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

WATCH: Zlatan free kick gives Man Utd lead in EFL Cup Final

BLACKBURN, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 19:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates as he scores their second goal during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Blackburn Rovers and Manchester United at Ewood Park on February 19, 2017 in Blackburn, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images
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It should’ve been an equalizer, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s EFL Cup Final opening goal was brilliant nonetheless.

Minutes after Manolo Gabbiadini was incorrectly ruled offside on a would-be opener, Oriel Romeu gave away a free kick from a bit more than 25 yards away from goal.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Southampton vs. Man Utd ]

The big Swede lorded over the opportunity with Paul Pogba, and elected to have a dig. Ibrahimovic curled it around the wall and past the fingertips of a diving Fraser Forster to put United ahead.

LIVE – Southampton, Manchester United in EFL Cup Final

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26: A general overview of the stadium prior to the EFL Cup Final match between Manchester United and Southampton at Wembley Stadium on February 26, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images
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Southampton looks to put icing on its incredible rise to the Premier League with an EFL Cup Final win on Sunday at Wembley Stadium.

Standing in their way? PL giants Manchester United, who could give Jose Mourinho his first full tournament title as Red Devils boss.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Southampton vs. Man Utd ]

Zlatan Ibrahimovic starts up top for United, with Wayne Rooney and Marcus Rashford on the bench.

New Saints signing Martin Caceres makes the bench along with EFL Cup Team of the Tournament midfielder Sofiane Boufal, while Manolo Gabbiadini and Nathan Redmond will be trusted in the Starting XI.

LINEUPS

Manchester United: De Gea, Valencia, Bailly, Smalling, Rojo; Herrera, Pogba, Lingard, Mata, Martial; Ibrahimovic. Subs: Romero, Blind, Young, Carrick, Fellaini, Rooney, Rashford.

Southampton: Forster, Cédric, Yoshida, Stephens, Bertrand, Romeu, Davis (c), Ward-Prowse, Tadić, Redmond, Gabbiadini. Subs: Hassen, Long, Rodriguez, Caceres, Boufal, Hojbjerg, McQueen

Kane, Dele react to Spurs thrashing of Stoke

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26:  Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring his teams fourth goal with teammate Harry Kane during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City at White Hart Lane on February 26, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Tottenham Hotspur stars Harry Kane and Dele Alli believe the side’s 4-0 win over Stoke City on Sunday is a good start in making amends for a lackluster Europa League exit.

That’s especially true for Dele, who was sent off in Thursday’s 2-2 draw against Gent.

“I felt horrible after the game and at halftime I apologized to the boys,” Dele said. “I went to see the guy right after the game to see if he was alright.”

[ RECAP: Spurs 4-0 Stoke ]

Dele then scored Spurs’ fourth goal on Sunday, though he was a bit surprised to see hat trick hero Harry Kane slide the ball his way.

“We had a laugh at halftime,” Dele said. “I thought he was going to go for four.”

As for Kane, he was the clear cut star of the show in netting a hat trick before the break to help Spurs create a good feeling at White Hart Lane.

“It was important,” Kane said. “We wanted to come out and get back to winning ways. Thursday was very disappointing for us.”

As for the hat trick?

“Just trying to get my shots off,” he said. “Bit of luck with the third one but if you don’t shoot you don’t score.”

A bit of North London’s Wayne Gretzky in that quote.

Tottenham Hotspur 4-0 Stoke: Kane runs wild

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  • Kane tops 100 club goals
  • Dele Alli also scores
  • Cameron subs on for Stoke

Harry Kane and Tottenham Hotspur put on quite an advertisement for Sunday’s PL Download on NBCSN with an outright thumping of Stoke City at White Hart Lane on Sunday.

Kane had a hat trick and an assist before halftime, as Spurs throttled Stoke 4-0.

The win moves Spurs back into second, 10 points back of leaders Chelsea and a point ahead of idle Manchester City. Stoke is 10th with 32 points.

USMNT back Geoff Cameron made his first appearance since Oct. 22, 2016, when he subbed into the game for the final nine minutes plus stoppage.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Harry Kane’s deft dribble in the 10th minute could’ve provided a goal but didn’t even bring a shot as Spurs got a bit too cute with passing inside the 18.

Stoke found a rare early chance minutes later, though Spurs had their angles covered and Joe Allen‘s rip into the side netting was largely a cosmetic offer.

Kane opened the scoring in the 14th minute. Christian Eriksen bobbled Dele Alli’s pass into the 18, but Ryan Shawcross‘ barely hit his clearance and Kane took a touch before belting home for the advantage.

Hugo Lloris thwarted an offside but unflagged Peter Crouch on the doorstep in the 24th minute.

Jan Vertonghen and Kane each had chances before the half-hour mark, with the former belting one off the cross bar and the latter shaping an aesthetically-pleasing effort just wide of the frame.

Kane’e second was lovely, bounding a low volley between the legs of Victor Wanyama and by a diving Lee Grant. He added a third with a deflected free kick for his 102nd club goal.

Kane turned provider for Dele before halftime, racing past Bruno Martins Indi to send the youngster forward for a sliding goal. 4-0.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

The second half started with a rough moment for Spurs, as stalwart center back Toby Alderweireld walked off injured. This on the day Vertonghen returned to the fold, and also left after little more than an hour.

Kane briefly left the match with an injury as well.