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Premier League Playback: Chelsea “kill and destroy,” TV reviews, Suarez unstoppable, Rooney’s wondergoal

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CHELSEA’S ‘KILLER’ COUNTERS

The result of the weekend came in the London derby as Chelsea hammered, obliterated and pulverized title-rivals Arsenal 6-0.

In Arsene Wenger’s 1,000th game in charge of the Gunners, it was Jose Mourinho who embarrassed the Frenchman, with Chelsea’s devastating counter-attacks tearing Arsenal apart. The Blues were 2-0 up after seven minutes in the game Wenger had billed as “the game of the season.” Speaking to reporters afterwards, this is what Mourinho had to say.

“It was 10 amazing minutes, I knew that in 10 minutes we can win the game,” Mourinho said. “As we say in football, ‘we come to kill.’ In 10 minutes, we destroyed. After that it was easy. We got a penalty, they got a red card, 3-0. Easy. But my analysis of the game is about the first 10 minutes. We were very, very good. We pressed very high immediately, because we know they like to have the ball and pass it at the back. We pressed high and recovered the ball, attacking the space very fast. Those 10 minutes were amazing.”

That incredible high pressing and counter-attacking style has become a theme plenty of PL teams are credited with doing superbly this season, but none do it better than Chelsea.

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Click to enlarge – Interceptions and tackles from Chelsea and Arsenal during the Blues’ 6-0 win. (Players with min. of 2 included) Source: Opta

When Mourinho sold Juan Mata to Manchester United and dropped the likes of Ashley Cole this season, many questioned why on earth he would do that. But it was to implement this style, and this plan with players who could carry it out. On Saturday, with David Luiz and Nemanja Matic reunited in the center of midfield, those two broke up so many attacks, and then Chelsea could pounce on the counter.

The term “counter-attack” is overused and has fairly simple connotations to most, but if you get it just right, it can be devastating. We saw that with Chelsea time and time again against Arsenal, and the pace, power and guile Mourinho’s men showed to clinically dispatch the chances they kept churning out when winning the ball back. Matic and Luiz were key to that, with the amount of tackles they attempted (see table on the left) in the middle breaking up the play and the sheer size and athleticism overpowering Arsenal’s central midfield area.

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Click to enlarge – The space just in front of the center circle is where Arsenal gave the ball away, and suddenly Chelsea are 3 vs. 3 going forward. This played out time and time again.

On Eto’o’s goal after four minutes, see the picture on the right which shows when the ball was given away By Arsenal after pressure from Luiz and Andre Schurrle. Then Oscar played in Schurrle to give the German a three-on-three counter which he seized at full-speed, which Eto’o eventually finished off superbly. In 12 seconds Chelsea went from winning the ball on the edge of their to the ball hitting the back of Arsenal’s net.

MORE: PL Schedule | PL standings

Mourinho set up his side to thwart the Gunners passing through the middle of the pitch, with Schurrle and Hazard tucking in to support Oscar in a tight three-man unit directly behind Eto’o. Every time Matic and Luiz would win the ball, Hazard, Schurrle and Oscar would career wide and create space to get in behind Arsenal’s shambolic defending. As you can see on the left, the average position of Chelsea’s attacking unit is so compact, that they stopped the Gunners playing in the engine room and then were able to spring intricate attacks whenever they won the ball back.

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Click to enlarge – The average position of Chelsea’s players vs. Arsenal. Source: Opta

Mourinho has tweaked this style all season, as the Blues have gone from being an expansive unit which tried to play attractive soccer, to a ruthless machine which has handed him success in the PL, Portuguese Liga, Serie A and La Liga in the past. Basically, he’s gone back to what he knows best and has bought very well in the transfer market by adding players who can play these rapid two-way roles perfectly. Look at the stats of tackles and interceptions from Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta, those full backs bomb up and down the flanks all day long and epitomize Chelsea’s incredible work-rate.

Asked if the 16th minute red card handed incorrectly to Kieran Gibbbs (more on that shortly) had a big say in Chelsea’s blowout win, Mourinho laughed.

“No, because after seven minutes it was 2-0… so after 70 minutes it should be 20-0,” Mourinho joked, “I am making fun. Obviously to play against 10-men is easier, but I think after the opening 10 minutes and the way we started, this game was our game.”

If Chelsea continue to be this devastating on the break for the rest of the season, this PL title could be their title.

As for Arsenal, Wenger didn’t show up to the post-match press conference after speaking with a few outlets in tunnel immediately after the match. The reason given for his no-show was that “the bus was leaving and he had to get on it.” But in his 1,000th game in charge of the Gunners, Wenger’s future with the North London club seems to have been thrown into doubt after his side were “killed and destroyed” by Mourinho’s ruthless counter-attacking machine.

Premier League Schedule – Week 31

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 1-4 Stoke City Recap and watch here
Cardiff 3-6 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal Recap and watch here
Everton 3-2 Swansea Recap and watch here
Hull 2-0 West Brom Recap and watch here
Man City 5-0 Fulham Recap and watch here
Newcastle 1-0 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here
Norwich 2-0 Sunderland Recap and watch here
Tottenham 3-2 Southampton Recap and watch here
West Ham 0-2 Man United Recap and watch here

WHY VIDEO REVIEWS SHOULD STAY AWAY, FOR NOW

Sat in the cramped press box on Saturday at Stamford Bridge, there was already plenty of jovial slaps from myself and other journalists before the pivotal moment of the match arrived. Chelsea led 2-0 after seven minutes, against an Arsenal side unraveling before our eyes. But what myself, and over 41,000 others inside the Bridge were about to see defied belief.

Eden Hazard arrowed a shot towards the goal and as the ball passed Arsenal ‘keeper Szczesny and headed towards the bottom corner, a player came out of nowhere to flick the ball away with his outstretched hand. I say ‘a player’ because in real time, nobody where I was sat had a clue exactly who it was.

Referee Andre Marriner, who was at a similar angle to myself but 50-yards closer, paused, then walked, then paused, as Jose Mourinho ran around with his arms flailing like a madman, after jumping off the bench and spiraling in circles protesting (as only Jose can) at the handball we’d all just seen. Marriner, after much deliberation, gave the spot kick. And as he chatted away on his microphone, the PL referee would’ve wanted to hear some more information from his other officials in his earpiece. But nothing. A blank look adorned Marriner’s face, as he now realized he’d awarded a penalty for a clear handball… but had no idea who’d committed the crime.

Eventually, he chose to send off Kieran Gibbs. The Arsenal left back flipped out, as the cries of disbelief and squinting at the miniature screens began ferociously in the press seats situated just behind the team benches. Even as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the guilty party, had informed Marriner that it was his hand which had knocked the ball wide, but Marriner didn’t change his mind. Mourinho’s assistant coach Steve Holland turned to the press behind the dugout to ask who had handled it… even he didn’t know.

(MORE: Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal – Blues hammer Gunners, as bizarre red card ruins Wenger’s big day)

A few of us responded that it was Chamberlain and we got a thumbs up from Holland, but the damage was done for Marriner, who has since issued an apology, but this moment will go down in PL history. After he sent off the wrong man, Marriner will long be the butt of jokes across England and further afield.

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Marriner shows Gibbs the red card, but the referee got it horribly wrong. How can we help refs make these big calls in the future?

But how can we rectify mistakes like this in soccer? Video reviews are the number one answer when this topic comes up. A small TV screen in front of the fourth official to help with controversial moments, which will then clear up any mistakes the referee makes on the spot. In theory it is a great idea, but my argument is: where do you draw the line?

Several contentious decisions take place in soccer throughout a 90-minute match, you can’t review all of them. Unlike the NFL, where video reviews are commonplace, soccer is not a stop-start sport. Having witnessed several atmospheres in NHL games hampered after lengthy video review decisions, I think bringing these reviews into the PL and elite levels of soccer would be a bad idea, for now. I’m all for suggestions as to how we can make referee’s decisions easier, but I don’t think stopping the game every five minutes to check replays multiple times on a TV screen is the way forward.

Marriner got it wrong, but in that split-second at Stamford Bridge, the vast majority of humans who walk this earth would’ve done the same. Having something, or somebody, to help with those kind of knee-jerk calls is needed. But I have to admit, debating the calls live on the stadium and for hours afterwards is a heck of a lot of fun. If TV reviews come in, would we lose that debate over a pint in a bar?

UNSTOPPABLE SUAREZ

At a certain point of the season, commentators will run out of superlatives to describe Luis Suarez’s strokes of genius. That time could be about now.

On Saturday Liverpool were trailing Cardiff City 2-1 but managed to fight back and win 6-3, with a hat trick from Suarez stealing the show as the Reds have now scored 82 goals in the PL. The Uruguayan now has three trebles this season, and six for Liverpool in total. He also has 28-goals and counting, which equals Robbie Fowler’s record as the most goals scored in a single PL season by a Liverpool player.

(WATCH: Premier League Team of the Week led by Toure and Suarez)

Safe to say, Suarez will surpass that comfortably. Stunning finishes with his left and right feet, coupled with sublime set up play to get his strike-partner Daniel Sturridge on the scoresheet, leave me in no doubt that if Liverpool somehow win the PL, Suarez’s goals will be the main reason they’ve prevailed. A stunning striker called Suarez is scything down records on a weekly basis. And oh yeah, did anybody forget he was banned for the first five games of the campaign? Remarkable, checked out yet another signed match ball ‘El Pistolero’ gets to take home and wedge in the trophy cabinet.

WONDERGOALS GALORE: ROONEY ‘DOES A BECKHAM’

Last week in Playback, I stated that “I can’t remember seeing a stronger top five goals video” so far this season. Well, this week was even better. Wayne Rooney led the way with a volley from close to the halfway line in a goal reminiscent of David Beckham’s wondergoal for United back in 1996 against Wimbledon. That famous goal which help launched Beckham to stardom, as the commentator brands it as “a goal we will talk about for years.” He was right, nearly 20 years on that goal is the first thing we mention after Rooney’s sublime 60-yard strike. But the question is, will Rooney’s goal be mentioned in the same breath as Beckham’s two decades from now? On the volley and with a bouncing ball to control, in many ways Rooney’s strike is arguably better than what Goldenballs conjured up.

(MORE: West Ham 0-2 Man United – Rooney goal the highlight of Red Devils’ routine win)

Becks was on hand to see Rooney’s magical strike, as the England star produced a moment of sheer brilliance. If it wasn’t for that, any of the next four strikes would’ve usually taken away the goal of the week gong, as the PL was rife with spectacular goals. Yaya Toure’s long-distance curler, Alex Tettey pulverizing the ball on the volley, Samuel Eto’o curler or Fernandinho’s blast. In Week 31 we were blessed with an incredible 42 goals, most of which were stunners. Watch the video below in awe at the PL’s top five goals from last weekend.

Bonus: Here is Beckham’s famous strike in ’96 to salivate over, and compare to Rooney’s wondegoal. Which goal from halfway was better?

U.S. STAR CAMERON: HOLDING MID IN BRAZIL?

Stoke City’s resurgence continued on Sunday, as the Potters hit back after going behind early to win 4-1 away at Midland rivals Aston Villa.

U.S. international Geoff Cameron was undone by Fabian Delph’s trickery who set up Christian Benteke for the first goa, but Stoke’s ‘Mr. Consistent’ made amends with another solid performance capped off by his second PL goal of the campaign. In the 92nd minute, Cameron strode forward as Stoke countered and looked to polish off an already resounding away win. As the ball broke on the edge of the box Cameron’s marauding run was timed perfectly, as the former Houston Dynamo star slotted the ball into the bottom corner to make it 4-1 and give him bragging rights over his U.S. teammate Brad Guzan.

(WATCH: PST Extra – Which U.S. national team stars have shone in the Premier League?)

With runs and finishing like that, could Cameron slot into Jurgen Klinsmann’s midfield for the World Cup this summer? It is no secret that Cameron’s position in the USMNT starting XI is not secured. With the PL player playing at right back for Stoke for two-straight seasons since he arrived from MLS, many would pigeon-hole him as the starting RB in Brazil. But with Brad Evans pushing Cameron all the way, it may be elsewhere that the Bostonian flourishes with the U.S. national team. Given Klinsmann’s insistence on his players playing at the top level possible, Cameron is performing well week in, week out in arguably the toughest league in the world. Surely that means there will be a spot for him in the USA’s starting lineup in the WC opener against Ghana on June 16? Central midfield, central defense or RB, wherever he plays, you know you can count on Cameron.

RELEGATION PICTURE TAKING SHAPE

Down at the bottom of the standings, it was doom and gloom for many teams this weekend. However the big winners were Norwich City, who catapulted themselves up to 13th in the PL and are now seven points clear of the drop zone after a comfortable 2-0 win over Sunderland. The Black Cats remained intrenched in relegation battle after that defeat, so do Swansea, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Cardiff City and West Bromwich Albion after they all lost.

(MORE: Latest Premier League standings)

Elsewhere, West Ham have been dragged back into the equation as they have 31 points and are just six points ahead of Sunderland in 18th but Gus Poyet’s side have two games in hand. With three of the bottom seven in action midweek, the relegation picture will be clearer by the time Saturday rolls around, maybe. But it’s still anyone’s guess as to whose will be demoted to the Championship next season.

To watch the latest relegation struggles play out, and all the other goals, the video below gives you everything you missed from Week 31.

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

MLS Snapshot: Toronto FC 0-1 Montreal Impact

MONTREAL, QC - MARCH 12:  Ignacio Piatti #10 of the Montreal Impact controls the ball during the MLS game against the New York Red Bulls at the Olympic Stadium on March 12, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Impact defeated the New York Red Bulls 3-0.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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The game in 100 words (or less): A passionate but sloppy rivalry match saw Toronto stunned by 10-man Montreal at BMO Field. The Impact held strong against a toothless Toronto 2nd-half push, and they pinged a goal against the run of play inside the final 20 minutes to end Toronto’s seven-match unbeaten run. With Montreal’s Callum Mallace seeing red just before halftime, the hosts had little to offer Evan Bush’s goal, and Ignacio Piatti worked a goal out of nothing to earn the Impact three points. At least Toronto had a cool tifo:

Three moments that mattered:

44′ – A spotty first half came boiling over just before the break when Marco Delgado clipped Dominic Osorio on a breakaway. Steven Beitashour came trotting back towards the incident and was decked by Callum Mallace. A brawl developed and after the scuffle, Mallace was sent off. While the extra-curricular activity definitely warranted punishment, it’s controversial to conclude that Mallace’s actions warranted a straight red card.

65′ – Toronto poured pressure forward, and looked to the referee twice, who was unmoved. First Sebastian Giovinco went down under a clip from Laurent Ciman, who appeared to stick his leg out behind him and trip the Italian. Then, Jozy Altidore went to ground on a body check from Hassoun Camara, but again the referee shook his head. The US international looked to have toppled to the floor easily under pressure from . This double moment was pivotal in the match anyways, but became even more significant after Seba came off limping heavily, holding his inner thigh, substituted for Tsubasa Endoh.

73′ – Out of nothing, Montreal had a stunning lead. Evan Bush booted a goal kick to midfield, and the ball falls to Oduro who works hard to divert play to Piatti on the left edge of the box. The 31-year-old collected with a few expert touches, then suddenly one-on-one with Steven Bieteshour, Piatti deposited his 14th goal of the season inside the far post, leaving Alex Bono no chance.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Ignacio Piatti

Goalscorers: Piatti 73′

MLS Snapshot: Philadelphia Union 2-0 Sporting KC

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Fabinho #33 of the Philadelphia Union controls the ball against the Columbus Crew SC on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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The game in 100 words or lessPhiladelphia wasted an energetic start to the match, but the hosts found themselves with a man advantage shortly into the second half, and they’d take advantage, winning 1-0 at Talen Energy Stadium behind a goal from Roland Alberg, who had entered the field just two minutes before scoring. The Union were overall the better side, but the hosts weren’t without chances of their own, most notably watching Dom Dwyer miss moments before Alberg’s goal. It was all over for KC when Roger Espinoza was also sent off for a second yellow late in the match, seeing Philly bag a second with ticks on the clock.

Three moments that mattered

17′ – A whopping four missed chances plagued the otherwise positive start for the home side. First, Tranquillo Barnetta curled in a gorgeous effort that was acrobatically parried away by a leaping Alec Kann. Then, in the 11th and 14th minutes, a pair of low crosses from Fabinho along the face of goal fell just out of reach of a sliding C.J. Sapong. Finally, the 17th minute saw Chris Pontius fire just wide with a header on a free-kick.

59′ – Philadelphia was given an advantage the rest of the way when Jimmy Medranda was given his second yellow card for hauling down Keegan Rosenberry on the edge of the box. Mandranda had been cautioned earlier for dissent when he laid into the referee following a first-half foul call.

67′ – Just moments after Dwyer missed wide right on a breakaway, Philadelphia capitalized on their man advantage. Fabinho connected with substitute Roland Alberg, and the 26-year-old Dutchman let loose a curler into the top right for a 1-0 lead. There was no looking back.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Fabinho

Goalscorers: Alberg 67′, Barnetta 90+2′

Manuel Pellegrini hired to manage Chinese club Hebei China Fortune

SWANSEA, WALES - MAY 15:  Manuel Pellegrini, manager of Manchester City looks on after the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Manchester City at the Liberty Stadium on May 15, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Former Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini has been hired by Chinese club Hebei China Fortune as the Chinese top flight adds another big name manager. He joins just three months after stepping down as manager of Manchester City in favor of Pep Guardiola.

The Chilean will match up with former Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari, who currently heads current league leaders Guangzhou Evergrande, in his first game in charge on September 10. Evergrande sits 15 points adrift of Hebei in the table. Sven-Göran Eriksson also manages in the league, in charge of Guangzhou R&F.

Pellegrini inherits a squad that includes Ezequiel Lavezzi plus former Premier Leaguers Stephane M’bia, Gervinho, and Gael Kakuta. The club currently sits in fifth in the league table out of 16 teams, with seven matches remaining in the season.

Following Pellegrini’s departure from City, the 62-year-old said he wished to remain in the Premier League, but also that he would retire if he did not receive an offer that interested him.

Pellegrini replaces former Everton midfielder Li Tie, who worked previously under Marcelo Lippi at Evergrande before being hired as Hebei manager a year ago. Tie was in hot water after criticizing the Chinese national team selection process and travel planning in early July.

La Liga roundup: Kroos lifts Real Madrid as Atletico Madrid is held yet again

MADRID, SPAIN - AUGUST 27:  Toni Kroos of Real Madrid celebrates with  Lucas Vazquez after scoring Real's 2nd goal during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and RC Celta de Vigo at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on August 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Toni Kroos hit just his second goal for Real Madrid in the last calendar year, but it was a big one as it lifted Los Blancos over Celta Vigo in a 2-1 win at the Bernabeau.

Goals from Alvaro Morata and Fabian Orellana had cancelled out before Kroos struck a powerful, low effort in off the post in the 81st minute for the win. The move began with a stellar challenge from Casemiro to dispossess Pape Diop, sending Real Madrid moving the other way.

While Real Madrid earned its second win of the season in two matches, cross-town rivals Atletico Madrid struggled again, failing to score in a 0-0 draw with Leganes, the club’s second draw of the year as they sit on just two points. Atletico held 63% of the possession, worked eight corners, and managed 10 shots, but only three of them were on target.

Leganes goalkeeper Serantes was stellar, while Fernando Torres missed a huge chance towards the end of the match as his header off a cross from Filipe Luis went straight into the keeper’s arms. Manager Diego Simeone chose to be upbeat after the game, saying, “I’m happy with the work done. We generate chances and others don’t against us. We need to finish.”

Around the rest of La Liga, Real Sociedad went on the road and beat Osasuna 2-0 behind a goal from Juanmi and a late own goal. Valencia still has not picked up a point this season after its second loss, a 1-0 result at Eibar where Pedro Leon missed a penalty but struck home on the rebound.