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Manchester United Random Fandom

Pogba vs. Pogba: Paul and Florentin Face Off in Europa League

St. Etienne player Florentin Pogba

By the time you’re reading this, Manchester United and St. Etienne have probably already kicked off the Europa League tie. At first glance, this may seem like a pretty uneventful fixture, but the prospect of sibling vs. sibling competition always attracts a little more attention. That is especially true when one of those siblings is Paul Pogba.

The 23-year-old midfielder has quickly emerged as one of the most talked about players in the world, not just because of his talent, but also because of his astronomical price tag. Manchester United had to fork over nearly £90 million to bring Pogba back to Old Trafford after letting him slip through their fingers back in 2012.

Without a doubt, Paul is the most well-known of the three Pogba brothers, but on Thursday, we’ll get the chance to see his older brother share some of the limelight. Florentin Pogba is three years older than Paul, and represents Guinea on the international level. Pending a miracle run from the African nation, it doesn’t look likely that the two Pogba brothers will face off on the international stage, so we’ll have to settle for a Europa League bout.

Florentin’s career has taken a very different path than his younger brother’s. As a youth player, he was briefly a part of Spanish side Celta Vigo’s academy system, but he was never able to crack into the first team. After failing to impress in Spain, he returned to France in 2009 with Ligue 2 club Sedan. At Sedan, he was able to earn some invaluable first team experience, and after just two full seasons at the club, he was snatched up by St. Etienne.

Since joining St. Etienne, Florentin, who plays in a more defensive role than Paul, has struggled to lock down a consistent spot in the starting lineup. Through three seasons at the club, he’s only played 57 league matches out of a possible 114. This lack of playing time could also be attributed to a major injury that he suffered while on international duty with Guinea back in 2013.

As of late, the older Pogba has found himself in the good graces of manager Christopher Galtier. Galtier has selected Florentin as a starting center back for the club’s last three league matches, and in that period, St. Etienne have only allowed a single goal. Even with this impressive form, it’s unclear whether or not Galtier will actually start Pogba after stating that the Europa League was the least important competition that the club were involved in. C’mon Galtier, give the fans what they want. Give us Pogba vs. Pogba. Otherwise, all of the marketing efforts will have been for nothing.

One person that is easily forgotten in all of this buildup is the fan that will probably be in the most difficult position of all: Florentin and Paul’s mother. Florentin told reporters, “It’s not going to be easy for her but at the same time what a fantastic moment it’ll be for her to see her sons playing out there.” The St. Etienne defender would later suggest that maybe the best result for his mom would be a draw.

With the other Pogba brother playing for Sparta Rotterdam, chances are that this tie will be the only time we’ll get to see a Pogba vs. Pogba matchup on the pitch. It’s going to be a special moment for Paul and Florentin, but I have no doubt that both of them will be giving it all to make sure that the other one loses.

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EPL

EPL Wrap-up: Liverpool Squeak Past City; United Leave it Late

Manchester United 2-1 Middlesbrough

This Saturday was legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s 75th birthday. Ferguson’s tenure at Manchester United was defined by trophies and “Fergie Time.” This was the last 10 minutes in a match where no matter what the score line was, you always had to believe that United could pull out a win. You wouldn’t think a visit from Middlesbrough would push the Red Devils to the edge, but some questionable officiating and a resolute defensive unit really put them to the test.

In the 14th minute, fans at Old Trafford almost witnessed a world class finish, but Paul Pogba’s bicycle kick could only clip the outside of the post. Boro had a couple chances of their own through the opening period of play through the pace of Adama Traore, but there was no way past David De Gea.

The first half action came to a peak in the 38th minute. First, Anthony Martial cannoned a shot off the wood work from close to 30 yards out. Moments after that close-call, the Frenchman found Zlatan Ibrahimovic with a cross that Zlatan cleverly flicked past Victor Valdes. The fans erupted thinking they had taken the lead, but Lee Mason called the goal back for a high kick on Zlatan even though Valdes was more than a yard away when the flick happened.

Despite all of the chances that United had throughout the match, Boro took the lead in the 67th minute. Former Man City striker Alvaro Negredo laid off a cross from Calum Chambers perfectly for Grant Leadbitter. Leadbitter hit a first-time volley that left De Gea helpless as Boro took a one-goal lead at Old Trafford.

As the match entered its final 10 minutes, it looked as if some magnificent saves from Valdes were going to save all three points for the visitors. In the 85th minute, an inch-perfect long ball from Paul Pogba was nodded down by Zlatan to Martial, who hit a thunderous volley into the back of the net. Two minutes later, Juan Mata’s cross was headed right into the top corner by Pogba to seal a trademark late victory at Old Trafford.

After the result, United now find themselves just a point outside of the top four.

Liverpool 1-0 Manchester City

Liverpool beats City 1-0

The biggest match of the weekend had to be at Anfield as Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool hosted Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. These two clubs sat second and third in the table going into the match, with Liverpool with a slight one-point advantage, and any dropped points had the potential to seriously dent either one’s title dreams. In this renewed managerial rivalry, who would come out on top?

It took seven minutes for Liverpool to take the lead. A quick counter attack from a poor City set piece saw the ball get worked to Adam Lallana on the left wing. The English midfielder delivered a beautiful cross to Georginio Wijnaldum who headed the ball into the back of the net. A dream start for the host, and an early one-goal lead.

While Liverpool’s season has been filled with free-flowing attacking play, it appeared that Klopp lined up a little bit more defensively on Saturday. Their defensive unit, who some, including myself, had questioned, did a very good job of silencing Sergio Aguero and the rest of City’s attack throughout the first half as the Sky Blues struggled to create even a single scoring chance.

In the second half, City came out with a little more venom as Aguero and David Silva both tried their luck from outside the box, but neither was good enough to pull their side level. Liverpool, on the other hand, seemed content to just hold on to the lead as Claudio Bravo went untested between the pipes.

When the final whistle blew, an extremely uneventful second half came to an end with Liverpool a goal to the good. The win sees them maintain the six-point gap between them and Chelsea, while City now find themselves all the way down in fifth behind Arsenal and Tottenham.

Arsenal 2-0 Crystal Palace

With City dropping points on Saturday, Arsenal had the chance to make up some invaluable ground Sunday against Crystal Palace. The match would be Sam Allardyce’s second in charge after a disappointing 1-1 draw at Watford on Boxing Day. On paper, Arsenal should’ve blown Palace out of the water from start to finish, but the Premier League has a way of keeping matches close.

In the sixth minute, Olivier Giroud had the chance to tap home a Nacho Monreal cross from six yards out, but he couldn’t even manage to make contact with the ball as the chance went missing. The howler was quickly atoned for, however, with Giroud scoring what could be the goal of the season 10 minutes later. At first, it looked as if Alexis Sanchez’s cross was a little behind Giroud, but the striker delivered an unbelievable scorpion kick to send the ball into the top corner. He would later attribute this goal to “maximum luck,” but all that matters is that it gave Arsenal the lead.

The second goal proved a little bit more elusive for Arsenal to grab, and Palace still found themselves within touching distance going into the second half.

Finally, in the 56th minute, youth team product Alex Iwobi cleaned up a scrappy rebound inside the six-yard-box with a header and now the Gunners found themselves with a two-goal lead. Palace had a couple of half chances to cut the deficit to one, but there was no clear way to beat Petr Cech.

Iwobi’s close-range finish would prove to be the dagger as the Gunner’s held on for a very important 2-0 win. Now, Arsenal find themselves all the way up to third, three points behind Liverpool. Palace, on the other hand, still sit two points above Sunderland and the relegation zone.

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EPL

Mid-Season Predictions: Premier League Top Four

As we approach the midway point of the Premier League season, it’s time for me to re-evaluate my preseason predictions. To start things off, we’re going to try and predict how the top four will finish up, and sadly, I don’t have Manchester United winning the title this time around.

1. Chelsea

The Blues have looked a revitalized squad under Antonio Conte and are in the midst of what could be a record-setting winning streak. This time last year, Chelsea were arguably the most disappointing club in the entire league as they floundered above the relegation zone. Now, the London club find themselves atop the table with a commanding six-point lead, and I don’t see them choking any time soon.

After a forgettable season last year, Eden Hazard has come flying out of the gates and finally looks like his old self again. The Belgian winger has been one of the most dangerous and creative attacking players in the league this season, and his resurgence has paved the way for Diego Costa to terrorize opposing backlines. Both of these players have claimed a Premier League Player of the Month award this season, and they’ve also combined for 21 goals along the way.

While Hazard has pretty much been a new signing for Chelsea this season, one of their actual new signings has quickly won, or re-won, the hearts of fans at Stamford Bridge. David Luiz returned to Chelsea this summer after a two-year absence to mixed opinions, but he’s grown into a key cog in Conte’s defensive machine. With Luiz leading the back four, fellow summer signing N’Golo Kante has adopted a similar role to the one he had at Leicester last season sitting just in front of the backline. His tireless work ethic and outstanding defensive IQ allow him to snuff out most attacks before they even start. Currently, the Blues have the best defensive record in the league (only 12 goals allowed through 18 matches).

The depth, talent and coaching that Chelsea have at their disposal make them my favorites to win the league this year. I never thought I would hate writing a sentence more than that.

2. Liverpool

Liverpool scores against Stoke

Jürgen Klopp really has shaped this club back into title contenders. Over the summer, the former Borussia Dortmund manager added the likes of Sadio Mane, Georginio Wijnaldum, Joel Matip and Loris Karious to the roster, and for the most part they’ve worked out for him. 18 matches into the season, the Reds find themselves in second place, but six points behind Chelsea. Their predicted second place finish has nothing to do with a lack of talent on their end, but I just don’t think that Chelsea are going to let them catch up.

For me, Sadio Mane has been Liverpool’s player of the season, up to this point. The former Southampton man has far exceeded any expectations that some people had for him this season, and he shows no signs of slowing down. He currently leads the team with eight league goals, and is third on the team with four assists. His pace and lethal touch make him a constant nuisance for opposing defenses, and Klopp’s attacking system appears to fit him like a glove.

While Liverpool have been absolutely flying in attack, they have the best offensive record in the league currently, fans have to be concerned about how many goals their conceding. A big reason for that is the quality, or lack thereof, they have between the pipes. Simon Mignolet never really inspired a lot of confidence at Anfield, and the introduction of Karius was supposed to fix that. Now, Mignolet finds himself back as the starter after Karius’ less than stellar performances. You could make the argument that if the Reds had a keeper with the talent level of Hugo Lloris, Petr Cech or Thibault Courtois they’d be leading the table at this point.

Sadly, for Liverpool fans, that isn’t the case. Now, they just have to hope that their voracious attack has enough momentum to carry them through the rest of the season. In the words of club legend Steven Gerrard, “This does not slip.”

3. Manchester United

I know that this is significantly lower than what I predicted at the start of the season, but when you consider the rough start that José Mourinho had at Old Trafford, this is still pretty good. This summer was filled with record breaking transfers, the world of Zlatan, and unbridled optimism for fans at Old Trafford, but a quick and painful reality check brought the Red Army back down to earth.

The early part of the season for United was filled with narrow leads that they couldn’t hold on to, and embarrassing defeats (4-0 to Chelsea). Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan struggled to emulate the form they had at Juventus and BvB respectively, and the Special One had seemingly lost his winning touch. Now, the Red Devils are in the middle of a five-match winning streak, and it finally looks like all of the very expensive pieces are clicking together.

The most expensive of these pieces is Paul Pogba. The Frenchman was having a difficult time living up to his world record price tag at the start of his second stint at Old Trafford, but now we’re beginning to see him at his superstar best. The introduction of Michael Carrick in the midfield has given Pogba the ability to be more attack-minded and creative in the final third of the pitch. His chemistry with Ibrahimovic up-top could form one of the best attacks in the league.

Granted, United won’t finish above Liverpool in this prediction, but at least we’ll beat City.

4. Manchester City

It was between City, Tottenham and Arsenal for this final spot, but the Guardiola factor gave City the advantage. Guardiola has shaped the Cityzens into a free-flowing squad with ridiculous depth across the board, but a lack of consistency could come back to bite them in the end.

Similarly to Liverpool, City’s defensive additions have been struggling to live up to the hype. Claudio Bravo hasn’t been able to quite cope with the physicality of the Premier League, and his trademark passing prowess hasn’t quite transferred over to the Etihad. Another player signed for his distribution ability was John Stones. The former Evertonian has been prone to some high-profile defensive slips, and it’s clear that he still has a couple years to go before he’s at his peak.

While Bravo and Stones haven’t lived up to the billing, a signing from last summer, Kevin De Bruyne, has re-established himself as one of the best midfielders in the entire league. KDB can create and finish attacks whenever he wants during some matches, and with all of the attacking options around him, it’s no wonder he leads the league with nine assists (three more than his nearest competitor).

De Bruyne and City currently sit third in the table and four points ahead of Tottenham and United, but their inconsistency in defense is going to be their downfall.

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Manchester United

EPL Wrap-up: Moyes Returns to Old Trafford; Bob Bradley Sacked

Leicester City 0-2 Everton

This year’s Boxing Day fixtures left a lot to be desired in terms of matchups, but one that stood out from the start had to be Everton’s trip to Leicester. The Toffees have been hovering around mid-table this season, and have shown signs of potentially breaking into the top six, but inconsistency has plagued them. Leicester City, on the other hand, have apparently focused their attention on the Champions League as they’ve struggled to even break into the top half of the table. Could they give their home fans a belated Christmas present, or would it be Everton’s day to celebrate?

The match started off with seemingly all of the fans wearing cut-out Jamie Vardy masks as the owners protested his red-card suspension. The Foxes started off on the front foot with Daniel Amartey and Demarai Gray, who surprisingly took the spot of Riyad Mahrez, both trying their luck from distance, but neither could find the back of the net.

The first half came and went without Everton having a clear-cut chance at Kasper Schmeichel’s net, but all it took was six minutes in the second half for them to pounce. A long clearance from backup goalkeeper Joel Robles somehow sprung Kevin Mirallas on a breakaway at the other end. The Belgian split two Leicester defenders before sliding his shot past Schmeichel and into the side-netting. 1-0 Everton.

Yannick Bolasie had a chance to finish the game off in the 83rd minute, but he missed a sitter from six yards out. Luckily, for Everton fans, Romelu Lukaku sealed the deal in the first minute of stoppage time. The big Belgian striker sliced and diced his way past Marcin Wasilweski and Wes Morgan before putting the ball in the same spot as Mirallas to secure a 2-0 win for the Toffees.

Manchester United 3-1 Sunderland

Moyes and Mourinho greet each other at Old Trafford

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that David Moyes was the boss at Manchester United not too long ago. Monday, two years after his unceremonious departure from Old Trafford, the Scotsman returned as the manager of Sunderland. On paper, this was an easy matchup for the Red Devils, but could their old boss pull one over on them?

Apparently not is the answer to that question. United dominated possession from the start of the match, and it was clear that Sunderland was just waiting for the counter attack. In the 27th minute, Paul Pogba came within inches of giving his side a deserved lead, but his curled shot glanced off the edge of the post. Two minutes later, Victor Anichebe and Fabio Borini both had chances from inside the six-yard-box, but neither could take advantage of them.

In the 39th minute, Sunderland’s bend-don’t-break tactics finally gave way. Good hold up play from Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the edge of the area allowed him to find Daley Blind rushing into the box. The Dutchman, who has found playing time hard to come by as of late, took one touch before burying his shot in the bottom corner to put United a goal to the good.

If it wasn’t for Jordan Pickford between the pipes, this match could have very easily ended five, or even six to nothing. The young English keeper was called into action so many times this match, and for a while it looked like he was going to keep Zlatan off the scoresheet.

That dream came crashing down in the 82nd minute. Paul Pogba did well to intercept a lazy pass from Didier N’Dong in the midfield to spark a counter-attack. He found Ibra running into the penalty area, and the Swedish striker passed the ball into the back of the net for his 12th goal of the season.

Four minutes later, Henrikh Mkhitaryan delivered a goal of the season candidate. Zlatan found the former Borussia Dortmund winger in the box with a cross, and Mkhitaryan delivered an unbelievable piece of improvisation with a scorpion kick past Pickford. Yes, he was offsides, but luckily the officials didn’t see it and United had a three-goal lead.

Sunderland did manage to get one goal from the match, and what a goal it was. Fabio Borini, who had been anonymous for the majority of the 90 minutes, struck an absolute worldy of a volley into the top corner that left David De Gea watching. Sadly, for David Moyes, it was too little, too late as United took all three points.

Swansea City 1-4 West Ham United

Boxing Day turned out to be the death knell for the Premier League’s first American manager. Bob Bradley was only in charge of the Swans for just over two months and fans were already calling for his head. Now Bradley has been sacked by Swansea. A Boxing Day visit from a struggling West Ham United appeared to be the perfect opportunity for him to save some face, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

It took just 13 minutes for West Ham to find the back of the net, and it was a former Swan that applied the finishing touch. Lukasz Fabianksi couldn’t clear the danger from Cheikhou Kouyaté’s headed effort, and Andre Ayew was on the line to knock it home for his first goal of the season. Ayew’s strike was the only one of the first half, but Gylfi Sigurrdson nearly found the back of the net in the 40th minute with a curled free kick, but Darren Randolph made a diving stop to maintain the one-goal advantage.

Five minutes into the second half, West Ham doubled that advantage. A Dimitri Payet corner was nodded home by Winston Reid, and Bradley’s already limited support from the stands shrunk even more.

The nail in the coffin came in the 78th minute courtesy of Michail Antonio. The defender/midfielder was in the right spot at the right time to deflect Havard Nordtveit’s shot in the back of the net. 3-0 West Ham.

Swansea momentarily cut the lead to two goals in the 89th minute when Fernando Llorente finished off a cross form Nathan Dyer, but within minutes it was once again a three-goal deficit. A lofted cross from Sofiane Feghouli found Andy Carroll at the back post. Carroll opted to use his feet instead of his head to finish off the chance, and his strike finished off an emphatic 4-1 victory for the Hammers. Now the question becomes: with Swansea firmly in the relegation zone, who do they bring in as manager to pull them out of the cellar?

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Manchester United

In Defense of the Pogba Prerogative

Getty Images

The sense of possibility is slowly returning at Old Trafford. It felt so odd that a squad overflowing with riches and headed up by an incredibly successful manager was simply too impressive to fail. However, as Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio discovered, an iceberg can derail even the most incredible of creations. The iceberg that has threatened to sink the boat that is Manchester United, sadly, is not solely made up of one problem. Zlatan’s form dipped, both Rashford and Martial hit their sophomore slump, defenders were constantly injured, and Mourinho’s eccentricities are amplified to ridiculous levels when the Red Devils aren’t taking three points from every fixture.

The biggest problem, however, was the record-breaking purchase sitting right in the middle of he pitch: Paul Pogba. Or, at least, that’s what match commentators, pundits, and anyone with an internet connection was spouting…

…but, I politely disagree. Not that there aren’t problems at United. My disagreement is that Paul Pogba, despite the short amount of time he’s been back in England, should currently shoulder very little of the blame.

“How can you say that!?” the masses may say, “the sheer amount of money spent on its own shows what a mistake this has been!”

It’s not Pogba’s fault that United were willing to pay that sum of money. In modern soccer, you pay for goals. Pogba is a defensive midfielder with the CAPACITY to score goals and make magic happen. He’s not Luis Suarez, he’s not Messi, he’s not Ronaldo, and he shouldn’t be treated as such. Show me the other defensive midfielder in the world that’s being asked to provide a significant portion of goals to their club’s success, and…well…there simply isn’t one. However, Pogba is human…and he knows that, for the hype and money he was snagged with, he is almost required to score goals in order to justify himself.

He needs to stop feeling this way and just play as a defensive midfielder. Let the goals occur naturally and quit putting shots into row Z with a frequency that’s rather alarming. This is a directive that needs to come from management, and a player of Pogba’s age needs to be told to just play some freaking footy.

Mourinho has to provide Pogba with formations that would allow him to either dedicate himself to sitting back or let him play a little more free closer to the attackers. By asking him to cover all that ground, it’s not surprising that the Frenchman looks agitated and quick to make silly fouls when his efforts all over the pitch aren’t rewarded with his team being in the lead.

One of the biggest calls needs to simply be to the fans. The team can ask him to be a defensive midfielder. Pogba can accept that role and commit to it. But, if the masses of United faithful don’t understand what a defensive midfielder’s role is, the amount of abuse coming from the stands could grow to ridiculously high levels. This would really hurt Pogba’s growth as, from what we’ve seen, he is a player that responds strongly to the crowd’s fervor. A negatively charged Old Trafford could really hurt with this situation. It will be a tough sell to say that your team just break transfer records for somebody that is supposed to guard your back four and recycle play, but it’s what needs to happen.

It all comes down to acceptance from the fans, the management, and the player. Pogba isn’t going to (AND ISN’T MEANT TO) score 30 goals a season. Pogba shouldn’t be responsible for the creative burden of United (how can you put that many attacking players on the pitch and still turn to your defensive midfielder…does Barcelona want Busquets to make every goal simple for MSN? NO!). Pogba won’t be earning his transfer fee this season. He won’t be earning it next season. The results will come, United will not be out of the top four forever, and Pogba will have a platform to become a United legend.

The prodigal son may have returned, but the time to crown him as a king of Old Trafford is a coronation that is years away.

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Liverpool FC Manchester City Manchester United

EPL Wrap-up: Leicester Embarrasses City; United Holds On

Leicester City 4-2 Manchester City

Vardy scores hat trick vs City

Long ago seem the days when Leicester City were storming to the top of the table during their Cinderella title run. This season, Claudio Ranieri’s men have struggled mightily in the league winning just three of their opening 14 matches. Saturday, a visit from Manchester City looked a near impossible mountain to climb at the King Power Stadium, but luckily for the home fans, the Foxes found their groove again.

It took all of three minutes for Leicester to take the lead. A quick counterattack ended with Islam Slimani slotting Jamie Vardy through on goal, and the striker ended his scoring drought with a cool finish into the side-netting. The Foxes were hardly done celebrating when they found their second goal. In the fifth minute, City’s inability to clear a long throw from Christian Fuchs saw Andy King hit a lovely first time finish past Bravo from outside the box. 2-0 Leicester.

Throughout the first half, there was no doubt that Leicester were the better side. Ranieri’s men ran rampant and in the 20th minute they added to their lead. A long ball from Fuchs found a streaking Riyad Mahrez down the right wing. Mahrez laid a perfectly weighted pass through to Vardy who rounded Bravo before tapping home to make it a three-goal lead for the Foxes.

Leicester continued to dominate City after Vardy’s brace, and Guardiola’s side were probably lucky to just be down 3-0 when it was time for intermission.

The slaughter was truly completed in the 78th minute. Despite a renewed sense of attacking purpose from City to start the second half, a terrible back pass from John Stones gifted Vardy a breakaway against Bravo. He once again rounded the former Barcelona keeper before passing his shot in from a tight angle. If it wasn’t for goal-line technology, there would’ve been no way to tell whether or not the ball had crossed the line, but the buzzer went off and Vardy had his hat-trick.

There was some redemption for Pep’s side on the day. In the 82nd minute, Aleksander Kolarov curled in a lovely free kick; and in the 90th minute, Nolito tapped home a cross from Kolarov to make it a somewhat respectable 4-2 scoreline. The result sees City lose vital ground in the title race as they fall to fourth, seven points behind Chelsea.

Manchester United 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur

United have fallen into a troubling routine as of late. The Red Devils will perform well midweek in cup matches, but when it comes to the league play they just can’t hold on to a lead. A 2-0 victory in Ukraine on Thursday seemed to set the stage for a demoralizing 1-1 draw against Spurs on Sunday, but José Mourinho’s men had other plans.

Paul Pogba nearly opened the scoring just two minutes into the match, but his shot was too close to Hugo Lloris and easily saved. The Red Devils looked bright to start the match, but you couldn’t blame the home fans if they were still a little pessimistic about the match. In the 29th minute, a poor pass from Harry Kane in the middle of the pitch sparked a quick and lethal United attack. Ander Herrera intercepted the errant ball before releasing a rejuvenated Henrikh Mkhitaryan through on goal. The Armenian raced past Jan Vertonghen before hitting an absolute rocket past Lloris into the back of the net. It was Mkhi’s second goal in two games, and his first Premier League goal. The strike also marked the first time that an Armenian had ever scored in the Premier League.

Tottenham’s attack came to life a little bit more in the second half with Christian Eriksen stinging David De Gea’s palms in the 54th minute. Moments later, Victor Wanyama somehow missed a wide open header at the back post with what was probably Spurs best chance of the entire match.

In the 63rd minute, United came within inches of getting an elusive second goal. A long distance free kick from Pogba left everyone in the stadium, including Lloris watching and waiting. The Frenchman’s strike curled over the wall before cannoning back off the top corner of the woodwork. Was this going to be another disastrous finish for United?

Thankfully for fans at Old Trafford, the Red Devils were finally able to hold on to a one-goal lead and secure all three points at home. While the victory provided some much needed optimism, fans will be anxious to see the extent of an apparent ankle injury suffered by Mkhitaryan at the hands of Danny Rose.

Liverpool 2-2 West Ham United

Two sides that have had very different fates this season faced off Sunday at Anfield. On one hand, Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool have been arguably the best attacking side in the league, and they were well and truly in the title hunt. West Ham, on the other hand, had struggled to even stay out of the relegation zone despite the talent at their disposal. Would this match be just a formality for the Reds in their chase to keep up with Chelsea, or could the Hammers throw a wrench into the works?

The Reds asserted their dominance quickly, taking the lead just four minutes into the match. A cross from Sadio Mané wasn’t dealt with by West Ham’s defense, and Adam Lallana was there to slot it home past Darren Randolph. 1-0 Liverpool.

The lead lasted just over 20 minutes as West Ham equalized in the 27th minute. A foul from Lallana on Pedro Mba Obiang gifted West Ham a free kick within shooting range. Dimitri Payet rolled back the clock with a beautiful strike into the bottom corner. You could argue that Loris Karius, who has been in a bit of spat with Gary Neville, could’ve done better, but I doubt West Ham fans really care.

In the 39th minute, West Ham took an unexpected lead. A long ball from Havard Nordveit took a deflection off of Jordan Henderson’s head before finding its way to Michail Antonio. Joël Matip misjudged the ball in the air and the West Ham defender was through on goal. Karius didn’t help much either as he was quickly beaten and the Hammers suddenly found themselves with a 2-1 lead away at Anfield.

Three minutes into the second half, Liverpool found themselves back on level footing. Randolph couldn’t quite get a hold of Mané’s cross and Divock Origi was there to tap it home. The keeper made slight amends for this mistake in the 70th minute with an acrobatic fingertip save to deny a long shot from Henderson.

In the end, neither side could find another goal and they would split the spoils with a 2-2 draw. Liverpool now find themselves six points off of Chelsea for the top spot in the table, while West Ham are a point clear of the relegation zone.

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Liverpool FC Manchester United

Mourinho and Klopp Meet in Key Early Season Clash

Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp share a laugh

The biggest Premier League action of the week is taking place on Monday night (cue ESPN Monday Night Football theme music) as we get our first Manchester United/Liverpool derby of the season. This will be the first time that the “Special One” and the “Normal One” square off in Premier League action, and I’m sure that it will be one for the ages. Three points currently separate the two sides with Liverpool sitting ahead of the Red Devils, and Monday’s result could motion a huge momentum shift in this early part of the season.

One of the biggest talking points of Man U’s season has actually been the performance of a Merseyside native. Wayne Rooney has drawn the ire of United and England fans alike due to his less than stellar performances to start the season. The 30-year-old was even jeered a little bit during England’s 2-0 win over Malta last week. Rooney has been dropped to the bench for the Red Devils’ last three matches, and you could argue that United have actually looked better without him on the pitch. He just doesn’t appear to have the touch, distribution or finishing ability that made him such a prolific striker in years past. I don’t think that Mourinho will throw Rooney back into the starting 11 in such a hostile environment, but if United find themselves trailing late, don’t be surprised if Rooney plays a crucial role to close out the match.

Another Red Devil that has found himself on the wrong end of some public opinion to start the season is Paul Pogba. The world-record signing has struggled a little bit to impress fans and pundits since his return to Old Trafford, and it seems like Mourinho is still trying to figure out how to get the best out of the 23-year-old. The introduction of Ander Herrera to replace Marouane Fellaini as his central midfielder partner has given Pogba more opportunity to roam into attacking areas and create chances, and he’s come close to scoring a couple of screamers from outside of the box. On international duty, he even grabbed a goal against the Netherlands with a 25-yard strike. Hopefully that goal gives him a much needed confidence boost going to Anfield.

Now, let’s talk about the hosts. Since Jürgen Klopp took over at Anfield, you could argue that Liverpool have been one of the most exciting teams in the league. This season, the Reds currently share the league-lead in goals with 18 strikes through their first seven matches. So far, only one team has managed to keep a clean sheet against Klopp’s squad, and that was the mighty Burnley (the team that everyone was expecting). In their fixtures against the “top” teams this season (Chelsea, Arsenal and Leicester City), Liverpool have outscored their opponents 10-5. That includes four-goal displays against Arsenal and Leicester. Going up against a United team that has kept just one clean sheet this season, Liverpool could very well run rampant again.

While Liverpool’s attack has been nearly unstoppable, their defense has left much to be desired. Out of the top ten teams in the league, the Reds have allowed the most goals through the opening seven matches of the season (10). Klopp’s men have failed to keep a single clean sheet, but only two teams have managed to score more than once against them (Arsenal and Burnley). Right now, the club is in the process of transitioning towards Loris Karius as the new number one, and away from a shaky handed Simon Mignolet. So far, the German has only started against Hull City and Swansea City, not really the toughest of opponents with all due respect. Against United, he’ll face his toughest test to date with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcus Rashford and Pogba looking for the back of the net. Will he be able to handle the derby day pressure?

My favorite memory of United playing at Anfield has to be from two years ago when Steven Gerrard was sent off, and Juan Mata almost single-handedly drove Louis Van Gaal’s side to victory. A lot has changed since then. Both sides have new managers, and both sides have several new faces lining up for them. I don’t think that the end result will change. Final score: Liverpool 1-2 United

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EPL Wrap-up: Red Devils Run Rampant; Arsenal Silences Chelsea

Manchester United 4-1 Leicester City

Last week was probably one that José Mourinho and Manchester United want to forget. Three straight losses had sparked rumors of unrest in the Red Devils’ dressing room, and hints of panic started to creep up in some parts of the fan base. The Special One quickly wiped away those fears with a dominant performance on Saturday. The Red Devils dispatched defending champions Leicester City at Old Trafford, and things appear to be back on track in the north.

In the 22nd minute, United grabbed the lead. Daley Blind whipped in the corner and Chris Smalling rose above the crowd to nod in his first of the season. Corners would prove to be the death of the Foxes Saturday, and Smalling’s strike was the first of many to come.

Five minutes later, Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic nearly combined for the goal of the season. The Frenchman dinked over a perfect through ball to Ibra, but the striker’s thunderous volley sailed just inches over the bar.

The next goal came courtesy of Juan Mata in the 37th minute. A nice piece of interplay between the Spaniard, Pogba and Jesse Lingard set up a shot on the edge of the penalty area and Mata hammered home to double the hosts’ lead.

Three minutes later, United scored the dagger. A quick corner kick routine went unnoticed by Leicester until it was too late. Blind’s quick pass found Mata, and he set up Marcus Rashford for an easy tap-in from less than a yard out.

The first half slaughter wasn’t over yet. Moments after Rashford put away United’s third, Pogba grabbed his first ever goal for the club. The 23-year-old just outmuscled Christan Fuchs on the corner and flicked the ball into the far side-netting to make it 4-0. A dab with Lingard topped off the celebrations.

In the 59th minute, Leicester grabbed a consolation goal thanks to an absolute wonder strike from Demarai Gray, but it was too little too late as United claimed a dominant 4-1 victory. Are things back on track at the Theater of Dreams?

Arsenal 3-0 Chelsea

Mesut Ozil scores for Arsenal

This weekend was full of blockbuster matches, and shortly after United destroyed Leicester, Chelsea travelled to the Emirates to battle Arsenal. This London clash didn’t have the same fire leading up to it without the Mourinho/Wenger mental battles, but Antonio Conte made for a fine opponent. Similarly to United, Wenger’s Arsenal had been somewhat unfairly criticized as of late, but the Frenchman pulled out quite the performance to silence his critics.

Just 11 minutes into the match, Arsenal grabbed the lead. Gary Cahill had a complete lapse in concentration in the back, and Alexis Sanchez was there to jump on the mistake. The Chilean made no mistake as he sprinted down the pitch to dink a shot over Thibault Courtois. 1-0 Arsenal.

Three minutes later, the Gunners added a misery compiler. An almost picture perfect Wenger goal saw Alex Iwobi and Hector Bellerin combine inside the penalty area, and the Spanish right back sent in an excellent cross to find Theo Walcott for the easy tap-in. Could Chelsea find a way back into the match?

Just before the halftime whistle, Mesut Özil added insult to injury. The bug-eyed magician and Sanchez sparked a quick counter attack, and the Chilean sent in a lofted back post cross over David Luiz and Cahill. Özil was there to knock in a bounced volley over Courtois to surely seal all three points for the hosts.

The second half saw Arsenal continue to dominate their rivals, and with each passing moment the frustration within the Chelsea squad continued to build. The Blues’ backline looked like it had never played a match together. Michy Batshuayi had a partial breakaway late in the match, but Petr Cech was there to deny him and keep the clean sheet for Arsenal.

West Ham United 0-3 Southampton

One club that has failed to live up to expectations this season is West Ham United. The Hammers raced to a seventh place finish last year, and players like Dimitri Payet and Michail Antonio gave fans optimism that their first season at the Olympic Stadium would be a fruitful one. Things haven’t quite gone to plan as they’ve crashed out of the Europa League and have won just a single match through their first five. A visit from Southampton gave them a chance to win back some pride, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

West Ham actually started the match on the front foot with Antonio and Simone Zaza both trying their luck, but neither was able to get their efforts on frame.

After a pretty uneventful first half, Southampton broke the deadlock in the 40th minute. Ryan Bertrand chased down Dusan Tadic’s pass on the left flank and fire in a low cross into the penalty area. Charlie Austin, who West Ham backed away from signing last season, was there to place a first time shot past Adrian and give Southampton a one-goal lead.

After Austin’s goal, Southampton completely took control of the match, and they were lucky to be just a goal down going into the second half.

Just after the hour mark, the Saints doubled their lead. Charlie Austin again proved to be West Ham’s kryptonite as he threaded a perfect pass through to Dusan Tadic in the penalty area. Tadic was left with just Adrian to beat, and he made quick work of the keeper before passing it into the empty net.

A late push from West Ham proved to be in vein as the Hammers continued to struggle to put an effort on frame. In the 92nd minute, Southampton put the game to bed. After Adrian blocked Steven Davis’ initial effort, James Ward-Prowse was there to knock the ball home from close-range. The 3-0 scoreline, if anything, was generous to West Ham as they were thoroughly outplayed.