Paul Pogba

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La Liga preview: Three-peat for Barcelona?

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As we close out the decade, Barcelona has been far and away the best team in Spain, and possibly Europe, over the last ten years. This summer, they may have gotten even stronger.

The La Liga season kicks off on Friday, with Barcelona going for its third-straight league title and eighth in the last ten years. Barcelona won the 2019 title by 11 points over Atletico Madrid and a stunning 19 points over rivals Real Madrid. Now, as Barca gets set to face Athletic Bilbao in the season opener, it’s upgraded at key positions that could give Barcelona what it needs to win the league again, and even potentially the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule ]

Barcelona this summer signed France World Cup winner Antoine Griezmann, French defender Jean-Clair Todibo and Spanish defender Junior Firpo. But the crown jewel could be central midfielder Frenkie de Jong. The former Ajax star has trained in the Dutch possession model for the last two years, which Barcelona bears a strong resemblance to.

As such, de Jong has seamlessly transitioned to the Barcelona squad, and could make Barcelona the team to beat in Europe for many years to come. Imagine de Jong spraying passes to Lionel 2Messi, and Barcelona could start winning matches 4-1, 5-0, on a consistent basis.

Nipping on Barcelona’s heels this coming season will likely be Atletico Madrid. Diego Simeone, in his ninth season in charge, has probably had the best transfer window of any team in La Liga. Despite losing veterans like Griezmann, Diego Godin, Juanfran, Felipe Luis and young stars like Rodri (Man City) and Lucas Hernandez (Bayern Munich), Simeone and the Atletico board have brought in some of the brightest stars that can light up La Liga.

The star of the bunch is Joao Felix. The 19-year-old has started life incredibly with Atletico as he’s scored three goals and dished out four assists in preseason action. Atleti also added former Tottenham right back Kieran Trippier and brought untested but talented midfielder Marcos Llorente over from Real Madrid. The new improvements have helped make Atleti an even better attacking team. That may seem against Simeone’s principals, but perhaps with Diego Costa leading the line this season and Felix on the left, we could see an Atleti squad outscoring its opponents, rather than grinding out low-scoring games.

On the other side of Madrid is Real Madrid, and at the moment, it’s not looking good. Los Blancos had plenty of hope last spring, when Zinedine Zidane returned to take over as coach and Real fans hoped for a big change this summer.

Instead, it’s been just more of the same. Yes, Real Madrid has brought in Eden Hazard, Eder Militao and Luka Jovic among others. But according to reports, the one player Zidane wanted Real Madrid to sign the most was Paul Pogba. Unless something drastic changes at Old Trafford, that won’t happen.

Meanwhile, the backline has hardly changed. Marcelo, Sergio Ramos and Nacho are still around, and while Militao and Ferland Mendy bring some youth to the backline, it’s still not a world-class unit. Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro struggled at times during the season, and while Vinicius Jr. is a talent, Hazard’s arrival means there’s less playing time for the Brazilian.

Plus, there’s the distraction of James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale still in the squad, plus Marco Asensio’s season-ending injury. It may be a somewhat tough year in the center of Madrid this year.

Report: Man United shuts door on Pogba departure

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If the latest reports are to be believed, Paul Pogba is staying for at least another few months in Manchester.

Despite dropping hints through media interviews and his agent, Mino Raiola, that he wanted to leave Old Trafford this summer, Paul Pogba won’t be allowed to leave this window, according to a report from the Telegraph. It states that with the close of the Premier League transfer window, Pogba opportunity to leave is closed, at least until January or next summer.

[READ: Report: Eriksen turns down new Spurs offer]

Pogba is coming off a wild last 12 months. He went from winning the World Cup with France to re-joining his Man United teammates under Jose Mourinho. The pair famously feuded and Mourinho clearly lost his touch with the squad, leading to his dismissal and the introduction of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. All the while Pogba had an up and down season, but for a time in February and March, he was one of the best players in the Premier League. However, the lack of a summer break last year caught up with him, and his performances suffered late in the season.

Heading into this year, it appeared that Pogba was hoping to move, especially reportedly to play for his idol, Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid. However, Pogba signed a five-year contract with an option year when he re-joined the club in 2016. Ultimately, it seems that Pogba is much too valuable to Man United’s fortunes this season, especially if he were to leave for Real Madrid or even Juventus after the Premier League window is closed.

Pogba is going to be counted on by Solskjaer to be a key member of the squad this season. Nemanja Matic appears to be on the way down after a tremendous career in England, while Scott McTominay, Fred, James Garner and Angel Gomes all are in need of experience in top games. Based on Pogba’s assists against Chelsea, the club’s fortunes clearly rest on his outstanding talent. It’s now up to Pogba to put his head down, and keep his eye on leaving for next year.

Premier League Numbers Nerd: Week 1

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Small sample sizes can make for terrible science, but they’re delightful for stat hounds and simple amusements.

For example, the Premier League’s opening weekend saw a hat trick for Raheem Sterling and braces for Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, and Ashley Barnes.

[ MORE: USSF promotes Stewart, hires USWNT GM ]

Who was the top dog of the week in terms of match rating, though? Man City’s Riyad Mahrez, who was nearly perfect with two assists, 83.3 percent passing despite his placement in low success areas of the pitch, four tackles, two interceptions, and four key passes.

Here are our favorite numbers, notes, and names from Week 1 (Stats via WhoScored):

Two (2) assists is the current top total in the league. It won’t surprise you to see Mahrez and Paul Pogba on that figure, but the third player to do it is… Burnley’s Erik Pieters!

Four (4) players won eight or more aerial duels: League-leader Christian Benteke (9) of Crystal Palace, as well as Newcastle’s Joelinton, Burnley’s Ben Mee, and Brighton’s Shane Duffy.

Under five: Three players in the Premier League played 90 minutes and couldn’t register higher than a 5.0 on WhoScored’s rating system. Kurt Zouma of Chelsea (4.86) could not come close to replicating his stalwart play with Everton last season and conceded a penalty and four goals. West Ham star Issa Diop (4.93) had the sort of statistical day a lot of players do against Man City, and two of his back line teammates joined him in the Bottom Six. And Grant Hanley of Norwich City posted a 4.99, dinged largely by an own goal despite completing 92.3 percent of his passes against Liverpool.

Five (5) –> Villa fans will want this to be six, as Tyrone Mings couldn’t stop Tanguy Ndombele‘s equalizer, but no player in the Premier League blocked as many shots as the former Bournemouth man. And we’re not done with him yet.

(Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Five is also the league-best number of key passes recorded, by Chelsea’s Pedro. Perhaps Frank Lampard‘s feeling about his team’s play in a 4-0 loss to Manchester United will make sense over time.

And five is also the most fouls drawn by anyone in Week 1, with Villa’s Jack Grealish and Palace’s Jordan Ayew needing some time in an ice bath.

Finally, five is the number of players who completed more than 80 passes on Opening Day. Leicester’s Ben Chilwell led the way with 85, followed by Granit Xhaka (Arsenal), Toby Alderweireld (Spurs), Harry Winks (Spurs), and Jonny Evans (Leicester).

Seven (7) interceptions were made by Newcastle’s Fabian Schar, the most in the league. Seven is also the amount of fouls committed by Crystal Palace’s Luka Milivojevic against Everton, three more than anyone else (Yes, he saw yellow).

Eight (8): The amount of shots taken by Harry Kane, double the amount of anyone else in the Premier League.

Eight is also the most successful tackles won by a single player this weekend, done by Liverpool’s Fabinho and Aston Villa’s John McGinn?

Seventeen (17): This would also be more appropriately read as “Seven-(expletive)-teen!” Aston Villa’s Mings cleared danger 17 times against Spurs, almost double the No. 2 man, Palace’s Martin Kelly.

100%: Only one field player in the league played more than a half-hour and completed all of his passes, and that was… Christian Pulisic of Chelsea and these United States of America. He was 12-for-12, but here’s the bad news: That came as part of a statistically miserable 6.09 showing.

Pogba unsure about future at Man United

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Paul Pogba has cast fresh doubt over his future as a Manchester United player.

Speaking after their 4-0 demolition of Chelsea, where he grabbed two assists in the second half after yet another Jekyll and Hyde display, the 26-year-old Frenchman revealed he could still leave United this summer with the transfer window still open across Europe.

Pogba had previously admitted he was ready for a new challenge and his agent Mino Raiola reinforced that Pogba wants to leave United as Real Madrid remain interested.

“Obviously there have been things said but only time will tell,” Pogba said. “This question mark remains. However, as I said, I am here in Manchester. I enjoy playing with my teammates and I always want to win every game. I always give it everything. I am always good whenever I play football. It is what I love – it is my job. I give the maximum each time I am on a green pitch.”

Pogba remains a divisive figure and his display against Chelsea summed that up. In the first half he gave the ball away, was easily pushed off the ball and didn’t look too interested. In the second half he set up Marcus Rashford with a delicious ball over the top and then went on a surging run to set up Dan James for United’s fourth.

Even though the summer transfer window is shut in the Premier League, players can still leave and it seems as though Pogba’s future will be open in the air until early September.

Surely United will not sell him now as they’ll have no chance of replacing him.

Solskjaer claims ‘winning is a habit’ following 4-0 victory

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Manchester United came out all guns blazing, thumping Chelsea 4-0 in a season-opener that will stay etched in the minds of many.

To the eye, such complete performance indicates that the Red Devils are exactly where they need to be already – aggressive offensively, disciplined in the back and feeding off of Paul Pogba‘s enchanting wizardry to seal games off. Then again, it’s only a positive result in the first match of a long, demanding season – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s first full season at the helm, to be exact. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that he comprehends the PL’s environment better than most, though.

“4-0 you can’t dream of more or expect more but then again we are working on improving as a team and finding a style that suits us a team,” Solskjaer told the BBC. “We still need time but it is coming.

“Team spirit has been fantastic,” he added. “We started 1 July as the aim to get as many players fit for this game. We had everybody bar Eric Bailly fit. There are a lot of disappointed players who wanted to be part of this start. But they wanted to be here and they are happy to be part of a winning start.”

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

From Pogba, to Marcus Rashford, to Anthony Martial, Sunday’s big stage at Old Trafford was good to the home side, specifically to debutant Daniel James, 21, who scored in the 81st minute after coming on as a substitute. “It was a big moment for him,” the Norwegian manager said about the Englishmen’s impressive cameo. “He has had a tough summer and some ups and downs in life so I am happy for his debut goal.”

Manchester United are on the right path: winning in convincing manner at home, against one of their fiercest rivals. But it’s not new news at Old Trafford, where winning is second nature and expectations are sky-high.

If you don’t think that’s the case, just ask Solskjaer.

“Winning is a habit,” the 46-year-old manager confessed. “We are lucky to go in 1-0 up but in second half our nerves settled, our confidence grew.”