PL Playback: Mane’s red masks Liverpool’s real problems

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Sadio Mane‘s red card in the 36th minute was the main talking point from Liverpool’s 5-0 defeat at Manchester City on Saturday.

It was a big moment but in no way should it have masked the bigger problem Liverpool have failed to address over the offseason: their defense.

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Jurgen Klopp was scathing after Mane’s red for a high challenge on Man City goalkeeper Ederson. Told to calm down on the sidelines by officials, perhaps Klopp was so incensed because he had seen his team go 1-0 down after a poor piece of defending, plus miss glorious chances via Mohamed Salah to compound Mane’s sending off.

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Speaking to the media afterward, Klopp stood up for Mane as Guardiola also believed it was an accident but that the action was dangerous.

“It was an accident. A very unlucky situation. I think everybody knows Sadio didn’t see the goalie. He just wanted to get the ball as soon as possible… and then it was a red card. We cannot change that anymore,” Klopp said. “Hopefully the goalie isn’t seriously injured. At the first moment when the people were on the pitch it looked like this, but after the game he was running around the dugout. Hopefully it was not too serious.”

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Ederson did not break anything but had some nasty cuts on his face and will be feeling the impact of that reckless challenge from Mane, which deserved a red, for quite some time.

Klopp was also asked if Liverpool would appeal against Mane’s three-game ban, and reports have since suggested they could do: “It would be another waste of time. Like the game today,” Klopp said.

Yet, the game wasn’t a complete waste of time.

We learnt an awful lot about Liverpool’s defensive deficiencies and the usually charismatic Klopp seem distracted as he mumbled through his answers in his post-game press conference.

He admitted it was far too easy for Man City’s midfielders, the brilliant David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne in particular, to turn and hurt his defense but that he “will try, with the boys, to forget the result. Not the mistakes, but the result” as Liverpool were torn apart time and time again.

“We have four in defense and six in midfield and in these situations, yes, we could have done better. We could have done better with the ball in the second half. You don’t lose 5-0 when a lot of things are right. It is not that I am concerned in the long-term,” Klopp explained. “I think if City takes too much confidence from this game today it is a mistake, if we lose too much confidence from this game we will also make a mistake.”

Analyzing Liverpool’s defensive display before and after Mane was sent off will draw a similar conclusion: gaping holes. Not just among the defenders because that is an easy target. But in midfield, which player is the true holding midfielder to provide a shield? Jordan Henderson isn’t and Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum lack discipline defensively. Even club-record signing Naby Keita, who will arrive next summer, is a two-way player who chips in with goals and assists.

City’s balanced midfield of Fernandinho behind Silva and De Bruyne is what Liverpool should aim for if their extreme attacking side is going to challenge for trophies.

Liverpool’s young right back Trent Alexander-Arnold was targeted too easily and the center back duo of Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan (who was preferred to Dejan Lovren) didn’t know whether to step up or hold with Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus buzzing around them. Every time City put the ball in the box it looked like they would score and they had two more goals ruled out for offside. Yes, Liverpool aren’t a team who are ever going to set back but when you’re 2-0 down at Man City at half time and a man down, surely Klopp didn’t expect the defensive capitulation he witnessed.

Even if Mane hadn’t been sent off, it would be tough for Man City not to have won that game.

Liverpool went all-in on center back Virgil Van Dijk this summer and they didn’t get their man. They didn’t seem to have a Plan B about strengthening their defense, which is undoubtedly their Achilles heel. Until they defend better, they will not win the title or challenge in Europe. Simple.

Klopp tried to mask the issues with Mane’s red card but you felt that, like Liverpool’s defensive display, it was halfhearted.

“After the international break, one man down, young players on the pitch in different positions. It was hard for the boys, I know, but we don’t look for excuses. It [the red card] changed the game today, we know it,” Klopp said. “What would have happened if we played 11v11? But I don’t have the chance to watch this game.”


Quite why Crystal Palace hired Frank De Boer in the first place is mind-boggling.

It is admirable that for the second time in 12 months Steve Parish and Palace’s U.S. owners Josh Harris and David Blizter want to change the playing style of the south London club to an attractive, possession-based side, but now on both occasions it has failed. Miserably.

Palace now have to be brave and stick with what they want to be. Substance over style is okay. If you’re going to do it, just own it. And give it longer than four games.

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Frank de Boer was nothing more than a victim of Palace’s ongoing identity crisis. They have now replaced Alan Pardew‘s experiment with a more attacking side with the pragmatism of Sam Allardyce and after the de Boer experiment went horribly wrong they are reportedly going back to basics with Roy Hodgson lined up to take charge as a horror run of games is on the horizon with Man City, Man United and Chelsea all in their next four PL games.

Sacked just four Premier League games into the season, FDB lasted 77 days and set a new record for the fewest PL games managed by a permanent boss. This comes after his disastrous 85-day spell in charge of Inter Milan last season as the Dutchman will do well to rebuild his coaching reputation following his four-straight Dutch titles with Ajax.

He was given some funds to strengthen and loanees Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Timothy Fosu-Mensah looked okay, but Mamadou Sakho never played due to injury and Jairo Riedewald also suffered on the sidelines. The players are partly to blame, particularly with their poor finishing and shambolic defending, but without a complete squad overhaul these systematic changes were doomed from the start.

This squad flourished under the direct approach of Allardyce last season and was now expected to play expansive, flowing soccer from the back.

Yet, this isn’t really about de Boer. Sure, he wanted to bring his expansive style of soccer to Selhurst Park, but that’s what Parish and others wanted too. And although you could accuse Palace of making horrendous defensive mistakes as they tried to keep the ball, they mixed it up and played long balls and got in crosses against both Liverpool and Burnley where they could have picked up points.

But they didn’t and they lost all four opening games without scoring a goal and the killer-blow was that three of those defeats came against Huddersfield, Swansea and Burnley who are all likely to be relegation rivals.

With 54 points from their last 63 games, Palace have racked up the second-lowest points total out of the 92 professional teams in England in that period. They have been scrapping away and fighting with themselves for so long now. Do they try to create a different identity or do they play it safe and aim for 40 points each PL season? The financial implications of relegation, plus the impending arrival of Hodgson, suggest the latter.

This is no longer de Boer’s problem to sort out.


Kevin de Bruyne provided two wonderful assists for Manchester City on Saturday in their demolition of Liverpool and the Belgian wizard finally seems to have found his spot in the team.

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Under Pep Guardiola last season he was played in a deeper role and he flourished, grabbing 18 assists in the Premier League (more than any other player)

This season he is again lining up centrally rather than out wide and it giving City extra balance to their play with a 3-5-2 system allowing Jesus and Aguero to start up top, plus wing backs Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker to bomb forward.

De Bruyne, 26, spoke to the media in the tunnel area at the Etihad Stadium with a smile on his face as he discussed his match-winning display like it was a kickaround with his mates in the schoolyard.

“I just do whatever I need to do. I’d prefer to get zero goals and zero assists and win the league. Obviously it is a little bit different. I will try to do my thing and the coach is very happy with the way I am playing since the beginning of the season. I feel sharp. It always depends, but think where I am playing right now is the position which is best for me. Obviously every game is a little bit different, higher, lower, but it is small margins.”

Those small margins are what Guardiola and City are all about and De Bruyne believes they are hungrier than ever to win silverware this season after a barren spell in Pep’s first campaign.

“Everybody wants to win,” De Bruyne explained. “Obviously we have a couple of years where we don’t win a lot so there’s maybe more urgency to win something between the players. I have a good feeling about this season but you never know. We started well.”

And if those trophies arrive with him playing in a deeper role and not scoring as many goals?

“If it happens, it happens. If we win at the end of the season you will see a very happy Kevin.”


Couple of U.S. national team notes to catch up on from around the Premier League.

Pro Soccer Talk understands Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron will be out for up to two weeks after injuring his hamstring just before half time in the Potters’ 2-2 draw against Manchester United.

Cameron, 32, started at center back but hobbled off after pulling up as he tracked back Romelu Lukaku. The experienced defender will now face a race against time to get back to full fitness before the USMNT’s final two World Cup qualifiers against Panama and Trinidad & Tobago with a trip to the 2018 tournament in Russia on the line.

A younger USMNT center back has also been in the news with reports stating that Sporting Kansas City’s Erik Palmer-Brown will join Manchester City.

EPB, 20, has been a star for the U.S. youth national teams and his coach as SKC, Peter Vermes, has confirmed he will move on at the end of the 2017 MLS season when his contract expires.

Pro Soccer Talk understand there is interest from Man City and that any deal will be sealed for him to join at the start of 2018. A versatile defender who can also play in midfield, EPB will likely join City’s development squad and then be loaned out.


We are only four weeks into the Premier League season but the Golden Boot race already seems like an intriguing one.

Harry Kane, the reigning two-time top scorer in the PL, is off the mark (because it is September) with two goals, while he has a little catching up to do as Romelu Lukaku has four goals, while Alvaro Morata and Gabriel Jesus have three goals each.

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There’s no doubt Sergio Aguero and Alexandre Lacazette (both on two goals) will also be up there all season long, but this could well be a three-horse race between Kane, Lukaku and Morata.

All three are the main-men up top for their teams and will likely start every single game. They are also very similar players who are comfortable with scoring in the air, holding the ball up and able to score all kinds of goals.

Let the best man win. And by win, I mean score a bucket load of goals.

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

Southampton beat Wigan, reach FA Cup semis

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  • Wigan’s fairytale ended
  • Hojbjerg, Cedric score first Saints goals
  • Saints reach FA Cup semifinal for first time since 2003
  • Gabbiadini’s penalty kick saved

Southampton beat third-tier Wigan Atheltic 2-0 at the DW Stadium on Sunday as Mark Hughes‘ first game in charge ended in a victory in the FA Cup quarterfinal.

Saints were second best in the first half but Wigan spurned several chances, while Southampton went ahead via Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg‘s first goal for the club as he finished well from a corner.

Christian Walton then saved Manolo Gabbiadini‘s penalty kick brilliantly but a late goal from Cedric Soares sent Saints into their first FA Cup semifinal since 2003.

For Wigan, their fairytale run is over as they knocked out Bournemouth, West Ham and Manchester City to reach the last eight.

Wigan started well enough as the Latics settled into the game on a difficult surface. Southampton caused some problems for Wigan goalkeeper Walton who dropped a cross but Guido Carrillo couldn’t make the most of it.

Will Grigg then raced clear after a rapid counter from Wigan and his shot was deflected wide with Southampton caught out. Soon after another deflected shot found Cheyenne Dunkley in the box but he couldn’t get anything on the ball with the goal gaping. A massive chance for Wigan.

Gary Roberts then had another great chance for Wigan as a loose ball found him in the box but he looped his effort over the bar. The Latics continued to look the better team and took the game to Saints with 10 corner kicks, as Max Power’s corner almost crept in at the near post.

Jacobs curled a shot just over after half time as Wigan threatened but Southampton improved. Sofiane Boufal curled a free kick onto the top of the net and then Gabbiadini had a glorious chance.

Dan Byrne accidentally played in Southampton’s Italian striker and 10-yards out he only had to beat Walton but Wigan’s goalkeeper produced a fine stop.

Walton denied Hojbjerg’s header soon after as Saints cranked up the pressure and from the resulting corner they took the lead.

Dusan Tadic‘s corner found Hojbjerg and he finished well to score his first goal for the club and the first of Hughes’ reign.

Southampton should have sealed it late on as Gabbiadini was brought down in the box but his penalty kick was superbly saved by Walton to keep the score at 1-0.

Wigan threw everything at Saints late on as Noel Hunt almost equalised but the visitors broke and sealed the game.

Nathan Redmond released Cedric and the right back, in the left wing position, ran free and finished superbly to make it 2-0 and send Saints to Wembley.

Mourinho’s deflection game suggests big changes

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“I’m not the problem, they are.”

That would have been the more succinct (and boring) way for Jose Mourinho to sum up the current situation at Manchester United after their disappointing UEFA Champions League exit to Sevilla on Tuesday.

Instead he went on a 12-minute rant on Friday about Manchester City’s heritage and then following Man United’s FA Cup quarterfinal win against Brighton Saturday he slammed his players, saying they were “scared” to play and many lacked “desire” and “personality” throughout the game.

With player power at an all-time high in the Premier League and Mourinho a recent victim of that in 2015, just six months after leading Chelsea to the title, this is a dangerous game for him to play.

He wants the club to back him unreservedly ahead of his players and even though some fans are already showing their disdain towards Mourinho, he’s powering on.

What is the end game for Mourinho here?

Having just signed a contract extension in January to keep him at Old Trafford until 2020, Mourinho looks hellbent on cutting some serious deadwood this summer and trying to totally rebuild this squad.

That’s his main aim and heading into an international week and a two-week break from action, that’s the message ringing loud and clear not only in the minds of his players but also the hierarchy at United.

He always has an agenda and he always knows the correct time to ramp it up.

Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward will know the main aim of Mourinho’s rant is to be given more money to spend and get rid of players like Luke Shaw, Chris Smalling and Ander Herrera from previous regimes.

“A few guys were scared to play. I think it is a relation with personality, trust and class. When the sun is shining and you win matches, every player is a good player and is confident to play. When it is dark and cold and you have a period of bad results, not everybody has confidence and personality to play,” Mourinho said after Saturday’s unconvincing win against Brighton in the FA Cup.

Nemanja Matic was singled out for praise, while Scott McTominay was scolded for his display against the Seagulls but praised for his attitude. As for the rest of the players, well, Mourinho didn’t even bother mentioning them.

That says it all.

Mourinho is playing a dangerous game here. With clashes with Paul Pogba making the news in recent months as the power struggle between the two is clear for all to see, Mourinho is flexing his muscles and asserting his power on the club and he is blaming the players for their lack of success. Along the way he has also hit out at fans for their criticism of his team and it is starring to create a fractious atmosphere at the club.

This is exactly why Sir Bobby Charlton was said to be wary of Mourinho taking charge of United in the past.

It is a case of Mourinho’s way or the highway. That’s how it is.

Is that a bad thing? Right now there is clear progression. From winning the League Cup and Europa League last season and finishing sixth in the PL to being in second in the PL, in the FA Cup semifinal and reaching the last 16 of the UCL this season, Mourinho is moving things forward, even if it is incredibly slowly.

You can talk about the style of play all you want but Mourinho just wants to win. United’s fans just want to win too. Yet their manager is now constantly telling them that the players they have, no matter how much you spend on Romelu Lukaku, Pogba or others, aren’t good enough to get the job done.

With Pep Guardiola‘s dynasty at Man City about to add a Premier League title and red-hot favorites to win the Champions League, United have a big decision to make.

Do they ignore player power and go all-in and let Mourinho make the sweeping changes he wants, even if that means saying goodbye to Pogba and Co. and perhaps a dip between now and August until he can get in the players he wants?

Or do they cut out Mourinho and risk not being able to replicate his recent success, even if the style of play may improve with someone else in charge?

Mourinho is forcing Man United’s hand and it appears that a lot of the fans aren’t all on board with the way he is doing this. Yet the lofty expectations which engulf United needed addressing for some time as Sir Alex Ferguson‘s shadow still looms large over the club.

Like Fergie, Mourinho is calling the shots. Now it’s all about if he will be given the time, and the funds, to completely rebuild this United side. He is trying to buy himself extra time by solely blaming the players for his team not going deep in the UCL and seriously challenging Man City for the title this season.

Given the fact United just gave him a new contract we should expect Mourinho to be around at United for at least the next two years. We shouldn’t expect many of this current squad to be joining him.

But this risky deflection game could signal the end game for Mourinho at United sooner than he thinks.

One way or another the three-year syndrome which has encapsulated his managerial career seems to be extinct.

LIVE, FA Cup: Wigan v. Southampton in quarterfinal

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The Mark Hughes era begins at Southampton with upset alerts ringing loudly in the background.

[ LIVE: Wigan v. Saints ]

Premier League side Saints travel to third-tier Wigan on Sunday (9:30 a.m. ET) in the FA Cup quarterfinal knowing that the hosts have already knocked out Bournemouth, West Ham and Manchester City during their incredible run to the last eight.

Paul Cook’s men will fancy their chances of upsetting a fourth Premier League team in a row to reach the FA Cup semis at Wembley next month, as Southampton sit in the bottom three of the PL table and sacked Mauricio Pellegrino as their manager earlier this week after just five wins in 30 league games.

With Tottenham and Manchester United booking their spot in the last four on Saturday, Wigan remain the lowest ranked team left in the competition.

In team news Hughes starts with Manolo Gabbiadini and Guido Carrillo up top in a 4-4-2 formation.

Wigan bring in Gary Roberts for Nick Powell.


Wigan Athletic


Salah “on his way” to Messi’s level

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Mohamed Salah scored four goals on Saturday and grabbed an assist as Liverpool beat Watford 5-0 in the Premier League.

It was special. But it was almost as if we’d come to expect this. He is one of those players you pay the entrance fee alone to watch and most PL defenders spend the 90 minutes watching him run by them.

Following the stunning display from the Egyptian winger, Jurgen Klopp was asked about the current level Salah is at as he now leads the PL scoring charts with 28 goals and is the highest scoring Liverpool player ever in a debut season at Anfield with 36 in all competitions.

“I don’t think Mo wants to be compared with Lionel Messi,” Klopp said. “Messi has been doing what he’s been doing for what feels like 20 years or so. The last player I know who had the same influence on a team performance was Diego Maradona. But Mo is in a fantastic way, that’s for sure. As it always is in life, if you have to have the skills you have to show that constantly and consistently, and he is very good.”

Salah’s rise to prominence has been hugely unexpected with the $50 million Liverpool paid to Roma for his services last summer raising plenty of eyebrows.

That transfer fee now seems like a bargain.

The 25-year-old who struggled to break through at Chelsea after arriving from Basel as a youngster is now, like Messi, a genuine global superstar. Everyone knew he was quick and nimble around the box as a winger but nobody expected these gaudy numbers and this kind of output in his debut season at Liverpool.

With Liverpool facing Manchester City in the UEFA Champions League last eight, plenty of City’s defenders will already be having sleepless nights as to how to stop Salah.

Sitting in third place in the table with seven games to go and in the latter stages of the UCL, Liverpool have a hugely talented squad with the likes of Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino consistently delivering goals and assists and Klopp’s project is kicking on.

But like Messi at Barcelona, one man helps Liverpool climb above the rest: Salah.

On this form Kevin De Bruyne will have a serious run for his money when it comes to the player of the year awards in England this season.

Salah is still some way off Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in terms of consistent excellence as his subdued display at Manchester United showed last weekend. However, he is getting towards that level and the Egyptian wizard is in the perfect team for his talents to flourish.