One win in five, two in seven, three in 10, four in 13: it is fair to say Chelsea's form in the Premier League has been well below what is expected of a 'big six' team.

However, the poor run of results has combined with missteps from Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham, leaving Chelsea ahead of them in the race for the top four - though a two-season European ban for Manchester City is set to offer fifth place a route to the Champions League.

Despite leading Arsenal to just one win in his seven Premier League games at the helm, it is widely accepted that Mikel Arteta's impact since taking over the Gunners has been positive.

Questions were asked of Jose Mourinho's influence at Tottenham amid a run of four wins in 10 in all competitions, but a defeat against Chelsea on Monday could deal a huge blow for for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at United.

The Red Devils have won three of their past seven in the top flight and five of their previous 11, so why is Frank Lampard not receiving the same level of scrutiny as his Norwegian counterpart?

 

A consistent approach

Although Lampard arrived at Chelsea with just one Championship season of managerial experience under his belt, he has implemented an attacking system with an increased passing tempo.

The players are comfortable in the positions they are deployed and can operate to the head coach's instruction, while he's also proved to be adaptable. A switch to a three-man defence and a high press earned a 2-0 win at Mourinho's Tottenham in December, while an in-game move away from that system after falling behind at Arsenal preceded a dramatic late turnaround for a 2-1 triumph.

A tactical switch resulted in United becoming the only team to deny runaway leaders Liverpool a Premier League victory this season, but, in contrast to Chelsea's front-foot approach, Solskjaer’s sides tend to offer more on the counter, with his focus appearing to be on speed and hard running.

Lampard's stock with fans was already high due to his status as a club legend and that has improved by laying on a more positive style than what was witnessed under Maurizio Sarri. Solskjaer, in contrast, has failed to move enough away from the defensive football that resulted in Mourinho's sacking at Old Trafford.

 

Market movements

A transfer embargo at the start of his tenure meant Lampard was unable to make any new signings after taking over from Sarri.

His focus on youth was a necessity, rather than out of choice, but he has still been bold in making Tammy Abraham his first-choice striker and trusting Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori and Reece James to make the step up to first-team regulars a season after successful loan spells in the Championship.

Abraham, Mount and Tomori have experienced dips in the quality of their individual displays, but that is only to be expected from young players.

Solskjaer has also shown faith in academy products - Brandon Williams and Mason Greenwood are regular fixtures in the first-team squad.

However, their transfer policy has become the subject of much consternation. Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward's house was attacked before a big-money deal for Bruno Fernandes was wrapped up in January, finally bringing an end to a saga that had been drawn out since the previous window. The arrival of Harry Maguire in the close season was similarly long-winded.

United appear to make a meal out of any major signing and are still yet to appoint a director of football to aid the process.

The structure at Chelsea is far clearer and while Solskjaer has been at pains to talk up his role in transfers, Lampard has made it clear such matters are largely out of his hands. By voicing his displeasure at a lack of signings in January, he cleverly moved to absolve himself of any blame.

 

Great (or not so great) expectations

The season was essentially a write-off for Chelsea before it had even started, a place in the top four would likely have been considered an overachievement.

Since being appointed permanently in March, Solskjaer has had to contend with failing to keep United at the level he inspired them to during his initial interim reign – he won his first eight games and 14 out of 19, while also securing a place in the Champions League quarter-finals before being appointed permanently in March. It took him until December to rack up another 14 victories.

The availability of Mauricio Pochettino, so often linked with United, has only served to sharpen the focus on the Norwegian and increase the speculation over his position.

A poor result against Chelsea will no doubt ramp it up further.

Manchester City's two-season Champions League ban could be about to reverberate through the Premier League.

Pep Guardiola's future had been a topic of discussion prior to UEFA handing down sanctions for "serious" Financial Fair Play breaches and the loss of European competition has fuelled suggestions the Catalan could quit the club.

Media reports indicate City already have alternatives in mind, and their search for a successor looks set to pose problems for Premier League rivals.

 

TOP STORY – CITY EYE PEP REPLACEMENTS

Mauricio Pochettino and Brendan Rodgers are among the contenders to take over at City if Guardiola walks, according to The Telegraph.

The report states the pair "would be in the running" to become the club's next manager in the event their current boss decides to leave at the end of the season.

Ex-Tottenham manager Pochettino recently admitted he would "love" to return to the Premier League, telling the 'In The Pink' podcast: "It's going to be difficult, I know, and for now it's a moment to wait and we'll see what happens."

The Argentinian has been heavily linked to City's cross-town rivals Manchester United, while Rodgers is tied to Leicester City until 2025.

ROUND-UP

- Juventus-linked Guardiola might not be the only big name headed for the Etihad Stadium exit. The Sun claims Real Madrid will launch an "all-out assault" in a bid to sign Raheem Sterling.

- City could potentially even be docked Premier League points for the same Financial Fair Play breaches that compelled UEFA to act, says The Guardian.

- Meanwhile, over at Old Trafford, United have set their asking price for Paul Pogba at £130million, reports the Daily Star.

- As for potential arrivals, United are interested in Norwich City pair Todd Cantwell and Max Aarons plus West Ham midfielder Declan Rice, states the Daily Mail.

- Serie A side Milan are no closer to extending Gianluigi Donnarumma's deal beyond June 2021, according to Tuttomercato, and LaLiga title contenders Madrid are monitoring the situation.

- Sky Sport Germany continues to link former Bayern Munich boss Niko Kovac to manager-less Bundesliga outfit Hertha Berlin, who saw Jurgen Klinsmann leave earlier in the week.

Pep Guardiola will consider his future at Manchester City after the club were hit with a two-season Champions League ban.

City were handed the sanction – and a €30million fine – by UEFA on Friday for "serious breaches" of Financial Fair Play regulations.

The Premier League club have denied wrongdoing and intend to appeal the verdict, but they could face personnel problems if unsuccessful.

 

TOP STORY – GUARDIOLA TO CONSIDER MAN CITY FUTURE AFTER EUROPEAN BAN

Guardiola will consider his future as City manager at season's end unless the verdict is overturned, according to The Telegraph.

The Catalan – who has been linked with Juventus – is contracted until 2021 and had suggested previously he intended to honour his deal.

ESPN reports Guardiola is worried about how the ban will impact his players but does claim the former Barcelona coach would be willing to remain as long as he, personally, is happy.

ROUND-UP

- With Ole Gunnar Solskjaer still under some pressure at Old Trafford, Manchester United are favourites to land Massimiliano Allegri as manager, according to Sport Mediaset. Paris Saint-Germain, Milan and Roma are also reportedly interested in the former Juventus coach.

- Staying at Manchester United, the Manchester Evening News reports Leicester City star James Maddison wants a move to the Premier League giants. Maddison has been reported to be close to signing a contract extension at the King Power Stadium.

- With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang coming out of contract at the end of next season, Arsenal may opt to sell the forward during the next transfer window. The Mirror reports Inter are hoping to sign Aubameyang, who has also been linked to Barcelona.

- Olivier Giroud is prepared to wait to make a decision on his future despite coming out of contract at season's end. The Telegraph reports the Chelsea striker has been offered a pre-contract by Lazio but is in no rush to make a decision after attracting interest from Tottenham in January.

- Inter and Napoli are set for a transfer battle. CalcioMercato reports Hellas Verona and Albania defender Marash Kumbulla is a target for both clubs, who will need to pay at least €20m for the 20-year-old.

Odion Ighalo does not need extensive work with his new Manchester United team-mates to have an impact on the pitch, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has said.

United signed former Watford striker Ighalo from Chinese Super League club Shanghai Shenhua on deadline day on a loan deal that runs until the end of the season.

However, the 30-year-old did not join Solskjaer's squad in Spain for their mid-season break, with United exercising caution due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus in China.

United travel to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea in the Premier League on Monday - a trip Ighalo will make - with Solskjaer adamant forwards can still thrive without a lengthy integration period.

"I didn't have to have a training session to come on and do something," Solskjaer said.

"As a striker sometimes you know you just get thrown out there and do what you can. It might be that he'll have to come off the bench and get us a goal and then he just does whatever he's always done.

"He'll be involved with us [at Chelsea] and he'll travel down with us. Obviously now he's out of that two-week period of precaution - and it's just a precaution we've made. He'll travel with us and let's see if he's involved or not.

"We've kept in touch with him and of course we've done our own programme, he's done his. It was always going to be a case of him having to integrate to the group anyway after having been out in China.

"He needs to get used to the players and the team and up to speed as quick as he can.

"He's been working really hard, I think he's probably pinching himself at times because he's now at his favourite club at the age of 30 but he's earned that one. Hopefully he’ll impress us as much so we can see him play."

United sought a striker after Marcus Rashford sustained a double stress fracture in his back in an FA Cup replay with Wolves on January 15, ruling him out for around three months.

Few would have expected them to sign Nigeria international Ighalo, though, given his previous Premier League experience came with Watford between 2014 and 2017.

Ighalo scored 39 times in 99 games for the Hornets and netted five times during the Africa Cup of Nations last year, and Solskjaer has been impressed by his record in front of goal.

"[With] the injury to Marcus Rashford… It has to be said that we needed another forward," Solskjaer added.

"When we got the chance to get Odion, on a loan, that was for us a goalscorer, top scorer [at the] African Nations Cup last year, we think, yeah, he can help the club.

"I know he's a very professional player, good lad and he'll give something to the group."

Solskjaer confirmed he does not expect any of United's injured players to return at Stamford Bridge, meaning midfield duo Scott McTominay (knee) and Paul Pogba (ankle) will remain sidelined.

First Barcelona and now Real Madrid. Lautaro Martinez is a wanted man.

With 16 goals across all competitions for Inter this season, Martinez is attracting plenty of interest following previous links to Manchester United.

Madrid and Barca are set to go head-to-head on and off the pitch.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID JOIN BARCA IN MARTINEZ RACE

Real Madrid want to pay the release clause of Inter star and Barcelona target Lautaro Martinez, according to Tyc Sports.

Martinez has long been linked with LaLiga champions Barca, who are eyeing a long-term replacement for Luis Suarez.

However, Martinez is now firmly on Madrid's radar with a release clause of €115million and Luka Jovic struggling to score regularly behind veteran striker Karim Benzema at the Santiago Bernabeu.

 

ROUND-UP

- ESPN says Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea are chasing Manchester United goalkeeper Dean Henderson, who is on loan at Premier League side Sheffield United. The 22-year-old – who is contracted to United until 2022 – has impressed at Bramall Lane and is reportedly unwilling to return to Manchester unless he is number one ahead of David de Gea.

Manchester City have joined Madrid, Barca, Arsenal and Tottenham in the race to sign RB Leipzig centre-back Dayot Upamecano, reports the Manchester Evening News. Pep Guardiola's City are desperate for defensive reinforcements following Vincent Kompany's exit and injury woes.

- According to the Daily Express, Serie A champions Juventus are eying a shock move for Chelsea's Willian, who is out of contract at the end of the season.

- Remaining in Turin and the Daily Mail claims Juve have entered the chase for Birmingham City teenager Jude Bellingham. The 17-year-old is also wanted by United and Chelsea.

Tottenham are plotting a double swoop for Norwich City pair Ben Godfrey and Max Aarons, the Express says. It comes as the Daily Mail reports Spurs will sell Eric Dier if he does not sign a new contract.

- Marca says Barca have contacted Levante about Roger Marti but the club have pointed to the striker's release clause. Barca are looking to bring in an emergency forward following Ousmane Dembele's long-term injury. Real Betis' Loren Moron and Lucas Perez of Deportivo Alaves are also reported options.

Paul Pogba "would not mind" returning to Juventus as "Italy is like home" for the Manchester United star, according to his agent Mino Raiola.

Pogba – who continues to recover from an ankle injury – has been linked to Serie A champions Juve and LaLiga giants Real Madrid, with the United midfielder reportedly unhappy in Manchester.

The 26-year-old left United for Juve in 2012 but Pogba was prised back to Old Trafford in 2016 for a then-world record transfer fee of €105million (£89.3m).

Raiola placed Pogba's United future in fresh doubt after watching Juve's late 1-1 draw against 10-man Milan in the opening leg of the Coppa Italia semi-final on Thursday.

"Italy is like home for Paul. He would not mind going back to Juve but we will see what will happen after the Euros," Raiola told reporters.

"Paul wants to play at the best level but he can't escape by Manchester United if they are in a difficult situation." 

It has been an injury-ravaged season for Pogba, who has started just five Premier League matches this term and made only seven appearances in total.

Pogba has only managed eight games across all competitions for United, who languish eighth in the Premier League after 25 rounds.

United travel to fourth-placed Chelsea on Monday as the Premier League returns after a minibreak.

Erling Haaland already had his heart set on a move to Borussia Dortmund by the time Manchester United made a move for his services.

Dortmund signed Haaland after agreeing to meet his €22.5million release clause at Salzburg in late December, and the 19-year-old has made a flying start to life in Germany, with eight goals in five appearances.

A host of leading European clubs were linked to the striker, including United – led by his former Molde coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – but Haaland told Viasport his mind was made up by the time their interest was declared.

"Ole Gunnar has been very important for me in getting to where I am today," he said.

"But we concluded that Dortmund was the best option for me. That was what I felt best about and therefore it became Dortmund."

Indeed, Dortmund as a next stop in his career was put forward by Haaland himself as his father – former Leeds United and Manchester City utility man Alf-Inge Haaland – surveyed other options.

"The thing is, when the season was over, my father and I started talking

"At that point he didn’t mention Dortmund. Then I asked him, 'What about this club? That would have been nice'. Then he said, 'We'll see'.

"Suddenly it became an option and then that was what I felt all along.

"The process was pretty simple on my end. I really just played football and wasn't very involved until the first half of the season was over.

"So, I didn't have that much to do with it, to be honest. The process was to find the best possible club for me."

Haaland made light of suggestions his move to Dortmund was primarily motivated by money and praised agent Mino Raiola for his role in making the transfer happen.

"It's kind of comical if I were to get that label [being greedy]," he said.

"All the people close to me know that's not the kind of person I am. It's really been kind of comical."

On Raiola, Haaland added: "He's the best in the world at what he does. As simple as that.

"He's the best agent. He gets a lot of negativity and that's probably because he's doing such a great job for those he's working for

"He has helped a lot and he's a good guy to have around."

Each close-season transfer window has a defining 'saga' and everything points to the next revolving around Jadon Sancho and Manchester United.

Media reports began to circulate on Wednesday claiming Sancho is set to leave Borussia Dortmund at the end of the season, having emerged as one of world football's next great hopes since joining from Manchester City.

The England international seems likely to return home later this year and United are rumoured to be leading the chase, ready to pay £120million for his signature.

United's issues on the flanks are nothing new. For several years they have seemingly operated with a bizarre square-pegs-round-holes policy, assigning numerous players who clearly aren't wingers to wide roles.

We looked at the data to understand how Sancho stacks up with United's current attacking options.

A PROLIFIC CREATOR

It's difficult to imagine Sancho joining United and not having a swift and decisive impact. The only other genuine winger in their squad is Daniel James, and while the Wales international has enjoyed a solid debut season after a shock move, he has faded recently and clearly lacks a certain presence.

After Andreas Pereira (31), Fred (30) and Marcus Rashford (24), James (23) has created the most Premier League chances for United this term and his haul of six assists isn't matched by any of his team-mates.

By comparison, Sancho has laid on 47 opportunities for team-mates in the Bundesliga this season, the fifth-highest in the division, and his haul of 13 assists is the same amount as James, Anthony Martial and Rashford combined.

SUBTLETY IN THE FINAL THIRD

The United squad isn't exactly blessed with lots of physical attackers renowned for their aerial ability, which suggests hooking hopeful crosses into the box does not represent a fertile route to goal.

For the most part, United forwards aren't desperate to cross, with Pereira (28), Rashford (19) and Martial (7) often looking for alternative ways to penetrate the box, but James (79) is the 11th most-frequent crosser in the league, even if he's some way off Trent Alexander-Arnold (159).

Sancho fits in more with the former group, supplying only 22 crosses this season. Perhaps such a low figure is justified by the fact only five per cent were accurate.

Nevertheless, this does suggest Sancho is more subtle and deliberate with his creativity, and given he has crafted comfortably more chances and goals than the United contingent, it is difficult to argue he should alter his style.

A KEY INFLUENCE

As someone who creates so many opportunities, it wouldn't be unusual to expect Sancho to be somewhat wayward in possession, given the necessity to take risks.

But 80 per cent of his 496 passes into the final third have been accurate. Of the 284 Bundesliga players to play at least 50 passes into that part of the pitch, only 11 have greater accuracy than Sancho, though none of those attempted more than 308.

Martial, Fred, Mason Greenwood, Luke Shaw, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard have all been more accurate in the final third, but Sancho has attempted far more passes, while none of them have got anywhere close to the Dortmund star's chance creation record.

DEADLY WHEN IT MATTERS

Sancho's not just a creator, however.

As well as his 13 assists, Sancho has also chipped in with 12 Bundesliga goals this season, a figure bettered by only Robert Lewandowski (22) and Timo Werner (20).

Those 12 goals came from 37 attempts, meaning he is averaging almost a goal every three shots, comfortably better than Martial (17 per cent of 48 shots) and Rashford (19 per cent of 74 shots).

A complete player in attack, Sancho offers an all-round threat that United simply do not possess.

He also appears to be the ideal player for United stylistically, with his attributes and dynamism similar to the likes of Martial, Rashford and Greenwood, around whom club seem intent on building their future.

Will Sancho be the next to join that trio?

Paul Pogba has said he "can't wait" to return to action for Manchester United as the World Cup winner steps up his ankle rehabilitation.

After starting just five Premier League games so far this season, Pogba appears close to giving manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a much-missed midfield option.

Pogba released video footage of his gym work on Wednesday, with his movement boding well for a comeback after recently having a cast removed.

"Four weeks after surgery, I'm feeling good," he said on the Instagram video.

A further series of images came with captions, with Pogba writing on one: "Can't wait to be back on the pitch."

On another, United's £89.3million record signing wrote of "stretching beyond your limits".

Solskjaer has been cautious around putting a timescale on Pogba's return to action, and the French playmaker was assigned to continue his recovery when team-mates headed to Spain for their ongoing warm-weather camp.

However, the day Pogba pulls on the United shirt again appears to be coming closer.

The former Juventus star has an added incentive to return: United's signing of Bruno Fernandes from Sporting CP means Pogba will have a new midfield ally.

Anthony Martial recounted how he was determined to prove Jose Mourinho wrong after falling out of favour during the Portuguese coach's second season at Manchester United.

Martial's United career has been plagued by inconsistency, particularly while Mourinho was in charge.

After a promising debut season at the club, Martial seemed to take a step back during the 2016-17 campaign, starting 18 Premier League matches compared to 29 the previous year and his goals haul also dropped significantly from 11 to four.

Transfer speculation surrounding Martial was rife before the 2017-18 season and he made only three Premier League starts prior to November, but he got himself back into more regular contention, scoring nine times and setting up another five goals.

Mourinho's motivational methods are well-known, as he has never been afraid to criticise his players publicly to get a reaction, and while it seemed to work with Martial, he says he would have preferred alternative treatment.

"It is true that I prefer to be told to my face," Martial told RMC Sport as part of a documentary about Mourinho.

"There is no need for it to be said in front of everybody. Certainly, after that, you want to prove him wrong.

"He did not play me during the first matches of the season. Each time I came on, I scored, and he eventually said to me, 'you see, now you understand what I am after.'

"It can sting, but you just want to show him that you should be on the pitch."

Martial started the 2019-20 season well under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but he has struggled to find form of late after being moved into a central role due to the absence of Marcus Rashford.

Mauricio Pochettino said he would "love" to work in the Premier League again as the former Tottenham manager continues to be linked with Manchester United.

Pochettino led Tottenham to the Champions League final last season but was sacked in November and replaced by Jose Mourinho.

Barcelona emerged as a possible destination for Pochettino until the LaLiga champions turned to Quique Setien, however, links to United refuse to subside.

Pochettino is reportedly keen on the United job as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer struggles at Old Trafford, where the Red Devils are eighth and six points adrift of the top four.

"To be honest, I would love to work in the Premier League," Pochettino said on 'In The Pink' podcast.

"It's going to be difficult, I know, and for now it's a moment to wait and we'll see what happens.

"It's a moment of recovery, to think about yourself a little bit, and to be ready because in football always something can happen and you need to be ready.

"I'm ready and waiting for a new challenge. I have the belief and confidence that the next challenge will be fantastic."

Pochettino added: "I was in Argentina, I was in Qatar, I was in Spain and I have Jesus [Perez, assistant manager to Pochettino at Spurs] who follows the news a little bit but I notice the rumours.

"All of the coaching staff accept that there are rumours. We deal with rumours naturally.

"The people need natural people, normal people and we don't say that we are unique with that but we are not actors and we don't do anything that we don't believe."

If a Premier League job does not arise, Pochettino will pursue an opportunity outside of England.

"If we move to Europe," the 47-year-old Argentinian said. "We are going to miss England."

Odion Ighalo is "desperate" to make his Manchester United debut and will be included in the squad to face Chelsea.

United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer confirmed the former Watford striker would be in the frame to feature in next Monday's Premier League clash at Stamford Bridge.

The Shanghai Shenhua loanee was a surprise deadline-day addition at Old Trafford, with Solskjaer's attacking options depleted in the absence of the injured Marcus Rashford.

"He [Ighalo] is going to travel with us [to Chelsea]," Solskjaer told the club's official website on Tuesday.

"We will just see his fitness work this week and I think we will get him sharp.

"We want to integrate him as quickly as we can because, of course, he is desperate to play for us."

Solskjaer was speaking from Spain during United's mid-season break, with Ighalo having been left back in England for "reasons out of the club's control", with the coronavirus thought to be a factor after the striker arrived from China.

Another new signing finding his feet at United is Bruno Fernandes, who made his debut in the 0-0 draw against Wolves at the start of this month, and Solskjaer is excited to see what the Portugal midfielder will bring.

"He is a very, very good footballer and his brain is obviously quicker than many others," said the Norwegian.

"He has got loads of attributes that we are going to get used to. We will get used to him and he will get used to us.

"His passing range, his deliveries, his movements – I am just pleased to see him here enjoying himself."

Bruno Fernandes has settled so well at Manchester United it is like he has been around for two years, according to team-mate Diogo Dalot.

Fernandes made his debut for United in a 0-0 draw with Wolves on February 1, having joined the Premier League club from Sporting CP in January.

Dalot said his Portuguese compatriot had settled well at United, who are in Spain during their mid-season break.

"Perfectly. I mean, it is like he has been here for two years already," the full-back told the club's website.

"He is getting on very well with the lads, it is very good to have him here, it is very good for me, very good for the team, he is a fantastic player and a fantastic person.

"So, it is one more to help the team."

United have endured a tough season and are eighth in the Premier League table, but remain alive in the FA Cup and Europa League.

Dalot hopes United – who visit Chelsea on February 17 – can push for a top-four finish and win silverware this season.

"That is why we are here. Man United always fights for trophies and to win games," he said.

"Those competitions, we want to win them with everything we have and the fight for the top four in the Premier League, because that is what we want as players.

"I think we have everything to do that."

Ed Woodward believes the next transfer window will be an "important opportunity" for Manchester United as he accepts the club are "not yet where we want to be".

United have undergone an extensive resetting of the playing squad and transfer strategy under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who admitted this month he had to "tear the house down" after inheriting a disjointed and unhappy dressing room.

Solskjaer has focused on encouraging more opportunities for United academy players while prioritising the signings of younger, hungrier talent, as highlighted by last year's arrivals of Daniel James, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire, now club captain.

United also spent an initial fee of roughly £47million to sign Bruno Fernandes in January, and brought in Odion Ighalo on loan, to strengthen the squad ahead of the final months of the season.

However, United and Woodward have still come in for heavy criticism, with Solskjaer's side underwhelming on the pitch and facing a battle to qualify for the Champions League.

The Red Devils are eighth in the Premier League and could be nine points off the top four if they lose to Chelsea on February 17.

Woodward insists they can still have a positive season, though, as he looks ahead to a potentially vital next stage of their rebuild.

The United executive vice-chairman told a fans forum: "The signing this week of Bruno Fernandes and return of key players from injury will be a boost to Ole and the squad as we head into the second half of the season. We remain in contention in the Europa League and the FA Cup, as well as for Champions League qualification, so there is still lots to play for.

"However, as a club and a board, we do recognise that we are not yet where we want to be. It is the overwhelming priority of everyone at the club to get us back to regularly challenging for Premier League and Champions League titles. Although progress may not always be smooth, everyone across the club is focused and committed on playing their part in helping achieve those aims.

"Significant work has already been done – and investments made – to strengthen the academy and we're pleased with the progress being made behind the scenes to ensure we have the right players, the right infrastructure, and the right culture to sustain long-term success.

"Similarly, there has been extensive work on our recruitment process, with considerable investment in scouting, data and analytics. The recruitment department is working to a clear plan and philosophy, along with Ole and his coaching staff. Our focus is on bringing in a combination of experience and the best young players with potential to develop further, fusing graduates from our academy with high-quality acquisitions.

"Our recruitment process focuses on analysis and selection of players over the course of a season, with a view to the following summer transfer window. As part of the rebuild, we see this coming summer as an important opportunity."

Woodward appeared keen to point out that Solskjaer has been backed substantially in the transfer market, despite some suggestions the United board have not made enough funds available.

"We had consistently taken the view that – because January is not an optimal time in terms of availability of players – we would only buy in January if players we had already targeted for the summer became available and we were pleased that this strategy played out with the signing of Bruno Fernandes this week," Woodward said.

"Bruno Fernandes and the players we brought last summer are evidence that our process is the right one. There has been no shortage of investment in players over the past few years, with over £200million spent since Ole became manager; our aim is to ensure that we continue to achieve consistency in quality of recruitment.

"Off the pitch, it is important to note that the commercial elements of the club are geared to ensuring we have a self-sustaining model, which supports investment in the playing side.

"Meanwhile we continuously look for ways to improve the experience of fans - from the £11million investment to transform facilities for disabled supporters at Old Trafford, improvements in security, engagement with fan groups around stadium atmosphere or a potential rail seating trial, to ongoing reviews of match-day catering and beverage provision."

Daniel James is seeing early signs of what he hopes can be a special on-pitch connection with new Manchester United addition Bruno Fernandes.

Fernandes arrived at Old Trafford towards the end of the January transfer window after a protracted saga with Sporting CP culminated in a deal worth up to €80million.

The midfielder won praise for a largely positive display as he made his debut in United's 0-0 draw with Wolves on February 1 and is now with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men at a training camp in southern Spain during their mid-season break.

Winger James feels Fernandes is already settling in impressively and thinks the Wolves game provided an indication of a potentially productive connection.

"He is settling in great," James told the club's official website about Fernandes.

"I know quite a few of the boys speak his language and he speaks great English as well.

"As soon as he came in he put his stamp on the game and he showed what he is about in that last game, on his debut.

"He was great, with the balls he played in behind and, for me, if we can get that bond, especially playing it in behind, I think that will be great."

United return to Premier League action away at Chelsea on February 17, with James feeling the benefits of a break in the schedule following a hectic period.

"We have a little break and it is nice to come out here and train, get a little bit of fitness and get a bit back into our legs," he said.

"It is great. Obviously, these warm-weather camps always help and always benefit us when we get back home. 

"It is obviously a little bit warmer than it is at home. It is good to get here and get the last few weeks out of our legs, which will really benefit us when we go back."

United will pursue two trophies in the second half of the season, with their Europa League tie against Club Brugge beginning on February 20 and an FA Cup fifth-round tie at Derby County to follow in March.

James added: "That is why I am at this club, to win trophies. We have got a great chance in both of them. 

"Obviously we have got the Premier League game on Monday and then we have got that Europa League game on Thursday, so we will go into both of those with our heads held high."

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