Louis van Gaal has demanded a first-class performance from his centre-backs in order to deal with West Ham United’s Andy Carroll and keep alive Manchester United’s last chance of winning silverware in the FA Cup.
On Wednesday night the Dutchman’s side travel to Upton Park for a quarter-final replay after drawing 1-1 with the Londoners in the original game.
United are in desperate need of a result after a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Tottenham last weekend. Van Gaal blamed their defensive problems on bad communication between Chris Smalling and Daley Blind.
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Despite missing a penalty in the first leg of their Champions League tie it would appear that Manchester City are very keen to bring Zlatan Ibrahimovic onboard next season.
The big Swede did get his name on the scoresheet eventually when Fernando’s attempted clearance bounced off his foot and beat Joe Hart.
With 30 goals already this season in Ligue 1 the Premier League would be a useful asset to the Sky Blues, but it remains to be seen whether he would want to work with Pep Guardiola after their public fallout in 2015.
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Taking a deep sigh, Samir Nasri says there are “no words” to describe the frustration, nor the physical and mental anguish he suffered when a horror injury left him facing an uncertain future.
A freak training-ground incident in October meant the Manchester City midfielder had nearly 100 stitches following surgery on his thigh muscle.
Six months later and he is back celebrating and smiling again after a winning goal helped his side beat West Brom 2-1 on Saturday to stay fourth in the Premier League. The relief is tangible.
Yet as he reflects on a difficult period in his career, he ponders the prospect of life at the Etihad under a new manager with Pep Guardiola incoming and Manuel Pellegrini outgoing.
Nasri’s name has been mentioned among the possible departures this summer once the Catalan arrives to shape his own City masterplan.
But, now 28 and having extended his contract until 2019, the Frenchman feels Guardiola will be a “lucky man” to have him next season because he is desperate to prove his worth.
“Of course I want to stay, that’s why I extended my contract,” says Nasri, a long-time admirer or Barcelona, and Guardiola’s style.
“But at the end of the day I am a player and I want to play. You can do whatever you want, but if you are sitting on the bench you are not happy, no matter if you have signed a 25-year deal.
“The only thing that matters is when you are on the pitch. I am OK with everything, I am OK to be a team player.
“If I don’t perform, to sit on the bench, of course I’ll accept it, but if I play I just want to be one of the starters if I perform. That’s just how it is.
“You have to discuss with the manager when there is a new manager so I just know that, like, I am the type of player for his philosophy and the way he likes his team to play. So we are just going to see, and on the first day of pre-season I will have a chat with him because I am going to be really hungry.
“He’s a great manager, maybe the best in the world. Even if it was not my generation, I was a huge, huge fan of Johan Cruyff and he copied everything off him because he was one of his players [at Barcelona].
“I love the way his teams play, having the possession of the ball 70 per cent so, it’s something I’m looking forward to. It’s exciting, but if you are part of his plan. If you are not part of his plan, it’s not exciting at all.
“I don’t know [what will happen], maybe he comes with his [own] ideas and stuff. I played against him in the past, he had some praise for me, but I think that was like five years ago now.”
It followed an impressive 2-1 win for former club Arsenal over Guardiola’s all-conquering Barcelona side in a 2011 Champions League tie at the Emirates Stadium.
But Nasri adds: “That is one thing, but when the pre-season is going to start I am going to be fresh, so I hope that will help me and I will try to perform because when you have been out for so long you are more hungry when you come back, you don’t want to waste your time.
“You want to be back with a bang and fit for my team. If I stay working with Pep Guardiola, if he wants me, he’s just going to be a lucky man because I will be really hungry.”
While always ambitious from his early years at Marseille and drawing comparisons with the legendary Zinedine Zidane for classy play and creative talents, Nasri’s desire and determination intensified during his time out.
“Mentally it’s been really hard,” he reveals of his spell on the sidelines. “I travelled, did everything, because I needed to clear my mind for sure, when you have all of this.
“When you come to the dressing room and hear all the guys talking about starting in this game and that game and you think ‘when am I going to play? Oh in May’.
“I’ve been in Dubai, America, and when I was close to return I’ve been in Italy to do a detox. I’ve been in France also with the family because I needed people around me who cared. So I’ve had enough of a break and am just going to go in hard now. I just want to play.
“They said I would be lucky if I played one game by the end of the season so it has been really frustrating being on the sidelines watching the team, knowing that you cannot help them.
“The doctor told me that I might not recover the speed or the power of my leg if I didn’t go through the surgery. But then when the surgeon opened me up he said they could not reach the muscle because it went all the way back down.
“So they had to take the muscle and make all the stitches and stuff. I am just happy that now I am back and I have no problems, so, touch wood, it is going to continue like that.
“I’m 28. I’ve been through a lot in my career already and have had this experience now.
“Sometimes you need to fall down to know how lucky you are with everything. How blessed you are to be playing, for example, for this club and compete in every competition every year, have a great contract and all of those things.
Most successful passes in the Premier League this weekend:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 10, 2016
S.Nasri (62) pic.twitter.com/mVxvun42wg
“You just want to perform and reward all the people for their confidence in you.”
While Nasri will be able to help City push for a top-four Premier League spot and clinch a place in next season’s Champions League, he can take no further part in his side’s European conquest this time, having been replaced in January’s squad list by young striker Kelechi Iheanacho.
“It was a really easy decision,” adds Nasri. “Even if I was to be back just for the final, it’s not something we had in mind.
“Why would I keep a spot when someone is available and the fact that Kun [Aguero] was prone to injury and that just left us with Wilfried [Bony]?
“When you have been out for six months, you cannot play every three days, it’s just too hard for your body so it was not frustrating. When I had that discussion with the manager, I said: ‘Yes, go ahead because I am not going to be ready for playing the Champions League’.”
Samir Nasri’s game by numbers:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 9, 2016
100% tackles won
95% pass accuracy
3 chances created
1 goal pic.twitter.com/FbBMljoNcC
He cannot disguise the disappointment, though, of not being able to face Paris Saint-Germain in Tuesday’s second leg of their quarter-final. Being from Marseille, he compared the rivalry with PSG to a Manchester derby between City and United.
The Etihad will be expectant after City gained a battling 2-2 first-leg draw in Paris, but Nasri warns: “It’s going to be a dangerous game.
“We have the advantage, but I know Paris and the way they played against us, I think they were on an off day.
“They made a lot of mistakes technically, that’s not the way they play. Normally they are better on the ball.
“When you have the advantage you don’t know what to do, if you have to attack or to defend, and don’t know how to play this kind of game. But I know the lads are really hungry and it’s an opportunity to go into the top four of the best teams in Europe.
“So I know we are going to do a game that we need to be in the semi-final.”