Van Gaal admits Manchester United need “better players” but why are they struggling to sign them?

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“I thought that before this match. When we were playing in the United States I saw the same. I know in what positions we need better players but I won’t discuss [how many].”

Those were the harsh words of Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal after the shocking 2-1 loss to Swansea City at Old Trafford to start Manchester United’s Premier League season.

With plenty of hype and promise surrounding van Gaal’s “new era” to bring the Red Devils back to European prominence, instead he picked up right where David Moyes left off.

The Dutchman knows it and we know it – Manchester United is a club usually bursting at the seams with talent, skill, and class, but at the moment the squad lacks the ability to compete at the highest level.

Van Gaal talks of adding players, but with just two weeks left in the transfer window, the club has added just two players – left-back Luke Shaw, who is injured for a month, and attacking midfielder Ander Herrera. And they’ve reportedly missed out on countless others.

The new manager has installed a brand new system featuring three center-backs, but with both starters last year Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand departing Old Trafford on account of age this summer, van Gaal has failed to add to his CB arsenal.  This left Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, and 20-year-old debutant Tyler Blackett starting against Swansea.

That flat out won’t cut it.

It’s true Ferdinand and Vidic were not longer capable of lifting United to its usual heights, and their departures were warranted. But with no one to replace them, the current crop is no better. United is reportedly tracking and working on a deal for Roma star Mehdi Benatia – which would be a fantastic capture – but they have gobs of competition for his signature, and may miss out.

The stark truth remains – nobody is flocking to Old Trafford like they used to.

There’s plenty of time for United to sign players before the end of the transfer window, that is true. But with so many names floated around in the media before moving elsewhere, the window has more of a feeling of missed targets than it does patient selectivity.

The biggest miss in van Gaal’s defender quest seems to be Thomas Vermaelen, who is a quality central defender who was unlucky to find himself behind the brilliant pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny at Arsenal. Instead of bringing the wealth of Premier League experience to Old Trafford, van Gaal instead watched Vermaelen sign for Barcelona as the Catalans continue a rebuild of their own.

Rumors of a move for Juventus box-to-box midfielder Arturo Vidal have simmered all summer, but again the club has plenty of reported competition and thus far United have failed to convince the player he even wants to leave. Years ago, that wouldn’t even be a question.

They even failed to land Dutch central defender Stefan de Vrij, as the 22-year-old signed for Lazio over Manchester United, turning down his own national team manager in the process.

All this has left Louis van Gaal brooding over the blueprints master plan, wondering where he can turn for players who are better than the club currently has. It’s no secret they need an overhaul, and the summer has come and gone without any such tilling of the land. It remains to be seen whom van Gaal can persuade to help United back to its former glory.

It would help if players would stop turning them down.

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”