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By Sports Desk February 10, 2021

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  • Fernandes pinpoints key aspect behind Shaw's dramatic improvement Fernandes pinpoints key aspect behind Shaw's dramatic improvement

    Bruno Fernandes is convinced the signing of Alex Telles is the key component behind Luke Shaw's dramatic improvement at Manchester United after the left-back won the club's Player of the Month award.

    It was not so long ago that Shaw's United career appeared to be petering out to an underwhelming conclusion, particularly during Jose Mourinho's ill-fated reign.

    In two-and-a-half years playing for the Portuguese coach, Shaw only made 33 Premier League appearances. While he did have injury and fitness problems, the manager's attitude seemingly did little to endear himself to the player.

    Mourinho criticised Shaw publicly on several occasions, yet the left-back kept his head down and – to the surprise of very few – ultimately outlasted the 'Special One', kicking on brilliantly under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

    His five assists this season is already a personal high for a Premier League season, having only managed seven in total in previous campaigns, but that's just the tip of the iceberg – Shaw's chance creation frequency of 2.44 per game is almost double his previous best of 1.3 in 2016-17, and that was from just 11 appearances.

    The only defender to lay on goalscoring chances at a better rate than Shaw is Ryan Fredericks (2.45), though his marginally improved record comes from 13 fewer games than Shaw's 23.

    Liverpool's Andrew Robertson has previously been held up as something of a standard-bearer for full-backs in the Premier League, yet Shaw's 31 key passes from open play is just one less than his 32 from four fewer outings. Joao Cancelo leads the way (36), though he does count set-piece deliveries as among his strong points – the United man does.

    Statistically, this season is an outlier for Shaw in almost every regard and highlights just how much of a step forward he has taken, but Fernandes is convinced there has been one major catalyst for this resurgence.

    Speaking to the United website ahead of Sunday's derby clash with Manchester City, Fernandes said: "[Shaw]'s been playing really, really well in the last few months. I think he started a little bit slow like everyone did because at the beginning of the season we didn't start good.

    "I think the competition between Alex and Luke has given both of them the chances to be better and to improve. This is really important because you know if you are not performing well you will be out of the team.

    "I think Luke started to perform well when he had that pressure from Alex. At the same time, Alex when he plays has played really well because he knows that Luke is on the bench.

    "So, the pressure between them is good but the relationship between them is better, I have seen that in the stands. Alex is always pushing to help everyone and I remember when I came off against Real Sociedad it was Luke in the stands and I saw a lot of times Luke pushing to help Alex.

    "This is what we're about. You can be fighting for the same place, but you are fighting for the same achievements, you know.

    "This has to be like that in every position in the team, we have to understand that whoever is playing it's because the manager thinks he's better for the team in that moment and the most important thing is the team.

    "I think everyone is happy for Luke to win this Player of the Month award and I'm happy too because he deserves it, and I hope he can continue this form until the end of the season because he knows Alex is there to take his position."

    Sunday's trip to City will see Fernandes go up against some familiar faces in Ruben Dias, Bernardo Silva and Cancelo, all of whom are colleagues of his at international level with Portugal.

    All three have enjoyed fine campaigns individually and, as a collective, have helped City embark on a club-record winning streak of 21 games across all competitions.

    Avoiding defeat again on Sunday will mean City are unbeaten in 29 matches, another new club record, and Fernandes made no secret of wishing his compatriots were not doing so well as a team.

    "I speak with them regularly, we have a good relationship, but the relationships stay out of the game. They know me and they know that on the pitch we are not friends anymore," he said with a grin.

    "At the same time I enjoy seeing them play and every one of them is doing well individually and I'm happy for them. As a team I was hoping to see them do a little bit worse than they are doing, but individually I am happy for them because they are good people and they deserve to be in the positions they are and playing in the way they are playing."

  • Messi-Alba combination is almost unstoppable – Koeman Messi-Alba combination is almost unstoppable – Koeman

    Ronald Koeman believes the combination between Lionel Messi and Jordi Alba for Barcelona is almost unstoppable.

    Messi set up Alba's opener and Ilaix Moriba's sealer as Barca recorded a 2-0 LaLiga win at Osasuna on Saturday.

    Of Alba's past 16 goals for Barca in all competitions, Messi has assisted eight.

    Koeman, whose side closed to within two points of leaders Atletico Madrid, said the duo's connection was almost impossible to stop.

    "You can see in every game our opponents are trying to cover that, trying to block Messi's pass to play the ball in behind to Jordi Alba," the Barcelona coach told a news conference.

    "So, at many points of a game that pass between them isn't possible. But I don't think you can stop these two players and that connection that's there between Messi and Jordi Alba because it's something brilliant.

    "There are always moments in a game where that pass does appear and those two are calm enough on the ball to pick it out and they can pick it out very easily and they really do it at the right time.

    "You can't really stop it because it's just natural instinct."

    Atletico have played two fewer games than Barca, with Diego Simeone's side facing Real Madrid in a derby clash on Sunday.

  • Pochettino wary of Barcelona as he continues seeking perfection at PSG Pochettino wary of Barcelona as he continues seeking perfection at PSG

    Mauricio Pochettino is pleased with the progress made by Paris Saint-Germain since taking over but has warned his players they cannot take anything for granted against Barcelona next week.

    The French giants eased to a 3-0 victory over Brest in the last 32 of the Coupe de France on Saturday to make it 12 wins, one draw and two defeats in Pochettino's first two months in place at the Parc des Princes.

    That includes a run of three wins in a row in all competitions heading into Wednesday's Champions League last-16 second leg with Barca, which PSG lead 4-1 following an impressive display in the reverse fixture at Camp Nou.

    No team in the history of the European Cup has ever progressed from a knockout tie over two legs after losing the first leg at home by a margin of three goals, but Pochettino is not looking ahead to the quarter-finals just yet.

    "We take it match after match and look to win them all in each competition," Pochettino told Eurosport. "For us, this is an extraordinary challenge. 

    "Next is the match with Barcelona. You have to be careful because they are a good team and we will have to remain focused."

    Kylian Mbappe scored twice for PSG in their cup victory at Stade Francis-Le Ble, either side of Pablo Sarabia's strike, to keep the holders on course for a record-extending 14th triumph in the competition.

    PSG had some nervy moments before Mbappe killed things off 17 minutes from time, with keeper Sergio Rico making seven saves in total, compared to three stops for opposite number Sebastien Cibois.

    But Pochettino was happy with his side's display, and in particular the manner of their pressing in midfield - Leandro Paredes leading the way in that area with 12 turnovers in total.

    "The pressing shows my style, yes. After two months of work, and some 15 games since I joined, it's starting to take shape," he said. "The players are listening to my ideas and the way I want us to play.

    "Physically, I am also happy with the way the players work every day and we are approaching our best condition. We are always looking for perfection, but I am already happy on that side.

    "The goal today was to win and qualify, so I'm happy with the performance. We gave away a few chances but Sergio was fantastic. We had to think a lot about this match and not the one on Wednesday."

    Mbappe's second brace in as many matches took his tally for the season to 25 goals in 32 matches, the forward following up a sublime solo strike that saw him carry the ball half the length of the field with a somewhat fortunate goal with his chest.

    "They are a team that are not easy to play at home," Mbappe said. "They play good football, so congratulations to them. 

    "But we came here to qualify and that is what we did. Now we will prepare normally for the Barcelona game in a serene way, as we always do."

    Thilo Kehrer was substituted at half-time by Pochettino, who later confirmed it was a precautionary measure.

    Superstar forward Neymar is another player nursing an injury heading into the clash with former side Barca, but Abdou Diallo is hopeful his team-mate will make his comeback on Wednesday.

    "He had a great session yesterday. We'll see how he feels. I hope he will be with us," Diallo said.

    "As for Kehrer, we also have Timothee Pembele and [Colin] Dagba standing ready and we trust them."

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