FC Barcelona v Malaga CF - La Liga

Early returns from England’s offseason tell a tale of two Manchesters

Leave a comment

How much is Alex Ferguson worth in the standings? Or, more specifically, what will the difference between Ferguson and his replacement, David Moyes, mean to the Red Devils? Because if Ferguson was half as influential as his prodigious reputation implied, Manchester United’s going to take a step back. The big question is how much.

On one hand, trying to determine exactly how much Ferguson means over Moyes is a pointless exercise. We’ll never be able to verify our conclusion. On the other hand, it may be the most important evaluation United makes all summer. Before assessing their needs relative to Manchester City and Chelsea — before determining the financial commitment they need to make to maintain their English standing while improving in Europe — the Red Devils need to decide what they’ve lost. That may not result in a precise number of points they feel they’ve given back to their competition, but it will lead to a general plan of what they’d like to accomplish this summer.

I say “will lead” as if England’s champions haven’t already done this. Undoubtedly they’ve made their assessments and picked their targets, players that will go beyond the project right back they acquired last week. The Red Devils continue to have a need in central midfield. There are concerns wide, where their high-priced talents failed to produce last season. Unless they address those needs, either by getting more out of their players or acquiring new talent, the 11-point gap between them and Manchester City will prove smaller than it seems.

That’s why the relative silence from United should concern Red Devils’ supporters. While links to Marouane Fellaini, Robert Lewandowski, Leighton Baines and (even) Gareth Bale persist, most of those players have been linked elsewhere, with United’s place in the rumors serving as the normal “everybody sounds out Manchester United” part of most high-level gossip. Coming off a season in which they accumulated 89 points, it would be easy for the club to justify a stay-the-course approach.

Meanwhile, in the blue half of Manchester, United’s rivals have already made a number of significant changes. The acquisition of Jesus Navas from Sevilla may not be a huge upgrade on Samir Nasri’s talent, but stylistically, he offers City a significant difference from the two wide-to-in playmakers they played as winger last season. On the opposite flank of David Silva, Navas gives City a needed alternative – somebody who have beat a man one-on-one, pick out City’s snipers from wide, as well as open up the middle of the field.

Through the middle, that means more space for Silva to cut in and orchestrate. It gives Sergio Agüero and Carlos Tévez more room to play beneath the back line. It gives Fernandinho and Yaya Touré space to get forward without the side effects that come with keeping Nasri and Silva wide. With Navas, a natural wide player, the team’s balance improves.

The biggest upgrade, though, may be on the sideline, with Manuel Pellegrini replacing Roberto Mancini. Il Mancho is a well-decorated coach, but Pellegrini’s on a different level. Throughout his career, Pellegrini’s never failed to improve the teams he’s joined, be those teams big or small, ambitious or recovering.

Particularly with the acquisition of Fernandinho, City is starting to look like a very Manuel Pellegrini team. The midfield duo will be able to confidently use a possession-based game to dictate play without making compromises defensively. They’ll be able to play patiently, using their variety in attack to test their opposition, with Pellegrini uses the depth assured by City’s finances to mix-and-match over the course of a season.

The bigger concern with Pellegrini is the fact he hasn’t won a title at this level; that he may not know the buttons that need to be pushed to transcend that 11-point gap. But if the early summer moves from Manchestern United’s rivals mean anything, that 11-point reference is far less meaningful than it was at season’s end. With Ferguson gone, Pellegrini on scene, and City having already made two huge moves, surely the quality difference between the two sides is a much more manageable number.

The better part of the summer’s still to play out, but based on initial returns, the offseason’s been a tale of two Manchesters. The blue side has acted quickly to address their needs, while their red rivals are taking a more deliberate approach.

And of course, we can’t forget that resurgent power in West London.

Deeney, a Birmingham City fan, pleased to “stick it to Villa”

WATFORD, ENGLAND - APRIL 30:  Troy Deeney of Watford celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Watford and Aston Villa at Vicarage Road on April 30, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Watford’s captain Troy Deeney is a lifelong Birmingham City fan.

[ MORE: Terry to stay at Chelsea? ]

So, heading into stoppage time trailing Birmingham’s bitter rivals Aston Villa 2-1, it wasn’t going to be a good day for the English striker.

Then, Deeney struck twice in stoppage to turn the game on its head and seal a 3-2 win for Watford to secure their top-flight status for another season.

Speaking to the BBC after the game, Deeney revealed just how sweet it was to score the game-winner against a team he grew up loathing.

“It took a while for us to get going, but we got a great victory in the end,” Deeney said. “Credit to Villa, they scored two decent goals. We were poor, we can’t hide from that, but in recent weeks we have played well and not got results. I’m a firm believer in that it always works it way around again. My best friend – a Blue – would have been loving that – he told me to stick it to Villa.”

Are you sure that was your friend and not just a voice in your own head, Troy?

[ MORE: Luke Shaw close to return ]

Let’s be honest, does it get much better than scoring two late goals against a team you grew up despising?

I don’t think so. That’s a scenario entering boyhood dream status. Especially given the fact that Villa are already relegated from the PL and will play Birmingham City next season in the Championship.

Deeney, 27, also scored the game-winner at Aston Villa in a 3-2 win for Watford earlier this season, so when he does return home to Birmingham he will definitely have the bragging rights in England’s second city.

Note: Deeney also has a tattoo of Birmingham City’s badge on his calf.

Stoke 1-1 Sunderland: Defoe grabs late point for Black Cats

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - APRIL 30:  Jermain Defoe of Sunderland converts the penalty to score his team's first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Sunderland at the Britannia Stadium on April 30, 2016 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Defoe scores late PK
  • Arnautovic put Stoke up
  • Black Cats slip into bottom three
  • Stoke without a win in five

Stoke City and Sunderland drew 1-1 at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday with Jermain Defoe scoring a last-gasp equalizer to grab a big point for the Black Cats.

Stoke had taken the lead through Mark Arnautovic and went close to adding a second through Giannelli Imbula but Defoe went down in the box in stoppage time and stepped up to equalize.

With the point Sunderland now have 32 points with three games to go, while Stoke have 48 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Stoke started brightly and Peter Crouch‘s header just missed Arnautovic and Vito Mannone tipped the ball wide for a corner.

Sunderland threatened on the break and Patrick Van Aanholt hit a low drive which Jakob Haugaard gathered comfortably.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

An even first half played out at the Britannia with Arnautovic whipping in a great ball from the left which just missed everyone, while Sunderland failed to pour forward.

Crouch went close again with another header after Phil Bardsely’s deep cross found him but his effort was inches away from creeping into the far bottom corner.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Arnautovic smashed an effort over after getting free in the box and Defoe forced Haugaard into a save down low but the first half ended 0-0.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Five minutes into the second half Arnautovic put Stoke in the lead with a cool finish as the Austrian has now scored 11 goals for the Potters in the PL this season.

Sunderland pushed for an equalizer and Defoe sent an overhead kick over the bar after Jan Kirchhoff‘s cross and the Black Cats pinned Stoke back in their own half for the closing stages. A rare break forward from Stoke saw Imbula go clear but he missed a golden chance to wrap the three points up for Mark Hughes‘ side and they were punished late on.

In stoppage time U.S. national team defender Geoff Cameron tripped Defoe in the box and the predatory forward picked himself and scored the spot kick. 1-1.

Sunderland’s players and fans celebrated like they’d won but coupled with Newcastle’s victory, they slip into the relegation zone. However, crucially, Sunderland have a game in hand.

Watford 3-2 Aston Villa: Late surge wins it for Hornets

WATFORD, ENGLAND - APRIL 30:  Troy Deeney of Watford celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Watford and Aston Villa at Vicarage Road on April 30, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Two late goals from Deeney
  • Villa led twice
  • Cissokho sent off
  • Villa now lost 11-straight

Watford beat 10-man Aston Villa 3-2 at Vicarage Road on Saturday in a wild encounter in Hertfordshire.

Aston Villa twice took the lead twice through Ciaran Clark and Jordan Ayew but Watford’s Almen Abdi had equalized right on half time. Until Aly Cissokho was sent off in the second half things were looking pretty for Villa but two late Troy Deeney goals — Deeney is a fan of Villa’s arch-rivals, Birmingham City — turned the game on its head.

Watford have now secured their Premier League status for another season and sit on 44 points, while Villa remain bottom on 16 points and have now lost a club record 26 games this season.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Watford started the better of the two teams and pinned Villa back into their own half.

Odion Ighalo cut inside and had his effort saved by Mark Bunn and then the Hornets came agonizingly close to taking the lead.

Ben Watson controlled the ball and sent a magnificent volley towards the top corner but it hit the crossbar and bounced out. So close.

Moments later, though, dominant Watford were behind. An Ashley Westwood corner from the left found Clark and he headed home. 1-0 to Villa as they converted their first chance of the game.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Villa nearly doubled their lead just before the break but Jordan Ayew sent his stooping ahead against the post and moments later it was 1-1. A free kick right on half time saw Abdi step up and curl the ball up and over the wall and into the bottom corner. Hornets level.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

At the start of the second half Villa came flying out of the traps and Ayew put them back ahead with a fine finish. 2-1.

Rudy Gestede then went close as Villa closed in on just a fourth win of the season but then a potential second away win of the season was thrown into jeopardy.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Ikechi Anya raced free and last man Cissokho was adjudged to have fouled him and received a straight red card. Cissokho looked to have got a little on the ball and Villa could feel hard done by to be down to 10-men.

It took Watford until the 90th minute to make that advantage count as Deeney scored twice in three minutes to spark wild scenes at Vicarage Road and hand the Hornets a win which secured their PL status for another season.

Everton 2-1 Bournemouth: Cleverley, Baines gets USMNT’s Howard a win

LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 30: Tom Cleverley (C) of Everton celebrates scoring his team's first goal with his team mates during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Goodison Park on April 30, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Goals traded in 1st 10 mins
  • Baines wins it with tidy finish
  • Howard nabs win in “tribute”

After a moving tribute to the Hillsborough 96, Tom Cleverley and Leighton Baines handed Everton boss Roberto Martinez a much-needed win.

Marc Pugh scored for Bournemouth, which fell 2-1 to the Toffees at Goodison Park on Saturday.

USMNT keeper Tim Howard, off to Colorado after the season, was given a rare start and the captain’s armband in what could be the start of a fitting send-off for the Everton veteran.

Everton is in 11th with 44 points, while Bournemouth’s 41 peg them 14th.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The fireworks were early, and controversy was in the house as well.

Cleverley collected the last pass of a neat bit of Everton possession, and cut neatly to give the Toffees the lead with a left-footed shot in the 7th minute.

But minutes later, Everton defender Matt Pennington was shoved aside by Callum Wilson on the left side. No call came, and Pennington stopped to remonstrate for a second as Wilson shouldered the ball forward. The move ended with Pugh beating Howard, and it was 1-1.

The second half saw chances sprinkled to both sides before Aaron Lennon‘s cutback carried through the 18 to Baines, who popped a clever high shot past Artur Boruc. 2-1.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]