Cleat Geeks

UEFA Champions League Matchweek 2 Round Up

Don’t do this if you are currently reading in a public library, but if you’re not…then clap it up for Italy. The 4 clubs representing Italy all collect 4 wins while only suffering 2 collective goals and scoring a total of 11. The revolution is coming as Serie A begins to regain its hold on Europe. Before you know it, the Italian National team will rally behind it on International weeks and I am on board for the ride. Congratulations to the Italian clubs and their respective fan bases, and a big Congrats to the Italian people. Juventus and Roma shut out their opponents while racking up the scoresheet on their home grounds on Tuesday. Paulo Dybala (Juv) and Edin Dzeko (Rom) each netted a hat trick for their clubs. Those were two one-side yet entertaining matches. Napoli and Inter scrapped, fought, and found themselves to be the recipients of the “Hard work pays off” trophy as Inter rallied from their 1-0 losing start to Eindhoven to win 2-1. Napoli put so much pressure on Liverpool and finally broke through with a late 1-0 winner in the 90th minute from Insigne. A much-needed win for newly appointed Napoli boss Ancelloti.

Okay, So Italy is good. Whose bad?

You can narrow down your 0-2 teams and find two teams that might shock you. Those two are Tottenham and Monaco. I had a conversation with my godfather before all the European Leauges began and when PSG destroyed Monaco in a league cup game about the fall of Monaco. This seems to be where the line ends for what seemed to be a very good stretch of success for Monaco. Same goes for Tottenham. I think the Spurs caught lightning in a bottle in the 2017/18 Campaign. Now with the construction of the new stadium and the debt that comes with it, we will begin to see their fall as well. (That’s an awfully beautiful stadium for an English Championship team in 2019….)

I wouldn’t count 0-2 PSV Eindhoven out just yet either. They fought hard against Inter and I still believe they can collect 6 points against the Spurs in the next two matches. They’ve played the second best in the group so far in terms of quality and control. They just need to step up the hunger factor against the Spurs. Hopefully, the next 3 matches they can get in form for the last match against Barca, who might not play all their starters on matchday 6.

In my last article, I mentioned how Bayern Munich were underwhelming. That was the nice way of me saying “over-rated”. I like this team. It saddens me to see the likes of Ribery and Robben bring it down because of their entitlement by seniority. These are old players in a new game trying to dictate playing time over their manager. This back-and-forth has been reported by many European papers and the negative emotions it causes is starting to play out on the field. They’re Mourinho with cleats. Speaking of Mourinho, can’t get it done at home against a Spanish side. No surprise there. The de-evolution of that team is a sad story as well but I won’t dwell on it. Then there is Real Madrid going down 1-0 at the opening in Moscow. Everyone and their grandmother were on their phones live betting Real Madrid to win since the odds probably went up in a favorable value. That Madrid -1.5 was oh so juicy. But I did not buy into it. This Real Madrid team is not the Real Madrid team that dominated the Champions League the last 5 years. They would lose this game trailing for 88+ minutes. This team is looking for a personality. They couldn’t get it together in La Liga when they lost 3-0 at Sevilla and split points at home with Atleti this past Saturday. Los Blancos Manager Lopetegui has a long way to go.

Besides Italy, whose good?

Barcelona. Duh. They travel to London and took down the same Tottenham we watched from last year. Raise your hand if you thought this game would end in a Spurs win….don’t feel ashamed if you did. Spurs fan are no different from Gunners fans…it’s their year until reality settles in. Messi is back to doing Messi things. He is looking to take Ronaldo’s goal-scoring record as a show of good faith to the UEFA community.

Borussia Dortmund are surprisingly good, but their big test comes next. They split two games with Atletico the Madrid. The other really good team I have penciled in to win the competition or at least make it to the finals against Barca. I will hold my thoughts until those two play. That will be on my watch list for Wednesday October 24th. Just a shame Barcelone – Inter, and PSG – Napoli are also on…

PSG played a statement game after going down to Liverpool in the opener. That was no surprise. However, Liverpool ‘s loss to Napoli was quite the surprise. Not that the Napoli win that was surprising, it was Napoli’s 9 shots (4 on target) to Liverpool’s 3 (0 on target). Sounds boring right? Imagine the Red’s fans watching Napoli play the entire game on attack while Liverpool defended and surprisingly had 45% of possession. I guess the time to take free kicks and goal kicks counts for Liverpool’s possession times.

Worth mentioning…

Porto and Schalke got the job done this week. Unless you are a fan of any team in group D, then the interest in this group isn’t all that great. Many don’t see these teams making it to February.

Group F is up for grabs now.  At first glance you would think Manchester City and Lyon are going to walk away with it but City are barely winning games.  Lyon looked shaky against Shaktar who always seem to score enough goals to please the Over betters. I do not have a clue where this is going but that’s the beauty of football. That’s my analysis…no clue.

Roma’s taking group G. They own it. I can’t wait to see what they do when they play Real Madrid on the double. Referees will be blamed for everything as usual.

Juventus have the best opportunity to lock down Group H going back to back against Manchester United. I would bet on Valencia taking advantage here and jumping to a strong hold onto second place. I am just really rooting against Jose Mourinho at any costs. Remember when Man United games were fun? #JoseMoOut

 

Uefa Champions League Week 1 Review (Guess who’s back…)

back again…

Messi’s back…

He is back and better than ever. I told you he was angry about not making the top 3 UEFA player of the year appearance. So he comes out and treats himself to a hat-trick in the opening 4-nil victory at the Camp Nou. My favorite of those goals was Dembele’s cheeky back heel flick that left two defenders in his wake and soon after he sent a net-seeking missile off his right foot. I was lucky enough to watch that goal in live action which lead me to a outstanding O. Before all your minds can go there… I saw the goal, my eyes bulged, pupils dilated, mouth dropped, and “ohhhhhhh wow” was all I could say in reaction to the World Cup Winner’s goal. PSV Eindhoven will need to soon forget that game and move on. PSV almost scored early with a Lozano lead run on a counter attack that looked similar to the one where he scored for Mexico against Germany in the world cup. If PSV can capitalize on those plays, they’ll be okay. They should be glad to have gotten this game out of the way early. I still have faith in PSV to pull through to the next stage. Inter and Tottenham are exactly who we thought they were. Italian teams not named Juventus seem to have upset lady luck. Tottenham’s Erikssen scored a 57 minute floater that had no business of calling itself a goal. But if it’s in it’s in.  Great comeback by Inter with the late 93rd minute corner kick goal. Watch those highlights, or the full second half for fantastic work. One of those teams will do well in the Europa League but I don’t have high hopes for them here. Inter need to bring that same level of play to all 3 of their away games before I can convince myself they’re ready for the next stage.

Admit it, when AS Monaco scored that forceful goal at home to Atletico de Madrid, you thought my “Atleti to the finals” prediction was as good as dead. But that is the beauty of football. One minute your losing, then in 45/halftime you’re predicted winning team is up 2-1 on the road against the crumbling Monaco. You saw Atleti keeper Jan Oblak whip his defenders in line and the team looked much more comfortable playing from behind. They could’ve scored 3 or 4 total if the goals themselves were a little wider as well. Atleti looked to be the stronger team. After watching the other two teams play, it will be very difficult to bet against Atleti in this group.

Dortmund and Club Brugge underachieved in this game which saw it’s one and only late luck deflection turn to goal in the 85th minute. Who scored it? Well, no other than our American Christian Pulisic. He took a fortunate touch which went his way. The ball directed itself towards the net similar to throwing a magnet into an appliance store. The goal was inevitable. Club Brugge did hold their own and had plenty of early chances but Dortmund’s defense stood tall and true. Dortmund hardly left any open lanes for shots or through passes. They were the better team and deserved the game.

Speaking of better teams; last year’s finalists Liverpool got off to a dramatic start. They took a first half 2- nil lead which PSG quickly responded to before halftime with a Meunier goal. With roughly 10 minutes left in the game, World Cup starlet and French youngster Kylian Mbappe got the opportunity to cross his arms in celebration with the tying goal. The game looked to be an even draw that was well deserved by both until the Brazilian Firmino went ahead and secured the early 3 points that Liverpool earned. Check out those highlights, you won’t be disappointed. After seeing the Napoli – Red Star Belgrade nil nil draw, I only have one message to both of those fan bases. Put the kids to bed before you tune in to watch your clubs play Liverpool or PSG, please.

Group D…the group of cards. I predict that this group will be the scrappiest and most violent of all. I can see more yellow/red combinations out of this group than any other. Galatasaray start off with a 3 nil victory but lost their midfielder Ndiaye to a yellow+red combo suspension. I think Galatasaray should qualify out of this group with 3 easy home victories. That stadium in Turkey is one of the loudest and most intimidating places for visitors. It will be tough for Schalke and FC Porto when they come around. Both of which who split a point in Germany. FC Porto had the opportunity to win but only convert half of their penalty kick goals. I don’t see any team from this group in the round of 8.

This group tugs at my heart. My childhood club that I followed with my Father, Godfather, Grandfather, and Uncle… is SL Benfica. I will always be a Benfica fan first before any other club I follow, and with that being said, it’s been a difficult road these past couple of years. (Look up the curse of Bela Guttman, you will understand my pain.) They held up very well at home against a strong but aging Bayern Munich. This Bayern team should not have a hard time with this group but I am concerned with the likes of Ribery and Robben who are beyond aged and in my opinion have zero business playing 90 minutes. The problem here is who will crack first, the team or the coach. It seems to be a re-occuring theme of Bayern. Dominate the Bundesliga and then underwhelm in the Champions League. If they fall short in this tournament, then I can easily see a rebuild for the 2019 campaign. Ajax looked powerful. I watched this game and saw that they had a little bit of trouble scoring at first but AEK Athens presented little to no danger when they got a few turns to attack. The second half was an easy bet for Ajax to take the win as they pounded three past the Greek club.

Shaktar vs Hoffenheim. Not a bad game to watch the highlights on but I don’t have much input on either team other than the easy cash I took on the total goals over. Oh yeah, that their draw pins Manchester City into last place. MC start their Champions League campaign the same way they ended the last one. Disappointing loss at home to a team that was pronounced dead on arrival. It is too early to kill off the English Premier League Champions just yet and the draw between Hoff/Shaktar could either hurt or help Manchester City as long as they don’t drop 3 points in anymore of their games. Lyon could not have placed themselves in a better position with an away win against the favorite team in the group. That failed transfer of Fekir to Liverpool was the best thing to happen to these boys. Hopefully they take that momentum with them into their Ligue 1 games and move up the field.

The reigning Champions Real Madrid, could not have an easier and more fortunate group. They hosted who should be their toughest opponent AS Roma. Real took care of business in the most Real of ways. 3 nil victory with their #7 putting an exclamation point on the final goal. That number 7 is none other than the re-acquired Dominican starlet (shout-out to my Dominican familia) Mariano Diaz. So far that man is filling in those shoes CR7 left behind quite well. I am certainly an early believer of this young man and this team. They just seem more free without CR7 taking over the left side of the field. Bale and Asensio do such a great job at rotating and confusing defenses, leaving Benzema open usually for easy goals. Plzen and Moscow, who I don’t have much input on, did eachother a favor by splitting the points. Roma needs to dig themselves out of a hole that is completely possible this early in the tournament.

Finally, you have the finally and by far the one group with the most controversy, Group H. Ronaldo’s debut in the Champion’s League ended short with a suspect red card in the 30th minute. I could go on all day on the issues at hand leading up to Ronaldo’s return on Spanish soil against Valencia, but I won’t. We could discuss paying Spanish taxes and a hat trick in the World Cup opening match….but if you want to discuss it, just @ me on twitter. Great win for bettors who took Juve against the spread. Pjanic converted 2 penalties which could have easily of been CR7’s opening goals for the Italian giants. Either way, they got the 2 nil win with 10 men away from home. Talk about clutch. Here’s the unfortunate story, no Ronaldo in Old Trafford when Juventus plays Manchester United away next. It should still be a great game regardless. It’s just a shame Ronaldo will miss playing against his former club and manager. A club which also secured an easy 3 points on the road against Young Boys. This group should be fun to watch even if we already have our expectations set with who will advance.

This was fun, I hope you enjoyed it. Please leave some feedback, I’d love to have a discussion with my readers.

UEFA Champions League Groups A & B Preview

Okay Lads, I think it is time to get down to business. It is my job to get you excited and prepared for the next few months of exciting soccer that will fill the Tuesday/Wednesday afternoon gaps of our lives. I am going to break down 2 groups over 4 articles up until the first match is ready to kick off Tuesday the 18th.  I’ll give a little background on each team, as well as my opinions.  Who should you keep an eye on? I’ll make sure to give you some names. Finally I’ll even have some of my predictions and futures…..I Cannot wait. Let’s get to it.

Group A – Atletico de Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, AS Monaco, Club Brugge

 

Look, I’ll start with the two teams who I do not believe stand a chance in this group. Club Brugge has a very talented and balanced squad who currently hold the lead in the First Division of Belgium. They’ve defeated rivals Anderlecht recently and have yet to suffer a loss. I don’t think the level of competition that they are used to will match compared to the three giants they paired up with. Rezaei and Groeneveld have seven goals of the seventeen scored by Club Brugge in the Belgium League, so keep an eye on those names. The best they can do is play conservatively and hope for their opponent to make a mistake. I can see most of their goals coming from counter-attacks. Their play will look like Sweden and Denmark in the World Cup.

AS Monaco is managed by Leonardo Jardim from my home country of Portugal. He has done such a fantastic job with the youth club and transfer market. I’m pretty sure you know who Kylian Mbappe is. Arsenal fans also know that the last time we (gooners) were in a round of 16, we got an easy draw to these guys…until they slapped the taste out of our mouths. Monaco is an under-the-radar team that has had success over the past few years. They finished in the Semi-finals of UCL 16/17, same year they won League 1 in France. History doesn’t win you tomorrow’s games, although it is important to remember that these guys like to shock. Even with Kylian’s departure, we still need to focus on Columbian star forward Falcao. Their midfield is pretty solid as well with one of my personal favorites midfielders Rony Lopes. They did lose some firepower in the 2018 transfer market, although they can still make it work with what they have. Jardim has had a rough start so far in France. He needs to make an impact here so I think he will go toe-to-toe with Dortmund to the very end for a photo finish. Speaking of Dortmund…

Americans should be excited about this group. We have a star hybrid player within the Borussia Dortmund ranks. That young man is Attacking midfielder/winger Christian Pulisic. Unfortunately, he has been nursing an injury that will keep him sidelined this Friday in Dortmund’s match versus Frankfurt and looks unlikely to dress for the upcoming opening UCL match in Bruges, Belgium.  The biggest fear I have is that Dortmund’s manager Lucien Favre is still tweaking his line up. New signing Pacos Alcacer from Barcelona will fill in the forward role in Pulisic’s absence which makes me a little nervous. Who knows, maybe Favre could set a formation to have the two of them play together. If they can make that duo work with the likes of Gotze, Reus, Witsel and company then we have ourselves a dangerous team.

Speaking of dangerous….Atleti. The 2017/18 Europa League Champions. They have one of my favorite managers Diego Simeone  I have them in the final four. There is just too much world-class and skill on this squad to ignore. From the Antoine Greizmann/Diego Costa duo to the man between the sticks Jan Oblak. Keep an eye on how the ball moves from the back to the front. It’s memorizing. Silky smooth. Watching Godin and Koke control every situation. They should come out on top or sweep the group completely. I mean this team has to compete with La Liga giants. This group won’t scare them.  They’re the truth America. Stay Woke.

Final Verdict – 1st Atleti, 2nd Dortmund, 3rd Monaco (relegated to Europa League), 4th Brugge (eliminated)

Maybe put a little something on Atleti to win it all outright, currently +1200, 12/1

 

Group B -Barcelona, Tottenham, PSV Eindhoven, Internazionale

As I said earlier, I am an Arsenal supporter. Therefore, I will not root for the Spurs to survive this group. I am also making the completely unbiased prediction that they will be battling Inter for the 3rd spot to qualify for the Europa league. Tottenham went the summer without making a single purchase. I know the pain. Arsenal finished their new Emirates Stadium in 2006 and couldn’t buy a pint at the local pub while they were paying off that loan. Sorry Tottenham fans, the trickle-down effect of having built a new stadium was painful for Arsenal and now you all will get to ride that too. At least Arsenal had finished the stadium on time…

Tottenham lack depth. They have a great squad, which is one that I envy. The problem is that they’re resident to arguably the hardest league to play in, along with the two domestic cups which will be played by a blend of experienced players and youngsters. Between the traveling and 8 day stretches of 3 games, I can easily fire off the take that they will not qualify into the next group.

The same could be said about Inter, who has been struggling within Serie A play thus far. It’s great to see them back in the UCL but they drew the short straw with this group. I would like to see Icardi step up and really come into the spotlight here so keep an eye on him. Inter could possibly generate some transfer interest by competing well this fall and having another top 4 finish this in Serie A by May to make it back into the UCL next year. I would say they are one more summer transfer market away for round of 16 play. I would still love to see them advance as an immediate underdog. Small bet on that one…

I am a little high on this team but I figured the Dutch resurgence into Soccer needs to start somewhere, and I believe this is it. I like  PSV Eindhoven’s chances to come out of the group into the next round. At the minimum I think they will do damage in the Europa league if they finish third in the group. The attacking front consisting of Mexico’s Hirving Lozano, and Dutch duo Luuk de Jong & Steven Bergwijn are threatening. I can argue that Tottenham, Inter, and even Barca will find themselves quickly turning and burning while chasing those 3 on a counter-attack. Not a bad play too for the ones out there looking to make a buck or two.

Now….for the man of the hour….

Snubbed from the last three finalists of the UEFA Player of the Year award is this bearded fellow Lionel Messi. I am one of the few humans to walk the earth to love both Messi and Ronaldo with the same heart and brain. I believe he should have been on that stand but it’s hard whether to replace Ronaldo or Salah with Messi when looking at his UCL Success last year. In La Liga, Messi was unstoppable with his 34 goals and 12 assists. Not his highest goal count but his presence on the field was massive. Unfortunately for him, he was tainted by Barcelona’s loss to Roma in the Stadio Olimpico. That 3-0 eliminated his club because of Roma’s important away goal scored at the Camp Nou. All that does not matter anymore. Messi is a bounce back king. He is out for blood. Barcelona host Eindhoven for Game one of the UCL and I will Parlay the Barca victory with Messi scoring at least one goal. He’s missing Iniesta but that won’t matter. Coutinho, Suarez, Dembele, Busquets, and the Croatian Rakitic will be supporting Messi towards his dominance. I think this team that is “Mes de um Club” is going to redeem itself this time around and dominate. My money is on “Los Blaugranes” to the Finals and winning it. Sorry Madristas…

Folks, The UEFA Champions League Is Better Than The FIFA World Cup…

Well, now that I have your attention. I will start off with the fair fact that the UEFA Champions League (UCL) is not better than the FIFA World Cup (FWC) in monetary or viewership numbers terms. FWC happens every four years similar to the Olympics and it involves 32 World Nations which are followed and cheered by citizens, immigrants, family, and friends of those respected nations. Therefore, everyone (family, loved one, friend, co-worker) will passionately tune into the FWC when it comes around deeming it the greatest and most watched game in the milky way galaxy.

Although, I argue that the FWC is not better than the UCL. The UCL tops it in 3 massive ways that I will describe which will hopefully turn you into a UCL fans like I am. The first way UCL tops the FWC is simple. We get it every year. The way I follow the tournament is similar to how college basketball fans go wild for march madness. You know that first Thursday/Friday where you practically get nothing done at work while crossing off and tearing up your busted brackets.  Just imagine that excitement every other Tuesday/Wednesday in the fall. It’ll trickle into the beginning of the winter. Then after that we have ourselves a bracket that will carry us through the winter into spring. Then the 1 game final in the end of May. Just in time to vacation in the summer…

The second way the UCL tops the FWC is that there are twice the amount of games. 8 groups of four teams must play one another twice. One on their respected home field and one at the opponent’s home field. So that is 6 games per 32 teams to qualify for the bracket. 192 group stage matches. Same rule applies in the brackets themselves. Teams drawn will have to face each other twice; once at home and away. The total accumulated goals determines who goes through. I won’t dwell on other rules. That is not the point of this. Only the Final is a 1 game on a pre-selected neutral Stadium. This year it will be in the brand new Atletico de Madrid Stadium, the newly constructed Wanda Metropolitano. Look up the photos, too many beautiful shots to only pick one. I’ll wait.

The third way the UCL tops the FWC is my strongest point here. The individual and team star power. We watched a WC 2018 without the likes of Chile, USA, Italy, and the Netherlands. That left out players such as Vidal, Sanchez, Pulisic, Buffon, Cheillini, Robben, and more. You get to watch the likes of Messi, Ronaldo, Salah, Aguero, and other greats play with their full-time teammates. It’s much more of a quality match when Messi is on Barca rather than Argentina. Same can be said about CR7 when he was on Real Madrid rather than Portugal. I don’t know about you but a possible Barcelona versus Real Madrid, even substitute out one of those for Paris Saint-Germain or Bayern Munich and I will watch that with more much attention and enthusiasm than Portugal vs. France (Euro2016) or Croatia vs. France (FWC2018). Believe me, the passion is there for UCL.

If you made it this far, then I hope you somewhat agree on one of those view points if not all of them. I will be following up with the UCL as it happens and update the geeks with some insight. I will research what I can without having to learn all European languages, because that just seems like overkill. The first matches are set for September 18th and the 19th. We are about one week away. I will write a summary of each group as we head towards the opening. I’ll try to keep them brief. I’ll be looking for which teams can advance and which players we should watch for. New stars will arise and others will be a flash in the pan. So this will be a busy time. I might even share some of my “entertainment purposes only” wagers on futures and individual matches. stay tuned for the Preview of Group A.

Jose Mourinho, Part Of The Problem Or Part Of The Solution?

Back in what some Manchester United supporters would call their ‘Golden Age’ when Sir Alex Ferguson ruled the roost there was a certain process when it came to pre-match press conferences. Usually the day before the game Ferguson would greet the press at Old Trafford with a certain banter, then speak about the coming game, then give his thoughts, take questions and disappear.

It would be remiss of me to say that Ferguson’s press conferences were always an uplifting experience for the journalists. At times Ferguson was the pit bull you crossed the street to avoid and if he took a dislike to a reporter, the reporter could find himself barred from the press briefing for a week, or a month or even longer. Ferguson, like the proverbial elephant, never forgot a wrong or a slight to his team or his character or his family.

Fast forward through the David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal era’s, now it is Jose Mourinho’s turn to command the press conferences and in which, for the moment anyway, he resembles a man who would rather be somewhere else entirely. The pre-season tour for Mourinho had been a summer of sulk and misery which the manager has now seemingly taken into the Premier League.Image result for jose mourinho manchester united

Without a doubt, It has been a really, really bad week for Manchester United and Mourinho. Since their last game, a shambolic loss at Brighton a week ago, the media has been divided about Mourinho’s future at the club. Most of the celebrity media pundits have pronounced the end for Mourinho sooner rather than later, with only the odd voice eg. Neil Custis of the Sun, expressing a balanced argument in Mourinho’s defence. So with the storm clouds gathering, Manchester United faced their third game of the new Premiership season at Old Trafford on Monday night, 27th August against Tottenham.

Mourinho sprang a surprise by playing Chris Smalling and Phil Jones and Ander Herrara in a back three allowing Luke Shaw and Anthony Valencia to play as wing backs in more advanced positions. For the most part, United had a good first 45 minutes surviving a good penalty shout when Jones brought down Lucas Moura clearly in the box. Spurs however benefited when Romalu Lukaku rounded the goalkeeper at the other end and shot wide of an open net.

In the second half United play resembles the shambolic mess they had produced at Brighton the week before. Once Harry Kane had headed in from a corner to put Spurs 1-0 up the doubts and insecurities came back to the United players. A bad mistake by Herrara allowing Christian Eriksen to be onside was punished when his cross was guided in by Moura.

Shortly after Dele Alli should have put Spurs 3-0 ahead after another defensive mistake by Victor Lindelöf. However, it was not too long before a clumsy tackle by Smalling allowed Moura to once again break free and slot the ball home to make it 3-0. Manchester United have now played 3 matches and lost 2 of them very badly.

In a show of defiance or solidarity depending on your point of view, Mourinho made a point of standing in front of the Stretford End for over a minute clapping them for their support. In the press conference afterwards, Mourinho seemingly was so annoyed with the questions asked that he stormed out demanding more ‘respect’ for the achievements and work he has done, not only at United but in football in general. It may well have been a classic Mourinho gesture to deflect criticism from his underachieving team but I doubt that.

Manchester United’s next match is away at Burnley on Sunday 2nd September. This game now seems to have become the latest one Mourinho cannot afford to lose if he is to keep his job. Mourinho may be helped somewhat in that respect because Burnley play Thursday night in the Europa League and may on Sunday be suffering from fatigue.

On Friday Mourinho faces the press once again to discuss the Burnley match but it might take other directions considering how the last one finished up. There is no doubt that there are serious issues at Manchester United on and off the field of play at the moment, however, whether Mourinho is part of the problem or part of the solution, only time will tell.

jim mcveney

Manchester United Crumble At Brighton Rock

Brighton 3 Manchester United 2

Sunday 19th August 2018 was a historic day in the life of Manchester United Football Club. Why? Because at 2 pm Manchester United Women’s Team made their bow into the world that is Women’s Football. In defeating Liverpool Women 1-0 in the Continental Tyres Cup they got off to a perfect start.

At 4 pm Manchester United men took the field at Brighton on the south coast of England. After 90+ minutes they lost 3-2 and the analysis and examination began in earnest.

The irony of these two results will not be lost on anyone who follows the club. Manchester United Women have been put together in the last six weeks from scratch. However, they played as a united unit and fully deserved their reward, a historic opening victory against Liverpool.

Image result for manchester united women's team 2018

Manchester United men, however, have been put together over the last two and a bit years by Jose Mourinho and yet they played at times like they were the ones cobbled together during the summer. In this match the defence could not defend, the midfield was overrun and the attack had very little help from the midfielders.

Speaking later Paul Scholes remarked that the job of a midfield was to get the ball to the forwards, make opportunities for scoring situations. A midfielders job is to win the ball and pass it to a forward, not sideways and backwards.

Scholes added “There’s a lack of leaders in the team. We thought Paul Pogba might be the ideal candidate to be that leader but he wasn’t there today. He had another really poor game. He’s so inconsistent.”

Paul Pogba, who captained United for the second time this season to his credit once again spoke honestly after the match. Saying “his side did not have the right attitude against Brighton.” Which on the face of it is a remarkable admission two games into the new season.

Image result for paul pogba manchester united

The first half was shambolic with schoolboy defending by Lindelof and Bailly. In a two minute spell, Murray beat Lindelof to flick the ball past De Gea, them Bailly lack of positional sense and mistimed tackle led to Duffy putting Brighton 2-0 up. Young was beaten time and again on United’s right side where the majority of Brighton’s threats came from.

Although Lukaku headed in to make it 2-1, Bailly committed another ill-timed tackle in the penalty box, the resultant penalty was blasted home by Gross giving Brighton a 3-1 halftime lead.

As bad as United were in the first half the expectations were that after a rousing half-time team talk from Mourinho, United would find a way to up their game and perhaps even go on to win it. A pundit on MUTV, the clubs official television channel, said at halftime with United 3-1 down that “if United were to score first in the first half of the second half they (United) would go on to win”. MUTV logic at its best, however, whilst United did score from a very late penalty for a tackle on Fellaini there was no recovery and Pogba’s goal was little more than a consolation.

United now face a must-win game at home to Tottenham next week if the season is to be put back on track. Already football pundits and social media wannabees are predicting the end for Mourinho at Old Trafford. One thing is for sure if there are many more lacklustre performances by his team the end of United’s third manager since Sir Alex Ferguson retired may not be far away.

THE TEAMS
Brighton & Hove Albion:
Ryan (GK); Montoya, Duffy, Dunk (c) (Balogun 20), Bong; Knockaert, Stephens, Propper, March; Gross (Kayal 90); Murray (Locadia 90+3).
Subs not used: Button, Bernardo, Bissouma, Jahanbakhsh
Booked: Murray (66)

Man United: De Gea; Young, Lindelof, Bailly, Shaw; Pogba (c), Fred, A.Pereira (Lingard 46); Mata (Rashford 46), Lukaku, Martial (Fellaini 60).
Subs not used: Grant, Smalling, Herrera, McTominay.
Booked: Martial (45)

Referee: Kevin Friend : Attendance: 30,592

 

jim mcveney

Surprises And No Surprises As The Premiership Returns At Manchester United

 

It was apparently odds on that Manchester United would sign at least one new player as the transfer season came to a close, or to use the more modern phrase “slammed shut.” Jose Mourinho only a few days before had said in his televised interview he had given a list of five players to the CO Ed Woodward some time ago. Now he added he would like two but he would be happy with one. In the end apart from an untried youthful defender, an ageing goalkeeper and a Brazilian midfielder with the unlikely name “Fred”, there were no other major recruits.

Whatever goes on at boardroom level that the fans are not privy to, reading between the lines, it seems Mourinho’s choice of buying ready-made stars has now come to an end. In truth, the idea of buying another centre back when there are five at the club seems a bit odd. So Mourinho has to do the best with what he has in this squad at least till January.

In their opening game against Leicester City, last Friday night United huffed and puffed and just about got over the line against a determined team 2-1.
Awarded a penalty if the early minutes Paul Pogba, who has his own narrative going on at the moment, attacked the ball in the style of a man trying to walk up a down escalator, before placing it firmly in the net putting United 1-0 up.

Luke Shaw who has endured a couple of seasons of personal highs and lows but mainly lows scored his first ever goal in the Premiership in the second half. In the end, his goal won the match as Jamie Vardy headed in for Leicester, from a curling cross which hit the post, in injury time. It must have seemed strange for the travelling Leicester City supporters to see Vardy only on the substitutes bench at the kickoff.

Image result for luke shaw manchester united

Photo by; Goal.com

Mourinho in his press conference after the match explained that because of the World Cup and the subsequent lack of training due to late holidays some of his players were not ready. Pogba however, he said, “was a monster” to last as long as he did according to Mourinho at least.

Interestingly David DeGea who had returned from the World Cup showed once again on a couple of occasions why he should be classed as the finest goalkeeper in the world. He left the blunders he sometimes shows when he plays for his national team, Spain, on the field in Russia.

For a brief moment on Friday night Manchester United sat proudly on top of the Premiership table. Of course, it did not last long with rivals Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea all winning over the weekend. The consensus from football pundits is that at the end of the season City and Liverpool will finish ahead of United while some ‘experts’ predict United will finish out of the top four.

Predictions can make fools of us all and after one game nothing is set in stone. However, Mourinho is a serial winner and while he may not have gotten the recruits he craved a few months ago he still has an ocean of talent to pick from. Whether he has the way of it all to win the Premiership after finishing second last season is open to debate. If anyone can do it, he can, whether he will it is too early to call.

jim mcveney

Jose Mourinho To Enter His Third Season At Manchester United : Is It Now Or Never?

In America right now Jose Mourinho and Manchester United are playing friendly games and slowly building up to the start of the 2018/2019 Premier League season.

United, Mourinho and their opponents, Leicester City, have the honor (if that is the right term because of television demands) to kick off the new season a day before all the other Premiership teams, on Friday 10th August 8:00 pm at Old Trafford. Mourinho, however, does not come across at the moment as someone happy in his job and it could be argued there are extenuating circumstances for this.

Firstly for the first two friendly matches in America, the United squad was a mix of first team, reserves and youth players on the fringe of their careers. With some of Mourinho’s major players/ stars having extended late holidays after their excursions in the FIFA World Cup.

Secondly, with the transfer season in the UK closing the day before the Premiership season kicks-off, Thursday 9th August, there is a sense of urgency around strengthening the present United squad. However having already added three new recruits to the United roster you might think Mourinho would be happy. The new recruits it could be argued are hardly marquee signings destined to get the supporters pulses racing.

Of the three new men the Brazilian ‘Fred’ is the most high profile, but as he was an unused substitute for Brazil in the World Cup, his signing seems hardly overwhelming. He may in time fulfil the Michael Carrick role but as yet the jury must be out. Rumours persist of specific new signings destined to come to the club, the most interesting being the approaches for England’s centre-back Harry McGuire and Chelsea’s Willian, but as yet there is nothing concrete with either of these speculations. Given then the situation, in one sense Mourinho”s demeanour is very understandable, however, there is also the personal ‘X-factor’ to throw into the current situation.

On joining United from being sacked from Chelsea, Mourinho signed a three-year contract. As he enters his third season in charge he must be aware that there has to be a significant improvement in his results if he is to be around for the start the fourth season.

While finishing second last season, a marked improvement on his first season in the Premiership, United were still so far behind Manchester City it was little short of embarrassing. Add to that an inept display in the FA CUP Final at Wembley last May resulting in losing to his former club Chelsea, and it all meant a season of discontent and discomfort.

Image result for jose mourinho manchester united

Photo by; Goal.com

It must be argued that when Mourinho took over from Louise VanGaal the club was in a mess. Both Van Gall and the manager before him David Moyes had collaborated to knock the heart of the clubs attacking philosophy, known by many as the ‘United Way’.

Under Mourinho, there has been an undoubted improvement in style and results however United are still short in particular areas. Mourinho’s outbursts and criticisms about some United players have also not gone down well with lots of clubs supporters.

The stakes then for Mourinho, United and the coming Premiership challenge could not be higher, and to an extent are very much tied up to the next few days. If there are no new recruits then Mourinho will have to get more out of the squad than he did last season. If there are new recruits then Mourinho’s job will be to blend them into a more productive unit and hope that as far as the Premiership is concerned, United will be able to challenge Manchester City or the team which sits at the Premiership summit in a more exciting and consistent way.

jim@1211plussubs

Manchester Utd Trail Manchester City by 11 Points-But Is It All Over?

There are few things less predictable in life than sport. A sure fire win for any team or individual can become a bad day at the office and inject a sense that ‘certainty in sport’ is an illusion. While it is true that favourites are well backed because they have an edge on their opponent, the edge can become dull in a one-off occasion and unusual and unexpected results can occur.

When Manchester United played Manchester City on Sunday 10th December at Old Trafford it was difficult to place your bet on either side. Although Manchester City were eight points better off and top of the Premiership table, United were second in the table and had come off a good away win at Arsenal the previous week.

Image result for manchester united vs manchester city

The talk before the match was that United would be at a disadvantage because of Paul Pogba’s red card at Arsenal making him unavailable for the game. That was one of the more obvious predictions on the day. In a match where both teams were trying to set their own record clearly one team was going to be disappointed.

Jose Mourinho after two successful matches against Watford and Arsenal playing three at the back reverted to a four at the back and this was clearly a mistake.

What was also difficult for the United fans to accept was the almost casual way the team approached the game. There seemed little passion or desire to close City’s points total and no overriding sense this this was after all derby day.

As the match progressed City outplayed United who could not seem to string three or four meaningful passes together and rarely hurt City. It was the blue half of Manchester who turned up with desire and passion aplenty and who eventually took the lead.Image result for david silva

From a corner on the right, the ball was swung in and in the confusion, David Silva hooked the ball in past David De Gea in the 43rd minute..

With a greater sense of urgency, United equalized five minutes later when a cross from the left found out the City defenders and Marcus Rashford thumped the ball in past the City goalkeeper.

Fans hoping that the second half would see United carry on the fight were disappointed when again there was little to cheer and less to get excited about in the ensuing 45 minutes.

Whatever Mourinho said in the halftime team talk had little effect as City demonstrated their desire to increase their points tally to eleven by the end of the game.

In the 54th minute, that desire was rewarded by a shambles of a goal for City when in trying to kick the ball away from danger Romelu Lukaku hit a United defended. The ball fell invitingly for City defender Nicolás Otamendi who was up in the United penalty and guided it past DeGea.

The end of the scoring was not the end of the chances but United had the best when the ball fell to Lukaku a few yards out but his shot hit the City goalkeeper Ederson in the face. A quick follow up shot from Juan Mata saw the goalkeeper pull off a double save to keep his team in front till the final whistle.

United had a strong claim for a penalty when Ander Herrara went down in the area. The opinion was divided later on MUTV as to whether it was a penalty or not.

Lou Macari speaking on the clubs television channel argued that penalty or no penalty the team were just not good enough and that the best team on the day were the winners.

Image result for manchester united vs manchester cityThe top of the premiership table now has an ominous look to it unless you are a Manchester City supporter.

played         goal difference         points
1 Manchester City            16             +37                               46
2 Manchester United      16             +25                               35
3 Chelsea                           16              +15                              32
4 Liverpool                        16              +14                              30
5 Arsenal                           16              +10                              29
6 Tottenham Hotspur    16              +14                              28

United supporters and those from other clubs clutching at straws might argue that there are still twenty-two matches to go in the 2017/2018 Premiership season and it’s never over till it’s over.

While there is a grain of truth in that it is difficult to see City dropping that many points and other teams picking them up to challenges their position at the top of the table.

As I said however, there are few things less predictable in life than sport at least that will be the hope and wish of all Manchester United supporters. Their collective New Year resolution might still be to go to the nearest bookmakers and back United to win the Premiership Title with any Christmas monies they might have left over from the coming season of good will and cheer.

jim@1211plussubs

 

 

 

 

Manchester United: A Time For Reflection During The International Break

The International break brings with it a chance to look back over the season so far and possibly gain insight into where the rest of the season will go for Manchester United.

At the moment a quick glance at the Premiership table shows that all is looking good for the red half of Manchester. Coincidentally it even shows the blue side of Manchester doing slightly better.Image result for 2017 premiership table

United, like their opponents, have played seven matches in the Premiership, four at home and three away. United have won six and drawn one, scoring twenty-one goals and conceding two. United are behind Manchester City on goal difference by one goal. An extra goal against Crystal Palace would have had United still second but only alphabetically.

United have made an excellent start on the European front where a similar story is unfolding. Played two, won two with seven goals for and one against with six points already in the bag.

United have also progressed to the next round of the EFL Cup with a fourth round tie away at Swansea City on the horizon.

Marouane Fellaini has silenced many of his critics, but not all, with his displays this season. Add to this the form of Ashley Young which over the last few games has been outstanding and the less popular players have come and delivered.

Romelu Lukaku is loving life at United and scoring the goals he was brought into the team to do. Whilst Nemanja Matić has left most supporters wondering why Chelsea sold him, and especially to one of their rivals with his sterling displays in midfield.

The form and displays of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and of course David de Gea has also been outstanding leaving the feeling that Jose Mourinho’s second season could not be going much better.

With all the positivism around the club at the moment, there has only been the odd negative to dampen the spirits. The injury to Paul Pogba is the most obvious one which will come to the mind for most fans. However, the non-appearance of Victor Lindelöf has been frustrating and while the form of Phil Jones has been good the sense that another injury could Related imagebe just around the corner never really goes away.

After the International break, assuming there are no other injuries, United probably face a tougher schedule than they have had so far. Liverpool away, always a tasty fixture on October 14th is followed by three more away fixtures. Benfica in the Champions League, on the 18th, Huddersfield Town in the Premiership, on the 21st, and Swansea City away in the Carabao Cup on the 24th.

With Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford in the Premiership and Benfica at Old Trafford on the 31st in the Champions League, October will prove a testing month for the entire squad. The fairly imminent inclusion to that squad of Zlatan Ibrahimović hopefully will add more options to the team rather than confuse it. There might also be possible arrivals in January but that option seems less likely.

Mourinho is shaping his team the way he wants it even if that means being more defensive (parking the bus) in some games especially away from home. It would not be too much of a surprise if this tactic was used at Liverpool too at least to secure a point. What is different from last season is that United are beating the middle order teams who took points off them especially at Old Trafford and that for the moment is a sign of maturity under Mourinho.

 

 

 

 

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