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Top four in doubt, Louis van Gaal’s future more fragile than ever

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LONDON — Manchester United’s shambolic, slumping season hit a new low on Sunday as Tottenham Hotspur’s 3-0 win — their first home victory against United in 15 years — showed us all just how little progress United has made under Louis Van Gaal.

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On the first day of this season, Aug. 8 to be exact, Van Gaal’s United were outplayed by Spurs for vast swathes of their clash at Old Trafford.

They came away with a 1-0 win thanks to a fortuitous own goal but in a season where they’ve crashed out of the UEFA Champions League at the group stage, suffered humiliating defeats and LVG’s played players out of position with injuries an issue, but not the biggest one, the Dutchman is now on borrowed time.

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Someone should read him his last rights as United’s manager. This won’t last much longer and although there have been low points over the past two seasons this could be one of the final nails in his coffin.

Despite contrasting reports last week regarding his future at Old Trafford, if United fail to make the top four then his time must be up. Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has kept the faith in Van Gaal when fans, pundits, former players and many others have doubted him. Two years into LVG’s three-year deal, it’s hard to see him lasting beyond this summer.

Four points off Manchester City with six games to go, United is in a last chance saloon to secure a top four finish. Van Gaal believes they’re still in the hunt but for most of his post-game comments he talked about just how good Tottenham is.

“We are still in the race but when you lose a game you have to close the gap again,” Van Gaal said. “I think Tottenham is a great team. I have said that in advance of this match. Until the first goal we were a good team who were playing good football in Tottenham and also had a big chance for a goal. The way that we played until the first goal, it was good.”

He seemed happy enough with keeping Spurs at bay. Van Gaal was then asked about deciding to not manage Tottenham two years ago and instead joining United, with the clubs in vastly different situations as we head into the final weeks of this season.

“I think in the balance we are still ahead. You take one match as something I have to say the challenge is bigger?” Van Gaal said. “The challenge is always bigger in a bigger club. But I liked also to sign for Tottenham Hotspur and Daniel Levy knows that but the challenge was bigger for me at Manchester United and always shall be bigger. I am sorry for Tottenham but Manchester United is a bigger club. I think it is a little bit pathetic that you ask that because they have won 3-0. But okay, you enjoy yourself, I think.”

No United fan would’ve enjoyed themselves watching their team play on Sunday. It would now take a miracle for this disjointed, patched up United to finish the season strong and for LVG to lead them to FA Cup glory and a top four finish.

On Sunday we saw a United side devoid of real attacking creativity — Anthony Martial‘s second half effort was their only real chance on goal — and a side who were hanging on at Tottenham for a 0-0 draw. Van Gaal was happy enough with that and therein lies the problem.

He pointed to a defensive collapse in five second half minutes when Spurs scored all three goals but he refused to admit his players are crumbling under the pressure of pushing for a top four finish.

“I do know the media wants to write that but you have to analyze the facts,” Van Gaal told ProSoccerTalk. “The facts is that the second goal is a set play. Tottenham has made the most goals from corner kicks and free kicks. We knew in advance it was very difficult. We had a very good organization because Rojo was on Alderweireld. We have seen it and analyzed it well but it happens in football. It cannot happen… but it happens. That was the second goal and then within three minutes and then I can imagine that you lose your head a minute maybe but still you have to give the credit to the attack of Tottenham. The third goal was a fantastic goal I think.”

Sure, Spurs are enjoying a great season and are just seven points off top spot but with the money they’ve spent, the huge fanbase they have and every other metric you want to use, Van Gaal’s words about United being a bigger club than Spurs are spot on. They just aren’t playing like it. Not even close.

LVG’s so-called “bigger team” are miles behind Tottenham and after scrapping a fourth place finish last season, the fact they are scrapping away for the same position this campaign shows just how much they are regressing.

This can’t go on much longer. Sunday showed just how far United has fallen under Van Gaal.

Report: Bruno Fernandes to Manchester United after Lisbon Derby

Manchester United lands Bruno Fernandes
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Bruno Fernandes may get his move.

The 25-year-old Sporting Lisbon midfielder wants a move to Manchester United, and Sky Sports is reporting that the two clubs are close to agreeing on a fee.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The move will cost $56 million and could escalate to $77 million with incentives, and that it could happen as soon as the end of Friday’s derby between Sporting and Benfica.

From Sky Sports:

Part of the negotiations over a deal for Fernandes included Manchester United not wanting him to play in Friday’s game but the player and Sporting insist that he was going to play in order to say a proper goodbye to the club and the supporters.

United will be crossing its fingers over Fernandes’ health during the 4:15 p.m. ET kickoff is Lisbon.

Sporting is already 12 points off the Champions League places, and 16 off Benfica’s title pace.

Fernandes has been red hot for Sporting, notching 15 goals and 13 assists in 25 appearances, including five and three in five Europa League outings.

He scored 32 times with 18 assists in 2018/19, and could take United’s Top Four push to a whole new level.

Liverpool’s Klopp rips AFCON move, says FIFA needs to step in but won’t

Liverpool's Klopp rips AFCON move
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Jurgen Klopp is furious about Cameroon moving the Africa Cup of Nations to January 2021, something that would hinder the Reds’ likely title defense.

(No, Klopp is not counting his title chickens before they hatch, even if it’s a foregone conclusion).

Cameroon moved the tournament from summer to winter due to its climate, which seems like a decision that could’ve been made ages ago. The nation had hosting rights stripped away for the 2019 tournament, but will host in 2021.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The Reds could be without Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Naby Keita for the better part of a month should Senegal, Guinea, and Egypt all qualify for the tournament. Joel Matip could be there with hosts Cameroon if the federation is successful in convincing him to return to the international fold.

Klopp went on a lengthy and mostly understandable diatribe against the move. We write mostly because there’s something lost in translation regarding the import of the tournament.

He’s upset at how it will tax his squad and how he keeps the players happy if he needs to add players just to deal with one month of the schedule.

“Do we really want to open this book? I couldn’t respect Africa Cup of Nations more than I do, I like it, I’ve watched it a lot. Difficult circumstances a lot of times,” Klopp said, via The Liverpool Echo. “It is another tournament, there are too many of them. Other thing is it doesn’t help African players. We won’t sell Naby, Mo or Sadio because of it but if we bring someone in, it affects the decision. Normal process. We have to think about that. Players aren’t asked. … FIFA, who should [step in] doesn’t look like being involved. It’s a strange situation. If we want lesser games they will say take less money. I will say, I am ready to do so. Yes.”

He continued.

“For us it’s a catastrophe, If we say (a player) can’t go, he’s suspended. How can the club who pay his salary not decide. If he’s injured and we say he cannot play for us, we have to send him to Africa so they can have a look. We don’t have any say. We just plan the route. These are all things that should not be like this. I speak about it now and no one will listen. The moaner from Liverpool again. It’s a complete waste of time. As long as nothing changes, I will keep saying it. It’s about the players, not me.”

Manchester City (Riyad Mahrez), Arsenal (Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang), and Leicester City (Wilfried Ndidi) are among the many clubs who could lose stars for a month.

Premier League tells referees to view replays for red cards

Premier League tells referees to view replays for red cards
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LONDON (AP) The Premier League has advised its referees to use sideline monitors to make a final ruling on red card decisions.

Through 22 rounds of the first Premier League season with video review, referees have not gone over to the screens at any point to watch replays after being told to use them sparingly. Instead, referees have been relying on feedback from the video assistant referee in a London control room.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

But officials were reminded at a meeting of Premier League referees this week that they should go over to what is known as the “referee review area” when VAR suggests upgrading a yellow card to a red or downgrading a red to a yellow.

It has been a more familiar sight at games in other European competitions, like the Champions League, to see referees watching replays in the stadium.

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

Premier League Preview: Watford v. Tottenham Hotspur

Premier League Preview: Watford v. Tottenham Hotspur
Premier League Preview: Watford v. Tottenham Hotspur
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Watford begins a run of three matches in five days with a visit from Tottenham Hotspur to Vicarage Road on Saturday (Watch Live at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The resurgent Hornets have climbed out of the Bottom Three under new boss Nigel Pearson. The challenge now comes in the form of a postponed FA Cup replay means they face Spurs, Aston Villa, and Tranmere Rovers by Thursday.

And if the Hornets beat Tranmere, they host Manchester United three days later.

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“The planning’s done for the week,” Pearson said. “But outside of that we’ve got to also be prepared for variables we don’t know about at the minute and that would be potential injuries and anything else and it makes it even clearer that I’m not going to send the strongest side to play Tranmere.”

Spurs will welcome any advantage, as Jose Mourinho’s side is winless in three league matches and played a replay with Middlesbrough on Tuesday.

Tottenham has dropped nine points back of the Top Four and four back of fifth place Manchester United. The club is waiting on several transfer issues, including wantaway Christian Eriksen and the absence of suitable fill-in for injured Harry Kane.

Mourinho said there’s been no offer yet from Inter Milan for Christian Eriksen, and that Giovani Lo Celso‘s loan will likely be made permanent.

How Mourinho uses new loanee Gedson Fernandes will be interesting, as the Portuguese midfielder may start for his countryman.


Injuries/suspensions

Watford: OUT — Tom Cleverley, Kiko Femenia, Danny Welbeck. QUESTIONABLE — Will Hughes.

Spurs: OUT — Moussa Sissoko, Harry Kane. QUESTIONABLE — Ben Davies, Tanguy Ndombele, Hugo Lloris


Probable lineups

Watford: Foster, Masina, Cathcart, Dawson, Mariappa, Capoue, Chalobah, Deulofeu, Doucoure, Sarr, Deeney.

Spurs: Gazzaniga, Aurier, Alderweireld, Sanchez, Rose, Aurier, Winks, Fernandes, Son, Lucas, Dele.


What they’re saying

Nigel Pearson on the Tranmere postponement: “To get up there and find their kit man hadn’t bothered setting out their kit because he knew it would be off is a bit of a frustration for us because we travelled up and a lot of our fans had got to Northampton by the time that they found out, so it is a frustration and it adds on to what’s already a hectic week next week.”

Jose Mourinho on loan signing Gedson Fernandes: “He’s a kid that can play different positions in midfielder, even wide on the right if we need. We got him for his multi-functionality. He’s what I used to call a special loan. He’s not a three month loan and goodbyes. One-and-a-half year loan when he’ll have time to develop, and who knows if he doesn’t stay here for a number of years.”


Prediction

Spurs get a bit of relief and Watford a mild reality check in a 1-0 decision.