Premier League Playback: Manchester United shine bright like a diamond

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MANCHESTER UNITED’S DIAMOND TO STAY?

Relief. Euphoria. Optimism.

Those were the overriding emotions emanating from the majority of the 75,000 fans at Old Trafford on Sunday. Manchester United’s fans were treated to a wonderful display of attacking soccer as their side battered Queens Park Rangers 4-0. New boy Angel Di Maria dazzled with a goal and a hand in the other three goals on his home debut, while Ander Herrera, Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney were also on the scoresheet. After the game, Louis van Gaal revealed his ambition to bring silverware to United following his first win as boss.

“I want to win the Premier League title. If it is not this year, then the second or third year. I want to give a championship to the fans.”

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Click to enlarge – Blind’s heatmap vs. QPR. Source: Opta.

Playing the diamond instead of a 3-5-2 formation could be key in achieving that goal. Okay, let’s put this result into perspective first and not make too many sweeping judgement’s after Sunday’s big win. QPR were very poor and United will come up against plenty of better teams this season.

That said, with a diamond in midfield they looked more balanced and better equipped to launch incisive attacks.

[RELATED: Full match replays from Week 4]

Di Maria was a menace on the wing, Rooney was powerful up top and the Spanish duo of Mata and Herrera linked up superbly in midfield but it was another new boy who quietly tied everything in: Daley Blind. Perhaps the most unheralded new signing to arrive this summer, Dutch international Blind played at the base of a midfield diamond and produced industry, poise and purpose. Blind reminded me of a more skillful Owen Hargreaves (they even have the same luscious flowing locks) as he distributed with ease, picked the pockets of QPR’s midfielders and unselfishly shielded the back four. Blind made 112 passes on Sunday, the fifth highest single-game total by a single player so far this season, as he helped link play between the defense and United’s rampant attack time and time again.

[VIDEO: Premier League highlights]

At one point in the second half, Blind picked up a loose ball and distributed it out to the right flank. He then put his head down and sprinted 20-yards back to the halfway line. His effort to be in the right position, even though United were 4-0 up at the time was impressive and his performance fills me with hope that Van Gaal has finally found the right balance and the right formation. If you look at the heat map on the left of Blind’s outing, you can see he was spread evenly across the middle and just sat in the engine room.

United shone bright with the midfield diamond against QPR, but the real test will come in home games against Everton and Chelsea next month. Only then we will really know how good this United team are but until then, let the euphoria surrounding their first win of the season resonate with talk of winning the title.

Premier League Schedule – Week 4

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 2-2 Manchester City Recap and watch here
Chelsea 4-2 Swansea City Recap and watch here
Crystal Palace 0-0 Burnley Recap and watch here
Hull City 2-2 West Ham Recap and watch here
Liverpool 0-1 Aston Villa Recap and watch here
Manchester United 4-0 QPR Recap and watch here
Southampton 4-0 Newcastle United Recap and watch here
Stoke City 0-1 Leicester City Recap and watch here
Sunderland 2-2 Tottenham Hotspur Recap and watch here
West Brom 0-2 Everton Recap and watch here

COSTA’S HOT STREAK CONTINUES 

On Saturday Diego Costa scored what can only be described as the most effortless hat trick in Premier League history. At least, that’s how he made it look.

In the process of knocking three past Swansea, who had taken an early lead in the top of the table clash, Costa took his tally to seven for the season in his four PL games. Only one other player has managed to score in his first four PL games, that was Mickey Quinn.

[VIDEO: Watch Costa’s first PL hat trick]

Costa has also remarkably scored seven times from 14 shots this season. Talk about economy. Wow.

Below the NBC crew analyze Chelsea’s second half comeback against the Swans, as Costa and Cesc Fabregas continued to form the best midfield to striker partnership in the Premier League. Fabregas also became the first player in Premier League history to record at least one assist in six consecutive games. He had three on Saturday which takes him to six for the season.

[RELATED: Latest Premier League standings]

Chelsea are an offensive powerhouse, but Mourinho is still concerned about the defensive mistakes his side are making after conceding five goals in their last two PL games. That said, they have already scored 15 goals in four games this campaign. Costa looks like he could hit at least 30 goals on his own this season, at least.

ARSENAL, CITY SLUG IT OUT

At the Emirates on Saturday Arsenal and Manchester City treated us to a game which sums out all that is great about the Premier League. Goals galore, comebacks and late drama were in abundance. See the highlights below as City scored late on to rescue a point. The Citizens missed the injured Yaya Toure badly on Saturday after he traveled to Africa in midweek to play for the Ivory Coast. In his absence, little Jack Wilshere grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and tried his upmost best to drive Arsenal to victory. Watch Wilshere’s early goal of the season contender below as he finally delivered a performance to salivate over on the big stage. The diminutive 22-year-old then set up Alexis Sanchez to volley home a beauty to turn the game on its head following Sergio Aguero’s opener but Martin Demichelis headed home after slack defending from the Gunners late on, sealing a 2-2 draw for City.

[RELATED: Premier League stats]

Arsenal have now given up four goals from headers this season as Arsene Wenger bemoaned poor defensive mistakes after the game. City boss Manuel Pellegrini wasn’t happy with both of Arsenal’s goals, calling them “illegal,” as the tilt between two title contenders delivered plenty of talking points.

PARDEW OUT?

According to reports and just, well, common sense, Newcastle’s manager has one game to save his job as the first managerial casualty of the PL season is fast approaching. Alan Pardew has been in this situation before, with Newcastle, but this time the Englishman looks to be on borrowed time. Big style.

During the end of the Magpies’ resounding, embarrassing and utterly humiliating 4-0 defeat to Southampton at the weekend, fans were chanting for Pardew to be fired as banners were unfurled by angry Geordies and one fan even ran onto the pitch at the final whistle to throw his ticket at Pardew. Watch this video to get a sense for the atmosphere among the Newcastle fans towards Pardew.

[RELATED: Premier League schedule]

Potential candidates to replace Pardew include Hull boss Steve Bruce, who Pardew’s Newcastle side play next weekend in his supposed D-Day match. David Moyes and Tony Pulis have also been linked with the post as Pardew’s time on Tyneside seems to be running out. Following just two wins in his last 14 PL games in charge, plus his length ban for heabutting Hull’s David Meyler last season during a game, Pardew has been on a slippery slope for a while. Can he cling on?

Highlights of his Newcastle side being hammered, plus all of the highlights from Saturday’s other games, can be seen below.

SAINTS’ REBUILD

After hammering Newcastle, Saints are sitting pretty in fourth place after four games. That dramatic summer exodus which many believed threw Southampton towards the abyss hasn’t materialized yet… In fact, they are heading in the opposite direction after an impressive summer of transfer dealings. Ronald Koeman’s side coasted to victory at St. Mary’s on Saturday for their second-straight win and look stronger, across the board, than they did at this time last year. That’s quite the accomplishment, especially considering they made over $60 million in profit from player sales this summer.

Premier League Star Performers – Week 4

Player Reason
1. Diego Costa (Chelsea) 3 goals, clinical
2. Angel Di Maria (Man United) 1 goal, hand in all four goals
3. Graziano Pelle (Saints) 2 goals, a beast up top
4. Jack Wilshere (Arsenal) 1 goal, bossed the midfield
5. Julian Speroni (Palace) Clean sheet, saved late PK

Koeman took over from Mauricio Pochettino in June and watched on as Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Dejan Lovren and Calum Chambers walked out on the club for a total of $175 million. The Dutchman knew he had a massive rebuild on his hands but he, director of football Les Reed and chairman Ralph Krueger have acted calmly, openly and impressively as they brought in nine new players for a total spend of $110 million. England international Fraser Forster is a huge arrival in place of Artur Boruc, while Belgian international defender Toby Alderweiereld and left back Ryan Bertrand (replacing teenage sensation Shaw) have both joined on a season-long loan with an option to buy from Atletico Madrid and Chelsea respectively. Both have played in the Champions League final and are huge coups, plus Romanian international Florin Gardos has arrived. In midfield, Serbian winger Dusan Tadic has replaced Adam Lallana seamlessly, while Saido Mane is a speedy Senegalese winger who arrived on Deadline Day. Italian forward Graziano Pelle has scored four goals in his first five games for Saints as he has the biggest task of all, to replace Rickie Lambert. Plus Shane Long arrived for $20 million and is on board to help out up top.

There’s no two ways about it, the impending sense of doom which hung around Southampton all summer has now been replaced with cautious optimism that they can match or even better their eighth place finish from last season. They have a favorable schedule in the first few months, so the real test for Koeman’s boys will be around the festive period but, for now, they are passing with flying colors.

Here’s a quick look at Saints’ lineup evolution over the past season, as we select their strongest possible lineup compared to last season.

Saints’ lineup 2014-15 season

—Forster—
Clyne—Fonte—Alderweiereld—Bertrand
—Davis—Schneiderlin—
—Tadic—Cork—Long—
—–Pelle—–

Subs: Wanyama, Rodriguez (out injured), Mane (new signing), Ward-Prowse, Isgrove, Gardos, Boruc.

Saints’ lineup 2013-14 season

—Boruc—
Clyne—Fonte—Lovren—Shaw
—Schneiderlin—Wanyama
—Lallana—Davis—Rodriguez—
—–Lambert—–

Subs: Cork, Yoshida, Chambers, Ward-Prowse, Guly, Gallagher, K. Davis.

USMNT UPDATE

Brad Guzan keeps hold of the U.S. national team “awesomeness gong” in the PL, as the Villa ‘keeper recorded his third shutout out of four this season as his side shocked Liverpool 1-0 at Anfield. Guzan made some great saves from close range in the second half and looked calm and composed throughout. Villa’s solid defense is fast becoming one of the stories of the season. Elsewhere, Geoff Cameron is on the mend and recovering well from surgery but his Stoke City side lost 1-0 at home to Leicester City. Tim Howard grabbed his first shutout and first win of the season as Everton beat West Brom 2-0 away from home. The Tweet below sums up Howard’s emotions pretty well and make sure to watch Lukaku’s stunning goal right here

Jozy Altidore was once again on the bench as Sunderland tied 2-2 with Tottenham, while a special mention goes to Brek Shea who grabbed an assist on his debut for Birmingham City in the Championship after completing a loan move from Stoke.

Premier League Playback comes out every Monday and takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

Southampton outclass Aston Villa

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Southampton outclassed Aston Villa to win 2-0 at St Mary’s on Saturday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

In-form Shane Long struck early and Stuart Armstrong sealed the win in the 94th minute as Villa never looked likely to draw level.

With the win Southampton move on to 34 points for the season and are in the race for European qualification. Villa are just one point above the drop zone.


3 things we learned

1. Saints almost safe: Ralph Hasenhuttl said he will start sorting out a new contract for himself and his players when they reach 36 points. They are now on 34 as they showed just enough class to get past Aston Villa. A clean sheet will delight Hasenhuttl as his team never really looked like conceding against a poor Villa outfit. Saints have played well in recent weeks without getting the points they deserved but on Saturday they dug deep to grab all three points. With a favorable run of games coming up, Saints are finally looking up the table.

2. Sky is the limit for Djenepo: He is one of the most exciting players to watch as the Mali international dribbles and wriggles his way towards goal. He could have scored a couple but set up Long’s goal and his potential is limitless. He is still just 21 years old and has a huge future in the game.

3. Reina, Grealish are Villa’s big hopes: Jack Grealish did his best to get Villa going, as he has done all season, but he had no real hope from his teammates as Villa were pretty wretched. Late on they chucked everything at Saints but even then they couldn’t break through. Pepe Reina made several fine stops from Southampton’s players at one end, even though his loose passing at the back put them under severe pressure. Villa head to Wembley next weekend to play in the League Cup final against Man City and that is a free-hit. Their main aim is to stay in the Premier League and they are now just one point off the bottom three.

Man of the Match: Stuart Armstrong – He finished off his lung-bursting run in the 94th minute to slot home Saints’ second and the Scotsman was tireless in linking together midfield and attack. Long and Ings set the tempo and Armstrong and Djenepo back them up so well.


Southampton almost took the lead early on as Will Smallbone, making his Premier League debut, saw his shot deflect onto the post and out.

The hosts did take the lead soon after as great work from Moussa Djenepo down the left saw him cross for Long who bundled home the ball. VAR checked the goal for handball but it stood.

Saints continued to dominate as Ryan Bertrand‘s header set up Ings who bundled his way through on goal but Pepe Reina produced a top save to deny him, then Djenepo fired over from Long’s cross.

Villa did improve a little as half time approached with Mbwana Samatta scoring from an offside position and Grealish trying to get on the ball as much as he could.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Jack Stephens flicked just over from a superb Ryan Bertrand free kick and then Stuart Armstrong rounded Reina but sent his shot into the side-netting.

Reina denied Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg‘s volley at one end while at the other Samatta’s deflected shot looped just over.

Substitute Che Adams fired just wide late on as Southampton were a threat on the break as Villa poured forward in search of an equalizer.

A frantic finish saw Adams have a shot cleared off the line at one end then Villa flashed a shot wide at the other. Reina then came up for a late corner kick and Saints cleared, leading to a wonderful ball for Adams who set up Armstrong to slot home and send St Mary’s wild.

Wasteful Sheffield United splits points with Brighton

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Sheffield United failed to find the finishing touch more than once in a 1-1 draw with relegation-threatened Brighton and Hove Albion at Bramall Lane on Saturday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Enda Stevens gave the Blades a lead with a delightful goal, but Neal Maupay quickly answered for the visitors.

Sheffield United improves to 40 points, behind fifth-place Spurs on goal differential.

Brighton’s 10th draw of the season pulls it four points clear of the bottom three.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]


Three things we learned

1. Blades fail to take advantage of Spurs stumble: If Chris Wilder‘s men fail to qualify for Europa, let alone the Champions League, they will point to results like this one. The hosts had all of the ball and gave up just one big chance, but switched off on one set piece and only collected a single point.

2. Misfiring forwards don’t help the cause: While Blades did have plenty of possession, they managed a single shot on target between starting forward Oli McBurnie and Billy Sharp, as well as substitute David McGoldrick.

3. Norwood impresses in the center: Well-traveled Oliver Norwood sprayed the ball all over the pitch on Saturday. Norwood had 100 touches for the hosts while completing seven of 14 crosses and 12 of 18 long balls. Despite all the big launches, he passed at 88 percent in the center of the park.


The Blades opened the scoring in the 26th minute as Stevens smashed a clinical shot home after a clever short corner routine.

Brighton answered when Lewis Dunk flicked a free kick onto the path of Maupay for 1-1.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Stevens would only last to halftime thanks to injury.

Mat Ryan and his defenders needed to come up big several times in the second half, including an 88th-minute scramble in the heart of his box.,

Palace rides Van Aanholt free kick past messy Newcastle

Crystal Palace v. Newcastle United recap and video highlights
Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images
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Patrick Van Aanholt starred against his former derby rivals as Crystal Palace beat Newcastle United 1-0 on Saturday at Selhurst Park.

Palace snaps a three-match losing run with the win, moving 13th with 33 points.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Newcastle stays on 31 points in 14th.

Valentino Lazaro took a straight red card for a take down of Wilfried Zaha deep in stoppage time and will miss the next three games.


Three things we learned

1. Van Aanholt shines bright:  The Eagles’ fullback hasn’t been at his best too often this season, but he was marvelous on Saturday even apart from the free kick goal. Playing against his former Northeast rivals, Van Aanholt passes at 85 percent, completed five of eight crosses and two of four long balls. He was credited with six key passes and the creation of two big chances (via Sofascore).

2. Same two stars for Newcastle, the rest passengers: Martin Dubravka made eight saves to keep Newcastle in the match, and the attack only went so far as electric winger Allan Saint-Maximin. Newcastle has badly needed a difference-maker in the midfield, and it’s no surprise the midfield is a mess without a real January energizer. Sean Longstaff has been a shell of the man linked with a $35 million move to Manchester United this summer.

3. Scrappy affair: Referee Peter Bankes handed out plenty of yellow cards — five for Newcastle, two for Brighton — and there wasn’t much consistency as to what merited a mere whistle and what registered as a caution. Palace had 15 fouls to Newcastle’s nine despite the discrepancy in cards.

Man of the Match: Van Aanholt, who got the better of his only rival for the honors with his free kick goal.


Dubravka was as busy early as Palace was wasteful. Jordan Ayew and Christian Benteke failed to strike with force from 18 yards before the keeper palmed away a strong Scott Dann header off a corner.

Palace keeper Vicente Guaita was then troubled by a Joelinton rip from distance, and Newcastle had a corner and a chance to breathe.

Benteke missed a sitter on a perfectly struck free kick, Newcastle bailed out in the 21st minute.

Joelinton and Benteke seemed intent on competing for least clinical striker, with the former then bungling a chance to cross for a streaking Miguel Almiron.

It took ex-Sunderland man Van Aanholt to put Newcastle to the sword with a delightful 45th-minute free kick.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Ayew should’ve had it 2-0 in the 48th minute when Van Aanholt’s cross found him near the back post, which he struck.

Gary Cahill then headed a Van Aanholt free kick off the side netting from close range.

Dominated for 68 minutes, the Magpies saw two bits of danger through Danny Rose and Fabian Schar in the 69th. The latter led to a pair of corners.

Dubravka again got the better of Ayew after Zaha and Cheikhou Kouyate set up a brilliant chance. Wasteful.

Burnley batter Bournemouth amid VAR drama

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Burnley beat Bournemouth 3-0 at Turf Moor on Saturday as Sean Dyche‘s side continue to surge up the table amid plenty of VAR controversy.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Matej Vydra, Jay Rodriguez and Dwight McNeil scored but Bournemouth had two goals chalked off by VAR as the second incident resulted in them thinking they had made it 1-1 to conceding a penalty kick.

With the win Burnley move up to eighth on 37 points, while Bournemouth remain just two points above the relegation zone.


3 things we learned

1. VAR steals the show: This was a game which was decided by VAR as Bournemouth had two goals ruled out. Philip Biling’s handball meant that King’s goal was disallowed and it looked harsh on Biling amongst a slew of bodies inside the box from a corner. Then the big moment came in the second half as Wilson scored to make it 1-1 but VAR intervened as Adam Smith had handled at the other end of the pitch. The goal was chalked off and a penalty kick awarded and that was the game. Bournemouth were livid as it looked like a heft chunk of shoulder from Smith but VAR had spoken.

2. Bournemouth running out of time: Howe’s side are playing well in games but are being knocked back at key moments time and time again. The VAR calls were harsh but Howe’s side never looked dangerous enough in attack and had Ramsdale to thank for not being four or five down. With Chelsea and Liverpool in their next two and Spurs, Everton, Man City, Leicester and Man United still to come, where are Bournemouth’s points going to come from? They’ve shocked plenty of big boys in the past and their five-season stay in the Premier League now depends on a few more of those.

3. Surging Burnley so underrated: Sean Dyche’s men are now in eighth place, three points off the top five and fifth could mean Champions League qualification this season. Imagine that? After just staying up last season and a slow start to the opening half of this season, Burnley have taken 13 points from the last 15 available. They have gone from relegation candidates to European hopefuls and they have stuck to their gameplan and played to their strengths which is huge credit to Dyche.

Man of the Match: Dwight McNeil – Vydra was a pest and Ramsdale did well to deny him on multiple occasions but McNeil was brilliant, whipping in superb crosses and he smashed home a beauty late on after another mazy run.


The first big chance of the game arrived as Matej Vydra charged in from the left and forced a fine save from Aaron Ramsdale.

Bournemouth thought they had taken the lead through King but the goal was chalked off for VAR as Phillip Billing handled the ball before it found King.

Harry Wilson got on the end of Josh King‘s cross at the back post but his header was punched away by Nick Pope.

Burnley battled to get back into the game as Bournemouth looked more likely to break the deadlock. Jack Stacey was denied by Pope and then Burnley launched a counter but Vydra was denied once again by Ramsdale.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

At the start of the second half it was third time lucky for Vydra as Bournemouth gave him plenty of space and the Czech Republic striker cut inside and finished calmly to make it 1-0 and make it two goals in two Premier League games after a 17-month wait for one.

Bournemouth thought they had equalized soon after as the Wilson’s combined with Callum setting up Harry to slot home, but VAR checked the goal for a possible handball by Adam Smith in his own box and the goal was taken away and a penalty awarded to Burnley.

Rodriguez slammed home the penalty to make it 2-0 as Bournemouth’s bench couldn’t believe it and referee Mike Dean had to give them a telling off.

Rodriguez almost made it 3-0 late on but Ramsdale denied him at point-blank range with Burnley dangerous on the break as Bournemouth chucked men forward.

Vydra almost slid in for another and Dwight McNeil hit the inside of the post with a fine curling shot and then smashed home a beauty to seal the win in style.