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Matic: Man Utd needs more experience in its squad

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Nemanja Matic would like to see a bit more veteran bravery in his Manchester United side.

The title-winning 29-year-old midfielder finished second in the Premier League this season, his first with the Red Devils after a strong run with Chelsea.

[ MORE: Man Utd youngster gets USMNT call-up ]

The Blues beat United in Saturday’s FA Cup Final, and Matic says the answer to winning hardware isn’t in talent as much as it is wisdom.

From the BBC:

“The only team who is better than us this year is Man City,” said Matic. “Obviously, they play amazing football. But we are second and we are in the Champions League next year, which is the most important thing. I think we need some players with some experience to bring some more qualities to our team.”

United loses one veteran cog in Michael Carrick, and both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney have skipped town in the last year.

Who could fit the bill in terms of old hats in current United positions of weakness? Well, a full offseason for Alexis Sanchez will help, and perhaps the rumors of Toby Alderweireld make the most sense of any we’ve seen in recent weeks.

Small clubs cross fingers for World Cup windfalls

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TORCY, France (AP) The ideal scenario for the club where Paul Pogba played football as a kid might go something like this: The France midfielder shines so brightly at the World Cup that a money-no-object club – for argument’s sake, let’s say Real Madrid – decides that it cannot live without him and pays a nine-figure fee to shake him loose from Manchester United.

[ MORE: Mourinho’s tactics gift Chelsea FA Cup win ]

US Torcy, the amateur club in the east Paris suburbs where Pogba’s photo still hangs proudly in the canteen serving fizzy beer and fresh croissants, could then sit back and wait for a fat check from Madrid to land in its bank account.

Not all the money that will change hands after the World Cup, as clubs trade players who distinguish themselves on football’s biggest stage, will line the pockets of selling clubs, agents and the players themselves. A little slice – far too little, some argue – of the likely deluge in post-World Cup transfer fees will also trickle down to football’s grassroots, to unpretentious, volunteer-run clubs like Torcy where kids take first steps toward their big dreams of making a career in football.

Pogba’s move from Italy to Manchester in August 2016, after he burnished his star credentials in France’s run that summer to the final of the European Championship, was like hitting the jackpot for Torcy. Because Pogba spent a year at Torcy in his formative years, FIFA’s transfer rules entitled the club to 0.25 percent of the then-world record fee of 105 million euros ($116 million) United paid to Juventus. The windfall for Torcy was about 300,000 euros ($330,000).

Torcy’s president, Pascal Antonetti, won’t discuss the exact amount, citing a non-disclosure agreement he says he signed with United. But the money was enough to buy three new minibuses to transport Torcy’s players to matches and training. The club now also allows itself the luxury of getting hotel rooms for its teams when they play away from Paris, so they’re not exhausted by travel on the day of their games. And it has kept some of the money in reserve, just to be safe.

“The club is protected from an eventual financial problem, just so long as we don’t get delusions of grandeur and spend the money recklessly,” Antonetti said in an interview with The Associated Press on a recent weekend when the club hosted a two-day cup competition for kids’ teams from around Europe, among them Manchester City, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and other famous clubs.

“We won’t be buying cars for each of our senior players in the first XI, for example,” he added. “We’ve kept our head on our shoulders and our feet on the ground.”

These so-called “solidarity” payments recompense clubs for training and educating players who later, as professionals, become valuable, money-spinning commodities. FIFA’s transfer regulations stipulate that when a player contracted with one club moves to another club in another country, up to 5 percent of the fee must be set aside and distributed to clubs that nurtured him, from ages 12 to 23.

In Pogba’s case, United paid not only Torcy, where he played for a year at age 13, but also his first boyhood club, US Roissy-en-Brie, also in the east Paris suburbs where Pogba grew up. The club says it received about 400,000 euros and has spent some of it on two new minibuses, movable goals and other equipment.

Still, such payments to the grassroots represent only a drop in the ocean of money splashing around professional football. In 2017, spending on international transfers soared to $6.4 billion, FIFA says. But only a sliver of that – $64 million, or just 1 percent of the total – went to breeder clubs as solidarity contributions, according to FIFA’s report on the 2017 transfer market .

Antonetti, the Torcy president, is among those who say solidarity payments aren’t generous enough.

“We get only a tiny slice of a transfer like Paul Pogba’s,” he said. “The financial windfalls aren’t sufficiently redistributed.”

And not all the compensation that should be paid to training clubs actually reaches them, FIFA says. It says it has a task force looking at ways to make solidarity payments “more efficient and easy to administer.”

Still, there’ll be plenty of small clubs around the world crossing fingers that players they nurtured will shine in Russia, because a big transfer at the top of the football pyramid can be life-changing for clubs toward the bottom.

When Premier League champion Manchester City signed Aymeric Laporte in January from Bilbao in Spain, it paid 689,000 euros – about 1 percent of the total fee – to SU Agen, the club in the defender’s hometown in southwest France where he played to age 15.

Laporte didn’t make France coach Didier Deschamps’ World Cup squad . But his childhood club, previously loaded in debt, is now flush thanks to his transfer, its future assured, says its president, Jean-Claude Brunel.

The money is funding renovations to the club house, with a new television and a better kitchen, as well as a new minibus and uniforms for Agen’s players. Carefully managed, the remainder should ensure the club’s survival well into the next decade, Brunel said in a phone interview.

“It has allowed us to be serene and to look beyond tomorrow,” he said. “Before, we didn’t know what tomorrow would bring.”

John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Mourinho’s tactics gift Chelsea FA Cup

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Jose Mourinho was bullish despite Manchester United’s 1-0 loss in the FA Cup Final to Chelsea at Wembley on Saturday as he side started slowly and never recovered.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

The negative tactics Mourinho deployed from the start didn’t work as he was hellbent on stopping Eden Hazard from running the game but that’s exactly what the Chelsea playmaker did.

Mourinho believed his team should’ve won the game, even after handing the initiative to Chelsea as the Red Devils couldn’t quite find an equalizer in an improved second half display to end their season trophyless.

Mourinho had the following to say to the BBC after the defeat, which was his first in a cup final in England and just the third in his 15 major finals as a manager.

“I think we deserved to win. We were the best team. But that’s football…” Mourinho said. “I can imagine if my team played like Chelsea did, I can imagine what everyone would be saying… I am quite curious. I am now on holiday but I gave everything I could and the players, I know they gave everything they could. We played without Lukaku against a team which defends with nine players, you need that presence in the box that we didn’t have for a long time. We did everything. We tried absolutely everything. It is the kind of defeat that obviously hurt, like every defeat hurts, but I go home with a feeling that we gave everything. No regrets.”

Asked about Chelsea’s players (Cesc Fabregas, Gary Cahill and Thibaut Courtois) saying after the game that they played much more defensive than usual, Mourinho agreed 100 percent.

“They did and we knew that. This is the way they normally play with a little more ambition on their counter attack. I think today after the 1-0 they were really, really defensive. I repeat. I know our team without Lukaku we don’t have a presence,” Mourinho said. “Chelsea are not stupid. They know our team without Lukaku or Fellaini does not have a presence so putting eight or nine players in front of the box they knew they would be dominant in that direct football. We tried everything by other ways but they had a huge block of compacted players. The image of the game is that David De Gea did not touch the ball. He touched the ball to grab it in the net.”

What Mourinho is conveniently leaving out of his post-game analysis is that United started the match focusing on man-to-man battles and trying to stop Chelsea from playing rather than their own game.

Yes, having Lukaku only on the bench was a big blow, but United were so concerned about stopping Hazard they forget to play themselves until the final minutes of the first half.

You have to wonder if Mourinho playing against his former club Chelsea, and the manager he has several spats with in recent months in Antonio Conte, made him focus too much on his opponents rather than unleashing Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez, Marcus Rashford and Co. in attack as he did to great effect in the second half as Rashford was denied twice by Courtois, Sanchez had a goal chalked off for offside and Pogba headed wide with a glorious chance.

Mourinho managed liked the Scared One to start off with on Saturday rather than the Special One and his players didn’t start playing until the second half when Chelsea were already ahead and settled in to defend their way to FA Cup glory.

Had United started the game on the front-foot, they showed they possessed the attacking prowess to cause Chelsea plenty of problems with or without Lukaku.

Mourinho wasn’t ready to let his team loose in the season finale and it cost them the FA Cup trophy.

Three things we learned: Chelsea v. Man United

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Chelsea beat Manchester United 1-0 in the FA Cup Final at Wembley on Saturday, with Antonio Conte picking up his second domestic trophy in England in just his second season in charge of the Blues.

[ MORE: Mourinho defends United ]

Eden Hazard‘s first half penalty kick put Chelsea ahead and the Blues weathered a severe second half storm from Jose Mourinho’s United to secure the silverware.

Here’s what we learned from a tense final at sunny Wembley.


MOURINHO’S MAN-MARKING GOES WRONG

It was clear from the first whistle that Jose Mourinho’s plan was to thwart Chelsea’s flair players. It didn’t work and he lost for just the third time in 15 major finals as a manager. Usually being solid and tough to break down has worked well for Mourinho in the past who had never lost a cup final in England before Saturday.

Hazard got on the ball time and time again early on as Ander Herrera couldn’t lock him down with the Belgian wizard twisting and turning past Phil Jones on multiple occasions as he isolated United’s cumbersome center backs all too easily. Olivier Giroud bullied Chris Smalling and Paul Pogba failed to dominate in midfield with Cesc Fabregas and N'Golo Kante winning the battle against Nemanja Matic.

Mourinho is known as a pragmatist and there’s no doubt that Romelu Lukaku being unfit to start in the final played its part in his team selection, but showing Chelsea the kind of respect they did straight from the kick off handed the initiative to Conte’s side. And they took it early and sat back, soaked up pressure and rather easily handled a rigid, predictable attacking display from United.

In the second half Mourinho ditched his man-to-man approach across the pitch (Herrera stopped being a second right back after failing to snuff out Hazard) and United looked like a different team with Marcus Rashford twice denied by Thibaut Courtois and Alexis Sanchez having a goal ruled out, correctly, for being offside. Such was the dominance of United in the second half, it begged a serious question as to why Mourinho handed Conte and Chelsea, his former club, the initiative from the start.

The Special One managed liked the Scared One.


HAZARD ON ANOTHER PLANET AS CONTE ENDS ON A HIGH

Hazard was the match-winner in the FA Cup final and the Belgian magician shrugged off the man-marking exploits of Herrera with ease to lead Chelsea, and Conte, to FA Cup glory.

With rumors swirling, once again, about his future at Chelsea this summer as Conte is almost certain to leave, Hazard, 27, reminded everyone just how good he can be. When he’s on, he’s unplayable. His scampering around the pitch left Mourinho incensed as his team were chasing shadows all game long.

In both the FA Cup semifinal and final Hazard has turned it on to lead Chelsea to another trophy, and the way in which he glides around the pitch, commits defenders into making tackles and leads counter attacks, he is at the perfect club for his style of play.

Whether or not Hazard thinks his future is at Chelsea remains to be seen but in this form a big summer for him with the Belgium national team may well prompt the likes of Real Madrid and PSG to grab him in his prime with just two years left on his current deal at Chelsea.

A man of the match display from Hazard was the main difference between the two teams at Wembley.


PIVOTAL MOMENT SPOT ON FROM REFEREE

When Jones slid in and took out Hazard to give away the pivotal penalty kick midway through the first half, there were calls from many that Jones should’ve been sent off by referee Michael Oliver.

Those calls were wrong and Oliver was spot on to rubber stamp his status as the top referee in the Premier League.

Jones made a genuine attempt to play the ball and due to the rule changes from two years ago, his challenge inside the box should only have yielded a yellow card rather than a red despite denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity.

The International Football Associations Board (IFAB) announced plenty of subtle changes in the summer of 2016, with the most impactful the removal of the so-called ‘triple-punishment law’ which would see a defender sent off for giving away a penalty kick.

“When a denial of a goalscoring opportunity offense is committed by a defender in the penalty area, the penalty kick effectively restores the goalscoring opportunity so the punishment for the player should be less strong (e.g. a yellow card) than when the offense is committed outside the penalty area. However, when the offense is handball or clearly not a genuine attempt to play or challenge for the ball, the player will be sent off.”

Despite Conte’s uproar on the sidelines, Oliver got the call spot on and the relatively new rules of the game were refereed correctly.

It has to be said that a handball decision against Ashley Young wasn’t given via VAR as the ball looked to have struck his arm and handed Chelsea another penalty kick in the second, but with the United defender so close to the ball when it struck him it wasn’t a terrible call from Oliver and his crew.

They got the pivotal calls correct.

Chelsea 1-0 Man United: Conte’s boys earn FA Cup triumph

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Last season’s Premier League champions looked very far from that level of play in 2017/18, but Antonio Conte‘s men rallied on Saturday to pick up a piece of major silverware.

[ MORE: Vincent Kompany talks third PL title, more with PST ]

Chelsea topped Manchester United, 1-0, in the FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium, behind Eden Hazard‘s first-half penalty kick.

The victory for the Blues marks the club’s eighth FA Cup triumph, which is tied for third all-time in England with Tottenham Hotspur. Chelsea only trails Arsenal (13) and United (12).

Hazard proved to be Chelsea’s biggest threat from the opening kick off, and it was the Belgium international that got the Blues on the scoreboard in the 22nd minute from the penalty spot.

The 27-year-old did well to glide through the United defense prior to the goal, forcing Phil Jones to drag down Hazard in the penalty area, while earning himself a yellow card in the process.

United’s pressure mounted through the latter stages, but even Paul Pogba‘s free header with seven minutes remaining couldn’t find its way on frame.

Alexis Sanchez thought he had an equalizer in the 63rd minute, but the Chilean was ruled offside after Jones’ saved header found the United attacker just a yard from goal.

The Red Devils came out with a fury in the second half, with Marcus Rashford coming close early after the halftime break with a powerful, dipping effort that tested goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

United struggled mightily to get anything going in the opening stanza, however, Pogba’s tremendous run down the center of the park nearly gave the Red Devils a late equalizer on the stroke of halftime.

Referee Michael Oliver had his first big decision to make at a quarter of an hour, after Nemanja Matic collided with Tiemoue Bakayoko inside the United area.

However, the head official opted to allow play to go, which appeared to be the proper decision, as Bakayoko’s feet got tangled despite the encounter with Matic.

The Blues started well, and nearly found an early break in the ninth minute when Hazard’s close-range blast tested David De Gea at the near post.