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

Leave a comment

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.

At 0-2, Americans understand stakes in World Cup qualifying

Getty Images
Leave a comment

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) – Michael Bradley sees no reason to keep harping on that 4-0 loss at Costa Rica four months ago.

Yes, it’s still fresh in the Americans’ minds, a night every mistake snowballed into another.

“There is zero point in continuing to look back on that at the moment,” Bradley said. “We are where we are. Now it’s about on Friday night beginning this process of moving ourselves back up the table and stepping on the field from the first minute and playing a really aggressive way that ultimately leaves no doubt as to who’s stepping off the field, win or lose.”

Bruce Arena’s U.S. squad gets a fresh start in World Cup qualifying Friday against Honduras, and the pressure is on following the home country’s first 0-2 start in the North and Central American and Caribbean region’s final round.

“We understand the position we’re in,” Bradley said. “There’s no need for anybody on the outside to put any more pressure on us than we’ve already put on ourselves, because we didn’t start the hex in the right way. We put ourselves behind the eight ball. We’re honest and real enough with ourselves to understand that. Friday night is the beginning of our chance to put things right and get ourselves back in a good position. … We need guys to step on the field and understand the moment, not be fazed by it, go for it in a fearless way and have a big group of guys play really well.”

Forward Jordan Morris’ status for Friday appears in question after he missed a third straight day of practice Wednesday because of an ankle injury sustained Sunday with the Seattle Sounders. Morris rehabbed in the gym, the U.S. Soccer Federation said.

“Have you followed our team at all the last month? You think that’s going to be something that’s going to bother me?” Arena said at the start of the week when asked about health concerns. “We’re fine. We’re going to have 11 good players on the field on Friday.”

For those who do play, Bradley said it is paramount everybody brings his best game. Same goes for the Americans’ next match in Panama on Tuesday.

While the man in charge has changed – Arena replaced the fired Jurgen Klinsmann in November for a second stint as U.S. coach – and more Major League Soccer players were called upon this time than in November, Bradley insists the approach remains simple: Find a way to win.

“We stepped on the field in Costa Rica wanting to win. That desire to win is obviously still there, so in terms of the basic idea of stepping on the field and trying to play well and go for it in the right way and come away with a positive result, that part’s still the same obviously,” the longtime captain said. “There’s no two ways about it, we let ourselves down in Costa Rica. We didn’t play well enough. Mistakes turned into bigger mistakes, which turned into bigger mistakes, and so it all comes together in a way that you can lose a game in a bad way.”

And, there are many faces who have been on the big stage – Bradley, included.

Goalkeeper Tim Howard started the past two World Cups. Howard, four-time World Cup participant defender DaMarcus Beasley and Clint Dempsey played for Arena leading into the coach’s last World Cup qualifying, in 2005. Jozy Altidore brings experience up front.

“It’s a huge game for us,” Howard said. “It’s helpful that we have guys who have been through the hex before, who understand what that takes and the pressures that are on us. Yeah, it’s a big game.”

Bradley isn’t getting fancy when it comes to what the U.S. group must do.

“Winning. Three points,” Bradley said. “That’s it.”

“For us the reality is simple: We let ourselves down in the first two games,” he said. “It means that our margin for error is very, very small, but nothing’s changed in that we still feel good about the team that we have, the group that we are. I think that Bruce has come in and done an excellent job in terms of re-establishing certain things, getting at a few things. The mentality, the spirit in training and around the group both in January and now this week has been excellent, so we’re getting a little excited about the chance to step on the field in a big-time qualifier.”

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

AP Photo/Felipe Dana
Leave a comment

A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
Leave a comment

This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”