Sergio Romero

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Europa League preview: Man Utd, Wolves, Arsenal begin group stage

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The Europa League begins its group stage on Thursday, with the three Premier League combatants taking on clubs from Kazakhstan, Portugal and Germany.

Manchester United’s kids are gonna get some playing time when Astana visits Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Teenager Mason Greenwood and 21-year-old Axel Tuanzebe will start, and Sergio Romero will be between the sticks.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

And the Manchester Evening News notes that Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes could also start at Old Trafford, meaning the veterans in the fray will be quite important.

Enter Fred, the forgotten $68 million man from Shaktar Donetsk. The 23 minutes he played last week versus Leicester City account for his lone time on the pitch this season.

Here’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer:

“I’m sure we’ll see more and more of Fred. We spoke about it earlier, he’s had some great games in midfield with Scott against PSG and Arsenal, for example, and we’re just waiting for that to flourish.”

Fred had an odd record under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last season, barely in the squad when the team started hot but trusted against PSG and Barcelona in the Champions League.

Speaking of little-used midfielders, Arsenal boss Unai Emery is getting a little grief for leaving Mesut Ozil behind for the Gunners’ trip to Germany for a big match with Eintracht Frankfurt.

Ozil made his first start of the season in Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Watford at the weekend, playing 71 minutes and departing with the club up 2-1.

So why not even bring him abroad? Rest.

“Because we are going to play another match on Sunday,” Emery said, via The London Evening Standard. “My decision is because he played and also I’m thinking tomorrow the focus and the first 11 and after that I decided who are the players who can be the best for tomorrow and also the players not and that is Sokratis and Mesut.”

Sokrastis Papastathopoulos is also out, having played a big role in the embarrassing performance at Watford.

There have been tough times for Wolves as well, who sit in the relegation zone after five matches of the Premier League season.

They’ve been quite good in Europa League, though, dispatching a pair of minnows before winning both legs against Serie A side Torino.

Why the inconsistency? It’s not fixture congestion, according to Ruben Neves:

“I don’t think fatigue has anything to do with it, Neves said, via The Birmingham Mail. “We’re all top players, we’re used to it, we’re used to playing a lot of games in quick succession. I don’t think the Europa League has (anything) to do with our position in the Premier League. Obviously, we haven’t had the start that we’ve wanted, but it’s been a beautiful journey into the Europa League. This is a historic moment for Wolves and we’re going to do our best in this competition.”

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men meet Braga at the Molineux, one of three tricky opponents in Besiktas and Slovan Bratislava.

Full slate

12:55 p.m. ET
CFR Cluj v. Lazio
LASK v. Rosenborg
Getafe v. Trabzonspor
PSV Eindhoven v. Sporting Lisbon
Basel v. Krasnodar
APOEL Nicosia v. Dudelange
Copenhagen v. Lugano
Standard Liege v. Vitoria SC
Qarabag v. Sevilla
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Arsenal
Rennes v. Celtic
Dynamo Kiev v. Malmo

3 p.m. ET
Wolfsburg v. Oleksandriya
Espanyol v. Ferencvaros
Rangers v. Feyenoord
Porto v. Young Boys
Slovan Bratislava v. Besiktas
Borussia Monchengladbach v. Wolfsberg
Partizan v. AZ Alkmaar
AS Roma v. Istanbul Basaksehir
Gent v. Saint-Etienne
Manchester United v. Astana
Wolves v. Braga
Ludogorets Razgrad v. CSKA Moscow

Romelu Lukaku left out of Man United squad

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Romelu Lukaku has yet to feature for Manchester United in preseason and speculating regarding his future at Old Trafford will continue to swirl.

The Belgian star was left out of United’s 26-man squad for their trip to Norway to play Kristiansund on Tuesday, and there was no reason given for his absence on the club website.

Lukaku, 26, has been linked with moves to Italian giants Juventus and Inter Milan throughout the summer and it appears the end-game is near.

Reports suggest that Juve will offer Paulo Dybala for Lukaku, while Inter have been negotiating with United for some time but the Red Devils are said to want over $90 million for their Belgian striker and Antonio Conte‘s side are yet to offer anywhere near that.

An extra caveat to all of this is that Lukaku traveled with United to Australia and China for their lengthy preseason tour but didn’t play a single second due to a minor injury.

He could often be seen training on his own or working out on an excercise bike in the gym, as his future remains up in the air.

Do United need him?

Given his penchant as a proven goalscorer, you always need those around. But given the fact that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants young, speedy strikers and he has a lot of them, Lukaku’s skillset makes him surplus to requirements right off the bat.

We saw him chucked out wide at times during the second half of last season and although he caused problems in that role, he never looked comfortable. Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and youngsters Dan James and Mason Greenwood looked more natural fits for United’s new high-octane playing style.

Lukaku has talked about his love for Serie A on multiple occasions and it appears his time in the Premier League is about to come to an end.

When we look back on his United career, 42 goals in 96 appearances isn’t a bad record at all. But it doesn’t tell the whole story.

His hold-up play didn’t improve much, neither did his record against the top six clubs, and the lack of service he received — especially in the opening months of Jose Mourinho’s final season in charge — saw him frustrated so when chances did arrive he snatched at them.

Along with Paul Pogba, Lukaku always seemed to be under pressure at United and it seems close to the mark to say both have been too inconsistent over the past few seasons.

Here is United’s squad in full for the trop to Norway

David De Gea, Lee Grant, Joel Pereira, Sergio Romero; Diogo Dalot, Phil Jones, Victor Lindelof, Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw, Chris Smalling, Axel Tuanzebe, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Ashley Young; Fred, Angel Gomes, Daniel James, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, Nemanja Matic, Scott McTominay, Andreas Pereira, Paul Pogba; Tahith Chong, Mason Greenwood, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford.

Man United beat Tottenham in Shanghai (video)

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Manchester United capped off their tour to Australia and the Far East with a 2-1 win against Tottenham Hotspur in Shanghai, as tempers flared over in a tense International Champions Cup friendly at Hongkou Stadium.

Anthony Martial gave United the lead in the first half but Lucas Moura then equalized before academy youngster Angel Gomes, 18, scored the winner for the Red Devils who have a perfect record so far in preseason.

A feisty first half in China was played at a good tempo despite the heat, with youngsters Daniel James and Troy Parrot impressing for United and Spurs respectively.

Martial hit the post as he looked sharp throughout the first half, and soon the first goal of the game arrived.

After good work from Andreas Perreira, Martial finished from a tight angle past Paolo Gazzaniga at his near post. Spurs’ goalkeeper will not want to see that one back…

Moussa Sissoko clattered into James which resulted in a mini-scuffle between both sets of players with Harry Kane and Ashley Young at the center of things.

Before the break Tanguy Ndombele and Parrot were combining well and United almost doubled their lead as Paul Pogba smashed just off target.

United changed all 11 players at half time but Eric Bailly only lasted a few minutes as he came off injured, which was one of the only negatives for Solskjaer.

Spurs levelled the scores with 25 minutes to go as a tame effort from substitute Moura from the edge of the box somehow deflected past Sergio Romero and in.

Gomes then won it for United, as the youngster scored a superb goal to keep his impressive preseason going.

He was played in by Juan Mata before squeezing a shot home as it seemed he would pull the ball back for Marcus Rashford.

United now return to Europe having won all four of their preseason friendlies so far, as Solskjaer’s side are cranking through the gears impressively as they build up to the 2019-20 campaign.

Tottenham head to Munich to play against Real Madrid next week, plus either Bayern Munich or Fenerbache in the 2019 Audi Cup.

Report: Man United offers to make De Gea highest paid goalkeeper

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According to a report by the BBC, Manchester United has stepped up efforts to sign David De Gea to a long-term contract, with its latest offer reportedly high enough to make him the highest-paid goalkeeper in the world in a bid to avoid losing him for nothing next summer. The two sides have attempted to strike a new deal unsuccessfully for quite some time now, with unsuccessful negotiations dating back almost two years.

De Gea’s contract expires next summer, and Manchester United has reportedly been working on an extension for the last calendar year, but little progress has been made. The Spaniard wishes to be the highest-paid player at the club, but the Red Devils are hamstrung by the enormous contract it gave Alexis Sanchez, meaning it would need to offer De Gea north of the $490,000-per-week deal that Sanchez is saddled with.

While the BBC report does not give details of the offer, A report by The Times does specify the amount, claiming it is worth $440,000 per week, meaning while it doesn’t reach Sanchez’s contract, it comes much closer than the label of “highest-paid goalkeeper” would suggest.

For perspective on goalkeeper earnings around the world, a Marca report on De Gea negotiations from a year ago tabs Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer as the highest-paid goalkeeper in the world at the time with a salary of $325,000 per week. While that figure still doesn’t come close to the Sanchez number that De Gea’s camp has stuck to, it would still earn him a significant bump in pay from his current $251,000-per-week deal.

Should this improved contract offer yet again fall short of De Gea’s expectations, it’s possible that Manchester United would begin to shop him, looking to cash in instead of allowing him to leave on a free transfer next summer. The club does have a 32-year-old international starter in Sergio Romero on the books who could take over should De Gea depart. However, the BBC report states that the club’s current strategy is to continue negotiating into the new season, hoping he eventually signs on even at the risk of losing him on a free.

De Gea took a step back from his usual all-world form last season, starting with a poor 2018 World Cup which carried into the Manchester United campaign, but the body of work still leaves him as one of the world’s best goalkeepers and he is just entering the prime of his career for his position at 28 years old. He has racked up 362 appearances for Manchester United, good for 40th on the all-time club list and a season away from the 400-mark which would see him into the top 25.

He joined Manchester United in 2011 from Atletico Madrid at just 20 years old, and has been the regular starter since signing on, inking a five-year contract extension in 2015.

Solskjaer confirms De Gea will start for Man United against Huddersfield

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Ole Gunnar Solakjaer has confirmed that under-fire goalkeeper David De Gea will keep his place as Manchester United hosts Huddersfield Town at Old Trafford on Sunday.

The Spaniard has struggled over the past few weeks, with errors leading to goals that open fresh wounds from this past summer’s World Cup, where De Gea also performed poorly. Most recently, De Gea fumbled a deep effort from N'Golo Kante on Sunday against Chelsea that led to Marcos Alonso‘s 43rd minute equalizer in the eventual 1-1 draw with Chelsea. De Gea was seen shaking his head after the mistake, leading some to speculate the mistakes could be having an effect on his mentality, but the Manchester United boss hoped to shoot that down.

“Of course we do [trust De Gea], he’s been fantastic this season,” Solskjaer said in his pre-match press conference after confirming he will start. “Towards the end now he’s been in the headlines maybe for the wrong reasons, but as I’ve said so many times he’s got to deal with that. The goalkeeping department, they’re a fantastic group together with [goalkeeping coach] Emilio [Alvarez] and Sergio [Romero] and Lee [Grant] and David, they’ve been such a tight knitted group so they’ve experienced better times obviously but he’s ready for Sunday.”

Solskjaer did conveniently mention that Sergio Romero, de Gea’s backup, has a knee injury, leaving options quite limited should they decide the Spaniard needed some time on the sidelines. The only other goalkeeper in the squad is 36-year-old Lee Grant who joined from Stoke City in the summer. 20-year-old Paul Woolston is the starter for the U-23 squad, having signed in November as a free agent.

The boss was asked whether Romero would have started if he was fit, but dodged the question, sayin, “Ifs and buts and hypothetical questions. Sergio knows how highly I rate him.”

De Gea’s struggles have mounted for some time, with errors and poor moments in big games of late. He was beaten twice at his near post in the derby against Manchester City a week ago, with Bernardo Silva and Leroy Sane both scoring on shots De Gea would like to have back. He saw a Lionel Messi shot squirt right under his outstretched body as Barcelona trounced the Red Devils 3-0 in the second leg of their Champions League quarterfinal the week before that.

Despite the mistakes, De Gea has been a monstrous figure in goal for Manchester United for nearly the past decade. Since joining in 2011, he has made at least 28 Premier League appearances in every single season, and has hit the 34-game mark in each of the past six seasons. The 28-year-old has played every minute of the league campaign this season, but his seven clean sheets are by far the lowest of his Red Devils career, with at least 11 clean sheets in every season since moving to Old Trafford.