The 2 Robbies in Eight by Eight magazine: Leicester’s fairytale, Man United’s future

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With Leicester City on the brink of winning the Premier League title, now seems like a good time to check in with NBC Sports’ very own “The 2 Robbies.”

Below they discuss Leicester’s incredible rise to the top of the PL, plus touch on what the future holds for Manchester United.

This article originally appeared in Issue 08 of Eight by Eight, a quarterly magazine fusing longform football writing with high quality illustration, photography and design.

Learn more about the current issue here, and follow Eight by Eight on Facebook and Twitter.

Robbie and Robbie, today we’re having a conversation about Leicester City winning the Premier League. How did we get here?

ROBBIE MUSTOE: A perfect storm. It’s the only way to describe it. The team benefits from the synergy of average Premier League players that are well-organized and have remained fit all season. They have an inspired manager. And, most importantly, they have two stars in Vardy and Mahrez. They’ve gone from small-time goal scorers to incredible goal scorers.
ROBBIE EARLE: Players, really. They weren’t even big players last year. At the same time, the powerhouses of English football are in places they normally aren’t this season. The combination of these factors means that a club like Leicester can be at the top of the table. And everything that a team like Manchester City aren’t—and why City won’t win the league—is everything Leicester are.

To your last point: what makes them different?

EARLE: Work ethic, hunger. I’ve played in every league in English football. And I always used to remember when playing in the fourth division, thinking that when I get out of here, I’m not coming back. It stuck with me, especially in the Premier League. When you come from that kind of background, like so many of Leicester’s players, you’re not going to be the type of player who says, “well, not today.” You’re brought up to play as hard as you can. Some days you’re rubbish, but you give everything. Because you have to.
MUSTOE: My son said to me, “Dad, they’re trying harder than everybody else.” And I think it’s as simple as that. When you watch them play it’s almost like you can see them thinking: ‘This dream is going to continue. And we’re going to find a way through.’ It’s everything a fan wants to see in their team.

What impact will Leicester’s success—and the way they’ve made it—have on the Premier League?

EARLE: It’s an interesting turning point in the whole of football. Because other teams are going to be more ambitious. Now, ambitious might not mean you finish in the top four, but newly-promoted teams aren’t arriving in the league asking, “well, how do we survive?” The likes of Stoke, West Ham, and Southampton have shown that with good recruitment and good management you can stay in the Premier League—and in Leicester’s case, maybe win it.
MUSTOE: It’s funny how success stories influence the style of football. Years ago, there was a period when Wimbledon were successful with a direct approach and longer balls. So others did it too. Then we saw it with Barcelona’s Tiki-Taka. My point: It’s stunningly obvious how effective work ethic is, and it feels like football is changing into a game of incredible athleticism and technical ability.

Let’s say Leicester wins it. Are we talking about the greatest-ever achievement in football history?

MUSTOE: Absolutely. The most incredible, unexpected football story ever.
EARLE: I’m talking sporting, not just football. It’s up there with Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson.

More incredible than Nottingham Forest in 1977–78?

MUSTOE: Yes. Because of finances. The richer have gotten richer over the past few years. There’s a big difference.
EARLE: Forest also had a genius manager. Brian Clough was the Mourinho of the day.

Say Leicester finish in the top four. What changes next season?

MUSTOE: I would worry that this perfect storm that we’re seeing could change. I’m not saying that they’re going to struggle. But I would not be at all surprised if Mahrez goes. And if new players come in, they can’t continue this same consistency. There has to be a drop off.
EARLE: But if you can retain what you’ve got and build—rather than losing your best—then you’ve got a chance. And it’s not like Ranieri doesn’t know what he’s doing in the Champions League. This whole thing is so hard to comprehend. Imagine, Cristiano Ronaldo at the King Power Stadium.
MUSTOE: Imagine saying this time next year: Norwich are going to win the League!

Is Jose Mourinho the right man for Manchester United?

EARLE: YES – José Mourinho needs Manchester United. And Manchester United need Mourinho. Right now, they’re dull, boring, and without gloss. They don’t look like they’re ready to win anything. They’re playing football in a style that looks slightly dated. Mourinho walking through the door at Old Trafford changes everything. He’s an outstanding coach and tactician. It’s a blind date that both parties have to go on. And they’ve got to kiss and make it work.

Now it’s important to note that I don’t think he’s a long-term solution. But if I’m Manchester United, Mourinho buys me two or three years where, one, I have a chance of winning silverware. And two, I have time to find the right young coach for the future.

And it’s really easy at the moment to say, “don’t hire Mourinho,” but it’s much, much less easy to say, “who’s a better choice?” After David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal, United can’t afford any more hiccups. People forget that this football club is also a business. It’s run by people who look at share prices. They can’t be out of the Champions League, and Mourinho guarantees that they make it. The game is changing, and you need to change with it.

There are times I don’t like some of Mourinho’s actions. But the guy’s a winner and he’s a great football manager. It’s the perfect situation, and Mourinho should go in and do a job for United. Especially when you have Pep Guardiola arriving across the road in Manchester. You need a guy who can go toe-to-toe mentally with him. Anything less will be a disaster.

MUSTOE: NO. I couldn’t disagree more. There is no man more unlike a Manchester United manager than José Mourinho. United is a club about building. It’s about having a leader for a long period of time. It’s about exciting, attacking football. It’s about giving academy players a chance. And Mourinho is none of those things.

Let’s say he is appointed, here’s what we know will happen: In the first year he’s going to assess the competition. In the second year, history says, he has a great chance of winning something. But in the third year, history says again, he has a great chance of unsettling the club and it’s players in a very destructive way. And for those who believe managing United would be different, look at his last stint at Chelsea: He was meant to be the “Happy One.” How long did that last?

Of course, I understand why Mourinho is attractive as a short-term band aid. The club is desperate to stop its decline. But they need to resist the temptation and go about a more holistic approach to filling the role of manager. They need to focus on finding the perfect person, or at least someone who has a chance to become the perfect person. That’s easier said than done, I get it. But what about Pochettino? A young manager bubbling with potential. He’d be perfect. Or Joachim Löw? A world champion and classy guy. Why not?

The bottom line: Manchester United need someone to respect—and grow—the club. Sir Bobby Charlton didn’t like him two years ago, and I think he’s still right today.

Leicester impressive again in 4-2 win over Burnley

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Leicester – Burnley saw Leicester City flex a bit of muscle en route to a mostly comfortable, yet somewhat thrilling, 4-2 victory at the King Power Stadium on Sunday.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]

Harvey Barnes, Dennis Praet and James Justin scored the goals for Leicester, plus an own goal from Erik Pieters, as Brendan Rodgers’ side made it two wins from two games to start their 2020-21 Premier League campaign.

3 things we learned: Leicester – Burnley

1. Leicester back for another crack at top-four: It’s only two games, admittedly, but Leicester have the look of a side out to prove that their late-season collapse, which saw them fall from third to fifth in the final five games of the 2019-20 season, was very much an aberration. Rodgers’ men hardly ever looked worried as they cruised to a win against last season’s 10th-place finishers.

2. Foxes firepower: Leicester managed to score four goals without a single one of them coming from Jamie Vardy, who bagged 23 last season. James Maddison only made his return from injury on Sunday as well, lending credence to the notion this is far from a one-man team as has, to a degree, been an issue in the past. They might not actually finish inside the top-four this season, but they have the look of a side with plenty of staying power.

3. Burnley crying out for reinforcements: Sean Dyche had some rather critical thoughts about Burnley’s ongoing inability — or, perhaps, refusal — to move in a more timely manner to sign new players and improve the squad. Until such a change occurs, Dyche’s words are probably worth revisiting regularly.

Wood got the scoring started in Leicester – Burnley after just 10 minutes, with equal parts brute force and delicate touch. Charlie Taylor floated a cross to the back post, where Wood was waiting and battling for positioning with a defender. He managed to create a half-yard of space to allow for chest control and a quick, but difficult, finish from the corner of the six-yard box.

Jamie Vardy was instrumental in Leicester’s equalizer 10 minutes later, though hardly the typical manner in which he contributes to goals scored. Vardy latched onto a forward ball in an attempt to split the center backs, but was ultimately forced wide and to hold the ball up. He cut it back to Castagne, who played it on to Barnes for the far-post finish.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Leicester’s second goal was more a product on constant pressure than exquisite, incisive chance creation, but the ball hitting the back of the net counts all the same. Castagne overlapped down the right flank and hit a cross for Vardy as he streaked past the penalty spot. Erik Pieters wasn’t tight enough to Castagne to deny the cross, only to redirect it past the wrong-footed Nick Pope.

The Foxes’ third goal, however, was the result of a free-flowing attack involving a handful of blue shirts along the way. It ended with Ayoze Perez playing the ball across the penalty area and left back James Justin slotting home for his first PL goal in the 61st minute.

It was Justin who was beaten by Jimmy Dunne as he rose highest to bag a goal on his PL debut 12 minutes later, giving Burnley a brief glimmer of hope. 

It didn’t last long, though, as Dennis Praet bagged a stunning fourth goal for Leicester in the 79th minute. Barnes picked up the assist to go with his earlier goal, but it was Praet’s powerful finish that will get all of the headlines, and deservedly so.

Follow @AndyEdMLS

Klopp reaction on Thiago debut, Fabinho; loved ‘perfect’ Liverpool’s hunger

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The Klopp reaction from Chelsea v. Liverpool was full of smiles and laughs as he called the win ‘perfect’ in every way.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Jurgen Klopp is a happy, happy man. He usually is, but his side took care of a much talked about Chelsea with minimal fuss at Stamford Bridge on Sunday to make it two wins from two this season for the reigning Premier League champions.

Sure, Andreas Christensen’s sending off right on half time shaped the game but so too did the hunger of Sadio Mane to strike twice early in the second half to secure the win.

[ MORE: Player ratings

A penalty save from Alisson and a debut for Thiago Alcantara made Klopp even happier and as long as captain Jordan Henderson didn’t suffer a serious injury, he said the trip to Chelsea could not have gone better.

Thiago debut showcases why he was bought?

Speaking to ProSoccerTalk after the game via a Zoom call, we asked for the Klopp reaction on Thiago Alcantara’s debut display and if it underlined exactly why he was signed from Bayern Munich.

Thiago came on at half time and completed 75 passes in 45 minutes, a new Premier League record, as the Spanish international slotted in superbly and allowed Liverpool to dictate the tempo of the game against an opponent which sat back deep and was only focusing on defending.

“We signed Thiago for different reasons and only one of them is against deep defending sides. We improved in that department a lot, I have to say, with all of the players who were already there before. But, yes, it is something that suits him. It is natural to him. I like that. Of course it is good. It is one reason of a lot,” Klopp said.

Fabinho dazzles as a stand-in center back; Jurgen Klopp reaction

ProSoccerTalk also asked Klopp about Fabinho’s display, as the Brazilian switched from his usual position of holding midfield to center back due to injuries to Joe Gomez and Joel Matip.

“Fabinho, yes! If Sadio wouldn’t have scored two goals then I think Fab would have been a proper contender for Man of the Match!” Klopp smiled. “I loved his performance, he played outstandingly well. He helped us a lot, with the ball and in defending as well. A proper performance.”

With Thiago arriving in midfield, Fabinho at center back could be something we see a lot more of this season, especially as Gomez and Matip have a nasty knack of picking up small injuries consistently.

Liverpool send out a message

Klopp admitted that his team are only focused on the three points each week, but when asked about making a statement early in the season by winning at a Chelsea side who has spent over $250 million on new players, the Liverpool boss raved about the performance of his side.

“I liked the performance a lot. We are not playing for two things, for three points and then showing everybody you ‘better be ready when we arrive’ or something. That’s not us,” Klopp said. “The next game will be incredibly difficult for their own reasons because Arsenal is obviously flying since a few months already, it is going to be really tough.

“For ourselves, and that we feel the way we play, with adaptations and improvements, with development, that made us successful and will make us successful if we really throw it consistently on the pitch. This Chelsea game away will, for the next 500 years, be one of the most difficult games you can ever play and it will become even more difficult now when all things things are settled for Chelsea. That is clear. For today, it was difficult enough but we did it and I’m happy enough.”

Chelsea’s Lampard: Happier with play in Liverpool loss than Brighton win

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Like a lot of neutrals, Chelsea manager Frank Lampard feels deprived of what could’ve been a thrilling second half between his new-look Blues and Liverpool on Sunday.

Scoreless heading into first half stoppage time, Andreas Christensen was sent off for a DOGSO tackle on Sadio Mane, who scored twice early in the second half in Liverpool’s 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 0-2 Liverpool | 3 things ]

“For chances the first half was pretty even,” Lampard said after the game. “The red card changes (the game). Makes me go into a reshuffle and against a team of that quality it’s obviously going to be really difficult. I think it could be given or not, Kepa was coming out. If anything I’m surprised it’s a yellow to start and gets changed.”

While Lampard had questions regarding the red card, he didn’t try to make any excuses for Kepa Arrizabalaga’s second-half mistake that gifted Mane his second goal.

Lampard would not be drawn into discussions on Kepa’s status and the heavily-reported arrival of Eduoard Mendy from France, but he says the goalkeeper error and Jorginho’s late penalty miss take away from what could’ve been a point.

“Big mistake, clear mistake,” Lampard groused. “When you reflect on the half, without that mistake and (if we) make the penalty, it’s 1-1. In lots of ways I’m actually happier than I was after Brighton. Lots of individuals showed me lots of good things.”

Chelsea hosts Barnsley in League Cup action on Tuesday before visiting West Brom on Saturday, two prime chances for Lampard to get his players’ heads right without a top four challenger on the fixture list until Manchester United on Oct. 24.

Player ratings: Chelsea v. Liverpool

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Chelsea – Liverpool player ratings: This game ended up being a very straightforward win for the reigning Premier League champions.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

A red card to Andreas Christensen right on half time swung the game in Liverpool’s favor and two goals early in the second half from Sadio Mane sealed a comfortable win for Jurgen Klopp’s side. With big mistakes and star performance, the Chelsea – Liverpool player ratings are extremely mixed.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]   

Here’s a look Chelsea – Liverpool player ratings as Frank Lampard will be trying to keep things in perspective, while Liverpool and will be keen to keep building momentum.

Chelsea player ratings

Kepa: 3 – Wandering around early on and generally indecisive. Hesitant on the ball over the top which led to Christensen being sent off which forced the decision. Gave the second goal away with a poor mistake. He knows he will not be Chelsea’s goalkeeper with Edouard Mendy coming in soon.

Reece James: 6 – Wasn’t able to showcase his attacking talents from right back and Mane beat him to head home the first goal.

Andreas Christensen: 4 – He was actually playing pretty well until he was sent off right on half time. One long ball over the top set Mane free and Christensen hauled him down with Kepa dallying.

Kurt Zouma: 6 – Steady and tried his best to hold everything together at the back.

Marcos Alonso: 4 – He knows Chilwell is the first-choice left back, and he worked hard but was caught out on a one-two by Firmino and Salah for the first goal.

N’Golo Kante: 6 – One glorious chance to shoot when found in the box but looked for a pass. Struggled to shut Liverpool down.

Jorginho: 4 – A few loose passes, which is unlike him, and the captain struggled to hold down midfield. Missed a penalty kick too.

Mateo Kovacic: 7 – Plenty of mazy dribbles and was the one Chelsea midfield he looked to support the attack.

Mason Mount: 5 – Spent most of his time defending and wasn’t able to impact the game in a positive way.

Kai Havertz: 5 – Some lovely touches and oozes class on the ball, but not involved enough. Subbed off at half time.

Timo Werner: 7 – Always a threat and went close a couple of times in the first half. Caught offside too often. But that’s his game. Won a penalty kick in the second half and never stopped trying.

Fikayo Tomori (on for Havertz, 45′) 6 – Did his best to try and stop Liverpool’s juggernaut and made some decent blocks.
Ross Barkley (on for Jorginho, 79′) N/A
Tammy Abraham (on for Kovacic, 79′) N/A

Liverpool player ratings

Alisson: 7 – Hardly had anything to do throughout the entire game, then he saved a penalty kick superbly. Involved in the red card incident too with his claim and quick throw to turn defense into attack.

Trent Alexander-Arnold: 7 – Always whipping in dangerous balls and a real outlet on the right. Off target with his set pieces.

Fabinho: 8 – Stood in superbly at center back for the injured duo of Joe Gomez and Joel Matip. Could he play at center back now that Thiago is around?

Virgil van Dijk: 7 – Did his job well enough and no uncharacteristic mistakes this week. Almost scored from a set piece situation.

Andy Robertson: 6 – Didn’t see much of him as an attacking threat but worked hard, as always.

Jordan Henderson: 7 – Led by example and a lovely ball over the top which led to Christensen’s red card. Subbed off at half time with a small issue.

Georginio Wijnaldum: 7 – Typically robust display in central midfield. Is he really going to be allowed to leave for Barcelona?

Naby Keita: 6 – Always wants to get on the ball but didn’t really happen for him with Kante and Jorginho around.

Mohamed Salah: 7 – Worked hard to conjure space for himself and teammates. Didn’t score but involved in the first goal.

Roberto Firmino: 7 – The Brazilian forward took a while to get into the game, but created the first goal with a lovely one-two and cross.

Sadio Mane: 9 – Great run to force Christensen to foul him and get sent off. Then headed home the opener in style and scored a second as he chased down Kepa’s pass. Incredible desire.

Thiago Alcantara (on for Henderson, 45′) 6 – Did okay on the ball but did give away a penalty kick on his Liverpool debut for a slight trip on Werner. Not ideal, but not disastrous. Showed his quality in possession.
James Milner (on for Keita, 64′) 6 – Solid as ever and helped Liverpool see out the win.
Takumi Minamino (on for Firmino, 86′) N/A