Three possible Paul Pogba replacements should Man United do the unthinkable and let Frenchman leave

Matt Jones 17/04/2018
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Paul Pogba's future at United may not be so certain.

After yet another underwhelming performance in defeat to West Brom in which he was hauled off in the second half, Paul Pogba’s future at Manchester United is once again being called into question.

According to the Daily Mail, Jose Mourinho is prepared to let the £89m man leave this summer. Although Ed Woodward would be loathe to part with such a marquee player, Pogba clearly isn’t clicking in Mourinho’s favoured 4-2-3-1 system and if either of the two are more likely to go, you’d say it’s the flamboyant Frenchman who would make way.

If the seemingly unthinkable does unfold and Pogba leaves Old Trafford for a second time, where would United reinvest? Here we look at three options Mourinho might well turn to.

SERGEJ MILINKOVIC-SAVIC

The Lazio man become one of the most exciting and dominant midfielders in Italy, combing his raw, physical power with a refined all-round game that has seen the rising Serbian star become a long-term target for United.

The 23-year-old blends the traditional movement and finishing ability of an attacking midfielder, with the height and physicality of a target man or defensive midfielder, improving all aspects of his game year-on-year during his three seasons with the Rome giants.

On the defensive side he’s not as busy as teammates Lucas Leiva or Marco Parolo, although his 48 tackles in Serie A this term are fourth most at the club, but it’s his attacking game that makes him truly stand out.

His aerial prowess and 6’2” frame make him an imposing figure to try and shake off the ball, allowing him to shield it, hold up play and bring his teammates into play.

He averages 50.9 passes per game and only Leiva has completed more passes in Serie A than his tally of 1,475, although his completion percentage of 80.5 leaves plenty of room for improvement.

He wins on average 2.7 aerial duels per game and has won 79 in 143 overall – 30 more than any other teammate. Although his passing may not be perfect, it’s extremely effective, Milinkovic-Savic playing 43 key passes this term (second only to Luis Alberto), leading to two assists.

Tellingly he has found the back of the net nine teams – only prolific striker Ciro Immobile (27) has more goals at the club.

With Mourinho looking for more all-round round midfield qualities, Milinkovic-Savic certainly fits the bill and the United manager may well step up his interest if he is indeed prepared to allow Pogba to move on in the summer.

Liklihood: 8/10

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic

JORGINHO

Has been labelled Andrea Pirlo’s replacement for Italy and Jorginho is certainly Napoli’s metronome under Maurizio Sarri.

The Brazilian-born midfielder, who has won five Azzurri caps, would again be an ideal replacement for Pogba in the style of defensive midfielder Mourinho craves.

An all-action workhorse who has an insatiable appetite for hard graft, Jorginho shields the back four and makes an average of 1.9 tackles per league game. His 52 total tackles are the third-most at Napoli in Serie A this term, while he’s made 45 interceptions in 2017/18 – the most of any Napoli player.

However, he’s not in Sarri’s side just to do the dirty work, as he’s also a heavy contributor in attack.

He averages 97.4 passes per game in Serie A this season, more than any other player at Stadio San Paolo, while only teammate Kalidou Koulibaly has made more passes in Serie A this season than Jorginho’s 2,726.

He steps forward confidently and often looks to operate in advanced areas against deep defences.

With 45 key passes he’s Napoli’s most creative player outside the attacking quartet of Lorenzo Insigne, Jose Callejon, Dries Mertens and Marek Hamsik, with four assists and two goals to his name.

His work-rate, ball-winning ability, technique, vision and passing accuracy make him the complete box-to-box midfielder. Would be a brilliant addition but will probably only arrive if United can’t acquire Milinkovic-Savic.

Liklihood: 6/10

Jorginho

EMRE CAN

A bit of a stretch perhaps, seeing as he plays for United’s most hated rivals, but with his future uncertain as his contract expires at the end of the season and no deal to renew in sight, United could do far worse than make a move for the versatile German.

Capped 20 times by Die Mannschaft, Can has shown major improvement in 2017/18 and although the likes of teammates Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane may hog the headlines, the influence he’s had on this Liverpool team cannot be ignored.

His powerful all-action game has become integral to the way Liverpool play and the 24-year-old has cut out the mistakes of last season – he committed 70 fouls in 2016/17 Premier League; only Christian Benteke conceded more.

His ball-winning skills have come on immeasurably. His average of 2.6 tackles per game is second at Liverpool but no-one has made more than his 67 – which is 16th overall in the Premier League (every player above him has made more appearances, bar Huddersfield’s Jonathan Hogg who also has 26).

He is also calmer and more efficient in possession, posting a pass completion rate of 85.5 per cent and dispossessed just 15 times. His 1,543 passes place him fourth at the club overall and he’s completed 25 key passes, with four assists, while six goals in all competitions is his best return in four seasons at Anfield.

Characterised as a defensive midfielder, Can is more box-to-box in nature and even more versatile in that he has often been deployed at right-back for both club and country.

He is perhaps best as a deep lying playmaker and would work alongside a pure defensive-minded player in the midfield two, like Nemanja Matic, as he can also contribute further up the field.

Liklihood: 4/10

Emre-Can-Liverpool

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Forget England – being an average Joe should be West Ham flop Hart's only concern

Chris Bailey 17/04/2018
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Joe Hart has some work to do.

Once the poster boy of a shampoo brand, Joe Hart’s demise has been nothing short of hair-raising.

The latest blunder in a long line of mishaps occurred against Stoke on Monday night, as he inexplicably fumbled a tame shot straight into the path of Peter Crouch. Only an Andy Carroll equaliser stopped West Ham from being dragged further into a relegation scrap.

Squillions have been squandered on transfers in the Premier League era but there have scarcely been few more disastrous loan deals.

The Hammers reportedly shelled out £4.5 million, to Hart and City combined, for the season. What they’ve got is an out-of-sorts, gaffe-prone relic of his former self who has made as many errors leading to goals this season (four) as any other English keeper in the Premier League put together. Hart’s appeared in 18 games – the rest a total of 179.

England manager Gareth Southgate is an astute man and he should quickly come to the conclusion that there is no logical reason for Hart to be included in his World Cup squad.

That a player on the wane can offer leadership qualities in Russia is a paper-thin argument as, even with him being England’s third-string keeper, few in that dressing room would think he is deserving of his place.

Indeed the battle to save his international career has been over for a while. Now it’s fair to wonder whether Hart realises he is in a battle to save his career full stop.

Pep Guardiola has double-locked the doors back into the Etihad and there is surely no team in the world, not even in England, who would contemplate handing over six figures a week to this iteration of Hart.

There is a way back to respectability for Hart. Firstly Manchester City must not hold both him and a potential suitor to ransom, as they have failed to offload him permanently so far due to an exorbitant price tag.

He must also go somewhere that is both away from the spotlight – a West Ham side who had over-inflated expectations was a match made in hell – and where he can regain his swagger.

At his best, Hart was unshakable. One minute he could make a blunder, the next a world-class save. A place out of the public eye but where he can feel important, at the bottom of the Premier League or even the top of the Championship, would be ideal.

Pride has to be swallowed. To get back to where he wants to be, being an average Joe is the best place to start.

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Mauricio Pochettino proud of Tottenham's Premier League success

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Mauricio Pochettino says he is proud that Tottenham have closed the gap on the Premier League‘s top clubs as he targets Champions League qualification for a third successive season.

Spurs, who face Brighton on Tuesday, are fourth in the table despite a lower financial outlay than their rivals and playing at Wembley while their new ground is built.

“In football it’s about this, it is to be clear who you are and then to try to maximise your potential,” said Pochettino, whose side can still finish second in the table behind champions Manchester City.

“At Tottenham for us it is to be brave, to believe, to work hard, to work harder than other clubs that the people consider are at our level,” said the Argentine.

He said Spurs had made big strides in recent years and were now consistently challenging at the top end of the Premier League table.

“Now we are there but I think for me the most important thing is that we are there with a completely different way, or different tools of course, to teams like City or Manchester United,” he said.

“You can work unbelievably hard, you can have these ideas on football as a coach or a coaching staff,” added Pochettino, whose side have 67 points, four fewer than Jose Mourinho’s United, in second.

“But then you need the principal actors to deliver this idea and of course if you have better players, better quality… if you want a bigger house you need to pay what the market says.

“In football it’s the same, or you have a spontaneous generation like there was at Barcelona that appeared with Xavi, (Andres) Iniesta, (Lionel) Messi, (Gerard) Pique, (Cesc) Fabregas, (Carles) Puyol. Or like the ’92 generation at Manchester United.

“Of course that is not about money, that is a spontaneous generation that makes your team unbelievable.”

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