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.

Pochettino pays for Levy’s mistakes after 5.5 brilliant seasons at Spurs

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Mauricio Pochettino is done as manager of Tottenham Hotspur, thus ending one of the most successful and exciting periods in the club’s 137-year history.

[ MORE: With Pochettino gone, who’ll take over at Tottenham? ]

Pochettino achieved more — even despite failing to win a trophy in his five and a half seasons at the club — than any manager since the legendary Bill Nicholson in the late 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, and he did so with resources which paled in comparison to those of numerous clubs that his side routinely outperformed.

To credit Pochettino for what he achieved — taking Tottenham from perennial Europa League dwellers to nailed-on Champions League qualifiers well ahead of schedule — isn’t to absolve the Argentine of his own faults or shortcomings.

He couldn’t have been an easy man to work with, or for, given the demanding nature of his human personality, his managerial style and his tough-as-nails tactics. For the past five seasons, he had absolute buy-in from every last individual in the squad, and achieved previously impossible things at a club like Spurs — four straight seasons finishing in the PL’s top-four and the famous run to last season’s Champions League final.

He was relieved of his duties on Tuesday, but the beginning of the end was undoubtedly this summer’s transfer window. When the likes of Christian Eriksen, Toby Aldeweireld and Danny Rose were desperate to leave the club — something Pochettino himself was desperate to oblige as he knew now was the time for a teardown and rebuild — the Spurs hierarchy, namely chairman Daniel Levy, put his foot down and railroaded the 2019-20 season long before it kicked off. It was at that point that Pochettino’s fate was decided, and he immediately understood both the short and long-term ramifications for himself and for the club.

[ MORE: Social media reacts to Pochettino’s shock firing ]

Pochettino was many things as Spurs manager, but adaptable or willing to compromise was not one of them. Surly by nature, he was far more so anytime he spoke publicly. He openly questioned the loyalty and dedication of his players and frequently hinted, as he had done throughout his years of working with Levy, that the club’s two most important figures had different visions of where, and how, to take the club forward.

Committing to Pochettino’s way must feel like joining and henceforth belonging to a cult.

Once the players’ blind willingness to follow the him into a raging inferno had gone, Pochettino was done. No longer were the players willing to endure long, grueling training sessions — sometime double and triple in nature — as it no longer directly benefited them and their respective careers. If Spurs wasn’t the club to double their current contracts and financially secure them for life, nor a club willing to sell them to one of a handful of clubs that would, why should they continue to run themselves into the ground for a disloyal club when they knew they would leave as a free agent in less than 12 months? In short, the current season began an untenable situation for Pochettino, and it only grew worse from there.

[ MORE: FA panel details “very challenging case” to rescind Son red card ]

The fact that Levy, a man best known for pinching his pennies in any negotiation, has willingly chosen to pay Pochettino more than $16 million to no longer work for the club indicates a complete breakdown in communication and that particular working relationship.

In some ways, it’s fitting that Pochettino is free from the financial limitations of Spurs and Levy is left to clean up his own mess.

Unless he already has his next Pochettino lined up and is prepared to back the successor in a way he has never before backed a manager, Levy comes out of this wholly sad ordeal looking like an uncooperative, iron-fisted ruler for having fired the only genius he himself ever hired.

Mauricio Pochettino fired at Tottenham Hotspur

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In a shocking turn of events during the international break, Mauricio Pochettino has been sacked as Tottenham Hotspur manager.

[ MORE: Social media reacts ]

The club sits 14th in the Premier League table, without a win in its last five league games.

|We were extremely reluctant to make this change and it is not a decision the Board has taken lightly, nor in haste,” the club said in its official statement. “Regrettably domestic results at the end of last season and beginning of this season have been extremely disappointing.”

[ MORE: Mourinho to replace Poch? ]

“It falls to the Board to make the difficult decisions – this one made more so given the many memorable moments we have had with Mauricio and his coaching staff – but we do so in the Club’s best interests,” the statement continued. “Mauricio and his coaching staff will always be part of our history. I have the utmost admiration for the manner in which he dealt with the difficult times away from a home ground whilst we built the new stadium and for the warmth and positivity he brought to us. I should like to thank him and his coaching staff for all they have contributed. They will always be welcome here. We have a talented squad. We need to re-energize and look to deliver a positive season for our supporters.”

Reports had suggested over the past few days that his position was becoming more and more untenable, but there was no indication that a change was this imminent. The Telegraph reported Monday that Pochettino was set to meet with Daniel Levy during the international break about the direction of the club, and they suggested the game against West Ham United this weekend could be “make or break” for the Argentine.

Pochettino had been with the club since joining in 2014. They reached the Champions League final last season, losing to Liverpool, while also reaching the League Cup final, two FA Cup semifinals and they qualified for the UEFA Champions League in each of the last four seasons.

Spurs currently sit three points off fifth place in the Premier League and looked certain to reach the Round of 16 in the UCL this season, as Pochettino’s reputation remains intact and he has been linked with moves to Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid among others.

Who are the favorites to replace Pochettino at Tottenham?

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Mauricio Pochettino was fired by Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday in a shock move by Spurs chairman Daniel Levy.

Who’s next?

[ MORE: Social media reacts to Poch exit ]

Spurs host West Ham United in a massive London derby this Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) and it will be intriguing to see if the new man in charge will be in the dugout.

Tottenham must already have someone lined up, or at least someone in mind, to pull the plug on Pochettino after his five year spell in charge of the north London club totally transformed their fortunes.

Some huge managers are the early frontrunners for the now vacant position with Pochettino’s close friend, Jose Mourinho, the overwhelming favorite to take charge of Tottenham. Eddie Howe and Brendan Rodgers have both been linked with the position as they continue to work wonders at Bournemouth and Leicester City respectively, although it would be tough to imagine Rodgers would leave Leicester given their incredible start to the season. Wolves’ Nuno Espirito Santo is also a contender, but given the financial backing he has received he may stay at Molineux for the time being.

Looking to Europe, Ajax coach Erik ten Hag is a name which keeps cropping up, while Max Allegri is out of work and he ran a tight ship at Juventus, plus he has not been hiding his desire to work in the Premier League. Julian Nagelsmann has only just taken charge of RB Leipzig so it would be strange for him to bail out on that new project, while Rafael Benitez could certainly be lured to return from the Chinese Super League but that would be a left-field choice.

All signs point to Mourinho or Allegri…

Below is a look at the current bookmakers favorites to replace Pochettino at Spurs, listed in the order of who is favorite.

  • Jose Mourinho – Red-hot favorite. Knows how to win trophies and is the short-term solution. Is he the right man to take Spurs to the ‘next level’ whatever that is?
  • Massimiliano Allegri – Did a wonderful job at both AC Milan and Juventus and is capable of building strong defensive teams which also have attacking flair. Currently out of work and is keen to work in England. If it’s not Mourinho, has to be him.
  • Eddie Howe – Out of the contenders currently in the PL, Howe seems the most likely. He may have taken Bournemouth as far as he can and this would be a natural progression. Tough to see it happening though.
  • Brendan Rodgers – If Leicester weren’t second in the PL table he’d be the leading contender. But with the Foxes flying, tough to see Rodgers leaving them on the cusp of a historic season.
  • Erik Ten Hag – Has said he wants to stay at Ajax until the end of the current season and Bayern Munich are chasing him hard. An outsider.
  • Julian Nagelsmann – As we mentioned, just arrived at RB Leipzig and the young coach is ambitious but seems keen to remain in Germany. For now.
  • Rafael Benitez – This would make sense for a short-term appointment to steady the ship as Benitez has so much experience and he’s won trophies. Spurs would have to pay him a ton to leave China and this just doesn’t seem like the right time in his career or the right move for Spurs.
  • Nuno Espirito Santo – An interesting outsider as Wolves have been superb over the past three seasons since he arrived in England. Like Pochettino when he arrived from Southampton, Santo is a manager on an upward curve. That worked out pretty well for Spurs last time…

Social media reacts to Pochettino’s shock firing

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Mauricio Pochettino has been sacked by Tottenham Hotspur after he spent over five years in charge.

The Argentine coach has seen his Spurs side slump in recent months as they stumbled through the latter months of last season despite a miraculous run to the UEFA Champions League final as they lost to Liverpool in Madrid.

[ MORE: Mourinho to replace Poch?

Pochettino’s side currently sit 14th in the Premier League table after three wins from their opening 12 games of the season and with so many players seemingly ready to leave this summer (Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Christian Eriksen and Danny Rose to name a few) all was not well behind-the-scenes.

But nobody expected this so early in the season and so soon after Tottenham moved into their new home and big spending was promised.

Here’s a look at some of the reaction on social media to the shock firing of Pochettino.