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

Josef Martinez scores 2 more in win, including sensational solo work

AP Photo/John Minchillo
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Josef Martinez scored his 25th and 26th goals of the MLS season, and if he challenges his MLS record of 31, he may also stare down soccer royalty.

The Venezuelan striker scored two more on Wednesday in a 2-0 defeat of FC Cincinnati in Ohio to give him goals in 15-straight league contests.

He now has 76 goals in 80 MLS games, which is good.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

On the season, he’s six goals shy of matching the Major League Soccer record he set with last season’s 31 regular season goals.

According to MLSSoccer.com, he’s six games shy of tying Lionel Messi’s world record for consecutive league matches with a goal.

Even that’s a little tricky: Messi scored in 21-straight games in which he was eligible for selection, but 19-straight before missing two matches for injury. In that remarkable run of 21, he also had a run of six-straight braces.

It’s not really worth it to attempt to compare the two streaks: If Martinez gets to 21 (or even 19), it’s amazing stuff and worth celebrating on a worldwide level. Everyone has a bad game every now and again, but Martinez still finds the score sheet in ’em.

Look at the magician’s tricks he used for this one, including a back heel first touch and two freeze-frame cut moves. That’s not even mentioning the finish.

USWNT announces final matches of World Cup-winning year

Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
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CHICAGO (AP) The Women’s World Cup champion U.S. team will wrap up 2019 with matches against Sweden and Costa Rica.

U.S. Soccer announced Wednesday that the U.S. will face Sweden in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 7 and Costa Rica in Jacksonville, Florida, on Nov. 10.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

The team is wrapping up its World Cup victory tour next month with matches against South Korea on Oct. 3 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and on Oct. 6 in Chicago.

Coach Jill Ellis is stepping down following the match in Chicago after leading the team to a pair of consecutive World Cup titles.

The United States is 15-1-2 this year and currently riding a 14-game winning streak.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Report: Mane to get big raise, Liverpool contract through 2025

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
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Liverpool’s Senegalese sensation looks set to stay at Anfield deep into his 30s.

Sadio Mane is in talks with the Reds hierarchy over a new deal that will run through 2024-25, and pay him more than $15 million per season.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

Mane, 27, currently has a deal through 2023, but surely wouldn’t mind a raise. And Liverpool will be happy to tie him down on Merseyside a bit longer.

He’s scored six times in seven matches this season, also grabbing an assist. That’s on a better pace than his 26 goals and five assists over 50 appearances in 2018/19.

Mane has 70 Premier League goals at the moment. Do you tip him to eclipse 100 while still at Anfield? 125?

Europa League preview: Man Utd, Wolves, Arsenal begin group stage

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The Europa League begins its group stage on Thursday, with the three Premier League combatants taking on clubs from Kazakhstan, Portugal and Germany.

Manchester United’s kids are gonna get some playing time when Astana visits Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Teenager Mason Greenwood and 21-year-old Axel Tuanzebe will start, and Sergio Romero will be between the sticks.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

And the Manchester Evening News notes that Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes could also start at Old Trafford, meaning the veterans in the fray will be quite important.

Enter Fred, the forgotten $68 million man from Shaktar Donetsk. The 23 minutes he played last week versus Leicester City account for his lone time on the pitch this season.

Here’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer:

“I’m sure we’ll see more and more of Fred. We spoke about it earlier, he’s had some great games in midfield with Scott against PSG and Arsenal, for example, and we’re just waiting for that to flourish.”

Fred had an odd record under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last season, barely in the squad when the team started hot but trusted against PSG and Barcelona in the Champions League.

Speaking of little-used midfielders, Arsenal boss Unai Emery is getting a little grief for leaving Mesut Ozil behind for the Gunners’ trip to Germany for a big match with Eintracht Frankfurt.

Ozil made his first start of the season in Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Watford at the weekend, playing 71 minutes and departing with the club up 2-1.

So why not even bring him abroad? Rest.

“Because we are going to play another match on Sunday,” Emery said, via The London Evening Standard. “My decision is because he played and also I’m thinking tomorrow the focus and the first 11 and after that I decided who are the players who can be the best for tomorrow and also the players not and that is Sokratis and Mesut.”

Sokrastis Papastathopoulos is also out, having played a big role in the embarrassing performance at Watford.

There have been tough times for Wolves as well, who sit in the relegation zone after five matches of the Premier League season.

They’ve been quite good in Europa League, though, dispatching a pair of minnows before winning both legs against Serie A side Torino.

Why the inconsistency? It’s not fixture congestion, according to Ruben Neves:

“I don’t think fatigue has anything to do with it, Neves said, via The Birmingham Mail. “We’re all top players, we’re used to it, we’re used to playing a lot of games in quick succession. I don’t think the Europa League has (anything) to do with our position in the Premier League. Obviously, we haven’t had the start that we’ve wanted, but it’s been a beautiful journey into the Europa League. This is a historic moment for Wolves and we’re going to do our best in this competition.”

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men are in Portugal to meet Braga, one of three tricky opponents in Besiktas and Slovan Bratislava.

Full slate

12:55 p.m. ET
CFR Cluj v. Lazio
LASK v. Rosenborg
Getafe v. Trabzonspor
PSV Eindhoven v. Sporting Lisbon
Basel v. Krasnodar
APOEL Nicosia v. Dudelange
Copenhagen v. Lugano
Standard Liege v. Vitoria SC
Qarabag v. Sevilla
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Arsenal
Rennes v. Celtic
Dynamo Kiev v. Malmo

3 p.m. ET
Wolfsburg v. Oleksandriya
Espanyol v. Ferencvaros
Rangers v. Feyenoord
Porto v. Young Boys
Slovan Bratislava v. Besiktas
Borussia Monchengladbach v. Wolfsberg
Partizan v. AZ Alkmaar
AS Roma v. Istanbul Basaksehir
Gent v. Saint-Etienne
Manchester United v. Astana
Wolves v. Braga
Ludogorets Razgrad v. CSKA Moscow