David De Gea

Man United 3-0 Stoke City: Clinical Red Devils drops Potters

Leave a comment
  • Antonio Valencia scored on return from injury
  • David De Gea made an important save before halftime
  • United collected three goals on nine shots on target

Manchester United was clinical as they dispatched Stoke City with ease at Old Trafford 3-0 on Monday. Antonio Valencia started things less than 10 minutes in, while Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku were the men to see the scoreline out.

The Red Devils opened the scoring in the ninth minute when Valencia received the ball at the top of the box on a square pass from Paul Pogba, and he cut into the box and to his left to create space, and when the incoming defender over-committed, he belted a curler inside the far post, leaving Jack Butland with no chance. The goal is Valencia’s first since December 2nd, coming on his return to action from a hamstring injury suffered against West Brom in mid-December.

[ MORE: What to do with the emaciated Arsenal squad ]

Xherdan Shaqiri tried an audacious overhead effort minutes later hoping to get Stoke City back on level terms, but his shot was weak and straight at David de Gea from a tight angle. Steven Ireland came inches from tying things back up on 21 minutes, but as he unleashed his effort from the penalty spot with space to shoot, he slipped on the wet surface and yanked it wide left.

After Ireland’s miss, Stoke became the more attacking team, and it put Manchester United on its heels for a period of time as they were sloppy in possession. They failed to capitalize, and by the 35-minute mark, the hosts were back on top, and profited.

In the 38th minute, Romelu Lukaku used his strength on the right edge to get the ball centrally for Pogba, who cut left for Anthony Martial. The 22-year-old hit the ball first-time, and ripped it into the top corner just past the fingertips of a diving Butland.

On the stroke of halftime Shaqiri forced an important save from David de Gea down to his left off a volley, but the Spaniard was there to keep the two-goal lead intact. In the second half, United had a few half-chances early on. Martial nearly had a second just before the hour mark, but Butland smothered the chance on the doorstep. Juan Mata pulled the trigger two minutes later and fired just wide of the far post, and then again rifled over soon after.

Lukaku put the game away with 18 minutes to go as he received the ball from Martial with his back to goal and turned past two defenders and slid the ball into the bottom corner for a 3-0 lead. The win puts Manchester United clear into second place, three points above Liverpool and twelve behind Manchester City, who lost for the first time this season last time out. Stoke City, meanwhile, will hand the reigns to Paul Lambert who was in attendance for today’s game, taking over for the fired Mark Hughes.

Watch Live: Manchester United vs. Stoke City

Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
1 Comment

Caretaker boss Eddie Niedzwiecki stares down stiff opposition in his lone match in charge of Stoke City, a visit to Manchester United at Old Trafford on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Stoke City hired ex-Norwich and Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert on Monday, and he’ll watch from the stands as Eric Choupo-Moting and Peter Crouch attempt to find an answer to United backstop David De Gea.

Stoke can climb out of the relegation zone with a win, while Manchester United can close the deficit between Man City and itself to 12 points.

As for the Red Devils, Jose Mourinho will trout out Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, and Anthony Martial underneath Romelu Lukaku.

LINEUPS

Manchester United: De Gea, Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Shaw, Matic, Pogba, Mata, Lingard, Martial, Lukaku. Subs: Pereira, Lindelof, Rojo, Fellaini, Herrera, McTominay, Rashford.

Stoke City: Butland, Bauer, Zouma, Martins Indi, Tymon, Fletcher, Allen, Shaqiri, Ireland, Choupo-Moting, Crouch. Subs: Grant, Wimmer, Affelay, Adam, Diouf, Ramadan, Edwards.

Playback: Top five festive takeaways

2 Comments

1. TOP FOUR RACE NOW THE FOCUS

Manchester City may have dropped points for just the second time this season over the festive period (they came seriously close to losing in their 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace) but they now have a 15-point lead atop the Premier League table.

Pep Guardiola‘s boys can start planning which suit they will wear for the open top bus parade around Manchester and switch some focus towards completing a historic quadruple. On this form, they can do it, but injuries must be kinder to them.

The race for who will finish behind City and in the top four is far from over.

Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal all dropped points and they’re all stumbling over each other to try and seal their spot in the top four.

United’s three draws and then a win against Everton saw them go unbeaten but Mourinho’s men are stumbling at precisely the wrong time of the season.

Chelsea seem the most likely to chip away at Man City’s lead, but they put in a shaky defensive display a Arsenal to draw 2-2 in an epic encounter. Still, Antonio Conte‘s men seem to have the staying power to finish in second ahead of United. So, that’s the top three sorted.

The race for fourth will go down to the wire, once again, and Liverpool probably have the edge given their scoring power, yet Tottenham have Harry Kane, more on him shortly, and Arsenal are, well, Arsenal. They’ll hang in there until the bitter end and somehow have a chance of still finishing in the top four on the final day. That’s just what happens.

What we learned over the festive period is that United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal are all capable of putting in error strewn displays and down that stretch that means squandering plenty of points to thicken the top four plot further. This will be fun.


2. HARRY KANE IS A WIZARD

We are witnessing something magical with Harry Kane. The man is a machine and he capped a fine 2017 in record-breaking fashion.

Kane scored back-to-back hat tricks on Dec. 23 against Burnley and Dec. 26 against Southampton to take his tally to 39 in the Premier League in 2017, setting a new record for the number of goals scored in a calendar year.

Many thought Alan Shearer’s record of 36 would never be broken. Kane also ended 2017 ahead of the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski.

Yep, he is no longer a “one season wonder”…

Still just 24-year-old, Kane must have Shearer’s record as the PL’s all-time leading goalscorer (260) on his mind.

Kane has 96 L goals in 137 appearances, so if he keeps his current pace of 0.70 goals per game going he will reach that amount in about six seasons. A huge ask, but Kane has all the attributes to break every PL goalscoring record ever set, if, of course, he stays at Spurs. We will leave that debate for another day, but if he keeps this up, Real Madrid et al. will be handing Spurs a blank check for Kane…

After his record-breaking hat trick against Southampton on Boxing Day, Pro Soccer Talk was among the media members in the mixed zone at Wembley who had the chance to speak with Kane.

“When you look at Messi and Ronaldo, I’ve obviously still got a long way to go before I can be compared to them but it’s a start and that’s what I want to do, keep improving and be up there one day,” Kane said. “That’s always the goal, to be bracketed with the best players in the world. Messi and Ronaldo have set that standard for so long now. To nick ahead is something I’m proud of and it’s just the start for me. I want to do it year in, year out. They’ve done it for eight, nine years now so be classed in that bracket, that’s what I’ve got to do. That’s my aim.”

Does anybody think he actually won’t achieve it?


3. SWASHBUCKLING ARSENAL UNLUCKY

This was not a happy festive period for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger.

They did everything they could to make their charge into the top four but two crucial decisions went against them and Wenger now has a three-game touchline ban for his actions (and possible more given his comments after the draw with Chelsea) to think about just how unlucky his boys were with the penalty calls against West Brom and Chelsea.

Arsenal should have won all four of their festive games. Simple.

Instead, they won one and drew three which saw them lose further ground on the top four. They’re now five points off fourth-place Liverpool and although that gap isn’t insurmountable, at all, the Gunners know they should be in a better position than they currently are.

That’s down, largely, to defensive mistakes once again coming back to bite them, but there are promising signs for Wenger. Mesut Ozil is back to his best. Jack Wilshere is looking sharper each and every game he plays. And even Alexis Sanchez has delivered after a drop in form in early December.

Their swashbuckling displays against Liverpool (recovering well after a shaky first half) and Chelsea at the Emirates during the festive break produced two of the best games we’ve seen this season in the PL. But Arsenal have now played Tottenham, Man United, Liverpool and Chelsea at home this season and won just one of those games. They should have won all four but came up against inspired goalkeeping from David De Gea and Thibaut Courtois, plus harsh decisions going against them.

Was Wenger right to blow his top as he criticized referees after the draws on New Year’s Eve and Jan. 3? He felt like he had to and given the way he saw his team play, you can understand why he’s feeling hard done by as to how their festive period played out.


4. Paul Pogba SHOULD PLAY ON THE LEFT

In a 45 minute spell the real Paul Pogba returned. It was magical.

After a frustrating festive season for Manchester United, Pogba dazzled in the second half of their 2-0 win against Everton at Goodison Park on Jan. 1.

The Frenchman, 24, started on the left of a midfield three and was given license to roam out to the left flank with Jesse Lingard cutting inside. It worked perfectly and looked as though a switch had been flicked in Pogba’s head.

This was why United paid a then word-record fee of $120 million to Juventus for Pogba in the summer of 2016. At Juve, Pogba’s position was on the left of a midfield three and I remember one Champions League game in 2015 where he turned it on in in the second half and ripped Manchester City to shreds.

So often used as a deep-lying central midfielder by Mourinho since he arrived United, much has been made of Pogba’s inability to grab a game by the scruff of the neck in the chaos of the engine room. He looks more fluid out wide and he is able to damage opposition defenders with his pace, power and trickery.

Pogba was criticized by United legend Paul Scholes on Dec. 28 for his performances in their three-straight draws over the festive period against Leicester, Burnley and Southampton, but he correctly received plenty of plaudits for his display against Everton.

Mourinho simply has to use this 4-3-3 system going forward and line up Pogba on the left of a midfield three.


5. PICK 3 FROM 11 FOR RELEGATION

One of the clearest takeaways from the festive period was this: we have no idea who will be relegated when the season ends on May 13.

Sure, there’s a little daylight to Swansea City and West Brom at the bottom but they’re only four points from safety.

Above them the likes of Stoke City and Southampton are bang out of form, have managers being lambasted by fans and look bereft of a general plan. Stoke and Saints are in big, big trouble and they have zero momentum.

West Ham and Crystal Palace are the form teams in the bottom half after managerial changes, while the likes of Watford, Huddersfield, Newcastle, Bournemouth and Brighton are still looking nervously over their shoulders. Everton, in ninth place on 27 points, are probably the cutoff but if the Toffees embark on another huge slump they may get embroiled in a battle against the drop.

If you had to pick three teams right now to go down, who would you go with? I’d go West Brom, Swansea and probably Bournemouth. But this festive period has shown us the relegation scrap is now between 11 teams.


Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

Four things we learned from Arsenal v. Chelsea

Leave a comment

What a game. Arsenal and Chelsea played out a pulsating 2-2 draw at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday to showcase the bets the Premier League has to offer.

[ MORE: Player ratings out of 10 ]

Arsenal took the lead via Jack Wilshere, but Chelsea scored twice through Eden Hazard and Marcos Alonso before Hector Bellerin equalized late on.

Here’s what we learned from an absorbing encounter in north London between the crosstown rivals.


CECH, COURTOIS EXCEL

We rave about sublime goals and attacking play time and time again (we usually do when Arsenal play at home. See: Arsenal v. Tottenham, Arsenal v. Man United and Arsenal v. Liverpool this season) but Wednesday was the time to applaud two top-class goalkeepers who put on a clinic despite conceding two goals each.

Both Thibaut Courtois and the man he took the No.1 jersey from at Chelsea, Petr Cech, excelled as they each made at least three key saves and Courtois was the slightly busier of the two.

Courtois usurped Cech as Chelsea’s first-choice goalkeeper in 2014 and you can see why it was such a tough decision for Jose Mourinho at the time. Both goalkeepers are very similar in the way they play the game, their size and their strengths.

Both made good stops with their feet and also by coming out and smothering chances with Cech denying Alvaro Morata late on but standing his ground at the crucial moment.

With Courtois said to be in talks with Chelsea over a new contract amid constant links to Real Madrid, he continues to be the main man battling David De Gea as the top goalkeeper in the PL. Yet the experienced head of Petr Cech also reminded us just how good he still is.


WILSHERE CONTINUES RESURGENCE

Jack Wilshere has now started six-straight PL games for Arsenal for the first time since September-October 2013 and he continued his resurgence with a fine goal and an all-action display in central midfield.

Is their still rust after his numerous injuries over the past few years? Yes. Undoubtedly. But the England midfielder is doing his chances of earning a new contract at Arsenal no harm, just as Arsene Wenger said last month.

Wilshere, 26, is at a real crossroads in his career but if he can stay fit we all know the quality he has on the ball and being able to make the Gunners tick in central midfield. He is rusty and at times the pace of the game seemed to nullify his impact, but he popped up to score a goal and tried his best to drive Arsenal on from midfield despite getting a yellow card in the first half for clattering Cesc Fabregas.

The one disappointing moment from Wilshere was when he went down easily under a challenge from the excellent Andreas Christensen in the second half but wasn’t shown a yellow card for simulation. He should have been sent off before he scored Arsenal’s first goal in a breathtaking draw.


VAR DEBATE CONTINUES

The debate of simulation has cropped up time and time again over the festive period and it did so at the Emirates. Two crucial moments in the game both involved questionable dives from star players and both could have been cleared up with the VAR system.

Wilshere should have been handed a second yellow card for simulation by referee Antony Taylor, it was as simple as that and the referee had a decent view but may have been slightly blocked.

Then, the big turning point of the game came as Hazard won a penalty kick. The Belgian went down under minimal contact from Hector Bellerin but Taylor pointed to the penalty spot and Chelsea equalized just as Arsenal were in the ascendancy and looked like running away with things.

Wenger was furious with a late handball decision against his side at West Brom on New Year’s Eve which cost them a win, while the likes of Wilfried Zaha has been accused of diving and Mourinho complained about a handball which could have led to a penalty kick for his side over the festive period.

When Chelsea and Arsenal meet in the in the League Cup semifinals later this month VAR will be used and both managers will probably be very happy with that.

Given VAR’s problems at the Confederations Cup last summer, you can understand why the PL is waiting before bringing it in full time.

But with so many debatable calls and managers upset with decisions from referees, surely now is the time to give the officials extra help and take some of the tougher decisions out of their hands and to a team upstairs watching on TV?


STONE COLD MORATA

Alvaro Morata has been deadly for most of his first season at Chelsea in the Premier League. He wasn’t on Wednesday.

The Spaniard missed three glorious chances, slotting wide after going clean through early on, then dinking over in the second half when one-on-one with Cech, while he hit a tame effort at the Arsenal goalkeeper in stoppage time with the score locked at 2-2.

Morata can’t be faulted for the way he’s settled in the PL since arriving at Chelsea in the summer (12 goals in all competitions so far) but he certainly fluffed his lines in the big moments on Wednesday.

He should have given Chelsea the three points which would’ve pushed them up to second place in the PL table and on the same night that Diego Costa scored on his second debut for Atletico Madrid, the man who replaced him at Chelsea, Morata, proved his isn’t quite as clinical. Not yet, anyway.

Roundtable: Discussing the best of 2017

Getty Images
Leave a comment

As 2017 comes to a close, it is time to reflect on what has happened in the Premier League and elsewhere in the soccer world over the past 12 months.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Below we take a look back at 2017, as our writers select their top moments.


Top Premier League moment

Joe Prince-Wright: Being at West Brom to see Chelsea win the Premier League title in May was pretty special. It was a game which summed up why they won the title last season. They ground out victories time and time again and Michy Batshuayi‘s late winner sparked an unexpected party as it seemed like they’d have to wait a few more days to win the trophy. From Antonio Conte‘s press conference after the game being gatecrashed by Diego Costa, John Terry and David Luiz to the celebrations with the fans at the end of the game, it was a moment which really stood out and epitomized the incredible turnaround Conte led after the shambles of 12 months before.

Nick Mendola: Honestly, given the way Chelsea’s players bailed on Jose Mourinho, to see that same bunch enabling fiery Antonio Conte to don an inflatable crown as PL champion might be it for me.

Matt Reed: The Clarets stunning Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on opening day. Burnley has since proven that its a worthy top-10 side, but losing Gary Cahill in the early minutes to a red card and then the subsequent effects were just unimaginable in London.


Top Premier League player

JPW: I have to go with Harry Kane. Yes, Kevin De Bruyne and David De Gea have also been superb, but Kane’s goalscoring record of 39 PL goals in 2017 to set a new record says it all. Consistently he has delivered on a historic level.

NM: It’s been Harry Kane, David De Gea, and Eden Hazard, and I’m *just* tabbing Hazard based on his resurgent last season and success with a wider variety of attackers (though I’m certainly not holding squad stability against Kane).

MR: Kevin De Bruyne has been a marvel to watch evolve, and now he’s really becoming not just one of the best Premier League players, but one of the top talents in the world. The Belgian has been deadly in front of goal, but what’s been even more impressive is his ability to create for his teammates.


Most memorable Premier League goal

JPW: Emre Can‘s incredible flying volley takes some beating, as does Olivier Giroud’s scorpion kick way back on New Year’s Day 2017, but I’m going with Sofiane Boufal‘s solo goal for Southampton against West Brom. I was at St Mary’s that day and the crescendo of noise as he got closer and closer to goal, leaving a trail of defenders in his wake, will always stay with me. Utter bedlam when the ball hit the back of the net.

NM: Honorable mention to Wayne Rooney‘s half-field goal and Emre Can’s overhead kick, but Eden Hazard’s half-field dribble against Arsenal — capped by fooling Laurent Koscielny and Petr Cech — was out of this world.

MR: It’s arguable that other goals were better, but Wayne Rooney’s half-field scorcher against West Ham was certainly the most memorable. Great technique. Brilliant first-time effort. Nothing else to really say.


Most surprising Premier League moment

JPW: It’s probably how ordinary Manchester United have been in the Premier League in 2017. Yes, they focused on the Europa League and cup competitions last season, but there’s be little progress in their style of play or the way Jose Mourinho is setting them up. I thought they’d be much further along than they are right now.

NM: Claudio Ranieri being fired by Leicester City less than a year after engineering perhaps the most memorable championship season in soccer history. Given the players went on to fail Craig Shakespeare, proving it wasn’t about the manager, they should remain ashamed.

MR: Less than 12 months removed from winning the title, Claudio Ranieri’s firing in February wasn’t as much a shock as Leicester’s poor form. Ultimately the Foxes survived relegation, but nobody could have expected that the team would be forced into such sweeping changes after completing their historic feat a season prior.


Top three players on the planet

JPW: Wow. This is tough. I have to go with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo but the third place is so tough. Harry Kane probably deserves to be there because he has more goals than anyone else at the top level in 2017, but how do you leave out Neymar or Kevin De Bruyne? I’m going to give Kane the nod. 1) Messi, 2) Ronaldo, 3) Kane.

NM: 1. Lionel Messi – When you’re the greatest ever, you’re the greatest of the year. 2. Neymar – His Brazil work shows that it’s not just about being a part of two great tridents. 3. Harry Kane – Can’t deny what he’s done for Spurs, and England.

MR: In terms of form, you could very easily argue that Mo Salah and Kevin De Bruyne belong on this list, but when it comes to sustainability, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar are still the best of the best. We’ve all been waiting for Messi and Ronaldo to drop off in form for some time now, but it just doesn’t seem to happen. Even this season, when Real isn’t at its best, Ronaldo has scored 16 goals in all competitions.


Most memorable soccer moment, globally

JPW: The Barcelona vs. Paris Saint-Germain Champions League Round of 16 second leg was bonkers. The way Barca somehow came back from the dead to win 6-1 on the night with two goals in stoppage time sealing their passage to the last eight was remarkable. It didn’t seem possible.

NM: The United States and its overly confident head coach Bruce Arena getting overrun by Trinidad and Tobago’s B Team and eliminated from World Cup qualification. Yep. Still angry.

MR: 6-1. In one of the most high-profile matches in last season’s Champions League, Barcelona stormed back from dead and advanced to the quarterfinals after its six-goal effort against PSG. The fact that Neymar went on to join PSG later in the year only added fuel to fire for any potential future meetings between the two clubs.


Top moments in U.S. Soccer/Major League Soccer

JPW: Obviously the most memorable moment of 2017 for the USMNT was not making the World Cup after that horrendous display against Trinidad & Tobago’s reserve squad. It will take us all a very, very long time to forget that. On the positive side of things, seeing the rise of Christian Pulisic has been superb and he is exceeding what we all expected him to achieve at such a young age. In MLS, there’s no doubting that Toronto FC winning MLS Cup was a huge moment. Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco have delivered what was expected and they did it in style with a record breaking season. We are seeing the start of another MLS dynasty, I’m sure of it.

NM: I have a lot of admiration for the way Toronto FC made good on the promise of 2016 by winning every competition it entered in 2017 (especially with oft-criticized USMNT stars Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore doing plenty along the way) and essentially anything Christian Pulisic did was wonderful this season (One of the few players who looked good even when the USMNT was throwing up all over itself). The continued development of other U.S. youngsters (Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams) is also encouraging but not quite to the level of top moment.

MR: It certainly wasn’t the best moment by any stretch, but we’ll remember the USMNT missing out on the 2018 World Cup for a very, very long time. Not just because of the magnitude of our nation being left out of the tournament, but the way in which everything fell apart at the most critical points in the World Cup qualifying cycle.

In MLS, Toronto FC’s treble was the first of its kind. While some will argue that having the Canadian Championship count is a bit of a stretch, TFC was the best team from start to finish this MLS season, and they’ve built a squad that could contend for various titles in the future.


Pick your ultimate Best XI from World Soccer in 2017

Joe Prince-Wright
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
Defenders: Cezar Azpilicueta, Sergio Ramos, Jan Vertonghen
Midfielders: Toni Kroos, N'Golo Kante, Kevin De Bruyne, Mohamed Salah
Forwards: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Harry Kane

Nick Mendola
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
Defenders: Sergio Ramos, Jan Vertonghen, Mats Hummels
Midfielders: N’Golo Kante, Toni Kroos, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard
Forwards: Lionel Messi, Harry Kane, Neymar

Matt Reed
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
Defenders: Cezar Azpilicueta, Sergio Ramos, Giorgio Chiellini, David Alaba
Midfielders: Andres Iniesta, Kevin De Bruyne, Mohamed Salah
Forwards: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar


Your main hope/wish for the soccer world in 2018

JPW: That the 2018 World Cup becomes a true celebration of everything that is great about the Beautiful Game rather than turning into a VAR nightmare. The biggest stars will be on show and there are at least six legitimate contenders to win the trophy. I cannot wait for the World Cup.

NM: That U.S. Soccer’s new president sees his job as an honor and not keys to a palace, and that he finds the manager — or finds the people to find the manager — who believes in choosing the best players with the best mentalities, not beholden to or singularly opposed to a league.

MR: Teams like Man City and Barcelona are well-deserved leaders of their respective leagues, but I’d like to see the title races in the five major European divisions tighten a bit just for competition’s sake. Outside of Serie A, England, Spain, Germany and France already appear decided, which makes for a somewhat unexciting second half of the season.