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?

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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?

Liverpool keeper Karius to miss two months

MEYRIN, SWITZERLAND - JULY 22:   Loris Karius of 1. FSV Mainz 05 in action during the pre-season friendly match between 1. FSV Mainz 05 and AS Monaco at Stade des Arberes on July 22, 2015 in Meyrin, Switzerland.  (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)
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He was tabbed to be Liverpool’s opening day starter in goal, but Loris Karius could now miss the first two months of the Premier League season after suffering a hand injury in Wednesday’s International Champions Cup loss against Chelsea.

[ MORE: Real looking at Sissoko, Verratti as midfield options ]

The 23-year-old was brought to the Reds this summer from Bundesliga side Mainz for over $6 million.

Karius opted not to represent Germany at next month’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in order to avoid missing any game action with Liverpool. Unfortunately, the young keeper will now likely miss between eight and 10 weeks.

Italian legend Christian Vieri looks to make comeback

ROME, ITALY - OCTOBER 19:  Christian Vieri poses with the UEFA Champions League Trophy during the UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour 2012/13 on October 19, 2012 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images for UEFA)
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His career ended over seven years ago, but former Italy international Christian Vieri is looking to make an improbable comeback in a country that continues to attract big stars.

The 43-year-old Vieri is reportedly coming out of retirement to join the Chinese Super League, and posted a video on Twitter confirming his plans.

Last playing in 2009, Vieri finished his career where it began — in Italy — with Atalanta. During his career, the striker played for 10 clubs in his native country, while also spending time in Spain and France with Atletico Madrid and Monaco, respectively.

Vieri made his name with Inter Milan, where he recorded six straight seasons with double-digit goals. At the height of his career with Internazionale, Vieri netted 27 times across all competitions during the 2002/03 season.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Real looking at Sissoko, Verratti

PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 10:  Cedric Soares (l) and William Carvalho of Portugal (c) combine to tackle Moussa Sissoko of France during the UEFA EURO 2016 Final match between Portugal and France at Stade de France on July 10, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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While Real Madrid still holds a slim hope of winning the signature of Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba, Los Blancos are said to have a viable backup plan in the event the Frenchman does the inevitable and joins Manchester United.

[ MORE: Ten most noteworthy summers transfers (so far) ]

Real is reportedly looking at another French midfielder, Moussa Sissoko, to fill the center of the park. The 26-year-old has made 118 appearances for Newcastle since joining the Magpies back in 2013.

While it may be outside option, Real is also interested in Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti, although the French champions likely aren’t willing to part ways with the player.


Andy King has signed a new four-year contract with Leicester City, after Jamie Vardy and Ben Chilwell each agreed to a new deals this summer with the Foxes.

The midfielder appeared in 25 matches last season in the team’s Premier League title-winning campaign, while also featuring for Wales this summer at EURO 2016.


Aston Villa manager Roberto di Matteo has confirmed that Everton is set to acquire Idrissa Gueye.

The 26-year-old shined during the 2015/16 season for Villa, appearing in matches as a deep-lying midfielder. Everton has reportedly met the player’s release clause of over $9 million, and is now discussing personal terms with Gueye.


Swansea City striker Bafe Gomis has joined French side Marseille on a season-long loan after netting 17 goals in 71 matches in England.

The Frenchman is likely seen as the replacement for Michy Batshuayi, who left for Chelsea this summer.

Roma’s Spalletti on massive transfer fees, Italians in Premier League, more

CAMBRIDGE, MA - JULY 27:  AS Roma manager Luciano Spalletti speaks to media after a friendly match against the Boston Bolts at Ohiri Field on July 27, 2016 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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Luciano Spalletti takes his longest pause before answering a question on the massive and controversial transfer fees paid out for Serie A stars Gonzalo Higuain and (probably) Paul Pogba.

Some of his players, like Francesco Totti, have been very vocal in their distaste for Higuain’s departure from Napoli for one of the highest fees in football history, but Spalletti understands what’s going on.

The 57-year-old AS Roma manager has been around the block, highlighted by two stints each with Roma and Udinese as well as parts of five seasons with Zenit Saint Petersburg which included a pair of league titles.

[ MORE: Klopp frowns at Pogba fee ]

And when it comes to making more than $100 million on a player, you do it. As for buying a player like that, it’s a different story.

“You have to sell that player because you can turn that into two or three very good players,” Spalletti said in a translated interview Friday with ProSoccerTalk. “I think it’s the best thing. Personally, I wouldn’t spend that kind of money on a single player, but these clubs have very high goals like winning the Champions League.”

ROME, ITALY - APRIL 20: Francesco Totti and his head coach Luciano Spalletti of AS Roma react after the Serie A match between AS Roma and Torino FC at Stadio Olimpico on April 20, 2016 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
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Of course Spalletti has that goal as well.

The manager was speaking ahead of Roma’s date with Liverpool in St. Louis on Monday, one of two dates in North America. I Lupi faces the Montreal Impact on Wednesday before heading home to prepare for its Aug. 20 Serie A opener against Spalletti’s former club, Udinese.

Spalletti’s second stint with Roma saw the club go to the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16, and his familiarity with success in the competition bodes well for the club moving forward.

He shepherded i Lupi to the quarterfinals in 2006-07 and 2007-08 before being bounced in the Round of 16 in the final season of his first stint, and also led Zenit to two UCL Round of 16s.

[ MORE: Higuain, Napoli boss trade barbs ]

Roma also finished third in Serie A despite being mid-table when Spalletti took over. He’d like to better that this season, after selling superstar Miralem Pjanic but picking up Stephan El Shaaraway and making standout defender Antonio Rudiger’s loan permanent.

“I can count on a very good squad,” Spalletti said. “It won’t be easy to build on the season, but we want to keep doing what we just finished.”

PST asked Spalletti about the quartet of Italian coaches who’ve taken the step to the Premier League. Claudio Ranieri won the Premier League with Leicester last season while Francesco Guidolin helped rescue Swansea City.

Now Chelsea has hired Italian mastermind Antonio Conte, and Watford has brought in Walter Mazzerri. It’s a source of pride for coaches in Serie A.

“Italy has a great tradition of coaches and production,” Spalletti said. “The Italian league allows you to build a coach with valuable experience that you can later pass on at international levels. The two coaches, Conte and Mazzarri, are two great coaches who have proven their class.”