Juan Mata

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Woodward insinuates new contracts at Man United down to transfer struggles

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Ed Woodward rarely speaks publicly as he leads Manchester United through a season of struggles, but his most recent words have given further ammunition to those who criticize the squad talent level.

Speaking after the 2-2 draw with Aston Villa while piled more pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Woodward was asked about the multitude of new contracts given to players at Manchester United rather than attempting to upgrade positions of weakness. His answer seemed to admit transfer window failings and that contract extensions were fallback options.

“It’s hard enough to get three players done in a transfer window,” Woodward said. “To get six or seven done is extremely difficult if you are getting proper talent. If you choose to churn every player because they are not good enough and you’re not extending contracts, you are putting yourself at risk of execution. Sometimes you have to take a broader view.”

Manchester United has signed players like Phil Jones, Andreas Pereira, Juan Mata, Anthony Martial, and Ashley Young were all extended in the past calendar year, and all those players have at times heard noise about their Red Devils’ futures. Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo also received new contracts last fall. The club has also given extensions to David De Gea, Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay, and Victor Lindelof, although those players have been far less criticized for their performances on the pitch.

It doesn’t help that the few players offloaded this summer have performed well overseas, as Romelu Lukaku has built a strong partnership with Lautaro Martinez at Inter Milan while Chris Smalling has helped Roma to one of the best defenses in Serie A.

“It’s a multi-year squad evolution analysis,” Woodward said, seeming to brush squad decisions off as more than just the struggles faced this season.

Watch Live: Man Utd-Brighton, Wolves-Villa

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When Brighton and Hove Albion and Manchester United meet at Old Trafford on Sunday, only one team can rise into the Top Five within a win, and it isn’t the Red Devils.

Fourteenth-place United hopes to leapfrog the eighth place Seagulls by collecting all three points (Watch live at 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Mason Greenwood and Juan Mata are available off the bench for the Red Devils.

[ STREAM: Man Utd-Brighton | Wolves-Villa ]

That’s one of two 9 a.m. ET kickoffs, as Wolves hope to move into the Top Ten and dodge a leapfrog bid from Aston Villa at the Molineux (Watch live on NBC Sports Gold, online via NBCSports.com).

Jed Steer starts in goal for Aston Villa, deputizing for injured Tom Heaton.

LINEUPS

Man Utd: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Williams, McTominay, Fred, Pereira, Rashford, Martial. Subs: Romero, Jones, Mata, Lingard, Rojo, Greenwood, Garner.

Brighton: Ryan, Montoya, Duffy, Dunk, Burn, Trossard, Propper, Stephens, Alzate, Maupay, Connolly. Subs: Button, Gross, Balogun, Murray, Mooy, March, Schelotto.


Wolves: Patricio, Dendoncker, Coady, Saiss, Doherty, Moutinho, Neves, Jota, Jonny, Traore, Jimenez. Subs: Ruddy, Bennett, Neto, Cutrone, Perry, Vinagre, Kilman.

Aston Villa: Steer, Guilbert, Konsa, Mings, Targett, Luiz, McGinn, El Ghazi, Nakamba, Trezeguet, Wesley. Subs: Nyland, Taylor, Chester, Lansbury, Hourihane, Kodjia, Elmohamady.

Man United, Wolves seal key Europa League wins

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Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers both secured narrow wins away from home in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday.

[ MORE: Europa League schedule, table

United beat Partizan Belgrade 1-0 in Serbia to stay top of Group L as a win in their next game, at home against Partizan, will seal their qualification to the knockout stage. Anthony Martial‘s penalty kick was enough to get the win in Belgrade in a tough environment as an inexperienced United side struggled to get going in attack.

As for Wolves, they fought back from 1-0 down to beat Slovan Bratislava 2-1 in Slovakia as they breathed new life into their Europa League campaign in Group K. Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men now have two of their final three group games at home and will fancy their chances of extending their first European journey in almost 40 years.

Here’s a look at both games, with video and analysis of a very decent night for both clubs in Europe.


Partizan Belgrade 0-1 Man United

Man United should have led early but Scott McTominay nodded wide after a great free kick from Juan Mata. Partizan battled their way back into the game as the heavy pitch didn’t suit Martial and others.

Lingard hit the post in the first half as United looked dangerous on the break, but Partizan’s top goalscorer Sadiq also smashed the post as the game developed into an open encounter. Asano went close with an effort which flew wide but Brandon Williams won a penalty kick at the end of the first half which Martial dispatched to make it 1-0.

In the second half Seydouba Soumah went close as Marcus Rashford and Daniel James came on for the final 30 minutes. Williams looked to have handled the ball but the referee waved away calls from the home fans as they continued to appeal for penalty kicks.

Sadiq flashed a shot wide as Partizan pushed a late leveller but Sergio Romero saved Asano’s effort and Bibras Natcho fired just over as a young United side held on for a big win away from home. The win was United’s first victory away from home in 12 games in all competitions.


Slovan Bratislava 1-2 Wolves

Wolves went 1-0 down early as Andraz Sporar put Slovan ahead, as he raced clear and smashed home at the near post past Rui Patricio.

A poor start for Wolves in Slovakia.

The home side were fairly comfortable until the final 30 minutes when Wolves equalized as Romain Saiss had a shot from distance which somehow went in.

Slovan’s goalkeeper Dominik Greif will not want to see this one again.

After that it was all Wolves and they took the lead from the penalty spot just five minutes after equalizing.

Jimenez was pushed to the ground in the box and the Mexican striker picked himself up to slot home the winner as Willy Boly came close to adding another.

Substitute Diogo Jota was sent off late on as he picked up a second yellow for a foul on Slovan captain Vasil Bozhikov, but Wolves held on for a crucial victory in their quest to reach the knockout rounds.

Can Man United buy its way back to glory?

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By all accounts, Manchester United is having a woeful start to the Premier League season. However, the front office reportedly believes it can solve the crisis at the club with strategic purchases over the next two seasons.

According to a report in the Telegraph, Manchester United is looking to make eight signings spread through the next two summer transfer windows. The report claims they’ve already created a shortlist of targets and one may even be acquired in the upcoming winter transfer window in January. Players like Leicester City’s James Maddison and Ben Chillwell have been rumored to be on Man United’s radar in recent days, as it looks to improve its squad.

[READ: Maddison pulls out of England squad]

There’s no doubt that Man United’s team is in dire straights. From the days of Sir Alex Ferguson where the team had Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand and many others, the current squad absolutely pales in comparison.

This summer was supposed to be a massive one for the club after another season outside the top four. And yet, the only major signing was Harry Maguire. Ironically, one of the summer’s first signings for current manager – for how long, who knows? – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Daniel James, has been very good when fit.

While on defense Man United is decent, in the final third, the Red Devils are woeful. With Anthony Martial still out injured and the departures of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez this summer, Marcus Rashford looks too under pressure to handle all the responsibility right now. Man United has only scored one goal from open play in the last five games, and it’s not looking like things will improve that much even when Paul Pogba and Martial return from injury.

So it raises the question: Can Man United buy its way out of trouble? The answer, is maybe.

Manchester City spent boatloads of money, and it did end up with a first Premier League-era title in 2012. Only Micah Richards was from the club’s youth system in the squad. The latest smart purchases from Man City has put the club on a path to long-term success.

And yet, it’s not like Man United hasn’t spent a ton of money over the last decade chasing success. Since Ferguson retired, millions were spent on signing so many players, some of whom turned out to be good, but none turned out to be great. There was Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini. Then Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw, and Angel Di Maria. Then Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderlin, and Anthony Martial. Soon after it was Pogba and Eric Bailley and don’t forget Henrik Mkhitaryan. How much did Victor Lindelof, Lukaku and Sanchez cost Man United?

I could go on even further, but the point is made. Man United has spent tons, and it seems like with no plan.

The only way this new plan works is if they buy smart and buy players who fit well in a system, not just the ones who are shining in other systems.

League Cup: Man Utd survives scare; 3 PL sides lose to lower-tier foes

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Chelsea and Liverpool cruised, but only one other Premier League side one… and it was the one playing another top-flight rival.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 7-1 Grimsby Town ]

A day after Tottenham fell to Colchester United, League One sides Oxford United, Burton Albion, and Sunderland all took down PL foes in the League Cup to book fourth round berths.

Manchester United 1-1 (5-3 penalties) Rochdale

Sergio Romero made a save in the second round of kicks and that’s all Manchester United needed to avoid an embarrassing upset at home to League One’s Rochdale.

The combined age of goal scorers at Old Trafford before penalties was 33, as Paul Pogba returned to the United XI but couldn’t spare his men blushes despite a dominant performance.

Mason Greenwood, 17, scored off a Jesse Lingard assist in the 68th minute, seemingly capping a dominant performance that lacked finish.

But 16-year-old defender Luke Matheson scored eight minutes later to ratchet up the pressure at Old Trafford, and Daniel James and Juan Mata came off the bench for the Red Devils (who also handed a debut to 19-year-old left back Brandon Williams).

Oxford United 4-0 West Ham United

Elliott Moore‘s second half goal gave the League One side a 55th minute lead over Manuel Pellegrini‘s in-form Irons, and well-traveled striker Matt Taylor turned the hopes of a “cupset” up to 11.

By the time Tariqe Fosu made it 3-0 against a very decent West Ham side including Issa Diop, Jack Wilshere, Pablo Fornals, and Pablo Zabaleta, it was academic.

Shandon Baptiste added to the Kassam Stadium jubilation with a stoppage time finish.

Burton Albion 2-0 Bournemouth

Oliver Sarkic delivered the goods for the underdogs, who took an early lead against Eddie Howe‘s in-form Cherries. Nathan Broadhead later scored in a match which was thrice (!!!) stopped by floodlight failure, as the Brewers stunned the Cherries.

MK Dons 0-2 Liverpool

Playing at the back for a very young Liverpool, James Milner gave the Reds a lead they would not toss aside at Stadium MK.

Milner assisted on Ki-Jana Hoever‘s second half goal, as the second-choice Reds XI was given a decent challenge by Paul Tisdale’s side.

 

Brighton and Hove Albion 1-3 Aston Villa

Conor Hourihane and Jota scored in the first 33 minutes, as Villa continued to heap misery on Brighton’s poor run of form in the only all-Premier League match of the day. Hayden Roberts pulled one back in the second half, but that’s all the Seagulls could muster and Jack Grealish restored a two-goal lead for Villa before the match was finished at the Amex Stadium.

Sheffield United 0-1 Sunderland

Max Power — yes, that’s really his name — gave the Black Cats a ninth minute lead over the Premier League’s Blades.

Wolves 1-1 (4-2 pens.) Reading

Bruno Jordao scored his first Wolves goal, as American center back Matt Miazga returned to the Reading lineup after an injury spell cost him four matches and an international break with the USMNT.

But Reading kept pushing for an equalizer and got a deserved one when Lucas Boye scored in the ninth (!!) minute of stoppage time to force penalties.

Miazga was one of only two Reading players to score in the session, as Wolves escaped with their League Cup lives.