In-form Pogba: “I was in the shadows”

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Paul Pogba is on fire and is clearly loving life under Ole Gunnar Solksjaer.

The French midfielder has probably been the main beneficiary of Jose Mourinho’s departure at Manchester United in December, as Solskjaer has built the team around Pogba since taking over on a caretake basis.

[ MORE: Solskjaer hire makes sense ]

Pogba has scored four goals and added four assists during Solskjaer’s five-straight Premier League wins to kick off life at Old Trafford and his influence on United’s play was evident in the huge 1-0 win at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.

His wonderful pass to set Marcus Rashford free for the game-winner at Wembley summed up his growing confidence levels and he almost scored a few times himself in the second half after galloping into the final third.

Speaking to reporters at Wembley after the game, Pogba summed up his situation and the difference Solskjaer has made in his first six games in charge.

“Before the coach arrived I was in the shadows, on the bench, and I accepted that,” Pogba said. “It is a pleasure to play again. Now I am always smiling… It’s a pleasure to be reunited with him. I knew him from the academy and the reserves, when his nickname was ‘Supersub’. He is doing a really good job. As a player he knew the mentality of this club. He has come back to help us and it is going very well.”

Solksjaer worked with Pogba in the academy and reserve team at United during his first steps as a coach and the confidence he has given the Frenchman is clear for all to see. He is flourishing alongside Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard and the pace, trickery and power of that quartet has opposition defenses retreating readily.

Mourinho never seemed to trust Pogba and always wanted to make him into a more defensive central midfielder. Solskjaer has taken the shackles off and is reaping the rewards of allowing his attacking players to do what they do best: create and score goals.

Pogba’s return to form is the biggest indicator that Solskjaer is doing a great job at reviving Manchester United on the pitch, as they’re now just six points off the top four and waiting in the shadows to pounce and secure UEFA Champions League qualification.

If Solksjaer is going to get the job on a permanent basis at the end of the season, Pogba will have to stay fit and in-form. Crucially, the World Cup winner is also emerging as a leader of this team and his influence in the dressing room will be key to keep all of the players on Solskjaer’s side.

As long as Pogba is happy and is playing in the correct position, United will be heading in the right direction.

Asian Cup Wrap: South Korea clinches top spot in group, and more

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Heung-Min Son started, recorded an assist and went 89 minutes three days after arriving in the United Arab Emirates as South Korea finished off the group stage with a resounding, 2-0 win over China.

With the win, South Korea’s third straight, the Taegeuk Warriors advance to the knockout stages as one of the top seeds, where they’ll face a third-place team in their next match. Ui-Jo Huang scored on a penalty kick in the 14th minute to give South Korea the lead, and six minutes into the second half, Min-Jae Kim powered home a header off a Son corner kick to put the game away.

[READ: Goal-scoring Martinez re-signs with Atlanta United]

China won’t be too upset about the defeat. They finished in second place in Group C, and will open the knockout round against Thailand.

Elsewhere in Asian Cup action, Vitalij Lux scored a hat-trick as Kyrgyzstan beat the Philippines, possibly earning a spot in the knockout stages. It’s Kyrgyzstan‘s first appearance at the Asian Cup.

In Group D action, leaders Iraq and Iran, both enemies politically, perhaps finished with an appropriate scoreline. The two sides settled for a scoreless draw, seeing both advance to the next round. Vietnam, meanwhile, picked up its first win in a 2-0 victory over Yemen, potentially keeping its Asian Cup hopes alive for a few more days.

FOLLOW LIVE: Southampton v. Derby County

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Southampton and Derby County chase the final spot in the fourth round proper of the 2018-19 FA Cup with a replay at St. Mary’s on Wednesday.

[ FOLLOW: FA Cup scoreboard ]

The clubs drew 2-2 at Pride Park on Jan. 5, with a Nathan Redmond 2-0 lead going to waste for the Premier League visitors.

The victor gets a trip to the Crown Ground to face League One’s Accrington Stanley on Jan. 26.

Full fourth round fixture list

Jan. 25
Arsenal v. Manchester United

Jan. 26
Accrington Stanley v. Derby County or Southampton
Brighton and Hove Albion v. West Bromwich Albion
Bristol City v. Bolton
Doncaster Rovers v. Oldham Athletic
Man City v. Burnley
Middlesbrough v. Newport County
Newcastle United v. Watford
Portsmouth v. Queens Park Rangers
Swansea City v. Gillingham
Shrewsbury Town v. Wolves
Millwall v. Everton
AFC Wimbledon v. West Ham United

Jan. 27
Crystal Palace v. Spurs
Chelsea v. Sheffield Wednesday

Jan. 28
Barnet v. Brentford

Leeds’ Bielsa admits he spied “all the rivals”; How widespread is spying?

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Managerial darling Marcelo Bielsa spoke out Wednesday as fallout continues from a Leeds United scout caught spying on Derby County last week.

Bielsa says he’s spied on every team the club has played in the Championship this season.

[ MORE: Neymar praises Weah ]

How rare is this? And how big of a role has it played in Leeds’ 4-point lead in the race for automatic promotion to the Premier League? From the BBC:

“I observed all the rivals we played against and watched the training sessions of all opponents,” he said. “All the information I need to clarify, I gather it without watching the training session of the opponent, so why did I send someone to watch them? Just because I thought I wasn’t violating the norm. I gathered information that I can obtain in another way.

“We feel guilty if we don’t work enough, it [watching the opponents train] allows us to have less anxiety and in my case I am stupid enough to allow this kind of behavior.”

The 63-year-old Argentine has spent time at Lille, Lazio, Marseille, Athletic Bilbao, and Espanyol in addition to running the national teams of Argentina and Chile.

It does raise the question of how much spying is done in soccer. We know that the NFL’s New England Patriots cheated during a game against the New York Jets and that MLB teams try to steal signals, but sneaking around a training session… is that okay? Should it be?

55-goal Martinez re-ups with Atlanta through 2023

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Josef Martinez has signed a new deal with Atlanta United, with a contract tying him to the club through the 2023 Major League Soccer season.

Martinez, 25, has 55 goals in 61 games for the Five Stripes since arriving from Torino in 2017, a strike rate unlike anything the Venezuelan had been able to do in his career with the Serie A club, Young Boys, or Caracas.

[ MORE: Neymar praises Weah ]

That development has him happy to lock down a new Designated Player deal in Georgia, one that certainly would raise his transfer value. From AtlUtd.com:

“This means a lot to me because of the affection that the fans have shown me, that the fans show all of the players. It’s unique,” Martinez said. “They recognize the effort that you give and they know you did everything to win, and I think that’s why we love playing here. I have to thank everyone. My teammates, the city, my family and friends, because this is a dream I’ve always had. I’ve said before that I don’t want to go anywhere because this is my home. You can expect more work, more intensity, because that’s who I am. I want to win. I want to do everything for my teammates and for the city.”

With neither Newcastle nor Real Betis ready to meet Atlanta’s transfer fee for Miguel Almiron, the Five Stripes are in a bit of a bind with a reported deal for expected DP Pity Martinez despite having the league maximum three DPs in Martinez, Almiron, and Ezequiel Barco. Perhaps the European clubs are trying to force Atlanta’s hand.