Premier League Playback: Jose Mourinho’s angry (naked) chat, US ‘keepers assist kings, S.A.S. return

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“This guy [Vertonghen] is a special guy. Three days ago he left the Aston Villa striker naked, and somehow it was not a penalty and not a red card, because he shouldn’t play this game. Vertonghen should be suspended and have got a red card against Villa. If you go to YouTube it is top of the ridiculous situations in football. It’s ridiculous, the boy was naked and today Vertonghen changed the game. I’m not happy.” – Jose Mourinho on Vertonghen getting Fernando Torres sent off, just days after he didn’t get a red card despite pulling down the shorts of Aston Villa striker Niklas Helenius and impeding a goalscoring chance in the box.

Cue huge roars of laughter from the assembled members of the media as Mourinho somehow kept a straight face when recalling this incident. But in reality, his Chelsea side were denied the chance to win the game at Tottenham as they battered Spurs in a rampant second half display. Torres was shown a harsh 81st minute red card, but in the second half he turned the game on its head. The Spaniard rampaged around the White Hart Lane pitch like a man possessed, not since his heyday at Liverpool had I seen him this agile, this dangerous and so eager to impress. The introduction of Juan Mata at half time changed Chelsea from a first half floundering side, frequenting the long-ball tactic, to a team that looked fluent, creative and threatened Spurs’ 1-0 lead with almost every attack. Mata’s free kick found John Terry to head home, and as Mourinho punched the air in delight just to my right, I could feel the Chelsea of old coming alive.

And Torres’ display — even though the ‘red-mist’ briefly descended as he petulantly scratched Verotnghen in the face in an altercation — filled me with great faith that the Spaniard is back to his best. On two occasions in the second half he skipped past two, three, then four Tottenham defenders before being thwarted by Hugo Lloris and then picking out Oscar. Torres looked a foot taller than in previous sightings, he bullied Tottenham’s defense, and Mata the magician in the central attacking role meshed Frank Lampard, Ramires and Oscar together. All the talk before the game was about Mourinho facing his old understudy Andre Villas-Boas. Well, the master proved he still has the upper-hand with his shrewd tactical switch at half time. And if Saturday’s second half against Spurs is anything to go by, Mourinho’s Chelsea are getting close to their marauding best. You’ve been warned.

Premier League Schedule – Week 6

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 3-2 Man City Recap and watch here
Everton 3-2 Newcastle United Recap and watch here
Fulham 1-2 Cardiff City Recap and watch here
Hull City 1-0 West Ham United Recap and watch here
Man United 1-2 West Brom Recap and watch here
Southampton 2-0 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here
Stoke City 0-1 Norwich City Recap and watch here
Sunderland 1-3 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Swansea City 1-2 Arsenal Recap and watch here
Tottenham 1-1 Chelsea Recap and watch here


So many standout displays this week made this very hard to pick just five, but here goes. Romelu Lukau’s sizzling first half was incredible, so clever and agile for such a big bloke. And, as is often the case theses days, Aaron Ramsey scored for Arsenal and made the top five after yet another great box-to-box display. Luis Suarez, on his Premier League return, reminded everyone what Liverpool had been missing as he scored twice and linked up superbly with his partner in crime (more on that next). And West Brom’s England U-21 striker Saido Beraihno scored the winner at Old Trafford, while John Terry rescued a point for Chelsea and defended for his life to preserve the precious point.


When little Blackburn Rovers lifted the Premier League title in 1995, they had a strike partnership that was feared across the land. Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton were both England internationals, who formed a prolific partnership when placed together at Ewood Park. The acronym S.A.S. symbolized their indestructible bond that led Rovers to an English League title. I’m not saying Liverpool will do the same this season, but in the Merseyside incarnation of S.A.S. they’ve got a real chance of at least making the top four. If Luis Suarez — returning from his 10-game ban to score twice against Sunderland in the 3-1 win — and Daniel Sturridge stay fit, Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool have a chance of doing something special this campaign. Sturridge scored the first and set up Suarez for twice, and the telepathic understanding between the two was evident for all to see, Brendan Rodgers believes they’re the best forward partnership in the Premier League… are they? When the Reds got on the ball, both players would make darting moves to the flank, then converge to combine in the central area after one quick look to see where they both were. Of course this partnership flourished before Suarez’ ban last season, so they’re starting where they left off. Liverpool’s fans must be saying ‘long may this continue.’ The S.A.S. are on a mission.


Premier League Star Performers

Player Reason
1. Romelu Lukaku (Everton) 2 goals, scintillating 1st half
2. Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal) 1 goal, dug deep in CM
3. Luis Suarez (Liverpool) 2 goals, clinical on PL return
4. John Terry (Chelsea) 1 goal, rock at back, leader
5. Saido Beraihno (WBA) 1 goal, full of energy from MF

Oh dear, oh dear, David Moyes’ start to life at Manchester United really isn’t going as planned. The shock 2-1 loss to West Bromwich Albion on Saturday further compounded his dismal start to life managing in the shadow of Sir Alex Ferguson. United looked sluggish and devoid of attacking panache against the Baggies, who, to their great credit, gave it a real go at Old Trafford and were deserved winners.

Now this could go one of two ways for Moyes. His squad will either fold and completely go into a shell, lose multiple games and struggle away in seventh or eighth spot by Christmas… or they’ll come roaring back and challenge for the title. But I don’t see the latter happening until he adds some new players in January. The problem for Moyes is he now possesses too many players who’ve been at United for too long under Ferguson, and they are almost waiting to get that famous ‘hairdryer’ as a kick up the back side. But lads, he’s retired… that’s not going to happen. If you look at Moyes’ old club Everton, Roberto Martinez has kept a strong core of the old Everton side, but brought in the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Gareth Barry and James McCarthy to freshen things up. The only new face the Red Devils possess is Marouane Fellaini. And for Moyes’ sake, United’s directors need to spend big in the January transfer window to give him a team of his own. Instead of expecting him to work wonders with the side Ferguson built.


No goalkeeper had recorded an assist after the first five weeks of the Premier League season… so just for good measure the US national teams top two ‘keepers both weighed in with a helper, much to the delight of fans, pundits and teammates alike. Brad Guzan spotted Andreas Weimann’s run against Man City and the former Chivas USA shot-stopper drilled a booming drop kick right into the Austrian’s path and he beat Joe Hart to seal Villa’s remarkable 3-2 comeback win over City. With the assist, Guzan became the first for ‘keeper to set up a goal in the PL this season. But not to be outdone by his countryman and direct competitor, Everton’s Tim Howard smashed a quick ball forward that Lukaku got on the end of to score on Monday night. Two American goalkeepers collected two assists on the same weekend. Not bad guys, but your main job is too keep the ball out…. what the heck, USA, USA, USA!


With three goals and and assist in his first 83 minutes as an Everton player, Romelu Lukaku is certainly making parent club Chelsea sit up and take notice as he’s dazzling during his loan spell. No Chelsea striker has scored this season so far. But on Monday night against Newcastle the towering Belgian attacker scored after just five minutes, adding to his game-winner at West Ham the week before, and then added a second before half time. It was a scintillating first half of forward play as Everton won 3-2, and the giant Belgian even laid on a delicate assist for Ross Barkley. Chelsea need a big target man to help share the burden between Torres and provide competition, but Lukaku deserves to be playing regularly. If he carries on this magnificent start to the season, he may be wearing the Blue of Chelsea again before you know it. A recall is in the cards.


Yes, we applaud great defensive play and wonderfully flamboyant possession, but let’s not kid ourselves, we all love to see the ball rippling the back of the old onion bag. So far this season, much to the annoyance of soccer purists, we haven’t seen too many goals. With the goals per game average now up to 2.26 after 60 games, that’s a big leap from 1.90 after 30 games. There were some howitzers over the weekend, check out the top five goals below.

‘Ravens’ challenge soccer orthodoxy in Belarus

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MINSK, Belarus (AP) Less than three years ago, Alexander Skshinetsky’s soccer career seemed over.

The former under-21 international found himself unemployed after his career stalled, and was working on construction sites when an offer came. Would he consider joining an amateur team that had been playing seven-a-side soccer but now wanted to go pro, founded by a small group of fans staking thousands of dollars of their own money to build a club from scratch?

Two seasons and two promotions later, the 26-year-old midfielder is a key player in one of European soccer’s most unlikely success stories. In only its third professional season, Krumkachy Minsk is playing top-flight soccer, beating established names and challenging the economic orthodoxy in one of Europe’s most closed-off countries.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

Krumkachy – “Ravens” in Belarusian – has soared into the country’s top league with a shoestring budget but an enthusiastic and growing fan base of hipsters, families and others turned off by the stagnation of soccer in the ex-Soviet nation. Before a recent run of losses, it was even challenging for Europa League qualification.

The secret has been finding talented players on the verge of leaving the game, or even those who have already quit, “people who have been underestimated and put down,” in the words of co-founder Denis Shunto, who set up Krumkachy with friends in 2011. “We get those guys and we can really make them into a team.”

After starting out in recreational competitions, Shunto and his friends decided to aim higher. Belarusian soccer has a three-tier league system packed with clubs backed by various government agencies and state-run factories in the country’s Soviet-style economy, a set-up which prefers predictability over ambition and can give rise to conflicts of interest. With a spot open in the third tier, but without a state patron, Krumkachy scraped together a few thousand dollars to apply. Each subsequent step up the pyramid brought predictions of imminent financial collapse.

“Everyone said we wouldn’t have the money, we couldn’t take part,” said Skshinetsky, the midfielder. “We played for free in the second division, and in the first division it wasn’t much. Maybe $100 for a win in the first division and salaries maybe $150 (a month).”

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On a freezing Friday night in Minsk, the crowd was small and the game scrappy. Goalkeeping errors helped to hand Krumkachy a 2-1 win which all but ensured the club’s top-flight survival for 2017 in the Belarusian league’s calendar-year system. Financial survival is always a trickier question.

“We’ve got the smallest budget (in the league) and we’re still putting money in ourselves,” said Shunto, who wonders if the approach of going without government funding may be “too romantic.”

At Friday’s game, commercial tie-ups were prominent and Krumkachy’s shirts were covered in a myriad of small logos from various businesses which have chipped in as sponsors, while opposition Granit Mikashevichi bore only the logo of its backer, a state-run quarry. Consumerism may be the norm in most European leagues, but in Belarus’ state-dominated economy, it’s the mark of the plucky underdog.

After ending a nine-game wait for victory, the players came over to celebrate with the sparse crowd. An hour later, the reserve players were still sharing the field with fans and their children having a kickabout.

“It’s an atmosphere like home, very warm. It’s been helping the guys not to give up,” said Vasily Khomutovsky, one of Krumkachy’s two co-coaches.

At a recent away game, “a woman with two children who went there, with two small kids 7 and 10 years old, she made each player a little souvenir by hand and signed it, something different for each player,” Khomutovsky said.

There’s a family atmosphere within the club, too, with Shunto’s brother serving as a backup goalkeeper and Skshinetsky’s wife in charge of fitness training.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Going to the playoffs edition ]

Vladimir Harlach, one of the team’s supporters, said Krumkachy reminds him of AFC Wimbledon, the English club founded by fans after owners relocated its previous incarnation to another town, and which has since shot up several divisions.

“That’s a bit different, there was history,” Harlach said. “Here, it’s from scratch. History is being written in front of our eyes. You could compare it to other countries 100 years ago, when (soccer) was all being created.”

Krumkachy’s average home attendance of about 1,500 is tiny by European standards, but enough to put it comfortably above all but the biggest clubs in Belarus, as well as higher than that of FC Minsk, the city government-run club whose stadium Krumkachy is using.

Some at the club wonder whether European qualification might be possible next year, another improbable step up, but the top spot in Belarus appears far out of reach. Able to outspend rivals with cash from occasional Champions League appearances, BATE Borisov has just sewn up its 11th straight title.

Khomutovsky welcomes the comparison to Leicester, a team which was promoted to top division in England, survived one season, then won a wildly unlikely title the following year.

“I hope next year,” Khomutovsky said, “we do what we can to become the Belarusian Leicester.”

MLS Cup Playoffs Weds. preview: Toronto, LA host openers

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco, right, celebrates after scoring his team's second goal against the New England Revolution during first-half MLS soccer game action in Toronto, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
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Here we go, sports fans.

Major League Soccer starts its playoffs with a pair of knockout round games on Wednesday and another two on Thursday.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Philadelphia Union at Toronto FC — 7:30 p.m. ET

The Union are back in the playoffs for just the second time in playoff history, the same amount as Toronto. The difference is that Toronto has made the postseason in back-to-back season and isn’t entering the second season on a brutal cold streak.

Philly has lost three-straight and five of seven, making the playoffs on goal differential and — as Brotherly Game points out — has the lowest points-per-game of a playoff team since 2006.

That’s probably not going to fly at the new, loud BMO Field, where TFC’s supporters will finally get a home playoff match. Sebastian Giovinco is close to full fitness, Jozy Altidore has been on fire, and Michael Bradley isn’t exactly a player who shirks the big game spot light.

But it’s going to be players like Drew Moor and Clint Irwin who keep TFC calm under the bright lights. They’ve been here before. In fact, Moor has actually been at BMO in the playoffs, when Colorado trumped FC Dallas for a 2-1 win at MLS Cup 2010.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

Real Salt Lake at LA Galaxy –10:30 p.m. ET

Before the season began, LA looked like it had an embarrassment of riches that could challenge for one of the best records in MLS history. Between Giovani Dos Santos, Robbie Keane, Ashley Cole, Nigel de Jong, Steven Gerrard, and Gyasi Zardes — let alone the rest of the crew — the Galaxy were terrifying.

CARSON, CA - SEPTEMBER 11: Robbie Keane #7 of Los Angeles Galaxy celebrates his goal with Giovani dos Santos #10 to take a 4-1 lead over the Orlando City FC at StubHub Center on September 11, 2016 in Carson, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Dos Santos and Keane (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

About 700 miles northeast was a team expected to do, well, not much. Real Salt Lake had its mainstays in Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando, but had the club done enough to make up a 10-point playoff deficit from 2015?

Injuries and defections stopped the Galaxy from reaching its potential, while RSL rode a hot start into the playoffs. Both teams finished their seasons in cold fashion; In Real’s case, ice cold.

The Galaxy only lost one game at the StubHub Center this season, and it’s realistic to think that trend will continue on Wednesday. But there’s something about RSL and the playoffs — and the potential absences of not just Zardes but Keane and Gerrard — that lead us to believe something strange could be coming by the time Thursday morning hits the East Coast.

USMNT’s Zardes nearing return for LA… but not this week

CARSON, CA - FEBRUARY 09:  Gyasi Zardes #11 of Los Angeles Galaxy attemps to break away from Leiton Jimenez #30 of Club Tijuana at StubHub Center on February 9, 2016 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
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Gyasi Zardes waits on X-rays, and it’s not just a matter for LA Galaxy concern.

Yes, the MLS side is chasing its sixth Cup and has as many as two playoff matches coming in the next five days.

But Jurgen Klinsmann has regularly called upon the 25-year-old attacker for the United States men’s national team who, in case you haven’t heard, have two of the toughest World Cup qualifiers on their slate in the next few weeks.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

There’s good news and bad news. First, the good, from MLSSoccer.com:

Gyasi Zardes, returning from a broken foot this past August, happily took to the field with his teammates in a sign of a potential return in time for the postseason. The offensive favorite spent a little under an hour with the team, not quite completing a full training session, but definitely close to returning to his usual fitness.

Now the less good: Zardes cannot return until his next scheduled X-ray on the aforementioned broken foot.

That X-ray comes next Thursday – well after Wednesday’s game and any weekend matches.

Will a fit Zardes instantly reclaim a spot in Klinsmann’s 23? Wingers have had strong performances in his stead, and the coach’s take on that position is a bit unknown as we anticipate the United States and Mexico in Columbus on Nov. 11.

Juventus CEO: agent to earn $30 million for Pogba transfer

VERONA, ITALY - JANUARY 31:  Paul Pogba of Juventus celebrates the victory after the Serie A match between AC Chievo Verona and Juventus FC at Stadio Marc'Antonio Bentegodi on January 31, 2016 in Verona, Italy.  (Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images)
Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images
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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus CEO Giuseppe Marotta has revealed that Paul Pogba‘s agent will be paid 27 million euros ($30 million) for the player’s record transfer to Manchester United.

Pogba returned to United in August for a world-record fee of $116 million.

Marotta was quoted by Italian media as telling Juventus’ shareholders meeting Tuesday as saying “27 million (euros) will be paid to (Pogba’s) agent Mino Raiola. So the total net gain for Pogba was 72 million ($78 million)” after other fees are taken into account.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

Marotta says that Pogba joined Juve from United in 2012 for a bargain price of 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million).

Marotta adds that Juan Cuadrado‘s two-year loan from Chelsea costs 5 million euros ($5.4 million) per season and if Juventus wins Serie A this season it will be obliged to buy Cuadrado’s full rights for an additional 20 million ($22 million).