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.

Spurs’ Son happy South Korea “unscathed” in North Korea qualifier

Photo by Korea Football Association via Getty Images
Leave a comment

As expected, North Korea did not broadcast its World Cup second round qualifier against South Korea this week, making for an old school “wait and see” for fans back home in South Korea.

The match ended 0-0 in front of no fans in Pyongyang, with just police in the stands as Heung-Min Son and South Korea kept their group lead over the North Koreans on goal differential.

[ MORE: Monster deal for Mbappe? ]

Son, the Tottenham Hotspur star, says it was an odd experience. From The Korea Herald:

“The opponents were pretty physical, and we exchanged some terse words,” Son told reporters at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul. “It might have been their strategy. They played it rough, and they took exception to our own physical play. …. Rather than focusing on the match, we started worrying about trying not to get hurt. It means a lot to have come out unscathed from a match like this.”

The few videos released by journalists show an eerie scene, and South Korea’s status as AFC powers probably played in North Korea’s lack of desire to broadcast a potential home loss. But you have to think that also lived in the home players heads a bit, too.

Atlanta heads into MLS playoffs looking to defend its Cup

Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) It’s been a strange season for Atlanta United.

They’ve added more two more cups to their collection.

They’ve endured some rather baffling losses.

[ MORE: Monster deal for Mbappe? ]

After all that, the defending MLS Cup champions are heading into the postseason from essentially the same position as last season.

Atlanta, which was runner-up in the Eastern Conference, will host the New England Revolution on Saturday in the opening round of the playoffs, a rematch of their Oct. 6 game to close out the regular season.

“We’ve put ourselves in a pretty decent spot, as strange as the season has maybe been,” midfielder Julian Gressel said Wednesday after a training session. “We’ve already won two trophies, and now we have a chance for a third.”

In mid-August, United broke out the champagne after a 3-2 victory over Mexican powerhouse Club America to capture the Campeones Cup.

A couple of weeks later, they were celebrating again with a 2-1 victory over Minnesota United in the U.S. Open Cup final, guaranteeing a spot in next year’s CONCACAF Champions League.

“I felt like we were always there and pretty much at our best in those games,” Gressel said. “That’s why I’m pretty confident we’ll be at our best when it really matters.”

But there are reasons to be concerned. Atlanta struggled badly in some league games – especially on the road – and rarely looked like the dynamic team that won the MLS Cup in just its second year under former coach Tata Martino.

With Frank De Boer now at the helm, United got off to a sluggish start and spent much of the season juggling lineups and switching up tactics in a desperate bid to find some consistency. Atlanta never put together an unbeaten streak longer than five games – it had three such stretches a year ago – and finished with 58 points, 58 goals and a plus-15 goal differential. All were short of the 69 points, 70 goals and plus-26 differential from the 2018 season.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings ]

Still, United’s second-place showing in the East behind New York City FC matches last year’s finish, guaranteeing the team at least one home game in the playoffs and another in the conference semifinals should it beat the Revolution.

That’s a crucial edge for a franchise that has essentially broken every MLS attendance record and again averaged more than 52,000 per game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, doubling up every team in the league except Seattle and Cincinnati. In 17 home games, Atlanta lost only twice.

While United closed out the season with a 3-1 victory over New England, the Revolution has been one of the league’s hottest teams over the second half of the season.

Atlanta will be further tested by the possible absence of its best defender, Miles Robinson, who is dealing with a strained left hamstring sustained during a workout with the U.S. national team last week.

If Robinson can’t go, United will have to change up their lineup once again and possibly adopt a more defensive approach to Saturday’s game.

“If I do push up, it’s more so getting back a little faster than I normally would, things like that,” said midfielder Darlington Nagbe, one of those who may be affected if Robinson can’t go. “Just feel the game out and see how it plays out.”

In the regular-season finale, Ezequiel Barco got the start over Pity Martinez, a lineup that de Boer might go with again in the playoffs.

Barco played only 15 league games this season because of injuries and a lengthy stint with Argentina at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, but he provided the sort of spark de Boer was looking for against New England. Martinez, who was the 2018 South American player of the year and Atlanta’s major acquisition during the last offseason, has struggled to find his nice in MLS with just five goals in 32 appearances.

“We have to see,” de Boer said. “The only thing that concerns me is to win the playoffs.”

MLS switched up the playoff format this season. Instead of the top two teams from both the East and the West receiving byes and two-legged rounds to determine the winner of conference semifinals and finals, only the first-place finisher gets the opening round off and every step of the playoffs is a single-game elimination.

There is no room for error.

“If you have an off day, you might be out,” Gressel said. “I feel like it’s a format that favors the underdog a bit more, or gives the underdog a bit more hope.”

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

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 His work can be found at https://apnews.com

Zlatan paces MLS jersey sellers, offers fresh quip on Minnesota challenge

AP Photo/Chris Carlson
Leave a comment

Zlatan Ibrahimovic: He’s like a more charming, less anarchist version of Tom Hardy’s Bane.

The LA Galaxy man was revealed to again have the top-selling jersey in Major League Soccer on Wednesday, days before the club begins its 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs run with a match in Minnesota.

[ MORE: Monster deal for Mbappe? ]

Snow is in the forecast, but Zlatan is not bothered by such weather.

“I’m from Sweden I was born in the snow. When it snows, I’m a viking. When it’s warm, I’m a lion. We adjust for every condition there is.”

Back to the jerseys, the MLS MVP finalists are 1-2-3 in sales. Ibrahimovic is first, followed by Atlanta’s Josef Martinez, and LAFC’s Carlos Vela.

The top sellers amongst Americans are Seattle’s Jordan Morris (7) and Cristian Roldan (12). Chris Wondolowski of San Jose is 13th, while other domestic names on the Top 25 include Sebastian Lletget, Brad Guzan (!?!), Dom Dwyer, Jozy Altidore, and Graham Zusi.

Midweek El Clasico possible in December following political unrest

AP Photo/Francisco Seco
Leave a comment

Political unrest in Catalonia has both La Liga and the Spanish government looking to move the first El Clasico of the season.

Barcelona and Real Madrid are scheduled to meet at the Camp Nou on Oct. 26, but the jailing of nine Catalan separatists has caused uproar in-and-around Barca.

In fact, Barca as a club has denounced the imprisonment, so it plays more than a peripheral role in the controversy.

[ JPW: What now for Berhalter, USMNT? ] 

Players heading to and returning from international break have faced in challenges in getting to the club.

Instead, Marca says that we may see a midweek match played in Madrid on Wednesday, Dec. 18, with the reverse fixture in March moved from Madrid to Barcelona.

Dec. 18 would give both teams three matches in eight days before La Liga’s winter break. Barca would play Real Sociedad, Real Madrid, and Alaves, while Real would play Valencia and Real Betis in addition to the Clasico. Both difficult runs, but fairly even.