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Mata eases pressure on Solskjaer as Manchester United thrash Newcastle 4-1

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Manchester United beat Newcastle 4-1, thanks to goals from Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Marcus Rashford on Saturday, but it was Juan Mata who made the difference for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.

Solskjaer, under pressure after United’s joint-worst defeat of the Premier League era, made five changes from the side thrashed by Spurs and most of the focus ahead of kick-off fell on the players left out. Paul Pogba was the most high-profile to lose his spot. There was no place in the side for Donny van de Beek or Alex Telles either.

But it was one of the players who came into the side who made the biggest impact on the game. Mata had not played a single minute of Manchester United’s first three Premier League fixtures this season. In fact, he had not made a single start in the competition since February.

On this evidence, however, the 32-year-old still has plenty to offer, according to a Sky Sport report.

Mata was not among the scorers at St James’ Park – those were Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Marcus Rashford – but United’s best attacking performance in months owed more to him than anyone else. The Spaniard was outstanding from start to finish.

Mata lined up on the right-hand side of United’s attack, the position occupied by Mason Greenwood against Spurs, but his interpretation of the role was very different. What he lacks in pace and power, he makes up for in vision and imagination.

Mata popped up everywhere, drifting into pockets of space wherever he saw them, creating space for Wan-Bissaka to bomb forward on the overlap, and linking up with Fernandes at every opportunity.

By the end, the pair had exchanged passes 31 times. Their combination play resulted in a goal after 19 minutes, only for VAR to rule it out for offside, and there were plenty more examples. Shortly after half-time, there was another mesmerising one-two to manufacture an opening for Fred.

Mata provided Fernandes with the service he has lacked for much of this season and the Portuguese was not the only one to benefit for his presence. Over the course of the 90 minutes, there were also superb passes for Wan-Bissaka and Rashford, one of which released the latter in the build-up to Fernandes’ goal.

Mata knitted everything together, his touch-map underlining his influence all over the pitch, and it was exactly what United needed.

Their biggest issue under Solskjaer has been an inability to break down opponents who sit deep and prevent them from playing on the break. It was for precisely that reason that the trip to St James’ Park looked like an awkward one. But with Mata orchestrating proceedings, it was not a problem.

Instead, Solskjaer’s side were slick in possession and created scoring chances with ease. Indeed, it was only thanks to Newcastle goalkeeper Karl Darlow’s sharp reflexes that the game was not dead and buried long before the late flurry of goals that sealed the victory.

The statistics underlined their effectiveness. United’s total of 28 shots, including 14 on target, was the highest by any Premier League side in a single game so far this season. It was also more than United managed in any game in the whole of the last campaign.

Mata only registered one assist, the corner from which Maguire headed home United’s equaliser, but his influence was far greater than that and Solskjaer acknowledged as much in his post-match press conference, praising him for grasping his opportunity after his spell out of the side.

“He played fantastic,” said Solskjaer. “He’s such a professional and everyone in the team knows his quality. He’s been so patient waiting for his chance.

“I get a lot of questions, ‘Why doesn’t he play? Why doesn’t he play?’ But it’s because we have many good players, and it’s about taking your chances when you do. Juan has definitely done so.”

Mata walked off the pitch with a grin on his face when he made way for Nemanja Matic in the final few minutes of the game and Solskjaer looked similarly elated after the final whistle.

The manager’s credentials had been questioned during United’s poor start to the season and the scrutiny won’t end with this victory – especially with games against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, RB Leipzig and Arsenal to come in the weeks ahead.

But the pressure on his shoulders ahead of that testing run of fixtures is at least a little lighter than it was before kick-off at St James’ Park, and that’s largely thanks to his decision to turn to Mata.

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Super Eagles drop to 32nd in FIFA ranking

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The Super Eagles of Nigeria have dropped by one spot to the 32nd position in the world in the October rankings by global football governing body, FIFA.

In the rankings released on Thursday, the Nigerian senior men’s national team received 1498.47 points in September as against the 1504.7 garnered in August.

On the continental level, they are still placed fourth behind Senegal (world 18th), Morocco (23rd) and Tunisia (30th).

On the global scene, a total of 53 UEFA Nations League matches and 119 friendlies were played during the last international break before the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 which starts on Nov. 20.

Brazil are placed first as ranking leaders aspiring to win a sixth world title.

In beating Ghana and Tunisia in their two friendlies last week, A Seleçao widened the gap between themselves and their nearest challengers.

Belgium who lost to eighth-placed Netherlands in the Nations League are second, after dropping a step, and Argentina in third place complete the podium.

Just behind them lie reigning world champions France in fourth place, followed by England in fifth place.

The only change in the top 10 saw Italy in sixth place leapfrogging Spain who are now seventh.

There is more movement further down the ranking, with Croatia now 12th, after rising three places, while the Islamic Republic of Iran are 20th, rising up two places to move into the top 20.

They are followed closely by Serbia, now 21st, after gaining four places.

The biggest movers were teams who failed to qualify for Qatar 2022, namely Scotland (40th) and Azerbaijan (123rd), each moving five places higher. (NAN)

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UCL: Haaland scores twice in Man City 5-0 win, Chelsea beat Milan 3-0, R/Madrid pip Shakhtar2-1

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Erling Haaland, Manchester City’s red-hot striker, on Wednesday night led the club to another emphatic win with two goals in their 5-0 win over FC Copenhagen in their UEFA Champions League (UCL) group match at the Etihad stadium on Wednesday night.

The 22-year-old Norwegian striker opened the floodgates with two quick goals to extend his goals tally to 19 goals in his first 12 games since joining Pep Guardiola’s side this summer.

Further strikes from Riyad Mahrez, Julio Alvarez and an own goal completed the rout of the Danish side.

The former Dortmund forward scored the first goal on seven minutes, directing a well-struck shot in the seventh minute before tapping in the second from a rebound.

A deflection handed City their third goal before the interval and further goals arrived in the second period through Mahrez’s penalty and Alvarez’s close range finish.

Man City lead group G with nine points following three wins from three matches, three points ahead of Dortmund who thumped Sevilla 4-1 in Spain.

Chelsea defeated AC Milan 3-0 to record their first UCL win of the season. Goals from Wesley Fofana, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyand and Reece James ensured Graham Potter enjoyed his first continental win since taking over as Chelsea manager.

Elsewhere, Real Madrid scored two first half goals to record a 2-1 win over Shakhtar Donetsk while Lionel Messi could not help Paris Saint-Germain to victory despite scoring a brilliant goal.

 

RESULTS

RB Leipzig 3-1 Celtic

RB Salzburg 1-0 Dinamo Zagreb

Real Madrid 2-1 Shakhtar Donetsk

Chelsea 3-0 AC Milan

Benfica 1-1 PSG

Juventus 3-1 Maccabi Haifa

Sevilla 1-4 Borussia Dortmund

Manchester City 5-0 Copenhagen

-TheCable

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Etebo completes move to Greece

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Oghenekaro Etebo

Super Eagles midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo arrived in Thessaloniki yesterday to complete his transfer to Greek side Aris FC.

It would be recalled that Etebo agreed to join Aris Thessalonians last month, inking a three-year deal on September 15, the summer transfer deadline day in Greece.

With the move, Etebo ended his uninspiring four-year stay on the payroll of English Championship club Stoke City.

But after Aris announced the acquisition of Etebo, visa issues stalled the midfield dynamo from travelling  to Greece.

But recent reports from Greece revealed that the visa issuance concerns had been resolved, and Etebo had received his visa from the London embassy.

Etebo landed in Greece yesterday straight to Aris FC’s traditional home, the Kleanthis Vikelidis Stadium to undergo the necessary medical tests, to determine his level of readiness and how quickly he will be able to integrate into manager Alan Pardew’s plans.

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Having not played competitive football for several months, Etebo is expected to need a special training program to get him up to speed.
Etebo said : “It may have been a while since my last official game but all this time I worked very hard to be ready and if the coach asks me to, I can also play in the next game against AEK.”

Etebo is looking forward to working with Aris manager Alan Pardew who previously coached English clubs Reading, West Ham United, Southampton, Charlton Athletic, Newcastle United, Crystal Palace and West Brom.

He added : “Of course I know the coach as he was my opponent during my time in England. I’m looking forward to this collaboration and I think it’s going to go well.”

When asked about the information he gathered about Aris, Etebo said :  “First of all I’m happy to be at Aris. It is a new page in my career and what is important is to join the family, become part of the team and help it in the areas it needs.

“It wasn’t necessary to gather information about Aris because I know who the team is. I’m interested in entering it, giving all my strength and succeeding.”
The Nation
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