Speculation surrounding the future of Jude Bellingham continues to intensify. Liverpool, Manchester City, Real Madrid and Manchester United are all said to have an interest in the midfielder, but ex-Manchester United striker Louis Saha believes his former club is an attractive prospect for world football’s best young prospects. Louis spoke to Betfred to discuss the future of Bellingham, as well as Manchester United’s Carabao Cup victory, their chances of winning the Europa League and why Casemiro is the club’s most important player.
We’re speaking to you after Manchester United’s 2-0 Carabao Cup final victory over Newcastle United. Do you believe this victory will be the catalyst for even more success under Erik ten Hag?
“All elements of the final on Sunday, the player’s professionalism, their determination and their talent, is what we’ve begun to expect from this squad under Erik ten Hag. They’re performing consistently game after game, they can improve even more and the club has made some really good signings this season. These are all good signs for the future.
“I remember when we won the League Cup in 2006 and it impacted us in such a way that we ended up winning the Champions League two years later. You need to have that belief and this type of winning spirit has been reborn at Manchester United. It’s unbelievable.”
With Manchester United knocking Barcelona out of the Europa League on Thursday, do you believe they’re the favourites to win the competition over the likes of Arsenal and Juventus?
“When you look at the performances that Manchester United have produced over the last two months, with the defeat to Arsenal aside, they’ve been excellent against strong opposition, with their performances against Barcelona being an example of that. They look composed, they’re showing their quality and their energy levels are so much better.
“I’m very confident after watching those games to say that Manchester United are the favourites to win the Europa League and if they continue to go on like this, then they’ll remain a real force next season.”
Manchester United travel to Liverpool on Sunday, with 13 points between the two sides in the Premier League table. What’s your prediction for the outcome of Sunday’s match?
“Sometimes games like this can be a different animal as there’s a great rivalry and it’s a derby. There’s a different context this season as Liverpool are struggling and I’m not sure what’s going on because Jürgen Klopp seems to be lost at times in his press conferences and the player’s don’t have the answers.
“It’s the first time in a while that Manchester United will go to Anfield with some sort of advantage. Liverpool are a side that still have great talent within it and anything can happen on the day. When I look at Manchester United’s recent games, especially Barcelona, they’ve shown a strength that I haven’t seen them have for years. They can go into the fixture against Liverpool with confidence.”
Manchester United could still potentially play another 25 games between now and the end of the season. Do you believe Manchester United’s squad can compete successfully on all fronts with such a potentially congested fixture list?
“It’s tough for any team. It’s almost embarrassing to propose so many games to players. I’m a fan and some days I just forget that there’s another game the next day. It’s just crazy. Luckily Manchester United have one of the biggest squads in Europe and they have great quality in every position. They also have the confidence to go with that and the players are aware of when they should run and when they should save their energy. They also have a lot of experience in midfield, so yes, I believe they can cope with a congested fixture list.
“If they keep doing what they’re doing then they’ll suffer less. In the final on Sunday, they approached the game correctly, they didn’t invite the opposition onto them and they didn’t suffer as a result of that. If they can take that approach into every game, then they can finish games early and rotate more often. There’s a lot of potential there.”
Who do you believe is Manchester United’s most important player?
“It’s a difficult one because for me it seems like Casemiro gives more confidence to the team. Lisandro Martínez benefits from Casemiro’s experience and it’s the same for Marcus Rashford. You notice every time when Manchester United recover the ball, just how quickly Casemiro is looking for the strikers. The team believe they can defend, they believe they can counter-attack and that’s all down to Casemiro. If he’s not there, then there’s not the same energy, experience and calmness.
“I’m very impressed by the signing of Casemiro. Anyone who was trying to figure out how Real Madrid dominated Europe, then they’d probably pinpoint Toni Kroos and Luka Modrić, but the people who really knew that when the team was in danger, when the team was struggling, that Casemiro was the remedy to any danger his side faced. People try to compare him to Roy Keane, but at the same time, I see Casemiro playing in a different league because the guy scores goals and provides so much confidence to his team.
“He seems to be a family man and he also seems to be the perfect teammate. Credit to Marcus Rashford for scoring those important goals this season and Lisandro Martínez for bringing that power, confidence and arrogance at the back, but the one player who pulls the strings is Casemiro.”
Manchester United were active in the loan market in January with the signings of Marcel Sabitzer and Wout Weghorst. Do you believe either of these two signings have indicated that they’re good enough to stay on at Old Trafford beyond their loan agreement?
“I would say that Sabitzer gives a bit more of a guarantee for me. He understands his role, offers competition and has experience in the Champions League. Wout Weghorst is very hardworking but the quality is missing in quite a few elements at the moment. He’s definitely a good signing for the remaining months but he will need to prove himself a bit more. Both players are a good fit for the squad currently and will have an important part to play for the rest of the season.
“For a player that’s not scoring, then Weghorst has been given more time than any player I’ve seen in a similar position. He’s good enough to play in the side, for sure, but he needs to do much better. There are moments when he presses and enhances his workrate because he’s either miscontrolled the ball or not won a header that he should have won. He needs to score more goals as that would be important for his confidence.”
We’ve previously spoken to you about the prospect of Manchester United signing Napoli, and Serie A topscorer, Victor Osimhen. He’s scored 21 goals in 25 games in all competitions this season. He’s also linked with Chelsea, Liverpool and Real Madrid, but with every passing goal, do you believe it’s becoming clearer that he should be United’s primary striking target this summer?
“I think so because when you analyse his game and witness how he plays tactically, he provides assists, pre-assists and that highlights that goals are not the only element of his game. He’s a very smart lad, technically gifted and has all the attributes to fit in well at Manchester United. He was well known for his workrate at Lille, so that proves he can fit well into the system that Erik ten Hag has implemented at the club.
“Harry Kane would provide a more instant guarantee and I love Marcus Thuram but he’s not a proper striker. He would provide a challenge to Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, but Marcus Thuram isn’t a natural goalscorer. Osimhen can bring a lot of things to this United side.”
The Athletic have claimed that Manchester United are firmly in the race, along with Liverpool, Manchester City and Real Madrid, to sign Jude Bellingaham from Borussia Dortmund. They’ve stated that if a takeover of Manchester United was to happen between now and the end of the season, United would be one of the only sides that could afford to sign the midfielder. Would he be the perfect signing for Manchester United this summer? Do you think Manchester United are the most attractive proposition for Bellingham out of the four clubs mentioned?
“Manchester United are showing an improvement that nobody can deny. Their style of play is very attractive, very effective and they’ve shown that they’re competing for trophies again. They will challenge for the Champions League next season, that’s for sure. There’s grounds for a young talent like Jude Bellingham to sit in the midfield, really enjoy the game alongside Casemiro and learn a lot. This team is unbelievable to look at, at the moment.
“Jude’s technical ability, his directness and his energy levels indicate that he has the potential to be the best number eight in Europe. He’s a huge prospect and his price tag is enormous because he’s so young, but he needs to keep performing the way he has been for Borussia Dortmund. He’s going to be at the top of the list for every big club, so I hope he doesn’t focus on how big his contract will be or how the structure of his contract is set up. His football should be his main concern at the moment.
“Manchester United have changed so much over the last six months, and I’ve watched many of their games in recent years and at times I was embarrassed for the club, but now I’m so impressed by them and they’re a very exciting prospect for any youngsters that want to move there and enjoy their game.”
Manchester United have been linked with a shock swoop for Leicester City’s James Maddison. How much do you rate Maddison as a player? Would he be a smart signing for Manchester United? He’s also linked with a move to Tottenham and Newcastle United, so which of your former clubs do you believe will be the best destination for James?
“I don’t know. I rate the player, he’s got great talent and has shown he offers guaranteed quality for teams in the Premier League. He gets many assists but he should be scoring more goals. Leicester aren’t playing great at the moment and it’s hard for me to say he would be a great signing for Manchester United. He’s very creative but when I look at Manchester United’s midfield, I don’t see why they would need many more players in that department, so it doesn’t make much sense to me unless Scott McTominay or Fred departed. It would be a challenge for any midfielder to get in that side ahead of Bruno Fernandes, Casemiro and Christian Eriksen.”
Adrien Rabiot, Marcos Asensio, Marcus Thuram, N’Golo Kanté, Wilfried Zaha and Youri Tielemans are a few of the high profile players whose contracts expire in the summer. All of these players could be available on a free transfer in the summer, so in your opinion, would you want Manchester United to pursue any of these players in order of boosting their squad for next season?
“You need to check the fitness of the guy but N’Golo Kanté is a guarantee. He, like Casemiro, has had a Man of the Match performance in a Champions League final and he’s a perfect professional. Out of the player’s available on a free transfer this summer, then N’Golo would be the most appealing signing out of the lot.”
Leeds United goalkeeper Illan Meslier, has been linked as a potential successor for Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea. Do you believe he would be an adequate successor for De Gea?
“He could be. He’s a good goalkeeper, with a lot of talent and his profile reminds me of Thibaut Courtois. He’s a tall lad and even though he may need to improve his passing range, he’s decent with the ball and he’s good on his line. The number one spot at Manchester United comes with a lot more pressure than it does at Leeds United or Lorient, so it all depends on whether he has the right mentality to take on that spot in Manchester United’s team. He’s a big talent but there’s a long way to go for him.”
According to the Daily Mirror, Erik ten Hag is looking to have a big clear out this summer in order for the club to free up funds for new acquisitions. According to the report, the club’s captain Harry Maguire, Scott McTominay, Anthony Martial and Donny van de Beek will all be up for sale, along with Alex Telles and Eric Bailly, who are both out on loan at Sevilla and Marseille respectively. Would you like to see Erik ten Hag keep any of those six players? Do you believe any of them deserve another chance to prove themselves?
“They’re international players and they’re all very good players. However, there’s a lot of competition now for them all at Manchester United and Harry Maguire in particular, will have to look for a solution regarding his playing time. It was great to see him lift the trophy on Sunday and I would like him to come to a solution that he’s happy with because he’s a top player and a top professional.
“McTominay is still young and can learn from the in-form midfielders at the club. I’m so sad and frustrated for Anthony Martial because his fitness woes mean he can’t play with the same energy levels as the rest of the team. When the guy’s on form, his quality is undeniable. His main issue is not being able to play for 90 minutes at the same level as the other strikers in the squad, and that again is down to his injury problems. That’s sad, but he should definitely be at the club next season with that number nine shirt.
“Things move on and nobody is bigger than the club, so some of those players mentioned may be on the move next summer if they want to leave or the club wants to move them on.”
According to Football insider, Aaron Wan-Bissaka is still considering quitting Manchester United, despite his playtime picking up in recent weeks. Do you believe Wan-Bissaka has shown that he can be an important member of Manchester United’s squad going forward? Who would you rather start, Wan-Bissaka or Diogo Dalot?
“I have no problems with either player, but my favourite is Wan-Bissaka. His defensive quality is undeniable, he’s improved going forward and I love the player, so I would be really, really sad if he goes in the summer. I love the guy as he’s so committed and yes, players can make mistakes when they lose concentration momentarily, but he has the physique of a player that can recover from the mistakes he makes. When Manchester United are on top of games, like they have been a lot in recent months, then Wan-Bissaka is a fortress. He may need to assist more if he’s going to play every week, but I don’t see why he’d want to leave, unless something’s been said in a team meeting or in the dressing room. I don’t see any sign for why he should consider leaving.”
Do you believe Graham Potter will be Chelsea’s manager at the start of next season?
“I hope so for football, as sacking him is not giving the right message. He has a firm belief on how football should be played, so you have to give him time. Those players aren’t performing in the way that they should be and that’s not down to the manager. Chelsea may have to consider that they’ve made a mistake by bringing so many new players in midseason, and allow Graham to do his own preseason and allow everything to settle.”
Are you confident that Everton will survive relegation with Sean Dyche in charge?
“I really hope so as they’re a great club. There’s still plenty of games left for any team to survive and I’m sure Everton will have confidence in surviving due to their wins over Arsenal and Leeds United. Sometimes you’re going to win, sometimes you’re going to lose and sometimes you just have to accept that there are going to be games where the opposition is just better than you.”