As he reflects on his exit from Manchester United on Sunday after nearly three years in charge, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will no doubt consider what might have been at Old Trafford.
What if he had been less nice and more ruthless with his players? What if he had been more aggressive in his transfer requests to the club’s hierarchy and what if they had delivered on those?
The Norwegian was handed the chance to restore United to the levels of success they enjoyed during his time as a player under Alex Ferguson’s management but he left with the team seventh in the league and without winning a trophy.
If Solskjaer had been able to bring in the players he identified as part of his overhaul of the squad, however, the success United fans craved may have come much closer.
The list of players United reportedly attempted to sign — but didn’t — shows that, while Solskjaer’s forgiving nature and tactical decisions were clearly factors in his downfall — the club’s recruitment mistakes also played a key role.
The first player Solskjaer made clear he wanted was compatriot Erling Haaland, who he coached at Norwegian club Molde.
The centre forward is one of the most exciting attacking talents in the game but United were unable to sign him from RB Salzburg and he joined Borussia Dortmund.
United were in advanced talks to sign Jude Bellingham, the highly promising England midfielder, when he was still playing for second tier Birmingham City but he also went to Dortmund.
Portuguese full back Joao Cancelo was on the club’s radar during his time in Italy with Inter Milan and Juventus but he ended up in Pep Guardiola’s title-winning squad at Manchester City.
Spanish defensive midfielder Rodri, was identified by Solskjaer as a player to fill a longstanding weak spot in his side — but he also headed to the blue half of Manchester.
Atletico Madrid’s England right back Kieran Trippier and German international Kai Havertz, now with Chelsea, were also targets that failed to arrive.
United’s owners did, however, back Solskjaer with big-money signings including winger Jadon Sancho who arrived after over a year of talks with Dortmund, France centre half Raphael Varane and, of course, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Before that Bruno Fernandes was brought in from Sporting Lisbon and added much needed quality to the side and ultimately there was enough quality to win at least some of the games that United lost this season.
“I don’t think Ole can complain about the time that he has been given and the money that he has been afforded. I don’t think he can complain about the players delivered to him,” said former United skipper Gary Neville on Sky Sports.
Critics of Solskjaer have pointed to the unclear tactics used, most noticeably in the 5-0 home mauling by Liverpool and the lack of a consistent style of play.
The United squad certainly has no shortage of attacking talent but Solskjaer was ultimately undone by the poor displays of his back four and the lack of defensive quality – or shape — of his midfield.
The United manager continued to show faith in out-of-form players such as Aaron Wan Bissaka, Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire — loyalty which cost him dearly in his final month.
The Norwegian and the club’s hierarchy also chose to keep players on the pay-roll who were clearly no longer central to his first-team plans – the likes of Phil Jones, Juan Mata, Eric Bailly, Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Diogo Dalot.
For all the references to returning to the “United way” of his playing days, Solskjaer did not show Ferguson’s ruthlessness in moving players quickly out of the door when they were no longer needed.
Whether that was down to Solskjaer’s “niceness” or those above him thinking it was more economical to keep existing squad players than pay for new recruits to replace them is unclear.
But the result was a squad with too few quality options for a manager who struggled to get the best out of what was available to him.
(Reporting by Simon Evans, Editing by Ed Osmond)
One of Italy or Portugal will miss World Cup after qualifying draw – Sportsnet.ca
ZURICH — European champion Italy and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal were drawn in the same World Cup qualifying playoffs bracket Friday, meaning at least one of them will miss next year’s tournament in Qatar.
Italy will face North Macedonia at home in a playoff semifinal next March, and the winner will play away at either Portugal or Turkey for a spot in the World Cup.
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) November 26, 2021
Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup — losing in the playoffs to Sweden — and now will likely have to beat Ronaldo and Portugal to avoid missing the tournament for a second straight time. Portugal has always qualified during Ronaldo’s career. He first played at the 2006 World Cup.
Also in the 12-team draw, Scotland will face Ukraine at home, and the winner will play at Wales or Austria in the final of their bracket.
Russia will host Poland for the right to face Sweden or the Czech Republic in their bracket final. Russia or Poland will host the final.
The six playoff semifinals will be played as single-leg elimination games March 24. The three finals are played five days later.
The three winners will complete Europe’s entry of 13 nations in the 32-team lineup in Qatar.
FIFA will make the tournament draw on April 1 in Doha.
The playoffs feature the 10 teams who finished second in their qualifying groups along with two teams — Austria and the Czechs — who won Nations League groups last year.
Canada's World Cup chances get a boost after intercontinental playoff draw – Sportsnet.ca
CONCACAF got a break Friday, with a draw determining that the fourth-place qualifier from North and Central America and the Caribbean will face a side from Oceania in a Qatar 2022 intercontinental playoff.
Thus, if Canada slips to fourth in the CONCACAF table, its World Cup chances appear to have received a boost with the latest FIFA intercontinental playoff draw.
The draw at FIFA headquarters in Zurich paired teams from AFC (Asia) and CONMEBOL (South America) in the other playoff.
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) November 26, 2021
The intercontinental playoffs will determine the last two sides in the 32-country field for next year’s World Cup. The single-game playoffs will take place in Qatar on June 13 and 14, 2022. Previously they were home-and-away series.
CONCACAF will likely heave a sign of relief at avoiding the fifth-place South American finisher. CONMEBOL teams have won seven of 10 playoffs, including six of the last seven. And Asia got the best of CONCACAF last time out.
Only two points currently separate fourth-place Colombia (No. 16) and eighth-place Bolivia (No. 77) in South American qualifying with Peru (No. 22), Chile (No. 24) and Uruguay (No. 17) in between.
New Zealand, at No. 110, is the top-ranked team in Oceania, ahead of the Solomon Islands at No. 141. The All Whites have represented Oceania in the last three playoffs, winning once.
The Canadian men, who had six games remaining, will look to avoid the playoffs by finishing in the top three come March.
So far so good. No. 40 Canada (4-0-4, 14 points) currently tops the eight-team CONCACAF final qualifying round, ahead of the 12th-ranked U.S. (4-1-3, 15 points) and No. 14 Mexico and No. 63 Panama (both 4-2-2, 14 points).
The playoffs were originally scheduled for March 2022 but were rescheduled due to the pandemic.
CONCACAF teams have won three of six playoffs, with Mexico advancing in 1962 and 2014 and Trinidad and Tobago in 2006.
Australia beat Honduras 3-1 on aggregate while Peru downed New Zealand 2-0 in two-game playoffs in November 2017 to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
In the intercontinental playoffs ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Mexico thumped New Zealand 9-3 on aggregate and Uruguay blanked Jordan 5-0.
New Zealand was successful in making the 2010 World Cup in South Africa edging Bahrain 1-0. Uruguay defeated Costa Rica 2-1 in the other playoff.
In the European playoffs also drawn Friday, it will be Scotland versus Ukraine, Wales versus Austria, Russia versus Poland, Sweden versus Czech Republic, Italy versus North Macedonia and Portugal versus Turkey.
The 12 teams are competing for three World Cup berths.
Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Croatia, Denmark, England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland and host Qatar have already qualified.
Fantasy: Start, Sit, Stash, Quit – Week 12 – thescore.com
SSSQ is a weekly look at under-the-radar fantasy players to consider starting and potential busts you should leave on your bench. We also identify breakout candidates to stash on your roster and players you can safely cut.
Cam Newton, Panthers
In his first start since returning to the Panthers, Newton made his presence felt by throwing for 189 yards and two touchdowns while adding another 46 yards and a score on the ground.
It made Newton the QB4 overall on the week and gave fantasy managers hope that he can be a potential starting option the rest of the season.
Next up is a Dolphins defense allowing the fifth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks.
Boone’s projection: 228 passing yards, passing TD, 37 rushing yards, rushing TD
Other QBs to start
- Russell Wilson at Washington
- Carson Wentz vs. Buccaneers
- Taylor Heinicke vs. Seahawks
Miles Sanders, Eagles
Sanders quietly tallied 94 rushing yards on 16 carries last week in his first game back off injured reserve. The reason his fantasy stat line didn’t jump off the page was because he failed to reach the end zone and fumbled once.
However, with teammate Jordan Howard dealing with a knee injury that will sideline him for Week 12 and perhaps longer, Sanders is in a position to see plenty of volume in the Eagles’ revived rushing attack.
Philadelphia’s schedule is excellent the rest of the way, starting with a matchup against the Giants who are the seventh-easiest opponent for fantasy running backs.
Boone’s projection: 77 rushing yards, TD, 16 receiving yards
Other RBs to start
- James Robinson vs. Falcons
- Antonio Gibson vs. Seahawks
- Javonte Williams/Melvin Gordon vs. Chargers
Elijah Moore, Jets
Rookies often get off to a slow start in their debut campaign before taking on a larger role in the second half of the season.
Moore has been on that track, and the days of him being underutilized appear to be over.
Over the last few weeks, he’s emerged as a dangerous weapon in the Jets’ offense, with stat lines of 6-67-0, 7-84-2, 3-44-1, and most recently 8-141-1. He’s also done it with a revolving door at quarterback.
Zach Wilson is slated to return under center this week and there’s nothing to fear about the Texans’ pass defense. With teammate Corey Davis nursing a groin injury, this should be another chance for Moore to showcase his skills.
Boone’s projection: 89 receiving yards, TD
Other WRs to start
- Brandin Cooks vs. Jets
- Brandon Aiyuk vs. Vikings
- Marvin Jones vs. Falcons
Pat Freiermuth, Steelers
Freiermuth has averaged the fifth-most fantasy points among tight ends since Week 6.
His breakout coincided with Eric Ebron missing time a few weeks back. In the two games Ebron was sidelined, Freiermuth finished as the TE3 overall (Week 8) and TE1 overall (Week 9).
When the veteran returned to the lineup, Freiermuth’s playing time and production took a hit.
Now, with Ebron expected to miss time with a knee injury, the rookie will be unleashed as a true top-10 fantasy option.
Boone’s projection: 63 receiving yards, TD
Other TEs to start
- Rob Gronkowski at Colts
- Dallas Goedert at Giants
- Dan Arnold vs. Falcons
Ryan Tannehill, Titans
Don’t start fantasy quarterbacks against the Patriots. Just don’t do it.
Here’s a list of recent QBs and where they’ve finished after taking on Bill Belichick’s defense.
To make matters worse, A.J. Brown‘s status is in doubt after he left last week’s game with a chest injury and didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday.
You should be avoiding Tannehill at all costs this week.
Boone’s projection: 194 passing yards, TD, INT, 21 rushing yards
Other QBs to sit
- Tua Tagovailoa vs. Panthers
- Ben Roethlisberger at Bengals
- Baker Mayfield at Ravens
Myles Gaskin, Dolphins
Gaskin has been an extremely boom or bust fantasy back with most of the booms coming against easier opponents and most of the busts happening versus tough run defenses.
Some recent bust examples include the Ravens in Week 10 (RB42) and Bills in Week 8 (RB34).
The Panthers are permitting the third-fewest fantasy points to running backs, which should make you question using Gaskin this week.
There’s also the addition of Phillip Lindsay to consider, though that’s more of an issue for Gaskin’s value the rest of the season.
Boone’s projection: 37 rushing yards, 14 receiving yards
Other RBs to sit
- Devonta Freeman/Latavius Murray vs. Browns
- Alex Collins at Washington
- D’Onta Foreman at Patriots
Courtland Sutton, Broncos
A player of his caliber is destined to bounce back eventually, but this isn’t the game to bet on Sutton escaping his slump.
The Chargers rank ninth in Football Outsiders‘ pass defense DVOA and are giving up the second-fewest fantasy points to receivers.
Boone’s projection: 48 receiving yards
Other WRs to sit
- Kenny Golladay vs. Eagles
- Jarvis Landry at Ravens
- Tyler Boyd vs. Steelers
Hunter Henry, Patriots
Henry has only topped 42 yards once this season, but his touchdown scoring has kept him fantasy relevant.
With seven trips to the end zone over the last eight games, Henry is the definition of a touchdown-dependent play.
Unfortunately for him, the Titans – who are a bottom-five matchup for fantasy tight ends – have only allowed three touchdowns to the position this season.
Boone’s projection: 37 receiving yards
Other TEs to sit
- Tyler Higbee at Packers
- Tyler Conklin at 49ers
- Jared Cook at Broncos
DeeJay Dallas, Seahawks
Alex Collins has taken the lead in Seattle’s backfield, but the coaching staff seems reluctant to use him as a pass-catcher – capping his upside.
Meanwhile, Dallas (3% rostered) saw his largest snap share of the season in Week 11 and began to carve out a role. He even scored a rushing touchdown in the game.
Though waiver wires tend to be picked apart at this point in the season, Dallas has a shot to earn significant touches on a depth chart desperate for someone to create a spark.
Curtis Samuel, Washington
It’s been a long and disappointing season for Samuel (12% rostered) in Washington. Injuries have kept the versatile receiver out of all but two contests, and he was limited to just 30 combined snaps in those appearances.
However, Samuel is finally back at practice and may actually suit up for a Monday night matchup with the Seahawks.
While there’s still a long way to go before we can trust him in our fantasy lineups, now is the time to scoop Samuel up and get him on your bench.
Mike Davis, Falcons
Davis was outplayed by Cordarrelle Patterson early in the season, but at least he was getting volume over the first five weeks.
Since the Falcons’ Week 6 bye, the 28-year-old has fallen off the fantasy map. Davis has just one game with more than 21 yards from scrimmage in the past five outings and hasn’t found the end zone during that span.
With Patterson sidelined in Week 11, Davis managed just three carries for one yard while gaining 20 yards on three receptions.
Unlike other backup runners around the league, Davis doesn’t come with upside … regardless of how many injuries strike Atlanta’s running back room.
The roster spot he’s occupying is being wasted. Drop him and find someone who at least has a path to more production.
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