Premier League Playback: How can Manchester United get best out of Wayne Rooney?

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ROONEY DILEMMA CONTINUES

Wayne Rooney has scored just four times in his last 22 appearances for Manchester United in the Premier League.

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He is their captain, talisman and should be their biggest goal threat. However, Rooney has come under plenty of criticism in the opening three weekends of the new PL season and after hitting back at critics last week, he put in another lackluster display against Newcastle United during his team’s 0-0 draw at Old Trafford on Saturday.

The big question remains: how can Louis van Gaal get the best out of Rooney?

As the stat above suggests, Rooney has been out of form in front of goal for a while and it seems to be playing on his mind. When he scored for United after five minutes against Newcastle but was flagged offside, despite replays proving he was level with the last defender when the ball was played, that summed up the way things have been going for him. You could argue that he is putting the team first and doing whatever he can to make sure they win, over personal glory, but after spending spells in midfield last season and then up top in the lone forward role this year, Rooney looks a shadow of his former self. Knowing him, the 29-year-old will come back and score a hat trick in United’s next PL game against Swansea on Sunday, as he always seems to answer his critics during a rough spell. But there is perhaps a simple answer as to how Rooney can snap out of this funk.

He is, and always has been, a maverick. A player who cannot be shackled down in one position and prefers to float around and help knit the attack and midfield together. Rooney’s best trait is finding space in and around the box and driving at defenders. Under van Gaal’s strict formations and belief in a team-first ethic, Rooney has struggled to find those gaps and especially when playing as the lone forward, he does not have license to drop deep and get involved but has to stay high and can be marked easily.

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You could argue that Memphis Depay, Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj have yet to deliver chances for Rooney to finish, but I’d argue that Rooney is being played out of position. True, there was a huge outcry of disbelief when Rooney was played in central midfield by van Gaal last season, but playing him in-between midfield and attack is the perfect position. If you look at his best season’s for United, he has played as a second-striker behind the likes of Robin van Persie, Ruud van Nistelrooy and even Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez. He has also been in tandem with Cristiano Ronaldo, and the point I’m trying to make is that he’s always had a partner in crime. He doesn’t have that at United anymore. Not yet, anyway.

Premier League Schedule – Week 3

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 0-0 Liverpool Recap and watch here
C. Palace 2-1 Aston Villa Recap and watch here
Everton 0-2 Man City Recap and watch here
Leicester 1-1 Tottenham Recap and watch here
Man United 0-0 N’castle Recap and watch here
Norwich 1-1 Stoke City Recap and watch here
Sunderland 1-1 Swansea Recap and watch here
Watford 0-0 Saints Recap and watch here
West Brom 2-3 Chelsea Recap and watch here
West Ham 3-4 B’mouth Recap and watch here

Van Gaal should sacrifice one of Depay, Januzaj or Mata and play Rooney as the central attacking midfielder in his 4-2-3-1 formation. Starting either Depay or Hernandez up top for Rooney to run off and link up with could help him snap out of his funk. At the very least it may open up space for others to score, as United have looked solid at the back with three clean sheets from their opening three games, but Januzaj’s deflected effort against Aston Villa is the only goal they have scored on their own as Kyle Walker’s own goal on the opening day handed them the win over Tottenham.

For spells against Newcastle they looked better going forward, but Rooney was snatching at shots and struggled before being subbed out in the second half. United look a lot better defensively this season, but if they want to challenge for the title, they must figure out how to get the best out of their star man.

GRITTY CHELSEA REIGNITED BY PEDRO

Overcoming adversity is a major trait of a championship winning team and on Sunday’s showing, Chelsea will be right up there once again to defend their title.

[ NBC SportsWorld: A longform piece with Thibaut Courtois ]

Thibaut Courtois saved James Morrison’s first half penalty kick when it was 0-0, then the Blues raced into a 3-1 lead at half time thanks to the arrival of their new Spanish winger. Pedro Rodriguez, 28, stunned everyone by picking Chelsea over Manchester United at the last minute and the former Barcelona star scored the opener and set up Diego Costa for the second to slot right into life in the PL. His $34 million arrival at Stamford Bridge seemed to give Chelsea’s players a lift, especially going forward in the first half. For Cesar Azpilicueta’s goal, the left back scored Chelsea’s third, look at the stat below on the passing movement which set him up. That’s more like the Chelsea we saw early last season.

Sometimes it only takes one player to reignite an offense, and Pedro’s arrival could well get the best out of Costa, Eden Hazard and even Cesc Fabregas, as an attacking unit. Chelsea actually started more Spanish internationals (Costa, Fabregas, Azpilicueta, Pedro) than Real Madrid last weekend and that familiarity with his national team teammates could help Pedro slot in seamlessly this season. With John Terry getting sent off in the second half and Chelsea conceding soon after to make it 3-2, they had to hang on with 10-men for over 30 minutes. But they did, and Jose Mourinho’s side showed they could fight back after extreme criticism to grab their first win of the season after a difficult last 10 days on and off the pitch.

DRAMATIC DRAWS AND WATER BREAKS

It was a weekend full of tense, tight action in the PL as six draws took place in the 10 games. On Saturday sweltering temperatures in England (that’s 86 degrees) saw water breaks take place in most PL games. This was met by much derision from fans, especially in the United States of America, but in fairness the recorded temps were over 85 degrees in the shade in most places and with the sun beating down and huge stadiums packed, the actual temperatures had to be closer to 100 Fahrenheit. Still, this guy wasn’t impressed…

Drinks breaks in both halves of the Saturday games not only helped the players to cool down but also set up dramatic finishes, with Leicester first conceding to Spurs in the 80th minute (19-year-old Dele Alli scored his first-ever PL goal) but then Riyad Mahrez scored a screamer a minute later to tie it up and keep the Foxes unbeaten. Other draws caught the eye with Sunderland pegging back Swansea in the second half at the Stadium of Light — Jermain Defoe canceled out Bafetimbi Gomis’ strike in eerily similar fashion — while Norwich fought back to tie Stoke at home. But the result of the day on Saturday was Bournemouth’s sensational 4-3 win away at West Ham United, their first victory, points and goals in the PL.

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Callum Wilson scored a hat trick for the Cherries who raced into a 2-0 lead but were pegged back to 2-2 just after half time. Bournemouth then raced into a 4-2 lead and the Hammers had Carl Jenkinson sent off, but despite conceding another late on, Eddie Howe’s side celebrated at the final whistle in the “blistering” heat in London.

As an Englishman who lives in London, I can tell you 86 degrees and sunshine is very, very rare, plus very, very hot for anybody who is used to the weather in England. Honestly.

USMNT UPDATE: BAD WEEKEND FOR AMERICANS ABROAD

It was not the best weekend for the Americans Abroad as only one player avoided defeat. Geoff Cameron played the full 90 minutes at center back for Stoke City for the third-straight game but the Potters gave up an early lead to draw at Norwich City, 1-1. The two USMNT goalkeepers in action both tasted defeat, with Tim Howard’s Everton losing 2-0 at home to Manchester City and Brad Guzan’s Aston Villa losing 2-1 at Crystal Palace.

Howard will be disappointed at Aleksandar Kolarov firing home from a tight angle at his near post for City’s first, but he could do nothing about Samir Nasri’s delicate chip for the second and made some great stops to deny the Citizens on multiple occasions. As for Guzan, he got close to keeping out Bakary Sako’s curler but Villa has now lost two-straight since winning on the opening day.

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

Liverpool vs Brighton goal fest headlined by Trossard hat trick

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Brighton and Hove Albion refused to go away, giving new manager Roberto De Zerbi a memorable debut in a 3-3 draw with Liverpool at Anfield on Saturday.

Leandro Trossard scored twice early to give the Seagulls a 2-0 lead and completed his hat trick after the hosts had rallied behind a Roberto Firmino brace and an Adam Webster own goal to lead 3-2 with 27 minutes left in the 90.

WATCH LIVERPOOL vs BRIGHTON FULL MATCH REPLAY STREAM

Brighton remains fourth and now has 14 points through seven games, good for fourth and no worse than fifth depending on the result of the Manchester derby on Sunday.

Liverpool sits ninth with 10 points through seven games. Both clubs have a match-in-hand on most of the field.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


What we learned from Liverpool vs Brighton

De Zerbi’s dynamic start: Life after Graham Potter was plenty good going forward for Brighton and Hove Albion, but Roberto De Zerbi’s buzz might wear off when he watches the Seagulls defending. Only a little, though, because every team gives up chances to Liverpool and the Reds were pretty due to bang some home (Mohamed Salah is now very much overdue for a big, big game of finishing… bookmark that one).

Liverpool’s defense messy, messy, messy (Yes, Jurgen, especially Trent): There Is not a level-headed person alive who would deny Trent Alexander-Arnold his status as one of the best right-sided playmakers in the world. There’s an argument that he’s could become his generation’s Andrea Pirlo as a central midfielder. But he’s not playing central midfield, and teams are targeting his side of the pitch and finding joy. As Jordan Henderson ages out and Thiago Alcantara and Fabinho exist as cover, how long before Jurgen Klopp finally says, “Yes, okay, here” to those who see what everyone else sees: a dynamic player who turns 24 on Friday and isn’t improving at the defensive duties of a right back but intercepts passes so well.

That said, his performance is less of a talking point if Virgil van Dijk connects on a clearing attempt of the Brighton cross that became Trossard’s third goal. This game could’ve been 6-5 and while we would’ve loved that entertainment, Klopp has to wonder what’s next. Andy Robertson and Ibrahima Konate were missing but Liverpool’s spent plenty for depth that’s been disappointing (and Joel Matip isn’t exactly paid like a depth piece, is he?).

Trossard top of his game: The Belgian international now has five goals and two assists through seven Premier League games for Brighton this season, which is pretty, pretty good. The 27-year-old is now an every-game player and part-time starter for Belgium, and what a nice place he’s made for himself at the Amex.


Tactical focus

Maybe it’s the increased focus on the performances of Trent Alexander-Arnold, but it sure does seem like teams are targeting the right side of Liverpool’s defense.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]


Stars of the show

Leandro Trossard: Away hat tricks at Anfield are pretty rare.

Roberto Firmino: Guess that Darwin Nunez signing really can be for the (near) future, as Firmino has five goals and three assists in his last four Premier League outings.

Thiago Alcantara: 10-of-12 duels won and two key passes while drawing six fouls.


What’s next?

The challenge isn’t going to get any easier for Liverpool, who hosts Arsenal in eight days after a Champions League visit from Rangers on Tuesday. Brighton gets stung Tottenham in another test of top-four mettle.


Liverpool vs Brighton score

Liverpool: 3 (Firmino 33′, 54′, Webster o.g. 63′)

Brighton: 3 (Trossard 4′, 17′, 83′)


Leandro Trossard goal video(s): Belgian gives De Zerbi dream start

Roberto Firmino goal video: Liverpool pulls one back

Leandro Trossard hat trick video: Seagulls overcome blown lead for point

 


How to watch Liverpool vs Brighton live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10am ET, Saturday
TV Channel/Online: Stream via Peacock Premium


Key storylines & star players

Is Liverpool ready to turn chances into goals at a more familiar rate? The Reds’ expected goal total for this season is close to leaders Manchester City and Arsenal but its actual goal production is fifth and somewhat-inflated by their nine-goal beatdown of Bournemouth previously this season.

Brighton, meanwhile, has to show that it’s getting a handle on life after Graham Potter, as De Zerbi’s credentials say things might not look too different. The former Sassuolo and Shakhtar Donetsk boss craves possession in his teams and delivers chances as a boss in the manner you’d expect from a former attacking midfielder.


Liverpool team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Calvin Ramsay (lower back), Curtis Jones (tibia), Ibrahima Konate (knee), Naby Keita (thigh), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (thigh), Andrew Robertson (knee), Caoimhin Kelleher (groin), Ibrahima Konate (knee),

Brighton team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Jakub Moder (knee), Adam Lallana (lower leg), Enock Mwepu (illness).

Conor Gallagher breaks Crystal Palace hearts with late Chelsea winner

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Crystal Palace vs Chelsea recap: The Blues erased an early deficit and Conor Gallagher scored the late winning goal (his first for the club) as new manager Graham Potter made his Premier League debut at Selhurst Park on Saturday.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]

Odsonne Edouard got on the end of a fantastic cross from Jordan Ayew in the 7th minute as Crystal Palace began brightly and threatened in behind on a number of occasions early on. Chelsea hit back through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the 38th minute, setting the stage for Gallagher to come off the bench and score the stunning winner. Gallagher, of course, starred on loan to Palace last season before being recalled to Chelsea in the summer.

WATCH FULL MATCH REPLAY


What we learned from Crystal Palace vs Chelsea

Thiago Silva avoids red card, sets up equalizer 5 minutes later

Chelsea’s race was nearly run in the 33rd minute, when Thiago Silva was caught napping and lost the ball in acres of space. As Ayew darted past the Brazilian, who was now lying flat on his stomach, Silva stuck out his left hand and slapped the ball away to prevent the counter-attack (and likely scoring chance). Referee Chris Kavanagh showed Silva a yellow card, deeming that either (or a combination of) the distance from goal (roughly 35 yards out) and at least one recovering defender meant there wasn’t an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to be denied.

Five minutes later, Silva headed the ball down for Aubameyang to rifle it home. From nearly a goal and a man down, to level on both, in 300 seconds.

Christian Pulisic down Potter’s pecking order, too

When Kai Havertz came off in the 76th minute, rather than inserting Pulisic (or any other attacking player for that matter) into the game, Potter instead brought on an extra central midfielder in Gallagher. Potter always thinks outside the box, though — seamlessly shifting team shape more narrow or wider, higher or deeper, extra man in midfield or out wide — always willing to make the first move in the tactical chess match, to play the game on his terms.

So, let’s not read too much into Pulisic sitting on the bench (for 84 minutes), but it’s clear he’ll have to make a whole lot out of very little to impress Potter and regain a regular place in the team. Right on cue, it was Pulisic who made the zig-zagging run past two defenders to set up Gallagher for the winner. No small contribution for a player currently out in the cold.


Reaction from Crystal Palace vs Chelsea

Conor Gallagher, on scoring his first Chelsea goal and doing so against Chelsea…

“It’s a very special moment to come on and get the winner and my first goal for Chelsea.

“It was written in the stars. Unfortunately it came against Palace but I’m just buzzing to get my first goal.

“Everyone knows how much I loved it here, and I thank the whole club and the fans — even today with the reception they gave me.

“Hopefully I can build a bit of confidence with the goal and push on. I want to work as hard as I can for him [manager Graham Potter] and be available wherever he needs me, whether starting or coming off the bench.”

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How to watch Crystal Palace vs Chelsea live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10am ET, Saturday
TV Channel: USA Network
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com


Key storylines & star players

What will Graham Potter’s first Premier League XI look like come Saturday? Kepa Arrizabalaga could be in goal if Edouard Mendy is not ready, but will Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang remain a starter? Are Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic locks for the midfield? Lots to monitor as Christian Pulisic, Conor Gallagher, Ben Chilwell, and Hakim Ziyech will hope to have made a major impression.

Palace has played well against the “Big Six” this year, leading Man City 2-0 before an Erling Haaland hat trick, drawing Liverpool, and losing on Opening Day vs Arsenal while holding 57% of the ball and matching the Gunners in shots and shots on target. A win over the Blues sure would do the trick.


Crystal Palace team news, injuries, lineup options

QUESTIONABLE: James McArthur (groin) | OUT: James Tomkins (calf), Nathan Ferguson (ankle), Jack Butland (hand)

Chelsea team news, injuries, lineup options

QUESTIONABLE: Edouard Mendy (knee), N’Golo Kante (thigh)

Brentford on lucky end of Bournemouth penalty decision, scoreless draw

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Bournemouth vs Brentford recap: The Bees were perhaps lucky to escape with a point, thanks to a curious penalty decision, in a 0-0 draw at Vitality Stadium on Saturday.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]

The game’s biggest moment came in the 20th minute, when Brentford defender Kristoffer Ajer appeared to slide through Bournemouth left back Jordan Zemura. Ajer made no contact with the ball (he could have, as it appeared well within his reach) before pulling out of the challenge, leaving his legs high and catching Zemura who tried to hurdle the outstretched defender.

Referee Thomas Bramall initially said no foul, and then maintained that position following his own lengthy video review session.

Ivan Toney made a goal-line clearance at one end of the field and missed the game’s best scoring chance at the other, both in the second half as Brentford controlled possession and looked the likeliest to score in the stalemate affair.

WATCH FULL MATCH REPLAY


How to watch Bournemouth vs Brentford live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10 am ET, Saturday
Online: Stream via Peacock Premium


Key storylines & star players

Brentford sit 9th in the Premier League table, even after only seven games, is no small achievement for a tiny club that only made its PL debut a year ago. They look like they belong in the top half of the table as well, with their 15 goals scored bested by only Manchester City, Tottenham and Arsenal — the top three sides in the league heading into matchweek 8. Ivan Toney is back to his goal-scoring best with five in seven games, chipping in a pair of assists as well as he continues to prove himself a complete player at the top level, resulting in his first England call-up (but not appearance, yet) last week.

Bournemouth are trying to replicate Brentford’s top-flight success after returning to the Premier League this season. Without a star center forward like Toney (six goals scored, 4th-fewest in the PL), the Cherries will frequently look to grind out results by keeping clean sheets, only their defensive record (19 conceded in seven games) runs to the contrary.


Bournemouth team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: David Brooks (fitness), Lloyd Kelly (knee), Joseph Rothwell (thigh), Benjamin Pearson (undisclosed), Ryan Fredericks (undisclosed)

Brentford team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Christian Norgaard (achilles) | QUESTIONABLE: Keane Lewis-Potter (knock), Ethan Pinnock (knee)

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Southampton vs Everton: Toffees’ comeback seals back-to-back wins

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Everton fought back to beat Southampton at St Mary’s as Frank Lampard’s Toffees have secured back-to-back wins.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]

Saints took the lead early in the second half through Joe Aribo and that sparked a wild few minutes as the game came to life.

Conor Coady equalized and moments later Dwight McNeil smashed home to make it 2-1 as Everton stretched their unbeaten run in the Premier League to six games.

Everton move on to 10 points for the season and have lost just two of their opening eight games, while Southampton stay on seven points and have lost three games in a row and four of their last five.

WATCH FULL MATCH REPLAY


What we learned from Southampton vs Everton

Toffees have found the formula to get most from Calvert-Lewin’s imminent return: There is real progression to Everton under Frank Lampard, especially going forward. Defensively they remain solid but Gray and McNeil provided width, speed and trickery which the Toffees couldn’t make the most of. When Dominic Calvert-Lewin returns soon, they will have a focal point to make the most of this structured attacking play.

Saints’ attacking woes continue: They created enough chances to score three or four but when the ball got into the final third they lacked composure. They key moment in the game summed that up. Che Adams was played clean through but Pickford saved, then Everton broke and McNeil slammed home the winner. Saints wanted to sign a new striker in the summer window and that was the only area where they didn’t strengthen their squad as Sekou Mara is one for the future. It looks like it could be a costly error to not bring in a more prolific, and experienced, forward.


Tactical focus

Everton were more attack-minded and should have been ahead in the first half as they whipped in dangerous crosses and Demarai Gray and Neal Maupay had chances. Saints were more adventurous and looked dangerous on the counter as the game opened up and became end-to-end in a wild five minutes spell in the second half where three goals were scored. Everton were clinical when their chances arrived. Saints were not. It really was that simple.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]


Stars of the show

Demarai Gray: Caused so many problems with his dribbling and direct running but the finish was just off.

Stuart Armstrong: Never stopped running and went on some surging runs. Tried his best to get Saints on the front foot.

Jordan Pickford: Unsighted on the goal as it went through plenty of players but made some crucial saves and marshalled the defense expertly.


What’s next?

Saints head to Manchester City on Saturday, Oct. 8, while Everton host Manchester United on Sunday, Oct. 9.


How to watch Southampton vs Everton live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10am ET, Saturday
TV Channel: Peacock
Online: Stream via Peacock Premium


Key storylines

Saints have so many good youngsters with Armel Bella-Kotchap, Gavin Bazunu and Romeo Lavia all catching the eye early in the season. The latter has missed the last few games through injury and Saints have lost both 1-0 at Wolves and Aston Villa. Scoring goals will be a problem for them but they look defensively solid this season and Hasenhuttl is relying on Che Adams and James Ward-Prowse to score the goals to keep them well away from the relegation scrap.

Lampard’s Everton are also tougher to break down and scoring goals is also an issue for them. After selling Richarlison in the summer and having Dominic Calvert-Lewin out injured so far, Lampard has relied on Anthony Gordon to be his main attacking weapon. The youngster has a lot of pressure on his shoulders.


In-form players to keep an eye on

Saints’ Bella-Kotchap (20) and Mohammed Salisu (23) have formed a really strong partnership at center back and both made their international debuts over the break for Germany and Ghana respectively. Saints need Ward-Prowse to get back to his best as he’s struggled to start the season and is so important to the way they play.

Alex Iwobi has been superb in a deeper central midfield role for Everton and Amadou Onana continues to show his class alongside him, while the experienced duo of Conor Coady and James Tarkwoski are forging a very solid partnership at center back with the summer signings leading by example.


Southampton team news, injuries, lineup

Tino Livramento continues his recovery from a long-term knee injury and is getting closer to a return, while 18-year-old midfield sensation Lavia is still a few weeks away from returning. Sekou Mara starts in attack with Adams as Hasenhuttl rotates his squad and seven new signings start. Larios, Caleta-Car, Maitland-Niles, Aribo, Stuart Armstrong and Mara all come in for Saints.


Everton team news, injuries, lineup

Injury issues continue to mount up for Lampard as they lost right back Nathan Patterson over the break and that is a big blow as he’s been sensational in recent games. Jordan Pickford is back from injury, which is a massive boost, but Ben Godfrey, Mason Holgate, Yerry Mina and Andros Townsend all remain out. Calvert-Lewin remains out as Seamus Coleman comes in.