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.

Premier League roundup: Wins for Chelsea, Liverpool; Draws for six others

HULL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 01:  Diego Costa of Chelsea celebrates scoring his sides second goal with his team mates during the Premier League match between Hull City and Chelsea at KCOM Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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The European tournament week left us with just five Premier League clubs in action on Saturday, but we still saw some sensational goals and stunning saves.

[ MORE: PST talks with Michael Bradley ]

For the most part, we saw expected results aside from West Ham’s failure to capitalize against visiting Middlesbrough.

Here, recapped, is our Saturday in England’s top flight.

Swansea City 1-2 LiverpoolRECAP

James Milner converted his fourth penalty kick of the season to complete Liverpool’s road comeback over Swansea City, casting further doubt on Francesco Guidolin‘s time as Swans boss. Roberto Firmino equalized off a Philippe Coutinho free kick after Leroy Fer gave the hosts an early lead.

West Ham United 1-1 MiddlesbroughRECAP

West Ham will be happy to have “stopped the rot” and not lost a fifth-straight game, but it took some “pure magic” from Dimitri Payet to avoid another loss at the Olympic Stadium. Cristhian Stuani netted early to give Boro a road lead, but Payet dribbled through the 18 before cutting the ball across his body and past Victor Valdes.

Hull City 0-2 Chelsea — RECAP

The Blues ended their three-match winless skid in style, working very good possession and build-up before breaking through after the hour mark with Willian and then Diego Costa. Chelsea now starts a brutal five match run which includes Premier League matches against Leicester, Manchester United, Southampton, and Everton.

Sunderland 1-1 West Bromwich AlbionRECAP

Nacer Chadli has proven a good buy for the Baggies so far, as the ex-Spurs man scored again, but Patrick Van Aanholt continued his knack for big goals by pulling back a point for the woeful host Black Cats.

Watford 2-2 BournemouthRECAP

The Cherries had a pair of leads thanks to Callum Wilson and Josh King, and Jack Wilshere hit the post twice in a game the visitors could have and maybe should have claimed. But Troy Deeney and exciting sub Isaac Success nabbed goals for the Hornets as the two sides split the points.

VIDEO: Former players, journalists reflect on Wenger’s 20 years at Arsenal

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Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is celebrating his 20th year in charge of the storied Premier League club, and the accomplishment bears discussing.

In an age of managerial turnover, the Frenchman has maintained a consistent hold of the Gunners, and is widely viewed as a wonderful company man.

[ MORE: PST talks with Michael Bradley ]

In the above video, several former Gunners join media members to discuss the genius that is Wenger.

Enjoy!

Conte revels in Chelsea intensity in controlling win at Hull City

HULL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 01:  Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea reacts during the Premier League match between Hull City and Chelsea at KCOM Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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The intensity from Chelsea’s players in their 2-0 victory at Hull City was a sight for Antonio Conte‘s sore eyes.

Actually, that might be understating it.

“I like it when the team plays in this way,” Conte said after the win. “I like it so much.”

[ MORE: Hull City 0-2 Chelsea ]

The Blues controlled the match at the KC Stadium long before Willian and Diego Costa hit bullets past a helpless David Marshall to seal Chelsea’s 11th, 12th, and 13th points of the young Premier League season.

Conte loved the industry from his club in breaking a three-match losing streak.

From the BBC:

“We are working very hard and I am sure we can improve a lot if we continue to work in this way. I am pleased for all the players because in these situations because we have a clean sheet. In previous games we conceded too many goals. To finish with a clean sheet is very important. We also scored two and the performance is good. We must follow this with work, work, work!”

“We can improve and we must improve a lot and continue to work. After these two defeats it’s not easy to work because two defeats for Chelsea are heavy defeats. But this was a good answer.”

Yeah… he’s pretty intense. Is anyone going to take his “work, work, work” soundbite and work it into a Rihanna remix?

The Blues will need to work, as the schedule starts a brutal run after the international break: home to Leicester City and Manchester United, away to West Ham in the EFL Cup, and then on the road to Saints and home for Everton.

Adrian, Bilic praise Messi-like equalizer from “pure magic” Payet

West Ham’s Dimitri Payet, left, and Middlesbrough’s Marten de Roon challenge for the ball during the English Premier League soccer match between West Ham and Middlesbrough at The London Stadium  in London, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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To hear West Ham goalkeeper Adrian describe it, the Irons should start streaming their training sessions so we can see more magic from Dimitri Payet.

West Ham’s talisman rescued a point for his struggling club when he essentially worked six Middlesbrough players and delivered a terrific finish in a 1-1 draw at Olympic Stadium in London.

[ WATCH: Payet’s wondergoal ]

Adrian says they see that a lot.

“Payet is like that in training,” the goalkeeper said. “He scored like a Lionel Messi goal at Barcelona. It is a massive goal to us.”

[ MORE: West Ham 1-1 Middlesbrough ]

The goal truly was massive, as the Irons avoided losing five in-a-row. They are still in the relegation zone, but baby steps.

Here’s WHUFC head coach Slaven Bilic:

“It was an unbelievable goal, it was a pure magic. It was only a shame it wasn’t a winning goal. We needed that moment of class from our best player to lift the whole team up.”