Still flawed, still fabulous, Manchester United comes back again

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It wasn’t the same level of comeback that spawned our fledgling #FlawedButFabulous meme (that I’m starting right now), but Manchester United was still up to their old tricks today at Upton Park. Though Tom Cleverley claimed the opener against West Ham United, the Red Devils still managed to fall behind. And with a confounding level of predictability, they still managed to come back, Robin van Persie coming off the bench to claim a stoppage time equalizer. The teams will replay their third round tie at Old Trafford after Saturday’s 2-2 draw.

The game exhibited so many of the qualities that make Manchester United the best European soccer’s most entertaining team. Like them or not, the drama crafted from their excellence and shortcomings creates a near-perfect balance of watchability and incredulity. You ask how can a team with this midfield and defense be first in England, but when the game starts, you stop caring. There are always too many goals for too many explicable reasons to turn away from a Manchester United match.

Consider the ones they conceded on Saturday. Joe Cole, making his first appearance since rejoining the Hammers, had a part in both, each time given too much room to get a crosses into the box. And each time, poor marking allowed James Collins to head past David de Gea.

Joe Cole had two assists. James Collins had two goals. Both balls served in from the left. Both headers redirected from around 12 yards out.

They (and their teammates) deserve credit, but these are not the type of things that should happen often against title-contending teams. Against United? It’s become a type of expected surprise.

But this being Manchester United, the 2-1 deficit wasn’t going to stand. Even as the clock struck 90:00 you knew West Ham was unlikely to maintain their lead. So it was that Ryan Giggs launched a perfect long ball from well within his own half right onto the shoelaces of Robin van Persie (one of the best long passes you’ll seen in a long time). And of course, Van Persie takes a perfect touch with the outside of his left foot, brings the ball down for a sharp angle shot, and beats Jussi Jääskeläinen to salvage a result:

Had the 90 minutes that came before been a replay of West Ham versus West Brom, that goal would have justified watching the entire every moment. That it capped the typical Red Devil theatrics only reinforced this double-edged sword they’ve crafted from their season. They are extremely flawed at the back: unable to prevent a double from James Collins; unable to prevent a Joe Cole revival. And they are spellbindingly fabulous in attack, able to contrive a 91st minute goal of the year candidate.

They’re why the Premier League (and today, the FA Cup) is great. They’re also an example of why Premier League is slipping. But on Saturday, they were as advertised: Flawed by fabulous.

Mourinho escapes FA charge after Chelsea fracas

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Jose Mourinho has not been charged by the English Football Association for his part in a melee which broke out at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Following Chelsea’s 96th minute equalizer in their 2-2 draw against Manchester United, one of Chelsea’s coaching staff, Marco Ianni, celebrated in front of Mourinho and his bench twice, which prompted an angry response from Mourinho.

Pandemonium then broke out on the sidelines with players and coaches from both teams getting involved.

Below is the statement from the English FA confirming Ianni’s charge.

“Chelsea coach Marco Ianni has been charged following the game against Manchester United on Saturday [20 October 2018]. It is alleged that his behaviour in the 96th minute constituted improper conduct. He has until 6pm on Thursday 25 October 2018 to respond to the charge.

“In relation to this incident, Jose Mourinho has been formally reminded of his responsibilities whilst both clubs have received similar official reminders in terms of the behaviour expected of their staff and players at all times whilst in the technical area.”

Preview: Arsenal v. Leicester City

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  • Arsenal have won 9 games in a row
  • Leicester have never won at Arsenal in PL
  • Jamie Vardy has 6 goals in 6 starts v Arsenal
  • Arsenal has won the most PL games and points in October

Arsenal host Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with Unai Emery‘s Gunners aiming for a tenth-straight win in all competitions.

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The Gunners have won six straight in the PL and the duo of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have been scoring goals for fun with 11 goals between them. A win would take Arsenal into fourth place, level on points with Tottenham and Chelsea.

In team news Arsenal may be without Sokratis Papastathopoulos who picked up an ankle injury while on international duty with Greece. Leicester will be without winger Demarai Gray.


What they’re saying

Emery on how Arsenal can improve: “Not a surprise. We are doing the things better in our way, but we also need to continue improving, getting better, because we won more consecutive matches but we also need to improve our control in the game. Every match, every team has solutions and quality to give us problems, and Leicester is the same. Our success every day is work, continuing to work hard to improve these things.”

Puel unsure about Arsenal’s title chances: “They have nine wins at this moment which is incredible. They are confident in their play. They are more direct and clinical at the moment, with a clinical player like (Alexandre) Lacazette for example. They can have good confidence for the future, but for the title I don’t know. It is just the beginning of the season and the Premier League has a lot of possibilities.”


Prediction

Arsenal’s firepower suggests they will once again cause their opponent plenty of problems but the pace of Jamie Vardy on the break has caused their own defense plenty of issues in the box. Expect an open, entertaining game. Arsenal to win 3-1.

Mourinho hits out at reporters, defends Chelsea coach

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Jose Mourinho’s season continues to be weird.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Ahead of Manchester United’s huge UEFA Champions League group stage clash with Juventus on Tuesday the Portuguese coach spoke to the media and refused to talk about individual players, with many of the questions asked about Paul Pogba.

“I don’t like this press conference,” Mourinho said. I think the press conference is going in other directions. If the press conference is going in other directions then I want to go in another direction. I don’t want to speak about Pogba, I don’t want to speak about individuals or Spanish journalists. I want to speak about one of the biggest candidates of winning the competition. That is what motivates me, that’s what brings me here. If the press conference is going in other directions, I want to go in another direction.”

[ MORE: 4 things we learned, Chelsea v Man United

So, Mourinho took it in another direction. He instead spoke about the incident regarding Marco Ianni, Chelsea’s assistant coach who celebrated in front of Mourinho’s bench at the weekend and sparked ugly scenes in the technical area after Chelsea’s 96th minute equalizer at Stamford Bridge.

“I want to thank Maurizio Sarri and Chelsea for their honesty. But I’m not happy that it is going too far with the young boy [Chelsea coach Marco Ianni]. I don’t think he deserved more than what he got,” Mourinho said. “He apologized to me. He deserves a second chance. I don’t think he deserves to be sacked. He recognizes he was wrong. He is probably the young coach with great potential. For me it was the end of the story when he apologized to me.”

Asked about the form of his team and Anthony Martial, who scored twice in that largely encouraging 2-2 draw at Chelsea, Mourinho hardly lavished praised on the French forward.

“I think Martial is like the team,” Mourinho said. “The team is playing fine, Martial is playing fine. It’s easier for individuals to play well when the team is playing well. He has been involved when the team played well and he played well too… There were contradictory feelings after the Chelsea match. I told the players we have to keep that happiness, pride and confidence of the way we played. But on the other side, use the anger to motivate ourselves to play a big match.”

That big match sees Cristiano Ronaldo return to Old Trafford to play against his former club and his former manager and United know that their back-to-back UCL games against Juve will determine whether or not they reach the knockout round of the competition.

If they reach the latter stages of the Champions League and finish in the top four of the Premier League this season, then talk of Mourinho losing his job will surely fade away. At least for a few months. He will have to get a positive result against Juve without Alexis Sanchez who is injured, while Mourinho also confirmed Antonio Valencia is still missing.

“They have a lot to offer and an extra year with the same coach and structure. They have won seven titles on the trot and a really special player who makes a real difference. They are more than a contender for the Champions League,” Mourinho said.

When it came to talk about his future at United, which was in jeopardy two weeks ago according to a report, Mourinho was adamant he will remain at Old Trafford, despite suggestions he could head back to Real Madrid for a second spell.

“No. My future is here – I have a contract and until the final of my contract I only think about Manchester United. I am happy to stay here longer than that,” Mourinho said.

With Messi out, Coutinho, Dembele must step up for Barcelona

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) With Lionel Messi out with a broken arm, the two most expensive signings in Barcelona’s history have a perfect opportunity to step up and show their value.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule

Barcelona spent more than 300 million euros ($350 million) to sign Brazil midfielder Philippe Coutinho and France forward Ousmane Dembele last season as it reinvested the money – and then some – from Neymar’s move to Paris Saint-Germain.

While both Coutinho and Dembele have shown several flashes of their world-class talent, neither has fully met the huge expectations that inevitably accompanied their price tags.

Messi set up Coutinho to net the opener and then added a second goal in a 4-2 win over Sevilla on Saturday in the Spanish league before he awkwardly fell on his right arm, which bent back and snapped a bone. The costly victory lifted Barcelona past Sevilla and to the top of the standings.

Now, while Barcelona’s all-time top scorer recovers, Coutinho and Dembele will be under pressure to lead the team in important games this week.

Barcelona hosts Inter Milan on Wednesday seeking a third victory in as many Champions League games. That will be followed by the always demanding “clasico” against Real Madrid at home on Sunday. Team doctors expect Messi to also be unavailable for three other games, including a visit to Inter next month.

“When (Messi) is with us he gives us a sense of security,” Barcelona defender Gerard Pique said. “He is the best in the world. You notice when he is not there, but whether he is with us or not, we have to keep going. We have a good team. We are playing well in time for the big week ahead.”

To acquire Dembele from Borussia Dortmund in 2017, Barcelona agreed to a transfer deal that could reach 147 million euros ($169 million).

After a first campaign in Spain limited by injuries, Dembele returned from helping France to win the World Cup and made a strong start to the season by scoring five goals in nine consecutive starts.

But when Barcelona faced a challenging Champions League match at Tottenham, coach Ernesto Valverde left the 21-year-old Dembele on the bench in favor of Arthur in midfield. Barcelona won 4-2, with Messi scoring twice and Coutinho once.

Valverde replied “I don’t know” when asked if he thought Dembele had lost confidence.

“He participated in the start of the season,” Valverde said. “He hasn’t been a starter in the last three matches, but we are counting on him . He is very talented. We expect a lot from him and we think that he has the capacity to improve.”

Coutinho arrived from Liverpool in January for 160 million euros ($184 million) as part of the rebuild following Neymar’s departure. But despite regular goals, he needs to be more of a playmaker for Barcelona following the departure of Andres Iniesta.

Valverde can now deploy the pair, along with Arthur, with Messi out.

REAL MESS

Julen Lopetegui’s job as Real Madrid coach is in question following a club record scoring drought and a winless run of five consecutive matches.

But some of the problems that threaten to ruin Lopetegui actually began under predecessor Zinedine Zidane.

Even though the team won an unprecedented third Champions League in a row, Madrid played poorly in the other competitions during Zidane’s final season in charge.

Madrid had practically given up defending its 2016 league title after only three wins in nine matches from October to January. That came just before its stunning home loss to Leganes that eliminated it from the Copa del Rey.

Instead of significantly reinforcing a flawed team that also lost top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo in the offseason, Madrid signed a pair of backups and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

Lopetegui needs his team to rebound immediately with a winning streak, starting against Viktoria Plzen on Tuesday and at Barcelona.

Madrid defender Marcelo said the players were behind Lopetegui. He compared the situation of the first-year coach to that of Rafa Benitez, who was fired after seven months on the job and replaced by Zidane in 2016.

“We are completely behind our coach,” Marcelo said. “(The media criticism) is unfair. It is like what happened to Benitez. I don’t like it when coaches aren’t allowed to work.”

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