Louis Saha on Tottenham, Fulham, Man Utd, Arsenal and more
The Premier League’s festive schedule continues thick and fast, with Tottenham taking on Fulham on Wednesday night.
Spurs have dropped a few points of late, with Fulham have improved in recent weeks to give themselves a real shot at avoiding relegation.
Louis Saha played for both clubs, and ahead of his Ladbrokes Tottenham v Fulham 5-A-Side bet, we grabbed an exclusive chat with the former Premier League hotshot…
On Tottenham’s title chances
The Premier League is about momentum and consistency and Tottenham have struggled for form in recent weeks but I think that’s something you’ll see with every team in the league at some stage this season. We saw Man United struggle for four or five games earlier on in the campaign and now they look like they might end up in second-place if they win their game in hand. So it does make me laugh that people try and predict what might happen in the Premier League because it is just so competitive.
I still feel like the squads of Man City and Liverpool are strong but Tottenham and Man United are up there as well.
Jose Mourinho has his own style and his tactics win games, but sometimes it doesn’t work. It can frustrate fans and lovers of football, especially when you have the likes of Heung-min Son and Harry Kane at your disposal. You do wish they’d attack more and put more pressure on teams higher up the pitch but you have to respect Mourinho’s approach. There are a lot of positives to take from his approach and Spurs have put themselves in a great position this season as a result, but when it doesn’t work it can be frustrating to watch, of course.
The players have to buy into his style, though. Before Mourinho arrived, you had the feeling with Tottenham that they crumbled a lot in important games when the pressure was on them. But this approach under Mourinho has prevented that, whether you agree with the style of play or not. They’re still in a great position in the league table and it’s not all about pleasing the fans. It’s about finding the right balance and more importantly, getting results.
I started out as a winger at Metz, a club who were known to play a defensive style and our attacking players weren’t really given much freedom, and I struggled, because I felt like I couldn’t express myself as a player.
If you play for Mourinho you need to have stamina and you need to possess the ability to attack as well as you can defend.
I was surprised when Mourinho came in just because of the difference in styles between him and Mauricio Pochettino. Jose is a manager who’ll always be a bit more defensive – not negative – whereas Tottenham have always been more free spirited. But maybe it’s what they needed at the time; a change in tactics in order to start challenging for trophies. It looks like it may have been a smart move. But will it pay off? We’ll see.”
Tottenham have a decision to make in January
“It is a worry that aside from Harry Kane and Heung-min Son, only Tanguy Ndombele has scored more than one league goal this season. Spurs have a decision to make in January. They need to look at players who can help get them more goals – even if that means signing another striker.
I don’t think that they have used Carlos Vinicius enough this season, even in a competition like the League Cup. It’s something that needs to be addressed because if Kane and Son aren’t scoring, you don’t know where your goals are going to come from.
I think they need to give Vinicius more of a chance during the rest of the season. The answer isn’t necessarily to bring in another striker because they brought him in last summer. Yes, Harry Kane and Heung-min Son have been exceptional this season so it’s hard to get another striker into the team, but you have to find a way of maintaining the form and confidence of players that aren’t playing. I’m not going to teach Jose Mourinho how to do that because he’s a master. But the reason we were so successful at Man United was because we had four strikers who could all score goals and it took the pressure off all of us.
It’s not easy to achieve because when you’re in form it’s hard to change a winning team, but Tottenham have dropped points in their last four matches so maybe this is the time to give someone like Vinicius a chance.
We saw last year Harry Kane had a serious injury that kept him out and we saw a difference in Tottenham – so you have to address the problem you may find yourself in if someone as important and influential as him gets injured again.”
On Tottenham v Fulham
“A win would obviously be a huge result for both teams for different reasons. Fulham are obviously looing to get themselves out of the relegation zone and Tottenham want to close the gap at the top of the table again. Spurs have shown so far this season that they are definitely contenders for the title.
Tottenham mean a lot to me but I spent a lot of time with Fulham early on in my career so I’ll be supporting them more in this game.
It’s a tough game for both teams but I’ll go for a draw between Fulham and Tottenham. It’s a really difficult part of the season and Tottenham have even more games to play in the League Cup, which might just play into Fulham’s hands and balance things out a little bit more. Towards the end of the year with fatigue kicking in, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the match finish level.”
On ‘frustrating’ Man United
“Manchester United have so much ability within their squad; there are so many great players, which is why it’s frustrating for me because they’re just not consistent. Every time they get to a point where you start to think of them as title contenders, something happens where you have to ask what is going on at the club.
It’s frustrating for fans to see because we know they have the potential to play some really creative stuff and get big results, but we don’t see it enough on a consistent level.
I have really mixed feelings regarding the team at the moment because they need to eradicate the simple mistakes they’re making far too often. It’s just so bad. It could be David De Gea, or from anyone in their defensive line. I just get so frustrated.
I like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and it seems like he has a good bunch of guys who really like playing under him. I look at the team as a fan and sometimes wish he’d be a bit more demanding as a manager; I don’t feel like he does that enough. But his body language in the last few games has been way better so I’m looking forward to this maybe being a turning point, mainly for the fans. I really like seeing Ole on the touchline when he’s loud and demanding, because you can see his players do respond to it.
Mauricio Pochettino going to Paris Saint-Germain might actually take a bit off pressure off Solskjaer at United. It’s true that every time you have a bad result as Man United manager you’re going to be under pressure. It even happened with Sir Alex Ferguson. He achieved some of the greatest things in football and he’d still have to answer questions about his future after a couple of bad results. So it’s natural this will happen with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer too – he just has to get used to it.
But I feel like the board have full confidence in Ole. They want consistency and the project seems to be working as far as giving young players game time goes. It’s always hard when you’re a young manager to have names like Pochettino being thrown around. What’s important is that the board try and make things off the pitch as smooth as possible for Ole during these times. Yes, the media will talk and speculate, but as long as Ole knows he has the backing of the board, he can carry on with improving things on the pitch.”
On Man Utd strikers lacking focus and anger
“I think, for me, when I look at the quality of the individuals, you can see that Man United have some great players going forward. Marcus Rashford is a brilliant asset because he can comfortably play in any of those front three positions and do a job.
When he plays direct and through the middle, at his best he’s just unplayable. Maybe he needs to just be a bit more clinical, because he does need a lot of chances.
You could look at the attitude of those four strikers they have – I think at least one of them needs to be really deadly. That improves the competition among the other strikers. When I came to Man United, I was fighting with Ruud van Nistelrooy. I was always looking at him and how obsessed he was to score goals. It was so refreshing as a competitor for his place. When you start thinking with that obsession and that mindset, your whole game changes.
You can start to forget about dribbling with the ball and creating chances for others, and you become more efficient with your runs because you’re that obsessed with scoring goals – and I think you need a player like that.
Sometimes I don’t feel like the Man United strikers have that level of focus – despite their immense quality. They tend to be more concerned about their link-up play and finding comfort in playing on the left or the right. But they don’t seem obsessed with being a bit more selfish – and I think it’s something at least one of those players needs to add to their game.
I think they need an angry figure up-front. You need someone who is very angry whenever they don’t get the ball. It’s something that is missing in this Man United team. I know the players are upset when they miss an opportunity, for sure. But I don’t see it enough. Believe me, when Van Nistelrooy didn’t get a ball he was expecting, or he missed a chance, he wasn’t just upset; he was angry.
I’m not saying it’s an attribute I necessarily had. But Ruud was, and then Wayne Rooney was, and Cristiano Ronaldo. So there was always at least one player who had that mindset and that selfishness helped the team. When you look at those four players up-front for Man United now, none of them have that.
For me, Anthony Martial is Man United’s most natural number nine.”
On Man Utd signing Grealish/Sancho & Pogba situation
“It’s unfortunate Man United couldn’t get deals in place for Jack Grealish and Jadon Sancho last summer because they are two amazing players. I know less about Grealish but I think he would have fitted perfectly into this team.
But for me, I’m sorry, Sancho is just such an unbelievable player. He’s unpredictable, he’s such a great talent and if he was playing for United with Bruno Fernandes, you just know as a striker you’re going to score goals because of the two of those.
Man United did miss out on the two of them in the summer, but hopefully they’ll have another chance to sign them soon. My choice of the two would be Sancho over Grealish. Both are amazing players and they’d improve any side. They’re so confident and would be really useful for Man United’s strikers. Fernandes has done a great job in helping United since arriving earlier this year, so could you imagine what another player of his level would do to the team?
There are two sides to the Paul Pogba case: as a player you need to focus on your game. Whatever is happening off the pitch, it doesn’t matter. There’s definitely an issue there but I’m sure Pogba is very focused on playing at the best level he possibly can for Man United. Then it comes down to whether or not Ole wants to pick him.
Of course, when he’s playing at his best, Pogba is a great asset to the team. At the end of the day, the situation is bigger than Paul Pogba; it’s about finding a winning formula for the team where chances are being created and goals are being scored. If Paul Pogba is the answer to that, then great. But it’s up to Ole to decide who he thinks deserves a place in the team and Pogba needs to just focus on being the best player he can be for Manchester United.”
On Man United’s title chances
“I think Manchester United are title contenders this season. If not, then top three is a realistic target for them. If they can sustain the type of form they’re in at the moment then they will be right up there at the end of the season. But if they fall back into the kind of performances that saw them fall out of the Champions League where they’re conceding silly goals early on in games, then of course they’ll struggle.
They can’t afford to do that. It’s impossible to be a Premier League contender, keeping up with the likes of Liverpool, if you keep going behind in games. They have the quality to kill games, so it is frustrating when you see them concede early because it’s physically and mentally challenging to keep coming back.
I don’t like seeing this and it’s something I complain about a lot when it comes to Man United; I hate seeing the midfielders so close to the defenders. I find myself getting so annoyed because you’re just inviting pressure. You see the midfield and the defence so close to each other, even against teams that you wouldn’t say are good enough to compete with United – so why are you giving them a chance by inviting pressure onto yourself?
I don’t think it’s the right approach at all and it’s why they concede so many goals. A team like Man United should be applying pressure higher up the field. They certainly have the capacity to close down and recover the ball higher up the field where their attackers can exploit defences much quicker.
I think it’s been clear to see this season that there is strength in depth in terms of creativity in the Man United squad, because they brought in Donny van de Beek who can’t get a game at the moment. So I feel like if there is one area of the pitch in which they could strengthen, it would have to be in defence. They need someone else to challenge Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire for places.”
Everton will finish six or seven points off top spot
“As expected, Carlo Ancelotti has done a great job with Everton this season. They had a slight dip in form but every team will go through that. They dropped in intensity and it’s no coincidence that dip came at a time where a couple of key players were absent. It happens, but Everton have had a great month so far. They don’t have the squad to challenge for the title, though. When you look at the top, top teams in the league, they have a lot more quality in depth where Everton don’t.
I don’t think they’re far off becoming a title-challenging side, though. I think they’ll probably finish the season maybe six or seven points off the eventual winners. They rely a lot on Dominic Calvert-Lewin who has been playing very well. There’s a really strong link between defence and attack and it’s a fantastic job Ancelotti has done. They do concede silly goals though. They have 11/12 really, really strong players, but just need to add a little more quality before they can challenge for the title.
I think Everton can challenge for the top three or four this season. We saw Leicester win the league a few years ago and the thing they had was a very direct, consistent approach with a striker who guaranteed them goals, and that’s what Everton have now.
It’s important they close the gap on Liverpool, in particular, and look at what they’ve done over the last few years. They have great depth and there’s a clear understanding in place between the manager and players. Jurgen Klopp knows when to rest certain players and his youngsters fit into the team nicely because of the structure he’s built.
Players like Alex Iwobi need to start delivering big performances in big games, to give his side another option and outlet. He needs to become more of a playmaker. If players like Iwobi and Abdoulaye Doucoure can up their performances just a little, combined with the qualities of Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin and James Rodriguez, Everton can start heading into these big matches like tonight’s game against Man City with real confidence of getting a result.”
On Arsenal, Arteta and Aubameyang
“I’ll always back managers as long as they show communication skills with their players. Mikel Arteta definitely has something about him that the players believe in. The board have to stick with the project and accept that a lot of the blame has to go on the players and not just the manager for recent results. If you just change things in the dugout again, it’s just going to be even longer before they turn things around.
A lot of people think Arsenal fans are very hard to please but I’m not sure that is the case. They’ve been waiting for so long for a Premier League title, and they’re a very loyal bunch. Regardless of the results, they will fill their stadium the first chance they get to do so. Obviously they’re very demanding and what they’ve seen is just not anywhere near the level they’re used to watching.
There needs to be a lot more leadership coming from the Arsenal players. Yes, results are very important, but there have been a few occasions where players have disrespected the history of Arsenal Football Club. I’m not here to judge, but some of the attitude I’ve seen from their players is just not acceptable for a club of that stature.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is always looking to improve his game and working hard. His current form is just unlucky; it just goes to show it happens to even the best players. I don’t think that I’m in a position to give any advice to a player of Aubameyang’s stature. He has to just believe in himself because when he is scoring goals he is just unplayable.
I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but when I look at Arsenal, yes they have some talented players but to win a championship you need several world class players. You need players in your team who would be able to walk into any of Europe’s top teams. You look at a team like Real Madrid, who have had world class players over the years that couldn’t even manage to get into their squad.
When you have a player like Aubameyang, you have to look around and wonder who else is there to lift him up when he’s not playing well. When I was playing at Man United, I had less pressure because if I wasn’t scoring, Van Nistelrooy was, and vice versa. And that’s something we always had in that squad over the years because of the level of quality of the forwards. For Arsenal, if Aubameyang isn’t scoring, then they’re in trouble.
You need to have Nicolas Pepe and Alexandre Lacazette playing well week-in, week-out because three players performing well does take the pressure off one player in particular who is maybe going through a bad patch. And right now that’s not happening at Arsenal, and it’s why results haven’t been good.
Maybe sometimes it’s not about the tactics or Aubameyang not playing well; it’s about the players like Lacazette and Pepe who are both capable of scoring 15/20 goals a season, but haven’t done so.
On paper Arsenal have a nice run of fixtures now, against Brighton, West Brom, Crystal Palace and Newcastle. But this is where the Premier League in itself is such a challenge, because you might think those fixtures might be easy, but they’re far from it. They are the most difficult matches to win. These are where you prove you are a top side. I think it could be a good tactic to start with the players who have just beaten Chelsea. They performed very well so they do deserve another chance.
In terms of where Arsenal can strengthen, I would stop looking at players solely for their quality and start looking at players for their leadership and attitude. They need players who are aggressive in the right way; that’s the most important thing. Another player in the centre of the pitch with the right mentality would be a good starting point for the January transfer window.
Of course a top-half finish is still achievable. Even a top six finish. A good run of four or five wins and all of the sudden they are back in the mix and climbing up the table. Man United were in a similar situation a few weeks back and look at where they are now.
On Fulham’s chances of survival
“You can see there’s some balance in the squad now. It’s a team that’s still young; they’re still learning. They’re starting to look more solid at the back though, having conceded a lot of goals earlier on in the season. That’s not happening anymore. They’re creating a lot more chances and it’s a good sign that they can seemingly hurt any team when they’re at their best.
But they need a striker to start scoring more regularly; it’s not something they have at this moment in time but they need it to turn their draws into wins.
We’ll have more of an understanding and it’ll be easier to make a prediction by the end of February, because now we’re at an interesting point of the season where managers might start coming and going. We’ve seen Sam Allardyce take over at West Brom and he has a great record of keeping clubs up. In the next month or so there’ll be a few managers sacked, so it’s really tough to predict.
But the board seem to really back Scott Parker and the players clearly like him. That’s a good foundation to start with, so if someone can step up and start scoring goals on a more regular basis for them, I think they’ll be safe.
They look a lot better this season than they did the last time they were in the Premier League. They look a lot more organised this time around. Earlier on in the season they were conceding too many but they’re starting to look a lot more balanced.”
On genuine title contenders
“Liverpool are definitely the ones to beat for the Premier League title this year. Jurgen Klopp has such a great group of players who are eager to win every single game. They have so much strength in depth and you can feel their frustration when things aren’t going their way. It’s a quality a lot of other sides are lacking.
It’s a lot more difficult for Man City this season because in terms of creating chances, it feels very much like Kevin De Bruyne is on his own now since David Silva left the club. There’s now less guarantee in that Man City side winning games and ultimately the title than there is in Liverpool.
I’d probably say there are four or five teams in with a genuine chance of winning the title. I’d definitely put Man United in there, Tottenham in there for sure as well. Chelsea have a good chance too, as well as the obvious two. I’m actually loving the competitiveness of the Premier League this season. Football needs it. When you look at leagues like Spain and France where it is always the same one or two teams – it’s great to see such a wide-open league in England. ”
On first goal for Man United and never taking a free kick again
“My debut for Manchester United was a very special occasion for me, especially with the transfer saga that I had. I had a week of training with the team and felt very welcomed by the team, and we were playing at home against Southampton. We got a free-kick which I took and scored – and then never took a free-kick again! It was a very special moment.
I think the only reason I was on the free-kick was because Ryan Giggs wasn’t on the pitch at the time. Quinton Fortune could’ve stepped up, or maybe even Paul Scholes, but I was feeling confident so they let me have it.
The problem is, when you’re playing in a team like that and you’ve got Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo around the place, you’re never seeing a free-kick again!”