Premier League Playback: Liverpool can’t get rid of Luis Suarez hangover

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LIVERPOOL GET OUT OF JAIL, BUT THIS CAN’T CONTINUE

With Luis Suarez set to return to soccer later this week following his four month ban, how Liverpool wish he was still theirs. Suarez now belongs to Barcelona but despite the $128 million Liverpool sold the Uruguayan superstar for this summer, the hangover from his departure remains.

That was clear for everyone to see as Liverpool struggled to victory at QPR on Sunday, as they somehow left Loftus Road with all three points after four goals were scored in a frantic final eight minutes. I was at the game and took in the incredible finale as QPR deserved more and Liverpool’s fans, players and manager knew they got out of jail. Relief was the overriding emotion of those wearing red as Liverpool produced another display devoid of dynamism and fluidity.

[Related: Watch full match replays]

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Click to enlarge – Sterling’s heatmap vs. QPR

Speaking to reporters after the match, Rodgers admitted his side were “nowhere near what I would expect from a team of mine” and pointed to Suarez’s absence, four months on from his departure, as one of the main reasons for the Reds’ struggles early in the campaign.

“I think it’s been most of the season, to be honest,” Rodgers said. “It’s not something that’s new. It’s not rocket science. If you look over the core of the team, we scored 101 goals last year and the dynamic of the team has changed. We’ve lost over 75 percent of that. That just takes time. There’s no magic wand to make it work instantly… I’ve said it before, Luis [Suarez] is irreplaceable.”

[Related: Three things we learned in Liverpool’s pulsating win over QPR]

It’s not all doom and gloom. Liverpool ground out the win and are now in fifth spot with 13 points from their opening eight games. Hardly a disaster, but their form is nowhere near where it was last season. One player who is doing his best to turn that around and potentially replace Suarez is Raheem Sterling. The 19-year-old winger was sublime on Sunday, having a hand in all three of Liverpool’s goals after a week of turmoil following his very public admission of tiredness while on international duty with England. Steven Gerrard said Sterling will become the best player in England, while Rodgers lauded his starlet as his pace and tenacity led the Reds to victory despite a lackluster display, especially defensively.

source: Getty Images
Rodgers and Liverpool performed poorly, as life after Luis is hitting the Reds hard.

“I thought he [Sterling] was outstanding today” Rodgers beamed. “His cleverness on the first goal… I always say to the players that ‘the best players come alive when the game goes dead.’ The bright players come alive. The breakaways for the other two was just all about his speed, technique, courage to run with the ball. I thought he was excellent.”

Sterling, 19, has a lot of pressure on his shoulders right now. With Daniel Sturridge out injured for at least another three to four weeks after coming so close to returning this weekend, and Suarez one, Sterling is Liverpool’s main man with Mario Balotelli’s poor start to his Anfield career continuing. Defensively, Liverpool were bullied by Bobby Zamora and Charlie Austin, especially aerially, while Gerrard started in an advanced role supporting Balotelli but was placed back in his ‘quarterback role’ in front of the back four for the second half as the Reds struggled to get any rhythm going.

[Related: Liverpool must improve, and they know it, despite late win]

Liverpool face Real Madrid at Anfield on Wednesday in a massive UEFA Champions League clash. If they have any chance of shocking the reigning European Champions, Sterling must shine bright. That will be the case for most of this season, as the young English winger continues to suggest there might just be life after Luis Suarez for Liverpool.

Premier League Schedule – Week 8

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 2-2 Hull City Recap and watch here
Burnley 1-3 West Ham Recap and watch here
Crystal Palace 1-2 Chelsea Recap and watch here
Everton 3-0 Aston Villa Recap and watch here
Man City 4-1 Tottenham Recap and watch here
Newcastle 1-0 Leicester Recap and watch here
QPR 2-3 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Southampton 8-0 Sunderland Recap and watch here
Stoke 2-1 Swansea Recap and watch here
WBA-Man United (Mon, 3pm ET) Recap and watch here

IS AGUERO ONE OF THE WORLD’S BEST?

After scoring all four of Manchester City’s goals again Tottenham on Saturday, plus missing a penalty kick, is Sergio Aguero one of the best strikers in the world?

[VIDEO: Premier League highlights]

The Argentine forward now has nine goals in eight appearances this season in the PL and became City’s all-time leading PL scored after his explosion on Saturday. Aguero now has 61 PL goals in 95 PL games for City and has the best goals per minute ratio of any player in PL history, with a goal arriving every 108 minutes he’s on the pitch.

[Related: Where does Aguero rank?]

Aguero, 26, is finally fully fit after hamstring issues last season and over the summer for Argentina during the World Cup. He is now top of the scoring charts in the PL alongside Chelsea’s Diego Costa and questions are being asked as to just how good Aguero is.

His manager Manuel Pellegrini called him “one of the top four strikers in the world” and on current form, it’s hard to argue with him. With Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and perhaps Gareth Bale ahead of him, a stellar season for Aguero would enter him into the pantheon of the games greatest attacking talents… if he isn’t in it already. His predatory instincts, ability to finish with both foot and bamboozle defenders with his low center of gravity make him one of the toughest players to mark. If Aguero can stay fit this term, he will spearhead City’s title charge.

Watch all the PL goals from Saturday, including Aguero’s four, in the video below.

8-0, yes EIGHT: SOUTHAMPTON SMASH SUNDERLAND IN RECORD WIN

Southampton eight, Sunderland nil. That scoreline sent shock waves through the global soccer community for two reasons. Number one: Southampton were very, very good. Number two: Sunderland were very, very poor.

[Related: Latest Premier League standings]

Following the stunning result at St Mary’s, Sunderland manager Gus Poyet admitted it was his “most embarrassing” moment ever in soccer. While Saints’ fans and players are dreaming of shocking everyone this season, despite Ronald Koeman saying his side “were not perfect” in his teams biggest-ever win in the PL, and their largest victory since 1921.

Dusan Tadic tore Sunderland apart with four assists, while red-hot Graziano Pelle scored another two for Saints. Here’s more on Southampton’s great start (they sit in third place with 16 points on the board) as talk of a top four finish starts to gather momentum.

Tadic addressed that, as the Serbian international winger notched his seventh assist of the season and his first PL goal of the campaign. The form of Tadic and Pelle have Koeman’s side dreaming of bettering their eighth place finish from last year.

“It feels like I’m dreaming. Southampton is the most beautiful city in England and everything is great,” Tadic said. “We have fabulous fans who are with the club 24 hours a day. It is something special to be playing for Southampton. Can we keep up our form for a long time? I hope so. Secretly each one of us hopes that we can finish in a position that leads to the Champions League, but we are all aware that it is going to be extremely hard.”

As for Sunderland… it was shambolic. Their fans made a 700-mile round trip to the South Coast to see their team get slaughtered and down tools midway through the second half. Goalkeeper Vito Mannone made two howling errors, plus Santiago Vergini scored the best own goal you will ever see as he ridiculously hammered into his own net from distance to start the romp. Mannone has issued an apology to Sunderland’s fans and said he and the players are working on reimbursing them for the cost of their ticket and travel. That’s the least they can do after shoddy defending and players simply giving up.

[RELATED: Premier League stats]

On a lighter not, this rather cheeky Southampton fan became an overnight celebrity after snapping a picture next to Sunderland’s Vergini outside the stadium after the game. A picture paints a thousand words…

Premier League Star Performers – Week 8

Player Reason
1. Sergio Aguero (Man City) 4 goals, ripped Spurs apart
2. Dusan Tadic (Saints) 4 assists, 1 goal, handful
3. Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal) 1 goal, 1 assist, savior
4. Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea) 1 goal, another classy display
5. Bobby Zamora (QPR) Didn’t deserve to lose, superb

QPR’S FINISHING THE ISSUE, AS REDKNAPP VENTS

“We were great today, we hit the bar twice and I think we could have been home and gone at half time. We were miles the better team,” Harry Redknapp said postgame. “We never gave up. I thought we were excellent today. You don’t always get what you deserve in life. We didn’t get what we deserved today. To get beat… it was an absolute injustice.”

Leroy Fer hit the crossbar twice in the first half. Austin and Zamora ran Liverpool’s defense ragged all afternoon, but QPR only scored when Eduardo Vargas jumped off the bench to equalize twice in a crazy finale which saw the newly-promoted side lose, once again.

[Related: Premier League schedule]

QPR should have been 3-0 up at half time as they battered Liverpool with their best performance of the season. Instead, they lost, as missed chances cost them dear and naive defending, plus two own goals, succumbed Redknapp’s men to a sixth defeat in their opening eight games.

I was present in the postgame press conference and the QPR manager was visibly agitated as reporters asked him about speculation surrounding his future as QPR boss. Lashing out and swearing at a squeaky advertisement board behind his chair on the podium wasn’t the only thing which irked Redknapp. Asked about Moroccan playmaker Adel Tarabbt’s absence from the matcday squad, here’s what Harry had to say as he exploded.

“He’s not fit to play football unfortunately. He played in a reserve game the other day and I could have run about more than he did. I can’t pick him,” Redknapp ranted. “I can’t keep protecting people, who don’t want to run about and train, and are about three stone overweight. What am I supposed to keep saying? Keep getting your 60, 70 grand a week and don’t train? What’s the game coming to? I pick people who want to try, who deserve to be at a good football club like QPR, who come in every day and want to work, train and show a good attitude. When he starts doing that, if he ever can do it, maybe he’ll get a game.”

If QPR play like they did against Liverpool, things will turn around quickly and Redknapp’s frustration will dissipate. But they have to start finishing chances or relegation beckons.

GARRY MONK BRANDISHES MOSES ‘A CHEAT’ AFTER DIVE… HAS HE GOT A POINT?

Swansea City lost 2-1 to Stoke City on Sunday and their young manager Garry Monk was not a happy man after the defeat. Not because of his teams performance, but because of the decision to hand Stoke a penalty kick just before half time after an apparent foul by Angel Rangel on Stoke’s Victor Moses. Monk was livid. Watch the video above to see his scathing attack on Moses, who he branded a “cheat” and called for him to receive a ban for diving. Monk also laid into the referee and the referees association after failing to get in touch following his previous complaints about officiating.

[Related: Premier League all-access]

Stoke’s manager Mark Hughes slammed Monk for calling Moses a cheat and suggested the young manager should hide his true feelings when standing in front of the camera. Yes, perhaps Monk’s inexperience as a manger showed on Sunday when he vented his frustration at Moses and the referee and an FA charge is surely on the way, but don’t we want honesty from managers?

As for Moses, he went down very easily under the challenge and the diving dilemma reared its ugly head once again. According to reports, Monk fines his players if he sees them diving in training and if they do it in a game he has said he won’t play them in the next match. It’s an admirable stance from the Swansea boss, but will the rest of the PL and soccer in general follow suit? It’s the only way this endless gamesmanship will be eradicated from the beautiful game. Monk’s rant may make divers thinks twice… but probably not.

USMNT UPDATE: HOWARD PREVAILS, CAMERON RETURNS

Tim Howard won the battle of the USMNT ‘keepers on Saturday. Everton hammered Aston Villa 3-0 and Howard’s U.S. teammate Brad Guzan had a day to forget.

Guzan let Romelu Lukaku’s shot squirm underneath him just after half time and looked to the sky in disbelief. Howard, for the third time in 12 months, beat his long-time number two. With Guzan now the USA’s first-choice goalkeeper during Howard’s year-long break from national team duty, he will have to redeem himself for Villa and Jurgen Klinsmann’s side in the coming months. Right now, it seems like Howard will step in as a starter next September when his sabbatical ends.

Elsewhere, USMNT man Geoff Cameron returned to action after six weeks out with a hernia injury. Cameron jumped off the bench and played a key part in the Potters’ game-winner. Playing in midfield, he intercepted the ball, nutmegged Wilfried Bony and then played the ball forward to start the move for Stoke’s winner. As for Jozy Altidore, he didn’t make the bench as Sunderland were hammered 8-0 at Southampton. His situation in the PL continues to worsen.

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