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

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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?

De Gea remarks on that save after Man Utd draws Sevilla

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It was probably the save of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16’s first legs, as David De Gea slapped away Luis Muriel’s bid to give Sevilla a halftime lead over Manchester United on Wednesday in Spain.

[ MORE: Recap | Mourinho reacts ]

Playing in his home country, De Gea had a massive outing in the scoreless draw.

The defiance of Muriel was De Gea’s second big save of the first half’s closing moments, and one of eight in the match.

“It was a good moment, a good save of course, especially because of the moment in the game. It was the last minute of the first half, it was important to not concede a goal. We defended well. They had control of the game, but it remains open.”

Watch the save below, and then catch De Gea against Chelsea on Sunday as two of the Premier League’s biggest clubs duke it out for Top Four positioning at Old Trafford (Watch live Sunday at 9:05 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

New York City FC adds Stuttgart mid with option to buy

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New York City FC might’ve found its dynamic box-to-box midfielder.

Ebenezer Ofori, 22, is bringing his relentless motor and eight Ghanaian caps to the Bronx from Stuttgart on a one year loan deal with an option to buy.

[ MORE: Mourinho on Pogba performance ]

Ofori joined Stuttgart from Swedish side AIK Solna in the January 2017 transfer window, and played a role in the club’s promotion to the Bundesliga. He was a signficant part of Solna’s three-round run in Europa League qualification.

But he found very little time on the pitch once Stuttgart rejoined Germany’s top flight, and is taking his talents to MLS.

Here’s NYCFC boss Patrick Vieira:

“I’m really excited to bring in Ebenezer – he’s a young player who is looking to improve, he is really dynamic and can cover ground. He’s really aggressive but he’s good with the ball too. I’m really pleased that we managed to bring him to the football club.

“He’s a competitor, he’s a guy who likes to win, he’s a strong character. He’s coming to this club to compete with the midfielders we have and, like I always say, that will bring the best out of all of the players we have at this football club.”

Ofori joins a midfield with Alexander Ring, Maxi Moralez, and Yangel Herrera. It’s a promising signing, and a name with the potential to take big steps on the club and international scene.

And moves like this are going to continue to happen for NYCFC, because players will feel the allure of being under the eye of Manchester City and the pull of becoming City property. It’s a different dynamic than Chelsea’s loanees in that young players can make their name and be a star in a gigantic world city while attempting to ingratiate themselves with one of the world’s biggest clubs.

Mourinho: “Paul made a big effort”

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Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho had fine words for Paul Pogba, but was tickled by the performance of 21-year-old Scott McTominay in the Red Devils scoreless draw with Sevilla in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday.

[ RECAP: Sevilla 0-0 Man Utd ]

The visitors emerged unscathed, though without an away goal, and Mourinho raised eyebrows when he kept Pogba on the bench to start the match. The young McTominay started the match, and was paired with Pogba once Ander Herrera left the match with injury.

When a reporter asked Mourinho about McTominay after the match, the boss asked if he could give the reporter a hug before elaborating (via the BBC):

“In the press conference, the questions were about Paul [Pogba] but the question should be about the kid. He was fantastic. He did everything well. He put pressure on Ever Banega and stopped him playing, he’s their playmaker. I think Scott was brilliant.

“I think Paul made a big effort to try to give the team what I asked of him. Paul replaced Ander, he tried to bring to the game the same kind of qualities. He lost a couple of possessions but he also gave us stability because we had a good percentage of possession for the way we played.”

Mourinho was sure to include Nemanja Matic as a big part of the midfield trio.

The Pogba-Mourinho questions aren’t going to go away any time soon, though it should be noted — perhaps strongly — that the player was ill this weekend and United has to face Chelsea in Premier League play this weekend.

Still, he couldn’t help but mention how much he believes “Old Trafford has missed a big European night,” and how he’s looking forward to a potentially big win come March 13.

Nil-nil in Seville as De Gea stars

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  • English sides unbeaten vs. La Liga in UCL season (2-6)
  • Pogba subs into match for Herrera, 17′
  • De Gea with seven saves for United

David De Gea was the star as Manchester United escaped Sevilla with a scoreless draw in the first leg of the two sides’ UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Sevilla won a corner kick within 90 seconds, but the ball made its way through the 18 without finding a receiver.

Ander Herrera sprung Alexis Sanchez down the middle, but Jesus Navas cut across to catch the Chilean and thwart the United chance.

Navas then dragged a shot across goal and past a diving David De Gea but inches wide of the far post.

A Herrera injury — yes, another injury United supporters — meant Paul Pogba would join the fray after just 17 minutes with the key position in the 4-3-3.

Lukaku botched a terrific diagonal cross from Sanchez with a blast over the goal in the 25th minute.

The 38th minute saw Scott McTominay pump a ball right at Sergio Rico for the Sevilla backstop’s first save, and Angl Correa’s low shot was collected by De Gea for a third Red Devils save.

De Gea then made a leaping save on Steven N’Zonzi’s redirection of a bicycle kick just before halftime, and then slapped Luis Muriel’s header over the bar before the whistle.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

De Gea nabbed another save, his sixth in the contest, when Clement Lenglet got his head on an Ever Banega free kick in the 64th minute.

A Sanchez giveaway provided Sevilla the chance to counter, and Muriel couldn’t get the step back needed to power a header past De Gea.

United had a goal pulled back in the 83rd minute as the ball struck Lukaku’s arm in the build-up.