Every week, Sportsnet.ca will chat with soccer commentator James Sharman about the big stories and issues surrounding the Premier League.
SN: What have you made of the job that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has done at Manchester United thus far?
SHARMAN: For a Man United side that hasn’t earned too many positive accolades over the last few seasons, we really should give the brass credit on this one. If you’re going to fire a manager, you may as well do it just before an incredibly soft stretch of matches. That is precisely what has happened here.
There is no case to be made that Manchester United didn’t underachieve under Jose Mourinho for the first part of this season. Man for man, it is a very talented group. Perhaps not a championship calibre group, but a group which should absolutely win its last five matches given the opponents.
What it has allowed Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer to do is implement a slightly different strategy in games, which in turn allowed the skill players to show their skills. The result has been five straight wins, the top players are playing just as if they are the top players, they are smiling, and the confidence is back. Solsjkaer has done exactly what he was supposed to do.
Now, Tottenham this weekend, let’s see just how good this United side really is.
Cesc Fabregas is on the verge of joining AS Monaco. How would you evaluate the Spaniard’s tenure at Chelsea?
At Arsenal, Fabregas was brilliant. In fact, I remember shooting a TV feature once upon a time suggesting that he was most likely to rival Messi and Ronaldo as the best player in the world. Off he went to Barcelona, where he was very good, but clearly played more of a supporting role behind the magicians of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta, before returning to England with Chelsea.
Once again, Fabregas was very good at Chelsea, but was he ever truly great? I am a big fan of Fabregas. He’s such a clever player, and one of the best passers the Premier League has ever seen, but should be remembered as a true all-time great? For me, he falls just below the class of Roy Keane, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Patrick Vieira.
What, if anything, should we read into Liverpool’s FA Cup exit in the third round at the hands of Wolves?
What I read into it is that a newly promoted side can take on an understrength Premier League leader and win. That is impressive, even if by “understrength” I mean a “C-team.”
Liverpool knows what is at stake this season – winning the Premier League title. They already had some injury concerns, not to mention an illness making its way through the squad, so I don’t blame Jurgen Klopp for blooding some young talent against Wolves.
Whenever I see a top side such as Liverpool, in contention on several fronts, crash out of the FA Cup it makes me respect the feat that Manchester United accomplished in 1999. The treble truly is a staggering feat!
We’re just over the halfway point of the season? What’s been the biggest surprise for you in this campaign?
I would have to say the fact that Tottenham is still at Wembley. Sorry Spurs fans, that was a low blow.
I would have to say how close the title race has been the biggest surprise, never mind that Liverpool in first place. I genuinely thought Manchester City would cruise to another title, and it is possible they still will, but I did not envision such a stiff challenge from Liverpool, whose defence is something I still don’t fully believe. Virgil van Dijk has become Vincent Kompany 2.0 this season.