Wes Brown talks Manchester Derby, Paul Pogba & the season so far
Welcome to Manchester. This weekend, two city rivals will lock horns in the Premier League as Manchester United host Manchester City at Old Trafford on Saturday.
It is a rivalry that needs little introduction and one which had been dominated by United for long periods. However, Pep Guardiola has gone some way to changing that mantra and City will fancy their chances against a wounded United outfit.
Ahead of his Manchester United v Manchester City Ladbrokes 5-A-Side selection, we spoke with ex-Manchester United and England defender Wes Brown to get his take on the big game…
On Man United v Man City
“Derbies are always going to be tight. Immediately when I think of Manchester Derbies, I think of the penalty I gave away at the Etihad which was never a penalty in 2006/07 season. That was against my mate from school as well, Michael Ball – we won that game 1-0!
“There have been some great ones over the years. The one to commemorate the Munich Air Disaster was a special one to be a part of. They’re always special occasions and it doesn’t matter who is in form and who isn’t.
“The way the season has gone so far, I think Man United could finish above Man City. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still going to be tough, and there are probably six – not Arsenal – teams in there that’ll be fighting for the title.
“I don’t see why United can’t finish above City and win the league, just based on how the season has gone so far.
“United came top four last season when nobody thought they would, so sometimes you have to give them credit where it’s due.
“More consistency in the Premier League is all I’d ask for – at home, especially. Put together a six or seven game run at Old Trafford and I don’t think anyone can have any questions about whether or not you’re genuine title contenders.”
On Man United’s season so far
“Man United have actually done OK considering their start. If you look at where they are in the league, they’ve gradually got their act together. They deserve to be where they are now.
“Watching them every week, I wouldn’t want to play them. It’s not like teams are looking and thinking ‘it’s Man United today; let’s go and beat them; let’s batter them’ – and teams probably have thought that in the past few years. They’re more than capable of beating any team.
“With Bruno Fernandes and the strike force that they have, they can punish any team, as they’ve proven.
“Their home record isn’t brilliant at all, though. Away from home I think they’re right up there, it’s just about sorting out that home form, and it’s something Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is obviously trying to do.
“He’s bringing in the right players who are all benefiting the team. I don’t think it’s the finished article yet, but a lot of the time the mistakes they’ve made have just been down to simple things; positioning, awareness, lack of concentration. That brings about frustration, but in general when they play well you’re very confident on them winning the game, whoever they’re playing against.
“The international break after the Tottenham defeat probably came at the right time. I really like Tottenham, and I love Son Heung-min. I love him. I wish he was at Man United!
“But that game is a perfect example of the kind of thing you can’t afford to let happen. It gives you a big wake-up call. If you don’t turn up you will get beat, and on that occasion it was by a heavy scoreline.”
On Man United’s Champions League exit
“It was just a really bad start on Tuesday night, and it’s happened a little bit too much since the beginning of the season. It was frustrating from kick-off; they scored after two minutes so you know straight away you’re up against it and you’ve got to score at least one goal.
“When it gets to 3-0 you’re thinking it’s the worst night ever, then they make it 3-2 and you’re thinking there’s hope again all of a sudden. They nearly managed it as well at the end, but that’s not the point.
“In games like that, big important games against good teams, you can’t let in early goals like that; you can’t do it in any league and get away with it, let alone the Champions League.
“RB Leipzig were coming into that game full of confidence at home, whereas I think as a Man United fan you’re thinking it’s a dodgy game to go into, knowing you just need a draw.
“If we would’ve needed a win, I think it would’ve been completely different. And listen, if you’re going to get sloppy in the Champions League, you’re going to get punished.
“Mason Greenwood could’ve made it 1-1, he had a good chance. I spoke about it before kick-off, but it was one of those games where if you get a chance, you have to score. It was a great chance to get back into the match so early, but it wasn’t to be. And then the chance at the end, I thought they’d done it.
“I just thought they’d done it again and scraped through, but you can’t be putting yourself in that position. Conceding those kinds of goals, you’re always going to put yourself in trouble if you’re making hard work of it.
“Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay started last night and it was a good opportunity for them to stake a claim for a regular place. United have actually done really well playing that formation as well in the Champions League so I wasn’t surprised to see them get the nod. Knowing they only needed a point to qualify meant it made sense to shore things up in midfield, so I can understand the need for protection.
“United went into the game knowing they didn’t need to do anything silly, but they did. Even with more protection in McTominay and Matic in midfield, they couldn’t get on the ball and get their rhythm going. Leipzig pressed high, they looked sharper, they looked like they wanted it a bit more. It was a difficult one to watch.
“Solskjaer’s now favourite to be sacked first in the Premier League after last night, but I can’t see that happening. He’s got a plan and the club understand that.
“If you’re going off players he’s signed, then he’s done OK. You can’t just keep sacking the manager. You have to give him some time and I still believe that. Finishing in the top four is a must for Man United now. League position is always the most important thing for me anyway, and nobody would’ve thought United were going to win the Champions League this year.
“It’s very disappointing they’ve exited the competition where they have, because they worked so hard to get into the Champions League in the first place. But at the same time, were we going to win it? No. I know we’re still in the Europa League, but the league is priority now. And how things are looking in the league, there’s an opportunity to go and win it.
“It was always a tough group in hindsight, but once you get yourself into that position with three games to go it’s a tough one to take.”
On Paul Pogba
“Paul is a fantastic player, we all know that. But when he’s played, sometimes he’s played well, sometimes he’s not. But at the moment he’s not even getting in the side. When he plays well he’s absolutely brilliant, and we all know that.
“But going forward, is he going to be at Man United for the next five or six years? Probably not. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out. It’s just one of those situations. There’s been many of them in the past, and I’m sure there’ll be many in the future as well. If Paul does leave he’ll get a big club, because he’s a big player. Everyone knows that.
“He’s still a Man United player at the moment and we definitely still need him this season. But is he going to play every game? I’m just not sure he is.
“When he plays well, United are a better team with him in the starting line-up. He’s got it all. But it’s just not worked, he’s just not managed to fit into the team in the way we would’ve expected, but at the same time he has played some good games this season.
“Paul is a big name in football. This will happen all the way through his career, regardless of whether he’s at Man United or anywhere else, there’s just always going to be transfer speculation around him because he’s that big of a name. He’s won some big trophies and no matter what happens, he will always be centre of attention.
“At clubs like Man United it’s normal; whether it’s Paul Pogba, David Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo. It always happens, it’s just about how you handle it. Regardless of what happens, the club has to keep moving.”
On Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
“He’ll always get stick in the media, but he knows what he’s doing. He’s doing his thing, he’s getting the players playing the way he wants them to.
“He’s trying to build a really strong squad, because you need exactly that in this league with so many competitions you’re playing in.
“Ole gets a lot of criticism, but that’s Manchester United for you. If you do get beat, you’re going to get stick, and if you win, you’re going to get praise. You could probably say there’s a lot more experienced managers who’ve had the job since Sir Alex Ferguson who got as much criticism and things didn’t work out for them.
“I don’t think Ole is listening to any of the criticism, to be honest. I think he’s more concerned about getting the team back to winning ways on a more consistent basis and getting the squad as strong as he can.
“Ole understands the club. He’s been a manager for a while now and he knows where he wants to put the club, back where it belongs. We all understand that doesn’t just happen overnight.
“Is Mauricio Pochettino holding out for the Man United job? You’d have to ask him. I think Ole’s doing a good enough job at the moment. You can never say never to Pochettino at United because that’s football, but Ole won’t be thinking about that at all.”
On Man City’s season so far
“Man City have been very up and down so far this season. When they’ve been good, they’ve been very good. We all know what they can do when they’re playing at the top of their game.
“When they get Kevin De Bruyne on the ball they’re always going to create chances. Riyad Mahrez has been very good out wide, and they’ve acknowledged the problems they’ve previously had at the back.
“But, I still think you can score against Man City. I do have to say the way they play is unbelievable. But they’re most vulnerable at the back.
“With the ball, the players that they have going forward in one-on-one situations, if you’re playing against them you have to be on your game because they will attack you all day long. It’s why they score so many goals. Get them on the break, though, and you can punish them.
“I don’t see Pep Guardiola going anywhere any time soon. He will want to win the Champions League with them, and the Premier League again, obviously. But the Champions League is the big one for him.”
Match prediction: Man United 2-1 Man City
“I reckon both teams will score this weekend. I’m going to go with a 2-1 win for Man United.”