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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Will this be Conte’s best Chelsea lineup this season?

Chelsea left it late again to take all three points at the weekend in a performance that showed they lacked creativity in the final third and weaknesses in defence. While Antonio Conte’s men have got six points from a possible six, they are yet to show any real cutting edge, but as we know, winning games in the style they have is exactly what potential champions do.

While their early form doesn’t suggest Chelsea will win the title this season, they are already grinding out results when needing to. If they can improve performances they will be in a great position to challenge for silverware this term.

It’s obvious there is still work to be done at Chelsea for them to improve. Conte has made it clear he wants another defender and rightly so, as there have been the same defensive issues troubling them in the early stages of this season that were apparent throughout the disappointing 2015/16 campaign.

Conte has been making game-changing substitutions that have without question won Chelsea both of their matches so far. So let’s have a look at their potential best starting lineup and how a formation change could be needed to improve their performances from here on out.

Potential starting XI via lineupbuilder.com

Potential starting XI via lineupbuilder.com

As we can see above, the 4-1-3-2 is a less common formation but something that has a lot of potential to work for Chelsea. Regardless of who has been in charge at the club, 4-2-3-1 has been the preferred Chelsea formation, but it has become predictable and is showing signs of weakness.

The 4-1-3-2 formation allows a completely different dynamic to the setup. While the apparent strength of attacking wingers – who both play high up the pitch and drop in for defensive play – is still a key theme, the option of two strikers will provide a headache for opposition defenders.

Forward play:

Michy Batshuayi has to be starting alongside Diego Costa. The two have played less than a half of football together this season and already appear to have a telepathic relationship brewing. Batshuayi’s knockdown to Costa allowed the Spaniard to net the winner in their opening game against West Ham and both strikers were on the scoresheet at the weekend, with the goals finally coming while they were both on the pitch.

Having a striker next to him affords Costa more room to manoeuvre, get in behind and go unnoticed as he is not up against both centre-backs at the same time.

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In the middle: 

Chelsea lacked creativity throughout their game against Watford at the weekend and it was only when Cesc Fabregas came on that they looked threatening. Fabregas creates so much room for his teammates both on and off the ball, as opponents know they cannot afford to give him space. As soon as the Spaniard gets on the ball he is looking for a defence-splitting pass or to bring a winger into play.

Having Fabregas come in for Matic also allows Kante to drop into the deeper anchoring role on his own, where he is at his best. Kante can then break up play and continually feed Fabregas with the ball rather than having to try and be a creator himself.

Service to the wingers and forwards was evidently weak in the game against Watford, while the partnership of Matic and Kante is excellent defensively, the pair offer little creativity going forward.

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At the back:

Chelsea still look lacklustre at the back. The positioning of their defenders was to blame for going behind to a screamer of a strike at the weekend, while an inability to clear the ball properly under-pressure in their first game saw their backline breached.

In an ideal starting lineup, Kurt Zouma would play for Chelsea but as we know, he is still a long way off playing. Zouma’s pace and strength make him a great option at right-back, a position where Branislav Ivanovic appears to be struggling.

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Playing this XI also leaves an incredibly strong bench to change things if they aren’t going well for Conte, although many would argue the likes of Oscar, Matic, Ivanovic, Pedro and Victor Moses should be getting a look in to start games.

Moses has made a great impact in both his appearances off the bench this season, while the likes of Matic, Pedro and Ivanovic have somewhat struggled to show their class in the early stages.

Playing a 4-1-3-2 formation would also be beneficial for Oscar, as although he may not start every game ahead of Fabregas he still has the ability to take up other positions such as on the wing or rotate throughout the season in the number ten role.

While we aren’t suggesting Conte will opt for this style of play it is something that could potentially work for Chelsea and make them less predictable going forward. It is going to be interesting to see if the Italian makes any further signings before the window closes and how they will continue to lineup in the coming weeks.

Should Chelsea opt for a different formation? Does Batshuayi need to be starting alongside Costa from now on?

Aaron Ramsey says fellow Arsenal midfielder has been ‘superb’

Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey has heaped further praise on the performances of defensive midfielder Francis Coquelin this season.

“He’s been really good, he went out on loan and then as soon as he came back he was thrown straight in and he’s done really well,” Ramsey said while talking to Arsenal’s official website.

Francis Coquelin has made an instant impact since breaking into the first-team and only Morgan Schneiderlin of Southampton has made more tackles-per-game than him in the Premier League, which is just one of a whole array of impressive stats that the Frenchman boasts.

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“He’s very aggressive and doesn’t give the opposition much time on the ball and that’s why he wins so many tackles and makes us tick over,” Ramsey added.

“It’s been really good to see his development this year and he’s had a superb couple of months now, so hopefully he can continue that.”

Don’t miss: Is Francis Coquelin as good as Nemanja Matic?

Ramsey’s season has been slightly hampered by injury but he’s still managed to notch four Premier League goals and three assists from just 16 starts.

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The Welsh international believes that having a disciplined player like Coquelin behind him in central midfield is ideal.

“It’s quite comforting knowing that one of the midfielders are behind you in a good position, thinking more defensively.

“It’s something that he does really well and hopefully in the good form that he’s in, he can carry that on.”

Have you been impressed with Francis Coquelin’s performances for Arsenal?

Stats: Is Francis Coquelin as good as Nemanja Matic?

Arsenal successfully survived a second-half onslaught by Newcastle yesterday afternoon to come away with all three points in a 2-1 win that saw the Gunners display yet more steel and determination – something they have been criticised for lacking so many times in the past.

Arsene Wenger‘s side have managed to grind out results in the past few months and some of the credit has been directed towards French midfielder Francis Coquelin who has been praised for his performances since becoming a first-team regular in December.

The 23-year-old has given Arsenal a sense of stability that has enabled them to win ten of the 12 games in which he has started in the Premier League, giving them a win percentage of 83% when he plays, compared to just 44% when he doesn’t.

Arsenal's stats when Coquelin starts compared to when he doesn't

Arsenal’s 2014/15 Premier League stats when Coquelin starts compared to when he doesn’t

Every time a new transfer window approaches, fans and the media are crying out for Arsenal to bring in a strong defensive midfielder to add physical presence in the centre of the field and give the back line some protection.

Many will point to Nemanja Matic at Chelsea as the ideal type of player that Arsenal could use and it has already been well documented as to how important Matic is to the Blues, both physically and statistically as their results have suffered when he doesn’t play.

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But do Arsenal really need to sign another defensive midfielder? Matic is regarded as one of the best in the business at that holding role – the same position Coquelin plays. So how do the two compare?

Average performance per-game in the 2014/2015 Premier League Season so far (Stats via Squawka)

Average performance per-game in the 2014/2015 Premier League Season so far (Stats via Squawka)

The stats show that Coquelin is in-fact slightly more effective than Nemanja Matic defensively with more tackles, blocks, interceptions, clearances and aerial duels won per-game.

However, Matic has a stronger attacking intent with more key passes, chances created and assists, as well as a better pass completion ratio.

And this is where most will say that despite his superior defensive performance, Coquelin hasn’t quite mastered his all round game in the way Matic has, which is why he may possibly not be considered the missing piece of the jigsaw for Arsenal.

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Whether or not the Gunners will bring in another defensive midfielder in the summer remains to be seen, but what we do know is that Arsenal have certainly been more successful with Coquelin in the team.

Polish youngster Krystian Bielik was brought in from Legia Warsaw during the January transfer window, but at just 17-years-old, it may be too early for him to be considered ready to play, although Wenger tends to gives the youth players a chance at some stage – usually in the League Cup.

With eight games remaining of this Premier League season, Arsenal are just one point behind second placed Manchester City, as well as having booked a place in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, so it could still be a successful campaign and one in which Francis Coquelin will certainly play a large part.

Greg Vanney praises “very good” Toronto FC midfielder Benoit Cheyrou

Toronto FC are set to begin their 2015 MLS season with a trip to Vancouver Whitecaps this Saturday and head coach Greg Vanney has been full of praise for his squad, and in particular, Benoit Cheyrou.

The French midfielder joined on a free transfer in January after a seven-year spell at Marseille where he was a first-team regular and consistently played in Europe’s elite competition because of Marseille’s participation in the Champions League.

“We knew he was a very good player and the idea was to create some balance with Michael (Bradley) in midfield,” said Toronto head coach Greg Vanney, who is happy with the way the two compliment each other.

“We have a left footed player, right-footed player, experience from both of them and they’re very savvy players who can read and understand the game.”

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Cheyrou is predominantly known as a defensive midfield player, but Vanney is confident that playing alongside Michael Bradley will also allow him to have a positive impact on the team going forward this year.

“They cover a fair amount of ground and both of them in their own right can make plays and make things happen. The idea is to open up space for Sebastian (Giovinco) to do his thing.”

With a team including the likes of Benoit Cheyrou, Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC could well be one team to keep an eye on this year.

Greg Vanney is happy with the development of the squad over the course of the preseason and feels they’re in good shape with the first game just around the corner.

“I think we’re in a good place, we have a good foundation.”

Will Toronto FC be one of the strongest teams in MLS this season?

Seattle Sounders midfielder Andy Rose full of praise for “fantastic” Gonzalo Pineda

Andy Rose is a midfielder that is very much still learning his trade at Seattle Sounders, but believes he’s developed his own game by being around players such as Gonzalo Pineda.

“He’s a fantastic player”, Rose told the Seattle Sounders YouTube channel. “Obviously you don’t play for the Mexican national team unless you have something special.  The way he collects the ball, how quickly he plays, his fitness levels are incredible.”

The 24-year-old Australian only featured six times in the 2014 MLS regular season, which gave him plenty of time to study Pineda’s style of play and it’s helped him learn crucial elements of becoming a successful midfielder.

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“He floats around, he’s very smart on the ball, he always knows what he’s going to do with it before he gets it, so these are things I think I’ve developed watching him and playing with him.”

Rose is also sure that a career in coaching is sat waiting for Pineda when he finally has to hang up his boots.

“He’s great with me, I think he’s going to go on and be a great coach just because he’s always talking to the youngsters and giving them little words of advice here and there, so obviously a great guy to learn from.”

Will Andy Rose step-up and become an important player for Seattle Sounders in 2015?

Seattle’s Marco Pappa now feels like “part of the Sounders family”

Marco Pappa enjoyed a good first season in Major League Soccer with Seattle Sounders in 2014, making 33 appearances and contributing six goals and five assists in the process.

The Guatemalan was speaking to the Seattle Sounders YouTube channel at preseason training ahead of the 2015 campaign that gets underway in March.

He said, “It’s good to be back with my teammates. Last year was my first year, now I feel more a part of the Sounders family.

“I feel a very, very important part of the team. They make me feel like that which is a good thing. I hope that will be good for my confidence this year.”

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The Sounders have five further preseason friendlies to play before their curtain raiser at home to New England Revolution on Sunday 8 March at CenturyLink Field. It’s a game that promises to be a fascinating encounter between two of the strongest sides from 2014.

Marco Pappa is hoping that Seattle will have another successful season and said, “I hope we can get better things this year than last year, because we are going to know each other more and now we have to show that on the pitch.”

How important will Marco Pappa be to Seattle Sounders in the 2015 MLS season?