Tag Archives: Inter Milan

Tonali the Rossonero

What Sandro Tonali’s shock move to AC Milan shows about how Milan, and Inter, pursued this deal and how both are viewing next season…

Feature Image by chatst2 from Pixabay

Sandro Tonali, Brescia’s star midfield wunderkind and seemingly preordained future of the Italian National Team, is close to a deal to sign with AC Milan. The deal is basically all agreed, and, bar a massive change in direction or an act of God, Tonali will be joining the Rossoneri next season.

This is a big deal.

Given the level of talent Tonali is, as well as the clubs that were pursuing him, it is a little surprising he ended up at Milan. As the bidders fell out of the hunt, however, Milan became arguably the most logical destination. For those who had not been able to keep up with the Rossoneri this season, especially following Serie A’s return from the hiatus, there is some real, tangible positivity surrounding this team, a first after a long period of instability and negativity for the European giants. They were arguably the best team in Italy during that quick run up to the end of the season, putting in some very strong performances to get them into a European place, most notably beating Juventus 4-2 back in early July. There is a real spine forming in this team, mixing young promising talent with experienced veteran leadership. From back to front, the already present spine of Gigio Donnarumma, Alessio Romagnoli, Ismaël Bennacer, Franck Kessié, Zlatan Ibrahimović, and Ante Rebić is a team that will not quite win the Scudetto just yet, but one that is obviously building rapidly in the right direction. That spine is also joined by emerging, or already broken through, young talent, including the likes of Theo Hernández, Rafael Leão, Alexis Saelemaekers, Matteo Gabbia, and Pierre Kalulu, demonstrating the strong future that this team has. They are now adding Tonali, arguably the most promising young player in Italy, to this already solid spine. This is a move that brings another massive building block to this Milan team.

It is the Rossoneri midfield in particular that is now very intriguing, as the 20-year-old Tonali joins the 23-year-old Kessié and 22-year-old Bennacer in forming a very interesting, and good, problem for manager Stefano Pioli to have. Do you play all three of them together, going away from the 4-2-3-1 set up that seemed to serve Milan well recently, or do you only choose two of them to play in that midfield three alongside Hakan Çalhanoglu, a more natural number ten? It seems like Milan will use Tonali and one of the other two in a double pivot, using that depth and ability to rotate in order to balance playing in the league and the Europa League, but it is possible that they build toward a future of using all three, especially if they eventually replace Zlatan with a forward more able to drop into space as a center forward as well, similar to Roberto Firmino or Karim Benzema. It is hard to go wrong in this scenario, and the incredible depth that Milan now have in midfield is setting them up well to challenge for the Champions League places next season, and possibly, a few years down the line, the chance to challenge for the Scudetto as well.

It is still a risk, however, as, despite the pieces looking like they are coming together for Milan, there is still the chance it could all fall apart. The mess surrounding Stefano Pioli and seemingly-tabbed replacement Ralf Ragnick was definitely unfair on Pioli, who had done an incredible job getting the train back on the tracks in the second half of the season, but I do believe the jury is still out on whether Pioli is the right man for the job. That run after the hiatus was very impressive, but it could very well have been just a flash in the pan, possibly a strong run of form that would be reversed as Milan reverted back to their mean level of performance at the beginning of next season. There were genuine questions around Pioli’s management at the beginning of last season, questions that led to logical discussions around Ragnick replacing him. They will also soon have to find a replacement for Zlatan, who is crucial in their attack. Throwing all of their eggs into one basket like this is not always ideal, despite how talented and effective Zlatan still is, as despite what the 38-year-old Swede might tell you, he obviously cannot play forever. It is very possible, even likely, that Milan kick on next season, and they start the season with the momentum they got from how they ended last season and ride that to a strong 2020/21 season and potentially a spot in the Champions League. In that case, Tonali will have joined arguably the ideal club to play for, but if things do go wrong, it could bring up a large roadblock in the young Italian’s development, possibly derailing his career if things got bad enough. I do not think this is a massive risk, but the last half-decade of Milan’s history has had a strong “one step forward, two (or more) steps back” aura around them, so I am hoping the several steps back do not come.

It is impossible to talk about Tonali going to Milan without discussing the club on the other side of this massive tug-of-war. As the bidders fell away, it appeared the Tonali Sweepstakes had been reduced to only two teams: AC Milan and Inter. The two Milan giants duking it out over the signature of Italy’s next big young talent had a certain poetic feel to it, and it felt like a sign that the Derby della Madonnina was building back toward the iconic level the rivalry was at in the 1990s and 2000s. Curiously, though, Milan did not get Tonali because the player chose them, although it is possible that boyhood Milan fan Tonali did prefer to play for the Rossoneri. Inter pulled out of negotiations. Throughout this entire process, it appeared that Inter were the favorites to sign him, presenting Tonali with a chance to play in the Champions League and contend for a league title next season in a midfield alongside fellow Italian youngster Nicolò Barella and the experienced and quite underrated Marcelo Brozović. Tonali and Inter had even had personal terms agreed for a move since April. However, Inter weirdly decided to pull out of negotiations with Brescia, opening the lane for Milan to sign the player unopposed. It would later come out that this was a decision made by Inter manager Antonio Conte, who preferred that the club sign an older, more experienced player in midfield instead of the younger Tonali. This move came as Inter were reportedly closing in on a deal for Barcelona midfielder Arturo Vidal and potentially pursuing a deal for Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kanté. It is a decision that has garnered quite a bit of criticism, and it is a decision that Milan fans might be thanking Conte for in the years to come.

Do not get me wrong, I get the gamble that Conte is trying to make here. He is seemingly throwing all of his weight behind winning a league title in the next two years with Inter. While I do think Tonali could immediately play a role in a Scudetto-winning Inter team, the desire to go for more experienced and guaranteed-talent midfielders over a young and still relatively unproven player is at least somewhat logical in that sense. But that is the thing, it is a gamble, and a massive one at that. Conte is throwing everything and the kitchen sink at winning a Scudetto with this Inter team, a team that can probably stay at the level of legitimate title challenger for maybe the next two seasons, three seasons at the absolute most. If Inter do not win a league title in that time, then what are they going to have to show for their efforts? They will be left with a team with an aging core, not many emerging talents to replace the aging players, and the possibility that the young players already playing a major role in this team, including the likes of Barella, Lautaro Martínez, and the newly arrived Achraf Hakimi, could be long gone. This is seemingly a move done by someone who cannot see past the end of his nose, someone who is so obsessed with the immediate goal that he cannot see how the image of his team is shaping up in the next three to five years. As a result, Conte has handed Inter’s biggest rivals what could be one of the final pieces of the puzzle needed to bring Milan back to true prominence. This is not even the first bad transfer decision Inter have made with young players, even in the last two years. Inter lost out in the race to sign Atalanta winger Dejan Kulusevski to Juventus despite being the front-runners to land the young Swede, possibly due to Conte’s preference, and previous manager Luciano Spalletti willingly sent Nicolò Zaniolo to Roma as part of the move that brought Radja Nainggolan to Inter. The Nerazzurri could have had a young, promising midfield five of Kulusevski, Zaniolo, Tonali, Barella, and Stefano Sensi, but due to completely avoidable issues of their own making, they now have lost out on three of those players.

Antonio Conte is obviously a brilliant and very accomplished manager, but he is an incredibly stubborn individual. Conte is so set in his ways and in the players he wants, which have usually been older veteran players, that he is unwilling to have his team sign one of the world’s most promising young talents. This gamble could ultimately work out. Inter could win a league title or two with this team, and a player like Vidal or Kanté could come in and be an immediate contributor. Winning league titles could allow them to build even further, adding talent that would make them not miss Tonali in the slightest. However, it is a colossal gamble. If Inter do not win a title in this window, and especially if Tonali becomes a superstar at Milan, Interisti will be sat wondering what could have been.

The move is not official, but it looks about set. Sandro Tonali will join his boyhood club. Milan have secured the signature of one of the most promising young players in the world and a key building block in bringing this storied club back to prominence. I am incredibly excited to see how this team shapes up and to see how this Rossoneri core develops. There is tangible hope and optimism around Milan now, and it is exciting to see.

In the words of transfer guru Fabrizio Romano: here we go!

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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.

Serie A Week In Review

Do we have a presumptive champion already?

Welcome to the Serie A Week in Review. It’s been a little while since we have had one of these, but we are back. Here, we will be naming our player of the week, our three winners and losers, and discussing what we learned from another week (or so) of action in Italy.

Player of the Week

Zlatan Ibrahimović, AC Milan

The big man himself was crucial for Milan in the last week, scoring in assisting in their shock wins over Lazio and Juventus. While age has begun to catch up to the Swede, Ibra still has the ability to be influential on matches because of his ability to play as a target man and draw the attention of defenders, as well as a maintained technical ability that may never go away. Two goals and two assists in two colossal wins for the Rossoneri, games that may be significant in their race for European football next season. And at the center of it is the legend himself.

Winners of the Week

1.) AC Milan

In the last about week and a half, Milan have beaten Roma, Lazio, and Juventus. These are three massive scalps for Stefano Pioli’s team, and these three wins put them firmly in the race for a Europa League place. There is starting to be some serious chemistry forming in the team, especially at the back, where Alessio Romagnoli has formed a strong partnership with on-loan center back Simon Kjær. Theo Hernández, Ismaël Bennacer, and Zlatan remain stars of the show in their respective positions, but they are boosted by strong performances from Ante Rebić and Hakan Çalhanoglu, as well as some surprise production from youngster Alexis Saelemaekers and veteran Giacomo Bonaventura. Pioli is stringing together some fantastic results, finally reaping the benefits of the work he has put in as manager. Should this be his final season in the San Siro dugout, as rumors indicate, Pioli seems to want to make the most of this remaining time. Getting Milan back into Europe would be quite a way to go out as manager.

2.) Napoli

The most in-form team in Italy not named Atalanta is, surprisingly, Gennaro Gattuso’s Napoli. Following some struggles earlier in his tenure, Gattuso has begun to get a tune out of his team, guiding them to a Coppa Italia title and only one loss in their last seven league matches, dating back to before the hiatus. Yes, their loss to Atalanta did sting, but they responded well and got all three points in a must-win match against Roma a few days later. Napoli have always been a talented team, but it is a combination of that talent and the underrated managing of Gattuso that has made this Napoli we are now seeing. This was characterized perfectly in the Roma match, with the first goal being a near-Sarriball level of team combination and off-ball runs leading to José Callejón getting on the end of a perfect cross, while the second goal was a piece of individual brilliance from Lorenzo Insigne. While the 15 point gap between the Partenopei and the Champions League is not completely insurmountable with eight games left, it is still safe to say that they will be front-runners for the Europa League place. Gattuso deserves credit for the job he has done in Naples.

3.) Juventus

Juventus accomplished quite a bit in the last week without really doing much themselves. Despite not looking that strong all season, and despite their recent loss to Milan, they look well on their way to another league title. It will come down to Juve restarting the season well and Lazio stumbling when it mattered the most. Questions still loom around the future of Maurizio Sarri, and while a seven point lead with seven games left is not fully safe, especially still having to face Lazio, Atalanta, and Roma, I feel at least somewhat comfortable in saying that the Bianconeri will be champions. Should this be Sarri’s only year in Turin, going out with a Scudetto would not be terrible.

Losers of the Week

1.) Lazio

This past week has been a massive slip up for Lazio, and I mean massive. Simone Inzaghi’s team seemed to recover somewhat well from their capitulation against Atalanta, but a loss to Milan paired with their shock loss to Lecce yesterday sees them falling away from Juventus in the Scudetto race. With Juventus also losing yesterday, the loss to Lecce is a serious missed opportunity to make up ground, especially knowing they still must travel to Turin to face the reigning champions at the end of the month. The dramatic loss in Bergamo may have been what ended the Lazio title challenge, but if Atalanta beat Juve this weekend, they may have the chance to redeem themselves when they go to Turin.

2.) Inter

Pazza Inter is a phrase that you run into quite a bit when reading Italian football coverage. It is synonymous with a fan-written song, “Pazza Inter Amala”, that used to be played at the San Siro before matches, but it is also synonymous with a “crazy” Inter. Pazza Inter refers to an Inter team that finds a way to play worse than the sum of its parts, to lose matches that it should be winning easily, to grab defeat from the jaws of victory. Antonio Conte’s arrival was thought to be a signal of the end of the pazza days for Inter, but, low and behold, we are back. Their 3-3 draw against Sassuolo was as crazy as the reputation says, but they seemed to shape up with a very lucky 2-1 win over Parma and a 6-0 demolition of Brescia. Their most recent match, a 2-1 loss to Bologna, was a return to this pazza mentality. Inter had the chances in the first half to be 4-0 up at halftime, but a rather drab second half from the Nerazzurri allowed Bologna to score twice. An incredibly disappointing second half of the season has seen Conte’s team fumble out of the title race, only a point ahead of Atalanta in fourth. If they are not careful, they may be fighting with Napoli to stay in the top four altogether.

3.) Roma

Roma were once comfortably in the driver’s seat in the race for the Europa League place, but losses to Milan, Udinese, and Napoli have seen them begin to crumble. They did not play as poorly against Napoli as they did in the previous two matches, but the goals have seemed to dry up. Paulo Fonseca’s three at the back experiment has not shown the results he may have wanted, as well, and it seems that Roma are seemingly lacking any momentum. In one bit of positive news, young star Nicolò Zaniolo made his return to the team following a cruciate ligament injury in January, coming on as a substitute in the 66th minute against Napoli. It is unclear how much of a role Zaniolo will play in the team, but if they are able to get near the level of quality that the young Italian has shown previously, then Roma could get back on track for the rest of the season. It may not be all doom and gloom for the capitol club.

What we Learned

1.) This might be the worst Juventus team to win the title in a while

The gaping flaws of this Juventus team have been laid out for the world to see over the last 12 months. They are a team that lacks any real quality in midfield, are prone to collapse in defense largely due to the ineffectiveness of the midfield, and are seemingly too reliant on Ronaldo going forward, despite the incredible amount of attacking talent in the team. When the attack can click, as they did against Genoa, they are a very good side with plenty of individual skill, but so many times this season, Juventus have been exposed. Their failure in the Coppa Italia, where a loss on penalties to Napoli after a pitiful display in normal time restarted their season with a whimper, further highlights the existence of those issues. However, thanks to the struggles and ineptitudes of Lazio and Inter, it looks like Juventus will win the Scudetto for a ninth consecutive year. However, this year seemed to really be the year where Juve wins the title not because of their individual quality, but because of the failings of their title rivals. If Juventus do not do something in the transfer window to fix their flaws, then next season might be the one where their title streak ends.

2.) Are Milan back?

No. Of course not. That’s a ridiculous question. A club of the stature of AC Milan cannot be considered to be “back” until they reach the level of a team that is contending for Scudetti and is competing regularly in the Champions League.

But there is optimism. There is a view that there are things finally going right on the Rossonero side of Milan. The wins over Roma, Lazio, and Juventus put them in a great position to qualify for the Europa League next season, which should alleviate some of the financial issues the club continues to face. They have found a solid and consistent back four, with Simon Kjær and Andrea Conti providing some stability to partner established stars Alessio Romagnoli, Theo Hernández, and Gigio Donnarumma. Zlatan continues to be Zlatan, and while they cannot rely on the big Swede for that much longer, he will at least get the job done now. Ismaël Bennacer continues to be the breakout star of the season in Serie A, providing incredible performances from midfield on a weekly basis. And they are able to tie this all together through the management of Stefano Pioli. The Italian has not done a great job at the helm of Milan, especially earlier in the season, but he is finally seeing some fruit from his labor. The impending arrival of Ralf Rangnick to replace Pioli has put the Italian manager in an awful situation, but he is at least able to use it to so far inspire a strong run to the end of the season from his team. The financial boost from qualifying for the Europa League would allow Rangnick, should he be the next manager, to begin his Milan rebuild in a good position financially and on the pitch.

3.) Gattuso’s new Napoli is going to be interesting to watch next season…

I will continue to insist that Gattuso is not getting the credit he deserves for the job he has done at Napoli so far. Yes, it did not start that well, but he is really starting to get production out of a team that, let’s not forget, literally mutinied against their ownership and former manager Carlo Ancelotti earlier in the season. The individual talent at Napoli, especially in attack, is now coming to the fore, but it is not just down to talent. Gattuso has put together several masterful game plans to get results for the Partenopei, the most effective being his masterful tactics in the Coppa Italia Final against Juve. With Hellas Verona center back Amir Rrahmani arriving in the summer, as well as the club’s outward courting of Lille striker Victor Osimhen, the foundations are being laid for the evolution of this team next season, but with most of the core of this team likely staying, Gattuso has himself a talented team that also works hard and fights through adversity. That might sound like a cheesy pairing of key words, but it is really true. No, this Napoli team does not have the gloss of the Sarriball teams, and it may not be as good, at least not right now, as those teams, but Gattuso is building a team that should be back into the Champions League places very soon. For now, look for Napoli to be the favorite to finish at least fifth, and possibly, when the Champions League returns, stand a decent chance of knocking out Barcelona.

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Arsenal’s Guendouzi Situation

On the crossroads facing Arsenal and their young French midfielder, and why the right choice may not be the obvious one…

Mattéo Guendouzi arrived in North London as an unknown, rose to be a promising and exciting young prospect in an Arsenal team with several exciting young talents, but just as quickly as that all happened, he may be on his way out.

For those not caught up with the situation, I will fill you in. Guendouzi was more of a regular fixture in the Arsenal team under the management of Unai Emery, but upon arrival of Mikel Arteta in December, he has seen his role dwindle. Guendouzi has always been a bit of a hothead on the pitch, prone to episodes of frustration and anger that have never completely gotten out of hand, but have came close. The most famous prior example was his rugby tackle on Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha in October, a foul equally born out of tactical necessity and sheer frustration at the situation Arsenal found themselves in. In Arsenal’s match against Brighton last Saturday, however, it seemed to elevate to a step worse than before. Following the Gunners’ frustrating 2-1 loss on the South Coast, Guendouzi was shown grabbing at the throat of Brighton forward Neal Maupay, leading to a scuffle between the two teams. This seemed to be the start and finish of the situation, but Maupay’s interesting post-match interview, seemingly targeted at Guendouzi, hinted at other issues throughout the match. It would come out later that Guendouzi was taunting the Brighton players throughout the match, insulting them and stating that he and his Arsenal teammates will earn more money than they ever will. According to some accounts, this is not the only time that the young Frenchman has engaged in this type of behavior.

Mikel Arteta has responded by dropping Guendouzi from the team. The Frenchman did not feature in the starting XI or on the bench in Arsenal’s league win over Southampton or FA Cup Quarterfinal win over Sheffield United. Arteta probably did this to send a message to the youngster, as well as his whole team, that the behavior Guendouzi displayed against Brighton is immature and unacceptable in his team, but instead of deescalating the situation, things took another turn. According to French outlet L’Équipe, Guendouzi has approached the Arsenal hierarchy and demanded to leave the club, stating that he feels his development as a player has stagnated since Arteta’s arrival. Arteta and the player held private discussions to “clear the air”, but the rumors seemingly have not subsided. In Arteta’s pre-match press conference before their FA Cup tie, he said he only wants players at the club who are fully on board, and anyone who is not is free to leave with his blessing. The fact that this could have been targeted at multiple players is not a great thing for Arsenal fans to think about, but it is likely that one of the main intended recipients of this message was Guendouzi. Arsenal next play on Wednesday, hosting bottom of the league Norwich City, so we will see if Guendouzi is brought back into the fold for that much, but for now, that is all of the developments.

Mattéo Guendouzi is quite an interesting figure. The kid is clearly talented, and he has shown this talent in brilliant flashes while wearing an Arsenal shirt, to the point where it earned him a call-up to the French national team. However, he has also been very inconsistent, at times being just a player who runs everywhere without actually contributing much to the team or, worse, getting into needless trouble with officials or other players. Inconsistency is not unusual for a young player. Development is rarely a straight line, so it is natural for a young player to experience bumps in the road and setbacks. The trouble comes in the environment he has been in. The insanity of Arsenal has probably taken its toll on his development, and Unai Emery did not do a good job at forming an environment and dressing room that is conducive to developing a young player suffering from maturity issues. In the right environment, Guendouzi will likely develop into a fine player and have a great career, but he is at a major crossroads now, with the wrong choice potentially derailing a possibly stunning career.

So what should Guendouzi do? Let us look at the options.

There are three clubs reportedly heavily interested in securing Guendouzi’s signature: Atlético Madrid, Inter Milan, and PSG. Let us weigh up the options, starting with PSG.

Guendouzi hails from Poissy, one of the outer suburbs of Paris, and he began his career with the capital club as a youth player. From age six, he played within the PSG youth system before being released, signing with Lorient in 2014. He has previously talked about the motivation that being released at PSG gave him, and he famously was on the Lorient side that beat PSG in the French u17 Cup Final in 2015. He made it in the Lorient first team before signing with Arsenal, and it appears that the Parisians want their former youth player back. For a player who says he wants to go to a club to continue his development, PSG seems to be the wrong move. There are definitely positives. A move back to his native country might be more comfortable, and the ability to work with and compete against true world-class talent on a regular basis would help Guendouzi grow in training and be mentored by quality senior players. However, there are still significant issues. The Parisians have a notedly poor recent history with developing their young talent, with Presnel Kimpembe being among the few PSG youth products to break into the first team in the last few years. Guendouzi knows this well, having been released by PSG during his youth career, so I question why he would want to return. He has also just seen two players from within or near his age group at PSG, Adil Aouchiche and Tanguy Kouassi, leave the club for developmental reasons. If he wants to develop as a young player, all of the signs seem to say PSG is the wrong choice. He would also start out fairly low in the pecking order for center midfield spots, behind Marco Verratti, Idrissa Gueye, Leandro Paredes, and Ander Herrera. At his age, being at or close to the first team should be the priority, and it is hard to see how he fits in competing with those four for two starting places.

A move to Atlético Madrid or Inter would pose similar issues. Unless some notable departures happen, both sides have set midfields. For Atléti, the trio of Koke, Saúl, and Thomas Partey seem immovable, and the emergence of Marcos Llorente would be another obstacle to the pitch for Guendouzi. At Inter, the trio of Christian Eriksen, Nicolò Barella, and Marcelo Brozović seem to be the set starters, and with the club actively courting Brescia wonderkid Sandro Tonali, very few spaces in the team are left. Inter does have one slight positive, in that outside of those main three, there are very few quality midfield options. Stefano Sensi was very solid prior to dealing with injuries, but Inter could definitely do better than Borja Valero, Roberto Gagliardini, and Mathias Vecino. There is an opportunity there for Guendouzi to be a trusted substitute or rotational piece, but if he is not happy with a similar role at Arsenal, then he will not be happy with the same in Italy.

There have been some reports linking Guendouzi with a move to Manchester United, which I do not completely buy. United’s needs lie elsewhere, and I do not imagine they would pay a high price for Guendouzi when they already have an excessive amount of midfielders. Nothing would surprise me with Ed Woodward’s transfer policy, however, and Guendouzi definitely is not the first Arsenal player with temper issues to move to a Premier League rival. I am more skeptical of the United link than the others and do not think it would be a good move for either party, but hey let us keep it in.

Now, all of these are just rumors, but if there is concrete contact between these clubs and Arsenal, and especially if there is concrete contact between these clubs and Guendouzi’s agent, then it shows evidence of something that I fear with young players. Guendouzi, either through poor advice or immaturity on his part, has decided to leave the most ideal current situation for him and is courting interest from clubs where his development will actually stagnate. Yes, Guendouzi should stay at Arsenal. It seems that the obvious choice is to hop off the sinking ship, but that would probably be the worst thing Guendouzi could do. Although he may not be featuring at the moment, he will likely find significantly more time in the first team next season, considering the questions that still surround the future of Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos in North London. At the end of the day, a player at Guendouzi’s stage of his career needs to play. It at least seems that Arsenal have reached a point of tranquility with Arteta as manager, and with a likely rebuild coming, Guendouzi has the chance to be one of the center pieces of this new look Arsenal team, rather than just be a forgettable extra at a bigger club. Arsenal will likely not sell, as they will probably not get that much in return in this COVID-impacted transfer market, but Guendouzi needs to realize that staying in North London is an opportunity, rather than a punishment. Arteta is a great man manager, and as a former Premier League veteran player in a position similar to Guendouzi, he is an ideal mentor for the young Frenchman. Ceballos will likely return to Spain at the end of the season, which allows Guendouzi to step into his preferred midfield position. Yes, Arsenal are not on the same level as those other three clubs, but to be honest, Guendouzi is not yet at that level either. He is not at the level or have the consistency as a player necessary to be a difference maker for a major Champions League side, and while Arsenal are definitely not in a good state, Guendouzi has more opportunities as a player, now working with a competent manager that can build him into a great professional.

This is a major turning point, and a major growing up moment, in Guendouzi’s career. In a team where many key players may have their minds set on moves elsewhere, it is easy for him to begin speculating about a move away from North London. However, there is a very harsh lesson to learn about the grass not always being greener on the other side, and while Arsenal may be on the verge of losing several players, Guendouzi cannot think of himself as one of them. His actions may have caused problems between himself and Arteta, but that relationship is not beyond repair, and there is still time for the youngster to realize that the best place for him to be is exactly where he already is. Guendouzi’s immaturity has cost him on the pitch before, but he cannot let it cost him off the pitch as well.

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Serie A is back!

And this is slightly late cus they had a cup final a few days ago…

Feature Image by Marco Pomella from Pixabay

Serie A has returned, and with it, the four of the top five leagues with plans to return this season have all followed through. Italian football really returned last week, as the semifinals and final of the Coppa Italia were finished, but the league will resume this weekend. So, you know the usual questions at this point. Where did we leave off? What do you need to watch for? What players should you pay attention to?

First, a quick recap of the Coppa Italia. Italy’s premier cup competition resumed last week with the second legs of the semifinals. Juventus drew 0-0 with Milan but advanced on away goals after a 1-1 aggregate, while Napoli beat Inter 1-0 to advance 2-1 on aggregate. In the final, Napoli beat their arch rivals on penalties to win their sixth Coppa Italia and first trophy since 2014. Dries Mertens’ goal against Inter in the semifinal made him Napoli’s all-time leading goal scorer, surpassing former teammate Marek Hamšík. These two games offered some deserved vindication to Napoli manager Gennaro Gattuso, who seemed to not put a single foot wrong for either game. His line up and tactical decisions in the final were a significant reason for the Partenopei success, with the structure of the team in defense designed to force Juventus out wide and into crosses that would be easily dealt with by the center backs. This should be a significant momentum boost for Napoli, a team with an outside chance of finishing in the top four this season, and it is a way to start the season with momentum that no other team will have.

Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

So, we left off with a title race, but is it a two horse race or a three horse race? Really, I am not quite sure. We left off with Juventus in first while Lazio and Inter are one and nine points behind them, respectively. While nine points is a significant gap for Inter, they do have a game in hand on the other two, so that deficit could be knocked down to six points with a win. Even with a six point lead, Inter are seemingly on the outside looking in when it comes to this title race. They are still in it, but they need quite a bit of help. However, we also return to a Juventus team in crisis. They did not play well in either the Milan or Napoli matches, and they seem to be more reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo than ever. When Ronaldo does not deliver, as he did not in the Coppa Italia Final, there seems to be not much more this Juventus team can do. Their midfield, especially, is still massively struggling outside of the usually great Rodrigo Bentancur. The defense is still solid, with Matthijs de Ligt finding his feet and becoming a key player in the team, but when they are not scoring enough, they will struggle to keep stringing together 1-0s and 1-1s. Lazio sit in perfect position, waiting for Juventus to mess up. Simone Inzaghi’s team have been the surprise package of the Serie A season, with quality players littered across the team. Ciro Immobile has been in incredible goalscoring form, and the midfield trio of Luis Alberto, Sergej Milinković-Savić, and Lucas Leiva have been nothing short of outstanding. Francesco Acerbi has been a rock at the back, as well. The spine of this Lazio team is fantastic, fully deserving of being in the position they are in. They also know that they still have to play Juventus, which gives them the opportunity to make up any ground they need to on the Bianconeri.

Below the top three, there is Atalanta in fourth, Roma in fifth, and Napoli in sixth. Those teams are the major contenders for the final Champions League place, with Atalanta and Roma being the main two teams in that fight. With Napoli’s Coppa Italia momentum, they definitely cannot be ruled out, but they have much more ground to make up. Atalanta are the top scorers in the league, assembling an incredibly entertaining and talented team that is able to compete for another season in the Champions League. Roma have been inconsistent under new manager Paulo Fonseca, but if they get young budding superstar Nicolò Zaniolo back healthy, they could be in with a good chance of finishing in the top four. Napoli have had a difficult season, sacking manager Carlo Ancelotti in December and replacing him with former Milan manager Gennaro Gattuso. It has not been smooth sailing for the Rossoneri legend in Campania, but with their triumph in the Coppa Italia, it seems that things are finally starting to turn around. If you wanted to expand this European discussion, there is a nine point gap between Napoli in sixth and Fiorentina in 13th. Sixth and seventh, currently occupied by Hellas Verona, are both Europa League qualifier places. It is a difficult path into Europe, but it would be a massive deal for some teams. One of those teams is Milan, currently in eighth. The ever-struggling Rossoneri are desperate for European football to alleviate some of the issues of Financial Fair Play and keep some of their key players at the club. Due to Napoli’s interesting position, they are able to challenge for the top four or drop out of the top six, and they need to maintain their momentum from winning the cup to finish the season well.

At the bottom of the table, two of the relegation places seem more or less decided. Brescia and SPAL seem destined for Serie B, being seven and six points away from safety, respectively. The real race is for the last spot, currently occupied by Lecce, who are only behind Genoa on away goals. There is a seven point gap between 18th and 11th, so theoretically all of those teams are at risk of relegation at this moment. Lecce, Genoa, Sampdoria, Torino, Udinese, Fiorentina, Cagliari, and Sassuolo all find themselves, more or less, within the wide frame of the relegation fight. The real race is including Udinese, Torino, Sampdoria, Genoa, and Lecce. Udinese, in 14th, and Lecce are only separated by three points. There is genuine talent in some of these teams, especially Udinese, Torino, and Sampdoria, but the race will likely be tight until the end of the season.

So who are the main names you should keep an eye on? You probably know the main ones: Ronaldo, Dybala, Immobile, Mertens, Insigne, Lukaku, Lautaro Martinez, Skriniar. There are definitely others, however, and, as usual, I will point them out here. Despite his struggles to adapt earlier in the season, it is worth giving another look to Matthijs de Ligt, who is showing the level of quality we all remember seeing when he was in Amsterdam. Milinkovic-Savić gets the most attention from outside Italy when discussing Lazio’s midfield, but Luis Alberto is a brilliant creative midfielder and currently the league’s assist leader. He is not just the Liverpool flop that many English fans remember him as being. Milan may continue to struggle, but left back Theo Hernández and midfielder Ismaël Bennacer have been stars this season, likely putting on great auditions for moves to other teams when the transfer window opens. Speaking of “audition for moves away”, surprise package Hellas Verona have two eye-catching Slavic center backs that have been stars this season. Kosovoan Amir Rrahmani and Albanian Marash Kumbulla have been fantastic all season and have attracted significant interest from other teams, the 20-year-old Kumbulla especially. Rrahmani seems to be going to Napoli, but Kumbulla has a long list of suitors within and outside of Italy vying for his signature. His defensive intelligence, ability on the ball, and maturity despite his young age makes him one of the best center back prospects on the continent. I am not going to select a single Atalanta player, but I am going to encourage you to watch them. Your player to watch for Atalanta is all of their players. Genuinely, they are such a fun team, playing such an intense attacking style and scoring plenty of goals. Their front three of Josip Iličić, Duván Zapata, and Alejandro “Papu” Gómez are the stars of the show, but there is so much that makes that team work. Further down the table there are plenty of great attacking players, such as Andrea Belotti at Torino, Federico Chiesa at Fiorentina, and the aging-like-fine-wine Fabio Quagliarella at Sampdoria. There are also a good set of brilliant box-to-box midfielders, including Fiorentina’s Gaetano Castrovilli, Udinese’s Rodrigo De Paul, and the much-discussed Brescia wunderkind Sandro Tonali.

So, what is going to happen? Well, at the top, I do genuinely think this is the year that Juve’s hegemony ends. This seems to be a Juventus team in crisis, a team that has spent so much money on financing Ronaldo’s move that they have been unable to really upgrade the rest of the team. Their main competition, Lazio, seems to be an incredibly complete team that has many fewer weaknesses than Maurizio Sarri’s team. Sarri has seemingly reached a crisis point following their Coppa Italia failure, as there is a real possibility that the Bianconeri end the season without any trophies. Should that happen, it would likely lead to Sarri’s departure. Inter’s struggles have likely taken them out of the title race, but I believe they will comfortably finish third, with Atalanta rounding out the top four. Napoli will make a run, but not enough to catch Atalanta, finishing fifth, while Roma finishes sixth. I think Hellas Verona will narrowly hang on to seventh over Milan and Parma, but Milan, especially with a healthy Ibrahimović, could finish in that sixth spot. At the bottom, I think Brescia and SPAL both go down, with Lecce being the team to join them. Lecce are in a race for survival, but I think they are the least talented of the relegation fighting teams, and with the restart allowing some of the other more talented teams to get some much needed rest, Lecce will suffer the most.

Image by Ben Kerckx from Pixabay

The return of Serie A still feels weird. Italy was the hardest hit European country by COVID, and the impact of the disease will be felt in Italian society for decades to come, especially in the north of the country. Lombardian clubs Inter, AC Milan, Brescia, and Atalanta return to play in the region hardest hit by the virus. While things seem to be returning to “normal”, there is a sense that nothing will be what is was before and that the definition of “normal” has been forever changed. In a way, this can be said about every country in the world, not just Italy. I just hope that the return of football can bring some much needed joy back into people’s lives, put smiles on the faces of people who have been, and continue to be, impacted by this virus.

What do Manchester United do with Alexis Sanchez?

Alexis Sanchez arrived at Manchester United with a lot of promise. Sanchez was absolutely sensational at Arsenal, notching up an impressive 80 goals and 45 assists in 166 games for the Gunners. At that time, I remembered how I really wanted Lucas Moura to come to the club instead. Moura was younger and faster than the Chilean, who was already 29 by the time he signed with the Red Devils. However, since United were swapping the frustratingly inconsistent Henrikh Mkhitaryan for Sanchez with no additional fees, it seemed like an absolute bargain for the club. The Red Devils hyped up his arrival, revealing a heart-warming announcement video that Alexis had signed for the club.  

Glory Glory Man Utd! | Alexis Sanchez Signs! by Manchester United

I still remember how excited my friends and I were when they released this video. Finally, we had someone worthy to wear the famous no. 7 shirt. Sanchez had demonstrated his prowess at Arsenal, and United fans waited eagerly for him to replicate his form at Arsenal at Old Trafford.

So we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And well, we’re still waiting.

Some say his finest performance in a United jersey was playing that piano in his announcement video. The truth is Sanchez is a shadow the player he was at Arsenal. He has shown glimpses of his talent, but mostly, he has been poor. Even at Inter Milan, Sanchez (to be fair he has been plagued by injuries) has not produced when it mattered. Now, many United fans probably would have forgotten about him after Bruno Fernandes’s arrival. Honestly, I forgot that he was going to return at the end of the season. It does beg the question though, what do Manchester United do with him?

I stumbled on an article written by Kevin Bernie for the Manchester Evening News, “Four reasons Alexis Sanchez should be given another chance at Manchester United.” I’m going to be frank. I disagree with the weak arguments he has come up with. Read his article and you’ll understand what I am saying. Still, his article has made me think about what the club should do with Sanchez.

Should he stay?

If Alexis Sanchez were to take a significant pay cut, I think he can be an instrumental member of the squad. Sanchez can play on both wings and operate as a striker as well. Manchester United have deployed Dan James as a makeshift striker because of injuries to Rashford and Martial. With Ighalo potentially not signing permanently for the club and Woodward recently ruling out big-money signatures, Sanchez adds some valuable depth to the team.

Bernie mentions that with time, Sanchez can rediscover his Arsenal form. The likelihood of that happening is slim. Those days are well past him, but Sanchez does have significant experience under his belt. He doesn’t have to be the same player he was at Arsenal. Instead, he can become a mentor-like figure for developing players (just like Juan Mata and Nemanja Matić). Harry Maguire has added much-needed leadership in the youthful United locker room, but more experienced heads are needed..

Most importantly, Sanchez should be given a fair chance with the arrival of Bruno Fernandes. The Portuguese playmaker’s arrival has reinvigorated the entire team. Sanchez was a great player at Arsenal not entirely because he was a gifted footballer but also because he brilliantly linked up play with Mesut Özil. Özil’s incredible vision and passing ability meant that he always found a way to supply the ball to Sanchez. Quite frankly, when he first arrived, no one at United was a formidable playmaker. Now, we have one with Bruno. Will Sanchez regain some of his form with Bruno’s playmaking ability? In fact, if Bruno and Pogba were fielded together with Sanchez, that could make for some exciting football at United.

Should he go?

If Sanchez remains, the board would almost certainly have him start every game since he is earning a staggering weekly wage. His wages could have significant impacts on the rest of the team. Under Ole, Manchester United have undertaken a different approach when it comes to transfers. The Norwegian has rebuilt Manchester United by buying young players and blooding in academy prospects. Would Sanchez’s arrival threaten the playing time of hot prospects and thus hinder their development? United have done well to give Brandon Williams and Mason Greenwood ample game time on the wings this campaign. Selling Sanchez will make more sense if Ole is sticking to his philosophy on youth.

Sanchez hasn’t merited a place in the squad through his loan at Inter Milan and at this point, he is nothing more than an unnecessary gamble. Let’s compare his performances to another United loanee, Chris Smalling. On loan at Roma, Smalling has rediscovered the excellent form he displayed under Louis van Gaal. United could potentially bring him back to help add competition in defence. Sanchez has done nothing of the sort at Inter Milan. Based on his performances thus far, I don’t see any reason why he should be given a spot over other members of the squad.

Moreover, as I mentioned earlier in the article, Sanchez has an unjustified amount of weekly wages. Selling him frees up wage space and prevents potential rifts in the locker room. Give it time and other players at United would start demanding for similar astronomical wages. Sanchez needs to take a pay cut or else, he should be given the boot.

Image by jorono from Pixabay 

Time will only tell what the club does with Sanchez. Ole seems to be keen on giving the winger another chance at redemption. No one wants a player to be dreadful. Regardless of whether he stays or goes, the footballing world needs Sanchez to regain his form. He is an exceptional talent who has a few more years in him at least (he is only 32 years old this year). I refuse to believe he is past his peak. He needs time. The question is, are United willing to give him some?

Anatomy of a Win: Inter 4-2 AC Milan

Derby mania sends the Nerazzurri top of the league

Welcome to “Anatomy of a Win”, where we take a famous result from this season and break down how it happened. Today we look at Inter’s come from behind victory in the Derby della Madonnina from February 2020.

Inter came from two goals down to complete the comeback with a stellar second half performance. The win propelled Inter back to the top of the table and cemented the existence of a three horse race for the Scudetto. The loss for Milan was disappointing, especially given the manner in which they lost. It put a massive dent in the Rossoneri‘s confidence, especially having only lost one league game in their last 11 going into this match.

This is the classic example of the old phrase “a game of two halves.” In the first half, Milan were largely the dominant team. Despite Inter’s 3-5-2 formation giving them a numerical advantage in midfield over Milan’s 4-4-2, Milan dominated possession and controlled the middle of the park. Algerian midfielder Ismaël Bennacer put together what was possibly his best half in a Milan shirt, seemingly winning every tackle and 50/50 ball and using his excellent passing ability to provide the foundation for Milan’s attacks. The main focal point of the team, however, was a man who needs no introduction. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has plenty of Milan Derby experience, having featured for both Inter and AC Milan during his career, and his arrival back in Milan from America in January kicked off the Rossoneri run of form that they took into the derby. He became the main focal point around which every part of the Milan team moved. His ability to occupy the center backs and hold the ball up allowed the players around him, namely Ante Rebic and Hakan Calhanoglu, to attack the open spaces and find opportunities to test Inter back up keeper Daniele Padelli. Ibrahimovic was responsible for both goals in the first half, with his knockdown being turned in by Rebic for the opener and later doubling the lead with a goal of his own off a corner. Stefano Pioli’s men entered halftime with a comfortable 2-0 lead, having been the better side the whole of the first half and dreaming of a memorable victory over their hated neighbors.

Milan’s brilliance in the first half was only equalled by Inter’s impotence. Antonio Conte’s men were uncharacteristically languid, lacking any energy and fight that you would normally expect from a Conte team and in a match as big as this one. Romelu Lukaku was seemingly the only major attacking threat, but apart from one major chance, where Mathias Vecino fired a Lukaku cutback pass directly at the keeper, Inter were not threatening. They seemed strangely content with allowing Milan to have time on the ball in midfield, not providing any pressure despite their numerical advantage. They had issues with midfield depth throughout the season, with Vecino, among others, not filling the necessary voids when injuries hit their first team starters, but with both Nicolo Barella and Marcelo Brozovic fully fit and featuring, the Inter midfield should have performed better than they did. The defense had a problem containing Ibrahimovic. Diego Godin, who did not enjoy a good first season in a Nerazzurri shirt, was partially at fault for the first goal, allowing Ibrahimovic to tower over him to knock the ball down toward Rebic. The normally reliable Milan Skriniar was responsible for the second goal, losing Ibrahimovic on the corner kick and allowing him to be unmarked in front of the goal. Daniele Padelli, who came in for the injured Samir Handanovic, was not exuding confidence in goal, and he was largely responsible for Rebic’s opener due to his poor positioning. It was a comedy of errors and shortfalls for Inter in the first half, and I imagine Conte was not too pleased with his team when halftime rolled around.

Whatever Conte said to the Inter team in the dressing room at halftime seemingly worked, as Inter came out in the second half looking like a team possessed. Within ten minutes after the restart, Inter were level. Brozovic fired a stinging volley past Donnarumma to bring them back into the game on 51 minutes, before Vecino atoned for his earlier mistakes by firing Alexis Sanchez’s cut back pass into the back of the net. In the sheer mania that followed that goal and the subsequent VAR review, the goal was incorrectly credited to Romelu Lukaku. Regardless of who scored it, Inter were level. 45 minutes of mistakes and errors was atoned for in just eight minutes. Milan were able to get their footing back in the match after the Inter blitz, but could not find a way through a more lively Nerazzurri midfield and defense. With 20 minutes to go, Stefan De Vrij fired Inter into the lead with a glancing header from an Antonio Candreva corner. As things stood, Antonio Conte’s men were sitting atop Serie A, but the match was far from over. Milan had a few more chances to earn a point, with Ibrahimovic coming mere inches away from equalizing. Christian Eriksen, making his Milan Derby debut, also came close for Inter, rattling the crossbar with a free kick from well over 30 yards out. In the third minute of stoppage time, Romelu Lukaku would head home a Victor Moses cross, sealing the three points for Inter and sending the Nerazzurro half of the San Siro into raucous celebration.

How was Inter able to turn things around in the second half? Well, they were just better. It is, at least sort of, that simple. Inter played with much more aggression and energy, especially in midfield. Vecino, Barella, and Brozovic really took control of the middle of the park, limiting the influence that Bennacer and other Milan players could have in possession. That increased control over the match provided more chances for Lukaku and Sanchez to impact the game going forward. The significantly increased pressure at the beginning of the second half led to the two goals, and the momentum noticeably swung in Inter’s favor. While Milan did their best to get back into the match, Stefan De Vrij’s goal was a deserved go ahead goal for an Inter team that largely dominated the second half. You could perhaps criticize Pioli of being too slow to change the team to counter Inter’s resurgence. The first two Milan substitutes, Rafael Leao and Lucas Paqueta, both could have influenced the match and potentially helped Milan retake the lead had they been introduced earlier than the 80th minute. Leao’s pace caused some problems, and Paqueta was able to provide service into the attackers, with his cross being the one Ibrahimovic redirected onto the post. Milan were just unable to fully recover from the shell shock of Inter’s two goals in ten minutes at the start of the second half, and the trademarked grit and tenacity showed by Antonio Conte’s men carried them to victory. You can criticize Conte all that you want, but he absolutely gets those characteristics instilled into every team he manages. The visible joy and excitement shown in the celebrations following Lukaku’s goal show a team that demonstrates that Conte level of passion and fighting spirit. It was another imperfect performance, but it was enough for the win. Inter were top of the league.

Manchester United’s decision to let Ashley Young go makes little practical sense

Under Ole, Manchester United have evidently embarked on a more youth-centred policy. This approach was evident with the club signing Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James in the summer and the promotion of youth team players like Brandon Williams, Mason Greenwood and James Garner to the first team. Furthermore, since his arrival in Dec 2018, Ole has gradually culled the older players from the first team – with Fellaini, Herrera, Smalling, and Sanchez all departing the club. Ashley Young appears to be the next senior player to be axed by the Norwegian. Inter Milan have reportedly agreed a $1.3 Milion dollar move for the veteran right-back. Even though most Manchester United fans would rejoice at this decision, I think Young’s transfer is a poor piece of business (for United) and could have long term impacts on the squad.

Yes, It makes some sense to cash in than let him go for free

I agree that the decision to let Young go is a financially sound one. Ashley Young is no longer the 25-year-old spring chicken he once was. After eight and a half seasons of mixed performances at Old Trafford, he is 34 years old with his contract expiring at the end of the season. The opportunity to sell him now not only injects a bit of cash into the club but also frees up the wage budget by a bit.

If you were to ask most United fans, they would be happy to see him leave the club. Young has produced moments of sheer brilliance (remember the goals he scored against Arsenal). However, he has also produced god-awful displays during his time at United, which has often cost the Red Devils matches.

Yet, I can’t but help wonder why the club is selling Young at this juncture, midway through the season.

Ashley Young has been a loyal servant to the club and whether you like him or not, is a role model at United. Having joined in 2011, Ashley Young is one of a handful of players have Premier League winners medal with the club. [The others being Phil Jones and David De Gea. Though, Mata and Matic won the Premier League with Chelsea]. He has the experience of what it takes to win trophies. Every locker room needs characters like that to help guide the younger players and ensure that their heads remain cool in difficult situations.

More importantly, young Manchester United players should take grasp the chance to learn how Ashley Young successfully reinvented himself as a full-back. Young single-handedly prolonged his time at Manchester United when he successfully converted to a wing-back under Louis van Gaal (LVG). Van Gaal staunchly believed in the 3-5-2 formation during his time at United and Young would have been shipped out if he could not fit that system. Even though Young gets a lot of stick from United fans, in all fairness, Young played well most of the time as a wing-back under LVG. Young’s presence at the club symbolizes the notion of perseverance and reinvention. It motivates players not to give up and look at different ways to reinvent themselves to fit Ole’s system better.

Besides the symbolism, it makes no practical sense to let Young leave. Manchester United are fraught with injuries in defence, and Young helps to plug the gaps in the back. While Diogo Dalot is now fit and Aaron Wan-Bissaka is the starting right-back for the club, Luke Shaw is still out injured and has been injury-prone. Brandon Williams has slotted into the left-back position nicely but who do United have as back-up options? Marcos Rojo is out injured. While Dalot could play as a left-back, what cover is available for Wan-Bissaka? Timothy Fosu Mensah is out and has been out for sometime now. He can’t be expected to start weekly straight away after such a lengthy spell on the sidelines. Amidst such an injury crisis, Young offers much-needed depth in the full-back department because he can play either side.

Man United need versatile players in such a fixture-congested season. Besides Perreira, who can be deployed virtually anywhere in midfield (albeit to varying degrees of effectiveness), Ashley Young is probably the only other “utility player” at United. He can be used anywhere along either flank (be it as a full-back, wide midfielder or winger). This is important since United are still involved in every major competition they have taken part in. Besides the Premier League, the club is also playing in the Europa League, League Cup and FA Cup. The fixtures will undoubtedly pile up, and the Red Devils need to rotate their squad to limit fatigue. Young offers a solid back up option and can start both Europa League, and FA Cup matches as United focuses on securing a Champions League spot in the League.

Also, and quite frankly, what is 1.3 Million Pounds to a club like United – what is the real reason behind axing Young? The club doesn’t appear to be making any signings this January, and there has been no serious attempt to blood in academy prospects (who can play in the RB role) like how Ole has incorporated Brandon Williams into the first team. So why not wait till the end of the season, utilize his experience, and give our captain a proper sendoff. As a fan, it is frustrating to see a lack of recruitment when we have little squad depth. It becomes even more frustrating when the club prioritizes the sale of players that are not “deadwood” but arguably essential members of the squad. Just saying, it would make more sense to prioritize the sale of Matic, Rojo, Phil Jones over Ashley Young.