Man United fans can learn from Cardiff
It’s magnificently symbolic that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will make his debut as Manchester United’s interim manager at Cardiff City. When the Norwegian was presented as the Welsh side’s new manager in January 2014 – almost exactly five years ago – he held up a red shirt. The Bluebirds played in red those days, while owner Vincent Tan also changed the crest from the historic bird to a Welsh red dragon.
Tan aspired to change the very core of the club. He disrespected its rich history and wasn’t especially concerned about fans’ fellings, wrongly believing that Cardiff only belonged to him. Yet supporters eventually showed him the error of his ways, and Cardiff are now donning blue shirts once more.
Manchester United owners have been similarly guilty of disrespecting the club, but the voice of the fans is rarely heard. They need to take the matters into their own hands and make sure the Red Devils rediscover their values. Solskjaer should be able to help them – his job may only be temporary, but he knows better than most what this club should stand for.
What’s wrong with Higuain?
Milan boss Gennaro Gattuso is preoccupied with Gonzalo Higauin’s scoring drought, and the obsession has reached an alarming level after Tuesday’s 0-0 draw with Bologna. The Argentine started the season in impressive fashion after joining on loan from Juventus, but failing to net in the derby against Inter two months ago seemed to shatter his confidence.
Higuain was desperate to score against Juve last month; instead, he missed a penalty and was later sent off as Milan lost 2-0. The effect was disastrous. The striker looks downbeat having now returned from suspension, and failed to score as Milan crashed out of the Europa League last week.
Higuain hasn’t got on the scoresheet for seven matches now, leaving Gattuso to tell reporters that “Gonzalo knows that he has to do better”. The spotlight is very much on the former Real Madrid man ahead of Saturday’s clash with Fiorentina, whose own Argentine striker Giovanni Simeone has finally found his scoring boots.
Frankfurt out to sink Kovac
It was already known before Niko Kovac’s final game in charge of Eintracht Frankfurt that he would be leaving for Bayern Munich in the summer. In that match, Kovac stunned his future employers with a 3-1 victory in the German Cup final. He thus left as a hero, but few expected Frankfurt to play much better without him.
Yet under the guidance of Adi Hutter, the Austrian who won the Swiss title with Young Boys last term, Eintracht are enjoying a terrific season with 27 points from 16 matches. They were ahead of Bayern for a long time, although the Bavarians have climbed back above Kovac’s former side and moved to within six points of leaders Borussia Dortmund.
Franck Ribery’s dramatic late winner against RB Leipzig on Wednesday was extremely important for Kovac, whose job now looks safe ahead of the winter break. This weekend’s clash with Eintracht could still be a banana skin, though, particularly as Luka Jovic – the young Serbian prodigy nurtured by Kovac – can’t stop scoring. Could he deliver a blow to his former mentor?
Could Al Ain stun Real Madrid?
The most amazing thing about Al Ain’s run in the Club World Cup is that they were 3-0 down against Wellington of New Zealand in the first round. Now the hosts have somehow reached the final, beating River Plate on penalties and putting paid to a tantalising fixture between the Copa Libertadores winners and Real Madrid. The occasion now looks much less glamorous, but it would be a remarkable story if the team from Abu Dhabi actually win the whole thing.
Should Juventus re-sign Diagne?
In 2013, Juventus signed an unknown Senegalese striker Mbaye Diagne from a fourth division club. He never actually played for the Old Lady, but instead went on a strange trip to Corsica, Belgium, Saudi Arabia, Hungary and China.
In January, Diagne moved to Turkish outfit Kasimpasa and immediately became a sensation. He’s netted 18 times in 16 matches this season – which is more than eight entire teams, including struggling giants Fenerbahce. Kasimpasa host Besiktas on Saturday, and numerous scouts will be present to watch the 27-year-old in action. Should Juventus take him back to Turin?
Grosskreutz finally enjoying himself
Speaking of unusual career paths, Kevin Grosskreutz is playing in the third division these days. The former Borussia Dortmund man was part of Germany’s World Cup-winning squad in 2014, but he’s experienced a remarkable downfall since leaving BVB three-and-a-half years ago.
A move to Galatasaray didn’t work out, while his contract at Stuttgart was terminated after he was involved in a street fight. Last season the versatile defender played for Darmstadt in the second division and didn’t really convince, forcing him to drop down to 3.Liga with KFC Uerdingen last summer. This time it looks like Grosskreutz has found the right place, with Uerdingen fighting for promotion after five wins in a row.
Dick Advocaat is flourishing again
When Dick Advocaat failed to save Sparta Rotterdam from relegation last season, his illustrious managerial career seemed to be over. The Little General had other ideas, though. The 71-year-old took over at struggling Utrecht in September, happy to return to the club where he finished his playing career back in 1984.
Utrecht are now playing a magnificent brand of attacking football, and have climbed to fourth place after winning seven out of their last nine matches. Even Urby Emanuelson is enjoying himself under Advocaat’s tutelage.
On Sunday Emanuelson will face his former club Ajax in a crunch clash, and Advocaat is confident of producing an upset. He has every right to be quietly optimistic: Ajax have only won five of their last 17 meetings with their bogey team.
Barça fearing Aspas
Barcelona have a bogey team of their own, with Celta Vigo – and Iago Aspas in particular – having caused them numerous problems in recent years. He may have failed at Liverpool but the tricky striker is an idol in Galicia, and his record against the Catalan giants is exceptional with five goals in his last five matches.
Aspas was on target in both fixtures last season, while he also starred when Celta beat the Catalans 4-1 in 2015 and 4-3 in 2016. On Saturday he will arrive at the Camp Nou as the top Spanish scorer this term, with 10 goals to his name already. Don’t bet against him adding to his tally against Ernesto Valverde’s men.