Manchester United shocked, City’s back, and England’s race is still dormant

1 Comment

Manchester United stinks. Manchester City’s good again. Chelsea’s not completely reborn, and Liverpool has a heart. English Premier League, bloody hell.

United’s face plant at Wigan is overshadowing the match day’s other surprises, mostly because it undermined our most reliable hypothesis. Trying to explain why an inferior Red Devils team was besting rival City, the easiest explanation was manager Alex Ferguson’s superiority. He may not have the best car, but he sure knows the course (goes the metaphor that I just created). But if that’s the case, how did Manchester United lose at Wigan? Wigan!

Amid our cloud of incredulity this detail might get lost, but Wigan beat people. Yeah, I know – I was so surprised, too, but this kind of stuff is on record, and particularly in March and April, the Latics have been able to shock a few titans. Two years ago, it was late-season, home wins over Liverpool and Arsenal that helped perserve survival (Roberto Martínez had also engineered a win over Chelsea earlier that season). Now, Wigan have won at Liverpool and, just over two weeks later, taken full points from United.

It’s like the reverse Steve Bruce. Under Martínez’s predecessor, Wigan would survive on the back of relatively strong starts while horrible finishes made it seem the ex-United defender was working some sort of voodoo in the season’s first half (we know better, now). Under Martínez, pundits spend seven months calling the Latics hopeless only to see them find survival in April.

After yesterday’s win, Wigan sits 17th and have a two-point lead on 18th place Bolton. After this weekend’s trip to Arsenal, Wigan close at Fulham, versus Newcastle, at Blackburn, and home to Wolves.

Back to the United result. It’s hard not to think Alex Ferguson was thinking bigger picture. At least, that’s one way we can continue our deification of the United boss. As evidence, look to the 65th minute, when Wayne Rooney was brought off for Nani. Were the Premier League title race in any serious doubt, there’s no way Rooney watches the final 25 minutes from the bench. It seems more likely that Ferguson, in the face of United’s pathetic display, started seeing the match as a learning moment. Taking off the man who could have challenged Shaun Maloney’s goal certainly sent a message. That the man was also one of the world’s highest paid players only underscored the message: Get your act together – all of you.

That Ferguson was able to do that speaks to how close the race was not. Today, of course it’s closer, but Manchester City still need a lot of help, part of the reason Roberto Mancini’s sheepish about their title chances. United is still up five with five to play. Even if City defeats United at the Ettihad on Apr. 30, they still need help from their red rivals (admittedly, something that seems more likely after yesterday). And even if they get help from United, they can’t stumble.

As remarkable as yesterday was, it would have to happen again before there’s a race in England. Perhaps it was premature to think it done and dusted, but title race is still dormant.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP
Leave a comment

The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday