Premier League Playback: Sturridge swivels, promoted teams arrive, mirror image for Spurs, Liverpool

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With two slight faints of his hips, first to the left, then to the right, Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge managed to bamboozle two Aston Villa defenders and goalkeeper Brad Guzan.

The way he waited for Guzan to commit himself before shimmying around him is a dying art in the Premier League. There, I’ve said it.

So many times in the modern game you see players racing clean through on goal and opting to chip the ‘keeper or just simply smash a shot on goal as hard as they can, often in hope rather than good judgment. But taking that final chance to round the ‘keeper and using flexible hips to slither one way, then the next, is now rarely seen. Gracefully swerving past the oppositions’ final obstacle has all but disappeared.

It was great to see Sturridge (watch the highlights above) use it in tremendous fashion on Saturday afternoon to help him score the game-winner versus Villa, a goal fit to win any game. However Sturridge’s Liverpool teammate Jose Enrique thought the 23-year-old striker had fluffed his lines by rounding Guzan.

“To be honest, when he went too far on the right I thought he was going to miss it. But he did really well.”

Don’t let those “snake hips” deceive you, Jose. Sturridge knew exactly what he was doing, so long may side-stepping around advancing goalkeepers continue.

Premier League Schedule – Week 2

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 0-1 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Cardiff City 3-2 Manchester City Recap and watch here
Everton 0-0 West Brom Recap and watch here
Fulham 1-3 Arsenal Recap and watch here
Hull City 1-0 Norwich City Recap and watch here
Newcastle 0-0 West Ham United Recap and watch here
Southampton 1-1 Sunderland Recap and watch here
Stoke City 2-1 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here
Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 Swansea Recap and watch here

STANDOUT PERFORMERS

In a week where only 17 goals were scored between 18 teams, central midfield heroes prevailed.

The pick of the bunch was Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey, as the Welsh captain showed that this season he’s ready to lead the Gunners. Full of grit and determination on a wet and windy afternoon in West London, Ramsey was great on the ball and worked tremendously hard off it. He was at the heart of Arsenal’s many counter-attacks breaking up the play and feeding the ball to let Theo Walcott, Cazorla and co. to do the rest. Just brilliant.

And Ramsey’s Arsenal teammates, Olivier Giroud, deserves a special mention after three goals in his first three games this season, the Frenchman could well silence all of Wenger’s critics if he continues to score and play like this. Great hold up play, intelligent runs and a composed finish put Arsenal ahead early.

Elsewhere Stoke’s Charlie Adam helped drag his side back into the game against Crystal Palace by scoring the equalizer and then battling for his life in midfield. Stoke’s Scottish terrier has a great range of passing and his relentless display was crucial as the Potters grabbed a comeback 2-1 win.

We’ve already discussed Sturridge’s brilliant goal, but he was mature in his hold up play and was a constant thorn in Villa’s side on Saturday evening. Great display in the lone forward role. The same can be said for Cardiff’s Fraizer Campbell, as the former Manchester United product got in behind Man City twice in the first half, then scored twice from corners to seal an incredible 3-2 win, more on that shortly. Cardiff bought the 25-year-old from Sunderland for less $900,000. Terrific bit of business. If Campbell continues that form, he could add to his one England cap.

Premier League Star Performers

Player Reason
1. Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal) Sublime in the engine room
2. Fraizer Campbell (Cardiff) 2 goal hero in historic win
3. Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool) 1 goal, tireless display
4. Olivier Giroud (Arsenal) 1 goal, great hold up play
5. Charlie Adam (Stoke City) 1 goal, dug deep in MF

BEST GOALS OF THE WEEKEND

Undoubtedly, Sturridge’s sublime set up and finish against Villa is the top contender, that was a beauty. But of course, in the second weekend of PL play, a few others stood out. Manchester City’s opener in their shock 3-2 defeat to Cardiff came courtesy of a thunderbolt from Edin Dzeko. A terrific back-heel flick into his path from David Silva let Dzeko have one touch and then hammer home a shot into the top corner. A slight deflection took some of the wonderment away, but come on, we didn’t have many goals to choose from this weekend.

Elsewhere, Arsenal’s third goal was a real gem. First Olivier Giroud’s incredible first touch set up a counter attack, as he released Santi Cazorla to cut in from the left patiently to find Lukas Podolski, who took one touch then rifled an unstoppable drive into the far corner to put the Gunners 3-0 up. Counter-attacking soccer at it’s best, once again.

PROMOTED TEAMS ARRIVE

All three newly promoted teams suffered defeat on the opening day, but in week 2, two out of three prevailed. On Saturday Hull City snatched a crucial 1-0 win at home to Norwich City. The Tigers defended heroically as Sagbo was sent off with over an hour to play at the KC Stadium. Steve Bruce’s men need three points badly as this home tie was sandwiched in between their tough start at Chelsea and a trip to Manchester City coming up next.

Speaking of City, everything seemed to be going to plan when Edin Dzeko smashed them ahead at the start of the second half against Cardiff on Sunday… But that sparked the Bluebirds into life and Fraizer Campbell popped up twice after Aron Gunnarsson’s equalizer to create the biggest shock result of the Premier League campaign so far.

The noise levels were deafening as the final whistle blew in the Cardiff City Stadium. The Bluebirds had their first win in the top flight for over 50 years, what a remarkable victory. And then there’s poor old Palace. Leading 1-0 heading into the final 35 minutes at Stoke, they could have made it a clean sweep, but two Stoke goals in four minutes dashed any hopes they had and they remain pointless after two games. Back to the drawing board.

Now the message is clear: underestimate the promoted teams at your peril.

PENALTY OR NO PENALTY, THAT IS THE QUESTION

Norwich City manager Chris Hughton was frustrated following the penalty awarded to Hull City in the Canaries 1-0 defeat at the KC Stadium on Saturday afternoon. It was pretty soft, as Michael Turner and Yannick Sogbo came together in the box in the 22nd minute, as a long looping ball drifted in. How many times do we see that battle between defender and attacker every game?

Hughton wonders where referees will draw the line. “If you’re going to give that as a penalty, then you’re going to give so many of them in every game.”

And just after Norwich’s Turner had conceded a penalty, he should have won one as Curtis Davies gave him a firm push in the back as a Norwich corner swung in from the right. Much to Hughton’s dismay, referee Mike Jones missed it.

Following on from that, there were several other contentious penalty decisions around the league. Let’s dissect just a few.

Early on in Palace’s trip to Stoke, Eagles debutant Jose Campana found Joel Ward on the right side of the box and Stoke winger Matthew Etherington bundled Ward to the ground. No penalty was awarded but there was definite contact. Palace can feel hard done by.

Against Sunderland, Southampton had three legitimate penalty shouts and all were against Black Cats captain John O’Shea. First the Irishman brought down Jose Fonte in the box and it looked like a clear foul, then on the stroke of half time O’Shea tugged Adam Lallana to the ground as he turned inside the six yard box. No call on both and the final call was a little less convincing, as O’Shea shoved new signing Pablo Osvaldo in the box as he tried to control a cross.

Liverpool goalscorer Sturridge tried to round Guzan again late in the game and it seemed as though he just got to the ball first as Guzan came flying out. On second inspection, Guzan got the faintest of touches on the ball and despite Sturridge’s claim, it was the right call. And finally, Tottenham got their second penalty in a week after going the whole of 2012-13 without receiving a spot kick. This decision wasn’t that debatable as Swansea’s Jonjo Shelvey clipped Spurs winger Andros Townsend just inside the box as he raced in on goal.

Plenty of calls waved away, but will we see more penalties this season in the Premier League? Eight in the first 19 games of the campaign seems like a lot.

STRIKERS ON STRIKE

When Peter Crouch’s header was somehow kept out by a sprawling one handed save from Crystal Palace ‘keeper Julian Speroni in the 33rd minute, a look of acceptance washed across the Stoke City striker’s face. See, Crouch is a man in a deep drought. A forward who has scored just three times in his last 33 games in the Premier League. That stat astounded me. But hold up, this isn’t a Crouch bashing, plenty of other strikers have been firing blanks for some time in the PL.

USMNT forward Jozy Altidore is only two games into his PL return, but he’s failed to score and he now has only one goal in 18 league appearances in England. His solitary striker during his first spell in the PL came on Feburary 6 2010, as Hull beat Manchester City 2-1 and Jozy bagged the opener. Against Southampton on Saturday Jozy had one real chance to score but dallied when clean through and ‘keeper Artur Boruc rushed off his line to gobble up Altidore’s chance.

But there’s hope for Crouch and Altidore. Former Arsenal forward Marouane Chamakh scored his first Crystal Palace goal on Saturday with a terrific strike after out-muscling the Potters defense, and it was the Moroccan internationals first PL goal since September 17 2011, when he scored in Arsenal’s 4-3 loss against Blackburn. Then of course there’s Danny Welbeck, who only scored one PL goal the whole of last season for Manchester United but was still a regular. He doubled his 2012-13 season tally in the first game of this season last time out.

Crouch and Altidore will be judged on how many goals they score this campaign, but they bring clever hold up play, aerial prowess and plenty of other positives to their teams attack. The goals will come with time. But hopefully they don’t have to wait as long as Chamakh and Welbeck.

SOCIAL MEDIA BUZZ

Looking back to last weekend, the guys over at Gilt Edge Soccer put together this handy little infographic to show the love NBC Sports has been getting for our Premier League coverage. So we wanted to share the love back, and say thank you. Plenty more good stuff on the way.

MIRROR IMAGE

Liverpool and Tottenham both look solid yet unspectacular after two games in the Premier League. And both have recorded back-to-back 1-0 wins. Liverpool created good chances and looked composed and in control for most of the match against Villa, the last 20 minutes aside.

And Spurs huffed and puffed once again, without any real cutting edge. (Ahem, he’s called Gareth Bale and he’s sipping Sangria in the Spanish capital ahead of his unveiling… according to reports.)

But this seems to be how both teams have rebuilt themselves. I wrote something on how Spurs’ new-look midfield is taking time to gel, and that’s the case but man, they look solid. Paulinho, Dembele and Capoue were impenetrable against Swansea. Whilst Liverpool went for the same approach as Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva sat in front of the back four to protect Liverpool’s 1-0 lead against Villa.

Brendan Rodgers is confident, can Liverpool push into the top four this season with a solid foundation and Suárez possibly returning?

SO, WHERE DID ALL THE GOALS GO?

Sitting around on Saturday afternoon waiting for the inevitable flood of PL goals to arrive, I was slightly disappointed that pretty much nobody obliged. There were a lot of goose eggs out there in Week 2. But what is that down to, better ‘keepers? Solid defenses? Or just the matchups the fixtures computer threw together earlier this summer?

Probably a combo of all three.

Yet, I get the feeling that plenty of teams are slightly anxious to keep pushing forward and want to keep what they have. A solitary point seems to be good enough for most Premier League sides these days. The lucrative TV contracts are now higher than ever, creating some reluctance to attack. The likes of West Brom, West Ham and Sunderland hardly forayed forward but all three grabbed a point away from home. Smart play; win your home games, try and snatch a point on the road. That’s the mantra that seems to work for most mid-table or bottom half teams.

The fact that most of these teams played against each other this weekend was why there were so many shutouts. If you’re new to the PL, a lack of goals is one thing England’s top-flight can never be accused of. The gun-ho nature will return shortly. Arsenal showed that on Saturday, with their 3-1 counter-attacking demolition of Fulham at Craven Cottage. Watch for yourself below as Arsene Wenger’s side silenced all the critics.

GOAL-LINE TECHNOLOGY WATCH

No real decisions needed this weekend, only Crouch’s header against Palace got anywhere near to being a debatable call. But the ball clearly didn’t go over the line after Speroni’s fingertips has pushed it onto the crossbar and it bounced in front of the line on the way down. No goal.

Maybe we will see some goal-line decisions at Old Trafford tonight for the mammoth game between Manchester United and Chelsea? That would add some spice to the mix…

Join us every Monday as we recap the best moments from the past weekend in Premier League Playback.

PL title & FA Cup in sight, Conte says Chelsea still rebuilding

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Antonio Conte might be just seven games away from guiding Chelsea to a Premier League and FA Cup double this season, but the Blues’ first-year Italian manager insists his squad is nowhere near being a finished product.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Speaking after Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal triumph over Tottenham Hotspur, Conte insisted that the team he inherited last summer, after a disastrous 10th-place finish in the PL, is “in a period of transition” and that “[they] need time” as the club moves on from an accomplished, foundational generation — quotes from Sky Sports:

“I think that now at Chelsea we are in a period of transition. In this season, we have lost (Branislav) Ivanovic, (John Obi) Mikel and next season we lose John Terry.

“We are talking about players who wrote the history of this club. They won a lot. Now we have to find the right substitutes for these players and then work to put these players at the same level.

“I think that in the period with Carlo (Ancelotti) — and Carlo is the best Italian coach, I have great respect for him — he arrived at Chelsea when they had a really strong squad. Now we are building. We are building something important. We need time.”

[ MORE: Kante takes home PFA Player of the Year | Dele wins Young Player ]

Conte is doing two things with the above comments: 1) he’s tempering expectations for next season, when Chelsea will be back in the UEFA Champions League and automatically expected to repeat as PL champions — not to mention, taking a bit of pressure off in these final two months of the 2016-17 season; and, 2) pointing out just how impressive his work to date has been, the fact he’s potentially seven games away from lifting two trophies in seven days’ time next month.

Ligue 1: Mbappe, Falcao fire Monaco top again

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PARIS (AP) Strikers Radamel Falcao and Kylian Mbappe continued their fine form with a goal each to help Monaco secure a 2-1 win at Lyon and reclaim top spot in the French league on Sunday.

Monaco moves above defending champion Paris Saint-Germain on goal difference, with Monaco having played a game less. PSG has four games left.

“It wasn’t easy and it was a big win for us tonight,” Monaco center half Andrea Raggi said. “We all play for each other and it’s now or never.”

It has been an astonishing season for Monaco, which has now scored 143 goals in all competitions and remains on course for the treble. Monaco faces PSG in the French Cup semifinals next Wednesday.

Falcao and Mbappe scored in midweek when Monaco beat German side Borussia Dortmund 3-1 in the return leg of their Champions League quarterfinal to reach the last four 6-3 on aggregate.

Lyon also did well in Europe, going through on penalty kicks away to Turkish club Besiktas to reach the last four in the Europa League.

Falcao and the 18-year-old Mbappe have combined for 51 goals.

Falcao put Monaco ahead in the 36th minute with a header from close range – his 28th goal of the season – and Mbappe made it 2-0 just before halftime with a trademark surging run and cool finish for his 23rd.

“I just try and give my best whenever I play,” said Mbappe, who has recently been called into the France team. “I wasn’t playing much at the start of the season, so I’m still quite fresh and I hope I can help us win the remaining games.”

PSG beat Montpellier 2-0 at home on Saturday with Edinson Cavani scoring his 31st league goal of the season and 44th overall.

Nice has already guaranteed third place and a spot in the qualifying round for next season’s Champions League.

But with four games remaining, it is six points behind Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain. Nice hosts PSG next Sunday.

Striker Corentin Jean gave mid-table Toulouse the lead in the 57th minute. Midfielder Valentin Eysseric continued his fine form with the equalizer three minutes later.

The game was briefly halted early in the first half after a group of Saint-Etienne supporters forced themselves into the stadium.

The match was supposed to be played behind closed doors as a punishment for unruly supporters during Saint-Etienne’s local derby against Lyon.

After a brief delay for police to remove the fans, Slovakia striker Robert Beric put the home side ahead in the 39th and center half Edson Mexer leveled just before the break.

Saint-Etienne is in seventh place, while Rennes is ninth.

Serie A: Napoli waste chance to go 2nd; Juve win big (again)

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MILAN (AP) Arkadiusz Milik scored his first goal since his lengthy injury layoff but it wasn’t enough to prevent Napoli from drawing 2-2 at Sassuolo on Sunday and missing the chance to move second in Serie A.

Milik scored two minutes after coming off the bench to rescue a point for Napoli and move it to within one point of second-placed Roma, which visits bottom club Pescara on Monday.

Second spot in Serie A secures automatic entry into the Champions League group stage, while the team that finishes third has to go through a playoff.

“The road to second spot has got more difficult, we have to hope our rivals slip up,” Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri said. “We have a point more than last season, even though we played in the Champions League, even though we lost (Gonzalo) Higuain at the beginning of the season and Milik for four months, so I think the team has had an extraordinary season until now.”

After an even first half, Napoli broke the deadlock seven minutes after the break thanks to a rare header from Dries Mertens. It was the diminutive Belgian’s 22nd league goal of the season – as many as he had scored in total in his three previous seasons at Napoli.

However, Napoli gifted Sassuolo the equalizer seven minutes later as Marek Hamsik’s terrible headed backpass to Pepe Reina was intercepted by Domenico Berardi, who fired home from close range.

Mertens almost immediately restored his side’s lead but saw his free kick come off the crossbar, while Lorenzo Insigne’s effort also hit the inside of the post for Napoli.

Sassuolo took the lead 10 minutes from time following a superb save from Reina to deny former Napoli hero Paolo Cannavaro, but Antonino Ragusa hooked the ball back in from the byline for Luca Mazzitelli to drive into the bottom right corner.

Milik was brought on in the 82nd and immediately leveled. Jose Callejon’s corner was knocked down by Raul Albiol and the Poland international spun to fire in from close range for his first goal since he was injured on World Cup duty in October.

AC Milan missed a penalty as the new era at the famous Italian club continued without a win.

Milan drew 2-2 at city rival Inter Milan last weekend in the first match since the $800 million takeover of Milan by Chinese-led Rossoneri Sport Luxembourg ended Silvio Berlusconi’s 31-year reign.

Sunday’s defeat saw Milan remain in the last qualifying spot for the Europa League, two points above Inter.

“If we relate everything to the result, it didn’t go well but I shouldn’t do that,” Milan coach Vincenzo Montella said. “We created 15 chances, it’s difficult to create more in Serie A.”

Empoli took a surprise lead five minutes from halftime when Levan Mchedlidze headed in a corner.

Milan should have leveled shortly before the hour, after Lukasz Skorupski pushed over Mario Pasalic, but the Empoli goalkeeper made up for his error by keeping out Suso’s penalty and then parrying a follow-up effort from Gianluca Lapadula.

Empoli doubled its lead in the 67th when Massimo Maccarone nodded on the ball for Mame Thiam to score his first goal in Italian football.

Lapadula reduced the deficit five minutes later, curling into the bottom corner and Milan had a good chance to level when it was awarded an indirect free kick six yards out from goal after Skorupski got the ball, put it down and picked it back up again.

However, with all the Empoli players on the line, Milan couldn’t equalize.

Milan’s teenage goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma kept his side in the match with a fantastic one-handed save to deny Maccarone and it almost proved decisive as Lucas Ocampos volleyed off the crossbar at the other end.

Keita Balde Diao notched a five-minute hat trick as Lazio crushed Palermo to move back into fourth in Serie A.

Ciro Immobile scored two in as many minutes to put Lazio 2-0 up inside 10 minutes, before Keita’s quickfire treble – including a penalty – ensured the match was all but over with less than half an hour played.

Lazio relaxed and Palermo threatened an unexpected comeback with two goals from Andrea Rispoli in five minutes at the start of the second half.

But Luca Crecco extended Lazio’s lead in the final minute with his first ever senior goal.

Juventus continued its march to an unprecedented sixth successive Serie A title by routing Genoa 4-0 to move 11 points clear of Roma.

Ezequiel Munoz scored an own-goal in the 17th and magnificent strikes from Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic put the hosts 3-0 up at the break. Leonardo Bonucci scored another stunning goal in the 64th after sprinting forward from inside his own half. Juventus also hit the woodwork three times.

Crotone kept its faint hopes of survival alive with a surprise 2-1 win at Sampdoria.

The result left it five points behind 17th-placed Empoli and safety with five matches remaining.

Elsewhere, Torino won 3-1 at Chievo Verona, while Udinese beat Cagliari 2-1.

MLS Snapshot: Sounders cruise, 3-0, as Galaxy struggles continue

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The game in 100 words (or less): The LA Galaxy’s midfield remains… nonexistent, to put it very nicely. It was a problem in 2015; it was a major problem in 2016; and it remains a problem early in 2017. On Sunday, Curt Onalfo’s side (as a quick aside, no, his seat isn’t yet getting hot) sat by and watched — almost literally — as the Seattle Sounders found the back of the net three times in the first half at StubHub Center.

Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris scored the goals for Seattle, to go with an own goal from Ashley Cole. It’s LA’s fifth loss in seven games, while Seattle have their second win of the season and put to bed a three-game winless skid.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundup — FCD win battle of unbeatens ]

Three moments that mattered

29′ — Dempsey heads into an open net for 1-0 — Nicolas Lodeiro floated the cross toward the back post, and Dempsey made extremely easy work of it with Brian Rowe scrambling through no man’s land.

35′ — Cole applies the finish into his own net — If it happened at the other end of the field, we’d have said it was a cool, calm, composed finish. Alas…

44′ — Morris fires past Rowe for 3-0 — The counter-attack was quick, what with no one stepping to the ball as Seattle covered two-thirds of the field. The finish wasn’t so simple for Morris.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Clint Dempsey

Goalscorers: Dempsey (29′), Cole (OG – 35′), Morris (44′)