Premier League Playback

Premier League Playback: Analyzing new managers; Liverpool’s attack

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LIVERPOOL’S FLUID FRONT FOUR DESTROY ARSENAL

Philippe Coutinho. Sadio Mane. Adam Lallana. Roberto Firmino. All four played their part in ripping apart an inexperienced Arsenal defense on Sunday as Liverpool beat the Gunners 4-3 in a thrilling encounter.

With youngsters Rob Holding and Calum Chambers chucked in to the center of Arsenal’s defense, Jurgen Klopp would’ve been licking his lips pre-game as he stood on the center circle and stared almost incessantly at Arsenal’s players warming up. Early on though, it was Liverpool’s shoddy defending which was highlighted.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Alberto Moreno first brought down Theo Walcott rashly in the box but the latter missed the resulting spot kick, then seconds later Moreno left a huge gap for Walcott to exploit and slam home. 1-0 to Arsenal and things weren’t looked great for Liverpool. Right on half time they were handed a lifeline as Holding gave away a free kick and Coutinho stepped up and curled home a stunning free kick from over 30-yards out.

That injected life into Liverpool’s front four who smelt blood in the water. In a blistering 18-minute spell after half time the Reds scored three more times. First Lallana controlled wonderfully and slotted home coolly to make it 2-1, then a flowing move was finished off by Coutinho after Nathaniel Clyne‘s pinpoint cross. Soon, Mane stole the show, cutting in from the right and the $45 million summer arrival spanked an unstoppable drive into the far corner. 4-1. Game over. Yet, Liverpool’s own defensive weaknesses were highlighted as Arsenal scored two more and made it 4-3 with 15 minutes to go.

Liverpool held on somewhat comfortably and despite conceding three goals, it will be heartwarming for Klopp when he realizes he has an injured Daniel Sturridge to return, plus Divock Origi and Danny Ings to play their part this season.

Speaking to the assembled media after the game, Klopp revealed he regretted celebrating prematurely with his players after they went 4-1 up.

“We came out and scored wonderful goals and then I made the big mistake and got involved in the celebrations,” Klopp said. “That will happen hopefully one or two times in my life but not so early in the game because it was the wrong sign for all of us, it felt for everyone in this moment like ‘that is it’. Then you look on the watch and see there is still half an hour to go and that is not too good. The crowd was a bit angry obviously and Arsenal fought back and showed character and scored the goals.”

As for Arsenal, they were without Mesut Ozil, Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud who all returned to preseason late after playing at EURO 2016, while central defenders Gabriel and Per Mertesacker were missing through injury.

Arsene Wenger pointed to all of that as a main reason for Arsenal’s struggles as the Gunners lost at home on the opening weekend for the third time in the last four seasons: “We are not ready, physically, we are not ready,” Wenger said.

With rumors suggesting Shkodran Mustafi could be arriving as a new central defender shortly, there could be some good news for Arsenal. However, their failure to spend big this summer to strengthen their defense, and particularly their forward line as the halfhearted pursuit of Alexandre Lacazette continues, shows that Arsenal isn’t willing to spend what it needs to in order to to challenge for the PL title this season. More results like this will see the already brittle confidence levels fans have in Wenger and this team shatter, perhaps beyond repair as the legendary French manager enters the final year of his contract.


ANALYZING THE NEW BOYS

Seven clubs had new managers in the dugout in the opening weekend and here’s a look at how each of them fared…

[ MORE: PL schedule

Premier League Schedule – Week 1

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 3-4 Liverpool Recap, watch here
B’mouth 1-3 Man Utd Recap, watch here
Burnley 0-1 Swansea Recap, watch here
Chelsea 2-1 West Ham Recap, watch here
C. Palace 0-1 WBA Recap, watch here
Everton 1-1 Spurs Recap, watch here
Hull 2-1 Leicester Recap, watch here
Man City 2-1 S’land Recap, watch here
M’boro 1-1 Stoke Recap, watch here
Saints 1-1 Watford Recap, watch here

Pep Guardiola – Lining up with full backs in midfield, plus Fernandinho dropping into a central defense comprising of John Stones and regular left back Aleksandar Kolarov, Guardiola certainly did things differently. City got across the line, just, in his opening game in the Premier League against a stubborn Sunderland outfit. There will be greater tests ahead but Guardiola has shown his philosophy will not waver.

Antonio Conte – Jumping into the crowd to celebrate Diego Costa‘s winners with Chelsea’s fans, it was a dream end to Conte’s managerial debut in the PL. You could already see the philosophy of Chelsea’s Italian manager seeping through his team as N'Golo Kante improved as the game against the Hammers went on and the likes of Costa and Eden Hazard had that sparkle back. All-in-all, a great debut for Conte as Chelsea delivered a win and showed they will be compact and tough to break down.

David Moyes – Sunderland were simple and kept City at bay until Paddy McNair‘s late slip up. Moyes has a big challenge on his hands to turn the Black Cats into a midtable team but if they can defend like they did against City and keep Lamine Kone, they should be free of relegation this season. Also, Moyes handed a PL debut to U.S. youth international Lynden Gooch, 20, at the Etihad and the playmaker didn’t look out of place. Gooch clearly has a bright future.

Jose Mourinho – A dominant win with minimum fuss, this is exactly the kind of win Morinho would’ve wanted to open the season. He started Juan Mata despite reports stating he could be sold and a solid outfit made the most of Bournemouth’s mistakes to win 3-1. Zlatan Ibrahimovic looks like an inspired signing as he lashed home on his PL debut along with goals from Mata and Wayne Rooney. Red Devils are regaining fear factor.

Ronald KoemanRoss Barkley scored early on and Koeman’s Everton debut was going swimmingly until late in the second half when Erik Lamela equalized for Spurs and grabbed a 1-1 draw at Goodison. New signing Idrissa Gueye shone in a 3-4-2-1 formation and late on the Toffees had to rely on Maarten Stekelenburg to grab them a point.

Walter Mazzarri – Watford started brightly in their 1-1 draw at Southampton with Etienne Capoue rifling home to give the Hornets the lead and they looked composed in the first half. They dropped back deeper and deeper in the second half but defended well and it was a good point on the road in a 3-5-2 formation which Mazzarri loved to play in Italy. Work to do but a decent start.

Claude Puel – Southampton started sluggishly and the Frenchman was wildly gesticulating from the sidelines. In the second half Saints improved drastically with new signing Nathan Redmond grabbing an equalizer but they couldn’t break down 10-man Watford in the final 15 minutes. The diamond formation in midfield will take Saints a while to get used to and there are some concerns about where goals will come from.


MIXED FORTUNES FOR NEWLY-PROMOTED TRIO

One of the most anticipated factors on opening weekend is the chance to see the three newly-promoted teams in action and assess if they’re ready for the rigors of the PL.

When it comes to Hull City, Middlesbrough and Burnley, we learned all three are ready to mix it up and fight for their lives. Of course Hull City’s composed, mature display against reigning champs Leicester was sublime. Caretaker boss Mike Phelan only has 13 fit senior players to chose from after Steve Bruce walked out as manager and the owners are looking to sell up following the summer transfer window.

The Tigers delivered a superb display as they thoroughly deserved to beat Leicester as they stayed solid in defense and looked dangerous on the counter with Adama Diomande and Abel Hernandez combing for a bizarre and awesome opening goal, then Robert Sndograss grabbing a winner. If Hull show this kind of spirit throughout the season and add a few more players, they could stay up under Phelan… if he’s given the job. On this showing, he should get it.

Further up the east coast of England, Middlesbrough started brightly against Stoke City, drawing 1-1 at the Riverside as they returned to the top-flight for the first time since 2007. Boro took the lead through Alvardo Negredo and Aitor Karanka‘s side looked solid defensively but were undone by a moment of magic from Xherdan Shaqiri.

As for Burnley, well, it was a case of the same old story for them. Just like two years ago when they were in the PL, the Clarets huffed and puffed against Swansea City at Turf Moor but fluffed their best chances of the game and came up against Lukasz Fabianski in fine form, especially when he denied Sam Vokes. If Burnley are to stay up this time they need a proven goalscorer. With 16 days left in the transfer window it’s safe to say all three of the newly-promoted teams will make moves but all three won’t be too discouraged by how they played on the opening weekend.


CRACKS APPEARING FOR LEICESTER?

For probably the first time since he took charge of Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri questioned the togetherness of his players following their 2-1 defeat at Hull in the opening game of the season.

The Italian manager will lead his team into the UEFA Champions League but after suffering a shock defeat on the opening day of the season with a shaky defensive display, plus losing to Manchester United in the Community Shield the week before, small cracks are beginning to appear. Yes, they’ve created plenty of chances in those games but they haven’t been clinical and defensive errors have cropped up when they were so rare throughout their incredible title-winning campaign last season.

Speaking after the Foxes became the first-ever reigning PL champ to lose on the opening day, Ranieri questioned their team play.

“We equalized immediately from the start of the second half and when we went on the counter attack, we lost the ball on halfway and they scored again. After that it was a very tough match and we tried to do our best but we made a lot of effort individually, but not so well as a team,” Ranieri said. “I’m very pleased with the number of chances we created but of course I want to see a team.

“Our strength is as a team. Today we were better, harder, but not like a team. When I played with four strikers it was important to play with [Ahmed] Musa and Riyad [Mahrez] very wide. They wanted to score and they went very close. This season is harder. It’s harder but we must compete very well. Better than today with more attitude and motivation because that is our strength.”

Ranieri and Leicester will be the prey instead of the hunters this season and dealing with high levels of expectation is something that is new to most of these players. The Foxes must get back to their roots of defending first and then being clinical when the chances fall.


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.

Premier League Playback: It’s time to change the Transfer Window rules

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As Deadline Day looms, it’s time to have a rethink

With 24 hours to go until the transfer window slams shut for Premier League clubs, a frantic day of scrambling for last minute bargains is expected up until the deadline at 1 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Sept. 1.

[ MORE: Latest transfer news

Although there will be plenty of arrivals in the coming hours as windows shut across Europe’s other big leagues earlier, the theme throughout the final week of the window has been players handing in transfer requests as they aim to push through a move to another club. The way the system is set up, that’s their only option and the selling club, who doesn’t want to sell its star players, is then left with an unhappy player who cannot move on. If the selling club do end up selling, they then have to scramble and pay over the odds for a replacement player on Deadline Day. That’s just not the way it should work and the big question remains: should the rules of the transfer window be changed to see it end on the eve of the new PL season each year?

[ MORE: Standings | schedule | stats ] 

John Stones, Saido Berahino and Victor Wanyama have all had transfer requests turned down in the past week, as big boys are lurking to snatch top prospects from ambitious, but smaller, teams.

Speaking of Stones, I was present in Roberto Martinez’s press conference following Everton’s 0-0 draw with Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday. He did not lambaste Chelsea for their pursuit of the 21-year-old England international and said they acted within the laws — the Blues have made three bids over the summer with the latest in excess of $60 million but Everton turned it down — but Martinez instead criticized the current system in place.

“In the modern game now there is a lot of talk about bringing players in and new names, a 24-hour channel checking who’s coming in and who’s coming out,” Martinez said. “We [Everton] have got a very strong project where we give young players the chance to play and we develop them. We need to have a long-term ambition to allow that to happen. It is very hard in the modern game to have players like John Stones, Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku, young players that are fulfilling huge roles. We want to become a winning team and John Stones is a big part of that.

“As I’ve said all along, there are certain aspects I don’t agree with the transfer window. When the official games have started, I think they disrespect and devalue the competition. This is not right for the fans who support our institutions, our football clubs, and it gets to a point where we need to protect our players. The position that John has been put in is wrong. From a human point of view it shouldn’t be allowed to happen. If you expand and look throughout the dressing rooms up and down the country, you have one or two cases in every single team. It is wrong. It is about time we do something.”

“The authorities should look into it and do something about it,” Martinez continued. “I know it is difficult because you have to have a period where you assemble your squad, and rightly so, but I think the period where the first official game starts, all of that circus should be stopping as well. Chelsea, like any other team, will try to assemble their squad and they will try to do it in their own way like everyone does. Unfortunately, that’s the way it happens in any league in the world. My complaint to the football authorities is that we are putting our youngsters under massive pressure and let’s protect them. I think everyone knows that a footballer is not just a footballer but a human being. They should be a little bit more protected.”

He’s right. Martinez hit the nail on the head. We all love the juicy rumors and the hustle and bustle of hearing about mega-deals taking place on Deadline Day. Trust me, I love it. Those whispers are latched onto by fans, journalists and even club officials and the news is broadcast in papers, on 24-hour sports TV stations and websites across the world. It’s news. It’s exciting and there’s no denying this industry has spiraled out of control, just like the transfer fees, in the past decade. There’s no need to put an end to it, but limiting it would be better for everyone. With Everton taking a stance and turning down the endless riches of Chelsea to keep a young star, their fans showed their appreciation to the owners on Saturday by signing the following song at White Hart Lane.

Like Martinez said, why can’t we adjust the rules and end this window on the eve of the season?

The January transfer window could be shortened too, perhaps to just the opening week of January when the FA Cup takes over in England and clubs who are on a break from PL action could then have a week to add more players or shift on a few more. This would make those days of negotiations and deals even more exhilarating. For now, we will sit back and watch the deals trickle in on the final day of the summer window. When it’s over, we will reflect on how successful this summer has been for each Premier League club. But in the long-term, changes need to be made to make this process fairer and limit the longevity of this seemingly never-ending circus.

Premier League Schedule – Week 4

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 2-2 S’land Recap and watch here
B’mouth 1-1 Leicester Recap and watch here
Chelsea 1-2 C. Palace Recap and watch here
Liverpool 0-3 West Ham Recap and watch here
Man City 2-0 Watford Recap and watch here
Newcastle 0-1 Arsenal Recap and watch here
Saints 3-0 Norwich Recap and watch here
Stoke 0-1 West Brom Recap and watch here
Swansea 2-1 Man United Recap and watch here
Tottenham 0-0 Everton Recap and watch here

De Bruyne joins as Man City go all in 

One club which will surely not be doing any business on Deadline Day is Manchester City. Manuel Pellegrini’s side have spent big this summer, splashing out over $200 million in transfer fees alone with Raheem Sterling, Nicolas Otamendi and Kevin de Bruyne arriving. Talk about making a statement.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

De Bruyne, 24, is expected to be the final piece of the attacking jigsaw as the Belgian international arrived for a staggering $84 million from Wolfsburg on Sunday. He recorded 20 assists in the Bundesliga last season, the most of any player in Europe’s top five leagues, and alongside fellow new-boy Sterling and the wizard that is David Silva, those three will provide the predatory Sergio Aguero with countless opportunities to score. With City failing to concede a goal in their opening four games of the season and scoring 10 times in four-straight wins to go top of the standings, it’s been a dream start to the season for Pellegrini. It’s been a dream in the transfer market too, even if question marks remain over KDB’s ability to reproduce his exploits from Germany in England’s top-flight. Chelsea let the Belgian flyer leave for $30 million in January 2014 after he failed to impress Jose Mourinho. Know De Bruyne has arrived back in the PL for almost three-times that amount and could be a key factor in grabbing City the title off his old club Chelsea.

For a man worth $84 million, you’d expect to be buying a player with a body the Greek gods of yesteryear (and Cristiano Ronaldo) would be proud of and someone who’d strike fear into the hearts of opposition defenders with a single picture. It may be slightly surprising then to see one of the images City released (above) to announce the signing of De Bruyne, who was having his medical. Talk about unflattering…

Early season trend: Away day success continues

After the opening 40 games of the PL season we have seen 17 wins from away teams. That’s a significant trend, even if some of the bigger teams have been handed somewhat easier games away from home to open up. Especially when you consider there has only been nine victories by home teams throughout the opening four weeks of the new season, that’s 22.5 percent of games have so far been won by the home teams, and looking at the stat below it was even less than that after Saturday’s games.

[ MORE: Full schedule for every PL club

There are many theories for this, but the pressure put on teams at home from their own fans who want their teams to go all-out attack in search of all three points is perhaps the most feasible reason to explain this upsurge in away wins. Opposing teams know this. They sit back, soak up the pressure and many are not perfectly suited to hit teams on the counter-attack.

Take Crystal Palace, for example. They have perfect the art of winning away from him since Alan Pardew arrived as manager last January. In Pardew’s 10 away games as Palace boss, they have won eight of 10 matches, losing just once. On Saturday they beat Chelsea 2-1 at Stamford Bridge (their first victory at their London rivals since 1982 and only the second in their history as a club) and even though they didn’t sit back the entire game, the way they were set up was perfect to win on the road.

It will take a few more matchdays to figure out if this trend of away teams dominating is set to continue, but it certainly seems like home advantage is no longer all its cracked up to be.

Contentious calls mount up

Six red cards were dished out this weekend, and plenty of them were contentious.

Let’s play the role of referee — which I’m not pretending isn’t a very difficult job for one second — and look at all six.

  • Aleksandar Mitrovic (17th minute, Newcastle 0-1 Arsenal) – The Serbian striker has a reputation and has been booked within seconds of coming off the bench in recent games. His high foot onto the shin of Arsenal’s Francis Coquelin didn’t look like anything untoward on first viewing, but it was certainly dangerous and you can understand why referee Andre Marriner sent him off. Good call? Correct.
  • Ibrahim Afellay (25th minute, Stoke City 0-1 West Brom) – After being hacked down by Craig Gardner, Afellay got up angrily. Gardner tapped him in the face, but Afellay then lashed out and lightly tapped Gardner in the face. Referee Michael Oliver showed Afellay a red card, when really both players deserved a yellow and told to calm down. Good call? Incorrect.
  • Charlie Adam (31st minute, Stoke City 0-1 West Brom) – Remarkably Stoke were down to nine-men just six minutes after Afellay was sent off. The Scotsman slid into a challenge with Dawson but as he got up he appeared to tread on his opponents ankle. It looked accidental and Mark Hughes was incensed on the sidelines. Somehow Stoke only lost 1-0 but they can feel hard done by. Good call? Incorrect.
  • Philippe Coutinho (52nd minute, Liverpool 0-3 West Ham) – The diminutive Brazilian doesn’t know how to tackle. We all know that. However, Coutinho slid in to try and stop Dmitri Payet’s skillful turn and with the West Ham already flying right at him, he couldn’t get out of the way. Coutinho got a second yellow but maybe this was a little harsh. Good call? Correct.
  • Mark Noble (78th minute, Liverpool 0-3 West Ham) – Mark Noble lost control of the ball on the edge of the box and he did lunge in on Danny Ings but got the ball and did not touch the man. The whistle had already blown, and this sending off was another that could have been avoided.  Good call? Incorrect.
  • Steven Whittaker (31st minute, Southampton 3-0 Norwich City) – Two silly yellow cards left the referee with no other option. First yellow for putting Matt Targett in a headlock as he attempted a quick throw-in, then he hauled down Dusan Tadic forcefully minutes later. Whittaker put his side in a bad spot and they suffered badly. Good call? Correct.

Chelsea, Liverpool, Man United all fall

It was a weekend of shocks across the Premier League, as the heavyweights tumbled. Hard. In Jose Mourinho’s 100th Premier League home game as Chelsea boss, he suffered just his second PL home defeat to Palace. Chelsea went behind in the second half when Bakary Sako finally punished Chelsea’s defense which was ruthlessly ripped apart by Palace’s pacy wingers, and although Radamel Falcao equalized in the 79th minute for his first Chelsea goal which seemed to have rescued his side a point, Palace’s winner arrived moments later when Joel Ward headed home. It was a demoralizing day for Mourinho, as his side have now made the second worst start to a title defending season in PL history. That will leave “The Special One” with plenty to mull over during the international break…

Elsewhere, Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool suffered a shock home defeat, their first loss of the season, to West Ham United. The Hammers are another team, like Palace, who have excelled on the road so far this season, winning at both Arsenal and Liverpool but have lost to Leicester City and Bournemouth at home in-between those marquee wins. Try and explain that. The Hammers scored early through Manuel Lanzini, then Dejan Lovren suffered a relapse to hand Mark Noble another. Two red cards muddied the waters, then Diafra Sakho added a clincher late on as Liverpool’s issues at the back reared their ugly head once again.

Then, there’s Manchester United. With slow progress being made under Louis van Gaal, his side once again looked stagnant in attack as Wayne Rooney fired a blank. Despite Juan Mata giving the Red Devils the lead, Swansea hit back through Andre Ayew and Bafetimbi Gomis as Garry Monk’s men continue to kick on and won their third-straight game against United. Gomis becomes the first Swansea player to score in four consecutive games to start the season ( he has four total, while new signing Andre Ayew has three) and the Frenchman’s famous wild panther celebration came out of the locker once again as he tore United apart. Epic.

Swansea beat United away from home in Van Gaal’s opening game as United boss at the start of last season. Another early defeat to the Swans this season begs the question: how much have United really improved under the man known as the “Iron Tulip?” United have seven points from their opening three games, but with matches against Liverpool, Southampton and Arsenal coming up in their next four outings, it could all start to unravel rather soon. Sorting out the David de Gea situation remains the main dilemma at Old Trafford, while French teenager Anthony Martial looks set to join United in a whopping $55 million on Deadline Day. Is LVG panic buying to cover up this mediocre start to the season?

USMNT update: Howard stands out before international return

This week marks the first time in over a year that all four of the Premier League’s U.S. internationals have been called up by Jurgen Klinsmann.

With friendlies against Peru and Brazil coming up over the next 10 days, Tim Howard has returned to the squad following a self-imposed sabbatical, while Geoff Cameron is also called into his first squad since 2014 after his impressive start to the season at center back with Stoke City. Aston Villa’s goalkeeper Brad Guzan and Tottenham’s right back DeAndre Yedlin both made the cut, but it is Howard who is once again making the headlines after his sublime display for Everton as they grabbed a 0-0 draw at Tottenham on Saturday.

His boss Roberto Martinez told ProSoccerTalk after the game at White Hart Lane that Howard is ready to return.

“He is ready. I think sometimes as a player you need a little bit of a mental break more than anything. I think he had a very good season in terms of being at the club and having a bit of a rest. Now he is ready. He is one of those personalities that they need to be the number one for the USA and needs to be the number one for Everton. I think he’s got some terrific years ahead.”

With Klinsmann saying Guzan is his man for the foreseeable future and Howard must come back into the team as the No. 2 goalkeeper, many would say that’s the correct way to play things with Villa’s goalkeeper not doing much wrong over the past 12 months. However, if Howard keeps pulling off superb saves like he did to deny Harry Kane and Co. on Saturday, it will not be long until he returns as the starter as the huge Confederations Cup playoff against Mexico looms on Oct. 10.

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

Premier League Playback: Should Liverpool fire Brendan Rodgers?

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CALLS FOR RODGERS’ HEAD PREMATURE

“I’m not arrogant enough to think that I will be in a job through anything,” Brendan Rodgers said after Liverpool’s 3-1 defeat to Crystal Palace on Sunday. “Any manager will tell you that you have to win games and you have to get results, especially after how we’ve been developing as a football club. But I have a great communication line with the owners. We’ve been honest enough with each other but ultimately you have to get results. You have to perform. In my first year when we weren’t maybe getting the results we were performing well.”

Rodgers said all this, plus brutally pointed out the many deficiencies in his current squad, after Liverpool had returned to the scene where they painfully lost the Premier League title last season. On a Monday night in south London on May 5, Liverpool squandered a 3-0 lead late on to draw 3-3 with Crystal Palace and all but hand the 2013-14 PL title to Manchester City. On their first trip back to Selhurst Park since that fateful night when Luis Suarez had to be carried off the pitch in tears, Liverpool were awful as their terrible start to the 2014-15 season continues.

Premier League Schedule – Week 12

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

Truth be told, Liverpool have never recovered from that devastating draw at Selhurst last season. This year they let in three more goals against Palace but only scored one themselves as the Reds suffered a sixth defeat of the season and are languishing in 12th place, 18 points off leaders Chelsea. Last season Liverpool only lost six games throughout the campaign but they’ve matched that already as the absence of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge through injury and that buzzword ‘transition’ can no longer be blamed.

[RELATED: Watch full match replays]

Rodgers has a lot to answer for, most notably his summer recruitment process, but he should not lose his job. His key players are massively under-performing with Raheem Sterling and Steven Gerrard (who both underwhelmed vs. Palace) among the most notable strugglers who have failed to recapture their stunning form which saw them get so close to winning the title last season. That surge has seen expectation levels at Liverpool rise to alarming heights at Anfield but after their latest defeat, fans of the Reds have to realize that in a good year their team will finish in the top four and during a bad one (which this one certainly is, so far) they will finish in the top eight.

[VIDEO: Premier League highlights]

As NBC Sports’ Geoff Cameron (making his commentating debut on Sunday at Selhurst) pointed out at the start of the second half, “Liverpool’s defense look terrified every time Crystal Palace’s attackers get on the ball” and they were correct to be concerned. Yannick Bolasie set up the first two goals and made Dejan Lovren look like a fool on the second. The Croatian center back signed for Liverpool $32 million in the summer from Southampton and is fast becoming the scapegoat for their defensive woes as he and Martin Skrtel looked off the pace and continued to drop back against a Palace side who used their pace to expose Liverpool’s weaknesses. Their backline has now conceded 1.5 goals per game in the PL this season, that’s their worst-ever rate. Plus the Eagles were in the bottom three going into this clash on Sunday and were heavy underdogs but on the evidence of what we saw, you would say Liverpool were the side scrapping for relegation.

Liverpool’s drop off in form from last season will be incredibly worrying for Rodgers. His job may soon be on the line, and he knows that, but for now it is time for the fans to rally around the club and help pick their players up after a disastrous start to the season. Rodgers hasn’t helped himself out with stubborn team selections, a huge influx of new players and failing to replace the quality he has lost. He changed too much too soon, and Liverpool now face a tough trip to Bulgaria to face minnows Ludogorets in a crucial UEFA Champions League match on Wednesday. If they lose that, calls for Rodgers’ head will intensify. Putting all that aside, the Northern Irishman deserves to at least see out this season and try to put the bad start right.

Despite all their struggles Liverpool are only five points off the top four, but Rodgers needs to turn things around quickly before the pressure costs him his job.

UNITED BEND, BUT DON’T BREAK

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In a battle billed as a “top four decider” under the floodlights at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday night, Arsenal and Manchester United both showed reasons why they may miss out on Champions League qualification come the end of the season.

[RELATED: Three things we learned from United’s win vs. Arsenal]

The Gunners ripped apart United’s young three-man defense early on but failed to take their chances, while United improved as the game went on and got a slice of luck their defensive defiance perhaps deserved. Jack Wilshere was particularity wasteful in front of goal and that spilled over into anger as he squared up to Marouane Fellaini and was lucky to have not been sent off (more on that shortly). Arsenal’s pint-sized midfielder also got injured as he tried to overdo things and late in the game the Red Devils picked the Gunners apart on the counter after Kieran Gibbs’ comedy own goal gave them the advantage.

[RELATED: Marquee win proves LVG’s men stepping it up]

Wayne Rooney added a delicate chip after a breakaway to make it 2-0 as he became the top scorer vs. Arsenal in PL history with 11 goals all-time. The Gunners imploded late on despite Olivier Giroud smashing one back on his surprise return from a broken leg. It was a perfect away display, from an attacking standpoint, from United but van Gaal wasn’t too impressed afterwards. However he was laughing in the post match presser as his 3-5-2 experiment worked… just about.

“If Arsenal had scored in the first 20 minutes then it is a different game,” van Gaal said. “And then maybe I have to respond to all the questions asking why I chose the three centre-backs. But now I can laugh. I said this before the match that I made the right decision. To make this decision before the match. Okay… that is a quality decision. I can say that now. But at the same time I say that, that’s the life of a manager or a coach. The result is always giving you the reason.”

Playing three central defenders in Paddy McNair on the right, Chris Smalling in the center and Tyler Blackett on the left (see the image above for how they set up) was a huge gamble and just about paid off. Early on United stood off the Gunners and looked stunned as Arsenal created four great chances but spurned them all. Then Smalling started to lead from the center and take first knock, while McNair and Blackett swept up superbly. These three players may not be the first-choice center backs moving forward but the formation does work, as United were able to soak up pressure and spring counter attacks with Angel Di Maria, Rooney and Fellaini creating havoc. Offensively the 3-5-2 suited United attackers superbly.

[RELATED: Latest Premier League standings]

As I sat in the press box at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday evening following the game, I was interrupted by plenty of disappointed Arsenal fans as they walked out of the stadium while I filed my thoughts on yet another disappointing defeat for their side. “Make sure you write Wenger is rubbish!” “Wenger out, enough is enough.” “Wenger is bloody useless, get rid of him.” Arsenal have now endured their worst-ever start to a PL season and have just 17 points from their opening 12 games. Here’s what our analysts had to say about United’s win over the Gunners which sent the Red Devils into top four.

DISGRACEFUL DIVERS, HEADBUTTS

Jan Vertonghen, Ross Barkley, Victor Moses, James Tomkins and Jack Wilshere. What do they all have in common? They all failed to cover themselves in glory this weekend.

Premier League Star Performers – Week 12

Player Reason
1. Yannick Bolasie (Palace) 2 assists, trickery & pace
2. David De Gea (Man Utd) Solid display, leader
3. Danny Ings (Burnley) 2 goals, clinical finisher
4. Wayne Rooney (Man Utd) 1 goal, drove United on
5. Christian Eriksen (Spurs) 1 goal, assist, gamechanger

With simulation becoming a real issue in the Premier League over the past few years, during Week 12 we saw at least five separate issues which highlighted the problem. Referees are now becoming more and more aware of the diving and cheating going on, but it is still difficult for them to make the right decision with one look at full speed during a game.

[RELATED: Premier League schedule]

Vetronghen was flicked in the backside by Gaston Ramirez and threw himself to the floor in agony which resulted in the latter getting a straight red card. That turned the game in Tottenham’s favor as they used the one-man advantage to overturn a 1-0 deficit and win. In Everton’s home win against West Ham there were two incidents of diving as Barkley first went down under no contact from Kevin Nolan to win a free kick, then a real contentious moment arrived in the second half. Kevin Mirallas pushed James Tomkins in the chest as a huge scramble ensued but Tomkins then chucked himself to the floor and held his face even though he was pushed in the chest. Remember Rivaldo’s dreadful play-acting at the 2002 World Cup? Yeah, Tomkins was on par with that. What a farce.

While against Burnley on Saturday, Stoke’s Victor Moses was once again tumbling down in the penalty box after being slammed by Swansea boss Garry Monk for ‘cheating’ earlier in the campaign.

[RELATED: Premier League stats]

Then came that incident between Wilshere and Fellaini at the Emirates. In a fiery clash clash Wilshere squared up to Fellaini after a free kick was given against Arsenal. Wilshere put his head into Fellaini’s and it would have been deemed a headbutt, but Wilshere is a nearly a foot smaller than Fellaini so he only reached the United players’ collarbone. Mike Dean had a great view of the incident but decided against a red card for Wilshere, even though he had clearly lost the plot. Cool it, Jack. Anyway, I was amused…

This play acting has to stop now in the PL and examples have to be made of these players. Otherwise, when will it stop? Never. We need some explanations… So luckily former Premier League referee Howard Webb went on Sky Sports television in the UK on Monday to explain some of the incidents which have taken place, as he is now the technical director of the Professional Game Match Officials Board since retiring from refereeing over the summer. Seven yellow cards have been issued for simulation this season as Webb believes the officials have the epidemic under control. It is hard to agree with that.

Maybe the next bout of video technology ushered into the Premier League will allow video replays and challenges towards simulation. The issues are now getting so widespread that any contentious decisions a manager thinks is wrong should have a way to be overturned.

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

Premier League Playback: How will Arsenal, Tottenham recover from awful start?

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TROUBLE IN NORTH LONDON: ARSENAL, SPURS STUMBLING

In the pouring rain in South Wales on Sunday, Arsenal suffered their second defeat of the season in damaging fashion following Swansea’s late comeback.

Arsene Wenger’s men took the lead through Alexis Sanchez in the 63rd minute, their one bright spark for much of this season, but late goals from Gylfi Sigurdsson and Bafetimbi Gomis gave the Swans a famous win as the Gunners were stunned for the second time in a week after more sloppy defending has cost them dear. After 11 games of the Premier League season the Gunners have now won just four times and the North Londoners are looking shaky at the back and lightweight in midfield. I know what you’re thinking: ‘Tell me something I don’t know.’ Or words to that effect.

[RELATED: Watch full match replays]

The fact that Arsenal are so woefully short of options in defense is not only down to a spate of injuries at the start of this season. Wenger’s inability to add more defenders in the summer transfer window has come back to haunt him and his entire team just aren’t willing to dig in and do the dirty things needed to grind out wins. That mentality issue that the two Robbie’s and Rebecca touched on in the video above is the biggest concern. Not matter what personnel Wenger buys or doesn’t buy, the way the Gunners play has to change if they are going to be serious challengers for the title and at the moment their perennial position in the top four is in jeopardy.

Calum Chambers had a torrid time at right back as Jefferson Montero tore him apart, especially on the game-winner, and left back Nacho Monreal playing center back proves how bad Arsenal’s injury issues are. But why not play Chambers at center back, where he has looked far more comfortable, and put either Monreal or Kieran Gibbs at right back? Just a thought.

“I thought we were mature enough to realize that when we have the lead to take possession and not get caught on the break… and that’s what happened,” Arsenal’s captain and central defender Per Mertesacker said after defeat to Swansea. “We lost the ball on several occasions and that was the problem today. We scored and then we thought ‘we don’t need to keep possession and our patience’ and then we struggled. That was our fault. We did the same on Tuesday [against Anderlecht] and today again. We have to think about it. Quickly.”

As we mentioned, Sanchez was the one bright spark for Arsenal but even his 12th goal of the season (his sixth in his last four games) couldn’t help the Gunners to the victory he promised. Swansea winger Wayne Routledge had some fun with a Tweet Sanchez had sent out before Sunday’s game…

Following Arsenal’s fourth defeat of the season, Wenger was asked if his side could catch London rivals Chelsea (who are now 12 points ahead of the Gunners) and if Jose Mourinho’s men can be stopped.

“If they keep that up nobody will touch them,” Wenger said. “It doesn’t look like anybody is capable of challenging them at the moment. Look at the season and Chelsea are on course for 105 points. Look at the number of points they have today and if they keep that up nobody will touch them, that’s for sure.”

[RELATED: What is going wrong for Tottenham?]

A bleak assessment for Arsenal’s boss and that dark cloud has been cast right across North London as Tottenham’s troubles continue too. On Sunday they lost at home to Stoke City with Mauricio Pochettino’s men suffering their third home defeat in four following a tepid display against the Potters which also had the new Spurs boss questioning the mentality of his players.

“We need to find the solution and I need to change the mentality for the players,” Pochettino said. “They know my feelings like I know their feelings. I have been here for four months, we know the players and the players know me. We feel the same, very disappointed and frustrated, and not happy because our performance was not good enough. It’s clear we need to improve a lot. We need to improve and this is clear to analyse. Always in football you need time, different methods and philosophy but we need to improve quick.

[VIDEO: Premier League highlights]

Spurs have conceded five goals in the first 15 minutes of games this season, that’s the most in the Premier League. Their slow starts, sluggish play offensively and constant defensive errors — particularly from new center back Federico Fazio on Sunday — are a recipe for disaster. Chuck in the fact that this same group of players, who mostly arrived following the sale of Gareth Bale in September 2013, are still under-performing means that someone has to take the blame. Andre Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood have lost their jobs due to poor performances from these players and now Pochettino is under pressure after just a few months in charge. Chairman Daniel Levy and Technical Director Franco Baldini made a lot of these signings, allegedly, and they must be held accountable for a large chunk of Spurs’ problems.

“We need to work hard, to change. We need to find a solution. This is my job,” Pochettino added. If his team continue to put in displays like this and carry on losing, it won’t be your job for much longer, Mauricio. Over to the guys in the studio to sum up Spurs’ woeful start to the Pochettino era, as they sit in 12th after 11 games of the season, just four points above the relegation zone.

Premier League Schedule – Week 11

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

“DIEGO COSTA IS BACK” AS IMPERIOUS CHELSEA ROLL OVER LIVERPOOL

When asked by the press following Chelsea’s 2-1 win over Liverpool at Anfield on Saturday, Jose Mourinho was quick to hail Diego Costa’s performance as the Spaniard bagged the game-winner and was a constant pest.

[RELATED: Imperious Chelsea can go unbeaten]

“He’s back,” Mourinho smiled. “Maybe the injury was good because that stopped him. When he became injured, he has to stop. He had time to recover step-by-step. In this moment he is in good condition. I think Spain made a fantastic decision [to not call up him for upcoming matches], not just for us but also for them, because in this moment he has 15 days to be on the top of his game. When Spain needs him they will have a good Diego. Not a bad Diego. I think they made a great decision.”

source:
Click to enlarge – Costa’s heatmap vs. Liverpool. Source: Opta

Costa was unstoppable on Saturday after recovering from his persistent hamstring issues which have plagued him since April. His personal duel with Martin Skrtel saw him come out on top as he bullied the entire Liverpool back line and delivered the hammer blow 20 minutes from the end with his 10th PL goal in his first nine games.

[RELATED: Three things we learned from Chelsea’s win at Liverpool]

His ripped shirt demonstrated the grappling match he undertook with every Liverpool player who came in his path, while his hunger, desire and willingness to run the channels was evident as you can see from the heat map on the left which shows him popping up out wide while also frequenting the box with his predatory instincts that ultimately won his team the game.

[RELATED: Latest Premier League standings]

Each time Chelsea lofted a ball towards him in the air, Costa has a knack of not even jumping but still winning the ball. He uses his body to block off opponents and then lays the ball on with his head or chest. Costa does this, and many other things, superbly and having him fully fit was a big reason behind Chelsea’s comeback win. If Costa can stay healthy, there’s no stopping Chelsea. So, just how good are Chelsea and can they go the entire season unbeaten? Nope. Not according to Mourinho, anyway.

“No. I think it is possible to be champion,” Mourinho said bluntly. “We put ourselves in the line immediately before the season started that we are title contenders and that we wanted to play for that. But in modern football and especially in the Premier League. I don’t believe in an unbeaten run.”

BREAK-DANCING HOWARD, AUSTIN’S MAD-MOMENT

Over the weekend we saw two truly bizarre moments take place in the Premier League involving goalkeepers.

The first occurred on Saturday as QPR’s Charlie Austin was flagged for a clear offside after heading home against Manchester City. Okay, fair enough. But from the resulting free kick City’s ‘keeper Joe Hart fluffed his kick, kicking the ball with first his left foot and then his right as the ball broke straight to Austin in the box who slammed home his second goal in a minute. But his ‘fluffy-chicken’ celebration was interrupted once again, and rightly so.

Fifa rule

You see, the rules of the game means that Hart and City got away with a rather embarrassing moment. With the ball technically not in play after the ball did not leave their own penalty area, referee Mike Dean had to bring play back for another free kick by Hart. Here’s a video of the incident below, as Hart also explained the ruling to Austin after the game in this rather hilarious exchange following City escaping Loftus Road with a point as they continue to stumble

While on Sunday, USMNT ‘keeper Tim Howard was involved in a truly unique moment too. With Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher bearing down on Everton’s goal with the score locked at 1-1, Howard came rushing out and was out of his box. Uh oh. The New Jersey native then jumped on the ball, without using his hand, before doing some break-dancing on the size 5 Nike before getting up and clearing the ball to safety.

He didn’t use his hands, so it wasn’t a foul, but did Howard stop a clear goalscoring opportunity by obstruction? Probably. Referee Lee Mason looked just as confused as the 40,000 plus fans inside the Stadium of Light as he waved play on. Howard may have got away with one there, but his quick thinking cleaned things up. Sort of.

Premier League Star Performers – Week 11

Player Reason
1. Diego Costa (Chelsea) 1 goal, the beast is back
2. Sergio Aguero (Man City) 2 goals, saved City again
3. Shane Long (Saints) 2 goals, gamechanger
4. Daryl Janmaat (N’castle) 2 assists, superb RB display
5. Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swans) 1 goal, stunning free kick

BURNLEY WIN, RELEGATION PICTURE TAKING SHAPE

The Clarets have done it! 11 weeks into the season Sean Dyche’s boys have their first win.

It has taken 990 minutes of PL action and 83 days for the Lancashire club to taste success but a hard fought 1-0 win over Hull City on Saturday, courtesy of Ashley Barnes’ second half goal, have the home fans the victory they craved.

[RELATED: Premier League schedule]

With those vital three points, Burnley have now dragged plenty of teams back into the mire as the relegation picture begins to take shape.

They are still bottom on seven points, but other newly-promoted teams QPR and Leicester City occupy the final two spots in the relegation zone and Burnley are a win away from jumping over Crystal Palace and out of the dreaded bottom three.

[RELATED: Premier League stats]

With the Eagles struggling to adapt under Neil Warnock following the sudden departure of Tony Pulis this summer, they are being sucked right into things, while QPR are looking much better but Leicester are heading in the opposite direction after five defeats in six since beating Manchester United in September. Burnley’s win shows they cane compete with the midtable to lower ranked teams in the PL, giving the Turf Moor faithful plenty of hope they can do something they’ve never previously done: survive for more than one campaign in the Premier League.

FIVE OF THE BEST

We weren’t inundated with goals this weekend in the Premier League, just 21 in 10 matches, but we did have some absolute crackers. Here’s five of the best from Week 11 in the video below. Go on then, what was your favorite? I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours (in the comments section below, obviously).

USMNT UPDATE

We’ve already spoken about Howard’s maverick skills in Everton’s 1-1 draw with Sunderland, but another USMNT ‘keeper put on a fine show of his own. Brad Guzan doesn’t get much help most of the time from Aston Villa’s defense but the American stopper helped his side to a shutout draw at West Ham on Saturday to halt Villa’s six-game losing streak. The Chicago native came up big in stoppage time as he acrobatically tipped away Andy Carroll’s header after somehow shifting his weight from left to right. Well done that man. Elsewhere Geoff Cameron came on as a ninth minute sub for Stoke at right back as they beat Tottenham 2-1 at White Hart Lane to move up to ninth in the standings. Huge win for the Potters. While Jozy Altidore missed out on a reunion with Howard as he warmed his cheeks on Sunderland’s bench for the full 90 minutes, once again.

Altidore is expected to be named in Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. squad for their game vs. Colombia on Friday at Fulham’s Craven Cottage. At ProSoccerTalk we will have coverage of the USA’s upcoming friendlies all week. Visit this page for all the latest.

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

Premier League Playback: Why are Manchester United struggling so much?

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MANCHESTER UNITED SUFFER WORST START SINCE 1986

As Manchester City’s fans celebrated victory in the derby, their fourth-straight and sixth win in seven over their bitter rivals, United’s fan could only stand in silence as their ‘noisy neighbors’ gave them a reminder of how far they’ve fallen.

“Champions of England, we know what we are!” was the cry from City’s jubilant fans at the Etihad Stadium.

[RELATED: United’s nightmare start continues]

In Sunday’s derby City won 1-0 thanks to Sergio Aguero’s second half strike. That defeat consigned United to their worst start to a season since 1986-87. They’ve started even worse under Louis van Gaal than they did under David Moyes last season, by four points to be exact. So, what is the main issue for United at the moment? Scoring goals? Injuries? Conceding too many?

Following United’s defeat to City, I asked van Gaal about the goalscoring aspect after his side fired a blank against City and in the last two matches they’ve created plenty but have only put one chance away.

“There was also a good goalkeeper in Joe Hart, the goalkeeper always plays a role,” van Gaal said in a defensive manner about his teams lack of goals. “We score a lot of goals, it is not so often that we are not scoring a goal. Now we had a clean sheet, but the last time we did this was against Burnley [Aug. 30] I believe. I don’t think that is our problem. I think our problem is that in the first half we gave the ball away too much unnecessarily. In positions that we can hold the ball, easily. We call that, positional game. We have to do that better.”

But United’s problems can’t be put down to one issue. It’s a multitude of issues which has hit van Gaal’s men hard at the start of this season.

Constant injuries has seen their backline collapse with Marcos Rojo dislocating his shoulder on Sunday, Chris Smalling stupidly sent off (more on that later) and they will join Phil Jones and Jonny Evans on the sidelines. At the other end of the pitch Robin van Persie, Radamel Falcai and Wayne Rooney have hardly had a run of games together with various injuries and suspensions. A long summer tour to the USA wasn’t to van Gaal’s liking and his playing philosophy is taking much longer than expected to implement. The balance of his squad still seems top heavy. The list goes on and on.

[RELATED: Watch full match replays]

You can make whatever excuses you want about United, but let’s face facts. They went on a summer spending spree unlike any ever seen in English soccer, or the rest of the world for that matter. Luke Shaw, Falcao, Angel Di Maria, Rojo and Daley Blind all arrived in deals worth over $250 million. Even that has failed to spark United into life as their worst-ever start to a campaign was rubber-stamped by their crosstown rivals.

[RELATED: Three things we learned in the Manchester derby]

Still, van Gaal has blind faith in his boys and doesn’t believe they are far away from the best teams in the PL. As things stands, United are 13 points away from leaders Chelsea and sit in tenth place in the standings. “I have seen the willpower of this team. It is fantastic,” van Gal added. “But we still only have 13 points out of 10 games. That is not so much.”

Premier League Schedule – Week 10

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

QUIET PLEASE: CHAMPIONS-ELECT AT WORK

“At this moment it’s difficult to play at home because playing here is like playing in an empty stadium… When we scored was when I realized ‘woah, the stadium is full. Good. The team then starts playing like it’s quiet, soft game at home. I was looking around and it was empty, but not in terms of people because it was obviously full.”

Jose Mourinho, ladies and gentleman.

Following Chelsea’s 2-1 home win over Queens Park Rangers on Saturday, which keeps Chelsea unbeaten at the top of the table with eight wins from their opening 10 games, Mourinho had a moan at Chelsea’s fans for not creating a good atmosphere at Stamford Bridge. Does he have a point?

[VIDEO: Premier League highlights]

After a decade and more of constant success, it seems fans of Chelsea are a pretty lucky bunch. They are used to watching some of the greatest creative minds and players the PL has to offer, week in, week out. Right now though, they should be more excited than ever as this team may be the best in their history. With Mourinho assembling an incredible attacking outfit who have yet to lose this season, maybe he’s right for wanting to hear a little more appreciation and support from the stands. Chelsea fans… “Are you not entertained?” Or does Mourinho need to take his ear plugs out?

WHEN WILL SAINTS’ BUBBLE BURST?

Southampton’s sensational start to the season shows no sign of stopping as Ronald Koeman’s honeymoon period in England is far from over.

On Saturday the Dutchman’s side beat Hull 1-0 courtesy of Victor Wanyama’s stunning goal from long range to seal the points. You can see that goal, plus all the others from Saturday, in the video above. Wanyama’s strike was Saints eighth goal from a central midfielder so far this season. Last season, under old boss Mauricio Pochettino, they scored just four. Koeman’s attacking philosophy is clear but Saints look solid as a rock as they’ve conceded just five goals this season, two of which were on the first day of the season, as they have the best defensive record in all four of England’s professional leagues.

[RELATED: Latest Premier League standings]

They have now recorded three-straight shutout wins and have Leicester City at home and Aston Villa away in their next two matches. They could be on 28 points before the end of November and for a club like Saints, every season their fans only think of one thing: how will we get to the ‘magic 40 point marker’ as quickly as possible to stave off relegation? No such worries this season.

One very interesting stat popped up over the weekend. Since the PL began, no team who had less than 18 points after the first 10 games of a season has gone on to win the title. The only three teams who have more than 18 points after 10 games this season are: Chelsea, Manchester City and Southampton. So, it’s a three-horse title race… right!?

source: AP
Can Saints really break into the top four?

As well as things have gone so far for the new-look side led by summer signings Dusan Tadic, Fraser Forster, Graziano Pelle and others, only two of their seven wins have come against teams in the top 10 of the standings and they were against Swansea and West Ham. Their two defeats have come away at Liverpool and Tottenham and the big test will be in a truly brutal stretch in the lead up, during and after the busy festive period.  In a five week spell from Nov. 5 to Jan. 10 Saints’ season will be defined.

[RELATED: Premier League schedule]

In that stretch they have eight PL games. They play Arsenal and Manchester United, twice each, plus Everton, Chelsea and Manchester City. Those seven tough matches, plus a League Cup quarterfinal chucked in, will have a huge bearing as to whether Southampton’s season will fizzle out or if they can truly do something special and finish in the top six or dare to dream of the top four.

Koeman is a confident men and his team are replicating his persona. Before Saturday’s win at Hull, their 10th win in their last 11 matches in all competitions, Koeman had the following to say to the Southern Daily Echo.

“Maybe a lot of people are very surprised, because in the start of the season I understand. But I had from the beginning the belief in the players, the belief in the team, the belief in the team spirit. Ok, not to be now on this moment after nine, ten games to be the second on the list, but we have good players,” Koeman said. “We have a good football playing team. We like to play football, and we like to enjoy the people and everybody’s happy, everybody enjoys how we play. I’m not afraid about another situation, because if I watch the rest of the teams I don’t think that a lot of teams are better than Southampton.”

Premier League Star Performers – Week 10

Player Reason
1. Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal) 2 goals, tremendous talent
2. Sergio Aguero (Man City)  1 goal, constant threat
3. Stewart Downing (WHU) 1 goals, 1 assist, superb
4. Victor Wanyama (Saints) 1 goal, solid as a rock in DM
5. David De Gea (Man Utd) World class, kept United in it

SILLY REDS GALORE

On Saturday Jonjo Shelvey got his first yellow card for kicking the ball away. He then got a second yellow for blatantly blocking off Everton’s James McCarthy late in the game. Swansea held on for a point but Shelvey’s stupidity almost cost his team.

[RELATED: Premier League stats]

Smalling’s stupidity was duly noted by Manchester United boss van Gaal, as the central defender got his first yellow for a similarly silly offence. He bocked Joe Hart from taking a drop kick on the edge of his box after a set piece situation had broken down. Minutes later Smalling went sliding in and took out James Milner to leave referee Michael Oliver with no choice other than to give the United player his marching orders with a second yellow. On Saturday in the late game Christian Benteke cost Villa three points as the Belgian forward was antagonized by Spurs’ players and raised his hands to the face of Ryan Mason to get a straight-red. Very silly. Then on Monday Mile Jedinak was shown two yellows for a stupid barge on Wes Brown, then a kick out in the middle of the pitch after a tackle. Palace’s Australian skipper is far too experienced to have gone down the same route as Shelvey and Smalling before him.

[RELATED: Premier League all-access]

All four players put themselves in difficult situations after petulant acts put them under pressure. Shelvey, Smalling and Jedinak should have known better than to commit cynical fouls which will obviously warrant a caution. Did Smalling not watch Match of the Day on Saturday night before the Manchester derby on Sunday and see what Shelvey had done? Did Jedinak not watch Smalling and Shelvey? Obviously not. They’re all as bad as each other. In the video below the Match of the Day crew dissect Smalling’s actions and talk about his constant mistakes in big games.

NEWCASTLE’S RESURGENCE

Four wins on the spin for Newcastle and all is well up at St James’ Park. After beating Liverpool 1-0 on Saturday to win three PL games in a row, plus knocking holder Man City out of the League Cup last week, all of that animosity and uproar against manager Alan Pardew has dissipated (for the most part) and “Sack Pardew” banners were replaced by “Pardew – Back from the dead” the day after Halloween. Very clever, chaps.

We always knew Newcastle were underperforming but now they have their confidence and swagger back, the Magpies can kick on and become a team capable of easily finishing in the top 10. After a shocking start to the campaign which yielded no wins in seven, that would be a superb season. Hats off to Pardew for staying with his players, and bravo to much-maligned owner Mike Ashley. When everyone wanted to fire Pardew, Ashley backed his man. See more on that in the video below. In tough times at the start of a season, it’s easy to forget that Pardew led Newcastle to fifth place in 2011-12 and threatened to replicate that for much of last season before losing Yohan Cabaye and enduring a terrible finish.

With talented youngsters such as Ayoze Perez, Rolando Aarons and Sammy Ameobi coming into their own and the likes of Papiss Cisse returning to his best, good times are back on the agenda at St James’. Howay the lads!

USMNT UPDATE

Geoff Cameron was the main man for the Americans Abroad this weekend as the Bostonian, who has started the last few games in his preferred role in central midfield, played at right back against West Ham. Both of Stoke’s goals came from Cameron’s right flank with the former Houston star clipping in a looping ball which Victor Moses eventually finished off for the first. Even though Stoke coughed up a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 with the Hammers, Cameron made a well-timed run into the box late in the game and his despairing lunge at the ball saw him redirect a cross towards the corner, but West Ham ‘keeper Adrian tipped it wide. It’s great to see Cameron back to his best after a long spell out through injury.

Elsewhere, it was heartbreak once again for Brad Guzan as Aston Villa have now lost six on the spin. Villa were leading Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 until the 84th minute but a late equalizer and then Harry Kane’s heavily-deflected free kick left Guzan with no chance. Worrying times for the Villains. Tim Howard recorded another shutout, his … of the season, but Everton couldn’t get past Swansea at home. And Jozy Altidore came on as a substitute for Sunderland in their huge 3-1 win at Crystal Palace.

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