Louis Saha on Manchester United: “They’re getting away with it”

 | November 14 | 

14 mins read

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Despite four wins in their previous five Premier League games, Manchester United’s performances continue to come under scrutiny. Ex-Red Devil Louis Saha believes his former team are currently “getting away with it” and has bemoaned their struggle to create chances for their forward players. Saha, speaking to Betfred, discussed the current struggles of Mason Mount, Marcus Rashford and Antony, as well as responding to calls in the media for Bruno Fernandes to be stripped of the Manchester United captaincy.

Manchester United have four wins in their previous five Premier League matches and sit sixth in the table. Is their position a fair reflection of their performances this season? 

“They’re getting away with it. There have been some goals from Bruno Fernandes and Scott McTominay that have saved them, but none of the goals are coming from the forwards. Against Luton, it was Victor Lindelöf’s turn to come to the rescue. 

“They’re still struggling to create chances and that’s frustrating to see because Manchester United’s players have a lot of potential. It seems as if they haven’t clicked so far this season.”

Do you believe Erik ten Hag is on borrowed time? Do you think he will see out the season as Manchester United manager?

“I really hope that he can remain the club’s manager and have a great era at Manchester United. I believe Erik’s a good coach, but at the same time he’s under pressure because both the results and level of performances haven’t been great. He’s the only person at the club that can really understand what’s happening behind the scenes and it’s his responsibility to find a solution to his side’s poor form. 

“He’s been saved by good performances from certain players, but not essentially Manchester United’s key players. He signed Mason Mount who’s been unimpressive, despite a decent cameo against Luton on Saturday, and he’s not done enough. Antony is another signing that’s sat on the bench and even when you look at Marcus Rashford too, the fact that their key players are lacking confidence isn’t going to encourage and help the club’s youngsters. 

“When I was at Manchester United, the key players in the team would push me really hard when I was a bit down. I don’t see that happening in this current team, but it was something that we saw last season. It’s been strange so far this season.”

There’s been deliberation in the media recently regarding whether Erik ten Hag made the wrong decision by installing Bruno Fernandes as Manchester United captain. What’s your take on this? Do you believe there’s a standout contender to replace Bruno as your former club’s captain?

“He’s definitely a player that’s going to start every game for Manchester United and you can guarantee that he’s going to give you his best. That’s leadership. Sometimes people criticise Bruno for throwing his arms about and complaining, but I believe the calls to strip him of the captaincy are harsh. 

"This Manchester United side is lacking quality more than leadership at the moment. The only two other captains you could potentially consider would be Casemiro or Harry Maguire, but you can’t guarantee that Harry will play all the time. The leaders in the team need to start showing more flair and creativity than they are currently. We need to see more players step up, but I feel sorry for Bruno Fernandes because it’s not his responsibility to find the connection between these players because it’s evident that everything isn’t clicking at the moment.

“The manager needs to find that balance that creates respect and humility because criticism and asking for more is a normal thing to call for. It’s all about improvement and I believe there’s a lack of expectation of this and that’s one of the team’s biggest problems in my opinion.”

Are you concerned by Marcus Rashford’s attitude at times? Are you alarmed by his demeanour?

“When you’re a forward that possesses Marcus’ attributes and qualities, you’re going to be asked a lot to create, to disrupt and be unpredictable. When you’re hesitant in your approach and you’re not performing as you should, then people are going to start calling on you to chase the ball down more often and work harder. 

“I personally don’t care about Marcus chasing the ball because he’s a creative player and I want to see him running directly at defenders, making them scared and being physically aggressive. This is what I want to see from Marcus. I know it’s his duty to work hard for the team, but I don’t want to see him chasing defenders because he’s more effective up the other end of the pitch. 

“If you would have asked Cristiano Ronaldo to do that, he would have let you ask the question but he wouldn’t do it because he knows he can score goals up the other end of the pitch. As a forward, not chasing defenders isn’t an indication that you have the wrong attitude. If Cristiano missed the opportunity to score a goal because he was helping his defence out, then he would have been fuming. 

“I’m not asking Marcus to change his personality, but he’s a symbol for the fans and he means a lot to them. They love Bruno Fernandes because he works so hard for the team and he shows through his emotions that he really cares. The fans don’t see that level of emotion from Marcus and that’s something they want to see.

“Every player in the team needs to be backed, but there’s no room for big egos at Manchester United. When I was playing for the club, if I wasn’t performing well I would be criticised by Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand and Roy Keane and I would accept it because I knew they wanted the best for the team.”

What are your early impressions of Rasmus Højlund? Do you believe he has every right to appear frustrated at the service he’s receiving or do you believe he should be doing more?

“He has to do more because this is the nature of his position. You can always do more. You need to find your own solution because it’s not about other players. It’s not all about Rasmus receiving good service because he also has to work defenders, chase the ball and remain calm in his position. 

“A lot of the forward players at the club are struggling at present and there must be something off with the tactics being deployed. Possibly it’s the communication between the forward line, but there’s something preventing them from doing better as a collective at this moment in time. 

“With all due respect, they were expected to dominate and create plenty of chances against Luton on Saturday, but they didn’t. They still weren’t creating the space for the strikers and even when they try and play direct, it’s almost as if it’s happening in slow motion.

“Ramus’ skill and power isn’t going to be enough on its own because he’s not Harry Kane. He needs to be helped more by his teammates.”

Why do you believe Erik ten Hag isn’t selecting Raphaël Varane to start at the moment? Do you believe there must be a breakdown in their relationship behind the scenes? 

“It could be a breakdown in the relationship between player and manager. I know he’s been injured often, but he needs to be given the chance to get back to his best after a spell out.

“It’s true that everybody needs competition but you can’t fiddle with the defence too much because that department provides you with a solid foundation. I don’t understand why Raphaël’s been dropped, so maybe something’s been said behind closed doors. It’s as if he’s being scapegoated in some way and I don’t like it. 

“I would understand the decision to drop him if there was another defender playing outstandingly well, but that’s not the case. Nobody’s really stood out. I respect the decision of the manager because you need to make changes when your team isn’t playing well, however, the defence is one area that you don’t mess with because it can put stress on the goalkeeper, especially André Onana who’s new to the Premier League. I don’t understand what’s happened with Raphaël in the last couple weeks to justify the reasoning for him being dropped.”

Varane is currently linked with a move to Saudi Arabia and do you believe that’s a move that could happen in January or the summer?

“No, I really don’t think so. I don’t think he’s ever been in a position where he’s had to fight for his place in the team. He didn’t need to do that for France and Real Madrid once he established in both of those teams. I believe he will relish the challenge of winning his place back at Manchester United and despite being on the bench for three or four games, we’ve heard no complaints from him and that’s a testament to his character. 

“He’s very professional and I don’t believe he will be considering his future at the club after three or four games on the bench. I believe a move to Saudi is too early for Raphaël.”

Have you been impressed with Harry Maguire and Scott McTominay in recent weeks? Do you believe they’re both salvaging their Manchester United careers?

“They’ve both done really well and I’ve always been a fan of them. I really respect Harry because of how he’s handled the horrible criticism of himself in the last two years. I admire both him and Scott. 

“Whenever Scott’s been asked to come in to help the team you can always see that he’s one of the players giving 150%, but there are times where I still believe that he misreads the games. He, like Harry, is still capable of improving a lot. They’ve played well but they’ve still not been good enough because they’re both top, top players and they’re capable of even more. Manchester United needs eleven players playing well, not just two.”

Tabloid newspapers in the UK last week suggested that Manchester United could be open to allowing Antony to move on-loan in January. Regardless of whether this is true or not, what are your opinions on Antony’s form this season? Do you believe he has a long-term future at Old Trafford?

“I don’t know. It was a really tough introduction to the Premier League for him. He was able to score a few goals, but now the defenders are aware of his game and read him very well. He has no joy because he’s predictable and as a striker, when a winger is cutting in and putting in a cross, they provide types of balls that are really hard to read and connect with. You need crosses that are hit with pace in between the defenders and the goalkeeper and that’s not what Antony is providing. Manchester United now have a striker that’s looking for those types of crosses but Antony isn’t offering those options. He needs to do the right things for the team, regardless of whether he likes to do them or not. 

“I, like many other fans, have been really patient with Antony, but now he has to bring more diversity to his game and come out of his comfort zone. If he doesn’t come out of his comfort zone, then what he’s doing currently isn’t going to work for this team.”

Do you see signs that André Onana is beginning to grow in confidence as Manchester United’s number one?

“He’s improving because he’s playing more direct and simplifying his game. He’s looking more confident and the back four needs him to feel that way, especially whilst that department is being hampered by injuries. He’s making saves now that we all expect him to make, but they’re important ones.”

Why do you believe Mason Mount is struggling for game time at Manchester United?

“I get asked a lot to comment on players, especially the likes of Marcus Rashford and Antony, but is there some sort of protection over Mason Mount? Mason should have an important role in this team, but nobody can understand his impact. In his first six months at Manchester United, Antony was already under fire, so can somebody tell me why the press are okay with Mason Mount not playing well? It seems fine that he’s not playing well. Antony hasn’t won the Champions League, so why is there not the same level of criticism for Mason Mount than there is for Antony? I just don’t understand it.

“I think there may be a misunderstanding about where Mount fits into the team positionally. When he plays in the centre of midfield, he seems like he’s too far advanced up the pitch when he should be protecting pockets of space that leave his team exposed. I personally don’t understand his position. He should be coming in late, like Paul Scholes used to do, and I’m not seeing that in his game. 

“Mason Mount should be a big player for Manchester United like Marcus Rashford or Antony, so I don’t understand why those two get the intense criticism but Mason doesn’t when he’s not performing at all. He’s not scoring goals, he’s not assisting and nobody’s speaking about it. I just don’t understand it.”

Do you believe Manchester United have any chance of finishing in the top four this season?

“Well they can do it mathematically. They need to play better, that’s for sure. They need to digest their Champions League disaster and unless they start looking convincing as a team, then their confidence is always going to stay the same and they’re going to continue to look as if they’re constantly in danger and they’re going to lose and draw a lot of games. Their confidence currently doesn’t indicate to me that they’re going to avoid bad situations. They’re not confident enough to get on the ball and put teams under pressure. Opponents are aware of this and they continue to attack them.

“Last season when they played with the fire in their heart, nobody could touch them. They were unplayable for 15 games and we’re not seeing that form replicated this season. This fire is really important because it scares the opposition but at this moment in time, their lack of confidence is inviting the opposition to come at them.” 

Manchester United continue to be linked with a move for OGC Nice’s Jean-Clair Todibo. Have you had a chance to see him play either for France or in Ligue 1? Do you believe he would be a quality addition for Manchester United?

“He’s a very good defender. He’s very unlucky because currently there’s a golden generation of French defenders and that’s why he doesn’t have many caps for the national team. He’s very good on the ball, he’s calm and he would very much suit Manchester United’s style of play. 

“There’s a need in this Manchester United team for goals to come from their defence and that’s why I was so happy to see Victor Lindelöf score against Luton on Saturday and to see Harry Maguire scoring in the Champions League against Copenhagen. The ten outfield players all have to be dangerous and capable of scoring goals and at this moment, Manchester United’s defenders are scoring more than their forwards.”

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