Manchester United star Bruno Fernandes insisted he does not need to be rested after coming off the bench to secure FA Cup victory over rivals Liverpool.

Fernandes was among the substitutes in Sunday's 3-2 FA Cup fourth-round triumph at Old Trafford, where he was introduced in the second half and scored the match-winning 78th-minute free-kick.

The Portugal international has now scored 28 goals for United in all competitions since his debut in February 2020 – more than any other player for a Premier League club.

Fernandes has helped rejuvenate United, who have gone from struggling to qualify for the Champions League to topping the Premier League table through 19 matches in 2020-21.

But Fernandes dismissed claims he is tired, saying: "Tired? With 26 years old I can't be tired. If I'm tired now, when I arrive at 30, 32, I will not play.

"I will play one game in five [days] so, no, I'm not tired."

Fernandes, who dropped out of the starting line-up for Donny van de Beek against Liverpool, added: "Of course the coach knows what is better for the team and he chose to play with Donny to give some freshness to the team.

"I think it's fair enough because Donny is training really well, he's been important for us and will be more and more important in the future."

Former Sporting CP captain Fernandes is determined to lead United to silverware, following three semi-final appearances last season in the Europa League, FA Cup and EFL Cup.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United, who last won the Premier League in 2012-13, also lost in the semi-finals of this season's EFL Cup.

"I don't conform with [the idea that] losing games is normal stuff," said Fernandes. "For me, losing is not normal so my mentality comes from that, you know? I always was like this. I don’t like to lose, so maybe the mentality is more like I don't like to lose.

"Also playing whatever it is, when I was playing with my friends, my brother, my neighbours, I never wanted to lose, I want to win every time. This mentality will be with me for the rest of my life, I think."

United – two points clear of neighbours Manchester City, who have a game in hand – face Sheffield United on Wednesday, are through to the FA Cup fifth round and will meet Real Sociedad in the Europa League last 32.

Fernandes said: "I came to the club because I knew this is a club who wants to win everything. So you have to be confident, you have to trust your team-mates, you have to trust yourself, and you have to believe.

"And I will believe until it's not possible. Like when I see someone get the trophy before me [only] then I will [have] lost my belief."

Liverpool's shock home defeat to Burnley was sort of emblematic of the odd times football, and indeed wider society, continues to live through.

The Reds had not suffered defeat in a Premier League fixture at Anfield since April 2017 – a staggering run of 68 home matches – prior to Ashley Barnes' penalty securing a famous three points for the Clarets.

It leaves Jurgen Klopp's defending champions six points adrift of the top at a time when rivals Manchester City and Manchester United – who beat the Reds in the FA Cup on Sunday – are absolutely flying.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic means this season has been another strange one, with congested schedules, hastily rearranged fixtures and empty stadia becoming the norm.

It has meant that the dominance City and Liverpool have had in their recent title wins has been difficult to replicate this term and thrown the race for the trophy wide open.

Fans and pundits will continue to have their say on who will sit top come the end of the season, and the Stats Perform AI team have also crunched the numbers to predict the champions for the 2020-21 campaign.

With the majority of the 20 teams having reached the halfway stage of the league season, they have simulated how the rest of the season may play out.

The data model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality.

Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly.

All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model - with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

Without further ado, let's have a good look at the results of the simulation with the predicted final league table.

CITY TRIUMPH WITHOUT THE DOMINANCE OF PAST TITLE WINS

The results in our model show City have an 82.1 per cent chance of winning the title, and doing so with 84 points. 

By recent standards that would represent a rather modest total. City won back-to-back titles in 2017-18 and 2018-19, the former seeing them rack up a competition record 100 points and following up with 98 in the latter.

Indeed, it would represent the lowest tally since Leicester City's famous triumph in 2015-16 when the Foxes earned 81, but there have been eight occasions of teams topping the table with fewer than 84.

City are on a 17-match unbeaten run across all competitions and if they can continue that form, Guardiola's serial winners will take some stopping.

UNITED PIP REDS AND SPURS TO SECOND AS FOXES SLIP AWAY

While the model tips City to ultimately win the title relatively comfortably, the "race for second" is certainly not clear cut.

According to our predictor, Manchester United – currently top of the table having played a game more than City – will fall off the title pace but still finish second on 75 points (a 40.2 per cent chance).

Liverpool are in a poor run of form but are tipped to recover from their recent malaise to secure a third-place finish on 73 (while the simulator still gives the Reds a 26 per cent chance for second and a five per cent shot at retaining the title).

Interestingly, Jose Mourinho's Tottenham side came fourth in our outcome on 70 points, three above Brendan Rodgers' Leicester City side who are only two adrift of United in the real-life table.

Frank Lampard's future at Chelsea is sure to face more scrutiny if a predicted finish of sixth, 22 points adrift of City, comes to fruition.

Everton, Arsenal, West Ham and Aston Villa completed the top 10 in the sim.

BLADES NOT THE WORST EVER AS BAGGIES, FULHAM HEAD BACK DOWN

It has been a miserable first half of the season for Sheffield United, who have taken only five points from 19 matches.

Should Chris Wilder's side replicate that over the next 19 they would record the lowest tally ever in a Premier League season.

Our predictor has the Blades finishing rock bottom, but fans can take some solace from the fact they are tipped to do so on 24 points. Indeed, our sim still gives them a three per cent chance of finishing 17th and a 0.1 per cent of the dizzying heights of 15th...hey, you never know!

The reading is no better for two sides promoted from the Championship last term in West Brom and Fulham.

Sam Allardyce was the man drafted in by the Baggies to replace Slaven Bilic and continue his record of never being relegated from the Premier League, but under this model West Brom are headed for a 19th-place finish on 26 points.

In our league, Fulham – promoted by the playoffs last term – pick up 28 and return immediately to the second tier as well. That would at least be two more than the 26 they gained when relegated in the 2018-19 campaign.

West Brom's chances of reaching 17th and survival are rated at just 5.6 per cent, while Fulham are given a little more hope at 11.2 per cent.

Brighton and Hove Albion (37), Newcastle United (41), Burnley (42) and Crystal Palace (44) are all tipped to safely beat the drop, while Leeds United – champions of the Championship last term – are predicted for a 12th-place finish and 49 points.

Bruno Fernandes can fully understand Donny van de Beek's unhappiness and says his midfield team-mate's lack of playing time highlights Manchester United's strength in depth.

Netherlands international Van de Beek was handed his 10th start of the season in United's FA Cup fourth-round win over Liverpool on Sunday.

He struggled to make much of an impact at Old Trafford, however, as he touched the ball just 23 times and attempted 18 passes before being substituted with 66 minutes played.

Fernandes was brought on for the Dutchman and once again proved the difference for United by scoring a free-kick 12 minutes later to earn a 3-2 victory.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted on the eve of the game that Van de Beek is not happy with his lack of minutes and Fernandes has sympathy for the £40million close-season signing.

"Donny had a great game," he told MUTV. "Playing in the position I play, watching him he moves really good and played really well. 

"It's important for us. If I was in the position of Donny I would not be happy at all but the most important is doing what he does today, coming in and helping the team.

"We have a really good squad and we have options. If you look at the bench and the first XI today and the ones at home we have a really good squad.

"It will not be a problem if we change the team or someone is tired because we have really good players."

Fernandes has now scored 28 goals for United in all competitions since his debut in February 2020, which is more than any other player for a Premier League club.

His latest strike sets up a home tie with West Ham in the fifth round next month and, with United also top of the Premier League, Fernandes has his sights set on silverware.

"They're all important competitions for us," he said. "We have to go in the same way whatever the competition.

"We play in them all to win. Everyone knows winning the league is more special but for us players, it's about winning trophies regardless and this is a trophy we want to win."

United have now eliminated Liverpool from the FA Cup proper on 10 occasions - only the Reds themselves have knocked out a single team more often, beating local rivals Everton 12 times.

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said the Red Devils made a "statement" with their uncompromising performance in the FA Cup win over Liverpool.

United's 3-2 victory at Old Trafford was clinched by a stunning 78th-minute free-kick from substitute Bruno Fernandes, after earlier goals from Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford on Sunday.

A double from Mohamed Salah had kept Liverpool firmly in the game before Fernandes cracked a sublime shot into the right corner, having spent extra time honing his technique on Saturday.

What most pleased Solskjaer was how United were able to thrive while playing their natural attacking game against Premier League champions Liverpool, rather than make special allowances for the opposition.

"We've found a way we believe in, the players believe in, and we're getting stronger and stronger," Solskjaer said.

"We look at the difference from a year ago or six months back. You can't take too many big strides at one point but we're gradually, layer by layer, getting better, winning tight games, so you have the morale and the confidence of course is very good.

"It's a good feeling to play on our terms."

Solskjaer said United have previously adopted "different systems to nullify opponents", but that was not the case in this fourth-round battle.

"Of course, that's a statement to ourselves," Solskjaer added. "That's a confidence boost that we can match the best with our style of football."

Everything the Norwegian boss appears to be turning to gold just now, with United top of the Premier League and through to a fifth-round cup tie against David Moyes' West Ham.

Even the decision to start with Fernandes on the bench proved a masterstroke, regardless of the fact replacement Donny van de Beek struggled at times.

The effect of Solskjaer's decision, relayed to his players on Saturday, meant Fernandes was granted more time to practise his set-pieces ahead of the game, and how that worked out.

Since his United debut in February 2020, Fernandes has scored more goals than any other play for Premier League clubs with 28.

Greenwood (19 years and 115 days) became the youngest United player to score against Liverpool since Wayne Rooney in January 2005, while the Manchester club eliminated Liverpool from the FA Cup for the 10th time – only the latter (12 against Everton) have knocked out a particular team on more occasions.

"Whenever he starts, I tell him to go straight in [from training] and he can't do extra free-kicks," Solskjaer said.

"Yesterday, I told him he wasn't playing so he stayed out practising for half an hour, 45 minutes. It worked and it paid off."

Rashford came off in the second half with a knee complaint, and Solskjaer said the forward would have a scan to determine if there is anything to worry over.

Attacking midfielder Jesse Lingard, not part of this matchday squad and a peripheral figure this season, could yet leave Old Trafford during this transfer window.

Solskjaer said he would "sit down with Jesse and decide what we're going to do", but did not exclude the possibility of him staying, suggesting Lingard could well come back into the first-team picture.

On a day when Donny van de Beek hoped to show why he deserves more minutes for Manchester United, up stepped Bruno Fernandes to show why that simply isn't happening.

The eye-catching selection of Van de Beek ahead of Fernandes for this FA Cup clash of giants at Old Trafford was all about "rotation", according to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

United's manager clearly felt his team could combat a faltering Liverpool team without their star man, albeit leaving him on the bench in case of emergency.

"Donny needs to be playing games as well and it's a big game for Donny to come into," Solskjaer told the BBC.

Van de Beek has not started a Premier League game since he was hauled off with United trailing at half-time at West Ham in early December, and he might not be starting any soon either given how this game transpired.

A 66th-minute switch of the Portuguese for the underwhelming Van de Beek proved pivotal, and the delightful free-kick from Fernandes that settled an absorbing game 3-2 in United's favour was one that had been conceived on Saturday.

"I think he stayed about 45 minutes after training yesterday shooting free-kicks, so I was quite confident that he was going to hit the target," Solskjaer said.

Solskjaer, the erstwhile supersub, knew the calibre of replacement that was up his sleeve, and the rotation worked in a roundabout way. Are we looking at more proof that United's once-maligned Norwegian boss is actually a tactical master?

Liverpool's season, meanwhile, takes another negative turn.

Donny fluffs his big chance

With a mere 18 passes and 23 touches, Van de Beek was peripheral in a midfield where Paul Pogba shone and Scott McTominay fought for every ball.

The former Ajax man had a glorious early chance to stamp his mark on the game when he burst into space on the right and looked sure to dart towards the penalty area, as Edinson Cavani waited for a pass in the centre.

But no. Van de Beek paused and decided to go backwards, and the chance was gone.

This game was a world away from the Anfield snore draw seven days previously in the Premier League, yet Van de Beek largely let it pass him by.

By the time Fernandes cracked his sublime winner into the right corner, Van de Beek must have been wondering when such an opportunity will arise again.

Salah shows he must start

Like Fernandes, Salah has seen his form and contribution questioned in recent weeks, and just as United's match-winner dispelled such criticism, so did Liverpool's main man.

After all the talk about front threes, and which of these sides had the most deadly attacking trio, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp went with a two-man strikeforce, Salah and Roberto Firmino linking up and Sadio Mane on the bench.

Both Salah and Firmino had been substitutes on Thursday for the defeat to Burnley, but they were a combination that United struggled to contain at times here.

Salah struck twice, the first a sublime chip, and Firmino set up both. The Brazilian has now assisted Salah for 18 goals during their time together at Liverpool, the most any player has set up another during Klopp's reign.

Unlike Firmino and Mane, Salah has exceeded his expected goals (xG) in the Premier League this season, with eight non-penalty goals from an xG of 5.3, and if Liverpool are to resurrect their season, the bench is surely no place for the Egyptian.

Glorious Greenwood

Mason Greenwood has not scored in the Premier League since that West Ham game, when he helped United turn their half-time deficit around and earn a 3-1 victory.

Here he looked lively from the early stages, albeit with one too many lollipops and insufficient tasty final product until he cancelled out Salah's opener.

The way the 19-year-old ended an 10-game barren spell spoke volumes of his belief, with Marcus Rashford's sweeping pass over the Liverpool defence finding his wing twin on the right and allowing Greenwood to thump a low shot past Alisson.

With Rashford also on target, this was quite a day to savour for the hosts.

Liverpool "wanted it too much" against Manchester United on Sunday and left themselves exposed, claimed Jurgen Klopp.

On the back of their colossal home record in the league coming to an end at the hands of Burnley on Thursday, Liverpool suffered a second successive defeat as they went down 3-2 in the FA Cup at Old Trafford.

Bruno Fernandes came off the bench to score a stunning free-kick to settle a contest that delivered the quality which the league meeting between the two bitter rivals one week earlier had been severely lacking.

Mohamed Salah scored both of Liverpool's goals in an impressive return to form, with Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford on target for United prior to Fernandes' winner.

United had 41.6 per cent possession but managed to equal Liverpool's tally of attempts (14) and shots on target (six).

For both of United's first two goals, Liverpool were caught cold on the counter.

Klopp believes that was a result of his side being slightly overzealous in their desire to arrest a dismal run of form which has seen them win just once – against Aston Villa's youngsters – in their last seven matches across all competitions.

"There was a lot of good things and some mistakes around the goals. If you want to win here you have to be absolutely top and we were not," Klopp told reporters.

"For the first goal we had no protection, we wanted it too much. Things like this should not happen but they can happen.

"We can take things out of this game, we try to learn from every game. It's good for Mo Salah, good for the confidence. It was a tough game. We want it hard but tonight it was not enough.

"If you win a game there are negatives, if you lose a game too, but I saw the boys really, really wanted it. We had problems on the counter-attack, it was intense, but there were positives."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side will face West Ham – and former United manager David Moyes – in the fifth round of the cup, while they also sit pretty at the top of the league as it stands.

After seeing his side fall behind to Salah's 18th-minute chip, Solskjaer was delighted with United's response.

"Brilliant – you know when you go a goal down, the reaction of everyone was really good," he told BBC Sport.

"We played some really good stuff, good goals, we have to defend well against them and we managed to react well and of course towards the end there were some moments but we kept them away."

Fernandes ultimately made the difference, scoring with his only attempt, while he also crafted a chance for Edinson Cavani with a wonderful cross – the experienced forward heading against the post.

"Great goal, good free-kick," Solskjaer said of Fernandes' impact. "When you leave him out like I did today, he stayed about 45 minutes after training yesterday shooting free-kicks so I was pretty confident he could score one if he got the chance.

"He's never happy with me when I tell him to go inside after training when he's playing the next day so he got some practice yesterday."

United are now unbeaten in their last eight home games against Liverpool in all competitions (W4 D4) since a defeat in March 2014.

Bruno Fernandes came off the bench to settle a thrilling FA Cup fourth-round encounter as Manchester United overcame Liverpool 3-2 at Old Trafford.

Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford turned the game in United's favour after Mohamed Salah had put Liverpool ahead in the 18th minute.

Salah's second of a pulsating contest levelled matters once more with Liverpool looking the more likely to prevail thereafter.

However, the introduction of talisman Fernandes proved a masterstroke as he arrowed a low free-kick into the bottom-right corner from the edge of the area to set up a fifth-round tie with West Ham.

 

On many a Sunday, I realize that people have looked at the stories they've seen throughout the week with different lenses. I have my own personal take on some of these trending issues and I will share them with you. Welcome to #INCASEYOUMISSEDIT the 2021 edition with Mariah

 

Kobe Bryant’s legacy is alive and well.

On Tuesday, it will be one year since the news broke that Laker legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, six other passengers and the pilot were passengers in a helicopter that crashed in the hills of Calabasas, California, killing everyone on board.  For so many, Bryant was an influential presence ripped away from his family and the world just as he was making a mark post-basketball career.

Bryant was an icon who won five NBA championships and two NBA Finals MVPs during his a 20-year career.  I was a child when I first saw Kobe play. I was utterly impressed. The other children I was around would launch paper balls at bins yelling “Kobe!”.  Everyone wanted to be him.

As a sports journalist his I was fascinated by his work ethic. The way he knew what he wanted and went about ensuring that he got it.  Even now, I find myself turning to old Kobe interviews and listening to him for self-motivation. I hope his family and loved ones continue to find the inner strength to deal with his tragic passing.

 

West Indies can take a page out of India’s book.

It is true that the West Indies’ poor form did not start with this Bangladesh tour. However, they can take a page out of India’s book following a second disastrous batting display losing to Bangladesh by seven wickets in the second ODI at the Mirpur Stadium in Dhaka on Friday.

A few days before this latest Windies defeat, India ended Australia’s record of being unbeaten at the Gabba since 1988 with a team that lacked key senior players.

Like India, coming into the Bangladesh series the Windies were not favourites. What worked for India was its ability to capitalize on their strengths. Much of their success can be attributed to the system that in place to allow new cricketers to emerge and thrive.

 Every successful team needs good structure and foundation. India’s “A” team programme has reaped its intended benefits. Take the case of Thangarasu Natarajan, who is the first Indian to make this international debut in all three formats on the same tour. He ended the Australia series as the highest wicket-taker.

There was also the case of 21-year-old Shubman Gill, who had been on the fringes of the Test side patiently awaiting his call and took his chance when it came

 He would go on to finish his maiden Test series with an average of 51.81. Rishabh Pant was another player that came through the Indian development system and is now reaping the rewards. The 23-year-old was left out of the first Test but in the series-decider was unbeaten on 89 and hit the winning runs that also won the series.

 

No Kohli, no problem.

Leadership is another area of India’s game where the Windies can look to India for inspiration. Like the Windies when Kieron Pollard opted not to tour due to Covid 19, India’s captain Virat Kohli returned home to witness the birth of his first daughter.

However, Ajinkya Rahane stepped up to the task at hand. Again, this reiterated the work being done behind the scenes to allow for ease of transition. I was impressed by how Rahane handled the resources at hand and worked with the team to unlock their full potential.

 

REDS-

 It is not too late for a Premier League turnaround. Liverpool has now gone four matches in a row in the Premier League without a goal. They are now six points away from league leaders Manchester United.  Despite struggling in the Premier League this season it is not too late for a turnaround.

Liverpool is a club that knows how to win and do so in style. Despite this, they have been lacking in confidence this season and it is evident in the errors that they are making on the field. There is a major lack of efficiency and energy. Once the club can find the rhythm that everyone admired last season they can get back to their winning ways.

It is evident that Jurgen Klopp is frustrated and not handling the pressure. Klopp’s frustration has been filtering to the players and emboldening the opposition. It is wise that the manager sticks to his principles and steers his players in the right direction. At this point, there is absolutely no need to make rash decisions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer left Bruno Fernandes out of his starting line-up for Sunday's FA Cup clash with Liverpool.

Fernandes, who has been United's shining light since arriving from Sporting CP almost 12 months ago, was only a substitute for the fourth-round game.

This season he has scored 15 goals and supplied nine assists in 28 games across all competitions from his advanced midfield role, but there have been questions asked about his form in recent weeks.

He has just one goal and no assists in four Premier League appearances since the turn of the year.

Into the United team went former Ajax midfielder Donny van de Beek as Solskjaer decided the game presented a chance to rotate his squad, making five changes to the side that won 2-1 at Fulham on Wednesday.

Solskjaer explained why Fernandes did not start, saying on BBC One: "It's rotation in the squad.

"Donny needs to be playing games as well and it's a big game for Donny to come into.

"He's done nothing wrong when he's been around the club so I'm looking forward to seeing him in there."

Premier League leaders United also brought in goalkeeper Dean Henderson, centre-back Victor Lindelof, midfielder Scott McTominay and forward Marcus Rashford, as David De Gea, Eric Bailly, Fred and Anthony Martial dropped out.

Liverpool also showed five changes as Jurgen Klopp looked for a response to Thursday's shock 1-0 home defeat to Burnley, which ended a 68-game unbeaten run at Anfield in the Premier League.

Teenage centre-back Rhys Williams came in for the absent Joel Matip, while James Milner and Curtis Jones were selected as Xherdan Shaqiri and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain dropped to the bench.

Sadio Mane and Divock Origi were also substitutes as Klopp gave starts to Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, with the Old Trafford clash coming a week on from these two sides battling out a dreary goalless draw at Anfield in the league.

Liverpool are reportedly prioritising a new deal for Virgil van Dijk over Mohamed Salah, while they could be beaten to Dayot Upamecano by Manchester United.

Salah's future has been a talking point in recent weeks, although the forward is contracted until 2023.

Van Dijk also has an agreement at Anfield until 2023, but the injured defender is apparently Liverpool's focus.

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL PRIORITISE VAN DIJK DEAL OVER SALAH

Liverpool are prioritising a new contract for Van Dijk over Salah, according to Eurosport.

Van Dijk, 29, is recovering from a serious knee injury and his absence has been felt by the Premier League champions.

Salah, meanwhile, has scored 13 goals in 18 league games this season, but in an interview with AS last month the 28-year-old refused to rule out a move to Real Madrid or Barcelona.

The report also says Liverpool may look at West Ham midfielder Declan Rice, with Georginio Wijnaldum set to leave as a free agent at the end of the campaign.

ROUND-UP

- With Van Dijk and Joe Gomez injured, Liverpool have been linked with a move for RB Leipzig defender Upamecano. But The Sun reports Manchester United are poised to sign the centre-back for £38million (€42.7m).

- Amid uncertainty over his future at Barcelona, Ousmane Dembele is being looked at by numerous European giants. Sport reports Chelsea, Manchester United, Juventus and Bayern Munich are monitoring the forward's situation. Dembele is out of contract in 2022 and the Catalan giants could sell him if he does not extend his deal.

- Frank Lampard is under enormous pressure at Chelsea as the Premier League side struggle for form. The Mirror reports Chelsea could turn to Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers if they move on from Lampard.

- Yet to re-sign with Southampton with his contract expiring next year, Danny Ings is linked with a move. 90min reports Leicester City and Everton have joined the race for the forward, who has also been linked to Tottenham.

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.

It's like he rolls the passing talents of Juan Roman Riquelme and first touch of Ronaldinho into a single player and saunters around the pitch ensuring the game is played at a pace dictated by him.

His Liverpool career feels a lot shorter than it actually has been because of his absence through injury, and he'll be hoping his recent return is the catalyst to kick-starting what is resembling a fairly meek title defence.

But while Thiago has shown flashes of his immense ability in his fledgling Liverpool career, it appears not all are entirely convinced.

Former Reds midfielder Dietmar Hamann expressed his reservations in an interview with talkSPORT on Tuesday, suggesting Thiago is detrimental to a key part of Liverpool's play; utilising a quick tempo with hard-working midfielders who look to get the ball forward to the front three as soon as possible.

Hamann urged Liverpool to be cautious about how much influence they let Thiago have, questioning his effectiveness when not in possession and suitability to the Reds' system, concerns that won't have been eased by Thursday's shock defeat to Burnley.

But does this give a fair reflection of Thiago?

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.

Jurgen Klopp insisted talk about Liverpool star Mohamed Salah's contract would not be a distraction.

Salah has a deal at Anfield until 2023, but his future has become a talking point after he refused to rule out a move to Real Madrid or Barcelona in an interview with AS last month.

While Liverpool have struggled for consistency and sit fourth in the Premier League, Salah has netted 13 times to be the top goalscorer in the competition.

Ahead of Sunday's FA Cup clash against Manchester United, Klopp said he had no doubt about Salah's focus despite talk about his future.

"It's not that [players] go out and [volunteer] to talk about the things we think are important. It's pretty rare that that happens," the Liverpool manager told reporters.

"We get asked questions and then we answer and that's then the story and it always sounds like we started the conversation.

"But in Mo's case it's not like that, so no, I don't think it will distract the season."

While Salah is the top goalscorer in the Premier League with 13, five of those have come from the penalty spot.

But his big chance conversion (64.3 per cent) is the highest it has been since he joined Liverpool from Roma in 2017.

However, his dribbles success rate (39) is the lowest since he arrived at Anfield.

Liverpool have won just one of their past six games ahead of their trip to Old Trafford to face rivals United.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes Manchester United's dressing room is being "driven to success" by Bruno Fernandes, Edinson Cavani and Paul Pogba.

United sit top of the Premier League table on 40 points, six clear of defending champions Liverpool, who Solskjaer's team face in the FA Cup fourth round on Sunday, seven days on from a 0-0 draw at Anfield.

Liverpool have been eliminated from the FA Cup by United more than they have any other opponent in the competition's history, though the Red Devils have lost two of their past three against the Reds in the competition.

Integral to United's recent success has been the form of Fernandes, who has scored 19 league goals and created a further 14 from 33 top-flight appearances since joining from Sporting CP last year.

Veteran campaigner Cavani, meanwhile, has netted five times in all competitions since arriving as a free agent in October, while United's club-record signing Pogba has enjoyed a resurgence after a difficult start to the campaign, and scored a superb winner against Fulham last time out.

Buoyed by the performances of Fernandes, Cavani and Pogba, Solskjaer sees his squad having experienced a drastic shift in mentality, comparing the trio's influence to that of his former United team-mates Roy Keane, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs.

"I think that runs through the squad and that's part of my thinking when you bring players in," Solskjaer told a news conference.

"You don't just bring big talents in, you research their character as much as you can to have the right types.

"Because there are always players who think 'there's a game next week and I'll still get my wages'. That's the mentality we had to get away from.

"I wanted players to come here to push the boundaries, the levels and drive it on from the inside. It can't come just from the outside. With players like Bruno, Edinson and Paul Pogba, I feel I have a dressing room that is driven to success. That makes my job easier – 100 per cent.

"When you talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. We had players here when I played – Roy Keane, Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs – they drove it on.

"When they spoke you knew you had no leg to stand on to ­argue, because you knew that they did it every single day.

"That's what we need from our players. Many of us in the game have been in dressing rooms where people talk – but you think what are you ­talking about? 

"They talk the talk, but don't really walk the walk. But the players we're talking about – Pogba and Cavani and Bruno – they've been there, they know what it takes and they ­demand it off their team-mates."

The omens are good for United ahead of Sunday's encounter with their bitter rivals, who have reached the FA Cup fifth round only once during Jurgen Klopp's tenure.

United are also unbeaten in their past seven home games against Liverpool in all competitions (W3 D4) since a 3-0 loss in March 2014. They last had a longer unbeaten run against the Reds at Old Trafford between 1990 and 2000 (12 games).

Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says he can fully relate to Donny van de Beek's unhappiness after being used sparingly during his time at Old Trafford.

The Netherlands midfielder has made nine starts for United since arriving from Ajax for a reported £40million in the close season, just two of those coming in the Premier League.

He has not featured at all in United's last three games since the 1-0 FA Cup win over Watford on January 9, but he will play a part in Sunday's fourth-round tie against Liverpool.

Solskjaer himself found regular starts hard to come by during his playing days at the club under Alex Ferguson and has praised Van de Beek for remaining professional.

"I wouldn't say that Donny is happy," he said. "Of course, he wants to play more, but he gets about his job in the right manner.

"He reminds me a lot about myself, when I first came in, that he understands my difficulties and challenges

"We are doing well and have got players who are playing really well in his position.

"I was the same with Sir Alex. When he left me out I understood and I was happy for the team to win – and Donny is that type of guy."

Van de Beek has made 10 Premier League appearances for United in total and scored his only goal in the 3-1 win over Crystal Palace in September.

The 23-year-old has yet to assist a goal and has created just two big chances for his team-mates across those 10 matches.

His average of 50.2 passes per 90 minutes ranks below fellow midfielder Bruno Fernandes (60.17), Paul Pogba (62.02), Fred (62.85) and Nemanja Matic (76.08) but above Scott McTominay (48.37).

Van de Beek ranks higher for dribbles completed (1.43), however, with Pogba (1.75) the only midfielder above him in that metric.

Solskjaer continued: "He knows he is important for us and knows he is going to play many games.

"He will definitely be involved in this game against Liverpool and he might be the deciding factor in the game.

"He trusts his own quality. He is a quietly confident guy who deep down knows he is good enough and is just waiting for his opportunity."

Having been used in a variety of roles in United's midfield, Van de Beek – utilised as a box-to-box threat during his Ajax days – scored 28 goals in total in the Eredivisie. 

Arguably his most impressive form for Ajax came in the 2018-19 Champions League campaign, with his four goals helping the Dutch giants to the semi-finals.

Jurgen Klopp is not feeling the pressure despite Liverpool's worrying form, believing the shock home defeat to Burnley can act as a catalyst to "change things properly". 

The reigning champions were downed by a late Ashley Barnes penalty as their 68-game unbeaten run at home in the Premier League come to a stunning end on Thursday. 

Klopp watched on as his team endured a fourth successive league outing without scoring, leaving them six points off the pace in the title race. 

Ahead of Sunday's FA Cup tie with league leaders Manchester United, Klopp explained how Liverpool have not used the right tools of late, something the Reds will work hard to correct as they look to get back to somewhere near their best.

"I don't feel the pressure from outside, I deal with the pressure I put on myself my entire life. I'm used to that already," Klopp told the media while previewing the trip to Old Trafford. 

"When you have had the success we've had, there are two directions then. One is you keep going exactly on the same level, which is difficult with the challenges you have around. The other one is it gets a little bit less. 

"At the moment, it feels like a lot less. That's what we have to change, we are not like this where we think that just because we try, we should get everything. We are really ready for the fight; we are ready for the battle, 100 per cent. 

"But, in the moment, we don't use the right tools. That is true as well. That is what we absolutely have to adjust and improve, and that's what we are doing. 

"The only problem is the tests we face are constantly in the public and on television, so everybody watches each little step in whatever direction. That is obviously nice when you have a good run, and when not in a good a run it's not exactly the same, you don't get the same joy with it." 

Liverpool are on a five-game winless streak in the Premier League and while the loss to struggling Burnley was disappointing, Klopp hopes it can be turned into a positive, offering something of a reset point during what is an arduous season amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

The Reds had 27 attempts at goal on Thursday, six of which were on target, while they have now had 87 efforts since previously finding the net in the league, a run that started after Sadio Mane's early opener in the 1-1 draw with West Brom on December 27.

Klopp's side are the first English top-flight team since West Ham in 1967 to have failed to find the net in four successive league matches, yet still be the division's top scorers.

"In these moments, I'm not in doubt about us as a group at all," Klopp – who also confirmed Mohamed Salah is set to start against United – said. 

"But these moments are where you need the group to come close together and do the right things. That's what we do. 

"We lost that game [to Burnley] and it was a really low point. It was not like I thought, 'Oh, who cares?' – it was a game we lost.  

"When I think back, I cannot find a reason why we lost that game, but we lost it. With all the things that happened – the penalty, the chance we had, all these kind of things – but it happened. 

"Sometimes, you need a really low point to change things properly. That, for sure, is what we will try now, 100 per cent. 

"If we would have won in a bad game, somehow 1-0, the world would have said it's not the football that we usually play but it's a result. But, in the long term, it wouldn't be a real help. That game can be a real help, if we use it."

Liverpool have only reached the FA Cup fifth round once in Klopp's five previous seasons at the club, doing so last term before they were knocked out by top-flight rivals Chelsea.

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