Premier League Playback: Pellegrini perfect for City, Guzan on fire, sexy soccer returns

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“Today we had a very good day, and that allowed our superiority against Manchester United. Maybe they [United] couldn’t play better, because we played very well.” – Manuel Pellegrini following Man City’s 4-1 win over arch-rivals United

As Sergio Aguero tapped home Man City’s third goal on Sunday, putting them 3-0 just 62 seconds after the interval, manager Pellegrini wheeled away and threw a punch of delight towards the ground. He knew his side had won, but he celebrated in a relaxed and controlled manner. The docile Chilean was magnanimous in victory and that nature emanates spectacularly when he’s carefully marshaling the sideline. After the convincing win, many slated Manchester United’s display, but Pellegrini alluded to it, City were just too good and blew their neighbors out of the water. His high-pressure tactics forced United back from, and they couldn’t handle the pace and relentless pressure Pellegrini’s men possessed, he loved his teams performance, and so did the fans. City’s new manager suits the club’s hard-nosed, attacking mentality perfectly, and he’s got a jump start on Moyes’s rebuild at United.

The 60-year-old exudes an air of self-confidence and belief, without even saying a word. And in the first half he didn’t have to say much, as his team, lead by the individual brilliance of Aguero, Samir Nasri and Alvaro Negredo, tore Untied apart down the flanks. Those three were a constant thorn in United’s side, I wrote about City’s awesome attacking trio, live from the Etihad.

In the second half Pellegrini appeared slightly agitated, losing his suavely cool persona on a few isolated occasions. The former Villarreal revolutionary has managed in the intense pressure of the Argentine, Chilean and Spanish leagues, and he looked at ease in the heat of the Manchester Derby on Sunday. And so did his team. But the man from Santiago, he wants more.

“We must improve every day,” Pellegrini said. “The way we play, I think we are just starting another style to play.”

Premier League Schedule – Week 5

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 3-1 Stoke City Recap and watch here
Cardiff 0-1 Tottenham Recap and watch here
Chelsea 2-0 Fulham Recap and watch here
Crystal Palace 0-2 Swansea Recap and watch here
Liverpool 0-1 Southampton Recap and watch here
Man City 4-1 Man Utd Recap and watch here
Newcastle United 2-3 Hull City Recap and watch here
Norwich City 0-1 Aston Villa Recap and watch here
West Brom 3-0 Sunderland Recap and watch here
West Ham 2-3 Everton Recap and watch here


As aforementioned, Nasri and Agueo stole the show in City’s dominant win, with the Frenchman cutting in from the left to cause havoc, and Aguero bullying United’s defense with his clever, darting runs in behind the full backs. In Everton’s 3-2 win over West Ham, left back Leighton Baines curled home two magnificent free kicks that left Jussi Jaaskelainen helpless. Speaking of ‘keepers, more on this next, but Brad Guzan had himself a doozy of a game at Carrow Road. And finally, the scary Samba boy, Paulinho, was Spurs’ game-winner with an audacious finish right at the death to seal all three points vs. Cardiff. Mágico.


Following his terrific first half penalty stop (okay, we know he was a couple yards off the line, but FIFA don’t seem to care about that rule anymore) Aston Villa’s Guzan showed once again why he should be considered for a starting spot with the USMNT. Norwich battered Villa for large spells in the second half, but Guzan made some fine fingertip saves and was cool and calm when collecting numerous crosses, to preserve the 1-0 win. Just watch below. With Tim Howard performing okay, but not great, how long will it be before Guzan dons the no. 1 jersey for the USA?


Premier League Star Performers

Player Reason
1. Sergio Aguero (Man City) 2 goals, superb movement
2. Samir Nasri (Man City) 1 goal, mesmeric dribbling
3. Brad Guzan (Aston Villa) Clean sheet, PK save
4. Leighton Baines (Everton) 2 stunning free kicks from LB
5. Paulinho (Tottenham) 1 goal, powerful CM display

After five games of the season, Paolo Di Canio won the dreaded ‘sack race’ as Sunderland gave their Italian manager his marching orders. Apparently he was accused of ‘systemically destroying the players’ as many argued he built a regime, instead of a family. The Black Cats picked up just one point from a possible 15. Di Canio was living a charmed life. And coupled with his strange confrontation of Sunderland’s fans after the 3-0 loss to West Brom on Saturday, and an abrasive team meeting on Sunday, he went out with a bang. But after he brought in 14 new players over the summer, what did Chairman Ellis Short and the directors really expect him to deliver, just over a month into the season? The Premier League will be a poorer, and less crazed, place without Di Canio. Who will manage Sunderland next? Gustavo Poyet and Roberto Di Matteo are the bookies favorites… good luck, guys.


Liverpool weren’t at the races on Saturday, as they lost their first-game of the season. But Southampton were really good. Many treated Saints’ win on Saturday  at Anfield (watch above) as a shock of epic proportions. But the Saints have had the Reds’ number for quite some time now. Southampton have won five of their last seven games against Liverpool, so the smart money was on the away win. It seems as though Southampton are Liverpool’s ‘bogey team’ and Mauricio Pochettino’s men deserved the win and it could’ve been more than 1-0. Many neutrals picked Saints as their ‘surprise package’ this season, a team that battled relegation last year but will make the top 10 in 2013-14. With their high-pressing style (another team benefiting from the risky style of play, a la Man City) working for young English players and a talented manager, can the South Coast club shock everyone and challenge for the top six?


Did anyone else enjoy that beautifully bruising battle between Vincent Kompany and Wayne Rooney on Sunday? My word, it was like we’d been sucked into a time capsule and sent back to the early 1990’s, as elbows, knees and carefully placed shoulders flew everywhere. Kompany was immaculate, intercepting slightly loose forward passes with remarkable ease. He didn’t break a sweat, and helped City start off numerous attacks with his impeccable reading of the game. As for Rooney, he could rightly feel aggrieved to not win the Man of the Match award, such was the nature of his domineering display. He curled in a spectacular late free kick, just to cap it off, but Kompany had landed the heavyweight punches all afternoon, despite Rooney’s late ‘Haymaker.’

If someone tells you a gruesome battle between a center half and center forward can’t be a thing of beauty, they’re wrong. Kompany vs. Rooney was like poetry in motion at the Etihad. Perfectly timed tackles, grit and determination replaced wonderfully constructed stanzas and beautifully flowing verses.


Samir Nasri bamboozled Chris Smalling with his step overs, left, then right, then left, while Aleksander Kolarov edged up from left back unmarked to whip in a perfect cross that Aguero deftly volleyed home with a swiveling flick of his left foot. The Etihad erupted. City had their breakthrough, and it was a thing of beauty. Elsewhere on Sunday, Tottenham Hotspur battled Cardiff City for vast swathes in the Welsh capital, but just when it seemed to be heading for a 0-0 stalemate, up popped Paulinho. The Brazilian midfielder ghosted into the box as the ball went wide to Erik Lamela, before timing his run perfectly to backheel the cross into the net. Cue a massive man hug in the far corner.  ‘Sexy football,’ made famous by the Dutch national team in the 1980s, showcased itself in the Premier League on Sunday. Good god, we’ve missed that. 29 goals in 10 games over the weekend saw us just under the magic 3.0 goals per game barrier. Safe to say, we needed a few big scores to get the goals flowing after a tense opening four weeks. Check out the best goals below.

Premier League Preview: Sunderland vs. Arsenal

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - APRIL 24:  Patrick van Aanholt of Sunderland and Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Arsenal at Stadium of Light on April 24, 2016 in Sunderland, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
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  • Sunderland last winless team in PL
  • Gunners lead all-time 56W-40D-45L
  • Black Cats last beat Arsenal in 2012 FA Cup

Arsenal faces another struggling Northeast squad but hopes for an improved result when it visits David Moyes‘ miserable Sunderland on Saturday (7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN and streaming via NBC Sports Live).

Arsene Wenger‘s men drew Middlesbrough 0-0 and needed some fine work from Petr Cech just to find a point last weekend, but Sunderland could be just the tonic.

[ MLS: Seattle beats KC | Montreal tops DC ]

The Black Cats have a mere two points through nine PL matches this year, five points shy of safety.

Playing the first match of the day allows Arsenal to set the tone for the other four teams within a point of the Premier League lead. Look for the Gunners to take it to Sunderland early, and emerge around 9:30 a.m. ET with a three-point lead atop the table.


What they’re saying

Sunderland’s Duncan Watmore on the team’s mindset: “You could say we haven’t had much luck but sometimes you’ve got to earn it, so we will keep working hard for each other and be positive. Our team ethic is very important but we have great lads in the dressing room and good backroom staff, so everyone at the club is pulling in the same direction.”

Arsene Wenger on Arsenal CB Shkodran Mustafi“He is not a quiet guy who hides. He speaks out with his opinion and communicates a lot. Even when you isolate the pictures of the game and look at that he speaks a lot during the game. He has the potential [to be a great defender for Arsenal], which is interesting at the moment. It it is a bit too early to say, you have to be cautious when a guy has played only three or four games.”


At some point, Sunderland has to find a win, right? That is unlikely to be Friday, as Arsenal has an extra day’s rest and was able to take it easy against Reading in the EFL Cup while Sunderland expelled a great deal of energy 24 hours later in a loss to Southampton. Maybe Jermain Defoe finds the net against his old rivals, but Arsenal should find it a few more times. Gunners, 3-1.

Bob Bradley on Swans’ fortunes: “Let’s not worry about luck”

SWANSEA, WALES - OCTOBER 22:  Swansea manager Bob Bradley reacts during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Watford at Liberty Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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Stuff happens, so just play well.

That’s the message from Swansea City manager Bob Bradley as his club seeks its first win under the American boss.

[ MLS: Conference semis schedule set ]

Bradley has overseen an entertaining loss to Arsenal and a draw with Watford, and now hopes to get payoff from what he sees as improved form.

And if a loss comes via a bad call or bounce, they’ll deal with it.

From the BBC:

“We had a tough run of fixtures at the beginning. Maybe everyone’s starting to feel a little unlucky,” the former United States manager said.

“Since I arrived, I’ve said let’s not worry about luck and worry about trying to improve in the right areas. You can have a call go against you or a chance go off the posts but in the long run your ability to become a good team is based on doing so many little things right.”

Bradley meets fellow American Geoff Cameron and Stoke City on Monday, with Manchester United, Everton, Crystal Palace, and Spurs following that fixture.

So the schedule isn’t being kind to the first time Premier League boss and there’s a lot of work to be done. Focusing on the little things is a good plan, as Swans need to weather this storm.

A win Monday, however, could boost them out of the drop zone. And that exhalation could be quite a tonic for the Welsh side.

USL’s incredible growth continues, but what’s next?

CINCINNATI, OH - JULY 16: Fans of FC Cincinnati cheer on their team during the match against Crystal Palace FC at Nippert Stadium on July 16, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.(Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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This week a huge shift in the U.S. Soccer landscape took place.

With the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Ottawa Fury leaving the North American Soccer League for the United Soccer League for the 2017 season, many are predicting the end is near for the second-tier NASL just six years after its rebirth in 2010.

[ MORE: Latest USL news ] 

Although it may be too early to write of the NASL, it is clear that the third-tier USL is growing aggressively and has found a model for success along with the support of Major League Soccer.

Following a landmark deal in 2013, 10 MLS teams have chosen to have their own standalone reserve teams playing in USL and another 10 for the 2017 season will have affiliate teams which sees them inextricably linked with a USL franchise to provide minutes to young players among many other things.

The steady progress of USL in recent years has been clear for all to see. Now, things are kicking on.

At the helm during the USL’s rapid period of growth (they’ve increased from having just 13 teams in 2013 to 31 for the upcoming 2017 season) is president Jake Edwards, a native of Manchester, England who played throughout the English league system for teams such as Burton Albion, Yeovil Town, Exeter City and others after spending his school days in the USA in New Jersey and then briefly playing for the Charleston Battery in 2002-03.

In an exclusive phone interview with ProSoccerTalk from the USL’s headquarters in Tampa, Florida, Edwards revealed that USL has applied for Division 2 status for the upcoming 2017 season, something they’re hopeful of acquiring, and that the league is currently in discussions with eight cities about joining the league as they’ve placed particular emphasis on adding clubs in both the South East and South West of the USA.

For a league who proudly brands itself as “Fastest Growing League in the World” the USL is true to its word.

“Without disclosing specifics, we are in conversations with markets in all time zones at the moment. I would say there are upwards of eight very active discussions right now across the country. There remains a strong interest in USL but we are of a size now where we only want to bring in markets that we think are really good strategic fit in terms of building those regional rivalries and having derby games that we think will help sustain professional soccer and have a good support base,” Edwards said. “It’s all about: do we have that quality ownership group that is well capitalized, local and committed to building a long-term club for the community? Is there a stadium plan in place? No team is allowed to come into the league now without a road map to build a soccer specific stadium of 8-10,000 seats.

“We now have very active conversations for teams to come into the league in 2019 and 2020 and we are pushing them back because they have to build stadiums and they are committed to doing that. We are working with those local governments and those private investors to get those stadiums up and running and off the ground. Expansion will continue for a little longer. We are in discussions with eight really good markets now. In terms of where we are looking to expand, we have a lot of good clubs on the East Coast but we are looking in the South East and certainly the South West as the two areas we need to prioritize to start connecting some of those cities together. We are in a number of advanced conversations so there will be some more announcements on expansion coming probably in the early part of next year.”

With Tampa and Ottawa joining the league this week, Edwards spoke at length about how both franchises will be huge additions to the USL with their strong ownership groups and fanbases. In turn, their departure was a blow for NASL, the current second tier on the soccer pyramid in the U.S. and Canada.

The USL believes it can challenge NASL for second-tier status but Edwards described that aim as a “long, rigorous process” as they seek second-tier status for the upcoming 2017 season.

“We are in that process and we’ve in that process for the best part of 18 months now, since January 2015. We put our application into the federation and since then we’ve had to go through a number of stages with that process and the federation and that task force. That’s ongoing,” Edwards revealed. “We’ve had unanimous support from our ownership in our winter meetings in 2014,. They felt that is exactly what they wanted to do and felt we met or exceeded those Division 2 standards. Since then we’ve moved the league forward and the teams that have joined the league have raised the bar and all meet or exceed those standards that are at Division 2 level. There are benefits to that designation and we feel strongly that the league and our individual clubs are meeting and exceeding those standards. So why not apply and try to reach that level?”

With USL reaching over 30 teams for 2017, would having promotion and relegation within USL be feasible for the future?

“It’s a question we get a lot now, especially as we are getting bigger,” Edwards revealed. “I played in that system in England. I am very familiar and used to it and culturally it is not alien to me. It is a great thing, in many respects. Promotion and relegation, it works. Especially in the UK. It is a horrible thing when you go down, I’ve been on that side of it as well. I’ve been in promotion chases and relegation battles. Wen teams go down it is the worst thing. Many people lose their jobs and the revenue models completely change. It is not something that would categorically add to the value of the game over here.”

If the USL was to gain second-tier status, would promotion and relegation between their league and MLS be something to consider?

“You have a structure in place with separate business organizations between us and MLS, so there are a lot of challenges there how you would integrate that into a system,” Edwards said. “Ultimately if people are dropping hundreds of millions of dollars on franchise fees and stadiums, to then come out of the league the following year… I’m not sure that’s ever going to be approved by ownership at the top. As we grow we are going to have to look at what our structure might look like down the road. We are at two conferences right now. We are looking to expand to three conferences, hopefully by 2018. East, West and Central. That is a good place for us to be with a national footprint with a regional structure. Beyond that, if there continues to be growth beyond that we will have to look at different models that make sense. Maybe that is something, within our league, which makes sense down the road but probably not anytime soon.”

When it comes to the USL’s affiliate system with MLS, there have been varying degrees of success in terms of crowd numbers with certain MLS reserve teams and some affiliate clubs not making the most of the partnership on offer with the loaning of young MLS players.

Is the affiliate deal with MLS working?

Edwards pointing towards the new hybrid affiliate franchise between Rio Grande Valley FC Toros (RGV) and Houston Dynamo which is the first of its kind and sees the RGV ownership group take care of the financial side of things and the Houston Dynamo franchise take care of all of the soccer aspects of the club.

“You can’t make a decision after a short space of time so we’ve been looking at this now for three years and evaluating how it has going and the impact it is having on both leagues, how our teams and MLS teams are managing with this integration and where the value is. We do believe there is a lot of value and I believe in many ways it has helped the competition get stronger,” Edwards said. “There are some really quality teams in the league now. As it relates to the future of these models, we have to look at what’s the best thing from the technical side and the business side as it relates to the club’s decision to do a full affiliation or a standalone team.

“We look at it from our leagues point of view: where do want this partnership to go? What do we want to see? We have been evaluating that over the past few years and the model has changed. This year we had a new integrated model with RGV in Houston which is the first time we’ve done that and I think that’s a model which might attract more teams and MLS teams to look at that model. That is a model which makes sense.

“For us it is about how you balance the competitive side and you have a good strong club who are playing good soccer at the level we want it to be at, or better. How to balance that with the business performance for the club. Where we are going as a league, it is about what we want these venues and crowds to look like at our games. We are in an evaluation period right now and if something is working we are certainly going to carry on like that. Models that are not working that well or aren’t achieving those goals, we are going to start looking at some other options perhaps. I think you will start to see in the next few years a few options we create between the two leagues for the teams to explore. Or some of the MLS teams looking at a different affiliation model, if that makes more sense from a technical or business point of view. Where we are now, it is not going to look exactly the same over the next two or three seasons. You will see some changes.”

Asked if recent events will see the end of NASL — Tampa Bay and Ottawa joined USL plus Minnesota United joined MLS — Edwards didn’t want to speculate and insisted the USL is fully focused on building sustainable clubs for itself rather than trying to attract big names.

“No league will celebrate failure in any way in any other league of any team. Ultimately, we all want the game to move forward. As it relates to Tampa and Ottawa, they felt their long-term future and the success of their business and the goals they had did not align with the league they were in and were perhaps at risk in the league they were in. They approached us about looking at another option,” Edwards said. “We as a league, we have to absolutely focus on our competition and focus on what we are doing. Focusing on how we can impact soccer communities across America and try and do so in a really responsible, ethical and sustainable way. That is a huge responsibility and certainly not one we take lightly. We’ve got to go into a market, bring professional soccer there and do it in the right way with the right local ownership and the right stadium and the right people behind it. Otherwise, we won’t do it.

“We are focused on trying to get that right and that isn’t easy and it takes time. We just have a very different philosophy and approach to doing that. I don’t want to speculate on the success or failure of another league. We just have to focus on what we’re doing and I think what we are doing is working well and certainly that is part and parcel of why those two clubs have decided that is a better fit for them.”


Asked if there is a specific number of clubs USL will reach and then close the doors, Edwards didn’t want to put a hard number or a cap on how many teams the USL will have.

He also believes some of his teams will move on to MLS as they continue their own rapid growth.

“There is a logical number where just going beyond would operationally be challenging but we are trying to move towards a three conference structure and if you imagine 12 to 14 clubs per conference in East, Central and West, those are manageable numbers with a solid playoff structure and some crossover games. That is probably where you want to get to. Somewhere in the mid 30s,” Edwards said. “Now, that said, there might be some movement over time.

“In the next 5-10 years I do anticipate one or two of our clubs moving up to MLS. There may be some changes with some of the MLS second teams for example, with MLS teams in terms of what they do. The number might fluctuate a little bit. We won’t put a number on it because there may be a market out there where it comes a time you just find this fantastic ownership group, a really strong market, there is funding to build a really quality stadium and you think it’s going to be a really good addition to the league. For us, it wouldn’t make sense then to not allow professional soccer to go into that market and have this great environment just because you’ve reached an arbitrary number. There’s a point where it probably won’t go beyond but there’s not a hard number right now. I would imagine it makes sense to be around the mid 30s. That is probably where we will hover.”

Current USL teams Sacramento Republic and FC Cincinnati are huge success stories (Sacramento averaged 11,514 for home games and Cincinnati an incredible 17,296) and both have been tabbed to become MLS’ next expansion franchises, with Sacramento already making a major push with their new downtown stadium site.

With so many USL teams going on to join MLS after building strong bases in the third-tier, is that something Edwards would continue to welcome moving forward?

“Five of the last seven have done so when you’re talking about Orlando, Seattle, Portland, Vancouver and Montreal. Clubs like that have had time in the USL whether it be a couple of years or 10-15 years, and what they’ve been able to do is build their brand and build a solid club and build a soccer culture in that community which may or may not have been on the radar of Major League Soccer,” Edwards explained. “When you look at markets like Orlando and Cincinnati, who probably weren’t on MLS’ radar, then through the USL they are able to start building professional soccer fandom in that city. If they do that at a high enough level for long enough then it may be something that they may entertain down the road. Sacramento are going through that process right now. I fully anticipate it.

“We are in some significant markets. We are in some mid-major and some major league markets and we have a very strong, ambitious ownership collective in our league. Many of our owners, they own MLS teams, the own NBA teams, they own MLB teams. They certainly have the wherewithal to own a major league franchise but it’s not everyone’s goal and mostly it is not. It is a serious commitment now to move into MLS with the franchise fee and stadium costs. It is not something everyone wants to do. We challenge all of our teams to ultimately operate at that level and if they can operate at that level long enough and build a club, maybe that becomes an option they want to consider.”

Tony Pulis extends contract at West Bromwich Albion

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 17:  Tony Pulis manager of West Bromwich Albion looks on prior to the Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United at The Hawthorns on September 17, 2016 in West Bromwich, England.  (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)
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Order up a fresh round of baseball caps, cause the boss isn’t going anywhere.

Tony Pulis has signed a contract extension with West Bromwich Albion which will keep him at the Hawthorns through the summer of 2018.

[ PL PREVIEW: Palace vs. Liverpool ]

The 58-year-old Welsh coach has been at West Brom since January 2015, his third-straight Premier League stop after spending 2006-2013 with Stoke City and a 28-game stint at Crystal Palace.

Club chairman John Williams says that making the move was important to the stability of the club given the recent takeover from Guochuan Lai.

Here’s Pulis, from WBA.co.uk:

“I think the bulk of our fans understand the process we embarked upon under the shadow of relegation less than two years ago.
“We have a Club which can aspire to be an established top 10 member of the football league everyone in the world wants to be part of. I want to continue to front that challenge.”

West Brom fans fancy their club a bit more stylish and open than the defense-first mindset of Pulis, and that will have this extension met with significant distress from a portion of the fan base.

That said, Pulis did save the Baggies from relegation in 2015. He’ll have the chance to improve on a sub -.500 record with WBA, and the players he buys in January and August will show us if it was the purse strings holding him back.