Premier League Playback: Man Utd’s revival begins, AVB gone, Arsenal’s bad luck

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LIFE AFTER VAN PERSIE… THERE’S HOPE FOR UNITED

In the midst of Manchester United’s run of no wins in four Premier League games, the news earlier this week that talismanic striker Robin van Persie is out injured for over a month and may miss eight games added to the misery.

But in United’s dominant 3-0 win over Aston Villa on Sunday, several stunning performances proved there may be life after RVP (those strands of dyed jet-black hair won’t hide the wrinkles, Robin) as David Moyes’ men produced an attacking masterclass to potentially reignite their campaign. Moyes has been under-fire for most of this season but managed to crack plenty of smiles in his post-game conference as Danny Welbeck, Antonio Valencia and Adnan Januzaj tore Villa’s defense apart with their desire, speed and skill in a three-pronged assault that left Villa’s young defense in ruins. Yet Moyes wasn’t happy with the way his youngest pretender, Januzaj, was treated as several late tackles flew in.

It’s been a reoccurring theme.

“In every game recently, I don’t know how many tackles have been on Januzaj but the last two, three games that’s why I’ve been annoyed with the fourth officials. Before you know it, the boy will get a sore one because he’s definitely not getting protected by the officials. It’s terrible what they’re allowed to do at the moment because this boy’s an incredible talent. The opposition are queuing up and taking turns at who’s going to have a kick at him next. But Adnan will just get up, walk away and get on with it, he’s a great lad. That’s maybe one of his biggest attributes apart from his outstanding ability, he will just get up and walk away and say ‘go on then, kick me again if you want, I’ll get up again.’” – David Moyes on Januzaj being targeted.

Aside for being worried about his starlet being physically assaulted in most games, Moyes has plenty to be happy about.

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Click to enlarge – Welbeck is about to enter the box, as his desire to get to the ball first seems him bag a crucial second goal for United. Note: Rooney on the edge and Januzaj slashing in from the left flank.

He spoke about his delight in seeing Welbeck get back on the score sheet, as the United forward grabbed his first PL goals since the opening day of the season with two predatory strikes in the box. Welbeck, 23, showed his vast hunger and desire to finish both off, just look at the image on the left as Valencia (who was outstanding on the wing) prepared to cross the ball in for Welbeck’s second goal. From that position, you see how much ground the England international has to make up but he got to the ball first, tellingly ahead of his teammate Januzaj, who was always extremely hungry and eager to attack. The Belgian born winger was ready to prove a point all afternoon as his terrific header, which cannoned off the post to give Welbeck his first goal, proved.

Plus his relentless running down the left saw his slight frame breeze past players as if they weren’t there, with the 18-year-olds pace a real asset.

Moyes mentioned that you have to “show what you can do” when opportunities arise.

Welbeck, Januzaj and Valencia all did that with RVP and Javier Hernandez on the sidelines. The pressure looked off for the Red Devils as the feel-good factor returned following a horrid month in which their last PL win came on Nov. 10 against Arsenal. They proved that their attacking juggernaut can be in full flow without being directed by RVP and that bodes well for the rest of the season. Also telling is that United have scored 17 away from home but just eight at home… Are the shackles loosened when they’re away from the 75,000 home fans scrutinizing their every move at Old Trafford maybe?

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Click to enlarge – My prematch thoughts on United were answered with resounding displays from Januzaj, Welbeck and Valencia

Before Sunday’s game as I sipped on a cup of coffee in the press box under the grey clouds forming above Birmingham, I circled Welbeck, Januzaj and Valencia’s names on my team sheet, linked them together and put a question mark next to them… Honest. Look at the picture on the right. I did that because I was unimpressed with them so far, they had to show everyone they had the desire to be winners.

They did that. And some.

Those three were the shinning lights, along with Wayne Rooney, in a dazzling display in the damp drizzle at Villa Park. United’s new-look attacking trio with Rooney orchestrating things from a deep-lying role offers cause for optimism amongst United’s fans who chanted “we are staying up” with heavy irony when the Red Devils went ahead. They’ve had their struggles this season, that’s been well documented. But with a run of three very winnable games coming up in the league (against West Ham, Hull and Norwich) the likes of Darren Fletcher returning from a long-term illness to rapturous applause in the second half and even the much-maligned Tom Cleverley getting a goal and playing well, there’s plenty to be cheerful for this Christmas at Old Trafford.

Just ignore the fact that they’re in 8th place and 10 points behind leaders Arsenal. The way this PL season’s going, United will be back top of the table by the end of January…

If they keep attacking like they did against Villa, they have every chance.

Premier League Schedule – Week 16

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 0-3 Man Utd Recap and watch here
Cardiff 1-0 West Brom Recap and watch here
Chelsea 2-1 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here
Everton 4-1 Fulham Recap and watch here
Hull City 0-0 Stoke City Recap and watch here
Man City 6-3 Arsenal Recap and watch here
Newcastle 1-1 Southampton Recap and watch here
Norwich 1-1 Swansea Recap and watch here
Tottenham 0-5 Liverpool Recap and watch here
West Ham 0-0 Sunderland Recap and watch here

HIGH-LINE, TRANSFER MEDDLING SEES AVB’S TIME TICKING

Number one, Tottenham is in trouble. Number two, so is Andre Villas-Boas.

UPDATE: Andre Villas-Boas has been sacked as Spurs’ manager. But the rest still applies…

After seeing his side collapse once again to a team full of attacking creativity and nous, AVB’s time at Tottenham Hotspur has now run out as Spurs were humiliated 5-0 by Liverpool at White Hart Lane. Sad fact is, it could’ve been more.

Do Spurs work on defending during the week at the training ground? It doesn’t seem like it. To be fair they had Ettiene Capoue, usually a central midfielder, playing at center back and he looked all at sea as he pushed up high and Tottenham kept a criminally high-line against one of the deadliest strikers in world soccer Luis Suarez, who made them pay with two goals and had a hand in the others. The defending was extremely poor and it shows Spurs have got insufficient cover at the back due to injuries.

That brings me to my next point.

When AVB and Franco Baldini ‘masterminded’ one of the biggest roster reconstructions in PL history over the summer, many (including yours truly) were hailing Tottenham’s manager and the Sporting Director as geniuses for the way they worked the market and brought in eight top-class players for one, when they sold Gareth Bale to Real Madrid for approximately $132 million.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Baldini and AVB forget that more defenders were needed and just went out and bought a ton of midfielders who were either industrious wide players or industrious central guys. They were all clones of each other. Now, when Spurs are looking for a change and fresh impetus off the bench, the players they bring on all do the same thing. New guys Paulinho, Nacer Chadli, Erik Lamela and Capoue are the same as Aaron Lennon, Andros Townsend, Mousa Dembele and Lewis Holtby. Did nobody think of that?

Asked of the transfer policy after the game and if he had made the signings or was given the players by Baldini, AVB gave a strange answer as he mumbled through his answer and backed the players, completely dodging the issue.

The fact that his side has had their pants pulled down and their backsides smacked twice in the last five PL games won’t help his cause, as the Portuguese managers’ future is hanging in the balance at Spurs.

He was fired less than 24 hours after the humbling loss. Nobody was surprised.

Liverpool were fantastic and look like title-contenders, let alone settling for a top four finish. Tottenham are a million miles away from that and AVB is history.

Note: Steve Clarke lost his job as manager of West Bromwich Albion after their defeat to Cardiff on Saturday. Just nine wins in 41 games in charge isn’t a great return but many thought the sacking was harsh. Five managers and counting in this season sack race, so far…

ARSENAL HARD DONE BY TO LOSE 6-3? PERHAPS…

Okay, Manchester City were sublime going forward and in the grand scheme of things deserved all three points in their brilliant display of finishing when beating Arsenal 6-3 on Saturday at the Eithad. But it all could’ve been so different if a few pivotal calls would’ve gone Arsenal’s way.

In the first half two clear offside calls were somehow flagged as Nacho Monreal and Theo Walcott raced through on goal. Both, more than likely, would’ve resulted in goals for Arsenal. In the second half Olivier Giroud was adjudged to be offside as a telling cross approached him in the box. Like the other decisions, replays showed he wasn’t offside.

And finally, to cap it all off, Niklas Bendtner’s goal late in the game was ruled out when he was clearly onside to infuriate Arsenal’s fans, players (so much so that Jack Wilshere is facing a ban as he flipped the bird) and their manager.

Do they have a point? City were incredibly good going forward but Alvaro Negredo did stray into an offside position for his goal. Sooo, if we add those mistake by officials up, Arsenal win 7-6 or 6-5… There’s a small margin for error in this game and the officials are just as capable as the players for some results. Believe me, I’m not taking anything away from City for winning this game. I’m just chucking the evidence out there. Regardless, Wenger wasn’t happy with the defending and Mesut Ozil is in hot water after refusing to go and applaud Arsenal’s fans despite captain and fellow countryman Per Mertesacker telling him to.

THROWING PUNCHES AND PULLING TRICKS

We’ve talked about some pretty heavy stuff in playback this week, so it’s time to tone things down.

Have you ever seen a ref take a dive? That’s right folks, it happened.

First up, we all love the referees (deep down) and realize the game couldn’t happen without them. Moussa Sissoko’s right fist struck poor Mike Jones with an accidental uppercut to his nose from Newcastle’s French attacker with he was involved in ‘handbags’ with Saints’ ‘keeper Paolo Gaazaniga. In the same game, Newcastle and Southampton’s benches cleared as a huge scuffle broke out between the coaching staffs just after Jones had his nose reattached and plugged up to continue. What a crazy ending to that game at St. James Park. Enjoy, or grimace, as you watch it all unfold above.

Finishing on another light note, don’t adjust your displays when looking at the image below. Yes, Peter Whittingham and Peter Odemwingie do both look like they’re about to strike the free kick at the same time, one with his left foot and the other with his right, in Cardiff’s 1-0 win over West Brom on Saturday.

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Click to enlarge – who took this free kick… Whittingham or Odemwingie?

Can you work out which players actually hit the ball? Bizarre.

I’ve seen this before and if it comes off, it utterly bamboozles the ‘keeper and could be a trick we see deployed more often as the season goes on. Hilarious, devious and downright genius.

Premier League Playback comes out every Monday and takes an alternative look at the PL weekend gone by.

VIDEO: Sadio Mane scores screamer for Liverpool v. Saints

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Sadio Mane has started the season in sensational fashion.

After scoring twice for Liverpool in their Super Cup final win against Chelsea on Wednesday, Mane curled home a stunning shot right on half time.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]  

Mane was playing against his former club and after Southampton had created the best chances, it was a huge boost for Liverpool to go in ahead at the break.

Click play on the video below to see Mane open the scoring in style.

Emery impressed with versatile Ceballos as Arsenal stays perfect

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Despite the score line, Unai Emery can be fairly happy with Arsenal’s performance in a 2-1 defeat of Burnley at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

On midfielder Dani Ceballos, though, Emery will be very pleased.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 2-1 Burnley ]

The Real Madrid loanee was the easy Man of the Match, his silky skill on the ball and quality industry endearing himself to Arsenal faithful. From Football.London:

“It’s to use his quality in the best position in our team. I spoke with him before coming here, it’s to play as an eight and a No.10. He started like a 10 but changed with Willock. He can feel better on the pitch.”

Emery will be less than pleased with his defense, who allowed a goal to early season Golden Boot candidate Ashley Barnes.

“We won in our moments we did the difference for 2-1. A lot of moments we couldn’t impose our gameplan because they pushed and their gameplan was a struggle for us.”

Watch Live: Saints v. Liverpool headlines five PL games

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Five Premier League games are coming up at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, as the second Matchweek of the new campaign comes roaring at us.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ] 

Southampton and Liverpool clash at St Mary’s in the main game at 10 a.m. ET, while two new boys have their first home games back in the PL.

Aston Villa host Bournemouth at Villa Park, while Norwich host Newcastle at Carrow Road. Elsewhere, Everton host Watford and West Ham travel to Brighton.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

The schedule for all five games at 10 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


10 a.m. ET: Southampton v. Liverpool – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Aston Villa v. Bournemouth – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Brighton v. West Ham – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Everton v. Watford – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Norwich v. Newcastle – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Classy Arsenal beat Burnley

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Arsenal beat Burnley 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday to make it two wins from two to start the new season. It is the first time in 10 years Arsenal have won their opening two games of a Premier League season.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

The Gunners took the lead early on through Alexandre Lacazette but a stubborn Burnley wouldn’t go away and Ashley Barnes equalized in a somewhat fortuitous manner before the break.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored the winner as Dani Ceballos dazzled on his full debut in the Premier League.

Up next for the Gunners is a trip to Liverpool followed by a north London derby against Tottenham. It is then we will see just how good this Gunners side really is.


3 things we learned

1. Ceballos is the real deal: The Spanish midfielder worked so hard defensively and oozed class on the ball. He is the replacement for Aaron Ramsey and was absolutely sensational. If he keeps playing like this, Arsenal may not be able to afford to buy him permanently next summer…

2. Defensive issues remain: There were a few shaky moments at the back for the Gunners. David Luiz‘s first start saw him take a few risks on the ball, while Bernd Leno flapped at a few crosses. Arsenal looked better defensively with Guendouzi in front of the defense, but they are far from being a solid outfit.

3. Burnley were Burnley: Sean Dyche‘s side didn’t have much of the ball but they created dangerous chances from set pieces and as long as they were only one-goal down, they were always a threat.

Man of the Match: Dani Ceballos – He will become a firm fans favorite at the Emirates Stadium. Silky on the ball, the Spaniard dug deep defensively and dictated the tempo of the game. A fine home PL debut for the Real Madrid loanee, who whipped in the corner for Lacazette’s goal and then won the ball back to create Aubameyang’s goal.


Arsenal were rampant early on and after Lacazette’s header was denied by Nick Pope, the French striker wriggled free from the resulting corner and made it 1-0.

Ashley Barnes flashed an effort just wide soon after as Burnley responded well to going behind with several high balls into the Arsenal box causing the Gunners defense problems.

Before the break Ceballos, who was running the show, orchestrated a fine counter attack which ended in Pope denying Matteo Guendouzi. Moments later Burnley were level as Dwight McNeil‘s deflected shot found Barnes and he bundled the ball home under pressure from Guendouzi to equalize against the run of play.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Arsenal thought they’d retaken the lead right on half time but Nacho Monreal was flagged for offside as he pulled the ball back for Reiss Nelson to smash home. VAR checked the decision and no goal was given.

Nicolas Pepe came on at half time as Arsenal cranked through in the second half, with the home side dominating the play and Pope making several saves.

Ceballos, once again, was the heart of their game-winning goal as he won the ball back in a dangerous area and Aubameyang raced towards goal before curling home at the near post.