Premier League Playback: Brendan Rodgers gone, but not forgotten

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LIVERPOOL RIGHT TO REMOVE RODGERS

Gone, but not forgotten. Those are likely to be the sentiments flowing through the minds of Liverpool fans as they sip on their Monday morning coffee less than 24 hours after Brendan Rodgers was fired as Liverpool’s manager.

[ MORE: Klopp, Ancelotti next for Liverpool? ]

On Sunday following Liverpool’s 1-1 draw with Everton in the Merseyside derby, Rodgers, 42, lost his job just eight matches into his fourth season in charge at Anfield. The writing has been on the wall for quite some time. With the likes of Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Steven Gerrard departing over the past 12 months, plus over $400 million spent on new signings, delivering a sixth place finish last season then overseeing a struggling start to this campaign proved too much for Liverpool’s American owners, the Fenway Sports Group (FSG), to handle.

[ MORE: Timeline of Rodgers’ demise at Anfield ]

When Rodgers’ assistant coaches were fired in the summer alarm bells began to ring. In truth, his player recruitment has been his biggest downfall although FSG must take some of the blame as the transfer committee at Liverpool — which Rodgers is only a part of — has sanctioned deals for the likes of Mario Balotelli, Dejan Lovren and Lazar Markovic, and many more who just haven’t been up to scratch as the Reds paid over the top following the $200 million raised by selling Suarez and Sterling over the past two summers.

Premier League Schedule – Week 8

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 3-0 Man Utd Recap, watch here
Aston Villa 0-1 Stoke Recap, watch here
B’mouth 1-1 Watford Recap, watch here
Chelsea 1-3 Saints Recap, watch here
C. Palace 2-0 WBA Recap, watch here
Everton 1-1 Liverpool Recap, watch here
Man City 6-1 N’castle Recap, watch here
Norwich 1-2 Leicester Recap, watch here
S’land 2-2 West Ham Recap, watch here
Swansea 2-2 Spurs Recap, watch here

Rodgers leaves Liverpool as the only manager in charge for three or more seasons since 1959 to not win a trophy with the Reds. His failure to win silverware despite his much idolized philosophy of cultivating attractive play with young players is what ultimately cost him his job, and yet, he came so close. It is that factor which means that years from now, maybe even decades, Rodgers’ name will still be mentioned on the Kop. The 2013-14 season will always be revered among Liverpool’s fans despite the heartbreak of coming agonizingly close to winning the Premier League title.

[ MORE: Twitter reacts to Rodgers firing

The Northern Irishman brought belief back to Anfield. True, you can say that any manager in control of a team which possessed Suarez, Sterling and Daniel Sturridge in attack, plus Gerrard and Philippe Coutinho feeding them chances would have done that. The fact of the matter is that Rodgers could not deliver the title with those players and that will be the legacy he leaves behind at Anfield. The defending, throughout his time at Anfield but particularly during that season, was shocking, but the dynamic play up front, led by Suarez, was sublime.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

I was there throughout most of the highs and lows of that title chase. The electricity in the air around the pubs in Liverpool before and after the demolition of Everton in the Merseyside derby in January 2014. The euphoria in the streets around Anfield before and after Coutinho’s late winner against Manchester City in April 2014. The agony of Gerrard’s slip in the defeat to Chelsea in the penultimate home game. And then, the utter disbelief after letting a 3-0 lead slip at Crystal Palace to draw 3-3 in the penultimate game of the season. Those moments, that ride towards the title which ultimately ended in tears and disappointment, should never be forgotten. Rodgers engineered a side which was capable of ripping teams apart and he came within a few goals either way of doing what no Liverpool manager in the last 25 years has managed to do. He came the closest to delivering success in the Premier League and despite the way things have unraveled in the 18 months since that dramatic title race climaxed — the 6-1 defeat at Stoke, the realization that the players who arrived were not good enough — you cannot take that away from him.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Were FSG and owner John W. Henry right to remove Rodgers from his role? Yes. His time was up. He looked dejected and defensive in multiple post-match press conferences over the past six months and he was fighting a losing battle as fans continued to question his decisions and had lost belief in not only his managerial abilities, but the players he selected. Talk of Jurgen Klopp and Carlo Ancelotti coming in to replace Rodgers is rife (you can read more on the contenders for the vacant position at Anfield, here) but for now, let’s remember the joy Rodgers’ swashbuckling side of the 2013-14 season brought and how Liverpool’s fans were made to feel like, for at least a few months, the glory days were once again returning to Anfield.

The reaction to his firing was mixed, but many believe Rodgers’ time was up at Anfield.

Take a look at the video above to see Thierry Henry and Jamie Carragher reacting to the news, while Major League Baseball’s Brendan Rodgers had to let the world know he was not his namesake, who is now out of a job.

MOURINHO NEXT TO GO?

In the video above Jose Mourinho delivered a crystal clear message — who looks to be feeling the pressure with bags under his eyes, over-analyzing situations and having his back up after being criticized for the way he handled the Eva Carneiro situation — as the Chelsea boss was in a defiant mood following yet another defeat for his side on Saturday. Simply put, his message to Chelsea’s board was the following: stick with me, or sack me.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Chelsea’s defeat ]

Southampton were the latest team to prevail from Mourinho’s misery — it is now five defeats in 11 games in all competitions for the west London club this season — and in truth Ronald Koeman’s side were well worth their 3-1 victory at Stamford Bridge as they won at Chelsea for the first time in 13 years with a magnificent comeback orchestrated by Graziano Pelle and Sadio Mane.

However, somewhat inevitably and in keeping with the current season, this result was all about one man: Mourinho.

[ MORE: Mourinho goes on incredible post-match rant ]

Having the audacity to call out the referee for not awarding Radamel Falcao a penalty kick when the score was 1-1 early in the second half was just the tip of the iceberg. Mourinho was clutching at straws as he went on an incredible seven minute and nine second rant on Sky Sports in the UK when asked one simple question to start off. It was enthralling viewing. Encapsulating. Entertaining. And, moreover, indicative of the situation he know finds himself in. Eight weeks into the season, Mourinho is pleading with Chelsea’s board not to sack him and is adamant he will not resign.

“When I was contacted to come back, I was told ‘we had so many managers. We know you are the best,’” Mourinho revealed in his post-match press conference. “I think it is time for the club to act in a different way, to mark a position of stability, a position of trust. Three months ago we were all together in the buzz of the cups. It is time for all of us to be together now in the bottom of the league.”

John Terry has jumped to Mourinho’s defense and it is true that the players are not performing anywhere near the level they did when winning the title last season. But we all know that at Chelsea, or at any other club for that matter, when the team stops winning the manager is held accountable. That is why Mourinho is so worried and has called for a change in tact from Roman Abramovich and the board to bring stability and let him turn things around at the Bridge. It is reported that Mourinho has met with the directors after the defeat to Southampton and Chelsea then released the following statement on Monday. The fact that they even had to say anything at all proves just how bad the situation has got at the Bridge.

“The club wants to make it clear that Jose continues to have our full support.

“As Jose has said himself, results have not been good enough and the team’s performances must improve. However, we believe that we have the right manager to turn this season around and that he has the squad with which to do it.”

With a run of six winnable games coming up in the league (Aston Villa, Liverpool, Norwich at home and trips to West Ham, Stoke and Tottenham), it’s now or never for “The Special One” to save Chelsea’s season with the Blues only seven points off the top four despite their disastrous start.

And just in case any of you were wondering, despite his confused and ultra-defensive state, he still hasn’t lost his ego.

“No way I resign. No way,” Mourinho added. “Why? Because Chelsea cannot have a better manager than me. There are many managers in the world that belong to my level, but not better. There is no chance I run away. Why? For two reasons. One: because I have my professional pride and I know that I am very good in my job. Second: I like this club very much and if that’s not the case it could be different. In the accumulation of both situations I want the best for my club and the best for my club is for me to stay. So, I stay.”

OZIL, WALCOTT, SANCHEZ: ARSENAL’S HOLY TRINITY?

19 minutes into Arsenal’s clash with Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday the game was over. Arsenal scored three times in a blistering 12 minute spell, as the attacking trio of Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott and Alexis Sanchez possessed the perfect mixture of pace, trickery and guile to blow away United’s makeshift defense.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Arsenal’s win ]

Arsenal rode that early 3-0 lead to victory, as Arsene Wenger was delighted with the way Walcott led the line in a central role (his fifth-straight start in that position ahead of Olivier Giroud) as his pace in-behind terrified United into forgetting about the mercurial talents of Ozil and Sanchez. The latter scored twice, grabbing the headlines, but Ozil’s ability to find the right ball at the right time, plus calmly slot home Arsenal’s second himself, just seconds after assisting on Sanchez’s opener, is why Wenger paid $62 million for him in 2013. Now, for Ozil and Arsenal, it is all about consistency. When asked in his post-match press conference if this trio is the answer to Arsenal’s attack, the French boss was optimistic.

“I hope and I believe it can,” Wenger said. “I must say, Walcott had a hugely committed performance today and a very convincing one. He didn’t score but I like to praise the strikers when they don’t score but contribute and give assists. He was involved in two goals and he showed that he can fight and commit and protect the ball as well. He is gaining aspects of his game as a center forward and is improving.”

In that blistering 20 minute spell we saw all that is good about the Gunners. The fact that it was coming off the back of a shock 3-2 UEFA Champions League defeat at home to Olympiakos says it all. If Arsenal’s front three can stay fit and in form, with Petr Cech marshaling an improved defensive unit, this title race could become a two-horse affair between Arsenal and Manchester City.

FIVE-STAR AGUERO

Speaking of City, they were losing 1-0 to Newcastle United at home just before half time on Saturday, as things were not looking good for the Citizens. Then, Sergio Aguero happened. The Argentine striker scored once before the break and four times just after it, as the predatory striker score five times in a blistering 20 minute spell which led City to a 6-1 demolition of Newcastle which looked far from believable after a labored first half display. That’s the difference a finisher of Aguero’s caliber possesses, and Manuel Pellegrini will now be praying his star striker can stay fit for the entire season, as David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne look like the perfect creators to set him up for multiple scoring chances week in, week out.

Due to the huge talking points surrounding Rodgers, Chelsea and Arsenal, Aguero’s achievement has gone somewhat unnoticed. So I urge you to click play on the video above to see all five of Aguero’s goals. The PL’s Golden Boot winner from last season joins an elite list of Andy Cole, Jermain Defoe, Dimitar Berbatov and Alan Shearer as the only men to score five times in one game in PL history.

MAGIC MANE

We have already mentioned Mourinho’s Chelsea getting outplayed by Southampton at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, but a final word must go to the brilliance of Sadio Mane which ignited Saints and inflicted pain on Chelsea’s defense.

[ MORE: How brave Saints battered Chelsea ]

Mane, 23, ran rings around Chelsea’s entire back four. He should have had a penalty kick in the first half (but his theatrical dive probably cost him that) and in the second half he scored Saints’ second and set up Pelle for Saints’ third with a blistering run at the heart of Chelsea’s defense. Teams cannot cope with Mane’s pace and direct running, as the Senegalese international is thriving in a central role which allows him to feed off Pelle’s knockdowns and run at center backs like Terry and Gary Cahill (voted the two best in the PL last season) who do not know what to do.

I spoke to Koeman about Mane’s performance after the game on Saturday, and Southampton’s manager believed Mane was “impossible” to defend.

“He played fantastic but I think the whole team performance was impressive after going 1-0 down we looked comfortable,” Koeman said. “Of course, to win against teams like Chelsea you need your best players on that high level and Sadio was very dangerous in his movements. It was impossible to have a good defending against him. I think the whole team performance was perfect.”

Mane now has four assists and two goals in his last five PL matches and after Manchester United tried to make a late bid to sign him in the summer, Saints will be expecting plenty more bids for the flying attacker in the upcoming transfer windows. If they are truly going to become a team capable of perennially challenging for a spot in the top six, Southampton must keep hold of Mane. But as Chelsea’s defense proved on Saturday, that can prove very difficult.

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

Zlatan paces MLS jersey sellers, offers fresh quip on Minnesota challenge

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic: He’s like a more charming, less anarchist version of Tom Hardy’s Bane.

The LA Galaxy man was revealed to again have the top-selling jersey in Major League Soccer on Wednesday, days before the club begins its 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs run with a match in Minnesota.

[ MORE: Monster deal for Mbappe? ]

Snow is in the forecast, but Zlatan is not bothered by such weather.

“I’m from Sweden I was born in the snow. When it snows, I’m a viking. When it’s warm, I’m a lion. We adjust for every condition there is.”

Back to the jerseys, the MLS MVP finalists are 1-2-3 in sales. Ibrahimovic is first, followed by Atlanta’s Josef Martinez, and LAFC’s Carlos Vela.

The top sellers amongst Americans are Seattle’s Jordan Morris (7) and Cristian Roldan (12). Chris Wondolowski of San Jose is 13th, while other domestic names on the Top 25 include Sebastian Lletget, Brad Guzan (!?!), Dom Dwyer, Jozy Altidore, and Graham Zusi.

Midweek El Clasico possible in December following political unrest

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Political unrest in Catalonia has both La Liga and the Spanish government looking to move the first El Clasico of the season.

Barcelona and Real Madrid are scheduled to meet at the Camp Nou on Oct. 26, but the jailing of nine Catalan separatists has caused uproar in-and-around Barca.

In fact, Barca as a club has denounced the imprisonment, so it plays more than a peripheral role in the controversy.

[ JPW: What now for Berhalter, USMNT? ] 

Players heading to and returning from international break have faced in challenges in getting to the club.

Instead, Marca says that we may see a midweek match played in Madrid on Wednesday, Dec. 18, with the reverse fixture in March moved from Madrid to Barcelona.

Dec. 18 would give both teams three matches in eight days before La Liga’s winter break. Barca would play Real Sociedad, Real Madrid, and Alaves, while Real would play Valencia and Real Betis in addition to the Clasico. Both difficult runs, but fairly even.

Reports claim Allegri linked with Manchester United, Spurs

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The international break can be a slow time for news, but what to make of multiple reports claiming that Max Allegri is in discussion with a pair of struggling traditional Premier League powers?

Tuttosport claims that Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur have interest in hiring the Italian manager, adding that United has had “intensified” contact with him.

[ MORE: Monster deal for Mbappe? ]

Noise out of Old Trafford continues to back Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, while there is no real buzz that Mauricio Pochettino is on the verge of leaving Spurs.

The 52-year-old Allegri has won Serie A once with AC Milan and five times with Juventus, claiming a Serie C title with Sassuolo in 2007-08.

Is there anything to it? He’d be a great hire for either side. In United’s case, he’d be a marked upgrade on their current boss.

It’s hard to be humbled. Anything less could cost Berhalter his job

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Wild nights, positive or negative, deserve reflection one day later. Here’s our bid to put the USMNT’s 2-0 loss to Canada in context less than 24 hours later…

The humbling of Gregg Berhalter is one of two distinct hopes for his survival as United States men’s national team coach.

The other is an unreliable route, one filled with long-term health for his best players on some pie-in-the-sky road where he utilizes the same 12-14 players per game for the rest of his tenure.

So, yeah, the first one is pretty key.

Coaches are by nature arrogant, and Berhalter earned his confidence by nurturing a suboptimal Columbus Crew roster into an over-performing playoff mainstay despite owner and former showgirl Rachel Phelps trying to move the club to Miami (Movie reference No.1, achieved).

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings ]

When Berhalter beat out the field of two to lay claim to the USMNT position, he won over the media with Powerpoint slides about Pep Guardiola-inspired possession, which assumed to the delight of the American fan base that the nation had the immediate tools to out-class most of CONCACAF simply by being organized. He even had people handing him cute nicknames and defending the idea of using a Bundesliga regular defensive midfielder as a right back because he was generous with his time. Who needs La Masia when you’ve got the DA?

It should be pointed out that the philosophy’s failure through nine months doesn’t entirely destroy the idea to try it, but Berhalter’s often bizarre player selection and tactical destruction at the hands of Jamaica, Mexico, and now Canada have hastened the end of his honeymoon period almost as effectively as his the federation’s refusal to interview anyone other than Berhalter and Oscar Pareja. I mean, who needs Sergino Dest’s optimism when you can keep trying to jam a Wil Trapp-sized Wil Trapp through an Andrea Pirlo-shaped hole?

So you get what we had last night, a tire fire of a match in which his midfield had no idea what to do with the ball and his forwards might as well have been on a monastic retreat. According to the broadcast, Berhalter thought a miserable first half was due to his men not moving the ball fast enough side-to-side. His answers via subs, even before they were down, were to take off Christian Pulisic and leave creative minds Sebastian Lletget and Tyler Boyd on the bench. After the game, he claimed his players weren’t working hard enough and didn’t match Canada’s desire.

Here’s the problem, though, that’s on Berhalter, too. There were myriad articles out there, including several on this site, detailing Canada’s desperation to get results in the CONCACAF Nations League in order to move into a Top Six CONCACAF spot on the FIFA Rankings and qualify for the Hex.

(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

All it takes is a cursory look at the Canada roster to see that their electric attackers were their hope of winning the match, and that pressing their relatively weak group of defenders — one of whom has only been a defender for a year — was probably a great idea.

But Berhalter again stuck with his idea that the United States men’s national team program, even without several of its best players, could implement his system anywhere, against anyone.

And it failed spectacularly.

The thing is that Berhalter is actually quite a decent coach, as he proved in Columbus, but whether or not he lives to show it to this American audience in this particular job depends on his accepting the shortcomings of his depleted roster.

I want to talk to you about Aaron Long, and not because of his “Stranger Things” lifeguard haircut (TV show reference No. 1, achieved).

Aaron Long is a mauler, the sort of player who’d be beloved by many segments of the USMNT community in several generations. He gets stuck in, has a good work rate, and can factor on set pieces in the attacking third.

What he does not do very well — and I’ve covered this a lot in this space — is pass the ball and aid in possession. Since breaking into MLS in 2017, the now 27-year-old center back has completed 76, 69, and 65 percent of his passes with the New York Red Bulls.

[ JPW: What now for Berhalter, USMNT? ] 

Part of that is a function of the Red Bulls’ system; The team doesn’t really care at all about possession, passing at a terrible 68.6 percent, and not one of their players had a completion rate above 80 percent this year. By comparison, 197 players in Major League Soccer completed 80 percent or more of their passes this season (WhoScored).

This is not an argument that Long shouldn’t be in the U.S. system. While he’s had a rough couple of months in the shirt, he’s in the mix for the toughest American center backs in the game.

Might this possession-based idea look a lot better when healthy? Of course, that’s what we mentioned above. John Brooks is by far the best passing center back in the pool, and has been out of the mix for sometime due to injury. The same is true for the side’s best No. 6 in Adams.

But what the Yanks were for so long was difficult to break down, a hassle to play against. Berhalter needs that right now, and he’s got the horses to do it (Watch Jordan Morris’ legs keep moving for 90 minutes if you need proof). Success could then require admitted in front of a microphone that his team can’t hack his system right now, and that he talked down to an entire room last month when they just spit facts his way. That’s humbling, and it’s not fun. But it’s needed.

Adding to the issue is that it’s easy to see the Yanks still emerging from their group by beating Canada in Orlando next month and then walloping Cuba. But if Berhalter hasn’t been humbled and sees victories against the 53rd and 145th ranked teams in EloRatings as validation, well, I’ve got some truly valuable early 1990s baseball cards to sell you for a premium price.

Arrogance does nothing for you if it’s ill-founded. That confidence has felled countless executives, coaches, and players over the years (and yes, even average writers). Being outfoxed by Tata Martino is one thing, but having no reaction to the plan of John Herdman is another (That’s not a shot at Herdman, who had done well with the New Zealand and Canada women, but let’s be real).

We won’t learn whether Berhalter has learned from his errors via results next month, rather by what he does to try and get those results. When Martino beat him in the Gold Cup Final, the rematch two months later was far worse. He gets a second chance to match wits with Herdman next month, and it really cannot get much worse. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice (Movie reference No. 2, achieved).

Last month, I wrote that Berhalter’s duties including the following bare minimum goals.

  1. Qualify for the World Cup
  2. Reach the final of all CONCACAF competitions
  3. Look like an adequate footballing nation in other competitions
  4. Make sure he doesn’t lose any talented dual nationals (also the GM’s job)

No. 1 is still far away, but 2-4… woah. We’re one Alphonso Davies star show away from finishing 2019 without a Gold Cup and no place in the CONCACAF Nations League semifinal. Sergino Dest might’ve skipped town for Ronald Koeman‘s Netherlands set-up either way, but being shoehorned at left back last month probably helped his decision.

Finally, a number of people on Twitter pointed out that Canada is due plenty of respect for out-dueling the USMNT on Tuesday. Absolutely! But if you think a nation with under 1 million registered soccer players should be absolutely clowning a nation with 4 million-plus, a side they hadn’t beaten let alone dominated in 34 years, then you’re not getting the point. There’s room for Canada and the U.S. to both be good, but the Yanks looked like a steaming hot mug of spoiled milk to Canada’s well-chilled bag of the fresh stuff. No good.

Your move, Gregg. Do what you did last night, and last month, and you’ll get the same results. Your only other option is Voodoo dolls of Alphonso Davies and Scott Arfield.