Manchester United v Newcastle United - Premier League

Replacing Paul Scholes: Manchester United’s long-held weakness sending Red Devils to new depths

Leave a comment

If you were to pick one place where Sunderland won Tuesday’s League Cup match, the 56th minute insertion of Adam Johnson would stand out. Four minutes after Manchester United’s equalizer, the Red Devils appeared on the verge of controlling the game. Instead, Black Cats’ manager Gus Poyet brought Johnson on at Emanuele Giaccherini’s expense, sent right back Phil Bardsley sailing up the right flank (occupying Patrice Evra) and allowed his pace-filled winger to go at United midfielder Tom Cleverley.

In the 62nd minute, Johnson drew a penalty on Cleverley, creating the chance that would yield the game winning goal. Minutes later, Johnson again carried the ball past Cleverley to create a chance from distance. By the time the 75th minute arrived, David Moyes had called on Darren Fletcher, electing to shore up his team at Cleverley’s expense.

It was a match up you’d never expect Cleverley to win, exactly the reason the 24-year-old is a central midfielder as opposed to a wide player. In creating and exploiting it, Gus Poyet deserves praise for a tactic that does beyond reductive Xs and Os displays. At the same time, a glaring weakness in United’s squad that’s been harped on for years was seized upon by one of the Premier League’s bottom dwellers, providing indisputable evidence that United need to upgrade in the winter window.

For years, the brilliance of Alex Ferguson allowed the Red Devils to overcome their soft midfield, even if it that brilliance could do little to overcome Barcelona in two Champions League finals or prevent Manchester United from an embarrassing group stage elimination in the 2011-12 tournament. It also failed to realize Ferguson’s successor was unlikely to replicate his ability to work the problem, making his (and United’s) unwillingness to address the weakness even more curious.

This isn’t something that’s surfaced this year. Ever since the miles started to show on Paul Scholes (pictured, above), Manchester United has had a problem finding somebody to partner Michael Carrick in the middle. Darren Fletcher was that man for a while, but illness sidetracked his career. Anderson was purchased from Porto as a player to groom for the role, but we’re long past debating whether that move has been a bust. They tried to get Ander Herrera and Cesc Fabregas in the summer, and Wayne Rooney may have been asked to descend into the role had Ferguson stayed, but six months into the post-Fergie era, the only thing United have done to try to address their biggest hole was overpay for the now-injured Marouane Fellaini. It’s not good enough.

source: Getty Images
Limited but talented, Michael Carrick’s virtues are the subject of a constant debate around Manchester United’s midfield. The England international, however, is less of a problem than the players who have been chosen to play around him. (Photo: Getty Images)

Much of the debate around United’s midfield centers around Carrick, a player of whom there are drastically different opinions. Some think he’s one of the best deep-lying midfielders in England. Others think the devil on his shirt makes him one of the most overrated players in the league. The truth may lie in between, however, with Carrick being both excellent and very limited. Within 30 yards of goal, he is relatively useless, whereas in the middle of the field, his technique and vision (both passing and reading play coming at him) make him a valuable presence. In the defensive half, that ability to read the game makes him a plus defensively, even if his lacks a willingness to ‘get suck in’ that inspires fans.

Like a Andrea Pirlo, Carrick is a player that needs to be complemented, but whereas Juventus now have two ranging, physical players (Arturo Vidal, Paul Pogba), United don’t have one. They’ve tried Anderson, and it hasn’t worked. Fletcher’s been out of the picture, and with Fellaini, the Red Devils seem hopeful of having a player that can provide steel in the middle (even if he’s never covered the ground that Fletcher can). Within their current squad, it’s still unclear United have a successor for Scholes.

As Cleverley was being beaten by Johnson on Tuesday, that lack of a successor was clear. While Scholes is no more physically capable of keeping up with a player like Johnson, his intelligence meant the Sunderland winger may not have gotten the ball in the first place. Before his final three or four years at United, Scholes was great at reading those plays and, if not outright intercepting the ball, providing an obstacle when the man turned upfield. While that often resulted in some famously clumsy tackles, it also meant few players were allowed to run at Scholes the way Johnson took on Cleverley at Sunderland.

This has weakness for some time at United, but now that Ferguson’s gone, there’s no reason to avoid addressing it. This summer, United tried but came up short on Herrera and Fábregas. Now, although the options may be more limited in the winter window, it’s more important than ever the Red Devils don’t take this weakness for granted.

They’ve spent in attack, bringing in Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa. On the wing, they bought Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia not so long ago. At the back, they’ve invested in Chris Smalling and Phil Jones while adding David de Gea in goal. Contrary to popular complaints, Manchester United are willing to buy.

Now, they need to buy in the middle. Fellaini’s not enough. They need somebody who can complement  Carrick, and they need him in this window.

USWNT cruises past Costa Rica in final pre-Olympic warm up

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 09: Julie Johnston #8 of the United States shoots past Nomoumelelo Nyandeni #18 of South Africa during a friendly match at Soldier Field on July 9, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The United States defeated South Africa 1-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The U.S. Women’s National Team wasn’t really lacking confidence heading into Friday night’s clash with Costa Rica, but the squad’s utter dominance certainly didn’t hurt things as Jill Ellis’ group gets ready to head to Brazil for next month’s Olympic Games.

[ MORE: Pulisic says Klinsmann links to England job made sense ]

The USWNT captured a 4-0 win against Costa Rica in the side’s final send-off match before the Olympics, extending the no. 1 ranked team in the world’s unbeaten streak to 15 matches.

It only took a quarter of an hour the USWNT to find the lead, but it always looked like it was coming for Jill Ellis’ group. Meghan Klingenburg made a great run deep into the Costa Rica area, and played a perfect square pass across the face of goal for Crystal Dunn to give the U.S. the lead in the 15th minute.

Mallory Pugh got her name on the scoreboard in the 22nd minute after making a brilliant darting run forward and beating the Costa Rican goalkeeper at the near post.

The U.S. pushed their advantage to 3-0 on the stroke of halftime when Becky Sauerbrunn’s free kick was headed home by Carli Lloyd in first-half stoppage time.

With a number of chances in the second half that didn’t take the right bounce for the USWNT, Christen Press made no mistake from close range in the 79th minute and gave the home nation a four-goal lead.

Dunn continues to impress on the international stage, and nearly gave the U.S. an advantage after just seven minutes. The 24-year-old gathered the ball inside the penalty box before unleashing a strong effort that struck the crossbar and stayed out.

The U.S. found another dangerous opportunity three minutes later, when Carli Lloyd was brought down from behind on the edge of the penalty area. Costa Rica defender Katherine Alvarado was shown a yellow card for the rash tackle, but the USWNT couldn’t make anything of the ensuing free kick.

While Costa Rica put in a valiant effort against their competition, the Ticas were no match for the Americans, and failed to muster up any shots on target throughout the night. The 29th ranked team in the FIFA World Rankings struggled to move the ball past midfield for most of the outing largely due to the USWNT’s constant press.

UEFA confirms 3 entries for presidential election

SAINT DENIS, FRANCE - JULY 08:  In this handout image provided by UEFA, UEFA Vice President Angel Maria Villar addresses the UEFA Euro 2016 closing press conference at Stade de France on July 8, 2016 in Saint Denis, France. (Photo by Handout/UEFA via Getty Images)
Photo by Handout/UEFA via Getty Images
1 Comment

NYON, Switzerland (AP) Contenders from Slovenia, the Netherlands and Spain have entered the UEFA presidential contest to replace the banned Michel Platini.

[ MORE: Sam Allardyce officially named England manager ]

UEFA confirmed the three national federation presidents on Friday: Aleksander Ceferin, Michael van Praag, and Angel Maria Villar.

[ MORE: Steve Bruce has resigned at Hull City ahead of PL season ]

All must pass an integrity check to be accepted as a candidate for a job which includes the role of FIFA vice president.

UEFA’s 55 member federations will vote on Sept. 14 in Athens.

Van Praag and Villar are currently UEFA vice presidents, and Ceferin is a relative newcomer to European football politics.

Van Praag stood against Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency last year, then withdrew days before the vote.

Villar, who already is a FIFA vice president, has been a member of FIFA’s ruling committee for 18 years and leader of Spanish football for 28 years.

The winner will complete Platini’s third four-year presidential term which expires in early 2019.

A four-nation group of Nordic federations, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, said in June it would support Ceferin. The group also wants to co-host the 2024 European Championship.

UEFA should make that hosting decision during the current presidential term.

In a separate election due Sept. 14, there are two contenders for the UEFA position of a women’s delegate to the FIFA ruling council.

Evelina Christillin of Italy and Laura McAllister will also be subject to a FIFA eligibility check, UEFA said.

Nottingham Forest signs former Toronto FC defender Damien Perquis

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13:  David Villa #7 of New York City FC kicks the ball past Damien Perquis #24 of Toronto FCat Yankee Stadium on March 13, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Damien Perquis has found a new home after recently leaving MLS side Toronto FC in search of a new challenge.

[ MORE: Man City expected to land Everton defender John Stones ]

Nottingham Forest confirmed the signing of Perquis on Friday after making 37 appearances for Toronto dating back to the beginning of the 2015 MLS season.

[ MORE: Crystal Palace has entered race for West Brom’s Saido Berahino ]

Perquis, 32, began his career with French side Troyes, and played domestically in his homeland for over 10 years before moving to La Liga side Real Betis.

After playing briefly for France at the Under-21 level, Perquis opted to switch his national team allegiance to Poland and appeared in 14 matches for the White Eagles between 2011-2013.

Report: Man City expected to land Stones for $65 million

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28:  Ross Barkley (L) of Everton celebrates scoring his team's third goal with his team mate John Stones (R) during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Everton at Vitality Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Bournemouth, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
2 Comments

Everton appears set to lose one of its most prized young players, albeit for a pretty penny.

[ MORE: Steve Bruce leaves Hull City prior to Premier League season ]

After heavily pursuing England centerback John Stones this summer, Manchester City looks to be closing in on a deal for the 22-year-old, according to the Telegraph.

[ MORE: Wijnaldum officially completes move to Liverpool

The Toffees had placed a fee of roughly $65 million on Stones as more teams became interested in the young defender, but the sizable fee doesn’t seem to have swayed City’s front office from pursuing Stones.

Since taking over as the club’s new manager this summer, Pep Guardiola has been adamant about acquiring Stones, particularly with centerback being one of City’s biggest needs. Currently, the squad boasts captain Vincent Kompany, Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala as their only true options to man the central defending positions.

The Citizens and their relentless pursuit for Stones will likely leave Chelsea, Manchester United and Barcelona searching elsewhere to improve their defenses. The Blues were favorites to acquire Stones last year, however, Chelsea had its bid of nearly $48 million turned down by Everton.