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.

Premier League Preview: Middlesbrough vs. Hull City

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  • Teams have only met twice in PL before
  • Boro have 6 draws from 13 games
  • Hull have won just once in last 11 PL games

Middlesbrough host Hull City at the Riverside Stadium on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) in what can already be described as a six-pointer in the Premier League between two newly-promoted teams.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Boro has won just once at home in the Premier League this season and sits on 12 points, while Hull has only won once on the road and Mike Phelan‘s side has just one victory in their last 11 games as the Tigers sit in the relegation zone on 11 points.

In team news Hull’s Sam Clucas and Ryan Mason are available but Abel Hernandez and Shaun Maloney are both struggling with injuries and striker Dieumerci Mbokani is suspended. As for Boro, Daniel Ayala could return but George Friend is still out.

What they’re saying

Aitor Karanka on Boro’s bad luck: “I think for example against Stoke we could have won and against Watford and Crystal Palace we didn’t deserve to lose. But the truth is we have 12 points and one day we will not deserve to win and we will win. When you have been working in the Championship for two and a half years and know how tough every single game is, having the opportunity to work against the best teams in the world is amazing, but we know we have to improve every single day.”

Hull boss Phelan on the story so far: “We can talk about spirit and determination but we can apply that by taking the games on and getting in front. That still requires the same sort of detail but you can see the players are grafting. They are learning and observing things. It’s possibly taken us this far to understand where we’re at and what league we’re in.”

Prediction

This will be a tight encounter and it may not be pretty. Both teams need the points to drag themselves away from an increasingly congested relegation battle. 1-o to ‘Boro.

Blatter loses appeal against six-year ban

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - JULY 20: Comedian Simon Brodkin (not pictured) throws cash at FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter during a press conference at the Extraordinary FIFA Executive Committee Meeting at the FIFA headquarters on July 20, 2015 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)
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Sepp Blatter should get the message this time.

[ MORE: Zlatan defends kick ]

It was announced on Monday that the former president of FIFA from 1998 until 2015 has lost his appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) over a six-year ban from all soccer related activity.

After being found guilty of making an illegal payment of $1.65 million to the former head of UEFA, and close friend, Michel Platini, in 2011, the Swiss official has already had his initial eight-year ban reduced to six and Platini had his eight-year ban reduced to four years.

However, Blatter has reached the end game and at the age of 80, it is unlikely he will ever hold any position in world soccer ever again.

Plus, Blatter has the small matter of still being investigated by the Swiss authorities who are looking into FIFA’s records, and the FBI continues to arrest and charge officials within world soccer’s governing body due to allegations of widespread corruption over the past two decades.

Things could get much worse than a six-year ban for Blatter.

In a statement released by CAS, they revealed why Blatter’s appealed had been turned down:

“The appeal of Joseph S. Blatter has been dismissed. As a consequence, the decision rendered by the FIFA Appeal Committee (FIFA AC) on 16 February 2016 remains in force and Mr Blatter remains banned from taking part in any football-related activity at national and international level for six years as from 8 October 2015 and must pay a fine of 50,000 Swiss francs.

“By approving a payment of £1.3m to Mr Platini in 2011 for the balance of work carried out under the alleged oral agreement, Mr Blatter breached the FIFA Code of Ethics since the payment amounted to an undue gift as it had no contractual basis.

“The Panel further found that Mr Blatter unlawfully awarded contributions to Mr Platini under the FIFA Executive Committee retirement scheme which also amounted to an undue gift.”

Aguero banned four games, Fernandinho gets three

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The English FA have confirmed that Manchester City duo Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho will be banned for four and three games respectively after being sent off late in the 3-1 defeat against Chelsea last weekend.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Aguero, 28, lunged in on David Luiz and was shown a straight red card for the tackle (if you can even call it that) and Fernandinho, 31, was sent off in the ensuing melee as he pushed Cesc Fabregas repeatedly and grabbed him around the throat.

In the case of Aguero, he would have already been banned for three games but his punishment has been extended by an extra game due to his suspended three-game ban which he received for elbowing West Ham’s Winston Reid back in August.

As for Fernandinho, he has been handed the standard three-game ban for being sent off for violent conduct.

Pep Guardiola‘s City ended the game with nine-men against Chelsea and looked frustrated after blowing a 1-0 half time lead as they lost 3-1 against the Premier League leaders.

Without Aguero and Fernandinho, their upcoming games against Leicester, Watford and Arsenal are now looking very difficult, plus Nicolas Otamendi will be unavailable against Leicester this Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) due to picking up his fifth yellow card of the season.

With regards to the melee at the end of Chelsea’s win at City, it is expected the FA may fine both teams for their actions and Fabregas could also be implicated as some camera angles appeared to show him striking Fernandinho in the face first.

Let’s wait and see.

As for City, injuries and suspension are adding up and they’re now four points behind leaders Chelsea, plus they’ll have to do without their leading score Aguero who has 10 of their 30 goals in the Premier League.

A chance has now arrived for City’s only other central striker as 20-year-old Kelechi Iheanacho will likely be given the opportunity to lead the line, or if not Nolito or Kevin De Bruyne may operate as the highest player in a false nine formation.

Ibrahimovic denies deliberately kicking Coleman in the head

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 04:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United tangles with Seamus Coleman of Everton as they battle for the ball during the Premier League match between Everton and Manchester United at Goodison Park on December 4, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Zlatan Ibrahimovic was involved in an incident in the second half of Manchester United’s 1-1 draw at Everton on Sunday which have raised a few eyebrows.

[ VIDEO: Rojo red card? ]

As Zlatan and Everton defender Seamus Coleman tussled for the ball, the duo fell down and the Manchester United striker eventually fell on top of Coleman.

However, as he went to get up he kicked Coleman in the head and the Toffees’ right back was later subbed out with an apparent head injury.

Speaking to MUTV after the game, Ibrahimovic was asked about the incident.

The response of the 35-year-old striker — who scored once again for the Red Devils to take his tally this season to 12 — to the incident was not exactly the perfect PR answer…

“It was a physical game, they played hard,” Ibrahimovic explained. “I heard one of the commentators say I kicked someone in the head on purpose, but it was a 50/50 duel and he pulled me down. Trust me if I want to kick someone in the head, I know how to kick someone in the head and make him fall asleep. That is the only thing I have to say.”

It is unlikely that Zlatan will be facing any further action from the FA for the kick out but I look at that incident and say he was lucky to escape with a petulant act. He knew where Coleman was and took a chance on leaving his boot in and letting the Everton defender know he was there.

Sure, it may have been accidental but anybody who has played the game knows you can get away with certain things and when a master of the “dark arts” such as Zlatan is involved, I find it tough to believe he didn’t know what he was doing.

It was unnecessary from Zlatan and the act seemed to steam from the frustration of playing up top on his own against a bruising Everton defense.