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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 Playoffs: NY Red Bulls 1-0 (1-2 agg.) Columbus Crew SC

Tony Tchani, Michael Parkhurst

The game in 100 words (or less): Columbus Crew SC are headed to their second MLS Cup in club history (champions – 2008) after defeating the New York Red Bulls, 2-0 on aggregate, in the Western Conference finals (0-0 draw in an extremely chippy second leg on Sunday). Justin Meram and Kei Kamara scored the two-leg tie’s only goals — eight seconds and 85 minutes into the first leg, respectively — and Crew SC confidently managed the second leg by defending with numbers and wisely picking their spots to break out on the counter. RBNY held nearly 60 percent of possession in the second leg, but could muster just six shots on target over the 90 minutes. Crew SC will host the Portland Timbers in MLS Cup 2015 next Sunday (4 p.m. ET) at MAPFRE Stadium.

[ MORE: Previewing the MLS weekend ]

Three moments that mattered

38′ — Robles at full stretch to deny Kamara — What’s better: the first touch, second touch, turn and shot by Kei Kamara; or, the sprawled-out save by Luis Robles to swat away a ball clearly headed for the bottom corner? Quality on quality.

90+3′ — Abang heads home to make it nervy late — Anatole Abange rose above the crowd and headed home a recycled ball inside the penalty area after a Sal Zizzo cross was headed high into the air late into stoppage time.

90+5′ — Madness in the penalty area, RBNY hit the post — It was absolute scenes inside the Crew SC penalty area. Ball after ball pumped into the box, headed high into the air and briefly cleared. The final chance of the game fell to Bradley Wright-Phillips, who headed the ball toward the far post with Steve Clark rushing out quickly, only to see his slow dribbler bounce off the front side of the post and back into the field of play.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Wil Trapp

Goalscorers: Abang (90+3′)

MLS Cup Playoffs: FC Dallas 2-2 (3-5 agg.) Portland Timbers

Fanendo Adi, Portland Timbers FC
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The game in 100 words (or less): The Portland Timbers are headed to their first MLS Cup in club history after defeating FC Dallas, 5-3 on aggregate, in the Western Conference finals (2-2 draw in the second leg). Fanendo Adi scored in Sunday’s second leg, giving Caleb Porter’s side a 4-1 aggregate lead before Ryan Hollingshead and Blas Perez scored inside the last 25 minutes to give Oscar Pareja’s bunch a late lifeline, but Lucas Melano’s spectacular tap-in sealed the Timbers’ trip to MLS Cup. The third seed heading into the playoffs, Portland bounced Sporting Kansas City in an epic penalty shootout in the knockout round and outlasted the Vancouver Whitecaps in the conference semifinals before knocking off the West’s top seed over two legs to advance to MLS Cup 2015. No matter who advances from the East finals later on Sunday, Portland will play away in MLS Cup, to either the New York Red Bulls or Columbus Crew SC.

[ MORE: Previewing the MLS weekend ]

Three Four moments that mattered

54′ — Adi fires past Gonzalez to make if 4-1 — Oscar Pareja elected to go with Walker Zimmerman at center back on Sunday, dropping regular starter Zach Loyd to the bench. On the game’s opening goal, it was Zimmerman who wound up on the ground as Adi received the ball, turned and fired a massive away goal past Jesse Gonzalez.

68′ — Diaz’s magical ball curled home by Hollingshead — Mauro Diaz is a wonderful magician capable of playing the kill through ball from anywhere on the field — this we’ve known for quite some time. His chipped through ball to set up Hollingshead’s goal was extraordinarily brilliant, even for him.

73′ — Perez heads home the free kick to pull within one — Would you be surprised to hear that it was Diaz who set up FCD’s second goal? His free kick was Perez-finding missile and found the head of the Panamanian striker at the top of the six-yard box, where 34-year-old headed home with ease.

90+5′ — Melano rounds Gonzalez, seals MLS Cup berth — Poor Jesse Gonzalez. Absolutely schooled and posterized by Lucas Melano. What a way to sew up a place in the championship final.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Mauro Diaz

Goalscorers: Adi (54′), Hollingshead (68′), Perez (73′), Melano (90+5′)

La Liga & Serie A: Real Madrid bounce back; Juventus on the charge

Gareth Bale, Real Madrid CF
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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:

Eibar 0-2 Real Madrid

Real Madrid bounced back from back-to-back La Liga defeats with a 2-0 victory away to Eibar on Sunday. Gareth Bale (below video) and Cristiano Ronaldo (penalty kick) provided the goals to keep Rafa Benitez‘s bunch (27 points) third in the league, two points behind Atletico Madrid and six behind leaders Barcelona.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Getafe 2-0 Villarreal
Rayo Vallecano 0-3 Athletic Bilbao
Sevilla 1-0 Valencia

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga roundup ]

Roma 0-2 Atalanta

Losing at home to sides currently in a relegation battle — rarely a good idea, especially if you fancy yourselves title challengers, but that didn’t stop Roma from doing just that on Sunday. Alejandro Gomez and German Denis scored the goals to knock off a 10-man Roma side (Maicon – 81st minute) and keep Rudi Garcia’s bunch (27 points) from gaining ground on any of the three teams currently ahead of them — Inter Milan, Napoli and Fiorentina — all of whom play on Monday.

AC Milan 4-1 Sampdoria

M’Baye Niang scored twice, while Giacomo Bonaventura and Luiz Adriano (below video) added single tallies for AC Milan (23 points) to keep pace with the top-five pack in Serie A. After 14 rounds of games, the Rossoneri sit sixth, a point outside fifth (UEFA Europa League) and five points out of third (UEFA Champions League).

Palermo 0-3 Juventus

Don’t look now, but here come Juventus. Sunday’s 3-0 triumph over Palermo makes it four straight wins in the league for Massimiliano Allegri’s side — a run that pushes them all the way up to fifth in the league (24 points), just six points off the pace of leaders Inter, who play on Monday. Mario Mandzukic (below video), Stefano Sturaro and Simone Zaza scored the goals for the world’s most frightening fifth-place team.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Torino 2-0 Bologna
Chievo 2-3 Udinese
Frosinone 3-2 Hellas Verona
Genoa 1-2 Carpi
Empoli 1-0 Lazio

Monday’s Serie A schedule

Sassuolo vs. Fiorentina (1 p.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Inter Milan (3 p.m. ET)

Arsenal’s injury crisis — add Sanchez, Cazorla, Koscielny to the list

Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC
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From title challengers to just hoping to hold on to a top-four place while Arsene Wenger is forced to play reserves and academy players because half of his star players are currently out injured — the annual story of Arsenal.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Oct. 27, when Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both went down with injuries in the same game, marked the unofficial start of Arsenal’s 2015-16 injury crisis, but things didn’t really get going full bore until the last seven days, when five more players — four of them full-time starters — picked up injuries that will keep them out of action for anywhere between three weeks and three months.

Added to the list last weekend: Francis Coquelin (knee – three months minimum), Mikel Arteta (calf – three weeks)

Added to the list on Sunday: Alexis Sanchez (hamstring – MORE DETAILS), Santi Cazorla (knee), Laurent Koscielny (hip)

Following Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Norwich City, Wenger said Koscielny “could not walk” due to the hip spasm that forced him out of the game after just 11 minutes. He also divulged that Cazorla, who could not be subbed off because Wenger had already used all three subs late on, played the second half “on one leg.” Sanchez came into Sunday injured after picking up a hamstring injury in Arsenal’s UEFA Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Sunday’s PL roundup — Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs all draw ]

Arsenal fans were up in arms during the summer transfer window — let’s be honest, the following is true of every transfer window the last five years — crying out, “We must buy, we must buy.” Have a look at Arsenal’s complete injury list at the moment, and try to say, “They didn’t need to buy in the summer.”

In chronological order: Danny Welbeck (knee – early 2016 return), Tomas Rosicky (knee – Christmas time return), Jack Wilshere (leg – Christmas time return), Theo Walcott (calf – December return), Mikel Arteta (calf – three weeks), Francis Coquelin (knee – three months minimum), Laurent Koscielny (hip – to be assessed), Alexis Sanchez (hamstring – to be assessed), Santi Cazorla (knee – to be assessed)