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.

Oxlade-Chamberlain injury update

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Jurgen Klopp does not seem confident that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will play again this season.

The Liverpool and England midfielder suffered an injury to his right knee early on in Liverpool’s 5-2 win over Roma in their UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg, as he appeared to extend his right knee under his body when making a challenge on Aleksandar Kolarov.

Speaking to the media following Liverpool’s dramatic win, Klopp was downbeat about Oxlade-Chamberlain’s chances of playing again this season.

“We don’t know exactly but if the medical department are quite concerned without a scan, you can imagine it’s difficult. The season is not that long anymore. It doesn’t look good,” Klopp said. “I’m a very positive person and still hope it only feels bad, but is not that bad. We’ll see. We lost a fantastic player tonight. It’s not good news.”

This injury has come at such a bad time for The Ox.

He has been flourishing with Liverpool in a central midfield role and has delivered key goals and assists in big wins since arriving from Arsenal last summer. Most notably the Ox’s driving midfield runs have caused Manchester City all kinds of problems and he scored two screamers against them in wins at Anfield in the Premier League and UCL.

Georginio Wijnaldum stepped in admirably for Oxlade-Chamberlain against Roma and the Dutch midfielder will be used alongside James Milner and Jordan Henderson from here on out by Klopp, especially with Emre Can battling a back injury.

As for Oxlade-Chamberlain, he will now be focused on trying to be fit for the UCL final on May 26 (if Liverpool get there) and on making England’s 2018 World Cup squad. That seems like a big ask given Klopp’s gloomy assessment.

Wenger: Timing of departure “not really my decision”

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Arsene Wenger has been speaking about his Arsenal departure and there are some intriguing details emerging.

Wenger, 68, announced last Friday that he would be leaving Arsenal at the end of the current 2017-18 campaign after almost 22 years in charge.

But when asked about the timing of his decision during his press conference ahead of the Europa League semifinal first leg against Atletico Madrid on Thursday and whether or not that was helpful, Wenger said it was taken out of his hands.

“The timing was not really my decision, the rest I have spoken about already,” Wenger said. “I focus on what I have to do every day. At the moment, I work like ever.”

Wenger added that he will “for sure” continue to work beyond this season but wasn’t giving anything away on where he would go. The Arsenal boss also said he had a “high opinion of Luis Enrique” but that he didn’t “want to influence the next manager” of Arsenal with so many contenders mentioned as he also confirmed he will have no say on his successor.

What do we make of all this?

Wenger still has one more year left on his current deal at Arsenal and it appears he was keen to be in charge next season, but he could have simply been saying that he would have preferred an announcement at the end of the season rather than before a big European semifinal. His comments can be interpreted either way but many journalists in the room are all suggesting Wenger was talking about the overall decision to step down now.

The growing, and widely reported, notion that Wenger stepped down before he was sacked seems to be on point. After three Premier League titles and 10 major trophies in total in over two decades in charge, it appears Wenger didn’t get to decide when he called time on his Arsenal career.

The perfect end for Wenger at Arsenal would be to win the Europa League and then leave on a high, but these comments suggest the Frenchman may not be happy with some of the hierarchy at Arsenal.

These comments amid links to PSG and the French national team also suggest to rule out a role upstairs at Arsenal, at least for the foreseeable future, for Wenger. Intriguing times ahead.

Roma condemn violent scenes outside Anfield

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AS Roma have condemned an attack from some of its supporters on Liverpool’s fans before the game after a 53-year-old Liverpool supporter was injured outside Anfield before the UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg on Tuesday.

The Serie A side said that a “small minority of traveling fans brought shame on the club” as two men from Rome have been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after the attack on the Liverpool fan who is in a critical condition after suffering head injuries.

Below is the statement in full from the Italian club.

AS Roma condemns in the strongest possible terms the abhorrent behavior of a small minority of traveling fans who brought shame on the club and the vast majority of Roma’s well-behaved supporters at Anfield after getting involved in clashes with Liverpool supporters before last night’s fixture.

There is no place for this type of vile behavior in football and the club is now cooperating with Liverpool Football Club, UEFA and the authorities. The club’s thoughts and prayers are with the 53-year-old Liverpool fan in hospital and his family at this time.

Salah’s sensational season in context

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Mohamed Salah is having a season on the same level as Lionel Messi.

Some* will even say it’s better.

[ MORE: LFC 2-1 Roma | Klopp reacts ]

There are few ways to overstate how well the Egyptian has performed for Liverpool this season, and few matches have been as strong as Tuesday’s destruction of AS Roma.

Make no mistake about it: Destruction is the right word. I Lupi isn’t dead thanks to the Reds right side of the defense and James Milner‘s arm, but it was fading out of consciousness when Salah departed the game.

It’s not crazy to draw the connection. Just ask Jurgen Klopp:

“If anyone wants to say it is my mistake that we concede the two goals because I change the striker, I have no problem with that,” he said. “Mo was running all the time and it would not have helped us if he gets an injury. What a player. If you think he is the best in the world, write it or say it. He is in outstandingly good shape, world-class shape, but to be the best in the world you need to do it over a longer period, I think. The other two are not bad.”

No, no they are not, but Salah is on their level.

The aesthetics of his first goal were first-class, dinging off the bottom of the cross bar like a vicious swish of a Steph Curry three. When the night ended, Salah had two more goals and two more assists to bring his total to 43 goals and 15 assists in 47 matches. In three more matches, the best player on the planet has 40 and 18 (Ronaldo has 42 and 7 in 39).

[ MORE: LFC supporter in critical condition after Roma attack ]

The reason not to overreact is Luis Suarez’s 2013-14, in which he posted posted 31 goals and 24 assists in 37 games and would’ve arguably made Salah’s season look just “pretty great” if the Reds were in European football (or, one could argue, Suarez wasn’t slowed by the demands of a more congested adventure).

And we also won’t know Salah’s path next season. Take Cristiano Ronaldo’s 2007-08 season, the closest thing we have to Suarez or Salah in this generation. The then-23-year-old posted 42+8 in 49, but took a step back the next season before exploding into space upon debut with Madrid the following season (His second Real campaign, 2010-11, was the first real otherworldly CR7 campaign, with 53+18 in 54).

Salah is the Premier League Player of the Year, and he’s the front-runner for the Ballon d’Or (which is likely to be determined by this summer’s World Cup in Russia, with Argentina and Portugal possibly on a quarterfinal collision course and Egypt in an very winnable Group A with Russia, Uruguay, and Saudi Arabia).

Jurgen Klopp deserves much credit for Salah’s explosion. Even if the Egyptian began his ascent in Italy, there’s been nothing like this. And if he can do it a few more years, he has the chance to land amongst the generational names in soccer (perhaps as the best African player in Premier League history with Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba).

He’ll almost certainly become the all-time single-season Liverpool league goal scorer this season barring rest for the UCL, and he’ll be their top all-time according to Opta if he nabs four or more goals across 4-5 matches (Roma again, Stoke, Chelsea, Brighton, and probably Real Madrid or Bayern Munich).

The Reds were unbelievably good for 80 minutes on Tuesday — 75 of which were Salah-led — and the praise would’ve been flowing like a waterfall had they not switched off for 10 (in which it must be said Liverpool was fortunate to only concede twice!).

*By the way, Messi fans, you’ll be relieved to count me as not one of those who’d say Salah is having a better season. It’s closer than you think. Messi is better than Salah in league play, while Salah is having a superior UCL campaign. Given the general consensus top-to-bottom on Premier League vs. La Liga and Barca’s UCL competition vs. Liverpool’s opponents — which is drawing level now — we’d say it’s even.

Messi vs. Salah league play (per 90, Squawka)
Assists: Messi 0.4-0.31
Key passes: Messi, 2.16-1.63
Chances created: Messi, 2.56-1.94
Attack score: Messi, 73.04-54.5
Possession score: Messi, 5.6 to minus-5.12
Pass completion (%): Messi, 81-77
Shot accuracy: Even (62%)
Tackles won: Salah, 0.24-0.2
Take-ons won (%): Messi, 69.47-64.96

Messi vs. Salah league play (per 90, Squawka)
Assists: Salah, 0.45-0.23
Key passes: Salah, 2.13-1.72
Chances created: Salah, 2.58-1.95
Attack score: Salah, 70.89-55.69
Possession score: Messi, 2.71 to minus-3.34
Pass completion (%): Messi, 81-73
Shot accuracy(%): Salah, 73-69
Tackles won: Messi, 0.69-.45
Take-ons won (%): Salah, 76.4-61.4