Dean Henderson set for run in Man Utd team in David de Gea’s absence

Manchester United have told goalkeeper Dean Henderson that he should be prepared to start the team’s next six games in all competitions, with Spaniard David de Gea away for personal reasons.

De Gea missed Wednesday’s 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace, after which manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer refused to put a timeframe on his return to the team, suggesting Henderson may well be set for an extended run.

David De GeaDavid De Gea
De Gea was left out for personal reasons | Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Well, according to the Manchester Evening News, that’s exactly the case as Henderson has been told he could play six games on the bounce, giving him the chance to start consecutive matches for the first time this season.

Henderson will be chomping at the bit for the chance to strut his stuff consistently, having been restricted to just 13 appearances before Wednesday’s game, but it could end up being something of a baptism of fire.

Next up for United is the short trip across Manchester to face league leaders City, who have won 21 games in a row, before Serie A high-flyers AC Milan rock up to Old Trafford for the first leg of their Europa League last 16 tie.

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Henderson could be in for some rough games | Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

We’ll see the David Moyes derby as West Ham come to town before the return leg against Milan at San Siro, and the FA Cup quarter-final tie with Leicester City will bring a temporary end to club football in March.

It may be the chance Henderson has been waiting for. There have been plenty of calls from fans for the 23-year-old to be permanently promoted to the starting lineup, with De Gea’s form faltering over the last few months (years?), and Solskjaer hailed Henderson as a hero after his 90th-minute save denied Patrick van Aanholt and saw United pick up a hard-fought point against Palace.

“I can’t really say about David, it’s a private matter,” Solskjaer said. “Dean is ready if he’s called upon, you saw that. He kept his concentration.

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Henderson was United’s saviour | Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

“I think maybe it would have been called offside [against Van Aanholt] but at the moment I thought that Dean saved us a point because it looked like that was a deciding moment and that was probably the biggest chance of the game, apart from Marcus in the first half.”

Reports have suggested that Henderson is prepared to leave United this summer if Solskjaer does not agree to make him the undisputed number one, so this could be his chance to prove he deserves it.

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Arsenal to target RB Leipzig’s Ibrahima Konate in ‘summer rebuild’

Arsenal are monitoring RB Leipzig defender Ibrahima Konate as they ponder a summer move for the centre-back.

The 21-year-old has emerged as a target after the Gunners terminated the contracts of both Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Shkodran Mustafi in January, trimming down the squad in the defensive area.

There is also still uncertainty surrounding the future of David Luiz, whose contract is due to expire at the end of the season, and it’s still unclear how much of a role William Saliba will play next season when he returns from his loan deal with Nice.

According to the Evening Standard, Arteta wants to bring young Frenchman Konate in as part of a ‘summer rebuild’, although Arsenal are likely to face competition from across Europe with the player said to be on several clubs’ radars.

Konate joined the Bundesliga outfit from Sochaux back in 2017 and the 21-year-old has played 88 times for RB Leipzig. He has only featured 14 times in all competitions this season however, having struggled with an ankle injury recently.

He did play the full 90 minutes in Leipzig’s two Champions League group stage clashes with Manchester United, as the German side edged the Red Devils out of the competition to earn a last 16 tie with Liverpool.

Marcus Rashford, Ibrahima KonateMarcus Rashford, Ibrahima Konate
Konate challenges Marcus Rashford in the Champions League | Boris Streubel/Getty Images

Speaking during his press conference ahead of the trip to Burnley on Saturday, Arteta revealed that plans were already in place for the upcoming summer transfer window, although his budget is likely to depend on what the club go on to achieve between now and the end of the current campaign.

If Arsenal were to sneak into next season’s Champions League they will receive a substantial financial boost. However, if they were to miss out on European competition altogether, they may need to get creative with the resources at their disposal.


Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must take more risks with his substitutes to turn draws into wins

A lethargic and goalless draw away at Crystal Palace, a team that bang a drum to muster up an atmosphere when their stadium is full, was a bad enough result for Manchester United.

Consider that Leicester, currently in third place, dropped points earlier on Wednesday evening and next up is a clash with rivals Manchester City, who sit 14 points clear at the top of the Premier League table, and that results feels even worse.

It was entirely avoidable and a summary of United’s declining performances since reaching the Premier League’s summit on January 12. The Red Devils have won just three times in their last ten – form that doesn’t even keep you in a division when it gets to the business end of things, let alone winning one.

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United have lost their mojo | Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

There’s no sugar coating it; United should, at this point, be a comfortable second place at least, even if challenging for the league title felt a little premature.

But instead, they are now languishing and once again find themselves falling into a muddy top four battle that looks set to go to the death, and holds no guarantees of a Champions League finish.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s decision to start both Nemanja Matic and Fred was immediately headache-inducing upon reading the team sheet an hour before kick off, but perhaps there was some justification with playing away from home and injuries. There was no need, however, for them both to still be on the pitch until 74 minutes in with the game still locked at 0-0.

The duo couldn’t hit a barn door when it came to making a forward pass – knowledge that is hardly new to anybody – and it resulted in Bruno Fernandes dropping deep, leaving the Red Devils with no way to progress through the middle of the pitch. Low and behold, Solskjaer’s substitutes woke United up, too; Daniel James and Scott McTominay both provided a thrust and looked lively, but they were introduced far too late.

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Solskjaer is too hesitant when looking to introduce substitutes to break up a tight game, even more so when he has what he feels are his best attackers on the pitch. He only made two of his three available substitutes last night and has opted against using all three changes in draws against Chelsea, West Brom, Everton and Arsenal in 2021. It’s a clear indication of his reluctance to take the risk and upset the flow of the side, but in lifeless draws, there is no flow to upset.

Not only is he too cautious in making all of his available changes, but Solskjaer continues to delay his substitutes which limits the effect they can have on the field. Donny van de Beek has learned all too often this season that you cannot make a proper impact with cameos from the 80th minute and onwards, while the rest of United’s players are also discovering the same fate.

Despite a triple change at half-time in the second leg against Real Sociedad – a Europa League tie which was already won after a 4-0 first leg victory – Solskjaer has only made a change on the hour once since United’s 3-2 win against Liverpool in late January, not counting two instances of a first-half enforced change for injury. It’s taken the Norwegian until at least the 70th minute to make a change against Chelsea, Newcastle and West Ham in the month of February.

Be it down to limitations on Solskjaer’s behalf regarding his in-game management, or a lack of trust in his options from the bench, something has to change for United. A lack of pragmatism to tweak the shape or make a change that could unlock a tight game and force them to play on the edge is beginning to take its toll, and will only continue to hurt them with important games to play.

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United didn’t even make a third change to push for a win against West Brom | Pool/Getty Images

Players get complacent and burnt out. The gridlock against the Eagles presented Solskjaer with an opportunity to play with one holding midfielder, experiment with players in a new position or throw in Amad Diallo and give his legs a proper stretch to try and effect the game as an unknown quantity to the opposition.

By no means is this calamitous (yet), nor is it reason to suggest he should lose his job, because United have made progress this season. But it is yet another sticking point for Solskjaer that he must learn from, and learn from fast, in order to avoid being dragged into a messy top four scrap or even surrendering the chance to win silverware once again.


Timo Werner opens up on his 14-game goal drought

Chelsea striker Timo Werner has admitted that he has never suffered a goal drought as long as the 14 Premier League game goalless run he endured between November and February.

The forward hit 28 goals in 34 Bundesliga appearances for RB Leipzig during the 2019/20 campaign, and after months of speculation linking him with a move to Liverpool, he joined Chelsea in a £53m deal in the summer of 2020.

Werner netted four times in his first eight top flight appearances for the Blues. However, after his late strike against Sheffield United on 7 November, he would not score another Premier League goal until Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Newcastle on 15 February.

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Werner’s goal against Sheffield United would be his last in the Premier League for three months | Pool/Getty Images

“It was tough for me because I want to help the team,” Werner told BBC Sport. “I want to score, it’s in my nature, I am a striker.

“I never had it [a long goal drought] in my career before. You can always learn more from the bad situations. I learned to trust in myself, to give everything on the pitch, not only think about goals and fight for the team. Now I hope this period is gone and I score a few more goals until the end of the season.

“A lot of good strikers come to the Premier League and take one year to settle down and adapt. I think my form is going up and getting better and better.

“Maybe this year is not the year of goal scoring for Timo but at the end I will reflect on the season. I have learned a lot. I know exactly the teams we play against, how they play.”

Werner was brought to Stamford Bridge by Frank Lampard, but he has since been replaced by Thomas Tuchel. The former PSG boss is a compatriot of Werner’s, and the Chelsea forward praised his motivational style.

“I can talk to him very easily,” Werner added. “When he screams on the pitch, no problem for me. I need types of managers who scream at me. It gives me more power.”


Chelsea Women show their tenacious side in remarkable win over Atletico Madrid

Chelsea were handed arguably the toughest Champions League last 16 tie that they could have hoped for when they were drawn against Atletico Madrid.

The three-time Spanish champions – responsible for knocking Manchester City out of the competition in the last two seasons – are not quite the side they once were, but as unseeded last 16 draws go, this was as tough as they come.

Chelsea were dealt a blow before kick off with captain and centre half stalwart Magdalena Eriksson ruled out with injury, leaving versatile defensive midfielder Sophie Ingle to fill the void in the heart of the Blues backline.

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Ingle was sent off after just 17 minutes | Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

However, before the game was even 20 minutes old, this slightly makeshift backline had become a fully improvised foursome as Ingle saw red for bringing down Rasheedat Ajibade. Full-back Maren Mjelde shifted to centre half and winger Niamh Charles was introduced at right back.

Down to 10 players with a hastily assembled back four and facing the prospect of conceding a number of away goals, the side tipped as capable of rivalling Lyon for Champions League glory were suddenly starring down the barrel of an early exit.

Instead, the Blues turned in a stunning team performance and will remarkably take a 2-0 lead into next Wednesday’s second leg.

Ann-Katrin Berger saved Deyna Castellanos’ spot kick, and Chelsea’s fighting spirit kicked in.

It was such a terrific team display, it was easy to forget that Chelsea were playing with a player down. This was down to the fluidity of their system and the versatility of their players; Fran Kirby was operating as a wide forward when the Blues were in possession, but then tucked in to make a midfield four when out of possession. Pernille Harder was seemingly simultaneously operating as a number eight and number 10.

Bringing on Charles was a masterstroke from Emma Hayes. The 21-year-old is accustomed to playing as a flying winger, but when the Blues went down to 10, the Chelsea boss opted for Charles to slot in at fullback instead of natural right back Hannah Blundell.

With Charles’ pace, energy and athleticism, she was as good as having an extra player on the pitch. Her natural winger instincts kicked in when Chelsea were in possession as she tore up and down the right flank, while simultaneously diligently sticking to her defensive duties.

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Kerr was superb | Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Up top, Sam Kerr put in one hell of a shift. The Australian forward is renowned for the timing of her runs and predatory, fox in the box striker’s instinct. But on Wednesday evening, she did absolutely everything; she was a one woman front three.

Kerr held the ball up, she worked the channels, she ran at the Atletico back line. The 27-year-old won the Chelsea penalty from which Mjelde opened the scoring, and teed up Kirby for Chelsea’s second.

With every Chelsea player putting in such a tireless shift and the team being so smart and efficient in possession, it was impossible to see where the void left by Ingle’s dismissal was.

With nine minutes remaining, Atletico were offered a way back into the tie following a clumsy Berger challenge in the box, but the Chelsea keeper redeemed herself with a second spot kick save, this time from Merel van Dongen.

Having saved a Georgia Stanway penalty during Chelsea’s 3-3 draw with Manchester City in February 2020 – a result that ultimately won the Blues the WSL title – Berger again proved herself as the woman for the big occasions.

This was a rare Chelsea display where they were up against it and forced to dig in and show their resilience in the face of adversity. They passed the test with flying colours, and the rest of Europe should be absolutely terrified.