Luis Suárez returned  to Premier League from his 10-match suspension with two goals in Liverpool's 3-1 win at Sunderland. (Photo: Reuters.)

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

Leave a comment

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.

Report: Messi, Aguero 18 minutes from suffering Chapecoense fate

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 30: A detailed view of the Chapecoense badge during a minutes silence ahead of the EFL Cup quarter final match between Arsenal and Southampton at the Emirates Stadium on November 30, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

According to a report by Brazilian Folha de São Paulo, a flight bearing the Argentinian national team was dangerously close to crashing in the same manner that saw much of the Brazilian club team Chapecoense tragically perish just a week ago.

The report states that the national team, bearing Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, and other star players on November 11th, was traveling on the exact same plane that crashed on November 28th, and was 18 minutes from running out of fuel before landing in Buenos Aires. The British Aerospace 146 aircraft has a maximum fuel capacity for a flight of four hours and 22 minutes, and the trip from Belo Horizonte to Buenos Aires took four hours and four minutes, according to the report, citing flight logs.

Information disemminating from the November 28th crash shows the aircraft did not reach its destination due to a loss of fuel.

According to an editorial written by Airways Magazine editor in chief Enrique Perrella following the Chapecoense crash, it is a common occurrence in South America for pilots to routinely stretch the maximum flight distances for aircrafts, and to take fuel amounts dangerously close to actual flight time without much pushback. Many flight governing bodies around the world state minimum fuel requirements to be enough fuel for flight time plus distance to an alternate landing location plus an extra 45 minutes.

The Perrella editorial states, citing the flight plan for the November 28th crash, that the pilot for the plane carrying Chapeocense was also the owner of the airline, causing a conflict of interest. In the interest of saving fuel costs, he apparently registered enough fuel on his flight plan for the exact amount of flight time from Santa Cruz to Medellin – four hours and 22 minutes. When the plane was asked to sit in a holding pattern to allow another flight with mechanical problems to land, they ran out of fuel and crashed just a few miles from the destination.

Should all this information prove accurate, the not only was the accident clearly preventable, but it could have happened more than once, and clearly a change in culture is needed.

Southampton’s Charlie Austin suffers horror shoulder injury

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 08:  Josh Sims of Southampton stands over injured team mates Charlie Austin during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and Hapoel Be'er-Sheva FC at St Mary's Stadium on December 8, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

Charlie Austin could be out for some time.

[ MORE: Europa League standings ]

In the first half of Southampton’s UEFA Europa League group decider against Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Thursday — the Premier League side need a win or a 0-0 draw to the make the knockout stages — Saints’ top scorer Austin fell awkwardly when sending a header wide at the back post and landed on his shoulder.

What ensued was ugly to watch.

The Englishman was screaming in agony on the floor and it looked like he had dislocated his shoulder with Saints’ physios running on to treat him.

Austin, 27, is Saints’ top scorer this season with nine goals in all competitions and if he is set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines, that’s a big problem for Saints.

The former QPR and Burnley forward has dislocated his shoulder on multiple ocassions before and had an operation on his right shoulder in 2014 when at QPR.

To succeed at Manchester United, Jose Mourinho must adapt again

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 04:  Jose Mourinho manager of Manchester United looks on fromthe bench prior to the Premier League match between Everton and Manchester United at Goodison Park on December 4, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Getty Images
1 Comment

Manchester United is not in the crisis everyone says they are.

No, they are not the ones in a crisis. Their manager, however, is a different story.

Throughout his career, Jose Mourinho has been quite adaptable. Through his wildly successful journey across four different European top flights, he’s been able to wire himself differently to fit each different league, and it’s worked. It hasn’t always made a lot of friends at each stop, but it’s worked – at least for a time, before burning to the ground. What Mourinho has not been able to do on a regular basis, however, is admit that he’s wrong.

Therein lies the identity crisis Jose Mourinho currently faces. He’s got it blatantly wrong at United, and to fix things in the short-term, he must admit his mistake, not publicly, but by making a critical change.

[ MORE: Arsene Wenger discuesses Sanches, Ozil futures ]

Through two stints at Chelsea, the 55-year-old has found a formula that works in the Premier League: find a deadly striker, grab a goal or two, and sit on it. And it’s worked. Didier Drogba and Diego Costa got him the goals, while John Terry, Gary Cahill, Petr Cech, Michael Essien, and John Obi Mikel held those leads. In their title year of 2004/05, 17 of Chelsea’s 29 wins came while scoring two goals or less. The next year, they won the league again with 19 of 29 wins coming with two goals or less. In their last title season of 2014/15, 16 of Chelsea’s 26 wins came while scoring two goals or less. It was a seemingly simple formula, and with the right players he executed it to deadly perfection.

That, unfortunately, is what Manchester United doesn’t currently have, and it has Mourinho baffled. The right players.

You can see why Zlatan Ibrahimovic was attractive to Mourinho’s tactics. He is meant to be United’s Drogba. He is their Costa. And it’s working, to the tune of eight goals so far. What United doesn’t have is the lockdown defense Mourinho relies on, yet he continues to try and rely on it.

[ MORE: Swansea chairman backs Bob Bradley ]

In the nine matches Manchester United has dropped points in, they conceded first inside the opening 35 minutes four times (twice in the opening two minutes), and in three they’ve conceded in the final five minutes. The other two were 0-0 draws.

Mourinho has consistently blamed circumstance for United’s poor start. He’s partly right; United has been on the wrong side of crucial refereeing decisions, bad bounces, and a host of games where shot after shot after shot refuses to find the back of the net. Unfortunately, this is glossing over the real reason Mourinho’s bunch has failed to put up results indicative of their performances.

Manchester United’s defense just won’t cut it. Chris Smalling has served the club valiantly since coming over from Fulham at a young age, but at 27 years old he has failed to improve for a number of seasons, and will not find himself among any awards lists in the near future. Marcos Rojo has a horrific disciplinary record and can’t get out of his own way. Eric Bailly has looked a solid piece but has been injured, only just returning. Daley Blind is a versatile piece but still has not found his best position, and thus has found the bench instead. Phil Jones, still just 24, can’t be trusted. Luke Shaw can’t stay on the field. Matteo Darmian has been pressed into action and has yet to prove his worth.

[ VIDEO: Top 5 players in the Premier League ]

That’s not a bad defensive unit, but it’s certainly not a title-winning one. It’s a whole lotta “meh.”

Mourinho’s insistance on leaving Henrikh Mkhitaryan is a microcosm of the larger issue. Only just starting the $45 million signing for the first time in league play last time out, Mourinho has preferred the more possessive Jesse Lingard, despite Mkhitaryan’s ruthless attacking presence he proved last year with Borussia Dortmund, creating 82 chances in Bundesliga play, more than twice anyone else on the squad (hey look! he scored in the Europa League today because he’s actually getting time!).

[ VIDEO: Mkhitaryan scores in Europa League play ]

This team needs to attack, and they need to do it soon. If United can prove more ruthless at the front end, this team can pick up steam at a rapid pace. But for that to happen, Mourinho needs to adapt from his old ways and instead play to the squad he has. United can up the defensive unit in January and even next summer, but until that happens, this club will continue to suffer with the status quo.

VIDEO: Henrikh Mkhitaryan scores beauty for Man United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 30: Henrikh Mkhitaryan of Manchester United controls the ball under pressure from Aaron Cresswell of West Ham United during the EFL Cup quarter final match between Manchester United and West Ham United at Old Trafford on November 30, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Here he comes.

When Henrikh Mkhitaryan signed for Manchester United in the summer big things were expected.

It’s taken him a while to settle but now the Armenian playmaker has scored his first goal for United with a stunning superb solo effort against Zorya Luhansk on Thursday in the UEFA Europa League.

Watch the video below to see Mkhitaryan put United 1-0 up.

What a goal.