SAMUEL: United and Chelsea both need to drop their goalkeepers

MARTIN SAMUEL: Manchester United and Chelsea both need to drop their goalkeepers… at least Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a back-up – Frank Lampard is cornered

  • David de Gea and Kepa Arrizabalaga both need to be dropped by their managers 
  • Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a back-up in Sergio Romero – Frank Lampard does not  
  • Lampard has a tough decision, especially if Chelsea want to finish in the top four

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a problem, but it is not as big as Frank Lampard’s problem. It is, however, the same problem. They need to drop their goalkeepers.

David de Gea’s confidence is gone. Up against Jamie Vardy and Leicester on Sunday, there is a very real chance another mistake would cost Manchester United a place in the Champions League — just as it cost them their tilt at the FA Cup final a week ago.

Equally, Kepa Arrizabalaga is no longer a shot-stopper at Chelsea. He concedes more goals from fewer strikes than any goalkeeper in the Premier League. And Chelsea, too, cannot afford a defeat in the final game of the season. Lampard has left him out before, and it is time to do it again.

David de Gea’s confidence is gone – an error at Leicester may cost his side a top four place

Kepa Arrizabalaga is no longer a shot-stopper at Chelsea – it is time he is left out again

Yet that is the complication. Solskjaer has, as De Gea’s understudy, Sergio Romero, who has proved very reliable when called upon in cup competitions over many seasons. 

Arrizabalaga’s replacement is Willy Caballero, who won his place as first-choice earlier in the year, then just as quickly surrendered it because he looked unconvincing.

It would be a huge call for either manager to jettison an established No 1 in the last game — but the alternative is to deny an obvious flaw in the team and what if it costs?

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a problem but at least he has an understudy to call upon

Sir Alex Ferguson famously dropped Jim Leighton for Les Sealey between the 1990 FA Cup final and its replay, and was rewarded with a clean sheet against Palace and the trophy.

But England manager Steve McClaren procrastinated over Paul Robinson and by the time he brought Scott Carson in for the final European Championship group game against Croatia in 2007, the pressure to qualify was too great and it crushed him.

It is more than two years since Romero played in the Premier League for United, but he last conceded a goal in the competition on August 30, 2015, at Swansea.

This is not the same for Caballero, whose run in the Premier League and Champions League in February saw him ship 10 goals in five matches, with Chelsea only winning one. It is why Chelsea’s longer-term strategy will prove costlier, too.

Frank Lampard would have to turn to Willy Caballero, who has looked unconvincing

United feel they have De Gea’s replacement in waiting with Dean Henderson, who has impressed on loan at Sheffield United. Chelsea are contemplating attempting to prise Jan Oblak from Atletico Madrid at vast expense.

Yet that would be impossible without Champions League football next season — another reason why Lampard’s call for this one has to be right.

Last weekend, United’s defenders looked to have lost their faith in De Gea.

On Wednesday, Liverpool appeared to know they had the beating of Arrizabalaga from range. So both managers have decisions to make — but Lampard has more to lose, if he is not to be stuck with this dilemma for another year.

Romero last conceded a goal in the Premier League on August 30, 2015, at Swansea

Perhaps the joke is on Bale

Gareth Bale is a better prankster than he is a footballer at the moment and that is a great pity.

Sitting on the bench at Real Madrid, he often finds a way to push the buttons of his local critics, whether by pretending to be asleep or mocking them spying on him by miming binoculars. All good knockabout fun.

Yet what Bale does not do anymore is play. He has started one game for his club since appearing against Celta Vigo on February 16.

Jonathan Barnett, his agent, talks of suitors not being able to pay his client’s enormous wages but Bale is 31 now. He’ll be done soon and maybe only then will he realise, as one of the world’s best players, that he should have played more. Unless he really doesn’t like football.

In matches, however, it’s never seemed that way.

Gareth Bale is a better prankster than he is a footballer at the moment and that is a great pity

Countdown to disaster will haunt Forest’s fans for years

All fans like to think of their club as uniquely problematic, no matter how successful they might be. Manchester City supporters still fondly imagine they follow a team of underdogs who always find ways to mess up, even when the reality is title after title, Pep Guardiola as manager and the wealthiest owners in the league.

Liverpool fans think their team do it the hard way, although they had the title as good as won in January and led their last Champions League final from the third minute against a team who finished 26 points south in the same division.

Spare a thought this morning, though, for the supporters of Nottingham Forest.

On Wednesday they found a means of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory that may live in their battle-scarred memories for decades.

Forest began the night with a simple task: draw at home to Stoke. If they had done that, it would have guaranteed a place in the promotion play-offs. Task two: just don’t lose heavily.

Forest kicked off three points and five goals better than Swansea, who were playing Reading. As long as they didn’t lose with a six-goal swing, Forest were in the top six. This is how the night unfolded.

17min: Swansea 1-0 up. Forest in play-offs by one point.

19min: Stoke 1-0 up. Forest in play-offs by +3 goal difference.

43min: Swansea 1-1. Forest in play-offs by two points.

61min: Forest 1-1. Forest in play-offs by three points.

66min: Swansea 2-1 up. Forest in play-offs by one point.

73min: Stoke 2-1 up. Forest in play-offs by +3 goal difference.

78min: Stoke 3-1 up. Forest in play-offs by +2 goal difference.

84min: Swansea 3-1 up. Forest in play-offs by +1 goal difference.

90+1min: Swansea 4-1 up. Swansea in play-offs by +4 goals scored.

90+6min: Stoke 4-1 up. Swansea in play-offs by +1 goal difference.

And that last one? It was an own goal. So if you think your team have found ways to cause anguish this season, compared to Nottingham Forest they are spoofing. Unless you support Wigan, of course, because that’s another level of misfortune altogether.

Nottingham Forest missed out on a place in the play-offs on the final day of the campaign

Southgate has to leave Buk to the future 

Bukayo Saka has had an excellent debut season for Arsenal but that’s all it is: one season. For the next campaign, Saka has been given the No 7 shirt worn by Liam Brady, David Rocastle and Robert Pires, which is testament to his talent.

Yet Matteo Guendouzi showed enormous promise in his first year at the club, too, and now Mikel Arteta does without him. So the news that Nigeria are willing to fast-track Saka into their team to take him away from England should not influence Gareth Southgate one iota.

Saka, who was born in Ealing, has represented England at age-group levels from Under 16 onwards and may be promoted to the Under 21 team next season, despite only turning 19 in September. Anything more at this stage could do him more harm than good.

Saka could have an exciting future with England as a left wing back, but it is his call. Southgate has never treated international qualification as a bidding contest and should not start now.

Gareth Southgate should not be influenced by Nigeria’s willingness to fast-track Bukayo Saka

Leeds can do better after Ayala overplays his hand

Daniel Ayala messed Middlesbrough around for much of last season. He picked up an injury on January 1 and did not kick a ball for them after that. 

This spell of inactivity coincided with a change of agent, a wrangle over his new contract and the desire to leave in January. With his deal expiring on June 30, Ayala would not sign a temporary extension and was ultimately unwelcome at the club. 

As Boro struggled, coach Jonathan Woodgate lost his job. It is fair to say his employers were unimpressed with the player’s behaviour and a breach of contract dispute is with the PFA.

There were suggestions Ayala’s head had been turned by Leeds but no move to Elland Road has arrived.

Now promoted, maybe Leeds are thinking bigger than a centre half who will be 30 in November and whose Premier League career comprises 26 matches and two relegations. 

Ayala no doubt thinks he has shown himself better than Middlesbrough but he has shown something else, too, which could be why he is now among the ranks of the unemployed.

Leeds United might be thinking bigger than Daniel Ayala now they have been promoted

Fans to pay for police blunder 

Mark Roberts, who is this country’s leading police officer with responsibility for football, got it wrong.

Using home venues for matches was never going to be the problem for Project Restart. It was the celebrations in the city centres that would challenge governmental advice on social distancing; parties the police appeared ill-equipped or unwilling to prevent.

Not until late on Wednesday night did Merseyside police issue a dispersal order, and a woman officer was injured in ugly scenes in Leeds.

Ultimately, it did not matter where the matches were played. The location of the people was far more important and as an expert in the field it is surprising Roberts did not appreciate this.

Now watch as these gatherings involving thousands who, while following a team, may never have been to a match, are used as an excuse to delay the return of supporters to stadiums.

When it is said that Manchester City need a centre half, what is imagined is a transformative figure in the mould of Virgil van Dijk, not just a decent player. 

Nathan Ake is very useful and has done well with Bournemouth. What he isn’t is Van Dijk. Even with Aymeric Laporte fit, City will need more. 

Nathan Ake is very useful and has done well with Bournemouth but City need more than him

Manager of the month is no longer an award, more club policy at Watford, but the next one apparently has the job of lowering the average age of the squad.

Against Manchester City, three of Watford’s XI were under 29 and only Adrian Mariappa was a graduate of the youth system — although long before the club was taken in another direction by the Pozzo family. Yet whose fault is that?

Watford managers seem to have as much say in club strategy as Elton John’s tambourine player: they get what they are given and have a year or less to make it work. No wonder they do not risk youth. If that is the demand now, it is a tacit admission Watford, the club, have got it wrong.

Had Sheffield United foreseen eighth or even 10th at the start of the season it would have felt like a triumph. 

What a pity, then, that a mid-table position in their first year back in the Premier League is something of an anti-climax, given where the club was before lockdown. 

Yet Sheffield United were everybody’s candidates for relegation this season and what Chris Wilder has done is remarkable. It is going to be harder next year and one hopes the club remembers that a top-half finish is in no way par for this course. 

Birmingham have retired Jude Bellingham’s No 22 shirt. He’s played one season, made 44 appearances, scored four goals and the club came 20th. (It would have been 21st had Wigan not been deducted 12 points.) 

Maybe the person making that decision should be retired, too. 

News just in: Trevor Francis, who scored as many goals against Bolton on February 20, 1971, as Bellingham did in his Blues career, seen going to the pub with the ghosts of Joe Bradford and Gil Merrick. ‘I may be some time,’ says Trev. 

Birmingham announced they would retire Judge Bellingham’s No 22 shirt after one season

If the opportunity presents itself again at Old Trafford these next few days, Dom Sibley should dig in for the long haul and to hell with his critics. England have plenty of shot players in the batting line-up. The value of one man keeping them company and frustrating the hell out of the bowlers in the process cannot be overstated.

Sibley’s 120 across more than nine hours did as much as anyone to set up victory in the second Test, and his team-mates know that.

Nobody could have foreseen the impact of a global pandemic on sport. Even so, having a Canadian presence in a European competition always seemed risky stategy for rugby league. 

Toronto Wolfpack have now withdrawn from this season’s competition, citing issues with finance, logistics and visa qualifications for some of their players. It was an ambitious strategy for the Super League but one with built-in vulnerability to any shift in economic momentum. 

So while Covid-19 could not have been anticipated, Toronto Wolfpack’s issues are hardly a surprise.

That vulnerable schoolgirls, some as young as 11, were subjected to verbal bullying and physical attacks from China’s national coaches in pursuit of success must have come as the biggest surprise to the world of ice skating since Bild-Zeitung outed John Curry as gay in 1976. 

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