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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

Confederations Cup semifinal preview, picks

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The 2017 Confederations Cup will get back underway midweek with two semifinals taking place in Russia.

[ STREAM: 2017 Confed Cup live ]

Group A winners Portugal face Chile in Kazan, while Group B winners Germany clash with Mexico in Sochi for a spot in the Confed Cup final in St. Petersburg on Sunday. This will get very tasty indeed.

Below you will find a preview for each game, while you can click on the links above or below to stream the games live.


Portugal vs. Chile – Kazan – Wednesday, 2 p.m. ET live online via Telemundo Deportes

Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Alexis Sanchez. That is all… Seriously, though, this is the most-anticipated battle of the Confederations Cup so far as the European champs collide with the South American champs with both teams having very similar styles. Both like to defend and hit opponents on the counter and both have a genuine superstar in Ronaldo and Sanchez.

With the future of both those stars up in the air, both will want to put on a show to rubber-stamp their world class ability, especially Sanchez as clubs line up to try and pry him away from Arsenal with just one year left on his current contract with the Gunners. Sanchez’s goal against Australia meant he set a new record as Chile’s all-time leading scorer with 38 and along with Arturo Vidal he will lead Juan Antonio Pizzi’s team. Chile looked tired in their 1-1 draw with Australia on Sunday so having a day less of rest should not be overlooked for this veteran squad as the South Americans haven’t quite got going yet.

Ronaldo is the leader for Portugal as he scored against Mexico and New Zealand, while playing in all three games thus far for Fernando Santos’ squad. With 55 goals in 54 games in all competitions this season, Ronaldo will aim to finish the campaign on a high. With his future at Real Madrid reportedly up in the air, the 32-year-old surely won’t miss a chance to shine with the world watching.

Prediction: Portugal 2-1 Chile – This will probably go to extra time and if it doesn’t go to penalty kicks, Portugal will just edge it as Ronaldo takes center stage.


Germany vs. Mexico – Sochi – Thursday, 2 p.m. ET live online via Telemundo Deportes

This promises to be a classic encounter as a young German squad comes up against a battling El Tri. Mexico fell behind in all three of their Confed Cup group games but Juan Carlos Osorio’s team fought back to beat Russia and New Zealand as well as snatch a late draw with Portugal.

As for Germany, they’re building momentum throughout the tournament, despite goalkeeping issues, as Timo Werner has been among the goals, while Julian Draxler, Leon Goretzka, Lars Stindl, Julian Brandt, Joshua Kimmich and Shkodran Mustafi have also impressed. Joachim Low has left the majority of his 2014 World Cup winning team at home, so if this young German side makes the final then everyone will sit up and take notice as Toni Kroos, Manuel Neuer, Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil and Co. sit on the beach applauding, then possibly go for a jog as they worry about their starting spot next summer…

This won’t be a walk in the park for Germany. Mexico is a tough nut to crack and Osorio, despite his critics, has El Tri set up to defend first and then launch rapid counters with Hirving Lozano dangerous and Javier Hernandez and Oribe Perlata able to finish. Mexico’s added experience in high-pressure situations may be crucial, but losing captain Andres Guardado to suspension will hurt and injuries to Carlos Salcedo and Hector Moreno has left El Tri short in defense.

Prediction: Germany 2-2 Mexico (Germany to win on PKs) – This should be a thrilling encounter but Germany, of course, will likely win on PKs.

With a year to go, Russia’s World Cup faces challenges

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MOSCOW (AP) After years of controversy, Russian officials think their World Cup has weathered the storm.

Stadiums are either finished or nearing completion, and the Confederations Cup is going smoothly.

“The project is very big and there are some delays or operational questions, minor questions, but nothing critical,” Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, who oversees World Cup preparations, said Saturday.

But with a year to go, some serious concerns remain around Russia’s 643.5-billion-ruble ($10.8 billion) World Cup dream.

Workers’ deaths and alleged rights abuses taint the new stadiums. Teams will live in far-flung, hard-to-secure locations. Many of the stadiums risk becoming white elephants.

Here is a look at some of the key issues:

STADIUMS

Russia is desperate to avoid what Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko calls “the Brazilian scenario” – the construction delays and organizational disarray which marred the start of the last World Cup in 2014.

That looks assured, with most of the 12 stadiums either complete or close to completion, though some have gone over budget.

But did Russia cut corners on workers’ rights to get them ready? A report this month by Human Rights Watch accused Russia of numerous abuses on pay and conditions, and notes at least 17 deaths during construction.

Evidence that North Korean workers – who are employed around the world in conditions often likened to slavery – worked on the St. Petersburg stadium has brought concern from FIFA.

LEGACY

Many of Russia’s 12 stadiums look certain to be rarely – if ever – full again after the World Cup.

Just five of the 11 host cities have top-flight football clubs. The Russian Premier League attracts average crowds of 11,500 – among the lowest for major European leagues – and it seems new stadiums may be a temporary attraction that don’t solve fan apathy in the long-term.

Premier League side Rubin Kazan got an initial attendance bump after moving into a 45,000-seat World Cup ground in 2014, but crowds have dropped almost 30 percent over the last two seasons to 9,750. One home game against FC Krasnodar in April attracted barely 3,000 fans.

Meanwhile, Mordovia Saransk averaged 2,400 fans at games this season as it was relegated to the third tier, but will inherit a 45,000-seat World Cup ground next year. Sochi won’t have a professional club at all in 2017-18.

In Kaliningrad and Yekaterinburg, legacy concerns led Russian organizers to slash the capacity of World Cup stadiums from the original 45,000 to 25,000, with 10,000 more temporary seats.

Only the St. Petersburg stadium – home to games at the 2020 European Championship – and Moscow’s two grounds seem likely to be regularly in demand.

TEAM BASES

It’s not just about the host cities. The 32 teams taking part will be scattered across the country in newly built training bases as the Russian government tries to give other regions a taste of World Cup legacy – and lavish state spending.

Some locations in less glamorous areas of Russia are a hard sell for foreign teams, even if the accommodation is luxurious.

There’s Dzherzhinsk, an industrial city plagued by pollution from chemical plants, or Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, which was ravaged by war in the 1990s and early 2000s. Any team there will live with heavily armed guards. Many bases are in remote locations requiring air travel to even the nearest host city.

Small wonder that teams are expected to prioritize locations near the resort city of Sochi. Moscow’s heavy traffic is also a concern.

Still, team training bases may prove more useful for long-term legacy than the stadiums, since many include renovations of municipal football grounds.

FAN EXPERIENCE

Foreign fans at the Confederations Cup have largely seemed happy with Russian hospitality.

Tournament volunteers, police and paramedics have all had English classes to help foreigners in need, and free travel between host cities is on offer for ticket-holders.

Still, the real test is yet to come. The World Cup will bring many more foreign fans, posing a challenge for provincial transport links unused to such crowds.

Russia fans have little to be excited about, too, after their team exited the Confederations Cup in the group stage.

SECURITY

Russian authorities take the threat of terrorism at the World Cup seriously, especially after a bombing on the St. Petersburg subway in April.

At the Confederations Cup, thousands of police have operated tight airport-style security around stadiums, with more on key transport links.

The World Cup is even tougher to secure, with stadiums and team bases scattered across Russia. In the last five years, the host city of Volgograd has been hit by bombings, while Pyatigorsk, Grozny and Astrakhan, home to training bases, have seen attacks on security forces.

There are also fears about football hooliganism after Russians fans fought English supporters in France at last year’s European Championship. The Russian hooligans had martial arts training and left several England fans badly hurt, including one in a coma.

Russian authorities have blacklisted 191 fans with criminal records, and hours before the Confederations Cup began, dozens more, including members of radical groups, were refused permission to attend the tournament.

FIFA READINESS

Soccer’s world governing body also has work to do.

FIFA has pioneered video reviews of key moments like penalty calls during the Confederations Cup, but faced criticism that players and fans inside stadiums aren’t kept in the loop.

During Chile’s game against Cameroon last week, players milled about in confusion during one key review, and some headed toward the changing rooms, apparently thinking the referee had signaled for half-time.

FIFA also needs to hammer out a TV broadcast deal in Russia. Mutko has accused FIFA of charging so much that Russian networks would make a loss, and of trying to force the government to chip in.

A deal for the Confederations Cup was only reached six days before the tournament kicked off, avoiding the embarrassment of the host nation’s fans not being able to watch their team play.

AP Sports Writer Tales Azzoni in Kazan, Russia, contributed to this report.

Another delay for MLS stadium deal in Charlotte

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A decision on public funding for a potential Major League Soccer stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina was delayed once again Monday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

Charlotte’s city government committee stated no decision would be made on helping to fund a new MLS stadium before Aug. 2 when a country vote is scheduled.

It is the latest delay for the proposed $175 million stadium.

Potential owner Marcus Smith — CEO of Speedway Motorsports — has offered to pay the full $150 million MLS expansion fee, plus $87.5 million towards the stadium. With $43.75 million committed to help pay for the stadium, a decision on another $43.75 million has yet to arrive, leaving the stadium bid, and Charlotte’s entire MLS bid, in limbo.

Charlotte is one of 12 U.S. cities who have submitted a bid back in February for two MLS expansion franchises which will be awarded later this year. It is also not the first of those 12 cities to suffer a blow when it comes to requests for public funding of stadiums, as St. Louis found out recently with their MLS bid in ruins.

Via the Charlotte Business Journal, here’s some more information on what lies ahead for the Charlotte bid.

County commissioners voted in January to commit $43.75 million of property tax money to help pay for the proposed stadium. They also endorsed a county-owned site on the edge of uptown now occupied by Memorial Stadium and Grady Cole Center. Smith would build a stadium there after demolishing the existing stadium and arena.

At the time of the county vote, City Council was expected to decide on a related $43.75 million request also to be used for stadium construction. Instead, council members opted against a vote, citing higher priorities such as the next annual budget and an emphasis on public safety, affordable housing and jobs. This month, city council and the county commission each passed annual budgets without any property tax increases.

Smith has consistently said he remains hopeful local government and others will rally around the chance to bring an MLS team to town.

In a prepared statement issued Monday evening, Smith and his MLS4CLT bid group said of the council referral, “We hope the city and county can continue to work toward realizing the dream of a stadium in Charlotte on a timeline that works for all parties. Our commitment to bring Major League Soccer to Charlotte has not wavered, nor has the support of thousands of people in this community who are looking to their elected officials to endorse this plan that will positively impact our region for generations to come.”

For now, those hopes look like a long shot.

 

FIFA release “Garcia Report” in full; issue statement

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FIFA has released the previously confidential Garcia report into alleged corruption surrounding the 2018/2022 World Cup bidding process.

Previously the report, compiled in 2104 by American lawyer Michael Garcia, was said to be private and would never be released by FIFA.

Garcia, hired as an independent ethics investigator, quit when FIFA instead released a 42-page version of his report which acted as a summary of his findings, as he clashed with FIFA’s now former chairmen of the ethics committee, Cornel Borbely and Hans-Joackim Eckert.

However, German publication Bild had got hold of a copy of the full report and leaked extracts on Tuesday.

Now, world soccer’s governing body has got ahead of the game and released the report in full as Garcia looked into potential corruption among FIFA officials and high-ranking officials during the World Cup bidding process which saw Russia awarded the 2018 World Cup and the 2022 World Cup heading to Qatar.

Both Russia and Qatar were cleared of any wrongdoing in the initial report released, but there are detailed examinations of each country who bid for the World Cups, including the U.S., England and Australia.

Below is a statement from FIFA in full, while you can download the full report here.

The new chairpersons of the independent Ethics Committee, Maria Claudia Rojas of the investigatory chamber and Vassilios Skouris of the adjudicatory chamber, have decided to publish the Report on the Inquiry into the 2018/2022 FIFA World Cup Bidding Process (the so-called “Garcia Report”).

This had been called for on numerous occasions by FIFA President Gianni Infantino in the past and also supported by the FIFA Council since its meeting in Mexico City in May 2016. Despite these regular requests, it is worth noting that the former chairpersons of the Ethics Committee, Cornel Borbély and Hans-Joachim Eckert, had always refused to publish it.

The Ethics Committee will meet in its full composition under the new chairpersons for the first time next week, and it was already planned to use this opportunity to discuss the publication of the report. However, as the document has been illegally leaked to a German newspaper, the new chairpersons have requested the immediate publication of the full report (including the reports on the Russian and US bid teams, which were conducted by Mr Borbély alone) in order to avoid the dissemination of any misleading information.

For the sake of transparency, FIFA welcomes the news that this report has now been finally published.

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