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.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.

Arena should give Ream a look in Brooks’ absence

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With John Brooks out three months thanks to a horribly timed thigh injury, the United States yet again has to scramble to fill a void at the back. It’s not the first time an injury to Brooks has left the USMNT scrambling for cover at a thin position.

In the successful Gold Cup this past summer, with a largely domestic squad in place, Omar Gonzalez saw the bulk of the time at central defender, with Matt Besler his partner through the final two matches. However, with European-based players now in contention for spots with the early September international break, those two are unlikely to continue, at least not together.

[ MORE: Liverpool holds all the cards in Coutinho transfer ]

The most obvious choice to start September 1st against Costa Rica and likely shoo-in should he remain healthy for the next two weeks is Geoff Cameron. The 32-year-old has been back and forth between defense and midfield with club and country, and although he has publicly acknowledged his preference for a spot higher up the pitch, he was used in a back-three in Stoke City’s Premier League opener last weekend and is steadiest at the back.

But with a spot next to Cameron up for grabs in Brooks’ absence, a player who should get serious consideration is United States fill-in extraordinaire Tim Ream.

Ream has had to work hard to earn his place with the U.S., and while he’s seen time of late, he’s not been a first-choice pick. The 29-year-old has four caps so far in 2017, with two of those starts, including one in the impressive 1-1 draw against Mexico at the Azteca with the US still clawing its way back up the Hex standings. Even then, Ream would likely not have earned that spot had Arena not chosen to rotate nearly the entire squad between the pair of qualifiers in that window. His other start this year, the 1-1 draw at Panama, only came after Cameron pulled out of the squad the day of the game with a late injury. The last time Ream started back-to-back matches for the U.S. came back in 2015 when he was somewhat of a regular through the second half of the calendar year.

[ MORE: LA Galaxy send Van Damme back to Belgium ]

But now, with Brooks out, Ream looks like the perfect man to fill in again. The 29-year-old defender finished last season in top form as Fulham narrowly missed out on promotion, earning the official website’s Man of the Match award in a May 2nd draw with Brentford, and won it again in the club’s final match of the season.

Without missing a beat, Ream has picked up where he left off last campaign in the first few matches this month. Last weekend against Reading at the Madjeski Stadium, Ream’s center-back partner Tomas Kalas was sent off 36 seconds into the match, forcing Fulham to play a man down for 89 minutes. Ream and company solidified the back, conceding just once in the 61st minute en route to a 1-1 draw.

The club still likely requires reinforcements at the CB position – Ream was forced to partner with right-back Denis Odoi against Reading with Kalas suspended and Michael Madl injured – meaning Ream could see an influx of competition in the coming weeks. However, as it stands, the American is far and away the best (and most improved) central defender on a club favored for promotion.

Gonzalez performed well in the Gold Cup, and Matt Besler was serviceable, but with few other options in the heart of defense to take Brooks’ place, Bruce Arena could yet again look to Ream for an in-form replacement.

Mourinho looks to pile title pressure on Chelsea

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A week ago, just before their 2017/18 Premier League season began, Antonio Conte declared Chelsea to be an underdog for the title. It’s right not to put Chelsea to be a favorite,” Conte said.

Jose Mourinho disagrees.

Looking to deflect pressure away from his Manchester United squad, Mourinho declared Chelsea to not only be the favorites to win the Premier League this season and defend their title, but proclaimed it would be a massive disappointment if they didn’t.

[ MORE: Liverpool in an advantageous position regarding Coutinho ]

To Mourinho, the simple fact that Chelsea won last season means they should consider themselves the team to beat going forward. “For me the favorite is the champion,” Mourinho said in his pre-match press conference ahead of Manchester United’s game against Swansea City on Saturday. “Always. Because for some reason [they were] the champion. It doesn’t mean you are going to win it – I think it is the stamp that you have when you are champion, it is that the next season you are the favorite.”

Chelsea seems to have a depth issue at the moment, with injuries plaguing the squad. New signing Tiemoue Bakayoko leaves a big hole in midfield, especially with Nemanja Matic sold to the Red Devils. In addition, Gary Cahill and Pedro will miss time in the near future with suspensions, while superstar Eden Hazard remains out as he recovers from a broken ankle.

Despite all the missing players, Mourinho believes that Chelsea always comes through in the transfer window, and that will solve their problems. “If they have [depth problems], in a couple of weeks the problems are over. They have very good teams, very good players and I don’t see any reason for them not to be fighting for the title.”

Manchester United next meets Chelsea on November 5th in Premier League action at Stamford Bridge.