Shawshanked by the Merseyside Derby

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I remember watching The Shawshank Redemption and thinking, that movie was really freaking good.

After a night’s sleep of subconcious analysis my opinion changed.

That movie was awesome.

A couple of watercooler conversations later and my opinion morphed again.

That movie was sensational.

Since 1994, my opinion hasn’t changed. Shawshank remains my favorite movie of all time.

It’s a full boat –  fantastic story, top-notch actors (and acting), shot beautifully, superbly directed … that movie has it all.

And so did last Saturday’s Premier League match between Everton and Liverpool.

Sounds crazy to say, but it’s true.

The Merseyside Derby Shawshanked me. After five days of reliving that match, that’s the only conclusion I can come to. It was sensational.

Below are eight reasons why I spent the last week walking around with my jaw on the floor.

1. Rivals 

No better match in world football than a rivalry. If it’s a local derby, even better. The Merseyside Derby is a fantastic match-up between two long-time rivals whose stadiums are a goal-kick away from each other.

Dream setup. Check.

2. Goals

In recent years the biggest problem with the Merseyside Derby is that no one would score. Both teams are always desperate to win but both are typically too nervous to concede.

Enter Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool (last year) and switch out ‘Davey Defensive’ Moyes for Bobby Martinez (this summer) and suddenly we have to offensive footballing sides. Lovely.

In the lead up to the derby Martinez promised a free-flowing game and many, myself included, doubted it.

Nil-nil draw, we muttered, kicking stones.

So when the match ended in a six goal thriller, everyone with even a minor interest in the derby was wetting themselves.

source: Getty Images
Luis Suarez wasn’t acting with this scream. Kevin Mirallas’ tackle deserved straight red but referee Phil Dowd spared him.

3. Hard Tackles

Liverpool v. Everton may not be known as a high goal-scoring fixture but one thing you can always depend on are tough tackles.

We prefer them to be clean but that can quickly be too much to ask.

Kevin Mirallas’ tackle on Luis Suarez was a ridiculous challenge.

It deserved a straight red, no question.

But Phil Dowd, ever the seasoned vet, held off on giving it.

Why?

I personally think he didn’t want to ruin the derby by sending a player off.

But who knows? Maybe he just missed it. Maybe he didn’t feel like protecting Suarez (I doubt it).

Point being, Dowd chose yellow and not red. That move right there saved the match.

And how Liverpool handle it?

Exactly how you’d think they would – by looking to their talismanic captain, Stevie G, who promptly threw a cynical elbow at Gareth Barry’s head.

Now, I don’t think Gerrard actually connected the blow but there’s no question it was a calculated move. Payback. And, perhaps given the Mirallas tackle, it was justified.

With the spirit of the derby in mind, Dowd chose not to send off Gerrard. One instance from each side. Fair play.

Game on.

4. Red Cards

Elaborating on the last point, red cards have dominated the history of the Merseyside Derby.

A few season ago Jack Rodwell was sent off after Suarez took a dive. It was never a red card. Ruined the match.

Dowd recognized this history, allowed each side one good thump, and let them play. Brilliant by Dowd. This day and age referees get little credit.

But on the day Dowd’s decisions allowed that derby to happen. Bravo, Phil.

5. Lead Changes

1-0 Liverpool. 1-1 level. 2-1 Liverpool. 2-2 level. 3-2 Everton. 3-3 level.

The heavier the score swings back and forth, the better.

For a fan, there’s nothing better than taking the emotional journey of thinking you’re going to lose, to thinking you could sneak a draw, to thinking you’re going to win, to thinking a draw is a fair result, to praying for a draw, back to thinking a draw is a fair result.

As long as the game of football continues to play with my emotions, I’ll forever be there, foaming at the mouth, begging for more.

Greatest game on earth. Anyone who says otherwise is a fool.

source: Getty Images
Players don’t let out roars like this in crap games.

6. Great Goals

Suarez’ free-kick was bananas.

If anyone saw the photo analysis done by the Match of the Day team in England, they showed that Tim Howard’s wall was lined-up correctly – one man outside the post.

Still, no one has a clue what Steven Pienaar was doing. It seemed like he was anticipating a touch and shot. But that was a direct kick. Suarez was always shooting.

The Uruguayan noted the gap between the wall and Pienaar and plucked it perfectly. That’s why he’s one of the best players in the world.

Deal with it, people. He bites. He’s reckless. But he’s a top, top striker.

Romelu Lukaku’s first goal was a great team goal. He’s second was a ferocious header. His celebration was positively intoxicating.

Are players allowed to destroy corner flags in celebration?

Seems like that’s the case. And strangely, I fully approve of this. Break the corner flag in half for all I care about. (For what it’s worth I also think players being yellow carded for a jersey removal during a goal celebration is ridiculous. Let the man celebrate, for the love of Bob!)

Daniel Sturridge’s goal was pretty sick as well. Enter the match late and score the equalizer with a backwards skimming header to the far post?

That was unreal. Howard had no chance. The beard can only do so much.

7. Atmosphere

When Goodison Park goes off, there’s no better stadium in the Premier League.

On Saturday, that place was in a complete tizzy. Nuts.

(Which reminds me – if any of you want to see shots from inside the crowd at last week’s derby, pay attention to NBC’s short-form video series, ‘I Was There’. We have one cooking for the Merseyside Derby and I’m pretty sure it’s going to pop. I’ll keep you posted.)

8. Fair Result

A great match has to have a fair result. Obviously, ‘fairness’ is largely subjective. But few people who watched that match would argue that 3-3 was not a very, very fair score.

You could argue that the best games ends with a winner.

I might agree.

But if so, then last weekend’s draw had to be one of the very best I’ve ever seen.

Shawshanked.

La Liga roundup: 10-man Real Madrid hold off Celta in season opener

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Spain’s top flight is back, and here’s a roundup of all of Saturday’s action.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Celta Vigo 1-3 Real Madrid

If Real Madrid and Barcelona are, again, going to battle toe-to-toe for La Liga, consider the former team to have a head start.

Hours after Barca got the Aritz Aduriz treatment, Real Madrid – playing with 10 men for more than 40 minutes – took care of business, calmly beating Celta Vigo behind goals from Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos and Lucas Vasquez. Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric was sent off for a straight red in the 54th minute, while Gareth Bale, who stole headlines this summer after being rumored to leave time and time again, started and played 75 minutes.

Despite not having control of possession, the quality from Zinedine Zidane’s men was too much for Ruben Blanco. For instance, just look at Kroos’ strike from distance:

Celta, on the other hand, had a goal disallowed by VAR right before halftime, but still managed to spoil Thibaut Courtois‘ clean  in the dying minutes when Iker Losada, 18, scored two minutes after taking the field.

Valencia 1-1 Real Sociedad

Four minutes into stoppage time, Kevin Gameiro had the picture-perfect opportunity to record a brace and seal three points for Valencia in their first showing of the new campaign.

In front of an anxious Mestalla, he missed.

And just six minutes later, in the final breathe of the match, Mikel Oyarzabal did what Gameiro failed to do: convert from the spot. The rumored Manchester City target was influential all match and, in the end, rewarded with a goal.

A tough pill to swallow, Valencia will now look to earn their first win against Celta Vigo, while Sociedad next stop in their three-game road trip to start the season is Mallorca.

Villareal 4-4 Granada 

It wasn’t the matchup the majority had circled on their calendars, but Villareal and Granda’s 4-4 draw proved to be the most entertaining game on Saturday. A pair of penalties and an own goal were a few of the goals that made up the eight-goal frenzy.

Santi Carzorla – looking healthier than ever before – opened things up from the spot 35 minutes in. In the 75th minute, another familiar face, Roberto Soldado, put Granada a goal away from the home side. Shortly after, in the 81st minute, Antonio Puertas bagged Granada’s fourth and the night’s final goal.

An eight-goal match in such fashion will be hard to top on Sunday, that’s for sure.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Leganes 0-1 Osasuna

RCD Mallorca 2-0 Eibar

What we learned from a crazy PL Saturday

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Breathe. Take a walk outside. Put your arms above your head and try to drink in what you’ve actually seen today.

It is only Matchweek 2, but few Premier League days will match this.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Saturday’s games delivered high drama with VAR outrage, howlers, stunning goals and intense battles playing out.

Below is what we learned from a wild seven games across the league.


VAR DRAMA MARS MAN CITY, SPURS CLASH

Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur played out a gripping, enthralling 2-2 draw, but it was marred by VAR at the death. Gabriel Jesus‘ late winner for City was ruled out for a handball on Aymeric Laporte, which enraged Pep Guardiola and delighted Mauricio Pochettino. Man City dominated the game and Spurs had two shots on target and scored with both of them. City will have a bitter taste in their mouth, especially after the late VAR drama against Spurs in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal second leg last season. Pochettino said he is “in love with VAR” and Guardiola said it “needs to be fixed” as it is too subjective. The VAR debate will rumble on, as the ball clearly hit Laporte on the arm but many will have a bad taste in their mouths at the way it impacts the outcomes of games.


GUARDIOLA, AGUERO FALL OUT

Man City’s all-time leading goalscorer was not happy, at all, after being subbed out in the second half of their game against Spurs. He and Guardiola went at it, with words being said, fingers pointed and both had to be separated.

With tensions bubbling under the surface for years over Aguero’s playing style in a Pep side, this looked a lot more personal.

In the coming weeks we will find out just how damaging this public spat will be for both Guardiola and Aguero, as City may be starting to feel the pressure.


LIVERPOOL SHAKE OFF RUST

Liverpool edged by Southampton 2-1 at St Mary’s on Saturday and it was a really strange game. Saints started well and given Liverpool’s 120 minutes against Chelsea for the Super Cup final in Istanbul on Wednesday, it was expected that they’d start sluggishly. But when they kicked through the gears around half time they tore Saints apart with Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino leading the charge. Adrian’s late howler gifted Saints a way back into the game and Danny Ings should have scored his and Saints’ second to snatch an unlikely draw. Liverpool held on and after the travel week they’ve had, Jurgen Klopp was a happy man at the final whistle. Two wins from two for the Reds, and they’ve been far from their best as their stars recover from busy summer tournaments.


PUKKI READY TO STAR FOR NORWICH

Teemu Pukki has four goals in his first two games as a Premier League player. Those questioning whether or not the Finnish striker could translate his form from the Championship to the PL are now having a long hard look at themselves in the mirror. Pukki scored a hat trick in Norwich’s 3-1 win against Newcastle and the first was a stunner. After his spells with Sevilla, Schalke and Celtic, Pukki has finally arrived in the big time and his clinical finishing will be a theme of the season. Norwich have been written off by plenty of teams and the way they hammered Newcastle suggests the Canaries will be well clear of the relegation scrap.


ARSENAL, CEBALLOS CLICKING THROUGH THE GEARS 

Arsenal’s attacking unit now has a deep playmaker as Dani Ceballos starred in their win over Burnley. Ceballos is the perfect replacement for Aaron Ramsey and he not only created chances but worked back defensively. He is the perfect player for Unai Emery to build his attack around. Of course, Aubameyang and Lacazette (who both scored) are stars who can finish, while Nicolas Pepe looked bright off the bench as Arsenal’s attacking options will feel their rivals with serious envy. At the back they had some issues dealing with Burnley’s direct style as David Luiz took a few unecessary risks and Bernd Leno flapped at a few crosses, but overall two wins from two is a very good start for the Gunners. Now come the real tests as they head to Liverpool and host Tottenham in their next two games. Lets see how good the Gunners really are.


Bonus: Harry Wilson and Douglas Luiz scored screamers in a 2-1 win for Bournemouth at Aston Villa. You need to see them.

Pep rages at VAR after Man City denied winner

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Pep Guardiola is absolutely furious.

Whether you think he should be is another story.

Manchester City had its last-gasp winner taken off the board against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday at the Etihad Stadium, when VAR spotted the ball glancing off Aymeric Laporte‘s arm before Gabriel Jesus scored in stoppage time.

[ RECAP: Man City 2-2 Spurs ]

The Man City boss had not cooled down after the match, referencing Fernando Llorente’s uncalled handball in the UEFA Champions League last season.

That’s a different competition, however, and a different set of rules. Maybe that’s Pep’s point. Anyway, let’s let him rage:

“I thought we left that situation in Tottenham in the Champions League last season. But it is the same. The referee and VAR disallow it. It’s the second time – it’s tough. It’s honestly tough but it’s the way it is.

“It happened last week with Wolves and we saw for Chelsea on Wednesday – the keeper wasn’t on his line – Adrian in the penalty shoot-out. They have to fix it. The whistle inside matches now isn’t quite clear. But they believe it’s hands with Llorente in the Champions League and sometimes they don’t.

“It was incredible it wasn’t a penalty in the first half [for the foul on Rodri in the box] but VAR said it wasn’t and then at the end they did. I’m pretty sure people were happy today we just need to work harder at scoring our chances.”

He’s not really on point here, is he? As a neutral I hated the moment, but it follows the letter of the law. The Rodri point is a good one, but doesn’t negate the ball skittering off Laporte’s arm (and it looked to have touched Harry Skipp’s arm, too, but after the fact!).

Pochettino: “I am in love with VAR”

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Mauricio Pochettino‘s heart belongs to a set of TV monitors and a referee sat in an office in the suburbs of London.

In others words, he loves VAR.

After Spurs pegged the reigning champions back to 2-2, there was more late VAR drama between these two teams. Gabriel Jesus‘ strike was ruled out in the 92nd minute after Aymeric Laporte was adjudged to have handle the ball in the box after a VAR review.

Pochettino spoke to our partners Sky Sports in the UK after the crazy ending to the game, and simply said: “I love VAR. I’m not so happy with our performance.”

Spurs rode their luck and had three shots to Man City’s 30 and were dominated. Tottenham scored with their two shots on goal, but Man City were left ruing a number of missed chances as more VAR heartache followed.

Pochettino is off to give his nearest TV screen a few smooches as Spurs, once again, have VAR to thank for leaving the Etihad Stadium with a smile on their face.