Howard rushed off his line to great effect in the first half to thwart Arsenal's offense.

Premier League Playback: Everton in the mix, miserable Mourinho, basement boys battling

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BEARDLESS HOWARD EXCELS, AS EVERTON ARRIVE

Tim Howard looked ten years younger on Sunday, as the bushy beard was gone and he delivered a sterling display in Everton’s 1-1 draw with Arsenal. Two quick saves off his line in the first-half and a great stop from Aaron Ramsey after the break saw the USMNT ‘keeper one again give the Toffees a solid foundation to build off. Roberto Martinez’ side impressed against the Premier League leaders and in a week where they beat Manchester United away from home and drew with Arsenal at the Emirates, Everton are looking like a top four side in the making.

What will get them to that next level? Clinical finishing, said Howard, when I spoke to him in the tunnel afterwards.

“That’s the one thing, as well as we played in the first half for the possession we had, we didn’t create enough chances. I think nearly at the halfway point [of the season], that’s something we’re looking to get better at. We defended really well, we’ve shown that with the clean sheets that we’ve kept. We have been getting in the attacking third a bunch of times but now we have to try and finish off our chances.”

Howard is right.

For all their early dominance — which frustrated the home crowd mercifully and piled the pressure on the Gunners —  Everton had no real substance to show for a sublime first half display. Both full backs bombed on and provided good crosses but so often not enough men were gambling to get in the box. Ross Barkley was a shining light in midfield and whenever he was on the ball he turned and ran at the Gunners back-tracking defense in one swift movement. Just 20-years-old and already a PL regular and England international, Barkley has the world at his feet. He was handed the man of the match award on Sunday, and in his first post-game interview he looked timid and shy. Everton’s attackers are looking a little like that at the moment, Romelu Lukaku aside, and if they’re going to make it to the Champions League in Martinez’ first season in charge, more goals and a clinical ruthlessness is whats needed.

FULL PREMIER LEAGUE PLAYBACK ARCHIVE

As they bullied Arsenal for vast swathes of their game at the weekend, Everton proved from back to front their capable of sticking with anyone in this league. A work in progress, but after watching them scare the life out of Arsenal, with some fine tuning here and there Martinez’ men could become a work of art.

Premier League Schedule – Week 15

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

MOURINHO: “WE’RE IN TROUBLE”

After Chelsea’s 3-2 defeat to Stoke City on Saturday, Jose Mourinho resembled a dejected figure. In the cauldron of the Britannia Stadium his saw his sides defense once again succumb to relentless wing-play. In their two away games last week, Chelsea conceded six goals and scored six. That is not a Mourinho team. Not at all. His sides are built on solid defense and are always hard to beat. Not this Chelsea side. Take nothing away from Stoke, they pushed, cajoled and harried the Blues and Oussama Assaidi’s stunning stoppage time howitzer was worthy of winning any game.

But the Chelsea of old would’ve seen this game out with at least a point.

“I don’t feel comfortable enough to tell you what I think about the game,” Mourinho said afterwards. “We’re in trouble. It is a concern [conceding many goals recently]. I don’t like it, I don’t organize my teams to be like this. Sometimes mistakes kill an organization.”

It is that lack or organization that killed Chelsea on Saturday.

Stoke were clever and left men in wide areas that confused Chelsea’s packed midfield of John Obi Mikel, Juan Mata and Ramires and left the defense in a muddle. Take a look at the image on the right.

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(Click  image to enlarge) Notice the space in behind Chelsea’ RB, Gary Cahill (CB) stepping into midfield and Mikel dropping back too deep. This is a mess and happened far too often.

This was after Chelsea went 1-0 up and the Potters were pushing for an equalizer. Time and time again the wide men were left unmarked, look at the space in behind full back Branislav Ivanovic and notice how the right center back, Gary Cahill, has inexplicably pushed up to try and close the ball. Obi Mikel should be doing that but the holding midfield is instead stood almost holding hands with CB John Terry. You don’t need two men to mark Peter Crouch when the ball is in that position. This shape is awful and Chelsea’s defensive problems seem to come from a sheer lack or organization. No wonder Mourinho is miserable, he prides himself on meticulously setting his team out to be impenetrable. Often standing with his hands in his pockets on the sideline, lacking his usual charisma in post-game interviews and sporting bags under his eyes, Mourinho has one heck of a job on his hands with the Blues. It’s a miracle they’re only five points off the top after defensive displays like this.

BOTTOM CLUBS UP FOR THE BATTLE

What a good weekend it was for the PL’s bottom clubs (except for Sunderland, sorry Mackems fans) as Crystal Palace, Fulham, Stoke and Norwich all won to ease the pressure on their relegation struggles. Being in and around the bottom around Christmas, historically, isn’t a good place to be. Only one side in PL history (West Brom in 2005) has avoided relegation when being bottom of the standings on Christmas Day. There’s a mad scramble to get away from the basement door to the Championship.

MORE: Latest Premier League Standings

So to see Palace picking up their second win in as many games under new boss Tony Pulis, Fulham totally dismissing Aston Villa in a first win for Rene Meulensteen, Stoke dispatching Chelsea and Norwich traveling to West Brom and beating the Baggies, shows that this seasons relegation scrap has plenty more twists and turns in it. The basement boys are up for the battle and will fight for their lives. Five points separating West Brom in 15th and Fulham in 19th shows how tight it is. Hope springs eternal and after this weekend, Christmas for fans of those struggling teams we mentioned is set to be a lot brighter.

FESTIVE SEASON TO SEPARATE PRETENDERS

Talking of the impeding festive season, come on scrooges out there, you know you love it, take a look over the following fixtures. One thing springs to mind when I have a gander, after the festive period, we’ll have a much better idea who’s for real at the top of the table and which teams stock will be falling lower than a scarf salesman in the post-festive shopping season.

  • Tottenham v Liverpool – December 14
  • Man City v Arsenal – December 15
  • Arsenal v Chelsea – December 23
  • Chelsea v Liverpool – December 29
  • Man Utd v Tottenham – January 1

In just over two weeks of fixtures, some sides will drop out of the title race altogether, others (Arsenal and Liverpool in particular) could strengthen their title credentials considerably.

MOYES TAKES THE BLAME, SO HE SHOULD…

On Monday David Moyes took one for the team after saying he takes “complete responsibility” for Manchester United’s terrible start to the season. It’s a noble act that many would see as deflecting the pressure away from his players and protecting them, something Sir Alex Ferguson was a master at. But there’s something less noble about Moyes taking responsibility, when in reality the problems probably has a lot to do with his ineptitude for change. For me, unless United score early in games, there’s often no plan B. That was the case against Newcastle on Saturday as the longer the game remained at 0-0, the home side were panicking and the substitutions from Moyes were poor. Bringing on defensive midfielder Anderson… when you needed a goal to stop United losing their second-straight home league game for the first time since 2002, nah, that’s not right.

Stop panicking Moyesy, positive subs and positivity is needed to help alter United’s worrying trend. They sit in ninth and are 13 points off league leaders Arsenal after another defeat. Worryingly, without the injured Wayne Rooney they looked lost going forward as they had the lowest number of passes in the final third of any team in the PL over the past weekend with just 93. I urged more attacking impetus from United in the last edition of Playback, that fell on deaf ears and I still believe more emphasis on attack needs to prevail at Old Trafford. The stat below from our mates at Opta says it all…

Premier League “Goal Rush” to debut this weekend

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At 10 a.m. ET this Saturday you will be able to access NBC Sports Digital’s newest product, Premier League Goal Rush.

It will be available on the NBC Sports App and on NBCSports.com as goals from all six matches in the 10 a.m. ET window will be shown simultaneously as live look-ins occurs around all the grounds in the Premier League.

STREAM GOAL RUSH HERE

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Campionshi Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of NFL RedZone-like action from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window.

More info is available here, plus the quick snippet below explains what is coming up on Goal Rush and how to access it.


Premier League host John Dykes will host the program, which focuses on one match and features live look-ins on action at all the grounds. The show will follow the most important stories and include a round-up of all the first-half action at halftime. Viewers will also be kept updated with graphics, headlines and statistics.

“We are excited to offer Goal Rush, which will provide fans with a unique Premier League viewing experience during windows with simultaneous matches,” said Rick Cordella, SVP and General Manager, Digital Media, NBC Sports Group.

Goal Rush will feature Watford v. Arsenal, and include live look-ins at the other five matches in the Saturday 10 a.m. ET window. All Premier League matches in the 10 a.m. ET window will be made available on NBCSN or on Premier League Extra Time, a bonus television package available to MVPDs at no extra cost for customers who receive NBCSN. All games preceded and followed by Premier League Live pre- and post-match shows from the NBC Sports Group International Broadcast Center in Stamford, Conn.

All Premier League games will be streamed on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app — NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktops, mobile devices, tablets, and connected TVs. Coverage will be streamed via “TV Everywhere,” giving consumers additional value to for their subscription service, and making high quality content available to MVPD customers both in and out of the home and on multiple platforms. The NBC Sports app is powered by Playmaker Media and available on the iTunes App Store, Google Play, Windows Store, Roku Channel Store, Apple TV and Amazon Fire.

Premier League preview: Hull City vs. Manchester United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford on August 19, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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  • Hull last beat United in November 1974
  • United have won 3 of last 4 games at Hull in the PL
  • Zlatan has 3 goals in his first 2 PL games

Hull City host Manchester United on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 .m. ET on NBC and online via NBC Sports) with both teams perfect through two games.

That’s right. The Tigers have stunned everyone in the opening weeks of the season with caretaker boss Mike Phelan only having 13 fit senior players to choose from but they beat Leicester City and Swansea City to make it six points from six. Quite remarkable.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE 

Phelan was United’s assistant manager under Sir Alex Ferguson from 2008-13 and won three Premier League titles with the Red Devils. He still hasn’t been handed the Hull job permanently despite an incredible start to the season after Steve Bruce left in the summer and the Allam family continue to push ahead with plans to sell the club to Chinese investors.

As for Manchester United, Jose Mourinho and his newly-assembled side have gone about their opening PL games in workmanlike fashion with Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring three goals in two games and Paul Pogba impressing on his debut.

United will be confident they can make it three wins on the sin and Mourinho’s biggest problem is keeping everyone his massive squad happy. Newsflash: that isn’t going to happen.

In team news Hull are gradually getting more players back with Harry Maguire available but they are still looking to add plenty of new faces before the transfer window shuts with Ryan Mason and others close to securing moves to Yorkshire. As for United, they have no new injury worries and Mourinho has a massive selection headache.

What they’re saying

Mourinho on the the final days of the transfer window: “I think we’re going to have a very quiet week, not surrounded by helicopters, waiting for somebody to leave or to arrive. I am more than happy with the squad I have. I have 23 players in the squad and, in principle, there is nobody leaving and nobody is coming.”

“It’s more than enough and, if you have a problem or an opportunity, then I have a few young players in the academy that I will be more than happy to give acceleration to in their process.”

Phelan on Zlatan joining United in past: “There have to be moments, in a career span like Sir Alex Ferguson had, when you come across and think about such star players as Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The size of Manchester United means you want to recruit the very best. It demands it. He had to be a target. I am sure he was on the radar many times. But he was at top, top clubs and because of that, even though it was Manchester United, the prospect of him moving to the Premier League was always very slim — he was at the best anyway.”

Prediction

Hull’s bubble will finally burst and United will get on with the job with ruthless efficiency. Zlatan is on fire and will torment Hull’s makeshift defense, while Pogba will drive the Red Devils on from midfield. 3-1 to Manchester United.

Local lad Matt Targett aims to kick on at Southampton

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19:  Antonio Valencia of Manchester United closes down Matt Targett of Southampton during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford on August 19, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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There’s nothing like having a homegrown hero in your team and Southampton certainly knows all about that.

[ MORE: Saints to play Inter ]

Matt Targett is the latest product of Saints’ famed academy to break into the first team and the 20-year-old was born and bred in Southampton.

The England U-21 left back impressed under Ronald Koeman and and broke into the team as a 17-year-old during the 2014-15 Premier League campaign.

Speaking exclusively to ProSoccerTalk ahead of Southampton’s clash with Sunderland this Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBC Sports) Targett revealed his pride at representing his team in the Premier League.

“I am immensely proud to be able to play for the club that I grew up watching and following,” Targett explained. “It has played such a big role in my life, having progressed through the academy to the first team. It’s a really special feeling to be able to run out on the St Mary’s turf and play for my hometown team.”

It has been a slow start for Saints this season with one point from their opening two games but new manager Claude Puel is putting his stamp on the team with a new diamond formation in midfield.

Targett — an attacking left back who is comfortable on the ball and can also operate as a wing-back and at left midfield — and his teammates know they must improve in the weeks and months ahead but they are confident they can improve as the season goes on.

“There are areas we know we can improve on as well as positives that we can build on,” Targett said. “Our new signings have integrated well into the group and there is a good feeling in the squad. We know the quality that we have in the team and we’re confident that quality will show.”

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 13: Nordin Amrabat of Watford battle for possession with sMatt Targett of Southampton during the Premier League match between Southampton and Watford at St Mary's Stadium on August 13, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Looking ahead to the game against Sunderland this weekend, Targett knows it would be a nice feeling to head into the international break with a win and says Saints have been “working hard in training” to get a positive result against David Moyes‘ men.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned from Saints’ loss at Man United ]

At the ripe age of 20, Targett has now appeared in each of the last three PL campaigns for Saints and has racked up 33 appearances in all competitions despite having England international left back Ryan Bertrand ahead of him in the pecking order.

Target feels like he is ready to keep pushing on this season.

“Every Premier League season is a big one but clearly I am aiming to continue developing and progressing as a player,” Targett said. “I want to keep adding different elements to my game and listening to the coaches on what areas I can work on. It’s a big season for the club with Europa League football too, so I am very much looking forward to that.”

AVIGNON, FRANCE - MAY 29: James Ward Prowse, Jack Stephens and Matthew Targett, all of Southampton and England pose with the trophy during the Final of the Toulon Tournament between England and France at Parc Des Sports on May 29, 2016 in Avignon, France. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)
James Ward Prowse and Matthew Targett (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

As is usually the case at Southampton, Targett is just one of a number of promising youngsters currently in the system. After selling on the likes of Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana to powerhouse clubs, Saints continue to churn out young internationals.

This summer Targett was part of a England U-21 side which had five Saints academy graduates — Arsenal’s Calum Chambers and Saints’ James Ward-Prowse (captain of England), Jack Stephens, Nathan Redmond and Targett himself — and won the prestigious Toulon Tournament in France.

Does he think he and Saints’ other youngsters are ready to play week in, week out in the PL?

“It was fantastic to be part of the winning Toulon team and great for Southampton Football Club to have several players gain that experience on the international stage. The club has a great reputation for nurturing talent and that success with the England under 21 side can only help us,” Targett said. “Although it obviously depends on several factors, the club has consistently shown that it gives youth that opportunity to go out and play in the biggest league in the world.”

On Friday Southampton were drawn against Italian giants Inter Milan, Sparta Prague and Hapoel Beer-Sheva in the UEFA Europa League group stage.

It is the first time Saints have ever reached this stage of the competition and local lad Targett is looking forward to some memorable nights ahead.

“It will be good to test ourselves against some of the best clubs on the continent and I’m sure we’ll be playing in front of some special atmospheres, especially at St Mary’s.”

Premier League preview: Tottenham vs. Liverpool

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 02: Jordan Henderson of Liverpool and Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield on April 2, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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  • Spurs haven’t beaten Liverpool in seven PL games (0-5-2) 
  • Liverpool have the most PL goals in 2016 (45)
  • Liverpool first PL team since 1997-98 to open season with 3 away games

Tottenham Hotspur host Liverpool at White Hart Lane on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports) in an early season clash between two top four contenders.

Spurs have started the season in a solid manner, gaining four points from their opening two games but Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen have yet to get going. As for Liverpool we’ve seen their Jekyll and Hyde persona at its finest as Jurgen Klopp‘s side ripped apart Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in a 4-3 opening day win but they lost at Burnley last time out.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

This fixture has seen Liverpool go unbeaten in their last seven games against Spurs, scoring an average of 2.7 goals per game. This is also the third highest-scoring fixture in PL history. So, expect plenty of entertainment.

Klopp’s first game in charge of Liverpool last season was at Spurs in October in a rather dull 0-0 draw. Liverpool won’t be involved in many scoreless draws this campaign as their top-heavy side possesses plenty of fine attacking talents in Daniel Sturridge, Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana and Divock Origi to name but a few.

In team news Spurs are still without captain and star goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, while Mousa Dembele is still suspended. Liverpool will be without Emre Can after he was injured in midweek and Philippe Coutinho is doubtful.

What they’re saying

Pochettino on Spurs improving: “Sometimes people don’t realise how important last season was. To be involved in the title race and to try to win the Premier League, many things happened that meant we improved a lot and learned a lot throughout the season. Now we will be tougher than last season when we try to challenge again.”

Jurgen Klopp on Sturridge playing out wide: “I don’t want to play Daniel as a wide player but of course he can start there and of course he can play there but in the decisive moments he needs to be involved in all of the finishing situations.  I think he scored both goals [when he was] inside the box so he wasn’t on the wing in this moment. That is flexible football. Daniel is a very smart player. He’s good at getting himself into positions where it’s not easy to defend. Both game Burton and Burnley were games where we didn’t need offensive wingers in these positions. It’s not a fixed position for him. There is absolutely no problem. I don’t know exactly what he said but when I talk to him there is absolutely no issue.”

Prediction

I think Liverpool’s defensive frailties are too severe right now for them to do anything other than attack. That will leave plenty of space for Kane, Vincent Janssen, Alli et al. to exploit and I see Pochettino’s side winning this. 3-1 to Spurs.