Liverpool v Manchester United - Premier League

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.

FIFA candidate Prince Ali claims voting pledge from Liberia

Jordan's Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, flanked by school-age soccer players in uniforms, speaks before about 300 guests during an event at a Roman amphitheater in Amman, Jordan, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. The prince is running for FIFA president, saying Wednesday he will fight "deep-seated corruption and political deal-making" and make soccer's scandal-scarred governing body more transparent. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali of Jordan says the Liberia soccer federation has pledged its vote to him.

Liberia follows Egypt as the second African voter claimed by Prince Ali since the Confederation of African Football’s leadership endorsed Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman of Bahrain on Friday.

The CAF executive committee urged the 54 African voters among FIFA’s 209-strong membership to back the sheikh in the Feb. 26 election.

Prince Ali’s campaign team on Saturday published a three-page letter of endorsement signed by Liberia federation president Musa Bility.

Bility writes that Prince Ali “represents real change” while other candidates are “not even prepared to criticize” the FIFA system.

Bility was himself an applicant in the presidential contest, then failed an integrity test judged by FIFA’s election monitoring committee.

LVG says Mourinho speculation is false, calls the whole thing “nonsense”

Chelsea's manager Jose Mourinho, center left, makes his way from the opposition dugout after greeting Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, centre right, during their English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Sunday Oct. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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Louis Van Gaal is sick and tired of the media speculating about his employment (or potential lack thereof), as well as reports linking the presently unemployed Jose Mourinho to his job, so what we’re going to do now is speculate on those reports a bit more.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

But first, we’ll give Van Gaal the chance to tell his side of the story. Who better to explain what’s going on at Manchester United than the manager of Man United, right? OK, Louis, take it away, mate — quotes from the Guardian:

“The last two months have been very difficult for my wife, my kids, my grandchildren and my friends to cope with. For me too, but I can cope. In the Netherlands they know I am too arrogant to doubt myself, but I also know that such a nonsense is being created about me. I do not believe that there is already a relationship between José Mourinho and Manchester United.”

“It is logical when you have lost four matches in a row, people are bound to be doubting. … I criticize the media for inventing stories. I never hired security. Never ever. And I am walking on the streets without security and all the people I meet are very positive.”

OK, now that that’s out of the way, Jose Mourinho is definitely talking to Manchester United, or someone is doing so on his behalf. There’s arguably never been a more sitting-duck manager in world football than Van Gaal is right now — not only have the results been extremely “meh” for nearly two seasons now, but he’s also got less than 18 months left on his contract, which means it would cost the club considerably less to make him go away than, say, David Moyes, who still had more than five years(!!!) left on his deal when he was fired in April of his first season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL preview — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

Also, they were totally in for Pep Guardiola, too, and since they didn’t get him, they’ll have to respond thusly, and since Carlo Ancelotti has already been named Guardiola’s successor at Bayern Munich, Mourinho is the last “big name” out there right now. Unless, of course, they wanted to tap up Manuel Pellegrini, who’s on his way out to make room for Guardiola. Could be fun. But not as fun as Jose back in the Premier League, at Man United, in the same city with Pep. Remember the last time those two were employed on opposite sides of a heated rivalry?

As spectacular as this year’s PL season has been — and it’s bordering on the best of all time, still with 13 weeks to go — think about what that means for next season. It’s going to have be even more bonkers, so as not to seem boring by comparison. Louis van Gaal seems like a nice enough guy, but his team’s football isn’t that exciting on the field, and he offers little more off it. Mourinho isn’t the hero we deserve, but he’s certainly the one we need.

Another one: Lavezzi the latest star set for the riches of China

Paris Saint Germain's Ezequiel Lavezzi form Argentina, celebrates the opening goal during a French league one soccer match between Paris-Saint-Germain and Rennes at Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Paris Saint Germain clinhed its second straight French league title on Wednesday after rival Monaco drew 1-1 against French Cup holder Guingamp. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
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The list just keeps growing; Ezequiel Lavezzi, he of Paris Saint-Germain and Argentine national team fame, is the latest star leaving Europe behind with the Chinese Super League his next stop, according to multiple reports Saturday night.

[ MORE: The latest transfer news and gossip ]

Linked with a move to Premier League side Chelsea during the recently completed January transfer window, a move away from PSG never materialized for the 30-year-old. Not on the European continent, at least.

Now, the former Napoli, San Lorenzo and Estudiantes (Argentina) attacker is set for Shanghai Shenhua, where he’ll reportedly take home something in the $11-to-15-million-per-year ballpark. When you can somehow get a raise from your current deal with a Qatar Sports Investments-owned club… well, I guess you’d be dumb not to do it.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

It was already pretty well known Lavezzi would be leaving the French capital in 2016, but when his tenure survived through much of Europe’s winter window, it seemed he would hang around until the expiration of his current contract before moving elsewhere on a free transfer.

Then came the monstrous windfall of cash into and subsequent spending by CSL clubs over the last two weeks; Lavezzi joins the likes of Ramires, Gervinho, Jackson Martinez, Alex Teixeira, Demba Ba and Fredy Guarin, among others, to move to China for massive annual salaries. At Shenhua, Lavezzi will play alongside Ba and Guarin, as well as former Everton and New York Red Bulls man Tim Cahill, who made the move to China last year.

The CSL’s transfer window doesn’t close until Feb. 26, so the spending spree may well go on a little while long.

La Liga & Serie A roundup: Atleti bounce back to keep pressure on Barca

Atletico's Jose Maria Gimenez, right, celebrates after scoring a goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Atletico de Madrid and Eibar at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Atletico Madrid 3-1 Eibar

The race for the La Liga title isn’t over quite yet — though Barcelona are overwhelmingly favorites at the moment — and Atletico Madrid will have to keep winning, with just about no room for error, to keep it that way. On Saturday, they did just that by defending their home turf, to the tune of a 3-1 victory over Eibar.

Keko put the visitors ahead in the 46th minute, but Jose Gimenez quickly opened the scoring for Atleti and equalized on 56 minutes. Saul Niguez made it 2-1 to Atleti seven minutes later, and Fernando Torres’ 100th career goal (below video) gave Los Rojiblancos a bit of insurance in the first minute of second-half stoppage time. With the victory, Atleti are level on 51 points with Barca, but the Catalan giants have two games in hand on Madrid’s “other” team, the first of which they’ll play on Sunday.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Rayo Vallecano 2-0 Las Palmas
Athletic Bilbao 0-0 Villarreal
Sporting Gijon 1-1 Deportivo La Coruña

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Levante vs. Barcelona (6 a.m. ET)
Real Betis vs. Valencia (10 a.m. ET)
Celta Vigo vs. Sevilla (12:15 p.m. ET)
Granada vs. Real Madrid (2:30 p.m. ET)


Bologna 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina have left the door wide open for Inter Milan to re-enter the top three — and UEFA Champions League-qualifying — places with a 1-1 draw away to Bologna. The Viola finished the game with 10 men after Matias Fernandez was sent off for two yellow cards 10 minutes apart either side of halftime.

Their opening goal, which gave them the lead in the 59th minute, was beautifully worked and wonderfully taken by Federico Bernardeschi (below video). It was quickly canceled out, though, as Emanuele Giaccherini equalized four minutes later to earn a point and strengthen Bologna’s hold on 10th place in the league table.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Genoa 0-0 Lazio

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Hellas Verona vs. Inter Milan (6:30 a.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Carpi (9 a.m. ET)
Torino vs. Chievo (9 a.m. ET)
Frosinone vs. Juventus (9 a.m. ET)
Sassuolo vs. Palermo (9 a.m. ET)
AC Milan vs. Udinese (9 a.m. ET)
Atalanta vs. Empoli (12 p.m. ET)
Roma vs. Sampdoria (2:45 p.m. ET)