Can Man Utd Sustain Premier League Title Push?

Manchester United’s French midfielder Paul Pogba is mobbed by teammates after scoring the opening goal during the English Premier League football match between Burnley and Manchester United at Turf Moor in Burnley, north west England on January 12, 2021. Clive Brunskill / POOL / AFP

 

Manchester United are top of the Premier League table with nearly half the season gone but are they title contenders or mere pretenders?

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men beat Burnley 1-0 at Turf Moor on Tuesday courtesy of a Paul Pogba goal to move three points clear of champions Liverpool after 17 games.

It was the first time United had ended the day top of the table so far into the season since their last title-winning campaign in 2012/13 under Alex Ferguson.

AFP Sport looks at whether United can win their first top-flight title for eight years as they prepare to travel to Anfield on Sunday.

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Squad strength
Manchester United’s success in the transfer market has been more miss than hit since Ferguson guided them to a 20th top-flight title.

But a glance at the substitutes’ bench at Turf Moor shows Solskjaer has quietly put together a powerful squad that gives him enviable options.

The Norwegian started with Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic and Bruno Fernandes in midfield, with in-form Scott McTominay, Fred and Donny van de Beek on the bench.

 

Manchester United’s French midfielder Paul Pogba is mobbed by teammates after scoring the opening goal during the English Premier League football match between Burnley and Manchester United at Turf Moor in Burnley, north west England on January 12, 2021.
Clive Brunskill / POOL / AFP

 

Edinson Cavani was back as the focal point in attack after a three-match ban, with academy graduate Mason Greenwood used as a late substitute.

In central defence, Eric Bailly is impressing alongside Harry Maguire, offering United real pace at the back.

But it is not just the personnel that catch the eye — there is a palpable sense of togetherness at the club, shown by the players’ wild celebrations when they recently beat Aston Villa 2-1.

Manager
Solskjaer — who won six Premier League titles as a player at Old Trafford — has not had an easy ride in charge.

Whenever the club have hit a rocky patch the pressure has been ramped up, with suggestions he does not have the experience or nous to go toe to toe with Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola.

An impressive 29 points from a possible 33 show the strength of their revival after a poor start to the campaign but Solskjaer is not getting carried away.

“We’re almost halfway through the season so it’s a little bit of an indication of where you’re at,” said the 1999 treble hero.

“But no one will remember the league table on the 12th of January.”

Rivals
Despite their fine run of form, bookmakers still have United as third favourites for the Premier League title, behind Manchester City and Liverpool.

Klopp’s men have failed to hit the heights of last season but are still firmly in the title picture despite a defensive injury crisis this term.

United will travel to the home of their fierce rivals with a spring in their step — a far cry from last year, when defeat at Anfield left them 30 points behind the Merseyside outfit.

Solskjaer, whose side are unbeaten in domestic away fixtures since losing to Liverpool in January 2020, said United were looking forward to the challenge.

“We just want to go there, knowing we’re playing the best team in the country by a mile over the last year and a half,” he said. “They are champions by right and it will be a great test of where we are.”

For their part, City have quietly put together an impressive run to move to within striking distance of the top of the table.

They are seven points behind United but have two games in hand and are favourites to win their third title in four seasons.

Former United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, who played alongside Solskjaer at Old Trafford, is not sure his old side are “quite there yet” but believes they are not far away.

“If we could add players like (forward Erling) Haaland from Dortmund or (defender Dayot) Upamecano from Leipzig I would say then we would be championship challengers,” he told the BBC.

It is up to his ex-teammate to prove him wrong.

AFP

Tottenham Star Dele Alli Sanctioned Over COVID-19 Joke

File: Dele Alli of Tottenham reacts during the Audi cup 2019 final match between Tottenham Hotspur and Bayern Muenchen at Allianz Arena on July 31, 2019 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Jose Breton/NurPhoto)

 

Tottenham midfielder Dele Alli has been given a one-match ban by the Football Association after joking about the coronavirus in a social media video and will miss his side’s first Premier League match after the restart.

In the weeks before the virus took hold across the world, Alli posted a Snapchat clip in which he made fun of an Asian man in an airport departure lounge in February.

The England international was shown wearing a face mask and the video had the title: “Corona whattt, please listen with volume”.

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The video cut to an unsuspecting man of Asian appearance before panning to a bottle of antiseptic hand wash, underneath which appeared the caption: “This virus gunna have to be quicker than that to catch me”.

Alli later deleted the post and posted an apology to the Chinese social media network Weibo.

He was charged with misconduct by the FA on February 26 and his case has now been heard.

The one-game suspension means Alli will miss Tottenham’s game at home to Manchester United on June 19, their first of the resumed season.

Alli has also received a £50,000 ($63,000) fine and will have to attend an educational course.

“Dele Alli has been suspended for one match with immediate effect, fined £50,000 and must undertake a face-to-face education course,” an FA statement read.

After the FA issued the ban, Alli again expressed regret for his action.

“In response to the FA decision, I would like to apologise again for any offence caused by my behaviour,” he said.

“It was an extremely poorly judged joke about a virus that has now affected us more than we could ever have imagined.

“I’m grateful that The FA has confirmed that my actions were not racist because I despise racism of any kind. We all need to be mindful of the words and actions we use and how they can be perceived by others.”

Alli’s suspension continues a troubling period for the 24-year-old after knife-carrying burglars broke into his house recently.

Following an altercation with Alli, who was shaken but not seriously hurt, the men made off with jewellery.

AFP