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Premier League Breakdown with Kyle Martino: Jack Wilshere must step up

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Ever find yourself thinking, I need more Robbie Mustoe, Robbie Earle and Kyle Martino in my life?

Me too. Whether it’s tactics, results or analysis, few men in football have a better beat on the pulse of the Premier League than these guys.

In the feature series “Premier League Breakdown,” I chat with one of the NBC Sports’ Premier League analysts each week to dig deep into the most entertaining and competitive league in world football.

This week I sat down with former U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder, Kyle Martino, to talk about Wilshere’s need to step up his game, Fulham’s anemic attack and Sturridge’s impressive form.

Let’s get stuck in.

Q: While Santi Cazorla has been out injured Jack Wilshere has filled in at left wing, with Mathieu Flamini playing Wilshere’s favored holding role. Does Wilshere have a battle on his hands once Cazorla returns?

A: I certainly think so, yes. I’ve been really impressed with Flamini coming into the Arsenal midfield and making an immediate impact. He gives the Gunners that bite in the center of the park that they’ve been missing over the last few seasons, so I’m sure Wenger is glad to have him back.

For years now Wilshere has been the heart and soul of the Arsenal midfield, and it’s obvious that Wenger loves him, but for me he needs to prove that he can make it more than two or three matches without needing a break. If he’s going to be their midfield talisman he needs to be in that holding role, digging in every match.

We know he’s struggled with injuries in the past and that he’s still making his way back to full fitness. But until he does, I think there’s definitely argument that can be made in favor of Flamini, who has been so impressive since his return to North London.

Q: Everton has been a bit of a bogey club for Manchester City over the years, explain how a squad like the Toffees could give City problems this weekend.

A: Well, the Everton of old used to give clubs like Manchester City problems because they would sit in and absorb pressure from the back while looking to nick goals on the counter. In games like that City would press high up the pitch and eventually pile too many midfielders into the box where Everton would catch them.

But I don’t think that’s going to happen now that Martinez is at the helm. This is a different Everton team and they’re going to try and match the play of teams like City. They’re going to try and play soccer and take it right to them.

Do I think they’ll beat City? Probably not. But if they do it will be by Martinez’ style of play and not sitting back and being conservative.

Q: Six games in and Fulham have scored a league worst four goals, with Dimitar Berbatov yet to open his account. What’s wrong with Fulham’s attack?

source: Getty Images
Martino believes Berbatov remains the best pure finisher in the Premier League.

A: For my money, Berbatov is still the best pure finisher in the Barclays Premier League. The problem is he doesn’t get the ball in the box enough. Fulham are relying on Adel Taraabt to provide Berba with service and it’s just not working.

Jol has also brought in Bent, which has allowed Berbatov to drop deeper on the pitch to pick balls up but the lack of a midfield anchor prevents those two from getting into positions to score.

From a defensive standpoint, the players Jol is using presents problems as well. Berbatov is never going to defend, Bent does little defending himself, while Taraabt and Ruiz hate doing the dirty work. So that means that anytime Fulham lose possession they’re essentially playing down 3-4 men, which is killing them.

As for the midfield anchor, they’ve brought in Scottie Parker, who we have yet to see make the role his own.

I thought Jol should’ve been looking for a guy like Gareth Barry but Parker should be able to do the job and if he can, it should release the attack.

Q: Villa did well to capitalize on their opportunities last weekend but realistically, how long can they produce without Christian Benteke and Gabby Agbonlahor?

A: Not long. Without Benteke and Agbonlahor, Villa are in trouble. Lambert has his side playing good soccer but it’s a style that critically depends on the counter-attack and clinical finishing.

Agbonlahor is the key to their counter and you can’t say enough about Benteke’s finishing. Villa need those two back as soon as possible.

Q: Crystal Palace lack talent but they’re still capable of playing some impressive football. Does this team have any shot at beating Liverpool on Saturday?

A: No, not with the way Suarez and Sturridge are playing. We saw Liverpool last weekend were just too strong up top with Suarez and Sturridge. Those two played 10 matches together last season and looked decent but now they look incredible.

It’s interesting to note that Suarez is returning to Liverpool from suspension and not from injury. When a player returns from injury it means he hasn’t been training with the squad and needs to gradually incorporate himself back into the side. When that happens, partnerships suffer. But with suspensions, a player keeps training with his team and it’s obvious that Suarez and Sturridge have really been working on things during his ban.

They seem to be in perfect synch and have arguably formed the tight-bonded partnership that Manchester United fans would have hoped to have seen between Van Persie and Rooney. But it hasn’t happened yet.

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Dyer’s creativity and speed could punish an over-zealous Southampton press.

Q: There’s an interesting tactics battle this weekend at Southampton with the Saints’ high pressure style taking on Swansea’s Welsh version of tiki-taka. How’s this one going to shake out?

A: Well anytime you’ve got a squad that likes to high-pressure it’s fun to watch because they’re always trying to force errors. Pochettino has installed this system at Southampton and it’s definitely working. The key component in a high-pressure system is not only a fast attack but quick, unrelenting defense once the ball is lost. You’ll notice this with Barcelona – as soon as they lose the ball they go into overdrive to get it back.

The problem with the high-pressure approach is that if you don’t defend well, you get punished. And this is what I worry about with Southampton. Is their defense strong enough to avoid conceding if they lose possession and have too many men forward?

Swansea are a clever team and they’ve got the ability to pick Southampton apart if they get over-eager. It’s definitely going to be an interesting tactics battle but I think one that Swansea – with clever, speedy players like Routledge and Dyer – should be able to win if they play their cards right.

Q: Daniel Sturridge seems to have undergone a big change since his days at Manchester City and Chelsea. He’s always had talent but now he has this unselfish look to his game where he seems happy to play the role of provider, in addition to finisher. Where does that come from?

A: It’s all about Rodgers. We saw Sturridge’s reaction when he scored the goal against Stoke City and he ran to the sideline to hug his manager. That spoke volumes. I think that Rodgers brought Sturridge in last January, gave him a chance and that Sturridge has really bought in to Rodgers’ system.

Somehow Rodgers got through to Sturridge that he would be a better, more effective striker if he just took that additional look to get his teammates involved. He has and it’s paid off. Sturridge is a much more mature player now than when he was at City and Chelsea.

Q: Manchester United (12th) and Sunderland (20th) meet this weekend at the Stadium of Light. Which side is the bigger underachiever this season?

A: United. I understand that the transition out of the Ferguson era is difficult but the fact is that United knew it needed to strengthen its squad this summer and failed to do so. Moyes even came out this past week and said that to compete in the Champions League a club needs five or six world class players. United currently has two, maybe three. So knowing that, why didn’t he push harder to land a big summer signing? In the end he brought in Fellaini, who right now doesn’t look like the answer to their midfield problems.

They will need to buy big in the January transfer window and it will come at a premium. Every club knows United will be desperate to land top players so they’ll have to pay full price and then some. Gone are the days when players want to go to Manchester United simply because it’s Manchester United. Now players will be looking at it as a club with history but one that may very well not be playing in the Champions League next year. So it will be tough to convince the best players to come. They’re going to have pay big to do so.

QUICK-KICKS

Q: Who’s the more in form player – Ramsey or Y. Toure?

A: Ramsey

Q: Which manager is more likely to be fired –  Jol or Pardew?

A: Pardew

Q: Better first Premier League goal – Osvaldo or Gnabry?

A: Gnabry

Q: Club more likely to drop points at home this weekend – Tottenham or Manchester City?

A: City

Q: More influential to his team –  Lambert (to Southampton) or Nolan (to West Ham)?

A: Lambert

Q: Better winning moment against City – Campbell’s goals in Cardiff or Weimann’s nick past Hart? 

A: Campbell’s goals

Q: More impressive start to his first season in the Premier League – Eriksen or Ozil?

A: Eriksen

Q: Manager who deserves more credit for his club’s performance this season – Hughes or Wenger?

A: Wenger

Khedira earns Juventus three points as Napoli defeats AC Milan

ROME, ITALY - AUGUST 27:  Sami Khedira #6 with his teammates of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the Serie A match between SS Lazio and Juventus FC at Stadio Olimpico on August 27, 2016 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
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Sami Khedira hasn’t found the field much since moving to Juventus two summers ago, but when he does, he has a striker’s eye.

The German bagged his eighth goal for Juventus in just his 28th appearance as the Italian giants went on the road and defeated Lazio 1-0.

A poor clear attempt by Lucas Biglia saw Paulo Dybala’s lofted ball over the top fall to Khedira, and he skittered the ball across the face of goal into the far corner. The win is the second of the year for Juventus after they took down Fiorentina in their opening match.

There was a goal-fest at Stadio San Paolo as Napoli defeated AC Milan 4-2 braces from Arkadiusz Milik and Jose Callejon. Milik’s came in the first-half, with the opener in 18th minute, a lucky bounce as Dries Mertens’ shot clattered off the post and fell in Milik’s lap. He doubled Napoli’s lead in the 33rd minute with a beautiful header into the far corner, out-jumping Juraj Kucka.

The second half saw a flurry of action. A pair of goals four minutes apart saw Milan tie things up as M’baye Niang and Suso brought them level. Then, the yellow cards came flying. As a result, Kucka and Niang were both sent off for second cautions. Jose Callejon took advantage, bagging his first in the 74th and doubling his tally in stoppage time in a ridiculous bit of play that saw Alessio Romagnoli try to swat Mertens’ cross away from the goal line…yes, as in with his hands.

It’s a wonder Romagnoli wasn’t sent off for his actions. Napoli

Following USWNT suspension, Hope Solo takes leave of absence from club

TUKWILA, WA - AUGUST 31: Hope Solo #1 of Seattle Reign FC warms up before the National Women's Soccer League Championship on August 31, 2014 at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila, Washington.  (Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images)
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Hope Solo’s USWNT suspension did not predicate she take time off from her club team the Seattle Reign, but that is exactly what she will be doing.

The 35-year-old goalkeeper will be taking a leave of absence from playing all forms of soccer, the Reign announced. They did not say how long she will be gone.

The club signed 21-year-old Andi Tostanoski as a replacement for Solo on the roster – Tostanoski’s third one-game replacement contract with the Reign. 26-year-old Haley Kopmeyer was given the start in today’s match against the Portland Thorns.

Many believe Solo’s international career could be over after U.S. Soccer reportedly terminated her contract. Despite that, club soccer was still immediately available to her. Even though U.S. Soccer pays her club salary as part of her USWNT deal, that portion of her contract was not terminated, according to reports.

Solo was suspended from international play for six months just two days ago mainly for comments she made following the USWNT loss to Sweden in the Olympic quarterfinals. However, it was clear from statements on both sides that an accumulation of actions, both in the public and private eye, had contributed to her eventual punishment.

Despite her controversial actions and personality, Solo has unquestionably remained the best goalkeeper in women’s international soccer, and has been that was for a number of years. She holds the world records in international appearances, wins, and shutouts for goalkeepers in women’s soccer.

Arsene Wenger confirms deals for Mustafi and Perez are complete

GETAFE, SPAIN - APRIL 24:  Shkodran Mustafi of Valencia applauds fans after Valencia drew 2-2 with Getafe CF during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Valencia CF at Coliseum Alfonso Perez on April 24, 2016 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Arsenal has completed a pair of big-money deals with the transfer windows closing down,.

Manager Arsene Wenger confirmed that the club has finished the transfers of Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez, two players they have long been linked with. He also confirmed the club was unlikely to sign any other players, unless new opportunities cropped up before the window shuts on Wednesday.

“We have bought two players, Mustafi and Perez. We had to work very hard to get signings done,” Wenger said. “We have no plans for anyone else now.”

Mustafi fills the most pressing need, helping patch up a back line ravaged by injuries. He is set to sign a five-year deal, according to the BBC and other reports. The fee is a reported $46 million.

Perez, a 27-year-old Spaniard, also fills a heavy need up front. With just Olivier Giroud and Chuba Akpom as the only healthy strikers available to the Gunners, Perez will help fill a gap. Perez was purchased for a reported $22 million, triggering the player’s release clause.

It’s unclear how soon the players will be available to play for Arsenal. The club next takes on Southampton after the international break.

Dortmund, Wolfsburg, Gladbach all win in Bundesliga openers

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 14:  Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Borussia Dortmund is challenged by Alberto Moreno of Liverpool during the UEFA Europa League quarter final, second leg match between Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund at Anfield on April 14, 2016 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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The Bundesliga officially opened Friday with Bayern Munich’s 6-0 demolition of Werder Bremen, but the rest of the league got under way Saturday, and it was business as usual.

Borussia Dortmund cruised with a 2-1 win over FC Mainz at Westfalenstadion behind a brace from main man Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The first came early in the 17th minute, a headed goal at the far post on the end of a beautiful ball from Andre Schurrle. The second on a penalty in the 89th minute after Schurrle was fouled by Karim Onisiwo. Aubameyang started last season with 13 goals in the team’s first 10 games, and he’s begun this year’s campaign on the same foot.

Wolfsburg worked its way to a 2-0 win on the road at Augsburg with a pair of impressive goals. Daniel Didavi bagged the first, while the second was a late free-kick from Ricardo Rodriguez to double the lead.

Borussia Monchengladbach won a thriller at Borussia-Park 2-1 thanks to an 85th minute winner from Lars Stindl. The 28-year-old stayed just onside and beat Tin Jedvaj to the ball, slotting it in five minutes from time for all three points. Goals from Andre Hahn and substitute Joel Pohjanpalo had cancelled each other out. Fabian Johnson entered the game in the 61st minute.

Elsewhere, Timmy Chandler and Eintracht Frankfurt held serve at home with a 1-0 win over Schalke. Alex Maier scored the only goal in the 13th minute, and while he had a later penalty saved, The Eagles held their opponents scoreless the rest of the way. Chandler came on as a 56th minute substitute and helped keep the clean sheet.

Ingolstadt pulled out a 1-1 draw on the road at Hamburg thanks to a 76th minute equalizer from Lukas Hinterseer, cancelling out Bobby Wood’s goal on his Bundesliga debut.

Marcel Reese and Anthony Modeste gave Cologne a 2-0 home win over Darmstadt.