Premier League Playback: Sturridge can save Liverpool, Rodgers

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STURRIDGE’S TIMELY RETURN

With a wiggle to his left and a wiggle to his right and his arms flailing all over the place, Daniel Sturridge‘s trademark celebration returned to the Kop on Saturday for the first time since March.

Boy, have Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers missed their main man.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Sturridge struck twice on Saturday — the first, as you can see above, was an absolute peach of a volley with his left foot — to lift the Reds to a somewhat nervy, yet largely deserved 3-2 home win against Aston Villa, as the 26-year-old finally appears to be shaking off his injury plague. But one of the big question’s now that Sturridge is back is: where will he play? Christian Beneteke is currently nursing a slight hamstring issue but when the big Belgian returns, he is expected to lead the line and Sturridge will be shunted out wide. But on Saturday’s viewing, the former Manchester City and Chelsea forward is too important to place out wide. Yes, that worked when Luis Suarez was around, but Sturridge has to take the leading role in this side which could mean Benteke misses out despite his $45 million price tag. With the likes of Danny Ings, Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino around to support Sturridge, it could work well.

[ MORE: Rodgers upset with “hysteria” over his job ]

On Saturday against Villa it took Sturridge a while to get into the game, but you’d expect that after a dreadful 12 month spell which has seen him sit on the the sidelines more often than not. In the second half he combined superbly with James Milner for his first goal, then sublime flicks and build up play between himself, Ings and Coutinho set up his second.

If you take a look at the stat below, it backs up just how lethal Sturridge has been since he arrived at Anfield in 2013. He is crucial to Liverpool’s success.

When the Reds came so close to winning the PL title during the 2013-14 season (sorry to bring it up again, Liverpool fans) Sturridge and Suarez scored 52 goals between them. With Suarez sold to Barcelona and Sturridge playing just 17 times last season and way below 100 percent for most of those outings, Liverpool’s strikers netted just eight times between them as they finished in sixth. There is reason to believe that with Sturridge back, Liverpool’s fans can again realistically dream of achieving a top-four finish.

And it wasn’t just Sturridge who was relieved to score his first goals in over six months on Saturday, his manager, Rodgers, will also be a relieved man. The Liverpool boss has been under mounting pressure as expensive summer signings Firmino and Benteke have struggled to settle in and the Reds lost to Manchester United and West Ham United, plus drew with Norwich City heading into the home game with Villa.

[ MORE: PL standings | schedule | stats ] 

Speculation continues to swirl regarding his future as reports suggest that both Carlo Ancelotti and Jurgen Klopp are being lined up by the Reds as replacements, but talk of Rodgers being fired does seem a little harsh and premature given the fact that he’s been without his leading striker for much of the last 12 months. Rodgers has had to adapt on the fly and at times throw his philosophy as a coach out of the window in order to get results. Sturridge’s return to form and fitness will buy Rodgers some more time and if Liverpool can get him the service he requires, his record suggests he’ll deliver more than enough goals for them to succeed.

As for Rodgers, scrolling through the post-game press conferences after a hectic eight games on Saturday, his “hysteria” comments directed at the media and influential past Liverpool players stood out as the Northern Irishman is fighting for his reputation and position as Liverpool’s manager with everything he’s got.

“There has been a frenzy to get me out of here. There is no question about that,” Rodgers said. “Whether that’s a Liverpool hysteria or big-club hysteria, I am not so sure. The scrutiny here is obviously greater, for me, than any club. But it is a huge club and as a manager you know that and deal with it.

It’s not about proving people wrong. I think I have shown in the early stages of my management – without being arrogant – that with a talented group of players I can compete at the top end of the league. There are very short memories in football. The team was eighth when I got here and we built and produced a team to excite people throughout European football that should have won the league. It didn’t but nobody even expected us to be near the top four.

“I know how to manage top players and manage the group, but when you lose that or those players are not available and you have to piece it together, that takes time. Then all the good work gets forgotten. That’s how it works. It seems the focus has not been on what’s gone on and what we’ve been missing, but more about getting me out of the club. That’s sad. I am the same man who nearly won us the league, but better. If you give me the tools I’ll do the work. I know last season and this, there have been a lot of things going against us, but we’ve always managed to stick together. The players are very much fighting and with players returning we can have a great season.”

Premier League Schedule – Week 7

Result Recap & Highlights
Liverpool 3-2 A. Villa Recap, watch here
Leicester 2-5 Arsenal Recap, watch here
Man Utd 3-0 S’land Recap, watch here
Newcastle 2-2 Chelsea Recap, watch here
Saints 3-1 Swansea Recap, watch here
Stoke 2-1 B’mouth Recap, watch here
Spurs 4-1 Man City Recap, watch here
Watford 0-1 C. Palace Recap, watch here
WBA v Everton Watch live, 3pm
West Ham 2-2 Norwich Recap, watch here

CITY STILL THE TEAM TO BEAT?

Missing Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany and David Silva away at Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, Manchester City had their spine ripped out of their side. You could tell.

In the 4-1 demolition to mark their second-straight PL defeat, the Citizens started brightly with Kevin De Bruyne putting them ahead and Raheem Sterling going close. But then, they faded badly. Hart was missed in goal as Willy Cabellero came flapping at a cross which allowed Toby Alderweireld to put Spurs ahead, and the Argentine goalkeeper should have done better with Eric Dier‘s equalizer on half time as he seemed to stop paying attention before the Spurs midfielder rifled home from distance.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Hart’s omission was explained by Manuel Pellegrini, as the England international had only trained once that week, on Friday, and City didn’t want to risk him. Fair enough. As for the other key omissions, Kompany was initially fit enough for the bench but then pulled out minutes before kick off and sat in the stands, while Silva — City’s creative heartbeat — is still out and Yaya Toure picked up a knock which forced him off early in the second half.

Lengthy injuries to Kompany and Sergio Aguero cost City dear last season, as did Toure not being at his best. Is it happening again? After a rampant start to the campaign which saw City win five from five and everybody lauding Toure and Kompany and practically handing over the title to the Citizens, all of a sudden, they sit in second place and have tricky games coming up in the UEFA Champions League and the PL. If you’re Pellegrini, you can complain and moan about City’s injuries and offside decisions going against you, but with the vast amounts they’ve spent on assembling their squad, they shouldn’t be impacted this badly.

Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi can stand in for Kompany. Samir Nasri, De Bruyne, Jesus Navas and Sterling can fill in for Silva. Fabian Delph (when he’s fit), Fernando and Fernandino can slot in for Toure. They have options, but the over-reliance on City’s big name, experienced players was clear for all to see on Saturday. In truth, City edged the first half but in the second half they unraveled rapidly as Spurs scored twice in a 15 minute period from half time and the game was over. I’m taking nothing away from Spurs but if Kompany and Co. were on the pitch at White Hart Lane on Saturday, it’s hard to see that capitultion taking place.

Pellegrini won’t be hitting the panic button just yet, but the alarm bells may be ringing in the heads of some City fans as a similar tale of injury woe begins to play out this season. Next up for the Citizens are two easy home games against Newcastle United and Bournemouth which they must win, and must-win UCL games against Borussia Monchengladbach and Sevilla came either side of those league games. Then, comes the Manchester derby against the side above them, bitter rivals, Manchester United. For the neutral, things are slotting into place quite nicely ahead of that one. For City, they could do with their luck turning on the pitch and with injuries as their fast start continues to evaporate.

GOAL-DROUGHTS END

Wayne Rooney, Alexis Sanchez, Harry Kane, Memphis Depay and Daniel Sturridge all have one thing in common… They all scored their first Premier League goal of the season on Saturday.

[ WATCH: Sturridge hammers home superb volley ]

For varying reasons that quintet have failed to find the back of the net so far this season, but a palpable sense of relief was present among all five of those players on Saturday as Rooney ended his goal drought at 999 minutes to send United top of the league, Kane ended his drought of 748 minutes and Sanchez smashed in a hat trick to lead Arsenal to the top three. We’ve spoken about Sturridge’s return to form, and the fact that Memphis got on the scoresheet in the PL for the first time will be a huge boost for his confidence as he and Anthony Martial continue to link up well with Rooney. To see United top of the league is quite peculiar. Yes, Louis Van Gaal‘s side is there on merit but they have yet to really string together a faultless 90-minute display. Still, the goals have started to flow for Rooney and Depay which will be music to the ears of LVG as he’s already “very happy” with his side.

[ WATCH: Kane scores sublime goal to end drought ]

Back to the strikers in questions, as Robbie Earle mentions in the video above, we may have heard theses strikers say in recent weeks “I’m just pleased the team is winning and it doesn’t matter who scores the goals” etc. but we all know strikers thrive from scoring and these goals will do all five the world of good as they look to go on a run.

On a separate note: it was a crazy day for goals in general on Saturday as only seven previous matchdays in PL history have witnessed more goals than the 35 scored.

CHERRIES SUFFERING

Poor old Bournemouth. Just seven games into their PL journey, Eddie Howe must be bemoaning his luck as a third key player looks destined for the sidelines for the majority of their debut top-flight campaign.

During the first half of their defeat at Stoke City, leading scorer Callum Wilson went down under a rather innocuous looking challenge. Replays showed he twisted his knee awkwardly but the man tipped for a call-up to the full English national team got back to his feet and looked to have run the knock off. That was until, well, he ran. When he tried to accelerate moments later, Wilson collapsed in a heap with nobody else around him.

Bournemouth’s main goal threat is undergoing a scan on Monday to assess the damage to his right knee but it is not looking good. With their two most expensive signings this summer — Max Gradel and Tyrone Mings — both suffering ACL tears already this season, over $22 million worth of investment has already been consigned to the treatment table. The Cherries have impressed plenty of people so far with their free-flowing play and two wins from their opening seven games, but one fears that Wilson’s catastrophic looking injury will be one too many for Howe’s boys to handle.

Just like the title race, it’s too early to write anybody off, but when all is said and done at the end of the season, if Bournemouth is relegated straight back to the Championship, they will likely look at these three serious knee injuries as the pivotal factor in their downfall.

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

Report: Six Barcelona board members quit, recommend new election

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Barcelona might be atop La Liga, but the behind the scenes atmosphere is ugly.

A day after reports that president Josep Maria Bartomeu asked four board members to leave the club, the quartet and two others have resigned and called for new leadership.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Marca translated the letter signed by Emili Rousaud, Enrique Tombas, Silvio Elias, Josep Pont, Maria Teixidor and Jordi Calsamiglia (Spanish report here). The first four were asked to leave, with Teixidor and Calsamiglia joining them.

That leaves the board at 13 members.

“We ask that once the results of the audit entrusted to PWC are presented, all responsible to be swept away with the eventual corresponding compensation.

“As a last service to our club, we recommend that as soon as circumstances allow it to call new elections to allow to direct the club, with all the ‘authority’ and in the best possible way in the face of the important challenges of the most immediate future.”

It’s been a terrible season for Barca off-the-field, and Bartomeu’s leadership simply must be questioned given the actions of him and some of the people under his watch. Former players and legends have spoken out against the club’s hierarchy, including Pep Guardiola.

The ouster of Ernesto Valverde was handled without much class, and director Eric Abidal threw the players under the bus for the managerial change. The club has also dealt with “Barcagate,” in which a contracted social media company was fired for posting Tweets against Barca’s players.

Both drew the ire of Lionel Messi, who can exercise a clause to leave the club this summer (though that seems unlikely). Messi also admitted he “sees weird things happening” after Bartomeu spoke to the players after “Barcagate.”

Messi also refuted Thursday rumors of a move to Inter Milan in a since-deleted IG post.

Bartomeu has been Barca’s president since January 2014, and the club has won the 2014/15 Champions League and four of five La Liga crowns during his full seasons in charge. There have, however, been a lot of misses in the transfer market.

It might get uglier before it gets better, but there isn’t too much room for worse.

Premier League March Madness: Handicapping the Final

Premier League March Madness
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There was a thriller when Wolves and Everton met at Goodison Park on Sept. 1, and we’re hoping for the online poll equivalent when our Premier League March Madness concludes on Friday.

Wolves already gave us one on Thursday, blowing a lead they held for most of the day to see a 50-50-to-the-vote deadlock before a sizeable win in extra time (30 minutes of added voting).

Everton had an interesting win of its own, destroying Merseyside Derby rivals Liverpool with more than 80 percent of the vote.

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub ] 

Before we go any further, if you’re unfamiliar: To make sure you’re not missing out on either March Madness or the business end of the PL season, we’ve gone ahead and merged the two competitions. The March Madness Final Four and Championship game were due to take place this weekend in Atlanta but now you will be voting on Tottenham v. Arsenal instead of Duke v. Kansas.

Teams are seeded from 1-16 based on their current spot in the table, with Aston Villa winning the relegation playoffs on Monday to remain in the Premier League.

Road to the Final

Monday: Relegation semifinals, final – Aston Villa prevailed, Norwich, Bournemouth, Watford relegated
TuesdaySweet 16 results
WednesdayElite Eight
Thursday: Final Four
Friday: Championship game

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

The Toffees are the favorites here, having knocked off Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool.

But this will be the first time in the tournament where Everton won’t have the benefit of a club many other teams hate as the opposition.

Wolves’ extra time win over Sheffield United was a first real scare of the tournament, and the Molineux set will hope its extra time performance was a showing of what it will do when faced with elimination.

It’s difficult to choose against Everton here, even if the Anfield faithful will move to the side of the Wolves. We’ll call it 54-46 to the blue side of Liverpool.

RESULTS: Premier League March Madness Final Four

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Everton has its first Merseyside Derby since 2010 thanks to the voters of ProSoccerTalk.

The Toffees’ 21-match run without a win over Liverpool “ended” Thursday in Premier League March Madness, the fusion of two of our favorite sporting competitions.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

We hinted at this win on Wednesday given the exits of all the Premier League giants besides Liverpool, as supporters of Manchester United, Man City, Arsenal, Spurs, and Chelsea might leap at the chance to take the Reds off any throne.

But to say we saw this margin? The Toffees didn’t just beat their rivals; Carlo Ancelotti’s men stomped the Reds into online oblivion.

So who will Everton meet in the final after knocking off Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool?

The winner of Sheffield United and Wolves came in nail-biting fashion, the two sides nearly as evenly-matched as their 1-1 draw at the Molineux on Dec 1.

Wolves led for much of the day but saw their lead slip to 50.4-49.6 with minutes left in voting.

At 6:30 p.m. ET, it was dead-even. 50-50.

So we extended voting to extra time, and Nuno Espirito Santo must’ve deployed a ridiculous substitute because Wolves ran away with the thing to the tune of 59.6-40.4. #Swing.

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub ]

If you want to see the full game schedule, seedings and bracket, here is the post you need as the tournament will run all week long:

Monday: Relegation semifinals, final – Aston Villa prevailed, Norwich, Bournemouth, Watford relegated
TuesdaySweet 16 results
WednesdayElite Eight
Thursday: Final Four
Friday: Championship game

Much-chased Havertz reportedly prefers Bayern move

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The latest transfer gossip regarding rumor mill regular Kai Havertz pours a lot of cold water on the hopes of several Premier League giants.

Havertz, 20, has been linked with Liverpool, Manchester United, and Manchester City this season with his odds of leaving Bayer Leverkusen at an all-time high. He’s also been connected to Arsenal, Chelsea, and Tottenham to cover most of the Top Six bases.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

But Sky Sports says the German playmaker is keen to stay in his home country and make a move to Bayern Munich, who has been linked with Havertz, Leroy Sane, and Timo Werner in a bid to revolutionize its UEFA Champions League credentials.

Havertz has 10 goals and eight assists in 34 matches this season after exploding for 20 and seven in 42 last year. He doesn’t turn 21 until June.

The youngster provides little defensively but averages 2.3 key passes and 2.3 dribbles per match in Bundesliga play while passing at a tidy 87 percent despite living in the danger areas.

Whoever gets Havertz has a gem on its hands, but perhaps the Premier League will amp up their interest and recruiting efforts after these reports (if they haven’t already).