An apology to Manchester United, from a (former) doubter


I feel the need to get this off my chest, to release some inner guilt, to come clean. I need to admit the error of my ways, and profess how horribly inaccurate I have been.

I doubted Manchester United this season, and I couldn’t have been more wrong.

With the Red Devils’ 4-2 dismantling of bitter rivals Manchester City at Old Trafford over the weekend, Louis van Gaal has inexplicably and triumphantly lifted his squad to third place in the table, one point behind Arsenal for second. Before I issue my full-scale apology, let’s take a closer look at how truly miraculous that is.

I wrote this article on February 9th, the basis for which I will be apologizing. The day before, Manchester United had just drawn with West Ham, salvaging a point on a Daley Blind added-time goal. United had lost just one single Premier League game between November 8 and that day, a stellar record, but many now-grumbling pundits and writers (like, for example, this idiot writing to you now) were rambling on about how the team’s stellar record did not reflect their performances, and because of that, the team was due to fall off the cliff eventually.

For example, take a closer look at their 2-0 win over Queens Park Raisins Rangers on January 17. That seems like a more than acceptable result against a floundering team. Except the performance kind of wasn’t.

They looked all out of sorts in the midfield, finishing with a not-so-stellar 77% pass completion rate. United went ahead in the 58th minute on a detestable bit of defending leading to Marouane Fellaini burying a rocket, and they managed to hold off QPR long enough to score a stoppage-time goal to put things away.

That opening goal was a tipping point. It served to sink Old Trafford into a month of long-ball hell that had the supporters grasping for any bit of exciting play, but also that produced surprising results. Fellaini had come on for the final 18 minutes in a 1-0 loss to Southampton the week before, and managed to change the game heavily in his team’s favor, despite ultimately coming up short. Van Gaal then decided to employ the towering Belgian in a much more aggressive midfield pivot role, and the team has exploded.

But it’s not just Fellaini. More on that in a moment. First, I owe the Manchester United supporters an apology. In that aforementioned article, I put forth a futile attempt to predict the eventual top four. Read it and weep:

The Pretenders:
Manchester United – Sorry, Red Devil fans. This year is not the year. Louis van Gaal has brought a positive influence to Old Trafford after a disastrous season, but the roster is just not good enough. It’s fantastic that the Dutch boss has steered the club into the top four at this current time – especially given the insane amount of injuries – but the margin of error is too thin for performances like they had against West Ham on Sunday. Players like Angel Di Maria, Wayne Rooney, and David De Gea are the type you build a squad around, but those around them – mainly in the back line – are not of Champions League quality, and the overhaul continues into the coming summer. Much like when a team is relegated, the road back to the Champions League after a miss is a long, arduous one, and it would appear this year there are too many holes for van Gaal to plug, and their frailty will be their downfall. Also, consider these remaining fixtures from March and May still to navigate: vs Tottenham, at Liverpool, vs. Manchester City, at Chelsea, at Everton, vs. Arsenal.

Who wrote that rubbish? Oh, right. Those fixtures I mentioned? They beat Spurs 3-0. They beat Liverpool 2-1. They beat Manchester City 4-2. The other three are still left to play, but it appears they won’t even matter, as a Champions League spot is all but locked up.

That thin back line I pointed to? Chris Smalling has played in six matches since I penned that nonsense, racking up 535 minutes. In those six games, Manchester United conceded four goals, winning all six matches, three of them on a clean sheet. Oh, and he scored in the Manchester derby.

That world-class player Angel Di Maria I pointed to? Since the West Ham draw, the Argentinian’s playing time has disappeared thanks to the emergence of Ashley Young. To me, this, of all the inexplicable things I’ve just outlined, is the most shocking. Since returning to the starting lineup from a hamstring injury on February 28, Young has started every game. Manchester United began a still-intact six-game winning streak that day. He’s produced things like this absolutely delicious cross in big moments. His suddenly stellar play has caused many to speculate how exactly the England international became so randomly prolific. I think he somehow switched bodies with Di Maria, Freaky Friday style. That’s not the only theory:

More realistically, van Gaal’s tinkering and toying earlier in the season has paid off, and he’s finally figured out how to get the best out of his players. It’s an astonishing feat, considering some of the players he has are habitual underperformers (i.e. Smalling’s moronic double yellow against Manchester City earlier in the season). Others, like Fellaini and Wayne Rooney, are the subject of heated debates about how best to utilize their talents. The sample size is still small, and we shouldn’t overreact just yet. But phase one of the Manchester United rebuild seems to be complete, and Van Gaal needed just one season. The Champions League, the true test, awaits.

But I will say this: Manchester United fans, I am sorry I doubted your team. I am sorry I doubted your manager. I sure as hell am not the only one, but I absolutely was wrong. Congratulations on European play next season.

EURO 2024 qualification schedule: EURO qualifiers results, standings


EURO 2024 qualifying is here, and you’re in the right spot for groups, fixtures, and results.

Italy outlasted England in penalty kicks to win EURO 2020 and is bidding to become the first repeat winner since Spain in 2008 and 2012.

[ MORE: Breaking down Premier League title race ]

England is still seeking its first European Championship and will be favored to emerge from Group C with aforementioned Italy as well as Ukraine, North Macedonia, and Malta.

Netherlands and France are also in a spicy group that has dark horse Republic of Ireland and former champions Greece, as well as Gibraltar.

A number of nations have guaranteed themselves no worse than a playoff spot due to their performances in the UEFA Nations League: Netherlands, Greece, Italy, Spain, Scotland, Georgia, Croatia, Turkey, Serbia, Kazakhstan.

EURO 2024 qualifying schedule

Thursday, March 23

Kazakhstan vs Slovenia — 11am ET
Slovakia vs Luxembourg — 3:45pm ET
Italy vs England — 3:45pm ET
Denmark vs Finland — 3:45pm ET
Portugal vs Liechtenstein — 3:45pm ET
San Marino vs Northern Ireland — 3:45pm ET
North Macedonia vs Malta — 3:45pm ET
Bosnia and Herzegovina vs Iceland — 3:45pm ET

Friday, March 24

Bulgaria vs Montenegro — 1pm ET
Gibraltar vs Greece — 3:45pm ET
Moldova vs Faroe Islands — 3:45pm ET
Serbia vs Lithuania — 3:45pm ET
Austria vs Azerbaijan — 3:45pm ET
Sweden vs Belgium– 3:45pm ET
Czech Republic vs Poland — 3:45pm ET
France vs Netherlands — 3:45pm ET

Saturday, March 25

Scotland vs Cyprus — 10am ET
Israel vs Kosovo  — 1pm ET
Armenia vs Turkey — 1pm ET
Belarus vs Switzerland  — 1pm ET
Spain vs Norway — 3:45pm ET
Croatia vs Wales — 3:45pm ET
Andorra vs Romania — 3:45pm ET

Sunday, March 26

Kazakhstan vs Denmark — 9am ET
England vs Ukraine — Noon ET
Liechtenstein vs Iceland — Noon ET
Slovenia vs San Marino — Noon ET
Slovakia vs Bosnia and Herzegovina — 2:45pm ET
Northern Ireland vs Finland — 2:45pm ET
Luxembourg vs Portugal — 2:45pm ET
Malta vs Italy — 2:45pm ET

Monday, March 27

Montenegro vs Serbia — 2:45pm ET
Netherlands vs Gibraltar — 2:45pm ET
Poland vs Albania — 2:45pm ET
Austria vs Estonia — 2:45pm ET
Sweden vs Azerbaijan — 2:45pm ET
Moldova vs Czech Republic — 2:45pm ET
Hungary vs Bulgaria — 2:45pm ET
Republic of Ireland vs France — 2:45pm ET

Tuesday, March 28

Georgia vs Norway — Noon ET
Wales vs Latvia — 2:45pm ET
Romania vs Belarus — 2:45pm ET
Switzerland vs Israel — 2:45pm ET
Kosovo vs Andorra — 2:45pm ET
Turkey vs Croatia — 2:45pm ET
Scotland vs Spain — 2:45pm ET

EURO 2024 qualifying standings

Group A


Group B

Republic of Ireland

Group C

North Macedonia

Group D


Group E

Czech Republic
Faroe Islands

Group F


Group G


Group H

Northern Ireland
San Marino

Group I


Group J

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Mesut Ozil retires at 34; World Cup winner won four FA Cups with Arsenal


Enigmatic and undeniably gifted, World Cup winner Mesut Ozil has called time on his playing career at age 34.

Ozil joined Istanbul Basaksehir last summer but appeared just seven times for the first team, totallling 142 minutes due to continued back troubles.

[ MORE: Breaking down Premier League title race ]

The 92-times capped German international is best known for his time at Arsenal and Real Madrid but came through the youth ranks at Schalke before breaking onto the international stage with Werder Bremen.

Ozil registered 54 assists across three La Liga seasons with Real Madrid, and came within one assist of Thierry Henry’s Premier League record when he set up 19 goals in the 2015-16 season.

He finished his Arsenal career with 44 goals and 79 assists in 254 appearances.

Here’s part of his announcement, from Instagram:

“I’ve had the privilege to be a professional football player for almost 17 years now and I feel incredibly thankful for the opportunity but in recent weeks and months, having also suffered some injuries, it’s become more and more clear that it’s time to leave the big stage of football.”

Ozil won the 2014 World Cup with Germany and scored in the 2010 and 2014 editions of football’s top international showcase. He claimed four FA Cups with Arsenal, the German Cup with Werder Bremen, and Copa del Rey and La Liga honors with Real.

Outspoken on social issues, Ozil was the subject of some controversy over statements denouncing Chinese internment camps and the treatment of Uyghurs in the country.


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A post shared by Mesut Özil (@m10_official)

Premier League top scorers: Who is leading Golden Boot race?


Harry Kane scored twice on Saturday to give him 20 goals on the Premier League season, and impressive figure with 10-plus matches left for the teams of the Premier League this season.

Then Erling Haaland converted a penalty at Crystal Palace to give him 28 on the season, reminding the country that the Golden Boot race remains in fait accompli territory.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ] 

There is something somewhat dull about knowing the identity of the 2022 Golden Boot winner, the lone curiosity being the final number of his final tally, we get it, but most of what Haaland is doing this season is simply marvelous and to be admired without much fear.

Haaland’s Premier League-leading 28 goals have him seven goals clear of the next closest challenger: Tottenham’s fantastic and firing Harry Kane.

The Norwegian star piled up 20 goals in a single Premier League season faster than any player in history… by seven games (Kevin Phillips of Sunderland did it in 21). Now he’s within five goals of equalling Kevin Phillips’ record for most goals in a debut Premier League season.

And the later this season goes with him projected so far over the current record, the less chucking is accompanied by marking out the pace (especially considering Haaland was not beaten up by the World Cup, as Norway was not in the tournament). And even though Haaland is currently overperforming his expected goals total, it’s clear that projecting him for the Premier League record is rather realistic.

Which records can Haaland break?

Haaland may not be likely to hit 50 goals given the schedule congestion to come for Man City, but the Premier League record is very well under assault and that figure isn’t entirely absurd. He’s played in 23 of Man City’s 24 games, scoring 26 goals.

Mohamed Salah holds the 38-game season record with his 32 goals scored for Liverpool during the 2017-18 season, while Newcastle’s Andy Cole and Blackburn’s Alan Shearer bagged 34 during 42-game seasons in the 20th century’s final decade.

Haaland also could topple the record for goal involvements (goals plus assists) in a single season, including beating the 42-game record. Alan Shearer put up 47 over 42, while Thierry Henry holds the 38-game record with 44.

Other records that Haaland could legitimately tie or topple:

  • 30 goals in a first Premier League season (Kevin Phillips, Sunderland, 1999-2000)
  • Goals in 24 different Premier League matches (Salah, Liverpool, 2017-18)
  • Most goals in a Premier League match (Five tied with five)
  • 11-straight Premier League games with a goal (Jamie Vardy, Leicester, 2014-15)

Read on to see the latest Premier League goal totals for the 2022-23 season, as Haaland looks to claim a Golden Boot in his first PL season.

Premier League 2022-23 Golden Boot race

    1. Erling Haaland, Man City — 28
    2. Harry Kane, Tottenham — 21
    3. Ivan Toney, Brentford — 16
    4. Marcus Rashford, Manchester United — 14
    5. Gabriel Martinelli, Arsenal — 13
    6. Bukayo Saka, Arsenal — 12
    7. Miguel Almiron, Newcastle — 11
    8. Aleksandar Mitrovic, Fulham — 11
    9. Mohamed Salah, Liverpool — 11
    10. Rodrigo, Leeds United — 11
    11. Martin Odegaard, Arsenal — 10
    12. James Maddison, Leicester City — 9
    13. Phil Foden, Man City — 9
    14. Ollie Watkins, Aston Villa — 9
    15. Harvey Barnes, Leicester City — 9
    16. Leandro Trossard — Brighton/Arsenal — 8
    17. Danny Ings, Aston Villa/West Ham — 8
    18. Darwin Nunez, Liverpool — 8
    19. Roberto Firmino, Liverpool — 8
    20. Callum Wilson, Newcastle — 7
    21. Brennan Johnson, Nottingham Forest — 7
    22. Alexis Mac Allister, Brighton — 7
    23. James Ward-Prowse, Southampton — 7
    24. Kai Havertz, Chelsea — 7
    25. Solly March, Brighton — 7
    26. Wilfried Zaha, Crystal Palace — 6
    27. Pascal Gross, Brighton — 6
    28. Kaoru Mitoma, Brighton — 6
    29. Heung-min Son, Tottenham — 6
    30. Phillip Billing, Bournemouth — 6
    31. Alexander Isak, Newcastle — 6

Premier League table, 2022-23 season

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If it’s the 2022-23 Premier League table you’re after, you’ve come to the right place.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]

After the break for the 2022 World Cup, the Premier League returned with a bang and the start to 2023 has delivered plenty of fun.

Now we are approaching the final few months of the campaign, it is so tight up and down the Premier League table.

Who’s looking like title contenders and/or favorites?

As we head into the final months of the 2022-23 season, Arsenal and Manchester City are looking head and shoulders above the rest and although Manchester United briefly surged into the picture, they look more likely to cement their spot as the third best team in the Premier League.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The Gunners will have their hands full for the duration of their title challenge, as Erling Haaland continues to take the Premier League by storm with an almost impossible goal-scoring record.

What about the top four and European places?

Uneven Tottenham are hanging in the top four battle and for the moment have hunted down Newcastle, while Liverpool is back in the Champions League picture after their return to form and Chelsea looks like a top six finish is their ceiling. For now.

Surprising Fulham, Brentford, and Brighton are all hanging around on the periphery with fine campaigns. Can one of them surprise and qualify for Europe?

Who are the candidates for relegation?

Southampton, West Ham, and Bournemouth currently occupy the relegation places but that keeps changing all the time and it is so tight at the bottom of the table.

Nottingham Forest, Leicester City, Wolves, Leeds, Everton and Crystal Palace all find themselves within a few points of the bottom three as the race to stay in the Premier League intensifies. This could be the craziest relegation scrap in Premier League history.

Below you will find the latest Premier League table.

Premier League table – March 19

Premier League standings

NBC Sports’ standings and scoreboard

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