David Moyes blasts Manchester United, blames tough fixtures after shaky start

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MANCHESTER — Following his sides demoralizing 4-1 defeat to Manchester City in the fiercely contested Manchester derby, new United manager David Moyes wasn’t looking to make any excuses.

But he did have a moan about having to play against so many of the league’s top teams, so early on in the season.

“Yeah, we want to win more of those games, we have to do that,” Moyes said. “But maybe, you know, if those games are later on in the season and not in the early part of it, then I might have a better understanding of all the players and the situation at the club. I think any manager who had been given that run of fixtures when they took over at this club would have found it difficult.”

(MORE: Manchester City 4-1 Manchester United; Manchester is blue, after derby day domination)

When the computer randomly assigned Manchester United games against Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City in their first five games of the campaign, many thought this would be the perfect test to see how smooth the transition was from Sir Alex Ferguson to Moyes.

It’s been a bumpy ride so far.

With wins against Crystal Palace and Swansea small positives, after losing to rivals Liverpool and Manchester City and being held at home by Chelsea, United sit eighth in the Premier League table after five games. They’ve collected just seven points from a possible 15, and despite Moyes blaming tought opponents, it simply isn’t good enough.

And with Liverpool coming up in the League Cup on Wednesday, more turbulent times lie ahead for the Red Devils.

(MORE: Robin Van Persie’s injury highlights Manchester United’s lack of depth)

Moyes’ side looked devoid of attacking ideas in the first half of the 166th edition of the Manchester derby. Missing Robin Van Persie with a groin injury certainly hampered his sides attacking panache, as he’s so often been the cataylst for United. RVP has scored three of his five goals this campaign before half time, and his aggressive, attacking manner, early in games usually puts United on the front foot.

That was missing on Sunday, despite Wayne Rooney’s best efforts, and Moyes lambasted United’s poor start.

“We certainly didn’t start the game well,” Moyes said. “Manchester City were the better team and stronger. They got control of the game in the early parts and we found it difficult to contain them. I thought as the first half edged on we started to get a little more back into the game. But unfortunately we lost the second goal right on half time.”

source: AP
After a poor start to the season, Moyes’ United are digging a hole for themselves.

But even before that sucker punch from Yaya Toure to put Man City 2-0 on the stroke of the interval, Moyes wasn’t happy.

I was sitting just behind the United bench at the Etihad on Sunday, and Moyes spent the entire first half on the edge of his technical area, trying to cajole his players into life, as they gave away the ball needlessly, time and time again.

(MORE: Vincent Kompany vs. Wayne Rooney: Both players excel in heavyweight clash)

At one point Moyes looked to the ground in disbelief as Ashley Young gave the ball straight back to City. It was a poor display from United, as City’s fans celebrated by doing the ‘Poznan’ all around him.

“I am disappointed that we didn’t perform,” Moyes said. “We played very well in midweek [the Champions League win over Bayer Leverkusen], there was no reason for us not to perform today. But it’s one game, there’s plenty more to come and there’s plenty of time for us to fix it. But today I think we were second to things, in the first half especially. We always seemed to be a yard behind it. And we just never got to the pitch of the game, right from the off, which is disappointing as we set out to do that. We never really quite got to grips with it.”

(MORE: Manchester City’s star attackers steal the show in rampant derby win)

When asked post-game about what he expects, in terms of a reaction, from his players following the humiliating derby defeat, Moyes has let his players know they must find their top form. Quickly.

“I’ve made them aware of that,” Moyes said. “If there was ever a group of players that I would expect that from, it would be from Manchester United players. I think the way they’ve been brought up that way, the way they’ve sort of been inbred by the manager previous, I think they react, that’s what they do. And I think that’s what we will do here. We make sure we react.”

(MORE: Manuel Pellegrini hails Manchester City, after resounding victory against old foes United)

Moyes also spoke about the magnitude of the defeat, and called on his players to pick themselves, dust themselves off, and ultimately demanded more from them.

The Scotsman had no qualms about giving them a rollicking at half time.

“No, I think it’s just what I would have done,” Moyes said. “I’ve been here with Everton many times and don’t think I’ve ever suffered a defeat like this when I’ve been here in my time. So I told the players, the way I would have told any other club or any other players, if I don’t think they’re doing it.”

“They are good players, good pro’s here,” Moyes added. “They know when they’re bang at it, and when they’re not.”

Needless to say, they weren’t at the races on Sunday. And that’s been the case for most of the season so far, as tough fixtures or not, Moyes’ men are struggling to cope with the transition from the Ferguson era.

One thing worth contemplating is how Moyes’ spell in charge at Everton often saw the Toffees start very poorly, then play incredibly well in the second half of the season. His coaching methods and training regimen may be constructed in such a way that his team improves and strengthens over the season. But United will have to improve a lot after this poor start, if they’re going to get anything positive from Moyes’ first campaign at the helm.

Whatever way you look at it, there’s work to do at Old Trafford.

LIVE, FA Cup 4th round: Spurs visit Southampton in all-PL tie

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The fourth round of the FA Cup is set to get into full swing at 10 a.m. ET, with eight ties kicking off simultaneously, including a pair of all-Premier League clashes.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

Southampton host Tottenham Hotspur in the premier matchup of the time slot, with Jose Mourinho desperate for Cup success amid a difficult run of results at Tottenham. Elsewhere, Burnley will host Norwich City at Turf Moor. Fellow PL sides West Ham United, Newcastle United and Sheffield United are also in action.

Check the schedule of fixtures below, and hit the link above to follow along with the scores and results. As always, check back on PST for recaps and a roundup of all the action.

Saturday’s FA Cup schedule (all games at 10 a.m. ET, unless otherwise noted)

Southampton v. Tottenham Hotspur
Burnley v. Norwich City
West Ham United
v. West Bromwich Albion
Newcastle United v. Oxford United
Millwall v. Sheffield United
Portsmouth v. Barnsley
Coventry City v. Birmingham City
Reading v. Cardiff City
Hull City v. Chelsea — 12:30 p.m. ET

FA Cup: Leicester survive trip to Brentford, reach 5th round (video)

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Brendan Rodgers made nine changes, but Leicester City were simply too much for an equally rotated Brentford side in the fourth round of the FA Cup at Griffin Park on Saturday.

[ MORE: Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Christian Eriksen ]

Leicester took an early lead through Kelechi Iheanacho with just four minutes on the clock, and that was all the Premier League’s third-place side needed to see off the EFL Championship’s third-place side. Dennis Praet gets no official credit for the goal, but it was the Belgian midfielder’s seeing-eye through ball that carved the Bees up and found James Justin for the routine cross followed by Iheanacho’s tap-in finish.

It was far from easy or straightforward for the Foxes, though, as Brentford turned things around following the first-half whistle an so nearly pulled level just past the hour mark. Emiliano Marcondes whipped in a curling, in-swinging cross that needed the slightest of redirects to find the back of the net, but Halil Dervisoglu couldn’t get a toe on the ball and watched helplessly as it hit the inside of the post and settled on the ground a yard or two off the goal line.

Bryan Mbeumo came off the bench and put the ball into the back of Leicester’s goal with his first touch, but the Frenchman was correctly ruled offside when Rico Henry looped the ball over the Foxes’ defense.

The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.

Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Eriksen

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After months of posturing and working the back channels, it would appear that Christian Eriksen is close to getting his transfer away from Tottenham Hotspur.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

After months of posturing and holding firm, it would appear that Tottenham are close to getting their desired transfer fee for Eriksen despite his contract having only six months remaining.

After months of posturing and unsettling the 27-year-old star, it would appear that Inter Milan are close to getting their Danish international playmaker.

In the end, it would appear that everyone is going to get what they want, only no one truly gets what they want. Spurs spent the last year trying to sign Eriksen to a new contract; Eriksen wanted to leave in the summer and will feel like they wasted six months of his career; much like Inter would have been desperate to bolster their squad in the summer.

[ MORE: Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong ]

$22 million — the amount Spurs will reportedly receive from Inter — will hardly be enough to replace such an influential player, therefore Spurs come out of this long-running saga the worst of the bunch.

As for Eriksen and Inter, it’ll be a challenge for the player to immediately find his footing and shine ever so brightly in the midst of a title race, especially after the side has already slumped to back-to-back draws and fallen four points back of Juventus. Though, reportedly tripling his wages from Spurs to Inter leaves Eriksen the biggest winner in a mostly no-win situation.

Struggling Atleti in unfamiliar territory under Simeone

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MADRID — This is uncharted territory for many Atletico Madrid fans.

Few other times in recent years have they seen their team struggle so much under Diego Simeone.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

Few other times have they seen their coach fail so often while trying to put the team back on track.

Atletico hit a new low under Simeone on Thursday when it was eliminated by third-division club Cultural Leonesa in the round of 32 of the Copa del Rey. The 2-1 loss in extra time was the team’s worst result in the cup competition since losing to third-tier club Albacete at the same stage in 2011-12.

Two days after that loss in 2011, Atletico hired the then-mostly unknown Simeone to replace Gregorio Manzano, a move that kick-started one of the club’s most successful eras and led to a Spanish league title, two Europa League trophies and two Champions League final appearances.

Atletico did go through difficult moments under Simeone, including when the team failed to advance past the group stage of the Champions League a couple of seasons ago.

“There were always complicated moments in past seasons, maybe after we didn’t make it in the Champions League, or when we lost in the Champions League finals,” Simeone said. “After being at the club for so long, things like this can happen, although they shouldn’t happen.”

There is a greater sense of urgency about the team’s struggles this time.

In addition to Wednesday’s embarrassing Copa del Rey elimination, Atletico lost the Spanish Super Cup final to Real Madrid on Jan. 12, and already is eight points off the Spanish league lead after 20 matches.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

Before, there used to be a notion that Simeone would quickly turn things around and put the team back on track, but this time there aren’t many signs things will improve again soon.

Atletico has yet to impress since undergoing its biggest squad revamp under Simeone at the end of last season, when it lost Antoine Griezmann and other veteran players such as Filipe Luis and Diego Godin. Young Portugal forward Joao Felix, who arrived to replace Griezmann after a transfer from Benfica worth more than 120 million euros ($133 million), has yet to meet expectations.

More concerning, Atletico is not being nearly as effective as it used to be, when it always seemed to find a way to win matches despite not playing well.

The team remains solid defensively — it has the second-best defense in the Spanish league with 14 goals conceded — but it hasn’t been able to do much in attack recently.

“Everything is harder when you can’t score,” Simeone said.

Only seven teams have scored fewer goals than Atletico’s 22 in the 20-team standings.

Diego Costa has been mostly out injured, and Victor “Vitolo” Machin and Alvaro Morata haven’t done much in attack. Morata is the team’s leading scorer with 10 goals in all competitions, and no one else has more than five.

“We have to be humble enough to be self-critical,” Simeone said. “We need to keep working to try to be ready for the challenges that we have ahead of us. We have a very good squad and I’m sure that the results that we want will start arriving soon.”

Atletico biggest chance to rebound will come next month against European champion Liverpool in the last 16 of the Champions League. The first leg will be on Feb. 18 in Spain.