In May, Sir Alex Ferguson said, “Manchester United have a duty to entertain”, and it seems like the message has been heard.
On the back of the defeat in the Super Cup to Real Madrid , the 4-0 victory over West Ham was a statement to the rest of the Premier League. It was a steamrollering performance and that is exactly what you need if you really want to challenge for the title.
I enjoyed a front-row seat to watch them train and in matches during pre-season.
On the first day back training, they started with some defensive tactical work and I was like, “oh my God, you’re coming back from your holiday and straightaway you’re working on how to defend properly and occupy the space”.
But then I witnessed another aspect in what they were trying to do; a willingness to be on the front foot and put the opponent under pressure. To try and go forward in a much more direct way.
During pre-season, performances always drop because of tiredness, because you’re changing system, you’re rotating. It’s a moment to work and adjust and get physically ready for the season. So you don’t get the full story. But to play like that for 90 minutes in the first game of the season – against the type of team they were dropping points against last season – it showed a new Manchester United.
I was brought up in France, which is tactical, and then moved to play in Italy which is, of course, very tactical with defensive work being the priority. In modern football you cannot avoid that, it is the work that has to be done, but also you can have an element of joy and fun. Players prefer attacking football and fans will only enjoy themselves if players are enjoying themselves.
The one who impressed me the most on Sunday was Marcus Rashford. He is a real threat because of the speed he plays at and the pressure he puts on defenders. Okay, so his direct opponent was Pablo Zabaleta, who isn’t the quickest, but Rashford will have a real impact this season.
Last year he spent a lot of time coming off the bench but this season he will start more games and will be decisive. It was very promising from him. At 20, being in charge of free-kicks at United means in training he must be one of the top takers, and it also shows the responsibility he is taking in the side and his own confidence.
He’s obviously working out in the gym to get stronger, and he’s doing some specific work to improve his finishing. But the big thing is the experience he’s gaining – game after game, season after season; playing the Europa League, playing finals, playing for England.
He’s also a quick learner. Even when everybody is raving about his performance he keeps his cool and he wants to work harder the next day. He has a great mentality.
Arsenal were all over the place in defence against Leicester and it looked like the first day back in training.
They didn’t have Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny or Shkodran Mustafi, which led to a lot of pressure on the guys who started the game in new positions. Having those elements before you’ve even kicked off puts a lot of uncertainty on the players.
You could see with the goals they conceded that they’re not used to the formation – the three or, at times, five at the back – making individual and collective mistakes. Luckily enough, with the attacking threat they have, they were able to get away with it.
At Arsenal when you’re training you don’t tend to defend crosses because that’s not the way they play in an attacking sense.
So Hector Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny and Nacho Monreal, even if they’re playing against Olivier Giroud in training, they’re not defending against wingers who are whipping the ball in; knowing they have to position themselves and mark players and use their bodies.
Everything is to feet, how Arsenal like to play. Then suddenly on the weekend, even if you’re a world class defender, it’s going to be difficult. You can only fix it during matches, which is a real challenge.
The formation change to 3-5-2 is Arsene Wenger trying to protect his defence by putting more bodies in midfield. But even with Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny, there is no dictating centre-midfielder like Arsenal used to have – Patrick Vieira, Gilberto Silva, even Alex Song was a better shield than the new midfielders they have.
Xhaka is not the type of player to protect the back four and allow attacking players to play freely. He’s more of a passer.
They could have signed Tiemoue Bakayoko or Fabinho from Monaco and I’m sure there are players in the Bundesliga or Serie A. This one player isn’t going to make them good enough to win the title but can help them reach the top four.
What happens next with UEFA and PSG over the Neymar transfer could be important for the future of football.
PSG need to answer Financial Fair Play. Selling shirts won’t be enough, neither will any corporate revenue they may generate; they need to sell a lot of players, which means weakening the team.
The situation has changed with FFP because, unlike before, there won’t be the same unity and support from other clubs. Barcelona will feel their player has been hijacked and if PSG haven’t played by the rules, they will have to pay the price, which will be a high price.
The club is run by Jean-Claude Blanc who was at Juventus, Nasser Al Khelaifi and they’ve also got a lot of advisors. I just cannot see them thinking, “We’re going to sign Neymar no matter what we face in the future”.
Know more about Sport360 Application