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Joleon Lescott column: United must give Ten Hag time to build
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Joleon Lescott

I think Manchester United have made a good appointment in Erik ten Hag — assuming the club can stay focused on the future.

The Dutchman has a style that isn’t reliant on positions or personnel. He sticks to his principles and gives youngsters a chance, which bodes well for United getting some identity back.

But let’s be clear, Ten Hag should not be judged on anything in terms of achievements until Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp leave the Premier League.

Finishing fifth is quite realistic next season. The next two seasons, even. 

Nobody wants that to be the case at Old Trafford, of course. But you must respect the quality of the sides competing at the top. 

United are in a transition period and that sometimes means accepting you aren’t going to be one of the frontrunners. It’s a plan that must stretch beyond a couple of transfer windows, a couple of seasons.

If they make that steady progress, a time will come when Liverpool and Manchester City both bring in new bosses — and that’s when they can truly go and compete for the title again.

Ten Hag will be looking to move players on this summer but that long-term planning I talk about should mean things don’t have to be done in a rush.

Even though he should have full control over the futures of all the players, holding on to someone a little longer to secure the best financial package for the club makes total sense.

This whole project is going to take time and patience.

Chelsea feeling the Blues

Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta confronted fans after Wednesday's loss to Arsenal
Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta confronted fans after Wednesday's loss to Arsenal

Chelsea host West Ham on Sunday looking to bounce back from a bad defeat to Arsenal — a result that caught me off guard.

I’ve got to say, the way the Blues have dropped off the pace this season has been disappointing. After 14 games, they were top of the league and looked genuine contenders.

Squad depth isn’t the issue, nor is the quality of their coach, while plenty of individuals have enjoyed strong campaigns.

Mason Mount has been excellent once again. Kai Havertz is getting better and better. Antonio Rudiger has been his usual dependable self. So where has it gone so wrong?

Well, Romelu Lukaku’s first season back at Stamford Bridge has not gone to plan, clearly. 

But he’s a top, top player and I can’t see him having the same troubles two seasons in a row.

Although we don’t know what’s going to happen with Chelsea’s ownership situation, I can’t see them selling him this summer — largely because they won’t recoup what they paid for him.

Thomas Tuchel knows what Lukaku is all about. Injury and illness haven’t helped him this term and I think the summer break will do the Belgian good. He can come back fresh in August and remind everyone what he’s capable of.

The backline could be a more pressing issue for Chelsea, with Rudiger and Andreas Christensen looking set to depart at the end of the campaign.

I’m not sure you can view both Malang Sarr and Trevoh Chalobah as ever-presents in a first-choice Blues defence. If you can get 25 starts out of both in all competitions, that’s a good result.

Realistically, Chelsea are going to have to strengthen in defence. Replacing Rudiger is a very difficult task and I’m interested to see how they go about it.

Title tussle continues

Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool look to maintain their title tilt against Everton
Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool look to maintain their title tilt against Everton

It’s always feisty when Liverpool and Everton meet and I’m sure Sunday afternoon will be no different — though this Merseyside derby feels less intense than usual.

I think if you’re Frank Lampard, heading to Anfield in your current position, you have to take that rivalry element out of it and accept you can’t go toe to toe.

The Toffees are still fighting for survival and have to go there looking to frustrate Liverpool.

These last few weeks have been as good as I’ve seen the Reds play under Klopp.

Sure, they’re susceptible to conceding, but they just look so comfortable and confident in the way they’re approaching games, with the goals flowing freely. 

In 2018-19, we saw both Liverpool and City win their last nine games, with Guardiola’s men nicking the title by a point.

I know we talk about the drama of the Premier League and the twists along the way, but you wouldn’t be surprised if something similar happened this season.

Liverpool and City are levels above the rest. But while slip-ups can happen, I wouldn’t bank on it.

Time for my weekly predictions!

Joleon Lescott's Premier League Matchday 34 predictions

Arsenal vs Manchester United (Saturday, 12.30pm, BT Sport)

Arsenal's Eddie Nketiah will hope to feature against Manchester United after his two goals in midweek
Arsenal's Eddie Nketiah will hope to feature against Manchester United after his two goals in midweek

What a huge win for Arsenal at Chelsea in midweek. Given the state of affairs the Red Devils are in currently, I have to go with a win for the Gunners. They need three points and I think they will get them.

Prediction: Home win

Leicester vs Aston Villa (Saturday, 3pm)

Two evenly matched sides on their day but I’m just siding with Leicester. The Foxes have been more like their old selves recently and look set to end a tough campaign on a high.

Prediction: Home win

Manchester City vs Watford (Saturday, 3pm)

This should be a routine home win. Watford look a little more solid under Roy Hodgson but they just aren’t winning enough games to make me think they have a chance of survival.

Prediction: Home win

Norwich vs Newcastle (Saturday, 3pm)

Norwich may be following Watford out of the Premier League but at least they're showing some fighting spirit. Their home form is good and Eddie Howe’s men are still unreliable on the road.

Prediction: Home win

Brentford vs Tottenham (Saturday, 5.30pm, Sky Sports)

Top-four chasing Tottenham face a tricky trip across London to take on Brentford
Top-four chasing Tottenham face a tricky trip across London to take on Brentford

Tottenham would’ve been cursing Arsenal’s shock midweek success and the pressure is back on Antonio Conte’s men now. They're far from reliable but should prove too strong for Brentford.

Prediction: Away win

Burnley vs Wolves (Sunday, 2pm)

There has to be more to Sean Dyche’s Burnley sacking than meets the eye. Wins are needed at this stage but Wolves are one of the most organised sides around and are far from ideal opponents.

Prediction: Away win

Chelsea vs West Ham (Sunday, 2pm, Sky Sports)

West Ham tend to raise their game against the bigger sides. And after Thomas Tuchel’s strange comments about the pitch causing issues at Stamford Bridge, I think the Hammers will fancy an upset.

Prediction: Away win

Brighton vs Southampton (Sunday, 2pm)

Brighton kept Manchester City quiet for 50 minutes on Wednesday but offered little threat going forward. I can see Southampton setting up to be compact and nicking three points.

Prediction: Away win

Liverpool vs Everton (Sunday, 4.30pm, Sky Sports)

I mentioned Everton needing to go and frustrate Liverpool but I’m not sure they can do so for a full 90 minutes. You just can’t oppose the Reds or Man City at the moment. 

Prediction: Home win

Crystal Palace vs Leeds (Monday, 8pm, Sky Sports)

Two teams who love to attack should put on some Monday night entertainment for us. Palace weren’t great at Newcastle but I expect a response from Patrick Vieira’s men on home turf.

Prediction: Home win

Joleon Lescott was talking to Matthew Hill


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