Manchester City's Aguero celebrates with teammmate Silva after scoring a goal against West Ham United during their English Premier League soccer match at the Boleyn Ground in London

Premier League Playback: City-slickers tricked, Superfan Mourinho, Townsend dazzles

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PELLEGRINI’S MIND GAMES PAY OFF

Prior to Manchester City’s 3-1 pummeling of West Ham United on Saturday evening, City’s Chilean manager Manuel Pellegrini started early on the type of mind games he’ll need in his PL debut season and beyond.

“I didn’t know United had conceded a late equalizer,” Man City defender Micah Richards said. “The manager said they had won, and that Arsenal and Chelsea had won so we thought we had to win against West Ham. Maybe it was a bit of reverse psychology. We just knew we had to win. We couldn’t drop points.”

Clever boy, Manuel, very, very clever.

You see for City’s players, the thought of losing any ground they’d built up over city rivals Manchester United is unbearable, they wanted to keep their foot on the pedal as their illustrious neighbors struggled along. And that’s exactly what they did on Saturday evening in East London, while United struggled against Saints earlier in the day.

(MORE: Check out the latest Premier League Standings)

With Sergio Aguero latching onto a sumptuous defense splitting pass in the first half and finishing with the refined aplomb we expect, the Citizens were on their way. After the break the pint-sized Argentine popped up with a second as he rose like a salmon at the near post to head home David Silva’s free kick. Speaking of Silva, my word, the swaggering Spaniard was simply sublime. He caressed balls into narrow spaces West Ham’s defenders dare not enter, and Aguero set him up with a cheeky back heel to masterfully stroke home City’s third and final goal after the Hammers had threatened a brief and unsubstantiated comeback.

City’s swaggering panache keeps turning on, almost with a flick of the switch. Devastating displays against Newcastle, Manchester United and now West Ham prove their attacking flair is better than any team in the PL. Dreams of clinching a second PL title in three seasons are starting to return to the Etihad, as they’ll only get better as the season goes on. That thought must be spurring City on and scaring the life out of others. Plus the thought of piling more misery on Manchester United acts as motivation, too.

THE ANDROS TOWNSEND SHOW

Relentless, magical, stunning… whatever word you use to sum up Townsend’s display in Tottenham’s 2-0 win over Aston Villa on Sunday probably wouldn’t do it justice. This guy is on fire. After a dream week in which the 22-year-old made his full England debut and scored in a crucial World Cup qualifier to help his country make Brazil, he also signed a new five-year contract for Spurs. And he capped that all off with a dazzling display against Villa on Sunday, scoring the first and giving Ashley Westwood a torrid afternoon.

Premier League Schedule – Week 8

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 0-2 Tottenham Recap and watch here
Arsenal 4-1 Norwich City Recap and watch here
Chelsea 4-1 Cardiff City Recap and watch here
Crystal Palace 1-4 Fulham Recap and watch here
Everton 2-1 Hull City Recap and watch here
Man Utd 1-1 Southampton Recap and watch here
Newcastle United 2-2 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Stoke 0-0 West Brom Recap and watch here
Swansea 4-0 Sunderland Recap and watch here
West Ham 1-3 Manchester City Recap and watch here

For Townsend this season has been a dream and after spending time away from Tottenham on nine different loan spells over the past few years, he’s earned his dramatic rise to stardom. Watching him in action for England reminded me of Theo Walcott, full of pace, forward thinking and always eager to unleash full velocity on opponents. Seeing Townsend at his marauding best is quite a sight, plus he has more end product and looks like a more composed winger than Walcott. Plenty of people are jumping aboard the Townsend bandwagon.

I’m one of them.

TOP PERFORMERS

Tough choice this weekend, but a few guys definitely stood out from the crowd. At Arsenal Mesut Ozil continues to do the business with consummate ease, as this week he dismantled Norwich City in the first half and helped himself to another two goals. Elsewhere, Aguero may have got the goals to seal City’s win but Silva pulled all the strings to make the magic offense sparkle. An in-form Silva spells trouble for the rest of the PL. Southampton’s defense is the meanest in the league, with just three goals conceded after eight games. Savvy Croatian center back Dejan Lovren has been a terrific addition from Lyon, and his last-gasp strike (that was later credited to Adam Lallana) grabbed Saints a point at Manchester United. He’s already scored the winner against Liverpool earlier in the season, talk about clutch. Fulham had a breakout win against Crystal Palace on Monday, with central defender Philippe Senderos bagging a great goal and looking confident and dominant at the back. He’s recapturing the form which saw him star for Arsenal as a youngster. And finally, we’ve already mentioned him but that man Townsend was a delight to watch. How much better can he get, and was the real replacement for Gareth Bale under Spurs’ noses the whole time?

CONCERN GROWS AT OLD TRAFFORD

Okay, this is getting rather serious now. Eight games into the season and it’s turning into a nightmare beginning for David Moyes and Manchester United. The only plus is that they’re just eight points adrift of league leaders Arsenal, it could be much more. United’s troubles don’t stem from having a bad squad. Yes, some of them may be old and prone to injury, as was evident on Saturday as both central defenders Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were out injured. Johnny Evans and Phil Jones were paired at CB for the first time this season and looked disjointed. But Moyes’ substitutions were, and continue to be, extremely bizarre.

He brought on Danny Welbeck, who scored one PL goal all last season, and 39-year-old Ryan Giggs whose beard is getting greyer by the day. They had Javier Hernandez and Antonio Valencia sitting on the bench, Moyes should’ve finished Saints off rather than settling for what they had. Another case of mismanagement from Moyes, who has to take the blame for United’s poor start.

Recently when I popped into the NBC Sports studios to rank my top five PL teams, United just sneaked in at five due to the goalscoring prowess of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney. On Saturday against Southampton it was RVP’s turn to come to the rescue, as his first half strike managed to grab a point for the Red Devils. Their dramatic slide is worrying and no matter how good United’s strike duo are they can’t do it all on their own. In midfield they’re faltering, while at the back thy look shaky, confused and uneasy. They’ve used plenty of defensive combos so far this season, and in the final 20 minutes they keep dropping deeper and deeper to try and preserve a 1-0 lead against Southampton. No disrespect to the Saints, but United should’ve been looking to cap off the win and grab two or three goals, not be happy with what they had. Moyes used to do that at Everton, he needs a more attacking mentality with his United squad.

Premier League Star Performers

Player Reason
1. Andros Townsend (Spurs) 1 goal, electric pace all day
2. David Silva (Man City) 1 goal, creative hub for City
3. Mesut Ozil (Arsenal) 2 goals, makes it look easy
4. Dejan Lovren (Saints) 1 assist, dominant CB display
5. Phil Senderos (Fulham) 1 goal, powerful play at CB

ARSENAL, CHELSEA MOVING THROUGH THE GEARS

And while Moyes struggles to kick United on through the gears amongst plenty of groans and unrest, two men quietly dismantling bottom half PL fodder are Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger. Chelsea and Arsenal both recorded 4-1 wins against Cardiff and Norwich City respectively, and both showed their class late on. Both the Canaries and the Bluebirds put up plucky fights away to their illustrious opponents, but the class and depth of Chelsea and Arsenal shone through brilliantly towards the end of the game. Aaron Ramsey for Arsenal and Oscar for Chelsea both came off the bench to add gloss to solid performances, as the London clubs set themselves up nicely for massive Champions League clashes.

By the end of the game, Chelsea and Arsenal were hitting fifth gear, even though they didn’t need to, as they’d already smashed the opposition into submission. But the relentless juggernauts and deep squads both teams have bode well for an assault on the UCL, PL and other cups as the season plays out.

CAN ETO’O DO THAT?

One moment changed Chelsea’s Saturday around, and it turns out it may have been illegal. In the 33rd minute Cardiff ‘keeper David Marshall bounced the ball before aiming to dropkick the ball up field. But on the bounce, he committed the cardinal sin which all goalkeepers wake up in cold sweats about… he didn’t check over his shoulder. And Marshall wished he would’ve as Samuel Eto’o pounced like a predatory cheetah to kick the ball away as it bounced up from the glistening Stamford Bridge turf and back towards Marshall’s hands. The ball broke to Eden Hazard, who squared to Eto’o but the Cameroonian striker fluffed his lines, only for Hazard to sweep the ball into the net and make it 1-1.

Time stood still, Cardiff’s bench jumped up from the dugout incensed, Hazard and Eto’o had a laugh and a joke, while referee Anthony Taylor let the goal stand. Malkay Mackay and the Cardiff City backroom staff were livid, and in terms of interpreting the FIFA rules on this one, I have to say I agree with Mackay’s angry demeanor.

It was clever from Eto’o and worth a shot if it came off. If you don’t buy a ticket you can’t win the raffle, right? But referees, fans, players and managers all know the laws of the game are open to interpretation. Chelsea got lucky, Cardiff not so much. ‘Thems the breaks.’ If you remember back to the late 90’s, (watch here) Coventry City striker Dion Dublin hid behind the goal before waiting for Newcastle ‘keeper Shay Given to roll the ball out of his hands. Dublin then nipped around Given and tapped the ball into an empty net. That was different as Given clearly didn’t have possession of the ball. Since then, goalkeepers have made an extra effort to check over their shoulders before bouncing the ball or rolling it onto the floor to kick upfield. Marshall, under FIFA rules, didn’t let the ball out of his possession as the ball was going back to his hands. Eto’o was in the wrong, so was Taylor… and Marshall will now be destined to earn royalties from soccer blooper videos for the rest of his life.

TWEET OF THE WEEKEND

Staying at Stamford Bridge for one more storyline from an eventful game, 17-year-old Sean Buxton From Essex had the time of his life as he spent most of the second half sat next to legendary manager Jose Mourinho. But Buxton wasn’t on the bench, Mourinho came and sat next to him! After remonstrating with ref Taylor, the 50-year-old Portuguese manager was sent away from the dugout and walked into the stands to sit with the fans, much to Buxton’s delight.

Watch it all unfold, right here.

NEWCASTLE, LIVERPOOL DELIVER DRAMA, RIGHT ON CUE

This game is always earmarked for live TV broadcasts and you can see why, it always deliver. The opening half hour was turning into a slightly dour affair, then bam, Yohan Cabaye spanks in a beauty for Newcastle. Wham, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa takes down Luis Suarez for a PK, gets a red card and Steve Gerrard gets his 100th PL goal just before half time. After the break 10-man Newcastle went for it, youngster Paul Dummett put them ahead, before Daniel Sturridge made it 2-2 late on. It was a blood and thunder affair the PL is known and loved for, these two side didn’t disappoint as wave after wave of attack and counter-attack was lapped up mercifully by the baying crowd of over 52,000 fans at St. James’ Park. All of the fans in the vast cathedral of English soccer went home happy, entertained and grateful. A timely reminder of the delight of a PL game, forget sublime defending and tiki-taka, I want more of this. The rest of the PL clearly took note of Newcastle vs. Liverpool in the early kick off, as 34 goals hammered in at a rate of 3.4 per game in week 8. Good job setting an example, guys.

FULHAM BACK WITH A BANG

If you were worrying about the Cottagers, trust me I was, then you should stop that right now. Their comeback 4-1 win against Crystal Palace showed the grit, determination and guile you need to gut out wins in the PL. And oh yeah, it helps if you score two screamers in the first half, and another terrific finish just after the break. Take a bow Steve Sidwell, Pajtim Kasami and Philippe Senderos, absolute beauties. The latter strike is below, while as for Kasami’s screamer, I spoke with Martin Jol about the Macedonian winger after the game against Stoke when he put in an eye-catching display. “He is probably one of the fittest players in the league if you look at the stats,” Jol said. “I am very happy with him.” No doubt the Dutchman was delighted with his goal of the season contender to put Fulham on their to a massive win.

Klopp hopes for speedy solution in club, fans’ ticket-price dispute

Liverpool's fans wave flags during the English League Cup semifinal second leg soccer match between Liverpool and Stoke City at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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From his time at Borussia Dortmund, Jurgen Klopp is used to a much more positive, family-like, everyone-pulling-in-the-same-direction atmosphere at his club of employment, so the present goings-on at Liverpool understandably have the Reds’ first-year manager feeling more than a little uneasy.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Saturday’s late 2-2 draw with Sunderland wasn’t the first time Liverpool fans have headed for the exit before the final whistle, leaving Klopp feeling all alone, but it was the first time the fans have departed from Anfield early in a pre-planned, organized manner (Klopp missed the game himself with appendicitis). The Anfield faithful didn’t walk out on 77 minutes due to their team’s poor performance — Liverpool were 2-0 ahead at the time — but in protest of steadily rising ticket prices, which were unveiled at $111 per game to sit in the 132-year-old stadium’s new main stand next season.

Klopp, coming from the Bundesliga, where a season ticket at clubs the size of Bayern Munich and Dortmund doesn’t cost much more than a single-game ticket at many Premier League grounds, understands the fans’ frustration. At the end of the day, though, he works for the club, which is why he just wants the whole thing settled quickly, for the sake of his squad — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s not what we want. What I know is everyone in the club has a big interest in finding a solution for this. We don’t want people to leave the stadium before the game is finished.”

An LFC TV appearance by Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre, in which he was expected to answer fan-submitted questions, was consequently canceled on Monday due to the ongoing dispute.

West Ham want Payet to sign new contract for fear of losing him this summer

Dimitri Payet, West Ham United FC (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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Dimitri Payet is going to be a red-hot commodity during this summer’s transfer window, there’s no doubt about it.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Given he’s currently contracted to one of the Premier League’s “smaller” clubs — in comparison to some of the giants which are bound to be interested — West Ham United, there’s a decent-to-good chance he could be wearing a different club’s shirt come August. Especially if the 28-year-old attacker shows up and shows out at this summer’s European Championship in his native France.

If I can foresee the interest in Payet, then so too can the executives at West Ham, which is why manager Slaven Bilic took to the press on Monday to convey his desire for Payet to consider signing a new, increased contract at his earliest convenience — quotes from the Guardian:

“We are moving, the club is moving, with the new stadium, with the revenue and everything. We have to move and the most important move is to keep your best players and to add some new players who are needed and Dimitri Payet is our best player — I have no problem whatsoever to say that. Of course, I would love to have him happy, long term, at the club.”

Of course West Ham want Payet to sign a new deal immediately — doing so would accomplish two things in the club’s eyes: 1) increase the likelihood he remains at the club next season, or 2) insure the club receives a higher transfer fee for the player if he leaves in the summer anyway. The more total money remaining on his West Ham contract, the more they can demand of a prospective buyer.

[ MORE: Ronaldo commits himself to Real Madrid through 2018 ]

From Payet’s side — unless he has absolutely zero desire to move to a club like Liverpool, Chelsea or Manchester United, where he’d likely be paid close to $200,000 per week — he’d be crazy to sign a new contract at this point. Not only would it make a move this summer more difficult, but a strong showing at EURO 2016 could be worth another $15,000 or $20,000 per week on a new contract with West Ham (his current contract is rumored to be close to $100,000 per week).

With as many as five seasons still remaining on his current contract (a one-year club option can be exercised at any point), and his stock perhaps at an all-time high, the next six months could hold Payet’s last chance to get really, really paid before he hits the downside of his career.

USWNT players’ union responds in USSF lawsuit

FILE - In this Sunday, July 5, 2015 file photo, the United States Women's National Team celebrates with the trophy after they beat Japan 5-2 in the FIFA Women's World Cup soccer championship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The U.S. Soccer Federation’s original lawsuit against the union for its champion women’s national team has been sealed after the governing body realized it had disclosed the home addresses and email accounts of many players, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016.(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
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(AP) — The union that represents the Women’s World Cup-winning American national team opposed an expedited schedule in the lawsuit filed against it by the U.S. Soccer Federation last week, insisting no collective bargaining agreement exists.

The federation sued in an attempt to establish it has a contract with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association that runs through this year’s Olympics until Dec. 31. The union maintains the memorandum of understanding agreed to in March 2013 can be terminated at any time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USWNT coverage ]

The USSF filed a motion Friday in U.S. District Court in Chicago asking for an expedited schedule, and the submitted opposition papers Monday that claim “facts asserted in the motion are nowhere near accurate and are hotly disputed.”

The union also maintains the USSF knew about the disagreement since July but did nothing about it.

An initial status conference is set for April 4.

Lionel Messi to undergo tests for lingering kidney problems

FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi holds the ball during a quarterfinal, second leg, Copa del Rey soccer match against Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi is to undergo medical tests to assess a recurrence of kidney problems.

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga roundup | Barca win on Sunday

Messi missed the Club World Cup semifinal in December due to a renal colic, an abdominal ailment often related to the presence of kidney stones within renal ducts.

Barcelona says in a statement Monday that the tests to be conducted by Tuesday at the latest, are “to assess the evolution of the kidney problem he suffered last December.”

[ MORE: Champions League returns next week — KO round matchups ]

The statement says Messi will resume training with the squad on Wednesday, when Barcelona travels to Valencia for the return leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals in which it carries a 7-0 lead.