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

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MATA AND TORRES DELIGHT MOURINHO, BUT ‘SPECIAL ONE’ FUMES AT VERTONGHEN

“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

TOP PERFORMERS

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.

S.A.S. (SUAREZ AND STURRIDGE) MAY KEEP LIVERPOOL’S LOFTY HOPES ALIVE

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.

TIME FOR MANCHESTER UNITED FANS TO PANIC?

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.

ROUTE 1 FROM THE USA, HOWARD AND GUZAN KINGS OF THE ASSIST

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!

WHEN WILL CHELSEA RECALL LUKAKU?

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.

GOALS GALORE (COMPARED TO OTHER WEEKS) IN WEEK SIX

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.

Cellar dwelling Houston Dynamo, Owen Coyle decide to part ways

TORONTO, ON - MAY 10:  Head Coach Owen Coyle of the Houston Dynamo smiles prior to an MLS soccer game against Toronto FC at BMO Field on May 10, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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A week ago, Owen Coyle was whispered as possibly leaving the Houston Dynamo to lead Celtic.

With that opening filled by Brendan Rodgers, the Dynamo and Coyle cut ties anyway.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

Coyle struggled to pick up the pieces left behind by Dominic Kinnear in Houston, and the Dynamo are dead last in Major League Soccer after a quarter of the season.

On Wednesday night, the Dynamo announced that Coyle wanted to be closer to his family in England and would be leaving the club immediately.

From HoustonDynamo.com:

“I asked Chris (Canetti) if I could speak with him today and I explained to him the challenge of being away from my family and how we all want the best for Houston Dynamo,” Coyle said. “I want to wish all members of the staff, from owner Gabriel Brener to president Chris Canetti to general manager Matt Jordan, everyone has been such a source of support, along with the players and the technical staff. I’d like to thank the Dynamo supporters, who have been outstanding. We have a brilliant club, and I have no doubt success is just around the corner.”

The Dynamo went 14W-21L-11T during his reign, but have also been severely lacking in talent. The long delay from acquiring Cubo Torres to getting him on the pitch was one of the many things that frustrated progress in Houston.

Coyle is best known for his time with Bolton Wanderers, though that ended early in a Championship season following relegation. Houston is 3W-7L-2T this season, and has Vancouver up next.

Wade Barrett and a pair of Dynamo assistants will lead the club in the interim.

Three things we learned from the late USMNT win over Ecuador

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Frickson Erazo #3 of Ecuador battle for control of the ball against Clint Dempsey #8 of the United States in the first half during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Darlington Nagbe was the star against Ecuador, giving the United States the late 1-0 win in Frisco. There wasn’t much to take away from the match, but one attacking setup certainly performed better than the other, and that was the biggest talking point.

[ RECAP – United States earns late win over Ecuador ]

Three things we learned

1 – When the US plays good defense, it has a creativity problem.

This isn’t anything new, as teams who sit back obviously will have less of the ball. But this isn’t exactly that. The US defended quite well through the first 45 minutes, and they held the majority of the possession, but they failed to do much with it. It resulted in…

That. Yuck. It was horrid to watch, and is frustrating given the level of competition being faced compared to the level of competition to come.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings against Ecuador ]

2 – Does the Pulisic-Wood-Nagbe lineup have more to offer?

The United States began with Clint Dempsey isolated up front, supported by Gyasi Zardes and Graham Zusi, with Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones sitting deep. That lineup was utter trash in the attacking half, producing one good chance in the first half which Zardes flubbed. When Klinsmann switched things up soon after halftime, bringing on Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood, Darlington Nagbe, and Alejandro Bedoya, the attack began to show life. It certainly helped that all those substitutes were placed in their natural positions, something not always a given for Klinsmann. This may give the US manager a good look at the more creative setup, and could bode well for the aforementioned players heading into the Copa America. There are obvious downsides to this lineup, such as lack of experience, but it might be worth the risk, especially with those players much more likely to be contributors in 2018 given their age.

3 – Christian Pulisic can actually be a useful piece this summer

On for the final half-hour, the young Borussia Dortmund winger provided positive touches along the left flank. He created a few opportunities for Bobby Wood and Graham Zusi, a promising development to push back against the “he’s not ready” crowd. Pulisic was electric down the left, and was vital in the push the last 20 minutes. It’s just 20 minutes, but it’s a promising small sample size.

Player ratings from the USMNT’s late win over Ecuador

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Brad Guzman #1 of the United States blocks a shot against Ecuador in the first half during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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“Fits and starts” is a good way to describe the United States friendly against Ecuador in Texas on Wednesday, a match that ended 1-0 to the hosts after a controlling second half.

The Yanks took more than 20 minutes to get their act together, and then had a bit of trouble penetrating La Tricolor’s back four.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

The second half, however, was straight-up dominant. The lack of finish was troubling, but Darlington Nagbe took care of that. The Portland Timbers man not only scored, but also piled vindication on supporters who couldn’t wait to see him up high, and Michael Bradley deep.

And Christian Pulisic, well, he’s a swoon-worthy talent.

STARTING XI

Brad Guzan — 8 — Didn’t have a ton to do, but did it very well. A welcome improvement from the Aston Villa keeper.

Fabian Johnson — 6 — Probably deserves a 7, but that missed trap of a Jermaine Jones cross was just so ugly.

Steve Birnbaum — 6 — Very shaky early, but settled into the game.

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Christian Noboa #6 of Ecuador takes a shot against John Brooks #6 of the United States and Brad Guzman #1 of the United States in the first half during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
 (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

John Brooks (off 78′) — 7 — Played very well after a weak opening 10 minutes or so. Still takes chances like the center back version of Jermaine Jones, but those chances came off well on Wednesday.

DeAndre Yedlin — 6 — Hit and miss from the right back, who had a heck of a task in dealing with Jefferson Montero. Still, the defensive improvement is impossible to ignore.

Kyle Beckerman (off HT) — 6 — Might’ve picked up an injury. Hard-nosed as usual, but feels like he’s a single lost step away from not fitting the bill.

Jermaine Jones (off 64′) — 6 — Playing as an attack-minded mid with some defensive responsibilities may be the role he was meant to play, and his early second half was promising before subbing off for Bedoya.

Michael Bradley — 7 — No surprise that he — and the States — thrived once Klinsmann moved the Toronto FC man deeper in the midfield.

Gyasi Zardes (off HT) — 5 — The effort was there, as were the runs. The kid works hard and has a brain for the game, but his first touch betrayed him once again. Should’ve been 1-0.

Graham Zusi (off, 88′)– 7 — You know what you’re getting with Zusi, and the Sporting KC man was one of several players who played an assist-worthy ball in this one. Bedoya tapped his 72nd minute pass just wide of the far post.

Clint Dempsey (off 63′) — 5 —  Will be kicking himself for a poor first touch on an early second half cross from Bobby Wood. Didn’t get much service in the first half, but did play a great ball to Zardes.

Substitutes

Darlington Nagbe (on HT) — 8 — This guy. We all knew he had it in him, even Klinsmann after a long enough wait. He was the best player on the pitch in the second half.

Bobby Wood (on HT) — 6 — Missed a few key chances, but set up Nagbe’s winner.

Christian Pulisic (on 63′) — 7 — Dangerous, lively, and that touch. More of him, please.

Alejandro Bedoya (on 64′) — 6 — Should’ve scored, but didn’t. Also probably should’ve started, so we’ll cut him a bit of slack.

Matt Besler (on 78′) — 6 — Totally fine, but Ecuador rarely tested during his tenure.

Michael Orozco (on 88′) — N/A

United States 1-0 Ecuador: Nagbe grabs late winner in 90-minute snoozefest

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Gyasi Zardes #9 of the United States controls the ball against Angel Mena #14 of Ecuador in the first half during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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The United States snoozed its way through one half and flubbed its way through another, saved by an 89th-minute winner from Darlington Nagbe that gave the home side the admittedly deserved win over an even worse Ecuadorian side.

Ecuador came to Frisco, TX as both sides get ready for the Copa America to come just days away, and they each left with little to take from the scoreless draw until Nagbe broke the ice with a minute to go.

The first big chance of the game came just on the half-hour mark, as a beautiful chipped ball from Clint Dempsey over the Ecuador back line sprung Gyasi Zardes free. Unfortunately, the famous Zardes touch saw the ball get away from him and out of play.

The rest of the half snoozed by, and after the break, the US spurned another great chance just three minutes into the second half. A beautiful ball from Michael Bradley reached the far post where Steve Birnbaum, John Brooks, and Clint Dempsey were all waiting, and somehow none of them made contact, instead toppling over each other as the ball rolled harmlessly to the goalkeeper.

Soon after, the US conceded its best chance yet to Ecuador. A great touch by Miller Bolanos sends Angel Mena into acres of space through on goal, but Michael Bradley sprinted from the mid-line to recover and punch the ball out as Mena cut back.

Jurgen Klinsmann switched up the attack past the hour mark, bringing on Bobby Wood, Darlington Nagbe, and young Christian Pulisic. They created a chance with 20 minutes to go as Graham Zusi delivered a ball across the face of goal. It was out of the reach of Pulisic, but it came to Alejandro Bedoya on the far side, who sent it back across the face, again untouched.

As the US took control through the late stages, they got the winner. DeAndre Yedlin sent in a cross that came off the head of Juan Paredes. Bobby Wood won the rebound, heading it back to Nagbe waiting in the middle, and the 25-year-old chested it down and volleyed it in for his first international goal.

The US takes on Bolivia on Saturday before the Copa America begins June 3.