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.

Report: Toronto to send Giovinco to Tigres for Valencia, cash

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An Mexican site reports that Tigres UANL is ready to send Enner Valencia and cash to Toronto FC to land Sebastian Giovinco.

Normally that’s seem a bit wild for TFC to send their perennial MLS MVP candidate packing, but the club has been hesitant to meet Giovinco’s terms on a new contract.

[ MORE: PL Manager Power Rankings ]

And Valencia is nearly three years younger and a bit bigger than Giovinco.

Valencia scored in bunches for Tigres after arriving from West Ham, scoring nine goals with an assist in 16 Apertura matches including three multi-goal games. He then saw his numbers dip to two goals and three assists in 11 Clausura appearances.

Giovinco, meanwhile, has six goals and six assists in 15 matches between MLS and the CONCACAF Champions League.

It would be a significant risk for TFC, though the idea of pairing up Enner Valencia and Jozy Altidore is a physical nightmare for MLS defenses.

Whoops! Unai Emery puts up Arsenal message on web site

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Arsenal’s next manager is very close to being officially Unai Emery.

That is unless, the Gunners’ brass has its mind changed by his sloppy web savvy.

[ MORE: Brighton nabs World Cup defender ]

Emery — or his people, or hackers — mistakenly put up a graphic featuring the Spanish coach, the Arsenal logo, and the phrase “Proud to be a part of the Arsenal family” before taking it down in short order.

Emery is expected to take over for Arsene Wenger at the Emirates Stadium this summer. Something tells us we’ll have an announcement on Wednesday or even later tonight…

State TV: Ghana president orders arrest of FIFA executive

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ACCRA, Ghana (AP) Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo on Monday ordered police to arrest football federation head Kwesi Nyantakyi, a member of the powerful FIFA Council, over allegations of fraud.

Akufo-Addo’s order was announced by the state-run Ghana Broadcasting Corporation.

[ MORE: Brighton nabs World Cup defender ]

Abu Jinapor, deputy chief of staff at the president’s office, said the order for Nyantakyi to be arrested and investigated related to an undercover documentary that purports to show the football official asking businessmen for money in return for access to the president and other senior government officials.

“It was a clear case of defrauding by false pretense,” Jinapor said, adding that Akufo-Addo’s order came after he watched excerpts from the documentary, which has not yet been broadcast.

Nyantakyi is president of the Ghana Football Association, a vice president of the Confederation of African Football, and has been a member of the ruling FIFA Council since 2016. He was the FIFA official chosen to oversee the football competition at the 2012 London Olympics.

Ghanaian media reported that Nyantakyi was not in Ghana at the time of the president’s order but was returning home.

Nyantakyi has been accused of improper behavior before when a British media investigation just before the 2014 World Cup claimed he had been willing to allow the Ghana national team to play in games that could be fixed by others. He denied the allegation.

Premier League managerial power rankings

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There’s a new sheriff at West Ham United, and it’s no small-time boss.

Former Premier League champion manager Manuel Pellegrini is taking over the London side, which had us wondering how high he’d move up the acclaim ladder upon hiring (as of post time).

[ MORE: Brighton nabs World Cup defender ]

With the 20th spot still open — will it be Fulham or Aston Villa — the Arsenal and Everton jobs vacant for now, and both Neil Warnock and Nuno Espirito Santo yet to manage their clubs in the top flight, we rank the power status of the 15 other active Premier League bosses.

15. Javi Gracia, Watford — Manager don’t usually last long at Vicarage Road, and Gracia doesn’t have a record for sticking around clubs for too long himself.

14. Mark Hughes, Southampton — Saints stayed in the Premier League, and Hughes deserves credit for pushing the buttons on a talented squad.

13. Claude Puel, Leicester City — A disappointing finish to his season keeps Leicester outside the Europa League, and so he has a bit more to prove after an impressive reclamation job at the King Power Stadium.

12. David Wagner, Huddersfield Town — Keeping Town in the Premier League was impressive, but we’re not sure how much we learned about the long-term prognosis of Jurgen Klopp‘s best pal.

11. Chris Hughton, Brighton and Hove Albion — He’d led several clubs to Premier League promotion, and coaxed fine seasons out of what appeared to be a subpar defense at season’s open.

10. Eddie Howe, Bournemouth — One of the brightest young managerial minds, can he take the next step on the South Coast?

9. Roy Hodgson, Crystal Palace — What he did upon inheriting and then overseeing one of the worst starts in Premier League history was nothing short of brilliant. Clearly he hasn’t stopped learning unlike many other PL “retreads.”

8. Manuel Pellegrini, West Ham — What will a few years outside the Premier League, if anything, have done to the one-time Man City leader. Don’t forget: The season City won the PL season, he coaxed 20-plus goal campaigns in all competitions from Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko, Alvaro Negredo, and Yaya Toure.

7. Antonio Conte, Chelsea — Tactically and experience-wise, he’s so much higher on the list. Regardless of the mess at Chelsea, better was needed this season.

6. Sean Dyche, Burnley — Guiding tiny Burnley to the Europa League is as impressive a feat as any outside of what Guardiola did this year and Claudio Ranieri did at Leicester City.

— BONUS — 6b. Unai Emery, if hired at Arsenal —

5. Rafa Benitez, Newcastle United — Considering his resume, it shouldn’t be as surprising that he kept United up despite his owner refusing to green-light a real answer at center forward. Worked career years out of Mo Diame and Jonjo Shelvey.

4. Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool — The Champions League final says something, especially in a year he sold Philippe Coutinho, but his team still lacks the consistency of the three men in front of him.

3. Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham Hotspur — Spurs have smartly spent and kept their stars around, but their financial outlay arguably should not have them consistently finishing ahead of Liverpool and Arsenal.

2. Jose Mourinho, Manchester United — Still a defensive marvel, still a genius, still somewhat hilarious… but we all know who No. 1 is…

  1. Pep Guardiola, Manchester City