AFL to boost curtain-raisers next season amid VFL management restructure

The AFL is set to announce a marked increase in the amount of VFL curtain-raisers to be held before AFL matches in season 2019.

It's understood while curtain-raisers will definitely be played at Marvel Stadium, negotiations are still underway for curtain-raisers to also be played at the MCG.

The move represents a significant increase on the handful of curtain-raisers held in 2018, three of which took place at GMHBA Stadium in Geelong.

It’s understood VFL clubs are currently in the process of submitting their fixture preferences to AFL Victoria.

Curtain-raisers before AFL games have been a common feature on AFL supporters’ wish lists in recent times.

Reserves matches prior to AFL games were a fixture until the turn of the century, when the AFL abolished them.

2018 VFL Premiers Box Hill HawksCredit:Darrian Traynor

AFL Fans Association president Gerry Eeman praised the decision.

"We are very happy to see the AFL pushing for an increase in the number of curtain-raisers,” Eeman said.

"The fan feedback on this issue is consistent, fans want more of them. They help build the atmosphere and give fans a reason to come to games earlier."

The announcement comes as VFL clubs were informed of a number of changes to the VFL’s management structure via an email sent by AFL Victoria chief Steven Reaper, who announced he would take on a new role at the AFL as Head of Community Football Sustainability & Compliance.

Current AFL Victoria chief operating officer Rick Bell will fill the vacancy created by Reaper on January 14 next year.

The email, seen by The Age, informs clubs of the relocation of AFL Victoria’s head office from Ikon Park to AFL House in Docklands in February 2019.

The relocation spawns the integration of the VFL and VFLW competitions into the AFL Football Operations umbrella structure.

The email lists benefits of the integration, including “consolidation of both AFL and AFL Victoria football operations experience and expertise”; increased interaction between clubs in different competitions; “alignment with the AFL competition and any applicable rules changes, interpretations and on-field activities”; and increased cooperation between talent pathways and state leagues.

The email details several other personnel changes at the VFL to take effect on December 17.

Operations manager John Hook will depart the league; Tristan Salter will assume an expanded role as the Head of Talent Pathways & State League Competitions; and Jennie Loughnan will lead the operational management of the VFL, VFLW and U18 competitions as the Head of Competition Operations.

The important role of stand-alone VFL clubs is emphasised in the email.

“The role those clubs play in the Victorian football landscape will continue to be supported and embraced into the future,” the email said

The assurance comes after Frankston entered voluntary administration in 2016, having their VFL licence terminated.

The club did not play in the VFL for the 2017 season, but re-entered the league in 2018 after creditors waived a significant amount of the club's debt.

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Thank Tom Brady for Josh Gordon’s revival with the Patriots

If Josh Gordon’s career has reached its turning point, he has Tom Brady to thank for helping him.

The Patriots’ newest weapon credited Brady and the Patriots for helping him focus on football and get his once-derailed career back on track. Part of Gordon’s rehabilitation started when the Patriots placed his locker right next to Brady’s, which he said helped establish a connection between the two.

“It’s good to be able to be in such close proximity to learn from him. I look up to the guy,” Gordon said, via ESPN. “He’s done everything right, so I just enjoy the time being around him.”

The Patriots took a flier on uber-talent Gordon earlier this season, taking on his substance abuse issues, multiple suspensions and falling out with the Browns’ organization all for a fifth-round pick. Coach Bill Belichick has taken on similar reclamation projects in the past, and the Patriots have begun to see the high-reward in the low-risk move.

Despite being brought on slowly into the Patriots’ offense and dealing with a hamstring issue, the 27-year-old has 622 receiving yards and four touchdowns in 10 games between New England and Cleveland this season, which equals the total amount of games he played between 2014 through 2017 due to multiple suspensions.

“It’s night and day — huge difference,” said Gordon of his conditioning. “I think I’m as good as I’ve been.”

Over the last six weeks, Gordon has grabbed the bulk of his production: 481 receiving yards and two touchdowns, including a big one in the Week 13 win against the Vikings last Sunday.

His three touchdowns are the tied for the most by any Patriots wide receiver and is an early sign at the connection he’s established with Brady.

“I came in with the idea he was a hard-working guy, and he’s done nothing but shown that continuously and consistently,” Gordon said about Brady. “He’s a family man, he loves his family, FaceTiming with his kids, which is something I can relate to with my family, my kids. He enjoys the game and everything that comes with it.”

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Matildas in top-seeded group for women’s World Cup draw

London: Australia could face Brazil, European champions the Netherlands or Asian rivals Japan in the Women's World Cup group stage after being drawn among the top seeds.

The Matildas were placed in Pot 1 with France, the US, Germany, England and Canada by FIFA, with the 2019 World Cup group stage draw set for Saturday (4am Sunday AEST).

While they will avoid facing any of those heavyweights in the first stage, the world No.6 side could still be up against Brazil, the Netherlands or Japan.

The Matildas' rivalry is strong with two of those teams as they knocked Brazil out of the 2015 World Cup in Canada, while Japan have beaten Australia in the last two Asian Cup deciders.

Other potential bogey teams in Pot 2 include Sweden, Spain and Norway.

There's also a chance Australia could be drawn for a group stage clash with cross-Tasman rivals New Zealand, who are in Pot 3.

The tournament kicks off in Paris on June 7 with Lyon hosting the final on July 7.

AAP

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New Bomber Dylan Shiel to wear No.9

Essendon's big off-season signing Dylan Shiel will wear No.9 in 2019 as he attempts to help the Bombers win a final for the first time since 2004.

The 25-year-old was handed the jumper worn for the past six seasons by Brendon Goddard at the Bombers' family day at the Showgrounds on Saturday, with former Docker Zac Clarke, who joined the club during the pre-season supplemental period, handed No.20.

Dyson Heppell with Dylan Shiel.Credit:Wayne Ludbey

Livewire forward Irving Mosquito was given No.22 with his former Gippsland Power teammate Noah Gown handed the famous No.32, while Geelong Falcons draftee Brayden Ham grabbed No.33 and rookie Tom Jok No.46.

Midfielder Jayden Laverde has changed his number, shifting from 33 to No.15.

The confident Bombers remain the hype team of the summer after Shiel decided they would be his new home when he left Greater Western Sydney after 135 games in seven seasons.

His decision was based on his assessment of their premiership chances with the club taking a bold approach at the trade table in recent seasons adding Shiel, Jake Stringer, Devon Smith and Adam Saad to complement their talented draft picks that include Zach Merrett, Andy McGrath and Darcy Parish and experienced players such as Dyson Heppell, Cale Hooker and Michael Hurley.

The Bombers have not hidden away from the expectation with their confidence coming from their sensational finish to 2018 when they finally clicked after round eight and won 10 of their next 14 matches.

More to come

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Ex-NFLer Calvin Johnson’s pot venture application denied

LANSING, Mich. — Two former Detroit Lions players have been denied preliminary applications for medical marijuana growing, processing and provisioning facilities.

The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press report the Michigan Medical Licensing Board denied prequalification status for a venture backed by Calvin Johnson and Rob Sims. Cited were minor traffic tickets for Johnson and problems with homes Sims owns in the suburb of Dearborn.

Johnson’s spokesman, John Truscott, says the former receiver dealt with the tickets once he learned of them, and Sims has cleared up issues with the houses and received a certificate of occupancy.

Sims says the venture has “done everything by the book” and will appeal the decision.

The state is working to license medical marijuana business. Voters approved medical marijuana a decade ago and recreational marijuana in November.

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Beauty Generation to Defend His Hong Kong Title

Beauty Generation is set to defend his title in the Hong Kong Mile on Sunday, which is part of the quartet of Hong Kong International Races, but many in the industry, including his trainer, say they believe he is not the same horse he was a year ago. In fact, they are counting on it. The gelding has continued to improve since then and is now the darling of the Hong Kong racing industry. All eyes will be on him.

While it can be hard to gauge if a horse who is constantly winning is actually progressing, Beauty Generation has the statistics to back it up. Multiple racing entities rate him as one of the best horses in the world, and in his last start, the Jockey Club Mile, Beauty Generation broke a track record that stood for almost a decade.

“He’s gone to the next level from last year,” said his trainer, John Moore. “His last race was the most impressive. He just went by them, and that was the end of it. It was reminding me of the days of Able Friend — that he could come from behind and just run over the top of them and run a sensational time.”

Moore is no stranger to success. The 68-year-old is Hong Kong’s longest-serving trainer and the one with the most wins. He’s been named champion trainer seven times, and his stable is responsible for the last six runners to be named Hong Kong Horse of the Year, including Beauty Generation and Able Friend.

Although Beauty Generation won top honors last season, it was not a clear-cut case of superiority. The Hong Kong racing year starts in September, and things have changed since the 2018-19 season began.

“Beauty Generation was named Hong Kong Horse of the Year last season on the strength of three Group 1 victories, but the wins were a bit ho-hum as opposed to eye-catching,” said Bill Nader, the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s director of racing business and operations. “Many people thought he deserved the Horse of the Year award, but Pakistan Star was actually the better horse, so his reputation and popularity were a bit restrained.

“This season, Beauty Generation has gone to a different level, and everyone places him in an elite class. His reputation is something like a four-legged rock star. His three wins this season have been spectacular, and the Hong Kong love affair has taken off.”

Unlike many major racing jurisdictions, Hong Kong does not have a breeding program, but rather imports its horses from other locations. Beauty Generation was bred in New Zealand and competitive at the highest levels in Australia before Moore’s son, George, who is a bloodstock agent, selected him to be bought privately for Patrick Kwok Ho Chuen.

“We paid a lot of money for him,” Moore said. “Of course, now it seems like just a little because he’s earned 46.4 million Hong Kong dollars ($5.9 million) and might break the earnings record in Hong Kong.”

One quirk of Hong Kong racing is that owners are allowed to change a horse’s name once it is imported, even if it has already raced. Beauty Generation was known as Montaigne during his Australian career. The Kwok family owns SaSa, a retailer of cosmetics in Hong Kong, and they prefer to rename their horses and incorporate the word Beauty.

“Patrick is a second-generation horse owner, following his father, Simon, and mother, Eleanor,” Nader said. “The family has combined to win the Hong Kong Mile three times over the last nine years with three different horses. Beauty Flash won in 2010, Beauty Only won in 2016 and Beauty Generation won last year. The foundation for any successful racing jurisdiction is to have great horse owners, and we are very fortunate to have the entire Kwok family as well as many other top owners to help build our success.”

Beauty Generation made his first start in Hong Kong in December 2016 and in the past two years he has thrived in his new home. Along with his soundness, his adjustment to his new life is one of the things Moore attributes to his continual improvement.

“He has settled into the environment, and he loves the way he is treated, with respect to his groom and the staff attention,” he said. “It is a team effort that has taken him to this next level. It’s not just me. I do so much, but I also need the right people behind me to carry out what is necessary.”

Being the stable star has its perks. Many racehorses have a sweet tooth, and in America they will often be fed peppermints as a treat, while in Europe they get Polo mints. Beauty Generation has a fondness for Polo mints, so his owner brings them back from England.

“Every time he goes through Heathrow, he will stop in WHSmith and buy him some,” Moore said. “I always tell him to take the whole shelf, and he comes home with a bag full. Beauty Generation will follow me around like my pet dog for Polos. He’s an addict. There are little things, traits about this horse, that make him a character, and I am very lucky to have him.”

Beauty Generation will not be the only horse Moore saddles during the Hong Kong International Races, which also feature the Hong Kong Cup, Sprint and Vase. Collectively, they are worth 93 million Hong Kong dollars ($11.9 million). Moore is the only trainer to have won each of the races at least once, but as a defending champion, Beauty Generation will be the focus from his stable.

“One of the things that makes Hong Kong racing great is returning champions like Beauty Generation,” Nader said. “About 98 percent of the horse population here are geldings, so horses have long careers. The fan base can really connect to the top horses, and it is exciting to see a horse like Beauty Generation take on the best in the world.”

Moore, who comes from a respected racing family and began training in Hong Kong in 1985, remains a dominant force, but his tenure as a trainer there is nearing its end. Under Hong Kong’s rules of racing, he must retire in 2020.

“The retirement age was previously 65, but we extended it to 70 for John and also for other top performing trainers who will benefit later, such as Tony Cruz and John Size,” Nader said. “The reason for the mandatory retirement age is there is a limit of approximately 24 trainers to be licensed in Hong Kong at any one time. Eventually, there must be a time to say goodbye.”

The Australian-born Moore has not decided what he will do when the time comes, but his focus is on watching the horses in his care perform.

“It is compulsory retirement,” he said. “Age is just a number to me, and I don’t feel like I am old. The best feeling these days is getting a horse, whether you buy them as a yearling or as a tried horse, and taking them to the Group 1 level, and Beauty Generation has done that. He has given me that feeling.

“This horse, if he wins the Mile on Sunday, I would think he would be the Horse of the Year again, even though we’ve only gone half a season so far. I don’t think there is any horse out there that would be able to emulate what he’s done.”

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The Heisman Vote is Filled With Homers

For the first time in a decade, all the finalists for the Heisman Trophy are quarterbacks.

They all play the same way, too. Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa are all relatively mobile but are nonetheless steadfastly pass-first quarterbacks.

And, of course, all had tremendous success this season, compiling astounding statistics and leading their teams to conference championships. Murray and Tagovailoa, who are widely considered the two top contenders in the closest Heisman race in years, took their teams to the College Football Playoff.

But there is at least one sense in which all three athletes, one of whom will hoist the bronze statue Saturday night, are distinct from the others — an aspect that close watchers of the Heisman balloting process know can have an outsize impact.

In a low-fat version of the Electoral College, the media members who compose the vast majority of Heisman voters are apportioned equally among six regions of the country. Each area — such as the Far West, the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic — is allotted 145 media votes.

This year, each finalist’s team is based in a different region. Alabama is in the South, Ohio State in the Midwest and Oklahoma in the Southwest, making it a perfect test case for whether regional bias affects Heisman voting. The historical data, deeply explored both in academic papers and in sports debates everywhere, is clear: Indeed, it does. But not in all the ways you may think.

“Results show Heisman finalists do receive higher vote tallies in their home regions on average,” concludes a paper, “The Nature of Regional Bias in Heisman Voting,” by Nolan Kopkin, a professor of African and African Disaspora Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Kopkin said in an interview that he first thought of the paper while studying economics under the Cornell sports economist Lawrence Kahn.

Heisman voters may select players for first (three points) second (two) and third place (one). The winner is the top points-getter. There are 870 total media voters, plus the 58 votes of former Heisman winners and one public vote. How many players are considered finalists is determined by how close the final vote totals are. “Where major gaps exist, that’s where you get a cutoff, ” according to the website of the Heisman Trophy Trust, which administers the award.

Kopkin’s paper, published this year in the Journal of Sports Analytics, studied the Heisman vote tallies between 1990 and 2016, and used equations to control for different variables and across seasons when there were different numbers of finalists.

According to the study, Heisman finalists received substantial boosts from their own regions. Compared to his overall tally, the average finalist over that period received 42.9 extra points from his region. He also received 4.9 points more for every game played in a given region, including those outside his home region. And finalists lost small but statistically significant numbers of points from regions that had their own home finalists.

The Heisman system does try to protect players from this bias.

For one thing, within regions, states receive a number of votes approximately commensurate with their populations. California and Hawaii must split the Far West’s votes, but California gets more (there are presently no voters from Alaska).

For another, the regions are roughly equivalent: Five of the six contain between 53.8 million and 65.5 million people, per U.S. Census Bureau population estimates from last year, and between 21 and 31 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

“It’s a national collegiate award, so we’re always concerned to make sure we have the best electorate we can,” said Tim Henning, a spokesman for the Trust.

If any region could claim to be disadvantaged by this process, it might be the Far West, which is the most populous, or the South, which has the most F.B.S. teams (31). There has long been a perception that players from teams on the West Coast that are not the Southern California Trojans have a longer shot at winning.

“People from the West always complain theirs are not receiving enough respect nationally,” Kopkin said. “The data basically doesn’t bear that out.”

Rather, he said, finalists from the Northeast, Southwest and South on average received fewer points from other regions’ voters than might otherwise be expected.

But that hurdle is not insurmountable. Ten of the past 11 winners played for teams in the South or Southwest. And ultimately, since everyone is from somewhere, regional bias in Heisman voting should cancel itself out — particularly in a year, like this one, when the top points-getters are from different regions.

In contrast, Kopkin saw regional bias have a more decisive influence in, say, 1993, when the top three points-getters all hailed from the South. The overall victor, Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward, actually lost his own region to runners-up from Alabama and Tennessee. He stacked his points in other regions, Kopkin speculates, partly thanks to Florida State’s membership in the predominantly Mid-Atlantic Atlantic Coast Conference and the Seminoles’ prodigious number of nationally televised games.

If there is a bellwether region, meanwhile, it is the Northeast, which is New England and New York. It contains just 34.6 million people and only six F.B.S. members (and merely two teams in the so-called Power 5 conferences). Since it rarely produces a finalist, it is theoretically freed from regional bias and therefore more likely to reflect the national dispensation.

“Because of the low representation, the Northeast region tends to mirror the overall Heisman voting results,” said Daniel P. Heard, a quantitative risk analyst who began tracking Heisman voting patterns while studying statistics at Duke, in an email.

Every year but one since 1998, Heard said, the eventual Heisman winner also won the Northeast. The exception was 2003, when wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald of Pitt — then of the Big East, whose members included several Northeast programs — received more points in the Northeast than the overall winner Jason White, Oklahoma’s quarterback.

If the Northeast is something of an accidental kingmaker, that may be appropriate for the region in which the Heisman originated and is still handed out.

“This is New York City’s chance to shine in college football,” said Dick “Hoops” Weiss, who previously wrote for the New York Daily News and is the Mid-Atlantic regional representative.

There is a final twist: Regional bias is diminishing. Kopkin credits the sharp increase in the number of games that are nationally televised.

Dave Campbell, the Southwest regional representative and eponymous longtime publisher of a magazine about Texas football, recalled that, decades ago, sportswriters’ adjudication involved word-of-mouth and intra-jouranalistic argumentation.

“You tried to get a consensus of thinking, to make sure everybody was getting a fair shot,” he said.

But we are long past the days when the N.C.A.A. restricted teams to just a couple nationally televised games per season. We are now in an era when three (and soon four) conferences have their own networks, and ESPN and its affiliates can be relied upon to show games on several weeknights as well as for 12 hours on Saturdays. Replays are available for Easterners loathe to stay up late to watch West Coast games.

“The voter now who claims he didn’t see someone — he should have seen someone,” Campbell said.

So as we approach a blissful future in which every single college football game is broadcast to every television set, or laptop, or brain-implanted moving-picture device in the country, might regional bias fade away entirely?

Maybe not. Kopkin’s data showed a sharp decline in bias in recent years — but not its wholesale elimination.

“That’s still not what we see,” Kopkin said. “I don’t think we ever will. You’re still going to see voters in the South being more prone to vote for S.E.C. players.”

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6pm Chelsea news: Cesc Fabregas's wife is the key, Eden Hazard unleashed, Alex Sandro blow, and Suarez has Barca doubt

Read this and more gossip, plus all the latest transfer news, from Stamford Bridge.

MILAN'S FAB

CESC FABREGAS could be enticed to move to AC Milan by his wife Daniella Semaan.

The mother of his three children is rumoured to like the idea of an Italian move – despite Fabregas continuing to push Chelsea for a new deal.

EDEN'S THE ONLY ONE

EDEN HAZARD is the only Chelsea star that could get into Manchester City's squad, according to SunSport's Dave Kidd.

While the Belgian would be a welcome addition, he could struggle to find room with the likes of Bernardo Silva, Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez all fighting for positions.

AT LAST

EDEN HAZARD has been unleashed under new manager Maurizio Sarri with Man City's Vincent Kompany claiming his Belgian team-mate was shackled under Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte.

Hazard has once again risen to be one of the Premier League's most dangerous attackers, and Kompany believes his Italian coach lets him attack.

SAND-WOE FOR BLUES

ALEX SANDRO has reportedly agreed a new deal with Juventus – landing a hammer blow to Manchester United and Chelsea.

It is understood the full-back is set to sign a contract extension with the Old Lady that will keep him at the club until 2023.

I'M SU UNSURE OF FUTURE

DENIS SUAREZ has admitted his future at Barcelona is uncertain – potentially paving the way for a move to Chelsea.

The Barca midfielder, 24, is yet to play a single minute of La Liga football this season.

CHELSEA CAN SWEEP IN FOR RUG

DANIELE RUGANI has given Chelsea hope as talks about remaining in Italy with Juventus have stalled.

The Italian defender has been on Maurizio Sarri's radar for some time and if Chelsea manage to secure his signature, David Luiz may be surplus to requirements.

WE NEED BIG MARC UP

MARCOS ALONSO admits Chelsea could be out of the title race entirely if they lose to Manchester City on Saturday.

Maurizio Sarri's side suffered a shock 2-1 defeat to Wolves last night – with Alonso coming in for particular criticism from Blues supporters.

SAJ HY

CHELSEA are looking to sign Napoli's Elsaid Hysaj for £44.5m after missing out on the right back last summer.

The Albanian was a key man under Maurizio Sarri with the Italian side last year as they pushed Juventus all the way in the title race.

HAZARD TALKS GET REAL

REAL MADRID are poised to hold talks over Chelsea's £150million-rated superstar Eden Hazard.

The La Liga giants are tipped to offer a part-exchange deal involving Mateo Kovacic, rather than meet the Blues' valuation.

AND ANOTHER WEAKNESS..

CHELSEA’S defensive frailties have FINALLY been exposed as Andreas Christensen wasted his chance to impress.

After their pulsating start to the Premier League season under new boss Maurizio Sarri, the realities came to roost at the Molineux. Read our full verdict here.

WOLVES 2 CHELSEA 1

MAURIZIO SARRI’s bold gamble blew up in his face as sorry Chelsea were thrown to the ravenous Wolves.

The Blues boss rested up four of his key players with one eye on Saturday’s crucial home game against Manchester City.

DAVID TIPPED FOR LU-S-A

DAVID LUIZ is likely to make a sensational switch to the MLS or China if he fails to renew his current contract, according to the bookies.

The Brazilian recently rejected the club's new terms as negotiations over a new deal appear to have hit a stumbling block.

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Khabib Nurmagomedov set to face Floyd Mayweather on May 4 when UFC contract expires, according to Russian's father

The MMA star, 30, called out the retired American, 41, after his explosive victory over Conor McGregor at UFC 229.

Plans for the fight have not materialised because UFC chief Dana White has insisted it would have to take place in the cage.

But Mayweather has confirmed that it will only go ahead if it is on his terms because he is the "A side."

Khabib, who boasts an MMA record of 27-0, is willing to step into the boxing ring to make the fight happen.

And his father Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov has confirmed that it can take place when his deal expires on May 4 in Russia.

He told iZ.ru: "A fight with Floyd is possible after the end of the contract with the UFC.

"This is interesting not only for us, but also for serious investors. This may happen May 4 in Grozny."

And his father confirmed last month that his son would be "interested" in taking on Conor Mcgregor again – but this time in the boxing ring.

Khabib has revealed that he is more interested in fighting Mayweather in a boxing match than defending his UFC lightweight title.

At a recent press conference, he said: "For legacy and in the sense of the money aspect, and in a sporting sense, I think the Mayweather fight is much more interesting."

When Khabib called out the American in October, he said: "50 and 0 versus 27 and 0, two guys that never lose.

"Let's go, why not. Because in the jungle there is only one king, only one king."

And the former five-weight world champion responded: "Oh, we fighting!

"I'm in the cheque cashing business. I mean, I'm my own boss so I can't say what's going on on Khabib's end but on my end we can make it happen."

 

 

 

 

 

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How Man Utd could line-up under Mauricio Pochettino, should he replace Jose Mourinho

The Special One, 55, is now the bookies' favourite to be the next Premier League sacking victim.


Amidst all the speculation over who would replace Mourinho at Old Trafford, one name keeps popping up: Mauricio Pochettino.

The Tottenham boss has been a target for United for years – with Real Madrid also intrigued.

Now United are preparing to make their official move, having been told it will cost £40million to land Pochettino.

But, there's certainly plenty of signs to suggest Poch could be the perfect man to take over the reins at Old Trafford.


After all, United have a squad full of attacking, young players – two of Poch's strongest areas.

Using his nous for developing youth and setting up his team in a non-Jose way – plus a few Spurs buys – here's how United could look under Poch.

GOALKEEPER

David De Gea

DESPITE having his one-year contract extension triggered, De Gea's future still looks uncertain.

United chiefs opted to extend his stay at Old Trafford in the hope he may change his mind and stay – as well as ensure clubs can't snap him up for free.

Under new leadership, De Gea could easily be talked into staying – especially with partner Edurne keen to stay in Manchester.

DEFENCE

Diogo Dalot, Eric Bailly, Toby Alderweireld, Luke Shaw

FOR years United have toyed with a borderline-offensive back-four made of makeshift wingers and in recent cases even out-and-out midfielders.

However, in Dalot – now back from injury – United appear to have a real gem of a full-back, with Mourinho saying even Gary Neville would be proud.

That combined with a resurgent Shaw gives two quality full-backs – both with superb, long-term potential.

Alderweireld has been keen on a culture change for a while too, but despite not playing so much now is still a favourite of Pochettino's.

Should the Belgian be given a new lease of life in a fresh start, he could be the answer to United's centre-back woes.

Alderweireld would work well alongside Bailly – when fully fit – in what would look like a very strong back-four.

MIDFIELD

Fred, Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard

MOURINHO recently claimed Fred is only being benched lately as he can't trust his defence to make up for his dynamic, forward-thinking approach.

In a Pochettino-led team, the Brazilian would be the perfect link between defence and attack with his box-to-box style.

Fred, combined with the attack-minded Pogba and Lingard, would be a very dangerous midfield – but certainly a risk Poch would consider.

The likes of Matic and Fellaini on the bench would allow them to shore things up if needed, too…

FORWARDS

Marcus Rashford, Harry Kane, Anthony Martial

IT'S no secret Lukaku has been a big-money flop at Old Trafford. But you know who isn't a flop… Kane.

It would be a big ask for Daniel Levy to part with his star striker, but Pochettino is the main reason Kane is the player he is now.

The England star would certainly consider following the Argentine chief to Old Trafford if Ed Woodward gave him control of the chequebook.

Meanwhile, a tandem of Martial and Rashford flanking him has the potential to be devastating.

It's no secret the pair aren't in the mould of a Mourinho team – but they certainly are Pochettino players.

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