Reaction To Boro's FA Cup Win
Can Middlesborough dare to dream about winning the FA Cup this season?
Of course they can dare to dream, which is what you have to do. You have to hope for a decent draw in the next round. What Chris Wilder has done so far, knocking out Manchester United and Tottenham playing his unique brand of football, has got them on a roll and they will fear absolutely nobody. Whoever they play next, unless maybe its Manchester City, they will think they have a great chance.
Do you think Chris Wilder could be the man to bring the good times back to Boro?
Without a doubt. If you look at what he did with Sheffield United – taking a team from League One, to the top of the Championship and then into the Premier League, without too many signings. He had a fantastic first season in the Premier League. OK, the second season was challenging and it fell apart slightly, but I think there was an issue with a lack of investment.
He’s cleary very good at what he does. He likes complete control and I think he will be given that at Middlesborough. I think if the club trusts him and gives him that level of control then they’ve got a great chance of returning to the Premier League.
What kind of effect do you think being eliminated from the FA cup could have on Tottenham’s season? Could a result like this see the wheels come off?
I think the wheels have been wobbling at Tottenham for some time, even before Antonio Conte came in. When he came in, he looked at the situation and realised it wasn’t great. He was in there for a few weeks and thought this is probably a bit worse than he thought it would be; the squad didn’t have the quality that he expected, the players couldn’t do what he wanted and it was going to take time and resources.
If you look at his reaction after the Burnely game, he’s a winner that wants the very best and that’s not what he’s getting at Tottenham at the moment. They are a bit Spursy. They had a fantastic result against Manchester City and to follow that up with losing to Burnley, then beat Leeds convincingly but then get knocked out of the cup….
Consistency is their biggest problem, somehow they need to find that.
They have a relatively small squad. I think Conte was quite clever during the transfer window when he said he had lost four players and the squad was weaker, but these were players that he didn’t want – players that wouldn’t have played for him – he brought in two players he did want, so effectively he is two players better of. I understood the point he was making. He wants the best of the best and at the moment he doesn’t have that and unless they open the wallet this summer, they will be in a very similar situation to thios one next season.
Do you think that investment is what he needs to turn Spurs into a team that challenges for trophies?
It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it’as not far off the mark. The teams with the best players will normally always win the league. There can be the odd anomaly, look at Leicester, but if you look at the teams that are challenging for the title this season in Manchester City and Liverpool, they have the best players. Tottenham don’t have the best players. They have two or three exceptional players, but they don’t have the strength in depth across the whole team.
A manager can improve a team by 10-15% at most. It’s very difficult to get players of a certain level to play beyond their capabilities, so if Tottenham want to start challenging, they’re going to have to invest and bring in better players. Sometimes you can get fortunate and bring through a crop of young players, like the Class of 92, but ultimately those players – Neville, Beckham, Scholes- were better than what they had already. Tottenham need to improve the quality of their squad and it doesn’t look like they can do that through young players within the club, so they will need to go out and buy.
We all know Conte’s character. Do you think Conte will be the man to end Spurs’ trophy drought or will it end in tears? It looks finely balanced.
It was finely balanced when Mourinho was in charge. Of course he got sacked a few days before having the opportunity to win a trophy, which was incredible at the time. Conte has got a fantastic CV, but if you put him or Guardiola or Klopp in at Burnely, no disrespect, they wouldn’t be able to turn them into title contenders. They wouldn’t have the quality of players.
Tottenham in a cup competition can probably get away with it, obviously not this season. Will he be there long enough to win a triophy next season? Who knows with Conte. When I look at Tottenham, I think they’re a top six side with an outside chance of making the top four with the squad that they have, so that needs investment. If Conte is still there next season, they have more chance of winning a cup competition than challenging for the title because consistency will always be their issue.
Conte has been quite critical of the quality he has at his disposal and his squad in interviews. As a player, how would you feel hearing these comments?
Firstly, you need to look at yourself and your own performances. You know when you’re not playing well. If you have a bad game, its everywhere. Sometimes managers will put an arm around a player; they’ll cajole and cuddle and will do what ever they can to get the best out of the player. Sometimes they’ll give them a kick up the backside and a reality check if their not playing well. These guys need to remember that they are professional footballers. They are at an elite level and they need to be told that they need to be better sometimes. As long as the criticism isn’t personal, you have to accept it.
It won’t be the first time that Conte has spoken to some of threse players, it won’t be the first time that these incidents would have occurred, either at training or playing matches. He would have probably spoken to the players 9 or 10 times about issues and in the end he will lose patience.
From my perspective, if I wans’t playing well and the manager told the world, so what? If you’re not playing well you need to take it on the chin and start performing.
Players are a lot more fragile in this day and age. They are far more effected by criticism and social media. These players have worked their entire life to get to this level – you go through a process as a youngster making your way up through age groups, taking criticsm to get to that level. You develop a resilience that enables you to take the criticism. There are players that seem to get a little bit too upset. You have to work hard. It was interesting to listen to Pep Guardiola who said, ‘lets not just look at statistsics, lets not just look at how many times the player keeps the ball, how many passes he makes, lets actually watch the game and see what the player does.’ We need to think about the whole picture of a performance. When you criticise a player, you’re maybe criticising one or two moments of a game. There is a danger that some players get a little bit too upset about being criticised at times, but this elitre sport. You have to be able to deal with it. If you get upset and throw your toys out of the pram, then perhaps it isn’t the right job for you.
Given Conte’s demanding nature, do you think there could be a danger he could lose the dressing room is he keeps criticising his players?
You only lose the dressing room when you start losing lots of matches. Players need evidence that your system works. If you’re winning matches, its fine. When Conte first went into Chelsea, he played a back four for the first few games and stuggled. He reverted back to his back five and they won the title. You need evidence to prove that your methods work. When you’re winning matches, you can do what you like. When I played under Martin O’Neil, after a win, we’d have a day off until Thursday but if you lost, you’d be in the next day. It worked. As a manager you find what works and stick to it.
Jack Grealish finally got back amongst the goals for Man City on Tuesday evening - which position do you think Pep Guardiola should play him? Do you think City could do more to get the best out of him?
Jack Grealish has done OK at Manchester City, I think it was a massive move for him. Maybe he and a lot of people underestimated how difficult the move would be. He went from being the main man at Villa, being able to do what he wants on the pitch, given the ball at every opportunity to run at people, but Manchester City play in a different way. It’s about pass and move. Its only until you get to the eighteen yard box that you’re expected to dribble. City don’t play for fouls and I think Jack Grealish has found the adjustment a little bit harder than he thought it would be. He was the star at Villa and he isn’t the star at City.
I would play him on the right handside or on the left. I don’t think he can play the false nine like Foden, who has played very well there and is an exceptional player.
Maybe Grealish is lacking a little bit of confidence. There were points in the game last night where he had opportunities to get the ball out of his feet to shoot. He was taking one or two extra touches and was maybe trying to be a little bit too precise to get that shot away and then of course the chance has gone. If you hesitate, that’s the worst thing that you can do. I think he will come good, but I don’t think people appreciated the adjustment it was going to take for him to fit into Pep’s way of playing. Pep doen’t like players running with the ball getting freekicks every two minutes, its disrupts the flow of the game and the way City want to play. Look at Foden and Bernardo. When they get fouled, they bounce up pretty quickly and they get on with it because Pep wants his team to play. Grealish hasn’t got that mentality yet. He still wants to buy the foul and lay on the floor for a little bit, but undoubtedly hes a very talented player. This is a big move to a big club with massive expectations when compared to Villa and its taken him a bit of time to settle.
On Leeds United
What are your thoughts on the club parting ways with Bielsa?
There’s an awful lot of conjecture around Marcelo Bielsa’s departure, Leeds fans hero and worship Marcelo Bielsa because of what he’s done for the club, and rightly so. The club were languishing outside the Premier League for 16 seasons, and he came in with a big reputation – he was a huge coup for Leeds United – I still think it was a gamble as he had never worked in England.
In his first season, he took a team from 13th in the Championship to the play offs, where they fell short. Then the following season, he took them up to the Premier League as Champions. He will always be a hero for that and rightly so.
He conducted himself brilliant. The players were made to appreciate how privileged they were to be professional footballers, playing for Leeds and he created a connection with the fans.
The first season in the Premier League was brilliant. His style of play took so many teams by surprise and they won a lot of games.
This season, he’s missed Kalvin Phillips, who has always been the glue in the team, even when they were in the Championship. When he wasn’t in the team there was a huge chasm from box to box in midfield. Bamford has been out for a huge amount of time. Liam Cooper has been missing. If you haven’t got Liam Cooper, the leader in defence, you haven’t got your midfield lynchpin in Kelvin Phillips, and you haven’t got your striker that sets the tone, then surely you have to adapt your football, it would be foolish not to.
When the man-to-man system works it’s outstanding, but teams started to work them out this season. Pep Guardiola did it fantastically well at the Etihad, 3-0 up after 30 minutes, Leeds going man-to-man. Phil Foden and Bernado Silva pulled Leeds all over the place. Even at 3-0 down, Leeds kept doing the same thing. It gets to a point where that becomes madness because you’re not going to beat Manchester City 4-3 or 5-4, when you’re 3-0 down after 20 minutes and you’ve only had two or three touches of the ball at times.
So when you look at results this season, conceding 20 goals in 4 Premier League games in February, more goals in a month than anybody’s ever conceded, they are in big trouble and have fallen down the table. If Burnley get two points, or more than two points from their game in hand and if Everton get one point from their two games in hand, then Leeds slip into the bottom three.
At the moment the table looks a little bit false because you have teams with two games in hand, three games in hand in some cases. When you look at it purely based on results this season, I think the club made the decision. They would rather take the risk of putting somebody new in charge, rather than wait to see what happens.
You made a comparison between Bielsa and Arsene Wenger, in terms of both of those managers being completely wedded to their principles of playing football – in many ways do you think that Bielsa’s stubbornness, or refusal to adapt has cost him the Leeds job?
I think it has. Principles are amazing when they work – I look at Burnley and Sean Dyche for instance, they have a way of playing and they’re never going to be the most attractive team to watch, but they do what they do, and they’re always in the game. They rarely get battered – and they’re not going to change, Sean Dyche is not going to change his principles, and you admire that. But when you’ve got a team like Leeds that play in a unique way, and you’re missing at least three key players within that, to not change – to have that stubbornness about your principles, I think it then starts to border on a little bit naïve at times.
The best managers in the world, the managers that win things adapt and change. They still have their principles, and they stick to them, but they tweak things. You cannot go man for man with Liverpool. You cannot go man for man with Manchester City because they are better than you, and they have better players than you, so you have to find a different way to win.
Arsene Wenger was very similar. For years he was told he needed a goalkeeper, a centre half and a holding midfield player, and after all the success that he had – the more he got told you need to do this, the more he said no I’m not going to do it.
I think there’s a little bit of that about Marcelo Bielsa. I admire him for sticking to his principles, but if you’re not winning games, or you’re not close to winning games – 60 goals they’ve conceded this season and West Ham is the only team that they’ve beaten in the top half of the table – if you’re only beating teams in and around you at the bottom, then something is not right. You have to make changes, no matter what your principles are.
Sir Alex Ferguson would always make changes and would tweak his formation or his personnel. Mourinho would do it. Pep has done it on more than one occasion. Unless you are by far and away better than the opposition in every single player on the pitch, you have to adapt and you have to do something a little bit different. Marcelo Bielsa hasn’t done that. I think now you can see that once they go one or two down, coming back from that is nigh on impossible.
How did it feel to see Leeds ship 20 goals over the last four games?
In all honesty, a little bit sorry for the players. If you look at the game at the weekend, Luke Ayling has been asked to man mark Son, and Luke Ayling is better than that. You don’t need to be man marking Son and following him wherever he goes on the pitch. I think that’s where it becomes difficult as a player because yes you’re incredibly grateful – Marcelo Bielsa got them punching so far above their weight it’s incredible, and what he has achieved with that squad of players in terms of quality, he is the exception to the rule of outperforming themselves by more than 20 percent.
They will be grateful for that. A lot of them probably never dreamed of playing in the Premier League and obviously some of them have been in the England team as well.
When you’re a player and you’re 3-0 down after 20-30 minutes, and you’re being asked to do the same things when you can see it’s not working, that’s incredibly frustrating and hard. It happened in the Championship at times. If you go back to the Fulham game, they were 3-0 up, or 4-0 up, and it ended up 4-3. Sometimes just shut up shop, see the game out during the last 15 minutes. You don’t need to keep pressing, you don’t need to keep attacking.
It comes back to game management and being professional. If you know you’re playing against Liverpool, or Manchester City, you know you can’t go chasing them all over the pitch because they’re better than you. If Bernado Silva goes past you, and all of a sudden there’s no one else – there’s no cover, or anybody involved, or Mahrez does it, or Phil Foden, or Kevin De Bruyne, or Raheem Sterling, then you’re up against it. That’s when I felt a little bit sorry for the players because those principles are so rigid and the players have to be in there questioning the tactics.
As a player, you’ve got to give yourself a chance. You know the opposition are better than you, so you have to find a way – we did that at Middlesbrough and we had some good players in that side, Gareth Southgate, Ugo Ehiogu, George Boateng, Juninho, Mendieta, Bolo Zenden, myself, but we knew at times we were not as good as the opposition, so we had to find a different way to win. We couldn’t always play our game, and do what we wanted to do, you have to adapt. The players will speak very, very highly of Marcelo Bielsa, but I think this season it’s been a real struggle for them, and there’s been some really hard and heavy losses that affect your confidence.
You mentioned the principles, and the squad being conditioned to play in a certain way. A lot of the conversation around Bielsa before he was fired was that it’s going to take a long time for these players to play in a different mindset because they’ve had that Bielsa coaching for such a long time. Jesse Marsch has obviously come in, do you think that could be his biggest challenge in terms of changing the way that they play?
I think they will have to change their style of playing without a doubt because if they keep doing what they’re doing, they’re going to get beat every single week, and they’re going to go down. Jesse Marsch will change it – I almost see it as a positive, and there’s two big positives in this for Jesse Marsch. Most teams down at the bottom, when a new manager comes in, the first thing he says is they’re not fit enough, when you can’t label that at Leeds – that’s not something you’ve got to worry about. That excuse is out the window. Marsch could almost go the other way and say, ‘these players are fit enough, so whatever I ask them to do is not going to be a problem physically,’
We know that he likes to play a high press and go and close people down, so that’s not too dissimilar to what Leeds do now. But he might shore it up in the middle of a park maybe with a double pivot, or a little bit more protection in front of the back four, and some of the players might be a little bit relieved and say, ‘OK we quite like this, yes we still have the opportunity to go and press high, but also we’ve got a little bit of security at the back, and a little bit more organisation, and that makes us feel more comfortable, and because we are supremely fit, we can use all our energy going forward, and then just be organised.’
Defending is the easy part of the game. It’s much easier to stop goals than it is to score goals, and that’s organisation, working on the training ground. I think if Jesse Marsch brings adds that and continues with his principles of a higher press, keeping the ball, working hard, the players might actually be relieved that they’re not having to go man for man all over the pitch, they’re not having to play murder ball on a Thursday, which is incredibly intense.
I think if he gets off to a good start and gets the players onside in the first game or so, I think this could be a good appointment for Leeds.
Who do you think are the core group of players that you see as undroppable in this Leeds squad that he’s inherited from Bielsa?
I don’t think anybody is undroppable. They don’t have a huge squad and have a lot of senior players that have done very well. They have some very good youngsters coming through, but they don’t have too much in the middle round the 23, 24, 25-year olds with experience and quality. Listening to Jesse Marsch, he's already said that he will have a bigger squad and he will rotate a little bit more to keep people fresh, to keep people hungry. He will give the younger players an opportunity, the likes of Gelhardt who’s been thrown in on occasions but hasn’t really played too much.
Summerville was brought in as a huge prospect and he hasn’t really had an opportunity. Charlie Cresswell was doing fantastically well and is a regular with the England Under 21s, he’s played in the first team, but has hardly played at all this season. If you throw them into the mix with the likes of Luke Ayling, Kalvin Phillips when he comes back, Raphinha with his out and out quality, Jack Harrison who has an incredible work rate, there’s enough quality in there to get themselves out of this situation. I think they just need a little bit more organisation and a little bit more solidity.
If they can get Kelvin Phillips back sooner, I think that will be absolutely huge. We’ve seen how important he is in the middle of the park. They just need a little bit more organisation, and need to be a little bit more defensively minded.
Americans in the Premier League, there’s a bit of a stereotype with how they tend to get on here.
Yeah, you know where I’m going with this?
Although, David Wagner was also American. I think people seem to forget that he was half German, half American. I think it’s different when you look at Jesse Marsch, who is a highly educated man, has a degree from Princeton University and has been a product of the Red Bull system. He obviously worked under Ralph Rangnick and he’s a thinker.
When I look at his principles – it’s a little bit like Sir Clive Woodward, who said if you improve the individuals you improve the team, and I think that’s what he will start to work on – improving the individuals in terms of defensive positions, decision making and all those types of things. If you improve every single player by three or four percent, the team improves by 15-20 percent, and I think that’s what he’s going to work on.
The problem he’s got is he doesn’t have that much time to implement all those decisions. With new owners on the horizon, or new investment from the San Francisco 49ers, who clearly know Jesse Marsch very well – he was the man that was going to come in at the end of the season anyhow. He’s come in a bit sooner than expected. Of course, they won’t want to go down, but there will be a plan for it if the worst does happen. I think Leeds have got enough quality within their squad to get themselves out of this, they just need to play a slightly more pragmatic – they need to stop shipping four or five goals every week.
On Manchester City
How impressed have you been with City this season?
Manchester City are exceptional. They are relentless – Pep’s ability to keep 25 internationals happy, all playing regularly, all playing well is incredible. At the start of the season, apparently Raheem Sterling wasn’t happy and was thinking of leaving. Bernardo Silva was allegedly going to be on his way. People said they couldn’t win anything without a true number 9, after Aguero left. It’s a little bit like Sir Alex Ferguson, to do it once is great, to do it twice is amazing, but to then do it three, four, five times and to keep that desire is unbelievable.
I think it’s hard to put into words. When you look at what Leicester did, when they won it, it was like that was the golden goose, it was never going to get any better for those Leicester players. Of course, and quite rightly so, they maybe took their foot off the gas a little bit, and it didn’t quite happen the second time around. To win that second title, then push for the third, and to keep pushing – to keep that hunger and desire every single day for that amount of time is seriously impressive.
It all comes down to mentality, and that desire and hunger to push yourself every single day. If you look at athletics, or you look at the Olympics, very few people win back-to-back Olympics, it’s a four year cycle and a five or six year period where you need to be the very best. It’s not because they don’t have the ability, it’s because to push yourself every single day for six years takes some doing, and it is so, so difficult.
When you get the likes of Sir Steve Redgrave that win five Olympics, it’s unbelievable to have that desire to do that every single day for 20 years.
Sir Alex Ferguson did it at Manchester United. That is the greatest thing that you can say about them because when you win one it’s easy to go, ‘I’ve arrived, I’m at the top of the mountain, that’s it, I can’t go any higher,’ but you look at the very best, the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, they keep pushing – one is not enough, two is not enough, three then becomes not enough, they want more and more and more – it might be greed, whatever you want to call it, but that’s what separates the best from the rest.
I think it would be fair to say that Ronaldo’s return hasn’t been a resounding success, obviously his personal stats are good, but there were rumours that City were in for him in the summer, do you think he’ll regret opting for red over blue, if we’re led to believe it’s true and City did put a bid in for him?
I don’t think Pep Guardiola was ever in for him. He doesn’t fit the way that Pep plays. When you look at the players that Manchester City have, the energy that Pep demands, even when he had Aguero, one of the best strikers in the world, he said to him, ‘if you don’t change, you’re not going to play in my team,’ at 37 Ronaldo is not suddenly going to start pressing, he is not going to go back to being the player he was when he was 22/23, start chasing fullbacks and closing people down, that was never going to be the case.
I don’t think City were in for him. Ronaldo is one of the greatest goal scorers that we’ve ever seen, absolutely phenomenal, and the longevity he’s had at the top level, it’s fantastic, I’m almost speechless about what he’s done.
At the moment, Manchester United are a collection of fantastic individuals, and when that clicks they have the ability to be devastating and can beat absolutely anybody. That makes them dangerous, but because they’re individuals and they don’t seem to have a plan, they don’t seem to have that chemistry. That makes them vulnerable, and that makes them inconsistent, and I think that’s what we’ve seen this season.
Player for player, Manchester United’s squad is up there with City, Liverpool and Chelsea, but the fact that they don’t really seem to have the organisation, or a plan is letting them down. They’re relying on individuals. We had it a little bit of that at Manchester City when I was playing for Kevin Keegan, he was very much like, ‘you’re all internationals lads, just go out and play and do what you’re good at,’ but you need a bit more than that, even when you are top level professionals, you need structure, you need organisation and you need tactics, especially when you haven’t got the ball.
If we look at where City and United are currently, is the missing piece of the puzzle for United to have like a coach that goes in there, that the players know is going to be there for a period of time, that is committed to playing a system. I mean obviously they’re never ever going to get him, but do they need a Pep Guardiola figure to kind of come in?
They do. You have to have a way – you have to have principles, general principles that you’re going to stick to, and have an understanding of what you’re going to do. When a player drops out, the player coming in goes right, OK this is how we’re going to play. For example, Luke Shaw knows his role at left back, so if he’s not fit and somebody comes in, whatever player that is just takes over that role. You don’t suddenly change the whole team because it’s a different left back, you can’t keep chopping and changing every week, you have to have a style of play that suits the players that you’ve got, and within reason stick to that.
That’s what Manchester United don’t seem to have at the moment. I don’t like the DNA stuff because it’s all about winning. Manchester United are all about winning, it doesn’t matter how you play, it doesn’t matter whether its Mourinho winning the Premier League conceding 15 goals, and being so called anti-football, or whether its Pep Guardiola scoring 100 odd goals and playing the most scintillating football, you both won the Premier League. Football at the highest level is about winning, simple as that, it doesn’t matter how you win, it’s about winning and that’s what you have to do.
Within that you do need a certain framework and organisation. When you haven’t got the ball, the defence needs to be organised, everybody needs to know their job, and you need to know the job of the person in front, behind, and to the side of you because then you can cover for them, and you can help each other out. Manchester United don’t seem to have that. It takes work on the training ground, it can be a little bit tedious at times, it can be a little bit boring to go through that 11 v 11, those shadow play routines, but you have to go through that to have an understanding.
Whatever you think of Manchester City, they do that religiously. If you look at the way that they play, it’s almost like they all have a little square on the pitch, and the moment they lose the ball, all those squares are filled. Now sometimes that might be different personnel because they’ve been caught out of position, but they all know they have to get back into those set positions as quickly as possible, and that gives you a basis to be organised and defend. If you have a good platform then you’ve got a great opportunity – yes, we all look at centre forwards, and wingers, and goal scorers, and strikers, but if you haven’t got a good defence and a good goalkeeper, you don’t win anything.
Harry Maguire has come in for a bit of criticism this season, although in my opinion, I don’t think he’s been particularly helped out by Varane next to him – I don’t think he’s been brilliant either.
I questioned Varane’s signing when he first came in and whether he could deal with the intensity of our league. He had quite a few injury problems. In La Liga you’re probably playing seven or eight tough games a season, in the Premier League every week is a tough game. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing Manchester City or Burnley, it’s going to be hard, it’s going to be physical and you need to be robust. I always had doubts about whether he was going to be robust enough, and I got criticised when he first came in for saying that, subsequently he’s been injured and in and out of the team, maybe I got lucky with that comment, but that’s the way that I saw it.
When you look at the best defences in the world, they are settled, they understand each other – look at the Italians – Bonucci and Chiellini, they’re almost like shadows of each other, they know what’s going to happen before it does. Sol Campbell and Martin Keown, Terry and Carvalho, Ferdinand and Vidic – they’re almost one. They complement each other perfectly and understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, anticipate everything that’s going to happen.
Manchester United don’t have that at the moment. Harry Maguire’s form has dipped a little bit. When you start to lose you start to get a little bit of criticism, and a lot publicly, and they seem to have taken that a little bit personally at times. I don’t know what sort of defending team they are. Do they sit back and defend? Do they go man for man? Do they press high? It’s a team of individuals, and the team changes so regularly, it seems to change week in week out.
You mentioned United’s irresistible, individual quality that could come to the party, but as a former City player, are you worried? How do you think this game is going to go over the weekend?
My head says that Manchester City should win this comfortably because of the way that they play, the way that they dominate the ball, but there is always an issue in that Manchester United have big game players. Bruno Fernandes, Cavani, Ronaldo obviously, Sancho could step up, Pogba has done it before. These are all players that thrive on games at the highest level, and they will see this as one of the biggest games, if not the biggest game of the season for them, playing in the Manchester Derby. Now if they all bring it, and they all turn up and put in a performance, it’s going to be tough for Manchester City.
They could make it very, very difficult – this is what you don’t know about Manchester United – they have fantastic individuals, and they have some big game players that probably prefer playing against Manchester City, Liverpool, rather than against Watford, Burnley and Norwich. I think Manchester United will bring it, it’s whether enough of the players bring it on the day.
I expect City to win 3-1 something like that, but the caveat to that is United have some very special, incredibly talented players, and if they turn up, they can easily turn Manchester City over.
The Champions League
On the Champions League, obviously City have got close, they get closer every year, do you think this could be their year?
We say every year could be Manchester City’s year. They have the talent, they have the experience – they’ve been in this competition for a long time. Pep, whether he says it publicly or not has made one or two tactical mistakes in games in the past. I think we saw that last year in the final. Obviously, the likes of Barcelona aren’t in it at the moment, the Italian clubs aren’t particularly strong, they’re not as strong as they have been in the past, Real Madrid are not as strong.
An all-English final is highly likely, but you need a bit of luck over a two-legged game. When you get to the final of the Champions League, and we saw that obviously last year in the final, a one-off game, you’ve got to be careful because you just need a wonder goal, a slip, a bad decision, whatever it might be and it cost you.
City have without doubt all the tools, they just need a little bit of luck to get over that line. The longer they go without doing it, it does start to become a slight mental issue because you start thinking, ‘can we actually win this, do we have the belief we’re going to win this,’ they’ve been close quite a few times and I’d be very, very surprised if this season or next season if they don’t win it.
On the League Cup
What did you make of the decision to substitute Mendy for Kepa in the League cup final?
I thought it was a really strange decision. I thought it was a brilliant game. Mendy, Thiago Silva and Virgil van Dijk were amazing. Both of the centrehalves never looked flustered and Mendy pulled off some incredible saves.
When the substitution came along, I looked at it and Mendy was on fire – he was saving everything. When you’re stepping up as a Liverpool player to take a penalty, against a goalkeeper that has kept you out for 120 minutes and already made some phenominal saves, you’re already thinking in your head that, ‘this guy is unbeatable, he’s been magnificent, he’s in incredible form,’ and that will have thrown a little bit of doubt into their minds. You still may score the penalty, but I think that mentality is beter than thinking, ‘they’ve brought on Kepa who doesn’t look as imposing as Mendy, he’s coming in cold,’ its like in training sometimes, goalkeepers are getting peppered, but they are saving everything. Shot after shot after shot. They are focussed and in the zone and I think that was case with Mendy.
Obviosuly Thomas Tuchel had his reasons, and we’ve seen it before, if it works you’re a genius. If it doesn’t work and the keeper doesn’t save a penalty and then misses the decisive one, huge questions will be asked. Even if that was the plan, with the way Mendy was playing, I wouldn’t have made that change.
Is there a danger when you make a call like that and it backfires, that the impact of that decision could have a negative effect on the remainder of the season?
I think Tuchel will have to explain to the players his thinking behind the decision. From a players perspective, Mendy was on fire. He looked unbeatable. Whether he’s the best penalty saver or not, I would have left him on. I think a lot of the players would have said leave him on. Given his performance during the match, they would have probably thought he would have saved one.
Kepa didn’t get anywhere near them, so he will have to explain to his players why he made that decision. I’m not sure if that was the plan all along, but sometimes you need to change your plans and adapt to the cirumstances.
The way that they played was very, very good. I think we’re starting to see the real Kai Havertz now. We always expect foreign players coming into the league to be brilliant from day one, but there are so many things that you need to deal with; language, lifestyle, culture, family and people forget that sometimes.
I think Chelsea will be fine for third. Lukaku is the issue at the moment. He isn’t really performing to the levels that we’ve expected. Perhaps that’s because maybe Chelsea aren’t playing to his strengths at the moment, but I thought Chelsea played very well. In the first 20 minutes they were outstanding andf I can’t see them being overtaken for that third spot.
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