Premier League Playback: How can Manchester United get best out of Wayne Rooney?

3 Comments

ROONEY DILEMMA CONTINUES

Wayne Rooney has scored just four times in his last 22 appearances for Manchester United in the Premier League.

[ WATCH: Stream every PL game via Live Extra

He is their captain, talisman and should be their biggest goal threat. However, Rooney has come under plenty of criticism in the opening three weekends of the new PL season and after hitting back at critics last week, he put in another lackluster display against Newcastle United during his team’s 0-0 draw at Old Trafford on Saturday.

The big question remains: how can Louis van Gaal get the best out of Rooney?

As the stat above suggests, Rooney has been out of form in front of goal for a while and it seems to be playing on his mind. When he scored for United after five minutes against Newcastle but was flagged offside, despite replays proving he was level with the last defender when the ball was played, that summed up the way things have been going for him. You could argue that he is putting the team first and doing whatever he can to make sure they win, over personal glory, but after spending spells in midfield last season and then up top in the lone forward role this year, Rooney looks a shadow of his former self. Knowing him, the 29-year-old will come back and score a hat trick in United’s next PL game against Swansea on Sunday, as he always seems to answer his critics during a rough spell. But there is perhaps a simple answer as to how Rooney can snap out of this funk.

He is, and always has been, a maverick. A player who cannot be shackled down in one position and prefers to float around and help knit the attack and midfield together. Rooney’s best trait is finding space in and around the box and driving at defenders. Under van Gaal’s strict formations and belief in a team-first ethic, Rooney has struggled to find those gaps and especially when playing as the lone forward, he does not have license to drop deep and get involved but has to stay high and can be marked easily.

[ MORE: Standings | schedule | stats ] 

You could argue that Memphis Depay, Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj have yet to deliver chances for Rooney to finish, but I’d argue that Rooney is being played out of position. True, there was a huge outcry of disbelief when Rooney was played in central midfield by van Gaal last season, but playing him in-between midfield and attack is the perfect position. If you look at his best season’s for United, he has played as a second-striker behind the likes of Robin van Persie, Ruud van Nistelrooy and even Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez. He has also been in tandem with Cristiano Ronaldo, and the point I’m trying to make is that he’s always had a partner in crime. He doesn’t have that at United anymore. Not yet, anyway.

Premier League Schedule – Week 3

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 0-0 Liverpool Recap and watch here
C. Palace 2-1 Aston Villa Recap and watch here
Everton 0-2 Man City Recap and watch here
Leicester 1-1 Tottenham Recap and watch here
Man United 0-0 N’castle Recap and watch here
Norwich 1-1 Stoke City Recap and watch here
Sunderland 1-1 Swansea Recap and watch here
Watford 0-0 Saints Recap and watch here
West Brom 2-3 Chelsea Recap and watch here
West Ham 3-4 B’mouth Recap and watch here

Van Gaal should sacrifice one of Depay, Januzaj or Mata and play Rooney as the central attacking midfielder in his 4-2-3-1 formation. Starting either Depay or Hernandez up top for Rooney to run off and link up with could help him snap out of his funk. At the very least it may open up space for others to score, as United have looked solid at the back with three clean sheets from their opening three games, but Januzaj’s deflected effort against Aston Villa is the only goal they have scored on their own as Kyle Walker’s own goal on the opening day handed them the win over Tottenham.

For spells against Newcastle they looked better going forward, but Rooney was snatching at shots and struggled before being subbed out in the second half. United look a lot better defensively this season, but if they want to challenge for the title, they must figure out how to get the best out of their star man.

GRITTY CHELSEA REIGNITED BY PEDRO

Overcoming adversity is a major trait of a championship winning team and on Sunday’s showing, Chelsea will be right up there once again to defend their title.

[ NBC SportsWorld: A longform piece with Thibaut Courtois ]

Thibaut Courtois saved James Morrison’s first half penalty kick when it was 0-0, then the Blues raced into a 3-1 lead at half time thanks to the arrival of their new Spanish winger. Pedro Rodriguez, 28, stunned everyone by picking Chelsea over Manchester United at the last minute and the former Barcelona star scored the opener and set up Diego Costa for the second to slot right into life in the PL. His $34 million arrival at Stamford Bridge seemed to give Chelsea’s players a lift, especially going forward in the first half. For Cesar Azpilicueta’s goal, the left back scored Chelsea’s third, look at the stat below on the passing movement which set him up. That’s more like the Chelsea we saw early last season.

Sometimes it only takes one player to reignite an offense, and Pedro’s arrival could well get the best out of Costa, Eden Hazard and even Cesc Fabregas, as an attacking unit. Chelsea actually started more Spanish internationals (Costa, Fabregas, Azpilicueta, Pedro) than Real Madrid last weekend and that familiarity with his national team teammates could help Pedro slot in seamlessly this season. With John Terry getting sent off in the second half and Chelsea conceding soon after to make it 3-2, they had to hang on with 10-men for over 30 minutes. But they did, and Jose Mourinho’s side showed they could fight back after extreme criticism to grab their first win of the season after a difficult last 10 days on and off the pitch.

DRAMATIC DRAWS AND WATER BREAKS

It was a weekend full of tense, tight action in the PL as six draws took place in the 10 games. On Saturday sweltering temperatures in England (that’s 86 degrees) saw water breaks take place in most PL games. This was met by much derision from fans, especially in the United States of America, but in fairness the recorded temps were over 85 degrees in the shade in most places and with the sun beating down and huge stadiums packed, the actual temperatures had to be closer to 100 Fahrenheit. Still, this guy wasn’t impressed…

Drinks breaks in both halves of the Saturday games not only helped the players to cool down but also set up dramatic finishes, with Leicester first conceding to Spurs in the 80th minute (19-year-old Dele Alli scored his first-ever PL goal) but then Riyad Mahrez scored a screamer a minute later to tie it up and keep the Foxes unbeaten. Other draws caught the eye with Sunderland pegging back Swansea in the second half at the Stadium of Light — Jermain Defoe canceled out Bafetimbi Gomis’ strike in eerily similar fashion — while Norwich fought back to tie Stoke at home. But the result of the day on Saturday was Bournemouth’s sensational 4-3 win away at West Ham United, their first victory, points and goals in the PL.

[ MORE: Latest transfer news

Callum Wilson scored a hat trick for the Cherries who raced into a 2-0 lead but were pegged back to 2-2 just after half time. Bournemouth then raced into a 4-2 lead and the Hammers had Carl Jenkinson sent off, but despite conceding another late on, Eddie Howe’s side celebrated at the final whistle in the “blistering” heat in London.

As an Englishman who lives in London, I can tell you 86 degrees and sunshine is very, very rare, plus very, very hot for anybody who is used to the weather in England. Honestly.

USMNT UPDATE: BAD WEEKEND FOR AMERICANS ABROAD

It was not the best weekend for the Americans Abroad as only one player avoided defeat. Geoff Cameron played the full 90 minutes at center back for Stoke City for the third-straight game but the Potters gave up an early lead to draw at Norwich City, 1-1. The two USMNT goalkeepers in action both tasted defeat, with Tim Howard’s Everton losing 2-0 at home to Manchester City and Brad Guzan’s Aston Villa losing 2-1 at Crystal Palace.

Howard will be disappointed at Aleksandar Kolarov firing home from a tight angle at his near post for City’s first, but he could do nothing about Samir Nasri’s delicate chip for the second and made some great stops to deny the Citizens on multiple occasions. As for Guzan, he got close to keeping out Bakary Sako’s curler but Villa has now lost two-straight since winning on the opening day.

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

Champions League, Europa League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions

Champions League odds
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The UEFA Champions League and Europa League action has resumed and I’m going to reveal my predictions for this next round as well as the latest odds for Europe’s top two continental tournaments.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

With Manchester City still in the Champions League and Manchester United and Wolves among the favorites to win the Europa League, there is a lot on the line for Premier League clubs in the coming weeks.

Just because the Premier League season is over, that doesn’t mean the action is over. Far from it. Both Manchester clubs are the bookmakers favorites to seal their respective European glory.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League and Champions League quarterfinals will take place as the mini tournaments begin.

Man City beat Real Madrid 4-2 on aggregate, while Chelsea lost Bayern 7-1 on aggregate as they crashed out of the Champions League. Man United and Wolves are both in the quarterfinals and favored to go far.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, while the Europa League games will be hosted around Germany.

Below is a look at my predictions, the odds for the games this week and how to watch and follow all of the fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League and Europa League

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon/Germany
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


JPW’s Champions League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)
Wednesday, August 12: Atalanta 2-3 PSG
Thursday, August 13: RB Leipzig 1-2 Atletico Madrid
Friday, August 14: Barcelona 1-3 Bayern Munich
Saturday, August 15: Manchester City 3-1 Lyon


JPW’s Europa League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
Monday, August 10: Inter Milan 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen
Monday, August 10: Manchester United 3-1 Copenhagen
Tuesday, August 11: Wolves 1-2 Sevilla
Tuesday, August 11: Shakhtar Donetsk 1-2 Basel


Champions League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)

(+210) Atalanta v. PSG (+117). Tie: +275
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+135). Tie: +220
(+235) Barcelona v. Bayern Munich (+115). Tie: +255
(-305) Manchester City v. Lyon (+750). Tie: +450

Outright winner
Manchester City (+220)
Bayern Munich (+325)
Paris Saint-Germain (+500)
Atletico Madrid (+800)
Barcelona (+800)
Atalanta (+1000)
RB Leipzig (+1700)
Lyon (+3500)


Europa League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
(+112) Inter Milan v. Bayer Leverkusen (+240). Tie: +250
(-385) Manchester United v. Copenhagen (+1000). Tie: +480
(+235) Wolves v. Sevilla (+120). Tie: +230
(-106) Shakhtar Donetsk v. Basel (+290). Tie: +255

Outright winner
Manchester United (+180)
Inter Milan (+325)
Sevilla (+500)
Bayer Leverkusen (+650)
Wolves (+700)
Shakhtar Donetsk (+1100)
Basel (+2500)
Copenhagen (+6000)

Barcelona reach 13th straight Champions League quarterfinal

Barcelona - Napoli
Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Barcelona – Napoli saw Lionel Messi and Co., book the eighth and final place in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals, by way of a 3-1 victory on the night (4-2 on aggregate) on Saturday.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

It was, as it so often tends to be, Messi who shone brightest and stole the spotlight en route to Barca’s 13th straight Champions League quarterfinal appearance.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

Barca entered Saturday with the slimmest of advantages, knowing that a scoreless draw would see them through to the quarterfinals after grabbing a vital away goal in the first goal. Lyon knew that no matter what, they needed to score at least once or they would be out. That threat was reinforced, and strengthened, when Clement Lenglet headed the Blaugrana ahead in the 10th minute.

Messi slipped, Messi got back up, Messi slipped again, Messi got back up again, Messi rifled the ball inside the far post to score a(nother) fantastic solo goal and make it 2-0 (3-1) in the 23rd minute. It was only slightly more complicated than that for him (WATCH HERE). Messi put the ball in the back of the net again just a few minutes later, but the goal was taken off the board by way of a somewhat suspect handball decision upon video review.

Nonethless, that was just about that after Luis Suarez converted from the penalty spot early in first-half stoppage time. Messi won the penalty by sneaking around Kalidou Koulibaly and winning the ball in the blink of an eye, forcing the Senegalese center back to foul him on the edge of the box lest Messi walk in on goal for a virtual tap-in.

Lorenzo Insigne converted a penalty kick of his own a couple minutes later before the interval, but the threat level never peaked higher than a 2-out-of-10 for Barca.

Barca will face Bayern Munichin a sensationally mouth-watering, single-leg quarterfinal matchup next Friday.

3 things learned: Bayern Munich v. Chelsea

Bayern Munich - Chelsea
Photo by TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Bayern Munich – Chelsea, leg no. 2, looked eerily similar to leg no. 1, played back in late February, with the lone exception being the lack of fans inside the Allianz Arena for Thursday’s dead rubber.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

The eight-time Bundesliga champions were simply too good — and too healthy, by comparison — for Frank Lampard and the Blues to put up a reasonable fight from 3-0 down after the first leg. It was an unceremonious end to Lampard’s first season in charge at Chelsea, but a foregone conclusion before they boarded the plane back in London.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

With their 4-1 victory on the night (7-1 on aggregate), Bayern will face Barcelona in a sensationally mouth-watering quarterfinal matchup next Friday.

Here’s a look at what we learned from the Allianz Arena, as the I’s were dotted and the T’s were crossed in Bayern Munich – Chelsea.


NO DRAMA NECESSARY, BAYERN TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS EARLY

Credit to Bayern for their ruthless efficiency and disinterest in letting the tie descend into drama and tension. Robert Lewandowski scored early (10th minute) and Ivan Perisic did the same in the 24th, bringing the aggregate score to 5-0 with 65 minutes left to play. With so many key players out injured, Chelsea had virtually zero chance of pulling off the impossible comeback prior to kickoff, and Hans-Dieter Flick’s side made sure to keep it that way from the opening whistle. Corentin Tolisso put the tie further out of reach late in the second half (76th), and Lewandowski duplicated his side’s three-goal advantage from the first leg not much later.


CHELSEA’S ISSUES STILL AT THE BACK

For all of the development of young players that Frank Lampard was able to realize this season — and for all of the big-money signings either already confirmed or heavily reported to be imminent this summer — Chelsea still have serious questions to answer with regard to their defense. The below highlight is but one small example in a season full of defensive blunders at missed assignments (you’ll find another one below in the next section). Cesar Azpilicueta remains solid, but he’ll turn 31 this month and probably only has another year or two left to function at the UCL level. Reece James and Fikayo Tomori still have some way to go in their development to be UCL-caliber players. The likes of Kurt Zouma, Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen have all proven, time and again, they’re simply not at that level and probably never will be. All of that is to say, Chelsea need to execute a full-on rebuild of their defense this summer, or it might not matter how many goals they can score every game next season.


BAYERN’S END-OF-SEASON FORM IS TERRIFYING

Pop quiz: When was the last time Bayern simply didn’t win a game, let alone lost one? The answer: Feb. 9 (19 games ago). And their last defeat? Dec. 7 (28 games). They won all nine of their Bundesliga games following the season’s restart, plus another two in the DFB-Pokal and now the second leg against Chelsea in the UCL. Of course, things will suddenly become far more tricky when 1) the likes of Barcelona and Man City factor into the equation in the quarterfinals and the semifinals, and 2) each round is decided over a single leg rather than the traditional home-and-away format of the Champions League. And still, Bayern have the look of serious Champions League contenders, if not favorites, based on their scintillating form dating back to the start of the calendar year.

VIDEO: Messi shreds Napoli to score fantastic solo goal

Lionel Messi goal video
Photo by Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Lionel Messi has done, once again, as Lionel Messi is known to do: he has scored another fantastic Lionel Messi goal (video below) in the UEFA Champions League round of 16.

[ MORE: Andrea Pirlo named Juventus manager | Sarri sacked ]

One, two, three, four, five defenders in his way? So what, says Messi.

One or two decent attempts to tackle the ball away — and perhaps even succeeding on at least one occasion? Again, so what?

He’ll have the ball back, continue on his merry way and tuck the ball just inside the far post, all while falling down, getting back up and falling down again. The goal put Barcelona 2-0 ahead on the night (3-1 on aggregate). Prior to this post being published, he scored again, but the goal was taken away for a perceived handball upon video review.

Surely we’ve discovered a superhuman soccer league we can send him to by now, just to level the playing field a bit more for the actual humans walking planet Earth.

Anyway, here’s the latest head-shaking, smirk-inducing Messi goal video you came to see.