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February 19, 2019

Marcus must use the 3-match ban period to make hard decisions

Burnley's Phil Bardsley clashes with Manchester United's Marcus Rashford on September 2, 2018. /REUTERS
Burnley's Phil Bardsley clashes with Manchester United's Marcus Rashford on September 2, 2018. /REUTERS
The reason for the incident which saw Marcus Rashford sent off against Burnley is deeper than most people know. Marcus put his head into Phil Bardsley’s face at Burnley and the much more experienced defender knew that the United striker would be in big trouble. Manager Jose Mourinho described the incident as his player behaving like a ‘naive’ young man. That is only part of the story. Marcus burst into the first team squad a couple of seasons ago and we saw flashes of brilliance from a player who can move into space, link up with other teammates and is lethal inside the box.
This was all done from a front striker’s position. What has made Marcus a frustrated young man is being pushed out wide to the left and to the right and not settling into any particular method of play. Everything started to go backwards for him with the arrival of two superstars: Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku. Marcus was subbed during the Leicester game, left out of the team completely at Tottenham and was sent off at the weekend. He will now miss the next three matches for the red card. During the next 18 months the young striker has some big decisions to make. Does he stick it out and try and work his way back into Mourinho’s trusted first team starting squad, go out on loan for a season to re-establish himself or ask for a transfer. To underline his current frustration, I am told that despite apologising to the manager and fans for being sent off and admitting that he lost his cool, he walked angrily back to the dressing room and kicked out at the Burnley dressing room door!
Pellegrini off home during break!
Make no mistake, West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini is under intense pressure to kick start his team’s new season. Currently, they are without a point having lost every match so far. I have learned that the owners are annoyed about a missed termination clause in Pellegrini’s contract, which means if he is sacked he will receive payment for every year of his contract which would total £15 million. The owners are usually very money cautious. David Sullivan and David Gold also let Pellegrini spend £100m in the summer break to build a team with top talent. So far that is money down the drain. Pellegrini brought in virtually a new team and it is currently no better than last season’s strugglers. Losing to newly promoted Wolves has been a huge wake up call because it was a game where West Ham fans expected at least a point. I was astonished that this week during the international break, only four players are away with their home countries. Does Pellegrini take the team onto the training field for two weeks intense work to improve things and build team bonding? No, he jets off to Chile for two weeks at home! West Ham are playing like a team of strangers, which of course most of them are, so surely this was an opportunity for the Hammers to work on their team strategies. Manuel might have won the Premier League with Manchester City but you cannot live on past glories and he has a huge challenge ahead with a lesser collection of players. The owners might admit they have made mistakes and if Pellegrini is pushed out, those mistakes will be very expensive. With matches against Everton, Chelsea and Manchester United looming in the next few weeks Manuel might well regret taking that flight home.
Sadio shows his class and confidence
Sadio Mane is a main component of the Liverpool main strike force. However, until this season he always felt inferior to the likes of Firmino and Salah. He always played with passion but lacked the finishing touch in front of goal which demonstrated a lack of confidence. This season it is a different matter and manager Jurgen Klopp has convinced the Senegal World Cup player that he is as good as anybody and can be one of the best in the world. Klopp has never doubted Sadio’s ability and quality but he now believes he has found the missing ingredient. Klopp said, “He’s much more secure this season and now believes this is his level. The players suprise themselves sometimes and think, “Wow, am I really that good”...Sadio is that good! Mane has seen his betting odds with bookmakers cut drastically in the race to be the Premier League’s top scorer this season. Scoring three goals in the first two games of the season set up his new confident streak and that followed on from a first class performance in the Champion’s League final. He has that magic swagger these days. Klopp said, “Sometimes we play a strange 4-5-1 formation with Sadio as midfielder and Bobby (Firmino) also acting as a midfielder and that allows Mo Salah to become a one man strike force.
Walcott pinpoints Everton’s success
Everton have made a positive start to the season under manager Marco Silva. The team strategy is playing high-energy counter attacking football which is catching many opposing defenders out of position. Theo Walcott, who joined the Toffees from Arsenal, has exploited this style as it suits his game perfectly. The winger was highly praised for his performance against Bournemouth but says it is his Portuguese manager who deserves the credit. Walcott said that the club training sessions are exhausting because the manager demands constant energy and effort with no one being allowed to rest or take a break.
Goalkeepers cursed at Anfield?
Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker has picked up a lot of press this week concerning his huge error during the match against Leicester. He quite literally gave the ball to Kelechi Iheanacho who squared the ball to Rachid Ghezzi who scored. It was a big error but the Brazilian goalkeeper defended himself by saying, “I take a lot of risks and fans with heart problems have to be careful.”
Manager Jurgen Klopp refused to criticise his new man and stood by him, just like he did with Loris Karius after his nightmare display in the Champions League final. It was pointed out to me at Liverpool this week that the Reds have always had goalkeepers who were great but prone to making big errors. Sander Westerveld and Simon Mignolet lost their starting places after committing too many errors. Mignolet currently stands fifth in the all-time Premier League errors list for goalkeepers with the unfortunate honour of having given away 18 goals. 14 of those were for Liverpool. Going even further back, Reds’ legend Bruce Grobbelaar is considered one of their true legends but his career was full of costly mistakes and David James had to leave Anfield to rebuild his career in much the same way as Loris Karius. Jerzy Dudek had one famous incident when the ball went through his legs from a Diego Forlan shot. It is as though Anfield is a cursed place for goalkeepers and Alisson Becker is just finding that out.
Alonso and Azpilicueta struggle
I picked up an interesting story at Chelsea this week when I heard that Chelsea’s two star defenders Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta are struggling to deal with new manager Mauricio Sarri’s tactics. He is trying to establish ‘Sarri-ball’, a fast paced, possession-based, pressing style which made him famous in Italy’s Serie ‘A’.
The new manager prefers a four man defence but under previous manager Antonio Conte Chelsea players are used to playing three at the back with Azpilicueta used as a right-sided centre back and Alonso as an attacking wing back. Under the new system both players look uncomfortable going forward because they are often caught out of position. Former Liverpool and Tottenham player, now turned football pundit, Jamie Redknapp picked up on this point and said, “Normally in that situation the left wing-back, once he goes out, if that’s Marcos Alonso, he knows the left-sided centre-back in a back three would come across in that space. But when you’re in a four, you can’t afford to do that. You have to move together and that’s what they don’t do.” Certainly one for the manager to solve on the training pitch.
Rooney already a US star
Have you been wondering how Wayne Rooney is getting on in America? The answer is spectacularly well. He signed for the US side DC United who play in Washington in May and the 32-year-old scored a great goal against former team-mate Tim Howard. Then in the match against the Portland Timbers he scored with a thirty yard Beckham style perfectly placed ball over the defensive wall. The fans have taken to him in a big way and Wayne, sporting a beard these days, has settled into the American life style very well with wife Colleen and their children also enjoying life across the Atlantic. When Wayne joined DC they were the MLS league’s bottom club. Now they are challenging for a spot in the play-offs. DC beat Atlanta United 3-1 with Wayne scoring from the spot and making two other goals. I am told that he is also the one player who everyone listens to in the dressing room and he inspired the Atlanta win with his half-time team talk. It is nice to learn that he can still turn it on at the age of 32 after many in the Premier League thought he was over the hill.
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