ThePuntersPage sat down with ex-Manchester United forward Louis Saha to discuss the Red Devil’s first ever home defeat to Brighton and what this could mean for the players and their new coach.
- Review of Manchester United’s Loss to Brighton
- Solving Manchester United’s Midfield Problems
- Expectations on Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford
- United’s Transfer Market and the Cristiano Ronaldo Transfer Saga
- Manchester United’s Upcoming Matches.
- Season Predictions for Tottenham Hotspurs
- Manchester City vs Liverpool Title Race
- Initial Thoughts on Erling Haaland and Darwin Nunez
After starting pre-season with a thumping 4-0 win over Liverpool, many fans were eager to see how their team could bounce back from last season which saw them finish in 6th place and having scored as many goals as they conceded. That was the first time they finished the league without a positive goal difference to their name in the past 12 years (possibly more).
Saha speaks about how fans cannot aim their criticism at Fred and McTominay alone but they must also look at the overall style of play and how it lacks creativity. We also asked him about Tottenham Hotspurs potential this year and how he thinks Erling Haaland and Darwin Nunez will fare in their debut Premier League season.
Review of Manchester United’s Loss to Brighton
- 1. What went wrong in Man United's loss against Brighton, in your opinion?
You could say that Manchester United didn't create enough chances or take the ones that they did make. They didn't defend well enough, especially in the first half. I don't think they particularly played well overall.
In fact, there’s a lack of confidence in the team, which you can see in the way they performed.
During pre-season we did see some good things. I know it isn't the same, and the Premier League is a tough competition, but there were promising signs all the same.
I don't think people should be panicking right now or exaggerating the situation because it is only the first game.
It could be beneficial in a way, as people might have some stronger words to say inside the club. However, I don't think there's a need to panic just because of one game.
- 2. How bad a start to the Ten Hag era was the Brighton defeat? Are there any positives from the match?
You can take some positives from the second half, but the problems and poor performances we've seen in the past few years mainly come down to what we saw in the first half.
There's a lot of players who are the targets of criticism – for example, the two sitting midfielders and that combination.
That combination does probably work when you are having to defend a lot – but when you are attacking at home against any opposition, then that creativity and input seems to be lacking going forward.
That's one of the problems, but as I say, I think the first half didn't have the tempo that Manchester United would have wanted.
In the second half, we could see there was an effort to try and cause Brighton problems, but they defended very well.
I think we see a Manchester United now under pressure, which could be a positive and an incentive to prove people wrong.
When they create these chances, they need to make sure they're putting pressure on the opposition. For me, that just wasn't the case during the first half, but in the second there were signs of that.
- 3. How frustrated will Erik ten Hag be over the lack of signings after that performance?
Ten Hag’s probably feeling frustrated, but I think they've tried a lot to bring in who he wants. I think the calibre of player they're looking for to add to the squad has been difficult because they haven't been available straight away. It hasn't helped at all that there are certain potential deals or rumours that have been dragged along for a long time - it brings a lack of confidence in some parts. It brings power to the player being linked to the club when they see others haven't been, so their agents will use that to their advantage during negotiations. That leaves a particular impact, and the news about your own star player wanting to leave the club doesn't help in terms of bringing more targets in either. All these things come together and add to the frustration for the new manager, who understandably wants to start his own era. He wants to build something, so I can sympathise with how frustrating what he’s dealing with right now is. If you look at the situation and everyone at the club, two or three months ago there was a lot of positivity and people looking forward to change. From that point, you’d hope for everyone to be on board and consequently benefit from the situation together. Having said that, I don’t think the speculation on the group has been good, with Ten Hag has already had some difficulties to overcome. But I do think he deserves credit, because he's done well with getting his message across. I'm sure results will follow, but he hasn't been helped as much as he could have been.
Ten Hag’s probably feeling frustrated, but I think they've tried a lot to bring in who he wants.
I think the calibre of player they're looking for to add to the squad has been difficult because they haven't been available straight away.
It hasn't helped at all that there are certain potential deals or rumours that have been dragged along for a long time - it brings a lack of confidence in some parts.
It brings power to the player being linked to the club when they see others haven't been, so their agents will use that to their advantage during negotiations.
That leaves a particular impact, and the news about your own star player wanting to leave the club doesn't help in terms of bringing more targets in either.
All these things come together and add to the frustration for the new manager, who understandably wants to start his own era. He wants to build something, so I can sympathise with how frustrating what he’s dealing with right now is.
If you look at the situation and everyone at the club, two or three months ago there was a lot of positivity and people looking forward to change.
From that point, you’d hope for everyone to be on board and consequently benefit from the situation together.
Having said that, I don’t think the speculation on the group has been good, with Ten Hag has already had some difficulties to overcome.
But I do think he deserves credit, because he's done well with getting his message across. I'm sure results will follow, but he hasn't been helped as much as he could have been.
Solving Manchester United’s Midfield Problems
- 4. Roy Keane said Fred and McTominay were 'not good enough' after - do you agree?
In a sense, yes, but it's always easy to judge when someone is not playing well. I don't want to target those two players because they get a lot of the focus.
Manchester United are a historically creative team, though, so I understand where the criticism is coming from if players fail to build on that.
But it's not just down to those two players to create chances – it's down to the rest of the team too, including the strikers, the wingers, and the defenders. If everybody were pitching in, nobody would be left exposed.
This is the problem – nobody is stepping up to help out their teammates.
I don't totally agree with the criticisms aimed at Fred and McTominay because they're players who do have other strengths.
If they're being asked to do something that they can't, then it doesn't just come down to their quality; it comes down to the courage they have and the support from the rest of the team.
At this moment in time, the overall foundation and balance aren’t good enough throughout the team.
The forward players or creative midfielders should be able to create chances whenever they get the ball, because that's what they're in the team to do.
Whether it be Jadon Sancho or Marcus Rashford, they don't really need the best service all the time to make an impact.
Everybody has to contribute, so I don't totally agree that all the pressure should be put on Fred and McTominay.
They're both hard-working guys and you can see they're both really committed to the game, so I think it's unfair on them. They need to improve, that's for sure, but it’s only the first game, and everybody needs to step up.
There are some big games on the way, so we’ll be able to see if they can bounce back.
- 5. Paul Scholes also had criticisms of the midfield pair which goes back into previous seasons as well - do they bring enough to the United side to justify their selections?
You have to recognise that, most of the time, they're being asked to be both creative and defensive in terms of being powerful and hard workers.
They need to find the right balance that suits them and play to their own strengths. If that means keeping things simple and basic yet efficient, then so be it.
There’s no point in trying to impress the outside noise if you miss simple passes or try to over-complicate things as a result.
It doesn't matter if Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, or Louis Saha say something about you – you need to figure out what works best for you.
If they can improve on other areas of their game which helps the forward players, then that’s a good thing, of course – but it’s important to be effective enough in your role first.
This can be done step by step; it wouldn't make sense to change their whole game just to please others, because it won't work.
If bringing in additional players can help to complete their game and get the reward they deserve by working hard, then I think that is the main thing they should prioritise.
Additional playerscould help them and take away some of the focus which is currently on them.
If I remember correctly, Fellaini used to get the same sorts of criticisms, followed by Pogba and a few others as well. It always seems to be focused on the heart of the squad because they’re an easy target, especially if they don't produce going forward and backward.
But really, it's no different from strikers needing to score goals or defenders having to defend better.
When you don't score and don't defend well, then I don't believe it should come down to aiming criticism at the midfielders. I just don't think it's fair on Fred and McTominay.
- 6. Should Manchester United still be focusing on signing Frenkie de Jong after he has reportedly rejected their advances?
I think if Ten Hag is strongly linked to the player and his style, then I think he should be given every tool to make that happen.
Clearly he has a plan, and if a player fits into that plan, then why not.
Of course, there can be targets who fall into Plan B or Plan C, but they can still bring some strength to this midfield. I'm sure we all agree that this is an area that can improve, as well as the striker position, depending on the Cristiano Ronaldo situation.
Manchester United need strength and competition in every area, and players with that sort of calibre can be difficult to bring in. When it's their agents doing the talking and taking care of the deals, that can be a problem.
Communication might also be a problem when it comes to those sorts of signings. The beauty of potentially playing for one of the best clubs in the world gets overshadowed in a way because it's just a lot of talk.
It's annoying because it's a new era, and the agents can use all of the tools at their disposal to get negotiations to go their way.
The sad thing is that we've lost touch with our morals – it should be about a player wanting to join a club and enjoying his football.
Now, it seems like the details that come out during negotiations are taking over, making things more complicated than they used to be. Everything gets highlighted by the press, which isn't helpful either.
- 7. Would Adrian Rabiot be the solution to Manchester United’s midfield problems?
I think he would because he's a good player. He's proved himself with France and with one of the toughest clubs in the world in terms of fitness and form.
He's been at Juventus for many years, I think he's a terrific player, and I've followed his career for a long time from when he was a young player at PSG.
He does seem more settled in his own head these days. He used to have stories around him, but things seem to have changed; he has a good profile now, so I really think he could be more than a plan B to Manchester United.
It's definitely a transfer that could bring huge potential.
Expectations on Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford
- 8. Jadon Sancho has been given the benefit of the doubt since joining, but does he need to step up his game and justify his place in the starting XI?
Of course he has to prove himself, but any player that joins Manchester United has to prove themselves every day. Whether you’re playing or not, you need to prove yourself, being able to come back stronger and ignore the criticisms.
I think, fitness-wise, Sancho looks a lot better, so the chances he will create will come and I'm sure he will score goals.
It's all about the consistency and stepping up in bad games, during which players like him can make a difference if the team isn’t playing well enough.
It doesn't matter how well you play during a match that's 3-0 up or whatever. We need him to turn up in those bad moments and show us his magic.
It's been tough for him – physically, it's difficult to adjust, and the fact that his team haven’t been up to scratch lately doesn’t help.
Sometimes, if the team isn't getting control in midfield, you need the forwards or the wingers to do the hard work to try and gain that control.
It's what the team is about at the end of the day, so we need to see more from everyone.
- 9. Marcus Rashford also missed two big chances in the game against Brighton - are you worried about his form?
The longer it takes him to get out of this bad form, then the more you start to worry. But he has too much talent and he's a great kid.
You can see that he loves the club. He's very committed to it, and he doesn't talk any nonsense to the press.
It's only a matter of time before he's back to his best and scoring goals for fun.
When he clicks again, then I think he will be unstoppable. He’s had to come back from an injury, after all, so all he has to do is rediscover that confidence.
Once he does that, I think he'll continue to improve and improve.
I think sometimes he shows he's more frustrated than he should be, but that's just part of football when you have the talent and it isn't quite clicking.
He started really strong when he first came into the team which brought him a lot of attention, as well as playing for his country, of course – not to mention being tagged as one of the most exciting talents in the world for many years alongside players like Mbappé.
So, I think all this will bring him to the simple conclusion to keep working hard and enjoy his football.
He knows that he's very privileged as a human being; gossip and outside talk are irrelevant to what is essentially his job.
United’s Transfer Market and the Cristiano Ronaldo Transfer Saga
- 10. What do you make of the Cristiano Ronaldo saga? Should he have started against Brighton, and do you think he will be sold?
I really don't know with Cristiano Ronaldo. I made some comments a few weeks ago saying I was not happy with the fact that he's such a big player and such an example for youngsters.
He can clearly see that the manager needs to make some strong decisions and I feel he went completely the opposite way.
If you try to bring discipline and he doesn't want to comply or has different ideas, then he can be hard to deal with, and I think he's taken it quite personally.
The manager is trying to build a collective and a squad with a foundation and he's being brought into the Cristiano Ronaldo saga every time he speaks.
It's not an easy situation and I would say that I was on Cristiano's back a bit.
The criticism was strong – if he finds a suiter, then OK, you can go.
But if not, then you have to come out and talk; if he wants to leave, he should say it, but also say he'll give his 100% to the club if it doesn't happen, or until it happens.
At least then the saga with Cristiano would be over at that point, but we haven't seen this, so as a fan of Manchester United, I was frustrated.
I'm still a huge fan of Cristiano Ronaldo, I love what he has done for the game, and I still admire his talent today because he's still an amazing player.
But at this moment in time, the talk of his future has been really bad in terms of trying to build a team collective.
While his legacy doesn't deserve this knock, in the end, it’s a case of being a bigger fan of the club than it is being a fan of Cristiano Ronaldo, which has to be the same for every player.
- 11. Manchester United are linked with Marko Arnautović - what are your thoughts on that potential deal?
It's a difficult one because they definitely need the players, and we've seen in the past that Arnautović can be a talented player.
The question is: does he bring the consistency or the stability that is needed for Manchester United?
They need to look at his whole profile. If he's linked because they think he'll score goals for Manchester United, then it's a good link.
What matters more though is the overall package: his age, his mentality, and ultimately, whether he has what Manchester United needs right now.
At this moment in time, I'm not sure it's the right move and I would have my doubts*.
However, you can have those doubts about any player joining any club, but I don’t think sends the right message.
Those negative comments by some fans are not meant as disrespect to the player in question, though – it’s more that the name being linked isn’t the one they had expected.
Having said all this, Manchester United really need players of a strong calibre who will make a strong statement.
Arnautović’s profile and story don’t really bring that. It might bring a short-term solution and an extra addition for sure, but it isn't the type of impact the club is looking for, I think.
To be fair, I don't see anything that could stop him from scoring a lot of goals if it all clicked.
But from being linked with the top-class players like Frenkie De Jong to this now – it’s a difficult one to comment on.
* As of 10/08/2022, Manchester United have pulled out of any prospective deal with Arnautović, with concerns expressed by former players as one of the main reasons.
- 12. What areas/players should they target before the deadline?
It's a difficult job because you can target anybody, and then whoever their agent is will use this approach to get another deal somewhere else. They know they can try and get a better deal for players, making this stage of the transfer window particularly difficult.
I'm not blaming the agents, but it doesn't help, and I actually think that transfer windows should shut before the season starts.
It’s already tough to close deals and it brings a lot of power to the player and agents to make certain demands. While it does give opportunities for players to try and get themselves a better agreement or improved contracts – which I'm not criticising – it certainly doesn't help Manchester United right now.
In terms of names, it's hard to speculate. I don't know what the club are going to do, but things need to improve.
Manchester United’s Upcoming Matches.
- 13. Will it be panic stations if United lose to Brentford ahead of their horror run of games?
It won't help, that's for sure.
To be honest, Manchester United should be winning these sorts of games. They should have been looking at 6 points, which obviously isn't going to be the case.
It's more about the energy levels, how many chances you create, and how much pressure you put on the opposition. All of this builds a strong foundation, and then hopefully the result will come.
You can say that they’re still finding their way in the first few games, but it shouldn't be an excuse – Manchester United should be winning these sorts of matches.
They need to take control of the game whoever they're up against; Brighton coming to Old Trafford and dictating the pace of the game is just something that shouldn’t happen. It’s as simple as that.
- 14. Do you think Erik ten Hag could have the same fate as Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Jose Mourinho, and David Moyes, with the fans eventually turning on the manager after poor results?
I don't think so. I don't think it'll happen for the simple fact that it's a long-term plan.
Secondly, I think his style suits Manchester United – maybe some performances and individual performances challenge that style at times. But the quality in this squad will win games, that's for sure. It's just a matter of how many and how close you are from the top.
It's a good foundation in terms of his charisma on the touchline; you could see that he was composed, but also not happy with what he was seeing.
I obviously don't know what happened in the dressing room or what he said, but he looks like a strong character.
From time to time, it will help him in terms of who is brought into the club.
Whether he has a role to play is still to be seen, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to seek advice from Sir Alex Ferguson or Steve McClaren, for example. I have no doubt the club is giving all the power to Erik Ten Hag.
This is because they’re following a long-term plan. I don't think it'll be affected by the fans being unhappy or the press trying to build up pressure.
Everything needs to kick on at the club – there can be absolutely no excuses from anyone. Players coming in will obviously help, but I believe this squad has what it takes.
Season Predictions for Tottenham Hotspurs
- 15. It was an emphatic win from Tottenham against Southampton. What can they achieve this season?
Tottenham can achieve anything, but the Premier League is a very big challenge when you have two monsters to get past at the moment.
You can see the foundation that Conte has built and the power the team have in games. The younger players have a lot of legs, so ultimately it's down to the stamina and consistency.
As has been highlighted over the years, Tottenham always seem to have those 5 to 10 games where they aren't playing the way they should.
Let's say that equals about 15 points they're short of because of those games – this is where they need to improve.
It’ll be difficult, of course, in the Premier League, but there's no reason they can't produce in a cup competition this season.
If they won a cup and finished in third place, then I think that would show a lot of improvement and result in a good season overall, demonstrating that they are a force to be reckoned with.
In some ways they are getting closer and closer to having that arrogance and belief that they can beat anybody, win the Premier League, and qualify for the Champions League every season.
They’re a good, well-respected team, but this is the moment where they can potentially go to the next level.
- 16. Will it be considered a disappointment if Spurs fail to win a trophy?
The cup competitions are more than achievable because the more you see this team, the more power they add and the calibre of player they bring in is high.
You can tell that they want to hurt the opposition and that they can beat anyone in their way.
I remember I used to feel really strong from just playing for Manchester United, and you use that energy in your performance.
It's not necessarily the case with Tottenham, but I think they are very close to achieving something because they’re a very good team.
I wish them all the best; it'll be tough to maintain the quality throughout the season. Yes, the first game was great, but everybody can have a good result. The most successful teams manage to keep that momentum going throughout the season, though, which can be very hard to uphold.
Manchester City vs Liverpool Title Race
- 17. Do you think it will be Liverpool and Man City challenging for the title this season, or could you see other teams up there too?
I would be surprised if anyone comes close to those two. As we've seen, anything can happen. Chelsea are still a very strong side. Arsenal have done a lot of business in the transfer market, and Spurs look strong.
It's very early to give any definite answers, but we will see by December how things start to take shape.
However, at this moment, if anyone can say another team will compete for definite, then I would say it's a lie.
I think it's guaranteed Liverpool and Manchester City will be at the top, and like I said, I would be surprised if anyone challenged. You never know what could happen, but I have my doubts.
Initial Thoughts on Erling Haaland and Darwin Nunez
- 18. As a former striker, how exciting is it to see Erling Haaland play week in week out in the Premier League?
As a striker I'm very excited, because he's a terrific player and he's a young guy.
He's got a lot of morals and he's very honest and passionate about his football. He always has a smile on his face and that's what I like to see in the Premier League. It doesn't matter who you are, you should love the sport at the end of the day.
I can see straight away that he is someone who could even score 30 or more goals because of all the support he has behind him.
It's going to be a piece of cake for him, and it’s an easy gamble for Manchester City to bring him in.
He still has the ability to improve, which is unbelievable to think about. Here I’m referring to his link play and the way he can help other players to score goals.
- 19. Darwin Nunez scored on his opening game against Fulham. How do you think he'll improve Liverpool's attack this season and fill the shoes left by Sadio Mane?
I don't think he'll do that, and I think people underestimate what Sadio Mane has brought to Liverpool. I’m almost shocked, because for me he was the best player for the past two or three years.
Whoever was to come in, I don't think Liverpool totally understand what they will be missing.
Darwin Nunez is a good player, and he has a lot of talent, but Sadio Mane is a special player and I mean that.
It's no disrespect to Darwin Nunez because I think you could have brought anyone in, to replace Mane and they would have struggled to replace him.
Sadio Mane is up there with some of the best players, and I don't think he has been recognised enough in some ways.
I don't think there was ever any competition between Sadio Mane and Mo Salah because they were teammates. But from watching Liverpool quite a lot, I always felt Mane was the better player, especially in those bad games where they aren't playing quite as well.
He was always the guy who would step up, so I really doubt he'll be replaced that quickly.
It's not the same style, firstly, so Darwin Nunez won't be that player who can defend and commit as much as those wingers do. They're different types of players, but I think Mane deserved a lot more credit than he got sometimes.