Cesare Abbate/ANSA Via AP

UCL wrap: Napoli, Celtic win big; Nwakaeme volleys beauty (video)

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A day after three of five road sides felt good with their work in first legs of the UEFA Champions League playoff round, it was the hosts time to celebrate good results.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s UCL first legs ]

Home sides in Italy, Scotland, Greece, and Israel posted wins. Spanish side Sevilla did manage a road win.

Napoli 2-0 Nice

Chances and even possession was at a premium for the visitors, and Napoli found its breakthrough from one of the more overlooked gems in the world. Dries Mertens scored in the first half, his sixth career UCL goal, and Jorginho converted a second half penalty to give Napoli a foot in the group stage.

Adding insult was a pair of red cards in the 80th minute, the first to Vincent Koziello for a dangerous tackle (it was a harsh call) and Alassane Plea was given a second yellow for protesting the sending off.

Mertens’ goal was smooth as silk:

Celtic 5-0 Astana

A pair of Scott Sinclair goals joined an Astana own goal as the Bhoys went a long way towards avoiding the tight tie that made the last round tricky.

Olympiacos 2-1 Rijeka

Heber gave the visitors a halftime lead in the 42nd minute, but Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe equalized in the 66th minute to minimize the damage for Olympiacos, who would go on to win.

Istanbul Basaksehir 1-2 Sevilla

Remember Eljero Elia? The Dutchman’s on his eighth club and third since leaving Southampton after just a half season, but he’s given his Turkish side hope against mighty Sevilla after Sergio Escudero gave the Spanish side an early lead and Wissam Ben Yedder nabbed the winner.

Hapoel Be’er Sheva 2-1 Maribor

Goals from Anthony Nwakaeme and Shir Tzedek boosted the Israeli hosts to a come-from-behind win.

In the case of the former, it was a beauty:

Brighton breaks transfer record (again) with Izquierdo (video)

Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
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Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Brighton and Hove Albion have broken its transfer record.

A week after setting a new club standard with the signing of Davy Propper from PSV Eindhoven, the Gulls have signed electric Colombian attacker Jose Izquierdo from Club Brugge for over $15 million.

[ MORE: Matuidi medical at Juve ]

Izquierdo averaged a goal every other match for Brugge last season and broke through to the Colombian national team with two caps this summer, scoring in a friendly against Cameroon.

With Propper and Izquierdo, manager Chris Hughton has two more playmakers who can better set the table for a strike corps that has been questioned at the Premier League level.

Brighton lost to Man City 2-0 on Saturday and next faces Leicester City at King Power Stadium.

Premier League Playback: Ranking new stars

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NEW STRIKERS FLOURISH

With 31 goals across the 10 opening games of the season (see all the action in the video above) it was utter madness out there for most of the opening weekend with late comebacks, contentious calls, new stars emerging and much more.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

A late 4-3 win for Arsenal against Leicester was followed up by a dramatic 3-3 draw for Liverpool at Watford, then Burnley stunned reigning PL champions Chelsea 3-2 before Manchester United hammered the Hammers 4-0.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]  

For many this was the first chance to see new strikers in action and with defending optional for most of the PL, here’s a look at how the new goal-getters looked on debut for their new teams.

Romelu Lukaku – Two goals and a powerful display against West Ham, Lukaku looks every part at Manchester United player. Expect him to score over 25 goals this season with plentiful, and quality, service from all areas. As close to a perfect debut as it gets. 9/10

Alvaro Morata – Came on and helped swing the game back in nine-man Chelsea’s favor with a goal and an assist in the shock defeat to Burnley. His fitness issues continue but surely he will start against Tottenham this weekend. 8/10 

Alexandre Lacazette – Sharp, clinical and pivotal against Leicester with a goal 94 seconds into his PL debut, then involved in Welbeck’s goal and his shot led to the corner from which Olivier Giroud scored the winner. A proper poacher who will score 20 goals. 8/10

Wayne Rooney – Who is writing this script? Rooney scored the only goal of the game against Stoke City right on half time with a wonderful header after he helped set up the move, then timed his run to perfection. Looks lean, hungry and determined. 8/10

Steve Mounie – The Frenchman is Huddersfield’s record signing and has started to pay back that $14.9 million with two goals on his PL debut. Mounie, 22, dominated in the air for his first then hammered home a second and should have had another on the break. A beast, his role model is Didier Drogba, and he reminded many of the legendary forward. 9/10


CONTENTIOUS CALLS GALORE

Ah, it wouldn’t be the return of the Premier League without contentious calls and we had plenty of them.

Ozil handball before Arsenal equalizer – Let’s start on Friday night at the Emirates Stadium. Should there have been a handball in the build up to Arsenal’s equalizer in the 83rd minute? The answer is yes. Mesut Ozil clearly handled a long ball forward before his cross was cleared from a corner. That corner was half cleared but then Arsenal made it 3-3 via Aaron Ramsey. Leicester can feel aggrieved but the decision didn’t directly lead to a goal.

Britos offside for Watford’s equalizer – When you look at the goal Watford scored to make it 3-3 in stoppage time and deny Liverpool an opening day win, there are so many avoidable things for Jurgen Klopp‘s side. Sure, they should have cleared the ball via Georginio Wijnaldum at the near post but the way they were defending all game it was no shock they didn’t. Still, when Richarlison flicked the ball goalwards, even though the ball takes a flick off Joel Matip’s leg, Britos was in an offside position and interfering with Simon Mignolet, so the goal should have been called offside. It wasn’t and it cost Liverpool two points.

Gary Cahill red card for Chelsea – This is exactly what Antonio Conte needed 13 minutes into the PL season… Chelsea’s captain overran the ball into midfield and lunged into the tackle with his studs up. The referee was right on the spot and Craig Pawson didn’t hesitate in producing a red card. In hindsight, it was probably the right call but if he had been booked, there would have been few complaints. Cahill’s raised leg made it look worse but there was minimal contact even if the intent was there. This falls into the category of ‘if there was a sin-bin in soccer, he would have got a five-minute penalty’ or something like that. Chelsea slightly unlikely.

Jonjo Shelvey‘s red card/Harry Kane‘s tackle – There is no debate about Jonjo Shelvey’s stupid red card for Newcastle as he fell for Dele Alli‘s trap. His stamp on Alli’s ankle after the Spurs youngster had flicked the ball away following a tackle was right under the nose of the referee and excusable. It cost his team. No debate. As for Harry Kane, the Spurs forward was lucky to not be sent off for a lunging tackle on Florian Lejeune. It was maybe an “orange card” than a straight red, but Kane did something similar in preseason when Spurs lost 3-2 to AS Roma at Red Bull Arena. Perhaps Kane’s golden boy image saved him in this instance but he will have to watch his tackles in future. After all, as good as forwards are we all know they are paid of members of the Paul Scholes‘ school of tackling…

Handball calls for Southampton – Anybody who watched Southampton’s 0-0 draw against Swansea on Saturday will still be scratching their heads as to how Mauricio Pellegrino‘s men didn’t win. Saints had 29 shots to Swansea’s three and 13 corners to Swansea’s zero but couldn’t break through. They should have had two penalty kicks with Dusan Tadic scythed down by Federico Fernandez in the first half then Jack Stephens‘ shot clearly handled by Kyle Bartley in the second half. Saints can consider themselves very, very unlucky.


WANTAWAY STARS

There were plenty of stars on show this weekend across the Premier League, but plenty of big names were missing too.

Diego Costa, Philippe Coutinho, Alexis Sanchez, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Ross Barkley and Virgil Van Dijk didn’t feature and all six are at different stages when it comes to fitness, whether they can leave their respective clubs and if they’ve handed in a transfer request.

Liverpool were handed a huge blow on the eve of the season when Coutinho, 25, handed in a transfer request, via email, to the club. With Barcelona reportedly having a $114 million bid turned down by Liverpool the Brazilian playmaker did not feature in the 3-3 draw at Watford and hasn’t traveled with the squad for their UEFA Champions League playoff first leg against Hoffenheim on Tuesday. Coutinho’s back injury is being ridiculed by many but it appears he is now forcing through a move to the Nou Camp and after releasing a statement on Friday which said he would not be sold, Liverpool’s owners Fenway Sports Group may now have to accept the fact that they will have to let him leave. Jurgen Klopp is not a happy man with Barca set to splash some more of that Neymar cash.

[ MORE: Main takeaways from Costa’s incredible rant ]

Diego Costa’s situation has become even more intriguing with an explosive interview he gave to the Daily Mail as he said Antonio Conte has “no charisma” and that he will continue to stay in Brazil and be fined by Chelsea until he gets his move to Atletico Madrid. Chelsea badly missed Costa in their shock defeat to Burnley and although things aren’t quite unraveling for Conte’s reigning champions, they are getting out of hand quickly and Costa’s situation is a big reason behind it.

Van Dijk’s situation is no different. Southampton say he isn’t for sale even after his transfer request and the defensive struggles of Chelsea and Liverpool over the weekend likely added more zeros to his transfer value. He has been out injured since January and has suffered a virus so missed training at the end of last week, while he has yet to play a game in preseason despite being fully fit. Saints being taken over by Chinese investors may change this situation drastically.

As for Alexis Sanchez, he has an “abdominal injury” and is out of Arsenal’s clash at Stoke City this weekend. The Chilean star watched on pensively as Arsenal beat Leicester 4-3 but the skeptics out there, once again, are questioning the validity of Sanchez’s ailment considering the end of the transfer window is in less than two weeks.

Ross Barkley, 23, has returned to training at Everton after injury but with one year left on his contract he has told them he wants to leave but no acceptable bids have arrived for the England international. The Toffees will likely sell before Aug. 31 but Barkley’s options look like Tottenham, or, Tottenham.

And finally, Sigurdsson’s situation is the must cut and dry: Everton and Swansea are haggling over his price but the Icelandic playmaker hasn’t played in over a month and didn’t play for the Swans at the weekend.

The contract situations regarding most of these stars opens up an intriguing debate: should the transfer window close the day before the Premier League season starts?

Of course, it’s more complicated than that. Leagues in Spain, Italy and Germany start later than the PL, so unless everyone agrees on, say, August 1 or August 15, then it won’t happen. Getting multiple leagues to agree to that isn’t easy but fans not being able to see some of the biggest stars in action at the start of the season is far from ideal.


PLonNBC ON LOCATION

The entire Premier League on NBC family were together for opening weekend with the U.S. based crew in the UK for Arsenal vs. Leicester on Friday, Brighton vs. Man City on Saturday and then Man United vs. West Ham on Sunday.

With pitch-side studios at each game, plus a full studio and gantry position up in the stands, the crew had plenty of fun as the goals poured in during opening weekend.

Click on the video above to see some of the outtakes from a big weekend.


MIXED OPENING DAY FOR NEW BOYS

It’s safe to say Huddersfield Town had the better opening weekend out of the three newly-promoted teams, but at the same time they also have by far the easiest task.

Still, the Premier League table will have been a sweet sight for  Terriers fans on Saturday night as they sat top of the pile following a 3-0 win at Crystal Palace.

David Wagner‘s side have momentum from winning the playoffs and that usually puts a team in good spirits heading into the opening game of their PL campaign. See: Hull City last season (they beat Leicester City on the opening day) and the likes of Blackpool (who beat Wigan 4-0 in 2010).

Still, there is plenty of hard work for all three to get through and both Brighton and Newcastle know that after losing 2-0 at home to Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur respectively.

Both Brighton and Newcastle need to strengthen in the final weeks of the window, but both are set up for life in the PL with incredible facilities off the pitch and in Newcastle’s case one of the largest fanbases in the league.

[ MORE: Brighton ready to write new chapter in the top-flight ]

For Brighton, their first-ever game in the Premier League was a huge celebration (one I attended and you can read more about by clicking above) and Chris Hughton told Pro Soccer Talk after the game that he learned his team can hang in there with the big boys.

“This is our first Premier League game and we were playing against the team that some think might win the league. What I have learned today is we gave a really good account of ourselves against arguably one of the best teams,” Hughton said. “That’s what I have learned and that is the positive.”

Brighton certainly dug deep to defend and for the opening 70 minutes it looked like they could grab a big opening day point against one of the favorites to win the Premier League. It was a similar situation for Newcastle who frustrated Tottenham but then Jonjo Shelvey’s stupid stamp on Dele Alli reduced them to 10-men and it was game over.

Hot take after Week 1: All three new boys will struggle this season but Newcastle will survive.


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

MLS Snapshot: Shield, Cup favorites TFC torch Timbers, 4-1

Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
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The game in 100 words (or less): Very rarely is a team in MLS capable of running away from the rest of the field — it’s a league designed to create parity, after all — but this Toronto FC side looks as if they intend to smash that very ideal. Greg Vanney’s side thrashed the Portland Timbers, 4-1, on Saturday to go six points clear (for the time being) in the Supporters’ Shield race and announce themselves as favorites for MLS Cup 2017, yet again. Sebastian Giovinco tallied only an assist on the day, while Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley neither scored nor assisted themselves, yet TFC put four (of six shots on target) into the back of the net and extended their unbeaten run to six games. Going back even further, TFC have only lost twice in their last 18 games.

[ MORE: Assessing the top moves of the MLS summer transfer ]

Three moments that mattered

58′ — Morrow beats Attinella near post for 1-0 — Alvas Powell has had… well, a rough season, to say the least. To be fair to Powell, though, he’s far from the only one struggling along that backline.

72′ — Vazquez turns home a cross for 2-0 — When TFC are on, they make it look really, really easy.

76′ — Morrow plays the poacher, makes it 3-0 — As I said about other Portland defenders struggling…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Justin Morrow

Goalscorers: Morrow (58′, 76′), Vazquez (72′), Delgado (87′), Valeri (89′)

Brighton eager to write new chapter in the big time

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BRIGHTON — They’re here and they believe it’s where they belong.

For nearly two centuries Brighton has been known as a popular seaside town for vacations. But for at least the next nine months it will be known as the newest destination for the Premier League.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

On Saturday Brighton & Hove Albion celebrated their first PL game in club history and for locals of the city on England’s south coast it was tough to sum up how far they’ve come after being on the brink of extinction in 1997.

“The actual day and the atmosphere has been absolutely fantastic. It is absolutely huge for Brighton. I’ve lived here a long, long time and to be here, in the stadium, it is hard to put it into words,” said Brighton fan Ross Perrett with a smile on his face. “It is where we should be. Let’s just hope we can stay up. I’m sure we can.”

Brighton held their own in their first game in England’s top-flight since 1983. They were dominated by Manchester City, the favorites for the PL title this season, and succumbed to a Sergio Aguero strike after a small defensive mistake and an own goal. Life is tough at the top.

The Seagulls’ dream to become an established PL side is still a long way away from bring realized but with a savvy manager in Chris Hughton, plus being backed by owner Tony Bloom who made their impressive American Express Community Stadium dream real, they have everything necessary to emulate the likes of Southampton, Swansea City and Bournemouth before them.

On a sun-soaked day down by the English Channel, most of the 30,000 fans in the stadium thought back to the last time Brighton were promoted to the top-flight of English soccer in 1979 where they remained for just four years.

“It has been amazing, I go back to when we last got promoted,” lifelong Brighton fan Derrick George said. “It is different now with social media and everything else. It is massive compared to what is was then, but the one thing that isn’t different is the culture shock when you see the quality of the opposition.”

Man City provided Brighton with a rude awakening to life in the top-flight but there are plenty of signs they can beat the drop in their debut season. Hughton’s men were organized and resolute in the first half and went close twice in the second half through goalmouth scrambles after set pieces.

Despite the defeat, the day was one to cherish as manager Hughton pointed to afterwards.

“I thought they [the fans] were exceptional but they have been in my time here, but I think today was very much a club day,” Hughton said. “This club has a history and a very difficult history in recent years. There are an awful lot of supporters here who weren’t able to come a good few years ago because of where this club was playing. It was very much a club day but that’s then, now it’s about making sure we dust ourselves down and get some results that we will need.”

Pubs around the city center were packed by lunchtime on Saturday with banners stating their Premier League arrival prevalent. This city on England’s south coast was ready for the big time.

Around the city the usual tourists had arrived with London Victoria and London Bridge train stations just an hour away, but Manchester City fans were plentiful and everywhere you looked there was a reminder of how big of a day this was.

In a cosmopolitan city which welcomes anyone — think Williamsburg in Brooklyn, but an hour away from New York City and on the coast — Brighton will have the eyes of the world watching their team.

20 years ago Brighton were on the brink of extinction and facing relegation from England’s fourth-tier on the final day of the season. Late heroics meant they were saved, for at least a few months, but today will have seemed like a dream for their long-suffering fans.

Forced to relocate to Gillingham, over 70 miles away, to play home games after their Goldstone Ground home was sold off to property developers, they eventually returned to Brighton to play in a converted athletics stadium, the Whitdean Stadium, which had temporary bleachers, a running track around the outside and a long-jump pit behind one of the goals. For years they struggled in the lower leagues sponsored by the record label of  one of Brighton’s favorite sons, Norman Cook, AKA Fatboy Slim, as they battled and scrapped to no return to the abyss.

Eventually Bloom took over and helped bankroll the deal for their incredible Amex home and Brighton will now be at the top of the list for every away PL fan to visit this season.

When Bruno Saltor led the Seagulls out on Saturday with “Sussex by the Sea” blaring out over the loudspeakers, it will have made every Brighton fan pinch themselves.

They’ve come close to promotion in recent seasons, missing out in the agony of the playoffs, plus also had deep cup runs, but Saturday proved that this is a city ready for the big time and they are no strangers to visitors from around the world each and every day.

From its quaint cobbled streets housing vegan eateries and old pubs, to its seafront delights and comfortable climate (for England, anyway) Brighton is already up there with the coolest cities to have a Premier League team and the city is regularly voted the “hippest” and “happiest” place in the UK.

Despite the result fans of the Seagulls were still a happy bunch.

Lifelong Brighton supporters marveled at the extra hustle and bustle about the seaside town as the TV cameras rolled into town from across the globe (including our full crew on their UK tour) with journalists in the press room at the Amex wowed by the likes of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard on location as pundits.

They won’t be the last.

“According to local reports tourism is on the rise and it will get a massive boost from this,” George explained. “This is a summer town so throughout the winter we are going to get thousands of away supporters and many others here, so that will only help.”

On the pitch Brighton will need help to try and stay in the PL with Bloom set to dig even deeper into his considerable pockets to fund a few more transfers (they broke their transfer record twice last week, mind you) before the end of the summer transfer window in just over two weeks. But given where Brighton have come from in the past two decades, the challenge of staying int he Premier League doesn’t seem insurmountable and isn’t as daunting as having to survive as a club.

“It is a smaller challenge than when we’ve been on the brink in the past but it is still a huge challenge” Perret said. “But one we can do.”

When Brighton walked out at the Amex on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. local time, whatever happened on the pitch over the next 90 minutes it was a “I was there” moment for their fans.

It was also a “look at how far we’ve come” moment.

“I thought of days at the Goldstone when I was young,” Perrett said as he watched his beloved Seagulls walk out to make their PL debut. “I was there with my mom and my sister and I could go and touch the grass, climb over the little fences there. Those were the good days but the whole game is different now. Those were the good times. And the good times are coming back now, for sure.”

Hughton hopes to bring the good times back but is also eager to write new history when asked if he’s now glad to get Brighton’s grand day out of the way.

“I must admit there is a little element of that. It is understandable for the history of this club and our first game in the Premier League that it was going to be a big occasion,” Hughton said. “It was going to be a big occasion whoever it was, but I think the fact that Man City were coming made it even bigger. My responsibility is to make sure we are a Premier League team next season. We have a realistic group of supporters that were excellent today.”