Manchester United's Van Persie celebrates his goal against Manchester City during their English Premier League soccer match at Etihad Stadium in Manchester,

Offshore drilling, England: at Manchester United 2, Liverpool 1

2 Comments

For 55 minutes, the imperious version of Manchester United gave one of their most controlling performances of the season, but a defensive breakdown near the hour mark sent England’s leaders into a shell, the tentative giants left to bleed out a what could have been a decisive 2-1 win over Liverpool.

Ultimately, there was little chance the Red Devils would lose. Sublime buildup ending with a one-touch goal from Robin van Persie put the hosts up early, with a perfectly executed second half set piece giving United their winning goal. It was only then that a moment of complacency made the match a contest, though after Daniel Sturridge put home the rebound of a Steven Gerrard shot, Manchester United were never seriously threatened. Second half improvement from an impotent start still cast the Reds as incapable of matching their rivals.

It’s tempting to see this performance as emblematic of a flawed but ultimately successful United team, but the one-goal win understates their quality. While the final third of the match provided fuel for their doubters, the first two-thirds showed why Alex Ferguson’s side is temporarily 10 points clear at the top of the league.

No, it wasn’t a perfect showing, but it was worthy of a title-winner, even if the scoreline tries to say otherwise.

Man of the Match: Robin van Persie was absent for long periods of the match. In the second half he was a non-factor, and when the more constant performances of Michael Carrick and Shinji Kagawa helped pin Liverpool in their defensive third, van Persie was given very little space to operate. You could argue Carrick, particularly with some strong defensive play to open the match, should get this honor.

But goals matter. Execution in the final third really matters, and nobody is better at that right now than Robin van Persie. His touch on Patrice Evra’s first half cross (after a nice, subtle move away from Daniel Agger) left little chance for Pepe Reina to stop the opener. A beautifully swung-in restart just after half time was the key part in United’s winner.

When Daniel Sturridge went well over the crossbar from 10 yards out late in the match, we were reminded of van Persie’s value. He would have buried that chance and equalized, just as he took advantage of a small, 19th-minute window to give United their lead.

It’s a sport of moments, and Robin van Persie’s mastered them.

Threesome of knowledge

1. Show of respect from United – We’ve become accustomed to the inconsistent, mercurial version of Manchester United, but with the exception of their loss to Tottenham earlier this year, the Red Devils consistently played well against the Premier League’s top teams. They come out witha  clear plan and execute it to perfection, whether that plan being their ball-hogging ways against Arsenal or the intent to counter they showed at Chelsea.

In that way, the preparation and focus United showed against Liverpool was a compliment. While that may patronized a talented Reds’ squad, Liverpool’s performances against the Premier League’s elite would justify Ferguson taking a less intent approach. United’ boss could have rotated players or put out a team which, like many other matches, didn’t play with the intensity we saw on Sunday.

But the rivalry won out. Ferguson’s respect for Liverpool had him put out a full and prepared side. And it paid off.

2. United able to transcend their gap; Liverpool can’t – The key part of this match was the first 55 minutes. Nemanja Vidic’s second half header changed team’s approach, the game’s second goal making Liverpool chasers while United parried.

Until that point, despite the fact the teams were playing different formations (United’s 4-4-2 versus Liverpool’s 4-3-3), each side was tasked with the same concern: How effectively could they move the ball from their deep distributor (Carrick, Gerrard) into attack given the lack of a presence high in midfield.

For United, the formation left them with a hole in front of Carrick and Tom Cleverley. For Liverpool, an ineffective Joe Allen left the team looking for other ways to find Luis Suárez.

Thanks to Carrick, United ended up finding their answers first. The holder’s range of passing and connections with Shinji Kagawa (left) and Ashley Young (right) allowed him to manage the game. Setting up just inside Liverpool’s half when United established possession, Carrick served as the outlet the Red Devils needed, a role most evident when he helped recycle the ball ahead of the first goal.

For Liverpool, Gerrard was given all the time in the world to have an influence on this match but couldn’t. It wasn’t until he lumbered forward in the 57th minute that his impact was felt. By then, his team was down two goals.

Mostly ineffective with a flash of influence, Gerrard’s game served as a snapshot of where his career’s evolved.

3. Ferdinand and Vidic: Together again – It’s been nearly three years since Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were simultaneously healthy, and on Sunday, that only lasted 80 minutes. But before Vidic came off for Chris Smalling after landing heavily on his right knee, the long-time United partnership gave Red Devils’ fans reason to think the team’s defensive problems could be solved. Their strong marking and confident handling of set pieces harkened back to when United’s defense was the cornerstone of a Champions League contender.

Even the goal couldn’t be put on the duo, with the midfield breaking down to allow a long shot ahead of Rafael falling asleep on the rebound.

(MORE: Scholes says United-Liverpool remains EPL’s top rivalry)

Packaged for takeaway

  • Whenever Danny Welbeck gets the start ahead of Javier Hernandez, you wonder why the young England international is ever out of the team. His enviable combination of athleticism, speed, and technical ability makes him seem like an obvious choice. But then you remember Hernandez’s goal poaching and realize not even he’s assured a spot when Wayne Rooney’s healthy. The attacking talent on this United team is absurd.
  • Wayne Rooney didn’t make it back for today’s match. The United star has been out for three weeks with a knee injury. The original timeline for his recovery had him back close to this derby; however, there was no hint he was close to making today’s 18.
  • The match took some time to settle down, with both teams searching for ways to transcend their gaps in midfield. United didn’t hold their first sustained spell of possession until the 18th minute (eventually scoring). Liverpool first set up in United’s end in the 28th minute, a span that ended with Joe Allen playing a ball out for a goal kick.
  • Liverpool needs a better midfield, which makes you wonder why they couldn’t make room for somebody like Nuri Sahin. The Turkey international moved back to Borussia Dortmund this week.
  • After the opener, United looked like they had a formula for a second and set about targeting the channel to the right of Martin Skrtel. Near chances for van Persie and Welbeck didn’t come off, but in the second half, a long pass from Evra over Skrtel led to a foul when Welbeck had to be pulled down. The resulting free kick led to United’s winning goal.
  • Ashley Young was hurt near the end of the first half and had to come off. Antonio Valencia was brought on at halftime.
  • Liverpool switched to a 4-4-2 to start the second half, Brendan Rodgers bringing on Daniel Sturridge for Lucas Leiva. Though the combination seemed ready to provide the Reds with a lifeline, Liverpool ended the match with only three shots on goal.

PL Playback: Analyzing the big calls as Chelsea surge clear

Leave a comment

REF WATCH: BIG CALLS INCORRECT

It seems a little early to say this but I’m going to go ahead and say it anyway: this is Chelsea’s Premier League title to lose.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Ahead of Week 22 Chelsea they could’ve seen their lead at the top cut to three points. Now it has been extended to eight as Antonio Conte and his players sat back and watched title contenders stutter on Saturday and they finished off Hull ruthlessly on Sunday for their 15th win in their last 16 games.

[ MORE: Latest odds for PL title winners ]

It is a case of advantage Chelsea in the title race, but plenty of their title rivals (if we can even call them that anymore) can feel aggrieved to have seen key calls go against them this weeekend.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

The referees were at the heart of several key moments of games involving title contenders and sadly they got many of the big calls wrong.

Let’s focus on the three biggest mistakes, all of which involved penalty calls, that will likely have big ramifications in the title race…

  • (A) No penalty kick awarded to Man City vs. Tottenham with City leading 2-1
  • (B) Penalty kick awarded to Arsenal vs. Burnley in 98th minute, as they won 2-1
  • (C) No penalty kick awarded to Hull City when trailing Chelsea 1-0

(A)  – There is no doubt that this was the worst of the bunch. See the video below as Raheem Sterling raced through and looked destined to put Man City 3-1 up and out of sight to get them back in the title race and close the gap on Spurs. Sterling was punished for staying on his feet. He was too honest and as he fell he took a shot which Hugo Lloris saved easily. Walker should have been sent off and City should have had a penalty but referee Andre Marriner waved played on. Man City should be 10 points behind Chelsea in the title race but now they’re 12 points back. Their title chances were slim before this weekend. After this decision, they’re gone.

(B) – This 98th minute decision was wrong on two different levels. One: Laurent Koscielny was offside when the cross came in. Two: Although Ben Mee is trying to hook the ball away with a high foot, Koscielny is stooping his head down. You have to let calls like that go in the box. Referee Jon Moss had earlier correctly given Granit Xhaka a straight red card for a lunging tackle on Steven Defour and then given Burnley a penalty kick in the 92nd minute after Francis Coquelin fouled Ashley Barnes. The latter decision incensed Arsene Wenger so much he was sent to the stands and now has to deal with an FA misconduct charge as he appeared to push fourth official Anthony Taylor on his way down the tunnel. Back to Moss. He got his third big decision of the game wrong and maybe after Xhaka’s sending off, awarding a penalty to Burnley, calling away a penalty shout for Arsenal earlier when Shkodran Mustafi went down and then seeing Wenger’s angry reaction he tried to even things up in front of the home fans who were baying for blood. There’s no doubting Mee’s foot was high, but that’s not a penalty for me and Moss should’ve been helped out by his linesman who had a better view. After all of that, Arsenal will feel they’re back in the title race as they prepare for a trip across London to face Chelsea on Feb. 4 at Stamford Bridge.

(C) – Another pivotal call among the title contenders went in Chelsea’s favor. Leading Hull 1-0, they should have given away a penalty kick just after half time. Marcos Alonso clipped Abel Hernandez in the box and it was a blatant PK for Hull. Nothing was given and you could clearly see the relief on Alonso’s face. Chelsea knew they had got away with one and if Hull had equalized early in the second half, who knows what would have happened? Those are the kind of breaks you get when you’re at the top and more often than not in recent weeks those kind of breaks are going Chelsea’s way and against their title rivals. Advantage Chelsea indeed.


LEICESTER IN BIG TROUBLE

From the title contenders, we now switch our attention to the title holders.

Leicester City are five points above the relegation zone and having a torrid time defending their crown, as they have the lowest points tally of any defending top-flight champ ever after 22 games and they are without an away win in the Premier League.

Claudio Ranieri must be applauded for his honesty in taking the blame for Leicester’s humbling 3-0 defeat at Southampton on Sunday but his self-pity doesn’t cover up the glaring fact that the reigning champions are increasingly in a battle against the drop.

Why?

Well, there are a number of reasons.

“Slacking off over the summer after winning the PL title in incredible fashion?” Perhaps.

“Losing N'Golo Kante to Chelsea?” Yep, definitely a big part of it.

“Other teams focusing on their strengths?” That’s key too.

Yet, when we look at this Leicester, despite Ranieri playing three at the back against Chelsea last time out and then a diamond in midfield in the first half at Southampton, both of which went horribly wrong, not much has changed. That’s the biggest problem. Don’t get me wrong, I was fully on board the Leicester bandwagon along with the rest of the sporting world last season. It was incredible.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]  

However, was Ranieri really ruthless enough over the summer to strengthen the team where they needed to? No. In theory, Leicester needed three new signings throughout the spine of the team.

They could offer big wages and UEFA Champions League action and they should’ve plundered their cash on three big name players at center back, in central midfield and up top. They bought in Luiz Hernandez in defense, who could be on his way out already. They also signed Nampalys Mendy who has been injured but is no Kante and they brought in Islam Slimani who has been hot and cold. The biggest issue (as the stat above suggests) is in defense. Leicester are leaking goals at an alarming rate and Wes Morgan and Robert Huth seemed to have aged 10 years over the summer.

There’s an argument to be made that they should have gone for PL experience and paid a little over the odds to buy two or three experienced players from within the PL rather than seven or eight newbies to the PL.

Leicester have done the latter and so far that plan isn’t working.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Their run to the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 has been the priority and some would say rightly so but with Swansea and Hull picking up below Leicester, the Foxes’ margin for error is getting smaller each week.

They had the lowest pass completion percentage over the weekend which is much like last season. Pretty much everything is the same, expect for the results. That’s the most worrying thing for Leicester’s fans, players and manager.


ROONEY SETS RECORD IN STYLE

It just had to be this way.

Wayne Rooney became Manchester United’s all-time leading goal scorer on Saturday — passing Sir Bobby Charlton who had held the record on 249 for over 40 years — as he curled home a sublime free kick in stoppage time to grab his side a point at Stoke City and extend their unbeaten run to 17 games in all competitions.

[ MORE: World reacts to Rooney’s record

Rooney, 31, scored his 250th goal for United in fine fashion and it was indicative of a career which has promised so much and more often than not delivered with spectacular goals such as the bicycle kick against Manchester City, the volley against Newcastle and the halfway-line lob against West Ham littering the way.

When we look back on his career in a decade or two, it’s likely he will finally get the credit he deserves for his sublime talent on the field since the age of 17 when he burst onto the scene. Right here, right now, Rooney is often undermined with his fitness and impact questioned on a daily basis.

Wayne Rooney is now the all-time leading scorer for England and Manchester United. Let that sink in. He is truly a legend of the game.

[ MORE: Rooney talks about his future at United ]

Speaking at the Football Writers’Association tribute dinner on Sunday at the Savoy Hotel in London (Rooney’s impeccable timing meant he set the record just 24 hours before being honored by the FWA) Rooney admitted that going forward he wants the media and England’s players to work closer together to benefit everyone.

“The media is a massive part of football and I’ve seen firsthand since I’ve become captain of Manchester United and England,” Rooney said. “I’ve recognized it has had a huge influence on the game and the players and especially the young English players because they are the ones who have to go out and perform. It’s tough. I also feel like it is sometimes a bit unfair.

“The one thing I think, for me, that should happen is we need to realize and the media need to realize that at this moment in time there is a huge gap between the media and the players. I think the quicker the media and players can come together and meet in the middle, then the better it is for English football.”

Here’s a look at some of Rooney’s best goals from his incredible career which he intends to keep going at Manchester United for now but also admitted his frustration at not playing regularly this season.

Whatever the future holds, Rooney has written himself into folklore forever.


GET WELL SOON, RYAN

Week 22 of the Premier League ended with a sobering sight.

Hull midfielder Ryan Mason, 25, was involved in an aerial collision with Chelsea skipper Gary Cahill in the first half of the Blues’ eventual 2-0 win. Mason did not get back up.

The England international suffered a fractured skull and after carefully being treated on the pitch he was transported to St Mary’s hospital in central London for surgery.

Hull gave the latest update on Mason on Monday, as players and staff from both Chelsea and Hull visited him in hospital.

The Club can confirm that Ryan has been visited this morning at St Mary’s Hospital by Club Captain Michael Dawson, Club Doctor Mark Waller, Head of Medical Rob Price and Club Secretary Matt Wild. Ryan has been speaking of the incident yesterday and will continue to be monitored at the hospital over the coming days where the Club will remain in close contact with Ryan, his family and the staff at St Mary’s.

Ryan and his family have also been extremely touched by the overwhelming support they have received  and would very much like to thank all of those who have posted such positive comments both on social media and in the press over the last 24 hours.

It was a horrible sight and was made even more shocking due to the innocuous nature of the challenge.

Get well soon, Ryan.


Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.

VIDEO: Rod Stewart steals show in hilarious Scottish FA Cup draw

Rod Stewart
Sky Sports
1 Comment

Sir Rod Stewart knows how to play to a crowd.

This proves it.

[ MORE: Wenger charged after push

And no, 72-year-old Stewart was not performing on stage at one of the world’s biggest venues on Sunday but he was instead conducting the draw for the fifth round of the Scottish FA Cup.

Seriously.

Live on Sky Sports in the UK, he was given the task of drawing out the home teams and Stewart did so in flamboyant and phenomenal fashion, especially when drawing out his beloved Glasgow Celtic.

Click play on the video below to be mesmerized by Stewart’s energy and excitement. This is brilliant.

There are some suggestions out there that he may have had a small alcoholic beverage before taking part in the draw…

Personally, I think there should be a new rule which sees Rod Stewart involved in every single cup draw from here on out.

Agree? I think you will.


Arsene Wenger charged with misconduct by FA

Leave a comment

Arsene Wenger has been charged with misconduct by the English Football Association.

[ MORE: New PL title odds released ]

Wenger, 66, reacted angrily to Arsenal conceding a penalty kick in second half stoppage time against Burnley on Sunday — the 10-man Gunners would go on to get a contentious spot kick off their own in the 98th minute to win 2-1 — and was sent to the stands by the officials.

He then appeared to push the fourth official and afterwards admitted he “regrets everything” and he should have “shut up and gone home” after the incident.

The FA released the following statement regarding Wenger’s charge.

Arsene Wenger has been charged for misconduct following Arsenal’s game against Burnley on Sunday [22 January 2017].

It is alleged that in or around the 92nd minute, he used abusive and/or insulting words towards the fourth official. It is further alleged that following his dismissal from the technical area, his behaviour in remaining in the tunnel area and making physical contact with the fourth official amounted to improper conduct.

He has until 6pm on 26 January 2017 to respond to the charge.

Many are calling for Wenger to be handed a very long ban for his actions.

He pushed fourth official Anthony Taylor and although it wasn’t hard enough for Taylor to fall over, it was in an aggressive manner and Wenger and the fourth official were separated by security guards in the tunnel area.

It was not the Frenchman’s finest moment and he is sure to pay a heavy price both in a fine and a potential touchline ban.

If Jose Mourinho received a one-game touchline ban for kicking a battle earlier this season, then surely Wenger has to get at least two or three games for physical contact with a match official.

The stress of a title race does funny things to even the coolest of characters.

DC United sign Ian Harkes to Homegrown deal

c1ftcpowgaavlfr
Wake Forest
Leave a comment

D.C. United have completed the deal to bring Ian Harkes back to RFK Stadium.

[ MORE: Title odds in PL ]

Harkes, 21, signed for the Major League Soccer franchise Monday as a Homegrown player, fresh from winning the MAC Hermann Trophy earlier this month as the best collegiate player in the U.S. following his heroics with Wake Forest University over the past four years.

Son of former D.C. United and U.S. national team captain John Harkes, it is believed the two-way midfielder had plenty of options in Europe due to his dual nationality after he was born in England duringJohn’s playing days with Sheffield Wednesday, Derby County, West Ham United and Nottingham Forest.

However, the younger Harkes has instead decided to sign for United and head coach Ben Olsen was delighted to add arguably the most talented up and coming midfielder in U.S soccer.

“I’ve known Ian nearly his entire life and have watched him develop into one of the nation’s best young talents.” Olsen said. “He has all the tools to succeed at the next level and I look forward to being a part of his pro career.”

Harkes starred for DCU’s Academy as captain of both the U-16 and U-18 level before heading to Wake Forest for his storied four-year college career and now he will return home to try and lead a D.C. side back to the latter stages of the postseason.

Olsen has endured an up and down time with United over the past seven years, but has reached the MLS Cup playoffs in four of the last five campaigns.

Adding Harkes will no doubt increase DCU’s chances of making a deep run at the postseason in 2017. He also increase their number of Homegrown players to four in their current squad.