Premier League Playback: Cardiff rejoice, RVP and Rooney unite, Gunners mature

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BRAGGING RIGHTS SECURED… FOR NOW

“It was a special day for everyone in South Wales, to have the derby at the highest level. It was an excellent advert for football, I thought our stadium was fantastic, rocking from the first minute, and an atmosphere like I’ve not heard before. My players put in a great display today, especially after the unrest of the last few weeks and the buildup to the biggest South Wales derby in history. The biggest thing today was about the 27,000 fans inside the stadium and the tens of thousands of Cardiff fans watching on the TV at home. That’s for them, from my staff and my team.” – Cardiff City manager Malkay Mackay on the huge derby win over Swansea

This was Michael Laudrup’s response after Swansea City’s painful 1-0 defeat to Cardiff in the South Wales derby. “It’s always easy to brag when you win, you know? But you have to stand up, even if the other side are on top, and say ‘OK, you won. I have to accept it.’ But there’s always a next time. Remember that… There’s always a next time.”

You get the feeling that this incredibly passionate derby is really adding something special to the Premier League. Hopefully it’s here to stay for many years to come.

As I arrived in Cardiff yesterday, the pubs were bustling before noon with middle-aged men already four of five beers deep, the atmosphere at the game was electric and intense, and the sheer noise inside the stadium was deafening. To the right of the press box was an extremely animated Cardiff fan who started to hammer on the desks where the press sat, and threatened to smash up media members laptops if they wrote anything negative about Cardiff’s game. The same chap then screamed at Swansea’s pony-tailed defender Chico Flores, who took a dive in front of the home fans, “get your haircut, you Spanish wanker!”

It was that kind of game, that kind of atmosphere.

Watch this video below, that I took live from my seat inside the ground, as the Cardiff City Stadium erupted following Steven Caulker’s game-winner. That noise…

Plaudits must go to Cardiff for rolling their sleeves up, digging in and grinding out a much-needed win in front of their home fans. Swansea dominated most of the first half, but one crunching tackle from Ben Turner almost drew as big a cheer as the goal, as the Bluebirds fighting spirit surfaced visibly. Chilean midfielder Gary Medel epitomized the effort and commitment the entire team showed as the ‘Pitbull’ kept running and tackling until his little destructive legs couldn’t run or tackle anymore. Time after time he lunged into perfectly timed challenges on the edge of the box to break up the play, and the standing ovation he received in the 87th minute when he was subbed out was well earned. His passing wasn’t bad either as Medel completed 96 percent of those he attempted, the highest rating of an PL player this weekend. Cardiff is just two points from the top half of the table and, more importantly for many of their fans, now has bragging rights in South Wales until next February when they travel to the Liberty Stadium.

Premier League Schedule – Week 10

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 2-0 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Cardiff 1-0 Swansea Recap and watch here
Everton 0-0 Tottenham Recap and watch here
Hull City 1-0 Sunderland Recap and watch here
Fulham 1-3 Manchester United Recap and watch here
Newcastle 2-0 Chelsea Recap and watch here
Manchester City 7-0 Norwich Recap and watch here
Stoke City 1-1 Southampton Recap and watch here
West Brom 2-0 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here
West Ham 0-0 Aston Villa Recap and watch here

BEGOVIC’S BOOMER

On Saturday at the Britannia Stadium, goalkeeper Asmir Begovic smashed a clearance 97.5 yards and into the back of the net. One bounce from box-to-box saw the ball zip over the head of Southampton ‘keeper Artur Boruc and Begovic is now Stoke’s leading goalscorer for the season.

Oh yeah, all this happened after just 12 seconds! Incredible. As the Potters struggle to score, expect to see plenty more back passes heading Begovic’s way and cries of “shoooot” from the Britannia faithful every time he’s on the ball.

A memorable moment in PL history as Begovic joined four others, Brad Friedel, Tim Howard, Paul Robinson and Peter Schmeichel, as goalkeepers who’ve scored in the top flight. Check out his goal, and the other top strikes from Week 10 below.

MANCHESTER BACKLASH – ROONEY AND RVP UNITE

After inept displays from Manchester United and Manchester City in recent weeks, with City sitting in fifth and United in eighth after somewhat shaky starts for the much-favored duo, a reaction was bound to arrive following all of the negative press. City and United smashed Norwich and Fulham respectively, as they flexed their offensive muscles with displays of brute force going forward. Man City beat the Canaries 7-0 at the Etihad, their largest victory in the Premier League, while United were 3-0 up at Craven Cottage after just 22 minutes. That ended up 3-1 but the point had been made early on by both, underestimate us at your peril, we are still well in the title race.

City has the attacking talent to tear teams apart. Just look at the 4-1 United demolition back in September. But United have yet to break out offensively. On Saturday, it was a case of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie ripping the Cottagers apart. They both grabbed a goal and Rooney patiently set up Antonio Valencia for the opener. With his strike RVP became the leading Dutch goalscorer in PL history with 128 goals, overtaking Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. Despite all the moans and groans about United’s play and form, they still have arguably the two best strikers in the league.

We’ve seen Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo forging a good partnership up top for City, and now it seems as if United’s star duo are doing the same. For Rooney’s goal, it seemed as though the Englishman and RVP were on the same wavelength. Van Persie was running at Fulham’s Fernando Amorebieta at pace and after a quick glance up saw Rooney sauntering on the edge of the box. Then, quick as a flash, RVP nutmegged the Fulham defender as Rooney ghosted behind the defense to tap home van Persie’s delicious set up. Telepathy, coincidence… call it what you want, but that showed me RVP and Rooney’s partnership is seamlessly slotting together. On their own they can spearhead United’s resurgence…  together they can blow the opposition away. Moyes’ United are angry, you won’t like them when they’re angry. Fulham didn’t.

TOP PERFORMERS

  • A fan favorite following his big-money move from Sevilla this summer, Chilean midfielder Gary Medel is an unsung hero and deserves the nod.
  • As for someone who’s been in here most weeks this season, Aaron Ramsey did it again on Saturday with a stunning second half volley to seal Arsenal’s massive win against fellow title hopefuls Liverpool. The Welshman continue to impress, as he scored his 10th goal in all competitions this campaign.
  • Wayne Rooney hasn’t scored that many, but he did look back to his best in the first half against Fulham, setting up Valencia and scoring one for himself. Plus his partnership with RVP will see United through this rough patch.
  • United’s neighbors Man City have struggled too, but David Silva has been in top form for a long-time now. Many believed his classy displays in 2011-12 was the main reason the Citizens won the title, well, ‘Merlin the magician’ pulled out all the tricks in City’s 7-0 demolition of Norwich this weekend.
  • Newcastle striker Loic Remy finished off Chelsea in the rain at St. James Park. The French striker has now scored six goals this season, that loan move from QPR will be made permanent soon… surely?

HULL CITY GRINDERS

Hull captain Curtis Davies just about summed up the 1-0 win over Sunderland, (who had two-men sent off and their ‘keeper injured in the first half) got to love his honesty on Twitter.

“1-0 to the Tigers…”

That scoreline has been repeated a lot this campaign, especially at the KC Stadium. Ahead of the new season Hull weren’t fancied and many expected Cardiff and Crystal Palace to do better. But after 10 games Hull has 14 points, including three 1-0 wins at home, and in true Steve Bruce fashion they’re bloody hard to beat. Even the games they’ve lost have been tight affairs, with Man City and Chelsea laboring to  2-0 home wins, while Spurs and Everton beat them by the odd goal in close encounters.

Not much more to say here, apart from what you see is what you get with the Tigers. A bruising bunch who batter others into submission and snatch wins though PKs, own goals or moments of brilliance.

Some would call my assessment harsh, but that’s how it is. Bruce and Hull’s fans won’t care, it’s getting results and will secure them at least another season in the gravy train of the PL much sooner than the other newly-promoted teams. Cliché alert: this is a results business.

GUNNERS LEARNING THEIR LESSONS

When Arsenal led 2-0 in the second half against Liverpool inside a rowdy Emirates Stadium, Arsene Wenger brought on full backs Nacho Monreal and Carl Jenkinson to shut up shop… it worked a treat. In previous games Arsenal have looked vulnerable when leading and are caught in two minds as to whether they should go for the juggler or keep what they have.

A similar problem riddled them when they faced off against Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Champions League last week. Late on Arsenal kept surging forward as they were level at 1-1 but they got hit with a sucker punch and a slick BVB counter-attack which saw Robert Lewandowski bag the winner.

After that game, Wenger admitted his sides naivety was frustrating and they should learn when they should settle for a point rather than three, or a solid win rather than a thumping one.

But it seems as though that savvy nous he craves to close out games is back after the crucial victory against Liverpool. Also, a great stat came out of that game, as the Gunners extended their incredible record of winning the last 21 games in which they led at half time.

If that’s not Championship caliber, I don’t know what is.

JOSE’S PAIN IN THE RAIN

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think this has happens that often:

source:
A touch zone showing Chelsea’s lack of creativity in central areas. Courtesy: Opta

“I made 11 mistakes. I should have picked the other 11. I have been in this game for many years and I was smelling what was going to happen. This result is the consequence of our team that was not out there. We were too soft. We deserved to lose.

Mourinho, wrong? Yep, you heard it. But he was correct, the team selection was completely wrong. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but when would the Brazilian flair and showmanship of David Luiz in defense really be a better option than the grit and guile of Northern Englishman Gary Cahiil on a cold, wet afternoon in Newcastle? Hint: never.

They created nothing centrally, and Newcastle were quite happy to let Chelsea have the ball wide as Oscar and Hazard dallied on the ball. Just 13 touches occurred in Newcastle’s penalty box, highlighting Chelsea’s inept offensive display in and around the danger zone as just over 7 percent of their total touches came in the final 18-yards of the pitch.

To sum it all up, Chelsea’s midfielder Oscar was wearing blue woolen gloves that looked like something his great aunt had knitted him for Christmas. Give me a break… it was the first weekend in November and temperatures didn’t dip below 55 degrees. Sure, it’s not as warm as the Copacabana right now, but Chelsea’s band of Brazilian stars and other exotic foreigners need to get stuck in and grind out results on the road. That’s the way you win titles, Mourinho knows that. And his admittance of wrongly preferring style over substance in a rambunctious setting like St. James’ Park shows he dishes out something most managers don’t do on a daily basis, the truth.

MLS attendance up, TV ratings lag as US mulls future

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NEW YORK (AP) Major League Soccer’s attendance is up and fan interest is booming, even if television broadcasts are far less popular and some young Americans would rather play in Europe.

[ MORE: Caleb Porter out as Portland Timbers head coach ]

MLS averaged 22,000 in attendance for the first time in its history this season, ranked among the top seven leagues in the world. The league is set to add a second Los Angeles franchise next year, announce two expansion cities next month and at some point finalize David Beckham’s long-pending Miami club.

But viewers averaged under 300,000 for nationally televised regular-season matches, fewer than the average for a New York Yankees game on their regional sports network. Several top young Americans, such as Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie, have chosen to forego the MLS to play in Germany and test their mettle in a more demanding environment.

And worst of all, the United States – whose roster was filled with MLS stars – failed to qualify for next year’s World Cup, ending a streak of seven straight appearances in soccer’s showcase.

“We need to use this failure as a wakeup call for everyone associated with the sport at all levels to ensure that we have the right processes and mechanisms and development programs and leadership and governance in place to learn from this missed opportunity to ensure that it never happens again,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said this week. “Part of the maturation of becoming a soccer nation is recognizing that qualifying for the World Cup is not a birthright. It’s something you need to earn, and we are unfortunately in the company of some great soccer nations, like Italy and Holland and Ghana and Chile – Copa champions – that have also not qualified.”

MLS playoffs resume next week after the international break with the first leg of Conference Championships. Columbus – whose owners are threatening to move to Austin, Texas, in 2019 – hosts Toronto, while Houston is home against Seattle.

“MLS and soccer in the United States have made great advances in many areas. But its promoters have found that the abundance of existing legacy sports leagues that have the highest quality of athletes on the planet creates a ceiling on professional soccer in the United States,” said Marc Ganis, president of the consulting firm SportsCorp. “It has not, and perhaps never, will supplant any of the major legacy sports unless and until the quality of play and players increases significantly and the U.S. men’s team in particular is more competitive and, in fact, wins some of the major international tournaments.”

Momentum of playoff runs was interrupted because of World Cup qualifying, and the culmination of the league’s season competes for attention with the NFL and college football among the wider American sports audience.

“Long-term demographic things like CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and stuff with the NFL says maybe there is a long slow decline around some of that, but when you’re starting from where they’re starting, that’s going to take a generation,” Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey said. “We’ll grow because most of the immigration to the U.S. is from soccer-playing countries and the country is going to grow.”

Launched with 10 teams in 1996, two years after the U.S. hosted the World Cup, MLS expanded to 12 but cut back to 10 after the 2001 season. There has been steady growth since expansion started in 2004. Next year’s total will be 23, already well over the norm for a first division, and the league is planning to settle at 28.

Infrastructure could not be more different than in the early days. The league has 14 soccer specific stadiums, two more renovated for the sport and one built with both the NFL and soccer in mind. Three more soccer stadiums are under construction.

Average attendance is up 60 percent from 13,756 in 2000, boosted this year by 48,200 for Atlanta in its opening season. MLS trails only the Germany’s Bundesliga, England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Mexico’s Liga MX, the Chinese Super League and Serie A, with Italy’s first division ahead by only 22,177 to 22,106.

But that has not translated yet into big television ratings.

ESPN averaged 272,000 for 30 telecasts this regular season on ESPN and ESPN2, and Fox averaged 236,000 for 33 broadcasts on FS1 and Fox. In addition, Univision is averaging 250,000 viewers for its Spanish-language MLS telecasts.

But the Premier League attracts a larger audience, averaging 422,000 on NBC, NBCSN and CNBC, even though many matches are on weekend mornings.

“We’re not the Premier League,” Garber said, pointing out last year’s MLS Cup drew 1.4 million viewers on Fox. “The fact that we’re able to generate ratings growth across all of our partners here and in Canada, and dramatic growth in Canada, is a positive. So we actually, we and our partners, feel pretty darn good.”

Player payroll has increased as MLS keeps adding what it calls Targeted Allocation Money. While several older American players have returned to MLS from Europe, many of the teens viewed as the future of the U.S. national team have gone abroad as they emerge from the MLS youth academies, which have been mandated by the league since 2007 and produced more than 250 players with first-team MLS contracts.

Pulisic, at 19 already the leading American star, left Hershey, Pennsylvania, to sign with Borussia Dortmund at age 16, able because of his grandfather’s Croatian citizenship to play in Europe before he turned 18. McKennie left FC Dallas’ academy when he turned 18, signed with Schalke and scored in his U.S. debut this week.

“I didn’t want to become one of those guys that started in MLS and said, man, I wonder if I could have made it to Europe,” McKennie said. “I wanted to spread my wings and see what I could do over here.”

Forward Josh Sargent decided against Sporting Kansas City and is waiting until he turns 18 in February to sign with Werder Bremen.

“I think I’ve just always wanted since I was a little kid to play in Europe,” he said.

Tyler Adams, who also made his U.S. debut this week, played his first MLS game with the New York Red Bulls last year at age 17 and became a regular this season. Garber says “Tyler Adams probably is playing more minutes today for the Red Bulls than he would if he was not in Major League Soccer.”

Adams is happy but thinking ahead.

“Obviously a goal of mine is to play Champions League one day, and obviously the MLS is working its way to becoming one of the top leagues in the world,” he said. “Maybe one day I find myself in Europe. You never know.”

Sometimes big contracts only stall a career. Matt Miazga left the Red Bulls to sign with Chelsea in January 2016, saw little playing time and didn’t get in games regularly until late that autumn during a loan to the Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem.

“If your only desire is to go to Europe, there are flights leaving every hour on the hour from JFK and LAX and everywhere in between,” said retired American defender Alexi Lalas, now a Fox analyst. “But getting to a place in Europe where you are making good money, where you are playing consistently, where you are learning, where you are valued as a player and as an American player, where you are able to adapt and adjust and live in the other 22 1/2 hours that we often don’t talk about, that’s whole `nother story, and there’s not a lot of flights leaving that have that on the other end.”

With the U.S. soccer community in turmoil following the World Cup failure, some have called for MLS to guarantee playing time for young Americans.

“Our coaches universally believed that that was not the best way to ensure we had the highest-possible product quality to be able to have competitive games and to drive the growth of our fan base,” Garber said.

AP Sports Writer Tim Booth contributed to this report.

Bartra error emphasizes Dortmund’s latest Bundesliga woes

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Christian Pulisic sat out Friday’s 2-1 Dortmund defeat against Stuttgart. Coincidence? Perhaps.

However, the club’s struggles are apparent as Dortmund’s winless run extended to four matches and their gap from Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich could be up to nine points by the end of the weekend.

[ MORE: Chris Coleman steps down from Wales, expected to take Sunderland job ]

BVB was without several of its top talents for the match, including U.S. Men’s National Team star Pulisic and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but it’s Dortmund’s defending that continues to be the side’s biggest issue.

Stuttgart struck after five minutes when Chadrac Akolo broke the deadlock off of an embarrassing blunder by Marc Bartra and the Dortmund defense.

Bartra attempted a routine back pass to goalkeeper Roman Burki during the early moments of the match, but his ball back proved to be way too strong and deflected off of Burki and into the path of Stuttgart forward Akolo (video below).

Dortmund atoned for the former Barcelona man’s mistake just prior to halftime when Maximilian Philipp equalized, but it took just six minutes into the second stanza for Josip Brekalo to restore the Stuttgart advantage.

Moyes: Chicharito could miss two weeks with hamstring strain

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David Moyes has given Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez assurances that he’ll have the opportunity to compete for a starting role with the Hammers, but the Mexican international will have to wait a bit for a chance.

[ MORE: North London Derby takes center stage Saturday morning ]

Hernandez, 29, is currently nursing a hamstring strain, leaving his status for this weekend against Watford in doubt.

“I think everyone knows he [Chicharito] has got a hamstring injury,” Moyes said during Friday’s press conference. “It could take a week, it could take two weeks.”

Moyes didn’t mince words recently when speaking about Chicharito and other players within the squad, essentially pointing out that no player will be awarded a starting role simply because of their stardom.

Hernandez has scored four goals in 13 matches this season for West Ham, who currently sits 18th in the Premier League. The Hammers have won just two matches to start the 2017/18 campaign and sit on nine points.

Alessandro Nesta steps down with NASL side Miami FC

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Miami FC quickly put itself on the U.S. soccer map in two short seasons, and much of the club’s success can be attributed to manager Alessandro Nesta.

[ MORE: Chris Coleman steps down with Wales, expected to take Sunderland job ]

The former Serie A defender has managed the club in its first two years of existence, but Nesta’s time in South Beach is coming to an end.

Nesta revealed on Friday that he won’t be returning to the NASL club in 2018, as he prepares to fnd a “new challenge” in his managerial career.

With NASL’s future as a league very much up in the air, Nesta could be seeking a more stable position entering 2018, especially given that his name has been thrown around with several MLS jobs over the last few months.