What we learned from Manchester United’s Champions League disappointment at Olympiakos

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With apologies to Olympiakos, today’s takeaways are all about Manchester United. Though the Greek champions deserve kudos for one of the biggest victories in club history, the favorites’ inability to become the sixth Champions League group winner (in six games) to claim victory is Tuesday’s big story. While some where picking Míchel’s team to spring an upset in Piraeus, nobody thought it would be this easy, with United held to one shot on target in Olympiakos’s 2-0 win.

Within the context of an unexpectedly disappointing 2013-14, Manchester United’s takeaways all fit a bigger narrative. With an attack that lacked both direction and intensity, the Red Devils failed to rise to Tuesday’s occasion. As a result, they’re on the brink of missing the competition’s quarterfinals for a third straight season.

(MORE: Manchester United sinks to new depths in 2-0 Champions League loss at Olympiakos)

  • Manchester United couldn’t get up for a big game

Manchester United aren’t alive in either the League or FA Cups. The gap between themselves and fourth place Liverpool in the Premier League suggests they have almost no chance to finish in England’s Champions League spots. Their only way to avoid missing the competition for the first time since in 18 years is to pull a 2011-12 Chelsea and run the table. They need to  win it all.

Yet against an Olympiakos team that would fail to place one of their starters in United’s Tuesday XI, the Red Devils were clearly second best. Their offensive shape portrayed a side playing not to lose, with the Red Devils’ spacing more indicative of a team trying to use up time than combine for opportunities. This was Alex Ferguson’s typical shut it down on the road plan, only it wasn’t Alex Ferguson’s team. This was a team that allowed the game to be dictated to them – one that gave itself no opportunity to generate (let alone seize upon) opponents’ mistakes.

Manchester United was completely devoid of urgency in what should have been their most important game of the season. If they wanted to play for a 0-0, they should have fought for that result, however misguided that plan seems. Instead, they allowed Olympiakos a first half lead, seemed content to let Joel Campbell try to double in shortly after half time, and were relegated to the latest in a season full of exasperating results.

source: AP

  • It’s unclear what David Moyes wants Manchester United to do going forward

Back to United’s attack. The team’s possession number hovered at around 60 percent for the entire game, but in a first half hour where they could have used that edge to press for a vital away goal, United rarely seemed interested in establishing a presence in Olympiakos’s defensive third. Releasing both fullbacks early and relying on Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley to support the defense, United also forced Wayne Rooney to abandon his strike partner, Robin Van Persie, to fill the hole in midfield. Though Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia were pinching in from their flanks, the lack of combination play through the middle left Van Persie neglected and isolated. It wasn’t until late in the match that United’s best finisher started seeing chances.

That’s what United did. The lingering question is what were they supposed to do. Were they supposed to use the middle, with those high-pushing fullbacks stretching Olympiakos’s midfield? Or were they supposed to go wide, as they’ve gone so often this season, with Young and Valencia giving the Red Devils more players to pounce on Chris Smalling and Patrice Evra crosses?

Who knows. United were so poor on Tuesday, it’s pure speculation to guess what they were trying to do going forward.

  • The Red Devils are too mistake-prone to play for a low-scoring game

Let’s assume Manchester United wanted a slow pace. They wanted to use their superior talent to manage the game, maintain possession, and limit Olympiakos’s chances. Let’s concede they would have been happy with a 0-0, thrilled to see a counter attack or a set piece result in an away goal.

Let’s also acknowledge that with Manchester United’s talent, this is a terrible choice.

Even without Juan Mata (cup-tied), Manchester United’s strength is its depth and variety in attack. They have Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney as focal points. In Michael Carrick, they have a registra that’s capable of getting them the ball. With pieces like Young, Valencia, Shinji Kagawa, and Danny Welbeck, David Moyes had a series of imperfect yet useful pieces he could mix-and-match to take advantage of his opponents weaknesses. As evidenced in their group stage performances against Bayer Leverkusen (nine goals over two games), United’s attack can take advantage of Champions League’s middle tier.

But the team also has a mistake prone defense, with age continuing to show in the play of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. They also have a central midfield incapable of protecting that duo, and while neither of those factors were evident on Olympiakos’s first goal, each came into play on the second. Cleverley lost possession, Carrick failed to make a crucial tackle, and Ferdinand did not get out to meet Joel Campbell’s shot. Again, Manchester United was left reliant on the shot stopping of David de Gea, only this time, the talent Spaniard couldn’t save them.

With a back line that features Chris Smalling, Vidic, and Ferdinand, Moyes can’t play for clean sheets. When his defenders are on their game, those results will certainly come, but when they’re not clicking, the Red Devils don’t have the guile of John Terry, Gary Cahill, and Branislav Ivanovic – a trio with the ability to preserve a result even if the initial plan doesn’t work.

If Moyes’s initial plan was to play for a clean sheet on the road, it was a poor one. While that may be one of the first pages in the Champions League playbook, it was also a poor fit got his personnel.

Blessed with elite attacking talent, Moyes should have played for a high scoring result. Instead, he allowed his team to leave Piraeus trailing by two.

Watch Live: Chile vs. Australia, Germany vs. Cameroon

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Now that two of the four semifinal spots are secured from Group A, it’s Group B’s turn to send two of its four on to the knockout round. Chile takes on Australia in Moscow, while Germany battles Cameroon in Sochi at 11 a.m. ET live on Telemundo Deportes.

Chile and Germany are in the driver’s seat in the group, each with four points to Australia and Cameroon’s one. That means a draw or win for either favorite will see them through. However, there are no teams yet eliminated, and anyone can make a move with an upset.

[ WATCH LIVE: Chile vs. Australia live on Telemundo Deportes ]

To advance, both underdogs would need not only the three points, but also enough goals to overcome their goal difference disadvantage. Australia’s -1 goal differential sees them two behind Germany and three back of Chile, while Cameroon sits at -2. Therefore, each team would need a win by at least two goals to have a shot at moving on.

For Chile, Claudio Bravo is back between the sticks after missing the first two games with an injury. Alexis Sanchez leads the front line with Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal holding down the fort in the center of the pitch. Gary Medel is rested after coming off injured in the 74th minute of Chile’s draw with Germany, while Jean Beausejour is also moved to the bench after playing the full 90 minutes in the competition’s first two games.

[ WATCH LIVE: Germany vs. Cameroon live on Telemundo Deportes ]

Germany sports another young lineup, highlighted by Hoffenheim attacker Kerem Demerbay’s first competitive start for his country in his second-ever cap. Marc-Andre ter Stegen mans the sticks for the second straight match in favor of Bernd Leno, both of whom have looked shaky in this tournament. Bayern Munich youngster Josh Kimmich has gone the full 90 minutes (or more) in 16 straight matches for Germany and again gets the start.

LINEUPS

Chile: Bravo, Jara, Diaz, Mena, Isla, Silva, Aranguiz, Fuenzalida, Vidal, Sanchez, Vargas.

Australia: Ryan, Sainsbury, Troisi, McGowan, Milligan, Luongo, Eraltay, Irvine, Juric, Cahill, Kruse.


Germany: Ter Stegen, Plattenhardt, Sule, Ginter, Can, Rudy, Rudiger, Kimmich, Werner, Draxler, Demirbay.

Cameroon: Ondoa, Teikeu, Ngadeu-Ngadjui, Fai, Mabouka, Siani, Anguissa, Mandjeck, Aboubakar, Moukandjo, Bassogog.

Report: Swansea rejects Everton bid for Sigurdsson

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Everton, a club not known for its vast spending power, just continues to put on a show this transfer market.

According to a report by ESPN’s Pete O’Rourke, Swansea City has turned down an initial offer from the Toffees for playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson. The report states the bid was valued at $34 million.

Sigurdsson is regarded as a player of higher quality and has been the subject of transfer rumors for years. According to Swansea City chairman Huw Jenkins back in February, the 27-year-old was the subject of “substantial offers” this past winter. It’s no surprise that a club such as Everton would look to Sigurdsson to boost its attacking play.

The Icelandic international had a prolific year this past season, scoring nine goals and assisting 13 others. In addition to his playmaking talents, Sigurdsson is also known as a set-piece specialist, scoring four goals from direct free-kicks over the past two Premier League seasons.

Despite all the interest, Sigurdsson said last month he was happy at Swansea, and would not force a move unless the club decides to sell. Sigurdsson would fit well into the Everton attack that saw Ross Barkley regress last season and Kevin Mirallas continue his streaky form.

Everton has been a major player in the transfer market so far this summer. They have already spent well above $50 million this summer on the purchases of Jordan Pickford and Davy Klassen, and have been linked with other big-money move. It’s likely the club is banking on a massive haul for Romelu Lukaku, who has stated multiple times he does not wish to return to Everton. Lukaku stated a month ago that he had already agreed to terms with a club, suggesting that Everton probably at this point has a general idea of what they will net from his departure.

However, the Toffees have not been heavily linked with any big-name strikers to replace the big Belgian. This might suggest they could look in-house to fill Lukaku’s shoes, an admittedly tall task no matter the replacement.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Walker to City close, Inter wants Szczesny

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With the start of preseason getting closer, teams are hoping to do their business in time to get new players a full bill of health and fitness before the new season. With that in mind, the transfer action truly begins to heat up with clubs under the crunch of time.

With Manchester City heading to the United States for a preseason tour of America, they’re looking to do deals before the trip begins to have everyone on board. Kyle Walker has been heavily linked with City, and it looks like Daniel Levy’s steadfasness will pay off yet again for the London side.

[ MORE: Saturday Roundup | Fri | Thurs ]

According to a report in the Daily Mail, Tottenham will wriggle nearly $62 million from City for Walker’s services. Levy knows that Pep Guardiola is desperate for top-tier full-backs after seeing his full bank of players in that position struggle mightily. Now, Levy may successfully extract a small fortune for his England international, and with plenty of time to re-invest on his replacement. The report suggests the deal could be done in time for Walker to face Spurs in their friendly on July 29th in Nashville.


Sticking to full-backs, Juventus may be looking to replace both its standout performers on the flanks last season. Dani Alves seems set to move on, while Alex Sandro has been heavily linked to Chelsea.

Hoping to pull in top-level replacements in a position that proves to be quite top-heavy throughout the world, Juventus has turned to Southampton’s Cedric Soares. The 25-year-old has enjoyed a bright Confederations Cup on duty with Portugal, and may have turned heads in Italy as a result.

The report from Italian publication Tuttosport linking Cedric to the Old Lady states that, while Juventus will first look to pry Danilo from Real Madrid, Cedric could be a cheaper option with his price tag under $22 million. The article also mentions Valencia’s Joao Cancelo as an option for Juventus at the right-back spot.


Alexandre Lacazette is a top striker option on the market this summer, and while it feels like his domino is waiting to fall after Kylian Mbappe’s, there could be a wrinkle involved with the Lyon frontman.

Atletico Madrid was heavily linked to Lacazette as a replacement for Antoine Griezmann before their transfer ban was handed down. Now, with Griezmann staying, those links cooled as Atleti is unable to register new players until the January transfer window. Yet, there may still be a chance for the Spanish side to land yet another French striker.

According to loose-lipped Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas, Atletico Madrid submitted a large offer for Lacazette, and the Spanish side is still a heavy player in the story. Should Atleti’s bid be accepted, Lacazette would likely stay at Lyon for the first half of the season and complete his transfer to Spain in the winter transfer window. Aulas said Atletico’s offer was in the area of $75 million, including bonuses. That’s some stiff competition for Arsenal or any other big-name club hoping to secure Lacazette’s signature.

Aulas also confirmed he met with Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on June 13th during the match between England and France. Just yesterday, there were reports that Arsenal was preparing a large bid for the Frenchman.


In the same interview, Aulas also confirmed that Chelsea youngster Bertrand Traore is close to a move to Lyon. Aulas said that the 21-year-old is currently in Lyon to finalize the move, although the fee had yet to be finalized, only saying that it was “considerable.”

Traore, a Burkina Faso international, was an AJ Auxerre youth product before joining Chelsea’s youth ranks in 2013. The young attacker spent last season on loan at Dutch club Ajax where he made 39 appearances across all competitions, scoring 13 goals and assisting six.


Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny has benefitted greatly from his two-year loan spell at AS Roma. Despite his future looking bleak with the Gunners, Szczesny is a wanted man in Italy.

Linked with a bid from Juventus earlier this month, Szczesny has now been heavily connected to his former Roma manager Luciano Spaletti who has recently taken charge at Inter Milan. Spaletti already has one of the best pure shot-stoppers in Europe in Samir Handanovic, but according to reports in Italy, Spaletti wants Handanovic to improve with the ball at his feet, something which he praised Szczesny for earlier this week.

Spaletti, hoping to diffuse interest in Szczesny, told Sky Sports Italia on Thursday, “We already have Samir Handanovic, who is very experienced and strong. I’ve already worked with him and I know his quality. For the moment we’ve got him. Obviously Szczesny is a modern player, because he can use his feet and in modern football you need that to start moves from the back.”

Now, reports in Italy say Spaletti has asked Handanovic to undergo targeted training hoping to improve his ability with the ball at his feet. Should he refuse, the club would look to sell the Serbian in favor of Szczesny, a move which could also potentially net the club some cash.


With Romelu Lukaku rumors seeing renewed fervor after the player enjoyed a pickup game on a field branded with Chelsea logos, the Everton striker has taken to social media to vent his frustration.

Lukaku has told reporters multiple times that returning to Everton is not really an option, and that he has an agreement with a club already, but otherwise, the Chelsea links are all fans have to go off at this time.

Report: Donnarumma may still re-sign with AC Milan

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With Gianluigi Donnarumma’s future still very much up in the air, the public airing of his contract dispute may be weighing heavily on the young goalkeeper.

With a single year left on his contract at AC Milan, the club announced he had turned down a lucrative offer for a long-term extension, thus forcing them to sell. Milan fans turned on the player instantly, calling him disloyal and disrespectful.

Now, the 18-year-old may be having a change of heart.

According to Italian journalist Gianluca di Marzio, Donnarumma is set to meet with Enzo Raiola, the cousin of his superagent Mino Raiola, in Krakow where he is with the Italian U-21 team for the U-21 European Championships. According to the report, Enzo – who happens to be the closer with Donnarumma than Mino – will discuss with the youngster his wishes for the future, and re-upping with AC Milan is very much still on the cards.

This meeting has the feel of an emergency get-together, with reports flying that Donnarumma is frustrated with how his situation has been handled and plans to fire the Raiola crew as his agent.

AC Milan’s strategy through all this has been to air their side of things publicly in the hopes that pressure from fans will help change the goalkeeper’s mind. In that sense, it’s worked, as Donnarumma was showered with fake money during a game while manned the sticks for the Italian U-21 team a week ago. At the very least, it looks to have turned his head slightly.