PLAYER ANALYSIS: Fred and Risk Versus Reward

One of the big take-aways from Manchester United’s 19/20 season is the change in issues. Under Jose Mourinho, many (including myself) thought Mourinho was a massive problem because United did have a lot of talent, but the manager failed to get the best out of them. Players like Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford were playing below their level, primarily down to a fallout with the manager, inconsistent minutes or being played out of position.

Solsjkaer deserved criticism for a lot of choices he has made, but one area in which I think he’s surpassed his predecessor is streamlining his squad. Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial have had their best seasons for the club, thriving in the spotlight that needed filling after the departure of Romelu Lukaku. Both players had massive questions marks over them. Could Rashford develop a better game to match his desire on the pitch; and could Martial show that killer edge in the box that we only saw glimpses of under Mourinho? The pair were finally given the trust needed to perform, and have been the highlight for Manchester United during a turbulent season.

There is one huge question that has loomed over Anthony Martial in particular. Is the high reward worth the risk? Martial is the best finisher at the club, isolates opposition defenders well and has improved his hold-up play throughout the season. But that does come at a cost. Martial is very selfish. When running towards the goal, the Frenchman will always choose to dribble or shoot instead of pass. I personally like this quality in him, and it’s why he is so good in front of goal. But I can’t deny that he has chosen the wrong options multiple times this season, costing United valuable points. When you compare Rashford and Martial, the former has a more balanced game, while the latter’s highs are a lot higher, as well as his lows.

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I bring up Martial and Rashford because it ties in well with another player who defines risk vs reward (and it isn’t Bruno Fernandes). When Fred arrived at the club, I didn’t really have an opinion on the transfer, besides the obvious risk involved. The only time we could see Fred play was in the Champions League, which is a small sample size to judge a player’s ability. It’s what made Manchester United signing Fred so confusing. Over £50 million on a midfielder who was more likely to fail than succeed was not something you expect from a club who usually don’t gamble on players so unknown. When United have spent big in recent years, it’s either been on high-profile domestic talent or big names from Europe’s elite (Pogba and Di Maria are the clear examples here).

I suspect United only signed Fred for the same reason they signed Alexis Sanchez; to beat their city rivals, Manchester City, to one of their rumoured targets. This seems more likely when you look at his debut season at the club. He only started 13 games for the club, and many of those appearances only happened through injuries to other members of the squad. The big problem with Fred was the other midfielders in the team were just better. Fred didn’t possess the same tenacity and bite as Herrera; the same experience and size of Matic or the likability of someone like McTominay. Pogba is arguably the player most comparable in terms of strengths, but there isn’t even a competition in terms of who is the better creative midfielder. Fred’s highlight in his debut season was that night in Paris. It was the first time I can recall the Brazilian showing composure on the ball and did help United show some control in midfield. It was the first sign Fred could be something in Manchester, other than another big-money midfield flop.

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Fred’s sophomore season in the Premier League has been very interesting. Starting on the defensive end, Fred’s numbers are quite surprising. Fred is second for tackles and interceptions per 90 with 3.69, with a majority of his tackles coming in the defensive-third. His amount of pressures is a significant anomaly for a midfielder. The former Shakhtar midfielder puts up 30.2 pressures per 90, which puts him in the top 10 for pressures per 90 in the league (out of players to play substantial minutes). It is quite baffling why Fred’s pressuring so much. The other notable midfielders to put up similar numbers would be Abdoulaye Doucoure, Joao Moutinho and Sean Longstaff. I think the massive difference between Fred and the three players listed would be role and system. Longstaff and Moutinho play in deep-block systems and in midfield three’s, meaning they’re given more freedom in midfield to pressure their opponents, without leaving so much space. Doucoure usually plays in a double-pivot but has been moved up the pitch under Nigel Pearson, now playing as the team’s unorthodox number ten. Fred plays in a double-pivot, usually alongside the more immobile Nemanja Matic or the attack-minded Scott McTominay.

The Brazilian is doing a lot more defensive work than he should be, which is pretty frustrating considering how good of a progressive passer he’s shown himself to be. Fred has completed 140 passes in the final third, the most in the Manchester United squad and 12th out of the whole league. Fred is quite a dangerous passer in a complimentary way. He’s always looking to play the ball forward and help the team through his ball progression. Before Bruno Fernandes’ arrival, Fred was the only player in the squad able to play that midfield-splitting ball, especially with Pogba being absent for a majority of the season. The 27-year-old can not only progress the ball through his passing but through dribbling. Fred attempts 2.18 dribbles with a 77% success rate. He might not be on the level of a prime Moussa Dembele or Thiago Alcantara, but that is still a respectable success rate and shows he isn’t a one-trick pony when progressing the ball.

It’s clear that Fred does offer a lot of positives for a midfielder, but there are obviously some drawbacks to the Brazilian’s strengths. Firstly, his desire to get the ball moving forward does bring out one of his more obvious flaws in his game; his shooting. Fred has this frustrating habit of taking shots from frankly awful positions, giving the ball away and possibly wasting a goalscoring opportunity for his team. He’s only taken 7 out of his 37 shots from inside the 18-yard box. It highlights the real issue of his decision-making. When opposition players put a lot of pressure on him, Fred can be quite erratic. When you compare Fred to someone like Verratti, their passes into the final third are very similar (Verratti has made 162 passes into the final third) but where they differ is creativity. You can make the very credible argument that Verratti averages a lot more passes into the penalty area (Verratti has made 43, Fred has made 13) because the Italian has better players in front of him and is playing under a much better coach. Still, it’s noticeable how wasteful Fred is when you compare how many shots the pair take. Verratti has only taken a single shot in the league, which further establishes just how good the former Pescara midfielder is at doing the role assigned to him. Verratti is not only a great progressor but can aid his team in the final third, something Fred is yet to do. That is the level Fred should be aiming towards, to be that complete midfielder, able to contribute in numerous ways on the pitch.

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The final question to ask about Fred is, are the drawbacks worth it? The Brazilian is a hard-working, energetic midfielder who helps United in getting the ball to the talented forwards. But he can halt attacks as they begin to look threatening if he is the one receiving the ball, instead of delivering. The arrival of Bruno Fernandes has undoubtedly taken some of the pressure away from Fred in trying to offer creativity and a goal threat. Yet, it doesn’t address the actual flaws in his game. If Fred was as good in the opposition’s half as he is in his own, the 27-year-old would be one of the most complete midfielders in the country.

Arsenal 2-0 Manchester United: A Lot of Work for Two Former Players

Arsenal versus Manchester United was once one of the most anticipated fixtures of the season. But ever since their respective longest-serving managers have departed, the clubs aren’t nearly as relevant at the top of the table.

Unai Emery’s time at Arsenal won’t be remembered fondly by anyone. Since the start of last season, there has never been a moment where Arsenal looked like a capable side, relying heavily on the brilliance of Aubameyang and Lacazette. Their shot numbers were consistently average, and there were countless games where the team generally lacked an attacking structure, struggling to break down teams like Wolves and Crystal Palace. Emery’s man-management also did come under scrutiny. His treatment of the club’s highest earner, Mesut Ozil, was somewhat baffling and continued the narrative of Emery’s difficulties in dealing with prominent personalities.

Yet, what bothered me the most was how Emery was utilising his midfielders. Since summer 2018, Arsenal have brought in several midfield reinforcements. Lucas Torreira arrived as a defensive midfielder, having a massive defensive output while being a competent ball progressor. Matteo Guendouzi was arguably the highlight of Sven Mislintat’s time as head of recruitment. The Frenchman arrived for £5 million and has done a lot more than I expected from a player coming from Ligue 2. He’s proved to be a progressive passer, even if the defensive side of his game still needs a lot of work. 

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I never liked how Emery set up these players. He’d regularly play Granit Xhaka has a single defensive midfielder. While Xhaka’s passing can make him a valuable asset to every manager who he’s played under, his lack of mobility will always make him a target defensively. It was more frustrating to see Torreira playing as a box to box midfielders and Ceballos as an advanced playmaker. While they’re versatile enough to fill those roles, it makes it difficult for them to play to their strengths. A cohesive midfield can be built with these talented players, which makes the lack of protection offered by the midfield even more infuriating.

Mikel Arteta appointment as the new Arsenal manager is the most exciting Arsenal have been for over a decade. While Arteta is an unknown in terms of how I think his team will play, some factors hint towards a man who could become the long term successor to Wenger. Generally, central midfielders are seen as the smartest players on the pitch. The likes of Sergio Busquets, Fernandinho and Marco Verratti are all excellent readers of the game, able to spot their teammates in hard to reach positions, and sense danger before any attacks materialise. We’re seeing this now with some of the most prominent managers in Europe. Carlo Ancelotti, Pep Guardiola, Didier Deschamps and Roberto Martinez, all previously midfielders, have shown to be intelligent tactically, whether through building a philosophy for their teams or showing a high level of adaptability. Arteta’s work with Pep Guardiola and experience playing under Arsene Wenger have given him a high level of knowledge from two of the games best thinkers from the century.

Arteta is clearly seen as a long-term option, but if he is to success for the next six months, he must fix the midfield and add some consistency in terms of approach and lineup. It would help evaluate the level of many of these players. Arsenal do have a lot of players I like, but thus far haven’t shown the level we know they can play at. If he can do that, as well as make them fun to watch, he will set himself up for an exciting second season.

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Since we last spoke about Manchester United, after their 1-1 with Arsenal, not much has really changed. While Rashford’s improvement in form and Martial’s return to the starting XI has helped them move up the table, the same issues persist. Big wins over Manchester City, Tottenham and Chelsea, did help push United into the conversation for Champions League football next season, especially with these same opponents dropping points at crucial stages of the season. United have been reliant on the pace in their forwards when playing one of the bigger teams, accepting that they are the underdog in these games. City and Tottenham struggled to deal with the speed in which United were transitioning. Martial would consistently drop deep to retrieve the ball, while Rashford and James would stretch the defence and use their pace to beat whoever they’re against. Manchester City consistently leaving themselves open was definitely a factor in their 2-1 defeat. However, United still deserve praise for taking advantage of the weaknesses City have gained since De Bruyne’s return.

In all fairness, their ability against the bigger sides was never in question. The problem was how they could break down teams who were willing to sacrifice possession in the same way United do. Defeats to Bournemouth and Watford and draws to Everton and Aston Villa highlighted how these issues have remained. Their 1-0 defeat to Bournemouth, in particular, was awful. A lack of chance creation and the forward line failing to get behind a rather weak Bournemouth defence. Their lack of consistency is easily the most significant issue. One week they’ll beat two of the best teams in the country, the next they fail to beat a relegation favourite.

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Yet even with questions regarding the players in this squad, having better players would fix a lot of their issues. However, I think it might be a while before United will ever be back in the conversation for a title. When hearing Ed Woodward speak on how difficult it is to sign more than three players in a summer window or the lack of value in the January transfer window, it makes you wonder if the club even want to get back to the top. A majority of the players linked to the club are usually players from Premier League clubs who would cost an insane amount of money. James Maddison, Jack Grealish, Declan Rice, John McGinn and Dominic Calvin-Lewin do fill the rather strange policy of going for British players, but there is better value out there. In the summer alone, we saw Thiago Mendes move for £20 million, Julian Brandt for £17 million and Marcus Thuram for £10 million. Even now, players like Dani Olmo and Marco Roca are available for less than £40 million. You can always find value in the market, but it entirely depends where you are looking. If Manchester United’s focus remains only in the Premier League, it’ll take years to build a cohesive squad. 

Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Manchester United was the first time I’ve managed to watch Arteta’s Arsenal, and they’re showing some promising signs. The lineup the former Arsenal captain chose was a massive departure to the defensive starting XI’s seen under Emery. Nicolas Pepe, Ozil, Lacazette and Aubameyang all started this game. These elite talents were one of the reasons why Arsenal did look so good in the first half. Kolasinac and Aubameyang linked up well on the left side, with the Gabon forward consistently staying wide, allowing Kolasinac to run with the ball through the space opened from Wan-Bissaka staying with Aubameyang. This was how the first goal was made. Kolasinac had another free sprint right at the defence. He picks out Aubameyang, who notices Pepe free in the box, and delivers a perfect ball for the Ivorian. 

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What impressed me a lot about Arteta was just how quickly Arsenal were able to get into United’s half. While their opposition do deserve some blame for this, the ways they were able to quickly create chances in the first half. They could progress the ball through the full-backs, or use the excellent passing of Xhaka and David Luiz to send a long ball into the wingers. Arsenal were really exciting in that first half, and while they did slow down in the final 45 minutes, the game was in their hands. 

Defensively, Arsenal looked very good. The attacking lineup did cause some concern, mainly if United could produce similar counter-attacks as they have done against some of the top 6. However, all of their forwards, with some garnering a reputation of being lazy, were fantastic defensively. All four of Arsenal’s forwards kept United’s defenders short of options during buildup play. Even Mesut Ozil, who many pundits have consistently labelled as lazy, made 46 pressures, more than any other player on the pitch. United were slow in moving the ball, but Arsenal made it so difficult for them. 

Torreira returned to his more familiar role as a true defensive midfielder. Xhaka was given more licence to push forward, while Torreira would ensure the defence wouldn’t be facing much traffic. It was arguably the most significant crime Emery committed; not playing one of the best young midfielders in the right position. 

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While Arsenal were more focused on holding onto their lead in the second half than truly humiliating United, that first half was such an encouraging sign for any Arsenal fan. For the first time since Wenger, they were fun to watch in a game. They were attacking with speed, dynamism and skill. The question is if they can do this consistently, but we’ll have to wait and see. 

As for United, the lack of energy and pressing was disturbing. United aren’t the pressing side they probably wish to be, but Arsenal were given so much freedom in transition. David Luiz and Sokratis had so many opportunities to run straight into midfield without a United player to close them down. Martial and Rashford looked slow in this game, and you can’t really blame them. The pair have played so much football when they’ve been available. With top four looking like a possibility and the Europa League returning in a month, I doubt they’ll ever get a chance to sit out games. They are United’s only chance of getting into the top four. If they have to rely on James, Lingard and Pereira, they’ll plummet down the table. 

Both managers are in very different places. Arteta, replacing a pretty unequipped coach, has given Arsenal players and fans something to be excited about. Solsjkaer also went through this same period, so we’ll see if Arteta can reach the same level as the coaches he’s worked with. 

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Solskjaer will be under a lot of pressure until the summer arrives. You hear a lot of trusted journalists say the Manchester United board are happy with the Norwegian, but that sense of doubt will always be there. If Pochettino wants to join the club, will they just let Solsjkaer go, similar to what they did to Van Gaal once Mourinho was available? I can’t blame Solsjkaer for all the problems. There are so many holes throughout the squad that one window isn’t enough with the lack of urgency United currently operate with. Woodward can go on and on about how difficult it is to sign players, but with players needed in midfield and attack so clear, it’ll be an embarrassment if their targets aren’t brought in by the end of June. 

 

Are Manchester United Really THAT Bad?

A lot of people are enjoying just how much United are struggling at the moment, and I can’t blame them. From the start of the Premier League to the end of the Ferguson era, a majority of football fans in England despised the Red Devils. A lot of that hate came from fans who hated their success, which is pretty standard. Most of the big clubs in Europe are hated for being big. Fans love an underdog story and seeing a team dominate makes a generally unpredictable sport, a lot more predictable. The other element to why football supporters dislike them is United’s own fans, another view I can completely sympathise. The title of ‘glory hunters’ has been placed on all United fans since the Premier League’s conception. I’ve spoken to numerous United fans in the past 4 years, and many do not follow the club anymore. I hear it’s because of the lack of entertainment the recent managers have thrived towards, but it’s clear it’s about the lack of trophies. A lot of United fans have this sense of entitlement, which means they deserve a great brand of football, young stars breaking through and winning or at least challenging for the league every season. It’s an attitude that doesn’t matter anymore when their closest rivals are just so far ahead of them. Just like Liverpool after their dominance in the eighties, it’ll take a while before Manchester United are back to battling with the best. I have to bring up the fans because it’s partly their fault that the perspective of Manchester United this season is just so negative. They have a right to be frustrated, but I don’t think it’s been as bad as in the past.

So, do I think United have been terrible? Short answer, no, but long answer, kind of. The best way to explain how United have performed is to go through some of their games, and see where they’ve gone right, and most importantly, wrong.

Let’s start with the summer. United’s approach was a strange one, wanting to stock up on their homegrown quota with primarily targeting British players. They arguably overspent on all of their acquisitions. Daniel James arriving for £18 million was intriguing because it felt like the first time in years since United bought an attacker for relatively low risk. He at least offered versatility and is very young, meaning he could either improve or United could get their money back if it didn’t work out for the young Welshman.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka arrived after a fantastic debut season. He is arguably the best defensive full-back in Europe, but there were apparent issues with signing the former Crystal Palace defender. While the defensive part of his game was never in question, Wan-Bissaka simply wasn’t offering a similar output as the full-backs in the top six clubs. He’s a decent dribbler but wasn’t creating chances for Palace. With United spending so much money on the 21-year-old, you have to hope Wan-Bissaka simply develops into a great attacker, or Solsjkaer can turn him into an excellent full-back.

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Maguire was the final signing. No one can argue that United haven’t overspent on the former Hull City defender, but at the same time, he was a definite improvement. Maguire is a very progressive defender, being comfortable on the ball and a capable distributor on the ball. In transforming the Red Devils into Solsjkaer vision of a more exciting team, having a defender like Maguire would help United when facing those teams who set up in a deep block. He is also fantastic in the air. His size and jump make him not only a great defender when facing taller strikers, but giving any team a considerable advantage on set-pieces, a part of football that many teams are desperate to find more value from. He scored five goals for Leicester, and while that doesn’t sound like a lot, it’s when he scored those goals which is noteworthy. He scored winners or equalisers against Southampton, Liverpool and Manchester United, gaining Leicester some valuable points. Manchester United have been mediocre at set-pieces for years, so bringing in a threat like Maguire could help in their push for top four. Maguire still has an obvious flaw in his game, and it worries me that the most expensive defender could be exposed by certain opponents. Maguire is slow, noticeably slow. United were likely to field a high line, to bring the pressure onto their opposition and to take advantage of actually having ball-playing defenders. The problem they were going to face is the likeliness of a pacey forward getting the better of Maguire. It is a problem that was obvious at Leicester, but having a more defensive system did protect them from forwards with a burst of speed. A sensible signing, but far from value for money.

These three signings did bring a boost to the club; addressing their most significant issues. It’s something United have consistently never done. Whether bringing in Anthony Martial on deadline day back in 2015 because they forgot they only had a single striker or spending £60 million on Fred when midfield, at that point, wasn’t as clear of a priority as a centre-back. Like me, you can question the value United can get out of these players, but at least they were targetting the right players.

The biggest issue with United’s summer was the players they let go, combining well with the other personnel issues they failed to resolve. Letting Herrera go was by far the strangest decision they made in the summer. The Spaniard did add a lot of defensive output some bite in a team that lacked a bit of character. Not only was letting him go on a free a stupid idea but not replacing him with a player who could bring the same defensive work as Herrera did was by far the worst part of United summer. It meant they were going into the season with an ageing Matic, a disinterested Paul Pogba, an average Scott McTominay and an underwhelming Fred. It was so bad that Pogba would have to play a more restrained role, something he can do, but it isn’t what he should be doing. Solsjkaer would also be hoping that Fred could find some form for the first time since arriving in Manchester. It left United at such a disadvantage. When Manchester City bring in Rodri, Tottenham with Ndombele and Arsenal with Ceballos, it made United’s goal of reaching top four even harder.

Selling Lukaku on paper isn’t the worst decision. It was clear that Lukaku’s type of player wasn’t needed, so getting their money back was the right thing to do, but not replacing him was crazy. I love Rashford and Martial and asking for tremendous seasons out of the pair is realistic, but on the slight chance they didn’t or currently in Martial’s case, injuries, it was a lot of pressure on the rest of the team and especially young Mason Greenwood, who is seen as United’s next breakout star.

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So, after a very mixed summer to say the least, how have United been in the league? Well, unlucky would be the best way to describe it. There are many reasons for this, but let’s go through their league games so far, and see how they’ve performed. Starting with their 4-0 win over Chelsea, which lead to a lot of early excitement. Scoring 4 goals at home against one of their top 6 rivals was huge, but the performance did bring optimism and apparent issues. The first half was a bit of a mess. The players looked incredibly, struggling to break Chelsea down and getting dispossessed rather easily. However, Rashford’s penalty changed the whole game. It’s a simple observation to make, but it forced Chelsea to play on the front foot, which allowed United to play to their players’ strengths, on the break.

The signings of an aerial-dominant Maguire, a defensive machine in Wan-Bissaka and a blisteringly-quick winger in James, that it set up United as a fantastic counter-attacking side, and luckily they were playing against Chelsea, who we now know quite-regularly give away excellent goal-scoring chances. This wasn’t an incredible performance from Manchester United but was extremely sufficient. They had 5 shots on target in this game and put away four of them. This might be the only time United can be described as clinical so far this season

Their 1-1 draw to Wolves is the start of a recurrent theme to describe Solsjkaer’s side: unlucky. Manchester United dominated against a Wolves side who, for a majority of the game, were playing rather negatively, sitting back and allowing United to have their way throughout the game. Wolves could have easily beaten United if they weren’t so safe, but they did help expose some of United deficiencies in the final third. United did have a majority of the ball, but only managed 9 shots with 2 on target. For years, United have struggled to break down teams who set up in a deep block. They even showed this in both of their encounters against Wolves last season, drawing the first game at Old Trafford and losing the reverse fixture. Under Van Gaal, it was down to a tactical plan that simply didn’t work. Under Mourinho, it was down to absolutely no idea in the final third, and now under Solsjkaer, it is quite different.

It’s strange to see United struggle so much when during the start of Solsjkaer’s reign up until the Liverpool game, they looked really good. They were setting up in a 4-3-3, with Rashford, Lingard and Martial playing as interchanging forwards, with Pogba advancing really far up the field. In 10 appearances, Pogba contributed to 13 goals, Rashford with 7 and Lingard and Martial with 4 each. During that strong run, the main criticisms faced, from myself included, was the opposition they were facing. But these were the same type of opponents they just couldn’t beat in the previous 4 years. It was a breath of fresh air to see United not only beating opponents they should be beating but winning with a bit more style. It wasn’t like watching Manchester City or Liverpool; however, it was a vast improvement over the football Manchester United fans had to sit through since Ferguson’s departure. Their attackers were finally allowed to express themselves instead of being held back from the manager’s ineffective systems or personal feuds.

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This game (and most of the games so far this season) just highlight the hole Herrera has left upon his departure. Having a downright weak midfield like this means they have to be protected. Pogba has moved back into a double-pivot, a role that doesn’t play to his strengths because he is receiving the ball far deeper. His key passes are still at a high 2.6 and puts up over 1.5 dribblers per game. The problem is he’s taking fewer shots than before, going from 3 last season to 1.8, highlighting how his role for the side changed from attacker to a deep creator. McTominay has looked okay in midfield, but he seems to be only playing because the players behind him in the pecking order are that bad. Matic is arguably one of the worst signings post-Ferguson, and Fred has been a disaster. McTominay does deserve credit for performing well, but improving on him wouldn’t be that difficult.

Manchester United have been unfortunate to be where they are in the table. They conceded a wonder goal to Ruben Neves and had a penalty saved against Wolves. Their 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace can also be seen as unlucky, with Rashford hitting the post from the penalty spot and a well-taken goal from Van-Aanolt misleading De Gea. If this game were played 10 times, United would win nine of them. The Red Devils dominated this game and definitely deserved more than a draw.

The next game was an improvement in performance, but United failed to get the three points, getting another 1-1 result, this time against the Saints. Southampton are usually a pretty good defensive team, but United did create some good chances, with Rashford having three that could have easily been goals. However, the problem for United here comes back to the midfield once again, but this time it’s all Pogba. It’s pretty well known how much criticism he has faced since his return to Manchester, but that is primarily down to expectations. I think he has been fantastic and United’s best outfield player. He has obviously had games where he has had a minimal impact, but overall he has been great. He’s had to do everything for United, and even more pressure is placed upon him when Pogba clearly wants out. The problem for United is when Pogba is either not playing or pressed out of a game, they can struggle to create any sort of chances. Even against Southampton, where they did manage to reduce his impact, Pogba still made 4 key passes and completed 4 dribbles. Without Pogba, United are half the team they want to be and need him if they want any kind of success this season.

A deserved win against Leicester and an arguably unfortunate result against West Ham (the performance was still pretty bad, but West Ham weren’t entirely deserving of the 3 points) did correctly show just how inconsistent United have been this season. However, you kinda have to feel sorry for Solsjkaer, He is making mistakes himself, and we will get onto that very shortly, but the lack of players he has to choose from is painful. With Pogba and Martial, their best attackers, missing games this season, the players United have to select as their replacements is pitiful. They simply lack forwards. Rashford has been playing with some sort of injury for months, and the likes of Mata, James, Lingard and Pereira are simply not good enough to be starting every week, but that’s all that Solsjkaer can really choose. His team will only be able to perform once Pogba, Rashford and Martial are fully fit. Without those three, there is not a single game where United should be considered favourites for a football match.

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So let’s actually get onto Solsjkaer. Like I said before, the first two months of his reign were very good. It wasn’t like watching United return to their treble-winning best, but their best players were playing at their level for the first time in months, which sometimes is enough to carry you on the short term. United’s 4-3-3 worked well with the players they had looked to finally be the right system to fit all of their players. However, Herrera’s departure and his lack of replacement meant Solsjkaer simply didn’t have a midfield good enough to dominate while also allowing Pogba to push forward. He had to go back to the relatively stale 4-2-3-1 because there aren’t many formations that can play to United’s strengths right now. They simply don’t have the full-backs to play a back three, the midfield to play a midfield three or the strikers to play an old-school two-striker system. It’s pretty dull to watch, but until the club actually buy good players, it’s hard to see United changing.

I watched their game against Arsenal a couple of times, to see just how they play, and find out what’s working and what isn’t. Let’s start with United in attack. Firstly, I need to mention that Arsenal were playing Callum Chambers at right-back. While not a bad player, no one is quite sure yet what his best position is. United look to attack down the flanks, starting with the left, taking advantage of Arsenal’s clear weak point. Pogba was being tightly marked by Torreira. The Frenchman would usually drop deep to leave space James to be picked out by one of the defenders, or make the pass himself. The problem with this approach was that James just isn’t good. If Martial or Rashford were playing in that position, United would have been more successful. United wanted to isolate him, but nothing was really coming from it, so they started going down the right side, with Kolasinac being pretty bad defensively. Pereira and Young are bad, with Pereira being so underwhelming when in possession and Young playing at a point where he should be retired. To help a pretty inadequate pair, Rashford was consistently making runs into the right channel, with Pereira dropping deeper to allow Young to pick Rashford out. 40% of their attacks came down the right side, and no one touched the ball more than Young for United. Solsjkaer did set up his team in the right way. They were trying to expose their opponent’s evident weaknesses and consistently attempted to create chances down the wide areas. The problem, as it has throughout this lengthy analysis, has been personnel. If United had better right-sided players, they might have had more success in creating good chances.

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Even on the defensive side, United did pretty well. They played a pretty high line and put a lot of pressure on Arsenal’s midfielders, especially Guendouzi. While the teenager is clearly talented, he still possesses immaturity that will eventually be faded out of his game, but right now it is a weakness. At times, United were putting him in a three-on-one situation, and it did work, disrupting Arsenal’s build-up play. United were genuinely good in the first half, but the second half started pretty bad. They were being a lot more direct in possession and lacking that same aggression in the first half. For 15 minutes, Arsenal not only scored but deserved to score a couple more goals, if Torreira managed to get a better connection with the ball. United’s defenders’ concentration dropped, and Arsenal were quick to take advantage of that.

The last 20 minutes of the game was scrappy, to say the least. Both teams were desperately searching for that winning goal, which never came. It was the first time this season where United actually lost on xG. The second half was not good and was the worst United performed all season defensively, especially for their goal, with the whole back four at fault for Aubameyang’s goal. Maguire played him onside, Lindelof was out of position, Tuanzebe lost possession and Young didn’t make much of an effort to stop Arsenal’s Gabon goal machine.

I have been somewhat defensive of United so far. Even including that goal conceded against Arsenal, Solsjkaer’s side has remained pretty solid defensively. They’ve only conceded 8 goals this season, with understat placing them top of the league in terms of xG against. Of course, the inferior opposition they’ve faced has made it easy to look that good, but they’ve still looked mostly good against Leicester, Arsenal and Chelsea, who are all looking to sneak into the top 4. Maguire and Wan-Bissaka’s arrivals have made a massive difference in defence, and merely having defenders who are confident on the ball does make them a better team. The 4-2-3-1 Solsjkaer chooses to deploy could help too, giving the defence a lot of protection. Defence has been United’s problem for years, but finally looks resolved.

The problem with Solsjkaer’s Manchester United is just how bad they are in the final third. Again, Martial and Rashford not being fully fit is holding them back, but the lack of ideas when in the opposition half is hugely troubling. Their general shot quality is poor, and have struggled to create high quality chances for the forwards. Having Pogba roughly 10 yards further back than last season doesn’t help, but United’s general approach in games is reminiscent of the same problems witnessed under Mourinho, being a lack of a plan. The players seem to have no idea what to do. Again, United are good on the counter-attack and signing 3 players that benefit playing in that style does massively help. But United aren’t going to be playing on the counter-attack against every opponent. They will have to bring the game to their opponent, something they’ve failed to do in any game this season. United’s shot volume is high, but the problem is where they’ve taken them. While they rank 5th in the league for shots per game, they rank 12th for shots in the penalty area. They’re 17th for dribbles per game, and 2nd for most times fouled per game. The Red Devils have heavily relied on penalties and set pieces for goals. They are awful at set-pieces. When the only decent chance they created against Newcastle was a corner, that Maguire missed, there are apparent problems. United have been unlucky and are massively underachieving xG for, but that isn’t defending the lack of chances created.

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So if I was Solsjkaer, what would I attempt to do to fix these obvious problems. The midfield is holding them back, so I’d try and put Wan-Bissaka in there. A lot of fans have seen his massive defensive output and decent dribble numbers and think he at least should be tried out there, and I agree. Full-back is a position you don’t tend to want to play when going through the academy. When you look at some of the most prominent full-backs right now, Kimmich came through as a midfielder, Marcelo a winger and Pavard a centre-back. It’s a position you can fill pretty easily, with players who have significant engines and are at least competent defensively. United would look a lot worse in the full-back areas on the short term, but midfield is such a problem that it needs to be fixed immediately. Moving Wan-Bissaka into a more central position would allow United to go back and play a 4-3-3 with good players. The 21-year-old could fill that huge Herrera shaped hole and let Pogba play further up the pitch. McTominay has performed as the more defensively minded midfielder this season, and while he has been decent, I think I’d still look for an improvement. He’s a fine recycler of possession but just doesn’t have the same ambition and confidence in possession Pogba shows. Moving Wan-Bissaka is personally the best method to get United properly playing a 4-3-3, without including Matic and Fred in the starting XI. This change in formation pushes Pogba further forward, and if Martial and Rashford and stay fully fit for most of the season, it would at least make them okay in chance creation and remain solid.

They should definitely get kicked out of every cup competition. They simply do not have the squad to compete in more than one competition. Their league form is becoming embarrassing, and if Solsjkaer does want to push his ideas onto this team, the painful schedule is the last thing this group of players need.

This has been very long, but there was a lot to say here. United haven’t been good, but they haven’t been nearly as bad as under Mourinho. The players being targeted are still a step in the right direction. They’re a lot younger, and Solsjkaer has gotten rid of a lot of players who didn’t fit what he wanted to do, as well as players who shouldn’t have been there. If the United legend did get sacked in the coming weeks, he would probably be remembered in a slightly negative fashion, for the lack of points they’ve gathered since that PSG game. He further shows how stupid the United board are in terms of managerial appointments. I still don’t know what style of play Solsjkaer wants to play, but I’m at least curious to see where this goes. I’d like to see him stay because he could continue to make a more coherent squad since Ferguson, and give future managers a better chance to succeed at the club. Sometimes these lows can lead to massive highs, so let’s hope that’s what will happen with England’s biggest club.

Manchester United’s Baffling Transfer Policy

In a recent post, I discussed Zlatan Ibrahimovic and why I think he was United’s best signing of the past decade. His towering presence arrived after multiple summers of underwhelming arrivals that showed how United were without a cohesive plan in how they wanted to recruit. They were obsessed with bringing back success as quickly as possible without any regards to sustaining it. Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City all had long term visions and have succeeded in bringing their respected clubs into the spotlight across Europe. United needed a plan, and people who knew how to execute it.

This summer was planned to be the departure from those shirt-selling superstars and a push to bring in players who could execute the system that Solsjkaer wanted to deploy. There was an emphasis primarily on British/Irish players, young guys with previous experience playing in England. It explains the signings of Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka and the strong links to Harry Maguire and Sean Longstaff. This approach does make a lot of sense for United. The Red Devils have had high profile flops in Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao, Memphis Depay, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Alexis Sanchez and the club wanted to move towards players with lower wages and a desire to play for arguably the biggest club in England. Young British talent have been everywhere for the past couple of years, and it is clear there are some very talented players. The under-20 side who won the World Cup, Chelsea’s youth teams over the past couple of years and the most apparent reason for this policy, Jadon Sancho’s success at Dortmund. The club does not want to have the same problems they have had with Sanchez, high wages no one else is crazy enough to pay and get players who could add something to the side while possessing resell value.

As expected, I have a massive problem with this. The approach is admirable, but the execution is terrible at the moment. I still really like the signing of Dan James, and while he won’t be a starter, he has something to offer the team and didn’t cost a tremendous amount of money. Wan-Bissaka is another who I have no problem with. The England Under-21 full back was an obvious signing, and the fee is reasonable for the best defensive prospect in Europe. But the other recent links to the club make no sense from a financial point of view, an essential factor for Manchester United. I cannot emphasise this enough, but the top 6 clubs should never deal with the mid-table clubs, like Leicester, West Ham, Crystal Palace and Everton. You are guaranteed to be overcharged for players and are forced to pay the British premium. You could easily find better deals elsewhere or from clubs in the Championship. United only seem to be going for the most well known British players, instead of attempted to go under the radar. Why not take risks on guys like Kalvin Phillips, Philip Billing, Reece James or Matt Grimes. Football is a sport that has a history of rooting for the underdogs, and while seeing a £50m player perform is satisfying, it’s also expected. Seeing any low-cost player arrive with no fan fair and become an essential first team player is still a great site, similar to how Robertson, Alli, and Gomez have become vital to their teams.

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This recruitment of young Britsh players seemed to be the priority this summer, yet United have found themselves in the hunt of a big money signing, predominantly Bruno Fernandes. This is a player that United should avoid. I do think Fernandes is an excellent player and had a fantastic season in 18/19, contributing to 33 goals in just as many games. He’s a fantastic creator and is never afraid to take risks in the hunt for goals. I have reservations on the Portuguese international, the first being Liga NOS. Like the Eredivisie, Liga NOS has had a reputation of being a flip of a coin. You could get a player who could become one of the best players in his position, similar to Pepe, Cristiano Ronaldo or Deco, or get a player who isn’t good enough for a top 5 league, like Jackson Martinez, Nani or Renato Sanches. You have to take their form with a pinch of salt. If Jonas and Bast Dost can be the best goal scorers in the league, there is a definite talent gap. The idea of United spending up to £60 million on a player, when they are rumoured to only have £100 million to spend is insane. This would only seem likely if United managed to sell a lot of assets, but that isn’t happening. I can only see Fernandes coming in if Pogba was to be sold, but that would be a massive downgrade. Pogba has been fantastic during his United career and still has a lot more to give, while I look at Fernandes and think that could be his best output. This is just another example of United failing to see the promise in players. Fernandes was absolutely superb before his move to Sporting. Why the club only sign players when they have had headline seasons is baffling. They should be signing players before their actual value is discovered.

Bruno Fernandes has dominated the summer window, but another player who has been heavily linked to the club is Wissam Ben Yedder. The Frenchman has been one of the best forwards in La Liga with his clinical finishing and solid hold up, highlighting him as a potential replacement for the outgoing Romelu Lukaku. Ben Yedder has been one of my favourite strikers in La Liga since his arrival, but this another move I would recommend United making. Ben Yedder is 28 and would cost United up to £35 million, a lot for a player without any resell value.

Signing younger players is very important for United at the moment. It’s clear that their chances of returning to dominance is not happening while Liverpool and Manchester City are at the top. They need to make long term investments to ensure they will eventually reach the same level as their rivals. Signing players in the profile of Ben Yedder work when your club are on the brink of success and just need that push. This has been done throughout the Premier League era. It began with Eric Cantona becoming the figure of Ferguson’s early success, to Claude Makalele joining Chelsea to start their dominance in the mid-2000s and most recently David Luiz returned to Chelsea and pushed to win a league title. If United managed to sign Ben Yedder, he would be a success, but the club would arguably waste his best years in football. If United were closer to their rivals, this would be a must signing.

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While bringing in players is a priority in pushing United to the next level, it is so vital they finally get rid of a lot of the dead weight in the squad. Six players need to leave the club ASAP, and that isn’t even considering the potential departures of Pogba and De Gea, two of United’s most important players. When you look at the team that City were before Pep’s first title-winning season, the difference in quality is frightening. City went out and fixed all of their problems quickly while letting their senior players out of the club. Selling Fellaini back in January was the right move. He was the representation of the darker years of Manchester United in the Premier League era and felt like a step in the right direction by selling him. The same needs to be done to the likes of Jones, Smalling and Darmian, players who cannot offer enough in the long term for the club and their exit could finally signal the transition into a new United, a team which focuses on building a team, something that has been lost since Ronaldo’s departure.

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Romelu Lukaku and Overperforming Expected Goals

Stats have always had an involvement in football. Many like to believe that the use of statistics in football has only been relevant since Opta began using them back in 2003. The beginning of statistics can be traced back to after the Second World War, with Charles Reep attempting to prove how the W-M formation should be played, by highlighting how many goals and attacks were scored by 3 passes or less (he’s also seen as the founder of long ball football). It has gained mainstream recognition in the current decade. Shot locations were highlighted, passes in the final third, saves per goal, chance creation. These are some of the stats that have been seen as very useful for proving the strengths or weaknesses of certain players. One statistic that has been revolutionary in the past couple of years has been expected goals. It is a metric that can determine the strength of the chances being created. It can help highlight how well players are doing in front of goal. When you watch a game of football, it can be clear which side deserved to win. Expected goals gives a number to that, making it simpler to understand how some games were played in case you didn’t have the time to view it. While many have some serious dislike towards expected goals, I don’t think it is as impactful as many want to believe, simply a tool to help analyse football even further.

One use of the tool is to analyse strikers, especially their finishing. When a striker underperforms his expected goals, it shows how he is missing chances that he should be scoring. However, if they are overperforming expected goals, it shows how a player is scoring chances that many other players couldn’t, proving they’re elite finishers. We’ve seen this in the past with Harry Kane. He is arguably the best striker on Europe, and consistently overperforms expected goals. Last season, he finished the campaign with 30 goals, but xG predicted he should have scored 26. It just further highlights how good of a finisher he is. Another player who has shown himself to be an elite finisher is Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian forward has been one of the most consistent strikers in the Premier League, never failing to score less than 10 goals a season, since his loan move to West Brom. While he did perform very well under Roberto Martinez, it was his final season for Toffees that showed why clubs were ready to spend huge amounts of money on the forward. He scored 25 goals under Ronald Koeman, but xG showed he should have scored 16. He was scoring chances from very difficult areas. Many of his goals that season were headers too. Headers are always less likely to go in compared to a shot from a stronger foot. Lukaku had a fantastic season, which persuaded Manchester United to spend £75 million on him. However, it is already well documented that Lukaku hasn’t been at his best for the Red Devils. Let’s look at what’s went wrong for him.

Lukaku had a solid debut season. He scored 16 goals in the league and was one of the better performers in a United side that was inconsistent, to say the least. His build-up play was showing improvements and began looking like more than the strong poacher we all knew him to be. The issue he had under Mourinho especially was he wasn’t being played to his strengths. Mourinho has had a history of preferring strikers who are able to hold the ball up effectively and bring others into play. While Lukaku does have the strength and size to match up with some of Mourinho’s most effective forwards, he has never had the technical ability to do so. He is at his best when balls are played through to him, instead of to his feet. He has always used his physical dominance when chasing balls to push opposition players away. He has always been a lethal finisher, with physical traits that gave him an advantage over other poachers in the game. He was being called Chicarito with a gym membership last season, and it can be hard to argue that to an extent. Poachers are something we do not see much of anymore. Managers want strikers who are able to do so much more than score goals. It’s why players like Giroud, Benzema, Costa and Griezmann have earned so many plaudits in recent years.

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While Lukaku’s buildup player will be a criticism for the rest of his career, the most worrying part of his game at the moment is how he is doing in front of goal. United have had a massive creativity issue for years now, with fullbacks being relied on for chance creation, fullbacks like Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia, players who haven’t been good creators for the last 5 years. it means Lukaku is feeding off scraps to an extent, but the player does deserve some criticism. He has been criticised for not asking questions of opposition defenders and it’s easy to see why. So often in games, Lukaku will drop deep to receive the ball, taking the easy option instead of making threatening runs beyond defenders. It’s why Rashford has been such a breath of fresh air whenever he plays. He is a player with pace and stamina to burn and is constantly making runs into the channels, trying to make defenders uncomfortable. Lukaku isn’t doing the same, and United are losing that bite in the final third, whenever Lukaku starts on his own. There is still some sympathy to be had for the player. After a long season for United, which saw him barely be rested by Mourinho, he then went to the World Cup and played nearly every game for Belgium. Like Kane, he showed a lack of sharpness for the first few months of the season. He was rushed back thanks to Mourinho constantly complaining about his issues with the squad. What Lukaku needs at the moment is a serious break, to recover and come back to his best.

Solskjaer has rumoured to be selling some high-value players in the squad, with Lukaku being among them. Inter Milan are the club with massive interest in the striker, with Antonio Conte wanting the striker while he was at Everton. Do I think he would succeed in Italy? He would fare much better over there than he would at United. Serie A isn’t nearly as demanding as the Premier League, which would put less pressure on elements like pressing and buildup play. Inter have been playing to Icardi’s strengths for years, so it wouldn’t be much of a change in having a similar player. His shot numbers and key passes have been declining since his time in Manchester. A change of scene might be exactly what Lukaku needs. He is still one of the best finishers in Europe but needs a side who is willing to play to his strengths.

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Marcus Rashford and Fulfilling Potential

There’s always been a question on when do players hit their peak, but the problem is it’s a question with not a single answer. Certain players hit their peak at an extremely young age, similar to how Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney are seen as players who never aged as well as many wished, but in reality were at their best in their early twenties. It can work the other way too, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic not showing his best until he was in his thirties. It’s not to say these players didn’t play a role before or after their best years, but they will be remembered for the days where they were unbeatable on the pitch.

In discussion of players hitting their peak, Marcus Rashford is the player who we will be looking at today. The Englishman has been a key member of United’s squad since his breakthrough back in 2016. In a season that consisted of a lack of goals, Rashford coming into the scoring with nearly every shot he was taking was just perfect to see, even if it was not sustainable. His time under Mourinho can be difficult to describe. Some of his strengths truly started to blossom. He showed himself to be a very versatile forward, being able to put in good performances playing on either wing or as a central striker. His strength and power were improving every week, and add that to player who already had pace to burn, it built a recipe for a player with the physique to succeed at the top. While his new found versatility was a good asset, it was seen as block to halt his progression. Mourinho’s lack of trust in Rashford to lead the line for his side meant his chances to play as the number 9 were very limited. He couldn’t learn how to play in his preferred position because he wasn’t as big as Zlatan and Lukaku. It meant that when he was one on one with the goalkeeper, multiple times he would make the wrong decision. The moment that springs to mind would be United’s 2-2 draw to Leicester in the 2017/18 season. It was Rashford up against Schmeichel, and seemed to not know what he wanted to do, and he ended up wasting a chance, taking too long to make a decision. When Mourinho’s United collapsed as expected, Rashford was one of the few players to keep any semblance of a good name, and he continued and even improved on that when Solskjaer arrived. Rashford finally started to fulfill that potential. In the first couple of months of Ole’s reign, Rashford seemed to go out on that pitch with a point to prove. The forward went out on that pitch with a point to prove, to show that he is ready to become the first choice. Rashford’s shot numbers finally started reaching elite levels, with the FA Cup winner hitting 5 shots in many games. His shot locations could definitely improve, but it’s showing a desire to score that he seemed to not have. He was the first player to truly get what Solskjaer was trying to implement, and showed the rest of the league what this United team could be. He combined that excellent finishing from his time under Louis Van Gaal, with the added physique from his time under Mourinho, to make a striker who finally showed just why his old Dutch manager put him in the first team. He’s now taking 3.1 shots per 90 (it would be much if his time under Mourinho was discounted) and is also creating 1.3 chances per 90. Rashford is on a respectable 10 goals in the league, but would be higher if he positive runs were rewarded. Rashford is great at finding space to exploit, and his first thought is always to attack.

However his good form was put to a halt thanks to an ankle injury against Manchester United’s biggest rivals, Liverpool. The forward hasn’t looked the same since, with that risk and energy not being an ever present. Even when looking at United’s historic comeback against PSG, Rashford had a bad game. While he did score the winning penalty, it was clear that he was still struggling with that injury, and it meant that United did miss some great chances to seal the game early. His decision making is still a bit of a concern. While he is fantastic at getting into goal scoring positions, he will occasionally make the incorrect decision. In the first couple of minutes at the Nou Camp, Rashford had a chance to put United back in the game, yet decided to try and lob the keeper, ending with the ball going over the crossbar. It’s very clear where he needs to improve, but those are elements he can improve on over time. Rashford has the blueprint to succeed at the top level, and for now he needs that brake over the summer, to get back to full fitness and show the world next season why Solskjaer trusted him so much at the beginning of his reign.

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Juan Mata and the Slow Decline of Number 10’s

Not so long ago, the number 10 was seen as one of the most valuable and sought after positions in world football. They were seen as the creative hubs of the side in charge of chance creation, but like many elements of football, it was just a trend. Thanks to managers either preferring the side to be more defensibly solid from every area of the pitch, it meant the once favoured attacking midfielder was replaced. Many players who were born to play as a number 10 had to adapt or be left behind, and many did so. Marek Hamsik turned into a goalscoring number 8 for Sarri, Dries Mertens turned into one of the best poachers in Serie A, and Di Maria already turned into a very good winger. While these are some of many players who succeeded in transitioning into another position, there are still some players who aren’t having a similar success. Oscar left Chelsea thanks to not being able to have a role in Antonio Conte’s 3-4-3 system, Mesut Ozil seems to not be wanted at Emery’s Arsenal and James Rodriguez looks to be struggling for Bayern, even with his good performances. It’s a shame that these players are struggling, but it’s just how football works. It’s a sport that goes through trends and right now it’s a position that isn’t favoured.

The player who we’ll be talking about, regarding this decline in the desire for an attacking midfielder is Juan Mata. He arrived in England in 2011, when he was signed by Chelsea for £26m from Valencia, and was truly loved at Stamford Bridge. He won the player of the season twice in both of his full campaigns, and truly lit up the league. His departure from Chelsea is still seen as rather baffling. Mourinho let him go because he didn’t think he did enough defensively to start over Oscar. After their relationship soured, he joined Manchester United for £37m. While many do not like Mourinho, me included, he was right on this. It became even more apparent when Louis Van Gaal joined the club in the summer of 2014. He originally found game time difficult, with record signing Di Maria slotting right in at the beginning of the season, however he did eventually find a space on the right side of a 4-1-4-1. While his numbers were never spectacular, he still contributed under Van Gaal with some important goals and kept the side moving the ball in the final third. He played in every Premier League game in the Dutchman’s final season, and his numbers showed this to an extent. He completed 47 passes a game, the second highest in his United career, was taking 1.5 shots and rarely was getting dispossessed. His chance creation was low at 1.4 but that’s more of a problem with Van Gaal’s incredibly pragmatic system. The problems that Mata was suffering from during his time at United were struggling to fit his skill set in a side that didn’t have the space for it. Players like Jesse Lingard and Henrik Mkhitaryan offered more off the ball and were quicker. Mata couldn’t play in the middle because he didn’t have enough defensively to play as a number 8 in a 4-3-3, and couldn’t play outwide because he didn’t have the pace and dribbing. While Mourinho did use him more than any expected him to, the issues didn’t get better as he aged. His disadvantages have became even more apparent under Solsjkaer. The former United striker wanted to impliment a pressing style in the side. While this did bring the best out of the likes of Rashford, Lingard and Herrera, Mata is a play who has not had the same boost. Mata just doesn’t have the same speed and energy as Lingard, and whenever he replaced his teammate, it just showed how out of his depth Mata seems to be in this sort of system. Mata is and always will be one of the most technically gifted footballers United have seen in the last 10 years. His reading of the game, combined with his ability at finding space in the final third make him a useful player, but not in the team that United aspire to be.

It’s discussions like this that make football sound harsher than it can be; adapt or be left behind. While this usually happens with managers, Mata highlights just how prominent it can be with players. This isn’t to say that number 10’s are prehistoric, but at this moment they are just out of trend. It means players, like Mata just have to try and find a way to continue to perform at the top level. Many players have figured this out, but unfortunately some can’t, and must wish they were born earlier, so they could truly have the great career they deserve.

Most Overrated Manager? Ranking All 20 Premier League Managers

I’ve been meaning to do one of these lists for a while, but because of the whole manager merry go round that is the Premier League, I decided to wait for the season to reach a point that contained an element of stabililty. The table doesn’t look like it will change from now on so let’s rank all 20 Premier League managers. There is definitely some controversial choices here, but this list isn’t permanent, meaning these could change by the next year. I do believe that needs be stated, so let’s begin

    20. Scott Parker – Fulham

By far the easiest choice here. This isn’t anything personal against Parker. The former England midfielder has only been in the job for a handful of games, meaning it is difficult to judge him. Parker took charge after both Jokanovic and Ranieri failed in keeping Fulham out of the relegation zone. Fulham do not look like they will be appointing another manager, and right it seems to be damage control. This has been a failure of a season for Fulham, and now Parker has been left in a very difficult position. Let’s hope he can find his feet in the game and recover from being in this circumstance.

    19. Jan Siewert – Huddersfield

Another who has joined a sinking ship, Jan Siewert is another I sympthaise for. His appointment seemes to be in the hope of regaining promotion back into the Premier League, instead of survival. Huddersfield are already one of the lowest scoring teams in Premier League history, and have a squad that is arguably worse than some teams in the Championship. The fact that Huddersfield survived last season was nothing short of a miracle, and now it seems reality has hit them. A poor summer window just showed that this is a side that just isn’t ready for the Top flight, and need time to establish themselves as a bigger club. I have no idea if Siewert is the right manager to do that, but he seems to be a long term fix, rather than trying to fight the inevitable.

    18. Chris Hughton – Brighton

While I do like Hughton as a coach, being able to build a solid defensive structure and having experience in getting sides promoted, the disconnect between transfers and coach seem to be so apparent that it makes Hughton a very frustrating figure. When teams get promoted, what they need most is creativity and to beat the teams closest to them. Brighton did this, mainly down to Pascal Gros bringing the chance creation that he showed at Ingolstadt, and was the main reason why Brighton stayed up. Other signings like Matt Ryan and Davy Propper helped in this regard too. It is clear that whoever is in charge of Brighton’s transfers is incredible at finding great talent for very reasonable fees. They did similar business in the summer, with talents like Bisouma and Jahanbakhsh arriving, but this is where my frustration with Hughton is from. The higher ups at Brighton are bringing in very talented footballers, yet Hughton just isn’t playing them. Bernardo, who arrived from RB Leipzig, has played less games than 30 year old Gaetan Bong. Jahanbakhsh has only started 6 games, while Anthony Knockaert, one of the worst players in the league, has started 15. While guys like Sarri and Guardiola can get criticised for never changing the way they play, Hughton is being gifted improvements over the players he has, and isn’t using them. They have one of the best defences in the league, if Hughton actually decides to start his best players. I just worry for Brighton. I do not like to see clubs who are doing good things struggling because of one man refusing to use his best tools. It wouldn’t surprise me if Hughton is let go in the future at some point

    17. Eddie Howe – Bournemouth

While many might see this and disagree, I do believe he is the most overrated manager in the league. I think there is an element that the English media wants to see an English manager succeed, especially when they are young and have built a football romance story by getting Bournemouth to the Premier League. This doesn’t change the fact that he isn’t a great manager. By far his best quality is building solid attacks. Howe has been given some very good players in Wilson, King, Fraser and Brooks. He uses these players very effectively, and has been able to get all of these players into the same team, and working well. Fraser is only behind Hazard in assists in the league, and has turned into one of the most effective wingers this season. David Brooks is currently having one of the breakout seasons, scoring some important goals and showing himself to be a very flexible attacker. Howe has turned Bournemouth into a fast, counter attacking side, and has shown some adaptability in changing his style. By far the worst part of his Bournemouth side is their inability to defend. Bournemouth have conceded 56 goals this season, with all sides in the bottom four conceding more. It means that Brighton, Southampton and Newcastle, all sides below them in the table, have better defences than them. Newcastle and Manchester United both face roughly same amount as shots as Bournemouth, yet have much better defensive records. It shows that Bournemouth are giving their opponents great chances to score, consistently. The argument is made that they are a small club, yet both Hughton and Benitez, two managers working with more of a budget, concede less goals. Until Eddie Howe learns how to actually build an effective defence, no club will consider him. He is still young however, so there is plenty of time for him to learn.

    16. Neil Warnock – Cardiff 

While his methods of coaching can definitely be questioned, there is no argument that he is a specialist in promotion. His Cardiff side were arguably the worst out of the 3 sides that got promoted last season, yet they still deserved to get promoted. He is an old fashioned coach who likes an old fashioned way of playing, and it is very effective. Before the season started, I thought they would be going straight down. They didn’t seem to recruit in the right areas and were going to have to be very lucky to survive. Somehow Warnock is doing the impossible, and is getting the best out of what he’s got. They are one of the best sides in the league when it comes to aerial dominance. They are good at creating chances too. The Welsh side have taken 1.1 shots a game from inside the six yard area, only 6 teams are ahead of them, and are actually better than Chelsea. Warnock has even been saying at the beginning of the season that surviving was nearly impossible, and he was right. They haven’t been great, but they haven’t been nearly as bad as Fulham and Huddersfield. They rank bottom for possession and passes, yet Warnock has kept them out of the relegation zone for most of the season. From moving Callum Paterson from full back to a striker, dragging every ounce out of 34 year old Sol Bamba, and fitting Camarasa and Josh Murphy right into the side, he is getting the best out of what he has and is giving them a chance of survival. They have been on the end of some huge defeats, that will happen when you have a Championship level squad. What he has done for Cardiff is another achievement for Warnock. Even at the age of 70, he still remains a good manager in improving a side on the short term. I like Warnock, but there are 15 other managers who I think are better.

    15. Sean Dyche – Burnley 

It might sound stange, but there are some clear similarities between Sean Dyche and Diego Simeone. Both build very resilient back lines, use two blocks of four to defend, and require a lot of defensive work from all their players. One other similarity is how they are awful at using more flair players. While Dyche doesn’t have Lemar, Carrasco, Gaitan and Martins as a list of failures, there are stll some clear standouts. Nakhi Wells is the first. He was the first of a few attempts to add something different to his attack. It didn’t work out in the slightest, and is now at QPR. Another player who came in was Steven Defour. At the time, I thought he was a very good signing, but it’s a shame he didn’t play much. Last but not least would be Vydra. The Czech Republic striker had came in after having a steller season with Derby, and like the others, just hasn’t been getting the minutes. Dyche is just afraid to risk that small chance of relegation, in favour of spicing up is attack. While Burnley did really well last season, their drop off was expected. Dyche was defying expected goals. By putting nearly all of his outfield players in the 18 yard box. It tricked the system because even if the opposition were getting in good positions, they were never having clear shots at goal. It did also help that Nick Pope had a great season, and made sure that Heaton’s presence wasn’t missed. Burnley’s luck has just ran out. They have struggled all season defensively and struggle in creating good chances. Without that solid defence, it puts even more pressure on the forwards, and aren’t producing. Dyche does things that I like, but he might need to start changing his methods. It’s a shame too, because this team still contains good defenders, but maybe using Vydra, and not building a defensive system based on luck isn’t a great idea. I trust that he could do this, but if they do not improve, they might be trouble.

    14. Marco Silva – Everton

I liked what Marco Silva had done with Hull. He turned a side that had less than 18 first team players at the beginning to the season, to giving them a fighting chance to stay up. He continued this good work at Watford, where he made a hard working side with a real attacking drive. It didn’t end well for Silva in London. After accusations that he was starting to look unfocused, after interest from Everton, he was sacked by Watford. It was still understandable. These accusations happened while Watford were in dreadful form, so it was quite understandable. He has since joined Everton, where he has been hit and miss. He has improved the attack. The toffees have went from 9.4 shots a game to 12.1. They’ve already scored 43 goals, one less than they managed in the entirety of last season. He has given some consistency to the team and has given the team some flexibility. They aren’t as predictable as they were under Allerdyce. Richarlison has been a huge signing for them. He has continued in getting into great positions, just like he was at Watford. The difference is he is now scoring them. The attack has improved, but the defence is the problem. Setpieces are the biggest concern. By the 6th of February, no other Premier League side had conceded more goals from set pieces than their 11. They use zonal marking, like many sides, but the problem for a majority of the season is they aren’t very good at it. They have improved slightly in recent weeks, but it just hasn’t been good enough. There was always a huge gap between the goalkeeper and defence, meaning it’s simple as one good ball into the near post would gift a team with a goal. As mentioned, Silva has improved in this area, with their 2-0 win over Chelsea showing this, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Their home form has to be better. If they want to be considered European football contenders, they have to stop losing in a ground once considered one of the toughest to go in England. Silva still seems to have a lot to learn in the game, and it’s why he is so low down on this list.

    13. Javi Gracia – Watford

Now onto Marco Silva’s replacement at Watford. Javi Gracia came in with the job of damage control. Watford had a strong start to the season, but thanks to a very poor winter period, they needed a boost. Gracia did that, and after a summer that saw improvements in the goalkeeper and forward departments. For the first time, Watofrd didn’t go crazy in the transfer market, and instead were willing to get the most out of what they had. Gracia has now built a very direct, aggressive and physical side that are deservingly in the top half of the table. They have been quite fortunate in a handful of games however, with their 5-1 win over Cardiff definitely flattering to decieve, but they have been winning games and playing to their strengths. No other side in the league attacks more centrally than Watford, with 31% of their attacks coming through the middle. He full backs provide width, while Troy Deeney gives an aerial threat that is almost umatched in the league. I like how Gracia has finally made Watford a real tough team, without having to spent much at all. Instead he made a system that gets the most out of the tools he has, and it makes a lot of these players look great. Deulofeu is finally looking like a good footballer, and Jose Holebas is having a real standout season at the age of 32. He’s found a core group of players he can use and the players seem to enjoy what he’s doing.

    12. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – Manchester United

While many might see this and think why is the current Manchester United manager not even in the top 10 managers in the league, well I have my reasons. I still believe that any manager could have came in and improved the squad in the same or similar manner as the Norwegian has done. United fans a lot of the media see this appointment and love it in the romantic sense, which is understandable. It’s good to see a former player come back and join the club where he had plenty of success, and the fans still love him. But many are overlooking the obvious. The first and most obvious is that any manager could have came in and improved this squad after the disaster that was Jose Mourinho. If a manager came in and just played Pogba and Martial, you would have a clear improvement. It’s why I find what he’s done so far not that impressive. When United have been very fortunate in games against Tottenham and Paris, there is an element of the truth being hidden by the scoreline. United did not deserve that win against Paris. They only created 2 chances, and on any other day, they would not get that comeback. I do like some of the changes that Solskjaer has made, including playing to Rashford’s strengths and bringing the best out of Ander Herrera, but I do think if United want to insert themselves back into the European elite that they so crave, they must at least try and look at someone like Pochettino. With the fans and media both saying that Ole should be given the job permanently, it means the board might not even try looking at a director of football or even another manager. Every top club now has a director of football, someone with a clear view of where the team will be in the next 5 years. Solskjaer could definitely become an elite manager, but having a world class would at least make the prospect of joining United more tempting.

    11. Roy Hodgson – Crystal Palace

Out of all the managers, Hodgson’s position on the list is very questionable. When he arrived at Palace, his failure with England was still fresh in the minds of many, so his appointment was definitely a strange one. He was also 69 at the time, which meant it wasn’t exactly long term. I only think Palace are one of the top 10 teams in the league, and a lot of it is down to Hodgson. He’s the first manager to truly get any sort of consistency out of Wilfred Zaha. He turned Palace into a speed machine. With dynamic fullbacks in Van Aanholt and Wan-Bissaka (one of the best full back pairings in the league) running up and down the wings, and Zaha and Townsend adding that sprinkle of unpredictability, it makes them a very good side against any opposition. They are also aggressive. Wan-Bissaka, McArthur and Milivojevic are all great at winning back the ball. They play in a direct and straight forward way, but it’s so effective. Palace are 7th in shots per game and are 3rd in dribbles. While both are mostly down to Zaha, they are still great to watch. Hodgson has done wonders and done something no one would have expected. I put him over Solskjaer because he pulled off an impossible job at the time, and if Palace just had a striker with actual confidence, they could really fight for a top 10 manager. An old manager who seems to still have a bit of life left in him.

    10. Manuel Pellegrini – West Ham United

Now onto the top 10, and first it’s West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini. West Ham have been a real laughing stock of the Premier League for the last 2 years. unplanned signings, bad protests, owners leaking transfers, hiring David Moyes. These are just a few things that made West Ham impossible to take seriously. It all goes back to that awful stadium move, but after nearly 3 years, they seemed to have finally settled. Last summer was the first time West Ham seemed to make smart business. Issa Diop, Balbuena, Fabianski, Yarmolenko and to top it all off, Felipe Anderson. The Brazilian has been West Ham’s best player all season, and arguably the best player they have had in the last decade. He’s an excellent dribbler and everything good that West Ham do goes through him. Even though he is going through quite a dry patch, with Anderson failing to score in the Premier League in 2019. He has still been really good and has been the boost they need. Pellegrini has mostly used a 4-1-4-1, to give midfield protection and make sure they aren’t exposed on the flanks. It worked well, with the side being great to watch in attack and having the occasional good defensive display. Pellegrini has made them unpredictable to say the least. One game they will put in an unbelievable display and beat Arsenal and Manchester United, and another they conceed 3 to Huddersfield. He has still improved that defence, and has found new life in Snodgrass, Zableta and Cresswell, players previous managers didn’t favour. He’s actually built a functional midfield out of a group of players that I never thought would do anything. Rice is now one of the names on everyone’s lips, with the now England midfielder looking like a solid distributor. There is still plenty of work to be done for Pellegrini, but he has given them a future.

    9. Rafa Benitez – Newcastle United 

How Rafa is still at Newcastle I will never know. The Spaniard has proven to be one of the best defensive managers in Europe. Newcastle have an owner who almost refuses to invest in the club, and it’s left Rafa with one of the squads in the league. Almiron has recently just broken a 14 year old transfer record, held by Michael Owen. He has been a massive boost for them, adding that creative spark they previously didn’t possess. Benitez is in the top 10 for the reason of being able to keep this side in the Premier League. You give this team to any other manager in the bottom half of the table and they would struggle to stay out of the relegation zone. However thanks to Benitez adding that solid defensive structure and midfielders like Hayden and Longstaff covering the backline, it has made them one of the toughest teams to break down. The only reason he is not any higher is because while they are a defensive side, they can be a bit too pragmatic. Throughout the season. Rondon can be seen so isolated, because they are so focused on keeping goals out instead of scoring. This has been different since Almiron’s arrival, so let’s hope Benitez can bring Newcastle back to their glory days.

    8. Brendon Rodgers – Leicester City

This might be one of the toughest to defend, but I do believe Rodgers is a great manager. He gave Liverpool a genuine hope of a title, even if Manchester City were always better (sounds familiar). The problem he had Liverpool were making really bad decisions in the transfer market over and over again, and it left him with a really difficult squad to work with. He did make plenty of mistakes along the way, but his time at Liverpool should still be looked at one a more positive note. He then went to Celtic and actually imprvoed them. They went unbeaten for nearly 2 whole domestic campaigns. While they were embarrased multiple times in Europe, they are Celtic, so not much should be expected. He’s arrived at Leicester with the hope of making them more consistent. Puel is a good manager, but he was making decisions that were baffling at times. Dropping Vardy, putting Pereira as a winger even though he is one of the best tacklers in Europe and starting Morgan way more than he should be. Leicester have the best squad outside of the top 6. Some of the best full backs in the league, One of the best creators and prospects in Maddison and other young players like Ndidi, Chilwell, Iheanacho and Barnes. Rodgers has a great group of players to work with here. He started his first game against Watford with a 3-4-3, and he’s on the right track. Why have wingers when you have incredibly good full backs who will provide plenty of width. It means Maddison can play further up the pitch, and when he’s averaging 2.9 key passes, that’s what you want to do. I am very excited to see where Rodgers will take this side. Next season they could be one of the best attacking sides in the country.

    7. Nuno Esperito Santo – Wolves

Nuno Esperito Santo has taken the Premier League by storm. Wolves are one of many clubs that have risen since massive investment, but one massive difference has been they have constantly made good decisions. During their last season in the Championship, they focused on bringing a handful of players on loan, like Diogo Jota and Willy Boly. Soon as their promotion was confirmed, the first thing they did was sign these guys on a permanent deal, to keep the chemistry in the squad at a high. Great signings like Jimenez, Patricio, Jonny and Moutinho have given them one of the strongest starting 11’s in the league. Nuno was so happy with his side, that he just didn’t change it. He kept the same XI for the first couple of months, because of how good they were performing. Nuno had made the side so difficult to deal with, especially for the big sides. Intelligent passers in midfield, wing backs who comfortable in defending and get into good areas and a defence that has continued so strong from the Championship. The addition of Patricio has made this side even better, adding an experienced goalkeeper with great shot stopping and distribution. Wins against Manchester United, Tottenham and Chelsea, and taking points off City and Arsenal have made them a side to be feared. The best thing about Nuno is he wasn’t afraid to change it. After a few bad results, the former Porto manager realised a midfield two of Moutinho and Neves just doesn’t have the legs to compete against more energetic midfields. After losing back to back against Huddersfield and Cardiff, Nuno tweaked his side a little and changed from a 3-4-3 to a 3-5-2. He dropped Helder Costa, who wasn’t performing consistently enough, and added Dendonker to give the midfield some energy. He has never looked back since. They are now able to control games much better and even counter with better quality, since Jota and Jimenez are now closer together. Nuno has built a side that are great defensively, and create high quality chances. They have a great group of players, and a top level manager to push this side to upset the rest of the league.

    6. Ralph Hassenhuttl – Southampton

Putting a manager who’s side is battling relegation might be quite left field, but there are reasons why he’s so high up. Let’s start with his Leizpig side. Hassenhuttl built a great young side, which saw the best seasons from Emil Forsberg and Naby Keita, and saw them finish runners up in the Bundesliga, ahead of the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke. It was clear that the Austrian took insperation from Jurgen Klopp, with the east German side pressing aggressively from the front. It’s what made them such a threat, having players with the ability to go head to head against anyone. Southampton have had a clear drop off since the departure of Ronald Koeman. While Puel wasn’t bad, they were hoping for more from him. Pellegrino turned out to be an awful appointment, but it was the appointment of Mark Hughes that made me almost lose hope in them. Hughes is just really bad and it seemed to be a sign of desperation. However after they finally made the right decision in sacking him back in December, they appointed Hassenhuttl, which was very reminiscent of the smart choices they made in Koeman and Pochettino. He has so far been a success. While he still seemingly struggling to find his best XI, he is making slow progess. For years, Southampton were an example of a side with good full backs, but after both Bertrand and Cedric forgot how to attack, Hassenhuttl put young full backs Matt Targett and Yan Valery into the side, and it has given them a huge boost. Targett has already got 3 assists this season, more than anyone else. While Valery hasn’t been sensational, he has looked very good and shows more courage to attack than Cedric ever did. He has made Southampton better in midfield and has helped Bednerak and Vestergaard establish themselves in the league. If Hassenhuttl is given time and backing, they could go back to a side who were fighting for European football.

    5. Unai Emery – Arsenal

The top 5 from here aren’t really any surprises, but some managers here I haven’t actually spoken about at any point. First is Emery, who while hasn’t been the instant hit, has shown a lot of promise. His appointment back in the summer felt like it was out of nowhere. It’s strange to think that, but I almost forgot that he was available. With Allegri and Tuchel on the lips of all Arsenal fans, it was expected that they would have tried harder for one of them. This isn’t to say Emery is a bad appointment, in fact I really like it. He has always been good at getting the best out of players under his management. While they have not been as good in attack as they were under Wenger, they have improved defensively. Bellerin, Kolasinac and Holding are all having their best seasons in an Arsenal shirt, he has also gotten the best out of the signings. I criticised Arsenal’s business in the summer, and rightly so. They didn’t bring in another defender, since Mustafi just doesn’t look good enough. Sokratis was seen as the worst for me. I never understood all the praise he was getting in the Bundesliga, with his positional sense being questionable at best and his recklessness making him a liability on the pitch. He has not been as good as the likes of Laporte or Rudiger, but has put in some big performances for his side. Emery also has got both Aubameyang and Lacazette firing, with the pair scoring 29 goals in the league. He’s also getting a lot out of fringe players like Guendouzi, Ramsey and Mkhitaryan and Iwobi. He’s given this side a boost and has attempted to even get Ozil to work in his system. He’s been very impressve in some of the big games. Wins against Tottenham, Chelsea and Man United, and even taking points from Liverpool. He has shown versatility and has changed his approach against tougher opponents, known his side can’t out play them. The Europa League will most likely define their season, and they have been very good. While they suffered a big defeat to Rennes away from home, Emery has still been smart in squad rotation. He played a lot of young talent in the group stages, giving them the opportunity to give the manager plenty to think about. Emery won this compeitition 3 times on the bounce, so it’s an area you expect them to succeed in. Progression has been there, but slow. You can trust Emery to advance Arsenal even further in the next couple of years. With the likes of Aybameyang, Sokratis, Ozil and Koscielny all approaching the latter years of their career, there is a lot of work to still be done.

    4. Maurizio Sarri – Chelsea

Sarri has been getting a lot of criticism in recent weeks, and a lot of it is understandable. I still do not understand why he has been playing Ross Barkey over Loftus-Cheek. Barkley isn’t as intelligent as his England teammate, and is poor as a number 8. I do think he has made some mistakes, but it seems the criticism that Chelsea fans are aiming at him is quite extreme, regarding his lack of squad rotation. The Chelsea board should have known what to expect from him. Sarri rarely ever changed his Napoli side, with players barely being given a chance to play. Ounas and Rog didn’t even start a game last season in Serie A, and 10 players started over 30 games. The XI was only changed when Ghoulam suffered a serious injury, which resulted in Mario Rui coming in. Sarri likes to play a core group of players and stick to it. This strict approach has caused some players to miss out on game time, and has also exposed some of the weak areas in the team. Marcos Alonso has shown himself to be one of the worst left backs in the league, with his lack of speed and defensive awareness, it makes him so easy to beat. While I like Azpilicueta, he just doesn’t contribute enough in the final third to justify starting him. Chelsea are already at a massive disadvantage next season. This squad needs a lot of work, and now without the ability to buy players in the summer, it means they cannot improve. Sarri is a great manager, but you need to give him what he wants. He obviously has problems with this squad, but now is unable to solve them. Sarri is still a great manager. His Napoli side was one of the best in Europe at ball progression, and successfully turned Insigne, Koulibaly, Jorginho and Hysaj into some of the best players in their positions. He also got the best years out of Higuain and Hamsik. Sarri’s Chelsea have shown many times that there is definitely potential to see a real great side here, but patience is needed. This isn’t like having Conte or Mourinho, two managers who can instantly improve a side. If Chelsea want to see success under Sarri, they need to give him time, even under the most difficult circumstances. The Blues aren’t exactly in the best position to be looking for managers, so it’s important that Sarri is given the time and resources he needs. He will build a spectacular side, that will challenge across the board. His sides play football in the way the world want to see it be played, and it’s why I constantly defend him. He’s above the likes of Emery and Nuno because I know just how good his sides can be. He has a philosophy and style that guarantees long term success.

     3. Jurgen Klopp – Liverpool

While I can assure that my ranking of the last 17 managers has been subjective to say the least, I’d be surprised if anyone disagreed with the next 3. The argument of winning defines a manager is a one I can’t disagree with more. A manager not winning trophies should not discount the work and improvement he has done, and Jurgen Klopp’s work should not be forgotten. He has taken Liverpool back to the top of world football, with smart spending, a positive brand of football and even taking advantage of set pieces, Klopp has added elements to the side that make them challenge contenders. Soon as he arrived in England, players like Henderson, Milner, Coutinho and Lallana all finally started showing the potential they had. He turned Liverpool from a side overreliant on individual talents from the likes of Suarez, Sterling and Coutinho, to building a functioning team with a way of playing that revolves around defending from the front and almost being the weakness to possession sides like a Barcelona or PSG. While the cash has definitely been splashed, with players like Alisson, Van Dijk, Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlein all coming in for big money, but it’s what has to be done. He’s blended big signings with players who can add something to his team. Robertson, Wijnaldum, Shaqiri, Matip and Alexander-Arnold adding some balance to the side. What I’m most impressed about with Klopp is the changes he’s made to his side. Last season, Liverpool were a machine going forward. They were arguably the second best team in the Premier League last season, and even broke the record for most goals in a single Champions League campaign. They were ruthless in the final third, but the other areas of the pitch needed fixing. Bringing in Alisson gave them a better distributor in goal, and adding more of a presence there. He also gave his midfield better ball carriers, with Keita and Fabinho adding that extra bit of quality that improved an area which was exposed in last year’s final. These changes allowed Klopp to play a less heavy metal approach, and give his side a much better defence. They’ve also not been pressing as much, since he wants to compete on all stages, instead of having to focus on a singular competition. While they have had some bad performances this season, Klopp has arguably made the best Liverpool side of the century. They’re flexible, solid and have finally looked like the team that could keep Liverpool as European elite for a long time, and having a manager who gives Liverpool such a scary image is exactly what they needed.

     2. Mauricio Pochettino – Tottenham Hotspur

Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Toby Alderweireld, Heung Min Son. These are just some of the players who’s price tags have sky rocketed since Pochettino arrived in England. the former espanyol manager successfully turned Tottenham from a punchline, into the best side in London. The main reason why he’s so sought after for clubs like Manchester United and Real Madrid is because of how he can bring the best out of players, and is incredibily versitile. Pochettino has been able to make plenty of in game adjustments, whether it’s changing from 3 to the back to 4, or adding an extra striker up front. He has given his side the ability to be able to change formation and systems on the fly. The most impressive display from Pochettino was actually against Manchester United at Old Trafford earlier in the season. Pochettino made roughly 8 in game changes throughout the game. Moving Lucas into a central position, moving Dembele deeper, asking Kane to move a bit deeper. It’s what makes Tottenham so difficult to play at times, because you do not know how they will approach each opponent. While Tottenham have arguably had their worst season since 2014/15, this might actually be Pochettino’s best. He’s been struck with injuries all over the park, and has been using everything he has to get Champions League football. He got a man of the match performance out of Jan Vertonghen at left back, and even got some spectacular performances out of both Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko, a sentence I never thought I would say. He has done so much considering the situation. While they have dropped off in recent weeks, the fact they have stayed this competitive just speaks volumes on how good of a manager Pochettino is.

     1. Pep Guardiola – Manchester City

Who else? Pep Guardiola is not only the best manager in the league, but in the whole in Europe. He has built some of the best sides in the game’s history, and this Man City side is among them.  Pep has built a side that is nearly unbeatable on their day, with their losses usually going down to missing key personel. Many like to point out that Pep didn’t need to do much since his club have spent an obsene amount of money, but these are arguments that hold no real weight. Sure having some top quality talent helps, but Pep’s touch on this side cannot be argued. He turned Raheem Sterling from an inconsistent winger into a certain PFA player of the year contender. John Stones’s reading of the game has grown since his arrival in Manchester. He has even gotten some of the best year’s out of City legends Aguero and Silva. His biggest achievement by far was how he adapted. His first season in charge was definitely a learning curve, with humiliating losses to Everton and Leicester highlighting just how much work needed to be done. He instantly fixed his full back areas, to give his side much more in the wide areas, and to keep Sterling on the right side, and Sane on the left. It was to ensure that they could receive the ball wide, and when you have incredible passers in Silva and De Bruyne, it makes it really easy to beat those deep blocks that City struggled to break down in his first season. When you also add the best distributor in his position in Ederson, it gives City an almost unlimited amount of ways to transition the ball. It’s thanks to having a manager, who has learnt and added more to his game as the years go on. He is the manager that every club wants and dreams of having.

 

What Is WRONG With PSG? Manchester United vs Paris Saint-Germain – UEFA Champions League Review

When this tie was drawn back in December, it looked like the game was already over. PSG were flying under Tuchel, and while they had their defensive problems, having Mbappe, Neymar and Cavani instantly made them favourites. United on the other hand were having their worst season in a very long time. Mourinho had clearly lost the players and was almost asking to be sacked, however this all changed before the first leg. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came in and gave United the boost they needed, and looked like they couldn’t be stopped. Paris were in a worse situation. They weren’t playing Rabiot because of his refusal to sign a new contract. He was carrying that midfield for a majority of the season, and it looked like they would massively suffer without him. What made it worse was that both Neymar and Cavani both picked up injuries, leaving that front 3 missing 2 of it’s most senior players. It left the tie more open than anyone expected.

Let’s start with the first leg, with ended 0-2, thanks to goals from Mbappe and Kimpembe. Many were truly underestimating the French champions in this game. Many pundits and fans thought without Neymar and Cavani, it would be difficult for PSG to pick up a result. But they all forgot how good of a coach Tuchel is. He is one of the best around, able to adjust his system for whoever he is facing, while also having a very clear identity. He was able to turn both Pulisic and Dembele into some of the most desirable players in Europe. Tuchel got his tactics spot on against United. His plan was to cut their supply lines by putting Marquinhos very tight on Pogba, United’s best player. This worked, with Pogba having a difficult game, ending up with the Frenchman getting sent off for a stupid challenge on Dani Alves. While Paris looked like they set up in a 4-2-3-1, it looked more like a 3-4-2-1. Dani Alves looked more like a wing back, and Draxler and Di Maria were playing more like second strikers, with a weak United defence being quite easy to exploit. PSG nullified United’s attack, while also taking advantage of their weaknesses. It was almost a perfect performance in a knock out stage, and was a massive step up from their struggles against Real Madrid last year.

United on the other hand has massive struggles, but it’s hard to place blame. The Red Devils lost both Lingard and Martial to injuries, and were forced to bring on Sanchez and Mata, who both could not replicate the same energy and speed on the counter attack as the players they replaced. While Martial and Lingard weren’t exactly great, they are more of a threat. They would have always left United with an option to get back into the game. What PSG noticed and took advantage of is just how left sided United are. With Pogba, Shaw and Martial/Sanchez being their most creative players, PSG decided to double up in that area, and it left them much easier to deal with. United have almost no option on that right side, with Young being very wasteful in the final third, and Lingard being given more of a free role to move inside. It’s a problem they need to address in the summer, and with rumours of Jadon Sancho being possibly brought in, it could leave that problem being resolved very quickly. United failed to create any good chances in this game, and were punished with effieciency from PSG, and Solskjaer was taught a big lesson by one of the best managers around.

The tables were turned for the second leg. Thanks to a tough game against Liverpool, United were left with even more players out injured, with the total being 10. The possibility of United advancing to the quarter finals was at 4%, making it an impossible challenge. Yet they managed to do it. I will go on later about the main reasons on why they did so, but there were still impressive parts to United in this game. While Paris were missing good chances and were so much worse than they were in Manchester, United still defended very well, with Lindelof, Smalling, Shaw and McTominay all putting in great performances to ensure they could hold on to their advantage, when the game was getting tough. I saw some United fans say it was some master class approach from Solskjaer, when it really wasn’t that impressive. He started Eric Bailly as a right back, which as seen under Mourinho, doesn’t work. He gets caught too easily and seems to not understand what a defensive line is. While Solskjaer did bring on Dalot to replace him, moving Ashley Young to the right back position, it did seem like that was the decision he should of made in the first place. United weren’t as incredible as many said they were. Now with time to reflect and emtion out of the window, it’s clear to see that United took advantage of 3 mistakes, but held on impressively.

What even happened to Paris on this night? They arguably were deserved of the win, but that isn’t saying much considering United as a whole only created 2 chances in the game. Mbappe and Di Maria both had chances to win the game for their side, but didn’t take them. There was still an element of a side who already thought they were through, so didn’t have to try their hardest to win it. It’s an approach Madrid also favoured against Ajax, but there is a difference. Madrid are the holders so they have a somewhat right to be arrogant. Paris on the other hand do not. They have failed 3 years in a row now, to reach the quarter finals and prove that their costly investments are paying off. Instead they looked so casual and didn’t have the same desire they showed in the first leg. You can question United all you want in this game, believe me I have, but one thing that cannot be argued is they went in there with the hope to win that game. All the players on pitch turned up and players like Fred and McTominay had arguably the best games of their United careers. PSG didn’t and were punished for their lack of concerntration throughout the game. I do think they still have plenty of room to improve. Those full backs still need improving, with Alves and Meunier not being good enough to win this competition. Lo Celso is also set to return, which will give them a player who I am very fond of, for being able to do everything in midfield. They’ll need another midfielder, with Rabiot on his way out in the summer, but if they improve these areas, they will become more competitive than ever before. I just wish they took advantage of the gift of being the only big club in Paris. Players like Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe, N’golo Kante, Anthony Martial and former PSG midfielder Blaise Matuidi. No other city produces talent like this. PSG seem to be taking advantage of this on a small scale, with Moussa Diaby, Nkunku and Kimpembe all finding their feet in the first team, but they have to start dominating from the academy level. They let Mbappe slip out of their hands to another rival, as well as players like Kante leave the country. They also do not dominate on the domestic front as Juventus and Bayern do. Juventus are great at this. They sign players from all over Serie A, to show the domination and weaken the sides around them. Paris do not do this. It’s frustrating because I believe that every side in Ligue 1 has a talent that could be at a bigger club. Thuram, Savanier, Jullien, Sangare, Lala and Atal are a few players that Paris could sign. While most wouldn’t start, they could send some of the younger players on loan, and find out if they are worth keeping. Something at Paris needs to change, if they ever want to be taken seriously as the European powerhouse they claim to be.

Will Solskjaer Get the Job FULL TIME? Manchester United vs Paris Saint-Germain – UEFA Champions League Preview

By far one of the clashes of the tournament. The french champions go against a high flying Man United side. It’s a tie that could go either way and it’s very difficult to even predict this, but I’ll try my best.

Let’s start with Manchester United, who three months ago, would have made this fixture so easy to predict. Under Mourinho, this side were absolutely awful.There was no clear future and seemed to change how the team set up in every game. In the end, why even blame the players when the manager was doing so much wrong. Now under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, they look like a completely different team. They attack much faster and take advantage of the incredibly talented attackers they have. Who knew that playing Martial and Pogba, two of the most talented players in the team, would help win games? Since the Norwegian has taken over, United have closed an 11 point gap, to overtaking Arsenal and only a win away from top 4. They are unbeaten and even beat Asenal and Tottenham in the process. Even looking at xG, only the Tottenham game can be seen as a game where United rode their luck, but you can do that when you have one of the best keepers the game has ever seen. I think what’s most impressive about Solskjaer so far is just how quickly he identified the problems. He brought Herrera back into the team and made Martial and Rashford key players in what he was trying to do. This is the best United have been playing since Sir Alex retired, and is arguably the most likeable United have ever been.

Their key player for this fixture is not even a debate, and that is Paul Pogba. The Frenchman’s form has been next level in recent months. He has more goal contributions than any other Manchester United player, and is performing at the level we all knew he could reach. Pogba has always been incredible for United, but now he’s adding those goals and assists that all of his critics have been craving. His numbers have been absolutely sensational this season. He’s taking 3.5 shots a game, making 1.6 key passes and completing 1.9 dribbles. No other United player ranks higher in these departments. He is essentially carrying the attack and he seems to be loving it. He is especially good when it comes to counter attacks. It’s an approach that the team have been using in the tougher games, and thanks to Pogba’s strength and vision, it’s working. While Pogba as been the best player, Marcus Rashford isn’t far behind. The forward was one of few players who showed a lot of fight even when Mourinho was at the helm. He has been the first choice number 9, since Lukaku just doesn’t look up to it in this system. Rashford’s speed and ability to interchange with the other forwards making an unpredictable threat. His shot numbers since Solskjaer took over have gone to Harry Kane numbers. He’s averaging 5 shots a game, and is really looking like a player I never thought he would be. It’s great to finally see the 21 year old look like a player who truly is deserving of starting for the club.

Let’s look at Paris, who while having a record breaking start to the season, amassing 14 wins in a row, seems to be surrounded by off the pitch problems. The first seems to be Thomas Tuchel’s transfer demands. The former Borussia Dortmund coach seems to have this reputation of having high demands. He fell out with the Borussia Dortmund board because of the issues he was having regarding transfers, and it seems to have continued him into the French capital. Before the season started, Tuchel made it very clear that full backs he had were in his view, not good enough. With Thiago Motta retiring, it left Paris without their best defensive midfielder. What made things even worse was Rabiot’s contract situation. He was refusing to sign a new deal, because he wanted to play for Barcelona. The board did not like this, so Tuchel is now not allowed to play him at all. The problem is none of these issues have been resolved, and it has left Tuchel very frustrated. Juan Bernat was the only full back that was signed in the summer, and only last month the club decided to replace Motta, with Leandro Parades, a player who I really like. The problem is it should have never been left this late. They are still a midfielder short, and with their failed attempt to bring in Idrissa Gueye from Everton, it has left Tuchel wondering if his club really want to win the Champions League. Their performances in the league have been amazing, but you expect that. When you some of the best attackers in Europe playing in the worst out of the top 5 leagues, of course they are going to perform exceptionally. If you just focus on their performances in Europe, there is a significant difference. That is going to happen when playing better opposition, but it’s staggering how much of a difference there is. Mbappe, Neymar and Di Maria have stayed consistent, but the likes of Bernat, Cavani, Kimpembe and Marquinhos all look worse. It does address a problem this side have. Many of their players just aren’t elite. They have these high ambitions of winning the Champions League, but you look at the other top teams, like Juventus, Barcelona and Manchester City, they have talent in every area of the side. Paris’s full backs aren’t good enough, and have a lot of players starting to age out. It isn’t their fault entirely. They play in a league where attracting talent can be difficult, but it begs the question why not focus on their domestic league? Ligue 1 is not as competitive as other leagues, but you can go into every single team and you would be able find one talent that is stand out. Sangare, Thuram, Pepe, Thauvin, Aouar, Atal, Lala. My point is they should be smarter regarding bringing in talent. It has hurt Bayern to an extent, but Juventus and Lyon have all excelled when finding domestic talent. They are the only top club in Paris, so why do they not use that pull to bring the best talent in the country?

Anyways, lets look the players that Manchester United should truly be worried about. There is no other place to start than arguably the best young talent in the history, Kylian Mbappe. The World Cup winner has actually taken his game to a whole new level this season. With Neymar mssing both fixtures thanks to another injury, the pressure is on the young forward to step up on the big stage. While Neymar was comfortably their best player in the group stages, Mbappe was still amazing. He started all 6 games, and finished the group stages with 7 goal contributions, the same as his Brazilian teammate. No other player in this side was taken more than his 3.1 shots per 90. He was thir most lethal player in the box. With Neymar dropping incredibly deep in some games, it left Mbappe as one of the most advanced players. He was also creating 2.3 chances a game, and even completing 2.5 dribbles a game. He will be a massive handful for which ever defenders are selected for the game.

With Neymar out, there was also concern that Marco Verratti would also mix the tie. Thanfully for Paris, he will be available for this game. Verratti has been the best midfielder in France and one of the best in Europe. He has been in the Ligue 1 team of the season every year for the past 4 years (Don’t quote me on that). Even after initial problems with Tuchel, with the German claiming Verratti was overweight, he is back to his best this season. In the Champions League, he was averaging 85 passes a game. No other player in the squad was making more than the Italian international. He also had the highest pass accuracy than any outfield player to start more than 1 game. He was winning the ball back more than any other Paris player, with Verratti making 4 tackles a game, twice more than anyone else. He is the reason why the French champion’s midfield is even functional. His distribution and ball winning ability make him essential in linking the defense and the attack together. Without him, they look so much slower and have less of that drive in the midfield. He is a vital player to PSG.

If Manchester United want to progress to the next round, there is one thing they must do. Play on the counter attack, in a similar fashion to how they did against Arsenal. They play full backs that love to go forward, but don’t have the speed to get back if United move the ball. Rashford, Martial and Lingard have to start this game. If Rashford and Martial split wide, it will make life very difficult for their defense. A lot also rests on Paul Pogba. Their midfield isn’t the strongest. If the Frenchman can use his incredible athletic ability and passing range to find the forwards, it’ll mak United very difficult to deal with. They are missing their best player, so it’s vital that they take advantage of that.

If Paris wish to advance to the quarter finals, they must attack more centrally. While Herrera and Matic have both been good under Solkjaer, Herrera has this habit of going out of position to recover the ball, and Matic is also very slow. You expect intelligent passers like Verratti and Parades to find the holes to get through the wall. It also helps that United’s defense has this habit of making mistakes. Mbappe and Cavani have to make sure whoever is playing with Lindelof is the one receiving the ball. Lindelof is the only one with the confidence to try and break out of the line. If you limit United to goal kicks and long balls into the channels, it makes dealing with their attack much easier. While they have improved, there is definitely still a Mourinho-sized shadow looming over some of these players.

This tie is so hard to predict. Paris can beat anyone on their day, but their inability to deal with sides with good wingers makes them quite easy to beat. Liverpool and Napoli proved that beating this side is not difficult. United have proved that they know how to deal with tough away games and come back with the 3 points, as seen by their wins in North London, but Europe is an entirely different stage. I think I’ll go for a United win. Tuchel still hasn’t got this side as good as it should be, and with their midfield looking worse than the Red Devil’s, it is just the perfect time to play them.