Three things we learned: Tottenham v. Man United (highlights)

1 Comment

LONDON — Manchester United beat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 at Wembley top keep Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s perfect record intact and all but end Spurs’ faint hopes of winning the Premier League title this season.

[ MORE: Solskjaer, Pochettino react

Marcus Rashford struck in the first half to win it, as United are just six points off the top four and have won six on the trot in all competitions since Jose Mourinho left.

[ MORE: Kane injured? ]

This was by far the biggest test for Solskjaer and he had David De Gea to thank for the win. The Spaniard denied Harry Kane and Dele Alli on multiple occasions after a Spurs onslaught in the second half.

Here’s what we learned from a pulsating clash.


RASHFORD, POGBA KEY TO UNITED’S REVIVAL

United’s first goal summed up exactly what has changed at the club since Solskjaer arrived and Jose Mourinho departed. Paul Pogba played a long, inch-perfect pass and Marcus Rashford (solely used as a center forward by Mourinho) raced onto it and finished superbly across goal. The simplicity of United’s play is clear for all to see as Solskjaer has stripped them back to basics and allowed Pogba, Rashford, Martial and Lingard the freedom to attack whenever they see fit. Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic shielded the back four superbly and they had a solid back four. It really isn’t that difficult. Rashford has been superb under Solskjaer, scoring four goals in his five PL games in charge and he’s now been involved in 10 goals in his last nine PL games (five goals, five assists). This was the first time in his career he’s scored in three-straight league games and the local lad has clearly benefitted from spending some time with a predatory finisher like Solskjaer on the training ground. It is looking more absurd by the week that Mourinho didn’t play Rashford centrally and failed to give Pogba the freedom to be a no. 10.


SOLSKJAER BEATS POCHETTINO IN PUBLIC JOB INTERVIEW

After this enthralling end-to-end encounter Ed Woodward’s finger will be hovering over and between two names on the contact list on his phone: “Mauricio. Ole. Mauricio. Ole. Hmmm..”

Both Solskjaer and Pochettino will have come out of this gripping, committed with credit to prove that they can set up teams to attack, entertain and have the quality to at least be in the top four. The sample size of five wins his first five Premier League games is too small to say Solskajer should be United’s preferred choice as their long-term manager, but there’s no doubt this was a huge feather in his cap if he’s going to get the job on a full-time basis when his caretaker role ends in May. There were obvious defensive flaws for United which David de Gea’s brilliance covered up (more on that below), but the way Solskjaer has instantaneously returned swagger to United’s attack, midfield and pretty much their entire team is remarkable. He is a born winner, someone who knows the club inside out and would probably manage United for a fraction of the salary Pochettino would demand. He matched Sir Matt Busby’s United record of winning his first five league games in charge and Solskjaer can do no wrong. In a very public job interview he got the better of Pochettino, as the latter was let down by his slack strikers.


TOTTENHAM SUCCUMB TO DE GEA’S BRILLIANCE

There is no shame on holding your hands up and saying it is not your day. Tottenham had to do that Sunday. David de Gea produced four superb saves in the second half alone as the Spaniard stood tall to deny Harry Kane and Dele Alli twice when it seemed improbably they would be denied. De Gea’s sublime form has been the one constant through United’s struggles in the post-Ferguson era and he put on a clinic in the second half with save after save with his feet to leave Kane looking to the heavens in disbelief. Those who remember the Ferguson era so fondly are perhaps easy to forget the big saves Peter Schmeichel made time and time again.

De Gea will need to carry on this form until the end of the season if United are to sneak their way into the top four.

After a wobble over the summer with Spain, there is no doubt he is back to his best. From his foot saves to standing tall to putting Spurs’ strikers off at key moments, De Gea was the real reason United won at Wembley.

Report: Man City could use Gabriel Jesus to get Rodri

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
1 Comment

At the root of this report is a question to which we don’t know the answer: How highly does Pep Guardiola rate Gabriel Jesus?

A report from Spanish outlet AS says Guardiola could use his young striker to lure Atletico Madrid into a swap deal, landing Manchester City their stirring defensive midfielder Rodri.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Rodri is a nearly year older than 22-year-old Jesus, and is more instrumental to his current club. One of Atletico Madrid’s top talents, his $78 million release clause is an obvious route for City.

If Guardiola doesn’t see Jesus as a huge part of the club’s future, however, the manager may be able to go nearly like-for-like money-wise.

Jesus scored nearly every other game for City in all competitions, nabbing 21 goals in 47 matches, and has 13 goals in 27 caps for Brazil. Those are good numbers, especially with still-electric Sergio Aguero turning 31 this summer.

At his relatively tender age, Jesus has appeared 100 times for Man City and his 45 goals are made more impressive by less than 5600 total minutes in those matches.

Giving up on him to complete his midfield is a tough one. We think it’s more likely Guardiola pays the release clause… unless the manager simply doesn’t rate the player.

Players to watch at the U-20 World Cup

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The U-20 World Cup begins this week in Poland, and there are a bevy of future stars to watch, as well as several who will make their names during the tournament.

We’ll focus on the former. While England’s failure to qualify somewhat limits the Premier League starlets on show, there are still plenty from the English top flight.


Tim Weah, United States (PSG) — After a loan at Celtic and time with the full USMNT, how much can he dominate back in his age group?

Alban Lafont, France (Fiorentina) — At age 20, he’s already the starter between the sticks for his Serie A mainstays.

Diego Lainez, Mexico (Real Betis) — Eighteen with 12 league appearances for Real Betis, Lainez is a massive part of El Tri‘s future and carries four caps to his name.

Ruben Vinagre, Portugal (Wolves) — Wolves were promoted, and Vinagre actually made eight more appearances (17) than he made in the Championship.

Ezequiel Barco, Argentina (Atlanta United) — His sophomore season for the Five Stripes has been better than his debut campaign, though that’s not saying a ton given the hype.

Evan N’Dicka, France (Eintracht Frankfurt) — Plenty of playing time in the Bundesliga at the age of 19 for this towering center back.

Paxton Pomykal, United States (FC Dallas) — Looking good in MLS. How much should that translate on this stage?

Andriy Lunin, Ukraine (Real Madrid) — Won’t be wearing the white of Madrid in meaningful action any time soon, but made four appearances on loan for Leganes as a 20-year-old.

Sebastian Soto, United States (Hannover 96) — Not the American-born Bundesliga starlet we expected had we created this list months ago, but Soto has made his Bundesliga debut, so there’s a lot to like while Josh Sargent works with the full USMNT.

Dan Zagadou, France (Borussia Dortmund) — The left- and center back has 25 first team appearances for BVB at 19.

Diogo Dalot, Portugal (Manchester United) — Red Devils supporters know about this fella, who was purchased under the watch of Jose Mourinho last summer.

Mickael Cuisance, France (Borussia Monchengladbach) — Took a step back after his blockbuster ‘Gladbach breakthrough in 2017-18, but will be a key piece for the favorites.

Moussa Sylla, France (Monaco) — The winger is already a factor for AS Monaco, even if they struggled this season.

Bonus: Erling Håland, Denmark (Red Bull Salzburg); Ronald Araujo, Uruguay (Barcelona); Tom Dele-Bashiru, Nigeira (Manchester City).

De Ligt reportedly chooses Barcelona; Klopp set at CB

Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Liverpool, Manchester United, and pretty much everyone but Barcelona looks set to miss out on Matthijs de Ligt.

De Ligt, 19, has paired with Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk while in the Netherlands national team set-up, but reportedly is opting to join Ajax teammate Frenkie de Jong at Barcelona.

[ MORE: Brighton hires new boss ]

In the case of Liverpool, Sky Sports says that Reds boss Jurgen Klopp thinks he doesn’t need another center back.

Injuries hit Liverpool’s center backs this season outside of Van Dijk. Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren were rated highly and combined for just over 2500 minutes, while young Joe Gomez suffered a long-term injury midway through the season.

If all are healthy, Liverpool has decent depth. Yet even Gomez doesn’t have the upside to shake a stick at De Ligt if the 19-year-old was truly interested in coming to Anfield.

I mean, “Are you interested in this 19-year-old captain of a Champions League semifinalist? He’s interested in coming there” usually doesn’t yield a firm, “No.”

As for Barcelona, it will reinforce its back line a year after allowing 36 goals. That’s pretty decent, but the Blaugranas‘ third-highest total of the last decade.

Mkhitaryan assured of safety by Azerbaijan ambassador

Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

The Europa League Final in Azerbaijan has not been getting a lot of positive press due to fans unwillingness to travel for the event and Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s fears of stepping foot in the country.

That’s because Mkhitaryan is the captain of Armenia’s national team, and that nation’s long dispute with Azerbaijan.

[ MORE: Brighton hires new boss ]

Arsenal, of course, plays Chelsea in the May 29 final, and Mkhitaryan already missed an earlier UEL match against Azerbaijan powers Qarabag. He’s played plenty for the Gunners this season apart from a broken foot, and his absence would not be welcome news for this London Derby of a European Final.

Azerbaijan’s UK ambassador Tahir Taghizadeh has guaranteed safety for Mkhitaryan, and said he’d be happy to personally offer assurances to the Armenian. On the other hand, this doesn’t sound like the most positive messaging, via Sky Sports:

“My message to Mkhitaryan would be: you’re a footballer, you want to play football? Go to Baku you are safe there, if you want to play the issue then that’s a different story. What I can guarantee is that the Azerbaijan government will do everything what needs to be done and provide safety and security for every fan, player and staff member coming to this game.”

By using the phrase “play the issue,” it does launch the discussion firmly into political waters. One thing’s for sure: The issue may be debatable, but whether a player feels safe deserves to be his call and his call alone.