What the papers say

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In football’s third age, old certainties have melted away and nothing is as it seems | Jonathan Wilson

Sat, 12/23/2023 - 20:00

No longer a game of territory or possession, the prevailing tactic is more complex – as Bournemouth’s kick-off routine shows

Bournemouth kicked off. They had gained a certain notoriety for their kick-offs last season, scoring, for instance, in the 10th second at Arsenal following a bluff in which they loaded the left side and then attacked down the right. This time, at Old Trafford, the kick‑off was far more straightforward, knocked back and, as two men charged down the right, the ball was swept out to that flank. It was overhit. Neither of the chasers had any real chance of getting there and Sergio Reguilón, the Manchester United left-back, let it go out for a goal-kick.

The instinct was to think it a waste, to wonder why Bournemouth had given the ball away so cheaply. Given the care they had taken over their kick-offs last season, why so careless? It seemed an odd omission for a coach as respected and apparently meticulous as Andoni Iraola to have abandoned a ploy worked on by Gary O’Neil. Then United took the goal-kick, faffed with a short touch to André Onana followed by mild panic (that was not a timewasting tactic against Liverpool last week; that’s just what they always do), and wandered into the Bournemouth press, immediately coming under pressure.

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Erik ten Hag insists he can improve club’s fortunes despite West Ham loss

Sat, 12/23/2023 - 16:34
  • Ten Hag: ‘The players on the pitch are good enough’
  • David Moyes says West Ham ‘making pretty good strides’

Erik ten Hag insisted he can turn Manchester United’s season around after they fell to an insipid 2-0 defeat at West Ham at the London Stadium.

United, who have lost 13 times in all competitions this season, dropped to eighth in the Premier League after another blunt display. They have not scored in four consecutive games and their £72m striker, Rasmus Højlund, was substituted in the 57th minute, but Ten Hag pointed to injuries when he was asked about his future.

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Drab, weary, uninspired: Manchester United hit new low at West Ham | Jonathan Wilson

Sat, 12/23/2023 - 16:10

Best players are short of form and there is a hopelessness that smacks of a managerial endgame for Ten Hag

The Danakil Depression is a plain approximately 125 miles long by 35 miles wide that lies at the northern end of the Afar Triangle in Ethiopia. Formed by the divergence of three tectonic plates in the Horn of Africa, it lies 410 feet below sea level while year-round temperatures make it the hottest place on Earth. Although it was there that the 3.2 million-year-old fossil of Lucy, Australopithecus afarensis, was discovered in 1974, leading some to suggest it was the cradle of humanity, its salt lakes are now widely considered the most barren place on the planet.

Or at least they were until Saturday when further evidence emerged to suggest the bleakest place on Earth, the environment most devoid of creativity and imagination and hope and joy, is Manchester United. There, too, paleoanthropologists claim, there is fossil evidence of ancient life, glory even, although if there are rare extremophilic microbes, it’s only in the kitchens.

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West Ham 2-0 Manchester United: Premier League – as it happened

Sat, 12/23/2023 - 15:14

Second-half strikes by Jarrod Bowen and Mohammed Kudus inflicted a 13th defeat of the season on the visitors

3 min: Otherwise, it’s a fairly scrappy start. Both teams take turns to get an early feel of the ball.

1 min: An assured first few touches for Kambwala, who sashays down the right wing in smooth Beckenbauerian fashion. That’ll settle the 19-year-old debutant.

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Bowen and Kudus strike to sink Manchester United and lift West Ham

Sat, 12/23/2023 - 14:39

Manchester United gave David Moyes more to worry about when he was in charge of them. This was their eighth defeat in the Premier League this season, their latest capitulation in a testing away game under Erik ten Hag and another occasion when the contribution from a series of expensive attackers amounted to zilch.

Rasmus Højlund, United’s struggling £72m striker, being substituted before the hour after failing to make any impact against West Ham’s burly centre-backs encapsulated the waste. So did Antony, Ten Hag’s ineffectual £86m winger, being completely left in the shade by another former Ajax forward. Where, after all, would United be if they had signed Mohammed Kudus instead of Antony? Or would Kudus, who has scored 10 times in all competitions since joining West Ham in the summer, merely have become the latest import to have disappeared into the Old Trafford void?

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Erik ten Hag still unclear over Manchester United’s injury problems

Fri, 12/22/2023 - 22:30
  • Club conduct investigation after having up to 11 players injured
  • André Onana could miss games for Africa Cup of Nations

Erik ten Hag has said Manchester United remain unsure why they have sustained so many injuries despite conducting an internal investigation.

The manager has been without up to 11 players owing to various problems this season, with Casemiro, Lisandro Martínez, Tyrell Malacia, Harry Maguire, Mason Mount, Kobbie Mainoo and Victor Lindelöf absent for Saturday’s early kick-off at West Ham. Christian Eriksen, Amad Diallo, Luke Shaw and Raphaël Varane have previously been missing.

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Struggling Ten Hag both architect and victim of Manchester United’s crisis | Daniel Harris

Fri, 12/22/2023 - 11:30

Manager has been badly let down by absent owners making poor decisions but is not blameless for the club’s malaise

Manchester United have long been renowned as great telly. But where, under Alex Ferguson, they were the Sopranos – aggressive, full of attitude and surprisingly sensitive – in the Post-Fergie Wilderness YearsTM they are Casualty: catastrophe is inevitable, so the fun comes in predicting its outlandish specificity. Might André Onana befriend a murderous marmoset while looking to catch a cross, or will Harry Maguire collapse under the weight of his own property portfolio? Nope! Wrong again! It’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka, distracted by passing fresh air and tripping over Luke Shaw’s cough to score an own goal with his tongue! Football as Saturday night light entertainment, bloody hell.

As such and despite some encouraging Anfield moxie, Erik ten Hag is under pressure. But before we dismiss him as out of his depth – which he may be – it’s worth assessing whether United’s predicament is really his fault. Thanks to absent owners making bad decisions for the wrong reasons, Ten Hag inherited a squad lacking quality and mentalitybut rewarded like champions. To that load has been added takeover distraction, while serious leadership would have absorbed, not aggravated, the stress of “the Mason Greenwood situation”, later compounded by “the Antony situation”.

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English clubs throw weight behind Uefa after European Super League ruling

Thu, 12/21/2023 - 19:58
  • Chelsea, Tottenham, City and United issue statements
  • Super League backers say football is ‘free’ and reveal new plans

Four of the six English clubs who joined the European Super League two years ago have pledged allegiance to Uefa and the old order of European football after the breakaway project was given an unexpected reprieve by the European court of justice.

Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City – alongside a number of other clubs, leagues and organisations – issued statements after a day of drama on which the landscape of European football changed and the Super League relaunched itself with a tweaked format and the promise of every match being streamed for free.

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TikTok users including Russell Brand given special status, messages show

Tue, 12/19/2023 - 05:00

Exclusive: Moderators in Europe encouraged to be more lenient with accounts of some high-profile figures

TikTok has given special status to certain high-profile accounts, with moderators in Europe encouraged to be more lenient with content posted by people including Russell Brand, according to internal messages seen by the Guardian.

The demand to be less stringent has also been underlined in meetings with moderators, the Guardian has been told.

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Virgil van Dijk hits back at Roy Keane’s criticism after Liverpool stalemate

Mon, 12/18/2023 - 12:03
  • Liverpool captain said he was not being arrogant after the game
  • Keane: ‘He’s at a club that’s won the title once in 30-odd years’

Virgil van Dijk has said he was not being arrogant in dismissing Manchester United’s overly defensive display at Anfield in Sunday’s goalless draw.

The Liverpool captain provoked a response from former United midfielder Roy Keane when he said only one team played to win. Keane said the comments were arrogant and disrespectful, adding: “He needs a reminder himself; he’s playing for a club that have won the title once in 30-odd years.” Van Dijk insisted there was honesty but no arrogance in his words on a frustrating afternoon where Liverpool had 34 shots but failed to score for the first time since April.

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Premier League: 10 talking points from the weekend’s action

Mon, 12/18/2023 - 08:00

Raphaël Varane excelled and Manchester City stumbled but Tom Lockyer incident put everything in perspective

Sometimes, football has to come second. When Tom Lockyer collapsed in the 65th minute of Luton’s game against Bournemouth, the match rightly became a distant afterthought. The Hatters’ official social media post actually apologised to supporters of both teams when announcing the abandonment of the game, but there was no need, such was the understanding shown by every part of the Vitality Stadium. It must have been an incredibly distressing situation for all, and particularly strange for those connected with Bournemouth. Not that you would have known. Praise is deservedly being dished out to Philip Billing, who was the first to dash over to the stricken Lockyer, and to his teammate Dominic Solanke, who was seen calling urgently for medical support. The speed with which they grasped the severity of the situation was commendable and they played a part in getting Lockyer the help he needed. When the game was abandoned, it was with the full support of Bournemouth’s players, staff and supporters. They showed the best of the beautiful game. Dominic Booth

Match report: Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United

Match report: Arsenal 2-0 Brighton

Match report: Manchester City 2-2 Crystal Palace

Match report: Newcastle 3-0 Fulham

Match report: Chelsea 2-0 Sheffield United

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Frustrated Virgil van Dijk says only Liverpool tried to win Anfield match

Sun, 12/17/2023 - 21:07
  • ‘We were superior in all aspects, we are disappointed’
  • ‘It’s his opinion,’ says Ten Hag after United draw 0-0

Virgil van Dijk claimed only Liverpool tried to win the 212th meeting with Manchester United after Erik ten Hag’s struggling team produced a defiant defensive display to take a point at Anfield.

Liverpool’s frustration in failing to win at Anfield for the first time this season, and failing to reclaim top spot in the Premier League as a consequence, was articulated by their captain after Jürgen Klopp’s side followed up the 7-0 rout of United last season with a goalless stalemate.

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United stoop to trench-digging for pragmatic draw at Liverpool | Jonathan Liew

Sun, 12/17/2023 - 20:29

Erik ten Hag secured a good point at Anfield, but the way it was achieved shows how bare his cupboard is right now

The new plan is no plan. Men standing, solemnly, in a place. Covering the spaces, and then the spaces in between the spaces. Block, buffer, deny everything. You didn’t get Harry Kane and you didn’t get Frenkie de Jong and you didn’t get Declan Rice, and so here you are: watching Jonny Evans punt long balls up the touchline in the hope – nay, the dream – that Antony can maybe get on the end of it and win a throw.

And for Manchester United there should be no shame or chagrin in any of this, in the jubilation of their fans in the Anfield Road Stand as the curtain fell on this grizzled and forgettable game. This is, quite frankly, a club that could use a little more of this kind of humility, a more realistic recognition of where they stand in the taxonomy of English football. Sir Alex Ferguson was in the stands here, and even his champion sides rarely regarded a point at Anfield as a bad point.

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Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United: Premier League – as it happened

Sun, 12/17/2023 - 19:05

There were no goals at Anfield in an uninspiring match that promised so much but delivered so little

Liverpool: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Konate, Van Dijk, Tsimikas; Szoboszlai, Endo, Gravenberch; Salah, Nunez, Diaz.

Subs: Adrian, Kelleher, Gomez, Jones, Elliott, Gakpo, McConnell, Quansah, Bradley,

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Liverpool ‘utterly condemn’ damage caused to Manchester United team bus

Sun, 12/17/2023 - 18:46
  • Part of window on upper deck of bus smashed before game
  • Liverpool working with police to ‘identify those responsible’

Liverpool have condemned the actions that led to Manchester United’s team bus being damaged before their Premier League clash at Anfield on Sunday and vowed to punish those responsible.

A number of objects are understood to have been thrown at the visitors’ coach on approaching Anfield, as Erik ten Hag’s side made the short trip to Merseyside for a match that ended in a 0-0 draw.

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Defiant Manchester United keep Liverpool at arm’s length in stalemate

Sun, 12/17/2023 - 18:44

Manchester United returned to the scene of the crime and removed all evidence of the spinelessness and unprofessionalism that besmirched their last appearance at Anfield. Erik ten Hag’s team were defiant, disciplined and unified, everything they were not in the 7-0 rout in fact, in taking a point against Liverpool. United made a point, too: the dressing room still plays for its manager.

United became the first team to stop Liverpool winning at Anfield this season and the first to prevent Jürgen Klopp’s side scoring since Chelsea held them to a goalless draw in April. Liverpool could have set a club record of scoring in 35 consecutive games in all competitions but, against a defence marshalled expertly by Raphaël Varane, were found wanting here with the final ball or decision. Diogo Dalot’s dismissal for two shows of dissent in quick succession came too late to take advantage.

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Liverpool revamp highlights gap in quality with Manchester United

Sat, 12/16/2023 - 22:30

Tactical tweaks and better recruitment have helped Liverpool climb above their rivals

Anfield was the location of Erik ten Hag’s lowest ebb as Manchester United manager and he returns with roles reversed between the two clubs. The visitors went into the match on 5 March with one defeat in 11 and having won the Carabao Cup, their first major silverware since 2017, the previous weekend but seven goals later United’s fragility was laid bare, an ailment yet to be addressed nine months on.

It was a reminder of what Liverpool were capable of. They had finished the previous season 34 points ahead of United, who overturned that to finish eight points and two positions above Liverpool in May. It looked as if United were on the up and their rivals down, although few are now surprised by the situation the two find themselves in before Sunday’s game.

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Erik ten Hag: from Ming the Merciless to circling the Old Trafford plughole | Jonathan Wilson

Sat, 12/16/2023 - 20:00

Three of Manchester United’s 25 managers have won the title and it will be remarkable if the Dutchman makes that four

Already, it feels, we have reached the stage of the cycle at which Erik ten Hag is being discussed in historical terms. The precise details have ceased to matter – where did Raphaël Varane disappear to in the autumn? What’s Bruno Fernandes really upset about? How can André Onana, a goalkeeper who specialises in pushing up behind a high line, so often be caught too deep? Does anybody remember Jadon Sancho? – and Manchester United’s manager has become just another chapter in the increasingly lengthy post‑Ferguson malaise.

Ten Hag is the 25th manager in United’s history. He looks almost certain to be the 22nd to have failed to win the league. Perhaps Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s purchase of a quarter of the club, assuming it is eventually completed, will spark a remarkable turnaround and Ten Hag can join Ernest Mangnall, Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Matt Busby as a league champion, but it doesn’t seem likely any time soon – and the indications are Ratcliffe is already considering replacements. It may not be much consolation, either to him or United, but Ten Hag is far from alone in finding the club beyond his horsemanship.

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Manchester United’s struggles not helped by Ten Hag’s selection spin | Jamie Jackson

Sat, 12/16/2023 - 08:00

Players at Old Trafford fall in and out of favour at an astonishing rate as manager shuffles his squad in search of the right blend

A dysfunctional feature of Manchester United’s beleaguered season concerns how many players exist in an Erik ten Hag version of the famous line from the Godfather Part III. “Just when I thought I was out he pulls me back in” is how Harry Maguire, Scott McTominay, Raphaël Varane, Casemiro, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Alejandro Garnacho, Antony, Christian Eriksen, Jonny Evans and Sofyan Amrabat may think of their status of exile – or not – under the manager.

To varying degrees all have been rejected and reinstated as the Ten Hag executes (sometimes puzzling) U-turns that point to a confusion over who should be in the XI – or even his plans at all. As Ten Hag takes his embattled unit (played 24 in all competitions, lost 12, won 11, drawn one) to Liverpool on Sunday this is the opposite of ideal.

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Defiant Ten Hag has ‘no concern’ about being sacked by Manchester United

Fri, 12/15/2023 - 16:42
  • Dutchman ‘focusing on process to make team play better’
  • United travel to Liverpool on Sunday after European exit

Erik ten Hag is not concerned about being sacked due to the club’s executive having offered assurances his position is safe.

Manchester United’s manager is under renewed pressure after Tuesday’s 1-0 Champions League loss to Bayern Munich at Old Trafford that eliminated the club from all European competition this season and cost them a minimum of £20m in future revenue. This followed Saturday’s 3-0 defeat by Bournemouth which was the Cherries’ first win at United.

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