Mason Greenwood and Mason Mount headline Man United v Chelsea selection conundrums

Chris Bailey 10/08/2019
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Few teams start the season surrounded by as much intrigue as Manchester United and Chelsea – and it just so happens they play each other on opening weekend.

Both are managed by club legends who are heavily invested in youth, both shipped out wantaway players by deadline day but failed to replace them (Romelu Lukaku and David Luiz) and both have a heck of a job on their hands to guarantee top four and Champions League football next season.

The selection decisions both Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard make on Sunday evening (kickoff GST 19:30) – in what could scarcely be a bigger game on the Premier League’s matchday one – will give us a glimpse into their 2019/20 mindsets.

MANCHESTER UNITED

Right wing

DanJamesManUnited (2)

An area of unknown for United. Whereas Man City have Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez, while Liverpool have one Mohamed Salah, it’s seemingly Daniel James – who had not kicked a football in a professional game 18 months ago – versus a 17-year-old Mason Greenwood versus a rather pedestrian Juan Mata.

Logic would indicate that Mata supplements the forward line with experience against Chelsea – but his play style is wholly at odds with the high press and breakneck speed that Solskjaer wants his forwards to operate at. Ideally James and Greenwood would be eased in as impact subs, but we’ll see just how much an effusive Solskjaer trusts his young players with this particular decision on Sunday.

Centre midfield

ScottMcTominayUnited (1)

Paul Pogba will be marooned in Manchester and dreaming of Madrid for at least another season after United elected not to sign a potential replacement or a midfielder full stop. If Solskjaer predominately plays 4-2-3-1, however, it’ll be him plus one in that double pivot.

Which brings us to a player who has improved to such lengths that he’s a cover star on Pro Evolution Soccer. On form, there’s nothing to suggest that £40 million man Nemanja Matic or £50m man Fred should be higher up the pecking order than academy product Scott McTominay.

He is combative, a crisp passer and is a bigger goal threat than either Matic or Fred. Given Pogba’s off-piste tendencies, it’s a crucial partnership this year.

Striker

RashfordMartialMata (1)

With big Rom gone, United better hope at least one of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial or … Alexis Sanchez pierce nets with frequency this season.

If Sanchez stays before the European-wide window closes, Solskjaer has indicated the thus far incredibly underwhelming Chilean will be used as a striker. Martial is the one who has taken the No9 shirt and is arguably a more instinctive striker than Rashford, having scored the same number of Premier League goals last season – 10 – despite playing 1,624 minutes to Rashford’s 2,345.

Don’t expect either to stay the furthest forward, though – both interchanged fluidly between left wing and striker to often devastating effect in pre-season. It’ll be interesting to see how it works come crunch time.

 CHELSEA

Left-back

EmersonPalmieriChelsea (1)

For so long his defensive frailties have been overshadowed by his presence in attack, but the scales have finally tipped the other way. Instead, Emerson Palmieri is expect to start the season over Marcos Alonso from left-back after a series of impressive displays in pre-season.

It’s not a huge surprise. Remember, Alonso did not even feature in Baku as Chelsea beat Arsenal to win the Europa League. Italy international Emerson was particularly potent in Chelsea’s 5-3 victory over Red Bull Salzburg over the summer (he left the pitch when the score was 4-1) and given the amount of pace United could field down the right, his superior awareness on the back foot should see him strike an early blow in this selection battle.

No10

RossBarkleypreseason (1)

The N’Golo Kante experiment is over. Whereas Maurizio Sarri tried to turn the pocket-sized forager into a creative mastermind, Lampard has wisely decided to let the goal-scorers and playmakers do the goal-scoring and playmaking.

As such the No10 battle is a straight shootout between two Englishmen in Ross Barkley and Mason Mount. While it’s easy to get carried away with the next Super Frank comparisons with Mount, not to mention the time the pair spent as master and apprentice at Derby, don’t sleep on Barkley.

After a solid comeback season in 2018/19, Barkley posted an outrageous statline of four goals and three assists across six pre-season friendlies. It’s a headache Lampard will be glad to have.

Striker

TammyAbrahamChelsea (1)

Remember when the debate was between Lukaku and Morata in the summer of 2017? Well, both are officially gone – which means in the blue corner on Sunday it’ll be one of Olivier Giroud, Tammy Abraham or Michy Batshuayi.

Abraham has started all but two of Chelsea’s pre-season games in a huge vote of confidence for a 21-year-old who has twice hit 26 goals in a season, albeit in the Championship with Bristol City and Aston Villa. His 6ft3in frame could still added a layer or two of bulk but he has the raw tools that a maximised Olivier Giroud simply does not.

With there still being talk of Batshuayi leaving before August is up, the time is now for Abraham.

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Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino wants silverware for season to be regarded as success

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Mauricio Pochettino says Tottenham have to win a trophy this season for it to be a success.

Pochettino has delivered four successive top-four finishes in the Premier League without spending anywhere near the same sort of money as Spurs’ rivals, but his lack of silverware is often highlighted.

They came close to “touching glory” by getting to the Champions League final last season, where they lost to Liverpool, while they also got to the semi-final of the Carabao Cup.

Pochettino has seen Spurs spend north of £100million this summer in bringing Tanguy N’Dombele, Giovani Lo Celso, Ryan Sessegnon and Jack Clarke to the club as chairman Daniel Levy acted on his manager’s demand to behave like a big club in the transfer market.

The Argentinian has previously said that the FA Cup and Carabao Cup are not important, but now, with a new stadium and a strong-looking squad, he knows he needs to start filling the trophy cabinet.

“My personal feeling is that starting my sixth season I need to lift a trophy,” he admitted. “Carabao Cup, FA Cup, Premier League or Champions League.

“I am not saying it is time. I don’t want to put pressure on the team or the club.

“But if you ask me personally, this season is not about finishing in the top four to be successful – although of course maybe that matters for the club.

“But for me, it is about winning some title – the Carabao Cup, the FA Cup, the Premier League of the Champions League.

“If not, after last season’s final, to be again in the top four and reach the semi-final of the Carabao Cup, it is like, ‘Come on!’

“You are always there but you cannot touch the glory. That is personally – me. My personal target, objective, aim to be successful this season is to lift a trophy.”

Much of Pochettino’s success at Spurs has been down to his man-management and that will be put to the test with Danny Rose.

Rose was left at home while Spurs went on their pre-season tour in order to sort a move away from the club, but nothing – in this country at least – materialised.

It looks like he will be integrated back into the squad and Pochettino insists there is no issue between the two.

“In between the club, the player and the agent, things can happen,” he said. “I am going to coach the player. I don’t know what is going on between the club to take some decisions.

“You know very well, it is my sixth season that I am not involved in negotiations or in deals with the player and the agent.

“I don’t have an agent, I don’t deal with agents, I don’t deal with money. I don’t deal with anything related to that.

“I have my relationship with them (the players) and it is excellent with all the players.

“Of course, it’s not a problem. My relationship with all the players, not only with one or another who have five years or one year.

“My relationship is OK. They know clearly and the agents know how they need to proceed for different things with the club.”

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Riyad Mahrez was drug-tested this week to clear up medication uncertainty, says Pep Guardiola

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Pep Guardiola has revealed Riyad Mahrez was drug-tested this week to clear up any uncertainty over medication he was administered while on international duty.

Manchester City boss Guardiola left Algeria forward Mahrez out of his squad for the Community Shield last weekend as a precaution in case he was called for testing at Wembley.

Mahrez, 28, underwent a minor procedure to aid his breathing after helping Algeria win the Africa Cup of Nations last month. City’s medical staff did not have full details of all the treatment prior to Sunday’s game and did not think he should be risked.

But the club have now cleared up the matter and Mahrez will be available for Saturday’s Premier League opener at West Ham.

Guardiola said: “He had a little surgery after the African Cup on his nose so he could breathe better.

“It’s a normal situation (but) the doctor, not from the national team, didn’t send the necessary (information). That was the only reason why (he did not play). We didn’t have it in the right moment.

“It was a precaution, we had to be careful. It was better not to use him.

“But after the last week, anti-doping have made the test, everything is clear and everything is fine. He can play.”

Mahrez had a mixed first season at the Etihad Stadium after his then-club-record £60million move to City from Leicester in the summer of 2018.

With competition for places from the likes of Leroy Sane, Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling, David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne, he struggled to command a regular place.

After this week’s news that Sane is facing a lengthy lay-off with a knee injury, however, Mahrez may get more opportunities to step up.

Guardiola said: “The quality (we get) from Leroy we don’t have it (without him). A little bit Sterling has it but the special quality of Leroy you can’t find it around the world, that attacking the space, that speed.

“Riyad has another (quality), so he’s not a substitute for Leroy.

“My opinion during the first few games, the performance of Riyad, I was quite impressed. He didn’t play too much because in his position was one of the best players in the league in Bernardo and of course Sterling.

“But with Leroy absent, we have more space and a lot of games, one less forward player, so he is going to play. The way they are training, I’ll try to let everyone play.”

Provided by Press Association Sport

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