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

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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

Timothy Weah re-injured on return to field

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An absolutely brutal turn of events has befallen American international Timothy Weah as the 19-year-old was re-injured just minutes after returning from a six-month layoff.

Weah, who will turn 20 this weekend, suffered a nasty hamstring tear just two matches into the season and has been missing since August. He finally returned to the field on Sunday, coming on for the final 10 minutes of a 2-1 loss to Marseille. However, Weah confirmed on his Instagram account that he was re-injured during his return. Reports in France say he was injured while making a run into the Marseille attacking third, grabbing at his thigh. He completed the match without being subbed off.

After thanking Lille fans for their support during his previous injury, Weah wrote, “Unfortunately for me things didn’t go as planned and I’ve injured myself again…. Better days will come and I know that God is watching over me 🙌🏾❤️Small setback for a major comeback 🙌🏾❤️”

It is unclear how severe the injury is, or if it is separate from the one he just worked so hard to come back from. His club Lille have not yet announced anything official.

Weah got support from some big names in the comment section of his Instagram post. Fellow American Tyler Adams posted “Onwards and upwards 🙌🏽❤️” while Bayern Munich full-back and Canadian international Alphonso Davies wrote “Yessir 💪🏾” and Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham gave him praise hands emojis.

The injury, if serious, is another big blow to the U.S. men’s national team, who has already seen Paul Arriola go down with a serious knee injury and is sweating another possible problem for the oft-injured Adams. Weah has not earned a senior international cap since November of 2018, while he last played internationally last summer during the 2019 U-20 World Cup.

Report: Barcelona given permission to sign emergency striker

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According to a report by Spanish tabloid Mundo Deportivo, Barcelona has been given permission by La Liga authorities to sign an emergency striker outside the January transfer window.

With Ousmane Dembele ruled out for the season after a serious hamstring tear, the Catalan club has just three healthy forwards in Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, and teenage sensation Ansu Fati. Luis Suarez was ruled long-term after knee surgery in mid-January.

The situation is not all that uncommon as far as La Liga is concerned, as the league often authorizes clubs to sign emergency players given injuries of longer than five months and low roster availability. There are certain restrictions that come with any potential signing, such as the player must be a forward. Any potential signing will only be eligible for league competition, and the player can only come from another La Liga side or be a free agent. The club has 15 days to complete a potential signing, while any club it raids would theb be given a window to sign its own replacement.

Barcelona somewhat made its own bed here, having sold both Carles Perez and Abel Ruiz at the end of the January transfer window.

Getafe striker Angel Rodriguez, Alaves target man Lucas Perez, Levante striker Roger Marti, and Leganes frontman Martin Braithwaite have all been mentioned as possibilities. Despite having scored 10 goals this campaign, Rodriguez seems to have lost his place in the Getafe starting lineup, without a start since January 4 with Jamie Mata and Deyverson occupying the spots on the teamsheet. Perez has had an odd season, with eight of his nine league goals coming in a nine-game stretch from late September to late November. Marti has 10 goals this season, but six of those have come in multi-goal games.

Any new signing would not be eligible for Champions League competition, as Barcelona matches up with Napoli in the Champions League Round of 16 this week.

Americans Abroad: Gall scores; Weah returns from injury

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Two USMNT names resurfaced over the weekend – for all the right reasons.

It’s been an overall quiet year for Romain Gall in Sweden, but the 25-year-old managed to challenge the narrative by scoring in Malmo’s cup bout.

While in France, Timothy Weah made a much-anticipated return from injury in Lille’s 2-1 loss. The 19-year-old played 10 minutes after being out for six months.

Here is a list of several other USMNT affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) abroad this weekend.

Premier League

Christian Pulisic, Chelsea — Pulisic is still recovering from his injury and will miss Monday’s game against Manchester United.

DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle — Yedlin didn’t dress in Newcastle’s 4-0 loss to Arsenal on Sunday.

Indiana Vassilev, Aston Villa — Vassilev didn’t dress in Aston Villa’s last-minute 3-2 loss to Tottenham on Saturday.

EFL Championship

Antonee Robinson, Wigan Athletic —  For a second weekend in a rown Robinson did not dress for Wigan. The failed move to AC Milan is apparently still haunting him.

Duane Holmes, Derby County — Holmes started and played 29 minutes before leaving with an ankle injury on Saturday.

Matt Miazga, Reading (loan from Chelsea) — The 24-year-old is out with a hamstring injury. There is no timeline on his return.

Eric Lichaj, Hull City — The defender is out for the season after sustaining an injury.

Geoff Cameron, QPR — The 34-year-old defender started and played 90 minutes in QPR’s 4-2 win over Stoke City.

Tim Ream, Fulham — Ream started and played 90 minutes in Fulham’s 3-0 loss to Barnsley on Saturday.

Cameron Carter-Vickers, Luton Town (loan Tottenham Hotspur) — Carter-Vickers started and played 90 minutes in Luton’s 1-0 win over Middlesbrough.

Bundesliga

Timmy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt Chandler started and played 90 minutes in Franjfurt’s 4-0 loss to Borussia Dortmund.

John Brooks, Wolfsburg – The 26-year-old defender started and played 90 minutes for the time since January 18. Wolfsburg won 3-2 over Hoffenheim.

Weston McKennie, Schalke —  McKennie started and played 90 minutes in Schalke’s 0-0 draw with Mainz.

Zack Steffen and Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf — Steffen is out with an injury, while Morales started and played 90 minutes on Saturday.

Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen  Sargent came off the bench and played 25 minutes in Werder Bremen’s 3-0 loss.

Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig — Adams is out with an injury. There is no timeline on his return.

Fabian Johnson, Borussia Mönchengladbach Johnson dressed but didn’t feature for Borussia Monchengladbach.

Eredivisie

Sergino Dest, Ajax — Dest started and played 90 minutes in Ajax’s 3-0 win over RKC Waalwijk.

Haji Wright, VVV-Venlo — The 21-year-old striker was on the bench but didn’t feature on Friday.

Ligue 1

Timothy Weah, Lille — After a six-month absence, Weah featured for Lille in official competition. The attacker played the final 10 minutes in Lille’s 2-1 loss to Marseille.

Theoson Jordan-Siebatcheu, Rennes — Jordon-Siebatcheu started and played 56 minutes in Rennes’ 1-0 loss to Stade Reims.

Honorable Mentions

Romain Gall, Malmo — Gall played the final 31 minutes in Malmo’s 8-0 thumping of Syrianska and contributed a goal.

Richard Ledezma, Jong PSV — Ledezma played 60 minutes and scored a goal in Jong PSV’s 1-1 draw with FC Eindhoven. The attacker missed out the final 30 minutes after seeing a straight red card. 

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Manchester United

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Manchester United look to leave a poor three-match streak behind as they travel to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea  (Watch live at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

The last time both teams faced off was during the season’s opening matchweek, which saw the Red Devils steamroll Chelsea 4-0 at Old Trafford.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Since, United’s quality hasn’t been the same, slipping to ninth in the league, while the Blues have maintained themselves in the European competition conversation throughout the majority of the season.

A win for either side at this point of season will provide a huge morale boost, as both teams go into Monday’s match without a win in three bouts.


Injuries/suspensions

Chelsea: OUT —  Pulisic (groin), Van Ginkel (knee) QUESTIONABLE — Abraham (knock), Giroud (knock), Loftus-Cheek (calf)

Manchester United: OUT — McTominay (knee), Tuanzebe (thigh), Pogba (ankle, 5 Mar), Rashford (back), Fosu-Mensah (match fitness), Grant (surgery) QUESTIONABLE — Ighalo (match fitness)


Probable lineups

Chelsea: Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Tomori, James; Kante, Jorginho; Hudson-Odoi, Mount, William; Abraham.

Manchester United: De Gea; Williams, Maguire, Lindelof, Wan-Bissaka; Fred, Matic; Greenwood, Fernandes, James; Martial


What they’re saying

Chelsea’s Frank Lampard on dropping Kepa Arrizabalaga last weekend: “It wasn’t about giving him a jolt. It was just a selection on that day. I want everyone’s reaction spot on. I know how it will feel for him. I had it in my career, it is part and parcel. I am pleased with the reaction.”

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Odion Ighalo: “As a striker you get thrown on out there and it might be he’ll have to come off the bench, give us a goal and he does whatever he does.”


Prediction

Chelsea will be in front of their supporters on a Monday night with Manchester United in town. That scenario tends to go well for the Blues more often than not. Chelsea, 2-1.