PL Playback: Man United too defensive?

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STUBBORN MOURINHO STRIKES AGAIN

Just when we thought Manchester United and Jose Mourinho had turned the corner, they put in a timid, defensive performance at Anfield in a dour 0-0 draw against Liverpool on Saturday.

Mourinho got exactly what he wanted but United should have gone for more.

[ MORE: Klopp questions United’s tactics ] 

On Sunday I had a quick chat with an ex-United defender who was part of their treble winning campaign in 1999 when Sir Alex Ferguson‘s men were at their swashbuckling best.

We discussed United’s defensive mindset at Anfield and he simply said: “did we expect any different from Jose Mourinho away from home against a rival?”

Great point.

[ MORE: Player ratings | Three things ] 

After United had won six games out of seven and scored 21 goals to open up the Premier League campaign, everyone had got wrapped up in their attacking brilliance and expected them to go at Liverpool for the win.

Look at Mourinho’s record since arriving at United against the other teams in the so-called “top six” away from home.


October 17, 2016: Liverpool (A) 0-0
October 23, 2016: Chelsea (A) 0-4 defeat
April 27, 2017: Man City (A) 0-0
May 7, 2017: Arsenal (A) 0-2 defeat
May 14, 2017: Tottenham (A) 1-2 defeat
October 14, 2017: Liverpool (A) 0-0


The above says it all. What else did we expect?

Since he take charge at the start of last season, Mourinho’s United have scored just one goal in their last six trips to the big boys. We can trace this defensive approach back to his time in charge of Chelsea and his mantra of beating the big boys at home and then holding them to draw away from home is still his approach.

Except, with Manchester City blowing teams away this season the points average United may need to win the title could see Mourinho’s overcautious approach away from Old Trafford come back to bite him.

That’s because he has the attacking talents to excel and if he had gone with Henrik Mkhitaryan instead of Ashley Young and Juan Mata instead of Ander Herrera from the start against Liverpool on Saturday, he could well have been rewarded for taking a risk and trying to exploit Liverpool’s defensive weakness.

United had one chance against Liverpool as Romelu Lukaku broke free in the box but hit his shot straight at Simon Mignolet. That was their only shot on target in 90 minutes and that is exactly what Mourinho was playing for. One chance to snatch a victory at Anfield as he limited any danger for his side.

They certainly did with Liverpool barely having a sniff either and this game was in fact in the bottom three of Opta’s new Expected Goals stat when it came to the quality of goalscoring chances created in games in the Premier League so far this season.

With Mourinho having one of the best goalkeepers in the world in David De Gea in the best form of his life, he can rely on him to save the best chance an opponent has in each game, just like he did with his stunning stop from Joel Matip.

Speaking after the game Jurgen Klopp said that Liverpool “could not play the way Manchester United played” under him and there is an element of truth to that.

“I’m sure if we played like this, you could not do this at Liverpool. Obviously for United it is OK,” Klopp said.

Under Rafael Benitez the Reds were often a stubborn defensive unit to break down and that certainly saw them win trophies and challenge for the Premier League title. Klopp’s high-pressing, attacking style has seen Liverpool entertained the masses, if not their own fans all the time, since he took charge two years ago but they have come no closer to winning the PL title and defensive issues continue to halt any progress they make.

But Mourinho, in true fashion, blamed Klopp for United’s defensive game plan not working.

“I was waiting for them to make an offensive change, to try more, to take out Can or Wijnaldum and bring on Sturridge or someone. Which I was waiting for. But he never did it,” Mourinho said of Klopp. “I think he’s very offensive, very offensive, very offensive, but 90 minutes in the same system, the same players, he didn’t try anything.”

Mourinho will never change and United’s fans will have to accept that in big games away from home they can expect plenty more defensive displays and reliance on a counter-attacking game.

That is just the way he is and a strong start to the Premier League season isn’t going to change it. Simple.


SHOCKS FOR LONDON CLUBS

Hands up for those of you who had Chelsea and Arsenal losing to Crystal Palace and Watford respectively heading into last weekend?

Liars.

Seriously, though, Chelsea’s defeat at Palace (who had yet to score a goal or grab a point before last weekend) was incredibly telling as to the squad Antonio Conte has as key injuries have ravaged the reigning champs.

With Alvaro Morata out, Victor Moses limping off during the game and N'Golo Kante out for the rest of the month, we are now beginning to realize just how lucky Chelsea were with injuries last season.

As for Arsenal, well, where do we start?

They were 1-0 up and cruising late on at Watford but when Mesut Ozil spurned a great chance to make it 2-0, Watford came to life.

Helped with the introduction of bullish striker Troy Deeney, Arsenal’s defense capitulated and were bullied as the Hornets grabbed victory.

Okay, Richarlison went down far too easily to win a penalty kick for the equalizer, but Tom Cleverley and Watford’s attackers just wanted it more than Arsenal’s defenders in stoppage time as he slammed home to send the Hornets fans wild.

Watford sit in Arsenal’s perennial perch of fourth place (well, until last season) and as things stand you could create a beliavable argument that they have a better chance of finishing there than Arsenal when the season ends.

The same frail defensive displays continue to haunt Arsene Wenger‘s men away from home — they have defeats at Liverpool, Stoke and now Watford in their opening four away games in the PL — and nothing has really changed.

“I have to watch what I say, but it’s [having] a bit of cojones, is what I’ll say. Whenever I play against Arsenal, I’ll go up and think, ‘Let me whack the first one and see who wants it.’ I came on today and jumped up with Mertesacker — I didn’t even have to jump, actually — I nodded it down, the crowd gets up, ‘Yeah, we’ve got somebody who can win it,’ and they all just backed off,” Deeney said.

“For me as a player, I just think, ‘Happy days.’ That’s my strength — if you’re going to let me do my strength against you, you’re going to have a tough afternoon.”

Both Arsenal and Chelsea are looking anything but title contenders right now with both teams nine points behind leaders Man City.

It is early in the season but this weekend proved just how far both Arsenal and Chelsea are from challenging for the title this season.


SWASHBUCKLING CITY

The main reason Chelsea, Arsenal and the rest of the Premier League has to be worried is because Man City are so damn good.

They destroyed Stoke City 7-2 at the weekend and Stoke didn’t play badly.

Missing Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany and Benjamin Mendy, Pep Guardiola‘s side were exquisite.

They’ve now scored 29 goals in their opening eight games of the season. The last top-flight team to score that many was Everton in 1894-95.

Kevin De Bruyne ran the show, once again, and Man City are now clear atop the table.

Judging by the mouthwatering offensive display you can watch below, it’s unclear if anyone is capable of stopping them.

Watch the highlights below. Trust me.

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

Reports: Conte to sue Chelsea over how firing was handled

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According to reports in Italy, and backed up by those in England, Antonio Conte is planning to sue Chelsea over the way the club handled his exit this summer.

Chelsea is reportedly planning to pay Conte the rest of his salary in full, but the reports state that the Italian is unhappy how long it took the club to confirm his exit, leaving him unable to secure a job commiserate with his experience level for this coming season.

The 48-year-old is set to receive nearly $12 million as compensation for the final year of his now-terminated contract, but is looking for additional damages given the timing of his departure. Despite the writing clearly on the wall, Conte had weeks of silence from the club, before being pulled back to London to begin pre-season training with the squad for just four days before he was then let go.

Upon his release, Conte released a relatively benign statement thanking the club, the fans, the staff, and the players, but notably did not thank the board or owner Roman Abramovich.

Things between Chelsea and Conte have been testy for some time now. It was reported earlier last month – before Conte was officially let go – that Chelsea was planning to withhold payment of Conte’s remaining salary and sue the Italian for costing the club money for former striker Diego Costa. Costa told the media he received a text message from Conte while on international duty last summer that he was no longer wanted at the club. If true, the club could have argued that Conte botched the situation and cost the club a significant amount of money. However, it seems the club has – for now – decided not to pursue the lawsuit, with reports stating that Conte is set to receive his salary in full.

WATCH: Jurgen Klopp crashes Alisson’s first Liverpool interview

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Jurgen Klopp has had quite the summer, and it’s just become even better.

Liverpool officially acquired Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson for a world-record transfer fee, and with the former Roma netminder filling his first obligations in Red, things didn’t go exactly as the club’s media staff had planned. While sitting down for his first interview with the club staff to be used in the official release, Jurgen Klopp couldn’t resist crashing the party to say hello.

[ MORE: Alisson to Liverpool official ]

The language barrier made things a bit awkward, as did the rolling cameras, but it’s pretty clear both sides are quite happy with the recent developments, with smiles all around. Take a look:

Klopp asked if Alisson was in the middle of his post-World Cup vacation, which he confirmed as true, but smartly followed up with “But now I am working.”

We’re sure they’ll catch up on a more complete basis privately later, but it was pretty cool to see their first interaction caught on camera.

Ajax tells clubs to back off their young Dutch stars

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In the past, Dutch giants Ajax have looked to make a profit developing strong Dutch talent from the youth level and selling them to big clubs all across Europe. Today, Ajax sporting director Marc Overmars has told clubs not to bother inquiring about their rising young stars.

“We have now reached a point where we simply say that we are not selling these players,” Overmars told Dutch publication De Telegraaf.

While Overmars did suggest they could reconsider in a year’s time, for now, young stars like Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs De Ligt are Ajax players now and for the future.

“He [De Jong] is not for sale, and I have communicated this to all parties involved,” Overmars said. “It is the same for Matthijs. Clubs that are interested are free to come back next year. Of course, Davinson Sanchez’s move [to Tottenham] last year showed that it is not always easy to stand firm.

“They are still only 19, 20 years old. I have told these players and their agents that a transfer after this season could be an option if the right offer comes in. Frenkie de Jong, Donny van de Beek and Matthijs de Ligt are not for sale as far as we are concerned, not even for an insane amount. They should play about 40 games for Ajax first in 2018-19.”

De Ligt, now 18, is the most well-known name of the group, having made headlines when he because the youngest Dutch international since 1931, making his debut at just 17 years old. Meanwhile, a 21-year-old box-to-box midfielder, De Jong is often considered the most talented young star with the highest ceiling.

Finally, others that Ajax could see develop into special talent include 21-year-old wide player Donny van de Beek, 21-year-old right winger David Neres, 20-year-old striker Kasper Dolberg, 20-year-old defender Max Wober, 20-year-old defensive midfielder Carel Eiting, and 20-year-old Noussair Mazraoui among many others who received playing time towards the end of last season.

Ajax has been on the hunt this summer, not only keeping the youth talent to itself, but also spending on incoming stars Dusan Tadic and Daley Blind, both of whom return to the club after spells in the Premier League.

It’s official: Goalkeeper Alisson completes record transfer to Liverpool

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Liverpool fans finally have a highly-touted goalkeeper to mind the net as they look to continue the upward trajectory under Jurgen Klopp.

After much speculation, courtship, and negotiation, AS Roma accepted a world-record transfer fee of $85 million, the highest ever paid for a goalkeeper. It obliterates the record held for nearly 17 years by Gianluigi Buffon for his $62 million transfer from Parma to Juventus in 2001. According to reports, the breakdown is a $73 million fee plus $12 million in potential add-ons.

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Alisson’s Liverpool medical was completed on Thursday, and the deal was complete. First, Roma gave Alisson an official send-off on social media, confirming the Brazilian had left the club.

Then came the official confirmation from Liverpool about a half-hour later.

“In terms of my life and my career, it’s a huge step for me being part of this club and this family,” Alisson said in the official club release. “You can be certain that I’ll give my all.”

Alisson comes highly rated from his time in the Italian top flight. Originally a youth product of Brazilian Serie A club Internacional, Alisson moved to Roma in the summer of 2016 after three professional seasons in his home country. Statistically, Alisson was the best goalkeeper in Serie A last season, with not only the best save percentage in the league (77%) but also the best distribution rate.

“When you have the opportunity to sign one of the world’s best goalkeepers then it’s not a long thought to be honest,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said after the signing was announced.

At the 2018 World Cup this summer, Alisson started for Brazil and played every minute of their World Cup journey in Russia. While he wasn’t terribly impressive, he didn’t have too many chances to put on a starring performance, but again his distribution out of the back was stellar. Alisson was the only player at the World Cup to play the entirety of his team’s first two matches and not misplace a single pass, reaching all the way to Brazil’s third group stage match against Serbia before failing to complete a pass. He went 31 straight pass attempts over those two-plus matches without a miss.

“When a very substantial bid comes in, you have to consider it,” Roma sporting director Monchi said about the transfer. “We thought about the pros and cons and decided to talk to Liverpool about the deal.”

The 25-year-old will now likely slot straight into the Liverpool starting lineup, and the club will need to figure out what to do with its other goalkeepers Loris Karius, Simon Mignolet, and Danny Ward. Mignolet began last season as the starter before conceding the gloves to Karius who infamously committed a pair of egregious errors in the Champions League final.