HOW WAS IT FOR YOU?
March 3: Is your glass half full or half empty? If it’s the former than there’s great news, as we keep our third clean sheet in a row. If the latter, then that’s three games now without scoring, as the hosts of the worst away toilets in the Premier League comfortably hold us to a draw. 4: Newcastle winger Matt Ritchie has become Billy Big Bollocks after receiving criticism for his part in Wolves’s equaliser at the weekend, as reports claim he has labelled Steve Bruce’s lack of support as cowardice. Apparently, Bruce didn’t take well to being called a “coward” and squared up to the winger. “It’s men being men,” said Bruce, most unhappy that somebody had leaked the confrontation to the press, before adding that it “happens all the time”. And a 12-year European Commission inquiry has finally ended and come to the conclusion that Real Madrid and Barcelona did receive illegal state aid over the past 30 years. The punishment? None, obviously. So the legal battle has wasted time, effort and money to prove once again that, without state help, Guardiola is just a Catalonian Jim Smith. 5: Apparently there’s an international break coming up… and in the middle of a global pandemic, players will be asked to travel to their home countries, mix with players who ply their trade in lots of different places, before contesting two to three games – some which are in different countries to the homelands they travelled to initially. What could go wrong? While we sit at home without a haircut and having not seen a match for a year, football’s thirst for money at the expense of every player they’ve flogged to death over the past year knows no bounds. As for quarantine rules for returning players and a fortnight in a hotel? Nah, Sky have got Chelsea v West Brom to show. So what do the managers think? The top bosses, Solskjaer, Rodgers and Guardiola, are all for pulling their players out, and even the mid-table fodder represented by Hodgson and Klopp are against it. But money rules, so be prepared for a returning list of “assets” on crutches.
Three to watch for
We spoke to 23s manager Neil Wood about three of United’s most promising youngsters.
Shola Shoretire, 17 “Shola has been in our system a long time. He’s often played a year up – you forget how young he is sometimes. He’s such a humble, hard-working lad. He’s very quiet at the moment because he’s with players two, three or four years older than him and he’s new to their dressing room.
“He’s not known them long enough to develop a friendship – as he would if he was with lads of his own age – but he’s coming out of his shell and you’re starting to see his character, most importantly, on the pitch. Watch how he receives the ball: he’s smooth and his first touch is very good. He can receive the ball in tight spaces. He’s got explosive speed and can drive past people. He’s got a nice weight of pass, a bit of vision and creativity. And he can score goals.
“His development has been really good and he’s kicked on in the last six or seven months. He’s been really good in training and it has been nice to see his development. He’s had games where he’s not been outstanding but he’s done a job for the team. For someone of his age to have such a mature head on his shoulders to do that is impressive. Once he gets the ball, he can play his game with the ball and start dictating the way we play. That’s the added bonus for him. We’re really pleased with his development.”
Joe Hugill, 17 “He came from Sunderland and did most of the pre-season with the under-18s. Once a few lads went on loan, the circumstances changed and it was a chance for him to push up.
“We had a bit of a go at using a false nine or using the wide players to attack and it worked quite well and gave us an extra man in midfield, but it comes to a point that you need a striker. I know some forward players can be interchangeable now, but Joe is a bit of an old-fashioned centre-forward. He had to play a lot with his back to goal at Sunderland, fight for everything and bring other players into play. He’s very good at that and he’s still developing. He’s tall but we’re working on making him stronger so that he can compete at under-23 level. We want him to be more explosive, to run behind and time his runs and work on his movement and positioning, so that he arrives in the box rather than running right out wide.
“He’s down to earth, humble and wants to improve. He’s out there after training, he’s scored some nice goals this season and he’s had some really tough games – against Rochdale or Morecambe in the EFL where he didn’t get much of the ball but kept working.”
Hannibal Mejbri, 18 “There was a lot of hype about him pre-season but it was too soon. He needed to improve and get better at different things. He’s a good character and he gets targeted in a lot of the games we play. He gets kicked off the ball and hacked down, but he’s a lot tougher than people think. He’s a tough kid.
“He got sent off at West Ham earlier in the season, but he’s managed to control his temperament more and not get distracted. He doesn’t get distracted if things don’t go his way and he’s maturing. His quality is obvious, the way he glides with the ball. He was giving too many passes away earlier in the season and I was onto him every day about the possession he gave away. He’s improved so much with that.
“We’ve started to push him onto the left. He was playing as a 10 and he likes to get behind the shoulder of midfielders and receive the ball. He’s probably been our most creative player this season and he’s an intelligent footballer who can drift in and find spaces. He can beat a man one v one, too. He’s in a good moment; his workrate off the ball is so much better and he’s really hard to play against on the defensive side. He’s made a massive improvement.”