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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

MLS preview: TFC, Seattle running out of time; Rooney vs. ATL

Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
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Week 21 of the 2018 MLS season features 10 games on Saturday (nine) and Sunday (one). Here’s a few key storylines to keep an eye on…

[ MORE: Miami City Commission sends Beckham stadium to Nov. ballot ]

Jozy’s back, but is it too late?

It’s been nearly three months since Jozy Altidore last appeared for Toronto FC, and not much has changed with regard to the Reds’ place in the standings: they at south of the playoff line then (after going all-in on the CONCACAF Champions League), and they remain there ahead of Saturday’s trip to Chicago. Greg Vanney’s defending champions currently sit 11 points back of sixth place with 15 games left to play.

As for Altidore, he was hugely important in TFC’s run to the CCL final, but it would be a massive oversimplification to say his absence has been the only — or main, even — cause for struggles this season. In fact, it’s been injuries up and down the entire squad (every center back on the roster, multiple midfielders and playmakers, as well as Altidore). Finally, after months of walking wounded, nearly everyone is back and available for selection. TFC’s charge up the stands begins, presumably, soon.

Rooney makes DCU better, but by how much?

As I opined following his D.C. United debut last weekend, Wayne Rooney was quite good during the opening 32 minutes of his MLS career. That was against the Vancouver Whitecaps, one of the slowest playing teams in the entire league, though. On Saturday, Rooney and Co., will come up against something not so dissimilar to European quality and competition in Atlanta United.

There’s the level on competition to consider as Rooney continues on in his MLS journey, but also this: against Vancouver, there was very little flash or attempt at end product from Rooney, which was fine considering he quickly and smartly facilitated play and opened the field up for others to make and score the goals. The questions are: for how long is he happy to be a simple cog in the machine, and are United getting their money’s worth if that’s Rooney’s regular contribution?

What about Seattle?

Just like Toronto, the Seattle Sounders currently find themselves 11 points back of sixth place (though they do have one more game still to play). Just like Toronto, injuries have completely ruined the Sounders’ 2018 season. Just like Toronto, they have been to back-to-back MLS Cups, and won one. Just like Toronto, they can’t really miss the playoffs, can they?

Now, though, Raul Ruidiaz has been added for some much-needed firepower up top (the Peruvian is a back-to-back Golden Boot winner in Liga MX), Gustav Svensson is back from the World Cup, and Nicolas Lodeiro has shown signs of coming out of his slumber in recent weeks. Just like Toronto, Brian Schmetzer’s men have no choice but to begin their playoff chase on Saturday, when Vancouver comes to town.

Full weekend schedule

Atlanta United vs. D.C. United — 3:30 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Vancouver Whitecaps — 4 p.m. ET
Chicago Fire vs. Toronto FC — 7 p.m. ET
Philadelphia Union vs. LA Galaxy — 7 p.m. ET
New York Red Bulls vs. New England Revolution — 7 p.m. ET
Columbus Crew SC vs. Orlando City SC — 7:30 p.m. ET
Houston Dynamo vs. FC Dallas — 9 p.m. ET
Real Salt Lake vs. Colorado Rapids — 10 p.m. ET
Portland Timbers vs. Montreal Impact — 11 p.m. ET
Minnesota United vs. Los Angeles FC — 7 p.m. ET (Sunday)

Leicester sign Ward from Liverpool; Boufal out on loan

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LONDON (AP) — Leicester signed Wales goalkeeper Danny Ward from Liverpool on a four-year contract on Friday.

Ward dropped in the pecking order at Anfield following the arrival of Brazil goalie Alisson.

Leicester’s fourth signing of the offseason will offer competition to Kasper Schmeichel and Eldin Jakupovic.

Ward will join the team on Monday for a training camp in Austria.

“I’ve come here to develop my allround game and hopefully help deliver some more success,” he said.


Southampton winger Sofiane Boufal was sent to Spanish club Celta Vigo on a season-long loan.

Boufal came to Southampton in 2016 from Lille, and made 59 appearances, scoring four times.

The Moroccan fell out of favor with manager Mark Hughes at the end of last season.

Neymar says he’s staying at PSG; rumors “invented by the press”

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Neymar insists he is going nowhere this summer, that he’ll spend (at least) one more season at Paris Saint-Germain, and he intends to bring another handful of trophies back to the French capital in doing so.

[ MORE: PSG in “advanced negotiations” for N’Golo Kante, but must sell first ]

Speaking during a press conference on Friday, his first media availability session since Brazil were eliminated in the 2018 World Cup quarterfinals, the 26-year-old superstar went so far as to say that reports linking him with a move to other European mega-clubs (most notably, Real Madrid) were “invented by the press” — quotes from ESPN:

“Yes, I will stay in Paris. I have a contract with PSG. The speculation? The majority of it is invented by the press.

“I have a contract and people know the objective, the reason why I went to PSG. I want to win with this club and I hope this season will be wonderful.”

While it seems a no-brainer that PSG would want Neymar to stay, there’s unquestionably a case to be made that selling him would give them the financial flexibility needed to address needs elsewhere in the squad. N'Golo Kante, for instance, is reportedly transfer target no. 1 at the Parc des Princes, but sales will have to be made before a fee of that size can be paid, due to financial regulations.

Report: PSG in “advanced negotiations” for Kante, but must sell first

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N'Golo Kante might just be the best midfielder in the world, and he might just be leaving Chelsea for Paris Saint-Germain in the coming days or weeks, as French newspaper Le Parisien has reported that the defending Ligue 1 champions are in “advanced negotiations” over a mega-bucks contract with the World Cup winner.

[ MORE: Neymar says he’s staying at PSG; rumors “invented by the press” ]

The report goes so far as to say that a “provisional contract” has already been agreed. “Provisional,” in this instance, means there has likely been little — if any — contact between the two clubs thus far.

One major sticking point remains: following last summer’s outlandish spending spree, in which they shelled out nearly $500 million to sign Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, PSG are in serious danger of failing to comply with financial regulations set forth by UEFA and could/would be banned from European competition should they fail to achieve compliance.

The likes of Angel Di Maria, Goncalo Guedes, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Jese Rodriguez and Alphonse Areola have had their names floated as possible departures to recoup the necessary funds before paying another fee of (presumably) over $100 million.

[ MORE: Conte to sue Chelsea over how firing was handled ]

After helping the Blues to the Premier League title two seasons ago (and doing the same with Leicester City three campaigns gone by), Kante was powerless in saving Chelsea from themselves in 2017-18. They finished fifth in the PL and failed to qualify for this season’s Champions League.

Given his age — 27 — it’s wholly understandable that Kante would prioritize playing in club soccer’s top competition (while also making even more money) every season going forward. Throw in the fact that uncertainty is the only certainty at Stamford Bridge these days, and trading west London for Paris — where Kante was born — starts to sounds pretty good, pretty quickly.

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