Premier League Playback: Why are Manchester United struggling so much?

Leave a comment

MANCHESTER UNITED SUFFER WORST START SINCE 1986

As Manchester City’s fans celebrated victory in the derby, their fourth-straight and sixth win in seven over their bitter rivals, United’s fan could only stand in silence as their ‘noisy neighbors’ gave them a reminder of how far they’ve fallen.

“Champions of England, we know what we are!” was the cry from City’s jubilant fans at the Etihad Stadium.

[RELATED: United’s nightmare start continues]

In Sunday’s derby City won 1-0 thanks to Sergio Aguero’s second half strike. That defeat consigned United to their worst start to a season since 1986-87. They’ve started even worse under Louis van Gaal than they did under David Moyes last season, by four points to be exact. So, what is the main issue for United at the moment? Scoring goals? Injuries? Conceding too many?

Following United’s defeat to City, I asked van Gaal about the goalscoring aspect after his side fired a blank against City and in the last two matches they’ve created plenty but have only put one chance away.

“There was also a good goalkeeper in Joe Hart, the goalkeeper always plays a role,” van Gaal said in a defensive manner about his teams lack of goals. “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 [Aug. 30] I believe. I don’t think that is our problem. I think our problem is that in the first half we gave the ball away too much unnecessarily. In positions that we can hold the ball, easily. We call that, positional game. We have to do that better.”

But United’s problems can’t be put down to one issue. It’s a multitude of issues which has hit van Gaal’s men hard at the start of this season.

Constant injuries has seen their backline collapse with Marcos Rojo dislocating his shoulder on Sunday, Chris Smalling stupidly sent off (more on that later) and they will join Phil Jones and Jonny Evans on the sidelines. At the other end of the pitch Robin van Persie, Radamel Falcai and Wayne Rooney have hardly had a run of games together with various injuries and suspensions. A long summer tour to the USA wasn’t to van Gaal’s liking and his playing philosophy is taking much longer than expected to implement. The balance of his squad still seems top heavy. The list goes on and on.

[RELATED: Watch full match replays]

You can make whatever excuses you want about United, but let’s face facts. They went on a summer spending spree unlike any ever seen in English soccer, or the rest of the world for that matter. Luke Shaw, Falcao, Angel Di Maria, Rojo and Daley Blind all arrived in deals worth over $250 million. Even that has failed to spark United into life as their worst-ever start to a campaign was rubber-stamped by their crosstown rivals.

[RELATED: Three things we learned in the Manchester derby]

Still, van Gaal has blind faith in his boys and doesn’t believe they are far away from the best teams in the PL. As things stands, United are 13 points away from leaders Chelsea and sit in tenth place in the standings. “I have seen the willpower of this team. It is fantastic,” van Gal added. “But we still only have 13 points out of 10 games. That is not so much.”

Premier League Schedule – Week 10

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

QUIET PLEASE: CHAMPIONS-ELECT AT WORK

“At this moment it’s difficult to play at home because playing here is like playing in an empty stadium… When we scored was when I realized ‘woah, the stadium is full. Good. The team then starts playing like it’s quiet, soft game at home. I was looking around and it was empty, but not in terms of people because it was obviously full.”

Jose Mourinho, ladies and gentleman.

Following Chelsea’s 2-1 home win over Queens Park Rangers on Saturday, which keeps Chelsea unbeaten at the top of the table with eight wins from their opening 10 games, Mourinho had a moan at Chelsea’s fans for not creating a good atmosphere at Stamford Bridge. Does he have a point?

[VIDEO: Premier League highlights]

After a decade and more of constant success, it seems fans of Chelsea are a pretty lucky bunch. They are used to watching some of the greatest creative minds and players the PL has to offer, week in, week out. Right now though, they should be more excited than ever as this team may be the best in their history. With Mourinho assembling an incredible attacking outfit who have yet to lose this season, maybe he’s right for wanting to hear a little more appreciation and support from the stands. Chelsea fans… “Are you not entertained?” Or does Mourinho need to take his ear plugs out?

WHEN WILL SAINTS’ BUBBLE BURST?

Southampton’s sensational start to the season shows no sign of stopping as Ronald Koeman’s honeymoon period in England is far from over.

On Saturday the Dutchman’s side beat Hull 1-0 courtesy of Victor Wanyama’s stunning goal from long range to seal the points. You can see that goal, plus all the others from Saturday, in the video above. Wanyama’s strike was Saints eighth goal from a central midfielder so far this season. Last season, under old boss Mauricio Pochettino, they scored just four. Koeman’s attacking philosophy is clear but Saints look solid as a rock as they’ve conceded just five goals this season, two of which were on the first day of the season, as they have the best defensive record in all four of England’s professional leagues.

[RELATED: Latest Premier League standings]

They have now recorded three-straight shutout wins and have Leicester City at home and Aston Villa away in their next two matches. They could be on 28 points before the end of November and for a club like Saints, every season their fans only think of one thing: how will we get to the ‘magic 40 point marker’ as quickly as possible to stave off relegation? No such worries this season.

One very interesting stat popped up over the weekend. Since the PL began, no team who had less than 18 points after the first 10 games of a season has gone on to win the title. The only three teams who have more than 18 points after 10 games this season are: Chelsea, Manchester City and Southampton. So, it’s a three-horse title race… right!?

source: AP
Can Saints really break into the top four?

As well as things have gone so far for the new-look side led by summer signings Dusan Tadic, Fraser Forster, Graziano Pelle and others, only two of their seven wins have come against teams in the top 10 of the standings and they were against Swansea and West Ham. Their two defeats have come away at Liverpool and Tottenham and the big test will be in a truly brutal stretch in the lead up, during and after the busy festive period.  In a five week spell from Nov. 5 to Jan. 10 Saints’ season will be defined.

[RELATED: Premier League schedule]

In that stretch they have eight PL games. They play Arsenal and Manchester United, twice each, plus Everton, Chelsea and Manchester City. Those seven tough matches, plus a League Cup quarterfinal chucked in, will have a huge bearing as to whether Southampton’s season will fizzle out or if they can truly do something special and finish in the top six or dare to dream of the top four.

Koeman is a confident men and his team are replicating his persona. Before Saturday’s win at Hull, their 10th win in their last 11 matches in all competitions, Koeman had the following to say to the Southern Daily Echo.

“Maybe a lot of people are very surprised, because in the start of the season I understand. But I had from the beginning the belief in the players, the belief in the team, the belief in the team spirit. Ok, not to be now on this moment after nine, ten games to be the second on the list, but we have good players,” Koeman said. “We have a good football playing team. We like to play football, and we like to enjoy the people and everybody’s happy, everybody enjoys how we play. I’m not afraid about another situation, because if I watch the rest of the teams I don’t think that a lot of teams are better than Southampton.”

Premier League Star Performers – Week 10

Player Reason
1. Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal) 2 goals, tremendous talent
2. Sergio Aguero (Man City)  1 goal, constant threat
3. Stewart Downing (WHU) 1 goals, 1 assist, superb
4. Victor Wanyama (Saints) 1 goal, solid as a rock in DM
5. David De Gea (Man Utd) World class, kept United in it

SILLY REDS GALORE

On Saturday Jonjo Shelvey got his first yellow card for kicking the ball away. He then got a second yellow for blatantly blocking off Everton’s James McCarthy late in the game. Swansea held on for a point but Shelvey’s stupidity almost cost his team.

[RELATED: Premier League stats]

Smalling’s stupidity was duly noted by Manchester United boss van Gaal, as the central defender got his first yellow for a similarly silly offence. He bocked Joe Hart from taking a drop kick on the edge of his box after a set piece situation had broken down. Minutes later Smalling went sliding in and took out James Milner to leave referee Michael Oliver with no choice other than to give the United player his marching orders with a second yellow. On Saturday in the late game Christian Benteke cost Villa three points as the Belgian forward was antagonized by Spurs’ players and raised his hands to the face of Ryan Mason to get a straight-red. Very silly. Then on Monday Mile Jedinak was shown two yellows for a stupid barge on Wes Brown, then a kick out in the middle of the pitch after a tackle. Palace’s Australian skipper is far too experienced to have gone down the same route as Shelvey and Smalling before him.

[RELATED: Premier League all-access]

All four players put themselves in difficult situations after petulant acts put them under pressure. Shelvey, Smalling and Jedinak should have known better than to commit cynical fouls which will obviously warrant a caution. Did Smalling not watch Match of the Day on Saturday night before the Manchester derby on Sunday and see what Shelvey had done? Did Jedinak not watch Smalling and Shelvey? Obviously not. They’re all as bad as each other. In the video below the Match of the Day crew dissect Smalling’s actions and talk about his constant mistakes in big games.

NEWCASTLE’S RESURGENCE

Four wins on the spin for Newcastle and all is well up at St James’ Park. After beating Liverpool 1-0 on Saturday to win three PL games in a row, plus knocking holder Man City out of the League Cup last week, all of that animosity and uproar against manager Alan Pardew has dissipated (for the most part) and “Sack Pardew” banners were replaced by “Pardew – Back from the dead” the day after Halloween. Very clever, chaps.

We always knew Newcastle were underperforming but now they have their confidence and swagger back, the Magpies can kick on and become a team capable of easily finishing in the top 10. After a shocking start to the campaign which yielded no wins in seven, that would be a superb season. Hats off to Pardew for staying with his players, and bravo to much-maligned owner Mike Ashley. When everyone wanted to fire Pardew, Ashley backed his man. See more on that in the video below. In tough times at the start of a season, it’s easy to forget that Pardew led Newcastle to fifth place in 2011-12 and threatened to replicate that for much of last season before losing Yohan Cabaye and enduring a terrible finish.

With talented youngsters such as Ayoze Perez, Rolando Aarons and Sammy Ameobi coming into their own and the likes of Papiss Cisse returning to his best, good times are back on the agenda at St James’. Howay the lads!

USMNT UPDATE

Geoff Cameron was the main man for the Americans Abroad this weekend as the Bostonian, who has started the last few games in his preferred role in central midfield, played at right back against West Ham. Both of Stoke’s goals came from Cameron’s right flank with the former Houston star clipping in a looping ball which Victor Moses eventually finished off for the first. Even though Stoke coughed up a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 with the Hammers, Cameron made a well-timed run into the box late in the game and his despairing lunge at the ball saw him redirect a cross towards the corner, but West Ham ‘keeper Adrian tipped it wide. It’s great to see Cameron back to his best after a long spell out through injury.

Elsewhere, it was heartbreak once again for Brad Guzan as Aston Villa have now lost six on the spin. Villa were leading Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 until the 84th minute but a late equalizer and then Harry Kane’s heavily-deflected free kick left Guzan with no chance. Worrying times for the Villains. Tim Howard recorded another shutout, his … of the season, but Everton couldn’t get past Swansea at home. And Jozy Altidore came on as a substitute for Sunderland in their huge 3-1 win at Crystal Palace.

Premier League Playback comes out every Monday as PST’s Editor and Lead Writer takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

PL Sunday preview: Man Utd and Arsenal chase top five; Chelsea host Liverpool

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures is filled up to the brim of top-six sides in action, as Manchester United and Arsenal look to climb into the top five in the table, while Chelsea looks to send a strong message as they host leaders Liverpool.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

West Ham vs. Manchester United — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Aside from leaders Liverpool, there is no other team in the league experiencing such a positive run as West Ham. The Hammers are unbeaten in their last four bouts – wining twice and drawing twice – as they head into Sunday’s showdown against Manchester United. Equal with five other sides with eight points, Manuel Pellegrini is conscious that it’s the ideal time to make a statement and climb into the top six.

“We have a very strong team in front of us, it will be a strong test against United. It is the only way we can get into the top six, demonstrating you are able to do it,” Pellegrini said heading into Sunday.

As for the Red Devils, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side – who share the podium with West Ham – are looking to extend their current winning form to three games. Ahead of the game, however, the talk surrounding United isn’t Sunday’s game, but Paul Pogba‘s rumored move to Real Madrid this summer. What a better way to get everyone’s mind of theoretical situations and injury worries than with a win.

INJURIES: West Ham — OUT: Michail Antonio (hamstring), Arthur Masuaku (suspended) | Manchester United —OUT: Anthony Martial (thigh), Paul Pogba (back), Luke Shaw (hamstring), Eric Bailly (knee), Timothy Fosu-Mensah (knee)

Crystal Palace vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers — 9 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Not many expected it: Wolves winless throughout the first five games of the season. That, however, is the reality for a team that finished seventh last season. By now, Wolverhampton Wanderers have had plenty of time to pick up on the alarm bells, it’s time for them to respond.

Manager Nuno Espírito Santo, for instance, knows that it’s time for his side to get back into shape before it’s too late.

“This is important,” he said. “We face the reality and the reality says we not performing well so we have to analyse it and find solutions in the team to improve. We must react immediately. We have to take decisions and find solutions for the team because we have to come out of this situation and improve our performance so we can bounce back.”

Crystal Palace, on the other hand, are dealing with adversity of their own after falling to Tottenham Hotspur, 4-0, last week. Playing at Selhurst Park this time around should be a positive, but Palace has only managed to score a goal in three matches in front of their home crowd this season.

INJURIES: Crystal Palace — OUT: None | Wolverhampton Wanderers — OUT: None

Arsenal vs. Aston Villa — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Arsenal have had several things going for them this season: scoring at home, positive first Europa League performance, a healthy and productive Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, among others. One thing they’ve been missing, though, is an effective Nicolas Pepe, especially after shelling record-money for the 24-year-old Ivorian.

“He needs more adaptation,” Emery said in his pre-match press conference. “He is playing good but progressively we know there is going to be more performance in him to help us and I want to do now quickly the last step in the adaptation for us, for example, against Aston Villa.”

With Alexandre Lacazette still out with an ankle injury, Pepe, again, will have the opportunity to showcase his true worth to a packed Emirates Stadium. Arsenal, too, can use his skill to get that much closer to three, vital points.

“When will Aston Villa finally break out of their shell?” is the million-dollar question for the visitors. At times, the newly promoted side has shown the flair that made it so powerful in the Championship last season, only to leave spectators on the edge of their seats, waiting for that final blow. In North London on Sunday, Dean Smith and Co. have the chance to do so with several players back in the mix, but that’s not to say the task will be a walk in the park.

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Alexandre Lacazette (ankle) | Aston Villa — OUT: James Chester (thigh), Jonathan Kodjia (cheek)

Chelsea vs. Liverpool — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Liverpool, like Chelsea, suffered opening losses in European play midweek; however, there is a different, more positive impetus fueling Jurgen Klopp‘s side. The defending Champions League winners’ immaculate record speaks volume to their current situation, one that’s biggest setback has been the aforementioned loss to Napoli and the injury to goalkeeper Allison, while regaining influential player Nabi Keita in trainings.

It begs to ask: with Manchester City already behind and several top-six sides struggling, how will Liverpool not runaway with the league title this season? That type of talk, however, is exactly what Klopp doesn’t want to hear. The season is green – very, ver green – and this season, for one reason or another, is nothing like last year’s.

“Nothing is won already,” Klopp said. “We have seen teams make big steps. There is nobody you think will go down with no points. Watford and Wolves have been at the bottom, struggling, but will end up going back up. The league is much different (to last season). So many things can happen. Five games is nothing, not even created a basis…”

Klopp’s counterpart on Sunday, Frank Lampard, as a result of his own environment, is managing a different dialogue ahead of the clash, like the possibility of fielding Mason Mount, who came off midweek against Valencia in Champions League play.

On the bright side, Chelsea are unbeaten in their last four league bouts, and have a game against Liverpool under their belts this season already – a penalty-shootout loss in the UEFA Super Cup – that should have seasoned them ahead of this season’s part two of the rivalry.

“Times have changed slightly, but it doesn’t change that feeling,” Lampard said on the Chelsea-Liverpool rivalry. “I think the fans feel it, the players feel it, it does involve a lot of passion whenever it’s played. If your levels aren’t there it’s a game that can get away from you quickly so my first thing to say to the players is to make sure they feel this game, recognise what it is, because it always does have an edge.”

INJURIES: Chelsea OUT: Antonio Rüdiger (groin), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (achilles), Callum Hudson-Odoi, Reece James (both fitness) | Liverpool  OUT: Alisson (calf), Nathaniel Clyne (knee)

Serie A roundup: Inter win Derby della Madonnina, Juventus edge Verona (video)

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Inter Milan’s rampant run and Juventus’ win headline Saturday’s Serie A action.

[ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

AC Milan 0-2 Inter Milan

The stats books following this season’s first Derby della Madonnina make two things very clear: at the moment, Inter are the best team in Milan and in Serie A.

With four consecutive victories to start the season, Antonio Conte and Co. lead Italy’s top-flight by two points.

 

After nearly being up two goals in the first half, Inter broke deadlock in the 49th minute. From a orchestrated set-piece play, marcelo Brozovic’s strike skimmed the heels of Rafael Leão, deflecting the ball past Gianluigi Donnarumma, and into the back of the net. An offside call was reviewed through VAR, but the goal stood.

In the 78th minute, a short, lofted cross from Nicolò Barella found Romelu Lukaku, who headed the ball into the far post. The Belgian, who arrived from Manchester United during the summer, has scored three goals in four league games.

Dominating time with the ball didn’t do much for AC Milan, whose clearest chance came late in the second half when Theo Hernández’s strike inside the box hit the bar.

Yet to taste a draw or defeat, Inter marches on as they host Lazio next, while AC Milan travel to Turin to take on Torino.

Juventus 2-1 Hellas Verona

In a game that could have gone either way, Juventus, with its star-studded team and all, walked away with three points against 10-man Hellas Verona.

Aaron Ramsey, who made a shock switch to the Old Lady in July following an 11-year spell with Arsenal, scored his first Serie A goal. From distance, in the 31st minute, the 29-year-old’s shot deflected Verona’s Koray Gunter, beating Marco Silvestri and into the goal.
Ramsey’s goal, however, only leveled the score.
Following a missed penalty and second chance, Miguel Veloso scored what can be the goal of the week: a first-time, left-footed volley into the top corner of Gianluigi Buffon’s goal. Verona, who had a couple of clear chances in the second half, were unable to get past Buffon again.
With three points desperately needed to keep pace with Inter Milan, Cristiano Ronaldo came to the rescue. The Portuguese converted from the sport – his first of the season – following a solo run from Juan Cuadrado.

With positive momentum behind them, second-place Juventus travels to Brescia next, while Hellas Verona receive a lackluster Udinese side.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Cagilari 3-1 Genoa

Udinese 0-1 Brescia

VIDEO: Kei Kamara scores superb bicycle kick goal against Sporting KC

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kei Kamara has scored plenty of goals at Children’s Mercy Park, but none like his bicycle kick goal on Saturday.

The 35-year-old, now in his 16th season, showcased his penchant for scoring right before halftime against his former team. The goal makes 12 for the Colorado Rapids’ forward this season, placing him within the top 10 of the league and two begin his 14-goal season last year.

Overall, Kamara is fifth in the all-time MLS scoring list with 124 goals, second among active players behind San Jose Earthquakes’ Chris Wondolowski.

Enjoy a superb goal from a superb goalscoerer.

La Liga roundup: Messi, Barcelona stunned by inspired Granada (video)

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Granada’s shocking 2-0 win over Barcelona and subsequent rise to the top of the table headlines Saturday’s La Liga action.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Granada 2-0 Barcelona

Not even Lionel Messi, who made his season debut on Saturday, was able to save Barcelona against a red-hot Granada.

Granada, who are off to their best start in their 88 years of existence, had a perfect night in front of their supporters, convincingly getting past a Barcelona that dominated possession, but lacked the offensive ingenuity needed to score.

Barcelona’s defense wasn’t noteworthily robust, either.

Two minutes in, the newly promoted side scored through a headed goal from Ramon Azeez, following a defensive turnover from Junior Firpo.

Unable to record a shot on target in the first half and looking to wakeup a dormant attack, Barcelona brought on wonderkid Ansu Fati and Lionel Messi at halftime. Despite the duo connecting on several occasion and generating a shot on target, it wasn’t enough to get past Rui Silva.

In the 66th minute, following video review, substitute Alvaro Badillo converted from the spot, handing Granada their third win of the season.

Atop of La Liga, Granada set their sights on Real Valladolid, while Barcelona, who are off to their worst league start in 25 years, host Villarreal at Camp Nou.

Atletico Madrid  0-0 Celta Vigo

For a second consecutive week, Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid dropped points, drawing with Celta Vigo 0-0 at Wanda Metropolitano.

Tied with league leaders Granada and Sevilla with 10 points, the alarm bells are far from going off in Madrid. However, as Saturday’s performance showed, los Colchoneros are having trouble finishing chances this season, despite fielding an attack with the likes of Joao Felix, Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata.

In five games, Atletico have managed to score only five goals, six fewer than leaders Granada. Against Celta, Atletico registered 20 shots, five on target, but were unable to crack a stellar Ruben Blanco, who registered five saves.

Leveled with Granada and Sevilla, Atletico Madrid look to get back into winning ways as they take on RCD Mallorca. Elsewhere, Celta Vigo, who have won win after five games, host Espanyol next.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Villarreal 2-0 Real Valladolid

Levante 0-0 Eibar