FREE KICKS: Pogba a real Red Devil
Manchester United won its game against Arsenal, but it lost something much more important.
Just four games after getting Paul Pogba back from an extended absence, United will be without the key midfielder for three contests after he picked up a red card for stamping on the leg of Arsenal defender Hector Bellerin.
It was unfortunate for a couple of reasons and perhaps a bit of karma, too. Its timing is perhaps the most unfortunate thing about it: The Red Devils’ biggest game of the season, the Manchester Derby at Old Trafford, is next Sunday.
Without the ultra-talented Pogba, you can bet that manager Jose Mourinho is more than likely going to try to park the bus against an attacking side that is as talented as what City rolls out every week.
This also comes after Pogba had said that he wouldn’t mind if some of City’s key players missed the derby with injuries. While nobody asked about is claiming this red was a karmic comeback, it certainly fits a near-textbook description of it.
As for the foul itself, it was the type of stamp that was tough to avoid for Pobga. Bellerin stuck his leg out to block the ball in quite the awkward fashion, and you can bet that the Frenchman was expecting to come down hard on the Spaniard’s leg.
The game had plenty of excitement and a couple of United players put in incredible performances. Jesse Lingard is often a forgotten piece among the big stars at United, but has been playing very well this season. His two goals were the difference in this big win on the road against a top team.
And then there’s the man who nearly won our player of the week award: David De Gea.
The Spanish goalkeeper was incredible, making 15 saves on 16 shots on target while Arsenal had 75% possession, partly in thanks to Pogba’s sending off.
The highlight among many fine stop was De Gea making a stunning double-save on Alexandre Lacazette and then Alexis Sanchez in close.
Who would’ve thought that Phil Jones’ absence would lead to so much work for De Gea?
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
We all know that Philippe Coutinho is capable of some huge games and his effort this week against the Seagulls was certainly a big one. The Brazilian potted a goal and picked up three assists in the Reds’ 5-1 victory over in Brighton, which had allowed just seven goals in seven home games this season coming in.
The problem with Coutinho has always been his consistency and his durability. He has played just eight games this season and has been blanked in four. If he can eliminate those games where he’s a no-show, Liverpool would be even more dangerous.
The other question, which is perpetually hanging over his head, is if/when he will be joining Barcelona. The rumours won’t go away and you have to think that the Reds will cash in if the price is right – as they’ve done in the past.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Can we really call Mourinho vs. Arsene Wenger a rivalry when Mourinho so clearly owns the Gunners boss? It’s embarrassing to think that these two are even compared to each other sometimes … I keep on forgetting which British manager is in charge of which team. Is Big Sam at Everton or West Ham? Where did David Moyes end up? How about Roy Hodgson and Alan Pardew? … By the way, heading into the weekend, there were nine British managers in the Premier League, including all of the gaffers for the bottom seven teams. There are none in the Top 6 and none have won a major trophy in England … Moyes would be smart to keep Adrian between the sticks. He’s much better than Joe Hart has been for the Irons … We’re not sure if Liverpool could get away with going three-at-the-back against a better club than BHA when two of the three starters are Georginio Wijnaldum and Emre Can, two central midfielders. Although Wijnaldum did a stellar job and Can has played the position before … Spurs are in a major funk and need to turn it around fast if they want to play in Champions League next season. Tottenham has two points in its past four games and has sunk to sixth in the table … Davinson Sanchez’s red card creates even more defensive issues for Spurs, with Toby Alderweireld out for the time being, they’re getting pretty thin at the back and will have to move Eric Dier back and perhaps move Ben Davies more centrally.
THE LAST WORD
The path is set for everyone in this summer’s World Cup and, sadly, the Chicago Fire won’t be involved.
This year doesn’t seem to have the usual Group of Death, but certainly has a Group of Life.
Host Russia has a relatively easy path into the knockout phase, beginning with the opener against Saudi Arabia. After that, it’s Uruguay and Egypt in one of two groups with just one European side.
Many are also touting Group E as an easy one, but that would be undervaluing the three teams grouped with Brazil. While the South American giants look to have an easy route straight to the final, 2014 proved that anything can happen. Switzerland looked good in qualifying, Costa Rica can park the bus and have a world-class keeper in Keylor Navas to get results. And don’t forget Serbia, a talented squad that can make some waves if everything comes together.
Many are touting Group F, featuring defending champs Germany, Mexico, Sweden and South Korea. We think this is another situation as Group E, with one giant club and three others duking it out for second.
There are several potential Cinderella teams that could pull an upset and make the knockout phase, too. Morocco could earn a results over Spain or Portugal, Senegal could catch Poland or Colombia sleepering, and what if Egypt upsets Russia and we see the hosts fail to advance for a second time after South Africa eight years ago.
Obviously missing from the proceedings are Italy, Netherlands, Chile and the States – the country which has bought the most tickets for the event – and it feels like we’re missing them.
Imagine Italy in Group F instead of Sweden, or the U.S. facing Belgium and England in Group G. How about Netherlands-Argentina to open Group D instead of – let’s face it – diminutive Iceland?
We’re already pouring over our brackets. Now we just have to wait seven months for kickoff.