Getty Images

Ostracized at United, Schweinsteiger to lead Chicago offense

1 Comment

Bastian Schweinsteiger arrived at Manchester United from Bayern Munich in the summer of 2015 amid plenty of promise.

[ MORE: Overhaul at Arsenal? ]

He leaves with plenty of question marks surrounding his time in the Premier League and has spent close to 12 months in the shadows.

Schweinsteiger, 32, signed for the Chicago Fire in Major League Soccer on Tuesday on a one-year deal as he brought an end to his disappointing 18 months at Old Trafford.

The German World Cup winner was signed by former United boss Louis Van Gaal and became somewhat of a scapegoat of LVG’s second season in charge which saw the Red Devils turn into a predictable, laborious team to watch as they failed to break teams down and finished fifth in the Premier League.

Nursing numerous injuries, Schweinsteiger played 31 times in his only full season at United and appeared just 18 times in the Premier League. He did win an FA Cup under Van Gaal last season but it appeared that when Jose Mourinho arrived in the summer, along with Paul Pogba, that Schweinsteiger’s big wages were not welcome at Old Trafford.

Forced to train with the reserves and left out of action until Nov. 30, 2016, Schweinsteiger got his head down and worked hard in training as many former teammates lambasted the way he was treated by Mourinho and his staff and was shown a lack of respect.

Yet, perhaps due to the humility he showed when cast outside ruthlessly by Mourinho, United’s fans took to him in recent months and cheered his every touch whenever he made brief one of his fourth brief appearances off the bench.

Schweinsteiger was greeted with many well wishes from fellow United players when news of his move to Chicago Fire was confirmed, hammering home his popularity among the squad.

With 18 months of pretty much treading water at United, Schweinsteiger is now ready to kick-start the final stage of his career.

“Throughout my career, I’ve always sought opportunities where I hoped to make a positive impact and to help make something great. My move to Chicago Fire is no different,” Schweinsteiger said. “Through my conversations with Nelson and Pauno, I’m convinced by the club’s vision and philosophy and I want to help them with this project.”

Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic explained where Schweinsteiger will fit into Chicago’s project.

“Having the strongest possible midfield is essential for how we want to play,” Paunovic said. “We see Bastian helping our organization of the attack, and impacting the final third build-up with his vision and creativity to produce the final pass, as well as his capacity to score goals. His versatility on the field, and his immense experience at the highest levels of this sport will be a great benefit to our team.”

So, Schweinsteiger will be given a free role as a No. 10. In his early days he thrived in a central or wide attacking midfield role for Bayern Munich and Germany. Yet, since the 2009-10 season he’s been deployed as a deep-lying playmaker for club and country and that’s worked out well.

Not blessed with outstanding pace, Schweinsteiger’s vision and range of passing mean this free role could suit him well. With Chicago’s duo of Dax McCarty and Juninho in defensive midfield, they could feed the ball to Schweinsteiger and let him do some damage in and around the box. All three are far from spring chickens, but it may just work…

In the Premier League Schweinsteiger’s physicality was a problem, especially defensively, and Mourinho suggested that was the main reason the former captain of the German national team was ostracized from the first team squad.

We all know MLS comes with its own challenges for ageing players and many adapt differently to the pace and power of the league.

Case in point: Steven Gerrard, Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard all endured (and in Pirlo’s case, enduring) a tough time on turf pitches and came up against younger, hungry midfielders and were placed in teams were perhaps other attacking players weren’t quite on the same wavelength when it came to making runs and finishing chances. Then you look at Robbie Keane, Didier Drogba and David Villa, and those more attack-minded players have flourished regardless of their age.

Maybe playing Schweinsteiger further forward will be a masterstroke from Paunovic. Still, many in the MLS community are skeptical about bringing in a player who is far from match fit on a Designated Player deal.

We know Schweinsteiger is still a big name in world soccer and commercially this deal will be a hit for a huge media market in the U.S. but it does go against the new wave of young DP signings we’ve seen work so well at Atlanta United, Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders and other MLS clubs over the past few months.

Schweinsteiger will have to overcome all of these challenges in a Chicago side which is desperate to make a charge this season and make the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Yet, wherever he has been he seems to have overcome the doubters and prove everyone wrong.

With his nightmare at Manchester United over, Schweinsteiger seems ready to make up for lost time.

AT HALF: Martial, Rashford team up for impressive opener

Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester United has a stylish opening goal in its quest to go a perfect 2-for-2 in Premier League play.

After quality passing in traffic ended with Marcus Rashford slipping a through ball in to both Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial, the Frenchman bolted a ball into the upper reaches of the net.

[ STREAM: Wolves – Man Utd ]

To be honest, Rui Patricio had little recourse.

The goal is Martial’s second of the season, and United is 45 minutes away from moving atop the league.

Report: Barcelona will make Neymar loan offer

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The most expensive player in the world may be going back to his old club…on loan.

According to a report by ESPNFC, Barcelona will make an official approach for Neymar on a loan with an option to buy next summer, similar to the switch Philippe Coutinho made from the Camp Nou to Bayern Munich earlier today. In fact, the report specifically states that Barcelona will look to copy Bayern’s approach of a one-year loan with a fee ($9.4 million for Coutinho’s loan) plus all wages paid, followed by an option to buy ($133 million).

Barcelona prefers this approach as they have already racked up a massive transfer bill this summer, spending over $220 million on the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong, Junior Firpo, and Neto.

While there have been numerous reports of potentially creative offers for Neymar over the past few weeks that mention players included in a swap deal, the ESPNFC report specifically states no players will be included in any current or future deal for Neymar either in the terms of the loan or as part of the option to buy. While Barcelona considered this approach in the past, Paris Saint-Germain was reportedly not interested in any players Barca offered, other than Coutinho. They apparently made an official offer already, ponying up $89 million plus Coutinho and Ivan Rakitic, but that was turned down.

The ESPN report does state that Coutinho’s loan to Bayern is seen by those close to Neymar as “a huge setback” as the Brazilian’s camp saw Coutinho as the key to making the deal happen, given that Barcelona is unwilling to put up a straight cash offer this summer. Unnamed Barcelona officials are also quoted in the report as stating that a for a potential Neymar deal, “it will be complicated,” but they are hopeful of progress.

The option to buy in Barcelona’s offer has reportedly not been decided upon as of yet, although previous reports have stated that PSG is unlikely to consider an offer that does not net them back what they paid for Neymar two years ago, to the tune of $245 million.

Watch Live: Wolves v. Man United

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester United travels to Monlieux to take on their boogy team as Wolverhampton Wanderers look to make it four straight without a loss against the Red Devils across all competitions (Watch live, 3:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

The last time Manchester United beat Wolves was in 2012 when they won 5-0 at Monlieux in a season that saw Wolves eventually relegated. They were winless in all three matches against Wolves last season, including two in Premier League action and one in domestic cup play. To end that drought, they’ll need to break a Wolves streak of eight consecutive top-flight matches unbeaten at home, making their midlands ground a fortress of late.

WATCH WOLVES v. MAN UNITED LIVE ONLINE HERE

To help snap the streak, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has handed winger Daniel James a full debut, coming into the side in place of Andreas Pereira as the only change from the team that topped Chelsea 4-0 to begin the season. Juan Mata stays stuck on the bench, while Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, and Anthony Martial all spearhead the attack alongside James. Paul Pogba again partners with Scott McTominay in midfield to reprise a duo that was fabulous against the Blues. Alexis Sanchez remains out of the squad, although Solskjaer confirmed he is “close” to a return.

For Wolves, they deploy an unchanged side from the opening day draw with Leicester City. Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez are back leading the lines after being rested midweek for their Europa League win over Pyunik. Nuno again deploys a 5-3-2, with wingers Johnny and Matt Doherty serving as wing-backs along the three central defenders in Connor Coady, Wily Boly, and Ryan Bennett.


LINEUPS

Wolves XI: Patricio; Doherty, Bennett, Coady, Boly, Jonny; Dendoncker, Neves, Moutinho; Jota, Jimenez.
Subs: Ruddy, Neto, Cutrone, Gibbs-White, Saiss, Vinagre, Traore.

Man United XI: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw, McTominay, Pogba, James, Lingard, Rashford, Martial.
Subs: Romero, Tuanzebe, Pereira, Mata, Matic, Greenwood.

Sokratis calls it “easier” to defend Liverpool than Burnley

Leave a comment

Arsenal has not fared well at Anfield the last few years, not at all. In fact, the Gunners haven’t shown up against the Reds at all the past two seasons, shipping 13 goals in their last four meetings with Liverpool, and 15 goals in their last four trips to Anfield.

Which made the words out of the mouth of Arsenal defender Sokratis about defending Liverpool even more surprising.

Following 2-1 win over Burnley this past weekend, Sokratis compared playing the Clarets to playing defending Champions League winners Liverpool, whom Arsenal visits this coming weekend. “It is a different game,” Sokratis said. “Maybe it is more easy, because you don’t have to fight a lot, but they also play football.”

Play football they certainly do. Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino have all scored each of the last two times the Gunners visited Anfield, resulting in 5-1 and 4-0 drubbings. So…how does that figure to “more easy?”

“If they are on good day and you are having a bad day, it is hard,” Sokratis admitted. “In the end, we know that it is difficult and we respect Liverpool a lot. But I think the best [way] is to go and play our style of game. We will see what happens.”

When asked specifically about last season’s lopsided result, Sokratis believes that was a rare occurance. “The 5-1 last season…it was not the game to take five goals – [there was] the penalty kicks, we made mistakes,” he said. “I think this year will be different, but we have to improve of course from the work we do with the coach and his staff.”

Arsenal will have to avoid the mistakes this time around if they want to find an important three points. Even a draw would be helpful in the Gunners’ quest to attain Champions League qualification for the first time in four years. Sokratis would be wise not to take the Reds lightly.