Talking Football with…. Mikael Silvestre: Manchester Derby, North London Derby Preview
We sat down once again with Mikael Silvestre as part of our exclusive series of interviews with the former France international. We quizzed Silvestre on his two former Premier League sides ahead of massive matches this weekend.
- We have the Manchester Derby this weekend. United come into as underdogs but they’ve upset the odds against Liverpool and Arsenal already this season. Do you think they can do it again?
It’s possible they can create an upset. They’ve shown more resilience, especially away from home. They are ready to fight as a team, to defend the goal, the results. They could put up a good fight and then going forward, I think they will create opportunities because City are not at their best defensively right now.
There could be an upset, maybe a draw. Even if we expect City to be dominant in possession.
- Do you expect United to play in a similar fashion as they did against Liverpool and Arsenal? Will it be a game for quick transitions against City?
It’s one of their strengths. The way football is evolving, you have to. It’s just easier. More space is better for the players to express themselves and take advantage of the high positions, especially away from home.
I don’t expect United to be necessarily focusing on sitting deep. But, you know how City pressure and the way they operate going forward, you’re gonna be under pressure defending 30,40 yards away from the goal and that means there is space if you manage to and when you manage to recover the ball.
- Which United players do you think will be key against Man City?
Raphael Varane for his leadership at the back. The partnership with Lisandro Martinez will be important, and Christian Eriksen for sure. Away from home, you need to work for the team and recover the ball, protect the back four.
Again as soon as you manage to recover, you need to find those players that can keep the ball and play forward. So, he’s the man with Bruno. I think Christian has shown the reason why so far he’s been United’s signing of the summer.
- Christian Eriksen won Man Utd’s player of the month award for September. He seems to have taken his excellent club form into his performances for Denmark during the international break. How impressed have you been with the midfielder since he joined Manchester United?
He looks like he’s found his rhythm again before the incident and he’s shown his class. I’ve been impressed by how quickly he’s adapted to his teammates. He’s 31 now so he knows himself. But to get to know your teammates, their tendencies and how they want to receive the ball, their movements. That takes a bit of time but for him it was pretty quick.
A lot of players have benefited from no summer tournament and a proper pre-season. He’s one of them. He had time to get ready and to adapt.
- Scott McTominay has been one of the most criticised players at Man Utd but now looks to be a bonafide starter. What do you think about his improvement?
Well, I think in a lot of people’s minds he wouldn’t be a first-choice starter, especially when you have Casemiro, Fred in the same position. But still, United don’t have many other players in that area of the field. Frenkie de Jong was supposed to be the target. So therefore there is not a lot of competition and Scott has proven that when he was given the chances, he delivered.
And he’s been doing what he knows best which is to be strong in the challenges, winning the ball back and play simple. Because, when you have Bruno and Eriksen in the team. As a midfield player, you don’t need to be creative. So I think that suits his repertoire, he doesn’t need to overplay. So, it’s good for him and he’s doing well.
- Do you see McTominay keeping his place or is it time to start Casemiro?
I guess it’s just about managing everybody’s game time and travel with their national teams. So, I’m not sure about how much he’s being involved with the national team. I think that’s one element of the decision, but on form, he should be starting.
- Marcus Rashford should be fit for the Manchester Derby. Should he start or should Cristiano Ronaldo play from the off?
I think right now, away from home against City, I would start Marcus and put Cristiano on later in the game. Cristiano has been away for Portugal. Naturally I would go for Marcus to start the game especially as he’s been in very good form and has confidence. I would keep it that way.
- There were some reported leaked quotes from one of Harry Maguire’s friends in ESPN this week. They said that Maguire was frustrated with David De Gea’s communication and inability to defend too far from his goal line. Claiming that this was one of the main reasons for United’s poor defensive displays last season. Is this fair?
That’s strange because David’s been here 12 years. Out of those 12 years, the majority of those seasons have been very, very good. He’s been excellent.
In regards to the communication, maybe in some games he hasn’t been as vocal, but I don’t know, I don’t know what to say about these quotes.
- Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal tried Tyrell Malacia at the left side of a back three. Post match he said: “‘The defensive work he did very well, but the constructive work in the build-up could have been a lot better.” Is this something you feel he will need to improve upon for Manchester United?
I believe he sometimes gets caught in the build-up. Maybe he should sometimes be simpler in his decision-making and quicker when he recovers the ball to look forward. He’s still young, we need to give him time. So far, he’s shown to be a real competitor for that position.
- The Gunners will be up against Tottenham this weekend. What’s your prediction for this game?
It will be electric, that’s for sure. I think the way the teams are playing right now, the way the managers are pushing the games, they are passionate. I think there will be a real battle everywhere on the pitch.
And it’s hard to predict who’s gonna finish on top. It’s gonna be an exciting game, that’s for sure. I see a lot of goals, maybe a draw, but it’s gonna be like a boxing match.
- Would you say that these are the two best sides in England right now behind Man. City?
The table shows that they are there. Right now, they are performing well. I’ve been a little bit more impressed with Arsenal than Tottenham but the way Conte is managing the team is impressive. They always seem to get something in set pieces, on the counter. Previously, they would lack character. They are showing that much more now with Conte in charge.
- Which players do you think will be key for Arsenal and Spurs in the derby?
Few manage to stop Harry Kane from scoring. Son’s just scored three goals in his last game but Kane is still the main one. So, Saliba, Gabriel and Benjamin White will start at the back four and Arsenal have the big task of stopping Kane from scoring.
And then for Arsenal, Odegaard is the playmaker and he has a lot of influence. He’s captain this year and he has the most to offer. I know Jesus is highly rated and and one of the main guys but if I have to pick one, it’s probably Martin Odegaard.
- Thomas Partey could miss the North London Derby as there are some injury concerns. How big of a blow do you think this is for Arsenal?
He is a big piece of the puzzle for Mikel Arteta. Arsenal is showing they are stretched as soon as there is an injury to Xhaka or Partey. They are short on bodies so it could be problematic this season.
Partey is showing he is good on the ball. He has got that physicality that is needed in the middle part, he is making challenges. So if he doesn’t play, that is trouble for Arsenal.
- Do you think Albert Sambi Lokonga provides suitable cover for Partey?
He is still learning and adapting to the Premier League. He is showing a lot of focus and dedication. So, he can step up and fill Partey’s boots but still, it is asking a lot from a young player. When you play those types of games, the derbies, it can be repressive sometimes. But he was a captain at Anderlecht. I think he knows how to deal with this situation, even though he is still a young player.
- What did you make of France’s performances in the international break?
So it was a strange time for the manager because there were a lot of injuries. The squad is already young, but there were more young players involved. So a mixture of results, and performances – collectively and individually. It has been a lot of testing, testing ten days for the squad.
When you lose against Denmark, that you are going to face in the World Cup group stage. I know that two teams will qualify, but still, it is not looking good. It doesn’t fill you with a lot of confidence.
Maybe it is a good thing to look in the mirror before you get into the competition. And certainly, it will humble everyone, cause that is a risk when you are the winner of the previous tournament, you can be overconfident sometimes. Now it is going to be the opposite. We need to gain more confidence.
- Heading to the World Cup, what are some major weaknesses that Didier Deschamps needs to work on?
I think he needs to establish the starting eleven which has been missing over the last few months. With the injuries of certain players, I think, over the pitch, we haven’t got an identified starting eleven and that is a bit problematic.
We are not sure who is going to start right-back, left-back. The only players we know for certain are probably Mbappe, Lloris, Varane and Benzema. The rest? There are question marks all over the place. Maybe Dembele will start, but because of the injuries, it is difficult to pick a starting eleven.
- We saw Olivier Giroud back in action for the national side. Who do you think functions better as a starter for France? Giroud or Karim Benzema?
I think Giroud can be part of the squad as long as he accepts the role of starting on the bench. I think he has got maturity and he is scoring for Milan. Even if he didn’t score in the 2018 World Cup.
He is three goals away from Thierry Henry’s record, top goal scorer for the national team. But Benzema is competing for the Ballon d’Or. It sums up his level. He is at the top at the moment. So we need a fit Benzema, and maybe Giroud on the bench, we will see.
- Were you concerned by William Saliba’s performance vs Denmark?
Yeah, he wasn’t that bad but the manager took him off at half-time. He was in a back three with a total of 13 caps between them. I’ve looked at the goals, and I don’t think he is to be blamed for this personally for any of them. It just wasn’t a strong performance from him but I am not concerned about his form. He has the mental strength to bounce back, and still be in the squad for the World Cup.
- How impressed were you by Denmark, and do you think they could have an outside chance to go far in the World Cup?
They’ve got something which is crucial for the tournaments like this, which is team spirit. Of course, they’ve got quality players, playing for top clubs in Europe. But they’ve got that team spirit.
They’ve got a certain way to approach the competition and they see themselves as outsiders. In population terms, they are a small county. They should at least get out of the group, and they could go far as they did at the Euros. Maybe the one thing they’re missing is depth on the bench but with some luck, they could go far.
- There is a lot of pressure on Gareth Southgate and England right now. What is going wrong?
They can’t win. They can’t replicate the form they showed at the Euros. It has been problematic because the confidence is dropping. They don’t have a lot of other opportunities to boost that confidence before the first game. Before the World Cup there won’t be any friendlies for England so it is crucial that everyone gets together. It is a testing time for the Three Lions for sure.
- Southgate has often ignored form and stuck by the players who have been key to England in recent years. Should international managers pick players on form or suitability to the team?
I think in general it should be based on form. Over the last few months, the squad has not been reflecting the players’ form. It is important during the season to select the players on form. Everybody will believe that they have a chance, and everybody will fight. Then after you give yourself more chance to win the games.
When you select the squad for the tournament, it could be a bit different. You try to find the balance. Some players will be great teammates, even if they know that they are going to be starting from the bench for the majority of the tournament.
The life inside the group, inside the squad is very important to progress. Since you are together 24/7 all together, you need a good atmosphere. Then, maybe at that time, you look at the players. If some bring balance or others will have a better effect and be a good teammate, you can make that decision. But otherwise, it should always be on form. It is very important.
- Reports this week claimed that the Argentinean national team will ask clubs not to select World Cup-bound players for the final match before the tournament starts in November. Is this fair, and which competition should take preference?
They can ask what they want. But if it is not FIFA, I don’t believe any managers will sacrifice their players for the benefit of the national team.
Maybe in Argentina, they could have some influence on the managers. But in Ligue 1, if you ask Lyon or PSG not to play their players, nobody would agree with that. So, it is good thinking but I don’t think it is going to stand [laughs].