Manchester United’s spending spree makes them Premier League title contenders

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Bastian Schweinsteiger. Morgan Schneiderlin. Memphis Depay. Matteo Darmian.

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Those four players have all joined Manchester United so far this summer and with their signings come legitimate expectations that the Red Devils can once again challenge for the Premier League title in the upcoming 2015-16 season.

Louis van Gaal has done his business early this summer, compared to last season where he relied on a late barrage on deadline day. All four new guys were on the plane to the United States of America on Monday ahead of the Red Devils’ preseason tour of the U.S. which kicks off this weekend in Seattle before shifting to California and Chicago.

[ MORE: Schweinsteiger signs | Schneiderlin arrives ]

Does this latest splurge on transfers mean United are now contenders to win the Premier League?

Let’s break it down.

How big are these signings?

Potentially massive. United’s central midfield has got a huge overhaul with Schweinsteiger’s vast experience and Schneiderlin’s energy set to complement each other perfectly. The Red Devils have also added Depay, a potentially prophetic attacking talent who has plenty of confidence in himself and if he hits the ground running, could become a key component. Italian international Darmian fills a desperate need with Rafael struggling at right back and his versatility gives LVG cover. Overall these four signings not only add depth but should all be starters when the season opener against Tottenham Hotspur (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) rolls around on Aug. 8.

[ MORE: Wenger praises United’s transfer deals ]

Manchester United Unveil New Signing Morgan Schneiderlin
United’s signing of four top-class players this summer has increased their chances of success in 2015-16.

What more do United need to turn into genuine title contenders?

Even though they have spent over $115 million on four players so far, they still need more investment. Another commanding central defender is key if success is to arrive in the PL and the UEFA Champions League. Valencia’s Nicolas Otamendi has been mentioned in dispatches but his transfer fee of over $50 million is putting United off.

Sergio Ramos is a long-term target and if any deal is reached with Real Madrid, it is likely to see David de Gea head in the opposite direction. More on that shortly. So, adding to the need for a center back is a center forward. Van Gaal will likely deploy a 4-2-3-1 formation so he may be fine with having Wayne Rooney, young James Wilson and potentially Depay in a central role, but rumors suggest Gonzalo Higuain could be a target to fill the spots left by the outgoing Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao. Higuain’s arrival would cost United another $100 million though. With Luke Shaw, Angel di Maria, Juan Mata, Chris Smalling, Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini all finding their feet towards the end of last season, they will also add to the feel-good factor among United’s fans as they believe challenging Chelsea and Manchester City for the title is a legitimate target. Even though Chelsea continue to add thrifty additions like Falcao and Asmir Begovic, while City have spent big on Raheem Sterling.

Will there be outgoings?

So, the outgoings. De Gea is the main man who could leave this summer. Even though the Spanish international goalkeeper has flown to the USA for United’s preseason tour, he only has one-year left on his current contract and Real Madrid are said to be interested after letting Iker Casillas leave. Watch this space. De Gea’s back-up Victor Valdes has been left off the squad for the U.S. tour and could be heading to Turkey, so if De Gea does go then Untied will have a serious problem in goal. Di Maria could be another big name departure, with Paris Saint-Germain boss Laurent Blanc admitting his interest in the Argentine winger. United are stacked with wide players (Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia, Adnan Januzaj, Depay, Andreas Perreria and Jesse Lingard) so they could let Di Maria go if they get a good bid from PSG. That way they could reinvest in a forward or a center back.

source:
Memphis Depay Welcome Press Conference at Manchester United

Pressure is on for LVG, but what would be a good season?

After spending $115 million so far during this transfer window and over $210 million last summer, van Gaal will be under a lot of pressure to improve on United’s fourth-place finish in the PL last season. Of course, they will have to juggle their league responsibility with extra games in Europe but with a stacked squad full of young talent trying to impress LVG and the experience of Schweinsteiger and Rooney gelling things together, a top-two finish isn’t out of the question. If the Glazer family, United’s American owners, give Chief Executive Ed Woodward more money to spend this summer then he and LVG will be under pressure to advance to the knockout stages of the UCL and at least finish inside the top two of the PL.

If they finish third, that’s fine, especially with Man City and Chelsea continuing to strengthen and Arsenal improving year-on-year. However, another struggle to finish fourth and failure in Europe would heap insurmountable pressure on van Gaal’s sturdy Dutch shoulders. With big money signings comes big responsibility but the fact they will all get the chance to gel into United’s team together during a full preseason in the U.S. will be hugely beneficial.

United’s costly resurgence is in full flow but fans expecting instant success may have to curb their enthusiasm until the strength of their opponents in the upcoming season becomes a lot clearer. That said, these additions vastly enhance their chances of success for next season and beyond.

La Liga roundup: Casemiro’s brace earns injury-riddled Real Madrid win (video)

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Casemiro’s heroic performance against Sevilla highlights La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Real Madrid 2-1 Sevilla

Real Madrid’s goalscoring hero on Saturday wasn’t Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard, or even Sergio Ramos.

With two crucial goals in the second half, Casemiro single-handedly earned three points at the Santiago Bernabeu, days removed from cathartic Spanish Super Cup win against arch rivals Atletico Madrid.

With Bale, Hazard, Ramos injured, Benzema on the bench far from match-fit, and Federico Valverde suspended, Los Blancos were in dire need of someone to lead the way, and place pressure on struggling co-leaders Barcelona, who are now under Quique Setien’s tutelage.

By the time the first 45 minutes came to a close, the overall impression was that it would take a miracle for the home side to earn much-needed three points.

That all quickly changed in the second half as the Brazilian midfielder chipped Tomas Vaclik after a picture-perfect backheel from Luka Jovic. Madrid were edging Julen Lopetegui’s side, and Casemiro foreshadowed what was to come.

With the score level, the Brazilian leaped inside the box and headed home a lofting ball from the right flank, catching Sevilla’s defense completely off guard.

Casemiro’s brace came just five minutes after Luuk De Jong‘s left-footed goal in the 64th minute.

League leaders with 43 points, Madrid prepares for their Copa del Rey bout against third-division side Unionistas midweek. Sevilla, on the other hand, host Levante in the same tournament.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Eibar 2-0 Atletico Madrid

Osasuna 0-0 Real Valladolid

Levante 0-1 Alaves

16-year-old Cherki scores 2 as Lyon advances in French Cup

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PARIS (AP) Two goals and two assists from 16-year-old forward Rayan Cherki helped Lyon win 4-3 at Nantes and reach the last 16 of the French Cup on Saturday.

But the run of Reunion Islanders JS Saint-Pierroise ended with a 1-0 loss away to Epinal, which scored deep into extra time.

Cherki put Lyon ahead in the first minute, deftly rounding goalkeeper Alban Lafont and then clipping the ball beyond a defender. He made it 2-0 in the ninth, slotting the ball through Lafont’s legs after being set up by right winger Bertrand Traore.

New signing Renaud Emond headed in Moses Simon’s cross from the left to pull a goal back for Nantes in the 16th. Cherki then showed great awareness to release forward Martin Terrier with a fine pass from midfield in the 37th for 3-1.

Cherki shaved the crossbar with a shot in the 60th and won a penalty in the 67th after robbing the ball off Thomas Basila. He generously allowed striker Moussa Dembele to take it, but Lafont saved Dembele’s attempt.

Two minuter later, Cherki threaded the ball down the right to Dembele, who slotted in, and the irrepressible Cherki set up another chance for Terrier.

Lyon’s defense remains vulnerable and Simon set up Imran Louza’s goal before heading in late on to ensure a tense finish.

Saint-Pierroise had caused an upset in the previous round by knocking out second-division Niort and the players again traveled 6,000 miles (around 9,700 kilometers) from the small island in the Indian Ocean, located off the east coast of Africa.

Saint-Pierroise, the former club of France midfielder Dimitri Payet, was looking to become the first club from the Reunion Islands to reach the last 16 and almost forced a penalty shootout, despite having forward Jean-Michel Fontaine sent off in the 15th minute.

But substitute Adel Berkane rifled home a half-volley for fourth-tier Epinal with two minutes left in extra time.

Also, there were wins for first-division sides Nice, Lille, Saint-Etienne and Strasbourg.

Lille won 2-0 at fifth-division Gonfreville thanks to goals from forwards Loic Remy and Victor Osimhen, while coach Patrick Vieira’s Nice side held on to beat third-tier Red Star 2-1.

Saint-Etienne won 3-2 at Paris FC, a team fighting relegation in the second division.

Paris FC led 2-1 with goals from former Paris Saint-Germain forward Jeremy Menez and ex-Rennes winger Jonathan Pitroipa. Teen forward Charles Abi equalized for Saint-Etienne with 20 minutes left before veteran right back Mathieu Debuchy netted the winner.

Strasbourg won 5-1 at fourth-tier Angouleme.

On Sunday, Rennes plays at fifth-tier Athletico Marseille and PSG travels to face second division league leader Lorient.

Rennes beats PSG in last year’s final.

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

‘I’m very happy for this’: Jimenez becomes Wolves all-time leading PL goalscorer

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Raul Jimenez has carved his name in Wolverhampton Wanderers’ history books.

“I want to say thank you to all my teammates, to the staff, to the coach, because without all of them, I can’t achieve this goal,” Jimenez said following Wolves’ come-from-behind 3-2 victory against Southampton on Saturday.

Just minutes earlier, in front of a fervent stand of Wolves supporters at St. Mary’s Stadium, Jimenez scored his 23rd Premier League goal for Midlands side, becoming the club’s all-time leading scorer in the Premier League era. The Mexican surpasses Steven Fletcher‘s record of 22 goals, which stood since 2012.

“I’m very happy for this, and I want to keep scoring,” he added.

With Wolves disputing Europa League qualifying matches in August, the 28-year-old began to build early on what is now a monstrous campaign – 19 goals and 9 assist in throughout all competitions. Half a year down the road, there are no signs of Jimenez’s magic running out. In fact, his brace against the Saints is clearest indicator of why that’s the case.

With his divine hold up play, well-calculated pressing and hunger for redemption, Jimenez emotionally inspired Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side comeback. And in the 65th minute, his trademark penalty overturned a two-goal deficit, turning emotional to physical inspiration.

“[Coming back] was very important for us after a very bad first half,” he told Wolves reporters following the match.

Jimenez was full of praise for his team’s collective grit. He lauded his team’s “fantastic” second half – full of pressing and chances created. The tactic alterations implemented by Nuno Espirito Santo influenced Adama Traore’s run that led to Jimenez’s third and winning goal.

“In the end, we know that it depends on us – what we want to do, what we want to achieve. So, we need to keep going until the last minute. Keep trying to score, keep going with our football that makes us Wolves.”

We now know that Jimenez is Wolves’ all-time Premier League goalscorer, too.

Lampard calls for Chelsea to finish chances: ‘We know where we need to strengthen’

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Chelsea’s dramatic last-gasp loss to Newcastle United was, in a way, a blessing in disguise for Frank Lampard and company.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The Blues conceded their first first loss since Boxing Day, dropping crucial points in the league’s top-four race. With plenty of chances to score at hand, the visit to St. James’ Park is one of sheer frustration.

But at the same time, the London side learned an invaluable lesson: Chelsea are in dire need of a new striker before the January transfer window comes to a close. Chelsea registered 19 shots (4 on target) on Saturday but squandered most, while Newcastle’s netminder Martin Dúbravka did his job and saved a few.

“We know we have problems at the top of the pitch in terms of we don’t get enough goals,” Lampard said following his team’s 1-0 loss, via the BBC.
“If you don’t score you are always liable for a sucker punch and they got it.”

“If we are looking for people to bring in to the areas to win games when you are controlling it, it is scoring goals.”

From RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner to Lyon’s Moussa Dembele, Chelsea has been linked to a striker all winter long. With Olivier Giroud a signature away from sealing a move to Inter Milan, a replacement is necessary.

Sure, Tammy Abraham‘s return to Stamford Bridge is an outright success – 13 goals and two assists in 22 league appearances – but rotation is visibly needed. Michy Batshuayi replaced Abraham, but failed to show any promising signs. The 26-year-old has scored just once in 13 matches this season.

“We can’t work anymore in training on finishing,” the 41-year-old manager added. “You need to have that killer instinct in front of goal. We need to score more goals from front-line areas if we are going to get to where we want to be.”

Lampard gave no indicator that his side are on the brink of landing a new goalscorer up top. With the transfer window open for just 13 days, however, Chelsea are going to have to get intentional on their search.

“It’s quite clear from what I am saying now that we know where we need to strengthen but we shall see.”