Liverpool v Everton - Premier League

Premier League Playback: Liverpool set for top four, City unstoppable, Dempsey’s struggles

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ALL OUT ATTACK – LIVERPOOL’S PLAN FOR UCL BERTH

On Wednesday against Everton, Brendan Rodgers set his Liverpool side out to attack. Scratch that, their aim wasn’t just to attack, it was to obliterate.

Job done.

Liverpool went with Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge in attack with Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling supporting them. In a swashbuckling 4-3-3 Rodgers’ star men delivered an oppressive display that enabled the Reds to strip Everton of possession as high up the pitch as possible. That lead to their biggest derby win in almost three decades against the Toffees, as a 4-0 win could and should have been more.

Last week I went along to Liverpool’s Melwood training center and asked Rodgers how important his central midfield would be between now and the end of the season, he admitted his sides 2-2 draw with Aston Villa in their last home game before the Merseyside derby still rankled with home. Especially the way he initially set up his team in the midfield and final third. This is the response he gave me.

“What was interesting about last weekend was that it was one of the only times, since I’ve been here, that we played 4-4-2,” Rodgers said. “A lot of our work has been based around 4-3-3 and having superiority in the middle of the field. The players have grown very comfortable with that over time. I probably played too much of an aggressive team, attacking wise, and we probably suffered from that. Then when we made the changes, and when we put three in the middle we had some control again. That area of the field is very important for us, that’s where we look to control and dominate the game. When we do that, we are a very good side.”

Liverpool certainly dominated the midfield and showed just how good they were against Everton.

Everyone talks about having a high-pressure approach against sides like Everton, who loved to spray the ball around and play out from the back, but you need remarkable fitness levels from all 10 outfield players to achieve this. Rodgers unleashed his forward four to harass Everton and had captain Steven Gerrard quarterbacking proceedings from a deep-lying midfield role. It worked a treat.

The 4-3-3 formation with S.A.S. leading the line is the way to go for Rodgers.

He realized that after Liverpool’s poor first half display vs. Aston Villa. Now the penny has dropped and the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” has never been so apt.

(MORE: Liverpool dazzle in derby win, will Champions League dream become a reality?)

Clarity of thought always comes when a massive Merseyside derby is on the horizon and Rodgers’ used that to mastermind an attacking masterclass from his side. Will the Reds make the top four playing this breathtaking brand of soccer?

You bet your bottom dollar they will. Few teams will outscore them. Expect to hear raspy chants of “attack, attack, attack” reign down from the famous Kop end during the rest of the campaign. When you have the precocious attacking Liverpool have at their disposal it would be silly not to. In his post-game press conference at Anfield following Liverpool’s largest derby win since 1982, Rodgers was a little disappointed his team didn’t win by more than the 4-0 margin.

Behind Man City’s offensive juggernaut, Liverpool are the second highest scorers in the English top-flight with 57 goals from 23 games.

Next up to feel the wrath of Liverpool’s fired up attack: West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.

Premier League Schedule – Round 23

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

UNSTOPPABLE CITY?

After smashing 11 goals past top four hopefuls Tottenham Hotspur during two victories this season, Manchester City are the real deal. With their resounding 5-1 win over Spurs at White Hart Lane their eighth-successive win in the PL, only four other teams have done that in league history (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man United).

The Citizens have now scored 68 goals in 23 games, which means they’ve already surpassed the 66 goals they scored in the entire 2012-13 campaign. There are still 15 games to go this season…

After smashing Spurs into space with sublime forward movement and interchanging midfielders leaving the White Hart Lane crowd dizzy in despair, Manuel Pellegrini’s side are now top of the Premier League table with a massive few weeks coming up.

Let’s not dwell on another hammering of a top four contender because, let’s face it, it happens all too often for City this year. Thanks to our good friends at Opta, above, you can see that against the top eight sides in the PL they have grabbed 24 points from a possible 27. The only team they lost to was Chelsea in a narrow 2-1 loss back in November.

Who do they host this week at the Eithad? Chelsea.

On Monday, live on NBCSN from 2pm ET, you can watch on to see if City will be able to put Chelsea in their place and hand out another hammering to a top four, and potential title, contender. Chelsea are three points behind City going into this game and know a defeat will see the Citizens extend their lead over the West London club to six points. With Sergio Aguero injuring his hamstring against Spurs, the Argentine may miss the game. But City don’t really care if their leading man is out, they have Edin Dzeko, Alvaro Negredo and now Stevan Jovetic all fit and ready to continue banging in goals left, right and center.

(MORE: Latest Premier League Standings)

Be afraid Chelsea, very afraid. Right now a visit to City is the last thing Jose Mourinho needs as his side struggled to a 0-0 draw with West Ham and the Portuguese boss moaned and complained about the Hammer’s ” football from the 19th century.”

Chelsea had the bus parked against them, surely the only way they have any chance of inflicting a first PL home defeat of the season on City is by shutting up shop and defending for their lives at the Etihad?

On this form, City are looking to beat the PL record of 14 consecutive wins. I wouldn’t bet against them breaking pretty much every record out there this season. Their dominance is astounding, watch on as they embarrass yet another top PL club below. This time it was Tottenham’s time to bow down and imitate the ‘we’re not worthy gesture.’

EL MATA-DOR AT HOME WITH UNITED?

On his long-awaited debut for Manchester United, record-signing Juan Mata didn’t set Old Trafford alight with his opening 83 minutes in a United shirt. Sometimes, the script just doesn’t allow a dazzling display on debut. Throughout Mata was always probing, always searching for and demanding the ball at his feet to get United going as he had the most touches on the pitch with 63. The tiny Spanish playmaker helped create Robin van Persie’s opening goal with a searching ball out to the left flank in the build-up. It was only a glimmer of what he’s capable of, but it was there.

But the big question is, where will Mata play for the Red Devils?

Despite darting in and out of the lines and making intelligent and intricate runs around Cardiff’s defense, so often his new United teammates didn’t give him the ball where he could hurt the opposition. That’s part of the growing process and it’ll be extremely interesting to see where Mata lines up against Stoke City on Saturday as David Moyes has a real dilemma to solve. Albeit a luxury , which Moyesy hasn’t had a plethora of so far this campaign.

source: AP
Mata showed glimpses of what’s to come in a United shirt, after a steady debut

On Saturday Wayne Rooney will return to full fitness and now United have to fit Rooney, van Persie, Mata and teenage sensation Adnan Januzaj into the same starting XI. Antonia Valencia’s slot on the right wing looks a little vulnerable, as I’d expect to see a 4-2-3-1 formation with Januzaj deployed on the right, Mata played centrally and Rooney cutting in off the left behind RVP up top on his own.

I’d also expect to see Rooney and Mata interchange with both players taking turns to cover the left flanks defensively, but there won’t be much of that. With two holding midfielders United will be able to plug those gaps out wide by slotting a central midfielder out wide if Rooney or Januzaj get caught up the pitch and then the opposite winger will tuck in to balance things out to make a bank of four in front of the back four. It’s not rocket science. All four attackers can start in the same team together.

Will Rooney enjoy being shifted out to the left? Let’s wait and see. But his relationship on the field with Mata is something I’m looking forward to watch, as two creative geniuses feeding the PL’s most clinical striker in recent years (RVP) is a recipe for supreme success. Whatever what you dissect it.

Mata is the key cog to it all, and with his intelligent runs and boasting a superior soccer IQ to most, United need to get the ball to him in the correct positions to see the tricky Spaniard at his devastating best.

A work in progress for the Red Devils to unlock their attacking potential, but finally, it’s in progress.

DECLINING DEMPSEY EPITOMIZES FULHAM’S WOE

As Fulham’s players trudged off the pitch at a rainy Liberty Stadium following yet another defeat on Tuesday, USMNT captain Cint Dempsey is now well and truly embroiled in a relegation battle with the same club where he shone as Player of the Year and previously lit up the Premier League.

Of course Deuce is only on loan from MLS’ Seattle Sounders until the end of February, but instead of inspiring a lackluster Fulham side up the table and away from relegation during his short stint back at Craven Cottage, his arrival has done the exact opposite.

Now questions are being raised about his readiness for the World Cup in Brazil next summer. Will Clint still be the USA’s talisman?

This loan spell was also supposed to see Dempsey get back to his best after his career faltered a little at Tottenham following a move from Fulham on transfer deadline day in August 2012. Add in a largely forgettable start to his career back in MLS with his lucrative move to Seattle in July, and you have a player that’s languishing a little.

Dempsey has struggled to impact any of the games he’s played in for Fulham in the last few weeks, with the U.S. international struggling for confidence and form. Those two key ingredients are extremely hard to find in a side battling relegation. PST’s Kyle Bonn took an in-depth look at Dempsey’s struggles since returning to the Cottage.

We are all rooting for you, Clint. In fact I would go as far as saying a fired up and rejuvenate Dempsey is the difference between the USA making the knockouts or bowing out in the group stages in Brazil this summer. Let’s hope things turn around really soon for Deuce.

In case you missed anything in Round 23, here’s all the action in a neatly wrapped video of the midweek madness.

Premier League Playback takes an alternative look at all the weekend’s action from the PL, it comes out every week.

SKorean soccer club loses points over corruption scandal

JEONJU, SOUTH KOREA - MAY 24:  Besart Berisha action during the AFC Champions League Round Of 16 match between Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Melbourne Victory at Jeonju World Cup Stadium on May 24, 2016 in Jeonju, South Korea.  (Photo by Han Myung-Gu/Getty Images)
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) The South Korean soccer league deducted nine points from league leader Jeonbuk Hyundai on Friday after one of the club’s employees was convicted of bribing referees in 2013.

The K-League also fined Jeonbuk 100 million won ($90,600). The club, which saw its 14-point lead over second-place FC Seoul reduced to a five-point margin, issued an apology and vowed to take measures to prevent it from happening again.

A court in Busan on Wednesday sentenced a Jeonbuk scout to a suspended prison term of two years for paying referees in exchange for favorable decisions in several league matches in 2013.

An official from Jeonbuk said the scout has been suspended by the team and it will soon make a decision whether to terminate his employment. He refused to be named, citing office rules.

The K-League had vowed reforms after being rocked by a massive match-fixing scandal in 2011, when 52 players were indicted for taking bribes in return for trying to manipulate the outcome of matches or betting their own money on the games.

Mangala replaces Mathieu in France squad

PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 03:  Kolbeinn Sigthorsson of Iceland and Eliaquim Mangala of France compete for the ball during the UEFA EURO 2016 quarter final match between France and Iceland at Stade de France on July 3, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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PARIS (AP) Barcelona defender Jeremy Mathieu has been removed from the France squad for upcoming World Cup qualifiers for an unspecified reason.

[ MORE: What’s Arsenal’s best XI in the Arsene Wenger era? ]

The French football federation gave no explanation for coach Didier Deschamps’s decision to replace Mathieu with Eliaquim Mangala, only saying he made the move “following a discussion” with the Barcelona player. Mangala is currently on a season-long loan at Valencia from Manchester City.

France takes on Bulgaria on Oct. 7 at the Stade de France before traveling to Amsterdam to play the Netherlands three days later in Group A.

EXCLUSIVE: Michael Bradley on Toronto FC’s long-awaited renaissance

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07:  Michael Bradley #4 of Toronto FC heads over to take a corner kick during the first half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Times have changed in Toronto for the local football club. The Reds are no longer, to put it bluntly, the bad club that failed to deliver results to a passionate fan base expecting so much more.

A club that missed the playoffs in each of its first eight seasons has clinched a postseason berth for a second-straight season. And this year, for the first time ever, TFC will finish this season with more wins than losses.

You read that right. For the first time ever. Yes, it was that bad.

[ MORE: JPW talks with USMNT prospect Gooch ]

It would overstate things to say Bradley showed up and fixed things for the Reds, turning them from a bad big club to a big, bad one overnight; For one thing, TFC missed the playoffs during his first season and Bradley only netted twice in a return to MLS which was expected to be dominant (though he was, per 90, one of the best possession players in the league that season).

Yet as time as gone on, in an organization that frankly had not seen much winning at all, Bradley has not just led the way as a battler emerged from BMO Field; The 29-year-old TFC and USMNT captain now leads a winner, one he’s quick to point out comes from an organization, not any single personality.

“I’ve tried every day since I got here to spill my heart and soul into it and to try to help in every way that I can,” Bradley told ProSoccerTalk.

“For a lot of people who have been here for the last years to see the way that things have continued to move forward and progress, there’s a big sense of pride. We’re by no means where we want to be. There are big goals around here in terms of continuing to turn this into a team and a club that can compete and win on a regular basis.”

Yep, times have changed for the better. And at the center of it all, whether he admits it or not, is the steely reserve of an American in Canada.


[ MORE: Wisconsin sophomore set to face Mexico, USMNT ]


Michael Bradley is deliberate in his choice of words, and pauses several times to make sure his point is clearly made.

The train powers along once he finds the right track, however.

It’s fitting, because Greg Vanney’s defensive system with Bradley works in a similar way. Patiently wait for the right time to take the ball, then surge forward and take no prisoners. Find Sebastian Giovinco. Find Jozy Altidore. Find Jonathan Osorio, or another attacker… or just fire away.

“On our best days, we have a team that plays in a real good way,” Bradley says. “When we have our best group on the field, our football is good, the ball moves quickly, we’re a team that is able to put the game on our terms with the ball but not do it in a way that’s not just needless possession.

“We circulate the ball, but also do it with an eye toward playing forward and make sure we get it to our dangerous attacking players quickly and in good moments. Defensively we’re able to tighten things up and found a way to make it very hard on other teams to play against us.”

Heading into Saturday night’s home match with DC United, TFC has won seven of its last 12 MLS matches. That stretch has seen Toronto lose just once, and the Reds have weathered an injury to reigning MLS MVP Giovinco with a win and three draws.

TORONTO, ON - MAY 10: Michael Bradley #4 of Toronto FC during an MLS soccer game against the Houston Dynamo at BMO Field on May 10, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Bradley’s deliberate expression of feeling comes into play again when he considers the challenges of TFC’s summer, injuries not withstanding. The captain is thrilled with how the Reds have found contributions from all over the field, but would love to see their best XI for a sustained stretch of action.

Finding chemistry with a team during the MLS season, where a club can lose its best players for weeks at a time thanks to the unorthodox calendar, is a massive challenge. Bradley knows it’s not just Toronto who’s troubled by it, but he also senses how good the team could be with a season’s worth of build-up.

The excitement ratchets higher and higher in his voice as he contemplates the complementary pieces in a healthy, non-international break hampered Greg Vanney lineup. TFC went 1-2 during the Copa America, losing to the Red Bulls and Orlando City. Those points loom with Toronto in a three-way battle for the top of the East.

“We feel like we’re on a very good team, and I mention the other stuff because it’s a shame that over the course of a 34-game season there are so many other things that go into it,” Bradley said. “Which means you are not able to play your best team on as consistent a basis as you’d like.”


[ MORE: LA’s Dos Santos gets Mexico call-up ]


The conversation turns, briefly, to the United States men’s national team.

The leader of the unit, Bradley has been through the highs and lows of wearing the stars and stripes since a very young age.

KANSAS CITY, KS - MAY 28: Michael Bradley #4 of USA directs a header away from the Bolivia forwards in the first half of an international friendly match between Bolivia and the United States on May 28, 2016 at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)

The captain has 121 caps and 15 goals, a journey that began when he was capped at age 18. He’s seen the improbable Confederations Cup comeback run, the thrills of the 2010 World Cup, and several Dos a Ceros. He’s also seen the 2015 Gold Cup failure, the disheartening loss to Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup, and more positional banter than any player in U.S. history.

Given his lofty status within the federation, and his early start, he’s the right person to ask about the USMNT’s teenage sensation Christian Pulisic. And he’s happy to talk about the kid, though not about the big picture, and mentorship. Yeah, he talks to the kid about soccer. No, that’s not for media consumption. So stop asking.

“Christian is a really good kid,” Bradley said. “He’s smart, he’s into it, he’s talented, motivated.

“(But) Everybody needs to stop asking what kind of advice to give him. The most important thing for him is, and I said this to somebody last week, is to continue to find the most joy every day in playing, in training, in improving, in stepping on the field on Saturday and competing and trying to be as good as possible. As long as he never loses the joy of what it means to step on the field and play football, then he’s going to continue to improve and take himself to great places.”

You get the sense that, consciously or not, Michael Bradley has ushered these thoughts from personal experience.


The captain of America loves his adopted hometown north of the border.

And Bradley isn’t exactly measuring Toronto against a one-light city in the sticks. After leaving New Jersey as a teenager in 2005, Bradley has lived amongst the abbey and villages of Monchengladbach, the Dutch windmills of Friesland, and the many wonders of the Eternal City, Rome.

But there’s something in the fourth biggest North American city that works for Bradley.

“It’s a city that is so incredibly diverse,” Bradley begins. “When you get around different parts of the city, the types of people you meet and see who come from all over the world, that part is special. Since the first day that my family and I got here, this has felt like home.

“Our daughter was born here. Our son goes to kindergarten here now and comes home; He’s an American, he was born in Rome, but goes to kindergarten in Toronto and comes home every day singing, “O Canada”, because at the beginning the day that’s what they do. It’s an amazing city, and a place we’re proud to call home.”

Bradley is signed through the end of 2019, and Toronto has turned down several overseas pleas for the midfielder.

Orlando City's Kaka, center, battles with Toronto FC's Michael Bradley, right, as Amando Cooper looks on during the first half of a soccer game, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016 in Toronto. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
(Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)

And TFC should be good for a long time. Only two rostered players are over 30: outstanding back Drew Moor and Benoit Cheyrou. This on a team that has won the joint-most road games in MLS, allowed the second-fewest goals, and ranks third in goal differential (plus-12).

“We’ve in some ways have such a high standard for ourselves that when you get home and you have a few games at home and you’re not able to find the winner, you’re not able to make that final play to win the games and take all three points, when you’re only able to come away with a tie, that people — and we include ourselves in this — are disappointed,” Bradley said.

“The feeling inside our group on certain days, lately even when we’ve tied a few of these games at home has been disappointment and frustration, and feeling like there was more there for us. That’s a positive thing. We’ve gotten ourselves to the point where we expect to step on the field every weekend and compete to win. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing against, and where we’re playing. That’s the mentality that we have.”


[ MORE: MLS Playoff picture — Who can clinch? ]


To sum it all up, a personal angle that might underscore the impressive turnaround in Canada’s largest city.

Living in Buffalo and loving the sport the way I do, my friends and I got in on TFC season tickets in 2008, Toronto’s second season. We’d make the 90-minute or 3-hour drive, depending on the city’s unholy, construction-driven traffic, and revel in the soccer paradise created by the Red Patch Boys.

Visits by River Plate, Pachuca, and Real Madrid sustained interest in the team, but in a way we became numb to names: Amado Guevera, Torsten Frings, and Danny Koevermans were trotted out and left without a playoff run. Taking a dozen or so day trips to watch losses that made the average at-best Maple Leafs look like 1980’s Oilers became too much to justify the cost.

Oddly enough, TFC went from hot new Toronto property to one that started to feel like just another entity. When Jermain Defoe and Julio Cesar didn’t spur a playoff run, morale seemed at an all-time low. As a soccer writer now with no true allegiance, it was more with a sigh of “Wouldn’t it be cool if they were good?” when Altidore, Vanney, and Giovinco joined Bradley. When Clint Irwin, Will Johnson, and Drew Moor joined mainstays Justin Morrow and Jonathan Osorio, there was even more legitimate reason for hope.

But hope is different from getting the job done, and that’s something for which Bradley and Vanney deserve a ton of credit. There are more Toronto demons to overcome — there’s little doubt a sports teams’ playoff stench can linger over a town once the postseason hits (Again, I’m from Buffalo) — but for now it’s worth lauding a club which has found its forward-thinking despite the skeletons in their Ontarian closet.

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07: Michael Bradley #4 and Jozy Altidore #17 of Toronto FC celebrate a goal by teammate Tsubasa Endoh #9 during the first half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Report: FA chief reveals Allardyce could be charged in scandal

TRNAVA, SLOVAKIA - SEPTEMBER 04:  Sam Allardyce manager of England looks on prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Group F qualifying match between Slovakia and England at City Arena on September 4, 2016 in Trnava, Slovakia.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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While England continues its search for the country’s next manager, Sam Allardyce‘s troubles with the FA roll on as well.

[ MORE: Redknapp was reportedly aware of former players betting ]

On Friday, FA chief executive Martin Glenn revealed that “it is realistic [Allardyce] could be charged” by the football governing body for his alleged role in an English corruption scandal.

Allardyce was relieved of his duties as England manager on Tuesday following a release of information from the Telegraph.

“The newspaper that made the revelations are releasing the full transcripts to the police, which is what has to happen,” said Glenn. “Once we get full access to them, we’ll pass them to our Integrity Unit. We’ve dealt with Sam as an employee. Sam’s role as a participant in the game will be part of this next process, if there is one.

“The decision will be based on the merits of the evidence. Bringing the game into disrepute might be a possible charge.

“A potential sanction could range from a fine to a ban. That’s what history shows. But that is for a tribunal to decide.”

Additionally, Glenn stated that interim England manager Gareth Southgate could be in consideration for the permanent job pending how he and the national team fare with its upcoming fixtures.

“I think Gareth is a genuine contender, but this isn’t an audition,” Glenn stated.