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Premier League Playback: The Wizard of Oz-il, refs get it wrong and sad Jonjo Shelvey

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“COMPLETE THE PERFECT JOB… SEND ME OFF”

“The problem is he [the referee] told me, ‘If you keep going with your manner, I send you off. I send you up to the stand,’”, Paolo Di Canio said. “My mistake was that I invited him and say, ‘that if you want to complete the perfect job today, you have to send me off.’ And then he said ‘go off.’”

I am not going to check the stats on this one, because this was a first in the 22 year history of the Premier League.

A manager asked to be sent off and referee Martin Atkinson duly obliged. Take a bow Di Canio, you never fail to disappoint. Luckily I spoke to him after Sunderland’s controversial 3-1 defeat to Arsenal as he retold his discussion with Mr. Atkinson.

THE WIZARD OF OZ-IL

Meanwhile, as Spurs fans gushed over Christian Eriksen, in the red half of North London, Mesut Ozil was busy tearing it up on his debut. The German international looked like yawning for the entire first half as he ripped open Sunderland at will. He looks like an Arsenal player, knowing where to pass the ball before he even receives it, flicks, tricks, he’s got the lot. And he does it all with such nonchalance that it makes you wonder if he’s even trying. (Think Dennis Bergkamp, but smaller, and German… you get the picture)

His 10th minute assist on Olivier Giroud’s opener was thing of beauty. As Ozil somehow delicately controlled the looping left-wing  pass from Kieran Gibbs out of the air like an experienced ballerina. Watching it live, I haven’t heard a gasp like that at a stadium for quite some time. The wizard of Oz-il had entranced everyone. The ‘King of the Assist’ had worked his magic once again to record his 73rd helper in the last five seasons, as he leads assists over all players in Europe’s top five leagues. At $60million and on this showing, Ozil will turn Arsenal from top four hopefuls to title contenders.

Watch his wizardry.

TOP PERFORMERS

Aaron Ramsey’s name is popping up here on a regular basis now, but he keeps scoring and pushing the Gunners forward from midfield. Another impressive box-to-box display brought this response from Wenger post-game deep in the dungeons of the Stadium of Light. “He has intelligence, a desire to improve and listen. He has a very learning attitude, and he has a fantastic engine.”

Premier League Schedule – Week 4

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

Elsewhere, Jussi Jaskealinnen earned West Ham a point at rainy Southampton after pulling off a number of fine saves. The 38-year-old Finn rolled back the years. And Everton’s Gareth Barry, on loan from Man City, shone on his Toffees debut with a workmanlike display that proved just how good he is. Christian Eriksen delighted Tottenham fans (more on that later) and Spurs’ Gylfi Sigurdsson rounds off the top five after two tidy finishes.

TOP FIVE GOALS

Watch them below, Arlo White and the boys on production do the rest to explain the importance, beauty and sheer splendor of these strikes. (Apart from Steven Naismith’s goal, can’t quite understand why that’s in there…)

THE ERIKSEN SHOW

Life without Gareth Bale should make things more difficult for Tottenham Hotspur. But if Christian Eriksen starts as he means to go on, the Danish starlet could be Spurs’ next star. Eriksen was the pick of the debutants as Marouane Felliani did okay in a cameo and Ozil dazzles for the first half and faded in the second, while Samuel Eto’o missed a couple of sitters for Chelsea.

Sneaking in just before the transfer deadline from Ajax for $18million, Andre-Villas Boas told me after the North London derby that he thought he’d got a steal. “Eriksen is a wonderfully creative player,” AVB said. “He is a great solution for our number 10 position. I think Christian brings that flair and creativity that we saw at Ajax for these last few years, great ability to see a pass and a player that is used to playing in a high level in Europe. I am extremely pleased to have him.”

So are all the Tottenham fans, after he single-handedly tore apart Norwich City in the 2-0 win on Saturday. Just watch below. Eriksen, despite his receding hairline at the age of 21, is a young star who is set to shine in the PL this season. Spurs bought Bale from Southampton for $11 million in 2007. Looks like they’ve unearthed another gem in Eriksen. Bargain bucket alert.

REFS GET IT WRONG

Oh dear, oh dear. It wasn’t a good weekend for the officials in the Barclays Premier League. We all have off days, but these guys were all over the place. Where to start… John Moss at Old Trafford on Saturday. His ‘was he, wasn’t he’ routine surrounding the delayed penalty kick he awarded to Manchester United was like a Benny Hill sketch. He didn’t know whether or not to give a penalty and then suddenly decided that ‘yes… it must’ve been…oh, I’ll have to send that bloke off now.” That ‘bloke’ was Crystal Palace midfielder Kagisho Dikgacoi and he was unlucky as the original tackle was outside the box.

Premier League Star Performers

Player Reason
1. Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal) Once again, Arsenal’s hero
2. Christian Eriksen (Spurs) Dane tore Norwich apart
3. J. Jaaskelainen (West Ham) 4 great saves, clean sheet
4. Gareth Barry (Everton) At his solid best, reliable
5. Gylfi Sigurdsson (Spurs) 2 cool finishes to seal win

Then, there was Martin Atkinson’s terrible decision to pull the play back as Jozy Altidore outmuscled Bacary Sagna and tucked the ball into the old onion bag for what he thought was his first Black Cats goal… But poor Jozy didn’t hear the ref’s whistle and was already celebrating behind the goal as Atkinson pulled the play back to give Sagna a yellow card (should have been a red) and Sunderland an unwanted free kick.

Cue pandemonium at the Stadium of Light. Di Canio wasn’t happy.

“10, 8.5, 7 FROM THE SWEDISH JUDGE…”

Those were the marks Ashley Young got from the judges at the European Diving Championships on Saturday. Oh, wait, there was no meet in Manchester, but it would explain Young’s ridiculous dive (watch above) in the first half against Palace. This sort of behavior needs to be eradicated from the game. More on that here.

SOMEONE GIVE JONJO A TISSUE…

Please, someone. Never have I seen such a disconsolate young soul being interviewed following a Premier League game. 21-year-old Shelvey started off so well, he scored Swansea’s opener against his former team Liverpool after just two minutes. But then imploded by handing his old employers two goals (Shhh, conspiracy theorists) however he made amends by setting up Michu for the second half equalizer. Either way, watch the interview below to see how down Jonjo is. It’s as strange as it is absorbing, this youngster has experienced the highs and lows of professional soccer all in a few minutes.

If you see this usually cheeky cockney wallowing in the street this week, go up and give him a hug or something. Chin up, Jonjo.

Mike Francesa rants about Sports Illustrated’s Copa America coverage, Lionel Messi cover

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - MAY 11: Copa America 2016 is displayed during the Soccerex Americas Forum Mexico City Day 1 at Camino Real Polanco Hotel on May 11, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico.  (Photo by Victor Chavez/Getty Images for Soccerex)
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Clueless clown Sports talk host Mike Francesa is known for being a crotchety, opinionated old man who has trouble adapting to changing times.

He’s had plenty of sparkling moments where he displays his ignorance room to grow when it comes to the world outside of New York sports, such as his knowledge of the Catholic hierarchy or his love for synergistic network promotion. He is the Tommy Wiseau of sports broadcasting.

So when Mike’s beloved childhood magazine Sports Illustrated soiled its cover with a picture of Lionel Messi, whom apparently he nor any of his staffers know anything about beyond his last name, the man was enraged.

You can listen to the whole segment here. Let’s break this gold mine down.

I got my SI, and the cover is “Summer of Soccer.” Where is the summer of soccer going to be? I have no idea. Now, I know I get accused of knowing nothing about soccer, because I don’t. I know absolutely zero about soccer, and that’s more than I want to know. Sorry! Just being honest. It’s a little late for me and soccer.

So…uh…why are you talking about it then?

On the eve of ‘Copa America’ SI has how many pages in its magazine this week…1…2…3…4…5…6…7…8…9…10…11…pages on this event. 11 pages, and I can’t find anybody who’s ever heard of it. 11 pages…you gotta be kidding me! No wonder they can’t give them away. This is a magazine that, as a child, I used to read it from cover to cover.”

So Mike thinks magazines don’t sell because they cover soccer, and he thinks that because he never read about soccer as a child, he shouldn’t have to read about that dang sport now.

He proceeds to then ask his cohost/producer/sidekick if he’d ever heard of Lionel Messi, to which his cohost/producer/sidekick sheepishly says he’s heard of him but only by his last name. Let’s just skip that part.

I’m sure to soccer fans this is an enormous event, which God bless them, I have no issue with. But mainstream America is not paying…doesn’t even know…if I go out and poll the newsroom, no one’s ever heard of this event. My guys in here didn’t even know what it was…nor have I! Nobody’s ever mentioned it. Has anyone ever called you [producer] to promote the Copa America on my show? [he says no]. If you’re going to promote something in sports you’re going to do it on this show. Bottom line is no one’s ever done that.

Guys, we should all just go home, we forgot to promote soccer on Francesa. Fuggetaboutit.

He then stumbled through reading what the Copa America actually is and what it entails, with an overly forced exasperated tone just to prove how frustrated he is with Sports Illustrated. Shame on them! Oh, and in this part he calls FIFA “Fie-fuh,” confuses the Olympics with an actual team that’s playing, and thinks it will be played in France. Yawn. Let’s wrap this up.

To spend 12 pages in SI on that? I mean, listen, I understand there are people here who love soccer, and they’ll be glued to it, and watch it on TV, which I understand, but man, how is that going to be part of mainstream America? I don’t get it.

You know, I don’t get it either. We should all just go home. Go home everyone! Fun’s over, we’ve been found out.

I left out the part where he calls Sports Illustrated “a sad reminder of the of a different world.” Ironic considering who it’s coming from.

For the record, callers lit Francesa up after this, so some justice was served. If you can’t get enough of the Francesa soccer shenanigans, check out this MLS read he attempts to get through, which takes him two and a half minutes and our hero realizes that NYCFC doesn’t have a “nickname” and that David Villa is pronounced like Pancho Villa. Stuff of legends.

Cellar dwelling Houston Dynamo, Owen Coyle decide to part ways

TORONTO, ON - MAY 10:  Head Coach Owen Coyle of the Houston Dynamo smiles prior to an MLS soccer game against Toronto FC at BMO Field on May 10, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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A week ago, Owen Coyle was whispered as possibly leaving the Houston Dynamo to lead Celtic.

With that opening filled by Brendan Rodgers, the Dynamo and Coyle cut ties anyway.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

Coyle struggled to pick up the pieces left behind by Dominic Kinnear in Houston, and the Dynamo are dead last in Major League Soccer after a quarter of the season.

On Wednesday night, the Dynamo announced that Coyle wanted to be closer to his family in England and would be leaving the club immediately.

From HoustonDynamo.com:

“I asked Chris (Canetti) if I could speak with him today and I explained to him the challenge of being away from my family and how we all want the best for Houston Dynamo,” Coyle said. “I want to wish all members of the staff, from owner Gabriel Brener to president Chris Canetti to general manager Matt Jordan, everyone has been such a source of support, along with the players and the technical staff. I’d like to thank the Dynamo supporters, who have been outstanding. We have a brilliant club, and I have no doubt success is just around the corner.”

The Dynamo went 14W-21L-11T during his reign, but have also been severely lacking in talent. The long delay from acquiring Cubo Torres to getting him on the pitch was one of the many things that frustrated progress in Houston.

Coyle is best known for his time with Bolton Wanderers, though that ended early in a Championship season following relegation. Houston is 3W-7L-2T this season, and has Vancouver up next.

Wade Barrett and a pair of Dynamo assistants will lead the club in the interim.

Three things we learned from the late USMNT win over Ecuador

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Frickson Erazo #3 of Ecuador battle for control of the ball against Clint Dempsey #8 of the United States in the first half during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Darlington Nagbe was the star against Ecuador, giving the United States the late 1-0 win in Frisco. There wasn’t much to take away from the match, but one attacking setup certainly performed better than the other, and that was the biggest talking point.

[ RECAP – United States earns late win over Ecuador ]

Three things we learned

1 – When the US plays good defense, it has a creativity problem.

This isn’t anything new, as teams who sit back obviously will have less of the ball. But this isn’t exactly that. The US defended quite well through the first 45 minutes, and they held the majority of the possession, but they failed to do much with it. It resulted in…

That. Yuck. It was horrid to watch, and is frustrating given the level of competition being faced compared to the level of competition to come.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings against Ecuador ]

2 – Does the Pulisic-Wood-Nagbe lineup have more to offer?

The United States began with Clint Dempsey isolated up front, supported by Gyasi Zardes and Graham Zusi, with Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones sitting deep. That lineup was utter trash in the attacking half, producing one good chance in the first half which Zardes flubbed. When Klinsmann switched things up soon after halftime, bringing on Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood, Darlington Nagbe, and Alejandro Bedoya, the attack began to show life. It certainly helped that all those substitutes were placed in their natural positions, something not always a given for Klinsmann. This may give the US manager a good look at the more creative setup, and could bode well for the aforementioned players heading into the Copa America. There are obvious downsides to this lineup, such as lack of experience, but it might be worth the risk, especially with those players much more likely to be contributors in 2018 given their age.

3 – Christian Pulisic can actually be a useful piece this summer

On for the final half-hour, the young Borussia Dortmund winger provided positive touches along the left flank. He created a few opportunities for Bobby Wood and Graham Zusi, a promising development to push back against the “he’s not ready” crowd. Pulisic was electric down the left, and was vital in the push the last 20 minutes. It’s just 20 minutes, but it’s a promising small sample size.

Player ratings from the USMNT’s late win over Ecuador

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Brad Guzman #1 of the United States blocks a shot against Ecuador in the first half during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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“Fits and starts” is a good way to describe the United States friendly against Ecuador in Texas on Wednesday, a match that ended 1-0 to the hosts after a controlling second half.

The Yanks took more than 20 minutes to get their act together, and then had a bit of trouble penetrating La Tricolor’s back four.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

The second half, however, was straight-up dominant. The lack of finish was troubling, but Darlington Nagbe took care of that. The Portland Timbers man not only scored, but also piled vindication on supporters who couldn’t wait to see him up high, and Michael Bradley deep.

And Christian Pulisic, well, he’s a swoon-worthy talent.

STARTING XI

Brad Guzan — 8 — Didn’t have a ton to do, but did it very well. A welcome improvement from the Aston Villa keeper.

Fabian Johnson — 6 — Probably deserves a 7, but that missed trap of a Jermaine Jones cross was just so ugly.

Steve Birnbaum — 6 — Very shaky early, but settled into the game.

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Christian Noboa #6 of Ecuador takes a shot against John Brooks #6 of the United States and Brad Guzman #1 of the United States in the first half during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
 (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

John Brooks (off 78′) — 7 — Played very well after a weak opening 10 minutes or so. Still takes chances like the center back version of Jermaine Jones, but those chances came off well on Wednesday.

DeAndre Yedlin — 6 — Hit and miss from the right back, who had a heck of a task in dealing with Jefferson Montero. Still, the defensive improvement is impossible to ignore.

Kyle Beckerman (off HT) — 6 — Might’ve picked up an injury. Hard-nosed as usual, but feels like he’s a single lost step away from not fitting the bill.

Jermaine Jones (off 64′) — 6 — Playing as an attack-minded mid with some defensive responsibilities may be the role he was meant to play, and his early second half was promising before subbing off for Bedoya.

Michael Bradley — 7 — No surprise that he — and the States — thrived once Klinsmann moved the Toronto FC man deeper in the midfield.

Gyasi Zardes (off HT) — 5 — The effort was there, as were the runs. The kid works hard and has a brain for the game, but his first touch betrayed him once again. Should’ve been 1-0.

Graham Zusi (off, 88′)– 7 — You know what you’re getting with Zusi, and the Sporting KC man was one of several players who played an assist-worthy ball in this one. Bedoya tapped his 72nd minute pass just wide of the far post.

Clint Dempsey (off 63′) — 5 —  Will be kicking himself for a poor first touch on an early second half cross from Bobby Wood. Didn’t get much service in the first half, but did play a great ball to Zardes.

Substitutes

Darlington Nagbe (on HT) — 8 — This guy. We all knew he had it in him, even Klinsmann after a long enough wait. He was the best player on the pitch in the second half.

Bobby Wood (on HT) — 6 — Missed a few key chances, but set up Nagbe’s winner.

Christian Pulisic (on 63′) — 7 — Dangerous, lively, and that touch. More of him, please.

Alejandro Bedoya (on 64′) — 6 — Should’ve scored, but didn’t. Also probably should’ve started, so we’ll cut him a bit of slack.

Matt Besler (on 78′) — 6 — Totally fine, but Ecuador rarely tested during his tenure.

Michael Orozco (on 88′) — N/A