Browsing Tag

soccer

Looks Like Fulham Really Didn’t Want To Go To Wembley.

For 70-plus minutes, Manchester United got outplayed at home by Fulham and it looked like their FA Cup dreams were about to go up in smoke.

Nothing was going right — Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Wout Weghorst were anonymous; Bruno Fernandes had another one of those games where he gesticulated and screamed at his teammates so much that there would inevitably be more articles written about whether he was captaincy material; and Casemiro’s and Christian Eriksen’s absences meant United had to try and dictate play through their center-halves, which would be fine except Harry Maguire’s passing was so slow and predictable that he drew audible groans from the fans. Fulham went up 1-0 after Aleksandar Mitrović scored off a corner kick and could have had two more if not for David de Gea doing his thing.

But then Fulham, evidently, got tired of all of the winning and decided to implode worse than Greg Norman at the Masters. Maybe they’re busy during the weekend of the FA Cup Semifinals and didn’t want to have to reschedule their plans?

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Casemiro Is A Red (Card Magnet)

When teams are at or near the top of the table, they rarely talk about a draw as a point earned. Especially if they’re playing at home against a team that entered the weekend in last place.

But Manchester United’s 0-0 draw Sunday with Southampton definitely fit that description. That’s what happens when you play for more than an hour with 10 men, thanks to a Casemiro red card.

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Reality Check

Given the gigantic leap forward Manchester United has made this year, it’s easy to forget that they’re still, very much, a work in progress. Despite the clear success of winning the League Cup, knocking Barcelona out of the Europa League, progressing to the quarterfinals of the F.A. Cup and sitting in third place in the Premier League, Manchester United were always at least one or two years away from truly contending for multiple trophies and going toe-to-toe with the best clubs in the world.

United got a pretty painful wakeup call on Sunday, getting annihilated at Anfield by a score of 7-0.

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The Start of Great Things (Hopefully).

On Sunday, February 26, 2017, Manchester United won the League Cup at Wembley Stadium under first-year manager Jose Mourinho. Despite being second-best for much of the match, United prevailed thanks to goals from Man of the Match Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the serial winner they signed during the previous summer, and academy product Jesse Lingard, as well as some timely saves from all-world keeper David de Gea.

Exactly six years later, United ended their long trophy drought in an eerily similar fashion. United, under first-year manager Erik ten Hag, were second-best for much of Sunday’s 2-0 victory over Newcastle United. However, they managed to prevail thanks to goals from Man of the Match Casemiro, the serial winner they signed during the previous summer, and academy product Marcus Rashford, as well as some timely saves from all-world keeper David de Gea.

Let’s hope the parallels end there.

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A Penny (Or €85 Million) for Frenkie de Jong’s Thoughts

So, let’s recap:

One of the main reasons Frenkie de Jong reportedly turned down an €85 million move to Manchester United over the summer was because he didn’t want to play in the Europa League.

Sure, there were other reasons. Barcelona were his “dream club” and he and his girlfriend were happy living there. He’s owed some £17 million in deferred wages and the club wanted him to forfeit all or part of it in the event of a transfer. United looked like a total mess in the summer and there was no guarantee Erik ten Hag, his former manager at Ajax, would be able to make the transition from the Eredivisie to the Premier League.

Those were all compelling reasons. But the main one seemed to be the Europa League thing. De Jong wanted to play in the Champions League and going to United would be a step down for him (Cristiano Ronaldo, basically, felt the same way). Despite the fact that Barcelona ended last season in the Europa League, de Jong felt he was too good for UEFA’s second-tier competition and wanted to avoid it all costs.

Well, he got his wish. De Jong finally made his debut at Old Trafford yesterday, as United dumped Barcelona out of the Europa League, winning 2-1 to take the tie 4-3 on aggregate. United were comprehensively better than Barcelona over the course of both legs and probably should have won by three or four.

In doing so, they gave de Jong plenty of questions to ask himself. For instance:

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Arise, Sir Marcus

In January, it was reported that Erik ten Hag had imposed a strict wage cap at the club, decreeing that, from now on, no one would earn more than £200,000-a-week.

Under Ed Woodward, the club routinely broke the bank (and their wage structure) to sign big name stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani, Alexis Sanchez and many others. According to The Daily Mail, which broke the story, ten Hag’s wage cap is supposed to foster better relationships among teammates and end the long-festering culture of distrust and jealousy in the dressing room.

There’s plenty of room for skepticism, though. For one thing, ten Hag has not commented on the truth or veracity of this report.

For another, it doesn’t really add up. The Daily Mail claims that the highest wage earners at the club, other than David de Gea, are already in the £180,000-£200,000 per week range. That doesn’t jive with what’s been reported about Raphael Varane’s, Casemiro’s or Jadon Sancho’s wages, which are all reportedly at or above £300,000 per week (to say nothing of Anthony Martial, who reportedly takes home £250,000 a week).

It also effectively prices United out of getting big named players like Victor Osimhen, Frenkie de Jong, Jude Bellingham or Kylian Mbappe. None of those guys are coming to Old Trafford without a big contract in place.

Most importantly, it would mean that United would have to let Marcus Rashford walk in 2024 — possibly to Paris, Barcelona or Madrid.

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The Return of Shawberto Carlos

Shawlo Maldini? Shawnis Irwin? Shawtrice Evra? Shawley Cole? Actually scratch that last one. No self-respecting Manchester United fan would accept that nickname.

There have been several moments over the past decade where a more apt nickname for Luke Shaw would have been Shawlexander Buttner or Shawron Borthwick-Jackson. And like those namesakes, there have been times where it looked like Shaw was going to follow them to the exits.

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Solving a Pressing Need

Thanks to a vicious Andy Carroll tackle during Manchester United’s 3-1 victory over Reading in the FA Cup last Saturday that, somehow, escaped a booking (although the Liverpool flop and Boyzone fanatic did pick up two yellows later), Christian Eriksen will be out for most of the rest of the season.

Surely, United are screwed, right? Eriksen has been one of the club’s standout performers this year and his creativity and guile have been instrumental in the team’s uptick in form. Without him, our dreams of winning silverware are shot, right?

Maybe. But at least United were able to put a contingency plan in place.

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Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Players

Typically, teams preparing to be sold try to keep their expenses and liabilities low so they can attract as many bidders as possible. This also makes sense from a sporting perspective. Why should a team spend big now, knowing the next owner might have different priorities or plans?

As such, we shouldn’t be surprised that Manchester United have decided to pursue loan deals instead of permanent moves in the just-opened January transfer window.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though.

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Welcome Betinho!

Manchester United restarted its Premier League campaign with a stirring 3-0 victory over hapless Nottingham Forest. There were plenty of talking points before and after the match, most notably:

  • Marcus Rashford’s continued run of great form and the re-emergence of his once-dangerous partnership with Anthony Martial. Rashford scored the first goal and assisted Martial on the second, giving hope that they can make up for United’s lack of an established, proven center forward.
  • Raphael Varane bravely and selflessly volunteering to play after illness sidelined the club’s only two available senior center halves, Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire. Despite being excused from the match due to his country’s run to the World Cup Final, Varane felt his team needed him and stepped up.
  • Luke Shaw volunteering to play center back to help ease said defensive selection crisis. Like Varane, Shaw played well and gave his manager something to think about moving forward.
  • Casemiro’s ongoing brilliance. The Tank dominated in his usual role after filling in at center half against Burnley in the League Cup the previous week. He also showed off his playmaking skills, turning two defensive stands into quick counter-attacks that resulted in goals. He even got a slick assist on Fred’s goal late in the match that sealed the three points.
  • Jesse Lingard’s first match at Old Trafford since leaving in the summer for Nottingham Forest. Say what you will about JLingz and the way he left, but Lingardinho scored some big goals for his boyhood club and always gave his all on the pitch. After leaving early in the second half with an injury, Lingard finally got the warm send-off he had been denied the previous spring, as Old Trafford gave him a nice ovation thanking him for everything he had done.

But the one that got the most attention was the sudden addition of a forward named “Betinho” to the club’s active roster. Was it a purported clerical error, as the club later claimed? Or did someone jump the gun before a transfer became official?

And who was this mystery man, anyway? Was it the Portuguese forward currently playing for S.C. Espinho who made one appearance with Brentford in 2014? Was it a heretofore unknown nickname for Atletico Madrid’s misfit playmaker Joao Felix? Was it a new, tongue-in-cheek identity for in-form Brentford striker Ivan Toney, who could face a long ban for allegations relating to betting on Premier League matches?

Or was it this man?

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#Pogbye

In 2016, when Paul Pogba returned to Manchester United in a then-world record deal, they coined the hashtag “#Pogback”to mark the occasion. United, Pogba’s social media team and sponsor Adidas even worked together on a slick promo video featuring UK rapper Stormzy that was designed to get tons of views and likes.

It was a rollout fit for a king — and appropriate, given how important social media has become in the marketing world (to say nothing of how much elite athletes like Pogba have come to rely on it).

It also underscored just big a statement of intent this was from United. That summer, the team also brought in goal machine Zlatan Ibrahimovic, defensive stalwart Eric Bailly, exciting winger Henrikh Mkhitaryan and hired serial winner Jose Mourinho. Together, this quintet helped deliver the League Cup and the Europa League during their first year together. Surely, more trophies, to say nothing of the league title, would be coming, right?

It’s been five trophyless seasons since then, and on Wednesday, United cut ties with one of the last remaining members of that group (Bailly is the only one left, and he could be leaving this summer, too). This time, they went the complete opposite route, releasing a plain old written statement announcing Pogba’s impending departure that was devoid of any hashtags or guest rappers.

In other words, United #Pogbade him farewell without resorting to cheap social media tactics. Maybe an anti-climatic statement was appropriate, given how long his departure had been a fait accompli. Pogba had never really settled back in and he and his late agent, Mino Raiola, had constantly #Pogbatted their eyelashes at other teams, especially Barcelona, Real Madrid, PSG and, most unforgivably, Man City. When Ole Gunnar Solskjær took over, Pogba seemed happy with his expanded role and even expressed interest in re-signing in 2020. However, the board chose not to engage at the time, and when they finally did offer him a new contract, he #Pogbalked. The club’s current situation made his departure a no-#Pogbrainer.

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To Tell The Truth

Ralf Rangnick’s spell as interim manager was a failure.

His tenure in the Manchester United dugout finally came to an end on Sunday after yet another listless effort — this time, losing at Crystal Palace 1-0 in a stadium where they had never lost a Premier League match. A season that began with so much promise and genuine excitement, had turned into such a nightmare that most people just wanted it to end, consequences be damned. That United managed to back into a Europa League place thanks to West Ham losing summed things up pretty well.

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Farewell To The Special Juan

Monday’s 3-0 victory over Brentford at Old Trafford was all about saying farewell. A farewell to this nightmare of a season. And, specifically, a farewell to outgoing players Juan Mata, Nemanja Matic, Edinson Cavani, and Phil Jones, each of whom received a warm ovation from the fans. They’ll be joined at the exit ramp by at least three players who didn’t play: Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, and most likely Eric Bailly. (Editor’s note: Jones and Bailly didn’t leave, after all)

It will be a long overdue housecleaning for United, which has lacked a coherent, consistent identity on the pitch and in the transfer market over the last eight years — a period that began when Mata helicoptered into Carrington looking like a cross between James Bond and a guy who sells bonds.

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It’s The Hope That Kills You

There’s been a familiar pattern at Manchester United, as of late.

United win a couple of matches, and everything is hunky-dory. Ralf Rangnick is a great manager who’s making his mark and could even get the job on a permanent basis.

They lose or draw a couple, and the buzzards start flying overhead. Suddenly, Rangnick is in over his head, and players are questioning his tactics and training sessions (because heaven forbid they start later in the day or work on basic things like team shape and organization). ESPN even reported that the players have started derisively referring to American-born assistant Chris Armas as “Ted Lasso,” after the titular character in the popular Apple+ series starring Jason Sudeikis as a clueless Yankee manager who somehow manages to land a job coaching an English football team.

You know what? United would be lucky to have Ted Lasso right now.

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