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?

17 Comments

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?

PL Playback: Analyzing the big calls as Chelsea surge clear

Leave a comment

REF WATCH: BIG CALLS INCORRECT

It seems a little early to say this but I’m going to go ahead and say it anyway: this is Chelsea’s Premier League title to lose.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Ahead of Week 22 Chelsea they could’ve seen their lead at the top cut to three points. Now it has been extended to eight as Antonio Conte and his players sat back and watched title contenders stutter on Saturday and they finished off Hull ruthlessly on Sunday for their 15th win in their last 16 games.

[ MORE: Latest odds for PL title winners ]

It is a case of advantage Chelsea in the title race, but plenty of their title rivals (if we can even call them that anymore) can feel aggrieved to have seen key calls go against them this weeekend.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

The referees were at the heart of several key moments of games involving title contenders and sadly they got many of the big calls wrong.

Let’s focus on the three biggest mistakes, all of which involved penalty calls, that will likely have big ramifications in the title race…

  • (A) No penalty kick awarded to Man City vs. Tottenham with City leading 2-1
  • (B) Penalty kick awarded to Arsenal vs. Burnley in 98th minute, as they won 2-1
  • (C) No penalty kick awarded to Hull City when trailing Chelsea 1-0

(A)  – There is no doubt that this was the worst of the bunch. See the video below as Raheem Sterling raced through and looked destined to put Man City 3-1 up and out of sight to get them back in the title race and close the gap on Spurs. Sterling was punished for staying on his feet. He was too honest and as he fell he took a shot which Hugo Lloris saved easily. Walker should have been sent off and City should have had a penalty but referee Andre Marriner waved played on. Man City should be 10 points behind Chelsea in the title race but now they’re 12 points back. Their title chances were slim before this weekend. After this decision, they’re gone.

(B) – This 98th minute decision was wrong on two different levels. One: Laurent Koscielny was offside when the cross came in. Two: Although Ben Mee is trying to hook the ball away with a high foot, Koscielny is stooping his head down. You have to let calls like that go in the box. Referee Jon Moss had earlier correctly given Granit Xhaka a straight red card for a lunging tackle on Steven Defour and then given Burnley a penalty kick in the 92nd minute after Francis Coquelin fouled Ashley Barnes. The latter decision incensed Arsene Wenger so much he was sent to the stands and now has to deal with an FA misconduct charge as he appeared to push fourth official Anthony Taylor on his way down the tunnel. Back to Moss. He got his third big decision of the game wrong and maybe after Xhaka’s sending off, awarding a penalty to Burnley, calling away a penalty shout for Arsenal earlier when Shkodran Mustafi went down and then seeing Wenger’s angry reaction he tried to even things up in front of the home fans who were baying for blood. There’s no doubting Mee’s foot was high, but that’s not a penalty for me and Moss should’ve been helped out by his linesman who had a better view. After all of that, Arsenal will feel they’re back in the title race as they prepare for a trip across London to face Chelsea on Feb. 4 at Stamford Bridge.

(C) – Another pivotal call among the title contenders went in Chelsea’s favor. Leading Hull 1-0, they should have given away a penalty kick just after half time. Marcos Alonso clipped Abel Hernandez in the box and it was a blatant PK for Hull. Nothing was given and you could clearly see the relief on Alonso’s face. Chelsea knew they had got away with one and if Hull had equalized early in the second half, who knows what would have happened? Those are the kind of breaks you get when you’re at the top and more often than not in recent weeks those kind of breaks are going Chelsea’s way and against their title rivals. Advantage Chelsea indeed.


LEICESTER IN BIG TROUBLE

From the title contenders, we now switch our attention to the title holders.

Leicester City are five points above the relegation zone and having a torrid time defending their crown, as they have the lowest points tally of any defending top-flight champ ever after 22 games and they are without an away win in the Premier League.

Claudio Ranieri must be applauded for his honesty in taking the blame for Leicester’s humbling 3-0 defeat at Southampton on Sunday but his self-pity doesn’t cover up the glaring fact that the reigning champions are increasingly in a battle against the drop.

Why?

Well, there are a number of reasons.

“Slacking off over the summer after winning the PL title in incredible fashion?” Perhaps.

“Losing N'Golo Kante to Chelsea?” Yep, definitely a big part of it.

“Other teams focusing on their strengths?” That’s key too.

Yet, when we look at this Leicester, despite Ranieri playing three at the back against Chelsea last time out and then a diamond in midfield in the first half at Southampton, both of which went horribly wrong, not much has changed. That’s the biggest problem. Don’t get me wrong, I was fully on board the Leicester bandwagon along with the rest of the sporting world last season. It was incredible.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]  

However, was Ranieri really ruthless enough over the summer to strengthen the team where they needed to? No. In theory, Leicester needed three new signings throughout the spine of the team.

They could offer big wages and UEFA Champions League action and they should’ve plundered their cash on three big name players at center back, in central midfield and up top. They bought in Luiz Hernandez in defense, who could be on his way out already. They also signed Nampalys Mendy who has been injured but is no Kante and they brought in Islam Slimani who has been hot and cold. The biggest issue (as the stat above suggests) is in defense. Leicester are leaking goals at an alarming rate and Wes Morgan and Robert Huth seemed to have aged 10 years over the summer.

There’s an argument to be made that they should have gone for PL experience and paid a little over the odds to buy two or three experienced players from within the PL rather than seven or eight newbies to the PL.

Leicester have done the latter and so far that plan isn’t working.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Their run to the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 has been the priority and some would say rightly so but with Swansea and Hull picking up below Leicester, the Foxes’ margin for error is getting smaller each week.

They had the lowest pass completion percentage over the weekend which is much like last season. Pretty much everything is the same, expect for the results. That’s the most worrying thing for Leicester’s fans, players and manager.


ROONEY SETS RECORD IN STYLE

It just had to be this way.

Wayne Rooney became Manchester United’s all-time leading goal scorer on Saturday — passing Sir Bobby Charlton who had held the record on 249 for over 40 years — as he curled home a sublime free kick in stoppage time to grab his side a point at Stoke City and extend their unbeaten run to 17 games in all competitions.

[ MORE: World reacts to Rooney’s record

Rooney, 31, scored his 250th goal for United in fine fashion and it was indicative of a career which has promised so much and more often than not delivered with spectacular goals such as the bicycle kick against Manchester City, the volley against Newcastle and the halfway-line lob against West Ham littering the way.

When we look back on his career in a decade or two, it’s likely he will finally get the credit he deserves for his sublime talent on the field since the age of 17 when he burst onto the scene. Right here, right now, Rooney is often undermined with his fitness and impact questioned on a daily basis.

Wayne Rooney is now the all-time leading scorer for England and Manchester United. Let that sink in. He is truly a legend of the game.

[ MORE: Rooney talks about his future at United ]

Speaking at the Football Writers’Association tribute dinner on Sunday at the Savoy Hotel in London (Rooney’s impeccable timing meant he set the record just 24 hours before being honored by the FWA) Rooney admitted that going forward he wants the media and England’s players to work closer together to benefit everyone.

“The media is a massive part of football and I’ve seen firsthand since I’ve become captain of Manchester United and England,” Rooney said. “I’ve recognized it has had a huge influence on the game and the players and especially the young English players because they are the ones who have to go out and perform. It’s tough. I also feel like it is sometimes a bit unfair.

“The one thing I think, for me, that should happen is we need to realize and the media need to realize that at this moment in time there is a huge gap between the media and the players. I think the quicker the media and players can come together and meet in the middle, then the better it is for English football.”

Here’s a look at some of Rooney’s best goals from his incredible career which he intends to keep going at Manchester United for now but also admitted his frustration at not playing regularly this season.

Whatever the future holds, Rooney has written himself into folklore forever.


GET WELL SOON, RYAN

Week 22 of the Premier League ended with a sobering sight.

Hull midfielder Ryan Mason, 25, was involved in an aerial collision with Chelsea skipper Gary Cahill in the first half of the Blues’ eventual 2-0 win. Mason did not get back up.

The England international suffered a fractured skull and after carefully being treated on the pitch he was transported to St Mary’s hospital in central London for surgery.

Hull gave the latest update on Mason on Monday, as players and staff from both Chelsea and Hull visited him in hospital.

The Club can confirm that Ryan has been visited this morning at St Mary’s Hospital by Club Captain Michael Dawson, Club Doctor Mark Waller, Head of Medical Rob Price and Club Secretary Matt Wild. Ryan has been speaking of the incident yesterday and will continue to be monitored at the hospital over the coming days where the Club will remain in close contact with Ryan, his family and the staff at St Mary’s.

Ryan and his family have also been extremely touched by the overwhelming support they have received  and would very much like to thank all of those who have posted such positive comments both on social media and in the press over the last 24 hours.

It was a horrible sight and was made even more shocking due to the innocuous nature of the challenge.

Get well soon, Ryan.


Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.

VIDEO: Rod Stewart steals show in hilarious Scottish FA Cup draw

Rod Stewart
Sky Sports
1 Comment

Sir Rod Stewart knows how to play to a crowd.

This proves it.

[ MORE: Wenger charged after push

And no, 72-year-old Stewart was not performing on stage at one of the world’s biggest venues on Sunday but he was instead conducting the draw for the fifth round of the Scottish FA Cup.

Seriously.

Live on Sky Sports in the UK, he was given the task of drawing out the home teams and Stewart did so in flamboyant and phenomenal fashion, especially when drawing out his beloved Glasgow Celtic.

Click play on the video below to be mesmerized by Stewart’s energy and excitement. This is brilliant.

There are some suggestions out there that he may have had a small alcoholic beverage before taking part in the draw…

Personally, I think there should be a new rule which sees Rod Stewart involved in every single cup draw from here on out.

Agree? I think you will.


Arsene Wenger charged with misconduct by FA

Leave a comment

Arsene Wenger has been charged with misconduct by the English Football Association.

[ MORE: New PL title odds released ]

Wenger, 66, reacted angrily to Arsenal conceding a penalty kick in second half stoppage time against Burnley on Sunday — the 10-man Gunners would go on to get a contentious spot kick off their own in the 98th minute to win 2-1 — and was sent to the stands by the officials.

He then appeared to push the fourth official and afterwards admitted he “regrets everything” and he should have “shut up and gone home” after the incident.

The FA released the following statement regarding Wenger’s charge.

Arsene Wenger has been charged for misconduct following Arsenal’s game against Burnley on Sunday [22 January 2017].

It is alleged that in or around the 92nd minute, he used abusive and/or insulting words towards the fourth official. It is further alleged that following his dismissal from the technical area, his behaviour in remaining in the tunnel area and making physical contact with the fourth official amounted to improper conduct.

He has until 6pm on 26 January 2017 to respond to the charge.

Many are calling for Wenger to be handed a very long ban for his actions.

He pushed fourth official Anthony Taylor and although it wasn’t hard enough for Taylor to fall over, it was in an aggressive manner and Wenger and the fourth official were separated by security guards in the tunnel area.

It was not the Frenchman’s finest moment and he is sure to pay a heavy price both in a fine and a potential touchline ban.

If Jose Mourinho received a one-game touchline ban for kicking a battle earlier this season, then surely Wenger has to get at least two or three games for physical contact with a match official.

The stress of a title race does funny things to even the coolest of characters.

DC United sign Ian Harkes to Homegrown deal

c1ftcpowgaavlfr
Wake Forest
Leave a comment

D.C. United have completed the deal to bring Ian Harkes back to RFK Stadium.

[ MORE: Title odds in PL ]

Harkes, 21, signed for the Major League Soccer franchise Monday as a Homegrown player, fresh from winning the MAC Hermann Trophy earlier this month as the best collegiate player in the U.S. following his heroics with Wake Forest University over the past four years.

Son of former D.C. United and U.S. national team captain John Harkes, it is believed the two-way midfielder had plenty of options in Europe due to his dual nationality after he was born in England duringJohn’s playing days with Sheffield Wednesday, Derby County, West Ham United and Nottingham Forest.

However, the younger Harkes has instead decided to sign for United and head coach Ben Olsen was delighted to add arguably the most talented up and coming midfielder in U.S soccer.

“I’ve known Ian nearly his entire life and have watched him develop into one of the nation’s best young talents.” Olsen said. “He has all the tools to succeed at the next level and I look forward to being a part of his pro career.”

Harkes starred for DCU’s Academy as captain of both the U-16 and U-18 level before heading to Wake Forest for his storied four-year college career and now he will return home to try and lead a D.C. side back to the latter stages of the postseason.

Olsen has endured an up and down time with United over the past seven years, but has reached the MLS Cup playoffs in four of the last five campaigns.

Adding Harkes will no doubt increase DCU’s chances of making a deep run at the postseason in 2017. He also increase their number of Homegrown players to four in their current squad.