 goals and six assists in 52 appearances – a highly impressive tally after making the move from Celtic to Lyon.

Dembele is not the tallest of strikers, standing at 1.83m, but he does know where the space is inside the box and comes alive in close quarters. The Frenchman’s movement and precision is near enough perfection, pulling away from defenders and anticipating where the ball either might fall, or where the intended cross will end up to be on the end of it.

Lyon are usually hard negotiators and do not let their players leave easily. As seen last summer, Tanguy Ndombele finally made his move, which Tottenham had to pay over £50 million for.

Jean-Michel Aulas, the club’s President, is a famed negotiator, which does not bode well given the time restraints in January, as well as the ineptitude of the club’s negotiators behind the scenes.

Dembele is not the type of player to carry an exorbitant ego into the dressing room at Old Trafford, given he is not at the highest echelon of world football yet, but he has the potential to get there should he carry on working hard and delivering performances.

It is clear Manchester United are trying to move away from the prima-donnas of the world in Sanchez and Angel Di Maria, and instead focussing on players who can buy into the club’s philosophy and mentality.

A very well-rounded centre forward who has a history of consistency is what the Red Devils and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer need, and so bringing Dembele in during the January transfer window might just be the catalyst in scoring the department.

How well do you know English football? Want to challenge the best English Fantasy Managers? Play www.epl-fantasy.com now.

Manchester United’s fall from grace will be underlined by a lack of quality strikers

When Manchester United lost to West Ham, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was asked about his lack of strikers, especially if one of them gets injured like in the case of Anthony Martial. He responded diplomatically by suggesting that on the strikers department there isn’t a problem and seemed happy with that statement. His eyes seemed to say something else though and a few days later in his own press conference he mentioned that the club will be looking for a striker to come in for January.

It is hard to think of a United side who have looked so average up front. At the end of the day Anthony Martial who came from Monaco ended up being the striker that could have been and the one that got away from United was actually the other youngster coming up the ranks in Kylian Mbappe who now plays for PSG.

Marcus Rashford is a quality striker when on form and has got some important goals for the club. However he is 22 and maybe more would have been expected of him given that he has never scored more than 10 league goals in his career, and he has spent 5 seasons with the club. This isn’t to say that Rashford doesn’t deserve his place because he does and plays off well in the team.

Daniel James can attack too and he looks one for the future, and the three attackers have scored 8 of United’s goals from 9 this season. But at the same time United not only have young strikers and no stardust if you like, but also players that can perform on their day but simply aren’t consistent enough, and that will be key in thinking United may not even finish in the top six this season. At this rate top 4 looks very distant too.

It’s hard to think that this situation would have been allowed under Sir Alex Ferguson and that was to sell Romelu Lukaku for over £70m but not replace him, that seemed like an odd choice. Instead United went for defence and brought in Harry Maguire for £80m, but the club need to be in a situation where they could have afforded both targets. If one looks at Mauro Icardi for example, a goalscorer that was bought by PSG as they believed Neymar would be sold and they had injuries up front, instead of resting on their laurels the club knew they had to bring in quality, and they did.

United seemed to have taken their eye off the ball and even if they can navigate themselves until January, that is a month where traditionally the best players are not available. A penny for your thoughts, Ole?

How well do you know English football? Want to challenge the best English Fantasy Managers? Play www.epl-fantasy.com now.

 

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.

Do you have what it takes to challenge the best Premier League Fantasy Managers? If you’re up to challenging the best then play www.fantasy-premier.com now!

Modern Love and The Manchester United Way

Screenshot 2019-02-19 at 15.04.02

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.

Do you have what it takes to challenge the best Premier League Fantasy Managers? If you’re up to challenging the best then play www.fantasy-premier.com now!

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.

Do you have what it takes to challenge the best Premier League Fantasy Managers? If you’re up to challenging the best then play www.fantasy-premier.com now!

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

Jose Mourinho Romelu Lukaku

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.

Continue reading