September 20, 2016

FREE KICKS: Let’s not bury Manchester United yet

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

Oh, just look at that, another Manchester United landmark loss and a losing streak to boot.

On Sunday, United lost to Watford for the first time in 30 years. We have been getting more accustomed to seeing stats like this over the past few years since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.

But recently, it was managers David Moyes and Louis van Gaal to blame. This time around it’s the Special One, Jose Mourinho, who actually suffered his third consecutive loss for the first time in 10 years.

The thing is that you can’t look cross-town and point to Manchester City’s success and ask why United isn’t doing the same. While both clubs did bring in new managers in the off-season, United also brought in more key players that need to be integrated into the club.

Paul Pogba, for instance, is incredibly talented, but Mourinho needs to partner him with the right players and find the right formation for these guys to work with.

You also have to wonder how hard the players are working, considering that United has covered the least distance in the Premier League so far this season, with contenders Liverpool, City and Spurs in the top 3. United has covered 60 less km than Liverpool, for comparison’s sake.

But this is certainly a club that can turn things around.

Sure, losing to a midtable Watford side and to Feyenoord midweek are setbacks, but this team will bounce back – it’s too talented not to.

But one thing seems more certain than ever right now: Pep Guardiola is the superior manager to Mourinho. He tactically ran circles around him last week and now it’s becoming more and more apparent that he can manage his squad better as well.

Look no further than how Pep has handled veterans that no longer fit into the team, like Joe Hart and Yaya Toure. You have to wonder if Pep had gone to United, if he’d simply ship away Wayne Rooney, instead of trying to jam that square peg into a round hole like Mourinho is being forced to.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Sure, scoring against West Ham may be one of the easier things to do in the Premier League these days – more on that later – but you can’t knock West Brom’s Nacer Chadli for scoring two and notching two assists in 74 minutes this week.

The former Spurs winger was incredible against his former London rival and showed the promise that many have touted for years.

But considering the Baggies’ goal-scoring record this season, I see this as more an aberration than a possible uptick in offence for Tony Pulis’ club.

A TRIBUTE TO BARRY

Everton’s Gareth Barry has never been the most exciting player, but he has always been rock-solid. That’s how the Englishman reached his milestone 600th game on the weekend.

He’s just the third player to reach the mark, behind only Ryan Giggs and Frank Lampard. He has also played more Premier League game than 11 of the clubs currently in the EPL.

And what did he do to celebrate? Potted a goal against Middlesbrough. That’ll be one he surely never forgets.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

If you didn’t follow the Portuguese league last year, or played FIFA Ultimate Team, then Islam Slimani’s debut might have surprised you. The former Porto man scored a brace in his Leicester debut and should be an excellent threat in the box for the defending champions. He gives them a solid aerial threat in attack that they’ve lacked … Spurs might be in trouble if reports that Harry Kane will miss two months with an ankle injury are true. It’s a real shame too, as the English forward was finally hitting his stride with two goals in the past two games … Not so sure that was a good red card in the Hull-Arsenal game. The handball didn’t look deliberate enough to warrant a red to me … On the other hand, the refs got the penalty call on Petr Cech completely right. The elimination of the so-called triple punishment (penalty, red card, suspension) for fouls like the Arsenal keeper committed is a great decision and the refs applied it correctly … Does Manchester City need Sergio Aguero back with Kelechi Iheanacho playing so well up front? I mean, of course they do, but the youngster is sure looking like he’s playing up to his massive potential … Oh man, did Raheem Sterling just barely get the ball over the line. If that didn’t go in, it would have made a lot of “misplays of the year” montages … Diego Costa scored yet again, but it couldn’t lift Chelsea to victory this time. Jordan Henderson’s amazing goal did that for Liverpool in this clash of contenders on Friday … Speaking of Friday games, they’re a bit much after watching Champions League on Tuesday and Wednesday then a massive slate of Europa League on Thursday. At least there was no Monday game this week … Thanks to the new concussion policy, Ron-Robert Zieler got the start this weekend as Kasper Schmeichel was ruled out for the mandatory six days. Kudos to the Premier League for making a rule about head injuries … On the hand, Anthony Martial looked like he was knocked silly on the weekend stayed in the game. His head injury looked like a concussion for sure … Nolito got himself suspended for stupidly headbutting a Bournemouth player. I’m sure Guardiola was thrilled with that utterly undisciplined behavior … Granit Xhaka’s screamer was a nice candidate for meaningless goal of the week … How in the world was Alvaro Negredo’s “goal” allowed to stand against Everton? He clobbered Maartin Stekelenburg to knock the ball loose from the keeper’s hands and into the net. If anything, it could’ve been a yellow to Negredo for hitting a keeper like that … Congrats to Theo Walcott for scoring his 100th career goal for club or country. It’s a shame that injuries have derailed his career as he probably should’ve gotten to the milestone sooner.

THE LAST WORD

I’ll try not to make this a weekly feature after asking the same question about Leicester last week, but what the hell is wrong with West Ham?

This is a team in shambles that was supposed to contend for a spot in Europe again, but instead are getting beat up on a regular basis.

This weekend was the Irons’ fourth loss of the season and the second game in a row that they’ve let in four goals. Their defence is the second worst in the league, ahead of just Stoke City in goals allowed.

This has to be about more than Aaron Cresswell getting hurt, as the defensive core of this team is about the same as last year.

Dimitri Payet has been his incredible self since getting back into the lineup with two assists in the each of the past two games, but that’s no excuse for leaking that many goals at the back.

While some may blame the move to the Olympic Stadium and adapting to a new home, there has to be more to this once-solid team shipping four goals to West Brom – a side that had just two in four games going into the weekend.

Slavan Bilic is going to have to crack the whip soon.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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