Wayne Rooney, Geoff Cameron, Robin van Persie

Premier League Playback: Headers galore, Torres becomes ‘El Toro’, AVB offends

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THE ART OF HEADING RETURNS

Over the Premier League weekend, a dying art returned to strike joy and delight into the hearts of those who carried it out and their fans. Heading is back. Rejoice.

So this is my questions, is heading home still a dying art? Gladly, I’m not so sure anymore because in week 9’s ten games, eight headers, of many different varieties, accounted for the 23 PL goals scored. With over 33 percent of all goals coming off the old noggin, that’s a pretty substantial chunk of strikes that came from delightful bounces off players bonces. If you watch the video below, four of the top five goals of the weekend are headers… when was the last time that happened?

Last weekend when Sergio Aguero scored a header against West Ham, it was revealed that it was the first time the Argentine has scored with his bonnet, his previous 40 goals for Man City in the PL had all come with his feet.

The beauty of heading into the net comes in many different forms, Wayne Rooney proved that with his glancing header at the near post from Robin van Persie’s corner. Rooney’s delicate flick left Stoke City ‘keeper Asmir Begovic rooted to the spot, and it only takes the faintest of touches to send the ball into a completely different direction.

Then Luis Suarez added two headers of his own, as he nailed his first hat trick at Anfield by powerfully heading home from outside the box in the first half, before glancing home Steven Gerrard’s pacey free kick with the faintest of touches at the near post. I could go on and analyze them all, because they’re all different, and all beautiful in their own way. Time stands still when a player heads in on goal, you look for the ‘keepers reaction, a defender getting back on the line and finally the trajectory of the effort to see if it’s going on. As the ball nestles in the net, a headed goal, for me, is extremely pleasing and the skill of performing it shouldn’t be underestimated.

Premier League Schedule – Week 9

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

If you can master the art of the header, you can make it in this game. Plenty of center forwards in the lower leagues of England and back in the late 80s and early 90s did, I’d love nothing more than to see more headed goals flying in for the rest of this season, and beyond.

TOP PERFORMERS

There were some real dazzling displays this weekend, and Suarez takes the biscuit for top performer. He ripped West Brom apart at Anfield, with three goals whilst carving out plenty of other chances for strike-partner Daniel Sturridge with his tireless running. USMNT ‘keeper Tim Howard (more on him shortly) gave Everton a launchpad to beat Aston Villa with his incredible PK stop from Christian Benteke. All that came before he made his NBC Sports commentary debut for Chelsea vs. Man City on Sunday… quite a weekend for the USA’s No. 1. Wayne Rooney also gets the nod after he nodded United level and set them up for a late comeback win over Stoke, the England international is carrying United on his back. Southampton have now kept six cleans sheets in nine PL games and have conceded just three times, if right back Nathaniel Clyne isn’t called up to the England squad in a few weeks, I’d be hugely surprised after his impressive display vs. Fulham. And finally, that man Fernando Torres scored his first PL goal this season and struck a dagger into the heart of Man City fans across the globe… in fact, let’s breakdown Torres’ bullish transformation right now.

‘TORRES REBORN’ … NOT QUITE, HOW ABOUT TRANSFORMED?

When I went along to White Hart Lane to watch Chelsea take on Tottenham in September, Fernando Torres got sent off late on after terrorizing Spurs’ defense for the entire second half. I was sat just behind the benches that Saturday in North London, and after Torres was shown red Mourinho went and whispered something into his ear appreciatively. Fernando nodded and shook his head agreeably.

Slowly but surely Mourinho is getting through to Torres, and Sunday’s late winning goal against Man City proved that the endeavor and effort of his previous days at Liverpool have returned, with the Spanish forward proving a royal pain in the backside for every defense he’s coming up against of late. Against Manchester City on Sunday, Torres played like a man possessed after spurring a glorious chance early on by shinning the ball over the bar and leaving the home crowd exasperated. As he trundled back to the halfway line, Torres’ head sunk to his chest with a hint of dejection… but he kept on trucking to deliver the goods that Chelsea needed to steal a march on their title rivals.

Mourinho prefers a central striker that can strike fear into the hearts of the oppositions central defenders by running at them with pace and being a muscular, physical fulcrum for the rest of the ream to work off. In his first spell at Chelsea he had Didier Drogba, at Real Madrid he used Cristiano Ronaldo in the central role. And now a brooding Torres is fired up and facets of his game that made him so successful at Liverpool and Atletico Madrid are returning. He’s bulked up, looks pacey and has got the confidence and verve back that proves he’s on the cusp of breaking out once again.

Torres is gradually shaking off his ‘El Nino’ nickname, as Mourinho aims to make the striker into his hard-hitting forward that bullies opposition defenses with relentless running and that direct nature is finally bearing fruit.

(MORE: Check out the latest Premier League Standings)

As Torres walked off the pitch on Sunday, Stamford Bridge erupted into a throaty chant of “Torres, Torres” and the Spaniard stood alone to applaud the fans who appreciated not only his winning-goal, but seeing him rise from the depths of missing a sitter early on, to setting up Andre Schurrle’s goal, smashing a wonder strike against the bar and then chasing down a lost cause in second half stoppage time to score just his second PL goal since last Christmas.

Premier League Star Performers

Player Reason
1. Luis Suarez (Liverpool) 3 goals, best striker in PL
2. Tim Howard (Everton) PK save, Toffees hero
3. F. Torres (Chelsea) 1 goal, constant threat
4. Nathaniel Clyne (Saints) Epic for leagues best defense
5. Wayne Rooney (Man Utd) 1 goal, United’s talisman

I saw something in Torres’ eyes and demeanor against Spurs in late September. He’s hungry to succeed with the Blues, and he’s now elevated himself as Mourinho’s main striker. Perhaps that knowledge has given Torres the confidence he needs to kick on and if Chelsea are going to win the title, they will need Torres to keep on delivering damaging displays. Five goals in six starts across all competitions this season shows his goalscoring touch and belief is returning, but even if the goals don’t flow, Torres’ impact for Chelsea is huge.

Forget ‘El Nino’ how about ‘El Toro?’ As the marauding Spaniard is now making a name for himself as an absolute bullish pest up front.

U.S. KEEPERS PREVAIL

All hail the U.S. goalkeeper. On Saturday Tim Howard and Brad Guzan showed exactly why the USA is known across the globe for producing top, top ‘keepers. First Howard saved superbly stopped Benteke’s penalty kick, then at the other end Brad Guzan kept out Romelu Lukaku with a superb reflex stop. Back and forth went the goalkeeping battle, as both USMNT stars put on a fine display of shot-stopping to wow the Villa Park crowd. Chants of ‘USA, USA, USA’ were audible all afternoon… Jurgen Klinsmann has one heck of a decision to make next summer.

AVB WRONG TO BASH SPURS’ FANS

Tottenham manager Andre Vilas-Boas called out Spurs’ fans for “negativity” inside White Hart Lane during the nervy 1-0 win against Hull City. Hang on a minute Andre… can you blame them?

After yet another 1-0 win and yet another dubious penalty decision converted by Roberto Soldado (the third time the Spaniard has handed Spurs a slender victory with a PK this campaign) to give them all three points, Tottenham’s fans can be forgiven for feeling a little underwhelmed by some of Spurs’ recent displays. Surely they should be allowed to air their anxiety? AVB doesn’t think so.

“I compliment the boys for what they did – great work rate. Not only that but we played away from home. We didn’t have the support that we should have had in a game that we needed a win. We did it with no help today.”

Far be it from me to judge AVB as Spurs sit fourth in the league, but after all the excitement last seasons soccer produced, can’t he understand that a complete rebrand of the way they play isn’t exactly tearing up any trees in the PL? Two holding midfielders protecting a solid back four is all well and good, but when Spurs come up against the better teams I worry where their goals will come from. Seems like Spurs’ fans do too.

FAIR FROM FER?

When Norwich City midfielder Alex Tettey went down injured in stoppage time of Norwich’s 0-0 draw with Cardiff City at Carrow Road, Cardiff ‘keeper David Marshall did the sporting thing by throwing the ball out of play so he could receive treatment.

As Ricky van Wolfswinkel took the throw-in to give it back to Cardiff, he threw the ball to Norwich’s Leroy Fer who slotted the ball into an empty net and thought he’d given the Canaries a shocking and hugely controversial late win. But referee Mike Jones wasn’t having any of it, he pulled play back as a minor fracas erupted between the two sets of players and said he hadn’t blown his whistle to restart play. I’m not sure if the ref was in-line with the laws of the game, but I applaud his decision to defuse the situation.

That averted a bizarre win and a very unsportsmanlike one at that. Afterwards it was revealed that Norwich would have allowed Cardiff to score straight from the kick off to tie things back up. Bravo. But in a staunch belief of the saying ‘honest if the best policy’ Norwich’s Dutch midfielder Fer revealed he scored on purpose and there was no mix up that saw him knock the ball into the empty net.

“I just looked at the referee and he did ‘play on’ with his hands so I think the goal had to count,” Fer said. “I’m a little bit confused on that one. I meant to put it in because I wanted to win the game. I want to win every game, so that’s why I did it.”

Fer’s attitude stinks, there’s no place for that in the PL and I’m sure his manager had a quite word with the promising Dutch midfielder after the game. Watch below to see what you think should’ve happened.

Bremen beats Wolfsburg to leave Bundesliga relegation zone

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10:  Serge Gnabry of Germany reacts during the Men's First Round Football Group C match between Germany and Fiji at Mineirao Stadium on August 10, 2016 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
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WOLFSBURG, Germany (AP) — Midfielder Serge Gnabry scored twice as Werder Bremen moved away from the Bundesliga’s relegation zone with a 2-1 win at fellow struggler Wolfsburg on Friday.

Bremen and Wolfsburg are level on points and two above Hamburger SV, which is in 18th place and in the relegation zone.

It was a fifth defeat in six games for Wolfsburg coach Valerien Ismael, who won the league and cup double as a player with Bremen in 2004.

Gnabry fired the visitors ahead with a deflected shot in the 10th minute and made it 2-0 eight minutes later, controlling the ball with his chest before prodding home on the volley.

Striker Borja Mayoral, who is on loan from Real Madrid, scored with his chest following a Wolfsburg corner as Wolfsburg hit back moments later.

Midfielder Daniel Didavi struck the post with a free kick as Wolfsburg kept pushing for an equalizer.

Mancini reportedly not interested in Leicester City, De Boer says no

GENOA, ITALY - APRIL 20:  Head Coach of FC Internazionale Roberto Mancini looks during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and FC Internazionale Milano at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on April 20, 2016 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Two top candidates to replace Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City have reportedly turned down any interest in the job.

Roberto Mancini, the heavy favorite out of the gates after Ranieri’s dismissal, tweeted his support for Ranieri after the news broke. “I am sorry for my friend Ranieri,” Mancini said. “He will be in the history of LCFC, in the hearts of Leicester fans and all football lovers.”

However, the fellow Italian has rebuffed Leicester’s informal advances towards his services. According to Sky Sports, Leicester sent “intermediaries” to “sound out” Mancini’s feelings towards the position, but came back empty-handed. The report states Mancini was turned off to the club after a short and unsuccessful spell there as a player in 2001.

That leaves a host of other names who have been linked to the job, with no clear favorite. One person mentioned was Dutch legend Frank de Boer, who is unemployed after an unusually short stint in charge of Inter Milan. However, De Boer’s agent went public to say he was not ever in the running.

“There is zero possibility that Frank could go to Leicester,” agent Guido Albers told Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb. “I too heard these rumors, but that’s all they are – rumors. I can affirm without doubt that Frank will not become the Leicester City manager. This will 100 per cent not happen.”

Albers explained that De Boer is only interested in joining a club in the offseason, preferring to enter a project with a blank slate rather than joining midseason with particular goals already clearly laid out. With Leicester, it seems De Boer is turned off by the notion of a relegation battle.

Win over Las Palmas again has La Real on edge of CL spot

GETAFE, SPAIN - DECEMBER 11:  Xavi Prieto of Real Sociedad in action during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Real Sociedad de Futbol at Coliseum Alfonso Perez stadium on December 11, 2015 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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All it took was one mistake. Real Sociedad’s Xabi Prieto capitalized, and has La Real once again on the verge of next year’s Champions League.

La Real finished 7th in 2013/14, and 9th in 2015/16, and this year, they’re closer than ever. Preito’s goal on the mistake by Las Palmas goalkeeper Javi Varas gave Real Sociedad the 1-0 road win and has them just a point off a Champions League place.

[ MORE: Antonio Conte pulling from experience to keep Chelsea on top ]

That could be even closer next week, as fourth-placed Atletico Madrid has to welcome Barcelona to the Calderon tomorrow, leaving the door open for La Real to make another move next weekend.

The goal down the stretch is not just to win the games they should, but make the teams above them work. La Real has won seven of their last ten matches, but the three losses came to Real Madrid, Villareal, and Sevilla, all teams fighting at the top of the table. They still have chances down the stretch, with matches against Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Eibar coming up, with the latter on the docket next weekend.

Conte pulling from prior experience as title race pushes on

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea looks on during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea at Molineux on February 18, 2017 in Wolverhampton, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte has recalled some painful memories to push himself and his players forward despite their commanding lead at the top of the Premier League table.

Chelsea sits eight points clear of Manchester City, and has the chance to go even further in front with many of the top teams off this weekend, but that won’t give the Italian any better sleep at night.

In the 1999/2000 season, Conte was nearing the end of his 13-year Juventus tenure. He’d won three league titles already, plus two league cup trophies and a Champions League title with the Serie A giants. With a comfortable nine point lead after 26 matches, the club became complacent. They would lose four of their final eight matches, collapsing on the final day in the pouring rain, allowing Lazio to come roaring back to win the title.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Week 26 ]

“I was captain of the team,” Conte said. “I remember after this game I must go to the European Championships with the national team. I didn’t sleep for six days because it was a shock for me to lose the title.”

Clearly, that still haunts him. “I have experienced this,” Conte continued. “When I continue to repeat that there are 13 games, there are 39 points… there is a long time before we can say we won the title. We must be focused, we must go step by step.”

The Blues host Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday before a trip to West Ham next weekend. If anyone believes the Chelsea players are complacent holding such a significant lead with 13 matches to go, it’s clear that’s not nearly the case. Anything can happen in three months.