EPL

The Numbers Game: Man Utd begin another new era as Ronaldo closes on another milestone

By Sports Desk August 05, 2022

It does not feel like it has been away for long, but the Premier League is back.

Just shy of the competition's 30th anniversary, the action gets underway a week earlier than usual as club football attempts to adjust to the upcoming mid-season World Cup in Qatar.

Narratives galore have emerged over the pre-season, but in terms of opening-weekend curiosity, it is fair to suggest Old Trafford will attract more than its fair share of intrigued glances.

Another new era begins at Manchester United on Sunday as Erik ten Hag takes charge of his first competitive match at the club.

There's a long list of managers who have failed to bring sustained success to United since Alex Ferguson's retirement nine years ago – Ten Hag will hope he can buck the trend, and he begins with the visit of Brighton and Hove Albion.

New beginnings

Ten Hag's April appointment came amid gloomy days at Old Trafford. Ralf Rangnick's spell as interim manager was proving tumultuous, with the German as familiar to criticising the club's structure as he was presiding over underwhelming performances.

United had been dumped out of the Champions League by an unimpressive Atletico Madrid side, and that began something of a downward spiral, with hopes of a top-four finish quickly diminishing.

Now, Ten Hag will be the eighth manager – including caretaker/interim bosses – to take charge of United since Ferguson left.

At least the short-term omens are good: of the previous seven managers, only Ten Hag's compatriot Louis van Gaal failed to win his opening match, losing 2-1 to Swansea City.

It will take a lot more than one win over Brighton to bring the good times back to Old Trafford, however.

Ronaldo: A point to prove and a milestone within reach…

Of course, one of the major sideshows for United in pre-season has been Cristiano Ronaldo.

Reports claimed he wanted to leave for a Champions League club and he did not join United on their pre-season tour of Australia and Thailand. This was put down to personal reasons.

But no such move away has so far materialised, and so he was welcomed back into the fold before playing 45 minutes against Rayo Vallecano last weekend. Cue more controversy, as he and several other United players left early, which Ten Hag later called "unacceptable".

Given the circus around Ronaldo in recent times, at any other club you would expect him to be dropped for this game – yet, with Anthony Martial out injured, Ronaldo looks likely to start, and few would put it past him making the occasion about himself again.

After all, he's only three away from his 500th career league goal. He couldn't, could he?

A score to settle

Brighton and United played each other quite recently. Well, recently in competitive action terms, anyway.

The Red Devils' penultimate game of last season was at the Amex Stadium, and Seagulls fans will remember it fondly as they ran out crushing 4-0 winners.

That was Brighton's biggest top-flight win ever in their 356th match at that level, while it inflicted a fifth successive away defeat for United, their worst such run since 1981.

Winning at Old Trafford is another matter entirely, though – Brighton have never won there. If United do lose, they will have suffered three consecutive Premier League defeats for the first time in seven years.

Good habits

While that May encounter was a game to forget for United and Bruno Fernandes, the playmaker does have a good track record against Sunday's opponents.

In five league meetings with Brighton, Fernandes has been involved in six goals (four goals, two assists), which make the Seagulls  his second-favourite opposition, behind Leeds United (eight goal involvements).

Similarly, Brighton's Pascal Gross has done well against United in the past.

His four goals versus United is more than he has managed against any other team, and Gross has netted in all three of Brighton's Premier League victories over the Red Devils, getting the winning goal on two occasions.

Related items

  • Tuchel comments under investigation by the FA Tuchel comments under investigation by the FA

    Thomas Tuchel's post-match comments about referee Anthony Taylor following Chelsea's 2-2 draw with Tottenham are under investigation by the Football Association (FA).

    Tuchel was furious at some of the decisions made by Taylor during the feisty stalemate at Stamford Bridge, a game that saw tensions boil over.

    The German suggested Spurs' first goal should have been disallowed due to the offside Richarlison standing in Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy's line of sight, and then he felt aggrieved over the visitors' second equaliser due to two incidents.

    Firstly, he felt Kai Havertz was fouled by Rodrigo Bentancur in the build-up to the corner that Harry Kane ultimately headed home from, and at the same set-piece Cristian Romero avoided being penalised for pulling Marc Cucurella to the ground by his hair.

    Tuchel and Spurs coach Antonio Conte clashed during and after the game, with their second confrontation resulting in both bosses being shown red cards.

    This was a particular bone of contention for Tuchel, who sarcastically said: "I cannot coach but the referee can whistle the next game? Good."

    Chelsea fans have voiced their displeasure with Taylor before, but Tuchel went even further when asked about the supporters' concerns, as he suggested "the whole dressing room of us, every person thinks that."

    He was then pushed on whether the players are worried when Taylor is the official in charge, and he added: "Yeah, of course."

    Stats Perform understands the FA is already looking into Tuchel's comments, meaning disciplinary action could be forthcoming.

    The FA's investigation will focus on whether Tuchel has brought the game into "disrepute" by implying bias or attacking the integrity of a referee.

     

  • Klopp mocks early critics of Nunez and Haaland Klopp mocks early critics of Nunez and Haaland

    Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp thinks it is "crazy" how quickly critics were on the backs of Darwin Nunez and Erling Haaland in pre-season.

    Uruguay striker Nunez joined the Reds from Benfica in a transfer potentially worth £85million (€100m) in June, while Manchester City sealed a reported £51m (€60m) deal with Borussia Dortmund for Haaland a month earlier.

    Both major investments were seen as deals that could widen the gap between them and the rest of the Premier League, though each player has courted criticism.

    For Nunez, the flak arrived as early as his first pre-season game after missing a big chance in a 4-0 defeat to Manchester United.

    Haaland was then ridiculed for a difficult day against the Reds as Klopp's side won the Community Shield at the end of July.

    Nunez scored in that win over City before coming off the bench to find the back the net and provide an assist for Mohamed Salah in a 2-2 draw at Fulham, while Haaland marked his Premier League debut with a double in a win at West Ham.

    For Klopp, the desperation tp write players off is unhelpful and unfair.

    Speaking to Sky Sports ahead of Monday's clash with Crystal Palace, Klopp said: "Five weeks ago, when we started pre-season and [Nunez] had his first game and it didn't look great from the outside world.

    "Not for us, but it's crazy how quick we judge people… wow!

    "Imagine if somebody did that to us and said, 'First day of work, it didn't work out. Go home, we never want to see you again! And you don't get a second chance by the way' – we would have all been long gone! No chance.

    "Everybody can now see, 'Ah he's a proper striker' – so good for us and good for him.

    "He's a handful and is a different type to what we had. He's very lively and very energetic. Physically he's really strong and technically he's really good, that obviously goes together with being more settled and confident and more secure in yourself in a new environment.

    "You can't say, 'Come on, you have to give me 100 per cent immediately' – you have to develop it and that's what we're doing at the moment and in a good way.

    "It's funny as well, we won against Manchester City the week before the season and everybody was asking, 'Will Haaland score this and that?'

    "A week is like 10 years in football!"

    Klopp has had to contend with the disruption of several injuries already, but he reiterated the Reds are not planning to go into the transfer market.

    "If there was the right player and an opportunity, we would have done it, we would do it, but I don't see it because we had a lot of conversations already and it doesn't look like something will happen," he added.

    "I'm happy with the strength, size and quality of my squad but we have injuries. There are plenty of solutions for it. One of them is the transfer market, but that only makes sense if you can bring in the right player.

    "All the other solutions are inside the squad. We have too many injuries, that's clear. Naby [Keita] will be back for Monday and Kostas [Tsimikas] will train for the first time, so he might be back as well."

  • Klopp confident the goals will come for Reds winger Diaz Klopp confident the goals will come for Reds winger Diaz

    Jurgen Klopp is confident the goals will come for Luis Diaz after the winger was wasteful in the 2-2 draw at Fulham last weekend.

    Diaz missed two Opta-defined 'big chances' in the Reds' opening match of the Premier League season at Craven Cottage, rattling the post in the first half.

    The Colombia international took no time to settle at Anfield following his big-money move from Porto in January, scoring six goals and providing five assists in 26 appearances last season.

    Liverpool lost Sadio Mane to Bayern Munich in June, but Klopp is backing Diaz to help fill the void left by the Senegal forward.

    Asked if Diaz can score 10-15 goals this season, the Reds manager said: "Oh definitely, that is his quality. We need to see but of course that is his potential.

    "We work on it but not with Luis specifically. We don't take him out because the other two scored and he didn't, so we show him how. That's not necessary. It's not a problem. You can't force it

    "Last week people were asking ‘How can you play without Sadio?' but in November/December everybody was thinking about when he would score the next goal, and Mo [Salah] was on fire. You just let it go.

    "You see the situations Luis had, big chances, and he was just unlucky. He started on the first day with us and took part in all the sessions and that is the most important thing.

    "All the rest will come. In the long term it is of course not a problem. It is about being prepared and fighting through moments like this."

    Klopp called for patience with Diaz ahead of Liverpool's first home game of the season against Crystal Palace on Monday.

    He added: "When Sadio played against us, he scored three times for Southampton but it was not that he scored every week. He didn't even start the game when he played against us.

    "So the consistency came with the confidence and with the team-mates, the structure of our game. So that is what we're working on that doesn't change. The way we play should help strikers. It is the way we play. It's the way we bring the boys in the situation.

    "Of course it is about whether it is in you or not, but it's the way we play, how we position the players, how we protect the players, where we win the balls back.

    "And it is how the boys can use their speed in these moments. They will be in a lot of goalscoring situations and that then makes you the player we remember."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.