Monday Musings

Man United still on track despite defeat, Real rout Sociedad, more

Mon, 12 Feb 2018 08:05:00 PST

Paul Mariner breaks down Manchester United's loss at Newcastle and Liverpool's triumph at Southampton, as the race for second place in the Premier League heats up. Paul Mariner breaks down Manchester United's loss at Newcastle and Liverpool's triumph at Southampton, as the race for second place in the Premier League heats up. The ESPN FC panel answer your tweets on Paul Pogba and Jose Mourinho's time at Manchester United. Plus, what's Barcelona's best formation with the addition of Philippe Coutinho? Jose Mourinho reveals his thought process behind withdrawing Paul Pogba in the second half of Man United's 1-0 defeat at Newcastle. Following Sunday's 1-0 defeat at Newcastle, Jose Mourinho said that it was one of those days when even if Manchester United had played another 10 hours they would not have scored. Maybe so. They created four clear-cut chances and didn't put them away in part because they weren't as clinical as they could have been, in part because Martin Dubravka had a monster game in the home goal. But that doesn't change the fact that Newcastle had chances too, mainly because United had serious issues in midfield...

Real get a confidence boost, woe for Liverpool, Coutinho struggles

Mon, 29 Jan 2018 07:37:00 PST

The FC crew assess the impact Real Madrid's "BBC" trio of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo had on the club's win over Valencia in their first start together in 280 days. Sometimes, when you're looking to rebuild confidence and regain mojo, victories like these can be more beneficial than one-sided thumpings. Sometimes, being fortunate (which they were) and being reminded that they're more talented than the opposition (which they are) can be worth more than a convincing performance when it comes to self-belief. Real Madrid's 4-1 win away to third-place Valencia shouldn't fool you. They took a 2-0 lead through two penalties, converted by Cristiano Ronaldo and...

Thoughts on Sanchez, Mkhitaryan deal: Who's getting the best of it?

Mon, 22 Jan 2018 10:23:00 PST

With the Alexis Sanchez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap confirmed, Craig Burley and Alexis Nunes break down the deal from both sides. ESPN FC's Rob Dawson and Mark Ogden assess what Alexis Sanchez has to offer after sealing his move to Man United. Alexis Sanchez has finally left Arsenal but rather than going to Manchester City, he ended up at Manchester United. As part of that deal, Henrikh Mkhitaryan has left Old Trafford for a chance to reignite his career at Arsenal. What should we make of the most complicated transfer in the January window? Here are seven thoughts. 1. Sanchez is an instant upgrade for United He's a better player than anyone at Old Trafford not named Paul Pogba or David De Gea. That much is clear. His style of...

Real's big win buys Zidane time, Martial's future, PSG rocked by Lyon

Mon, 22 Jan 2018 09:13:00 PST

Despite hitting Deportivo for seven, Paul Mariner delves into the weaknesses that could still come back to bite Real Madrid moving forward. It was only Deportivo La Coruna, a team in the relegation zone that had collected one point in the past four matches. But it still mattered. Real Madrid's 7-1 victory Sunday doesn't make all their problems disappear but it stops the situation getting worse after two consecutive home defeats. And it offers some clues about what Zinedine Zidane's fixes might be. The obvious change from the previous week's defeat against Villarreal was the return to a 4-3-3 formation. Playing Isco behind Gareth Bale...

Gap between superclubs like Man United, Real Madrid and rivals must be addressed

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 11:25:00 PST

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has talked about redressing the balance between clubs but so far, it's getting worse. UEFA's Annual Benchmarking Report, released Tuesday, confirmed what many suspected: the rich are getting richer and leaving the merely well-off far behind. This is perhaps the most stark observation from the hefty study -- it runs to 126 pages -- of top-flight club football in every league across the continent. If you're even a little bit wonk-ish, the Benchmarking Report, which is compiled from licensing, transfer and financial data, some of it accessible only to UEFA), makes a fascinating read,...

Liverpool vs. Man City lived up to hype, Real in free-fall, Wenger woe

Mon, 15 Jan 2018 08:22:00 PST

Former Liverpool defender Steve Nicol describes his wave of emotions and explains what Jurgen Klopp's side did right in their win over Man City. Steve Nicol and Gab Marcotti go back and forth about Liverpool's defence during their Premier League team of the weekend discussion. Not every game lives up the hype, especially the incessant, percussive kind where commentators and pundits go out of their way to regularly remind you that what you're watching is fantastic and entertaining and you made such a clever choice with your leisure time. But Liverpool vs. Manchester City certainly did. It was breath-taking, high-speed stuff, blending technique and work-rate against a raucous backdrop. Oh, and City suffered their first defeat in a "real" game since April. (Sorry: the...

Another Sanchez 'sliding doors' choice over Man City, almost seven years on

Sun, 14 Jan 2018 10:02:00 PST

The FC crew discuss Manchester United's interest in Man City target Alexis Sanchez and what it means for Arsenal. ESPN FC's Mark Ogden says Man City are prepared to abandon their pursuit of Alexis Sanchez after costs have escalated over recent weeks. Alexis Sanchez missed Arsenal's trip to Bournemouth on Sunday, leaving plenty of time to contemplate his future. Everybody knows his options: a move to Manchester United or Manchester City this month, joining City (or another club) in June or -- and admittedly this is rather remote -- extending his contract with the Gunners and staying in North London. The Chilean international striker has been here before, almost seven years ago. In some ways, it was his "sliding doors" moment: A career-changing...

Why Barca bet big on Coutinho, Real stumble again, Wenger woe

Mon, 8 Jan 2018 08:35:00 PST

Steve Nicol discusses what comes next for Liverpool after selling Coutinho, while Alejandro Moreno exmaines the Brazilian's possible role at Barcelona. Steve Nicol identifies three big-name players he wants Liverpool to pursue with the money they received for Philippe Coutinho. The FC panel delve into all of Arsenal's shortcomings - from the squad selection to player performances - in their FA Cup defeat at Nottingham Forest. After Real Madrid's draw at Celta Vigo, the FC crew identify the issues that have seen the reigning La Liga winners fall 16 points off the top. Depending on whether or not you count Kylian Mbappe -- and you probably should, since while it hasn't actually happened yet, barring divine intervention, the money is committed -- Philippe Coutinho is now the second or third most expensive footballer of all time. Coutinho has sold for €120 million ($144.4m), plus another €30m ($36m) in fairly easily attainable bonuses (related to appearances and Barcelona qualifying for the Champions League) and another €10m ($12m)...

Premier League now worse than Spain, Italy when it comes to sportsmanship

Sun, 7 Jan 2018 09:00:00 PST

The FC crew discuss the developing feud between Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte, which escalated with Mourinho's match-fixing comment. Antonio Conte says Jose Mourinho has always been 'a little man' following Mourinho's recent jibe about alleged match-fixing. Many years ago, Gianluca Vialli and I spent some nine months criss-crossing Italy and England talking to football managers about the game. Working with Vialli opens a lot of doors and I was hugely privileged to be able to spend time (a lot of time in some cases) with the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, Marcello Lippi, Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, Sven Goran Eriksson, Fabio Capello and a host of others. It eventually became a book, "The Italian Job," aimed at comparing and contrasting football culture...

Wishes for 2018: Peaceful World Cup, transparency over PSG spending

Wed, 3 Jan 2018 12:33:00 PST

Relive the funniest moments from 2017 of the English Premier League season. It's that time of year when I look forward to what I'd like to see in 2018. Some of it is pie-in-the-sky, some of it less so and some of it you've probably seen before in 2014, 2015, 2016 or 2017. But, I hope, you'll agree that these are worthy wishes for 2018. Happy New Year! 1. That the 2018 World Cup in Russia works about as well as the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia in terms of racism (no reported incidents), hooliganism (no reported incidents) and logistics (everything worked fine)....

Clasico stakes are high: Real Madrid cannot afford to lose to Barcelona

Thu, 21 Dec 2017 09:00:00 PST

Steve Nicol shares his thoughts on who will come out on top in the El Clasico showdown between La Liga's biggest superstars. This time, the blockbuster script for the single most cinematic clash the game has to offer is easy to write. Cast Lionel Messi as Luke Skywalker and Luis Suarez as -- who else? -- Chewie, and this is a case of successfully steering Barcelona's Millennium Falcon through the Galacticos' Bernabeu Asteroid Belt, hopefully without landing in the belly of a giant space slug along the way. Do it with a draw, and Barcelona -- atop the table with an 11-point lead over Real Madrid, who do have a game...

Man City prove they're a class apart, Real and Barca ready for Clasico

Mon, 18 Dec 2017 08:11:00 PST

Steve Nicol and Alejandro Moreno examine Manchester City's historic start to the season and whether they can take over world football. It looked as if Manchester City's title was going to be derailed -- if it was going to be derailed -- on consecutive December weekends. Manchester United away and Tottenham at home, if it was going to happen, this was it. Nope. Neither Jose Mourinho's barricades, nor Mauricio Pochettino's front four (Heung-Min Son drafted in to join Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane), did the trick. In fact, this Tottenham game could have resulted in a far bigger defeat when you consider Gabriel Jesus'...

Another day, another mess for Milan as Donnarumma nears the exit again

Wed, 13 Dec 2017 09:14:00 PST

Gab Marcotti recaps the timeline of events that led up to Milan fans making a sign saying their 'patience is done' with Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. Milan needed this like they needed a hole in the head. The club are currently seventh in Serie A, albeit 11 points (14, if Roma win their game in hand) away from the Champions League spots. UEFA have yet to rule on whether the club will be granted a "voluntary agreement" enabling them to play in European competition next year without sanction and if they don't get it -- the prospects aren't good -- they will be hit with a settlement agreement, limiting further spending and possibly incurring...

Man City and Man United are a gulf apart, Juve poor, Dortmund fire Bosz

Mon, 11 Dec 2017 09:16:00 PST

It was, perhaps, the last realistic chance to begin to derail the Pep Guardiola Express. But Manchester City's 2-1 win at Old Trafford means their lead is up to 11 points, more than the league leaders in any of Europe's top leagues. The fact that the chasing pack, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal, all dropped points is significant too. The big question was how Jose Mourinho would approach Sunday's match. Truth be told, with his best defender (Eric Bailly) and best player (Paul Pogba) unavailable,...

FC 100 ranking tries to put the team ahead of the individuals

Tue, 5 Dec 2017 09:58:00 PST

The FC 100 is here! Take a look at who ranks at the top of each position. The FC 100 is here! Take a look at who ranks at the top of each position. ESPN's Gab Marcotti delves into the managers that cracked the ESPN FC 100 Top 10. ESPN's Shaka Hislop talks about the goalkeepers on the ESPN FC 100 list and also gives us his top 10. The genesis of the ESPN FC 100 lies in recognizing specialists and trying to compare apples and apples in a way others do not. The fact of the matter is football skews towards those who attack, who score and who exist in the final third. Football awards and rankings follow suit. We can't help ourselves. We are obsessed with the guys who score the goals and the guys who make the passes that lead to goals. It's some primal thing and we live in a world of highlights geared towards that end. A center-back's...

Arsenal, Man United defensive issues; PSG stunned, Barca and Madrid held

Mon, 4 Dec 2017 08:52:00 PST

The ESPN FC crew identify the catalysts of Manchester United's free-flowing play in their 3-1 victory against Arsenal. Alejandro Moreno explains how Unai Emery can use PSG's shock defeat at Strasbourg to get the attention of his players. As Cristiano Ronaldo continues to struggle, Alejandro Moreno pinpoints the other areas of concern for Real Madrid. Stewart Robson offers a solution for Manchester City to be more dominant against teams that want to play deep in their own half. As games go, Arsenal vs. Manchester United was classic glass half-full, glass half-empty stuff. Jose Mourinho can walk away from a 3-1 away win and rattle off the numbers: United have the stingiest defence and the second-most prolific attack in the Premier League, and while they remain eight points behind Manchester City -- roll on Sunday's derby -- 35 points from 15 games is the best start of any Old Trafford manager since Sir Alex Ferguson. And it's a whopping 11 more than at this stage last season. United...

World Cup favorites get generous draws but upsets will happen

Fri, 1 Dec 2017 01:09:00 PST

The ESPN FC crew had a lot to say as the 2018 FIFA World Cup participants finally discovered their fates in the Moscow draw. ESPN FC's Gab Marcotti predicts who will emerge from each group at the 2018 World Cup. Dan Thomas and the FC crew believe the top-seeded countries will all be delighted with their matchups at the World Cup. The seedings did their job. Amid the slew of negativity surrounding Russia 2018 -- from struggles to find sponsors to a Russian FA president having to spend the day before the draw denying allegations of systematic doping -- this was perhaps the biggest takeaway: We will see a World Cup like no other with balanced groups and, more than ever before, clear favorites to advance. FiveThirtyEight's Soccer Power Index (SPI) has 10 teams with at least a 70 percent chance of advancing into the Round...

No Groups of Death; rankings rule -- What to expect at the World Cup draw

Wed, 29 Nov 2017 12:51:00 PST

The FC panel reveal their toughest and easiest potential World Cup groups ahead of the draw on Dec. 1. For many, qualifying for the 2018 World Cup has been a procession -- going through the motions toward the inevitable. For others, there has been suffering and insecurity right down to the final whistle of the final playoff game. And for others still, whether because they've been absent for decades or because it's their first time, it's been a magical journey, a flight into possibility. Then there are those who took for granted that they'd be a part of the World Cup and stumbled along the way: We...

Milan's uncertain future: Q&A on ownership, possible FFP sanctions

Thu, 23 Nov 2017 11:01:00 PST

Gab Marcotti explains why the Europa League could prove to be Milan's best hope of Champions League football in 2018. Last week, Marca and The New York Times reported that Milan were staring down the barrel of financial fair play sanctions, if not worse. Here's an attempt to make sense of a complicated situation. Q: I thought Milan had a rich Chinese owner now? Like the guy at Inter Milan? Isn't this part of the whole trend of wealthy Chinese buying up football assets with the blessing of the Chinese government? A: Li Yonghong is certainly Chinese and he may be rich, but he was only able to buy the club after...

Arsenal approach stops Spurs, Madrid derby helps Barcelona, Juventus slump

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 08:26:00 PST

Shaka Hislop says Spurs shouldn't worry after losing at Arsenal, but Steve Nicol questions their confidence away from home. Never mind those Arsenal/Tottenham combined XIs that were all the rage or that Arsene Wenger's sporting obituary has been written many times over; Saturday's North London derby was a reminder that fitness matters and tactics matter and that, while Mesut Ozil may be inconsistent, when he's on a high, he's a difference maker. Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino pointed out that Arsenal's first goal shouldn't have counted, and he's right: It wasn't a free kick to begin with, and scorer Shkodran Mustafi...

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