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

1 Comment

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

PL title & FA Cup in sight, Conte says Chelsea still rebuilding

Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Antonio Conte might be just seven games away from guiding Chelsea to a Premier League and FA Cup double this season, but the Blues’ first-year Italian manager insists his squad is nowhere near being a finished product.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Speaking after Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal triumph over Tottenham Hotspur, Conte insisted that the team he inherited last summer, after a disastrous 10th-place finish in the PL, is “in a period of transition” and that “[they] need time” as the club moves on from an accomplished, foundational generation — quotes from Sky Sports:

“I think that now at Chelsea we are in a period of transition. In this season, we have lost (Branislav) Ivanovic, (John Obi) Mikel and next season we lose John Terry.

“We are talking about players who wrote the history of this club. They won a lot. Now we have to find the right substitutes for these players and then work to put these players at the same level.

“I think that in the period with Carlo (Ancelotti) — and Carlo is the best Italian coach, I have great respect for him — he arrived at Chelsea when they had a really strong squad. Now we are building. We are building something important. We need time.”

[ MORE: Kante takes home PFA Player of the Year | Dele wins Young Player ]

Conte is doing two things with the above comments: 1) he’s tempering expectations for next season, when Chelsea will be back in the UEFA Champions League and automatically expected to repeat as PL champions — not to mention, taking a bit of pressure off in these final two months of the 2016-17 season; and, 2) pointing out just how impressive his work to date has been, the fact he’s potentially seven games away from lifting two trophies in seven days’ time next month.

Ligue 1: Mbappe, Falcao fire Monaco top again

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
Leave a comment

PARIS (AP) Strikers Radamel Falcao and Kylian Mbappe continued their fine form with a goal each to help Monaco secure a 2-1 win at Lyon and reclaim top spot in the French league on Sunday.

Monaco moves above defending champion Paris Saint-Germain on goal difference, with Monaco having played a game less. PSG has four games left.

“It wasn’t easy and it was a big win for us tonight,” Monaco center half Andrea Raggi said. “We all play for each other and it’s now or never.”

It has been an astonishing season for Monaco, which has now scored 143 goals in all competitions and remains on course for the treble. Monaco faces PSG in the French Cup semifinals next Wednesday.

Falcao and Mbappe scored in midweek when Monaco beat German side Borussia Dortmund 3-1 in the return leg of their Champions League quarterfinal to reach the last four 6-3 on aggregate.

Lyon also did well in Europe, going through on penalty kicks away to Turkish club Besiktas to reach the last four in the Europa League.

Falcao and the 18-year-old Mbappe have combined for 51 goals.

Falcao put Monaco ahead in the 36th minute with a header from close range – his 28th goal of the season – and Mbappe made it 2-0 just before halftime with a trademark surging run and cool finish for his 23rd.

“I just try and give my best whenever I play,” said Mbappe, who has recently been called into the France team. “I wasn’t playing much at the start of the season, so I’m still quite fresh and I hope I can help us win the remaining games.”

PSG beat Montpellier 2-0 at home on Saturday with Edinson Cavani scoring his 31st league goal of the season and 44th overall.

Nice has already guaranteed third place and a spot in the qualifying round for next season’s Champions League.

But with four games remaining, it is six points behind Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain. Nice hosts PSG next Sunday.

Striker Corentin Jean gave mid-table Toulouse the lead in the 57th minute. Midfielder Valentin Eysseric continued his fine form with the equalizer three minutes later.

The game was briefly halted early in the first half after a group of Saint-Etienne supporters forced themselves into the stadium.

The match was supposed to be played behind closed doors as a punishment for unruly supporters during Saint-Etienne’s local derby against Lyon.

After a brief delay for police to remove the fans, Slovakia striker Robert Beric put the home side ahead in the 39th and center half Edson Mexer leveled just before the break.

Saint-Etienne is in seventh place, while Rennes is ninth.

Serie A: Napoli waste chance to go 2nd; Juve win big (again)

Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MILAN (AP) Arkadiusz Milik scored his first goal since his lengthy injury layoff but it wasn’t enough to prevent Napoli from drawing 2-2 at Sassuolo on Sunday and missing the chance to move second in Serie A.

Milik scored two minutes after coming off the bench to rescue a point for Napoli and move it to within one point of second-placed Roma, which visits bottom club Pescara on Monday.

Second spot in Serie A secures automatic entry into the Champions League group stage, while the team that finishes third has to go through a playoff.

“The road to second spot has got more difficult, we have to hope our rivals slip up,” Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri said. “We have a point more than last season, even though we played in the Champions League, even though we lost (Gonzalo) Higuain at the beginning of the season and Milik for four months, so I think the team has had an extraordinary season until now.”

After an even first half, Napoli broke the deadlock seven minutes after the break thanks to a rare header from Dries Mertens. It was the diminutive Belgian’s 22nd league goal of the season – as many as he had scored in total in his three previous seasons at Napoli.

However, Napoli gifted Sassuolo the equalizer seven minutes later as Marek Hamsik’s terrible headed backpass to Pepe Reina was intercepted by Domenico Berardi, who fired home from close range.

Mertens almost immediately restored his side’s lead but saw his free kick come off the crossbar, while Lorenzo Insigne’s effort also hit the inside of the post for Napoli.

Sassuolo took the lead 10 minutes from time following a superb save from Reina to deny former Napoli hero Paolo Cannavaro, but Antonino Ragusa hooked the ball back in from the byline for Luca Mazzitelli to drive into the bottom right corner.

Milik was brought on in the 82nd and immediately leveled. Jose Callejon’s corner was knocked down by Raul Albiol and the Poland international spun to fire in from close range for his first goal since he was injured on World Cup duty in October.

AC Milan missed a penalty as the new era at the famous Italian club continued without a win.

Milan drew 2-2 at city rival Inter Milan last weekend in the first match since the $800 million takeover of Milan by Chinese-led Rossoneri Sport Luxembourg ended Silvio Berlusconi’s 31-year reign.

Sunday’s defeat saw Milan remain in the last qualifying spot for the Europa League, two points above Inter.

“If we relate everything to the result, it didn’t go well but I shouldn’t do that,” Milan coach Vincenzo Montella said. “We created 15 chances, it’s difficult to create more in Serie A.”

Empoli took a surprise lead five minutes from halftime when Levan Mchedlidze headed in a corner.

Milan should have leveled shortly before the hour, after Lukasz Skorupski pushed over Mario Pasalic, but the Empoli goalkeeper made up for his error by keeping out Suso’s penalty and then parrying a follow-up effort from Gianluca Lapadula.

Empoli doubled its lead in the 67th when Massimo Maccarone nodded on the ball for Mame Thiam to score his first goal in Italian football.

Lapadula reduced the deficit five minutes later, curling into the bottom corner and Milan had a good chance to level when it was awarded an indirect free kick six yards out from goal after Skorupski got the ball, put it down and picked it back up again.

However, with all the Empoli players on the line, Milan couldn’t equalize.

Milan’s teenage goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma kept his side in the match with a fantastic one-handed save to deny Maccarone and it almost proved decisive as Lucas Ocampos volleyed off the crossbar at the other end.

Keita Balde Diao notched a five-minute hat trick as Lazio crushed Palermo to move back into fourth in Serie A.

Ciro Immobile scored two in as many minutes to put Lazio 2-0 up inside 10 minutes, before Keita’s quickfire treble – including a penalty – ensured the match was all but over with less than half an hour played.

Lazio relaxed and Palermo threatened an unexpected comeback with two goals from Andrea Rispoli in five minutes at the start of the second half.

But Luca Crecco extended Lazio’s lead in the final minute with his first ever senior goal.

Juventus continued its march to an unprecedented sixth successive Serie A title by routing Genoa 4-0 to move 11 points clear of Roma.

Ezequiel Munoz scored an own-goal in the 17th and magnificent strikes from Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic put the hosts 3-0 up at the break. Leonardo Bonucci scored another stunning goal in the 64th after sprinting forward from inside his own half. Juventus also hit the woodwork three times.

Crotone kept its faint hopes of survival alive with a surprise 2-1 win at Sampdoria.

The result left it five points behind 17th-placed Empoli and safety with five matches remaining.

Elsewhere, Torino won 3-1 at Chievo Verona, while Udinese beat Cagliari 2-1.

MLS Snapshot: Sounders cruise, 3-0, as Galaxy struggles continue

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
Leave a comment

The game in 100 words (or less): The LA Galaxy’s midfield remains… nonexistent, to put it very nicely. It was a problem in 2015; it was a major problem in 2016; and it remains a problem early in 2017. On Sunday, Curt Onalfo’s side (as a quick aside, no, his seat isn’t yet getting hot) sat by and watched — almost literally — as the Seattle Sounders found the back of the net three times in the first half at StubHub Center.

Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris scored the goals for Seattle, to go with an own goal from Ashley Cole. It’s LA’s fifth loss in seven games, while Seattle have their second win of the season and put to bed a three-game winless skid.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundup — FCD win battle of unbeatens ]

Three moments that mattered

29′ — Dempsey heads into an open net for 1-0 — Nicolas Lodeiro floated the cross toward the back post, and Dempsey made extremely easy work of it with Brian Rowe scrambling through no man’s land.

35′ — Cole applies the finish into his own net — If it happened at the other end of the field, we’d have said it was a cool, calm, composed finish. Alas…

44′ — Morris fires past Rowe for 3-0 — The counter-attack was quick, what with no one stepping to the ball as Seattle covered two-thirds of the field. The finish wasn’t so simple for Morris.

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

Man of the match: Clint Dempsey

Goalscorers: Dempsey (29′), Cole (OG – 35′), Morris (44′)