EPL

Man Utd duo Pogba and McTominay 'very unlikely' to face Saints

By Sports Desk November 27, 2020

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay are "very unlikely" to be fit for Manchester United's Premier League trip to Southampton on Sunday.

Pogba has been sidelined by an ankle injury, which the United boss revealed is not related to the issue that he struggled with last season.

McTominay also missed a 4-1 midweek Champions League win over Istanbul Basaksehir with an unspecified injury.

Solskjaer does not expect the midfield duo to be involved when the Red Devils go in search of a fourth consecutive win at the expense of the high-flying Saints.

There was better news of Marcus Rashford, Victor Lindelof and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who were withdrawn in the victory over Basaksehir, but trained on Friday.

"Scott and Paul didn't train this morning," Solskjaer said on Friday. "They weren't on the grass, so look very unlikely for the weekend.

"Marcus, Victor, Aaron came through the session today, so hopefully they should be okay but still not 100 per cent."

Jesse Lingard is back in contention, having finished a period of self-isolation after coming into contact with an individual who tested positive for coronavirus, but Luke Shaw (hamstring) is not ready to return.

Donny van de Beek and and Edinson Cavani caught the eye after being given the chance to start against the Turkish champions and Solskjaer suggested they will get another opportunity at St Mary's Stadium.

"Luke has just started his rehab, out on the grass, not out with the team yet. Jesse's back from his isolation period, so he had a couple of days training with the group. Apart from that, Phil Jones is out until after Christmas sometime," Solskjaer said.

"We played on Tuesday then don't have a game until Sunday, so it's been a long period for us, we managed to give the boys a day off during this difficult time. [Van de Beek and Cavani] will both be available to play and I'm sure if they do they'll be capable again."

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  • Is Thiago Alcantara ill-suited to Liverpool's style of play? Is Thiago Alcantara ill-suited to Liverpool's style of play?

    Thiago Alcantara is a rather unique breed of footballer, the type of player who will be almost universally enjoyed such are his breath-taking technical attributes.

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    An unnecessary luxury?

    First of all, there are only so many conclusions you can make regarding Thiago and his time at Liverpool because he has not featured particularly often, as previously highlighted.

    But the fact is, Liverpool's record in Premier League games he has featured in is quite poor, with only one of those six ending in a victory.

    That win came in his Premier League debut, a 2-0 victory at Chelsea back in September – that's right, it was the game where he completed 75 passes despite only coming on at half-time, a record since Opta began recording such data in 2003-04 among players to play a maximum of 45 minutes.

    The hype after that match was stratospheric – the champions had seemingly added the final string to their bow and they were seemingly set to overwhelm everyone, but it's worth bearing in mind that was a Chelsea side reduced to 10 men before Thiago had even come on.

    Liverpool average just one point per game with Thiago, that more than doubles to 2.2 when he hasn't played – additionally, their win percentage rockets from 16.7 to 61.5 in games the Spaniard hasn't featured in.

    Of course, it's a relatively small sample size, so perhaps take the facts with a pinch of salt – but there are metrics that can shine more light on Thiago's influence.

    One of Hamann's major reservations related to Thiago's desire to dictate play and how he might, in the long run, negatively impact Liverpool's effectiveness off the ball.

    "Liverpool were always good when they weren't in possession, won it and played quickly forward. He's not that type of player, so it will be very interesting when he does play more often now how it's going to change the dynamics of the team," Hamann said.

    It's true, Liverpool do have more of the ball (65.7 per cent compared to 64.7) with Thiago in the side, but the difference is negligible and certainly cannot be pointed to as a cause for worry.

    The supply line

    Then there's the concerns relating to Thiago's style of play potentially impacting supply to the frontline. Well, the Reds average 18.7 shots per game when he plays (up from 14.9 without him).

    There is also no damning evidence to suggest Thiago isn't looking to feed the forwards either, after all, he passed to Mohamed Salah 11 times (a joint high) against Manchester United last weekend.

    He has picked out Salah 36 times in their 365 minutes on the pitch together – so, once every 10.1 minutes. Although that's less frequent than he passes to Trent Alexander-Arnold (once per every 8.2 minutes) and Andy Robertson (8.8 minutes), it shows he is supplying the Reds' most-threatening forward regularly.

    And while the two full-backs had off days against Burnley, can you really blame Thiago for passing to them often? Since the start of last season, they are Liverpool's leading providers of shooting opportunities.

    Additionally, his 14.9 passes into final third of the pitch per 90 minutes is second only to Jordan Henderson (16.2) among Liverpool players this term – Thiago beats him, and every other Red, in terms of successful passes in the attacking third every game, however (25.8, compared to Henderson's 20.5).

    "He's not that type of player"

    It's fair to say Thiago probably isn't best known for what he brings to teams off the ball, but despite some seemingly questioning him in this department, he appears to be at least pulling his weight.

    In fact, he's averaging marginally more tackles per 90 minutes than Henderson (1.5 over 1.4), while no one in the Liverpool team is intercepting opposition passes as frequently as the Barcelona product (2.8 per 90 mins).

    On top of that, he's ranked third in the squad for duel involvements (14.7 per 90 mins) – while not necessarily an indicator of excellence on its own, that should at the very least dispel any questions regarding his work rate.

    On an individual level when you look at the data, Thiago doesn't appear to be out of place stylistically. While he may occasionally spend more time on the ball than some of his midfield contemporaries, he possesses the kind of technical wizardry that arguably no other Liverpool player has and that is surely a positive rather than a negative.

    He's also clearly a hard-working player who offers plenty off the ball. So, while the Reds are going through a tricky patch at the moment, Thiago's abilities should be embraced rather than looked upon with suspicion.

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