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One area where Mourinho was right: Man Utd badly needs center backs

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Big Manchester United wins and losses, especially post-Alex Ferguson, have a tendency to get overstated at both ends of the spectrum, but there’s plenty to take away from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s recent struggles at the helm of the Red Devils.

[ MORE: Recap | Solskjaer reacts ]

For one thing: Jose Mourinho wasn’t right about much this Manchester United season, but he knew he needed better men in the back.

Everton’s beautiful opener in the first half of Sunday’s 4-0 pummeling of the Red Devils may tempt some to wash over the defending, but heading below the surface shows more problems.

The opener saw Richarlison score a terrific overhead kick after Dominic Calvert-Lewin flick a Lucas Digne throw-in to the back post. Beautiful, for sure, but Smalling never gets up to thwart Calvert-Lewin’s powerful jump.

Now that’s certainly just one example, but United’s slide is a feature of a few things.

Nineteen goals conceded in 17 PL matches is a clear upgrade from the 29 in 17 under Mourinho, and let’s not pretend United hasn’t been better with Solskjaer at the proverbial wheel.

Throw in a very average season from David De Gea — which in his case is far below standards — and it’s not a surprise that United is flailing away from the Top Four. The Alexis Sanchez move has been poor, Romelu Lukaku‘s form has dipped save back-to-back braces against a pair of unremarkable defenses, and Paul Pogba remains mercurial. He’s a monster of the midfield at his best, and a drifting object in the wind at his worst.

There’s a comparison to made with where Liverpool was under Brendan Rodgers somewhere, a legendary club not quite sure of how to fit its standard to its standing. Marcus Rashford needs room to grow, not constant comparison to Romelu Lukaku. There are a lot of extra pieces in the squad, the guys you like as a luxury for a great team but are either too old or too green to be reliable.

Of center backs to play in 10 or more Premier League matches this season, Phil Jones ranks 16th, Chris Smalling is 38th, and Victor Lindelof is 44th. Only 57 are ranked. Advanced stats aren’t foolproof, but they help (Jones and little-used Eric Bailly, for what it’s worth, were well-rated last season).

The club needs a big rebuild, to be sure. De Gea is a suitable goalkeeper for a team with top end ambitions, and we know that Lukaku and Pogba at their best can dominate (whether either is capable of doing it consistently under anyone is a debate).

But really, perhaps De Gea’s amazing 2017-18 and Mourinho’s defense-first system papered over something that’s been evident for some time. There’s neither a Aymeric Laporte or Toby Alderweireld at United, let alone a Virgil Van Dijk.

Everton pummel Manchester United (video)

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  • Richarlison scores overhead kick (video)
  • Sigurdsson, Digne strike from outside box
  • Walcott pours misery on De Gea, Red Devils
  • One shot on target for Man Utd

Everton hammered Manchester United on Sunday at Goodison Park, using four different goal scorers to pull into seventh place on the Premier League table via a 4-0 blowout on Merseyside.

Richarlison, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Lucas Digne, and Theo Walcott scored for Marco Silva‘s Toffees, whose 49 points are level with Watford (which has played one fewer match).

United has now allowed more goals than any of its single seasons in the Premier League era with 48. There are four matches left, and Manchester City is next.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Everton took the lead before the quarter hour mark, Lucas Digne’s long throw flicked by Dominic Calvert-Lewin for Richarlison’s terrific overhead kick.

Paul Pogba sprung Marcus Rashford on goal, but the striker’s flicked short zipped over the goal.

Not to be outdone, Sigurdsson took advantage of some generous space around Nemanja Matic on a Everton counter attack.

The Icelandic star lashed a shot from well outside the 18, zipping inside the near post as De Gea helplessly flew toward the bounding shot.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Everton made it 3-0 in the 56th, as Digne let a De Gea punch bounce once outside the box before smashing a shot inside the near post.

Walcott would later side-foot under De Gea after Sigurdsson sprung him down the left wing.

WATCH: Everton leads on Richarlison overhead kick, Sigurdsson missile

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Richarlison and Gylfi Sigurdsson have both scored their 13th goals of the Premier League season this Sunday, each gorgeous in their own way.

Richarlison, who turns 22 on May 10, provided an aesthetically-pleasing, acrobatic goal during the Toffees’ Sunday visit from Manchester United.

[ STREAM: Everton-Man Utd on NBCSports.com ]

The goal came before the quarter-hour mark to open the scoring at Goodison Park.

Lucas Digne‘s long throw was flicked by Dominic Calvert-Lewin, and Richarlison swung his left peg skyward for a terrific overhead kick that defied David De Gea.

After bagging five goals with five assists for Watford last season, Richarlison has 13 and two for the Toffees.

Not to be outdone, Sigurdsson took advantage of some generous space around Nemanja Matic on a Everton counter attack.

The Icelandic star lashed a shot from well outside the 18, zipping inside the near post as De Gea helplessly flew toward the bounding shot.

Toffees get Jagielka goal to beat Arsenal

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  • Jagielka scores early
  • Everton moves ninth
  • Toffees out-attempt Gunners 22-7

Phil Jagielka wasn’t even supposed to start yet scored the game’s only goal as Everton beat Arsenal 1-0 at Goodison Park on Sunday.

Everton were the better team on the day and missed several chances to buttress their advantage, but came out on top and move to within a point of seventh.

Arsenal remains fourth with 63 points.

Jordan Pickford recorded his third-straight clean sheet for the Gunners, and first since an off-field altercation.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Only in the lineup because Michael Keane came down with a virus, Jagielka darted onto a loose ball to open the scoring with an 11th minute goal. A long throw was nodded to the back post by Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Jagielka poked it home.

Lucas Digne had his foot on the line when he launched the throw, which was not spotted by officials.

The Toffees were better money for the next goal, too, and Gylfi Sigurdsson put a ball into the gloves of Bernd Leno in the 38th minute to give the Toffees five of the game’s six total attempts and the only two on target.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Ramsey volleyed over the cross bar from inside the 18 when Jordan Pickford weakly punched a 48th minute chance to the Welshman.

Leno made a few more prime stops, including chances for Richarlison and Bernard, as the Gunners stayed alive for the point which could take them ahead of rivals Spurs.

Top 12 signings of 2018-19 Premier League season

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As we enter the final seven weeks of the Premier League season, now seems like a good time to focus on which players have stood out at their new clubs.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

From new star strikers to game-changing playmakers and much-needed defensive additions, a lot of clubs were extremely shrewd in the transfer market last summer.

Below we rank the top 12 signings of the season across the PL based on their performance so far.


1. Raul Jimenez (Wolves, on loan from Benfica) – The Mexican striker is Wolves’ top scorer and has them in seventh in the PL and in the FA Cup semis. Wolves are probably the best-ever newly-promoted team in PL history and his hold-up play, finishing and ability to run in behind and link-up with Diogo Jota is a big part of that. Now, they must try to sign him permanently. That is the hard part as clubs all over Europe are now chasing him after a wonderful debut campaign in the PL.


2. David Brooks (Bournemouth from Sheffield United, $15.2 million) – This was an absolute bargain. Brooks, 21, has shone in the top-flight and surprised everyone, including himself, at how well he has adapted. In his first PL season he has brought pace and trickery and he’s complemented Bournemouth’s other forwards perfectly. The Welsh winger has a bright future.


3. Joao Moutinho (Wolves from AS Monaco, $6.6 million) – The man who makes Wolves tick, the experienced Portuguese midfielder has oozed class and his set-piece deliveries cause all kinds of problems. Alongside Ruben Neves he just keeps chipping away, keeps the ball effortlessly and his range of passing is sublime. A real unsung hero. And a bargain.


4. Sokratis (Arsenal from Borussia Dortmund, $23.4 million) – After a bit of a shaky start, he’s come into his own in recent months and is one of the first names on Arsenal’s teamsheet. The towering Greek defender is a real character and is making the defenders around him better. A proper no-nonsense center half, Sokratis is becoming a cult hero at Arsenal and is a big reason they are in the top four.


5. Richarlison (Everton from Watford, $53 million) – It was big money for a Brazilian youngster who had just one season in the PL under his belt, but it was money well spent by Marco Silva. Richarlison, 21, has been called up to the full Brazil team and has scored 13 goals in his debut season at Everton. His pace has been crucial for the Toffees and although he’s played up front a lot on his own, out wide is where he is at his best.


6. Salomon Rondon (Newcastle, on loan from West Brom) – The big Venezuelan striker has been a revelation for the Magpies as Rafael Benitez has built his entire attack around Rondon. Able to hold the ball up and finish off plentiful crosses into the box, Rondon is perfectly suited for this Newcastle side. He gets the best out of the attackers around him, and his goal return of 10 is pretty decent for a team which has struggled at the bottom for most of this season. You’d think Newcastle will sign Rondon permanently this summer, but he does have one more year left on his contract at West Brom.


7. Lucas Torreira (Arsenal from Sampdoria, $33 million) – A huge signing for Arsenal, as Torreira has added extra bite to the Gunners midfield. After a wonderful start to life in England he has been a little subdued in recent weeks, but he has still been very important in pushing them into the top four.


8. Felipe Anderson (West Ham from Lazio, $42 million) – The Brazilian playmaker has lived up to his status as the Hammers’ club-record signing, with some classy performances. His goals have dried up but he has continued to deliver consistently good displays. A little inconsistent, but very good overall.


9. Rui Patricio (Wolves from Sporting Lisbon, $20 million) – Initially a free transfer after the player situation at Sporting, Wolves have agreed to pay $20 million for the Portuguese international goalkeeper via a tribunal. That is still a bargain. Patricio has made some wonderful saves and his distribution is very good and he brings a calming influence to the defense.


10. Gerard Deulofeu (Watford from Barcelona, $14.7 million) – Okay, he was on loan at Watford last January, but he didn’t play too well in the second half of last season. That said, Watford signed him permanently in the summer and he’s been very good with seven goals and five assists so far. A nomadic career finally seems to have settled down for the 25-year-old Spaniard.


11. James Maddison (Leicester from Norwich, $26.5 million) – The young Englishman has settled into life in the PL very quickly and he’s scored some stunning goals. Maddison has been called up to the England squad but didn’t make his debut, however he is a key part of Leicester’s future under new manager Brendan Rodgers. A fast start to the campaign has dissipated, but in recent weeks he has picked up form again. At 22, he has so much potential.


12. Matteo Guendouzi (Arsenal from Lorient, $9.2 million) – Like Torreira, his arrival made a big difference early in the season but he has gone off the boil a little bit. That said, for a 19-year-old he has shown admirable maturity and the way he rattles into challenges and keeps the ball is a perfect fit for the Premier League. A rising star.


Notable buys: Alisson (Liverpool from AS Roma, $74 million), Fabinho (Liverpool from AS Monaco, $51 million), Jefferson Lerma (Bournemouth from ), Harry Arter (Cardiff City from Bournemouth, loan), Lucas Digne (Everton from Barcelona, $23 million), Andre Gomes (Everton from Barcelona, loan), Aleksandar Mitrovic (Fulham from Newcastle, $25 million), Issa Diop (West Ham from Toulouse, $29 million), Lukasz Fabianski (West Ham from Swansea, $9.2 million), Willy Boly (Wolves from FC Porto, $15.9 million)


Bonus – Best January buys: Youri Tielemans, Miguel Almiron, Michy Batshuayi, Samir Nasri

The quartet above have all made big differences to their respective teams, with Tielemans a classy addition for Leicester on loan from Monaco, Almiron adding some much-needed creativity to Newcastle’s attack after a club-record arrival from Atlanta United, Batshuayi banging in goals during his first few months on loan from Chelsea and Nasri making a big difference at West Ham. All four have delivered exactly what has been asked of them, so far. It is too early to say they deserve to be in the top 10 signings of the season, but it is clear they have made fast starts at their new clubs.