•With Virgil Van Djik out injured for probably the rest of the season with a crucial ligament injury, manager Jurgen Klopp has used Joe Gomez as his main central defender
•The Manchester United captain reacted to my column last week which was in line with what several other informed writers also said about the team and its manager.
Liverpool physios have been working relentlessly this week to make sure Joel Matip is ready for next week’s important match against title rivals Leicester.
With Virgil Van Djik out injured for probably the rest of the season with a crucial ligament injury, manager Jurgen Klopp has used Joe Gomez as his main central defender but now he has sustained a knee injury whilst on international duty for England. That leaves only Matip as a recognised central defender with perhaps Fabinho also being considered but he too is injured and is used more in midfield. Matip himself has been struggling with injuries and hence the physios work to get him 100 per cent fit and keeping him that way.
This all reflects on Jurgen Klopp’s call for a less congested Premier League calendar and also a demand to reinstate five substitutes during any one game. The FA have rejected this call but Klopp is supported by Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti, Ole Gunner Solskjaer, Brendan Rodgers and Mikel Arteta. They have all voiced concern about playing two or three games in a week and the possible resulting injuries and serious consequences for more vulnerable players. Manchester United, Leicester, Everton, Manchester City and now Liverpool all have current injury problems. This week Klopp has a further problem with Trent Alexander-Arnold also pulling out of the England squad with a calf injury and he too will also struggle to make next week’s Leicester match.
Maguire steps forward to defend United
The Manchester United captain reacted to my column last week which was in line with what several other informed writers also said about the team and its manager. Harry Maguire, who performed well against Everton in United’s 3-1 win, said in a statement “At this club, what I’ve noticed in my time here is that we are the most talked-about club in the world. Why? Because we are the biggest club in the world. People don’t want us to do well. Why? Probably because of the success we’ve had in the past. We have to live up to that. We have to react to it and don’t let the negatives get into our bubble inside the training ground. Sometimes it is difficult for the lads. We reacted well to two poor results. We felt we were on the right track after the 5-0 win to Leipzig and we let ourselves down against Arsenal.”
Whereas I personally do not agree with Maguire that some of us want United to lose (I have great respect and affection for United), I agree with the United squad who were pleased with their performance against Everton and it proved that if you assemble a very expensive team of individual performers and mould them into a united force, they can beat anyone. During the current international break, the pressure has eased on Solskjaer but make no mistake, lingering down in 14th place is not somewhere the owners, directors and fans expect to see their famous club and the figure of Mauricio Pochettino is always lurking.
Lampard so excited with Ziyech
Frank Lampard was all smiles as he said farewell to his players going off on international duty this week. Smiles because he knows that Chelsea’s new signing Hakim Ziyech is the real deal who is already proving to be a very important ingredient in Chelsea’s pursuit of the Premier League title. Ziyech was injured when he arrived from Ajax but since making his debut, he has scored goals, laid on assists and Lampard is delighted with his confidence and ability to spark the Blues into life. The left-footed Moroccan constantly cuts inside from the right flank and delivers curving balls into the path of his strikers. He has also developed an understanding with Reece James who runs off the ball to take defenders with him and his overlapping creates space for Ziyech to drift inside which has given Chelsea a completely new dimension to their strategy. Lampard has taken to the Moroccan and intends to build much of his new approach around the talented attacking midfielder and winger. The Chelsea manager has been raving to friends about how Ziyech can “unlock” defences with quick dribbling runs and deliver that vital accurate final pass to create scoring chances.
Arsenal keen on Hungarian attacking midfielder
With RB Salzberg playing high profile football in the Champions League, it was inevitable that their best players would draw the attention of top Premier League clubs. Arsenal have contacted Dominik Szoboszlai’s agent Matyas Esterhazy to enquire about the highly-rated attacking midfielder. Szoboszlai is only 20 years old and has made 73 appearances and he has featured in a remarkable 54 goals! The Hungary international has become a top target for Gunner’s manager Mikel Arteta and Arsenal scouts have been paying close attention to his progress. AC Milan were also following Szoboszlai but they have stepped back after learning of Arsenal’s interest.
Dele Alli might have to leave Spurs
I was surprised that Tottenham did not accept any offers for Dele Alli during the last transfer window. The 24-year-old is not in Jose Mourinho’s plans at the moment and he has also been dropped from the England team. Now Alli has told friends that he believes he might have to leave Spurs to get on with his career. Going out on loan in January is probably the solution for Alli and Spurs. Another way forward might be in the hands of Mauricio Pochettino. If he moves to Manchester United in the near future he would undoubtedly try to sign Alli because he believes in the striker and as he pointed out in an interview last week, he has the charisma of Brazilian star Ronaldinho who was a former teammate of Pochettino at Paris St-Germain. Praise indeed!
Leicester find that missing link
Leicester manager Brendan Rogers thinks he has found another gem to include in his team. Turkish international Cengiz Under arrived from Roma almost unnoticed but Rogers believes he could be the play-maker who can unlock even more Jamie Vardy goals. The play-maker has already delivered a beautiful pass for Vardy to score and then perfected an inch-perfect pass to Youri Tielemans to score against Leeds. Rodgers says that once Under’s fitness improves he will be a vital part of his Leicester team. Rodgers was looking for a left field player and Under had been on Leicester’s scouting radar for some time at Roma and playing for the Turkish international side. At the moment he is getting into games on the 60-minute mark but as he gets fitter Rodgers intends to play him in the starting eleven. At 23 years-of-age this young man has a bright future ahead of him.
Laporte and Dias the perfect partnership
Both manager Pep Guardiola and Central defender Aymeric Laporte have been full of praise for defensive partner Ruben Dias.
Dias has played alongside Laporte in five games for Manchester City this season and in those games City have conceded only two goals.
The duo have developed an understanding and partnership which is holding solidly at the back and has solved Guardiola’s defensive problems. Laporte is often called “The Door” because defenders can’t get past him but as a compliment to his partner Dias he has given him the nickname of “The Key” because he has unlocked many of Laporte’s undoubtedly qualities and improved him as a player.
Zaha performances not impressing manager
Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha attracted some strong words from his manager last week. Roy Hodgson admires his best player but said he expects more from him and he has to improve. He said, “With a player of his ability, he has got more to offer. For a player of his ability it is not sufficient to just score a few more goals than last season. I want to see him create havoc in the opponents’ defence.” Zaha has not been performing well this season and is also continually becoming embroiled in arguments with opponents who tackle him too strongly. Recently Hodgson shouted in Palace’s match against Brighton, ‘Stop arguing Wilfried’. Several clubs have shown interest in signing the mercurial winger but he has been frustrated as none them have resulted in a deal.