Jamie Carragher called him a ‘defensive liability, Frank Lampard was unsure of his best position while Paul Merson even suggested that he would rather have Jordan Henderson in his team. Seriously.
To be fair to Lampard, at least, his criticism back in March was not that outrageous; Paul Pogba had not looked all that comfortable in United’s rigid 4-2-3-1 up until that point.
For a player who has always played in central midfield, thousands of words and hundreds of heat maps were used to try and discern Pogba’s best position.
But some overstepped the mark.
“It is not his fault that some pundits are in real trouble with their lives and need every coin to survive while Paul is a multimillionaire,” Jose Mourinho later hissed.
And he had a point. As well as being the world-record transfer holder, up until August, the 24-year-old became an easy target given his flamboyance and style.
That is partly why Garth Crooks, Eamon Dunphy and Graeme Souness, three throwbacks to grittier times, have been so keen to offer their two cents – even when Pogba has been United’s best player this season.
Unlike Souness, for example, Pogba hates the tactical side of training, particularly work on defensive shape, and loathes drills without the ball.
Crooks, meanwhile, berates the France superstar’s hairstyle – of all things – on a weekly basis. God knows what he will make of his bleached goatee when he walks out at Ashton Gate!
But that pre-match ritual, of visiting the barbers, is certainly not an issue for United fans anymore. Or Pogba’s habit of standing to admire those Hollywood passes. Or even his social media antics.
Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak has admitted he is in the dark over the future of in-demand forward Antoine Griezmann.
The France forward is expected to leave the Wanda Metropolitano at the end of the season – and it’s believed the player has a straight choice between Barcelona or Manchester United with the two clubs both willing to meet his €100million exit clause.
Slovenian shot-stopper Oblak is another player in demand, with the likes of PSG reportedly plotting a move for him next summer, and speaking as he won Marca’s Goalkeeper of the 2016/17 season award on Monday, the 26-year-old was questioned about the future of his teammate.
“In the future with Griezmann, nobody knows,” Oblak said.
“For now, he is totally committed to use and we see this in matches and training, he is a huge part of this team.
“We want to be fighting for the title at the end of the season and right now we are taking things one game at a time but we are in a much stronger position now than a month ago.”
PSG sporting director Antero Henrique has taken aim at Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, saying perceived attempts to unsettle Neymar have only managed to serve another purpose: unsettling Cristiano Ronaldo.
Portuguese chief Henrique has opened up a potential war of words between the two big-spenders, who face off in the Champions League last 16.
Brazilian superstar Neymar only joined PSG for a world record transfer fee (£200million) in the summer, but has already been linked with a return to Spain amid suggestions of problems settling into life in the French capital.
Neymar had a very public falling out with Edinson Cavani earlier in the season, while reports continue that he doesn’t see eye-to-eye with coach Unai Emery – despite playing a direct hand in 30 goals (17 goals, 13 assists) in just 19 matches.
Neymar snapped at reporters when asked about interest from Madrid after a 7-1 win over Celtic in the Champions League, declaring: “For f*** sake, have you got nothing else to talk about?”
It was, perhaps, only a matter of time before Mikel Arteta’s name got mentioned as a possible successor to Arsene Wenger as Arsenal manager.
The Spaniard is, by all accounts, doing an excellent job as an assistant to Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, where he’s learning from the best manager in the game.
So it was no big surprise when the Telegraph reported on Tuesday that Arsenal are keeping close tabs on their former club captain with the feeling “he will eventually be the perfect candidate for the job of manager.”
But surely “eventually” is the key word here. While there is a good chance of the Arsenal job opening up in 2019 when Wenger’s contract expires, it’s unlikely that Arteta would top the list of candidates at that stage.
Let’s not forget the midfielder is only 35 and has never held a head coaching job. The day Wenger does step down, that vacant seat will be the most coveted managerial job in football. The Arsenal hierarchy will be able to pick and choose from a massive pool of talented young (and not so young) managers, and there are many whose credentials far outweigh Arteta’s.
There’s no doubt the Spaniard has a very bright future as a coach and he is already highly regarded by Guardiola and the rest of City’s staff, partly because of his ability to work with players on the training ground. And this season he is getting a first-hand look at what it takes to build a title-winning team. If Guardiola’s perfectionism, attention to detail and tactical acumen rubs off on Arteta, he has every chance of emulating his countryman and taking the step from successful player to successful manager
But going from being an assistant at a top club to managing a top club is a journey that will likely require a few other steps in-between.
Guardiola was only 37 when he took over Barcelona — the same age Arteta will be in the summer of 2019 — and that it was his first senior management job after coaching the club’s B-team. And that he won the treble in his first season in charge.
But Barcelona had made 10 coaching changes in the 20 years prior to Guardiola’s appointment and had a history of hiring former players like Johan Cruyff, Carles Rexach and Frank Rijkaard. In 2019, Arsenal will have gone 23 years without hiring a new manager, and Wenger’s shoes will be a lot harder to fill than Rijkaard’s. Not to mention the fact that Wenger’s successor will not inherit a squad that includes Lionel Messi.
While many fans would love to see a former player take over, Arsenal will surely have learned from Manchester United’s struggles to replace Sir Alex Ferguson that a more experienced hand is needed to fill such a massive void. The United job was too big for David Moyes, who had spent more than a decade managing a Premier League club. The Arsenal job will undoubtedly be too big for anyone who hasn’t spent a day managing any club.
This is by no means a dig at Arteta. The Spaniard is getting the best education any young coach could hope for at City, and will put it to good use in what promises to be a long and successful coaching career.
When the time comes to take the next step, he’ll have no shortage of suitors among clubs who are hoping to unearth the next Guardiola. But he would be wise to start out at a slightly smaller team in England or Spain where he can learn on the job — a luxury that Arsenal can’t afford to give him.
If that’s the path he chooses, he could indeed become the perfect candidate for the Arsenal job. Eventually.
Alan Smith has urged Liverpool FC to sign former Manchester United defender Jonny Evans from West Brom in the January transfer window.
The Reds have struggled defensively throughout the 2017-18 season so far to undermine their brilliant attacking prowess.
Liverpool FC have the Premier League’s leading goal-scorer, Mohamed Salah, after the summer signing scored 14 times in his opening 17 top-flight games as a Red.
However, the Merseyside outfit have conceded 20 times in the Premier League this season due in part to the poor performances of Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan.
The 18-time English champions attempted to sign Southampton captain Virgil van Dijk in the summer transfer window but the Saints refused to sell the Netherlands international.
Liverpool FC have been linked with a fresh attempt to sign the former Celtic centre-half in January to help bolster their top-four challenge.
However, ex-Arsenal striker Smith believes Northern Ireland international Evans would be a fantastic addition to Klopp’s squad.
Asked whether he could see Evans at Liverpool FC, Smith told Sky Sports News on Friday:
“Yes I could (see Jonny Evans signing), definitely, definitely. I think it will be hard for West Brom if the money was right.
“Jonny’s a really solid citizen as well, you know what you are getting with him coming into the dressing room. He’s a good lad, highly experienced, knows what it’s about playing for a big club at Manchester United. It’s a no-brainer for a few managers I think that.”
Evans spent 11 seasons at Manchester United and won three Premier League titles with the Red Devils before he completed a switch to West Brom in 2015.
The Northern Irish defender has been linked with a potential switch to Arsenal or Manchester City over the past 12 months or so.
Paul Clement has told his players to put their Manchester City mauling to one side as they target pre-Christmas progress in the Premier League.
The Swans were left licking their wounds having finished up well beaten by the leaders at the Liberty in midweek.
But ahead of Monday’s tricky trip to Everton, Clement wants his team to forget what happened against City and focus instead on what they did in the win over West Brom.
“It was tough initially after Manchester City,” said the Swans manager.
“We haven’t been on the end of a performance like that in any game this season.
“Manchester City were totally dominant and it wasn’t a very nice experience for us, but you have to respect the quality of the opposition we were up against.
“What we have to do is focus on what happened against West Brom last weekend, where we showed fighting spirit and got over the line in a tight game.
“We have to go from that game to Everton and then Crystal Palace and not think about what happened against Manchester City.
“It was one of the first things I said to the players in the dressing room after the game – we have been beaten by a great side, but let’s move forward.”
The Swans climbed off the bottom of the table thanks to the West Brom success, but they slipped back to 20th place courtesy of Palace’s midweek win over Watford.
Stick or twist?
David Moyes has a decision to make and he has hinted that there could be something different on the cards this weekend.
Moyes has played defensive tactics – rightly – in the past three games with success, having picked up four points in the last two outings against Chelsea and Arsenal.
But, with all due respect to Stoke City, they are neither of those teams and they aren’t Man City either so does the Scotsman have to go with the defensive set up again?
West Ham are clearly a better team when they play five at the back but that, of course, means one less midfielder or forward on the pitch to score or create goals so what you get in defensive solidity, you lack in attacking prowess.
Moyes hinted earlier this week that Stoke and Newcastle too are different beasts and that could give a clue to his thinking about how he might set up the Hammers at the Bet265 Stadium on Saturday.
The Hammers need to start picking up wins, all of their games up until the end of January – bar one against Spurs – come against teams that are currently in the bottom eight of the Premier League and these are games where the team needs to be more attacking.
Arsene Wenger is unable to explain Arsenal’s lack of killer instinct in attack this season.
The Gunners sit seventh in the Premier League, having netted 30 goals, level with Tottenham but behind the tallies of Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City.
Indeed, runaway leaders City have plundered an impressive 52 strikes from 17 matches to open up a commanding 11-point advantage over closest challengers United at the top of the table.
Pep Guardiola’s men are already 19 points ahead of Arsenal, leaving Wenger to question his team’s relatively meagre return in the final third.
“Not quite clinical enough, yes,” he told a news conference ahead of Saturday’s home game against Newcastle United when questioned about the form of his strikers.
“It’s difficult to explain. As we spoke about [Alexis] Sanchez last year, he scored 24, he’s on four at the moment. But he is still committed and he works hard.”
Of Alexandre Lacazette, a club-record signing from Lyon in the off-season, Wenger said: “I feel if you look at his record, it’s quite good. Especially at home. At home his scoring record is really good. Away from home, a bit less.
“But also, do the teams defend better? You could say no, because we create more chances than anybody else. Are the chances of the same quality? I don’t know. There is no objective reason to have a verdict on that.”
The Gunners have had 64 shots but netted just twice in their last three leagues games, losing 3-1 at home to United and then drawing 1-1 and 0-0 at Southampton and West Ham respectively.
Of the attackers at Wenger’s disposal, Lacazette has managed eight goals in 17 league appearances, while Sanchez and Olivier Giroud have four apiece. Danny Welbeck has struck three times in 11 outings, with the boss uncertain of the cause of their collective struggles.
He said: “Is it confidence? Is it the fact that the guys think we have absolutely to score? It’s difficult to know. But we have the chances, the quality of our game is there. But it’s true that at the moment, we cannot show it up with points.”
Mauricio Pochettino will have no problem with Tottenham turning up the music if they pull off a shock win against unbeaten Manchester City on Saturday.
City irked Manchester United at Old Trafford last weekend by – amongst other things – reportedly blaring songs out of their changing room, which prompted an extraordinary bust-up between the teams’ players and staff.
Now Pep Guardiola’s men are chasing a record-stretching 16th Premier League victory but Pochettino wants it to be his side playing the tunes at the Etihad Stadium.
“I wish for that,” Pochettino said.
“I am never [going to complain] if another team celebrate because sometimes it’s good, when you lose, and you hear all that happens in another changing room, it’s good to feel the pain.
“With respect of course, because it’s always about respect, but sometimes it’s good to listen. Then you think ‘if we run more, and we play better and we care more. Come on maybe we need to translate that feeling to the opposite changing room’.”
Everton were given a triple boost yesterday as Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Jonjoe Kenny and Mason Holgate all signed new long-term contracts with the club.
As reported by the club’s official website, striker Calvert-Lewin has signed until the summer of 2023, with defenders Kenny and Holgate committing their futures until the summer of 2022.
All three players look to have bright futures at Everton, but which of them is the biggest prospect?
Calvert-Lewin, part of the England squad that won the U20 World Cup this year, has impressed since joining Everton from Sheffield United in 2016.
A hard-working striker, he has scored twice in the Premier League this season, while he has provided six assists.
Although he is still rather raw, the 20-year-old is an excellent prospect and will surely develop further under Allardyce’s guidance.
Kenny, meanwhile, has featured regularly at right-back for Everton in recent weeks, helping to reduce the impact of Seamus Coleman’s continued absence.
Impressive defensively and also capable of providing a threat going forwards, Kenny, who is a product of the Everton academy, has been playing with increased confidence of late.