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.

Italian soccer federation signs deal with Chinese government

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ROME (AP) The Italian soccer federation has signed a wide-ranging memorandum with the Chinese government to promote soccer between the two countries.

The deal foresees playing the Italian Super Cup or Italian Cup in China within the next three years.

[ MORE: Upsets in EURO qualifying ]

The Italian Super Cup – which pits the Serie A champion against the Italian Cup champion – has already been played in China four times over the last 10 years.

The meeting with China Media Group head Shen Haixiong also focused on TV content and rights, collaboration over developing young Chinese players in Italy and instruction for using the video assistant referee.

Shen was in Rome for the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Italian federation president Gabriele Gravina says, “Soccer has shown once again to be a bridge between different cultures.”

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

WATCH: Asprilla scores terrific bicycle kick on USL cameo

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Portland Timbers forward Dairon Asprilla has had to spend some time in the USL Championship this season, and the second tier would probably like to see Gio Savarese keep the Colombian in Major League Soccer.

[ REPORT: Liverpool to sell Keita? ]

Asprilla scored twice and added an assists on Saturday night in a defeat of Eric Wynalda’s Las Vegas Lights, and he put up a near picture perfect bicycle kick on the highlight reel.

Watch as he sets himself up, willingly or not, for the endeavor before splashing a shot in the side panel for an amazing aesthetic.

Report: Bayern, BVB ready to buy Keita from Liverpool

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A report claims that Liverpool is ready to admit defeat in the case of Naby Keita.

Keita, 24, was bought from RB Leipzig last season and arrived at Anfield in the summer, but has struggled to find consistent playing time under Jurgen Klopp.

[ VIDEO: USMNT’s Saief shines for FC Cincinnati ]

Viewed as the missing link between the Virgil Van Dijk and Liverpool’s torrential attack, Keita has not come close to replicating the form that saw his price tag reach $69 million.

Indeed, Team Talk says Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich look prepared to pay around $53 million to bring Keita back to the Bundesliga.

Keita has played 27 matches in all competitions for Liverpool, accumulating 1,388 minutes and just one assist. He had nine goals and seven assists in more than double the minutes one season ago.

According to WhoScored.com, he’s passing the ball better and taking almost a foul less than last season, but almost every other measurable has declined since he moved to England.

I’m as guilty as anyone of thinking Keita would be everything the Reds required after an improved 2017-18, but he’s either being used very poorly or having trouble adjusting to the culture.

It’s early to quit on a player so talented, but maybe Klopp and he just don’t mesh well. But if it isn’t a case of clashing with the club, it may be worth waiting out a player who looked a giant just eight months ago.

EURO qualifying: Hungary stings Croatia, Israel hangs 4 on Austria

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It wasn’t just Germany and the Netherlands staging a tight and entertaining match in EURO 2020 qualifying on Sunday.

[ VIDEO: Saief, Manneh lead FC Cincinnati ]

Hungary 2-1 Croatia

Ante Rebic’s early goal made a “business as usual” statement for the World Cup runners-up, but Hungary can be a handful against any opponents and rallied at home.

Hoffenheim striker Adam Szalai brought the hosts level at halftime, and Mate Patkai gave Hungary a deserved 2-1 win in Budapest.

Coming three days after a loss in Slovakia to start qualifying, it was an early almost-must-win for Marco Rossi’s men.

Israel 4-2 Austria

Marko Arnautovic‘s brace in defeat couldn’t have come with different vibes. His eighth minute marker gave the Austrians a leg up, his 75th minute goal meaning very little with the side having conceded four-straight in between.

China-based striker Eran Zahavi scored a hat trick for Israel, and RB Salzburg star Munas Dabbur scored the fourth goal to keep the hosts within sight of first place Poland.

Austria is winless through two qualifiers.

Elsewhere
Wales 1-0 Slovakia
Cyprus 0-2 Belgium
San Marino 0-2 Scotland
Netherlands 2-3 Germany — RECAP, VIDEO
Northern Ireland 2-1 Belarus
Poland 2-0 Latvia
Slovenia 1-1 Macedonia
Kazakhstan 0-4 Russia