Tonali compares himself to Pirlo and Gattuso after Italy debut

By Sports Desk October 15, 2019

Sandro Tonali said he is a mix of Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso as he compared himself to the Italy greats following his international debut.

Tonali came off the bench to make his Italy bow in the country's 5-0 rout of Liechtenstein in Euro 2020 qualifying on Tuesday.

The 19-year-old Brescia sensation – who has been linked to Serie A champions Juventus, Manchester United and Fiorentina – addressed comparisons post-match.

"It's tough to pick one of those champions," Tonali told Rai Sport after being compared to Pirlo, Gattuso and Daniele De Rossi.

"Maybe a mix of all of them would be perfect. I guess there are similarities with Pirlo in a way but I also add a lot of a grit in there, so maybe more Gattuso."

Italy matched a national team record as they extended their winning streak to nine games, having booked their place at Euro 2020 with a win over Greece at the weekend.

Roberto Mancini named a young starting team for the clash at Rheinpark Stadion as Federico Bernardeschi, Andrea Belotti, Alessio Romagnoli and Stephan El Shaarawy all got on the scoresheet in Vaduz.

There was also time for Tonali to make his debut with 16 minutes remaining and he reflected on the emotion he felt when replacing Bernardeschi.

"I felt wonderful as not everyone gets to play for the national team. I was a little emotional for 30 seconds that it was really happening," Tonali added.

"The coach told us all to be ready to play so I had an idea. Everyone in the squad was very helpful to the newcomers like me and it felt easy to come in.

"The system is different, so is the timing and there is obviously a lot more quality in the Italy side, but the role and position remain the same."

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    Manchester United's record against the so-called 'big six' of the Premier League this season reads zero wins, two defeats and two draws.

    They have conceded seven goals, six of them at home to Tottenham, and scored just once – a Bruno Fernandes penalty two minutes into that 6-1 hammering in October.

    Fernandes scored their previous goal in these encounters from the spot, too, in a 1-1 draw at Spurs last June. In fact, you have to go back to March 2020 and their 2-0 win at home to Manchester City, the last Old Trafford game played in front of a crowd, for the previous occasion that they scored a goal against a big-six team that wasn't a penalty.

    They might be top of the league heading into Sunday's showdown with Liverpool but, for a manager that made an early habit of extracting big performances against the best sides, that stat should be of serious concern to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

     

    BIG ZERO SIX

    Since the end of the 2019-20 shutdown, United have played seven games against the big six and won none of them, if you include domestic cup losses to Chelsea and City.

    In league football alone, they have drawn against Tottenham, Chelsea and City and lost to Spurs and Arsenal, with just two Fernandes penalties to show for it. All their previous three such games were at home and they have not scored in any of them.

    In their first 14 league games against these sides under Solskjaer, United won six times and lost only four, scoring 16 goals and conceding 13 – a decent record given their real problems with consistency.

    The strange thing is United's winless run against the best has coincided with a general upturn in form since the previous season restarted last June. Taking only results in that time into account, United have played 26, won 17, lost just three, scored 56 goals and conceded 30. That's the best record of any side in the league and seven points better than Liverpool.

    In fact, narrow that down to results against teams in the top half of the table in the same time frame, and United have lost the fewest games (two) of any side, with 21 points taken from 13 games, just three behind Jurgen Klopp's side.

    So, why the recent drop-off against the very best?

    Solskjaer's most dependable attacking weapons have been Fernandes, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, all three of whom will almost certainly start at Liverpool, barring injury.

    They were all involved in their last big-six contest in the league, a 0-0 draw at home to City in December. Rashford managed only one shot all game and created no chances for anyone else; Martial, a late substitute, created one chance but had no shots himself. Fernandes, ever the fulcrum of United's attack, had four shots and created two chances.

    The previous game was a staid goalless draw with Chelsea that made the derby look positively thrill-a-minute. That day, with Martial banned, Rashford was more involved, with three attempts at goal and two chances created; he was outdone by Fernandes (three shots, four chances created).

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    United's best attackers, then, are keeping their performance levels consistent against the big six. They're just meeting greater resistance. That becomes clearer looking at expected goals.

    In their most recent three league games against these sides, United have had xG of 0.6 against City, 0.7 against Chelsea and a lowly 0.4 in a 1-0 loss to Arsenal. In those same fixtures in 2019-20, those figures were 1.6 (in a 2-0 win against City), 2.2 (in a 4-0 win over Chelsea) and 0.9 (in a 1-1 draw with Arsenal). Interestingly, though, Chelsea and Arsenal had higher xG numbers in those games last season, even though they suffered worse results, and City's only increased this term by 0.7.

    This reflects a general balancing out in these matches. They are, for the most part, more attritional and less unpredictable affairs settled by fine margins – exactly the sort of contest you'd expect between true heavyweights. United are not significantly under-performing each time; they're just not quite tilting the odds in their favour.

    How, then, might they change that against Liverpool? There is one simple way.

    SLAB EXPERIMENT

    United have one particular weakness, regardless of opposition: set-pieces. This season, they have conceded 11 goals from set-plays; only Wolves (12), Brighton and Hove Albion (14) and Leeds United (16) have a worse record. They have shipped four goals from corners, the same number as Liverpool, but the champions have only conceded eight times from dead-ball situations overall.

    At the other end, United have scored 10 goals from set-pieces, a tally bettered by just four teams: Aston Villa and Southampton (11), and Chelsea and Liverpool (12). Only Chelsea (34) have created more dead-ball chances than United (31).

    There is an argument to say they should have more set-piece goals than anyone else. It's an argument that centres around their captain – the man who might be the very thing United need to get back to scoring against, and winning against, big-six opposition.

    Since the start of last season, Harry Maguire has won 73 per cent of his aerial duels in the Premier League. That's the best rate of anyone who has contested at least 300 in that time. In fact, he has lost only 98 of the 341 he has been involved in, which is the lowest number of losses across the same period within that elite group.

    However, in an attacking sense, the world's most expensive defender doesn't seem to have his head on straight. Since the start of 2019-20, he has attempted 27 headed shots, hit the target with just nine of them, and scored with two. Of players with at least 20 headed shots in that time, only four have hit the target less often.

    On Sunday, Maguire will face a Liverpool side without Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and possibly Joel Matip. He will rarely have a better chance of stealing a march at set-plays and, if he does, he could well end United's wait for a goal – and a win – against the best. Sometimes, those fine margins are the width of a forehead.

  • Ferguson: Rooney has the presence to succeed in management Ferguson: Rooney has the presence to succeed in management

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    Rooney was officially named as Derby County boss on Friday, two months after replacing Phillip Cocu as interim coach.

    The 35-year-old enjoyed an incredible playing career that spanned nearly two decades, during which time he won 16 trophies at Manchester United, the majority of those under Ferguson.

    He retires as United and England's all-time leading goalscorer and while Ferguson believes that will be an advantage for Rooney, he warned the former forward results were all that mattered as a coach.

    "He is England’s top goalscorer, he is Manchester United’s top goalscorer and he has had a fantastic career as a player and it will give him a starting point," Ferguson said on the 'A Team Talk With Legends' panel on Friday.

    "But like anyone else it is a results industry and you need to get results. He will know that better than anyone.

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    "What you want from an England perspective is young English managers and ex-players to come in and add to the game and help develop young players.

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    Klopp was unhappy his side were not given a penalty during a loss to Southampton earlier this month and the German pointed to the number of spot-kicks United had been awarded.

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    United visit champions Liverpool with a surprise three-point lead atop the table.

    Liverpool claimed their first top-flight title since 1990 last year, moving onto 19 in total – one shy of United's record.

    Fernandes said the players were aware how much such records meant to supporters.

    "You don't want your rivals at the same level as you, or with the same amount of trophies as you," he said.

    "So it's clear for everyone here at the club and in the dressing room, everyone knows what it means for the supporters.

    "It would be a lot more fun with 21 titles and Liverpool still on 19, of course."

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