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Transfer Grade: Harry Maguire to Mancester United for Record £80 Million ($100M USD) – UPDATE

Chops July 14, 2019

UPDATE: Cool your jets. This deal is now reportedly not done. We’ll update the post as more information comes.

The Deal

Who: Harry Maguire
From Where: Leicester City
To Where: Manchester United
For How Much: £80 million (reportedly £60 up-front with £20 add-ons)
Grade for Leicester City: C+
Grade for Manchester United: B-

Harry Maguire to Manchester United Overview

Is Harry Maguire the best center-back in the world?

Because, according to The Sun, he was just paid like it.

Manchester United continue their off-season rebuild today but nabbing Leicester City center-back Maguire. They out-bid…City? Bueller? Bueller? for his services.

Regardless, assuming he passes his medical on Monday, he’ll be playing at Old Trafford next month.

This is a tough one to grade for many reasons. Let’s just dive into it.

Who is he?

Maguire, 26, is a highly-regarded English national player and anchor in the back for Leicester City.

After coming up through Sheffield United as a youth, Maguire went to Hull City in 2014. Hull did something right in identifying defensive talent that year, as Maguire was signed with the world’s best left-back Andy Robertson (seriously, who was Hull’s lead scout there? 👏👏👏).

Seriously wtf

Maguire came to Leicester in 2017. He was a standout for England in the 2018 World Cup. He’s now the most expensive center-back in the world.

Is the price fair?

Frankly, no.

United (reportedly) paid almost double his transfermarkt value (listed at £45m last month). While it seems like *everyone’s* value is inflated this transfer period, of the notable transactions, Maguire has the biggest disparity.

Yes, there’s the potential caveat around the conditions of those add-ons. Let’s assume they will be paid.

If that’s the case, how does Maguire compare to Virgil van Dijk? VVD is the best center-back in the Premier League at worst, and the top #4 in the world at best. Just 18 months ago, Liverpool paid a then record fee of £75m for him.

He was worth every penny.

Maguire is great. He is not VVD.

WhoScored is not the end-all-be-all but here’s a look at how Maguire compares to VVD:

  • VVD has a significantly higher ’18-19 overall rating than Maguire in the Premier League (7.44 to 7.01).
  • VVD is more durable (38 domestic games to 31).
  • VVD is more prolific using his massive noggin for goals (4 to 3). He also chipped in two assists to Maguire’s 0.
  • VVD is a more accurate passer.

Sure, nobody is actually debating if Maguire is better than VVD. He’s not. But at that price–he should be in the same relative universe. He’s not.

Having said all of that…VVD has shown how transformative a world-class center-back can be. He won the PFA Player of the Year last year. Maguire isn’t going to repeat that feat, but he’s going to help. More on that in the next section.

Back to the price, the only other club with reported interest in Maguire was Manchester City. If that’s the case, who was United bidding against? The price is too high given his (albeit solid) output.

In one summer, United made world record transfers for right-back in Aaron Wan-Bissaka and center-back in Harry Maguire. Neither are the best in the Premier League at their respective positions.

And they paid around £130 million for them.

This has to work. If United make the top 4 and qualify for the Champions League, fans of the Red Devils (and United’s board) won’t care. If they miss out…there will be blood.

What impact should we expect?

Manchester United finished sixth last campaign. They gave up 54 goals (and that’s with David de Gea between the sticks!).

Those 54 goals are 10 more than City and Liverpool combined. It’s also more than any of the other Big 6 last year. It’s more than the 7th-9th placed teams: Wolves (46), Everton (46) and Leicester (48).

So yes, along with Aaron Wan-Bissaka, United’s defense will improve. It can’t get much worse.

Maguire will help both defending and attacking set pieces as well.

However, United were already the best at winning aerial duels in the Premier League last season. So that wasn’t necessarily an area of needed improvement.

2018-19 Aerial Duels Won

United also had a reported £100m summer transfer budget. If that is true, then Maguire’s arrival would almost certainly signal Romelu Lukaku’s departure. While Lukaku has been much-maligned, he found the net 12 times last season. United will lose some offensive fire-power as a trade off.

The Grades

This one is tricky to grade. I almost went with two Incompletes until seeing what other moves United and Leicester make before the summer transfer period closes.

But in a vacuum:

Manchester United (B-): Did United get a proven player in his prime? Yes. Will Maguire help stabilize United’s leaky defense? Yes. Was United bidding against anyone else? Not really. Did they pay too much? Yes. Will it matter if they sneak into the top 4? No.

If they don’t end up paying the add-ons, I reserve the right to raise this to a B+.

Leicester City (C+): For Leicester, this is complicated.

There was noise about Maguire wanting out of Leicester. Ok, that’s a fair reason to move him if true. Here’s the thing though: are we so sure that Leicester wouldn’t have been better than United this year if Maguire stayed?

Leicester ended 2019 strong, closing the year right behind Liverpool and Manchester City in form. As we’ll write in our Premier League previews, this is the year someone will displace a Big 6 club for European qualification. Leicester was our most likely candidate to do so. There’s still time to re-invest that money. For fans of the Foxes, I hope they do.

If they don’t, they just handed their likely biggest obstacle to a top 6 finish their best player.

Still, £80 is more than they’d receive in any scenario save making a finals run in the Champions League. They did well to extract maximum value with only one team making a serious bid.

Transfer Grade: Manchester United Land Aaron Wan-Bissaka for £50 Million ($63M USD)

Chops June 27, 2019

Who: Aaron Wan-Bissaka
From Where: Crystal Palace
To Where: Manchester United
For How Much: £50m
Grade for Manchester United: A-
Grade for Crystal Palace: B-

Aaron Wan-Bissaka to Manchester United Overview

Manchester United march on with their summer overhaul as they’re set to make their second signing: Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

AWB has been linked to Man U for a couple of months. United’s backline was anywhere from bad to atrocious in 2018-19. Targeting defensive support was a top off-season priority. Man U land one of the more talented and well-regarded defenders on the market.

With AWB and the Daniel James signing, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer continues reshapings his squad younger and potentially more dynamic.

Who is he?

Aaron Wan-Bissaka, 21, is regarded as one of the top young right backs in England.

Called up to Crystal Palace’s first team in 2017-18 (7 appearances), he made 35 EPL appearances last campaign. His WhoScore rating places his in Trent Alexander-Arnold territory, although for completely different reasons.

Where TAA is an offensive fulcrum who led Liverpool in assists last year, AWB is a defensive force. He excels at tackling, intercepting, and blocking and rarely makes mistakes. At 6’0, he’s strong on aerials too.

He’s got room though to grow into more a TAA player too. Wan-Bissaka is an excellent dribbler / penetrator, but is a poor at passing / crossing. His 73% pass success rate has room for improvement. If his passing improves (he had just 3 assists last campaign), he can jump-start counters with penetrating dribbles into the attacking third.

Is the price fair?

At first, it felt like a “Manchester United tax” was assessed here. Wan-Bissaka has just over 40 top flight domestic caps to his credit. He’s a right back. That’s a steep price.

However, United didn’t really overpay that much given the current market. Initial reports pegged the deal at £55m. New reports suggest the deal is closer to £50m with only £45m up front. Transfermarkt lists AWB’s value at £35m. It’s an over-pay, yes. But it’s not horrible.

Assuming Wan-Bissaka continues to perform at a high-level defensively and improves his servicing on through-balls and crosses, this is a great price. He’s 21. He’ll improve.

Ultimately, United get a top 4 EPL right-back before he hits his prime. That’s a smart investment.

What impact should we expect?

Without question, AWB is one of the top young players on the transfer market.

Wan-Bissaka is an immediate upgrade defensively over an out-of-position Ashley Young or Matteo Darmian. Yes, United need a capable center-back as well. But Rome wasn’t built in a day.

While United will see immediate defensive improvements on the right side, they’d be wise to invest in AWB’s offensive development. He’s a skilled penetrator, and gradual progress on his servicing will eventually aid the attack. If OGS wants to build more from the back, AWB is a piece that will serve that goal.

If Man U don’t sell Romelu Lukaku or Paul Pogba, this deal means they only have another £35m-ish to spend. So make no mistake, Wan-Bissaka needs to make an immediate impact. He’s nearly half the budget.

The Grades

Still, we give Man U an “A-” for the deal. For the price, it would’ve been wiser to have targeted a center-back who could steady the whole defense. However, they landed one of England’s top transfer targets and didn’t overspend for him. If you’re a United fan, you have to be encouraged with OGS’ purchases so far. He’s going young. He’s going for players who remind him of teammates from Man U’s glory years.

For Crystal Palace, the “B-” is for not leveraging Manchester United’s desperation to land young building blocks for an extra £5-10m. Could they have struck a deal for, say, £35m, but getting a loan back for one more year of his service? United wasn’t coming at this from a position of strength. They could’ve gotten more.

2019-20 Premier League Schedule: Six Takeaways for the Big Six, Plus a Seventh for Wolverhampton

Chops June 14, 2019

The 2019-20 Premier League schedule has been released.

While all teams play each other home and away, not all schedules are created equal. Here are six takeaways for the Big 6 clubs, plus a bonus seventh for Wolverhampton.

Also read: 2019-20 Premier League title odds.

1. Are Manchester City paying off the schedule makers too?

Manchester City, who are under FFP investigations by UEFA and the Premier League, have somehow come away with arguably the most favorable schedule of the Big 6.

Of their first 12 fixtures, the only Big 6 team they play away is a November 9th match at Anfield against Liverpool.

While their December has them away at Arsenal and Wolverhampton, their four game January is against relegation candidates (Aston Villa, Norwich) or mid-tablers (Leicester, Everton).

While Liverpool’s final month includes Arsenal and Chelsea, City close out the season against Southampton -> Newcastle -> Brighton -> Bournemouth -> Watford -> Norwich.

FFS.

2. We’ll know if Liverpool will challenge City by November 9th.

Liverpool host City at Anfield on November 9th. They’ll have played all of the other Big 6 teams by then. If they only drop 4-6 points at the end of that initial stretch, they’ll be set up well to challenge City the rest of the campaign.

3. Tottenham’s schedule is well-balanced and they’ll probably finish third even if they don’t buy anyone else again.

I’ve often described Spurs as the “vanilla ice cream” of the EPL. They’re perfectly inoffensive, occasionally you enjoy it, but it’s never finishing first in a taste test.

Spurs schedule is set up in a way where heavy rotation will not be required. No brutal stretches. They’ll grind out a perfectly inoffensive third place finish again.

4. Arsenal catches a break around the holidays.

December in the Premier League is nuts, with each team playing 6 domestic games plus whatever Cups they’re competing in. PLUS they play a seventh game on January 1st.

Arsenal gets its three most challenging December-January games (City, Chelsea, and Manchester United) at home. That may be the break they need to earn a top 4 spot.

5. Chelsea’s first match is actually really important.

I’m not big on Chelsea or Manchester United this campaign.

Chelsea lost the Premier League’s best overall player when Eden Hazard went to Real Madrid.

They’re losing a volatile yet effective coach.

They’re under a transfer ban.

Their organization is unstable af in general.

Chelsea is moving in the wrong direction.

So their opening match at Manchester United matters. They’ll need all of the points they can get–and an away win buys them some Europa League top 6 cushion.

6. Manchester United is going to struggle to stay in the top 6.

United start the season with Chelsea, but get them at home. See above. That game is a big one for them.

Especially because they travel to Wolverhampton the next week. That will likely be a loss, and dropping 6 points your first two weeks is a rough way to start the season (more so when you’re Manchester United).

The good news for United is only City have a more cupcake ending to the season. If United can do the exact opposite of this year and actually end the campaign strong, they could maybe, just maybe, play some more Europa League football in 2020.

7. Wolverhampton is knocking someone out of the top 6 and maybe even top 4.

This year is set up for someone to crash the Big 6 party.

Chelsea is a mess.

United is in transition and also a mess.

Arsenal may improve…but they need to buy some players for Unai Emery.

While Tottenham is likely safe…if they lose Christian Eriksen and still don’t buy anyone, their top 4 spot may not be a given.

Wolves have a tough December, with Arsenal and City at home and an away match at Anfield.

However, their March, April and May is about as forgiving as you could hope if you’re making a run for European football. They end the year away at Chelsea, but before that, their only major challenge is a home match with Arsenal.

If anyone crashes the party, Wolves are set up to do it.

Transfer Grade: Manchester United Sign Daniel James for £15m

Chops June 7, 2019

Who: Daniel James
From Where: Swansea
To Where: Manchester United
For How Much: £15M
Grade for Manchester United: B
Grade for Swansea: B+

Daniel James to Manchester United Overview

Of all of the moves Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was speculated to make under his first transfer period with Manchester United, this, uh, wasn’t one of them.

That doesn’t mean that this isn’t the type of move OGS should be making.

Getting a talented young winger at a low cost, in fact, is the exact opposite kind of move that Man U has been making in recent years.

If this is a trend on how OGS plans to rebuild Man U, this is a positive first step.

Who is he?

Daniel James, 21, showed promise in the Championship for Swansea this year.

In 38 total appearances across all competitions, James scored five goals and added 10 assists. He particularly shined in the FA Cup against Brentford and Manchester City. He had the fourth highest WhoScored rating for Swansea this year.

The speedy Welsh winger cooled off some later in 2019 (in part due to injury). Regardless, rumored top-flight interest had been bouncing around all year.

James began his youth career at Shrewsbury Town before coming to Swansea. He’s made two national team appearances for Wales, scoring once.

The connection of James to United is also easy to follow. James plays for the Welsh national team under Man U legend, and former OGS teammate, Ryan Giggs. No doubt Giggs’ opinion weighed heavily on OGS’ decision.

Is the price fair?

From a pricing perspective, this is a solid deal for both Swansea and Manchester United.

In February, Transfermarkt pegged James’ value around $3.42M USD. He sold for approximately $19M USD. That’s a good price for Swansea.

Given how clubs are getting smarter on how they’re spending money–and locking players into deals so they benefit from their prime years–
£15M / $19M on a five year deal ensures United see the best to come from James. If he turns out to be a top flight producer, he’ll still be young enough to lock into a second deal that will see him through his prime.

What impact should we expect?

This is harder to figure out, at least in the short-term.

Does this mean United is considering shipping out Romelu Lukaku as has been rumored? Does this mean Man U is considering a full on clearing of the decks and reboot with a youth movement?

It’ll be easier to weigh James’ impact once we know more about the above two questions (particularly the Lukaku one). However, as more of a facilitator then technical finisher, James could provide a boost to the productivity of United gem Marcus Rashford. He just won’t replace the goals Lukaku (in theory should’ve) produced.

The only minor knock I can make on this deal is: if United are looking for more scoring upside, the player with the highest WhoScored rating for Swansea this year was forward Oliver McBurnie. The Scot tallied 22 Championship goals this year to James’ four. His market value of $5.7M isn’t far from James, and McBurnie is just approaching his prime at 23 years of age.

While the move is a great first step by Manchester United of moving away from their bad habits, it just might not have been the right Swansea player. For that reason they get a B instead of an A.

Did Manchester City Just Win the Premier League Title by Defeating Manchester United 2-0?

High Press 10 April 24, 2019

The first 45 minutes were competitive.

The final 45 minutes were not.

Manchester City defeated Manchester United 2-0 in a game that likely decided the Premier League title race.

Bernardo Silva put City ahead 1-0 in the 54th minute thanks to some poor defending by Luke Shaw and worse positioning by David de Gea. Leroy Sane, who came on as a substitute for Fernandinho , iced the game in the 66th.

These two teams are light-years apart on talent. This will be a busy summer transfer period for United if they want to get back to elite levels again. They need help all over the pitch, particularly on the backline. United have given up 50 goals in a domestic season for the first time in 40 years.

Manchester City odds to win Premier League

Over on FanDuel Sportsbook NJ, City are now priced at -390 to Liverpool’s +240. This was City’s supposed hardest remaining game (if you’ve watched Man U lately though, maybe not so much).

City next play a scrappy Burnley team away on Sunday. Despite being home and in decent form, Burnley is a +1500 underdog to City’s -750 (draw is +700) on FanDuel Sportsbook NJ.

The following week City play Leicester City at the Etihad. They’re -950 to win. Leicester is a whopping +2000 (draw is +800).

While this epic title race is not over yet–the fat lady is warming up her vocal chords. FiveThirtyEight has boosted their probability from 59% to 73%.

Thanks to Arsenal’s dismal 1-3 defeat to Wolves, the loss doesn’t change United’s UCL prospects at all. They’re on the outside looking in, but could give themselves a small shot by defeating Chelsea this weekend.

There’s Around 36 Million Reasons Why Manchester United Will Try to Beat Manchester City Today (UPDATE)

Chops April 24, 2019

One of the genuinely stupidest hot takes over the past week is that Manchester UnitedLiverpool‘s hated rival–will not try to beat Manchester City today in their critical derby.

The thinking goes: newly appointed full-time United manager,
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, is from the old school. United hate Liverpool more than anyone, including cross-town rival Manchester City. OGS and the fans would rather see City win this year’s Premier League title instead of Liverpool. Hatred bleeds red.

Dumb.

There are millions upon millions of reason to win

Manchester United is a publicly traded company (NYSE: MANU). They are among the most–if not the most–bottomline orientated club in the world.

A UEFA Champions League appearance nets them guaranteed income. This year, it was just north of $36M USD. Each round they advance, that number goes up.

Last year, Liverpool earned £72m from reaching the Champions League final, helping them achieve record profits for a soccer club.

If Man U don’t win today against City, they almost assuredly won’t be in next year’s UCL, losing out on that revenue.

Let’s set aside the fact that the actual players on the team would much prefer playing in the Champions League trophies than Europa League crowns (which they would). And let’s set aside that it’s more appealing to transfer targets when you’re pitching UCL play over Europa (it is).

As a public company, Manchester United have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize their earning potential. They simply cannot lose a game intentionally that could cost them tens of millions of dollars because of bloody Liverpool.

If Manchester United get pounded today, it’ll have a lot more to do with their recent form and the overall quality of City than because of a heated rivalry.

UPDATE 04/25/19: Whatever. They got pounded. The heralded Class of ’92 probably wouldn’t beat this City squad.

Chelsea Draw Burnley 2-2, So Again, Does Anyone Want Those Final UCL Spots?

High Press 10 April 22, 2019

Two UEFA Champions League spots up for grabs. Four teams competing for those final two spots.

Not one of those four teams won their game this matchweek.

Chelsea was the latest to crap the proverbial bed, tying Burnley (at Stamford Bridge!) 2-2. They clearly felt the pressure, with a bit of a meltdown and mini-melee with Burnley at the end where Maurizio Sarri was actually sent off.

The point does move Chelsea into fourth, tied on points with Tottenham (who have a game in hand) but behind on goal differential.

Top 4 Probabilities and Odds

BetStars NJ quickly updated top 4 futures, now dropping Chelsea and bumping up Arsenal.

Tottenham -800Arsenal -188
Chelsea +130Manchester United +400

Interestingly, United jumped from +700 to +400.

Arsenal improved their UCL probability 54% to 66%.

Chelsea’s draw though gives Manchester United a glimmer of hope for a top 4 finish.

Of course for that to happen, United have to beat City on Wednesday. Public money is coming in on City, as they’ve moved from +550 to +600 on
 FanDuel Sportsbook NJ over the past 24 hours. Expect a spirited performance from United though after being depants by Everton on Sunday.

If nothing else, it’ll be an interesting final few weeks.

Do Any Premier League Teams Other than Liverpool and Manchester City Want to Qualify for the UEFA Champions League?

Chops April 22, 2019

While Liverpool and Manchester City slug it out in an epic Premier League title race for the ages…

…the battle for the two other remaining Champions League spots remain very up for grabs. Three of the four teams vying for those spots–Tottenham, Arsenal, and Manchester United–lost this weekend. The fourth, Chelsea, play Burnley at home on Monday.

Where the Premier League title race stands with a month remaining

Liverpool or Man City will win the Premier League title, that’s assured. With Liverpool’s 2-0 defeat of Cardiff on Sunday, the Reds sit atop the table with 88 points. Those 88 points would’ve be good enough to win the title 14 times in 26 Premier League seasons to date.

If Liverpool win out, their 97 points would be second best all time…to Manchester City’s 100 last season.

Manchester City have a game in hand and currently sit at 86 points. Their toughest remaining game is this Wednesday’s derby away at Manchester United. After Man U got drubbed by Everton on Sunday, how tough a match will it actually be?

Oddsmakers don’t think it’ll be much of a battle. FanDuel Sportsbook NJ lists United, at home, as an underdog at +550. City is favored at -230. A draw is +390.

FiveThirtyEight probabilities are even starker for United, giving them only a meager 15% shot at victory and 20% at a draw.

If City defeat United on Wednesday, the Premier League title is almost assuredly theirs. However, if they’ drop any points at all, even a draw–then Liverpool could win out their remaining 3 games and claim their first ever Premier League title.

Oddsmakers view City as favorites with a month remaining. FanDuel Sportsbook NJ futures have City priced at +180 to Liverpool’s +125.

Where the Premier League UCL race stands with a month remaining

Now about that “battle” for Champions League qualification…

A Chelsea win over Burnley on Monday moves them into third with 69 points (Tottenham, Arsenal, and Manchester United will have a game in hand). Arsenal losing to Crystal Palace 3-2 and United getting pummeled 4-0 by Everton on Sunday put a major dent in both of their UCL hopes.

Tottenham deservedly sit in the driver’s seat. From there it gets more complicated.

Two of Arsenal’s remaining three games are on the road (against Wolves and Leicester City). Arsenal sucks on the road this season.

Chelsea also play two of their remaining three on the road–except their games are harder overall (at United and Leicester).

If Man U somehow pull out a win against City on Wednesday, they’ll be back in the UCL conversation. A loss or even a draw and they’re almost certainly looking at the Europa League next season.

Leicester have the chance to be the biggest spoiler of any team in the Premier League, closing their season home vs Arsenal, away vs City, and home vs Chelsea.

BetStars NJ agrees with FiveThirtyEight probabilities. Tottenham is -800 for a top 4 finish. From there, Chelsea (-110) and Chelsea (-110) follow, with Manchester United much longer (+700).

This weekend provided no new clarity. That muddled picture is assured to change over the next 7 days.

Barcelona Manhandle Manchester United; Ajax Stuns Juventus to Advance to Champions League Semifinals

High Press 10 April 16, 2019

One game was over almost as soon as it began. The other was one of the best games of the 2019 UEFA Champions League to date.

Lionel Messi proved once again he is not human, scoring a stunner in the 16th minute (and a brace after an uncharacteristic David de Gea howler in the 20th) to lead Barcelona to a 3-0 win over Manchester United. They advance 4-0 on aggregate.

Barca will face the winner of LiverpoolPorto in the Champions League semifinals.

Ajax does it again

On the other side of the bracket, Ajax and Juventus played an open, attacking, thrilling game. Cristiano Ronaldo put Juve up first with a smashing header.

After that, Ajax stepped it up. The youngsters were constantly on the attack. Donny van de Beek leveled the game six minutes after Ronaldo’s header in the 34th. In the second half, Matthijs de Ligt headed home the winner in the 67th minute.

Some controversy at the end over a disputed Ajax handball likely wouldn’t have made a difference due to away goals, anyway. It did give the Italians something to act overly dramatic about though.

Regardless, this was an even affair. Possession, shots, and shots on target were basically even. What a game.

Ajax advance 3-2 on aggregate. They await the winner of Tottenham vs Manchester City.

Previewing the Manchester United-Barcelona Champions League Quarterfinal Match-Up

Tyler Everett April 9, 2019

Ahead of the BarcelonaMan United Champions League quarterfinal first leg Wednesday at Old Trafford, here’s a look at what both teams need to do to win, as well as the key players to watch.

Barcelona will win if …

It avoids crucial injuries. Man U is talented, but was lucky to beat a PSG team that was missing Neymar in the Round of 16. Barcelona is much deeper and more balanced than the Parisian club, and it’s going to show. As long as Barça’s top players are fit, I expect a fairly one-sided affair.

Lionel Messi (who somehow keeps getting better with age) and Luis Suárez have dominated the headlines in recent weeks, but their team also lacks any clear weakness. In addition to the Argentine and the Uruguayan up top – who have combined for an absurd 14 goals in Barcelona’s last six matches – Barça is stout defensively. Gerard Piqué and Marc-André ter Stegen, among others, have been excellent all season in big games. Yes, there have been hiccups like last week’s 4-4 draw against Villarreal — when Barcelona was by no means playing its best XI. But the Catalans have been tough to crack when it matters. They allowed a total of one goal in the two round of 16 matches against Lyon and in three recent games against Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid, they were not scored on.

Man U will win if …

They score quickly on Wednesday and David de Gea has a performance for the ages. It’s going to take several players turning in incredible efforts for the Red Devils to pull this off, but the most likely scenario for an upset involves an early goal followed by the Spaniard doing something unforgettable (something he is certainly capable of doing). Man U does not lack for dynamic weapons who can create chances. Those players’ fresh legs – their last game was April 2, while Barcelona is coming off a physical battle with Atleti on Saturday – could allow the Red Devils to strike first at Old Trafford.

The EPL club has not, however, been sound enough defensively – and honestly, who has been, considering Barcelona’s form? – for me to expect them to stifle Messi and Co. That means they’ll need de Gea’s A-plus game. We saw in Man U’s upset of PSG that if they keep things close, anything could happen in the closing minutes. Could they get another fortunate bounce at the right time to make an improbable appearance in the UCL semifinals?

Barcelona’s most important player and secret weapon are Lionel Messi and Philippe Coutinho, respectively.

The case for Messi as the most important player on the pitch goes without saying at this point.

There are plenty of candidates when thinking about the X-factor for Barcelona, but why not the former Liverpool star? With Ousmane Dembélé sidelined due to injury, Coutinho has started his team’s last three games in place of the Frenchman. To this point, Coutinho hasn’t presented Ernesto Valverde with a conundrum – when Dembélé is available, he’ll be right back in the starting lineup – but he should have a massive opportunity on Wednesday (as long as Dembélé remains out). At this point, Barcelona’s opponents should sell out to limit Messi and Suárez, which should mean space for the Brazilian. Can he capitalize?

Man U’s most important player and secret weapon are Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku, respectively.

Pogba has to play smarter than he did in the first leg against PSG, when he got himself suspended for the return leg in Paris. We saw last summer during the World Cup that at his best, he’s one of the most dangerous players in the world. This season, he’s been credited as a big reason for his team’s turnaround under OGS. Barcelona’s midfielders and defenders are skilled but are not blessed with the same physical tools as Pogba. If he’s able to take over the game and facilitate for Lukaku and Co. — while occasionally threatening Barcelona’s back line himself — Man U may have a shot after all.

Most fans came away from this team’s comeback win in Paris fixated on the French club’s mistakes, the call that resulted in a spot-kick for Marcus Rashford and the Englishman’s subsequent game-winner. But it was Lukaku who got his team a 2-1 lead with some opportunistic finishes in the early going. Like Pogba, Lukaku has the raw physical ability to give even a well-organized defensive team like Barcelona problems.

Latest Manchester United vs Barcelona Odds

Manchester United +280Draw +250Barcelona -105

Odds are from FanDuel Sportsbook NJ

Also Read: Champions League Quarterfinal Predictions

Let’s Go Shopping: Manchester United Summer Transfer Edition

Chops April 9, 2019

With the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as permanent manager, Manchester United have an interesting and active summer ahead.

Solskjaer will reportedly have £158 million to spend. Math math math…that’s a lot! Will he spend it wisely? Sacked boss Jose Mourinho spent £362 million on 11 players, and outside of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and maybe (maaaaybe) Romelu Lukaku, he saw little return on that investment.

What does United need? What kind of players fit Solskjaer’s system? Does whether or not Man U qualify for the Champions League change the calculus on anything? Let’s explore in our latest edition of Let’s Go Shopping.

Who’s Out?

Chops: Before jumping in with who the Red Devils will splurge on and likely overpay for minimal return this summer, who is likely to leave Old Trafford? Marouane Fellaini and his hair are already off to China. Paul Pogba is fanning smoke signals towards Madrid. Marcus Rashford has callers lining up. Is anyone of note out the door? Who is most likely to bounce?

Katya Gokhman: Although a lot of talk has been about Pogba leaving to Madrid, I have a feeling that won’t be the case. Pogba seems to love the spotlight and being the superstar out on the field — not sure he would get the attention he wants at Real considering how many other superstars they have and are about to have. With this being said, it sounds like OGS is happy with Pogba and may possibly try to build the team around him. With such an enticing offer on the table, I think Pogba will be happy to stay and see what happens. The other big question mark is Marcus Rashford. Barcelona are after him and who can say no to playing alongside Messi at the club that seems to currently be back “en fuego.” However, Rashford is an English lad and United is his childhood club – I think with some convincing from OGS and flashing of some extra cash, Rashford will be persuaded to stay.

Alexis Sanchez will surely be gone as soon as he gets a reasonable offer.  However, I’m not sure how simple or how soon that that will be considering the ridiculous amount of money he makes at Manchester United (around 500,000 pounds a week). I’m sure that he’s ready to go and I think he’s made peace with the fact that it just didn’t work out for him at Manchester United but he’s also not stupid. He won’t leave that easily while making that much money.

Tyler Everett: I promise I won’t just say that every big star, and especially the French ones, will join Zidane at Real Madrid, but I do think Pogba’s a player who’s going to give a move to Los Blancos a lot of thought. I’ll be fascinated to see how United finish the season. Nothing too groundbreaking here, but If they qualify for the Champions League for next season, I like their chances of keeping someone like Pogba infinitely better. I think they lose him, though, if they’re not in the UCL next year — I just don’t see a player of his profile being happy on a team outside Europe’s top competition, even if it’s only for a year. No matter how much a player has enjoyed playing for OGS, failure to qualify for the UCL would make an exit tempting for anyone drawing serious interest from a top European side.

And we can’t talk possible departures without mentioning Ander Herrera and Juan Mata, whose contracts expire this summer.

Another factor that all of Europe, and especially United fans, will be watching closely is how the club handles its front office. The current lack of a technical/sporting director does not make any sense, at least not to me. Will Ed Woodward finally hire someone for what most would consider a crucial role? An article by ESPN.com’s Andy Mitten in February indicated the club will look to make a hire for this role, and explored what the job description might look like if and when this happens. The impact such a move will have on how the club handles this summer will obviously be massive.

Let’s Go Shopping

Chops: Ok, so I asked my Cousin Joe, a die-hard United fan, who he’d want to see them buy. He responded, “Ronaldo, Rooney, and a fucking time machine.”

The point is, they might not be “one player away.”

Don’t get me wrong, £158m isn’t chump change, but in today’s market, that’s one or two top-tier talents. If Liverpool has taught us anything, it’s no matter how good you are you can’t win the Premier League when a club with almost no history gets bought by a trillionaire and breaks all of the rules to sign players on an unlimited budget what a difference a world-class center back can do for your team. 15 months ago, Liverpool could aggressively build leads and improbably lose them better than any top flight squad in the world. Now? They’re on pace for the fourth best season in Premier League history and are doing so almost entirely due to their defensive efforts.

Tyler: The latest player who reportedly wants out at RM is Frenchman Raphael Varane. The 25-year-old center back seems to me like a natural fit at United. He won’t be cheap, though, as he remains under contract. It appears that despite his (emphasis on reported) desire to leave, the La Liga club will insist that his suitors activate his €500M release clause. That tells me he’ll probably be back at the Bernabéu next year.  

Katya: Like Chops mentioned, one of the biggest lessons Liverpool taught us last year is how crucial one player can be — especially on your back line. United need to first, and foremost, get a center back and outside right back. Lindelof has had tremendous growth as a player but he needs someone alongside him that will lead the way.  I agree with Tyler – I think that Varane is an ideal choice but I just don’t see it happening. Real Madrid and Zidane are holding on to Varane as tightly as they can. Zidane has always seen the value in Varane – he was the one that recommended him to Real Madrid when Varane was a teenager. Even if he is ready to leave the club for a new challenge, it doesn’t seem that he will be affordable anyways.

It seems that Kalidou Koulibaly is their best choice.  He’s 27 and has the experience to not only keep the Man. United defense organized and composed but to give Lindelof the support he needs while he continues to grow and evolve.  He had a good run at Napoli but I don’t see why he wouldn’t go ahead and give Manchester United a shot. Real Madrid just confirmed their signing of Éder Militão and we already know how eager they are to hold on to Varane, so Manchester United just might be in luck for getting Koulibaly.

Chops: I don’t view United as offensively challenged, especially with a rejuvenated Pogba. However, if you think United isn’t going to try and land some fire power you’re sorely mistaken. There’s going to be a bidding war for Jadon Sancho this summer. If Christian Pulisic goes for $73.1M USD, how high is Sancho’s price tag? And is he the right fit for Man U?

Tyler: To answer the first question in two words: much higher. Pulisic is a great young player, and I’d like to add that I’ve never seen a U.S. player quite like him, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. I love how Sancho would fit at United. An attacking trio of Rashford, Sancho and Anthony Martial would be among the most entertaining in Europe. The bad news for the Red Devils is that they’ll likely be in a bidding war for the 19-year-old with the likes of Real Madrid and PSG, which means the “winner” of that that race will be paying a sum that will make the Pulisic fee look like chump change.

Katya: Former BVB coach, Otmar Hitzfield, said that Sancho reminded him of a “young Frank Ribery.”  Dortmund love him and he’s already getting comfortable with the English national team.  Needless to say, this kid has a lot going for him. As Tyler mentioned – with the likes of Rashford, Sancho, Martial in the attack with Pogba underneath them, the Manchester United attack would be one giant force to be reckoned with.  So with this being said, Sancho will go for a lot more. The word on the street is that he’ll go for about $58 million (around 100 million pounds total asking price) more.

So my question is, will he be worth spending on if the major problems Manchester United currently have are in their defense?  If they purchase both Sancho and Koulibaly, who else will they have room to purchase? Sanchez is sitting on a pretty hefty sum at MU and until they get rid of him, they may or may not have a tough time clearing space for more than a few quality players.

Chops: Another name bandied about is little Philippe Coutinho. Whether or not his house is jinxed isn’t for us to determine. The bottom line is he’s not been the same since leaving Anfield. At Liverpool, he was a creative breaker of defenses and constant attacking threat. Since arriving at Camp Nou, he’s been the opposite of that. Should Manchester United bring him into the fold?

Tyler: Chops, you’re right, your beloved Coutinho has not found a position this year in Barcelona. The Catalans are already intimating that they’ll be happy to part ways with the Brazilian if any club is willing to pay him €100 million or more. That’s a big if considering his form this year, but he’s still only 26 years old, and is not far removed from his time at Anfield.

He’s among a slew of players still alive in Europe whose price tag could change dramatically based on how they perform in April and May. As we’re all aware, Barcelona has some huge games ahead. Ousmane Dembélé’s fragility means the opportunity is there for the taking for Coutinho. Will we look back at his goal last Tuesday against Villarreal as a springboard to a strong finish to the season? Time will tell, and it’s also hard to know how Barcelona will react if he suddenly rediscovers his mojo. Would they be excited to see his value improve before they sell him? Or would it remind them of why they made him one of the highest-paid players on the continent, and make them reluctant to let him go?

Katya:  Reflecting back on our discussion about Sancho, the price tag on Coutinho will be similar to Sancho’s if Barcelona decide to sell him.  So, I think it would either be Sancho or Countinho that Manchester United would fight for, not both. If I were to look at this from my perspective of being a former professional soccer player, I would say that Coutinho may not be the player we remember him to be.  He is still young, but with his ups and downs in Barcelona, his confidence is not what it used to be. He would need to build that up again. Meanwhile, Sancho seems to be going in the direction of where Coutinho was when he was at Liverpool. For the similar price tag, Sancho seems like more of a solid choice.

Chops: Ok so you’re Ed Woodward. Who would your top target be?

Katya:  As the saying goes “defense wins games.”  They need to go for Koulibaly. It’s not like the offense at Manchester United is lacking with the likes of Pogba, Martial, Rashford and even Lukaku.  I would love to see Jadon Sancho on that list as well but I think the first priority should be the back line. Once they square that away, they can move their way up to the attack.

Tyler: I’d say they should do whatever it takes to land Varane, but that release clause is exorbitant, even for a team with pockets as deep as United’s. With Varane likely unavailable, I’d say go after Sancho with everything you have. Already-proven players at his age are incredibly rare, and valuable, even if there’s nothing cheap about them.

Chops: Sancho seems like an obvious target. Also, if United don’t invest heavily on defenders, a #10 like Paulo Dybala would be a good fit. His creativity could help unlock Lukaku, Rashford, etc. Given that world-class center-backs don’t grow on trees, maybe a young attacking right-wing-back, a need as Katya mentioned, like 20 year-old Ruben Vinagre from Wolverhampton, helps bolster both the defense and the attack simultaneously (think what Robbo and TAA do for Liverpool).

United have the funds to pursue almost anyone, and still have a brand that will attract quality players. To put themselves back into contention for domestic and European trophies, they need to avoid the mistakes you see in American pro sports like football (Dallas Cowboys earlier this decade) and basketball (New York Knicks under James Dolan) by not over-spending for any talent just because they strike out on their top targets.

Also read: Let’s Go Shopping: Real Madrid Summer Transfer Edition

2019 UEFA Champions League Quarterfinals Predictions (Repost)

Chops April 6, 2019

Editor’s’Note: Bumping this post back up as we near Tuesday’s matches. Look for our first podcast which will cover the UCL next week as well.

With the Champions League Quarterfinal draw set, it’s time for another round of predictions.

First, we’re welcoming a new prognosticator to this round’s panel: former Russian national team member Katya Gokhman. Joining her are site-runner Chops, Tyler Everett, and former Premier League striker Carl Cort. After a stint in the US with the NASL, Carl now conducts Las Vegas private soccer training and clinics.

Second, a quick review of how we did on the Round of 16. While here at High Press Soccer we were all very high on Ajax’s chances, somehow, nobody actually selected them. And can you be right and wrong at the same time? Because in hindsight, that’s how the Manchester United prediction feels. Down the line now:

  • Chops: 6 of 8 (missed Ajax and Tottenham)
  • Everett: 6 of 8 (missed Ajax and Tottenham)
  • Cort: 6 of 8 (missed Porto and Ajax)

Lastly, almost by divine intervention, the draw shook out where the four universal favorites match up against the four underdogs. Will all chalk prevail? Does that ever really happen? There has to be an upset among the group, right? Do we all keep agreeing that Ajax is a great team and then not pick them? Let’s find out!

Match-Up

Chops

Tyler Everett Katya Gokhman Carl Cort
Liverpool vs. Porto Does Porto have one player who would make a combined starting XI in this match? Brahimi? Anyone? Liverpool advance to eventually shock Barca and have our hearts ripped out by City in the finals (Or will they? More on this shortly). I’m with Chops, Katya, and Cort here, and couldn’t put it better myself. Porto seems like by the far the weakest team left, and was lucky to get by Roma. Liverpool should win comfortably and move on. Porto, statistically, is the weakest of the bunch.  Liverpool, on the other hand, arguably has one of the strongest attacks in Europe with Mane and Salah at the helm.  I definitely think there will be an upset in the quarters but it won’t be in this match.

Prediction: Liverpool will be on to the semis.

With Liverpool’s attacking power and coming off a convincing win over Bayern, I really don’t see any surprises here.

Liverpool win convincingly

Barcelona vs. Manchester United Some of the glow is coming off OGS’ shine as United have been lucky and good since he took over (and now are regressing to just being good, which is still significantly better than they were with Mourinho). I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but Lionel Messi is having the all-time best season of his all-time great career. Camp Nou? More like Camp Yes. (awful, I know). Barca advance. Barcelona has looked beatable at times since January, but is currently red-hot and — as we saw most recently against Lyon in the second leg — they have another gear that few teams can match. They’ll probably be without Ousmane Dembéle for both legs, and Luis Suárez’s status for the first leg at Old Trafford is up in the air. But Messi, even if he has to carry the load offensively — plus a solid defense and keeper — will be enough for Barça. The grit ManU has shown under OGS has been impressive, but Barcelona is too good. It also doesn’t hurt the Catalans — who are 10 points clear with 10 games left — they can basically sleepwalk through the rest of their domestic season. This is where my brain and heart start to part ways…

Brain: Messi is having a fantastic season and Barcelona is on top of La Liga once more.  After a 5-1 win against OL, they may not, necessarily, cruise through Manchester United, but they “should” end up on top.

Heart: Man. United has had their share of ups and downs this season.  Solskjaer has had a good start as the new coach at United but his roll seems to be slowing down.  HOWEVER, let’s not forget that this is still a team full of quality players such as Pogba, Rashford, Lingard, and Lukaku (hopefully, he will play despite his injury problems) to name a few.

Prediction: I’m going against the grain and making this my upset – Manchester United go through to the semis.

I shouldn’t even be mentioning United at this stage of the CL after that horrific late VAR decision against PSG– but unfortunately I am.

I am now glad to say that I will not see United in the next round as I believe with Barca’s attacking ability they dismantle United at the back convincingly.

Ajax vs. Juventus Despite what the oddsmakers say, this really is the closest match-up. Ajax is playing with house money now, and Juve has all the pressure. But still, Ronaldo. Heart says Ajax, mind says Juventus. Like Chops said, we liked Ajax versus Real Madrid, but not enough to pull the trigger and call the upset. Going to be bolder this time and go for it. It’s hard to unsee how confident and bold the Dutch club was against RM. They strike me as too young to tense up or know better than to play loose. Don’t ask me how they keep CR7 in check, but I think Matthijs de Ligt and Co. will enjoy (another) coming-out party — for anyone who’s not aware of them already — and pull off another stunner. Ajax is a great looking young team and, after their recent performances, they’re extremely confident and motivated.  Juventus is feeling pretty good as well – especially Ronaldo (when is he not feeling pretty good though?). I think this will be an amazing game to watch and it could honestly go both ways.  However, I think Juventus’ wisdom and experience will prevail and carry them through. I’m all for teams who “play the game the right way” as they say.  And it’s good to see that Ajax are getting good results behind that. This is going to be a very enjoyable close game to watch but it’s really hard for me to go against CR7. Along with CR7 and the experience of the Juve team– I see Juventus  advancing.
Manchester City vs. Tottenham It would be difficult to describe how much I despise Manchester City. But let me try! Take what Bryan Mills, John Wick, and Andy Dufresne feel about their respective antagonists, square it, multiple it by 10, and you’re in the ballpark. Keep in mind, Newcastle have more of a proud and legitimate history than City (shout out to Cort!). City are basically the kids whose rich celebrity parents  just got bought them into college as “crew team” recruits. Anyway, Tottenham and City play each other three times in 11 days. I believe Tottenham will win one of those three, and since one of those is a home match in their new stadium during the quarterfinals, I’m going against every fiber of common sense I have and saying that Spurs score enough at home to white-knuckle a semifinal trip and ruin City’s shot at a Quadruple. By the way, the last 7 sentences are precisely why I rarely ever bet. Not feeling nearly as bold about this one. Like Barcelona, City’s ceiling is so ridiculously high that even if they’re only at their best for a brief stretch, it will be enough. I’ve thought about the possibility of an upset by Tottenham, but then I think…nah.  No way will Pep let that happen. Pep has been building up this team since he got to Man. City in 2016.  It looks as if, Man. City is finally at the level that Pep has been striving for with them. After destroying Schalke 7-0, I think they are not likely to slow down. I think Tottenham are technically good enough to cause City problems. One of the reason why I think Tottenham will fall short is mentally I don’t believe they’re strong enough which they’ve proven many times in the past, crunch time they always crumble.

The other reason is more obvious: City have great depth and are very well equipped to go the whole way

2019 ICC Soccer Event: Teams, Schedules, and Game Odds

High Press 10 March 29, 2019

The International Champions Cup (ICC) announced their 2019 summer schedule this week.

The ICC has been growing in popularity and relevance every year. Put on by Relevant Sports, the exhibition competition consists of pre-season friendlies from (mostly) top European and North American (Mexico) teams.

This year, games will take place in the US (LA, Chicago, New York, Washington DC, New Jersey, Foxborough, San Francisco, Charlotte, Kansas City, Houston, Arlington), Singapore, Wales, London, Sweden, and China.

2019 ICC Teams

This year’s participating ICC clubs are:

  • Real Madrid
  • Roma
  • Chivas Guadalajara
  • Arsenal
  • Bayern Munich
  • Manchester United
  • Inter Milan
  • Benfica
  • Juventus
  • Tottenham Hotspur
  • Atlético Madrid
  • AC Milan

2019 ICC Soccer Schedule

Games, dates, and times are as follows:

Tuesday, July 16:

  • Roma vs. Chivas Guadalajara — Chicago, SeatGeek Stadium

Wednesday, July 17: 

  • Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich — Los Angeles, Dignity Health Sports Park

Saturday, July 20

  • Manchester United vs. Inter — Singapore, National Stadium
  • Arsenal vs. Roma — Charlotte, Bank of America Stadium
  • Bayern Munich vs. Real Madrid — Houston, NRG Stadium
  • Benfica vs. Chivas Guadalajara — Bay Area, Levi’s Stadium

Sunday, July 21

  • Juventus vs. Tottenham Hotspur — Singapore, National Stadium

Tuesday, July 23

  • Real Madrid vs. Arsenal — Washington, D.C., FedEx Field
  • Bayern Munich vs. AC Milan — Kansas City, Arrowhead Stadium
  • Chivas Guadalajara vs. Atletico Madrid — Arlington, Texas, Globe Life Park in Arlington

Wednesday, July 24

  • Juventus vs. Inter — China, Location TBD
  • Roma vs. Benfica — Harrison, New Jersey, Red Bull Arena

Thursday, July 25

  • Tottenham vs. Manchester United — Shanghai, Hongkou Football Stadium

Friday, July 26

  • Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid — East Rutherford, New Jersey, MetLife Stadium

Sunday, July 28

  • AC Milan vs. Benfica — Foxborough, Gillette Stadium

Saturday, Aug. 3

  • Manchester United vs. AC Milan — Cardiff, Principality Stadium

Sunday, Aug. 4

  • Tottenham vs. Inter — London, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

Saturday, Aug. 10

  • Atletico Madrid vs. Juventus — Stockholm, Friends Arena

Game Odds

As game odds are released, we’ll post them here.

What to Watch for at this year’s ICC

For the most part, the ICC are just fan friendly affairs with little intrigue other than, “Will [fill in the star] play this game?” or “Will [this new transfer] make the trip?”

This year has a few extra storylines to follow:

  • Juventus: Um, so, given the sordid charges he’s facing in Las Vegas, is Ronaldo going to make the trip to the US? Bet on: no freaking way.
  • Chivas: Will they go all out against Atlético Madrid and Benfica to show where they truly stand on the global stage? Bet on: hell yes.
  • Real Madrid: After a likely heavy summer spending spree, will they showcase their new stars? Bet on: yes.
  • Tottenham: Will the Spurs successfully defend their 2018 ICC trophy, since it’s probably the only trophy they’ll see in the next decade? Bet on: yes.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Appointed Permanent Manchester United Manager: Was It the Right Decision?

Chops March 28, 2019

Interim caretaker, no more.

In a surprise to no one, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been tabbed permanent manager of Manchester United.

While there is no arguing that United has improved since OGS replaced Jose Mourinho, is their recent success sustainable? And if not, will they regret this move sooner than later? It’s complicated.

Scoreboard!

As Bill Parcels would say, “you are what your record says you are.”

In 19 games under Solskjaer, they’re 14-2-3. Under Jose Mourinho in all competitions, they were 10-7-7. That’s a marked improvement.

But!

As with most data, it’s all about how your parse the information.

OGS’ first slate of games included an anti-murderer’s row of Huddersfield Town, Cardiff City, Bournemouth, and a pre-Almiron acquisition Newscastle United.

Since their competition has increased in quality over the past seven matches (starting with their February 12th Champions League Round of 16 match against Paris Saint-Germain), they are a mere 3-1-3.

But!

They beat PSG to advance to the Champions League Quarterfinals!

Yet!

They’ve lost to Wolverhampton and were shut-out by Arsenal within the last two weeks!

However!

They were very unlucky against Arsenal, with better chances and xG.

But but but!

They were lucky to get past PSG in the first place.

So, yeah, pick the data you want to support whatever argument you want to support. Again, it’s complicated.

What we know for sure

There is absolutely zero question as to whether Man U are a better team under OGS than Mourinho. They are. They made the right move in making the switch. They would not be among the final 8 of the Champions League if they hadn’t.

The bigger question, as scheduling and luck continue to regress to the mean, is OGS really the best manager for United long-term?

Toss out his tenure at Cardiff City, and focus on his time at Molde in the Eliteserien (Norway’s top division).

He’s been consistently a 55% winner at Molde.

And if you take the low outlier of Cardiff and average it with the high outlier of Manchester United…you get around 51%, closer in line to his Molde success rate.

How’s that shake out against some peers and luminary figures?

The bottomline with Solskjaer

While we at High Press Soccer would’ve waited until the full 2018-19 campaign was over before making a more measured final decision on Solskjaer’s future, it’s hard to fault Manchester United for making the hire. OGS has been an improvement. The players have responded. They’re more pleasant to watch.

While OGS may never be Pep or Zidane good–who is? You only have a few chances to hire managers of that caliber. With Zidane off the market, May 2019 won’t be one of those chances.

His career at Molde and time at United to date indicate Solskjaer will be OK. There’s nothing to suggest he’s going to suddenly turn into Frank de Boer. Yeah, he’s been fortunate. Most good managers are fortunate from time-to-time. The real challenge will come if any prolonged bad run of form hits United. What if they’re knocked out by Barcelona in the UCL and don’t qualify for it next year? Will the bosses at Old Trafford be ok with that? Will they have patience?

Ultimately, United won’t know if they made the right long-term decision for longer than they’d care to wait for that answer. So is life when you’re a public company and one of the biggest sporting brands in the world. However, the data and track record suggest the club has stabilized themselves with a perfectly fine hire. Is fine good enough? Does fine equal titles? As Asia would say, only time will tell.

 

Barcelona – Manchester United Champions League Quarterfinal Combined Starting XI

March 24, 2019

Editor’s Note: In order to better gauge the quality of each Champions League Quarterfinal pairing–and identify matches with upset potential–High Press Soccer will analyze combined starting XI for the match-ups. Up next: Barcelona vs. Manchester United

For most of the planet, it’s the tastiest of this year’s four UEFA Champions League Quarterfinal fixtures, a meeting of European royalty with eight continental championships between them, and a rematch of this tournament’s 2009 and 2011 finals.

FC Barcelona and Manchester United will clash on the 10th and 16th of April for a place in the semifinals. And while both proud clubs are accustomed to spending time in the business end of this competition, they arrive at this stage in quite different circumstances.

Barca are motoring along at the top of La Liga, 10 points clear of the field and in contention for a treble. They might not be quite as all-conquering as the peak of the Pep Guardiola years, but remain an elite group illuminated by the greatness of Lionel Messi.

Meanwhile ManU are still riding the euphoria of Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer’s genial leadership in the ragged wake of Jose Mourinho’s latest bridge-burning departure, happy to play the plucky underdogs as they mount a late dash to make something of their 2018/19 campaign.

Injuries and Odds

Barca are generally favored, as you’d expect given these teams’ respective places in their domestic standings and the fact that the Catalans are on a 13-game unbeaten run – they haven’t lost a match since their defeat to Sevilla in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Jan. 23.

ODDS TO ADVANCE TO SEMIS
Manchester United +235
 Barcelona -330

Overall, Manchester United are the underdog to advance, priced at +235 at FanDuel Sportsbook NJ. They’re even the underdog at Old Trafford for leg 1, listed at +260 to Barcelona’s +100 (Draw +270).

The injury picture here is clouded by the intrusion of the international break. Man United regulars Anthony Martial, Nemanja Matic, Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford and Luke Shaw all departed their national team camps early or did not join them altogether due to knocks of varying severity.

In most cases that’s good news for the Red Devils, mind you – all will make the Barcelona series their top priority. It also appears Solskjaer will have Jesse Lingard available at something close to full fitness as the attacker puts a hamstring problem behind him. And Alexis Sanchez is hustling to recover from a knee injury in time to be available for selection against his former club.

Paul Pogba served a red-card suspension in the second leg vs. PSG and should be available for the UCL quarters, though he’s done his side few favors by suddenly piping up publicly about his interest in a move to Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid at some point.

Barcelona’s list of casualties is shorter, but potentially more costly. Luis Suarez picked up an ankle injury in the league win over Real Betis (where Messi notched his incredible hat trick) and Ousmane Dembele aggravated a hamstring issue in the UCL defeat of Lyon, so both of them are far from certain to be ready for ManU. As always, breath will be held across the city as Messi takes the field for Argentina during the window.

*UPDATE: Sure enough, Messi picked up a groin issue in his country’s humbling loss to Venezuela in Madrid on Friday! While subsequent reports suggested it was a fairly minor injury, managing the maestro’s health now becomes another plate for the FCB technical staff to spin.

On the brighter side, defenders Samuel Umtiti and Thomas Vermaelen and influential central midfielder Arthur have all recently overcome injuries and could play key roles. And while FCB face a more congested schedule in the leadup to this series, their hefty lead in La Liga gives Ernesto Valverde more room to rotate his squad down the stretch.


Combined FC Barcelona vs. Manchester United Starting XI


Both sides have utilized 4-4-2 and other looks this season, though we’ll elect for a 4-3-3 shape that’s their best, most proactive option in most cases.

As illustrious and expensive as the Mancunians’ roster may be, it’s hard for anyone to hold a candle to Barca’s. The 25-time Spanish champions boast one of the highest wage bills in the world and even when you move past names like Messi, Suarez, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Marc-Andre ter Stegen, individual quality abounds. This lineup reflects that.

Here’s the combined starting XI for Barcelona and Manchester United. Barcelona is blue and the Red Devils are red. For manager, I’m going with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.





Even in goal, where David de Gea bears a glittering resume that still isn’t enough for a segment of football hipsters who’d always pick ter Stegen and his deeply Barcelonista skill set. The Spaniard edges it here, but not by much.

Pique has struck up a sturdy partnership with Clement Lenglet at the heart of the Barcelona back line, and while they may well prove susceptible to the English archetype of the bruising target striker, they bring so many other qualities to the table as to put the likes of Phil Jones, Victor Lindelof or Chris Smalling in the shade. In the fullback slots, Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto are also vintage Barca, relatively slight in stature but attack-minded two-way technicians.

Busquets is aging, yet remains a tempo-setter par excellence and has benefitted from the intelligence of the shape-shifting Rakitic, who can fill an orthodox box-to-box role or any of the many permutations of it that Barca regularly ask him to. Arthur is a younger option who may well go on to eclipse the Croatian, but for now we’ll give Rakitic the nod. ManU’s sole midfield representative is Pogba, whose form has swung wildly from anonymous to world-class over the past year or so, but has been a lot closer to the latter under Solskaer.

Up top, Suarez – should he get healthy in time – and Messi, scorer of a whopping 39 goals and 18 assists in 37 games this season, stroll straight into this XI with no questions. That final slot is a bit trickier to fill, especially given Dembele’s injury troubles. Many on the red side of Manchester would advocate for Martial, Rashford or even Lingard here. However, Lukaku is the call for me.

Yes, his first touch sometimes escapes him and he can often look labored and ponderous. But he remains the Red Devils’ leading scorer and not by accident. His physical presence has few equals and given Barca’s past difficulties against direct, muscular teams (remember the Chelsea battles of old?), the Belgian offers the No. 9’s skill set that stands the best chance of unsettling Pique and Lenglet.

As for the managerial comparison: Valverde carries a far longer and richer resume than Solskjaer. However, the quietly inspiring Norwegian will be making his return to the Camp Nou 20 years after he scored the winner there in ManU’s legendary comeback win over Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final, so I’ll make a modest concession to the powerful mojo contained therein.

United have the wind at their backs and will play without fear; that said, it will take all that and a great deal more to derail Messi’s quest for his third Champions League trophy hoist.

Also read:

2019 UEFA Champions League quarterfinal predictions

Juventus – Ajax combined starting XI

 

FA Cup Quarterfinals: Manchester City Marches Towards Quadruple; Manchester United Stumble

High Press 10 March 17, 2019

The FA Cup saw three of four quarterfinals matches played on Saturday (Millwall plays Brighton on Sunday). Here’s what you need to know…

  1. Manchester City Just Keep Winning. When we wrote last month that Manchester City was favored to win four trophies (The QuadrupleTM), we assumed they’d actually lose one or two of the trophies. Nobody wins all four domestic cups. So yeah, that hasn’t happened. Despite going down 0-2 to Swansea in the first 30 minutes, City did what they oh so annoyingly keep doing: finding ways to comeback and win. This time, City secured victory in the 88th minute from a (who else!) Sergio Aguero goal. On to the semis.
  2. Wolves Dominated Manchester United. Wolverhampton is securing their status as the best non-Big 6 team in the Premier League this season. This isn’t just because they literally sit 7th in the Premier League table. Across all domestic competitions, the Wolves have beaten or tied all of the Big 6. The dominated United today, outshooting the Red Devils 17 (11 on target) to 11 (2 on target). Only a stoppage time goal by Marcus Rashford kept the score respectable. Before United fans start freaking, this is all just regression back to the mean for the squad under OGS. They’ve been both lucky and good since sacking Mourinho. They’re just a little less lucky of late. Watch the highlights at the end of the post.
  3. TURN DOWN FOR WATFORD. In the third match of the day, Watford dispatched Crystal Palace 2-1. Watford is just a point behind Wolves in the Premier League, and both squads could give City a run for their money in the semis or finals of the FA Cup. Or at least hold a lead until the final 10 minutes against City when Aguero or Sterling inevitable strike a stunner to further annoy any non-Sky Blues fan.

Champions League Quarterfinals Match Odds and Futures

High Press 10 March 15, 2019

The Champions League Quarterfinals draw was held on Friday. The four teams universally considered the favorites drew the four respective teams with the lowest probabilities to advance. Here are Leg 1 odds and updated futures.

Champions League Quarterfinals Match Odds (Leg 1)

Home teams are listed first. Odds from FanDuel Sportsbook NJ and DraftKings Sportsbook.

Ajax +290 Draw +240 Juventus -105
Tottenham +290  Draw +260 Manchester City -110
Liverpool -240 Draw +350 Porto +700
Manchester United +260 Draw +250 Barcelona +100

No real surprises here. The oddsmakers are still undervaluing Ajax, having them as a fairly big home underdog against a Juventus team that struggled on the road in the Round of 16. The other home underdogs (Tottenham, Manchester United) are facing titans in good form (Manchester City, Barcelona), so no shocker in the pricing there.

Liverpool are the only home team favored in Leg 1, listed at -240 to Porto’s long +700 odds.

Champions League Title Odds

Now that the draw has come out, the Champions League title odds have shifted with some surprises.

Manchester City +220 Juventus +270  Barcelona +380 Liverpool +390
Manchester United +1600 Tottenham +2500 Ajax +3100 Porto +9500

Juventus leaps ahead of Barcelona as second favorite, moving fro +340 on Thursday to +270 after their pairing with Ajax was drawn. It’s interesting they saw such a leap as they’ll have to go through Manchester City (presumably) in the semis to make the finals.

Along with Juve, City saw their odds slightly move (+230 to +220) as did Liverpool (+470 to +390). Barcelona got longer (+340 to +380).

Updated 2019 UEFA Champions League Title Odds

High Press 10 March 14, 2019

With the Champions League Quarterfinal draw tomorrow, let’s take a quick look at updated futures as listed on FanDuel Sportsbook NJ . We expect some movement on these prices based on the draw and pairings on Friday.

Manchester City +230 Barcelona +340 Juventus +340 Liverpool +470
Manchester United +1000 Tottenham +1600 Ajax +2500 Porto +7000

Manchester United Overvalued, Liverpool & Ajax Undervalued

The Favorites. First things first, City and Barca as the two favorites is no surprise. Both dominated their [far inferior] opponents in the Round of 16. City is rated as the best team on the planet. Barcelona has the best player of all time who is also possibly having his best season ever.

Overvalued. Not to take anything away from Manchester United, what they’ve done since sacking Jose Mourinho is remarkable, but are we sure they’re not more lucky than good right now? At a minimum, would they win a tie vs. either Tottenham or Ajax? Both of those clubs have a higher rating than United as of today. Tottenham at least would likely be favored if they were matched up against United (Ajax was one of our value picks against Real Madrid and just aren’t getting oddsmaker respect yet). The +1000 for United is generous. It may have more to do with Man U being a public team than on merits of being the fifth most likely to win the UCL.

Undervalued. Liverpool’s +470 is interesting. They’re the #2 ranked global club, ahead of Barcelona (#3) and Juventus (#6, and by a wide margin). They just dismantled the #4 ranked global club, Bayern Munich, at Allianz Arena.

They also have the second highest win probability according to FiveThirtyEight, doubling Juventus’ chances.

Again, some of this will shift slightly tomorrow after the draw, but based on the analytics, Liverpool has value.

The same can be said for Ajax. We’ve been beating the Ajax drum since the Round of 16, and nothing changes here. To be clear: we don’t think Ajax will win the 2019 Champions League title. However, taking out the fact that they’re not exactly a public team that receives mass support, Ajax’s pricing should be flipped with Manchester United.

 

These Premier League Matchweek 30 Sunday Games are Kinda Important Now

Chops March 9, 2019

With Tottenham‘s latest Spursian stumble, Sunday’s Premier League games are shaping up to carry some weight.

Liverpool vs. Burnley: After Raheem Sterling netted a hat-trick in 13 minutes at 12 seconds after half-time, propelling Manchester City to a 3-1 win over Watford, the pressure is once again on Liverpool. Yes, they’re a heavy favorite (-650 / +650 / +1500) and at home vs Burnley, but this may be more difficult than you’d think. Burnley has been in better form of late (only two losses in their last six fixtures) and are under relegation pressure again after Cardiff City‘s win today. Anything other than 3 points for Liverpool and this title race may be over.

Chelsea vs. Wolverhampton: Has Sarri gotten the train back on the tracks? Hard to say but Wolverhampton will present a real test. Chelsea currently sit in 6th (although Tottenham has two games in hand, and Manchester United and Arsenal both have one). A win and they could move back into fourth (via goal differential) depending on how United and the Gunners wind up. A loss and their Champions League aspirations become significantly harder. They’re only -190 to win (draw +300, Wolves +600) so the odds makers don’t see this as a surefire win (although FiveThirtyEight has them at 71%).

Arsenal vs. Manchester United: Get this, if Manchester United wins, they move into third (although most likely behind on gd) with Tottenham. Oh how the pendulum swings! Arsenal wins and they get a leg up on a top 4 finish over United and Chelsea. Simply put, this fixture carries major UCL qualifying implications. Oddsmakers see it close (Arsenal +135, Draw +240, United +190). United has confidence after their advancement into the Champions League quarterfinals, and that +190 looks intriguing.

Champions League Round of 16 Leg 2 Recap: Five Things We Learned This Week

Chops March 6, 2019

Well, that was more drama than expected.

Four teams punched their tickets this week into the 2019 Champions League Quarterfinals. At least two of them were decidedly not expected to do so. Here are 5 things we learned from these Round of 16 Leg 2 matches.

1. Your FiveThirtyEight percentages mean nothing! Soooo…that’s why they play the games, right? Going into Leg 2, FiveThirtyEight Champions League probabilities had Paris Saint-Germain at 97% to advance. Real Madrid was at 75%. Roma was basically a coin-flip at 56% to advance, but still favored. All three were sent packing. The Ajax win over Madrid and Porto advancement we saw coming. Manchester United we did not. We love the club rankings at FiveThirtyEight and the probabilities, but it might be time to tweak that algorithm. Soccer can be fluuuuukey and there is higher variance game-to-game then the probabilities are accounting for right now.

2. VAR is going to be controversial af. So, yeah…about Manchester United and Porto advancing. Both came on VAR reviews on missed calls in the box. Both weren’t originally called as penalties for a reason (and players weren’t necessarily doing Neymar-level histrionics over the missed calls). However, VAR officials called down to the field and eventually awarded game-deciding pk’s in the closing minutes to United and Porto. We’re not saying there wasn’t some level of merit to the handball by PSG and jersey tug by Roma. But the refs missed both calls on the field, the evidence in either case wasn’t overwhelming (oddly, the PGS handball looked worse at full-speed than slow-motion), and to allow ticky-tacky outcome-altering penalties at that stage of the game in this tournament was a bit harsh. VAR will be a hot topic the rest of this Champions League competition.

3. We know nothing about Tottenham. To paraphrase Slim Shady, will the real Tottenham please stand up? Is Tottenham the world-beater who depants Borussia Dortmund? Or are they the team that just lost to Burnley 2-1 and then to colossally struggling Chelsea 2-0? We won’t know until the quarterfinals, a round Tottenham hasn’t seen since 2010-11.

4. It’s time for Real Madrid to reboot. Other than maybe Manchester City, is there a harder team to root for than Real Madrid? Rooting for them is like cheering on the flu. Isn’t it kind of fun that they have to reboot? Things are a mess and amiss with Los Blancos. The only sure thing is whatever squad they bring to the 2019-20 Champions League, it’ll look different than this group.

5. Kylian Mbappe may be the best player on the planet and we’re robbed of seeing more of him. This was covered over at No Grass in the Clouds last week, but it really leapt off the screen today: Kylian Mbappe is a beast. Mbappe moves at a different speed and at a higher technical proficiency than his peers. Since he plays in Ligue 1, Americans really only get to see him during the Champions League, World Cup, or YouTube highlights. It’s a shame. He’s challenging Messi for world’s best footballer.

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