Playback: Key to United’s amazing comeback

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WHAT SPARKED UNITED’S COMEBACK?

When you next hear the cliche “a game of two halves” it’s likely it will be surrounding Manchester United’s incredible comeback at Manchester City on Saturday.

Trailing 2-0 at Man City at half time, United could’ve been 4-0 or 5-0 down as the Premier League title party was in full flow at the Etihad Stadium.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Man City were 45 minutes away from sealing the PL title in front of their own fans and by beating their bitter rivals to rub further salt into Jose Mourinho’s wounds.

Then Paul Pogba scored twice in two minutes at the start of the second half to turn the game on its head and Chris Smalling scored the winner as the champagne bottles were put back in the fridge at Etihad for at least another week.

But how exactly did United launch their amazing comeback to stop City?

“I told my midfield players that they didn’t need to improve because they were playing very well, even in the first half. All of them. I think it is very difficult to be a midfield player against Manchester City,” Mourinho told reporters afterwards. “Paul, Ander [Herrera] and [Nemanja] Matic were playing really well but I needed more from [Jesse] Lingard and Alexis [Sanchez]. I need them to connect our good football in midfield and especially I need my defenders to be a little more confident. With just a little bit of pressure from City they were kicking the ball, they were nervous, they were not bringing the ball with quality to my midfielders.”

Pogba will get most of the plaudits, and rightly so, as the Frenchman scored twice and helped United grab the game by the scruff of the neck. But you can’t underestimate just how much better he, and the rest of United’s team, was in the second half. Especially Lingard and Sanchez who Mourinho obviously had a stern talking to at the break as the Red Devils were lucky to still be in the game at half time.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Towards the end of the first half Pogba stood with his hands on his hips and shook his head as City’s midfield had ran through United time and time again. You wondered if he was having another one of those days and Mourinho would hook him off given the week he had as Pep Guardiola revealed his agent, Mino Raiola, was offering Pogba up in January.

Yet it wasn’t all about Pogba. Yes, he scored twice and overpowered Fernandinho in City’s engine room to drag United back into the game but it was about so much more than this.

[ MORE: Pogba praised after difficult week

Mourinho’s talk with Sanchez and Lingard worked as the duo were winning the ball back in key areas and intercepting time and time again to stop City building from the back. That extra pressure Mourinho was talking about worked and the manager should be applauded for not hooking Pogba, Herrera or Matic off at half time and for seeing that it wasn’t a case of his midfielders doing a poor job, but more that the players in front of them weren’t giving them a chance to have a breather and push higher up the pitch.

“It is about keeping confidence. Some times when you are losing, the instinct is to change immediately because you don’t like everything. I didn’t have that feeling. Obviously the first goal [for United] was very important. After that the game was our game. The reaction after the 3-2 was normal but also mentally I think the game was our game. I am really pleased for the players.”

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Sanchez, in particular, was much improved in the second half as he delivered the ball to Herrera to set up Pogba for his first goal, then crossed to Pogba to score a second and then bent in a perfect free kick for Smalling to score the winner. The Chilean stepped up when United needed him and although he’s still settling into the team, he proved to Guardiola that Man City really could’ve done with signing him after all in January.

United’s tempo completely changed at the break as an extreme desire to not let City have their title party in front of their faces took over.

That, combined with an understrength Man City running out of steam in the second half just over 48 hours after a damaging defeat at Liverpool, was the main reason United launched a stunning comeback.

Pogba will get plenty of the praise. Mourinho won’t get that much. And Alexis Sanchez should get some for his part in a thrilling turnaround.


EVERTON MISS GLORIOUS CHANCE

Big Sam is not a popular man at Goodison Park right now.

I was lucky enough to attend both the Merseyside and Manchester derbies on Saturday as part of Arlo White & Lee Dixon’s Excellent Adventure II (more on that below) and speaking to Everton fans before their 0-0 draw against Liverpool on Saturday it was clear the Goodison faithful aren’t impressed with Sam Allardyce‘s style of play and believe he can achieve more with his current squad of players.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned from Merseyside Derby

Coming up against a weakened Liverpool side as Jurgen Klopp rested multiple players ahead of their UEFA Champions League quarterfinal second leg at Manchester City, this was a glorious chance for Allaryce and Everton to grab their first win against their rivals since 2010.

Allardyce wasn’t brave enough to unshackle his team until the final 10 minutes when Everton created two glorious chances for Cenk Tosun and Dominic Calvert-Lewin. But why didn’t they go for it earlier or, here’s an idea, from the very start?

That’s the Allardcye way.

Liverpool’s fans chanted about that during the game time and time again, goading the Everton fans about the direct, predictable style of play they have to watch week in, week out.

Everton is an insecure club right now. Allardyce continues to lash out at the fans as he is criticized and last week he pointed to West Brom’s position at the bottom of the table and stated that the Baggies were above Everton when he arrived at the club. That was true, but are West Brom (no disrespect) really the benchmark for an Everton side who spent big over the past two years since Farhad Moshiri’s takeover?

The Toffees are in ninth place and have 41 points but with so much talent at his disposal Allardyce could do so much more with this team.

Wayne Rooney‘s frustration as he was subbed out in the second half for a holding midfielder said it all. Allardyce is scared to lose a game and places more importance on not losing than winning.

Everton’s fans do not want him around next season, and can you really blame them?

The Toffees faithful are entitled to dream and they need a manager who is going to make them do that. Or at this point at least someone who will pretend that they’re willing to try and reach the lofty heights of the top four, which owner Moshiri has talked about time and time again.

Under Allardyce this is about as good as gets.


EXCELLENT ADVENTURE II

With the focus on the Merseyside and Manchester derbies on Saturday, the rare opportunity to attend both games presented itself.

Everton hosted Liverpool at Goodison at 7:30 a.m. ET and Manchester City welcome Manchester United to the Etihad Stadium at 12:30 p.m. ET.

That meant that Arlo and Lee could fire up their Excellent Adventure II and I joined them on a 37-mile journey from Liverpool to Manchester on Saturday afternoon to watch both the games.

Here’s a look at what we got up to and I can tell you one thing, it was indeed, quite excellent…


Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.

6 clubs fined, risk FIFA transfer bans for debts to players

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ZURICH (AP) Clubs from Russia and Qatar are among six fined by FIFA and warned they risk one-year transfer bans for failing to settle debts to players.

[ MORE: Steffen to England? ]

FIFA says the clubs also face deductions of six league points if they fail to pay the debts in 30 to 90 days.

The clubs are: Kuban of Russia; Al Arabi and Al Kharaitiyat of Qatar; Zamalek of Egypt; Al Jazira of the United Arab Emirates; and Mersin Idman Yurdu of Turkey.

FIFA says all failed to comply with rulings by FIFA or the Court of Arbitration for Sport “to pay significant overdue amounts of money to players.”

They were fined between 15,000 and 30,000 Swiss francs ($15,000 and $30,000).

FIFA says national soccer federations face disciplinary cases if they fail to enforce the verdicts.

Premier League friendlies: Liverpool meets BVB; Everton in Portugal

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The Premier League is three weeks and one day from opening its 2018-19 slate, when Leicester City will visit Old Trafford for a Friday afternoon match with Manchester United.

The end of the World Cup has eyeballs trained on friendlies, with 19 Premier League teams doing work over the weekend.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

The International Champions Cup has a pair of matches on the docket.

Friday sees Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, sans many of their World Cup stars, mixing it up with Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund in Chicago.

Then Sunday will see Borussia Dortmund switching gears and time zones, tangling with Liverpool in North Carolina as Pulisic renews acquaintances with old pal Jurgen Klopp.

Manchester United takes on San Jose on Sunday, two days after facing Club America.

Other marquee friendlies of the weekend include Bournemouth facing American back Shaq Moore and Levante on Friday, with Fulham hosting Lyon on Saturday, and Everton meeting Lille and Porto on consecutive Portuguese days Saturday and Sunday.

Friday

Bournemouth vs. Levante
Burnley vs. Macclesfield Town
Burnley vs. Curzon Ashton
Cardiff City vs Torquay
Manchester City vs. Borussia Dortmund (in Chicago)

Saturday

Brighton and Hove Albion vs. AFC Wimbledon
Crystal Palace vs. Oxford United
Everton vs. Lille
Fulham vs. Lyon
Huddersfield Town vs. Real Betis
Huddersfield Town vs. Roy-Weiss Essen or Werder Bremen
Leicester City vs. Notts County
Southampton vs. Derby County
Watford vs. Fortuna Dusseldorf
West Ham United vs. Preston North End

Sunday

Everton vs. Porto
Huddersfield Town vs. Darmstadt
Liverpool vs. Borussia Dortmund (in North Carolina)
Manchester United vs. San Jose Earthquakes (in Santa Clara)
Wolverhampton vs. TBD

Transfer rumor roundup: Japan, South Africa strikers to Premier League

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Percy Tau’s name isn’t yet widely known outside of South Africa, what with Bafana Bafana absent from the World Cup.

But the 24-year-old Mamelodi Sundowns winger may soon get to test his skills on a much bigger stage.

[ USMNT: More accolades for Pulisic ]

Tau, who has five goals in 12 caps, will reportedly join Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League if a medical goes well, with Sky Sports saying it’ll will be the biggest transfer fee yet for a South African Premier League player.


Yoshinori Muto could be bringing his 25 caps to the Premier League.

The 26-year-old striker made just one appearance at the World Cup, but has had a nice run with Mainz since joining from FC Tokyo. He’s bagged 23 goals in 71 appearances.

Bild report says there have been no formal offers for Muto, but that Newcastle United and West Ham are interested in the striker. Newcastle badly needs a striker, but West Ham has been spending money and Magpies owner Mike Ashley hasn’t green lit much in recent seasons.

Open Cup draw postponed as Portland protests LAFC win

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The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup draw is not going as planned, as the Portland Timbers protest the roster of victorious LAFC.

[ RECAP: Four USOC semifinalists minted ]

Philadelphia, Chicago, and Houston were the other sides to get a place in the final four teams.

LAFC’s victory had already been marred by Adama Diomande‘s claims of a racial slur hurled his way, and now their victory may be in question altogether as U.S. Soccer issued a press release saying Thursday’s scheduled draw was postponed.

From a U.S. Soccer press release:

The decision comes as a result of a protest filed by the Portland Timbers in relation to the number of foreign players fielded by Los Angeles Football Club during Wednesday night’s Quarterfinal at Banc of America Stadium in Los Angeles, Calif.

The rule says a maximum five players without green cards can be in the 18. Portland started only two Americans, Jeff Attinella and Zarek Valentin, but have green cards for many others and rules are rules.

Will the Timbers take a semifinal berth via protest?