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Pogba signing puts Man United back in Premier League title conversation


Finally — and I do mean finally — the Paul Pogba transfer saga is over.

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As you’ve probably heard by now, the former Manchester United midfielder is “former” no more after completing his world-record transfer back to the Premier League from Juventus. This likely concludes Man United’s major transfer dealings for the summer, and in good time with the 2016-17 PL season kicking off this weekend.

As such, it’s the perfect time to discuss the question on everyone’s mind in light of Pogba’s move to Old Trafford: Why did they let him go for free only to buy him back for $116 million? (Just kidding, there aren’t enough hours in the rest of our lives to answer that.) Serious question: Are the Red Devils title contenders this year?

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Last week, I wrote the following in PST’s season preview of United:

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 [Jose] 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.

Fast forward a week, and the signing of Pogba boosts Mourinho’s squad from hopefuls to qualify for the UEFA Champions League, to suddenly squarely in the title race. The one thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the fact that this season’s title race is wide open without anything resembling a clear-cut favorite. Any one of eight sides could win it, and no one will bat an eye.

“(Where) will Wayne Rooney play,” was and still is question no. 1 for Mourinho to work out, but “Who starts in central midfield,” ran a close second prior to Monday’s announcement. No two-man combination of Morgan Schneiderlin, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Ander Herrera, Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini and Daley Blind was ever going to inspire confidence.

Now, with Pogba, the versatile two-way player that he is, in the mix, Mourinho can go any number of routes in central midfield based on the day’s opponent. Facing a bottom-half side that’ll sit deep and aim to soak up the pressure? Start Herrera alongside Pogba, push the Spaniard forward and break down the bunker. Facing a fellow title contender with goal-scoring firepower out the wazoo? Schneiderlin’s your man for a bit of extra steel in midfield, to shield the backline and break up play. Up a goal with 10 minutes to play? Sub on Schweinsteiger and push Pogba into the most-advanced of the three central positions.

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With the midfield now sorted, we can focus on all the attacking talent at Mourinho’s disposal (should he choose to use it). Zlatan Ibrahimovic marked his competitive debut with the winning goal in the Community Shield on Sunday; he should be good for 15 to 20 league goals this season. 18-year-old Marcus Rashford continues to show signs of his rapid development, and Anthony Martial actually looked last season like he might one day be worth the $55 million United paid for him last summer. Jesse Lingard remains a steady contributor every time he takes the field, and the signing of Henrikh Mkhitaryan will give United the kind of no. 10/underneath striker hybrid they’ve long dreamt of Rooney becoming. Then there’s Memphis Depay, for whom there might simply not be a place in this United squad.

Perhaps the only thing that can stop United from returning to (what they’ll consider) their rightful place atop the footballing world, is the man in charge, Mr. Mourinho. No matter what happens at United this season, it’ll be must-see television from beginning to end.

Transfer rumor roundup: Everton join Zaha chase; Matuidi to Man Utd?

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A roundup of Saturday’s biggest transfer rumors from around the world, including those involving a few Premier League clubs…

[ MORE: PL refs told to defer to VAR more, go to the monitor “sparingly” ]

Wilfried Zaha is one of the most wanted men in England, with Arsenal reportedly hot on his trail all summer. An deal between the Gunners and Crystal Palace is yet  to transpire, though, which has perhaps left the door open for Everton to sneak through and sign the 26-year-old Ivory Coast international.

Arsenal would obviously pay more in wages, but are yet to meet Palace’s valuation of their talisman. If Everton is the club that calls with the requisite figures on offer, it wouldn’t be the worst landing place for Zaha. With Arsenal yet to make a meaningful signing this summer, and the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny already gone or on their way out, the 2019-20 season could see the Gunners take a step back, opening the door for — you guessed it — Everton to break into the top-five… or -four.

Speaking of Ramsey, his arrival at Juventus has perhaps made Blaise Matuidi surplus to requirements, which means he could be available for cut-rate price.

Manchester United seem to be perennially in need of influential central midfielders, especially this summer after the departure of Ander Herrera and the failure of a signing that was Fred last summer. Man United have reportedly been in contact with Juve about the 32-year-old, as have Paris Saint-Germain and Everton.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is another midfielder who’s been linked with United, but he’ll likely just as much as, if not more than, the $59-million fee paid for Fred. Milinkovic-Savic seemed a surefire target for the world’s top clubs after a star’s showing at last summer’s World Cup in Russia, but the 24-year-old remained at Lazio and is still yet to move 12 months later.

Patrick Cutrone was one of Europe’s breakout stars of the 2018-19 season, now the 21-year-old AC Milan forward is reportedly high atop Wolverhampton Wanderers’ shopping list this summer. He won’t come cheap — Milan are expected to demand nearly $30 million — but he could offer some serious insurance in the event of an injury to Raul Jimenez.

PL refs told to defer to VAR more, go to the monitor “sparingly”

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Premier League interim chief executive Richard Masters says that referees have ben instructed “to use the referee review area a bit more sparingly” and rely on the numerous video-assistant referees (VAR) at their disposal to make simple calls upon review when video review is instituted in the PL next month.

[ MORE: Lukaku latest: Man United reject $67-million bid from Inter Milan ]

Following the 2019 Women’s World Cup, where far too many trip to the monitor were made by the center referees, the PL is keen on ensuring that “the Premier League or English football [is not] interrupted, or the pace of the game [is not] changed.” It sounds very much like a “less is more” approach  — quotes from the BBC:

“I think fans want to see those clear and obvious mistakes changed and put right. But they don’t want to see the Premier League or English football interrupted, or the pace of the game changed.

“I think the only difference you might see is the referees using the referee review area a bit more sparingly and relying more on the VAR for the more subjective decisions.

“But we are putting something new into the Premier League and if it needs to be refined or improved or tweaked we will look at it when the moment arises.”

In theory, this should work quite well for the PL. Many of the decisions that referees go to the monitor to review themselves could easily be made by the “fifth official.” If it’s obvious to the VAR and he/she can make the call with 100 percent certainty, the center ref should always take their decision in the name of keeping the game flowing. If the VAR isn’t so sure, or it’s a more subjective call that should be made by the person making 99 percent of the game’s calls, go to the monitor. But do so quickly.

Lukaku latest: Man United reject $67-million bid from Inter Milan

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Given two key factors — the date on the calendar and how far apart the two sides appear to be in their respective valuations — it’s looking increasingly likely that Romelu Lukaku will still be a Manchester United player when the upcoming Premier League season starts, despite numerous bids by Inter Milan this summer.

[ MORE: Borussia Dortmund tops Liverpool 3-2 at Notre Dame ]

According to reports out of the UK, Man United have rejected Inter’s latest bid, said to be for $67.5 million. The Red Devils paid $96 million for the big Belgian forward just two summers ago and appear hellbent on recouping most, if not all, of their investment.

Antonio Conte called Lukaku “an important player for us” this week in an attempt to further unsettle the 26-year-old, but that doesn’t appear to have shaken United’s resolve in holding out for the fee they desire.

[ MORE: Wolves top Man City on penalties in PL Asia Trophy final ]

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is growing tired of answering questions about the saga, especially since there has been little to no progress made in recent days and weeks. When pressed on the topic again this week, he said he had “no more updates.”

Wolves top Man City on penalties in PL Asia Trophy final

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The 2019 Premier League Asia Trophy wrapped up on Saturday, as four PL sides took the field in Shanghai, China…

[ MORE: Borussia Dortmund tops Liverpool 3-2 at Notre Dame ]

Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-0 (3-2 PKs) Man City

Wolves turned in a fantastic defensive display against the two-time reigning PL champions, indicating that Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side is very much ready for the start of the season. Man City had plenty of the ball in dangerous areas, but Wolves were quick to close off the passages when City typically dominate.

Wolves captain Conor Coady was part of the stellar defensive performance and he lauded some of the young players who entered the game as second-half substitutes and saw the game out to 0-0.

“To beat City at any point is a great accomplishment for us,” he said after the game. “We rode our luck at times but I thought the young boys were outstanding”

David Silva had perhaps the game’s best scoring chance in the 78th minute, but Rui Patricio made a top-drawer save to deny the Spaniard’s curling effort at the last possible moment.

Silva and Ilkay Gundogan began the penalty shootout with back-to-back efforts saved by Patricio. 20-year-old forward Lukas Nmecha was also denied on City’s fifth and final attempt.

Newcastle United 1-0 West Ham United

Newly appointed head coach Steve Bruce watched as an observer, due to “the terms of his visa,” as his Newcastle side beat Manuel Pellegrini‘s West Ham 1-0 in the third-place playoff.

Yoshinori Muto bagged the game’s only goal in the 34th minute. Jamie Sterry whipped in a cross from the right wing that curled around a pair of defenders at the near post and presented itself to Muto, still with plenty of work to do, for a first-time finish.