Raphael Varane: The Final Piece of the Defensive Jigsaw Puzzle?

“Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles.”

This is one of the most memorable quotes by Sir Alexander Chapman Ferguson, former manager of Manchester United and arguably one of the finest managers the sport of football has ever seen.

While this may seem like a counterintuitive statement considering that the objective of the game is to score more goals than one’s opponent, it is widely known that football is historically a low scoring game with the vast majority of matches ending up with score lines of 0-0, 1-1 or 2-1. What this really means is that a moment of individual brilliance from a striker, or conversely, a mistake by a defender, can often settle a very tight game, can be the difference between victory and defeat, between jubilation and heartbreak, between wearing a gold medal or a silver medal around one’s neck.

The bedrock of most successful teams is a formidable defensive unit, especially the central defensive pairing. Looking just at Manchester United, Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister were integral to Manchester United winning their first league title in 26 years in 1993 while Wes Brown and Jaap Stam were crucial to the treble winning season of 1998/99. More recent viewers would remember Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic who won five league titles and a Champions League (and reached two other Champions League finals) in eight seasons together at the club.

Manchester United captain Harry Maguire with goalkeeper Dean Henderson and midfielder Nemanja Matic.

Having secured the signing of Jadon Sancho to address the lack of a genuine right winger at the club, United have now turned their attention to a central defender, with multiple reliable sources saying that a move for Real Madrid and France international Raphael Varane is quite close to completion, the club having agreed personal terms with Varane, while a fee with Real Madrid remains to be negotiated. (which seemingly appears to be a formality)

This is not the first time United have tried to sign him with then manager Ferguson having come close to signing an 18 year old Varane from French club Lens in 2011, before eventually deciding upon Phil Jones. While Jones did show early promise, winning a league title in 2013 and an FA Cup in 2016, a string of injuries and a propensity towards making reckless errors when he has played has wrecked his career and he has never truly lived up to the hype of his teenage years.

Varane on the other hand signed for Real Madrid instead and has enjoyed a trophy laden stint at the club, winning 18 trophies including three La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues, including three straight titles between 2016 to 2018 as well as the 2018 World Cup for France, a tournament where he played every minute. Having formed a very successful partnership with Sergio Ramos, Varane, at the age of 28 is already one of the greatest defenders of his generation.

Now, it is worth looking at how Varane could fit into Manchester United’s set up. As of this article being published, Manchester United have not been strongly linked with a defensive midfielder and while Fred and Scott McTominay can do an adequate job, they are not capable of dictating play to the extent that is required to dominate games. The other option is to use Paul Pogba with either of the aforementioned midfielders though the Frenchman’s future at the club is uncertain with links of a move to Paris Saint-Germain a possibility. This means that the burden of ball progression falls to the central defenders to a considerable extent. 

Raphaël Varane playing for Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League.

As discussed in a previous article, the function of ball progression and playing out from the back is largely fulfilled by club captain Harry Maguire, but the weakness in this system is that the other defender, the so-called “cover defender” must be dominant and agile enough to anticipate and thwart potential opposition attacks on his own in some cases. While Victor Lindelof is undoubtedly a decent defender with good anticipation, he is decidedly average in duels especially aerial duels, often getting outmuscled in the air and sometimes on the ground too.

This is where Varane comes into his own and should, in theory at least, fit in at United like a glove. He has played the role of the cover defender throughout his entire career at Real Madrid acting as a perfect foil to the more aggressive and dominant Sergio Ramos. 

He is an excellent reader of the game, anticipating potential danger early and intercepting it by virtue of his positioning. While he is not a very prolific tackler in terms of volume, he is a proficient one and knows when and where to tackle in order to minimise the possibilities of giving away fouls. He is significantly more dominant aerially than Lindelof and is also a physical threat at set pieces, capable of scoring the odd important goal.

His technical ability on the ball is also quite underrated with a pass completion rate of around 91% while averaging 62 passes per game. The other attribute he brings to the United backline is something which cannot be measured in statistics, an experienced professional who rarely makes mistakes and a winner’s mentality who knows what it takes to get over the line on the biggest stages.Varane comes to Manchester United at the age of 28, a player in his prime, someone who has won it all at one club and is eager to prove his worth in a slightly different environment. With the ever improving Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan Bissaka already at the club, it would appear that Varane is the final piece of the defensive puzzle that provides Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the solidity he has craved to launch sustained assaults on the Premier League and Champions League trophies for the next five to seven years.

Written by Avitaj Mitra

The problems with Paul Pogba that need to be solved – a lack of consistency and a lack respect

Paul Pogba left Manchester United as a free agent in the summer of 2012, which at the time was considered a loss for United and then manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Pogba left for Juventus, signing as a free agent which meant that United would only receive compensation for the development of the player whilst he was part of the academy, which stood at £800,000, leaving the club at the age of 19. Pogba made his first team debut for United in the 2011/12 season, making a total of seven appearances, playing in the Premier League, the Carling Cup and the UEFA Europa League – playing a total of 195 minutes of football.

Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola seemed to open his mouth again, negatively (in relation to United) regarding Pogba’s future at the Old Trafford club. He gave the impression that the Frenchman wants to leave the club, which could well be the case. Italian journalist Fabrizio Romano covered the quotes from Italian news source Tuttosport which talked about Erling Braut Haaland and Pogba even talking about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The comments came just over 24 hours before United’s UEFA Champions League clash with RB Leipzig in Germany which is a make or break match for United. Raiola was quoted as saying:

“[Erling Braut] Haaland is like [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic when he was 20. [Ole Gunnar] Solskjaer is a good guy but he was wrong when he said that Erling is like [Romelu] Lukaku… it would be better if Solskjaer thought about finding a way to make [Paul] Pogba play like a champion, instead of talking about Haaland.

“Haaland is like a painting, he is like Munch’s Scream because he causes fear in the defenders. He called me after being substituted at 85: he had scored four goals, he wanted to score another. He was furious! He wants to be the best also if he’s playing checkers.

“I can’t talk about Haaland release clause. Rumors say Real Madrid want him? This is not new to me… but he is very happy with Borussia Dortmund. Erling wants to win the UEFA Champions League. When he’ll leave the club, it will be for his ambition and not for money.

“Maybe Juventus could be Pogba’s next club… why not? The relationship between Paul, Juventus and former teammates is excellent. But with the Covid impact, many clubs can’t sign him. For sure, it’s time to leave Manchester United.”

Raiola stated that Solskjaer should be finding a way for Pogba to play like a champion. Surely that would be down to Pogba to do that. Over the past few seasons, Pogba has been average for United which is a problem for both the player and the club. If Pogba was all that his agent thinks that he is, surely United would not have had to sign both Bruno Fernandes and Donny van de Beek over the last two transfer windows (January 2020 and Summer 2020). Gary Neville tweeted on Monday evening, suggesting that Pogba will have know about Raiola’s comments and if not, he should be coming forward with a statement to distance himself.

A lot of United supporters have been less than impressed with Pogba’s performances for the club over the past few seasons. In the 2018/19 season, Pogba scored 16 goals and 11 assists in 47 appearances – which was the best season he has ever had for a club. At the time, it seemed like a defining moment for positivity but turned into what seems like the peak of his career. The following season saw him on the sidelines through injury for the majority of it and this season, he has been less than impressive when he has played. It seems that Pogba sees other people to blame for his demise, when he would be the first person to apportion blame to.

Before Fernandes signed for United, Pogba would most likely be the player that player in the number ten role at the club, which is a position he had played in for a lot of the time under Jose Mourinho. But with Fernandes’ start to life at United, Pogba would have to settle for a role out of that area either in a midfield diamond or a midfield two, playing in a pivot role. This is clearly not good enough for Pogba or his agent. Not that long ago, France manager Didier Deschamps criticised United for how they were treating Pogba only for the player to play in a similar position for France and perform poorly for his country.

Up until today, Tuesday 8 December 2020, Pogba has played 170 times since making his return to the club in the summer of 2016. He has scored 34 goals and 35 assists playing 13,482 minutes of football. Statistically, this means that the Frenchman has offered 0.2 goals per appearance and 0.41 goal contributions (goals and assists) per appearance. He has offered one goal every 397 minutes with a goal contribution every 195 minutes. Some may think there are great stats but for a player that only seems to want to be the main man in the team, the stats are quite poor.

Fernandes has been at United since the end of January, not even spending a full calendar year at the Old Trafford club yet and has better stats than Pogba. The Portuguese midfielder has made 38 appearances for the club, scoring 22 goals and 15 assists in 2,987 minutes of football. This means that Fernandes has scored 0.58 goals per match and 0.97 goal contributions (goals and assists) every appearance. He has scored a goal every 136 minutes, with a goal contribution every 81 minutes. This is why Fernandes is the player that will most often play in the number ten role at the club.

If Pogba wants to take this position, he will need to out perform Fernandes or at least show that he is capable of doing what the Portuguese midfielder does, which does not seem all that likely, in my opinion. It is a shame that this is happening. Pogba seemed excited to return to United four years ago but the summer before last showed that he wanted a change, which also suggests that everything he said in 2016 was just for the sake of saying something, not saying it with meaning. United need to deal with Pogba in the right way, ensuring that they are not lumbered with a player that does not want to be there.

The question would be who would want him and who could afford him? The footballing world is still aiming to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Supporters are just starting to return to matches in small numbers and it will be a long time before clubs start to recover financially from this. Juventus are said to be interested in re-signing the Frenchman but at this moment in time, it seems unlikely that they could afford him without adding a player, or a number of players, in a possible deal. That could easily be scuppered as United will not necessarily want players in exchange for the Frenchman. A cash deal would be next to impossible.

There have been suggestions of Cristiano Ronaldo returning to the Old Trafford club, so if United were interested in making that happen, there could be some interest in the deal but it would not necessarily be a great deal for United, given the age of the Portuguese winger and the fact his resale value will greatly reduce over time so United would be wise to ask for the player plus cash for a deal to happen. Pogba has also been linked to Real Madrid and Barcelona over the past few summers and it would seem that both clubs would find a possible deal for the Frenchman hard to make possible – for the same reason as Juventus.

It is an unfortunate situation for Pogba and United to be in. Pogba’s contract would be set to expire in the summer of 2021 but when he signed his contract in the summer of 2016, there was a clause added for a further year, which has seemingly been activated, although there has been no confirmation from the Old Trafford club regarding this. Ideally, if Pogba wanted to stay at United and ‘finish what he started’, he should get rid of his agent and concentrate on his career not some pipe dream that Raiola has been telling him about – of course, that is just my opinion, not an actual fact. I don’t think Raiola is a positive role model.

Written by John Walker

Ones to Watch: Hannibal Mejbri – young, French and talented and seeking glory

Manchester United signed Hannibal Mejbri during the summer of 2019 from AS Monaco in a deal that is reported to be worth £9 million with the Old Trafford club paying £4.7 million, the rest in add-ons. The France U17 international made his debut for United’s U18 team against Derby County back in September, a 5-1 defeat for United. The delay in him signing and playing was down to international clearance. Before coronavirus pandemic stopped world football, Mejbri had played 13 times for the U18s, also playing five times for the U23s this season.

The 17-year-old has scored one goal for the U18s, the opening goal in a 2-1 victory over Manchester City, also assisting three more goals for the U18s, assisting another three at U23 level, not scoring there yet – although there is plenty of time for him to do so. Mejbri has been capped for France U16s 12 times, scoring one goal and has risen to the U17s, playing three times, scoring twice. He is yet to be picked for the U18s as he will clearly be seeking to rise up the ranks for both club and country during his career. He comes highly-rated and has been picked on by opposition supporters with Leeds United fans chanting a profane ‘Sideshow Bob’ chant in a recent FA Youth Cup clash, which United won.

Mejbri played for Paris FC, before playing for Monaco and his former coach from the French capital, Reda Bekhti has praised the player’s talent and skill and tipped him for a big career. It is clear as to why United made the move for the talented teenager with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looking to entrust youth and keep United’s club DNA similar to the periods under both Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson, the club’s most successful managers. Speaking about Mejbri to Goal, Bekhti said:

“I believe he has what it takes to make it to the first team, I think he is on the right path. With humility, work, patience and the help of God, he will evolve in the first team. That’s something he greatly deserves.

“His football strengths are mainly based on his ability to see things before others. On a football field he has intelligence far above the average.

In addition to this, he has a lot of technical ability and is a modern midfielder who is capable of combining excellent recovery of the ball, fast transitioning and the ability to finish.

“From the earliest age he had the charisma and personality. He was already giving out instructions and he was often captain.”

Bekthi also drew comparison to Arsenal midfielder Matteo Guendouzi, who is also French with the coach suggesting that Mejbri has a similar playing style, which is something that we might see in the Premier League in the years to come. Obviously, Mejbri has the belief that he can play for the first team and will be seeking to earn the chance to show just what he can do. Bekhti concluded by saying:

“Today when compared to a Premier League player, I see it as Matteo Guendouzi.

“Like Hannibal [Mejbri], he is French, from French training, and grew up in the Paris region.

“His playing style is similar to what Hannibal can do in the Premier League in the coming years.”

Mejbri has the ambition to play in the big leagues, and when he signed for United he suggested that he hoped to reach the first team in two years, which could see him playing alongside the likes of Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes by the time he reaches the tender age of 18. This shows the confidence he has in himself, which some might mistake for arrogance but that is not a bad thing either. United U18 head coach, Neil Ryan, the son of former United forward Jimmy Ryan, has given some good advice to the young Frenchman, saying;

“He will get targeted by any opposition he plays and that is what he has to learn: how to channel and focus his energies and not to get caught up in that.”

He will need to learn to keep his football answering his critics, not letting that red mist come over him and see the reactions that are not needed in the game. United beat massive competition to sign Mejbri last summer with Barcelona, Liverpool and Arsenal all credit with interest in signing the then 16-year-old. I am sure Monaco will be regretting whatever happened, which effectively ended the players stay at the Principality club. Mejbri’s father did give a hint of something around the time United signed the player, saying:

“Something bad happened. For our family, it was very hard to live. It’s a real shock, a trauma. Mistakes were made.

“From there, I consider that the relationship of trust between the club and our family is destroyed. Something broke. It’s hard to keep working with people when there’s such a lack of trust.”

Class of 92 graduate and United legend, Nicky Butt, who was the head of the academy until the summer of 2019, seeing the backroom staff of the first team being restructured with Butt becoming the head of first-team development instead, reporting directly to Solskjaer, admitted that United had problems signing Mejbri. Specifically keeping the transfer under the radar because of the high-profile nature of the player. Butt said:

“It’s hard to get him under the radar when we’ve chased him for so long and he’s come from a big club for a big fee, so that’s impossible.

“But you want to get young people under the radar because, coming from a different country and getting the price tag on your head and coming to one of the biggest clubs in the world, there’s going to be so much pressure in the first place.

“I’ve got a 16-year-old kid who, I would hate that pressure on their shoulders, but they have that and it’d be foolish to put them out there too soon, because you don’t know what’s around the corner. They’re children.

“There is a long road to the first team and big bumps and some are going to do what Mason (Greenwood) or Marcus (Rashford) have done, some might go the Jesse (Lingard) way – going on loan five or six times and getting there.

“We’ve got some really good players that I believe will play for Man United. When, I don’t know. But they will play for Manchester United and, yeah, some of them have been brought through the ranks from seven, eight, nine or 10.”

Butt would have liked to get Mejbri signed without the attention they got in the summer as that puts a spotlight on the player, which might be too much for them at a young age. However, the 17-year-old is doing well at United right now and has done well at both U18 and U23 level. He has a long way to go, as confirmed by Butt although he is heading in the right direction. Solskjaer has given many youth players time in the first team this season with the likes of Axel Tuanzebe, Brandon Williams and Mason Greenwood playing more than any other academy graduate this season. Mejbri has the ingredients to make his career special and United will be doing the right thing by keeping him grounded and on the path to reaching the first team.

So far during the 2020/21 season, Mejbri has continued his form from last season showing that his development is coming on in leaps and bounds. During the 2019/20 season, which was curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic, Mejbri made a total of 19 appearances for the club, playing at U18 and U23 level, scoring one goal and six assists, which was a good start for him at the club. However, so far this season, after a total of eight appearances, the 17-year-old has scored three goals and four assists for the club, predominantly playing in the Premier League 2, also playing in the EFL Trophy, also called the Papa John’s Trophy. Mejbri’s season started on the 9 September 202 in the Papa John’s Trophy against Salford City with United winning the match 6-0.

The Frenchman scored one goal and two assists in that match, which was a great start for him. His first league match was a 2-0 defeat to Leicester City, which was a bad start for United. Then followed a 5-3 defeat to Liverpool in the league with Mejbri scoring one goal and one assist, showing his ability for his club. United then beat Rochdale 5-4 on penalties in the Para John’s Trophy, continuing their fine form in the cup competition. In the league, draws against Blackburn Rovers (2-2) and Arsenal (3-3) followed. A 2-1 victory over Everton then a 5-2 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion got United back to winning ways with Mejbri scoring a goal and an assist in the latter. It is going to be a long, tough season but one that should show his abilities, talents and sheer determination to succeed for United.

Written by John Walker

Ousmane Dembele ‘very close’ to signing for Manchester United – reports

Barcelona forward Ousmane Dembele is reported ‘very close’ to signing for Manchester United this summer. Spanish news source AS has suggested that the French winger signing for United would unlock the funds required for Barcelona to sign Memphis Depay this summer with the player seeking to leave Lyon. Dembele was linked to United back in May and it was suggested at the time that the player could have been available for £37 million back then, which is not quite the case at this moment in time. The report from AS suggests the Old Trafford club would need to spend between €50-€60 million on the player, which is a lot more than £37 million.

If the player was to leave Barcelona, it would allow the club to drop their wage bill, which will already be high because the club have kept hold of Lionel Messi, who is the clubs highest earner on nearly £1 million per week. It is suggested in the report, which was translates by Sport Witness, that United would be happy to pay between €50-€60 million for the French winger this summer, despite his seemingly poor record at the club after signing from Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2017. Since signing for the club, he has missed 80 matches in three seasons due to various injuries with hamstring injuries the most regular.

This could well be a concern for United, who have many players already at the club who seem to spend a lot of the time on the sidelines through injury, rather than being available to play regularly instead. Dembele, if he signed for United, would need to watch himself and ensure that he was available more often than not, if a certain injury is preventable. The report does not state that any deal has been done or that an offer has actually been made but for something like this to be generated, there must have been some initial talks which might have reached advanced stages or that this whole story has been made up by the media. It seems strange to be true right now.

Lyon are said to be keen to sell Depay this summer with the player wanted by Barcelona manager Ronald Koeman, so if this happens, it could see Barcelona raising the money to bring Depay to the Nou Camp this summer. Depay seems to have a €25 million selling price this summer and the French club could half that to €12.5 million in order to sell the player this summer. There must be something desperate going on in order to do something like that – probably financial problems that could have become escalated because of the coronavirus pandemic or something similar. It seems strange that United have all of a sudden been linked with Dembele once again.

Dembele has played a total of 75 times for Barcelona in three full seasons 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20, including the one appearance he has made so far this season. In total, the French winger has scored 19 goals and 16 assists at the club, which is not something that will be seen as outstanding, in all honesty. Whilst at Borussia Dortmund, Dembele made a total of 50 appearances, scoring 10 goals and 22 assists, which for his age at the time, was good. The player is still only 23 so with injury avoided, he could find his feet at a new club, providing this is true and not just another rumour that goes nowhere, like we have seen all summer with Jadon Sancho.

At his first club, Stade Rennais, Dembele made a total of 29 appearances, scoring 12 goals and five assists. There seems to be few options for United this summer when seeking to sign a new winger with Sancho said to be the number one target all summer. If United do in fact make a move for Dembele, it would suggest that United will no longer pursue Sancho, which seems strange. There was a chance to sign the player this summer, but it passed by with nothing. Could this be a move to show Dortmund that United would be prepared to go elsewhere, seemingly alerting them that they will move for another player or it is just a rumour that has no legs?

Written by John Walker

Hannibal Mejbri ‘has a long way to go’ but his talent and quality is there for all to see

Hannibal Mejbri had a great match against Salford City in the first group stage match of the EFL Trophy which saw Manchester United U21s beat the club owned by Class of 1992 graduates Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, David Beckham and Phil Neville – who between them own 60% of the club with Peter Lim owning the other 40%. It was a great start for United who scored six goals against the League Two side. United and Salford share the group with Rochdale and Morecambe.

Mejbri opened the scoring in the eighth minute of the match, assisted by James Garner. United’s lead was doubled in the 29th minute of the game through Arnau Puigmal, assisted by Anthony Elanga. In the 46th minute, Mark Helm scored the third goal, assisted by Mejbri. Then came three goals in four minutes from the 70th minute with Charlie McCann, assisted by Helm, then in the 73rd minute Helm was assisted by Garner followed by the sixth and final goal in the 74th minute scored by Elanga, assisted by Mejbri.

Mejbri, who joined United’s academy last summer (2019) in a transfer from principality club AS Monaco with United spending £9.3 million on the player, who came highly regarded. The French midfielder is considered as one of the top talents in United’s academy and his performance against Salford, along with what he achieved at United in his debut season, will leave supporters thirsty for more. It is suggested that the player wants to make the first team in a few years time.

United’s U23 coach, Neil Wood who saw fellow coach Quinton Fortune leave the club this week to take up a coaching role at Reading within their first team, joining former United defender John O’Shea who retired from the game at the Berkshire club and started coaching within the Reading first team last season. Many have speculated that Mejbri could find himself in the first team if he keeps developing in the way he has but Wood has poured cold water on that with The Mirror reporting him as saying:

“As much as he is a good player there’s still a long way to go with Hannibal, he’s still got a lot of learning to do, a lot of improving.

“You can see the good bits of his play, he’s got great feet, he’s got great vision, he’s tenacious, but there’s still work to be done with him.

“I wouldn’t get carried away and say he’s going to be in the first team, but he’s willing to work, he’s willing to improve.

“He’s got a very good understanding of the game and a very good understanding of what he needs to get better at as well.

“We’re going to keep working with him this season, he’s had a very good pre-season, we’re very pleased with his pre-season, and we’re hoping he can take that into the season ahead.”

Mejbri has a great future ahead of him and will continue to get chances to play at a higher level this season with Wood likely to select him in the upcoming EFL Trophy matches against Rochdale (6 October 2020) and Morecambe (10 November). That said, the player is likely to be considered at U18 level with United opening their season against Liverpool on Saturday but also at U23 level, when the season starts. United will be back in the top flight of the Premier League 2 this season after winning promotion last season, despite the coronavirus pandemic cancelling the season.

Written by John Walker

Manchester United and Arsenal to battle over Boubakary Soumare

Manchester United and Arsenal could go head to head once against for the signature of Boubakary Soumare this summer. The Lille defensive midfielder was linked to United during the January transfer window with the midfield being a problem area for United at the time but United added Bruno Fernandes to the squad during that window. There is no doubt that United will be seeking to sign a player that could allow Nemanja Matic to receive sufficient rest through the course of the full season.

It is suggested by The Sun that Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta will look to sign Soumare after completing the signing of Gabriel Magalhaes from the French club in a deal worth £27 million, seemingly beating United to the transfer of the Brazilian defender with United reportedly getting involved in the deal on the eleventh hour, which seems to be a typical thing for journalists to report, giving rumours longevity and allowing another article to talk about his Arsenal beat United to the signing of the player.

The Daily Mail has reported that the 21-year-old could be available for around £50 million this summer, which could be comparative with other midfielders available this summer – Donny van de Beek for instance. It is suggested that Arsenal will face serious interest from United and Liverpool for the Frenchman this summer, which might be a ruse by the media to make it look like Arsenal are a big club again, after finishing eighth in the Premier League last season, only earning UEFA Europa League football by winning the Emirates FA Cup.

Soumare is a player who has raised his game for his club, vastly becoming an integral figure since making his first team debut in 2017. The player was also linked to Newcastle United in January, rejecting that move and staying put in France, presumably knowing that bigger clubs would be in touch during the summer transfer window, even despite the coronavirus pandemic. Arsenal are said to be interested in signing two midfielders with Thomas Partey and Houssem Aouar linked.

United have a better relationship with Lille after signing Nicolas Pepe last summer and not Magalhaes this summer, which could mean that United will be broadcast as the losers once again, even if they had not even made a move for the Frenchman. Personally, I would rather see United sign a player like Van de Beek this summer as he would help to add more creativity, meaning that either Paul Pogba or Bruno Fernandes could be rested safe in the knowledge that at attack minded player will still be on the pitch. Regarding Matic though, a replacement will need to be found.

That said, James Garner, after what could be a successful loan spell this season, should United find him a club where he will play a lot of first team football, could be a rotation option for Matic from next season, which could see him ready to mount a challenge in the United first team. I would rather see him play than sign a player for £50 million, which could hamper Garner’s first team chances for a number of years, seeing another talented player leave the club for pastures new.

Written by John Walker

Anthony Martial opens up on the change made which took his game to the next level

Manchester United forward Anthony Martial has revealed that his increased fitness levels have helped to take his game to the next level at the Old Trafford club. The Frenchman had his best season at the club, scoring 23 goals and 12 assists (35 goal involvements) in 48 appearances, beating his previous best of 17 goals and nine assists (26 goal involvements) in 49 appearances during his debut season (2015/16). In recent seasons, the Frenchman has been criticised for poor performances which saw the player sulk like Nicolas Anelka more often than not.

Since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replaced Jose Mourinho as the United manager, and after a series of chats with the Frenchman, Martial is not fitter, strong and in a position whereby he is the best central attacking player at the club. However, in the near future, the Frenchman could be challenged by Mason Greenwood, who according to Solskjaer is the best finisher at the club. He has seldom been chosen to play centrally and his 17 goals and five assists from 49 appearances this season have come from the wide positions. Martial, speaking about the changes, as reported by The Mirror, said:

“My job, or aim is to score goals. Then when I don’t have the ball it’s to be the first defender, meaning I have to press and close down.

“It’s something we work on in training and we’ve also worked hard on my fitness too, I’ve put in some great work with the coaching staff.

“Now I just want to make sure I continue in the same vein in order to be even better for next season.”

The 2019/20 season saw United forward line, Marcus Rashford, Martial and Greenwood score a total of 62 goals with a further 28 assists, meaning they have contributed a total of 90 goal contributions, which is a great achievement considering that United squad was struggling to score goals not all that long ago. When you add the contributions of Bruno Fernandes to this; 12 goals and eight assists – 20 goal contributions, with just four players, United will have seen 110 goal contributions during the season, which is a great achievement in itself.

Martial and Rashford have a healthy rivalry at the club in terms of scoring the goals. Whilst Rashford was in form late in 2019 and suffered his broken back at the start of 2020, if was left to Martial to carry the responsibility for United, despite the fact he had suffered an injury layoff too. Speaking with Inside United, the official Manchester United magazine, and reported by The Mirror, the Frenchman spoke about his rivalry with Rashford and the fact that it is healthy, Martial said:

“It doesn’t drive us on, not especially. Because we just try to help each other out. For example, there are some games where maybe a shot is on and then I decide to wait and see, and I give him the ball because I want him to score.

“And he does the same thing for me, so you see, we’re not just focussed on scoring all the time. We’re always going to do everything we can for the team to win.

“Which means that if he is better placed than me or I’m in a better position than him, we’ll always give each other the ball in order to score.

“I think it’s that which means… there is a healthy competition there, but the biggest thing is the positive rapport that we have with one another, which is like that.”

Martial, Rashford and Greenwood have former a deadly trio at the club this season. The Frenchman also spoke about Greenwood, after the 18-year-old had a breakthrough season at the Old Trafford club. Solskjaer confirmed that the player was the best finisher at the club and he proved it on the pitch, scoring some stunning goals for the club and showing his ability in the game, which has seen him likened to United legend Robin van Persie, which is great for the teenager and will inspire his to continue developing, which is something that he did physically during the lockdown. Martial said:

“The thing that strikes me about Mason is how effective and clinical he is. I get the feeling that whenever he shoots on goal, he scores! They are two really good players. It’s up to us to keep training hard and working to perfect how that trio works together.

“We mustn’t forget either that there are other players on the side lines who are pushing really hard to get a game. We need keep going and have to perform well in order to be able to play and win our games.”

Written by John Walker

Moussa Dembele open to Manchester United transfer this summer

Olympique Lyonnais striker Moussa Dembele is open to a move to Manchester United this summer according to the Manchester Evening News. United were last linked to the player last summer as they looked to replace Romelu Lukaku, who signed for Inter Milan last summer and most notably did not win the UEFA Europa League on Friday evening, although he scored the goal that won the match for Sevilla. The 24-year-old is considered to be a hot prospect this season.

In his second season at Lyon, Dembele made a total of 46 appearances, despite the Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 seasons being cancelled shortly after suspension because of the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year. The Frenchman has scored 24 goals and seven assists this season, playing in Ligue 1, the Coupe de France, the Coupe de la Ligue and the UEFA Champions League, reaching the semi-finals where Lyon were beaten 3-0 by finalists Bayern Munich.

Dembele could well be a player that fits into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad this summer with the club needing an out and out striker. However, in January, United signed Odion Ighalo from Shanghai Shenhua for the remainder of the season, which was extended due to the coronavirus pandemic with United keeping the player until the end of January 2021. Based on that, United’s need for a striker could see the club wait until January to secure a deal or even finalise a deal but signing one this summer would be a boost for the squad.

Dembele is a player that has a lot of respect from United supporters, especially after defied all odds with the French club beating Manchester City in the quarter-final of the Champions League this season with the Frenchman scoring a brace to win the match after replacing former United forward Memphis Depay in the 75th minute of the match, scoring his first in the 79th minute, restoring the French clubs lead then sealing the win with his second in the 87th minute of the match.

Next season though, Lyon will not be playing European football, not qualifying for either the Champions League or the Europa League after finishing in seventh place in Ligue 1 after the season was cancelled. Lyon club legend and sporting director Juninho feels that the clubs future is safe but that there will be departures this summer. Speaking to RMC Sport and reported by The Sun, Juninho said:

“The aim now is to continue working, immediately with Ligue 1. We will have to work. If we continue like this, we will be back in this competition.

“When you are well paid, you need motivation every day, we are going to concentrate on Ligue 1. There are the basics.

“There will be departures, but I am not worried. When you have players who play very well in a competition like this, like Moussa [Dembele] and Houssem [Aouar]…

“We will have to show the same spirit to be back in the Champions League next season.”

Written by John Walker

West Ham United ready to sell £45 million rated defender this summer

Manchester United have received a boost regarding their interest in West Ham United central defender Issa Diop, although that interest seemed to be last summer with little interest in the player this summer. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side were linked to Diop last summer with the Hammers seeking £75 million for the French defender, which was a massive fee for a player that had not yet been capped by his country at senior level. The Sun has reported that the player could be available for £45 million this summer.

It is expected that United will be looking to strengthen their defence this summer as the club has been linked with Nathan Ake, who signed for Manchester City, Gabriel Magalhaes, who is linked to both Arsenal and Napoli and Pau Torres, despite links not being duplicated in the past three weeks or so. It would seem that Victor Lindelof may not be trusted by the manager long-term and could be set for a new role as a squad player at the Old Trafford club.

The 23-year-old made 35 appearances for the Hammers during the 2019/20 season, scoring three goals and one assist. It was suggested that Solskjaer was seeking a left-footed player in the centre of defence this summer, with Diop being right-footed, possibly not the player that United need right now. Diop signed for the Hammers in the summer of 2018 and has a contract that expires in the summer of 2023, meaning the club will be able to decide the transfer fee for the player, agreeing that £75 million was too much.

Personally, I don’t think that United should be looking at Diop as the player to help secure United’s defence as with him during the past season, the Hammers conceded 54 goals in the Premier League alone, which is not great. Granted, that will not all be on him and he only made one error which led to a goal but United need to combative player to partner Harry Maguire that will be able to play the ball forwards and help United on the attack – that is not Diop.

Newspapers end up linking players to clubs all of the time, sometimes based on something, other times based on nothing. It is suggested that David Moyes wants to rebuild his West Ham squad this summer and requires the funds to do that. I would imagine that a club at the level of the Hammers would be seeking to keep their better players and build around them, although they might have to get rid of one good player in order to have the funds to continue their rebuild.

That said, it does not mean that United should be seeking to sign the player fo £45 million as it could be a big mistake. United spent £80 million on Maguire last summer and despite the club having a better season in terms of conceded goals, there is still work to be done. Diop might become a good player in the coming years but in terms of being ready to play in the UEFA Champions League, I am not convinced one bit. United should steer clear of this transfer option and not help West Ham rebuild by over paying for a player that clearly does not have a future at the club.

Written by John Walker

Manchester United have plans for Hannibal Mejbri but not in the first team just yet

Manchester United U23 manager Neil Wood has confirmed that the club has plans for French midfielder Hannibal Mejbri after signing the player a year ago from principality club AS Monaco. The player will remain part of the clubs youth set up rather than be promoted to the first team. The 17-year-old impressed during his first season at the club, which was cut short because of the coronavirus pandemic. The player made 20 appearances for the U18s and U23s, scoring one goal and five assists.

The French midfielder arrived at United in what seemed like a high-profile transfer last summer with United paying £9.3 million, if all clauses in the contract are met. It is fair to say that the player has considerable talent and Monaco will have been upset to let the player leave the club. In the future he could become one of the best players in the world providing he keeps his development heading in the right direction. United would not have spent what they had on the player if they did not see his potential.

15 of Mejbri’s appearances (14 starts and one substitute appearance) came ay U18 level last season with five appearances (one start and four substitute appearances) at U23 level. It would seem that the French midfielder will be playing amongst the U23s this season after they gained promotion to the top-flight of the Premier League 2 this season after the league was suspended and promptly cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic. He will probably feature in the UEFA Youth League with United back in the UEFA Champions League.

The Manchester Evening News has spoken to Neil Wood, the U23 manager about the Frenchman, seemingly looking to find out whether he will be promoted to the first team anytime soon. However, it was revealed that the club have plans for the player and they will not be making any quick decisions on the progress of the player, which could cause problems if he was promoted too early. It would seem that some see the player’s price tag and assume he’s a first team player. Wood said:

“I think what you need to remember is Hannibal is still a young lad, he is only 17. He’s not long been here really, he is probably coming up to almost a first completed season if that.

“I think people get sucked into the price-tag, and again that is not Hannibal’s fault. So I think he is a young player with potential, he is one of the young players we have got with potential, but there is still a lot of development and learning which needs to be put into him.

“We still need to get him to a higher level to get him to even go and train with the first-team, so there is no rush to start pushing him in that first-team environment right now.

“I think the challenge is going to be enough for him at U23s right now and we are going to push him and try to move him up as quick as we can, but at the same time we won’t rush him if he’s not ready to do that.”

It is good to see the club tread carefully with a player who could well be a world star in a few years time. The player will be happy to play football at U23 level, which will be good for him along with the inclusion in the UEFA Youth League, which will see the club come up against other teams who have qualified for the UEFA Champions League next season. When United see progress with the player, he may be given chances at first team level. He will be enthused to see that Brandon Williams and Mason Greenwood have progressed into the first team during the 2019/20 season and should see that if he impresses the world could be his oyster.

Written by John Walker

copyright: JW