Premier League Playback: Chelsea “kill and destroy,” TV reviews, Suarez unstoppable, Rooney’s wondergoal

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CHELSEA’S ‘KILLER’ COUNTERS

The result of the weekend came in the London derby as Chelsea hammered, obliterated and pulverized title-rivals Arsenal 6-0.

In Arsene Wenger’s 1,000th game in charge of the Gunners, it was Jose Mourinho who embarrassed the Frenchman, with Chelsea’s devastating counter-attacks tearing Arsenal apart. The Blues were 2-0 up after seven minutes in the game Wenger had billed as “the game of the season.” Speaking to reporters afterwards, this is what Mourinho had to say.

“It was 10 amazing minutes, I knew that in 10 minutes we can win the game,” Mourinho said. “As we say in football, ‘we come to kill.’ In 10 minutes, we destroyed. After that it was easy. We got a penalty, they got a red card, 3-0. Easy. But my analysis of the game is about the first 10 minutes. We were very, very good. We pressed very high immediately, because we know they like to have the ball and pass it at the back. We pressed high and recovered the ball, attacking the space very fast. Those 10 minutes were amazing.”

That incredible high pressing and counter-attacking style has become a theme plenty of PL teams are credited with doing superbly this season, but none do it better than Chelsea.

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Click to enlarge – Interceptions and tackles from Chelsea and Arsenal during the Blues’ 6-0 win. (Players with min. of 2 included) Source: Opta

When Mourinho sold Juan Mata to Manchester United and dropped the likes of Ashley Cole this season, many questioned why on earth he would do that. But it was to implement this style, and this plan with players who could carry it out. On Saturday, with David Luiz and Nemanja Matic reunited in the center of midfield, those two broke up so many attacks, and then Chelsea could pounce on the counter.

The term “counter-attack” is overused and has fairly simple connotations to most, but if you get it just right, it can be devastating. We saw that with Chelsea time and time again against Arsenal, and the pace, power and guile Mourinho’s men showed to clinically dispatch the chances they kept churning out when winning the ball back. Matic and Luiz were key to that, with the amount of tackles they attempted (see table on the left) in the middle breaking up the play and the sheer size and athleticism overpowering Arsenal’s central midfield area.

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Click to enlarge – The space just in front of the center circle is where Arsenal gave the ball away, and suddenly Chelsea are 3 vs. 3 going forward. This played out time and time again.

On Eto’o’s goal after four minutes, see the picture on the right which shows when the ball was given away By Arsenal after pressure from Luiz and Andre Schurrle. Then Oscar played in Schurrle to give the German a three-on-three counter which he seized at full-speed, which Eto’o eventually finished off superbly. In 12 seconds Chelsea went from winning the ball on the edge of their to the ball hitting the back of Arsenal’s net.

MORE: PL Schedule | PL standings

Mourinho set up his side to thwart the Gunners passing through the middle of the pitch, with Schurrle and Hazard tucking in to support Oscar in a tight three-man unit directly behind Eto’o. Every time Matic and Luiz would win the ball, Hazard, Schurrle and Oscar would career wide and create space to get in behind Arsenal’s shambolic defending. As you can see on the left, the average position of Chelsea’s attacking unit is so compact, that they stopped the Gunners playing in the engine room and then were able to spring intricate attacks whenever they won the ball back.

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Click to enlarge – The average position of Chelsea’s players vs. Arsenal. Source: Opta

Mourinho has tweaked this style all season, as the Blues have gone from being an expansive unit which tried to play attractive soccer, to a ruthless machine which has handed him success in the PL, Portuguese Liga, Serie A and La Liga in the past. Basically, he’s gone back to what he knows best and has bought very well in the transfer market by adding players who can play these rapid two-way roles perfectly. Look at the stats of tackles and interceptions from Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta, those full backs bomb up and down the flanks all day long and epitomize Chelsea’s incredible work-rate.

Asked if the 16th minute red card handed incorrectly to Kieran Gibbbs (more on that shortly) had a big say in Chelsea’s blowout win, Mourinho laughed.

“No, because after seven minutes it was 2-0… so after 70 minutes it should be 20-0,” Mourinho joked, “I am making fun. Obviously to play against 10-men is easier, but I think after the opening 10 minutes and the way we started, this game was our game.”

If Chelsea continue to be this devastating on the break for the rest of the season, this PL title could be their title.

As for Arsenal, Wenger didn’t show up to the post-match press conference after speaking with a few outlets in tunnel immediately after the match. The reason given for his no-show was that “the bus was leaving and he had to get on it.” But in his 1,000th game in charge of the Gunners, Wenger’s future with the North London club seems to have been thrown into doubt after his side were “killed and destroyed” by Mourinho’s ruthless counter-attacking machine.

Premier League Schedule – Week 31

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

WHY VIDEO REVIEWS SHOULD STAY AWAY, FOR NOW

Sat in the cramped press box on Saturday at Stamford Bridge, there was already plenty of jovial slaps from myself and other journalists before the pivotal moment of the match arrived. Chelsea led 2-0 after seven minutes, against an Arsenal side unraveling before our eyes. But what myself, and over 41,000 others inside the Bridge were about to see defied belief.

Eden Hazard arrowed a shot towards the goal and as the ball passed Arsenal ‘keeper Szczesny and headed towards the bottom corner, a player came out of nowhere to flick the ball away with his outstretched hand. I say ‘a player’ because in real time, nobody where I was sat had a clue exactly who it was.

Referee Andre Marriner, who was at a similar angle to myself but 50-yards closer, paused, then walked, then paused, as Jose Mourinho ran around with his arms flailing like a madman, after jumping off the bench and spiraling in circles protesting (as only Jose can) at the handball we’d all just seen. Marriner, after much deliberation, gave the spot kick. And as he chatted away on his microphone, the PL referee would’ve wanted to hear some more information from his other officials in his earpiece. But nothing. A blank look adorned Marriner’s face, as he now realized he’d awarded a penalty for a clear handball… but had no idea who’d committed the crime.

Eventually, he chose to send off Kieran Gibbs. The Arsenal left back flipped out, as the cries of disbelief and squinting at the miniature screens began ferociously in the press seats situated just behind the team benches. Even as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the guilty party, had informed Marriner that it was his hand which had knocked the ball wide, but Marriner didn’t change his mind. Mourinho’s assistant coach Steve Holland turned to the press behind the dugout to ask who had handled it… even he didn’t know.

(MORE: Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal – Blues hammer Gunners, as bizarre red card ruins Wenger’s big day)

A few of us responded that it was Chamberlain and we got a thumbs up from Holland, but the damage was done for Marriner, who has since issued an apology, but this moment will go down in PL history. After he sent off the wrong man, Marriner will long be the butt of jokes across England and further afield.

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Marriner shows Gibbs the red card, but the referee got it horribly wrong. How can we help refs make these big calls in the future?

But how can we rectify mistakes like this in soccer? Video reviews are the number one answer when this topic comes up. A small TV screen in front of the fourth official to help with controversial moments, which will then clear up any mistakes the referee makes on the spot. In theory it is a great idea, but my argument is: where do you draw the line?

Several contentious decisions take place in soccer throughout a 90-minute match, you can’t review all of them. Unlike the NFL, where video reviews are commonplace, soccer is not a stop-start sport. Having witnessed several atmospheres in NHL games hampered after lengthy video review decisions, I think bringing these reviews into the PL and elite levels of soccer would be a bad idea, for now. I’m all for suggestions as to how we can make referee’s decisions easier, but I don’t think stopping the game every five minutes to check replays multiple times on a TV screen is the way forward.

Marriner got it wrong, but in that split-second at Stamford Bridge, the vast majority of humans who walk this earth would’ve done the same. Having something, or somebody, to help with those kind of knee-jerk calls is needed. But I have to admit, debating the calls live on the stadium and for hours afterwards is a heck of a lot of fun. If TV reviews come in, would we lose that debate over a pint in a bar?

UNSTOPPABLE SUAREZ

At a certain point of the season, commentators will run out of superlatives to describe Luis Suarez’s strokes of genius. That time could be about now.

On Saturday Liverpool were trailing Cardiff City 2-1 but managed to fight back and win 6-3, with a hat trick from Suarez stealing the show as the Reds have now scored 82 goals in the PL. The Uruguayan now has three trebles this season, and six for Liverpool in total. He also has 28-goals and counting, which equals Robbie Fowler’s record as the most goals scored in a single PL season by a Liverpool player.

(WATCH: Premier League Team of the Week led by Toure and Suarez)

Safe to say, Suarez will surpass that comfortably. Stunning finishes with his left and right feet, coupled with sublime set up play to get his strike-partner Daniel Sturridge on the scoresheet, leave me in no doubt that if Liverpool somehow win the PL, Suarez’s goals will be the main reason they’ve prevailed. A stunning striker called Suarez is scything down records on a weekly basis. And oh yeah, did anybody forget he was banned for the first five games of the campaign? Remarkable, checked out yet another signed match ball ‘El Pistolero’ gets to take home and wedge in the trophy cabinet.

WONDERGOALS GALORE: ROONEY ‘DOES A BECKHAM’

Last week in Playback, I stated that “I can’t remember seeing a stronger top five goals video” so far this season. Well, this week was even better. Wayne Rooney led the way with a volley from close to the halfway line in a goal reminiscent of David Beckham’s wondergoal for United back in 1996 against Wimbledon. That famous goal which help launched Beckham to stardom, as the commentator brands it as “a goal we will talk about for years.” He was right, nearly 20 years on that goal is the first thing we mention after Rooney’s sublime 60-yard strike. But the question is, will Rooney’s goal be mentioned in the same breath as Beckham’s two decades from now? On the volley and with a bouncing ball to control, in many ways Rooney’s strike is arguably better than what Goldenballs conjured up.

(MORE: West Ham 0-2 Man United – Rooney goal the highlight of Red Devils’ routine win)

Becks was on hand to see Rooney’s magical strike, as the England star produced a moment of sheer brilliance. If it wasn’t for that, any of the next four strikes would’ve usually taken away the goal of the week gong, as the PL was rife with spectacular goals. Yaya Toure’s long-distance curler, Alex Tettey pulverizing the ball on the volley, Samuel Eto’o curler or Fernandinho’s blast. In Week 31 we were blessed with an incredible 42 goals, most of which were stunners. Watch the video below in awe at the PL’s top five goals from last weekend.

Bonus: Here is Beckham’s famous strike in ’96 to salivate over, and compare to Rooney’s wondegoal. Which goal from halfway was better?

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-EDpyJ7688&w=420&h=315%5D

U.S. STAR CAMERON: HOLDING MID IN BRAZIL?

Stoke City’s resurgence continued on Sunday, as the Potters hit back after going behind early to win 4-1 away at Midland rivals Aston Villa.

U.S. international Geoff Cameron was undone by Fabian Delph’s trickery who set up Christian Benteke for the first goa, but Stoke’s ‘Mr. Consistent’ made amends with another solid performance capped off by his second PL goal of the campaign. In the 92nd minute, Cameron strode forward as Stoke countered and looked to polish off an already resounding away win. As the ball broke on the edge of the box Cameron’s marauding run was timed perfectly, as the former Houston Dynamo star slotted the ball into the bottom corner to make it 4-1 and give him bragging rights over his U.S. teammate Brad Guzan.

(WATCH: PST Extra – Which U.S. national team stars have shone in the Premier League?)

With runs and finishing like that, could Cameron slot into Jurgen Klinsmann’s midfield for the World Cup this summer? It is no secret that Cameron’s position in the USMNT starting XI is not secured. With the PL player playing at right back for Stoke for two-straight seasons since he arrived from MLS, many would pigeon-hole him as the starting RB in Brazil. But with Brad Evans pushing Cameron all the way, it may be elsewhere that the Bostonian flourishes with the U.S. national team. Given Klinsmann’s insistence on his players playing at the top level possible, Cameron is performing well week in, week out in arguably the toughest league in the world. Surely that means there will be a spot for him in the USA’s starting lineup in the WC opener against Ghana on June 16? Central midfield, central defense or RB, wherever he plays, you know you can count on Cameron.

RELEGATION PICTURE TAKING SHAPE

Down at the bottom of the standings, it was doom and gloom for many teams this weekend. However the big winners were Norwich City, who catapulted themselves up to 13th in the PL and are now seven points clear of the drop zone after a comfortable 2-0 win over Sunderland. The Black Cats remained intrenched in relegation battle after that defeat, so do Swansea, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Cardiff City and West Bromwich Albion after they all lost.

(MORE: Latest Premier League standings)

Elsewhere, West Ham have been dragged back into the equation as they have 31 points and are just six points ahead of Sunderland in 18th but Gus Poyet’s side have two games in hand. With three of the bottom seven in action midweek, the relegation picture will be clearer by the time Saturday rolls around, maybe. But it’s still anyone’s guess as to whose will be demoted to the Championship next season.

To watch the latest relegation struggles play out, and all the other goals, the video below gives you everything you missed from Week 31.

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

PFA explains position as players urged to take pay cuts

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The Professional Footballers Association is explaining why it has not yet accepted deferred pay cuts during the coronavirus suspension, and the English government is not withholding its opinion.

As non-playing staff accept furloughs or worse across the tiers of English football and players in other European nations accept pay cuts, the PFA has not found an arrangement to its liking.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Health secretary Matthew Hancock addressed the situation in his daily public briefing.

From Sky Sports:

“Given the sacrifices people are making, including some of my colleagues in the NHS, who have made the ultimate sacrifice and gone into work and caught the disease and have sadly died, I think the first thing Premier League footballers can do is make a contribution; take a pay cut and play their part.”

That’s a heavy statement, one that surely resonates with all.

The PFA issued a post on its site that runs up nearly 1000 words on its position, stating that a big part of its concern is representing League One and League Two players. Those members do not receive the massive pay packets of PL stars.

Basically, what the PFA is requesting is time to make an educated decision considering the books and futures of every club are different. They’d like to see those books to make sure that if players are making a sacrifice that shareholders are as well.

From ThePFA.com:

We fully accept that players will have to be flexible and share the financial burden of the COVID-19 outbreak in order to secure the long-term future of their own club and indeed the wider game. Our advice going out to players at this point reflects that expectation.

In addition, the PFA is also expecting to contribute financially to any solutions agreed upon.

Like everyone else in the country, we are trying to deal with a situation that has never been faced. Our spirits have been lifted seeing communities come together to support each other. We have been proud to see many of our own members and clubs step up to support the NHS, to help children who would usually benefit from free school meals, donating to food banks and other charitable donations to those affected by this crisis. Much of this has been done privately and without publicity.

Obviously there will be a resolution to this soon, but it’s a complex and layered situation. Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe became the first PL boss to take a voluntary pay cut on Wednesday, with Brighton’s Graham Potter following suit.

Burning question: Who is your guilty pleasure team?

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This week at ProSoccerTalk we will be asking some burning questions we have when it comes to the beautiful game and the next one focuses on something we all have: a team we like that we don’t want to admit.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Each day we will release a burning question, as now seems like a good time to take stock of where the game is at and take a look at what we love and what we’d like to change as we await its return following the suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Next question: Who is your guilty pleasure team?


Think about it. You don’t have to admit it out loud if you don’t want to. We all have one. Admit it.

There’s a team out there you have dismissed to your friends, family and maybe random strangers on social media but secretly, when nobody else is with you, you watch them play and admire them.

That said team are your guilty pleasure.

It’s okay to admit it. Honest. There will be no judgement here because we are all in the same boat.

It can be a team from the same league as your team, or a club from another league in another country, or just, you know, a team that people aside from you despise.

A lot of the big boys bring up polarizing views as many neutrals loath mega clubs who win trophies season after season and scoff at their huge wage bill, well-manicured stadiums and incredible commercial success. ‘This isn’t proper football’ you often cry. Deep down, you admire some of those teams, don’t you?

It would be remiss of me to ask you to reveal your guilty pleasure team in the comments below our via our social media post on Twitter without revealing my own so here it goes.

Atletico Madrid.

For years I’ve been an admirer of Atletico, way back when Diego Simeone was a player for them in midfield and they won the 1995-96 La Liga title with a huge ‘MARBELLA’ sponsor logo on their baggy shirts, as they also won the Copa del Rey that season to bring utter delight to the Vicente Calderon stadium after a 19-year wait for the league title.

A lot has changed since then and Atleti have become a polarizing team for becoming the ultimate masters of the dark arts with a squad of players who are perfectly happy with putting all of their personal talent to one side to play as a destructive, defensive, winning team.

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Simeone’s antics may not be the prettiest (the vision of one of his crotch-pulsing celebrations are now etched into your head forever) and he may tell his players to stretch the rules as far as they possibly can on the field, but I respect the hustle. Simeone has always been this way, from his reaction to David Beckham’s kick in the 1998 World Cup in his playing days to his cojones celebration, he has pushed the boundaries. After being forced to rebuild his team almost on a yearly basis since he took charge in 2011 as he’s lost star after star (Aguero, Costa, Falcao and Griezmann to name a few), he forces his players into punishing hill runs each summer and expects nothing but 100 percent effort each and every time they step on the pitch.

It was recently revealed El Cholo was the highest-paid manager in the world and you can’t argue that he doesn’t deserve it.

I respect that somehow Atletico have now become competitive amid the utter dominance of Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spanish soccer for pretty much the last six decades. Since he took charge they have won three Europa League titles, the La Liga title in 2014 and reached two UEFA Champions League finals (losing both to Real in 2014 and 2016) as well as ousting defending champs Liverpool in the UCL in dramatic fashion to reach the last eight this season. Cue more Simeone celebrations.

The next time you watch Atletico Madrid play, imagine me sat alone somewhere in a dark room with a bowl of peanuts and a beer, nodding my head like that famous Jack Nicholson gif from Anger Management.

Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid are the masters of shithousery.

‘That’s right, Diego Costa, you flick his ear off the ball’ and ‘look at Simeone screaming at the home fans in disgust when they boo an Atletico player for getting a tactical yellow. Give it to them!’ will be likely comments from myself.

I’ve aired my dirty laundry in public. Now, feel free to do the same and tell us which team is your guilty pleasure.

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Transfer news: James to Everton; Meunier to Man United

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The latest transfer news continues across the Premier League and here’s a look at some of the juiciest rumors.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

First up, Everton are said to be interested in signing James Rodriguez from Real Madrid. The Colombian star previously played for Carlo Ancelotti at Real and Bayern Munich, as he helped the former win the UEFA Champions League in 2015-16 and 2016-17 after arriving from Monaco following a sensational 2014 World Cup.

According to Marca, James is keen on a move to England and Real want to sell him this summer as he has just one year left on his contract. Per the report Ancelotti tried to sign James last summer when he was in charge at Napoli and although Arsenal and Wolves are also interested, Everton are the frontrunners.

James spent two seasons on loan at Bayern Munich before returning to Real for 2019-20 where he has been a bit-part player for Zinedine Zidane.

His quality on the ball is undoubted and at the age of 28 he is hitting his prime and Ancelotti certainly knows how to get the best out of James, who put up his best numbers at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2014-15 (17 goals in 46 games in all competitions) under the Italian coach.

Where would he slot in at Everton? Probably as the second striker or No. 10 which would mean stiff competition for Gylfi Sigurdsson who has become the chief creator for Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Everton’s majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri has not been shy in splashing the cash and Ancelotti has had a huge impact during his first few months in charge of the Toffees, strengthening his case to be given money to spend in the next transfer window to improve his young, raw squad.

Time to add the duo of Ancelotti-James to Mourinho-Matic, Redknapp-Defoe and Moyes-Fellaini manager-player partnerships.


Switching the focus from Merseyside to Manchester, another piece of transfer news has been reported that Man United are keen on signing Belgium international Thomas Meunier.

Meunier, 28, has yet to sign a new contract at Paris Saint-Germain and according to French outlet Le Foot, the Red Devils have joined AC Milan and Borussia Dortmund in ‘keeping a lookout’ on the right-sided player who becomes a free agent this summer.

An attacking right back, Meunier is just as comfortable playing as an out-and-out winger and his arrival would not only give them cover at right back for Aaron Wan-Bissaka but also give them an option at right wing. His experience with Belgium and PSG is undoubted and his quality passing and crossing from wide areas will surely provide Man United’s star attackers plenty of service. Meunier previously said his main aim is to stay at PSG, where he’s been since arriving from Club Brugge in 2016 as he’s won eight domestic trophies with the reigning French champions.

Meunier has also previously stated in the Belgian media that he is a fan of Man United, so perhaps that gives Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side the edge. He would fill a need and a free transfer would certainly be welcome after splashing out over $280 million to sign Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes and Wan-Bissaka over the last 12 months.

VIDEO: Arlo White’s best Premier League calls

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Arlo White’s voice has been missed by Premier League fans across the USA in recent weeks, so this video of his best calls will keep you going for a while.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Click play on the video above as some of the craziest goals and moments in the Premier League have been beautifully described by NBC’s lead soccer commentator.

His magical command of the English language is on full show across 15 minutes of Arlo commentating on plenty of wild Liverpool goals, Leicester City’s incredible title win and plenty of upset victories from the last seven seasons of the Premier League.

Enjoy a trip down memory lane with Arlo and in the comments below let us know your favorite calls from his time behind the mic with NBC Sports over the last few years.