Ryan Giggs, Louis van Gaal

Premier League Playback: Manchester United’s struggles, Liverpool’s new philosophy

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New season, same struggles for Manchester United

Okay, it’s too early to judge Louis van Gaal’s tenure at Old Trafford, even though plenty of folks have already pointed fingers angrily at the Dutchman following United’s 2-1 opening day defeat at home to Swansea City. Yeah, it’s happening again. In the video above the new man in charge bemoans how his side “didn’t play as a team.” The similarities between van Gaal’s United and David Moyes’ side are striking. That’s because, well, not much has changed. In what was supposed to be a ‘Dutch Revolution” over the summer, two players Moyes helped to sign (Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera) are the only new faces. Only one team, Exeter City, have signed less players than United this summer out of the entire 92 professional teams in England and Wales. With two weeks until the transfer window slams shut, van Gaal needs to act fast if United are going to succeed this season. This may all sound like a knee-jerk reaction, but in their defeat to Swansea one thing was clear: the quality of players is not good enough at the club. Van Gaal has since said that.

“I thought that before this match. When we were playing in the United States I saw the same. I know in what positions we need better players but I won’t discuss [how many].”

Okay, United have been ravaged with injuries as Robin van Persie, Shaw, Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick and others were missing for the curtain raiser, but if LVG plans to keep employing a 3-5-2 formation, he needs some top quality defenders to arrive. Fast. On Saturday Swansea exposed Chris Smalling and debutant Tyler Blackett with pace down the flanks that left them in two minds whether to step out or retreat. That’s how Swansea’s winner arrived as Jefferson Montero beat Smalling down the wing and whipped in a cross as Gylfi Sigurdsson scored a late winner. Phil Jones had far from a stellar match, and the only other central defensive option they possess is Johnny Evans. The Red Devils are in deep trouble in defense. No disrespect to Swansea, but if they are recording their first ever league win at Old Trafford and exposing United’s weakness with ease, van Gaal has some serious issues. Also, it was the first time United had lost at home on the opening day since 1972. Those records, not the good kind, continue to tumble.

[RELATED: Why are United struggling to buy players?]

Premier League Schedule – Week 1

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

A hangover from last season is impacting United. Rooney’s tremendous bicycle kick and Adnan Januzaj’s powerful running aside, the Red Devils showed little to suggest an aspirin will soon arrive to relive them of their misery and return things to the way they once were. The hangover is here to stay, until new faces and fresh impetus arrives. And plenty of it. The Red Devils have been linked with Mats Hummels, Angel Di Maria, Edinson Cavani, Arturo Vidal, Marco Rojo and pretty much every other available player this summer but so far, to no avail.

Let’s not panic. LVG has two weeks to bring in four or five top quality players to strengthen his side and get them into the top four. However with star players turning down one of the largest and most famous clubs in the world, United are running out of time. The fact that they now need to persuade players to join them is a little sad and shows how far the mighty have fallen.

[RELATED: United’s confidence “smashed down”]

The opening day marked the worst possible start to the season van Gaal could have hoped for. Maybe it will act as a wake-up call to Executive Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward that money needs to be splashed before it’s too late. The squad at van Gaal’s disposable isn’t good enough and is looking thin after his summer clearout. Moyes made a mess of last season but was it really all his fault? Now, increasingly, we have seen the same players putting in mediocre performances time and time again. Van Gaal’s task to return United to their past glory is suddenly looking like a rather ominous one. Where have we seen this before?

Liverpool’s new philosophy, post-Suarez

Against Southampton on Sunday, Liverpool kicked off the post-Luis Suarez era with a 2-1 win at a strangely subdued Anfield. One of the most atmospheric, spine-tingling and boisterous stadiums in world soccer sat in silence for vast swathes of a nail-biting match.

Chants of “Is this a library?” rang our from the small section of Southampton fans at the Anfield Road. They had a point.

As NBC Sports analysts Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe point out in the analysis above, Liverpool’s tact will be a lot different this season without Suarez. Last year their swashbuckling style stole the hearts of neutrals across the globe. the gun-ho approach saw them score 101 goals but they let in 50. That last stat is crucial. It is what cost them the title last season and if they are going to go one step further and win the Premier League crown, they need to be able to grind out wins 1-0, 2-1 and settle for a draw on the road.

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Premier League Star Performers

Player Reason
1. Raheem Sterling (L’pool) 1 goal, scintillating speed
2. Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal) 1 goal, dug deep, got winner
3. Allan McGregor (Hull) Clean sheet, saved late PK
4. David Silva (Man City) 1 goal, silky skills galore
5. Saido Beraihno (WBA) 2 goal, pivotal for Baggies

Without Suarez, who joined Barcelona for $128 million this summer in case you’ve been living under a rock, they have lost 31 goals from last seasons total already. They need to shave at least 15 goals off the goals conceded column too. With Dejan Lovren arriving in central defense, plus full backs Alberto Moreno and Javier Manquillo on board, Brendan Rodgers has realized his side can no longer plan to outscore the opposition and hope for the best. Against Southampton they lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Steven Gerrard and Lucas holding in front of the back four to give them extra stability. Sure, there will be times when Liverpool obliterate teams 4 or 5-0 this season, but picking and choosing when to do that will ultimately leave them with a much stronger defensive core. In the long run, especially without Suarez, that is the most sensible and attainable recipe for success. With the goals of Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge, who both scored to seal the win on Sunday, they will still rip teams apart.

Even if it fails to flex the vocal chords at Anfield as vociferously as last season, Liverpool’s fans should be pleased their manager has addressed the areas he needed to over the offseason and the Reds are a stronger defensive unit for it. As for Suarez, does the old half of S.A.S. believe the Reds are stronger without him?

“I think so, with the players we’ve brought in,” Sturridge said. “No disrespect – he’s a great player and will be missed – but we move on.”

Let’s see if Liverpool’s new-look after Suarez sees them challenging for the title again this campaign. The thought is that Rodgers has used the $128 million to bolster the quantity of the squad, with Champions League soccer in mind, instead of bringing in top quality to replace Suarez. Let’s see how this goes.

Top 10 TV markets across the USA

Across the U.S. on Saturday NBC’s blanket coverage of the PL was consumed copiously by fans. It’s good to be back, I;m sure you’ll agree. Above are two tweets from NBC Sports PR which state the top 10 TV markets in the country from Saturday’s slate of opening games. Plus, you guys broke all of our records for watching every single PL game online via NBC Sports Live Extra. You savvy bunch, you.

Away day delight

Just two home teams won on the opening weekend of the Premier League. Arsenal and Liverpool, who both scored late on to seal narrow 2-1 wins. For a long time now, away teams seem to be faring better away from their homely confides. With no pressure on them to go and get a result, plus the home fans eager for their teams to succeed, the onus never seems to be on the visitors. Until Aaron Ramsey’s late winner for Arsenal on Saturday, we were looking at the first PL Saturday since 2004 where not one single home team won. Free-flowing soccer from teams likes Manchester City and Swansea produced away wins, while the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Hull City set up their stall, defended for their lives and grabbed all three points on the road. Yes, it’s only a stadium and a different pitch in another part of England or Wales, but we are increasingly seeing teams play with extra freedom on the road. Will this away day delight continue?

All of Saturday’s highlights and goals are in the video above, while Sunday’s are below.

USMNT update

Brad Guzan takes the gong (if such a thing exists… perhaps it would be a Captain America shield placed in the arms of a Statue of Liberty replica?) for the best performed U.S. national teamer in the PL on opening weekend. Guzan’s Aston Villa went to Stoke City and won 1-0. The American goalkeeper dealt with Stoke’s aerial bombardment expertly and has started his third season as a PL regular in the best possible fashion. As for his U.S. teammate Geoff Cameron, his situation at Stoke is a strange one. Despite starring for the USA at the World Cup, Cameron has been somewhat on the outside looking in since he returned to England and was left out of the 18-man squad against Villa on Saturday. I’ve heard plenty of rumors that several top teams in Germany, Italy and elsewhere in England have been alerted as to his situation. Cameron could be on the move in the next two weeks, while fellow American Brek Shea is available on loan from Stoke.

Tim Howard’s Everton let two leads slip away at newly promoted Leicester City to draw 2-2 on the opening day. Jozy Altidore was also involved in a 2-2 draw, Sunderland scored late to deny West Brom, as he jumped off the bench to play in his first competitive match since tearing his hamstring in the USA’s World Cup opener vs. Ghana back in June.

Men In Blazers wrap things up

Let’s finish off the first Playback of the 2014-15 season in style by getting the lads from Men In Blazers to sum everything up in the way that only they can. From Ashley Young’s ‘incident’ with a bird, ew, to Jordan Henderson’s sublime skills, take it away Rog and Davo.

Premier League Playback comes out every Monday and takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

Bundesliga wrap: Bayern, Hertha 1-2; USMNT’s Pulisic stars again

Bayern's Douglas Costa takes a selfie after scoring his side's second goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between FC Bayern Munich and Borussia Moenchengladbach at the Allianz Arena stadium in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
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Bayern Munich’s weekend went pretty well, with the Bavarians leading longtime rival Borussia Dortmund by six points after a win over Borussia Monchengladbach on Saturday.

Bayern has a three-point lead on the field, with John Brooks’ Hertha Berlin second after another win.

[ MORE: Bob Bradley on Swans draw ]

And it was another great day for the career of young American winger Christian Pulisic. More below…

Ingolstadt 3-3 Borussia Dortmund

Paraguay’s Dario Lezcano and the hosts looked prepared to cruise to a 3-1 win when he netted his second goal of the day, but there was still a half-hour left at Audi-Sportpark.

Adrian Ramos scored in the 69th minute, opening the door for the latest big moment for American teenager Christian Pulisic. The diminutive attacker scored his second Bundesliga goal of the season in stoppage time to propel BVB to a point.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had BVB’s other goal.

Dortmund's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, right, and Lukas Pisczek cheer over  a goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between FC Ingolstadt 04 and Borussia Dortmund   in Ingolstadt, Germany,  Saturday Oct. 22, 2016. (Andreas Gebert/dpa via AP)
(Andreas Gebert/dpa via AP)

Hertha Berlin 2-1 Koln

Anthony Modeste and Koln had less than 10 minutes to celebrate their equalizer, as Niklas Stark’s 74th minute goal lifted Hertha to all three points. USMNT center back John Brooks went the distance at center back.

Bayern Munich 2-0 Borussia Monchengladbach

What looked like a potential onslaught in the first half hour settled into a final score line, as Arturo Vidal and Douglas Costa goals were enough for Carlo Ancelotti’s crew at the Allianz Arena. Gladbach managed just two shots, none on goal, in the loss. USMNT mid Fabian Johnson went 90 minutes in the loss.

Hamburg 0-3 Eintracht Frankfurt — Another 90 for USMNT’s Chandler
Freiburg 2-1 Augsburg — Nils Petersen nets winner.
Bayer Leverkusen 0-3 Hoffenheim — Early red card for hosts.
Darmstadt 3-1 Wolfsburg — Three different goal scores in win.
RB Leipzig vs. Werder Bremen — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Schalke vs. Mainz — 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday


Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 8 6 2 0 20 4 16 4-1-0 2-1-0 20
 Hertha BSC Berlin 8 5 2 1 14 9 5 4-0-0 1-2-1 17
 1899 Hoffenheim 8 4 4 0 16 10 6 2-2-0 2-2-0 16
 1. FC Köln 8 4 3 1 13 6 7 3-1-0 1-2-1 15
 RB Leipzig 7 4 3 0 12 5 7 2-1-0 2-2-0 15
 Borussia Dortmund 8 4 2 2 20 10 10 3-1-0 1-1-2 14
 Eintracht Frankfurt 8 4 2 2 13 8 5 2-2-0 2-0-2 14
 SC Freiburg 8 4 0 4 10 12 -2 4-0-0 0-0-4 12
 FSV Mainz 05 7 3 2 2 14 12 2 1-1-1 2-1-1 11
 Mönchengladbach 8 3 2 3 10 12 -2 3-1-0 0-1-3 11
 Bayer Leverkusen 8 3 1 4 11 12 -1 2-1-1 1-0-3 10
 FC Augsburg 8 2 2 4 7 11 -4 1-1-2 1-1-2 8
 Darmstadt 8 2 2 4 8 15 -7 2-2-0 0-0-4 8
 Werder Bremen 7 2 1 4 9 18 -9 2-0-2 0-1-2 7
 VfL Wolfsburg 8 1 3 4 5 11 -6 0-2-2 1-1-2 6
 FC Schalke 04 7 1 1 5 7 11 -4 1-0-2 0-1-3 4
 FC Ingolstadt 04 8 0 2 6 7 17 -10 0-1-3 0-1-3 2
 Hamburger SV 8 0 2 6 2 15 -13 0-1-3 0-1-3 2

Confirmed: Knee ligament damage for Andres Iniesta

VALENCIA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 22:  Andres Iniesta of FC Barcelona reacts injured on the pitch during the La Liga match between Valencia CF and FC Barcelona at Mestalla stadium on October 22, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
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Andres Iniesta’s footballing career has defined for an entire generation the words consistency and professionalism.

[ MORE: Messi scores late winner vs. Valencia; Neymar hit with a bottle ]

Now 32 years old and Barcelona’s longest-tenured servant, Iniesta has played more than 40 games (all competitions) every season since the 2003-04 campaign, back when he was a 19-year-old La Masia product quickly breaking into the first team. Part of a run like that is down to unparalleled talent and an unwavering commitment to craft, but, of course, a stroke of good luck on the serious-injury front.

It’s looking quite unlikely he’ll extend his 40-games-played streak to a 13th season in 2016-17, however, after the club confirmed fears on Saturday that Iniesta suffered knee ligament damage during a heavy challenge by Valencia midfielder Enzo Perez early in the first half of Barca’s 3-2 victory — statement from Barca’s official website:

The first team player Andres Iniesta has injured the lateral collateral ligament in his right knee. When he arrives in Barcelona the player will have more tests to find out the exact extent of the injury.

The Blaugrana also lost Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique to injuries during their Champions League triumph over Manchester City, as well as Rafinha and Arda Turan, who picked up knocks of their own in training during the week. Injury crisis at the Nou Camp.

Klopp: “Would’ve been kind of a joke” if Reds tossed away lead

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22:  Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool applauds the fans following their team's 2-1 victory during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion at Anfield on October 22, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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It’s kinda funny that Liverpool nearly threw away a dominant hour by taking its foot off the gas pedal on Saturday at Anfield.

The Reds took a two-goal lead but had to hold on for their three points, eventually exhaling with a 2-1 win over West Brom.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

How would manager Jurgen Klopp have felt if his dominant side, one that failed to put away maybe a dozen chances versus the Baggies, drew?

“We had to finish the game much earlier,” Klopp said. “It would have been kind of a joke if we drew or lost today. We were unbelievable. We wasted a little energy in the second half. … Performance, really good against a team like this that were here to get somehow something.”

He’s right, of course. The Reds need to learn to kill teams off, even if star West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster deserves plenty of credit for another starring role against a top team.

Liverpool 2-1 West Bromwich Albion: Reds hold on for all three

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22: Loris Karius of Liverpool celebrates his sides first goal during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion at Anfield on October 22, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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  • Mane opens scoring
  • Reds second with 20 points
  • WBA scores late

Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho scored first half goals worthy of admiration, and Liverpool beat West Brom 2-1 at Anfield on Saturday.

Gareth McAuley scored the Baggies’ lone goal, as West Brom took Liverpool’s day from comfortable to uneasy over the final 30 minutes or so.

The winning margin pushes Liverpool level on points Arsenal but behind the Gunners on goal differential. Man City has 19 points and would retake the table lead with a draw or better versus Southampton on Sunday.

The Baggies are 13th, ahead of West Ham and Burnley on goal differential.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The Reds went ahead when Roberto Firmino‘s spinning cross was belted past Foster by Mane in the 21st minute.

A poor Ben Foster clearance fell to Mane in the 35th minute, and the Senegalese attacker quickly found Coutinho. The diminutive winger cut into the box, working a near-post shot by Foster to make it 2-0.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Liverpool’s pressure continued in the second 45, with Foster flying across goal to palm away Dejan Lovren‘s strong header.

James Milner sprung Coutinho after the hour mark, but Claudio Yacob blocked the produced chance of Emre Can. The winning margin was seemingly the only question for Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds.

West Brom had the next true chance of the match, with Nacer Chadli blazing high and wide off a corner kick.

But hold on: McAuley was in the right spot to push a pinballing orb past Lorius Karius with 10 minutes to go. The Reds were able to hold on despite missing so many chances to put the thing to bed.