Playback: Key to United’s amazing comeback

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WHAT SPARKED UNITED’S COMEBACK?

When you next hear the cliche “a game of two halves” it’s likely it will be surrounding Manchester United’s incredible comeback at Manchester City on Saturday.

Trailing 2-0 at Man City at half time, United could’ve been 4-0 or 5-0 down as the Premier League title party was in full flow at the Etihad Stadium.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Man City were 45 minutes away from sealing the PL title in front of their own fans and by beating their bitter rivals to rub further salt into Jose Mourinho’s wounds.

Then Paul Pogba scored twice in two minutes at the start of the second half to turn the game on its head and Chris Smalling scored the winner as the champagne bottles were put back in the fridge at Etihad for at least another week.

But how exactly did United launch their amazing comeback to stop City?

“I told my midfield players that they didn’t need to improve because they were playing very well, even in the first half. All of them. I think it is very difficult to be a midfield player against Manchester City,” Mourinho told reporters afterwards. “Paul, Ander [Herrera] and [Nemanja] Matic were playing really well but I needed more from [Jesse] Lingard and Alexis [Sanchez]. I need them to connect our good football in midfield and especially I need my defenders to be a little more confident. With just a little bit of pressure from City they were kicking the ball, they were nervous, they were not bringing the ball with quality to my midfielders.”

Pogba will get most of the plaudits, and rightly so, as the Frenchman scored twice and helped United grab the game by the scruff of the neck. But you can’t underestimate just how much better he, and the rest of United’s team, was in the second half. Especially Lingard and Sanchez who Mourinho obviously had a stern talking to at the break as the Red Devils were lucky to still be in the game at half time.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Towards the end of the first half Pogba stood with his hands on his hips and shook his head as City’s midfield had ran through United time and time again. You wondered if he was having another one of those days and Mourinho would hook him off given the week he had as Pep Guardiola revealed his agent, Mino Raiola, was offering Pogba up in January.

Yet it wasn’t all about Pogba. Yes, he scored twice and overpowered Fernandinho in City’s engine room to drag United back into the game but it was about so much more than this.

[ MORE: Pogba praised after difficult week

Mourinho’s talk with Sanchez and Lingard worked as the duo were winning the ball back in key areas and intercepting time and time again to stop City building from the back. That extra pressure Mourinho was talking about worked and the manager should be applauded for not hooking Pogba, Herrera or Matic off at half time and for seeing that it wasn’t a case of his midfielders doing a poor job, but more that the players in front of them weren’t giving them a chance to have a breather and push higher up the pitch.

“It is about keeping confidence. Some times when you are losing, the instinct is to change immediately because you don’t like everything. I didn’t have that feeling. Obviously the first goal [for United] was very important. After that the game was our game. The reaction after the 3-2 was normal but also mentally I think the game was our game. I am really pleased for the players.”

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Sanchez, in particular, was much improved in the second half as he delivered the ball to Herrera to set up Pogba for his first goal, then crossed to Pogba to score a second and then bent in a perfect free kick for Smalling to score the winner. The Chilean stepped up when United needed him and although he’s still settling into the team, he proved to Guardiola that Man City really could’ve done with signing him after all in January.

United’s tempo completely changed at the break as an extreme desire to not let City have their title party in front of their faces took over.

That, combined with an understrength Man City running out of steam in the second half just over 48 hours after a damaging defeat at Liverpool, was the main reason United launched a stunning comeback.

Pogba will get plenty of the praise. Mourinho won’t get that much. And Alexis Sanchez should get some for his part in a thrilling turnaround.


EVERTON MISS GLORIOUS CHANCE

Big Sam is not a popular man at Goodison Park right now.

I was lucky enough to attend both the Merseyside and Manchester derbies on Saturday as part of Arlo White & Lee Dixon’s Excellent Adventure II (more on that below) and speaking to Everton fans before their 0-0 draw against Liverpool on Saturday it was clear the Goodison faithful aren’t impressed with Sam Allardyce‘s style of play and believe he can achieve more with his current squad of players.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned from Merseyside Derby

Coming up against a weakened Liverpool side as Jurgen Klopp rested multiple players ahead of their UEFA Champions League quarterfinal second leg at Manchester City, this was a glorious chance for Allaryce and Everton to grab their first win against their rivals since 2010.

Allardyce wasn’t brave enough to unshackle his team until the final 10 minutes when Everton created two glorious chances for Cenk Tosun and Dominic Calvert-Lewin. But why didn’t they go for it earlier or, here’s an idea, from the very start?

That’s the Allardcye way.

Liverpool’s fans chanted about that during the game time and time again, goading the Everton fans about the direct, predictable style of play they have to watch week in, week out.

Everton is an insecure club right now. Allardyce continues to lash out at the fans as he is criticized and last week he pointed to West Brom’s position at the bottom of the table and stated that the Baggies were above Everton when he arrived at the club. That was true, but are West Brom (no disrespect) really the benchmark for an Everton side who spent big over the past two years since Farhad Moshiri’s takeover?

The Toffees are in ninth place and have 41 points but with so much talent at his disposal Allardyce could do so much more with this team.

Wayne Rooney‘s frustration as he was subbed out in the second half for a holding midfielder said it all. Allardyce is scared to lose a game and places more importance on not losing than winning.

Everton’s fans do not want him around next season, and can you really blame them?

The Toffees faithful are entitled to dream and they need a manager who is going to make them do that. Or at this point at least someone who will pretend that they’re willing to try and reach the lofty heights of the top four, which owner Moshiri has talked about time and time again.

Under Allardyce this is about as good as gets.


EXCELLENT ADVENTURE II

With the focus on the Merseyside and Manchester derbies on Saturday, the rare opportunity to attend both games presented itself.

Everton hosted Liverpool at Goodison at 7:30 a.m. ET and Manchester City welcome Manchester United to the Etihad Stadium at 12:30 p.m. ET.

That meant that Arlo and Lee could fire up their Excellent Adventure II and I joined them on a 37-mile journey from Liverpool to Manchester on Saturday afternoon to watch both the games.

Here’s a look at what we got up to and I can tell you one thing, it was indeed, quite excellent…


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.

Three things learned: Everton v. Liverpool

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LIVERPOOL — Everton and Liverpool played out a tight, tense 0-0 draw in the Merseyside Derby at Goodison Park on Saturday, with Jurgen Klopp‘s much-changed side huffing and puffing against a resolute, if uninspiring, Everton.

Sam Allardyce‘s side now haven’t won any of their last 17 derbies against Liverpool as Yannick Bolasie had a shot saved by Loris Karius superbly and Cenk Tosun went close late on.

Without the injured Mohamed Salah, Liverpool failed to really take the game by the scruff of the neck despite having large spells of possession.

Here’s what we learned from an edgy encounter at Goodison.


AGITATION GROWS AT EVERTON

“You hardly touched the ball!” sung the Liverpool fans towards the Everton supporters midway through the second half.

Of course, they did touch it, many times, but you get what they’re saying. Everton’s fans appear to be fed up with Sam Allardyce’s direct style of play and the odds of him being in charge next season appear to be growing by the day.

This was a perfect audition for what Everton could become under Big Sam but instead he stuck to his principles as his team set up to defend and did just that with an unadventurous plan. Even a few decent chances at the end of the game which fell to Cenk Tosun and Dominic Calvert-Lewin couldn’t lift the mood among Everton’s supporters.

Their lack of ambition was summed up when Wayne Rooney and Yannick Bolasie were both taken off in the second half and Idrissa Gueye and Calvert-Lewin came on. Rooney, playing in a central midfield role, was livid with the decision and the decision to take Bolasie off was cheered by the home fans after several slack moments despite his curling shot almost giving the Toffees the lead in the first half.

Allardyce has Everton into the top 10 of the Premier League and away from the relegation zone which was his remit when he took over. But that’s not enough for Everton’s fans who were promised a push for UEFA Champions League under new owner Farhad Moshiri.

As Liverpool fans sung sarcastic songs about Allardyce and his style of play, it seemed clear that most of the home fans inside Goodison feel the same. Tosun had little support the entire game and Everton’s defenders were clearly told to lump the ball forward rather than to build from the back. Everton were set up to defend and not to lose but against a Liverpool side who had clearly prioritized their UCL quarterfinal second leg at Man City on Tuesday with their team selection, this was a chance for Allardyce’s side to make a statement. They didn’t. At all.

Big Sam has defended the job he’s done at Everton since he arrived. In the week he compared their situation to that of West Brom’s who sit bottom of the table but where above Everton in the table when he took over.

Ye it’s not about where Everton are in the table. Their performance in Saturday’s Merseyside Derby against a much-changed Liverpool side  proved that Allardyce’s methods aren’t what the fans want and this relationship isn’t working out despite Everton clear of relegation danger.


SOLANKE READY TO STEP UP

Dominic Solanke‘s fourth start in the Premier League was a big moment for him. With Solanke and Danny Ings starting in place of Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, they had huge boots to fill but Solanke was up to the task.

He nodded wide early on and had a snapshot from close range which Jordan Pickford saved superbly, but it was his ability to hold the ball up and link up with Sadio Mane and Ings which impressed.

Despite failing to score in 23 appearances this season in all competitions (19 of them have been as a second half sub, often late in the game) at 20 years of age Solanke is ready to step up and play regularly in the Premier League.

His pace and power caused Everton’s robust defense problems and even if he can’t get ahead of Firmino and Salah at Liverpool, a loan move to another PL club will surely be on the cards for next season. Klopp has been reluctant to loan youngsters out but Solanke has shown considerable progress this season and the next step must be to play regularly in the PL. He can do it. And score goals. No question.


CHAMPIONS LEAGUE NOW LIVERPOOL’S FOCUS

With a top four spot all but secure with five games to go, with got a glimpse of Klopp’s mindset for the final weeks of the Premier League season: the UEFA Champions League will be the focus.

Ings, Solanke, Ragnar Klavan and Georgino Wijnaldum all came in to the starting lineup and youngsters Curtis Jones, Conor Masterson and Rafael Camacho were all on the bench.

Klopp’s comments after Liverpool’s 3-0 win against Man City at Anfield on Wednesday suggested he wasn’t happy with an early kick off on Saturday for this game but he was in a position where he could afford to rotate his team with the second leg in Manchester in mind.

Those who came in did well but tired late on and with the Premier League title gone, Liverpool’s focus is now on at least making the final four of the Champions League rather than finishing second in the PL.

Watch Live: Everton vs. Manchester City

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Goodison Park is the scene as Manchester City looks to end a three-match winless run against Everton and move to within a win of a Premier League title (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Wayne Rooney gets a start for Everton against his longtime Manchester Derby rivals.

Man City will have Gabriel Jesus in place of an injured Sergio Aguero.

LINEUPS

Everton: Pickford, Coleman, Baines, Keane, Jagielka, Schneiderlin, Rooney, Walcott, Bolasie, Calvert-Lewin, Tosun. Subs: Robles, Martina, Niasse, Funes Mori, Davies, Vlasic, Baningime.

Manchester City: Ederson, Walker, Kompany (C), Otamendi, Laporte, Fernandinho, Silva, De Bruyne, Sane, Sterling, Jesus. Subs: Bravo, Danilo, Gündogan, Bernardo. Adarabioyo, Zinchenko, Nmecha.

Stoke City 1-2 Everton: Tosun delivers

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  • Tosun has 4 goals in 3 games
  • Charlie Adam sent off for Stoke in first half
  • Stoke remain in bottom three

Everton beat 10-man Stoke City 2-1 at a snowy bet365 Stadium on Saturday as Cenk Tosun scored twice in the second half to secure just a second away win in 24 Premier League games for the Toffees.

Sam Allardyce‘s side were given a helping hand as Charlie Adam was sent off in the first half but Stoke battled hard and equalized through Erik-Choupo Moting.

Yet the Toffees secured the win to move into ninth place on 40 points, while Stoke stay in 19th on 27 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

The first big chance of the game arrived for Everton as Tom Davies lost Charlie Adam from a set piece but headed Wayne Rooney‘s cross way over.

Stoke reacted well in the snowy conditions after a slow start but then the game was turned in Everton’s favor.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Adam lost the ball and lunged into a tackle on Wayne Rooney which saw him handed a straight red card and deservedly so as he walked straight down the tunnel without complaining.

Stoke recovered well after going down to 10-men and were tough for Everton to break down.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

In the second half Everton took the lead as Tosun was found in the box by Idrissa Gueye‘s cross as Stoke thought they had cleared the danger but Tosun pounced to hammer home. 1-0.

Just when you thought Stoke would collapse, they equalized from a set piece situation. Choupo-Moting finished to send a record home crowd wild and make it 1-1.

Yet a topsy-turvy game took another twist late on as Theo Walcott‘s cross from the right found Tosun and his diving header beat Jack Butland who should have done better. Everton’s fans in the away end were delighted.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Dominic Calvert-Lewin was denied by Butland late on as Stoke tired but the Toffees had to settle for two goals as they took three points back to Merseyside with them.

Everton 2-0 Brighton and Hove Albion: Toffees rebound

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  • Bong o.g. opens scoring
  • Tosun makes it 2-0
  • Everton rises ninth

Cenk Tosun scored to help Everton arrest its slump with a 2-0 win over Brighton and Hove Albion at Goodison Park on Saturday.

Gaetan Bong also recorded an own goal against Brighton and Hove Albion, which fails to pass Everton and sits 11th with 34 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Everton had a pair of penalty shouts, with Tom Davies taken down  in the box and Yannick Bolasie as well. Neither was clear-cut, but an award would not have been absurd.

The goal was coming, and the Toffees found it via a Yannick Bolasie cross for Theo Walcott which was turned into the goal by Walcott’s marker, Bong.

Tosun got Big Sam a goal off an Everton man, with Leighton Baines combining beautifully with the Turkish striker to give Everton a two-goal lead.

Mat Ryan stopped Wayne Rooney‘s late penalty to prevent an inflated score line.

Anthony Knockaert was sent off late for a studs-up tackle.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]