Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola praised Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s “incredible” start to life as interim boss at Manchester United.
Solskjaer has won his first five games since replacing Jose Mourinho in December – equalling Matt Busby’s record in a 2-0 FA Cup victory against Reading last week.
And the 45-year-old Norwegian could surpass Busby’s record with victory against Tottenham in the Premier League on Sunday.
“His start is much better than mine, I lost my first game and drew the second [after being appointed in 2016],” said Guardiola.
“He won all the games. He is a young manager, getting incredible results. I saw a few minutes of games they played and they played good.
“But it is not my business to talk about other opponents, we have a tough game around the corner against Wolves.
“It will be a tough game. We have one day off and then prepare for the game.”
Even by the standards of a club where the strategies for transfers and youth development are under constant scrutiny, it’s been an especially interesting week for Chelsea.
They signed 20-year-old Christian Pulisic for £58million, with the American set to join from Borussia Dortmund in the summer. Since then, academy product Callum Hudson-Odoi has put in two starring performances in cup games even as Bayern Munich have stepped up their pursuit of the young Englishman.
It seems that the Bundesliga giants are willing to meet Chelsea’s £35million asking price for the 18-year-old, which, firstly, speaks to Hudson-Odoi’s talent and potential, but, equally, raises the age-old question regarding Chelsea’s transfer policy. Are they yet again prioritising making a big splash in the transfer market over using their resources to develop the players they already have?
Manager Maurizio Sarri has publicly said that Hudson-Odoi should turn down the option of moving to Germany and fight for his place at the London club. Yet the same man has given the youngster only a handful of appearances this season, despite Hudson-Odoi being the star of Chelsea’s preseason and looking like he was ready to make the step up.
And this was the perfect season to give a young player that chance – an opportunity that is rare at Chelsea to begin with.
Expectations were low with Sarri coming in during the summer. There is always the pressure to win trophies at Stamford Bridge, but Sarri will be forgiven, just about, if he comes up empty this season, even considering the transfer outlay last summer – a world-record fee for a goalkeeper to land Kepa Arrizabalaga, getting Mateo Kovacic on a season-long loan in the deal that sent Thibaut Courtois to Real Madrid, and bringing in Jorginho alongside Sarri from Napoli.
The club were no doubt aware that catching up to last season’s Manchester City would be a tall ask. Liverpool have done it, but with the benefit of a team that reached last season’s Champions League final adding key pieces to strengthen the squad.
Yet before this weekend, Hudson-Odoi had added just two starts to the one he made in the Community Shield against City, and both had come in the Europa League after Chelsea had already qualified for the knockout stages.
He’s made just one Premier League appearance, despite the inconsistency of Pedro and the sharp dip in form of Willian. And just days after that league debut, he got the news that Pulisic would be arriving in the summer and would presumably be an unquestioned starter, given the transfer fee.
There is of course the possibility that the two players play together, especially if Eden Hazard leaves this summer. Willian’s Chelsea career is surely coming to an end and even if it’s not, Hudson-Odoi would deserve to jump ahead of him in the pecking order on potential alone.
The way he’s played in Chelsea’s last two games, the FA Cup win over Nottingham Forest and then the narrow loss to Tottenham in the away leg of the League Cup semi-final, shows that he’s got the talent to be playing more.
So given the way this season has panned out, why wouldn’t the London native be looking at his options?
Bayern are in the middle of a youth revolution. Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery are leaving at the end of the season. Meanwhile, 23-year-olds Serge Gnabry and Leon Goretzka and 21-year-old Renato Sanches are all recent young signings (or returnees, in Sanches’ case, after his doomed loan spell at Swansea) who are now getting extended minutes in the first team. The 18-year-old Alphonso Davies has joined from the MLS this month, and 22-year-old Benjamin Pavard is on his way in the summer.
And of course, FC Hollywood remain the biggest team in Germany, even after a poor start to the season has seen them playing catch-up to Dortmund in the league table this season – a pursuit that may yet prove to be successful and end in a seventh straight league title. They face a tough draw in the Champions League – Liverpool – but they’ve been perennial quarter-finalists and semi-finalists this decade.
For Hudson-Odoi, it’s a no-brainer. And that simply shows how little has changed at Chelsea.
City will face Burton in the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup on Wednesday night, days after thrashing Rotherham 7-0 to advance to the fourth round of the FA Cup.
But Liverpool, who sit four points clear of City, have only the league and Champions League to worry about after a much-weakened side were knocked out of the FA Cup by Wolves on Monday.
“If everyone is fit and not injured we can cope with it,” Guardiola said.
“The problem is if you have 10 injured players, it’s almost impossible. When everyone is fit, it’s better. Without that competition, if we had just one competition to play in, I could play with the same 11 or same 12.
“Now everyone is involved. the players don’t know who will play against Burton. Then after four days we have another final at home to Wolves.”
And though his side could face as many as 65 fixtures if they went all the way in the cups, Guardiola said he would rather be fighting on multiple fronts as he believes momentum can apply across all competitions.
“I prefer it, definitely,” he said. “I like to be in the four competitions as far as possible. When Wigan put us out of the FA Cup last season I was sad.
“But since I arrived, the first season in the Carabao Cup we played against United and played with a lot of young players, the same the second season, the same the third season, that’s what has happened.
“I take the cups seriously. Against Rotherham, for example, we played with nine players who didn’t play against Liverpool and the nine were a good selection. It was perfect for the rhythm for Kevin (De Bruyne), (Ilkay) Gundogan, Nico (Otamendi), Kyle (Walker) – perfect.”
Wednesday’s game will be an unfamiliar challenge for Guardiola, who admitted he had never seen any footage of Burton in action until Tuesday morning. But City fell foul of League One opposition last season when Wigan knocked them out of the FA Cup so Guardiola knows not to be complacent.
“Tomorrow is different, it is two games in the cup, Wigan was one game. But we had experience at Bristol City in the semi-final last time when we were 1-1, 2-1 in the last minute.
“When you arrive in the semi-final stage first you have to respect the opponents and try to know them because we don’t know them.
“Yesterday I never watched one game, today I watched one and this afternoon I will see another with my analyst. See exactly what they are and prepare to get a good result. Try to get to Wembley.
“When big clubs have a chance to win a final they don’t have doubts. My experience from previous clubs, when you have chance to reach a final you take it.”
PEP 💬 Yes, we are considering (extending @VincentKompany's contract) and we are talking.— Manchester City (@ManCity) 8 January 2019
I would like him to stay. He is our captain and has been here 10 years.
We saw in the last games against Southampton and Liverpool that he is a huge personality. pic.twitter.com/bqb1Lq4LBD
Guardiola revealed conversations are ongoing regarding the possibility of extending Vincent Kompany’s contract. The club captain’s existing deal expires in the summer, when the Belgian is also due a testimonial after more than a decade with the club.
“We are considering it, we are talking about that,” Guardiola said of a possible new deal.
“I would like it. He’s our captain. Eleven years here. We saw in the last two games the huge quality and personality he has to play. The only problem with Vincent is one – his injury problems.
“One-against-one absolutely we are better with Vincent. Every central defender has his own quality but there’s no doubt Vincent has something special with his charisma, winning the duels. It’s incredible. He’s one of the best central defenders I’ve ever seen. The problem is whether he’s fit.”