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

Manchester City season restart preview

Manchester City season restart
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Manchester City is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things City when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: City’s two-year spell as defending champions will end very soon, but Pep Guardiola has reason to believe three pieces of silverware could again arrive at the Etihad Stadium. Leroy Sane is now available again, making a Sane-Aguero-Sterling front line a tantalizing possibility, while Aymeric Laporte is healthy, too. That’s an even bigger deal as City is unbeaten in the seven PL appearances Laporte has made this season (6W-1D).

That’s good news considering City is about to miss out on European competition for two seasons pending an appeal next week.

[ MORE: Ranking every Brighton player in 2019-20 ]


Tactical analysis: It’s Pep Guardiola, so it’s all about the ball. Man City’s league-leading 66 percent possession rate sees it having made the most passes (18,927) and the most successful passes (16,817) in the PL. Since Guardiola took charge, Manchester City have averaged 68 percent possession, the highest rate in the PL. How good is that? Second-place Liverpool is six percent behind.


Possible XI (4-3-3) 

—– Ederson —–

— Walker — Laporte — Fernandinho — Zinchenko —

—– Gundogan —– Rodri — De Bruyne —

 —–  Sterling—– Aguero —– Sane —–

There’s been a lot of 4-3-3 in City’s 2020 and their forward trident is going to be as venomous as ever. Consider that Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus are having sensational years but will rotate into an attack with Sterling, Aguero, and Sane expected to feature plenty. Rodri may be the straw that stirs the drink, but Kevin De Bruyne’s status as the probably PFA Player of the Year will be one to watch as he approaches the PL single season assist record.

[ MORE: The 2 Robbies assess Man City’s chances ]


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Arsenal, Burnley, Liverpool, Newcastle, Bournemouth, Norwich City
Away: Chelsea, Southampton, Brighton, Watford

Predicted finish: Second with a bullet. City has six of its remaining 10 matches at home, including intriguing matches with old pal Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal and a rematch with soon-to-be champions Liverpool. Don’t be surprised if Pep prioritizes the FA Cup and preparing his team for a (probable) August return of the UEFA Champions League. City leads Real Madrid after one leg of the Round of 16.

USL Championship announces provisional July 11 return

USL Championship return
Photo by Joe Hicks/Getty Images
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The USL Championship intends to return to matches with a provisional restart date of July 11, the league announced Thursday.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

The league began its season in March, though three of 35 teams did not play a match while Tacoma and San Diego played two.

There is no indication that the league intends to play at a single location, as MLS reportedly intends with an Orlando restart.

USL Championship sides have been allowed to train in small groups from May 11. USL had previously canceled its League Two season.

Here is the league’s full statement, from USLChampionship.com:

While additional information on competition format, scheduling, broadcast and other important details will be made available in the coming weeks, it’s important to note that the league’s return to play will be conducted in strict alignment with all local and state public health guidelines. USL HQ also remains in regular dialogue with the USL Players Association on all matters concerning player health and wellness protocols and looks forward to continuing those discussions.

To USL supporters across the country, we are grateful for your support throughout this process and look forward to being back in action with you all soon.

 

Manchester United season restart preview

Manchester United season restart
Photo by Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Manchester United is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Red Devils when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Very, very good. While United supporters will feel aggrieved to know their club cannot. catch their two biggest rivals, you wouldn’t laugh off the idea of them finishing as high as third given a wildly straight-forward fixture list and the fact that we are about to see Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, and Marcus Rashford together for the first time. Perhaps those players will have some growing pains, but the club has the depth to finish in the Premier League’s top four, challenge for the FA Cup, and win the Europa League.

[ MORE: Ranking every Man Utd player’s 2019-20 PL season ]


Tactical analysis: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s favorite formation this year has been a 4-2-3-1, though he turned to a 3-4-1-2 in memorable wins over Chelsea and Man City just before the coronavirus pause.

We don’t know his plans to produce an attack with Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, and Marcus Rashford together, but the best possible XI is going to leave out some very good players. Playing Scott McTominay and Fred, both revelations, leaves out either wide players or puts Pogba or Fernades out of position (unless he opts for a 4-4-2 which will ask a lot of Rashford and Anthony Martial).

Since making his Manchester United debut on February 1, Fernandes leads the club in all competitions in shots (33), shots on target (12), assists (4) and chances created (24), and ranks third in goals (3).


Possible XI (4-3-1-2) 

—– De Gea —–

— Wan-Bissaka — Lindelof — Maguire — B. Williams —

—– Fred — Pogba — McTominay —–

—– Fernandes —–

—– Rashford —– Martial —–

This lineup excludes Luke Shaw, Nemanja Matic, Juan Mata, Daniel James, Odion Ighalo, Marcus Greenwood, and Eric Bailly. That’s a very decent bench. Solskjaer could also put a lot of responsibility on Fred or McTominay by putting Fernandes and Pogba in the center of the pitch with him and using a three-man forward line of Rashford, Martial, and another.

[ MORE: The 2 Robbies assess Man Utd’s chances ]


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Sheffield United, Bournemouth, Southampton, West Ham
Away: Spurs, Brighton, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, Leicester City

Predicted finish: Depending on your faith in Leicester City, United will probably be favorites if not heavy favorites in seven or eight of their nine matches. Their home matches feature sides both surprising and desperate but it’ll be stunning if a side that found its groove to the tune of a five-match unbeaten run before the coronavirus pause and returns Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford fails to finish in the top four.

Newcastle’s Saint-Maximin, Liverpool’s Lovren speak against racism

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Newcastle’s Allan Saint-Maximin and Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren are speaking out on their squad photos that showed both Magpies and Reds taking a knee against racism at the center circle of pitches earlier this week.

All 20 Premier League clubs and a large number of players and coaches spoke out against racism earlier this week, and players have continued momentum. The gestures were born from the May 25 killing of American black man George Floyd, who died in handcuffs after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes even after he stopped moving and pleaded for air in Minnesota.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Saint-Maximin said he was inspired in part by his French youth national teammate Marcus Thuram, who took a knee last weekend after scoring for Borussia Monchengladbach.

“I have one big friend of mine who scored a goal, Marcus Thuram, and he did a great celebration,” Saint-Maximin said, via NUFC.co.uk. “It’s important that everyone knows this is not a joke. You have to claim that this is important. Everybody has to know this doesn’t have to happen again. It’s a difficult time for everyone. Even if it’s not you, or it’s not your brother or sister, you cannot know if this will happen again.”

Saint-Maximin said he experienced racial problems especially in his youth, and admitted that it meant a lot for his teammates to kneel together and make a statement as one.

“Everyone wanted to stay together because we all humans,” he said. “For me, everybody is the same. I have some things I can’t understand and some I don’t want to understand, too.”

As for Lovren, the Liverpool center back has never been shy around microphones.

His words to Sky Sports on Thursday echo Saint-Maximin and many of their peers.

Sky asked him why the Liverpool players took a knee as a team earlier this week.

“I felt we needed to do it. What happened in America is unacceptable. We are all equal and we wanted to share it to the world. We did it and it’s unbelievably great that people are getting this message. Everyone should be treated equally.”

Lovren, whose family became refugees from Yugoslavia when he was young, also stressed the import of footballers using their public platform for good, saying, “I want to be recognized also as a man who is spreading love and positivity. I’m looking at myself and it’s like I have a duty.”