Not time for panic at Man United

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It won’t be a popular notion in a competitive world which demands people make their own luck, but Manchester United fans should not push the panic button yet when it comes to the club’s early season performances.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 1-2 Palace | Ole reacts ]

Yes, there are deserved questions about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as a manager (Jesse Lingard has been subpar for the better part of a calendar year), and Paul Pogba as a center piece. Marcus Rashford may not be a “United level” star center forward and the sale of Romelu Lukaku without replacing him with a backup above the age of 17 is a hazard at best.

Despite all these things, United should very much be unbeaten right now.

The Red Devils weren’t as good as their 4-0 score line versus Chelsea to open the season, but it appears their opponents aren’t anywhere near the traditional standard bearers to wear the Stamford Bridge set’s blue colors following a draw with Leicester City and scrappy 3-2 defeat of Norwich City.

Consider: Opta reports that United is only the second team to win a penalty in each of their first three matches to a Premier League season, after Chelsea in 2012-13.

Also consider: Chelsea made all of theirs (Also an odd one, all of those penalties came before the 23rd minute. Low stress. The scorers were Frank Lampard (2) and Eden Hazard).

United probably deserved to have gotten all three points from their draw with Wolves a week ago, and no club deserves to be enraged as the seemingly case-by-case rulebook being applied to in-game penalty reviews by the VAR (although Spurs supporters are likely feeling a change in the wind between Aymeric Laporte‘s handball and Jamaal Lascelles‘ face plant, we imagine).

The nature of the last two finishes has also been a shock to the system. United, like most big clubs, simply doesn’t lose at home and not late. According to Opta, Patrick Van Aanholt joined Thierry Henry as the only visitors players to have scored a 90th minute winner at Old Trafford (At some point we should have a discussion about Van Aanholt being criminally underrated, but not on account of David De Gea‘s “Where’d my hands go?” routine).

But this is very much a case of luck, Fortune, or whatever word you deem adequate to describe the defiance of statistics. On Saturday alone, Gary Cahill tried a rodeo mount of Martial and VAR somehow didn’t deem it a penalty; Rashford smashed a penalty off the post; And one of the finest goal keepers in the world forgot how to keep goal.

Small sample size alert, but look at United’s standing in these statistical categories (via WhoScored.com). The Red Devils have had all of the ball, are winning their 50/50s, passing well, and are arriving in an ornery mood. Obviously, they should shoot more. Also, they should score their penalties.

The other good news comes in this way: United’s best performers have come from the players they’ve identified as a big part of their future.

Anthony Martial has been their most influential player and should’ve won a penalty against Palace in addition to his assist (and goals in each of their first two PL matches). Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and Daniel James are delivering the goods, too.

United faces a tricky trip to in-form Southampton this week. Saints deserved a point against Liverpool before beating Brighton, but will be playing its third match in a week following midweek League Cup action versus Fulham.

Should they falter, especially via a missed penalty, well… first and foremost, send us your popcorn gifs. But truly, consider the performance. Given the club’s lack of addressing the midfield and willingness to let Lukaku walk, perhaps you’d say the Red Devils displays away from the penalty spot this early season have been in a decent place.

This isn’t to say the team is great. I picked them to finish outside the Top Four and have yet to be swayed that the Red Devils can come together quick enough to outlast Man City, Liverpool, Spurs, and Arsenal over 38 matches. Solskjaer is likely to prove a lesser Zidane over time (a terrific man manager, but not as advanced when it comes to matching wits with the best tactical minds or even super experienced ones like Roy Hodgson).

Panic, however, should be reserved not for a 1-1-1 start. If you want to direct your frustration somewhere, I’d choose the lot using missed penalties to fire racism at players.

Season restart preview: Brighton and Hove Albion

Brighton season restart
Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Brighton is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Seagulls when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: If there’s a team whose results don’t show the way they’ve played, it’s Brighton. Graham Potter’s Seagulls have the sixth-best possession percentage in the league, are a tidy seventh in passing, and are mid-table in tackles per game, interceptions per game, and shots per game.

[ MORE: Ranking every Brighton player in 2019-20 ]

The expected goals stats show even less reward for good work, with Brighton scoring 8.35 goals less than expected in open play and 4.38 less from corner kicks.

Despite all these good things, Brighton is two points clear of the drop zone with nine matches to play and has a terribly challenging schedule especially at the Amex Stadium.


Tactical analysis: Graham Potter has put the Seagulls in myriad formations this season, though he’s been utilizing at least four at the back since the calendar turned to 2020. He’s ready to attack but pragmatic given the club’s hopes of staving off the teams below it in the fight for PL survival.

[ MORE: The 2 Robbies assess Brighton’s chances ]


Possible XI (4-2-3-1) 

—– Ryan —–

— Montoya — Webster — Dunk — Burn —

—– Propper —– Mooy —–

— Trossard — Gross — Alzate —

—– Maupay—–

Glenn Murray and Alireza Jahanbakhsh are excellent weapons to have on the bench, and Brighton’s also got a very good center back in reserve in the form of Shame Duffy and an underrated center mid in Dale Stephens who will see playing time, too. On paper, this team is too good to go down.


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Arsenal, Man City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Newcastle
Away: Leicester, Norwich, Southampton, Burnley

Predicted finish: They’ll do enough to get by, though that home fixture list is simply brutal. Safe before the final weekend.

Social media wrap: All 20 Premier League clubs, many players stand against racism

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The protests in the United States have inspired anti-racism statements from around the world, including all gestures from all 20 Premier League clubs and many players and managers.

There have been ongoing protests and horrible violence in the U.S. since the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes even after he stopped moving and pleaded for air in Minnesota.

Newcastle United’s American defender DeAndre Yedlin issued an emotional thread (below) as one of a great deal of players to express hopes for change and solidarity, while Schalke’s Weston McKennie explained his wearing a black armband reading “Justice For George” in the Bundesliga this weekend.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

From Ancelotti to Zaha, Antonio to Yedlin, Arsenal to Wolves, we’ve collected many of their sentiments below in what we hope serves as universal disdain for racial prejudice.

Some players like Leicester City’s Wes Morgan and even entire clubs (Arsenal) changed their online identity photos to reflect these troubled times.

All PL clubs issued messages of solidarity, many using the Black Lives Matter hashtag and making no bones about where they stand.

And we’ll start with a longtime PL club currently in the Championship, who blasted a season ticket holder’s rejection of their unifying Tweet.

Here are some other clubs and players worldwide to have noticed what’s happening in the United States.

 

Season restart preview: Bournemouth

Bournemouth season restart
Photo by Robin Jones - AFC Bournemouth/AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Bournemouth when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Tough sledding for the Cherries, who face zero of their fellow bottom-six sides (though 13th place Newcastle and 14th place Saints both visit the Vitality Stadium).

There’s been an element of bad luck to Bournemouth’s woes, with its expected goals stats showing Ryan Fraser, Joshua King, and Callum Wilson have deserved better end product and that the Cherries’ 14 goals from open play should be closer to 22. The defense has been bad and xG says it could’ve been worse, too. Injuries had hit Bournemouth’s defense corps in a big way, too. How much better will they be after the break?

[ MORE: Ranking every Cherries player in 2019-20 ]


Tactical analysis: Eddie Howe utilized a 4-4-2 with two defensive midfielders for much of the early season, but has gone between a lone striker with a packed-in midfielder and a 4-3-3 when he thinks an opponent is exploitable.

Howe started a 4-4-2 against almost all of the Cherries’ remaining opponents, choosing a 5-4-1 against Wolves and Man City. There’s no guarantee he’ll continue that, especially when some matches may dictate a draw or limited goal differential damage over wins.


Possible XI (4-3-3) 

—– Ramsdale —–

— Smith — S. Cook — Ake — Rico —

—– Lerma —– Billing — L. Cook —

— Fraser —– C. Wilson —– King —–

Howe prefers to attack when at all possible, but the points will be at a premium against some very challenging opponents. It’s a safe bet that he’ll ask a lot from his forwards while trying to deploy his three relentless midfielders together whenever possible. The question here is whether Aaron Ramsdale returns quickly from his COVID-19 positive test, or if it’ll be Artur Boruc or someone else between the sticks.


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Crystal Palace, Newcastle, Spurs, Leicester City, Southampton
Away: Wolves, Manchester United, Man City, Everton

Predicted finish: The Cherries stay up, just, as King and Callum Wilson deliver the goods in front of a determined and improved midfield.

Premier League clubs will reportedly be allowed preseason friendlies

Premier League return
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Premier League clubs will be allowed to play preseason matches ahead of the 2019-20’s restart season later this month.

There will be strict protocols due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, and the matches will likely be officiated by club coaching staffs (We have so many Jose Mourinho as ref quips to make here, but let’s keep going anyway).

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Sky Sports says clubs will be limited to opponents within 90 minutes of their venue, and that players will have to drive themselves to the stadiums and go directly to the field in uniform.

With the League One and League Two seasons still hanging in the balance, it’s likely PL sides will be limited to each other and Championship sides. Presumably clubs will not want to meet others still on their fixture list.

We assume some players will get dressed in their vehicles outside the ground, but allow yourself some levity in these challenging times and imagine a fully kitted-up Virgil van Dijk driving the roads from Liverpool to Wigan Athletic.