International Reds: Martial scores, Pogba runs the show and De Gea keeps a clean sheet

Manchester United had six players selected for internationals on Thursday evening with David De Gea and Juan Mata representing Spain against Belgium, with Marouane Fellaini on the sidelines through an injury sustained against Hull City at the weekend. Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba represented France against Italy, with Matteo Darmian and Morgan Schneiderlin unselected to represent their countries. Daley Blind faced Greece with the Netherlands and Antonio Valencia represented Ecuador as his country faced Brazil. Here is how I feel the Manchester United players fared during their time on the pitch for their countries on Thursday evening.

David De Gea – Belgium 0-2 Spain

Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea started in the 2-0 victory over Roberto Martinez’ Belgium in their friendly ahead of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers next week. De Gea played 90 minutes in the victory. The Spaniard flapped at an early cross, which gave the home side a chance, which did not come off. De Gea was largely solid for the remainder of the match, something he has been for United for the past three seasons. Spain scored in the 34th minute through David Silva with Diego Costa assisting in the goal. In the 62nd minute, Spain was awarded a penalty after Jordan Lukaku fouled Vitolo in the box, a player who had been giving the Belgian problems throughout the match. Silva stepped up to take the penalty, making it 2-0 to Spain, which was the final score. The squad will now head into Monday’s FIFA World Cup qualifier against Liechtenstein ready to take their first points in their possible qualification for Russia 2018.

Next Match: Liechtenstein – FIFA World Cup Qualifier – Monday 5th September 2016, KO 19:45 BST

Juan Mata – Belgium 0-2 Spain

Juan Mata was an unused substitute in the 2-0 victory over Belgium. The Manchester United midfielder has earned his place back in the Spain squad after some decent performances. Perhaps the midfielder can play against Liechtenstein on Monday?

Next Match: Liechtenstein – FIFA World Cup Qualifier – Monday 5th September 2016, KO 19:45 BST

Anthony Martial – Italy 1-3 France

Anthony Martial played the first half in the 3-1 victory over Italy on Thursday evening. In the 17th minute of the match, the Manchester United forward scored his first goal for his country after a sublime through ball from teammate Paul Pogba. Martial’s finish from close range came after the player running behind the defensive line, latching onto the Pogba pass, seeing Giorgio Chiellini miss with his attempted interception, burying his shot past Gianluigi Buffon into the bottom corner of the net. The goal will come to much relief of the player and the Manchester United supporters after his stuttered start to the new season. He will have put himself into the manager’s plans to face Belarus on Tuesday evening to get their Russia 2018 qualification hopes started with a bang.

Next Match: Belarus – FIFA World Cup Qualifier – Tuesday 6th September 2016, KO 19:45 BST

Paul Pogba – Italy 1-3 France

Manchester United’s world record signing Paul Pogba played 90 minutes in the 3-1 victory over Italy on Thursday evening. The Frenchman assisted for United teammate Anthony Martial in the 17th minute of the match with a sublime through ball, with Martial tucking it past Buffon to take his country 1-0 up, scoring his first goal for France. With France 2-1 up and cruising after a second scored by Olivier Giroud four minutes after Martial’s goal, assisted by Layvin Kurzawa, France made some changes to test the squad depth with them looking to qualify for Russia 2018 after their heartbreak in the European Championships in the summer. Pogba played well, doing what he does best, something he was criticised for during the summer, despite him playing well for much of the tournament. The Frenchman was again the provider for the third goal, nine minutes from time and Kurzawa the goalscorer and France being home and dry against the Italian side. Paul Pogba will most likely start against Belarus on Tuesday, a match which will mean more than this one.

Next Match: Belarus – FIFA World Cup Qualifier – Tuesday 6th September 2016, KO 19:45 BST

Daley Blind – Netherlands 1-2 Greece

Daley Blind played 90 minutes in the 2-1 defeat to Greece in their friendly on Thursday evening. The Dutchman started in the centre of defence, just like he has for Manchester United last season and the start of the current season. In the 14th minute of the match, the home side took the lead through Georginio Wijnaldum after Greece gave the ball away in a dangerous position, with the Netherlands taking advantage and going 1-0 to the good. The lead was short-lived as Konstantinos Mitroglou, assisted by Vassilis Torosidis  equalised 15 minutes later. Blind will not have been happy with his teammates to concede that goal, which could have been countered. The home side had a few chances, which should have been taken, with Wesley Sneijder and Vincent Janssen. Greece took the lead in the 74th minute through Giannis Gianniotas. The home side was beaten with few chances coming after the second Greece goal, but that will not stop them in their attempts to get the better of a Zlatan Ibrahimovic-less Sweden on Tuesday, which could get their aims of qualification for Russia 2018 started.

Next Match: Sweden – FIFA World Cup Qualifier – Tuesday 6th September 2016, KO 19:45 BST

Antonio Valencia – Ecuador 0-3 Brazil

Antonio Valencia was missing from the squad in the 2-0 defeat to Brazil in their FIFA World Cup qualifier on Thursday evening. The only goal of the match came in the 72nd minute of the match after Brazil was awarded a penalty for a foul in the box. Neymar stepped up to put his side ahead just weeks after winning a gold medal in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. This was Brazil’s second win in eight World Cup qualification matches. Ecuador had a player sent off in the 76th minute, and despite the fact they were down to ten men and 1-0 down, they were playing well. Brazil struck against through Gabriel Jesus, assisted by Marcelo. Gabriel Jesus scored again in the closing minutes of the match, with an assist by Neymar. Ecuador needs to ensure they beat Peru on Wednesday in their next qualification match or it could possibly put them out of the race to earn a place at the World Cup in Russia, although there are plenty of matches to play yet.

Next Match: Peru – FIFA World Cup Qualifier – Wednesday 7th September 2016, KO 03:15 BST

Valencia should be dropped for Fosu-Mensah; Blind better than Mertesacker – Paul Parker

Former Manchester United defender Paul Parker has spoken about his former club a lot over the past few days. He has sounded quite bitter with some of the comments he has made, but other seem to show the guy has some sense, others give a clear talking point. United are currently in another period of rebuilding, the past two periods have not worked all that well. Jose Mourinho, the new manager has conducted a lot of business this summer by bringing in Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba – with other names linked to the club through the media. The one position that seems to be a conundrum for the manager to solve is a right-back, a position Parker himself used to occupy for United, for five years with Gary Neville assuming his position after he was unable to remain fit.

Parker feels that Antonio Valencia, United’s current first-choice right-back, despite the fact he is a winger and not a defender, should be dropped in favour of the much younger Timothy Fosu-Mensah. The 18-year-old made ten appearances for United under Louis van Gaal last season, filling in at right-back, which is one of the many positions the Netherlands youth international can play. With Fosu-Mensah in the right-back position, United played well and the standout match for me will be the 3-0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, of which Fosu-Mensah started at right-back, but a knock forced him off the pitch, which was when the gates opened and United conceded three quick-fire goals. Before then the player was commanding his area and thwarted Spurs’ efforts on the right. If he was fit, the result may not have been that bad for United. Paul Parker, speaking exclusively to 888Sport, said:

“The position United have to worry about is right-back. They have Fosu-Mensah who is absolutely perfect. He is a very good defender and in the final third he’s as cool as a cucumber. He never panicked last season and has an arrogance on the ball. He would be a better bet than Valencia who is fine up to a point but doesn’t have a trick. The thing that goes against Fosu-Mensah is that he’s young and Mourinho doesn’t like young players. It’s the same old story and if that’s what is keeping him out of the side that’s a concern.

“For me, it doesn’t make any sense to pick Valencia against Bournemouth. He can’t defend and by that I don’t mean he can’t tackle but he doesn’t sense danger and his positional sense is poor.

“Fosu-Mensah is a young player who has done very well so you then look at the manager who has to give something back, to make him feel a part of the team. I had that with Gary Neville. I was told by Sir Alex that Neville had to play because he was worried that if he didn’t play him he’d start to lose his confidence. That’s how Sir Alex worked with young players. When he saw they were ready but there was an older pro ahead of them he’d look at the long-term picture.”

Parker has a point with Fosu-Mensah, whilst he was still playing for United, Neville was drafted in to build up his confidence, eventually with the player knocking Parker out of the team and then away from the club. Fosu-Mensah is good enough right now and the fact he has been given a lower squad number, from 51 to 24, it suggests that he has a future at the club, but perhaps Mourinho wants to ease him into the team so he is not being thrown straight into the deep end. At 18, many will see his as too young for the responsibility to play for Manchester United, but a wise man once said; “if they are good enough, they are old enough”. Another not-so-wise man said “you cannot win anything with kids” and he still gets a lot of banter for that statement today. I believe that Fosu-Mensah, should he see himself as a right-back in the future, would be a credible player to assume the role this season, should Mourinho, of course, feel he is ready and has earned the chance.

United also have Matteo Darmian, a player Louis van Gaal purchased las summer from Torino and despite a decent start to the season, his form soon declined and he was, more often than not, played as a left-back to cover the then injured Luke Shaw. Darmian does not seem to have a future at United after Valencia was considered over him and he has seen little action since the start of the season. The Italian has a problem with his crossing, which could be the main reason for him not being in the squad currently, which would be a shame after he arrived at the club around a year ago with much regard and belief that ‘he would be the one’. One thing is for sure, United have a good option for the right-back position and Fosu-Mensah, should he feel ready, can take it from the Ecuadorian.

Parker also spoke about another Manchester United defensive counterpart, Daley Blind. The Netherlands international arrived at the Old Trafford club in the summer of 2014 with his signing confirmed on deadline day along with Radamel Falcao, who was signed on loan. Blind, a utility player could play as a left-back, central defender and even a defensive midfielder was seen as a good purchase for the club. His first season was touch and go as he filled in in midfield, with Michael Carrick suffering an injury ridden season, and at left-back, with Luke Shaw having trouble to maintain his fitness and his form. Blind did well in both areas, but it was last season where he defined himself as a United player. Phil Jones suffered many injuries and so did Marcos Rojo, which left a vacancy in the centre of defence to partner Chris Smalling. Blind was the chosen one, having one hell of a season where United along with Tottenham Hotspur had the best defence in the Premier League, conceding only 35 goals. United finished fifth that season, which did not make them look as good as having one of the best defences.

Blind is one of those players who is able to read the game, think on his feet and make up for some of his weaknesses, namely his height. The Dutch international is a player I admire, and many do not see why. United supporters love to slate a player they feel bitter towards, and many seem to make up reasons for not liking the player. United’s defence last season, albeit makeshift with no first-choice right-back and the main left-back injured, did well to achieve the feat they did. Blind and Smalling were a good partnership and would be today if it was not for Eric Bailly, who has earned his place in the team with Smalling facing suspension from the first league game of the season, and a minor injury. Paul Parker, speaking exclusively to 888Sport, said:

“Daley Blind has always impressed me. He hardly gives the ball away and as for his height – because we know there are a lot of very tall centre-backs in the Premier League – you could ask who would you have over him or Mertesacker? I’d have Blind all day long.”

Parker feels that Blind is much better than Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker, which I would have to agree with – although comparing him to the German veteran may be seen as an insult. There are many defenders in the Premier League who Blind could teach a lesson too. Arsenal seems to have a problem in defence whatever the position as their injuries seem to mount up, even after the summer where many of their players will have been resting. Blind is a great option for any club and you can see why many clubs were interested in the Dutchman this summer. He was linked to Barcelona and Inter Milan amidst the rumours that he and Juan Mata would be the first players out of the door after Mourinho’s arrival. The media seem to have got that one wrong as both have been in the manager’s plan. This season I see Blind playing in defence again, possibly rotated with Smalling and Bailly to maintain match fitness and freshness for matches, as United will soon feel the heat once the UEFA Europa League starts and the domestic competitions start in September and January. Parker seems to have been very bitter recently in some of his comments about his former club, but about Blind and Fosu-Mensah, he is onto something. Something which could be good for the club for years to come.

Read the full 888sport interview with Paul Parker, including his thoughts on why this is a defining season for ‘overweight’ Rooney and whether Pogba will live up to his price-tag

copyright: JW