Manchester United v Chelsea: match report


Jose Mourinho produced a tactical masterclass. His side were smarter, sharper and more ruthless than their opponents in every department and showed fans and critics alike what he can do when the big matches roll round. The game in question here, though, was Chelsea’s 3-1 destruction of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United almost 12 years ago. On that day Mourinho enhanced his reputation further as Chelsea marched towards a record-breaking triumph in the Premier League.


12 years is a lifetime in football and this time, Mourinho seems like he is rebuilding his once unquestionable reputation. The Portuguese managed his best Man United game yet as he got the better of rival Antonio Conte in a feisty encounter. Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera got the goals in what turned out to be a convincing 2-0 victory at Old Trafford and perhaps gives new life to their top four ambitions as well as the title race.


The Special One sprung surprises on Easter Sunday choosing to leave star man Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the bench and lining up in a 4-2-2 set-up with Rashford and Jese Lingard up front. Ander Herrera was tasked with marrying himself to Eden Hazard – flashbacks of the F.A. Cup tie where the Spaniard was given his marching orders after a late challenge on the Belgian may have had Man United fans worried. Not so this time as the tenacious midfielder stuck to his task diligently and frustrated the Chelsea talisman in an all-action man of the match performance.


Mourinho’s men flew out of the traps at Old Trafford with the pace and understanding between Rashford and Lingard causing problems for the Chelsea back three. The game was not even ten minutes old when Herrera stole possession – questionably as big shouts for handball appeared to be justified – before sliding an excellent ball in behind for Rashford to chance and calmly finish. A goal move unable to materialise, perhaps, if Ibrahimovic was spearheading the attack.


Diego Costa, often the subject of many subplots throughout Mourinho’s time at Chelsea, yet has seemed more measured under Conte, showed his unsavoury side yet again. The brutish Spanish striker found himself embroiled in battles with United’s defensive duo Marcus Rojo and Eric Bailly. His frustrations earned him a yellow card after a late challenge on Pogba.


Chelsea looked unusually unfocused, drawn into Manchester United’s clever mind games and acts of street-smarts. The focus was so much lacking that Gary Cahill was more attentive in hauling Lingard up from the ground during the build up to Herrera doubling United’s advantage.


It took Chelsea 45 minutes to muster their first effort on goal albeit a frustrated lash from Costa.


Whatever Conte’s half time message was to his flat Chelsea side at the forefront of it must have been not to concede another goal early in the second half. However, some three minutes into the second period they found themselves further behind. Chelsea failed to clear their lines once more and Ashley Young, who was given the captain’s armband for the occasion, drove into the Chelsea penalty area before another failed clearance fell to Herrera. The Spaniard, the beneficiary of two slices of good fortune after his alleged handball in the first half for his assist for Rashford’s goal, arrowed his shot through a crowd of players which ricocheted off player’s in blue shirts on its way past Asmir Begovic in the Chelsea goal.


Before the hour mark Conte attempted to turn the tide in this giant game of chess. Cesc Fabregas came on to offer much needed creativity in place of Victor Moses, asked to operate out of the other full-back position after a pre-game injury to Marcos Alonso.


Mourinho countered with a tactical change of his own, sacrificing pace for control, as he brought on Michael Carrick for Lingard. The switch left Rashford isolated but that did not stop the young England centre forward from hustling and bustling his was up front and making life uncomfortable for the Chelsea defenders.


N’golo Kante failed to get his usual grip in midfield, partly due to the excellence of Mauroane Fellaini and Herrera in midfield scurrying around refusing to give the Chelsea key players a moments rest. Matteo Darmian found himself handcuffed to Pedro on the other side of the field refusing to let the former Barcelona wide man find space to operate in.


Mourinho’s side could have filled their boots in truth, Rashford smashed an effort into the side netting and Young spurned two excellent chances from the edge of the area to inflict more misery onto Conte’s men. England manager Gareth Southgate was in the stands and will have been impressed with what he saw from the Manchester United English trio – especially in a new tactical set-up.


Rashford was brought off with just two minutes of time remaining to a standing ovation and allowed Ibrahimovic to get on in a cameo appearance.


Conte pleaded with his side to push forward in the closing stages but by that point United had become water tight, refusing to give an inch.


The final whistle brought with it a rapturous ovation, it was perhaps the most complete United performance since the days of Ferguson, and certainly the best day so far in Mourinho’s time as Man United manager. The former Chelsea boss could not have asked for much more in a week where his side have a vital away goal in the Europa League quarter-final against Anderlecht capped off by a monumental league victory over what many believe to be the champions elect. Mourinho was at his meticulous best – substituting captain Young fully knowing it would take the winger-turned-full-back more time to exit the field due to him passing on the armband.


United fans chanted Mourinho’s name in unison clearly buoyed the masterful display. The same fans which were often sickened by Mourinho bringing his Chelsea teams to Old Trafford and furthering his reputation as The Special One now get to experience perhaps what is come down long road ahead.


Top 10 disappointments of Euro 2016


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As we gear up for the quarter finals stage of the European Championships we are beginning to turn pencil to ink when it comes to formulating our team of the tournament selections.


However, with the last eight imminent it is a time for reflection. Enough of the tournament has been played that we can get a very good assessment of nearly every player we’ve watched – superstar or an diamond in the rough. Gareth Bale, Dimitri Payet and Jerome Boateng have all but cemeted their place as part of the best XI for the tournament.


But what of the others? The ones who promised so much but ultimately fell flat for one reason or another. Well it’s not an XI but I give to you the top ten players who disappointed at Euro 2016. Granted the tournament is not over yet but at this stage it would take quite a lot for these ten names to turn their tournament around.


  1. David Alaba, Austria


    during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group F match between Iceland and Austria at Stade de France on June 22, 2016 in Paris, France.

Austria were the cliché Dark Horse in the tournament and their superstar was one of Europe’s brightest in Bayern Munich left back Alaba. Unfortunately, much like the rest of the squad, the promising defender endured a miserable campaign. Often played in midfield he looked like a fish out of water and desperate to return to his more familiar full back role. Coming off after just over an hour against Portugal Alaba did not look fit. His campaign ended with the ultimate wretchedness of Iceland snatching a victory from Austria in the 94th minute to leave the Austrians rock bottom of Group F.


  1. Romelu Lukaku, Belgium


    during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group E match between Sweden and Belgium at Allianz Riviera Stadium on June 22, 2016 in Nice, France.

He has two goals to his name and ran a mock against the Republic of Ireland. However by enlarge the bruising Belgian has not had much to smile about these Euros. With the Everton forward angling for a move to one of Europe’s elite clubs this was seen as the perfect shop window for him to showcase his abilities against the best in the world.


Unfortunately for Lukaku he didn’t get off to a flying start against Italy: often making the wrong runs, inability to hold the ball up and wayward shots were the key ingredients which led to a cocktail of boos when he was eventually substituted for Divock Origi with 73 minutes played.


While Lukaku could still turn things around with Belgium still in the tournament his performances have fallen flat for a striker that often promises so much.


  1. Arda Turan, Turkey


    during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group D match between Spain and Turkey at Allianz Riviera Stadium on June 17, 2016 in Nice, France.

The Barcelona man has endured a mixed year. Having to wait until January for his Barca debut due to their transfer ban and then finding the net only twice in 18 appearances. The former Atletico Madrid midfielder would have been hoping for a successful European Championships to kick start his 2016/17 season but as the old saying goes: “Hope into one hand and spit into the other and see which one fills up first.” Turan – along with the rest of his Turkey teammates is has to be said – had a hard time in Group D.


The Turkish trequatista struggled to impact his nation’s attacking play. While it was always going to be a tough ask against opponents with such pedigree as Spain and Croatia we all expected more from a player who has played well consistently.


  1. Will Grigg, Northern Ireland


    during the UEFA EURO 2016 round of 16 match between Wales and Northern Ireland at Parc des Princes on June 25, 2016 in Paris, France.

He didn’t play a single minute. Forget stats, the eye test analysis and all the rest. Tha man that had his own song, had Eric Cantona sing that song and became a social media sensation did not play a single second of Euro 2016. Northern Ireland are one of the great stories of the Euros and a justification to the format change. But we needed a Will Grigg sighting. Let us hope he does not fall into the Emmanuel Frimpong (remember him) bracket of being better known for their viral attention that football ability.


  1. Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal


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I toyed with putting Ronaldo further up and further down. He started at six, went up to nine, down to four then back to six. When you are one of the two or three best players on the planet these are the tournaments where the magnifying glass can begin to burn you if you stand under the intense heat rays too long.


Ronaldo has two goals and could be credited with an assist after his shot forced a good save from Danijel Subasic for Ricardo Quaresma to head in the rebound. Overall though the Real Madrid superstar has cut a picture of frustration. Trying far too hard like a teenager asking out a girl for the first time Ronaldo looked stiff, irritated and the more he tried the more he failed.


His brace against Hungary was a glimpse of the CR7 we know and loath but it was back to square on in the Round of 16 when “MISSING” posters could have been taped to lampposts all over France.


Like Lukaku, Ronaldo still has time to become a hero at Euro 2016 but it’s fair to say he’s been disappointing by the often lofty standards set by himself and the spectators.


  1. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden542162686

This one feels a touch harsh as Ibrahimovic was hardly helped by his supporting cast. If ever there was a one man team at the Euros it was Sweden. Lead by their charismatic captain many felt so long as the rest of the Swedish side could supply the bullets Ibrahimovic would fire them to their necessary targets.


In the final group game against Belgium the decorated striker had eight touches in Thibaut Courtois’ box but failed to test the strength of the net like he has done on so many occasions.


Many suspected it would be Ibrahimovic’s last major tournament and he announced that would be the case in the middle of the group stages. To see such a great character of the game end his international career with a whimper may be the biggest diappointment of them all.


  1. Thomas Muller, Germany


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Much like Ronaldo the Bayern Munich attacker has built a rod for his own back in many ways. Five goals in 2014 helped propel Germany to World Cup victory in Brazil. Muller also endured a quiet 2012 tournament too after being joint top goal scorer in the 2010 World Cup with another five goals. The man turns up to play for big international tournaments.


However he has been held goalless so far yet again. The Germans have been their usual efficient selves doing just enough to get through each round. Their attacking play has not been at its fluid best and it has had an effect on Muller.


Often isolated in the wide areas and smothered when coming central it has been left to players such as Mario Gotze, Mario Gomez, Julian Draxler and Mesut Ozil to pick up the slack.


  1. Robert Lewendowski, Poland


    during the UEFA EURO 2016 round of 16 match between Switzerland and Poland at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on June 25, 2016 in Saint-Etienne, France.

It has been a real shame to watch the Poland predator struggle in front of goal like he has done. Lewendowski has worked tirelessly for his team but there is no doubt that he is best when he is facing goalkeepers and making the art of finishing look as easy as one, two, three. The chances have been there for the Munich striker but like many forwards at this years’ European Championship he has struggled for consistency and to find the net.


Portugal will still fear the forward as he is truly world class – perhaps the best out and out striker on the planet. But failing to register a single shot on target in four games  (His cooly dispatched penalty in the shoot-out victory over Switzerland does not count) – bringing his total drought with Poland to over ten hours – is more than disappointing, it is a disaster.


  1. Paul Pogba, France541498868

Speaking of disasters, poor Paul Pogba. The pressure on him heading into this tournament was gargantuan. He is the poster boy for this tournament and has found himself outshone by an inspired Dimitri Payet in the group stages and a rescuing act from Antoine Griezmann against the Republic of Ireland. It could be argued that his biggest affect on France’s Euro 2016 campaign was digging the hole they had to claw their way out of in the Round of 16 after clumsily conceding a penalty.


The Juventus playmaker has shown little touches here and there of what has made him the most sought after player in Europe but it has not been enough. He looks to be a player weighed down by the expectation instead of thriving in the face of it. This tournament is a true acid test of Pogba’s superstardom and if he can be classes as exactly that. Again, there is still time but now over the half was stage of the tournament it has to be said that he has been pretty woeful.


  1. The entire England team


    Joe Hart (ENG), goal, during the UEFA EURO 2016 round of 16 match between England and Iceland at Allianz Riviera Stadium on June 27, 2016 in Nice, France. (Photo by Foto Olimpik/NurPhoto)

We all knew this was going to be number one. What can be said that has not already been uttered about this 23 man wrecking crew. Wrecking our hopes and dreams that is.


Harry Kane looked like he was playing in boots made out of cement. Wayne Rooney – not even the best midfielder in a Manchester United – was deemed England’s most creative midfielder and had a nightmare in the second half against Iceland, Roy Hodgson made some of the most head scratching decisions of any England manager and Joe Hart – oh dear. The man who endorses shampoo certainly lived up to the second syllable in that word.


Nobody expected England to win the tournament but many deemed this to be the best team since we last made a semi final at Euro ’96.


However, much like in Euro 2012 – a fast opening half an hour was ultimaetly met with disappointment. Against Italy in 2012 England started with wave after wave of attack but were ultimately beaten 2-1 by an Azzuri orchestra conducted by the brilliant Andrea Pirlo. “If we play like that we’ll do well.” Said many, sound familiar? It should do because it was the same sentiment after a 1-1 draw against Russia in Marseille.


Many expected Hodgson’s men to kick on and a last gasp Daniel Sturridge winner papered over the cracked that England were simply not ruthless enough and had no tactical plan.


Lacklustre against Slovakia and abject verses Iceland this tournament will go down as one of the greatest disappointments in England’s long and heartbreaking history.

Pogba’s nightmare tournament still has a dream ending


Watching ITV’s half time closing sequence a Paul Pogba caricature looked smooth and sophisticated. Yet some 44 minutes earlier his clumsy clattering of Shane Long had gifted Republic of Ireland a dream start as Robbie Brady dispatched the penalty. The host nation down a goal at half time with the lion share of the blame placed fairly on their talisman’s shoulders.


If Pogba is the poster boy for France and Euro 2016 it would be a black & white one with “WANTED” written directly underneath it. Alas more villain than hero for Didier Deschamps so far. Pogba’s road to true superstardom yet again encountered more road works and diversions. Outshone by Dimitri Payet in the opening game (and the group stages as a whole) prompting his benching for their second group fixture. Rescued by Antoine Griezmann after his gaffe it was the Juventus star that truly had the Luck of the Irish.


All the omens pointed to Pogba lighting the tournament up like those who have gone before him. A Juventus player making a European Championship in his native land his tournament. Peak Michel Platini inspired hosts France to victory in 1984 and Zinedine Zidane was crowned Player of the Tournament at Euro 2000 as he lead the national side to European glory in Rotterdam. Pogba would complete the trifecta or so he would in the eyes of the world.


The narrative seemed to perfect and unfortunately it is proving that sometimes we can’t have nice things. Pogba to his credit did recover well from his ham-fisted challenge against Ireland making a series of quality touches, passes and turns. It was a glimmer of what the boy wonder can do and why he is so lauded in world football. But only a glimmer. The casual fan, the fan who does not follow Serie A so closely is waiting to see what all the fuss about the powerful midfielder is about. Overrated is the diagnosis for the man mentioned in the same breath as Zidane and Platini.

Pogba’s tournament so far has been a classic case of trying too hard. The pressure on him is almost visible. Playing like a man who has literally been wrapped in cotton wool. We have been spun a tale of a player who is a world beater, has the ability and potential to be the greatest midfielder to ever play the game. A man who has the audacity to shave “Pogboom” into the side of his head is the mark of a man who has unshakable belief in himself yet he advances with trepidation – a player who knows Europe expects.


The former Manchester United prospect has been built up to dizzying heights. The favourite to be named player of the tournament before France raised the curtain on this summer’s football festival Pogba has slipped to 16/1 with the bookmakers. His team mate Payet yet again stealing his thunder being the new favouroite at 4/1. But the pain doesn’t stop there. After his quickfire brace against Republic of Ireland Griezmann takes his goal tally to three and is back in the hunt for the Golden Boot and buzz is building around the Atletico Madrid striker that he is peaking at the right moment to propel his country to third European Championship in just over two decades.


Pogba is slipping further down the pecking order for the role of ‘talisman’ in Deschamps’s side. Payet and Griezmann look set to duke it out for that moniker as a potential showdown with England beckons in the last eight.


However narrative is a funny old mistress and a superstar performance against Roy’s boys (should they navigate past Iceland that is) would not only be Sod’s Law in the eyes of England fans but would also catapult Pogba back into iconic status.


England fans have been burned all too often by young superstars in the shape of Cristiano Ronaldo (twice), Thomas Muller and Ronaldinho. While Wayne Rooney and company are all focusing on the task at hand against Iceland the tale turns it’s watchful eye towards a France vs England showdown with Pogba set to finally break free of his shackles.


They do say after laughter comes tears. We may be mocking Pogba’s hellish tournament thus far but he may still be the one to capture, then break, our hearts.

Vardy & Payet are redefining a player’s peak


As Dimitri Payet shed tears of joy while making his way off the Stade de France turf it was a stark reminder of how hard he has worked to get into the 23-man France squad and how we are now witnessing his best years – at age 29.


The West Ham wizard may overshadow what is meant to be the tournament fellow Frenchman Paul Pogba – a player who in the next two to three years we expect to see at his peak.


The same is true of Jamie Vardy. a meteoric rise from non-league football to being the centre of social media outcry as Roy Hodgson chose to leave the record breaking striker on the bench.


At 29 Vardy hit his peak with authority last season helping propel Leicester City to their fairytale Premier League crown.


In society as we know it the physical peak of a human body is anywhere between late 20’s to early 30’s. But in the bubble of football, the pinnacle of a player is often between 25 and 28. A very short lived peak when you will be theoretically at your most productive.


A Marsille misfit and Stocksbridge sleeper – a their paths to the mountain top have taken very different but equally rocky roads. Vardy had to fight from non-league obscurity and Payet, while his talent was never in question his attitude was. As the saying goes: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”. Never before has this phrase been more apt when discussing both players yet for entirely different reasons.

Vardy’s willingness to run himself into the ground – like a dog chasing a ball in the park is what endeared him to Claudio Ranieri – his clinical finishing came as a by-product of the hard work and confidence instilled into him. He found himself in the perfect situation and flourished. That is always the key to a player discovering their very best form.


Perhaps we have seen the very best of Vardy. It would be hard to top what was a staggering season from The Foxes front man – breaking a scoring record, scoring 24 goals and lifting the Premier League crown.


The peak of his career may still be to come at the European Championships but his peak form may have already been reached. 29 is so often the age where players start to slowly slide down the glass mountain – a lot of mountain analogies here – even Cristiano Ronaldo is having to adapt his game as his years advance and Wayne Rooney has gone from forward to midfielder in the last couple of seasons.


Yet Vardy and Payet have broken that mould and are playing with all the confidence and creativity of a player five or six years their junior – no fear. And what would they have to fear? Vardy came from nothing and Payet saw his undoubted talent imprisoned by his lack of application.


Where the two differ perhaps is where they go from here. Leicester’s season was a once in a generation type year. There can only be a drop off from this point. Whereas we feel we are only seeing the start of what the French playmaker can really do.


In years gone by we have been used to watching players at their peak at 25,26,27. Expecting their best years and great things. Perhaps we put too much stock into age as so often it does not equate to maturity.


Both Vardy and Payet will not turn 30 until early 2017, January and March respectively, but you are only as old as you feel as they say. Maybe 30 will be the new 25.