Eric Bailly

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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: De Ligt to Man United; Mitrovic to Everton

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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…


Manchester United have been linked with a move for Ajax captain and center back Matthijs de Ligt, even though it had been previously reported United weren’t keen on signing the young center back several years ago.

A report in the Daily Telegraph states that United are chasing the Dutch international and that de Ligt is “open to a move to United” as he fancies being the main man in their huge rebuild this summer.

De Ligt, still just 19 years old, starred for Ajax during their incredible run to the UEFA Champions League semifinal but it seems like their entire squad will now be broken up over the summer with Frenkie de Jong already going to Barcelona and Hakim Ziyech also set to move on. His leadership skills are immense and he scored some massive goals from set pieces throughout Ajax’s run in Europe, as he also led them to the Dutch title.

With Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly around at United, the fact they are chasing one of the best center back products in the game suggests one or more of those players will be moved on this summer. Defensive solidity has not been a United hallmark for quite some time and if they were to sign de Ligt it would be a massive coup. Barcelona are the favorites to sign de Ligt, but this latest report suggests it is far from a formality.


Everton are “very interested” in signing Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic this summer, according to Sky Sports.

Mitrovic, 24, scored 11 times for Fulham this season but couldn’t stop them being relegated after the newly-promoted side struggled to adjust to life back in the PL. Although the Serbian striker looked out of sorts in the final months of the season and scored just once in his final 13 games of the campaign, he was always a handful for opposition defenders.

The former Newcastle striker arrived at Fulham last summer for a fee of $25 million and the Cottagers could expect to recoup most of that if Mitrovic was sold. That said, if he stays at Fulham he has already shown how lethal he can be in the Championship as his loan move to Craven Cottage in the second half of the 2017-18 campaign was a huge success as his goals propelled Fulham to promotion.

Everton have Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Cenk Tosun leading the line, but neither have been prolific so it makes sense for Marco Silva to add a targetman who is also a poacher as Mitrovic would link up well with Richarlison, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Bernard in attack.


Staying with transfers within the Premier League, Man United are said to be interested in signing Newcastle youngster Sean Longstaff, 21, after he impressed in his first full season in the Premier League.

Multiple reports claim United are interested in Longstaff, but Sky Sports say Newcastle have yet to be approached by the Red Devils and they do not want to sell the man they gave a new contract to in December.

Longstaff, a defensive midfielder, suffered a serious knee injury which put a swift end to his superb first season in Newcastle’s first team. The Newcastle academy product looked at home in the PL with his range of passing, reading of the game and tough-tackling and he could fit the bill as United aim to replace midfield terrier Ander Herrera who is leaving the club.

If United are to keep Paul Pogba around and have him at his best, they need players in midfield who can win the ball back and get Pogba further up the pitch. Longstaff is certainly capable of doing that and he fits the bill for United as their main aim this summer is to add young, hungry British players with Declan Rice, Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka all linked with moves to Old Trafford.

When will Ed Woodward be held accountable for Man United failures?

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Six seasons, five managers, three Champions League qualifications, zero Premier League titles.

That is the Manchester United story since they last trimphed over the English top flight in Sir Alex Ferguson‘s final season as Red Devils boss.

The leadership has been chopped and changed many times over, but there is one constant: Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who ascended to his current role in 2012 and was made top operational executive a year later after the departure of David Gill. Since Woodward took full control of the club, Manchester United has spiraled completely out of control, with the luster of 13 Premier League titles almost fully rusted away.

While Manchester United has collected three trophies under his watch, the two most coveted – the Premier League and Champions League titles – have eluded the storied club, instead settling for an FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League title (plus two Community Shields, as Jose Mourinho would tell you).

Still, Woodward has somehow escaped heavy criticism for his rocky tenure, with the first-team managers – far more publicly accountable figures than club executives – taking the brunt of the flak for losing streaks, negative tactics, mediocre youth development, and shambolic defending. Yet Woodward remains unscathed, free of full-scale scrutiny while everything he touches turns to ash.

Woodward’s history in the transfer market has been downright abysmal. Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Angel Di Maria, Fred, Eric Bailly, and Luke Shaw have all been purchased for enormous sums of money during Woodward’s time in charge, yet none of them have lived up to their financial burdens. It is impossible to truly know what Woodward’s exact role is in the transfer dealings, but as the top operational executive at the club, he is responsible for the consistent failures whether he has taken a hands-on approach or has delegated most of the duties to others. It’s time the buck stops at the top.

Since the start of the 2013 summer transfer window, Manchester United has shelled out a gargantuan $712 million in transfer net spend and the Red Devils are no closer to challenging for the Premier League title than when they began their quest to replace Sir Alex Ferguson. After losing to relegated Cardiff City to close out the 2018/19 Premier League season with little more than a whimper, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said it would take “a long time” for Manchester United to be in a position to compete for the league title. The Notwegian boss even dared to warn supporters to temper their expectations; the Europa League would be a reasonable ambition for the time being. Those words from a Manchester United mouthpiece like Solskjaer are a brutal indictment of Woodward and his leadership of the club over the past few years.

When Sir Alex departed, the team admittedly needed an overhaul. The legendary boss somehow squeezed one last triumph out of an old and dilapidated squad, as if fans needed yet another reason to revere the greatest manager the game has ever seen. Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, and Dimitar Berbatov were all over 30 and on their way out of the club while David De Gea, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Rafael, Fabio, Jesse Lingard, Danny Welbeck, and Adnan Januzaj were all 22 years old or younger and looking for guidance and direction as they continued to develop.

Instead, they were met with chaos and instability, as David Moyes, Giggs, Louis Van Gaal, and Jose Mourinho all tried and failed to restore order to the club. None of the managers were given enough time to establish any sense of consistency, and it’s unclear whether any of them were good enough hires that things would have improved if given that luxury. Instead of embracing the period of transition, the club fell into a form of purgatory, hoping to maintain a steady ship while also understanding that things would not be the same. Woodward, a career accountant, may know what it takes to secure a lucrative sponsorship, but eventually they need the on-field results to match the claim of the world’s most popular club, or the financial leverage will wane.

While many players and managers have come and gone over the past few years, Woodward has remained the only constant figure, and the longer the club continues to rot, the more obvious his role in allowing the club to fester. Now, he wishes to bring on a technical director (see: Director of Football) to help with on-field decisions and player acquisitions, a smart choice in delegating the football responsibilities but also another hire to get right. And yet…he’s reportedly looking to hire Darren Fletcher, who literally retired as a player one week ago and has zero executive or managerial experience, in what feels like more of a PR move than anything of actual significance.

With this year’s sixth place finish – the club’s fourth finish outside the Premier League’s top four over the last six years – it is time fans direct their frustration and unhappiness further up the food chain. Ed Woodward must be held accountable for the failures of the club, or the glory days of (actually not that) long ago will become an even more distant memory with every passing year.

PL Sunday preview: Chelsea, Arsenal, Man Utd limping to finish

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Sunday’s three Premier League fixtures will see a trio of top-four hopefuls take the field for the penultimate game of their respective seasons.

The PL’s four Champions League places could be officially awarded by the end of day, or we could wind up with four teams — including third-place Tottenham Hotspur — separated by just two points. Seeing how none of the three have even a single win from any their last three games, the latter might actually be the safer bet.

[ MORE: Liverpool survive Newcastle scare to take PL title race to final day ]

Huddersfield v. Man United — 9 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Manchester United have the longest odds of getting into Europe’s elite competition next season, as the Red Devils (65 points) currently sit sixth and trail fourth-place Chelsea by a full three points.

If Man United can’t beat an already-relegated Huddersfield Town side at John Smith’s Stadium on Sunday — it would be the Terriers’ ninth straight PL defeat — their hopes of finishing fourth won’t be mathematically dead, only realistically so. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer isn’t throwing in the towel just yet.

“I don’t think we can give up until it’s theoretically over, but of course it’s a big mountain to climb,” he said this week. “The end of the season throws up a few marginal decisions, strange results, so anything can happen. We still want to finish the season on a high, and let’s see where that takes us now. Let’s see how many points we can get.”

INJURIES: Huddersfield —  OUT: Aaron Mooy (hip) | Man United  — OUT: Romelu Lukaku (hamstring), Eric Bailly (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Jesse Lingard (knee), Marcus Rashford (shoulder), Phil Jones (knee)


Chelsea v. Watford — 9 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com

Of the three sides in action on Sunday, only Chelsea control their own destiny. The math is simple: any combination of Chelsea points won and Arsenal points dropped to reach five will see the Blues qualify for Champions League.

Maurizio Sarri has made finishing in the top-four a clear priority by resting superstar Eden Hazard (for 60 minutes) in Chelsea’s Europa League semifinal first leg against Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday. The wild card in the race for fourth remains Europe’s “other” competition, as Chelsea and Arsenal are favorites to reach the final later this month in Azerbaijan. The most likely scenario, in that event, is that one of the two will have already clinched a Champions League place and the other’s last pathway to European riches would be to win the Europa League.

INJURIES: Chelsea —  OUT: Callum Hudson-Odoi (achilles), Antonio Rudiger (knee) | Watford  — OUT: Etienne Capoue (knock), Tom Cleverley (fitness)


Arsenal v. Brighton & Hove Albion — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Arsenal (66) is the only side without a single point from the aforementioned last three games, meaning they would have put themselves comfortably in the driver’s seat with even a win and a pair of draws. As things stand, they trail Chelsea by two points.

The Gunners haven’t lost four straight top-flight fixtures since 1995. Fortunately for Unai Emery‘s men, Brighton have taken all of two points from their last seven league games. By playing in the day’s final game, Arsenal will be fully aware of how high three points will take them.

INJURIES: Arsenal —  OUT: Aaron Ramsey (hamstring), Hector Bellerin (knee), Danny Welbeck (ankle), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (suspension) | Brighton  — OUT: Davy Propper (hamstring)

Naby Keita groin injury to sideline him for two months

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Naby Keita‘s groin problem picked up in the first leg of the Champions League semifinal loss to Barcelona is as bad as feared, and will add the 24-year-old to the growing list of big names set to miss the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations with late season injuries.

Keita was forced off in the 24th minute of Wednesday’s match at the Camp Nou, and on Friday Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp confirmed his midfielder suffered a torn adductor muscle that will keep him out of action for two months.

“It is a high grade adductor injury where the tendon is ruptured, which keeps him out for at least, I would say two months,” Klopp said at his pre-match press conference ahead of Liverpool’s Premier League clash with Newcastle on Saturday. “So bad news for us obviously but bad news for Guinea as well, because Africa Cup of Nations is coming up.”

Keita has become a key player for the Guinea national team, a regular in the squad since his introduction in qualifying for the 2015 AFCON tournament. He has missed just six matches since his debut in September of 2014, but will now be forced out of this summer’s tournament which begins on June 22. Guinea has been drawn into Group A with Nigeria, Madagascar, Burundi.

“[Keita’s injury is] not a really good moment, but it happened. Sometimes football and life aren’t too nice, but yeah, very serious,” Klopp said.

He joins a growing list of important players who have picked up late-season injuries that will keep them out of the competition, including Manchester United and Ivory Coast defender Eric Bailly and Leicester City’s Ghanan midfielder Daniel Amartey.