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Premier League Breakdown with Robbie Mustoe: ‘Spurs are a special squad’

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Ever find yourself thinking, I need more Robbie Mustoe, Robbie Earle and Kyle Martino in my life?

Me too. Whether it’s tactics, results or analysis, few men in football have a better beat on the pulse of the Premier League than these guys.

In our new feature series “Premier League Breakdown,” I’ll sit-down with one of the NBC Sports’ Premier League analysts each week to dig deep into the most entertaining and competitive league in world football.

This week it’s Middlesbrough’s finest, Robbie Mustoe. He and I grabbed some tea and shot through all the topical issues of the week. David Moyes’ decisions in the Manchester Derby? Check. The impact of Luis Suarez’ return to Anfield? Done. The Juan Mata conundrum? We’ve got you covered.

Let’s get stuck in.

Q: Did David Moyes get his tactics wrong in Manchester United’s 4-1 loss to Manchester City last weekend?

A: No, I don’t think so. You could argue that Shinji Kagawa should have seen the pitch but given the loss of Robin Van Persie, I thought Moyes played the best team for the game.

Things were going wrong and he brought on Tom Cleverley and changed the formation to a 4-3-3. City’s domination was so strong and they were so good in the wide areas that it made sense to make the switch. I like the fact that Moyes tried to change it up. That’s what I want to see from a coach – if things are going wrong, do something.

Q: What was your major takeaway from the derby?

A: Sunday’s match was just confirmation for me that when City are playing at their best, against United playing at their best, City are better. Even if Van Persie were healthy to play, it wouldn’t have changed things. He literally wouldn’t have gotten a kick, he maybe would’ve touched the ball five times in that first half.

Think about it, the ball was constantly in United’s defensive end and City were all over them. City are the real deal.

Q: So right now, is Manchester City the favorite to win the Premier League title?

A: Absolutely. The issue for me with City – and it was the same as last year – is that they need to show the same desire, passion and application on the road that they show at home. If they do this, they have a great chance at winning the title. But if they have bad away days as they did against Cardiff City and Stoke City earlier this season, they won’t.

Q: How can David Moyes improve this squad?

A: If you look at United’s three big matches in the league thus far – Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City – they’ve only taken a single point. So in next weekend’s match, David Moyes has to make changes.

Ashley Young was non-existent against City, and combining this with his dive the week prior, he is a change that Moyes needs to make. For me, Nani and Kagawa have got to be knocking on that door saying, “Hang on a minute, it’s about time I was in the first XI.”

I think it’s time Moyes answered that call.

Q: How do you feel Moyes has coped so far?

A: There’s certainly pressure on Moyes following in the footsteps of Sir Alex Ferguson. There is just a feeling – “Is this too much for me?”

In Sunday’s post-match interview, Moyes looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. And the most important thing for him right now is to maintain the belief of the players and the fans. Because if they start to look at each other and think, “This is going to be tough for us,” there could be problems.

The key is to stay on the fringe players. They’re the dangerous ones. If they start talking about Moyes not being the solution as manager, a bad feeling can creep into that place. But Moyes has been around a long time so if sees this happening, I think he’ll nip it straight away.

Q: Let’s change gears a bit – what impact will we see in the return of Luis Suarez and how good can Liverpool be this season? 

A: I’m excited to see Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge reunited. Last year we saw Sturridge play with Suarez tucked in a bit and they combined very well with each other. They looked for each other. I’d be surprised if either of them played anywhere but the center of the park. I see them as a pairing and a very dangerous combination.

When you factor in Philippe Coutinho (when he’s fit) and players like Victor Moses and Raheem Sterling in front of Lucas and Steven Gerrard, that’s a pretty good offense. But is Liverpool capable of challenging for the title? No. There is no way Liverpool is going to win the league this year.

They’re missing quality. Depth. Their fullbacks are injured and this hurts them. They can absolutely compete for the Top 4 but that’s only if everything goes swimmingly for Liverpool. But I’d be shocked if two teams out of Arsenal, Spurs, City, United and Chelsea dropped out of the Top 4 for Liverpool to get in.

And it sounds kind of cruel, but they’re still making progression. They’ve made great acquisitions with Victor Moses and Mamadou Sakho, so the progression is there. But there’s no reason Brendan Rodgers would’ve thought coming into the season that they would be competing for the title.

source: Reuters
If Juan Mata doesn’t feature regularly for Chelsea, being sold this January is a real possibility.

Q: Does Juan Mata need to change his style of play to appease Jose Mourinho?

A: Yes, he does. I can’t imagine another manager in the world having him do so but Mourinho has a checklist in what he wants in a player and it seems Mata must comply. It’s so odd to me because I’ve followed Mourinho closely at Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid and everywhere he’s been he’s had players that have been lazy. Wesley Sneijder, for example, played in the hole at Inter and never did anything defensively. So I feel for Mata.

Q: If Mata doesn’t see regular playing time by January what happens? 

A: If he hasn’t played much by January then he could be out. I could absolutely see Mourinho telling the Chelsea board that Mata is not his kind of guy, they could make a lot of money on him and they should sell.

Q: It’s hard to see Arsenal playing anyone else at striker besides Olivier Giroud and maybe Theo Walcott. But they have a ton of talented midfielders. If Giroud were to go down, might Arsenal be able to pull off the same 4-6-0 formation that we’ve seen Vincente del Bosque use with Spain?

A: If something went wrong up top with Giroud, I suppose they could use a False 9. I think before you see that Arsene Wenger would use Lukas Podolski or Theo Walcott and have him just play on the shoulder of the last defender.

A False 9 literally goes anywhere so in that sense he plays more like a 10. For a False 9 on Arsenal you could look at someone like Mesut Ozil who could float around and cause trouble. It’s certainly a move that their style of play could support. But ultimately, when I think of a False 9 it’s a player like Lionel Messi and suffice to say, Arsenal just don’t have a player like that right now.

source: AP
Christian Eriksen scores against Tromso in last week’s Europa League match.

Q: Talk about Christian Eriksen and what he brings to Spurs.

A: Perfect player. Perfect player to bring into the squad right at the end of the transfer window.

At the end of the summer Tottenham had a lot of physical power with Sandro, Etieene Capoue, Moussa Dembele and Paulinho. But they were just lacking that little playmaker and Eriksen is the man to do it. He looks like he’s totally at home at Spurs. He’s the perfect link between the defense and Roberto Soldado.

I’m excited about Spurs. You’ve just lost your best player in Gareth Bale, managed the entire process immaculately and strengthened the team with new signings. They’ve got it going on all over the park and they’re going to score plenty of goals.

I just think Spurs are pretty special squad and something good could be happening at White Hart Lane.

Q: Okay, let’s finish up with a bit of fun. I’ll give a one-liner and you provide single word answers. 

Christian Benteke’s injury leaves Aston Villa . . . BARREN.

Serge Gnabry’s Premier League debut was . . . OK.

Aaron Ramsey’s current form is . . . SHOCKING.

Leighton Baines’ two free-kicks into opposite corners was . . . SPECIAL.

Romelu Lukaku’s playing after getting knocked out was . . . BRAVE.

Geoff Cameron’s first Premier League goal was . . . UNEXPECTED.

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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