This week’s Monday Verdict explains why Manchester United MUST beat their rivals to sign Alexis Sanchez, how Raheem Sterling fluffed his lines on his Anfield return and Arsenal doing ‘an Arsenal’ yet again.
MAN UTD HAVE TO SIGN DIFFERENCE-MAKER SANCHEZ
When Manchester United emerged as genuine contenders to sign Alexis Sanchez towards the end of last week it was regarded as a major surprise by many, but actually, why is it?
United’s need to sign a player like Sanchez always appeared more obvious than ‘noisy neighbours’ City’s. After all the Chilean is a very similar player to the sort of attacking talent that Pep Guardiola already has in abundance.
As for United, it is clear for all to see that the Gunners frontman would offer something completely different to the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
For starters he can play off the cuff and perhaps isn’t as structured as Jose Mourinho normally likes his players – something that Old Trafford used to see plenty of during Fergie’s golden era.
He would be the perfect foil for the battering ram that is Lukaku (when he is the mood) and would give United more energy and purpose as an attacking force.
At 29 he should still be in his prime and would be a snip at anything between £20-35m. Compare that to spending £80m on another top United target, Torino’s Andrea Belotti, who is unproven at Premier League level despite being prolific in Italy. It’s a no-brainer.
Sanchez would also offer more of a goal threat from a wide position than Martial and Rashford, even though both have performed admirably this season.
But it all depends on whether Mourinho is prepared to go against his own overly cautious philosophy and actually bring in more of a maverick to spice up his side’s attacking threat.
Of course City remain favourites to sign the player, despite Guardiola seemingly ruling out a move for the ‘too expensive’ Sanchez, as that’s where the former Barcelona star wants to go.
Mourinho, however, HAS to convince the Gunner that Old Trafford is the place to cement his legacy as one of the Premier League’s best foreign signings.
If he doesn’t then another era of Manchester dominance is almost definitely emerging, but it won’t be coming from Salford.
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STERLING STRUGGLES IN RED-HOT ANFIELD ATMOSPHERE
Raheem Sterling returned to Anfield on Sunday as Manchester City’s top Premier League scorer and playing the best football of his career, but he left with his tail between his legs.
Hauled off with 20 minutes to go and his team 4-1 down, Sterling struggled to get the better of Andrew Robertson all afternoon and looked a shadow of the player who has been so consistent this season.
Here we take a close look at the 23-year-old’s performance in more detail…
Sterling has always possessed the attributes to cause defenders problems, but under Pep Guardiola this season he has turned occasional flashes of brilliance into consistent end product. However, deployed wide on the right he found little joy against Liverpool left-back Robertson, who matched Sterling for pace and more than held his own in the pair’s one-on-one duels.
With Robertson nullifying any threat out wide, it was little surprise that Sterling’s best moment came when he drifted infield. With the score still 1-1, Sterling played a central role in a swift counter-attack at the start of the second half, only to under-hit his pass to Sergio Aguero and allow Liverpool’s defence to get back and block the Argentine’s effort on goal.
Robertson’s ability to maraud forward makes him a dangerous opponent, and to Sterling’s credit he tracked back well to prevent the Scotland full-back posing a threat at the other end of the field. Sterling was beaten in the air by Robertson at the start of the move which led to Roberto Firmino scoring Liverpool’s second, although other Manchester City players were far more culpable for the ball ending up in the back of the net.
As Liverpool began to run riot in the second half Sterling appeared to lose his cool. He squared up to Robertson after the former Hull player was penalised for a hefty challenge, and was booked six minutes later for a clumsy, late tackle on Georginio Wijnaldum. Guardiola replaced Sterling with Bernardo Silva two minutes later.
Having been booed from the start by the home crowd, Sterling was a willing runner and put in plenty of effort during a pulsating encounter. However, he received little change from Robertson and failed to make an impact in the final third. It was no surprise to see him substituted after he began to lose his discipline midway through the second half.
ARSENAL MAKING THE SAME OLD MISTAKES
As Arsenal limped off the field following their 2-1 defeat to Bournemouth on Sunday afternoon, the discontent from the travelling contingent raining down on the players, there was a sense of familiarity.
They have problems, simply put. They sit five points behind Spurs in fifth place, eight behind Manchester United and a colossal 23 behind Manchester City. That’s after 23 games.
They created very little apart from the opening goal scored by Hector Bellerin; that being the one time that Arsenal really cut their hosts open, a team who had conceded 16 goals in their last six league games.
The Gunners have won just once in their last five Premier League fixtures; that being a 3-2 win at Crystal Palace. They have lost six games this season, the most of any team in the top six. Three of those defeats came against Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United, but the others came at the hands of Stoke, Watford and the latest loss at Bournemouth.
Arsenal have conceded 32 goals this season, comfortably the most of any team in the top seven. Burnley, who sit five points behind them, have conceded ten less goals.
“We were 1-0 up and suddenly we lost two goals and we don’t know where they came from,” Wenger told BBC Sport after the game.
“It is very frustrating. Overall we have to look at it in a very objective and harsh way we made mistakes we should not have made.
“The team that fights against relegation will fight and you cannot afford any concentration mistake.
Arsenal changed to a back four moments before conceding the winner, and when asked whether that was a mistake on his part, Wenger answer: “Maybe a little bit but 1-1 was not good enough for us. We had to win the game. I think if you look again at the second goal we made many mistakes and that is what we paid for.”
Respect should be given for trying to go and win the game, but the game should have already been wrapped up long before the Cherries levelled proceedings. Wastefulness and carelessness appear to be manifesting in the team, and it has begun to breed.
It’s not just on the field that Arsenal’s problems exist though. They are embroiled in two separate transfer sagas involving their two best players; one of whom (Alexis Sanchez) it appears they are set to lose to a Premier League rival. Meanwhile, Mesut Ozil reportedly continues to request an absurd salary from interested parties despite being nowhere near as consistent as his demands suggest.
In addition, they’re making midfielder Jack Wilshere sweat over a new deal – understandable perhaps given his injury troubles, but if reports are true and he will only be offered a new deal on reduced terms, it hardly provides motivation.
You get the feeling that Arsene Wenger doesn’t know his best formation, starting XI, what substitutions to make and how to implement any kind of style. For a manager who was renowned for his ability to do those things, it has become a bit of a joke.
Arsenal fans reading this may say that it is all common knowledge amongst an increasingly disgruntled fanbase, but sometimes it is important to take stock of just how bad things have become.