Humiliation or redemption? League Cup final vs. Manchester City could save Manchester United’s season

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On Wednesday night Manchester United need to overturn a 2-1 deficit to reach David Moyes’ first major cup final in charge of the Red Devils.

Sunderland stand in United’s way at Old Trafford in the League Cup semifinal second leg, kick off at 2:45pm ET live on BeIN Sports in the USA, with 9,000 away fans expected to create quite a racket at one end of the famous stadium. Moyes and United hope the Black Cats fans won’t have much to cheer about.

If United do overturn the narrow first-leg defeat, which many including myself expect, then they will face fierce neighbors Manchester City at Wembley on March 2 in the Capital One Cup final.

Do fans of Manchester United really want that?

City just blew away West Ham 9-0 on aggregate in the other League Cup semifinal and they’ve already passed the 100 goal mark in their 35 outings so far in 2013-14.

United were pummeled, and I mean absolutely obliterated, at the Etihad back in September by their noisy neighbors in a damaging 4-1 loss that portrayed how much City had moved ahead of their rivals.

(MORE: League Cup semifinal – Three goals see Manchester City to 9-0, two-legged romp past West Ham)

It’s not untrue to say that most United fans are hoping they don’t beat Sunderland on Wednesday, to avoid the embarrassment of having their bottoms smacked in front of 90,000 at Wembley and billions watching across the world. One humiliation from City is about as much as United’s fans can handle for one season. If they make the League Cup final, it could happen three in a season (given the likelihood that City will stroll into Old Trafford and have their wicked way with United for the third season running).

But, and this is a big but, what if United made the final against City and won the trophy?

Surely it would be worth the chance of getting humiliated by your nearest and heavily despised rivals? The Charity Shielf aside, it would allow Moyes to lift his first meaningful trophy as United boss too.

A piece of silverware in his first season in charge would be more than Sir Alex Ferguson managed and it would clam everyone down about the rebuilding project the Scot has on his hands. Moyes’ dynasty would officially be off the ground and United could kick on for the final three months of the season with a renewed vigor and sense of belief that they can make the top four of the PL and make a deep run in the Champions League.

I say, why not?

Yes, City are blowing every team they play out of the water of late, heck even Barcelona are shuddering at the thought of visiting the Etihad in their last 16 UEFA Champions League tie and dealing with Alvaro Negredo, Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompany et al, but they have to lose sometime.

I’d hazard a guess that City wouldn’t fancy having all the pressure and weight of expectancy piled upon them as the favorites in a big cup final against their biggest rivals. Fans of the Citizens would be expecting a mauling of epic proportions. That air of optimism and self-confidence could be their own worst enemy and United may pounce to put one over on their nearest rivals. Remember the FA Cup final last season when Robert Mancini’s City crumbled and lost to massive underdogs Wigan at Wembley? They are a different team now, but the core of that side remains. The weight of expectancy in a big cup final was too much for some of City’s players to handle.

Is making the League Cup final an opportunity United can pass up? Or one they can’t afford to not take advantage of?

Maybe, just maybe, a League Cup trophy could be the catalyst for United’s woes to evaporate and see the Red Devils kick on for the remainder of the Premier League season.

Former Spurs midfielder Paulinho scores thunderbolt for Brazil

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Brazil topped Uruguay 4-1 to move on the verge of World Cup qualification, but there was much more to the first half of this match than meets the eye.

Uruguay went ahead 1-0 on a 9th-minute penalty won and scored by Edinson Cavani, and for a moment it seemed like the home side might find its way to pull within a point of Brazil at the top of the CONMEBOL standings. That would not last very long.

[ MORE: Full roundup of CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying action ]

Just 10 minutes later, a bad giveaway near the midfield stripe saw Neymar casually feed Paulinho a good 50 yards from goal. The former Spurs man took matters into his own hands, charging forward and unleashing a vicious strike that continued to rise until it ripped the chords in the top-right corner.

 

Not only was the goal a sight to behold, it was an important moment in the match. Brazil was back level at 1-1, and Paulinho would be on his way to an eventual hat-trick with a pair in the second half. Neymar scored once as well to complete the 4-1 final scoreline, and the three points for Brazil saw them remain perfect in the World Cup qualifying round as they march seven clear of Uruguay at the top of the standings.

For Paulinho, the hat-trick brings him to four goals in the World Cup qualifying round, adding to his score in the 3-0 win over Argentina. They also mark an important moment for the Chinese Super League, where Paulinho now plays, having moved from Spurs in July of 2015. Some national team coaches have left players on the outside of the squad for moving to leagues such as the Chinese League or Major League Soccer, but Paulinho has clearly been an asset to Brazil despite his club situation. In fact, in China, Paulinho has scored four goals in his four league matches for Guangzhou Evergrande this season plus another in the Asian Champions League, leaving him in top goalscoring form coming into this international break, something which has clearly translated directly to international play.

The 28-year-old had lost his place in the national team squad in 2014, going over two years without a single international appearance, but has been a mainstay in the Brazilian side during this World Cup qualification cycle.

Dele Alli banned three European games for straight red card

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Spurs may be out of the Europa League this season, but should they end up qualifying for the Champions League next season, they will start the campaign short-handed.

Tottenham will be without midfielder Dele Alli for the first half of the group stage after his horrifying tackle on Brecht Dejaegere of KAA Gent in their 2-2 draw which saw Spurs out of the competition on aggregate in the Round of 32.

Alli went to ground on the 39th-minute challenge, and made contact on high up on Dejaegere’s leg with both his studs, finishing with a scissior-whip motion. It was a blatant red card, and now UEFA’s disciplinary committee has handed down the three-match ban. Straight-red cards for violent conduct only carry a minimum penalty of one match in UEFA tournament play, but the disciplinary committee clearly thought a longer punishment was necessary, with the ability to sentence anyone up to five matches.

The straight red was the first of Alli’s professional career. Alli apologized to Dejaejere after the match, according to the Gent midfielder. He’s since scored in four straight matches, and when asked on Sunday if that moment was still in his mind, he said, “I’m never going to say sorry for wanting to win or trying as hard as I can but things happen and you have to learn from them.”

Spurs currently sit in second place in the Premier League table with 59 points and look to be in a strong position for Champions League qualification, with a seven-point cushion on fifth-placed Manchester United.

Lippi leads China over SKorea 1-0 in World Cup qualifier

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) Marcello Lippi earned his biggest victory since taking over as coach of China’s national soccer team, leading his squad to a 1-0 victory over South Korea on Thursday in a World Cup qualifier.

[ MORE: Shorthanded USMNT hosts Honduras as WCQ resumes ]

The coach, who led his native Italy to the World Cup title in 2006, was hired by China in October.

Yu Dabao scored the lone goal at Helong Stadium in Changsha with a header in the 34th minute, giving China only its second victory over South Korea in 32 matches.

China spent much of the second half defending with the visitors piling on the pressure. Ki Seung-yeung and Ji Dong-won both went close for South Korea but could not find a way past China goalkeeper Zeng Cheng.

South Korea has 10 points from six matches in Group A and is still on course to qualify for the World Cup in Russia. China, which last qualified for the World Cup in 2002, has five points.

Only the top two teams from the six-nation group qualify automatically. The third-place team will head to the playoffs.

CONMEBOL wrap: Brazil routs Uruguay, Messi guides Argentina past Chile

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A roundup of Thursday’s action from around CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying…

[ MORE: USMNT looks to build momentum against Honduras in WCQ ]

Paulinho‘s hat-trick helped bring Brazil back from an early deficit as the Selecao topped Uruguay, 4-1. Edinson Cavani put the hosts ahead after nine minutes from the penalty spot, but it was Paulinho that answered 10 minutes later for his first of the night. Neymar also tallied for the Brazilians, who continue to lead CONMEBOL qualifying with 30 points.

Lionel Messi scored in the first half to help lift Argentina over Chile, 1-0. The Barcelona attacker scored after 16 minutes when Angel di Maria was taken down inside the Chilean area by José Fuenzalida. Chile was held to just one shot on target throughout, and the loss leaves the reigning Copa America winners on the outside looking in at the top five.

James Rodriguez rescued Colombia on Thursday as the Real Madrid winger capitalized off of his penalty-kick rebound to give Los Cafeteros a 1-0 win over Bolivia. Goalkeeper Carlos Lampe did his best to preserve a draw for the visitors, recording six saves on the afternoon, however, it wasn’t enough to tame Colombia.

Meanwhile, Paraguay knocked off Ecuador, 2-1, behind goals from Bruno Valdez and Junior Alonso. The visitors pulled a goal back in the 70th minute when Felipe Caicedo converted from the penalty spot, but it wasn’t enough for Ecuador.

Peru battled back with two second-half goals to preserve a 2-2 draw against Venezuela on the road. The hosts got out to a 2-0 advantage before halftime when Mikel Villanueva and Romulu Otero scored for Venezuela, however, the Peruvians struck back in the second stanza to knick a point. Andre Carrillo and Paolo Guerrero scored in the 46th and 64th minutes, respectively, for Peru.


Thursday’s results

Colombia 1-0 Bolivia
Paraguay 2-1 Ecuador
Uruguay 1-4 Brazil
Argentina 1-0 Chile
Venezuela 2-2 Peru


Updated CONMEBOL table

  1. Brazil — 9-3-1 — 30 pts.
  2. Uruguay — 7-2-4 — 23 pts.
  3. Argentina — 6-4-3 — 22 pts.
  4. Colombia — 6-3-4 — 21 pts.
  5. Ecuador — 6-2-4 — 20 pts.
  6. Chile — 6-2-5 — 20 pts.
  7. Paraguay — 5-3-5 — 18 pts.
  8. Peru — 4-3-6 — 15 pts.
  9. Bolivia — 2-1-9 — 7 pts.
  10. Venezuela — 1-3-9 — 6 pts.