Premier League Playback: Should Liverpool fire Brendan Rodgers?

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CALLS FOR RODGERS’ HEAD PREMATURE

“I’m not arrogant enough to think that I will be in a job through anything,” Brendan Rodgers said after Liverpool’s 3-1 defeat to Crystal Palace on Sunday. “Any manager will tell you that you have to win games and you have to get results, especially after how we’ve been developing as a football club. But I have a great communication line with the owners. We’ve been honest enough with each other but ultimately you have to get results. You have to perform. In my first year when we weren’t maybe getting the results we were performing well.”

Rodgers said all this, plus brutally pointed out the many deficiencies in his current squad, after Liverpool had returned to the scene where they painfully lost the Premier League title last season. On a Monday night in south London on May 5, Liverpool squandered a 3-0 lead late on to draw 3-3 with Crystal Palace and all but hand the 2013-14 PL title to Manchester City. On their first trip back to Selhurst Park since that fateful night when Luis Suarez had to be carried off the pitch in tears, Liverpool were awful as their terrible start to the 2014-15 season continues.

Premier League Schedule – Week 12

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

Truth be told, Liverpool have never recovered from that devastating draw at Selhurst last season. This year they let in three more goals against Palace but only scored one themselves as the Reds suffered a sixth defeat of the season and are languishing in 12th place, 18 points off leaders Chelsea. Last season Liverpool only lost six games throughout the campaign but they’ve matched that already as the absence of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge through injury and that buzzword ‘transition’ can no longer be blamed.

[RELATED: Watch full match replays]

Rodgers has a lot to answer for, most notably his summer recruitment process, but he should not lose his job. His key players are massively under-performing with Raheem Sterling and Steven Gerrard (who both underwhelmed vs. Palace) among the most notable strugglers who have failed to recapture their stunning form which saw them get so close to winning the title last season. That surge has seen expectation levels at Liverpool rise to alarming heights at Anfield but after their latest defeat, fans of the Reds have to realize that in a good year their team will finish in the top four and during a bad one (which this one certainly is, so far) they will finish in the top eight.

[VIDEO: Premier League highlights]

As NBC Sports’ Geoff Cameron (making his commentating debut on Sunday at Selhurst) pointed out at the start of the second half, “Liverpool’s defense look terrified every time Crystal Palace’s attackers get on the ball” and they were correct to be concerned. Yannick Bolasie set up the first two goals and made Dejan Lovren look like a fool on the second. The Croatian center back signed for Liverpool $32 million in the summer from Southampton and is fast becoming the scapegoat for their defensive woes as he and Martin Skrtel looked off the pace and continued to drop back against a Palace side who used their pace to expose Liverpool’s weaknesses. Their backline has now conceded 1.5 goals per game in the PL this season, that’s their worst-ever rate. Plus the Eagles were in the bottom three going into this clash on Sunday and were heavy underdogs but on the evidence of what we saw, you would say Liverpool were the side scrapping for relegation.

Liverpool’s drop off in form from last season will be incredibly worrying for Rodgers. His job may soon be on the line, and he knows that, but for now it is time for the fans to rally around the club and help pick their players up after a disastrous start to the season. Rodgers hasn’t helped himself out with stubborn team selections, a huge influx of new players and failing to replace the quality he has lost. He changed too much too soon, and Liverpool now face a tough trip to Bulgaria to face minnows Ludogorets in a crucial UEFA Champions League match on Wednesday. If they lose that, calls for Rodgers’ head will intensify. Putting all that aside, the Northern Irishman deserves to at least see out this season and try to put the bad start right.

Despite all their struggles Liverpool are only five points off the top four, but Rodgers needs to turn things around quickly before the pressure costs him his job.

UNITED BEND, BUT DON’T BREAK

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In a battle billed as a “top four decider” under the floodlights at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday night, Arsenal and Manchester United both showed reasons why they may miss out on Champions League qualification come the end of the season.

[RELATED: Three things we learned from United’s win vs. Arsenal]

The Gunners ripped apart United’s young three-man defense early on but failed to take their chances, while United improved as the game went on and got a slice of luck their defensive defiance perhaps deserved. Jack Wilshere was particularity wasteful in front of goal and that spilled over into anger as he squared up to Marouane Fellaini and was lucky to have not been sent off (more on that shortly). Arsenal’s pint-sized midfielder also got injured as he tried to overdo things and late in the game the Red Devils picked the Gunners apart on the counter after Kieran Gibbs’ comedy own goal gave them the advantage.

[RELATED: Marquee win proves LVG’s men stepping it up]

Wayne Rooney added a delicate chip after a breakaway to make it 2-0 as he became the top scorer vs. Arsenal in PL history with 11 goals all-time. The Gunners imploded late on despite Olivier Giroud smashing one back on his surprise return from a broken leg. It was a perfect away display, from an attacking standpoint, from United but van Gaal wasn’t too impressed afterwards. However he was laughing in the post match presser as his 3-5-2 experiment worked… just about.

“If Arsenal had scored in the first 20 minutes then it is a different game,” van Gaal said. “And then maybe I have to respond to all the questions asking why I chose the three centre-backs. But now I can laugh. I said this before the match that I made the right decision. To make this decision before the match. Okay… that is a quality decision. I can say that now. But at the same time I say that, that’s the life of a manager or a coach. The result is always giving you the reason.”

Playing three central defenders in Paddy McNair on the right, Chris Smalling in the center and Tyler Blackett on the left (see the image above for how they set up) was a huge gamble and just about paid off. Early on United stood off the Gunners and looked stunned as Arsenal created four great chances but spurned them all. Then Smalling started to lead from the center and take first knock, while McNair and Blackett swept up superbly. These three players may not be the first-choice center backs moving forward but the formation does work, as United were able to soak up pressure and spring counter attacks with Angel Di Maria, Rooney and Fellaini creating havoc. Offensively the 3-5-2 suited United attackers superbly.

[RELATED: Latest Premier League standings]

As I sat in the press box at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday evening following the game, I was interrupted by plenty of disappointed Arsenal fans as they walked out of the stadium while I filed my thoughts on yet another disappointing defeat for their side. “Make sure you write Wenger is rubbish!” “Wenger out, enough is enough.” “Wenger is bloody useless, get rid of him.” Arsenal have now endured their worst-ever start to a PL season and have just 17 points from their opening 12 games. Here’s what our analysts had to say about United’s win over the Gunners which sent the Red Devils into top four.

DISGRACEFUL DIVERS, HEADBUTTS

Jan Vertonghen, Ross Barkley, Victor Moses, James Tomkins and Jack Wilshere. What do they all have in common? They all failed to cover themselves in glory this weekend.

Premier League Star Performers – Week 12

Player Reason
1. Yannick Bolasie (Palace) 2 assists, trickery & pace
2. David De Gea (Man Utd) Solid display, leader
3. Danny Ings (Burnley) 2 goals, clinical finisher
4. Wayne Rooney (Man Utd) 1 goal, drove United on
5. Christian Eriksen (Spurs) 1 goal, assist, gamechanger

With simulation becoming a real issue in the Premier League over the past few years, during Week 12 we saw at least five separate issues which highlighted the problem. Referees are now becoming more and more aware of the diving and cheating going on, but it is still difficult for them to make the right decision with one look at full speed during a game.

[RELATED: Premier League schedule]

Vetronghen was flicked in the backside by Gaston Ramirez and threw himself to the floor in agony which resulted in the latter getting a straight red card. That turned the game in Tottenham’s favor as they used the one-man advantage to overturn a 1-0 deficit and win. In Everton’s home win against West Ham there were two incidents of diving as Barkley first went down under no contact from Kevin Nolan to win a free kick, then a real contentious moment arrived in the second half. Kevin Mirallas pushed James Tomkins in the chest as a huge scramble ensued but Tomkins then chucked himself to the floor and held his face even though he was pushed in the chest. Remember Rivaldo’s dreadful play-acting at the 2002 World Cup? Yeah, Tomkins was on par with that. What a farce.

While against Burnley on Saturday, Stoke’s Victor Moses was once again tumbling down in the penalty box after being slammed by Swansea boss Garry Monk for ‘cheating’ earlier in the campaign.

[RELATED: Premier League stats]

Then came that incident between Wilshere and Fellaini at the Emirates. In a fiery clash clash Wilshere squared up to Fellaini after a free kick was given against Arsenal. Wilshere put his head into Fellaini’s and it would have been deemed a headbutt, but Wilshere is a nearly a foot smaller than Fellaini so he only reached the United players’ collarbone. Mike Dean had a great view of the incident but decided against a red card for Wilshere, even though he had clearly lost the plot. Cool it, Jack. Anyway, I was amused…

This play acting has to stop now in the PL and examples have to be made of these players. Otherwise, when will it stop? Never. We need some explanations… So luckily former Premier League referee Howard Webb went on Sky Sports television in the UK on Monday to explain some of the incidents which have taken place, as he is now the technical director of the Professional Game Match Officials Board since retiring from refereeing over the summer. Seven yellow cards have been issued for simulation this season as Webb believes the officials have the epidemic under control. It is hard to agree with that.

Maybe the next bout of video technology ushered into the Premier League will allow video replays and challenges towards simulation. The issues are now getting so widespread that any contentious decisions a manager thinks is wrong should have a way to be overturned.

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

Report: Liverpool paid Man City $1.2 million in ‘spy’ settlement

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A report from The Times states that Liverpool paid Manchester City over $1.2 million back in 2013 over a complaint about City’s scouting system being hacked.

Our partners at Sky Sports say their sources confirm the payment was made, while they also have a statement from Liverpool on the matter.

“Liverpool Football Club does not provide any comment on any allegations relating to legal agreements it may or may not have entered into with any other club, organisation or individual.”

Per the original report, the settlement was agreed without Liverpool or any individuals connected to them accepting liability. Plus, the allegations and information were never put up in a court of law.

Three scouts moved from Man City to Liverpool less than a year before the settlement was reached.

Man City allege that two of those scouts, plus current Liverpool sporting director Michael Edwards, were involved in accessing a database via the Scott7 system.

City brought in experts to see if their system had been hacked.

The Times says this would be “the biggest incident of alleged misbehavior by one top-flight club to another in the Premier League’s history.”

That is spot on.

Of course, employees move from one Premier League club to another all of the time, and there is nothing that suggests this is more widespread.

But the private settlement becoming public knowledge will no doubt stir up plenty of controversy as Liverpool and Man City go head-to-head for the Premier League title once again.

Rodgers not too bothered by VAR as Leicester City back in Top Four

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Leicester City boss Brendan Rodgers is keeping his cool about the Foxes’ decent start to the Premier League season.

The Foxes beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 on Saturday to move back into the Top Four, four points behind leaders Liverpool.

[ MORE: Match recap | Pochettino reacts ]

Leicester has now beaten Spurs, Bournemouth, and Sheffield United, drawn Wolves and Chelsea, and lost away to Manchester United last week (in a match it was arguably superior to the hosts).

Rodgers loved his team’s day, which was challenged by VAR taking away goals from both sides, but knows the big picture is a big challenge.

“A brilliant team performance,” he said. “Very early days, we have had a tough start. We will get into the New Year and see where we are February, March.”

As for VAR, Rodgers saw an early Leicester goal pulled back for offside, but the system also determined that Heung-Min Son was offside by the finest bit of his rotator cuff before Serge Aurier made it 2-0 to Spurs.

Back to 1-0, Leicester equalized within moments through Ricardo Pereira before James Maddison scored a wonder-strike to win it for the hosts.

“It’s what happens with VAR, you have to get your head round it. It works for you and against you. Worked both ways for us today. … We spoke with the players in pre season about VAR. You have to deal with it, sometimes for you and against you. Have to accept it and move on. It was a very important three points.”

Pochettino says VAR call inspired Leicester; Twitter has knives out

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Mauricio Pochettino worked a marvel with the English language in describing how VAR affected the late stages of Tottenham Hotspur’s 2-1 loss to Leicester City at the King Power Stadium on Saturday.

Spurs looked to have doubled its home lead with 20 minutes to play when Serge Aurier belted a far post shot past the reach of Kasper Schmeichel, but a lengthy video review showed Heung-Min Son‘s shoulder was maybe possibly offside.

[ RECAP: Leicester City 2-1 Tottenham ]

Clear and obvious? Mehhhhhhh.

Pochettino, oddly enough, chose not to debate the call but instead focused on the momentum he believes it provided to Leicester City en route to Ricardo Pereira‘s near-immediate answer and James Maddison‘s late winner.

“After 80 minutes, the game was going to be over. You gave massive belief to the team that was already dead. After we conceded the goal 1-1, we had some chances to score the second goal, but that’s what makes the Premier League the most beautiful league. You can never stop.”

He was optimistic on the overall performance following a disheartening 2-2 draw with Olympiacos at midweek, as Spurs threw away a 2-0 first half lead over the Greek hosts.

“Very disappointed because we lost the three points but in thinking the big picture I am very optimistic because the team showed great reaction after Olympiacos.”

Meanwhile, much of the rest of Twitter’s soccer world was a bit less forgiving of VAR. Even Leicester City legend Gary Lineker sent venom to the Video Assistant Referee.

Man City scores five times in first 18 minutes v. Watford (video)

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What a start. Emphasize it, bold it, underline it.

Manchester City scored five goals in the first 18 minutes of play on Saturday at the Etihad Stadium, relegating Watford to also-ran status before the match was a quarter finished.

[ STREAM: Man City v. Watford ]

It took 54 seconds for De Bruyne to assist David Silva with an outstanding opener, but Gerard Deulofeu nearly answered when he danced around Nicolas Otamendi to force a conceded corner out of Ederson.

Silva, marked for Inter Miami in a mid-week report, was the finisher for the 55th time in his Premier League career and 72nd for his club.

Ben Foster then gave away a useless penalty when he slapped a through ball out of bounds before felling Riyad Mahrez for an easy penalty. Aguero stepped to the spot calm as you like and dispatched the No. 2 to the scoreboard.

That was hardly the end to Watford’s woes, as Mahrez dazzled with a dribble through the heart of the field to earn a free kick atop the 18. There was only one destination, given the series of events. 3-0.

Bernardo Silva then got in on the act, when Otamendi nodded a De Bruyne corner to the back post for a prone finish and 4-0.

Not to be outdone, Otamendi was back post for a finish of his own, giving City its fifth goal off an Aguero assist.