EPL

Berbatov impressed by focused Pogba: I would like him to stay at Man Utd

By Sports Desk January 18, 2021

Dimitar Berbatov hopes the "soap opera" surrounding Paul Pogba's future is at an end after becoming increasingly influential for Manchester United.

Pogba's agent Mino Raiola revealed in December - with a crucial Champions League clash with RB Leipzig looming on the horizon - that he expected the Frenchman to leave Old Trafford in 2021, albeit not during the January transfer window.

The midfielder, who is under contract until 2022, has by no means been a regular starter this season, though his impact on the team has grown considerably in recent weeks.

His winning goal against Burnley sent Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side top of the Premier League - a position they retained on Sunday thanks to a 0-0 draw away at reigning champions Liverpool.

Pogba was unable to take a late opportunity at Anfield that could have secured all three points, yet former Red Devil Berbatov has been impressed by what he has seen from a player he knows well.

"It's been a long time since I've seen him open on the pitch fighting, intercepting, reading the game," Berbatov told Stats Perform News.

"In the game against Liverpool, again, he continued on that trend for me. He was solid on the pitch again, trying to read and control the game, defending and intercepting.

"The chance that fell to him was because he was again in the box trying to score, though it didn't happen this time. Next time, it's going to happen.

"But as I said many times before, I hope that the TV soap opera over him - whether he's going or staying - is going to end, and we're not going to speak about that.

"I would like him to stay because I knew him back in the day, he was coming to train with us when he was still very young. You could see the talent straight away.

"If he's concentrated 100 per cent for the team, then he's on a level I think not many players can reach in the way he does."

United did not manage a shot on target in the first half against Liverpool, the first time they had failed to do so in a Premier League fixture since December 2019.

However, they posed a far greater attacking threat as the game wore on, Pogba and Bruno Fernandes drawing smart saves out of Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson after the break.

For Berbatov, the crucial aspect for the visitors was not to be beaten by potential title rivals.

"United had a good game, a solid game. I think I said before the game to a couple of reporters that for them it was going to be important not to lose," said the Bulgarian, who won the Premier League twice during his time at United.

"They had good chances to score in the game as well, especially Pogba. That chance was probably the best one in the game, one where I was almost screaming, but it didn't happen.

"But it was a solid performance, especially in defence, tactically the discipline was there on the pitch. As I said, a couple of chances to score came up, as well.

"Probably, if you look from the perspective of a neutral, you can say that the draw was okay for both teams."

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  • From back to front, and Haaland – five players for Rangnick to consider for Man Utd From back to front, and Haaland – five players for Rangnick to consider for Man Utd

    Ralf Rangnick has been confirmed as interim manager of Manchester United, meaning that thoughts can now turn to more important matters.

    Yes, transfers.

    While the 63-year-old is only set to be in the dugout until the end of the season, his deal includes a further two years in a "consultancy" role, meaning he will presumably have a say on comings and goings at Old Trafford for the foreseeable future.

    As well as showing his qualities as a coach and tactician during his career, Rangnick has also shown himself to be adept at identifying and recruiting talent, scouting the likes of Joshua Kimmich, Sadio Mane and Erling Haaland over the years.

    While funds have been readily spent by United in recent times, it seems clear that the current squad needs more adding to it if they are to trouble their rivals for Premier League and Champions League glory any time soon.

    Using Opta data, Stats Perform has taken a look at five players who may be near the top of Rangnick's wish-list over the next few transfer windows.

     

    Gleison Bremer (Torino)

    The Brazilian centre back has predominantly been linked with other clubs, including Liverpool, but his ability to win the ball high up the field as well as make interceptions regularly could make him an attractive prospect for Rangnick's pressing style.

    Bremer has the most interceptions for a defender in the top five European leagues this season (51), and since the start of last season has made 121, which is almost twice as many as Harry Maguire (68) from just one more game played.

    The 24-year-old has also won possession in the middle-third of the pitch (127) more often than any of United's current centre back options (Maguire 85, Victor Lindelof 78, Raphael Varane 62), which is something the new boss will likely be demanding of his players.

     

    Aurelien Tchouameni (Monaco)

    Despite their pre-season spending, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was unable to cross a defensive midfielder off his shopping list, with poor Scott McTominay and Fred continuing to be castigated by fans and pundits for not being Declan Rice.

    Someone else who isn't Declan Rice is Tchouameni. The Monaco midfielder has been linked with a move to the Premier League for a couple of years now, and this could be the ideal club at the ideal time.

    Of players to have played at least 40 games, only three midfielders in the top five European leagues have won possession in the middle third more often since the start of last season, while only five have made more interceptions, and only Frenkie de Jong (64.36) has a higher duel success percentage than his 62.06.

    During his time recruiting for Red Bull Salzburg and Leipzig, Rangnick primarily focused on young players who can grow in the immediate term. Tchouameni turns 22 in January, and with Monaco missing out on Champions League football after losing in qualifying in August, they may be tempted to cash in on their star sooner rather than later.

     

    Amadou Haidara (RB Leipzig)

    it was always inevitable that United would be linked with Leipzig players, so here's the first of two.

    The new United boss will no doubt be familiar with Haidara, with the midfielder making his way through the Red Bull route of FC Liefering and Salzburg before Leipzig.

    The Mali international arrived at the Red Bull Arena when Rangnick was in charge in the 2018-19 season, but due to a cruciate ligament injury, was only able to make nine Bundesliga appearances under the German.

    Comparing him to McTominay and Fred, this season he has more chances created (9), more successful passes in the opposition half (317), more passes into the final third (95) and more dribbles completed (16).

    It should be noted though that he has played two games more than McTominay and measures closely to the Scot in the first and last metric, with worse passing accuracy percentage in the opposition half (78.86) and tackle success percentage than both (38.46).

     

    Dani Olmo (RB Leipzig)

    Olmo has unfortunately missed most of the current season with a muscle injury, but combined with last term, there is a certain number that may interest the Red Devils boss.

    Verona's Antonin Barak is the only midfielder to have won possession in the final third more often than Olmo's total of 44 in the top five leagues in Europe since the start of last season, made all the more impressive by the fact Olmo has played 12 fewer games.

    The 23-year-old scored seven and assisted 12 last season for Leipzig in all competitions, and also impressed for Spain at Euro 2020, and having someone who so regularly wins the ball high up the field could be exactly the sort of thing Rangnick can build a new United team around.

     

    Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)

    Arguably the name likeliest to be linked with the Red Devils given it was Rangnick who apparently spotted his talents and brought him to Salzburg, before he burst onto the scene and headed for the German Bundesliga.

    Rangnick was working as Salzburg's director of football when he was able to secure the signing of Haaland from Molde.

    Of course, United already have Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani, but both are hardly long-term solutions, while Haaland's former team-mate Jadon Sancho already resides in the red half of Manchester.

    The 21-year-old has scored 71 goals in 70 games since moving to Dortmund (January 2020), the same amount as Ronaldo but in 15 fewer games.

    You would imagine Haaland, his agent and his father would need to see some fairly drastic improvements at Old Trafford before committing his future there, but with Rangnick on board, the Red Devils will be hoping that to be exactly what happens.

  • Fix the defence and accommodate Ronaldo – five problems for Rangnick to solve at Man Utd Fix the defence and accommodate Ronaldo – five problems for Rangnick to solve at Man Utd

    Manchester United have broken with modern tradition and made a footballing decision that everyone seems to think is a good one.

    The appointment of Ralf Rangnick as interim manager until the end of the season was confirmed on Monday, a day after caretaker Michael Carrick managed a creditable 1-1 draw at Premier League leaders Chelsea.

    While he hasn't been a coach for the best part of three years, Rangnick's legacy in the Bundesliga and his influence on some of Germany's finest minds makes him a shrewd appointment for United, not least because he will take up a two-year consultancy role after 2021-22.

    This, then, is a decision taken by United with a view to long-term changes to their fortunes, not simply a quick fix to arrest poor results. Still, with more than half the season still to go, Rangnick could yet guide the Red Devils to some tangible on-pitch success over the coming months – provided that he gets to work quickly on some of their biggest problems.

    Stats Perform looks at five things Rangnick must address as soon as possible...

     

    Fix the defence

    United conceded 21 goals in the first 12 games of the season; they have never previously let in more at the same stage in the competition's history. In November alone, they have faced 60 shots, the most of any side in the division.

    That tells you something about the state of their defence.

    Of course, Rangnick's gegenpressing system is likely to demand off-the-ball contributions from every player on the pitch (more on that shortly) but the rearguard is in need of some serious fine-tuning. In particular, captain Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw have seen their individual form fall off a cliff since they helped England to the final of Euro 2020; it was telling that a good defensive performance against Chelsea on Sunday came with both players sidelined.

    Getting the best out of Shaw and Maguire, arresting Aaron Wan-Bissaka's decline and getting Raphael Varane fit and integrated into the side will be essential to Rangnick's aims.

    Get Bruno firing again

    So often United's star performer under Solskjaer, Bruno Fernandes is another who has endured a comparatively poor season.

    He tallied his 50 direct goal involvement on his 58th appearance in October (30 goals, 20 assists), which is a tally only Andy Cole (43), Alan Shearer (54) and Eric Cantona (54) reached in fewer games, so it's not all bad. But the Portugal playmaker has scored just once in 19 appearances for club and country.

    He looks a player in need of a lift and, so central is he to United's attack play, he could be Rangnick's first port of call at Carrington. Well, apart from...

    Accommodate Ronaldo

    Like a black hole devouring a gas cloud, all the noise surrounding United's performances seems to be drawn inexorably back to Cristiano Ronaldo.

    It's a beguiling narrative: a five-time Ballon d'Or winner who has to start every game but who should not expect to start every game; a 36-year-old forward who no longer contributes enough to make up for any shortcomings, but one with six goals in five Champions League matches this season, two of them winners and one a last-gasp equaliser.

    There are some writing off Ronaldo's chances of winning over a coach like Rangnick who demands hard graft from every member of his team, while others say the onus is on the incoming manager to construct a unit that brings the best out of the leading male international goalscorer in history. Time will tell what the future holds.

    And just a note for the 'Ronaldo doesn't press' crowd: he made three more sprints and 21 more intensive runs against Chelsea than Jesse Lingard, who came on at the same time.

    Tie down Pogba and tidy the squad

    Some of Solskjaer's best work at United was putting together a strong squad, but that seemed to unravel in his final few months in charge.

    Lingard returned rejuvenated from West Ham but, rather than cash in when there was a demand, Solskjaer kept the England international yet gave him just 63 minutes of league action. It's now likely he'll leave for nothing next June.

    There were similarly strange decisions behind contract extensions for Eric Bailly and the seldom-seen Juan Mata, while Phil Jones is still at the club after two years of injury hell and Anthony Martial was retained despite falling way down the attacking pecking order. Goalkeeper Dean Henderson also appears unlikely now to dislodge David de Gea.

    Then there is Paul Pogba, still yet to sign a new deal or announce plans to leave for free next year, whose agent wastes few opportunities to discuss potentially interested parties. The word is that Pogba is excited to work with Rangnick, but the France star is just one of several members of the United squad who needs clarity on their positions.

    Give Donny a chance

    It felt almost pre-ordained when Donny van de Beek scored the final goal of the Solskjaer era against Watford, having come on as a substitute to rapturous (and ironic) cheers from the visiting fans.

    Van de Beek has spent most of his time at United being assured his chances would come, then left wondering when that would be. Having only started four league games in 14 months, the Netherlands international – who has lost his place in the national squad – would almost certainly have pushed to leave in January had Solskjaer stayed in the job.

    Now, Van de Beek has the opportunity to prove himself to a new manager. Rangnick's methods might not be Cruyffian exactly, but they are certainly more closely aligned to the Ajax way than Solskjaer's focus on individual inspiration.

  • Rangnick proclaimed one of football's great 'innovators' after Man Utd appointment Rangnick proclaimed one of football's great 'innovators' after Man Utd appointment

    New Manchester United interim manager Ralf Rangnick is "one of the most respected innovators" in the game, according to football director John Murtough.

    The Red Devils announced the appointment of the former Hoffenheim, Schalke and RB Leipzig boss on Monday, eight days after the departure of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

    Rangnick, 63, will take charge of the team for the rest of the season before taking up a two-year consultancy role at Old Trafford. He leaves a post as head of sports and development at Lokomotiv Moscow.

    Murtough said via the club's website: "Ralf is one of the most respected coaches and innovators in European football. He was our number one candidate for interim manager, reflecting the invaluable leadership and technical skills he will bring from almost four decades of experience in management and coaching.

    "Everyone at the club is looking forward to working with him during the season ahead, and then for a further two years in his advisory role."

    Rangnick, who is known for his high-pressing philosophy and influence on some of Bundesliga's brightest minds, started his career with his hometown club Viktoria Backnang.

    After spells with the likes of Stuttgart, Hoffenheim, Hannover and Schalke, Rangnick enjoyed a brief managerial stint with RB Leipzig, who rose from the fourth tier of German football to the Bundesliga with the new United man as director of football.

    Across 293 games in the German top flight, Rangnick has 120 victories to his name at a win percentage of 41.

    "I am excited to be joining Manchester United and focused on making this a successful season for the club," Rangnick said.

    "The squad is full of talent and has a great balance of youth and experience. All my efforts for the next six months will be on helping these players fulfil their potential, both individually and, most importantly, as a team.

    "Beyond that, I look forward to supporting the club's longer-term goals on a consultancy basis."

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