Three things we learned from Newcastle United vs. Manchester United

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VAN GAAL NO LONGER BORING

Well, that was fun.

Manchester United drew 3-3 at Newcastle United on Tuesday with a late Paul Dummett strike sharing the spoils in a pulsating clash.

Fans of Manchester United may not be too delighted with the way their team defended but going into this game they had only seen their team score five times in their previous seven Premier League outings. They scored three in 90 minutes with Wayne Rooney scoring twice — the second an absolute belter which you can watch here, and above — and Jesse Lingard netting another, plus Lingard and Marouane Fellaini should’ve both scored in the second half.

[ VIDEO: Rooney on fire, scores scorcher

United did something they haven’t really done all season: they went for it. Van Gaal, 64, has come under fire for his side playing predictable, boring, possession-based soccer but that all went out of the window at Newcastle as ditching the laborious approach almost paid off. Sure, United didn’t win and individual errors at the back (Chris Smalling‘s ridiculous shirt pull on Aleksandar Mitrovic for the PK which led to the second goal and failure to clear the cross which Dummett scored the equalizer off) cost them but LVG may, strangely, gain more praise from his critics after the gung-ho approach. He even admitted himself on Tuesday that he has been bored by his own side in recent weeks. There was nothing boring about this display on Tuesday. Period.

UNITED SWITCH TO COUNTER-ATTACK 

Why weren’t United boring this time out? Well, their approach changed slightly with the Red Devils not dominating possession like they usually do — United only had 46 percent of the play when they’ve been well up in the 60 percent range for most of their outings this season — as Van Gaal’s side sat back and preferred to launch counters. Lingard’s pace and Rooney’s weight of pass saw them get in-behind multiple times in each half and United may have found a perfect way to play with the players at their disposal.

Lingard’s goal was a perfect example of that as Rooney raced clear and waited for the right moment to delicately slot the academy product in and United were 2-0 up. Lingard had a glorious chance in 55th minute to make it 3-1 but curled his shot just over after a similar counter and the fact that United could spring these breaks time and time again suggested it’s something they’ve been working on in training. Newcastle’s defensive unit isn’t they best they’ll come up against in the PL but something had to change and United’s approach was more positive, yielded more chances and, most importantly, resulted in more goals.

NEWCASTLE’S STAR DUO DELIVER

Say what you want about Steve McClaren‘s side but one thing that can’t be denied is that this team has two player with real class: Georginio Wijnaldum and Mitrovic. The duo came to the Magpies’ rescue once again — with their goals crucial in the wins over Liverpool, Tottenham and Norwich, plus the home draw against Chelsea this season — as they snagged a point to give themselves something to grab on to as they continue to bravely battle against relegation. Over the festive period Newcastle lost three-straight games 1-0 but on Tuesday the shackles were off and, like United, they looked dangerous on the counter and forced the issue more, especially in the second half as they attacked the Gallowgate End.

during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Manchester United at St James' Park on January 12, 2016 at Newcastle upon Tyne, England.

Wijnaldum grabbed the first at a crucial point just before half time to drag Newcastle back into the game as the Dutchman latched onto a loose ball, after Mitrovic had battled with Fellaini in the air, and netted his eighth goal of the season. Mitrovic then won and scored the PK to make it 2-2, causing a nuisance of himself in the box which led to Smalling hauling him down, and then Wijnaldum had another goal correctly chalked off for offside. They were a handful and with Jonjo Shelvey signing for Newcastle on Tuesday McClaren is assembling some real quality throughout the spine of his team. With the quality they possess, at least individually, Newcastle should be much higher in the table. Right now the quality of Wijnaldum and Mitrovic are keeping them in with a chance of escaping the bottom three and their arrivals in the summer seems like money extremely well spent.

Liverpool issue injury update on Sadio Mane

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Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has issued a positive injury update on Sadio Mane but he is still expected to miss the next two Premier League games.

Mane, 27, injured his hamstring against Wolverhampton Wanderers last week and Liverpool feared the worse but the Senegalese winger hasn’t completely torn a muscle.

Speaking ahead of Liverpool’s trip to West Ham to Wednesday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), Klopp confirmed Mane will be out against West Ham and is probably going to miss the home clash with Southampton on Saturday.

“Sadio will not be involved for West Ham and probably not for Southampton,” Klopp said. “After that he should be then fine. The week we have then after that is for him perfect to get back on track. He has a small muscle tear, which is serious enough to keep him out. We were lucky with the injury as well, so it was not that serious. But of course, when you have three games in a week then that means he is out for these three games.”

Overall, this is good news for Liverpool. Mane has been superb this season and is Liverpool’s leading goalscorer, coming up big so often in tight victories.

With the Reds 16 points clear at the top of the Premier League table with 15 games to go they have the ability to rest Mane and give him as much time as possible.

Klopp has already revealed he will not play his first team in the FA Cup fourth round replay against Shrewsbury Town and he will not be there himself (Neil Critchley will manage the U23 side in the game) as the squad has a week off during the mid-season player break.

Mane will be back in mid-February and that is a much better diagnosis than most Liverpool fans were expecting.

USMNT looks toward Olympic qualifying

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NEW YORK (AP) USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter will be looking toward Olympic soccer qualifying when the senior national team plays Costa Rica on Saturday in an exhibition at Carson, California.

Thirteen of the 22 players on the American roster are eligible for Olympic qualifying, which is limited to players under 23. The U.S. men failed to reach the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and they are in a difficult qualifying group that includes Mexico and Costa Rica.

“It’ll be nice to give them an opportunity to perform in front of a crowd in a real international game,” Berhalter said during a telephone conference call on Monday.

Twelve players have no previous international experience. The U.S. has used 74 players in 30 matches since the 2017 loss at Trinidad and Tobago that ended the Americans’ streak of seven straight World Cup appearances, and 36 players have made debuts: 24 under interim coach Dave Sarachan and 12 under Berhalter, who was hired in December 2018.

“We think this age group is talented for the Olympic age group and we’re excited to see how they navigate through the qualification process and then eventually build the group for the Olympics” Berhalter said.

Olympic qualifying runs from March 20-30 and the U.S. will be coached by Jason Kreis. Since clubs are not required to release players to under-23 teams, top Americans Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Josh Sargent and Sergino Dest are not likely to be available. Major League Soccer starts Feb. 29, and its coaches may be reluctant to provide players.

“We’re going to need a lot of cooperation from Major League Soccer, and I know that’s difficult given the early stage of their season,” Berhalter said.

If the U.S. does qualify for the Olympics, it would be able to add three players over the age limit. But clubs could decline to release players.

“It would be nice to field our strongest team in the Olympics. We’re just not sure that’s going to happen,” Berhalter said.

Veterans on the roster this weekend include forwards Gyasi Zardes and Paul Arriola, defender Aaron Long and midfielder Sebastian Lletget. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid could make his first appearance since a June 2018 exhibition at Ireland.

On other topics:

-Berhalter did not sound overly concerned about Pulisic’s adductor injury. The Chelsea midfielder has not played since Jan. 1 and is not likely to return until Feb. 17 at the earliest. “He played a lot of games in a short period of time over Christmas,” Berhalter said. “He’s a young player playing at an extremely competitive level and it takes a physical toll on your body. And him coming to terms with that is something that’s normal for the process of adapting.”

-On the best position for Adams, who has appeared at right back and right wing for RB Leipzig: “We see him primarily as a central midfielder. We always have seen him as a central midfielder. But we know that when we when we need to be flexible, he can play that position, as well. We think right now the right back position is filled with depth, and he’ll be most suited in our system in central midfield.”

-On the possibility of Long transferring from the New York Red Bulls to West Ham: “It obviously could be a potential big change in where he’s competing and what level he’s playing at. … That would be a step up for him.”

-Jesus Ferreira, a Colombian-born forward who received U.S. citizenship last month, may not be eligible to play this weekend pending the completion of paperwork.

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

Tottenham sign Lo Celso, close in on Bergwijn

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Tottenham Hotspur have signed Giovani Lo Celso from Real Betis, triggering a clause which turns his loan into a permanent transfer.

Lo Celso, 23, arrived on loan this summer and after injuries disrupted his first few months in England he has settled in very nicely in recent weeks.

The Argentine playmaker has signed a contact through 2025 and is the direct replacement for Christian Eriksen who is Inter Milan bound.

Spurs are also closing in on a deal for Steven Bergwijn as PSV Eindhoven left the winger out of training and he has flown to London for a medical.

Bergwijn, 22, is a rising star in the Dutch Eredivisie and according to our partners at Sky Sports he will join Tottenham for $32.5 million, rising to $35 million with add-ons.

With Christian Eriksen’s move to Inter Milan set to be completed on Tuesday, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy has brought in a younger, promising attacking player to help freshen up the attack alongside Lo Celso.

Tottenham have got their dominoes in order and now they are ready to fall.

Bergwijn is highly-rated and scored 16 goals in a struggling PSV side last season and has six goals to his name in 29 appearances in all competitions so far in 2019-20. He has recently broken into the Dutch national team and is regarded as one of the top young wing talents in Europe.

This is exactly the kind of transfer Spurs need to be making. Mourinho loves to have tricky and direct wingers in his teams to feed off a central striker and Bergwijn is on the up and is hungry to prove himself in England. It makes total sense with Eriksen on his way out for about $22 million, so it could be yet another shrewd bit of business from Levy and Co.

Aside from Bergwijn there is a push for a striker to arrive on a short-term deal with Harry Kane out injured until April, but given the form of Heung-Min Son, Lucas Moura and Dele Alli in attack, perhaps Mourinho and Levy will resist the urge to bring in a short-term solution up top.

Krzysztof Piatek, Willian Jose, Edinson Cavani and many others have been mentioned as potential stop gaps for Kane but the fluid movement of Son, Moura and Alli could be the way to go in attack. With Bergwijn added to the mix alongside the January loan addition of midfielder Gedson Fernandes, Spurs are getting younger and things have been freshened up quite nicely by Mourinho.

All things considered, not a bad window for Spurs, as they sit six points off the top four with 14 games to go and are still in the FA Cup and now have a plan without Kane for the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds and the final months of the season.

Solskjaer coy on Man United transfers; Alexis to return

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was coy when asked about possible transfer for Manchester United in the final days of the January window and revealed that Alexis Sanchez will return this summer.

Speaking ahead of their League Cup semifinal second leg against rivals Man City on Wednesday (City lead 3-1 from the first leg), Solskjaer was asked about a possible deal for Bruno Fernandes and if United will do any other business before the window shuts on Friday.

“I haven’t got any updates for you on transfers, I think it was a wasted question,” Solskjaer told a reporter. “I haven’t got anything to say now.”

Pushed further about what type of players United could sign, Solskjaer was asked if the club are now ‘thinking outside of the box’ amid reports they could sign strikers Odion Ighalo and Islam Slimani.

Solskjaer bemoaned the January window and how difficult it is to do business and shocked everyone as he revealed that Sanchez will be welcomed back with open arms in the summer when his loan with Inter Milan ends.

“Well, we’ve got players here we are working hard to get back and if there is something out there then the club are pursuing that and looking at it. Of course, it is the difficult window, it has always been,” Solskjaer said. “I can’t remember how many good ‘uns or deals we’ve brought in January. Henrik [Larsson] was good, Nemanja [Vidic] and Patrice [Evra] were two good ones. Henrik as a loan. Alexis… It is hard because some of the clubs don’t want to lose their players. Alexis will come back in the summer and prove you all wrong.”

“At the moment it doesn’t look like it, no,” Solskjaer added when asked about outgoings, while he added that Nemanja Matic may not be fit for the League Cup semifinal at Man City and Marcos Rojo is very unlikely to be sold.

It seems likely that United will not do any business in the final days of the window as Solskjaer looked frustrated but put on a brave face.

United are said to be $26 million short of matching Sporting Lisbon’s valuation of Fernandes and even though the Portuguese playmaker would make a big difference for them in the final months of the Premier League season, it seems unlikely the player they’ve chased since last summer will arrive at Old Trafford.

This news will no doubt be frustrating for United but given Mason Greenwood‘s recent displays, perhaps Solskjaer will place extra faith in the 18-year-old to fill the void left by Marcus Rashford over the next six weeks or so. It is either that or bring in a more experienced striker on loan for the rest of the season and that doesn’t seem to slot in with United’s new philosophy of developing young British talent.