Cardiff City v Manchester United - Premier League

Premier League Playback: United’s faltering midfield, ‘Crystal Pulis’ to soar, Boruc’s blunder

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MANCHESTER UNITED’S ENGINE ROOM THE ISSUE

On Sunday in South Wales, Manchester United let in a late goal to Cardiff City as they let another two points slip through their fingers. David Moyes turned away in despair and looked to the ground in disgust.

United didn’t play well, and although it looked like they’d got out of jail with a win until Kim Bo-Kyung’s last-gasp header nicked the Bluebirds a point, the main issue with the reigning champions was in central midfield.

Michael Carrick and Phil Jones, two of United’s more robust and reliable options manning the engine room, were both missing in the fiery cauldron of Wales’ capital city due to injury. And boy, did it show. Marouane Fellaini and Tom Cleverley manned the ship in the center of the park and they were overrun by forever plugging leaks sprung open by newly-promoted Cardiff. Unable to contain, tackle or cajole their team into life from the center of the pitch, Fellaini and Cleverly all too often went for the easy ball and played it safe in possession as the heat maps below show. That stunted United’s attacking impetus and allowed the Bluebirds to garner belief they could fight their way back into the game, Cardiff’s last-gasp equalizer had been coming due to midfield battle being lost.

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Click to enlarge: Marouane Fellaini’s passes vs. Cardiff City. Made no forward passes in the attacking third. (Source: Opta)
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Click to enlarge: Tom Cleverley’s passes vs. Cardiff City. Only one of his 42 passes was a successful forward pass in the opposition half. (Source: Opta)

Even Carrick and Jones have had their critics in recent seasons as United have never fully replaced their illustrious midfield generals of the past. Current players Anderson, Shinji Kagawa and going further back to Owen Hargreaves, they’ve all failed to recreate United’s indestructible machine of Keane, Scholes, Butt and the marauding menaces of Paul Ince and Bryan Robson before them.

Moyes needs to add a midfield enforcer to his squad in January, as United are too often relinquishing the middle third to teams who have hungrier, more tenacious and more committed central midfielders willing to run themselves into the ground for the crest on their shirts. I just don’t see that from any of the current crop of United’s central men, including Fellaini and Cleverley after their lackluster displays against Cardiff.

Fellaini and Cleverley aren’t bad players but they’re both afraid of failure and scared of taking people on. Between them they didn’t even attempt a dribble on Sunday and for so long United have had perfect dovetailing central midfielders, when one attacks, the other sits and vice versa. Anybody who watched Keane and Ince in their prime will tell you how beautiful that is to watch. The duo of Fellaini and Cleverley played together in the middle for the first time at Cardiff and you could tell that, they had no cohesion, no link and were all out sea.

Will they ever get the chance to shine in central midfield together again? After that combined performance, probably not. Back to the drawing board for Moyes.

Premier League Schedule – Week 12

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 2-0 Southampton Recap and watch here
Cardiff 2-2 Manchester United Recap and watch here
Everton 3-3 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Fulham 1-2 Swansea Recap and watch here
Hull 0-1 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here
Man City 6-0 Tottenham Recap and watch here
Newcastle United 2-1 Norwich Recap and watch here
Stoke 2-0 Sunderland Recap and watch here
West Brom 2-2 Aston Villa Recap and watch here
West Ham 0-3 Chelsea Recap and watch here

RED CARD CONTROVERSY

Let’s break down three controversial moments from the weekend, as two red cards were dished out incorrectly and one should have been given in the Merseyside derby between Everton and Liverpool.

Some of these decisions were incredibly bad, and given the exasperating precedent set by referees chief Mike Riley last week — when he apologized to West Brom manager Steve Clarke for a last gasp penalty handed to Chelsea that cost the Baggies a win — plenty of PL managers will be hoping to receive an apology via the post.

Mr. Riley, get your quill and parchment ready, you’ll have some serious apologizing to do this weekend after three horrendous mistakes. The floodgates have opened, Riley should’ve never apologized as now he’ll never stop apologetically nodding his head in agreement and offering his hand out in reconciliation.

Too many of the big decisions are being called incorrectly as referees come under more criticism in the PL. Here’s my take on three of the worst calls (because, in truth, there were so many more) this weekend.

  • Wes Brown’s red card vs. Stoke City – NO

The phantom tackle of Brown baffles me every time I see it. It isn’t, wasn’t and will never be a red card. Gus Poyet was incensed at the decision as he tore his puffy coat off in frustration, screamed at the officials and stomped his feet in frustration. Brown slid in and made a perfect, yet slightly lunging tackle. He was in control as he disposed Stoke’s Charlie Adam and may have faintly grazed the Scotsman as he slide through. This cost Sunderland any chance of grabbing a point or more at the Britannia.

  • Yannick Bolasie’s red card vs. Hull City – NO

Yes Bolasie does go over the top and lunges into this one, but he’s on the edge of the box and scrapping for every ball as two newly-promoted teams battle for a crucial three points 12 minutes from time. Out of all three, this decisions is the most sane, but it still isn’t right. Bolasie slips before the tackle is made, Jake Livermore is already going to ground and has also raised his foot and at worst it’s a yellow card.

  • Kevin Mirallas’ potential red card vs. Liverpool – YES

This has to be one of the worst tackles I’ve seen in the modern era. Yet Belgian winger Kevin Mirallas somehow stayed on the pitch as he lunged with a high foot and aimed to decapitate Luis Suarez’ right leg at the knee. The ball was bouncing up as the two players clashed by Suarez got to the ball first, knocked it away and was clattered recklessly into by Mirallas wild and dangerous right foot with his studs showing. An instant red card was the only option here. How it wasn’t… I’ll never know. Seems like Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers agrees.

“I thought Mirallas should have been sent off. He caught him [Suarez] on the back of his knee and that can end your career. It was awful jumping in like that.” Mirallas also agreed… wait, what? Straight up, here’s the evidence.

We can’t finish this section without the highlights to the Merseyside derby, I asked if that was “the best Everton vs. Liverpool battle in history?”  Judge for yourself by watching the highlights below.

CRYSTAL PULIS – WILL THE EAGLES SOAR TO SAFETY?

Everyone expects us to get relegated and it will be nice to prove people wrong. I like climbing hills and this will be a tough job but one I will relish – New Crystal Palace manager Tony Pulis

Palace dispatched Hull City 1-0 on Saturday, watch above, as the Eagles lifted themselves off the bottom of the table as their new manager arrives amongst a sea of optimism.

Earlier on Saturday the South London side announced former Stoke City boss Tony Pulis is their new manager. I believe that’s a fantastic decision. Just three points from safety after that huge win, Pulis’ side has given themselves a fighting chance of climbing out of the relegation zone. Expect them to grab it with both hands.

This is a fact: Palace will be a horrendous side to play against for the rest of the season. Think Pulis’ Stoke City on steroids. The Eagles have something to prove, as does Pulis after his seven year spell at the Potters came to an abrupt end last season when he failed to kick them on to the next level. That burning desire to prove everyone wrong will create destruction and distress for every team they come up against in their remaining 26 PL games of the season. The Eagles aren’t ready to land in English soccer’s second-tier, in fact, they’ve yet to even take off in the top flight. You’ve been warned, Pulis’ first game in charge away at Norwich will showcase that.

ROAD WINS SEAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

If Manchester City aim to keep obliterating teams at home, watch above and shield your eyes Spurs fans, but struggle to snatch a point on the road, a second PL title in three years won’t be heading to the Etihad Stadium this season.

On Sunday City smashed Tottenham — I mean, completely knocked them out of the stadium and into the parking lot — 6-0 as they flexed their title credentials impressively. But if they keep losing on the road to basement boys and continue to augment their splendid home displays by hemorrhaging points on their travels, Pellegrini’s dream of delivering a Championship are dumbfounded.

The stats back my slightly snarky statement up as City have started this season with a poor record of W1-D1-L4 on the road. In the last 10 seasons, no PL champion has lost more than five games away from home in their title winning season… City have already lost four matches from six on the road this campaign.

What is the answer I hear you cry?

Plenty of foreign stars feeling intimidated in hostile atmospheres across a plethora of rough and ready English cities could be a reason. Another could simply be that they prefer to score early and settle their nerves in games and away from home the opposition are more likely to have a go at City and score first. The Citizens resilience is then called into question and so far they’ve failed to hit back when they’ve been dealt a blow away from home. If other sides get a foot hold at home against City, they might as well pull their goalkeeper and put the handbrake on because Pellegrini’s men look devoid of ideas when they go behind. When they’re on form Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo’s burgeoning partnership can rip any team apart, we’ve spoken about that before in PL Playback after City demolished United… it seems as though the duo that initially showed promise has now blossomed into a full-blown goal scoring tandem of tricks, flicks and boat loads of goals. Aguero has 10 goals, Negredo has five and City have 34 goals in 12 games.

But this struggling form away from home has to be addressed and contrary to popular belief, it isn’t a Pellegrini-ism. It’s been going on for years. Many have put City’s struggles on the road down to their new Chilean manager being out of his comfort zone in unfamiliar surroundings at the Britannnia Stadium, Villa Park or the Stadium of Light. What a load of old tosh.

In the four seasons before the current campaign, since City became perennial title contenders, their away record reads as follows.

2012-13 – W9-D6-L4 | 2011-12 – 10-4-5 | 2010-11 – 8-4-7 | 2009-10 – 6-9-4

No team has won the Premier League title having lost four of their first 11 games since 1968… the last team to do that and win the league was… Manchester City. If they pick up their away form and continue to blow teams away at the Etihad, they won’t be far off a historic repeat.

City’s manager Pellegrini isn’t worried by those stats and said the following with a cheeky grin on his face: “I don’t believe in statistics in football. I believe football has some relation with mathematics but not always. If you win all the games from now until the end, maybe we will win the Premier League.”

BORUC, LLORIS RED FACED AS ‘KEEPERS PRESSURIZED TO PLAY

During a debate on the BBC following the weekends action, former Newcastle and England goalscoring legend Alan Shearer had this to say about the new task handed to many PL ‘keepers.

“Goalkeepers are more footballers now than at any other time,” Shearer said. “They’re part of the back four.”

I’m not trying to defend Southampton’s goalkeeper Artur Boruc for his embarrassing blunder, watch above, but his problems have come from being a ‘keeper asked to play the ball with his feet and become a part of the defense, when his main job was always to keep the ball out of the net.

In the modern era, ‘keepers have become a fifth defender and are encouraged by many managers to get involved and keep possession of the ball rather than lump it aimlessly up field every time it’s sent back to them.

On Saturday in Saints’ biggest game of the season so far, Boruc tried three ‘Cruyff turns’ in his own box and lost out to Olivier Giroud who easily tapped home and left an embarrassed and livid Boruc cursing on the floor. That goal put his Southampton side on the back foot and cost them any real chance of upsetting the league-leaders at the Emirates and helping the Saints leapfrog them into top spot. But ever-since Argentine manager Mauricio Pochettino arrived at the South Coast club, Boruc has been taking more risks with the ball at his feet and he’s encouraged to do so. If that’s what the manager wants, mistakes like this will happen. Southampton keep the ball better than almost any team in the league and that starts with Boruc’s patient, yet dangerous, build up from the back.

(MORE – FULL PREMIER LEAGUE STANDINGS)

Spurs were also the masters of their own downfall with a goalkeeping error after just 13 seconds against Man City in their humiliating defeat. Hugo Lloris’ mistake was a little different to Boruc’s as he miskicked the ball straight to City’s attackers who then capitalized brilliantly on a skewed clearance. But it was almost as if Lloris held back from giving the ball an almighty punt and was hoping his short kick would find a Spurs teammate and keep the ball in Tottenham’s possession. The Frenchman is the best ‘sweeper-keeper’ in the league and regularly launches off his line to become a defender and play the ball out of danger.

Goalkeepers in the PL should get back to doing that.

Keeping it out of their goal and giving it a bloody good whack upfield to make sure the ball is as far away from danger for as long as possible, that’s their job, right? Yet Boruc and Lloris are encouraged to play from the back by their managers, so mistakes like those they made at the weekend will happen. Ultimately they were bad individual errors but if their sides want possession from the back, ‘keepers shouldn’t be lambasted for giving the ball away or getting caught in possession. Look how often it happens to the outfield players they’re expected to emulate… Think about it.

Still at least Boruc saw the funny side of it… Check out the instagram picture he posted a few hours after the game, the caption says it all. Hilarious. Well, except if you’re a Saints fan…

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Premier League Playback comes out every Monday and takes an alternative look at the weekends action.

Previews of every Premier League game – Week 26

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22:  Diego Costa (R) of Chelsea celebrates scoring the opening goal with his team mates during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Hull City at Stamford Bridge on January 22, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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There are eight Premier League games in Week 26 as the EFL Cup final sees Southampton and Manchester United both out of PL action.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live

With the FA Cup break over, we are now looking forward to plenty of big battles across the league as some teams try to scramble for points in their quests to finish in the top four, while others are scrapping away for their lives at the wrong end of the table.

With 13 games to go, it’s all getting rather tense out there…

Below you can find previews, team news and score predictions on every game coming up this weekend.


Tottenham vs. Stoke City

Everton vs. Sunderland

Chelsea vs. Swansea City

West Brom vs. Bournemouth

Leicester City vs. Liverpool

Crystal Palace vs. Middlesbrough

Hull City vs. Burnley

Watford vs. West Ham

Predicting EFL Cup final lineups: Man United v Saints

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19:  Zlatan Ibbrahimovic  of Manchester United during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford on August 19, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Manchester United and Southampton contest the EFL Cup final at Wembley Stadium this Sunday as the first trophy of the domestic season in England is up for grabs.

[ MORE: Follow EFL Cup final live

Jose Mourinho’s United go into the clash on a roll after losing just one game in their last 25 in all competitions, while pushing themselves back into the top four hunt and reaching both the quarterfinals of the FA Cup and the last 16 of the Europa League.

As for Southampton, Claude Puel‘s men are the undisputed underdogs but will fancy their chances of causing an upset after beating both Arsenal and Liverpool to make it to their first League Cup final since 1979 and just the second in their 132-year history.

Below is a look at how both teams could line up on Sunday, with some analysis on how it could play out.


Manchester United

—– De Gea —–

— Valencia — Bailly — Smalling — Blind —

—- Herrera —- Fellaini —-

—- Mata —- Pogba —- Rashford —-

—– Ibrahimovic —–

Subs: Romero, Young, Rojo, Jones, Martial, Lingard, Rooney

United have some injury concerns ahead of the final with both Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Michael Carrick limping off against Saint-Etienne on Wednesday in the Europa League. Mourinho believes they’re big doubts to play at Wembley. That means one of Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial will come in for Mkhitaryan and it will probably be Rashford who has looked increasingly dangerous in recent weeks.

The back four picks itself and with Carrick likely out, you’d expected Ander Herrera to be joined by Marouane Fellaini in midfield. The only other question is whether or not Wayne Rooney will be fit enough to play some part after spending over three weeks on the sidelines.  Zlatan Ibrahimovic will lead the line and his partnership with Paul Pogba will test Southampton’s makeshift defense severely.


Southampton

—– Forster —–

Cedric — Stephens — Yoshida — Bertrand —

—- Romeu —- Davis —-

—- Redmond —- Tadic —- Ward-Prowse —-

—– Gabbiadini —–

Subs: Hassen, McQueen, Caceres, Hojbjerg, Rodriguez, Sims, Long

Saints have a few key players missing for this clash and their biggest concern will be in central defense. After selling Jose Fonte in January, they then lost Virgil Van Dijk through injury. That forced Puel to bring in Martin Caceres on a short-term deal but the former Barcelona and Juventus defender hasn’t played in over a year so academy product Jack Stephens will likely start alongside Maya Yoshida. Can they shackle Ibrahimovic? In midfield Oriol Romeu has been incredible in the holding role and he will go head-to-head with Pogba, while alongside him club captain Steven Davis will provide a good base to snuff out United’s attack.

James Ward-Prowse could get the nod over Shane Long and Jay Rodriguez out wide due to his set-piece deliveries, while Dusan Tadic in-behind Manolo Gabbiadini will be Saints’ biggest attacking threat. They were struggling for goals with Charlie Austin out injured but Gabbiadini has scored three in his first two games for Saints since arriving in January from Napoli.


Where next? Rooney’s agent in China discussing offers

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 19:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United shows appreciation to the fans after the final whistle during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford on November 19, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Wayne Rooney‘s potential move to the Chinese Super League appears to be drawing closer.

[ MORE: What’s the best option for Rooney? ]

Multiple outlets are reporting that Rooney’s agent, Paul Stretford, has traveled to China to discuss a potential transfer to the CSL for his client ahead of the transfer window closing in China on Feb. 28.

Where is he going in China?

According to the BBC Jiangsu Suning and Tianjin Quanjian are the favorites for his signature, while yesterday a report from Sky Sports suggested Guangzhou Evergrande and Beijing Sinobo Guoan were the front-runners to sign Rooney. With the strict laws on each team being allowed just four players from outside the Asian Football Confederation in their squad (plus, a new rule for the 2017 season means only three foreign players can be on the pitch for each team at the same time) there appears to be only a few options for Rooney.

Jiangsu Suning, Tianjin Quanjian and Beijing Sinobo Guoan all have an open spot for a foreign player, while Guangzhou Evergrande — who have won the CSL six years on the spin and are managed by Luiz Felipe Scolari — have all of their available slots locked up with Jackson Martinez and Paulinho on board.

Stars such as Carlos Tevez, Oscar, Hulk, Graziano Pelle, Martinez and Alex Teixeira have taken up plenty of the international spots as talent continues to flock to China. Rooney is reportedly being offered in excess of $43.5 million per season which would make him the best-paid player on the planet.

The all-time leading goalscorer for Manchester United and England certainly seems to have options, even if this move isn’t pushed through by next Tuesday and instead happens in the summer.

Should Rooney move on from United?

It appears that he is reluctant to do so but with the 31-year-old in and out of the team this season and other attackers such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial in good form, getting regular minutes will be a struggle for the legendary forward who has spent the last 13 years at Old Trafford.

Rooney’s current deal at United runs out until 2019 but it appears a move to China for one final payday seems like an increasingly likely proposition.

LA Galaxy’s reserve team to hold open tryouts in England

CARSON CA - AUGUST 9: Making his MLS debut Giovani Dos Santos #10 of the Los Angeles Galaxy congratulates Gyasi Zardes #11 after he scored a goal against Seattle Sounders during the first half at StubHub Center August 9, 2015, in Carson, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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CARSON, Calif. (AP) The LA Galaxy’s reserve team will hold open tryouts in England this summer in an attempt to find overlooked talent for the Major League Soccer franchise.

The LA Galaxy II announced the tryouts Wednesday.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live

Players between 16 and 25 years old will be welcomed in London on May 31 and June 1 and in Manchester on June 3-4. At least five players from each city will be selected and flown to the Galaxy’s training complex in suburban Los Angeles for another week of trials.

Former England captain David Beckham leads a long list of prominent European talent that has suited up for the five-time MLS champion Galaxy.

Among the club’s English players, defender Ashley Cole is in his second season, while Steven Gerrard left the club last year.