•Paul Pogba has received complete backing from his fellow United players after saying it would be a dream to play for Real Madrid
•To underline his position, Arteta has left the German international Ozil out of his Europa Champions squad and he will be left at home to train on his own
If Everton can beat Liverpool at Anfield this weekend, it will be the first time in a decade. The Liverpool players currently feel like wounded animals after that 7-2 mauling by Aston Villa and Everton could be hit by the rebound as Liverpool seek to regain their league superiority and restore confidence.
The fact that this is a bitter rival derby makes it all the more interesting. Sadio Mane, Jordan Henderson and Thiago Alcantara should all be fit to return to the Liverpool line-up. Jurgen Klopp is anxious for Liverpool to maintain their mental superiority. Everton have some of the loudest supporters in football but they won’t have that home advantage because of Covid-19 so the teams start more-or-less on equal terms.
In training this week, Liverpool have worked hard and spent hours studying videos showing how Ancelotti has set up Everton and Klopp truly believes the Reds will win. They have also analysed for hours what went wrong against Villa. The Liverpool manager believes stopping Everton’s new man James Rodriguez controlling the midfield is key to winning the game.
Klopp knows that the Reds have conceded goals this season by allowing oppositions too much time on the ball in midfield. As Klopp said to his players, “more passes in midfield, more space.”
Klopp also knows that Rodriguez looks for Richarlison going wide on the left-hand side of the field and he has made plans to stop the two from working together.
Pochettino could replace Solskjaer or Guardiola
On a recent visit to Manchester, I was amazed at how often I heard the name Mauricio Pochettino mentioned regarding a move to either City or United. Solskjaer is on notice since United’s 6-1 thrashing by Spurs and City are aware that Pep Guardiola not signing a new contract at the end of this season is a definite possibility. He has a history of keeping clubs in suspense as to his intentions and even at Barcelona, he waited until a month before the expiry of his contract before announcing that he would be leaving and taking a break from football. He did a similar thing at Bayern Munich and therefore waiting until the last minute is not something new. It is interesting to note that his wife Cristina has spent most of the last year back at home in Spain running her fashion business while Pep has lived in the Manchester area. Also, I have noted that Pep’s body language has been downbeat of late and his usual enthusiasm and energetic running around his technical area has not been as animated as in previous seasons. Both clubs know there is a lot of interest in Pochettino who now wants to come back into football and either of the Manchester clubs would sign him immediately if they need to change their manager.
Update on Pogba and Real Madrid and Harry Maguire
Paul Pogba has received complete backing from his fellow United players after saying it would be a dream to play for Real Madrid. He could not have chosen a worse moment to speak out whilst on international duty for France this week. Whereas the hierarchy at United were less than pleased to hear his views, his fellow teammates backed him and they also consider him to be the best player at the club. He is very popular in the dressing room. The international break has prevented manager Ole Gunner Solskjaer from working with Pogba this week which he desperately wanted to do because of the midfielder’s lack of performance quality in their last three matches. Pogba later made a statement saying that although Madrid would be a dream, he wanted to do his best for United and he is happy at the club.
Meanwhile, the other player Solskjaer has been prevented from working with is key defender Harry Maguire who has been on England duty. Having endured a nightmare start to the season, conceding eleven goals in three games, Maguire was sent off after a dangerous tackle in England’s match against Denmark on Wednesday evening. Solskajer recognises that the former Leicester man is not himself at the moment. Since his holiday arrest and ‘guilty’ verdict for an offence in Greece during the summer, Maguire has looked fragile and nervous and certainly not the defender United acquired at £80 million.
New contract for De Bruyne
Man City tell me that new contract negotiations with Kevin De Bruyne are going on well. An agreement has not yet been reached but City are hopeful of tying the midfield genius to the club until the end of the 2024/25 season. At 29 years, this is likely to be De Bruyne’s final contract. At the moment, he earns £280,000-a-week in wages. City are good at negotiating contracts and reward their best performing players with Aymeric Laporte, Bernard Silva and Raheem Sterling also recently earning new deals. Kevin is now City’s vice-captain after David Silva departed and handed over the club captaincy to Fernandinho. Last season, he equalled Thierry Henry’s record of 20 Premier League assists, scored 16 times and was named as Europe’s best midfielder.
Raphinha will strengthen Leeds
Manager Marcelo Bielsa’s revivial of Leeds United has been remarkable. His hallmark 4-1-4-1 formation has proven to be highly successful and new signing Raphinha is, according to Bielsa, a prize purchase at a very competitive price and will strengthen Leeds’ attacking options. The Brazilian is a fast winger and although he is left-footed, can play on either wing. French club Rennes has sold him for £17 million and the deal was negotiated by Leeds’ director of football Victor Orta. Bielsa still has eyes on Norwich midfielder Todd Cantwell and spoke with the Canaries this week about a possible future move.
Fernandes attacks his manager and teammates
As I wrote last week, this is a crucial two-week period for Man United manager Ole Gunner Solskjaer. If things go wrong, he will be under extreme pressure from the United board and his job will be under severe threat. Having said that, it has not been a perfect preparatory week for United.
With players away on international leave and a much publicised argument with Bruno Fernandes, Solskjaer has been trying to repair damages sustained by the 6-1 defeat to Tottenham. At half time, Fernandes pushed his way down the tunnel at speed and in the dressing room, he had a furious row with Solskjaer and his teammates. He shouted at players, “We are supposed to be Man United! This should not be happening.” He accused the players of not representing the badge of United and several voices were raised as they argued back. Fernandes was still in a rage in the second half when he was substituted and was clearly less than pleased with Fred coming on to replace him.
Club officials were anxious to play down the incident and said that players often express their views but I can tell you that it got very heated and Solskjaer has worked hard to bring all his players together this week in order to travel to Newcastle which is a tricky game as the Magpies have been enjoying some good form. Regrettably, Anthony Martial is not available because he starts a three match ban for his sending off in the 6-1 defeat. The clock is ticking for Solskjaer and United need a good win to calm things down at the club.
No way back for Ozil?
I understand that Mikel Arteta has finally lost confidence in Mesut Ozil. To underline his position, Arteta has left the German international out of his Europa Champions squad and he will be left at home to train on his own. The most likely scenario is for Ozil, still the highest paid player at Arsenal, to be allowed to leave at the end of his contract and he will probably move to the American MLS league. It is unlikely Arsenal can pick up a fee in the January transfer window which means Ozil will collect another £12million in wages before he leaves in the summer. He has not played in a competitive match since March this year and has been in constant dispute with Arteta since his arrival at the club. Incoming players Thomas Partey, Willian and Gabriel have given the manager several options and frankly, he does not need Ozil any longer. It is possible he will play a game occasionally. However, in Arteta’s Arsenal rebuild, there is no room for his type of football.
More protection for Saint-Maximin
Newcastle manager Steve Bruce is concerned about the level of protection given to his star player Allan Saint-Maximin. It is understandable that, as this talented player runs like Usain Bolt down the wing, cutting inside, beating defender after defender, some of them just chop him down. After scoring a fantastic goal against Burnley in their most recent game, Saint-Maximin was again tormenting defenders and after ghosting past three he was hacked down by Phil Bardsley. Against West Ham on the opening day of the season, Saint-Maximin was subjected to strong arm tactics. Against Burnley, Brighton and West Ham he had to leave the field early due to heavy tackles. After the game ended against Burnley, I noticed he was wearing an ice pack strapped to his ankle. He is by far the most fouled player in the Premier League and watching him being attacked ruthlessly by defenders reminds me of the tough play metered out against Wilfried Zaha at Palace and Eden Hazard when he was at Chelsea. Manager Steve Bruce recognizes that opponents will do anything to stop his incredible runs through their defences however he has made an appeal to referees to give him more protection and deal with offending opponents who try to take him out of the game.
Lingard out in the cold
Jesse Lingard is having a problem up at Man United. Manager Solskjaer said that some of his players returned unfit from the short break. However, Lingard arrived back for training in early September and completed a pre-season preparation programme and so he is fully available and fit but has not been selected.
The player himself is a life-long supporter of United and joined their juniors at the age of seven. However, he did not start one league game last season after Fernandes arrived and now he has to compete with new signing Donny van de Beek who joined from Dutch club Ajax. Lingard has said that he would reluctantly move clubs if the manager does not intend to use him.