Quick Six: Top Premier League storylines from weekend no. 1

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source: Reuters

1. ARSENAL’S CONJURING MEMORIES OF 2011

After Arsenal lost 8-2 at Manchester United on Aug. 28, 2011, Arsène Wegner’s hand was forced. To that point, the Gunners’ boss had been cautions about throwing his recently received Cesc Fábregas/Samir Nasri money at new players, but with his team on one point through three rounds (having been held scoreless in their first two matches), Wenger had to do something. The subsequent ‘panic buys’ of Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker have worked out well for the club.

Perhaps that’s the silver lining Arsenal fans can take out of Saturday’s match, a bitter opener that saw the Gunners lose 3-1 at The Emirates to Aston Villa. Though there’s a small number of Premier League clubs to whom Arsenal can justify losing at home, Villa is not one of them, let alone in the manner they did. Villa scored the match’s last three goals, led for the final half hour, and put more shots on net over the 90 minutes.

If they’re so inclined, Arsenal can hide behind excuses. Laurent Koscielny was sent off, leaving the team short-handed for 23 minutes, while two of Villa’s goals can be attributed to penalty kicks. Those circumstances are unlikely to be replicated next week at Fulham. Still, Wenger would be better served to summon the urgency of Aug. 2011 and throw some money at the problem.

source: Reuters2. MANCHESTER UNITED SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN OVERLOOKED

Barring a Monday night explosion from Manchester City (and with the Sky Blues hosting Newcastle, that could happen), the red side of Manchester will hold the top spot after the Premier League’s opening round. Perhaps that’s only appropriate, given the defending champions had been deprived of the spotlight in the build-up to the season. Though the Red Devils bring back a near-identical squad to the one that ran away with last year’s Premier League, none of your PST writers have them finishing in the top two.

New manager David Moyes has said his club intends on buying, hinting the squad still has weaknesses. Most people point to the midfield as its main point of need, though United’s had the same problems in midfield since Roy Keane left. They’ve still managed to claim silverware since – both at home and abroad.

Saturday was a bucket of cold water for those of us who had dwelt on that weakness. Swansea City — a team that opened last season with two lopsided wins; who drew United on their last visit to the Liberty Stadium — were torn apart by braces from Robin van Persie and Danny Welbeck. Although Swansea’s poor play contributed to that results, United’s firepower means they’ll be capable of this kind of result.

source: Reuters3. MOURINHO’S RETURN MORE ‘DECENT’ THAN ‘SPECIAL’

If we learned anything about Chelsea from match one, it’s that they had an easy start. Hull City, roundly picked to resume a place in the Championship, failed to provide a challenge. The Blues dominated for a half hour, built a 2-0 league, then clicked it into cruise. We’ll have to wait for stiffer competition before passing judgment on the Blues.

There were hints, however, of what we could expect from Mourinho’s second term, including in the way Chelsea cruised. Perhaps the team didn’t pile on goals as Mourinho’s Real Madrid might have, but team’s return to a belligerent pragmatism that won two Premier League crowns will be welcome by some. Frank Lampard, despite having a penalty kick saved, lent credence to the notion his effectiveness will be prolonged by his reunion with Mourinho, while the Blues’ three substitutes (André Schurrle, Romelu Lukaku, Marco van Ginkel) confirmed new blood will play a key part.

Hull’s limited performance never gave Chelsea a chance to truly convince, but there were still things to learn from the Special One’s return.

source: Reuters4. PROMOTED SIDES SHOW LITTLE LIFE IN TOP FLIGHT RETURNS

Hull weren’t the only promoted side to disappoint. Crystal Palace, picked 20th by so many coming into the season, were able to keep the score close, their 1-0 loss to visiting Spurs disguising the fact Tottenham controlled the game. Cardiff City, winners of last year’s Championship, fell 2-0 at West Ham United.

Underdogs in each match, it’s no surprise all three Premier League newbies lost, yet their inability is still concerning. Out-shot by a combined 59-24 (13-6, shots on goal), the trio of neophytes seem to lack a Norwich City or Southampton – two promoted sides who managed to stay up last season. While recent signings from Cardiff and Hull may soon change their teams’ outlooks (and it is far too early to condemn any of the new clubs), matchday one was a grim reminder of how far the new teams have to go.

source: Getty Images5. PENALTY KICK GRACE PRESERVES RESULTS

Liverpool’s Saturday win over Stoke recalled the good and bad of last year: strong play; at times not reflected in the score; sometimes leaving matches to be stolen by lesser teams. Thanks to Simon Mignolet’s 89th minute save on Jon Walter’s penalty kick, Daniel Sturridge’s first half opener held up, giving the Reds the 1-0 win they probably deserved.

But penalty kick grace was also evident at The Hawthorns, where West Brom nearly held on for a 0-0 with Southampton before Ricky Lambert converted in the 90th minute, giving a Saints team that had been the ever-so-slightly better side an ever-so-slightly better result. And in South London, Roberto Soldado’s early second half conversion assured Spurs a result to mirror their control.

source: Getty Images6. SUNDERLAND AS IMPRESSIVE ON GRASS AS ON PAPER

Going into Saturday’s match, the on-paper Black Cats’ didn’t look too impressive, but given the club that survived last year’s Premier League, it was easy to look at the additions of Jozy Altidore, Emmanuel Giaccherini, Cabral, Valentin Roberge, and Ondrej Celustka and see an improved team, overlooking the possibility they may still be inferior to their competition.

Saturday reinforced the notion this team’s facing significant obstacles. Against another flawed side (Fulham), the Black Cats lost at the Stadium of Light , putting only three shots on goal. They did out-shoot Fulham 21-5 and held 57 percent of the ball, but given nine of those shots came after the 52nd minute (when the Pajtim Kasami’s goal gave Fulham incentive to change their approach), Sunderland should lament the result rather than dwell on the circumstances.

RSL knocks out Portland to reach West semifinals (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less): Real Salt Lake outlasted the Portland Timbers in a constantly changing winter’s climate at altitude at Rio Tinto Stadium to book their place in the Western Conference semifinals, where they’ll visit the Seattle Sounders. A massive amount of rain and sleet fell throughout the first half, followed by a brief period of heavy snow, followed by clear(er) skies more conducive to actually playing soccer. Damir Kreilach opened the scoring in the 28th minute, but the visitors drew level barely 60 seconds into the second half.

Everyone had braced themselves for extra time, but Jefferson Savarino played the part of hero in the 87th minute when he slotted home past Steve Clark from a tough angle.

The career of Nick Rimando, the all-time record holder for essentially every goalkeeping statistic who will retire at the end of the 2019 season, is extended by at least one more game.

[ MORE: Lampard “pleased for Pulisic,” praises subs in Chelsea win ]

What did we learn?

  • Slow start leaves Portland an uphill battle: To say that Portland started this game slowly would be the understatement of the season.

After all that, it took Portland 37 seconds to register a shot in the second half. The ensuing corner kick wound up in the back of the net.

  • Portland should re-sign Valeri. End: It doesn’t matter whether the sides are hung up on money or length of contract — heck, even if he wants full control of the club’s roster as next technical director — it simply doesn’t matter. Diego Valeri is the (MLS) Portland Timbers; he is their best player in their MLS era; he is still their best player in 2019. Valeri didn’t play the first 63 minutes of this game, and Portland managed all of four shots in that time. They equaled that number in the first seven minutes Valeri was on the field. If you look up “difference maker” in the dictionary, it will simply read Valeri, Diego.

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

Man of the match: Damir Kreilach

Goalscorers: Kreilach (28′), Asprilla (47′), Savarino (87′)

Toronto score 4 goals in ET to bounce DCU, Rooney (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less): Toronto FC outplayed D.C. United by a wide margin but needed extra time — and a 13-minute explosion of goals — to book their place in the Eastern Conference semifinals, where they’ll face top-seeded New York City. The Reds led for exactly an hour, thanks to Marco Delgado’s goal just after the half-hour mark, only to throw their advantage away — after failing to convert a number of chances to go 2-0 up — in second-half stoppage time. The 1-1 scoreline lasted for all of about three minutes of game time before Toronto scored not once, not twice, not three times, but four times in the first period of extra time. Now, Greg Vanney’s side will cross its fingers and hope to get Jozy Altidore (quad) and Omar Gonzalez (hamstring), who didn’t play in this one, back for Wednesday’s game against NYCFC.

[ MORE: Lampard “pleased for Pulisic,” praises subs in Chelsea win ]

What did we learn?

  • Worst time for a goalkeeping error: You might be thinking, “Well, yes, duh, of course it is, there isn’t a good time for that.” The playoffs, however, are really not the right time, however, and United learned that the hard way when Bill Hamid failed to hold onto a simple bouncing ball in front of goal. Stefan Frei was lights out for the Seattle Sounders earlier on Saturday and Jesse Gonzalez recovered from a poor start (and was bailed out by three goals scored by FC Dallas), and Quentin Westberg was stellar for Toronto in this one.

  • Set-piece defending, once again: Earlier in the day, we saw Seattle fail to defend set pieces and let Dallas back into their game on multiple occasions. Toronto weren’t any better in the dying seconds of regular time. With under two minutes remaining, this is how they defended a United corner kick…

That’s comically bad for a regular season game in the middle of April, let alone for a dark-horse candidate in the playoffs, up a goal in stoppage time. Every chance counts tenfold in the playoffs, and set pieces are no different.

  • D.C.’s desire still in doubt: To lose in extra time, away from home, is one thing. To capitulate and concede four goals in 13 minutes — almost as if to say you didn’t want to score the late equalizer in the first place — is shameful. Wayne Rooney‘s time in MLS ends with his team down 5-1 in extra time and him being subbed off after 105 minutes.

 

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

Man of the match: Jonathan Osorio

Goalscorers: Delgado (32′), Rodriguez (90’+3), Laryea (93′), Osorio (95′, 103′) DeLeon (105’+1)

Serie A: Juventus win 5th straight; Napoli cruise past Verona (video)

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ LA LIGA: Real Madrid lose to Mallorca; Messi, Suarez, Griezmann send Barca top ]

Juventus 2-1 Bologna

Juve were made to work a bit — but not too much — en route to a 2-1 victory over Bologna. It’s their fifth straight win in league play and again puts them four points clear of Inter Milan, who are yet to play this weekend.

Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring with a pinpoint finish from a tight angle in the 19th minute, but Bologna hit back just seven minutes later when Danilo smashed home a half-volley after Juve failed to clear a corner kick. It was 1-1 at halftime, but not much longer than that. Miralem Pjanic picked out the near post and slotted home past the goalkeeper in the 54th minute to give Juve their deserved winner.

Napoli 2-0 Verona

Napoli, on the other hand, had their backs against the wall early when Verona visited the San Paolo Stadium. Goalkeeper Alex Meret was the hero early on with a fantastic double-save before Carlo Ancelotti’s side settled in and took control of the game.

Arkadiusz Milik got on the end of Fabian Ruiz’s cross right in front of goal, leaving the Polish forward with the simplest of tap-ins to make it 1-0 in the 37 minute. Milik made it 2-0 when he got a glancing touch on a sensation free kick from Lorenzo Insigne in the 67th.

The victory sees Napoli hang onto fourth in the league table and move to within two points of second-place Inter.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Lazio 3-3 Atalanta

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Sassuolo v. Inter Milan — 6:30 a.m. ET
Sampdoria v. Roma — 9 a.m. ET
Udinese v. Torino — 9 a.m. ET
Cagliari v. SPAL — 9 a.m. ET
Parma v. Genoa — 12 p.m. ET
AC Milan v. Lecce — 2:45 p.m. ET

Sounders top Dallas in all-time, extra-time playoffs classic (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less): How about one word? Insanity. Simply put, an all-time classic in MLS Cup Playoffs history. It’s a small sample size, no doubt about it, but MLS’s new single-elimination playoff format appears to have solved the problem of uninspiring early-round action. Seattle advanced to the Western Conference semifinals, where they’ll face the winner of Real Salt Lake versus Portland Timbers, with a 4-3 extra-time victory, but it wasn’t without 120 minutes of nonstop drama. Seattle went from 2-0 up inside the first 25 minutes, to level at 2-2 inside 65, to 3-2 up 10 minutes later, to level again with under 10 minutes of regular time remaining. They needed 113 minutes to do it, but Seattle broke the deadlock for the final time when Jordan Morris completed the first hat trick of his career.

[ MORE: Lampard “pleased for Pulisic,” praises subs in Chelsea win ]

What did we learn?

  • Sounders making magic out wide: No matter how many times they saw it, Dallas simply couldn’t slow down the Sounders wide attackers and full backs from creating superb scoring chances from out wide. This has been one of the Sounders’ greatest strengths for a couple seasons now, yet Dallas seemed wholly unprepared for it. The speed and crossing ability they have out wide is a huge problem for a lot of teams, especially when Morris and Raul Ruidiaz are moving around freely in the box.

  • Sounders’ defensive struggles unsolved: For all the chances they created on one end, Seattle couldn’t control the game or even slow it down in middle and defensive thirds. Whether it was on the counter-attack, through sustained possession by Dallas or set pieces, Seattle struggled in the worst way. Even after going ahead in extra time, Seattle stood idly by as Dallas created a couple of golden scoring chances and were so close to finding themselves level again at 4-4. They won’t have (m)any more “get out of jail free” cards to play as they advance to the latter rounds.

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

Man of the match: Jordan Morris

Goalscorers: Ruidiaz (18′), Morris (22′, 74′, 113′), Cannon (39′), Hedges (64′), Acosta (82′)