Playback: Moving time, excuses and expectations

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EXCUSES, EXCUSES

Now is the time of the season when expectations begin to dwindle or grow depending on how the first 11 games went.

Almost a third of the way into the 2017-18 campaign, the Premier League table is taking shape.

That means it’s ready to get out your “Premier League excuses” bingo card. You will likely have heard more than one of the following this past weekend:

  • Injuries are taking their toll
  • We didn’t get what we deserved
  • Squad rotation played a part
  • Refereeing decisions cost us 
  • We were unlucky 

Like clockwork both Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger marked their bingo cards earlier than most with Mourinho blaming a plethora of injuries after Manchester United’s defeat at Chelsea.

“Of course we missed some important players, especially the quality and physicality of some of them that couldn’t be available,” Mourinho said, before adding his side “deserved more” and that this is “not about what is fair and isn’t fair.”

Wenger took a shot at the referees, league-wide, after Arsenal’s defeat at Manchester City which saw Raheem Sterling awarded a penalty kick and Gabriel Jesus‘ goal which should’ve been ruled out for offside.

“Overall once again the referee made the decision today,” Wenger fumed. “It was a soft penalty and an offside goal but we are used to it when you come here. Last year we had two offsides goals against us. The referees don’t work enough and the level drops every season. Overall it’s unacceptable what happens.”

With pressure mounting as preseason expectations dwindle for plenty of the big boys as Manchester City race clear atop the table, what else did you expect?

Mourinho, Wenger et al. are old hands at this game but the new boys were at it too.

Mauricio Pellegrino is struggling to impact Southampton’s style of play as they lost at home to Burnley and now face a ridiculously tough run of games with just 13 points on the board from their first 11 games. He and his players talked about a lack of luck and another gem which we will start to see appear is players “not gelling” as a unit.

Call me cynical, but the only managers or players we won’t be hearing excuses from is that that are overachieving. Anyone connected with Manchester City, Burnley, Brighton, Huddersfield and possibly Tottenham, will not be spewing out excuses anytime soon.

As for the rest? Well, it’s that time of year when the pressure builds and there are no easy answers to failing to live up to the preseason hype. The easiest answer of all is to roll out one of the antiquated excuses listed above.


BILIC OUT AS MOVING TIME ARRIVES

Premier League chairman and boards are known to be the most ruthless in the game, but this season has been something else.

After 11 games last season just one manager had lost his job: Francesco Guidolin at Swansea City. Only five more managerial changes arrived during the entire season, with Bob Bradley replaced by Paul Clement at Swansea, Sam Allardyce replacing Alan Pardew at Crystal Palace, Marco Silva arriving at Hull City, Aitor Karanka ousted at Middlesbrough and Claudio Ranieri replaced by Craig Shakespeare at Leicester City.

Slaven Bilic lost his job on Monday at West Ham on Monday, becoming the fourth manager to do so already this season after Frank De Boer was sacked by Crystal Palace after four games, Craig Shakespeare was given just eight games by Leicester and Ronald Koeman was out after nine games at Everton.

Yet Bilic and Koeman losing their jobs at aspirational clubs in West Ham and Everton, who both spent big this summer, shows the root of the problem: the board has no back up plan. David Moyes has arrived at the Hammers and Sam Allardyce is said to be closing in on getting the job at Goodison on a short-term basis.

Player power played its part in the sacking of all four and in Bilic’s case rumblings of a severe lack of respect from senior first team players is tough to hear. Bilic’s time was up, he admitted it himself, but he deserved better treatment from his senior pros due to his commitment to the Hammers both as a player and a manager. History will be kind to him because of that, even if the move to London Stadium and losing Dimitri Payet wasn’t.

So, why are managers being fired so quickly this season?

One can only assume that the success of the newly-promoted teams is having a huge impact on the established PL clubs who are starting to realize that Brighton & Hove Albion, Huddersfield and Newcastle all being inside the top 11 is no fluke. They’re stable, solid and mean business in the top-flight and all of a sudden the assumption that one or two of the new boys will go straight back down is incorrect.

Panic is a word oft used to describe the actions of PL chairman and decision makers. It’s apt right now.

Who’s next?

The ongoing situation at Chelsea (long-time Technical Director Michael Emenalo left abruptly on Monday) could cause Antonio Conte‘s future to be plunged into further doubt, while Tony Pulis is under pressure at West Brom after just two wins in their last 20 PL games and Clement is under pressure at Swansea following five defeats in their last six outings.

We could very well see half the managers who started the Premier League season replaced by the end of the campaign.

With huge financial gains for being a PL club, the stakes are high and the directors are panicking, perhaps unlike ever before. That’s quite a feat.


MANCHESTER CITY UNSTOPPABLE?

They’ve made the best start in Premier League history after 11 games and right now Pep Guardiola‘s men look unstoppable.

Winning 10 of their opening 11 games, which have included victories against Chelsea, Liverpool and now Arsenal, Man City already have an eight-point lead atop the table and a record goal differential of +31.

The way they toyed with Arsenal was unfair, at times, on Sunday. Their fluid passing, total domination in the final third and ability to have midfielders continually arriving in the box saw Arsenal pinned back. Like everybody else who has faced City this season, they couldn’t cope.

City have scored 52 goals this season after 17 games in all competitions, which is a record for any PL club, and this is exactly why Guardiola arrived at Man City.

We’ve seen this before from City, not on this scale, but a fast start to the season where they looked impenetrable has faltered right around this period in seasons gone by.

The difference this season is they’ve already qualified for the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League, meaning they can rest key players between now and the busy festive period. The difference is the sheer squad depth they have despite injuries to Benjamin Mendy and Vincent Kompany.

The fact that Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan and Gabriel Jesus were rolled out late on against Arsenal, with Yaya Toure, Danilo and Claudio Bravo unused subs, says it all.

Guardiola has, of course, been backed significantly in the transfer market but he’s not only spending cash like it’s going out of fashion, he’s improving every single player City has.

Look at Kevin De Bruyne and his weekly bouts of magic from central midfield. John Stones‘ growing composure in central defense. Raheem Sterling finally adding an end product to his game. Sergio Aguero’s rejuvenation. The examples go on and on.

Man City face Leicester, Huddersfield, West Ham and Southampton in their next four games in the Premier League. They are expected to win all four and by the time the first Manchester derby of the season arrives at Old Trafford on Dec. 9, United’s fans are surely already shuddering when thinking about just how many points City will be ahead of United, and the rest of the Premier League, by that point.

At this rate it is very plausible that City can go the entire season unbeaten and become one of the greatest teams we’ve ever seen.

Spending over $200 million each summer will help you do that but Guardiola has now had over 12 months in England and he’s experience has added that X-factor which was missing for the middle part of last season.


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

Terry: Lampard ‘will have an impact on young players and improve them’

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It’s not a surprise that John Terry is supporting his longtime teammate and fellow club legend Frank Lampard for the open Chelsea managerial role.

However, it is interesting why Terry thinks Lampard is right for Chelsea.

[READ: Derby County confirm Chelsea approach for Lampard]

With Lampard the bookies favorite to become the new Chelsea manager, Terry has come out in support of the former midfield great, stating that Lampard can finally fully open the pipeline between the Chelsea academy and the first team.

“For some time, perhaps only myself and Ruben Loftus-Cheek had come through the academy to become regulars and that has probably left many young players questioning their future,” Terry told the Daily Mail. “Callum Hudson-Odoi will be assured he has a big role to play at Chelsea. Having Frank in charge and the transfer ban will give young players throughout the academy belief that there is a genuine pathway into Chelsea’s first team.

“Frank and Jody have tremendous knowledge of the youth set-up. I guarantee they will watch as many Under-23 and Under-18 matches at Chelsea as possible and open potential opportunities for the academy players. In fact I think it will be an exciting time to see what can happen.”

Chelsea is currently appealing a transfer ban from FIFA for signing underage players, but even if the transfer ban is imposed this summer, the club has dozens of players out on loan that could potentially come into the first team. These include Mason Mount, who starred for Lampard at Derby County last season, and American defender Matt Miazga, though he still has a long way to go until he’s ready for regular Premier League matches.

Other players like Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori, Kurt Zouma, and Tiemoue Bakayoko could also potentially return to the club and add to the strength in depth.

Of course, some of Chelsea’s youngsters didn’t come through the academy, but with Eden Hazard gone, Hudson-Odoi and Loftus-Cheek out long term and a need for some fresh talent in attack – to go with Christian Pulisic of course, Terry believes that Lampard could trust, and empower, some young players as Chelsea looks to build on a third-place finish this year.

Report: FIFA to consider disciplinary actions for Cameroon after Women’s World Cup outburst

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It didn’t help that refereeing decisions had gone against them, but Cameroon’s meltdown at the Women’s World Cup could cost the team, and potentially the federation in the future.

Per a report in the BBC, FIFA has begun investigating Cameroon for “team misconduct, offensive behavior and fair play breaches.” Specifically, Cameroon’s players appeared to lose their emotions surrounding two incidents that involved video assistant referees, or the VAR.

[READ: Transfer Rumor Roundup]

In the first case, just before halftime, England’s Ellen White was initially ruled offside on a goal she scored, only for VAR to overturn the assistant referee and rule White’s goal could stand, because she was onside by about two feet. After that instance, Cameroon’s players appeared to make an on-field protest, and it wasn’t clear if the game would restart.

In the second half, Cameroon had a goal that was somewhat harshly disallowed after Ajara Nchout had scored to make it 2-1 for England and cut the deficit in half. Gabrielle Onguene, who played the pass into Nchout, was ruled by the VAR to be offside but only by the absolute slightest of margins, her heel.

Again, following this decision, players lost their emotions on the pitch and it took five minutes to restart the game.

Afterwards, Cameroon coach Alain Djeumfa criticized the officiating, calling the game a “miscarriage of justice” as Cameroon were knocked out of the World Cup.

England coach Phil Neville meanwhile said that he was disappointed with the match for all the young generations of fans watching, and it’s possible that FIFA is looking at it from this angle to potentially send a message that everyone must act professional on the field from start to finish, even if tempers run high.

Picking the Copa America knockout stage

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The Copa America has eliminated four nations, including the two Asian visitors, and now the stage is set for the final eight teams to battle for the title.

The field is wide open as the traditional powers Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and even perfect Colombia and Uruguay have all struggled at times in the competition. With that in mind, here are the picks for our PST writers, and as you can imagine, it’s all over the place in what promises to be an entertaining and exciting final eight. A potential Brazil v. Argentina semifinal matchup would be mouth-watering, while Colombia and Chile meet in the quarters in a matchup that tells you just how brutal this competition can be.

Who do you have going all the way in the South American tournament? Will Lionel Messi carry Argentina to his first major international title? Will James Rodriguez or Alexis Sanchez reignite their career? Can Luis Suarez best his Barcelona teammate and help Edinson Cavani to the crown?


Kyle Bonn

Quarterfinals:
Brazil def. Paraguay
Venezuela def. Argentina

Chile def. Colombia
Uruguay def. Peru

Semifinals:
Brazil def. Venezuela
Chile def. Uruguay

Final:
Brazil def. Chile


Joe Prince-Wright

Quarterfinals:
Brazil def. Paraguay
Argentina def. Venezuela

Chile def. Colombia
Uruguay def. Peru

Semifinals:
Brazil def. Argentina
Chile def. Uruguay

Final:
Brazil def. Chile


Daniel Karell

Quarterfinals:
Brazil def. Paraguay
Venezuela def. Argentina

Colombia def. Chile
Uruguay def. Peru

Semifinals:
Venezuela def. Brazil
Uruguay def. Colombia

Final:
Uruguay def. Venezuela


Nick Mendola

Quarterfinals:
Brazil def. Paraguay
Argentina def. Venezuela

Colombia def. Chile
Uruguay def. Peru

Semifinals:
Argentina def. Brazil
Uruguay def. Colombia

Final:
Argentina def. Uruguay

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Spurs snag Clarke, Arsenal eyeing French youngster

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According to a number of reports across England, Tottenham may have secured its first new player signing in 511 days, rumored to have completed a deal for Leeds United winger Jack Clarke.

The BBC reports that Clarke has flown south to London for a medical and that the $12.7 million deal is finalized. The report states there are further, unspecified add-ons to that base payment should they trigger.

The 18-year-old made 25 appearances for the Leeds first-team last season, scoring two goals assisting two more as they reached the playoff semifinal. Clarke’s arrival will mark the first Tottenham signing since Lucas Moura joined in January of 2018, famously failing to sign a player last summer to much criticism, before making a run to the Champions League final during the season.


Arsenal is reportedly after a pair of transfer targets, one on either end of the pitch.

First, more concretely, reports indicate that the Gunners are set to bat the signature of young French defender William Saliba. The 18-year-old currently plays for St. Etienne and saw significant playing time last season, bagging 16 league appearances good for over 1,200 minutes as he helped the club secure a Champions League place with a fourth-place finish, aided by the third-best defensive record in the league.

According to an ESPNFC report by Julien Laurens, the two clubs have reached an agreement for Saliba in the range of $28 million, with the Gunners beating Tottenham and PSG to the punch. Saliba will stay at St. Etienne on loan next season as he looks to continue developing at his boyhood club.

The Gunners are reportedly also following Monaco winger Keita Balde, with the Senegal international currently on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations. The 24-year-old spent last season on loan at Inter, where he racked up 24 Serie A appearances – mostly off the bench – scoring five goals and assisting three more.

Reports in Italy indicate that while Inter had the option to buy at the end of the loan spell, they declined as they believed the $38 million price to be too expensive. With Monaco struggling mightily this past season and in serious flux, it’s likely that Balde could move on and help the French club gain funds to reinvest.

Balde found the back of the net in Senegal’s opening AFCON match, a 2-0 win over Tanzania, marking his fourth international goal in 24 caps.


Another African on international duty is Kalidou Koulibaly, whose future is still under serious speculation.

Napoli manager Carlo Ancelotti said Wednesday – completely joking, mind you – that he won’t even return from his vacation in Canada if the club sells Koulibaly. That won’t stop the two Manchester clubs from having a go, and to this point Napoli president Aurelio de Laurentiis has held firm that only a bid that reaches his $154 million release clause will pry him from the Italian side.

Koulibaly wouldn’t be drawn into speculation about his future when approached at the tournament in Africa, saying, “I don’t know [if I’ll still be at Napoli next year], I think so, but I have to play the AFCON and then after that I’ll go back to Napoli.”

Manchester United has been much closely linked with Koulibaly than Manchester City, but it may be difficult to convince him to switch with the Red Devils not participating in the Champions League next season.


Everton is reportedly in the hunt for Juventus striker Moise Kean according to the Liverpool Echo, with the 19-year-old breaking out last season with The Old Lady. He scored six goals in 13 appearances down the stretch of the season, coming into the squad after the club had all but secured the league title.

While he is a big strike prospect for Juventus, the club is somewhat crowded at the position with Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala, and Mario Mandzukic at the position. The club surely could take its time bringing him along, but apparently a disciplinary issue while with the Italy U-21 team at the Euros this summer has added to the club’s concern, along with his hesitation at signing a new contract. Kean’s current deal expires next summer, so this would be the time to cash in on his high-rising stock.

The report states it would cost around $34 million to land the youngster and Ajax is also in the mix.