Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes a "more mature" Mason Greenwood is set for a big second half of the season as he hailed the influence of Edinson Cavani.

The United boss has been amazed by the impact made by Cavani since he signed on a free transfer after leaving Paris Saint-Germain.

That has included the lessons he has taught Greenwood, who has not kicked on as expected after his stunning first-team breakthrough last season.

Greenwood ended a 10-match run without a goal with a composed finish in the 3-2 FA Cup win over Liverpool on Sunday.

Solskjaer thinks that is a sign of things to come for the teenager.

"We think Mason is going be very important in the second half of the season, but it is not just going happen by itself," Solskjaer said ahead of Wednesday's home Premier League game with Sheffield United.

"He scored against West Ham a while back as well and was expected to kick on.

"He's taken steps, he's grown, he's more mature and he's been training with Edinson for half a season, he is learning good habits. 

"And whoever doesn't learn from players like him [Cavani], or Bruno [Fernandes] or the players we've brought in, that's a pity.

"I'm very confident that Mason will chip in good performances and with goals and assists."

Solskjaer was asked to elaborate on Cavani, who turns 34 next month having delighted the United boss on and off the pitch.

He added: "How long have we got? 

"What he brings is when a striker of that age runs almost 12 kilometres, every time he chases down the centre-back when he has got the ball, every time the goalkeeper has the ball.

"He tackles centre midfielders!

"He made a mistake for Liverpool's [second] goal but he is the one who is closest to winning it back inside our own 18-yard box. 

"His reaction, his work-rate, his habits, and his threat in the box and the humility of coming in every single day to do your best.

"We could go on and on and on but his experience and attitude, of course, that’s given us a lesson, every single one of us."

Marcus Rashford, who impressed against Liverpool, should be fit to face the Blades after a minor knee issue.

"We are looking strong, which is a good place to be in," Solskjaer added. "Marcus is available for selection, he tweaked his knee a little bit but trained fully this morning."

United are two points clear at the top of the Premier League as they prepare to face the team sitting bottom.

They have won their last seven home top-flight encounters with Sheffield United, a run that stretches back to August 1975.

Opta data shows the Blades collected just one point in eight top-flight meetings with the Red Devils and the fitness of Rashford will come as a blow.

That is because the England forward has been directly involved in six goals in his three Premier League outings against Chris Wilder's men (three goals, three assists), averaging a goal or assist every 43 minutes.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants Manchester United to harness the spirit of the 1999 treble-winning side when they face Liverpool in the FA Cup.

Solskjaer will make changes for the tie of the fourth round at Old Trafford on Sunday after a 2-1 win at Fulham on Wednesday, which put United two points clear at the top of the Premier League.

The Red Devils are still in the hunt for three trophies this season and face an out-of-sorts Liverpool side who are smarting from a shock 1-0 home defeat to Burnley on Thursday.

United dramatically beat the Reds 2-1 at the same stage of the FA Cup 22 years ago courtesy of late goals from Dwight Yorke and Solskjaer, then went on to complete a famous treble.

Solskjaer says dumping the Premier League champions out once again could be a big moment in what he hopes will be a glorious season.

"Of course we can transform a few things from that season. We know that there's tight moments, very fine margins. We know in that season we were close to going out against Liverpool," said the United boss.

"Peter Schmeichel saved a penalty from [Arsenal's] Dennis Bergkamp in the semi-final in injury time. Those moments, I think they gave us the mental advantage, especially in the semi-final.

"But against Liverpool as well in that fourth round, when you get that boost of turning 1-0 down to a 2-1 win against a big team it's massive.

"The FA Cup is a run we've got to enjoy as long as it lasts. We got to the semis last year and we're going to make a few changes but we'll put a team out there that I hope can go through."

Victor Lindelof is available to return from a back injury and Solskjaer will rotate his squad just a week after a drab goalless draw between United and Liverpool at Anfield in the top flight.

"Of course the focus is now on the FA Cup," said Solskjaer. "We know it's a difficult tie, I'm not the best on draws, I think they should try to get someone else in if they want an easy draw."

Solskjaer also said forwards Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani could all feature in the same side at some stage.

He said: "I used to play in a decent team and the gaffer [Alex Ferguson] had four centre-forwards at least to choose from and with the four front men we've got, we have players to choose from who can get us goals in any game, against any opposition.

"I'm very pleased with the ones I've got and we’re working hard to get the relationships with all of them so we can use them in different ways and sometimes maybe all four of them will play."

Marcus Rashford still has 5-10 per cent improvement to make as he approaches the prime of his career, according to former Manchester United and England captain Bryan Robson.

Rashford made it five games without a goal in 2021 as Premier League leaders United played out a goalless draw with champions Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday.

Nevertheless, the England forward is enjoying a productive season with 14 goals and six assists in all competitions.

The 23-year-old has only bettered that goal tally once across the course of an entire campaign, with 22 last term bolstered by six conversions from eight Premier League penalties - duties that now lie with Bruno Fernandes.

He netted one spot kick in the 4-1 Champions League win over Istanbul Basaksehir this time around and his 12 open-play goals in Europe's elite competition and the Premier League came from shots with a cumulative xG value of eight - highlighting some impressive efficiency in front of goal.

"Marcus is getting to an age where he’s maturing and will come to his prime soon," Robson told Stats Perform News.

"I think he’s really improved over the last two years. He's worked really hard on his physique and fitness. But I do believe there’s another 5-10 percent in Marcus.

"When things get easy for him in games he becomes a little bit lazy on the ball and gives it away more than he should.

"But that’s probably because we know he can create with a great pass, and sometimes when you're that little bit younger you don't have that real strong mentality to go further.

"I think he can go on to be a great player for Man United and England."

Although Anthony Martial opened the scoring in the 2-1 New Year's Day victory over Aston Villa, Rashford's fellow forward has found the going tougher in front of goal overall this season.

The France international has five goals in 22 games, with just two in 14 in the Premier League.

Robson believes the 25-year-old can sometimes struggle for confidence, while also highlighting his heavy workload as United's 2019-20 schedule ran on until the Europa League semi-final defeat to Sevilla in August.

"It was a long season for a few of the lads," he said. "It took a few of them quite a time to get going, they had no pre-season after Sevilla loss.

"I think it affected [Martial]. I don't think he's a totally confident lad.

"I think he needs encouraging, but I'm sure as the season goes on he just needs a run of games with a couple of goals."

Manchester United's record against the so-called 'big six' of the Premier League this season reads zero wins, two defeats and two draws.

They have conceded seven goals, six of them at home to Tottenham, and scored just once – a Bruno Fernandes penalty two minutes into that 6-1 hammering in October.

Fernandes scored their previous goal in these encounters from the spot, too, in a 1-1 draw at Spurs last June. In fact, you have to go back to March 2020 and their 2-0 win at home to Manchester City, the last Old Trafford game played in front of a crowd, for the previous occasion that they scored a goal against a big-six team that wasn't a penalty.

They might be top of the league heading into Sunday's showdown with Liverpool but, for a manager that made an early habit of extracting big performances against the best sides, that stat should be of serious concern to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

 

BIG ZERO SIX

Since the end of the 2019-20 shutdown, United have played seven games against the big six and won none of them, if you include domestic cup losses to Chelsea and City.

In league football alone, they have drawn against Tottenham, Chelsea and City and lost to Spurs and Arsenal, with just two Fernandes penalties to show for it. All their previous three such games were at home and they have not scored in any of them.

In their first 14 league games against these sides under Solskjaer, United won six times and lost only four, scoring 16 goals and conceding 13 – a decent record given their real problems with consistency.

The strange thing is United's winless run against the best has coincided with a general upturn in form since the previous season restarted last June. Taking only results in that time into account, United have played 26, won 17, lost just three, scored 56 goals and conceded 30. That's the best record of any side in the league and seven points better than Liverpool.

In fact, narrow that down to results against teams in the top half of the table in the same time frame, and United have lost the fewest games (two) of any side, with 21 points taken from 13 games, just three behind Jurgen Klopp's side.

So, why the recent drop-off against the very best?

Solskjaer's most dependable attacking weapons have been Fernandes, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, all three of whom will almost certainly start at Liverpool, barring injury.

They were all involved in their last big-six contest in the league, a 0-0 draw at home to City in December. Rashford managed only one shot all game and created no chances for anyone else; Martial, a late substitute, created one chance but had no shots himself. Fernandes, ever the fulcrum of United's attack, had four shots and created two chances.

The previous game was a staid goalless draw with Chelsea that made the derby look positively thrill-a-minute. That day, with Martial banned, Rashford was more involved, with three attempts at goal and two chances created; he was outdone by Fernandes (three shots, four chances created).

They don't exactly look like imperious figures, but they actually fall in line with their per-90-minute numbers for this season. On average, Rashford attempts 2.7 shots per game and creates 1.3 chances; Martial has 2.9 shots and creates 1.2 chances; Fernandes musters 3.6 shots and creates 3.4 chances.

Put succinctly, based on this season's performances, Fernandes should be expected to create between three and four goalscoring opportunities in every league game he starts for United. In other words, he was bang on his average against City and Chelsea. Rashford's numbers are similarly close to the mean.

United's best attackers, then, are keeping their performance levels consistent against the big six. They're just meeting greater resistance. That becomes clearer looking at expected goals.

In their most recent three league games against these sides, United have had xG of 0.6 against City, 0.7 against Chelsea and a lowly 0.4 in a 1-0 loss to Arsenal. In those same fixtures in 2019-20, those figures were 1.6 (in a 2-0 win against City), 2.2 (in a 4-0 win over Chelsea) and 0.9 (in a 1-1 draw with Arsenal). Interestingly, though, Chelsea and Arsenal had higher xG numbers in those games last season, even though they suffered worse results, and City's only increased this term by 0.7.

This reflects a general balancing out in these matches. They are, for the most part, more attritional and less unpredictable affairs settled by fine margins – exactly the sort of contest you'd expect between true heavyweights. United are not significantly under-performing each time; they're just not quite tilting the odds in their favour.

How, then, might they change that against Liverpool? There is one simple way.

SLAB EXPERIMENT

United have one particular weakness, regardless of opposition: set-pieces. This season, they have conceded 11 goals from set-plays; only Wolves (12), Brighton and Hove Albion (14) and Leeds United (16) have a worse record. They have shipped four goals from corners, the same number as Liverpool, but the champions have only conceded eight times from dead-ball situations overall.

At the other end, United have scored 10 goals from set-pieces, a tally bettered by just four teams: Aston Villa and Southampton (11), and Chelsea and Liverpool (12). Only Chelsea (34) have created more dead-ball chances than United (31).

There is an argument to say they should have more set-piece goals than anyone else. It's an argument that centres around their captain – the man who might be the very thing United need to get back to scoring against, and winning against, big-six opposition.

Since the start of last season, Harry Maguire has won 73 per cent of his aerial duels in the Premier League. That's the best rate of anyone who has contested at least 300 in that time. In fact, he has lost only 98 of the 341 he has been involved in, which is the lowest number of losses across the same period within that elite group.

However, in an attacking sense, the world's most expensive defender doesn't seem to have his head on straight. Since the start of 2019-20, he has attempted 27 headed shots, hit the target with just nine of them, and scored with two. Of players with at least 20 headed shots in that time, only four have hit the target less often.

On Sunday, Maguire will face a Liverpool side without Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and possibly Joel Matip. He will rarely have a better chance of stealing a march at set-plays and, if he does, he could well end United's wait for a goal – and a win – against the best. Sometimes, those fine margins are the width of a forehead.

Jose Mourinho has suggested he is not responsible for the high number of penalties being awarded to Manchester United.

United forward Marcus Rashford revealed the club's increase in favourable penalty decisions seemed to coincide with advice handed down by Mourinho during his spell as manager at Old Trafford.

Amid the debate over United penalties that was recently reignited by comments from Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, Rashford told the Football Writers' Association: "There's been times when we have not got penalties. 

"I remember when Jose was manager, there were five or six times I can remember where I should've had a penalty.

"Jose ended up saying to me if you're not savvy about the way you do it then you're not going to get it.

"After that we started to get a few – in terms of development, you have to learn it and understand it."

Mourinho was asked about Rashford's comments when he faced the media on Friday ahead of Tottenham's away Premier League game against Sheffield United on Sunday.

The Spurs boss claimed he did not want to make headlines ahead of the huge clash between Liverpool and United on the same day his team are at Bramall Lane.

But he suggested Opta statistics would come out in his favour on the topic.

"Look, first of all, Liverpool versus Manchester United is a big match that doesn't need me to make it bigger, " Mourinho said.

"Or it doesn't need me to do any headlines before such a big match that I know means so much for both clubs and supporters' population, so I'll leave comments for later not for now.

"But if you feel the need to write something about it, do it in a very simple way. 

"Stats, go to Opta, stats, go to my history as a manager in my more or less 10 Premier League seasons. Compare numbers and take your conclusions."

United win more penalties under Solskjaer

Opta statistics show United won seven penalties in all competitions under Mourinho in 2016-17 and six in the following campaign (four and three respectively in the league).

Mourinho's United were then awarded six in 24 games before he was fired in the 2018-19 season, the spot-kick rate rising to nine in 29 when Solskjaer took charge - initially on an interim basis.

United have continued to be awarded more penalties under Solskjaer since he became permanent boss.

They had an astonishing 22 in the 2019-20 season, 14 of which came in the Premier League.

This season, United have already racked up six Premier League spot-kicks in 17 matches and 11 in all competitions.

United lead the league in more ways than one

Since Solskjaer took over from Mourinho, United have won 27 penalties in 76 Premier League games.

That is far and away the most in the league, ahead of Leicester City (20 in 76), Manchester City (18 in 75) and Liverpool (16 in 76).

Chelsea (14), Arsenal (10) and Tottenham (eight) do not fare as well, while Everton have been awarded just five spot-kicks in 76 top-flight matches over the period.

Mourinho was awarded just 26 penalties from 212 Premier League games during his Chelsea tenure.

Marcus Rashford revealed Manchester United's increase in favourable penalty decisions seemed to coincide with advice handed down by Jose Mourinho during his spell as manager.

United have established a remarkable knack of winning spot-kicks over the past couple of years, comfortably earning more than their Premier League counterparts.

Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the league, United have been awarded 27 in a little over two years, which is already the joint-ninth most ever won by a Premier League manager at one club.

Those 27 have been won in just 76 matches – the other two managers on the same number of spot-kicks won are Roberto Mancini and Mauricio Pochettino, who needed significantly more matches (133 and 202 respectively).

The issue was raised recently by Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, who claimed United had won more in two years than the Reds had in five-and-a-half years with him – while that is not strictly correct, as the German has won 30, Solskjaer's team are clearly being awarded them with much greater frequency.

Klopp's 30 have come in 123 more matches than Solskjaer, who appears well on track to topple the hauls of Alex Ferguson (59 in 810 games) and Arsene Wenger (80 in 828 games).

Many managers, pundits and fans alike have offered suggestions as to why United get so many, with conclusions ranging from accusations of diving to the idea they simply have more committed dribblers than other teams – but Rashford has an alternative assessment.

Speaking to the Football Writers' Association, Rashford said: "It [appealing for penalties] is worse in training than it is in games – we're having arguments in [training] games, shouting at whoever the referee is, so like you can imagine it's a lot worse in training.

"As a forward line we want to go score goals. Whether you're making runs in behind or dribbling, if you can see a challenge coming you don't want to get tackled because you're looking at an opportunity to score, so there's no way you're going to let someone take the ball off you.

"So, it's just a case of us wanting to score goals and teams wanting to defend goals, penalties can happen.

"But there's been times when we've not got penalties. I remember when Jose was manager, there were five or six times I can remember where I should've had a penalty and Jose ended up saying to me if you're not savvy about the way you do it then you're not going to get it.

"After that we started to get a few – in terms of development, you have to learn it and understand it."

Liverpool and Klopp host title rivals United in an eagerly anticipated top-of-the-table clash on Sunday – no doubt the Reds' manager will be keeping a keen eye on any penalty appeals made by the visitors.

The Premier League's relentless schedule continues with matchday 19 this weekend.

Keeping on top of your fantasy teams has been tough with the intense fixture list and increasingly regular postponements due to the coronavirus pandemic.

To make things a little bit easier, we have used Opta data to highlight a few candidates for selection in your side.
 

NICK POPE

Burnley may only be four points clear of the drop zone, but when Pope is in the team they are difficult to beat.

Since the start of November, no goalkeeper to have featured at least four times has conceded fewer than Pope (four).

He has kept five clean sheets during that run and has the best save percentage in the Premier League at 90 per cent.


JOHN STONES

Manchester City are starting to look like Premier League title contenders once again, and a resurgent Stones has played a key role in that.

He has helped his side keep six clean sheets in his eight Premier League appearances this season, the highest percentage among defenders to play more than four games in 2020-21.
 

MARCUS RASHFORD

A mouthwatering top-of-the-table clash between Liverpool and Manchester United is scheduled to take place on Sunday and Rashford will again hope to prove influential in this fixture.

He has scored three goals in his past four Premier League appearances against Liverpool, earning his team four points in the process.

Only Wayne Rooney (six), Andy Cole (four) and Ryan Giggs (four) have found the back of the net against Liverpool more times for United in the Premier League than Rashford.


PEDRO NETO

Wolves host second-bottom West Brom in a West Midlands derby on Saturday.

With Raul Jimenez out due to a fractured skull, Neto has done his best to keep Nuno Espirito Santo's side pushing for a place in the top six.

He has the most Premier League goal involvements (four scored, three assisted) this season of any player aged 21 or younger, while his 32 chances created are twice as many as Bukayo Saka in second.

TOMAS SOUCEK

There is no doubting that Soucek has made himself an important part of David Moyes' West Ham side.

The Czech Republic international is the Hammers' highest-scoring player with five goals. He has also been involved in the most goal-ending open play sequences (seven) for the team this season.

CHRIS WOOD

Burnley may not be the most prolific team in the Premier League but Wood does not find it hard to score against West Ham.

The New Zealand striker has scored six goals in as many top-flight appearances against the Hammers, averaging a goal every 58 minutes.

He has not scored more than four against any other Premier League opponent.

Marcus Rashford has described not playing for Manchester United great Alex Ferguson as his only regret in football.

Rashford made his United debut as an 18-year-old in 2016, just under three years after Ferguson had retired as the manager at Old Trafford.

The England international had been in the United academy since the age of seven, overlapping with Ferguson's hugely successful tenure, but would never work directly with the Scot.

Rashford discussed Ferguson after receiving the Football Writers' Association's Tribute award for his work campaigning to end child poverty in the United Kingdom.

Ferguson has backed the United striker and spoken to him personally, and Rashford told the FWA: "For me, it was an unbelievable experience.

"For me, that's probably the only regret I've ever had in my career: never getting the chance to play under Sir Alex. It's something that is never going to happen now.

"To be on the phone with him and just have 10, 15 minutes conversation was amazing."

Rashford did get the opportunity to play alongside United's record goalscorer Wayne Rooney, however, and was effusive in his praise of the former England captain.

"Me and Wayne are different players, we play a lot different on the pitch," Rashford said.

"But in terms of the way he showed his versatility on the pitch, he's what I would consider one of the best players the Premier League has ever seen. You could put him anywhere on the pitch and he just has that football understanding.

"There's a few other players like that, like [Paul] Scholes, where you could play them anywhere and they'll make things happen and they'll give you a good performance.

"For me, despite all the goals he scored, that's one of the things that stood out to me. At the time, I think he was playing number 10 when I first came in, sometimes midfield and sometimes as the number nine.

"I just saw the professional side of it. He was always ready to play and give his best when he was on the pitch. That probably made me mature a little bit as well, seeing how professional he was.

"I'd been a fan of his since I was a kid, watching him score goals left, right and centre, so the goals I knew he was scoring, but this side of it was new to me and I'm glad that I got to experience that."

Ferguson and Rooney were both previous recipients of the FWA Tribute award, along with Scholes, Ryan Giggs and David Beckham, three other modern United greats.

"As a kid, you want to follow in the footsteps of people you see as heroes," Rashford said.

"I know on my journey to the first team, it was all about doing the things that they'd done, making the same starts that they'd made to get into the same position that they were in.

"I've been lucky enough to be able to experience that journey and make my way into the first team like they did.

"To get this award and for them to have had it before me is an amazing feeling."

But Rashford is not done, having this week continued his work by highlighting the poor quality of free meals given to children, again forcing change.

"We're at the beginning of what I see as a long journey," he added. "I'm definitely not at the stage of relief yet; I feel like there's a lot more that needs to be done and a lot more steps that need to be taken forward."

Marcus Rashford hopes his hunger for goals and assists will propel Manchester United to success this season.

The England international has been in fine form so far this term, with his stoppage-time winner against Wolves on Tuesday helping the Red Devils crank up the pressure on leaders Liverpool. 

United are now just three points behind the champions, who drew 0-0 with Newcastle United on Wednesday, and have played a game less. 

In 14 Premier League starts this season, Rashford has scored seven goals and laid on four for his team-mates from 20 chances created. 

That compares to 17 goals in 31 starts last season and a total of seven assists from 33 chances created. 

His total this campaign is second only to Bruno Fernandes in the United side, the Portuguese midfielder scoring 10 goals and providing seven assists. 

United can go level on points with Liverpool with victory over Aston Villa on Friday and Rashford has made it clear only one thing will be on his mind when Dean Smith's side visit Old Trafford.

"My main aim is to help the team and, as a forward, it's goals and assists that do that so the more of them I can get is the best for the team," he told United's official website. 

"That's what I'm concentrating on doing and ultimately that's what is going to help the team pick up points and if we have three or four of us that are playing in that way and trying to help each other score, then we can have big possibilities this season."

United have recovered from a poor start to the season, which saw them pick up just seven points from their opening six games. 

There were three home defeats in that run, including a humiliating 6-1 reverse to Tottenham. 

The 13-time Premier League champions are now in the midst of a nine-game unbeaten streak, however, which Rashford attributes to a new-found consistency amongst the players.

"This season with what's been going on and the way the season has started and players being out with COVID-19, when one player goes out with it, it affects the team and it's difficult to find consistency," he added. "I think that's what teams have been struggling with and that leads to results being up and down.

"I expect that to happen throughout the season so the only thing we can do is concentrate on ourselves and give ourselves the best chance of winning three points. To be fair, we've done that. 

"The beginning of the season wasn't the best for us, especially at home, but we've found a way to get back on track and probably when it was the most difficult period for us we came out of it in a good way and stuck together as a team.

"As long as we keep doing that and do as well as we can on the pitch we can't ask for anything more."

Page 6 of 6
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.