Premier League Playback: Brendan Rodgers gone, but not forgotten

Leave a comment

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

Mbappe hints he could leave PSG

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kylian Mbappe accepted his award as the Ligue 1 MVP, dedicated it to Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, and then mentioned he could be off soon to another club.

Wait, what?

Yes, following Mbappe accepting his award, the French star and World Cup winner stated he hoped he could continue his career at PSG but left open the possibility of moving to another club that allows him to take the next steps in his career.

[READ: Kompany to join Anderlecht as player-manager]

“This is a very important moment for me, I arrive at a first or second turn of my career,” Mbappe said, via L’equipe. “I’ve discovered a lot of things here, I feel that maybe it’s time to have more responsibility. I hope it may be at Paris Saint-Germain, it would be with great pleasure, or perhaps elsewhere for a new project.”

Mbappe later clarified his comments, stating he was looking for more responsibility. “If it’s at PSG, that’s good. If it is elsewhere, it will be elsewhere for a new challenge.

“For me, it was time to say it. I am someone whole: when I say something, I think it. For me, it was the right time to say it. That’s it, I said it!”

It’s unclear why exactly Mbappe used this moment to put some pressure on PSG. Perhaps its to remind them that the club needs to be successful in its transfer endeavors this summer, so it can compete deep into the UEFA Champions League. With Neymar injured and a central midfield ravaged by injuries, PSG capitulated and somehow fell to Manchester United in the Champions League Round of 16, grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.

There’s no reason why PSG can’t dominate the Champions League like it does Ligue 1, especially with the attacking trident of Mbappe, Neymar and Edinson Cavani. But of course, against better competition, the inferiority in mentality and in talent along the backline has started to show.

So, where could Mbappe go? There’s very few places that could effectively match both his salary and his competitive goals. It’s the usual suspects, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and perhaps Manchester City, should they be interested in it. More recently, while Man City has spent big, it’s been on signing multiple players on $50 million transfers, as opposed to one player on a $200 million transfer, for example.

It’s unlikely, but an intriguing option would be Liverpool. If the club somehow came up with the funds, imagine Mbappe playing alongside Sadio Mane and Mo Salah, with Roberto Firmino coming in to spell either of the three over the course of the season. Mbappe would likely make up that one-point difference between Liverpool and Man City, and if that’s what it takes for Liverpool to finally win the title, it could be worth the initial massive investment.

Messi finishes season leading La Liga in goals, assists, and more

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Lionel Messi turns 32 this summer, and after more than a dozen years of first team soccer, playing more than 50 games a season, the old man’s still got it.

The Argentine star, playing his first season in almost a decade without direct competition from Cristiano Ronaldo, scored twice as Barcelona tied Eibar, 2-2. The two goals gave him 34 for the season, by far the most by any player in the league, and his 50th in all competitions.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Messi also led La Liga this season with 13 assists, 136 shots, 85 shots on target and 70 through balls. In terms of successful dribbles, Messi’s 132 fell seven short of Celta Vigo’s Sofiane Boufal.

Messi’s 34 goals gave him his sixth Pichichi, the trophy given to the league’s leading scorer. Messi is now tied with legendary Telmo Zarra for the all-time record of most Pichichi’s, and Messi is now three ahead of Ronaldo.

As if Messi wasn’t already a legendary player, the man seems to be showing no signs of slowing down. It may have helped that he skipped matches with Argentina after the 2018 World Cup this past fall, keeping him fresh for Barcelona. Even so, the man looks as good, if not better, with age.

Messi already holds the record for most goals in league history, and at this rate, he’ll set it to a level that will be almost impossible to reach. While he’s going to be remembered for his incredible control on the ball, it doesn’t hurt that he’s been incredibly productive during his career, including in 2018-2019. Barcelona won the league title with ease and the club made the UEFA Champions League semifinal. If for some better defending, Messi could be contesting for another Champions League title.

Nani scores twice as Orlando City thrashes FC Cincinnati

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Nani may not be the star he once was while he played for Manchester United, but he’s still making a powerful impact in MLS.

The Portuguese international scored his sixth and seventh goals of the season as Orlando City ran circles expansion side FC Cincinnati, winning 5-1. Along with Nani, Tesho Akindele scored a brace and Dom Dwyer came off the bench and scored a header in the win.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Aside from having a chance to record a big win over a struggling side, Orlando City may have been ultra motivated on Sunday. Orlando City manager James O’Connor has history with FC Cincinnati from his time at Louisville City, with intense rivalry matches taking place as well as arguments between O’Connor and former FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch on the sidelines.

FC Cincinnati actually went up early with a Darren Mattocks finish past Brian Rowe, but it didn’t take long for Orlando City to respond. Akindele fired home from 20-yards out in the 37th minute to make it 1-1. Early in the second half, Nani scored on a penalty kick rebound to make it 2-1 to the hosts, and then he added a second off a cross from the right to blast the game wide open.

With the win, Orlando City moved just one point outside of a playoff place, while Cincinnati remains in the basement of the Eastern Conference. However, Orlando City has a difficult road ahead, with matches against the LA Galaxy, Montreal Impact and D.C. United to come.

Serie A: Napoli rout Inter, leaving UCL race wide open heading into final week

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The race for the third and four places in Serie A, and with it, a berth in the UEFA Champions League next season, remain open heading into the final week of the season, thanks to a stellar performance from Napoli.

Playing at home in the Stadio San Paolo, Napoli thrashed Inter Milan, 4-1, to keep Inter in fourth place in the table on 66 points. That’s just one point ahead of AC Milan in fifth place, which jumped up after a 2-0 win over Frosinone, and three points ahead of AS Roma, which succumbed to a scoreless draw with Sassuolo this weekend. Atalanta meanwhile came ten minutes from beating Juventus in Turin, and even with a point in a 1-1 draw, Atalanta is still only in third place by 66 points.

[READ: Bayern Munich still too good for the rest this season]

Piotr Zielinski made a statement with a 30-yard blast past Samir Handanovic in the 16th minute to put Napoli up 1-0 and then Dries Mertens and a pair of goals from Fabian Ruiz gave the Neapolitans a massive lead, while leaving Inter in a precarious position. Mauro Icardi scored late to give Inter a small reprieve, but the defeat was set and it leaves Inter essentially needing to win in the final week of the season to secure a place in the Champions League next year.

Elsewhere, Josip Ilicic scored his 12th league goal of the season as Atalanta took Juventus down to the wire in Juve’s final home match of the season. Juventus fans serenaded Andrea Barzagli, playing his final game for the Bianconeri, and even had a message of support for Daniele De Rossi.

Gianluigi Buffon was even in attendance.

Also in action in Serie A, Parma beat Fiorentina, 1-0 and Empoli defeated Torino, 4-1.