Manchester projects stutter for Guardiola, Mourinho

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MANCHESTER — The struggle in Manchester is real.

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When Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho arrived last summer amid much fanfare the soccer world expected a rivalry rivaling Barcelona vs. Real Madrid in England’s northern powerhouse.

Yeah. About that…

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Guardiola’s Manchester City sit in fourth place with five games to go, one place and one point ahead of Manchester United. They were dumped out of the UEFA Champions League and lost in the FA Cup semifinal to Arsenal at the weekend.

Pep’s “total football” approach has hit more than a few snags.

These two teams were supposed to challenge for the title this season but after spending a combined total of almost $400 million on new players they have one trophy between them (United won the EFL Cup) and are scrambling to qualify for the Champions League.

This isn’t how things were supposed to be.

Both managers are big enough names that they will be given plenty more time, and plenty more money, to solve their problems. But if they don’t start the 2017-18 season well then the pressure will mount quickly. Even for these two managerial heavyweights.

When it comes to Pep’s revolution at City he knows the teething problems have been present throughout the season. City have blown teams away when everything clicks but so often, especially at home, it hasn’t. City have drawn seven games at home this season and only United (9) have drawn more in front of their own fans.

Both managers are building bases tentatively but needed extra impetus to help the missing pieces of the jigsaw slot into place.

Speaking to the media after the game, Guardiola was downbeat despite his team seemingly in the driving seat for a top four finish ahead of their crosstown rivals.

“We have tried not just today but all of the season to monopolize the ball. Maybe it is a little bit of a Latin style. I don’t know what it is here in England but we tried to have the ball and attack,” Guardiola said. “Of course you can not expect against a team which is 23 games in a row unbeaten. That means they are good in defense and offensive and create not a thousand, million chances but 15 shots but not on target. It was not enough. We played to win the game. We tried. But again we are not able and we have to look why we were not able to win again. It is one point. The big fight will be until the Watford game.”

Between now and City’s final game of the season they will dominate possession in most, if not all, games but lacking that killer instinct has been their main problem. Gabriel Jesus‘ arrival at the end of this game provides Guardiola hope that the Brazilian teenager can provide a spark. City are arguably further along in their project than Untied but with fit again Vincent Kompany helping to improve Guardiola’s defense in recent weeks, in attack both have struggled.

City and United are the lowest scorers in the top six and United have scored just 50 times this season.

That said, the main problem for United in recent weeks has been injuries (Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo out for the season, joining Chris Smalling and Phil Jones on the sidelines) which have compounded their own ability to not finish teams off as a league-high 13 draws has Mourinho wondering what if.

United’s run to the Europa League semifinals has provided Mourinho with a “get out of jail free” card as they’re favorites to win Europe’s second-tier tournament and qualify for the UEFA Champions League through the backdoor. Fans of the Red Devils sing about Jose making them play “the United way” but the chant has become halfhearted and hollow recently.

United are 24 games unbeaten in the Premier League, the longest run in Europe’s top five leagues and they’ve equaled their longest ever unbeaten run in a top-flight campaign.

It doesn’t feel like it though.

Mourinho’s men recorded just 30.8 percent possession on Thursday, their lowest total since Opta started recording that metric in 2003. United are not a fun team to watch right now but they’re grinding out results until Mourinho can find a long-term solution to have them back among the elite. Until then he has the huge number of games they’ve played this season and their long injury list to blame.

“We will fight until the end – today we lost two more players – Timothy Fosu-Mensah had an important injury in the last action of the game and Fellani is suspended,” Mourinho said. “We are going down in terms of the number of players. It is very difficult for us but the character is amazing and I’m very proud of the boys.”

The feel-good factor wasn’t there on both sides of the Manchester divide at the Etihad Stadium.

Despite their pedigree Guardiola and Mourinho have plenty to prove to both sets of supporters as the two most successful and talented managers of their generation are finding that Manchester is not their heaven.

Not yet anyway.

These projects are very much a work in progress and when they next meet in July in preseason in the USA both clubs will have new players, a fresh start and more sky-high targets to reach.

The managers of City and United will be the same next season but they’ll both be under that much more pressure after a stuttering start to life in what was supposed to be a new era of Manchester becoming the soccer Mecca of the world.

Guardiola and Mourinho leave close to each other and this week Guardiola revealed the duo say hello and share pleasantries when they meet on the street.

They shouldn’t expect the same niceties from the general public in Manchester for much longer if trophies and title challenges don’t materialize.

West Ham signs Sebastian Haller on club record deal

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West Ham made a highly anticipated signing official on Wednesday morning as they secured Sebastian Haller from Eintracht Frankfurt for a club-record transfer fee.

Prior to their Premier League Asia Trophy loss to Manchester City, the club announced the signing on Wednesday on a reported $56 million deal. He signed a five-year deal with an option for a sixth.

“I feel really great,” Haller told the club’s official website. “I think it’s a really good opportunity for me to be here. It means a lot (to be the record signing). It proves that the club [has] really wanted me for a long time. I felt this desire to sign me and I’m really happy to sign, also. it is an ambitious club, a nice club, a nice city and nice fans too

“For me I can guarantee that I will give 100% for the club because the club has given me this confidence and I will try to give it back every day in every game.”

The 25-year-old was prolific during his time in the Bundesliga, arriving at Eintracht Frankfurt two years ago. He made 77 appearances for the club during his two-year tenure, scoring 33 goals, including 24 goals in 60 Bundesliga matches. Prior to joining Eintracht Frankfurt, Haller spent time at Dutch side FC Utrecht and Ligue 2 side AJ Auxerre whose youth system he graduated from.

“Sebastien is a player we have been watching closely for some time,” Director of Football Mario Husillos said in the official club release. “He has always been a key target and someone who myself, Manuel Pellegrini and David Sullivan were very keen to bring to the football club. He is a player with excellent pedigree and experience in three of Europe’s top leagues. His record at Eintracht Frankfurt in recent seasons has been up there with the top strikers in the Bundesliga, and we believe that his physical and technical qualities will be well suited to the Premier League. ”

According to a report by The Guardian, there was a late attempt to hijack the bid by an unnamed Champions League club, but the effort was unsuccessful.

Man City skates by West Ham in Premier League Asia Trophy

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Manchester City’s youth squad did the first-half job, which meant the heavy artillery coming off the bench was that much scarier. Man City came from behind to lead at halftime, and Raheem Sterling scored twice in the second half and the defending Premier League champions were no match for West Ham in a 4-1 victory in the semifinals of the Premier League Asia Trophy in Nanjing.

Pep Guardiola started a mostly second-choice lineup from the opening whistle, with David Silva and Aymeric Laporte the only true first-teamers in the squad. Claudio Bravo manned the net to begin, with new arrival Rodri also among the starters. West Ham’s lineup, meanwhile, was a strong one with Felipe Anderson, Mark Noble, Angelo Ogbonna, Jack Wilshere, Michail Antonio, and Manuel Lanzini all among a first-choice starting lineup.

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West Ham took the lead 25 minutes in through Noble who delivered from the penalty spot, but not without help from Felipe who was the star of the first half for the Hammers and won the penalty after sending Manchester City defender Angelino to the ground.

The lead didn’t last long as David Silva leveled things up in the 33rd minute, a wonderful start to his final season at Manchester City. He received a fabulous delivery from 18-year-old Spanish youth international Adrian Bernabe who rifled one to the far post where Silva was waiting, and the 33-year-old chested it down before unpacking a low finish from a tight angle.

City would go in front three minutes later as 20-year-old Man City youth product Lukas Nmecha won a soft penalty on a foul by Ogbonna, and the youngster took it himself and buried the spot-kick for the lead.

Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and Leroy Sane all came on at halftime for the defending Premier League champions, while West Ham brought on the likes of Robert Snodgrass, Javier Hernandez, and Andriy Yarmolenko.

The changes for Manchester City overwhelmed West Ham, with Sane picking up a loose ball near the halfway line and feeding a beautiful pass through the back line to Sterling clean on goal who put City 3-1 up on the hour mark. That saw John Stones, Kyle Walker, Ilkay Gundogan and Oleksandr Zinchenko all come in off the bench for Pep Guardiola and into the fray.

The big three did it again in the 72nd minute as de Bruyne picked Carlos Sanchez’s pocket in the attacking third and fed Sane on the left. He sent it back to de Bruyne who layed it off for Sterling’s second goal of the match.

In squad notes, a pair of England youth internationals went the distance for Man City as Ian Poveda-Ocampo and Taylor Harwood-Bellis were the only two to complete the full 90 minutes. Notable for West Ham, Winston Reid came off the bench for the final 19 minutes, his first game action in over 16 months.

Rashford, James, Pogba star as Manchester United hammers Leeds in Perth

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Manchester United topped Leeds 4-0 in a comprehensive victory in Perth that saw Marcus Rashford and new signing Daniel James run rampant down the flanks.

Rashford scored in the 27th minute with a beautiful move down the left that threw two Leeds defenders into each other, while James struck the post just before halftime on an overlap down the right in his Red Devils debut.

Also on the scoresheet was 17-year-old Mason Greenwood who received a hard, low cross from fellow debutant Aaron Wan-Bissaka and beat two Leeds defenders in a footrace to the ball on the doorstep for a sliding finish. The move was started by Paul Pogba who found the new Manchester United defender down the right with a wonderful through-ball, leading to the delivery into the box. Greenwood has had quite the last 12 months, scoring for the Manchester United U-17, U-18, U-23, and now senior side all in that span.

After the break, Phil Jones found the back of the net by powering home a corner with his head, while Anthony Martial finished off the scoreline with a penalty after Tahith Chong was fouled in the area by Liam Cooper. Chong impressed throughout the second half, linking well with fellow Manchester United youth product Angel Gomes.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer found playing time for just about every first-teamer, completely changing the side at halftime. Nemanja Matic was one of the halftime introductions, but was curiously withdrawn with 12 minutes to go, unclear if due to injury. The only Red Devil in the squad to not see the field was 21-year-old Axel Tuanzebe.

Wolves rocks Newcastle in Premier League Asia Trophy

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A rough summer continued for Newcastle as the Magpies were hammered in Nanjing by a first-choice Wolves lineup 4-0 in Premier League Asia Trophy action.

Diogo Jota scored a pair, and England youth international Morgan Gibbs-White added a third as Wolves took a commanding 3-0 lead into the break. As both sides rung changes in the second half, an Allan Thomas own-goal with five minutes remaining finished the scoreline and doomed Newcastle to yet another summer misstep.

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For Wolves, it was a promising start to preseason play as the lineup featured a host of regulars, with only Mexican international Raul Jimenez, still resting after a successful Gold Cup campaign, missing from the starting eleven. Jota was particularly spectacular, with a brilliant touch in the buildup to his first goal rewarded with the finish, plus his second – Wolves third – where he snatched the ball straight off the feet of Newcastle defender Isaac Hayden in the penalty area.

Gibbs-White also scored off a Newcastle turnover in its own defensive third, with Jonny picking the pocket of Jamie Sterry on the left flank and finding the 19-year-old alone in the middle for a powerful finish from outside the top of the box.

Newcastle has had a rough summer, with the club losing manager Rafa Benitez, selling leading scorer Ayoze Perez, and failing to secure second-leading scorer Salomon Rondon on a permanent basis. The club has yet to sign a single player and was forced to overpay for Steve Bruce, who was in charge for the match against Wolves.