Premier League Playback: Chelsea no ‘little horse’ in title race. Who will go down? USMNT battle

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MOURINHO’S GENIUS

“The title race has two big horses and a little horse (Chelsea) which needs milk and work, and has to learn to jump. It can win the race next season.”

Pause. Control yourself. And contemplate what’s going on here as Jose Mourinho has a moment.

First of all, Mourinho is the master of distraction. On Monday in his post-game press conference after Chelsea’s huge 1-0 win over Manchester City, like he has done all season, he’s deflected the pressure away from his young Chelsea side. In games against the top four this season, Chelsea have won three times and drawn once. These “little horses which need milk” have performed admirably for the man many thought had lost his dazzle and sparkle after returning to England.

(3 things we learned: Matic & Luiz crucial, DM an issue for City, Chelsea’s young attackers dazzle)

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Click to Enlarge – The average position of Chelsea vs. Man City. (Source: Opta)

Mourinho, 51, has often looked jaded and surly throughout the opening months of the PL season but now he’s back to his rip-roaring best. Us journalists are often a harsh bunch, with many believing our hearts consist of mangled pieces of coal. But there’s one man that brings life into post-game press conferences in England’s top-flight. Hearty chortles of laughter are plentiful from the baying press when Mourinho’s around. More of the same please, on and off the field, Jose.

Looking at how the Portuguese maestro out-smarted Man City boss Manuel Pellegrini for the eight time in 10 encounters, it wasn’t complex but it was so perfect and a joy to watch. Handing Nemanja Matic his first start in the Premier League, following his arrival from Benfica in the January window, was a masterstroke, as the towering Serbian added real steel and grit to the engine room alongside David Luiz. Those two bossed the match (just looked at the stats table below and how they destroyed City’s central duo of Demichelis and Toure) and sat just in front of a sturdy back four. In front of Luiz and Matic was a trio of tricky attackers who scared the life out of City all evening. Eden Hazard’s tricks, Willian’s pace and Ramires’ intelligent runs complemented Chelsea’s sturdy backline marvelously well. You can see from the average position map on the left, that Chelsea’s four attackers stayed well in City’s half and gave them a problem to defend. It was one they couldn’t cope with.

Matic, Samuel Eto’o and Gary Cahill all hit the woodwork for Chelsea, as the margin of victory should have been more. Despite Mourinho’s side handing City their first defeat at home in the league all season, ending their 100 percent record in the process, Mourinho was coy and his side had an exuberant yet calm look about them at the final whistle. They know they are good, and have proven that across the entire season against the top clubs.

Will Jose’s “little horses” jump the final fences of the season well, as we turn around the final bend and into the home straight? They are level on points with City in second place, and just two points behind leaders Arsenal.

On these showings, Chelsea have every reason to believe they’re front-runners. Mourinho will tell you differently, although the nurturing of his fledglings is coming along very nicely indeed.

Player Martin Demichelis Yaya Touré Nemanja Matic David Luiz
Appearances 1 1 1 1
Minutes played 90 90 90 90
Passing
Goal assists 0 0 0 0
Chances created (inc. assists) 0 3 0 1
Passes 59 81 27 25
Pass completion % 90% 91% 85% 76%
Dribbling
Dribbles 0 2 5 3
Dribble completion % 0% 100% 60% 67%
Defending
Tackles 7 6 4 3
Tackles won % 71% 67% 75% 100%

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TRANSFER WINDOW, WINNERS AND LOSERS

Premier League Schedule – Round 24

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 2-0 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here
Cardiff 2-1 Norwich City Recap and watch here
Everton 2-1 Aston Villa Recap and watch here
Fulham 0-3 Southampton Recap and watch here
Hull City 1-1 Tottenham Recap and watch here
Man City 0-1 Chelsea Recap and watch here
Newcastle 0-3 Sunderland Recap and watch here
Stoke 2-1 Man United Recap and watch here
West Brom 1-1 Liverpool Recap and watch here
West Ham 2-0 Swansea Recap and watch here

Following a frantic final few days of activity, the January window finally slammed shut last Friday.

After the razzmatazz and splendor of deals in mid-January, Juan Mata signing for Man United in a $56 million deal and Matic to Chelsea for $35 million, deadline day itself didn’t quite live up to the billing. But that’s okay, I think by midnight GMT on Friday, every soccer fan, player, manager or pundit was just about transfer windowed out.

Here’s a look at the big winners and losers, as Arsenal and Liverpool failed to bolster their squads, while relegation haunted Crystal Palace, Cardiff City and Fulham did the best business.

The biggest deals were Kostas Mitrglou to Fulham for $18 million and Kim “I’m actually injured” Kallstrom on loan to Arsenal. Yeah, we are still scratching our heads at PST about that deal too…

SUNDERLAND’S SURVIVAL BID, PLUS OTHERS, GATHERING PACE

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Gathered in the press room at St. James’ Park, Gustavo Poyet had a wry grin on his face when asked what this win meant to himself and his players.

“I don’t know how many people were expecting this, but I’ve been telling you for a few weeks how we were getting better. Especially away from home, we are a difficult team to play against. If you get a chance early with a penalty and you take it, it becomes very difficult for the home team. One of the best days I’ve had in football as a manager. No doubt.”

The other big question post-game: can Poyet’s Sunderland stay up amongst the 10 teams battling for survival?

“What a league this is, what a game football is. Before I said somehow we have to stay up, now it would be a shame if we didn’t. Because we have done a terrific job until now, and now we are in a position where it is in our own hands. We need to take it and I will make sure we do the right things between not and the end of the season.”

Sunderland had just beaten arch rivals Newcastle 3-0 away from home for the second season running. They’ve also won their third-straight Tyne-Wear derby for the first time since 1923, after Poyet tasted his first victory in charge of the Black Cats against Newcastle back in October.

Brimming with confidence following their win over Stoke last weekend, plus the League Cup semifinal victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford still fresh in the memory, Sunderland came flying out of the traps at a boisterous St. James’ Park on Saturday. Within 23 minutes they were 2-0 up and had silenced the partisan crowd of 50,000 plus. By the end of the game Newcastle’s fans were running onto the pitch to demonstrate, throwing season tickets around and it all got a little ugly outside the ground. I was tucked away safely in the press room, but a baying mob of Magpies were voicing their discontent following Sunderland’s emphatic derby win.

The Black Cats climb to safety has been gathering momentum for a while, with just one defeat in nine, but on Saturday they took a huge leap forward. The win only gave them three points, but the confidence and belief that a 3-0 win away from home against your biggest rivals is sure to harbor unbelievable levels of self-confidence that Sunderland can survive. Liam Bridcutt, who joined from Brighton on deadline day for $4.5 million, was a destructive genius in the holding role and allowed the likes of Jack Colback, Adam Johnson and Fabio Borini (who all scored) to surge forward in support of Jozy Altidore. As for the USMNT star, he was superb as he bullied Steven Taylor and Mike Williamson and won countless duels and battles as the lone forward. Fair play to Jozy, because the goals haven’t been flowing but he put in a monumental shift up top in terms of work rate and effort.

That’s what this Sunderland side is full of under Poyet. As a player he ground out every ounce out of his ability and made the most of his opportunities. His Sunderland side are now doing the same as they climb out of the table and are now in the heady heights of 14th. Okay, they’re nowhere near being safe as the monumental cluster of sides from 20th place to 11th are separated by just six points. But if you had to pick out one of those teams to survive the dreaded drop, I’d put my money on Sunderland.

As for the others Cardiff City, Stoke City and West Ham United all sealed massive wins at the weekend, as just four points separate 11th place from 19th. In the video below our analysts break down the relegation battle.

WORLD CUP AUDITIONS BEGIN

With just over three months of Premier League action left to impress, plenty of English players are jockeying to try and make Roy Hodgson’s England squad for the pinnacle of international soccer in Brazil this summer.

Four England hopefuls shone in the PL in Round 24, as Andy Carroll, Adam Lallana, Adam Johnson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all had big impacts in wins for their respective sides. Let’s break down their chances of making the plane to Brazil.

–          Andy Carroll

The towering striker has returned from his long-term injury to help propel West Ham with four points in a week a massive haul for the Hammers. Carroll was on hand to provide two assists for Kevin Nolan in his sides 2-0 win over Swansea, and the bruising front man ran the Swans defense ragged with his magnificent aerial ability. He did blot his copy book by getting a straight-red for an apparent lash out at Chico Flores. But with the latter’s theatrical action and an appeal on the way, it’s likely Carroll will escape without a ban. England need a bustling forward to compliment the talents of Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck. Carroll or Rickie Lambert will now battle it out for that place in the squad, as 25-year-old Carroll may have the edge if he can stay fit and bag a few goals between now and May.

–          Adam Lallana

Pundits, teammates and opponents are running out of superlatives for this tiny attacker who is roaring Southampton’s top-ten charge on every single game. Lallana has scored seven times and added six assists this season. In the two games he played for England against Chile and Germany last November, Roy Hodgson told the assembled media that Lallana was “the big find” from the friendlies. Gliding through opposition defenders with his slick two-footedness, Lallana is a joy to watch. His clever passing, relentless work-rate and ability to hold the ball in tight situations will serve England well in Brazil if the 25-year-old goes. He already switched his wedding from June 14, the date of England’s opener with Italy, to Christmas Eve in anticipation of a call-up. Right now, Lallana looks a shoe-in out of these four Englishman mentioned. Plus, he dazzled in Saints’ 3-0 win over Fulham on Saturday with a goal and shone alongside fellow England attackers Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert, who both scored in front of Roy Hodgson. Saints fans sings “he plays on the left, he plays on the right… Adam Lallana makes Messi look ****!” Could he actually be doing that in person at the World Cup this summer?

–          Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

This young man has had a terrible run of injuries but now it seems to be over. Known as ‘the Ox’ the 20-year-old midfielder bulldozed through Crystal Palace’s defense to score both goals in Arsenal’s 2-0 win on Sunday. Chamberlain has shown he can do it on the big stage, and turned around England’s fortunes when playing a friendly against Brazil in Rio last June. He has the skill, temperament and pace to harm any team on the planet and England would surely take the Ox if he’s fit. A mainstay in the squad throughout the World Cup qualifying campaign, he can play on either wing and in central areas. His versatility is key and that’s exactly what’s needed in tournament soccer.

–          Adam Johnson

Sunderland’s winger has now scored six goals in his last five games, as the Black Cats resurgence has coincided with AJ’s return to form. On Saturday Johnson scored set up the opening goal which came via a PK with delicate chipped through ball, scored the second and struck the post in the Mackes massive 3-0 derby win away at Newcastle. Signed for big bucks by Manchester City from Middlesbrough as a youngster, Johnson burst onto the scene and often banged in goals for the Three Lions off the bench during the successful Euro 2012 qualifying campaign. But since Roy Hodgson took charge he’s been on the peripheries of the squad, as others likes Chamberlain, Lallana, Rodriguez and Raheem Sterling have been preferred. With his snake-hips and faint dips of the shoulder, Johnson is one of those wingers who doesn’t possess blistering pace but somehow beats his man 9 times out of 10 and his delivery with his left peg is sensational. Sunderland hope Johnson’s good form continues to drag them out of a relegation battle. If he does that, there’s a good bet he could be on the plane to Brazil.

Note: Chelsea skipper John Terry should probably be the fifth name on this list, but the former England captain has already retired from international soccer after the racism accusations and problems with Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Bridge and others. That said, Terry is having a storming season at CB for Chelsea and is easily the best English defender in the PL. Can Hodgson coax him out of retirement to partner his Blues teammate Gary Cahill at the heart of England’s defense?

BATTLE OF USMNT ‘KEEPERS, HOWARD TAKES IT AGAIN

Everton’s 2-1 win over Aston Villa didn’t get much publicity this weekend as some big boys slipped up and the mammoth Man City v Chelsea clash dominated. But both U.S. goalkeepers were in action at Goodison Park on Saturday, as Tim Howard prevailed for the second time this season over his compatriot Brad Guzan. Last time they met at Villa Park in October, Howard saved a PK in Everton’s 2-0 win and Guzan kept the score respectable with some stunning saves. On Saturday both men were kept busy, but in a tight game where scoring opportunities were few and far between, neither was overworked.

Howard had no chance with Villa’s opener from Bacuna that slid underneath him, while the same happened to Guzan on Everton’s equalizer from Naismith. Then Guzan could only make a despairing dive towards the ball as Kevin Mirallas curled in a delicious free kick late on to win the game for the Toffees. Who is the USMNT number one? In terms of win in the PL, it’s Howard. Will that be the case in Brazil this summer?

Honorable mention: USMNT defender Geoff Cameron put in yet another solid display at right back in Stoke’s hugely impressive 2-1 home win over Manchester United. Cameron, 28, attracted a bid from Sunderland on deadline day, as he continues his rise in the PL. Good on you, Geoff.

With highlights of that game and more, in the mammoth video below of every single goal scored in the PL this weekend. Enjoy.

Premier League Playback takes an alternative look at all the weekend’s action from the PL, it comes out every week.

USMNT’s Green flying high with new manager, new position

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The early season report that 2.Bundesliga side Greuther Fuerth manager Stefan Leitl wants to tie Julian Green down to a new contract are making a lot of sense with three league matches in the books.

Playing as a No. 8, Green has gone 90 minutes in all three league matches under Leitl this season, scoring against FC St. Pauli and Jahn Regensburg. That gives him five goals in 15 matches since Leitl was hired late last season.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

Green turned 24 this summer, a number that feels even younger considering his goal against Belgium at the 2014 World Cup seems like it happened about 150 years ago.

It’s a small sample size, but after three games Green is the 8th-ranked performer in the entire German second division by advanced statistics site WhoScored. And for those who sleep on the English Championship and 2.Bundesliga, it’s worth noting that is one of only two second tiers the web site bothers rating on a week-to-week basis.

In addition to his pair of goals, Green is completing 89.2 percent of his passes in the center of the park, making 1.7 tackles per match, and has drawn 3.3 fouls per match. That last figure is fourth in the league.

Green isn’t a flashy personality and even says in the above article that he’d rather his play do the talking, but you have to think he’s on the radar of Greeg Berhalter for next month’s USMNT friendlies with so many Americans on new club teams and MLS in the thick of its stretch run.

Green had certain success under USMNT interim boss Dave Sarachan but has yet to be called up by Berhalter, a man who knows the value of the 2.Bundesliga having helped Energie Cottbus to Bundesliga promotion as a player.

And as a No. 8, or even further up and central? Nice.

If he doesn’t re-up with Furth, it will be intriguing to see where he winds up next season (especially if Furth manages to get promoted).

Premier League Club Power Rankings: Week 2

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Boy do I love getting yelled at, so let’s invite more criticism with Week 2 of the Premier League Power Rankings.

Let’s also get something out of the way, though: While a round-robin tournament such as the Premier League doesn’t need power rankings by the end of the season given the balanced schedule, the early season is ripe for these sorts of debate because of the performances and opponents.

[ MORE: Wolves 1-1 Man Utd | Nuno reacts ]

Additionally, we like having fun. Because this is sports. And sports are supposed to be fun. Even if you support Newcastle and the idea that sports are supposed to be fun sounds like someone telling you something you’re allergic to is goooooood eatin’.

Excited for the furor. Let’s party in the comments section.

20. Newcastle United — For all the promise Miguel Almiron showed under Rafa Benitez, the Paraguayan looks like absolutely clueless under Steve Bruce.
Last week’s ranking: 16
Last match: Lost 3-1 at Norwich City
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday at Spurs

19. Watford — The Pozzo Family is known to change managers on a whim, and Javi Gracia will be wondering if his wonderful 2018-19 is fresh enough in the owners’ minds following an insipid loss to Brighton and a two-shot performance at Everton.
Last week’s ranking: 20
Last match: Lost 1-0 at Everton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. West Ham

18. Crystal Palace — Unlike Newcastle at Norwich, the Eagles probably deserved a point in losing to a newly-promoted side. They still did, however, lose to a newly-promoted side. Will Wilfried Zaha torment his old club (Man Utd) and teammate (Aaron Wan-Bissaka) on Saturday? Also, those away jerseys…
Last week’s ranking: 14
Last match: Lost 1-0 at Sheffield United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Manchester United

(Photo by Action Foto Sport/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

17. West Ham United — Manuel Pellegrini will be under deserved pressure if he can’t manufacture a result at Watford.
Last week’s ranking: 18
Last match: Drew 1-1 at Brighton and Hove Albion
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Watford

16. Southampton — Thoroughly deserved a home point versus Liverpool, but that does not totally make amends for a terrible Week 1.
Last week’s ranking: 19
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Liverpool
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Brighton and Hove Albion

15. Aston Villa — Dean Smith knows the mistakes made early against Bournemouth can’t happen in the Premier League, but the Villans were the better team in a loss to Bournemouth.
Last week’s ranking: 8
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Bournemouth
Up next: 3 p.m. ET Friday v. Everton

14. Bournemouth — Eddie Howe, on the other hand, will be thanking his lucky stars that Tom Heaton decided to put Villa behind the 8-ball after just 45 seconds. We need to see better from the Cherries, and it’s probably not coming when Man City visits on Sunday.
Last week’s ranking: 15
Last match: Won 2-1 at Aston Villa
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Man City

13. Sheffield United — The Blades have been a pesky problem in collecting four points from Bournemouth and Palace. Saturday’s visit from Leicester City will be a bird of a different feather.
Last week’s ranking: 13
Last match: Won 1-0 v. Crystal Palace
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Leicester City

12. Norwich City — Teemu Pukki was lethal against Newcastle, and the Canaries probably could’ve scored thrice on Opening Day at Anfield. That, folks, is what we call encouraging stuff for a newly-promoted group.
Last week’s ranking: 17
Last match: Won 3-1 v. Newcastle United
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday v. Chelsea

11. Chelsea — There’s a lot to say about Frank Lampard as a manager, but we can’t stop thinking about how gigantic he looked standing next to Brendan Rodgers after the match. Will we have the chance to see it again when Chelsea visits Leicester City on Feb. 1?
Last week’s ranking: 12
Last match: Drew 1-1 v. Leicester City
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday at Norwich City

(Photo by Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images)

10. Leicester City — So far, so okay for Brendan Rodgers and the Foxes, who took points from two tricky fixtures. Nothing but three points will be acceptable this weekend at Sheffield United.
Last week’s ranking: 10
Last match: Drew 1-1 at Chelsea
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Sheffield United

9. Burnley — Don’t bet against Sean Dyche. You’ll either lose, or be terrified at how angry you’ve made Sean Dyche in being right.
Last week’s ranking: 6
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Arsenal
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday at Wolves

8. Everton — After taking four points from two matches, the Toffees’ bring an extremely enticing start to the Premier League weekend on Friday at entertaining Aston Villa.
Last week’s ranking: 11
Last match: Won 1-0 v. Watford
Up next: 3 p.m. ET Friday at Aston Villa

7. Wolves — What they’ve done in drawing Leicester City and Manchester United while bombarded with Europa League fixtures and planning is laudable and acceptable.
Last week’s ranking: 9
Last match: Drew 1-1 v. Manchester United
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Burnley

6. Brighton and Hove Albion — Graham Potter‘s Blue and White Army are unbeaten through two matches and deserved three points against West Ham in a 1-1 draw. Leandro Trossard is a talent, and looks like what the Seagulls thought they bought last summer with Alireza Jahanbakhsh.
Last week’s ranking: 5
Last match: Drew 1-1 v. West Ham United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Southampton

5. Manchester United — Paul Pogba: Penalties as Shaquille O’Neal is to free throws. We’ll hang up and listen. The Red Devils should be 2-0 and sitting atop the league. Alas.
Last week’s ranking: 2
Last match: Drew 1-1 at Wolves
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Crystal Palace

4. Arsenal — 2-0 is 2-0, even if the wins come against Newcastle and Burnley. There’s no way Arsenal will be able to afford Dani Ceballos at the end of his loan stint if he keeps looking like an absolutely wondrous midfielder of the highest order.
Last week’s ranking: 7
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Burnley
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Liverpool

3. Liverpool — The bad news is that Liverpool’s poor defensive summer has dragged into August and they are a competent Danny Ings flick away from drawing Saints. The good news is that the Reds are alone in first place despite the defensive foibles. Also, relax, you’re the European champions. It’s okay.
Last week’s ranking: 7
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Burnley
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday v. Arsenal

2. Spurs — Took the most shots in the league in Week 1, and followed it up by scoring twice and taking a point from the Etihad Stadium. That’s something only one team did over 19 matches last season (Palace’s 3-2 memorable win around Christmas).
Last week’s ranking: 3
Last match: Drew 2-2 at Man City
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Newcastle United

1. Manchester City — VAR did it’s job in enforcing a rule that is, at best, against the spirit of the game in supporting defenders unfairly in comparison to attackers. City took 30 shots against the Champions League finalists and deserved all three points. If you think they should be lower on the list, try this mental exercise which is at the heart of the PL power rankings: Based on what you’ve seen this season, tell me you’d rather play City than any other team in the league. You’re lying.
Last week’s ranking: 1
Last match: Drew 2-2 v. Spurs
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Bournemouth

USMNT to play Cuba at Washington, DC

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CHICAGO (AP) The United States’ home game against Cuba in the first CONCACAF Nations League will be played at Audi Field in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 11.

The site was announced Monday by the U.S. Soccer Federation, which has yet to say where the Nov. 15 home match against Canada will be played.

[ MORE: Wolves 1-1 Man Utd | Nuno reacts ]

As part of the new tournament, the U.S. plays Canada at Toronto on Oct. 15. The U.S. closes Nov. 19 against Cuba, a game that may be played at George Town, Cayman Islands.

In its first year under coach Gregg Berhalter, the U.S. has eight wins, three losses and one tie, losing to Mexico in the final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The Americans have a pair of exhibitions next month, against Mexico on Sept. 6 at East Rutherford, New Jersey, and versus Uruguay four days later at St. Louis.

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

Manchester United’s Solskjaer on Pogba, Rashford penalty duty

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has issued his verdict on Paul Pogba taking (and missing) an ill-fated penalty over Marcus Rashford on Monday in a 1-1 draw against Wolves at the Molineux.

[ MORE: Recap | Nuno reacts ]

The Manchester United boss says both players have been given authority to sort out who takes a penalty (He promises. He has proof on his computer).

Pogba won Monday’s opportunity, and his well-hit effort was parried by Rui Patricio. the score stayed tied, and United didn’t find a winner.

“The two of them are designated penalty takers, it’s up to them there and then – ‘this is mine’.

“Sometimes players just feel they are confident to score. Paul has scored so many for us and today it was a good save. You can see the slides on the Power Point [that prove both are PK takers].

“The two of them have been confident before. Marcus scored last week but Paul was also confident. I like players with confidence.”

As for Rashford, he’s not crying over Pogba’s spilled penalty.

“Paul wanted to take it, it’s that simple,” says Rashford. “Anyone can miss a penalty, he has scored so many penalties and it is normal to miss one.”

Instead, he’s finding a silver lining in a “disappointing” loss by focusing on the fact that United was absolutely worked over at the Molineux last season and arguably deserved all three points this go-round (Wolves beat United 2-1 that day).

“It is of course disappointing, disheartening, but we can’t let it get to ourselves early in the season,” Rashford said. “The last time we came to the stadium they were the much better team, but today was a different story. It has always been a tough place to come and today proved it again.”

United hosts Crystal Palace on Saturday before visiting Southampton on Aug. 31.