Zlatan Ibrahimovic

PL Playback: Man United ready to roam freely

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MAN UNITED’S MOMENTUM

So far this season Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United look ready to bolt from the barn whenever matchday rolls around.

In a good way.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

United blew away Swansea City 4-0 on Saturday, using an explosive 3 minute and 41 second period to score three times at the end of the game.

Mourinho’s stable of powerful attacking players are on the pitch and on the bench, with Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial running riot late in the game.

“I had players on the bench who could help me. Happiness in our play. It happened to me so much with my teams, you’re winning 1-0 and you can can concede. There was no need to close the door, just let the horses run freely,” Mourinho told the BBC after the game.

The depth in this United squad is considerable with Martial coming off the bench to score twice and assist on another goal in the opening two games of the PL season. Lukaku has scored four goals in his first three official games for United, while Pogba has a goal in each of his first two PL games this season. Everything is looking rosy for United who sit top of the table after two 4-0 wins to open the season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

But hold your horses. No disrespect to West Ham and Swansea, but United should beat them convincingly. Yet they seem to have put aside their problems from last season where they dominated teams but couldn’t put them away, which led to a league-high 15 draws from 38 games. They’ve kept more clean sheets than any other PL team in 2017, so conceding hasn’t been the issue.

The balance is now better with attackers able to roam freely and interchange further up the pitch. In truth, they played similarly for large spells of last season but they couldn’t finish. Now the confidence is flowing and scoring goals seems like the easiest thing in the world.

Mourinho seems to have instilled newfound confidence in his team and with the players now having a whole season of the Mourinho experience under their belt, they understand what he wants. Also, the second-season syndrome (we all know what happens in year three) under Mourinho always seems to get the best out of his methods. There is a real feel-good vibe around United right now and their early-season schedule will allow this to build.

Despite all of the positives surrounding United’s opening victories, what if Romelu Lukaku goes down injured? Can Marcus Rashford, who has looked dangerous out on the left, fill his void up top? Maybe Zlatan Ibrahimovic will arrive on a short-term deal but the forward issue is one which will still concern Mourinho, even though his attacking unit is purring right now. Injuries hit United hard last season but they had more games with their Europa League campaign, EFL Cup success and deep run in the FA Cup. This season should be easier to manage.

Mourinho’s team now seem able to shut opponents down and limit their chances and the balance of this team is spot on. Nemanja Matic‘s arrival has been lauded and he allows Pogba to roam free in support of Lukaku, Rashford, Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan who was sublime once again, taking his assist tally to four in 173 minutes for the season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

The diminutive duo of Juan Mata and Mkhitaryan perfectly compliment the powerful trio of Pogba, Lukaku and Rashford in attack and all of a sudden you can see why Mourinho was shown pretending to smoke an imaginary cigar before the game when the cameras caught him chatting with Swansea boss Paul Clement.

So chill.

Mourinho will let his horses roam free for the opening months of the season as United do not face a top six opponent until Oct. 14 when they head to Liverpool and then they face Chelsea and Tottenham in two of their next three games, while the UCL group games will also come thick and fast around that time.

That’s when the real tests will start to arrive but United already have a ruthless streak about them which wasn’t there last season.


CHELSEA’S WEMBLEY GRIT

It wasn’t the best display Chelsea will put in, but it had buckets of desire and determination as they became the first team to beat Tottenham at home (yes, it was Wembley) in 19 Premier League games.

[ MORE: Can Spurs get over Wembley jinx? ]

After being at the London derby, the first-ever Premier League game at Wembley, I wrote about Spurs’ struggles at their temporary home, and that was a big part of this.

Chelsea rode their luck but without the injured Eden Hazard, exiled Diego Costa, the suspended duo of Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas, plus new signings Alvaro Morata, Antonio Rudiger and Tiemoue Bakayoko all taking time to settle in as they made their first starts for the club, it was one heck of a result.

[ MORE: 3 things learned from Chelsea’s win ]

Tottenham were wasteful in attack against Chelsea’s revamped 3-5-2 system which saw David Luiz become a colossal in central midfield and youngster Andreas Christensen more than hold his own in central defense. They hit Spurs on the counter expertly as Willian hit the post and then Marcos Alonso scored a late winner which sent the 3,000-plus away fans wild at Wembley.

Antonio Conte ran to the away section after the game punching the air with delight as the Italian coach looked to be unloading plenty of the pressure which had been piling up on his shoulders over the summer and the early weeks of this season. That was understandable following the Costa saga, Nemanja Matic being sold to Man United, the FA Community Shield defeat to Arsenal and a shock loss to Burnley.

“This is a perfect response of the champions,” Conte said. “We won the league last season, winning 30 games, and that is not easy. We lost in the final of the FA Cup. We have arrived in some problems with bans and injuries but we must be ready to work and focus on the pitch. The club is trying its best in the transfer market to improve our squad but I must be happy.”

With the chips down, Sunday’s London derby win proved the reigning champs won’t give up their crown without a fight.


EARLY SEASON HEROES, STRUGGLERS

We are only in Week 2 but there are already plenty of heroes and vllains around the Premier League.

Huddersfield Town have won their first two Premier League games with David Wagner‘s side beating Newcastle United 1-0 on Sunday at a raucous John Smith’s Stadium.

Aaron Mooy was the hero as the Australian midfielder cut inside and bent home a beauty into the far corner to become Huddersfield’s hero. In truth, every Terriers player was a hero, just like they were in Week 1 at Crystal Palace.

Wagner’s men are six points closer to the magic 40-point marker to avoid relegation and the Yorkshire club are loving life in the big-time. They are the new darlings of the PL.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, there are five teams at the bottom of the Premier League table who have yet to grab a point this season, and four of those have yet to score a goal.

They aren’t panicking, but a slow start is far from ideal.

Newcastle United were lackluster in attack in their defeat at Huddersfield and Rafael Benitez looks frustrated on the sidelines with funds from owner Mike Ashley not as forthcoming as he’d hoped. The Magpies need major work in the final weeks of the window.

So do fellow new boys Brighton & Hove Albion and Chris Hughton‘s side barely created anything at Leicester City in their second 2-0 defeat to open the season. Bournemouth, surprisingly, have lost two games to open the campaign with Eddie Howe‘s men also yet to score as Watford dominated the game at the Vitality Stadium. The alarm bells are ringing in Dorset.

Crystal Palace put in a dogged display away at Liverpool but Christian Benteke missed a glorious chance and Frank de Boer’s men conceded late on with Sadio Mane grabbing the winner and West Ham have now conceded seven goals to open the season with two defeats from two for Slaven Bilic‘s side.

At least West Ham’s Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez hasn’t had a slow start to the season even though his team lost 3-2 at Southampton in a dramatic game. Mexico’s all-time leading goalscorer netted two typical close-range goals but his side were undone by giving away two penalty kicks and having Marko Arnautovic stupidly sent off.

Like the other teams struggling at the start of the season, the Hammers are creating problems for themselves. How would Hernandez sum up their start and the current mood at West Ham?

“Difficult, we knew that with three away games. The last two with Manchester United and then at Southampton we played a really good game in the second half with 10 men, we had a lot of effort and were so close to getting one point and maybe even three points, you never know. It has been a little bit sad but we are getting there,” Hernandez said. “We need time to keep working, to keep improving. We need to look forward, we need to be positive. We can not stay in the good memories or bad memories. That’s the good thing about football, you have a chance of revenge every weekend.”

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

Report: Ibrahimovic to sign for Man Utd this week, posts teasing video

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Look, at some point we may have to face the idea that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is not from this planet.

The Swedish legend, 35, has healed well ahead of schedule and will reportedly sign a new contract with Manchester United this week.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Ibrahimovic was one of the best finishers in the Premier League last season, and the idea of him spelling Romelu Lukaku or Jose Mourinho putting the two beasts on the pitch at the same time will only reinforce thoughts that United can chase hardware in any tournament it enters this season.

From ESPN.co.uk:

The new contract will be announced earlier than anticipated due to the former Sweden international’s quick recovery.

The reports comes on the same day the Swedish striker posted video his spin kicking a heavy bag with both legs and asking viewers which of his pegs boasted this summer’s surgically-repaired knee.

He’s probably an alien.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Another Alexis link; Zlatan, the coach?

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Rumors linking Alexis Sanchez to the half-dozen clubs bigger than Arsenal won’t subside until the summer transfer window closes, which is to say, Thursday’s grandest transfer rumor links the Chilean with a move away from north London.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Monday ]

With his current contract down to just 10 months, Manchester City are the latest club reportedly interested in snatching him away from the Gunners for a pittance of his true value. That’s not to say $77 million is anything to scoff at, but given the current climate of the transfer market, Sanchez would fetch something closer to $120 million with three or four years to run on his contract.

[ MORE: Diego Costa releases statement — “I must return to Atletico Madrid” ]


Zlatan Ibrahimovic is four months into rehabilitation from the career-threatening knee injury he suffered in April. With five or six months still to go, the big Swede is nearing the point of the process during which he’ll likely announce his next club.

If Manchester United have their way, the 35-year-old might just stick around Old Trafford a while longer. Here’s the catch: Jose Mourinho is reportedly considering offering Ibrahimovic a role on his coaching staff in the interim before he completes his rehab and gets the OK to return to action.

[ MORE: Chelsea plan to raid Spurs — Danny Rose for $64 million ]


14 days remain before the end of the summer transfer window, and Tottenham Hotspur are still yet to sign a single player. The $65 million received upon Kyle Walker‘s departure would burn a hole in the pocket of everyone not named Daniel Levy.

That said, Tottenham are still expected to sign someone before the window closes, and they could certainly do worse than Suarez from Barcelona — that’s Denis Suarez, of course, not Luis. The 23-year-old Spanish midfielder is reportedly close to completing a move to Napoli, but Spurs are said to be late entrants into the race and could easily hijack the deal.

Mourinho: Man Utd, Zlatan “having conversations” about return

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Manchester United is in talks with Zlatan Ibrahimovic about the striker playing again for the club.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — A wild return for the top flight! ]

The 35-year-old Ibrahimovic scored 28 goals before a serious knee injury brought his first season at Old Trafford to a halt in April.

Ibrahimovic was let go at the end of his one-year contract, but the Swede is undergoing rehabilitation at United ahead of his expected return to fitness in December.

[ MORE: Sunday’s PL preview — Man Utd begin title quest vs. Chicharito ]

“He’s injured. He needs time to recover,” United manager Jose Mourinho said on Friday. “He’s not ready to play tomorrow. It’s not something urgent, it’s nothing that you are desperate to have it done or not done.

“I just think that he was very clear by showing that what he did last year was not enough for him. He thinks he can do more. He wants more at football’s highest level, so we are having conversations and we are discussing the possibility of him staying with us for the second part of the season.”

PL Sunday preview: Man Utd, Spurs begin title quests

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We’re 80 percent of the way through the opening weekend of the 2017-18 Premier League season, which means two games — featuring two of the six presumed title hopefuls — on the Sunday schedule…

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — A wild return for the top flight! ]

Newcastle United vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Tottenham haven’t spent a penny all summer (maybe you’ve heard), despite netting $65 million in exchange for Kyle Walker, but worst of all, Danny Rose went public with his own frustrations this week, leaving one to wonder if everyone in the dressing feels the same. Suffice to say, Mauricio Pochettino welcomes the “distraction” of real games to be played.

The last time Spurs visited St. James’ Park, Newcastle embarrassed Pochettino’s men, 5-1, on the final day of the 2015-16 season. The defeat saw Spurs fall from second in the league table, down to third, behind Arsenal. The Magpies had been relegated to the Championship weeks earlier, but manager Rafa Benitez stuck around for a season in England’s second division and brought the club back to the PL at the first time of asking.

INJURIES: Newcastle — OUT: DeAndre Yedlin (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: Dwight Gayle (hamstring) | Tottenham — OUT: Danny Rose (knee), Erik Lamela (hip), Son Heung-min (arm); QUESTIONABLE: Kieran Tripper (ankle), Victor Wanyama (knee)

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Manchester United vs. West Ham United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

While far from the busiest of the PL’s six title hopefuls this summer, Man United’s transfer business was conducted on a must-be-addressed basis — star striker Romelu Lukaku, to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney; Nemanja Matic, to anchor the midfield and protect a shaky set of center backs; Victor Lindelof, to displace those shaky center backs — perhaps more so than any other side. Given the number of injuries Jose Mourinho was forced to navigate last season, spending just short of $190 million on reinforcements was the Red Devils’ only way back into genuine title contention.

As for West Ham, Slaven Bilic needs to deliver serious improvement on last season’s 11th-place finish — and a much faster start to the campaign — if he’s to complete his third full season in charge of the Hammers. While Marko Arnautovic goes down as the club-record signing ($26 million) from the summer, it’s Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez ($18 million) on whom all eyes will be focused on Sunday, as Mexico’s all-time leading goalscorer returns to Old Trafford, to face the manager who many believe forced him out, for the first time since leaving the club for Bayer Leverkusen nearly two years ago.

“I can just say it’s luck,” Hernandez said when asked about his storybook return to life in the PL. “It was a great experience [there] … only happiness. I was living my dream and made that big step, which is not common. There is nothing negative about going there. It’s going to be my first game with my new club, against my old club in my old house. It’s only positive things – it’s an important moment for me.”

INJURIES: Man United — OUT: Luke Shaw (foot), Marcos Rojo (knee), Ashley Young (hamstring), James Wilson (knee) | West Ham — OUT: Michail Antonio (hamstring), Sofiane Feghouli (hamstring), Andy Carroll (groin); QUESTIONABLE: Manuel Lanzini (knee), Marko Arnautovic (leg)