EPL

Ronaldo is saving Man Utd every game – they should have gone for Conte, says Bolt

By Sports Desk November 15, 2021

Manchester United are relying on Cristiano Ronaldo to save them in every game and should have replaced Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with Antonio Conte, according to sprint king and Red Devils fan Usain Bolt.

The pressure is growing on Solskjaer following a disappointing start to the campaign, with United winning just seven of their opening 16 games in all competitions.

Solskjaer's side have been soundly beaten 5-0 by rivals Liverpool and 2-0 by Manchester City in their last two home Premier League matches and are sixth with 11 games played.

Conte was touted as a contender to replace Solskjaer after the Liverpool loss, but he has since taken over at top-flight rivals Tottenham as Nuno Espirito Santo's successor.

Bolt, a life-long United supporter, believes the club should have been more proactive in moving for the Premier League and Serie A title-winning coach.

"I wanted Conte," he is quoted as saying by The National News. "He is going to do so well at Spurs. He is going to get them organised.

"He has been at Chelsea – he won a title. He's been at Inter – he's won a title. He's been at Juve – he's won titles. Everywhere he goes, he structures the team so well. 

"In January, he is probably going to get one or two players, then at the end of the season he is probably going to find proper players and bring them in."

United had been expected to challenge for the Premier League title in Solskjaer's third full season at the helm after bringing in Raphael Varane, Jadon Sancho and Ronaldo.

While his team may have struggled this term, five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo has been prolific in front of goal with nine strikes in 12 matches across all competitions.

That includes a last-gasp winner against Villarreal and dramatic late goals to rescue four points home and away to Atalanta in the Champions League.

Eight-time Olympic champion Bolt, who has been in attendance at Old Trafford this season, feels Ronaldo is being given too much to do on his own.

"We are going to struggle," he said. "Cristiano has saved us every game. One guy has to do all that work. We have not played good football in so long.

"It is so relaxed. We pass so slowly. When Alex Ferguson was manager, we had to win because he would demand you win."

United return to action following the two-week international break with a trip to Watford on Saturday.

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    It wasn't so long ago that the notion of Juventus hoovering up talent from Serie A rivals would have been seen in a negative light by most Italian football fans.

    But while their domination of Italy's top division only really ended last season when Inter brought the Bianconeri's nine-year subjugation of Serie A to a halt, their current situation would make you think it was far longer since they were a challenger.

    When the season resumes after this international break, Juve will go into their next fixture at least 11 points off the top, down in fifth. For years their recruitment has been muddled and misguided, with Aaron Ramsey's fringe squad status the perfect embodiment of that.

    But Dusan Vlahovic's arrival shows there is life in the Old Lady yet, and given the striker's rise to prominence, this move is also potentially massive for Serie A in general.

    Fiorentina hadn't been shy about their desire to cash in on the Serbian, who turned 22 on Friday. They have been very public about how they simply could not afford to lose out on a transfer fee, a situation that was quickly threatening to become a real issue given his contract was due to expire in 2023.

    Pretty much all of Europe's biggest clubs were linked with Vlahovic at some point over the past 12 months, and for a while most people's money would have been on him moving to England.

    "Oh, another emerging talent scurrying off to chase the big bucks of the Premier League, how predictable," many 'calcio' fans were presumably muttering to themselves as… *checks notes*… Arsenal and Tottenham circled.

    As the story reportedly went, Vlahovic's agent didn't seriously consider those two in the end. Whether it might have been a different story for Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United or even Chelsea is unclear, but a coup it remains for Juve.

    Vlahovic's impact on Italian football, particularly over the past 18 months, has been significant. Some have suggested he's Serie A's answer to Erling Haaland – perhaps a slight exaggeration, but there's a reason Juve are investing in a guy who in 2021, let's not forget, became only the second player in the past 60 years to net 33 Serie A goals over a single calendar year.

    Juve's attraction to him makes absolute sense when you consider a metric as reductive – yet, crucial – as goals. Following Cristiano Ronaldo's exit last year, the Bianconeri were left with a gaping maw in terms of finishing ability. The faith placed in Alvaro Morata to pick up the slack was as optimistic as it was naive, as the Spaniard has five in 22 Serie A games.

    Vlahovic should, in theory, provide them with a number nine who is dedicated to goals. As Fiorentina's focal point this term, he has recorded 87 shots (second-most among Serie A players) and scored 15 non-penalty goals across all competitions.

    Some might point to the fact those 15 strikes are a considerable increase on his non-penalty xG (expected goals) of 10.2, and there's obviously a chance he won't prove to be quite so clinical for Juve, but it clearly shows they are buying a player brimming with belief.

    Similarly, being surrounded by better players in Turin may mean Vlahovic doesn't have to try as many low-xG shots. A quick look at his shot map in Serie A this season shows a significant variation in goal distances, which obviously has an impact on his xG per shot, which is 0.11 (excluding penalties).

    That may not mean anything in isolation, but when you compare that to Tammy Abraham's 0.18, there's quite a gulf. The England striker seems to be better at getting into clear-cut goalscoring situations, but if Vlahovic is already proving this deadly from worse positions, imagine what he could do if he improves.

    It's worth noting that by no means does Vlahovic only have eyes for goal. In fact, among 'conventional' strikers in Serie A this season, only four – and Paulo Dybala, nominally a creator anyway – have had more involvements in shot-ending sequences without taking the shot (45).

    That speaks to Vlahovic's link-up play and his effectiveness at knitting attacks together in the final third, a skill that is not to every striker's liking. Yet he manages to fulfil this function without it being to the detriment of his goals output.

    At Juve, assuming he links up in attack with Dybala, there may be less need for him to get as involved and that could potentially be how he improves his record of getting into higher xG situations.

    It's fair to assume Juve would see that pay dividends on the goals front, given he already only averages 2.2 touches per shot inside the box – that's only fractionally more than Robert Lewandowski, Cristiano Ronaldo and Haaland (all 2.0), showing how he's more of an instinctive finisher than the likes of Mohamed Salah (3.1) and Kylian Mbappe (3.3), who are more about dribbling and beating defenders.

    The fact is, Vlahovic still has elements to his game that could still improve, yet he's already performing at a high level. He may be young, but Juve have signed a player who can go straight into the team, which will presumably start being built around him.

    Whether Massimiliano Allegri is the right coach for this new Juventus is another debate, but the acquisition of Vlahovic could be a game-changer.

    At the very least, it's a genuine boost for Serie A to keep arguably its finest young player in the league despite the Premier League waving its vast sums in his direction.

    With Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku gone, Vlahovic is surely primed to be Serie A's new poster boy.

  • Rooney turned down Everton approach to focus on Derby County survival bid Rooney turned down Everton approach to focus on Derby County survival bid

    Wayne Rooney turned down an interview for the manager job at Everton in order to commit to Derby County's bid for Championship survival.

    The former Manchester United and England captain said there was an approach from his boyhood club to his agent asking if he would discuss the prospect of taking over at Goodison Park.

    The Toffees, who sacked Rafael Benitez after just over six months in charge two weeks ago, have yet to appoint a permanent successor.

    Although Rooney is convinced he will manage in the Premier League in future, he took the "difficult decision" to decline talks with Everton as he wants to see through Derby's attempt to avoid relegation to the third tier.

    "Everton approached my agent and asked me to interview for the vacant job, which I turned down," he said on Friday.

    "They got in touch with my agent, my agent let the administrators know as well, and yes of course it was a difficult decision for me [to turn it down].

    "I believe I will be a Premier League manager. I believe I'm ready for that, 100 per cent. And if that is with Everton one day in the future, that would be absolutely great. But I've got a job here that I'm doing at Derby County, which is an important job to me."

    Rooney, who progressed through Everton's academy and rejoined the club in 2017 after 15 years at United, initially took on a player-coach role at Derby after Phillip Cocu was sacked in November 2020, with the club bottom of the Championship. He retired from playing to take on the permanent manager job in January last year and steered them to survival on the final day of the season.

    Derby were hit with a 21-point deduction for 2021-22 after going into administration and admitting a breach of English Football League accounting rules, but while the future of the club remains uncertain, Rooney has overseen an almost miraculous battle against relegation, with eight wins and 11 draws from 27 matches leaving them a relatively modest eight points from safety.

    Everton dismissed Benitez following a defeat to Norwich City left them six points above the Premier League drop zone. According to reports, their final three candidates are caretaker manager Duncan Ferguson, former Chelsea head coach Frank Lampard and ex-Porto and Fenerbahce boss Vitor Pereira.
  • Man City defender Walker hit with three-match UEFA ban Man City defender Walker hit with three-match UEFA ban

    Kyle Walker has been hit with a three-match ban by UEFA following his red card in Manchester City's loss to RB Leipzig last month.

    The England full-back was dismissed for a crude hack on Andre Silva late in a game that City went on to lose 2-1.

    Pep Guardiola's side had already qualified for the round of 16, but will now be without Walker for both legs against Sporting CP.

    UEFA confirmed the sanction in a statement on Friday, with Walker's actions described as an "assault".

    The 31-year-old will also miss the first leg of the quarter-finals, should City progress to that stage.

    Walker became the second-oldest Englishman to be sent off in a Champions League game, after Paul Scholes for Manchester United against Roma in April 2007 (32 years, 139 days).


     

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