Chelsea's manager Mourinho prepares to bring on substitute Mata during their Champions League soccer match against Basel at Stamford Bridge in London

Absent without leave: Where in the world are Shinji Kagawa and Juan Mata?


Four games into the Premier League season, there are many storylines, questions, concerns, surprises and talking points surrounding each team.

With new managers, we see them taking a squad they have been handed and mold it to the best of their ability into a squad that is theirs, something they can call their own.  Managers love to make their mark on a team, so that they can not only exploit their own strengths, but take as much credit for any subsequent success as possible.

However, some go too far in trying to make a squad their own.  Certain decisions go beyond the realm of “bettering the squad” and cross into the void of obvious squad tinkering for the sole purpose of making a statement.

To me, there are no managerial decisions more shocking thus far than David Moyes and Jose Mourinho banishing Shinji Kagawa and Juan Mata to the depths of their respective squads.

What Moyes and Mourinho have done is take arguably their most creative players and break them.

Juan Mata:

“I think Jose is searching for his team. After their defeat to Basel in the Champions League on Wednesday, I questioned whether Mourinho knew his best starting XI; If you look at the players they’ve got and the opportunities he’s got to change it, I can’t understand – and neither can anyone in football – why Juan Mata isn’t starting.” -Jamie Redknapp, Sky Sports and Daily Mail pundit

Jose Mourinho has decisively – and publicly – excluded the Spaniard from his squad this entire season. He hasn’t been totally absent, starting two matches against Aston Villa and Everton.  However, a closer examination of those matches show he was clearly utilized incorrectly, thrown to the wolves so Mourinho could justify his decision to bench the 25-year-old.

Last season Mata was selected as Chelsea’s Player of the Season by both the fans and the players. He was nominated for Young Player of the Year. And he was selected to the PFA Team of the Season.

Now? Let’s revisit the Aston Villa match from back on August 21st.  With fellow attacking midfielder Oscar also in the lineup, Mata was shoved over onto the wing…at least, that’s what the teamsheets said. In actuality, Mata was a lost man on the pitch.  Have a peek at Oscar’s passing dashboard.  There is a clear, direct purpose to his play, and an attacking mindset.  25 of his 63 passes were in the attacking third, and 26 of his passes went forward.

Now look at Mata’s dashboard. Certainly doesn’t look like a right winger to me. Not only is he spread out all over the pitch, but there’s no purpose to his play. He went 47-of-49 passing, nice. But a closer look shows only 8 of his passes were in the attacking third (and both his misses), and just 9 went forward.  Where’s the creativity? Needless to say, he created no chances to Oscar’s 2. Mata was substituted off in the 65th minute.

Not only is Mata being used sparingly, but when he’s on the pitch he’s being completely misused. Mourinho said he wants Mata to “adapt” to the way “we (Mourinho) want to play.” Adapt? Yes, let’s remold a Team of the Season member to something he isn’t.  That seems logical.

But don’t worry everyone. Mourinho’s going to be playing Mata against Swindon Town midweek in the Capital One Cup, so that should make up for it. Clearly.

Shinji Kagawa:

“Shinji Kagawa is one of the best players in the world and he now plays 20 minutes at Manchester United — on the left wing. My heart breaks. Really, I have tears in my eyes.” -Jurgen Klopp, manager of Borussia Dortmund back in May.

Someone call Harry Potter – Shinji Kagawa’s stolen his invisibility cloak.

A player who was not so long ago a prized possession of a Borussia Dortmund squad reaching new heights at a meteoric pace, Kagawa has since vanished.

source: ReutersIt has been a disappearance of much less publicity than in Mata’s case, making it all the more baffling.  We saw Sunday at the Etihad a Manchester United squad not only with an aging defense prone to speed, but a monstrous black hole in the middle of their attack.

United’s midfield of Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini, and Wayne Rooney certainly have their strengths, but with Vincent Kompany latched onto the hip of Rooney the entire match – like white on rice, as they say – it was void of any creativity. Rooney was isolated, stranded on an island, and Kompany pounced on the opportunity to lock his man down.

Against Manchester City, do you know how many times Danny Welbeck received the ball in the penalty area? It happened three times. Do you know how many times Wayne Rooney received the ball in the penalty area? Twice.

Kagawa can pass just as well as Carrick. He can score goals – he bagged 28 in 65 matches with Broussia Dortmund. What Manchester United are missing is Kagawa’s dribbling abilities.

They couldn’t break down Manchester City’s defense partly because they didn’t have anybody on the pitch with the right key to the vault.  They couldn’t pass their way through that defense, with the central midfield trio going 63-of-84 (75%) in the attacking third.  They sure as heck could have used someone to slice the back four open with a good run or two on the ball.  Kagawa.

Here’s a suggestion: Ashley Young was an atrocity on the wing to finish last season, and has been more of the same this year.  Why not replace him on the left side with Danny Welbeck, pair Rooney and Kagawa in the middle, and keep Fellaini to hold behind them? Sure, it’s an attacking lineup, and you lose Carrick’s passing and defense, but the 32-year-old only made two tackles and one interception against City, is that really a major loss? Rooney and Kagawa feeding Robin van Persie is a salivating prospect.

At the very least rotate Kagawa and Rooney. With the mercurial English playmaker out due to injury, Moyes instead turned to the most overrated player in the Premier League in Tom Cleverley. United proceeded to lose 1-0 at Anfield.

If the 4-1 loss to their bitter rivals wasn’t enough of a wake-up call for Moyes, I’m not exactly sure what will change his mind.

Ultimately, it’s the manager’s decisions.  The sad part is, the longer this continues, the more broken Mata and Kagawa, and watching the talent these two possess rot on the bench is more than sad – it’s outrageous.

So whose absence do you think is the more egregious error by their manager? Or do you think Moyes and Mourinho are actually making the right decision?

Former World Cup winner, Brazil legend Carlos Alberto dies

COSTA DO SAUIPE, BAHIA - DECEMBER 05:  Former Brazil footballer Carlos Alberto Torres attends the FIFA World Cup Ambassadors Press Conference during a media day ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Draw at Costa do Sauipe Resort on December 5, 2013 in Costa do Sauipe, Brazil.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Brazilian soccer legend Carlos Alberto has died at the age of 72.

He died in Rio de Janeiro following a heart attack.

Alberto, a marauding right back in his playing days, was best known for his role as Brazil’s captain as he led his team to glory in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.

He is also remembered fondly for one of the greatest team goals ever scored.

Take a look at the video below to see Albero arriving like a steam train at the back post in the 1970 World Cup final against Italy to hammer home a shot following a marvelous team move from a famous Brazilian side which included the likes of Pele, Tostao, Gerson, Roberto Rivelino and Jairzinho.

Alberto played for Fluminense and Santos in his homeland and the New York Cosmos in the North American Soccer League before going on to many coaching roles in the game both in Brazil and across the planet.

Without doubt he is regarded as one of the finest defenders to ever play the game as his attacking instincts from full back were seen as revolutionary.

Five Manchester United players to leave in January?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 18:  Marouane Fellaini of Manchester United celebrates scoring his team's third goal with Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay during the UEFA Champions League Qualifying Round Play Off First Leg match between Manchester United and Club Brugge at Old Trafford on August 18, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho is a ruthless individual. That’s one of the reasons why he’s won so much over the years.

[ MORE: Rooney to leave? ]

And after a slow start to life at Old Trafford as Manchester United’s manager, it has been reported that he’s had enough of several first team stars.

Various reports, rounded up by the Manchester Evening News, say that five first team players will leave Old Trafford in January as Mourinho wields the axe following a start to the Premier League season which has seen them pick up 14 points from their opening nine games.

Per earlier reports, Rooney will be allowed to leave if he doesn’t want a bit-part role in Mourinho’s plans, plus Memphis Depay, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Matteo Darmian will all be cut loose.

In the case of Schweinsteiger, we all know what Mourinho thinks of the legendary German midfielder who has been forced to train with the reserve team as the new United boss deemed him surplus to requirements. As for the others, well, it is the same story.

Memphis has made six appearances for United this season, while Schneiderlin has yet to appear in the Premier League, Schweinsteiger hasn’t appeared at all and Darmian has played in only two Europa League games.

With Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin, it is clear Mourinho sees his central midfield better off with the power of Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini plus the poise of Ander Herrra and Michael Carrick. Schweinsteiger is widely expected to move to Major League Soccer in January but his huge wages of over $200,000 per week may be a stumbling block.

At full back, Darmian is up against Antonio Valencia and Timothy Fosu-Mensah, while Phil Jones can also play at right back, and out wide Memphis has fallen behind Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial in the pecking order.

Mourinho is used to operating with a relatively small squad and after the win against Southampton on Aug. 19 this season he spoke about how he was happy for the win but sad at the amount of top players in suits sat in the stand watching.

This is a massive squad but it is one Mourinho obviously feels like he can cut down. If these five players aren’t regulars in United’s current team which is struggling to perform, then they have no chance of edging their way in long-term.

Expect plenty of clubs to come in with loan moves for Memphis, Darmian and Schneiderlin in January if Mourinho can’t offload them for good.

Chelsea, West Ham issue statement to fans ahead of derby

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 15:  Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea celebrates victory with John Terry of Chelsea after the Premier League match between Chelsea and West Ham United at Stamford Bridge on August 15, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Anyone who has ever been to a game between West Ham United and Chelsea may use any of the following words to describe the atmosphere.

Tasty. Lively. Spicy. Electric.

Wednesday night will be no different.

[ MORE: Rooney to leave? ]  

The first-ever London derby at West Ham’s London Stadium will take place in the EFL Cup last 16 clash between the bitter rivals.

With several security issues at West Ham’s stadium in its opening months of operation (fighting among home fans, plus scuffles with some away fans outside and inside the ground, and plenty of unrest with the stewarding and seating situation) extra steps are being taken to ensure there is no trouble between the rival sets of fans.

Alcohol will not be served around the ground before kick off, while there will be segregation after the game to split up the fans and extra security checks will take place on entry to the stadium.

West Ham released a statement detailing that London’s Metropolitan Police will be on site to help out the security services who have previously been handling all of the game-day stewarding at the new venue.

The Metropolitan Police Service has a tactical solution for matches being held at the London Stadium which will allow the safe deployment of officers into the stadium, if required, to deal with any crime or disorder. The Metropolitan Police Service have confirmed for this fixture, and for every match going forward, that a tactical solution will be in place at London Stadium. This will allow the safe deployment of officers into the stadium, if required, to deal with any crime or disorder, before a permanent Airwave radio solution is installed by February 2017.
Chelsea also had the following to say in a very similar statement:

In light of recent incidents at the stadium there will be much attention on the fixture and especially on the conduct of supporters from both clubs. We understand this is the first time a game of this magnitude has taken place there and we are looking at West Ham United and the local authorities to deliver a safe event.

As previously announced, we requested the maximum allocation of seating for visiting fans, which under this competition’s regulations is 10 per cent of the stadium’s capacity (approximately 5,700 tickets in this case) but regrettably we were only allowed 5182 due to the EFL granting special dispensation to West Ham for this competition.

We wanted a larger allocation so as many Chelsea fans as possible could enjoy what promises to be a passionate occasion. We appreciate there is a long-established rivalry between these two London clubs but we ask all supporters to remain respectful and refrain from any form of offensive or discriminatory behavior. Please do not travel to the game if you do not have a match ticket.

If any incidents do occur, avoid becoming involved. A vast CCTV operation will be utilized both inside the stadium and over a wide area in the vicinity. Even if arrests are not made on the night, the police will work with the clubs to identify and arrest individuals. Chelsea will ban any of our supporters shown to be involved. The policing operation will include transport hubs on the routes to and from the stadium.

Kevin de Bruyne out injured for Man City; Pep to rotate

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10:  Kevin De Bruyne of  Manchester City shows his frustrations after a near miss  during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on September 10, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Kevin De Bruyne won’t be the main man at Old Trafford this time.

[ MORE: Rooney to leave? ]

De Bruyne, 25, starred in Manchester City’s 2-1 win at bitter rivals Manchester United last month in the Premier League but ahead of the EFL Cup last 16 clash between Manchester’s two clubs, Pep Guardiola confirmed that the Belgian international will play no part after picking up a calf injury in the draw with Southampton on Sunday.

Speaking to the media, Guardiola also confirmed that Pablo Zabaleta will be out, plus Vincent Kompany will likely play a part.

“Kevin, no way, he cannot play,” Guardiola said. “Pablo I think cannot. Vincent I think he can but I don’t know today. I need to see training and regeneration [before making a decision].”

Guardiola also confirmed that he expects to give some of his squad players a chance to play despite the desire to win the big derby game.

“We are going to rotate. Some are going to play. I need to see the players today in training and after we will decide the team,” Guardiola added.

City’s squad is still ridiculously strong with the likes of Nolito, Fabian Delph, Kelechi Iheanacho and Aleix Garcia all set to play a big part in the cup tie.