Three things learned: Man United v. Chelsea

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An intense battle to finish in the top four of the Premier League saw Manchester United and Chelsea grind out a draw at Old Trafford, with Chelsea the happier of the two teams with a point.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Juan Mata put United ahead but Marcos Alonso equalized after a mistake from David De Gea, as the top four battle remains intense with two games to go.

Here’s what we learned from a tense battle which summed up the tight race for UEFA Champions League qualification.


ANOTHER DE GEA HOWLER COSTS UNITED

By his own very high standards, David de Gea is having a horrible few weeks. High-profile mistakes against Barcelona, Man City and now Chelsea have seen the man who is so often United’s savior cost them dear.

De Gea, 28, is in the midst of plenty of speculation regarding his future as his contract situation rumbles on, and it would be a little too easy to point to that being the main reason for this poor run of form. It is a reason, but this poor form has arrived sporadically dating back to the end of last season as it surfaced during the 2018 World Cup.

The Spanish goalkeeper has been named United’s Player of the Season in five of the last six seasons for a reason. He is their rock in defense and among all of their problems, his stunning form was the one constant United could rely on. Not anymore. And that’s probably why United won’t finish in the top four this season, the main aim for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after he took over in December. At a crucial time of the season, United’s most reliable star has endured a nightmare spell and has probably cost them being among Europe’s elite next season. Whether he will be at United next season or not remains to be seen, but this is far from vintage DDG.


NOBODY WANTS TO WIN THIS TOP FOUR RACE

Tottenham and Arsenal lost in disappointing fashion this weekend, and neither United or Chelsea could make the most of their slip ups in the top four race. It’s almost like these teams don’t want to play in the UEFA Champions League next season…

The lackluster second half displays from United and Chelsea summed up this top four race. Teams are running out of steam and are inconsistent and whoever does finish in fourth will have limped over the line.

What their ineptitude does is set up the top four race for a thrilling finish to the campaign. With two games to go Tottenham in third are five points ahead of Man United in sixth, with just three points between Chelsea in fourth and United.

With Spurs in the UEFA Champions League semifinal against Ajax and both Arsenal and Chelsea in the semifinals of the Europa League, Man United could have the edge with their remaining games easier, on paper, than their top four rivals. But this draw for Chelsea puts them in a very good position.

Here are the games the four teams fighting for third and fourth have remaining:

  • Tottenham – Bournemouth (A), Everton (H)
  • Chelsea – Watford (H), Leicester (A)
  • Arsenal – Brighton (H), Burnley (A)
  • Man United – Huddersfield (H), Cardiff (A)

CHELSEA’S ATTACK STUTTERS, BUT SARRI COULD BE A SUCCESS

Gonzalo Higuain just couldn’t stay onside for most of the game on Sunday, let alone score a goal. We all know the Argentine striker loves to play on the shoulder of the last defender, but he yet again failed to offer that much in attack and Willian, Pedro and Eden Hazard couldn’t get going underneath him.

It looks like Chelsea are now favorites ahead of Arsenal and United finish in the top four, and coupled with their run to the League Cup final and Europa League semifinal, Maurizio Sarri‘s men aren’t doing too badly at all. If he stays, which is looking more likely, Sarri can turn things around at Stamford Bridge after a rough few months.

But the Italian coach knows his attack may well look very different next season with Eden Hazard likely to leave, Christian Pulisic coming in and the futures of Higuain, Olivier Giroud and Callum Hudson-Odoi still up in the air. Unless Hazard scores, Chelsea struggle to score and that is the main problem for Sarri to sort out this summer. For all of their intricate play in midfield and solid defensive outings (at least in recent weeks), Sarri must find a way to reignite Chelsea’s attack if they’re going to be genuine title contenders next season. They are the lowest scorers in the top six and still have a Diego Costa size hole in their attack.

Rafael Benitez out as Newcastle’s manager

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Rafael Benitez will leave his role as Newcastle United’s manager this weekend.

The contract of the Spanish coach runs out on Sunday, June 30 and he has failed to agree a new deal at St James’ Park.

With the uncertainty over whether or not owner Mike Ashley will sell Newcastle over the summer, there appeared to be plenty of obstacles for both parties to overcome.

The fact that Benitez declined to extend his contract last summer when it had just one year remaining said a lot about where his head was at, as there was constant talk about his future over the past six months.

It is believed in recent weeks that he was only offered a one-year contract extension by Ashley.

Benitez, 59, has spent the past three full seasons at Newcastle after he joined in March 2016 but failed to save them from relegation from the Premier League.

The former Liverpool, Real Madrid, Valencia, Inter Milan, Napoli and Chelsea manager stayed in charge and led them to promotion from the Championship, then stabilized the club in the Premier League with 10th and 13th place finishes on a shoestring budget.

Below is the statement from the club in full, as Benitez’s backroom staff also leave St James’ Park alongside him.

“It is with disappointment that we announce manager Rafael Benitez will leave Newcastle United upon the expiry of his contract on 30th June 2019. We have worked hard to extend Rafa’s contract over a significant period of time, however it has not been – and will not be – possible to reach an agreement with Rafa and his representatives.

“We would like to thank Rafa and his coaching team for their efforts over the last three years and their significant contribution to what has been collectively achieved. We would also like to thank our supporters, players and staff for their patience during a period of uncertainty. The process to appoint a successor will now begin.”

Benitez leaves Newcastle with his reputation enhanced and Newcastle’s passionate supporters will now be upset and angry with owner Ashley that they have lost a hugely successful manager.

It is believed that Benitez wanted more money to spend this summer to push Newcastle up the table and challenge for a top seven finish, as well as making significant runs in cup competitions.

That will not happen as the uncertainty over Newcastle’s future remains, while Benitez has been linked with a move to manage in the Chinese Super League.

He will not be out of a job for long, as the job he has done at Newcastle has been nothing short of sensational.

Gold Cup: Mexico, Canada win to finish 1st, 2nd in Group A (video)

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A roundup of Sunday’s action from the final round of Group A play at the 2019 Gold Cup…

[ WOMEN’S WORLD CUP: France gets by Brazil in ET | England bests Cameroon ]

Martinique 2-3 Mexico

Mexico fought off a valiant effort from a Martinique side which was more than up for the task of taking down CONCACAF’s premier giant before falling just short of securing their first Gold Cup point since 2002 (appeared in four of six tournaments since then). Mexico secured a first-place finish in Group A with a perfect record of nine points from three games and will face the runner-up from Group B, either Costa Rica or Haiti.

Uriel Antuna opened the scoring with a slow-rolling finish in the 29th minute, but Les Matinino drew level through Kevin Parsemain’s stunning, inch-perfect free kick in the 56th.

Raul Jimenez tapped Rodolfo Pizarro’s cross into a wide open goal to put Mexico back in front in the 61st, followed by a third from Fernando Navarro 11 minutes later.

Martinique refused to go away, though, as Seattle Sounders defender Jordy Delem headed home while left criminally unmarked inside the box to cut the lead back to one.

[ COPA AMERICA: Argentina dispatches Qatar to advance (video) ]

Canada 7-0 Cuba

For the second time in three games this tournament, Cuba suffered a 7-0 drubbing — this time at the hands of Canada, who finished second and will face the winner of Group B, either Costa Rica or Haiti.

19-year-old forward Jonathan David, who plays for Belgian side Gent, bagged a hat trick (3rd, 71st and 77th minutes), as did fellow forward Lucas Cavallini (21st, 43rd and 45th), to go with a measly singular goal from Junior Hoilett in the 50th.

Monday’s Gold Cup schedule

Bermuda v. Nicaragua — 6:30 p.m. ET
Costa Rica v. Haiti — 8:30 p.m. ET

Copa America: Argentina dispatches Qatar to advance (video)

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A roundup of Sunday’s action from the final round of Group B play at the 2019 Copa America in Brazil…

[ WOMEN’S WORLD CUP: France gets by Brazil in ET | England bests Cameroon ]

Qatar 0-2 Argentina

Argentina bounced back from a defeat and a draw in their first two games to avoid what would have been an indefensible disaster — failing to advance from the group — by beating Qatar 2-0 in the two sides’ Group B finale.

Lautaro Martinez scored what turned out to be the game-winner after just four minutes. Qatar attempted to play the ball out of the back, but a pass from a Qatari defender was badly mishit and went straight to Martinez, who was quick to corral the ball and run it down for a one-time finish from just inside the box.

Sergio Aguero put the game to bed with a brilliant individual goal in the 82nd minute. After receiving the ball 40 yards from goal, Aguero bust forward and went past two defenders in a flash before picking out a small window to hit with his left-footed finish from 12 yards out.

Up next for Lionel Messi and Co., is a quarterfinal tangle with Venezuela.

Colombia 1-0 Paraguay

Having already secured a place in the quarters, Colombia finished group play with a perfect nine-point record and locked up first place in the group edging past Paraguay.

Gustavo Cuellar bagged the game’s only goal in the 31st minute, when he snuck the ball between the goalkeeper’s legs from an impossibly tight angle.

Colombia finished Group B with three victories, by way of four goals scored and zero goals conceded.

Monday’s Copa America schedule

Chile v. Ecuador — 7 p.m. ET
Ecuador v. Japan — 7 p.m. ET

AFCON: Senegal start with win despite missing Mane

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Senegal reinforced its status as one of the favorites to win the Africa Cup of Nations by starting its campaign in Egypt with a 2-0 win over Tanzania on Sunday.

Senegal didn’t miss forward Sadio Mane, who was suspended for the game, as it opened with a solid display in Cairo.

Playing just his second competitive game for his country, Krepin Diatta powered in a shot from outside the penalty area to make it 2-0 midway through the second half. Senegal would have won the Group C game by much more if it had been just a little sharper in front of goal.

Tanzania goalkeeper Aishi Manula also helped keep the score down.

Keita Balde got the first goal in the 28th minute after finishing off an intricate attack – which swept from one side of the field to the other – by driving his shot into the bottom corner.

Mane missed the game with a suspension for two yellow cards he received in qualifying.

Senegal, host Egypt and Nigeria are seen as the strongest contenders for the title, although Senegal has played more African Cups (15) than any other team without winning the championship.

Senegal is the No. 1 team in Africa while Tanzania is the second-lowest ranked team at the tournament. It’s making just its second appearance at the African Cup and first since 1981.

Also in Group C, Riyad Mahrez scored the second goal as Algeria began its campaign with a 2-0 win over Kenya, which qualified for the first time since 2004.

Baghdad Bounedjah slotted a penalty for Algeria after Aissa Mandi cut into the area from the right flank and was sliced down. Mahrez added the second before halftime. His first-time shot from a cross was heading for the bottom right corner of the Kenyan net, deflected off a defender, and ended up in the bottom left.

Content with 2-0, Algeria shut the game down in the second half and had little trouble in holding off the Kenyans.

But meetings with minnows have provided early headaches for some of the other top teams in the first three days of action in Egypt. The home team struggled to break down Zimbabwe, Uganda surprised Congo 2-0 and Nigeria needed a late goal to finally beat tournament debutant Burundi, the lowest-ranked team to make it to Egypt. Guinea was held 2-2 by Madagascar, another team making its first appearance.

The trend continued in Sunday’s first game. Morocco got lucky and escaped with a 1-0 victory over Namibia in Group D when Itamunua Keimune scored an own goal in the 89th minute.

“The first game is always difficult,” Morocco’s M’barak Boussoufa said. “We are happy to win, even by a slim margin.”

Striker Keimune was at the wrong end of the field and trying to clear a free kick from Hakim Ziyech. Apparently uncertain whether to kick or head the ball, all he did was divert it into his own net with a minute to go. Bitterly disappointed, Namibia’s players slumped to the ground at the final whistle and were consoled by members of their coaching staff.

“We deserved a draw,” Namibia coach Ricardo Manetti said.

The Morocco-Namibia group is arguably the toughest at the African Cup, with 2015 champion Ivory Coast and South Africa the other two teams. They meet on Monday.

Morocco plays Ivory Coast in its next game, when Morocco coach Herve Renard comes up against the country he coached to the title in 2015.

“We have to get ready for that,” Renard said.