Fellaini and Ozil out as Higuain arrives

Marouane Fellaini has for years been Manchester United’s solid big guy midfielder brought on usually from the bench when the team are struggling. His size and physical presence made him a towering strength in the penalty area for free kicks and corners. The one thing he does not have is speed and pace and that is why he has no place in Ole Gunner Solskjaer’s revitalised United team. I have learned that the club will listen to offers for the Belgian despite him signing a new two-year contract a few months ago. He has played only 31 minutes of first team football under Solskjaer and was not even in the squad last weekend for the win over Tottenham. AC Milan, Porto and Chinese club Guangzhou have all expressed interest in signing Marouane for around £15million. United also told me that Marcus Rojo is likely to be sold which will allow the club to bring in a new centre back. Rojo is currently back home in Argentina receiving treatment for injury and this has hindered a possible January sale. Following my story two weeks ago, Chelsea confirmed to me on Wednesday evening that they have agreed terms with Juventus and AC Milan to sign Gonzalo Higuain on a year’s contract with a further twelve months extension if everything works out. Higuain is currently in London.  As I wrote previously in this column, Arsenal are looking at clubs interested in signing Mesut Ozil who has lost the confidence of manager Unai Emery. As an encouragement the Gunners said they are willing to pay some of his huge £350,000 a week salary and he can go this month. Like Fellaini at United, Ozil also did not make the bench in last weekend’s game. Arsenal told me that there is interest from China but so far no offers have been made.

Exclusive facts about Pochettino and United


There are three exclusive facts I can tell you about regarding Mauricio Pochettino and his personal position regarding a move to either Manchester United or Real Madrid. He is reluctant to join Real because he thinks the turnover in managers is unsettling. After a couple of seasons Real generally start to scout around for a new appointment and this worries Mauricio. Secondly, he is reported to have signed a new five-year contract. This is true however I can tell you that his main motivation was to get his assistants and training staff a pay rise as all their contracts are linked. A final influence on the Tottenham manager is that both his son’s are also employed by the club. Sebastian works as a Sports Scientist and Maurizio plays in the academy. The Pochettino family are very close and take all decisions together.


Forward play beats boring square passes

These days fans have to suffer endless back passing and square balls across the pitch which often produces negative results. Last weekend David Luiz and Paul Pogba demonstrated how direct forward play result in goals. The managers of both teams believe in direct forward play and not the defensive displays as preached by managers such as Jose Mourinho. Playing out from the back David Luiz, who is always looking to make inspirational passes, picked out Pedro with a pin point accurate pass 51 yards forward. The Spaniard then chipped the ball over the goalkeeper. In the United match, Paul Pogba took control of the ball in midfield and his skillful touch and pass forward to Marcus Rashford resulted in the striker scoring the winning goal against Tottenham.

Mousa Dembele bowing out of Tottenham

Tottenham are about to say goodbye to one of their most talented players. Mousa Dembélé is currently signing a £9million transfer to Chinese club Guangzhou. Following 324 appearances he has no trophies to take with him however his talent is undoubted. Nearly every member of the Spurs squad name him along with Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli as their most standout players. Eric Dier said of Dembélé, “He is a freak of nature. Physically he’s a monster but he has a ballerina’s feet.” He can, like Chelsea’s End Hazard, leave defenders behind as he dribbles the ball around them and he has a fierce shot despite only scoring 10 goals in six seasons. Danny Rose said, “You know which way he is going but you cannot tackle him because he is so big and shields the ball so well.” Regrettably it is Mousa’s injury problems which, at 31 years of age, have convinced him to leave the Premier League. He and fellow midfielder Victor Wanyama have been sharing the same treatment room on far too many occasions this season. In 2016 Spur’s manager Mauricio Pochettino was only half joking when he said, “Without him in the team we do not exist.”

The answer to tactical fouling?

I was with some fellow football writers this week and an interesting conversation came up about tactical fouling during a game. I would like to share this with you. During the recent match between Tottenham and Chelsea Harry Kane scored from the penalty spot and on the re-start Eden Hazard set off towards the Chelsea goal. Realising that Spurs had to keep their 1-0 lead Harry Winks knew he could not let Hazard get near to goal. So what did he do? He stepped right across Hazard’s path and brought him down. It was a tactical foul and Winks was rightly booked. The question is, was the booking and yellow card enough punishment? Last year Jose Mourinho accused Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City of committing tactical fouls when the City goal is under pressure. Pep’s longtime assistant at Barcelona said that when his teams lose the ball, Pep accepts a tactical foul might be the answer to slow up the opposition and eliminate the threat. Of course all teams commit the tactical foul and this is usually followed by loud protests from opposing players and supporters. One of my fellow writers made an interesting suggestion. What about introducing a rugby style “sin bin” where a player is sent off for ten minutes following a tactical foul and the team is reduced to ten during that time?

Barkley also improving under new manager

Another player flourishing under a new manager is Ross Barkley at Chelsea. He has praised manager Maurizio Sarri with helping him to be more focused and tactically aware. He said that during his time at Everton, the team he has supported from boyhood, he was mainly left to organise himself and there was little structure to his training and performances. Sarri arrived at Chelsea from Italy with a strange background in banking and no trophies to his name. However, he has proved that he can be a top level manager thanks to his personality and understanding of the game. Barkley told me, “Sarri’s philosophy has helped me a lot. I have always been a centre midfielder and at Everton I was moved to No10 and it did not suit me. Now at Chelsea the manager has put me in a midfield three and I feel very comfortable. Sarri has a reputation for giving special personal attention to particular players and he believes Barkley’s move from Everton should have come sooner.

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