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

Four-star Manchester United wins Europa League group

Manchester United Mata Greenwood
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Manchester United is in fine feather and showing it, smashing AZ Alkmaar in a stylish 4-0 win at Old Trafford in Europa League play on Thursday.

Juan Mata had a goal and set up two others, while Mason Greenwood scored twice after Ashley Young opened the scoring in a group-claiming victory.

[ MORE: Saka leads Arsenal comeback ]

United wins the group with 13 points, conceding just twice in six matches.

The Red Devils have won three-straight matches, as AZ joins Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur in the loss column. Up next is a Sunday visit from Everton in the Premier League before Wednesday’s League Cup quarterfinal visit from Colchester United.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer handed starts to James Garner, Brandon Williams, and Axel Tuanzebe, bringing youngsters Ethan Laird and Tahith Chong off the bench.

Greenwood, 18, now has six goals in 22 senior appearances, while Mata, 31, gets on the score sheet for the first time this season.

For his career, the award-winning Spaniard is doing okay, though: 125 goals and 149 assists in 542 senior appearances.

Ljungberg hails ‘amazing’ teen Saka after game-changing performance

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Arsenal phenom Bukayo Saka‘s big day spurred the Gunners to a top seed in the Europa League knockout rounds.

Arsenal went behind on two deflected goals in the second half’s first 25 minutes, but Saka answered with a goal and an assist in three minutes to take a point from Belgium in a 2-2 draw at Standard Liege.

[ RECAP, VIDEO: Standard Liege 2-2 Arsenal ]

Saka was at the heart of it of all good things Arsenal, the 18-year-old handed plenty of responsibility. despite his tender age.

“He was amazing,” said interim manager Freddie Ljungberg. “He was a bit upset with me before the game that he had to play wing-back and full-back. He’s a tremendous talent.”

Saka had four key passes to go with his goal and assist, winning six of eight duels while producing two tackles and an interception.

Ljungberg said Arsenal hasn’t sent its young players on loan enough, though that hardly applies to Saka given he was 17 until September.

The injured Gunners used Konstantinos Mavropanos, Emile Smith-Rowe, Joe Willock, and Reiss Nelson in the Starting XI, and brought Gabriel Martinelli off the bench.

“I feel sorry for our young players,” he said. “A lot of them haven’t been on loan, they’ve not had that exposure to men’s football. Some of them made mistakes but they’ll learn from those mistakes and won’t do them again.”

Smith-Rowe was loaned to RB Leipzig last season and Nelson starred on loan at Hoffenheim. Mavropanos played first team football for Greek Super League side PAS Giannina in his late teens.

Arsenal joins Premier League sides Wolves and Manchester United in the knockout rounds, having lost the Europa League final to rivals Chelsea at the end of last season.

The Gunners beat West Ham on Monday and host Manchester City at 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday.

Arsenal uses thrilling comeback to win Europa League group

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Nothing Arsenal-related is allowed to be easy, it seems.

The Gunners used a goal and an assist from Bukayo Saka to come back from a two-goal deficit and draw Standard Liege 2-2 in Belgium on Thursday, winning its Europa League group when Vitoria came back to beat Eintracht Frankfurt on a wild afternoon of soccer.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Arsenal trailed on second half goals from Samuel Bastien and Selim Amallah, but rallied behind Bukayo Saka and Alexandre Lacazette to score a second-straight win for interim boss Freddie Ljungberg.

Saka sent in a laser cross in the 78th minute and Lacazette did quite well to power it under the bar.

He’s loving this competition, having made a serious entrance earlier in the tournament versus Eintracht Frankfurt. The 18-year-old now has two goals and five assists across all competitions this season.

The Gunners needed just three more minutes to tie the score on a day they outshot the hosts 15-11.

Saka showed his nose for goal to tie the score five minutes later with a dribble to the top of the 18 and a sly finish to the keeper’s left.

This was all happening around the same time Vitoria scored twice in three minutes to take a 3-2 lead on Eintracht Frankfurt.

Standard Liege goes from the knockout rounds to nothing in a blink, while Eintracht goes from winning the group to second.

The field for the Europa League is looking fierce, with Inter Milan, Benfica, Ajax, Club Brugge, Olympiacos, Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen, and Red Bull Salzburg joining the competition via transfer from the UEFA Champions League.

Arsenal joins Premier League sides Wolves and Manchester United in the knockout rounds, having lost the Europa League final to rivals Chelsea at the end of last season.

The Gunners beat West Ham on Monday and host Manchester City at 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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Matchweek 17 is here in the Premier League as the games continue to come thick and fast during the festive season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

While you can download the NBC Sports Predictor app (below) and play the Premier League Pick ‘Em game yourself to predict the scores and win the prizes.

DOWNLOAD NBC SPORTS PREDICTOR

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the long shots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Chelsea 3-0 Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Liverpool 3-1 Watford – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM] 

Crystal Palace 3-1 Brighton – (Monday, 2:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Leicester 3-0 Norwich – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Southampton 1-1 West Ham – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

Sheffield United 2-1 Aston Villa – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Man United 2-1 Everton – (Sunday, 9 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM


“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Arsenal 3-3 Man City – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Wolves 1-2 Tottenham – (Sunday 9 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Burnley 1-2 Newcastle United – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM