Offshore drilling, England: Manchester United 3, at Newcastle United 0

Leave a comment

Man of the match: Wayne Rooney may have started one of his good spells. We see it once or twice a year – a span where the Manchester United attacker looks like one of the best players in the world. He wasn’t quite up to that standard on Sunday, but at this rate, Rooney might be at that level for next week’s match against Stoke City. Still, in recording two assists while serving as the link between United’s midfield and attack, Rooney was the best of a strong Red Devil squad.

The two assists are a bit of misleading, though. One came on a corner kick. The other was a simple ball ahead of a remarkable goal. But even without the assists, Rooney was United’s most impressive player. His play behind the forwards in United’s 4-3-1-2 formation hinted Alex Ferguson may figuring out the right deployment for his wealth of attacking talent.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Manchester United is so inconsistent, you never want to make judgments based on the lineups. Newcastle’s XI, though – particularly their back five – looked like they were going to be in trouble:
    • The Magpies had second choice `keeper Steven Harper in goal. He’s not bad, but he’s a clear step back from the Tim Krul, out injured.
    • Under normal circumstances, the difference between Krul and Harper wouldn’t be noticed, particularly over a mere 90 minutes, but with a 21-year-old Shane Ferguson starting to the left of a James Perch-Mike Williamson pair, Harper looked likely to be tested often. Either that or defensive midfielder Chiek Tiote was going to have to have a huge day.
    • United started a very attack-oriented team (no surprise): Danny Welbeck and Robin van Persie up top, Rooney behind them, with Shinji Kagawa and Tom Cleverley playing the wide midfielders in a 4-3-1-2.
  • Eight minutes in, Manchester United had 89 percent of the Opta possession. That’s also when they opened the scoring, a near post corner from van Persie finding Jonny Evans, who out-jumped Williamson to make it 1-0.
  • Eight minutes later (in the 16th minute), United were up two, Patrice Evra beating Demba Ba to head home a corner from Rooney.
  • Whether it was Newcastle’s awakening or Manchester United letting up, the game evened out after the second goal. United wouldn’t register a shot for the rest of the half, their possession going from 80 percent (at the time of Evra’s goal) to 60 percent (at halftime). Each of Newcastle’s eight first half shots came after the second goal, though none of them tested David de Gea.
  • The match also saw five yellow cards handed out in the 24-minute period after the Evra goal. Howard Webb would go on to book eight players overall.
  • The second half avoided the first’s bipolarity, leveling off into a match United was destined to win. After Cleverley made it 3-0 with a great, curling goal inside the right post from 25 yards out, the Red Devils started taking off their stars.
  • And most of the time, that’s a good shorthand for how a match has gone. If all you were told about this match were United’s subs – Kagawa, Rooney, then van Persie – you’d know United won big.
  • For Newcastle, it was a match they were destined to lose. They weren’t set up to beat United in midfield, which would have left a second choice defense sitting ducks even without the early corner kick conversions.
  • For United, the performance showed continued improvement, which is all Ferguson wants at this time of year. It’s half fable, half fact: Ferguson tries to get his team clicking by the new year. With that in mind, he’ll spend the next three months tweaking, hoping United will be at their best when the stakes escalate. Today was a good tweak.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Fekir negotiations back on; Chelsea waiting on transfer targets; and more

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Could Liverpool get its star attacking midfield target after all?

That’s what seems to be the case, as the agent for Lyon and France midfielder Nabil Fekir told French TV channel LCI Monday evening that negotiations aren’t over between Liverpool and Lyon.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“He didn’t sign because um… it is not over! This is not the end of the story,” Fekir’s agent, Jean-Pierre Bernes reportedly said.

It was just two weeks ago when Lyon president Jean-Michael Aulas stated that Fekir, Lyon’s captain, would remain with the club for the upcoming season, after negotiations with Liverpool fell through. According to the Liverpool Echo, the Reds wanted a second opinion on a previous knee injury, and had balked at the $70 million price tag.

But now it appears Liverpool and Aulas could still be in conversations to try and find a mutually accepted fee.

At the same time, stirring up transfer drama is in Bernes interest, as it could drive other teams into the race to sign Fekir and raise his transfer fee, meaning more money to him, Fekir (if he gets a cut) and Lyon. Watch this space for more to come during and after the World Cup.

Here’s some more transfer rumors from across the Premier League and Europe:

(more…)

Japan upsets ten-man Colombia in Group H opener

Getty Images
Leave a comment

On paper, the 61st-ranked team in the world beating the 16th-ranked team in the world is a massive upset. But considering the circumstances within the game, perhaps this wasn’t an upset after all.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Two set pieces were the difference as Japan defeated ten-man Colombia, 2-1 on Tuesday morning in Saransk. Colombia played with ten men for nearly the entire match, after Carlos Sanchez was sent off for a handball in the box and a denial of a goal scoring opportunity.

The game took a massive turn in the third minute, as Colombia centerback Davinson Sanchez failed to control a pass and Yuya Osako found himself free on goal. His shot was parried away by Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina but Kagawa’s rebound shot was clearly blocked by Sanchez’s right arm. The referee, Damir Skomina immediately pointed to the penalty spot and went to the back pocket, sending Sanchez to the showers.

Kagawa stepped up and cooly sent Ospina the wrong way to put Japan on top.

Late in the first half, after both teams had chances on target, Colombia came back and evened the scoreline.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

Juan Fernando Quintero, starting in place of the recovering James Rodriguez, smartly took a free kick and fired it low, under the wall as it jumped. Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima reacted late and although he arrived as the ball was crossing the line, he couldn’t keep it from going over, tying the game in the 39th minute.

Ultimately, despite its efforts, Colombia began to tire and on a corner kick, the Blue Samurai took back the lead and control of their destiny in Group H. A corner kick from Keisuke Honda was re-directed past Ospina by Osako, who jumped well over Santiago Arias, to give Japan a 2-1 lead in the 75th minute.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Rodriguez was introduced in the 57th minute but try as he did, Colombia was unable to find the final pass in the box, and Japan held on for the unexpected victory.

With the win, Japan top Group H ahead of a meeting with Senegal, while Colombia will have to regroup to face Poland.

In a World Cup full of unexpected results, Tuesday brought yet another memorable win for an underdog.

New Zealand women footballers rebel against national coach

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Wellington, New Zealand (AP) Only weeks after New Zealand Football made headlines by signing a revolutionary equal pay deal with its female players, the organization is facing a mutiny by members of its women’s team against the national coach.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

New Zealand Football confirmed on Tuesday it had received a letter signed by a number of New Zealand players complaining about the methods and tactics employed by Austria-born coach Andreas Heraf.

The complaints follow the New Zealand team’s recent 3-1 loss at home to Japan. Heraf angered his players, and fans of the Football Ferns national team, by taking an entirely defensive game plan into the rare home international.

Heraf then further angered his players with comments defending his approach.

He said there was “a big difference in quality” between the New Zealand and Japanese players and that New Zealand “will never have that quality” to compete with top teams like Japan. He said the scoreline might have been 8-0 if New Zealand had not adopted a defensive approach.

One of New Zealand’s leading players, United States-based Abby Erceg, retired after playing 132 matches for New Zealand, citing Heraf’s approach in previous international matches.

She later told New Zealand media: “I couldn’t stand to wear that (national symbol) on my chest any more when his vision was to cower in a corner and not get beat by too much.”

New Zealand Football defended Heraf against the media and public criticism but admitted his comments were “strange” and “wrong” and did not accurately reflect his views. Heraf later apologized and said he had not expressed himself clearly.

But efforts to dampen the controversy have failed. New Zealand Football said in a statement it had “received a letter from the NZ Professional Footballers Association (NZPFA) last night with a number of complaints from the players of the Football Ferns.”

The mutiny comes only weeks after New Zealand gained international headlines for a deal which gives female pay parity with their male counterparts.

New Zealand Football signed the deal which provided female players with equal match payments, travel arrangements and prize money.

At the time, New Zealand women’s captain Ali Riley said the deal meant New Zealand would “be able to compete against the top teams, to be able to do well at a World Cup and the Olympics – this is what we needed.”

VIDEO: Colombia sees red, Japan takes early lead

Getty Images
1 Comment

The first red card of the World Cup came just moments after fans took their seats in Saransk.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news

After David Ospina blocked a breakaway opportunity from Yuya Osako in the third minute of the match, Japan star and former Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa fired the rebound on goal. But his shot was blocked by the arm of Colombia midfielder Carlos Sanchez, which earned him a straight red card from referee Damir Skomina and an early trip to the locker room.

Kagawa then stepped up to the spot and calmly sent Ospina the wrong way to give Japan the shock early lead.

Colombia will play the rest of the match with ten men and no James Rodriguez, who was named to the bench for this match as he recovers from a reported calf injury.