Premier League Playback: Moyes needs more, Suarez is Superman, Altidore (finally) off the mark

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MAN UNITED ON THE BRINK OF OBLIVION?

Time and time again people have lambasted David Moyes’ stuttering start to his reign on the throne at Old Trafford, let that pattern continue. Not only are Moyes’ Manchester United side regressing rapidly, his old team Everton have now overtaken his new team.

That must be a bitter pill to swallow for the 51-year-old Scot.

Frustration and disappointment was etched across his face post-game, Moyes bemoaned his sides bad luck, once again, as Everton won at Old Trafford for the first time in 21 years in the PL.

“I’m very disappointed. We needed a bit of good fortune and we didn’t get it,” Moyes said. “Everton kept at it and showed us what a good team they are. We didn’t defend the goal well enough so it was our own doing. We had some chances as well, as did Everton. They have been playing well and that’s why they are up near the top of the league.”

And Wednesday’s performance showed us all why United are languishing in ninth spot. Now I, like many, have yet to judge Moyes’ tenure at United just 14 PL games into his reign. That would be slightly misguided. However, it seems as though defeatism is starting to creep into his words and when his old Everton side, a team that under his tutelage never won at United or away at any of the other big teams, strolled into the Red Devils backyard and impressed for large swathes of the game you have to be worried. We all know Moyes was handed “the impossible job” when he took over from Sir Alex Ferguson, but the same could be said for Roberto Martinez taking over at Everton from Moyes. The Spaniard has done a terrific job at Everton and his side are playing without fear. Under Moyes Everton were defense minded and he got the very best out of their ability. Martinez is helping the Toffees’ players dig deeper and go beyond their boundaries.

FULL PREMIER LEAGUE PLAYBACK ARCHIVE

Moyes is having the opposite effect at United. His regimented style of management works to a certain extent, but so many players at United possess incredible levels of skill that they can’t be shackled and Moyes shouldn’t try to restrict them. With over a third of the PL season gone, Moyes’ men are 12 points off league leaders Arsenal and in his own words: “It’s a big catch up for us now.”

Can United do it?

Moyes should take a leaf out of Martinez’ book and help United’s players push their talent to the limit, instead of playing within it. If that somehow happens overnight, United are back in the title race. Right now, Moyes’ men have a battle on their hands to finish in the top four.

Premier League Schedule – Week 14

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 2-0 Hull City Recap and watch here
Crystal Palace 1-0 West Ham Recap and watch here
Fulham 1-2 Tottenham Recap and watch here
Liverpool 5-1 Norwich City Recap and watch here
Man Utd 0-1 Everton Recap and watch here
Southampton 2-3 Aston Villa Recap and watch here
Stoke 0-0 Cardiff Recap and watch here
Sunderland 3-4 Chelsea Recap and watch here
Swansea 3-0 Newcastle Recap and watch here
West Brom 2-3 Man City Recap and watch here

SUPERMAN WEARS A LUIS SUAREZ T-SHIRT – IS HE IN THE SAME LEAGUE AS MESSI, RONALDO?

What we all witnessed on Wednesday night at Anfield was a thing of beauty from Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez. Yes, he loves scoring against Norwich City — as three hat tricks in five games against the Canaries and 11 goals in total proves — but the sheer variety and splendor of his three first half goals on Wednesday, and his sublime free kick after the break for his fourth, mean his star continues to rise. Despite all the controversy surrounding him, you just can’t get away from how talented a player he is and Suarez became the first-player in PL history to score three hat tricks against the same club. Since returning from his 10-game suspension, Suarez has scored 13 goals in nine games and leads the Premier League scoring charts.

Across Stanley Park at Everton’s Goodison Park, Toffees fans used to exclaim that “Superman wears a Tim Cahill t-shirt” after the Australian midfielder became a goalscoring legend and used to lift his shirt up to reveal the Superman’s famous ‘S’ under his jersey. No disrespect to Cahill, but Suarez is much more deserving of the comparison with Clark Kent’s alter ego. So much so, that I think the 26-year-old forward is getting to the point of being mentioned in the same breath as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as one of the best players on the planet. The only thing that’s holding him back from that final step to greatness is appearing in the UEFA Champions League. If he keep scoring four goal hauls and putting in virtuoso performances like Wednesday, Liverpool will be back in the UCL next season. Suarez is on a one-man mission to solidify Liverpool’s spot in the top four. Ahead of a World Cup year in his native South America, the incredibly gifted forward is now walking amongst the soccer greats of this world. Messi, Ronaldo and Ribery?! Forget that. After Suarez’ dazzling displays this season, he’s at least third. Come the end of the season, Liverpool will have to be at least fourth in the PL standings to keep hold of ‘Superman.’

AFTER 1,205 MINUTES… USMNT STRIKER FINALLY HAS A GOAL

Praise. The. Lord. Jozy Altidore finally has a goal in the Premier League for new club Sunderland. It’s been a rough old few months for Altidore at Sunderland but finally he had something to celebrate in the league on Wednesday against Chelsea. The U.S. international scored a typical ‘Altidore’ goal (watch below) as he rolled John Terry with his back to goal and rifled in a left-footed strike to celebrate being recalled to the starting lineup in style. His joy was to be short lived as Chelsea and the Black Cats slugged it out and the Blues came away with a 4-3 win from the Stadium of Light, but with the World Cup draw on Friday reminding us all that Brazil 2014 is right around the corner, the USA need their main man Jozy back on form. Goals like the one he scored on Wednesday show confidence is starting to flicker back into his game at struggling Sunderland. Long may that continue.

FESTIVE SEASON BEGINS WITH GOALS GALORE… IT WILL STAY THAT WAY

33 goals in 10 games in midweek meant a mammoth haul of goals in the PL. Under the floodlights on a cold December evening, it was certainly enough to warm your cockles if the Bovril and Pie wasn’t doing it for the fans in the stadium. At an average of 3.3 goals per game, match day 14 delivered almost a single goal more than the average of 2.58 which has been the norm for PL games so far this season. Then again, just like the Christmas shoppers already dashing around most cities in the UK , the PL becomes a bit crazed this time of year.

Take a look at the image above I stumbled across… now that was one crazy Boxing Day set of results back in 1963. The rest of December and Boxing Day this year could resemble something similar, as new players come into the lineup, injuries mount up due to the large number of games and the weather becomes increasingly poor. Plus the January transfer window is just around the corner, so plenty of players and managers will be on edge. Hold on to your hats, the next month of PL action will be one wild ride, here’s all 32 goals from Wednesday’s games below in a neatly wrapped early Christmas present. Enjoy the video feast.

Premier League Playback takes an alternative looks at all the PL action every week.

If the 2018 World Cup started today…

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Another international break has passed, with fortunes rising and falling in most of FIFA’s confederations (Africa took a break during the break, having staged AFCON in January).

[ MORE: All World Cup qualifying news ]

Brazil joined hosts Russia as nations to have qualified for the 2018 World Cup, and 30 spots remain. Let’s take the opportunity to project the field for Russia.

In October, we took the projected qualifiers and simulated all the way down to the World Cup final. Germany beat Brazil. Let’s go again. Who will “win” it this time?


QUALIFICATION

We’ll again use actual qualification, as flawed and early as it is in some confederations, to be predict our combatants.

Asia (7 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia
PLAYOFF: Uzbekistan vs. Australia

PROJECTION: While Uzbekistan has been better in terms of overall form, Australia’s experience boosts it into a match-up with the USMNT.

Africa (2 of 6 qualifiers played)
IN: DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt

CONCACAF (4 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama
PLAYOFF: United States

(AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

South America (14 of 18 qualifiers played)
IN: Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, Chile
PLAYOFF: Argentina

Oceania (4 of 6 qualifiers played)
PLAYOFF: New Zealand vs. Tahiti

UEFA (5 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: France, Switzerland, Germany, Serbia, Poland, England, Spain, Belgium, Croatia
UEFA PLAYOFFS: Sweden, Portugal, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Slovakia, Italy, Greece, Iceland

SIMULATED PLAYOFFS (random draw):
Sweden vs. Iceland — Sweden wins
Portugal vs. Republic of Ireland — Portugal wins
Northern Ireland vs. Slovakia — Slovakia wins
Italy vs. Greece — Italy wins

Intercontinental playoffs:

Australia vs. United States — USMNT wins
Argentina vs. New Zealand — Argentina wins


FIELD (FIFA Rankings)

  1. Russia (hosts, 60)
  2. Argentina (1)
  3. Brazil (2)
  4. Germany (3)
  5. Chile (4)
  6. Belgium (5)
  7. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

    France (6)

  8. Colombia (7)
  9. Portugal (8)
  10. Uruguay (9)
  11. Spain (10)
  12. Switzerland (11)
  13. Poland (12)
  14. England (13)
  15. Italy (15)
  16. Croatia (16)
  17. Mexico (17)
  18. Costa Rica (19)
  19. Egypt (20)
  20. Slovakia (25)
  21. USA (30)
  22. Iran (33)
  23. Burkina Faso (36)
  24.  (Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

    DR Congo (38)

  25. South Korea (40)
  26. Nigeria (41)
  27. Sweden (45)
  28. Ivory Coast (47)
  29. Japan (51)
  30. Serbia (52)
  31. Panama (53)
  32. Saudi Arabia (57)

THE POTS

The 10 European qualifiers mean two will have to join Pot 2. Our random selections were… Croatia and Spain.

Pot 1 (seeds): Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Chile, Belgium, France, Colombia, Brazil

Pot 2 (CAF, CONMEBOL, UEFA): DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Uruguay, Croatia, Spain

Pot 3 (AFC & CONCACAF): Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, USMNT

Pot 4: (UEFA): Sweden, Slovakia, Italy, Switzerland, Serbia, Poland, England, Portugal


THE DRAW

Group A: Russia, DR Congo, Saudi Arabia, Sweden
Group B: Chile, Croatia, Mexico, Portugal
Group C: Brazil, Nigeria, Panama, Switzerland
Group D: Germany, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Poland
Group E: Argentina, Spain, Japan, Slovakia
Group F: France, Ivory Coast, South Korea, Italy
Group G: Belgium, Uruguay, USMNT, England
Group H: Colombia, Egypt, Iran, Serbia

So… should we play it out? We’ll try to throw in some upsets and not just go with the chalk.

Round of 16
Mexico (B2) def. Russia (A1)
Brazil (C1) def. Poland (D2)
Spain (E1) def. Italy (F2)
Belgium (G1) def. Egypt (H2)
Portugal (B1) def. DR Congo (A2)
Germany (D1) def. Nigeria (C2)
France (F1) def. Argentina (G2)
Colombia (H1) def. England (G2)

Quarterfinals
Brazil def. Mexico
Spain def. Belgium
Germany def. Portugal
France def. Colombia

Semifinals
Brazil def. Spain
France def. Germany

Final
Brazil def. France

Dempsey leads way for MLS players during Cup qualifying

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The latest round of World Cup qualifying saw a major increase in the number of players from MLS called in for their national teams.

A number of those decisions paid off for their countries, perhaps no one more than Clint Dempsey.

A few months ago, Dempsey wasn’t even in consideration for the U.S. after missing the latter half of last season because of a heart issue. But the Seattle Sounders forward scored four times in two matches as the U.S. gathered four critical points in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Dempsey was part of an influx of MLS players contributing during the latest round of qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

In all, MLS had 55 players called in for qualifying in CONCACAF, CONEMBOL (South America) and UEFA (Europe) competitions. Last September, the league saw 58 players called in to their national teams, but there were more countries still alive in qualification at that time. The 55 players selected this time was an increase of 16 from the last round of qualifying matches in November, and 40 of the 55 saw action during the two days of competition in the past week representing 12 countries.

In the three CONCACAF games last Friday, 29 of the 84 players to see the field were from MLS. That outpaced LigaMX, which had 17 players among the 84 used in the three matches.

Dempsey wasn’t the only MLS player coming up big for his country. Minnesota midfielder Kevin Molino had the only goal for Trinidad and Tobago in its 1-0 win over Panama. The Vancouver duo of Christian Bolanos and Kendall Waston teamed for the only goal in Costa Rica’s 1-1 draw with Honduras.

But not all went well for MLS players during qualifying.

Young Atlanta star Josef Martinez injured his left leg during the second half of Venezuela’s 2-2 draw with Peru in CONEMBOL qualifying. Martinez returned to Atlanta and an MRI revealed a left quadriceps injury that will keep the MLS leader in goals scored out for four to six weeks. Martinez had five goals in Atlanta’s first three games.

U.S. midfielder Sebastian Lletget was forced off early in the match against Honduras but not before scoring the opening goal for the Americans. Los Angeles announced Tuesday that Lletget suffered a Lisfranc injury that will require surgery and he will be sidelined for four to six months.

[ MORE: BWP a DP; Nephew called up to England U16 ]

MATCH OF THE WEEK: The club that set the bar for expansion debuts faces the newcomer looking to topple that standard.

The Seattle Sounders will host Atlanta United on Friday night. It’s the only regular-season matchup between the two sides, but there’s more than just the competition on the field.

Seattle’s expansion season of 2009 was regarded throughout the sports industry as arguably the best franchise launch ever, not just in MLS. Between ticket sales and fan engagement, Seattle’s start could not have gone better.

Atlanta might be setting a new standard. Atlanta drew more than 55,000 for its first match and more than 45,000 for its second home game, a win over Chicago. Atlanta seems to be following significant parts of Seattle’s blueprint, down to having an influential NFL owner highly involved from the start.

As for the on-field product, the validity of Atlanta’s promising start will be tested over the next month with four straight road matches.

“It’s definitely still an expansion team,” Atlanta defender Michael Parkhurst said. “We’ve got our bumps and bruises along the way. Off the field, everyone’s still trying to get sorted and situated to the new city.”

BEST OF THE REST: Toronto finally gets to come home after opening the season with three straight road games. The Reds will host Sporting KC on Friday night. The trade-off for opening the season on the road is that Toronto gets five of its next six league matches at home and was able to get five points out of those three road contests to start.

Also of note will be what kind of lineup Vancouver rolls out on Saturday night against Los Angeles. The Whitecaps play in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals four days later.

BACK ON THE BENCH: Real Salt Lake introduced Mike Petke as its new head coach Wednesday, less than two weeks after firing Jeff Cassar. Petke was the head coach of the New York Red Bulls for two seasons, including the 2013 season when they won the Supporters’ Shield. After two years out of coaching, Petke signed on to be the head coach of the Real Monarchs, the minor-league club associated with RSL.

OFF TARGET: The other expansion debut this season by Minnesota United is on pace to set records, but not any they want to be associated with. Simply put, Minnesota can’t play defense.

Minnesota allowed at least five goals for the third time in four matches in last week’s 5-2 loss at New England. Minnesota allowed five goals to Portland and six to Atlanta and is on pace to allow more than 150 goals this season.

LAST WORD: “I’ve been very encouraged by what I’ve seen over the last 10 days. It’s going to take some time to piece that team together.” U.S. coach Bruce Arena after the latest round of World Cup qualifying.

Messi explains actions that warranted 4-match ban

AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano
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Lionel Messi is set to miss four Argentina matches for something we arguably see every week on TV.

That doesn’t make it okay, but is anyone else scratching their head at the suspension handed down to the world’s best player for verbal abuse of an official?

[ MORE: Barca defends Messi ]

Messi, 29, shouted an obscenity at the linesman in Thursday’s 1-0 win over Chile, and was both banned and served the first match of his ban on Tuesday, as Argentina was beaten 2-0 in Bolivia.

Messi explained his actions Wednesday with the following:

“My expressions were never directed to the referee, they were said to the air,” Messi told La Nacion.

That’s pretty ridiculous, yeah? But I can’t help but feel the four matches are a bit harsh. Hardly a high-level match goes by without seeing a player clearly being derisive toward an offical, and usually lipreading proves it wasn’t G-rated.

Again, I have no problem for setting a standard, as abuse of officials is unnecessary (and even those of us who are serially offenders know it).

But if confederations and leagues want to get serious about cutting it out, this can’t be a one-off suspension; End the group upbraiding of referees during games, the wild gesticulations, so on and so forth.

Bradley Wright-Phillips gets new deal; Nephew called up to England U-16

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It’s been a big 24 hours for the Wright-Phillips family.

Bradley Wright-Phillips signed a new Designated Player deal with the New York Red Bulls, while his nephew has been called up the England U-16 national team.

D’Margio Wright-Phillips is the son of Shawn Wright-Phillips, the former RBNY player currently plying his trade with Phoenix Rising of the USL.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Of course that will only serve to grow the pride of Arsenal legend Ian Wright, who adopted Bradley and Shaun.

The details:

BWP has signed a new multi-year deal with the Red Bulls which brings the 70-goal man into Designated Player status.

“I’d like to thank Denis, Jesse, and everyone at the club for the opportunity to continue wearing this shirt and playing in front of the best fans in MLS,” said Wright-Phillips. “I am very proud of what has been accomplished in my time here, but my sole focus is on trying to win MLS Cup.”

As for D’Margio, he’s in Manchester City’s academy and obviously taking the right steps toward making it three generations in the Premier League. Both Shaun and Bradley spent time in City’s academy.