EPL

Man United continue to drift towards irrelevance

By Sports Desk October 06, 2019

A year to the day since their stunning 3-2 comeback at home to Newcastle United eased the pressure on then-boss Jose Mourinho, Manchester United continued what appears to be a slow, painful march into mediocrity against the same opposition on Sunday.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer initially sparked a turnaround in United's fortunes as he lifted the gloom around Old Trafford, breathing life into the club following the end of Mourinho's reign.

Since March's VAR-assisted comeback win at Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, though, United have been abysmal and Solskjaer's days appear increasingly numbered. Perhaps only a lack of viable alternatives is keeping him in the job.

There are extenuating circumstances. At St James' Park there was no Paul Pogba, Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof or Eric Bailly, all injured.

With so many regulars missing most teams would struggle, but United's lack of squad depth is of their own making. They failed to sign any attacking reinforcements after allowing both Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez to join Inter, a decision signed off by Solskjaer.

Of those players remaining, Marcus Rashford's confidence has never looked lower, the initial spark provided by Wales winger Daniel James has fizzled out and David de Gea no longer looks among the world's best goalkeepers.

Few Premier League teams would find any use for Fred, a below-average midfielder who only gets selected as an alternative to the static Nemanja Matic. Andreas Pereira's inability to provide little creativity whatsoever is partly due to being fielded on the wing rather than his preferred central position, but mostly because the Brazilian seems out of his depth at this level. Juan Mata, despite a continued sureness of touch, ceased to be an elite playmaker several years ago. To describe Scott McTominay as an enigma would be kind.

At Newcastle, against a team hammered and humiliated by Leicester City last time out, Solskjaer's side created almost nothing from open play – they managed three shots on target – although how Harry Maguire failed to convert Ashley Young's corner when given a free header from five yards out will forever be a mystery.

There was no surprise when Newcastle, whose under-fire boss Steve Bruce was marking his 400th Premier League game as a manager, broke the deadlock in the rain 72 minutes in.

Matty Longstaff rattled the crossbar in the first half, Miguel Almiron wasted two clear sights of goal and Andy Carroll headed an inviting centre wide before De Gea was finally beaten from outside the box.

Longstaff, making his Premier League debut alongside older brother Sean in the Newcastle midfield, then sent a true drive fizzing into the net, much to the delight of the home fans.

Beating United is no longer that special, though. This season they have already lost to Crystal Palace and West Ham in the league. They needed penalties to get past Rochdale in the EFL Cup. Ex-United centre-back Bruce had overseen 22 matches against United without recording a single victory.

Newcastle moving out of the bottom three will buy Bruce some much-needed goodwill and time, which are both rapidly running out for Solskjaer. Top four? They're not even in the top half of the table.

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    The Norway international's first moments in Dortmund colours are sure to live long in the memory and he is in good company when it comes to elite strikers announcing their arrival with a bang.

    Here, we look back at some other standout debuts.

    Wayne Rooney

    The 18-year-old Rooney arrived at Manchester United from Everton amid huge fanfare after starring for England at Euro 2004, but he also suffered a metatarsal injury early in the Three Lions' quarter-final defeat to Portugal. Fenerbahce's September visit to Old Trafford was his first match back and it proved an unforgettable Champions League debut, with Rooney tucking away two terrific finishes before completing a hat-trick with a delicious free-kick. United won 6-2, the Stretford End had a new hero, and the rest is record-breaking club history.

    Sergio Aguero

    Aguero's club record-breaking run on the other side of Manchester began on a balmy August evening in 2011. A Premier League campaign that would end with City's then club-record signing snatching the title in career-defining style began with him on the bench and his new team-mates labouring, 1-0 to the good against newly promoted Swansea City. He slid in Micah Richards' cross within 10 minutes of his second-half introduction and, after a clever overhead assist for David Silva, Aguero brought the house down by sealing a 4-0 triumph with a 30-yard piledriver.

    Romario

    A hat-trick with all three assists coming from home favourite Pep Guardiola ensured Romario was an instant hit at Barcelona. The pick of the bunch saw him spring the offside trap and control a Guardiola pass on his chest before looping a volley over Alberto Lopez from 20 yards to seal a 3-0 home victory over Real Sociedad in Barca's 1993-94 LaLiga opener. The Blaugrana went on to win the title and Romario took the Pichichi with a tally of 30 goals.

    Ronaldo

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    Fabrizio Ravanelli

    The Riverside Stadium was treated to a thriller in August 1996 when £7m signing Fabrizio Ravanelli scored a hat-trick on his Middlesbrough bow in a 3-3 draw with Liverpool. Having joined from European champions Juventus, the 'White Feather' brought Boro back on terms three times, first lashing home a penalty and celebrating in trademark shirt-over-head style, and then sliding home a second from close range to make it 2-2. Robbie Fowler's second-half strike looked to have won it for the Reds until Ravanelli guided in his third of the game 10 minutes from time.

    Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

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    Inspired by Haaland, Dortmund rallied from 3-1 down to record a 5-3 away win on Saturday that will live long in the memory.

    The Norway international came on for Lukasz Piszczek after 56 minutes and netted with his first touch 183 seconds later with a low shot into the far corner.

    Haaland doubled his tally with a tap-in and got his third with a cool finish, with Dortmund's creative trio Jadon Sancho, Thorgan Hazard and Marco Reus all getting an assist apiece.

    The 19-year-old joined BVB for a reported €20million from Salzburg amid competition from Manchester United and a host Europe's top clubs.

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    "He has started very well," Dortmund head coach Favre told Sky. "He immediately showed his strengths with his runs in behind, and of course he scored three goals which is incredible. 

    "He moves well between the lines, which gives us another way of attacking. He was very good and did very well. 

    "At 19 years old, he has a huge potential for improvement, that's the most important thing. It was a crazy game."

    Dortmund play Cologne on Friday and Favre was asked whether Haaland would land a place in the starting line-up.

    He added: "The players always say they are ready to play, but he didn't train at all in December because he had a knee injury and couldn't do much in our training camp for three or four days.

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    Dortmund captain Reus was equally excited about the early signs from Haaland.

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    Chelsea failed to make a dominant display count as Isaac Hayden's last-gasp header handed Newcastle United a 1-0 win in Saturday's Premier League encounter at St James' Park.

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    Lampard offered no excuses for the defeat, though, insisting Chelsea only have themselves to blame as he acknowledged his side's deficiency in regards to goals from their attacking players.

    "It's football, you have to get your head around it very quickly. I'm not always massive on stats but the feel of the game was domination," Lampard told Sky Sports.

    "They hit the bar with a header, one of I think three headers they had in the game and they scored with one of them. Other than that, second half I don't remember them endangering our box, we were camped around their box and creating chances.

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    "We need to be clinical. We can't make any bones about it, it's a reality. We can't work anymore in training on finishing. You have to have that killer instinct in front of goal. We need to score more goals from front-line areas to get where we need to be."

    Lampard insisted in his pre-match news conference that he would not be drawn into making any "kneejerk" signings.

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    "It doesn't matter until it's done," Lampard said when he was asked if any incomings were close.

    "It's quite clear that I know where we need to strengthen, so we'll see."

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