Luke Shaw

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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!

Southampton ‘not a pig to be fattened’

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Southampton’s majority owner Gao Jisheng has rarely talked about purchasing the Premier League club. If ever.

However, the Chinese real estate tycoon has now been talking and it doesn’t seem like he’s willing to pump much, if any, of his own money into Saints in the coming years.

In a rare interview with the Financial Times in Shanghai, Gao revealed some of his plans for the future of the South Coast club.

“I am not treating Southampton as a pig to be fattened and sold,” Gao said. “I am treating it as a child. But my children must believe they cannot depend on the boss. I have said to Southampton: ‘I am now your father. But I am putting you on the right track: you need to feed yourself.’”

He added: “The club’s financial situation is good this year and it doesn’t require more investment.”

Southampton’s fans will not be too shocked to hear these words from Gao, but will be intrigued to have had heard anything at all from him.

The Chinese businessman often attends games but has never spoken publicly about his reasons and motivations for buying an 80 percent stake in the club from the Liebherr family back in 2017.

With his property company Lander Sports buying the club, Gao recently sold a large chunk of his stake in Lander to the Chinese government which led to the Premier League requesting information from Southampton about whether or not they were now owned by the state of China.

Gao has brushed off those suggestions, saying he has given the PL the information they need and they are satisfied. Lander Sports, who own the 80 percent stake in Saints, are based in Hong Kong due to strict laws about risky foreign investments in mainland China.

All of this is a little confusing for Southampton fans, but the main thing to come from Gao’s comments is that they shouldn’t expect a huge flurry of big money signings as long as he’s the owner but they could spend some money this summer without selling anybody.

Gao wants the club to be self-sustaining and that is pretty admirable in this day and age when fans demand huge money spent on new players, and will then slam the club when relegation could see it spiral into financial meltdown.

Southampton have always been a club which produces young talent and then sells players on for a huge profit. That won’t change anytime soon.

But after two close shaves with relegation over the past two seasons, it is clear Southampton’s squad needs a large rebuild under Ralph Hasenhuttl this summer. If they can sell on a plethora of players who have been out of the picture and out on loan last season, then they will be able to reinvest that cash in new players.

How successful Saints are at doing that this offseason will determine if Hasenhuttl’s side can kick on and push for a top 10 finish next season. The coach has worked wonders with one of the youngest squads in the PL since he arrived last December and there is plenty of promise that a full season of Hasenhuttl-ball will see Saints not embroiled in yet another relegation scrap.

Gao’s comments underline the fact he will not spend big like Wolves’ Chinese owners Fosun, but given how much Saints have spent over the past few years (they are one of the few PL clubs to make a profit in transfer business year in, year out) this wasn’t a huge surprise.

With Southampton playing a game in China again this offseason, their new sponsorship deal with LD Sports (a company yet to launch in China) has seen them double their revenue in terms of sponsorship in a club-record deal.

Gao’s connections in China are helping the club financially in certain aspects, but it appears they will not pump money in to try and challenge the PL’s elite like they did in years gone by under Ronald Koeman. In truth, their success under Koeman was fuelled by selling a host of star names such as Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Dejan Lovren and Morgan Schneiderlin, which allowed them to buy Sadio Made, Dusan Tadic, Graziano Pelle and Virgil Van Dijk among others.

Saints must unearth a few more gems in the transfer window this summer to keep their model rolling along and bring about another push into the top half of the table. They have a great manager, some talented youngsters and a sensible owner.

The latter will hamper any progress their fans have of making another push for European qualification in the years to come.

Ranking top 10 Premier League players at each position

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There are 25 players in each Premier League squad, but who not only starred for their respective clubs but also elevated themselves to the upper echelons of the league this season?

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

We pondered that as we analyzed those who rose to the challenge best over the past nine months.

Below is a look at our complete list of the top 10 players in each position based on their play during the 2018-19 campaign.


Goalkeepers
1. Ederson
2. Alisson
3. David De Gea
4. Kepa
5. Ben Foster
6. Lukasz Fabianski
7. Hugo Lloris
8. Jordan Pickford
9. Rui Patricio
10. Martin Dubravka


Right backs
1. Trent Alexander-Arnold
2. Matt Doherty
3. Aaron Wan-Bissaka
4. Cesar Azpilicueta
5. Ricardo Perreira
6. Kyle Walker
7. Seamus Coleman
8. Kiko Femenia
9. Pablo Zabaleta
10. Yan Valery


Left backs
1. Andrew Robertson
2. Lucas Digne
3. Ben Chilwell
4. Luke Shaw
5. Jonny Otto
6. Patrick Van Aanholt
7. Ben Davies
8. Nacho Monreal
9. Jose Holebas
10. Emerson Palmeri


Center backs
1. Virgil Van Dijk
2. Aymeric Laporte
3. Toby Alderweireld
4. Jan Vertonghen
5. Vincent Kompany
6. Sokratis
7. Antonio Rudiger
8. Conor Coady
9. Michael Keane
10. Issa Diop


Central midfielders
1. Fernandinho
2. Joao Moutinho
3. Moussa Sissoko
4. David Silva
5. Jordan Henderson
6. Andre Gomes
7. Abdoulaye Doucoure
8. Fabinho
9. N'Golo Kante
10. Youri Tielemans


Attacking midfielders
1. Eden Hazard
2. Bernardo Silva
3. Kevin De Bruyne
4. Christian Eriksen
5. Gerard Deulofeu
6. Dele Alli
7. James Maddison
8. Gylfi Sigurdsson
9. Paul Pogba
10. Diogo Jota


Wingers
1. Raheem Sterling
2. Bernardo Silva
3. Sadio Mane
4. Mohamed Salah
5. Wilfried Zaha
6. Ryan Fraser
7. Pedro
8. Ryan Babel
9. David Brooks
10. Nathan Redmond


Strikers
1. Sergio Aguero
2. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
3. Harry Kane
4. Roberto Firmino
5. Alexandre Lacazette
6. Raul Jimenez
7. Heung-Min Son
8. Jamie Vardy
9. Marcus Rashford
10. Salomon Rondon


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.

Stalemate as Chelsea peg Man United back (video)

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  • Mata put United ahead
  • Alonso equalized
  • Chelsea fourth, United sixth

Manchester United were pegged back by Chelsea at Old Trafford on Sunday, as the Red Devils and Blues played to a 1-1 draw.

Juan Mata gave United the lead but Marcos Alonso equalized after a huge error from David De Gea to grab a point for Chelsea.

With two games of the Premier League season to go, Chelsea sit fourth on 68 points and United sit in sixth on 65 points, as the top four battle will go down to the wire.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Lukaku had a huge chance early on as Luke Shaw sent in a wonderful pass for the Belgian forward who ran in on goal, but Kepa smothered and saved.

United didn’t have to wait too long after to take the lead, as Mata scored after 10 minutes. Lukaku’s lovely chip played in Shaw who got free in the box and passed across goal, where Mata took his time and stroked home against his former team.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Pogba then glanced a header just wide as United pushed hard for a second, while some tasty challenges flew in from Cesar Azpilicueta and Matteo Kovacic.

Chelsea were then handed a lifeline as Antonio Rudiger‘s shot from distance was spilled by David de Gea (his poor form continues) and Alonso swept home to make it 1-1.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

At the start of the second half neither team grabbed the initiative, and some injuries disrupted the fluidity of the game. Rudiger reinjured his left knee and was replaced, while David Luiz went down, Marcus Rashford was replaced by Alexis Sanchez, Eric Bailly suffered a nasty knock and was replaced, and Kovacic also went down.

When the substitutions were made and played resumed, the speed of play never really returned.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

In stoppage time Marcos Rojo‘s header was cleared off the line by Pedro, while Gonzalo Higuain was denied by De Gea, and that was as close as either team came to scoring in the second half.

Honors even.