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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.


[ MORE: 2017-18 PL season preview hub ] 

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.

Josef Martinez scores 2 more in win, including sensational solo work

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Josef Martinez scored his 25th and 26th goals of the MLS season, and if he challenges his MLS record of 31, he may also stare down soccer royalty.

The Venezuelan striker scored two more on Wednesday in a 2-0 defeat of FC Cincinnati in Ohio to give him goals in 15-straight league contests.

He now has 76 goals in 80 MLS games, which is good.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

On the season, he’s six goals shy of matching the Major League Soccer record he set with last season’s 31 regular season goals.

According to MLSSoccer.com, he’s six games shy of tying Lionel Messi’s world record for consecutive league matches with a goal.

Even that’s a little tricky: Messi scored in 21-straight games in which he was eligible for selection, but 19-straight before missing two matches for injury. In that remarkable run of 21, he also had a run of six-straight braces.

It’s not really worth it to attempt to compare the two streaks: If Martinez gets to 21 (or even 19), it’s amazing stuff and worth celebrating on a worldwide level. Everyone has a bad game every now and again, but Martinez still finds the score sheet in ’em.

Look at the magician’s tricks he used for this one, including a back heel first touch and two freeze-frame cut moves. That’s not even mentioning the finish.

USWNT announces final matches of World Cup-winning year

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CHICAGO (AP) The Women’s World Cup champion U.S. team will wrap up 2019 with matches against Sweden and Costa Rica.

U.S. Soccer announced Wednesday that the U.S. will face Sweden in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 7 and Costa Rica in Jacksonville, Florida, on Nov. 10.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

The team is wrapping up its World Cup victory tour next month with matches against South Korea on Oct. 3 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and on Oct. 6 in Chicago.

Coach Jill Ellis is stepping down following the match in Chicago after leading the team to a pair of consecutive World Cup titles.

The United States is 15-1-2 this year and currently riding a 14-game winning streak.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Report: Mane to get big raise, Liverpool contract through 2025

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Liverpool’s Senegalese sensation looks set to stay at Anfield deep into his 30s.

Sadio Mane is in talks with the Reds hierarchy over a new deal that will run through 2024-25, and pay him more than $15 million per season.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

Mane, 27, currently has a deal through 2023, but surely wouldn’t mind a raise. And Liverpool will be happy to tie him down on Merseyside a bit longer.

He’s scored six times in seven matches this season, also grabbing an assist. That’s on a better pace than his 26 goals and five assists over 50 appearances in 2018/19.

Mane has 70 Premier League goals at the moment. Do you tip him to eclipse 100 while still at Anfield? 125?

Europa League preview: Man Utd, Wolves, Arsenal begin group stage

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The Europa League begins its group stage on Thursday, with the three Premier League combatants taking on clubs from Kazakhstan, Portugal and Germany.

Manchester United’s kids are gonna get some playing time when Astana visits Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Teenager Mason Greenwood and 21-year-old Axel Tuanzebe will start, and Sergio Romero will be between the sticks.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

And the Manchester Evening News notes that Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes could also start at Old Trafford, meaning the veterans in the fray will be quite important.

Enter Fred, the forgotten $68 million man from Shaktar Donetsk. The 23 minutes he played last week versus Leicester City account for his lone time on the pitch this season.

Here’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer:

“I’m sure we’ll see more and more of Fred. We spoke about it earlier, he’s had some great games in midfield with Scott against PSG and Arsenal, for example, and we’re just waiting for that to flourish.”

Fred had an odd record under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last season, barely in the squad when the team started hot but trusted against PSG and Barcelona in the Champions League.

Speaking of little-used midfielders, Arsenal boss Unai Emery is getting a little grief for leaving Mesut Ozil behind for the Gunners’ trip to Germany for a big match with Eintracht Frankfurt.

Ozil made his first start of the season in Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Watford at the weekend, playing 71 minutes and departing with the club up 2-1.

So why not even bring him abroad? Rest.

“Because we are going to play another match on Sunday,” Emery said, via The London Evening Standard. “My decision is because he played and also I’m thinking tomorrow the focus and the first 11 and after that I decided who are the players who can be the best for tomorrow and also the players not and that is Sokratis and Mesut.”

Sokrastis Papastathopoulos is also out, having played a big role in the embarrassing performance at Watford.

There have been tough times for Wolves as well, who sit in the relegation zone after five matches of the Premier League season.

They’ve been quite good in Europa League, though, dispatching a pair of minnows before winning both legs against Serie A side Torino.

Why the inconsistency? It’s not fixture congestion, according to Ruben Neves:

“I don’t think fatigue has anything to do with it, Neves said, via The Birmingham Mail. “We’re all top players, we’re used to it, we’re used to playing a lot of games in quick succession. I don’t think the Europa League has (anything) to do with our position in the Premier League. Obviously, we haven’t had the start that we’ve wanted, but it’s been a beautiful journey into the Europa League. This is a historic moment for Wolves and we’re going to do our best in this competition.”

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men are in Portugal to meet Braga, one of three tricky opponents in Besiktas and Slovan Bratislava.

Full slate

12:55 p.m. ET
CFR Cluj v. Lazio
LASK v. Rosenborg
Getafe v. Trabzonspor
PSV Eindhoven v. Sporting Lisbon
Basel v. Krasnodar
APOEL Nicosia v. Dudelange
Copenhagen v. Lugano
Standard Liege v. Vitoria SC
Qarabag v. Sevilla
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Arsenal
Rennes v. Celtic
Dynamo Kiev v. Malmo

3 p.m. ET
Wolfsburg v. Oleksandriya
Espanyol v. Ferencvaros
Rangers v. Feyenoord
Porto v. Young Boys
Slovan Bratislava v. Besiktas
Borussia Monchengladbach v. Wolfsberg
Partizan v. AZ Alkmaar
AS Roma v. Istanbul Basaksehir
Gent v. Saint-Etienne
Manchester United v. Astana
Wolves v. Braga
Ludogorets Razgrad v. CSKA Moscow