•The trip to Crystal Palace this weekend will prove if Chelsea are really over the West Brom defeat.
•No one would argue that Leeds are formidable opponents and under the guidance of manager Marcelo Bielsa.
Inside Manchester United, I can reveal that once again they are planning a summer clear out of surplus players.
Every few years the management instruct the manager to make a list so they can save on wages and bring in fresh talent. Notably over the past few years, Chris Smalling, Alexis Sanchez and Matteo Darmian have left in this way.
The names I have heard for this summer include mainly ageing players. They include Juan Mata (several assistants want to retain him but he will be 33 before the summer), Eric Bailly is a surprise name being considered as he is only 27 and 32 year-old Nemanja Matic.
Promotion of younger players is currently under discussion and Brandon Williams, Axel Tuanzebe, Diogo Dalot, Andreas Pereira and Tahith Chong are leading contenders.
Two loanees to Championship sides have particularly caught the eye: James Garner and Teden Mengi with Soslkjaer particularly keen on Garner who has impressed at Nottingham Forest.
With such rich talents to bring through, United do not think they need to spend big money on several players in the transfer market and want to concentrate on bringing in just a couple to boost the squad.
Fans demand quality from Arteta
Mikel Arteta is frustrating Arsenal fans who are questioning just how good he is. Several of my readers have contacted me through the media.
They are getting frustrated with all the promises made and accolades bestowed on Arteta without the results and performances to back up those positives. Pep Guardiola’s protégé has now been in charge for 50 games.
Even Arteta said after the Liverpool defeat that he was “shocked” and I can assure him that most Arsenal fans shared the same reaction.
Against Liverpool, who themselves have had a difficult time recently, instead of meeting their opponents head on, they sat back with 11 men behind the ball and looked frightened to move forward.
It was like watching a newly promoted team playing the title holders. When, ask Gunner’s fans, is Arteta going to start getting things right?
Equally worrying is the form of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who is going down the same failure road as Mesut Ozil after signing his £300k-a-week contract and we know how that worked out!
Chelsea players turn on each other
Beating Porto away in the Champions League was the mid-week tonic Chelsea needed.
They turned a negative few days into one of triumph. Last weekend, Thomas Tuchel learned the hard way that any team in the Premier League can beat you on their day.
The 5-2 loss to lowly West Bromwich Albion was a real wake-up call following Chelsea’s 14-match unbeaten run. I now have to question how the Blues would take a run of poor results given that they have gotten used to winning.
Living near to the Blues’ Cobham training ground, I went over there to see the players arrive for early training prior to leaving for Porto and not one of them displayed their usual smiles and waves.
Several players turned on each other after the West Brom game with Reece James and Cesar Azpilicueta exchanging heated words. Following that incident Chelsea keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga had a nasty argument with Antonio Rudiger which was so bad that Tuchel sent Rudiger off the training pitch to cool down. Arrizabalaga was angry with a late training tackle by the club captain and resulted in shoving, pushing and shouting.
Tuchel is at a critical point in the season with Chelsea sitting in 5th place in the league and fighting to come through the quarter final of the Champions League and then the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City on April 17th. He said this week, “We cannot lose our heads now and take away the trust we have in these players. In the game against West Bromwich our individual defending was simply not on the level that we are used to from our guys.”
The trip to Crystal Palace this weekend will prove if Chelsea are really over the West Brom defeat.
Battle between the posts at United
When Dean Henderson joined Manchester United a couple of years ago, he vowed to become their No1 goalkeeper. David de Gea, United’s world rated No1 at the time, knew he had a fight on his hands and all has not gone smoothly for the Spaniard.
Henderson was impatient and kept insisting that Ole Gunner Solskjaer should give him a chance to play between the posts in the Premier League and not just cup matches.
De Gea was granted paternity leave to go to Spain recently for the birth of his daughter and Henderson capitalised on the opportunity with some first class displays. Solskjaer now has a difficult choice with both goalkeepers demanding to play. De Gea was on the sub’s bench for the FA Cup and Europa League matches when he returned from the international break but expected to be back in goal. Solskjaer said this week, “We have two excellent goalkeepers and it is a difficult decision to leave one of them out. They are great options and they know we value them both highly. We’ve got eight league games left plus Europa League games and I will use both of them in goal. Both want to play as much as possible and that will be decided on merit. We have to think who is going to give us a win.”
I have made discreet phone calls and learnt that if De Gea is not reinstated as Number one, he will instruct his agent to arrange a transfer this summer and probably to Italy, where 42 year-old Gianluigi Buffon is close to retirement at Juventus. De Gea’s wages of £300k-a-week might be a problem for the two clubs to work out. Atletico Madrid are also monitoring the situation.
Knee problems at Arsenal
Speaking to my Arsenal contacts this week, I have discovered that their defensive problems have just got worse. The fear is that Kieran Tierney could be out of action for a few weeks following a hard tackle with James Milner in the match against Liverpool. The Gunners’ left back suffered a knee injury and had to leave the field before half time. His injury is another blow to Arteta’s defence because David Luiz underwent knee surgery this week although I am told this is not serious enough to prevent a speedy return. I also learned that Arteta is hard at work planning how to re-organise at the back following this latest set-back. It appears that he favours moving Bukayo Saka from midfield to Tierney’s left-back position as a temporary measure. However, he admits Saka does provide much needed pace and skill up-front.
De Bruyne at his world best
Kevin de Bruyne demonstrated again last weekend why he is rated as world class top quality by managers and fans alike. He justified his new two-year contract extension which takes him to 2025 and guarantees around £80million.
Gabriel Jesus’ goal was a masterclass of assisting by De Bruyne. He received the ball just inside the Leicester half of the pitch, moved forward and stroked the ball with such perfect pace and precision that it bypassed Youri Tielemans and the desperate Jonny Evans and Wesley Fofana before reaching its destination at the feet of Jesus who put the ball into the net! It was one of thirty passes De Bruyne made into the Leicester heart. He also recovered the ball more times in defence than any other player. It was spectacular and I couldn’t help thinking that Chelsea fans and staff must kick themselves for the huge mistake the Blues made several years ago when they sold the master Kevin De Bryune!
Harrison is what Leeds are all about
No one would argue that Leeds are formidable opponents and under the guidance of manager Marcelo Bielsa. Leeds have great speed up front and Bielsa has taught them vision and strategies to attack and counter-attack. One player who epitomises all these qualities is Jack Harrison. He was a clever signing on loan from Manchester City and has been at Leeds for three seasons now. Originally, Harrison was with the Manchester United academy but left to go to America as a child and then joined New York City before moving to Manchester City. Bielsa says Harrison is a perfect example of how he wants his team to play, direct, attacking football and he hopes to sign Jack for around £11 million this summer.
Klopp supports Trent Alexander-Arnold
A war of words has developed regarding the qualities of Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold. When the Liverpool right-back was telephoned by England manager Gareth Southgate, he received the disappointing news that he would not be included in the national squad for the World Cup qualifiers. Admittedly, Alexander-Arnold has had a difficult season with some of his weaknesses cruelly exposed by the likes of Marcus Rashford and he was disappointing in this week’s Champions League match against Real Madrid but he is an outstanding player. Most fans and critics have their opinions but Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp jumped in at the deep end and supported his defender. He said, “I respect that Gareth makes his own decisions. Of course, but in the last two seasons Trent has been the standout right-back in world football.” Trent started this season with Covid-19 and his comeback was difficult experiencing tiredness and fatigue but he has battled his way back and is disappointed that he now ranks behind Kyle Walker, Reece James and Kieran Trippier for a place in the England line-up.