•United were terrible against Newcastle last weekend and several things pointed to questions that need to be answered.
•By the time Ratcliffe takes over, United could be out of the Champions League and that leaves a big hole in the club’s finances
The big debate this week is without doubt what is going on at Manchester United? Next week it is likely that Sir James Ratcliffe’s purchase of 25 percent of the club’s shares will finally be completed.
Make no mistake, Ratcliffe hasn’t become a shareholder just to sit in the director’s box with a glass of wine enjoying an afternoon watching the Reds.
Once he has his feet under the table, he will quickly make his presence felt with some sweeping changes and all with the approval of majority shareholders, the Glazer brothers. United were terrible against Newcastle last weekend and several things pointed to questions that need to be answered.
Is Erik Ten Hag good enough to coach at United?
Several of the senior players have lost confidence in him and his training methods. At the Carrington Road training facility, he has installed a punishing programme that is leaving players exhausted before a Saturday match.
Many are confused about what their playing roles are and what their strategy is. He rules with an iron fist which is fine if you are Sir Alex Ferguson but Ten Hag commands no such respect and he has lost many players in the dressing room.
In midweek, after suffering a humiliating beating at Newcastle, many of the players got together and decided they had to give the fans more to cheer about.
They boosted their confidence and enthusiasm and decided to stick together. The difference between Wednesday night and last weekend was as wide as the Grand Canyon. They showed a will to win and whereas Chelsea were very poor, United still had to win the game.
Ten Hag’s ongoing feud with Jadon Sancho is bad for the club and a talented player is forced to kick around with the kid’s academy and eat alone away from the other United players. Sancho will not apologise and Ten Hag would rather United suffer than be the first to end the argument between the two men. It is a ridiculous situation and Ratcliffe won’t stand for it, especially as he admires Sancho as a player.
Ten Hag had a public row on the field last weekend when he hauled Martial off the pitch for his pathetic performance and his total lack of commitment. What does that tell you?
Leaving world-class Raphael Verane on the bench has mystified many who follow United but Ten Hag says it is for strategic reasons although even his assistants cannot work out what those strategic reasons are.
Marcus Rashford is a ghost of the player who did so well last season but this year, he doesn’t have the enthusiasm to run back and defend as usual neither does Bruno Fernandes who is supposed to be Ten Hag’s man on the pitch as captain. Like McTominay on Wednesday, he showed the desire is still there in his will to win for the fans but does he have the will to win for Ten Hag?
Much will become clear when United meet Bournemouth this weekend because although they are nearer to the bottom of the league, they are still formidable opponents..will that same focus and desire displayed against Chelsea still be there for the United players?
Ratcliffe’s influence already will see CEO Richard Arnold likely to leave in the next eight weeks and Director of Football John Murtough will also be replaced.
Ratcliffe attends matches, makes notes, and has men working around the ground and scouting other clubs for possible signings. His file will contain sweeping changes for when he takes over.
It is unusual for a minority shareholder to take control but the Glazer brothers have no interest in the day-to-day running of the club and rarely visit Old Trafford. Their disinterest runs throughout the club and is affecting the day-to-day organisation and even the coaches and players are suffering.
By the time Ratcliffe takes over, United could be out of the Champions League and that leaves a big hole in the club’s finances.
In addition, when the club does well, merchandise (shirts, socks, memorabilia, scarves, etc) sells well around the world. When it doesn’t do well, sales fall dramatically and Ratcliffe will see his investment fall in value.
He won’t stand for that and his standing as the UK’s richest man has been earned by hard work, hard decisions, and making tough calls when necessary. Manchester United staff are about to find that out the hard way.
Ten Hag has spent £400 million on players and still, there is no clear strategy and much of that money has been wasted.
Sheffield’s Paul Heckingbottom was favourite to be the first coach sacked this season and he left on Monday. Notts Forest coach Paul Cooper is the next favourite to go and might be out of a job before you read this column, especially after their 5-0 thrashing by Fulham on Wednesday evening. Ten Hag is next in line according to the bookmakers.
The clock is ticking and Ratcliffe is coming…United must stand up and play for their manager as they did on Wednesday if they still want him and he will go if they don’t.
Time to bring back Ramsdale
It is time for Mikel Arteta to admit that as the Gunner’s coach, he got it wrong with goalkeeper David Raya. The mid-week match exposed the keeper as too inexperienced and not strong enough to cope with the intense physical pressure of Luton Town who were unlucky to lose to a 97th-minute Declan Rice headed goal.
Raya has now played three poor matches and twice he was beaten inside his area by strong physical headers from Luton Town. Twice he came for the ball and twice he failed to collect although Gabriel Osho’s Luton goal was more a defensive error in not marking him. Aaron Ramsdale, a superb goalkeeper, was watching from the bench and no doubt thinking “Why am I not out there with my team?”
Arsenal next face a difficult match against Aston Villa and have worked this week on improving Oleksandr Zinchenko’s defensive failings. Although he did not play against Luton in mid-week, last weekend he was instrumental in assisting Martin Odegaard to score Arsenal’s second goal in a 2-1 win against Wolves but was caught more than once, losing the ball in defence which allowed Matheus Cunha to get one back for Wolves. Villa’s Unai Emery sent a scout to the match and from what he saw, Villa intends to put intense pressure on Zinchenko if he plays.
**The Gunners are confident of completing a new deal for Ben White and negotiations between the club and his representatives have progressed well during the last few weeks. Ben has struggled with injury problems this season but Mikel Arteta’s medical team have managed the 26-year-old carefully and gradually brought him back to full fitness.
Matip could be out for long after incurring a knee injury
Having finally sorted out his defensive problems, Jurgen Klopp now has to accept his settled backline has to change again.
After speaking with my sources at Liverpool, I am told Cameroon international Matip could be out for quite some time but as I write this, the team is waiting for the results of a scan to determine the exact extent of the injury but according to Klopp, it doesn’t look good. His options to replace Matip are Joe Gomez, Ibrahima Konate and Jarell Quansah.
Changing managers will not save Sheffield
Luckless Sheffield United lost their coach this week with Chris Wider taking over again but frankly, I can't see him preventing the Blades from climbing back out of their relegation battle and now they are bottom of the league. Facing Thomas Frank’s Brentford is no easy task this weekend even if they are at home. The Bees have suffered an injury crisis with eight first-team players out of action and striker Ivan Toney is still suspended.
Neal Maupay is filling in and doing a splendid job. It is amazing to think that Brentford, for so long a league one or two team have done exceptionally well, and coach Thomas Frank said this week, “I still think it is a fairytale that we are still here.” Franks said he aims to achieve a top-ten position again this season.
Good old-fashioned punt-up-the-field football
Burnley enjoyed their first win last weekend and it is all because of their ability to adapt. Coach Vincent Kompany has taught his team to play skillful ball-playing football.
They patiently work their way upfield to launch an attack. However, against Sheffield United in their 5-0 win, two of their goals were scored using the good old-fashioned punt up the field for the strikers to win the ball and hopefully score.
That was how they went ahead in the first 15 seconds when Jay Rodriguez headed into the goal after winning a punt upfield from the Burnley half. Jacob Bruun Larsen scored similarly when a boot upfield found the attacker and he slotted the ball into the net.
Pep Guardiola might have introduced playing out from the back and progressing through midfield or out on the wing but often a good kick upfield will work wonders! It is not pretty but it can be effective.
Will Cooper survive at Forest?
Nottingham Forest coach Steve Cooper read the news of Sheffield’s sacking of Paul Heckingbottom and thought, “Can it be me next?”
The game against Burnley, as I wrote last week, could have been a defining match for Sheffield and their coach. The match ended 5-0 disaster and Heckingbottom was sacked.
Cooper will be looking over his shoulder this weekend as his team take on Wolves if he is still in charge. Forest owner, and Greek shipping magnate, Evangelos Marinakis could well get rid of the club’s most popular coach for thirty years.
Forest have won only once in ten games and without injured Nigerian international striker Taiwo Awoniyi they have missed a strong goal threat and their midfield is lacking in quality.
How ironic it would be if Cooper is sacked this week after losing 5-0 to Fulham! That would be two 5-0 defeats which will have seen two PL coaches sacked!
* Nottingham Forest are trying to seal a deal to sign centre-back Nino from Brazilian club Fluminense. Nino has a £ 6 million release clause in his contract which Forest says they want to trigger. Nino has won his first cap for Brazil and the 26-year-old has encouraged Forest to look at other Brazilian opportunities with club scouts flying out to watch several players and reporting back to coach Steve Cooper.
**Cooper’s name has cropped up several times this week and he is considered a favourite to replace David Moyes at West Ham or Roy Hodgson at Crystal Palace should either of the coaches leave.
Why is Verane on the bench?
Four-time Champions League winner and World Cup winner Raphael Verane has only been in Erik Ten Hag’s starting lineup once in 11 games. Speculation has been rife with rumours suggesting he will leave in January such is his disappointment with Ten Hag.
However, after extensive investigative work this week I am led to believe that he will honour his contract until 2025 and fight to win back his place.
He will only leave if the coach makes it clear Verane is no longer part of his plans with Harry Maguire back to his best form.
Ten Hag dismissed the rumours that he and Verane had fallen out and explained that it was for tactical reasons the Frenchman dropped to the bench and he has recently preferred Jonny Evans, Victor Lindelof, and Luke Shaw to support Maguire.
Dubravka’s chance to shine
The injury to Newcastle goalkeeper Nick Pope has been described as a bitter blow to Eddie Howe’s Champions League ambitions and winning the PL this season.
However, I am not so sure. In backup keeper Martin Dubravka, Howe has a more than able deputy who has been tested over and again and rarely lets his side down.
With Pope out for several months according to his medical team, this is Dubravka’s chance to cement a starting place in the team.
However, I have received two phone calls from Spain where ex-Man Utd keeper David De Gea is currently staying and I understand that Newcastle have reached out to his agent to see if he would be interested in going to St James’ Park.
The only problem with that is what happens when Pope has recovered and is back in the Newcastle team. De Gea will not be content with sitting in the stands watching each game.
Newcastle face a tough game away at Tottenham on Sunday and Dubravka should be between the posts. I suspect he will be busy with two teams who play entertaining and attacking football.