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How Nemanja Matic has become key to Manchester United revival under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

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Opta data shows how Nemanja Matic has helped Manchester United turn their form around – and earn himself a contract extension.

Nemanja Matic neatly sums up Manchester United’s upturn in form in recent weeks.

The midfielder was considering his future in December but has now earned a one-year extension to his contract and talks have started over a longer-term deal.

The 31-year-old started only three Premier League games this season before the turn of the year but has become a key part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side during an 11-game unbeaten run in all competitions.

Using Opta data, we look at how Matic has turned around his United career – with a little help from a certain midfield partner…

 

Adding substance to style

Matic has always been regarded as a solid technician – his abilities on the ball and when distributing have never really been in doubt.

Even when it looked like his days at Old Trafford were numbered, one could still rely on Matic to be neat in possession.

But towards the end of last season, and when he featured in the earlier stages of this term, it was his effectiveness off the ball that raised concerns, appearing sluggish, slow and perhaps generally lacking fitness.

He is on the right track again now, however. Over United’s unbeaten run, he has averaged three tackles per match, a figure only Fred and Andreas Pereira can match – though the latter has played significantly fewer minutes.

Matic is also averaging two interceptions per match. Scott McTominay (three) is the solitary United midfielder to have a better record in comparison – but again, the Scotland international has not played as regularly as the Serbian.

Recoveries are another area Matic is proving effective in, with eight per game, the second-highest among United’s midfielders.

Fred finds his feet

But undoubtedly a key element of Matic’s renaissance has been the overall improvement among United’s midfield options, particularly with respect to Fred.

Even with Paul Pogba in the team last season, United’s midfield was a real problem area. They rarely lacked control, teams often sliced straight through them and not enough creativity was coming from the middle.

The same cannot be said now. While Bruno Fernandes’ introduction has obviously had an impact, a lot of it is down to Fred’s adaptation. The Brazilian’s well-rounded abilities have him excelling in many areas.

In 2020, Fred (546) is second only to Rodri (670) for successful passes, while his defensive side of the game has also seen him stand out.

The former Shakhtar Donetsk star has made 25 tackles, a figure bettered by only five other midfielders this season, 16 interceptions – behind just six other central players – and 92 recoveries, one shy of the leading figured posted by Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.

Matic certainly deserves praise for seemingly saving his United career, but on the face of it, he is being helped by the fact he is now playing in a significantly more effective and cohesive midfield.

 

 

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Transfer

Reports: Real Madrid target Liverpool’s Sadio Mane, Juventus take decision on Cristiano Ronaldo future

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Liverpool star Sadio Mane is reportedly being pursued by Real Madrid.

Could Liverpool part with Sadio Mane?

The star forward is a key member of Jurgen Klopp’s side, who won the Champions League last season.

However, Real Madrid are reportedly ready to test Liverpool’s resolve.

TOP STORY – MADRID SET SIGHTS ON MANE

LaLiga giants Real Madrid are targeting Liverpool star Sadio Mane, reports The Mirror.

Mane has established himself as an integral part of Liverpool’s squad after arriving from Southampton in 2016.

However, Madrid believe they could tempt Liverpool with a £140million (€154m) offer.

 

ROUND-UP

– Tuttosport’s frontpage has the headline “Hands off Ronaldo”. Sunday’s newspaper features a story which says Juventus and Cristiano Ronaldo want to continue together as the Serie A champions look to sign a “real number nine” amid links to Mauro Icardi. The Argentina international is on loan at Paris Saint-Germain from Inter.

– PSG expect Neymar to leave at the end of the season, with ESPN claiming the Ligue 1 giants value the Barcelona target at €150m. Neymar left Barca for PSG in a world-record €222m deal in 2017.

– According to the Express, Chelsea are preparing a £85m (€93m) bid for Bayer Leverkusen’s Leon BaileyLiverpoolArsenal and Manchester United have also been linked to the 22-year-old.

– Gazzetta dello Sport claims PSG are keen on Juventus midfielder Miralem Pjanic, who is contracted to the Italian giants until 2023. While Pjanic could leave Turin, Emerson Palmieri could arrive as Juve eye the Chelsea full-back.

 

– United have offered goalkeeper Dean Henderson a new contract worth £100,000 per week, reports The Sun. Henderson is on loan at Sheffield United.

– The Mirror says UnitedBorussia DortmundBayern Munich and Chelsea have all met Birmingham City’s asking price for teenage sensation Jude Bellingham.

– Liverpool are ready to offload Xherdan ShaqiriDejan LovrenNathaniel Clyne and Adam Lallana at the end of the season, according to the Liverpool Echo.

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El Clasico hero reveals he ‘had three days’ to choose Real Madrid over Barcelona

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Real Madrid’s El Clasico hero Vinicius Jr. revealed in a recent interview that he almost joined Barcelona in 2017, before making the decision to sign for their arch-rivals within three days.

Speaking to FourFourTwo, Vinicius said, “It was right after I came back from the 2017 South American Under-17 Championship in Chile, that rumours started saying that Barcelona and Real Madrid were interested.”

“There were already a lot of rumours in the press also, but I never believed them.”

“Eventually it happened: both Real Madrid and Barcelona put offers on the table and I had only three days to make my decision.”

“I always wanted to play for the greatest club, so that’s why I chose Real,” he said.

“My parents visited both clubs and liked them more. It matched with what I already wanted, and I felt their project was better for me,” the Brazilian added further.

“They give a lot of minutes to the younger players, like me, and were going through an outstanding period of success in the Champions League back then.”

“Fortunately, I played a lot of games in my first season,” the 19-year-old went on, before concluding:

“Now I have surpassed 50 matches for Real Madrid – few players achieve that at such a young age.”

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Roberto Carlos: I wanted Neymar at Real Madrid a long time ago

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Real Madrid and Brazil great Roberto Carlos wanted Neymar at the LaLiga giants long ago.

Roberto Carlos revealed he would have liked Brazil star Neymar at Real Madrid a “long time ago”.

Neymar joined Paris Saint-Germain from Barcelona in 2017, but has been linked with a return to Camp Nou and a possible blockbuster switch to Madrid.

Carlos, a Madrid and Brazil great, said he wanted Neymar at the Santiago Bernabeu long ago.

“If it were up to me, [Neymar] would already be here a long time ago, but life is not how one would like it,” Carlos told Fox Sports Radio.

“These great players always have to play for the best clubs in the world. Real Madrid today is a reference for any player.

“Do you want to win the Champions League? Come to Real Madrid.”

Carlos won four LaLiga titles and three Champions Leagues with Madrid, while he was also a 2002 World Cup winner with Brazil.

Madrid’s current left-back, Marcelo, has been out of favour with Brazil, with his last international appearance coming at the 2018 World Cup.

Carlos hopes the 31-year-old can eventually make a return for the national team.

“Everyone deserves a new opportunity and I think Marcelo is growing again to be the Marcelo I saw play, with joy, who does things that only he can do on the field,” he said.

“I hope he returns to the national team and disputes the position with Filipe [Luis], Alex Sandro and Renan Lodi.”

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