Premier League Playback: Fellaini leads Manchester United’s charge

2 Comments

UNITED’S RESURGENCE LED BY FELLAINI

Manchester United are the kings of Manchester this season. The Red Devils won their six-straight Premier League match on Sunday in impressive fashion and secured their first victory in five Manchester derbies against Manchester City.

After an early wobble, Louis van Gaal’s side were worthy of their 4-2 victory as Marouane Fellaini played a leading role in helping United increase their lead to four points over their “noisy neighbors” and seemingly hammered another nail in Manuel Pellegrini’s coffin with his tenure as City boss becoming more delicate by the day.

[ RELATED: Three things we learned from Old Trafford ]

Fellaini rose above Gael Clichy at the back post in the 27th minute to send a towering header into the net and put United 2-1 up, after Sergio Aguero gave City an early lead, but it wasn’t just his goal that should be admired. The Belgian was everywhere and his energy and industry playing in behind Wayne Rooney and then drifting out to the left flank caused Yaya Toure and City’s lackluster midfield all kinds of problems, which was evident for Juan Mata’s third goal as Toure failed to track Fellaini and left a huge hole which United exploited expertly.

[ RELATED: Watch full match replays ]

Premier League Schedule – Week 32

Result Recap & Highlights
Burnley 0-1 Arsenal Recap and watch here
Liverpool 2-0 Newcastle Recap and watch here
Man United 4-2 Man City Recap and watch here
QPR 0-1 Chelsea Recap and watch here
Saints 2-0 Hull City Recap and watch here
Sunderland 1-4 Palace Recap and watch here
Swansea 1-1 Everton Recap and watch here
Tottenham 0-1 Villa Recap and watch here
West Brom 2-3 Leicester Recap and watch here
West Ham 1-1 Stoke Recap and watch here

Last season Fellaini didn’t replicate the form which persuaded United to pay $43 million for the former Everton midfielder but now he’s flourishing and United’s boss is pleased enough to be keeping the likes of Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao on the bench behind Fellaini.

“The fans also see that he is very important for the team, he scored goals and gave pressure when we needed it. He plays the ball to the same color, which is also very important. I am very happy for him,” Van Gaal said. “Fellaini, in my opinion, he was a lot of times injured but he is from day one he is the player who is always doing what I ask. Okay, you can say not always very good but never bad. That is also very important for a manager, that a player will always give a certain level of performance.”

[ RELATED: Latest PL standings ]

United’s level of performance was sublime as they suffocated City’s backline and midfield with relentless pressure by deploying a 4-1-4-1 formation with Michael Carrick orchestrating the midfield and allowing Fellaini, Ashley Young, Mata and Ander Herrera to push forward. Mata, Young and Fellaini all scored, as the balance is right and confidence is sky-high at Old Trafford. On Sunday, the atmosphere was electric as United’s fans tasted success in the derby for the first time in five and kicked City, who have now lost four of their last six matches, while they were down.

Asked about the key to United’s success which has seen them rise to third in the PL ahead of a trip to champions-elect Chelsea on Saturday, Van Gaal had the following to say.

“What is the key?” Van Gaal said. “That’s the process and I have told you every press conference there’s a process and I have said, if you can remember, that when the players do understand what they are doing on the pitch with confidence, then you can continue much easier than before. I have said that, it is a process. I have explained it a lot of times and now I think maybe a lot of players do understand what we are doing and what we are willing to perform.”

The penny has dropped for United and they are building momentum for a title charge next season. Plus, as Van Gaal made a point of mentioning in his post-game press conference, United’s fans now have bragging rights in their hometown until next season with a 4-3 aggregate win over the two games this season. It seems Manchester has taken to Van Gaal and vice versa.

COQUELIN CRUCIAL FOR BALANCED GUNNERS

On Saturday at Turf Moor Francis Coquelin was praised by manager Arsene Wenger following their 1-0 win against Burnley. After the game I asked the Arsenal boss about the balance the French midfielder provides.

“First of all he has shown his individual qualities in winning the ball and passing it quickly and he is very strong in the challenge. But as you said, he contributes to the balance of the team,” Wenger said. “That’s very difficult to measure. The balance of a team sometimes depends on one player with some characteristics that the others haven’t got. It looks like he has hugely contributed to that.”

High praise from Wenger, indeed. Since bursting onto the scene against Manchester City in an away-day masterclass back in January, Coquelin has displayed a wonderful knack for timing tackles to perfection and then holding back to protect the Gunners’ back four. His restraint and discipline is remarkable, and the 23-year-old midfielder is allowing Arsenal’s talented attackers to flourish. Away at Burnley on Saturday the Gunners were pushed to their physical limits by a bruising Sean Dyche side who could have nicked a point but it was Coquelin’s type of game as he chipped away at Burnley’s midfield and disrupted the Clarets’ tempo.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The Gunners have now won eight in a row and with six matches left Wenger played down their title chances, but they are building momentum and the pieces are being put in place for next season already. Before their 1-0 win at Turf Moor on Saturday, ProSoccerTalk caught up with Arsenal’s Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis who said he’s “not happy” with their campaign but is getting pretty excited for next season.

“We are not happy but we are going to keep pushing to the end and see how far we can go,” Gazidis said. “We are happy with the way the squad has developed and we are very focused how we can make a positive end to the season. After that it will be a question of how can we progress the team further so that we can have an even better season next year. We have a squad that’s clearly coming together. It’s a relatively young squad so it will continue to improve.

LEICESTER ROLLING, LEGEND OF “PARDIOLA”

The Foxes are on the charge. Leicester won for the second-straight game to breath new life into their battle against relegation. Nigel Pearson’s side now sit on 25 points and are just three points off safety with a game in hand. Yes, that game is against Chelsea but if they can nick a point against the Blues, their other games are suddenly seeming rather winnable compared to a few weeks ago. With Hull City falling fast, Burnley struggling to score and QPR continuing to huff and puff but falter, the Foxes have a real chance.

Then there is Sunderland. After beating Newcastle 1-0 last week, Dick Advocaat’s side were hammered 4-1 at home by Crystal Palace. The new Sunderland boss still has plenty of work to do to keep the Black Cats up, while his rival in the Palace dugout on Saturday is grinning like a Cheshire cat. Alan Pardew has won 25 points since he took charge in January as the Eagles sit in 11th place on 42 points after being in a relegation scrap when he arrived. Pardew has set Palace up perfectly for the players they possess as Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie rip teams apart on the break with their searing pace. Bolasie scored an 11-minute hat trick at the Stadium of Light on Saturday and his hunger to chase lost causes was greater than the urge Sunderland’s players had to defend. Bright days are ahead for Palace and “Pardiola.”

SHERWOOD HAS THE LAST LAUGH

Tim Sherwood’s Aston Villa provided the most shocking result of the weekend as they beat Tottenham 1-0 away from home. Sherwood was fired by Spurs somewhat acrimoniously at the end of last season after taking over midway through the 2013-14 campaign, and on his first return to White Hart Lane Christian Benteke gave his Villa side a crucial three points in their battle against relegation.

Speaking afterwards, Sherwood was delighted to grab just a third PL win as Villa boss on his return to Spurs.

“It is a sweet victory. You always want to do well when you come back to your old club,” Sherwood said. “Tottenham Hotspur has been excellent and a fantastic club for me. I’ve had a lot of well wishes from people inside this football club. There was a lot of people rooting for me today and rooting for Aston Villa and I appreciate that.”

Often mocked for his smugness and many calling his tactics one-dimensional, Sherwood comes in for plenty of criticism. Whether or not that’s justified remains to be seen but what you can’t accuse him of is failing to galvanize a Villa side which resembled a sitting duck and looked in serious danger of being relegated in February when Paul Lambert was fired. Now, Villa sit six points above the drop zone and Sherwood will be smiling after getting one over the people at Spurs who deemed his managerial ability not good enough to lead Tottenham.

USMNT UPDATE: YEDLIN DEBUTS

Four U.S. national team players were in action across the PL this weekend. Tim Howard made a string of fine saves to help Everton pick up a point on the road at Swansea City on Saturday, while Geoff Cameron played the full 90 minutes at right back for Stoke City in their 1-1 draw away at West Ham United. Brad Guzan helped Villa to their massive 1-0 win at Tottenham as the Illinois native recorded a superb shutout. His heroics came against a fellow USMNT man, as DeAndre Yedlin made his debut for Spurs.

The former Seattle Sounders right back came on with 11 minutes to go at White Hart Lane and the 21-year-old reflected on making his bow in the PL before he heads to San Antonio to play for the U.S. against Mexico on Wednesday.

“It’s unbelievable to make my debut here, something I’ve looked forward to for a while now but the circumstances weren’t the best and it was a disappointing loss,” DeAndre said. “The only thing going through my head now is the loss. The debut was great but the loss overshadows everything. It’s disappointing but we have to keep our heads up. We’ll look to come back and get those points back.”

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

Napoli scores on late penalty, rare Van Dijk error in 2-0 win

ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

The good news is that Liverpool lost to Napoli last season in the UEFA Champions League, then went on to win the whole darn thing.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Jose Callejon won a late penalty that Dries Mertens converted, and Fernando Llorente took advantage of a Virgil Van Dijk error to pad the lead as Napoli held serve at home with a 2-0 win over Liverpool on Tuesday.


Three things we learned

1. Goalkeepers immense: No, he’s not Alisson Becker, but Adrian is probably the biggest reason Liverpool didn’t open its UCL defense with a loss. He made a pair of early stops on Dries Mertens before a show-stopping effort in the second half. Napoli got two fine saves from Alex Meret, including a terrific denial of Mohamed Salah in the 65th.

2. Salah, Mane can’t deliver in key moments: Take away Salah’s penalty in the UCL Final, and Liverpool’s two top threats have not accounted for a goal in four matches inside the competition. Mane was mostly good on the day, but misled Salah on an early second half pass which would have almost certainly been a goal. Salah simply had an off day

3. Callejon sells the drama: Liverpool’s Andy Robertson lost a 50/50 with Jose Callejon, who ran into the fulback and hit the deck to win a penalty. That was the difference here, as Mertens beat Adrian.

Man of the Match: Meret was especially good, the 22-year-old Italian goalkeeper big in several key moments to edge Mertens for the honor.


Napoli thought it had gone ahead through El Tri star Hirving Lozano, who nodded over the line following two Alisson Becker saves on Dries Mertens, but the Mexican was offside.

Sadio Mane had a 20th minute chance at the other end, but pumped a point blank low shot to Napoli keeper Alex Meret which led to a corner kick.

Fabinho intervened in the 53rd minute as Napoli emerged from the locker room with energy, but the best chance of the early second half was flubbed in uncharacteristic fashion: Sadio Mane was through 2v1 with Mohamed Salah but made a miserable pass to his teammate.

The first goal arrived when Callejon tapped the ball past Robertson and leapt into the defender to earn a penalty from referee Felix Brych.

It was 2-0 in stoppage time when Fernando Llorente ran onto a Virgil van Dijk error and passed beyond Adrian.

UCL AT HALF: Marsch’s Salzburg rolling; Champions holding firm; Chelsea’s Mount hurt

Photo by Michael Molzar/SEPA.Media /Getty Images
Leave a comment

We’ve got news after 45 minutes of six more UCL matches, including a big injury at Stamford Bridge and a monumental start for an American in Austria.

[ UCL: Scores, lineups, stats, box scores ]

Chelsea 0-0 Valencia

No goals to report here, but early season hero Mason Mount has left the match with an injury for the Blues. He was not replaced by Christian Pulisic, rather Pedro.

Liverpool 0-0 Napoli

It’s been a pretty even affair, though Liverpool can thank Adrian for a pair of great saves on Dries Mertens before Hirving “Chucky” Lozano’s goal was ruled offside.

Red Bull Salzburg 5-1 Genk

Jesse Marsch is now officially the first American man to manage a team in a UEFA Champions League game.

The Red Bull Salzburg boss is also the first to hold a second minute lead, as red hot striker Erling Braut Haland scored his 15th, 16th, and 17th goals in nine matches under Marsch.

Haland also five assists on the season, having entered Tuesday’s match with 658 minutes across all competitions.

Haland is the son of former Leeds, Man City, and Nottingham Forest manager Alf-Inge Haland.

Hwang-Hee Chan has Salzburg’s other goal, and two assists.

Elsewhere

Inter Milan 1-1 Slavia Prague — RECAP
Lyon 1-1 Zenit Saint-Petersburg
Borussia Dortmund 0-0 Barcelona
Ajax 1-0 Lille
Benfica 0-0 RB Leipzig

Yedlin nears return, hoping for October USMNT call-up

Photo by Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images
1 Comment

Hindsight being 20/20, it’s easy to see that DeAndre Yedlin didn’t look right last season.

The Newcastle United and USMNT right back was not up to his standards during the 2018-19 season, and Yedlin says the injury that’s cost him the start of this season has been the culprit for a long time.

[ MORE: Neymar ban reduced ]

Yedlin, 26, went through surgery this May for a sports hernia which he says bothered him on game days for almost a year and a half.

From NUFC.co.uk:

 “It was tough, and it was a bit confusing because it would come and go. There would be months that I’d be playing with it and I’d take pain killers before the game and try to get through it, then there’d be times when it didn’t bother me at all,” he said.

“Even in warm ups, I’d be thinking ‘it’s going to be tough to make it through this game.’ Once the pain killers hit in, you can’t really feel anything anymore and then adrenalin hits in but, yeah, it’s tough. As a player you don’t want to stop and then lose your place, but you’ve also got to do what’s best for you and for the longevity of your career.

That’s not good, and both USMNT and Newcastle supporters will hope the injury was the reason behind his decline in form.

Yedlin’s stats dropped in each of his last two PL seasons. For a player whose blessed with blazing speed, a sports hernia is only going to dramatically affect performance.

He says he has been in touch with USMNT boss Gregg Berhalter.

“That’s been tough. I’ve had contact with the manager and they’re keeping updated on how I’m doing. This last international break was just a bit too soon but hopefully the next one, I’ll be ready for and hopefully I’ll have some minutes under my belt by that time, then really crack on from there.”

Conte’s Inter avoids UCL upset in stoppage time

Photo by Marco Luzzani - Inter/Inter via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Champions League nearly began with an upset, as Slavia Prague led Inter Milan 1-0 into stoppage time at the San Siro on Tuesday.

But a pair of Inter loanees produced a play to tie the score in the second minute of stoppage, as Stefano Sensi (Sassuolo) curled a free kick off the bar and Nicolo Barella (Cagliari) first timed the rebound through traffic and inside the far post.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Peter Olayinka started and finished the play for Slavia Prague’s second half opener. The scorer took the ball to the end line and cut back for Lukas Provod, whose shot was saved by Samir Handanovic.

But Olayinka followed the play and took advantage of the marker who slid to block his initial pass. On the doorstep at the back post, the Nigerian smashed the ball into the top of the goal.

The goal was deserved, and the score line represented the tightness of the contest. Inter barely out shot the Czech visitors and had just a little bit more of the ball.

Romelu Lukaku nearly thumped home a header in the sixth minute of stoppage, but Slavia keeper Ondrej Kolar made a fine save.

Here’s the equalizer: