Such has been Pogba’s importance to United so far this season, Jose Mourinho handed him the captains armband for their return to the Champions League. On the pitch Pogba has provided driving runs from midfield, scoring two goals and adding two assists as his offensive output has been cranked up several notches compared to last season.
Who will replace him in United’s lineup on Sunday against Everton (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)?
Marouane Fellaini is the main contender to slot right in for Pogba after his Man of the Match display against Basel in midweek where he scored and set up the third with a commanding display in central midfield. In many ways the role Pogba has been playing is perfect for Fellaini.
100 – Marouane Fellaini's goal is the 100th scored in the Champions League by a Belgian player (excl. own goals). Devils. pic.twitter.com/j6FItI1KTU
The Belgian had been restricted to a deeper central midfield role under David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal and even Mourinho last season, but if the Portuguese coach wants to lessen the impact of Pogba’s loss, Fellaini should slot in to start against his former club on Sunday. Mourinho continues to call Fellaini one of his “most important” players and the aggressive midfielder seems to have fed off that confidence given to him by his boss.
Both would be a safer, more defensive option than Fellaini and given the Belgian midfielder facing his former club, tempers could flare in midfield just like they did last season at Goodison Park when he gave away a penalty kick moments after coming on as a substitute.
Fellaini will probably start but with Everton set to pack the midfield with playmakers like Wayne Rooney, Gylfi Sigurdsson and maybe Davy Klaassen, having an extra defensive midfielder may be the smarter move for Mourinho.
With games against Burton Albion in the League Cup, a Premier League clash at Southampton and then a trip to CSKA Moscow in the UCL, Fellaini is likely to have a bigger impact against those teams. Yet with Mourinho’s love for the Belgian midfielder very well, don’t be surprised to see Carrick and Herrera both on the bench this Sunday at Old Trafford.
However, his $41 million move to Bayern hasn’t worked out so far with Carlo Ancelotti unable to give him the game time he needs to develop.
Sanches was said to be interesting Liverpool, Chelsea, Monaco and AC Milan in a loan move, but it appears the pull of working with Swansea boss Paul Clement (his former assistant coach at Bayern) was too much for Sanches to turn down.
This would be a fantastic, and unexpected, signing for the Swans with a deal for Sanches believed to be unlikely as recent as yesterday.
Remember, before he signed for Bayern Munich Sanches was very close to signing for Manchester United under Louis Van Gaal.
This seems like a great deal for everyone concerned. Sanches will play regularly in the Premier League, while Clement has a great track record in developing young players.
With the 2017-18 Premier League trophy on their mind and an eagerly anticipated return to the UEFA Champions League this season, that’s just the way they like it.
Keen to stress the importance of training sessions and matches in the Californian sun, Blind’s focus was clear as Man United prepare to face Manchester City on Thursday in Houston, Texas in what will be the first-ever Manchester Derby played on foreign soil.
Speaking exclusively to Pro Soccer Talk ahead of the historic match, the versatile Dutch international sees the International Champions Cup preseason friendly as a perfect way to put down a marker for the season.
“It will be a friendly, it will be preseason… but from the inside everyone feels like it is a derby and it will always be that way,” Blind said. “It is always special to play games like that. The derby always brings something extra and it will definitely be like that in Houston.”
Having United and City lock horns in the Lone Star State, nearly 5,000 miles from Manchester, is quite something when you think about it, and Blind, 27, believes both teams are ready to soak in the occasion.
“It’s something different, that’s for sure. I think it’s great. No doubt there will be lots of people coming to watch the game and it will give a great experience to every player,” Blind said. “These are the games you want to play in with these teams. The derby always brings something extra, personally, and for everyone, so I think it will be a great game, experience and preparation for the season.”
But with Man City, Real Madrid and Barcelona coming up in the next 10 days for United before they head back to Europe and prepare for the Premier League season with the UEFA Super Cup final against Real Madrid on Aug. 8, getting the hard work in now counts.
Even if grabbing a coffee and hanging out in LA is easier than any other place in the world for Blind and his superstars teammates to evaporate into normality. At least for a few hours a day.
“We are here to prepare ourselves for the season. The training sessions and games are coming first, but of course it is nice to bond with the team and when you have an hour off we can go for a coffee or something. It’s not a big deal in LA because there are so many famous people here,” Blind laughed. “You can go for a quiet coffee and you can do it all the time, but when the time is there and we are allowed, it is nice to go and do something like that with a few teammates. The preseason and training sessions, and matches, are obviously coming first and that’s the most important thing.”
The Ajax product praised the facilities at UCLA and said this preseason was “a bit easier” than last summer when Mourinho and his team were troubled with bad weather on their tour of China and their preseason friendly with Man City in Beijing had to be canceled due to heavy rain.
“The stadiums are full. The atmosphere is nice. The pitches are good and where we train as well. If you see the American teams, I think they are growing each year and it helps to have the highlights on TV in Europe,” Blind explained. “It is difficult to compare it to Europe. I have to say soccer here… right? Well, soccer is growing. I think.”
“He is a great signing, a great player and a great person as well, now that I have met him for a while,” Blind said. “He works very hard, he is very eager to score goals and very eager to help his teammates and create chances, so I am very happy he scored his first goal and I think there are many more to come.”
“Yeah, of course. No doubt he would again be another big signing and last year he gave a big boost for the team,” Blind said. “He is still a great player and great person and he makes everything better.”
Blind’s own United career has continued to get better after he arrived in the summer of 2014 as one of the first signings of the Louis Van Gaal era. Many believed Blind may have found minutes hard to come by last season after LVG was replaced by Mourinho, but he played in 39 games in all competitions and appeared in the Europa League final win over his old club Ajax.
He is happy to stay at United for as long as possible and is willing to extend his current contract, which runs out in the summer of 2019.
“I have one more year left [on his contract] after this one and I am very happy at United. I play a lot of games and I am looking forward to the new season,” Blind said. “About my contract, I can’t really say anything. You have to ask the directors and the club, but of course, which player wouldn’t want to stay at United? I am very happy, that’s the only thing I can say.”
Blind’s flexibility was key for United last season as he played at left back and center back and even central midfield as Mourinho utilized his utility status to the max.
‘Where is Blind’s best position?’ is often a question which comes up in the stadium and pubs when United play, so, what does he think?
“I just want to play and where the manager needs me I do my utmost best and give everything I have. I think the people know that I have a little bit of a preference to play left center back,” Blind revealed. “If I play left back all season, I would be happy there too, but for me it is just important that I am close to the team. I want to play. I want to start. That’s the thing I work hard for and that’s what makes me happy. For me it’s simple I want to play and be on the pitch and want to do everything for that.”
He also revealed the experiment of playing in a 3-4-3 formation is going well in preseason and is something which could be needed as teams make it hard for United to break them down. Yet one thing, above all else, is on his mind: trophies, and plenty of them.
Hungry for more silverware, Blind believes United can achieve anything they want next season. If they achieve what he hopes they can, it’s safe to say Mourinho will be taking United back to Beverly Hills and LA next summer. They could even be allowed a few more team coffee breaks…
“It was very exciting that we won three trophies last year, so we are very happy with that. The aim for this season is well is to win trophies and of course, we want to be first in the league,” Blind said. “We have to aim high because we have a big and strong squad. We will go for everything we want and we will play every game to win, and then we will see game by game.”
The end to Rooney’s career at United was surprisingly low-key but the Red Devils’ all-time leading goalscorer will go down in history after winning the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, five Premier League titles, one FA Cup and three League Cups during his time at Old Trafford.
He has to be in with a shout of being United’s greatest-ever player, right?
That trophy haul, plus becoming the leading goalscorer for club and country, vindicated his decision to leave Everton as an 18-year-old, but where does he rank in the pantheon of United greats?
Strangely, Rooney’s incredible goals, huge number of trophies and longevity seems to be overlooked by many with Duncan Edwards, Sir Bobby Charlton, George Best, Denis Law, Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane, Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo all jostling for the accolade as United’s greatest-ever player.
Rooney almost leaving for Manchester City and his falling out with Sir Alex Ferguson may not sit well, still, with some United fans, but it should not be so easy to forget the magic moments Rooney provided. That bicycle kick against Man City. The debut hat trick against Fenerbache. Winning goals against rivals like Arsenal and Liverpool at key moments throughout his Old Trafford career.
The list goes on and on.
Forced to reinvent himself under Louis Van Gaal, Rooney has come in for plenty of stick over the past two seasons. Some of it is just, but at 31 years of age you feel like he still has plenty to give. Just not at United.
Returning to Everton will give him a chance to regain his form and sharpness as he gets to play regularly. It may also help United’s fans appreciate what they had and for how long they had it.
Sure, Rooney’s play has regressed over the past two seasons but that shouldn’t erase the 11 seasons before that when he was United’s main man and delivered time and time again on his way to 253 goals in 559 games.
When all is said and done, despite becoming United’s all-time leading goalscorer Rooney will probably rank in the following position when it comes to the greatest players in club history. (Eric Cantona, Paul Scholes and Denis Law just missed out on being in the top five).
Sir Bobby Charlton – Scored 249 goals in 758 games and led United to three league titles, a European Cup and FA Cup
Ryan Giggs – 963 apppearances (most ever) and won 22 major titles, most decorated player in history
George Best – Scored 181 goals in 481 appearances for United over 11 years, won a European Cup and two league titles
Wayne Rooney – Scored 253 goals in 559 games, won five league titles, European Cup, Europa League, three League Cups and FA Cup
Cristiano Ronaldo – Scored 118 goals in 292 games, won three league titles, European Cup, two League Cups and FA Cup
How much is playing experience worth to a manager?
Comments from Ryan Giggs have us contemplating that question as the legendary Manchester United man wonders why he hasn’t gotten a shout to manage a Premier League squad.
Giggs, 43, says he’s only spoken with Swansea City regarding a managerial spot since his 2014 stint as interim boss of Manchester United. That’s surprising given the Welshman has been linked with seemingly every job in the British Isles.
“I spoke to Swansea. It didn’t work out. Because I have said I want to go into coaching and management every job that comes up I am linked with..and then I miss out on the job without having spoken to anyone! That’s frustrating, but that’s football. …“I have done the apprenticeship I have just not done the real thing yet.” (Manchester Evening News).
With respect to his on-field prowess, which at times was nearly peerless, should players like Giggs really be surprised when they don’t get top-end offers? Given the big money nature of the Premier League, why should any club trust it’s future to an unknown?
Patrick Vieira was a heck of a player but started his time in the first chair by going abroad to New York City FC. Even Paul Clement gave Derby County a go before getting a look at Swansea last season.
Now Giggs will probably point to fellow Wales and Manchester United alum Mark Hughes, who was named to Wales and Blackburn posts straight out of his playing career.
But for every story like that, there’s Steve Bruce working for Sheffield United in the old Division One, or Jaap Stam going into the Championship with Reading and having some success in building his name. On the negative side, there’s Gary Neville being thrust into a La Liga role without First Team experience.
So while there’s no guarantee that Giggs isn’t beating down the doors of openings in lower leagues, it seems more likely that he has the option of continuing to wait for someone to bet on his name and potential in the Premier League, or to go for any number of jobs in the lower tier to prove his mettle. There’s risk there, too, to be sure, but he’ll be more easily forgiven for failure in a lower spot than in a higher spot. But from the outside, it’s not something Giggs has “to put up with,” rather a choice.
And to his credit, Giggs feels his work in acquiring his coaching licenses while a player and studying under Louis Van Gaal should be enough for a gig. He’s also fine waiting, according to the article, which is totally acceptable (not that he’s looking for our approval). But we’d love to see former players like Giggs at another squad.