Fletcher finding his form after battle with health issues

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Darren Fletcher has been with Manchester United for nearly 20 years, and under new manager Louis van Gaal, he has regained his form after multiple battles with injury and illness.

Down to their final penalty kick in their preseason match against Inter Milan, Darren Fletcher stepped up to the spot and coolly buried his shot into the side netting as Manchester United remained undefeated in America. Fletcher has scored his share of big goals for United, including the game-winning header against Chelsea in 2005 and a pair of goals to help defeat bitter rivals Manchester City in 2009. But after a battle with ulcerative colitis that saw him miss nearly two full seasons, his future in football seemed to be in doubt.

Now healthy and getting back to playing football that once had Fletcher pinned as one of United’s best young prospects, the 30-year-old has looked excellent leading up to the 2014-15 Premier League season. With Louis van Gaal implementing a new formation and style of play, Fletcher has led United in minutes this preseason while sitting in the center of midfield alongside new signing Ander Herrera.

With usual starter Michael Carrick out for an extended period of time following ankle surgery, Fletcher has made the most of his opportunity. He has worn the captain’s armband in three of the four preseason matches, and will be a top contender to be named skipper during the Premier League campaign.

Fletcher is smart defensively in the middle, allowing Spanish playmakers Ander Herrera and Juan Mata to join in on the attack. With over 200 appearances for the club, he has also become a leader on and off the pitch with the departures of seasoned veterans Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. As long as he can stay healthy, Darren Fletcher will play a consistent role in United’s chase for the Premier League title.

Pulisic urged to remain at Borussia Dortmund

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After his two goals and a glittering performance for Borussia Dortmund in their 3-1 win against Liverpool in Charlotte, NC on Sunday, Christian Pulisic is once again turning heads.

[ MORE: Pulisic stars in Dortmund win ]

The 19-year-old U.S. national team star took plenty of time off this summer and it looks to have paid dividends already as he’s been sharp in Dortmund’s opening two games of their preseason tour of the USA as he also won a penalty kick in a 1-0 win against Manchester City last week.

Yet along with his displays of powerful runs, clever passing and clinical finishing come more rumors that the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Manchester United is scrambling to buy him for around $70 million this summer.

His teammate at Dortmund, Marco Reus, has urged Pulisic to remain at Dortmund.

“Christian is a good guy, he has so much quality,” Reus told ESPN. “I hope he plays [for Dortmund] for many, many more years, but we will see over the next few years.”

This is becoming an often asked question in U.S. soccer circles. Where is best for Pulisic to develop into a truly world-class talent?

He is well on the way to becoming that already at Dortmund with regular minutes under his belt in the Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League and at a club where young players are given a chance to flourish.

With two years left on his current contract, Pulisic is sought after by the Premier League big boys not only because of his obvious talent on the pitch but his marketability off the pitch with U.S. fans desperate for a new USMNT hero.

Pulisic seems settled and happy at Dortmund whenever we’ve spoken to him and his father, Mark, has said recently that there’s nothing in the reports that he is moving to the PL this summer. Yet with Jurgen Klopp talking Pulisic up over the past few days and the attacker from Hershey, PA delivering, the hype around Pulisic seems to be gathering steam once again after an up and down 2017-18 campaign.

Right now remaining at Dortmund seems his best option but another season of ripping it up as a teenager will no doubt keep the rumors growing.

UCL, Europa League third round qualifying draw

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The third qualifying round draw for the UEFA Champions League and Europa League took place on Monday, with some intriguing clashes set up for the next few weeks.

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Premier League side Burnley face Scottish Premiership side Aberdeen in their Europa League second qualifying round game this week and if the Clarets are victorious they now know they will face Turkish outfit Istanbul Basaksehir.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]  

The likes of Gael Clichy, Emmanuel Adebayor, Gokhan Inler and Arda Turan all play for Basaksehir who finished third in the Turkish Super Lig last season, just three points behind first-place Galatasaray.

Celtic will play against AEK Athens if they get past Rosenborg in their UCL second qualifying round ties, while there is a big clash set up in the UCL third qualifying round in the League Path as Benfica play against Fenerbahce.

[ MORE: Europa League schedule

Below is a look at the draws in full for the UCL and Europa League third qualifying rounds.


UEFA Champions League (to be played August 7/8, 14)

Champions path
Celtic (SCO)/Rosenborg (NOR) v AEK Athens (GRE)
Salzburg (AUT) v Shkendija (MKD)/Sheriff (MDA)
Crvena zvezda (SRB)/Sūduva (LTU) v Legia Warszawa (POL)/Spartak Trnava (SVK)
Kukes (ALB)/Qarabag (AZE) v BATE Borisov (BLR)/HJK Helsinki (FIN)
Astana (KAZ)/Midtjylland (DEN) v Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)/Hapoel Beer-Sheva (ISR)
CFR Cluj (ROU)/Malmo (SWE) v Ludogorets Razgrad (BUL)/Vidi (HUN)

* clubs who lose in this round qualify for the Europa League champions path playoff round

League path
Standard Liege (BEL) v Ajax (NED)/Sturm Graz (AUT)
Benfica (POR) v Fenerbahce (TUR)
Slavia Praha (CZE) v Dynamo Kyiv (UKR)
PAOK (GRE)/Basel (SUI) v Spartak Moskva (RUS)

* clubs who lose in this round qualify for the Europa League group stage


UEFA Europa League, third qualifying round (to be played August 9, 16)

Champions path
Ludogorets Razgrad (BUL)/Vidi (HUN) v Zrinjski (BIH)/Valletta (MLT)
Legia Warszawa (POL)/Spartak Trnava (SVK) v F91 Dudelange (LUX)/Drita (KOS)
Sutjeska (MNE)/Alashkert (ARM) v CFR Cluj (ROU) v Malmö (SWE)
Olimpija Ljubljana (SVN) v Crusaders (NIR) v BATE Borisov (BLR)/HJK Helsinki (FIN)
Shkendija (MKD)/Sheriff (MDA) v FC Santa Coloma (AND)/Valur Reykjavík (ISL)

Cork City (IRL) v Celtic (SCO)/Rosenborg (NOR)
Spartaks Jurmala (LVA)/La Fiorita (SMR) v Crvena zvezda (SRB)/Suduva (LTU)
The New Saints (WAL)/Lincoln Red Imps (GIB) v Astana (KAZ)/Midtjylland (DEN)
Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)/Hapoel Beer-Sheva (ISR) v APOEL (CYP)/Flora Tallinn (EST)
Torpedo Kutaisi (GEO)/Vikingur (FRO) v Kukes (ALB)/Qarabag (AZE)

Main path
Tobol Kostanay (KAZ)/Pyunik (ARM) v Maccabi Tel-Aviv (ISR)/Radnicki Nis (SRB)
Dunajska Streda (SVK)/Dinamo Minsk (BLR) v Zenit (RUS)
Ajax (NED)/Sturm Graz (AUT) v Dundalk (IRL)/AEK Larnaca (CYP)
St. Gallen (SUI)/Sarpsborg (NOR) v HNK Rijeka (CRO)
İstanbul Basaksehir (TUR) v Aberdeen (SCO)/Burnley (ENG)

Zorya Luhansk (UKR) v Braga (POR)
Hapoel Haifa (ISR)/FH Hafnarfjordur (ISL) v Atalanta (ITA)/Sarajevo (BIH)
Genk (BEL)/Fola Esch (LUX) v Shakhtyor Soligorsk (BLR)/Lech Poznań (POL)
Viitorul (ROU)/Vitesse (NED) v PAOK (GRE)/Basel (SUI)
Nordsjælland (DEN)/AIK (SWE) v Partizan (SRB)/Trakai (LTU)

Hibernian (SCO)/Asteras Tripolis (GRE) v Molde (NOR)/Lac (ALB)
Hajduk Split (CRO)/Slavia Sofia (BUL) v Rudar Velenje (SVN)/FCSB (ROU)
Sevilla (ESP)/Ujpest (HUN) v Zalgiris Vilnius (LTU)/Vaduz (LIE)
Sigma Olomouc (CZE) v Kairat Almaty (KAZ)/AZ Alkmaar (NED)
Balzan (MLT)/Slovan Bratislava (SVK) v Rapid Wien (AUT)

Djurgarden (SWE)/Mariupol (UKR) v Ventspils (LVA)/Bordeaux (FRA)
CSKA-Sofia (BUL)/Admira Wacker Modling (AUT) v Stjarnan (ISL)/Kobenhavn (DEN)
Olympiacos (GRE) v Luzern (SUI)
Osijek (CRO)/Rangers (SCO) v Chikhura Sachkhere (GEO)/Maribor (SVN)
Gornik Zabrze (POL)/Trencin (SVK) v Feyenoord (NED)

Jagiellonia Białystok (POL)/Rio Ave (POR) v Gent (BEL)
Spartak Subotica (SRB)/Sparta Praha (CZE) v Brondby (DEN)
Ufa (RUS)/Domžale (SVN) v Budapest Honved (HUN)/Progres Niederkorn (LUX)
B36 Torshavn (FRO)/Besiktas (TUR) v LASK (AUT)/Lillestrom (NOR)
Zeljeznicar (BIH)/Apollon Limassol (CYP) v Dinamo Brest (BLR)/Atromitos (GRE)
Leipzig (GER)/Hacken (SWE) v U Craiova (ROU)

Mourinho on Man United: “We are not a team”

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Manchester United drew 0-0 with the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer on Sunday and it’s safe to say Jose Mourinho didn’t seem impressed.

The stalemate at Levi’s Stadium continued Mourinho’s theme of complaining about the players he doesn’t have at his disposal as many are still on a break after the World Cup and won’t link up with United until they return to the UK ahead of the Premier League season starting on August 10.

Speaking to MUTV after the game, Mourinho had the following to say on United’s second consecutive draw after their 1-1 result against Liga MC side Club America on Thursday.

“We are not a team. We’re a group of players from different teams,” Mourinho said. “Some are first-team, some under-23s, some coming from loans and going on loan, some are younger, under-18s. We don’t have a team to play much better than we did but [it’s] one more training session.”

That assessment is fair enough, preseason is about practice rather than results, but these sessions are about to step up with games against AC Milan, Liverpool and Real Madrid in the next week.

Mourinho still has the likes of Juan Mata, Eric Bailly, Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial, Ander Herrera and now Alexis Sanchez on tour after the latter sorted out a visa issue. Hardly just the U-18 team.

He’s missing Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Maraoune Fellaini, Jesse Lingard, Phil Jones, Ashley Young, Marcus Rashford and Victor Lindelof after their deep runs at the World Cup this summer, plus David De Gea, Marcos Rojo and new signing Fred. So, he does have a point about United’s options being depleted for preseason.

But he’s known this would be the case for months and the likes of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City seems delighted to give youngsters a chance rather than focus on all of his stars who won’t return until right at the start of the PL season.

If United have a slow start to the PL campaign, I wonder what Mourinho will point to as the main reason for that…

Comedy result becomes a reality: East Fife 4, Forfar 5

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Read this out loud, East Fife 4, Forfar 5 – Yes, that was tough. Well, a famous comedy sketch from Eric Morecambe has become a reality. With soccer scores read out on television in the UK on a Saturday afternoon due to zero live games being shown on television during that window, fans have been hoping to hear the score East Fife 4, Forfar 5 or vice versa, for many years. Now, it’s happened. 

LONDON (AP) The result of a Scottish League Cup Group B match has become a case of life imitating art after Forfar Athletic beat East Fife in a penalty shootout.

It was East Fife 4, Forfar 5 – a favorite tongue-twisting fictional result of the late British comedian Eric Morecambe.

The British list and read soccer results with the home team first, followed by the away team.

The BBC has reported the result as a first in head-to-heads featuring the teams, although it wasn’t entirely as Morecambe would have liked. The match finished 1-1 before Forfar won 5-4 on penalties.

The BBC says there’d been at least one near miss in the past, with the wrong team at home when Forfar beat East Fife 5-4 in 1964.