Jack Wilshere

Premier League Playback: Title tussle intensifies, while Jack Wilshere has the cigars out

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UNPREDICTABILITY PROVING A TREAT

The start to this Premier League season has been the most topsy-turvy, enthralling and nerve-wracking start to a campaign since the league began. So many shock results, intense storylines and drama have already consumed the opening seven weeks of play. With 70 games played, the average goal per game ratio is 2.31. Not bad, but not great. However, a distinct lack of goals in the opening few games hasn’t stopped the intrigue, if anything it’s fueled it.

With so many managerial and philosophical changes over the summer, teams are delicately testing each other out. Dissecting the weaknesses, and finding out as they feel their way through games tentatively. Oh, the pressure. Plenty of the bigger teams are frail, and as we’ve already seen, hugely susceptible to shock defeats.

But here comes the kicker, teams like Chelsea, United and City don’t have the ‘new manager’ veil to hide behind anymore. A few bad results in the opening weeks are expected by some when a club goes through a transitional period but after this international break, there’s no room for error. Think of this PL title race like the Kentucky Derby, the thoroughbreds have gone round the first bend and a few have made slip ups and fallen back in the field. Between now and January it’s time to burrow on mercifully and position yourself perfectly for the final bend. Believe it or not, with 31 games to go, the next five matches can make or break a season. An effortless fall from title contenders to Champions League hopefuls is staring a dozen teams in the face. That, right there, shows you how open this PL season is. Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool are all gearing up to take the crown after an incredible even opening.

There are now runaway leaders this season… so, who you got?

MORRISON AND JANUZAJ – ENGLAND INTERNATIONALS IN THE MAKING… NOT SO FAST

Premier League Schedule – Week 7

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

Following their sparkling performances on Sunday, Ravel Morrison and Adnan Januzaj are pushing their stock high in the opening months of the Premier League season. Morrison celebrated being called up to England’s U-21 squad by getting the ball in his own half against Tottenham and running past three players before beating Hugo Lloris with a cheeky dink, while Januzaj scored two stunners on his full-debut for Manchester United to grab a crucial comeback win against Sunderland. Those two are being touted as potential England stars for the future, both have their complications.

To say Morrison has a checkered past is an understatement, in and out of courtrooms in Manchester during his days in United’s academy, Sir Alex Ferguson finally sold Morrison to West Ham last January after insisting a move away from his hometown, and trouble, was best for his career.  Sam Allardyce told this story after Morrison scored his wonder goal against Spurs on Sunday. “Sir Alex told me ‘I hope you sort him out because you will have a top-class player.'” It seems as though the penny has dropped. As for Januzaj, no attitude or off field problems there, just an incredibly complicated ethnic identity. He was born in Belgium, his parents are from Kosovo (meaning he could also play for Serbia) and Albania, and his grandparents are Turkish. Rumors that England could cap tie him look to be unfounded, but the skinny, young winger is a tremendous talent. Just watch below.

GRINDING OUT A WIN

Manchester City, Manchester United, and to a certain extent Chelsea… you know who you are. And you know what to do when you face a tricky game. United went behind early against Sunderland, City did the same against Everton (watch below), and Chelsea were pegged back in the second half by Norwich. But all three got the job done. Plenty of top teams have dropped points this season, and as we said, the unpredictability of the Premier League really is making it irresistible this term. But the three aforementioned winners will all want mundane, mediocre, 2-1, 1-0 wins vs. the leagues also-rans to become common place between now and May. Whichever club makes that beautiful mediocrity a reality, wins the title. Simple.

TOP PERFORMERS

Coming up big, once again, Artur Boruc made two tremendous saves from Michu and Wilfried Bony in Saints’ 2-0 win over Swansea. England fans will be hoping the big Pole isn’t in that kind of form at Wembley next Tuesday. Daniel Sturridge was sensational for Liverpool in their first half rout of Crystal Palace. He spun Palace’s defense inside out and struck home a beauty, the striker is in the form of his life. We’ve already discussed his heroics, but 18-year-old Januzaj’s two goals seem him a shoe in for team of the week. Elsewhere, Loic Remy struck twice in Newcastle’s 2-1 win at Cardiff, the Frenchman has five already this season and is coolness personified in front of goal. So is Chelsea’s Brazilian star Oscar, who netted the Blues’ opener and looked in control throughout the win vs. Norwich.

MOURINHO PROVES TACTICAL NOUS

Premier League Star Performers

Player Reason
1. Adnan Januzaj (Man Utd) 2 goals, incredible debut
2. Loic Remy (Newcastle) 2 goals, difference maker
3. Dan Sturridge (Liverpool) 1 goal, sublime first half
4. Oscar (Chelsea) 1 goal, cool as a cucumber
5. Artur Boruc (Saints) 2 great saves, 5 shutouts in 7

Speaking of that, once again Jose Mourinho proved that, no matter what everyone else thinks, he knows best. A tricky trip away to Norwich was handled remarkably well, as the Portuguese manager shuffled his squad superbly and used three key substitutions to land Chelsea the win. In the second half the Canaries drew level through Anthony Pilkington, and Chelsea’s comfortable looking afternoon was in danger of unraveling. Mourinho sparked into life, bringing on attackers Willian, Eden Hazard and Samuel Eto’o to force the issue, and it worked, magnificently.

Hazard and Willian both scored late to seal a superb 3-1 win at Carrow Road. Following Mourinho’s half time switch at Tottenham last week to change the game, bringing Juan Mata on for John Obi Mikel, his decisiveness seems to be coming back. The sharp ruthlessness of his tactical changes are mirroring his first, hugely successful, spell in charge at Chelsea. He’d often make changes in the first half or at the interval if things weren’t working out, and now he’s doing it again. After many doubters have already spun webs of discontent towards Chelsea’s boss, Mourinho is finally showing us why he’s the best coach in the game.

WORST REFEREEING PERFORMANCE? THIS ONE’S UP THERE

Sometimes I really don’t get how the English Football Association decides which referee to send to what game. But it was clear right from the start of Fulham vs. Stoke that referee Roger East was out of his depth. Refs have a hard job, I get it. But I’ve never seen so many pivotal decisions given incorrectly, East was frozen to the spot on four key moments in the opening 45 minutes.

First, he missed Patjim Kasami pushing Erik Pieters in the face in front of the benches. Then, Stoke had two “stonewall penalties” turned down, those are not my words, but Potters manager Mark Hughes. And I have to endorse them. I was sitting in the famous wooden Johnny Haynes Stand on Saturday, with home fans taking deep breaths on two occasions in the first half, as Phillipe Senderos scythed down Stephen Ireland in the box, then Fernando Amorebieta clumsily clambered all over Jonathan Walters. Somehow, Stoke were denied penalties on both occasions. Then Fulham’s Bryan Ruiz was hacked down my Marc Wilson as he tried to wriggle away from the Irishman in the box, East again waved away the PK appeals. The ref struggled to keep control of the match throughout, as the tense affair resulted in tough challenges flying in. He dished out five bookings, there should’ve been more.

Marin Jol’s mammoth man hug on the sidelines when Darren Bent scored the winner said it all, the relief was evident because Stoke should’ve won. Afterwards, Jol was man enough to admit his side struggled but the Cottagers needed a win desperately, and they got it, thanks to a lucky deflection and the ineptitude of East.

SAINTS THE REAL DEAL?

Last Thursday I spoke with Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino and captain Adam Lallana in the build up to Sunday’s clash with Swansea. Pochettino said that he wasn’t keen on the Europa League, and that Saints are aiming for the Champions League.

“The work that’s been happening for the last four years, started with the Chairman,” Pochettino said. “His vision for the club and the way he started building the future of the club, the ideas, the philosophy. The basic idea is to take the club to the top of the league and Europe. That’s our ambition.”

That’s a bold statement for a club that was struggling in League One two years ago. But the South Coast club sit fourth in the PL after seven games — following their 2-0 win over Swansea thanks to Lallana and Rodriguez — conceding just twice and winning three in a row. Granted, their schedule hasn’t been too tough so far, but a trip to Manchester United after the international break will be a true reflection of how they’ll get on this season. Pochettino was nominated for manager of the month, and Polish ‘keeper Artur Boruc for player of the month with five clean sheets from seven. Both believe Southampton can effortlessly climb into the upper echelons. Most Saints fans will be hoping to hit the magic 40-point mark ASAP, then anything else is a bonus.

SMOKING HOT… JACK WILSHERE SCORES EQUALIZER, APOLOGIZES FOR HAVING A CIG

Against West Brom, Arsenal were against the ropes and needed someone to come up with the goods. Cue Mr. Marlboro himself, Jack Wilshere, to coolly slot home a wonderfully flowing move to snatch the Gunners a point. All afternoon Arsenal’s fans had sung, “He smokes when he wants, he smokes when he wants,” following Wilshere’s poor judgement and getting snapped by the British paparazzi smoking outside a London club in midweek. Wilshere said sorry afterwards and insisted he doesn’t smoke. If he keeps scoring goals like the one below, and playing the way he is, I’m not sure Arsenal’s fan will care if he’s on 20 a day.

Man City 2-2 Tottenham Hotspur: Controversy, and how!

Manchester City's Raheem Sterling, runs past Tottenham Hotspur's goalkeeper Hugo Lloris who holds the ball after being pushed by Tottenham Hotspur's Danny Rose, right, during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at the Etihad stadium in Manchester, England, Saturday, Jan., 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)
AP Photo/Dave Thompson
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  • Sane scores second PL goal
  • Lloris has miserable 4 minutes
  • Sides split season series

Referee Andre Marriner is the first name in a match recap, which is rarely a good sign.

The official failed to give a clear penalty to Raheem Sterling moments before Spurs grabbed an equalizer at the other end, as Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City drew 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

Leroy Sane and Kevin De Bruyne scored for Man City, while Dele Alli and Heung-Min Son netted for Spurs.

The draw helps Chelsea more than either side, with City staying fifth on 43 points while Spurs are second with 46.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Aside from goals, the first half did not disappoint. The home side was buzzing, and forced Spurs into timely interventions. Tottenham was its usual disciplined self.

Man City had a lot of terrific chances, none better than one robbed by Spurs’ backstop Hugo Lloris. Aguero was nearing the doorstep when Lloris flew to his right to capture the ball with both hands.

Scoreless at halftime, and if you felt someone was missing from the proceedings…

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino deciding to put his foot forward in the second half, taking off Kevin Wimmer for Heung-Min Son.

It was a rare mistake from Lloris that broke the deadlock. The Spurs ‘keep opted for a flying headed clearance of a long ball, reaching it before Sane but heading it off the striker and toward a gaping goal. 1-0, 49’.

It was four minutes later that City scored again, with Lloris going to ground to bobble a Raheem Sterling cross. De Bruyne followed up the play and pushed it in. Wow, 2-0.

Alli continues to prove a threat in the air, rising high to pull one back when Kyle Walker sent a cross over the City back line.

Somehow, Andre Marriner did not award a penalty when Walker shoved Sterling just before the Man City man took his 1v1 shot on Lloris. Marriner allowed the play to go to the other end, and Alli helped Son to an equalizer inside the far post.

Gabriel Jesus subbed into the match for City in the 82nd minute, and nearly had an assist and then headed goal in the first 60 seconds of his Premier League career.

He appeared to have scored a minute later, but was offside. A bit premature from the youngster, who electrified the crowd.

VIDEO: After reaching 250, a look at Rooney’s top Man United goals

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Wayne Rooney has scored some stunning goals for Manchester United over the past 12 years.

[ MORE: World reacts to record ]

Rooney, 31, hit the 250 mark on Saturday at Stoke City to become United’s all-time leading goal scorer and his curling free kick set the record in style.

In the video above we look back on some of the best goals Rooney has scored in a United shirt over the years.

[ MORE: Emotional Rooney reacts

From his bicycle kick against Manchester City in the derby to his shot from the halfway line against West Ham and his volley against Newcastle, he has scored goals of every tye on his way to breaking Sir Bobby Charlton’s record.

Which is your favorite Rooney goal?

Mourinho praises Rooney, bemoans Man United’s finishing

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Jose Mourinho kept it simple when summing up Wayne Rooney‘s record-breaking day for Manchester United on Saturday.

[ MORE: World reacts to record ]

Rooney, 31, scored his 250th goal for United to set the all-time goal scoring and move ahead of Sir Bobby Charlton.

Speaking to the media after the draw at Stoke City, Mourinho spoke about Rooney’s incredible achievement.

“The record is the record. It is the record of the biggest club in England and one of the biggest in the world,” Mourinho said. “Before him the record belonged to a legend of English football. Now Wayne becomes a legend of Manchester United.”

Well said, Jose.

[ MORE: Emotional Rooney reacts ]

As for the draw, which Rooney’s goal secured, United’s manager saluted Stoke’s defensive effort but is concerned his team keep dropping points when they should be winning.

“It was a big game with two teams in the beginning trying to win. But after 25 minutes one team tried to win and the other tried to defend, which they did amazingly well. They showed great work-rate and did everything to try and stop us. We did everything well expect in front of our target. We missed unbelievable chances. We hit the post, the keeper saves, we miss chances and we have another draw. We have too many draws for the attacking play we produce. Opposition goalkeeper are always amazing against us.”

United is now 17 games unbeaten in all competitions and they continue to keep scoring late to grab wins or draws.

That said, they could fall 14 points behind leaders Chelsea if they beat Hull City on Sunday. That would mean United’s already very slim title hopes are all but over. An aura of invincibility is returning, though, and United remain within three points of the top four.

Not all doom and gloom but if United fail to finish in the top four this season it will be down to their poor finishing.

Clement buoyed by upset: “We frustrated Liverpool”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21:  Paul Clement, Manager of Swansea City looks on during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Swansea City at Anfield on January 21, 2017 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images
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Swansea City boss Paul Clement’s plans for keeping his club safe in the Premier League probably didn’t have “Win at Liverpool” high in likelihood.

But Swans did just that, rising above their still-poor defense to outscore the Reds 3-2 at Anfield on Saturday.

[ MORE: Recap | Klopp furious with Reds ]

New signings Martin Olsson and Tom Carroll hit the pitch, but it was Fernando Llorente’s brace and Gylfi Sigurdsson‘s late winner that did the trick to boost Swans out of the drop zone.

From the BBC:

“We frustrated Liverpool and defended really well. We showed great togetherness and it was a massive team effort. At half-time I told the players we would get at least one chance, but to get three was unbelievable.

“It’s very important for the confidence of the side that we can come to a big team and get a result. We need to work hard on the training pitch and make sure we get another result in 10 days’ time.”

Swans have kept just three clean sheets this season, and Clement seems to be joining Bob Bradley in the realization that, for now, winning will have to include multiple goals. Let’s see if Swans can build off this.