Premier League Playback – Deadline Day madness, Chelsea’s ‘killers,’ Liverpool’s fluid-three

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TRANSFER DEADLINE DAY – THE FINALE ARRIVES

Happy Deadline Day, one and all. If you’re not familiar with this phenomenon, here it goes. From 11 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time (6 p.m. ET) on September 1, no Premier League teams will be allowed to sign another player until January 1, 2015. All 20 Premier League teams have had since July 1 to sign players. With 62 days to sign whoever you want, plus the time before that to line up deals, why on earth would teams wait until the last minute to sign players?

For the same reason why people rummage around in the bargain bucket: one day, just one day, you could pick out a gem. Deadline Day is a strange beast, one that had caught on across Europe, but most notably in the UK, over the past decade since it arrived in 2003. During the last two months, fans and journalists’ very existence has been spent chasing down reports, reading them, absorbing them, trying to unravel them and then having hopes dashed. It is mad, absorbing and utterly preposterous all at the same time. On the day itself, an intriguing game of cat and mouse plays out, all televised across many networks as the media fuels the incessant need for news, updates and pictures of players arriving at training grounds for medicals and contract talks. It has spiraled out of control.

So that you can take a glance at all the action in all its glory, tune in live to NBCSN from 6 p.m. ET as we have a two-hour special on all the deals.

All last week at PST we stated what each Premier League team needed to do in the final few days, and now hours, of the transfer window. Click on each team below to see if they have achieved what they needed or if they’re still scrambling for players. The latter is most likely.

With plenty of names and moves still expected up until the deadline slams shut at 6 p.m. ET on Monday, anything could happen.  The big names expected to be on the move on deadline day include Radamel Falcao, Javier Hernandez, Alvaro Negredo, Daley Blind, Jermain Defoe, Tom Cleverley, Jay Rodriguez, Sandro, William Carvalho and Toby Alderweireld among many others. Plus, there are always plenty of shock last-gasp deals and a boat load of loan moves to fall back on.

British TV stations (see the video above for an example) will cut to shots of Big Ben chiming its little heart out at 6 p.m. ET on Monday and fans of teams around the nation will either be puffing out their cheeks in relief that their clubs’ star player wasn’t sold, punching the air with delight after several shrewd late deals or holding their head up with the palm of their hand in despair. Transfer Deadline Day did not exist a little over 10 years ago, now it is etched into the English obsession with the game as much as pie and bovril.

[RELATED: Deadline Day news]

Love it or loathe it, Deadline Day creates excitement, intrigue and often entails watching TV journalists chase down PL managers in parking lots at the training complexes, as they try to speed away in high-end SVU’s. Past Deadline Days have seen the likes of Carlos Tevez arrive at West Ham, Ashley Cole head to Chelsea and Marouane Fellaini move to Everton. Those were the hits… though there have been some rather awful pickups at the deadline, as Fernando Torres to Chelsea for $80 million and Andy Carroll to Liverpool for $60 million back in 2011 are right up there with the worst. Oh, and Fellaini to Manchester United last summer. Poor old Marouane has had a mixed time of things on Deadline Day.

Gone are the days of PL chairmen nonchalantly calling each other (fax was probably the form of communication back then) cigar in hand, and putting in requests to buy a player. Now, “sources confirm” or “reports suggest” deals are happening. There are middle men for middle men, agents drip-feeding information and fans are caught up in the middle of it all on social media.

If you are new to Deadline Day, my suggestion is to simply embrace it. In the way that draft picks encapsulate fans of the NFL, Deadline Day has created its own mystic. Can it be altered to be made better and more logical? Probably. But right now, gaze on in wonderment at players shuttle across the UK just before midnight local time, are thrown a new team shirt and told to smile as the ink still dries on their new contract. What happens next is that the players, managers, directors and fans all hope the transfer is a successful one. If not, we only have to wait until January 31 to do it all again.

CHELSEA’S ‘KILLERS’ PREVAIL IN CLASSIC

One of the most entertaining matches in recent PL history took place on Saturday, as Chelsea beat Everton 6-3 in a nine-goal thriller at Goodison Park.

Premier League Schedule – Week 3

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 2-1 Hull City Recap and watch here
Burnley 0-0 Manchester United Recap and watch here
Everton 3-6 Chelsea Recap and watch here
Leicester City 1-1 Arsenal Recap and watch here
Manchester City 0-1 Stoke City Recap and watch here
Newcastle 3-3 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here
QPR 1-0 Sunderland Recap and watch here
Swansea 3-0 West Brom Recap and watch here
Tottenham 0-3 Liverpool Recap and watch here
West Ham 1-3 Southampton Recap and watch here

The game ebbed and flowed, had frenetic periods with tons of goals, Tim Howard almost killed a man (Diego Costa, to be precise) and two teams attacked with pace, precision and power. In a nutshell, this game encapsulated why the Premier League is the most watched league around the world and why, over everything, it is the most entertaining.

Is soccer a sport, or an entertainment business?

Woah, pump the breaks, let’s save that philosophical Rubik cube for another day, shall we. However, watching Chelsea and Everton going at it at Goodison moved that question prominently into my thoughts as goal after goal arrived. After the game, Jose Mourinho lambasted his team for having a lack of balance but then saluted his ‘killers’ as Roberto Martinez bemoaned so many costly defensive mistakes. Everton have now conceded 10 goals in their opening three PL games and even their usual upbeat Spanish coach must have sat in a dark room for a few hours after this performance.

“If the salt and the pepper of football is goals then to have nine goals in a Premier League match is fantastic ingredients,” Mourinho said. “The two teams played fantastically well. I know Everton are a good offensive side and their movement is not easy to control but we concede three goals it is too much. All of them I can clearly identify mistakes and those who are involved but in the end we are killers in attack.”

Mourinho’s main marksmen were Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa. The latter now has four goals in three PL starts, as the Brazilian was fired up from the start and has that mean streak all good players seem to possess (more on that shortly), while he was supplied the ammunition by Fabregas. The Spaniard slid an inch-perfect pass through to Costa after 36 seconds to score the opener and Everton just couldn’t stop Cesc’s magic. Although they obviously made a few mistakes at the back, Chelsea looked so deadly in attack. That’s in great contrast to last season when they would grind out wins against teams and defend for their lives. The new-look Chelsea may concede more but they will embarrass plenty more teams if they carry on this offensive assault. Everton weren’t that bad in this nine-goal thriller. Chelsea were just bloody good going forward. With the addition of Loic Remy to replace Fernando Torres, Mourinho’s attacking options have been bolstered further. That’s frightening for the rest of the PL.

LIVERPOOL’S FRONT THREE CLICK

Another team looked ominous offensively over the weekend: Liverpool. Daniel Sturridge. Raheem Sterling and now, Mario Balotelli, stole the show.

Those three clicked into place perfectly at White Hart Lane, slaughtering Spurs’ defense with blistering counter attacks a Liverpool emanated signs that last season’s success wasn’t just a one-year wonder. Sterling’s star shone bright as the England winger scored the first and could have had two or three more of his own. Spurs just couldn’t deal with the third man runs Liverpool launched time and time again. When Balotelli would check in to receive the ball high, either Sterling, Jordan Henderson or Sturridge would already be making a forward run for the next pass. What this did was totally throw off a Spurs side built on high pressure and thwarting the opposition from getting in behind the defense. Liverpool did it time and time again.

Sterling stole the show. The English winger is so quick over the first 15-20 yards, he is gone before defenders can react. Sturridge was sublime in control of the ball and his passing helped set up numerous attacks, while Balotelli ran himself into the ground for the cause and enjoyed a decent 60 minutes 0n his Liverpool debut. After the game, Brendan Rodgers revealed that he is trying to turn the enigmatic Italian into a team player and revealed the following exchange between him and Mario on the training ground this week.

Remarkable. If Balotelli is to replace Suarez and cause havoc alongside Sturridge and Sterling this season, he will need to continue to buy into the team-first mantra which is effervescent at Anfield. In his first game, the signs are promising that ‘Super Mario’ can be a key part of Liverpool’s phenomenal three-pronged attack. Balotelli’s finishing is usually top notch but he looked nervous after snatching at two early chances. Whatever his finishing lacked on Sunday, he made up for that in effort, link up play and focus.

Rodgers is taking a chance on Balotelli who was the center of attention on debut but with Sterling and Sturridge both reformed and rehabilitated under his stewardship, who’s to say Balotelli isn’t next? Here is his Instagram post after his debut, as he saluted Steven Gerrard after his penalty kick goal. Balotelli would normally take PKs but Liverpool skipper Gerrard pulled rank and instead of Balo sulking, he respected the decision and seems to be buying into Liverpool’s team spirit. Respect and admiration for Gerrard and his teammates will earn Balotelli the same in return. Everything is rosy in the garden at Anfield after Balotelli’s arrival. For now.

STOKE STUN MAN CITY, SILKY SAINTS AND SWANS

Despite salivating over Liverpool’s performance on Sunday, plus the incredible scenes in the shootout at Goodison on Saturday, Stoke City provided the biggest shock of the weekend. The Potters went to Manchester City and won. For the first time in their Premier League existence, Stoke beat Man City away from home and in 12 attempts, they won in Manchester against their two big rivals.

Mame Biram Diouf’s powerful 80-yard run and then a cheeky finish through Joe Hart’s legs succumbed City to just their second home defeat in the PL since

Premier League Star Performers – Week 3

Player Reason
1. Raheem Sterling 1 goal, incredible speed, skill
2. Morgan Schneiderlin 2 goals, sensational CM display
3. Diego Costa 2 goals, clinical forward play
4. Nathan Dyer 2 goals, superb pace on flank
5. Cesc Fabregas Assist, Chelsea’s creative hub

To make his goal even sweeter, Diouf was a former Manchester United player. The bullish Senegalese forward came back to haunt United’s close rivals, a the Citizens were left shaking their heads as Manuel Pellegrini’s men saw their fast start to the season come to a shuddering halt with their first defeat in three.

Elsewhere, two other sides beginning with ‘S’ have been described as a word beginning with ‘S’ for quite some time… no, no, let’s keep this PG. ‘Stylish’ was the word I was looking for, duh, and both Swansea and Southampton have it in abundance. Garry Monk’s side made it three wins from three to start the season as they beat West Bromwich Albion 3-0 with Nathan Dyer grabbing another two goals and Wayne Routledge scoring an absolute stunner. The Swans’ philosophy of fluid, expansive and patient soccer has been carried on under Monk’s stewardship as the former club captain, aged just 34, continues the South Wales clubs stunning start to his first full season in charge. Elsewhere, Southampton are showing signs of recovering and getting back on the horse too. A painful summer exodus at St. Mary’s has been well documented but we are finally seeing the new signings gel as Ronald Koeman’s men rolled over West Ham after going behind early on. Morgan Schneiderlin scored twice and Graziano Pelle scored his first PL goal in a utterly dominant 3-1 win. The Saints, Swans and Stoke went marching on this weekend.

Watch the video above for a recap of Saturday’s action, while the video below recaps Sunday’s three games.

USMNT UPDATE – HEADING TO PRAGUE

Brad Guzan continues to hold onto the “American player of exceptional awesomness” gong after the weekend. Aston Villa ground out another hard-fought win and are now unbeaten through three games, winning twice, as the Villans sit third in the league. Guzan has conceded just once in 270 minutes and the USMNT number one heads over to Prague in fine fettle as the USA’s first choice ‘keeper. Tim Howard, the man Guzan will be taking over from between the posts during his sabbatical, didn’t have such a great weekend.

WATCH: USA vs. Czech Rep. – Live on NBCSN,  Wednesday, 2:15 p.m. ET

Howard let in six goals as Chelsea beat Everton 6-3, the USMNT ‘keeper also got away with handling outside the box and then was booked for his part in a scuffled involving his teammate Seamus Coleman and Chelsea striker Diego Costa. Watch this clip to see Howard’s reaction as Costa taunted Coleman following the latter scoring an own goal to put Chelsea 3-1 ahead. Poor sportsmanship from Costa. Howard wasn’t having any of it. That reaction had been brewing as both players were going at it psychically and verbally during the game in a heated duel. Timmy stepped in to put Costa in his place.

Geoff Cameron was injured in Stoke’s midweek 3-0 League Cup win over Portsmouth and didn’t feature in the Potters’ incredible 1-0 win away at Manchester City. The USMNT defender is said to be on the move during deadline day, with Sunderland, Lazio and Southampton all teams being linked with the Bostonian. As for Jozy Altidore, he jumped off the bench again as Sunderland lost 1-0 away at QPR.

Guzan and Altidore will join up with the U.S. national team in the Czech Republic, as you can watch the USA’s first game since the World Cup live on NBCSN at 2:15 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

Premier League Playback comes out every Monday and takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

If the 2018 World Cup started today…

Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images
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Another international break has passed, with fortunes rising and falling in most of FIFA’s confederations (Africa took a break during the break, having staged AFCON in January).

[ MORE: All World Cup qualifying news ]

Brazil joined hosts Russia as nations to have qualified for the 2018 World Cup, and 30 spots remain. Let’s take the opportunity to project the field for Russia.

In October, we took the projected qualifiers and simulated all the way down to the World Cup final. Germany beat Brazil. Let’s go again. Who will “win” it this time?


QUALIFICATION

We’ll again use actual qualification, as flawed and early as it is in some confederations, to be predict our combatants.

Asia (7 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia
PLAYOFF: Uzbekistan vs. Australia

PROJECTION: While Uzbekistan has been better in terms of overall form, Australia’s experience boosts it into a match-up with the USMNT.

Africa (2 of 6 qualifiers played)
IN: DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt

CONCACAF (4 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama
PLAYOFF: United States

(AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

South America (14 of 18 qualifiers played)
IN: Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, Chile
PLAYOFF: Argentina

Oceania (4 of 6 qualifiers played)
PLAYOFF: New Zealand vs. Tahiti

UEFA (5 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: France, Switzerland, Germany, Serbia, Poland, England, Spain, Belgium, Croatia
UEFA PLAYOFFS: Sweden, Portugal, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Slovakia, Italy, Greece, Iceland

SIMULATED PLAYOFFS (random draw):
Sweden vs. Iceland — Sweden wins
Portugal vs. Republic of Ireland — Portugal wins
Northern Ireland vs. Slovakia — Slovakia wins
Italy vs. Greece — Italy wins

Intercontinental playoffs:

Australia vs. United States — USMNT wins
Argentina vs. New Zealand — Argentina wins


FIELD (FIFA Rankings)

  1. Russia (hosts, 60)
  2. Argentina (1)
  3. Brazil (2)
  4. Germany (3)
  5. Chile (4)
  6. Belgium (5)
  7. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

    France (6)

  8. Colombia (7)
  9. Portugal (8)
  10. Uruguay (9)
  11. Spain (10)
  12. Switzerland (11)
  13. Poland (12)
  14. England (13)
  15. Italy (15)
  16. Croatia (16)
  17. Mexico (17)
  18. Costa Rica (19)
  19. Egypt (20)
  20. Slovakia (25)
  21. USA (30)
  22. Iran (33)
  23. Burkina Faso (36)
  24.  (Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

    DR Congo (38)

  25. South Korea (40)
  26. Nigeria (41)
  27. Sweden (45)
  28. Ivory Coast (47)
  29. Japan (51)
  30. Serbia (52)
  31. Panama (53)
  32. Saudi Arabia (57)

THE POTS

The 10 European qualifiers mean two will have to join Pot 2. Our random selections were… Croatia and Spain.

Pot 1 (seeds): Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Chile, Belgium, France, Colombia, Brazil

Pot 2 (CAF, CONMEBOL, UEFA): DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Uruguay, Croatia, Spain

Pot 3 (AFC & CONCACAF): Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, USMNT

Pot 4: (UEFA): Sweden, Slovakia, Italy, Switzerland, Serbia, Poland, England, Portugal


THE DRAW

Group A: Russia, DR Congo, Saudi Arabia, Sweden
Group B: Chile, Croatia, Mexico, Portugal
Group C: Brazil, Nigeria, Panama, Switzerland
Group D: Germany, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Poland
Group E: Argentina, Spain, Japan, Slovakia
Group F: France, Ivory Coast, South Korea, Italy
Group G: Belgium, Uruguay, USMNT, England
Group H: Colombia, Egypt, Iran, Serbia

So… should we play it out? We’ll try to throw in some upsets and not just go with the chalk.

Round of 16
Mexico (B2) def. Russia (A1)
Brazil (C1) def. Poland (D2)
Spain (E1) def. Italy (F2)
Belgium (G1) def. Egypt (H2)
Portugal (B1) def. DR Congo (A2)
Germany (D1) def. Nigeria (C2)
France (F1) def. Argentina (G2)
Colombia (H1) def. England (G2)

Quarterfinals
Brazil def. Mexico
Spain def. Belgium
Germany def. Portugal
France def. Colombia

Semifinals
Brazil def. Spain
France def. Germany

Final
Brazil def. France

Dempsey leads way for MLS players during Cup qualifying

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The latest round of World Cup qualifying saw a major increase in the number of players from MLS called in for their national teams.

A number of those decisions paid off for their countries, perhaps no one more than Clint Dempsey.

A few months ago, Dempsey wasn’t even in consideration for the U.S. after missing the latter half of last season because of a heart issue. But the Seattle Sounders forward scored four times in two matches as the U.S. gathered four critical points in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Dempsey was part of an influx of MLS players contributing during the latest round of qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

In all, MLS had 55 players called in for qualifying in CONCACAF, CONEMBOL (South America) and UEFA (Europe) competitions. Last September, the league saw 58 players called in to their national teams, but there were more countries still alive in qualification at that time. The 55 players selected this time was an increase of 16 from the last round of qualifying matches in November, and 40 of the 55 saw action during the two days of competition in the past week representing 12 countries.

In the three CONCACAF games last Friday, 29 of the 84 players to see the field were from MLS. That outpaced LigaMX, which had 17 players among the 84 used in the three matches.

Dempsey wasn’t the only MLS player coming up big for his country. Minnesota midfielder Kevin Molino had the only goal for Trinidad and Tobago in its 1-0 win over Panama. The Vancouver duo of Christian Bolanos and Kendall Waston teamed for the only goal in Costa Rica’s 1-1 draw with Honduras.

But not all went well for MLS players during qualifying.

Young Atlanta star Josef Martinez injured his left leg during the second half of Venezuela’s 2-2 draw with Peru in CONEMBOL qualifying. Martinez returned to Atlanta and an MRI revealed a left quadriceps injury that will keep the MLS leader in goals scored out for four to six weeks. Martinez had five goals in Atlanta’s first three games.

U.S. midfielder Sebastian Lletget was forced off early in the match against Honduras but not before scoring the opening goal for the Americans. Los Angeles announced Tuesday that Lletget suffered a Lisfranc injury that will require surgery and he will be sidelined for four to six months.

[ MORE: BWP a DP; Nephew called up to England U16 ]

MATCH OF THE WEEK: The club that set the bar for expansion debuts faces the newcomer looking to topple that standard.

The Seattle Sounders will host Atlanta United on Friday night. It’s the only regular-season matchup between the two sides, but there’s more than just the competition on the field.

Seattle’s expansion season of 2009 was regarded throughout the sports industry as arguably the best franchise launch ever, not just in MLS. Between ticket sales and fan engagement, Seattle’s start could not have gone better.

Atlanta might be setting a new standard. Atlanta drew more than 55,000 for its first match and more than 45,000 for its second home game, a win over Chicago. Atlanta seems to be following significant parts of Seattle’s blueprint, down to having an influential NFL owner highly involved from the start.

As for the on-field product, the validity of Atlanta’s promising start will be tested over the next month with four straight road matches.

“It’s definitely still an expansion team,” Atlanta defender Michael Parkhurst said. “We’ve got our bumps and bruises along the way. Off the field, everyone’s still trying to get sorted and situated to the new city.”

BEST OF THE REST: Toronto finally gets to come home after opening the season with three straight road games. The Reds will host Sporting KC on Friday night. The trade-off for opening the season on the road is that Toronto gets five of its next six league matches at home and was able to get five points out of those three road contests to start.

Also of note will be what kind of lineup Vancouver rolls out on Saturday night against Los Angeles. The Whitecaps play in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals four days later.

BACK ON THE BENCH: Real Salt Lake introduced Mike Petke as its new head coach Wednesday, less than two weeks after firing Jeff Cassar. Petke was the head coach of the New York Red Bulls for two seasons, including the 2013 season when they won the Supporters’ Shield. After two years out of coaching, Petke signed on to be the head coach of the Real Monarchs, the minor-league club associated with RSL.

OFF TARGET: The other expansion debut this season by Minnesota United is on pace to set records, but not any they want to be associated with. Simply put, Minnesota can’t play defense.

Minnesota allowed at least five goals for the third time in four matches in last week’s 5-2 loss at New England. Minnesota allowed five goals to Portland and six to Atlanta and is on pace to allow more than 150 goals this season.

LAST WORD: “I’ve been very encouraged by what I’ve seen over the last 10 days. It’s going to take some time to piece that team together.” U.S. coach Bruce Arena after the latest round of World Cup qualifying.

Messi explains actions that warranted 4-match ban

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Lionel Messi is set to miss four Argentina matches for something we arguably see every week on TV.

That doesn’t make it okay, but is anyone else scratching their head at the suspension handed down to the world’s best player for verbal abuse of an official?

[ MORE: Barca defends Messi ]

Messi, 29, shouted an obscenity at the linesman in Thursday’s 1-0 win over Chile, and was both banned and served the first match of his ban on Tuesday, as Argentina was beaten 2-0 in Bolivia.

Messi explained his actions Wednesday with the following:

“My expressions were never directed to the referee, they were said to the air,” Messi told La Nacion.

That’s pretty ridiculous, yeah? But I can’t help but feel the four matches are a bit harsh. Hardly a high-level match goes by without seeing a player clearly being derisive toward an offical, and usually lipreading proves it wasn’t G-rated.

Again, I have no problem for setting a standard, as abuse of officials is unnecessary (and even those of us who are serially offenders know it).

But if confederations and leagues want to get serious about cutting it out, this can’t be a one-off suspension; End the group upbraiding of referees during games, the wild gesticulations, so on and so forth.

Bradley Wright-Phillips gets new deal; Nephew called up to England U-16

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It’s been a big 24 hours for the Wright-Phillips family.

Bradley Wright-Phillips signed a new Designated Player deal with the New York Red Bulls, while his nephew has been called up the England U-16 national team.

D’Margio Wright-Phillips is the son of Shawn Wright-Phillips, the former RBNY player currently plying his trade with Phoenix Rising of the USL.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Of course that will only serve to grow the pride of Arsenal legend Ian Wright, who adopted Bradley and Shaun.

The details:

BWP has signed a new multi-year deal with the Red Bulls which brings the 70-goal man into Designated Player status.

“I’d like to thank Denis, Jesse, and everyone at the club for the opportunity to continue wearing this shirt and playing in front of the best fans in MLS,” said Wright-Phillips. “I am very proud of what has been accomplished in my time here, but my sole focus is on trying to win MLS Cup.”

As for D’Margio, he’s in Manchester City’s academy and obviously taking the right steps toward making it three generations in the Premier League. Both Shaun and Bradley spent time in City’s academy.