Paul Pogba has claimed Manchester United’s players were cheating each other with their poor performances before their sharp upturn in form.
A terrible start to the season saw the Red Devils win just three of their opening six Premier League games and exit the Champions League. However, they’ve now only lost once in their last 13 games in all competitions – that being a Carabao Cup semi final to Manchester City – and are behind their local rivals in the top flight by just one point.
Pogba is one player who has consistently been singled out for criticism in recent years, but he told BT Sport pundit and United legend Rio Ferdinand that a lack of effort had previously held the side back.
When asked what had changed recently, he said as quoted by the Daily Mail: “The mentality, playing more as a team. Playing much better altogether, pressing much better together. No one is cheating. When I mean cheating – no one is running less or not making the effort to come back.
“It’s always been a problem. When you’re all together it’s always going to be easier.
“If someone is making less effort, it’s going to be a little problem for the team. When you’re all together, you all work hard, you see the result.”
United have the chance to leapfrog City at the top of the Premier League when they face Sheffield United on Wednesday night, though they will have played a game more than Pep Guardiola’s side by the conclusion of the evening’s action.
Pogba also spoke about teammate Bruno Fernandes. The Portugal international has made a massive impact since signing for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side last year and has recently been compared to United great Eric Cantona.
On the 26-year-old, World Cup winner Pogba added: “Since Bruno (Fernandes) arrived he’s brought this energy, his passing, his scoring goals, his creativity. With me I am deeper, but he is in front to create as well.
“It’s always good to have two players who can create any time. It suits both of us, we’ve been doing very well. We are more complete as a team.”
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The 2020/21 Premier League campaign has come with a wonderfully fun sense of unpredictability, a trait that has been largely absent from the top flight in recent years.
While the three previous seasons have seen Manchester City and Liverpool turn in relentlessly flawless campaigns, this term has a greater sense of chaos to it, with a real ‘anybody can beat anybody’ mentality (apart from Sheffield United – but even that opinion could be made redundant within a fortnight).
As a result, even the most basic of hot takes seem to become outdated within a matter of weeks. Let’s take a look at everything we’ve changed our minds about in the top flight this season – and quite probably will change our minds about again at some point.
West Ham kicked off the season with a 2-0 home loss to Newcastle – the side currently considered one of the bleakest to support in the top flight – and did not look like a team capable of scoring. It had the makings of the start of a dire season for the Hammers.
But David Moyes got Covid and was forced to self-isolate, and suddenly West Ham could not stop scoring.
As the saying goes, Alan Irvine is temporary but class is permanent. With Moyes back in the dugout his side have lost just two of their last 11 in the Premier League, they’ve got themselves a thoroughly exciting front four and now have European football in their sights.
Between failing to win at Old Trafford in the Premier League until November, losing 6-1 to Tottenham and crashing out of the Champions League at the group stages, the first few months of the season were once again pretty challenging for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – with his future brought into question seemingly every other week.
But since their Champions League exit, Manchester United have not lost in the top flight. They have gone 13 Premier League games unbeaten – a run stretching back to 1 November, and are now just a point behind league leaders Manchester City.
A season that started with three defeats from their first six league games has transformed into a title challenge – with Solskjaer still very much at the wheel.
Man City got off to an unconvincing start to the season, winning just three of their opening eight league fixtures. November’s 2-0 loss to Tottenham and the draws with Manchester United and West Brom as recently as 15 December seemed to highlight a toothlessness and lack of cutting edge.
Richard Keys even suggested bringing in Sam Allardyce to help solve their defensive issues. And when Keys talks, you take notice.
But fast forward a little over a month and Pep Guardiola’s side are sitting top of the pile. They have won 11 on the bounce, kept four consecutive Premier League clean sheets and even beat Big Sam’s West Brom 5-0. Perhaps Richard Keys isn’t quite the astute tactical genius we thought he was?
With the signing of Edouard Mendy, Chelsea appeared to have found the solution to all of their problems. They won eight from nine in all competitions between the end of October and start of December with Mendy conceding just three goals in his first 12 matches.
Their 3-1 win over Leeds on 5 December left the Blues just two points off Tottenham at the Premier League summit. But things unravelled quickly for Super Frank and he was dismissed following a run of two league wins in eight.
Chelsea are now tenth, 12 points off top spot and Lampard is waiting for the call from Monday Night Football.
A 7-2 loss to Aston Villa and every senior centre back at Anfield getting injured cast major doubts over Liverpool’s ability to defend their Premier League title.
However, the Reds recorded an impressive win over title rivals Tottenham and a 7-0 thumping of Crystal Palace in the space of four days in December to leave them four points clear at the league summit. Despite everything, it looked like it was going to be business as usual after all.
But since their demolition of Palace, the Reds have failed to win in the Premier League, have found the net just once, saw their unbeaten home record ended by Burnley and have fallen seven points behind league leaders Manchester City.
We couldn’t get enough of Leeds at the start of the season, with Marcelo Bielsa’s energetic side summing up the chaotic fun that was the 2020/21 Premier League season. Scoring three at Anfield? Yes please. Relentlessly committing players forward instead of protecting a lead? Keep it coming.
Even when they lost, Leeds were praised for their adventure, guile and the spirit with which they played the game. The club could seemingly do no wrong.
Turns out, all they had to do was needlessly subject a pundit to a tirade of abuse on social media.
There’s a reason Richard Keys was banging the Sam Allardyce drum. West Brom had played just 180 minutes of competitive football under the former England boss and had already held Premier League champions Liverpool – a side who had stuck seven past Palace in their last outing – to a 1-1 draw.
The Baggies were resilient, compact and organised, limiting Liverpool to just two shots on target. The Big Sam revolution had begun.
Since their draw at Anfield, West Brom have won one, lost four, crashed out of the FA Cup to League One Blackpool and conceded 20. Perhaps Richard Keys isn’t quite the astute tactical genius we thought he was?
New Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel has left Mason Mount out of his first starting XI as Blues boss for his side’s Premier League clash with Wolves on Wednesday evening.
The former PSG manager takes the Stamford Bridge hot seat for the first time on Wednesday for the visit of Wolves, having been announced as Frank Lampard’s replacement on Tuesday.
Lampard was dismissed on Monday after a year and a half in the Chelsea job following a tricky run of results either side of the new year.
Mount was ever present for Chelsea under Tuchel’s predecessor Lampard, but the new Blues boss has left him on the bench for his first Chelsea starting XI in one of nine changes from the side that beat Luton in the FA Cup in Lampard’s final game in charge – as revealed by the club on Twitter.
The midfielder has featured in 18 of Chelsea’s 19 Premier League matches this season, scoring twice and providing two assists.
Reece James, another firm favourite under Lampard during the 2020/21 season, also drops to the bench, with Cesar Azpilicueta captaining the side.
It’s mixed success for big money summer arrivals Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, who have both struggled to hit their stride thus far in English football. Werner is named among the subs, while Havertz starts. Olivier Giroud leads the line for the Blues, having been used sporadically under Lampard.
The starting XI could easily line up with a back four or a back three – as had been rumoured to be the case earlier today.
According to the Athletic’s Simon Johnson, Chelsea will line up with a back three of Thiago Silva, Azpilicueta and Antonio Rudiger, with Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ben Chilwell operating as wing backs.
Preston defender Ben Davies is reportedly on the verge of joining Celtic in a deal worth around £2.5m, having come through the academy.
With just six months left on his contract, the defender has attracted interest from the likes of Bournemouth and Rangers too but the Bhoys have claimed the advantage in the race for his signature.
But who is Preston’s Ben Davies? Here’s everything you need to know about him…
Davies is an academy graduate at Preston North End, having joined the club aged 11. He progressed through every level and captained the academy team before making his debut for the first team aged 17.
Despite coming through the academy at Preston, Davies has played in every tier of England’s football pyramid except for the Premier League.
He represented Southport on loan in the National League, Tranmere, York and Newport County in League Two, Fleetwood Town in League One and Preston in the Championship. The only way is up.
After one of his many loan moves, Davies returned to the club and was installed as the first-choice left back. Since then he has transitioned into a central defender where he has played every game this season, but he’s still got the legs to fill in at full-back if needs be.
Born in Barrow, Davies is an avid supporter of his local team. A quick scroll through his Twitter account proves that, with most of his recent retweets coming courtesy of the official Barrow AFC account.
That includes when they got promoted back to the Football League last year after 48 years away.
Despite making his first-team debut as a 17-year-old, Davies has never received international recognition. He is only eligible to play for England and a move to Celtic could help get more eyes on him, although breaking into Gareth Southgate’s side seems highly unlikely any time soon.
If you’re a FIFA player, Davies is probably a useful pick-up given his versatility.
On Career Mode, the 25-year-old starts out with a 73 rating, but that can grow to a lofty 79 if you give him the minutes. His Ultimate Team card is rated 72.
Liverpool won a treble of cups in 2000/01, lifting the League Cup and FA Cup at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, before extending their reach to Europe and landing the UEFA Cup as well.
The late, great Gerard Houllier was the man in charge, assembling a team that blended home-grown talents with players that he had brought to the club from across Europe. Such was his transformation of the squad, only one inherited player that hadn’t come through the youth ranks was left by the midway stage of the treble season – and that was fan favourite Patrik Berger.
Among the last to go were defenders Steve Staunton and Rigobert Song, who left Anfield to join Aston Villa and West Ham respectively during the first half of the season. Dutch striker Erik Meijer also moved while the campaign was ongoing.
The Reds needed penalties to see off second tier Birmingham in the final of the League Cup, then known as the Worthington Cup for sponsorship reasons. The FA Cup final at the same venue remains one of the more famous finals of recent times because Arsenal looked destined to lift the trophy until two late interventions from Michael Owen.
The UEFA Cup final in Dortmund that followed was a nine-goal thriller and a modern classic. Liverpool won 5-4 against Alaves, with the decisive blow an own-goal in extra-time.
Here’s a closer look at the squad that contributed to those three trophies wins and what has happened to them in the 20 years since…
Sander Westerveld played 61 games for Liverpool during the 2000/01 campaign alone, but his time as number one goalkeeper was ultimately shortlived and he was immediately benched and eventually sold after an error in a Premier League game against Bolton in August 2001.
Westerveld helped Real Sociedad qualify for the Champions League and had further short spells in England with Portsmouth and Everton. He retired in 2013 after two years with Ajax Cape Town in South Africa and is a youth coach within the Dutch national setup.
Westerveld’s grip on the number one shirt in the treble season meant that Pegguy Arphexad was very much a benchwarmer. He played twice, both times in the League Cup, and his only two Premier League appearances in three years at Liverpool came the following season.
Arphexad was never a number one at any stage of his career and had spells with Coventry and Marseille before he retired. He currently works for a French company providing insurance for professional athletes and is the firm’s European Business Officer.
Liverpool poached Swiss centre-back Stephane Henchoz from Blackburn in 1999 and he was an automatic starter for three years until home-grown Jamie Carragher began to play more and more regularly in the middle of the defence. Injuries also took their toll.
Henchoz went on to play for Celtic and Wigan, before returning to Blackburn. He retired in October 2008 aged 34 and has been a coach and manager ever since. In 2020, he was appointed for the second time by Neuchatel Xamax, his first pro club.
Liverpool were fined £20,000 by the FA for an illegal approach for German international Christian Ziege while he had been at Middlesbrough. He only lasted one season at Anfield and struggled for games anyway because of injuries and the form of Jamie Carragher at left-back.
Injury problems also hampered Ziege in three years at Tottenham and he retired at Borussia Monchengladbach in 2005 to move into coaching. He worked at Gladbach for several years, as well as in Germany’s national youth teams and is now in charge at lower league Austrian club Pinzgau.
Liverpool plucked Sami Hyypia from Dutch football in 1999 and the man mountain Finn went on to form a celebrated partnership with Stephane Henchoz. He began to captain the Reds in 2000/01, although he was later replaced by Steven Gerrard, and stayed for a full 10 years until 2009.
Hyypia’s playing career ended with a spell at Bayer Leverkusen and he immediately moved into coaching, first as an assistant for the Finland national team, then as manager back at Leverkusen. He has also managed Brighton and Zurich, and is now an assistant coach at Haka in Finland.
Injury forced Norwegian right-back Vegard Heggem into early retirement in 2003, having played only sparingly for Liverpool since he began struggling with his fitness three years earlier. Sadly, he only managed four appearances for the club during the 2000/01 season.
Heggem has moved away from football in his retirement and has become a consultant in wild salmon management in his native Norway, based back in the town of Rennebu where he grew up and started his football career with the local club.
Although he became known as one of the greatest centre-backs in Liverpool history, a 22 going on 23-year-old Jamie Carragher was Liverpool’s starting left-back throughout the 2000/01 season and played 58 times in all competitions.
Carragher spent his entire career at Liverpool, winning the Champions League in 2005 and playing 737 games by 2013 to place second on the all-time list behind only 1970s legend Ian Callaghan. In retirement, he is one of the best known pundits on UK television with Sky Sports.
Gregory Vignal was a teenager when Houllier plucked him from French football in 2000. He didn’t play much for Liverpool before he left on a string of loans in 2003, or permanently in 2005, but he was on the bench for both the FA Cup final and UEFA Cup final in 2001.
Vignal joined Portsmouth when Liverpool released him in 2005 and played for a string of clubs in England and Europe, including Southampton, before retiring in 2013. He managed the women’s team at Rangers, one his old clubs, until he was hired as a first-team coach at Marseille in 2020.
Home-grown defender Stephen Wright emerged from Liverpool’s academy ranks around the same time as Carragher, although he couldn’t make the same permanent breakthrough, and had the best spell of his career after joining Sunderland in 2002.
Wright spent his final five years as a player at clubs over the border in Wales, first at Wrexham in the English league system, then at Aberystwyth, Rhyl and Denbigh. He started coaching at Wrexham and then began working with Liverpool once more in 2018 as a scout.
A Champions League winner in 2004/05, Djimi Traore was just beginning to break into the Liverpool team in 2000/01 after being taken to Anfield by Houllier from France as a teenager in 1999. He played 12 times during the treble season, although his real breakout was in 2002/03.
Traore’s Liverpool career looked over without Houllier, but Rafa Benitez brought him back in from the cold in 2004/05. He became a journeyman when he did leave in 2006, finishing his career with Seattle Sounders in 2014 and has been an assistant coach at the MLS club ever since.
Only injuries prevented Vladimir Smicer from becoming one of Liverpool’s best signings of the 1990s, having been bought from Slavia Prague for around £4m in 1999. He played 49 times in 2000/01, often as a substitute in the Premier League.
Smicer managed only 16 appearances in his final season in 2004/05, yet scored one of the goals in the 2005 Champions League final. He moved to Bordeaux in 2005 and retired back with Slavia in 2010, before taking a front office role with the Czech national team. He now owns a hotel in Prague.
Jamie Redknapp was Liverpool captain in 2000/01 but was forced to miss the entire season because of long-term knee trouble. The midfielder didn’t play a single minute of the campaign and was struck down again the following October not long after his comeback.
Redknapp joined Tottenham in 2002 and had a final spell at Southampton in 2005, making only 66 appearances in the last three years of career and calling it a day at 33. His post-football career has been in television as a main pundit on Sky Sports and a team captain on A League of Their Own.
Danny Muprhy emerged as an important player for Liverpool in 2000 and, although he wasn’t a regular Premier League starter, he still played 47 times in all competitions in 2000/01 and scored an impressive 10 goals from midfield.
Murphy left Liverpool soon after Rafa Benitez took over in 2004 and played for Charlton, Tottenham and Fulham, with his most successful spell at the latter. He retired in 2013 and has established himself as a regular pundit on BBC’s football coverage, as well as on talkSPORT.
After his best season at the club in 1999/00, Patrik Berger was limited by injury problems in his final three years at Liverpool. He had recovered sufficiently to appear from the bench in the both the FA Cup final and UEFA Cup final in 2001 and laid on the winner for Michael Owen in the former.
Berger played for Portsmouth next, then made only 32 appearances in three years at Aston Villa. He hung up his boots at Slavia Prague in 2010 aged 36 after another injury setback. He has done media work and also remains involved with Liverpool in a ‘legends’ capacity.
Liverpool spent a sizeable £8m to buy Dietmar Hamann from Newcastle and the German went on to become a vital cog at the base of the midfield. Later, in 2005, he changed the Champions League final by coming on when the Reds were being overrun by AC Milan.
Hamann signed with Bolton for less than one day in 2006, before joining Manchester City. He later got into management with an ill-fated spell with Stockport County in 2011 and has mainly focused on punditry and media work since then in both the UK and Ireland.
Steven Gerrard had his breakout season with Liverpool in 1999/00 and finished it by getting selected for the England squad that went to Euro 2000. He was 20 during the 2000/01 campaign but still played 50 games in all competitions, starting each of the finals, and scored 10 goals.
Obviously, Gerrard went on to become a Liverpool legend, assuming the captaincy in 2003 and lifting the Champions League trophy in 2005. He left aged 35 in 2015 and spent 18 months with LA Galaxy, before coaching Liverpool’s youth sides and then taking over as Rangers manager in 2018.
Nick Barmby crossed the Merseyside divide for £6m in 2000 when he joined Liverpool from Everton. He was a semi-regular starter that first season, only for injuries to creep in, and joined Leeds for less than half of his initial transfer fee in 2002.
Barmby looked to be winding down his career when he joined home-town club Hull in 2004 in League One, but was part of the Tigers side that reached the Premier League. He later also managed Hull, while he joined Scunthorpe as a coach in 2019 but left after a few months.
Despite being 35 at the time, Gary McAllister proved to be an inspired signing for Liverpool in the summer of 2000 and has become an Anfield cult hero as a result of his contributions during the treble season, including famous winners against Barcelona and Everton.
McAllister left in 2002 to become player-manager at former club Coventry and later took over at Leeds in 2008. He has had assistant roles at Middlesbrough, Aston Villa and even back at Liverpool, while he joined Rangers as Steven Gerrard’s right-hand man in 2018.
Bernard Diomede had been a World Cup winner with France in 1998 and was one of his homeland’s top attacking players during his time at Auxerre in the 1990s. But his Liverpool career simply never took off when Houllier sanctioned a £3m move in 2000.
Diomede played just four times in all competitions in his debut season and left in 2004. He finished his career in France’s lower leagues and went on to become heavily involved in youth coaching, setting up his own academy and managing various France junior age groups since 2015.
Defensive midfielder Igor Biscan spent five years as a Liverpool squad player following his arrival from Dinamo Zagreb in 2000, costing over £5m after also being tracked by the likes of Juventus, Barcelona, AC Milan and Ajax at the time.
Biscan helped Liverpool win the Champions League in 2005 and joined Panathinaikos when his contract expired, before a final spell at Dinamo Zagreb and retirement in 2012. He has since managed clubs in Croatia and Slovenia and is now in charge of Croatia’s Under-21 team.
Jari Litmanen became known as one of the best attacking players in Europe during his Ajax heyday in the 1990s. But he was past his peak and had struggled with injuries when he joined Liverpool from Barcelona midway through the 2000/01 campaign.
Litmanen played 32 times in his only full season as a Liverpool player, returning to Ajax in 2002 and later winding down his career in Sweden and his native Finland. These days, he serves as an adviser to the Finnish football association in Helsinki and has coached with the junior national teams.
Emile Heskey was Liverpool’s club record signing when he joined the Reds from Leicester for £11m in the closing stages of the 1999/00 campaign. He is not remembered as a goalscorer but netted 22 times in his first full season in 2000/01, including 14 in the Premier League.
Heskey joined Birmingham in 2004 to make way for Djibril Cisse and carried on playing for Wigan, Aston Villa, Newcastle Jets in Australia and Bolton until 2016. In retirement, he has turned to coaching and was earning his qualifications in 2020 while helping out with Leicester Women.
With Jamie Redknapp sidelined, Robbie Fowler shared the Liverpool captaincy with Sami Hyypia throughout 2000/01. That season also marked his return to form from a difficult 1999/00 campaign, although a fall out with Houllier paved the way for a £12m move to Leeds in late 2001.
After a spell at Manchester City, Fowler returned to Liverpool in 2006 and wound down his career in Australia and Thailand. He has coached in Liverpool’s academy, before heading into full-time management with Brisbane Roar in 2019 and is now in charge of East Bengal in India.
Perhaps the single best moments of Michael Owen’s Liverpool career were the two late goals in the 2001 FA Cup comeback win over Arsenal and eventually winning that year’s Ballon d’Or. He remained a consistent scorer but left in 2004 when Real Madrid made an offer.
Owen returned to England to join Newcastle one year later, only for injuries to dictate the rest of his career, taking in spells at Manchester United and Stoke before retiring in 2013. He has since increased his involvement with horse racing and is also a pundit and co-commentator for BT Sport.
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