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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.

Mourinho blames lack of spending despite spending $500M

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MANCHESTER, England — The presence of Cristiano Ronaldo at Old Trafford revived memories of much better times at Manchester United, when England’s biggest club had a slew of the world’s best players and no trophy felt beyond them.

[ MORE: Is something amiss with Romelu Lukaku? ]

It was only a decade ago, after all, that United was winning the Champions League and three straight Premier League titles. Ronaldo was the poster boy of the generation that included Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez, Rio Ferdinand and Paul Scholes.

So, the manner of United’s 1-0 loss to Juventus in the Champions League — and the nature of Jose Mourinho’s comments after Tuesday’s match — were stark reminders of just how far the team has fallen.

“Since the draw,” Mourinho said, “we knew it would be a fight with the Valencia for the second position.”

They were remarkable remarks from the manager of a club as huge as United, and it felt like Mourinho’s team took that inferiority complex into the game against Juventus.

United’s players looked in awe of their opponents — left back Luke Shaw acknowledged as much, saying his team gave Juventus “too much respect” — and had only 28 percent of the possession in the first half. United had only two shots on target in the whole match.

[ MORE: Allegri: Juventus tried to “attack around Nemanja Matic” ]

Yet Mourinho wasn’t finished there. In lavishing high praise on Juventus and the Italian club’s re-emergence as one of Europe’s top clubs, he also appeared to be sending a thinly veiled message to United’s board.

“A bit far,” Mourinho said, when asked how far United was behind Juventus. “Juventus is (Italian) champion for seven years in a row, two Champions League finals in the last four or five years and not happy with what they have. They want more, they want more.

“They had (Gonzalo) Higuain, (Mario) Mandzukic, (Paulo) Dybala, they want more. They want Ronaldo. They had (Andrea) Barzagli, (Giorgio) Chiellini, (Daniele) Rugani, they are not happy, they want more, they want (Leonardo) Bonucci. And they go for the best players in the world. A big, big club with a big past, but with also a big desire to have a big future.”

Just like the United of yesteryear.

Mourinho said his team, essentially, was no longer in the same league as Europe’s powerhouses.

[ MORE: Man United arrive late (again) for Juventus game ]

“To go to Juventus level? Barcelona level? Real Madrid level? How can we reach that level?” Mourinho asked reporters, adding: “Man City level? How can we reach that level?”

A reply came. “Investment?”

“Yes,” Mourinho said.

Yet he had just put out a team containing a center forward costing $97 million (Romelu Lukaku), a center midfielder costing a then world-record fee of $116 million and signed from Juventus (Paul Pogba), while an offseason signing for about $70 million (Fred) was on the bench, failing to make it on as a substitute.

Mourinho has spent more than $500 million on players since joining United in 2016. Either the money hasn’t been spent well or Mourinho isn’t getting enough out of them.

Lukaku, for example, has gone eight games without a goal and looks short of confidence playing for United.

“No criticism at all, and a complete understanding that the player is a fantastic professional that wants to give everything for the team,” Mourinho said. “But I have to agree his moment is not sweet, not just with the goals he is not scoring but in his confidence, movement, touch. He is not linking the game well with the team.

“But he’s our striker and a good striker and a striker we believe in.”

[ MORE: Man City atop group after blowout in Ukraine ]

Mourinho finished the game by responding to the goading of Juventus’ fans by holding up three fingers toward them, denoting the Champions League-Serie A-Italian Cup treble he won with Inter Milan — Juve’s rival — in the 2009-10 season.

Just three days earlier, he was sticking three fingers up at Chelsea fans who were hurling abuse at him at Stamford Bridge, a reminder of the three Premier League titles he won at the London club over two spells.

Mourinho continues to hark back to his trophy-laden past.

It’s the future he and United have to worry about.

Klinsmann to be World Cup TV pundit

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Some will say he should be coaching the U.S. national team in Russia this summer, but Jurgen Klinsmann will instead be a pundit on the 2018 World Cup for the BBC in England.

The BBC announced on Tuesday that Klinsmann will be alongside the likes of Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Alan Shearer, Pablo Zabaleta and Rio Ferdinand to give his analysis on the tournament, one he may way feel he should be at as a coach had things worked out differently 18 months ago.

Klinsmann, 53, was fired by the U.S. men’s national team after losing the opening two games of the final round of CONCACAF qualifying against Mexico and Costa Rica.

By now we all know, of course, that Klinsmann’s successor, Bruce Arena, wasn’t able to salvage a slow start to the Hexagonal round of qualifying as the USMNT lost at Trinidad & Tobago in their final qualifier to not make the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

Klinsmann has largely been a bystander since the USA’s World Cup debacle, appearing here and there at coaching seminars or spotted watching his son Jonathan, a goalkeeper with Hertha Berlin and the U.S. youth teams, play.

The German legend was in charge of the USMNT for five years from 2011-16 and led the Stars and Stripes to the Round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Klinsmann’s insight into not only the teams at the tournament but also what happened with the USMNT will be intriguing, especially as he could be more relaxed on the subject of the U.S. considering he will be talking to a UK audience.

This will also be a great chance for Klinsmann to put himself back in the shop window as the managerial merry-go-round swings into overdrive following a World Cup tournament…

Still, there will be a nagging feeling among most USMNT fans that had Klinsmann not been fired back in November 2016 and trusted to get the U.S. back on track, they’d be cheering on their team this summer at the World Cup instead of twiddling their thumbs and being somewhat of a World Cup third wheel.

Three things from Manchester United’s Champions League exit

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Manchester United disappointed on many levels in bailing out of the UEFA Champions League at the Round of 16.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 1-2 (1-2 agg.) Sevilla ]

It wasn’t a matter of bounces, as United was outplayed by the visitors and failed to show anything clinical in attack aside from a Jesse Lingard chance and workmanlike 90 minutes from Romelu Lukaku.

Here are three things we gathered from the contest.

Alexis invisible

For a guy making loads and loads of money and seeking a more ambitious club than Arsenal, Alexis Sanchez essentially went missing at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

The No. 7 red shirt was involved in some combination play, creating some first half chances, but was nowhere near the difference maker he was so many times for the Gunners.

Maybe this is down to Jose Mourinho and Sanchez still familiarizing themselves with each other’s strengths, but the Chilean missed a chance to become an Old Trafford hero in a building which has seen so many heroes etch their way into memory.

UPDATE: You know who agrees? Rio Ferdinand, who said, “The whole 11 today were shocking.”

Mourinho not bailed out by De Gea

Just days after outfoxing Jurgen Klopp in a big derby win, Jose Mourino failed to deliver another winning tactical plan for Manchester United.

Mourinho entered the match with a nil-nil score line, and apparently didn’t think his side could score one more goal than it conceded at Old Trafford.

Marouane Fellaini started the match in the midfield, and the first half saw loads of balls sent to him at the back post for knockdowns. Super sub Jesse Lingard also started and was quite active, denied by Sergio Rico’s fine form.

Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial were on the bench to start, both recovering from injuries but fit for substitute roles.

Was Sevilla prepared for more from United? Steven N’Zonzi seems puzzled by the hosts.

“I thought they were going to press a little bit more, but I don’t really want to talk about the game it’s a great win,” N’Zonzi said.

So often, Mourinho has been bailed out by his talent, in particular his dynamic keeper David De Gea.

But De Gea was slow to recognize Wissam Ben Yedder’s intentions on Sevilla’s first goal (below), and his attempt to slap the Frenchman’s difficult back post header over the goal ended up bounding off the post and into the net.

While he’s not the villain of the loss, he wasn’t near his impervious best on the United goals.

Lukaku makes some amends as the lone bright spot

Romelu Lukaku has, rightly or wrongly, been criticized for his big game performances.

He wasn’t perfect on Tuesday, but the Big Belgian was one of United’s lone bright spots well before he bullied his way into the box to score the side’s lone goal of the tie.

Just as he did against Liverpool at the weekend, Lukaku ran himself ragged tracking down passes and getting very physical with Sevilla’s back line.

It just wasn’t enough, as the bevy of busy and creative players able to play off Lukaku simply did not.

Playback: Where do City rank among best-ever PL teams?

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RANKING THE CREME DE LA CREME

It is a question which is dominating the Premier League right now: is this Manchester City team the best in Premier League history?

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

There is no doubt that even without winning the Premier League title this season (we are not even halfway in, folks) Pep Guardiola‘s men are set to be up there with the best teams the PL has ever seen after a record-breaking 16 consecutive wins and just generally breaking records like they’re going out of fashion.

They have plenty of competition though to be the best-ever in PL history, though, and they’ll likely need to go the entire PL season unbeaten if they are to be known as the best team ever assembled in England’s top-flight. There are plenty of clubs who have had fine squads (Liverpool, Tottenham, Newcastle) but to be among the PL’s best, you simply have to have won the trophy.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

 

Below we rank the top five teams in PL history, with this City side among them.


1. Arsenal (2003-04)


They won the Premier League title without losing (winning 26 games and drawing 12) “The Invincibles” have gone down in folklore for their incredible achievement. Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires, Sol Campbell and Patrick Vieira were in their prime and they just didn’t look like losing. Arsene Wenger has the perfect mixture of passion and panache to make history and their incredible 49-game unbeaten run is unlikely to be surpassed, even by Man City. Apart from Arsenal, only Preston North End in the 1888-89 season have gone an entire campaign unbeaten. The only slight disappointment was that Arsenal didn’t win any other domestic trophies and lost in the Champions League last eight. That said, Henry scored 39 goals in all competitions and 30 in the PL to lead the Gunners to a feat that many believe will never be repeated.


2. Manchester City (2017-18)*if they win the title


If (and it’s still a big if despite their early season dominance) City win the title this season, given their 16-game winning run and attacking ability they will go down as the greatest team ever. It all depends on if they can go the entire season unbeaten but Guardiola is bringing soccer perfection to the PL. Yes, they’ve spent big to get there but the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United have also thrown plenty of cash at their squads and are nowhere near where City are right now. With Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane, Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus in attack, this City side have so many attacking weapons but adding Kyle Walker, Danilo and Benjamin Mendy in defense, plus Ederson in goal, has been a huge reason why they’ve blown the PL away. History is in the making for this City side, in more ways than one. They are totally dominating the Premier League.


3. Manchester United (1998-99)


It took the famous treble winning team until the final day of the Premier League season to win the league title, but their exploits in winning the FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League made up for it. Sir Alex Ferguson (just Alex Ferguson back then, actually) rotated his team masterfully in the final months of the season to pull off the greatest achievement in British soccer history. This was vintage United. Peter Schmeichel in goal behind a back four of Neville, Stam, Johnsen and Irwin, while Paul Scholes, Roy Keane, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs were in midfield and Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole were up top. A perfect blend of youth and experience, skill and determination. This was a true “team first” effort with the likes of Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, Teddy Sheringham, Nicky Butt, Henning Berg, Phil Neville and Jesper Blomqvist all playing their parts. Fergie was knighted after their famous last-gasp win in Barcelona against Bayern Munich and although they only won the PL title by one point, their exploits in the FA Cup (where they beat second-place Arsenal in heroic fashion in the semifinal) and in Europe played a huge part in them not running away with the title.


4. Chelsea (2004-05)

Jose Mourinho won the Premier League title in his first two seasons in charge of Chelsea but his squad in 2004-05, which sealed a first league title in 50 years, was the best. Chelsea simply tore the Premier League apart. Didier Drogba led the line as Frank Lampard charged forward from midfield to be the top scorer, while Arjen Robben was on the wing and Claude Makele protected the back four with Ricardo Carvalho and John Terry leading from the back as a young Petr Cech excelled in goal. Chelsea had everything and lost just one game all season long on their way to reaching 95 points, which is still a record points total for the Premier League champions. Defensively they were incredible as they set PL records for the least goals conceded (15), most shutouts (25) and fewest away goals conceded in a season (9). Mourinho, fresh from his Champions League and treble success at FC Porto, proved he was “The Special One” and also won the League Cup as well as losing in the UCL semifinals to Liverpool. Chelsea have won the title four times since 2004-05 but the squad they had over 12 years ago was the finest the west London club has ever seen.


5. Manchester United (2007-08)

Yep, they had to have at least two teams in the top five. With 13 Premier League titles under their belt, they gained more points in their title wins either side of the 2007-08 campaign, but this was arguably their most impressive PL success. Cristiano Ronaldo led United’s charge as the Portuguese superstar scored 42 goals in all competitions to help them win the Premier League and UEFA Champions League. Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez were Ronaldo’s partners in crime as the trio scored 79 goals between them in all competitions. Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Owen Hargreaves, Anderson and Michael Carrick were rotated expertly in midfield by Fergie and at the back Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and Edwin van der Sar were formidable. After edging past Chelsea and Arsenal to the PL title, Fergie led United to UCL glory in Moscow against Chelsea as they won on penalty kicks. The trio of Rooney, Tevez and Ronaldo were appointment viewing and United were top of the table from March and never gave up their perch with Chelsea and Arsenal breathing down their necks.


MANAGERIAL MERRY-GO-ROUND IN FINE FETTLE

With familiar faces returning to the PL in droves over the past few months, most of them are doing rather well with their respective new clubs.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Sam Allardyce has won four from five with Everton who are now dreaming of Europe. Roy Hodgson is unbeaten in seven with Palace and has them out of the bottom three after two wins on the spin. David Moyes has won two of his last three at West Ham United and has turned them into a tough team to beat. Alan Pardew is slowly turning things around at West Brom.

There were plenty of moans and groans when these experienced coaches who have been on the merry-go-round a few more times than they care to mention were appointed, but they’re proving they can get the job done.

Allardyce is on his seventh PL club. Hodgson and Pardew both at their fifth. Moyes on his fourth.

The initial bump of having a new manager has led Everton and West Ham out of trouble, and Hodgson is starting to turn things around at Palace after inheriting a real mess from Frank De Boer.

Pardew, another old hand who is back in the PL, will be hoping it is his time to shine next. His West Brom side drew away at Liverpool and although they still look goal-shy, he has made them more stubborn to break down.

All four newbies have settled in well and you can expect to see plenty more familiar faces arrive if the likes of Stoke City, Southampton and Swansea continue to struggle.


LET THE GAMES CONTINUE

This is it. Primetime has arrived.

The holiday season is here and the Premier League is in full flow with 40 games coming up over 11 days from this Friday. Like March Madness, having NFL games on Thanksgiving and the NBA’s Christmas Day games, PL action dominates the holidays.

Bring. It. On.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]   

Below is the schedule in full for Boxing Day, the New Year’s Day games and more.

At this time of the year we are full of festive cheer but in the Premier League, this deluge of games can make or break a campaign.

Think about that when you’re tucking into your festive feasts while Romelu Lukaku, Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard limber up and prepare themselves for yet another game.


Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here