Football Insights – Mikael Silvestre
With the business end of the football season in full swing both on the domestic and European fronts, former Inter Milan, Manchester United and Arsenal defender Mikael Silvestre gave his exclusive insights into his former teams and the Premier League in general. Have a read below about what the former French International had to say and with another massive weekend of football back on the agenda, head over to our boosted odds and see where the traders value lies for the action.
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Mikael Silvestre On Manchester United
What do you make of the job Ole Gunnar Solksjaer is doing at United?
Ole Gunnar Solksjaer is doing a good job at Man United, because he was given the task to improve the team, reboot the culture and bring back the free-flowing football and he’s done that. He’s also done that alongside bringing back the joy amongst the players, the fans and getting United back in Champions League positions, which he’s done. That's why I think he's doing well.
What league position finish would be considered a successful season for United – do they still have an outside chance of pushing City for the title?
You never know in football but with all things considered and if Manchester United push City until the end of the season and stay close, that would be a good performance, especially after a difficult start. Nobody was expecting United to challenge for the title this year, not even Ole was expecting that and at the moment they are in the race.
It's going be tough to stop City, but in football, you never know. So as long as they maintain that distance, and the gap is not too big, they have a chance.
Man United’s next Premier League fixtures are against Newcastle, Chelsea and Man City. Will the next few weeks define their season?
Every run of games in the Premier League gives you an idea of where you stand, but the upcoming tough fixtures are only an instant picture so it doesn't really tell you the full story. They are all important games, but obviously if you play your main rivals in Manchester City and Chelsea, it's time to step up those games and grab the three points. Especially as this year United haven’t done so well against the top teams.
Man United vs Newcastle is one of the biggest games in the Premier League. Do you expect Newcastle to cause an upset?
Over the last few years Newcastle have been difficult to play against. However, I don't feel that Newcastle is in a good spot at the moment between the injuries, COVID and the lack of support Steve Bruce is facing, I think the team also feel that so Newcastle don't seem as dangerous as usual this year. But in football you never know and they have had some good results like beating Everton and drawing against Liverpool.
Should Man United prioritise winning the FA Cup over a Top Four finish this season?
Man United prioritizing competitions isn’t in DNA of the club. They go all in for all trophies, and fight as hard as possible. Obviously, there’s a moment where you can say, this is not the strongest starting 11 because you have to also rest players and pick and choose. However, the philosophy is always to go for all trophies available.
Do you expect Man United to progress past Real Sociedad in the Europa League? Do they have the quality to win the whole competition?
Man United are the favourites to win the Europa League this year. I think they will beat Real Sociedad over two games. If they concentrate and take the competition seriously, which they should, they should go through to the next round.
As it seems that their title push has slowed, should they put more focus on winning a trophy?
It will be the state of mind where there won't be any choices on which trophies to go for. It will be let's go all the way and try our best in every competition and try to get a trophy. Of course, the Premier League will be difficult, but that's not a surprise.
The Europa League is also a difficult competition, so I think it's important for United just to finish top four, getting to into those Champions League places and then get to a final in a Cup competition and go on and win it.
Man United were criticised for their defensive display against West Brom. Do you think this is a problem or just part of the blip in form?
You can criticise both sides of the team which faced West Brom, not just the defence but also the attackers. If you can't break West Brom, then you're going to be struggling against a lot of teams in the Premier League. And that’s not that I'm defending the defenders because I was a defender, it is a reality.
If these teams can hold on to your offense, then their confidence is building and you find it difficult to break them down. For West Brom to score first, that was a massive boost for them. The performance wasn't good enough from everybody in the team that day.
Harry Maguire has had an up and down season – do you think he can be a successful Manchester United captain in the long-term and rival United's best centre backs from previous seasons – the likes of Ferdinand, Vidic, yourself, etc?
The story of Manchester United is about winning titles and being dominant for a number of years. So, if Maguire can manage to be the captain of that team, then he will leave a big imprint and could become a legend. But until then, it’s not going to happen so it's an ongoing work for Harry. He's got a lot of responsibility, but I think he's taking that challenge very well.
Has Paul Pogba shown enough this year to convince Man United to try and keep him? Or is he replaceable?
I think Paul Pogba could play for any team in the world. He has world class qualities although he hasn’t had a world class career at United. That's why all former players like myself and fans and everyone, are still demanding more of him. He's done well, the last two months, coming back to full fitness and scoring some important goals. He’s now confirmed his spot again in the starting 11, which is great.
How impressed have you been with Luke Shaw’s form this season? What do you put it down to?
Luke has been at Manchester United for a while and he's had some difficult times with his injury, then there was a difficult relationship with Jose but I think now he has got the full confidence of Ole. He's been the players’ player of the year not long ago.
His improvement is down to his maturity. He knows how to perform in a consistent way and both defensively and offensively. In truth, he's reached his peak, basically. That's where he is at the moment and if he continues at that level then he should be picked for England.
Do you consider Marcus Rashford to be a world-class centre forward? What does he need to do to take his game to the next level?
Marcus has improved pretty much every season and we forget how young he is. Compared to Luke Shaw, for example, Rashford hasn't reached his peak. When he does reach his peak, I would say within the next two, three years, then he will be a world class.
He's the that the right club, he’s got the right attitude and I’m not even talking about his off-field work, which is fantastic. He's got that mentality where he wants to improve and get better and better, so he will get there eventually.
Has Anthony Martial reached his potential at Manchester United or is there still more to come from him?
There is more to come from Martial but it is down to him. He’s had different managers which has made it more difficult and he came to United when he was young. He's got to recognize that some of the games he doesn't perform as well as he should and he knows that. The question is, can he find the right response? And that's on him to get the response.
How disappointing is it to see Mason Greenwood struggle after such promising signs last season?
Greenwood just signed a new contract, so I don't think he's totally struggling. It is normal for a young player. He broke onto the scene, his contribution last season was great and now he's got to digest that, because now it's expected of him to be there all the time. But as a young player, I've been there and sometimes you lack consistency, but he's still learning his craft in that aspect. I'm very pleased with what is achieved so far.
Do you think Scott McTominay is the future of the Manchester United midfield?
Scott McTominay is another product of the Manchester United academy and his progression, and the way that he’s taking the spot and making his own, shows that he's got the character. That’s both with the United and the National team as well. I think he's going to be there for a while for sure. I've got no doubt.
Should Donny van de Beek be given more game time? Or should we not expect too much from someone in their first year in the Premier League?
I think Donny van de Beek has had the time and the opportunities – he has those opportunities to get into the starting 11 in training every day. I think if you look at his mentality where he's coming from, the humility he is showing, I think we can expect him to stick around and try his best to break into the line-up. We need to give him time.
The same thing happened to Fred, he found it difficult when he first came to the Premier League. It’s the tempo, the new teammates, new style of football. So, you need to remember he’s also another young player who needs time to adapt.
Where does Bruno Fernandes rank amongst the best players in the league?
Fernandes is certainly up there in terms of the best players in the Premier Leagues. In terms of statistics, what he is producing for United, the important goals and important moments of the games. He’s been a key player since he signed.
Since that run last season when the team started playing behind closed doors and United started getting so many points. He was key then and is still the key, so for me he is up there with the top players in the Premier League.
How do you rate Dean Henderson and what do you think the future holds for him?
I think Dean has shown last season that he is up to the level of the Premier League. Again, he’s a young goalkeeper, so he needs a bit of time to progress and master his craft. The right place is competing with De Gea and I think he will get his chance at some point.
But for me, it's the right spot for him to be in at the moment. I think it's been clear that if De Gea’s form dropped, then Henderson would have his chance. David's been there for many years and when you are United if you don't perform, someone else will step in. So, he's got to stay at that level.
In that way he is giving David no space to relax, the competition has got to be healthy and I think that’s the case here.
Can Jesse Lingard still carve out a future for himself at Man United if he continues his impressive form so far at West Ham?
I know Jesse is born and bred Manchester. If he does really well then, he could come back at some point to United in the future. But there are only 11 players who can start the game and competition is too big sometimes at United. It's up to him and as long as he's happy and doing well at West Ham, he can decide later what he wants to do.
How exciting is the signing of Amad Diallo for Man United?
I've seen Amad Diallo play for Atalanta against Manchester City for the Youth League so I know what type of player he is. He is an exciting player that the fans will enjoy watching, he's very good on the one on one, he’s fast, his ball control is very good.
He's got that charisma already for 19-year-old, with no fear. When you are fearless and you're that good, it’s a good starting point as a winger or striker for Manchester United.
Both Manchester United and Arsenal have felt hard done by VAR decisions recently. Do you think some teams are getting treated worse than others?
If you look back since the beginning of VAR, every team has a story about it and whether that goes against them or in their favour. Let's put it this way, everybody has been ‘done’ by VAR, but the referees and the FA have to do better, the system's got to be managed in a better way.
There's too many talking points about VAR and it was supposed to be a plus but we feel like it's becoming a minus for the game itself. However, it's a work in progress.
Mikael Silvestre On Arsenal
What do you make of the job Arteta has done so far at Arsenal? Do you think he is the right man to get Arsenal back to where they want to be? Can Arsenal make it to the Top Four?
You can’t expect a manager to come in and, in a few months, have a revolution straight away and have things the way that he wants them straight away – he needs time. Clearly, they aren’t where they want to be at the moment.
He will feel like he can do better and take the team forward but he needs more time. He’s already won trophies at the club so that’s a great start but it’s been difficult getting the squad he wants together. There have been young players coming in, some other players leaving, as well as a change in staff, so Arteta needs to deal with that.
You almost need to forget that this is Arsenal Football Club who should be challenging for the title and Champions League, as this isn’t going to happen for a little while as Arteta builds up a squad who is capable of this – he needs time to do that!
It will be tough for Arsenal to reach the Top Four this year because the teams above them in the table are better than them, at this moment in time. Arsenal are also lacking consistency so it will be very difficult for them to qualify for the Champions League this season.
Do Arsenal have an automatic advantage when they play Man City as a result of Arteta knowing Pep and his squad so well? Can Arsenal cause an upset when they face them this weekend?
Arteta has a massive advantage when he faces Man City. He has been with them in the Dressing Room, he will know every single player besides for the ones that have just arrived – which is only Diaz.
He’ll be able to give every Arsenal player many tips as to how to deal with them. Of course, everyone knows how City will play, their style of football and how they operate but Mikel has a very deep understanding – so it is a massive advantage.
In the last few games that Arsenal have faced Man City, it has been a fair fight. With the return of Aubameyang and the confidence of the Leeds result, Arsenal can put up a fight and give Man City a tough game.
Do Arsenal have the quality to get past Benfica in the Europa League? Can they go on to win the Europa League? Will that be their best way into the Champions League for next season?
On paper, Arsenal have the quality to get past Benfica in the Europa League. The Europa League is a competition they should really go for. They have the squad for it. Benfica
is also a team that is struggling this season, so it is a good time to play against them. Winning the Europa League is the joker card. Arsenal can have a nice trophy in their cabinet and guarantee Champions League football for the club. So, it is a big, big competition for Arsenal.
Do Arsenal have the most exciting young talent in the league? How important is it for Arsenal to build the future around them?
Arsenal have a very good academy. They have so many good young players that some of them needed to go out on loan – not just in the Championship but also the Premier League, so that is a sign of the talent they have in their squad and the level of those young players.
Of course, you want the youngsters to be involved but they need to earn it. You can’t just play because you’re from the academy – in fact, most of the time it’s the opposite and academy players find it harder to get the game time.
But the youngsters this season have shown they can help the team and all of them have a good mentality. So, hopefully they can all help Arsenal get back to where they should be.
How highly do you rate Kieran Tierney? Do you think he offers more as a modern full back than his fellow countryman Andy Robertson?
It was tough for Tierney when he first came because he was injured but since then, he’s shown his quality that we were used to seeing at Celtic. He can play as a wing back, providing assists, very offensive minded. It is good to see him progressing and getting up to speed with the Premier League.
He’s pretty much the same player as Andy Robertson – they are both exciting modern fullbacks.
When we talk about modern fullbacks, they’re not really ‘modern’ because in the past we’ve had Roberto Carlos and Cafu who were already ‘modern fullbacks’ so it’s not something new! But the spotlight seems to now be on this position nowadays.
Perhaps it is because the wingers operate on the opposite foot, they come inside to look for the ball, so the fullbacks end up providing more crosses than the wingers.
How important is an in form Aubameyang for Arsenal? On form, is he the best striker in the league?
Arsenal need Aubameyang to perform every game for them to be at their best. He is the captain of the club. He’s been having a tough time personally, and when he left the club recently for personal reasons, it wasn’t the same Arsenal.
So, he is key to their success. Aubamyang is up there with the top strikers in the league, up there with Harry Kane. He was top goal scorer not long ago, so he’s very much up there with the others!
How impressed have you been with Bukayo Saka?
I’ve been really impressed with Bukayo Saka. He’s part of the new bunch of academy players at the club – he has a lot of energy and quality going forward. He’s shown his versatility by playing a number of different positions and always plays with a smile on his face.
That’s what you expect from young players. I don’t know where the ceiling is for him but it is an impressive start and it will be very refreshing for the Arsenal fans.
What do you make of Emile Smith-Rowe?
Emile Smith-Rowe is a player that brings a lot of options for Arteta. His loan in Germany wasn’t fantastic but it made him more mature – going abroad, being on his own, learning another language, culture and football style would have been a good challenge for him and has made him stronger.
His game has improved, he is more consistent and is making the right choices more often than not. Arteta now has a positive headache when he needs to choose his team!
How good of a signing was it for Arsenal to get Martin Odegaard?
I tried to sign Martin while I was working at Rennes as a Sporting Director, so I know all about his quality. He’s done really well wherever he has gone in his career and has done a great job at fulfilling his potential.
Throughout his career he has needed to adapt to pressure, from when he broke through in Norway, to signing for Real Madrid and he has been able to cope with that. For Arteta it is a good signing but I think the season will be too short for us to see the best of Odegaard.
He is certainly capable of making a difference but the games are coming thick and fast, so I hope he has an opportunity to bring his quality to the squad.
What do you make of what is going on with William Saliba - do you think he has a future at the club?
I still think he has a future at Arsenal. William Saliba has slotted straight into the team for Nice and has come in and performed very well. It was a good choice for him to go back to a league that he knows so he can restart his career and show his worth to Arsenal when he comes back in pre-season.
What do you make of Willian’s form at Arsenal? Is it just down to a lack of confidence or does he no longer have the quality to perform at the top level?
Willian is a full Brazilian international. He is a world class player. It’s unfortunate that since he’s come to the club, the team has been in the deep for much of the season and so has he – the team has found it difficult as a whole.
But he can bring all his quality and class to the team and I have no doubt that he will be a key player, especially this season as they come to the crunch points of the competitions.
Mikael Silvestre On The Premier League
What has been the problem with Liverpool? What do you make of the fans that are calling for Klopp to be sacked?
The fans that are calling for Klopp to be sacked is a nonsense. When you are winning the league, the only way is down. It is so difficult to maintain that form – physically, mentally – it is just difficult. That’s just human nature.
But more than that, Liverpool have had to contend with major injuries at the back to Van Dijk, Gomez and Matip. The foundation is not there. You win the league when you have a strong defence so it is too much for Liverpool to cope without that.
If you take Diaz, Stones and Laporte out of Man City, then it’s not going to be the same story for them this season. It is unfortunate for Liverpool to be in that situation.
Do you expect Tottenham to have pushed on with a title challenge this season? What do you make of the job that Mourinho has done at the club?
Tottenham is an enigma. Always have been and always will be. Behind the scenes, they have done a tremendous job. They have state of the art facilities, the stadium is amazing – one of the best, if not the best, for football.
But when it comes to success on the pitch, they fail in the decisive moments – the Champions League Final, the title race – and that can change the destiny of a football club.
Right now, everyone would agree that we’re seeing the same old Tottenham. Fancy team, good players but the results aren’t there. Jose was bought in to bring results, he is serial winner who has won trophies everywhere he has been but even he has struggled at the club.
However, he hasn’t been at the club for long so if they stick with him, give him the players that he wants, then they will win trophies with him. It might not be the Premier League but he will have a good chance with the Cup competitions.
Were you disappointed to see Chelsea let go of Lampard so soon? Does the job that Tuchel is doing already show Lampard’s lack of experience?
Knowing how Chelsea operate and the number of managers they have been through, you kind of expected what happened with Lampard – but you would have thought that his legendary status at the club would have given him a little bit more credit and time. But it is a cut-throat industry and at Chelsea, the knives are sharper.
But that chapter with Frank is finished, we need to move on now. As for Tuchel, he is a proven, solid coach who has the experience. He’s got a good squad, well improved. They have spent a lot. He’s got some great young talent, some new players who are just starting to know the club. They’ll keep improving and will be challenging for trophies soon.
Can West Ham finish in the Top Four this season?
You’re joking! But this is the beauty of the Premier League this year – we’ve had Southampton, Everton, Leicester all at the top of the league at points this season. We now have West Ham in the Top Four. I’m not sure how great it is for the bookmakers. West Ham are doing a great job but we still have a long way to go this season – let’s see where West Ham are in May.
Can an English team win the Champions League this year?
An English team can win the Champions League this year – it is wide open. Besides for Bayern Munich, the other big teams are showing some deficiencies.
Do you think the Premier League is still the best league in the world?
The Premier League is the best league for the audience in terms of the entertainment it provides. When you look at the level, people might argue that Spain is more technical, Italy is more tactical and Germany is also as entertaining as the Premier League but when you look at the value of the squad – the Premier League is able to attract the best players and managers and for that reason, it is the best in the world.