Premier League Playback: Rooney’s revolution at Manchester United, Everton slides, top teams accelerate

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ROONEY PERFECT TALISMAN TO LEAD REVIVAL

What does $500,000 a week get you? These days, you get a focal point for a revolution.

On Friday evening Manchester United superstar Wayne Rooney signed a new four-year extension to his contract which will see him lead United into a brave new world and hopefully a much brighter future. Committing himself to the Old Trafford club until the age of 33, Rooney will likely see out his playing days with the club he’s now been with for over a decade.

Following his terrific display in United’s 2-0 win over Crystal Palace on Saturday, and a stunning goal which you can watch above, Rooney had the following to say.

“I’ve had it agreed for about a month now, so I was just hoping it would get done as soon as possible. Now I can focus on football and try to help us succeed and win games. I’m delighted to sign a new long-term contract, I’m here to stay and I want to help make this club successful.”

Rooney, like any player, wants to feel wanted. And ever since David Moyes arrived as manager last summer, he’s waxed lyrical about Rooney’s form, professional attitude and leadership skills. Those words, perhaps more than the astronomical sums of money, could be why the 28-year-old striker turned down the advances of Europe’s elite for the chance to spearhead United’s charge back to the top. He has been at the club for 10 years, is in line to break many records, has won every trophy possible and now seems mature enough to take on the mantle of being a talisman on and off the pitch. Rooney will become an ambassador for the club, as the deal which made him the best paid player in United’s history is about much more than money.

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Click to enlarge: Position of Wayne Rooney’s touches vs. Palace. Source – Opta.

He is the one player, throughout all of United’s struggles this season, who has sparkled time and time again. Rooney has scored 10 PL goals in 22 games, but most importantly leads the Premier League in assists with nine. That’s because his role has been altered slightly and will continue to do so after the $56 million arrival of Juan Mata to link up with Rooney. The England international has laid on 44 goalscoring chances this season at an average of one every 42 minutes and his ability as a creator may see him drop deeper as his career plays out.

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Goals, although a huge part of his game, aren’t the be all and end all of Rooney’s output for the Reds. He is the heartbeat of the offense, the robust spine of the attack and is one of the most gifted players the PL has ever seen. His driving runs, clever passes and ability to find pockets of space always see Rooney as the focal point of United’s attack. His temperament is feisty on and off the pitch and although in the past it has resulted in red cards and tantrums, the fire in his belly is exactly what United need to fuel them forward. Rooney’s teammates will feed off his insatiable desire to win titles.

Look at the image on the left and you can see Rooney’s touches from the game vs. Palace, he’s all over the place and that’s Rooney at his best. But most telling is that he only had three touches in the penalty box, and one of those was his superb controlled volley which nestled into the top corner to seal United’s win and capped off the news of his new contract in style.

After the Palace game Rooney spoke about how United’s front four “have great flexibility” and pointed out how the relationship is building between him and Mata as Rooney “was coming deeper and Juan was coming in from the wing.” Rooney noted it will take time for United’s front four of Robin van Persie, Adnan Januzaj, himself and Mata to click perfectly (and don’t forget Danny Welbeck and Chicharito on the bench) but when it does, expect Rooney to be at the hub of everything

For the foreseeable future at United: welcome to Wayne’s World.

Premier League Schedule – Week 27

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

TOP FOUR WIN, START TO PULL AWAY

The elite got it done over the weekend, as the top four seem to be pulling away from the pack as they continue to turn the screw when it really matters. Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool are now all scrapping for the title, with a six-point gap emerging between them and Tottenham in fifth.

Arsenal eased past hapless Sunderland 4-1, while Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City all won by one goal. The importance of those three grinding out wins was not lost on their managers, as they all were relieved after the final whistle. None more so than Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho, who looked relaxed and composed in his post-match press conference, just moments after most of Stamford Bridge had lost the plot thanks to the Blues’ stoppage-time winner. Their 74-match unbeaten home run under Mourinho says it all. Chelsea defended superbly once again as their solid defense will win them this title. Plus clutch late winners portray true championship form.

“Today if we only have one point, if the teams behind us win, we lose that position,” Mourinho said nonchalantly. “The difference is very small, you win the game you keep the position. You lose the game you lose your position. This is the reality. We just want to try to keep our position.”

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The reality is, these four teams are pulling away from the rest at the top and that the Premier League champions in 2013-14 will be either Arsenal, Chelsea, City or Liverpool. I’m not going out on a limb by stating that but as Jose said, that’s the reality. Chelsea lead the way with 11 games to go. Can the others catch up?

EVERTON HAVE REACHED THEIR LEVEL

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Another dose of reality, albeit it a harsh one, is that Everton have been found out and a top four place is slipping away.

In their 1-0 defeat to Chelsea on Saturday, the Toffees had a lot of possession but didn’t do enough with it to suggest they are favorites for a top four spot. Roberto Martinez cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines, as standing in front of the press box at Stamford Bridge he became increasingly irritated as the game wore on.

Chelsea’s last gasp winner, which came from a disputed free kick after Ramires took a dramatic tumble, irked Martinez and he shared his disgust about Chelsea’s tactics as his side now sit 11 points off the Champions League positions.

“Chelsea have an incredible know-how of how to win dead-ball situations, using every trick in the book to try to get advantageous decisions. Ramires was looking for contact when he won the free kick and it was not a free kick at all. Just look at the record Chelsea have at home, it must be more than playing well at home every match.”

Sour groups Roberto? Not quite. But I’ve been present for both his post-match press conferences following the 4-0 derby defeat away at Liverpool and then the 1-0 loss at Chelsea and the Spaniard has stayed dignified yet defiant with the belief he has in his side. In their last two away games Everton have faced the same problem which troubled them at the start of the season: a lack of goals. The Toffees have only scored 37 times this season, the seventh highest total in the PL and away from home the issue has been magnified as Everton’s last three away defeats against Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea haven’t yielded a goal. They are now without a win in five matches away from Goodison Park and just four away wins all season isn’t good enough for a team with top four aspirations.

When asked Martinez agreed that Everton’s away form is a problem after the devastating late loss to Chelsea, but he failed to get bogged down by it all.

“Our away form in terms of results, I agree with you [it is a worry]. We go to Stamford Bridge and we get nothing, we go to White Hart Lane and we get nothing. It is probably fair to say we were the better side on both occasions. For us more important than getting points away from home, we must make sure the scoreline reflects the performance.”

As Chelsea are showing, grinding out results in the name of the game in the PL this season. Everton have plenty of style, there’s no disputing that, but their lack of substance will probably cost them a UEFA Champions League spot this season.

STAND BY YOUR MAN…

Of course Martinez’s job will be safe, even if Everton finish outside the top four as the Toffees have, overall, moved forward this season. But elsewhere in the PL, seven managers have lost their jobs and certain clubs are in free fall. The bottom five in the PL standings, Fulham, Cardiff, Sunderland, West Brom and Crystal Palace, have all changed managers and they’ve had varying degrees of success after failing to stand by their man. Country singer Tammy Wynette famously urged everyone to do just that, so maybe these PL should’ve taken a leaf out of her book?

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwBirf4BWew&w=420&h=315%5D

In Crystal Palace and Sunderland’s case, they chose to go with managers who knew the English game well and had vast experience of the Premier League. You can see that, as Palace and the Black Cats have had a huge upturn in results since Tony Pulis and Gus Poyet arrived. As for Fulham, Cardiff and West Brom, who have brought in managers with little to no experience managing in the PL, they’ve seen their new men struggle to adapt. Fulham’s newest arrival, Felix Magath has had one game and garnered one point, more on him shortly. As for Cardiff City boss Ole Gunnar Solksjaer and West Brom boss Pepe Mel, they have just one PL win between them in 13 games so far. Mel has failed to win, but the Baggies have drawn four of his six games in charge 1-1 and lost to Liverpool and Aston Villa. While Cardiff are spiraling towards the trap door as Solksjaer’s men have lost five of his seven PL games in charge, with a solitary win coming against Norwich.

Were the owners of Cardiff and West Brom’s right to gamble on a new boss rather than stick with their old managers? As Tammy said “keep giving him all the love you can… Stand by your man!” Will that be enough for Cardiff and West Brom to avoid the drop?

HOPE FOR FULHAM UNDER MAGATH?

Fulham haven’t shown much love to their managers this season, and they’ve had three of them, and they’re bottom of the table because of it (Tammy was right). Back in September at Craven Cottage, Fulham led 1-0 against West Brom until stoppage time, then Gareth McAuley rose highest to head home and grab the Baggies a point in the 92nd minute. On Saturday, the same pattern played out as massive defensive errors continue to cost them dear. The Cottagers played well and went ahead early, through Ashkan Dejagah’s strike but then failed to build on their lead and ultimately paid the price for a cautious display. Another late equalizer saw Fulham slip further behind at the bottom of the standings, but this is what happens when you’ve just appointed a German disciplinarian as your new manager. Until his charges get their fitness levels up and get used to his strict training regimes, the Cottagers will likely fade late in games as Felix Magath runs them into the ground at practice.

So how did Magath do on debut? Okay. Fulham looked solid and should’ve probably grabbed a massive three points. But they didn’t after a goalkeeping error let them down and now Magath will make them work even harder to avoid the drop. That’s the only way he knows how and in the past he’s been accused of taking away water breaks from players during training. When news of West Brom’s late equalizer filtered through to myself and other journalist in a press room over the weekend, I laughed as a colleague quipped, “Well, looks like there will be no water bottles for Fulham’s players this week.”

The Cottagers are four points off the drop and have played one more game than their rivals hovering above the bottom three. Time is running out, Magath needs a miracle.

Let’s finish with a look at the top five goals from the Premier League this weekend. Watch some absolute beauts, below.

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

Transfer news: Arsenal’s latest Aouar bid; mystery Fati bid for $175 million

Ansu Fati transfer
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Today’s Premier League transfer news includes Arsenal’s latest bid for Houssem Aouar, Barcelona rejected an astronomical bid for 17-year-old Ansu Fati, and Antonio Rudiger moving across London to West Ham for the season…

[ MORE: Transfer news: Rice in, Jorginho out at Chelsea; Skriniar to Spurs ]

Arsenal increase bid for Aouar, but is it enough?

Arsenal are reportedly prepared to increase their bid for Aouar, but only to $57 million, which remains $12 million short of Lyon’s valuation for the 22-year-old midfielder. The Gunners’ latest offer is said to include more than $11 million in add-ons, but Lyon are likely to reject that bid as well as they seek the full amount paid in full.

Barcelona reject mystery $175-million Ansu Fati transfer bid

First things first, let’s start the plainly obvious: $175 million is a lot of money for any player, let alone a 17-year-old who still has so much development left to come. Even Fati, who has been nothing short of a revelation thus far, can still fall short of expectations. With Lionel Messi seemingly headed for the exit door (for free) next summer, how exactly do Barca plan to rebuild their first-team squad? Sure, they’d enjoy themselves a great deal if a La Masia product like Fati is the focal point of their rebirth, but they still desperately need to put a competent team around him. Automatically rejecting a (reported) bid of $175 million seems a bit crazy, but so is everything else at Barcelona these days. According to some reports, Man United are said to be the club which made the mega-bid for Fati.

[ MORE: Suarez plays just 20 minutes, scores two goals in Atleti debut (video) ]

Rudiger to West Ham on loan

Antonio Rudiger might be a first-choice option at center back for Chelsea boss Frank Lampard, and he might not be as well. West Ham are taking the approach that the 27-year-old German won’t be getting the first-team action he requires, thus they wish to work out a loan deal for the 2020-21 season.

Torreira in limbo at Arsenal

Lucas Torreira’s time at Arsenal is (logically speaking) finished, but the Gunners are reportedly having a hard time finding a landing spot for the 24-year-old Uruguayan midfielder. Torino were interested for a time, but they no longer see Torreira as a viable option. Atletico Madrid are interested in a loan deal, but Arsenal don’t want to do that. Perhaps Torreria, plus cash, might tempt the La Liga side to finally part ways with Thomas Partey.

Guardiola vows to ‘find solutions’ after Man City dismantled, embarrassed

Pep Guardiola - Man City
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Pep Guardiola has vowed to “find solutions” following Man City’s 5-2 defeat to Leicester City on Sunday, a result which undoubtedly cast a layer of doubt over his injury-riddled side’s title aspirations.

[ MORE: Suarez plays just 20 minutes, scores two goals in Atleti debut (video) ]

What can Guardiola do to hugely affect the current situation, though, as he has just 13 first-team players available due to injuries and COVID-19? First things first, he must rescue his players’ morale after such a devastating defeat when they are anything but accustomed to losing in such a fashion. Apart from that, Guardiola will be forced to take a wait-and-see approach — quotes from the BBC:

“We played a really good first half and scored early on. They defend so deep it is not easy. The problem was was we put extra pressure on ourselves to score the second and third. We need to be more calm, we don’t have the players to attack the box that we need.

“We got nervous and gave three penalties and when you give three penalties you cannot win. I don’t know how many chances they created. We needed to be more patient. It is hard, but it is the second game of the season and we have to try to see what we need to do to avoid it again.

“I feel bad for the guys and for the club.”

“They did not want to play, they just wanted to counter-attack. We know that Vardy runs from far, far away and Barnes you have to control him. But the moment we started to get nervous, we thought we were not doing well.

“We are not going to create 10 chances. We have to know it is difficult. Even at 5-2, Leicester were in the 18-yard box. I am not going to give up, I am going to try to find solutions.”

Up next for Man City is a trip to Leeds United next weekend, where Guardiola will match wits with cult-of-personality legend Marcelo Bielsa.

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West Ham counter, cross their way to 4-0 win over Wolves

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West Ham – Wolves saw the Hammers explode for four goals, spearheaded by Jarrod Bowen’s brace, and a clean sheet as they secured a thoroughly surprising result at the London Stadium on Sunday.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]

The Hammers picked up their first points of the season and climbed outside the relegation zone after suffering defeats in their first two games of the 2020-21 Premier League season.


2 things we learned: West Ham – Wolves

1. It pays to attack: Look, at the age of 57, David Moyes simply is who he is, and who he is is who he’s always been. He’s a pragmatic manager who prefers to defend with numbers behind the ball and counter-attack with the fewest number of players necessary to create half-chances in the hopes of fortuitously putting one or two away. It’s pretty bleak stuff for fans of Moyes’ various employers, let alone the neutrals among us. But, every now and then — typically when his back is up against the wall and he’s feeling desperate — he’ll tell a midfielder — perhaps even two — they’re allowed to move higher and join the attack. The fingerprints of Pablo Fornals and Tomas Soucek were all over Sunday’s shocking destruction of Wolves, when they wouldn’t otherwise have been. Enjoy it today, West Ham fans, because you know what it’ll look like again next weekend.

2. Wolves defense exposed in open space: As the modern game trends more and more toward teams favoring prolonged periods of possession as a means not only for attacking, but also defending, clubs are opting more and more for technically gifted defenders and less and less for the old-school, straightforward ball-winners of yesteryear center backs. Wolves have a squad full of the former, and they were badly exposed when asked to defend quicker wide players in acres of space on Sunday. Fortunately for Nuno Espirito Santo, he won’t face many more sides like West Ham this season.


West Ham started brightest and on the front foot for a change, and the Hammers were duly rewarded for their attacking endeavors in the 17th minute.

Fornals took a quick restart from inside the center circle and played Bowen in behind the Wolves defense with a brilliant through ball as two defenders paused ever so briefly. Bowen went one-on-one with Romain Saiss before cutting inside and placing a perfect left-footed strike past Rui Patricio and just inside the far post.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Perhaps turning over a new leaf under manager David Moyes, West Ham refused to relent an ounce of pressure as they steadily threatened Wolves with counter-attack after counter-attack. That strategy paid off in the 58th minute, when Bowen bagged his second goal of the game.

Michail Antonio did yeoman’s work to Conor Coady down the left wing and pick out Fornals atop the penalty area. His shot smashed off the front side of the far post and spilled out to the six-yard box, where Bowen was to smash it home.

Just as Wolves were finding their footing and applying a bit more pressure, West Ham made it 3-0 in the 66th minute. The goal was initially given on Soucek’s header of Aaron Cresswell’s corner kick, but Raul Jimenez was eventually saddled as the scorer of an own goal at the near post.

Sebastien Haller completed the scoring with a header back across the face of goal from Arthur Masuaku’s cross in the 93rd minute.

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Suarez plays just 20 minutes, scores two goals in Atleti debut (video)

Luis Suarez - Atletico Madrid
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Luis Suarez enjoyed a hugely productive, if rather brief, debut for Atletico Madrid on Sunday as the Uruguayan superstar came on as a second-half substitute and scored two goals and assisted another in his new club’s 6-1 victory over Granada.

[ MORE: Guardiola vows to ‘find solutions’ after Man City embarrassed ]

Atleti had the game well in hand, 4-0 ahead, when Suarez replaced fellow lightning rod and new teammate Diego Costa, and yet he managed to take four shots, score two goals and tally one assist in only 20 minutes of action.

Suarez’s first goal for Atleti came in the 85th minute. It was a brilliantly placed header back across the face of goal after Marcos Llorente dropped a lofted cross onto his forehead on one post.

[ MORE: Benfica boss: Man City’s Otamendi “could be involved in Dias transfer” ]

The second was far more a product of world-class reflex and the instinctual improvisation which has made Luis Suarez one of the world’s best goal-scorers for the last decade. He had precious little time to think as the ball was deflected back to him on atop the penalty area, but got the initial shot away anyway. It hit the post and bounced back out toward the penalty spot, where he followed up and slotted it home.

Suarez’s departure from Barcelona feels like it’s headed for the classic “what were you thinking?” ending, as a player who still has lots of goals left to score strengthens one of two La Liga title rivals from the capital.

[ MORE: La Liga: Real Madrid steal late win against 10-man Betis ]

Barca are in complete disarray as Lionel Messi continues to publicly denounce the club which still employs him against his wishes, and Real Madrid are forever stuck halfway between rebuilding and making another run with the same group of players. All of that points to a massive opportunity for Atleti to slide into this season’s title race and make it a true three-horse race.

And Suarez, with all of his experience as a four-time La Liga champion, looks set to play an important part in that quest for Diego Simeone’s side.

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