Charlie Nicholas says Scott McTominay and Fred are struggling to keep the ball when Manchester United are in possession.

The international break was an uncomfortable period for all connected to the Old Trafford giants, with the loss at struggling Newcastle leading focus to increase on players, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the entire background structure.

Yet United rallied impressively and came out fighting against reigning European champions Liverpool, with Marcus Rashford putting the hosts ahead on an afternoon when they would fall just short.

Substitute Adam Lallana secured a late 1-1 draw for Jurgen Klopp’s men, who had won their previous 17 league matches.

Nicholas told Sky Sports: “This is another difficult game for Man Utd. It was a Jose Mourinho-style performance against Liverpool.

“I can never remember United, even when I have seen them on the back foot and having poor times, seeing them knock 50-60 yards to get five or six seconds breathing space. United nearly won ugly.

“Anthony Martial is fit and I think he will start, while Marcus Rashford started, scored and played well against Liverpool.

“Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will want to go to a back four, but their midfield cannot keep the ball. Scott McTominay and Fred are grafting but they cannot pass the ball.

“It is another awkward night for Manchester United, but 1-1 would be a decent result for them and that is saying something.”

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Laurent Blanc is interested in the managerial role at Manchester United if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer leaves, according to a report in France.

The France legend has been unemployed in football since he left Paris Saint-Germain in 2016, where he departed by mutual consent having won three Ligue 1 titles on the bounce.

The Frenchman spent two years at Old Trafford before retiring in 2003, and recently claimed that he held talks over replacing David Moyes at United in 2014.

Blanc has around a decade of managerial experience, taking charge of Bordeaux and France before being handed the reins at the Parc des Princes.

And now Foot Mercato (via Sport Witness) claims that he ‘closely follows’ the goings on in the Premier League, ‘especially’ at Manchester United.

The report hints that he would be interested in the role should it become available with Solskjaer under pressure.

United have picked up just nine points from their opening eight games in the Premier League and find themselves 12th in the table, 15 points behind leaders Liverpool.

The report added that Blanc was close to taking over at Lyon but disagreements about staff ruled him out.

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Jose Mourinho was hammered for much of what he said and how he went about managing Manchester United. Maybe he was right more often than we all thought…

 

Finishing second was an incredible achievement
“I keep saying and thinking and feeling that the second last season was one of my biggest achievements in the game.”

How we all laughed when serial winner Mourinho declared that leading United to a runners-up finish was up there with the two Champions League titles and four domestic leagues he has conquered. At the time, it reeked of self-preservation.

But Mourinho knew. And he doubled down on that view after he was sacked. “If I tell you, for example, that I consider one of the best jobs of my career was to finish second with Man United in the Premier League, you will say, ‘this guy is crazy,’” Mourinho said a month after being shown the door. “‘He won 25 titles and he is saying that a second position was one of his best achievements?’”

“I keep saying this because people don’t know what is going on behind the scenes.”

In the context of United’s current fortunes, maybe Mourinho deserves a stand to be named after him at Old Trafford after coming 19 points behind Man City, but comfortably ahead of Tottenham, Liverpool and Chelsea. His squad was very similar to the one currently disgracing themselves, with Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez (the Chilean joined halfway through the season) the only major exits, while Solskjaer has the luxury of the centre-back that Mourinho pleaded for.

 

Mourinho knew Pogba can’t be trusted
Paul Pogba may have been United’s most technically gifted player of the last three seasons, but Mourinho was right. The midfielder is a ‘virus’ in the dressing room.

“You don’t respect players and supporters. And you kill the mentality of the good honest people around you,” Mourinho is reported to have told Pogba after a draw at Southampton last year. “You are like a person with a flu, with a virus in a closed room – you pass that virus to the others.”

By that time, the problems at United had split supporters and pundits into two separate factions: Jose vs Pogba. Shortly after, it was Pogba who claimed victory, and his sudden-but-fleeting upturn in form upon Mourinho’s sacking gave ammunition to those who believed the manager was the problem.

But Pogba hasn’t changed. Yet again he went out of his way to engineer a move out of Old Trafford this summer and his form this season – when fit – has been as hopelessly inconsistent as we came to expect from the Frenchman under Mourinho.

Pogba can’t claim that Mourinho didn’t try. The manager tried a raft of formations and midfield personnel in an effort to get the best out of the record signing, and even after Pogba told United he wanted to leave having returned to work with a World Cup winner’s medal fluffing his ego, Mourinho offered an olive branch in the form of the United vice-captaincy. Pogba (metaphorically we hope) wiped his arse with the armband.

But United don’t learn. The hierarchy at Old Trafford are reportedly ready to offer Pogba a pay-rise in a vain attempt to persuade him that his future lies with the Red Devils. But Pogba wants out and he could not have made it clearer, with his words or his form.

 

Marcus Rashford isn’t a natural centre-forward
When Mourinho signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku in each of his first two summers in charge at Old Trafford, the worry for many was what their arrival meant for Rashford’s prospects. Their concerns were misplaced.

Rashford ended up making more appearances under Mourinho than any other Manchester United player and played the fourth-highest number of minutes. The problem for some was that Rashford spent most of his time on the pitch shunted out wide.

Around 50 of the academy graduate’s 125 appearances under Mourinho came as a centre-forward, with 32 of those coming from the start. According to Transfermarkt, he averaged a goal every 219 minutes while leading the line. Hardly prolific numbers.

Mourinho recognised that Rashford’s qualities were more suited to a wide forward, a player who can lead breaks rather than one who can receive the ball with his back to goal. But Rashford still saw himself as a No.9. The ex-manager explained his thinking last month.

“I am not going to say he cannot ever be a number nine, he can be a dangerous number nine especially if the opposition is not pragmatic, is not close and is giving spaces to attack. He can be dangerous in transitions,” Mourinho told Sky Sports. “But when Manchester United is a team that normally plays against teams who go to Old Trafford, close the door, bring the bus, bring the double bus, he is not a striker to play with his back to the goal.

“He is not the target man, he doesn’t score as many goals as a striker should do. So I think from the side you will get him to numbers of 10-12 goals per season.”

It seems Mourinho was right. Solskjaer immediately placed his faith in Rashford as his leading centre-forward – to Lukaku’s cost – but after an initial burst, the England attacker’s productivity has waned, as has his involvement in matches. Harry Maguire had more touches in the Newcastle box than Rashford – or any other United team-mate – on Sunday. Rashford looks so far off the pace as a leading striker that many people are assuming he is carrying an injury, despite Solskjaer’s insistence that he is 100 per cent fit.

The penny also appeared to have dropped with Solskjaer, who started the season with Martial as his starting centre-forward, with Rashford wide. But with Martial sidelined, Solskjaer has little option to persist with Rashford through the middle.

 

He knew Andreas Pereira wasn’t good enough
Mourinho had Pereira pegged as a continental Cleverley as soon as he got a decent look at the once-capped Brazil midfielder.

The 23-year-old spent the first two years of Mourinho’s United reign in Spain, initially with Granada before he defied the manager to go to Valencia for a season in 2017 – a decision which ‘disappointed’ Mourinho:  “His decision can be considered a young player who wants to play every weekend but also a young player that is not ready to fight for something difficult.”

Mourinho made his peace with Pereira’s choice and the manager offered the midfielder a chance to impress during United’s pre-season tour in 2018 while their World Cup players were still on holiday. In the United States, Pereira played as a No.6 where he eventually made his first Premier League start on the opening weekend. By the end of the following weekend, he was done in Mourinho’s mind. Pereira was hooked at half-time during a defeat which rang alarm bells at Old Trafford.

His next start came almost four months later when Mourinho rested key players for a Champions League group game at Valencia with qualification already assured. Back at the stadium he spent the previous season, Pereira was wretched. He was dropped again from Mourinho’s squad for the fateful trip to Liverpool, as he had been for the previous eight Premier League matches.

Solskjaer came in and having failed to convince Louis van Gaal or Mourinho, he was given a third opportunity. The current boss certainly appears to fancy the Belgium-born Brazilian more than the previous two managers – God only knows why. Pereira is a player without a position; he looks out of his depth wherever he is played. Fred may be the current poster boy for United’s slide but Pereira is equally as inept, as Mourinho quickly learned once he had the chance to see for himself.

 

He saw something in McTominay
When Mourinho brought Scott McTominay into his side and played him on an increasingly regular basis, even some within the club – his former academy team-mates among them – are understood to have been utterly baffled by what the manager saw in the gangly midfielder.

Not only did Mourinho play McTominay, he held the Scotland youngster up as an example to the rest of his high-profile, underperforming squad. Mourinho invented an award for McTominay at the end of the 2017-18 season, when United somehow finished second, so that he could be brought up on stage and paraded in front of the MUTV cameras as the template for his team-mates.

When Mourinho went, so too it was presumed would McTominay chances of regular involvement. Indeed, in his attempt to paint himself as the anti-Jose, Solskjaer used McTominay for a single minute in his first eight Premier League matches in charge.

But the midfielder has shown the kind of attitude and ‘special character’ that Mourinho saw in him to establish himself as one of the first names on Solskjaer’s team-sheet. Unfortunately for McTominay, any praise he receives is so often prefixed with “he’s no Keane/Robson/Scholes/Edwards” but he cannot be held accountable for the decline in standards at Old Trafford, especially while he is one of the few players trying to uphold them.

 

Ian Watson

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Michael Owen has questioned Manchester United’s links to Bournemouth striker Callum Wilson after allowing Romelu Lukaku to leave in the summer, suggesting that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has “knowingly weakened his team”.

Lukaku was offloaded to Inter for £75 million, with Solskjaer deeming the Belgium international and Alexis Sanchez to be surplus to requirements at Old Trafford.

With United’s well documented issues with scoring goals – again on show in their 0-0 draw with AZ Alkmaar in the Europa League – there has been speculation suggesting Callum Wilson could be drafted in in January.

Owen has suggested they may as well have retained the services of Lukaku and Sanchez.

He told BT Sport: “You have to see progress, you have to see the right type of player being brought in that actually goes down this philosophy.

“If they don’t buy young players, English players, whatever that might be, that’s actually along the lines of what we’re talking, then it really is a worry.

“People like Wilson from Bournemouth are being linked at the moment.

“Now, if a lad in his late 20s, who’s a very good player, in the England squad, no problem with him, very good player.

“But if that’s where you’re going to go back to, then all of a sudden I’m thinking ‘what’s the point in getting rid of Lukaku?’.”

Owen has accused Solskjaer of purposefully weakening the Man Utd squad, in an attempt to take the club back to square one.

The ex-Red Devils striker added: “In many ways Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has knowingly weakened his team.

“Getting rid of people like Lukaku and [Ander] Herrera and [Matteo] Darmian and Sanchez, [Chris] Smalling – he knows that he could improve his team with those players.

“But I think he’s almost taken the view that you’ve got to take a couple of steps backwards to then move forwards.

“[Solskjaer] has done that on purpose thinking ‘right, we’ve just got to rid ourselves of players that, okay they’re probably better than what we’ve got, but are they going to take us to where we want to go?’ – and that answer is no.

“Then you’re almost starting from scratch and I think that’s what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s done.”

 

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has hailed the mentality of Marcus Rashford to “be confident enough” to take Manchester United’s winning penalty against Leicester.

Rashford faced intense criticism and questioning over the international break after failing to impress with England.

The forward started the season well with United by scoring twice in the 4-0 win over Chelsea but had not scored since, and even missed a penalty in the defeat to Crystal Palace.

Rashford atoned for that mistake with the only goal from the spot in the 1-0 victory against Leicester, with The Sun publishing an exclusive claiming he and Jesse Lingard had received ‘the same warning’ from Solskjaer and assistant Mike Phelan about their non-football distractions.

The Sun say Lingard has been ‘told to concentrate more on being brilliant and less on bling,’ as the 26-year-old ‘peddles aftershave and iPhone cases’ through his ‘Be Yourself’ fashion label, part of the JLINGZ brand.

Weird sentence.

The United management team believe Rashford ‘is also in danger of being side-tracked’ – although quite what by, The Sun do not mention.

After the Leicester game, Solskjaer paid tribute to the forward being “confident enough” to take the spot kick.

“He’s been practising penalties and he can go both ways,” he said.

“He can go through the middle, he was calm and we’re going to get more of them, no doubt about it, because we’ve got players in the box with quick feet and, with VAR now, there’s no chance you’re not going to get them, even though we haven’t got every penalty we should have.

“Going forward, I think we’ll see him slot in a few more.

“Every striker misses a penalty. I’ve seen Maradona and Messi do it. I’ve seen Platini against Brazil and Zico – my favourite player of all time – missed in the same game.

“You’ve just got to be confident enough to step up next time. What’s the worst that can happen?”

 

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will carry the can if Manchester United fail to challenge for the Premier League title, says Nemanja Matic.

Matic is yet to start a game this season, playing the role of unused substitute in each of their first three Premier League games.

The United midfielder made his first appearance in the 1-1 draw with Southampton as a second-half substitute that probably should have subsequently been substituted.

On Sunday, Matic liked an Instagram comment branding Solskjaer ‘myopic’ for dropping him, which has led to rumours that the pair have fallen out.

However, Matic denies they have fallen out and has accepted that he will have to wait for his chance.

“The coach must opt for the team that will fight for the title and if he does not win, he bears the responsibility,” Matic told reporters while on international duty with Serbia.

“I have been in football for a long time, I have played almost all the games for all the clubs in the last 10 years. In order for me to play, one had to sit on the bench and accept that fact, and so do I now.”

He added: “In the first two or three games he picked the team without me,” Matic added. “I work as hard as I can. We respect the decision, it’s up to me to show him that he was wrong and to bring me back to where I belong.

“There is no problem. I told him I disagreed with him but that he had to decide the team.”

 

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“You’re a grown-ass man, deal with it.”

That was Romelu Lukaku’s instruction when many of his Manchester United team-mates were wilting in the face of Jose Mourinho’s confrontational brand of man-management. But it seems the Inter Milan striker might consider taking some of his own advice.

Since leaving for Italy at the start of the month, Lukaku has gone into great detail over the premature end to his United career. The Belgium striker felt neither wanted by the manager nor appreciated by the supporters. And perhaps there is some justification to be found among his list of gripes. But none of Lukaku’s complaints acknowledge that, as the person best placed to alter people’s perceptions, he failed to offer tangible evidence that he was being harshly judged at Old Trafford.

His goalscoring record at United isn’t bad. Nor does it demonstrate the kind of prolificacy required to put Lukaku among the company he apparently feels he deserves to keep. He netted 28 goals in 66 Premier League appearances, and 42 in 96 overall. In the race for the Premier League Golden Boot, he finished sixth in his first season, and joint 16th last year on the same tally as Ayoze Perez and Luka Milivojevic.

In the league, he netted once every 179 minutes – one every two games – which puts him just above Louis Saha and Michael Owen in United terms, but some way behind Andy Cole (156 mins per goal), Dwight Yorke (155), Dimitar Berbatov (154), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (150), Robin van Persie (142) and Ruud van Nistelrooy (128).

Last season was the seventh consecutive campaign that Lukaku reached double figures in the Premier League, with only the last two years spent at a big six side. That represents some admirable consistency – but is it enough?

Goalscoring, ultimately, is how Lukaku should be judged and his ranking among that group of United centre-forwards offers an accurate summary of his contribution in two years at Old Trafford. Only in one of those seven previous seasons did he crack the 20-goal barrier, which was his final year at Everton that earned him his big move to United. Lukaku’s record there, while commendable, did not justify the £75million price tag or meet the needs of a side aiming to claw its way back to the top.

So really, it is little wonder that no-one from within the club, be it Ole Gunnar Solskjaer or Ed Woodward, spoke out in an effort to make Lukaku “feel protected”. Solskjaer made clear very early that Lukaku’s style was not conducive to the way he wants his United side to play and that being the case, it would suit neither player nor club for the centre-forward to sit on the bench. Solskjaer cannot be blamed for looking to move Lukaku on, nor can Woodward when Inter were willing to give United close to their money back.

Lukaku also took umbrage at the accusation that he is just not suited to this United side. “A lot of people don’t think I should be part of that system,” he said on the LightHarted Podcast. “That’s my feeling from the conversations that I have, I just know.

“For me, the thing that makes me laugh a lot is… how the hell is sh*t going bad in my team, but when I play in my national team, it’s good? And I’m happy.

“We all know that international soccer is different than club football but the playing style we play in the national team is the one we want to play at Man Utd. So is it me? Or do we need to have a conversation from man to man and tell each other the rules?”

Most centre-forwards would be happy playing with Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard. On his way to becoming Belgium’s highest scorer, Lukaku has scored 25 international goals in the two years while United have been paying his wages. An impressive stat, but one that deserves context. The list of sides Lukaku has scored against: Gibraltar, Greece, Cyprus, Mexico, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Costa Rica, Panama, Tunisia, Scotland, Iceland and Switzerland. Only two of those sides feature in the top 30 of FIFA’s rankings.

In five games against Portugal, Brazil, France, England and Holland in that same period, Lukaku has scored no goals and assisted only one. That is the sort of stage United would be looking for their players to thrive upon in the international arena.

Lukaku felt scapegoated by United supporters – but at least he didn’t feel like he was being singled out. “It is Pogba, it is me or it is Alexis. It’s the three of us all the time,” he said. “They have got to find somebody to blame… If they want to put the blame on me, you know what, f*ck it, do what you gotta do.”

The United players are fortunate that Mourinho carried the can for as long as he did. For once he had gone and the post-Jose euphoria had worn off, there was plenty of blame to share around the squad. And given the depths United plumbed at times last season, is it really so unreasonable for fans to shine a light on their two most expensive players ever and another trousering the highest salary ever paid by United – or indeed any other Premier League club?

Lukaku, Pogba and Sanchez are easy targets – but that doesn’t invalidate the condemnation. Shushing criticism has always been part of Lukaku and Pogba’s schtick but United supporters have grown tired of the flow of dismissive comments with no actions to back it up. In Sanchez’s case, he just doesn’t appear bothered either way.

Lukaku can’t have it both ways. You cannot claim to feed off criticism  – or ‘BS’ as he regularly describes it – then complain when it arrives, and certainly not when it is justified.

 

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‘Not bad for a fat boy’ he captioned an Instagram post last week in response to more criticism over his bulk. It is a debate that has dogged Lukaku throughout his United career. “Criticism about my physique? That’s some BS! Yeah, that’s some BS,” he told Bleacher Report last November. Just a couple of weeks before he admitted that he knew months before he was too heavy for the Premier League.

Many supporters might not be privy to all the nuances of elite performance, but it is not likely to escape anyone’s attention when their centre-forward turns up overweight. Nor did fans miss that Lukaku was playing for long periods of last season with “not enough intensity”, which he acknowledged himself. Lukaku was not alone in that respect but saying ‘I don’t think I was the only one playing bad’ offers no mitigation.

His frustration is understandable. He felt that joining United was his big chance to reach his “destiny” in becoming one of the world’s top strikers. But for a variety of reasons, many of which Lukaku should accept responsibility for, he was unable to achieve the targets he set for himself or those expected of a £75million centre-forward at Old Trafford. Taking potshots at United, their supporters and his critics won’t change that. Nor does it alter the perception that perhaps Lukaku’s skin is not as thick as he would have us all believe. The scrutiny isn’t about to get any less intense in Italy with Inter.

Ian Watson

 

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has defended Paul Pogba over the missed penalty which cost Manchester United three points at Wolves.

Pogba saw his second half spot-kick saved by Rui Patricio after an apparent debate with Marcus Rashford over who should step up to take it.

After watching his side take a deserved lead through Anthony Martial only to be pegged back by Ruben Neves, Solskjaer dismissed the penalty confusion, insisting both Pogba and Rashford are designated to take spot-kicks for the club.

Solskjaer said: “The two of them are designated the penalty shooters and it’s up to them there and then who feels ‘this is mine’.

“Sometimes players just feel they are confident enough to score – Paul has scored so many penalties for us and today Rui Patricio made a good save.

“The two of them have been very confident. I like players with confidence and the feeling that ‘I can do this’.”

Rashford added: “Paul wanted to take it – it’s that simple.

“Everybody can miss a penalty. He’s scored countless penalties for us so it’s normal to miss one.

“I took one last week so for me it’s no problem for him to take one this week. It’s unfortunate he didn’t score but it’s not on him, it’s as a team and we take it forward to the next game.”

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is considering Paul Pogba for the captaincy, despite the Manchester United’s midfielder desire to leave this summer.

Marcus Rashford’s fine strike was followed by an impressive James Garner effort as the Red Devils opened pre-season with a victory far more comfortable than the 2-0 scoreline against Perth Glory suggests.

Pogba came on at half-time as Solskjaer completely rotated his side at the huge Optus Stadium, where the World Cup winner received a largely warm reception despite publicly admitting his openness to “a new challenge somewhere else”.

Agent Mino Raiola compounded matters by talking about how he is working to get his client a move, but Solskjaer says he would still consider the midfielder for a leadership role this season.

“No, it hasn’t (been decided),” the United boss said of the captaincy, having seen Antonio Valencia depart in the summer

“So we’ve got quite a few possibilities there and when the season starts we’ll announce.

“Of course we’ll have a good assessment, see how pre-season goes, so there we go.

“But, as you saw, Ashley (Young) will wear it when he’s playing until we decide on someone, yeah.”

Asked if Pogba is under consideration for the role, Solskjaer said: “Yeah.”

The France midfielder regularly captained United at the start of the 2018-19 season, only for Jose Mourinho to swiftly take away any vice-captain responsibilities as their relationship deteriorated.

Pushed further on Pogba’s resuming a captaincy position, Solskjaer added: “Well, I don’t think that needs explaining. We’ll discuss that later on.”

The club-record signing was asked for an interview as he made his way out of Optus Stadium, but simply responded: “No need”. Pogba said similar to another reporter.

Speculation about outgoings will continue throughout the tour, while Solskjaer kept his cards close to his chest when it came to signings.

PA understands that United are still trying to sign Leicester centre-back Harry Maguire, while they are scouring the market for a midfielder.

“I think you need to speak to Ed (Woodward, executive vice-chairman) or others,” the United boss said about transfers.

“At the moment, I can’t give you any updates, no.

“Well, timing is obviously an issue but we’re working, as I’ve said before, so of course we’re optimistic.”

Solskjaer was more forthcoming when it came to the performance of his squad in their pre-season opener, with Daniel James impressing and Aaron Wan-Bissaka showing signs of promise in their first match in a United shirt.

“Both the new lads did well, both Dan and Aaron,” he said, having confirmed Luke Shaw went off with a hamstring issue.

“You had Mason (Greenwood), Angel (Gomes), Jimmy (Garner), you know the young lads, Chongy [Tahith Chong].

“I think they also showed that they can make it as a Man United player and the more experienced ones did a job because we got 45 minutes out of most and it was a professional workout from everyone.”

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