Quick Six: Manchester United’s woe, Suárez returns and the other storylines from the Premier League weekend

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1. MOYES, MANCHESTER UNITED DOWN TO ONE EXCUSE

Consider it a type of pros and cons list for managers. List all a coach’s disappointing performances in one column. In the other, list the surprises. Take into account injuries, fixture congestion, bad or good luck – whathaveyou. Ignore the times where a team plays as expected and see if the good offsets the bad.

For managers of elite teams, this seems unfair, as there are far fewer chances to impress. Then again, their teams should rarely disappoint. Overall — in a blurry-eyed, I-don’t-want-to-spend-time-doing-actual-work kind of way — this works. It sees José Mourinho’s erratic start balancing the Basel loss against points at White Hart Lane and Old Trafford. It also sees Manuel Pellegrini’s best results outweighing the middling ones (for now).

When you look at David Moyes, the picture’s pretty clear. How many unexpectedly good performances has he produced? None. Maybe one, if you count Swansea, but the score as more impressive than the actual result. Perhaps you can could see the Bayer match as another surprisingly strong show, though Leverkusen were poor that day. Overall, those performances are more expected than surprising.

Now, how many unexpected poor performances has United given under Moyes? Chelsea at home. Liverpool away. Manchester City away. West Brom at home. These aren’t maybes, like the ones we listed, above. These are bad results. In eight games (six league, one Champions League, one League Cup), Moyes’s teams have disappointed four times.

[MORE: Manchester United 1-2 West Bromwich Albion: Defensive woes cost United.]

This is a terrible start – United’s worst in the Premier League era. You can blame the schedule if you want, but it hasn’t been that bad, especially once Saturday’s visit form one of the league’s strugglers  balanced it out.

The only excuse that remains is a powerful one: That we’re only eight games into the Moyes era. The new boss certainly deserves more time, though that shouldn’t keep us from noting how bad his start has been.

2. FULL RETURN, FULL PRODUCTION FROM LUIS SUÁREZ

Wednesday’s loss at Old Trafford turned out to be a trial run. Today’s Brendan Rodgers stayed with his 3-5-2 formation, and it paid off. The forward tandem of Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge came good with three goals in Liverpool’s 3-1 win at Sunderland.

Credit Rodgers with sticking with a system that didn’t work mid-week, electing to focus on the huge, long-term benefit of the set-up: Finding a way to get this two big scoring threats working together. Last year, Sturridge was much more productive playing through the middle as opposed to the wide position he often occupied when Suárez was available. By moving away from his 4-3-3-variant while sacrificing one at the back, Rodgers has chosen a system that can preserve a three-man midfield while accommodating his most-dangerous players. Also important: It keeps Philippe Coutinho in the middle (in the spot currently occupied by Victor Moses) when the Brazilian returns next month.

The main caveat here: Sunderland’s bad. Really bad. Kevin Ball produced a win mid-week, but on Sunday, their Di Canio form returned. They didn’t provide much of a test.

In that way, today’s game may have been another trial run for Liverpool, albeit with better results than Wednesday’s.


3. RAMSEY’S ASCENT CONTINUES FOR ARSENAL

In a game where Arsenal’s front-six had trouble maintaining a hold on the match, their defense deserves some credit. Of Swansea’s 10 shots (three on goal), only three came within the 18-yard box. Contrast that with Arsenal, who saw seven of their 10 shots come within Michel Vorm’s penalty area. The result was a 2-1 win at Swansea City, leaving Arsenal alone atop the Premier League.

It’s another example of what we saw in Champions League two weeks ago. Somewhere along the way, Arsenal’s developed an ability to win games they don’t control. Granted, it’s been a while since the image of the possession-dominant, imposing Gunners was actually true. But since when does Arsenal only see 42 percent of the ball and not only win but win relatively comfortably?

Getting performances like Aaron Ramsey’s helps. Setting up the first while scoring the second, Ramsey is now second in the league in goals (four) and assists (two) – statures that arguably understate his contributions. His performances have made him one of the league’s best players as well as one of its most timely. On Saturday, his contributions tipped a game that went into halftime nil-nil.

In all competitions, that’s eight goals in nine games. Ramsey’s previous career high was four. That hints this pace won’t persist, but only 22, it’s clear Aaron Ramey’s ascent continues.

4. HULL, CARDIFF CITY CAST DOUBT ON PRESEASON GLOOM

As the Bluebirds emptied their pockets before Deadline Day, the pessimism surrounding last year’s Championship winners started to fade. A preseason of predictions that all three newly-promoted sides would go down gave way to a sliver of hope for Cardiff City. In that sense, it’s not shocking that Malky Mackay’s team sits 11th. That they’ve only lost twice in six after Saturday’s 2-1 win at Fulham is still worth noting.

More surprising, however, is what’s going on at Hull, where the Tigers sit seventh after Sunday’s 1-0 win over West Ham. Though Steve Bruce’s early hire last year helped them earn automatic promotion, the Tigers failed to convince at the end of last season, leaving a summer without major signings hinting at instant relegation. With 10 points through six rounds, Hull’s let their results address our doubts.

Crystal Palace, 19th after Saturday’s loss at Southampton, hasn’t shown as strong as their fellow promotees, but they’ve seen two established Premier League sides join them as relegation favorites. Sunderland, last with one point, have to identify a new leader before they can truly regroup, while Fulham’s loss to Cardiff City makes Martin Jol’s position an increasingly tenuous one.

5. MARTIN JOL THE NEXT TO GO?

Hired before the 2011-12 season, Martin Jol made an immediate impact at Fulham upon his return to the Premier League. Immediately implementing a style that differed from Mark Hughes’s, Jol took some short-term lumps to have Fulham playing some of the league’s most aesthetically-pleasing soccer by year’s end. The Cottagers seemed ready to push on.

Then came last year’s stall, one in where Fulham wasted all the momentum they accrued during the former Spurs boss’s return. At year’s end, a team coming off back-to-back top-half finishes had dipped to 12th.

After six rounds this season, the Cottagers sit 18th, their only win coming on opening day. Then, their only shot of the game allowed them to get full points despite being outplayed by Sunderland. In their  five other games, Fulham’s 0-4-1 while providing no reason to think things will get better.

Of course, things could get better. Just because we don’t see the potential doesn’t mean it’s not there. But looking broadly at Martin Jol’s time at Fulham, the trend is a downward one, and at some point, the Cottagers have to make a move. With the team playing poorly and sitting 18th, you can’t help but wonder if that point is approaching.


6. CHAMPIONS LEAGUE TALENT, NOT CHAMPIONS LEAGUE RESULTS FOR SPURS

It hasn’t been pretty, but to a certain extent, you have to give José Mourinho some credit. His team’s trip to Old Trafford? He got a point, taking a 0-0 from the defending champions. And Saturday’s trip to White Hart Lane? The Blues got a valuable 1-1 from Spurs.

Contrast that with what Spurs have done in their two most important games. At Arsenal, Tottenham allowed their rivals to hold serve, Spurs’s 1-0 loss leaving them empty-handed coming out of the Emirates. And Saturday, at home against Chelsea, they failed to take full points.

Big picture, these aren’t terrible results, but for a team aspiring to Champions League, they’re not encouraging ones, either. At some point, you need to take points from the teams you’re fighting for a top-four spot.

At home against Chelsea, they had points taken from them. Combined with their loss at Arsenal, we see a still-gelling Spurs squad failing to snag important points.

French authorities investigating 2018, 2022 World Cup bids

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PARIS (AP) French financial prosecutors are investigating the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and have heard former FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

A person with direct knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press on Thursday that France’s financial prosecutor services (PNF) opened the investigation on grounds of private corruption, criminal association, influence peddling, and benefiting from influence peddling relating to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

Blatter was questioned in Switzerland last week as a witness, the same person told the AP.

The office of the attorney general of Switzerland said in a statement that “at the request of and in the context of proceedings being conducted by French justice authorities, it has questioned Mr. Joseph Blatter in his capacity as a person providing information on the 20th April 2017 in Zurich.”

The PNF opened its investigation last year.

FIFA has also been targeted by investigations led by Swiss and US authorities. Last month, FIFA sent 1,300 pages of internal investigation reports into suspected bribery and corruption to Switzerland’s attorney general. The documents complete a 22-month probe by legal firm Quinn Emanuel, which FIFA retained in the fallout from United States and Swiss federal prosecutors revealing their sprawling investigations of soccer corruption in May 2015.

Blatter said last week that he met with U.S. Department of Justice investigators and insisted he was not a suspect in their bribery and corruption case linked to FIFA.

Blatter was suspended from office in September 2015 and later banned from soccer by the FIFA ethics committee.

Johannsson expected to leave Bremen this summer — is MLS next?

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Aron Johannsson’s time at Werder Bremen is all but finished, as the 26-year-old American-born, Icelandic-raised striker is expected to leave the club this summer after 22 months with Die Werderaner.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

Having failed to make much of an impact during his second season in the Bundesliga, following a few promising days early in the fall of 2015, the German press stated on Thursday, in no uncertain terms, “Aron Johannsson is leaving the northern club” — quotes from Kicker (translation courtesy of Google Translate):

In addition, Aron Johannsson is leaving the northern club. The US boy was not able to get through the hard competition in the storm, claimed more time, which can hardly be guaranteed in the next season. The fact that Baumann is already talking about finding a meaningful solution with the striker in the summer can be interpreted as follows: Johannsson will leave Werder.

Since various bits and pieces are lost in the above translation, allow us to offer a translation of the translation: the “hard competition in the storm” refers to the three or four strikers presently ahead of him in the pecking order. Johannsson fell down the depth chart due in large part to a hip injury which cost him the final seven months of last season.

Johannsson was recently quoted as saying, “It’s not my desire to leave, but at the end of the day it’s important that I play. I love football, but I need to play to be happy.”

[ MORE: John Brooks hip injury is worrying ahead of World Cup qualifiers ]

So, what’s next for Johannsson?

He can probably forget about a move to a top-division team in any of Europe’s premier leagues (England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France). A move back to Holland, where he starred at AZ Alkmaar (39 goals in 81 games) before moving to Bremen, would make sense if his goal is to stay in Europe at all costs. Another strong season (just a half, even) could earn him another shot with a first-division side roughly the size of Bremen.

Then, there’s MLS, which Johannsson’s been linked with before, and has publicly expressed a desire to join one day. As a current U.S. national team player, a move to MLS would mean a trip through the league’s allocation order for Johannsson. As of this posting, the Houston Dynamo hold the no. 1 spot in the allocation order, with Columbus Crew SC, San Jose Earthquakes, Minnesota United and Orlando City SC rounding out the next five.

[ WATCH: If you haven’t Darlington Nagbe’s latest golazo ]

Any team in MLS could land Johannsson by acquiring the top spot in the allocation order, via trade, and agreeing (what would almost certainly be) a Designated Player contract with him.

At the age of 26, Johannsson will likely feel there is still something left for him to accomplish in Europe. A strong showing in this summer’s Gold Cup (he’s a perfect candidate for Bruce Arena’s “B-team”) could open plenty of eyes — and doors. Money talks, though, just as the opportunity to be the face of the franchise and score a boatload of goals in MLS might also do.

Manchester projects stutter for Guardiola, Mourinho

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MANCHESTER — The struggle in Manchester is real.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

When Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho arrived last summer amid much fanfare the soccer world expected a rivalry rivaling Barcelona vs. Real Madrid in England’s northern powerhouse.

Yeah. About that…

[ MORE: Player ratings in City, United ]

Guardiola’s Manchester City sit in fourth place with five games to go, one place and one point ahead of Manchester United. They were dumped out of the UEFA Champions League and lost in the FA Cup semifinal to Arsenal at the weekend.

Pep’s “total football” approach has hit more than a few snags.

These two teams were supposed to challenge for the title this season but after spending a combined total of almost $400 million on new players they have one trophy between them (United won the EFL Cup) and are scrambling to qualify for the Champions League.

This isn’t how things were supposed to be.

Both managers are big enough names that they will be given plenty more time, and plenty more money, to solve their problems. But if they don’t start the 2017-18 season well then the pressure will mount quickly. Even for these two managerial heavyweights.

When it comes to Pep’s revolution at City he knows the teething problems have been present throughout the season. City have blown teams away when everything clicks but so often, especially at home, it hasn’t. City have drawn seven games at home this season and only United (9) have drawn more in front of their own fans.

Both managers are building bases tentatively but needed extra impetus to help the missing pieces of the jigsaw slot into place.

Speaking to the media after the game, Guardiola was downbeat despite his team seemingly in the driving seat for a top four finish ahead of their crosstown rivals.

“We have tried not just today but all of the season to monopolize the ball. Maybe it is a little bit of a Latin style. I don’t know what it is here in England but we tried to have the ball and attack,” Guardiola said. “Of course you can not expect against a team which is 23 games in a row unbeaten. That means they are good in defense and offensive and create not a thousand, million chances but 15 shots but not on target. It was not enough. We played to win the game. We tried. But again we are not able and we have to look why we were not able to win again. It is one point. The big fight will be until the Watford game.”

Between now and City’s final game of the season they will dominate possession in most, if not all, games but lacking that killer instinct has been their main problem. Gabriel Jesus‘ arrival at the end of this game provides Guardiola hope that the Brazilian teenager can provide a spark. City are arguably further along in their project than Untied but with fit again Vincent Kompany helping to improve Guardiola’s defense in recent weeks, in attack both have struggled.

City and United are the lowest scorers in the top six and United have scored just 50 times this season.

That said, the main problem for United in recent weeks has been injuries (Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo out for the season, joining Chris Smalling and Phil Jones on the sidelines) which have compounded their own ability to not finish teams off as a league-high 13 draws has Mourinho wondering what if.

United’s run to the Europa League semifinals has provided Mourinho with a “get out of jail free” card as they’re favorites to win Europe’s second-tier tournament and qualify for the UEFA Champions League through the backdoor. Fans of the Red Devils sing about Jose making them play “the United way” but the chant has become halfhearted and hollow recently.

United are 24 games unbeaten in the Premier League, the longest run in Europe’s top five leagues and they’ve equaled their longest ever unbeaten run in a top-flight campaign.

It doesn’t feel like it though.

Mourinho’s men recorded just 30.8 percent possession on Thursday, their lowest total since Opta started recording that metric in 2003. United are not a fun team to watch right now but they’re grinding out results until Mourinho can find a long-term solution to have them back among the elite. Until then he has the huge number of games they’ve played this season and their long injury list to blame.

“We will fight until the end – today we lost two more players – Timothy Fosu-Mensah had an important injury in the last action of the game and Fellani is suspended,” Mourinho said. “We are going down in terms of the number of players. It is very difficult for us but the character is amazing and I’m very proud of the boys.”

The feel-good factor wasn’t there on both sides of the Manchester divide at the Etihad Stadium.

Despite their pedigree Guardiola and Mourinho have plenty to prove to both sets of supporters as the two most successful and talented managers of their generation are finding that Manchester is not their heaven.

Not yet anyway.

These projects are very much a work in progress and when they next meet in July in preseason in the USA both clubs will have new players, a fresh start and more sky-high targets to reach.

The managers of City and United will be the same next season but they’ll both be under that much more pressure after a stuttering start to life in what was supposed to be a new era of Manchester becoming the soccer Mecca of the world.

Guardiola and Mourinho leave close to each other and this week Guardiola revealed the duo say hello and share pleasantries when they meet on the street.

They shouldn’t expect the same niceties from the general public in Manchester for much longer if trophies and title challenges don’t materialize.

Guardiola “satisfied” with derby draw; “It’s not easy” to play United

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Manchester City control their own destiny in the Premier League’s race to finish inside the top-four this season.

With five games to go, Man City sit fourth in the league table — just a point back of third-place Liverpool (with a game in hand), and a point ahead of fifth-place Manchester United after the two sides drew 0-0 on Thursday — and that fact has had an unbelievable calming effect on first-year City boss Pep Guardiola.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Speaking in his post-game television interview, Guardiola seemed much happier and looser than you might expect a manager to be when he’s only just left the field of a heated rivalry game, against his personal nemesis, and failed to convert in one of 19 shots (6 on target) into the game’s decisive goal.

“We can’t forget against which team we played today — [they’re] 23 games in a row without defeat. We created enough chances to score, we created two [clear-cut chances]. In terms of statistics and the way we played, especially the approach, I am so satisfied.”

“I am satisfied, because I know how difficult it is to play against Manchester United — how aggressive they are. It’s not easy when you face 10 players behind. It’s not easy, and you have to always be in a good position to avoid a counter-attack with (Anthony) Martial and (Henrikh) Mkhitaryan. … We have the talent, but sometimes it’s not easy against so many players there.”

“We all have tough games coming up now and we know it’s not an option to not win these games. Every game is important.”

[ MORE: Mourinho pins blame for Fellaini’s red card on Aguero ]

It’s true that City had the best only real chances throughout the game, but just think of the joy Guardiola might be experiencing right now had Sergio Aguero found pay dirt with just one of his eight shots on the night (two on target) to push his side third in the league table, four points clear of United in fifth.