Manchester United v Swansea City - Premier League

What we learned from Manchester United’s win over Swansea

1 Comment

Saturday’s win for Manchester United was anything but perfect, especially in a first half sorely lacking in energy, ambition, ideas … well, it lacked pretty much everything as Swansea more or less ran the show.

But United did manage to quiet the growing unrest around the fabled ground, and right quickly past the break. Here are some of the take-aways:

More of the “missing midfield” from Manchester United

What does it say about the state of mighty Manchester United when the best central midfielder in a game between these two clubs – something of a meeting of “haves” and “have-nots” isn’t it? – belongs to Swansea?

ProSoccerTalk’s Richard Farley sank his teeth into this issue earlier this week, dissecting the ongoing issue around Old Trafford: since Paul Scholes began losing tread on the tire, the failure to find a worthwhile center midfielder to partner Michael Carrick. Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but Swansea’s Jonjo Shelvey was the game’s most effective central midfielder for long stretches Saturday.

Twenty minutes into the match, Swansea had 60 percent of the possession, and much of that was about Shelvey’s talent and willingness to do the work on either side of the ball.

First corner kick … at the hour mark?

United didn’t take its first corner kick until almost an hour gone in the game. That’s how tilted the game was at times, with Swansea keeping the ball over long periods, not always doing so with menace and danger but managing to make the home players chase the game.

The final result will mitigate concern over this lack of attacking push from United. Still, it will be recorded in the minds of critics, sure to be trotted out during the next losing spell, or even after the next loss.

More desire in second half for Manchester United

The crowd was getting restless … and then some! About the time Darren Fletcher launched a directionless ball down the field to no one in particular, after about 30 minutes, the irritation around the ground began reverberating with some real teeth. More of the same about 10 minutes later as United simply could not gain and maintain possession against the visitors. It was really beginning to look like an awful match during a real stretch of them for David Moyes’ men.

But he must have said something at halftime, or a switch was flipped for some of the proud men or something. Because the second half was a world apart in performance and desire.

A lot came down the left, where Adnan Januzaj and Patrice Evra were tearing the Swans apart. Danny Welbeck was becoming more a factor, too.

Evra’s crosses weren’t always the best, but his constant pressure was an inspiration (and that pressure had a lot to do with Welbeck’s goal, which more or less finished this one off.)

Januzaj was the game-changer

His first-half free kick nearly changed the game before the break, a ball off the cross bar that would have been something of a classic “goal against the run of play.”

He was on the job after the break, too, whipping in the cross that led to his team’s breakthrough goal. A few minutes later, he intercepted a throw from Swansea’s keeper, then supplied another cross that would eventually become Welbeck’s goal.

A clever tactical tweak was surely involved, too; Moyes moved Januzaj out wide to the left and Shinji Kagawa shifted into the center, behind Welbeck. Both players looked better at that point.

Januzaj is still young and lacking in some consistency, but the Belgian up-and-comer proved his enormous worth on this day, providing the extra spark Moyes’ team so badly needed, and just in time.

Welbeck can’t miss many more like this

OK, this isn’t exactly stunning news, but Moyes’ men have missed, do miss and will continue to badly miss Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie in those goal scoring positions. Perfect case in point:

Around the 30-minute mark, Januzaj released Antonio Valencia down the right. The sequence found its way to Rafael, who arranged one beautifully for Welbeck.

With only the goalkeeper to beat, Welbeck somehow pulled his first-timer wide left. The young England man helped make up later, but this was the kind of opportunity that Welbeck simply cannot miss, not if he wants to help United challenge for a top four spot, and not if he wants to make his mark when Rooney and van Persie are not available.

Azpilicueta: Biggest thing is “we haven’t conceded goals” since 3-4-3 switch

SWANSEA, WALES - SEPTEMBER 11:  Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea and Modou Barrow of Swansea City chase the ball during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Chelsea at Liberty Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Stu Forster/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Antonio Conte has been called a mastermind in the past for his unconventional tactics. Now, it’s those same tactics that are making him look the part of a genius yet again at Stamford Bridge.

[ MORE: Is 2016/17 the closest Premier League title race ever? ]

Since changing his system to a 3-4-3 following Chelsea’s gutting 3-0 defeat against Arsenal last month, the Blues have gone on to win three straight Premier League matches, including a recent 4-0 drubbing of Manchester United on Jose Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge.

As important as the results are for Chelsea at the moment, the even more impressive aspect is the way that the Blues are winning matches. In their three consecutive victories, Conte’s side has failed to concede a goal, which has helped bring Chelsea to within a point at the summit of the PL.

Not only do the supporters appreciate Conte’s willingness to adapt and build a team that plays up to its greatest potential, but defender Cesar Azpilicueta is one of the many players that have uttered similar sentiments about the Italian’s tactics.

“I find it good. The most important thing for me is the team and since we changed the system we haven’t conceded goals in the Premier League,” he told Sky Sports.

“I try to play my part in the team. The most important part of the system is the spirit of the team and the way we work. The tactics make a difference but what was most pleasing was the way the team work made it happen. Some players have different roles now but we have all week to work on that and we have a very clear idea what to do in the game. We have different options from the attacking fullbacks now.”

[ MORE Guardiola says he needs “time to learn, to improve” at City ]

Azpilicueta has been one of three key figures for Chelsea at the back since Conte made the switch defensively, joining Gary Cahill and David Luiz in a partnership that looks hard to crack at the moment.

Report: Mexico open to hosting 2026 World Cup despite potential joint bid with U.S., Canada

PASADENA, CA - JUNE 09:  Chicharito #14 of Mexico celebrates after his goal in front of Andre Blake #1 of Jamaica to take a 1-0 lead during Copa America Centenario at the Rose Bowl on June 9, 2016 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Despite some talks linking a possible two or even three nation bid for the 2026 World Cup, Mexico has opened the door for El Tri to host the world’s biggest football competition for a record third time.

[ MORE: Liverpool reaches summit of latest PST Premier League Power Rankings ]

Mexico Football Federation president Decio de Maria recently told ESPN that he and his country are prepared to go ahead with a bid for the 2026 edition of the tournament with or without any hypothetically joint bid.

“I don’t know [whether we would pursue a joint bid] but the rules are already open to it,” De Maria said. “What was agreed upon makes the path perfectly clear.

“Mexico will be in the hunt to host the 2026 World Cup.”

In addition to Mexico, the United States has been considered an early favorite to be named hosts in 2026 after losing out to Qatar for the 2022 competition. The U.S., Mexico and Canada have also been linked with a joint bid between the three CONCACAF nations, as the region looks to bring the World Cup back to North America for the first time since 1994 (when the U.S. hosted).

Mexico previously hosted the World Cup in 1970 and 1986, and is one of four nations to have held the tournament on home soil more than once.

Report: Barcelona eyeing Nathaniel Clyne to fill right back gap

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 17:  Nathaniel Clyne of Liverpool clears the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield on January 17, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

When Dani Alves left Barcelona to join Juventus over the summer, the Blaugrana appeared to have the right back vacancy covered.

[ MORE: Guardiola says he needs “time to learn, to improve”

However, manager Luis Enrique appears to be turning his attention to the Premier League in order to replace the versatile Brazilian defender.

[ MORE: Tony Pulis extends contract with West Brom ]

According to SunSport, Barcelona is prepared to approach Liverpool’s Nathaniel Clyne during the winter transfer window as the Spanish giants look to lock down the right back position.

The 25-year-old is reportedly seen as a significant upgrade from Sergi Roberto and Aleix Vidal, both of whom have been tabbed as starters this season for Barcelona.

Clyne has appeared in 12 matches this PL season for the Reds, who currently sit tied atop the Premier League with Manchester City and Arsenal on points.

In addition to Clyne, SunSport reports that Glen Johnson is also a consideration for the Blaugrana, however, the 32-year-old is certainly not a first option for Enrique and Barcelona given his age and drop in form.

MLS Conference Semis preview: Compelling match-ups all around

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 23:  Landon Donovan of the United States celebrates with team mate Tim Howard after victory that sends the USA through to the second round during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group C match between USA and Algeria at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium on June 23, 2010 in Tshwane/Pretoria, South Africa.  (Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)
Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images
Leave a comment

One of Major League Soccer’s most wide open new rivalries headlines a glorious quartet of first legs when the Conference Semifinals get going on Sunday.

[ MLS: Conference semis schedule ]

Toronto FC and New York City FC have squared off five times in a nascent rivalry which has seen plenty of thrills, including a 4-4 draw in NYC last season.

TFC has three draws but is yet to top NYCFC. There are so many reasons to love this match-up: the tactical face-off between Patrick Vieira of NYC and Greg Vanney of Toronto; the combined firepower of David Villa, Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, and Andrea Pirlo.

Aside from the postage stamp pitch at Yankee Stadium for the second leg, almost everything about this is wonderful.

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13: Khiry Shelton #19 of New York City FC carries the ball against Marco Delgado #18 and Michael Bradley #4 of Toronto FC at Yankee Stadium on March 13, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

[ MORE: JPW talks with USL commish Edwards ]

The other Eastern Conference semi sees the Montreal Impact building off its upset of DC United with a pair of matches against high-flying New York Red Bulls.

The first match is in Montreal, and the Stade Saputo is a big, loud place. Didier Drogba is no longer featuring for the hosts, but Ignacio Piatti has been as good as any players in the league (He deserves MVP consideration but it seems politically difficult to imagine it will go anywhere besides a New York team or Giovinco).

The Red Bulls haven’t lost since July 3, and feature a dominant group up the middle which includes Luis Robles, Dax McCarty, Sacha Kljestand, and Bradley Wright-Phillips. This, too, shall be fun.

Over in the West, we see suddenly starring Landon Donovan and the LA Galaxy opening up against surprising Colorado Rapids.

A Donovan vs. Tim Howard match-up is in some ways an Evertonian and USMNT fan’s dream, but this will be more about whether Colorado’s “no-name” — outside of Howard and Jermaine Jones — team can stare down the star power of the Galaxy. Look for sneaky star Shkelzen Gashi to make his name known a bit more for the Rapids.

[ MORE: Spain may recall David Villa ]

Finally we’ve got the hottest team in the West, Seattle Sounders, duking it out with Supporters’ Shield and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup winner FC Dallas.

The playoffs find Seattle as a minor favorite since FCD star Mauro Diaz went out for the year and Fabian Castillo skipped town for Turkey. But ruling out Matt Hedges, Walker Zimmerman, and head coach Oscar Pareja is something you’d do at your own peril.

For Seattle, there’s new star Nicolas Lodeiro and striker Jordan Morris, the latter who is delivering at an unreal level (even for a rookie as hyped as the Stanford man).

All of these matches have the potential for special soccer. Bring on Sunday.