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Amad sparkles but old habits die hard for fragile Manchester United

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Amad sparkles but old habits die hard for fragile Manchester United

This was another example of one step forward and two steps back, which has been the story of Manchester United’s season. The injury-time equalizer it conceded against AC Milan means it has a huge task on its hands to turn around this Europa League last-16 tie at San Siro next week.

Teenage winger Amad Diallo was almost the hero that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side so desperately needed after an insipid first half, as he became the youngest non-British player to score for United in European competition. He came off the bench at the halftime break to head United into the lead.

But old habits die hard. Solskjaer’s side was yet again caught out from a set piece as Simon Kjaer grabbed the visitors a deserved leveler deep into stoppage time.

United goalkeeper Dean Henderson should have done better after having been handed the starting shirt and will come under pressure for the position once David de Gea is back in contention.

Progress is a word that has often been used when discussing the club this season, and the question of whether it is making any. In days gone by, this clash between two of Europe’s heavyweights would have been played on a Tuesday or Wednesday night under the Champions League lights. But not now.

Both teams are fighting to get back to where they believe they belong: right at the very top. And after a lethargic and ponderous first-half display from the home side, which led to Harry Maguire screaming at his teammates to stop giving the ball away, it felt like Stefano Pioli’s men were a lot closer to achieving that dream than Solskjaer’s.

After the derby win against Manchester City at the weekend, Maguire explained how it had reignited the longstanding belief that they can go out there and beat the best. However, they certainly didn’t start the game with that mentality.

Milan is arguably the best team left in this season’s Europa League and United struggled to match them. Maguire missed his side’s best chance from a yard out and the whole team looked off the pace, giving away sloppy passes time and again.

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United desperately needed a moment of inspiration and up stepped the 18-year-old Ivorian Amad.

The teenager had only managed 38 minutes of first-team football for United prior to being brought on at the break and, given his fantastic header five minutes after his introduction, he might not have to wait long until he is given his first start.

If Amad meets all the add-on clauses that were included in the deal that brought him from Atalanta to Manchester United in January, then the club will have spent close to £37 million ($52 million). That fee would be deemed a bargain if he keeps popping up with important goals like the one he scored at Old Trafford on Thursday night.

There would have been some young players who may have been fazed by the prospect of being called upon at halftime during a huge European clash, but it is clear from the few weeks Amad has spent at the club that he has the temperament and confidence to match his ability.

On his debut for the under-23s he scored a Panenka penalty, one of the three goals he managed in two appearances at that level, and he scored with his first shot for the first team. That is certainly not a bad return so far.

An injury to Anthony Martial forced Solskjaer’s hand in bringing on Diallo. With Edinson Cavani and Marcus Rashford both missing the game through injury, the Norwegian had little other option to call upon in the attacking department on his bench.

That Solskjaer was forced into that change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The United manager is notorious for leaving it late with his substitutions and, after that first half, something needed to give.

Daniel James should have doubled United’s lead when he missed the target in the 71st minute and the hosts again couldn’t see the game out.

Solskjaer went defensive with his changes, bringing on Luke Shaw, Brandon Williams and Fred. He had few choices in his armory from an attacking perspective but they sat back and invited pressure from a resilient and well-drilled Milan. The Serie A side was deserving of its last-gasp equalizer, continuing to push until the final whistle.

It will not just be the timing of the goal that will disappoint Solskjaer but also the nature of it. United’s defenders were again beaten to the first ball at a set piece and questions will be asked of Henderson’s contribution.

This will not be filed alongside the classic European encounters of the past between these sides. Not only were there were no fans present but both have fallen from their previous heights of the past.

If United is to find a way through and keep its silverware dreams alive, then it’s going to have to dig deep and find some of that European sparkle of old.

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Wizards’ Scott Brooks pokes fun at LeBron James with play-in tournament comments

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Wizards' Scott Brooks pokes fun at LeBron James with play-in tournament comments

The Wizards closed the 2020-21 NBA regular season with a torrid stretch. They were 17-6 in their final 23 games and went from a likely lottery team to a participant in the NBA’s inaugural play-in tournament.

Washington finished its climb up the standings Sunday. It defeated the Hornets 115-110 to secure eighth place in the Eastern Conference, which is a win-and-in spot in the conference’s four-team tournament.

Under the old playoff format, the Wizards would’ve clinched the No. 8 seed and guaranteed themselves a spot in the posteason with Sunday’s win. They would have started playing for their lives in a seven-game series, not a one- or two-game set.

MORE: Knicks clinch No. 4 seed in Eastern Conference

Wizards coach Scott Brooks saw that as an opportunity to poke fun at the play-in tournament and LeBron James’ recent comments about it.

“I’m with the King,” Brooks said. “Who created this play-in thing? Whoever did that, they need to be fired.”

Seconds later, Brooks affirmed that he was just kidding. He was paraphrasing James’ comments from May 2 when the Lakers star said that “whoever came up with that s— needs to be fired.”

Unlike James, Brooks thinks the play-in tournament is a net positive for the NBA, despite his team finishing eighth in the East.

MORE: How the play-in tournament works

“I love this [format]. It created so much excitement the last two weeks and, as we all know, any time you can create excitement and meaningful games in the last 10 games of the season is great for everyone involved,” Brooks said. “Fans, TV partners, everybody. I love it. Even though we’re not the 8-seed, I still love it.”

The play-in tournament gave fringe playoff teams like the Wizards incentive to compete later into the season. Brooks is right about that. Now, it’s a matter of whether the on-court product will match the late-season chase to make (or avoid) the tournament.

With stars like Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Jayson Tatum, Ja Morant, Domantas Sabonis and one of James or Damian Lillard guaranteed to participate in the play-in, there is a good chance it will live up to the hype.

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Angels’ Shohei Ohtani adds to highlight reel with go-ahead HR in 9th off one of MLB’s top closers

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Angels: Albert Pujols release about giving Shohei Ohtani more ABs, moving Jared Walsh to 1B

Matt Barnes was one out away from sealing a Red Sox victory when Angels DH Shohei Ohtani stepped into the box.

It was a mano a mano battle between one of baseball’s best pitchers and the emerging two-way superstar.

Ohtani won the battle.

MORE: Albert Pujols to sign with Dodgers

He hit a monster two-run home run that curled around the Pesky Pole at Fenway Park to give the Angels a 6-5 lead in the top of the ninth inning Sunday. LA went on to win by that score.

Teeing off against Barnes is no easy feat. Before Ohtani batted in the ninth, Barnes had allowed two hits and no runs in his previous 8 2/3 innings. For the season, he was averaging 15.6 strikeouts per nine innings and had allowed just one home run in 18 appearances. At one point, he had a negative FIP, something that is unheard of. 

But Ohtani managed to get the best of him Sunday and add another highlight to his superb season.

Ohtani’s homer was his 12th in 2021, tying him for the MLB lead with the Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. and the Mariners’ Mitch Haniger. His 29 RBIs are tied for the Angels’ team lead with Jared Walsh. His .597 slugging percentage is second on the team only to Mike Trout.

Ohtani has been spectacular as a pitcher as well. He has thrown 25 2/3 innings over five outings, with a sparkling 2.10 ERA and 14 strikeouts per nine.

In short, he is one of the game’s most electric players right now. Barnes knows that.

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Alisson Wonderland! Liverpool goalkeeper’s magic moment keeps Champions League dream alive

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Alisson Wonderland! Liverpool goalkeeper's magic moment keeps Champions League dream alive

Match statistics: West Brom 1-2 Liverpool

Football, eh? Bloody hell!

Even after all these years, this sport still finds a way to surprise you, to thrill you, to take the breath away.

Step forward, Alisson Becker.

Liverpool’s season was fizzling out. The clock had ticked past 90 minutes, past the four that had been added on. The Reds were drawing, desperate, watching their Champions League hopes melt away in the west Midlands rain. 

And then their goalkeeper decided to take matters into his own hands. Or onto his own head, to be more specific.  

The Brazil international has been up for corners before. A few times this season, in fact. But here, when Jurgen Klopp needed him most, there he was, rising to meet Trent Alexander-Arnold’s left-wing corner with the most perfect of headers. Far corner, 2-1 Liverpool.

Bedlam.

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What is it about this club? How can they just keep conjuring up these moments, these feelings, these roller-coaster rides?

What can you possibly say?

Alisson is the sixth goalkeeper to score a Premier League goal and the first to score for Liverpool. 

And this was not just any goal, this was a huge one, in the context of the Reds’ season. It keeps their top-four destiny pretty much in their own hands. As Liverpool celebrated — and boy, did they celebrate — the groans could be heard in Leicester and at Chelsea. They meet at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday. Any result suits the Reds.

It had looked like Klopp’s men had faltered, unable to find a way through a stubborn West Brom defense at 1-1. They had trailed to Hal Robson-Kanu’s early strike, leveling through Mo Salah’s customary equalizer.

And then they huffed and they puffed, without blowing the house down.

Salah missed. Roberto Firmino missed. Trent Alexander-Arnold missed when he simply had to score. Seven minutes left. Gini Wijnaldum missed. Two minutes remaining.

Up went the board. Four added. Klopp grinned. One of those sarcastic, rueful grins. Not enough time. Not this time.

Wrong.

alisson goal west brom liverpool
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What a moment Alisson provided. What pictures, what memories. What celebrations. What an interview.

The emotion was etched all over his face. He has had a terrible few months, losing his father, Jose, in February. He deserved this. Not even Sam Allardyce could argue otherwise. The West Brom boss was smiling himself at the final whistle. What else could he do?

“I am too emotional these last months for everything that happened with me and my life, but football is my life,” a clearly tearful Alisson told Sky Sports moments after his attacking intervention.

“I hope my father was here to see it. It’s for my family and for the boys.”

Klopp could barely have hugged his ‘keeper harder. “If Olivier Giroud scores like that you say it’s a worldie!” he told Sky. 

“It’s the best goal I ever saw from a goalkeeper. It’s a worldie! Wow!”

It cannot be for nothing, can it? You can’t let a moment like this go to waste. Liverpool needs two more wins and it should be in the Champions League. Burnley on Wednesday, Crystal Palace next Sunday. There will be fans present at those games. The noise will be there, the atmosphere, the tension, the release.

One doubts whether it will be anything like it was at around 6.25 p.m. here, mind!

Football, eh? How could we ever doubt you?

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