Premier League Playback: Rooney’s revolution at Manchester United, Everton slides, top teams accelerate

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ROONEY PERFECT TALISMAN TO LEAD REVIVAL

What does $500,000 a week get you? These days, you get a focal point for a revolution.

On Friday evening Manchester United superstar Wayne Rooney signed a new four-year extension to his contract which will see him lead United into a brave new world and hopefully a much brighter future. Committing himself to the Old Trafford club until the age of 33, Rooney will likely see out his playing days with the club he’s now been with for over a decade.

Following his terrific display in United’s 2-0 win over Crystal Palace on Saturday, and a stunning goal which you can watch above, Rooney had the following to say.

“I’ve had it agreed for about a month now, so I was just hoping it would get done as soon as possible. Now I can focus on football and try to help us succeed and win games. I’m delighted to sign a new long-term contract, I’m here to stay and I want to help make this club successful.”

Rooney, like any player, wants to feel wanted. And ever since David Moyes arrived as manager last summer, he’s waxed lyrical about Rooney’s form, professional attitude and leadership skills. Those words, perhaps more than the astronomical sums of money, could be why the 28-year-old striker turned down the advances of Europe’s elite for the chance to spearhead United’s charge back to the top. He has been at the club for 10 years, is in line to break many records, has won every trophy possible and now seems mature enough to take on the mantle of being a talisman on and off the pitch. Rooney will become an ambassador for the club, as the deal which made him the best paid player in United’s history is about much more than money.

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Click to enlarge: Position of Wayne Rooney’s touches vs. Palace. Source – Opta.

He is the one player, throughout all of United’s struggles this season, who has sparkled time and time again. Rooney has scored 10 PL goals in 22 games, but most importantly leads the Premier League in assists with nine. That’s because his role has been altered slightly and will continue to do so after the $56 million arrival of Juan Mata to link up with Rooney. The England international has laid on 44 goalscoring chances this season at an average of one every 42 minutes and his ability as a creator may see him drop deeper as his career plays out.

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Goals, although a huge part of his game, aren’t the be all and end all of Rooney’s output for the Reds. He is the heartbeat of the offense, the robust spine of the attack and is one of the most gifted players the PL has ever seen. His driving runs, clever passes and ability to find pockets of space always see Rooney as the focal point of United’s attack. His temperament is feisty on and off the pitch and although in the past it has resulted in red cards and tantrums, the fire in his belly is exactly what United need to fuel them forward. Rooney’s teammates will feed off his insatiable desire to win titles.

Look at the image on the left and you can see Rooney’s touches from the game vs. Palace, he’s all over the place and that’s Rooney at his best. But most telling is that he only had three touches in the penalty box, and one of those was his superb controlled volley which nestled into the top corner to seal United’s win and capped off the news of his new contract in style.

After the Palace game Rooney spoke about how United’s front four “have great flexibility” and pointed out how the relationship is building between him and Mata as Rooney “was coming deeper and Juan was coming in from the wing.” Rooney noted it will take time for United’s front four of Robin van Persie, Adnan Januzaj, himself and Mata to click perfectly (and don’t forget Danny Welbeck and Chicharito on the bench) but when it does, expect Rooney to be at the hub of everything

For the foreseeable future at United: welcome to Wayne’s World.

Premier League Schedule – Week 27

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

TOP FOUR WIN, START TO PULL AWAY

The elite got it done over the weekend, as the top four seem to be pulling away from the pack as they continue to turn the screw when it really matters. Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool are now all scrapping for the title, with a six-point gap emerging between them and Tottenham in fifth.

Arsenal eased past hapless Sunderland 4-1, while Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City all won by one goal. The importance of those three grinding out wins was not lost on their managers, as they all were relieved after the final whistle. None more so than Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho, who looked relaxed and composed in his post-match press conference, just moments after most of Stamford Bridge had lost the plot thanks to the Blues’ stoppage-time winner. Their 74-match unbeaten home run under Mourinho says it all. Chelsea defended superbly once again as their solid defense will win them this title. Plus clutch late winners portray true championship form.

“Today if we only have one point, if the teams behind us win, we lose that position,” Mourinho said nonchalantly. “The difference is very small, you win the game you keep the position. You lose the game you lose your position. This is the reality. We just want to try to keep our position.”

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The reality is, these four teams are pulling away from the rest at the top and that the Premier League champions in 2013-14 will be either Arsenal, Chelsea, City or Liverpool. I’m not going out on a limb by stating that but as Jose said, that’s the reality. Chelsea lead the way with 11 games to go. Can the others catch up?

EVERTON HAVE REACHED THEIR LEVEL

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Another dose of reality, albeit it a harsh one, is that Everton have been found out and a top four place is slipping away.

In their 1-0 defeat to Chelsea on Saturday, the Toffees had a lot of possession but didn’t do enough with it to suggest they are favorites for a top four spot. Roberto Martinez cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines, as standing in front of the press box at Stamford Bridge he became increasingly irritated as the game wore on.

Chelsea’s last gasp winner, which came from a disputed free kick after Ramires took a dramatic tumble, irked Martinez and he shared his disgust about Chelsea’s tactics as his side now sit 11 points off the Champions League positions.

“Chelsea have an incredible know-how of how to win dead-ball situations, using every trick in the book to try to get advantageous decisions. Ramires was looking for contact when he won the free kick and it was not a free kick at all. Just look at the record Chelsea have at home, it must be more than playing well at home every match.”

Sour groups Roberto? Not quite. But I’ve been present for both his post-match press conferences following the 4-0 derby defeat away at Liverpool and then the 1-0 loss at Chelsea and the Spaniard has stayed dignified yet defiant with the belief he has in his side. In their last two away games Everton have faced the same problem which troubled them at the start of the season: a lack of goals. The Toffees have only scored 37 times this season, the seventh highest total in the PL and away from home the issue has been magnified as Everton’s last three away defeats against Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea haven’t yielded a goal. They are now without a win in five matches away from Goodison Park and just four away wins all season isn’t good enough for a team with top four aspirations.

When asked Martinez agreed that Everton’s away form is a problem after the devastating late loss to Chelsea, but he failed to get bogged down by it all.

“Our away form in terms of results, I agree with you [it is a worry]. We go to Stamford Bridge and we get nothing, we go to White Hart Lane and we get nothing. It is probably fair to say we were the better side on both occasions. For us more important than getting points away from home, we must make sure the scoreline reflects the performance.”

As Chelsea are showing, grinding out results in the name of the game in the PL this season. Everton have plenty of style, there’s no disputing that, but their lack of substance will probably cost them a UEFA Champions League spot this season.

STAND BY YOUR MAN…

Of course Martinez’s job will be safe, even if Everton finish outside the top four as the Toffees have, overall, moved forward this season. But elsewhere in the PL, seven managers have lost their jobs and certain clubs are in free fall. The bottom five in the PL standings, Fulham, Cardiff, Sunderland, West Brom and Crystal Palace, have all changed managers and they’ve had varying degrees of success after failing to stand by their man. Country singer Tammy Wynette famously urged everyone to do just that, so maybe these PL should’ve taken a leaf out of her book?

In Crystal Palace and Sunderland’s case, they chose to go with managers who knew the English game well and had vast experience of the Premier League. You can see that, as Palace and the Black Cats have had a huge upturn in results since Tony Pulis and Gus Poyet arrived. As for Fulham, Cardiff and West Brom, who have brought in managers with little to no experience managing in the PL, they’ve seen their new men struggle to adapt. Fulham’s newest arrival, Felix Magath has had one game and garnered one point, more on him shortly. As for Cardiff City boss Ole Gunnar Solksjaer and West Brom boss Pepe Mel, they have just one PL win between them in 13 games so far. Mel has failed to win, but the Baggies have drawn four of his six games in charge 1-1 and lost to Liverpool and Aston Villa. While Cardiff are spiraling towards the trap door as Solksjaer’s men have lost five of his seven PL games in charge, with a solitary win coming against Norwich.

Were the owners of Cardiff and West Brom’s right to gamble on a new boss rather than stick with their old managers? As Tammy said “keep giving him all the love you can… Stand by your man!” Will that be enough for Cardiff and West Brom to avoid the drop?

HOPE FOR FULHAM UNDER MAGATH?

Fulham haven’t shown much love to their managers this season, and they’ve had three of them, and they’re bottom of the table because of it (Tammy was right). Back in September at Craven Cottage, Fulham led 1-0 against West Brom until stoppage time, then Gareth McAuley rose highest to head home and grab the Baggies a point in the 92nd minute. On Saturday, the same pattern played out as massive defensive errors continue to cost them dear. The Cottagers played well and went ahead early, through Ashkan Dejagah’s strike but then failed to build on their lead and ultimately paid the price for a cautious display. Another late equalizer saw Fulham slip further behind at the bottom of the standings, but this is what happens when you’ve just appointed a German disciplinarian as your new manager. Until his charges get their fitness levels up and get used to his strict training regimes, the Cottagers will likely fade late in games as Felix Magath runs them into the ground at practice.

So how did Magath do on debut? Okay. Fulham looked solid and should’ve probably grabbed a massive three points. But they didn’t after a goalkeeping error let them down and now Magath will make them work even harder to avoid the drop. That’s the only way he knows how and in the past he’s been accused of taking away water breaks from players during training. When news of West Brom’s late equalizer filtered through to myself and other journalist in a press room over the weekend, I laughed as a colleague quipped, “Well, looks like there will be no water bottles for Fulham’s players this week.”

The Cottagers are four points off the drop and have played one more game than their rivals hovering above the bottom three. Time is running out, Magath needs a miracle.

Let’s finish with a look at the top five goals from the Premier League this weekend. Watch some absolute beauts, below.

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

Europa League preview: Arsenal in Serbia, Everton desperate vs. Lyon

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The twelve groups of the UEFA Europa League bring forth soccer on Thursday, with a bevy of matches dotting the continent.

[ MORE: Full Europa schedule ]

Here are the top five matches to keep an eye on.

Everton vs. Lyon — 3:05 p.m. ET

If you would’ve told Ronald Koeman his Toffees would walk into this match with just one point but sit only another behind Lyon, he’d probably tell you to take a hike. But Lyon drew 1-1 at Apollon Limassol and 1-1 at home to Atalanta, opening the door for Everton to finish the day in Group E’s top two slots.

Nabil Fekir and Real Madrid loanee Mariano Diaz have seven goals each for Lyon, while ex-Premier Leaguers Memphis Depay and Bertrand Traore are also key components of the French outfit’s attack.

Red Star Belgrade vs. Arsenal — 1 p.m. ET

Arsenal in Europa has been pretty thrilling, with 3-1 and 4-2 wins under Arsene Wenger‘s belt ahead of the first of two with the 1991 European Cup winners. It’s a nice challenge for Canadian national team backstop Milan Borjan, who should be the man to try to thwart the Gunners in Serbia.

Hoffenheim vs. Istanbul Basaksehir — 3:05 p.m. ET

The favorites to win the group are dead last in the group as they welcome the perceived group underdogs from Turkey. The Super Lig runners-up have some familiar names on the roster with Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy, Eljero Elia, Mevlut Erdinc, Gokhan Inler, Aurelien Chedjou, and Emre Belozoglu.

AC Milan vs. AEK Athens — 3:05 p.m. ET

Milan has been burying goals in Europa play, with five at Austria Wien and three in a home win over Rijeka. Enter Athens, which has scooped up four points in group play and will look for a win to put them ahead of the group-leading Rossoneri.

Nice vs. Lazio — 1 p.m. ET

The only group with a pair of 2-0 teams. Mario Balotelli is plenty familiar with his Roman opposition from his time in Serie A.

Probe finds racial discrimination by England women’s coach

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LONDON (AP) Former England women’s team coach Mark Sampson racially discriminated against two of his players, a fresh Football Association investigation has concluded after initially dismissing allegations of wrongdoing and prompting a damaging public row with striker Eni Aluko.

Sampson was cleared of discrimination by earlier FA investigations but was fired last month because of an unrelated case of inappropriate conduct toward players in a previous job.

[ MORE: Champions League at halfway mark ]

Only now has a barrister considered new evidence about Sampson’s conduct toward England internationals Aluko and Drew Spence, with the details being released ahead of a parliamentary hearing.

“I have concluded that on two separate occasions, MS (Sampson) has made ill-judged attempts at humor, which, as a matter of law, were discriminatory on grounds of race,” barrister Katharine Newton wrote in the report.

One racially discriminatory comment by Sampson in 2014 toward Aluko requested her family members from Nigeria didn’t come to a game because of Ebola.

“MS (Sampson) did treat EA (Aluko) less favorably than he would have treated a player who was not of African descent,” Newton wrote. “MS had therefore subjected EA to less favorable treatment because of her ethnicity.”

During a team meeting in 2015, Sampson also asked Spence if she had been to prison, and then suggested she had been arrested four times. Newton concluded that the comment was made “because of her ethnicity.”

[ MORE: Hamid leaving DC United ]

FA chief executive Martin Glenn apologized to Aluko and Spence before the hearing. But Aluko told legislators that Glenn’s earlier conduct toward her was “bordering on blackmail” after he threatened to withhold payments from an 80,000 pound ($105,000) financial settlement unless she published a statement saying the FA “was not institutionally racist.”

With Aluko sitting behind him, Glenn later told the hearing that the player had not been blackmailed.

Instead Glenn said that an August tweet by Aluko – “at least we now know the FA’s stance on derogatory racial remarks by an England manager. Ignore, deny, endorse” – was a “clear breach of the agreement.”

Aluko, who was part of the team that finished third at the 2015 World Cup, has not played for England since making her 102nd appearance in April 2016.

There was a more apologetic tone from Glenn in his written statement on Wednesday, saying that Sampson’s conduct was “not acceptable” and he “would like to sincerely apologize” to Aluko and Spence.

“Our ambition has always been to find the truth and take swift and appropriate action if needed,” Glenn said. “It was our decision to have the original, second and final investigation to ensure that due diligence was taken. It is regrettable that Eniola did not participate in the first external investigation as this would have enabled Katharine Newton to conduct and complete her investigation sooner.”

Report: Hamid leaving DC United to “push himself” elsewhere

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Bill Hamid is taking his talents elsewhere.

The 26-year-old has been with DC United since 2007, making an even 200 appearances across all competitions.

[ MORE: Champions League at halfway mark ]

Hamid is thrice capped by the United States and widely considering to be one of the best shot-stoppers in the league, but the Washington Post’s Steven Goff says Hamid wants to showcase himself on a new stage.

“I want to push myself and see how far I can go because I know I have the work ethic and the hunger to take myself very far in this game. I know I can make it to the next level.”

Hamid is likely to wind up in Europe, and Goff said Danish club Midtjylland is the favorite. He’s also been scouted by Eintracht Frankfurt.

With a new United States men’s national team coach set to be appointed and Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, and Nick Rimando all on the back end of their time with the USMNT, Hamid has to look at himself as competing with Ethan Horvath and any number of young prospects.

Horvath is 22 and starting for Club Brugge. If their season continues on its pace, he’ll have a Belgian title and a Norwegian title under his belt.

U-20 players Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha Berlin), Brady Scott (Koln), and Justin Vom Steeg (Fortuna Dusseldorf) are in German systems, while U-17 World Cup starters CJ dos Santos is at Benfica.

Age when making European debut and club
Tim Howard, 24, Manchester United
Brad Friedel, 23, Newcastle United
Brad Guzan, 23, Aston Villa
Kasey Keller, 23, Millwall
Tony Meola, 21, Brighton and Hove Albion
Ethan Horvath, 19, Molde

Surprises, disappointments halfway through Champions League group stage

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Clubs have met each of their group mates once, giving us an imperfect but workable sample size for the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League group stage.

Five groups have a side boasting a 3-0 record, while four clubs have yet to seize a single point.

[ CHAMPS LEAGUE: Tuesday | Weds. ]

Some of the strugglers, like 0-1-2 Maribor and 0-1-2 APOEL, are not surprises. And it’s no shock to see Manchester United at perfect 3-0 given its draw.

Others? Well, that’s not the case.

Status down 

While Manchester United is a perfect 3-0 in Group A, raise your hand if you figured Benfica would have just one goal and zero points through three matches. Benfica’s also played two of its three home ties, making the knockout rounds a dream.

Atletico Madrid has found the UEFA Champions League Final in two of the last four seasons, but finds itself with work to do moving forward. Atleti’s Wednesday draw at Qarabag leaves it three points behind Roma and five back of leaders Chelsea. Diego Simeone’s men still host Roma and Qarabag, so points are out there.

Serie A play has been gorgeous for Napoli, who has failed to bring that momentum to Group F. It’s worth noting that a missed penalty by red-hot Dries Mertens could’ve earned the Neapolitans a point at Man City on Tuesday, but as it stands Napoli is three points back of Shakhtar and could be six back before the Ukrainians visit on Nov. 21.

It turns out you can’t sell everyone and expect the youth to come through shining. Monaco is at the bottom of a very winnable group, having lost at home to Porto and Besiktas. Still just three points behind RB Leipzig, they’ll need to win at Monaco and/or Besiktas to have any hope of the knockout rounds.

Borussia Dortmund got a rough deal from officials when it visited Wembley Stadium, but losses to Spurs and Real Madrid can happen in a group stage. Tuesday’s draw at APOEL Nicosia, however, is close to a backbreaker.

(Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images).

Status up

Spurs draw at Real Madrid may have been aided by a huge performance from Hugo Lloris, but goalkeepers — as you know — are actual components of a team. This is in fact a group of death, but the North Londoners are holding a scythe. If Mauricio Pochettino can lead a home win over Real Madrid at a raucous Wembley on All Saints Day, well, look out!

Cenk Tosun has gone from sleepy transfer target to the tip of many gossipers’ tongues, as Besiktas is a perfect 3-0 including wins at Monaco and Porto. Anderson Talisca and… wait for it… Ryan Babel (!!) have also starred for the Turkish powers who will almost certainly see the knockout rounds.

[ MORE: JPW sits down with Ederson ]

Pep Guardiola‘s done this Champions League dance, you know, and Manchester City has weathered all storms. That includes conceded two penalties — one was saved by Ederson — as a down performance versus Napoli still ended with a home win. If City can win at the Stadio San Paolo on Nov. 1, Pep can sleepwalk into the final two matches (though that’s not his style).

Roma has a classy draw at Chelsea and has gathered five points including four away from home. Mimic that mark and i Lupi will be a challenge in the knockout rounds.

Neymar was best pals with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez last season at Barcelona, but having a less-than-perfect relationship with Edinson Cavani hasn’t hurt a thing in Paris. Paris Saint-Germain is for real, scoring 12 times and yet to concede in wins over Bayern Munich, Celtic, and Anderlecht.

Grey area

Liverpool leads its group and advancing is really the only goal, but there’s something off-putting about the home draw against Sevilla. The 1-1 draw at Spartak Moscow looks better now that the Russians hammered Sevilla 5-1, but a return visit from Maribor next should help the Reds buttress their stock.

Be careful how finely you analyze a club as accomplished as two-time reigning champs Real Madrid, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s men don’t look so hot. Still well-positioned to move on, keep a close eye on how they look at Wembley in a few weeks.

Holding pattern

Chelsea‘s 3-3 draw versus Roma today was its first real stumble of the UCL, but there shouldn’t be too many alarm bells considering their injury problems and Roma’s desperation. Consider their status even, especially given their clever win at Atletico Madrid.

Jose Mourinho is doing a fine job with Manchester United, but it’s really hard to praise the club too much for doing what’s expected in a glorified Europa League group. Clearly Sir Alex Ferguson was involved in the icing some of the draw balls again…