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

USMNT: 4 players, including Brooks, Lletget, released; Arriola added

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Hours after his side’s 6-0 thrashing of Honduras to resuscitate dreams of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Bruce Arena announced on Saturday five changes to the U.S. national team roster ahead of Tuesday’s qualifier against Panama.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

John Brooks (sinus infection), Sebastian Lletget (foot), Jordan Morris (knee) and Michael Orozco (knee) were all released back to their club teams, while Club Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola was added to the squad.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Brooks dealt with the sinus infection throughout USMNT camp this past week, as Morris did his knee injury which he picked up last weekend. Lletget left Friday’s win over Honduras in the 18th minute and will undergo further tests to determine the severity of his injury; he was seen leaving the stadium on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

The USMNT’s roster for Tuesday’s qualifier in Panama City, Panama, now stands at 23 players, and reads as follows:

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Rapinoe won’t back down on social issues despite U.S. Soccer policy

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Megan Rapinoe recently earned her spot back in the U.S. Women’s National Team squad ahead of next month’s friendlies against Russia, but the veteran won’t remain silent when it comes to her stance on the social climate of America.

[ MORE: Looking back on USMNT’s big win over Honduras ]

The 31-year-old was scrutinized for joining NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when they knelt during their respective sporting events, along with dozens of other athletes across the United States.

While Rapinoe admits that the form of protest is up for discussion, she also states that social inequality issues in the U.S. go far beyond that.

“What has surprised me the most, especially post-election, is that people are still sort of arguing against it. It’s really obvious that we have very serious inequality in this country across many different spectrums,” Rapinoe told the Guardian. “Yes, we can talk about the form of protest, or the way it’s done, or this or that. But it’s still not really the conversation that I think we desperately need to have more of in this country.”

A few weeks back, U.S. Soccer announced that it now requires all players that represent the Stars and Stripes to stand when the national anthem is played, and Rapinoe has agreed to do such.

While her days of kneeling on the pitch are in the past, Rapinoe believes she wouldn’t do anything different because she was simply trying to spark discussion amongst the American people.

“I don’t think there’s any perfect way to protest. I think if there was something else being done, something else would have been said about it. I can’t look back and say that I would have done this different, this different or this different.

“I can sleep at night knowing that I genuinely tried to have a really important conversation, or at least tried to open it up. I think I came to it with an open mind, an open heart and tried to get as many people to talk about it as I could.”

Report: Chelsea planning Hazard, Courtois pay raises

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Eden Hazard has returned to his old self under Antonio Conte this season, and now Chelsea is hoping to lock down their star attacker.

[ MORE: Lukaku says decision has been made on Everton future ]

According to the Mirror, the Premier League leaders are planning on offering up a pay raise to Hazard, who has 11 league goals this season for the Blues.

Hazard signed a nearly $250,000 per week deal two seasons ago, but the Belgium international will likely rake in significantly more under the reported deal as Chelsea hopes to keep the 26-year-old away from Spanish giants Real Madrid and others.

The Mirror is also reporting that goalkeeper and Hazard’s Belgian teammate Thibaut Courtois is likely to be handed a raise is salary as well.

The shot-stopper is set be handed a deal roughly in the range of what Hazard is currently making after allowing just 21 goals in 28 PL matches this season.

Ballack acknowledges difficult decision ahead for John Terry

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For the better part of 19 years John Terry has been a staple of Chelsea’s backline.

[ WATCH: Zaha nets first international goal for Ivory Coast ]

With his future at Stamford Bridge becoming more and more in doubt though, it appears it’s time for the 36-year-old to move on from his longtime club, and that’s a decision that another former Chelsea player doesn’t envy.

[ MORE: Everton’s Coleman breaks leg on Ireland duty ]

Ex-Blues midfielder Michael Ballack knows that Terry has options, whether it be in Major League Soccer, the Chinese Super League or even with another Premier League club, but the German says it’s difficult because of what the centerback has meant to Chelsea.

“He is a player with that history and charisma,” Ballack, who spent four years with Chelsea during his playing days, told Sky Sports. “He’s such a Chelsea boy and they love him there.

“I know what it means if your career comes to an end and you’re getting older. You don’t know whether you extend your contract, play for another club or go abroad to America.

“I’m sure he has some options but if you think long-term, you have to feel comfortable with the decision.

For the first time in years, Terry has failed to establish himself as a first-team regular largely due to Antonio Conte‘s three-back system. The 36-year-old has appeared in just five PL matches this campaign, while making 10 appearances overall for the Blues, who currently sit atop England’s top flight and are in position to go for the double with the FA Cup semifinals lurking.

Terry himself has acknowledged that his career is nearing its end, but knowing the competitive drive that has made the Englishman great throughout his almost 20-year career, it’s hard to imagine that he’ll just give up his playing days without a fight.