WEDNESDAY’S BIG STORIES

Man Utd’s problems run far deeper than Solskjaer but they should appoint Conte

Manchester United won’t, according to numerous reports, sack Ole Gunnar Solskjaer today, tomorrow or the day after. At some point, though, they will. And when they do, not much will have changed. They will have an expensively-assembled squad in need of an innovative, imaginative coach to mould them into an effective unit, and Solskjaer will still be an average-to-good coach unable to accentuate the strengths of his squad or mask its weaknesses.
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Resultantly, it makes logical sense to sack him now.
The Liverpool humiliation offered the club an ideal opportunity to do so. The humbling on Sunday meant that the Old Trafford club have taken one point from their last four Premier League games. Solskjaer has - and is - failing to create a tactical framework to house either Jadon Sancho or Cristiano Ronaldo, and, in his laboured efforts to do so, appears to have upset the balance of the team and stifled the effectiveness of Bruno Fernandes and others. Further, players are, according to numerous reports, losing faith in Solskjaer, typically the death knell for a managerial tenure. The clock appears to be ticking.
United are broken and Solskjaer can’t fix it. Yet in his stead he remains.
Perhaps the club’s hesitancy to act is linked to – bar Antonio Conte – an absolute dearth of elite-level managers on the market. It has been reported that the club have reservations about the former Juventus, Inter Milan and Chelsea manager.
Yet, Conte has won six league titles - the last of which came with Inter Milan last season. He also picked up the Premier League Manager of the Season, the LMA Manager of the Year, and finished second in the Best FIFA Men's Coach in 2017 when he previously operated in the Premier League.
Solskjaer last won a league title in 2012 – the Tippeligaen, a precursor to the Eliteserien – with Molde. He then suffered a relegation from the Premier League while Cardiff boss in 2014, and would head back to Molde after leaving Cardiff following a poor start to the Championship campaign. This is not on him but the Norwegian was not at United's level when they appointed him and the three years that have passed have done little to change that evaluation.
In mitigation, United are a far from perfect football club. Their structural problems are well documented, and run deep. It will take a root and branch overhaul at Old Trafford should the club want to return to the pinnacle of English football. Until they do, Conte's coaching acumen could - in the short-term at least - paper over those cracks.
If they can get him, they must.

Someone get the lotto numbers off Mikel

Arsenal continued their excellent run of form as they beat Leeds United 2-0 in last-16 League Cup action on Tuesday. They are now unbeaten in nine and have won seven and drawn two of those fixtures. It is, considering their woeful start to the season, quite the turnaround.
Calum Chambers and Eddie Nketiah got the goals to give the Gunners a comfortable win. The match was fairly unremarkable, bar Chambers' opening goal.
The centre-half, on for the unwell Benjamin White, scored 23 seconds after entering the fray and with his first touch of the ball. Having broken the deadlock, he then made a beeline for the Arsenal bench to celebrate some prophetic goings on: he had been told by the bench, including first-team boss Arteta, to score with his first touch.
“It happened pretty quick!” Chambers said after the match.
All the guys on the bench who were putting me on, the set-piece coach Nico, the boss, they all said, 'Go and score on your first touch.' So that was all that was in my head and yeah, it was nice to see it come off my head and go over the line. It was definitely a first and yeah, a pretty unique way to score.
“They were all getting in my ear as I came on, saying, 'You're going to score on your first touch' and it convinced me, so you know, I had to go and run over to them and celebrate!”

Hazard’s issue at Real Madrid is no longer injuries

Eden Hazard did not make it off the bench in Real Madrid’s 2-1 win against Barcelona at the Camp Nou. The Belgian has struggled with injuries since he moved to the Spanish capital, and those injuries have hamstrung his attempts to establish himself in the Real Madrid team.
However, the 30-year-old now has a bigger problem, his coach Carlo Ancelotti simply prefers other players to him.
"Hazard is ready, but his problem right now is that he has a coach who prefers other players, which can happen in a squad like this one," Ancelotti said at a press conference on Tuesday ahead of Real’s match with Osasuna.
The important thing is that he stays motivated and works hard so that he can play again, and he is doing that.
"His time will come. I'm convinced he'll be back to his best at some point this season. He just needs to put up with this situation for now, as sometimes the coach can prefer other players."

IN THE CHANNELS

AFC Wrexham played Maidenhead United in the National League. They lost 3-2. Fairly unremarkable.
However, AFC Wrexham’s ownership group - RR McReynolds Company LLC – were there. Otherwise known as Hollywood pair Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney. Fairly remarkable.
They watched the match at Maidenhead United’s York Road. The Magpies have been playing their matches there since 1871, which makes it the oldest continuously-used senior football ground in the world. Absolutely remarkable.

RETRO CORNER

Leeds against Arsenal in the League Cup. January 9 2012. You know the rest.

COMING UP

Some League Cup action mixed in with some European football too. Glorious. There are live minute-by-minutes on Preston v Liverpool, Rayo Vallecano v Barcelona, Real Madrid v Osasuna, Juventus v Sassuolo and Empoli v Inter.
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