•The Europa League away draw to AZ Alkmaar was a dismal affair with hardly a worthwhile attack from a depleted forward line missing Martial, Lukaku and Sanchez
•Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward wants to give Solskjaer more time and has explained that to United owners the Glazer brothers in a transatlantic phone call this week
Times are tough for Manchester United manager Ole Gunner Solskjaer and he does not have the time which Frank Lampard has bought himself at Chelsea with both managers believing that youth will bring success.
The Europa League away draw to AZ Alkmaar was a dismal affair with hardly a worthwhile attack from a depleted forward line missing Martial, Lukaku and Sanchez and the survivor Marcus Rashford very out of form. United’s performance at Newcastle was equally dreadful. Solskjaer has also lost Paul Pogba, Luke Shaw, Aaron Wan-Bissaka through injuries and hasn’t been able to get the best out of his remaining players. Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward wants to give Solskjaer more time and has explained that to United owners the Glazer brothers in a transatlantic phone call this week. His problem, however, is that United’s revenues are now being hit because merchandising sales have gone down due to the poor start to the season. And with the Glazers, money talks the loudest! Advice is coming from many quarters and mostly aimed at Solskjaer. Manager Sam Allardyce said this week that Solskjaer has to show a ruthless streak in order to get the players to work harder and be more mentally committed. Ex-striker Robin Van-Persie said that Solskjaer made a bad mistake by saying he needed to sort the players heads out and they needed to be reminded that they are playing for one of the world’s biggest clubs. Players do not respond to attacks like that. A lot of pressure needs to be put on the backroom staff, training staff and most of all the physios. Why has United got such a long list of injured players?… a suggestion is that the physios and medical staff are not doing their jobs properly. It is a very unnerving time for Solskjaer knowing his job will definitely be at risk if United suffer a heavy defeat at home to Liverpool next weekend! Woodward is doing his best to help but the Glazers might pull the firing trigger.
Chelsea signing up their youngsters
The great success of Tammy Abraham and Fikayo Tomori during the last few weeks have led to Chelsea manager Frank Lampard urging the club management to tie down the players to long term contracts. Both players have now been called up for England’s senior squad in European qualifying matches.
Centre back Tomori is keen to stay at Chelsea and has less than two years left on his current contract. He acknowledges that Lampard has made him a much stronger player. The two worked together last season at Derby and Tomori said, “Obviously, at Derby last year, he helped me a lot and this year he’s told me how I can fit into the Chelsea team and what I need to do to improve. I’ve just tried to do that.”
Abraham’s situation is not as urgent because his existing deal runs until 2022 but he earns only £50k a week which is low compared with many other players and Chelsea are going to offer to double his salary. The two youngsters will then join Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi who have both recently signed new contracts and the four of them will form the backbone of Chelsea’s team for many years to come.
Pochettino heads for Qatar
Tottenham managing director Daniel Levy is a shrewd and clever operator and there is no way he is going to threaten or even consider sacking manager Mauricio Pochettino because of the club’s current poor form. The Argentine is an excellent manager and Levy knows that only too well and the two are also good friends and remain close. Tottenham and Manchester United are the two crisis teams at the moment but they are worlds apart for the managers.
Pochettino felt he needed to get away from North London during the current international break and headed for the Middle East and Qatar. After the shocking 3-0 defeat to Brighton, he has spent part of this week at the Aspire Global Summit on Football where he delivered a speech. Before leaving he said the break would “change the air and boost his dynamic and energy” and better prepare him for upcoming games against Watford and an away challenge at Liverpool on the 27th. Pochettino plans to clear out many of his under-performing stars in January and these include Eric Dier, Christian Eriksen, Victor Wanyama, Danny Rose and Serge Aurier. Part of the problem at Spurs is that some of those players discovered they are not wanted but they haven’t been sold and that has caused a lot of discontentment.
Salah back to face Man United
Liverpool have told me they expect to have Mo Salah back in the team to face Manchester United immediately after the international break. The striker has had scans on his ankle following a tackle from Leicester’s Hamza Choudhury which caught Mo on the Achilles. Although Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp criticised the Leicester player for going in too heavily, Mo actually fell awkwardly and that mainly caused the ligament damage.
Palace aim for Batshuayi
Crystal Palace intends to make a fresh bid for Chelsea striker Michy Batshuayi in January. My sources inside Palace told me that Michy is their main target as manager Roy Hodgson was very impressed when the 26-year-old Belgian was on loan at Selhurst Park last season. He scored five times in 11 starts. Chelsea value Michy at £22million and he returned to Stamford Bridge at the end of the season intent on regaining his place in the team but Tammy Abraham has been Frank Lampard’s chosen striker.
Why Shaqiri isn’t getting more game time
On a visit to the northeast of England this week, I was talking about Liverpool’s midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri. Several readers have asked why he isn’t being used more by the Reds, so I asked Liverpool. When he arrived at Merseyside Shaqiri made quite an impact and his form even resulted in manager Jurgen Klopp changing his preferred 4-3-3 system into a 4-2-3-1 and this gave Shaqiri a chance to show his creative flair as an attacking midfielder. Klopp used him to break down well organised and difficult defences. However, Shaqiri has fallen down the pecking order because he doesn’t provide a high work rate and also does little to help out his defence when things are tough at the back. Jurgen says he intends to use Shaqiri, Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana more in the coming weeks and said, “They are all in really good shape despite not playing enough.”
There is no doubt that Klopp’s preferred 4-3-3 system gives the team more control and stability and it is true that with Shaqiri, measuring only 5ft 7ins, he is not of much value when defending free-kicks. Shaqiri’s accuracy passing statistics were only 79.5% for last season whereas Dejan Lovren managed 91.7%.
Norwich are the walking wounded
Norwich are in free fall having lost four of their last five games and much can be blamed on their long injury list. Manager Daniel Farka has been defending himself this week and protesting that it is not his training methods which have caused the casualties to mount up. He said after sustaining a lot of criticism: “Players have been injured in their private lives or by nasty tackles. Everything has come at the same time and we have to handle it.” To demonstrate how serious things are for the Canaries, Ben Godfrey is due to play just before going into hospital for a hernia operation and third choice Michael McGovern is starting as the goalkeeper with Tim Krul and Ralf Fahrmann injured. Jamal Lewis is also due to play despite damaged elbow ligaments and Todd Cantwell and Sam Bryan will also feature in the next Norwich game despite carrying injuries.
Cahill wants to play on for many years
I am as delighted as Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson with the form of recent free signing Gary Cahill. The ex-Chelsea and England defender was the standout player in Palace’s 2-1 win at West Ham. Cahill, 34 in December, has been so good in all his six starts for Palace this season that Hodgson made him captain following Luka Milivojevic’s suspension. Cahill has said he wants to play on until he approaches forty years of age and said, “I didn’t play for a few months but looked after myself and came back in good shape. If anything I rested my body. I’m happy with my form and in good shape and have many years left in me.” Hodgson worked with Cahill when he was a manager of England and he appreciates the leadership shown by the defender in the dressing room and in training where players respect and listen to him as they appreciate his enormous experience.
Nuno improves results at Wolves
Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo is turning the corner after a poor start to the season and currently, his team are eleventh in the Premier League table. Nuno’s secret is his change in training methods. Originally he decided to use a pressing style. The team worked on pressing opponents, closing down and not giving them a moment on the ball. At the same time, Wolves pressed through the middle but it is a system which demanded too much from his current defenders and the midfield and Nuno abandoned it. After the 5-2 home loss to Chelsea he returned to the training ground with his assistants and senior players and after a brainstorming session decided to return to his more trusted and tried tactics, playing out from the back and using the wings and results have improved dramatically including the historic 2-0 win at Manchester City.