Pre-season training session did not go well at Man United

United are set to play nine games in December and eight in January and in the cold weather, injuries could well be a problem.

In Summary

•Signing Thiago Silva from Paris St-Germain will definitely be one of the biggest transfer coups of this current season and Chelsea probably have PSG superstar Neymar to thank for landing him.

•One of the great managerial characters in football kicks off against against Liverpool this weekend

Aaron Wan-Bissaka
Aaron Wan-Bissaka

I think one of the most interesting teams to watch this season will be Ole Gunner Solskjaer’s Manchester United. I have spent the week chasing down players, trainers and assistants within the club.

United are set to play nine games in December and eight in January and in the cold weather, injuries could well be a problem. United will play a minimum of 46 games and unless they are knocked out of the League Cup, they will not have a free mid-week until December. I checked on their pre-season training and found that all has not gone according to plan.

Last week, they could only just arrange a game of five-a-side because so many players were on international duty. Bishop, Grant, Fosu-Mensah, Dalot, Tuanzebe, Williams, Shaw, Smalling and Lingard were present and Andreas Pereira, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Marcos Rojo reported for a later session as they had been quarantining.

Sergio Romero, Odion Igahlo, Juan Mata, Nemanja Matic, Fred and Phil Jones did not, as far as I could see, arrive for any of the sessions. Harry Maguire was granted additional time off because of his recent Greek Island problems. However, he returned to training on Tuesday and will captain the side against Crystal Palace next week. The club’s first challenge is reducing their 31-player squad to comply with FA rules.

Top of their “unwanted” list is Marcus Rojo who is on a £150k-a-week deal and has entered the last year of his contract. Solskjaer was less than pleased to hear that Rojo was filmed smoking during the summer break (and not for the first time!).

However, his daughters have started school near Manchester which is why nearby Everton would have been a good fit for him though the Argentine does not feature in Ancelotti’s plans.

Phil Jones is another United player Solskjaer would like to see leave as he has not even been in the squad since January. Someone at United gave him a four-year deal and he is tied to the club until 2023. Andreas Pereira, 24, and Jesse Lingard will be sold if suitable offers come in.

Inside info on Liverpool’s starting team

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp reacts during a recent match
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp reacts during a recent match

I have also spent the last few days getting the inside information on Jurgen Klopp’s plans for the start of the season. Liverpool kick off against Leeds this weekend. Defensively, Klopp thinks he has only one decision to make and that is who to play at right back.

Trent Alexander-Arnold did not play during pre-season due to injury but he joined his England team players last week. Stand-in Nico Williams had a tough time against Arsenal in the Charity Shield loss but will probably be used again if Alexander-Arnold is not quite fit.

Andy Robertson will definitely be at left-back despite the arrival of Kostas Tsimikas. Joel Matip only returned to training last week and Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez will remain at the heart of defence.

Naby Keita did well in the Charity Shield and the Guinean and is tipped to start but Jordan Henderson will probably be on the bench as Klopp doesn’t want to risk him too early following injury.

Those players provide a 4-3-3 system which Klopp favours. Divock Origi is still away and Xherdan Shaqiri is recovering from yet another injury and young new talent Rhian Brewster is heading for the substitute bench because Klopp is looking at much-improved Minamino as a partner for Mane, Firmino and Salah.

Lampard can thank Neymar

Signing Thiago Silva from Paris St-Germain will definitely be one of the biggest transfer coups of this current season and Chelsea probably have PSG superstar Neymar to thank for landing him. In the PSG team hotel Thiago sought out Neymar and they spent quite a while talking. I can reveal that Silva was asking Neymar’s advice about what he should do.

PSG actually came in with a last-minute offer to extend Silva’s contract which expired with the Champion’s League but they left it too late – the Brazilian had decided to join Chelsea and take up a new challenge in the Premier League. Following a holiday in Sardinia, Thiago is now settling into a five star hotel in Chelsea and the thoughtful Chelsea manager arranged for him to receive a bucket of champagne and a Chelsea shirt which said “Welcome to London”. Nice touch Frank.

Rogers has early team problems at Leicester

Leicester tell me that manager Brendan Rogers has problems and their opening game against West Bromwich Albion will be a tough opener to the season. Star attacking midfielder James Maddison is doubtful for the match because of an ongoing hip problem on which he had surgery in the summer.

The 23-year-old Maddison has signed a new four-year deal worth around £5million a year. Rogers said he also has defensive challenges with Wilfried Ndidi probably having to move to centre-back because Jonny Evans is serving a suspension due to a sending off on the last day of the 2019-20 season.

Club stalwart and strong man Wes Morgan is having hamstring problems which again indicates that Ndidi will have to play alongside Caglar Soyuncu in central defence. Ben Chilwell has now left for Chelsea for £50million which could give a debut to Timothy Castagne who joined as a wing back from Italian club Atalanta.

Covid-19 hits Manchester

Manchester United have a problem with their starting eleven because of Paul Pogba’s positive test for Covid-19 and he will miss all pre-season training. Meanwhile across town Pep Guardiola has lost the services of both Riyad Mahrez and Aymeric Laporte who also tested positive for the virus. City tell me that both players are okay but will have to self- isolate for two weeks which means they are not available for the difficult opener against Wolves.

I can’t wait to see Marcelo Bielsa in action

One of the great managerial characters in football kicks off against against Liverpool this weekend. Marcelo Bielsa, manager of Leeds is looked up to and has influenced Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino.

He has commanded the rise of Leeds from the Championship League after a period of 16 years out of the top-flight and sitting on his traditional bucket on the sidelines, he will be worth watching during matches.

Last season he was caught spying on rival club Derby at their training ground. There is a mystique about this eccentric Argentine and he is devoted to football…he will be a welcome addition to the Premier League along with Leeds. 

Ancelotti will unlock the talents of Rodriguez

Real Madrid's James Rodriguez
Real Madrid's James Rodriguez
Image: / FILE

As soon as Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti spoke with Real Madrid’s James Rodriguez, the Columbian superstar’s mind was made up —he wanted to join his former boss in the Premier League.

Rodriguez knew that several big European clubs were tracking him but working with Ancelotti at Real Madrid and Bayern Munich convinced him to come to the north-east. The 29-year-old, if you remember, scored one of the most spectacular goals in the World Cup in 2014.

Many would say that since those days he has not lived up to his potential but Ancelotti is the coach who can unlock that amazing talent once again. Like Gareth Bale at Real, Rodriguez has not worked well with manager Zinedine Zidan and although he could have stayed for the length of his contract, he decided to move on.

I have also received word from Everton that Ancelotti has made inquiries about Valencia’s Uruguayan striker Maxi Gomez who could be available for around £12million.

Newcastle to link Joelinton and Callum Wilson

Newcastle manager Steve Bruce is delighted with his two new signings Ryan Fraser and Callum Wilson. Wilson wants the chance to emulate some of his Newcastle heroes such as Malcolm McDonald and Alan Shearer.

For manager Bruce it is a case of linking Wilson with Joelinton to form a dangerous striking pair. It means probably the end of the road for big Andy Carroll as Joelinton and Wilson are going to be Bruce’s number one pairing. Bruce was also interested in Arsenal’s Rob Holding but I am told by the Gunners that in a dramatic turnaround Mikel Arteta is having second thoughts about letting him go.

7-2 and Klopp not satisfied

Liverpool’s 7-2 win in a pre-season practice match against Blackpool did not particularly please manager Jurgen Klopp. Blackpool scored twice to lead 2-0 and both goals were due to Liverpool losing the ball in attack and then conceding from a counter-attack.

Liverpool had also gone two goals down to Red Bull Salzburg on their pre-season training in Austria because of mistakes at the back. Klopp barked at his team about being more alert and not to relax because of their superiority.

One thing pleasing the manager, however, is the rise of Takumi Minamino who scored in the Blackpool win and is going to be in contention for a starting place if his training goes well. Klopp said their opening game against Leeds will be a tough test.

Chelsea looking at Renne’s keeper Mendy

Chelsea technical and performance advisor Petr Cech
Chelsea technical and performance advisor Petr Cech

Chelsea have spent the week stepping up their efforts to sign Senegal goalkeeper Edouard Mendy who plays for French club Rennes.

Performance Director Petr Cech is behind the Blue’s efforts to land Mendy and he and manager Frank Lampard have looked at several possible keepers as they intend to give Kepa Arrizabalaga some stiff competition.

Chelsea have also looked at Ajax’s Andre Onana, Burnley’s Nick Pope, Borussia Dortmund’s Roman Burki and Mike Maignan of Lille. Mendy is the one they want and £18million is the figure being discussed.

Barca looking through Liverpool’s shop window

Jurgen Klopp will not discuss the possibility of losing either Sadio Mane or Gini Wijnaldum and if the subject is mentioned he immediately bristles with anger. New Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman is pressing his nose up against the Liverpool shop window and both players have links with the Dutchman.

What worries Klopp most is the disturbance to his pre-season training and start to the season with possible unrest in the dressing room. He is worried the players will be distracted by transfer talk.

Other clubs might have better individual players but Klopp has built a club spirit which has taken them to number one in the world. He is desperate for October 5th to arrive when the transfer window closes.

Klopp is resigned to losing Wijnaldum but the American club owners will not allow him to leave for nothing next year. Koeman will probably get his way because the player wants to play in Spain.

Another destination for Bellerin?

I received a call from Arsenal this week telling me that German club Bayer Leverkusen have joined French champions Paris St Germain in the race to sign Arsenal full back Hector Bellerin. Manager Mikel Arteta says he will sell Bellerin for the right price to fund his plans for rebuilding Arsenal. Bellerin has been talking to friends in Europe and is happy with a move abroad although he says his loyalties are with Arsenal.

Brotherly love

After a long phone call between brothers, Barcelona midfielder Rafinha is considering his options if he signs for new Premier League club Leeds. Brother Thiago Alcantara is being linked with Liverpool and both brothers are talking about the possibility of living in the UK and seeing much more of each other.