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.

The Mendy Effect: Pep praises injured back

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Full back Benjamin Mendy cost Pep Guardiola and Manchester City $68 million, but perhaps he’ll be just as valuable as a very expensive sports psychologist.

The “Shark Team” member was amusing on social media even before his ACL injury sent him to the sidelines until at least April, but he’s become a must-follow Twitter fixture with his in-game messages (See some of his work below).

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

City faces Burnley at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

It’s fairly clear his act has translated in private, too, as apparently Mendy is just as good in group messages (Let us in, Pep. We won’t tell anyone). From ManCity.com:

“Usually, players who are out for a long time with injury are sad. They sometimes train apart and feel isolated.

“Mendy decided to be present. He is communicating on social media, WhatsApp and he calls his teammates and messages me. He is going to be so important outside the pitch because people like him make the atmosphere much better.”

It’s not surprising for anyone who’s been following the former Le Havre, Marseille and Monaco man.

Keep in mind, these Tweets below are from the last few days alone!

Ozil to Manchester United?!? Wenger reacts to gossip

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Sometimes, even the biggest Arsene Wenger detractors have to feel for the guy.

Coming off a thrilling late win in Serbia, one that saw Olivier Giroud cap off a team goal straight out of the creative Wenger playbook, the manager should’ve been discussing how to stretch those good vibes into this weekend’s visit to Goodison Park.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

Yet no. Instead of talking about how the Gunners would respect the struggling Toffees, Wenger had to address speculation from several outlets claiming Mesut Ozil would move to Manchester United, perhaps as soon as January.

Feeling it? No, no Wenger was not feeling it. From Arsenal.com:

“We have to deal with all kinds of speculation when the players are at the end of their contracts. On the other hand, to be professional is to give 100 per cent as long as you are somewhere. For the rest, we came out many times and said that’s the situation. It [the media] can come out tomorrow and say that he extends his contract here. It will be exactly the same, it will not change anything. When you play the next game, commit 100 per cent. … When a player plays for Arsenal Football Club, his commitment cannot be linked with the length of his contract, it has just to be linked with the responsibility and the ambition he has to win the football game.”
Of course most big clubs have to deal with such drama on a year-to-year basis and, yes, having Ozil and Alexis Sanchez still in town was completely avoidable. But the idea that Ozil could leave, for free, to Manchester United? We’re sure Gooners the world over will be thrilled with the gossip.

MLS Decision Day preview: Much at stake

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP
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Four teams can claim a Western Conference second round berth, while four more can earn a valuable first-round bye in the East.

Yep, there’s plenty to play for beyond the West’s final playoff spot Sunday during Major League Soccer’s Decision Day, when every team will take the pitch for 4 p.m. ET kickoffs.

[ MORE: Conte feels pressure ]

Here’s what we do know regarding the playoffs:

  1. Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto FC gets a first round bye, while No. 6 seed New York Red Bulls are headed to the road for a first round playoff
  2. New England, Montreal, Philadelphia, Orlando, DC, Minnesota, Colorado, and LA will not make the playoffs
  3. Full stop.

So, yes, this will be fun.

First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference Standings ahead of Sunday’s extravaganza:

Eastern Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Toronto FC 33 20 8 5 72 35 37 13-3-1 7-5-4 68
x – New York City FC 33 16 8 9 54 41 13 10-4-2 6-4-7 56
x – Chicago 33 16 7 10 61 44 17 12-3-2 4-4-8 55
x – Atlanta 33 15 9 9 68 38 30 11-2-3 4-7-6 54
x – Columbus 33 16 5 12 51 47 4 12-2-3 4-3-9 53
x – New York 33 13 8 12 51 46 5 9-6-2 4-2-10 47

— New York City FC controls its bye destiny, though Columbus could join them on 56 points and would pass them on tiebreakers (wins).

— If that happens, Chicago could claim the second bye with a win or draw in Houston (The Fire owns the goal differential tiebreaker).

— If New York City and Chicago lose or draw, Atlanta could finish second with a home win over TFC.

— Columbus can finish second with a win and non-wins for Chicago and Atlanta.

Western Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – Vancouver 33 15 7 11 49 47 2 9-5-3 6-2-8 52
x – Portland 33 14 8 11 58 49 9 10-4-2 4-4-9 50
x – Seattle 33 13 11 9 49 39 10 10-5-1 3-6-8 50
x – Sporting KC 33 12 13 8 39 27 12 10-6-1 2-7-7 49
x – Houston 33 12 11 10 54 45 9 11-4-1 1-7-9 47
San Jose 33 12 7 14 36 58 -22 9-5-2 3-2-12 43
FC Dallas 33 10 13 10 43 47 -4 7-7-2 3-6-8 43
Real Salt Lake 33 12 6 15 47 54 -7 8-4-4 4-2-11 42

Byes

— Vancouver finishes first with a win or draw at Portland. The ‘Caps could finish as low as third with a loss to Portland and a Seattle win versus Colorado.

— Portland finishes first — and wins the Cascadia Cup — with a win over visiting Vancouver.

— Seattle can claim a first round bye with a win over visiting Colorado and a Vancouver win over Portland.

— Sporting KC can finish second with a win at Real Salt Lake and non-wins for Portland and Seattle.

Final playoff spot

— San Jose claims the sixth seed with a home win over Minnesota. They can also finish sixth with a draw joined by non-wins for FC Dallas at home to LA and Real Salt Lake at home versus SKC.

— FC Dallas claims the sixth seed with a win over LA and a San Jose draw or loss versus Minnesota. FCD gets sixth with a draw, and a San Jose loss coupled with a RSL loss or draw versus SKC.

—  Real Salt Lake gets sixth with a win over SKC, and non-wins from San Jose and Dallas. RSL could also get sixth with a draw and losses for San Jose and Dallas.

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Schedule
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
DC United vs. New York Red Bulls
San Jose vs. Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston vs. Chicago
Seattle vs. Colorado
Philadelphia vs. Orlando City
Portland vs. Vancouver
Montreal vs. New England
New York City vs. Columbus
Atlanta vs. Toronto

Predictions

— NYCFC hangs on for a draw against Columbus, earning a bye, leaving Chicago to host New York Red Bulls and Atlanta off to Columbus for the first round of the playoffs (We have Toronto beating Atlanta on Sunday).

— Vancouver and Portland draw, while Seattle beats Colorado. The ‘Caps and Sounders get byes, while Seattle takes back the Cascadia Cup.

— San Jose beats Minnesota, gaining the West’s sixth seed. The Quakes head to Portland for the first round, while SKC hosts Houston.

Conte feels pressure, but “most important thing is to work”

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Chelsea has sputtered a bit in its bid to repeat as Premier League champions, though this isn’t quite “stop me if you’ve heard this one before.”

The Blues sit fifth in the Premier League table with 13 points, nine behind leaders Manchester City, and tossed away a 2-0 lead before rallying to draw Roma at midweek.

The Blues host fourth-placed Watford to kick off Saturday’s Premier League action at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

[ MORE: West Ham 0-3 Brighton ]

And while fans are frustrated with the plan, Chelsea was in 15th at the end of October during Jose Mourinho’s ill-fated follow-up to the 2014-15 Premier League title.

Still, manager Antonio Conte feels their pain, although he’s satisfied with the effort. From Chelsea’s official site:

“Do I feel the pressure? Every manager feels pressure, but I try to give all of myself into my job, so I’m happy when I go home because I know in every moment I give all of myself for the fans, the players and the club. In football you know anything can happen, but the most important thing is to work.”

Chelsea may not look as good as Man City or Manchester United, but is still well-positioned to finish amongst the leaders and is leading a very difficult UCL group with Roma and Atletico Madrid. Things are fine, but the gossip storm just won’t leave Conte and his future at Chelsea alone (Thanks, Italian press).