The sleeping giant awakes

I wished Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the best of luck last week but luck he did not need. His players have delivered for him with two emphatic wins.

Manchester United ran around like a team released from their shackles in both matches. “Go out and play your game, play for yourselves and play to enjoy your football” said interim manager Solskjaer as his players left the dressing room. And play they did and enjoyed themselves. 

United are focused, committed and look like a close family. Whatever happens from now on this season, United have to thank Solskjaer for bringing the Reds alive again. Several of the players told me that Solskjaer had instructed them to play higher up the pitch, to pass forward and not sideways so they pegged opponents back. “Let them come to you” said the manager. 

Matic pulls the strings in midfield with Pogba, Rashford is direct, Martial is now on another planet and Lingard runs and runs! Martial was the man-of-the match in the first game and Pogba the second whereas under Mourinho both failed to impress.

In the dressing room after both games it was like a New Year’s Eve party, full of cheering, laughing and singing. And in the middle of it all was Solskjaer! He is a much loved United superstar and now the next generation of players also look up to him and the fans are already singing his name. Alexis Sanchez has been to talk with Solskjaer and explained that he wants to give his very best to United now that Mourinho has gone. 

I am told that Solskjaer will draft him back into the team so he can show his world class. What a difference a week makes in football. United have now notched up two wins under the Norwegian with Paul Pogba showing how brilliantly he can play by scoring two goals. Solskjaer and Pogba are becoming very close and the midfielder is leading his line effectively. 

Sitting at home in his very expensive Central London house, what must Mourinho have felt to see his team playing for the new manager on a different level to anything produced by him this season? Jose didn’t want to talk about anything and wasn’t answering his phone. He is just enjoying the Christmas break with his family and will then decide what the future holds for him.

Poch is gagged at press conference

Manchester United have given Spur’s manager Mauricio Pochettino a big headache decision for the start of 2019. United want Pochettino as their new manager to take over from Solskjaer at the end of this season but that could change if United keep on winning. I was at the Spurs press conference after they had beaten Arsenal 2-0 in a Carabao Cup match last week and it was chaotic. 

All the questions were directed at Pochettino and asking “Are you going to Manchester United?” Pochettino was the calmest person in the room but not the head of Arsenal communications Simon Felstein. He kept stopping questions which addressed the issue of his manager leaving for United and at one point asked for the TV cameras to be switched off. 

The after match question times are always filmed. At one point Pochettino touched Felstein on the arm and said, “You are the star of this question time not me!” Spur’s chairman Daniel Levy is determined to hang on to his manager but United are equally determined to poach him so the New Year will be an interesting battle. 

Henry eyeing Fabrigas

Monaco manager Thierry Henry has identified the answer to his horrendously bad managerial start at the French club. Cesc Fabrigas, who is out of favour with manager Mauricio Sarri at Chelsea, is his target. Henry has won only three of 13 matches and Monaco are 19th in Lique 1. Henry is to approach Chelsea in the January transfer period to see if a deal can be done. Cesc is unhappy with his game time at Chelsea. 

He has only six months left on his contract and the club are dithering about renewing it. Players reaching 30 are normally only given a one year contract. Cesc and Henry were teammates in the successful Arsenal team in 2004-7 and he has also worked with Monaco’s Sporting Director Michael Emanalo at Chelsea.

Blue’s defender Gary Cahill is also on Henry’s radar because he too is out of the Chelsea team and Henry wants to strengthen his defence. However, Cahill lives near to me and I know he will take some persuading as he has not prepared himself or his family for a move to a club outside the UK.

Benitez praises Rondon

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez believes that striker Salomon Rondon is the answer to many of his problems. Despite Rondon’s physical presence, ruthless finishing and hold up play, Benitez thinks he can still improve his goal tally by getting his wingers to cross the ball more into the box instead of dribbling and passing into the penalty area. I can reveal that Rafa has been practising that on the training field this week. January will see them buying better players according to Benitez who has been assured by owner Mike Ashley that the money will be made available. He has however said that before and let the manager down. If that happens again, I expect Rafa to leave. 

Palace in Batshuayi talks

News from Crystal Palace is that manager Roy Hodgson thinks he can solve the club’s lack of goals problem. Palace regularly rely on Wilfried Zaha to provide both the assists and goals but he is often injured due to the way he plays. Like Eden Hazard at Chelsea, skill and speed are his main weapons but this type of play often invites heavy tackles from under pressure defenders and the result is an injury. I understand that Hodgson has contacted Chelsea for the on loan striker Michy Batshuayi who is finding life at Spanish club Valencia not to his liking. Hodgson wants Chelsea to end Batshuayi’s loan and do another deal with Palace so he can play in January. Hodgson has also sent his scouts to watch 36-year-old Bournemouth winger Jermain Defoe who is finding it difficult to get a game at the south coast club.

Thank you mum…

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is delighted with the form of Gabriel Jesus and he puts much of it down to the Brazilian’s mother. Gabriel has no wife or current girlfriend but he is very close to his mother Vera Lucia who raised him and his three brothers on her own after their father walked out and was later killed in a motorcycle accident. This week Jesus has spent Christmas with his family in Manchester where his mother cooked the traditional lunch. I noticed, when City were training, that Jesus has a tattoo on his right arm picturing his mother and she runs his life for him despite the striker being 21 and a multi-millionaire. He brought her and his brothers over from Brazil to help him settle in the UK. He has also learnt English which Guardiola appreciates. Guardiola puts much of the striker’s success down to his mother running his life efficiently and Jesus presented her with the match ball when he scored a hat-trick against Shakhtar Donesk last month.

This coming week sees the opening of the January transfer window and I am in touch with every Premier League club to bring you personally the latest exclusive inside news. 

david@billingtondesign.com

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