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?

Trio of USWNT players stay in locker room for national anthem

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USWNT players Megan Rapinoe, Sydney Leroux and Becky Sauerbrunn were among players from both the Seattle Reign and FC Kansas City who did not appear for the national anthem at a NWSL game on Sunday.

Rapinoe was the first USWNT player to kneel during the national anthem as she joined the protests led by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick calling for racial equality and against police brutality.

With several NFL teams on Sunday taking a knee during the anthem and the Pitstburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks staying in the locker room during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner, U.S. President Donald Trump has responded angrily to sports teams who decided to kneel during the national anthem.

Here’s more info from Sounder At Heart on SB Nation:

This time Megan Rapinoe is not alone. Several players from both teams joined her, staying in the locker room during the flag and anthem ceremony.

Elli Reed, Megan Rapinoe, Madalyn Schiffel, Lauren Barnes and Diana Matheson from the Reign did not take the field. Former Sounders/Reign player Sydney Leroux was among the FCKC starters who were not out for the ceremonies. Yael Averbuch, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Desiree Scott round out that group. Sauerbrunn is currently the United States captain. Leroux and Rapinoe are both regulars with the USWNT.

With U.S. Soccer bringing in a new bylaw earlier this year which states players must stand for the national anthem, could we see male and female U.S. stars following this option by not going out onto the pitch for the national anthem in upcoming international games?

All eyes will be on USWNT captain Sauerbrunn, plus midfielder Rapinoe and Leroux, during the anthem when Jill Ellis’ side play against South Korea on Oct. 19 and Oct. 22.

The actions of Bruce Arena’s USMNT side will also be heavily scrutinized ahead of their upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Panama and Trinidad & Tobago on Oct. 6 and Oct. 10 respectively.

Valencia coach Marcelino pulls muscle celebrating winner

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MADRID (AP) It was a bittersweet celebration for Valencia coach Marcelino after his team’s winning goal against Real Sociedad in the Spanish league on Sunday.

Marcelino pulled a thigh muscle in his left leg while celebrating Simone Zaza‘s 85th-minute winner at Anoeta Stadium.

Marcelino put his hand on the back of his leg and immediately started limping, visibly in pain.

Television images later showed him wincing in pain on the bench, and he limped every time he went out to the coach’s area to give instructions to his players.

“I’m older, I need to control myself in certain situations,” the 52-year-old Marcelino said, with a smile. “When it’s the coach getting injured, it’s not a problem.”

Valencia won 3-2 to stay unbeaten and move to fourth place in the standings.

Antonio Conte admits he misses Italy, plans to return home

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This is not exactly what Chelsea’s fans will want to hear on a Monday morning after a resounding 4-0 win at Stoke as the Blues moved up to third in the Premier League table.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Antonio Conte, who delivered the Premier League title in his first season in charge of the Blues, and his first season in England, in 2016-17, has been speaking of his desire to return to his homeland.

Conte, 48, spoke to Italian radio station RadioUno about his experience in the Premier League and left the door wide-open for a return to Serie A in the coming months as he admitted he misses Italy.

“I miss it, that’s beyond doubt,” Conte said. “Italy is my homeland, so once I have had some good experiences, formative experiences, important and life-changing experiences, I’ll be back. I don’t know when but that’s the aim.

“It’s always difficult to predict the future. Us managers have the most precarious job of all. Today you’re working, tomorrow you’re out. I want to succeed, to finish one project and make the right decision about the next. This experience has given me so much, has improved me so much, but perhaps in the future I won’t be a manager. Perhaps I’ll work as a director of football. I don’t know.”

Conte has been linked with the managers job at Inter Milan and with comments like this, those links will not go away.

Adding further fuel to the fire was his decision to only signed an improved contract over the summer rather than extending his stay at Stamford Bridge. Conte’s current deal is due to expire at the end of the 2018-19 season.

After a tough summer and a tough start to the season which saw a feud with Diego Costa dominate the talk surrounding Chelsea, a loss to Arsenal in the Community Shield, an opening day defeat at home to Burnley, plus some questionable dealings in the transfer market, the pressure was piling on Conte.

His team have responded with five wins in their next six games in all competitions and are right up there with the early pacesetters in the Premier League.

That said, the fact that Conte was under any pressure whatsoever was a joke considering what he had achieved last season when nobody expected Chelsea to seriously challenge for the title. Therein lies why he could want out when his current deal at Chelsea is up, or maybe even sooner than that.

In situations like this I often think about what Eric Cantona did: leave before anybody else expects you to and you’ll go out, and remain, a hero.

Mourinho escapes ban after sending off

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Jose Mourinho will face no further action from the English Football Association after he was sent off at Southampton on Saturday.

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Towards the end of United’s 1-0 win — which keeps them unbeaten and in second-place in the standings — Mourinho encroached slightly onto the pitch (we are talking half a yard here) and referee Craig Pawson sent him to the stands after being called over by fourth official Mike Jones who pulled Mourinho back into his technical area.

Mourinho, in true fashion, then delayed his sending off by shaking the hands of every member of Southampton’s coaching staff before he took his place in the stands for the final few seconds of the game.

After being sent off nine times in his career for various discrepancies over the years, Mourinho is no stranger to having the FA’s rule book thrown at him.

However there is an argument out there, and a credible one, that due to his high profile and history of misdemeanors Mourinho is treated rather differently than most managers.

In his long list of previous incidents where he has stepped out of line, stepping slightly over the touchline at Southampton was incredibly minor.

Common sense has prevailed.