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

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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.

Report: Bayern Munich scouted Walker, Alexis this weekend

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German publication Kicker says Bayern Munich technical director Michael Reschke attended both of this weekend’s FA Cup semifinals and had his eye on two players in particular.

Reschke apparently wants to bring players from both North London Derby rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur to the Allianz Arena.

[ MORE: Liverpool’s Top Four plight ]

In the case of Spurs, that man is right back Kyle Walker. The 26-year-old has also played right mid in 8 of his 35 matches for Tottenham this season, and was named in the PFA Team of the Year. It’s hard to believe Spurs would have interest in selling Walker, who would help fill the role of retiring Philipp Lahm.

On the other side is Alexis Sanchez, the embattled but electric Arsenal attacker who Arsene Wenger described as an “animal” and “always ready to kill the opponent” this weekend. Wenger says Sanchez isn’t going anywhere, but Bayern does boast Chilean teammate Arturo Vidal and former Barca mate Thiago Alcantara.

Walker is signed at Spurs through 2021, while Sanchez’s contract ends after next season.

Roma lands sporting director Monchi, a reported Arsenal target

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AS Roma has found its new sporting director, and it’s a man with a keen eye for talent.

Ramon “Monchi” Rodriguez Verdejo, 48, has spent the last 18 years as the sporting director at Sevilla, which won five UEFA Europa League titles under his watch.

Monchi was discussed in the media as a target for the same job at Arsenal and was a target for other Premier League clubs, but Roma sealed the deal with the former goalkeeper.

[ JPW: Oriol Romeu — The Perfectly Poised Destroyer ]

He is considered to have a big role in discovering and developing Sergio Ramos, Jesus Navas, and Dani Alves.

Read more from ASRoma.com.

Liverpool’s murky Top Four path depends on Manchester United

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Liverpool is a historic club with incredible presence. Jurgen Klopp is a celebrated manager with a strong reputation as a players’ coach.

Those two facets will always make the club attractive to players. Missing out on the UEFA Champions League is another thing altogether and would put a huge dent in Klopp’s ambitious recruitment goals.

And right now, the Reds look destined to drop out of the Top Four.

[ JPW: Oriol Romeu — The Perfectly Poised Destroyer ]

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Chelsea 32 24 3 5 65 27 38 13-0-2 11-3-3 75
 Tottenham Hotspur 32 21 8 3 68 22 46 15-2-0 6-6-3 71
 Liverpool 34 19 9 6 70 42 28 11-4-2 8-5-4 66
 Manchester City 32 19 7 6 63 35 28 8-6-1 11-1-5 64
 Manchester United 32 17 12 3 50 24 26 7-9-1 10-3-2 63
 Everton 34 16 10 8 60 37 23 12-4-1 4-6-7 58
 Arsenal 31 17 6 8 63 40 23 10-3-2 7-3-6 57

Even if Manchester United and Manchester City draw Thursday’s derby, both will be poised to pass the Reds by winning the match-in-hand.

Injury-ravaged United is bothered by UEFA Europa League duty against Celta Vigo, and has a brutal run-in that includes Spurs and Arsenal in addition to City. Liverpool has to hope United falls off, because Man City is likely going to walk over the Top Four line even with a draw in the derby.

The worst case scenario for Liverpool, aside from continuing to flail against clubs outside the Top Seven, is United toppling City on Thursday.

As an aside, it’s extremely unlikely that Arsenal leaps into the fray but if the Gunners did it would come at the expense of United.

Really, Liverpool’s run-in is perfectly built for two of its supporters’ favorite things: Winning matches and rooting against Manchester United. Here’s how they finish:

May 1 — at Watford
May 7 — vs. Southampton
May 14 — at West Ham United
May 21 — vs. Middlesbrough

Liverpool battered Watford 6-1 at Anfield and Boro 3-0 at the Riverside Stadium, but drew both Saints and West Ham earlier this season in addition to losing to Southampton in an EFL Cup semifinal.

Say the Reds nab a perfect 12 points to finish with 78; They’ll need City to take less than 14 from six remaining matches and United to earn less than 15 from six. The latter is far more likely than the former, but will matter very little if Klopp can’t motivate and organize his men in the final four matches.

Schweinsteiger shares thoughts on MLS, much more in lengthy interview

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Ambassadors responsible for Bastian Schweinsteiger‘s move to America extend deep into the 1970s.

1977 to be exact. That’s when Franz Beckenbauer first came to the New York Cosmos from Bayern Munich, a three-season tenure that went so well he returned to New York for his final professional season after time with Hamburg.

[ PL PREVIEW: Chelsea vs. Southampton ]

Schweinsteiger said Beckenbauer’s words meant a lot to him, and admitted that he’s not imparting that wisdom to other overseas players who ask him about MLS.

From TSN.ca (Full video here):

“I remember when David Beckham was playing here or even I know when Franz Beckenbauer was playing here, and I was talking to him and he said he had his best life in America,” Schweinsteiger said. “We spoke about it and I was thinking about it a little bit.For me it was a little bit different because I love to play soccer and in Manchester I couldn’t play enough soccer so that was the problem.”

Among several interesting soundbites from the interview with Schweinsteiger also spoke about Germany’s memorable destruction of host nation Brazil at the 2014 World Cup:

“I remember the semifinal that we won 7-1. Everyone speaks about the 7-1, but we were not talking so much about it because we felt very, in a way, sad, because you saw your teammates like Dante and Luis Gustavo and the Brazilian supporters and the team crying, so you couldn’t really celebrate. Our focus was so much looking forward to the final. I remember things like this, sometimes more than the final.”

Not something you consider often. Winning a match 2-1 against your club teammates is one thing, but sending them to international humiliation is another.