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

Solskjaer warns “could have been one of those nights” for Manchester United

Manchester United Solskjaer
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was clearly relieved after his dominant but wasteful Manchester United finally beat goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson and Copenhagen in extra time of their Europa League quarterfinal in Cologne.

“I think it was just one of those nights,” he said after the win. “I think we deserved to win, that’s clear, but they made it very hard for us.”

Johnsson made 13 saves as United out-attempted the minusM-1000 underdogs from Denmark by a 26-9 margin. The Red Devils blocked several Copenhagen chances in tight, making the Danes’ total of zero shots on target a bit deceiving.

[ RECAP: Manchester United 1-0 Copenhagen ]

“Their keeper was unbelievable and we hit the post a few times,” Solskjaer said. “It could have been one of those nights that you end up with a shootout. We had to block, defend well and they made it hard for us.”

But United was clearly the better team on the day, as expected. Juan Mata entered late in the game and was an influential sub in extra time.

He says the Red Devils were a bit beat up on a hot night in Germany.

“The team is quite tired physically,” Mata said. “At this stage of this season it is important to win games like today and we go through. We stay in Germany for quite some time and hopefully we can win.

“Both teams got a little tired and there were more spaces and more chances. They played some good football and credit to them. We could have scored more goals in extra time but we are through.”

United will meet either Sevilla or Wolves in a dynamite semifinal in one week.

Manchester United breaks through Copenhagen in extra time

Manchester United - Copenhagen
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Manchester United – Copenhagen: The Europa League’s biggest underdogs of the quarterfinals took the tournament favorites to extra time before succumbing 1-0 in Cologne.

Bruno Fernandes highlighted his Man of the Match performance by converting an Anthony Martial-won penalty in the 95th minute for Manchester United, the only way past Copenhagen’s terrific goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson.

But Fernandes gave United a scare, needing care for his hamstring at the final whistle.

[ MORE: Liverpool announces new left back ]

Johnsson made 13 saves, seven from inside the box, to keep Copenhagen within a sucker punch of eliminating the Red Devils over 90 minutes.

Manchester United heads to Dusseldorf for an Aug. 17 semifinal against the winner of Tuesday’s tilt between Wolves and Sevilla.


Three things we learned

1. Copenhagen plays prime tournament soccer: The heaviest underdogs in the quarterfinals, Copenhagen executed a traditional 4-4-2 in a less-traditional low block for much of the match. The low block wasn’t the surprise, but instead of two banks of five, the rows of four with two men hassling up front challenged United for time and helped spring a number of dangerous counters. The Danes opened up in extra time after going behind, but taking it to extra time was more than many expected out of them.

2. VAR denies the Red Devils: A rout would’ve been on if this match was staged a year ago without VAR, as the assistant referee twice allowed United goals to go to video. Harry Maguire was offside before assisting the first would-be Red Devils goal, while Mason Greenwood was off before ripping a rocket off the far post and into the goal.

3. Bruno is a beast: Fernandes was everywhere, cueing up his teammates for chances when he wasn’t smashing them off the frame in a bid to win it himself. The Portuguese playmaker registered three key passes, put three of his five shots on target, and won the majority of his duels on top of scoring the game’s lone goal (SofaScore). Now United must hope his late leg injury was just a product of 120 minutes and nothing major.

Man of the Match

Fernandes, and yes we had him here before he smashed his penalty home. Fernandes is now the Europa League’s leading scorer with seven goals between Sporting Lisbon and United.


Manchester United – Copenhagen recap

United has plenty of the ball in the first 10 minutes but Copenhagen provided legitimate danger that Eric Bailly managed in his own six.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka blocked a cross with his face and needed treatment, looking quite dazed before returning to the game.

Another Copenhagen chance was blocked in the six by Bailly (again), who proved a wise choice over Victor Lindelof.

VAR had a look at an early United goal and rightly chalked Harry Maguire offside in the build-up. And it took Mason Greenwood’s hammer off the far post off the board for offside early in stoppage time.

Copenhagen was in it at the break. Would United pay?

[ MORE: Lukaku leads Inter past Bayer Leverkusen ]

The early stages of the second half remained with the Red Devils, Copenhagen parking all its men behind the ball at times.

Rashford flubbed a chance to shoot or pass to Paul Pogba when Bruno Fernandes spotted him at the back post just after the hour mark.

Fernandes tried his luck from distance in the 63rd, ripping a shot off the far post.

Ex-Everton man Bryan Oviedo nearly put Copenhagen ahead in the 66th only to see Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Bailly clog his shooting lane after Rasmus Falk dazzled to get into the box.

Karl-Johan Johnsson made a flying save on Anthony Martial to force an 84th-minute corner that came to nothing for United.

Johnsson denied Martial again in-tight at the start of stoppage time, but the high was short-lived as the Frenchman was dropped in the box moments later.

Fernandes stepped to the spot and used a stuttering run-up before blasting his penalty home.

Martial nearly had it 2-0 after the restart when he dribbled through the Copenhagen 18 but took it himself instead of laying off to Juan Mata in what would’ve been a fairly straight-forward chance for the Spaniard.

Johnsson denied Fernandes at the end of the first 15 minutes of extra time, United unfortunate to not score on the ensuing corner when Mata’s shot was blocked to Lindelof, who fired off the outside of the post.

Lindelof made a fine intervention to block a close-range equalizer bid in the 116th.

Inter Milan rides early goals past Bayer Leverkusen

Inter Milan - Bayer Leverkusen
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While Manchester United and Copenhagen played chess across the country, Inter Milan and Bayer Leverkusen were staging double jumps all over a checkerboard in Dusseldorf.

Romelu Lukaku and Nicolo Barella scored twice in six first-half minutes before Kai Havertz answered in the 24th to account for all the goals in Inter’s 2-1 defeat of Bayer.

Lukaku has scored in nine-straight UEL matches, a new record.

[ MORE: Liverpool announces new left back ]

Inter now waits for an Aug. 16 semifinal in Cologne, where it will meet the winner of Tuesday’s match between Basel and Shakhtar Donetsk

Bayer now must settle for the Europa League again via its fifth-place finish in the Bundesliga.

The three goals in the nine minutes were highlighted by Lukaku doing his best “Harry Kane versus Leicester City” falling down finish.

Nicola Barella put Inter ahead after a quarter-hour when he made the most of a loose ball outside the 18.

A Manchester United connection saw Inter ahead by two when Ashley Young found Romelu Lukaku and the Belgian striker maintained his composure while being dragged to the ground, beating Lukas Hradecky with a low shot.

Kai Havertz and Kevin Volland’s interplay near the box ended with the transfer rumor mainstay slipping a shot home to bring Bayer back within one.

Lukaku had penalty decisions taken off the board by VAR in each half.

Who’s next for Manchester United if Sancho stays at Dortmund?

Chiesa to Manchester United
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The transfer rumor mill is usually buzzing this time of year, but it’s nearly a cacophony following Michael Zorc’s announcement that Jadon Sancho will be staying at Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Liverpool announces new left back ]

Reports say Manchester United is not quitting on the idea of Sancho at Old Trafford, but here are some other targets if the Red Devils have to look away from the English phenom.

Federico Chiesa, Fiorentina

Linked with United for some time including a Monday nod from Football-Italia, Chiesa’s approximately $80 million price tag is high but half of what Dortmund is asking for Sancho.

The versatile playmaker has often been linked with Juventus, though Fiorentina is loathe to do business with The Old Lady unless absolutely necessary after big sales of Roberto Baggio and Federico Bernardeschi to Juve in the past.

The 22-year-old already has 17 Italian caps and scored 10 goals with six assists for La Viola this season in Serie A play, career bests in both.

Douglas Costa, Juventus

This one could become even more feasible if Juve latched onto Chiesa.

Juve desperately needs to get younger and Costa doesn’t figure to fit into the plans of Andrea Pirlo, a month away from his 30th birthday.

Costa works better on the right side and would be a worker bee looking to set up Rashford and Martial or cut back for Bruno Fernandes. He boasts double-digit assist seasons in the Bundesliga (Bayern), Serie A (Juve), and Ukraine (Shakhtar Donetsk).

TURIN, ITALY – MAY 19: Douglas Costa (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)

Raul Jimenez, Wolves

This one still feels like a long shot of long shots given the players’ age and status at Wolves, but the El Tri star has been linked with United in the past.

Jimenez doesn’t solve the wing issue presented by Sancho staying at BVB, and you’d fancy the Red Devils to go after one of Wolves’ wingers before Jimenez.

But Solskjaer enjoys Marcus Rashford at left wing and could use Anthony Martial at right wing a bit more often than center forward. Throw in Mason Greenwood and the boss would have a lot of permutations to use around Bruno Fernandes in a front three or four.

Ivan Perisic, Inter Milan

Mentioned as part of a swap deal for Alexis Sanchez, that’s less on the cards after the Chilean accepted a Man United payoff to move to Inter for free.

The 31-year-old favors the left wing and Inter would be happy to offload him after Bayern declined its option to buy the loanee who managed seven goals and 10 assists in just over 1600 minutes.

That’s pretty good output for a part-time player who kept some tread on the tires.

Perisic to Manchester United
MOSCOW, RUSSIA – JULY 15: Ivan Perisic of Croatia (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

James Rodriguez, Real Madrid

If you’re sensing a thread amongst most of these players, it’s no surprise considering United has a wage scale to meet the needs of many wantaways.

Real desperately wants to get something for Colombian star James, who at 29 played less than 800 minutes for La Liga’s champions this season.

His two-year loan stint at Bayern also saw him as a part-time player, but like Perisic a productive one. James scored 15 times with 20 assists over two seasons with the Bavarians.

Kingsley Coman, Bayern Munich

This would cost a lot of dough.

The 24-year-old has been a part of nine-straight league winners between Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, and Bayern.

Okay that’s cheating a bit considering his Ligue 1 crowns came off a handful of appearances over two seasons at the Parc des Princes.

But the left and right winger might be on for a change of scenery with Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane set to dominate the preferential places at Bayern.