Soccer

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer trying to get Manchester United back on top of the Premier League

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer trying to get Manchester United back on top of the Premier League

Weekend mornings haven’t been the same since the English Premier League paused its season. The EPL will be back on NBC this month. Until then, NBC Sports Washington is devoting a week of stories to each of the Big 6 clubs in England: Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City. Because we miss the Premier League, too. 

Our fourth week begins with a look at Manchester United, which hasn't won a Premier League title since 2013. Can a familiar face at manager get them back to the top? 

It wasn’t long ago that the rumors were swirling around Manchester United’s manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after a slow start saw his side sitting in 14th place after nine matches.  

When a club as big and wealthy as United is struggling, not even a long, distinguished playing career with the team can save a manager. And all the best ones currently without a job are often linked to yours.  

But even with former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino waiting in the wings, ownership stayed behind Solskjaer. He got his team to respond with an unbeaten run of 11 matches before the pause due to the coronavirus pandemic. United now sit in 5th place in the Premier League as the season nears its return next week.  

Solskjaer started his playing career in his native Norway but made his way to Manchester United by the age of 23 in 1996 as an unexpected signing by legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson. He quickly proved his worth, scoring just six minutes into his debut as a substitute against Blackburn Rovers.  

The young Norwegian led the Red Devils in scoring that season with 18 goals in 33 appearances on the way to his first Premier League title. For a player who had as much success as Solskjaer did with Manchester United, it is not something that he keeps fresh in his mind. 

“That’s just not me,” Solskjaer told NBC's Arlo White in an interview for the Inside the Mind series. “I just don’t sit back and think what I have done. I’m always, always looking forward to what can I do and what can I improve upon.” 
After his playing days were cut short due to repeated injuries, Solskjaer made his way into coaching. Ferguson brought him on to coach the strikers for the Manchester United first team in 2007 and then he was hired to manage the Manchester United Reserves in 2008.  

Speaking to White on his relationship with Ferguson, Solskjaer was quick to point out the differences between himself and the manager who won 38 trophies in 26 seasons with Manchester United. But there were various lessons learned along the way, too.  

“The way he managed people, managed me as a human being, as a player, I had the best teacher on how to be the front figure of a football club,” Solskjaer said of his former boss. “How to set standards, the hunger to always improve and win, well I’ve just enjoyed working under him, but I have to be myself.” 

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When Manchester United appointed Solskjaer the caretaker manager on December 19, 2018 after eight years split between managing Molde in the Norwegian Tippeligaen and half season at Cardiff City in the Premier League, he returned to the club that made him a household name among Premier League fans.  

That first drive back into the stadium where he spent 11 years as a player and another four as a coach was “definitely different” but soon felt normal.  

“The first time of course, it was almost, you’re a bit nervous, but your nerves settle very quickly when you walk in this front door,” Solskjaer said. “It was just almost like, yeah it was like the old days, you’re just coming home.” 

Solskjaer’s homecoming to Manchester United started strong as a caretaker manager and he earned himself a 3-year contract to manage the winningest club in English football. As he told White, his goal is to get his team back to a place where they can challenge for the league “and consistently keep winning games like Man United teams do, with convincing, attacking, free-flowing football with flair.” 

Solskjaer certainly knows a thing or two about winning and attacking flair having scored 91 goals while lifting 12 trophies in his 11 seasons with United.  

The club is clearly in his blood and means “everything” to Solskjaer.  

“When I walked in the door in 1996, I couldn’t in my wildest dreams imagine the footballing career I had,” Solskjaer said. “I owe so much to this club so I’m just trying to give everything I can back to it and hopefully get us back to where we should be, and that’s at the top.” 

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Report: F.C. Barcelona sacks manager after blowout loss to Bayern Munich in Champions League quarterfinals

Report: F.C. Barcelona sacks manager after blowout loss to Bayern Munich in Champions League quarterfinals

Sometimes in life, things come at you fast.

On Friday morning, Quique Setién was the manager of one of the best soccer teams in the world. Hours later, he's reportedly out of a job.

F.C. Barcelona have decided to reportedly sack Setién following the club's blowout 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals on Friday, according to Fabrizio Romano of Sky Sports.

Setién's tenure in Barcelona was a short one; he replaced Ernesto Valverde just this past January. Expectations are high in the Catalonian capital; failure to deliver at a club like Barcelona will result in what has happened to Setién on Friday.

With Friday's loss, Barcelona will go a full season without a trophy for the first time since 2007-08. To put that into perspective for Americans, George W. Bush was the President of the United States the last time Barcelona went a calendar year trophy-less.

The loss was also Barcelona's third consecutive exit from Champions League in an embarrassing fashion.

Last year, the Spanish side had a 3-0 lead over Liverpool in the UCL semifinals before falling 4-0 in the second leg. To make matters worse, Liverpool were without two top forwards in the match, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino.

In 2018, Barcelona blew a 4-1 lead on aggregate to A.S. Roma in the Champions League quarterfinals. Roma defeated Barcelona 3-0 in the second leg, advancing on away goals. It was a night everyone in The Eternal City (including the person writing this who was in attendance at Stadio Olympico) will never forget.

Barcelona's Champions League exit marks the official end of a year to forget for the club.

When the 2019-20 season was paused in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, Barcelona was in a solid position for a title run both in Spain and across Europe. But since the team returned to action, the club has played a brand of soccer they want to forget.

When the La Liga season was paused in March, Barcelona held a two-point lead over rival Real Madrid atop the table. When the Spanish league returned in June, inconsistent play from Barcelona allowed Real Madrid to jump them in the table and eventually win La Liga.

Friday's embarrassing loss to Bayern Munich, ending the club's Champions League hopes, was just the cherry on top of a horrific couple months for the club.

Rumors swirled earlier this month that Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest player of all-time and a Barcelona lifer thus far, wants out. The world's greatest player for more than a decade just turned 33 in June. Barcelona has yet to hit rock bottom yet, but what once seemed unthinkable could be the reality for the club should Messi move on.

D.C. United to return to Audi Field as MLS will host local matches beginning August 12

D.C. United to return to Audi Field as MLS will host local matches beginning August 12

Following the conclusion of the MLS is Back Tournament, MLS will continue its 25th season by having teams compete in their local markets, the league announced on Saturday.

Thus, D.C. United will be returning to Audi Field for regular-season action. The team will open up on the road against FC Cincinnati on Friday, August 21, before having its home opener on Tuesday, August 25, against the New England Revolution. For at least the beginning of the season, no fans will be in attendance. 

“I would like to thank everyone involved with the MLS is Back Tournament -- players, coaches, staff and partners -- for their role in helping us recapture the momentum we had at the beginning of our 25th season and reconnect with our passionate fans,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement. “Since suspending play in March, we have been working on plans to play as much of our season as possible, beginning with the tournament in Florida and resuming in our local markets following the competition. We remain focused on the health and safety of our players, coaches and staff, and look forward to continuing our season in our home markets.”

Though the league is planning to allow teams to travel after holding the tournament in a bubble, it doesn't mean protocols will lessen in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Players will continue to be tested every other day and are strongly advised to limit exposure outside of team facilities and mandated areas.

However, a major complication is how the three Canadian teams (Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver) will handle the season. Much like how the Toronto Blue Jays had to relocate to Buffalo to play the MLB season, Canada still has tight restrictions in place when it comes to leaving the country and coming back.

MLS states that it will have a clearer picture of the schedule in September, but initially plans to have U.S. teams only square off against one another. That may lead to the three teams north of the border only playing one another for the beginning of the season. PLans there remain uncertain. 

As it stands now, the league is set to kick off on August 12 and each team will play 18 games. Decision Day will be on November 8, and 18 teams will enter the playoffs. That number is four more than last season. The MLS Cup will take place on December 12. 

The MLS is Back Tournament is set to come to a conclusion on August 11 and the Portland Timbers will take on Orlando City for the title on August 11. D.C. United did not reach the knockout stage after finishing last in their group.

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