Manchester United v Real Sociedad de Futbol - UEFA Champions League

Three points, few answers for Manchester United in Champions League

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Coming into today’s match, the performances was as important as the result. It’s a sentiment David Moyes echoed in his pre-match news conference, explaining his team had trained well in the days leading up to Manchester United’s Champions League meeting with Real Sociedad. The end goal: Translate their best moments into actual goals, hopefully leaving themselves beyond the reach of the type of one-off moments that saw them drop points this weekend to Southampton.

Despite Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Sociedad, United failed to meet that standard. Iñigo Martínez’s second minute own goal ended up deciding the match, even if close calls from Antonio Valencia and Phil Jones almost gave United insurance. Still, as the second half went on and Real Sociedad continued to find room to build through the midfield, this game had the feeling of what’s become a typical Manchester United performance. Had Sociedad played better, we would have seen a repeat of this weekend’s result.

That’s not to say there weren’t positives. Wayne Rooney, except for a poor finish in the second half, was fabulous. It’s a pleasure to see him reclaim this status. Phil Jones and Jonny Evans helped keep a clean sheet, and Antonio Valencia was his typical (if limited) self down the right flank. Nobody ever said Manchester United were a bad team, hence their lead in their Champions League group (up two points on Bayer Leverkusen).

But for Moyes, there seem to be four big problems. First, he’s conceded the team need to be better, thus confirming the problem. Second, looking at the squad he’s inherited, it’s impossible to disagree. United’s is a very talented squad. Third, even if you wanted to nit-pick as to how talented they are, last year’s league title provides some evidence of their quality. But finally,  and perhaps most damning, this team’s playing with the exact same approach Moyes instilled at Everton. This is top-table talent performing with mid-table mentality.

The one caveat when looking at today’s performance is the starting XI. There was no Robin van Persie. Marouane Fellaini was out. Adnan Januzaj was given the day off, and neither Nemanja Vidic nor Rio Ferdinand were in the middle of defense. This wasn’t unlike a team Alex Ferguson, implicitly dismissive of group stage challenges, would have chosen, with a close call result to match.

In that sense, it would be too hard on Moyes if we saw this as the extension of something bigger, though the bottom line remains the same. The United boss wanted a different kind of performance from his team, and he didn’t get. Whether that’s an extension of the manager’s mentality, the team still  failed to meet their goals. We saw progress in the win column but not the performance.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.