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Premier League 2017-18 preview – Manchester United

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Last season was a total enigma for Jose Mourinho at Manchester United. The club, with plenty of squad deficiencies, finished sixth in the Premier League, out of a Champions League spot.

And yet, somehow, Mourinho came out of the previous campaign with three trophies. One of those, the Community Shield, is often cast aside, but even with the other two – the League Cup and the Europa League, a trophy that had eluded Manchester United until last season – Mourinho took a far from stellar Manchester United squad and managed to craft a successful season.

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Now, thanks to specifically targeted summer investment, the squad looks far superior to last year’s, and that has led to higher expectations. The prized possession of the summer is $100 million man Romelu Lukaku, who will take over for Zlatan Ibrahimovic at striker. The aging Wayne Rooney has gone after much fanfare, and instead of replacing the playmaker of days past, Mourinho strengthened the league’s second-best defense even further.

Best, worst case scenarios – Manchester United is suddenly a fearsome club again, at least on paper. The sixth-placed finish last year can be chalked up to not just a squad sporting numerous holes, but also some terrible statistical luck that plagued both Manchester sides all year, and led the Red Devils to miss the top four despite a fantastic unbeaten run. Now, with smart investment, this team is ready to roll, with the Premier League title in its sights.

Worst-case scenario might be just as wild. Jose Mourinho is known for taking clubs to new heights in season two followed by a spectacular implosion in season three. What happens if they skip step two and head right for step three? Romelu Lukaku gets hurt, Mourinho’s whining reaches unforseen levels of annoying, and the team fails to outrun the avalanche as it buries them in Premier League obscurity. We don’t foresee this happening, but it’s a definite possibility, which means there’s some alternative universe out there that will be privy to Mourinho’s blinding season-two Manchester United mushroom cloud.


Best possible XI is…

De Gea

Valencia — Bailly — Lindelof — Shaw

Matic — Herrera

Mata — Pogba — Rashford

Lukaku

Harsh on a very good midfielder in Carrick, plus quality attackers in Ashley Young and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but this squad is deep and those guys will all get plenty of action. Expect Anthony Martial to rotate in up front and Marouane Fellaini to serve as the prototypical Mourinho closer. If you have a lineup you believe to be better, add it in the comments below.


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Transfers In: Romelu Lukaku (Everton, $100 million), Nemanja Matic ($53 million), Victor Lindelof ($41.4 million).

Transfers Out: Adnan Januzaj (Real Sociedad, $10 million), Wayne Rooney (Everton, Free), Sam Johnstone (Aston Villa, Loan), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Unattached, Free).

Last season:

— 6th in Premier League
— Won the Europa League
— Won the Community Shield
— FA Cup 6th Round (lost to Chelsea)
— Won the League Cup

Star player: Romelu Lukaku — While Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba were the heart and soul of the squad last season, Lukaku enters the fray as the outright superstar in the locker room. He’s as much of a pure goalscorer as they come, and he will be weighed on heavily to solve the finishing woes that plagued Manchester United all last season. After finally landing as the main man on a premier club, Lukaku now must deliver what is expected of him, and he has the talent around him to take the Premier League by storm.

Coaches’ Corner: Jose Mourinho — In his second season at Manchester United, now is the time that Mourinho will make his presence known. Last season was all about transitioning to this coming campaign. Much like Pep Guardiola, the slack of the first season in charge has run out, and he must bring Manchester United back to its former days of glory, or find himself without a job. It’s that simple.

PST predicts: This is a very, very deep squad that will be able to successfully navigate multiple competitions and fixture congestion, barring an injury crisis like they had mid-last season. The central defense is five-deep and should be able to cover for any injuries that arise, especially in Mourinho’s defense-first tactics. The midfield has plenty of cover. The only thin area is Lukaku, and he will be expected to carry the load. This is a title-challenging team on paper, and Mourinho’s the man to deliver it. It would be hard to envision them finishing outside the top four, and if they do, it would be a massive disappointment.

Fernandes, Solskjaer react to playmaker’s star show: “He wants the ball all the time”

Bruno Fernandes
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer tried to put words to the virtuoso performance of Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes on Sunday.

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Fernandes won and converted a penalty for his first United goal, then set up Anthony Martial for a goal and directly assisted Mason Greenwood‘s marker late in the 3-0 win over Watford at Old Trafford.

The 25-year-old barely put a foot wrong on the day, converting all three of his dribble attempts and winning all seven of his ground duels.

“He has given everyone a boost,” Solskjaer said. “He wants the ball all the time, he wants to conduct the play. I am very pleased for him. He has done something to the crowd. He shows the attributes of a Manchester United player. He is a great addition to the squad.”

The Portuguese had shown signs of his prowess in his first four appearances for United, but Sunday was a whole new sort of contribution.

Fernandes was undoubtedly the best player on the pitch, with a gulf to second.

“This is the day every player wants to have. I feel lucky to score, I feel lucky to win the game. We all gave our best and we all deserved the win. I just need to help the team, it’s what I want to do, it’s what I need to do. I hope Martial scores more goals too like he did tonight.”

If he puts up a few more days like this, especially with Scott McTominay returning to do more grunt work behind him, United’s going back to the UCL.

Everton’s Calvert-Lewin opens scoring with overhead kick (video)

Overhead kick
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Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored a spectacular goal, and Arsenal’s chaotic defending gave him a big assist.

The Everton man had the Toffees up 1-0 inside of the first minute when he hammered an overhead kick past Bernd Leno.

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Calvert-Lewin was first to react when David Luiz could only pop a swirling Gylfi Sigurdsson free kick high into the air.

The forward’s foot flew past Luiz’s mane — it withstood VAR review — after the Gunners looked confused by Sead Kolasinac following his mark into the 18.

The goal is Calvert-Lewin’s 12th of the PL season. He’s scored four in his last five league outings, and 10 in his last 12.

He has seven goals in nine matches under Carlo Ancelotti.

Wolves’ red-hot Jota too much for Norwich City

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Diogo Jota scored twice and helped produce the third goal of Wolves 3-0 battering of Norwich City at the Molineux Stadium on Sunday.

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Mexican star Raul Jimenez scored the other goal for Wolves.

Wolves rise eighth with 39 points, five points off fourth and two back of fifth-place Manchester United.

Norwich City remains seven points back of 17th place with a league-worst goal differential sinking to minus-27.


Three things we learned

1. Red-hot JotaWolves’ 23-year-old attacker was coming off a hat trick versus Espanyol in Europa League play, and had two goals by the half-hour mark at the Molineux. That gives him five PL goals amongst his 14 in all competitions as Wolves threaten both the Europa League and, somehow, remain alive in the top four race.

2. Abject Norwich defending: Daniel Farke‘s men have been praised for continuing their forward-thinking, attack-minded football in the Premier League, but maybe they simply didn’t have the protectors to bunker down in front of Tim Krul. That’s a bit unfair, because it’s admirable that Farke wishes to entertain, but there’s no debating the mess that is the Canaries defense this year.

3. Jimenez is Mexico’s best: Club Leon’s coach made headlines this week when he called LAFC’s Carlos Vela the best Mexican player, and perhaps he’s No. 2, but there’s no North American in the world doing what Raul is doing in Europe. Jimenez went over 3,300 season minutes on Sunday, adding another goal to give him 22 with 10 assists. Only Rui Patricio, Conor Coady, and Joao Moutinho have played more than the El Tri star.

Man of the Match: Jota


Norwich City had two promising moments in the first seven minutes, as Max Aarons hit a terrific through ball that died with a Teemu Pukki extra touch. Then Pukki forced Rui Patricio into a save.

Kenny McLean cranked a shot to Patricio off a Puuki pass in the 11th minute.

A Norwich giveaway allowed Diogo Jota to dance into the 18, but he instead dribbled himself out of room and was tackled.

Jota made amends in the 19th minute, lashing home after a terrific team goal.

It might’ve been 2-0 had Alex Tettey not darted between Jota’s 23rd-minute pass to Raul Jimenez.

Jota got his second in the 30th off a corner kick, as Romain Saiss slashed a pass across the six that any of three Wolves would’ve put in for a two-goal lead.

Tim Krul made a great save on a Ruben Neves free kick after Jota was injured drawing the set piece atop the 18.

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Jota smashed the post moments before Jimenez deposited Wolves’ third goal of the game, a 3-0 lead arriving in the 50th minute.

Fernandes runs the show as Manchester United crushes Watford

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Bruno Fernandes scored a goal and helped set up two as Manchester United beat Watford 3-0 at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Anthony Martial recorded United’s second goal with a magical finish off his own rebound after Fernandes sent him through on goal, while Mason Greenwood added a late goal after a 1-2 with the Portuguese.

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United is now fifth with 41 points, three points back of fourth-place Chelsea.

Watford had a goal chalked off by VAR, and remains in the bottom three with 24 points. That’s one point off 17th and two off 16th.


Three things we learned

1. Bruno as advertised: There was no question Fernandes addressed a need for the Old Trafford set, but few would’ve seen the Portuguese revolutionizing the team’s attack so quickly (and also underlining how badly United has missed Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba). It’s not silly to say Fernandes could’ve had four assists on the day. Magnificent stuff from the 25-year-old. No surprise he has Cristiano Ronaldo’s endorsement.

2. Greenwood shows another glimpse: The Mason Greenwood hype train hasn’t been as pronounced as Marcus Rashford’s of years past, and we’re grateful for that. But his shoulder move and sick cut before dribbling 50 yards to combine with Fernandes on the third goal of the game was gorgeous stuff. More hope for the future.

3. This: It’s easy to forget the heights of which somewhat-mercurial Anthony Martial is capable.

Man of the Match: Fernandes had four key passes and was perfect in his take-ons and ground duels. Incredible show.


Poor communication between Harry Maguire and Nemanja Matic sprung Troy Deeney toward goal, but United left back Luke Shaw saved his teammates further blushes with a block.

Abdoulaye Doucoure then ran onto a dummied Gerard Deulofeu pass but found himself closed down by David De Gea.

United should’ve been up through Wan-Bissaka when Foster parried a cross onto his path, but the English back struck the ball tamely into the outside of the goal.

Bruno Fernandes led a terrific 38th-minute move, and Daniel James eventually teed up Fred for a shot that curled wide of the goal.

The January signing danced past Ben Foster and hit the deck when the Watford goalkeeper went to ground. VAR stayed with the call on the field, and Fernandes finished well with a little hop step.

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Deeney looked to have made it 1-1 in the 52nd minute, thumping a. ball into the top of the goal when a corner kick was turned off the post by Craig Dawson‘s arm. It was attached to his body, but that does not matter in the attacking box.

Martial instead made it 2-0 off a Fernandes feed, collecting his own rebound before dribbling Watford dizzy and spinning a chip into the goal.

Fernandes spotted Maguire with a seeing-eye cross in the 69th, but the defender’s header was poor.

Greenwood scored his goal in the 75th, carrying the ball 50 yards before working a 1-2 with Fernandes and finishing with aplomb.

Odion Ighalo came close to getting on the board for his new club against his old one, but Adam Masina deflected his shot off the post.