Paul Merson Says: Man Utd must pay whatever it takes to get Dan Ashworth as sporting director

February 22, 2024

In his latest column, Sky Sports' Paul Merson explains why Dan Ashworth will be vital if Sir Jim Ratcliffe is to deliver on his bold target of knocking Man City and Liverpool "off their perch".

'Ratcliffe has to pay whatever it takes to get Ashworth'

"He's talking about knocking Man City and Liverpool off their perch, but what about Arsenal, Tottenham, Aston Villa and Chelsea? They're all getting better.

"Man City are the team, I get that. But you still have to look at the others.

"It's going to be hard, they have to get Dan Ashworth and they have to start from the bottom. Their recruitment hasn't been good enough.

"Antony is not worth £86m, Jadon Sancho was £73m and is out on loan. If he gets the right people in place, who knows? You have to be careful how quickly it is.

"How much would I pay for Ashworth? He is the future, so you pay whatever in my opinion. He is a signing.

"You've got to start from the bottom, you can't build a house on water, on a puddle, you have to put the concrete down. Ashworth, I know he'll need people around him, but he will get them in. And then you start recruiting the right people.

"No disrespect to Sancho and Antony, but you can't keep throwing £160m away light-heartedly. It's willy-nilly and you can't go around like that. A lot of Ashworth's signings that he has overseen at Newcastle could play for Man Utd."

'Next five games are massive for the title race'

"Looking at Arsenal's fixtures, they aren't going to be far off with eight games to go. They have majorly winnable games coming up. But if I had to put my hat on someone, it would be Man City.

"Kevin De Bruyne didn't play the other day and Jack Grealish is out injured. Arsenal couldn't deal with Bukayo Saka being injured for a couple of weeks, or rest Martin Odegaard or Declan Rice. That's where it takes its toll.

"I was impressed with Liverpool against Luton with the injuries they had. One-nil down at half-time but they steamrollered them. They just keep churning it, but they have to keep doing that for another 13 or 14 football matches.

"If Man City win their next five league matches, you'd be shocked if they didn't win the Premier League. That means winning at Liverpool, beating Man Utd and Brighton. They have some hard games so I would expect them to win the Premier League if they win those.

"But you'd be very disappointed if you were Arsenal, looking at their fixtures and Man City's, if they weren't ahead of them in the table after these next five games.

"It's really in the balance. We've got massive times coming up. It couldn't get any better."

'Liverpool injuries will be decisive in Carabao Cup final'

"I'm more confident for Chelsea's chances than I was after the Liverpool game when they lost 4-1 at Anfield in January.

"It all depends on who is fit for Liverpool - if Mo Salah, Darwin Nunez and Curtis Jones are fit, it is a different story. If they aren't fit, I think it is a heads-or-tails football match.

"If they are fit, especially Salah, and Curtis Jones - he is playing well and brings out the best in Alexis Mac Allister because he has the legs in the team - that would just swing it Liverpool's way.

"But if they don't play, it is a funny old game, football. Three or four weeks ago, you are thinking Chelsea don't have much chance after being blown away at Anfield.

"Now all of a sudden, Chelsea are playing half-decent at the right time. Second half at Palace, they did well and at Man City the other day. For me, they are just playing well at the right time and I think they have a good balance.

"If Curtis Jones isn't fit, then I think Chelsea win that midfield battle."

'Chelsea need Enzo to play like Jorginho'

"Playing against Man City suited Chelsea in the draw last weekend. You know they are going to leave gaps at the back. You always get a chance against them - if you pick that right pass on the counter, you are going to cause them major problems.

"I don't think that is the case against Liverpool. They will be more shrewd about Chelsea's counter-attack.

"Chelsea have to beat Liverpool's press. Arsenal beat it umpteen times the Emirates the other week with Jorginho in the team.

"I'm not sure if they have that Jorginho figure in the team. They have Enzo Fernandez - if he can play the same as Jorginho did that day for Arsenal, then it swings the advantage to Chelsea."

"If Curtis Jones isn't fit, then I think Chelsea win that midfield battle."

Importance of a trophy for Poch and Klopp

"Winning the Carabao Cup will help Mauricio Pochettino win over Chelsea fans 100 per cent.

"Chelsea go into the season and they can only win three things - the FA Cup, the Carabao Cup and the Premier League. They were out of the title race in a New York minute. They are still in the other two and if they win the first one, there are not many teams that are going to win a trophy this season.

"We are going made about Tottenham and how great they are playing, but Chelsea could go and win a trophy and Spurs win nothing.

"If you win a trophy - what can anybody say? You can't have a go at someone that's won a trophy.

"It is so important to win this - this trophy is an amazing trophy. There's not one footballer that will be watching on Sunday and not wishing he was playing in the final.

"It's perfect for the managers, a February final, it gives you that confidence. It takes the pressure off you.

"Liverpool can go on and try to win the quadruple while Chelsea if they win it, there's only three trophies they could've won, and they will have won one of them. It's so important for both clubs.

"Jurgen Klopp will want to win something before he goes and he is in everything at the moment. But we know how quickly football changes and a couple of results here and there, then it is all gone."

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