Premier League Playback: Man United hit rock bottom, Hazard the hero, Liverpool dark horses?

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UNITED’S PREDICTABILITY PROVES THEY AREN’T LEARNING

“Today is probably as bad as it gets. We completely dominated the game, being 1-0 down was bad enough and it could’ve been 2-0 at one point. I mean the amount of chances, the play and attempts we had… how we didn’t win the game comfortably I have no idea.”

Sadly for fans of Manchester United, those sentiments uttered by David Moyes following Sunday’s damaging 2-2 draw with Fulham have come all too often this season.

As the Red Devils season hit a new low, they’re now nine points off the top four with 13 games to go, Moyes’ side examined many of the key factors why they are languishing in seventh spot and are 16 points away from league leaders Chelsea.

Defensive frailties, offensive predictability and a lack of belief.

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Click to enlarge: Average position of Fulham’s players vs. United. Source: Opta

As you can see from the diagram on the left, the average position of both teams shows that not one of Fulham’s players were in United’s half. But somehow the Red Devils conceded twice, and despite their record haul of crosses, 75 percent possession and 22 attempts at goal, they only bagged two goals to leave over 75,000 at Old Trafford scratching their heads.

On Sunday cross after cross came in as United’s predictability, often a trait of Moyes’ management of Everton, came to the fore. The Red Devils sent in 81 crosses, more than any PL team in a single game since Opta started keeping records of that component in 2006. But the crosses often hit the first man, or found one of Fulham’s white shirts who piled into the box as United’s attackers wandered around with no real gumption to get on the end of the deliveries. Look at the image below on the right, the ball often got to the byline but was just hung up aimlessly. They played into the Cottagers hands time and time again, as only one of United’s 10 outfield players didn’t attempt a cross, Nemanja Vidic.

That leads us nicely into the problems in defense, which were highlighted by both of Fulham’s goals. Granted, they came against the run of play to snatch a point, but the ease in which Fulham exposed United’s defense, skippered by the outgoing Vidic who announced he will leave United at the end of this season, was shocking.

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Click to enlarge: The cross graph from United’s 2-2 draw with Fulham. Red balls indicate blocked crosses.  Source: Opta.

For Fulham’s opening goal Steve Sidwell’s run wasn’t even a complex or well-crafted one, it was straight as a dye and cut through United’s defense like a knife through butter. Juan Mata and Darren Fletcher were both caught napping, Patrice Evra didn’t tuck in  from left back to close the gap Sidwell ran into, and Fulham were 1-0 up. As easy as that.

Then came the assault on the Cottagers goal, as they held out until the 78th minute 1-0 up, but Robin van Persie re-directed Mata’s shot to make it 1-1, then United went ahead just over a minute later. Michael Carrick’s 79th minute goal hit the back of the net via a deflection to hand United a lead they’d relentlessly pushed for. As the ball went in, Moyes turned to the directors box and punched the air with fury, delighted and relief.

Sir Alex Ferguson was in there somewhere, and that act of jubilation from Moyes seemed to also vent his frustration as the Red Devils continue to underwhelm across the board. Ferguson was watching on from the comfort of his warm, padded seat, with the husky voice of Simply Red’s lead man Mick Hucknall sat next to him but Fergie must feel a little uneasy at the squad he left Moyes to inherit. At this rate, Hucknall better take his boots with him the next time he turns up at Old Trafford…

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Click to enlarge: Average position of United’s players vs. Fulham. Source: Opta

Because all of Moyes’ jubilation was for ‘nowt,’ as they say in Northern England. Another huge defensive lapse cost United all three points in the 94th minute as, just like the first goal, basic errors at the back saw them come unstuck. Vidic had to head the ball clear but instead knocked it down to Carrick who was stripped of the ball, and suddenly Fulham had a four on four break in the final minute while United were 2-1 up at home.

As you can see on the left, both United’s full backs were bombing on throughout the game, leaving the duo of Vidic and Chris Smalling incredibly exposed.

That should not happen, and the Cottagers took full advantage of it as Darren Bent nodded home from close range following Kieran Richardson’s shot being parried away by David De Gea. Silence at Old Trafford.

Not for the first time this season, and probably not the last either. United have now hit rock bottom and the only way is up. But just how far is that?

If they keep putting in performances like that, chances of reaching the top four and Champions League soccer is a million miles away. If it hasn’t vanished already.

Premier League Schedule – Week 25

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 0-2 West Ham Recap and watch here
Chelsea 3-0 Newcastle Recap and watch here
Crystal Palace 3-1 West Brom Recap and watch here
Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal Recap and watch here
Man United 2-2 Fulham Recap and watch here
Norwich 0-0 Man City Recap and watch here
Southampton 2-2 Stoke Recap and watch here
Sunderland 0-2 Hull Recap and watch here
Swansea 3-0 Cardiff Recap and watch here
Tottenham 1-0 Everton Recap and watch here

HAZARD: BALLON D’OR PRETENDER?

On Saturday Chelsea brushed aside Newcastle 3-0 at Stamford Bridge, going top of the PL stansings in the process, as the Belgian boy-wonder Eden Hazard bagged his first-ever Blues hat trick. Afterwards Chelsea’s manager Jose Mourinho reserved special praise for the 23-year-old trickster, the player he often refers to as ‘The Kid.’

“I think a team is made of 11 guys, but obviously he is special. I think in this moment he’s the best young player in the world.”

After two quick one-twos in the first half with Branislav Ivanovic and Samuel Eto’o, Hazard put Chelsea 2-0 up with fine finishes as he scampered past Newcastle’s defenders as if they weren’t there.

His eyes were locked on the prize and as his scything runs cut out the entire heart of the Magpies defense, Hazard continue on his path to greatness. The Kid is turning into a man before our eyes.

Earlier in the week Hazard spoke of his admiration for FIFA World Players of the Year Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and how he needed to score more goals to be in that bracket. Scoring your first-ever hat trick for Chelsea immediately after stating that shows the mark of the young man. He know has 15 goals on the season and has lit up Chelsea’s rise to the PL summit. The Blues paid French side Lille $48 million for Hazard’s services in 2012. Pretty soon, that fee could look like a snip. Warning Messi and Ronaldo… there’s a Hazard coming your way.

HOW LIVERPOOL HAMMERED ARSENAL

With Steven Gerrard delivering pinpoint crosses for Liverpool’s juggernauts to attack, it’s no surprise the Reds got off to a flying start with two goals inside the first 10 minutes from big center half Martin Skrtel on Saturday. Add in the lighting quick trio of Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge and it was an absolute nightmare start for Arsenal that didn’t get any better.

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Liverpool had a dream first 20 minutes at Anfield, they surged into a 5-0 lead just after half time and embarrassed title hopefuls Arsenal on Merseyside. Gerrard sprayed the ball around masterfully from the holding role as he was at the center of it all, but the quartet of Sterling, Suarez, Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho tore Arsenal apart, as the cumbersome duo of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker were once again exposed due to their lack of pace on the turn. Here are three things we learned from Liverpool’s demolition of the Gunners, as the away side ran around like loose cannons on Saturday.

High-pressure play has evoked high hopes for the rest of the season at Anfield. With Liverpool just six points off top spot and both Manchester City and Chelsea still to play at home, can Brendan Rodgers’ team come from nowhere to win this PL title?

PALACE, FULHAM: TRANSFER WINDOW WONDERS

Holtby’s delicate chip into Sidwell for Fulham’s first goal in the 2-2 draw at Old Trafford showed what the young German is capable of. His driving runs and artful weaving on the ball see him stand out above the crowd. But often at Spurs he didn’t have moments of substance, yet he already looks like the main man in a Fulham shirt and is driving the Cottagers on. The German international linking up with new $18 million poacher Kostas Mitroglou, expected to make his Fulham debut on Wednesday against Liverpool, should have fans of the Lillywhites licking their lips. Maybe, just maybe, Fulham can salvage their season as another deadline day buy Johnny Heitinga looked solid at the back against United.

RECAP: Transfer window grades for all 20 PL teams

Elsewhere, within 30 minutes of their debuts Thomas Ince and Joe Ledley had both scored to put Crystal Palace 2-0 up vs. West Brom. Talk about making an instant impact. Tony Pulis has often been lauded for his ability to rummage around in the transfer bargain bin hurriedly on deadline day, and being able to pull out a gem or two.

He’s done it again. And now the Eagles are surging towards safety as the cavalry have well and truly arrived, as the 3-1 victory vs. WBA was a fifth home win in seven attempts for the Eagles, since the former Stoke boss arrived in November.

To watch that big win for Palace, and all the other goals and action from Round 25, here’s the PL video highlights below. Enjoy.

Premier League Playback takes an alternative look at all the weekend’s action from the PL, it comes out every week. Due to midweek action, it will be back on Thursday. Double helpings…

Javier Hernandez reflects on Premier League return

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Javier Hernandez is ready to get back to scoring goals in the Premier League.

If that happens, get ready to see plenty of Claret and Blue shirts with “Chicharito” on the back of them.

[ MORE: Where will Chicharito slot in? ]

Chicharito, 29, signed a three-year deal with the Hammers on Monday making him the best paid player in club history with wages of just over $180,000 per week. He won two Premier League titles in five seasons at Manchester United and is still lauded at Old Trafford for his crucial goals in big games with 59 goals in 157 appearances in all competitions.

Speaking to West Ham’s in-house TV channel, the El Tri star revealed exactly why he’s looking forward to a return to the PL.

“I am very excited. The last three years – the loan in Madrid and the two years with Leverkusen – were fantastic for me, and they helped me to improve a lot. But before then I was in England for four years – it was my first chapter in my European career – and now to be back makes me very happy,” Hernandez said.

“For me it is the most competitive in the world. There are no easy games, you can see that the top 10 can change a lot. The Premier League challenges you and that is why I am here – I want to improve. I’m very desperate for the season to start now, and help the team to achieve their objectives next season.”

West Ham’s objectives may have changed slightly after Slaven Bilic‘s side pushed through four new signings this summer and three in quick succession.

Chicharito has joined Marko Arnautovic and Joe Hart by signing for the east London club over the past 10 days, while Pablo Zabaleta had already arrived on a free transfer.

With vast PL and international experience in the four summer signings, Bilic’s aims have probably jumped from finishing in the top 10 to pushing for seventh place and the final Europa League spot. The Hammers finished last season strongly after a poor start which was them compounded by failing to settle into their new London Stadium home, the Dimtri Payet saga and then multiple defensive injuries.

Chicharito has the fifth-best goals per minute ratio in Premier League history so in theory combining his predatory skills with the creativity of Manuel Lanzini, Arnautovic and Michail Antonio should work very well indeed.

Mexico’s all-time leading goalscorer hasn’t slowed down his production in the Bundesliga over the past two seasons, scoring 28 goals in 54 league appearances for Leverkusen and his displays in recent 2018 World Cup qualifiers and the Confederations Cup proved his movement is as sharp as ever.

The Hammers have gambled on Chicharito providing the goals to help them challenge for Europe once again and on paper it looks like a smart bet.

Ronald Koeman confirms Ross Barkley to leave Everton

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Ronald Koeman has confirmed that Ross Barkley will not play for Everton.

[ MORE: Mbappe to Man City? ]

Barkley, 23, has just one year left on his current deal at Everton but the playmaker has turned down a new deal with his boyhood club and Koeman revealed he wants a “new challenge” elsewhere.

When asked if he was certain Barkley would leave Koeman replied “100 percent” but he did state that there aren’t any offers on the table as things stand.

Ahead of Everton’s UEFA Europa League third qualifying round firs leg against MFK Ruzomberok at Goodison Park on Thursday, Koeman revealed the new about Barkley. 

“His personal situation is not so difficult. We made a really good offer to him to sign a new contract and he declined that contract and he told me he is looking for a new challenge,” Koeman said. “It is not Everton’s future anymore. It is his decision. I need to respect that and we will see what happens because what I heard from the board at the moment, it’s not really an offer on the table for Ross.”

The England international is currently recovering from surgery on his groin and is expected to be out until the end of August.

With Davy Klaassen, Wayne Rooney and Sandro Ramirez arriving this summer, plus the Toffees pushing hard to sign Gylfi Sigurdsson from Swansea City, it’s not difficult to see why Barkley sees his future elsewhere and the enigmatic attacking midfielder was criticized by Koeman on multiple occasions last season.

Where could Barkley go?

Tottenham and Arsenal are destinations which keep cropping up but neither are likely to spend over $30 million to bring him to north London and neither are exactly short of playmaking midfielders. It’s probably right that Barkley, once the brightest hope of English soccer, gets a fresh start elsewhere as his contract situation has left the fanbase, and Koeman, more than a little frustrated over the past 12 months.

After losing his starting spot with the English national team to Dele Alli over the past year, plus his regular spot at Everton under severe threat, Barkley’s career is reaching a pivotal stage.

The young talent who burst onto the scene ahead of the 2014 World Cup was supposed to be the next Rooney but his career is in real danger of petering out if he doesn’t find the right club to fit his talents and help him regain his form. The talent is there with Barkley but many, including Koeman, have questioned his commitment to truly realize his potential.

Jose Mourinho slams “dangerous” summer of spending

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Manchester United’s manager isn’t happy with the amount of money being spent this summer in the transfer market.

[ MORE: Mbappe to Man City?  

He has spent $156 million on just two players, but we will leave that fact to one side, like Jose has, for the moment…

Speaking in Washington D.C. ahead of United’s final game of their U.S. tour against Barcelona on Wednesday, Mourinho defended United breaking the world transfer record to sign Paul Pogba last summer and then spending a total which could rise to $117 million on Romelu Lukaku this summer.

“Every club is getting good players, every club is investing a lot and some clubs are paying too much and by paying too much they create a very strange and out of control market,” Mourinho told the BBC. “But this is the reality now. I always thought the problem is not what you pay for these kind of (top) players, I don’t think the problem is what you pay for Pogba, I don’t think the problem is going to pay crazy for Neymar.

“I think the problem is with the other group which is a big group because players like Pogba, there is one or two (big) transfers (like that) per transfer window. The other ones are where you have 100 transfers and for me that is the dangerous area of the market. Some clubs are paying or they don’t buy because they don’t accept the numbers that are now ruling the market, or to do it they have to go the same levels and for me that’s what worries me a little bit because now we speak about £30million, £40million, £50million in such an easy way.”

Has he got a point?

The elite players will always demand the biggest fees with the likes of Messi, Pogba, Lukaku, Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez rightly demanding huge sums given their output of goals and assists. Yet when defensive players are being bought for over $65 million, e.g. Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy at Manchester City, that’s when eyebrows being to raise.

Of course, Mourinho is throwing stones from inside a glass house because United have been big spenders for quite some time and although they aren’t shelling out the sums Manchester City could for Kylian Mbappe this summer and what Chelsea have over the last 15 years in their dramatic rebuild under Roman Abramovich, they have still spent almost $900 million in transfer fees alone over the past four seasons.

Mourinho has spent over $341 million on new players since arriving last summer…

Yes, he has got a point that good to very good players are now costing more than world-class players did five years ago, but the main debate here is whether or not these fees are sustainable. The answer is, probably not, and Mourinho wants to let United’s fans know he won’t pay over the odds as he intimates crosstown rivals Man City are…

The mind games never end with Jose.

Pep Guardiola gives update on Kylian Mbappe interest

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Pep Guardiola has given an intriguing update on Manchester City’s pursuit of Kylian Mbappe.

[ PHOTOS: Man City’s new away kit ]

With reports in Spain stating that Real Madrid had agreed a $208 million deal for the 18-year-old striker, Man City and others were still said to be pushing hard to sign the French international with the Premier League side waiting to hear back from Monaco.

Speaking in Los Angeles ahead of City’s International Champions Cup game against Real Madrid on Wednesday, Guardiola revealed he hasn’t given up hope of signing the powerful forward.

“The player is still at Monaco – still on that team,” Guardiola said via the Manchester Evening News. “Anything can happen – we are still looking at a lot of other players, but he is still on that team. The Premier League is so attractive and the agreements are good. All the clubs think about their potential and their squads getting better. We try and we will see. Now there is a period where there are a lot of doubts in terms of the players who are here and who will be here or not. We have to wait and meanwhile prepare the team as well as possible.”

Pep has just left enough there to suggest City hope they can lure Mbappe to the Etihad Stadium. He also insisted they can compete financially with Real Madrid and Europe’s superpowers when it comes to spending.

“Madrid doesn’t have more than Manchester City have,” Guardiola said. “Players are very important and we always try to get the best players possible. Abu Dhabi came in and invested in the team. Over the past five or six years we climbed to the top and we’re now in the top three or four. In order to get to the level of Madrid or Barcelona we just need time.”

So, they need time and to keep splashing the cash.

City have already spent over $255 million this summer, bringing in Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva, Ederon and Danilo in the largest spending spree in one transfer window the Premier League has ever seen.

If they can somehow lure Mbappe to Manchester (maybe linking up with former Monaco teammates Silva and Mendy will give them the edge) it boggles to mind to see where and how Guardiola will slot him into the side. Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane, Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling are all fighting for the front three positions, plus Bernardo Silva is now in the mix with David Silva in a deeper midfield role.

Mbappe — who scored 26 goals last season as Monaco won Ligue 1 and reached the UEFA Champions League semifinals — was said to be worried about moving to Real Madrid due to a lack of chances playing in the first team, but with these kind of offers flying around for him he shouldn’t be too worried about playing time.

Even though he’s only been on the scenes for one season, Mbappe showed enough potential for Monaco to suggest he will challenge the glut of stars Real Madrid, Man City and others possess.