• Safety row stops all work on Brazil stadium, reports say • England due to play their World Cup opener in Manaus
News reports say construction workers have walked off the job at the World Cup stadium in Brazil’s jungle city of Manaus after a worker fell 115 feet to his death. The stoppage has brought all work on the stadium to a halt, it was reported
A labour union representing construction workers was reported through the G1 Internet portal as saying the stadium’s estimated 1,800 workers walked off the job early on Monday in protest against safety conditions and what they described as pressure to speed up the project.
Amazonas state government officials have denied applying pressure to accelerate the work.
• Benítez wants to sign Dane on loan in January • Mamadou Sakho preferred to Agger against Spurs
Rafael Benítez wants to capitalise on Daniel Agger’s predicament at Liverpool and take the defender on loan to Napoli in January.
Representatives of the Italian club contacted Liverpool on Monday regarding a temporary deal for the 29-year-old when the transfer window reopens. The Denmark international, who was brought to Anfield from Brondby by Benítez in 2006, recently lost his place at the heart of Liverpool’s defence and Napoli have moved quickly to test Brendan Rodgers’ resolve to keep the centre-half.
Rodgers made Agger vice-captain in the summer after Barcelona’s interest in signing the defender on a permanent basis but he has been the one to miss out as the Liverpool manager continues his search for a settled partnership in central defence.
Whether Liverpool will be receptive to a loan deal for Agger is uncertain. The influential defender has attracted interest from the Spanish champions and Manchester City in recent seasons and a permanent offer could yet be forthcoming.
• Manchester United midfielder has recovered from operation • Ulcerative colitis stopped him playing, leading to surgery
Darren Fletcher has spoken of the dark days of the illness that required make-or-break surgery to save his career, but the midfielder now believes he is “back for good”.
Fletcher made a first appearance for Manchester United since Boxing Day as a 70th-minute replacement in Sunday’s 3-0 win at Aston Villa, having recovered from ulcerative colitis, a debilitating bowel condition. The illness has plagued Fletcher for the past two years, with him first having to take a break from football in December 2011. He made a return in September of last season but managed only 13 outings before, after all other treatments had failed, opting to have surgery in a final bid to save his career.
Asked if there had been dark days, Fletcher said: “Yes. That was ultimately the reason I went for the operation. There were days when the illness was getting the better of me. I couldn’t leave the house. I couldn’t take my kids to the park. Simple stuff. I couldn’t go for a meal with my wife, just because of the nature of the illness. There was the exhaustion side of it as well. It was proving difficult. I always had a belief that one of the medications would work. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.
“There was always the option of surgery. I had to be ready for it. Ultimately, that day came. There were no guarantees with the operation. Fortunately I had a fantastic surgeon – Professor Sagar – without him I would not be here today. I have made a comeback in the Premier League. I made the decision at the right time and it has all worked out.
“If the operation was not a success there was no way I would be able to play football. My everyday life would be very difficult if it wasn’t a success. I had to be mentally prepared for the challenge. It was tough. It was two or three operations not just one. It is psychologically challenging dealing with the operation as well but I couldn’t live my life at all. I needed something done. That made the decision easier. I got the option of it 18 months to a year before I eventually got it. At that time there was still a chance of me making a recovery or finding the medication that worked. I went through all the solutions but eventually there were none available.”
Fletcher drew strength from his determination to play for United again. “I am always thinking about football,” he said. “I know people will say I should think about other things – and I was thinking about my children, my wife and family – but right there, right beside it was football. I worked hard to be a professional footballer. I was doing this operation, not just to have a quality of life but also to get back playing football.”
Now, following the three separate procedures Fletcher no longer has the illness. “I do not have ulcerative colitis,” he said. “I have come through that now. I am leading a normal life. It has all been a success. I am just like anyone else.”
Fletcher can remember the moment when he believed the nightmare was finally over. “Yes. There was a day in about May when we said: ‘This is it.’ Once I came out of that operation it was going to be: ‘This has either worked or it hasn’t,'” he said. “It was a very emotional day. There was a lot of fear and anxiety and a lot of buildup. I was in the hands of an unbelievable surgeon. I put all my trust in him. He was confident, as long as I did everything right. He was confident all the tests were right. He was fantastic. That moment came. It was such a relief.”
Having managed only 28 appearances for United and Scotland over the past two seasons, Fletcher can focus on being permanently available. “I’m back for good. This is hopefully the game which means I’m back now. Hopefully there will be no setbacks with the health issues. I seem to have come through that, thank God. It’s onwards and upwards.”
United’s win was their first in the league since early November to end a run of two draws and two defeats. The champions are 10 points behind Arsenal and seven behind Manchester City, who occupy the final Champions League berth, as David Moyes’s side travel to Stoke City for Wednesday evening’sCapital One Cup quarter-final.
“We have got to get to the semi-final of the League Cup and go on a run and be in contention come new year,”Fletcher said. “We have to be in a position where it is still possible. That is all we can do now. It has to be a winning run, not an undefeated run. We need to get back to going on winning runs and put ourselves in a position where people are saying we are still there. It is dangerous for everyone else if we are still there.”
Two of the favorite days for most Premier League soccer fans in any calendar year are Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. Reason being is that both days typically offer a full gameweek of matches in a 24-48 hour span.
Boxing Day, on December 26, will be a good day to request a paid time off from your work. And most companies are off on New Year’s Day (January 1).
Here’s the complete TV schedule for now through January 1 (with this week’s Capital One Cup matches thrown in for good measure).
Stoke vs Manchester United (Capital One Cup), 2:30pm, beIN SPORT and DishWorld Tottenham vs West Ham (Capital One Cup), 2:30pm, beIN SPORT Play
Saturday, December 21:
Liverpool vs Cardiff City, 7:45am, NBC Sports Network
Fulham vs Manchester City, 10am, NBCSN & mun2
Manchester United vs West Ham United, 10am, Premier League Extra Time
Crystal Palace vs Newcastle United, 10am, Premier League Extra Time
Stoke vs Aston Villa, 10am, Premier League Extra Time
Sunderland vs Norwich, 10am, Premier League Extra Time
West Brom vs Hull, 10am, Premier League Extra Time
Sunday, December 22:
Southampton vs Tottenham, 8:30am, NBC Sports Network
Swansea City vs Everton, 11am, NBC Sports Network
Monday, December 23:
Arsenal vs Chelsea, 3pm, NBC Sports Network
Thursday, December 26:
Hull City vs Manchester United, 7:45am, NBC Sports Network
Chelsea vs Swansea, 10am, NBCSN
Aston Villa vs Crystal Palace, 10am, Premier League Extra Time
West Ham United vs Arsenal, 10am, Premier League Extra Time
Cardiff vs Southampton, 10am, Premier League Extra Time
Everton vs Sunderland, 10am, Premier League Extra Time
Newcastle vs Stoke, 10am, Premier League Extra Time
Norwich vs Fulham, 10am, Premier League Extra Time
Tottenham vs West Brom, 10am, Premier League Extra Time
Manchester City vs Liverpool, 12:30pm, NBC Sports Network & mun2
Saturday, December 28:
West Ham United vs West Bromwich Albion, 7:45am, NBC Sports Network
Aston Villa vs Swansea, 10am, NBCSN or Premier League Extra Time (TBD)
Hull vs Fulham, 10am, NBCSN or Premier League Extra Time (TBD)
Manchester City vs Crystal Palace, 10am, NBCSN or Premier League Extra Time (TBD)
Norwich vs Manchester United, 10am, NBCSN or Premier League Extra Time (TBD)
Cardiff City vs Sunderland, 12:30pm, NBC
Sunday, December 29:
Newcastle United vs Arsenal, 8:30am, NBC Sports Network & mun2
Everton vs Southampton, 8:30am, Premier League Extra Time
Chelsea vs Liverpool, 11am, NBC Sports Network & Telemundo
Tottenham vs Stoke, 11am, Premier League Extra Time
Wednesday, January 1:
Swansea City vs Manchester City, 7:45am, NBC Sports Network
Southampton vs Chelsea, 10am, NBCSN
Arsenal vs Cardiff, 10am, Premier League Extra Time
Crystal Palace vs Norwich, 10am, Premier League Extra Time
Fulham vs West Ham, 10am, Premier League Extra Time
Liverpool vs Hull, 10am, Premier League Extra Time
Stoke vs Everton, 10am, Premier League Extra Time
Sunderland vs Aston Villa, 10am, Premier League Extra Time
West Brom vs Newcastle, 10am, Premier League Extra Time
Manchester United vs Tottenham Hotspur, 12:30pm, NBCSN
For the complete TV/Internet schedule of Premier League matches in the United States, bookmark this page.
After missing out on hiring former U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Bob Bradley, there seemed only one likely outcome for who would be the next manager of the Vancouver Whitecaps.
On Monday, the Whitecaps confirmed previous reports by officially introducing former assistant coach Carl Robinson as the team’s new head coach. It will be Robinson’s first head coaching job since retiring following the 2011 Major League Soccer season. Robinson replaces Martin Rennie, who spent two seasons with the Whitecaps.
“We are thrilled to announce Carl Robinson as our new head coach,” said club president Bob Lenarduzzi said in a statement. “During his time with the club, Carl has shown the qualities you look for in a successful head coach – a strong leader, great communicator with both youth and experienced players, high soccer IQ, technical and tactical intelligence, and a great work ethic. We are confident that Carl is a coach who will bring out the best in his players and help our club achieve success this season and beyond.”
In addition to a 16-year career played across Britain and North America, Robinson also had the public backing of Whitecaps players Camilo Sanvezzo and Russell Teibert.
According to multiple reports in Vancouver, Robinson was one of a number of coaching candidates considered for the job, including Bradley, U.S. Under-17 National Team head coach Richie Williams, and Frank Klopas.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed my first two seasons in Vancouver, and am looking forward to the start of the 2014 season – the club’s 40th anniversary,” said Carl Robinson, Whitecaps FC head coach. “We have an exceptional fan base, a solid core of youth and experience, and a committed ownership group. I’m really excited about the opportunity to drive this club forward.”
The Welsh international moved to MLS in 2007 to join Toronto FC, playing there until 2010 when he joined the New York Red Bulls for two seasons. In the 2012 season, Robinson joined Rennie’s staff with the Whitecaps and has been there ever since.
What do you think of this news? Think he can lead the Whitecaps back to the playoffs? Worried about his inexperience? See a new trend forming in MLS in terms of young inexperienced coaches?
Whether they make mistakes or not, the New York Red Bulls have sent a strong message of their belief in the ability of Roy Miller and Luis Robles to win the club an MLS Cup title.
The Red Bulls announced on Monday that they have signed both the left back Miller and goalkeeper Robles to new contracts, tying them down for the 2014 season. Per league and team policy, terms of the deals were not disclosed.
“With one of our goals being to create long-term continuity within our roster, we are very pleased to have signed Roy and Luis to new contracts,” Red Bulls sporting director Andy Roxburgh said in a statement. “Both players were important players for our team in 2013, and we are happy to keep them in New York.”
Both players committed costly errors at separate times during the season, but at the same time also came up some stellar plays. In Robles’ case, the 29-year-old made a number of tremendous saves on his way to 17 wins and 11 shutouts, including three in the Red Bulls’ final six matches. Robles also saved a league-best three penalty kicks.
Miller meanwhile was injured or on international duty for most of the season but had his best spell in April and May. Following a horrible decision early in the season to encroach in the penalty area against the San Jose Earthquakes, Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke gave the Costa Rican international some extra time to clear his head, and after the international break, Miller came back with purpose and a newfound sense of belief.
Though he missed the last ten games of the 2013 season with an Achilles injury, Miller played 17 times for the Red Bulls, 16 of them as a starter. Miller is expected to miss up to one month next season as he’s a very likely call-up to the Costa Rican National Team for next summer’s World Cup in Brazil.
Reports late last week originally stated that the longest-tenured Red Bulls player would leave the club and return to Costa Rica. However, those reports turned out to be inaccurate.
What do you think of this news? Glad to see Robles and Miller sign new contracts? Do you see them playing even better next season? Where else do the Red Bulls need to upgrade?
I was at Villa Park yesterday to see under pressure Manchester United take on Aston Villa. The atmosphere pre-game was low key from the home supporters, which was surprising given United were on a two game losing streak in the league and were under huge pressure to get three points. The Manchester United fans, however, were fantastic. They never stopped singing all game, the best chant being “We are staying up!” after Danny Welbeck scored his second goal.
United comfortably won the match 3-0, and it was their best performance since their 5-0 thrashing of Bayer Leverkusen. Villa, on the other hand, were desperately poor and devoid of ideas throughout the game.
Villa were missing key players such as Ron Vlaar and Fabien Delph, but manager Paul Lambert’s team selection was very strange. This game was a perfect chance to attack United and put the onus on them to break Villa down. Right back Leandro Bacuna was left on the bench as well as Andreas Weimann, but Marc Albrighton earned a start. You have to question this decision as it was his first start since New Year’s Day. Striker Christian Benteke has not scored in 9 games and it was clear to see why this is the case on Sunday. Long ball after long ball was punted towards the big Belgian but he lost nearly every challenge with Phil Jones and did not look interested, eventually being subbed for Libor Kozak, who has been much more effective this season.
Aston Villa’s away from is decent (three draws and a victory in the last four away matches), with unlikely wins at Arsenal and Southampton and a creditable comeback against West Brom to draw 2-2 but the home form is letting them down and could consequently drag them towards the relegation zone. It’s pleasing to see young English footballers having the chance to play in the Premier League, with Ashley Westwood being the most impressive, but I think Villa will be very fortunate to avoid the drop if they continue to play as they did in the 3-0 defeat in the hands of Manchester United. The reason being is that they leak goals defensively and don’t seem to have a Plan B.
A familiar face could be returning to Craven Cottage on New Year’s Day.
Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey is set to move on a short-term loan to his former club Fulham when the winter transfer window opens up, according to a report in the British newspaper, The Guardian. Dempsey’s loan is expected to take him from Jan. 1 through late-February so that he has time to return and re-adjust to the Sounders ahead of their season opener on Mar. 8 against defending champions Sporting Kansas City.
The U.S. Men’s National Team forward spent 5 and a half years at Fulham, scoring 50 goals in the English Premier League and helping lead Fulham to a Europa League final appearance in 2010. Dempsey eventually manufactured a deadline-day move in August 2012 to Tottenham but just one year later, he decided to move back stateside and join the Sounders, where he struggled to make an impact in his first three months under heavy expectations.
A number of teams have been reportedly interested in bringing in Dempsey on a short-term loan and it’s been expected that he would look for one, considering that USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has urged his Major League Soccer-based internationals to continue playing throughout the long MLS offseason.
The loan return of Dempsey could be just what Fulham needs as they battle to stave off relegation. The London club have already parted ways with head coach Martin Jol as the side currently sit in 19th place in the Premier League. According to the Guardian report, forward Dimitar Berbatov is unhappy about the sacking of Jol and would like to move in January, making Dempsey’s signing, albeit a short one, of even more importance.
What do you think of this report? Do you see Dempsey moving back to Fulham on loan? Think he could produce goals at the same rate he did in 2011/2012?
• Deulofeu to miss at least four matches for Everton • Roberto Martínez had feared injury was worse
Everton will be without their talented Spanish forward Gerard Deulofeu only until January due to a hamstring injury suffered against Fulham on Saturday.
The news should come as a relief to Roberto Martínez, who had told the on-loan Barcelona player to prepare himself for “the final third of the season” after an unexpected hamstring tear in the aftermath of the 4-1 win.
However, according to a statement from Everton on Monday: “Scans have now shown the extent of the soft tissue injury in his right hamstring, which is likely to keep him out for a few weeks.”
Deulofeu has developed impressively in recent weeks and had replaced Kevin Mirallas in the starting lineup against Fulham. The 19-year-old will miss Premier League games against Swansea City, Sunderland, Southampton and Stoke City over the festive period, plus the FA Cup third-round tie against Queens Park Rangers on 4 January.
Identity is such an important concept in soccer. It’s formed by a variety of facets; from the badge, stadium, name, kit color and history. In the modern game, a key part of a team’s identity is the brand of soccer they play, which is essentially the stylistic representation of a manager’s principles.
One boss who is perhaps more obvious than most when it comes his ideologies is Brendan Rodgers. And as Liverpool smashed in five goals at White Hart Lane on Sunday, Rodgers will have been delighted with a performance that reeked of his influence. Since joining Liverpool, this showing would have pleased him more than any other to date.
It was Rodgers all over. They dominated the ball from back to front, the centre-backs split and built from deep, and the Liverpool midfield trio of Lucas Leiva, Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson ran rings around their opponents. The attacking triumvirate of Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling were fluid and interchangeable, each player bringing their own qualities and a varying dimension to Liverpool’s attacking forays.
Every Liverpool player out-worked and out-thought their Tottenham counterpart. Red shirts buzzed about the pitch, picking up the ball in clever areas via subtle movements and clever passing angles.
They didn’t put a foot out of line and it was a showing that will lead many to re-evaluate their expectations for this Liverpool team. They have a bold, progressive manager who has implemented a philosophy. And despite derision from some quarters, he has continued to drill his philosophies into these Liverpool players. Rodgers’ self-belief has never waivered and he’s starting to reap the huge benefits of that.
Whilst the Reds were brimming with positivity and purpose, Tottenham looked embarrassingly out of sorts from the off. Their boss Andre Villas-Boas has since paid the ultimate price, as he was axed on Monday morning.
In truth, it comes as little surprise. In fact, it’s pretty obvious why Villas-Boas has been sacked: after an outlay of circa £100 million, the Spurs board were expecting a title challenge this year.
But it’s not materialized. Instead, they’ve undergone a strange season that has contained some bright spots, some glimpses of progress and some deplorable displays too.
Who should front the blame for this and who should Spurs turn to next remains to be seen, but where does this leave Villas-Boas? He’s been sacked twice now – by two of the biggest clubs in England – and reflecting on his collective time at both clubs, I’d struggle to tell you what type of manager he is, what his playing style is, what types of players he likes or even what his preferred formation is.
I thought I caught a glimpse of a prosperous long-term plan earlier in the season against Everton, but Spurs have regressed massively since then. Their defense has capitulated, the blend in midfield is askew and Roberto Soldado and Jermain Defoe are far too one-dimensional to play as a lone striker. Transitionally they are painfully pedestrian and there is a growing reluctance from certain players to press the ball and track back.
It’s the culmination of a mish-mash of different systems, styles and personnel in recent weeks. Just look at Tottenham’s previous three fixtures. After abandoning his tactic of employing a high-line for their two recent away wins at Sunderland and Fulham, Villas-Boas looked to enforce it once again here. With a makeshift back-four containing a right-back playing at left-back and a central midfielder playing centre-back, nonetheless. Naturally, Suarez and co. ran riot.
Much has been made of the flurry of transfer activity Spurs underwent in the summer. And yes, a host of new players need time to settle in, but the manager must facilitate an appropriate framework in which they can do so. Villas-Boas looked to be doing exactly that, but he has creaked under the media spotlight in recent weeks. As such, they have become a team that see a change in so many different areas on an almost weekly basis. It is by no means an ideal environment for new players to adapt within.
As of late, the former Porto and Chelsea boss has emitted an air of a man who has had his self-belief completely obliterated. And it begs the question, does he have enough conviction in his methods to implement them to full effect in the high-pressure environment of the Premier League? In a manner as unrelenting and unashamedly as the manager who masterminded the 5-0 trouncing of his team yesterday?
Perhaps the disaster at Chelsea has knocked his confidence. Perhaps he needs a lower profile job and a chairman who will allow him to build. Perhaps as a young manager, he is at a crossroads on how he wants his teams to operate. But going forward, Villas-Boas certainly needs to take a leaf from the book of the manager who concocted the humiliation that led to his axing.
He must have the assurance to impress his style on a team – whatever that may be – settle on a first XI, choose a system and build from there. And he must rediscover the self-confidence in his methods that brought him so much success at FC Porto. If he doesn’t, these half-performances that have been littered across Tottenham’s early season will continue to puncture his managerial career.
The contrast between the two managers and their respective teams yesterday couldn’t be greater. It could yet be the biggest lesson Villas-Boas heeds in his managerial career: Rodgers’ unyielding self-confidence and stubbornness is an example to follow and it is starting to bear fruit at Liverpool. Make no mistake, if Villas-Boas is looking for a template on how to fashion a side with a strong identity, supreme self-confidence and bags of class, then he should look no further than Rodgers and this marvelous Liverpool team he has fashioned.
“We are elated to continue our partnership with UEFA and serve as home of its flagship properties through at least 2018,” general manager and chief operating officer of Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2 David Nathanson said in a statement. “The combination of UEFA Champions and Europa leagues provides viewers with the complete club competition experience at the highest level.”
Fox Sports say they plan to show 146 Champions League and 205 Europa League matches each year across multiple platforms, including Fox, Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, Fox Deportes, Fox Soccer Plus, Fox Sports Regional, and their online platform Fox Soccer 2Go.
Despite showing the Champions League final on Fox each of the last four years, last year’s final generated the lowest ratings since Fox Sports won the rights to televise the match, with an estimated 1.4 million viewers tuning in.
Here are some more stories to keep you caught up around the world:
FIFA BANS CROATIA’S SIMUNIC, WILL MISS WORLD CUP
Croatia will have to be without one of their key defenders at next summer’s World Cup in Brazil.
FIFA announced on Monday that they have handed down a ten-match ban on Josip Simunic for displaying “discriminatory behavior in interaction with the Croatian supporters,” following Croatia’s 2-0 victory in the UEFA World Cup qualifying playoffs against Iceland. Simunic, in his excitement over the achievement, took a microphone and lead the Croatian supporters in a salute that was used during World War II by the fascist Croatian government.
In addition to the ban, Simunic will not be allowed to enter any stadium where Croatia is playing, whether during or after the World Cup, and he’s been fined 30,000 CHF (nearly $33,800). The statement released by FIFA does not mention whether Simunic can appeal this decision.
Though 35-years old, Simunic has been a key member for the Croatian National Team over the course of his 18-year professional career, making 105 appearances for the Vatreni. Simunic represented Croatia at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.
COACHING CAROUSEL CONTINUES
It likely won’t help him feel any better but Andre Villas-Boas wasn’t the only head coach to lose or leave their job on Monday.
Barely six months into his new job with a former club, Miroslav Djukic was informed this morning by Valencia’s president that he was relieved of his duties following a poor defeat to Atletico Madrid. Valencia, who will now be coached by Nico Estevez, sit in ninth-place in the La Liga standings, 23 points behind leaders Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. San Lorenzo head coach Juan Antonio Pizzi is the media’s favorite to take over at the Mestalla.
Just north of London, Watford head coach Gianfranco Zola surprised everyone with his resignation today, saying that he left the club for a “variety of reasons” which he would not disclose. Zola joined the English Championship side in July 2012 and lead them to the promotion playoff final, where they fell, 1-0, to Crystal Palace. This season, the Hornets have had a tougher time in the league and they currently sit in 13th place, with no wins since Oct. 5.
Lionel Messi and his father have been cleared of any wrongdoing by Spanish investigators over allegations of money laundering. (REPORT)
Croatia forward Mario Mandzukic has been banned for only one match after receiving a red card in Croatia’s 2-0 victory against Iceland last month. He’ll miss the World Cup opener against Brazil. (REPORT)
Bayern Munich defender Jerome Boateng has admitted that Arsenal were the last team that his side wanted to face in the Champions League Round of 16. (REPORT)
Borussia Mönchengladbach’s sporting director Max Eberl believes there’s still a 50/50 chance that Marc-Andre ter Stegen could remain with the German club, despite the advances of Barcelona. (REPORT)
What do you think of this news? Expect Fox Sports to show more games across their networks? Agree with Simunic’s punishment?
1. Well that was a relief. Not just three points in the bag but United actually looked like a half decent side again. I made the trip to Aston yesterday and wasn’t entirely sure what I had in store for me. We’re so hit and miss that you genuinely couldn’t rule out us absolutely thrashing Villa, or getting absolutely thrashed by Villa. Thankfully, it was the former, with United good for the three points after putting in a great performance.
2. Danny Welbeck was named Man of the Match after scoring two goals and working tirelessly up front all game. After scoring two goals on the opening day of the season, we’d all hoped for better luck for him in front of goal this season, but it’s taken until now for him to find the back of the net again. Still, with Robin van Persie out for a month, him finding a bit of form couldn’t really come at a better time. The first goal came from a Rafael da Silva cross which Adnan Januzaj was desperately unlucky not to head in. His effort came back off the post and Welbeck was the first to react. Just minutes later, the Longsight lad put us 2-0 up, after getting a toe to an Antonio Valencia cross. Let’s hope for more of the same in the coming games.
3. Whilst Welbeck was Gary Neville’s Man of the Match, Tom Cleverley was probably equally as deserving, following a great performance from him. Whilst we shouldn’t get too carried away with ourselves, given the poor quality of the opposition, it was still pleasing to see him take control of the game. His passing was spot on all day, with him completing 25+ more passes than anyone on the pitch with an impressive 94% accuracy. He took bossed the midfield, in the way that he did in those brief appearances at the start of the 2011-2012 season, and it was great to watch. Wayne Rooney played in a lovely ball to him but with a tight angle, he still had work to do. He struck the ball so nicely and had the keeper beaten at his near post. He ran to the away fans and had to be stopped from jumping in with us. That’s what you get when you have players who have spent their lives dreaming of scoring for the team.
4. Our wingers looked fantastic. Antonio Valencia was possibly aided by the appalling left-back, but he looked like a world beater again. Charging forward whenever he got the opportunity, delivering dangerous crosses and playing with total confidence. He’s gradually been improving this season, certainly in comparison to last season’s form, but this was easily his best performance of the season. He should have had two more assists to his name though, after putting it on a plate for both Rooney and Welbeck, only for them to pull their shots just wide of the post. Adnan Januzaj on the other wing looked almost as threatening but was hampered by the Villa players chopping him down when he got on the run. The fans sung his songs more than any other player though. He is such an exciting player and his stock is certainly rising.
5. It was great news to see Darren Fletcher was named on the bench, having not played for the first team since Boxing Day last year. He warmed up at half-time and the fans sang his name on repeat. His every touch was cheered once he was subbed on and he went on to have a great 20 minutes. Every bit of praise seems to come with a reminder that Villa were poor, so the same has to be said here, but Fletch looked totally composed and as though he had never been away. How fantastic would it be if he came back as a proper option for us in midfield? I won’t get carried away though, despite being desperate for it to happen.
6. United were certainly worthy winners, but the early chances fell to Villa. They’d had three or four shots on target early doors, even though none of them worried David de Gea, and you had to wonder whether it was going to be ‘one of those days’. De Gea made a great stop in the second half and had a bit of a ruck with Agbonlahor after being shoved off the pitch to concede a corner. The defence didn’t really put a foot wrong though after those initial jitters, with Jones and Evans really putting the pressure on Vidic and Rio for their starting places. Rafael da Silva was fantastic behind Valencia on that right wing too, with United so much stronger offensively and defensively with him at right back.
7. This weekend, Chelsea had one former youth team product in the team (John Terry, who made his debut 15 years ago), as did Arsenal (Jack Wilshere) and City had none. It has to make you proud to see Welbeck and Cleverley playing and scoring, as well as good performances from Evans, Fletcher and Giggs. Let’s hope the extra passion these players show for the club can help compensate for what we’re lacking in ability.
8. There’s no point talking about us ‘kicking on’ and building on this performance, because our form is ridiculously inconsistent. But it was still pleasing to see United put in such a good performance. Everything went right for us and it is reassuring to see we are still capable of playing like that. Whilst there are fans on internet forums and Twitter calling for Moyes to be sacked, the away fans were in full voice supporting the manager. Let’s hope that faith in him can be rewarded with more games like Sunday.
Two of Italy’s giants meet for the first time this season as AC Milan host unbeaten AS Roma (2:45pm, beIN Sport USA).
AC Milan is mired in the bottom half of the table as they’ve struggled to establish themselves in Serie A, although they did make it out of the UEFA Champions League group stage. Meanwhile, though they’ve slowed down, AS Roma were the hottest team in Italy, winning their first ten matches and remaining unbeaten through 15 games. The two clubs tied the last time they met at the San Siro, though Roma had the better of Milan last December when the two faced off at the Stadio Olimpico as Roma stormed off to a 4-2 victory.
American midfielder Michael Bradley starts today for Roma while captain Francesco Totti makes his second straight appearance on the bench since he suffered a thigh injury in early October. Mario Balotelli, Kaka, and Ricardo Montolivo all start for the Rossoneri today.
If you will be watching today’s action, please feel free to share your thoughts, opinions and some play-by-play in the comments section below.
For the past ten years, Jose Mourinho has been the titan on the world stage of soccer management. Records have been casually swatted aside with contemptuous ease. The force of his personality was simply too powerful to be contained but now that force appears to be slowly ebbing away.
Before we look at this slow steady decline though, we must remember the decade of excellence.
At FC Porto, Mourinho channeled a Brian Clough like aura turning mid level players into world-beaters with the UEFA Cup and Champions League trophies proof of his excellence at the Estadio Drago.
With Chelsea and a budget that would be the envy of small countries, the now self proclaimed ‘Special One’ showed the Premiership that the Manchester United beast could be tamed. Mourinho was all in his pomp patrolling the technical area, out-psyching opponents before a ball was even kicked.
In Italy, Mourinho, already a master of manipulating the press found new levels of control taking the foundation built by Roberto Mancini and supplying the pixie dust to catapult the club to the famed treble. Near immortality followed as he joined Ernst Happel and now Jupp Heynckes as the only men to win the UEFA Champions League with different clubs.
It was with Real Madrid that the cracks began to appear though. Unable to tame the press or a city desperate for a tenth European Cup, Mourinho found himself up against Pep Guardiola and a Barcelona club rewriting the laws of soccer. Failure was grounds for divorce and for the first time in his managerial career he couldn’t succeed on his terms.
With a manager like Mourinho, everything is staged managed. He calls the shots and dictates the terms. However the Madrid experience has damaged him and clouded his judgment.
One could argue that, to date, he’s been a success on his return to Stamford Bridge. Third in the Premier League, quarter-finals of the Capital One Cup, and the knockout stage of the Champions League. But let’s be honest, something is missing.
The Mourinho I see in press conferences, on the sidelines, and in post match interviews is tired. The spark that made him loved and hated with equal measure has gone. He seems like a shell of the man that could win matches just by staring at his team.
Chelsea, despite some of the most gifted footballers in the world, is a team missing personality and the drive of a manager. With his hands stuffed in pockets, head bowed, one wonders where the real Jose is?
I can’t help but think of his rival, the man he could not best in Spain, Pep Guardiola. The Spaniard no doubt was under the same immense pressures as his Portuguese counter-part but instead of stepping back into the cauldron after resigning from Barcelona, he decided to step away completely from soccer.
Viewing him now conducting the Bayern Munich machine is to see a man reborn. The haunted face has been replaced with a freshness and desire that provides a stark contrast to the man in the grey overcoat grinding in West London.
Perhaps at the end of the day, Chelsea is the club for Mourinho to reclaim his mojo but ultimately I think that he couldn’t bear to be out of the spotlight for more than a second and that this was the safest move for his ego.
Mourinho has claimed that he only wanted to be loved but I think that he is damaged, and like Cloughie, who I mentioned at the top of this piece, just couldn’t work out that it was time to step away until it was too late.
Mourinho is managing without joy, Chelsea is a club looking for its soul.
Nick Webster covered the Barclays Premier League for Fox Soccer for 12 years, becoming the voice of the Prem. He now has his own blog www.realfootytalk.com, which allows him to look at the world of football with an uncensored eye.
Robin van Persie’s latest injury has opened the door once again for Manchester United’s prodigal son who could fire his club and England to great heights in the next six months. Following months of injury and inertia, Danny Welbeck’s brace Sunday at Villa Park could be a sign of things to come in 2014.
Welbeck is a rare technically gifted, tactically savvy, and tireless English attacking player. In fact, he may be the only player in Roy Hodgson’s player pool that fits that description currently. Following an outstanding 2011-12 season, the Manchester United forward found himself somewhat unexpectedly in Roy Hodgson’s plans for the Euro 2012 finals. In that tournament, Welbeck showcased all his assets and was arguably the Three Lions best player.
But the summer 2012 signing of Van Persie set Welbeck’s development back. While it allowed United to claim the 2012-13 Premier League title (ironically on the same points total that they accumulated finishing second a year earlier), the place in the side Welbeck had claimed the previous season was lost. Throughout much of the season he was limited to mop-up duty or cup matches. Like many other young English players in recent years, Welbeck seemed to be stagnating or even regressing just as he hit 22.
The prolonged Wayne Rooney transfer saga this summer opened the door for Welbeck to reclaim a place up top and he did so with a brace on the opening day of the season at the Liberty Stadium against Swansea. But injury soon struck and with Manchester United collectively struggling, Welbeck was soon all but forgotten.
From a tactical perspective, having a forward who runs as much as Welbeck does, can push wide, is comfortable on the ball, and tracks back is a dream. But in new manager David Moyes’ usually rigid 4-4-2 formation, his talents are perhaps less noticeable. Yesterday, however, Moyes setup his team in what looked to be a 4-3-3 formation that allowed Welbeck to drift more into the wide areas and run into and link up with the midfield more efficiently.
This sort of formation suits Welbeck’s talents. He is tactically astute, yet needs an open style of play to excel. With Moyes finally showing the willingness to experiment tactically to accommodate the talent at his disposal, Welbeck could be headed for an elongated run in the side during the festive period.
Should the Manchester United forward take this chance and regain his elusive finishing touch, he could be the secret weapon or the forgotten man that Roy Hodgson springs on the world this summer in Brazil.
In the short term however, Welbeck and his Manchester United teammates need to simply focus on regaining consistency and pushing up the table. Sunday’s win was a start and with the other top sides all facing one another this month, it is not unrealistic to believe the Red Devils title hopes could be back on the front burner come January.