In Marcus Rashford Man United Already Have A Zlatan Replacement

When Zlatan Ibrahimovic collapsed to the turf clutching his knee during Manchester United’s Europa League tie with Anderlecht last month, many wondered if anyone at United could step up and replace the Swedish legend.

Well nineteen year old Marcus Rashford has been the man to replace Zlatan and he’s done it with aplomb.

In his last eight appearances the English international striker has found the net four times. One of those was against Premier League leaders Chelsea but perhaps more importantly Rashford scored the winner last night against Celta Vigo, showing us that the teenager can produce the goods in the big games.

The goal against Celta gave United a vital away goal and win in their Europa League semi-final first leg.

His presence in the team has almost rejuvenated this United side. He offers pace, a strong work ethic and a determination to succeed.

Zlatan almost carried the United squad at various times this season and he was Jose Mourinho’s go to guy.

But it seems as if young Marcus Rashford is now that guy for Jose:

“He’s a 19-year-old kid in love with football,”

“He works, he’s mature and what matters is not his age but his quality.”

That’s high praise indeed for the talented Rashford, especially considering many thought Jose would somehow mismanage the teen.

But the fact is that Mourinho believes that Rashford is the player that he can rely on to listen to his instructions, works hard and scores the vital goals. He’s the attacking threat that can fire United to Europa League glory and possibly a top four place.

Another positive for Marcus is the fact that he’s came through the academy and knows that you need to be the very best at Old Trafford and that also gives him a special connection with the fans.

Now I am not saying that Marcus Rashford is a direct replacement for Zlatan. He offers pace instead of strength but they both offer goals, confidence and a winning spirit that Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho loves to see in his stars.

So his return to goalscoring form could be just the thing Man Utd need in their search of Champions League qualification!

Bringing Steven Naismith Back To Ibrox Would Make Sense… But There Would Be A Rangers Fan Backlash!

If reports are to be believed then it seems that Norwich City could be about to sever all ties with Scottish forward Steven Naismith.

The Daily Express has gone one step further and suggested that Naismith would be happy to rejoin Rangers this summer.

Now a few hurdles would need to be cleared before the international attacker could move back to Ibrox.

Firstly he will have to come to terms with the Canaries on a deal to leave Carrow Road on a free transfer. Then the Gers board and the player’s representatives will need to agree upon a deal that suits both parties. For Naismith to sign for Rangers, he’d need to accept an offer that falls way short of the £50k a week he’s been used to at Norwich. Plus he may also have other suitors that may offer him a better financial package.

Let’s say that both Steven and Rangers can clear those hurdles, they would then have to deal with the Ibrox faithful!

Many of the Gers support took exception to the striker and how he left the club, when the company changed hands and Charles Green took over in May 2012. A fairly big majority felt the player deserted the club when they needed him, or the possible transfer fee he’d command, the most.

During his press conference, where he explained his decision to leave, he used the words ‘Sevco’ and ‘new club’. Those are terms that still rankle with Gers supporters today.

Up until this new rumour, linking him with a move back started, Naismith’s name was still mud to a lot of the fans that head to Govan on a regular basis.

Bringing the player back to the blue half of Glasgow would need to happen with a careful PR spin.

That being said the tide has already started to turn in the Scotland international’s favour.

While supporters may not forgive Naismith for the way he handled his departure, a significant number can see him as being a better calibre of player than those that currently wear the light blue jersey. The last two humiliating defeats to Celtic and the fact that Rangers are in third place basically mean that the Gers faithful can’t be particularly choosey when it comes to recruiting a better class of footballer.

The forward has a CV that includes important goals and he’s a player that works extremely hard for his team. He’s without doubt a moaner but he’ll not shirk away from an opponent or a feisty challenge. Plus the thirty year old also possesses plenty of experience, especially in Old Firm clashes, which could prove vital as Pedro Caixinha looks to improve on performances against Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic side next season.

Ultimately Steven Naismith has a battling spirit that this Rangers squad desperately lacks at the moment.

Of course tough questions will come with any potential return: ‘Are Rangers a new club?’ will be the first of many.

He will obviously say that they are indeed the same club he played for between 2007 and 2012. He will still have critics from some in the home end at Ibrox and he will have plenty of Hoops fans that will happily remind him of things he has said in the past.

But in that regard Naismith just needs to look at Kenny Miller and use the veteran as a prime example of being able to win the fans round and shutting up his critics.

If he can find the net regularly next season and help Rangers become a significantly better side, then you’d soon find it hard to find the opposing voices.

Can Can’s Goal Secure Liverpool’s Champions League Dream?

 

There are defining moments during a football season and you get the feeling Liverpool had one on Monday night.

In a bit of a drab affair, German international Emre Can scored a wonderful bicycle kick in first-half injury time and that wonderful goal was enough to secure Liverpool all three points against Watford.

Can has described the sensational strike as:

“the best goal I’ve ever scored”

But the midfielder’s overhead kick meant more than just goal of the season contention, it also made sure that his club once again had their Champions League destiny in their own hands.

In the previous week Jurgen Klopp’s men trudged off the Anfield pitch knowing that their loss to Crystal Palace wasn’t good enough and it handed an advantage to both Manchester clubs, who were hunting down Liverpool’s valuable top four place in the Premier League.

But instead of piling on the pressure both Man United and Man City stumbled to draws in their Sunday encounters with relegation battling sides.

That meant that the red half of Merseyside knew that they could reaffirm their place in the league table on Monday night.

But the ‘Reds’ squad knew they had to deal with that pressure and win the match, something that they had failed to do against Palace.

Emre Can was the unlikely goalscoring hero but it was all too timely and now Liverpool have to use that as a springboard to see out the rest of their league fixtures.

Liverpool’s last three games of the season don’t look overly awkward either.

First off they welcome Southampton to Anfield this Sunday. Southampton have little to play for as they’re in a safe mid-table position. It should also be noted that the Saints have failed to record a victory in their last three fixtures.

Klopp will then take his men down to London, where they’ll face West Ham United in the penultimate game of the campaign. How tricky that game will be could depend on the Hammers and if they are safe from the drop-zone come the fourteenth of May. If results go their way this weekend then West Ham will be mathematically safe from relegation. It’s worth pointing out that Slaven Bilic’s side have struggled at their new home this season and have only won six home games in the league this term.

Finally Liverpool will entertain Middlesbrough on the final weekend of the season. Unfortunately for Boro they could be down by that time but Liverpool have to be wary of a side that want to go down with a fight!

Jurgen Klopp needs to get three more cup final type performances from his squad.

If they can win all three of those matches then they’ll be guaranteed the luxury of Champions League football next season. That will mean more money in the summer, the club will be more attractive when trying to bring in world class talent and that it should ultimately give them the foundations to challenge for the Premier League title next year!

It’s crazy to think just how valuable that Emre Can goal against Watford could end up being for the Anfield side.

Rangers Only Need Three New Signings To Get Closer To Celtic Next Season

Rangers were humiliated by a far superior Celtic side in their last two outings.

Those losses made sure that the Gers side were ending the season without a trophy and the’re now thirty-six points behind the Scottish Premiership champions. Aberdeen also seem set to beat them to second place.

As with the case with any poor performing Old Firm side, a press and social media inquest has already begun.

People have been quick to state that the squad needs to be overhauled and that millions need to be spent in getting better personnel in. Some have suggested that Rangers will need to spend around £50m to catch Celtic next season.

I believe a lot of these pundits and fans need a bit of a reality check.

While I agree that this Gers squad needs a lot of changes and it needs investment, knowing that and dealing with it are two different things.

The current board at Ibrox have failed to bring in any major investment in the last two and a bit years. I don’t see that changing in the next month or so. That means you can’t bin off all the deadwood and start again with buy big money replacements this summer.

Obviously Clint Hill and Phillippe Senderos will depart as their contracts expire.

After that who knows? It seems most of the playing squad are on long term deals and it will be hard to get any suitors to buy underperforming players.

They might be able to offload Rob Kiernan to an English side, as long as they don’t realise that the centre-back isn’t actually good at defending. It might be possible to sell on James Tavernier and Martyn Waghorn if you show clubs their stats rather than footage of them playing.

It might also be the right time to cash in on Barrie McKay as his contract’s running down and it looks unlikely that he’ll sign a new one. The Scottish international is a player that they might get a few million for and he hasn’t really figured in Pedro Caixinha’s recent first team selections.

So why do I think it will only take three new faces to close the gap between the two Old Firm sides?

Well firstly I don’t think it will close it down dramatically. People at Ibrox need to set more realistic goals. This season has been a waste, morale around the club has taken a real battering. But I think the bar was set far too high by previous boss Mark Warburton and chairman Dave King, who said they expected to challenge for the title this year. The objective for this term should’ve been to challenge for a cup and go all out for second place.

Those two goals (second place and a cup) should be the objectives for next season, along with closing the gap with Celtic to around fifteen points and making the derby games more competitive.

The weight of expectation was too much for the squad and the club didn’t invest enough to make such bold predictions last summer. They were living off a semi-final win over Celtic and that win only made Celtic stronger in the longterm as they brought in Brendan Rodgers and better players.

Now as I’ve already said, I don’t think the money is there for Rangers to completely reinvent themselves this upcoming off-season. That means they need to be smarter in the transfer market.

The three positions I’d add to will benefit the spine of the team.

I’d be on the lookout for a strong commanding centre-back, preferably with experience. A defender who will put their body in front of every shot and who will attack every ball in the air and win most of those battles. A big guy that intimidates opponents, who basically kicks some asses and takes names. Who would compliment Danny Wilson, who is lacking that in his game.

You also need a midfield destroyer who will marshall just in front of the defence. Someone who can break up play and give it to those you can start attacks. A man that will get into the faces of opponents and just add bite to this current squad. A ball winner who will go into every challenge possible.

Rangers under Warburton seemed content on just bringing in technically sound players without realising that the team needed more heart, height and nastiness.

Against Celtic on Saturday, in the second half, the Hoops players were having fun keeping the ball as the travelling support screamed ‘Ole!’. Can you imagine a Barry Ferguson or an Ian Ferguson or a Jorg Albertz or a Dado Pro accepting that? No they’d have at least put someone on their arse for that. That’s what this Gers side needs. They need more battling qualities and a stronger mentality.

They also need a goalscorer, who can get at least twenty league strikes a season.

Kenny Miller has been fantastic this season but he’s no longer of an age that you can expect him to be your number one striker. I don’t think Waghorn has the qualities needed, he seems to lose all confidence when one-on-one with the goalkeeper especially in the big games. Joe Dodoo isn’t ready to lead the line week in and week out, while Joe Garner is more of a poor man’s Mark Hateley than a poor man’s Ally McCoist.

Now the problem is that fine goalscorers usually cost big bucks but that being said Moussa Dembele cost under a million, while Leigh Griffths only cost Celtic £1m. So you can find these players if you look around.

Rangers themselves picked up a bargain in Kris Boyd back in 2006.

Maybe just maybe they could do the same with Ross County’s Liam Boyce. Boyce has banged in an impressive forty-five goals in ninety-seven Scottish Premiership appearances. The Northern Irish international has twenty league goals to his name this term and that’s more than Dembele and just one behind top-scorer Scott Sinclair.

The Gers hierarchy also need to get to grips with the scouting team (or lack of) at the club. They’ve previously stated that bringing in a director of football was a priority but that no longer seems to be the case. They need a full functioning scouting network to be able to spot talent at a decent price throughout the world, especially in untapped markets if possible. Until they sort that out, then Caixinha will be working with an arm tied behind his back!

For me, Rangers need to get the spine of the team right this summer and forget an overhaul if the cash isn’t available. Then they should work towards achievable goals and then and only then will they have the foundations right to once again challenge Celtic, but that won’t be next season in my opinion.

Blog Video: Interview Celtic’s SLO John Paul Taylor

 

Earlier in the week I visited Celtic Park to interview Celtic’s Supporters Liaison Officer John Paul Taylor.

We discuss his role at the club, the safe standing area at the stadium and Celtic’s season under Brendan Rodgers.

Please checkout the rest of our Scottish football content on our YouTube channel.

Diego Costa’s Return To Form Comes At Right Time For Chelsea

Before last night Chelsea striker Diego Costa had gone seven club appearances without recording a single goal.

Then against Southampton the Spanish hitman managed to grab two goals and an assist, a performance that helped his side to an important victory.

That brace helped Costa reach his fiftieth goal for the club and it also took him to nineteen league goals for the season.

During his drought in front of goal, Chelsea lost to both Crystal Palace and Manchester United. Those defeats, along with with a Tottenham Hotspur winning run, saw the gap at the top being reduced to just four points.

It also wasn’t by coincidence that Diego started to pick up more yellow cards again during his lean spell, the forward was clearly under pressure and getting frustrated by his poor form.

People started to wonder if Antonio Conte’s men were going to crack under the pressure. Fans were also wondering if the side relied too much on their top marksman.

But against the Saints you got the feeling that the Chelsea’s squad had got back into the swing of things and that Costa had found his mojo again.

The FA Cup win over Spurs last weekend will have obviously helped spike up team morale but Costa’s goal return seems the tonic everyone at Stamford Bridge was looking for.

The club will now believe that the title challenge is back on track and that their striker is the man to get them over the line.

Blues boss Conte stated after the Southampton triumph that he had always believed in his number one striker:

“It’s important for forwards to score because the goal is your life,” 

“I always told him I was pleased with his commitment and work and he always worked for the team. I was always confident for him. I told you I am sure he is keeping his goals for the final part of the season.”

It helps that Diego had Cesc Fabregas playing behind him again, the duo have a terrific understanding and Cesc seems to just know the perfect time to release the ball to Costa in front of goal. Plus having a world class talent in Eden Hazard playing alongside you takes away some of that pressure.

Now whether Diego Costa stays or leaves Chelsea in the summer doesn’t really matter at this stage of the season. What matters for the fans is that he’s back with the bit between his teeth again and they can now head for the final straight with a goalscorer back amongst the goals!

So Costa has to forget any contract offers and speculation surrounding his future. All he needs to do is keep banging the goals in and lift a trophy or two come May.

Halliday’s Old Firm Tackle Has No Bearing On Scott Brown’s Appeal

People are still discussing Andy Halliday’s challenge on Patrick Roberts from last weekend’s Old Firm semi-final clash at Hampden.

The tackle was late and reckless but the Rangers midfielder only received a booking. Even diehard Gers fans must have thought it merited a different colour of card.

Celtic fans, players and some in the media have suggested that the SFA should look at this challenge plus the punishment and decide on rescinding Scott Brown’s red card, the Celtic captain received his marching orders a week beforehand against Ross County.

Now I think Scott Brown is without doubt the best Scottish midfielder playing in Scotland’s top flight and has been for at least the past five years (probably longer). He showed all of his qualities in that win over Rangers as he dominated the midfield area.

But Brown’s tackle at Dingwall against Liam Boyce was worthy of a red card, it was a late lunge that could’ve injured his opponent.

Brown has a history of trying to dish out instant retribution if he feels something hasn’t gone his way or if a player leaves a foot in on him and the officials have missed. At times he goes in hard but fair but sometimes he crosses the line and against Boyce he mistimed the tackle and didn’t seem to be in full control, so for me it was a red card offence.

We can’t have a system that decides we can’t punish wrongdoers because others have done similar and escaped punishment. If we do that then we set at dangerous precedent and it will be hard for the SFA to punish any player as they will always say ‘but what about them?’.

That seems to be the argument that Patrick Roberts is going with and I understand why. Roberts was the player at the other end of Halliday’s poor, rash tackle and he knows that Scott Brown is a massive part of the Celtic machine.

Hoops boss Brendan Rodgers has also stated that the club have appealed the red card because of inconsistencies:

“We have the same referee who made the yellow card decision against Kieran Tierney, so with the consistency with the decision making that’s why we are appealing it.”

Again I understand Brendan’s frustration with referees and their lack of consistency. His job is based on results and bad calls from the officials can cost his team points.

But instead of trying to use these inconsistencies to your own advantage, I think we need to do more to help referees and try and limit their mistakes.

In that regard instead of rescinding Brown’s red card because Willie Collum missed the seriousness of the Halliday challenge, the SFA should have the power to upgrade Andy’s yellow to a red and have him serve a suspension. We can use retrospective action to deal with diving and the like, so why can’t we use it for calls that refs clearly get wrong?

I’d also like the SFA to look into bringing in instant video assistants, who can help the officiating team on match days. The technology is now at a stage where they can reach these decisions in no time at all.

In summing up I suppose the old adage ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’ springs to mind.

So Scott Brown should lose his appeal and serve his punishment. But we should demand more from those running Scottish football and have them back their referees with more technology to help them limit their mistakes.

At the very least we should have a governing body that can rectify those mistakes when they happen!

The FM17 Cup In Glasgow

Last week I filmed the BetBright FM17 Cup for the set pieces.

It was a great event and an enjoyable evening.

Checkout more about the FM17 Cup on the FM Project’s Facebook page.

 

Will Real’s Sergio Ramos Ever Learn?

You can’t deny that Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos is a world class talent. He’s a tremendous centre-back, he can score valuable goals and he has an endless amount of passion coursing through his veins.

The thirty-one year old has also managed to win pretty much every major trophy there is out there worth winning.

But unfortunately for Ramos, and his teammates, the defender also possesses that rash side of his game that often sees him getting into trouble. It’s almost as if the Spanish international has a self destruct button in the back of his head and it’s constantly telling him to press it!

The all too familiar sight of seeing Ramos receive a red card for a stupid, needless challenge happened again last night as Real lost to their bitter rivals FC Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabéu. The result saw Barca climb above Madrid into La Liga’s top spot.

In the seventy-seventh minute, just four minutes after Barca took the lead, Ramos lunged in on Lionel Messi with a dangerous two footed challenge. Thankfully Messi had enough presence of mind to dodge most of the impact but the referee had noted that Sergio was out of control and so sent the defender off.

Ramos would the bitch and moan about the decision and he’d have a pop at Gerard Pique on the way off too but in reality he’d given his side an up hill task.

To be fair to Los Blancos, they managed to get back into the game through a fine goal from James Rodriguez.

Ultimately though, Ramos’ sending off came back to haunt Real.

In the dying moments of the game as both teams craved a winner, Sergio Roberto charged forward into Madrid’s half. The right back then played it to Andre Gomes, who in turn waited before releasing Jordi Alba of the left. The wing back then ventured into Real’s penalty area before cutting the ball back to Messi and the Argentine struck a superb last gasp winner.

During that goal, you could see that Real’s defence were all at sea. They were a man down and were clearly missing their captain. I’m not saying their number four would have definitely stopped that goal from happening but he’d have certainly been more of a help on the field rather than in the changing room!

Again Sergio Ramos isn’t a naive youngster, nor was this his first El Clásico. He is now a veteran and he should be able to control his emotions. His sending off was because of poor judgement and his temper getting the better of him.

If I were Real Madrid’s boss Zinedine Zidane, I’d have given Ramos one hell of a bollocking after the game. I’m doubtful he did, especially when you consider Zizou retired after head butting Marco Materazzi during a World Cup final.

But in all honesty surely someone has to have a word with Ramos and explain to him that he needs to react better to bad situations. Last night saw him receive his twenty-second dismissal and that’s just during his stint at Real Madrid. That is an absolutely dreadful record for any player to have.

Five of those red cards have come against Barcelona, just when his team needs him the most.

As I’ve said before, Sergio Ramos is a wonderfully talented central defender, one of the best of his generation in fact. But he’s seriously no good to his teammates if he’s in having an early bath or missing important games through suspension.

I’d like to think he could learn from these mistakes but history seems to prove that he’ll always be a hot-head and ultimately a liability!

Man United’s Anthony Martial Needs More Magical Performances This Season

This week saw talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic succumb to a knee ligament injury that will keep him out for the remainder of the season.

We also saw Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho come out this week and tell forward Anthony Martial that he has to show signs of improvement if he’s going to succeed at Old Trafford:

“Do I think Anthony is a player with great potential? Yes I think. Do I think he can play successfully for me? Yes I think. But he needs to give me things I like very much.”

But on Sunday afternoon, twenty-one year old Martial put on a man of the match performance that helped his side collect three points at Turf Moore.

The Frenchman didn’t just score one and assist in another but he also made intelligent runs, showed good work ethic and his pace troubled the opposition right from the start.

Anthony’s outing against Sean Dyche’s Burnley showed Jose that he’s capable of being a disciplined, yet productive forward. It also allayed most fears that United would crumble up-top without Zlatan leading the line.

Martial and his pace offer United a different route to the direct style Ibra offered and towards the end of the season as teams look more tired and make more mistakes, electric speed can kill teams!

Many were believing that Man Utd were becoming too reliant on Swedish superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Now the whole squad has to step up and show that that isn’t actually the case.

Pressure will ultimately fall onto the shoulders of Martial and fellow young hitman Marcus Rashford as the Old Trafford side search for goals in their pursuit of a top four finish in the Premier League and a shot at Europa League glory!

Rashford’s performances in recent months have shown a maturity beyond his years and he works hard for the team and is willing to play wide, these are attributes that Mourinho loves in his frontmen.

Now Anthony Martial needs to learn from Rashford and do the same. As I’ve already stated he made a good impression against Burnley this weekend but he needs to do the same and probably more against Manchester City on Thursday night.

Then he will need to do it again against Celta Vigo in the Europa League semi-final tie.

Earlier in the campaign Anthony Martial was moaning that he didn’t play enough and when he did play he was forced out on wing.

Now the French internationalist has the chance to shine up-front for the Red Devils. He has to seize this opportunity and grab the goals that could send Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United into next seasons Champions League!