If Manchester United has the chance to sign Nicolas Pepe they need to take it!

Lille forward Nicolas Pepe will be a wanted footballer during the summer transfer window. Manchester United have been credited with an interest in him some months ago and the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Bayern Munich have all been looking at the player with the possibility of launching a move for him this summer.

The 23-year-old had a great season in France, making 41 appearances, scoring 23 goals and assisting a further 12 goals. He’s played a total of 3,537 minutes of football meaning that he averages a goal every 154 minutes. In the past week, it was reported by a number of newspapers that United had made contact with Lille ahead of a prospective move this summer. However, that might not be the truth.

The reported £70 million fee which Lille are said to be demanding might see the likes of Arsenal look for alternative targets, however, it may see them pay the money for the player with the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan seemingly likely to leave the club this summer. The player is contracted at Lille until the summer of 2022.

Lille manager Christophe Galtier has confirmed that the player will be leaving the club this summer, previously speaking to Canal+, which was reported by The Metro. There have also been quotes attributed by the manager on social media suggesting the same thing, although in a different way. Speaking to Canal+ a matter of days ago, Galtier said:

“Nicolas Pepe will leave. Life’s like that, football’s like that today.

“He is a player of the highest level who will have a big decision to make on the choice of his next club. There will be a battle between the great European teams.

“I hope that he will take good amount of time to think about it, do his research, like he did when he came here and when he decided to stay here (last summer), find the right project.”

It was suggested when United were first linked to the player that he would leave Lille for a club in the UEFA Champions League, which is not what United can offer next season, finishing sixth in the Premier League and qualifying for the group stages of the UEFA Europa League.

joie des joueurs de Lille apres le but de Nicolas Pepe (Losc) FOOTBALL : Lille vs Lyon – Ligue 1 Conforama – 01/12/2018 JBAutissier/Panoramic.

However, Galtier spoke about the player finding ‘the right project’. This made me think about the possibility of the player signing for a club in a rebuilding process. United are about to embark on yet another one but this time it will need to work. More than £700 million has been spent during the past six years but it has been spent badly.

United would be making a right move if they targeted a player such as Pepe. He is a left-footed right attacking midfielder who can also play as a right-winger (further upfield) and is also able to play as a right midfielder, presumably in a 4-4-2 or even a 4-3-3 formation. United has been lacking a player in this position for years now and it is time Ed Woodward got it sorted, especially as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants to get the club back on the right track.

Manchester United submit ini​tial offer for Lyon forward Moussa Dembele – reports

Manchester United has reportedly submitted an initial offer for Lyon forward Moussa Dembele. The report comes from Benjamin Quarez of Goal in France. United has been linked to Dembele a few times already this year and with the speculation surrounding Romelu Lukaku and Inter Milan, this could be a suitable replacement for the Belgian.

The 22-year-old left Paris Saint-Germain in 2012 at the age of 16, signing for Fulham. He continued his development within their academy making the step up into the first team in the 2013/14 season. Dembele spent three seasons in the first team, making 64 appearances, scoring 19 goals.

In the summer of 2016, Dembele signed for Celtic and made his debut on his 20th birthday. The French youth international spent two full seasons in Scotland, leaving at the start of the third, making a total of 94 appearances, scoring 51 goals. Showing some improvement in his form.

At the start of the 2018/19 season, Dembele returned to France, signing for Lyon. To date, the now 22-year-old has made 45 appearances, scoring 20 goals. It is stated by Quarez that United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had sent club scouts to watch Dembele on a number of occasions, also wanting to know about the players’ attitude.

It would be a shame to see Lukaku leave United but under Solskjaer, it is clear that he does not fit in. It was great to see him score six goals in three consecutive matches under the Norwegian but after that, there was little coming from the Belgian, who seemed out of form. With the right service, I feel that Lukaku could bang in the goals for United but finding that service is the problem.

Since Solskjaer arrived at the club, he has stated many times that he would be targeting young and hungry players in a bid to give the club a future, building a team in a way similar to that of Sir Alex Ferguson. United has so far been linked to Daniel James, Sean Longstaff and Nathan Collins. Dembele is another to add to that list. There are also reports linking the club to RB Leipzig central defender Ibrahima Konaté.

Dembele has been linked to exits from clubs he has played for in the past, as Sport Witness have pointed out was the case when the Frenchman was playing for Celtic. This could be another case of this happening but if there is a deal to be had and the player wanted to leave France, returning to the Premier League, a deal could be had relatively easily.

Can France Create a Dynasty?

Back in July of this year, France climbed football’s global summit for the second time in their rich history. After success on home soil back in 1998, Didier Deschamps become one of a select band of men who have won the World Cup as both players and managers.

But no sooner had the celebrations come to a close in Moscow before questions were already being asked. Not of how they won arguably one of the best international tournaments in recent history, but whether they can do it all again in two years time.

Looking at the current international football betting markets shows there is a lot of confidence in France to build on their success in Russia; they have been named as 5/1 favourites to win Euro 2020 before the qualifiers have even got underway.

The French squad that was assembled for world domination was the joint youngest in the competition alongside the group of young English lions that Gareth Southgate selected. This is something that could well point to this just being the first step of a string of major successes.

The next step for this young French side is to emulate what the previous generation did, that being following up a World Cup win with victory in the European Championships two years later – a feat they managed in 2000 when they beat Italy thanks to a David Trezeguet golden goal in extra time.

Many felt that the group of French stars around the turn of the millennium would go on to create a dynasty of their own, although it soon came to an abrupt end in 2002 as they were knocked out the following World Cup in the group stages after a forgettable defence of their title.

The accusation and perhaps the realisation here was that this was a squad of players who had reached the pinnacle of their careers and, from there, the only way was down. With the feeling that everything was achieved, there was nothing left to strive for.

However, even with that said, you get the feeling that this current crop of French players is a lot different. Perhaps it is to do with the fact that they are so young in comparison and they have a greater desire for future glories in the years to come.

You only have to look at their teenage superstar Kylian Mbappe. Without question, his performances in Russia saw him come of age as he became one of the game’s modern-day elite players. That’s something that perhaps is not that much of a surprise when you look at what he has done for Monaco and PSG in recent times.

However, you sometimes forget that he is just a 19-year-old, who not only has the world at his feet but is sitting on top of it. The worrying thing for the rest of the footballing fraternity is that he has only just begun and will undoubtedly get even better.

When you consider that most players wind down their international careers in their early 30s, we are set for at least another decade of Mbappe terrorising opposition defences. If his current trajectory continues in the way that it has, then surely he will be leading France to major tournament victories once more.

Paul Pogba says he is the most criticised player in the world

Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba has stated that he feels he is the most criticised player in the world. Just short of two years ago, the Frenchman made his £89 million transfer from Juventus to the Old Trafford club, returning four years after he left. Having two seasons in the Premier League under his belt, and largely failing to recapture the form he had shown in Italy, Pogba has seen criticism from many. Pogba started his FIFA World Cup on Saturday and was criticised by pundits before and during the match against Australia.

With France drawing 1-1, both teams winning a penalty, Pogba struck late in the match, with a deflected effort, to win the game for his country, a great start for them in the competition. The 25-year-old Frenchman also put the ball through for Antoine Griezmann, who won the first penalty in the game with France taking the lead. Pogba, subject to much debate over the last two years, has largely failed to deliver consistently for United. Speaking to Telefoot after France’s World Cup opening victory, Pogba spoke about the criticism he has received, saying:

“It’s funny, I went from the biggest transfer in the world, to the most criticised player in the world.”

In their opening World Cup match game, France, despite having the most strength-in-depth in their squad, were not as good as many thought they would be. A win in the opening game will be a big boost but playing a better game is something France and Pogba would need to be doing, especially if they think they can replicate their World Cup-winning form when they hosted the competition in 1998, lifting the trophy against all odds.

France made the final of the UEFA European Championships in 2016, being beaten 1-0 by Portugal. Pogba did not have a great competition, scoring just one goal in the tournament and largely underperforming, along with his teammates, on their way to and including the final. France manager Didier Deschamps believes his side will need to become much better in their next game, which is against Peru and will be played in Ekaterinburg on Thursday afternoon (KO 16:00 BST). Pogba agreed with his manager, saying:

“As the coach said, we can do better and we have to do better.”

Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, who has been criticised himself in recent times, has accused the French of “loving to criticise their heroes” after Pogba has been hung out to dry despite scoring the winning goal for France, albeit by deflection and after being criticised throughout the past season for United. Raiola believes that this France team are one of the top contenders to lift the World Cup this summer but feels the nation could be more supportive of the players. Speaking to RMC Sport, reported by Sky Sports, Raiola said:

“He reconfirmed what a big player he is and the importance he has in a team. Not only in a match, where he was probably the most important in the match, but also I saw how he was a perfect ambassador for the French team and for France.

“Paul is an extraordinary player with an extraordinary personality. He is one of these players born to have this responsibility. He has grown as a player, has more experience with age – it’s normal – but he is the same player I have always had. He is a player that wants to do good for the French side.

“He is an admirable player. France should be proud to have him. They should not always criticise him, that’s easy to do. The French like to criticise their heroes. It’s not just with Paul. The players know they need to always improve, because they are big players. He knows that will not always suffice.

“But it would be nice to be more positive. I don’t think France likes heroes. There is lots of envy, jealousy and these things but at the end these players represent their country, their club in a perfect manner.

“I don’t understand the critics – for Paul specifically. Everyone wants to criticise him, but he is a guy who remains positive and works hard. He doesn’t have anything to prove, he has to give his best and help the team and that is what he does.”

The level of criticism Pogba has received has largely been uncalled for. Sky Sports pudit Graeme Souness seems to have something in for Pogba as he never seems to praise him and busts a gut to ensure he gets his criticism in for Pogba, despite times when United were not involved in a match he was the pundit for. Pogba does deserve criticism as he has not done himself any favours recently, especially when playing for United towards the end of the season, not putting his all into the performance, which as a professional he should be doing.

Looking at what has been written about him though, seems like a witch hunt at times with some just criticising the player for the sake of it. Pogba should use the criticism to put his all into his performances, silence the critics with the playing style and ability we all know he is capable of, consistently. That will show that the criticism that has been directed at him, will start to curtail, as long as he does what he is expected to do. Nobody likes a player who has all the ability in the world but none of the interest in putting on the table, which at times feels like what is happening.

The World Cup provides Paul Pogba a chance to find form

When things get crazy in life, getting away from it all can be therapeutic and help to clear your mind. For Paul Pogba, escaping from the unwavering scrutiny of the English press after a turbulent season with Manchester United has been necessary and, supporters will hope, help to recapture the spark which previously defined his game.

Throughout the season Pogba came in for endless amounts of criticism, both justified and otherwise. Everything from his effort, work rate, attacking output, even his ever-changing hair stylings have been fair game.  

For most of his first year and a half at the club, Jose Mourinho went out of his way to defend him from these incessant attacks, but even his patience with the Frenchman wore thin this season. A public spat during a match against Tottenham Hotspur in which Pogba was subbed off for tactical reasons was followed by dropping him for a Champions League tie against Sevilla.

The Portuguese and Pogba were very much at odds with each other.

While Mourinho expected equal effort and execution from his star midfielder in both attack and defense, Pogba craved more creative freedom to express himself than he was being allowed. This tug of war between the two persisted through to the end of the season.

Even when United played in a midfield three, with Ander Herrera coming in to the side to give Pogba more license to get forward, the results were mixed. For every match-turning performance, like the one he delivered at the Etihad against Manchester City, there was an insipid one to match, like the shocking loss to bottom of the table West Bromwich Albion.

The manager himself came in for criticism, justifiably, but Pogba couldn’t escape censure either. Even his star turn against Pep Guardiola’s side was met with a certain mystified reaction; if Pogba was capable of such a dominant match-winning performance, why was it that the former eJuventus man failed to be that pivotal figure so often?

Even if the tactical approach of the manager could be questioned, surely Pogba himself wasn’t living up to billing on the pitch either. The inconsistency in his performances on the pitch has been difficult to understand. Given the fanfare of his arrival, the fee involved in bringing him to Old Trafford and his unquestionable talent much more was expected.

While United’s season won’t start until August, Pogba has a great chance to shut his critics up this summer at the World Cup. As one of the main stars in the French national team of whom much is expected, he has the opportunity to find the form which eluded him for much of this past season.

Playing for France is no walk in the park, though.

The lofty expectations from their supporters due to the incredible depth in talent at their disposal doesn’t lend itself to patience and understanding. Pogba was on the end of their disapproval when he was whistled off the pitch following a sub par outing in the team’s most recent friendly against Italy.

His teammates and manager Didier Deschamps, who called him “indispensable”, came to his defense in the aftermath of the match. However, Deschamps also said Pogba must “raise his level of play”. And therein lies the truth.

Pogba has all the talent in the world. He’s strong, eats up the yards with long strides, can hold defenders off, take a man on, score from distance and is equally capable of play raking cross-field passes, deft lobs over the top or penetrating through balls. He has all of that in abundance in his locker, but too often with United and now with France he has failed to put it together with any consistency.

There are periods of play where he looks disinterested and lacks discipline. Within the same match, he’s liable to have a stretch where he’s levels above everybody on the pitch and bossing it.

This summer, on the biggest stage in football, Pogba has a chance to showcase his talents. The price tag United paid for him doesn’t constantly hang over him on the international stage. There’s no manager whose overly pragmatic approach can be used to explain away any naive tactical mistakes. The quality of attack in front of him is indisputable.

The stage is set for Pogba to be the midfield maestro of a team with all the talent and potential to end as World Cup winners. With Blaise Matuidi and N’Golo Kante alongside him to do all the dirty work, he’s in the free role as a chief creator he so craves.

It’s now up to him to string together the type of dominating performances he put together all too infrequently this year. If he can find form again, United may very well benefit when the Premier League season starts in August.

Written by Ashwin Ramnath

Manchester United to battle Chelsea and Spurs for PSG left-back Layvin Kurzawa – reports

Manchester United have been credited with an interest in Paris Saint-Germain left-back Layvin Kurzawa, according to reports in France. RMC, carried by The Sun in the United Kingdom have reported that Jose Mourinho’s United will battle with both Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur to land the left-back this summer. The position is one that Mourinho has stated his desire to strengthen this summer with Ashley Young pipping Luke Shaw as the lead runner in the role and he is 32.

United have utilised Young, Shaw, Blind, Rojo, and Darmian in the position this season, only Young and Shaw featuring the most, Young being the chosen player to occupy the position. The 32-year-old has put in some good performance in the role this season, one against Liverpool in which he nullified leading Premier League scorer Mohamed Salah out of the game. Shaw has been criticised for not thinking with his head and perhaps not being as defensive as he would need to be.

Kurzawa, 25, helped his side win Ligue 1 at the weekend, wrestling the title from AS Monaco, beating them 7-1 – his ninth major honour with the Parisien club. The Frenchman has found out that he has competition in the role he has at the French champions with Yuri Berchiche challenging him in the role. Kurzawa has played a total of 2,247 minutes this season in four competitions, with Berchiche playing 2,164 minutes of action – both in the same position. To me, it suggests healthy competition with both playing a similar number of minutes.

Kurzawa has a contract at the Parc des Princes which will run until the summer of 2020 and PSG will be seeking the £20 million paid for the player when he moved from AS Monaco just three years ago. If the fee is correct, it demonstrates a good deal for United, if Mourinho sees him as the player to succeed in the left-back role at the Theatre of Dreams. The 25-year-old has demonstrated a desire to play in the Premier League, which means nothing as many do, also stating that he can become a much better player. Kurzawa said:

“I know what I can do, and don’t think I have performed to the best of my ability this season.  It is a problem for me. I have never been satisfied with my displays this year, and I have felt annoyed when I have gone home after games.”

Kurzawa is expected to be a part of the France squad for the FIFA World Cup in Russia this summer and has experience playing for his country at youth level, winning honours before his senior debut in 2014. Mourinho has been reported to be in the market for a right-back, a central defender, at least one midfielder this summer, but after seemingly losing faith in Luke Shaw, a left-back seems to be high on the agenda too.

Kurzawa has made 26 appearances for his club this season, making 17 starts and one substitute appearance in Ligue 1, scoring two goals and one assist – playing 1,527 minutes for the French champions, six appearances in the UEFA Champions League, all starts, scoring three goals and two assists – playing 540 minutes in the competition, also playing 90 minutes in the Coupe de France, another 90 minutes in the Trophée des Champions. The 25-year-old, challenged by Berchiche in the left-back role this season, has played 2,247 minutes of action.

Kurzawa has many strengths, which include his passing of the ball, dribbling, ability to distinguish key passes, his crossing of the ball and his ability to hold on to the ball. His main weakness is his tackling ability, but there will be players in the squad who can get stuck in to that area for him. Just having a player with a good cross, ability to hold the ball and put in key passes from this role would be great. Kurzawa’s style of play revolves around him playing short passes, his ability to dribble and not jump into tackles.

Defensively, in the matches statistics are able to cover (Ligue 1 and the UEFA Champions League), Kurzawa averages 2.1 tackles, 1.5 interceptions, 1.8 clearances and 0.2 blocks per match. In an attacking sense, the 25-year-old averages 0.9 shots, 0.5 key passes, and 0.8 dribbles per match, also being fouled an average of 1.5 times, rarely being called offside, and being dispossessed an average of 0.8 times per match. Kurzawa’s passing stand at 87%, which is something United would benefit from. Based on stats, he could be a decent left-back for United.

It remains to be seen as to whether Mourinho is interested in the Frenchman this summer. There have been many left-backs who have already been linked to the club. Reports from the media are never solid interest in a player, but more of a suggestion that the player has been watched. Journalists will have sources, sometimes the information may be correct at a certain point, but a move for the player may never happen. United looking at different players and cross-referencing the results with other scouted players, along with the manager’s wishes may see the actual target change.

Manchester United looking to continue Academy resurgence with two new names…

Manchester United seem to have commenced their Academy recruitment this summer with Goal reporting that 16-year-old French midfielder Aliou Badara Traore could be heading to the AON Training Complex ready for the start of the new season. Traore will spend the season with United’s U18, coached by Kieran McKenna and will reportedly sign a professional contract on his 17th birthday in January, which has been reported by The Mirror, with Goal, the source of the claims, saying:

“Although reports suggested that the midfielder had previously signed for the Old Trafford outfit, a deal was completed only last week, with Juventus having tried to move in and complete his signing. Manchester City were also interested in the player. Traore, who will turn 17 in January, has penned a four-year professional contract with Jose Mourinho’s outfit, though the first of these will be spent in the youth team.”

Traore has previously played for Paris Saint-Germain and quit after he did not feel he would get enough game time to continue his development. Juventus and Manchester City were also said to be interested in the teenager. Traore, a regular for France’s U16 side, is the only player in that squad who does not with a professional team, which seems to no longer be the case for the player. United’s youth set up has been worked on over the last twelve months, going from losing twelve U18 Premier League matches in a row during the 2015/16 season, losing coach Paul McGuinness, before the club turning the group around with some great signings to aid the talent already at the club, rampaging in the same league last season, scoring goal after goal, week after week.

The U18’s have seen another player arrive at the club this summer with Ethan Galbraith, the U17 captain for Northern Ireland, be confirmed as a United player, albeit by the Northern Ireland Football Association. The 16-year-old has already agreed on a three-year contract with the Old Trafford outfit and will travel to Manchester this weekend to complete his deal, which is where an official announcement from the club will probably be made, pending formalities, of course. Galbraith’s contract will consist of an initial one-year scholarship and then a two-year professional deal. It does seem that United’s head of Academy Nicky Butt means business, continuing to strengthen the U18 squad in a bid to bring the talent out of the rest of the players, aiming to dominate youth football once again.

The future looks very good for United. The U18’s may well see some of their talented players move up a level to the U23’s this summer, which is why reinforcements will be needed to cover the void, but players may also move up from the U16 age group this summer, aiming to earn their chances and prove themselves in a bid to kickstart their own careers at the club, which will be a dream come true for many. Youth does seem to be the future, despite many suggesting the manager, Jose Mourinho does not trust youth, something he clearly does and has a keen eye on. Perhaps those who are deemed God-like, Pep Guardiola for instance, should take a leaf out of Mourinho’s book when it comes to youth, who just do not seem to be coming through at Manchester City – despite having ‘the best Academy in the world’ – apparently!

Paul Pogba is no Keane or Scholes yet, but could soon be the complete midfielder

Paul Pogba returned to Manchester United this summer with his former club paying £89 million for his services from Juventus, the team he left Old Trafford for after the expiry of his contract in 2012. Just £800,000 was paid in compensation for his services, which is all in the past now and will be a lesson learned for the club. Pogba is a proficient midfielder, one capable of doing spectacular things, like he did on occasion with his former club. The Frenchman may not be a player that many would look at as a match winner, but as a midfielder, many would not turn him away from their squad based on what he can do and offer to any team. The European Championships may not have been the time where Pogba proved himself, but neither did the rest of the French squad as they did not go on to win the tournament they were hosting, like what was speculated and expected.

Pogba returning to United has solved the midfield problem that they were looking to solve. Since Roy Keane left the club, only one man – Owen Hargreaves, looked the part in filling the void left by the Irish midfielder. Injuries ended his time playing for the club, and since then, United have struggled to find the right player to fill that void. Pogba, so far, seems to be that man. Former United striker Andy Cole feels that Pogba can be the complete midfielder for the club, based on what he did over in Italy, what he achieved and how far his development has gone from the days he was on the fringes of the first team, seldom given the chance he craved for. Cole, speaking exclusively to 888Sport, said:

“I can’t see why he can’t be the complete midfielder. For such a young man to go to Italy and do what he did then, of course, he can. He can be a special player at Old Trafford and that’s why they paid all that money to bring him back.

“To cope with the price as he has done it’s just water off a duck’s back. So fair play to him to come back to Old Trafford for unfinished business and his performances have been good.

“The sad thing about reporters is that there are so many people waiting and hoping he has a bad few games. That’s the industry but I genuinely believe he will be fantastic at Manchester United.”

Pogba seems unfazed about the price he cost his club, making his second debut for the club against Southampton at Old Trafford just under three weeks ago, putting in a great performance and working well with Marouane Fellaini in midfield, also linking with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, another arrival at the club in the summer. Pogba has a lot of potential, potential he can reach at the Theatre of Dreams, in time. Pogba may not yet be at the standards of former United midfielders Roy Keane and Paul Scholes, the latter is one of Pogba’s heroes, one he saw come out of retirement and effectively end his chances of solving a problem in midfield for Sir Alex Ferguson, but nobody would expect him, at the age of 23 to be that good, in a few years time, if he has not matched or bettered the ability of Keane and Scholes, the media would probably have a field day. Andy Cole, talking about Pogba, Keane, and Scholes, speaking exclusively to 888Sport, said:

“Roy and Scholesy, well I’m very biased because I played with the pair of them. Pogba has the ability to become a fantastic player. But will he surpass them two? I’ll tell you what, if he does then he’ll turn out to be some player. Those two were absolutely phenomenal.

“I’m very biased. The ’99 team was a very good team and what we achieved means a lot of people love that team and want to see Manchester United play like that team.”

Cole knows just how Keane and Scholes ticked, playing with them for the majority of his United career, becoming successful with both in the 1998/99 treble winning season where they became the first English team to win the Premier League, FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League, a proper treble, not a plastic one. The team back in that season was probably one of the best in terms of squad depth that I have seen in the Premier League era, although the 2008/09 squad was equally as good, but did not achieve the heights as the treble-winning squad. Pogba, providing United continue to strengthen and not rest on their laurels like they had during the latter Ferguson years, could eclipse both teams under Mourinho, which is something I am sure he will be looking to do. With the addition of Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly this summer, added to that of Jose Mourinho, the Manchester United squad, at least for the last three years, has never had that many determined winners, which will help a lot to bring back the glory days.

Read the full 888sport interview with Andy Cole, including his thoughts on how Marcus Rashford can become an Old Trafford legend.

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

copyright: JW