Premier League Playback: Looking back at a memorable 2014-15 season

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All week at ProSoccerTalk we are reviewing the dramatic 2014-15 Premier League season. From dishing out awards to looking back at the highs and lows in the 380 games as 20 teams battled it out, we’ll have every angle covered.

[ ARCHIVE: Premier League season review ]

For the full archive of our review content, just hit the link above. Now, it’s time to take a look back at an incredible season as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor files his final PL Playback of the season…

PL LEGENDS BID FAREWELL

As we said goodbye to the 2014-15 Premier League season, we also said goodbye to two legendary players who have epitomized what the PL is all about for almost two decades.

Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, take a bow. Both players said farewell in a fitting manner during their final appearance in the PL as Lampard captained Manchester City and scored a stereotypical goal as he timed his run into the box perfectly and side-footed home in a 2-0 win over Southampton. As for Gerrard, well, Liverpool lost 6-1 to Stoke City but Gerrard got the lone goal as he burst through the defense and coolly slotted home.

Class is permanent for these two.

For fans of soccer in the United States, don’t fret. You will get to see Lamps and Stevie G on American soil very soon. Lampard, 36, will play for New York City FC in MLS, while Gerrard, 34, is joining the LA Galaxy.

[ RELATED: Gerrard gets fitting farewell at Anfield ]

In the video below you can get a quick look at the legacy both men leave behind in England’s top-flight. For years they played in central midfielder together for the English national team and although that partnership failed to flourish, as individuals they drove on two English giants as goalscoring midfielders who always popped up when it mattered most.

[ RELATED: Friedel looks back on incredible career ]

Lampard and Gerrard have been inspirational and synonymous with the PL for over 17 years. Now, they take their talents Stateside. Other legends of the PL called it quits at the end of this season too as Didier Drogba and Brad Friedel also ended their playing days in England. Congrats and thanks to those four for some wonderful memories over the years.

CHELSEA WORTHY CHAMPS

Premier League Season Review

READ
Top 10 storylines Read the review, here
Story of managers Read the review, here
Top 10 goals Read the review, here
USMNT focus Read the review, here
2014-15 Grades Read the review, here

“Boring, boring Chelsea!” became the chant of the season from… Chelsea’s fans. Lambasted by the outside world and soccer purists for “parking the bus” in the second half of the season to secure the clubs first PL title since 2010, Jose Mourinho looked on smugly as John Terry lifted the title aloft on the final day of the season and the Portuguese held eight fingers in the air to signify how many trophies he has now won as the boss at Stamford Bridge.

[ RELATED: Watch full match replays ]

Mourinho, 52, is enjoying his second spell in charge of the west London club and his side showed every facet needed to win the championship in 2014-15. When all was said and done, the Blues lost just three times in 38 games. They finished eight points clear of Man City in second. Chelsea kept the most clean sheets (17) and had the best defense in the PL with 31 goals conceded. They scored the second highest number of goals despite missing Diego Costa for most of the second half of the season. In Cesc Fabregas they had the player with the most assists (18) and Eden Hazard created 101 chances, more than any other player in the PL. Nemanja Matic made the most tackles, 129. Whatever way you want to slice it up, Chelsea were deserved champions as they spent a record 274 days at the top of the table during the 2014-15 season.

Now, the real challenge will be kicking on and fending off Man City, Arsenal and Manchester United next season. Chelsea will likely add a few key signings over the offseason as Mourinho knows it will be tough to defend their crown. The man who has won three titles in five seasons in charge of Chelsea knows exactly what he wants to bring in as he must balance expensive additions with a young core of talented players coming through the ranks at the Bridge. Plus, when you have reigning PL Player of the Season Eden Hazard around, you always have a chance. The “Special One”, as always, will do whatever it takes to win. Fans and other managers may despise his tactics and his persona but as Mourinho said it best…

“I think we are what every team would like to be.” Yep, that would be the Champions of England.

NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK

This season saw plenty of expensive foreign imports bursting onto the scene and some young Englishmen making a name for themselves as new heroes were born across the league.

Harry Kane

The local lad is good. Real good. Kane, just 21, didn’t start a PL game until November but finished as the second-highest scorer in the league with 21 goals and was named the PL Young Player of the Year as Tottenham Hotspur finished fifth. Kane made, and scored, 79 seconds into his England debut and plenty is expected of the youngster from north London in the coming years. No pressure, H…

Alexis Sanchez

“Alexis Sanchez, baby! Alexis Sanchez, ohhhh!” Sung to the tune of “Don’t you want me baby?” by Human League, Sanchez’s song has been belted out loud and proud by Gooners this season. The Chilean has been a revelation since arriving from Barcelona for $53 million last summer. Sanchez’ pace, power and trickery saw him score 24 times in 51 games in his debut season for Arsenal in the PL as Arsene Wenger’s men finished third. His attacking ability is one thing but Sanchez’ relentless work-rate has turned him into an instant legend with Arsenal’s fans.

Diego Costa

Chelsea’s new goalscoring hero, and a feisty one at that, Costa missed a huge chunk of the second half of the season through suspension and injury. If the Spanish international wouldn’t have got injured, Chelsea could have easily won the PL by a 15-point margin. At 26, his best years are ahead of him and after 20 goals in 26 PL appearances during his debut season, you get the sense that Costa is only just getting started.

Honorable mentions: Jack Grealish, Graziano Pelle, Diafra Sakho, Ryan Mason, Sadio Mane, Eric Dier

 

MAN UNITED: SLOW PROGRESS

The Red Devils recovered well after an incredibly slow start to finish in fourth and qualify for the UEFA Champions League. Louis van Gaal met his minimum requirement in his first season in charge at Old Trafford but boy, did they make hard work of it.

[ RELATED: Final Premier League standings ]

On Nov. 3 United sat in 10th place and had just 13 points from their opening 10 games. A run of six-straight wins in the Spring propelled them into the top four but LVG has a lot of work to do if United are going to challenge for the PL title next season, which is what he expects.

The big money signings of Radamel Falcao, who has returned to Monaco after his loan, and Angel Di Maria didn’t work out this campaign but in the case of Di Maria, he will be expected to take United to the next level next season. The emergence of Ander Herrera, Juan Mata, Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini is promising for LVG but the situation surrounding David De Gea and a possible move to Real Madrid could see the Red Devils lose arguably their most player. Huge investment is needed to kick on again, with Memphis Depay already signed on, but United will likely need a new center back, a top-class central midfielder, a star striker who Wayne Rooney could play in behind and potentially a new world-class goalkeeper. That won’t be cheap but United now have the carrot of the Champions League — as long as they get through the knockout round in August — to dangle at prospective signings.

Slow progress for United, but Van Gaal has them on a steady ascendancy back to where they believe they belong.

MANAGERIAL UNDERDOGS

Ronald Koeman. Garry Monk. Nigel Pearson. Alan Pardew. Those four managers stunned many during the season as Koeman led Saints to seventh and a record points tally after a mass exodus last summer, Monk led Swansea to eighth and a record points tally in his first full season in charge, Pearson kept Leicester City up against all the odds with an incredible late run and Pardew switched Newcastle for Palace midseason and led the struggling Eagles to a top 10 finish.

We talk a lot (and I mean a lot) about the managers of the top five or six PL teams but 2014-15 was without question the year of the managerial underdog.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The most exciting thing about the success of these so-called smaller clubs is that their progress has now become sustainable and if they invest the huge amounts of cash they are getting wisely then they can challenge the top six or even the top four.

Elsewhere, Tim Sherwood saved Aston Villa when they looked dead and buried. Mark Hughes led Stoke to a record points tally and ninth-placed finish, while Tony Pulis performed his annual Harry Houdini impression to save West Bromwich Albion with another midseason turnaround.

TOP GOALS

The studio team looks at the top 10 goals from the PL this season.

Agree? Disagree? Any you think should have made it? Let us know in the comments section below.

THAT SINKING FEELING

Ah, amid the euphoria of celebrating and analyzing another superb season in the PL, there has to be some losers. Relegation for Queens Park Rangers, Burnley and then Hull City (on the final day) means fans of those clubs will have a summer of soul-searching as their clubs prepare for life in the rough and tumble of the Championship.

Let’s take a look at why the three aforementioned teams had that sinking feeling at the end of the season:

QPR

Harry Redknapp left the R’s languishing in the relegation zone in February as QPR hadn’t gained a single point away from home at that point. Chris Ramsey was thrown in at the deep end and although the R’s rallied in March and April, their Achilles heel sent them down: shocking defending. QPR conceded 73 goals, the most in the PL, and had far too many veterans on huge wages who, quite simply, couldn’t care less if the west London side went down. Ramsey is now in charge for the next three-years. After Tony Fernandes and his board chucked hundreds of millions at veteran players, expect a philosophical change at Loftus Road as youngsters will get the chance to shine.

Burnley

Sean Dyche’s men put up a brave fight but after hardly spending any cash after promotion from the Championship, relegation was always inevitable. Sure, the Clarets are on a sound financial footing but not investing in more quality really hurt them. They hung in so many games but scoring goals became a real issue in the second half of the season. Danny Ings was their top scorer with 11 and he will leave on a free transfer this summer. Burnley could well be back in 2016-17 as continuity is the key word at Turf Moor for the tiny Lancashire club.

Hull

On the final day of the season Hull needed to beat Manchester United and hope that Newcastle slipped up at home to West Ham. That didn’t happen as the Tigers’ meager tally of 33 goals from 38 games was their downfall. Steve Bruce will now look to bring Hull back up, just as he did three seasons ago, but a lot of their players will look to move on as the wage bill has to be decreased rapidly at the KC Stadium. Injuries to forwards Nikica Jelavic, Abel Hernandez and Dame N’Doye were costly but when it came down to it, Hull deserved to go down.

LEICESTER’S GREAT ESCAPE

Talking of the teams who succumbed to relegation, Leicester came back from what looked like an unassailable position to win seven of their final nine matches and stun everyone to stay in the Premier League. Their manager Nigel Pearson had some strange episodes along the way as he called a journalist an “ostrich”, grabbed Crystal Palace’s James McArthur around the throat during a game and blurted out expletives at his own fans. Yeah, that’s the pressure of a relegation battle.

[ RELATED: Premier League stats ]

But Leicester’s form in the final nine games was remarkable. They had won just four of their previous 29 matches but when you have experienced professionals like Esteban Cambiasso pulling the strings and a hungry forward like Jamie Vardy running at opposition defenses, you have a chance. Leicester’s luck changed at the tail end of the season and they pulled of one of the greatest “Great Escapes” the PL has ever seen.

EURO STRUGGLES

The less said about this the better for PL teams, but it has to be addressed. Three of the PL’s four teams in the UCL made it into the knockout stages, Liverpool did not, but only Chelsea made it to the quarterfinals and they lost to Paris Saint-Germain in extra time.

In the Europa League both Tottenham and Liverpool crashed out at the last 32 stage, while Everton were beaten in the last 16 after breezing through the group stages.

With eight of the PL’s 20 teams involved in either the UCL or Europa League next season, a much needed improvement is needed to keep England’s UEFA coefficient high and safeguard the fourth UCL spot for the PL in the foreseeable future. After dominating European club competitions for quite some time, 2014-15 was a year to forget for English clubs on the continent.

THE JURY’S STILL OUT IN MERSEYSIDE

Liverpool

Brendan Rodgers is under severe pressure at Liverpool after a disappointing season which saw the Reds exit the Champions League at the group stage and finish six in the PL. Rodgers blew the $128 million Liverpool received for Suarez last summer on the likes of Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert, Lazar Markovic, Mario Balotelli and Alberto Moreno. All of the aforementioned players under-performed as the Reds are once again out of the UCL and now without their legendary captain Steven Gerrard to keep digging them out of troublesome situations. Add into the mix Raheem Sterling’s contract situation — the 20-year-old winger is refusing to sign a new contract at Liverpool with two years still left on his current deal — and you have a real mess for Rodgers to try and sort out. The Fenway Sports Group are backing Rodgers to turn things around next season but make no mistake about it, after three years in the job and no trophies to show for his efforts, all of a sudden Rodgers has gone from the messiah to a mess. What a difference 12 months makes in soccer…

Everton

Talking of a difference in 12 months… Liverpool’s crosstown rivals Everton had a season to forget at Goodison Park. Roberto Martinez’s side finished in 11th and although a run into the last 16 of the Europa League excited the crowd it probably had an adverse impact on their league play. Martinez, 41, is one of the brightest managers around. After guiding Everton to fifth last season that was clear to see. Romelu Lukaku suffering injuries and Ross Barkley struggling for form undoubtedly hit the Toffees hard but the lack of evolution in Martinez’s tactics has been questioned. This season Everton became predictable and failed to cause new problems for teams who adjusted to the way they prevailed most weeks during the 2013-14 campaign. Martinez’s position isn’t as precarious as Rodgers’ but a bad start to next season could see the Spaniard in a bit of trouble.

GRIT EVADES CITY IN TITLE RACE

On January 1 Manchester City and Chelsea were level at the top of the PL standings with identical goal differences.

The second half of the season was set up perfectly for a two-horse title race and then, just like that, City crumbled.

Key players Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure were either injured or suffered huge losses of form and as City suffered a debilitating run of four-straight away defeats in March and April in the PL, the pressure began to mount on Pellegrini. Similar to Rodgers and Martinez, the jury is still out on Pellegrini and it would not be surprising if he is axed from the hot seat at the Etihad Stadium this summer.

[ RELATED: What did it go wrong for Man City? ]

That said, Pellegrini should stay. In two seasons at City he has won the League Cup and the PL title, been knocked out of the UCL by Barcelona two years on the spin and finished second this season. Questions will be asked about the arrival of Fernando and Eliaquim Mangala last summer but if Pellegrini can wheel and deal this offseason and is given the chance to bring in two to three key players then City could become the favorites to lift the PL title next year. They were the top scorers in the PL with 83 goals this season. They are not far off becoming champions but with the average age of their squad the highest in the PL, some housekeeping is long overdue as we should expect plenty of players going in and out of the door this summer.

Despite Joe Hart winning the golden glove with a league-high 14 assists, City’s defensive core crumbled when it mattered most. If they can get their defensive solidity back, key players return to top form and new additions settle in right away, the Citizens will put 2014-15 behind them and become the team to beat next season.

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

Mexicans Abroad: Weekend Roundup

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It looked as if Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez had scored his first goal for his new club Sevilla, at the expense for a former one, Real Madrid. Until it was taken away.

Chicharito came off the bench for Sevilla for a second-straight game and did his best to make an impact, but his offside goal aside, Sevilla slumped to a 1-0 defeat. Elsewhere, Edson Alvarez played in his first Eredivisie derby as Ajax took a 1-1 draw away from a trip to PSV Eindhoven.

Here is a list of several other Mexico national team affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) outside of Mexico this weekend.


Serie A

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Napoli — Lozano came off the bench on Sunday for Napoli in the 73rd minute of it’s 4-1 win over Lecce.

Premier League

Raul Jimenez, Wolverhampton Wanderers — Jimenez started but was subbed off in the 76th minute of Wolves 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace. Jimenez now hasn’t scored in three-straight games in all competitions since the international break.

La Liga

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Sevilla — Chicharito came off the bench in the 69th minute against his former club, and even appeared to score the game-tying goal. Alas, it was ruled out for him being offside.

Hector Herrera, Atletico Madrid — Herrera finally made his first start for Los Colchoneros on Saturday in a scoreless draw with Celta Vigo. Herrera went 60 minutes before being substituted.

Andres Guardado, Real Betis —  The veteran midfielder returned to the starting lineup on Friday in a scoreless draw with Osasuna. Guardado played 78 minutes and picked up a yellow card.

Diego Lainez, Real Betis — The 19-year-old make the 18, but didn’t take the field against Osasuna.

Nestor Araujo, Celta Vigo — Araujo started and went the full 90 against his international teammate Herrera and Atletico Madrid in a scoreless draw. Araujo shut down an offense that includes Joao Felix, Diego Costa, Angel Correa and Alvaro Morata.

Eredivisie

Erick Gutierrez, PSV Eindhoven — Gutierrez made his return to the PSV gameday squad on Sunday for De Topper against Ajax. However, he didn’t make it off the bench.

Edson Alvarez, Ajax — Alvarez started and played the full 90 minutes in the 1-1 draw at PSV.

Primeira Liga

Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, FC Porto — Starting at right back again, Tecatito went 76 minutes and picked up a yellow card in Porto’s 2-0 win over Santa Clara.

Jupiler Pro League

Omar Govea, Zulte Waregem — Govea made the gameday squad but didn’t appear in Zulte’s 2-2 draw with Genk.

Elsewhere around the globe:

Hector Moreno, Al Gharafa   On Thursday, Moreno started and played 81 minutes in Al Gharafa’s 3-1 win over Al Ahli.

Juan Gerardo Ramirez Alosno, Roda JC — The 21-year-old fullback was left on the bench in Roda’s 3-1 defeat to Utrecht II on Friday.

Carlos Fierro, San Jose Earthquakes – Dressed but didn’t play in the Quakes’ 3-1 loss to Atlanta United.

Carlos Vela, LAFC – Vela scored a penalty kick goal to help save a point for LAFC against Toronto FC in a 1-1 draw.

Jonathan Dos Santos, LA Galaxy – Dos Santos started and went the full 90 minutes, picking up a yellow card, as the Galaxy beat the Montreal Impact, 2-1.

Uriel Antuna, LA Galaxy – Antuna started and scored the game-winning goal for the Galaxy off an assist from Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the Galaxy’s 2-1 win over the Montreal Impact.

Americans Abroad: Weekend Roundup

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One of the youngest Americans playing abroad had arguably the biggest weekend of any of his USMNT-eligible teammates.

Playing in his first derby for Ajax against PSV in league play, Dest started and set up teammate Dusan Tadic for a goal. Interestingly, with the Netherlands FA working to get Dest to commit to the Oranje moving forward, Dest had the chance to match up against Denzel Dumfries, the current first choice right back for the Netherlands.

The other big story? Christian Pulisic didn’t play again. More on that below.

Here is a list of several other USMNT affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) abroad this weekend.

Premier League

Christian Pulisic, Chelsea — Pulisic made the bench but didn’t appear for a third-straight match. Lampard explained to our own JPW why Pulisic has been on the sidelines.

DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle — The fullback returned to training following a serious groin injury. There’s no timeline on his return yet, however.

EFL Championship

Antonee Robinson, Wigan Athletic — Robinson is a fixture at Wigan. The young left back started and played the full 90 minutes as Wigan picked up a win over a top-ten opponent, Charlton Athletic

Matt Miazga, Reading (loan from Chelsea) — The 24-year-old is out with a hamstring injury. There’s no timeline on his return.

Eric Lichaj, Hull City — The Tigers captain started and played the full 90 minutes in Hull City’s 3-0 win over Luton Town.

Geoff Cameron, QPR — The 34-year-old defender started at centerback and went the full 90, picking up a yellow card in QPR’s 2-1 win over Millwall.

Tim Ream, Fulham — Ream started and played 90 minutes in Fulham’s 1-1 draw at Sheffield Wednesday.

Cameron Carter-Vickers, Stoke City (loan Tottenham Hotspur) — Carter-Vickers started and went the full 90 minutes as Stoke City picked up just its second point of the season in a scoreless draw with Brentford.

Duane Holmes, Derby County — Holmes made his second-straight start after coming back from injury, and his first 90 minutes on the pitch as Derby County secured a last-gasp 1-1 draw with league-leading Leeds United.

EFL League One

Lynden Gooch, Sunderland – Gooch started and played the full 90 minutes, though Sunderland needed a last-minute goal from Aiden McGeady to draw at Bolton. .

Bundesliga

Weston McKennie, Schalke —  McKennie started, picked up a yellow card in the second half and then was substituted in the 76th minute, before Schalke scored a late winner in a 2-1 victory over Mainz.

Zack Steffen and Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf — Steffen started and played all 90 minutes in Fortuna Dusseldorf’s 2-1 defeat to rivals Borussia Monchengladbach. Steffen recorded a handful of incredible, point-blank saves to keep Fortuna in the game. Morales did not dress again.

Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen  With an injury crisis, Sargent got the start and played 80 minutes. Unfortunately for Sargent and Werder, they were routed by Leipzig – even without Tyler Adams.

Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig — Adams remains inactive with a groin injury. There’s no timeline on his return.

Fabian Johnson, Borussia Mönchengladbach Johnson didn’t make Borussia Monchengladbach’s 18 for their match against Fortuna Dusseldorf.

Timmy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt — The veteran defender entered off the bench in the 83rd minute as Eintracht secured a massive 2-2 draw with Borussia Dortmund.

Julian Green, Greuther Furth – The 24-year-old midfielder started and played the full 90 minutes for Greuther Furth. Unfortunately, they lost 2-0 to league-leading Stuttgart in the 2. Bundesliga.

Eredivisie

Sergino Dest, Ajax — Dest started at right back in his first edition of “De Topper,” starring as Ajax drew 1-1 at PSV Eindhoven. Dest played the full 90 minutes and had an assist on Dusan Tadic’s goal.

Haji Wright, VVV-Venlo — The 21-year-old striker came off the bench in the 71st minute of VVV’s 1-0 loss to Willen II.

Desevio Payne, FC Emmen — The U-23 MNT fullback was left out of FC Emmen’s 18 once again. 

Ligue 1

Timothy Weah, Lille — Weah remains sidelined with a muscular injury. There’s no timeline on his return.

Theoson Jordan-Siebatcheu, Rennes — Siebatcheu made the 18 but did not feature in Rennes 1-1 draw with Lille.

Honorable Mentions:

Chris Richards, Bayern Munich II – The young Alabama native started and played the full 90 minutes as FC Bayern II defeated FC Ingolstadt, which was in the 2. Bundesliga just last season.

Andrija Novakovich, Frosinone – The 23-year-old striker, now in Serie B after five seasons on the books with Reading, made his first start for Frosinone, going 55 minutes in a 1-1 draw with Venezia.

Giovanni Reyna, Borussia Dortmund U-19 – Reyna started, scored, and played 77 minutes in Dortmund U-19s 6-1 win over Leverkusen. The 16-year-old attacker also scored earlier in the week in a 2-1 win over Barcelona U-19s in the UEFA Youth League.

Luca De La Torre, Fulham Reserves – Luca de la Torre is still stuck at Spurs without getting first team minutes, but he had a night to remember in the PL2. The 21-year-old midfielder scored the first, and game-winning-goal in a 90-minute performance as Fulham beat Reading U-23s, 5-4.

Serie A Roundup: Roma, Napoli, Lazio all win

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Edin Dzeko‘s last-gasp winner for AS Roma headlines a busy day in Serie A action on Sunday.

[ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Bologna 1-2 Roma

Roma kept its unbeaten start to the 2019-2020 Serie A season thanks to a 94th-minute Edin Dzeko winner. The American-owned club first took the lead in the 49th minute through another former Premier League player, Aleksandar Kolarov. The Serbian delightfully placed a free kick at the top of the box over the wall and into the top corner.

However, Bologna quickly capitalized after Kolarov bundled over Roberto Soriano in the box, leading to a penalty kick call that VAR confirmed. Nicola Sansone waited for Roma goalkeeper Pau Lopez to move and then slotted the ball into the right corner to tie the match.

Roma went down to ten men in the 85th minute when new signing Gianluca Mancini, a centerback, picked up his second yellow card for a foul on Felipe Santander as he was about to run into the box. And yet, even though Roma was on the ropes, Dzeko popped up in a pocket of space at the top of the six-yard box and powered home a header just before the final whistle to win the game. With the win, Roma jumps into the top four with eight points from four games.

Lecce 1-4 Napoli

Don’t tell Fernando Llorente that his best days are behind him.

Having left Tottenham in search of more first team minutes, Llorente just scored for the second-game straight as he bagged a brace in Napoli’s rout on the road over Lecce. At 34-years old, the crafty veteran may be the perfect age for star striker in Italy, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Fabio Quagliarella (26 goals last year at age 36) all at a similar age.

Llorente took advantage of his experience in the 28th minute, latching onto a blocked shot from Arkadiusz Milik that dribbled into the middle of the box, leaving Llorente for an easy finish past Lecce goalkeeper Gabriel.

VAR gave Napoli a controversial penalty kick in the 35th minute off a handball from Panagiotis Tachtsidis in the box. Lorenzo Insigne stepped up to take the penalty kick and his spot kick was saved expertly by Gabriel. However, the referee awarded a do-over after seeing Gabriel was a step off his line before the ball was kicked. Insigne didn’t miss on the second attempt, putting Napoli up 2-0.

Fabian Ruiz in the second half curled home an absolute beauty to put Napoli up 3-0. Lecce cut the decide by one with a penalty kick goal, but Llorente gave Napoli their three-goal lead again with another one-on-one finish from close.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Sassuolo 3-0 SPAL

Sampdoria 1-0 Torino

Atalanta 2-2 Fiorentina

Lazio 2-0 Parma

What should Emery do with Xhaka?

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Arsenal fans have directed their ire at many different people, but aside from manager Unai Emery, many fans have been criticizing the recent play of midfielder Granit Xhaka.

Named Arsenal captain this summer after Laurent Koscielny‘s insubordination and eventual departure, Xhaka looked set to take Arsenal to the next level this summer, with three stars up top and a veteran defense behind him. However, in Premier League matches where Arsenal has struggled, it seems that Xhaka has been right in the middle of it. Sometimes, that’s just because of his holding midfield position. Other times, it’s because he didn’t make the play that was necessary.

[READ: 10-man Arsenal beats Aston Villa in a thriller]

Take Saturday’s eventual 3-2 win by Arsenal over Aston Villa at the Emirates Stadium. Despite having a decent game by all accounts, Xhaka allowed Ahmed El Mohamady to run right past him on a mazy run through the middle of the field, eventually centering to Wesley which gave Aston Villa a 2-1 lead. It gave the visitors the advantage yet again right after Arsenal equalized.

Xhaka had every chance to try and make a tackle, or at the least bring El Mohamady down farther from goal if there was no choice but to foul and give up a free kick. Instead, Xhaka just followed El Mohamady before passing him off to a teammate in the box, who was equally as poor.

Not long after, Xhaka was substituted, with some Arsenal fans raining boos down on their captain. And whether it had to do with him or not, Arsenal went from a goal down to a goal up once Xhaka left the field.

According to manager Unai Emery, Xhaka was taken off in the 72nd minute not due to his performance, but to bring on fresh legs. It was a double substitution, with Dani Ceballos also coming off in place of Lucas Torreira and Joe Willock.

“My opinion is we need our supporters and we need our supporters helping each player but our responsibility is to transmit our capacity, our spirit, our commitment and behavior,” Emery said after the game. “And Xhaka is doing that. He played very well on Thursday and also last week in Watford he played with a good individual performance. Today I changed him because on Thursday he played 90 minutes and prefer to use fresh players for today a chance for him but for me Xhaka is very good player for us. He has a very big commitment here. He is improving and I am not asking the people to support him but I am sure that he is going to achieve the best thing individually and collectively for the supporters to help him.”

Just one week earlier, Xhaka claimed that his Arsenal teammates – and presumably himself as well – were “scared” in the second half as Watford stormed back for a 2-2 draw. Man City’s 8-0 pummeling of Watford makes that draw look even worse in retrospect.

If Arsenal is “scared,” and they’re giving up two goals in two straight matches each to two of the worst defensive teams in the league, then perhaps the club captain isn’t doing enough. It seems that although Xhaka has experience, he’s going through a rough patch of form in the Premier League – he looked good in Europa League action – and might do well with a match off.

Luckily for Arsenal, if Emery does agree to give Xhaka a rest, he has a talented player in Lucas Torreira who will run himself into the ground for the team. In addition, he’d likely have stopped that run from El Mohamady instead of letting him glide into the box with hardly a challenge.

It appears Unai Emery is publicly sticking with Xhaka. Arsenal needs Xhaka at his best to make it back into the top four. But right now, he’s clearly not there, and he needs to figure things out on the training pitch so he can shine once again.