Three players Mourinho needs to drop at Manchester United

Jose Mourinho’s start to life as Manchester United manager has not been as smooth as he would have hoped. While this is not a time to press the panic button, it was apparent his side were lacklustre and out of ideas in the 4-0 loss at Chelsea. Lewis Addley explores some potential changes he can make to freshen things up and stop his side from carrying passengers…

Being coached by Mourinho is something a whole host of the world’s best players have enjoyed since he put his name on the map as Porto manager 14 years ago, but the same cannot be said at this moment in time, as his ongoing struggles at Manchester United are not improving.

Mourinho admitted himself that life in Manchester has been difficult to adapt to and his time away from football is something he is not familiar to, living in a hotel and separate from his family.

While United are only six points off the top of the Premier League table in what already looks set to be the most competitive season ever, there is plenty of work to do to get the 20-time champions firing again.

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A number of Mourinho’s marquee summer signings haven’t yet clicked into place and the squad appear to be disjointed and out of ideas, even more so apparent after going 1-0 down to Chelsea without touching the ball on Sunday.

Mourinho has a squad full of talented players and just three changes could potentially make a difference in terms of unpredictability, solidity and energy.

So let’s have a look at those three potential changes…

Forward play: 

Regardless of how many career titles and goals he has to his name, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has struggled in his last few appearances. He started the season well, scoring four goals in his first four games, but the big Swede needs a rest. He clearly has the ability to cause havoc to any opposition defence, but he seems to be getting lost and committing more fouls than creating chances.

He will be the last thing defenders want to see if Mourinho gives the 35-year-old legend a rest and brings him into a couple of games on the bounce with half an hour to go after some of his younger, more energetic teammates have worn down the opposition.

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Verdict: Rest Ibrahimovic and play Rashford in his natural position as a striker. The Englishman will bring in more energy and pace to the attack, leaving the option for Ibra to swoop in for the kill later in the game.

In the middle: 

Everybody knows Mourinho loves a holding midfielder to dominate games with strength and the ability to break up play. But at the moment, the United midfield as a whole have failed to get to grips with fast-paced games, and they’re not being streetwise enough to stop counter attacks as well as creating moves of their own.

Mourinho should look at pulling Marouane Fellaini out of the side. Yes, the big man can cause chaos in the box offensively, but he isn’t doing it. Fellaini has features of his game that make for a player who can have an influence, but he is not a controlling midfielder, he doesn’t dominate games and doesn’t bring an atmosphere of calm to the side.

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Verdict: Drop Fellaini for Michael Carrick or Bastian Schweinsteiger. Mourinho won’t want to backtrack on his decision to ostracise Schweinsteiger from the squad but these two players have unparalleled experience compared to their teammates and can instil a sense of calm to any top-class midfield.

The world’s most expensive player:

An awful lot has been made of Paul Pogba’s slow start to life back in Manchester and it is so obvious he needs some help. While he may be the most expensive player in the world, the Frenchman didn’t ask for that price tag and it is weighing him down. The pressure becomes more intense in each game he underperforms.

Pogba will clearly become a great, he has the talent, personality and is likeable, but he needs a bit of time out of the side to find his feet again. His confidence has been rocked and now is the time for Mourinho to offer him support, like he has done down the years with key players everywhere he has been.

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Verdict: Make Pogba work for this place by pulling him from the starting XI, get an arm around him to make him feel valued and under less pressure. Bring Juan Mata back in, he has plenty of Premier League experience and the creative edge to his game Pogba hasn’t yet shown.

There is work to be done at United, but if they can get on a run of form they will soon silence their critics and despite some poor results, they can close the gap on the title chasing pack.

Should Mourinho make these changes at United? Who do you think should be recalled to the starting XI?

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Do Manchester United actually need this PSG star?

Manchester United have already been busy in the transfer window and the amount of rumours surrounding players in and out is as high as always. According to reports, Blaise Matuidi is a player on their radar but do United actually need the Paris Saint Germain midfield maestro? Lewis Addley explores

Blaise Matuidi has impressed so far during the European Championship and had yet another consistent season for Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint Germain last term.

The 29-year-old midfielder has been linked with a move away from the French capital and Manchester United appear to be frontrunners the Frenchman.

Jose Mourinho is keen to get his business done early in the window and prepare his squad to challenge on all fronts from the first whistle and there are no doubts about the qualities Matuidi could bring to their midfield.

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In Ligue 1 last season Matuidi had a pass completion of 92%, he won 54 tackles, played 20 key passes, made 46 interceptions and 18 clearances.

Used in a predominately holding role, Matuidi also impressively created 26 chances for teammates, while he registered six assists and scored four goals. With all those stats in mind you could be forgiven for referring to him as the ‘complete’ midfielder.

But do Manchester United actually need Matuidi?

Problems and weaknesses across the pitch were well documented last season for United and they looked vulnerable when opposition teams were counter-attacking. A solid midfield is something football fans have become accustomed to from Mourinho and Matuidi’s stats scream out solidity.

To assess whether United actually need Matuidi we have to look at their current players who could and have played in the same holding role. Three players who are suited to playing in that position in the current United squad are Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera and Daley Blind.

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At this stage of the window it appears only Carrick’s future is secure, with speculation about Herrera and Blind refusing to go away. If all three are in Mourinho’s plans he would have a healthy selection of players to choose from and the possibility of Matuidi as a fourth option would arguably lead to some selection headaches for the United boss.

So let’s have a look to see how the three players mentioned compare to Matuidi… 
(Statistics provided by Squawka).

Last season, Blind bettered Matuidi’s key passes with 24, while Herrera totalled 19 and Carrick managed ten. The PSG midfielder’s 92% pass completion was highest, although the lowest percentage was still impressive, coming from Blind and Herrera with 84%.

Matuidi scored and assisted more than any of the United midfielders, whose combined goals and assists came in at just seven compared to his ten.

Blind made the most successful tackles with 67, interceptions with 80 and clearances with 127, bettering all three of the other players in question.

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Finally Matuidi created the most chances, managing one more than Blind’s 25, while Herrera came in with 21 and Carrick only managing ten.

With these stats in mind it wouldn’t be wrong to suggest Blind is currently the strongest candidate in the United squad in comparison to Matuidi. It would appear United would benefit from signing the Frenchman and there is no doubting his experience and quality, but whether or not they are in desperate need for him is questionable.

Do United need to sign Matuidi or are their current options good enough? Should Mourinho prioritise strengthening his squad elsewhere?

Could this MLS star strengthen United or Liverpool’s midfield?

Manchester United and Liverpool are expected to be in the transfer market this summer for a tough-tackling holding midfielder. Lewis Addley explores how New England Revolution‘s Jermaine Jones could improve United and Liverpool’s midfield.

Jones has played the majority of his career in Europe and featured in the Champions League quarter finals with German outfit, Schalke. The midfield powerhouse has played in Germany with three different clubs, including Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayer Leverkusen.

United have had squad depth issues in midfield in the 2014/15 season with the likes of Michael Carrick out through injury and manager Louis Van Gaal rotating a number of players in a central role.

Liverpool, as we know, have just lost Steven Gerrard to MLS, and at times have lacked stability in the middle of the pitch. Jones is a no nonsense ball-playing midfielder who can break up play and move the ball on to attacking teammates in a tidy fashion. Brendan Rodgers is expected to strengthen his midfield and Jones possesses qualities to play in the holding role.

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At 33, a move is purely hypothetical and Jones is playing an integral role, albeit out of position, at New England Revolution. But his experience makes him an ideal candidate for many Premier League clubs. He already has the experience of playing in the Premier League on-loan at Blackburn Rovers back in 2011. On his first appearance for the club he picked up a man of the match award and went on to start 15 games for the club, becoming a fan-favourite.

Jones has also featured in the World Cup and he is the type of calm player suited to playing at the top level. He opted to play for US Men’s National Team after featuring for the German Under-21 side on four occasions. The Revs midfielder missed out on the 2010 World Cup through injury, which was a loss for the US.

There is no suggestion that MLS and Premier League are comparable competitions, but Jones has already proved his worth while playing in Europe.

Is it time for Premier League clubs to start looking further afield than Europe for their signings?

Arsenal legend questions Hodgson’s England squad, criticises Spurs duo

Former Arsenal attacker Paul Merson has criticised Roy Hodgson’s England squad selection and feels that two of the Spurs players called up should not be there, along with a few others.

Merson feels that Andros Townsend and Kyle Walker do not deserve to be in the current England team and has questioned Hodgson’s supposed forward-thinking approach.

“I’m surprised by the squad. We’re not planning for the future,” Merson said in his column for the Daily Star.

“If Roy knew there was a six-year plan and he was the man to implement it, things would be different.

“The squad puzzles me. Roy went to see Manchester United against Tottenham the other week.

“He watched Andros Townsend have a stinker and get taken off after half an hour, and he watched Kyle Walker get absolutely rinsed.

“But he’s picked them both in his squad! If he’d already made up his mind, why bother going to the game?

“Townsend is only there because he played well for England 18 months ago. I thought it was supposed to be on form?”

Merson also questioned the decisions to bring in Ashley Young, Theo Walcott, Michael Carrick, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling.

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But he did have some praise for another Spurs star, Harry Kane. It’s impossible to criticise the young Tottenham striker, and although Merson is pleased to see him in the squad, he does not feel he is good enough to start at the European Championships next year.

“At least he picked Harry Kane. He deserves it. He’s been doing it every week. You can have your head turned when you get picked for England but he went and scored a hat-trick!

“He can play in the hole like Wayne Rooney or he can play in front of him. When he plays as a No 10 he still gets in the box all the time. But I’d play him in front of Rooney and let him run into the corners and open the game up.

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“Daniel Sturridge is still the man for me going into the Euros. I think he gives you a bit more pace. But Kane is the next best option off the bench.”

Kane scored from the bench on his debut in Friday night’s 4-0 win against Lithuania at Wembley and will be hoping to get his first start in Tuesday night’s friendly with Italy.

Do you agree with Paul Merson’s comments? Is the current England squad the best it could be?

FA Cup Preview and Prediction: Preston vs Manchester United

Preston vs Manchester United: FA Cup Fifth Round

Venue: Deepdale – Monday 16th February – 19:45

Match Odds: Preston 6/1 – Draw 100/30 – Manchester United 4/9

Manchester United continue their FA Cup run on Monday night with a visit down the M61 to Deepdale to take on Simon Grayson’s Preston North End side.

Louis Van Gaal’s men will be hoping for an easy ride and go into the game as clear favourites but the League One side are more than capable of an upset.

Preston’s home record in all competitions this season: Played 20 – Won 11 – Drawn 7 – Lost 2

Preston come into the fifth round off the back of two league wins on the bounce and will hope the FA Cup provides a good distraction from their push for promotion. Preston currently lay in fourth in League One and have the joint best defensive record in the league.

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Grayson has the advantage of having the Cup’s leading goalscorer in Paul Gallagher (5) and also has veteran striker Kevin Davies at his disposal, who has a total of 19 all-time FA Cup goals to his name.

Preston will provide a stern test for United and will hope to cause an upset in their first meeting with the Red Devils in 43 years.

Manchester United’s away record in all competitions: Played 15 – Won 4 – Drawn 8 – Lost 3

United have struggled at times to adapt to Van Gaal’s way of thinking with the 3-5-2 formation and that has now been dropped so we expect United to continue with the 4-3-1-2 system that has worked well recently.

The decision to deploy his captain, Wayne Rooney in a central midfield role has been a stroke of brilliance and United will benefit from the Englishman’s presence in the middle of the park once again on Monday as midfield general Michael Carrick is out. Luke Shaw returns from suspension and so Marcos Rojo could move back into the heart of United’s defence.

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Manchester United are unbeaten in their last six in all competitions and will be aiming to continue their run in the FA Cup with a place in the quarter-finals at stake.

These two sides last locked horns in a competitive fixture back in 1972 in an FA Cup fourth round match at Deepdale. United ran out 2-0 winners on that day thanks to two late Alan Gowling goals.

Preston’s last five in all competitions: D/L/W/W/W

Manchester United’s last five in all competitions: D/W/W/D/W

Key Stat: Manchester United are yet to concede in this season’s FA Cup. Will that record end on Monday night?

Key Player: Wayne Rooney – The Manchester United captain is fully aware of what the FA Cup means to the Red Devil’s faithful and he will be key on Monday night.

Score Prediction: Preston 1 – 1 Manchester United – A tricky tie for United that will result in another replay at Old Trafford.

Ryan Mason for England? Stats suggest he deserves call-up

Ryan Mason has been a midfield sensation for Tottenham under Mauricio Pochettino this season and the emerging star could be in line for a surprise, but well deserved England call-up.

The 23-year-old has officially been at Spurs since joining their academy in 2007 but he has been involved in with Tottenham for 16 years.

It has taken a long time for the tough-tackling midfield man to make an impact with the first-team but Pochettino was quick to recognise his talent when appointed head coach last summer and Mason has been a mainstay ever since.

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Mason has made 21 appearances for Spurs in all competitions so far this campaign and put in another impressive display against North London rivals Arsenal in the 2-1 derby victory on Saturday.

Roy Hodgson was at White Hart Lane for the game and although Harry Kane is stealing all the headlines at the moment, the England manager would have certainly been impressed by what he’s seen from Mason.

Steven Gerrard’s international retirement last summer has left a large void that has yet to be definitively filled. But Mason has proven that he deserves an international call-up with his consistently good displays this season.

Ryan Mason stats compared to other England midfielders

Ryan Mason’s Premier League statistics compared to other England midfielders (stats via Squawka)

Jack Wilshere and Jordan Henderson are first-team regulars for the England National Team while Michael Carrick and Fabian Delph have both been involved in recent times too.

Ryan Mason’s statistics from the Premier League season so far suggest he is more than deserving of a call-up though, as the Spurs man has won more tackles than any of the aforementioned quartet.

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He has two league assists this season so far, only bettered by Henderson, while also making the second-highest number of shots and interceptions in comparison with his fellow English midfielders.

Mason has represented England at Under-19 and Under-20 levels but has not received a national call-up in four years.

His rise to prominence with Spurs this season will have caught the eye of Hodgson and it will be intriguing to see if the youngster is called up to the national team for the European Championship qualifier against Lithuania and friendly against Italy at the end of March.

Does Ryan Mason deserve an England call-up?

Manchester United enjoying six-game win streak – is Michael Carrick the reason why?

Manchester United have finally got into full swing and Louis Van Gaal looks like a great appointment for the Red Devils, as they sit in third place in the Premier League.

United extended their winning run to six with victory against Liverpool on Sunday and look like a side that can challenge for the title once again.

After a poor start to season by United’s standards they have stormed up the table into third and are just eight points off league leaders Chelsea.

Incredibly, it seems that the return of experienced midfielder, Michael Carrick, has been the catalyst as they have a 100% record when he has started for them this season, compared to a win rate of just 30% when he hasn’t.

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He also possesses the highest pass completion rate of United’s midfielders this term and can even play a role for them at centre-back – where he was positioned for the win on Sunday at Old Trafford.

Carrick has become part of a formidable midfield trio that also involves Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata, both of whom were seemingly heading for the exit door before this fine run of form.

It seems that Van Gaal has decided to structure his line-ups around the pass-master Carrick and his decision has served him well so far.

Louis Van Gaal hasn’t set the world alight in the Premier league as of yet, but his team is sneaking up the table. And with Carrick, they have improved dramatically.

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With a strike force that boasts Robin Van Persie, Radamel Falcao and captain, Wayne Rooney, they could well mount a serious title challenge.

The consistent performances of key players like Michael Carrick will be crucial and the Red Devils will be enjoying what they are seeing at the moment.

Are Manchester United good enough to win the Premier League title?