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Premier League Breakdown: Robbie Earle previews Newcastle v. Liverpool

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Ever find yourself thinking, I need more Robbie Earle in my life?

Me too. So I sat down with the NBC Sports Premier League pundit to discuss one of the marque matches of this weekend, Newcastle v. Liverpool.

Let’s get stuck in.

EXPLAIN LIVERPOOL’S 3-5-2 AND HOW NEWCASTLE CAN BREAK IT DOWN

The 3-5-2 seems to be the preferred choice of many of the Italian teams now. It generally means that a manager wants his two wide defenders to get into midfield positions and cause overload situations. For Liverpool, this has been the role of Jose Enrique and Jordan Henderson over the last few weeks (since Glen Johnson has been injured).

To break down Liverpool’s 3-5-2 Newcastle will want to make them vulnerable by pushing three forwards high up the pitch, forcing the Reds into a man-marking situation. With Loic Remy, Yoan Gouffran, Papiss Cisse and Hatem Ben Arfa, Newcastle have four good options for these three positions. By keeping a high line and pressuring the back three of Liverpool, Newcastle will look to get the ball into those trouble areas high on the flanks.

If they’re clever, the front three of Newcastle will be interchanging as well, forcing Liverpool to fall into a hybrid defense whereby they man-mark for portions of the match and pass-on players at other times. If played correctly it can be quite difficult to deal with.

It’s an adventurous approach that a team like Manchester City is more equipped to handle but I think Newcastle have the elements in place to give it a go. I just hope that if Pardew does choose to press three high, he does it to start the match rather than a means to level the score late. Of course, it’s easy for me to say, ‘yeah, go on and be brave!’ My job’s not on the line.

DOES NEWCASTLE HAVE THE MIDFIELDERS WHO CAN MAKE THE THREE HIGH APPROACH WORK?

I think so. Cheick Tiote is a rock defensively and if he’s closely flanked by more technical, box-to-box type players like Yohan Cabaye and Moussa Sissoko, Newcastle could certainly get it done. The challenge will obviously be stopping the Liverpool attack and quickly transitioning into offense. So players Cabaye and Sissoko will need to be up for it and they’ll need to play some aggressive balls, sometimes hitting 40 yard diagonals that guys like Ben Arfa and Gouffran can take outside of the Liverpool back three.

Newcastle will have to remember that Liverpool primarily want to control the ball out of the back. They want to outnumber you and get it into those wide players. So if Newcastle’s front three can press high and eliminate them from doing so, it will make it a lot easier on the midfield three to perform defensively.

 

 

source: Getty Images
Papiss Cisse hasn’t scored a Premier League goal since Newcastle’s 1-0 victory over Fulham on April 7, 2013.

13 PREMIER LEAGUE MATCHES WITHOUT A GOAL FOR PAPISS CISSE, WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE STRIKER?

When Cisse came into the league he was a player who would try things. He scored a couple of outrageous goals like the one he had at Chelsea. He’s an instinctive player and I get the feeling that there’s too many thoughts going on in his head. Everything with Cisse has become a bit mechanical – his movements, his finishing, even his running style. When he came into the league I thought he looked very lively and athletic. Now, he looks a bit labored.

Confidence remains a difficult component of the game. When you’re on top of your game things happen naturally. But when you’re not, things slow down. The thought processes aren’t that good and I feel that Cisse has been effected by some of the uncertainty at the football club.

Remember that every dressing room has 25 different characters. Some guys are hard, some guys are more sensitive to the teammates, the team, the rhythm. And Cisse looks to be one of those kind of players.

He’s what I call a ‘streaky striker’. If he scores one he’s likely to go and score a goal a game for the next ten matches. Sometimes with a player like that you just need to put your arm around him, make him feel good about himself and then he’ll start to produce.

WILL WE SEE LIVERPOOL IN A 3-5-2 WHEN GLEN JOHNSON RETURNS?

Yes. The 3-5-2 is actually perfectly situated for Glen Johnson because it’s designed for a full-back who’s suited to get into the attack. When he returns from injury you’ll see Jordan Henderson be slotted elsewhere, possibly next to Steven Gerrard.

Thinking about Johnson and a 3-5-2 brings up an interesting point about Brendan Rodgers. To me, he’s one of those coaches who looks at his squad and then decides what’s the best system to get the most out of the individuals. I sometimes find coaches go the other way – they have a squad and try and shoehorn players into the system. This speaks volumes of Rodgers such that he’s always looking for what’s best for his players.

 

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Playing in a more restrictive holding role, Steven Gerrard has looked a bit off the pace this season.

DOES STEVEN GERRARD SEEM A BIT OFF THE PACE THIS SEASON?

It’s interesting you say that because I know Steven well – I played against him towards the end of my career and he’s one of my favorite players – but he looked slightly unhappy in that Crystal Palace match. Something in Steven’s body language just didn’t look or feel quite right.

Rodgers has him playing in more of a sitting role now. This means Gerrard has to be a lot more disciplined than he’s ever been and it also restricts his freedom to get up the pitch, which he loves to do.

In this sense, Rodgers has shackled him in a bit and I wonder if that’s caused Gerrard to lose a little bit of his enthusiasm almost to say: ‘I don’t want to sit in, I want to be Steven Gerrard and win tackles, drive forward and score goals.’ In his own mind, I don’t think it suits Gerrard and on the field, he’s not having the same impact.

But I do think it’s better for the club as a whole because Rodgers is making him last. He wants to get the best out of Gerrard for as long as he can. And given the way Gerrard has played the game for so long, he is being reined in. It’s almost like a recognition that you’re not the player you were 10 years ago. I’ve been down that road myself and it’s not easy. So I think Gerrard might be in the mold where he now realizes he’s the elder statesman and needs change his game but isn’t necessarily happy about it.

SO, IF YOU’RE BRENDAN RODGERS WHAT ARE YOU TELLING YOUR TEAM IN PREPARATION FOR NEWCASTLE?

Stay competitive. Stay consistent. Between now and the New Year, that has to be Liverpool’s focus. They also want to stay healthy and keep evolving. Looking back at Liverpool over the last 18 months we’ve seen Rodgers bring in a few players who can help change the system and progression of how they play. He has what is arguably the best striking partnership in the league and a few established, tricky formations he can throw at teams. But for me, this match is about keeping a sharp mentality.

The mental application of the game is something I think Liverpool have been short of over the last few seasons. They haven’t been in the title race since 2009 so the have to stay on an even keel and strive for consistency in their results.

Their biggest advantage this year is that they are out of the League Cup and aren’t in the Europa League. This will allow Rodgers more time than any of his contemporaries to break down each and every Premier League opponent, including Newcastle this weekend.

AND WHAT’S ALAN PARDEW TELLING HIS TEAM?

They’ve done well on the road but they’ve been poor at home. It’s time that they give St. James’ Park something to cheer about. It’s a 50,000 seat stadium that loves their team. You don’t see any red or blue shirts walking around Newcastle, it’s only black and white. The players get that. They’re very close to the community. So that could very well be the message Pardew delivers to his squad: ‘Ok, we’ve addressed our form on the road but now it’s time to give the home crowd something to cheer about.’

And they’ve got the quality to do it. Newcastle are better when they’re controlling the ball, and with offensive weapons like Cabaye, Tiote, Sissoko, Gouffran, Remy, Cisse and Ben Arfa, they can by all means do this. If they play right, they can hurt teams. So I’d look around the locker room and think, we’ve got something here. Yes, this is a team that needs a bit of a confidence boost so they need to look themselves in the mirror and believe they can make it happen.

They need to take it to Liverpool. Newcastle are much better when they’re on the front foot, when they’re aggressive. They have one of the best set of athletic players in the league. People who can increase the speed and tempo of the game that will affect the game. They’ve gone away from that a little bit of late so if Pardew can get it back into the squad, I think they can win games.

Historically, Liverpool v. Newcastle has been one of the blue chip fixtures in the Premier League, two clubs playing attacking football. For Newcastle, it’s the kind of game where, if they can beat the second place team in the league, it could kick-start their season and ramp up their self-belief.

Electricity restored at Maracana after some late bills paid

This Feb. 2, 2017 shows Maracana stadium with a dry field in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Stadium operators, the Rio state government, and Olympic organizers have fought over $1 million in unpaid electricity bills and management of the venue. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Rio’s electricity utility has turned the power back on at the famous Maracana stadium after it was shut off for almost a month in a dispute over $1 million in unpaid bills.

The utility on Thursday said power had been restored after the stadium operator paid 1.3 million reals ($430,000) in late bills from November through January. It was shut off on Jan. 26 in the dispute.

The utility said it is still negotiating for 1.8 million reals ($600,000) in unpaid bills from the organizing committee of last year’s Rio Olympics. Rio 2016 organizers still owe millions to companies which helped prepare the Olympics and Paralympics

The stadium has been vandalized over the last month with seats torn out, televisions stolen and the grass field left untended.

VIDEO: FC Dallas youngster Kellyn Acosta unleashes howitzer goal

Arabe Unido goalkeeper Miguel lloyd (1) reaches up to block a shot from FC Dallas as defender Rigoberto Nino (2) and FC Dallas' Kellyn Acosta (23) watch in the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals soccer match, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 in Frisco, Texas (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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With FC Dallas taking on Panamanian club Aribe Unido in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League, 21-year-old Kellyn Acosta grabbed a second for the Major League Soccer club 10 minutes past halftime.

It wasn’t just any old goal. It was a STRIKE.

The Texas native trailed the play, and with Roland Lamah shut off in the box by solid man-marking on the ball, Acosta was there to provide an outlet, and he blasted a vicious strike into the top-left corner. The find by Lamah was a smart one with a host of defenders closing in, and his calm demeanor was rewarded as his teammate launched a rocket into the back of the net.

The goal is a fodder for those who believe Acosta, who has played full-back for much of his career, should be a midfielder instead. His positioning and ability to trail the play with deadly accuracy is what makes this goal so special.

Acosta would bag a third in the dying minutes of the game, giving FC Dallas a 3-0 lead to take on the road as they travel to Panama for the second leg on March 1st.

Top Premier League Storylines – Week 26

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 08:  Claudio Ranieri, manager of Leicester City speaks with his players during the break in extra-time in the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round replay match between Leicester City and Derby City at The King Power Stadium on February 8, 2017 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Well. This weekend’s return of Premier League action was already slated to be an exciting one, but now with today’s enormous bit of breaking news, it has become even more intriguing.

[ WATCH: Previewing every match in Week 26 ]

There’s plenty to discuss at the top of the Premier League table, as Arsenal and Spurs look to heal their European wounds, but it’s what’s at the bottom that has everyone talking today.

How will Leicester City react after the firing of Claudio Ranieri?

Leicester City vs. Liverpool —  3:00 p.m. EDT Monday on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Well. The Foxes had their work cut out for them coming into this match already, but now it has a whole new flavor. Claudio Ranieri has been dismissed just nine months after winning the Premier League title, and sitting just a point off the drop coming into the weekend (and inside the relegation zone coming into the match?) Leicester City will be lead into King Power Stadium by Assistant Manager Craig Shakespeare and First Team Coach Mike Stowell.

Liverpool stopped a five-match winless streak last time out with a quality 2-0 win over Tottenham, but the Reds defense has been leaky all season, and if Leicester is to break its horrid 610-minute goalless streak, it would be here. The Foxes are without a win in five and have not scored a Premier League goal in all of the 2017 calendar year. Can they respond and begin to play for themselves rather than their former manager?

Can Dele Alli and Tottenham bounce back?

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Stoke City — 8:30 a.m. EDT Sunday on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Spurs looked like they had rediscovered their Champions League form with a comprehensive smothering of Championship side Fulham in the FA Cup. Then, they welcomed KAA Gent to Wembley and promptly lost their heads. Dele Alli was sent off for one of the worst challenges you’ll see, and Spurs were vulnerable as a result, crashing out of the Europa League.

Now, Mauricio Pochettino must regroup the squad and get them ready to host Stoke, a team they clobbered 4-0 in the third match of the season. The squad is still healthy, and the loss of European play may actually help them in the long run. Here, however, it provides them with negative form and a short prep time. They need this one badly to solidify a top four place moving forward, can Poch turn it around?

Can Sunderland get a result against surging Everton?

Everton vs. Sunderland — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSports.com

Hull City hosts Burnley. Crystal Palace welcomes Middlesbrough. With those two fellow occupants of the relegation zone playing at home against lower-half sides, the spotlight is squarely on Sunderland. The Black Cats have a tough matchup, on the road at Everton.

The Toffees haven’t lost a Premier League match since falling to Liverpool in mid-December, and have scored 19 goals in the eight matches since that blemish. With that in mind, Sunderland must get some kind of a result to pull off the bottom of the Premier League table. Can they snatch points at Goodison Park?

EFL Cup final could leave Chelsea well out in front

Chelsea vs. Swansea City — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSports.com

Chelsea is already eight points ahead of the pack and looks to be the clear favorite to win the Premier League title. It could get even clearer after this week. Manchester United is off, Manchester City is off, and Arsenal is off. Couple that with Tottenham struggling and Liverpool facing a desperate Leicester City side, and it’s entirely conceivable that a win for Chelsea over Swansea City could leave the Blues as far as 11 points clear at the top of the table, albeit a game ahead of some. That would all but wrap things up, wouldn’t it?

Mario Balotelli handed 2-match ban for abusing referee

FILE- In this Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016 file photo, Nice's forward Mario Balotelli, of Italy, reacts during the Europa League group I soccer match between OGC Nice and FC Salzburg, in Nice stadium, southeastern France. Nice striker Mario Balotelli’s teammate Alassane Pleas has confirmed he heard Bastia supporters racially abusing Balotelli with monkey chants during the league match on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Claude Paris, File)
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After being sent off for referee abuse in last weekend’s Ligue 1 win over FC Lorient, Nice striker Mario Balotelli has been handed a two-match ban.

Balotelli earned his second red card of the season in the 69th minute of a 1-0 win that kept Nice within striking distance of the leaders Monaco. It was his second straight red and third sending-off of the season, having already been dismissed in reverse fixture against Lorient after a pair of yellows in the final three minutes of the game.

After the mercurial Italian’s hot start to the season, he has just one goal in the last two months, the third in a 3-1 win over Guingamp. He has not scored a point-winning goal since bagging both in a 2-1 win over Dijon back on December 18th.

Balotelli’s agent, the well-known Mino Raiola, was so frustrated with his client’s continual dismissal problems that he told French media conglomerate RMC Sport that the solution to Balotelli’s problems is to “cut out his tongue.”

“I have already found the solution: you have to cut out his tongue,” Raiola said bluntly. “To play soccer, there is no need for language! In all seriousness, he knows he made a big mistake and he has no excuse. He knows he needs to improve that. He is very sad for him, for the team.”

The suspension leaves Balotelli on the sidelines for tomorrow’s match against 11th placed Montpellier and then on March 4th at 17th placed Dijon. Nice sits in third, level on points with 2nd placed PSG and three back of leaders Monaco.