The Premier League is tough on gifted, fast wing type players who can zip past defenders and leave them standing. Think Eden Hazard, Louis Saha and Leroy Sane. Now they have been joined at the elite table by Manchester United’s Daniel James. In last weekend’s game against Brighton, defenders Lewis Dunk and Dan Burn were both booked for tough tackles on James in their attempt to stop him. This week James has turned the tables on the bullying tactics and said, “Last season I had a lot of hits. If a defender hits you and you stay down, he might just think he has got the better of you. But if you get up immediately and keep going, that is important. It sends out a message that you are not soft and won’t be pushed around.” James was delighted with the comeback of Anthony Martial who he admires. After 2 months out injured, Martial has given the Reds a boost by his comeback and James said, “Since Anthony returned we’ve had a focal point. He’s a great link-up player. Since he came back he has scored goals and he has made so many assists. He has been great for us and we are putting everything together and will get better and better.”
Sancho lined up to leave Borussia Dortmund
When you are playing for one of the best clubs in Europe and are still only 19 years of age, life should be just about perfect. Regrettably, that isn’t the case with Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho. The forward who moved from Manchester City in August 2017 is in a bad place with his club and has already been fined £86,000 for returning late from playing an international match with England. Manager Lucien Favre then made Sancho train alone in extra sessions and Borussia’s Sporting Director went public with the affair after the club decided to keep things behind closed doors and would deal with the forward internally. That angered Sancho who was further embarrassed by Favre last Saturday when he was substituted after only 36 minutes of play in the match against arch-rivals Bayern Munich which Borussia lost 4-0. Now wealthy Premier League clubs are all queuing up with possible January bids for a player who is probably one of the most exciting top five youngsters in Europe. Liverpool were last night emerging as favourites to win his signature. His price could be an incredible £100million.
Xhaka for Milan?
One of my Arsenal contacts phoned me yesterday after returning from the Italian city of Milan. Apparently, agents representing Granit Xhaka have been looking at accommodation in the city. Given Xhaka’s recent problems and the fact that he is close to ex-Arsenal boss Ivan Gazidis, who now runs AC Milan, the pieces of a jigsaw begin to fall into place. It was, in fact, Gazidis who signed the midfielder for the Gunners. Watch this space.
Pellegrini in big trouble at West Ham
I seem to be writing about managers in trouble this week and I am truly concerned for Manuel Pellegrini at West Ham. Owners David Sullivan and David Gold hired the Chilean on a salary of £8million a year – far and away from the most expensive manager in the club’s history. It would be wrong to say that Pellegrini is in danger of being sacked because both Sullivan and Gold believe he can turn things around. Pellegrini will, however, have to handle the current downturn using his enormous experience and not by spending big in the January transfer window. I have been told from inside the club that the owners, having already given Pellegrini money to buy players, will not invest more large sums soon and he will not be able to buy his way out of trouble. However, as club captain Mark Noble said this week, the current squad of players is the best he has seen at the club in the last 15 years. So why are things going so wrong? The 3-0 defeat to Burnley was typical with first choice goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski out injured and reserve keeper Roberto playing one disastrous match after another and this has unsettled the defence who lack confidence in him. Pellegrini is even being influenced by his staff to replace Roberto with third choice keeper David Martin when they play Tottenham next week. Too many players have been underperforming and Pellegrini is not finding the answers. This week Pellegrini worked on increasing individual player strengths and intensity because when playing Burnley they were bullied and harried and many of their best players just gave up. Pellegrini has spent £180million since he arrived and he was given complete control over who was brought in. A big signing was Jack Wilshere from Arsenal but after being given a three-year deal in the summer he has made only six league starts. Roberto, Pablo Fornals, Albian Ajeti, Fabian Balbuena and even Pablo Zabaleta are all struggling and Lanzini will be out with a broken collar bone until next year. It is a nightmare situation for the manager. Pellegrini is having sleepless nights and I cannot see things getting much better soon and Gold and Sullivan might change their minds about keeping him.
Tough times for Norwich
Norwich City owner Delia Smith is a well know celebrity chef but I doubt even she can cook up something special to save this dismal Norwich team. Delia and her husband Michael Wynn-Jones, who own the majority shareholding at Norwich, looked very downhearted and miserable in their plush VIP seats as bottom club Watford chalked up their first win of the season in front of a very unhappy Norwich crowd. Regrettably, for manager Daniel Farke the club will not spend their way out of trouble in the January transfer window. The Norwich accounts show that they lost £38million over the last 12 months, however, payment of £100million from the FA, for their promotion from the Championship, will put the accounts in order. Norwich had the smallest transfer budget of all the Premier League clubs after their promotion. No matter how glamorous football clubs seem to be, they still have to balance the financial books and Norwich have made disastrous investments in the past. When they were forced to sell the excellent James Maddison for £21million they could not re-invest that money in new players because they had to pay back the banks for money loaned. I am afraid that despite having the talents of top striker Teemu Pukki Norwich look doomed this season if they do not re-organise and bring in a couple of top players to give them more confidence and strength.
United show their speed
With Anthony Martial back from injury, manager Ole Gunner Solskjaer has been practising on the training ground using the amazing running and passing speed of Martial, Ashford and particularly James with his blistering pace. Time and again against Brighton last weekend the ball came out of defence, often from goalkeeper David de Gea and was up into the Brighton penalty area almost before you could blink an eye. This forward line is undoubtedly the fastest attacking formation in the Premier League and an unselfish Martial provided Rashford with several chances to score. Solskjaer has used all his experience and knowledge from playing top-flight football to put this attacking option together. There is talk of signing another centre forward in the January transfer window but with this showing, it is not of paramount importance although possible injuries must be covered.
One bright light for Gunners fans!
As several Arsenal fans told me last weekend…The only thing making Arsenal fans smile these days is that Tottenham are having a worse season than they are!