Category Archives: English Premier League

Some of Manchester United’s Unanswered Questions before the start of the season

While the Premier League has officially started, Manchester United will only begin their campaign this weekend against Crystal Palace. The Red Devils were given an extended break after progressing to the semi-finals of the Europa League, and thus, their supposed opening fixture against Burnely got postponed. While other teams kickstarted their season, the Red Devils instead played a friendly against Aston Villa, losing 1-0.

Sure, a 1-0 defeat was not a total disaster and there were some positives to be taken away. The idea of the match was to give the squad some much needed minutes, and Donny van de Beek showed a lot of promise. However, I think specific issues need to be discussed following the friendly fixture, starting with a pertinent issue I have been raising for a while now:

What’s going on in the First-team Transfer Department

Donny van de Beek is the only first-team player that has arrived at Manchester United. The 23-year-old arrived from Ajax in a £35 million move. However, despite rumours of Jadon Sancho’s imminent arrival, attempts to hijack Liverpool’s move for Thiago Alcântara, and alleged reports that Alex Telles flew down to Manchester to discuss terms, no other transfer has materialized.

I understand that it is crucial that Manchester United not rush into transfers and simply overspend to acquire their targets. Yet, at the same time, as I see other clubs like Chelsea, Manchester City, and Arsenal sign players like Timo Werner, Nathan Aké, and Gabriel Magalhães, respectively, I can’t help but think that we are not doing enough.

It isn’t just the acquisition of players that Manchester United seem to have problems with. Offloading their deadwood is another issue that needs immediate attention. Manchester United do not need Marcus Rojo, Andreas Pereira, Jesse Lingard, and Phil Jones. There have been no efforts to sell any of these players or find potential new homes for them. Besides these players, do Manchester United need 4 first-team goalkeepers? It is time for either Sergio Romero or Lee Grant to be shipped out. As much as it pains me and probably most United fans, I’d rather sell Romero at this point. A player of his calibre should be starting matches, and a move to a mid-table Premier League team would do him a world of good.

Of course, Manchester United need enough players so that they can remain competitive in all 4 four fronts this campaign – the Premier League, League Cup, FA Cup, and the Champions League. However, to progress far and potentially win the competition, Manchester United need to bring in quality players for depth. When I looked at the line up against Villa, I was unimpressed with the backup options we had on the wings.

Ideally, Manchester United need to sign 4-5 more players. In another article, I ranked these positions in order and argued that we desperately need a right-winger. However, after some pondering (and a lecture from Jack), I’m more convinced now that we need to shore up our defence. Do we have enough firepower going forward? Well, barely. On the other hand, our defence is in desperate need for stability and we need to sort this out fast.

At the same time, I think decisions have to be made on James Garner and Diogo Dalot. I think a loan move would do well for both players. At this age, regular football would do them good, although it is almost guaranteed that they won’t find that at United. Garner has to compete with the likes of van de Beek, Fred, Mc Tominay, Pogba, and Matic for a chance to start in midfield, while Dalot appears to have fallen below Fosu-Mensah in the pecking order at right back. They can become fantastic footballers for United in the future, but for them to fulfill their potential, the club needs to orchestrate a loan move for them.

The de Gea vs Henderson dilemma

Seeing David de Gea start the match was quite intriguing, and like many other United fans, I’m clueless as to how Ole will appease both keepers with playing time. Will we see a situation where Dean Henderson plays in the Champions League and Cup games while de Gea starts in the Premier League? Maybe, vice-versa? Honestly, I’d rather Henderson start in the PL and de Gea start in the Champions League and Cup games instead. It is a gamble, but Henderson needs regular playing time at United to assimilate himself into the squad fully.

Or perhaps, Ole rotates the goalkeepers to give both players a chance to stake their claim as Manchester United’s number one. It will be interesting to see what transpires, but I hope that the competition between Henderson and de Gea keeps both players on their toes and that makes both of them better.

Plans to blood in current Academy players?

It was good to see Teden Mengi turn out for United once again, but I was even more excited to see Anthony Elanga come off the bench. I have been pretty excited about the current crop of Academy players at United. While I’d like to have seen Dylan Levitt play in some cup games, I am thrilled to see his development with Charlton Athletic after securing a season-long loan move to the League One side.

There is one player that I have been waiting eagerly to see make his debut for the first-team: Hannibal Mejbri. The French wonderkid moved to United in what is believed to be a €5 million move from AS Monaco in 2019, and I have been patiently waiting for him to make his debut. The opportunities handed to Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams have assured me that Ole has faith in the United Academy. The recent purchases of several talented youth players have also indicated that Ole and the United hierarchy are serious about developing from within. The League Cup and FA Cup Matches could be good avenues for Ole to blood in young players. The Europa League proved to be an excellent platform for academy graduates to gain valuable first-team minutes. However, with the Red Devils now returning to the Champions League, can Ole afford to hand out as many first-team debuts and start academy players as frequently? I really doubt he will. We might see some cameos from promising players, but that is the extent of it truly.

The game against Palace this weekend will not completely answer some of the questions I have posted here. It may, however, provide us with some sense of the direction the club is heading towards for the 2020/21 season. Only time will tell if Henderson should start over de Gea or if we will see Mejbri feature in the first-team. One thing for sure though, the pressure will be on Ole and the Red Devils to perform better this season.

Donny van de Beek is a quality signing but is he a priority for United?

I have mixed feelings about Manchester United signing Donny van de Beek. Recently, BBC Sport reported that Manchester United have agreed to personal terms with the midfielder and have negotiated a £40 million move with Ajax. On paper, it represents a well-calculated move by Manchester United. Like Bruno Fernandes, United haven’t overpaid for the Dutch […]

My Response to Vikram’s Article About Donny van de Beek

He may not be an exact fit, but that does not make him a bad signing… Two days ago, Manchester United announced their first signing of the summer. Dutch midfielder Donny van de Beek joins the Red Devils from Ajax for an initial £35 million fee, not including add-ons. The 23 year old signed a […]

Has De Gea become a liability for Manchester United?

De Gea has been undroppable ever since he established himself as one of the Premier League’s top shot-stoppers. If there were any doubts, his heroics in the 18/19 EPL season, which saw him save 11 shots in the second half against Spurs, should cement his status as a goalkeeper of high calibre. The United hierarchy […]

Donny van de Beek is a quality signing but is he a priority for United?

I have mixed feelings about Manchester United signing Donny van de Beek. Recently, BBC Sport reported that Manchester United have agreed to personal terms with the midfielder and have negotiated a £40 million move with Ajax. On paper, it represents a well-calculated move by Manchester United. Like Bruno Fernandes, United haven’t overpaid for the Dutch international, who has been brilliant for Ajax last campaign. Van de Beek scored 10 goals and made 11 assists across all competitions last season and can play as a central, attacking, or defensive midfielder. On paper, he is a quality player who can play in the Premier League.

Yet, I can’t help but feel like he will be misused at United. Don’t get me wrong, I think van de Beek can excel in United’s set up if he is played correctly – a free-roaming central midfielder. Why does that sound familiar, you might wonder? Well, that’s cause Pogba currently plays in that role for United in a midfield set up where Bruno is an attacking midfielder and Matić plays as a defensive midfielder that sits back.

This raises an important issue for United: what do they do with their new acquisition? Where does he play?

One thing is for sure – Donny offers United depth because he can slot in and fulfill either Bruno’s or Pogba’s role. While Fred is a good player, he struggles in Pogba’s position, and van de Beek offers something different in that regard. Similarly, Manchester United do not have a proper back up to Bruno. Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira and Juan Mata pale in comparison to Bruno, but the Dutchman has shown a lot of promise in that central attacking midfielder role at Ajax. Hence, van de Beek is an excellent signing in this regard – someone who is brought in to provide cover for both Pogba and Bruno.

However, I have two main issues with this transfer. Firstly, it is highly likely that Ole might field a midfield trio of Bruno-Pogba-van De Beek, with the Dutchman sitting behind the other two. Secondly, van de Beek is not a priority signing given the issues in other areas in the squad. Allow me to go through both points.

Donny van de Beek is not the defensive midfielder that Manchester United needs.

If he is brought in to play as a defensive midfielder mainly, then United are not only under-utilizing the player but also will suffer in big matches. Yes, van de Beek can be deployed as a defensive midfielder, and he can do a decent job in that position, but to harness his full capability, he needs to play higher up in the field. Even if he does play as a defensive midfielder, I am doubtful that the player can sit back and ensure that the defensive line is covered. After enjoying the freedom to roam and express himself at Ajax, van de Beek would probably need a lot of time to adapt to a Fabinho-type role that Manchester United need for Ole’s system to work properly.

It is bewildering because there are other options out there. Wilfred Ndidi would have been the perfect signing for the Red Devils. Also 23 years old like van de Beek, he has the potential to become a main fixture in United for the next decade. Sure, United will have to fork out a fortune to purchase a promising player from a rival Premier League club (I mean we paid £80 million for Harry Maguire, so yes, Ndidi won’t be cheap). However, I believe he would be a worthy investment, and the massive fee paid would pay dividends because he is a significant upgrade from Nemanja Matić, who is the best player suited to that defensive midfield role under Ole’s tactics. Let that sink in a bit, Matić is 32 years old and past his prime. Yes, he has experienced a revival in form at the start of the year, but the aging Serbian cannot be starting every single game.

The thing is, given his playing style, I do not know if van de Beek would do a significantly better job than Matic. Maybe he could? I do not know. It’s times like these when I kind of regret selling Daley Blind. No, I am not joking. Blind has shown his defensive prowess at Ajax and has established himself as a solid centre-back but is also capable of executing long-range passes. Wilfred Ndidi may not possess the same calibre of passing, but I’d argue that he defends better than Blind, and by extension van de Beek, in that defensive midfield position. Manchester United are in dire need of this defending ability.

Not the Red Devils’ Priority

Secondly, while van de Beek is a fine addition, he isn’t a priority for United right now. Let me list our priorities in the order of what we need.

  1. A Right-winger
  2. A Centre-back
  3. A Left-back
  4. A Defensive Midfielder (that fits Ole’s tactics)
  5. Quality Depth in midfield [This is what the van de Beek signing accomplishes]
  6. A Forward (to replace Ighalo once his loan expires)

What we need now, more than ever, is a right winger. Yes, we also need a centre-back, a left-back, and a defensive midfielder are important but relatively less so. Daniel James is our only natural right winger Daniel James is not good enough to start every match, and I do believe a loan to another Premier League club would do him a world of good. Jadon Sancho should have been our priority signing, but it looks like we are going to miss out on him. There have been rumours circulating that united may pursue Kingsley Coman and Ousmane Dembélé. However, there have been no concrete developments just yet.

I’m afraid I have to disagree with the notion that United do not need to invest in a world-class right-winger because they already have options within their academy prospects. Yes, Tahith Chong played brilliantly in his first few friendly matches for Werder Bremen, providing an assist in his debut scoring an impressive solo goal against FC Groningen in his third match. However, he still needs time to develop. The same goes for Mason Greenwood, who even though has played well in that right-wing role, would probably fare better up front. The same goes for the other positions and United need to reinforce the squad before the start of the season.

Donny van de Beek is by no means a bad signing, and I am thrilled that Manchester United have finally made a transfer, especially since other clubs have already secured multiple targets. What I am fearful of is Manchester United misusing the Dutchman or, even worse, not signing anyone else. The club has done well so far in securing hot prospects for the United Academy and Reserves. They need to replicate this success of acquiring talented youth players for the first-team setup. I sincerely hope that van de Beek’s acquisition will open the flood gates and United go on to secure other priority targets. Only time will tell. Ed Woodward please, I beg you, do not screw this up…

Featured Image by Image by bertholdbrodersen from Pixabay

Is Willian’s Transfer to Arsenal a Costly Gamble or a Smart Piece of Business?

Arsenal have signed Willian from Chelsea on a free transfer. However, details have emerged that the Gunners will be potentially paying Willian a staggering £35 million if the Brazilian sees out his three-year contract with the club. Even though Willian would be earning a base weekly salary of £100,000, which is slightly lower than the £120K he earned at Chelsea, Arsenal have offered him a colossal signing-on fee on top of the appearance fees and loyalty bonuses he will receive. It makes the Brazilian the second-highest earner at the club, only behind Mesut Özil.

The move has left me feeling divided.

On one hand, Willian is a fantastic Premier League player who will add value to any Premier League team. Why? He is both a clinical finisher and a creative influence for setting up chances. Last season, the winger scored 11 goals and made 9 assists in all competitions for the Blues. Let’s put that in perspective. Only Tammy Abraham has scored more goals (18), and Christian Pulisic has made more assists (10) than the Brazilian. Also, 9 of his goals and 7 of his assists came in the Premier League, indicating that Willian still has a juice in his tank to play in the English top-flight despite turning 32 years old five days ago, on the 9th of August (coincidentally, Singapore’s National Day). Which sort of brings me to my other point…

I’m not at all convinced that a 3-year deal was best for a player who’s best days might soon be behind him. Of course, I may be wrong, and Willian would go on to become an even better player. In this day and age, footballers are breaking boundaries, and several stars are still playing at the highest level well into their mid-thirties. However, other issues make me apprehensive about this move.

The biggest one is probably the fact that Arsenal have recently let go of 55 members of their staff so that they can open the door for squad development after a “significant” loss in match-day revenue. Neil Humphreys from The New Paper says it really well: “Arsenal’s job cuts simplified matters. Their priorities are clear. It really is about the money.” I agree with him. Arsenal’s actions are a disgrace, and Stan Kroenke should be ashamed of himself. Don’t get me wrong. If the Arsenal board believe that Willian deserves £35 million, I have no qualms that they paid him that amount. What i take issue with is that he was acquired at the expense of the full-time jobs of 55 people.

Besides the moral and ethical principles behind this deal, there is also the question of where will Arteta deploy Willian. The Brazilian is most effective if he plays down the right flank. Despite a shaky start, Nicholas Pépé has blossomed in the right-wing role towards the end of the season. Even though he has not replicated his goal-scoring form at Lille, the Ivorian has been an outstanding player for the Gunners overall. His displays in the latter stages of the FA Cup have shed light as to why Arsenal shelled out a club-record £72 million for his signature. The Ivorian can play as a left-winger, but his playing style has always been one where he cuts in and unleashes powerful shots with his preferred left foot. If Willian comes on board, would he be content to play as a left-winger?

If Willian can indeed be an effective left-winger, then Arsenal would have solved a huge issue. Arsenal currently only have Saka who is good enough to play on the left. However, I think Saka plays better as an attacking left-back rather than a winger. Saka and Willian on the left flank is a scintillating prospect for Gooners and a frightening one for the opposition defenders.

That, unfortunately, raises another question: where does that leave Kieran Tierney? Yes, Injuries are inevitable and chances will be aplenty since last season’s FA Cup triumph means that Arsenal will be in next season’s Europa League. Yet, Tierney and Saka are at a ripe age where regular first-team football is necessary for them to develop and fulfill their potential.

If Arsenal are bringing Willian as a backup option, then this would not be a huge issue, but it is clear that he is not a bench warmer. On paper, Willian left Chelsea because they were unwilling to meet his demands of a 3-year contract. Let’s be real, though. That was not the only reason why. With the signing of Hakim Ziyech, Willian was more or less replaced before he left.

On top of that, Chelsea are currently overloaded with attacking options. Currently, Chelsea have Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Timo Werner, Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Olivier Giroud, and Michy Batshuayi. Add Hakim Ziyech, and potential new arrival Kai Havertz to the mix and that’s 9 players to occupy the attacking berths in the formation.

Yes, I am well aware that only Hakim Ziyech is a natural right winger of the lot. However, Lampard tends to start matches with a 4-3-3 formation. With only 3 to 4 starting places (RW, LW, CAM, ST) up for grab, Lampard may have to field some players out of position to placate their needs for playing time. Hudson-Odoi was fielded as a right midfielder in the recent Champions League tie with Bayern Munich. We could see Tammy Abraham deployed there as well since Werner will most likely play as the starting forward.

I think signing Willian on a short-term deal would have been the best move. Willian still has at least another good season left in him and he is an excellent addition for the gunners for the 2020/21 campaign. However, he is not a long-term option for Arteta and the Spaniard needs players who can be part of a long-term rebuild of the club. Willian’s impact is likely to be a short term one but I think it is more important that the club use Willian’s acquisition to buy some time in finding the right kind of winger to lead the club forward for the next few years. I still think it’s appalling that Arsenal dished out that much on Willian after laying off 55 members of their staff, especially since it would only cost a fraction of Willian’s wages to keep them on board.

Featured Image by patrick Blaise from Pixabay

Yes, Nathan Aké is worth 41 million pounds.

Is Nathan Aké worth 41 million? The short answer is yes.

Manchester City have recently signed Nathan Aké from Bournemouth for 41 million pounds. It is hardly surprising that Aké chose to leave the Cherries following their relegation. A player of his calibre should not play at the Championship, and it was only a matter of time before other Premier League teams swooped in to sign him. Before the end of the season, rumours began to circulate that Manchester United and Chelsea were interested in the defender. Both clubs have had issues with their defence, and Aké would have been a valuable reinforcement for either club, especially since Bournemouth’s relegation meant he could leave on the cheap. An offer around the region of 25 million pounds was expected from Manchester United. However, in the last hour, their noisy neighbours swooped in and bid a pretty hefty 41 million pounds to thwart off any potential competition. However, it begs the question as to whether City overpaid for the defender.

Before diving into the main question, I think it’s essential to look at why Aké was highly sought after by City. Like Manchester United and Chelsea, albeit to a lesser extent, the Citizens have issues in defence. Unlike Chelsea and Manchester United, City have a world-class centre-back in Aymeric Laporte. However, they have no one of sufficient quality to match him. In other words, no one has effectively replaced Vincent Kompany since his departure at the end of last season. Nicolás Otamendi is past his prime and will probably only feature sporadically next term. John Stones has fallen out of favour with Guardiola and a move away seems best. A reunion with David Moyes at West Ham and a move to Leeds United are just some of the possibilities. Eric García is highly promising but has recently conceded that he is looking for a move away and intends to run down the final year of his contract if he fails to seek a move away from the Etihad this transfer window. Hence, Aké was brought in to shore up a dwindling defence, but only time will tell if he can truly become Kompany’s heir.

Personally, I think the Dutch international is an excellent addition to any defence. Aké has demonstrated how good he is defensively at Bournemouth. However, I don’t think he’s at the level of Kompany in his prime. He could certainly reach that level in due course, but the City hierarchy does not seem to believe he’s ready to assume that mantle just yet. For some time now, there have been reports that Manchester City are targeting Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly. If Koulibaly does link up with City, Guardiola would surely opt for a Laporte-Koulibaly centre-back partnership with Aké providing cover. Many have argued that City have grossly overpaid for the Dutchman. One person who firmly believes this is Paul Merson. Merson recently has mentioned how he was shocked by City’s acquisition of the defender. He believes that Aké is not the right choice to propel them back to the league’s summit because “Bournemouth got relegated and they let in about a million goals.” I disagree entirely with Merson’s assessment and believe that 40 million pounds is a reasonable figure for Aké.

Why?

Well for starters, let’s look at what Manchester City are getting for that price. A 25-year-old who has played reasonably well in the highest level for both club and country. Bournemouth may be relegated this season, but you cannot blame Aké for that. In fact, the defender was out injured for a lengthy spell. When he has played, he has been mostly reliable. Sure, Bournemouth have let in a ton of goals, but is Aké to be blamed for all of them? If anything, his marvelous zonal awareness and tackling ability have helped prevent Bournemouth from letting in more goals. On top of that, he is very good on the ball, and while he still needs some work to polish this aspect, he can pass from the back.

Also, people always focus on the fact that Bournemouth got relegated and this, therefore, means that Aké’s value significantly drops. However, many fail to realize two things here: the fact that other clubs were interested and that the market value for defenders is significantly inflated. With Manchester United and Chelsea both seemingly interested, it was important for City to avoid getting themselves into an unnecessary bidding war. They paid a reasonable amount for the player that they wanted. Furthermore, the current market value for good defenders has skyrocketed. Harry Maguire’s 85-million-pound move from Leicester to Man United is the perfect example of this. In relation to that, Aké’s transfer fee makes sense.

I think the real underlying issue behind this move is that Manchester City somehow managed to overturn their 2-year European ban, and this move appears to be a blatant attempt to show the rest of the world their financial muscle. Yes, they were imposed with a fine of 10 million Euros for failing to cooperate with investigators, but really what is 10 million Euros to a club like Manchester City? Even though I believe that City haven’t overpaid for Aké, I do think that they are showing the rest of the footballing world that they can do whatever they want (and yes, it is infuriating).

Is Nathan Aké a good signing? Of course, he is. Even if a big-name defender like Koulibaly arrives, Aké will still feature for the first-team. His ability to play as left-back and a defensive midfielder could prove to be handy for City as well. As with every transfer, there is always an element of risk involved. It is possible that Aké turns out to be a flop. I mean, just take a look at John Stones – he came in and did well initially but now is a shadow of his former self. What I can say for sure is this: the Dutchman’s arrival at City is sure to turn the cogs in other transfer deals. United and Chelsea will have to look elsewhere for defensive reinforcements and perhaps initiate transfer merry-go-rounds. For Bournemouth, they lose an integral member of their squad – someone who has characterized their defence for the past 5 years. The Cherries are bound to lose a ton more players, and their rebuild has just begun.

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An Absolute Bargain: Ferrán Torres’s Transfer to Manchester City and Wider Implications

For 23 million Euros, Ferrán Torres’s move to Manchester City is an absolute bargain. He comes in as a replacement for Leroy Sané, who moved to Bayern Munch on July 3, 2020, for an initial 45 million euros (that could potentially rise to 60 million euros with add ons). He may be only 20 years old, but Torres is a real talent and has played incredibly well for Valencia. A move to City is a definite upgrade for the player. Yet, I don’t know if it is the right time for him to move to the Etihad. 

Why? Let’s look at why Leroy Sané moved to Bayern in the first place – a lack of playing time. There is a good chance that Torres may face a similar predicament. Most of the time, he will probably find himself on the bench at City. Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva are above him in the pecking order and have cemented their positions in the wings. He also will face competition from Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden (if he stays) for a spot on the bench.

Thankfully, Manchester City are a club that have a winning mentality – they want to win every competition they play in and therefore need to rotate their team for the different competitions. Chances will come for the highly-rated Spaniard to shine, but he will not likely be playing the same number of games he did for Valencia this past season. Torres may not be playing weekly, but he will learn a lot under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola as well as under the mentorship of senior players like Riyad Mahrez.

Torres publicly announced that one of the key reasons why he wanted to sign with the Manchester club is because of their attacking mentality and style. That was not the only thing that he revealed to the press and went on to publicly criticize teammate and Valencia captain Dani Parejo’s leadership ability. Speaking of Valencia, Torres departure could be the first of a mass exodus of players after the controversial end to their season, which saw Albert Celades was sacked and replaced by Javi Gracia. As a result of missing out on European competition altogether and ramifications of the Covid-19 pandemic, the club will reduce its operating cost by 40%. Part of this reduction involves potentially selling upwards of 100 million euros worth of players during this window. Torres himself did not want to leave Valencia but instead, was forced out of the club. While that may be, it is safe to say that Torres has escaped from a sinking Valencian ship, where Peter Lim is the captain.

Guardiola had one for the future in mind when he was making this deal. Perhaps the not so distant future. Mahrez is approaching his 30th Birthday early next year, and City need to look at long-term replacements for the Algerian. On top of that, Guardiola doesn’t seem to rate Patrick Roberts highly, and the English winger could be transferred out this window. Roberts had loan spells with Celtic, Girona, Norwich, and, most recently, Middlesbrough. Now 23, a move away would be best for the player where he can establish himself at a club as opposed to spending another season out on loan or featuring as a fringe player for City.

Torres is by no means a finished product. In 44 appearances across all competitions, he has racked up 6 goals and provided 8 assists, which is a fairly average return for a player slated to become the next breakout star. However, his low goals and assist return rate could be due to the formation he is being deployed in. At Valencia, Torres often plays in a 4-4-2 system, where he is played as a wide midfielder, as opposed to a conventional winger.

Under Pep’s system, Torres could better use his pace, dribbling skills and creativity, as he is given much more freedom to cut inside. Sterling is an example of a clear benefactor of Pep’s system and Torres could follow suit. At the same time, given his experience at Valencia, he can assist and contribute from wide positions as well. It makes him a useful player to have because he offers the Manchester City options in-game. Comfortable with both feet, Torres might develop into a hybrid between Sterling and Bernardo Silva, having the pace of the former and the creativity of the latter. What he needs, however, is time to adapt to the playing style in England. With a relatively low transfer fee involved, there is less pressure on the player to produce immediate fireworks. However, because of the hype surrounding the player, many will monitor his development, and Torres would be expected to develop into a quality player.

Let me end off with this point; the transfer fee surrounding the player. 23 million euros is slightly lesser than the wingers market value. It raises questions on why the fee was so low. Granted, Torres was entering into the final year of his contract and Valencia may have been desperate to cash in. It doesn’t explain why he was bought for a fee lower than his market value. As I mentioned earlier, missing out on Champions League football and disruptions caused by the global pandemic meant that Valencia needed funds. I raise this point because it supports the notion that we might see an overall reduction in transfer fees for players. Many clubs need to recoup their losses and might be less inclined to hold out for higher fees because of the urgent need for cash. We saw this with Werner moving for only 48 million pounds. It is concerning because the pandemic might usher in a greater imbalance in leagues, with richer clubs exploiting cash strapped sides and buying their star players for significantly lesser fees than their market value.

Image by jorono from Pixabay

Goodbye Alexis Sánchez. I’m Genuinely Sorry It Didn’t Work Out

It would seem that Alexis Sánchez’s time with the Red Devils is finally coming to a close. After a two and a half year “association” with the club, Internazionale look to make his season-long loan move into a permanent one. Quite honestly, it is a move that suits all parties: Inter would not pay a transfer fee for the Chilean international, Manchester United would save tens of millions in wages, and Sanchez gets to continue his fine form with the Serie A giants.

Yet, I can’t help but wonder what in the world went wrong.

On January 22, 2018, Manchester United announced the signing of Alexis Sánchez from Arsenal in a swap deal that saw Henrikh Mkhitaryan move the opposite way. At the time, I believed it was a brilliant move for all parties involved. Sánchez was running down the final 6 months of his contract, looking for a move away from the Emirates, and Arsenal did not want to lose the winger on a free. Manchester United wanted to offload Mkhitaryan, who, while he did not want to leave Old Trafford, was in need of regular playing time. That was my assessment then. Oh boy, how wrong I was.

In the history of swap deals that have transpired in the footballing world, the Sánchez-Mkhitaryan swap is by far one of the worst ones. Both players failed to live up to expectations and coincidentally find themselves on loan to Serie A clubs this past season. Mkhitaryan was loaned to AS Roma.

What I don’t understand is why Sánchez failed at Manchester United. He was a proven Premier League goal scorer and had an excellent track record before his tenure with Arsenal. He was outstanding for FC Barcelona and played well for Udinese. At Arsenal, he was lethal up front. The Chilean made 166 appearances in all competitions for the Gunners and scored an impressive 80 goals. He was supposed to continue his scintillating form at United, and was slated to form a formidable attacking partnership with Lukaku and Rashford.

However, from the get go, Sánchez was off. It wasn’t a case of him being a lazy player or wasn’t hardworking enough. He often ran for the ball when the team lost possession and he would make runs and attempt to link up with the attacking play. However, something never ever clicked during Sanchez’s time at United.

Was it due to Mourinho’s management? One could make a case for this given how the Special One often utilized a defensive (or how some would term “negative”) approach to the game. That could have contributed to why he racked up so few assists and goals. A lot of his teammates, like Rashford and Martial, appeared shackled under Mourinho as well. However, while the rest of the squad prospered after Ole took over, Sánchez still never took off.

Injuries hampered his second season season at United as well, and perhaps it affected the player’s ability to settle in. People often overlook this as a problem when it can actually make or break a players career at a club. The psychological well being of a player is really important, and maybe Sánchez never had the time to properly settle in the club. After all, he was brought mid-way through the season, and adapting to new teammates and tactics in a short span of time is by no means an easy task. That being said, he did have a full preseason with the club to adapt for the following campaign but still fired blanks most of the time.

One also has to look at why he performed so well at Arsenal, and there was one key reason for that: Mesut Özil. At United, Sánchez lacked someone like Özil – someone who was a playmaking maestro. Pogba could have offered what Özil did at Arsenal, but under Mourinho, he rarely featured in that attacking midfield position that the German occupied.

One thing is for certain, Sánchez was expected to come in and produce fireworks immediately. The United hierarchy were so certain that their new number 7 would be off the mark that they provided him with a staggering 500,000 pounds-per-week contract. That really did him more harm than good, and United fans circled the player like vultures whenever he failed to score or make an impact in the game. For 500,000 pounds a week, Sánchez needed to do better. He showed glimpses of his old form in some matches, but they were rare exceptions. He was pocketing a colossal figure weekly for regular sub-par performances and thus became a scapegoat for the club’s struggles. Maybe United fans were too harsh on the player, but time is a luxury in the Premier League, where instant results are demanded.

Sánchez is most certainly departing Manchester, and it makes the most sense for him to join Inter. Since the Serie A’s restart, he has been in fine form, and continuing that momentum with a team and system he is comfortable with makes the most logical sense. Offloading Sánchez also means that more resources become available for a move for Jadon Sancho. If the rumours are true, Sánchez will end his contract voluntarily, and it saves the Red Devils a ton of cash.

To conclude, I want to go over one last point. Some people might attribute Sánchez’s failure to the curse of the number 7. After Cristiano Ronaldo, every Manchester United player to don the (in)famous number has struggled. Memphis Depay, Ángel Di María, and Michael Owen are all amazing players, but they failed to reach the heights they were supposed to at United. Perhaps there is some truth to this “curse.” Not that there is some actual black magic spell put on the number, but rather the weight it carries. Many famous players have donned the number 7 and the expectations are immense. United fans have longed for another star player like George Best, Eric Cantona, and Cristiano Ronaldo.

You might think it’s stupid to blame the failure of a player due to the jersey they wear. It’s just a number on their back, it’s meaningless. Maybe. Yet, at the same time, perhaps we treat players like machines and fail to remember that they are humans which may be the problem. After all, Sánchez had at least a billion United fans expecting him to perform magnificently every game. It is a daunting task for any player to assume the mantle of the number 7 shirt. Maybe, just maybe, Sánchez cracked under the enormous pressure.

A Response to “Getting Real with United”

This write-up is in response to Vikram’s article, Getting Real with Manchester United.

A rich vein of form followed by a week of “abysmal” results. Manchester United were unbeaten in 19 games in all competitions since their 0 – 2 loss against Burnley in late January. United were then brought back to earth after their 1 – 3 loss against Chelsea in the FA Cup semifinals. It seems like everything is going into a rut, but that is not the case. There was a point when United fans turned on Ole after back-to-back losses to Liverpool and Burnley left them 14 points off third-place Leicester City. United were far off the pace at Match Week 24, but somehow, Ole managed to galvanise the team after the losses. This was also certainly aided by the signing of Bruno Fernandes and the break, which saw crucial players coming back from injuries. United are far from perfect, but many forget that they are still a work in progress. Many of the problems that United fans bemoan about show that they have certainly forgotten where we came from.

Rome wasn’t built in a day

Vikram’s points are valid, and these are the issues that many United fans are frustrated with. The Bruno-Pogba combination have been influential and integral to United’s unbeaten run since the resumption of the league. There is no doubt that Ole has been reliant on Bruno and Pogba for creativity, and there may seem to be no plan B at the moment. However, before Bruno’s arrival and during Pogba’s absence, Rashford was the creative force and scored important goals for the team. At that moment, it seemed like the form of Rashford plastered over the cracks of United’s jarring lack of creativity. The “creativity” in midfield came in the form of Pereira and Fred, and we could see how United were unable to finish teams off during the first half of the season. It seemed like teams that sat back and defended could force a draw because there was no one in midfield that could seek the final pass. A midfield that used to lack creativity was suddenly jolted into life when Bruno and Pogba entered the first team. It is no doubt that when teams shut Bruno and Pogba down, as seen from the games against Chelsea and Southampton, they would nullify United’s attacking prowess.

However, I believe that mistakes and fatigue played a part in United’s dip in form rather than a lack of plan B. Unluckily, their other source of creativity, Marcus Rashford, has been suffering from a dip in form ever his return. Martial and Greenwood have also been sources of creativity too but have been over-reliant on the Bruno-Pogba partnership. Nevertheless, we cannot take away the impact of Triple M (Marcus, Martial and Mason. Cringe, I know but I COINED THIS). Their individual brilliance at times have terrorised defenses and had changed the complexion of games when creativity from midfield was largely lacking. The attack need to find that spark again and be consistent so that they are not too reliant on Bruno and Pogba.

An Improved Defense

It is true that United’s defence needs to be sorted out. Maguire has been full of mistakes, but theres no doubt he has been integral in shoring up the defense. He has been one of the best centre backs for United since Fergie retired. This season he completed the most number of passes, has the most aerial battles won, most clearances and most interceptions. There have been costly mistakes, but these mistakes have been magnified because of his price tag (which he is not responsible for). I agree with Vikram’s assessment of certain players. Rojo and Jones need to be shipped out, but his preference for Bailly and Williams seem to stem from a few of their standout performances. Personally, I do not rate them as highly. Williams could be suffering from a poor run of form as well but he has not entirely impressed since the resumption of the league.

To say that Chris Smalling has been our best defender largely neglects the defensive stability brought about by the Lindelöf and Maguire partnership. They are not perfect, but they are the best that we have. Smalling has played well in Serie A, but the league plays at a much slower pace than the EPL. The Englishman would make a great squad player, as he is defensively sound but still prone to the big mistake. The new look United have benefitted from a stable back four and has kept 13 clean sheets in the league this season, almost twice from last season as they kept only 7 clean sheets. Eric Bailly is good, but he is not a stable force in the back four. He can be great, but his concentration is lacking in some games, which makes him inconsistent.

Not the Finished Article

Quality outside of the Red Devils’ first team is embarrassingly meagre. A strong bench is needed to turn the game around, and it is important for fans to understand that United have been getting rid of the deadwood and bringing in fresh faces either through transfers or from the youth setup. It is fair to criticise United on this aspect because none of the second-string players have brought anything to the table. These include Lingard, Mata, James and Pereira. Even with a plan B, I do not have the confidence of playing these players to change the game.

United seem to need four more signings to challenge for the title again. Ole does have some tactical nous. We have seen how he adapts the way the team plays against the opponents United are up against. Now that United are stronger, Ole set the team up to play with more possession, have fluidity in their attacking movements and use the midfield double-pivot to remain stable at the back and to control the midfield. To prove that Ole is tactically astute, we can look at games against Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs and Man City. Many times Ole had out-thought great tacticians this season and have been consistent at outsmarting seasoned managers. The Norweigian “PE teacher” does have a flair at managing United and has been an integral in its rebuild.

Lastly, I do believe Ole could be the man to bring United back to the glory days. However, to expect the Norwegian to amass 98 to 100 points or winning 32 games, could be a little unrealistic. It would be a mammoth task for Ole to emulate the managerial success exemplified by Guardiola and Klopp. Does United need to eventually find a successor for Ole to take the club to the next level? Only time will tell, but his system has worked so far.

Getting Real with Manchester United: Overly relying on Bruno and Pogba and Defensive Shambles

When it comes to United, I prefer to think of myself as an idealist or an optimist. To most, it would appear that my loyalty blinds me and that I’m in denial of the pressing issues faced by the Red Devils. Perhaps so, maybe I am blinded, but I do think varying perspectives are needed to understand the United situation better. With that said, I do agree that we need to reanalyze the club’s position given our recent loss to Chelsea. It highlighted that we have several issues that need addressing, which were somewhat masked by the 12-match unbeaten run. The gloomy “we’re not good enough” narrative that many fans spew makes a lot of sense, but it doesn’t offer much in terms of what the club should do and can do moving forward. So, I have decided to address these issues and look at what we can do moving forward. You probably won’t agree with everything I say, and heck you might disagree with me completely. I urge you though, to share your voice by submitting an article which we will post on the Fans Forum section!

What are our issues?

We have many problems that people have voiced out. Let me list them out for you.

  • Our over-reliance on Bruno and Pogba as a source of creativity.
  • No reliable defensive partnership despite having an abundance of centre-backs
  • A lack of attacking depth outside the first team
  • Inconsistency in goal and the Henderson-De Gea Dilemma
  • No clear youth progression plan
  • A skewed transfer policy

This will be a two part post looking at the issues that the club faces and in the first part, I will look over the first two points.

Over-reliance on Bruno (and Pogba)

It has become brazenly evident that United lack any sort of creativity without Fernandes and Pogba in the team. The FA Cup semifinal encounter with Chelsea showed this. Lampard clearly instructed Kovacic and Jorginho to frustrate and man-mark Bruno Fernandes, which the duo did with immense success. The Portuguese’s presence throughout the tie was significantly nullified, and this proved to be problematic because it prevented Pogba from playing in his free-roaming position. Lampard exposed United’s greatest issue, a system where there is an over-reliance on Bruno to make plays. There is literally no back-up plan when it comes to creativity.

Most observers would blame the lack of depth in the squad, and yes, that is true. However, instead of blaming it entirely on the quality of the current players, we also need to acknowledge that United do not have a plan B. If it’s one thing that Sir Alex did notably well, it was his ability to constantly try and adapt to the changes in the game. When his game plan wasn’t working, he always had a plan B or C up his sleeves, and that is how we, quite honestly, won several games. Under Ole, United appear to lack flexibility in dealing with situations. If the opposition manage to thwart elements of Oles strategy, United are usually in shambles and are painful to watch.

Granted, you need quality players who can adapt just as well to make alternative plans during the fixture to work. However, that should not be an excuse for a failure to adapt. Ole can’t play his 4-2-3-1 system without Pogba. Fred is not the same player as Pogba and never will be. Fred, however, has shown that he is a good player and has done well during Pogba’s absence this season. Ole and his coaching team need to find a system that best suits the rest of his players so they can switch it up when things do not go according to plan. I daresay this: yes, we do not have enough quality outside the starting 11 to play Ole’s system.

United have clearly benefitted from Fernandes’s presence in the team. However, I fear that the squad has become too comfortable with relying on Bruno to the point they have adopted an “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” mentality. I mean he has been playing almost every minute since his arrival in January. The club has not looked at alternatives using other players or groups of players as pivots for the attack. The problem is, Chelsea have shown how easy it can be to throw a spanner in United’s supposedly successful strategy. Other teams will definitely take note, and while not every club will shut down Fernandes with the same degree of success, it makes United’s job (or rather, Bruno’s) that much harder.

Sorting out that Defense

I remember the days when United had a centre-back crisis. Remember when Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick played at the heart of defence one point in time? That’s how bad the situation was. Yet, we prevailed.

Now, even though we have a ton of centre-backs, most pale in comparison to our previous centre-backs. We brought in Harry Maguire for a whopping £85 million, but the real reason why he cost us so much was that he is English. While he has been solid at times, he has not really demonstrated why he’s the most expensive defender ever. Time to adapt is, of course, necessary, and we must be mindful that Manchester United fans can be unnecessarily ruthless towards players who fail to perform well (just look at our treatment of Pogba). Maguire has been in a poor spell of form lately, but he has also produced moments of defensive brilliance. Perhaps observing his performances next season would be a better indicator of whether he is up to the mark for United.

Then there’s the rest of the lot. Honestly, United seriously need to overhaul their entire defence and keep Axel Tuanzebe, Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Brandon Williams and possibly Luke Shaw, as a backup utility defender, from the current crop. Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo need to be shipped out ASAP. They are past their prime and it is best to free up some space in the wage budget. As much as I’d like to see Victor Lindelöf develop into a world-class player at United, I have been far from convinced by his performances. Sure, he’s had good spells, but he has made several blunders as well. A loan move would potentially do him good and perhaps that would be the best course of action or a transfer away with a buy-back clause inserted would also make a lot of sense.

Diogo Dalot desperately needs a move away from United for his own footballing development. Even though he has struggled with injuries this campaign, it is clear that Wan-Bissaka has cemented himself at right-back, and it will be hard to dislodge him from that position. Currently 21 years old, the Portuguese fullback is at an age where he needs regular first-team football to fulfill his potential. He is not going to get that while Wan-Bissaka is there. Who then acts as cover at right-back? Well, Ole looks to be giving Timothy Fosu-Mensah a chance next season to shine. The Dutch utility player can easily play anywhere along the backline and also play as a central and defensive midfielder. Everton are reportedly interested in a loan move for Dalot, and that would be a good move for the player – he would get more game time in the EPL and could potentially blossom, as Dean Henderson has while on loan at Sheffield United.

Arguably, our best defender this season has been Chris Smalling, who is not even at the club at the moment. The Englishman is on loan at AS Roma and has been absolutely phenomenal in the Serie A. Ideally if Smalling wishes to return to Old Trafford, he helps reinforce a lacklustre defensive department, and that would save the club some funds. As things stand, the Red Devils appear relentless in their pursuit of Jadon Sancho, and even if they do sell their “dead wood” players, they would still need to fork out a ton of cash for a world-class left-back and centre-back. I would love to see Smalling back in the United squad, but I think the club should respect his wishes if he were to want a permanent move to Rome. If he chooses to extend his time in Italy, it is then up to the recruitment team to find someone else – which brings me to my next article where I discuss issues with recruitment.

You might be wondering, “wait, have I forgotten Eric Bailly?” Let me end this article with an honest reflection of the player. I have always rated Bailly highly, and I think he offers something different with his athleticism. I have always believed that an Eric Bailly-Harry Maguire partnership can become formidable. It is just really unfortunate that Bailly always appears to get injured. I was absolutely gutted to see Bailly stretchered off during the recent semi-final tie with Chelsea. Thankfully, he has returned to training and it appears that his injury was not as serious as it was thought to be. It did highlight the main issue with Bailly: he has terrible luck with injuries and is highly injury prone.

To conclude, United have their work cut out for them once the current campaign ends. If they have not already worked on potential transfers, then they need to as soon as they can because they are already lagging behind. Even Chelsea have bolstered their ranks with amazing signings in the form of Havertz, Werner and Ziyech (although, their defensive problem is still unaddressed as well). The management need to use the post-season break to look for alternative tactics that the squad can apply well in games if their opponents throw a spanner in their original tactical approach. In part 2, I shall focus on the other issues that I highlighted and as always, if you disagree with the points I make, either leave a comment or submit an article of your own! We would greatly appreciate it 🙂

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At Last! Leeds Are Back!

Leeds United have been promoted to the Premier League…

Feature Image by Mark Murphy from Pixabay

With Huddersfield’s 2-1 win over West Brom on Friday, Leeds United have secured promotion to the Premier League.

I am going to emphasize this again, because I am not sure you all are realizing how big of a deal this is.

After a 16-year absence, Leeds are back in the Premier League.

I promise, this is a massive deal, and to understand why, you have to know how Leeds got to this position.

Leeds United are one of the institutions of English football. While they are not among the most successful teams in the country, with only three first division titles to their name, they were usually a fixture of the top flight. They were, and still remain, one of the most popular teams in the country, with a loyal and fervently passionate fanbase that follows them home and away. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Leeds were a force in the Premier League. They regularly finished in the top four or five places, being among the best teams but not quite ready to mount a title challenge. Throughout that time, they were assembling an effective team that blended promising young talent, including Rio Ferdinand, Jonathan Woodgate, Harry Kewell, and Robbie Keane, with experienced leadership, most notably talismanic Australian striker Mark Viduka and Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler. Despite an injury-ravaged 2000/01 season, they made it to the semifinals of the Champions League, losing out to eventual runners up Valencia. That seemed to be the moment when the gauntlet was thrown down. Leeds were putting it all together and would soon be able to challenge Manchester United and Arsenal’s dominance at the top of the table.

This would not happen, as the club soon ran into financial trouble. Club ownership had taken out several loans, banking on repaying them with the TV money the club would earn from Champions League qualification, but when the club failed to qualify for the Champions League for two consecutive years, they began to face a growing mountain of debt. The club began selling off players in order to begin paying off the debt, most notably selling then-club captain Rio Ferdinand to rivals Manchester United in 2002. They also sold club assets, including their stadium, Elland Road. Leeds rapidly descended down the table, and despite the best efforts of managers Terry Venables and Peter Reid, as well as the players, Leeds were relegated to the Championship at the end of the 2003/04 season. Life in the lower leagues would consist of play-off failures, mid-table nightmare seasons, and even more financial turmoil, with the club going into administration in 2007 and being relegated to League One, where they would remain for three whole seasons. Leeds United, Champions League semifinalists in 2001, were playing League One football in 2008. They eventually came back up, but life was anything but regular. Several ownership changes took place, ending with Italian entrepreneur Massimo Cellino purchasing the club. To spare you from the nitty-gritty details of Cellino’s reign, I will just summarize that he ran the club in a disastrous way, hired and fired way too many managers, was despised by the fans, and eventually sold the club to current owner Andrea Radrizzani due to pressure from within the club and from the EFL. Radrizzani brought some stability into the club and helped deal with the financial issues, including buying back Elland Road. After a largely below average first season, Radrizzani made the bold move of bringing in world-renowned manager Marcelo Bielsa, and Leeds’ fortunes instantly changed.

Bielsa, with very limited financial backing, transformed a mid-table Leeds team into promotion contenders immediately. It was truly a masterful coaching effort, improving nearly every player in the team and turning them into a real force, playing an aggressive but attractive style of football. In his first season, Bielsa’s team stayed in the top two for most of the season but declined near then end, eventually losing in the playoff semifinal to Derby County. This past season, he guided Leeds to a Championship title and their long-awaited promotion to the Premier League. Their 16-year wait is finally over.

Bielsa elevated Leeds to this level by coaching and molding his team into the perfect unit. Several Leeds players have grown drastically since the Argentine’s arrival, and no player represents this growth better than their dynamic, dreadlocked midfielder Kalvin Phillips. If you asked any Leeds fan two or three years ago about Phillips, they would have likely dismissed him as another midfielder that works hard but does not really bring anything to the table technically. Phillips, a Yorkshire-born boyhood Leeds fan, has been transformed by Bielsa into arguably the best midfielder in the Championship. His strong range of passing and composure on the ball has earned him the nickname “Yorkshire Pirlo” among Leeds fans, and he is able to combine those qualities with a more aggressive side, being tough in the tackle and fighting for seemingly every yard. He is the lynch-pin in Bielsa’s midfield, around which everything else operates. He attracted significant transfer interest last summer, but his loyalty to his beloved club drove him to stick around and bring them up, and he will likely stay once again to take part in Leeds’ first Premier League season since he was about eight years old. He has gone from being mostly an afterthought to a player at least within the frame of an England call-up, and depending on how his maiden Premier League season goes, he could find himself in the picture for the Euros next summer.

You could show similar growth in many other players. Patrick Bamford went from a rotation piece with other clubs to leading the line for Leeds, being a player specifically desired by Bielsa in his first transfer window as manager. Jack Harrison has gone from inconsistent Manchester City loanee to one of the unsung heroes of the team, bringing in a very respectable six goals and eight assists this season. He somehow dunked Pablo Hernández into the fountain of youth, as the 35-year-old Spaniard still impresses on a near-weekly basis, bringing in 12 goals and 12 assists last season and nine goals and seven assists this season. The work that Bielsa has done with this team is nothing short of extraordinary, and it will be interesting to see who all he can bring in with a Premier League budget to improve this team.

Which brings us to our final topic: what happens now? How are they going to do in the Premier League next season? Who do they need to bring in to improve the team?

Playing in the Premier League is a double-edged sword for this Leeds team. On one hand, they should be able to adapt to the schedule fairly well. Bielsa plays a very demanding style, and his “Bielsa Press” often requires his players to expend a lot of energy in matches. Leeds usually tailing off in form in the second half of the season was largely attributed to that, but now that they are playing the 38-game Premier League schedule instead of the 46-game Championship schedule, that burden may be removed. The overall issue, however, is that the step up in quality from the Championship to the Premier League is quite significant and, right now, this Leeds team is not good enough. They will likely get many comparisons to Wolves and Sheffield United, and discussion from many journalists will center around Leeds’ ability to replicate the success of those two teams, but right now, they are not good enough. It will be interesting to see what Bielsa can do with Premier League money in the transfer market, but it is clear that they need at least a center back, striker, fullback, and creative outlet to be brought in during the summer window.

Outside of Phillips, Leeds’ star man this season was young English center back Ben White. When talismanic center back Pontus Jansson left for Brentford, it was unclear how much the Leeds defense would be impacted. White came in before this season, and he seemed to solve every defensive issue. His athleticism made him a good partner to club captain Liam Cooper at the back, but his defensive IQ really shined despite his young age. His ability on the ball, specifically his effective passing range, allowed him to kick-start several Leeds attacks from the back. White was a star in the Championship, but his return to Leeds is not guaranteed. The Yorkshire club signed him on loan from Premier League side Brighton, so they must enter into another negotiation to sign him on a permanent deal. This will likely be much more difficult than the initial loan negotiation, as Brighton likely view him as having a role in their first team this season. He has also likely attracted interest from other Premier League clubs who may be able to make more attractive offers than Leeds can. It is incredibly important for Leeds to bring at least one center back into the club, whether that be Ben White or someone else. It appears that White enjoyed his time in Leeds and would be very open to a permanent return, but nothing is guaranteed, and it should be the top priority move for Bielsa and the Leeds hierarchy as soon as the season concludes.

Striker is also a priority position for transfer business. Bielsa largely relied on Patrick Bamford over the last two seasons, as he came the closest to the “target man number nine” model of striker that seems to be ever-present in successful Bielsa teams. Bamford is quite a far cry, however, from the Fernando Llorente/André-Pierre Gignac-level of striker that made up Bielsa’s successful Bilbao and Marseille teams. Bamford scored nine goals in the league last season and 16 this season, and while that step up is big, it is still not quite good enough. Bamford has also shown over several seasons with Premier League sides that he is not good enough to be a team’s starting striker in the English top flight. Bielsa still relied upon, perhaps over-relied upon, Bamford as his striker, largely ignoring loanee strikers Eddie Nketiah and Jean-Kévin Augustin, because of the traits that Bamford brings. It is clear, however, they need to find another striker that brings those qualities and is able to be a consistent goalscorer at a high level. They will likely be forced to sign Augustin on a permanent deal, as a clause in his loan agreement forces Leeds to sign him if they got promotion, but he is not the solution, either. Bielsa will likely need to spend money on another striker. With some rumors linking them with Celtic striker Odsonne Edouard, it seems like the club hierarchy recognizes the need. It is very difficult for a team to stay in the Premier League without a consistent goal-scoring striker, and Leeds will not survive without one.

Leeds could also use a boost in creativity, namely a replacement for Pablo Hernández. Hernández is still a very good player, but age and time will have to catch up to him eventually. He is 35 years old and is about to enter a league that is still quite physically demanding, arguably much more so than the Championship. Jack Harrison, also a loanee, and Mateusz Klich have done a solid enough job being creative outlets in the team, but it would be very helpful for their Premier League survival to sign a player in a similar mold to Hernández. Harrison looks likely to return to Elland Road on a permanent deal, but I would consider another signing in that role. A fullback might also be in consideration, as Stuart Dallas and Luke Ayling are players that can be upgraded upon, despite their admirable performances in the last two seasons. It is also possible that they move for a goalkeeper. Kiko Casilla has been largely inconsistent and error-prone since his arrival at Elland Road, and after being found guilty of racially abusing Charlton forward Jonathan Leko this season, he should likely see his time at Leeds come to an end after this season. Youngster Illan Meslier has done a good job in Casilla’s place, but he is also on loan, having joined Leeds from Lorient this season. Leeds have been working on a permanent deal for the Frenchman, and I believe a deal will get done, but Lorient’s promotion to Ligue 1 might lead to the youngster returning to his parent club. Should a permanent deal for Meslier not be reached, Leeds should sign a new number one goalkeeper, as Casilla is not good enough quality-wise and, after the Leko situation, should not be allowed to play for Leeds ever again.

Leeds need reinforcement in the transfer window, but need to strike a balance that is very difficult for promoted teams to find. Bielsa and club director of football Victor Orta need to identify the positions they need to upgrade in, but they also need to not make too many signings and risk the team becoming unbalanced or being unable to gel. Fulham’s cash splash in the transfer window after being promoted in 2018 probably caused more harm than good, bringing in plenty of players who were not able to fully gel into the team, leading to their relegation. Leeds cannot fall into the same trap. It is a very difficult balance to find, having to avoid overspending and underspending, but it is important to ensure survival. I believe this should not be a massive issue, as Bielsa has a very clear idea of the type of player he is looking for and the Leeds hierarchy have shown their ability to accomplish much by spending little, but it is something to keep in mind.

The discussion around Leeds will be around whether they can match the level of Wolves and Sheffield United and if their goal should be finishing in the top half, but right now, Leeds should be doing everything they can just to secure survival. Staying in the Premier League should be the number one priority, and if they get into the top half of the table, that is just an added bonus. With the financial troubles that Leeds have gone through the last decade, maintaining this flow of Premier League TV money would be a massive deal in correcting much of the mismanagement that has plagued the Yorkshire side since their relegation.

But I’m excited to see what happens. One of England’s biggest clubs is back where they belong, and I welcome everything that Leeds will bring to the Premier League next season. Should we be in a situation where fans are allowed in the stadiums again, I am very excited to see the atmosphere at Elland Road, and I am very excited to see the return of their rivalry with Manchester United. I am excited to see Bielsa in the Premier League, hear his wild press conferences, and see him sitting on that blue bucket on the touch line. I do not know what is going to happen, but I know it is going to be eventful.

Welcome back, Leeds United. You were missed.

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“Ole Mismanaged Angel”: My thoughts on Angel Gomes leaving Manchester United

Alas, it has happened. In hindsight, it was bound to occur, but still, I kept faith that things would work out between both parties and he would eventually agree to a contract extension. I guess I was being naïve but it’s official. Manchester United have confirmed that Angel Gomes has parted ways with the club, ending his 14-year association with the Red Devils.

It is honestly such a shame. I still remember when Gomes made his debut for the club on May 21, 2017, in a match against Crystal Palace. He replaced Wayne Rooney in the 88th minute, and at 16 years and 253 days, he officially became the club’s youngest ever player since Duncan Edwards in 1953. The son of former Portuguese Under-21 player Gil Gomes and the godson of United cult hero Nani, there was a lot of hype about Gomes following his debut. He appeared destined for great things, and United fans eagerly awaited to see him in action for the club. Yet, that never happened.

While Jose gave him his debut, he hardly featured under the Portuguese after that. He only appeared once more, as an 88th-minute substitute for Marcus Rashford against Yeovil Town in the FA Cup. When Ole took charge, it was widely expected that more opportunities would be given to academy prospects, and, to a large extent, he did fulfill those expectations. Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams have benefited immensely from regular first-team playing time. Players like Tahith Chong and Axel Tuanzebe seem to be in the long term plans of the Norwegian and have played a fair bit as well. The same can’t be said for Gomes.

In short, I think Ole has mismanaged the player. He offended Gomes by saying that he was “too small” to be playing in the Premier League. Standing at 1.61m (5’3″), Gomes certainly isn’t the tallest player you’d ever meet. However, he makes up for his short height with his pace, dribbling ability, and fantastic balance on the ball (no surprise given his lower centre of gravity). While Ole has demonstrated to his other academy peers that they would feature in his plans, he has done nothing to suggest the same for Gomes. The young attacking midfielder has only played six times (3 starts & 3 substitute appearances) this season. By contrast, Tahith Chong, whom I believe pales in comparison to Angel Gomes in technical ability and natural talent, has featured 11 times (4 starts & 7 substitute appearances) for the Red Devils. Gomes felt that it was time for him to leave and head somewhere he would be better appreciated.

However, Ole might be faced with another potential Paul Pogba situation. Back in the summer of 2012, Paul Pogba left Manchester United on a free transfer to Juventus after his contract expired. The Frenchman left Old Trafford after he believed that Ferguson didn’t trust in his abilities. Ferguson will forever be known as one of the best managers of all time, but he has his flaws. Letting Pogba go would be one his biggest mistakes and one that cost Manchester United dearly. Pogba went on to shine at Juventus. Realizing what they missed out on, the Red Devils paid the Italian giants £89.3 million to bring Pogba back to Old Trafford. With Chelsea reportedly interested in signing Gomes, Manchester United could see a repeat of one of their best talents playing brilliantly for another club, or worse, a rival one.

I felt the need to re-look at his time at United, and by doing so, I started to ask myself a few questions. These are questions that Ole needs to ask himself to prevent more instances of the “Pogba Situation.”

Even if Ole believed that Gomes wasn’t big enough to play in the Premier League, why was he never loaned out? Even during the past January transfer window, Gomes was denied the opportunity of a loan move to another Premier League side. The United hierarchy could have provided a loan opportunity subject to an agreement of a new contract. More importantly, why wasn’t Gomes loaned out when it became clear that he was not going to feature in Ole’s plans. A move would have helped the hot prospect demonstrate what he could offer United.

Furthermore, I can’t entirely agree with Ole that Gomes’s small stature would be a significant hindrance. Does size really matter? Personally, I don’t think so. The Manchester United squad has enough tall players, and some of the world’s best attacking players are of small stature. Besides Messi, Atlanta’s Papu Gomez, Argentina legend Diego Maradonna, and ex-Liverpool stalwart Samuel Peter Lee are just some players who come to mind. If he was given a better chance like his peers and if he was given some guidance, he would have certainly stayed at United.

Now, if Gomes joins Chelsea, you can be sure he is going to show United what they missed out on and potentially, come back to haunt the Red Devils. Don’t think Lampard won’t feature him as well. If it’s one thing that we’ve seen Lampard do, it’s that unlike previous Chelsea managers, he wants to offer more opportunities to young English players. Angel Gomes fits that bill.

To conclude, let me say this. Gomes could have developed into a proper first-team player for United had he been given the proper development. Even though United have signed Bruno Fernandes, who plays in a similar attacking midfield position, Gomes would have had chances galore in a season or two. Juan Mata would probably have retired by then, and Ole would have probably offloaded Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira. When these players do leave the club, I hope United don’t regret that they had someone like Gomes within their ranks that could have replaced them and instead splurge an enormous amount of money on a replacement. It’ll be a case of déjà vu for the club if that replacement happens to be Gomes himself.

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