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

Fan banned from all NWSL games after investigation

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A person who directed racist taunts at Portland Thorns’ goalkeeper Adrianna Franch has been banned from attending National Women’s Soccer League games.

A fan at the Sept. 6 game between the Thorns and Utah Royals in Salt Lake City first called attention to the unidentified person on Twitter. The tweet was later deleted, but both the Thorns and Royals, as well as the league, investigated the incident.

The NWSL issued a statement Saturday saying the person was identified. In addition to being banned from NWSL matches, the person – who was not identified publicly by the league – was also banned from attending events at Rio Tinto Stadium.

“NWSL will not tolerate inappropriate fan behavior,” the league’s statement said. “Racism has no place in our sport.”

The Royals also offered “thanks in no small part to assistance from fans seated in the vicinity,” for identifying the offending party.

A few days after the incident, Franch posted a statement to Twitter: “The situation surrounding our game Friday night is not a NEW issue, nor is it a first for me. RACISM is NOT okay in any form!! We as a HUMAN RACE can be better and should be better. We as a SPORT can help show the way.”

Franch was on the roster of the U.S. national team that won the Women’s World Cup this summer in France.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

MLS Wrap: What we learned

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Here’s what we learned from MLS’ jam-packed action on Saturday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

NYCFC rally to edge San Jose, remain first in Eastern Conference 

Dominating possession and taking a healthy amount of shots, it seemed like the San Jose Earthquakes were going to pull off a Matias Almeyda-era victory in New York City on Saturday.

But in just the span of three minutes, NYCFC changed the landscape of the game completely, scoring twice right before halftime. Keaton Parks recorded his first league goal in the 40th minute. In the 43rd, the Eastern Conference leaders put together this (yes, the covered half the field just like that):

Like in the sequences that led to the home side’s goals, the Quakes’ confidence to overtake the scoreline took a hit, failing to finish a number of chances following attack-heavy substitutions in the second half. As a result, San Jose, who are fighting for a playoff spot, dropped their fourth straight game on the road.

Speaking with media after their 2-1 loss, Almeyda – despite praising NYCFC as being one of the league’s best – took shots at Yankee Stadium’s field size. Should the league care? Absolutely. NYCFC? Not at all, just look at their record.


FC Cincinnati win first game under Ron Jans

FC Cincy supporters can finally rejoice, even their 1-0 win in Montreal wasn’t ideal.

The league’s youngest team ended up with 10-men late in the game. Kendall Watson was shown a straight red card, but Ron Jans earned his first three points at the helm. Early in the game, Allan Cruz’s goal foreshadowed what was to come for the Ohioan side following the final whistle: a celebration.

 

The Impact (37 points) remain three points behind New England, while Cincinnati (21 points) look to finish strong in order to avoid the ugly side of the history books. 

Carlos Vela rejoins LAFC, scores

There’s no way around it: LAFC is a completely different team with (or without) Carlos Vela, who can’t stop scoring.

The Mexican recorded his 28th goal of the season (six behind Jose Martinez’s single-season record) in the Supporter Shield favorite’s 1-1 draw in Philadelphia. It wasn’t a Vela-esque sequence at all, but it was enough to change the score.

The Union, who played without Marco Fabian because of his absence in the team’s meeting on Friday, opened the scoring. Three minutes in, Kacper Przybyłko’s floating header surprised Tyler Miller, giving the home side a perfect start in front of a noisy Talen Energy Stadium.

Just a couple of months ago, these were the two best teams in the league. LAFC remain atop of the Western Conference. The Union, however, are now five points behind NYCFC.


Crew trounce Atlanta United 3-1 despite Josef Martinez’ goal

Caleb Porter’s Columbus Crew, arguably, play the most effective soccer out of all the teams that are on the outside looking in when it comes to qualifying for the playoffs this season.

On Saturday, despite being statistically outdone by Atlanta United, the Crew managed to execute their chances, scoring three goals on only four shots on target. Gyasi Zardes, a pivotal piece of their attack, scored his 12th goal of the season. Costa Rican Luis Diaz added one of his own in the second half, before Miles Robinson’s own-goal 25 minutes later sealed three points for Columbus.

No goal, however, had as much significance as Josef Martinez’s.

The Venezuelan scored for a 14th consecutive game, making it the third longest streak in the history of the sport. The 26-year-old is now seven games away from Lionel Messi’s world record set in 2014.

Third in the Eastern Conference, nine points away from NYCFC with six games to go, don’t count the single-season scoring king to hold back from wanting to break the record.

Elsewhere in MLS

Chicago Fire 4-0 FC Dallas 

Orlando City 3-3 New England Revolution

Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 Houston Dynamo

Serie A roundup: Inter edge 10-man Udinese

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Napoli and Inter Milan walked away winners in Saturday’s Serie A action.

Inter Milan 1-0 Udinese

After three games, Antonio Conte‘s spell at Inter Milan remains in immaculate shape.

According to the table, there is no better team than I Nerazzurri, who have won their first three league matches – notching seven goals and conceding only one along the way. In other words, the Italian’s astute coaching style remains effective.

Despite, Inter’s convincing play throughout the 90 minutes, only a goal would separate them from visiting Udinese, who played a with 10 players from the 35th minute on, following Rodrigo De Pual’s slap to the back of Antonio Candreva’s head.

In the 44th minute, Stefano Sensi – one of the smallest players on the field – headed the ball into the back of the net. Late in the game, Alexis Sanchez nearly scored in his Inter debut.

In the end, Udinese were no match for Antonio Conte and Co., who find themselves in prime form heading into their Champions League return midweek.

Up next for Inter in league play: Derby della Madonnina. Udinese, on the hand, host Brescia.

Napoli 2-0 Sampdoria

Dries Mertens is the gift that keeps on giving for Napoli.

To be exact, the Belgian gifted his team two goals on Saturday. 13 minutes in, following a perfectly-placed cross from Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Mertens’ first-time strike was unstoppable for Emil Audero.
Emiliano Rigoni had Sampdoria’s best chance of the night in a one-on-one opportunity with Alex Meret. The Argentine, however, wasted one of the visiting side’s two chances all night.
Then in the 67th minute – with some luck on his corner -Mertens completed his brace off a deflected shot, giving his team their second win of the season.

Quick turnaround for Napoli as they host Liverpool midweek before traveling to take on Lecce in league play, while Sampdoria take on Torino next.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Fiorentina 0-0 Juventus

La Liga roundup: Real Sociedad spoil Atletico Madrid’s perfect start

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Atletico Madrid’s first hiccup of the season headlines Saturday’s La Liga action.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Real Sociedad 2-0 Atletico Madrid

La Liga had an upset of their own.

Atletico Madrid remain league leaders, but their undefeated record is no more after a 2-0 loss to Real Sociedad in San Sebastian.

Both sides played to a quiet first half, but in the 58th minute Martin Odegaard opened the score in front of a packed Anoeta, as his left-footed shot was deflected by Stefan Savic.

Just two minutes later, in his Real Sociedad debut, longtime Arsenal fullback Nacho Monreal tapped in a second chance inside the box, following an initial stretching save from Jan Oblak.

Diego Simeone’s side pushed desperately in the latter stages of the game; not enough to get passed Miguel Moya, though.

La Reala sets their sights on Espanyol, while Los Colchoneros, with Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid at their heels, look to bounce back against Celta Vigo.

Real Madrid 3-2 Levante

Real Madrid conceded two goals in the second half in Saturday’s game, but their formidable first 45 minutes was enough to help them walk away a wet Santiago Bernabeu with three, precious points.

Coming on in the 60th minutes, Eden Hazard and Militao made their La Liga debuts with Zinedine Zidane’s side.

With two goals in six minutes, Karim Benzema gave the home side an early comfortable lead. Shortly before the halftime whistle, Casameiro added his own, following an assist from Vinicius Junior.

Despite falling short, Levante quickly got after evaporating Real Madrid’s first-half dominance. In the 49th minute, Borja Mayoral, cutting through Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos, put one past Thibaut Courtois.

Following Benzema’s post-rattling shot and disallowed Real Madrid goal by VAR, Gonzalo Melero’s header gave the visiting side their final goal of the bout.

One point behind rivals Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid look for another victory against Sevilla. Elsewhere, Levante, who are in decent shape, host Eibar next.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Barcelona 5-2 Valencia

RCD Mallorca 0-0 Athletic Bilbao

Leganes 0-3 Villareal