Mata showed glimpses of what's to come in a United shirt, after a steady debut

Juan Mata’s debut provides hope, leaves questions unanswered for Manchester United

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Had Manchester United kept their $61 million and left Juan Mata on Chelsea’s bench, today’s match against Cardiff may have played out the same way. At least, 2-0 sounds about right. You had the Premier League’s seventh placed team hosting its bottom dwellers, with one of the league’s best goal scorers returning to the home team’s lineup. A two-goal victory is par for the course in these situations.

Mata still made an impression, though. As a focal point above midfield, he provided a level of composure we’re not used to seeing from a Red Devils playmaker. We’re used to the energy of Wayne Rooney, who has excelled this season in that role. Lately, we’re used to the potential of Adnan Januzaj – talent that hints he mat yet be better as a wide-to-in player. With Mata, however, the Red Devils have a number 10 with the patience to let a play develop, something that should mesh well with Rooney’s bombast and Robin Van Persie’s movement.

That patience was evident mid-way through the first half, when the Spanish international pulled up along the right flank and let his runners fly into the box. Moments later, he found Ashley Young attacking the far post for a should-have-been goal.

To a lesser extent, that patience was also evident on his team’s first goal, with Mata electing to chip a ball wide left rather than force something through on the right. Patrice Evra and Ashley Young eventually created the goal Van Persie would score, with Mata having flooded the box to help overwhelm United’s opposition.

Expect to hear the phrase “foot on the ball” a lot over the next few days, because that’s exactly the impression Mata gave. With his acquisition, United finally have a guy who can control plays as well as make them – somebody who can take advantage of the movement he’ll get from his two star forwards.

We knew this about Mata when he arrived, but after half a season languishing at Chelsea, it was nice be reminded. It was refreshing to have somebody so important to the last two years of Premier League soccer back on the field. He didn’t get shipped back to Spain. He didn’t stay packed away in the Chelsea dressing room. The same guy who posted 30 assists over the last two league seasons has been saved – by Manchester United, no less.

Red Devils’ supporters have to be fired up. This is the high point of their season. After five months of middling results and fight amongst themselves about whether David Moyes is okay, bad, or horrible, there’s now another focus. Maybe there’ll be no title race this year, but the team’s Champions League hopes are still alive. And promising to play a more creative brand of soccer than has been offered since May, United may yet again be fun to watch. It wasn’t quite there on Tuesday, but the promise was.

source: AP
Mata’s 52 passes led Manchester United on Tuesday, his four “key passes” (Opta) tying for the team lead in the Red Devils’ 2-0 victory over Cardiff. (Source: AP.)

That promise is dependent on Mata playing well with both Van Persie and Rooney, something we didn’t get a chance to see against Cardiff. Van Persie started, Rooney relieved him, leaving Mata without an opportunity to provide for both scorers at once. That big reveal still awaits, leaving Manchester United with some important unanswered questions.

The way the Red Devils set up today, it was still unclear how they’ll deploy Mata with Van Persie and Rooney. On Tuesday, they played with two forwards – Mata playing behind Van Persie. With a setup not dissimilar to what United’s used all season, Moyes provided a small hint he may not change the formation for Mata’s arrival. After all, he hasn’t changed his approach much since moving from Liverpool to Stretford.

It’s a small hint, one that we shouldn’t read much into, but as NBC Sports analyst Kyle Martino said before the game, there’s a chance Mata ends up wide, playing the position he excelled in before arriving in the Premier League. If that happens — if Moyes does try to make Mata bend to him, rather than adapting to his talent — questions about United’s new manager will grow.

That’s not to say the set up can’t work. Right now, it’s one of a number of ways to get United’s three stars in the same lineup, but until that happens, Mata’s promise will be balanced against unanswered questions about how his new team will ultimately use him.

VIDEO: Top Premier League goals – Matchday 6

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We were spoiled with stunning strikes in Macthday 6 of the Premier League.

[ MORE: What now for Chelsea? ]

From Philippe Coutinho‘s stunner to Junior Stanislas‘ powerful drive and Mesut Ozil’s delicious volley, there was no shortage of top notch goals.

Watch the best of the bunch in the video above and let us know which was your favorite in the comments section below.

VIDEO: Southampton’s hilarious preview ahead of first Europa League away day

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Good banter.

Southampton FC’s media team have put together a hilarious video as fictional character Dr Barry Gale returns following his brief exploits as a “Player integration officer” during the 2014-15 season.

This time, Gale is going on a European tour ahead of Saints’ first-ever Europa League group stage game on the road.

Claude Puel‘s side face Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Thursday in their second group game in Group K of the Europa League. Saints beat Sparta Prague 3-0 in their group stage debut two weeks ago.

Click play on the video above to get Gale’s guide to Israel.

Sort of…

Let’s see what Gale has in store for Milan and Prague in the next few months.

Premier League player Power Rankings: Top 20 players in Week 6

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There are plenty of players who are red-hot after Matchday 6 in the Premier League.

[ MORE: What now for Chelsea? ]

For this first time this season, we compiled a list of the top 20 players last week. You can find that here, but who is surging up our PL player Power Rankings?

Players from Liverpool and Manchester City dominate the list, with plenty of new entries also making a surge up the rankings.

Let us know if you agree in the comments section below.


  1. Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal) – Up 8
  2. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – Down 1
  3. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – Up 4
  4. Diego Costa (Chelsea) – Down 2
  5. Paul Pogba (Man United) – New entry
  6. Raheem Sterling (Man City) – Down 2
  7. Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool) – New entry
  8. Adam Lallana (Liverpool) – New entry
  9. Heung-Min Son (Tottenham Hotspur) – Up 9
  10. Marcus Rashford (Man United) – Up 7
  11. Kelechi Iheanacho (Man City) – Down 6
  12. Romelu Lukaku (Everton) – Down 5
  13. Sergio Aguero (Man City) – New entry
  14. Nicolas Otamendi (Man City) – Down 1
  15. Mesut Ozil (Arsenal) – New entry
  16. Juan Mata (Man United) – New entry
  17. Virgil Van Dijk (Southampton) – Up 5
  18. Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool)  – Down 4
  19. Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace) – New entry
  20. Dusan Tadic (Southampton) – New entry

Report says Swansea City meet with Bob Bradley

Bob Bradley, Le Harve AC
AP
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Former U.S. men’s national team head coach Bob Bradley has reportedly met with Swansea City chairman Huw Jenkins.

[ MORE: Atlanta hire Martino ]

Bradley, 58, is the current head coach of Le Havre in Ligue 2 in France but with current Swansea manager Francesco Guidolin under plenty of pressure following four defeats in their opening six games of the Premier League season, both Bradley and Ryan Giggs have been linked with the position.

As of yet there has been no comment from Swansea, Le Havre or anybody else in-between but the BBC is reporting that Bradley met with Jenkins at Bristol Airport in England over the past few days.

ProSoccerTalk understands that there is genuine interest in Bradley’s services from Swansea. The south wales side host Liverpool on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports) and a heavy defeat could be the end for Guidolin.

It is easy to see why the Swans would turn to New Jersey native Bradley, who has previously worked wonders in trying situations and on shoestring budgets. After leaving the U.S. national team in 2011 following five years in charge, highlighted by a Gold Cup title in 2007, runner up spot at the 2009 Confederations Cup and a Round of 16 berth at the 2010 World Cup, Bradley took the Egyptian national team to the brink of the 2014 World Cup during a time of huge turmoil in the African country which impacted all of his players heavily.

[ LONGFORM: Bradley’s journey in Norway

He returned to club management in 2014, taking tiny Norwegian side Stabaek to European qualification over two seasons and almost led Le Havre to promotion to Ligue 1 after taking charge of the French second-tier side midway through last season. Bradley has a great track record of working with youngsters and operating on a small budget, which is exactly how Swansea operate.

Bradley has been linked with several jobs in the Premier League in the past with West Brom, Aston Villa, Fulham and Hull City mentioned, but it seems with Swansea’s U.S. investors (led by Jason Levien and Steve Kaplan) now playing a pivotal role in decision making at the Liberty Stadium, Bradley has emerged as a serious contender if Guidolin is fired.

He would be the first-ever American to manage in the Premier League if this all works out.