Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was over the moon with how his players performed in difficult circumstances against league-leading Liverpool in their 0-0 draw at Old Trafford, which was marred by a slew of first-half injuries.
Solskjaer, a former Manchester United striker and current interim manager, has made a name for himself in recalling old names and moments in Red Devils history during his two-plus months in charge. He did so again while pointing out players he was particularly pleased with on Sunday.
“I learned a lot about the players today,” Solskjaer told the Manchester Evening News after the match. “I learnt a lot about Scott McTominay, who I’ve been waiting to give a chance in a more attacking role, he can run into the box, is dangerous, he was a Darren Fletcher today for us. Absolutely fantastic, he’s not played since Reading, that’s six weeks ago, January 5.”
That is incredibly high praise from the United boss. Darren Fletcher is a Manchester United folk hero, having made over 300 career appearances for the club over a 12-year span. He was a do-it-all midfielder who was loved by fans for his bold attitude and fearless nature in the middle of the pitch.
McTominay, a 22-year-old Manchester United youth product and natural center-back, was put under pressure when Ander Herrera and Juan Mata both went off injured. McTominay was deployed as a defensive midfielder just in front of the back line that featured Victor Lindelof and Chris Smalling, but had to adapt on the introductions of Andreas Pereira, Jesse Lingard, and Alexis Sanchez. The young Scottish international made seven ball recoveries to lead Manchester United in the match, and had two blocks, three clearances, and two interceptions.
Solskjaer was also pleased with Pereira, who had played just 220 minutes this Premier League season before Sunday. Like McTominay, Pereira is a Manchester United youth product who has been given only a bit-part role in his time since joining the first-team squad. “Andreas, with the criticism he’s had to come on and did fantastic,” Solskjaer said. “So I learnt a lot about the character of the team.”
Maybe it’s the fact that the night’s already surreal, with the American and North Korean leaders holding a historic meeting and the common bond being a 57-year-old nicknamed “The Worm” who is known for being an excellent rebounder and starring in a movie with Jean-Claude Van Damme, but the dawn of this summer’s World Cup feels exceptionally dreamlike.
Let’s get some things out of the way: Even with the United States men’s national team failing to make the tournament, I’m still very excited about the World Cup. I’m leaning toward hitching my wagon to Serbia’s dark horse status, but also want to be four years’ worth of correct when it comes to Germany.
I’ve also learned you can navigate the sports version of the grieving process — acceptance is tough, but the hope part is easier — and still ride pretty high on the anger and frustration part of it all.
Anything can happen in a World Cup. We saw that with the USMNT escaping its Group of Death in 2014 and Costa Rica doing the same, but I can’t help look at this tournament as a chance lost for both CONCACAF and the U.S.
This is subjective, and please feel free to disagree, but the domestic buzz feels minimal compared to a tournament with the United States in the field. In terms of the average sports fan, you can scream Messi or Ronaldo all you want, but the tournament is being sold here like an El Clasico with flags.
We’ve reached the point in the World Cup cycle where I worry how many kids, both fans and players, in that pivotal age bracket of 8-12 are going to potentially miss out on their formative Dos A Cero in Jeonju, or Landon Donovan versus Algeria moment.
The beauty of being a sports fan is the images and characters created by your team or nation on the biggest stages.
For Americans of my generation, we’ve seen our country in every World Cup since we were in grade school. Even tournaments where the USMNT didn’t really ring a bell, like 1994, the World Cup drew us into side stories. I remember sitting in my Uncle Jim’s living room, hoping against hope that Italy would top Brazil, and being fairly bummed when Roberto Baggio sent his effort over the bar
I also often feel compelled to point out that Baggio was the third Italian to miss, and that Italy goes out in the Round of 16 if he doesn’t equalize in the 88th minute and complete his brace against Nigeria in extra time, then scoring the winner against Spain in the quarters, and both goals against Bulgaria in the semis.
And here’s the thing: I barely cared about soccer in 1994. I didn’t start playing until high school, and didn’t fall in love with the USMNT program until qualifying for the 2002 tournament.
There’s a vivid American memory from every World Cup after ’94 for me, often in the form of a question.
1998: “Did we really just lose to Iran?”
2002: “How did the ref miss that %^&%^& handball on Frings?”
2006: “Brian McBride is really bloody”
2010: “AND DONOVAN’S SCORED, OH CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS?”
2018 is gonna be anger and disbelief, a generation deprived of its World Cup from perhaps the easiest qualification format by a defiant coach, his haughty replacement, and a group of players who showed enough effort to get the job done on average once every other game.
Frankly, this probably sounds absurd to some European and South American nations considering some of the World Cup droughts, some still active. Ryan Giggs never played in one. Alfredo Di Stefano, George Weah, and Ian Rush were shut out. Even in the expanded format, current big names like Darren Fletcher, Arda Turan, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Christian Pulisic missed his first World Cup? Boo-hoo, say Austria and Wales. David Alaba will be 28 the next time he gets to attempt qualification for his first. Gareth Bale will be 31 and Aaron Ramsey 30.
Robbie Keane got one World Cup. Marcus Hahnemann went to two.
So, yeah, American soccer fans have had it pretty good. I don’t want this to read like, “my tap water in Western New York could be better” when in reality I’d welcome a full-time job of delivering fresh water to the half-globe or more where it is needed by real, true human beings (including Michigan). Rooting for Serbia because the U.S. or Wakanda didn’t qualify is an acceptable enough outcome.
The 2026 World Cup could be coming back to the United States for the second time in 32 years despite this country still just figuring out the sport’s allure. We’re fortunate in so many ways. And, frankly, there’s a very good argument to be made that the country’s federation could use the second swift kick that would come from failing to make a World Cup then blowing a World Cup hosting bid despite overwhelming stores of influence and money.
But for now, all I can think about is what we won’t have this weekend. Very few, if any, city blocks shut down for outdoor viewing party. A similar amount of beer-soaked phone videos of bar celebrations. No John Brooks canceling out Andre Ayew’s late equalizer. No Jermaine Jones rocket against Portugal. Not even a hope-giving moment from substitute Julian Green versus Belgium (Silly dual nationals).
No first World Cup for Pulisic. Maybe no World Cup ever for Eric Lichaj, Bobby Wood, Tim Ream, Danny Williams, and Darlington Nagbe.
I mean, shoot, at least when the USWNT took its step back it was just a missed medal at the Olympics, not an entire month of sadness.
The whys are myriad: A national program that got high on its own FIFA rankings supply. A divide between proponents of players playing at the highest level and those who refused to push players there because of the money it made them or their domestic clubs. No one knows if Matt Besler would’ve become the best defender in USMNT history with a move to West Ham — and we do love him for his one-club heart — but there sure is some “What if?” there.
But it’s not about the whys here. It’s about the “What ifs?”
What if the U.S. was drawn in Panama’s place, needing to get past Belgium or England, let alone Tunisia, to make another knockout round? I’m genuinely happy for Panama, even with their ghost goal being the difference, but CONCACAF would likely rather see the Yanks’ buttressing their World Cup host bid with Pulisic as poster boy.
What if the U.S. was drawn in Mexico’s place, a veritable Group of Death for Arena and his proponents to measure himself against Klinsmann and his?
Or what about Costa Rica’s spot, with Neymar’s Brazil joining underachieving Switzerland and dark horse Serbia on the docket?
What if that kid who’s choosing whether to dedicate himself to high school football, basketball, lacrosse, or soccer, doesn’t bother to get misty-eyed for the red, white, and blue because he’s going to opt to go to the Orioles because Croatia-Argentina doesn’t have any significance to him?
Stoke finish in 19th with relegation already confirmed
Swansea lost 2-1 against Stoke City at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday with the South Wales side relegated from the Premier League after a seven-year stay.
The Swans took the lead via Andy King but Stoke scored twice in the first half through Badou Ndiaye and Peter Crouch to seal a comeback win and just their second victory under Paul Lambert. Xherdan Shaqiri misses a penalty in the second half as Stoke eased to victory.
With the win Stoke finish in 19th, level on points with Swansea in 18th but five goals worse off in goal differential.
Stoke were forced into an early change as former Swansea midfielder Joe Allen was forced off and Darren Fletcher replaced him.
Xherdan Shaqiri whipped in a cross which Lukas Fabianski punched clear and the other end there was an almighty goalmouth scramble with Jack Butland saving and several blocks from the Stoke defense keeping Swansea out.
Moments later King put Swansea ahead as Andre Ayew nodded the ball into his path and he calmly slotted home. The chances kept coming for Swansea as Wayne Routledge then went close with Stoke sinking back towards their own goal.
Before the break Stoke were level as a counter saw Ndiaye get free in-behind and he lobbed home a wonderful effort to make it 1-1. And it got better for the Potters as Crouch headed home a free kick from the left to make it 2-1.
Jordan Ayew curled a free kick inches wide just before the break but the Swans were heading for the drop.
Jese Rodriguez has been disciplined, in an undisclosed manner, by Stoke City after the Spanish striker left the bench and stadium upon being an unused substitute during last weekend’s 2-1 victory over Swansea City.
With 20 minutes left to go in the game, manager Mark Hughes made his second and third substitutions in tandem — Ibrahim Afellay and Ramadan Sobhi replaced Darren Fletcher and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting — at which point Rodriguez, out of frustration, walked down the tunnel and left the bet365 Stadium.
Asked this week whether or not Rodriguez, who has made just two short appearances as a sub in the last six weeks, has apologized to Hughes and the rest of the squad, the Potters’ boss believes the player’s heart is in the right place and that the apology is understood, and accepted, without necessarily being spoken — quotes from the BBC:
“He made a mistake. He’s been disciplined for that. He understands it wasn’t the right decision at that time.”
“Not in so many words because his English isn’t great but he understands that it was incorrect.
“It’s been addressed, we’ve obviously highlighted what he needs to do in the future. He’s a little bit frustrated, he wants to play, as all players do.”
According to the BBC, Rodriguez has also been granted conditional leave in order to travel home to the Canary Islands and be with his son who was born prematurely, in June. As a result, he will be unavailable for Saturday’s trip to Wembley Stadium to take on Tottenham Hotspur (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).
Speaking to MUTV after the game, Pogba shared his belief that if all of United’s players stay fit they can challenge Manchester City for the title.
“The season is really long so we have to be fit – not only me but all the players,” Pogba said. “To win the league we need all our players. When you have one injured here, one injured there, it doesn’t help. It’s always better to have a full team. Zlatan’s back and Marcos after a long injury. It was hard for them but they kept believing and worked hard to come back. We need them to win the league and we’re really glad they’re here.”
Even if he didn’t jinx past Newcastle’s defense to clip in a wonderful cross for Anthony Martial to head home United’s first, or then make a 60-yard sprint to get on the end of Marcus Rashford‘s knockdown to make it 3-1, Pogba’s presence was felt.
His return gave United’s entire squad, and fanbase, a lift and everything is set up rather nicely for him to battle it out with Kevin De Bruyne in the Manchester derby on Dec. 10 at Old Trafford.
With Pogba this season United have played five games, winning four and drawing one.
Without Pogba United have played seven, won four, lost twice and drawn once in the Premier League.
His influence on this team is key to the way it has been assembled by Mourinho and his power, all-action displays and strong character get the best out of those around him. Nemanja Matic and Romelu Lukaku tick because Pogba is linking the midfield and attack effortlessly with his energetic displays. Over the past two months there’s been a main reason why Lukaku had done seven games without scoring for United before last weekend: Pogba.
Pogba’s comments about United pushing City for the title if they stay fit appear misguided but if he stays fit then there’s no doubt United are the best version of themselves.
6 – Paul Pogba's last six Premier League appearances for @ManUtd (four goals, four assists).
⚽️ + 🅰️ (v Crystal Palace) ⚽️ (v West Ham) ⚽️ + 🅰️ (v Swansea) ❌ (v Leicester) 🅰️ (v Stoke) ⚽️ + 🅰️ (v Newcastle)
The Gunners destroyed Tottenham Hotspur with a ruthless display in the first half as Mesut Ozil unlocked Spurs’ midfield and defense, Alexis Sanchez ran them ragged and Alexandre Lacazette played on the last shoulder of Tottenham’s disheveled defense.
Arsene Wenger was rewarded for a bold, attack-minded team selection and with Shkodran Mustafi back fit he now has his first-choice starting lineup at his disposal. If the Gunners stay fit, they can make real charge up the Premier League table in the coming weeks with a bunch of winnable games.
In four of their next five Premier League games they should beat Huddersfield, Southampton, West Ham and Newcastle, with the big tests at home against Man United (Dec. 2) and Liverpool (Dec. 22) showing just how far they’ve come so far this season.
The Emirates, so often the site of protests and fan unrest in previous seasons, is become a fortress for Arsenal who have now won 11 PL games there on the spin, their best-ever run of consecutive wins at the stadium.
Between now and Dec. 22 we will get a very good idea as to what way this season will go for Arsenal.
If Wenger’s players stay fit and he remains positive in his team selection, the Gunners could be rewarded with not only a place back in the top four but much more.
30 – Mesut Ozil has created more goalscoring chances from open play than any other Premier League player this season (30). Brew. pic.twitter.com/4TcMPjcwmx
Tony Pulis is the man you want in a relegation battle. So, why did West Bromwich Albion sack him?
A run of two wins in 21 Premier League games sealed Pulis’ fate but what exactly did West Brom’s owners expect would happen?
Pulis’ short-term bump from taking over in January 1 2015 wore off midway through last season and his methods, although lauded by many for preserving his proud record of never being relegation from the Premier League, wear players down over time. Even the wily old crew he had assembled at West Brom (they had the oldest average starting XI in the PL) couldn’t cope with it anymore.
The old adage “losing the dressing room” is frowned upon by folks in the industry but it is clear that’s what happened here. Players believe they are better than perhaps they are, most of the time, and get sick and tired of being told to just clip the ball long, stay compact and try to score from set pieces. Most of Pulis’ training session focus on team shape and denying the opposition the ball. Having the ball is an afterthought. That’s too much for some to handle day in, day out.
And we all know, despite the Baggies being a solid midtable club for seven years in the PL now, that getting rid of one manager is much easier than a squad of players.
Getting rid of Pulis was the only available option.
Yet, after a summer where they did some great business to bring in Grzegorz Krychowiak, Kieran Gibbs, Ahmed Hegazi and Jay Rodriguez, things seemed to be on the up. Yet that recruitment and losing the likes of Darren Fletcher caused issues in the squad balance and Pulis all of a sudden had too many newbies on board who either took too much time to get used to his methods or didn’t want to adjust their game to do so.
All in all, West Brom are now left with very few options to replace Pulis other than appointing someone extremely similar to him. Sam Allardyce is from the area (a boyhood Wolves fan, West Brom’s bitter rivals) is the bookmakers favorite and he would seem to be the perfect firefighter against a Premier League relegation battle.
But, like many PL clubs who have sacked their managers so far this season (hello, Everton, Crystal Palace, West Ham) or are contemplating it (Swansea, Southampton and maybe Stoke) the alternatives to their current boss aren’t plentiful. Keeping hold of Pulis was no longer an option West Brom had but, over time, it may seem like the correct one.
Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.