Premier League Playback: Ranking new stars

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NEW STRIKERS FLOURISH

With 31 goals across the 10 opening games of the season (see all the action in the video above) it was utter madness out there for most of the opening weekend with late comebacks, contentious calls, new stars emerging and much more.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

A late 4-3 win for Arsenal against Leicester was followed up by a dramatic 3-3 draw for Liverpool at Watford, then Burnley stunned reigning PL champions Chelsea 3-2 before Manchester United hammered the Hammers 4-0.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]  

For many this was the first chance to see new strikers in action and with defending optional for most of the PL, here’s a look at how the new goal-getters looked on debut for their new teams.

Romelu Lukaku – Two goals and a powerful display against West Ham, Lukaku looks every part at Manchester United player. Expect him to score over 25 goals this season with plentiful, and quality, service from all areas. As close to a perfect debut as it gets. 9/10

Alvaro Morata – Came on and helped swing the game back in nine-man Chelsea’s favor with a goal and an assist in the shock defeat to Burnley. His fitness issues continue but surely he will start against Tottenham this weekend. 8/10 

Alexandre Lacazette – Sharp, clinical and pivotal against Leicester with a goal 94 seconds into his PL debut, then involved in Welbeck’s goal and his shot led to the corner from which Olivier Giroud scored the winner. A proper poacher who will score 20 goals. 8/10

Wayne Rooney – Who is writing this script? Rooney scored the only goal of the game against Stoke City right on half time with a wonderful header after he helped set up the move, then timed his run to perfection. Looks lean, hungry and determined. 8/10

Steve Mounie – The Frenchman is Huddersfield’s record signing and has started to pay back that $14.9 million with two goals on his PL debut. Mounie, 22, dominated in the air for his first then hammered home a second and should have had another on the break. A beast, his role model is Didier Drogba, and he reminded many of the legendary forward. 9/10


CONTENTIOUS CALLS GALORE

Ah, it wouldn’t be the return of the Premier League without contentious calls and we had plenty of them.

Ozil handball before Arsenal equalizer – Let’s start on Friday night at the Emirates Stadium. Should there have been a handball in the build up to Arsenal’s equalizer in the 83rd minute? The answer is yes. Mesut Ozil clearly handled a long ball forward before his cross was cleared from a corner. That corner was half cleared but then Arsenal made it 3-3 via Aaron Ramsey. Leicester can feel aggrieved but the decision didn’t directly lead to a goal.

Britos offside for Watford’s equalizer – When you look at the goal Watford scored to make it 3-3 in stoppage time and deny Liverpool an opening day win, there are so many avoidable things for Jurgen Klopp‘s side. Sure, they should have cleared the ball via Georginio Wijnaldum at the near post but the way they were defending all game it was no shock they didn’t. Still, when Richarlison flicked the ball goalwards, even though the ball takes a flick off Joel Matip’s leg, Britos was in an offside position and interfering with Simon Mignolet, so the goal should have been called offside. It wasn’t and it cost Liverpool two points.

Gary Cahill red card for Chelsea – This is exactly what Antonio Conte needed 13 minutes into the PL season… Chelsea’s captain overran the ball into midfield and lunged into the tackle with his studs up. The referee was right on the spot and Craig Pawson didn’t hesitate in producing a red card. In hindsight, it was probably the right call but if he had been booked, there would have been few complaints. Cahill’s raised leg made it look worse but there was minimal contact even if the intent was there. This falls into the category of ‘if there was a sin-bin in soccer, he would have got a five-minute penalty’ or something like that. Chelsea slightly unlikely.

Jonjo Shelvey‘s red card/Harry Kane‘s tackle – There is no debate about Jonjo Shelvey’s stupid red card for Newcastle as he fell for Dele Alli‘s trap. His stamp on Alli’s ankle after the Spurs youngster had flicked the ball away following a tackle was right under the nose of the referee and excusable. It cost his team. No debate. As for Harry Kane, the Spurs forward was lucky to not be sent off for a lunging tackle on Florian Lejeune. It was maybe an “orange card” than a straight red, but Kane did something similar in preseason when Spurs lost 3-2 to AS Roma at Red Bull Arena. Perhaps Kane’s golden boy image saved him in this instance but he will have to watch his tackles in future. After all, as good as forwards are we all know they are paid of members of the Paul Scholes‘ school of tackling…

Handball calls for Southampton – Anybody who watched Southampton’s 0-0 draw against Swansea on Saturday will still be scratching their heads as to how Mauricio Pellegrino‘s men didn’t win. Saints had 29 shots to Swansea’s three and 13 corners to Swansea’s zero but couldn’t break through. They should have had two penalty kicks with Dusan Tadic scythed down by Federico Fernandez in the first half then Jack Stephens‘ shot clearly handled by Kyle Bartley in the second half. Saints can consider themselves very, very unlucky.


WANTAWAY STARS

There were plenty of stars on show this weekend across the Premier League, but plenty of big names were missing too.

Diego Costa, Philippe Coutinho, Alexis Sanchez, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Ross Barkley and Virgil Van Dijk didn’t feature and all six are at different stages when it comes to fitness, whether they can leave their respective clubs and if they’ve handed in a transfer request.

Liverpool were handed a huge blow on the eve of the season when Coutinho, 25, handed in a transfer request, via email, to the club. With Barcelona reportedly having a $114 million bid turned down by Liverpool the Brazilian playmaker did not feature in the 3-3 draw at Watford and hasn’t traveled with the squad for their UEFA Champions League playoff first leg against Hoffenheim on Tuesday. Coutinho’s back injury is being ridiculed by many but it appears he is now forcing through a move to the Nou Camp and after releasing a statement on Friday which said he would not be sold, Liverpool’s owners Fenway Sports Group may now have to accept the fact that they will have to let him leave. Jurgen Klopp is not a happy man with Barca set to splash some more of that Neymar cash.

[ MORE: Main takeaways from Costa’s incredible rant ]

Diego Costa’s situation has become even more intriguing with an explosive interview he gave to the Daily Mail as he said Antonio Conte has “no charisma” and that he will continue to stay in Brazil and be fined by Chelsea until he gets his move to Atletico Madrid. Chelsea badly missed Costa in their shock defeat to Burnley and although things aren’t quite unraveling for Conte’s reigning champions, they are getting out of hand quickly and Costa’s situation is a big reason behind it.

Van Dijk’s situation is no different. Southampton say he isn’t for sale even after his transfer request and the defensive struggles of Chelsea and Liverpool over the weekend likely added more zeros to his transfer value. He has been out injured since January and has suffered a virus so missed training at the end of last week, while he has yet to play a game in preseason despite being fully fit. Saints being taken over by Chinese investors may change this situation drastically.

As for Alexis Sanchez, he has an “abdominal injury” and is out of Arsenal’s clash at Stoke City this weekend. The Chilean star watched on pensively as Arsenal beat Leicester 4-3 but the skeptics out there, once again, are questioning the validity of Sanchez’s ailment considering the end of the transfer window is in less than two weeks.

Ross Barkley, 23, has returned to training at Everton after injury but with one year left on his contract he has told them he wants to leave but no acceptable bids have arrived for the England international. The Toffees will likely sell before Aug. 31 but Barkley’s options look like Tottenham, or, Tottenham.

And finally, Sigurdsson’s situation is the must cut and dry: Everton and Swansea are haggling over his price but the Icelandic playmaker hasn’t played in over a month and didn’t play for the Swans at the weekend.

The contract situations regarding most of these stars opens up an intriguing debate: should the transfer window close the day before the Premier League season starts?

Of course, it’s more complicated than that. Leagues in Spain, Italy and Germany start later than the PL, so unless everyone agrees on, say, August 1 or August 15, then it won’t happen. Getting multiple leagues to agree to that isn’t easy but fans not being able to see some of the biggest stars in action at the start of the season is far from ideal.


PLonNBC ON LOCATION

The entire Premier League on NBC family were together for opening weekend with the U.S. based crew in the UK for Arsenal vs. Leicester on Friday, Brighton vs. Man City on Saturday and then Man United vs. West Ham on Sunday.

With pitch-side studios at each game, plus a full studio and gantry position up in the stands, the crew had plenty of fun as the goals poured in during opening weekend.

Click on the video above to see some of the outtakes from a big weekend.


MIXED OPENING DAY FOR NEW BOYS

It’s safe to say Huddersfield Town had the better opening weekend out of the three newly-promoted teams, but at the same time they also have by far the easiest task.

Still, the Premier League table will have been a sweet sight for  Terriers fans on Saturday night as they sat top of the pile following a 3-0 win at Crystal Palace.

David Wagner‘s side have momentum from winning the playoffs and that usually puts a team in good spirits heading into the opening game of their PL campaign. See: Hull City last season (they beat Leicester City on the opening day) and the likes of Blackpool (who beat Wigan 4-0 in 2010).

Still, there is plenty of hard work for all three to get through and both Brighton and Newcastle know that after losing 2-0 at home to Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur respectively.

Both Brighton and Newcastle need to strengthen in the final weeks of the window, but both are set up for life in the PL with incredible facilities off the pitch and in Newcastle’s case one of the largest fanbases in the league.

[ MORE: Brighton ready to write new chapter in the top-flight ]

For Brighton, their first-ever game in the Premier League was a huge celebration (one I attended and you can read more about by clicking above) and Chris Hughton told Pro Soccer Talk after the game that he learned his team can hang in there with the big boys.

“This is our first Premier League game and we were playing against the team that some think might win the league. What I have learned today is we gave a really good account of ourselves against arguably one of the best teams,” Hughton said. “That’s what I have learned and that is the positive.”

Brighton certainly dug deep to defend and for the opening 70 minutes it looked like they could grab a big opening day point against one of the favorites to win the Premier League. It was a similar situation for Newcastle who frustrated Tottenham but then Jonjo Shelvey’s stupid stamp on Dele Alli reduced them to 10-men and it was game over.

Hot take after Week 1: All three new boys will struggle this season but Newcastle will survive.


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

Everton’s Gbamin undergoes surgery, out 3 months

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Everton’s lack of scoring prowess has stolen the headlines as Marco Silva‘s men have wasted a wonderful opportunity to start the season off in style.

But it’s been easy to forget that the Toffees have been without the man they bought to help offset the loss of Idrissa Gana Gueye, perhaps their best player two years running, in the form of Jean-Philippe Gbamin.

[ MORE: Pogba, De Gea out ]

The Ivorian cost a reported $30 million this summer when he arrived from Mainz, and Everton won his only start before an injury sent him to the sidelines.

Gbamin has not suitably improved, and is now set for another three months on the sidelines thanks to surgery on his hamstring.

It’s a sock to the gut for a team already wallowing in misfortune. Now sitting 18th, as close to 20th as they are to 10th, it’s difficult to imagine things getting much worse for a team that held so much promise.

Everton hosts West Ham to kickoff the Premier League weekend at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday.

Pogba, De Gea ruled out for Man United v. Liverpool

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According to our partners at Sky Sports, Manchester United’s David De Gea and Paul Pogba will not play against Liverpool this Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

This is far from ideal for a United side already low in confidence after a dreadful start to the season.

De Gea injured his groin while on international duty with Spain on Tuesday as he injured an abductor while kicking a ball against Sweden in a EURO 2020 qualifier. He is expected to have a full assessment in Manchester on Thursday but isn’t expected to be available to play against Liverpool.

As for Pogba, he suffered a reoccurrence of his foot injury before the international break and has been training in Dubai on his own during the past week to try and speed up his recovery.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has already been without Pogba, Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial and Aaron Wan-Bissaka for large chunks of the season so far, as Man United sit in 12th place in the Premier League table.

“No chance,” Solskjaer said of Pogba’s availability for the weekend. “Paul had an injury, then came back, worked really hard, played a couple of games. Maybe played through the pain barrier. We had a scan after the Arsenal game and he needed a few weeks rest in the boot. Hopefully he won’t be too long but he won’t make this game, no.”

Not having their star goalkeeper and central midfielder available for this clash with bitter rivals Liverpool is another huge setback for Solskjaer, as Sergio Romero and Fred will likely start in their place.

Martial, Shaw and Wan-Bissaka are all expected to miss the game against Liverpool too as Solskjaer will at least have a valid excuse if the Premier League leaders give United a hiding on Sunday.

Bulgaria’s coach apologizes to England; Popov slams racists

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Bulgaria’s coach Krasimir Balakov has apologized to the England national team after they were subjected to racist chants during their EURO 2020 qualifier in Sofia on Monday.

Balakov was previously bullish about racism in Bulgaria, stating before the game that England had a bigger problem with racism than Bulgaria.

Initially after the game he said he didn’t hear any racist abuse and during the match he got into a heated debate with Jordan Henderson about why the game was halted for a second time.

In a post on Facebook, Balakov apaolgized to the England players and offered his views on the racist incidents plaguing Bulgarian soccer as three of their EURO 2020 home qualifiers have now seen racist abuse from their home fans.

“I condemn unconditionally all forms of racism as unacceptable behavior that contradicts normal human relationships. I think that this form of prejudice should be buried deep in our past, and nobody should ever be subjected, Balakov said. “I trained many Bulgarian teams with players of different backgrounds and never judged anyone about the color of their skin. In addition, I have always actively participated in all initiatives involving unprivileged people or the needy.”

“My comments before the game against England that Bulgaria had no problems with racism are based on the fact that the local championship has not seen such a problem on a large scale. There may have been isolated cases, but it’s definitely not something you see in the stadium. The majority of football fans do not take part in such chants, and I believe that was also the case in the game against England. One thing I would like to say very clearly is that as the stadium in Sofia has reported cases of racial discrimination, I sincerely apologize to the English footballers and those who feel offended.”

That is what Balakov should have said right after the game.

The cynics out there may also say he is only issuing this apology now after Bulgaria’s prime minister, Boyko Borissov, asked for the president of the Bulgarian Football Union, Borislav Mihaylov, to resign.

Mihaylov, who had previously complained to UEFA England boss Gareth Southgate sharing his concerns over previous racist incidents in Bulgaria, resigned on Tuesday.

After Bulgaria’s goalkeeper said England’s players “overreacted” in regards to the racist abuse hurled their way, their captain, Ivelin Popov, handled himself remarkably well throughout this sorry situation for Bulgaria.

Popov was seen remonstrating with home fans at half time in order to get them to stop the abuse, and he was praised by Marcus Rashford and others for his reaction.

“Of course I feel embarrassed. We are 11 v 11, it doesn’t matter your color, it’s no problem, we are all the same, we are one very big family in football, everybody and only we, if we are together, can we stop these bad things,” Popov said. “It was important that I spoke like this because it’s a very big problem for everybody, for our federation, for England and if they said more bad words, even one more time, then maybe they would finish the game.

“We would have such a big punishment and this is no good for Bulgarian football because if some other players want to come here, they hear what is said and how they speak bad, then this is no good for everybody. But when you start to speak to them, afterwards they understand. I think in the second half was better.”

Sergio Aguero unhurt after car crash

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Manchester City and Argentina star Sergio Aguero has escaped a car crash unscathed.

Aguero, 31, was involved in the incident on Wednesday morning but didn’t need to go to hospital and instead reported for training as usual with Man City.

Photos showed Aguero’s Range Rover badly damaged, as he posted photos of his car on his own Instagram page later on Wednesday.

The reigning Premier League champions head to Crystal Palace on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) as they aim to momentarily reduce Liverpool’s eight-point lead atop the table.

Aguero will likely be leading City’s line at Palace, as the Argentine striker has been in sensational form this season (even if City’s defensive line hasn’t) with eight goals in the opening eight games of the PL campaign.

Man City’s all-time leading goalscorer was previously involved in a car crash in Amsterdam in 2017, something which Pep Guardiola didn’t seem too pleased about at the time as Aguero had travelled to the Netherlands to attend a music concert.

This incident was a minor one and City will be thankful that Aguero is fine and able to lead what they hope is a very successful few months to put themselves back in contention for a third-straight Premier League title.