Man United paying price for fitness failings

Manchester, April 22

Manchester United’s 4-0 loss at Everton on Sunday drew stinging criticism from pundits, including former captain Gary Neville, with many questioning the attitude of the players. While there is no doubt the culture at the club needs deeper changes than Ole Gunnar Solskjaer putting a smile on peoples’ faces and indeed the squad needs injecting with fresh talent, the short-term problem is more basic.

When Solskjaer and his assistant Mick Phelan took over, they asked the players to up their physical work rate and that was immediately noticeable during the initial good run of form. The problem is that without a high base level of fitness, that sort of sudden increase is almost impossible to maintain.

If there was any doubt that a lack of top-level fitness is at the core of the current slump in form, one statistic from Sunday’s shambles at Goodison Park stands out — Everton ran over eight kilometres more than United.

Marco Silva’s side looked sharper, quicker and more determined than a rather leggy United. The only way to sort out that problem is a full and intense pre-season, to build the levels of stamina and fitness that are needed to compete at the highest level.

City test

The temptation after the humiliation at Everton must be to bring in some of the club’s talented young players, such as midfielder James Garner, Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes. The problem again is the short-term — the next game is against Manchester City in Wednesday’s derby match which Solskjaer’s side must win to keep alive hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.

A match against Pep Guardiola’s City is hardly the occasion for blooding young players and the risk is high of damaging their confidence and self-belief.

So United must shuffle the existing pack and a wise move would be to bring in a couple of the more experienced young players with Andreas Pereira and Scott McTominay able to offer energy in midfield. And it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a young forward, such as highly-rated 17-year-old Mason Greenwood, on the bench. — Reuters

A very modern penalty

When Mohamed Salah went down inside the area to earn an 81st-minute penalty, which James Milner converted to give Liverpool a 2-0 win at Cardiff, there was debate over whether a real foul had taken place. It was a typical problem of modern game. Did Cardiff’s Sean Morrison have his hands on Salah? Yes. Was the Egyptian pushed to the floor? No. Did he throw himself to the floor? Yes. Was it a penalty? Probably, yes. A very modern penalty.