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Ben Thornley: Man Utd deserved Liverpool win; Pogba vital for future; Pellistri speaks good English

After the game at Anfield, which was as dull a 0-0 draw you'll ever see, we witnessed a brilliant FA Cup match between Manchester United and Liverpool on Sunday.

Neither side wanted to go to extra time. I think the draw was a fair result last week, but if you look at Sunday, I believe United were on top for the vast majority, especially in the first-half when they were exposing Trent Alexander-Arnold down that left-hand side.

Liverpool played the part, you don't score two goals at Old Trafford if you're not trying to win the game yourselves. But the quality of United's goals - Marcus Rashford's pass to Mason Greenwood, Greenwood returning the favour for the second goal, and Bruno Fernandes' tremendous free-kick - meant they deserved the win. At 2-2, my co-commentator and I thought the game was going to be decided with the next goal, and fortunately it was for United.


THE POGBA WE'VE BEEN WAITING FOR

Manchester United should keep Paul Pogba beyond this season - as long as he keeps performing as he has done in the last five to six games.

Pogba has benefitted greatly from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer playing him in one or two positions which are more advanced. That isn't to say when he has the deep-lying role that he can't be effective. If you think against Liverpool, our first goal came from an absolutely brilliant tackle from Pogba on the edge of our own box. Having him in that sort of form can only be brilliant for Manchester United and the way the team plays. He is a such a huge player when he performs at his best. And not only that, but in recent games he has started adding goals to his game.

He scored the match-winner against Burnley, but the goal against Fulham was another level. It was at the end where I was commentating and I was looking into his eyes as he was coming across the pitch with the ball. You could see him glance up, looking to chip the ball at the back post, and when he realised that there wasn't anybody on, he thought you know what, I'm having a go myself, and he bent that ball with an inch of room between the fingertips of Alphonso Areola's fingertips and the post, but he managed to find it with an incredible strike.

It is no coincidence Manchester United have ended up top of the league with a confident, motivated Paul Pogba performing like the footballer we were all waiting for him to be. He is that big of a player and a major key to how successful we will be over the next four or five months, because if he continues to perform like that I don't see anybody getting near him in the midfield.


CREDIT FOR SOLSKJAER

I don't think it's any secret that United need a result against one of the big clubs. Solskjaer's side have got where they are by turning last season's results on their head. Last season they were coming unstuck by teams at the bottom, games you'd expect them to win. But they were performing very well against teams who were in and around them. This season, they've lost to Tottenham and Arsenal, and drawn with Liverpool, Manchester City, Leicester City and Chelsea. The only win they've got against a team who is not too far away from them is Everton. It is vitally important going forward that we need to beat three or four of those teams when we come to face them in the second-half of the season.

The last time we lost away from home was last January against Liverpool, and they went 30 points clear of us in the Premier League. So to see that if we win on Wednesday night, Liverpool will wake up having to play Tottenham away or else sit nine points behind us, just shows how amazing the transformation has been under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The way the team has responded to his philosophy and ideas has been nothing short of sensational. The players need credit, the manager needs credit, the coaching staff needs credit. I don't think anybody thought that when we lost to Arsenal at the end of September that come the end of January we'd be sitting here in the fifth round of the FA Cup after beating Liverpool and challenging at the top of the Premier League table. It's an absolutely brilliant story and it ain't over yet.


YOUNG PLAYERS CAN DEVELOP IN U23s

Facundo Pellistri speaks very good English already, so I'm not so sure whether that is going to make much of a difference if he goes on loan in England or Spain.

I just think it will come to what is a good fit for the club. I commentated an U23s game last week and neither Pellistri nor Alvaro Fernandez were involved. I don't know why that was the case because as far as I can remember that's the first game I've seen either of them miss since they arrived. They've both fitted in extremely well at the club. Pellistri has done really well when I've seen him in the U23s and has scored a few goals.

But where the first-team are at the moment, I don't think there is much room for some of the U23s to force themselves into the team with them performing so well. Solskjaer has also been very fortunate that he hasn't had to deal with many injuries or suspensions either. So that makes it doubly difficult for the U23s, even for a place on the bench at the moment.

This is a decision quite a few of these lads are going to have to make, along with Nicky Butt and Solskjaer, and weigh up the benefits about leaving on loan. It's got to be an individual case scenario as to whether they think that the club that they are going to go too is a good fit.

But United have got an U23s side and they want to develop that side. Neil Wood has done brilliantly with that team and wants the opportunity to develop those players himself.

United have one of the youngest average age teams in Premier League 2. This means the players can do quite a lot of their learning because they are already coming up against lads that are a couple of years their senior, so it is not imperative that they go on loan straight away.

They've got a learning curve already under Neil Wood and playing these U23 games, but like in any career, like it did with me during my time at United, a time comes when an opportunity arises for you to test yourself in league football. Di'Shon Bernard is doing that at Salford, Ethan Laird has gone to MK Dons, James Garner at Watford. And if it is a good fit and it works and it improves their game then it can only help Manchester United in the long run.



Ben Thornley
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Ben Thornley

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