Millwall v Wigan Athletic - FA Cup Semi Final

How good is Wigan’s Callum McManaman?


How good is Wigan’s Callum McManaman?

In short, ridiculously good.

Some may find it hard to believe that Wigan hold the keys to one of the Premier League’s next Ferraris but anyone who has really watched McManaman knows that to be the case. With lightning pace, sliky skills and a nose for goal, the 21 year old has the feel of an English Mario Götze and is quickly blossoming into one of the Premier League’s best young players.

After making his league debut against Portsmouth as an 18 year old in 2009, the Wigan product (who was released by Everton as a 16 year old) saw a handful of cameo appearances over the next few years before being sent to Blackpool on loan in the fall of 2011. His 13 match stint for The Tangerines prompted Roberto Martinez to recall McManaman back to the Latics that Spring, handing him three appearances with the club.

This season the Huyton-born winger has broken out after a series of eye-opening performances in the Capital One and FA Cup. The turning point came on March 9th when Wigan romped Everton 3-0 in the FA Cup quarter-finals at Goodison Park. There, McManaman scored a wonder goal when he outsprinted Sylvain Distin and expertly nipped the ball past a sprawling Jan Mucha. His display against the Toffees earned McManaman his first league start in the Latics 2-1 win over Newcastle and he hasn’t looked back since – starting each of Wigan’s next three matches.

Although he has yet to open his scoring account in league, McManaman is very much a goal scorer. On Saturday he turned the Millwall defense inside-out, cutting them up with devastating quickness, ankle-breaking cuts and a Cruyff-esque understanding of space and time. He swept in on goal on numerous occasions, drawing two excellent first-half saves from Millwall’s David Forde. In the 50th minute McManaman’s inside cut was so vicious that it sent two Millwall defenders sliding out of play but the winger’s curled the ensuing shot just over the bar. Redemption finally came in the 78th minute when Jordi Gomez slipped a clever pass through for McManaman, who, with a full head of steam, managed to keep his balance and juke Forde before slotting home into an empty net.

McManaman is infamous for his brutal studs up tackle on Newcastle’s Massadio Haidara on March 17th. The ensuing outrage prompted many to depict the Wigan man as a thug, which his manager alleges is completely at odds with the youngster’s personality. “Callum McManaman is a simple guy”, said Martinez. “He is not someone who plays football to feed his ego. He is not someone who is always checking the press and what the media is saying.”

Martinez describes McManaman as a true lover of the game, someone who is happiest so long as he has a football by his side. “When people hear the name, they just get a picture for the wrong reasons,” said the manager. The tackle with Haidara “was just the wrong place at the wrong time.”

By reaching the FA Cup final, Wigan have punched their ticket to next year’s Europa League. It’s a stage where so many young players introduce themselves to the rest of Europe and one that McManaman will certainly be looking forward to. Transfer rumors concerning McManaman have yet to start flying but it shouldn’t be long before everyone in their Premier League is trying to get their hands on Wigan’s young superstar.

MLS Cup Playoffs: LA Galaxy 3-1 Real Salt Lake (video)

Los Angeles Galaxy defender Jelle Van Damme (37) congratulates forward Alan Gordon (9) for scoring against the Real Salt Lake during the first half of a knockout round MLS playoff soccer match in Carson, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
AP Photo/Alex Gallardo
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The game in 100 words (or less): The LA Galaxy are through to the conference semifinals of the MLS Cup Playoffs, where they’ll take on the Colorado Rapids beginning Sunday, for the seventh time in eight years with a 3-1 knockout-round triumph over Real Salt Lake at the StubHub Center on Wednesday. Alan Gordon put the home side ahead inside the first quarter-hour before RSL drew level seven minutes later, but Emmanuel Boateng bagged a quickfire brace to complete a pair of brilliant individual exhibitions of dribbling inside the penalty area. With Steven Gerrard unavailable and Robbie Keane only fit to feature off the bench, Bruce Arena turned to Gordon, who gave way to Keane early in the second half after picking up an injury of his own, to play the fulcrum of the Galaxy attack, and it worked to near-perfection during the opening half-hour. Landon Donovan started the game and played 87 minutes, providing the kind of defensive work rate that’s been missing up and down the flanks of LA all season. Sebastian Lletget put in a near-flawless passing performance while playing deep in midfield. Don’t look now, but those are the Galaxy’s biggest question of 2016, all just about answered as the playoffs begin. I won’t say, “I told you so” if/when they win MLS Cup 2016, but…

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

14′ — Gordon finishes from close range for 1-0 — Landon Donovan -> Giovani dos Santos -> Alan Gordon. Just like Bruce Arena drew it up in preseason midseason last month this week this morning.

21′ — Plata converts from the spot after Morales’ dive — Javier Morales was angling for a penalty from the moment he entered the penalty area. All Emmanuel Boateng had to do was look at him, and Morales was going down.

26′ — Boateng weaves through to make it 2-1 — Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Boateng took advantage of some poor defending, and the Galaxy were back in the lead.

34′ — Boateng cuts inside, blows past his man, makes it 3-1 — There’s playing in top gear, and there’s having an extra gear that you rarely have to use because no one else on the field has it. Boateng falls into the latter category.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Emmanuel Boateng

Goalscorers: Gordon (14′), Plata (21′), Boateng (26′, 34′)

MLS Cup Playoffs: Toronto FC 3-1 Philadelphia Union (video)

Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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The game in 100 words (or less): 10 years later, Toronto FC are MLS Cup Playoffs victors. For eight seasons, the playoffs eluded them altogether. Last year, they were one-and-done in embarrassing fashion at the hands of their local rivals. In 2016, it was  their year — a proclamation we’d heard plenty times before — and so far, they’ve lived up to the hype. Wednesday’s 3-1 home victory over the Philadelphia Union in the knockout round gets the monkey off the Reds’ back, but more importantly, afforded Sebastian Giovinco, who bagged a goal and an assist on the night (his second straight game with such a line), 90 more minutes of game time after missing more than a month through injuries as the regular season wound down. After 270 minutes of action, the Atomic Ant looks sharp as ever, and destined to terrorize New York City FC, whom TFC will face in the conference semifinals, beginning Sunday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

15′ — Atlidore feeds Giovinco for 1-0 — The first playoff goal in TFC’s 10-year history. Poor goalkeeping, ball-watching defending, terrible touches, an overhead cross, and a strike off the crossbar. There’s a lot going on here. Watch it all right here.

49′ — Osorio slams home from the corner for 2-0 — The Union have been bad at defending set pieces all season, so is it at all surprising a set-piece gaffe effectively ended their season? No, it’s not.

73′ — Bedoya puts the loose ball home for 2-1 — Speaking of failing to effectively clear a corner kick, the Union were gifted a lifeline 15 minutes before full-time.

85′ — Altidore puts it out of reach, seals it for TFC — Ken Tribbet did not have the best night a center back has ever seen. His final blunder resulted in Jozy Altidore reclaiming TFC’s two-goal lead, and ending the Union’s 2016 season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Sebastian Giovinco

Goalscorers: Giovinco (15′), Osorio (49′), Bedoya (73′), Altidore (85′)

Men In Blazers podcast: Mourinho’s Chelsea return; Bradley’s 1st point

Men In Blazers
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Rog and Davo break down Jose Mourinho’s return to Chelsea with Manchester United, another stumble for Manchester City and Bob Bradley’s first Premier League point.

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VIDEO: Altidore, Giovinco combine for TFC’s first-ever playoff goal

Sebastian Giovinco
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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It’s been 10 years in the making, and Toronto FC finally have their first-ever goal in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

After failing to qualify for the playoffs in each of their first eight seasons, 2015 saw the Reds venture into the postseason for the first time ever, only to be thumped in the knockout round, 3-0, by their 401 derby rival Montreal Impact, of all sides.

This is the year, though, or so we’ve said and been told all season long. While it remains to be seen how deep of a run TFC can muster in 2016, they’ll always have the Jozy Altidore‘s terrible first touch; Altidore’s wayward second and third touches; Altidore’s overhead cross; and Sebastian Giovinco’s strike, all of which you can watch in all its hilarity glory below.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Playoffs edition | MLS Cup predictions ]