Manchester United's Kagawa celebrates his goal against Fulham during their English Premier League soccer match in Manchester

Offshore Drilling, England: Manchester United 3, Fulham 2

1 Comment

Man of the Match: Leaving the match after 68 minutes gave this teammates a chance to catch up to Shinji Kagawa. It didn’t happen. After Kagawa left, United lost their nous in the final third, having sacrificed the man who’d been their main creative force. Kagawa was even rewarded for his work in the 35th minute when a spilt Tom Cleverley shot left the former Borussia Dortmund star with a tap in for his first United goal. The Red Devils’ best player for the second match in a row, Kagawa may be forcing a subtle but important shift in how United’s organized, a shift emphasized by their assumed leading man starting on the bench.

NBC Sports: Man United beats Fulham 3-2 in Premier League

Packaged for takeaway:

  • That’s right: Wayne Rooney was out at the start of this one, though he did come on in the 68th minute (for Kagawa). Coming off a terrible performance Monday night, Rooney’s benching has already been interpreted as him losing favor with United. That’s far too hasty. At worst, this as a message – a warning shot, of sorts. There’s no reason to believe Ferguson’s doing more than instituting a policy that will keep his stars fresh.
  • Robin van Persie also came into the team, a move that paid off early. After poor set piece defending had allowed Damien Duff to give Fulham a 1-0 lead, van Persie half-volleyed a Patrice Evra cross into the right side of Mark Schwarzer’s goal from 14 yards out. The play was defended decently by Brede Hangeland, who was only a half-step away from running onto the cross himself, but an athletic play by van Persie got the shot away with his first touch, leaving Fulham little chance to prevent the equalizer.
  • The goal started a United onslaught, the type of attacking pressure most expect to see all season from the Red Devils. Constant runs behind the line kept turning a Fulham defense that lacked the speed to come pressure United (and expose space at the back). The packed in defense was a partial factor in Kagawa and Rafael da Silva’s goals (35′ and 41′).
  • Fulham got a fortunate own goal from Nemanja Vidic in the second, one that made the final score closer than the actual play. The goal will spark more unfair criticism of David de Gea, though. Vidic bumped Mladen Petric into de Gea in the 65th minute, with Matthew Briggs‘ cross left to deflect off the defender’s heel and into goal. The immediate reaction from the commentators recycled last year’s trope: David de Gea is a problem. On this play, though, the problem was a collision to which any goalkeeper is susceptible.
  • The end result was a good United performance against an underrated Fulham team, even if that team played more conservatively than they probably should. Martin Jol’s XI played with two holding midfielders in a 4-4-2, leaving tons of space for Kagawa, Tom Cleverley, and Anderson to control the game. For much of it, United had near 70 percent (Opta) possession, thanks in part to Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia cutting in, augmenting the midfield advantage while da Silva and Evra kept Fulham’s wingers wide.
  • Cleverley, playing without Paul Scholes, was much better than Monday. The theory then was Scholes and Cleverley were redundant. Without his teammates deferring to Scholes’ experience, Cleverley was able to have an impact in proportion to his talents.
  • The bright spot for Fulham was Moussa Dembele, playing along side Mohamadou Diarra in midfield. After a quiet first half where he was marginalized by United’s possession, Dembele was the second half’s best player.
  • Did Fulham miss Clint Dempsey? They still scored twice, but they weren’t exactly manufactured goals. The first came from a set piece where Diarra probably should have been called for a foul (throwing an NBA-style pick on Young), while the second was manifest randomness. Though Petric played well, he’s not the type of player you roll a ball to and say “make something happen.” Neither is Bryan Ruiz, though Demebele seems relatively close, provided some targets. Dempsey was that player for Fulham, the type of player you typically call on when chasing a goal late.
  • Late in the match, Rooney had to be stretched off after Hugo Rodallega, following through on a shot from 26 yards, stepped on Rooney’s right thigh. A gash opened up, creating a scene reminiscent of Nani’s sliced open shin at the boot of Jamie Carragher two years ago. Rooney was wrapped on the field, carried off, and will probably be out for while stitched seal the wound. (More from NBC Sports: Rooney could be out 4 weeks)
  • Ultimately, this was exactly the match we expected. United rebounds with a performance that flashes their attacking potential, while Fulham leaves empty handed from a match where they expected nothing.

International preview: What is to come over the next week

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With the 2018 World Cup less than three months away, countries are taking these last moments to see players within their selection pool and make tweaks to the squad and tactics.

This week’s international window has already kicked off with the likes of South Africa, Liechtenstein, and Andorra taking the opportunity to see the field, and World Cup countries take the field tomorrow – two, to be exact. And they play each other.

Denmark and Panama meet in a rare friendly between countries set to take part in the summer festivities, with the match taking place in Bronby at 3pm ET. The two countries chose to play knowing they cannot possibly meet in Russia 2018 until at least the quarterfinals, with their respective Groups C and G split apart across the knockout rounds.

The hosts are fantastic from set-pieces and focus their attack around Tottenham star Christian Eriksen. Panama’s midfield rock Gabriel Gomez will likely be tasked with keeping Eriksen quiet, something the Republic of Ireland was unable to do last time Denmark took the field as Eriksen bagged a hat-trick. Defender Andreas Christensen is headed towards the World Cup in fantastic form with Chelsea, having earned a starting spot with the Blues. With some injuries at the back, Christensen has also played out wide along the back line before as well, something to keep watch for.

On Friday, the heavyweights begin to see the field as Uruguay hosts Czech Republic. The South American nation received a friendly draw in World Cup Group A, but brought in a solid European side to match wits with after the Czechs finished third in their qualifying group. Japan also takes to the pitch on Friday, playing Mali on a neutral field in Belgium. The Japanese will need to be at the top of their game come summer, matched into Group H against Colombia, Poland, and Senegal.

England and Argentina have both scheduled games against European sides that disappointed by failing to make the 2018 tournament. On Friday, England travels to Amsterdam to take on a Netherlands squad in turmoil, while Argentina travels to the Etihad to meet Italy.

Russia and Brazil meet in Moscow on Friday, with over 50,000 tickets already reportedly sold for the match at Luzhniki Stadium. The hosts will then get another stiff test as they take on France four days later on Tuesday. If Russia’s squad has lots of work to do before hosting the World Cup, we’ll know in a week.

The main event on Friday will be Germany and Spain meeting in Dusseldorf in a matchup of the last two World Cup winners. Germany will be without Manuel Neuer and Marco Reus, but still fields one of the deepest squads in the entire world. The Germans don’t then get the week off, having to meet Brazil on Tuesday. If Jogi Low’s side comes out of those matches on top, they could cement their status as favorites headed into the summer.

France has a stiff test as well, meeting Colombia on Friday. Like Denmark and Panama, the two countries reside in Groups C and H, meaning they could not rematch in the World Cup until at least the quarterfinals. The French then go to take on Russia next week.


Denmark vs. Panama
Slovakia vs. UAE
China vs. Wales
Algeria vs. Tanzania
Malta vs. Luxembourg

Germany vs. Spain
Italy vs. Argentina
Russia vs. Brazil
Netherlands vs. England
France vs. Colombia
Portugal vs. Egypt
Uruguay vs. Czech Republic
Mexico vs. Ireland
Poland vs. Nigeria
Austria vs. Slovenia
Peru vs. Croatia
Austria vs. Slovenia
Greece vs. Switzerland
Norway vs. Australia
Mali vs. Japan

Sweden vs. Chile

Kuwait vs. Cameroon
Nicaragua vs. Cuba

Portugal vs. Netherlands
Bulgaria vs. Kazakhstan

Russia vs. France
Germany vs. Brazil
England vs. Italy
Spain vs. Argentina
United States vs. Paraguay
Tunisia vs. Costa Rica
Colombia vs. Australia
Belgium vs. Saudi Arabia
Egypt vs. Greece
Denmark vs. Chile
Japan vs. Ukraine

Alexis Sanchez says he “expected better” from himself at Manchester United

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Alexis Sanchez isn’t happy with his performance so far at Manchester United.

The Chilean superstar has scored just one goal for the Red Devils in 10 appearances since joining from Arsenal, and the club has lost three of those games and has been knocked out of the Champions League by Sevilla.

Speaking with Chilean media on national team duty in Sweden, Sanchez said he expects more of himself and that he’s so far let himself down. “As I am self-demanding, I expected something better,” Sanchez said. “After my arrival at United, it was hard to change everything very quickly. I even hesitated to come here [to join the national team].”

Chile missed out on World Cup qualification, and has friendlies with Sweden and Denmark scheduled over the next week. With so little at stake, Sanchez was poised to take time off from the national team, but says he was convinced by Manchester City goalkeeper and Chilean captain Claudio Bravo to stick it out.

“The change of club was something that was very abrupt – it was the first time I’ve changed clubs in January – but many things have happened in my life that are difficult,” Sanchez said. “I had asked permission to miss these games, but then I thought better and spoke with Claudio and told him that we should all be united.”

Once the international break is over, Manchester United resumes Premier League play against Swansea at the end of March before an April 7th derby meeting with Manchester City.

James Collins injured in West Ham friendly

Getty Images
Leave a comment

West Ham defender James Collins hobbled off the field in the 29th minute of the Hammers’ friendly against Dagenham & Redbridge on Wednesday, a big blow to the club’s already paper-thin back line.

With the league on an international break, West Ham agreed to play a friendly against Dagenham & Redbridge to help raise money for National League club that could be in serious financial trouble. However, it could be detrimental to the short-term future of the Hammers, who are hoping to stave off relegation, sitting just two points above the drop.

The 34-year-old defender has missed significant time this season due to injury, with an ankle injury keeping Collins out for nearly three months in 2017. West Ham has lost just four of the 12 Premier League matches Collins has appeared in this season, with three clean sheets. However, two of those have come in the club’s last three games, thrashed by a combined 7-1 scoreline between 90 minutes against Liverpool and Burnley.

The injury comes at the worst possible time, with West Ham set to play Southampton in a critical relegation matchup between teams in the in 17th and 18th in the Premier League table. The Hammers are already without defender Winston Reid who remains out for the season with a knee injury, while the club sold center-back Jose Fonte to Chinese club Dalian Yifang F.C. in late February.

West Ham was hoping to do its part to help save the London club. Former director Glyn Hopkin abruptly resigned and pulled all financial backing in early February, leaving the club fearing for its immediate future. They reportedly need $353,000 just to stay afloat the rest of the season, even with zero club debt.

Men In Blazers podcast: Mohamed Salah continues to shine

Men In Blazers
1 Comment
Rog and Davo marvel at Mo Salah’s four goal, one dime haul in Liverpool’s 5-0 beatdown of Watford, analyze Jose Mourinho’s recent rants about football heritage at Manchester United, and recap Rog’s family trip to Stoke vs. Everton.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

Subscribe to the podcast OR to update your iTunes subscriptions ]

Click here for the RSS feed ]