Ighalo determined to succeed at Manchester United

Odion Ighalo

Newly signed at Manchester United, Odion Ighalo is determined to hit the ground running. He intends to seize his big opportunity with both feet and become a United success. To prove his determination I have discovered the incredible work he is already putting into his daily routine. The winter break has been no holiday for Odion. Working with Mario Balotelli’s previous performance coach Wayne Richardson, the 30-year-old has been using the facilities of the Team GB Taekwondo performance centre and training alongside the GB Olympic team. His routine has included timing over 5, 10, 15 and 20 metres with all data fed back electronically for analysis of ankles, knees and hips to improve his speed. He has been running from penalty box to penalty box, changing direction suddenly and increasing speed, slowing down and increasing again. Back on the United training ground, Ighalo has been practising daily with footballs to sharpen his shooting at goal. Richardson said, “From the moment he stepped through the door, he is one of the few players who has blown me away…his determination, drive and willingness are very impressive. He’s been doing double sessions and we’ve even had to hold him back a bit.” Ighalo was training until 10.30 pm and he had already done a morning session! United told me that Ole Gunner Solskjaer intends to draft the Nigerian straight into the squad for Monday’s game at Chelsea.

Everton joining the achievers under Ancelotti

I travelled up to Liverpool to watch Everton and get a taste of what is reviving this once great club. The transformation since Carlo Ancelotti took over is simply amazing. From a miserable 26% win rate under previous manager Marco Silva, the current success rate is 63%. Everton was told by many so-called football experts that they should have hired a young tracksuit coach instead of an expensive manager who has already achieved everything possible in European football. Ancelotti has proven all the doubters completely wrong with Everton now challenging for European qualification next season. After only three training sessions he picked out Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison and Mason Holgate as the backbone of his revolution. Richarlison, in particular, has suddenly discovered his quality touch and after scoring on Saturday his manager said of him, “Everyone of us enjoys having him at Everton because he is a world-class player. He’s young, he can still improve but shows fantastic quality as a counter attacker and striker. It depends only on him.” I saw a huge flag hoisted in the crowd saying “Magnifco, Fanstico” and that sums up the revived atmosphere at this famous club where fans have embraced the new manager. It is enlightening to hear what Everton defender Yerry Mina says of Carlo Ancelotti. When the Toffees threw away a two-goal lead against Newcastle in the last minutes of the game the team defenders headed for the dressing room expecting a rocket from the manager. As he came through the door their heads went down. Instead of the verbal assault from Ancelotti he simply said, “Guys, the sun will rise again tomorrow.” Mina said,” He did not come into the dressing room moaning or shouting at us. He just looked at us and spoke very calmly. I could tell what type of person he is at that very moment. Every day he says incredible things whether to the group or personally taking you to one side.

Is Pep’s tinkering responsible for poor results?

When you are arguably the world’s most respected football coach it is a difficult pill to swallow that another manager is 21 points ahead of you in the Premier League table and look to have the title tied up with three months still left to go. That is the position of Pep Guardiola and people are asking what has gone wrong for the title-winning coach of 2018/19. It is a fact that Guardiola has not started with the same team for any consecutive match this season. For instance, either top strikers Aguero and Jesus often start a match but rarely together and usually either is replaced during the game. Guardiola’s rotation and tinkering has left players upset and many have pleaded with him not to keep changing the team around but to let them settle into a pattern where they are more comfortable with the players around them.

Maguire and Lindlehof need to improve

Manchester United’s manager is worried about his centre backs. Both Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof are regularly failing to deal with high balls put into the penalty area. Maguire and Lindlehof are just not clicking together and this is surprising since Maguire is a basic natural defender and Lindlehof has quality as a technical player. Lindlehof said after training this week, “We train every day together and play a lot of games now so for every game that we play we should be getting better and better. Hopefully, we can keep on improving and the manager has given us special training programmes to improve our aerial play and strength in the box.”

De Bruyne deserves his own move

Way back in the seventies, I remember being amazed at watching the legendary Johan Cruyff running down the wing and then twisting a defender inside out with his famous “Cruyff Turn” (look it up online). I think that Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne also deserves a move named after him. The Belgian superstar has 15 assists to his name this season and that is only five behind record-holder Thierry Henry who holds the Premier League record. De Bruyne has created an incredible 88 chances for his fellow strikers this season. His particular skill is an early ball, crossed from the right-wing and curling to the back post and this has led to four goals this season. De Bruyne cleverly slips away from the action out on the right and is therefore in open space for a pass and then delivers his accurate cross to the six-yard line by the back post where he knows that Aguero, Sterling or Jesus will be waiting to head or tap the ball into the net.

Minamino discovers The Beatles

Japanese midfielder Takumi Minamino is trying to fit into his new cultural surroundings at Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp’s style of football. I decided to travel up to Anfield to see how he is getting along. The first thing I realised is that his English is not that good. However, his fellow teammates Naby Keita and Sadio Mane are helping him settle into his new surroundings. Each day they spend time with Takumi teaching him the rules of the club, the timing of team meetings and how things work around the training ground. His most direct contact with other team players at the moment is interacting with the German players because he can speak their language. Amusingly Takumi seems to have bonded with Liverpool’s history and the city’s most famous music band The Beatles. He has even posted pictures on Instagram of himself outside the famous Cavern Club where the Beatles made their name.

Bale does not want to leave Madrid

Regrettably, Gareth Bale’s agent Jonathan Barnett says he does not think his client will ever return to Tottenham Hotspur. Bale and Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane seem to have patched up their differences although Bale is often still left on the bench. Barnett said this week, “He’s in a very fortunate position. Gareth is happy in Spain and let’s be realistic, for most clubs he is out of their league financially. Many people say, “Give up the money and go play somewhere else” but it is not all about money. It is about lifestyle and his children, who have grown up in Madrid.” Gareth also believes he still has an important role to play at the club. Zidane claims it is mainly the media who have exaggerated the problems between himself and Bale.

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