Gary Neville has warned Man Utd they cannot keep making slow starts to games when fans return, has likened Edinson Cavani’s influence to that of Eric Cantona and Mark Hughes 20 years ago at Old Trafford, and predicted Mason Greenwood has the potential to play for England as a centre-forward.
Speaking on the Gary Neville Podcast following United’s 3-1 win at Tottenham, the Sky Sports pundit also had his say on Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham, the battle to finish in the top four and the future of VAR after yet more unedifying controversy…
Neville on…Manchester United’s slow starts and the win at Spurs
“First half nothing happened, and then all of a sudden the game came alive. The United performance in the second half was outstanding. Spurs were just not able to cope, irrespective of whether you wanted something more from them – I did, and I thought it was a really disappointing show given what was at stake for them – but United were absolutely outstanding.
“They came out second half and were just a different team, with urgency. Something sparks them and then all of a sudden they come alive.
“They can’t keep doing that, because when fans are in the stadium, if teams like Spurs get in front of them, with the fans behind them, they won’t be allowed to be as insipid as they were in the second half, Spurs.
“I think they’ve got to sort it out, Manchester United. But if you’re looking for character in a football side: winning away from home, winning from behind, winning when you’re not playing well, being good on set-pieces, those things that define resilience and good character, they’re the things you look at, and this United team have it in abundance at the moment.
“Second half they were breathtaking at times, and some of the football was brilliant.”
Neville on…Manchester United keeping Cavani
“Tottenham had a throw with two minutes to go, and Cavani was moving between the centre-backs trying to stop the ball from being thrown in, and he’s organising where Greenwood should be. I thought: ‘Greenwood needs another year of Cavani being alongside him.’
“It inspired us as young players when you saw great players like Bryan Robson and Steve Bruce and Eric Cantona and Mark Hughes. And you see the best players in the world, or those who have been the best in the world like Cavani, doing his work like that in the 94th minute, someone like Mason Greenwood, who needs people who are mentors, good standards above him, who can coach him on the pitch, I just thought him and Marcus Rashford need another year of Cavani.
“He’s been a really brilliant example. I was a little bit nervous of him coming in, because of Falcao, Alexis Sanchez, showcase signings. This one has been different. He’s really applied himself brilliantly and has been a big help to Manchester United.
“He does the right things. The right movements. It’s clockwork, that run across the defender, across the near post, the one you’re always trying to get young strikers to do.”
Neville on…the potential of Mason Greenwood
“I know I speak a lot about Greenwood, but I do think he’s a different level, with his composure and precision in the final third.
“I do think if Harry Kane gets injured, I look at that England centre-forward position and think: ‘Who has his composure?’
“I do think Greenwood can play centre-forward in international football, it’s whether he’s got enough time to impress Gareth Southgate with a few weeks to go.”
Neville on…Leicester’s battle to stay in the top four
“I worry about Leicester. I think they really could struggle in the next few weeks. There was an issue with the team selection at West Ham, but it’s also an issue because it’s three players in your dressing room, and what impact does it have at this stage of the season.
“They’re seeing those clubs just creep up on them now. Chelsea are waiting, Liverpool are waiting. It will be a big effort for Leicester – I hope they do it, because it would cement the work Brendan Rodgers has done over a couple of years at Leicester, but looking at them now, they could go again. They are wobbling. West Ham look stronger than them at the moment.”
Neville on..whether Jesse Lingard could return to Man Utd
“We know he’s a good player.
“United have a big decision to make. Do they cash in and get good money for him, and then replenish the squad in an area they want to, and bring extra quality? Or do they think he’s part of a good 23-man squad? He can’t lose with the decision, Solskjaer.
“Lingard’s value has gone up, Jesse is enjoying himself, so he either comes back to United or plays a big part in a title challenge, or he gets a good move, United get the money for him, and they can use that money to spend elsewhere. I don’t think United or Lingard can lose, it’s a win-win for both parties.”
Neville on…what next for Tottenham and Mourinho
“In the last five or six minutes, it didn’t look like an invigorated Jose Mourinho on the touchline, urging his team forward or driving his team forward.
“It’s a massive day for Tottenham in two weeks, a big day for Jose Mourinho and a big day for these players. They could raise their game, there’s no doubt they’ve got players who could cause City problems, but I just looked to him in those last five or 10 minutes and there was a blankness on his face where he just didn’t look engaged and that would be a worry.
“With 10 minutes to go, you’re sometimes wary of calling the game in terms of Manchester United, but you almost felt like United were in complete control – Spurs weren’t throwing any punches. You expect a team at home who are one goal behind to be throwing punches with 10 minutes to go.
“Even when United were in the corner and running the clock down, there wasn’t that urgency to go and win the ball back. Usually you see teams scrambling to get the ball back, fighting with players, pushing them off and I didn’t see it.
“That would be a real worry for me. It’s body language, it’s the intent that you want to see in a team. I didn’t like what I saw in the second half from Spurs today and that’s not to say they’ve turned on the manager, he’s lost the changing room, I’m not saying those things, but I didn’t like it. It didn’t feel right.”
Neville on…Liverpool finishing in the top four
“It was a massive result for Liverpool, they couldn’t afford really to lose. It’s really important that Liverpool get into the top four. They won the title last season and have had an exceptional three years, now that they’ve got the chance to get into that top four, you couldn’t say it’s a priority over the Champions League, but the reality of it is that from where they’ve been, and they’ve had some difficult moments in these last few months, that [top four] would be a good result at the end of this season for Liverpool. I think that [beating Aston Villa] was a big moment for them.
“They were really poor in Madrid in midweek, and they’ve given themselves a lot to do and I’m not sure they have got it in them to do it because at Anfield they’ve not been great – even against Aston Villa, they’re scrambling to win late on. With a crowd in, it’s a different story, but I think they’re going to go out of the Champions League. I might be wrong, but it would seem now that they’ve got the top four to concentrate on.
“If they get into the top four at the end of it, it would be a half-decent result for them.”
Tottenham now go to Everton in the Premier League on Friday Night Football, live on Sky Sports Premier League at 8pm, while Manchester United host Granada in the Europa League quarter-final second leg at 8pm on Thursday, leading 2-0 from the first leg.