Manchester United — Are they Premier League title contenders in 2015-16?

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As the 2015-16 Premier League season gets ready to spread its wings this weekend, Pro Soccer Talk is getting you ready with a week full of projections, lists, news and views.

It has been exactly 836 days since Manchester United last lifted the Premier League trophy. For the non-mathletes among us, that means two PL seasons.

[ MORE: Season previews of all 20 PL teams

While that doesn’t sound all that long to someone who doesn’t support the Red Devils, that’s practically an eternity in Man United years.

Thus, the spectacularly expensive rebuild under the new direction of Louis van Gaal ($356 million spent in his two summer transfer windows in charge) has been universally welcomed by the Old Trafford faithful. But to what effect has the Dutchman overhauled an aging, stagnant squad and turned them into Premier League title contenders?

Van Gaal’s first transfer window, in the summer of 2014, could be described, largely, as a flop. He splashed out $99 million for Angel di Maria, who scored just three league goals last season and left the club for Paris Saint-Germain a year later, for a fee of $68 million — not only was Di Maria largely a flop while at Man United, he cost the club a loss of $30 million in just 12 months.

Van Gaal’s other big buys — Ander Herrera ($48 million), Luke Shaw ($45 million), Marcos Rojo ($27 million) and Daley Blind ($24 million) — all proved to be varying levels of “meh” in their first seasons at Old Trafford, as well.

[ RELATED: Petr Cech’s Arsenal arrival — the final piece for a real PL title challenge? ]

source:
Morgan Schneiderlin, Bastian Schweinsteiger & Matteo Darmian

United’s signings in the summer of 2015 look to be less “this player is available, so we should sign him” (Di Maria) and more “this player fits a very specific need of ours, and he’s really good, so we should sign him.” That goes for all four of Van Gaal’s latest recruits — Memphis Depay ($48 million), Morgan Schneiderlin ($39 million), Bastian Schweinsteiger ($22 million) and Matteo Darmian ($20 million).

The problem with United’s title chances in 2015-16 is as follows: As outlined in yesterday’s piece regarding Arsenal’s title hopes, of the last 13 Premier League champions, all 13 possessed either one of, or both, the league’s top defense or attack, measured by goals conceded and goals scored.

United finished the 2014-15 season the fourth-best in both categories — five more goals conceded than Chelsea’s 32, and a whopping 19 fewer goals scored than second-place Manchester City. While that seems a daunting enough task in itself, there’s also a matter of the gap in points won — 17 — from last year’s winners, Chelsea, to United in fourth.

[ MORE: Predicting the final league standings — Who wins? CL places? Relegation? ]

While the Blues have largely stood pat this summer — the signing of now-former Man United striker Radamel Falcao being the lone exception — have United done enough to close a gap that vast? The simple answer is, “Probably not,” but then I begin to think deeper and wonder, “If not United, then who will challenge Chelsea for the title?”

source:
Memphis Depay & Louis van Gaal, Manchester United FC

The midfield is lightyears ahead of where it was last season — the trio of Scheiderlin, Schweinsteiger and Michael Carrick will form perhaps the best two- and/or three-man midfield in the league — while Memphis, a winger/center forward hybrid, seems a much better fit than his departed predecessor when ask to play on the left and combine with Wayne Rooney. Depth is now an issue, though, with Robin van Persie departing and all signs pointing toward Javier Hernandez doing the same.

Then there’s the defense, which despite solidifying the right back spot with Darmian, still has a ways to go at left back (Shaw) and looks all but set on beginning the season with some combination of Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Daley Blind at center back.

In brief summation, Man United’s 2015-16 title hopes: 3/10. Other non-Chelsea sides’ title hopes: 2/10.

Southgate, England players sound off on racist abuse

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England took care of business in Monday’s 6-0 thrashing of Bulgaria, but the Three Lions had to endure some horrendous racist abuse from the crowd during the game.

The match was paused on two occasions I’m the first half by the match officials after racist chanting could be heard from a section of supporters, and a large group of Bulgarian fans were ejected towards the end of the half. However, racist abuse continued during the match from small pockets of fans in the stadium.

[READ: England v. Bulgaria delayed after racist abuse from stands]

“I have to say that the officials were on to everything very quickly,” England manager Gareth Southgate told ITV after the match. “We reported everything immediately when we heard things, we had constant communication with the fourth official and the referee. I was in contact with the players, all the way through the first half in particular, and then again at halftime.

”We know it’s an unacceptable situation, and I think we’ve managed to make two statements. By winning the game, but also we’re raised the awareness of everybody to the situation. The game was stopped twice, I know for some people that won’t be enough, but we as a group were on board with that process.”

Raheem Sterling, who scored a brace in the win, also sounded off on social media, as did former England and Arsenal star Ian Wright.

Ultimately, UEFA and the match officials followed the protocol, but the sad part about this is that England and the officials had a plan for racist abuse, and it was predictable that it would happen.

In a statement after the game, the FA confirmed they would be asking UEFA to investigate what happened. However, any punishment is too little, too late for the players who endured the abuse.

Kane, Sterling star as England rout Bulgaria

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On a night where racist abuse from the stands in Bulgaria marred the overall spectacle, England’s players produced an incredible result and spectacle for the visiting fans, with all things considered.

Harry Kane scored once and assisted on three others as England rolled over Bulgaria, winning 6-0 on Monday evening in the Vasil Levski Stadium in Sofia, Bulgaria. Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley both scored a brace for the Three Lions and Marcus Rashford’s thunderbolt from a tight angle gave England the opening goal it needed.

The blowout result was the perfect response after England had suffered its first loss in qualifying for a decade, losing on Friday, 2-1 at the Czech Republic. The six goals England put past Bulgaria was also the fourth time out of six games that England had scored at least five goals in a match. The only other time, aside from the defeat, was a 4-0 win last month at Wembley Stadium over Bulgaria.

This story will be updated.

 

Racist abuse delays England v. Bulgaria qualifier

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England raced out to an impressive 4-0 lead at Bulgaria by halftime, but the wonderful attacking display was marred by horrendous incidents from the crowd.

The match in the Vasil Levski Stadium in Sofia, Bulgaria was stopped on two occasions with announcements being made to ask sections of the crowd to stop their abusive language. This comes with the stadium already serving a partial stadium closure due to racist chanting from the crowd in previous qualifiers.

Below is UEFA’s protocol on how to intervene in these situations, and what transpired from lead writer Joe Prince-Wright.

Tottenham re-signs goalkeeper Vorm

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With Hugo Lloris set to miss at least another two months of action with a broken elbow, Tottenham has turned to a familiar face to provide some cover between the pipes.

Tottenham announced Monday it had re-signed goalkeeper Michel Vorm to a contract through the end of the 2019-2020 Premier League season. Vorm spent five seasons with Tottenham after signing from Swansea City in 2014. However, after playing second-fiddle to Lloris and later serving as the third backup behind current Tottenham No. 2, Paulo Gazzaniga for the past couple of seasons, Vorm was released at the end of last season.

Its certainly a boost for Tottenham that a player with a long history at the club and plenty of experience was available to help in this situation. Similar to Liverpool picking up Adrian after Alisson Becker’s injury, Tottenham know what it’s getting in Vorm and may play him a few times if Gazzaniga needs a night off in the next few months.

According to Vorm, he had been home in his native Netherlands and was watching the game when he saw Lloris get injured.

“Obviously I saw straight away that he had a bad injury and at the time I thought about how bad it was, Vorm told Tottenham’s website. “After the game I spoke with Jan (Vertonghen), he told me what was going on and I spoke also with Toni (Jimenez, our goalkeeping coach) and, yes, during the week I got the phone call to ask if I was open to come back and help out. I’ve kept in contact with a lot of the players and also with Toni. We were speaking quite regularly and on Thursday he called me, we had the conversation and from there on, it went very quickly.”

In his five seasons with Tottenham, Vorm made a total of 47 appearances in all competitions. He saw plenty of time in the League Cup, FA Cup, UEFA Europa League and Champions League during his stay at White Hart Lane.