Manchester City v Liverpool - Premier League

Premier League Playback: Man City delight, Balotelli is back, Spurs for the title?

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JOVETIC RIPS LIVEROOL APART

During Manchester City’s signature early season 3-1 win over Liverpool on Monday, a Montenegrin striker many had dismissed as a failure ripped the Reds defense apart.

Stevan Jovetic bagged a brace for the Citizens as Manuel Pellegrini’s men handed out a beating to Liverpool. Watch the highlights above, as Jovetic scored twice then Sergio Aguero piled on the misery for Liverpool. This summer I got the chance to catch up with Jovetic after he scored against AC Milan on City’s tour of the U.S. He looked determined, fired up and focused as he spoke to a small gaggle of journalists after the game. He shone in America, scoring five goals in three International Champions Cup games. This dude was red hot.

However in a rather reflective and somber mood, he talked about his early struggles at City as he spent most of last season on the bench or the treatment table after arriving from Fiorentina.

“Honestly I wasn’t happy. That was obvious. I didn’t play but I never said that I shouldn’t have moved to England. I knew that I am a good player and that I can play for City. After that, when I was fit for the last three months, I played in every game and came in for 30 minutes of 45 minutes, some games I started. This year I hope I can help the guys much more.

On mentally not being able to deal with the pressure last season…

“I think the most important thing is the head, in football. There are good players but the head is the most important. In that moment that everyone was talking about me saying he is not good, he was bought for $30 million, I was quiet and working. I knew that I was going to show myself in the best light.”

Jovetic certainly showed himself in the best light on Monday as the Citizens put down an early marker for the season to show the entire league that the reigning Premier League champions aren’t messing around. They want to become just the third team in PL history to win back-to-back titles.

Premier League Schedule – Week 2

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

With Aguero, Edin Dzeko and now Jovetic firing on all cylinders up front, plus the injured Alvaro Negredo to come back, nobody is questioning Manuel Pellegrini’s decision to not splash any cash on a striker this summer, are they? Time will tell, but Jovetic’s splendid early season form is almost like a new signing for the Citizens. The Montenegrin forward never stopped believing in himself and now, in his words, “this year, I hope I can help the guys more.”

When I saw Jovetic wheeling away in delight after scoring his second, I couldn’t help but hear this famous song by ‘Journey’ in the back of my head. “Don’t stop believing!”

Jovetic never did.

‘SUPER MARIO’ SET TO SHINE?

A player Liverpool will be hoping can help bring belief back is new signing Mario Balotelli. The enigmatic and precocious Italian international arrived at Anfield on Monday for $26 million from AC Milan and will try to help fill the void left by Luis Suarez this summer.

[Can Balotelli replace Suarez; turn Reds into PL champs?]

On Monday’s showing, Liverpool need more than Balotelli if they’re going to be serious contenders for City’s title but Balotelli brings that ‘x factor’ that they were perhaps missing without Suarez. This could go either way for Rodgers. Really, really well… or really, really bad.

Listen to my thoughts on Balotelli’s move, below, as I join Jenna Corrado on the latest edition of PST Extra.

TOTTENHAM’S FUTURE IS IN GOOD HANDS: POCHETTINO’S

Mauricio Pochettino has started his Tottenham Hotspur career in the best possible way: two wins from two.

The Argentine boss has Spurs top of the PL standings with two victories in London derbies to open up the 2014-15 campaign, plus they have yet to concede a goal. Pochettino hasn’t spent big over the summer but has instead given several of Spurs’ big money signings from last summer a huge boost.

Premier League Star Performers – Week 2

Player Reason
1. Stevan Jovetic (Man C) 2 goals, clinical finishes
2. Nacer Chadli (Spurs) 2 goals, reborn at WHL
3. David Silva (Man C) Silky Spaniard shone in big win
4. Olivier Giroud (Arsenal) 1 goal, sub, changed the game
5. Thibaut Courtois (Che) Superb saves from new no. 1

His training methods involve running, lots of it, as he forces his sides to press high up the pitch and play at an unbelievably high tempo. Last season he led Southampton, in just their second season back into the PL, to an eighth place finish and his stylish brand of soccer was revered across Europe. His coaching staff go everywhere with him. They travel together, eat together and are a real family unit. That emanates to his players and you can already see Spurs’ hugely talented players playing with freedom but reaping from the benefits of a “Pochettino pre-season” which makes even the most senior pros shudder. One of Poch’s former players, Dani Osvaldo, once said of his manager’s intense training methods.

“He makes you work like a dog. Sometimes you feel like killing him, but it works.”

As a man-manager, Pochettino is phenomenal. Erik Lamela, Roberto Soldado and Nacer Chadli all arrived for big money last summer and were labelled flops by the fans and cast aside by interim boss Tim Sherwood. Now they are integral to Pochettino’s early success as the former Espanyol and Southampton boss works his magic at White Hart Lane. Pochettino was asked about Spurs challenging for the title following Sunday’s 4-0 shellacking of QPR. He was quick to cool that talk but if Tottenham carry this form on, a top four finish isn’t out of the question. Spurs fans would take that, right?

TOFFEES CRUMBLE AS GUNNERS FIRE LATE ON

For the first 83 minutes at Goodison Park on Saturday, Everton were cruising to a 2-0 victory and Roberto Martinez looked to be the master tactician over Arsene Wenger once again. Then, crash, bang, wallop… 2-2. Arsenal snatched a point from the jaws of defeat as a deflated Goodison Park crowd marched home forlornly wishing the Merseyside dusk would swallow them up.

Arsenal had looked jaded, off the pace and stagnant in possession throughout, as the clash between last seasons’ fourth and fifth place team was a one-sided affair. Leading 2-0 at half time, thanks to goals from Seamus Coleman and Steven Naismith, Everton slowly stepped off the gas and didn’t look to be in much trouble. However Wenger, the longest serving manager in the PL, proved he’s still got it. Olivier Giroud jumped off the bench and replaced $60 million man Alexis Sanchez, who looked lost in the lone forward role, at half time. Giroud went close on three occasions and gave Everton’s defense a headache. Aaron Ramsey equalized in the 83rd minute when another Wenger sub, Santi Cazorla, played in Ramsey to make it 2-1. Then Giroud bagged the equalizer in the 90th minute as a tiny corner of Goodison erupted.

The Gunners had bagged a point but the manner in which they ground out a result at one of the toughest away stadiums to visit in the PL was impressive. The old adage is that you are a good team if “you get something when you don’t play well.” Arsenal did that. Everton played well early on but for the second week in a row chucked away two points at the death. Martinez’s men will be just fine this season but their inability to shut games down and a leaky defense is something their Spanish manager must address sooner rather than later. Martinez will see this disappointing draw as an opportunity missed to lay down an early claim for a top four finish this season.

See Everton and Arsenal’s exhilarating draw in the video above which includes all of Saturday’s games, while Sunday’s video recap is below.

TRANSFER WINDOW SLAMMING SHUT

“Sources have confirmed.” “Reports suggest.” “Reportedly.”

Only one more week until those words don’t totally invade your vocabulary until January, I promise. With the long summer transfer window slamming shut on September 1 at 7 p.m. ET, the speculation about potential new signings will stop and we will then begin to analyze how teams across the PL fared after all the wheeling and dealing. Here are 10 players to look out for this week as the window shuts. Plenty of top players are still rumored to be on the move, so this is just a small sample of those who could be transferring.

We will have plenty more transfer deadline news coming your way. So stay logged on to PST …

USMNT UPDATE – FOR NOW, WE WILL STILL INCLUDE TIMMY

It has been an eventful few days for the Americans plying their trade in the Premier League. Brad Guzan put in a stellar display, especially with a stunning late stop, to help Aston Villa record their second-straight shutout to begin the campaign. The new U.S. number one, (yes, we will get to that shortly) praised his new-look Villa defense. All of whom look, well, rather alike with their buzz cuts. Including Guzan.

[More: Cameron lined up by Italian giants Lazio, several PL clubs]

So, yeah, Tim Howard has been in the news a lot in the past few days. Last week it was announced he will step down for U.S. national team duty for 2015 as he focuses on spending more time with his young family and just playing for Everton. That opens up a slot for Guzan to become a regular in goal for the USA and stake his claim to be in net for the 2018 World Cup. Howard will return but Jurgen Klinsmann insisted he will have to earn his place back in the squad. A sabbatical for a top USMNT player, sound familiar? Ahem, Donovan… Anyway Howard, as aforementioned was busy at the weekend as Everton chucked away a 2-0 lead late on against Arsenal. And oh yeah, he will also be releasing a book on December 9 titled “The Goalkeeper” in what should be a lovely “stocking filler” and he was on site at the Etihad for NBC Sports on Monday to analyze Man City vs. Liverpool. Phew, Tim’s a busy boy. No wonder he’s taking a break. Here’s a Tweet of him in action at the Etihad.

As for the other American in the PL, Geoff Cameron could be on his way out of Stoke City as PST exclusively found out that the versatile USMNT man has Lazio, Sunderland, Southampton, Hull City and Leicester City chasing him. Cameron was on the bench, but didn’t play for the Potters in their 1-1 draw away at Hull on Sunday. Time will tell how that plays out, but is seems like the Bostonian could be on his way out of the Britannia Stadium. As for Jozy Altidore, he came on as a late sub in Sunderland’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United but despite a few promising runs he had no chances to bag a game-winner. Still, Altidore is recovering well from his hamstring injury at the World Cup. A mixed weekend for the Americans Abroad.

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

Antonio Conte on Chelsea’s struggles: “We haven’t got a magic wand”

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24:  Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea looks on during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium on September 24, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte knows turning things around at Chelsea will not be easy.

[ MORE: Wenger to coach England?

Especially since, well, waving a magic wand around will do absolutely nothing to solve their defensive frailties.

Chelsea’s Italian manager was seething following their 3-0 drubbing at Arsenal last weekend as his team looked all over the place defensively and they’ve now conceded nine times in their last four games.

For a manager of Conte’s ilk who prides himself on setting up his teams to be tough to beat and stingy at the back, it hurt him. Big time.

Speaking to the press ahead of Chelsea’s game at Hull City on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBC Sports) Conte knows the size of the task facing him.

“It is never good when you lose, but I think also in these two games we saw and learnt a lot of important things. We must work very hard to recover,” Conte said. “We finished 10th last season – when you finish 10th it means you have problems. Now we are trying to solve this situation, but we haven’t got a magic wand.

“We faced two teams who were very strong (Liverpool and Arsenal) and for me, these two teams are now at the top. We have a lot to improve, but this is the hope we must have. I see the present and the opportunity to improve, it’s not easy. But we know this.”

The Italian also revealed that captain John Terry will not return for this game so he may well have to continue with the likes of Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic in defense, despite both of those long-time Chelsea defenders going through a tough time in terms of their form.

It will be intriguing to see if Conte switches to a 3-5-2 formation this week at Hull. The Tigers usually only play with one man up front, Abel Hernandez, so it would seem unlikely Conte will add an extra man in the center of his defense.

That said, such has been the shocking nature of Chelsea’s defending in recent weeks, the Italian will try anything — expect from magic — to turn this slump around and get back on track after three-straight wins to start the PL campaign had many people touting them as title contenders.

What is Arsenal’s best XI from Arsene Wenger’s 20 years in charge?

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Wow. This was tough.

With Arsene Wenger celebrating 20 years in charge at Arsenal on October 1, tomorrow, now seems like a good time to look back at all the players he’s managed and pick the best XI during his two decades at the helm of the Gunners.

[ MORE: Wenger to England? ]

Of course his early teams dominated the Premier League, winning three PL titles in his first eight seasons in charge which included the “Invincibles” and going 49 games unbeaten in the Premier League. Arsenal fans won’t need reminding that they haven’t won a title for 12 years but that doesn’t mean plenty more fine players haven’t played for the Gunners in that time period.

Below is my selection of the best XI to play for Arsenal under Wenger, and I urge you to tell us yours in the comments section below.

Remember: At 12:30 p.m. ET, this Saturday, Oct. 1, NBCSN presents a new Premier League Download: Inside the Mind of Arsene Wenger, hosted by The Men in Blazers’ Roger Bennett to celebrate 20 years at Arsenal. Promo video is above.


JPW’s best Arsenal XI under Arsene Wenger

—– Seaman —–

— Dixon — Adams — Campbell — Cole —

—- Pires — Vieira — Fabregas — Sanchez —-

—– Henry — Bergkamp —– 

Iniesta in, Fabregas out as Spain seeks to avenge loss to Italy

TOULOUSE, FRANCE - JUNE 13: Andres Iniesta of Spain shoots at goal during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group D match between Spain and Czech Republic at Stadium Municipal on June 13, 2016 in Toulouse, France.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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MADRID (AP) Andres Iniesta will lead Spain in its World Cup qualifying matches against Italy and Albania after returning from injury.

[ MORE: Wenger to coach England?

Spain will be seeking to avenge a loss to Italy at the European Championship that ended the team’s bid for a third consecutive continental title.

Spain coach Julen Lopetegui named Iniesta to his squad on Friday for the upcoming away qualifiers Oct. 6 and 9.

“The return of Andres is very good news for us,” Lopetegui said. “He has played consistently for the past month. We are happy he is here, above all given the rivals we have to face.”

Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas was not included in Lopetegui’s squad after losing his place in Antonio Conte‘s starting lineup for most of this season.

The most notable inclusion was Napoli forward Jose Callejon in place of new Barcelona striker Paco Alcacer, who was dropped. He will join an attack consisting of Diego Costa, Alvaro Morata, Manuel “Nolito” Agudo and Victor “Vitolo” Machin.

Midfielder Francisco “Isco” Alarcon returned to the squad in detriment of Real Madrid teammate Marco Asensio. Madrid defender Nacho Fernandez and Sevilla goalkeeper Sergio Rico were also back after missing Lopetegui’s first list.

The 2-0 loss to Italy in the round-of-16 of Euro 2016 marked the end of Vicente del Bosque’s long and successful stint as Spain’s manager. Lopetegui has since been tasked with rejuvenating a team that won the 2010 World Cup and 2008 and 2012 European Championships.

Under Lopetegui, Spain beat Lichtenstein 8-0 its first qualifier for the 2018 World Cup after beating Belgium in a friendly in his debut. Iniesta missed those two matches with a knee injury.

Both Italy and Albania won their opening qualifiers in Group G.

While Italy is clearly Spain’s main rival for the group, Albania is riding high after winning its first match at a major tournament at Euro 2016.

“These are two important matches, but they are not definitive,” Lopetegui said. “We know how tough they will be and we are motivated to meet the challenge. We will not settle for draws.”

Spain:

Goalkeepers: David De Gea (Manchester United), Pepe Reina (Napoli), Sergio Rico (Sevilla).

Defenders: Nacho Fernandez (Real Madrid), Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Javi Martinez (Bayern Munich).

Midfielders: Jorge “Koke” Resurreccion (Atletico Madrid), Sergi Roberto (Barcelona), Saul Niguez (Atletico Madrid), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), David Silva (Manchester City), Lucas Vazquez (Real Madrid), Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Francisco “Isco” Alarcon (Real Madrid).

Forwards: Jose Callejon (Napoli), Victor “Vitolo” Machin (Sevilla), Alvaro Morata (Real Madrid), Diego Costa (Chelsea), Manuel “Nolito” Agudo (Manchester City).

Why is Jose Mourinho upset with his Man United coaching staff?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 29:  Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United looks on prior to kickoff during the UEFA Europa League group A match between Manchester United FC and FC Zorya Luhansk at Old Trafford on September 29, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho was visibly upset during Manchester United’s 1-0 Europa League win against Zorya Luhansk on Thursday.

Why, I hear you ask?

[ MORE: Wenger to coach England? ]

Well, it all centers around his coaching staff as Zorya’s lineup surprised Mourinho and his players, most notably Paul Pogba, were incredible confused.

At the beginning of the game Mourinho yelled towards his coaches and looked bemused alongside Pogba. After the game, which Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s lone goal decided, Mourinho explained what the problem was all about.

“It was set pieces, organisation, they changed their team before the game,” Mourinho said. “Paul Pogba was a bit confused with the changes and obviously I want my assistants to take care of all the details.”

Mourinho was in discussions with assistant manager Rui Faria and Pogba but he was seen staring moodily at analyst Giovanni Cerra and then he took his frustration out on the bench.

The former FC Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid manager is a stickler for details and after spending many years as an assistant manager himself, he expects every meticulous detail to be spot on from his assistants.

Turns out there is a small margin for error when Mourinho is your boss.

With United winning three games on the spin after losing three in a row, Mourinho isn’t getting ahead of himself but anything other than a convincing win over Stoke City this Sunday (Watch live, 7 a.m ET online via NBC Sports) will not be greeted warmly.

One final note: it’s worth remembering that Mourinho has turned on his staff at other clubs before when things weren’t going so well…