Sitting near to Paul Pogba on Saturday, I watched his body language during the Fulham home game as he sat on the substitutes’ bench. He looked distant and distracted. Then, in the after game drinks, I discovered that Pogba’s mind was probably on the party to follow the match. United held their Christmas party at Manchester’s ‘Neighbourhood Bar & Restaurant’ and Pogba looked to be in good spirits and was praised by Mourinho, who said he is a great player who will be even greater. The two were getting along fine at the party, both laughing and joking and the rift between them seems to have been pushed into the background for the festive season. On Sunday evening, Pogba joined Jesse Lingard when he launched his new clothes range ‘Be Yourself’ for his label JLingz. Jesse was also joined by Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford and Luke Shaw, who was teased by Pogba for wearing an outfit which he described as ‘like something from outer space! The Reds seem to be a more united team than recently which they will need for tomorrow’s clash with top of the table Liverpool.
Rojo on the move out of Old Trafford
Wolves have made a decent start to life back in the Premier League. However, I have been told exclusively that their recent loss to Huddersfield inspired manager Nuno Espirito Santo to phone Manchester United to ask about the possibility of signing defender Marcus Rojo in January. Santo is looking for more experience in defence and he thinks 28-year-old World Cup star Rojo would be a perfect fit at the back. United manager Jose Mourinho has worked intensely with Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof and they have been at the heart of United’s defence for much of this season with no place for Rojo. I have heard whispers from Everton that they too are interested in Rojo and when I spoke with them, I understand the interest is still very much alive. Expect a tough fight for Rojo’s services in January if Mourinho says he can go.
Mustafi heralds Emery style of play
Arsenal defender Shkodran Mustafi has been singing praises of his manager, Unai Emery. Emery’s remarkable unbeaten run this season is due to his skillful handling of his players according to Mustafi. He says: “The biggest thing he has brought to Arsenal is that he is someone who really knows what he wants from each player. He tells you exactly what he expects and gives you freedom to use your creative talent. When we don’t have the ball he tells you where to stand and how to get it back. And when we have the ball he gives you several options of where to move and where to place the ball to progress up the pitch. He has it all worked out. It is a good mix between freedom and discipline.”
Sarri must keep Chelsea on track
I wrote a couple of weeks ago that opposing managers have discovered how to beat Chelsea. Stop Jorginho in midfield and you stop Chelsea. I was reminded this week by one of my Chelsea club contacts that Sarri’s rule at Chelsea very much resembles what happened with the respected Luiz Felipe Scolari. He was sacked by owner Roman Abramovich after winning their first 12 matches in 2008-9 and then could not stop his team from falling apart in the autumn. Scolari was like Sarri and refused to alter his tactics and in his case it was building the team around John Obi Mikel in midfield and playing a passing game originating with a deep-lying midfield player. Teams such as Liverpool, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur have crowded players around Jorginho recently, preventing him from distributing the ball to his forwards. Wolves shackled the Blue’s Cesc Fabrigas in the same way last week and Sarri’s Chelsea became instantly less effective. Sarri remains stubborn and says he will not change his tactics and he would also not change the role he has given to N’Golo Kante who is currently playing out of position as an attacking midfielder ahead of Jorginho. Abramovich, who attends matches or talks with his senior management after every game, will not give Sarri time if he starts to lose matches regularly. Ask Scolari, Andre Villas Boas and Roberto de Matteo, none of which lasted into their second season.
A Leip into the dark!
Southampton have taken a big do-or-die step into the unknown by appointing ex-Bundesliga Leipzig manager, 51-year-old Ralph Hasenhuttl as their new manager. He took up his appointment last week, replacing the sacked Mark Hughes. It is too early to have met with Hasenhuttl but I have been doing some research into what this new man can bring to the Saints and I also talked to some of my contacts at Southampton. The Austrian, according to chairman Ralph Krueger, offers passion, structure, work ethic and good communication skills. He specialises in teaching football skills and developing new talent whether from the academy or from signing new younger players. He is also known for working players hard in training and gaining them maximum fitness levels. His method is to use a lot of video recordings to analyse player performance after each match. He then works them hard and his 4-2-2-2 line up means there is a lot of running for the midfielders in particular. Hasenhuttl has a no nonsense approach and Southampton have copied Tottenham where they brought in a foreign European manager and let him test his new skills on a Premier League club. It worked with Pochettino at Spurs and it remains to be seen what Hasenhuttl can do for the Saints. In the next six games Saints have to face Arsenal, Man City and Chelsea so it will present plenty of problems for the new man and they face a tricky home game against Arsenal this weekend.
A future Premier League star
I promised last week to follow up on my Matteo Guendouzi’s story by reporting back to you how the young man is settling into life at Arsenal. It is already clear that the 19-year-old Frenchman is a hard worker and his energy has impressed new manager Unai Emery which is why he is being given game time. He has already proven that he will be one of the Premier League’s big stars in the near future. When talking with my close Arsenal contacts, I was told that Matteo has blended in with his Arsenal teammates and formed a close relationship with Mesut Ozil and the two have been seen out together socialising. Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have also particularly taken to the youngster who is quickly becoming popular at the Colney training ground. With eight starts under his belt, Guendouzi has become a firm favourite with Arsenal fans as I witnessed a couple of weeks ago when they sang his name over and again. As ex-Tottenham striker Dimitar Berbatov said on Sunday morning, Guendouzi’s skill and talent is incredible. (He actually uttered a word which I can’t print in this column!) It is difficult to think how he could perform with such confidence since arriving at the Gunners given that last year he was playing in front of a few thousand fans in the French second tier of football. It is hard to believe that Paris St Germain released the youngster four years ago but then tried to buy him back earlier this year. Borussia Dortmund, who specialise in nurturing young players, also had scouts watching him but Matteo wanted only Arsenal and the Premier League. If Guendouzi has one problem it is his temperament. He can be hot-headed and has such belief in himself that when he was taken off in a match for French team L’Orient he refused to shake the manager’s hand and stormed off into the dressing room. He then fell out with L’Orient’s new manager and was dropped from the team. He can be difficult. Under Unai Emery he will have an excellent teacher who is meticulous in his training methods and preparation. Guendouzi eats, sleeps and breathes football and does so with passion and commitment. Watch out for him and you won’t be disappointed. I am going to watch him training at Colney very soon and will report back to you and also describe Arsenal’s state-of-the-art training facility in an exclusive inside look.
Sancho’s value soaring
When Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho received his first big pay packet he bought himself a Rolex watch and a Mercedes. As his value soars so does his lifestyle and now he flies in his own personal hairdresser from the UK to give him a cut and blow dry. He doesn’t trust German hairdressers! Both Arsenal and Tottenham have scouts watching him at the moment and it is possible an offer will be made for him in January. Sancho cost Dortmund only £8million when they signed him from Manchester City but his value, only a few months later, is thought to be around £80million! I have also learned that Manchester City are considering taking him back to Maine Road despite him leaving on a bad note when Pep Guardiola left him out of their pre-season tour squad. Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino is interested in Jadon because he knows he has to invest in the January transfer window so that he has more depth in his squad during injury periods. With no players bought this year, Spur’s are feeling the pressure at the top of the league.
Eden getting Real?
When my colleague asked Eden Hazard if he is still thinking of a move to Real Madrid he answered: “Well, I am improving my Spanish language!” Mmmm…interesting, as Eden has still not signed his new Chelsea contract.