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

Man United’s recruitment policy slammed

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Manchester United’s recruitment policy has been hammered by their former legendary player and current Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville who believes they need “five or six players” to become competitive.

Following United’s 2-0 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday, Neville responded by lashing out at the ownership of the club and issued a thinly-veiled attack on executive chairman Ed Woodward and the hierarchy.

Speaking to our partners Sky Sports, Neville let loose as the gulf in class between United’s performance and Liverpool’s was stark, aside from the spirit that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side showed throughout.

“Manchester United have to react fast. They need to make good decisions,” Neville said. “Over the last few years there is a frustration that Manchester United have been U-turning all over the place when it comes to strategy. They have made some terrible investments in terms of recruitment and it is all coming home to roost. This is going to get bad. The next six months are going to be really difficult.”

When you look at the more recent signings of Alexis Sanchez, Eric Bailly and Diogo Dalot, how much have they added to the team? With Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba out injured, for such an expensively assembled squad there really isn’t much depth.

Neville is right, there has been no real plan in place with recruitment because they’ve had four very different managers (David Moys, Louis Van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and now Solskjaer) in the past six years and they have no sporting director or technical director making the recruitment decisions.

Instead, Woodward and businessmen at the top of the club are making soccer decisions and United continue to pay over the odds for players, even though the likes of Harry Magurie and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have improved their defensive unit.

“I can’t believe, with the investment that has been put into the squad over the last five or six years and you end up with that out on the pitch. I cannot believe it. I saw a statistic that Manchester United have the second highest wage bill in the world. And that is the squad they have got? It is unforgivable,” Neville continued.

“I can’t change the ownership of Manchester United, no-one can, but I am struggling to understand why the ownership has persisted in trusting that management team to oversee that investment. If you don’t lose your job for overseeing that investment, that wage bill and putting that team out on the pitch, something is really wrong.”

Does anybody have a problem with what Solskjaer said? Probably not.

Some might say that like Roy Keane, he may be trying to protect his former teammate, Solskjaer, but there’s no doubt United need to invest in midfielders, with a deal for Bruno Fernandes stalling, and at least one more center forward as they haven’t played Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez who both left in the summer.

Solskjaer’s side are currently in fifth and are only five points off the top four but injuries are piling up and although the plan is to play youngsters and give them chances to shine, the slapdash way United have built their squad will continue to hurt them.

Arteta: Arsenal’s game at Chelsea ‘must win’

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We are only in January, so is it too early to be talking about ‘must win’ games in the Premier League? It isn’t if you’re Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta talking about their top four hopes.

The Gunners head across London to take on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday (Watch live, 3:15 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) knowing a win will not only boost their faint top four hopes but also put another sizable dent in Frank Lampard‘s hopes of leading the Blues to Champions League qualification.

Chelsea currently sit in fourth place, just five points ahead of Man United in fifth, while Arsenal are 10th and sit 10 points behind Chelsea.

Speaking to the media ahead of the short trip across England’s capital city, Arteta didn’t play down the importance of the clash when asked if it is vital for their top four aspirations.

“It’s really important. It’s very, very important for us to win this game to fight for that,” Arteta said. “Also, the game we played at home, it could have made a big difference and we were very close to it. Tomorrow we need to win. Everyone is having a lot of problems to put together back-to-back wins, the league has been very competitive this season and that is why the gaps aren’t that big. There are still four months to play and a lot of things can happen, a lot of games between the top teams as well so I think that will change.”

Arsenal started very well against Chelsea when they played them on Dec. 29, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang gave them an early lead but late goals from Jorginho and Tammy Abraham gave the Blues a comeback win.

The Gunners have started well and taken the lead in plenty of recent games but keep coughing up goals to drop points as the same defensive problems are cropping up for Arteta as they did for Unai Emery and Arsene Wenger before him.

That said, there is a different intensity to their play and they will go to Chelsea without star striker Aubameyang who is suspended, but with hope that they can catch out an inconsistent Chelsea who lost at Newcastle on Saturday despite dominating the game.

This London derby will not only be a tense battle over 90 minutes, it will also set the tone for how both teams will fare in the final months of the campaign.

Cavani linked with Man United, Spurs, Chelsea

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Edinson Cavani has handed in a transfer request at Paris Saint-Germain as he’s been linked with a move to Manchester United, Tottenham and Chelsea in the January window.

PSG sporting director Leonardo confirmed that PSG met with Atletico Madrid but that they couldn’t agree a deal with the Spanish club as Cavani’s contract runs out in the summer.

“We’ve always said the same thing. We were hoping he would stay with the club, but today (Sunday) he asked to leave. We’re studying the situation. We’ve had a proposal from Atletico Madrid, but that proposal was not commensurate with the player’s value,” Leonardo said.

Cavani, 32, has also been linked with a move to the LA Galaxy and Inter Miami in recent months as his hip injury in August and subsequent fitness problems has allowed Neymar, Mauro Icardi and Kylian Mbappe to develop a devastating partnership up front for the French champions.

Tottenham’s need for a short-term solution up front is greater than any other club in the Premier League after Jose Mourinho lost Harry Kane until at least April with a serious hamstring injury. Spurs have been working hard to find a solution and Cavani, who turns 33 in February, would surely fit the bill as his characteristics as a player are very similar to Kane.

With Chelsea having Tammy Abraham as their main striker with Olivier Giroud and Michy Batshuayi as back ups, providing competition for Abraham is clearly necessary as Chelsea continue to fire blanks despite dominating games. If they’re going to finish in the top four this season they need to be more clinical in the final third as they’ve now lost to West Ham, Bournemouth, Southampton and Newcastle without scoring.

Frank Lampard admitted that he admires Cavani and refused to rule out a move for the striker this month.

“He’s (Cavani) a great player – I played against him and I always loved his mentality and his attitude. His goal-scoring record speaks for itself. I’m not absolutely aware of what the situation is, so we’ll see,” Lampard said. “He’s an experienced player but so are many other players out there! We are young as a squad so the idea of bringing in experience is not something I’m looking away from. Sometimes the younger players need a bit of help.”

As for Man United, the news that star striker Marcus Rashford is set to be out for at least the next two months was a hammer blow to their top four hopes as they sit five points behind fourth-place Chelsea in the table. Mason Greenwood is their main back-up option but with Rashford out, Anthony Martial needs to step up to the plate and kick on to replicate his fine start to the season. He didn’t do that against Liverpool in the 2-0 defeat at Anfield and this is what Solskjaer had to say about signing a new striker.

“It might be because the window is open that we look at some short-term deals as well and that could take us through until the summer.”

Who needs Cavani more? There’s no doubt the Uruguayan striker would be a stop-gap signing for all three clubs but his quality is undoubted and his physically style of play would suit the Premier League well.

He is perhaps better suited to Tottenham and Chelsea’s style of play as both rely on a true target man to build off of, while at United their attacking unit is all about pace on the counter, something Cavani doesn’t possess much of any more, bless him. However, given how well Zlatan Ibrahimovic performed at United in 2016-17, maybe the Red Devils will be eager to put their Champions League hopes on the shoulders of another veteran striker from PSG?

Cavani’s record for Napoli and PSG proves he is a world-class striker and if one of Spurs, United or Chelsea sign him this month, their chances of finishing in the top four will sky rocket. That’s how pivotal he could be, if fully fit and ready to empty his tank in Europe for the next few years before heading to Major League Soccer.

Gio Reyna: “A dream came true”

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Gio Reyna, 17, became the youngest American to play in the Bundesliga as the central midfielder, son of USMNT legend Claudio, made his debut for Borussia Dortmund in their 5-3 win at Augsburg on Saturday.

Reyna came on as a sub after a fellow sub making his Dortmund debut, Erling Haaland, had scored a 20-minute hat trick to turn the game on its head as the German giants ended up winning after trailing 3-1.

Speaking about his debut in the professional game, the U.S. U20 captain was utterly delighted and summed it up quite simply.

“A dream came true,” Reyna said. “It was a great game for us. When the coach called my name I was so excited. I was nervous but the guys made me feel comfortable.”

The talented central midfielder was promoted to Dortmund’s first team earlier this month after impressing in training during the winter break and he’s only been at the club since last summer.

“What a night! Extremely happy to make my debut but even happier for the win,” Reyna added on social media.

Safe to say USMNT fans are delighted with the rise of Reyna, while other youngsters Tyler Adams, Lynden Gooch and Josh Sargent all continue to shine in Europe with positive showings over the weekend.

Folks within the Bundesliga aren’t lowering the expectations on Reyna’s shoulders either, as an article on the website focuses on Reyna’s ‘eerily similar path’ to Dortmund as Christian Pulisic, while Dortmund’s assistant coach Jorg Heinrich believes that Reyna has more potential than Pulisic. Think about that. Stop drooling, USMNT fans.

“Gio is a fantastic talent. He has loads of potential along with plenty of confidence. I think his talent is similar to Christian Pulisic, or maybe a little bit better. But we want to keep him grounded because we’ve seen what happens to a lot of the young players,” Heinrich told Goal recently.