Burnley vs Manchester United Preview

Burnley vs Manchester United Preview: Mourinho’s last chance?

Instead of lifting the gloom, Manchester United sunk deeper into it. The Red Devils earliest ‘must win’ game of the season went badly wrong and José Mourinho’s men lost to Tottenham 0-3 in front of their own fans at Old Trafford.

Never before had Mourinho seen one of his teams lose 3-0 in their own back yard, making Monday’s match his worst-ever home defeat. For the first time in his 18 year managerial career, Mourinho has lost two of his first three league games.

3-5-2 against Spurs saw some positives

After United’s insipid defeat to Brighton, the manager made his moves. In total, Mourinho made six changes to his starting line-up. Andreas Pereira, Juan Mata and Anthony Martial were the three players substituted at the Amex Stadium, and none of them even made the squad against Tottenham. Read More

Brighton vs Manchester United preview

Brighton vs Manchester United Preview: Can Pereira become the new Carrick?

While Manchester City have already won one trophy and beat Arsenal in their first match of the new season, the black clouds are hovering over Old Trafford. The red part of Manchester has still not been reconciled with the lack of transfers as United remain weak in some positions that need to be strengthened.

In spite of that, Jose Mourinho’s men delivered a 2-1 win against Leicester City in front of their own fans. It wasn’t a performance to remember, but three points with some positives meant fans could be proud in these days of negativity around the most crowned club in England.

Toby is not needed when you have Bailly-Lindelof pairing

It is obvious from the last season that the Manchester United back four requires changes. José Mourinho didn’t get what he wanted this summer and that was a new world-class central defender. Harry Maguire, Diego Godin, Yerry Mina and Toby Alderweireld were all very close to signing for United according to press speculation, but the first game of the season proved that the Portuguese boss has maybe found the perfect combination.

The young Swede has grown a lot in his first year at the club and seems ready to push on. Lindelof made a team-high nine clearances and was incredibly composed in defence and attack with some fantastic balls forward. That put him as the best United defender against Leicester as per Twelve’s algorithm. Just in front was Eric Bailly who walled the Foxes with his tackling, blocking and well-timed interceptions.

Return of the Shaw

Another big reason for United fans to be optimistic this season is the return of Luke Shaw. He provided a really good performance last weekend, and made it into Twelve’s team of the week. Apart from scoring a goal to double the lead, Shaw constantly bombed up the left flank and recovered well. Most people already dismissed the 23-year-old because of his not-so-good pre-season performances, and because a lack of options in his position was a big cause of frustration.

Mourinho wanted to replace Shaw with Alex Sandro this summer, but we never saw that deal happening, so the England international has got a new chance to shine. He made a couple of mistakes defensively but also had the most touches of the ball (99) which is something on which he can build his form.

Did Andreas Pereira show he can be Carrick’s heir?

Against Leicester, United set up in a 4-3-3 variation with Andreas Pereira as the single pivot with Fred and Pogba in front of him. It was the 22-year-old Belgian’s first Premier League start for the Red Devils. It seems the talented midfielder finally persuaded Mourinho that he’s capable of playing at the highest level.

Of course, Pereira only started because Nemanja Matic is injured, but José still entrusted him in an important role. Pereira, who is a more creative player than the defensively-minded Serbian, was primarily tasked to begin attacks from deeper positions.

He was very comfortable in possession, especially in situations where he needed to avoid the opposition press with his quick and vertical passes.

Twelve’s algorithm rewarded his performance against Leicester as the third best when looking overall, but what’s worth mentioning is that Pereira scored the most defence points (904), leaving Bailly and Pogba behind by almost 200 points.

Also, with Pereira’s deep and static positioning, Fred and Pogba were able to push forward more, allowing the latter to be at his best when playing with more freedom deeper in the opposing half. Yes, Pogba showed us he can play in a deeper role as France lifted the World Cup, but with United he struggled and was often disputed last season when playing in double pivot in 4-2-3-1 variance.

Can Pereira fill Michael Carrick’s boots? It would be ridiculous to expect that in full, but a very promising future lies ahead of him.

What’s for United against Brighton & Hove Albion, and vice versa?

Among all the negativity and moaning, Mourinho was still man enough to praise a „monstrously” good performance by Paul Pogba. The World Cup winner will still be the key player for the Red Devils against Brighton this weekend. We will also expect Luke Shaw to build upon his excellent performance against Leicester. There is a lot in front of Alexis Sanchez who again didn’t show any magic but wasn’t either the worst player in the team. It could just be that Mourinho’s men need more time playing together.

The Seagulls, who finished 15th last year, were downed by a deadly Roberto Pereyra double last weekend. They lost 2-0 at Watford, in the first game of their second season in the top flight since earning promotion. It’s been a busy summer on the south coast, with 16 new players arriving and 18 players departing.

Among the arrivals, it could be Iranian winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh who can pose a threat to the Red Devils. The Iranian international was directly involved in more goals than any other player in the 2017/18 Eredivisie season. Jahanbakhsh netted 21 goals while adding 14 assists to his tally. At the World Cup he created danger on the right flank where Carlos Quieroz deployed him as a winger.

If he starts here it will be a big test for him, as United comfortably denied Leicester on that side. It could also be a double-edged sword because United mainly attacked through their left side and Shaw’s forward runs often left acres of space behind him.

It will be very interesting to see how Chris Hughton copes with the pressure from last week’s defeat and a lot of new faces in the dressing room. On the other hand, Manchester United will be eager to get their revenge for last May’s 1-0 defeat. It will all be decided on Sunday.

Prediction: Brighton & Hove Albion 1–3 Manchester United

Croatia must stop the unstoppable

Even if football is not coming home, the show must go on. Croatia continues to dream as they face France in Sunday’s final of the World Cup. Maybe not in football terms, but in historic or political ones this will be the battle of David vs. Goliath.

Croatia, a nation that became relatively newly independent in 1991 with only four million people and has only got past the group stage twice, will face giant France which has more than 60 million people and significantly richer football history.

It is interesting that France stood in the way of Croatia in the 1998 semi-final and wound up winning its first World Cup title on home soil that year. France has been to three finals over the last six World Cups and now again stands in the way of Croatia in their pursuit of winning an elusive first World Cup title.

We Croats must be honest and say this is the ‘underdog against a favourite’ type of game and all signs point to France coming out on top. Deschamps’s side is well rested, it had already been tested in the knockout stage and presents the most powerful defence of the whole tournament.

On the other hand, Croatia somehow scraped through three tough rounds of knockout football, going the full 120 minutes in every one and needing penalties to settle two. They’ve had to come from behind in all three of these games and have had to dig deep for those wins using all 22 players at their disposal (after Nikola Kalinic was sent home following their opening game).

There must be a lot of tired legs in Zlatko Dalic’s team, as well as injuries. Five first team players skipped the last training session with Ivan Perisic as the one who is the most questionable to start in the final. But, as it has been in the tournament so far, Croatia’s medical staff will do their magic and no major changes are expected.

The latest odds and betting lines have France as a massive favourite to come out on top, but like always, this is the final game and everything is possible.

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Croatia’s World Cup dream goes on

Modric’s foul on Dele Alli gifted the Three Lions a free kick in a dangerous position early on, and Trippier stepped up to bend the ball over the wall and into the top corner, leaving Croatian goalkeeper Danijel Subasic rooted to the spot. When that happened, I thought to myself – it is definitely coming home. There is no chance for Croatia to return from this one. After suffering extra time and penalty shootouts against both Russia and Denmark, this was way too much to turn over.

Apparently, there was only one dream at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow in the first half. A dream for England to win their first semi-final in 28 years and qualify for another big stage – the final against France. Trippier’s first ever goal for his national team gave Southgate’s side a start which they could’ve only dreamed of. And they kept the early pressure on as Croatia were slow to get going.

England’s threat at set pieces was as constant as ever, with Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard, as well as Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling making all sorts of problems for Croatia’s defence. Moreover, the Three Lions should have doubled their advantage on the half-hour mark when World Cup top gunman Harry Kane was slipped through on goal, only to be firstly denied by Subasic when one-on-one, and then a combination of Subasic and the post from point-blank range.

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Croatia vs England Preview: Midfield supremacy vital for Vatreni

It seems almost nothing can stop Croatia on it’s way to the World Cup final. They’ve walked through the group stage in a surprisingly easy manner. Winning against Nigeria was not impressive, but it was enough for the initial self-confidence injection. Afterwards came the match against Argentina where Dalić’s team proved to be a serious candidate for a medal in Russia.

High-quality counter attacking football turned out to be a perfect plan for Croatia in the situation where it is opposed by a strong opponent. Vatreni began to feel very good in the role of an underdog as they showed against Sampaoli’s side.

But then the obvious problems in play while being a favorite started showing up. Dalic’s side started to struggle when in possession which was clear in the next two games.

In the first round of the knockout phase Croatia held off both it’s nerve and Denmark 3-2 in penalty kicks with the veteran shot-stopper Danijel Subasic stepping up at the right time. The Danes completely controlled the situation on the pitch for almost the whole match and similar was repeated against Russia.

There Modric and co. showed that football isn’t all about tactics, but a sport filled with strong emotions where they again came out as winners. It was simply unbelievable to see them pulling out from another penalty shootout intact. But, if they would play like in the last two games – against Denmark and Russia – they don’t stand a chance opposing England.

How can Croatia upset Southgate’s side?

First of all, Zlatko Dalic needs to return to a formation with three in midfield where Marcelo Brozovic will be the one who can unleash Modric’s abilty to drive his team forward, drag the opposition out of shape and generally dictate the match tempo. Dalic’s decision to introduce Internazionale’s deep-lying playmaker against the hosts after an hour proved to be a game-changer. Ultimately, in similar shape Croatia completely outplayed Argentina who, like England, play with three at the back.

Brozovic played a decent game against Argentina where he successfully, in cooperation with Rakitic and the defence, stopped Lionel Messi. He is the third best Croatian as per Twelve’s ‘points per minute’ overall rating at the tournament and will be vital in stuffing the midfield with players in order to stop England’s excellent duo Alli and Lingard in their roaming.


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Croatia 2-2 Russia (4-3 pens): An ode to Modric but problems still persist

Croatia are the last semi-finalist of the World Cup after Vatreni got past Russia on penalties. Croatian people waited two decades for this to happen. Vatreni finally did it, but it was really rough, dramatic and thanks to a penalty shoot-out win over the hosts at the Fisht Olympic Stadium, following a 2-2 draw after 30 minutes of extra time.

Croatia have knocked out the host nation at a World Cup for the first time in their third attempt, following unsuccessful battles against France in 1998 and Brazil in 2014.

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Croatia 1-1 Denmark (3-2 pens): Error 404 – Eriksen not found

In a match which finished 1-1 and had plenty of drama, Croatia held off both it’s nerve and Denmark 3-2 in penalty kicks with the veteran shot-stopper Danijel Subasic stepping up at the right time. After Russia’s goalkeeper made two big penalty saves to help the hosts shock Spain in the round of 16, Croatia’s goalkeeper put on his own world-class display, saving three penalty kicks to guide Croatia past the Scandinavians.

The second-smallest nation left in the competition squandered a chance to win the match with 116 played after Kasper Schmeichel superbly kept out Luka Modric’s penalty and saved two more later in the shootout. Croatia will now return to the quarterfinals for just the second time in history, and the first time since the 1998 tournament in France.

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Croatia vs. Denmark Preview: Danes not just about Eriksen

After my debut article for Twelve where I explained why Croatia can no longer be considered a darkhorse at the World Cup, I am now looking towards the Vatreni’s decisive match of the tournament against Denmark in which we’ll see a great battle for the quarter-finals spot.

Croatia were one of just three sides to claim maximum points from the group phase, while their opponent did just about enough to finish second in Group C. All three group matches gave Zlatko Dalic a chance to show a different style of play. Against Nigeria they’ve shown a sheer routine with a 2-0 win in their opener, before they trashed Argentina with a stunning 3-0 win in their second game. Croatia then battled to a 2-1 triumph over Iceland with a mixed squad in their closing match of Group D.

Croatia’s top performers in the group stage.

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Can Croatia dream of winning the World Cup?

Only six nations in the last 32 years have reached the knockout stage of the World Cup without conceding a goal. Another one could be Croatia this year. I couldn’t have imagined things would turn out to be exactly as they are now.

The whole qualification process was strange for Croatia, especially in the last few games. I still remember watching the game in my hometown against Finland, which was supposed to be an easy three-pointer. Mandzukic scored in the 57th minute, but Soiri banged in the leveller in the 90th minute.

Next match was against Ukraine. It was the last round of the qualification process and ‘Vatreni’ needed a win to make the playoff. After the draw against Finland, the Croatian FA sacked Ante Cacic and things started to look irreparable. The chaos and disorder in Croatia’s game was obvious.

In that game against Finland, only Luka Modric showed the willingness to play and compete. Others were not interested and it looked like we were going to miss the World Cup, and not long after we were decent at Euro 2016.

But the FA’s decision to sack Cacic proved to be right. Zlatko Dalic took over and the rest is history. After years of waiting, Croatia finally has a squad capable of something big, and they confirmed that after only two group stage games.

Not only do they look harmonious on the pitch, but they finally play in a clear-set system that has it’s own essence. Everything before that was an over-reliance on pure individualism. The majestic win against Argentina proved exactly that, but everything started with Nigeria and game no.1 in the World Cup group stage for Croatia.

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