Premier League Playback: Who’ll buy the title? Stunning Sherwood, Ole ready to attack

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STICK OR TWIST?

Silly season has arrived, get ready for endless column inches of transfer speculations and all of the whispers and rumors ascending towards a crescendo of activity on transfer deadline day, January 31. Between now and then, not a lot usually happens. But then managers and chairman will panic buy in the final few hours of the window just, well… because they can.

Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City have all been guilty of doing that in the past and with all three clubs embroiled in the Premier League title race this season, surely they’ll do the same…

Think again.

“The window is open and when it’s open anything can happen but we don’t think a lot is going to happen for us. I know what I’m building and what we are building at the club. We work and improve and try to bring the young players to a different level, and we are doing that quite successfully. We are not candidates to win the league, but we are always candidates to win the next match.” – Jose Mourinho on Chelsea’s transfer policy this January

Jose is playing it coy with the last part of that comment following Chelsea’s 3-0 demolition of Southampton on New Year’s Day, as  the vast and relatively young squad he’s cultivating at Chelsea will certainly see the Blues challenging at the PL’s summit come May 11 when the champion is crowned. He is trusting youngsters and has bought and nurtured players who will be around for a long-time and won’t just be flash in the pans over a season at Stamford Bridge. But surely a new striker would still be handy, Jose?

The same could be said for Arsenal and Manchester City, as both squads are well stocked and only really need one or two top caliber players to polish them off pristinely. Arsene Wenger has spoken of only buying a “special player” which he did with the summer signing of Mesut Ozil, who has helped transform Arsenal from top four hopefuls to title contenders. Another player of that ilk will be expensive, especially in January when prices are hugely inflated, but Arsenal could do with another top forward to really cement their position as a challenger for the PL crown.

As for City, they really don’t need to buy during this window.

Scoring 56 goals in the league so far, Manuel Pellegrini’s men have assembled a top quality attacking side. Even without top scorer Sergio Aguero, who should return from injury later this month, the Citizens always look like scoring three or four goals every time they step on the pitch. At the back they’re a little shaky, but that comes with being a ruthless attacking unit that first and foremost wants to attack. Maybe a classy central defender in the window would help polish off Pellegrini’s sterling work so far.

(MORE: Latest Premier League Standings)

Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City have assembled magnificent squads full of young attacking talent, but one thing could also put them off spending in the transfer window: the dreaded Financial Fair Play (FFP) rule. This is something all the top clubs will have to adhere to, or face be sanctioned heavily by UEFA.

Those new regulations will curb the spending of the big teams this winter, not that they need to spend big anyway. But the big question is, will the big teams stick with what they have through until May? Or will one side flinch first and buy big to try and seal the PL crown?

This will be interesting viewing as all three teams are good enough, as it stands, to win the league. Let’s see if they realize it.

Premier League Schedule – New Year’s Day

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

SHERWOOD’S CHARISMA LEADS THE WAY

Just before the festive period on PST Extra, myself and Mike Prindiville discussed whether or not Tim Sherwood would be the right man to replace Andre Villas-Boas at Tottenham Hotspur.

Prindi and I were pushing for Sherwood to get the job and be able to prove himself, and the former Blackburn Rovers and Tottenham skipper has done superbly well so far.

Unbeaten in four PL games, winning three of them, Spurs are now well back in the hunt for the top four. And Tottenham’s 2-1 win at Old Trafford against Manchester United on New Year’s Day showed the grit and determination needed to succeed in the PL, plus they have game changers in Christian Eriksen, Aaron Lennon, Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor, plus plenty of others in reserve.

One of Sherwood’s best qualities has been to give everyone a second chance. So often players are cast aside at clubs because one manager doesn’t appreciate their attitude, qualities or they simply don’t fit into a certain style of play. Case in point, Spurs’ Adebayor who has scored four goals in five games since Sherwood took over first on an interim basis and now permanently.

Scoring goals for Arsenal, Manchester City and Real Madrid in the past, in Sherwood’s words Adebayor is “obviously a top player.” But he just wasn’t getting the chance to shine at White Hart Lane.

Another player who was cast aside by AVB is left back Benoit Assou-Ekotto, who is currently out on loan at Championship club Queens Park Rangers. Ekotto had the following to say about Adebayor’s sizzling form and had a subtle dig at AVB on Twitter.

Assou-Ekotto likes Sherwood, he said it in the Tweet so it must be true… But Spurs’ 44-year-old boss is a hugely affable character and has also won plenty more friends for his honest and forthright opinions on the game. His tactics of playing an attacking 4-4-2 formation with bold wingers and two out-and-out forwards is paying dividends for Sherwood, and long may that continue. It’s refreshing to see a young English manager given a chance in England’s top-flight and Sherwood’s charisma and character is creating an ‘us against them mentality’ with the Tottenham players as they dig deep for their new leader. Sherwood’s already stated his ambition to not bring players in during the transfer window, as he wants to give Spurs’ youngsters the chance to shine on the biggest stage of all and also believe sin the current crop of stars at his disposal.

Old fashioned tactics and methods are frowned upon by many, but Sherwood may be on to something with his ‘keep it simple’ mindset at Spurs. They helped them beat United on New Year’s Day, watch below, as 2014 began in style.

PENALTY DECISIONS GO AGAINST THE BIG BOYS FOR ONCE

Just a few days ago the likes of Southampton and Stoke City were complaining that the little guys do not get any of the key decisions from referees.

A few of the bigger teams are now moaning about the officiating, after some massive decisions went against them on New Year’s Day. First of all David Moyes is feeling very hard done by after Spurs beat his Manchester United side 2-1 and Howard Webb denied first Danny Welbeck and then Ashley Young penalties in the second half as the Red Devils pushed for an equalizer.

About the decision to not award a penalty for Hugo Lloris’ clumsy sliding challenge on Young, Red Devils boss Moyes had this to say.

“It’s an incredible decision, in fact probably one of the worst I think I saw. The goalkeeper comes out, Ashley Young gets the ball before him and he follows through.  If you follow through on a player anywhere else on the pitch with your foot high, it would be a sending-off and a red card. I find it incredible, but the people who employ the referees are going to have to look at that and see if they get that right.” Oh dear, not a happy bunny.

While elsewhere, Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho had no complaints as Brazilian attacker Oscar went clean through on goal against Southampton with his side drawing 0-0 and the entire goal gaping at the young prodigy. But instead of tapping the ball past the advancing Kelvin Davis in goal for Saints, Oscar took and almighty tumble and instead of getting a penalty and Davis a red card (which the smaller clubs argue would usually happens when incidents like this occur vs. Chelsea or United) referee Martin Atkinson correctly gave Oscar a yellow card for diving.

Officiating decisions going against Chelsea and United… surely not? Some of the smaller teams can stop moaning now too, poor decisions happen to any side whether or not you’re the biggest or smallest team in the league. That was proven unequivocally this weekend.

OLE GUNNAR… BE THE RIGHT MAN?

On Thursday morning Cardiff City appointed Norwegian Ole Gunnar Solksjaer as their new manager, you may remember him as the man who won Manchester United the UEFA Champions League with a last-gasp winner against Bayern Munich in ’99. Yeah, that guy.

But since his playing days for the Red Devils ended, Solksjaer has excelled in the managerial realm after leading Manchester United’s reserve side to glory over a three year spell, then doing the same with Molde in Norway’s top-flight. Known as the ‘baby-faced assassin’ for his boyish good looks and clinical finishing during his iconic playing spell at Old Trafford — Roy Keane once thought Ole was a “12-year-old kid who’d won a competition to train with United” when he arrived — Solksjaer is hugely respected in the game for his talents on the field and is a national hero in Norway. But all this aside, how will he fare as a Premier League manager?

With Vincent Tan around, who knows. The likelihood is that the 40-year-old boss will be handed a substantial amount of money in the January transfer window to give the Bluebirds a chance of staying up. It’s also likely most of that loot will be spent on attackers. Plus with Solksjaer’s close links with United, expect a few of the Red Devils promising youngsters to pop up at the Cardiff City Stadium if Ole so chooses.

As manager of Molde his side played an exciting brand of attacking soccer and on average during his three season in charge, two of which resulted in league titles, the northern Norwegian side scored 50.6 goals per campaign. This year Cardiff have scored just 15 goals in 20 PL games, only Crystal Palace have a leaner offense. And who better to help their goal scoring issues than the greatest natural finisher the Premier League has ever seen? After speaking during his unveiling as manager, it seems like Ole is going to go all-out attack to keep the Bluebirds in the top flight.

“My brand of football will hopefully make Cardiff’s fans proud of the way we play football. My brand is forward-minded. Forward passing, forward running. I want to attack. I want the players to express themselves.”

Premier League Playback takes an alternative look at all the weekends actions from the PL, it comes out every week.

Pogba: Brighton was “hungrier” than Man Utd

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Jose Mourinho said Manchester United was “really, really, really down” at halftime of their 3-2 loss to Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday.

[ MORE: Recap | Mourinho reacts ]

His captain, Paul Pogba, didn’t let those vibes temper his efforts to turn the game around, though he admits his Red Devils weren’t up to the challenge.

“They had more hunger than us and the result is the right one for them,” he said.

Pogba said he was disappointed in his performance, and the team’s mentality.

From the BBC:

“I will always try. I know I lost a lot of balls which shouldn’t happen. I tried, I kept pushing, that’s my personality. I tried to help the team as much as possible. It didn’t happen today.

“Brighton prepared the game very well. Maybe we didn’t have the attitude to break them, to kill them when we had to kill them and to go through the lines. That’s a lesson we have to keep in mind.”

There have been warning bells ringing at Manchester United for some time, and Old Trafford will be a nightmare if the Red Devils don’t answer them against Spurs a week from Monday.

Pogba was far from the main problem on Sunday. He set Romelu Lukaku up for what could’ve easily been the opening goal of the game — and usually would be — with a delightful through ball, and influenced the game on several occasions aside from his converted penalty kick.

But with Fred struggling and Nemanja Matic absent, Pogba was needed more in his 2017-18 role and couldn’t dominate defensively. That’s a tall ask down 3-1, but he has to stop the match from getting to that point.

EDIT: Here’s video and some more thoughts from Pogba after the match:

“Everybody likes to play against United. Obviously they want to beat us, they want to win. We need to be more focused,” he said. “Obviously much better than today. I’m not a superhero to see the future but obviously we need to play much better than today.”

Mourinho: Man Utd was “really, really, really down” at halftime

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Many could hardly wait for Jose Mourinho to take the microphone after one of Manchester United’s worst performances under the mercurial manager.

Unless they were hoping for a small jab at referee Kevin Friend for not letting United send one more ball into the fray, Mourinho was a bit of a letdown by design.

[ MORE: Match recap | Pogba reacts ]

“When I speak of individual performances you don’t accept it,” Mourinho said on NBCSN. “The players, the pundits are very critical when I’m asked to go in that direction. I’ll be happy to analyze my players’ performances when they are good. … When I cannot do that, don’t push me to the other side.”

Mourinho also rejected any comment on United’s inability to purchase one of his center back targets.

“The window opens on the first of January. It’s closed.”

What he did say was that Brighton did not let United off the hook for a number of mistakes in the defeat at the Amex Stadium.

And he did not have a clue United would have a bad day.

“I was not expecting obviously big mistakes because we are not speaking about small mistakes,” he said. “Big mistakes, we made big mistakes and we were punished by that. There’s a normal tendency to lose a little bit of the confidence and the direction of the game plan.”

“You go into halftime where the players were really, really, really down.”

United and Mourinho could be in a huge hole if after their first Top Four test of the season next week, when the Red Devils host Spurs on Monday, Aug. 27.

With all due respect to crafty Brighton veteran forward Glenn Murray, Harry Kane would’ve had a field day on Sunday.

Manchester United baffled by Brighton

Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images
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Brighton and Hove Albion stunned a haphazard Manchester United 3-2 at the Amex Stadium on Sunday.

The win puts both teams at 1-1, with the Gulls getting goals from Glenn Murray, Pascal Gross, and Shane Duffy. Romelu Lukaku scored for United in the first half, before Marouane Fellaini drew a Paul Pogba-converted penalty.

Manchester United next meets Spurs at Old Trafford, while Brighton travels to Liverpool.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]

Pogba played Romelu Lukaku through on goal, but the Belgian’s hard low strike zipped wide of the near post.

It was mostly United in the first 20 minutes before Anthony Knockaert raced onto a long ball and spun a 20-yard shot wide of David De Gea‘s far post.

Brighton did indeed take the lead through Murray, who cut in front of Victor Lindelof to flick a pretty ball from Solly March beyond De Gea.

Duffy then settled a cross in the heart of the United box before doubling Brighton’s advantage, and it would be a big dig for United.

Lukaku made it 2-1, rewarding for a fine first half-hour with a knockdown header from Luke Shaw‘s partially blocked shot.

But a poor pass from David De Gea led to Eric Bailly‘s sliding challenge on Pascal Gross. He converted the penalty to make it 3-1.

Mourinho completed his substitutions early, taking off Anthony Martial, Andreas Pereira, and Juan Mata for Marcus Rashford (HT), Jesse Lingard (HT), and Marouane Fellaini (60′).

United snapped to life with 16 minutes to play, Paul Pogba forcing Mathew Ryan into a flying parry.

But only a Fellaini-won penalty arrived deep in stoppage time, with Pogba converting his effort.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Murray scores beauty as Brighton thumping Man Utd at half (video)

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Might we have an upset on our hands at the Amex Stadium?

Manchester United trails Brighton and Hove Albion on a deft goal from Glenn Murray against the run of play and a quickfire addition to the score line from Shane Duffy.

[ STREAM: Brighton-Man Utd ]

It was mostly United in the first 20 minutes before Anthony Knockaert raced onto a long ball and spun a 20-yard shot wide of David De Gea‘s far post.

Brighton did indeed take the lead through Murray, who cut in front of Victor Lindelof to flick a pretty ball from Solly March beyond De Gea.

Duffy then settled a cross in the heart of the United box before doubling Brighton’s advantage.

Lukaku answered with a headed goal, but a poor pass from David De Gea led to Eric Bailly‘s sliding challenge on Pascal Gross. He converted the penalty to make it 3-1.