Manchester United v Fulham - Premier League

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…

Copa America 2016 preview, Group D: Argentina and Chile aim for first place

Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates after his teammate Gabriel Mercado scored his side's second goal against Chile during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match at the National Stadium in Santiago, Chile, Thursday, March 24, 2016. (AP Photo/ Luis Hidalgo)
AP Photo/ Luis Hidalgo
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Argentina

Runners-up in three of the last four Copa America tournaments, Argentina would love to break through for a title in the United States. The 1991 and 1993 winners are going on 23 years without a championship.

Star player: Lionel Messi — What else needs to be said for the world’s best player, other than his international record is missing some titles. The Copa America is one of them.

It goes well for them if they play within any reasonable distance of their talent. With Javier Mascherano, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain, Argentina run through the group stage and cruise to a final.

But what if Messi is just drained, and neither Aguero and Higuain carry over their club form for country. Second place in this group is no waltz through the knockouts, as Uruguay knocks out the Argentines and cue up more questions about Messi in his national team uniform.


Chile

Alexis Sanchez (below) and La Roja look to build on its first ever Copa America crown, won on home soil last summer in somewhat controversial fashion.

Alexis Sanchez
AP Photo/Martin Mejia

Star player: Arturo Vidal — Yes, Alexis Sanchez might deliver shots, but Vidal stirs the drink. The tempestuous midfielder has everything it takes to turn a game on its head.

Deep from top to bottom: Chile powers through Argentina and then lays waste to Bolivia, able to rest many stars against Panama before beating Group C’s runner-up to set itself up for a repeat of its 2015 title run.

A combustible lineup and aging core combine to leave Chile struggling after a big loss to Argentina. Unable to gather itself together, the Chileans stumble to a draw against Bolivia that leaves them Group D’s runner-up and the victim of Uruguay in the knockout rounds.


Panama

ATLANTA, GA - JULY 20:  Carlos Rodriguez #4 of Panama celebrates with teammate Anibal Godoy #20 after Rodriguez's second half goal during the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal game against Cuba at Georgia Dome on July 20, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

This is a sneaky capable unit coming off a third place finish in the Gold Cup.

Star player: We’ll tap Jaime Penedo, perhaps the lynchpin of a veteran squad. The longtime New York Red Bulls keeper now calls Saprissa his home.

Now is the time for Panama’s experienced core to do big things; Blas Perez, Luis Tejeda, Gabriel Gomez and Felipe Baloy are likely on the end of their national team runs, and San Jose’s Panamaniacs connection of Alberto Quintero and Anibal Godoy — at 28 and 26 — are two of the younger parts of the unit.

But age is a factor when it comes to tournament play, and can Panama possibly outlast either Chile or Argentina? It’s unlikely.


Bolivia

HARRISON, NJ - JUNE 6: Goalkeeper Romel Quinonez #1 of Bolivia makes a save on a corner kick as in front of Theofanis Gekas #17 of Greece during the first half of an international friendly match at Red Bull Arena on June 6, 2014 in Harrison, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Surprising quarterfinalists last summer, Bolivia sits second-last in the CONMEBOL World Cup qualification table. Their only wins since late 2014 have come against Venezuela (2) and Ecuador, and there are a total of just 15 international goals in their 23-man squad.

Star player: Romel Quiñónez — The goalkeeper from Bolivar is set to get a lot of work.

This tournament goes well if: Bolivia handles Panama and manages a draw against Argentina or Chile.

But in all honesty: There will be growing pains for La Verde this summer in the U.S.


Game schedule – Full schedule for Group D, here

Who’s going through, who’s going home: Argentina and Chile thrive, Bolivia and Panama battle for third.

Marquee match: Argentina vs. Chile, June 6. No explanation needed.

Top players to watch

1) Lionel Messi
2) Arturo Vidal
3) Sergio Aguero
4) Angel Di Maria
5) Alexis Sanchez

Copa America 2016 preview, Group C: El Tri looks to build; Can Uruguay deal without Suarez?

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Mexico

El Tri hopes to rebound from a difficult 2015 Copa America that saw them fail to win a match. Top Three appearances in the tournament were once the expectation for Mexico, and being closer to home will raise expectations. And rightly so, as this Mexico team is still in the midst of a very good generation of players.

Star player: Andres Guardado — The PSV Eindhoven midfielder can control a game like a wizard, weaving the ball through back lines and seemingly always in the right place on the pitch.

What a run: Mexico hasn’t lost a single match its 2015 Copa America ouster at the hands of Ecuador, a 17-match stretch that includes a sound defeat of the USMNT in the CONCACAF Cup and a draw against Argentina. With Javier Hernandez and Oribe Peralta firing, Mexico has it in them to make a run to the final. Oh, and El Tri hasn’t allowed a goal in six matches.

But are they sheep in wolves’ clothing? Mexico may be on an incredible run of form, but that win over a moribund U.S. isn’t much to love, and those 17 matches include a pretty weak slate of opponents. Are Mexico’s last few Copa Americas (11th and 12th place finishes) more indicative of its 2016 fate?


Uruguay

Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

Edinson Cavani will be the star man in the group stage as Uruguay attempts to win its second tournament in three tries. La Celeste have won four Copa Americas and been to six finals.

Star player: Diego Godin — With Luis Suarez’ entire tournament in question, defense is a back part of Uruguay’s hopes. Godin will likely earn his 100th cap during the tournament. With the Atletico Madrid back might be coming off a UEFA Champions League final, and confidence could be a key part of Uruguay’s back line.

And here we go… La Celeste leads CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying through six matches, and Uruguay looks primed to succeed despite the potential loss of Suarez through the group stage. They can navigate that problem thanks to Diego Rolan, Abel Hernandez and Edinson Cavani, and shouldn’t have any trouble with a this group.

But Suarez, though: Yes, Uruguay has depth, but replacing a man who scored 59 goals in 53 games for Barcelona this season? Woof. See what happened when Neymar was injured late in the World Cup for Brazil. Star injuries can sap a team’s courage, and that could hurt Uruguay.


Jamaica

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - OCTOBER 13:  Simon Dawkins of Jamaica competes for the ball with Kim Kee-Hee of South Korea during the international friendly match between South Korea and Jamaica at Seoul World Cup stadium on October 13, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea.  (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Three straight 1-0 losses saw the Reggae Boyz bounced from the 2015 edition of the tournament, their maiden voyage at Copa America.

Star player: Wes Morgan — Talk about momentum: Jamaica’s strong Gold Cup run worked almost seamlessly into his fairytale season in the middle of Leicester City’s back line.

Coming into its own? After several years off the radar, Winfried Schafer has Jamaica looking capable of doing well in a tournament setting. With a good group of backs including Morgan, Adrian Mariappa and Kemar Lawrence, it’ll be tough for anyone to break down the Reggae Boyz.

All a mirage: Jamaica’s surprising Gold Cup run might’ve been a red herring. Jamaica has lost four of seven matches since Mexico bounced them in controversial fashion.


Venezuela

Venezuela's national soccer team pose for a group photo prior a Copa America Group C soccer match against Brazil at the Monumental stadium in Santiago, Chile, Sunday, June 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

Los Llaneros have the misfortune of being in the deep, deep confederation on CONMEBOL, but that doesn’t excuse a brutal year. After beating Colombia to kickoff the 2015 Copa America, Venezuela has won exactly one game. That was a 1-0 win over Costa Rica, and the national team has been dealing with controversy and internal strife.

Star player: Salomon Rondon — West Bromwich Albion’s big striker can turn a defense on its heels with powerful turns and good use of his frame.

Underdog story of a lifetime: With wily veterans making what could be their last runs for the national team, Venezuela sneaks through a winnable group by out-muscling Jamaica and Mexico while battening down the hatches against Uruguay. The world takes notice.

But really, though…  We’d be talking about the tournament equivalent of a Leicester City season. Three-and-out.


Game schedule – Full schedule for Group C, here

Who’s going through, who’s going home: Mexico, Uruguay going through; Jamaica and Venezuela going home

Marquee match: There will be no Luis Suarez come the opener against Mexico, and Arizona will be raucous for El Tri. Circle June 5 on your calendar.

Top players to watch

1) Andres Guardado
2) Edinson Cavani
3) Javier Hernandez
4) Salomon Rondon
5) Diego Godin

Klinsmann praises Nagbe: “He knows he has to push the envelope”

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Pedro Larrea #15 of Ecuador reacts as Nagbe Darlington #10 of the United States celebrates with Christian Pulisic #17 of the United States after scoring against Ecuador during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images
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Breaking into a Jurgen Klinsmann side isn’t easy, especially for an attacker.

With the United States men’s national team boss quite happy to trot out Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and — when healthy — Jozy Altidore, becoming a regular isn’t easy.

So making the most of your opportunity is key, and Darlington Nagbe has done that most times he’s hit the pitch for the USMNT.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

And scoring a 90th minute winner against Ecuador, even in a 1-0 friendly win, is going to help his odds of sticking in the coach’s mind. Klinsmann said Nagbe “knows he has to push the envelope”, and lauded him for doing so while cautioning that he’s never questioned the offensive acumen of Portland Timbers’ man.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“Now you also want to tell him ‘Listen, you’ve got to make an impression. You’ve got to learn to play both ways and grind it out defensively, go into 1v1s and win balls as well,’” Klinsmann said.

“And that’s just going forward. He has tremendous talent with the ball at his feet going forward. That’s what we enjoy in MLS every weekend. But the international side is both ways, and that’s what we’re working on. And he’s getting better and better at doing that.”

Nagbe was among a handful of U.S. players to shine during a dominant second half that saw the Timbers midfielder snare the decisive goal, and it’s not a stretch to say he was the brightest. Let’s hope to see him get a chance to start on Saturday against Bolivia.

Lukaku will listen to Everton but “I have my own ideas in mind

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - MAY 11: Romelu Lukaku of Everton arrives for the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Everton at the Stadium of Light on May 11, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
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Romelu Lukaku‘s future looks to be away from Goodison Park.

The big Belgian striker authored 25 goals across all competitions this season, including 18 in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Zlatan has “taken a decision” ]

But as he prepares for the Euro 2016 tournament, Lukaku’s comments make it seem likely that even new investments from up high aren’t going to keep him on Merseyside.

From Sky Sports:

“We have a new investor at Everton and out of courtesy I will listen to what he has to say. But I have my own ideas in mind. I want to win titles.

“I have had a very good season, but it is time for me to write myself a CV. That is why I play football. I got that trophy-winning mindset from Chelsea.”

Lukaku would be a big ticket item on the transfer market, and should go for more than the $41 million price tag Everton paid to get him from Chelsea.