What do you believe are the main reasons behind Manchester United’s early season form?
“The main problem is their creativity and efficiency in front of goal. In defence they continue to show signs of fragility, which is something that can happen when you don’t have a stable back four and so many injuries in that department. Ultimately, the creativity isn’t there and many of the midfield and forward players aren’t making the right decisions when they find themselves in space. They need a better understanding amongst each other and a number of them are taking too much time to make a decision.”
How much responsibility should Manchester United’s manager Erik ten Hag take for his team’s alarmingly poor start to the season?
“As the manager, of course he has to take responsibility because that’s his role. He has the hardest job to do, especially when you have games every few days, so he needs to find the right formula with the players that he has at his disposal. It’s not easy when you have so many players missing for various reasons, but that’s not an excuse because there are still a number of really good players available in that team, some of whom are even world-class. Erik has to find the right recipe to get the results that Manchester United need and so far this season, they haven’t put in a performance that highlights that they’re capable of putting a good run of form together. Erik has to take responsibility for their start to the new season, but the players, the staff and the club’s hierarchy also need to help to ensure that the structure is stronger.”
As it stands, do you believe Manchester United can still finish in the top four at the end of the Premier League season?
“Mathematically it’s still a small gap. It’s going to be difficult but in the Premier League you get three points for a victory so if you can go on a run of a few victories in succession, then you can close that gap very quickly. Manchester United just need to go on a run and be consistent to ensure that they can close that gap. Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur are going to make it difficult for them to close that gap because they’re playing with a style that combines flair, speed, strength and creativity and these are qualities that Manchester United aren’t playing with at the moment.
“The performances are Manchester United’s biggest worry at this moment in time, not the points. They need to find their own formula and identity this season, which is something they should be able to do because they’ve got really good players. They need Marcus Rashford and Rasmus Højlund to create a better understanding and they need to find the right balance in midfield. This is a must if they’re going to win trophies this season. The gap at the moment isn’t big enough to panic, but they can’t afford to drop many more points otherwise it’s going to become an impossible mission.”
Are you confident that Manchester United can bounce back from their defeat to Crystal Palace on Saturday with a win against Galatasaray this evening?
“It’s going to be a difficult fixture against Galatasaray, but Manchester United are more than capable of responding positively and beating any team on their day. The Champions League is always a challenge, so Manchester United need to make Old Trafford a fortress in the competition this season. Being at home is still a big advantage for them, so that’s why I’m confident that they can get a win against Galatasaray this evening. They need a big performance as a team and as individuals. They need to be ruthless in front of goal, be arrogant in the way that they play and impose the pressure and intensity of playing at Old Trafford. They need teams that come to play them at Old Trafford to feel scared and respectful of them. We need to see that from this team.”
What’s your thoughts on the form of Marcus Rashford? Do you believe he should be dropped by Erik ten Hag?
“Every player isn’t guaranteed their place. It doesn’t matter about what happened last season, what your potential is or what your status is, you need to work hard week in, week out. Marcus knows this better than anybody and he needs to come to a point where he’s a leader without the armband. He needs to prove that he understands the criticism, he respects the opinions of others and that he wants to go further. Sometimes you’re in a moment where your future has been put in a very stable position and there’s times where players sign a new contract and it becomes difficult for them to focus on the right things.
“Marcus will want to be playing for England in the European Championships and this should be used as an extra motivation for him to perform for Manchester United and be consistent. That’s what he needs. The reason why he faces such a level of criticism is because of the enormous potential he has. He has the potential to be a world-class player and he always draws comparisons with Kylian Mbappé. He needs to be scoring goals every game and he’s capable of doing so, as well as creating chances for his teammates. He’s capable of opening up any defence and that’s what Manchester United need him to do right now.
“At this moment, he’s displaying poor decision making and an example of this is that he’s dribbling at times when he should be looking to make a pass instead. He needs confidence and the same can be said for many of the players at the club currently because many of them going forward aren’t making the right decisions in the final third.
“In regard to questions over his ability to press and his workrate, if Marcus Rashford is scoring goals and making the right decisions, then nobody would be talking about these things. His main role is to score goals and create chances for his teammates. Using Cristiano Ronaldo as an example, I don’t remember people complaining about his pressing ability when he was scoring 42 goals in a season. Cristiano wasn’t pressing, but the game has changed now. Marcus’ mission is to score goals and open up teams, so he can’t do that and press non-stop with equal efficiency. Marcus’ main objectives should be to have the right attitude, make the right decisions at the correct times and develop a fruitful partnership with Rasmus Højlund. When he’s not doing this, then people are going to criticise his pressing ability but I don’t believe they should focus on this.”
And what are your thoughts on the form of Casemiro?
“I’m concerned by the link between the players. Casemiro is such a huge name and was a key player for Manchester United last season and he’s going to be one of their best players again when the team finds the right balance. At the moment he’s doing an awful lot and almost playing like a number ten.
“He’s trying to create for his side and play more passes than some of Manchester United’s players that are in more advanced positions up the pitch. Why’s this the case? This isn’t his main role. He’s being asked to do too many things at the moment and it’s a key indicator that the right balance isn’t there at present. Casemiro isn’t a number ten, but he now seems more advanced up the pitch than I’ve ever seen him before. I don’t remember seeing Casemiro score ten goals a season for Real Madrid, but it seems as if he’s already on course to do that for Manchester United this season with four goals before October.
“The team is asking too much of him at this moment in time and other players need to step up and perform. Players such as Mason Mount need to provide Manchester United with creativity to allow Casemiro to perform his primary job of protecting the defence.”
How much of a miss will Lisandro Martínez be for Manchester United? How worried are you by that back four they currently deploy? Do they have the strength in depth in that department to compete with the very best?
“I’m sad because Lisandro is a top player and it’s even more of a loss when you consider that Manchester United are trying to play with a certain style that he’s key to implementing, especially when it comes to playing out from the back effectively. It’s a big blow for the club because their defence was so consistent last season when he was in the team.
“The manager has built a squad that he believes will allow him to compete in all competitions and he would have been fully aware that there would be injuries along the way. Raphaël Varane has been injured the last few weeks, even though he’s thankfully back now, but the defence is a big issue because they need to all be able to play together consistently. They need their defence to provide them with a solid foundation to go forward and at the moment, there’s too much chopping and changing due to the injuries they’re faced with. It’s a concern for Erik ten Hag.”
Your former teammate John O’Shea in a recent interview with Talksport has claimed that Jadon Sancho should apologise to his manager Erik ten Hag, even if he doesn’t mean it. Do you agree that Jadon should consider this and do you believe it will put the entire matter to bed?
“For any player, you need to ensure that you’re doing the right thing for your career and you need to do everything possible to help your team. You can’t have an ego and act in a selfish manner. At the end of the day, his boss is his manager and if Jadon wants to be his own boss, then that’s his ego. I don’t know who’s advising Jadon but he’s losing the battle.
“Erik ten hag is still doing his job and managing the team, but Jadon isn’t doing his job at this very moment. He may be in training but his main objective is to perform on the pitch and he’s not doing that. If you’re asked by your manager to do something then you have to do it, regardless of whether you’re happy with it or not.
“When you sign a contract with a club, you’ve got a duty to do what’s asked of you and try to perform to your best level, regardless of what’s been said about you. Jadon has to accept this situation and it’s a pity that he doesn’t understand that he needs to do what’s asked of him. The only answer you have for criticism as a player is by performing on the pitch. When you perform and you’re at your best, then you can say whatever you want. When you’re not at your best, then you need to work hard.”
Do you believe Jadon’s current dispute with his manager Erik ten Hag will limit the amount of suitors he has for his signature?
“When Cristiano Ronaldo was leaving Manchester United for the second time, there were leaks claiming that he was supposedly difficult to manage and things like this. When things of this ilk are being said about you, then potential suitors are going to question whether they should sign you or not. Going against your club and your manager isn’t a good look for players and it isn’t the right thing for their careers. In Jadon’s case, being pictured on holiday whilst in conflict with your club isn’t right and I don’t know why he’d want to be seen in this way. This is his own responsibility and he needs to be aware that there will be consequences for his actions.
“It’s sad because he has such great potential. When you’re a black footballer, people tend to picture you in a certain way and you sometimes need to work five times harder than other players, so don’t make it more difficult than it already is. I’d advise him to just play the game, do your job and just enjoy your football as much as you can. A lot of players would love to have the ability that Jadon has.”
Could Tottenham Hotspur win the Premier League title this season?
“As I’ve said before, you’ve seen teams win the title when they’ve not been expected to. Leicester City are the best example of this. I’m not necessarily saying that if Tottenham won the title it would be a surprise because any team of their quality could win it.
“The Premier League is the most difficult league in the world, so regardless of whether you’re on a ten game unbeaten run or not, all it takes is one key player to be out of form or be injured for the season to destabilise them. I hope that doesn’t happen for Tottenham because I’ve been so impressed with the intensity they play with and I’ve been very impressed by the performances of James Maddison. They have the right formula at this moment in time and there’s a belief that they can win the Premier League this campaign, however the season is a marathon and you need to have the consistency, the stamina and the arrogance to know that you can beat any team that gets in your way.
“Arsenal were brilliant last season but at the end of the day, there’s a different component that you need to hold out in the title race and at the moment, Manchester City and Liverpool have that in their DNA and will be the two main contenders to win the Premier League title this season.”
Newcastle United midfielder Bruno Guimarães is said to have a £100 million release clause in the new contract he’s reportedly on the verge of signing at St James’ Park. Is he worth £100 million in your opinion and do you believe that it’s a move that Manchester United should consider in the future?
“He’s a great player and I followed him closely during his time in France with Lyon before he made the move to Newcastle. This is definitely an option that Manchester United can look at because Bruno is a quality midfielder, but they also need to find midfielders that are best suited to Erik ten Hag’s style of play and vision. It’s not relevant for me to comment on whether I believe Bruno is worth £100 million because the market is already mad enough as it is, but what I do know is that Bruno’s a great player.”
After Brentford manager Thomas Frank openly admitted that Ivan Toney could leave the Gtech Community Stadium in the January transfer window as long as the price is right, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur are all linked with a move for the England international. Which club do you believe is in need of Ivan most and which team do you believe will accommodate Ivan’s attributes best?
“Ivan can adapt to any team. He’s mentally very strong, so I’m confident that he will make the right decision for himself. He can play in any team because of how strong and technically gifted he is. Ivan’s also very mobile and has the right formula you need to play as a striker for any club.
“Manchester United certainly need more options up front as all the top clubs have various options to choose from. Tottenham also definitely need another striker because the combination between Son Heung-min and Richarlison isn’t working too well at present, so that’s another possible move for Ivan. All we know is that a lot of teams will be interested in signing him in January and I’m sure he would be a key player at a big club rather than just being another member of the squad.”