It's looking bleak for Van de Beek as Fernandes keeps Red Devils on trophy track

By Sports Desk January 24, 2021

On a day when Donny van de Beek hoped to show why he deserves more minutes for Manchester United, up stepped Bruno Fernandes to show why that simply isn't happening.

The eye-catching selection of Van de Beek ahead of Fernandes for this FA Cup clash of giants at Old Trafford was all about "rotation", according to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

United's manager clearly felt his team could combat a faltering Liverpool team without their star man, albeit leaving him on the bench in case of emergency.

"Donny needs to be playing games as well and it's a big game for Donny to come into," Solskjaer told the BBC.

Van de Beek has not started a Premier League game since he was hauled off with United trailing at half-time at West Ham in early December, and he might not be starting any soon either given how this game transpired.

A 66th-minute switch of the Portuguese for the underwhelming Van de Beek proved pivotal, and the delightful free-kick from Fernandes that settled an absorbing game 3-2 in United's favour was one that had been conceived on Saturday.

"I think he stayed about 45 minutes after training yesterday shooting free-kicks, so I was quite confident that he was going to hit the target," Solskjaer said.

Solskjaer, the erstwhile supersub, knew the calibre of replacement that was up his sleeve, and the rotation worked in a roundabout way. Are we looking at more proof that United's once-maligned Norwegian boss is actually a tactical master?

Liverpool's season, meanwhile, takes another negative turn.

Donny fluffs his big chance

With a mere 18 passes and 23 touches, Van de Beek was peripheral in a midfield where Paul Pogba shone and Scott McTominay fought for every ball.

The former Ajax man had a glorious early chance to stamp his mark on the game when he burst into space on the right and looked sure to dart towards the penalty area, as Edinson Cavani waited for a pass in the centre.

But no. Van de Beek paused and decided to go backwards, and the chance was gone.

This game was a world away from the Anfield snore draw seven days previously in the Premier League, yet Van de Beek largely let it pass him by.

By the time Fernandes cracked his sublime winner into the right corner, Van de Beek must have been wondering when such an opportunity will arise again.

Salah shows he must start

Like Fernandes, Salah has seen his form and contribution questioned in recent weeks, and just as United's match-winner dispelled such criticism, so did Liverpool's main man.

After all the talk about front threes, and which of these sides had the most deadly attacking trio, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp went with a two-man strikeforce, Salah and Roberto Firmino linking up and Sadio Mane on the bench.

Both Salah and Firmino had been substitutes on Thursday for the defeat to Burnley, but they were a combination that United struggled to contain at times here.

Salah struck twice, the first a sublime chip, and Firmino set up both. The Brazilian has now assisted Salah for 18 goals during their time together at Liverpool, the most any player has set up another during Klopp's reign.

Unlike Firmino and Mane, Salah has exceeded his expected goals (xG) in the Premier League this season, with eight non-penalty goals from an xG of 5.3, and if Liverpool are to resurrect their season, the bench is surely no place for the Egyptian.

Glorious Greenwood

Mason Greenwood has not scored in the Premier League since that West Ham game, when he helped United turn their half-time deficit around and earn a 3-1 victory.

Here he looked lively from the early stages, albeit with one too many lollipops and insufficient tasty final product until he cancelled out Salah's opener.

The way the 19-year-old ended an 10-game barren spell spoke volumes of his belief, with Marcus Rashford's sweeping pass over the Liverpool defence finding his wing twin on the right and allowing Greenwood to thump a low shot past Alisson.

With Rashford also on target, this was quite a day to savour for the hosts.

Related items

  • Varane can see similarities between Solskjaer and Zidane Varane can see similarities between Solskjaer and Zidane

    Raphael Varane learned a lot from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and has compared the recently departed Manchester United boss to ex-Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane.

    France international Varane joined United from Madrid in August and spent three months working under Solskjaer before the Norwegian was dismissed by the Red Devils two weeks ago.

    Solskjaer left Old Trafford having failed to win any silverware in his three years at the helm, which is in stark contrast to the 11 trophies lifted by Zidane across two spells as Madrid boss, with Varane a key player under his compatriot.

    Despite appearing just nine times for new club United prior to Solskjaer's exit in what has been an injury-plagued start to his Old Trafford tenure, Varane was impressed by Solskjaer's coaching ability.

    "I spoke with him before signing. He's a very good person and humble with important values and in the short time here he taught me a lot of things, values and a lot of things about the club, the mentality of the club," Varane told The Times.

    "He represents a lot of things of this club: very respectful, humble. He always tried to do his best. Sometimes when you speak about something sensitive, it's like a bit negative because it's like a weakness. But it's not true. It's a strength.

    "When he speaks with a player, he's honest. It's important for a manager to be honest with his players and especially this point it's similar with Zidane. Maybe that's why I like this feeling. It was a short time working with him but I learn a lot."

    Varane won three LaLiga titles and four Champions League crowns among an array of other trophies during a decade-long spell at Madrid that saw him rack up over 350 appearances in the Spanish capital.

    However, the 28-year-old says he and his Madrid colleagues could not always celebrate their triumphs as winning titles is what was expected of them, something that played a part in his decision to leave the club.

    "After winning the Champions League, the fans don't congratulate you," he told The Telegraph. "It was 'OK, the next one' after the first one I won.

    "Four Champions Leagues! And they tell me, 'OK, go to the next one'. I just want to say sometimes you have to enjoy what you have. It was good!"

    Varane added: "Sometimes I wanted to push the pause button, find some time to celebrate. That's why Madrid are special. It's because of this special mentality too.

    "It's different. That's why I wanted to change, not because I don't like this mentality or because it's bad. It's very good, but I just wanted to try something different."

  • Pioli hoping to sign new defender with Kjaer ruled out for six months Pioli hoping to sign new defender with Kjaer ruled out for six months

    Milan head coach Stefano Pioli is hoping to sign a new centre-back in the January transfer window following confirmation Simon Kjaer will miss the remainder of the season.

    Kjaer injured his left knee during the early stages of Milan's 3-0 win against Genoa on Wednesday and was taken off on a stretcher.

    Milan announced on their official website that the Denmark international underwent surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament on Friday and is expected to sit out the next six months. 

    Speaking earlier in the day ahead of Saturday's clash with Salernitana, head coach Stefano Pioli confirmed Milan would look to bring in cover should Kjaer's injury be long term.

    "It's clear that I believe an intervention will be needed if that's the case," Pioli said. "But we will only do it to try to improve the team.

    "It's worth changing to improve the team. The club, if necessary, will be ready."

    Kjaer has been a key player for Milan since joining from Sevilla in January 2020 on an initial loan deal and has started 13 of their 20 matches in all competitions this season.

    The 32-year-old, who finished 18th in this week's Ballon d'Or voting, leads the way for interceptions (66) among Milan defenders in Serie A since making his debut.

    Milan's first match without Kjaer will be at home to bottom side Salernitana this weekend in what is the first top-flight meeting between the sides since January 1999.

    The Rossoneri have lost only one of their last 20 Serie A games against newly promoted sides, keeping 12 clean sheets across that period.

    With Milan one point adrift of leaders Napoli, Pioli's side have a chance to build some momentum with victory over Salernitana.

    "Tomorrow's match is important to give continuity," Pioli said. "We have another opportunity to demonstrate that we are a strong team.

    "The opponents are tough, very annoying in the non-possession phase and come at you with aggression and conviction. It's a game that we want to do well in."

  • Haaland not fit to play full part against Bayern in Klassiker clash Haaland not fit to play full part against Bayern in Klassiker clash

    Borussia Dortmund head coach Marco Rose has confirmed Erling Haaland is not fit enough to play a full part in this weekend's key Klassiker clash with Bayern Munich.

    Haaland scored just seven minutes into his comeback from a six-week injury lay-off in last Saturday's 3-1 win over Wolfsburg.

    That was the Norway striker's 50th Bundesliga goal, reaching the landmark in just 50 matches and becoming the youngest ever player to do so at 21 years and four months.

    However, with just those 17 minutes of football to his name since sustaining a hip injury on October 19, Haaland will not be considered to play the whole game against Bayern.

    "Erling himself knows his situation," Rose said at Friday's pre-match news conference. "He has had a good week of training behind him. 

    "But we all know that we have to be careful a little longer. He will certainly not be ready for 90 minutes, so we will have to see how long he can go."

     

    Haaland has averaged 1.12 goals per 90 minutes played in Germany's top flight, scoring 40 with his left foot, six with his right and four headers.

    Since making his Dortmund bow in January last year, only Robert Lewandowski (70 goals in 56 games) has scored more Bundesliga goals than the ex-Salzburg man.

    Indeed, no player in Europe's top five leagues has scored more goals in all competitions this season than Bayern striker Lewandowski's 25.

    Despite his continued brilliance in front of goal, Lewandowski finished second to record-extending seven-time winner Lionel Messi at Monday's Ballon d'Or ceremony.

    Rather than feel sorry for himself, however, Bayern boss Julian Nagelsmann is backing Lewandowski to be extra fired up against Dortmund on Saturday.

    "I've already said that he's in great shape and it's not impossible that he could win this thing again," Nagelsmann said at his pre-match news conference. 

    "He can't change the past. He's working every day on the present and the future gets created with his work in the present. I think it could be possible that he wins it someday.

    "And I'm sure that, when you look at his current numbers without mathematical talent like me, it looks good for this season.  

    "Therefore, I believe that he can do it and that those who vote will vote for him next year and say that he deserves the Ballon d'Or.

    "It is important to accept this disappointment but also to take energy and motivation for other big performances. And I'm confident that he has this drive."

     

    Against no team has Lewandowski scored more goals in all competitions than against former side Dortmund (24, level with his record against Wolfsburg).

    Dortmund have lost their past six competitive matches against Bayern, but they enter this contest with six wins in their previous seven leagues games and are just a point behind Bayern.

    Asked how his side go about beating reigning champions and current pacesetters Bayern at Signal Iduna Park, Rose said: "We need to play well in every department.

    "I believe that Bayern have a clear structure with the ball and develop a goal risk from it with a lot of force. It is difficult to grasp. 

    "It will be important to eliminate the offensive quality around Lewandowski and the wingers and to keep Munich out of the penalty area as much as possible."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.