Quick Six: Manchester United’s woe, Suárez returns and the other storylines from the Premier League weekend

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1. MOYES, MANCHESTER UNITED DOWN TO ONE EXCUSE

Consider it a type of pros and cons list for managers. List all a coach’s disappointing performances in one column. In the other, list the surprises. Take into account injuries, fixture congestion, bad or good luck – whathaveyou. Ignore the times where a team plays as expected and see if the good offsets the bad.

For managers of elite teams, this seems unfair, as there are far fewer chances to impress. Then again, their teams should rarely disappoint. Overall — in a blurry-eyed, I-don’t-want-to-spend-time-doing-actual-work kind of way — this works. It sees José Mourinho’s erratic start balancing the Basel loss against points at White Hart Lane and Old Trafford. It also sees Manuel Pellegrini’s best results outweighing the middling ones (for now).

When you look at David Moyes, the picture’s pretty clear. How many unexpectedly good performances has he produced? None. Maybe one, if you count Swansea, but the score as more impressive than the actual result. Perhaps you can could see the Bayer match as another surprisingly strong show, though Leverkusen were poor that day. Overall, those performances are more expected than surprising.

Now, how many unexpected poor performances has United given under Moyes? Chelsea at home. Liverpool away. Manchester City away. West Brom at home. These aren’t maybes, like the ones we listed, above. These are bad results. In eight games (six league, one Champions League, one League Cup), Moyes’s teams have disappointed four times.

[MORE: Manchester United 1-2 West Bromwich Albion: Defensive woes cost United.]

This is a terrible start – United’s worst in the Premier League era. You can blame the schedule if you want, but it hasn’t been that bad, especially once Saturday’s visit form one of the league’s strugglers  balanced it out.

The only excuse that remains is a powerful one: That we’re only eight games into the Moyes era. The new boss certainly deserves more time, though that shouldn’t keep us from noting how bad his start has been.

2. FULL RETURN, FULL PRODUCTION FROM LUIS SUÁREZ

Wednesday’s loss at Old Trafford turned out to be a trial run. Today’s Brendan Rodgers stayed with his 3-5-2 formation, and it paid off. The forward tandem of Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge came good with three goals in Liverpool’s 3-1 win at Sunderland.

Credit Rodgers with sticking with a system that didn’t work mid-week, electing to focus on the huge, long-term benefit of the set-up: Finding a way to get this two big scoring threats working together. Last year, Sturridge was much more productive playing through the middle as opposed to the wide position he often occupied when Suárez was available. By moving away from his 4-3-3-variant while sacrificing one at the back, Rodgers has chosen a system that can preserve a three-man midfield while accommodating his most-dangerous players. Also important: It keeps Philippe Coutinho in the middle (in the spot currently occupied by Victor Moses) when the Brazilian returns next month.

The main caveat here: Sunderland’s bad. Really bad. Kevin Ball produced a win mid-week, but on Sunday, their Di Canio form returned. They didn’t provide much of a test.

In that way, today’s game may have been another trial run for Liverpool, albeit with better results than Wednesday’s.


3. RAMSEY’S ASCENT CONTINUES FOR ARSENAL

In a game where Arsenal’s front-six had trouble maintaining a hold on the match, their defense deserves some credit. Of Swansea’s 10 shots (three on goal), only three came within the 18-yard box. Contrast that with Arsenal, who saw seven of their 10 shots come within Michel Vorm’s penalty area. The result was a 2-1 win at Swansea City, leaving Arsenal alone atop the Premier League.

It’s another example of what we saw in Champions League two weeks ago. Somewhere along the way, Arsenal’s developed an ability to win games they don’t control. Granted, it’s been a while since the image of the possession-dominant, imposing Gunners was actually true. But since when does Arsenal only see 42 percent of the ball and not only win but win relatively comfortably?

Getting performances like Aaron Ramsey’s helps. Setting up the first while scoring the second, Ramsey is now second in the league in goals (four) and assists (two) – statures that arguably understate his contributions. His performances have made him one of the league’s best players as well as one of its most timely. On Saturday, his contributions tipped a game that went into halftime nil-nil.

In all competitions, that’s eight goals in nine games. Ramsey’s previous career high was four. That hints this pace won’t persist, but only 22, it’s clear Aaron Ramey’s ascent continues.

4. HULL, CARDIFF CITY CAST DOUBT ON PRESEASON GLOOM

As the Bluebirds emptied their pockets before Deadline Day, the pessimism surrounding last year’s Championship winners started to fade. A preseason of predictions that all three newly-promoted sides would go down gave way to a sliver of hope for Cardiff City. In that sense, it’s not shocking that Malky Mackay’s team sits 11th. That they’ve only lost twice in six after Saturday’s 2-1 win at Fulham is still worth noting.

More surprising, however, is what’s going on at Hull, where the Tigers sit seventh after Sunday’s 1-0 win over West Ham. Though Steve Bruce’s early hire last year helped them earn automatic promotion, the Tigers failed to convince at the end of last season, leaving a summer without major signings hinting at instant relegation. With 10 points through six rounds, Hull’s let their results address our doubts.

Crystal Palace, 19th after Saturday’s loss at Southampton, hasn’t shown as strong as their fellow promotees, but they’ve seen two established Premier League sides join them as relegation favorites. Sunderland, last with one point, have to identify a new leader before they can truly regroup, while Fulham’s loss to Cardiff City makes Martin Jol’s position an increasingly tenuous one.

5. MARTIN JOL THE NEXT TO GO?

Hired before the 2011-12 season, Martin Jol made an immediate impact at Fulham upon his return to the Premier League. Immediately implementing a style that differed from Mark Hughes’s, Jol took some short-term lumps to have Fulham playing some of the league’s most aesthetically-pleasing soccer by year’s end. The Cottagers seemed ready to push on.

Then came last year’s stall, one in where Fulham wasted all the momentum they accrued during the former Spurs boss’s return. At year’s end, a team coming off back-to-back top-half finishes had dipped to 12th.

After six rounds this season, the Cottagers sit 18th, their only win coming on opening day. Then, their only shot of the game allowed them to get full points despite being outplayed by Sunderland. In their  five other games, Fulham’s 0-4-1 while providing no reason to think things will get better.

Of course, things could get better. Just because we don’t see the potential doesn’t mean it’s not there. But looking broadly at Martin Jol’s time at Fulham, the trend is a downward one, and at some point, the Cottagers have to make a move. With the team playing poorly and sitting 18th, you can’t help but wonder if that point is approaching.


6. CHAMPIONS LEAGUE TALENT, NOT CHAMPIONS LEAGUE RESULTS FOR SPURS

It hasn’t been pretty, but to a certain extent, you have to give José Mourinho some credit. His team’s trip to Old Trafford? He got a point, taking a 0-0 from the defending champions. And Saturday’s trip to White Hart Lane? The Blues got a valuable 1-1 from Spurs.

Contrast that with what Spurs have done in their two most important games. At Arsenal, Tottenham allowed their rivals to hold serve, Spurs’s 1-0 loss leaving them empty-handed coming out of the Emirates. And Saturday, at home against Chelsea, they failed to take full points.

Big picture, these aren’t terrible results, but for a team aspiring to Champions League, they’re not encouraging ones, either. At some point, you need to take points from the teams you’re fighting for a top-four spot.

At home against Chelsea, they had points taken from them. Combined with their loss at Arsenal, we see a still-gelling Spurs squad failing to snag important points.

MLS Week 4 Preview: Portland flying, RSL depleted

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We’re just starting to see things take shape in Major League Soccer. The dangerous teams are clear, the middle of the pack is forming, and the struggling teams know it’s not too late to get a things going.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Week 4 is stretched out over this weekend and next thanks to the international break, so there are only three matches to get to on Saturday. Here’s the outlook:

New England Revolution vs. Minnesota United – 2:00 p.m. ET

There is just one point combined for these two teams through the first three match weeks. They are both bottom of their conference. A basement spot awaits the loser, and a revival awaits the winner. If there is one.

A lot is on the line with these two clubs as they meet in Foxboro. It’s early enough in the season where three points can vault a team halfway up the table, completely alleviating any fears of impending doom. However, it’s at the point where should a team lose this match, the alarm bells begin to go off for fans.

Minnesota, already struggling to begin the season, has been ravaged by the international break and will be without Rasmus Schuller, Kevin Molino, Johan Venegas, and Francisco Calvo. That said, if there’s any time to have a number of players missing, it is nice to have it come against a struggling team like New England who has yet to score a goal from open play yet through two matches. Will New England strike against the lack of opposition depth to spark their goalscoring efforts?

New York Red Bulls vs. Real Salt Lake – 4:00 p.m. ET

RSL has to get things going, and they need to do it fast. Unfortunately, they visit an Eastern Conference might as New York welcomes the cross-country travelers with six points already in hand to Salt Lake’s one. To make matters worse for the visiting side, they’re ravaged up and down the roster. Nick Rimando and Albert Rusnák are on international duty, Kyle Beckerman is suspended for his silly red card, and Joao Plata is injured along with Jordan Allen. Tack on the questionable tags for Justen Glad, Aaron Maund, and David Horst, and the outlook is bleak for RSL. Oh, and they just fired their coach too.

That leaves interim coach Daryl Shore little to work with, and they’ll take on a strong New York team that presses hard. Sacha Kljestan struggled in last week’s loss to Seattle, but this team is known for its ability to bounce back. Bradley Wright-Phillips could have a field day if he gets the service, or even if he doesn’t.

Columbus Crew vs. Portland Timbers – 7:30 p.m. ET

For me, this is the best game of the three. Portland is considered by some to own the best attack in the league, and they’ve shown it through three games, scoring 10 goals against a relatively soft opening schedule. Columbus, meanwhile, picked up three points from a two-game road trip and is back home looking to prove that last year’s struggles are a thing of the past. We still don’t know exactly what to expect from the Crew, but we sure do know what’s coming to town, and that’s the Timbers’ red-hot attack duo of Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi.

22-year-old rookie Alex Crognale made his debut for Columbus last week and contributed heavily to the Crew’s clean sheet. He will be tested heavily should he earn himself a second start. Jonathan Mensah is back from his red card suspension and will add to the defensive abilities. Still, it will be a tough test for Columbus, one which would provide an enormous boost should earn all three points.

MLS Power Rankings — Week 3: Gap developing at the top

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We’re just three weeks in, and while there’s still obviously gobs of time for teams to right the ship, we are also seeing who’s for real at the top of the table, and while the table doesn’t always show it, we’re starting to learn more and more about each team that picks up the points.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Atlanta continues to win, still yet to lose in MLS play three matches into its inaugural season, and Portland bounced back to prove they’re still in control. At about the 7-8 mark there looks to be a clear gap developing. Can anyone buck the trend moving forward? Your updated power rankings:


TEAM RANKING (Last Wk)

 

22 (19)

21 (22)

20 (21)

DC United: Six goals conceded, none scored in their last two. Not much else needs to be said.

Minnesota United: Their very first MLS point was an important one, holding on down a man. Still a very long way to go.

New England Revolution: More of the same for New England who admittedly had a tall task against FC Dallas but couldn’t hold on.

19 (20) Columbus Crew: Could this week be the one that starts the climb? Six shots on target out of seven total, that’s efficient. Still need a result against a better team to back it up.
18 (18) Real Salt Lake: No Glad, No Plata, down a man, still almost pulled it out. Still, the defending was poor at times a man down and Beckerman knows better. Need to start picking up points.
17 (16) Philadelphia Union: 14 shots, just two on target. That’s the type of day it was in Orlando. Just 2 points from three is worrying, but they have a shot for their first win against DC before taking on Portland and NYCFC.
16 (12) Chicago Fire: Ouch. It’s hard to take much of anything from a big loss to a smoking hot team playing 79 minutes with 10 men. Still…that one will hurt.
15 (17) Montreal Impact: They held firm against a good NYCFC attack, and actually did the coming back for once.
14 (14) Vancouver Whitecaps: In a vacuum, no shame in losing to Tigres or Toronto, but now they’ve got a bit of poor form with the Galaxy coming to town and then the CCL second leg. Will want to avoid a string of bad results.
13 (15) LA Galaxy: All road wins are good wins. That said, beating a weakened RSL by a goal after playing a man down the entire second half is not exactly convincing. They were second best until Beckerman went off and managed just 4 shots on target.
12 (13)
Sporting Kansas City: Have conceded just one goal. They have a plan, and it’s working so far. Just need to figure it out on the other end.
11 (5) Colorado Rapids: Give the Loons credit, but a draw against 10-man Minnesota is not a good look. The defending has been poor.
10 (7) San Jose Earthquakes: Bit tough to figure out this San Jose team early on, but with Godoy held in check, they were outshot 15-5 by KC.
9 (6) Houston Dynamo: Caught Portland at a bad time. This is still a good team, but maybe with some soul-searching to do after a big loss.
8 (10)
Orlando City: An extra week of rest helped Orlando and Cyle Larin did Cyle Larin things. Six possible points, six taken. Still need to prove themselves on the road after last season.
7 (9) Seattle Sounders: Just like Portland, Seattle got back to what it does best, and that involved Dempsey and Morris scoring. The attack looked dangerous
6 (4) New York City FC: Montreal hacked NYCFC to death and it worked. They’re still a good team, but will have to figure out how to win ugly too.
5 (8) Toronto FC: A very solid bounce-back win without Giovinco, who will be back after the break. The rough start appears to be more of a blip.
4 (3) New York Red Bulls: The ugly wins finally came back to haunt them. Hard to take much from a cross-country road trip, but they fell short in a tough test.
3 (11) Atlanta United: You betcha. This team’s for real. Well, they certainly appear to be with Josef Martinez on fire, but he’s just been injured. Now what?
2 (2) FC Dallas: A win over New England continued FC Dallas’s hot start. It’s mind-boggling how little attention Max Urruti gets.
1 (1) Portland Timbers: That’s more like it. The scary Portland attack bounced back by putting four goals past 2-0-0 Houston.

Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez injured on international duty

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Atlanta United is sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings three weeks into its inaugural Major League Soccer season, and the bite appears to be every bit as fearsome as the bark for the newcomers.

Now, the club must contend with its first bit of truly scary news.

In-form striker Josef Martinez was injured on international duty with Venezuela and is heading back to the United States for evaluation. The report says he tweaked his left thigh, and after the match head coach Rafael Dudamel said he would release Martinez back to Atlanta, saying, “I do not think it’s good for Josef to travel. This muscle tightness can take 10 days of recovery.”

Martinez was subbed off of Venezuela’s match with Peru in the 59th minute, replaced by Yangel Herrera and walking off under his own power. Venezuela drew the match 2-2, blowing a 2-goal halftime lead and leaving them bottom of the table, 14 points back of the intercontinental playoff spot.

Obviously that 10-day recovery is more ideal than any other long-term prognosis, but it would still see him miss a road visit to Seattle next Friday. The 23-year-old has a whopping five goals in his first three MLS games with Atlanta and has been a force. Brandon Vazquez and Bryan Rochez are the two options currently on Atlanta’s roster to replace the Venezuelan in the lineup.

Martinez was signed on loan from Serie A side Torino, but the move was made permanent last week.

Kevin de Bruyne questionable for injury-laden Belgium

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Belgium, already without superstar Eden Hazard for the upcoming World Cup qualifier against Greece, will now be without playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, who picked up an injury in training on Friday and will miss both the match against Greece and the subsequent friendly against Russia three days later…maybe.

The Belgian National Team official Twitter account sent out a quote from manager Roberto Martinez that confirmed De Bruyne would miss the pair of matches, but the tweet was quickly deleted.

Instead, this one was pushed out in its place, correcting his availability and also updating the type of injury:

Should De Bruyne miss out, it means Belgium would likely rely heavily on Dries Mertens and Kevin Mirallas for the playmaking duties, with midfielder Radja Nainggolan potentially taking on a more attacking role as well.

Belgium and Martinez also confirmed that right-back Thomas Meunier will miss out after failing to recover from an ankle injury, while Marouane Fellaini‘s status is unknown after he was held out of Thursday’s training session.

The injury also leaves De Bruyne’s status for Manchester City up in the air, with a pair of massive games in London in quick succession after the injury break. City visits Arsenal next Sunday, followed by a hop over to Stanford Bridge on Wednesday.