Premier League Playback: Legendary Lampard strikes, United’s shambolic implosion

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‘SUPER FRANK’ SCORES FOR  CITY, SALUTED BY CHELSEA

From time to time, the Premier League throws up storylines you can only dream of. During Week 5 there were some great scenes but perhaps the most lasting memory will be Frank Lampard scoring in a game involving Chelsea, but not for them.

In the 85th minute on Sunday, Lampard popped up in the box to score his first goal for Manchester City on his home debut and grabbed the Citizens a point after they’d been reduced to 10-men. The former Chelsea man didn’t celebrate the goal and at the end of the game Lampard looked shell-shocked as he walked over to the Chelsea fans situated in a pocket at one end of the stadium. Lampard received a standing ovation from those fans, as this may well be the only chance they get to show the England midfielder their appreciation with his new career in MLS calling him Stateside before 2015 arrives. City’s fans also applauded ‘Lamps’ off the pitch as the love was there from both fans (even if Mourinho said Lampard’s ‘love story’ is over at Chelsea) and players, as Didier Drogba took to social media to salute “his idol” and a “true legend.”

Here’s what Lampard had to say about his equalizer, his feelings and the spine-tingling salute he received. A remarkable moment for one of the greatest players in Premier League history.

“It’s a difficult one,” Lampard said. “I would be unprofessional if I didn’t come on and do my job and get in the box. It’s a tough one. I had 13 amazing years with the Chelsea fans so I am mixed. I am obviously pleased the team I play for got a draw. It’s a really hard one… I’m a bit lost for words to be honest. I didn’t expect to come on and score like that. I come on and the Chelsea fans are singing [for me] so that’s emotional and then these fans [Man City] have taken to me and been brilliant as well. I’m really stuck in the middle here.”

For well over a decade ‘Super Frank’ has been the heart and soul of Chelsea Football Club. Over the summer the 36-year-old left Stamford Bridge as the clubs legendary all-time leading goalscorer saw his contract run out and has since signed for New York City FC in Major League Soccer. Lampard has since, somewhat surprisingly, been loaned out to NYCFC’s sister club, reigning PL champions Manchester City. This wasn’t the kind of thanks he would have been hoping to give Chelsea’s fans as he previously stated he didn’t want to play against them. Then he came off the bench to score… Who writes these scripts?

By doing so, Lampard became the first player in PL history to score against 39 different teams, as he scored against his beloved Chelsea for the first time in his career and delivered yet another memorable moment. This time, it came while wearing a lighter shade of blue.

Premier League Schedule – Week 5

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 0-3 Arsenal Recap and watch here
Burnley 0-0 Sunderland Recap and watch here
Everton 2-3 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here
Leicester 5-3 Manchester United Recap and watch here
Manchester City 1-1 Chelsea Recap and watch here
Newcastle 2-2 Hull City Recap and watch here
Queens Park Rangers 2-2 Stoke Recap and watch here
Swansea 0-1 Southampton Recap and watch here
Tottenham 0-1 West Brom Recap and watch here
West Ham 3-1 Liverpool Recap and watch here

HOW CAN UNITED SOLVE DEFENSIVE WOES?

Another prominent storyline to come out of Week 5 was the 5-3 drubbing Manchester United received at newly-promoted Leicester City.

Louis van Gaal’s men raced into a 2-0 lead as superstars Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao shone, but defensive lapses stated to creep in as Leicester pulled one back before half time. Around the hour mark United made it 3-1 and it looked to be over, but then they imploded in a fashion we’ve never seen from the Red Devils. Not this month, anyway… Leicester scored four unanswered goals in the final 27 minutes at the King Power Stadium and van Gaal’s revitalization of United came to a shuddering halt.

[RELATED: Watch full match replays]

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#1 – Blackett is caught deep, as 7 United players are back defending.

This win has to go down as the best in PL history for Leicester but, as is customary, the continued struggles of one of the worlds biggest clubs will grab the headlines on Monday morning. The shocking defensive display from United in the second half, and particularly after Jonny Evans had to go off injured in the first, was hard to believe. It is what happens when a midfield diamond is ridiculously top heavy.

Leicester caught United rocking in a 17 minute spell as they scored three times to turn things around and make it 4-3, before Leonardo Ulloa’s late penalty sealed a famous win for the Foxes. The newly-promoted side had lost nine-straight PL games to United before’s Sunday’s eight-goal thriller. Wayne Rooney, playing at the top of the diamond, set up Di Maria to score and slotted in perfectly as the chief creator offensively. However, defensively he was sloppy in the moment that mattered most. In the 62nd minute Rafael gave away a penalty which David Nugent scored to make it 3-2 and for all of United’s dominance, that’s where their experienced players (captain Rooney, I’m looking at you) needed to grab hold of everyone and say ‘okay, let’s come things down and not conceded for 5-10 minutes.’

[RELATED: Latest Premier League standings]

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#2 – Rooney, top of the D, was caught ball watching as Cambiasso ghosts in.

Instead, Rooney failed to track Esteban Cambiasso from 40 yards out and let the Argentine midfielder ghost into the box to make it 3-3 before screaming at the players around him. Look at the images number 1 to 3 on the left and right to see the move develop for the pivotal third goal which really sent United into a downward spiral from which they never recovered. Rooney, usually a forward  but deployed in an advanced midfield role, is caught on the edge of the box ball-watching as Leicester’s midfielders flood in. Tyler Blackett is so deep initially that the rest of the United defense drop inside the 18-yard box and six players are marking nobody. Then Cambiasso arrives unchallenged to hammer the ball home and send the King Power wild.

From that moment on, United were dead men walking and the sequence which led to Jamie Vardy’s goal to make it 4-3 was simply shocking. One long ball in behind the pedestrian duo of Chris Smalling and Blackett set the former Halifax Town man free as LVG sat in the dugout with his head in his hands after his side coughed up a 3-1 lead. Going forward, the defensive issues will be helped by Luke Shaw’s return to fitness, plus Phil Jones coming back. When that happens we will likely see a back four of Rafael at right back (he didn’t cover himself in glory with a silly challenge to concede the first PK), Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo at center back and then Shaw at left back.

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#3 – Cambiasso smashes home to make it 3-3. United have 5 v 2 in the box.

It wasn’t only the defenders who were at fault for United’s capitulation on Sunday in the Midlands. Van Gaal’s top heavy side succumbed to Rooney’s lack of tracking back, Di Maria’s insistence to follow suit and the duo of Falcao and RVP not coming back past the halfway line. Leicester’s modestly manufactured diamond outclassed and outworked United’s hugely expensive one. This United rebuild will take time, we all know that. But did anyone, including van Gaal, expect the Red Devils to be hammered 5-3 at Leicester?

“It is not good because we had the game in our pocket and gave it away,” van Gaal said. “Not because of Leicester; we gave it away and I don’t like that. We have too many players who want to seek for the goal. You cannot say the defense was weak. You play like a team, Leicester showed that. We did not play like a team in the second half and that is not only defence. In a defensive situation the whole team is responsible, not just one defender.”

Credit must go to the Foxes for dismantling United in front of a raucous home crowd but this victory should come as no surprise. In their three home games this season, Leicester have drawn with Everton and Arsenal and beaten Manchester United. It’s safe to say Nigel Pearson’s workmanlike side are adpating to life in the PL better than anyone expected. Right now they have eight points from five games and have a much more favorable schedule on the horizon. Also, their performance proves the perpetual unpredictability of the PL as plenty of so-called underdogs upset the apple cart in Week 5. Watch the highlights below from United’s latest humiliating defeat, as their inability to defend and van Gaal’s insistence on placing all of his superstar attackers in the same starting lineup came back to bite him at Leicester, hard. At the point last season under David Moyes, United had seven points and sat in eighth place. Right now, after splurging over $200 million over the summer, they sit in 12th spot with five points.

OZIL AND WELBECK THE NEW BERGKAMP AND WRIGHT?

Was it just me, or did anybody else have this flashback when watching Arsenal on Saturday? As Danny Welbeck played in Mesut Ozil for the first goal, then the duo combined 79 seconds later for Welbeck to score his first Gunners goal, it reminded me of one of the greatest strike partnerships in recent Arsenal history: flashes of Ian Wright and Dennis Bergkamp emerged on the Villa Park pitch on Saturday.

Okay, that may be a stretch, but both Welbeck and Ozil exhibit remarkably similar characteristics to the Arsenal legends I’ve likened them to.

[VIDEO: Premier League highlights, here]

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Before the ball has even reached Welbeck’s feet on the halfway line, Ozil is ready to dash in behind.

Aston Villa were hit for three goals in just 192 seconds on Saturday, as Arsenal tore them apart with two stunning moves initiated by Ozil and Welbeck. German international Ozil has had plenty of critics since he arrived for $100 million from Real Madrid last summer but scored his first goal of the season thanks to Welbeck’s vision and his own willingness to make runs through the heart of Villa’s defense. On plenty of occasions, Ozil was the furthest man forward and drifted in from the left to play centrally, where he is at his most dangerous. Ozil has shown he can torment Villa’s defense but he must now shine in the big games against the best teams in the PL and Europe.

Welbeck and Ozil, just like Wright and Bergkamp, seem to have already developed that kind of telepathy which exists between players who click right away. Welbeck has had a handful of training sessions at Arsenal after his Deadline Day move from Manchester United but is already off the mark and his ability to find Ozil for the first goal, then lay the ball off and time his run into the box to get on the end of Ozil’s cross for the second, must not be underestimated. That’s not easy to do, but in a blistering three-minute spell on Saturday Ozil and Welbeck single-handedly won Arsenal the game.

That glimpse of greatness similar to the antics of Wright and Bergkamp will have Arsenal’s fans salivating. It was only a glimpse, but Ozil and Welbeck seem to be on the same page.

Watch them in action below, as a Villa side impacted by a sickness bug gave up their unbeaten record.

Premier League Star Performers – Week 5

Player Reason
1. Leonardo Ulloa (Leicester) 2 goals, predatory for Foxes
2. Mesut Ozil (Arsenal) 1 goal, 1 assist, superb
3. Winston Reid (West Ham) 1 goal, led Hammers defense
4. Frank Lampard (Man City) 1 goal, storybook career
5. Yannick Bolasie (Palace) 1 goal, ripped Everton apart

REGRESSION ON MERSEYSIDE

It was a bad Saturday and Sunday for soccer fans along the banks of the River Mersey.

Liverpool were shocked 3-1 away at West Ham on Saturday, then Everton were beaten 3-2 by Crystal Palace on Sunday as the regression of both teams continue.

[RELATED: Premier League stats]

On one of my many trips to Liverpool last season, I wrote this longform piece about the city before a pivotal Merseyside derby last term, as both teams were in the top four hunt and a positive vibe was in full force. This Saturday Liverpool host Everton at Anfield in the 223rd edition of the derby, and both teams are in desperate need of a win after disappointing starts to the current campaign.

[RELATED: Premier League schedule]

Liverpool have lost three of five, while Everton have now conceded 13 goals in five games and have just one win. Due to their success of last season, both sides are back in European competition after lengthy absences. Liverpool beat Ludogorets 2-1 in the UEFA Champions League last Tuesday, while Everton beat Wolfsburg 4-1 on Thursday. This weekend, perhaps due to their midweek European outings, they put in jaded displays as their squads come to grips with the grueling demands of trying to succeed in the PL and in Europe. Right now, domestic success is evading both squads and that will add extra spice to one of the finest, and fiercest, derbies in world soccer which you can watch at 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN this Saturday.

Mario Balotelli poked fun at Manchester United’s shocking defeat to Leicester on Sunday, but his own performance against West Ham on Saturday left a lot to be desired as Daniel Sturridge’s return to fitness can’t come soon enough for Liverpool.

Across Stanley Park, Tim Howard’s Jekyll and Hyde season continues after he recorded the most saves in a single Europa League game on Thursday (12), but gave away a PK for Palace’s opener and made a hash of a cross for the second goal on Sunday. Everton’s defensive woes will be very concerning for Roberto Martinez but his attack-minded approach is always likely to leave the Toffees open at the back.

In the video above our analysts examine Liverpool’s struggles, as Rodgers’ men are finding ‘life after Luis Suarez’ particularly challenging this season as the new boys are struggling to settle in.

TOP FIVE GOALS. YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS THESE…

Two stunners from Hull City, Di Maria’s wondergoal, Sakho’s cheeky chip and Kranjcar’s cracker.

Watch five goals of the very highest caliber below in the top strikes of Week 5.

MEN IN BLAZERS POLISH THING OFF

It seems only appropriate, and positively necessary, to let the MiB wrap things up after an incredible weekend chocked full of drama. From Louis van Gaal’s many moods (described as the ‘Hulk in reverse’ by Rog) to Liverpool’s sad long-haired fan, let the lads round up all the important stuff.

[RELATED: Full archive of the Men In Blazers]

Plus, remember, you can watch the premiere of “The Men In Blazers Show” on NBCSN on Monday, tune in at 10 p.m. ET.

Premier League Playback comes out every Monday as PST’s Editor and Lead Writer takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

WATCH: Fort Lauderdale striker scores screamer from half

Fort Lauderdale screamer
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Every goalkeeper could use a reminder to be wary of adventuring too far from his box, and USL League One provides us our latest lesson for backstops.

Ricky Lopez-Espin scored a terrific insurance goal for Fort Lauderdale CF on Saturday night, a marker which would stand as the difference in 2-1 defeat of Georgian outfit South Tormenta FC.

[ MORE: Atletico Madrid confirms positive COVID tests ]

The win pulls FLCF, first called Inter Miami II, off the bottom of the League One table early in this restarted season.

It was quite a hit, a turnover near midfield allowing Lopez-Espin the chance to spy the keeper off his line and rip a rocket out of reach.

Miami-born Lopez-Espin played college soccer at Creighton and was a Real Salt Lake draft pick. The 24-year-old played twice for RSL and later suited up for Real Monarchs and Lansing Ignite.

Two positive COVID tests for Atletico Madrid ahead of Champions League

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Atletico Madrid announced two positive coronavirus tests from its crew set to travel to Portugal for this week’s UEFA Champions League quarterfinal against RB Leipzig.

[ MORE: JPW’s European predictions ]

The team says it will test all of its players and staff again to assure that there are no positive COVID-19 cases affecting the tournament.

Atleti asked for extreme privacy regarding the individuals who tested positive.

The match with RB Leipzig is Thursday in Lisbon, the second of four quarterfinals on the docket.

The positive tests are a stark reminder that while the top leagues in European soccer have done a very good job at isolating and keeping tests down, an incredibly contagious virus like COVID-19 can wreak havoc on the competition at any time.

From Atleti’s web site, via Sky Sports:

“Today, two positives appeared among the known results, which are now isolated in their respective homes and were reported immediately to the Spanish and Portuguese health authorities, UEFA, the Royal Spanish Football Federation, the Portuguese Federation and the Superior Council of Sports.

“As such, a corresponding protocol planned for these circumstances has been activated, which requires new tests to be undertaken to first team players, members of the Lisbon travelling party and those who are in close contact with the positive cases, and which will result in changes in the timings of training sessions, in the structure and development of the journey and the accommodation in the Portuguese capital.”

Atalanta plays PSG on Wednesday, while Barcelona and Bayern Munich meet Friday, and Man City battles Lyon on Saturday.

It will feel like smooth sailing once the tournament begins and players hit the proverbial bubble. Until then, though, this proves that there are no guarantees.

USWNT star Kelley O’Hara on NWSL restart, launching podcast

Kelley O'Hara
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When USWNT star Kelley O’Hara launched her own podcast, she didn’t mess around with the star power of her guests.

Launched in July, the “Just Women’s Sports” podcast has hosted three incredible guests including the first post-pregnancy interview with USWNT teammate Alex Morgan as well as talks with Olympic star Chloe Kim and WNBA hero Candace Parker.

A Stanford connection with fellow alum Haley Rosen put the two-time World Cup winner on the path to hosting the show, and O’Hara admits that she was driven by the chance to lift the lid on athletes’ true feelings beyond the shield that comes up while talking to reporters.

[ MORE: Champions League favorites ranked ]

“Even as an athlete I know that I have a little of my guard up when I’m talking to a reporter because sometimes they’ll take it and use it for their own narrative or agenda,” she said in a conversation with ProSoccerTalk. “There’s an ability to be vulnerable and be safe because you’re talking to someone who has a general idea of what it feels like to be an athlete. Nothing about it is trying to catch them.”

Part of that comes with O’Hara realizing she has a massive stage on account of her accomplishments. The USWNT is one of the most-watched teams in the world, on-and-off the pitch.

While she felt more like someone achieving a life goal when she first became a pro, the simultaneous life under a microscope and on a platform has inspired her to take advantage of her role model status.

“You come to realize that with the success that we have had, individually and with the national team, you do influence people,” O’Hara said. “You have an impact. You have this ability to be a role model and do good things in the world. That’s one of the reasons that I wanted to do this podcast; I have the ability to lend my platform to other athletes and give people a voice and a space.”

O’Hara was speaking as the National Women’s Soccer League put a bow on its return to the pitch with the NWSL Challenge Cup.

O’Hara’s Utah Royals fell to eventual champions Houston Dash in the quarterfinals, but the completion of the tournament in itself was a bright spot to a dark summer.

“I’m really proud about what the NWSL was able to create there,” O’Hara said. “There was a lot of uncertainty around the Challenge Cup because of COVID, but the fact that the NWSL was able to create an environment to get back on the field has been fantastic. Obviously you have Orlando that wasn’t able to come but since every team has arrived, not one player has tested positive so the NWSL deserves a lot of credit for designing this whole set-up.”

PST asked the 32-year-old how much credit should go to the players, considering how many other leagues have been thwarted by the negligence of athletes or staffers around COVID-19.

“When the NWSL was proposing everything, they told us it was built on trust. If players weren’t going to be responsible, it wasn’t going to work. It’s great that we all want to be competing, I feel we’re very lucky to be able to compete, but that’s contributed to people following the rules. You didn’t want to be the one person who ruins it.”

Learn more about the Just Women’s Sports crew, which includes Olympic heroes Kerri Walsh-Jennings, Hilary Knight, and Maggie Steffens as well as former WNBA No. 1 overall pick Nneka Ogwumike, at their official web site.

Champions League favorites ranked from eight to one

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Eight teams remain in the UEFA Champions League’s rapid-fire return, with one-legged ties promising high drama in Portugal.

The quarterfinals begin Wednesday, the bracket distinctly split into one deadly half and another with upset potential.

Because of this set-up, there’s a massive challenge in divining the true favorites to win the Aug. 23 in Lisbon.

[ MORE: JPW’s European predictions ]

If you were assembling a bottom-up power rankings in terms of the talent and toughness assembled by the eight remaining clubs, it might look something like this:

Longshots: Atalanta, Lyon
Puncher’s chance: Atletico Madrid, RB Leipzig
History-weighted powers: Man City, Paris Saint-Germain
Favorites: Barcelona, Bayern Munich

Here’s the rub: Three of the four biggest favorites will have to get through each other to get to the final, including the two top dogs. Barcelona and Bayern Munich will scrap Friday, and Man City’s slight advantage in facing Lyon is mitigated by one day’s less rest for a Bayern-Barca winner.

[ MORE: Man Utd – Copenhagen preview ]

Man City is the bookies’ favorites to win the whole thing. Do we see it that way? Spoiler alert: Nope.

And, by the way, despite changes to both outfits this is a Lyon that took four of six points from City in the 2018-19 UCL group stage. We don’t see an upset at that stage but it’s a way to note that anything is, indeed, possible.


8. Lyon

Seventh-place in Ligue 1 this season, Rudi Garcia’s men already have the beating of Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus on their resume. Moussa Dembele, Houssem Aouar, and Memphis Depay are all exciting attacking talents, but the bracket’s demands to take down Man City, then either Bayern and Barcelona just to get to the final sinks them to eighth.

7. RB Leipzig

Julian Nagelsmann is building a reputation as a man who can outwit anyone in a one-off — see two draws with Bayern in Bundesliga play this season — so it’s fitting that he’ll go tete-a-tete with Simeone in the next round. The absence of Timo Werner, who’s off to Chelsea, is a huge problem given the occasion(s). Asking three wins seems a lot, though there will be plenty of Americans pulling for Tyler Adams’ team.

Bayern Munich v. RB Leipzig recap and video highlights
09 February 2020, Bavaria, Munich: American midfielder Tyler Adams duels with Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski. (Photo by Matthias Balk/picture alliance via Getty Images)

6. Atalanta

The Bergamo-based side will have the support of many neutrals. For one thing, Atalanta is on a historic run for their club before taking into account their city’s status as one of the early epicenters of the coronavirus. For another, they are super fun. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men scored 98 goals in Serie A, 19 more than next-best Lazio, and lost the second-fewest games in Italy. They’ve lost once since January 25, a final day defeat to Inter Milan. Five players have scored double-digit goals in all comps this season.

5. Atletico Madrid

Ask Liverpool: Diego Simeone and Jan Oblak in knockout round football is reason to doubt anyone. Still, there’s an argument to be made that Atleti has punched well above its weight this season, even relative to El Cholo’s standards.

4. Barcelona

Lionel Messi means the club should be even higher on this list, and Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez are plenty battle-hardened in this spot. But Barca has made a mess of their last few ventures into the latter rounds of this tournament, and those ghosts combined with having to beat Bayern and perhaps Man City in consecutive weeks is brutal with several u’s.

Messi new contract
SEVILLA, SPAIN – JUNE 19: He’s good (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)

3. Paris Saint-Germain

There’s a good argument to be made that PSG might hold the top spot on this list. Thomas Tuchel’s men are better rested and have a more straight-forward path to Lisbon, plus the Ligue 1 champs have played and won two Cup finals in the past three weeks. There are two reasons we’re keeping them below Man City and Bayern. One is the UCL-challenged history that has us as well as surely them seeing ghosts, and the other is the uncertain status of Kylian Mbappe. He’s in the squad, but at what percent?

2. Manchester City

The reason to consider putting City above Bayern is the men in charge. Hansi Flick has done oh-so-well at Bayern but is certainly not Pep Guardiola in terms of big-game acumen or reputation. But City’s defense has proven suspect, with John Stones falling off a cliff and Nicolas Otamendi not at the levels of previous seasons. Relying on Fernandinho, Aymeric Laporte, and Eric Garcia to shut down three top attacks in two weeks is a big ask, and left back is also a huge concern with the talented wingers set to test City.

1. Bayern Munich

No weaknesses aside from potentially having to beat Barcelona and Man City inside of six days. Boasting one of the only double-double men in Europe’s top leagues in Serge Gnabry, a played who doesn’t get mentioned as often as history-chasing Robert Lewandowski and history-making Thomas Muller. A midfield duo of Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich which is just plain stupid. Speed and composure to spare with Manuel Neuer at the back. The German keeper may no longer be the undoubted 1 or 2 in the world, but he’s still a monster.