Premier League Playback: Man United hit rock bottom, Hazard the hero, Liverpool dark horses?

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UNITED’S PREDICTABILITY PROVES THEY AREN’T LEARNING

“Today is probably as bad as it gets. We completely dominated the game, being 1-0 down was bad enough and it could’ve been 2-0 at one point. I mean the amount of chances, the play and attempts we had… how we didn’t win the game comfortably I have no idea.”

Sadly for fans of Manchester United, those sentiments uttered by David Moyes following Sunday’s damaging 2-2 draw with Fulham have come all too often this season.

As the Red Devils season hit a new low, they’re now nine points off the top four with 13 games to go, Moyes’ side examined many of the key factors why they are languishing in seventh spot and are 16 points away from league leaders Chelsea.

Defensive frailties, offensive predictability and a lack of belief.

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Click to enlarge: Average position of Fulham’s players vs. United. Source: Opta

As you can see from the diagram on the left, the average position of both teams shows that not one of Fulham’s players were in United’s half. But somehow the Red Devils conceded twice, and despite their record haul of crosses, 75 percent possession and 22 attempts at goal, they only bagged two goals to leave over 75,000 at Old Trafford scratching their heads.

On Sunday cross after cross came in as United’s predictability, often a trait of Moyes’ management of Everton, came to the fore. The Red Devils sent in 81 crosses, more than any PL team in a single game since Opta started keeping records of that component in 2006. But the crosses often hit the first man, or found one of Fulham’s white shirts who piled into the box as United’s attackers wandered around with no real gumption to get on the end of the deliveries. Look at the image below on the right, the ball often got to the byline but was just hung up aimlessly. They played into the Cottagers hands time and time again, as only one of United’s 10 outfield players didn’t attempt a cross, Nemanja Vidic.

That leads us nicely into the problems in defense, which were highlighted by both of Fulham’s goals. Granted, they came against the run of play to snatch a point, but the ease in which Fulham exposed United’s defense, skippered by the outgoing Vidic who announced he will leave United at the end of this season, was shocking.

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Click to enlarge: The cross graph from United’s 2-2 draw with Fulham. Red balls indicate blocked crosses.  Source: Opta.

For Fulham’s opening goal Steve Sidwell’s run wasn’t even a complex or well-crafted one, it was straight as a dye and cut through United’s defense like a knife through butter. Juan Mata and Darren Fletcher were both caught napping, Patrice Evra didn’t tuck in  from left back to close the gap Sidwell ran into, and Fulham were 1-0 up. As easy as that.

Then came the assault on the Cottagers goal, as they held out until the 78th minute 1-0 up, but Robin van Persie re-directed Mata’s shot to make it 1-1, then United went ahead just over a minute later. Michael Carrick’s 79th minute goal hit the back of the net via a deflection to hand United a lead they’d relentlessly pushed for. As the ball went in, Moyes turned to the directors box and punched the air with fury, delighted and relief.

Sir Alex Ferguson was in there somewhere, and that act of jubilation from Moyes seemed to also vent his frustration as the Red Devils continue to underwhelm across the board. Ferguson was watching on from the comfort of his warm, padded seat, with the husky voice of Simply Red’s lead man Mick Hucknall sat next to him but Fergie must feel a little uneasy at the squad he left Moyes to inherit. At this rate, Hucknall better take his boots with him the next time he turns up at Old Trafford…

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Click to enlarge: Average position of United’s players vs. Fulham. Source: Opta

Because all of Moyes’ jubilation was for ‘nowt,’ as they say in Northern England. Another huge defensive lapse cost United all three points in the 94th minute as, just like the first goal, basic errors at the back saw them come unstuck. Vidic had to head the ball clear but instead knocked it down to Carrick who was stripped of the ball, and suddenly Fulham had a four on four break in the final minute while United were 2-1 up at home.

As you can see on the left, both United’s full backs were bombing on throughout the game, leaving the duo of Vidic and Chris Smalling incredibly exposed.

That should not happen, and the Cottagers took full advantage of it as Darren Bent nodded home from close range following Kieran Richardson’s shot being parried away by David De Gea. Silence at Old Trafford.

Not for the first time this season, and probably not the last either. United have now hit rock bottom and the only way is up. But just how far is that?

If they keep putting in performances like that, chances of reaching the top four and Champions League soccer is a million miles away. If it hasn’t vanished already.

Premier League Schedule – Week 25

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 0-2 West Ham Recap and watch here
Chelsea 3-0 Newcastle Recap and watch here
Crystal Palace 3-1 West Brom Recap and watch here
Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal Recap and watch here
Man United 2-2 Fulham Recap and watch here
Norwich 0-0 Man City Recap and watch here
Southampton 2-2 Stoke Recap and watch here
Sunderland 0-2 Hull Recap and watch here
Swansea 3-0 Cardiff Recap and watch here
Tottenham 1-0 Everton Recap and watch here

HAZARD: BALLON D’OR PRETENDER?

On Saturday Chelsea brushed aside Newcastle 3-0 at Stamford Bridge, going top of the PL stansings in the process, as the Belgian boy-wonder Eden Hazard bagged his first-ever Blues hat trick. Afterwards Chelsea’s manager Jose Mourinho reserved special praise for the 23-year-old trickster, the player he often refers to as ‘The Kid.’

“I think a team is made of 11 guys, but obviously he is special. I think in this moment he’s the best young player in the world.”

After two quick one-twos in the first half with Branislav Ivanovic and Samuel Eto’o, Hazard put Chelsea 2-0 up with fine finishes as he scampered past Newcastle’s defenders as if they weren’t there.

His eyes were locked on the prize and as his scything runs cut out the entire heart of the Magpies defense, Hazard continue on his path to greatness. The Kid is turning into a man before our eyes.

Earlier in the week Hazard spoke of his admiration for FIFA World Players of the Year Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and how he needed to score more goals to be in that bracket. Scoring your first-ever hat trick for Chelsea immediately after stating that shows the mark of the young man. He know has 15 goals on the season and has lit up Chelsea’s rise to the PL summit. The Blues paid French side Lille $48 million for Hazard’s services in 2012. Pretty soon, that fee could look like a snip. Warning Messi and Ronaldo… there’s a Hazard coming your way.

HOW LIVERPOOL HAMMERED ARSENAL

With Steven Gerrard delivering pinpoint crosses for Liverpool’s juggernauts to attack, it’s no surprise the Reds got off to a flying start with two goals inside the first 10 minutes from big center half Martin Skrtel on Saturday. Add in the lighting quick trio of Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge and it was an absolute nightmare start for Arsenal that didn’t get any better.

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Liverpool had a dream first 20 minutes at Anfield, they surged into a 5-0 lead just after half time and embarrassed title hopefuls Arsenal on Merseyside. Gerrard sprayed the ball around masterfully from the holding role as he was at the center of it all, but the quartet of Sterling, Suarez, Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho tore Arsenal apart, as the cumbersome duo of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker were once again exposed due to their lack of pace on the turn. Here are three things we learned from Liverpool’s demolition of the Gunners, as the away side ran around like loose cannons on Saturday.

High-pressure play has evoked high hopes for the rest of the season at Anfield. With Liverpool just six points off top spot and both Manchester City and Chelsea still to play at home, can Brendan Rodgers’ team come from nowhere to win this PL title?

PALACE, FULHAM: TRANSFER WINDOW WONDERS

Holtby’s delicate chip into Sidwell for Fulham’s first goal in the 2-2 draw at Old Trafford showed what the young German is capable of. His driving runs and artful weaving on the ball see him stand out above the crowd. But often at Spurs he didn’t have moments of substance, yet he already looks like the main man in a Fulham shirt and is driving the Cottagers on. The German international linking up with new $18 million poacher Kostas Mitroglou, expected to make his Fulham debut on Wednesday against Liverpool, should have fans of the Lillywhites licking their lips. Maybe, just maybe, Fulham can salvage their season as another deadline day buy Johnny Heitinga looked solid at the back against United.

RECAP: Transfer window grades for all 20 PL teams

Elsewhere, within 30 minutes of their debuts Thomas Ince and Joe Ledley had both scored to put Crystal Palace 2-0 up vs. West Brom. Talk about making an instant impact. Tony Pulis has often been lauded for his ability to rummage around in the transfer bargain bin hurriedly on deadline day, and being able to pull out a gem or two.

He’s done it again. And now the Eagles are surging towards safety as the cavalry have well and truly arrived, as the 3-1 victory vs. WBA was a fifth home win in seven attempts for the Eagles, since the former Stoke boss arrived in November.

To watch that big win for Palace, and all the other goals and action from Round 25, here’s the PL video highlights below. Enjoy.

Premier League Playback takes an alternative look at all the weekend’s action from the PL, it comes out every week. Due to midweek action, it will be back on Thursday. Double helpings…

Wales vs England, live! Score, updates, how to watch, stream, videos

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Being dubbed as ‘The Battle of Britain’ this clash in the Group B finale between Wales and England has plenty on the line.

There is no love lost between these bitter rivals.

STREAM LIVE WALES v ENGLAND

England know anything other than a four-goal or more defeat to Wales means they are in the last 16, while a win for the Three Lions would guarantee them top spot in Group B ahead of Wales, Iran and the USA. Gareth Southgate’s side need an impressive performance to go with any win as their fanbase was far from happy with their lackluster display in the 0-0 draw against the USA last Friday.

[ MORE: Group B standings, schedule, results ]

As for Wales, their situation is clear: they have to win to have a chance of reaching the last 16 and then they will hope that Iran vs USA in their other Group B game ends in a draw. That could happen but Wales need to improve drastically on their two showings so far as their star players have looked off the pace and they deservedly lost against Iran last time out.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub

Here is everything you need for Wales vs England.


How to watch Wales vs England live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET – Tuesday, November 29
Stadium: Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

The Welsh have not made the most of their second trip to the World Cup in their history. They were dominated in the first half of their opener against the U.S. but showed good spirit to battle back for a point late on. Against Iran they were second best throughout and a late red card to Wayne Hennessey was followed by two late Iranian goals and Robert Page could have no complaints as his team failed to show up. Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale have had superb careers but injuries have hit them hard in recent years and this looks like a tournament too far for Wales’ star duo.

As for England, the vultures are circling back home as Gareth Southgate is under pressure once again for what many believe are overly cautious tactics. Against the U.S. they huffed and puffed without really creating clear-cut chances and were pretty lucky to escape with a draw. Even though England are all but guaranteed a spot in the last 16, the Three Lions fans expect more from Harry Kane and Co. after they reached the World Cup semifinals four years ago and were runners up in the European Championships just over a year ago. Southgate is expected to make quite a few changes to his lineup as the likes of Phil Foden, Kalvin Phillips and Marcus Rashford could feature from the start.


Wales quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 19
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 1
How they qualified: Qualified from UEFA via playoffs, Path B
Coach: Rob Page
Key players: Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Ben Davies

England quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 5
World Cup titles: 1 (1966)
World Cup appearances: 15
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA
Coach: Gareth Southgate
Key players: Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Pickford


Iran vs USA, live! Score, updates, live stream link, USMNT lineup

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The USA seeks a return to the knockout rounds and that’ll only come with a win over Iran at 2pm ET Tuesday inside Al Thumama Stadium in Al Khor.

STREAM LIVE IRAN v USA

It doesn’t matter what Wales does vs England at Ahmed bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan because England already has four points and a draw would give Iran four as well.

The Yanks’ two draws mandate a win-or-go-home mentality on Saturday and there are multiple generations worth of redemption up for grabs after the USMNT was felled by Iran at the 1998 World Cup and failed to qualify for the 2018 tourney in Russia.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

How can Gregg Berhalter unlock the USMNT attack to get the goal or goals he’ll need to reach a date with Group B’s winner or runner-up?

Here is everything you need for Iran vs USA.


How to watch Iran vs USA live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET, Tuesday Nov. 29
Stadium: Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

For Iran, it’s about riding the momentum of a huge win after finding inspiration in a huge loss. There’s an ocean’s worth of difference in emotion between the 6-2 tournament-opening loss to England in Al Rayyan and the 2-0 triumph over Wales In the same city. Can Mehdi Taremi or Sardar Azmoun succeed where Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling could not and break down the USMNT defense for a goal?

Meanwhile, the Yanks may still be lamenting a 1-1 draw with Wales as much as they are celebrating a strong performance that kept them unbeaten against England at the World Cup after a scoreless draw with Gareth Southgate’s men In Al Khor. Gregg Berhalter has to find a way to unlock the USMNT’s final-third woes when they hit Al Khor on Tuesday.

There has also been some off-field tension brewing between the U.S. and Iran surrounding this game, as Gregg Berhalter and captain Tyler Adams responded to in a tense press conference amid questions from the Iranian press.


Iran quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 20
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 5
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from AFC (Won Group A)
Coach: Dragan Skocic
Key players: Ehsan Hajsafi, Sardar Azmoun, Mehdi Taremi

USA quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 16
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 9
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONCACAF (3rd place)
Coach: Gregg Berhalter
Key players: Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams

World Cup 2022 Group A: Qatar, Senegal, Netherlands, Ecuador, final table, fixtures, rankings

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Group A in the 2022 World Cup was intriguing, as hosts Qatar were dumped out, while Ecuador started well but faded as African champs Senegal finished second in the group and the Netherlands finished top.

[ MORE: Full schedule for 2022 World Cup ]

Even thought Senegal were missing main man Sadio Mane through injury, they rallied to win their final two group games including an intense finale against Ecuador.

The Netherlands were unbeaten throughout the group stage and took care of business with minimum fuss.

[ MORE: Ranking every World Cup team, 32-1 ]

Below is everything you need for 2022 World Cup Group A.


Group A schedule (all kick off times ET)

Recap/highlights: Qatar 0-2 Ecuador – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Senegal 0-2 Netherlands  – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor – 5am
Recap/highlights: Qatar 1-3 Senegal – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Netherlands 1-1 Ecuador – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Netherlands 2-0 Qatar – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Ecuador 1-2 Senegal –  Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan

How To Watch Group A matches live

  • When: November 20-29, 2022
  • Group stage game kick-off times: 5am, 8am, 10am, 11am (all ET)
  • Location: Qatar
  • TV channels en Español: Telemundo, Universo, Peacock
  • Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)

Follow along with ProSoccerTalk for the latest news, scores, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2022 World Cup, and be sure to subscribe to NBC Sports on YouTube!


Group A table

1. Netherlands — 7 points (+9)
2. Senegal — 6 points (+1)
3. Ecuador — 4 points (+1)
4. Qatar — 0 (-4) – ELIMINATED


Qatar

Current FIFA world ranking: 49
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 0
How they qualified: As hosts
Coach: Felix Sanchez
Key players: Abdelkarim Hassan, Almoez Ali, Hassan Al-Haydos

Senegal

Current FIFA world ranking: 18
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 2
How they qualified: Beat Egypt in CAF playoff
Coach: Aliou Cisse
Key players: Idrissa Gana Gueye, Edouard Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly

Netherlands

Current FIFA world ranking: 8
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 10
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (Won Group G)
Coach: Louis van Gaal
Key players: Virgil van Dijk, Memphis Depay, Frenkie de Jong

Ecuador

Current FIFA world ranking: 44
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 3
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONMEBOL (4th place)
Coach: Gustavo Alfaro
Key players: Enner Valencia, Moises Caicedo, Pervis Estupinan


Senegal edges epic battle with Ecuador to clinch last 16 spot

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Senegal beat Ecuador to reach the last 16 of the World Cup, as the Lions of Terranga rallied to knock out the South Americans.

FULL MATCH REPLAY

Ismaila Sarr put Senegal ahead from the penalty spot but Moises Caicedo equalized in the second half and a draw would have been enough to send Ecuador through at Senegal’s expense.

[ MORE: Group A – Table, rankings, results, schedule ]

Cometh the hour, cometh the man as Senegal’s captain Kalidou Koulibaly scored the winner to send his country through to the knockout rounds for just the second time in their history.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub


Stars of the show

Kalidou Koulibaly: Scored the famous goal to send Senegal through and was dominant at the back. Led by example.

Ismaila Sarr: Another of one Senegal’s stars stood tall as he scored the opener and gave them an outlet. Sadio Mane would be proud of this display.


How to watch Ecuador vs Senegal live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10am ET – Tuesday, November 29
Stadium: Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)

GOAL! Moments later Koulibaly puts Senegal back in front. What drama. Now Senegal are going through instead of Ecuador.

GOAL! Ecuador equalize. Brighton’s Moises Caicedo slots home after a flick on. As it stands, Ecuador going through ahead of Senegal.

GOAL! Hincapie clatters into Ismaila Sarr and he slots home the resulting spot kick. Senegal lead.

What a start from Senegal! Idrissa Gana Gueye slams a shot wide and Ismaila Sarr sees a deflected effort fly just wide. Ecuador have yet to get going.


Key storylines, players to watch closely

Enner Valencia has obviously been the main man for Ecuador with his three goals so far but Gonzalo Plata and Michael Estrada have been excellent alongside him in attack. Brighton duo Moises Caicedo and Pervis Estupinan have been superb too, while Angelo Preciado has been electric down the right flank.

Senegal’s defense has looked a bit shaky, even with Edouard Mendy and Kalidou Koulibaly back there. In midfield Idrissa Gana Gueye was much better against Qatar and Ismaila Sarr continues to do his best to fill the huge void left by Sadio Mane.


Ecuador quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 44
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 3
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONMEBOL (4th place)
Coach: Gustavo Alfaro
Key players: Enner Valencia, Moises Caicedo, Pervis Estupinan

Senegal quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 18
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 2
How they qualified: Beat Egypt in CAF playoff
Coach: Aliou Cisse
Key players: Idrissa Gana Gueye, Edouard Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly