Premier League Playback

PL Playback: Man United too defensive?

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STUBBORN MOURINHO STRIKES AGAIN

Just when we thought Manchester United and Jose Mourinho had turned the corner, they put in a timid, defensive performance at Anfield in a dour 0-0 draw against Liverpool on Saturday.

Mourinho got exactly what he wanted but United should have gone for more.

[ MORE: Klopp questions United’s tactics ] 

On Sunday I had a quick chat with an ex-United defender who was part of their treble winning campaign in 1999 when Sir Alex Ferguson‘s men were at their swashbuckling best.

We discussed United’s defensive mindset at Anfield and he simply said: “did we expect any different from Jose Mourinho away from home against a rival?”

Great point.

[ MORE: Player ratings | Three things ] 

After United had won six games out of seven and scored 21 goals to open up the Premier League campaign, everyone had got wrapped up in their attacking brilliance and expected them to go at Liverpool for the win.

Look at Mourinho’s record since arriving at United against the other teams in the so-called “top six” away from home.


October 17, 2016: Liverpool (A) 0-0
October 23, 2016: Chelsea (A) 0-4 defeat
April 27, 2017: Man City (A) 0-0
May 7, 2017: Arsenal (A) 0-2 defeat
May 14, 2017: Tottenham (A) 1-2 defeat
October 14, 2017: Liverpool (A) 0-0


The above says it all. What else did we expect?

Since he take charge at the start of last season, Mourinho’s United have scored just one goal in their last six trips to the big boys. We can trace this defensive approach back to his time in charge of Chelsea and his mantra of beating the big boys at home and then holding them to draw away from home is still his approach.

Except, with Manchester City blowing teams away this season the points average United may need to win the title could see Mourinho’s overcautious approach away from Old Trafford come back to bite him.

That’s because he has the attacking talents to excel and if he had gone with Henrik Mkhitaryan instead of Ashley Young and Juan Mata instead of Ander Herrera from the start against Liverpool on Saturday, he could well have been rewarded for taking a risk and trying to exploit Liverpool’s defensive weakness.

United had one chance against Liverpool as Romelu Lukaku broke free in the box but hit his shot straight at Simon Mignolet. That was their only shot on target in 90 minutes and that is exactly what Mourinho was playing for. One chance to snatch a victory at Anfield as he limited any danger for his side.

They certainly did with Liverpool barely having a sniff either and this game was in fact in the bottom three of Opta’s new Expected Goals stat when it came to the quality of goalscoring chances created in games in the Premier League so far this season.

With Mourinho having one of the best goalkeepers in the world in David De Gea in the best form of his life, he can rely on him to save the best chance an opponent has in each game, just like he did with his stunning stop from Joel Matip.

Speaking after the game Jurgen Klopp said that Liverpool “could not play the way Manchester United played” under him and there is an element of truth to that.

“I’m sure if we played like this, you could not do this at Liverpool. Obviously for United it is OK,” Klopp said.

Under Rafael Benitez the Reds were often a stubborn defensive unit to break down and that certainly saw them win trophies and challenge for the Premier League title. Klopp’s high-pressing, attacking style has seen Liverpool entertained the masses, if not their own fans all the time, since he took charge two years ago but they have come no closer to winning the PL title and defensive issues continue to halt any progress they make.

But Mourinho, in true fashion, blamed Klopp for United’s defensive game plan not working.

“I was waiting for them to make an offensive change, to try more, to take out Can or Wijnaldum and bring on Sturridge or someone. Which I was waiting for. But he never did it,” Mourinho said of Klopp. “I think he’s very offensive, very offensive, very offensive, but 90 minutes in the same system, the same players, he didn’t try anything.”

Mourinho will never change and United’s fans will have to accept that in big games away from home they can expect plenty more defensive displays and reliance on a counter-attacking game.

That is just the way he is and a strong start to the Premier League season isn’t going to change it. Simple.


SHOCKS FOR LONDON CLUBS

Hands up for those of you who had Chelsea and Arsenal losing to Crystal Palace and Watford respectively heading into last weekend?

Liars.

Seriously, though, Chelsea’s defeat at Palace (who had yet to score a goal or grab a point before last weekend) was incredibly telling as to the squad Antonio Conte has as key injuries have ravaged the reigning champs.

With Alvaro Morata out, Victor Moses limping off during the game and N'Golo Kante out for the rest of the month, we are now beginning to realize just how lucky Chelsea were with injuries last season.

As for Arsenal, well, where do we start?

They were 1-0 up and cruising late on at Watford but when Mesut Ozil spurned a great chance to make it 2-0, Watford came to life.

Helped with the introduction of bullish striker Troy Deeney, Arsenal’s defense capitulated and were bullied as the Hornets grabbed victory.

Okay, Richarlison went down far too easily to win a penalty kick for the equalizer, but Tom Cleverley and Watford’s attackers just wanted it more than Arsenal’s defenders in stoppage time as he slammed home to send the Hornets fans wild.

Watford sit in Arsenal’s perennial perch of fourth place (well, until last season) and as things stand you could create a beliavable argument that they have a better chance of finishing there than Arsenal when the season ends.

The same frail defensive displays continue to haunt Arsene Wenger‘s men away from home — they have defeats at Liverpool, Stoke and now Watford in their opening four away games in the PL — and nothing has really changed.

“I have to watch what I say, but it’s [having] a bit of cojones, is what I’ll say. Whenever I play against Arsenal, I’ll go up and think, ‘Let me whack the first one and see who wants it.’ I came on today and jumped up with Mertesacker — I didn’t even have to jump, actually — I nodded it down, the crowd gets up, ‘Yeah, we’ve got somebody who can win it,’ and they all just backed off,” Deeney said.

“For me as a player, I just think, ‘Happy days.’ That’s my strength — if you’re going to let me do my strength against you, you’re going to have a tough afternoon.”

Both Arsenal and Chelsea are looking anything but title contenders right now with both teams nine points behind leaders Man City.

It is early in the season but this weekend proved just how far both Arsenal and Chelsea are from challenging for the title this season.


SWASHBUCKLING CITY

The main reason Chelsea, Arsenal and the rest of the Premier League has to be worried is because Man City are so damn good.

They destroyed Stoke City 7-2 at the weekend and Stoke didn’t play badly.

Missing Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany and Benjamin Mendy, Pep Guardiola‘s side were exquisite.

They’ve now scored 29 goals in their opening eight games of the season. The last top-flight team to score that many was Everton in 1894-95.

Kevin De Bruyne ran the show, once again, and Man City are now clear atop the table.

Judging by the mouthwatering offensive display you can watch below, it’s unclear if anyone is capable of stopping them.

Watch the highlights below. Trust me.

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

PL Playback: Opening Power Rankings

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Now seems like the perfect time for the first set of Premier League Power Rankings for the 2017-18 season, right?

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

With seven games gone and the two week international break upon us, it is time to focus on who has impressed and who has struggled in the opening months of the campaign.

So much has happened in August and September and now it is time to take stock.

[ MORE: PL standings | schedule

Here it goes.


#1 Manchester City: Imperious. Kevin De Bruyne is running the show. Even with Aguero, Mendy and Kompany out injured Pep’s men have found a way to blow opponents away with 22 goals scored. Marquee wins over Chelsea and Liverpool showcase the current mood of invincibility around them and they’ve also won both games in the Champions League. Guardiola has so many attacking options and Ederson has finally solved his problem in goal. The title favorites have delivered early on, once again. Now, can they keep it up?

#2 Manchester United: Jose Mourinho is building this thing his way. It’s working. Romelu Lukaku has seven goals in seven games and although Paul Pogba has gone down injured so many others are stepping up. Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata and even Marouane Fellaini are chipping in with goals and in true Mourinho fashion they look as solid as a rock at the back with Nemanja Matic shielding the defense. United have won both of their Champions League games too and Mourinho is exuding confidence with 21 goals in seven games.

#3 Burnley: What. A. Start. Sean Dyche’s men are unbeaten away from home and have won at Chelsea and Everton and drawn at Liverpool and Tottenham. Not bad, especially after selling two stars over the summer. The Clarets are establishing themselves as a true contender to finish in the top 10 and have flown under the radar all summer. No surprise there but with captain and star goalkeeper Tom Heaton out long-term, their positive away results are even more impressive.

#4 Watford: Marco Silva’s side are dynamic going forward and have a solid base to build from. Their counters catch out opponents and in Richarlison they’ve found a gem. Losing Nathaniel Chalobah is a blow but they have a deeper squad than in recent years. Silva’s reputation as one of the best young managers in the game is undoubted and the Portuguese coach has Watford’s fans dreaming of challenging for a Europa League spot. Why not?

#5 Tottenham Hotspur: Mauricio Pochettino’s side have put aside their Wembley woes (they still haven’t won at home in the PL) to win four times on the spin on the road to start the season. The last time that happened they won the league and cup double in 160-61. Just saying. Harry Kane scored 13 goals in eight games for club and country in September and is on fire. Spurs will challenge for the title again and they’ve also won their opening two Champions League games. Wembley aside, a fine start.

#6 Newcastle United: Rafael Benitez is working his magic at Newcastle. The Magpies are hard to beat and at home they can take on anyone. Joselu could be the man to score the goals they need to not only survive in the Premier League after promotion but also push for a top 10 finish. Some fans are dreaming of a challenge for Europe but that seems a little far-fetched. Still, the newly-promoted Magpies will be satisfied with their start.

#7 Arsenal: After a tough start with defeats at Stoke and Liverpool, Arsene Wenger has steadied the ship with four-straight clean sheets in the Premier League. Suddenly Arsenal look a much better defensive unit and Alexandre Lacazette is looking like a great buy up top. Alexis Sanchez is also starting to return to his best form which suggests the Gunners will be challenging for a top four spot, even though they have the rigors of the Europa League to overcome. We’ve been here before with Arsenal but they seem to be more robust than in recent campaigns.

#8 Chelsea: A real topsy-turvy start for the reigning champs. After a tumultuous summer due to the Diego Costa situation and Antonio Conte seemingly unhappy with a lack of transfers, they lost to Arsenal in the Community Shield and to Burnley in their PL opener. They followed that up by beating Tottenham away and put in impressive displays against Everton, Leicester and Stoke. Alvaro Morata has hit the ground running in the PL and Eden Hazard is back to his best but the defeat to Man City was a reality check. Still, two wins from two in Europe and a great win at Atletico Madrid shows what they’re truly capable of. Back-to-back titles seems like a big ask and there are still question marks over Conte’s long-term future.

#9 Huddersfield Town: Opening up the season with two wins was perfection for David Wagner and his side, and their fans, have captured the minds of the Premier League. A 4-0 hammering at home against Tottenham in their first real test showed them how ruthless the league can be but if they can press midtable teams throughout the season as they have in the early weeks then they will be just fine. The Terriers have kept four clean sheets in seven and will be tough to beat and if Steve Mounie and Laurent Depoitre can strike up a partnership then maybe they can push for more than just staying up in their debut PL campaign.

#10 Stoke City: The Potters have had a really solid, albeit slightly bizarre, start to the season. A win against Arsenal and draw against Manchester United at home proved they can mix it with the big boys but defeats at Everton and Newcastle in tight games proved they can still improve defensively although having Jack Butland back fit is a huge bonus. Defensive injuries have been hard to deal with for Mark Hughes’ men but new signings Jese Rodriguez and Eric Choupo-Moting have added something extra in attack.

#11 Brighton & Hove Albion: Chris Hughton’s men are pragmatic and likeable but you wonder where the goals will come from on a consistent basis. Pascal Gross and Anthony Knockaert are both talented playmakers but if Tomer Hemed goes down injured they are struggling big time. If they can make it to January above the relegation zone then surely owner Tony Bloom will make plenty of funds available for a new striker, or two. A very commendable start to their first-ever Premier League campaign with home wins against West Brom and Newcastle.

#12 Liverpool: Jurgen Klopp’s side are already seven points off the PL leaders and the same old defensive issues are hampering their progress. Philippe Coutinho is back scoring stunners and the pace of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah has been ripping teams apart without much reward. Two draws to open up Champions League play have been frustrating and despite dominating games missed chances have been costly. The standout display was the 4-0 hammering of Arsenal but that seems like a long time ago. Is the Klopp-effect wearing off?

#13 West Bromwich Albion: Tony Pulis’ men won their first two games of the season but haven’t won since. They were unlucky to lose away at Arsenal but threw away a two-goal lead in their most recent game at home against Watford. That’s incredibly unlike a Pulis side and you get the sense another big slump like the one they suffered in the second half of last season isn’t far off.

#14 Southampton: New season, same problem for Southampton. Mauricio Pellegrino’s side have dominated most of the games they’ve played in, even against Manchester United, but have scored just five goals in the first seven games of the season. Two of those were penalty kicks in the same game. Virgil Van Dijk is back on board but Saints feel a little bit like a team who has plenty of talent but are missing a ruthless streak. That’s incredibly dangerous and talk of a relegation battle is being whispered, perhaps incorrectly, by some fans.

#15 West Ham United: Slaven Bilic is under serious pressure despite the Hammers battling back in several games and grinding out two home wins. Javier Hernandez has, as expected, delivered goals, but it doesn’t seem like West Ham’s players are with the manager. Bilic’s contract runs out at the end of this season and he is unlikely to get a new deal. That’s creating all kinds of instability. The Hammers look set for another season in midtable, at best.

#16 Swansea City: The main problem for Paul Clement’s team is scoring goals. That’s what happens when you sell your two leading goalscorers from last season over the summer. Wilfried Bony has yet to get firing and Tammy Abraham is doing his best to chip in when he can. The Swans have ground out plenty of clean sheets on the road and surely their luck in front of goal will eventually change. The big problem for Clement is that they don’t look like scoring in most games.

#17 Bournemouth: Eddie Howe’s side lost five of their opening six games and naivety is creeping into their game once again. They led against Manchester City and Everton but ended up losing both games. The Cherries did seem more free-flowing in the final third against Leicester and should have won easily, so maybe things have finally clicked. A worrying start but whenever people have written them off over the past two seasons in the PL they always seem to have an answer. Now is the time for experienced campaigners Jermain Defoe and Asmir Begovic to step up.

#18 Leicester City: Plenty of people are worried about the Foxes, and rightly so. Craig Shakespeare’s side have had a tough start, schedule wise. They lost to Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool and then drew games at Huddersfield and Bournemouth which they should be winning. One win so far says it all and Shakespeare should perhaps start thinking about well and truly breaking up the title-winning team, apart from Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki. Leicester could be in a relegation battle.

#19 Everton: Awful. Dreadful. Disappointing. The Toffees are in real trouble and all because of one thing: their failure to replace Romelu Lukaku. The pressure is mounting on Ronald Koeman already after he brought in three No.10s in Wayne Rooney, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Davy Klaassen but failed to address his biggest need. Hammerings by Chelsea and Tottenham, plus at Atalanta in the Europa League, were amplified by a worrying home defeat to Burnley in the PL. The surprise package of the season so far. And not in a good way. They would be bottom of our rankings if it wasn’t for the record-breaking exploits of our next team…

#20 Crystal Palace: The worst start in top-flight history says it all. Seven defeats on the spin. Zero goals score. Frank De Boer fired after four games and Roy Hodgson hired to try and steady the ship. Well, the ship is taking on water at an alarming rate and the Eagles could soon be cut adrift. Christian Benteke’s injury hasn’t helped matters and the period between November to December will truly decide if they can save themselves. Terrible times at Selhurst Park but they are only five points from safety.

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

PL Playback: Who is the most complete striker?

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STYLISH STRIKERS

Tall ones. Small ones. Fast ones. Strong ones. Everywhere you look in the Premier League there are different types of strikers ripping it up.

Romelu Lukaku has six goals in six games. So does Alvaro Morata for Chelsea and Sergio Aguero for Manchester City. Harry Kane has six goals in his last four games for Tottenham in all competitions. All four are battling it out for the golden boot, something Kane has won two seasons on the spin.

The sheer variety of world-class strikers now on show week in, week out in the Premier League is sumptuous. It’s as diverse a finishing school as you’ll ever see.

Morata took most of the headlines in Week 6 and rightly so as he scored a hat trick at Stoke City in Chelsea’s 4-0 win. The Spaniard, 24, has taken a little while to adapt to life in England but he is showing that with elegance and quickness of thought he can be just as destructive as Diego Costa who finally departed for Atletico Madrid last week.

Yet it is Harry Kane who oozes class in everything he does.

In Tottenham’s derby win at West Ham on Saturday he scored twice in the first half, linked play up and hit both posts in the second half. That performance left Kane’s manager, Mauricio Pochettino, professing his love for Kane at the London Stadium.

“For me Harry Kane is one of the best strikers in the world. It is too hard to find the word to describe him. In the last three seasons I am telling you how he is. I am in love, like the fans are in love, like the teammates are in love, not only because he scores goals,” Pochettino explained. “He is professional, humble and he is a very good example in football today that is a big business. He keeps all the values that managers like me appreciate a lot. That is why I say to you I am in love with him for many different reasons.”

Yes, the “I’m in love” part of Poch’s response will get the biggest play but the second part, for me, is the most important. Kane does everything well. He holds the ball up, he battles for every ball, he finds others with crisp passes and he leads from the front with his incessant work rate.

Morata is majestic, a finely tuned ballerina who can turn and accelerate in the blink of an eye before dinking a whirling-dervish of a finish home just like he did for his second goal on Saturday. Lukaku can power past defenders and his persistence saw him grab the winner, at the second attempt, in a gritty United display at Southampton on Saturday. And Aguero is always on hand to snap up the final ball of a flowing City move with his darting, speedy runs.

But Kane, well, Kane has all of that and more. He is the most complete striker in a Premier League which has a vast array of world-class strikers who all score goals in different ways. We haven’t even mentioned Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexis Sanchez, Javier Hernandez or Sadio Mane in terms of their goal-getting ability.

Kane was announced as a nominee for the FIFPro World 11 (only Lukaku of the three aforementioned strikers joined him) last week and the Englishman once again proved why he is considered not only one of the best strikers in the Premier League, but also one of the best on the planet.


LIVERPOOL WILL NOT CHANGE UNDER KLOPP

Life is never dull under Jurgen Klopp. Ever.

Since he took charge of Liverpool in October 2015, no PL club has been involved in more games which have seen five or more goals scored. On 17 occasions Liverpool fans have seen five goals scored in games involving their team and, most worryingly, all too often they’ve been against them.

[ MORE: Joel Matip speaks to Pro Soccer Talk ]

Liverpool’s 3-2 win at Leicester City on Saturday summed up everything which should concern the Reds.

They led 2-0 early on and looked to be on their way to a routine win. Then, right on half time, came a mistake from goalkeeper Simon Mignolet to make it 2-1. At 3-2 he then gave away a penalty kick but saved it as the maddening world of watching Liverpool was encapsulated in a nutshell.

Last week I sat down with Liverpool’s center back Joel Matip who told me why he believes the Reds should not change the way they play.

“Both parts only work together. I cannot stand at the back and our attackers go forward and there is so much big space. We all have to fit together. It is not always easy but this is our way of play but I think that is a good way of playing,” Matip said. “Everything has its positive and negative sides but I have no doubt about our way of playing.”

Plenty of Liverpool’s fans, pundits and neutrals doubt their defensive solidity and even though it is fun to watch Liverpool rip open opposition defenses with Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho, their inability to defend simple set pieces situations will cost them any chance of challenging for major trophies.

Klopp’s style of play is only one part of this. Simply put: he has to invest in better defenders and goalkeepers if his time at Liverpool is to be considered a success.

If he doesn’t do that the German coach will soon come under pressure from some fans even though his team entertains and delivers plenty of drama. Liverpool had enough drama under Brendan Rodgers. The majority of the fanbase want silverware and Klopp’s current defensive unit will cost them that.


RELEGATION DARK HORSES

Crystal Palace is in a dark, dark place heading into Week 7 with no points and no goals to their name so far this season. Roy Hodgson knows he has a big task to turn the Eagles around but perhaps he feels like it is doable as plenty of perennial midtable teams look like they will struggle this season.

Newly-promoted teams Newcastle United, Brighton and Huddersfield have had very good starts and all three have won at least twice in their opening six games but that bubble could burst soon and its very rare that the three new boys all survive or at least push away from the drop zone in their debut campaign in the PL.

Add to that the likes of Bournemouth, Stoke City, Swansea City and West Ham United all looking a bit of a mess right now and there are plenty of early-season contenders for those three relegation spots.

Bournemouth have lost five of their opening six games and the worrying thing for Eddie Howe‘s side is that they don’t seem to be learning from their mistakes. They led against Manchester City but lost 2-1. They led against Everton but lost 2-1. With more experienced campaigners on board this season you’d expected less naivety from the Cherries. Their next four games are against Leicester City, Tottenham Stoke and Chelsea. All of a sudden the man with seemingly the safest job in the PL could be under serious pressure.

Stoke have been hit, very hard, by injuries, especially in defense as Geoff Cameron, Ryan Shawcross and Kevin Wimmer were all out for the 4-0 hammering to Chelsea at the weekend and then Bruno Martins Indi was injured late on. Mark Hughes‘ men have one win from their first six games and even though they are usually slow starters, recent displays have been worrying.

Swansea are struggling to put away chances as Paul Clement‘s men have lost all three games at home so far and Watford won late at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday after the Swans dragged themselves back into the game. Like Stoke it is perhaps a little too early to worry but Clement will be far from impressed with the start.

West Ham United are in a real mess and their creaky defense looks like shipping goals galore. Slaven Bilic‘s situation is unsettling the entire club with the Croatian only contracted until the end of the current season and his players appear to have plenty of fight and spirit to drag themselves back into games late on, yet whether or not they’re fighting for themselves or Bilic remains to be seen. With four points from their opening six games the Hammers are in trouble.

With the PL’s top six, plus Everton, spending big and seeming to be head and shoulders above the rest, the scramble to stay out of the bottom three may be the best (or most nerve-wracking, depending on who you support) in recent memory. If Crystal Palace can somehow recover from the worst start in league history they will drag a heck of a lot of teams into the relegation mire.


CHICHARITO MISUSED?

After West Ham’s spirited, yet deeply flawed, 3-2 defeat against Tottenham in a big London derby on Saturday, I asked Hammers boss Slaven Bilic if getting the best out of Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez in the right areas was a big challenge.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned from Spurs v West Ham ]

His answers was just as confusing as why Chicharito isn’t been played in his natural position.

“I spoke to him after West Brom game and today he started as a center forward and then he had to change the position because we wanted to stay in the same system as it was working well. Even then, he was in good areas so you can’t say he was out wide,” Bilic explained. “Against top teams everyone has to defend and he was in a position where he would have been if we were playing two strikers. When we were attacking he was not playing on the wing, he was a striker. It’s not very easy to play with him, Andy, Antonio and Arnautovic and play with three center backs.”

Hernandez headed home to make it 3-1 with 25 minutes to go and had another chance to make it 3-2 which was well saved by Hugo Lloris but he was unable to impact the game from wide positions as Mexico’s all-time leading goalscorer cut a frustrated figure at the final whistle.

He was involved in a large scuffle near the end of the game and he carried on his spat with Fernando Llorente after the final whistle too. Bilic has to find a way of playing Chicharito in his best position, which is through the middle, because early on it was working very well for the Hammers.

It is easy to see why Hernandez is frustrated. After three goals in six games he is still being shunted out wide by Bilic and when Michail Antonio was injured early in the loss to Spurs, Andy Carroll came off the bench to take his central role and Hernandez was told to play out on the right.

With Andre Ayew on the bench, did it not make more sense to put him out wide and leave Hernandez up top to stick to the same game plan which had actually caused Spurs plenty of problems?

That’s what Hernandez will be asking himself and it would be legitimate for Hammers fans to ask themselves exactly why they signed the former Manchester United striker if he’s going to be played out wide.


USMNT UPDATE

DeAndre Yedlin was at the center of controversy in Newcastle United’s 1-0 defeat at Brighton on Sunday.

The right back was involved in a coming together with Tomer Hemed and the big Israeli striker, who scored the winner for Brighton, appeared to stamp on Yedlin’s calf as the former Seattle Sounders star led on the ground. The FA is said to be reviewing the images and could hand Hemed a ban for his stamp. It certainly looked deliberate as Yedlin had a tough afternoon trying to lock down Solly March on Brighton’s left flank.

In other USMNT news both Geoff Cameron and Danny Williams are out injured. Cameron remains missing with a hamstring injury he suffered against Manchester United two weeks ago, while Williams has suffered an injury to his foot.

Pro Soccer Talk understand Williams has not broken a small bone in his foot, as his manager David Wagner first feared, but he is still expected to be out for two to three weeks. That is incredibly frustrating as the German-American had just worked his way into the starting lineup and played well in the Terriers’ 1-1 draw against Leicester City and many were calling for him to be recalled for the USMNT for the key 2018 World Cup qualifiers next month.

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

PL Playback: Koeman, Everton under pressure

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PRESSURE BUILDS ON KOEMAN

With four defeats in a row, 12 goals conceded and zero scored, it is safe to say Everton boss Ronald Koeman will have a few sleepless nights coming up.

[ MORE – Lukaku: “Celebration was banter” ]

The pressure is mounting on the Toffees boss as his project at Everton is on the verge of imploding with four points from their first five games of the season.

[ RECAPS: All 10 PL games in Week 5 ]

It is true that Everton were handed a tough start to the campaign with Manchester City, Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester United all in the opening five games but their 3-0 hammering at the hands of Atalanta in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday was an embarrassment and they followed that up with another inept display in the 4-0 defeat at Manchester United on Sunday.

It is too early to pull a “Crystal Palace panic™” but the pressure is mounting on Everton’s Dutch coach as they have four games on the spin at Goodison Park to turn things around.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Koeman is not a shrinking violent and is not backwards in coming forward. His dream of one day managing Barcelona likely hinges on Everton at least challenging for the top four each season.

Although he admitted the display was better at United on Sunday compared to a hammering at Atalanta, he appeared to pin the blame on his players after previously saying he has to look at himself.

“It’s really difficult, as a manager you try to help and support them – but when the whistle starts it’s all about them. We started too afraid,” Koeman explained. “We have four home games in different competitions and we need to win, otherwise we’ll have problems.”

The pressure is already showing as Koeman also hit out at Jose Mourinho’s programme notes on Sunday where he stated Everton should aim “at least” for a top four finish.

“Is there anybody who sees this as realistic for Everton? Please, come on. Fans, press – we need time,” Koeman said.

Not what Everton’s fans wanted to hear, plus Koeman was asked what was achievable this season: “The same as last season” was his answer.

Koeman has spent close to $200 million on new players this summer but ignored the glaring issue starring at him in the face: replacing Romelu Lukaku and his 25 goals after he left for $96.5 million.

After failing to take a glorious chance in the first half, Lukaku scored the third and celebrated in front of the Everton fans as he cupped his ear to beckon their abuse. Everton’s fans will have given him what he wanted but their insults will feel hollow in the absence of any kind of real replacement for the Belgian striker.

Lukaku also set up Henrikh Mkhitaryan‘s second goal and his overall presence is badly missed at the Toffees as they resemble a rudderless ship.

After piling all his hopes on attacking midfielders Wayne Rooney, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Davy Klaassen delivering the goals, they have two between them, via Rooney, in the opening five games of the season with their new striker Sandro Ramirez seeming out of his depth and not much expected from Croatian youngster Nikola Vlasic.

Youngster Dominic Calvert-Lewin seems like their best hope but what he adds in pace he lacks in hold-up play and nous around the box. Everton have no goalscorer to lead their line and it seems to be impacting their entire team.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Everton’s issues aren’t just in attack as their defense has looked tired with Phil Jagielka, Ashley Williams and Leighton Baines all the wrong side of 30. Koeman’s inability to have a real playing identity despite being in charge of the Toffees for over 15 months is also worrying.

Last season they flirted with a top four finish but Lukaku’s goals against weaker opponents papered over the cracks.

Coming up they have Bournemouth, Burnley and Brighton in the Premier League and if they take all nine points in those games the poor start against esteemed opponents will be written off. If they fail to win at least two of the next three games then the pressure will be well and truly on Koeman.

How they respond to these horrendous displays, and defeats, to start to the season will define Koeman’s reign.

To top all this off, Everton’s new sleeve sponsorship deal was announced on Sunday and it somewhat sums up the current mood at Goodison.

Everyone from Koeman, to the fans and the players are quite angry. See what I did there…

The fact that Everton’s fierce Merseyside rivals are famous for their “Liver Bird” badge, well, that’s just an ironic double whammy which kicks Everton while they’re down.


STATS OF THE WEEKEND

  • Man United’s late dominance continues with the Red Devils now scoring nine of their 16 PL goals this season in the 80th minute or later in games. Leading Everton 1-0, they scored three times late on Sunday to set up another 4-0 demolition
  • Crystal Palace have set a new all-time top-flight record as they lost 1-0 against Southampton. The Eagles, who now have Roy Hodgson in charge after firing Frank De Boer after four games, have lost all five PL games to open the season and haven’t scored a goal. It’s official. Worst. Start. Ever.
  • After his treble at Watford, Man City’s Sergio Aguero has now scored six hat tricks in the Premier League (10 for Man City in all competitions) and only Alan Shearer (10), Robbie Fowler (9), Thierry Henry and Michael Owen (8) have scored more.

OFFSIDE CALLS OPEN UP VAR DEBATE

A number of Premier League goals were either scored or denied by tight offside calls this weekend.

And that, once again, throws up the question of whether or not Video Assistant Referees (VARs) should be introduced in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

I know, I know “why the heck are you opening up this debate again?” is probably your response, but it is a debate worth having as other leagues around Europe continue to use VAR for key decisions.

This weekend AC Milan’s Nikola Kalinic was denied a hat trick when his third goal was reviewed by VAR and disallowed in less than a minute. Yet the ugly side of VAR reared its head in Borussia Dortmund’s win against FC Cologne too. The fact that the PL appears to be sitting back and analyzing all of the issues elsewhere surrounding VAR is a good thing.

With the Confederations Cup VAR debacle fresh in our mind, it is easy to forgot its positive impacts and the truth is an offside call leading to a goal being awarded or chalked off can be decided in less than a minute.

Being offside is the most cut and dry rule in the game but remains one of the most complex.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Manchester City should have had two goals chalked off against Watford, both at critical moments, but they didn’t. Watford fans were incessant, despite a 6-0 mauling at the hands of City, that the rules were not enforced correctly.

Huddersfield Town also felt correctly aggrieved as Elias Kachunga‘s goal, which could have been the winner against Leicester City, was disallowed incorrectly for offside. With a quick video replay it would’ve been correctly allowed and Huddersfield’s German-American boss David Wagner was less than pleased with the decision.

“This was obvious and should not happen and was not difficult to see. I am disappointed because I think we deserved the second goal,” Wagner said. “We have to accept that we only have one point but we were able to get more. We accept the point even if it doesn’t feel good because we scored the second goal which unfortunately didn’t count.”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Skhodran Mustafi’s header was correctly disallowed for offside for Arsenal at Chelsea, with the German international probably still celebrating somewhere after an unfortunate incident saw an Arsenal fan join him on the pitch to celebrate what they thought was a winner late on.

Joking aside it seems like a good time for the VAR debate to be reopened, especially with offside calls much easier to clean up than penalty decisions or red card incidents.


USMNT WATCH: YEDLIN, WILLIAMS STAKE CLAIM

With Stoke City mainstay Geoff Cameron out injured this weekend, it was down to DeAndre Yedlin and Danny Williams to step up and represent the U.S. national team in style.

[ MORE: Premier League stats

The duo did that in style as they both made their first starts of the Premier League season with Yedlin playing the full 90 in Newcastle’s 2-1 win against Stoke and Williams twice going close from midfield as he played the entirety of Huddersfield’s 1-1 draw against Leicester City.

Yedlin is a certainty to be called up by Bruce Arena for next months two key 2018 World Cup qualifiers against Panama and Trinidad and Tobago but Williams’ fate appears less clear.

Williams, 28, hasn’t been called up to the U.S. national team since May 2016 but given his impressive displays for Reading as they reached the Championship playoff final last season but lost to Huddersfield at Wembley, then his move to the Terriers where he has impressed David Wagner, surely Williams will be battling for one of the central midfield spots in the next roster.

With Michael Bradley a mainstay, the likes of Kellyn Acosta, Dax McCarty and Alejandro Bedoya are the other central midfield options but Williams provides the power, pace and energy that the U.S. missed in their qualifiers last month. For as many critics as Jermaine Jones has, his ability to get around the pitch offers some value to the USMNT midfield and Williams can provide a refined version of Jones’ industrious displays.

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

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

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MANE RED MASKS LIVERPOOL ISSUES

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.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

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.

[ MORE: Klopp vs. Guardiola antithesis

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.”

[ LIVE: Stream Premier League live

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.”


DE BOER UNLUCKY

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.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

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.


DE BRUYNE OTHER-WORLDLY

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.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

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.”


USMNT UPDATE: CAMERON OUT; EPB ON THE WAY?

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.


INTRIGUING GOLDEN-BOOT RACE

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.

[ MORE: Premier League stats

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