Premier League Playback: Headers galore, Torres becomes ‘El Toro’, AVB offends

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THE ART OF HEADING RETURNS

Over the Premier League weekend, a dying art returned to strike joy and delight into the hearts of those who carried it out and their fans. Heading is back. Rejoice.

So this is my questions, is heading home still a dying art? Gladly, I’m not so sure anymore because in week 9’s ten games, eight headers, of many different varieties, accounted for the 23 PL goals scored. With over 33 percent of all goals coming off the old noggin, that’s a pretty substantial chunk of strikes that came from delightful bounces off players bonces. If you watch the video below, four of the top five goals of the weekend are headers… when was the last time that happened?

Last weekend when Sergio Aguero scored a header against West Ham, it was revealed that it was the first time the Argentine has scored with his bonnet, his previous 40 goals for Man City in the PL had all come with his feet.

The beauty of heading into the net comes in many different forms, Wayne Rooney proved that with his glancing header at the near post from Robin van Persie’s corner. Rooney’s delicate flick left Stoke City ‘keeper Asmir Begovic rooted to the spot, and it only takes the faintest of touches to send the ball into a completely different direction.

Then Luis Suarez added two headers of his own, as he nailed his first hat trick at Anfield by powerfully heading home from outside the box in the first half, before glancing home Steven Gerrard’s pacey free kick with the faintest of touches at the near post. I could go on and analyze them all, because they’re all different, and all beautiful in their own way. Time stands still when a player heads in on goal, you look for the ‘keepers reaction, a defender getting back on the line and finally the trajectory of the effort to see if it’s going on. As the ball nestles in the net, a headed goal, for me, is extremely pleasing and the skill of performing it shouldn’t be underestimated.

Premier League Schedule – Week 9

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 0-2 Everton Recap and watch here
Chelsea 2-1 Man City Recap and watch here
Crystal Palace 0-2 Arsenal Recap and watch here
Liverpool 4-1 West Brom Recap and watch here
Man Utd 3-2 Stoke City Recap and watch here
Norwich 0-0 Cardiff City Recap and watch here
Southampton 2-0 Fulham Recap and watch here
Sunderland 2-1 Newcastle Recap and watch here
Swansea 0-0 West Ham Recap and watch here
Tottenham 1-0 Hull City Recap and watch here

If you can master the art of the header, you can make it in this game. Plenty of center forwards in the lower leagues of England and back in the late 80s and early 90s did, I’d love nothing more than to see more headed goals flying in for the rest of this season, and beyond.

TOP PERFORMERS

There were some real dazzling displays this weekend, and Suarez takes the biscuit for top performer. He ripped West Brom apart at Anfield, with three goals whilst carving out plenty of other chances for strike-partner Daniel Sturridge with his tireless running. USMNT ‘keeper Tim Howard (more on him shortly) gave Everton a launchpad to beat Aston Villa with his incredible PK stop from Christian Benteke. All that came before he made his NBC Sports commentary debut for Chelsea vs. Man City on Sunday… quite a weekend for the USA’s No. 1. Wayne Rooney also gets the nod after he nodded United level and set them up for a late comeback win over Stoke, the England international is carrying United on his back. Southampton have now kept six cleans sheets in nine PL games and have conceded just three times, if right back Nathaniel Clyne isn’t called up to the England squad in a few weeks, I’d be hugely surprised after his impressive display vs. Fulham. And finally, that man Fernando Torres scored his first PL goal this season and struck a dagger into the heart of Man City fans across the globe… in fact, let’s breakdown Torres’ bullish transformation right now.

‘TORRES REBORN’ … NOT QUITE, HOW ABOUT TRANSFORMED?

When I went along to White Hart Lane to watch Chelsea take on Tottenham in September, Fernando Torres got sent off late on after terrorizing Spurs’ defense for the entire second half. I was sat just behind the benches that Saturday in North London, and after Torres was shown red Mourinho went and whispered something into his ear appreciatively. Fernando nodded and shook his head agreeably.

Slowly but surely Mourinho is getting through to Torres, and Sunday’s late winning goal against Man City proved that the endeavor and effort of his previous days at Liverpool have returned, with the Spanish forward proving a royal pain in the backside for every defense he’s coming up against of late. Against Manchester City on Sunday, Torres played like a man possessed after spurring a glorious chance early on by shinning the ball over the bar and leaving the home crowd exasperated. As he trundled back to the halfway line, Torres’ head sunk to his chest with a hint of dejection… but he kept on trucking to deliver the goods that Chelsea needed to steal a march on their title rivals.

Mourinho prefers a central striker that can strike fear into the hearts of the oppositions central defenders by running at them with pace and being a muscular, physical fulcrum for the rest of the ream to work off. In his first spell at Chelsea he had Didier Drogba, at Real Madrid he used Cristiano Ronaldo in the central role. And now a brooding Torres is fired up and facets of his game that made him so successful at Liverpool and Atletico Madrid are returning. He’s bulked up, looks pacey and has got the confidence and verve back that proves he’s on the cusp of breaking out once again.

Torres is gradually shaking off his ‘El Nino’ nickname, as Mourinho aims to make the striker into his hard-hitting forward that bullies opposition defenses with relentless running and that direct nature is finally bearing fruit.

(MORE: Check out the latest Premier League Standings)

As Torres walked off the pitch on Sunday, Stamford Bridge erupted into a throaty chant of “Torres, Torres” and the Spaniard stood alone to applaud the fans who appreciated not only his winning-goal, but seeing him rise from the depths of missing a sitter early on, to setting up Andre Schurrle’s goal, smashing a wonder strike against the bar and then chasing down a lost cause in second half stoppage time to score just his second PL goal since last Christmas.

Premier League Star Performers

Player Reason
1. Luis Suarez (Liverpool) 3 goals, best striker in PL
2. Tim Howard (Everton) PK save, Toffees hero
3. F. Torres (Chelsea) 1 goal, constant threat
4. Nathaniel Clyne (Saints) Epic for leagues best defense
5. Wayne Rooney (Man Utd) 1 goal, United’s talisman

I saw something in Torres’ eyes and demeanor against Spurs in late September. He’s hungry to succeed with the Blues, and he’s now elevated himself as Mourinho’s main striker. Perhaps that knowledge has given Torres the confidence he needs to kick on and if Chelsea are going to win the title, they will need Torres to keep on delivering damaging displays. Five goals in six starts across all competitions this season shows his goalscoring touch and belief is returning, but even if the goals don’t flow, Torres’ impact for Chelsea is huge.

Forget ‘El Nino’ how about ‘El Toro?’ As the marauding Spaniard is now making a name for himself as an absolute bullish pest up front.

U.S. KEEPERS PREVAIL

All hail the U.S. goalkeeper. On Saturday Tim Howard and Brad Guzan showed exactly why the USA is known across the globe for producing top, top ‘keepers. First Howard saved superbly stopped Benteke’s penalty kick, then at the other end Brad Guzan kept out Romelu Lukaku with a superb reflex stop. Back and forth went the goalkeeping battle, as both USMNT stars put on a fine display of shot-stopping to wow the Villa Park crowd. Chants of ‘USA, USA, USA’ were audible all afternoon… Jurgen Klinsmann has one heck of a decision to make next summer.

AVB WRONG TO BASH SPURS’ FANS

Tottenham manager Andre Vilas-Boas called out Spurs’ fans for “negativity” inside White Hart Lane during the nervy 1-0 win against Hull City. Hang on a minute Andre… can you blame them?

After yet another 1-0 win and yet another dubious penalty decision converted by Roberto Soldado (the third time the Spaniard has handed Spurs a slender victory with a PK this campaign) to give them all three points, Tottenham’s fans can be forgiven for feeling a little underwhelmed by some of Spurs’ recent displays. Surely they should be allowed to air their anxiety? AVB doesn’t think so.

“I compliment the boys for what they did – great work rate. Not only that but we played away from home. We didn’t have the support that we should have had in a game that we needed a win. We did it with no help today.”

Far be it from me to judge AVB as Spurs sit fourth in the league, but after all the excitement last seasons soccer produced, can’t he understand that a complete rebrand of the way they play isn’t exactly tearing up any trees in the PL? Two holding midfielders protecting a solid back four is all well and good, but when Spurs come up against the better teams I worry where their goals will come from. Seems like Spurs’ fans do too.

FAIR FROM FER?

When Norwich City midfielder Alex Tettey went down injured in stoppage time of Norwich’s 0-0 draw with Cardiff City at Carrow Road, Cardiff ‘keeper David Marshall did the sporting thing by throwing the ball out of play so he could receive treatment.

As Ricky van Wolfswinkel took the throw-in to give it back to Cardiff, he threw the ball to Norwich’s Leroy Fer who slotted the ball into an empty net and thought he’d given the Canaries a shocking and hugely controversial late win. But referee Mike Jones wasn’t having any of it, he pulled play back as a minor fracas erupted between the two sets of players and said he hadn’t blown his whistle to restart play. I’m not sure if the ref was in-line with the laws of the game, but I applaud his decision to defuse the situation.

That averted a bizarre win and a very unsportsmanlike one at that. Afterwards it was revealed that Norwich would have allowed Cardiff to score straight from the kick off to tie things back up. Bravo. But in a staunch belief of the saying ‘honest if the best policy’ Norwich’s Dutch midfielder Fer revealed he scored on purpose and there was no mix up that saw him knock the ball into the empty net.

“I just looked at the referee and he did ‘play on’ with his hands so I think the goal had to count,” Fer said. “I’m a little bit confused on that one. I meant to put it in because I wanted to win the game. I want to win every game, so that’s why I did it.”

Fer’s attitude stinks, there’s no place for that in the PL and I’m sure his manager had a quite word with the promising Dutch midfielder after the game. Watch below to see what you think should’ve happened.

Burning question: What is the best formation?

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This week at ProSoccerTalk we will be asking some burning questions we have when it comes to the beautiful game and the first one focuses on something we all love to debate: formations.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Each day we will release a burning question, as now seems like a good time to take stock of where the game is at and take a look at what we love and what we’d like to change as we await its return following the suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Next question: What is the best formation to use?


Most coaches will tell you when asked that formations do not matter. We all know they do.

3-4-3? 4-4-2? 4-5-1? 4-3-3? 3-5-2? 4-1-4-1? 4-3-2-1? 4-2-2-2?

Which formation do you think is the best? Does a formation depend mostly on the players you have at your disposal or your preferred style of play? Most likely it is a combination of both but coaches often have a preferred formation and stick with it no matter what. Their philosophy and ideas mean everything to them.

I’m torn between 3-4-3 and 4-3-3 but I’d probably just about go for 4-3-3 because it is so well balanced. In an attacking team like Man City or Liverpool it works really well because essentially it gives you four defenders back at all times with one deeper central midfielder, two center backs and one full back sitting back.

When teams are under pressure the 4-3-3 then turns into more of a 4-5-1 formation with one central striker saying high and the two wingers tracking back and providing cover. Speaking about cover, 3-4-3 allows one center back to push forward and always have two center backs in defense, while full backs are able to push forward which is particularly important in the modern game. My main problem with 3-4-3 is that often you don’t need three center backs if teams sit back.

4-4-1-1 is solid and flexible as the player in the No. 10 position essentially becomes a striker but there just seems to be more danger from wide players when teams are set up in a 4-3-3 system because their first thought is to attack and they have the added cover of a central midfielder tucked in halfway behind them.

Simply put, I love 4-3-3. You may love something totally different, so let us know in the comments section below which formation is your favorite.

Chelsea’s Willian eager to stay in Premier League

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Chelsea and Brazil star Willian has revealed he is eager to stay in the Premier League, even if that’s not with Chelsea.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Willian, 31, has revealed that contract talks have stopped for now during the suspension for the coronavirus pandemic, and his future is uncertain as his current deal at Chelsea expires this summer.

The likes of Tottenham and Arsenal have been linked with a move for Willian, who almost joined Spurs in 2013 but instead joined Chelsea in a last-second change of heart.

Willian told ESPN Brazil  that he wants to stay in the Premier League and he feels he is now at his peak.

“My wish is to stay in the Premier League, but I’m not ruling out playing in other leagues,” Willian said. “I’m going to play until the end of the season and then see what happens. I’m very used to life in England. I’m not thinking about going back to Corinthians at the moment. My aim is to stay in Europe. I feel that I’m at my peak at the moment. Players improve throughout their careers and I think I’m currently at my peak.”

It is not secret that Mourinho and Willian get on very well, which will intrigue Tottenham’s fans…

“I got on very well with Mourinho, learnt a lot under him and we’ve remained friends,” Willian said. “We still message each other a lot, but I don’t see him often. I haven’t managed to meet up with him since he came back to London.”

His form for Chelsea has been a little erratic this season but Frank Lampard has spoken fondly about Willian time and time again and it is quite clear Chelsea would like to extend his stay at Stamford Bridge for at least another season.

With so many young wingers around (Callum Hudson-Odoi, Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount to name a few), Willian can help ease them into the first team but there’s no doubting plenty of Premier League clubs will be eager to snap him up on a free transfer this summer, or whenever the transfer window reopens.

Tottenham would seem like a particularly good fit for Willian. He would link up with Jose Mourinho, the manage who bought him to Chelsea, and his experience would be vital at Spurs as they aim to finally secure some silverware. Tottenham need to prioritize buying new defenders but if Willian is available for free, you can’t turn that deal down, even if he turned Spurs and Daniel Levy down in 2013…

Arsenal would make sense too but you’d have to say Tottenham are the frontrunners given the connection between Willian and Mourinho. Of course, he could stay at Chelsea, but with Pedro also out of contract it does feel like a changing of the guard as Lampard will put his faith totally in new signing Hakim Ziyech, Pulisic and Hudson-Odoi next season.

With $2.7 billion reserves, FIFA has ‘duty’ to aid virus-hit soccer

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FIFA says it has a “duty” to use its vast financial reserves to assist a football industry ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic wiping out games and creating unexpected economic hardship in the world’s biggest sport.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The spread of COVID-19 has impacted the wealthiest clubs, with Barcelona and Juventus players taking wage cuts; those in smaller countries, with Slovakian champion Zilina entering bankruptcy; and national football federations, with Uruguay furloughing hundreds of staff.

Having amassed reserves it last reported at $2.745 billion, FIFA has the resources to give much-needed financial help to the game at many levels. Now the organization has provided more details around the need agreed two weeks ago by FIFA President Gianni Infantino and his vice presidents to explore a “support fund” for the sport.

“FIFA is in a strong financial situation and it’s our duty to do the utmost to help them in their hour of need,” world football’s governing body said in a statement to The Associated Press on Tuesday.

“FIFA is working on possibilities to provide assistance to the football community around the world after making a comprehensive assessment of the financial impact this pandemic will have on football.”

FIFA is exploring the mechanism to provide the financial lifeline to the football industry with the six regional confederations and member associations to ensure there is an announcement “in the near future.”

“The football community around the world is experiencing, to a greater or lesser extent, serious financial problems on account of the coronavirus outbreak,” FIFA said. “This threatens to disrupt and impair the ability of FIFA’s member associations and other football organizations such as leagues and clubs to develop, finance and run football activities at all levels of the game, including professional, non-professional, youth and grassroots.

“It is foreseen that in many parts of the world a considerable number of persons involved in football including both men and women players will be left in extremely difficult economic conditions.”

FIFA already operates a “Forward” development program to redistribute its wealth to member associations. In the 2015-18 cycle, investment dedicated to the scheme was $1.079 billion, of which $832 million had been approved and committed to member associations, confederations or regions, according to the last published financial results.

Premier League TV schedule: April 4-5

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We have 16 hours of Premier League programming coming your way this weekend and here is your TV schedule for April 4-5

This Saturday and Sunday we will have eight hours of programming coming your way each morning from 6 a.m. ET to 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN on your TV.

With the current 2019-20 Premier League season suspended until April 30 due to the coronavirus pandemic, we have a lot of programming treats planned for you in the coming weeks and will keep up fully updated with a TV schedule posted every single week.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ]

Remember, during the season you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today, Sky Sports News, NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Below is your full Premier League TV schedule and stream links for Saturday and Sunday as we have classic matches, Goal of the Season, Behind the Badge, a focus on Liverpool v. Man City and much more coming up.


FULL TV SCHEDULE FOR NBCSN

Saturday, April 4
6-6:30 a.m. ET: Soccerbox – Matt Le Tissier [STREAM]
6:30-7 a.m. ET: Soccerbox – John Barnes [STREAM]
7-7:30 a.m. ET: Soccerbox – Sol Campbell [STREAM]
7:30-8 a.m. ET: Soccerbox – Ryan Giggs [STREAM]
8-9 a.m. ET: PL Goals of the Season: 2001-02 [STREAM]
9-10 a.m. ET: PL Goals of the Season: 2002-03 [STREAM]
10-10:30 a.m. ET: Classic Match: Liverpool v. Tottenham, Feb. 2015 [STREAM]
10:30-11 a.m. ET: Classic Match: Chelsea v. Man United, Feb. 2012 [STREAM]
11-11:30 a.m. ET: Classic Match: Tottenham v. Chelsea, Jan.  2015 [STREAM]
11:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. ET: Classic Match: Man United v. Arsenal, Aug., 2011 [STREAM]
12-12:30 p.m. ET. ET: Behind the Badge – Watford, Episode 1 [STREAM]
12:30-  p.m. ET. ET: Behind the Badge – Watford, Episode 2 [STREAM]
1-1:30 p.m. ET. ET: Behind the Badge – Watford, Episode 3 [STREAM]
1:30-2 p.m. ET. ET: Behind the Badge – Watford, Episode 4 [STREAM]

Sunday, April 5
6-7 a.m. ET: PL season in review 1998-99 [STREAM]
7-8 a.m. ET: PL season in review 1999-00 [STREAM]
8-10 a.m. ET: Match of the Week, Man City v. QPR, May 2012 [STREAM]
10 a.m. – 12 p.m. ET: Match of the Week, Everton v. Liverpool, Nov. 2013 [STREAM]
12 p.m. – 2 p.m. ET: Match of the Week, Chelsea v. Arsenal, Oct. 2014 [STREAM]