Premier League Playback: Analyzing new managers; Liverpool’s attack

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LIVERPOOL’S FLUID FRONT FOUR DESTROY ARSENAL

Philippe Coutinho. Sadio Mane. Adam Lallana. Roberto Firmino. All four played their part in ripping apart an inexperienced Arsenal defense on Sunday as Liverpool beat the Gunners 4-3 in a thrilling encounter.

With youngsters Rob Holding and Calum Chambers chucked in to the center of Arsenal’s defense, Jurgen Klopp would’ve been licking his lips pre-game as he stood on the center circle and stared almost incessantly at Arsenal’s players warming up. Early on though, it was Liverpool’s shoddy defending which was highlighted.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Alberto Moreno first brought down Theo Walcott rashly in the box but the latter missed the resulting spot kick, then seconds later Moreno left a huge gap for Walcott to exploit and slam home. 1-0 to Arsenal and things weren’t looked great for Liverpool. Right on half time they were handed a lifeline as Holding gave away a free kick and Coutinho stepped up and curled home a stunning free kick from over 30-yards out.

That injected life into Liverpool’s front four who smelt blood in the water. In a blistering 18-minute spell after half time the Reds scored three more times. First Lallana controlled wonderfully and slotted home coolly to make it 2-1, then a flowing move was finished off by Coutinho after Nathaniel Clyne‘s pinpoint cross. Soon, Mane stole the show, cutting in from the right and the $45 million summer arrival spanked an unstoppable drive into the far corner. 4-1. Game over. Yet, Liverpool’s own defensive weaknesses were highlighted as Arsenal scored two more and made it 4-3 with 15 minutes to go.

Liverpool held on somewhat comfortably and despite conceding three goals, it will be heartwarming for Klopp when he realizes he has an injured Daniel Sturridge to return, plus Divock Origi and Danny Ings to play their part this season.

Speaking to the assembled media after the game, Klopp revealed he regretted celebrating prematurely with his players after they went 4-1 up.

“We came out and scored wonderful goals and then I made the big mistake and got involved in the celebrations,” Klopp said. “That will happen hopefully one or two times in my life but not so early in the game because it was the wrong sign for all of us, it felt for everyone in this moment like ‘that is it’. Then you look on the watch and see there is still half an hour to go and that is not too good. The crowd was a bit angry obviously and Arsenal fought back and showed character and scored the goals.”

As for Arsenal, they were without Mesut Ozil, Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud who all returned to preseason late after playing at EURO 2016, while central defenders Gabriel and Per Mertesacker were missing through injury.

Arsene Wenger pointed to all of that as a main reason for Arsenal’s struggles as the Gunners lost at home on the opening weekend for the third time in the last four seasons: “We are not ready, physically, we are not ready,” Wenger said.

With rumors suggesting Shkodran Mustafi could be arriving as a new central defender shortly, there could be some good news for Arsenal. However, their failure to spend big this summer to strengthen their defense, and particularly their forward line as the halfhearted pursuit of Alexandre Lacazette continues, shows that Arsenal isn’t willing to spend what it needs to in order to to challenge for the PL title this season. More results like this will see the already brittle confidence levels fans have in Wenger and this team shatter, perhaps beyond repair as the legendary French manager enters the final year of his contract.


ANALYZING THE NEW BOYS

Seven clubs had new managers in the dugout in the opening weekend and here’s a look at how each of them fared…

[ MORE: PL schedule

Premier League Schedule – Week 1

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 3-4 Liverpool Recap, watch here
B’mouth 1-3 Man Utd Recap, watch here
Burnley 0-1 Swansea Recap, watch here
Chelsea 2-1 West Ham Recap, watch here
C. Palace 0-1 WBA Recap, watch here
Everton 1-1 Spurs Recap, watch here
Hull 2-1 Leicester Recap, watch here
Man City 2-1 S’land Recap, watch here
M’boro 1-1 Stoke Recap, watch here
Saints 1-1 Watford Recap, watch here

Pep Guardiola – Lining up with full backs in midfield, plus Fernandinho dropping into a central defense comprising of John Stones and regular left back Aleksandar Kolarov, Guardiola certainly did things differently. City got across the line, just, in his opening game in the Premier League against a stubborn Sunderland outfit. There will be greater tests ahead but Guardiola has shown his philosophy will not waver.

Antonio Conte – Jumping into the crowd to celebrate Diego Costa‘s winners with Chelsea’s fans, it was a dream end to Conte’s managerial debut in the PL. You could already see the philosophy of Chelsea’s Italian manager seeping through his team as N'Golo Kante improved as the game against the Hammers went on and the likes of Costa and Eden Hazard had that sparkle back. All-in-all, a great debut for Conte as Chelsea delivered a win and showed they will be compact and tough to break down.

David Moyes – Sunderland were simple and kept City at bay until Paddy McNair‘s late slip up. Moyes has a big challenge on his hands to turn the Black Cats into a midtable team but if they can defend like they did against City and keep Lamine Kone, they should be free of relegation this season. Also, Moyes handed a PL debut to U.S. youth international Lynden Gooch, 20, at the Etihad and the playmaker didn’t look out of place. Gooch clearly has a bright future.

Jose Mourinho – A dominant win with minimum fuss, this is exactly the kind of win Morinho would’ve wanted to open the season. He started Juan Mata despite reports stating he could be sold and a solid outfit made the most of Bournemouth’s mistakes to win 3-1. Zlatan Ibrahimovic looks like an inspired signing as he lashed home on his PL debut along with goals from Mata and Wayne Rooney. Red Devils are regaining fear factor.

Ronald KoemanRoss Barkley scored early on and Koeman’s Everton debut was going swimmingly until late in the second half when Erik Lamela equalized for Spurs and grabbed a 1-1 draw at Goodison. New signing Idrissa Gueye shone in a 3-4-2-1 formation and late on the Toffees had to rely on Maarten Stekelenburg to grab them a point.

Walter Mazzarri – Watford started brightly in their 1-1 draw at Southampton with Etienne Capoue rifling home to give the Hornets the lead and they looked composed in the first half. They dropped back deeper and deeper in the second half but defended well and it was a good point on the road in a 3-5-2 formation which Mazzarri loved to play in Italy. Work to do but a decent start.

Claude Puel – Southampton started sluggishly and the Frenchman was wildly gesticulating from the sidelines. In the second half Saints improved drastically with new signing Nathan Redmond grabbing an equalizer but they couldn’t break down 10-man Watford in the final 15 minutes. The diamond formation in midfield will take Saints a while to get used to and there are some concerns about where goals will come from.


MIXED FORTUNES FOR NEWLY-PROMOTED TRIO

One of the most anticipated factors on opening weekend is the chance to see the three newly-promoted teams in action and assess if they’re ready for the rigors of the PL.

When it comes to Hull City, Middlesbrough and Burnley, we learned all three are ready to mix it up and fight for their lives. Of course Hull City’s composed, mature display against reigning champs Leicester was sublime. Caretaker boss Mike Phelan only has 13 fit senior players to chose from after Steve Bruce walked out as manager and the owners are looking to sell up following the summer transfer window.

The Tigers delivered a superb display as they thoroughly deserved to beat Leicester as they stayed solid in defense and looked dangerous on the counter with Adama Diomande and Abel Hernandez combing for a bizarre and awesome opening goal, then Robert Sndograss grabbing a winner. If Hull show this kind of spirit throughout the season and add a few more players, they could stay up under Phelan… if he’s given the job. On this showing, he should get it.

Further up the east coast of England, Middlesbrough started brightly against Stoke City, drawing 1-1 at the Riverside as they returned to the top-flight for the first time since 2007. Boro took the lead through Alvardo Negredo and Aitor Karanka‘s side looked solid defensively but were undone by a moment of magic from Xherdan Shaqiri.

As for Burnley, well, it was a case of the same old story for them. Just like two years ago when they were in the PL, the Clarets huffed and puffed against Swansea City at Turf Moor but fluffed their best chances of the game and came up against Lukasz Fabianski in fine form, especially when he denied Sam Vokes. If Burnley are to stay up this time they need a proven goalscorer. With 16 days left in the transfer window it’s safe to say all three of the newly-promoted teams will make moves but all three won’t be too discouraged by how they played on the opening weekend.


CRACKS APPEARING FOR LEICESTER?

For probably the first time since he took charge of Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri questioned the togetherness of his players following their 2-1 defeat at Hull in the opening game of the season.

The Italian manager will lead his team into the UEFA Champions League but after suffering a shock defeat on the opening day of the season with a shaky defensive display, plus losing to Manchester United in the Community Shield the week before, small cracks are beginning to appear. Yes, they’ve created plenty of chances in those games but they haven’t been clinical and defensive errors have cropped up when they were so rare throughout their incredible title-winning campaign last season.

Speaking after the Foxes became the first-ever reigning PL champ to lose on the opening day, Ranieri questioned their team play.

“We equalized immediately from the start of the second half and when we went on the counter attack, we lost the ball on halfway and they scored again. After that it was a very tough match and we tried to do our best but we made a lot of effort individually, but not so well as a team,” Ranieri said. “I’m very pleased with the number of chances we created but of course I want to see a team.

“Our strength is as a team. Today we were better, harder, but not like a team. When I played with four strikers it was important to play with [Ahmed] Musa and Riyad [Mahrez] very wide. They wanted to score and they went very close. This season is harder. It’s harder but we must compete very well. Better than today with more attitude and motivation because that is our strength.”

Ranieri and Leicester will be the prey instead of the hunters this season and dealing with high levels of expectation is something that is new to most of these players. The Foxes must get back to their roots of defending first and then being clinical when the chances fall.


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.

Montero on target as Whitecaps grab point at Red Bulls

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HARRISON, N.J. (AP) Fredy Montero tied it for Vancouver with a penalty kick in the 61st minute and the Whitecaps held on for a 2-2 draw with the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday night.

Referee Victor Rivas awarded the Whitecaps (3-6-5) the kick after using video review to determine Sean Nealis handled the ball inside the penalty area.

Vancouver took a 1-0 lead in the 29th minute when Scott Sutter finished a counterattack with a narrow-angle finish into the upper corner.

Brian White pulled the Red Bulls (5-5-3) level in the 37th minute with a header flick of Amro Tarek’s header.

White’s pass across the 6-yard box was redirected by Vancouver’s Andy Rose into the Whitecaps own goal to give the Red Bulls a 2-1 lead in the 55th minute.

New York goalkeeper Luis Robles preserved the draw making a diving save on a breakaway attempt by Lucas Venuto in the final minute of stoppage time.

Transfer rumor roundup: Donnarumma to Man United; Clarke to Spurs

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The Premier League transfer window is officially open again and that means one thing: transfer reports are going to start kicking up a few notches.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Here’s a look at some of the latest gossip from around the PL…


It appears replacing David De Gea is one of Manchester United’s main aims this summer, as the Spanish goalkeeper has just one year left on his contract and Real Madrid are lurking after Thibaut Courtois struggled in his debut season at the Santiago Bernabeu and Keylor Navas is leaving.

United have already been linked with a move for Barcelona’s Dutch goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen, but a new report from Calcio Mercato says that Gianluigi Donnarumma is their new target to replace DDG. Per the report, if AC Milan do not reach the Champions League this Sunday via a top four finish in the league — third place to six in Serie A is separated by just three points with AC currently in fifth — he could leave as his yearly wage of $6.5 million would be tough for AC Milan to pay.

Even with United not in the Champions League next season, they could pay those wages and the transfer fee of around $80 million would be worth it for a player with his potential.

Donnarumma, 20, has been a starter for AC Milan for four seasons and will take over from Gianluigi Buffon in goal for the Italian national team. His agent is, you guessed it, Mino Raiola, who has several clients at United with Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku the biggest names and Henrikh Mkhitaryan previously at Old Trafford.

De Gea, 28, put in a string of poor performances at the end of last season and many are suggesting that was due to uncertainty over his long-term future. The report says that De Gea has turned down United’s final contract offer as he wants to be paid the same amount as top earner Alexis Sanchez, but despite being named United’s player of the year in four of the past five seasons the Red Devils aren’t willing to pay him over $565,000 per week.

Similar to when DDG arrived at United, Donnarumma is young and may take some time to get used to the Premier League. But after those early hiccups we all know how good De Gea has become, and Donnarumma has the added bonus that his frame is much stronger than De Gea’s was at his age.


Tottenham Hotspur is looking to sign another young English star from the lower leagues, as Leeds United winger Jack Clarke is reportedly in their sights.

The Daily Mail says that Spurs will bid around $13.5 million for teenager Clarke.

Clarke, 18, starred for Leeds United in the Championship during the 2018-19 campaign which saw them lose in the playoff semifinals against Derby County as their dream of getting back to the Premier League was dashed for another year.

His boss at Leeds, Marcelo Bielsa, is close friends with Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino and it is likely Tottenham know all about Clarke. The Englishman scored twice and added two assists this season, as he sprung onto the scene in the second half of the campaign. After a brief health scare after coming off during a game at Middlesbrough, Clarke has emerged as a top target for several PL clubs due to his pace, size and ability to play on either wing.

Off the back of signing Dele Alli as a teenager from third-tier MK Dons and nurturing him into one of the best attacking midfielders in the world, signing Clarke would be yet another smart move by Spurs and Pochettino. They are not a club who can spend huge transfer fees or pay big wages, but bringing in the best young talent to improve continues to work out really well for them.

PSG president targeted by French corruption probe

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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi has been placed under investigation for corruption as part of an inquiry into the bidding process for the 2017 and 2019 track world championships, a judicial official said Thursday.

The official told The Associated Press the preliminary charge of “active corruption” was filed against the beIN media group chairman in mid-May in a case focusing on the payment of $3.5 million to an IAAF official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the person wasn’t authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.

The official said Al-Khelaifi is suspected of corruption “in regards with Qatar’s track and field worlds.” Al-Khelaifi is from Qatar.

Al-Khelaifi’s lawyer was not immediately available for comment and beIN media group declined to comment on the case because it said it “doesn’t relate in any way to the company.”

The chief executive officer of beIN, Yousef Al-Obaidly, was also handed preliminary charges of corruption, while former IAAF president Lamine Diack is suspected of “passive corruption” in the same case.

According to Al-Obaidly’s lawyer, investigative magistrate Renaud Van Ruymbeke based his suspicion on documents showing that a former IAAF official received two payments totaling about $3.5 million from Qatari investors before the vote for the 2017 track world championships. Qatar eventually lost to London but was later awarded the 2019 worlds. The championships will be held in Doha from Sept. 27-Oct. 6.

The two payments from Oryx Qatar Sports Investments, an investment fund linked to the Qatari government, were made to Pamodzi Sports Marketing in October and November 2011, days before the vote.

Al-Obaidly’s representatives say the payments made by Oryx to the IAAF’s appointed agent were transparent and part of the normal bidding process. Set up to handle the sponsorship and rights for Qatar’s bid, Oryx accepted to pay $32.5 million for the event’s commercial rights, including the $3.5 million paid to Pamodzi as a non-refundable deposit. The full amount would have been paid only if Qatar’s bid had been successful.

According to the online news site Mediapart, Oryx is owned by Al-Khelaifi and his brother Khalid. Mediapart said Al-Khelaifi was questioned by the judge in March and denied any knowledge of the payments at the time.

Pamodzi was founded by one of Diack’s sons, Papa Massata Diack. A former marketing consultant at the IAAF, he has been banned for allegations of extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Russian marathon runner to avoid a doping ban before the 2012 Olympics. France has issued a wanted notice for him via Interpol.

In another case, Brazilian and French authorities are trying to find out whether Lamine Diack and his son played a role in arranging alleged bribes to help Rio de Janeiro earn the hosting rights for the 2016 Olympics. Diack, who ran the IAAF from 1999-2015, has also been accused of covering up failed Russian doping tests in exchange for money.

Al-Khelaifi is a member of the UEFA executive committee, representing European clubs, and is due to take part in the body’s meeting on Wednesday in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Al-Khelaifi was selected as a club delegate, and confirmed by UEFA member federations in February, despite being the subject of a criminal proceeding for bribery in Switzerland since 2017. The Qatari television executive is suspected of bribing FIFA’s then-secretary general with use of a luxury villa in Italy to help secure 2026 and 2030 World Cup broadcasting rights in the Middle East for Doha-based beIN Sports.

PSG is also under investigation by UEFA for possibly breaking financial rules.

AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report.

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Raheem Sterling hopes to play in MLS

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Raheem Sterling has been a star on and off the field this season as he led Manchester City to a stunning domestic treble in England.

The winger scored 26 goals in 51 appearances for City in all competitions and was named the PFA Young Player of the Year and the Football Writers’ Association Player of the year.

During a quick offseason break to the USA, Sterling has been talking in New York City at the Wall Street Journal’s Everything Festival.

He discussed his ongoing efforts to try and combat a steep rise in racist incidents across the soccer world in recent months, with Sterling calling for UEFA and other governing bodies to increase punishments for racist abuse from fans, and has said he wants to talk to the English FA and Premier League about ways to help the growing problem.

He also spoke about his future, and even though the Man City and England star is still just 24 years old (crazy to think he has just completed his seventh full PL season, I know, mind blown…) he has plans to head to the USA this summer.

“English football has grown massively over here. It wasn’t like that in the past and it’ll continue to get bigger,” Sterling said. “I was surprised walking out of the hotel today and being recognized by one or two people. I didn’t expect that over here. This is a country I would one day love to be able to come to. Your weather is a lot better over here than ours is. Hopefully one day I can bring my family over here.”

Asked specifically about playing in MLS in the future, Sterling revealed he is pretty keen to play Stateside.

“There’s always games on our tele at the training ground, we’re either watching this or the Australian League,” Sterling said. “For sure, this [MLS] is growing in the UK, and people are really taking it in and want to come over. I hopefully want to have a career here as well.”

With Man City’s connection with New York City FC, there’s an obvious club where Sterling could head to when he fancies moving to MLS, but if it’s good weather he’s after in the winter months, perhaps a move to Inter Miami or LAFC would be a better fit?

Either way, Sterling’s comments fall in line with a growing trend of elite players in Europe now seeing MLS as a serious destination for not only the latter years of their career but during their prime. We are not saying Sterling is heading to MLS anytime soon, but maybe when he’s 30 or 31 instead of 34 or 35?