Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Premier League 2016-17 season preview: Manchester United

9 Comments

The Jose Mourinho era is here, and the embattled Portuguese manager has already found himself faced with a number of major questions in his first days on the job.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

First and foremost, there’s Wayne Rooney. The question: where does Mourinho play the 12-year servant and captain of Manchester United? The question to ask regarding Rooney isn’t “what’s his best position,” but instead “at what position is he actually Man United’s best player?” It’s not striker, where Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the man; it’s not in the hole just behind Zlatan, because Henrikh Mkhitaryan is a pure no. 10; it’s not wide left, because Rooney has never thrived in a wide role, and Anthony Martial is a burgeoning superstar on the left. It might just be in Mourinho’s best interest to drop Rooney to the bench. Mourinho has never been afraid to make the riskiest political move.

[ MORE: Every PL season preview ]

Secondly, can Mourinho, long hailed a tactical genius for the way he organizes defenses, find the right formula among a central-defending quartet of Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo and Eric Bailly? Too many times last season, Louis Van Gaal was forced to play with two dedicated defensive midfielders in order to protect the mistake-prone carousel of characters, which only left the attacking stars disconnected and stranded without service. Outside of Bailly, a $40-million signing from Villarreal, Mourinho and Co. have done little to address the unit transfer-wise.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL game live ] 

United can improve four places from last season, and win the league, because… There’s practically nothing to separate the top five or six sides heading into the season. If one or two results go their way early on, they’ll be great front-runners under Mourinho.

Actually, United could miss out on Champions league qualification altogether, because… There’s practically nothing to separate the top five or six sides heading into the season. If one or two results go against them early on, they’ll be terrible chasers under Mourinho.


Best Possible XI

—– De Gea —–

— Darmian — Smalling — Jones — Shaw —

—– Schneiderlin — Herrera ——

— Mata — Mkhitaryan — Martial —

—– Ibrahimovic —–


Transfers in: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (free, Paris Saint-Germain), Henrikh Mkhitaryan ($34 million, Borussia Dortmund), Eric Bailly ($40 million, Villarreal)

Transfers out: Victor Valdes (released, Middlesbrough), Guillermo Varela (loan, Eintracht Frankfurt), Nick Powell (released, Wigan Athletic)

Last season: Van Gaal’s final season at the club saw the Red Devils finish fifth in the PL; crash out of the Champions League group stage, only to be knocked out of the Europa League by their rivals Liverpool; and cap off the roller-coaster ride by lifting the FA Cup. It was bad enough to see Van Gaal fired, paving the way for the inevitable: Mourinho at Old Trafford.

Source: Manchester United
Source: Manchester United

Star player: Zlatan Ibrahimovic — Finally the big Swede has made his way to the Premier League. Now comes what should be the easy part (for him, at least): delivering on the massive expectations he’ll face at Old Trafford. With any level of competent service, Zlatan will score anywhere between 14-18 goals this season, with a haul of 20 not out of reach if he remains healthy throughout and starts 35 league games. He turns 35 in October, which means his body could break down at any moment, but he showed few signs of slowing down last season, when he made 51 appearances for PSG, scoring 50 goals in the process.

Coach’s corner: Mourinho is the story of United’s season, which is the only way he’d have it. If United are successful, it will all be down to Mourinho’s genius. If they falter and miss out on Champions League qualification again, it’ll be because Mourinho ostracized the wrong players and lost the dressing room, as he infamously did at Real Madrid and Chelsea.

SHANGHAI, CHINA - JULY 21: Manager Jose Mourinho of Manchester United looks on during a press conference as part of their pre-season tour of China at Shanghai Stadium on July 21, 2016 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
(Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

PST predicts: There’s enough attacking talent in this squad for the Red Devils to lead the league in goals scored, but it might all go to waste with Mourinho as manager. Where they’re (still) lacking, though, is in capable central defenders. In theory, Mourinho should aim at a thrilling attacking side that regularly outscores opponents 3-2; it’s what his team is best constructed to do. In practice, he’ll play for 1-0 victories, handicapping their ability to chase the game once they’ve conceded a silly goal, and end up finishing fifth for the second straight season.

Top 25 players in the USMNT pool right now

Photo by Marius Becker/picture alliance via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Christian Pulisic is the best American soccer player in the world.

Of this, there is little debate.

But there is a debate to who is second, third, and well down the line, and we’ve got our last chance to really assess the full crop with Major League Soccer now out of season for a few months.

[ USMNT: Most to gain/lose from November ]

Let’s set some ground rules:

  • The ranking is meant to illustrate who would be most likely to positively affect a USMNT match, regardless of manager or teammates, right now.
  • Health doesn’t matter to our rankings if a current injury isn’t one which could drastically alter the player’s skill set moving forward.
  • Age/potential/experience doesn’t matter either, at least not much; It’s how likely you are to contribute to the team if put on the field right now. Obviously Chris Richards of Bayern Munich II is a better long-term prospect than 32-year-old Tim Ream, but most would rather have the Fulham man in a big spot right now.

Top 25 USMNT players – November 2019

*not currently a part of USMNT squad due to injury
**not currently a part of USMNT squad due to coach’s decision

  1. Christian Pulisic, Chelsea*
  2. Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig*
  3. John Brooks, Wolfsburg
  4. Weston McKennie, Schalke
  5. Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf
  6. Sergino Dest, Ajax
  7. Jordan Morris, Seattle Sounders
  8. Matt Miazga, Reading (on loan from Chelsea)**
  9. Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen
  10. Zack Steffen, Fortuna Dusseldorf (on loan from Man City)*
  11. DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle United
  12. Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC*
  13. Tim Ream, Fulham
  14. Timothy Weah, Lille*
  15. Julian Green, Greuther Furth**
  16. Cristian Roldan, Seattle Sounders
  17. Ike Opara, Minnesota United**
  18. Michael Bradley, Toronto FC*
  19. Fabian Johnson, Borussia Monchengladbach**
  20. Cameron Carter-Vickers, Stoke City (on loan from Spurs)**
  21. Tyler Boyd, Besiktas
  22. Sebastian Lletget, LA Galaxy
  23. Miles Robinson, Atlanta United*
  24. Paul Arriola, DC United
  25. Jackson Yueill, San Jose Earthquakes

Next up, established: Antonee Robinson (Wigan Athletic), Walker Zimmerman (LAFC), Eric Lichaj (Hull City), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge), Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas), Duane Holmes (Derby County), Bill Hamid (DC United).

Next up, youth: Konrad de la Fuente (Barcelona U19), Alex Mendez (Ajax U19), Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund U19), Ulysses Llanez (Wolfsburg U19), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich II), Richie Ledezma (PSV Eindhoven), Donovan Pines (DC United), Sam Vines (Colorado Rapids)

Leaked image shows big fines that face Chelsea rule breakers

Photo by Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Frank Lampard‘s ready to go into his players’ wallets if they disobey his laws.

A posted list of fines for Chelsea players, signed by the manager, has been confirmed and we would completely understand if the Blues were on time all the time.

[ MORE: Salah out for Egypt ]

A player is fined about $640 per minute he’s late to a meeting, and if he misses a practice, well, wow: The fine is nearly $26,000.

If a phone rings during a meeting, that’s gonna be $1,300.

And if any fine isn’t paid within two weeks, it doubles! Seems like Christian Pulisic and his teammates will have a lot of alarms set on their phones.

From The Telegraph:

Lampard has also banned agents from the training ground, unless on official business, and players must inform the club if they intend to travel abroad, even on scheduled days off.

The average Chelsea salary last season was approximately $6.6 million, meaning players make on average $127,000 per week.

The full list of fines is below.

Kompany: Liverpool’s Premier League title ghosts should ‘be to City’s advantage’

Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Vincent Kompany says history could help Manchester City climb back into the Premier League title race even after his former team dropped nine points back of first place Liverpool.

[ MORE: Salah out for Egypt ]

Now at Anderlecht, the center back also said history might’ve played a role in City’s 3-1 setback at Anfield. In a rare bit of explicit honesty, the often interesting Kompany said that players do deal with demons of a club’s past.

“We always struggle at Anfield,” he said, according to Sky Sports. “I said that on Super Sunday, you’re fighting 25 years of not winning at Anfield and that’s difficult, it’s two games in one game: You’re playing a great team and you’re fighting history.”

“Flip it around and the same will happen for Liverpool. They will fight the history of not winning the league for 30 years. That should be to City’s advantage I still think.”

Do you buy that? Most of the buzz around the Premier League is that this Liverpool is a different team than even the dominant one of last season, and City has suffered big injury problems. The Reds players almost went out of their way last year to say they weren’t worried about blowing their table lead last season (which was bigger, later in the season).

Kompany also said that he believes City doesn’t need to add a center back in January, which is bonkers unless he’s coming back, but the Belgian has proven time and again that he’s one of the better minds in the game.

The guy did title  his MBA dissertation, “How professional football clubs in the Premier League can benefit from home game advantage and achieve game-changing levels of improvement” after all. Then again, I’m not sure any of our dissertations on the same topic would’ve been approved had we done that.

Liverpool’s Salah to miss Egypt’s first two AFCON qualifiers

Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Good news for Liverpool, not so much for Egypt.

Mohamed Salah will not suit up for the Pharoahs this month as Egypt begins qualifying for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.

[ MORE: Will Zlatan rejoin LA? ]

Salah has been dealing with ankle problems since a rough tackle from Leicester City’s Hamza Choudhury, and it’s acting up following a tackle from Fernandinho in the Reds’ 3-1 defeat of Man City on Sunday.

Egypt needs Salah, but it’s no surprise he’s erring on the side of caution given the tumultuous relationship between the superstar and his country (and Liverpool’s status as a contender in five (!!) tournaments).

Salah, 27, has 41 goals in 67 caps. The next five leading active Egyptian scorers have a combined 31 goals in their careers over 284 caps. The youngest of those is Aston Villa’s Trezeguet (25), followed by Besiktas’ Mohamed Elneny (27).

Egypt are heavy favorites to finish in one of the top two spots and qualify for AFCON 2020, even with the injury. The 49th ranked Pharoahs (FIFA ranking) are in a group with Kenya (108), Togo (124) and Comoros (142).

Egypt hosts Kenya on Thursday to kick off qualification, and visits Comoros on Monday.