Victor Lindelof

Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

One area where Mourinho was right: Man Utd badly needs center backs

1 Comment

Big Manchester United wins and losses, especially post-Alex Ferguson, have a tendency to get overstated at both ends of the spectrum, but there’s plenty to take away from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s recent struggles at the helm of the Red Devils.

[ MORE: Recap | Solskjaer reacts ]

For one thing: Jose Mourinho wasn’t right about much this Manchester United season, but he knew he needed better men in the back.

Everton’s beautiful opener in the first half of Sunday’s 4-0 pummeling of the Red Devils may tempt some to wash over the defending, but heading below the surface shows more problems.

The opener saw Richarlison score a terrific overhead kick after Dominic Calvert-Lewin flick a Lucas Digne throw-in to the back post. Beautiful, for sure, but Smalling never gets up to thwart Calvert-Lewin’s powerful jump.

Now that’s certainly just one example, but United’s slide is a feature of a few things.

Nineteen goals conceded in 17 PL matches is a clear upgrade from the 29 in 17 under Mourinho, and let’s not pretend United hasn’t been better with Solskjaer at the proverbial wheel.

Throw in a very average season from David De Gea — which in his case is far below standards — and it’s not a surprise that United is flailing away from the Top Four. The Alexis Sanchez move has been poor, Romelu Lukaku‘s form has dipped save back-to-back braces against a pair of unremarkable defenses, and Paul Pogba remains mercurial. He’s a monster of the midfield at his best, and a drifting object in the wind at his worst.

There’s a comparison to made with where Liverpool was under Brendan Rodgers somewhere, a legendary club not quite sure of how to fit its standard to its standing. Marcus Rashford needs room to grow, not constant comparison to Romelu Lukaku. There are a lot of extra pieces in the squad, the guys you like as a luxury for a great team but are either too old or too green to be reliable.

Of center backs to play in 10 or more Premier League matches this season, Phil Jones ranks 16th, Chris Smalling is 38th, and Victor Lindelof is 44th. Only 57 are ranked. Advanced stats aren’t foolproof, but they help (Jones and little-used Eric Bailly, for what it’s worth, were well-rated last season).

The club needs a big rebuild, to be sure. De Gea is a suitable goalkeeper for a team with top end ambitions, and we know that Lukaku and Pogba at their best can dominate (whether either is capable of doing it consistently under anyone is a debate).

But really, perhaps De Gea’s amazing 2017-18 and Mourinho’s defense-first system papered over something that’s been evident for some time. There’s neither a Aymeric Laporte or Toby Alderweireld at United, let alone a Virgil Van Dijk.

UEFA Champions League Wednesday preview

AP Photo/Michel Euler
Leave a comment

Two sides hold distinct advantages heading into Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second legs, but we saw how well that worked out for Real Madrid.

Paris Saint-Germain and Roma each bring two goals from the first legs, PSG’s a vital away pair.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Both Wednesday kickoffs are slated for 3 p.m. ET Wednesday.

Paris Saint-Germain v. Manchester United (PSG leads 2-0)

Manchester United is going to need to go into the Parc des Princes and beat a very good PSG team by two goals or better to advance to the quarterfinals.

Red Devils defender Victor Lindelof knows his side will need to score goals without letting Kylian Mbappe run wild, but he also is thinking very much like his boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who continues to tap into the lore of Manchester United. Here’s Lindelof:

“We’re Manchester United, so anything is possible. Of course it is going to be a tough game but we’re coming here to win the game and go through. Anything can happen and we know that, so if we can get an early goal things could look good.”

PSG manager Thomas Tuchel is prepared for United to come out of the gates with vigor, much like his old side Borussia Dortmund did on Tuesday against Spurs (via En.PSG.fr):

“We know a team like that can score at any moment. But if they score first tomorrow, we’ll have to be able to react. The ideal thing would be to open the scoring, but we mustn’t lose our focus or waste energy by being afraid. We have to be ready for every possible scenario. And we have to accept that Manchester will be ready to do anything it takes to get a result.”

He also says, plainly, “We have to forget that we have an advantage.”

Porto v. Roma (Roma leads 2-1)

The Portuguese hosts know AS Roma is going to present a stiff challenge, and manager Sergio Conceicao is careful not to confuse the reputation of Serie A and what he learned as a player with Inter Milan and Lazio with the actual powers of i Lupi.

“We’re prepared for a difficult game,” said boss Sergio Conceicao. “We know that regardless of the way Italian teams think, Roma concede lots of goals. However we must be ready to face a Roma side who will defend their lead strongly, that’s clear. During the match, it may be that we’ll switch to a different strategy.”

Manchester United baffled by Brighton

Leave a comment

Brighton and Hove Albion stunned a haphazard Manchester United 3-2 at the Amex Stadium on Sunday.

The win puts both teams at 1-1, with the Gulls getting goals from Glenn Murray, Pascal Gross, and Shane Duffy. Romelu Lukaku scored for United in the first half, before Marouane Fellaini drew a Paul Pogba-converted penalty.

Manchester United next meets Spurs at Old Trafford, while Brighton travels to Liverpool.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]

Pogba played Romelu Lukaku through on goal, but the Belgian’s hard low strike zipped wide of the near post.

It was mostly United in the first 20 minutes before Anthony Knockaert raced onto a long ball and spun a 20-yard shot wide of David De Gea‘s far post.

Brighton did indeed take the lead through Murray, who cut in front of Victor Lindelof to flick a pretty ball from Solly March beyond De Gea.

Duffy then settled a cross in the heart of the United box before doubling Brighton’s advantage, and it would be a big dig for United.

Lukaku made it 2-1, rewarding for a fine first half-hour with a knockdown header from Luke Shaw‘s partially blocked shot.

But a poor pass from David De Gea led to Eric Bailly‘s sliding challenge on Pascal Gross. He converted the penalty to make it 3-1.

Mourinho completed his substitutions early, taking off Anthony Martial, Andreas Pereira, and Juan Mata for Marcus Rashford (HT), Jesse Lingard (HT), and Marouane Fellaini (60′).

United snapped to life with 16 minutes to play, Paul Pogba forcing Mathew Ryan into a flying parry.

But only a Fellaini-won penalty arrived deep in stoppage time, with Pogba converting his effort.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Watch Live: Leicester City vs. Manchester United

Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Paul Pogba captains Manchester United as the Red Devils visit Leicester City at King Power Stadium on Saturday (Watch live at 2:45 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

He’ll work in a midfield with Nemanja Matic and Juan Mata as United attempts to keep pace with Man City and move five points clear of third-place Chelsea.

Eighth place Leicester can move three back of Burnley with a home win.

LINEUPS

Leicester City: Schmeichel, Simpson, Maguire, Morgan (c), Fuchs, Iborra, Ndidi, Mahrez, Albrighton, Gray, Vardy. Subs: Hamer, Chilwell, Amartey, Dragović, King, Slimani, Okazaki.

Manchester United: De Gea, Lindelof, Jones, Smalling, Young, Matic, Pogba, Mata, Lingard, Martial, Lukaku. Subs: Romero, Rojo, Shaw, Herrera, Mkhitaryan, Ibrahimovic, Rashford.

UEFA Champions League Weds. preview: Chelsea, Man Utd look to break out

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Only one of 16 teams was held off the score sheet on Tuesday. Could the same level of entertainment reach the UEFA Champions League a day later?

Two more Premier League teams take the pitch on Wednesday, with Manchester United facing its stiffest test of the group stage and Chelsea with a tricky visit from AS Roma.

[ MORE: Champions League Tues. wrap ]

Manchester United has a significant challenge in Benfica, and may need a man familiar with the Estadio da Luz to help them out. Center back Eric Bailly remains out for United, which could bring Victor Lindelof into the fold to help stop Haris Seferovic, Gabriel Barbosa, Raul Jimenez, and especially Jonas.

Coming off a sleepy weekend draw versus Liverpool in an underwhelming derby, United will take on a desperate Benfica team which is traditionally strong but lost at home to CSKA Moscow and was crushed in Switzerland by Basel.

(AP Photo/Armando Franca)

Speaking of the need to rebound, Chelsea’s loss to Crystal Palace still has many scratching their heads. Fortunately, Roma is also in a mini-funk after a weekend loss to Napoli that ended a five-match winning streak.

There’s a reunion for Antonio Rudiger inside Stamford Bridge with Roma in town. I Lupi has been pretty one-dimensional in terms of offense, with ex-Man City man and reigning Serie A capocannoniere winner Edin Dzeko. He’s scored eight times in nine matches for Roma this season.

Full Wednesday UCL schedule
All kickoffs at 2:45 p.m. ET except where indicated

Qarabag vs. Atletico Madrid — Noon ET
Anderlecht vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Benfica vs. Manchester United
Juventus vs. Sporting Lisbon
Barcelona vs. Olympiacos
Chelsea vs. Roma
Bayern Munich vs. Celtic
CSKA Moscow vs. Basel