Premier League Playback: Liverpool set for top four, City unstoppable, Dempsey’s struggles

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ALL OUT ATTACK – LIVERPOOL’S PLAN FOR UCL BERTH

On Wednesday against Everton, Brendan Rodgers set his Liverpool side out to attack. Scratch that, their aim wasn’t just to attack, it was to obliterate.

Job done.

Liverpool went with Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge in attack with Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling supporting them. In a swashbuckling 4-3-3 Rodgers’ star men delivered an oppressive display that enabled the Reds to strip Everton of possession as high up the pitch as possible. That lead to their biggest derby win in almost three decades against the Toffees, as a 4-0 win could and should have been more.

Last week I went along to Liverpool’s Melwood training center and asked Rodgers how important his central midfield would be between now and the end of the season, he admitted his sides 2-2 draw with Aston Villa in their last home game before the Merseyside derby still rankled with home. Especially the way he initially set up his team in the midfield and final third. This is the response he gave me.

“What was interesting about last weekend was that it was one of the only times, since I’ve been here, that we played 4-4-2,” Rodgers said. “A lot of our work has been based around 4-3-3 and having superiority in the middle of the field. The players have grown very comfortable with that over time. I probably played too much of an aggressive team, attacking wise, and we probably suffered from that. Then when we made the changes, and when we put three in the middle we had some control again. That area of the field is very important for us, that’s where we look to control and dominate the game. When we do that, we are a very good side.”

Liverpool certainly dominated the midfield and showed just how good they were against Everton.

Everyone talks about having a high-pressure approach against sides like Everton, who loved to spray the ball around and play out from the back, but you need remarkable fitness levels from all 10 outfield players to achieve this. Rodgers unleashed his forward four to harass Everton and had captain Steven Gerrard quarterbacking proceedings from a deep-lying midfield role. It worked a treat.

The 4-3-3 formation with S.A.S. leading the line is the way to go for Rodgers.

He realized that after Liverpool’s poor first half display vs. Aston Villa. Now the penny has dropped and the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” has never been so apt.

(MORE: Liverpool dazzle in derby win, will Champions League dream become a reality?)

Clarity of thought always comes when a massive Merseyside derby is on the horizon and Rodgers’ used that to mastermind an attacking masterclass from his side. Will the Reds make the top four playing this breathtaking brand of soccer?

You bet your bottom dollar they will. Few teams will outscore them. Expect to hear raspy chants of “attack, attack, attack” reign down from the famous Kop end during the rest of the campaign. When you have the precocious attacking Liverpool have at their disposal it would be silly not to. In his post-game press conference at Anfield following Liverpool’s largest derby win since 1982, Rodgers was a little disappointed his team didn’t win by more than the 4-0 margin.

Behind Man City’s offensive juggernaut, Liverpool are the second highest scorers in the English top-flight with 57 goals from 23 games.

Next up to feel the wrath of Liverpool’s fired up attack: West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.

Premier League Schedule – Round 23

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

UNSTOPPABLE CITY?

After smashing 11 goals past top four hopefuls Tottenham Hotspur during two victories this season, Manchester City are the real deal. With their resounding 5-1 win over Spurs at White Hart Lane their eighth-successive win in the PL, only four other teams have done that in league history (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man United).

The Citizens have now scored 68 goals in 23 games, which means they’ve already surpassed the 66 goals they scored in the entire 2012-13 campaign. There are still 15 games to go this season…

After smashing Spurs into space with sublime forward movement and interchanging midfielders leaving the White Hart Lane crowd dizzy in despair, Manuel Pellegrini’s side are now top of the Premier League table with a massive few weeks coming up.

Let’s not dwell on another hammering of a top four contender because, let’s face it, it happens all too often for City this year. Thanks to our good friends at Opta, above, you can see that against the top eight sides in the PL they have grabbed 24 points from a possible 27. The only team they lost to was Chelsea in a narrow 2-1 loss back in November.

Who do they host this week at the Eithad? Chelsea.

On Monday, live on NBCSN from 2pm ET, you can watch on to see if City will be able to put Chelsea in their place and hand out another hammering to a top four, and potential title, contender. Chelsea are three points behind City going into this game and know a defeat will see the Citizens extend their lead over the West London club to six points. With Sergio Aguero injuring his hamstring against Spurs, the Argentine may miss the game. But City don’t really care if their leading man is out, they have Edin Dzeko, Alvaro Negredo and now Stevan Jovetic all fit and ready to continue banging in goals left, right and center.

(MORE: Latest Premier League Standings)

Be afraid Chelsea, very afraid. Right now a visit to City is the last thing Jose Mourinho needs as his side struggled to a 0-0 draw with West Ham and the Portuguese boss moaned and complained about the Hammer’s ” football from the 19th century.”

Chelsea had the bus parked against them, surely the only way they have any chance of inflicting a first PL home defeat of the season on City is by shutting up shop and defending for their lives at the Etihad?

On this form, City are looking to beat the PL record of 14 consecutive wins. I wouldn’t bet against them breaking pretty much every record out there this season. Their dominance is astounding, watch on as they embarrass yet another top PL club below. This time it was Tottenham’s time to bow down and imitate the ‘we’re not worthy gesture.’

EL MATA-DOR AT HOME WITH UNITED?

On his long-awaited debut for Manchester United, record-signing Juan Mata didn’t set Old Trafford alight with his opening 83 minutes in a United shirt. Sometimes, the script just doesn’t allow a dazzling display on debut. Throughout Mata was always probing, always searching for and demanding the ball at his feet to get United going as he had the most touches on the pitch with 63. The tiny Spanish playmaker helped create Robin van Persie’s opening goal with a searching ball out to the left flank in the build-up. It was only a glimmer of what he’s capable of, but it was there.

But the big question is, where will Mata play for the Red Devils?

Despite darting in and out of the lines and making intelligent and intricate runs around Cardiff’s defense, so often his new United teammates didn’t give him the ball where he could hurt the opposition. That’s part of the growing process and it’ll be extremely interesting to see where Mata lines up against Stoke City on Saturday as David Moyes has a real dilemma to solve. Albeit a luxury , which Moyesy hasn’t had a plethora of so far this campaign.

source: AP
Mata showed glimpses of what’s to come in a United shirt, after a steady debut

On Saturday Wayne Rooney will return to full fitness and now United have to fit Rooney, van Persie, Mata and teenage sensation Adnan Januzaj into the same starting XI. Antonia Valencia’s slot on the right wing looks a little vulnerable, as I’d expect to see a 4-2-3-1 formation with Januzaj deployed on the right, Mata played centrally and Rooney cutting in off the left behind RVP up top on his own.

I’d also expect to see Rooney and Mata interchange with both players taking turns to cover the left flanks defensively, but there won’t be much of that. With two holding midfielders United will be able to plug those gaps out wide by slotting a central midfielder out wide if Rooney or Januzaj get caught up the pitch and then the opposite winger will tuck in to balance things out to make a bank of four in front of the back four. It’s not rocket science. All four attackers can start in the same team together.

Will Rooney enjoy being shifted out to the left? Let’s wait and see. But his relationship on the field with Mata is something I’m looking forward to watch, as two creative geniuses feeding the PL’s most clinical striker in recent years (RVP) is a recipe for supreme success. Whatever what you dissect it.

Mata is the key cog to it all, and with his intelligent runs and boasting a superior soccer IQ to most, United need to get the ball to him in the correct positions to see the tricky Spaniard at his devastating best.

A work in progress for the Red Devils to unlock their attacking potential, but finally, it’s in progress.

DECLINING DEMPSEY EPITOMIZES FULHAM’S WOE

As Fulham’s players trudged off the pitch at a rainy Liberty Stadium following yet another defeat on Tuesday, USMNT captain Cint Dempsey is now well and truly embroiled in a relegation battle with the same club where he shone as Player of the Year and previously lit up the Premier League.

Of course Deuce is only on loan from MLS’ Seattle Sounders until the end of February, but instead of inspiring a lackluster Fulham side up the table and away from relegation during his short stint back at Craven Cottage, his arrival has done the exact opposite.

Now questions are being raised about his readiness for the World Cup in Brazil next summer. Will Clint still be the USA’s talisman?

This loan spell was also supposed to see Dempsey get back to his best after his career faltered a little at Tottenham following a move from Fulham on transfer deadline day in August 2012. Add in a largely forgettable start to his career back in MLS with his lucrative move to Seattle in July, and you have a player that’s languishing a little.

Dempsey has struggled to impact any of the games he’s played in for Fulham in the last few weeks, with the U.S. international struggling for confidence and form. Those two key ingredients are extremely hard to find in a side battling relegation. PST’s Kyle Bonn took an in-depth look at Dempsey’s struggles since returning to the Cottage.

We are all rooting for you, Clint. In fact I would go as far as saying a fired up and rejuvenate Dempsey is the difference between the USA making the knockouts or bowing out in the group stages in Brazil this summer. Let’s hope things turn around really soon for Deuce.

In case you missed anything in Round 23, here’s all the action in a neatly wrapped video of the midweek madness.

Premier League Playback takes an alternative look at all the weekend’s action from the PL, it comes out every week.

Mane: Feud with Salah is over

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Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah are friends again.

Sort of.

Following Mane’s angry reaction to not being passed the ball by Salah in their win at Burnley before the international break, there were concerns that the relationship between the two star forwards would impact their play on the pitch.

But speaking to French outlet Canal+ after their 3-1 win against Newcastle United on Saturday, Mane put a lid on the matter.

“With Salah? It’s forgotten,” Mane said. “Sometimes you have to say things face to face. These are things that happen in football, sometimes it happens that I am not given the pass. But we have reconciled and become the good friends we were before.”

That’s that then.

Salah posted the following video ahead of the weekend, which says it all.

Mane scored twice on Saturday to continue his stunning start to the season, so it hasn’t impacted his form. But Salah, the Egyptian King and darling of Anfield, has come out of this worse.

Liverpool fans, generally, were on Mane’s side in this disagreement and the Senegalese attacker has been applauded for his response.

Will this impact Salah’s confidence and the fluidity of Liverpool front three? Probably not.

As Mane said, these things happen in football but it does prove that despite all of the success something has been brewing behind-the-scenes at Liverpool.

Arsenal “too scared” of Watford in collapse

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Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka admitted the Gunners were “too scared” of Watford as they collapsed in the second half.

Leading 2-0 at half time thanks to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal were totally outplayed in the second half as Watford roared back to draw 2-2 at Vicarage Road on Sunday.

Speaking after the game, Xhaka said the Arsenal players were not confident enough to see out the game.

“No-one wanted the ball. In the end we are happy to take a point,” Xhaka said. “We didn’t show our game in the second half, we were too scared… Every team in the Premier League is strong enough to score but you have to keep calm, to show good character, to be mentally strong. We weren’t today.”

If only this was a rare occurrence for Arsenal.

Under Unai Emery their defensive collapses have been frequent, and this issue even dates back to Arsene Wenger‘s final few seasons in charge.

Arsenal were their own worst enemies on Sunday.

Instead of playing the ball out of dangerous areas they tried to play short goal kicks time and time again and were caught in possession on several occasions. David Luiz gave away a penalty kick, Xhaka and Mateo Guendouzi were overrun in central midfield in the second half and in the end they were lucky to grab a point.

Trying the same things time and time again and expecting different results is just bonkers, and that is what this Arsenal squad is going.

Luiz, Bernd Leno, Sokratis and Xhaka are players Arsenal have built their defensive core around, and the same issues keep cropping up when they are in the team. Adding Luiz to the mix after losing Laurent Koscielny was a risk and it seems like a move which will backfire for the Gunners.

It is true that defenders Rob Holding, Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney are all close to returning from injury, so when that happens perhaps we will see a newfound defensive solidity and things will improve.

Then again, it’s likely neutral everywhere will be grabbing their popcorn whenever Arsenal play this season because you’re guaranteed entertainment at both ends of the pitch.

Galaxy hammer Sporting KC; Zlatan: “I’m the best ever in MLS”

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LA Galaxy smashed Sporting Kansas City 7-2 on Sunday, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a hat trick then called himself the best player in MLS history.

Just a casual Sunday for Zlatan, then…

Ibrahimovic, 37, scored a hat trick as LA raced into a 7-1 lead after falling 1-0 behind early on as Felipe Gutierrez scored both of Sporting’s goals.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Ibrahimovic was typically humble after his hat trick which means he now holds the record for the highest scoring season in Galaxy history with 26 goals.

“I think I am the best ever to play in MLS. And that’s without joking,” Ibrahimovic said. “Scoring goals is easy, you just have to be like Zlatan and it’s coming.”

Zlatan is now two goals behind Carlos Vela in the race for the Golden Boot in MLS with four games remaining, and he’s now scored 48 goals in 52 games since arriving in MLS.

Joe Corona, Uriel Antuna and Sebastian Lletget grabbed the Galaxy’s other goals as they won for the first time in five MLS games to boost their chances of making the playoffs in the congested Western Conference.

With the defeat Sporting KC’s hopes of reaching the playoffs is all but over.

Check out the highlights in full below. It will take quite a while to sort through the nine goals, so set down and soak in Zlatan’s brilliance.

Mexicans Abroad: Weekend Roundup

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Taking the field in the 70th minute, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez made his debut with Sevilla, who became La Liga’s leaders following Sunday’s result.

In Portugal, despite transitioning to right back at the start of the season, Jesus “Tecatito” Corona continues flourish with Porto. The 26-year-old has two assists after five league games.

Elsewhere, Carlos Vela, who returned from injury, is on the cusp of trying MLS’ all-time single-season scoring record. To be exact, the 30-year-old needs three goals to tie the record, four to surpass Josef Martinez. LAFC has four regular-season games still to play.

Here is a list of several other Mexico national team affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) outside of Mexico this weekend.

Serie A

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Napoli — Lozano’s second appearance for Napoli wasn’t as captivating as his first, but he did have his positive moments. On Saturday, Chucky started and played 65 minutes, recording a shot off target, 23 touches, and earning two fouls along the way.

Premier League

Raul Jimenez, Wolverhampton Wanderers — Jimenez started and played 70 minutes in Wolves’ 5-2 loss to Chelsea. Will Nuno Espirito Santos side’s  struggles start to affect Jimenez productivity?

La Liga

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Sevilla — Chicharito is officially a Sevillista. The 31-year-old replaced Luuk De Jong in 70th minute in Sevilla’s 1-0 over Alaves on Sunday.

Hector Herrera, Atletico Madrid — For a fourth consecutive league game, Herrera was left on the bench. At this rate, it’s difficult to say when the 29-year-old will make his debut with Los Colchoneros, who lost 2-0 to Real Sociedad on Saturday.

Andres Guardado, Real Betis —  Guardado, who recently became a father for a second time, didn’t feature in Betis’ 1-1 draw against Getafe on Saturday.

Diego Lainez, Real Betis — The 19-year-old make the 18, but didn’t take the field against Getafe.

Nestor Araujo, Celta Vigo — Araujo took the field in the 15th minute following Jorge Saenz’s red-card challenge. Celta ended up losing 2-0 against Granda.

Eredivisie

Erick Gutierrez, PSV Eindhoven — Gutierrez is out with a hand injury suffered with the national team. A return date is unknown.

Edson Alvarez, Ajax — Alvarez started and played 80 minutes in Ajax’s 4-1 drilling of Heerenveen. The 21-year-old is, slowly but surely, becoming a fixture for  Erik ten Hag.

Primeira Liga

Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, FC Porto — Things are going great for Tecatito. The right back (yes, you read that right) played 90 minutes and recorded an assist in Porto’s 3-2 win over Portimonense. It’s been a good transition for the 26-year-old, to say the least.

Jupiler Pro League

Omar Govea, Zulte Waregem — Govea started, but came off at halftime in Zulte’s 1-1 draw with KAS Eupen on Saturday.

Elsewhere around the globe:

Hector Moreno, Al Gharafa   On Saturday, Moreno started and played all 90 minutes in Al Gharafa’s 3-1 win against Qatar SC.

Juan Gerardo Ramirez Alosno, Roda JC — The 21-year-old fullback was left on the bench in Roda’s 1-1 draw on Friday.

Carlos Fierro, San Jose Earthquakes – Dressed but didn’t play in the Quakes’ 2-1 loss to NYCFC.

Carlos Vela, LAFC – In his return from injury, Vela started and scored in LAFC’s 1-1 . draw against the Philadelphia Union. The Mexican is three goals from tying Josef Martinez’s single-season goal record.

Jonathan Dos Santos, LA Galaxy – Dos Santos started in Galaxy’s game against Sporting Kansan City on Sunday.

Uriel Antuna, LA Galaxy – Antuna started in Galaxy’s game against Sporting Kansan City on Sunday.