What we learned from Manchester United’s win over Swansea

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Saturday’s win for Manchester United was anything but perfect, especially in a first half sorely lacking in energy, ambition, ideas … well, it lacked pretty much everything as Swansea more or less ran the show.

But United did manage to quiet the growing unrest around the fabled ground, and right quickly past the break. Here are some of the take-aways:

More of the “missing midfield” from Manchester United

What does it say about the state of mighty Manchester United when the best central midfielder in a game between these two clubs – something of a meeting of “haves” and “have-nots” isn’t it? – belongs to Swansea?

ProSoccerTalk’s Richard Farley sank his teeth into this issue earlier this week, dissecting the ongoing issue around Old Trafford: since Paul Scholes began losing tread on the tire, the failure to find a worthwhile center midfielder to partner Michael Carrick. Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but Swansea’s Jonjo Shelvey was the game’s most effective central midfielder for long stretches Saturday.

Twenty minutes into the match, Swansea had 60 percent of the possession, and much of that was about Shelvey’s talent and willingness to do the work on either side of the ball.

First corner kick … at the hour mark?

United didn’t take its first corner kick until almost an hour gone in the game. That’s how tilted the game was at times, with Swansea keeping the ball over long periods, not always doing so with menace and danger but managing to make the home players chase the game.

The final result will mitigate concern over this lack of attacking push from United. Still, it will be recorded in the minds of critics, sure to be trotted out during the next losing spell, or even after the next loss.

More desire in second half for Manchester United

The crowd was getting restless … and then some! About the time Darren Fletcher launched a directionless ball down the field to no one in particular, after about 30 minutes, the irritation around the ground began reverberating with some real teeth. More of the same about 10 minutes later as United simply could not gain and maintain possession against the visitors. It was really beginning to look like an awful match during a real stretch of them for David Moyes’ men.

But he must have said something at halftime, or a switch was flipped for some of the proud men or something. Because the second half was a world apart in performance and desire.

A lot came down the left, where Adnan Januzaj and Patrice Evra were tearing the Swans apart. Danny Welbeck was becoming more a factor, too.

Evra’s crosses weren’t always the best, but his constant pressure was an inspiration (and that pressure had a lot to do with Welbeck’s goal, which more or less finished this one off.)

Januzaj was the game-changer

His first-half free kick nearly changed the game before the break, a ball off the cross bar that would have been something of a classic “goal against the run of play.”

He was on the job after the break, too, whipping in the cross that led to his team’s breakthrough goal. A few minutes later, he intercepted a throw from Swansea’s keeper, then supplied another cross that would eventually become Welbeck’s goal.

A clever tactical tweak was surely involved, too; Moyes moved Januzaj out wide to the left and Shinji Kagawa shifted into the center, behind Welbeck. Both players looked better at that point.

Januzaj is still young and lacking in some consistency, but the Belgian up-and-comer proved his enormous worth on this day, providing the extra spark Moyes’ team so badly needed, and just in time.

Welbeck can’t miss many more like this

OK, this isn’t exactly stunning news, but Moyes’ men have missed, do miss and will continue to badly miss Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie in those goal scoring positions. Perfect case in point:

Around the 30-minute mark, Januzaj released Antonio Valencia down the right. The sequence found its way to Rafael, who arranged one beautifully for Welbeck.

With only the goalkeeper to beat, Welbeck somehow pulled his first-timer wide left. The young England man helped make up later, but this was the kind of opportunity that Welbeck simply cannot miss, not if he wants to help United challenge for a top four spot, and not if he wants to make his mark when Rooney and van Persie are not available.

Josef Martinez scores 2 more in win, including sensational solo work

AP Photo/John Minchillo
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Josef Martinez scored his 25th and 26th goals of the MLS season, and if he challenges his MLS record of 31, he may also stare down soccer royalty.

The Venezuelan striker scored two more on Wednesday in a 2-0 defeat of FC Cincinnati in Ohio to give him goals in 15-straight league contests.

He now has 76 goals in 80 MLS games, which is good.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

On the season, he’s six goals shy of matching the Major League Soccer record he set with last season’s 31 regular season goals.

According to MLSSoccer.com, he’s six games shy of tying Lionel Messi’s world record for consecutive league matches with a goal.

Even that’s a little tricky: Messi scored in 21-straight games in which he was eligible for selection, but 19-straight before missing two matches for injury. In that remarkable run of 21, he also had a run of six-straight braces.

It’s not really worth it to attempt to compare the two streaks: If Martinez gets to 21 (or even 19), it’s amazing stuff and worth celebrating on a worldwide level. Everyone has a bad game every now and again, but Martinez still finds the score sheet in ’em.

Look at the magician’s tricks he used for this one, including a back heel first touch and two freeze-frame cut moves. That’s not even mentioning the finish.

USWNT announces final matches of World Cup-winning year

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CHICAGO (AP) The Women’s World Cup champion U.S. team will wrap up 2019 with matches against Sweden and Costa Rica.

U.S. Soccer announced Wednesday that the U.S. will face Sweden in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 7 and Costa Rica in Jacksonville, Florida, on Nov. 10.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

The team is wrapping up its World Cup victory tour next month with matches against South Korea on Oct. 3 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and on Oct. 6 in Chicago.

Coach Jill Ellis is stepping down following the match in Chicago after leading the team to a pair of consecutive World Cup titles.

The United States is 15-1-2 this year and currently riding a 14-game winning streak.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Report: Mane to get big raise, Liverpool contract through 2025

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Liverpool’s Senegalese sensation looks set to stay at Anfield deep into his 30s.

Sadio Mane is in talks with the Reds hierarchy over a new deal that will run through 2024-25, and pay him more than $15 million per season.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

Mane, 27, currently has a deal through 2023, but surely wouldn’t mind a raise. And Liverpool will be happy to tie him down on Merseyside a bit longer.

He’s scored six times in seven matches this season, also grabbing an assist. That’s on a better pace than his 26 goals and five assists over 50 appearances in 2018/19.

Mane has 70 Premier League goals at the moment. Do you tip him to eclipse 100 while still at Anfield? 125?

Europa League preview: Man Utd, Wolves, Arsenal begin group stage

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The Europa League begins its group stage on Thursday, with the three Premier League combatants taking on clubs from Kazakhstan, Portugal and Germany.

Manchester United’s kids are gonna get some playing time when Astana visits Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Teenager Mason Greenwood and 21-year-old Axel Tuanzebe will start, and Sergio Romero will be between the sticks.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

And the Manchester Evening News notes that Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes could also start at Old Trafford, meaning the veterans in the fray will be quite important.

Enter Fred, the forgotten $68 million man from Shaktar Donetsk. The 23 minutes he played last week versus Leicester City account for his lone time on the pitch this season.

Here’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer:

“I’m sure we’ll see more and more of Fred. We spoke about it earlier, he’s had some great games in midfield with Scott against PSG and Arsenal, for example, and we’re just waiting for that to flourish.”

Fred had an odd record under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last season, barely in the squad when the team started hot but trusted against PSG and Barcelona in the Champions League.

Speaking of little-used midfielders, Arsenal boss Unai Emery is getting a little grief for leaving Mesut Ozil behind for the Gunners’ trip to Germany for a big match with Eintracht Frankfurt.

Ozil made his first start of the season in Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Watford at the weekend, playing 71 minutes and departing with the club up 2-1.

So why not even bring him abroad? Rest.

“Because we are going to play another match on Sunday,” Emery said, via The London Evening Standard. “My decision is because he played and also I’m thinking tomorrow the focus and the first 11 and after that I decided who are the players who can be the best for tomorrow and also the players not and that is Sokratis and Mesut.”

Sokrastis Papastathopoulos is also out, having played a big role in the embarrassing performance at Watford.

There have been tough times for Wolves as well, who sit in the relegation zone after five matches of the Premier League season.

They’ve been quite good in Europa League, though, dispatching a pair of minnows before winning both legs against Serie A side Torino.

Why the inconsistency? It’s not fixture congestion, according to Ruben Neves:

“I don’t think fatigue has anything to do with it, Neves said, via The Birmingham Mail. “We’re all top players, we’re used to it, we’re used to playing a lot of games in quick succession. I don’t think the Europa League has (anything) to do with our position in the Premier League. Obviously, we haven’t had the start that we’ve wanted, but it’s been a beautiful journey into the Europa League. This is a historic moment for Wolves and we’re going to do our best in this competition.”

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men are in Portugal to meet Braga, one of three tricky opponents in Besiktas and Slovan Bratislava.

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