Choccy’s Diary: More questions than answers, Premier League return and Scotland’s woes

In his latest diary entry Brian McClair discusses the weekend's Premier League action, previews the Europa League and looks ahead to the Rugby World Cup, as well as being called "weird" by a former teammate...
Brian McClair  |  18th September 2019

Choccy’s Tales

As an ex-player I often attend events where I get to chat to supporters and speak to those who used to watch from the terraces back when I used to grace the field, and this often gives those in attenndance the chance to ask us a question or two about our playing days.

I’ve lost count of the different subjects which have been put to me over the years but at a charity event in Macclesfield  recently I think I was asked probably the most bizarre question ever when I was grilled about which player I would love to have elbowed the most!

Anyone that remembers me as a player will know that it would never be my intention to cause any harm to a fellow pro, regardless of the levels of provocation, so I tactfully avoided giving an answer by side-stepping the issue and changing the subject to something much more interesting instead. 

As if that wasn’t enough, I was also informed recently that, also at a question and answer event, former Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes referred to me as “weird.”

Now I’m not sure what the question was or the nature of the conversation and to be honest, I wouldn’t normally mind; but coming from a character such as Scholesy, that is rich to say the least.

 Not so Slight Return

After the international break, like most people, I imagine, I was delighted to see the return of domestic football last weekend in what turned out to be quite an eventful few days – especially when it comes to the Premier League title race.

I’ve always thought it must be so difficult for managers coming off the back of these international fixtures as teams often don’t get together until 24-hours before kick-off and losing Paul Pogba will have obviously been a blow for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

That said, I was quite impressed with United’s win over Leicester and, let’s face it, if the Reds are going to mount a top-four challenge, they need to win their home matches so three points against a decent outfit is not to be sniffed at. 

Incredibly, the second clean sheet so far this campaign equals the number of home shutouts by Solskjaer’s men for the entire 2018/19 season – so that’s another positive.

Leicester had a lot of the ball and might feel unlucky to have got nothing out of the game, but if anything, United out-foxed the Foxes by playing on the counter-attack; something which I feel might be the way forward as United look to build a team for the future and recent press speculation linking James Maddison to Old Trafford would be a move in the right direction for me.

I have to say I was impressed with Liverpool’s performance on Saturday afternoon who responded well to going down early against Newcastle at Anfield as they increased their lead at the top of the Premier League.

Conceding early seemed to shock them into action and after that it was a little like the Alamo at times as they laid siege on the Magpies’ goal and you felt as soon as they found the equailizer there would be only one winner.

One thing that didn’t impress me so much was the physical condition of my old pal and United team-mate Steve Bruce, who I saw being interviewed before the game, a man who once said to me that I’d be a fat so-and-so when I finish.

Well, sorry Brucie, but how did that work out? Because when I saw you on the touchline at Anfield on Saturday I thought you had a bag of balls stuffed up your jumper!  

Of course, Liverpool’s win was followed by Manchester City’s surprise defeat to Norwich a few hours later, a loss that seemed almost self-inflicted the way that the Champions defended at times.

In my opinion centre halves are there to tackle, head the ball and man-mark, but it seems we are now in an era where defenders are expected to play-out from the back, even if they are not comfortable doing so, and that was certainly City’s undoing on Saturday.

I actually spent Saturday afternoon trying to watch the Liverpool versus Newcastle game and Celtic’s trip to Hamilton and probably the biggest thing I took from the latter was the state of the playing surface.

I know teams in Scotland favour artificial surfaces and it allows them to play in all weathers, but you can’t tell me it’s not a disadvantage for visiting sides as the ball was spinning like a Shane Warne googly at times; not just making it tricky for defenders, but also contributing to a pretty difficult watch.

All Scotland’s Eggs in one Basket

Another reason I was glad to see the back of the international break were the two dismal performances by Scotland which resulted in a couple costly defeats as they look to qualify for the European Championships in 2020.

Not many of the Tartan Army will have expected much from the Belgium game as that team are a class above the rest, but the defeat to Russia was particularly hard to take seeing as they now stretch their lead over Scotland to some nine points.

At least we still have the Nations League to give us a second shot at qualification and looking at the group, with Scotland lagging behind the likes of Kazakhstan and Cyprus I think it’s time for Scotland to put all their eggs in that basket if they are to be involved next summer.

Europe provides a different challenge for United and Celtic

The first round of fixtures in the Europa League sees two of my old teams in action this week as they begin continental campaigns which I think both United and Celtic are more than capable of making the most of.

Of course, the league should always be a priority, but I don’t see why the Europa League should be a hindrance. Both are huge clubs with plenty of European pedigree and winning is a habit and winning silverware should always be a priority.

Having seen what the European Cup Winners’ Cup victory of 1991 did for Manchester United in the following years, I for one am more than aware of just how important a successful campaign, in any competition, can be for even the biggest names in the game.

Neil Lennon

Egg Chasing

Having put my Australian passport back in the drawer for another two years following the end of the final Ashes Test match of the summer I will now be turning my attentions to the Rugby World Cup which kicks off in Japan this weekend.

The New Zealand All Blacks will be looking to make it three wins on the bounce and the current World Champions will be hot favourites once again this year, though I can see the likes of Wales, South Africa and Ireland having a say in the outcome of the tournament.

Let’s not discount Scotland, of course, who still feel aggrieved at the nature of their exit at the hands of Australia in 2015 and will be looking to cause a few upsets again this time around as the Scots love to do more than pretty much anyone else! 

 

 

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