ManchesterUnited

Ugly penalty shootout highlights Manchester United’s fragile mental state

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After a Heimlich maneuver from Javier Hernandez brought Manchester United back from the dead, the Red Devils stepped up to the penalty spot five times at Old Trafford looking to spurn Sunderland.

They gacked four of them.

With David Moyes searching every corner of the Red universe for answers to a season of questions, he found nothing but black yet again.

The night had started with a feeling of new life, as rumors sparkled around Old Trafford that United were on the verge of rescuing Chelsea’s lost man Juan Mata.  But it ended with that same empty feeling that’s plagued the home supporters all season, and it was hard to watch.

Now it’s clear that sunken feeling has spread to the dressing room as well.

One of the most embarrassing penalty shootout showings in recent memory showed the public how horribly fragile the mental state of a once-powerful squad has become.  All you had to do was watch the penalties attempted by Moyes’ men.

Danny Welbeck missed the top corner horribly, flying over.  Phil Jones looked very much like a defender, not testing Vito Mannone. Rafael, another defender, meekly touched well within range of the Sunderland stopper.  Even the wonderkid Adnan Januzaj, who has looked like United’s lone bright spot the last few weeks, couldn’t hit confidently enough to pass the keeper.

Plenty of excuses have flown around the last few months for why Moyes has struggled in his first year at Old Trafford, but tonight’s penalty debacle lies squarely with the gaffer.

With nobody on the team on a good run of form aside maybe the Belgian teenager, Moyes decided to pick a pair of defenders to take spot-kicks, while leaving out striker Hernandez and winger Antonio Valencia.

Mind-boggling.

Even if reports that Chicharito injured himself celebrating his last-ditch goal are true, it doesn’t excuse the selection, for which there were a myriad of better combinations.

And let’s not forget, one of the most mentally fragile players on the squad – goalkeeper David De Gea – flubbed the easiest of collections to give Sunderland extra-time hope to begin with

According to WhoScored, its the Spaniard’s first goalkeeping error leading to a score since 2012, a year when rumors of his exit from Old Trafford flew as many claimed his young mind was unable to handle the rigors of the Premier League.

With a team already scratching and clawing for any kind of positive results, Moyes may have broken his players’ mental state beyond repair.  It’s possible they seal the deal with Juan Mata, which could certainly provide an injection of creativity they so desperately require.

But at this point, Moyes no longer has a shot at the title, and he must tread carefully or the Scotsman risks falling out of European football entirely.

The red on the world-famous Old Trafford home kit has long since lost its fear factor.  Instead, the club is bleeding red, and Moyes must find a way to cauterize the wound now.

Here’s a hint for you David, free of charge: it’s not Phil Jones from the penalty spot.

VIDEO: Premier League Team of the Week – Round 25

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In a week where defenders scored critical goals, it’s no surprise to see a 4-3-3 in the Premier League’s Team of the Week.

Robert Huth‘s brace while blanking Manchester City leads the way for the PL’s top XI from the weekend, while Southampton’s vaunted back line and keeper have two in mix.

[ MORE: Ailing Chelsea, Man Utd showcase obvious deficiencies ]

Liverpool and Arsenal both put offensive forces on the team, while big goals for safety hopefuls Newcastle United and Aston Villa found three players between the two in the XI.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Premier League Team of the Week — Round 25 ARCHIVE ]

Goalkeeper: Fraser Forster (Southampton)

Defenders: Kieran Trippier (Tottenham Hotspur), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Robert Huth (Leicester City), Joleon Lescott (Aston Villa)

Midfielders: Aaron Lennon (Everton), Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)

Forwards: Roberto Firmino (Liverpool), Aleksandar Mitrovic (Newcastle United), Gabriel Agbonlahor (Aston Villa)

Premier League Player of the Week — Round 25

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Score one for the Midlands.

In a season for lowlights, Aston Villa captain Gabriel Agbonlahor is celebrating a bit of hope for his beleaguered club after his classy finish gave the 29-year-old his first goal of the season.

[ REACTION: Agbonlahor says Villa now ready to produce great escape ]

It also inspired Villa to consider that eight points off the Premier League safety chase isn’t unrealistic if it can put together some more gritty performances like the 2-0 defeat of Norwich City on Saturday.

Premier League Players of the Week

Week 1: Riyad Mahrez, Leicester City

Week 2: Romelu Lukaku, Everton

Week 3: Callum Wilson, Bournemouth

Week 4: Bafetimbi Gomis, Swansea City

Week 5: Steven Naismith, Everton

Week 6: Anthony Martial, Manchester United

Week 7: Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal

Week 8: Sergio Aguero, Manchester City

Week 9: Raheem Sterling, Manchester City

Week 10: Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur

Week 11: Arouna Kone, Everton

Week 12: Jesse Lingard, Manchester United

Week 15: Riyad Mahrez, Leicester City

Week 16: Ayoze Perez, Newcastle United

Week 17: Odion Ighalo, Watford

Week 19: Xherdan Shaqiri, Stoke City

Week 20: Jermain Defoe, Sunderland

Week 21: Jermain Defoe, Sunderland

Week 22: Sergio Aguero, Manchester City

Week 23: Dele Alli, Tottenham Hotspur

Week 24: Fraser Forster, Southampton

Week 25: Gabriel Agbonlahor, Aston Villa

Napoli fans wear Koulibaly masks to support defender after racial abuse

NAPLES, ITALY - FEBRUARY 07:  Fans of Napoli  during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Carpi FC at Stadio San Paolo on February 7, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
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Napoli fans showed their support for Kalidou Koulibaly on Sunday after the Senegalese center-back was the subject of racial abuse in a match against Lazio last week.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

The Lazio match was temporarily stopped in the second half as Lazio supporters hurled racial insults at Koulibaly.

At Napoli’s match against Carpi on Sunday, fans wore Koulibaly masks and painted signs in his honor to show their support for the 24-year-old defender.

A statement from Napoli’s supporters’ group read: “Everyone in Naples is offended by what happened to our young star. Because of this, we want to show our full support to Koulibaly.”

[ VIDEO: Van Gaal rips journalist who questions his Manchester United future ]

Lazio was fined more than $50,000 and will be forced to close certain sections of their stadium for the next two league matches because of the incident.

Afobe says he scored 15 goals a game with Harry Kane at the Arsenal academy

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Selhurst Park on February 2, 2016 in London, England.
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Benik Afobe and Harry Kane are Premier League foes, but as kids, they were teammates.

Now Afobe is at Bournemouth and Kane at Tottenham, though both strikers played together with the Arsenal U-9 team as children.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal ]

While Kane left Arsenal at 10 and eventually settled at crosstown rivals Tottenham, Afobe stayed under contract with the club until 2015 despite never making an appearance for the Gunners.

Afobe went on six loan spells before moving to Wolverhampton last season, then joining Bournemouth in January.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

With three goals in his first five Premier League matches for the Cherries, Afobe is no stranger to scoring, as he said he would combine with Harry Kane for 15 goals a game back in the day.

I’ve got pictures of us from Arsenal.

He was so small at the time, a bit of a late developer, but he’s always loved scoring. The scores used to be 17-15 and stuff – we just knew we’d score in every game.

But it’s weird because he used to play in goal sometimes, and wasn’t bad actually. You wouldn’t think it – remember that goal he let in for Tottenham a couple of years ago (against Asteras Tripolis in the Europa League) when he had to play in goal.

I think Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs’ supporters are happy Harry Kane chose to play striker over goalkeeper…

[ MORE: Deficiencies visible on both sides as Chelsea draw Manchester United ]

Kane has proven that he is an elite goalscorer in the Premier League, and Afobe is off to a fine start himself. With both players just 22-years-old, we’ll likely be seeing many more goals to come from the duo.