There should be no debate as to whether Manchester United need Mesut Ozil. They do and desperately because their attack, as it stands, is not good enough to win the Premier League.
Statistically United may have fired in as many goals as Manchester City before Pep Guardiola’s men smashed seven past Stoke but their weaknesses up front have been apparent since the start of the season.
Ten of their 21 Premier League goals so far have arrived in the last 10 minutes of games – which begs the question of what United are doing in the first 80.
It’s all well and good capitalising when the opponent pushes forward in one last throw of the dice but one day, United’s luck will turn if they don’t press home their advantage sooner.
Splitting hairs? Not really. Though the Red Devils may have more menace about them this season, they are trying to chase down a City side that are raising the bar to improbable heights.
So let’s break it down in two ways: why United’s current personnel are not up to scratch, and what makes Ozil a superior option.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan racked up assists at a rate which had fantasy footballers owners frothing at the mouth earlier in the season – but to suggest he has been a consistent force is pure fantasy too.
The Armenian’s five Premier League assists so far this season all came in August and the habitual fluctuation in form which earned him a flea in the ear from Jose Mourinho last season clearly remains.
He is undeniably electric on the counter, and his quality of passing can be very good indeed. But when he’s not in sync with the rest of the team he starts dawdling on the ball to compound the problem.
Before the international break, against lowly Crystal Palace, his passing completion rate was 60 per cent. For someone who is supposed to be directing the attack as a No10 to be so inaccurate is inexcusable.
His slump reached a nadir on Wednesday as in a game which needed an artist to brush aside a stubborn Benfica defence, Mkhitaryan lost the ball a staggering 21 times.
Compare those type of statistics to City’s ace in the hole, David Silva. When play gets compact in the final third no one is better than the diminutive Spanish maestro in protecting the ball and keeping the play alive.
He does not play as an out-and-out No10 and often comes deeper, but wherever he flits about on the field he treats the ball with utmost respect.
He has a 90 per cent pass success rate so far this year and, what’s more, he is fiendishly hard to dispossess – having been knocked off the ball seven times in eight EPL games this year to Mkhitaryan’s 16.
Simply put, Mkhitaryan’s game isn’t about patience. And for the lack of a Silva on the open market it is no surprise that the rumour mill is cranking into overdrive about Ozil.
Arsenal fans will not be sending Ozil off with their best wishes and heartfelt gratitude. Even putting aside his contract stand-off, there are a few ugly blots against his name.
He is lazy, flatters to deceive, is inconsistent, doesn’t show enough emotion – all charges which have done the rounds during Ozil’s Arsenal career.
Well, United aren’t looking for a man to lead the charge from the front and snap at heels. They have Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford et al to do that, with either Paul Pogba or Ander Herrera buzzing about from behind and Nemanja Matic on mop up duty.
That’s not to say Ozil would be allowed to prance around – the anecdote of Mourinho sending a rocket up his backside while at Madrid has been doing the rounds – but this is the one area of a Jose side which does not require brute power and pace to work.
The German will be the key cutter in this team, the man who can pry open a door before the others steam through. Say what you want about Ozil’s admittedly poor form, but last year he made three key passes a game on average and was dispossessed fewer times than Kevin De Bruyne and Christian Eriksen in the Premier League.
A change of scenery, in a more well-rounded team, will surely play to his strengths. It’s a move that United can afford to take an educated gamble on and while he is not a Ballon D’Or nominee in waiting, patience in attack is exactly what is needed at Old Trafford right now.
As Silva has proved this year, brawn is no match for brains.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believes Harry Kane’s rise to become one of the best strikers in the world presents Tottenham with a challenge in the next couple of years.
The 24-year-old England captain has scored 15 goals in 15 appearances for club and country this season to maintain his rich vein of form which has seen him score 81 goals in 102 Premier League matches in the previous three years, leading to links with the likes of Real Madrid.
Klopp, who experienced a similar problem in the summer when Barcelona tried to sign playmaker Philippe Coutinho, had a word of warning for Spurs.
“It will be a big challenge for them in the next few years because Harry is not only one of the best strikers in Europe he is one of the best strikers in the world, 100 per cent,” he said.
Last weekend Klopp succeeded in keeping quiet an in-form Romelu Lukaku, who had scored in seven successive Premier League matches before the goalless draw at Anfield.
The job was made easier easier by United’s tactics and the Belgium striker’s reluctance to engage when out of possession but the Reds boss said Kane is a different prospect.
“I don’t have to judge these two. They are both fantastic strikers,” he added.
“The difference is that Harry is much more a part of the game when he is not scoring – but I am pretty sure Lukaku can make these steps too.
“We avoided the balls to Lukaku and that must be a key for Harry as well but if we are too concentrated on one player then Dele Alli is everywhere or Eriksen shoots from everywhere with decisive passes.
“It is a good team so you cannot be concentrated on one player.”
Klopp will go to Wembley on Sunday without one his most potent attacking threats as Sadio Mane continues his recovery from a hamstring injury sustained in the last international break.
Senegal coach Aliou Cisse has named the pacy forward in his squad for their World Cup qualifiers against South Africa on November 10 and 14, claiming there is “no doubt” the player would be 100 per cent fit.
Klopp played down those expectations, however, as the initial assessment from the club’s medical staff was up to six weeks – which would take Mane beyond those dates.
“I don’t know how he can know. I don’t know,” said Klopp.
“Sadio is still in rehab indoors, he is not doing any exercises outside.
“If he is fit earlier I would be really happy but no-one knows in this moment.
“They have very important games – I think they need one point from two games to be qualified – so they feel the pressure a little bit but we cannot change the situation.
“If Sadio is fit we cannot hide it, why should we do it? If he is fit we can do nothing to keep him here and he will go to Senegal but at this moment I don’t know.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
The addition of Mohamed Salah in the summer transfer window has taken Liverpool’s attack to new heights, with the Egyptian joining Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino in terrorising opposing defences.
They’ve shown their best on a couple of occasions this season, firstly in a 4-0 win over Arsenal and then in Tuesday night’s astonishing 7-0 away in over Maribor, the club’s biggest-ever away win in the Champions League.
What’s remarkable is that both of those results came with one member of the attacking four missing, as Coutinho didn’t play against Arsenal and Mane, arguably the most vital of the four, unavailable for the thrashing of Maribor.
Yet despite the potency of the attack, Liverpool have at times struggled for goals this season, and they lag far behind Manchester City and bitter rivals Manchester United in the Premier League goals scored tally.
So are the Reds the league’s most efficient attack, or do they still have to work on some kinks?