Pogba shines as United thrash Leeds

Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, left, fights for the ball with Leeds United’s Adam Forshaw during their pre-season friendly match. (AFP)
Updated 18 July 2019

Pogba shines as United thrash Leeds

  • Red Devils bounce back after an unconvincing win over Perth Glory

PERTH: Paul Pogba shined as an under-pressure Manchester United stepped up their pre-season campaign with a 4-0 thrashing of old rivals Leeds on Wednesday.

United had faced criticism after an unconvincing 2-0 victory over a depleted Perth Glory on the weekend.

In a much-needed tonic, the Red Devils clinically dismantled Leeds, who have high hopes of returning to the English Premier League for the first time since 2004.

Pogba, who has been linked with a move to Juventus and Real Madrid, starred in United's dominant first-half and was part of a pretty chain of passing to set up 17-year-old Mason Greenwood's first senior goal in the seventh minute.

Greenwood's energetic performance has the teenager in the frame for the Premier League opener against Chelsea on Aug. 11, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said.

"He's got a chance. He's more than capable and he'll always be there in and around the box creating chances," he told reporters after the match.

Moments later, a powerful strike from Pogba was well saved by goalkeeper Kiko Casilla.

But it was only a matter of time before United broke through with a moment of magic in the 27th minute from Marcus Rashford, a livewire in the first half.

After a wondrous dribble past the lead-foot defense, the 21-year-old expertly tapped it past Casilla.

Solskjaer changed his entire lineup at halftime in a repeat of Saturday's match against Perth.

United continued to dictate, with Phil Jones scoring a thumping header from a corner kick in the 51st minute.

Anthony Martial rounded out a spectacular performance in the 68th minute by converting a penalty after Tahith Chong was taken down in the box.

The first clash in eight years between the one-time bitter enemies fizzled out, but a near capacity Perth Stadium crowd of 55,000 underlined the rivalry's stature.

Romelu Lukaku was once again absent fuelling speculation he had been dropped from the squad amid reports he was close to securing a move to Inter Milan.

United said the Belgian suffered a knock at training.

"He's missed two chances to play 45 minutes and at this stage of the season it's important to get everyone fit, so hopefully he'll be available soon," Solskjaer said.

Illness kept out goalkeeper David de Gea, who is reportedly close to signing a new five-year deal with United in excess of £350,000 ($435,000) a week.

United will have further pre-season games against Inter Milan in Singapore on July 20 and Tottenham in Shanghai on July 25, while Leeds will head to Sydney to face Western Sydney Wanderers.


Djokovic not worried about blisters ahead of US Open

Updated 25 August 2019

Djokovic not worried about blisters ahead of US Open

  • When the year's last Grand Slam tournament begins Monday, Djokovic will be in Arthur Ashe Stadium during the afternoon session, facing Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain

NEW YORK: During a break in practice two days before opening his US Open title defense, Novak Djokovic pulled off his blue shoe and white sock so a trainer could look at his right foot.

Did it again a little while later.

And then, toward the end of Saturday’s training session in Louis Armstrong Stadium with 2014 runner-up Kei Nishikori, Djokovic stopped a sprint and pulled up short of a ball, raised his right leg off the ground entirely and hopped repeatedly on his left, wincing. Nothing to worry about, Djokovic said later at his pre-tournament news conference: Just blisters.

“A minor thing,” Djokovic called it. “Like anybody has ... Nothing major that is causing a concern for the event.”

When the year's last Grand Slam tournament begins Monday, Djokovic will be in Arthur Ashe Stadium during the afternoon session, facing Roberto Carballes Baena, a 26-year-old from Spain whose career-best ranking was 72nd.

Carballes Baena has an overall career record of 43-50. That includes 2-7 at major tournaments, 1-1 at Flushing Meadows, where he made his debut a year ago and lost in the second round.

Djokovic, meanwhile, has won 33 of his past 34 Grand Slam matches en route to collecting four of the past five major titles. That allowed the 32-year-old Serb to raise his career haul to 16 trophies, putting him just two away from second-place Rafael Nadal’s total of 18, and Roger Federer’s 20, which is the record for men.

He’s not shy about trying to catch those guys.

“More or less everything is about Grand Slams, in terms of how I see tennis and how I approach it, because they matter the most,” Djokovic said. “So I will definitely try to play my best tennis — and aim to play my best tennis — at these events.”

And while many would attribute Djokovic's success to his ability to return serves, say, or his mental strength and propensity for coming up big in the biggest moments — such as saving two match points along the way to edging Federer in a fifth-set tiebreaker in the Wimbledon final last month — there's something else the man himself would point to as his most vital quality.

That's the way Djokovic can cover a court, which is why the state of that right foot is actually a rather big deal.

His movement, Djokovic said Saturday, is "the base of everything" and "the most important thing."

"It just allows you to be more in balance. And at the end of the day, that is what you're looking for as a tennis player," he explained. "How can you hit the ball, being in the right balance, so you can penetrate the ball with the right speed, accuracy and precision?"

Watch Djokovic during a match, and you'll see him change direction in a heartbeat, twist and turn, contort his limbs, slide — on clay, on grass, even on hard courts — always getting to the right spot at the right time.

He attributes his strength in that area to the flexibility of his ankles and is grateful he used to participate in another sport while growing up back home in Serbia.

"I credit my childhood spent on the skis. I used to spend a lot of time skiing," Djokovic said. "That had an effect as well, with kind of coordination and changing movement from one side to another. Even though they're different sports, in essence, you're using some major muscle groups and joints and stuff like this in most of the sports."

It is Djokovic's right elbow that gave him the most trouble a couple of seasons ago.

He missed the last half of 2017, including that year's US Open because that arm was bothering him, then wound up having surgery in February 2018. It took some time for Djokovic to get going after that. All's good these days, though.

"Novak had a couple years where he didn't seem like the same guy," ESPN's John McEnroe said. "Now he's back with a vengeance."

Only 1½ months have passed since Djokovic edged Federer in that classic title match at the All England Club.

Not a lot of time to savor the victory. Not a lot of time to rest a weary body.

"This sport can be a little bit 'cruel,'" Djokovic said, using fingers to indicate air quotes, "when it comes to, I guess, marveling or celebrating your own success. You don't have that much luxury of time to really reflect on everything because the season keeps going."