As Manchester United got off the coach and made their way into Stamford Bridge for a huge Premier League clash with Chelsea on Monday, the Paul Pogba saga took its latest twist.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last week rose to the bait so frequently dangled out by Pogba's agent Mino Raiola, who once more told the media of the World Cup winner's interest in returning to Juventus.

The United boss' response that "Paul Pogba is our player, not Mino's" clearly did not sit well with Raiola. Prior to kick-off he fired back in scathing fashion on social media.

"Paul is not mine and for sure not Solskjaer's property, Paul is Paul Pogba's. You cannot own a human being already for a long time in the UK or anywhere else. I HOPE Solskjaer DO NOT WANT TO SUGGEST THAT PAUL IS HIS PRISONER," Raiola wrote.

He went on to suggest that Solskjaer turn his attention to other things and, on the evidence of United's 2-0 victory over Chelsea, it is advice that may well be worth heeding.

Why get involved in an unbecoming game of tit for tat with Raiola over Pogba's future when United already have Bruno Fernandes excelling in the position the France international covets?

United received criticism for taking two transfer windows before finally prising Fernandes away from Sporting CP in a deal worth up to €80million – €30m less than the package they agreed to bring Pogba back from Juve in 2016.

After an encouraging debut against Wolves, Portugal international Fernandes appeared to have thoroughly benefitted from a training camp with his new team-mates in Marbella during the mid-season break.

Operating in the hole behind Anthony Martial – who headed in the opener on the stroke of half-time – and Daniel James, he displayed great energy, be that looking for a quick pass to knit the play together or running beyond the strikers.

Fernandes got involved all over the pitch and, after going close to opening his United account with a free-kick that struck the base of the post, delivered his first assist for the club with a corner that was headed home by Harry Maguire in the 66th minute.

Solskjaer has an exciting, creative talent that appears more than capable of providing with the sort of ingenuity it was hoped Pogba would bring. What's more, Fernandes is clearly happy to play for him and has had a positive impact on the atmosphere at the club.

"It's a difficult game against Chelsea, a great team and we needed a win to keep fighting. We need to keep working in this way," Fernandes told Sky Sports after the match.

"I think we can do much better on the ball, but it was a good game against a good team. We played our game. I feel good, obviously. I play for the biggest club in England, I'm really happy, it's a dream come true."

Maguire said of Fernandes: "You can see [the difference] he's made, the quality on the ball, his technical ability. He's a presence as well. He demands off players, he's a leader and he's nice to have around the dressing room. Long may it continue."

The victory over Chelsea lifted United into seventh and closed the gap to fourth-place Chelsea to just three points – a two-season European ban for Manchester City may open up fifth position as a route into the Champions League, of course – which could prove significant for Solskjaer.

Talk of a replacement being lined up will fade further into the background if the Red Devils can build on this result and put together a good run in the Premier League and Europa League, where Club Brugge await in the last 32.

The Pogba situation will linger for the rest of the season, but in signing Fernandes United have ensured they will be in a decent position should the France star finally get his wish for a new challenge.

Manchester United closed ground on the Champions League places as Anthony Martial and Harry Maguire struck to claim a vital 2-0 win over Chelsea, who were twice denied by VAR.

Despite heading into Monday's meeting at Stamford Bride having taken just four points in 2020, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side moved to within a win of their opponents as they completed a Premier League double over Chelsea for the first time.

Martial continued his excellent form against Chelsea to get United off the mark, with the Blues denied an equaliser through Kurt Zouma by the video review system.

United made their luck count in the 66th minute with captain Maguire – who was perhaps fortunate to be on the pitch after an earlier clash with Michy Batshuayi – heading in Bruno Fernandes' corner and United held firm to secure valuable points after Olivier Giroud also saw a goal disallowed.

Chelsea were inches away from taking a sixth-minute lead when Reece James lashed wide, but Frank Lampard's side were dealt a blow when N'Golo Kante was forced off through injury in the 12th minute.

Maguire was lucky to go unpunished for kicking out at Batshuayi, who subsequently squandered a brilliant chance after terrific work from Mason Mount.

Yet for all Chelsea's threat, it was United who had the lead when Martial headed in Aaron Wan-Bissaka's excellent cross.

Chelsea thought they had equalised when Kurt Zouma tucked home from a corner, only for VAR to disallow the goal for Cesar Azpilicueta's push on Brandon Williams.

And, after Fernandes had struck the woodwork with a superb free-kick, Chelsea's frustrations were compounded as Maguire headed beyond Willy Caballero.

Giroud's header seemed to have set up a grandstand finish, but VAR again came to United's rescue. Mount then hit the post as the Blues' efforts proved fruitless, with Caballero preventing substitute Odion Ighalo netting a debut goal in stoppage time.

 

N'Golo Kante's injury-hit campaign continued after the Chelsea midfielder was forced off early on against Manchester United on Monday.

Kante, who was out with a hamstring problem in January and missed several games earlier in the season with groin and ankle issues, made way after 12 minutes at Stamford Bridge. 

It was not clear what the problem was for the 28-year-old, who has made 18 Premier League appearances for Frank Lampard's team and was replaced by Mason Mount.

The injury comes ahead of important fixtures for Chelsea, who face Tottenham on Saturday and Bayern Munich in the first leg Champions League of their last-16 tie three days later.

Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should be worrying about things other than Paul Pogba, according to the player's agent Mino Raiola.

Raiola said last week he and Pogba would decide whether the World Cup winner will remain at Old Trafford at the end of the season, having stated the midfielder would be open to a return to Juventus.

Solskjaer responded by saying he was sure the 26-year-old, who has been sidelined by an ankle injury since December, still wanted to play for United. He added: "Paul is our player, not Mino's."

Raiola hit back at the Red Devils manager on social media, suggesting he focus his attention elsewhere amid reports United are lining up potential replacements as manager.

"Paul is not mine and for sure not Solskjaer's property, Paul is Paul Pogba's. You cannot own a human being already for a long time in the UK or anywhere else. I HOPE Solskjaer DO NOT WANT TO SUGGEST THAT PAUL IS HIS PRISONER," Raiola wrote.

"BUT BEFORE Solskjaer makes comments about things I say he should inform himself better about the content of what has been said.

"I am a free citizen who can think and express my thoughts. Until now I was maybe to [sic] nice to him. Solskjaer should just remember things that he said in the summer to Paul.

"I think Solskjaer may be frustrated for different reasons and is now mixing up some issues.

"I think that Solskjaer has other things to worry about. AT LEAST IF I WAS HIM I WOULD."

Eric Bailly was set to make his first start of the season after being named in Manchester United's line-up to face Chelsea, who were without Tammy Abraham.

Bailly has been gradually making his way back from a knee injury sustained in pre-season and was included in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's XI for Monday's Premier League clash at Stamford Bridge.

The Ivory Coast defender replaced the unwell Victor Lindelof for his first appearance of the season across all competitions and his first in the top flight since April 2019.

Bailly was named alongside Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw in what appeared to be a back three for United, with Daniel James partnering Anthony Martial up front and Odion Ighalo on the bench.

United, who beat Chelsea 4-0 on the opening day of the season, have also been boosted by Abraham's absence for the home side, with the Blues' leading scorer missing out due to an injury suffered in a 2-2 draw with Arsenal in January.

Abraham played with a painkilling injection in Chelsea's draw with Leicester City prior to the mid-season break but did not make the cut this time and Michy Batshuayi came in for his first league start of 2019-20.

Frank Lampard also kept faith with Willy Caballero in goal as Kepa Arrizabalaga once again started on the bench, while Mateo Kovacic and Willian replaced Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi respectively.

Arsene Wenger backed the ban UEFA handed down to Manchester City for breaching Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations but acknowledged some "evolution" is needed in the rules.

UEFA announced on Friday that City had been handed a two-season suspension from European competition and a €30million fine for breaching their FFP framework.

The club have since confirmed they will appeal the decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Former Arsenal boss Wenger is in favour of capping finances but believes further work is needed to ensure there can be no questioning the legality of certain actions.

However, he was in no doubt that clubs deemed to have contravened the regulations deserve punishment.

"I was always for control of the financial rules. Let the clubs work with the natural income they have," said Wenger, who now works for FIFA as its chief of global football development.

"I'm convinced that there is an evolution to be made in the way the rules are at the moment. But they are what they are and you have to respect them.

"People who don't respect them and are caught trying to get around the rules in more or less legal ways have to be punished. If it's proven that this has been done on purpose then this cannot go unpunished.

"Sport is about winning by respecting the rules. If there's no respect for the rules, it's not real sport, which is what I think is most important."

The ban imposed by UEFA has led to speculation over the future of some of City's star players, as well as coach Pep Guardiola.

However, Guardiola has reportedly told the players he will remain at the club regardless of the outcome of the appeal to CAS.

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has challenged loan signing Odion Ighalo to earn a permanent stay at the club.

Ighalo joined United on a temporary deal on deadline day, as the club desperately sought a short-term solution to Marcus Rashford's serious injury, which is expected to keep him out until April.

While Bournemouth's Josh King was considered by United, with Eddie Howe confirming the club made an approach, Shanghai Shenhua-owned Ighalo was the striker they chose.

Although the Nigerian only joined on loan, Solskjaer sees no reason why securing a permanent contract should be seen as beyond the 30-year-old.

"It's a loan, but when you're in the door, and if you impress, it gives you a chance," Solskjaer said. "That's exactly the same for everyone who signs.

"If it's permanent or if it's a loan, if you impress as a player, if you impress as a person, if you can help this group improve, of course there's a chance we'll look at extending things.

"That doesn't just go for Odion but, yes, his incentive is to play as well as he can and it's up to us to make sure he wants to stay, if we want him."

United critics suggested Ighalo was a desperate last-ditch signing by the club, particularly given they were said to be chasing the sought-after Erling Haaland prior to his Borussia Dortmund move.

But Solskjaer dismissed that notion and is optimistic Ighalo will hush his doubters.

"Don't go down that route now," Solskjaer responded. "He's a loan player that we're very happy with having here. Hopefully he'll prove to you what I think he will. He's a proven goalscorer, so he'll do all right.

"I'm very happy with the two guys we brought in and it's not just us and Chelsea. But to finally have got Bruno [Fernandes] over the line, to have signed him after following him for so long, and just seeing what he can give us and what he will give us, has been great. And it will be great to integrate Odion as well."

Ighalo is expected to make his United debut against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Monday but is not thought to be in contention for a starting spot after training away from the first-team squad due to coronavirus fears.

Steven Gerrard is "really, really interested" to see if action will be taken against Manchester City amid reports a Premier League punishment could see them stripped of their 2013-14 title.

On Friday, City were hit with a two-season ban from European competition and a €30million fine by UEFA for "serious breaches" of its Financial Fair Play regulations.

The club have denied any wrongdoing and immediately announced their intention to lodge an appeal against the ruling with the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

A domestic punishment is one possible outcome as the Premier League conducts its own investigation to see if its rules were broken in the four-year period in question, between 2012 and 2016.

The Citizens won the Premier League in 2013-14, finishing two points ahead of Liverpool, meaning any potential retrospective points deduction could benefit the Reds and their former captain, Gerrard.

But with the process set to be a lengthy one, Gerrard is not getting ahead of himself.

"I read that myself," the Rangers manager told reporters when it was put to him that City could face domestic action as a result of their alleged indiscretions.

"We will wait and see. From a UEFA point of view, it is obviously a real strong sentence or punishment. I'm sure they will appeal so we will wait and see what the outcome is on that.

"Then we will see whether the Premier League act from there, but if you look at the severity of the punishment from UEFA, something has gone badly wrong.

"So, I'm really interested to see the outcome of that. Until the [potential] punishment from the Premier League, I won't comment further. But I'm really, really interested in it...for obvious reasons.

"It's all ifs and buts. It is what it is. Manchester City were champions. As I sit here right now, congratulations to them. They are champions. Until things develop, if they develop, it's all ifs and buts.

"I've got nothing to say on the matter. All I say is I'm very interested because of the severity of what UEFA have put out there."

The probe into City's financial affairs was prompted by a series of allegations published by German magazine Der Spiegel in November 2018, which drew on documents purportedly obtained by whistleblowers Football Leaks.

Following an investigation, the Adjudicatory Chamber of UEFA's Club Financial Control Body found City guilty of "overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information submitted to UEFA between 2012 and 2016", allegations the club denied.

Virgil van Dijk is the key reason Liverpool have surpassed Manchester City in the Premier League pecking order, according to Ruud Gullit.

Netherlands international Van Dijk has been an inspiration for the Reds since joining them from Southampton for a reported £75million in January 2018.

He helped Liverpool to Champions League success last season and the club now lead champions City by 25 points in an extraordinary top-flight campaign, with the defender an ever-present in their 26 matches.

His compatriot Gullit, speaking ahead of the Laureus World Sports Awards, believes the crucial aspect has been Van Dijk's play, coupled with City's struggles to find a reliable defensive option.

"In order to win, all the best teams have a good defence," Gullit said to Omnisport. 

"At Barcelona, with Carles Puyol at the back, they had a good defence. 

"If you don't have that then you can attack all you like but you're always conceding a lot of goals. 

"Pep Guardiola bought four central defenders and they couldn't do it. That was unlucky also with injuries but it is a stable factor to have defenders that can do the things that you need to do.

"A lot of teams don't defend well. So, with Van Dijk, that was an issue that was done [solved]."

He added: "Van Dijk was an example that I was right in Holland. If I say you have to learn how to defend people say, 'You're always with the defending' and things like that.

"But that's where it all started. Now they say you're right, [you can have success] if you have a good defender, and the good thing is it was a Dutch defender." 

Liverpool are away to Atletico Madrid on Tuesday in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie after their 1-0 away win at Norwich City last time out.

Former Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg, a survivor of the 1958 Munich air disaster, has died at the age of 87.

Gregg, who had only been at United for two months at the time of the crash, became known as the "Hero of Munich" after returning to the burning wreckage to rescue Vera Lukic, the pregnant wife of a Yugoslav diplomat, and her young daughter.

He went back to pull out team-mates Bobby Charlton and Dennis Viollet, while assisting manager Matt Busby and fellow Northern Ireland international Jackie Blanchflower.

His death was announced by the Harry Gregg Foundation on Facebook.

"It is with great sorrow that we inform of the death of Manchester United and Northern Ireland legend Harry Gregg, OBE," a statement read.

"Harry passed away peacefully in hospital surrounded by his loving family."

United posted on Twitter to say: "It is with deepest sadness that we have learned of the passing of former player Harry Gregg OBE. 

"The thoughts and prayers of everyone at the club go out to Harry’s family and friends."

The disaster occurred when a plane carrying Gregg and his United team-mates – known as "the Busby Babes" – crashed in heavy snow after several aborted take-offs.

In total, 23 people died including eight United players and seven of the club's backroom staff. Eight newspaper journalists were also among the victims.

United signed Gregg from Doncaster Rovers for a then world-record fee for a goalkeeper in December 1957 and he made 247 appearances for the club.

Gregg also represented Northern Ireland at the 1958 World Cup, where he was named the best goalkeeper of the tournament.

Pep Guardiola's future at Manchester City continues to dominate discussions – and it seemingly still remains unclear.

Talk around the Spaniard has intensified after City were handed a two-season Champions League ban by UEFA for "serious breaches" of Financial Fair Play rules, although they deny wrongdoing and intend to appeal.

But will Guardiola, who is contracted at the Etihad Stadium until 2021, stay or go?

 

TOP STORY – GUARDIOLA TO STAY AT MAN CITY DESPITE BAN

Guardiola will remain at City next season whether they have their ban overturned or not, according to the Mirror.

However, Tuttosport reports the chances of the former Barcelona head coach leaving City are "70 per cent".

Guardiola has reportedly suggested previously he intends to honour his contract at City.

ROUND-UP

- Chelsea are making their move for Jadon Sancho. France Football reports the Premier League club have started talks with the Borussia Dortmund star, who has attracted interest from numerous European giants, including Manchester United.

- Staying at Stamford Bridge and Chelsea are set to pay £23million (€27.7m) for Inter midfielder Matias Vecino at the end of the season, according to the Daily Express.

- After strong links during the close season, Bayern Munich's interest in Manchester City attacker Leroy Sane has cooled, according to Kicker. Sane tore his anterior cruciate ligament in August.

- Staying at Bayern and Kicker reports the Bundesliga giants are keeping tabs on Liverpool's interest in RB Leipzig forward Timo Werner. Werner has been linked with the European giants after scoring 20 goals in 22 Bundesliga games this season.

- Alexander Isak's form for Real Sociedad this season is leading to interest, but Mundo Deportivo reports clubs wanting the forward at the end of the campaign must pay €70m. Former club Borussia Dortmund reportedly have an option to buy Isak for €30m, but that only comes into play in 2021.

- Real Valladolid defender Mohammed Salisu has impressed this season and the 20-year-old is on Atletico Madrid's radar, according to Marca.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer warned that Paul Pogba belongs to Manchester United and not outspoken agent Mino Raiola amid ongoing doubts over the star's future at Old Trafford.

Raiola cast fresh doubts over Pogba – who is recovering from an ankle injury – on Thursday when he said the United midfielder "would not mind" returning to Juventus as "Italy is like home".

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

LaLiga giants Real Madrid have also been linked to Pogba but United manager Solskjaer said: "I've not spoken to Mino that is for sure. And, no, I haven't sat down and told Paul to tell Mino what he should say. Paul is our player and not Mino's."

Asked if he could conclusively say Pogba will play for United again this season, Solskjaer replied: "Well of course, I'd like to say that. As soon as he gets fit he'll be good enough to play for the team and I'm sure Paul's desperate to play for us again."

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 – who did not travel to Spain with his team-mates during the break – has only managed eight games across all competitions for United, who languish eighth in the Premier League after 25 rounds.

Pressed on whether it has been a "disastrous" season for Pogba, Solskjaer – speaking ahead of Monday's trip to Chelsea – told reporters: "You're not going to get that headline from me.

"As a player, the last thing you want to be is injured, and not being able to contribute to your team. Paul's a footballer and he wants to play football. He knows he has to work hard now to get back to his best.

"He's been out for so long now, it's a challenge for him as well to get back into shape. I've been injured for a long, long time myself, it's a difficult period of your career, but it's part and parcel of being a player.

"He's taken off his cast, so when he comes back here we'll integrate him with us. Hopefully soon. He's started running on the treadmill now, so he's getting closer. It's been a long haul, this, so hopefully we'll see him back soon."

Manchester United can attract the world's best players with or without Champions League football, according to manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

United are set to spend heavily at the end of the season as the Red Devils continue to struggle in the Premier League – ninth and 41 points behind leaders Liverpool.

Borussia Dortmund sensation Jadon Sancho, Leicester City's James Maddison and Aston Villa star Jack Grealish are among players being linked to United, who are six points outside the top four.

While acknowledging Champions League qualification makes it easier to sign stars, under-fire boss Solskjaer insisted United still have pulling power.

"The Champions League gives the club more resources, more money, that's one thing," said Solskjaer ahead of Monday's blockbuster trip to Chelsea.

"It's a prestigious tournament to be in, of course.

"But doing as well as we can, and if we play well the rest of the season, and players that we might want are impressed by that, it might be easier to convince them to come here.

"But I don't think one season – this season is the Europa League – if next season is with or without the Champions League, I wouldn't say that's the be-all and end-all for a player to sign for us."

It has been another tough campaign for United, who have only won nine of their 25 Premier League games so far.

United are winless in three games, having only managed one victory from their past five outings in the league.

Prior to the break, United were held to a goalless draw by Wolves as January signing Bruno Fernandes made his highly anticipated debut at Old Trafford.

Raheem Sterling is focused on Manchester City, according to his agent, amid reports linking him with a move to Real Madrid.

Speculation over the futures of several City players has intensified in the wake of the two-season Champions League ban handed to the club by UEFA for "serious breaches" of Financial Fair Play regulations, although they deny wrongdoing and intend to appeal.

Sterling, who is contracted at City until 2023, is reportedly a target for LaLiga giants Madrid.

But the 25-year-old forward's agent, Aidy Ward, said Sterling's focus was on the Premier League club.

"Raheem is solely focused on Manchester City and will not be distracted by any talk of transfers to any club at the moment," he told the Mirror and the Daily Mail.

Sterling, who arrived at City from Liverpool in 2015, has scored 20 goals in 35 games in all competitions this season but is sidelined with a hamstring injury.

Mikel Arteta insisted he is "not conflicted at all" by Manchester City's looming UEFA ban after Arsenal thrashed Newcastle United to move within sight of the European places in the Premier League.

Former City assistant coach Arteta oversaw a 4-0 defeat of Newcastle on Sunday, but the news Pep Guardiola's side are facing a two-year suspension from European competition dominated the weekend.

While City have announced an intention to appeal the ban, there is the possibility fifth could now secure Champions League qualification, with the Europa League potentially in reach for a team in eighth depending on who wins the domestic cups.

Arsenal are 10th, lifted by second-half goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe, Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette, but Arteta was not looking to revel in his former employers' gloom.

"We don't know anything about it," he told Sky Sports. "We will have to wait and see.

"It's very difficult. I'm not conflicted at all. I want the best for Manchester City, the best for Pep, for the players.

"I love a lot of people there and I am so grateful for the time I spent there. The only thing I want for them is positive and good things.

"I just want to do the best we can for Arsenal, to achieve ourselves what we deserve."

Arsenal were poor before half-time against Newcastle, making a slow start and surviving the occasional scare, and Arteta is not getting carried away.

"We want to go game by game because, 10 days ago, I was disappointed by the game at Burnley," he said. "A lot of things are going to happen.

"It's up to us and how consistent we can be from now until the end of the season. If we want to have a chance [of qualifying for Europe] in the last few games, we have to put wins together."

Asked what Arteta told his team after the tough first half, captain Aubameyang said: "'Just keep going'. We started not at our best.

"But in the second half, we put in some more energy and we went through and scored the first, the second, the third."

On the coach's overall impact at Emirates Stadium since his December appointment, the striker added: "We feel better. We have an idea of playing that's very clear.

"We'll try to maintain this level. We are happy to keep going like this."

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