Anthony Martial

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Just how different will Manchester United look next year?

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It’s Sunday morning, Paul Pogba wants to leave Manchester United, and the USWNT doesn’t play its World Cup match until Noon: Let’s deal in theoreticals by starting with a fact.

This season is going to be a major challenge for one Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The Manchester United boss will seemingly be pulling together a significant amount of new parts into a team which is coming off a sixth place finish in the Premier League, with four of the five teams ahead of him having maintained their managers and most if not all key pieces.

Oh, and he’ll have to fashion this team based out of parts willing to buy into the club’s mystique and ignore the lack of UEFA Champions League play (which is seemingly why Paul Pogba is ready to skip town).

Big paychecks will help, but there’s no way to quickly meld these pieces into one unit. That’s especially true if the biggest piece of their 2018-19 puzzle, Pogba, isn’t in the middle of the park (or pushed a bit forward).

Juan Mata, Ander Herrera, and Antonio Valencia are out of contract, and Romelu Lukaku has been as mentioned as any striker on the market (He has three goals in four days for Belgium, albeit against Kazakhstan and Scotland).

Pogba’s potential departure puts a lot of weight on Ed Woodward to spend money well (One could make an argument for United needing 60-80 percent of those names).

Subtracting them and adding no one, United’s best XI is something like David De Gea, Diogo Dalot, Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof, Luke Shaw, Scott McTominay, Nemanja Matic, Anthony Martial, Andreas Pereira, Jesse Lingard, and Marcus Rashford.

As an aside, the expectations and pressure heaped on Rashford by the “he’s better than Lukaku, play him now centrally” media crowd is going to be a burden if the 21-year-old has to bear the center forward burden alone. My goodness are there Old Trafford subplots in excess or what?

Now, of course, there are seven weeks to go in the transfer window and there’s no guarantee Pogba and Lukaku will leave town. In fact, you may want to place your confidence on Pogba opening the season unhappy but at Old Trafford. Either way, the center of the park is going to get a remarkable makeover, and both center back and goalkeeper will get upgrades, too.

To the fixes:

— United is expected to spend big on Crystal Palace right back Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who was sensational last season with the Eagles. They reportedly have sent a $51 million offer to Roy Hodgson‘s squad.

— They’ve been linked with desire for Issa Diop, though West Ham has hopes of $75 million for the center back who made JPW’s Top Ten of the season.

Wilfred Ndidi is “flattered” by links to United, but is focused on Nigeria’s Africa Cup of Nations line. Should the Red Devils want to buy the 22-year-old, he’s likely in the same price range as the above names.

— Don’t forget Monaco’s Youri Tielemans, who feels like a PL player from his outstanding time at Leicester City last season. He’d merit another $50 million or so.

It’s worth noting that all would get more European football than at their current home with a bump in wages plus an new iconic shirt. Don’t sleep on that.

You’re probably talking a $240-250 million outlay there, should United land them.

Without going further, nor mentioning Swansea’s young Daniel James and Sheffield United loanee Dean Henderson, you can see a thread here: United could be showing us how a Premier League Best XI without any Top Six players would fare in the top flight.

Of course, United has also been linked with big buys from outside of the Premier League and many of these are older than Ndidi, Diop, Tielemans, and AWB.

But taking those four young players and assuming a focal point/back bone strengthening holding mid would likely join part-time players and full-time leaders Nemanja Matic and Chris Smalling (and maybe Juan Mata).

Now of course there are rumors of experienced leaders Ivan Rakitic of Barcelona and there could be a return from Real, PSG, or Juve. And this whole post looks even worse when United swaps Pogba for Neymar straight-up.

Here’s another question in the myriad facing Solskjaer and Woodward: Is the Europa League a better route to the Champions League than the idea of beating out two of Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea, Man City, and Liverpool (And noting that Spurs, City, and Liverpool will be heavily expected to finish 1-2-3 in some permutation and Chelsea has a leg up on the field assuming Eden Hazard is their lone significant departure).

Manchester United w/ above transfers (Age when season starts)

De Gea (28)

Wan-Bissaka (21) — Lindelof (25) — Diop (22) — Shaw (24)

Ndidi (22) — Matic (30)

Tielemans (22)

Lingard (26) — Rashford (21) — Martial (23)

What a time to be alive. Rashford better deliver!

Transfer rumor roundup: Sanchez to Juventus; Brandt to Spurs

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The Premier League transfer window is officially open again and that means one thing: transfer reports are going to start kicking up a few notches.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Here’s a look at some of the latest gossip from around the PL…


We know that Alexis Sanchez is very unlikely to be at Manchester United next season, but where is he off to?

The Independent say that Juventus have held meetings with United and intermediaries about signing Sanchez, 30, this summer.

It comes after Inter Milan were linked with a loan move for Sanchez, but the Chilean forward is currently on $627,000 per week at United and he would either have to take a huge wage cut to head to Serie A or United would have to subsidize his wages in a loan move to either Juve or Inter. It has been suggested that United would have to pay a huge chunk of Sanchez’s wages (around $15 million) just to send him out on loan next season.

Although his wages are still a huge stumbling block, the reports states some progress has been made in the recent meetings. It is certainly Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s wish to offload Sanchez as his 18-month nightmare at United saw him score just one Premier League in his first full season at Old Trafford. With multiple injuries piling up, Sanchez never got into his groove and United have preferred Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial in the attacking roles.

A move to either Inter or Juve would be a good fit for Sanchez, as he would return to Italy where he previously played for Udinese before joining Barcelona then Arsenal. On his day he is one of the most explosive, unpredictable wingers out there, but he hasn’t settled since joining United in January 2018 and is a shadow of the player who led Arsenal’s attack.


Tottenham want to sign Bayer Leverkusen’s Julian Brandt, according to the Daily Mail.

The German international, 23, has a release clause in his contract of $27.5 million and Spurs are keen to add some more attacking options over the summer with the situation regarding Christian Eriksen‘s future unclear.

Eriksen, 27, has one year left on his current deal and both Real Madrid and Barcelona are said to be interested in signing the Danish playmaker.

Brandt can play anywhere in the attacking midfield roles and given the fact it worked out pretty well for Spurs the last time they signed an attacking player from Leverkusen (Heung-Min Son in 2015), they may well go back to the Bundesliga club to unearth another gem.

The German attacker has scored 41 goals in 214 games for Leverkusen since he made his debut in 2014, and has played a prominent role for the German national team in recent years.

With Lucas Moura, Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Son and Erik Lamela around, a move for Brandt would suggest that Eriksen and others attackers may move on this summer.

Season Review: Man United, Wolves, Everton, Leicester, West Ham

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We’re into the top half of the Premier League now, as we continue to review all 20 teams’ campaigns after the 2018-19 season came to a close on Sunday.

[ REVIEW: Huddersfield, Fulham, Cardiff, Brighton, Saints ]

The group of clubs that finished between 10th and sixth spans a massive gulf in preseason predictions: from supposed title challengers Manchester United, to newly promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers.

[ REVIEW: Burnley, Bournemouth, Newcastle, Crystal Palace, Watford ]

West Ham United

Finishing position/points total: 10th / 52 points
High point: Handing London rivals Tottenham Hotspur their first defeat at their brand new stadium.
Low point
: Losing four straight to start the season, after spending big in the summer transfer window and hiring Manuel Pellegrini.

Our opinion: Given what West Ham have actually achieved this decade, they finished right where they should. Given what they spent last summer, they underachieved. That is almost certainly a product of the constant turnover taking place in east London.
Star player
: Felipe Anderson
Most memorable goal
: Declan Rice‘s first goal for West Ham was a big one: the winner against Arsenal.

Manager grade: Manuel Pellegrini: C
Hopes for next season
: As ever, West Ham fans will be dreaming of cracking the top-six, as unrealistic and difficult as that is. More realistically, they should be battling Everton and Wolves for the title of “best of the rest.”


Leicester City

Finishing position/points total: 9th / 52 points
High point: Winning five of their first six games after Brendan Rodgers was named new manager in late February.
Low point
: Six games without a win (five losses) to begin 2019. Claude Puel didn’t survive the skid.

Our opinion: Right around mid-table is where Leicester should aim to be season after season. Only to nitpick, to do so without the gigantic swings between highs and lows (15 wins and 16 losses, with just 7 draws) should be the attainable target moving forward.
Star player
: Youri Tielemans
Most memorable goal
: Demarai Gray scored perhaps the most emotional game of the PL season: Leicester’s first, and the winner against Cardiff City, following the tragic death of chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.

Manager grade: Brendan Rodgers: Incomplete
Hopes for next season
: If Rodgers views Leicester as a long-term project for himself, he should look to continue the youth movement currently taking place at the King Power Stadium and build a squad that could push for top-six on their best day a year or two down the road.


Everton

Finishing position/points total: 8th / 54 points
High point: Beating Chelsea, West Ham and Arsenal in successive games, without conceding a single goal in the process (March 17 to April 7).
Low point
: Losing to Liverpool, on that goal.

Our opinion: Marco Silva is clearly the most talented and ambitious manager Everton have had in a long time, and that’ll show through even more so after a second summer of transfers to build a squad that better fits his style (e.g., younger, more mobile defenders).
Star player
: Gylfi Sigurdsson
Most memorable goal
: Sigurdsson’s long-range was the pick of the litter in the Toffees’ 4-0 rout of Man United.

Manager grade: Marco Silva: B-
Hopes for next season
: Of all the sides in the top-10, Everton are probably best positioned to mount a challenge on the top-six, given not only the talent up and down their squad, but also the experience at very high levels in the game. Most likely, though, they’ll be seventh or eighth again.


Wolverhampton Wanderers

Finishing position/points total: 7th / 57 points
High point: Other than being back in the PL? How about wins over Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester United and Arsenal, all in your first season back in the PL? No wonder Wolves landed seventh.
Low point
: Huddersfield Town finished bottom of the league — with just 16 points, 10 adrift of 19th place. Six of those 16 points (37.5 percent) came against Wolves, as they did the double over Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side.

Our opinion: Wolves were one of the PL’s most active and aggressive clubs during last summer’s transfer window; they also happened to be some of the best buyers, as Raul Jimenez, Diogo Jota, Joao Moutinho and Jonny were rock-solid figures in the first team. That’s a very strong foundation upon which to build.
Star player
: Raul Jimenez
Most memorable goal
: Jimenez’s outside-the-foot cross to Jota, and Jota’s ball back to Jimenez for the finish, was the clincher against Cardiff and delightful to watch.

Manager grade: Nuno Espirito Santo: A
Hopes for next season
: Should they wind up in the Europa League next season (Manchester City would have to beat Watford in the FA Cup final), Wolves will have multiple rounds of qualify to wade through before even reaching the group stage. They would be best suited not having to deal with such a fixture list.


Manchester United

Finishing position/points total: 6th / 66 points
High point
: The lengthy honeymoon period (12 games unbeaten, including 10 wins) for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s interim appointment after Jose Mourinho was fired.
Low point
: The remainder of the season cratering (just two wins from their final eight games, including four defeats) after Solskjaer was named permanent manager on March 28.

Our opinion: This is a club in desperate need of a massive overhaul, from top to bottom: perhaps beginning with the owners, to the club executives, to the technical decision makers, perhaps the manager as well, and the first-team squad.
Star player
: Marcus Rashford
Most memorable goal
: Another goal conceded by Cardiff. Anthony Martial and Co., kicked off the Solskjaer era in dazzling fashion.

Manager grade: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: C
Hopes for next season
: Let’s say Man United hit on every one of their signings this summer — we’re guessing $200 million’s worth of them — which includes a new backline, a deep-lying midfielder, an attacking midfielder and at least one winger. They could finish in the top-four.

Solskjaer: Man United players need ‘reality check’

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The honeymoon period for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is definitely over at Manchester United.

After losing five of their last seven games in all competitions, the Red Devils are out of Europe, the FA Cup and now facing a tough task to finish in the top four of the Premier League. And the two games they won over their last seven were far from impressive displays against Watford and West Ham at home.

[ MORE: Who/where should United buy? ]

Speaking ahead of United’s game at Everton on Sunday (Watch live, 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), Solskjaer believes some of his players need a reality check in order to save their season.

“I’ve learnt a lot about them over the months I’ve been here,” Solskjaer explained. “Most of them have really impressed me in their attitude. Of course there are some who need to get a reality check on where they’re at. But most of them know they can improve if they keep working as they do.”

Solskjaer was asked about which players in particular need to have a long hard look in the mirror, and although he didn’t name names, he did mention having a chat with Anthony Martial to try and help the Frenchman regain his best form.

Things were going so well for Solskjaer pretty much up until he was handed the United job on a permanent basis with 14 from his first 17 games in charge. You have to wonder if some of the players have taken their foot off the accelerator now the Norwegian coach has been handed the keys on a long-term basis.

Even if human nature kicked in and they relaxed a little, in reality they all know they can’t let their levels drop as it’s clear Solskjaer is planning yet another overhaul of this hodgepodge of a United squad in the offseason.

Asked about transfers this summer, Solskjaer wanted to calm everyone down and let them know he is in it for the long haul.

“We know there is a job to be done, there is no quick fix. It’s not like we can buy seven players and suddenly we are in the right shape. We are where we are and you have to take it step by step,” Solskjaer said. “Of course there will be signings made in the summer. I know there has been loads of criticism. I don’t know if all these critics know what is happening. We have got scouts scouring the planet for good footballers. We’ll sign players that we think are the right fit personality wise, quality wise, price wise, and can have longevity here at this club. I’m confident we are doing what we can to get the right players in.”

United need to strengthen at right back and central defense, while central midfield is also another area they need to beef up with plenty of outgoings expected.

In a strange way, this poor run to end the season will have focused Solskjaer and United’s board to try and reshape this squad rather than paper over the cracks. If they kept edging games and winning it would have brought false hope for the 2019-20 campaign. Now, everyone knows that big changes are needed, and a new direction in terms of player recruitment and a consistent playing style.

Can Solskjaer do what David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho couldn’t?

Solskjaer: ‘We got away with’ win

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Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer displayed some brutal honesty after Manchester United’s 2-1 win over West Ham, saying his side didn’t deserve to win based on how they played.

“We got away with it, you can put it that way, Solskjaer said, referring to the win. “I know it’s not easy because we played a game on Wednesday and there were a few changes that we had to make. So, we got away with it. They deserved their goal, but then again we’re allowed to have a good goalkeeper.”

Two Paul Pogba penalty kicks were the difference for Man United in the win, but aside from he and Anthony Martial, the Red Devils struggles at times against West Ham. The Irons finished with nearly 58 percent possession four shots on target and a game-high 18 shots in total.

Man United we’re forced to make 25 clearances and 21 tackles to win back possession as well.

Solskjaer admitted that Man United’s luck may be evening out, after strong performances at Arsenal and against Wolverhampton Wanderers ended in defeat.

“Away from home, especially the Wolverhampton and Arsenal games [defeats], I’ve stood here and been pleased with the performances, when we’ve played well and created chances but didn’t get what we deserved,” Solskjaer said. “In the last two games here at home, against Watford and now West Ham, we’ve probably got more than we deserved. But it’ll even itself out over the season. Sometimes you can’t always be on your game and we have to be honest that today and in the Watford game we have been poor. We haven’t performed, we’ve been too open, our shape wasn’t good enough.