For all the money spent on Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane, there has been a glaring omission in Manchester United’s summer transfer spree and that is central midfield.
Yesterday, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer opted to deploy Paul Pogba in the holding role alongside Fred and the effect was two-fold: the first was that United were denied the services of the Frenchman – who has contributed five assists already this season – in the attacking third; the second was that it highlighted the Brazilian’s lack of world class quality with Pogba having to direct his team-mate like in the manner of an air traffic controller pointing to Fred to let him know where he should be on the pitch.
It’s noteworthy because United have spent on superstar quality in other areas but they lost the midfield battle in the first half at Molineux in the 1-0 victory at Wolves, whose pairing of Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves looked a much more cohesive partnership. If they want to mount a sustained title challenge to Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool it is an area they should seriously consider upgrading before tomorrow’s transfer deadline expires.
Chelsea under Lampard would have lost to Liverpool
The manner in which Chelsea fended off Liverpool’s attacks after going down to 10-men was reminiscent of May’s Champions League final when they performed similar acts of defiance to halt Manchester City.
At various points, Romeulu Lukaku was stationed just outside the Chelsea 18-yard-box taking up a position where you would normally expect to find Jorginho. Try as Liverpool might, it felt as if there was an inevitability to the 1-1 scoreline from around the 50th minute. An onslaught came forth but the Chelsea backline readied themselves with mortar board and trowel building a wall in front of Edouard Mendy’s goal.
As the game progressed, there was even time for a couple of forays forward as Chelsea suddenly started to fancy their chances of a winner in unlikely circumstances.
Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool will have viewed the result as two points dropped but this was further evidence that Chelsea are much more credible title contenders under Tuchel than they were under Frank Lampard. The good news for the German – and Scotland manager Steve Clarke – though, was the return of Andy Robertson from an ankle injury. The full-back looked hale and hearty even if he was removed from action with four minutes remaining.
Vieira deserves the time to develop his young team
The last time Crystal Palace appointed a manager who played a more expansive style of football it ended in disaster with Frank de Boer sacked after five winless games in 2017 as successor to Sam Allardyce. The London club went back to a more conservative style when they appointed Roy Hodgson to replace de Boer and, thus, Palace fans were condemned to four more years of pretty stolid stuff even if they remained a Premier League club during that time. Now, Steve Parish, the Palace owner, has gone back down the route of a superstar former player as manager. The early verdict is that Patrick Vieira looks better equipped to succeed where the Dutchman failed – he’s already accrued more points in three games than de Boer and he’s doing so playing a more attractive style than Hodgson achieved and without young attacking midfielders Eberechi Eze – one of last year’s star players – and Michael Olise, the new signing from Reading who is meant to be every bit as exciting as Eze, through injury. Palace have also added youthful, highly rated talent in midfield (Conor Gallagher who we flagged up last week and who scored twice on Saturday) and at the back (Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen).
The one component Vieira appears to be missing is a striker, so signing Odsonne Edouard would continue Palace’s strategy of committing to young players and give Vieira another impressive piece for his rebuild.
Manchester City could do worse than consider Tierney
Never mind a striker, what about a left-back? Manchester City have spent all summer chasing Harry Kane yet have rattled 10 goals in their last two games without a recognised centre-forward and still continue to operate with a right-footed left-back. It’s a position that seems to be something of a blind spot for Pep Guardiola who has fielded Joao Cancelo, Benjamin Mendy and Oleksandr Zinchenko in the position with varying degrees of success. For a club of City’s financial might, one wonders when or if they might eventually make a move for Kieran Tierney at Arsenal. The Scotland defender – who only signed a five-year deal in June – has already established himself as a worthy peer of his international team-mate Andy Robertson but he is the kind of player who would fit seamlessly into the structure at City. Tierney has gone on record to say how happy he is at Arsenal but if the Londoners’ season were to play out in the same fashion as previous ones – and let’s be honest it’s looking that way – then he should at least be open to the possibility of moving on for the sake of his progress.
The rehabilitation of former Celtic loanees continues
Last week it was Shane Duffy demonstrating that there is life after Celtic; this weekend it was the turn of Moi Elyounoussi to show that he is unscarred by the 20/21 SPFL experience with a goal in Southampton’s 2-2 draw against Newcastle United to add to his hat trick in the EFL Cup against Newport County. Granted it was a scruffy, bundled finish but the Norwegian, the subject of stinging criticism last season, is just the latest player who is demonstrating that what went on at Celtic was part of a collective malaise infecting the whole club and not merely the fault of individual players.