Jesse Lingard

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Watch Live: Manchester United vs. Stoke City

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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.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Sanchez to Man United; Chicharito to leave

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There are some monster transfer reports around on Thursday morning.

[ MORE: Latest transfer news ]

We’ve already heard the news that Manchester United will reportedly battle Liverpool to sign USMNT star Christian Pulisic in the summer, but there’s more. Oh yes.

According to reports from Sky Italy, Manchester United are also said to be making a move to sign Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal in January with a fee of $35 million reported, plus Henrikh Mkhitaryan could be offered up in any deal.

With Manchester City thought to be the firm favorites to sign Sanchez, 29, from the Gunners as his contract running out in July, it appears that Jose Mourinho is making a big move for the Chilean star.

Per the report, Sanchez has been offered a bigger contract at United and the Red Devils have well and truly joined the race to sign the forward ahead of their crosstown rivals.

Sanchez has scored just seven goals in 20 PL games for Arsenal this season and their gamble to not sell him last summer to Man City for over $75 million and instead try and persuade him to stick around and sign a new deal has well and truly backfired.

Wenger and Arsenal will surely sell Sanchez this month to try and recoup some cash with the Chilean free to agree a move to a non-English club right now, and free to join any PL club from July 1 on a free transfer.

Would he be better suite to United? He would certainly play a more prominent role, you would think. At City he would have Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero to compete with for a starting spot but at United he would surely start above the likes of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard.

Given the fact that Sanchez hasn’t played in the UEFA Champions League this season, he is also very valuable as he isn’t cup tied for the UCL knockout rounds.


A report from Sky Sports states that West Ham are ready to listen to offers for Mexico’s all-time leading goalscorer Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, who they only signed for $21.5 million from Bayer Leverkusen in the summer.

The 29-year-old has scored four goals for the Hammers in 21 appearances in all competitions this season, a campaign which has seen West Ham embroiled in a relegation battle and the man who signed Chicharito, Slaven Bilic, was sacked in November and replaced with David Moyes.

Moyes didn’t see eye-to-eye with Chicharito while he was manager of Manchester United in the 2013-14 season and it is believed that the Scotsman is eager to offload the El Tri star, as well as Diafra Sakho and Andre Ayew to reshape his attack.

Simply put: this move hasn’t worked out well for anyone.

Where could Chicharito go? There have been suggestions that a move to Major League Soccer could be on the cards and with LAFC having one more Designated Player spot open, could Hernandez be heading to LA to link up with Bob Bradley for their debut season in MLS which kicks off in March?

Stranger things have happened even though Chicharito has said in the past that he isn’t keen to join an MLS club right now. With his international teammate, Carlos Vela, at LAFC, maybe that will persuade him to make the move to the exciting project in the City of Angels.

If not to MLS, there will still be plenty of interest in Hernandez from the PL and elsewhere in Europe in January.

FA Cup: Van Dijk’s debut winner; Lingard the hero again

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Thanks to a pair of late winners, Liverpool and Manchester United are through to the fourth round of the FA Cup.

[ MORE: PL sides enter 3rd round of FA Cup this weekend ]

Liverpool 2-1 Everton

Virgil Van Dijk put forth a debut performance to remember, as he scored the late, winning goal in Liverpool’s third-round victory over Merseyside rivals Everton at Anfield. After completing his $100-million move from Southampton to Liverpool last week, the 26-year-old quickly endeared himself to the Anfield faithful by separating the two sides in a hotly contested, chippy encounter that on occasion threatened to turn ugly.

Liverpool went ahead 10 minutes before halftime, when Mason Holgate wrapped his arms around Adam Lallana. James Milner stepped up and converted from the spot to make it 1-0. Bobby Madley’s decision to award the penalty was questionable, to put it lightly.

Van Dijk so nearly got his debut goal in the 63rd minute, but Jordan Pickford made a difficult save to keep the Toffees’ deficit at just one. Not long later — four minutes, to be exact — the blue side of Merseyside punished the red side with an effortless, fluid counter-attacking move that brought them back together again, at 1-1. Gylfi Sigurdsson arrived late to the top of the penalty area and slotted home after Phil Jagielka made a 70-yard, lung-busting print to get forward and lay the ball back for a wide open Sigurdsson.

Six minutes from full-time, Van Dijk would get another chance to play the part of hero. Pickford rushed out to punch, but the big Dutchman stood his ground and headed into the empty net.

Manchester United 2-0 Derby County

Jesse Lingard, the late bloomer at Man United, continues to come up huge for Jose Mourinho’s struggling Red Devils, time after time after time. It took nearly the full 90 minutes — 84, to be exact — for United to break through against Championship side Derby at Old Trafford, but the quality of Lingard’s stunning goal made it (almost) worth the wait.

The most notable event from the game’s first 45 minutes actually came during halftime, when Henrikh Mkhitaryan was subbed off after a disappointing first-half performance, leaving his Man United future in more and more serious doubt. Just as notably, it was Romelu Lukaku, making his return from the head injury he suffered seven days ago, who replaced Mkhitaryan. Lukaku then grabbed the insurance goal in the 90th minute, his first since Dec. 17, snapping a streak of four scoreless appearances.

Playback: Top five festive takeaways

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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

Mourinho dishes on transfers, Lingard, fixture frustration

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Manchester United’s defeat of Everton on Monday without a pair of world-class strikers had manager Jose Mourinho beaming as the Red Devils moved back into the Premier League’s second place for the moment.

“Our pride, our effort, everything was top class and on top of it we played very well,” Mourinho said. “It wasn’t a performance of tired boys, with the worst possible calendar that you gave us.”

[ RECAP: Everton 0-2 Man Utd ]

Well, we don’t think that interviewer did, Mou.

It’s January in Manchester — and everywhere — which especially means questions about whether United boss Mourinho and his neighbor at City will spend dough on new players. From the BBC:

“I don’t know about transfers. In this moment we are in trouble, in two to three weeks time maybe we recover and we breathe in a different way. Can we improve now or do we wait util the summer? I cannot say.”

United’s surprising dismissal from the League Cup at the hands of Bristol City means United has more room to get healthy than it seemed a few weeks back, but injuries to Romelu Lukaku and Zlatan Ibrahimovic put pressure on Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and Jesse Lingard to pick up their play.

Lingard, most certainly, has done that in recent weeks, something his wonderful New Year’s Day goal exclaimed to the world.

“One thing is to be a young talent, another thing is to be a very good player,” Mourinho said, “Some players are not capable of that jump. They go from great potential to normal players. Lingard is giving that jump. He is more consistent, he is adaptable, he understands better the game, he is going in a good direction.”