In 7th place and out of the FA Cup: Uncharted territory for Manchester United

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Everyone knew it would be an adventure this year when Manchester United trekked on without Sir Alex Ferguson at the helm.

After all, he’s all they’d known since 1986, their guiding light during the ups and the downs – of which there were many, many more ups than downs.

But nobody knew it would be this bad.

The league has been tough enough this season, losing to Tottenham, Everton, Newcastle, and West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford.  Last year they lost a total of three matches at home all year.

But now, with Manchester United currently languishing in seventh place in the league – completely new for them, having finished in a Champions League position in every season since the Premier League’s inception – they’re out of the FA Cup in just the third round in painful fashion.

Fabio received a straight red card for this potentially knee-capping studs-up tackle on Jose Canas – just four minutes after Moyes plucked him off the substitute’s bench – and the inevitable hammer dropped in the 90th minute when Wilfried Bony headed Swansea through to the fourth round.

Many have criticized Moyes’ ability to manage the game on the field for United, picking apart his reactionary rather than proactive tactics.  However, today, with his substitute receiving the straight red, critics now have ammunition pointing directly at the manager.

source: AP
Swansea celebrate their late winner of United to knock them out of the FA Cup, as Shinji Kagawa looks on dismayed.

It was a puzzling substitution in the first place.  Looking to add an attacking flair with the game mired at 1-1, Da Silva replaced Rio Ferdinand, moving Jonny Evans into the center of defense and using the new addition as a wing-back.

Problem is, he had plenty of better options.  Moyes had already made a positive change, removing the wasteful Valencia in favor of young starlet Adnan Januzaj.  But with Wilfried Zaha still on the bench, Moyes chose instead for Fabio.

It made some sense, as natural center-back Jonny Evans offers little in the attack and Moyes wanted to avoid a reverse fixture.  But the removal of Ferdinand blew up his own defensive shape, and with Fabio sent off the back f̶o̶u̶r̶ three was in shambles.

Ok, so Ferdinand was injured, you tell me. It forced Moyes hand. No matter, he finished the game with a substitution in hand. He didn’t even make the obvious change after Fabio’s red…oh wait, Fabio was the only defender on United’s bench. There’s a whole separate issue.  Sure, Vidic and Evans are injured. But then why is he starting three CB’s if there’s no cover? The squad is a mess.

It’s just the second time in the last 30 years that United have found themselves unable to progress through the third round, the only other blip being Leeds in 2010.

So where do they go from here? They can still certainly get themselves back into the Champions League positions – something vital if they intend on scattering the vultures extending Wayne Rooney’s contract beyond next season.

However, it’s apparent the current squad isn’t going to get it done.  What changes need to be made in January? As much as many fans wish they could, a complete squad overhaul isn’t something that the January transfer window typically lends itself to.

So can David Moyes, known for making cakes out of crumbs at Everton, work his January magic at Old Trafford? It certainly hasn’t worked on the pitch so far for the 50-year-old Scot, so he has to get it done off the pitch.

It’s hard to imagine the board would make a managerial change at such a crucial time in the season, so the job is likely Moyes’ to see through.

But with so much riding on the next few months, there are some crucial decisions that have to be made soon – decisions that will have enormous consequences, positive or negative.

Chinese clubs to pay 100% tax on foreign transfers

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The days of Chinese Super League sides spending eye-popping figures on a handful of international superstars — either that, or those figures are about to double — for now, at least.

[ MORE: Oscar given 8-game ban for petulant display in China ]

China’s Football Association announced Thursday that, effective immediately, any foreign player signed for a fee exceeding $6.63 million would be subject to a 100-percent tax on top of the fee paid to acquire the player. The tax will remain in effect until the end of China’s ongoing transfer window, July 14. The tax will also apply to Chinese players signed for a fee exceeding $3 million.

It’s Chinese authorities’ latest attempt to prevent big spending by CSL clubs, which has in every instance been detrimental to the development of young Chinese players making their way through the academy system. The taxed money will then be reinvested in “youth training, construction of public sporting facilities and scientific progress in football development,” according to a statement by the CFA.

Just last week, China was eliminated from contention to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Russia. The only time China has ever qualified for the World Cup was in 2002.

Young Englishman Oxford goes abroad, to Gladbach, on loan

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MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany (AP) Borussia Moenchengladbach has signed English central defender Reece Oxford on loan for the season from Premier League club West Ham.

Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl says “Oxford has gone through all the England youth teams and is one of the biggest defensive talents in Britain.”

The 18-year-old Oxford, who spent the second half of last season on loan at second-division club Reading, is Gladbach’s fifth arrival of the off-season.

Qatar stadium safety concerns again raised by death investigation

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An investigation into why a British man fell to his death on a building site for the 2022 Qatar soccer World Cup has raised concerns about stadium roof safety.

World Cup organizers on Thursday released partial findings of an assessment of the accident at the Khalifa International Stadium, but said the full report cannot be released while local authorities continue their own investigation. It is one of two work-related deaths detailed in Qatar’s latest welfare report on preparations for the 2022 soccer tournament, which currently involves 12,367 workers on eight construction sites.

The 40-year-old British man fell 39 meters in January after one end of the roof catwalk he was installing dropped and a safety rope snapped.

“During the course of the investigation, the team had raised concerns with the method of installation of the raised catwalk system,” the welfare report from Qatar’s World Cup organizers stated. “This required further investigation regarding the method itself and the supervision skills of the specialist contractor staff.”

It has led to “corrective and preventative actions” being implemented by the contractor, a joint venture between Belgian and Qatari firms, along with safety checks across all stadium sites, the report said.

“These included a review of all working-at-height activities across all SC projects, an enhanced process when reviewing specialist activities within construction sites, and a detailed review of all roof and gantry designs,” the Supreme Committee overseeing stadium projects added.

The British man is the only European working on Qatar stadiums to have died in a country relying on a low-paid migrant workforce from south Asia to prepare for the first World Cup in the Middle East. Six non-work related deaths have been announced by organizers, with most suffering from heart or breathing problems.

Hassan Al Thawadi, the supreme committee’s secretary general, said medical staff are trying to raise awareness of the “importance of healthy lifestyles” by evaluating diets and identifying health issues, including hypertension and diabetes. Cooling helmets have also been developed in an attempt to make it safer for workers on outdoor sites during the searing summer heat.

World Cup preparations have been dogged by concerns about the welfare of workers since the natural gas-rich Gulf nation won the FIFA vote in 2010. Mounting international pressure led to Qatar raising living standards and worker rights. Inspections led to three contractors being blacklisted and 14 entities “demobilized” from projects for failing to tackle welfare issues, the World Cup report reveals.

“There is still work to be done to ensure our workers’ welfare standards continue to have a tangible impact on the ground and we are comprehensive in our attempts to tackle the myriad of issues facing migrant workers across the SC program,” Khalid Al-Kubaisi, who oversees worker welfare at the Supreme Committee, said in a statement.

The report has been released as Qatar is gripped by a diplomatic crisis that has seen it isolated in the region. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar earlier this month and blocked air, sea and land traffic over its support for Islamist groups and ties with Iran. Qatar denies the charges and says the allegations are politically motivated.

Official (finally): Salah completes move from Roma to Liverpool

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It was the summer’s first transfer rumor-turned-real-story-turned-never-ending-saga that seemed to refuse to cross the finish line, but it’s finally come to pass: Mohamed Salah is a Liverpool player.

Salah’s move from Roma to Liverpool took so long to complete that the club’s poor social-media manager probably never wants to read the words “Announce Salah” for the rest of his/her life.

The deal will cost Liverpool something in the neighborhood of $50 million — a new Liverpool club record — and completes the utterly terrifying attacking quartet Jurgen Klopp can’t wait to unleash on the Premier League come August — Salah on one side, Sadio Mane opposite, Philippe Coutinho in the middle, and Roberto Firmino at striker. Salah, by the way, will take over Firmino’s no. 11 shirt, with the Brazilian switching to no. 9.