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English Premier League talking points

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Talking points from the Premier League weekend:

BRIGHTON RUE DECISIONS AS EURO HOPES HIT

Brighton & Hove Albion had every reason to feel hard-done-by after their hopes of qualifying for Europe were dented by a 2-1 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday.

Not only did they largely outplay their fifth-placed hosts, they were on the receiving end of some poor decision that even led to an apology from officials body the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL).

Howard Webb, the PGMOL chief, admitted Brighton should have had a penalty when Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg stood on Kaoru Mitoma’s foot in the 70th minute and referee Stuart Attwell waved away appeals for a penalty and VAR failed to intervene.

Brighton also had two goals, one for Mitoma and one for Alexis Mac Allister ruled out for handball.

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It all proved a poor advert for VAR as Brighton, for the third time this season, received an apology about decisions.

MISSING MITROVIC A PROBLEM FOR FLIMSY FULHAM

The effect of the eight-match ban handed down to Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic for pushing the referee in their FA Cup clash with Manchester United last month was glaringly obvious as they lost 1-0 to lowly West Ham United on Saturday.

Marco Silva’s side spent the game slinging cross after cross into the box, but with their talismanic target man sitting in the stands for the foreseeable future, there was no-one on hand to make the most of them, and West Ham ended up winning thanks to an own goal.

Mid-table Fulham have little chance of either making the European places or being relegated, but they will need to work out how deal with the absence of the fiery Serb if they are to avoid a repeat of this embarrassing defeat.

MANCHESTER CITY RELENTLESS IN PURSUIT

One thing Arsenal can be sure of is that Manchester City are not about to hand over their title without a hell of a fight.

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City are back in the type of groove that twice saw them hold off Liverpool in epic title races and Saturday’s 4-1 victory at bottom club Southampton, while expected, was another example that they will continue to churn out victories.

Since losing to Tottenham in early February, City have taken 22 points from 24 on offer and have the momentum going into the final weeks of the season.

Arsenal remain six points clear, but have played a game more than City and may soon have them breathing down their necks.

ARSENAL UNRAVEL AT ANFIELD

With eight games to go as they try and close in on a first Premier League trophy since 2004, Arsenal will be hoping that squandering a two-goal lead against Liverpool does not end up costing them the title.

Through most of the first half, the league leaders turned Liverpool inside out with the ruthless precision they have shown for most of the season to go 2-0 up. However, they conceded just before the break and unravelled after halftime to draw 2-2.

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Goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale produced a highlights reel of spectacular saves late on and was a big reason the north Londoners got out of Anfield with a point at all.

Arsenal faced 19 shots inside the box, the most they have faced since records began for this statistic in 2003-04.

“You need your goalkeeper in title races, you need magic moments from your keeper, and Aaron was there for us, just like Alisson has been for Liverpool so many times,” manager Mikel Arteta said.

“But we look at ourselves in mirror and could have done better with some big chances.”

HODGSON UNLOCKS PALACE POTENTIAL AS OLISE PULLS STRINGS

In two games since his return to the Crystal Palace hot seat, new manager Roy Hodgson has seen his side score seven goals — as many as they did in their previous 15 matches — to move six points clear of the relegation zone.

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A team struggling to find the net under Patrick Vieira were at their aggressive and free-flowing best as they thrashed Leeds United 5-1, with 21-year-old Michael Olise orchestrating the attack and grabbing a hat-trick of assists in just 16 minutes.

“I have seen him for 10 days less than I have seen the others. What I make of him is that I think he is an enormous talent,” Hodgson said.

“We (coaches) are orchestra leaders. We know the music, we know all the notes, but they have to play the tune.”

-Reuters

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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Ten Hag credits United’s leadership for proactive transfer moves

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Pre Season Friendly - Rangers v Manchester United - Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain - July 20, 2024 Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag Action Images via Reuters/Ed Sykes

Manchester United are on the front foot in the transfer market thanks to the club’s leadership making quick and decisive moves to secure new players early, manager Erik ten Hag said after the signing of Leny Yoro and Joshua Zirkzee.

Since British billionaire and INEOS chairman Jim Ratcliffe took control of football operations at Old Trafford, acquiring a 25% stake in February, United has not only witnessed a new hierarchy but also benefited from new ideas.

United signed French defender Yoro on a five-year contract for a fee of 62 million euros ($67 million) on Thursday, the 18-year-old had been pursued by several top European clubs prior to his move to Manchester, including Real Madrid.

Another crucial signing was striker Zirkzee, who had an excellent season with the Serie A club Bologna last season and played for Netherlands in the European Championship. United paid 42.5 million euros for the 23-year-old for a five-year deal.

“It is very good that we are also there on the front foot, we are very proactive,” Ten Hag said on Saturday. “So, (the) leadership is doing a great job in this moment and that’s how we want to act as United.”

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“We are highly ambitious and you have to be on the front foot and be ready for the season. The earlier you get your players in then (the faster) you can work on your team.”

Yoro made a strong impression in his United debut during their 2-0 pre-season friendly win over Scottish side Rangers

on Saturday, while Zirkzee, who has been given time off after the European Championship, is expected to join the squad in August.

-Reuters

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Super Eagles’ Cyriel Dessers fires blank as Rangers crumble to revamped Manchester United

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Rangers FC endured their second pre-season defeat in a row, falling to Manchester United at Murrayfield Stadium.

Super Eagles star Cyriel Dessers started the clash for Philippe Clement’s squad but failed to score in his 76 minutes of action, much to the disappointment of the Scottish fans in attendance.

This marks the former US Cremonese striker’s fourth consecutive appearance without a goal for the Glasgow-based club since his strike in Rangers’ 5-2 victory against Dundee FC.

During the game, Ivorian forward, Amad Diallo, capitalized on a clever pass from Mason Mount, firing the ball into the bottom left corner of Jack Butland’s goal.

In the 70th minute, Polish prodigy Maximiliano Oyedele, who has a Nigerian father, delivered a superb pass to Joe Hugill, who unleashed a thunderous strike past Butland.

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Another player of Nigerian descent who shone was Habeeb Ogunneye, making an impressive appearance for Erik Ten Hag’s side during his 45 minutes on the pitch.

Meanwhile, Dessers will be eager to end his goal drought as Rangers continue their preseason tour, with a match against Birmingham City up next.

On the side of Manchester United, Leny Yoro, made his first appearance just two days after the French centre-back signed his contract, Yoro was thrown into the starting lineup in Scotland, starting alongside veteran defender Jonny Evans while Lisandro Martinez remains away after his Copa America triumph with Argentina.

Just ten minutes into the game, Yoro caught the eye with an impressive block to deny striker Dessers.

Yoro’s composure on the ball played its part in United’s dominating possession in the first half, but the Red Devils were made to wait until the 39th minute to open the scoring.

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It was the impressive Amad Diallo who curled a delightful effort beyond Jack Butland, with Mason Mount grabbing the assist for United’s first goal of pre-season.

Yoro was removed at the break alongside nine other outfield starters. Only Jadon Sancho, making his first appearance for United in nearly 11 months after his clear-the-air talks with manager Erik ten Hag, remained for the second half.

United went incredibly young for the second 45 and predictably lost their dominant control of proceedings, while the heavy rain did not help either side play their best football.

The Red Devils added their second goal with 20 minutes remaining as Joe Hugill thundered home a glorious effort, removing the shred of doubt about the result which had started to creep in.

Just five minutes later, Rangers brought out their own wholesale changes, but the Scottish side continued to struggle in the final third as United managed to hold out for a solid win.

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Nigerian-born Man United’s new striker promises  creativity and unpredictability to fans

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Manchester United newcomer Joshua Zirkzee said fans can expect to see a creative, unpredictable player who developed his skills in cage football, and idolised Ronaldinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

He is a Dutch, but has Nigerian mother.

The 23-year-old striker signed for the Red Devils on July 14 after an excellent season with Italian Serie A club Bologna, where he scored 11 goals and made five assists and helped them secure a place in the Champions League.

“Yeah, it’s been a roller-coaster the past few weeks, but some very good experiences. I’m very happy to be here,” Zirkzee said in an interview for United’s website on July 17.

“Obviously, (I’m arriving) at a good point, making a transfer to Manchester United is something very positive. So yeah, I just can’t wait to get started and continue what I basically did last season.”

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The 1.93m-tall Dutchman is technically gifted for a player his size, which he attributes to his childhood in Spijkenisse, in the south of the Netherlands where he developed his skills in Johan Cruyff cages – enclosed football pitches named after the Dutch football great.

“As a young boy growing up, playing mostly with tougher, bigger guys who are older than you makes you adapt, so I think that’s something that you learn at a young age in Holland, especially where I grew up,” Zirkzee added.

“(I’m a) creative player, good with the ball, I’m just a bit unpredictable at times.”

He laughingly recounted the countless times he got in trouble with his mother for coming home late.

“I hope she forgives me now for all the times I came home late, or if I broke something in the backyard,” he said.

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“Eventually, it all worked out pretty well… that was just life back when I was younger, playing football, forgetting about the time and getting back home late.”

Zirkzee also said that having a Dutch manager in Erik ten Hag is a “privilege” and the added presence of Ruud van Nistelrooy – the former Netherlands and United striker who joined ten Hag’s coaching staff earlier this week – will help him adjust to his new team.

But they are not the only reasons he made the move to United.

“Manchester United is a great, huge club so it’s just an extra privilege,” he said.

“Having some Dutch people around obviously makes it a bit easier, (but) to be fair I’m not too difficult adapting.

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“When I was younger, watching the Dutch national team, Manchester United, watching (van Nistelrooy) play, he was one of the guys who you pretend to be when you were playing with friends. So, having him out here is a bit special.

Zirkzee was a late addition to the Netherlands squad for the European Championship, making his senior debut in the quarter-final victory against Turkey.

On the heels of Euro 2024, he will be given some time off and is not expected to link up with his new teammates until early August.

Following his arrival at Old Trafford for a fee of about £36.5 million (S$63.6 million), United are set to sign Lille’s promising teenage defender Leny Yoro in a £52 million swoop, according to reports on July 17.

The 18-year-old had been linked with a move to European champions Real Madrid, but he has since travelled to England and has undergone a medical test with the Red Devils, before putting pen to paper.

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United will reportedly pay £52.7 million as an initial fee, with add-ons worth a further £6.7 million.

Yoro, who made his Lille debut at the age of 16, has been ranked as one of the best young players in Europe.

Ten Hag has been keen to land a new centre-back after Raphael Varane left at the end of last season.

Varane and Lisandro Martinez were United’s starting centre-backs in their FA Cup final victory over Manchester City in May, with Harry Maguire missing the showpiece due to an injury that also ruled him out of Euro 2024.

United have also been chasing Bayern Munich’s Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt and is understood to have had two offers rejected for Everton’s Jarrad Branthwaite.

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Reuters/AFP

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