Manchester United’s nightmare start continues; poor possession the main issue

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MANCHESTER — Following Manchester United’s 1-0 defeat to Manchester City in the 168th Manchester derby on Sunday, Louis van Gaal made it clear what the main problem for his team is this season. Keeping the ball.

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After the game I asked van Gaal about his sides poor finishing, as United fired a blank for the first time since August in their fourth-straight PL defeat to bitter vials Manchester City. Scoring goals isn’t the big issue according to van Gaal, protecting the ball is what he’s worried about.

“I think our problem is that in the first half we gave the ball away too much unnecessarily,” van Gaal said. “In positions that we can hold the ball easily. We call that, positional game. We have to do that better.”

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United have to do a lot of things better. And on Sunday they actually shaded the possession stats with 52 percent in their favor, despite being reduced to 10-men for 51 minutes. But needless giveaways from the likes of Daley Blind and even Wayne Rooney dropping back deep into midfield put United on the back foot time and time again in the first half. Van Gaal likes his teams to dominate the ball, dictate the game and control the tempo. United have been hanging on in games and don’t start forcing the issue until their backs are against the wall.

So far this season they Red Devils have accumulated 13 points from their opening 10 games. That’s their worst start to a season since 1986-87 and that campaign they finished in 11th as Sir Alex Ferguson saved the day. Despite this defeat which leaves United 13 points behind league leaders Chelsea, van Gaal was keen to point out that his side aren’t far from the level of Chelsea (who they drew with 1-1 last week) and Manchester City.

“Despite the result, we are very close,” van Gaal said. “You saw it against Chelsea and now against Manchester City. They are the two best clubs in this league and the difference is zero I think.”

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Really? United created plenty of chances in the second half and a nervous-looking City were hanging on the end. But van Gaal praised good defensive work from City rather than blaming his own players for slack finishing.

“There was also a good goalkeeper in Joe Hart, the goalkeeper always plays a role,” van Gaal said in a defensive manner. “We score a lot of goals, it is not so often that we are not scoring a goal. Now we had a clean sheet, but the last time we did this was against Burnley I believe. I don’t think that is our problem.”

With United’s defensive issues worsening following Chris Smalling’s red card and a dislocated shoulder for his starting center back partner Marcos Rojo in the second half, van Gaal isn’t having much luck. With Jonny Evans and Phil Jones out injured, young Paddy McNair is the only central defender they have left. Midfielder Michael Carrick was chucked back there in the derby and did a decent job as United looked much better in the second half when they were down to 10-men and up against, compared to a poor first half where they kept needlessly turning over the ball.

[RELATED: Latest Premier League standings]

In the final 20 minutes Robin van Persie, Angel Di Maria and Marouane Fellaini all had chances to score but were either off target or found Hart in inspired form. LVG was impressed by his sides spirit to surge back and almost snatch a point against their closest rivals away from home, but acknowledged the situation is not good.

“Of course as a coach, you can be proud of the last 20 minutes because the players showed unbelievable willpower and we could have scored,” van Gaal said. “I think the first half was not a half that as a coach that everything was good. We give the ball away to easily to Manchester City in unnecessary situations. I have seen the willpower of this team. It is fantastic. But we still only have 13 points out of 10 games. That is not so much.”

We know Louis, we know.

Premier League social media wrap: Brighton, teqball, remembering Tiote

Premier League social media
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Premier League sides are fully back in the flow of training with scheduled matches coming within a fortnight.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

So it’s no surprise that banter’s back, too.

That’s where we’ll start Friday, with Irish center back Shane Duffy making sure he’s keeping things light as Brighton and Hove Albion prepares to defend its Premier League place.

Duffy turned a sprinkler on his teammates at training, showing that, yes, your high school career has some things in common with Premier League footballers.

How about some skills as Manchester United gets ready for its return to the PL pitch?

Bruno Fernandes and Andreas Pereira tangled with Fred and Diogo Dalot in a match of Teqball.

You’ll have to watch to see who won.

There’s also a sad anniversary on this day.

It’s been three years since former Newcastle United wrecking ball Cheick Tiote passed away at age 30 after collapsing during a training session with Chinese side Beijing Enterprises, causing shock and grief around the Premier League.

His former teammates were remembering him on Friday, the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations winner was definitely beloved and will always be remembered for his incredible goal to cap off Newcastle’s 4-4 comeback draw with Arsenal.

We’ll start with Norwich City backstop Tim Krul, who spent time with Tiote at Newcastle.

Former Magpies wizard Yohan Cabaye pinned an old memorial to his Twitter wall.

 

Preview: Borussia Dortmund v. Hertha Berlin

Borussia Dortmund v. Hertha preview, how to watch
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Four Bundesliga teams are unbeaten in their last five matches and Hertha Berlin is the unlikeliest of the bunch.

They’ll tangle with Borussia Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion on Saturday in the latest challenge of the Bruno Labaddia era in Berlin.

[ BUNDESLIGA: Week 30 preview and predictions ]

Labbadia is Hertha’s third manager of the season and Hertha has played a scrappy brand of football that has punched and counter-punched under his tutelage. That doesn’t mean they’ve failed to find finish, as Liverpool loanee Marko Grujic and Brazilian youngster Matheus Cunha have been potent.

Borussia Dortmund is a bigger ask, though Hertha made RB Leipzig make mistakes in a 2-2 tie.

[ LIVE: Bundesliga scores, stats ]

Will it be able to get a result at the Westfalenstadion? Perhaps this is a bridge too far, because Dortmund’s shown an explosive offense and its defense has been strong far more often than not this season.

That said, Erling Haaland is just returning to fitness and has just one goal since the league’s restart from the coronavirus pause. Mats Hummels will miss with a yellow card suspension and Marco Reus still isn’t back.

Maybe American teen Giovanni Reyna will get prolonged run along with Jadon Sancho. We’ll see!

Borussia Dortmund v. Hertha Berlin, how to watch

  • TV Channels: FS2
  • Stream LiveVia Fox Soccer
  • Americans Abroad: Giovanni Reyna (Dortmund)
  • When: Saturday, June 6 – 12:30 p.m. ET: Dortmund v. Hertha

Sheffield United season restart preview

Sheffield United season restart preview
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Sheffield United is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Blades when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Sheffield United has welcomed itself to the Premier League and put its feet up on the big boys’ tables while asking what’s for dinner. Blades sit seventh and will hope to continue a fairytale which has them on the precipice of the Europa League. Their fixture list in monstrous, especially at Bramall Lane, but Wilder’s proven capable of outwitting even the smartest of bosses for long periods of time. A name to remember is Simon Moore. The backup keeper and starter from Blades’ League One days could become vital should Manchester United defy expectation and pull Dean Henderson home from his loan upon its June 30 expiry.

[ MORE: Ranking every Southampton player in 2019-20 ]


Tactical analysis: Chris Wilder has flummoxed many a Premier League manager with his creative use of defenders in attack. United typically uses Jack O’Connell, John Egan and Chris Basham as a back-3 with Enda Stevens and George Baldock as the two wingbacks. Those players have accounted for six of United’s 18 PL assists this season. For more on the tactics, Wilder laid things out in entertaining fashion for Arlo White late last month.


Possible XI (3-5-2) 

—– Henderson* —–

— Basham — O’Connell — Egan —

— Baldock — Fleck —  Berge —– Norwood — Stevens—

—– McBurnie —– Mousset —–

The challenge here is fitting January signing Berge into the mix, as fellow central midfielders John Fleck, Oliver Norwood, and John Lundstram have been instrumental in this amazing season. Lundstram seems the most likely to cede his spot if someone will, which really says something about Berge’s immense talent. David McGoldrick and Billy Sharp have provided a lot up top, so McBurnie and Mousset will see plenty of time on the bench. And the biggest question of all is Henderson, who’s on loan from top seven rival Manchester United.

[ MORE: The 2 Robbies assess Sheffield United’s chances ]


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Spurs, Wolves, Chelsea, Everton
Away: Newcastle, Manchester United, Burnley, Leicester City, Southampton

Predicted finish: The Blades will get the chance to defend their home turf from not one, not two, not three, but four would-be European rivals (It’s a little generous to include Everton, but the talent is there). Throw in Leicester and Manchesteer United away, and there is a huge bridge to cross for Wilder’s men to keep their incredible season on the path toward unprecedented heights. It’s not just about keeping Spurs and Arsenal in the rear view mirror, as Blades meet the next four teams above their seventh-place footing.

Petersen’s header leads Freiburg past 10-man Gladbach

Freiburg v. Borussia Monchengladbach recap
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Nils Petersen’s second half goal led Freiburg to a huge 1-0 win over 10-man Borussia Monchengladbach at the Schwarzwald-Stadion on Friday.

Freiburg keeps its Europa League hopes alive by moving onto 41 points, one behind sixth and seventh.

Gladbach fails in a bid to go third and remains fourth with 56 points, ahead of Bayer Leverkusen on goal differential.

A second yellow card to Plea was a double curse to Gladbach, who went down a man and now will miss a star forward against Bayern Munich.

[ LIVE: Bundesliga scores, stats ]

Bayer’s Ramy Bensebaini utilized a slick backheel turn to nutmeg an opponent and send in a cross that was put out for a corner kick.

Freiburg keeper Alexander Schwolow made a tight-angle save on Alassane Plea just after the quarter-hour mark.

Gladbach saw a chance chalked off after two dangerous bids resulted in an offside deflection into the goal.

Florian Neuhaus came close to scoring again when Lars Stindl headed the penultimate move of a fine team play into the six, but he popped it over the frame.

[ BUNDESLIGA: Week 30 preview and predictions ]

Gladbach’s second half again settled into the Freiburg final third, but it was a home sub that paid dividends at the other end.

Petersen improved his club record for goals when he nodded Vincenzo Grifo’s free kick home in the 59th.

Stindl wasn’t too far from equalizing with a 17-yard shot at the hour mark, but Plea’s second yellow card damaged Gladbach’s hopes of a comeback.