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.

Lewandowski’s agent confirms talks with Bayern over new contract

SHANGHAI, CHINA - JULY 21:  Robert Lewandowski of FC Bayern Muenchen in action during the international friendly match between FC Bayern Muenchen and Inter Milan of the Audi Football Summit 2015 at Shanghai Stadium on July 21, 2015 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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Robert Lewandowski’s stellar season has seen the striker linked with all the top clubs in Europe, but he could be staying put at Bayern Munich.

The Bundesliga’s second-leading goalscorer has been tipped for big-money moves to Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain this year, but his agent Cezary Kucharski said “there is no need to change anything.”

[ MORE: Barca unbeaten in 28 ]

Speaking to Polish news outlet Polsat Sport, Kucharski said that he has started talking with Bayern about a contract extension and denied speaking with other clubs.

Yes, we’ve started talking [to Bayern]. I can confirm this.

I won’t talk about specifics, because it’s confidential. Real have not conducted talks over a transfer. It’s just speculation. Rumours around Robert show what a player he is. He’s known not only in Poland or Germany, but throughout Europe.

There are no talks with PSG. The English write about English clubs, the French about PSG, the Spaniards Real Madrid, and Juventus in Italy. In each country a great club is linked with Robert.

But Lewandowski is at a team that suits him, and there is no need to change anything. I know [Bayern chairman] Rummenigge is aware that Lewy is a great player, who has great value for Bayern, and how such a boy should be rewarded.

Lewandowski has scored 19 goals in 19 Bundesliga appearances this season for Bayern, as the German giants hold an eight-point lead at the top of the table. Overall, Lewandowski has scored 27 goals in 29 appearances in all competitions.

[ RELATED: Alexandre Pato eager to make his mark at Chelsea ]

In the midst of the best season of his career, the 27-year-old Polish international could move to any club and be the star player, where at Bayern he is just one of many stars. However, with the amount of success he is having at Munich, there is no reason to leave.

VIDEO: John Terry says he made it “very clear” he wanted to stay at Chelsea

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John Terry will leave Chelsea at the end of this season, although it may be against his will.

The Blues’ captain announced earlier this year that he would not be given a new contract and will move on after 18 years with the club.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Speaking after Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United on Sunday, Terry said he has had no communication with the club about the possibility of signing a new deal, although he made it “very clear” that he never intended on leaving.

The club is the most important thing.

There’s no communication between myself and the club at this minute. I said what I had to say, that’s how it was.

I made it very clear that I wanted to stay.

Chelsea has a policy of giving older players one-year contracts, and one would assume Terry could still help the club on the pitch for another season. However, with the captain saying there has been no communication about even the possibility of signing a new deal, it looks like he is being forced out.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Chelsea vs. Manchester United ]

With more than 700 appearances for Chelsea and one of the club’s iconic figures, it looks like the end of Terry’s run at Stamford Bridge could be a bit messy. Hopefully, the club can patch this situation so Terry gets the send-off he deserves.

VIDEO: Louis van Gaal destroys journalist for questioning his Manchester United future

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Louis Van Gaal isn’t happy about reports that Manchester United is speaking with Jose Mourinho.

He also isn’t happy about reporters asking about it. In fact, it makes him quite angry.

[ RELATED: Aging giants show familiar deficiencies in Stamford Bridge draw ]

The Dutchman went after a journalist following United’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea for asking a question about the potential of a managerial change. The journalist actually phrased his question more in the form of an olive branch, but Van Gaal still took exception.

[ RECAP: Overview of Manchester United’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea ]

Should the club actually be talking with a manager while still employing another, it would be quite controversial move. Van Gaal turned the situation on the journalist, asking if he could make up a story about the journalist being fired, and what he would tell his family.

Ailing giants showcase obvious deficiencies as Chelsea, Man United draw

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LONDON — Despite Jesse Lingard‘s stunning strike and Diego Costa’s dramatic stoppage time equalizer on Sunday at Stamford Bridge, the cracks could not be papered over fully during the 1-1 draw.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Both Chelsea and Manchester United have many deficiencies and are a long way from past glories. Both clubs are in a state of flux with future’s uncertain as rumors continue about Louis Van Gaal being replaced and Chelsea to welcome a new manager this summer.

Chelsea’s slide to mediocrity, as has been well documented, has been dramatic. The defending Premier League champions looked wary of springing too many attacks and their midfield creators were too eager to look back and sideways rather than take a chance. With Guus Hiddink in charge on an interim basis and the long-term direction of the club unclear, it’s easy to understand why Chelsea’s players seem unable to click into top gear. Since Jose Mourinho was fired in December they’ve gone 10 games unbeaten in all competitions but have drawn six of those.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Chelsea-United ]

As for United, they’ve come through a rough stretch of not scoring goals and despite letting three points slip late on Van Gaal will be heartened that his side created numerous chances. Anthony Martial looked unplayable at times. Lingard’s goal and overall play was hugely impressive and Wayne Rooney seemed to be in the groove, chipping over and having an acrobatic effort squirm just wide.

That said, the same deficiencies which have held back two giants of the Premier League all season surfaced once again.

Chelsea started slowly and were over-cautious in attack. They looked nervous in possession of the ball and United’s central midfield trio of Michael Carrick, Juan Mata and Maroune Fellaini overran Chelsea’s midfield trio of Nemanja Matic, Cesc Fabregas and John Obi Mikel. Chelsea finally equalized but slow build up play has been a regular theme of their season — with multiple demoralizing defeats during Mourinho’s final months in charge taking its toll — and United dealt with plenty of their attackers far too easily.

ProSoccerTalk asked Hiddink after the game if he felt his team was being too cautious.

“I think in the first part you have to say Manchester United stretched us out, they did well and they have good players. But when you have the reaction that is a little bit insecure to drop back then you are in trouble,” Hiddink said. “If one or two players drop back then you are in trouble. You have to do it collectively, which I don’t like, but I like when they go collectively forward which we tried to initiate a bit after a period. Then you see that go we go into the duels and we win it, then we got the chances from there.”

United’s main deficiency this season has been giving up costly goals at pivotal times. They simply don’t score enough to be able to leak goals as they have done in recent encounters. In three of their last five PL outings — a 3-3 draw with Newcastle, a 1-0 defeat at home to Southampton and the 1-1 draw with Chelsea — they’ve conceded late goals to cost them a total of five points.

Speaking to the media afterwards, Van Gaal knows that can’t continue if they’re going to finish in the top four.

“That’s why I am frustrated and my players are frustrated. When you are playing like we have played today and you are not making the gap smaller. You can say its misfortune but it’s not the first time that is overcoming us. For example Newcastle United scored in extra time. We have to do that better, improve in that way. I am happy with the performance. It was not a boring match so for the third time in the row it was sparkling. I hope to get the support of the media this week.”

There’s not much chance of that. Even if Van Gaal’s side showed more attacking intent, similar problems in defense stopped them from closing the gap on the top four as they’re now six points off fourth-placed Manchester City.

The main thing we learned from Stamford Bridge on Sunday was that two giants are treading water and their futures remain uncertain.