De Futebol Pep Guardiola and the guys blowing away the competition in the EPL

Pep Guardiola and his merry men of assassins are making a mockery of the EPL title race. For intensive purposes the title race is over.

The Guardians Jonathan Wilson wrote:” The year ends with Pep Guardiola ascendant, his juego de posiciónevolved over time and amended and slightly repackaged for England, cutting a swathe through the Premier League, just as it overwhelmed all in La Liga and the Bundesliga. There will be the usual complaints about how much money has been spent and, more pertinently, about the origin of that money, but English football has never seen anything quite like this.

When Guardiola was winning two Champions Leagues in three seasons at Barcelona, their style became hegemonic. There were refuseniks such as José Mourinho but the vast majority of elite clubs wanted to ape their way of playing. There was, briefly, a global obsession with possession stats, that probably ended the week in 2013 when Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich respectively hammered Real Madrid and Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League semi-finals playing counterattacking football.

That inaugurated a new age. Guardiola, while sticking true to his Cruyffian principles, adapted his style for the Bundesliga and became more flexible, his achievements perhaps underappreciated because of repeated defeats in the semi-finals of the Champions League and a widespread doubt about whether his methods would be transferable to a league in which one club did not have revenues 50% higher than its closest rival.

Elsewhere, though, the elite practised a range of styles. There was the German reboot, pioneered by coaches such as Ralf Rangnick and Jürgen Klopp as the Bundesliga, having been resistant to a back four, hard pressing and zonal marking for so long, converted almost as one to the new method.

There was Diego Simeone with a style that had its origins in the Argentinian tradition anti-futbol he had learned when a youth‑team player at Vélez Sarsfield under Vittorio Spinetto, the originator of the style when it did not have the sinister connotations it would later take on but simply meant a mode of play rooted in organisation and effort rather than individual skill.

There was Antonio Conte, playing his hard-pressing game, and strongly influenced by Carlo Mazzone, who had also briefly coached Guardiola at Brescia. There was Max Allegri, developing the legacy Conte had left him at Juventus. There were all those other post-Cruyffians, those who had taken the Ajax style and adapted it in their own way: Louis van Gaal, Luis Enrique, Frank de Boer, Ronald Koeman, Philip Cocu, Julen Lopetegui, Peter Bosz …

The success of Real Madrid seemed appropriate for the age: they are a club that have habitually placed resources over theory and when one style did not predominate, their magpie approach, gathering up the brightest available stars and shaping what they could from it, could thrive. At the top of the game there were a range of approaches, if not necessarily Cruyffian in origin, then at least shaped by the knowledge of what Guardiola had proved possible. Even those sides who did not press high up the pitch had to work out a way of overcoming teams who pressed against them. That is how cultural revolutions tend to work: the explosion of a new style, followed by dispersal as pre‑existing modes amend themselves to cope.

It’s early yet, of course, only halfway through the Premier League season and before the knockout stages of the Champions League have begun, but this season could mark the reassertion of Guardiola’s version of post‑Cruyffianism. The Premier League last season was dominated by Conte’s 3-4-2-1 and the inability of teams to combat the freedom it gave the two inside-forwards but that question has faded beside the far more relevant one of how to stop this City.

Chelsea were the first team to win the title using a back three as their default formation for 53 years and that has had its effect. No fewer than 17 of the 20 Premier League sides have started a game this season with a back three, although there is an odd sense of self‑negation, that many sides have used three central defenders because the best way of combatting a 3-4-2-1 is, as Tottenham showed in beating Chelsea a year ago this week, with a 3-4-2-1. Manchester United this season, for instance, have used a back three from the start on four occasions, each time against a side also playing a back three.

Conte himself has adapted, so that when in August his team met Tottenham, the one side that really outplayed Chelsea last season after their switch to a 3-4-2-1, he fielded a 3-5-1-1, stifling the threat of the two opposing inside-forwards with an additional holder. That seemed a simple tweak to refine the formation that could be amended further by having the wing‑backs push so high as to effectively be a 3-3-3-1, but even six players in central defensive roles was insufficient to stop City when they won 1-0 at Stamford Bridge with an emphatic performance at the end of September.

The tenor of the year has changed utterly in the past four months. Whatever doubts there were about Guardiola and whether juego de posición could be effective in England have evaporated. It might have taken more time than in Spain or Germany, and it might have required significant expenditure but the result is football that is not merely beautiful but also dominant. All that remains is to replicate domestic success in Europe.”

https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2017/dec/29/tactical-review-2017-pep-guardiola-manchester-city

De Futebol Arsenal wins a Hard Fought win over Crystal Palace!

The guys from Arsenal picked up a huge 3-2 win over Crystal Palace at the Eagles house.

My Gunners are still in fifth place with 37 points.

EPL Match Report:” Two quickfire Alexis Sanchez goals helped Arsenal claim a hard-fought 3-2 victory over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.

Arsenal took the lead on 25 minutes when Shkodran Mustafi tucked the ball home at the back post before Palace replied just after the break with Andros Townsend’s smart finish.

The visitors responded with two goals from Sanchez.

The first arrived when he smashed the ball just inside the near post on 62 minutes with the second coming four minutes later after he latched on to Jack Wilshere’s superb ball over the top.

Palace set up a grandstand finish when James Tomkins headed in Townsend’s corner with a minute to go but Arsenal hung on to claim their second win in three league matches.

Arsenal remain in sixth place, level on points with fifth-placed Spurs, while Palace are in 16th after their first defeat in nine matches.”

https://www.premierleague.com/match/22534

De Futrbol Man Shitty defeated Newcastle 1-0! Eighteen wins a counting for Shitty!

All it took was strike from Raheem Sterling in the 31st minute to propel Man Shitty to their eighteenth consecutive win a 1-0 win over Newcastle.

Shitty is fifteen points clear of second place Man U.

This is Toons fifth consecutive home loss for the first time since 1953.

Man Shitty sits in the catbird seat with 58 points.

Man U is second with 43 points.

Chelsea is third with 42 points.

Liverpool is fourth with 37 points.

Arsenal is fifth with 34 points.

My Gunners battle Crystal Palace Thursday night at the Eagles house.

EPL Match Report:” Raheem Sterling struck the only goal as Manchester City stretched their Premier League lead to 15 points with a 1-0 win at Newcastle United.

Pep Guardiola’s side started strongly with Sergio Aguero hitting the post from Fernandinho’s cross early on and seeing a goalbound header tipped over by the excellent Rob Elliot on 17 minutes.

Elliot also saved from substitute Gabriel Jesus before being beaten by Sterling, who adjusted his feet cleverly to slip Kevin De Bruyne’s lofted pass under the goalkeeper and in off the near post on 31 minutes.

Moments later Rolando Aarons’s sublime chip was cleared off the line by Nicolas Otamendi.

City dominated, De Bruyne missing with three attempts, Aguero and Sterling shooting wide and Ikay Gundogan denied by Elliot, while Newcastle almost nicked a late equaliser when Dwight Gayle headed wide.

City’s record 18th consecutive PL win stretches their lead at the top. Newcastle lie 15th on 18 points.”

https://www.premierleague.com/match/22538

De Futebol Man U escapes with a two all draw against Burnley. Spurs win! Chelsea wins! Liverpool blows out Swansea City!

Tottenham started Boxing Day off with smash a 5-2 thrashing of Southampton.

Harry Kane led the Spurs attack with a hat trick-22nd, 39th and 67th minutes.

Tottenham has 37 points.

Man U escaped by the hair of their chinny chin, chin. Falling behind two nil to Burnley. The Clarets were looking for their first win at Old Trafford since 1962.

Not on this day as the Red Devils needed the second half daily double from Jesse Lingard in the 53rd and 91st minutes to avoid the shame of losing to Burnley.

The final score a wild and crazy two all draw.

Thee Red Devils have 43 points to stay in second place.

Chelsea shut out Brighton and Hove Albion 2-0.

The Blues have 42 points.

Bournemouth scored a late equalizer from Callum Wilson 93rd minute plus three to earn a three all draw with West Ham.

Huddersfield and Stoke City tied two all.

West Brom and Everton tied nil-nil.

Watford eked out a 2-1 win over Leicester City.

EPL Match Report on the Man U tie:” Jesse Lingard came off the bench to score twice as Manchester United fought back from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Burnley at Old Trafford.

The Clarets were on course to inflict a first home defeat for United on Boxing Day in 39 years, until Lingard equalised in stoppage time.

Ashley Barnes had opened the scoring inside three minutes from a goalmouth scramble before Steven Defour’s sublime free-kick made it 2-0 at the interval.

Lingard, a half-time substitute, pulled one back on 51 minutes when he flicked in Ashley Young’s cross.

And Lingard scored again late on as Man Utd denied seventh-placed Burnley the chance to move above Arsenal.

United stay second, 12 points behind Manchester City.”

https://www.premierleague.com/match/22537

Liverpool destroyed Swansea City 5-0. This ass whopping catapulted the Reds into fourth place 38 points.

Spurs are fifth with 37 points.

Arsenal is sixth with 34 points.

My Gunners battle Crystal Palace on Thursday. The best the guys is stay put in fifth place unless Arsenal can score ten goals to overtake fourth place Liverpool.

Spurs a plus 19.

My Gunners are a plus eleven entering the match against the Eagles.

Man Shitty battles Newcastle on Wednesday.

Shitty should win hands down.

De Futebol Has the Third Season falling apart syndrome arrived early under Jose Mourinho?

Here is something to think about. The Guardians Ed Aarons raises the question Has Jose Mourinho’s third season falling apart Syndrome arrived early?

No!

The guys have had a very good season.  No one has taken into account that Man Shitty is very good. Shitty has won eighteen in a row.

Man Shitty is on roll.

By normal standards Man U would be in the hunt for the title. Yet Man Shitty has put together a kick ass team that is blowing away the competition.

Man U is the only squad that has given Shitty a run for it.

The Red Devils came within a whisker of pulling out a draw instead two bang , bang saves gave Shitty the 2-1 win at Old Trafford.

“The question was harmless enough but the response was revealing. In the King Power Stadium, with the pain of Leicester City’s late equaliser still raw, José Mourinho stared incredulously at his inquisitor and snarled back without pausing.

“Do you think I’m worried with that now, in this moment? With captain and Paul and Paul and captain? No. Do you have any more questions about the game?”

“It’s related to the game,” came the reply.

“No, it’s not related to the game,” said Mourinho, rising from his chair. “What do you mean the armband? What is the influence in the game?”

“We’re just trying to do our job and get a line.”

“Which line? The line of the captain? Pfff. That’s not a line,” the Manchester United manager shrugged dismissively as he started walking towards the door. “Any more questions? Merry Christmas, eh.”

Even as Mourinho rants go, his reaction to being asked about Paul Pogba’s first Premier League match as United captain was one of the more bizarre matters over which to lose his temper. But this has been a month in which the 54-year-old has been involved in a tunnel bust-up at Old Trafford, walked out of a press conference accusing the media of a lack of respect for Bournemouth, and referred to Bristol City as lucky after a cup defeat. He is growing increasingly frustrated as Manchester City sweep all before them.

Accusing his players of making “childish decisions” in the dying moments of Saturday’s match was an indication that Mourinho is quickly losing patience with some of the senior members of his squad, with Anthony Martial, Ashley Young and Chris Smalling – forced to play on with an injury because United had no substitutes remaining – the potential culprits he had in mind.

It brought back memories of his bitter attack on his Chelsea side after their defeat at Leicester a little more than two years ago. On that occasion Mourinho accused his players of betraying him as they suffered a ninth league defeat of the season despite having won the title a few months earlier – he was sacked two days later. Although there is a long way to go before he reaches that scale of meltdown, there is compelling evidence that the early stages of his notorious third-season syndrome may have arrived way ahead of schedule.

For a manager who has never failed to win the domestic title in his second season at any of his clubs, it is easy to understand why. Even with United starting the second half of the season in their highest position since they won the Premier League in 2013, Mourinho finds his team cut adrift of Pep Guardiola’s City. A lack of professionalism against Leicester cost them, with Martial and Jesse Lingard spurning opportunities to secure a win.

But the withering assessment that there was a “lack of maturity” is unlikely to have been well received in the dressing room, especially by Young, whom Mourinho accused of failing to get his message across. The England international has emerged as one of his most trusted lieutenants, captaining the side on more than one occasion this season, so it was surprising to hear him singled out.

But, as Mourinho admitted so publicly, the armband does not mean much to him. In the absence of the club captain, Michael Carrick, Antonio Valencia has been the regular choice for most of this season along with Smalling, with Pogba stepping in on Saturday. Perhaps that is part of the problem?

It is difficult to imagine a United side containing Steve Bruce or Roy Keane succumbing to such a sloppy equaliser against 10 men with the last kick of the match and Mourinho’s inability to relay his instructions to his team via Young when Smalling was injured does not reflect well on the manager’s relationship with his team.

A trusted captain can provide the crucial link between players and manager that appears to be missing at the moment – a role to which Pogba should be perfectly suited. His suspension for the Manchester derby was a bitter blow to Mourinho’s hopes of taking the game to City but with the midfielder back in the side it would make sense to entrust him with the captaincy for the long term.

The home fixture against Burnley on Boxing Day provides United with the chance of immediate redemption, and the subsequent games against Southampton and away at Everton must be won to stand any chance of keeping the title race alive. As Mourinho himself once said: “As the coach and leader you must be the master motivator of your team.” Now is the time for him to prove that his methods can still have an effect.”
https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/dec/25/manchester-united-jose-mourinho-third-season-syndrome-manchester-city

De Futebol Man U ties Leicester City two all. This may have cost the Red Devils a title shot

Man U blew it. The Red Devils may have sunk their slim title hopes. Leicester City’s Harry Maguire late shell shocker goal in the 90th minute plus stuck a dagger in Man U’s hearts. The two all draw all but gave Man Shitty the title.

The Guardians Ed Aarons wrote:” It was all looking so good for José Mourinho. Having seen his Manchester Unitedside come back from conceding the opening goal to lead 2-1 through two strikes from Juan Mata, a last minute lapse of concentration in defence allowed Harry Maguire to snatch a point with the final kick of the match.

United had appeared to be coasting when the Leicester substitute Daniel Amartey was sent off for a second booking 16 minutes from time, with Jesse Lingard wasting a golden opportunity to seal the points when he struck a post. But just as it seemed Mourinho’s side would at least keep pace with Manchester City after their record-breaking 17th win in a row, Maguire’s volley at the back post ensured they now face a 13-point gap with half of the campaign completed.

This ground has bad memories for the Portuguese after the 2-1 defeat to Claudio Ranieri’s title-chasers two years ago proved to be the last act in his second spell as Chelsea manager. There have been shades of the manager who lost control so quickly at Stamford Bridge about Mourinho’s demeanour this season and his reaction to the dropping of two vital points was an indication that the pressure being applied by Pep Guardiola’s side is taking its toll.

It was unclear exactly who he was singling out for the “childish decisions” that he said cost his side so dear but the finger could probably be pointed at Chris Smalling, who was left bamboozled by Riyad Mahrez’s quick feet for Jamie Vardy’s opening goal and was then at fault for allowing Maguire to pounce at the death. Yet the evening could have ended so differently had United been more clinical in front of goal, with Anthony Martial also spurning a great chance just after the break.

In a week in which they had also crashed out of the League Cup to the Championship side Bristol City, the return of Paul Pogba to Premier League action after his suspension at least gave Mourinho a reason to be cheerful, with the Frenchman captaining the side in the absence of Antonio Valencia – one of only three players to keep his place from the defeat at Ashton Gate.

After four straight victories under Claude Puel, Leicester’s bubble had been burst by the surprise home defeat to Crystal Palace last Saturday and the penalty shootout loss to City. Their manager was criticised for starting that game with Vardy and Mahrez on the bench when the competition perhaps represented their best chance of silverware, and Puel reverted to his first choice side for this match.

But it was United who took the game to their opponents in the opening exchanges. Smalling should have done better with a headed chance from Juan Mata’s centre in the third minute, while Lingard and Pogba tested Kasper Schmeichel with early efforts. But after the initial burst, the visitors began to look laboured going forward, with Romelu Lukaku again struggling to make an impact.

Having created virtually nothing beforehand, however, it was a classic piece of counterattacking that helped Leicester go ahead. Lingering around the edge of his own penalty area, the England forward pounced on a clearance and laid the ball into the path of Wilfred Ndidi, whose first-time pass sailed over the United defence and into the path of the onrushing Mahrez. The Algerian was forced to check his run slightly but showed great awareness to pause briefly before laying the ball to Vardy on a plate.

Their joy was short-lived, though, as a canny left-footed finish from just inside the area from Mata after a clever layoff from Lingard meant United headed into the break on level terms. Despite that setback, Leicester persisted with the tactic of sitting deep and attempting to strike out on the break.

The strategy almost paid dividends seven minutes into the second half when more brilliance from Mahrez saw him reach the byline, only for Demarai Gray to miss the ball completely when it was played across the face of goal, with David de Gea saving the follow-up from Christian Fuchs.

Martial partially redeemed himself for the miss when he won a free-kick just outside the penalty area and Mata stepped up to curl home his second goal, although Schmeichel will feel he could have done more to prevent the ball finding the net having presented his opponent with a yawning gap to aim at.

Amartey’s second booking, for a reckless bodycheck on Marcus Rashford less than 20 minutes after he had replaced Danny Simpson, seemed to have ended the game as a contest.

But in the final seconds of injury time, everything fell apart for United. Marc Albrighton’s excellent deep cross picked out the unmarked Maguire at the back post and, having fluffed a great chance earlier, this time the England defender made no mistake, to send United into the Christmas period knowing their hopes of a 21st title are virtually over already.”

https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/dec/23/leicester-manchetser-united-match-report

De Futebol Man Shitty win streak at seventeen matches! Man U and Leicester City two all! Shitty’s lead over the second place Red Devils is thirteen points!

Chelsea had a chance against Everton at the Toffees house. Instead Everton had other ideas as the Blues could not crack the scoreboard thus the result a nil-nil draw.

This tie will sink Chelsea. The Blues falls further behind the leader board Man Shitty.

Man Shitty tore Bournemouth a new one in a 4-0 blowout city win. Sergio Aguero nailed the daily double 27th and 79th minutes. Raheem Sterling 55th minute and Danilo 85th minute sent Shitty to 55 points.

Man Shitty has won seventeen matches in a row.

Newcastle scored their first win in ten matches a 3-2 road win over West Ham.

Brighton and Hove Albion defeated Watford 1-0.

Southampton and Huddersfield tied one all.

Stoke City blew out West Brom 3-1.

Swansea City and Crystal Palace tied one all.

Spurs took it to Burnley 3-1.

Tottenham jumped to fourth place with 34 points.

Man U let a man advantage and 2-1 lead evaporate as Leicester City scored the late equalizer in the 90th minute plus four when Harry Maguire found the back of the net for the two all draw.

This tie could have cost the Red Devils a shot at catching Man Shitty.

Man U is second with 42.

Shitty is top dog with 55 points.

Chelsea is third with 39 points.

Liverpool is fourth with 35 points.

De Futebol Arsenal Liverpool classic shoot out ends in a three all draw!

Arsenal and Liverpool had a wild battle at my Gunners House Emirates. When the smoke cleared the Reds Arsenal three all.

The Guardians David Hytner wrote:” Sometimes it is better simply to glory in the madness of it all. Arsenal had been abject in the first half. They trailed to Philippe Coutinho’s header and the damage ought to have been heavier. The boos at half-time were loud and angry. Liverpoolhad been excellent.

To say that the game was turned upside down inside five second-half minutes would be the understatement of the season. Out of nowhere Arsenal scored three times. Simon Mignolet was horribly culpable on Granit Xhaka’s equaliser but he was merely the lead character in the latest defensive horror show from Liverpool against a leading club.

The mood inside the Emirates Stadium went from poisonous to party time. Mesut Özil’s third for Arsenal was a cracker. How had this happened? Jürgen Klopp stared into space. It would have been a crime if his Liverpool team had left empty-handed and, mercifully for them, they did not. Emre Can played in Roberto Firmino and, amid more shoddy marking, his shot looped up off Petr Cech’s fingertips before dropping down and in.

Klopp lost it. The Liverpool manager hurled his water bottle down and, eyes bulging, yelled in the direction of the Arsenal supporters in his vicinity. It drew a furious response from them and somebody threw a water bottle towards the manager. Klopp would walk over to those fans moments later to hold his hands up in apology. He need not have done. It was an occasion when everybody was dragged through the wringer.

Arsène Wenger said he was disappointed not to have won and he managed to keep a straight face while doing so. The flaws in his team were there for all to see until Alexis Sánchez scored to drag them back into it, and he could be thankful to a higher power for those crazy five minutes. Without them it would have been easy to imagine the latest outbreak of mutiny.

This Wenger team is prone to crashes. Think of the 4-0 defeat at Anfield in August. But they are equally famed for their recoveries. They managed to cram both of the traits into a single 90 minutes.

That said, this is a time for celebration and it would be churlish not to acknowledge the attacking brio on display – particularly from Liverpool. Firmino set the tone with his energy at the tip of Klopp’s formation but he was ably supported by Mohamed Salah. Coutinho, as usual, was a joy to watch. From an Arsenal point of view Özil’s clipped finish rounded off a lovely team move, which was ignited by Alexandre Lacazette’s beautiful back-heel, and they would doubtless argue they forced the errors from Joe Gomez and Mignolet for their first two goals.

Liverpool had arrived on the back of four straight Premier League wins – in which they had scored 16 times – and it seemed as though Arsenal showed them too much respect in the first half. Playing this Liverpool team can resemble a walk in the park with a lion on the loose – generally fine and then, suddenly, not fine at all. They have regularly mauled their opponents on the counterattack and they did so again.

Firmino had twice gone close before James Milner, who had come on for the injured Jordan Henderson, started the move for the opening goal with a ball up the right for Salah. Rather abruptly Liverpool had two on two. Salah’s cross deflected up off Laurent Koscielny and Coutinho, who had burst forward to make the extra man, looped his header over Cech.

The mood among the home supporters darkened and the remainder of the first half was an ordeal for them. Liverpool could have made the points safe. Firmino curled inches over; Dejan Lovren should have found a team-mate following Coutinho’s chipped free-kick and Cech denied Salah one-on-one after a slip from Koscielny. Sadio Mané scissor-kicked the rebound just over, with Cech grounded.

The Arsenal fans jeered Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who would come on as a late substitute, on his first return to the club but they turned on their own players when the half-time whistle went. They had not threatened Mignolet’s goal up to that point. It was all too tangled and easy to telegraph from them.

It would get worse for Arsenal before it got better. Salah had worked Cech on the break before he set off on a run from deep inside his own half, swapped passes with Firmino and curled a trademark finish from outside the area into the bottom corner.

Game over? It certainly looked that way. Instead Arsenal launched their fightback. It was aided and abetted by some dreadful individual errors, the first from Gomez. He did not see Sánchez stealing in behind him to meet Héctor Bellerín’s cross and, when he froze, the Chilean headed home.

Worse was to come. Xhaka’s shot from distance packed a punch but it did not seem to swerve too sharply. Mignolet stuck out a weak hand and he succeeded only in tipping the ball into the corner of his net. The home crowd lost their senses when Özil scored but the last word would go to Firmino.

https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/dec/22/arsenal-liverpool-premier-league-match-report

De Futebol Is the title race over?

Man Shitty looks in control of the EPL crown with a eleven point lead over Man U and a fourteen point lead over third place Chelsea. Liverpool is fourth eighteen points behind the leaderboard Man Shitty.

It sure looks this way however there is a ton of futebol left so we will see what happens.

The Guardians Paul Wilson wrote this little diddy.

“Title contenders have been dropping like flies in recent weeks, Manchester City’s apparent impregnability at the top of the table acting like one of those light blue insect zappers you sometimes find in chip shops, and the difficulty for everyone else now is how hard to chase when the race already seems won.

Antonio Conte admitted defeat some time ago and one can sympathise with the Chelsea coach’s complaint that no one is watching his team any longer, even though they are in a good vein of form and have won eight of their past 10 games.

Jürgen Klopp spoke at the weekend of Liverpool wanting to prove themselves the best of the rest, which is a legitimate ambition on Merseyside but would not hold as much appeal for Manchester United. Neither José Mourinho nor his players could take much pride in finishing second if it turns out Pep Guardiola and City are streets ahead in first. United are actually on a decent run of their own, with only one defeat in seven league games since they lost at Chelsea on Bonfire night, though there are no prizes for guessing the identity of the side that inflicted the most recent wound.

United keep coming second-best to their neighbours and even though this victory narrowed the gap to 11 points rather than 14 at the top, that is still rather an ominous gap before the halfway point of the season has been reached. United have a perfectly respectable number of points for this stage of the season but City have already passed the half‑century. United have scored 39 goals, at an average better than two a game, yet City are averaging better than three.

While there have been signs that Mourinho realises he is in a fight he cannot win, at least this was a fighting performance from his players. West Bromwich Albionare not exactly daunting opponents, they are in the bottom three and their first goal in four matches under their new manager came as a result of an untidy goalmouth scramble when United thought they were coasting to victory, yet they did their best to make life hard for their visitors. For the first half hour they presented United with two solid lines of defence, usually compact in their own half, with only Salomón Rondón offering a notional outlet up front. United will have seen similar set-ups before and they probably relished the challenge of coming up against a parked bus as a break from positioning the vehicle themselves.

The obvious flaw in such a basic gameplan is that it is difficult to respond if the opposition find a way through. City demonstrated that against United, and Mourinho’s players were sufficiently superior here to take a patient approach against Albion. For perhaps a quarter of the game there was a question of whether a midfield lacking Paul Pogba would be creative or forceful enough to break through the home barriers, and during that period, with Romelu Lukaku lumbering around in search of a pass or a useful opening, it was easy to make unflattering comparisons between United’s old-fashioned centre‑forward approach and City’s more fluent front-line.

Then Marcus Rashford pulled the ball on to his right foot to cross from the left and in an instant Lukaku was transformed from over-priced passenger to deadly finisher as a perfectly placed header flashed into Ben Foster’s top corner. Lukaku may not be everyone’s idea of a £75m striker but there must be a reason why Chelsea and United were fighting for his services over the summer, and given a glimpse of a chance to win this match he took it, no problem.

West Bromwich were never likely to come back from going behind, given how deep they had been operating, and before they reached the interval and a chance to reorganise they had conceded again when Ahmed Hegazi’s deflection helped Jesse Lingard’s shot beat Foster. There could have been more from United, with Rashford showing up particularly well before he was substituted, yet there were also one or two nervous moments after Gareth Barry’s scrappy goal brought Albion back into the game.

So much so that Nemanja Matic ended up with a caution for time-wasting, while the home fans amused themselves with a few cheeky renditions of “Park the bus, park the bus, Man Utd”. Mourinho and his players will probably have to get used to that.

The title race may be all-but over, but everybody other than City could be in for a long and trying run-in.

https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2017/dec/17/manchester-united-chasing-west-bromwich-albion-city

De Futebol Man U Crashed and Burned at The Robins House

Man U crashed and burned out of the Carabao Cup. A wild last second goal sent Bristol City to the semi-finals with a hard fought 2-1 win over the Red Devils at the Robins house Ashton Gate.

The Guardians Ben Fisher wrote:” Bristol City are in the Carabao Cup semi-finals after Korey Smith scored a stunning winner against Manchester United in the third minute of added time. Smith chested down a Matty Taylor pass before turning and volleying left-footed across Sergio Romero, sparking delirious scenes at Ashton Gate. The Championship side had taken the lead in spectacular fashion through Joe Bryan before Zlatan Ibrahimovic, on his return to the starting lineup, appeared to have forced extra time with a vicious free-kick.

This was always going to be a special occasion under the lights inside a sold-out stadium as the Robins duelled with Manchester United for the first time since 1980, when United ran out 4-0 winners. In these parts, the ambition is to make these meetings a more regular event, with the club third in the second tier and vying for promotion to the top flight. They have excelled in this competition, too, humbling three Premier League sides – Crystal Palace, Stoke City and Watford – en route to this match-up. They had also scored 14 goals, more than any other side, to get here.

Mourinho stuck true to his word by naming a strong team here although David de Gea and Nemanja Matic did not travel to the West Country. Luke Shaw, however, made his first start since April. For the hosts, heavily depleted through injury, one-time United goalkeeper Luke Steele was their only change. It was Romero, though, who was kept more busy during a frenetic first half of action, with Josh Brownhill’s dipping drive forcing the United goalkeeper to punch clear early on, while defender Hordur Magnusson also went close.

City played with a familiar intensity that has served them so well this term with Bristolians and academy graduates, Bryan and Bobby Reid, in particular, relishing the challenge by getting in the faces of the opposition. Bryan enjoyed his battle with Matteo Darmian while Reid, converted to a striker over the summer, was again a nuisance.

United, though largely underwhelming, twice struck the woodwork inside 21 minutes, through Ibrahimovic and then Marcus Rashford. Ibrahimovic then skewed a volley horribly wide and into the rebuilt South Stand. With half-time approaching, City, revved up by more than 22,000 noisy home supporters, upped their search for an opener. When Smith drove into the box, he almost laid the ball on a plate for Reid but for Daley Blind to pour cold water on the move, intercepting just as the forward looked to pull the trigger.

Aden Flint, who has a knack for coming up with the goods having scored six times already from centre-back, did put the ball in the net, poking home after blocking Romero’s goal-kick but the referee, Mike Dean, intervened with the defender already wheeling away. It caused a kerfuffle on the touchline, too, with Mourinho’s assistant, Rui Faria, and Bristol City assistant coach Dean Holden briefly exchanging words.

After the interval, a couple of quickfire challenges on Paul Pogba and then Anthony Martial presented the visitors with the chance to test Steele. Test him they did, the City goalkeeper diving low to his right to clear Rashford’s effort. Then City flew forward, Reid flashing an effort against the side-netting.

City’s next move left a significant mark, though. Reid played a fine through ball into Bryan, who raced down the left before blasting the ball into the corner beyond Romero. United were shell-shocked while the home dugout exploded to life like an impromptu mosh pit.

Ashton Gate was bouncing, but the joy was short-lived. Six minutes later, Pogba ran in to a sea of red shirts, winning a soft free-kick out of Smith. Ibrahimovic stood over it before hammering it low around the wall and past Steele, who seemed to be caught unsighted. Ibrahimovic simply wagged his finger in celebration. Then came Romelu Lukaku in place of Daley Blind but it was Bryan who found the next opening, his tame right-footed effort being easily gathered by Romero. Mourinho then introduced Henrikh Mkhitaryan – but in place of Ibrahimovic – while City went for broke, summoning former Bristol Rovers striker Taylor in place of the defender Magnusson. City surrendered control in search for a winner, with Lukaku’s header forcing Steele into a superb stop while Bryan did brilliantly, as the last man, to prevent Rashford squaring for Lukaku.

The closing stages of normal time was a Steele masterclass, with the City goalkeeper getting a fingertip to Lukaku’s goal-bound effort, before Smith provided the most incredible of finales.”

https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/dec/20/bristol-city-manchester-united-carabao-cup-quarter-final-match-report