Quick Six: Top Premier League story lines from weekend no. 3

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1. RESOURCEFUL REDS CLAIM FIRST PLACE

Around the three, one-goal wins is a silver lining, as if a perfect start needed one. If Liverpool supporters are inclined to look at the underlying indicators and question the team’s quality despite a nine-point start, they’s also be justified in sitting back, marveling at their side’s zealous defense of their three leads, and wonder how good their team will be when really start playing well.

Given the level of competition, though, Sunday’s performance may have been the Reds’ best yet, their 1-0, North West Derby victory over Manchester United giving them nine points through three games. Who would have thought September would come with Liverpool sitting top of the league, looking down on Chelsea, Manchester City, and Arsenal?

Sunday’s win was a strange one, though. In a lot of ways, it looked like an underdog applying a time-tested formula to take a surprise result. An early goal off a set piece held up, with the visitors, despite maintaining a meek control, never breaking through. Had Daniel Sturridge not converted that fourth minute corner, Liverpool may have employed their usual, possession-sensitive approach. And instead a game that looked like Monday’s meeting between the Red Devils and Chelsea, the match could have played out like Manchester United’s opener: A 4-1 win at Swansea.

But Sunday’s wasn’t merely a win of fortunate. There was more to it then the timing of Sturridge’s goal. Outshooting their guests (both in overall shots and shots on goal), Liverpool thrived in the part. That it’s a role Brendan Rodgers’ teams typically avoid is more a curiosity than point of concern.

That curiosity leave us wondering: How good is Liverpool? At the beginning of the season, they were supposed to be the Europa League-quality team that could take advantage, should a couple of Champions League teams slip. And while we’ve yet to see any real reason to redress those expectations, a perfect start and a win over their North West rivals could embolden Rodgers’ squad. A little confidence and a different self-image may be all Liverpool need to compete for fourth place.

2. HUGE WIN, BUT ARSENAL STILL NEED HUGE BUYS

That’s four in a row for Arsenal, who’ve seen wins over Fenerbahçe, Fulham, Fenerbahçe (again) and Tottenham cast their opening day loss to Aston Villa as a distant memory. After dominating performances against the Turks and Cottagers, crisis as a reflex seems even more absurd, while a North London Derby win over the team they’ll fight for fourth obliges us to doubt whether they’ll lose their Champions League spot.

Let’s keep some perspective, though. Just as Liverpool’s performance over United was more effective than convincing, Arsenal’s was an obligatory, 1-0, home win over a rival. Anything less would have been a disappointment. Though they were the better side on Sunday, Arsenal’s performance wasn’t strong enough to rebuke the notion that Spurs might still be a better side. Neutral site (or, at White Hart Lane), with Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen fully available, or with merely improved performances by today’s starters, Tottenham may well prove the better teams. There’s only so convincing a 1-0 can be.

That’s why Arsenal needs to buy tomorrow. Their fans know it. They manager knows it. Arsenal not only needs to buy, but they need a couple of significant purchases to regain an advantage on Spurs. They need a Mesut Özil-type player.

Unfortunately, they probably need him at another position. It’s hard to turn down a talent like Özil, but Arsenal would be better served putting that money into defense, or deep midfield, or goal. Özil may be a £40 million player, but he’s not a £40 million improvement.

Come Monday, look at what else Arsène Wenger does in the transfer market. The Gunners could use Özil, as the signing would go a long way to restoring confidence in the club, but the team needs more than one arrival to fully address doubts.

source: Getty Images

3. SPURS, UNITED CAN’T BRUSH OFF DEFEAT

Just because Liverpool and Arsenal’s wins weren’t decisive doesn’t give their opponents a pass. If anything, we should wonder by things were so easy for the home sides. For both Tottenham and Manchester United, the season’s first three weeks have revealed some concerning qualities – deficiencies that need to be addressed if they’re to meet expectations.

Spurs’ problem is obvious. They haven’t scored an open play goal all season. Both of their goals have been from the spot, and the one game they failed to draw a penalty kick, they lost. The addition of Lamela should help, giving André Villas-Boas a player who can score even when the plan’s not working, but eventually, that plan has to start producing chances. Right now, they’re looking like last year’s Liverpool. Sans Luis Suárez.

For United, losing at Anfield shouldn’t sound any alarms, but the team’s lack of urgency over their last two games is confusing. Why didn’t we see the typical Red Devil intensity when they were chasing a winner against Chelsea? Where was that renown resolve in the face of an early deficit at Anfield? What’s happening to Manchester United?

You could put those concerns other ways, talk about them in tactical terms, and question why David Moyes isn’t making the necessary adjustments to prevent these clean sheets. Regardless, something is missing, and although the team is clearly good, they’re not playing like a team that’s carried over almost their full squad from a title campaign.

4. EVERTON NEED TO, WILL SCORE GOALS

Don’t worry about Everton. Feel bad for them. Through three games, the Toffees have three draws, and after being shutout at Cardiff on Saturday, Roberto Martínez’s new team has gone 205 minutes without scoring a goal. It’s not the most accurate reflection of their quality.

If that streak was merely opponents defending out of their minds, you could write it off, but Everton’s held decisive possession advantages in each game: 67, 62, 63 percent. Those are types of numbers that should yield more goals, yet through three rounds, Everton’s been unable to convert control into chances.

Arouna Koné might be the answer, the former Wigan man brought in this summer as an alternative to Nikola Jelavic up top. Getting Marouane Fellaini closer to goal could help, too, with the big Belgian providing a direct route. Regardless, Everton’s share of the ball and their 17 shots on goal hint they’ll eventually pick it up. How many points they drop before doing so remained to be seen.

5. HUGHESY OFF TO STRONG START AT STOKE

Last week’s home win over Crystal Palace was mandatory. Saturday’s game at Upton Park was a litmus test. For a Potter team conscious of playing a more attractive brand of soccer, going up against the Premier League’s resident pragmatist, Sam Allardyce, provide an interesting contrast. Can Mark Hughes get Stoke to out-football West Ham?

He did. The Potters held 55 percent of the ball, generated more shots and shots on goal, and completed 440 passes to West Ham’s 359. The one place where West Ham did hold a passing edge? Long balls: 59 to 56. Even if Stoke aren’t exactly Barcelona north, they’re not exactly West Ham, either. They’re moving on

It should be noted: Stoke won the game. These things are important, too. It took 82 minutes, and it took a free kick, but thanks to Jermaine Pennant — a player who was eventually phased out by Tony Pulis after being brought in to change Stoke’s approach — Hughes snagged his second win of the season, leaving Stoke fifth after three rounds.

source: AP

6. COMMENCE CONCERN WEST BROM, SUNDERLAND

Speaking of litmus tests …

Sunderland has to be concerned, perhaps gravely so after losing 3-1 at Crystal Palace. The Eagles were generally picked to finish last this season, and while preseason prognostications are often wrong, nobody wants their team playing a part in dispelling them. With John O’Shea getting sent off and Palace’s deciding goals coming with Sunderland down a man, there are excuses to be had after Saturday’s result, but between that dismissal, Fulham’s smash-and-grab on opening day, and Jose Fonte’s late equalizer at St. Marys, the Black Cats have shown a talent for dropping points.

West Brom also have their excuses, with Nikola Anelka having just rejoined a team that still hasn’t replaced Romelu Lukaku. Still, every team has their hardships, yet only one’s have put them at the bottom of the league.

It’s a spot the Baggies should have avoided on Saturday against Swansea, Michael Laudrup’s team 0-0-2 entering the match. Instead, Swans posted a dominant 2-0 result. West Brom appear to be worse than most expected.

MLS attendance up, TV ratings lag as US mulls future

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NEW YORK (AP) Major League Soccer’s attendance is up and fan interest is booming, even if television broadcasts are far less popular and some young Americans would rather play in Europe.

[ MORE: Caleb Porter out as Portland Timbers head coach ]

MLS averaged 22,000 in attendance for the first time in its history this season, ranked among the top seven leagues in the world. The league is set to add a second Los Angeles franchise next year, announce two expansion cities next month and at some point finalize David Beckham’s long-pending Miami club.

But viewers averaged under 300,000 for nationally televised regular-season matches, fewer than the average for a New York Yankees game on their regional sports network. Several top young Americans, such as Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie, have chosen to forego the MLS to play in Germany and test their mettle in a more demanding environment.

And worst of all, the United States – whose roster was filled with MLS stars – failed to qualify for next year’s World Cup, ending a streak of seven straight appearances in soccer’s showcase.

“We need to use this failure as a wakeup call for everyone associated with the sport at all levels to ensure that we have the right processes and mechanisms and development programs and leadership and governance in place to learn from this missed opportunity to ensure that it never happens again,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said this week. “Part of the maturation of becoming a soccer nation is recognizing that qualifying for the World Cup is not a birthright. It’s something you need to earn, and we are unfortunately in the company of some great soccer nations, like Italy and Holland and Ghana and Chile – Copa champions – that have also not qualified.”

MLS playoffs resume next week after the international break with the first leg of Conference Championships. Columbus – whose owners are threatening to move to Austin, Texas, in 2019 – hosts Toronto, while Houston is home against Seattle.

“MLS and soccer in the United States have made great advances in many areas. But its promoters have found that the abundance of existing legacy sports leagues that have the highest quality of athletes on the planet creates a ceiling on professional soccer in the United States,” said Marc Ganis, president of the consulting firm SportsCorp. “It has not, and perhaps never, will supplant any of the major legacy sports unless and until the quality of play and players increases significantly and the U.S. men’s team in particular is more competitive and, in fact, wins some of the major international tournaments.”

Momentum of playoff runs was interrupted because of World Cup qualifying, and the culmination of the league’s season competes for attention with the NFL and college football among the wider American sports audience.

“Long-term demographic things like CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and stuff with the NFL says maybe there is a long slow decline around some of that, but when you’re starting from where they’re starting, that’s going to take a generation,” Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey said. “We’ll grow because most of the immigration to the U.S. is from soccer-playing countries and the country is going to grow.”

Launched with 10 teams in 1996, two years after the U.S. hosted the World Cup, MLS expanded to 12 but cut back to 10 after the 2001 season. There has been steady growth since expansion started in 2004. Next year’s total will be 23, already well over the norm for a first division, and the league is planning to settle at 28.

Infrastructure could not be more different than in the early days. The league has 14 soccer specific stadiums, two more renovated for the sport and one built with both the NFL and soccer in mind. Three more soccer stadiums are under construction.

Average attendance is up 60 percent from 13,756 in 2000, boosted this year by 48,200 for Atlanta in its opening season. MLS trails only the Germany’s Bundesliga, England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Mexico’s Liga MX, the Chinese Super League and Serie A, with Italy’s first division ahead by only 22,177 to 22,106.

But that has not translated yet into big television ratings.

ESPN averaged 272,000 for 30 telecasts this regular season on ESPN and ESPN2, and Fox averaged 236,000 for 33 broadcasts on FS1 and Fox. In addition, Univision is averaging 250,000 viewers for its Spanish-language MLS telecasts.

But the Premier League attracts a larger audience, averaging 422,000 on NBC, NBCSN and CNBC, even though many matches are on weekend mornings.

“We’re not the Premier League,” Garber said, pointing out last year’s MLS Cup drew 1.4 million viewers on Fox. “The fact that we’re able to generate ratings growth across all of our partners here and in Canada, and dramatic growth in Canada, is a positive. So we actually, we and our partners, feel pretty darn good.”

Player payroll has increased as MLS keeps adding what it calls Targeted Allocation Money. While several older American players have returned to MLS from Europe, many of the teens viewed as the future of the U.S. national team have gone abroad as they emerge from the MLS youth academies, which have been mandated by the league since 2007 and produced more than 250 players with first-team MLS contracts.

Pulisic, at 19 already the leading American star, left Hershey, Pennsylvania, to sign with Borussia Dortmund at age 16, able because of his grandfather’s Croatian citizenship to play in Europe before he turned 18. McKennie left FC Dallas’ academy when he turned 18, signed with Schalke and scored in his U.S. debut this week.

“I didn’t want to become one of those guys that started in MLS and said, man, I wonder if I could have made it to Europe,” McKennie said. “I wanted to spread my wings and see what I could do over here.”

Forward Josh Sargent decided against Sporting Kansas City and is waiting until he turns 18 in February to sign with Werder Bremen.

“I think I’ve just always wanted since I was a little kid to play in Europe,” he said.

Tyler Adams, who also made his U.S. debut this week, played his first MLS game with the New York Red Bulls last year at age 17 and became a regular this season. Garber says “Tyler Adams probably is playing more minutes today for the Red Bulls than he would if he was not in Major League Soccer.”

Adams is happy but thinking ahead.

“Obviously a goal of mine is to play Champions League one day, and obviously the MLS is working its way to becoming one of the top leagues in the world,” he said. “Maybe one day I find myself in Europe. You never know.”

Sometimes big contracts only stall a career. Matt Miazga left the Red Bulls to sign with Chelsea in January 2016, saw little playing time and didn’t get in games regularly until late that autumn during a loan to the Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem.

“If your only desire is to go to Europe, there are flights leaving every hour on the hour from JFK and LAX and everywhere in between,” said retired American defender Alexi Lalas, now a Fox analyst. “But getting to a place in Europe where you are making good money, where you are playing consistently, where you are learning, where you are valued as a player and as an American player, where you are able to adapt and adjust and live in the other 22 1/2 hours that we often don’t talk about, that’s whole `nother story, and there’s not a lot of flights leaving that have that on the other end.”

With the U.S. soccer community in turmoil following the World Cup failure, some have called for MLS to guarantee playing time for young Americans.

“Our coaches universally believed that that was not the best way to ensure we had the highest-possible product quality to be able to have competitive games and to drive the growth of our fan base,” Garber said.

AP Sports Writer Tim Booth contributed to this report.

Bartra error emphasizes Dortmund’s latest Bundesliga woes

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Christian Pulisic sat out Friday’s 2-1 Dortmund defeat against Stuttgart. Coincidence? Perhaps.

However, the club’s struggles are apparent as Dortmund’s winless run extended to four matches and their gap from Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich could be up to nine points by the end of the weekend.

[ MORE: Chris Coleman steps down from Wales, expected to take Sunderland job ]

BVB was without several of its top talents for the match, including U.S. Men’s National Team star Pulisic and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but it’s Dortmund’s defending that continues to be the side’s biggest issue.

Stuttgart struck after five minutes when Chadrac Akolo broke the deadlock off of an embarrassing blunder by Marc Bartra and the Dortmund defense.

Bartra attempted a routine back pass to goalkeeper Roman Burki during the early moments of the match, but his ball back proved to be way too strong and deflected off of Burki and into the path of Stuttgart forward Akolo (video below).

Dortmund atoned for the former Barcelona man’s mistake just prior to halftime when Maximilian Philipp equalized, but it took just six minutes into the second stanza for Josip Brekalo to restore the Stuttgart advantage.

Moyes: Chicharito could miss two weeks with hamstring strain

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David Moyes has given Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez assurances that he’ll have the opportunity to compete for a starting role with the Hammers, but the Mexican international will have to wait a bit for a chance.

[ MORE: North London Derby takes center stage Saturday morning ]

Hernandez, 29, is currently nursing a hamstring strain, leaving his status for this weekend against Watford in doubt.

“I think everyone knows he [Chicharito] has got a hamstring injury,” Moyes said during Friday’s press conference. “It could take a week, it could take two weeks.”

Moyes didn’t mince words recently when speaking about Chicharito and other players within the squad, essentially pointing out that no player will be awarded a starting role simply because of their stardom.

Hernandez has scored four goals in 13 matches this season for West Ham, who currently sits 18th in the Premier League. The Hammers have won just two matches to start the 2017/18 campaign and sit on nine points.

Alessandro Nesta steps down with NASL side Miami FC

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Miami FC quickly put itself on the U.S. soccer map in two short seasons, and much of the club’s success can be attributed to manager Alessandro Nesta.

[ MORE: Chris Coleman steps down with Wales, expected to take Sunderland job ]

The former Serie A defender has managed the club in its first two years of existence, but Nesta’s time in South Beach is coming to an end.

Nesta revealed on Friday that he won’t be returning to the NASL club in 2018, as he prepares to fnd a “new challenge” in his managerial career.

With NASL’s future as a league very much up in the air, Nesta could be seeking a more stable position entering 2018, especially given that his name has been thrown around with several MLS jobs over the last few months.