Premier League 2017/18 Preview – Manchester United

Man united

Image: BBC.co.uk

Last season was a bit strange for Manchester United, as they seemed to underperform but still came out of the season with two trophies and a place in this year’s Champions League. Jose Mourinho has taken his squad and strengthened through the spine. Victor Lindelof has come in from Benfica, and the highly-rated centre-back, who can also deputise at right-back, should form a solid partnership with one of last season’s stand outs, Eric Bailly. After the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, United needed a statement signing up front. Romelu Lukaku is a goal-scorer and will easily hit 20 goals this season, but his streakiness at Everton maybe a slight worry for United fans. Despite his goal in the European Super Cup, the Belgian did miss a couple of sitters. However, the morale effect of signing Lukaku ahead of title rivals Chelsea could be even bigger than his on-field impact. United’s signing of Nemanja Matic from Chelsea could be one of the best signings of the summer. Although the defensive midfielder is not one of the most glamourous signings, his presence in midfield will allow Paul Pogba to roam more freely, instead of being bogged down having to focus on the defensive work. A midfield trio of Matic, Pogba and Herrera will get the best out of all three, with Pogba occupying a role similar to the one that he starred in for Juventus. United’s side is beginning to look like a title-challenging squad, but there is still some concerns that Antonio Valencia is their best option at right-back, whilst their plan B of hitting it long to Fellaini is also cause for concern given the presence of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford in the squad. As mentioned in my preview for Manchester City, the Manchester derby in early April will be a key game in determining the final position of both sides, and in United’s case could be the determining factor between mounting a title challenge and settling for a top four finish.

Key Player: Paul Pogba. The Frenchman had an okay first season back at Old Trafford, performing well but just lacking that bit of luck. Only Kevin de Bruyne struck the woodwork more often than Pogba last season, whilst only Jordan Henderson averaged more passes per game. With the addition of Matic, Pogba will be free to focus more on the offensive side of his game, which will inevitably lead to a rise in both goals and assists. There will also be less of a spotlight on the midfielder after the arrival of Romelu Lukaku, as he did suffer from close scrutiny and unrealistic expectations due to his then world record transfer fee.

One to Watch: Axel Tuanzebe. The centre-back made his debut back in January in the FA Cup win over Wigan, and went on to appear in five games last season. He was awarded United’s Young Player of the Year award in 2015, as well as the 2017 Reserve Player of the Year award, and now looks ready to step up and make more of an impact on the first team. With fellow youngster Timothy Fosu-Mensah heading out on loan this season, Tuanzebe remaining at Old Trafford indicates that he will feature more often.

Last Season: 6th

Predicted Finish: 3rd

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European Finals To Be Available Free

BT have announced today that both the Champions League and Europa League finals will be free to watch on TV, online and on YouTube. This follows suit from last year, where this was also the case.

UCL_Final

Image: WalesOnline

The Europa League final will be broadcast from 7pm on Wednesday 24th May, and will feature the clash between Manchester United and Ajax. The Champions League final will be played in Cardiff on Saturday 3rd June, and will feature European heavyweights Real Madrid and Juventus. Coverage of the final will start at 6pm.

Both games are available on YouTube (YouTube.com/BTSport), on the BT Sport app, online at BTSport.com and on the BT Sport Showcase HD TV channel, and are available completely free.

Saints cruise to victory in European return

Ronald Koeman made his intentions known as he named a strong side

Ronald Koeman made his intentions known as he named a strong side

Southampton 3-0 Vitesse 

Pelle 36

Tadic (pen) 45

Long 84

Attendance: 30,850


Southampton effectively secured their place in the Europa League play-off round with a comfortable 3-0 first leg victory over Vitesse Arnhem. Graziano Pelle, Dusan Tadic and Shane Long got the goals to ensure the hosts won their first European game since 2003.

Ronald Koeman’s line-up suggested that the Saints will take this competition seriously as he named a pretty much full strength team, however there was no space in the squad for Jay Rodriguez. The visitors named a youthful side with an average age of 23, which included three of their four Chelsea loanees.

Dusan Tadic sends the Vitesse keeper the wrong way from the spot

Dusan Tadic sends the Vitesse keeper the wrong way from the spot

Vitesse had the game’ first real opportunity, as Saints failed to deal with a ball forward but Kazaishvili dragged his shot wide. But Southampton grew in to the game, soon asserting their dominance over the visitors. Maya Yoshida and Victor Wanyama both spurned chances from corners before Pelle eventually opened the scoring.

New signing Cedric Soares played Dusan Tadic down the wing, who in turn found Sadio Mane. Mane played a tidy through ball to the Italian, who rifled a shot into the roof of the net. Southampton doubled their lead on the stroke of half time with Dusan Tadic converting a penalty. Sadio Mane was again involved, collecting a short corner and was barged off the ball as he drove in to the Vitesse box. Tadic stepped up and coolly slotted in to the bottom left corner, sending the keeper the wrong way.

The second half was more like a friendly, with both sides seemingly content with the result. Débutante Jordy Classie limped off with a hamstring injury on the hour mark and now looks a doubt for the Premier League opening fixture. After being ineffective for most of the match, Vitesse threatened to score an important away goal, with substitute Pantic forcing Stekelenberg in to a fine low save. A Lewis Baker free-kick wasn’t properly cleared by Southampton, but Rashica could only fire over from the edge of the box.

Shane Long's third goal effectively seals the Saints' place in the Play-Off round

Shane Long’s third goal effectively sealed the Saints’ place in the Play-Off round

But Shane Long completed the scoring late on, intercepting a loose pass on halfway and bursting through. Vitesse keeper Room did well to prevent Long from rounding him, but was powerless as Juanmi picked up the rebound and chipped back to the Irishman, who headed in to the empty net from six yards.

The scoreline perhaps flattered Southampton, who weren’t at their best, but their first half performance will give fans cause for optimism for the coming season. Classie’s injury and Mane being moved out wide left the team looking less fluid going forward, but that shouldn’t be an issue for the second leg, where Ronald Koeman can possibly afford to make a few changes.


Saints: Stekelenburg 7; Soares 8, Fonte 7, Yoshida 6, Targett 7; Wanyama 7, Classie 7 (Juanmi, 61, 7); Tadic 8 (Long, 61, 7), Mane 8 (Reed, 85), Davis 7; Pelle 7

Unused: Gazzaniga, Martina, McCarthy, Ward-Prowse

Vitesse: Room; Diks (Lelieveld, 90+2), Kashia, Leerdam, Achenteh; Baker, Nakamba, Qazaishvili (Pantic, 67), Brown; Djurdjevic (Rashica, 61) Oliynyk

Unused: Van der Werff, Dauda, Velthuizen, Osman