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.

Could Iniesta succeed at Manchester City

Getty Images
Leave a comment

It appears more likely with each passing day that Andres Iniesta will leave Barcelona at the end of the season.

The general feeling around Iniesta’s future is that he’ll either follow former teammate Xavi Hernandez to a club in Qatar or the United Arab Emirates, or follow Javier Mascherano to a club in China.

But according to reports in Spain, Iniesta has received a request from a manager who is inextricably linked with his career.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Per Diario AS, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has reached out to Iniesta to try and gauge the 33-year old’s interest in coming to England. It’s a surprising move, considering Iniesta has appeared to have lost a step, and while his skill on the ball is still world class, he hasn’t played as big of a role for Barcelona this season as in years past.

But the big question for Iniesta – as hard as it is to believe we’re asking this – is where he’d fit into the side, and who he’d push out.

If Guardiola sees Iniesta as part of his best XI, and Iniesta played his usual position on the left side of a midfield trio or at left wing, that would see either David Silva or Leroy Sane losing their spot in the team. That’s hard to see, considering how big of an impact those players had.

Sane has scored nine goals and dished out 12 assists in the Premier League while Silva has a nearly-identical stat line, with nine goals and 11 assists in league play.

However, if Guardiola, who played a very small squad this season, wants to have a world-class player to bring off the bench some games or spot start in the UEFA Champions League, he couldn’t do much better than signing Iniesta.

After being given time to adjust to the physicality of the Premier League, there’s no reason why, even at his advanced age, Iniesta can’t make a big impact in 25-30 games for Man City in the future. You can imagine the Spanish maestro setting up 10 to 15 goals and scoring a few himself as he plays for another title-winning side.

Of course, Iniesta likely won’t earn as much money with Man City as he would in the Arab world or in China, so he has a big decision to make coming up.

Iniesta won three La Liga titles, two Copas Del Rey, two UEFA Champions League and two FIFA Club World Cup titles under Guardiola as Barcelona shined as the best club in the world during that era. Iniesta also made UEFA’s Team of the Year all four years.

Perhaps reuniting with Guardiola can bring the best out of Iniesta once again.

Report: Man United to target Rose, other full backs this summer

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jose Mourinho has identified perhaps the most underrated position on the pitch as a place he needs to upgrade his squad this summer.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

According to a report from The Guardian, the Manchester United manager is looking to sign Tottenham wing back Danny Rose and potentially another full back in the summer transfer window. With Luke Shaw likely to leave the club, Mourinho is left with incumbents left back Ashley Young and right back Antonio Valencia, both on the wrong side of 30-years old and both converted wingers playing out-of-position.

Mourinho last December decried crosstown rivals Man City for spending more than $140 million to sign wing backs Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker last summer. Though Mendy missed most of the season with a torn ACL, Walker and fellow outside back Danilo helped give Man City’s attack another dimension out wide, as the wing backs in the 3-4-3 or Man City’s 4-1-4-1 with Fernandinho dropping back into the centerback pairing become ever more important.

Rose has had a contentious last 18-months or so at Tottenham and could be looking to leave this summer. But it will likely take a bid north of $75 million, around what it cost Man City to sign Walker last summer, to buy Rose out of his Tottenham contract.

Matteo Darmian meanwhile, another potential outside back for Man United, could also be departing the club this summer, as Man United looks to replenish its side.

Errors down, penalty kicks up after introduction of VAR in Italy

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The implementation of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in Italy has been controversial, but according to a look at the statistics, it has for the most part done its job to fix clear and obvious errors.

Italian sports paper Gazzetta Dello Sport compiled all the times VAR has been used through 346 matches, 330 in Serie A and 16 in the Coppa Italia. There were 1,736 checks (916 goals, 464 penalties and 356 red cards) with 105 corrections and just 17 errors where the referee and assistant made the wrong decision. Eight of those errors did affect the result, which is an issue that will surely be addressed by the Italian officiating organization.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

But overall, Gazzetta found that in the VAR era, referee errors only amounted to 0.98 percent during a match, as opposed to 6.03 percent in the past. In addition, fouls are down 8.8 percent, red cards are down 6.4 percent, and yellow cards are down 14.7 percent. On the flip side, penalty kicks are called 4.3 more percent of the time.

The Premier League voted recently not to add VAR to its league matches next season, while top leagues in Germany, Italy and in Major League Soccer and the United Soccer League continue to use it.

Report: New Arsenal manager will have small budget to re-shape squad

Getty Images
1 Comment

Whoever takes the helm as Arsenal’s next manager will have to do some math gymnastics this summer to stretch every penny available.

According to a report from The Telegraph, Arsenal is giving Arsene Wenger‘s successor a little less than $70 million to work with in this summer’s transfer market, citing back-to-back transfer windows with club-record signings (Alexandre Lacazette last summer and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in January) and three raises given to players. Arsenal paid around $78 million alone to sign Aubameyang and around $65 million for Lacazette.

[READ: UCL Preview: Liverpool vs. Roma]

That means whoever comes in next to lead Arsenal will likely have to sell one or two players this summer to raise additional money for world-class signings.

For the last decade, Arsenal has been crying out for a new pair of centerbacks and a holding midfielder in the mould of Patrick Vieira. In addition, with Petr Cech getting older, the prospect of needing a new goalkeeper is also on the horizon.

Luckily for Arsenal, they seem to be just fine up front. From Aubameyang and Lacazette to Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey, the club has the talent to challenge for a title next season in that department.

A dozen different names have been bandied about as to who will be Arsenal’s next manager, with out-of-contract and former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique reportedly on the shortlist. Vieira, former Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta, Germany National Team coach Joachim Low, Juventus boss Max Allegri and Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsman have all also been linked with the job.