• As Manchester United boss Ed Woodward sat in the Wembley stands on Sunday, alone and wearing his coronavirus mask, he must have been pleased that it hid the look of concern on his face.
• No football manager would swap places with Newcastle’s Steve Bruce at the moment. The lack of penetration in the goal area has cost the Magpies dear this season.
There was a dilemma at Tottenham this week which possibly need not have happened. Tottenham seriously considered signing Southampton’s £25million rated midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. When I posed the question about what would then happen to Harry Winks, I was told that he would probably leave the club.
Winks has not found favour with Jose Mourinho and has been out of the team regularly this season. However, at the last minute Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton has entered the race to sign Hojbjerg. The Danish midfielder preferred a move to London and Spurs but chairman Daniel Levy was not willing to offer the same terms as Everton’s package. Everton have already agreed to pay the full £25million and club and player have agreed terms after a meeting between Hojbjerg and Ancelotti. What does Winks think about the situation? He is certainly feeling unloved. Mourinho has declared his hand but has possibly failed to sign Hojbjerg so where does that leave Harry? His best move would be to leave and there will be plenty of clubs interested. As a side issue, money is limited at Tottenham and Levy will have to authorise the sale of other players in order to bring in the talent required by Mourinho. Spurs right back Kyle Walker-Peters will probably be part of a package if Spurs are successful in luring Hojbjerg to White Hart Lane and can agree on the financial arrangements but time is fast running out.
Guardiola lashes out at Arsenal
You could feel the tension in the air when Pep Guardiola shook the hand of Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta after the Gunners had beaten Manchester City in their FA Cup semi-final. There was no tension between Guardiola and Arteta but Pep’s annoyance was with the Arsenal players. Guardiola said that he did not respect the Arsenal players off the pitch. This is because of the role they played in writing to the Court of Arbitration in an attempt, to prevent City winning a delay to their two-year ban. City won their court battle and do not have to serve the ban. However, this did not prevent Guardiola showing disrespect for the Arsenal players and the club itself. City are also threatening to take legal action against Spanish La Liga President Javier Tebas who has criticised City and said they had escaped the ban on a technicality. City themselves have a final game against Watford and then Guardiola is giving the players two days rest before going into two weeks hard training to prepare for the upcoming Champions League match against Real Madrid. As Pep said this week: “Our game, who we are, with and without the ball, we’re good when we go full gas, with no fear. We need to be focused and fully fit.”
Arteta is full of praise for Luiz
David Luiz has once again proven what a great asset he can be to any team. Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta was praising his defender this week following a superb display in the Gunner’s defeat of Manchester City in last weekend’s FA Cup semi-final. Things are so different now since Luiz endured his nightmare match against City in the Premier League when he gifted one goal and was sent off after only 30 minutes. Arteta said this week: “He put his hand up after that game, he didn’t have to do that because we all make mistakes. But the way he’s been playing has been phenomenal.”
“He deserves the praise he gets. I am delighted people see this side of him. He doesn’t need a lot of management. What he needs is us to trust him and the best way to do that is to allow him to play. He has incredible moments and difficult moments in his career. But big athletes go through those moments.”
Arteta believes winning the FA Cup and thereby qualifying for a Europa League place next season will help to keep star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at the club. The Gabon striker says he wants to win trophies and that is the only way he will stay when his contract expires.
Woodward masks his worries
As Manchester United boss Ed Woodward sat in the Wembley stands on Sunday, alone and wearing his coronavirus mask, he must have been pleased that it hid the look of concern on his face. Chelsea’s youngsters had taken United apart in the FA Cup semi-final. The worry was because he could see the amazing progress Chelsea have made under Frank Lampard.
Woodward recognises that he will have to finance some changes this summer despite money being in short supply due to the lockdown.
Chelsea have an abundance of young talent in Mason Mount, Reece James and Billy Gilmour. They will be joined by new signings Hakim Ziyech and
Timo Werner and Lampard’s hardest job will be picking his first eleven.
Woodward recognises that the Blues will be stronger and I can see them being a serious challenge next season.
Bruce frustrated at Newcastle
No football manager would swap places with Newcastle’s Steve Bruce at the moment. The lack of penetration in the goal area has cost the Magpies dear this season. Unfortunately, the ongoing chaos which centres around the Saudi takeover of the club has given Bruce further problems. Without any big money being released until the change of ownership is sorted out and next season’s plans difficult to put into operation, it is like trying to work with one hand tied behind your back. Bruce acknowledged the frustration this week when he spoke to us and said: “We need a bit of clarity. I’ll go to work and see the CEO and try to plan for the summer. That’s all we can do. It is very frustrating.” Newcastle are desperate for a striker but the take-over has been put on hold and is unlikely to happen. The Premier League are standing by their partner and £500million overseas rights holder beIN Sports who were last week banned by Saudi Arabia from broadcasting in the country. It is therefore not possible to watch a Premier League match legally in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, American Henry Mauriss, CEO of Clear TV, has stressed that his interest is serious and the team who put together his project plan have included an injection of fresh funds to strengthen the first team. Ironically, Mauriss is a Tottenham fan!
Why Pogba is much happier
Everyone has noticed how much Paul Pogba’s attitude and general wellbeing has improved over the last few months. Gone is talk about leaving Manchester United and instead he has knuckled down, trained hard and is once again a central part of the team. When I investigated this turnaround of events, I discovered a player who is more happy within himself. Paul said: “You can tell the team is improving a lot. We play more as a team than we did before, we enjoy it even more, we defend together, we attack together and the team is also stronger. The players who are on the bench or who don’t play every time, when they come onto the pitch they help the team so the mentality is good and is right. I feel much happier myself and our team spirit is great in training, in the dressing room and on the pitch during games. We are working for each other and the manager has brought all that together.”
Guendouzi and Ozil must follow Xhaka
Remarkably, Mikel Arteta still wants to retain the services of Mesut Ozil and Matteo Guendouzi. I have learned this from speaking to my sources within the club. However, his loyalty does come at a price. Arteta has told both players that in order to win back their places they have to follow the example of ex-captain Granit Xhaka. Guendouzi has been out of the team since his fracas at Brighton last month and Ozil has yet to appear since the season resumed after the coronavirus lockdown. Xhaka was stripped of the captaincy after he used very unsavoury language against the Arsenal fans but has since worked exceptionally hard to make amends. Arteta said: “The challenge with Granit was to convince him that there was still a place for him at the Emirates. I put an arm around him and we turned the situation around quite quickly. He was willing to do it and if you are willing and consistent there is always a way back.” He was aiming his remarks at the arrogant and petulant Guendouzi but the same kind of commitment also applies to Ozil who, with a salary of £350k a week, has taken a back seat and usually watches from the stands without looking too stressed.
Saint-Maximin top of the table
Newcastle winger Allan Saint-Maximin has mesmerised us this season with his skill and dribbling ability. Now he has overtaken Tottenham icon David Ginola by becoming the leading Frenchman for making the record number of dribbling runs in the Premier League.
Alonso rewarded for loyalty
Chelsea manager Frank Lampard has done a remarkable job of keeping players motivated when they are not selected for the first team. I wrote last week about Lampard’s search for a regular left back which will dramatically affect Marcos Alonso’s position at the club. However, he never complains and has been excellent in training and performed well during the last couple of matches where he has made penetrating runs and defended effectively. Rival Blue’s defender Emerson Palmieri, I have heard from the grapevine, will probably join Juventus or Inter Milan - he is not prepared to wait on the sidelines. Alonso however plans to go nowhere at the moment and his performances have been more impressive when slotting into the wing-back position. Some players throw tantrums when they are dropped, sulk and ease off in training. Alonso has been quite the opposite. Lampard has many riches at his disposal and players like Pulisic, Giroud and Jorginho have all had to wait their turn to get back into the first team and they have followed Alonso’s example.
Blue smoke for Harry
I had to admire Harry Kane’s original way of announcing that his wife Kate is expecting their third child. At Spur’s training ground he aimed a shot at a balloon which burst revealing blue smoke. His future son had been announced and will later join his sisters, Ivy who is three and Vivienne who is one.