EPL

Solskjaer puts trust in Bailly as partner for Man Utd skipper Maguire

By Sports Desk September 25, 2020

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will give Eric Bailly the chance to show he can provide the solution to Manchester United's defensive problems. 

United manager Solskjaer was urged to dive into the transfer market after last weekend's season-opening defeat to Crystal Palace at Old Trafford. 

Former Red Devils captain Gary Neville said the centre-back partnership between Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire was not good enough for a team with Premier League title pretensions. 

Lindelof, particularly poor against Palace, could lose his Premier League starting place as Solskjaer puts his trust in an axis formed by captain Maguire and ex-Villarreal man Bailly. 

They were paired together in the 3-0 EFL Cup win at Luton Town on Tuesday and could again be in tandem for the league clash with Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday. 

The 3-1 loss to Palace may have been grim for United, but Solskjaer sees better times ahead. 

He said: “I think last season proved to us how we can defend at our best. Last week wasn’t fantastic, we conceded sloppy goals, but I think our defensive record from last season with Eric and Harry, [we saw] how good a partnership they were. 

"Eric is fit again which is a big bonus for us. I'm looking forward to seeing him develop. We've been waiting for him to be fit and playing more regularly.” 

Bailly started only one Premier League match in 2019-20, so Solskjaer's perception of Maguire and the Ivory Coast international having been a force as a unit last season comes only from minimal evidence. 

Solskjaer wants more from United as a whole after the harrowing defeat to a Palace side who were inspired by Wilfried Zaha, a player who was briefly in the Old Trafford ranks but allowed to get away. 

"We're a week further down the line," said Solskjaer. "It's been a good week, some players have been training well and the work on the training ground has been good. 

"We played well against Luton. We needed to be further down the line because last week was disappointing." 

The Norwegian added: "After the restart in June and July we took big, big strides. Palace was a very disappointing one, but I am still confident. We need more imagination, that is for sure." 

He skirted around a question on whether Chris Smalling could stay at United to add extra defensive depth, after a successful loan at Roma last season. 

And regarding the possibility of incoming transfers, with Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho again linked to United amid reports of a take-it-or-leave-it £90million offer, Solskjaer played a straight bat. 

He said: "I’m very confident in my players and if and when something happens with ins and outs we'll update you." 

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  • Klopp not surprised by Old Trafford protests but says violence against police crossed a line Klopp not surprised by Old Trafford protests but says violence against police crossed a line

    Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp felt some protestors crossed a line during the demonstrations that caused their match with Manchester United at Old Trafford to be postponed.

    United supporters opposed to the Glazer family's ownership of the club gathered at the stadium and outside the hotel where the teams were staying ahead of last Sunday's match as part of planned attempts to disrupt the fixture.

    Some fans were able to get onto the pitch at Old Trafford and there were some violent clashes with police outside the ground.

    United issued a statement saying a minority of fans had caused criminal damage to access the pitch, while Greater Manchester Police said 12 officers had reported injuries, one of whom had a broken eye socket and facial wound.

    One man has been charged with throwing fireworks in a street, using threatening behaviour and wilful obstruction of the highway for his part in the protests at the Lowry Hotel.

    Klopp, who was watching TV coverage unfold with his players in the hotel lobby as he waited to learn whether the game would go ahead, said such protests should always remain "completely peaceful".

    Speaking ahead of his side's Premier League match with Southampton on Saturday, he said: "Am I surprised that these kinds of things happen? No. I'm an absolute believer in democracy, [which] means I'm happy that people want to tell their opinion, that's completely fine, but I know that in situations like this it doesn't happen often that nobody gets hurt.

    "That's why I said a week before when all the pundits were going and asking for protests and stuff that we had to be careful and calm down and ask for the right things. I heard some policemen got injured and these kinds of things should not happen, breaking down the doors and stuff like this.

    "To tell your opinion, to tell the world what you think about some things is completely fine, as long as it's completely peaceful. It was not, as far as I know, completely peaceful. Then, it's not right any more."

    The United match was rearranged for May 13, a decision that left Ole Gunnar Solskjaer angry as it means the Red Devils must play three times in just five days.

    "Of course, I feel sympathy for him because it's not how it should be, but it's not good for us, to be honest. I would have preferred to play the game last week," Klopp said.

    "Now, we have five games in the last two weeks, so that's not really cool as well, but it is how it is. Nothing to complain about or whatever. It's just the situation."

    Liverpool will see Manchester City regain the Premier League title if they defeat Chelsea on Saturday, while the Reds are themselves embroiled in a battle for Europe. They sit seventh in the table, seven points outside the Champions League places, with five games to go.

    Klopp, who is not giving up on breaking back into the top four, thinks he and his players will have learned a lot from a difficult season blighted by injuries.

    "I know people think that's an excuse," he said. "In the moment when we lost our full defence, it felt like you break your leg. That's okay, you can still limp with that, but then we had to make our midfielders to transform them into defenders. Then, we broke pretty much our spine, and it's difficult to move.

    "In the beginning when we had problems, we were still kind of winning, in a good position but it's a long season and if anything else happens, we will struggle, and that's what happened.

    "To be in the position we were two years before, we needed to be nearly perfect and the situation needed to be nearly perfect. In a moment when it's not perfect for us, the league is too strong.

    "Could we now, instead of seventh, be fifth or fourth? Yes, of course, no doubt about that. We should have done better in specific moments. But you asked me what was the challenge: to deal with the amount of injuries was the challenge, and we couldn't deal with it as well as we wanted throughout the whole season.

    "I was most of the time not champion in my career, so I try to learn always. Did I learn a lot? Yeah, for sure. Some things you want to learn, some things you don't want to experience.

    "The players learned a lot as well – that's clear. That's the plan: that we use our new experience for the future, for next season especially, but you'll have to wait until then so we can show that we really got it."

  • Bale hitting top form as Real Madrid star mulls Spurs stay Bale hitting top form as Real Madrid star mulls Spurs stay

    Gareth Bale is "performing at his best" and Ryan Mason is delighted to have the Real Madrid loan star on top form for Tottenham's run-in.

    Spurs face Leeds United at Elland Road on Saturday with designs on narrowing the five-point gap to fourth-placed Chelsea in pursuit of Champions League football.

    Consecutive Premier League wins over Southampton and Sheffield United have aided their cause, with Bale scoring four goals across those two games, including a hat-trick against the Blades.

    That treble put Bale top of the pile in terms of his goals-per-minute ratio in the top flight, with his nine goals coming at an average of one every 81 minutes.

    It marks an upturn in fortunes amid a loan spell in which the Welshman has often underwhelmed, but there is talk of Bale staying for next season if that is the wish of all parties.

    Reflecting on the forward's performances on and off the pitch during his brief spell at the helm, interim boss Mason said: "I can only go off the back of the last two weeks, from what I've seen from Gareth, I experienced playing with him as well, a top professional with immense quality, he's produced on the football pitch as well, he's happy and I'm happy.

    "We have to be performing at our best, at the moment he's performing at his best.

    "I pick the team from training performances, certain individuals who will help that team within that match. For the game against Southampton, we needed Gareth, someone we could rely on to produce that moment.

    "We have so many options at that high end of the pitch, there are difficult decisions to make. Gareth has proved in the last couple of weeks that he's got that quality in the final third."

    Asked about Bale's future, Mason added: "Those questions and answers are not for me to say, Gareth and his parent club are having conversations.

    "It's not right to focus on the next season, we have to focus on our next game, it's a massive match.

    "When the season is done, those conversation will happen."

    If Bale should add one more to his tally, it would represent the longest gap between 10-goal seasons in the competition's history (8), overtaking Paul Scholes and Nwankwo Kanu who each went seven campaigns between netting double figures.

    Spurs have history on their side heading to Yorkshire, having won the last three in a row against Leeds in a six-game unbeaten run.

    However, Leeds are seeking to remain unbeaten at home in the Premier League against each of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Spurs in a season since West Ham in 2015-16, and only the third newly promoted team to do so, after Ipswich Town in 2000-01 and Birmingham City in 2009-10.

    The tactical battle will be plotted by two managers with wildly varying levels of experience, as Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa is 35 years and 327 days older than Mason, representing the second biggest gap between two opposing coaches meeting in the competition, after Bobby Robson and Chris Coleman (37 years, 112 days).

  • Premier League Fantasy Picks: Bale and Greenwood enjoying late-season flourishes Premier League Fantasy Picks: Bale and Greenwood enjoying late-season flourishes

    As we head into the decisive matchdays in the Premier League season, match-winners will become worth their weight in gold to all 20 sides in the division.

    With that in mind, our latest suggestions for fantasy football enthusiasts include a good number of forwards who will be expected to chip in with goals.

    There are also two of the league's most in-form defenders and a goalkeeper who might just have won himself the number one spot.

    Our tips for this week – powered by Opta, as always – are below...
     

    DEAN HENDERSON

    Since taking over Premier League duties while David de Gea was in Spain for the birth of his daughter, Dean Henderson has made it clear he does not intend to relinquish the Manchester United starting spot.

    The former Sheffield United loanee has the best save percentage (82.4) in the competition this season, while he has conceded just 0.6 goals per game on average – the best rate of any keeper to play at least 200 minutes.

    Henderson will likely keep his spot for the trip to Aston Villa, a team who have beaten United just once in their previous 44 Premier League meetings.

    BEN CHILWELL

    Fresh from celebrating reaching the Champions League final, Ben Chilwell will be looking to keep up his strong league form for Chelsea.

    The left-back has been directly involved in seven goals this season (two scored, five assisted) – no defender in the competition has been involved in more.

    Expect him to provide his customary threat on the break when Chelsea take on Manchester City.

    AARON WAN-BISSAKA

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer challenged Aaron Wan-Bissaka to improve his attacking output, and the tough-tackling right-back appears to have heeded the call.

    Three of his four goal involvements (75 per cent) and 21 of his 26 chances created (81 per cent) have come since the turn of the year.

    The United man also boasts 13 Premier League clean sheets this season; among defenders, he is behind only Ruben Dias and Matt Targett (14).

    MOHAMED SALAH

    Liverpool might have struggled for consistency this season, but Mohamed Salah's goal output has remained impressively high; he has 20 in the league, behind only Harry Kane (21).

    On Saturday, he will meet some of his favourite opposition in Southampton, a team against whom he has scored seven goals in seven league appearances, including five in three at Anfield.

    Saints have also lost their past three league games away to Liverpool by an aggregate score of 10-0.

    GARETH BALE

    With a hat-trick against relegated Sheffield United, Gareth Bale proved he could still be a vital asset in Tottenham's European chase.

    Bale has scored nine goals in 727 minutes in the division this season, averaging a goal every 81 minutes, which is the best record in the competition in 2020-21.

    Should he take his tally to 10 against Leeds United, Bale will set a new record for the longest gap between 10-goal seasons in Premier League history (eight), overtaking Paul Scholes and Nwankwo Kanu (seven).

    MASON GREENWOOD

    Mason Greenwood has recaptured some of his better form in recent weeks to help United... well, if not catch Manchester City, at least consolidate second place.

    The forward has four goals and one assist in his most recent four league games, which is more direct goal involvements than he managed in his previous 28 appearances.

    Solskjaer will likely have to rotate given the hectic week ahead, but expect Greenwood to be involved at Villa Park, even if it's as a substitute.

    KELECHI IHEANACHO

    Speaking of rediscovering form, nobody in the league has done so quite as spectacularly in recent weeks as Kelechi Iheanacho.

    The Leicester City striker has scored nine goals and assisted two in his most recent eight league appearances – that's one more direct goal involvement than he managed in his previous 57 league games.

    The Foxes are also on a run of eight wins in 10 league games against Friday's opponents Newcastle United.

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