Fernandes benched by Man Utd as Salah returns for Liverpool

By Sports Desk January 24, 2021

Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer left Bruno Fernandes out of his starting line-up for Sunday's FA Cup clash with Liverpool.

Fernandes, who has been United's shining light since arriving from Sporting CP almost 12 months ago, was only a substitute for the fourth-round game.

This season he has scored 15 goals and supplied nine assists in 28 games across all competitions from his advanced midfield role, but there have been questions asked about his form in recent weeks.

He has just one goal and no assists in four Premier League appearances since the turn of the year.

Into the United team went former Ajax midfielder Donny van de Beek as Solskjaer decided the game presented a chance to rotate his squad, making five changes to the side that won 2-1 at Fulham on Wednesday.

Solskjaer explained why Fernandes did not start, saying on BBC One: "It's rotation in the squad.

"Donny needs to be playing games as well and it's a big game for Donny to come into.

"He's done nothing wrong when he's been around the club so I'm looking forward to seeing him in there."

Premier League leaders United also brought in goalkeeper Dean Henderson, centre-back Victor Lindelof, midfielder Scott McTominay and forward Marcus Rashford, as David De Gea, Eric Bailly, Fred and Anthony Martial dropped out.

Liverpool also showed five changes as Jurgen Klopp looked for a response to Thursday's shock 1-0 home defeat to Burnley, which ended a 68-game unbeaten run at Anfield in the Premier League.

Teenage centre-back Rhys Williams came in for the absent Joel Matip, while James Milner and Curtis Jones were selected as Xherdan Shaqiri and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain dropped to the bench.

Sadio Mane and Divock Origi were also substitutes as Klopp gave starts to Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, with the Old Trafford clash coming a week on from these two sides battling out a dreary goalless draw at Anfield in the league.

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    Mohamed Salah and Liverpool are ready to throw off the shackles and show their best form after a slow start to the season, according to former Reds winger Albert Riera.

     

    Salah shared the Golden Boot with Tottenham's Son Heung-min in England last season, and fell just shy of capturing the Premier League title with Jurgen Klopp's side.

    But, like Liverpool collectively, the Egyptian forward has found the going tough so far this term.

    Just two goals and two assists – a modest return by Salah's standards – have come amid a slow start for both player and club, with Liverpool perched in eighth place.

    Defending champions Manchester City are vying with Arsenal and Tottenham for top spot.

    Riera, who spent two years with Liverpool from 2008 to 2010 following a brief spell with City, believes Salah can still turn the corner and rediscover his best form.

    "For sure, 100 per cent," Riera told Stats Perform. "He is focused on scoring goals, he wants to score goals, he wants to play well, and he wants to do his best.

    "But we also have to understand this level of player, the rest want to stop them. This is extra motivation for a defender to play against Mo, that he is not scoring goals.

    "It is not easy to play against defenders because they are so motivated, and they want to stop them. But I'm sure he will score goals as he did before."

    With the season almost two months old, Liverpool already face a fight to close the gap on City, with an eight-point gap between the two sides heading into this weekend.

    Liverpool have a game in hand, and former Spain international Riera remains positive the Reds can catch up, but he remains in awe of their rivals' success under Pep Guardiola.

    "Man City have been at this level already for many years," Riera said. "But they are a machine at creating chances. Even if you put the bus at the back, you will concede chances.

    "Playing against Man City, I don't know how I would prepare this game. They're a team that have clear ideas and [are] difficult to beat. But I [think] Liverpool can fight them.

    "I'm sure now that they are on their way back, and I'm sure they will fight at the end with Man City for the title."

  • Ronaldo 'still good enough' to revive Man Utd fortunes, says Ferguson-era goalkeeper Ronaldo 'still good enough' to revive Man Utd fortunes, says Ferguson-era goalkeeper

    Cristiano Ronaldo can be much more than a super-sub for Manchester United this season and still has plenty to offer, according to a former Old Trafford favourite.

    The five-time Ballon d'Or winner has started just once in the Premier League this season, also making five appearances off the bench, and he has yet to score or have an assist.

    A derby at Manchester City awaits United on Sunday, and it remains to be seen whether manager Erik ten Hag considers 37-year-old Ronaldo for a starting role at the Etihad Stadium.

    Last season's 24-goal top scorer for United missed the club's pre-season tour in July for personal reasons, and he has looked to be lacking in sharpness in the early weeks of competitive action.

    Raimond van der Gouw, who spent six seasons at United during the Alex Ferguson era, suspects Ronaldo will come good again, suggesting it is just a question of getting the timing right in terms of elevating his involvement.

    Asked if Ronaldo might be a perfect impact substitute for United this season, Van der Gouw told Stats Perform: "I will not say that. No, no, no, no.

    "I mean, okay, he's not 30 any more. He's 30-plus, but he's so fit. But he missed a part of the pre-season."

    Former goalkeeper Van der Gouw said those weeks before the season gets under way are hugely important, and anyone not up to speed when the competitive action gets going can struggle. He sees Ronaldo offering far more than cameos from the bench in future.

    "You look for your form, you're still a little bit behind in the condition. So it's a matter of when is the right time to fit in," Van der Gouw said. "But in the meantime, you have seen the team is performing, so then you don't change so quickly a team. I think it's a matter of time of when do you put Ronaldo in, and can he deliver what he can deliver?

    "And I think with his age, he's still good enough.

    "You can be fit and doing your work in a gym, but you need your match fitness, and you only get that by playing games. And that's what he didn't do it in the beginning. So he's a little bit behind."

    Ronaldo has played 207 minutes in the Premier League this term, taking 12 shots in that time, with just two of those going on target.

    He scored his first goal of the season in the Europa League, with a penalty against Sheriff, before going away on international duty.

    Even with Portugal, where he played full games against the Czech Republic and Spain, Ronaldo has not been immune to flak.

    After a 1-0 defeat to Spain this week, Ronaldo's performance was heavily criticised, to the dismay of his sister, Katia Aveiro.

    She said the critics were "sick, petty, soulless, stupid and forever ungrateful".

    Ronaldo was also defended by Bruno Fernandes, his Portugal and United team-mate, who said: "This is a phase. When the goals start to appear, he will have more capacity and tranquillity to continue scoring many goals for our national team. We cannot forget that he is the best scorer ever."

    The Ronaldo of years gone by might have hit back at detractors by producing a match-winning performance in his next game, but the bench may beckon again this weekend.

    Van der Gouw has no doubt City will provide tough opposition for United.

    "Well, at the moment, it's obvious City's much further [ahead] than Man United. It's quite clear," said Van der Gouw, who was for many years Peter Schmeichel's deputy.

    "So in a certain way, you're hoping that it will be an interesting game. It's always a different game compared [to others]. It's not just a normal game if you play against City.

    "Everybody has to be really sharp. And then we will see who's going to be the winner. That's a massive game. Massive."

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    Hummel, which is the Danish football team's long-term kit supplier, released the side's 2022 World Cup jerseys on Wednesday, including a black third-choice design which is described as the "colour of mourning", to honour migrant workers who died during construction work for the tournament.

    The Danish Football Association (DBU) promised in November its teams would wear clothing with "critical messages" at the World Cup, and while FIFA rules prohibit political statements, the team uniform is a major change to their iconic kits.

    The three Denmark kits are all-red, all-white and all-black, with their iconic white chevrons faded into the same single colour as the shirt.

    "This shirt carries with it a message," Hummel said. "We don't wish to be visible during a tournament that has cost thousands of people their lives.

    "We support the Danish national team all the way, but that isn't the same as supporting Qatar as a host nation."

    Qatar's organising group, the Qatar Supreme Committee (QSC), responded to the kit release by disputing Hummel's claims, arguing it trivialised a "genuine commitment to protect the health and safety" of migrant workers, estimated to be around 30,000, largely from South Asia.

    Qatar claims that three labourers died in work-related accidents during construction work for the World Cup, although the nation has been accused of under-reporting deaths with limited data released by authorities, with Hummel's statement claiming it was "thousands".

    "We dispute Hummel's claim that this tournament has cost thousands of people their lives," the QSC statement said.

    "Furthermore, we wholeheartedly reject the trivialising [of] our genuine commitment to protect the health and safety of the 30,000 workers who built FIFA World Cup stadiums and other tournament projects.

    "Like every country, progress on these issues is a journey without a finish line, and Qatar is committed to that journey.

    "We urge the DBU to accurately convey the outcome of their extensive communication and work with the Supreme Committee, and to ensure that this is accurately communicated to their partners at Hummel."

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