Predicted XI: Manchester United to revert to 4-4-2 formation with Ronaldo and Cavani in attack, Van de Beek and McTominay in midfield?

Manchester United return to UEFA Champions League football on Wednesday evening as they welcome Italian side Atalanta to Old Trafford in the third match of the group stage this season. United have three points in the group this season and need another win after losing to Young Boys in the first match and beating Villarreal at the death in the second match. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are in poor form after not winning in the Premier League for the past month with their last win coming against Villarreal, which was a poor performance from United but they ended up getting all three points. Something needs to give for United – they must perform.

In their last match, United were beaten 4-2 by Leicester City in the Premier League. It was a poor performance for United, despite scoring the first goal of the game and equalising minutes after Leicester took the lead. But United capitulated and conceded two more goals before the end of the match, which resulted in their biggest defeat of the season and an end to their unbeaten away run, which broke Arsenal’s record which was set in 2004. The defeat meant that the negative fans on social media were rampant in their screaming for the manager to be sacked, which is all they want to happen. It makes you wonder if they are fans at all?

Previous meetings with Atalanta and their connections with Manchester United.

United and Atalanta are yet to meet in a competitive fixture, which is an unknown prospect for United and Solskjaer ahead of Wednesday’s clash at the Theatre of Dreams. United have played many Italian teams in Europe and at this time, where the club are winless in their last three matches, it could be a good time for the Italian side to take on the Red Devils. United will have had an extra day’s rest with no travel ahead of the match, but based on the form of the club, it means nothing at this time. United need to bounce back from their 4-2 defeat to Leicester City and get more points on the board in the Champions League this season.

Amad Diallo is the only player to have played for both Manchester United and Atalanta. The 19-year-old started out as a youth player at Boca Barco before moving to Atalanta in 2015, coming though to the first team in 2019. Amad played five times for Atalanta, scoring one goal before his £37 million transfer to Old Trafford was completed in January 2021, despite being agreed in the summer of 2020. The Ivorian international has represented his country seven times; four times at U23 level and three times at senior level. He was also part of the squad for the Olympics in Tokyo in 2021. Fresh from injury, Amad could play a part against Atalanta.

Here is my predicted starting XI to face Atalanta in the UEFA Champions League at the Old Trafford on Wednesday evening…

Goalkeeper: David De Gea

David De Gea is in great form this season and has been one of the players who deserves to be praised for his performances, especially after what he endured last season. On Saturday, De Gea made a number of saves to keep United in the game but conceded four goals, which most of the time were caused by defensive errors, which is an area that United need to improve on significantly – if they want to achieve something this season. At this stage of the season, with the club on a poor run of results with big matches still to come, the real United much stand up and De Gea can be intrinsic to that. The pressure is on for United to start winning.

The experience of the Spaniard is impressive and it is clear that he wants to continue his career at the club, fighting for the big honours, which United have seemingly sat out of since the days of Sir Alex Ferguson, despite an Emirates FA Cup win under Louis van Gaal, an EFL and Europa League Cup double under Jose Mourinho, not to mention the FA Community Shields won by David Moyes and Mourinho. United came close to a trophy last season, losing the Europa League on penalties, which De Gea played a part in, failing to save a single spot kick, or score his own, which signalled the end of the match with Villarreal winning the trophy.

Defenders: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly, Luke Shaw

The defence is still a problem area for United. Raphael Varane’s injury is going to cost United moving forward and Harry Maguire’s lack of fitness, not to mention his rustiness and error rate against Leicester City, which leaves United with a big problem – who to pick to face Atalanta. Aaron Wan-Bissaka will be back in action after having his two-match suspension in the Champions League reduced to one, which makes him available on Wednesday. Luke Shaw should also keep his place, but may need to perform at a much higher level if United are to get three important points at the Theatre of Dreams.

With Varane out of action with a groin injury and Maguire lacking fitness, United have a choice of Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones and Teden Mengi for the central defence with Mengi likely playing for the U19’s in the UEFA Youth League against the Italian side. With this in mind, I think Lindelof and Bailly will be the central defensive option for Solskjaer, unless Maguire gains some fitness between now and Wednesday evening – which is a distinct possibility. United need to start defending in the same way as the United of old, as that is where the difference in winning and losing trophies come from – which worked for Sir Alex Ferguson.

Midfield: Jadon Sancho, Scott McTominay, Donny van de Beek, Marcus Rashford

The midfield is a major problem this season. It is suggested in the media that Solskjaer wanted another midfielder in the summer, as did the supporters and that did not happen. This is one of the reasons as to why the squad is not achieving. United have no real command of the midfield. Scott McTominay and Fred are the most likely midfield partnership, which is why United struggle as it does not tend to work all that well all of the time, if at all. United need a midfielder who can defend, keep the ball, win the ball and become that deep-lying playmaker. I don’t think many players at the club are capable of this.

I think United should revert to a traditional 4-4-2 formation, if only to test it out to see if it can change United’s fortunes. United need to find that way to play swashbuckling, entertaining football which is what these players are capable of. Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford could play in the wide positions, when Mason Greenwood could play here too. In the middle, Scott McTominay and Donny van de Beek should be given a chance as you never know, it might work out. Bruno Fernandes has struggled when United have been behind, so a change could do some good. It is worth trying, but I don’t think it will be tried. I’m not sure the coaching can change.

Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo, Edinson Cavani

United have a quality attacking line this season and it has not been used to its strength. Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani are both poachers who have an array of abilities in front of goal. Both can score some great goals with their feet or their heads. Cavani has proven this time and time again last season. Ronaldo have proved this during his career. Granted, Ronaldo does not press as much so this should be provided by other players on the pitch with Ronaldo and Cavani in the box waiting for the right balls to come in and them doing their best to get the goals that United will need to win matches.

The best form of defence is to attack and that is what this United squad should be good at doing. If Solskjaer can breed this mentality and find the right players to provide the pressing, which is something that Rashford, Sancho and Van de Beek should be capable of doing, then this could be crucial for United. The fact that Solskjaer’s side will face Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur before the end of the month and Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal in the Premier League before the end of November will mean that he needs to get things moving, otherwise the pressure he is under now could become so much more.

Substitutes: Dean Henderson; Phil Jones, Harry Maguire, Diogo Dalot, Alex Telles; Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Fred, Bruno Fernandes, Nemanja Matic; Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood

United can name up to twelve substitutes on the bench in the Champions League, using up to five of them in the match. In the knockout stages, if United end up getting there, they can use an extra substitute if matches go to extra time. I fully expect Dean Henderson to be on the bench, as United will need to win this match and he will be quite rusty, even though he has played at U23 level. In defence, Phil Jones, Harry Maguire, Diogo Dalot and Alex Telles should all be available, so Solskjaer can make tactical changes, if needed. That also means he will need to change his tactics as the same things are tried against each team all the time.

In midfield, Paul Pogba should be benched after his dismal performance against Leicester, with Jesse Lingard, Fred, Bruno Fernandes and Nemanja Matic also available, should the midfield need more of a different approach at any point of the match, which will probably be the case. In attack, with Ronaldo and Cavani starting, Anthony Martial, if he has managed to recover his fitness after the international break and Mason Greenwood could be available to be called upon. I don’t expect Solskjaer to take these risks though, which is why abject failure seems to be on the horizon. Playing safe is great, when safe. But this is so much different.

Written by John Walker

Preview: Will Manchester United continue with lackadaisical approach in must win Atalanta match?

Manchester United -v- Atalanta

UEFA Champions League

Old Trafford, Manchester

Wednesday 20 October 2021, KO 20:00 BST

Referee: Szymon Marciniak Assistants: Paweł Sokolnicki, Tomasz Listkiewicz

Fourth Official: Tomasz Musiał

VAR: Tomasz Kwiatkowski Assistant VAR: Marco Fritz

Manchester United return to UEFA Champions League football on Wednesday evening as they welcome Italian side Atalanta to Old Trafford in the third match of the group stage this season. United have three points in the group this season and need another win after losing to Young Boys in the first match and beating Villarreal at the death in the second match. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are in poor form after not winning in the Premier League for the past month with their last win coming against Villarreal, which was a poor performance from United but they ended up getting all three points. Something needs to give for United – they must perform.

In their last match, United were beaten 4-2 by Leicester City in the Premier League. It was a poor performance for United, despite scoring the first goal of the game and equalising minutes after Leicester took the lead. But United capitulated and conceded two more goals before the end of the match, which resulted in their biggest defeat of the season and an end to their unbeaten away run, which broke Arsenal’s record which was set in 2004. The defeat meant that the negative fans on social media were rampant in their screaming for the manager to be sacked, which is all they want to happen. It makes you wonder if they are fans at all?

Manchester United – Recent Form, Goals Scored and Assists: LDWLLW

Leicester City 4-2 L, Everton 1-1 D, Villarreal 2-1 W, Aston Villa 1-0 L, West Ham United 1-0 L, West Ham United 2-1 W

Goals: 5 – Cristiano Ronaldo, 4 – Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood, 2 – Jesse Lingard, 1 – Fred, Anthony Martial, Alex Telles

Assists: 7 – Paul Pogba, 4 – Bruno Fernandes, 2 – Victor Lindelof, 1 – Jesse Lingard, Nemanja Matic, Luke Shaw, Raphael Varane

Atalanta – Recent Form, Goals Scored and Assists: WLWDWW

Empoli 4-1 W, AC Milan 3-2 L, Young Boys 1-0 W, Inter Milan 2-2 D, Sassuolo 2-1 W, Saletnitana 1-0 W

Goals: 4 – Duvan Zapata, 2 – Robin Gosens, Josip Ilicic, 1 – Remo Freuler, Own Goal, Ruslan Malinovsky, Luis Muriel, Mario Pasalic, Matteo Pessina, Roberto Piccoli, Rafael Toloi, Davide Zappacosta

Assists: 4 – Duvan Zapata, 3 – Mario Pasalic, 2 – Josip Ilicic, 1 – Ruslan Malinovsky, Aleksei Miranchuk, Luis Muriel

Previous meetings with Atalanta and their connections with Manchester United.

United and Atalanta are yet to meet in a competitive fixture, which is an unknown prospect for United and Solskjaer ahead of Wednesday’s clash at the Theatre of Dreams. United have played many Italian teams in Europe and at this time, where the club are winless in their last three matches, it could be a good time for the Italian side to take on the Red Devils. United will have had an extra day’s rest with no travel ahead of the match, but based on the form of the club, it means nothing at this time. United need to bounce back from their 4-2 defeat to Leicester City and get more points on the board in the Champions League this season.

Amad Diallo is the only player to have played for both Manchester United and Atalanta. The 19-year-old started out as a youth player at Boca Barco before moving to Atalanta in 2015, coming though to the first team in 2019. Amad played five times for Atalanta, scoring one goal before his £37 million transfer to Old Trafford was completed in January 2021, despite being agreed in the summer of 2020. The Ivorian international has represented his country seven times; four times at U23 level and three times at senior level. He was also part of the squad for the Olympics in Tokyo in 2021. Fresh from injury, Amad could play a part against Atalanta.

Team News: Raphael Varane out for United; four or five players out of action for Atalanta, which could cause them some problems ahead of their Old Trafford outing.

Raphael Varane (Groin) is the only actual injury at the club at this time. It is likely that he will be out until at least the end of the month, maybe longer. Amad Diallo (Thigh) is back in training, and has a 25% chance of being available to face his former club. Fred and Edinson Cavani returned late from the international break, playing in the early hours of Friday morning, so both are said to be 75% fit, which looks good for Wednesday’s match, which should give them time to get over the jet lag. Anthony Martial returned from France unfit, so has a 25% chance of being available for this match. Phil Jones could also return to boost United’s defence.

Hans Hateboer (Foot), Robin Gosens (Hamstring), Berat Djimsiti (Arm Fracture) and Matteo Pessina (Calf) look set to me missing because of injury. Rafael Tolói (Thigh) made his return in the 4-1 victory over Empoli at the weekend, but needed to be replaced at half time, so he could be a doubt ahead of this match too. There seems to be some injury problems at the Italian club, which could aid United, who also have their own problems. I am sure Atalanta will be seeking to upset United and cause yet more embarrassment but United will also be looking to limit the damage that has been caused by poor form for much of the last month or so.

Predicted Starting XI: 4-4-2 formation to help United find their feet after a month of lacklustre football and poor results? Edinson Cavani and Cristiano Ronaldo to spearhead the attack?

Solskjaer will need to find a way to get United firing again. His tactics seem inept. He selection has not worked and his late substitutions rarely cause a reaction that is a positive for United. The pressure the Norwegian is under will be similar to that of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho and it will only be a matter of time before that pressure intensifies with the matches against Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur yet to come before the end of the month – not to mention what November has to offer with matches against Atalanta, Manchester City, Watford, Villarreal, Chelsea and Arsenal. Is the end of the road coming?

Against Atalanta, perhaps a switch to the traditional 4-4-2 formation could add something in favour of United? David De Gea will keep his place in goal with Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw in the fullback positions. Wan-Bissaka won his appeal against a second match suspension following his red card against Young Boys. Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly could partner in the centre of the defence. In midfield, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford could occupy the wide positions with Donny van de Beek and Scott McTominay in the centre. This could leave Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani to lead the line – service would need to be provided for them.

Match Prediction: If Solskjaer’s tactics change and he lets players perform to their strengths, it could be something that works well for United. But I think the same old lackadaisical approach will continue.

This is a must-win match for United if they are to have an easier chance of reaching the knockout stages of the competition this season. United already have a loss and a win in the first two matches of the group stage. Atalanta could be seen as the weaker team in the group, which means they will be the dominant side against United – as was the case last season. Solskjaer will need to ensure his tactics are spot on for this match, which is a big wish as this has not been the case much recently. If United lose, despite currently being just a point from the summit in the group, it could be the start of their exit from the competition – which is a problem.

United have talented players, many of which are not really getting a chance with Solskjaer trusting players who don’t seem to offer much and praising their performances. It is a problem which has seem lots of criticism but nothing seems to be changing. United are said to still back the manager and the direction the club are heading, as Solskjaer has got United in better shape, squad wise than Moyes, Van Gaal and Mourinho but there is so much more that needs to be done right to get United heading into the direction of the trophies. Another season in the UEFA Europa League would be a disaster for United and Solskjaer.

Manchester United 2-1 Atalanta

Written by John Walker

Opinion: Paul Pogba may forever be an odd piece in Manchester United’s puzzled system

Manchester United’s dismal run of form continued against Leicester on Saturday as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team suffered a dejecting 4-2 defeat. It was the chance to usher in a triumphant return to form for United, however Solskjaer’s team looked even worse than before the international break for large patches of the game. 

Naturally questions will be directed towards the manager and his subsequent selection of Harry Maguire, who had an awful individual performance, but it was United’s midfield that once again massively struggled, particularly Paul Pogba. Just days ago, Pogba had put in a top-class performance for France, winning the UEFA Nations League in the process, yet the Pogba on the pitch against Leicester looked a million miles from the Nations League display. 

This then poses the question, what is the reason Pogba can be brilliant for France yet not translate this to club football? In all truth there is likely to be several factors rather than one sole reason, but Pogba’s unstable form for United has been present since the Frenchman arrived, which leads to the natural assumption that somethings not quite right within the United setup if it can’t get the best out of the exceptionally talented midfielder.

Pogba had left United in an unsavoury manner all the way back in 2012, departing Sir Alex Fergusons side for Juventus, and Sir Alex made it very clear he wasn’t happy with how the situation played out. United’s legendary manager has always had a dislike towards Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, who managed to get the Frenchman out of United on a free back then. 

Since then, Pogba returned in grand fashion in 2016, a world record fee of £89 million at the time, this in tandem with an intensive social media announcement raised expectations through the roof. However, despite all the hype and expectation, Pogba has never seemed to fully realise the potential he possesses. 

It started out well enough for Pogba, winning the Europa League and League Cup in his first season for United, the midfielder had a decent season under Jose Mourinho, who he would later famously fall out with. Even then though, Pogba didn’t always look comfortable in the holding number six role, his attacking brilliance caged, and emphasis put on his defensive contributions- which is nowhere near the strongest aspect of his game. 

It felt like Pogba was touted as some sort of midfield saviour for United, an area that has failed to have been properly addressed for years. While there has been midfielders brought in alongside Pogba, such as Ander Herrera or Nemanja Matic, there has rarely been a United side in the last few years where you felt like that the midfield would take charge and be the difference in the game. 

This then must partly go down to poor recruitment and the turnover in managers in the last eight years, United are in uncharted territory and it shows. Four different managers with hugely contrasting ideas and systems, some more evident than others. For example, Mourinho’s defensively minded United side were very good at grinding out results whereas Solskjaer allows more of a free reign approach in search for goals. 

The point being United have been signing players for different systems and ideas and then forcing the next manager to try and integrate them in their own setup- it’s inefficient and unsustainable regarding success.

Consequentially now where United find themselves with one win in five it’s only fitting that the board have reportedly promised to stick by Solskjaer, a clear sign that the manager turnover is not something they want to become a habit. Going back to Pogba, it is Solskjaer who let his attacking instincts run free in a left-wing role. 

Pogba seemed happier playing from the left and having fewer defensive responsibilities, and for a while it seemed like the balance of the team was better like this. However, the void of sheer quality lost in central areas is noticeable when the Frenchman plays on the left, there are far less forward or line breaking passes, and despite being more defensively sound, the manager would ideally want both aspects present in central midfield. 

Subsequently we can look to France to see how it can work out for Pogba to perform to his best while still playing in that central area. In the France setup Pogba is paired with a sitter, a midfielder who is defensively minded and usually high energy and intensity, almost the antithesis of Pogba who is freer spirited and plays with a steady rhythm. 

A player like N’Golo Kante or more recently Aurelien Tchouameni next to Pogba means he can focus on his strongest attributes such as dribbling, passing, and arriving in attacking areas rather than defending. This is ideally what United may need to look to do, but presently the only player who would be able to play a role next to Pogba like this is Matic, however the Serbian lacks the legs and engine needed to do this to provide true defensive cover. 

Therein lies the issue with the Pogba puzzle, currently Pogba is a piece that just doesn’t fit into the crop of United players that Solskjaer has without drawback. Play him on the left-wing and opportunities for the multitude of talented wingers United possess are scuppered, play him in midfield and United are vulnerable defensively. 

It does seem though after five long years and several top performances at the national level United and Solskjaer may have finally worked out the solution to solve the problem, i.e. bringing in a proper number six/defensive midfielder suited to Pogba’s game, but it almost seems too late.

Pogba would have to commit to another long haul at United to ever see the benefits of such a player brought in alongside him, something he may not want to do. This is because of on top of never feeling truly comfortable in any specific role, Pogba has always flirted with a United exit, fuelling the tirade of comments suggesting the Frenchman doesn’t care and isn’t good enough for United anyway. 

All of this alongside the club being poorly managed from the top down for a good while has meant Pogba has always looked like a fish out of water. A player unstable in performances generated from an unstable environment and lack of clarity on his role. Pogba has been a square piece in a round hole for United’s midfield for a while, a midfield that is symptomatic of far greater issues at the club regarding ownership and lack of proper structuring.

On his day Pogba will provide the most outrageous assist and bury a 30 yarder like it’s nothing, but it’s rarely been Pogba’s day at his time during United. In spite of this, Pogba has been a top scorer and top assist provider during his time at the club, further muddying the unclear waters of whether Pogba can be considered a success or even a good player over the last five years. 

When playing for France Pogba is surrounded by winners, a clear system and stability- at United it’s now unfortunately the opposite. This doesn’t excuse the times we’ve seen a lack of effort from the Frenchman, the jogging back or head down attitude that sometimes surfaces in hard times, but it adds to the reasons of why Pogba hasn’t fulfilled a massive potential in his time here. 

In terms of the future, it’s currently unclear for Pogba as it feels almost every year for the 28-year-old. Raiola has frequently opened his mouth regarding potential moves away and Pogba has done nothing to suggest long-term commitment to United. 

The next contract for Pogba will be his last big contract, so there is an added pressure on a player that has professed he is desperate to win, perhaps a reason why a move away from United may be so appealing. Yet despite this there is clearly an affection for the club from Pogba, or in failing that a desire to win here and prove doubters wrong, this may be one reason the Frenchman considers staying. 

The easy way out would be to leave for Real Madrid or Juventus, but the fairy-tale ending would be to stay and potentially help United ascend back to glory. If this is ever to happen United need to make the correct decisions from the board level down in terms of recruitment, the right course of action regarding the manager situation, and most importantly, Pogba has to really want to play for the club.

United now find themselves needing to bounce back if the season is to be considered a success, and Pogba may find himself playing a greater role in not just his own future but the future of the club.

Written by Sam Wilson

Injury Curse: Maguire and Varane both likely out but United have enough depth to cope

Manchester United look set to be without both captain Harry Maguire and first choice centre-back partner Raphael Varane for the first game post international break, as United travel to take on Leicester City. Maguire has been battling with a calf issue, and although still has an outside chance of playing, he’s unlikely to start. 

Varane on the other hand picked up a groin injury while on International duty for France, the world cup winner was substituted during the Nations League final against Spain. Despite this undoubtedly being a blow for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the manager still has several defenders to choose from in their absence. 

Earlier this year we wrote about the increased squad depth United now possess in defence, and it looks like that depth will be called into action with both Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelöf available.

This game will be a significant test for Bailly and Lindelöf if they are recalled into the starting line-up, Bailly’s only start this season has come in United’s disappointing Carabao Cup defeat to West Ham United, while Lindelöf lost his position as a starting centre-back once Raphael Varane arrived. 

The lack of minutes for the pair means they may feel a sense of rust, however, this will need to be shaken off quickly if they are to deal with a strong and fast Leicester side. In some senses it feels like Lindelöf has progressed in the last year, being promoted to Sweden captaincy is a major step up in responsibilities at the national level, and Solskjaer will hope this can have a positive effect on his club football as well. 

Meanwhile, Bailly looks like he’s stagnating at United, despite signing a new deal in April of this year. The Ivorian has represented his country at the Olympic Games this year, even scoring in the quarter final defeat against Spain, but aside from this there has been no real progression for the defender. 

Bailly may feel the most aggrieved out of all United’s defenders in the sense that he is almost certainly fourth choice at centre-back despite signing that new deal this year. Any assurances over game time may have disappeared once the highly rated Varane was available on the market, Solskjaer has seemingly been guilty with not keeping promises over game time, something Donny Van de Beek will attest to

In spite of this, the pair should be ready and raring to go, as is expected of every single United player.

Although the prospect of going into a game against Leicester without two first choice defenders is a scary prospect on paper, there may be a few factors in United’s favour. Firstly the fact that Leicester have been in poor form by their high standards this season is a plus, Brendan Rodgers hasn’t been able to make the Foxes click quite yet, Leicester sit all the way down in 13th going into the game. 

Additionally, both teams go into this game after an international break, meaning most players have had a considerable time away from playing, which may benefit Lindelof and Bailly as they attempt to find match rhythm once more. 

In some regards it may be forgotten that the pair are in fact both good players on their day, but United’s level of depth in defence and lack of opportunities have almost afforded both Lindelof and Bailly a status of substandard. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Lindelof and Bailly have both won trophies for United where Maguire hasn’t, so there should be no real questioning of their experience when they do need to fill in.

For Lindelof and Bailly, a good performance may lead to a run of games, with Varane set to be out for at least two weeks. Maguire is likely to return very soon, so the opportunity to impress may be limited to just this one game for one of the incoming pair, and Solskjaer will know he needs every player at their best to contend with the difficult upcoming run of fixtures. 

Overall United will face a stern test against Leicester, but the game shouldn’t be lost on defensive changes for United, rather the result will be symptomatic of how Solskjaer deploys his team on the day and whether the players as a whole turn up with intensity after the break- something that should be expected at the very least.

Written by Sam Wilson

Facundo Pellistri just wants to play football, giving Jadon Sancho as a reason for loan spell

Manchester United winger Facundo Pellistri has talked about life after signing for the Old Trafford club, including giving a reason why he left the club on loan for the second season in a row – seemingly because of the signing of Jadon Sancho, who arrived from Borussia Dortmund in a £73 million deal. United signed the Uruguayan winger in the summer of 2020 from Penarol for £9 million.

This was a deal for the future rather than now. Pellistri was rated highly and United got in there before any of the competition, seemingly getting a good deal for what could be a top player in the years to come. The 19-year-old started well in United’s pre-season campaign this summer, even scoring United’s second goal in a 2-1 victory over Derby County and assisting United’s first goal in a 4-2 defeat to Queens Park Rangers.

It was suggested that the player wanted to stay at United this season, finding his feet at the club but in the end he was loaned to Deportivo Alaves for the second time. This should have given him more minutes on the pitch, therefore allowing his to acclimatise to European football, which will give him more benefit ahead of his future at United, which seems to be something that he wants to achieve, which is a good things considering the player’s attributes.

When United signed the Uruguayan, arriving with compatriot Edinson Cavani, the Old Trafford club saw him as a player for the future, also securing a deal for Amad Diallo of Atalanta, with his spell at United starting in January 2021 when he made the move to Manchester. He is a talented player and could offer United a lot in the coming years, providing he makes it at the club.

Pellistri, 19, recently spoke to The Athletic about his move to United, including the loan spell which sees him playing a bit-part role at Alaves in Spain. The player spoke greatly about his pre-season escapades in which he tasted first-hand what is expected of a United player, confirming that Sancho’s move was one of the reasons for his agreement for the loan spell, saying:

“I felt stronger in the first team, I scored in a game at Derby for the first team. It was a very hard pre-season, the hardest I’ve ever had. Physically, you are really pushed, the training is such a high level.

“New players came in, including in my position [Jadon Sancho] so I thought it was a good idea to go on loan again. The best thing for a player is to play, and for a young player, to get experience.”

Pellistri also spoke about the changes in his life now that he had signed for one of the world’s biggest football clubs, talking about the house that the club provided for him, plus the food, which would have lasted him many months – also talking about the fact that the club would have provided anything that he wanted. He concluded by saying:

“The club gave me a house filled with enough food for two months. The difference between United and a club in Uruguay was incredible. There were so many people to help look after us.

“If we had any problem, I just had to call. If I wanted a new phone — no problem. They would get one for me.”

The Uruguayan winger will have known that his participation in the squad would have been limited before Sancho arrived at the club and playing regular football on loan, at least in a country that speaks the same language as him, whilst being in Europe, therefore helping him acclimatise to European football at the same time, would have been a good choice for him, rather than being frustrated of a lack of football at United.

At Alaves this season, it does not seem to be going to plan for the 19-year-old, making seven appearances for the club, not scoring or assisting a single goal and only playing 195 minutes of football. This means that United could look at recalling the winger from his loan spell which reportedly states that he will need to log 1,000 minutes of first team football by a date at the start of December 2021.

If this 1,000 minute clause is true, Pellistri would need to play every minute of the next nine matches to get that number of minutes and with just 195 minutes played since the start of his loan spell, it would seen unlikely but still possible for him to achieve. This would mean that he would play against Real Betis, Cadiz, Elche, Barcelona, Levante, Sevilla, Celta Vigo, Granada and Getafe with the last match played on the 12 December.

If United did end up recalling the player, which was reported in the past few days, United will either place him in the U23’s, the first team or find another club that would give him the minutes that he needs in order to develop. In the first team this season, that would seem unlikely but next season, with players leaving this summer on the expiry of their contracts, it would be a possibility.

Instead of loaning him to a league in another country, perhaps United could find a club in the Championship or even the Premier League that would give him the minutes he needs to show his level of ability and make his mark in England. The Championship would seem more likely, which would give him a taste of how football is played in this country, like he found out against Derby and QPR in the summer.

Written by John Walker

Feyenoord to make fresh bid to take Amad Diallo on loan from January – reports

Feyenoord are reportedly ready to make a fresh bid to take Amad Diallo to the Eredivisie from January. The Dutch club were advancing in a. deal to sign the Ivory Coast winger during the summer transfer window, but. thigh injury ended that as the player would have been out of action for a few months, rendering the deal void, at least until the next transfer window.

The 19-year-old arrived at Manchester United from Atalanta during the January transfer window in 2021, after a deal was agreed towards the end of the summer transfer window in 2020. Amad joined United for an initial fee of £21.25 million, which could rise to £34 million if the add-ons are activated. So far the winger has been used sparingly, achieving more at U23 level than for the first team.

It is stated that Feyenoord still want to sign the winger on loan with the two clubs aiming to sort out a deal to be completed as soon as possible after the transfer window opens again on the 1 January 2022. The reports come from The Mirror, with them getting the information from Transfermarkt regarding the Dutch club. It would be a good transfer move for the teenager, who needs to find regular football in order to develop as a player.

Amad may be an inexperienced player but he has represented his country, playing with teammate and compatriot Eric Bailly during the summer Olympics in Tokyo. This led to the season starting late for the duo, which is where the winger got his injury, once he returned to training – although it could have happened at any time. This move would be beneficial for the winger as it will give him time, albeit away from scrutiny.

The Ivorian has played eight times at first team level for United, scoring one goal and one assist. At U23 level, he has played just three times, scoring four goals and three assists, which is impressive. During his time at Atalanta, he made just five appearances, scoring one goal – playing just 59 minutes of football at first team level, which was ended when United brought him to Manchester.

Arsenal academy player Reiss Nelson moved to the Rotterdam club in the summer, with the Dutch side seeking ore attacking talent for their squad. The England U21 winger has yet to feature for the club after suffering a groin injury, which could be the reason why the Rotterdam club now want to re-establish the loan move for Amad as the signing of the Arsenal player has not really strengthened their attack.

It has been reported that Amad could be back in training at some point in the not too distant future, which would be good for him and the team. United have a wealth of attacking talent at this time and Amad’s availability, when fully fit will be great for that. However, I would expect to see him play more football at U23 level, which will strengthen the squad at that level at this stage of the season.

The path to first team football at United will be tougher for Amad as he now have Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo ahead of him, not that Ronaldo, who will mostly play as a central striker, will impact him. However, Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford will add to the competition for places in the starting XI. This is one of the reasons why a loan spell in January would be good for the Ivorian winger, as that will give him more confidence ahead of him breaking into the first team at the club.

I would fully expect this transfer to take place as soon as is possible as it was all but agreed when injury stopped it from happening. Of course, other clubs could come forward and state their case to signing the winger, but United will need guarantees of playing time as that is the whole purpose of a loan spell. If he goes to a club that is not going to give him playing time, there would be little point in completing that as it will just be wasting the players time.

Written by John Walker

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should have aggressive mentality to help Cristiano Ronaldo, says Paul Scholes

Former Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes has urged current manager and former teammate Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to adopt a more aggressive mentality to help Cristiano Ronaldo in attack. Scholes has stated that an overdue change to the midfield will help United unleash their more exciting attacking players to make up for lost time in the Premier League title race this season.

United started the season in fine fettle with a 5-1 victory over Leeds United, then drawing 1-1 to Southampton before beating Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-0, all before the first International break of the season. After that, they beat Newcastle United 4-1 and beat West Ham United 2-1 before falling foul to a 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa and a 1-1 draw with Everton, all in the Premier League.

Solskjaer has continued, at least when possible, to play Scott McTominay and Fred as the defensive-minded pairing in the centre of the midfield, which leads many to frustration, primarily because of Fred. Scholes has stated that he has no doubts over McTominay’s quality but was concerned to the lack of balance in the midfield. This is something that we have all been thinking over the past few months.

Scholes feels that Solskjaer should look at what Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola would do, installing McTominay as the sole holding midfielder in the starting XI, who could obviously rotate with Nemanja Matic, and playing a more attacking lineup in matches. Scholes spoke about McTominay and his ideas for United on the Webby and O’Neill YouTube channel, saying:

“I think he’s got everything, he’s athletic, he can get around the pitch, he’s got great ability as well. He’s capable of sitting in that position.”

Scholes believes that this change wold benefit the attacking players, such as Ronaldo, who will be leading United’s attack, Bruno Fernandes, who largely plays in the central attacking midfield role, Jadon Sancho, who should be playing on the right-wing and Marcus Rashford, who will be back on the left-wing when he returns from injury. The likes of Mason Greenwood, Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial will benefit also. Scholes continued by saying:

“That’s the difference between United and I think Liverpool and City – they are much more aggressive, more attack-minded,” added the 46-year-old.

“You think of City going away to Chelsea, they play one holding midfield player and almost play six or seven forward players – that’s the difference in mentality.

“I think if Ole can get that right with that balance in the team… going forward I don’t think is a problem. Going forward we’ve got so many exciting players with Cristiano coming.”

It would see that Scholes has thought about this and has been suitably convinced that the team could work well with just one holding midfielder, based on their defensive performances so far this season. United have conceded six goals in seven matches which has mostly been strengthened by Raphael Varane’s arrival at the club this summer, strengthening the defence, which was much needed. Scholes concluded by saying:

“Defensively we look great, everything’s there. It just seems to be getting that one person in the middle of the pitch right, that balance of the team. But once he (Solskjaer) gets that, I think we’ll be alright.”

United will face Leicester City at the King Power Stadium on Saturday afternoon in the Premier League, which could see Solskjaer’s team strengthened with the return of Harry Maguire, who received a calf injury in the defeat to Aston Villa. That said, Varane came off in the Nations League final against Spain on Sunday, which France won 2-1, which could see him as a doubt for the clash with the team that bottled the Champions League in two consecutive seasons. Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly or even Phil Jones could step in if either were not fit enough to play this weekend.

Written by John Walker

Erling Haaland is the striker Manchester United must sign to compliment their squad

Manchester United completed the summer 2021 transfer window in style, signing Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo, which is widely considered a job well done. However, the job is not yet complete as United will require a striker and at least a defensive midfielder in 2022.

In the summer, it was stated that if United ended up with a defensive-minded midfielder, they would have had a very positive transfer window which would have strengthened the team in all areas. However, United are finding many problems in the midfield with Nemanja Matic considered as the only experienced defensive midfielder and his age not allowing him to play back to back matches regularly.

That said, the striker position will need strengthened in the summer with Edinson Cavani likely to leave the club, if he does not leave in January, with Anthony Martial also tipped for an exit, especially with the rumours that Newcastle United would be interested in signing the forward – even though there needs to be a solid interested, not just a rumour being born out of the £300 million takeover at the end of the week.

One striker that would fit in at United is Erling Haaland. United reportedly missed out on signing the player during the January 2020 transfer window with the player leaving RB Salzburg at the time. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had previously managed the player at Molde and United would have signed a considerable bargain at the time but Ed Woodward’s attempts to cut Mino Raiola out of the deal failed and Haaland signed for Borussia Dortmund – where he has continued his success.

Haaland has developed well at each club he has played for, starting at Byrne, where he made 16 appearances, not scoring a single goal or assist. At Molde, he made a total of 50 appearances, scoring 20 goals and six assists. At RB Salzburg, he made 27 appearances, scoring 29 goals and seven assists, which is where bigger clubs started to notice the Norwegian. At Dortmund, he has made a total of 67 appearances, scoring 68 goals and 19 assists, showing his improvement in the game.

Haaland has made a total of 161 appearances during his career, scoring 117 goals and 32 assists, which gives him, on average, a goal every 0.73 matches, assisting every 0.20 matches and offering a goal contribution every 0.93 matches, which is sooner or later going to get him in one of the biggest clubs in European football where he will be seeking to compliment the squad and win some of the biggest honours in the game. With the right tactics he could achieve that at United with the squad that has been built so far.

In September, it was reported that United Football Director, John Murtough and Solskjaer held a meeting about the clubs future transfers and they both agreed that Haaland was the better bet for the future, which is something that I would agree with. However, that does not mean that it will be easy for United to sign the striker as there will be many different clubs in for him in the summer of 2022 with his €75 million release clause at the Bundesliga club comes into effect.

Haaland’s physicality is suited to the Premier League an I am sure that he will bag loads of goals leading the line for a club in the league. United will be seeking to be the frontrunners for his signature by Raiola will stand in the way of any potential deal and with that man, nothing can be guaranteed as he likes to make money and move his players on from club to club.

This is the only real negative here. I am sure that Haaland would be interested in a Premier League move, which is arguably one of, if not the best league in Europe based on the competitive nature of the league at the fact that it does not seem to be a one horse race which is what we have seen in the past decade, and longer in some of Europe’s top leagues.

Written by John Walker

Donny van de Beek should leave Manchester United after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s ridiculous comments, says Ian Wright

Former Arsenal forward Ian Wright has urged Donny van de Beek to leave Manchester United suggesting that it is never going to work for the Dutchman at the club. It could be bitterness coming from the former Arsenal player, but there is some truth to this.

Van de Beek was signed from Ajax in a move worth £35 million in the summer of 2020 but after his first season at the club and his lack of appearances in the second season, it seems that his time at the club could be over. This would be a shame as the player is capable of playing some good football but there are more things at work here, not just that the player has a lack of minutes on the pitch.

Many seem to assume that Van de Beek is rivalling the likes of Scot McTominay, Nemanja Matic and Fred for a place in the midfield, but as a player with the speciality of attacking, he is actually rivalling the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard – which is why he’s not playing many minutes at the moment.

Of course, this could all change if the midfielder was given regular minutes and he impressed the manager and coaches at the club, which could give him a chance to stake his claim in the team but realistically, when he has played he has never set the world alight, but that said, he has not been give the chance to either. When a player plays few minutes, they need to be able to offer everything without the chance of mistakes.

During the summer, Van de Beek’s representatives were approached by Everton, which was something that never happened as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer turned down any chance of it happening, which suggested the player had a part to play this season – but has not been given many chances so far. Toffees director Marcel Brands will probably make another move for the player in January and the same could be said for Newcastle United, who will have financial might once again.

Wright spoke to Optus Sport about Van de Beek where he spoke about the player from his days at Ajax to now, suggesting that he does not fit the way that United play football. It kind of has some truth to it though. United bought a great player at a competitive rate but it seems clear that he was not the player that Solskjaer wanted, therefore he has been closed out, which seems unfair – it if is true. Wright’s comments were reported by The Mirror, with him saying:

“The way that Ajax play with their possession football, the way that he’s grown up in that Ajax academy knowing how to make moves off of a team that are able to continually hold the ball, is totally different to how Manchester United play.

“It’s baffling to me that he went to Manchester United. It’s not like they’re going to change the way they play for Donny van de Beek to play. The signing was wrong.

“At this stage, I’ve not seen him play more than three games on the spin for Manchester United, it’s gone wrong. He has got to get out of there because it’s not going to work for him at Manchester United.

“He is not going to get the opportunity to play, and he is somebody that should be playing because he is a fantastic player.”

Wright’s comments seem to come from the recent match which saw an annoyed Van de Beek after he was not brought on the pitch, but Fred was. The Dutchman showed his discontent, which is natural, especially when he will have been watching Fred from the sidelines, a player that has not exactly got what United need in his locker. After that match, Solskjaer made a comment suggesting that he did not need ‘sulkers’ in his squad, saying:

“If we’re going to be successful together, we know that we need positive energy. We can’t have sulkers, but Donny has never affected his team-mates negatively.

“As soon as I see players affecting the team negatively that’s a different scenario and I’ll probably be a little bit firmer.”

Wright then concluded what he was saying, commenting on the ‘ridiculous interview’ that Solskjaer had with the media, saying:

“We’re talking about somebody who’s not even had a chance and he’s obviously been very professional about what he’s doing, and he’s [Solskjaer’s] saying if he sees anything different, what, he’s going to blow him out? Ridiculous interview.”

It seems that it is only a matter of time before Manchester United and Donny van de Beek part ways. With Everton having interest in the player, it could be positive for United, who will need to bring in some money, also reduce the wage bill before signing a new player. That said, Newcastle United’s transfer of ownership could change the situation as the club will be seeking to sign better players in a bid to remain in the Premier League and challenge for a UEFA Champions League place in the not too distant future.

Something will need to give as these rumours will continue to do more harm than good. Solskjaer has stated that he has plans for the Dutchman but these pundits just don’t seem to let things rest, picking an international break to cause more doom and gloom, especially after United failed to beat Everton in the last match before the break, drawing 1-1 in a match that Everton seemed to show themselves as the better team.

Written by John Walker

Real Madrid and Barcelona ‘a complete mess’ as Paul Scholes urges Paul Pogba to snub them

Manchester United legend Paul Scholes has urged Paul Pogba to snub transfers to either Real Madrid or Barcelona calling them ‘a complete mess’. The English former midfielder believes that Pogba should be delighted to play in the Premier League as it is the ‘best in the world’.

For years now, Pogba has been linked to many different clubs with Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain being added to Real Madrid and Barcelona. Pogba once famously stated during a summer break that he wanted a new challenge, which linked him to a move that summer, which never came. In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic seemingly stopped a transfer, which continued in the summer of 2021.

Pogba’s contract at United will be up at the end of the season which could see the French midfielder once again leave the club as a free agent. Juventus are said to be interested in signing the player on a free once again, but to entertain his wage demands, they will need to offload a number of players to be able to afford that, so it could be the might of both Real Madrid and Barcelona that count try and sign the player.

Scholes has suggested that Pogba should ignore offers from clubs abroad that he considers weaker and stay in the Premier League. The Frenchman has been playing in a two-man midfield, which is something that Scholes did from around 1995 to 2013 when he retired, winning 11 Premier League titles in that time. Speaking on the Webby & O’Neill show, Scholes said:

“I can’t see why he would want to leave here. Why would you want to leave England? You look at Real Madrid – the Spanish league’s gone. Real, Barcelona, they’re an absolute, complete mess.

“PSG might be another option for him but England is the best now. You look at the top four teams, they’ve got all the best players, the best managers are here, so why would he want to leave?

“But it’s up to the club. If the club want to keep him then great, if they don’t then we’ll say goodbye.”

United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has struggled to find the right balance in midfield this season with Pogba seemingly struggling in a two-man midfield and the jury still being out as to whether he can be the player to bring stability to the midfield. Scholes continued by saying:

“Everybody is a little bit unsure because he doesn’t do it week in and week out. I think there is a big a debate. You’d probably say half of people want him, the other half wouldn’t be that bothered if he went.

“I think the middle of the pitch is a little bit of a problem for us. If he is on song and plays to his ability like he does for France every time he seems to play for them then you’ve got to try and keep him.”

There have been a few rumours of late suggesting that Pogba will sign a new contract at United, although nothing seems to have developed or at least been confirmed, so it can only be treated as rumour. During the course of the week, it was suggested that Pogba would agree a £400,000 per week deal to remain at the club with suggestions that United have set a year end deadline to agree that, because the player can sign a pre-contract agreement with a foreign club to leave as a free agent at the end of the season.

After the start Pogba made to the season, this could be the best ever season for the Frenchman at United, which would be fitting if it was his last, but even better if it was the start of the player finding the love of United and knuckling down to help the club achieve. Pogba has seven assists to his name in the Premier League alone this season, which shows that he is a player that can stand up and make himself counted.

That said, in the past, he has waned at the time that United needed him the most, but at that stage, he was considered the star of the team and he is now surrounded with players who can make something out of nothing on the pitch with Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood, just naming a few of them. There are also many great prospects at the club who want to achieve. It would be better for United to continue with Pogba, but if he was certain in wanting to leave, it will create a place in the team for someone else to prosper.

Written by John Walker

copyright: JW