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

1 Comment

“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.

The 2 Robbies: Terriers Triumph And Chelsea Leave It Late

Nigel French/PA via AP
Leave a comment

Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe start today’s show off by discussing Huddersfield Town’s surprising win against Manchester United (00:20), Jose Mourinho’s measured post-match interview (03:50), praise Manchester City again (10:30), discuss Sean Dyche’s next move (16:10), analyze that exciting match between Chelsea and Watford (18:30) and finally, weigh in on Slaven Bilic’s future at West Ham United (27:30).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

La Liga: Barca win to maintain lead, but Valencia won’t go away

Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images
Leave a comment

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona regained a four-point cushion atop the Spanish league with a ho-hum 2-0 win over visiting Malaga and surging Valencia dismissed Sevilla 4-0 at home on Saturday.

Barcelona faced last-placed Malaga in the closing match of the day, with added pressure from second-placed Valencia, which has won five in a row.

Barcelona is unbeaten after starting with seven straight wins and drawing with Atletico Madrid last week.

Seldom-used Gerard Deulofeu opened the scoring for Barcelona after just two minutes, and Andres Iniesta celebrated his first of the season in the second half thanks to a brilliant assist by Lionel Messi.

Defending champion Real Madrid hosts Eibar on Sunday.

Barcelona benefited from a flagrant referee misjudgment to get its go-ahead goal against Malaga. Left back Lucas Digne was allowed to center the ball after it clearly crossed the byline, and Deulofeu acrobatically back-footed it inside the net.

Despite the blow, the visitors got back up and managed to neutralize Barcelona for most of the first half, but lost striker Diego Rolan just before the second period. The Uruguayan import was forced off by injury.

Without Rolan, Malaga lacked bite in its pressure of the home backline, and Barcelona was able to polish ball circulation and find Messi with more frequency.

Messi received a clean pass from defender Javier Mascherano, drew the defense, and dropped a perfect pass for Iniesta, whose shot was deflected by defender Roberto Rosales on its way to the upper left corner.

Malaga surrendered and Barcelona dominated the rest of the way.


Gonzalo Guedes opened the scoring for Valencia near halftime with a majestic strike from outside the box after deftly outmaneuvering two defenders on the chase.

Simone Zaza added his eighth league goal after the break with a spin and low cross shot. Santi Mina came off the bench and scored the third with just five minutes to go, finishing off a speedy counterattack for the hosts.

But the show was all Guedes, and the Portuguese midfielder rounded off his great game with the closer, subtly poking the ball over goalkeeper Sergio Rico in added time.

Sevilla has lost three in a row in all competitions. Managed by Eduardo Berizzo, the team started off red-hot in La Liga but has floundered lately, ranking fifth.

 

Serie A: Napoli’s perfect season ends after draw with Inter

Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MILAN (AP) Napoli’s perfect start to Serie A finally came to an end on Saturday in an enthralling 0-0 home draw with Inter Milan, the only other unbeaten side in the Italian top flight.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup | Sunday preview — Spurs vs. Liverpool ]

There were plenty of chances at the San Paolo, and Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic was kept busier than his Napoli counterpart Pepe Reina.

It was the first time since April and a 2-2 draw at Sassuolo that Napoli has failed to win in Serie A.

Napoli remained top of the standings, two points above Inter and six above Juventus and Lazio, which face Udinese and Cagliari respectively on Sunday.

[ TACTICS SESSION: Inside the brilliant mind of Kevin De Bruyne ]

Napoli was looking for a ninth successive league win. It was boosted by Lorenzo Insigne passing fit to start after injuring a thigh on Tuesday in the Champions League defeat at Manchester City.

Inter was full of confidence after Mauro Icardi’s hat trick helped it win last week’s derby against AC Milan, but it hadn’t won in Naples in 20 years.

Napoli almost went in front but Handanovic pulled off a stunning double save to deny first Jose Callejon and then keep out Dries Mertens’ rebound attempt from point-blank range.

Handanovic then kept out an effort from Insigne following a great ball over the top from Marek Hamsik.

[ MORE: Mourinho — “We deserved the punishment of defeat” to Huddersfield ]

Inter went close shortly before halftime but Reina did well to fingertip Borja Valero’s close-range attempt over the bar.

Insigne had more chances after the break, going closest with a curling effort just past the right post.

Hamsik also fired narrowly wide, and Handanovic parried a powerful shot from substitute Piotr Zielinski.

Mertens should have won the match for Napoli in the final minute but Handanovic was again on hand to keep out his close-range volley.

Tactics Session: Inside the mind of Kevin De Bruyne

Leave a comment

If not for Harry Kane‘s prolific scoring of goals during the early days of this season, Kevin De Bruyne would almost certainly be the early runaway favorite for 2017-18 Premier League Player of the Season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup | Sunday preview — Spurs vs. Liverpool ]

Alas, Kane, the one-season wonder that he is, seems hellbent on cracking the century mark in the PL this season, rather than waiting until 2018-19. This sets up what should be a thoroughly exhilarating seven-month battle between two polar opposite players — Kane, the goalscorer; and De Bruyne, the assist machine.

On Saturday, NBC Sports’ Robbie Earle delved into the mind of De Bruyne (above video) in light of last weekend’s 7-2 thrashing of Stoke City, during which De Bruyne notched another pair of assists to take season tally to five through eight games. Later on Saturday, De Bruyne added another in Man City’s 3-0 victory over Burnley.

[ MORE: Matchday experience — behind the scenes at Southampton ]

The first thing pointed out by Earle is the recovery — though deployed as more of a central midfielder on the day, De Bruyne sits wide with City in possession high up the field, just waiting for the opportune moment to surge forward and join the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero (now that he’s back from injury). When Jesus’ ball is too lightly weighted, De Bruyne reacts quickest to make the recovery.

From there, his head is up and scanning the entire field. One touch forward, and he’s already accounted for the positioning of each of his teammates, as well as the Stoke defenders, and every pocket of space into which he’ll either carry or play the ball. He knows the precise spot on the field he must get to in order to pull the defense to him, thus opening the necessary space (and time) for the final man — Sane, in this instance — to make his run in behind.

[ MORE: Mourinho — “We deserved the punishment of defeat” to Huddersfield ]

This is the part of De Bruyne’s game which he does better than anyone else in the world right now; no one can hold a candle KDB’s timing and vision — not Henrikh Mkhitaryan, not Isco, not Mesut Ozil, not even his brilliant teammate (and fellow six-assist man) David Silva. He’s almost operating at peak-Andres Iniesta level right now, which makes KDB and Co. appointment viewing every weekend.

Even now, after creating the passing lane and providing Sane the extra half-second to get level with his man before accelerating past in the blink of an eye. Even then, having seen the pass he has to play, there’s still the (major) matter of threading the needle through and around four defenders. On this occasion, the perfect pass is nearly 15 yards in front of Sane, and far less than that distance in front of the goalkeeper. An inch or two too short, it’s cleared by the right back; and inch or two too long, and the goalkeeper collects it easily.

As usual, no player in the world comes close to matching De Bruyne’s genius.