Haaland wins Golden Boy Award; USMNT’s Dest, 2 Canadians make list


Erling Haaland has won the 2020 Golden Boy Award.

The Golden Boy Award is awarded to the top U-21 player registered to a top division club in Europe, and has been previous won by Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and others (full list at bottom of post).

USMNT back Sergino Dest finished 13th in the voting, four ahead of Canada’s Jonathan David. Fellow Canadian star Alphonso Davies was third.

American youngster Giovanni Reyna and Mexico’s Diego Lainez will be among the favorites to join the top tier of vote-getters in 2021 after being named to the initial shortlist but missing the cut for the Top 40 this season.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Reyna signs Dortmund deal ]

Haaland’s incredible 2019-20 season was split between Red Bull Salzburg and Borussia Dortmund. He scored 28 times with seven assists in 24 matched for the Austrians before scoring 16 and 3 in 18 appearances for BVB.

Haaland, 20, is the first Norwegian to win the award and first Bundesliga player named to the honor since Renato Sanches in 2016.

Because the award includes all clubs the player suited up for in a given season and Haaland started last season with American coach Jesse Marsch at Salzburg, Haaland is the first player from an Austrian club to win the award.

Four Premier League stars made the list, with Man City’s Ferran Torres and Phil Foden joined by Mason Greenwood (Manchester United) and Bukayo Saka (Arsenal).

Voting results

17. Jonathan David, Gent / Lille
16. Rodrygo, Real Madrid
15. Ryan Gravenberch, Ajax
14. Sergino Dest, Ajax / Barcelona
13. Sandro Tonali, Brescia / AC Milan
12. Mason Greenwood, Manchester United
11. Ferran Torres, Valencia / Man City
10. Vinicius, Real Madrid
9. Bukayo Saka, Arsenal
8. Dominik Szoboszlai, Red Bull Salzburg
7. Phil Foden, Man City
6. Dejan Kulusevski, Pama / Juventus
5. Eduardo Camavinga, Stade Rennais
4. Jadon Sancho, Borussia Dortmund
3. Alphonso Davies, Bayern Munich
2. Ansu Fati, Barcelona
1. Erling Haaland, Red Bull Salzburg / Borussia Dortmund

List of Golden Boy Award winners

2020 – Erling Haaland, Red Bull Salzburg / Borussia Dortmund
2019 – Joao Felix, Atletico Madrid / Benfica
2018 – Matthijs de Ligt, Ajax
2017 – Kylian Mbappe, Monaco / PSG
2016 – Renato Sanches, Benfica / Bayern Munich
2015 – Anthony Martial, Monaco / Manchester United
2014 – Raheem Sterling, Liverpool
2013 – Paul Pogba, Juventus
2012 – Isco, Malaga
2011 – Mario Gotze, Borussia Dortmund
2010 – Mario Balotelli, Inter Milan / Manchester City
2009 – Alexandre Pato, AC Milan
2008 – Anderson, Manchester United
2007 – Sergio Aguero, Atletico Madrid
2006 – Cesc Fabregas, ArsenaL
2005 – Lionel Messi, Barcelona
2004 – Wayne Rooney, Everton / Manchester United
2003 –  Rafael van der Vaart, Ajax

Nathan Ake returns to Man City after injury with Netherlands

Nathan Ake
Photo by ANP Sport via Getty Images

Manchester City defender Nathan Ake has joined the ranks of the walking wounded while on Netherlands duty, returning to his Premier League club with a muscle injury.

Ake left the Netherlands’ 1-1 draw with Spain after just five minutes, and manager Frank de Boer said the injury was enough to send the player back to England.

The 25-year-old center back tweeted, “Frustrating night. Hope to be back soon” after the match. The Dutch were already without Virgil van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt due to injury.

[ MORE: Premier League Club Power Rankings ]

Ake cost City a reported $52 million this summer and he’s played six times for Pep Guardiola this season, most recently in a 3-0 win over Olympiakos in the Champions League.

He appeared in City’s first four PL matches but has been unused in the last three as Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte have established themselves as City’s top center back duo.

But we’ve learned plenty about the value of center back depth between Laporte’s injury last season at City and the current situation at Liverpool. The Reds announced knee surgery for Joe Gomez on Thursday, saying they are hopeful the back can return before the end of the season.

Three mysteries of the early Premier League season


Sometimes managers can flummox us, making decisions that lead us to believe what we’re missing and what’s happening behind the scenes.

This is especially true this early Premier League seasons when it comes to three of the more exciting young(ish) prospects in Europe over the past few seasons (as well as one of the best finishers in the world).

[ MORE: PL Club Power Rankings ]

Adama Traore, Nicolas Pepe, and Donny van de Beek have either been major money transfers or lived in the rumor mill. All three are not playing regularly for their clubs, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is in a brutal stretch when it comes to goals.

Let’s dig into their situations, which feel quite mysterious after two months of the 2020-21 Premier League season.

Arteta’s attacking quandary

Arsenal has scored one goal in its last four Premier League matches, that goal coming from the penalty spot when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored his second goal of the Premier League season.

Yeah, you read that right: The Gunners’ captain and author of 74 goals in 119 appearances for the North London outfit has two in eight early this season.

Aubameyang was held without a goal or an assist 28 times in his first 66 PL appearances (43 percent of games). Aubameyang’s longest Arsenal league run without a goal or an assist was three, which happened four times prior to Mikel Arteta’s appointment.

It’s happened 16 times in 27 appearances since Arteta was hired (59 percent), including two barren four-match runs and another three-match stretch without a goal or assist.

Throw onto the pile the problems with Nicolas Pepe, who has not gained the full trust of Unai Emery, Freddie Ljungberg, and now Arteta but is undoubtedly a terrific attacking talent.

Pepe spoke out on his situation at Arsenal on Wednesday and the creative Ivorian is clearly hungry for a chance to prove himself..

And if Pepe, Willian, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang aren’t delivering the goods, shouldn’t the question be directed to the man orchestrating the attack?

Consider this, too: Pepe’s first season in North London was better in shots, key passes, dribbles, and fouls drawn per game than both what he’s done early this season and what his struggling teammates are producing as well.

WhoScored.com’s Player Comparison Tool

Pepe was one of the most productive playmakers in Ligue 1 during his final season with Lille, playing 80 or more minutes in all but the season finale as the club finished second under Christophe Galtier.

An idea to fix it? An extended run for Pepe on his preferred right side, with Auba in the middle.

Aubameyang has produced 1.428 goals per game at left wing during his time at Arsenal, and he’s averaging 1.62 goals per game at center forward.

Arsenal has played a front three in all eight of its PL matches this season. Pepe has featured once.

Fulham (W 3-0): Aubameyang-Lacazette-Willian
West Ham (W 2-1): Aubameyang-Lacazette-Willian
Liverpool (L 1-3): Aubameyang-Lacazette-Willian
Sheffield United (W 2-1): Aubameyang-Nketiah-Willian
Man City (L 0-1): Aubameyang-Willian-Pepe
Leicester City (L 0-1): Saka-Lacazette-Aubameyang
Man United (W 1-0): Aubameyang-Lacazette-Willian
Aston Villa (L 0-3): Aubameyang-Lacazette-Willian

This has to change, if only to put some sort of value back on Pepe in the transfer market. Barcelona and Liverpool reportedly wanted him, too. He’s 25 years old. It’s worth a shot.

What, if anything, is wrong with Adama Traore?

This is one area where we’re willing to entertain conspiracy theories. Did Barca’s sale of Nelson Semedo come with a “Chill on Traore. We need to free up salary and then we’re going to bring him home for big money?”

That’s all we can guess. Traore’s third in the PL in successful dribbles (24) and is completing 75 percent of his (the players above him are at 65.12 and 65 percent).

After going 90, 90, and 62 minutes in Wolves’ first three matches, he’s gone 8, 25, 22, 14, and 30. His passing numbers are not good. His defensive acumen is better than Daniel Podence but the latter has been better in attack.

Semedo is a better all-around wing back than Traore, so that option is gone, too. Nuno Espirito Santo has tried him at center forward over the years including against Fulham this season but the Spaniard has one goal in 604 minutes.

A blip?

What is Ole Gunnar Solksjaer doing with Donny van de Beek?

Van de Beek was one of the most wanted young midfielders in the world during his time at Ajax, and the midfielder proved he wasn’t simply a product of a team of stars when he drove the Eredivisie side in the year after it sold Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt, and Kasper Dolberg.

Ajax sold Van de Beek to Manchester United this summer, giving the Red Devils a versatile center midfielder who can play advanced or box-to-box.

Van de Beek has played in five of six Netherlands matches for 343 minutes since the start of the Premier League season. He’s played in 10 of 12 United matches but only 30 minutes more.

So far we’ve seen him play bench-to-cameo in the Premier League, scoring on debut but playing 23, 1, 22, 14, 0, 15, and 0 minutes in his seven league matches with United.

It’s fairly clear that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer feels most comfortable playing a 4-2-3-1, and that has recently meant Scott McTominay and Fred in the center of the park with the middle of the ‘3’ is Bruno Fernandes.

The only departing from this in league play was a 4-3-1-2 with Paul Pogba on the left side of Fred and McTominay.

We could write about how Van de Beek’s expected goals/90 is third on the team behind Edinson Cavani and Fernandes, but that would be almost disingenuous because the kid doesn’t play so the sample size is silly small.

But with Pogba’s xG/90 at a paltry .04, McTominay’s at .03, Anthony Martial’s at .11, and Daniel James at .14, we have to wonder what United’s attack could possibly lose by letting Van de Beek some prolonged opportunities to produce goals for a team yet to find its prime recipe for success.

Liverpool passes first post-Van Dijk injury test at Ajax

Ajax - Liverpool
Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Ajax – Liverpool: The first match without Virgil van Dijk was a win for Liverpool, the clean sheet away result likely a big comfort for Reds supporters around the world.

Liverpool rode a Nicolas Tagliafico own goal past Ajax in Amsterdam for a 1-0 win in the first match of their 2020-21 UEFA Champions League campaign.

[ MORE: Fernandinho faces injury layoff ]

Fabinho partnered with Joe Gomez in defense and was quite good for the Reds, who subbed off Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, and Mohamed Salah at the hour mark.

Three things we learned from Ajax – Liverpool

1. Fabinho passes first test: Virgil van Dijk is irreplaceable but Fabinho at times looked like he’s been trained by the Dutch megastar if we’re honest. The Brazilian had a few early moments that kept Ajax from opening the scoring including a great clearance off the line. Promising.

2. Liverpool wins despite tepid performance: The Reds produced few moments of real danger. Even the goal came from a mishit Mane shot that took a slight turn even before Tagliafico hit it into his own goal. One of the oft-repeated marks of a good team is winning when you’re not at your best and the Reds definitely did that.

Ajax is an okay team but nowhere near where they were when Donny van de Beek, Mathijs de Ligt, Frenkie de Jong, and Co. were running things. But this was no less impressive than a 1-0 against any number of PL teams.

3. Onana continues to impress: One of the few young stars Ajax has not sold was strong in defeat. Andre Onana made six saves, though none of them were difficult enough to qualify as a big chance, and will only have continued to grow his renown as a keeper in command of his box.

Man of the Match

Is it cute to say Fabinho? Yes. Is it right? Yes. Daley Blind was also pretty good in defeat.

Ajax – Liverpool recap

Fabinho made a fine intervention when Dusan Tadic led a dangerous move around the penalty spot, the first post-VVD test passed by the able Brazilian,

Adrian had a pair of early scares including a clearance right into a pressing Tadic that became a corner, but he also made a close-range stop in the 33rd to keep the match scoreless.

The Reds took the lead off an own goal, Mane’s poor shot taking a slight turn off Daley Blind before Tagliafico’s mishit clearance turned behind Andre Onana.

Fabinho made an incredible goal line clearance just before halftime as Ajax might’ve made it 1-1 in the 44th.

Davy Klaassen smashed a shot off the inside of the bar just after halftime and an ensuing free kick was well handled by Liverpool.

The Reds had a series of corners before the hour mark but the next danger to a goalkeeper came from Ajax when Adrian was forced to make a fine save on Quincy Promes.

Van de Beek to Man United: What will he provide?

Van de Beek to Manchester United
Getty Images

Donny van de Beek to Manchester United is edging closer and the Dutch midfielder is a bit of a bargain at the reported $55 million transfer fee, as he’s completed his medical according to our partners at Sky Sports.

What will Van de Beek, 23, bring to the party in Man United’s midfield?

It is perhaps not an area that Man United really needed to strengthen, with Nemanja Matic, Fred and Scott McTominay in the holding areas and Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba and Andreas Pereira in the more advanced central midfield roles.

So, why sign Van de Beek? He does a little bit of everything very well and is very versatile, plus he is on the same levels as Pogba and Fernandes and the others just aren’t. The Dutch international scores goals, creates chances and links up midfield and attack with fluid movement and is keen to get into the box and join the attack whenever he can.

Sounds like Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba, right?

Long-term, Man United fans may be thinking that Pogba could be on his way out. He has another year left on his current contract, with the option of another, but his agent Mino Raiola believes the French star will remain at Old Trafford. It could be the case that one of Pogba, Fernandes or van de Beek start out wide and drift inside to give Man United a totally different option to Martial, Rashford and Greenwood in attack.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has also played a 3-4-3 system on many occasions, as well as his preferred 4-3-3 (which is sort of a 4-2-3-1), and van de Beek is a smooth mover with and without the ball who can slot in to so many positions across midfield and is fine with sitting deeper.

With Man United needing to sign a slightly more attacking player (ahem, Jadon Sancho) and a center back (ahem, Dayot Upamecano), signing another creative central midfielder seems like a luxury buy, on the surface of things.

But while Man United wait to sign Jadon Sancho, van de Beek can fill that wide role too and United could play in a diamond in midfield with Matic sitting, Pogba and van de Beek either side of him and Fernandes in the No. 10 role with Rashford and Martial up top and Greenwood ready to come off the bench.

Van de Beek is a very good player and has been so close to a move to Real Madrid which has broken down a few times due to financials not being ironed out. With Hakim Ziyech, Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt all sold, the core of Ajax’s stunning young team which reached the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League semifinals is now gone.

Dusan Tadic is pretty much the last man standing from that attacking unit which ripped some of Europe’s biggest clubs apart, but Donny van de Beek was an unsung hero in that team and he can control the tempo of games from central midfield.

Here’s a look at what the arrival of Donny van de Beek can do for Man United and he will provide them not only with tactical flexibility but also extra quality on the ball. Fun fact: his girlfriend’s father is Dennis Bergkamp, who has advised him to move to the Premier League.

Midfield combinations, Donny van de Beek to Manchester United

Option 1 (in a 4-3-3 formation)

—- Van de Beek —- Fernandes —- Matic —-

—- Greenwood — Martial —- Rashford —-

Option 2 (in a 4-4-2 diamond)

—– Matic —–

—- Van de Beek —- Pogba —-

—– Fernandes —–

Option 3 (in a 4-2-3-1 system)

—– Pogba —– Matic —–

—- Van de Beek — Fernandes —- Rashford —-

—— Martial —–