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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?

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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

TOMBOY documentary series on gender in sports

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This month a documentary series focusing on gender and its role in sports will be aired on NBCSN and across all  NBC Sports Regional Networks.

TOMBOY  is a multi-platform documentary project which aims to elevate the conversation about gender in sports told through the voices of many of the world’s most prominent female athletes, broadcasters and sports executives. The first-of-its-kind integrated initiative culminates with a special one-hour documentary, also titled TOMBOY, which will air across all NBC Sports Regional Networks, nationally distributed NBCSN, and select NBC Owned Television Stations in March.

Former U.S. women’s national team defender Danielle Slaton has spoken about her experiences with gender in sport and how she got her start in the game by playing on an all-boys team.

Click play on the video above to hear Slaton’s story, while here you can find out how you can watch all of the TOMBOY content coming up this month.

Don Garber on MLS expansion; promotion/relegation

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 08:  Commissioner of Major League Soccer Don Garber speaks onstage at the Visionaries & Voices of NYC: NYC & Company Foundation travel and tourism awards on December 8, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for NYC & Company)
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Don Garber is gearing up for his 18th season as Major League Soccer Commissioner.

[ MORE: MLS 2017 season previews

It promises to be the busiest yet with a record 22 teams in MLS and plenty of questions surrounding future expansion franchises elsewhere.

Ahead of the 2017 MLS season, the commissioner spoke to Sky Sports in the UK about where the next teams could be and he believes things would become a lot clearer in the next few months after 12 cities across the U.S. recently submitted formal bids for an MLS expansion franchise.

“We’ve just announced we are going to announce four new teams to go from 24 to 28 which would be the largest professional division one league in the world, 12 cities from across the United States have submitted bids and great cities where we don’t have teams; San Diego, St. Louis, Sacramento and Nashville. These are really big cities with millions and millions of people and people don’t have a division one pro team to call their own with their own stadium, so we will be a 28 team league and I think that is it for us. We have to set into the right format, build more value  and more popularity in our markest and get those stadiums up and operating. That is going to take many, many years to fulfill manage and roll out effectively.”

[ MORE: MLS 2017 schedule

The leader of MLS was then pushed on the timeline of the four new franchises joining MLS, reiterating his target for North America’s top-flight expanding to 28 teams by 2022 and then that will be that.

“By the end of the 2017 calendar year we will select teams 25 and 26, the final two will come in sometime thereafter and we haven’t really selected that date,” Garber said. “Teams 25 and 26, we hope to have coming into MLS in 2020. Then 27 and 28 probably in 2022 to match a World Cup year but this is work in progress. We are just evaluating those applications and it is very simple. We need a great owner in that market who really believes in their team, very solid and very committed to the game in our country. Then it’s the city itself, does it support the game? 20 years ago there were very few cities like that and today I think there isn’t a market anywhere in the United States which couldn’t effectively support an MLS team.”

He then stressed the notion of having a new stadium plan is the other key factor for these potential expansion franchises, as he cited the new downtown home of Orlando City SC and D.C. United breaking ground on a new stadium this week.

Garber also made his feelings very clear on the potential of promotion and relegation in MLS when asked why the league seems to be so equal with eight different champions in the past 10 seasons.

“It’s almost ironic to hear you talk about the excitement because the hardcore fan here who primarily follows the European leagues, they think that this idea of promotion and relegation is the only way to have a fair and effective competition. It just doesn’t work. It doesn’t resonate with us,” Garber said. “The NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB don’t have promotion and relegation and it works just fine there. Playoffs are great, every team is working hard throughout the year. You don’t get the Leicester story, and that is one we all in the soccer business have been following with great attention.

“But the fact that every team has same resources, salary caps, we have rules on how players are acquired and how they are moved within the league and moved abroad. We have strict rules on investment which is necessary on the youth and academy levels. All of that gives each chef the same ingredients and the best chef wins, as opposed to the one who spends the most money or panicking because they’re not where they need to be halfway through the season and their fans are providing them with pressure which is unmanageable in an economically viable way. Those are the systems and we believe in it. I’m an ex-NFL guy and that league is very strong here and in the UK and around the world. We think our system is right for us.”

Premier League player Power Rankings – Week 26

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United (C) celebrates with Eric Bailly (L) and Paul Pogba (R) as he scores their first goal during the EFL Cup Final match between Manchester United and Southampton at Wembley Stadium on February 26, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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The Premier League action continues to come thick and fast, with plenty of European and cup action thrown in the mix.

[ MORE: Power Rankings archive

With that in mind, there are plenty of players who delivered cup heroics high in our rankings this week.

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League.

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections of the top 20 players in the PL right now.


  1. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Man United) – Up 4
  2. Harry Kane (Tottenham) – Even
  3. N’Golo Kante (Chelsea) – Even
  4. Manolo Gabbiadini (Southampton) – Up 5
  5. Jamie Vardy (Leicester City) – New entry
  6. Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal) – Down 6
  7. Dele Alli (Tottenham) – New entry
  8. Diego Costa (Chelsea) – Up 3
  9. Raheem Sterling (Man City) – Down 3
  10. Paul Pogba (Man United) – Down 3
  11. Sergio Aguero (Man City) – Down 3
  12. Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea) – New entry
  13. Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea) – Down 1
  14. Eden Hazard (Chelsea) – Up 5
  15. Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Man United) – Down 2
  16. David Luiz (Chelsea) – Down 7
  17. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – Down 2
  18. Ben Foster (West Brom) – New entry
  19. Leroy Sane (Man City) – Down 2
  20. David Silva (Man City) – Down 2

Chelsea’s Victor Moses signs new contract

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22:  Diego Costa (C) of Chelsea celebrates scoring the opening goal with his team mates Victor Moses (L) and Marcos Alonso (R) during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Hull City at Stamford Bridge on January 22, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Victor Moses has been rewarded for a stunning season as Chelsea’s flying right wing-back.

[ MORE: PL schedule changes announced ] 

The Nigerian international has signed a new contract at Chelsea, extending his stay at Stamford Bridge until 2021.

Moses, 26, has become an integral part of Antonio Conte‘s team this season as he’s moved from an attacking winger to a right wing-back with consummate ease.

The former Crystal Palace and Wigan winger who joined Chelsea in 2012 had spent each of the last two seasons out on loan while (spending spells at Liverpool, Stoke City and West Ham) but is now a regular for Conte and couldn’t hide his delight at signing a new deal.

“I feel very excited. I’m delighted to be here for another few years now and to sign a new deal,” Moses said. “Now it’s time to concentrate on the team and keep working hard to make sure we win games and try to win the Premier League this season. We’re having a great season, I’m enjoying my football and we have a good manager here that has given every single one of us confidence. I just want to keep on enjoying it and working hard for the team.”

Moses has played in every single PL game since Oct. 1 when Conte switched to the 3-4-3 formation. Since then, Chelsea has won 17 of their 20 matches and lost just once as they sit 10 points clear at the top of the table with 12 games to go.

Conte has previously remarked how surprised he was that Moses had been on the outside looking in at Chelsea but now he’s been handed a chance the pacey and powerful wide-man has put in consistent displays and provides great protection and balance for Chelsea’s many attacking talents.

Moses has also used his attacking talents in a composed manner, popping up with four goals so far this season and his surging runs into the box from wide areas have added an extra dimension to Chelsea’s play.

In short: this new deal is hugely deserved.