Tag Archives: Bruno Fernandes

Fernando Santos on borrowed time with Portugal

At the start of the international break this month, Portugal were in pole position to have their qualification status for Qatar 2022 all wrapped up.

They travelled to face the Republic of Ireland in a bit of a dead rubber game, because regardless of the result it was the final game against Serbia on Sunday night that mattered.

A 0-0 draw with Ireland changed nothing. Portugal needed a draw in the home game against Serbia to secure top spot on goal difference, while a victory would leave no question as to whether they deserved it or not.



The pre-game press conference once again led to Fernando Santos making a promise to Portugal fans.

“Tomorrow, we will qualify for the World Cup.”

They didn’t. Despite a goal from Renato Sanches in the second minute that gave them the lead, Portugal were poor throughout. Serbia equalised in the first half thanks to Dusan Tadic, whose strike took a slight deflection off Danilo and meant Rui Patricio could only deflect the ball into his own net.

Portugal barely created any chances in the game, with Cristiano Ronaldo failing to register a single shot on target in the game for the first time in the entire qualifying campaign.

But in the 93rd minute, Aleksandar Mitrovic slammed a header in at the near post to book Serbia’s ticket to Qatar and condemn Portugal to a play-off that makes their participation at the World Cup far from certain.

Santos has been in charge of Portugal since September 2014, when he took over from Carlos Quieroz after a poor start to their World Cup qualifying campaign.

The former Greece manager saved that campaign and led them in that World Cup, before then winning Euro 2016. He then led the team into the 2018 World Cup, where as European champions they really disappointed by crashing out in the round of 16 to Uruguay.

That should’ve been the trigger for Santos to depart, but instead Portugal opted to keep him and gave him the extra credit of winning Euro 2016. He responded by winning the first ever version of the UEFA Nations League the following year, defeating Holland in the final.

Since then however, it’s not been great going. Portugal struggled at Euro 2020 to a late win over Hungary in the opening group game before a defeat to Germany and a draw with France put them through as a best third-placed team. They were then beaten by Belgium, once again failing to really create much going forward.

Head coach Fernando Santos of Portugal, is seen during the UEFA EURO 2020, Round of 16 football match between Belgium and Portugal at La Cartuja...

Now with this latest failure, it seems like his time as being the right man for the job is probably over.

With the squad at his disposal, he is a totally wrong fit for the team. Santos is constantly putting defence first when trying to sort a squad out, despite the abundance of attacking talent he has available to him.

The first thought of the manager is always not to lose rather than to win, which fitted well with expectations when he first took over but not so much anymore.

This is a squad that is more than capable of going toe-to-toe with the best teams in the world with a bit of tactical invention and good structure.

With the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Joao Felix, Bernardo Silva, Diogo Jota and Ronaldo among the ranks then this is a team very capable of scoring goals.

Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal , Joao Felix and Bruno Fernandes warm up prior the friendly football match between Portugal and Andorra, at the Luz...

With a four month period now between the failure and the play-offs in March, there is a chance to make a change now and bring in a more attack-minded coach like Leonardo Jardim to get the best out of this upcoming generation of attacking talent.

Santos is on borrowed time with Portugal and they have a chance to make it right before they miss out on a World Cup competition for the first time since 2002.

How Manchester United should line up in attack in 2021/22 with Jadon Sancho

*Photo credit goes to @UtdDistrict*


It’s been a long time coming, but Jadon Sancho is finally a Manchester United player.

The 21-year-old England international has been chased by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the club for the best part of two years but a £73million deal was finally agreed last month and is now complete after Euro 2020 came to an end.

Now that he is part of the squad, Solskjaer must decide on how best to use him going forward in the long-term but also short-term as he comes to terms with the fall-out of Euro 2020 and Copa America as well as other fitness and form issues in his squad for the start of the season.

How should United start the season in attack? How should it look once everyone is fit and firing? Here’s how I see it…

LEFT WING STARTER – Marcus Rashford
Depth: Jadon Sancho, Anthony Martial, Dan James

If anyone has made a position their own in the Manchester United attack it is the number 10, Mr. Rashford.

Pace, direct running, a killer final pass and a goal threat, Rashford has mastered the out-to-in run and is often United’s biggest threat in attacking situations. Injuries mean that he could miss the start of the season, but that wouldn’t be the biggest issue in the world.

Anthony Martial is fit again and capable of playing there, while Sancho is arguably just as good on the left as he is on the right while Solskjaer is still a fan of Dan James who can fill in if needs be too.

Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford of England look on during the England training session on June 03, 2021 in Middlesbrough, England.

RIGHT WING STARTER – Jadon Sancho
Depth: Mason Greenwood, Amad, Juan Mata

I think it’s fair to say that Sancho has been signed to walk straight into the team on the right wing and anything else would be seen as a surprise.

It’s been a problem position for several years for Manchester United and over the last two seasons Solskjaer has been using Mason Greenwood in that position for his ambi-pedal abilities and goalscoring threat, but he’s a striker first and foremost.

The signing of Amad added depth but he was eased into the first-team picture last season, but some added minutes could be thrown his way this season in certain games to rotate the squad and even just add competition and help develop him more.

Juan Mata’s new deal means another option too, but the young bucks should certainly be ahead of him in the pecking order.

NUMBER 10 STARTER – Bruno Fernandes
Depth: Donny Van de Beek, Juan Mata, Hannibal Mejbri

Bruno Fernandes is the second name on the team sheet for Solskjaer after Harry Maguire in defence and that will not change this season barring something crazy.

The real question about this position is who should play when he doesn’t and Solskjaer has got options, whether he opts to use them or not. Donny Van de Beek is capable of playing as a ten, although it’s a different type of way to play the role while Mata arguably made his name in the position when he was younger.

Mason Greenwood of Manchester United celebrates scoring a goal to make the score 6-2 with Bruno Fernandes during the UEFA Europa League Semi-final...

There is also the possibility of Hannibal earning some first-team minutes after being promoted to the senior team at the end of last season and if he can impress during pre-season then he could earn himself some minutes during the season too.

STRIKER STARTER – Mason Greenwood
Depth: Edinson Cavani, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford

The new one-year contract for Edinson Cavani would suggest that he will be the first-choice striker going into the new season, but if there’s ever the time to try something new it is now with Greenwood as the man.

The youngster has proven that he has the ability to score goals at the highest level despite his age and his preferred position is through the middle. He holds the ball up well, can drift wide and has the pace to run in behind plus finishes with both feet.

Cavani showed last season that he can affect games coming off the bench if necessary and despite Martial’s popularity with fans and the squad, his form last season was bad enough that he now must earn his place back through performances.

Villarreal vs Manchester United – Europa League final prediction

The end of a long, tumultuous club campaign is finally upon us as we enter European cup final week, starting with the Europa League.

Unai Emery’s Villarreal look to secure themselves Champions League qualification for next season when they take on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United, who are looking to earn their first trophy together with the former player at the helm.

Emery has won the competition three times previously, all with Sevilla, while he also made the final in 2019 as manager of Arsenal although they lost 4-1 to Chelsea. United on the other hand are reaching their first final in any competition since losing the FA Cup final to Chelsea in 2018 and will look to win their first trophy since winning the Europa League in 2017 under Jose Mourinho.

Villarreal made it to the final unbeaten in the competition throughout, winning 11 of their 14 games so far this season. They’ve showed some great attacking flair, scoring 27 goals but have also been able to shut up shop when necessary and defend well, conceding just eight times.

They were able to skip past Arsenal will relative ease in the semi-finals, winning the home tie before keeping a clean sheet in a goalless draw at the Emirates to secure their path to Gdansk, with Emery switching up his approach for each game.

Manchester United only entered the tournament at the knockout stages after crashing out of the Champions League before Christmas. They’ve had a pretty tough run of it too, but were able to comfortably navigate their way to the final with aggregate wins over Real Sociedad, AC Milan, Granada and Roma.

United have scored 18 times in the Europa League this season in just eight games, and had conceded just once before the semi-final affair with Roma which saw them win 8-5 on aggregate.

They’ve been the favourites since dropping down into the tournament and have lived up to that tag well, controlling all the ties they’ve been part of for the vast majority of the time on the pitch.

Solskjaer’s side essentially picks itself at the moment. Harry Maguire’s injury is the biggest question mark, because if he is unavailable then the decision must be made about whether to start the more experienced Eric Bailly or the in-form Axel Tuanzebe alongside Victor Lindelof.

It seems almost certain that he’ll continue with his favoured McFred combination in midfield, which means Paul Pogba will start in one of the wide positions again. Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes are almost sure to start, which means the final spot comes down to whether Mason Greenwood or Edinson Cavani will start up front – with my money going on ‘El Matador’.

Emery’s team selection is a bit more fluid, depending on what type of approach he chooses to take. Winger Samuel Chukwueze is expected to be fit enough to at least be on the bench but whether the manager chooses to go with a more defensive approach could decide the rest of his midfield.

He’s likely to opt to sit back and force United to try and break them down, something they have notoriously struggled with under Ole’s tenure at the club.

With that said though, Solskjaer has managed to build the strongest team that United have had since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement and they’re best placed to win the competition. They have the better individual players, are in better form and even without Maguire they should be good enough to hold strong defensively.

It will likely be a very cagey affair, with not many goals unless someone can score early on. But I can’t see past Manchester United getting the victory with the added quality they have and it’ll likely be that man Fernandes to pop up with the winner.


PREDICTION
Villarreal 0-1 Manchester United

Tap Ins & Tap Outs Premier League Player of the Year 2020/21

We’re entering the final weeks of the Premier League season and everything is all but settled already for the first time in a while.

Manchester City are champions for a third time in four seasons, while it’s already confirmed that Sheffield United, West Bromwich Albion and Fulham will be playing their football in the Championship next season.

Top four is the only thing left to play for at this point, although Leicester and Chelsea currently have a decent sized cushion above their rivals with only a few games left to play.

That means it’s time for the awards to come out, including the player of the season. The individual who has stood out the most over the course of the 38 game season and had the biggest impact on the success of their team in comparison to the rest of the league.

Only one can be crowned as the winner of this award, but there are three players who have a case more than any other. Here’s my picks for their order and my player of the year.


THIRD:
BRUNO FERNANDES

Only three players this season have managed to hit the mark of 10+ goals and assists in the Premier League this season and the Manchester United star is one of them.

Fernandes has been absolutely exceptional in the league this year and in a normal campaign he’d be the front runner for this award. He has scored 17 goals so far and registered 11 assists in the Premier League, getting a goal or assist in 18 different games from 34 appearances to prove he was a threat throughout and essential to United finishing in second place.

His desire, quality and leadership have helped United to a league-low of five defeats all season and he is the man that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have looked to for inspiration when they need it. While he’s had a couple of dry spells, his constant availability should be praised too and he deserves big plaudits for his first full season in the Premier League.


SECOND:
RUBEN DIAS

Another Portuguese star in the running for the Premier League player of the year is Manchester City’s star centre-back Ruben Dias.

The 23-year-old has been a tremendous addition to the club since signing from Benfica for a club record £65million, filling the void left by Vincent Kompany when he left the club in 2019. He has been a total colossus in the heart of the defence, making 30 appearances and keeping 14 clean sheets and seeing just 18 goals conceded during his time on the pitch.

He has lead from the back with brilliant leadership, great aerial ability, brilliant passing out from the back and officially has made zero errors leading to a goal as City have gone on to become Premier League champions for a third time in four seasons.

A Virgil Van Dijk-like impact, he deserves Van Dijk-like plaudits but unfortunately he should just miss out on this occasion.


FIRST:
HARRY KANE

Spurs are likely to miss out on a top four place this summer and have had a tumultuous season that have seen the club change manager and lose a cup final.

Despite that though, Harry Kane has continued to perform out of his skin and as such should be crowned as the player of the year for the Premier League 2020/21 season. The England captain has led the way in both the goals and assists charts this season for the majority of the way, hitting 20+ league goals for a fifth time in his career and registering 13 assists so far.

His partnership with Heung-Min Son has been brilliant, with a stunning 14 goals created by the duo for each other but it’s more than that for Kane. His leadership has been excellent but also his consistency in performance, constantly digging his team out of a hole when they need it. He deserves better than a mid-table finish and has been by far and away the best and most important player in the division this season, so he deserves the award more than anyone else.

Tap Ins & Tap Outs Premier League Team of the Year 2020/21

We’re entering the final weeks of the Premier League season and everything is all but settled already for the first time in a while.

Manchester City are set to be crowned champions for a third time in four seasons, while it’s already confirmed that Sheffield United, West Bromwich Albion and Fulham will be playing their football in the Championship next season.

Top four is the only thing left to play for at this point, although Leicester and Chelsea currently have a decent sized cushion above their rivals with only a few games left to play.

That means it’s time for the awards to come out for the players and managers, including the team of the year. 11 players who have stood out the most in their respective positions to make up the best team to have taken part over the course of the entire season.

There are always a few locks in every team, but there are also always a few positions up for grabs that spark debate. With that said, here is the official Tap Ins & Tap Outs Premier League team of the year for the 2020/21 season.


GOALKEEPER: Edouard Mendy
Honourable mentions: Ederson, Emiliano Martinez

The Chelsea stopper joined the club right at the end of the summer transfer window but has taken to the English game like a duck to water. Using his size well to command his area and claim crosses, Mendy has done well with the ball at his feet and has gone on two long streaks of clean sheets this season including six games immediately after signing.

He has been a huge difference to a Chelsea side that conceded over 50 goals last season, conceding just 23 goals in 29 league games and keeping 16 clean sheets – a tally only bettered by Manchester City’s Ederson.

RIGHT BACK: Joao Cancelo
Honourable mentions: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Vladimir Coufal

Without a doubt the best right back in the country this season, Cancelo has shown why Manchester City were willing to spend around £60m and send Danilo to Juventus in order to sign him.

Flying down the wing all season but also tucking in and taking up a midfield role in possession, the Portuguese international has been a key cog in the reason why the Cityzens are going to be crowned champions this season. His passing, pace, reading of the game and brilliance on the ball has seen him rack up three assists and a goal in the league this season but his overall effect on the team is deserving of the spot more than his numbers.

FBL-ENG-PR-BURNLEY-MAN CITY : News Photo

CENTRE BACKS: Ruben Dias and John Stones
Honourable mentions: Wesley Fofana, Harry Maguire, Lewis Dunk

The defence is very blue up to this point but it’s with good reason because of just how good this duo have been this season. Together they have formed a near perfect partnership, helping City to concede a league-low of just 26 goals this season.

Dias has without doubt been the signing of the season, with his impact likened to that of Virgil Van Dijk, while John Stones has resurrected his career after looking likely to leave last summer.

Brilliant aerially, impenetrable in one-on-one scenarios and tremendous on the ball, these two have been the stand-out defenders in the Premier League this season and deserve all the credit they get after leading their side to another title.

LEFT BACK: Luke Shaw
Honourable mentions: Aaron Cresswell, Kieran Tierney

There was only ever going to be one pick for this position and it had to go to Manchester United’s Luke Shaw.

After a tough spell at Old Trafford since signing back in 2014, Shaw has finally found his groove in the famous red shirt and this season has been absolutely sensational at both ends of the pitch. He’s picked up a career-high six assists this season while also scoring once and has been absolutely vital to the great performances United have managed this season.

He’s stayed fit and worked his way back into the England squad for Euro 2020 too, where he should start based on form.


CENTRAL MIDFIELD: Tomas Soucek and Ilkay Gundogan
Honourable mentions: Youri Tielemans, Declan Rice, Paul Pogba

It’s been an interesting season in midfield, with games coming so thick and fast that small injuries could see you miss five or six games simply due to the schedule. That has made it hard to choose between some players, but I’m comfortable in my choices of West Ham’s Soucek and Man City’s Gundogan.

Soucek has been a revelation since signing from Slavia Prague and has almost acted as David Moyes’ new Marouane Fellaini. With great defensive awareness and positioning, he has been key to helping West Ham challenge for a top four place and also chipped in with a fantastic nine league goals this season.

Alongside him is the top scorer for the champions elect, as Gundogan has had the best season of his career overall. He has stayed fit throughout the season and while his goals have been incredibly important his overall influence to a City team that played without a striker for the most part has been essential to them winning as much as they have done.

Manchester United v Liverpool: The Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round : News Photo

ATTACKING MIDFIELD: Bruno Fernandes and Mason Mount
Honourable mentions: Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden

Two attacking midfielders who get into the team despite fiercely different numbers in the goals and assists department for their team, but their influence just as big as each others.

Bruno Fernandes continued his incredible impact from last season and has hit a startling 17 league goals with 11 assists in the league this season as of writing, making him one of only three players to have 10+ in both departments. His creativity, leadership, drive and determination have been key in seeing the Red Devils lose a league-low of just four games this season and as the team’s top scorer and arguably most influential player he deserves his spot.

As for young Mount, he has six goals and five assists this season but has been by far and away the best player in a blue shirt for Chelsea this season. His wonderful technique, great vision, creativity and drive have seen him win the hearts of fans and pundits alike and even potentially a starting spot for England at Euro 2020. What he lacks in the final third this season he has made up for with influence and it shows with Chelsea being much worse off without him for the most part. He is well deserving of his spot in this team.


FORWARDS: Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son
Honourable mentions: Mohammed Salah, Marcus Rashford, Patrick Bamford

One of the locks I mentioned earlier in this article is that man Harry Kane, who has hit 20+ league goals for a fifth time but also this season has led the assist charts since the early weeks of the campaign. The England skipper has become the league’s MVP this season and a move away from Tottenham is now likely as he continues to improve in search of trophies.

With his partnership with club teammate Heung-Min Son producing more goals than any other duo in the league this season whichever way you swing it, it was hard to leave Son out with the South Korean front man being the third player to have double digits for goals and assists.

Pace, ability with both feet, great passing, creativity, ability to beat a defender and the composure to finish both these forwards deserve their place among the team of the year and player of the year candidates.

Manchester United come from behind again to show character of champions

Manchester United took a step closer to securing a second placed finish in the Premier League with yet another come from behind win to beat Aston Villa 3-1 at Villa Park.

Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer named a strong team for the game despite United being scheduled to play three times in five days this week, as well as a gruelling game against Roma just 72 hours before the game.

They fell behind too in the first half as a stunning strike from Bertrand Traore found the top corner after some slack defending from Victor Lindelof when Scott McTominay lost the ball on the edge of the box.

United bounced back in the second half though when Paul Pogba was fouled by Douglas Luiz in the penalty area and Bruno Fernandes tucked home the resulting penalty. Just a few minutes later they had the lead when Aaron Wan-Bissaka found Mason Greenwood on the edge of the box, who rolled Tyrone Mings and slammed the ball into the near corner with his left foot.

Villa piled on the pressure looking to get back into the game but Marcus Rashford’s fine cross found substitute Edinson Cavani who headed beyond the keeper to round the game off. Villa were reduced to ten men when Ollie Watkins dived looking for a penalty and picked up a second yellow card.

It was the TENTH time in the Premier League this season that Manchester United have come from behind to win, a new record, and showed the incredible spirit that Solskjaer has brought to this side.

Being able to win games when playing badly and coming from behind are often traits associated with championship winning teams and while United look likely to miss out on the title this time around, it’s been a relatively impressive season.

Despite crashing out of the Champions League much earlier than they should, they have maintained a decent push at the top of the Premier League throughout the season and as well as reaching the latter stages of the FA Cup and Carabao Cup are now in the final of the Europa League.

They have lost just four times in the Premier League this season, after losing three of their first six games, and have found a way of beating teams who set up against them in a low block too.

There has been a clear evolution under Solskjaer this season and United have improved immensely, but a few too many draws have seen them unable to keep up with a relentless Manchester City side.

If they can start to work towards playing with the same intensity and quality from the beginning of games instead of when they go 1-0 down they’d be much better placed to put together a real challenge for the title.

The squad is a good mix of youth players and experience and with a few additions such as a defensive midfielder, a centre back and a right-winger (plus a striker if Cavani leaves) then they will be ready to push forward even more.

Solskjaer has made United hard to beat and capable of beating anyone on their day and there’s not much more you can ask for at this point. Now on to the next level.

Europa League last 16 predictions – Manchester United vs AC Milan

Two absolute giants of the game meet in a competition not befitting of their stature as Manchester United and AC Milan clash in the last 16 of the Europa League.

The Red Devils crashed out of the Champions League at the group stages after defeats in the final two group games against Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig, before cruising through the round of 32 against Real Sociedad with a 4-0 away win in the first leg. A much relaxed second leg ended goalless as United controlled the tie from the off.

Milan on the other side came through the group stages as group winners, topping the table ahead of Lille, Celtic and Sparta Prague. They were paired up with Red Star Belgrade in the next round where they were held to draws home and away, but the three away goals they scored in comparison to Red Star’s were enough to see them progress.

Manchester United come into the tie in far from the greatest form, but having most recently snapped their rivals Man City’s 21-game winning streak with a 2-0 win at the Etihad. They’ve looked impeccable in the Europa League and their squad is more than strong enough to win the entire competition.

AC Milan on the other hand had started the season incredibly brightly domestically, but have recently fallen off and now find themselves in second place six points behind local rivals Inter in the title race. They’ve won just two of their last seven games in all competitions conceding ten goals and keeping just one clean sheet in that time.

It’s a welcomed return to the upper echelons of the table for the Milan side, who’ve seen their fortunes turned since the appointment of Stefano Pioli last season. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has continued to be excellent since returning, although he’s likely to miss the games against his former side with injury while the likes of Rafael Leao, Franck Kessie, Brahim Diaz and Theo Hernandez have all performed exceedingly well.

Both sides have used somewhat rotated sides in the competition so far, and depth is a strength that they both have but it’s hard to look at both squads and not think that United have the edge in this tie.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has opted for a somewhat stronger team for the the two games so far and it’s likely he’ll do something similar here. Marcus Rashford is likely to miss the first leg with an ankle problem, which means Bruno Fernandes is likely to carry the load for the side while he’s injured. That’s not ideal since United would likely rather rest him if they could, but he could hold the key to their progression.

Milan are a good pressing side that tend to take the majority of chances they create, while defensively they’re solid in the air and and very good at nicking the ball in the midfield. They are however prone to individual errors and their shape isn’t the most impressive which could allow a United side in the mood to create.

When the draw was made many people saw United crashing out of the competition, but generally I think people are more fearing of the name of the club rather than the actual team on the pitch.

At their best, Manchester United are the better team and over two legs the expectation is that they should be able to get the win and progress into the quarter-finals as the favourites to win the entire competition.

Europa League last 32 predictions – Real Sociedad vs Manchester United

It’s not just the Champions League that makes it’s return this week, the baby brother is back in town too as the Europa League comes back too with the round of 32, including the Champions League drop outs.

One of those drop outs are Manchester United, who fell out of the premier competition following defeats in their final two group stage games to Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig. They fall into the Europa League where they’ll take on Spain’s Real Sociedad, who progressed into this round after coming second behind Napoli in the group stages.

Manchester United currently sit in second place in the Premier League, seven points behind leaders Manchester City having played a game more than their local rivals and level on points with Leicester in third. They’ve scored the most goals in the league this season so far, aided by a 9-0 win over Southampton recently, but have conceded more goals than eight of the other nine teams in the top half.

Sociedad currently sit fifth in the La Liga table, behind the big three and Sevilla having won ten of their 23 games so far this season domestically. Despite an abundance of attacking talent, their goals haven’t flowed massively. They’ve scored 46 goals in 32 games in all competitions but managed only five in their six games in this competition earlier this season.

Real Sociedad v Cadiz CF - La Liga Santander : News Photo

Their star winger Mikel Oyarzabal has been in tremendous form this season, scoring a team high ten goals so far including five in his last six games. David Silva joined the team in the summer and has taken to the league like a duck to water, as expected, while young attackers Alexander Isak and Adnan Januzaj have continued to shine also.

United will however take encouragement from the fact that Sociedad have only managed to keep six clean sheets in their last 20 games in all competitions, while they themselves have been able to score in 17 of their last 20 fixtures.

West Bromwich Albion v Manchester United - Premier League : News Photo

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may be tempted to rest key players in his squad with a race for top four looking likely now, but he also knows that a trophy would help to justify his position in the role of manager also. Winning the competition is also an extra way to get into the Champions League next season should their domestic form continue to struggle after just two wins from their last seven games in the league.

Even with a rotated squad though, United’s team is strong enough to compete into the latter rounds in this competition. The likes of Anthony Martial, Donny Van de Beek, Mason Greenwood, Nemanja Matic and Eric Bailly are still likely to feature regularly and they would all start regularly for the Sociedad team.

Unless United decide that their interest in this competition is minimal, they should have too much for Sociedad and while the Spaniards will give a good account of themselves, I expect the Reds to qualify with minimal complications.

PREDICTIONS:

Real Sociedad 0-1 Manchester United
Manchester United 2-1 Real Sociedad
(Manchester United progress 3-1 on aggregate)

My Perfect Footballer #4 – Portugal edition

With a population as little as ten million, it is fair to say Portugal has done pretty well for themselves as a footballing powerhouse. Never ones to be taken lightly in international competition, their respect is a direct result of the constant stream of talent that, to this day, shows no sign of drying up.

From the stardust sprinkled by Eusebio and Paulo Futre, right through to the golden years of Luis Figo, Rui Costa and the unprecedented Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal’s not short of generational talent.

Which begs the question, if we were to call on the representation of one player to a single attribute, what would the perfect Portuguese player look like?


Brain
Bruno Fernandes

Manchester United’s man of the moment took a unique route to the top, taking in the Italian way of playing the game before his 2016 move back game with Sporting.

A true sponge, tactically, his rich knowledge of the game shows in the way he commands his team on the pitch, with or without the captain’s armband and, despite his many technical qualities, it’s his mentality that promises to take him and his teammates right to the very top. A true footballing brain on his shoulders.

Heading Ability
Cristiano Ronaldo

There’s no doubting the magnitude of the phenom we have in our hands here, fit to top almost every category available in this piece. Since few will be able dispute the overwhelming superiority Cristiano Ronaldo holds over others in the air, this category is his to don.

A lethal finisher with his head, even at a very young age, his favourable height, cunning anticipation and outrageous leap make him a force to be reckoned with inside the box. Truly superhuman.

Physique
André Silva

Undoubtedly in lofty company, here, the ex-FC Porto and A.C. Milan striker falls short of the talent and consistency possessed by many throughout this list, which is a shame given the threat he poses.

Somewhat likened to Ronaldo, physically, André Silva’s tall, strong and elegant frame equips him to be in the mould of a true modern-day athlete – the complete striker. All that’s really missing for the young frontman is a little more consistency before he starts looking like the fearsome prospect that once took him to the San Siro.

Hands
Rui Patrício

Two names spring to mind where goalkeeping’s concerned – that of UEFA Champions League winner Vitor Baía, a mainstay in the Portugal national team in his day, and Rui Patricio, central to his nation’s Euro 2016 success in France, against the hosts.

With a blunder or two in his game, Baía loses out here to Rui Patricio, who’s matured brilliantly over the years and offers Wolverhampton Wanderers and Portugal with the adequate security required to compete.

Tackling
Ricardo Carvalho

Barely in the six foot region, there’s plenty to admire about Ricardo Carvalho’s game in a world dominated by bulkier, far more imposing centre-backs and strikers alike.

Excelling at the very highest level with FC Porto, Chelsea and Real Madrid, Carvalho’s positioning, anticipation and composure often saw him outsmart his competitors in the tackle, adding greater comfort to the backline wherever he went.

Agility
João Moutinho

Great things were expected of João Moutinho when he first broke through at Sporting in 2004 and, meanwhile, it’s fair to say he hasn’t quite lived up to the promise set out, the midfielder’s career isn’t one to frown at either.

Still competing in the Premier League at the age of 34, his small stature aids his agility that, throughout the years, has seen the creative quantity mature into a combative source, relentlessly zipping across the midfields.

Passing
Manuel Rui Costa

Another in a class of his own, capable of taking a handful of categories for himself, Rui Costa, formerly referred to as ‘the Maestro,’ comes in to claim what his nickname implies – orchestrating play.

The ex-Fiorentina and A.C. Milan star had the innate ability to play at his own pace, capable of short bursts through the midfield with the ball glued at his feet, and when he was not practically passing the ball into the net, such was his accuracy, Rui Costa was feeding his star-studded forward lines with the utmost precision expected of a number ten.

First Touch
Deco

One many would consider a rare breed, Deco wasn’t quick, nor strong, but he’d always outwit his opposition with otherworldly vision and guile, best seen in his FC Porto years.

An immaculate first touch set up the Brazilian-born Portugal international for success, enabling him to find the time and space his slight body and creative attributes required. Deco was so good, in fact, there were times he didn’t even need to touch the ball, feigning cutely and giving his opponents the illusion he could control things with his mind.

Speed
Nani

Although he may not be as quick as a certain Portuguese Old Trafford favourite, Nani, with admirers of his own during his time in the north-west, wasn’t far behind when it came to turning on the jets.

Direct, tricky and equally objective, the former Manchester United number 17 was a real threat off the flanks in his pomp, owing much of that to his unforgiving acceleration.

Dribbling
Paulo Futre

Dubbed as Europe’s response to Diego Maradona, the long-haired Atlético Madrid legend was unstoppable in full flow, toying with any defender who dared to believe he may be dispossessed.

Blessed with control, veiled pace and a protective tenacity that kept his detractors at bay, the Maradona comparisons were always very evident for a winger who simply refused to be tackled.

Skills
Ricardo Quaresma

Nobody embodies street football, where imagination, joy and exhilaration is king, quite like Ricardo Quaresma. Despite never delivering the career his abundant talent deserved, the former Porto and Besiktas star never lost sight of what made him a firm favourite in everyone’s hearts – his commitment to leave all in awe with wizardry.

The constant showboating, the trademarked ‘Trivela’ – Quaresma is your one and only stop for mind-boggling trickery on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Crossing
Luís Figo

Luís Figo was many things, from an elite dribbler, to a complete visionary in the final third. One of his more underrated qualities was his ability to cause danger from the flanks, via his delivery. Not his most outstanding quality, undoubtedly, but brilliantly consistent.

Right Foot
Eusebio

The perfect Portuguese player would be complete without the great Eusebio, conveying an enormity that is, even in the presence of Ronaldo and co., fondly remembered today.

We’ll leave the striker in his natural habitat, here, borrowing his venomous and ferocious right foot that often left goalkeepers powerless.

Left Foot
Bernardo Silva

The story’s still being written for 25-year-old Bernardo Silva and his thus far glittering career, honing his skills in both France and, most recently, England.

As so often is the case, Bernardo slaloms past his opponents as if a string’s attaching his left foot to the ball, lacing his close control with end product, be it in search of a team mate in the final third, or picking out the top corner. As far as left foots go, his is certainly one of the very best going.


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Manchester United show progress with win over Liverpool

Just a week after holding the champions to a draw at Anfield, Manchester United went toe to toe with Liverpool and came out on top with a 3-2 win in the FA Cup.

The Red Devils came from behind after Mohamed Salah opened the scoring thanks to goals from Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford to take the lead. Salah equalised for Jurgen Klopp’s side before substitute Bruno Fernandes smashed a free-kick in late on to seal progression for United into the next round.

It was a change of tact and intention from Solskjaer and one that worked in their favour, as they showed they can attack the top teams and do damage.

United’s big game form this season has been questionable, having failed to beat any of the other members of the ‘big six’ and having scored just one goal in games against them before this game.

Solskjaer had often opted for a pairing of Scott McTominay and Fred in midfield previously, looking to play on the counter attack while ensuring they didn’t lose with extra defensive protection. However against Liverpool, McTominay was paired with Paul Pogba and Solskjaer played with three attacking players behind the striker. He was going for it.

It was a pretty good display overall too, with many players putting in top performances all over the pitch.

In the past with United’s setup, when Salah opened the scoring the Reds would have been in trouble. They wouldn’t have had much creativity and would have been occupying ten yards deeper than normal. But with this front-foot approach, United were always in the game.

It showed progress in the mentality of the club right now, they now believe they can win these games and compete with the top teams.

A cup tie is different to a league game and if the mentality is carried into games in the future it will be a bigger sign that the mentality has shifted. But the performance was encouraging enough that it should definitely be considered for the upcoming fixtures.

The counter attack was still a threat, as seen with Greenwood and Rashford’s goals, but they created enough openings from keeping possession in the middle third and shifting side to side, as well as overlapping full-backs.

Solskjaer has got his side attacking well, defending well and competing in games against the big sides as well as sitting at the top of the Premier League. The only thing missing now, is a trophy.