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.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday