Mauro Zarate, Diego Chavez

Mauro Zarate completes deal to West Ham United, signs three-year contract

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Just one week after West Ham United decided to stick with manager Sam Allardyce – so long as he “provide more entertainment next season” – the club have gone out and signed themselves Argentine forward Mauro Zarate to a three-year deal.

The 27-year-old makes his way to Upton Park from Argentine side Velez Sarsfield, where he was the top-tier’s leading scorer with 18 goals in 28 appearances. 

“My reaction is that I am very happy to be at West Ham,” Zarate said after completing his deal with West Ham.

“This is a new chance for me and I want to play. I think I played well for Velez this season and that was important for me. I had some good team-mates and they helped to make it a fantastic season for me.”

Despite finishing 13th in the table, West Ham endured an underwhelming 2013/14 season that exposed holes both defensively, at wing-back in particular, and offensively in the generation and scoring of goals. The latter proved the major blemish, as the Hammers netted only 40 times in the 38 match season.

The lack of offensive production was due to a number of issues, in particular the extended injury absence of Andy Carroll and a lack of service. With Carroll out, Allardyce was forced to play a committee of forwards (Modibo Maiga, Ricardo Vaz Te, Marco Boriello and Mladen Petric) who, with the exception of the surprising Carlton Cole (6 goals, 23 appearances), was relatively toothless.

In Zarate, the Hammers have a player who has the skills, goal-scoring ability and most importantly, desire. “If you ask me what I can bring to the squad then I say I hope I will bring goals!” he exclaimed upon sealing his deal. Pacy and quick to shoot with either foot, the 5’9″ speedster can be a handful for opposing defenses. The key will be playing to his abilities and getting him the ball, which given West Ham’s style is no sure thing. 

To get the most out of Zarate the club’s style will need to change. Route 1 football won’t suit the Argentine, as he needs the ball at his feet with options around him to be at his best. At West Ham, expect him to play inside of Carroll in a 4-4-2 or on the left wing in the 4-2-3-1 setup typically deployed by the club this past season.

Fortunately for both Zarate and the Hammers, the Argentine has experience in the Premier League after he spent the second half of the 2007/08 Premier League campaign on loan at Birmingham City from the Qatari side Al Sadd. In that 14 match stint Zarate scored 4 goals, proving himself to be a fantastic talent capable of the incredible.

Balancing that considerable talent, however, is a dark side. After his spell with Birmingham Zarate was sold to Lazio where he spent three seasons (scoring 25 goals in 103 appearances) but was also handed a two-match ban after being photographed giving a fascist salute amid the Ultras section of fans. A spokesman later pled Zarate’s innocence due to his not knowing what the gesture meant. Since then Zarate has undergone a number of other questionable incidents including clashing with club executives and going on holiday when he was supposed to be receiving treatment. 

With the deal secure it’s clear that Allardyce has deemed the risk of Zarate to be worth the reward. For the sake of Big Sam’s future at the club, he best hope that turns out to be true.

USWNT’s Lloyd shows human side, including rift with her family

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - AUGUST 06:  Carli Lloyd of United States celebrates after scoring during the Women's Group G first round match between United States and France during Day 1 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Mineirao Stadium on August 6, 2016 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
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Carli Lloyd’s voice catches just briefly when she considers whether revealing the emotional scars of a longtime rift with her parents might someday bring her family back together.

It’s an ever-so-slight display off raw emotion from Lloyd, belying her usual no-nonsense exterior.

[ MORE: Spurs’ Kane returning early? ]

“Growing up my family meant the world to me. I would listen to every single thing they said. I would look forward to Christmases and Thanksgivings and just being with them,” Lloyd said. “And then to have this spiral, with not speaking to them, has really saddened me over the years.

“It’s been hard because there have been so many joyous moments in my career and my life and they haven’t been a part of that. So you know, definitely down the road, I’d love for things to work out and get back on track. Maybe this is a great opportunity for it to happen.”

Lloyd divulges that she has been estranged from her family since 2008 in her new memoir, “When Nobody Was Watching: My Hard-Fought Journey to the Top of the Soccer World,” which comes out on Monday.

Although she is intensely private, she says the discord in her family has been part of her journey. She had to be totally honest with her co-author Wayne Coffey.

“I don’t do fake,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press, echoing a theme from the book.

[ MORE: Bob Bradley to Swansea? ]

Lloyd’s rise culminated last year when she scored three goals in the World Cup final over Japan to win soccer’s biggest trophy. She was later named FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year.

But the 34-year-old midfielder’s career was peppered with setbacks. Lloyd was benched before the 2012 London Games by then-coach Pia Sundhage, who liked the combination of Shannon Boxx and Lauren Holiday. The demotion didn’t last long because Boxx was injured in the opener.

Lloyd started the rest of the way and scored both goals in the gold-medal match against Japan at Wembley Stadium. She’s the only player to score winning goals in consecutive Olympic finals: At the Beijing Games in 2008, she scored in overtime for a 1-0 victory against Brazil.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League Playback ]

By her side for the past 13 years has been James Galanis, her mentor and coach. Lloyd considered quitting the sport after college but her father approached Galanis after a training session and asked him to help his daughter.

Lloyd is fiercely loyal to Galanis, crediting him with making her the athlete she is today. He endearingly refers to her as “Ms. Lloyd” in emails.

She’s also loyal to another friend, goalkeeper Hope Solo.

When Solo was ostracized from the national team during the 2007 World Cup for comments she made following the semifinal loss to Brazil, Lloyd stood by her. Coach Greg Ryan had decided to play Brianna Scurry in goal rather than Solo and the United States lost 4-0. Solo publicly questioned the decision.

“Hope and I weren’t actually close prior to this. We got into a little bit of an argument about a car situation when we were in residency in 2006. With her big personality and my strong personality, our egos clashed,” Lloyd said, laughing. “This 2007 moment, I didn’t like what was happening. … I thought to myself, `This isn’t right.”‘

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Solo has often been a lightning rod for controversy and is currently suspended from the U.S. team for six months after calling Sweden a “bunch of cowards” for their defensive tactics during the Rio Olympics. U.S. Soccer has said the suspension was the culmination of several missteps.

“I’ve tried to wrap my head around the Olympics and just the way that we finished up, and Hope’s comment, and her suspension,” Lloyd said. “It’s weird. It’s weird being in camp without her there, weird sitting on the bus and she’s not across from me.

“I hope that in time after the suspension is over, after she settles down and U.S. soccer settles down, I hope that maybe they can come together and work it out.”

The United States was sent home from Brazil after the 1-1 draw with Sweden was decided by penalty kicks. It was the Americans’ earliest-ever exit from the Olympics after winning three straight gold medals.

For now Lloyd is looking forward to the immediate future. First there’s a book tour. In November she’ll marry high school sweetheart Brian Hollins.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule | stats

Ongoing are the collective bargaining agreement talks with U.S. Soccer. The team’s current contract expires at the end of this year.

The players are looking to bring their salaries more in line with those for players on the men’s national team. Lloyd was among five players who drew national attention when they filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charging the federation with wage discrimination.

“Things are moving along,” she said about negotiations. “We’ve dealt with this before, where it gets down to the wire. It’s not something to stress out about, it’s the nature of the business. We had a World Cup, we had the Olympics, so things have been pretty busy. But we do have some time before the new year.”

[ MORE: Chelsea clear out? ]

Beyond that, there’s preparation for the 2019 World Cup in France and the 2020 Games in Japan. Lloyd will be 38 when the next quadrennial wraps up.

“I think the next three years of my journey is really all about enjoying the ride. It’s going to be over in a blink of an eye,” she said about her career. “I owe it to myself, I owe it to James, and all of my support system, to just make the most of it.”

Spurs: Pochettino issues positive update on recovering Harry Kane

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 18: Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur goes down injured during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland at White Hart Lane on September 18, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Mauricio Pochettino revealed that Harry Kane‘s absence may be shorter than expected after a new scan on the injured star striker.

Kane, 23, suffered ligament damage to his ankle in Spurs’ 1-0 win over Sunderland a week ago, and was initially expected to miss between 8-10 weeks.

[ MORE: Bob Bradley to Swansea? ]

Pochettino was speaking ahead of Spurs’ UEFA Champions League match against CSKA Moscow on Tuesday, and issued this update.

From TottenhamHotspur.com:

“I always try to be honest with you. Just half an hour ago we received the report about the scan and it’s much, much better than we expected. Maybe we can reduce the time (that he is out) but we are happy, the scan was very positive, we are very happy about this news but still we cannot give a time for how long his recovery will be. … I am not a doctor, it’s difficult to say how long but it’s true that it’s much, much, much better than what we expected and that is very positive.”

Spurs are second in the Premier League after Saturday’s 2-1 win at Middlesbrough. Vincent Janssen remains the favorite to get minutes at target striker.

Watch Live: Burnley vs. Watford (Lineups, Stream)

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - APRIL 19:  Sean Dyche the manager of Burnley applauds the home fans during the Sky Bet Championship match between Burnley and Middlesbrough at Turf Moor on April 19, 2016 in Burnley, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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Burnley host Watford at Turf Moor on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports) in their first-ever meeting in the top-flight.

The Clarets have just one win so far this season while high-flying Watford is on the hunt for their third-straight Premier League victory.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Sean Dyche was a former captain and then manager of Watford and the Burnley head coach has plenty of respect for the Hornets, but all of that will go out of the window as he tries to beat Walter Mazzarri‘s side on a chilly early fall evening in Lancashire.

In team news Burnley start with Sam Vokes up top on his own without the suspended Andre Gray, with Dyche packing the midfield.

Watford bring in Nordin Amrabat replaces the injured Daryl Janmaat.

LINEUPS

Burnley: Heaton; Lowton, Keane, Mee, Ward; Marney, Hendrick; Boyd, Defour, Gudmundsson; Vokes. Subs: O’Neill, Flanagan, Kightly, Tarkowski, Arfield, Bamford, Robinson

Watford: Gomes; Cathcart, Prodl, Britos; Amrabat, Capoue, Behrami, Pereyra, Holebas; Deeney, Ighalo. Subs: Pantilimon, Kaboul, Zuniga, Kenedy, Watson, Guedioura, Success

Premier League Playback: How can Chelsea improve defensively?

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CHELSEA A DEFENSIVE MESS

Following Chelsea’s humiliating 3-0 defeat at London rivals Arsenal on Saturday, Antonio Conte‘s eyes glazed over as the following words came out.

He was in a state of rage after yet another embarrassing defensive display, an area of the game the Italian coach prides himself on being a master at.

“We must work a lot. If someone thinks this season it is easy, we must work a lot to improve and to change the situation. I think that now we are a great team only on the paper. Not on the pitch,” Conte said. “To be a great team, I prefer to be a great team not only on the paper but also on the pitch because the pitch speaks. The pitch is the truth. The pitch is the most important thing for us. Not the words. Not the paper. We must change this.”

But how?

The most obvious answers is personnel and that appears to be Conte’s plan with reports already surfacing that he will phase out both Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic in the coming weeks as John Terry and Kurt Zouma return from injury. To me, that means one thing: 3-5-2.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Conte switched to the formation he mastered with Juventus and the Italian national team for the final 35 minutes of Chelsea’s drubbing at Arsenal and it seemed to work a little better, but it’s tough to tell how well it worked because the game was already over.

Something drastic needs to change in formation and personnel because the mindset of the current crop of defenders doesn’t seem to be strong enough to deal with what’s being thrown at them. Ivanovic came out after the game and said the players were not carrying out Conte’s instructions. That’s a huge problem.

Another problem is that Conte did not get the players he wanted in the summer. Reports suggested he went after center backs Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci but instead Chelsea signed David Luiz with many suggesting the deal wasn’t exactly what Conte wanted but Luiz’s connections with the club saw it pushed through.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule | stats ]   

Conte is now left with a messy situation in defense.

Yes, mistakes happen, but his side have given up at least two goals in each of their last four games. That’s not good enough. Conte knows it and so do Chelsea’s players but the worrying thing for Conte is that on Saturday that apart from Gary Cahill and Thibaut Courtois screaming criticism at teammates, there was a real lack of direction out on the pitch. Without Terry, that’s to be expected, but the 25-year-old won’t be around forever. Chelsea must find a solution.

“I have to solve the situation. That is the most important thing. The situation is that every game we concede two goals, at a minimum,” Conte said, furiously. “For this reason, three back or two back or four back, I don’t care. It is important to solve the situations. I must find the right solution for this team because in every game we are conceding two goals. I work a lot to find the right solution.”

Three at the back is worth a go. Using the formation and personnel below when Terry and Zouma are fit should improve Chelsea’s display but only when individuals cut out huge errors can Conte really kick on his project at Chelsea.

—– Courtois —–

—- Zouma — Terry — Luiz —

—- Azpilicueta —-  Kante —- Matic —- Hazard —- Alonso —-

—- Costa —- Batshuayi —-

To me, that team above is Chelsea’s Best XI at the moment.

Away from the defensive issues, Eden Hazard looked lost out wide against Arsenal, bring him inside to influence the game and make the most of N'Golo Kante‘s supreme ability to intercept and win tackles. Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta as wing backs are good enough on the ball to deliver crosses, something Willian, Pedro and others haven’t done consistently this season. Then up top, it is time for Diego Costa to get a partner in crime with Michy Batshuayi starting.

Again, all of these lineup changes are irrelevant if Chelsea’s entire team doesn’t adopt pride in doing the simple things correctly on the defensive side of things. You could tell as his post-match press conference drew to a close that Conte was getting more enraged by the second. He tapped on the table. He raised his voice. He took long, reflective pauses as he sighed deeply.

Let’s put this into perspective a little: it’s not the end of Chelsea’s title bid, even if Conte wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence when asked about it. Losing at home against Liverpool and away at Arsenal is no disgrace but for a Chelsea team billed as title contenders and meant to be tough to break down after acquiring their managers penchant for defensive excellence, this has been a bad few weeks.

I asked Conte why his teams have been so sloppy from the start in games in recent weeks. Like their bad defending, he simply can’t explain it and seems genuinely stunned.

“I was a footballer and it happens in one game. It can happen,” Conte said. “You don’t have a good performance for many reasons. I hope to improve this situation because this is the second consecutive defeat after Liverpool. They are great teams, Liverpool and Arsenal. We must reflect on this because we had two defeats in two big games. For this reason we must be humble and understand the moment. To understand we need to work a lot and improve to change our story.”


SPURS, ARSENAL, LIVERPOOL CHASING PERFECT CITY

A more positive story which has dominated the early weeks in this season is Manchester City’s excellence under Pep Guardiola. Following their 3-1 win at Swansea the Spanish coach has now won all 10 of his games in charge of City across all competitions and they sit top of the table with 18 points and a 100 percent record. Pretty easy this Premier League stuff, right Pep?

In all seriousness, apart from facing Manchester United away from home, Guardiola knows the fixtures have been kind to his team. No disrespect to teams like Bournemouth, Swansea, Sunderland or West Ham, but most title-chasing teams will also beat them. The next stretch is where we will find out just how good Guardiola’s side are, especially without Kevin De Bruyne who could be missing for up to a month with a hamstring injury.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]   

City face Tottenham, Everton and Southampton in their next three games, a real step up in opposition, plus they also have a UEFA Champions League clash at Barcelona and an EFL Cup match at Manchester United to negotiate. Jostling for position just behind the clear front runners are three teams: Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool.

Spurs are unbeaten and edged past Middlesbrough without the injured Harry Kane. Their manager Mauricio Pochettino wants them to be more clinical but they’re digging deep and getting the job done. The two teams with the more likely staying power to challenge City appear to be Arsenal and Liverpool.

As bad as Chelsea’s defending was, Arsenal’s offensive talents dazzled on Saturday with Alexis Sanchez’s pace terrifying in a central role up top and Mesut Ozil’s close to his bamboozling best. The Gunners look to have finally rectified any issues over their shaky defense and with Sanchez and Ozil combining, Arsene Wenger is a happy man as he celebrates his 20th anniversary in charge of the Gunners this week.

For Liverpool, well, they’re flying. Jurgen Klopp‘s side has scored more goals than any other team in 2016 and they brushed aside 10-man Hull City 5-1 with minimum fuss. When Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho get going, there are few clubs who can stop them. The only issue remains not only defensive lapses but also, where does Daniel Sturridge fit in? Klopp will provide an answer to that question another day but for now his side are slowly building momentum and with no European action this season, he can work longer and harder on the training ground to fine tune his already well-oiled machine.

City are already many people’s favorites to win the league but the chasing pack is already showing plenty of promise that this will not be a one-horse canter to the title. Remember, we’ve only had six games. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.


NO ROOM FOR ROONEY

Jose Mourinho finally bowed to the suggestions of all of those “football Einsteins” and it worked a treat. Mourinho left his captain and talisman Wayne Rooney on the bench along with Marouane Fellaini and the balance in Manchester United’s midfield instantly looked better.

The Red Devils breezed past Leicester City 4-1 on Saturday at Old Trafford with Paul Pogba flourishing in a more advanced midfield role alongside Juan Mata and Ander Herrera sweeping up magnificently in front of the back four. It seems like Mourinho has found a winning formula, one that doesn’t include Rooney.

It has to be said that Leicester helped them out with their woeful set piece defending on three of United’s four first half goals, but there was a renewed energy, zip and purpose about United’s play, especially in midfield. The balance between Pogba, Mata and Herrera was spot on and it allowed the former to unleash his true self as he scored his first-ever goal in a United shirt, flicked delicate balls behind Leicester’s defense and was a general nuisance. Leaving out Rooney got the best out of Pogba. We all know how this is going to end.

Closing in on being the all-time leading goalscorer for United, Rooney will still play his fair share of games but at the age of 30 it seems like he’s coming to the realization that he will have to pick and chose which games to play in to prolong not only his United career but his effectiveness when he does step on the field.

“He’s my man, I trust him completely. He’s as happy as I am at this moment. He’s a big player for me, for United, a big player for this country,” Mourinho said afterwards.

He’s a big player for United, no doubt. It’s just that Pogba is bigger, younger and, crucially, better in that advanced midfield role. There’s simply no room for Rooney to start regularly anymore in this United team.


WEST HAM’S WOES

I was at the London Stadium on Sunday and it was clear all is not well at all levels of the club.

West Ham United were hammered 3-0 by Southampton on the pitch (their captain Mark Noble admitted afterwards it could’ve been 6-0) and in the stands there were still a few issues with the Hammers’ new home as fans in both the home and away sections were ejected by heavy-handed security staff.

After five defeats from their opening six PL games, Slaven Bilic‘s side are spiraling out of control. Dimitri Payet looks lost, the defending is poor and their lack of a clinical goalscorer is hurting West Ham badly. On top of all of that the move to the Olympic Stadium has not gone well initially. After infighting among West Ham fans in previous defeats at the stadium, there was more of a somber atmosphere inside on Sunday with most of the home end empty long before the final whistle.

The situation is bad but it appears West Ham have hit rock bottom.

Cast your mind back to pretty much every new stadium opening in the PL in years gone by. There have always been teething problems, issues with fans complaining about the view being too far away and things which seemed like a big deal at the time but now seem like nothing. A perfect storm of negativity has been created at West Ham, coupled with their shock Europa League exit in the playoff round and their worst-ever start to a PL season.

Their joint-chairman David Sullivan and David Gold issued a statement on Monday saying “there have been factors which have contributed to the poor start with injuries to key players and some key decisions which have gone against us. But we are not going to make excuses.”

The Hammers can’t afford to make excuses but when they work at the kinks at their wonderful new home of just under 60,000, all of this unrest will seem a million miles away. The only issues remain on the pitch. West Ham shouldn’t get dragged into a relegation battle but they must stop the rot against Middlesbrough at home next weekend. Another abject performance and defeat in front of their own fans is not an option. No excuses.

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here