PL Playback: Pogba the key for Man United

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POGBACK

Paul Pogba‘s snake hips goal celebration had been dearly missed by Manchester United’s fans.

So too had his marauding runs from midfield since he injured his hamstring in early September. Jose Mourinho had previously said United were a totally different team without Pogba and his display in the 4-1 win against Newcastle on Saturday proved it.

Speaking to MUTV after the game, Pogba shared his belief that if all of United’s players stay fit they can challenge Manchester City for the title.

“The season is really long so we have to be fit – not only me but all the players,” Pogba said. “To win the league we need all our players. When you have one injured here, one injured there, it doesn’t help. It’s always better to have a full team. Zlatan’s back and Marcos after a long injury. It was hard for them but they kept believing and worked hard to come back. We need them to win the league and we’re really glad they’re here.”

Even if he didn’t jinx past Newcastle’s defense to clip in a wonderful cross for Anthony Martial to head home United’s first, or then make a 60-yard sprint to get on the end of Marcus Rashford‘s knockdown to make it 3-1, Pogba’s presence was felt.

His return gave United’s entire squad, and fanbase, a lift and everything is set up rather nicely for him to battle it out with Kevin De Bruyne in the Manchester derby on Dec. 10 at Old Trafford.

With Pogba this season United have played five games, winning four and drawing one.

Without Pogba United have played seven, won four, lost twice and drawn once in the Premier League.

His influence on this team is key to the way it has been assembled by Mourinho and his power, all-action displays and strong character get the best out of those around him. Nemanja Matic and Romelu Lukaku tick because Pogba is linking the midfield and attack effortlessly with his energetic displays. Over the past two months there’s been a main reason why Lukaku had done seven games without scoring for United before last weekend: Pogba.

Pogba’s comments about United pushing City for the title if they stay fit appear misguided but if he stays fit then there’s no doubt United are the best version of themselves.


INFURIATING ARSENAL

When they play like they did on Saturday, the only team Arsenal will finish below this season will be Manchester City.

Seriously.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned from the North London derby ]

The Gunners destroyed Tottenham Hotspur with a ruthless display in the first half as Mesut Ozil unlocked Spurs’ midfield and defense, Alexis Sanchez ran them ragged and Alexandre Lacazette played on the last shoulder of Tottenham’s disheveled defense.

Arsene Wenger was rewarded for a bold, attack-minded team selection and with Shkodran Mustafi back fit he now has his first-choice starting lineup at his disposal. If the Gunners stay fit, they can make real charge up the Premier League table in the coming weeks with a bunch of winnable games.

In four of their next five Premier League games they should beat Huddersfield, Southampton, West Ham and Newcastle, with the big tests at home against Man United (Dec. 2) and Liverpool (Dec. 22) showing just how far they’ve come so far this season.

The Emirates, so often the site of protests and fan unrest in previous seasons, is become a fortress for Arsenal who have now won 11 PL games there on the spin, their best-ever run of consecutive wins at the stadium.

Between now and Dec. 22 we will get a very good idea as to what way this season will go for Arsenal.

If Wenger’s players stay fit and he remains positive in his team selection, the Gunners could be rewarded with not only a place back in the top four but much more.


WEST BROM’S GAMBLE

Tony Pulis is the man you want in a relegation battle. So, why did West Bromwich Albion sack him?

A run of two wins in 21 Premier League games sealed Pulis’ fate but what exactly did West Brom’s owners expect would happen?

Pulis’ short-term bump from taking over in January 1 2015 wore off midway through last season and his methods, although lauded by many for preserving his proud record of never being relegation from the Premier League, wear players down over time. Even the wily old crew he had assembled at West Brom (they had the oldest average starting XI in the PL) couldn’t cope with it anymore.

[ MORE: Baggies sack Tony Pulis. but what next? ]

The old adage “losing the dressing room” is frowned upon by folks in the industry but it is clear that’s what happened here. Players believe they are better than perhaps they are, most of the time, and get sick and tired of being told to just clip the ball long, stay compact and try to score from set pieces. Most of Pulis’ training session focus on team shape and denying the opposition the ball. Having the ball is an afterthought. That’s too much for some to handle day in, day out.

And we all know, despite the Baggies being a solid midtable club for seven years in the PL now, that getting rid of one manager is much easier than a squad of players.

Getting rid of Pulis was the only available option.

Yet, after a summer where they did some great business to bring in Grzegorz Krychowiak, Kieran Gibbs, Ahmed Hegazi and Jay Rodriguez, things seemed to be on the up. Yet that recruitment and losing the likes of Darren Fletcher caused issues in the squad balance and Pulis all of a sudden had too many newbies on board who either took too much time to get used to his methods or didn’t want to adjust their game to do so.

All in all, West Brom are now left with very few options to replace Pulis other than appointing someone extremely similar to him. Sam Allardyce is from the area (a boyhood Wolves fan, West Brom’s bitter rivals) is the bookmakers favorite and he would seem to be the perfect firefighter against a Premier League relegation battle.

But, like many PL clubs who have sacked their managers so far this season (hello, Everton, Crystal Palace, West Ham) or are contemplating it (Swansea, Southampton and maybe Stoke) the alternatives to their current boss aren’t plentiful. Keeping hold of Pulis was no longer an option West Brom had but, over time, it may seem like the correct one.


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

CCL Wrap: LAFC makes history, Sounders eliminated

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Major League Soccer already saw three clubs into the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. Two more needed to overcome obstacles to see MLS remain perfect through the Round of 16. While LAFC did its share of heavy lifting, the Seattle Sounders collapsed late as Olimpia advanced to the quarterfinals.

LAFC, in front of a brilliant tifo from the home fans at Banc of California Stadium, needed to overcome a 2-0 first-leg loss. The home side poured on the pressure all match, winning 3-0 to become the first MLS side to eliminate a Liga MX club after falling behind by multiple goals in the first leg. They absolutely battered the Mexican club, proving vicious on the counter and solid at the back.

Carlos Vela had an early miss, breaking down the right flank before firing wide of the near post with the outside of his boot on seven minutes. LAFC had another chance for the opener in the 11th minute but Marc-Anthony Kaye was denied by a brilliant reflex save from Rodolfo Cota who got a hand to the close-range shot despite falling down backwards on the line. Cota was on hand again to reject LAFC its much-needed breakthrough as he lept to tip a long-range Eduard Atuesta effort over the bar.

The hosts were robbed of first blood in the 26th minute when LAFC broke spectacularly three-on-two but Diego Rossi hit the post and while Carlos Vela put the rebound into the back of the net, the flag went up for offside on the initial effort. They would finally break through moments later, however, as a ball across the end line found Vela at the near post who tipped the ball towards the goal mouth, with the final touch coming off Cota who fumbled the ball over the line.

LAFC absorbed some pressure to end the first half, and Kaye was lucky to stay on the field as, already on a yellow card, he stamped on the ankle of Luis Montes and absolutely could have earned a second caution. After the break, LAFC regained the front foot but past the hour mark could not find the critical second goal. They had another huge chance on 71 minutes but Rossi whiffed after Vela teed him up on the doorstep. As LAFC became more desperate, Vela struck with 14 minutes to go, punching home Tristan Blackmon’s feed from deep on the right.

With LAFC level on aggregate with a 2-0 home lead, Diego Rossi atoned for his early miss with an absolutely stunner to win it for the hosts, delivering a cross brilliant ball to the far corner that came off the underside of the crossbar, then the inside of the post, and into the back of the net.

Up the coast to the north, Seattle had plenty of chances, leading 4-3 on aggregate late, but they collapsed as Olimpia equalized to send the game to penalties, where the Honduran side advanced 4-2.

Just five minutes in, Olimpia went in front on a set-piece as Elvin Oliva headed in a corner, with the ball squeaking past Cristian Roldan who was guarding the near post. The early strike mirrored the first leg when Seattle scored six minutes into the eventual 2-2 draw.

El Savladorian referee Ivan Barton was not shy about handing out early cards. In the very first minute he cautioned German Mejia for barreling through the back of Joevin Jones, while Seattle’s Nouhou Tolo was cautioned for a seventh minute foul in the air. The Sounders finally built themselves into the match, holding more possession than in the early minutes, and it paid off as Christian Roldan headed in off a set piece to put Seattle level on the match 1-1 and on aggregate 3-3, holding the away goal advantage.

Nouhou had the ball in the back of the net on 27 minutes, but the flag correctly went up for offside. Seattle continued to pressure the Olimpia back line after the break, and nearly had a second. Jordan Morris delivered a 56th minute cross along the goal mouth that Edrick Menjivar couldn’t handle and a streaking Joao Paolo just missed the bobbling ball.

The sealing goal would come in the 64th minute as Roldan delivered a vicious ball from the right flank and it found Paolo who this time converted, thanks in large part to a slight deflection off the knee of Johnny Leveron that wrong-footed Menjivar. Olimpia would not be phased, waiting until the 86th minute before drawing back level as Carlos Pineda rifled a long-distance equalizer.

In the penalty shootout, Christian Roldan skied his effort over the bar and Kelvin Leerdam’s spot-kick was saved by Menjivar. Stefan Frei got his hand to Edwin Rodriguez’s penalty but couldn’t keep it out as Olimpia didn’t miss any of its four efforts to advance.

MLS Week 1 preview: New teams, players, and stars

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AThe 2020 Major League Soccer season is here. This weekend, the new campaign gets under way with two new teams, a new defending Supporters’ Shield winner, and a new superstar.

Debuts are the theme as Inter Miami and Nashville SC both take the field for the first time this weekend across Saturday and Sunday. The defending champions Seattle Sounders host the Chicago Fire and their new logo. Chicharito leads the L.A. Galaxy as the visit the Houston Dynamo.

The new clubs both get tough welcomes to the league, with Nashville hosting Atlanta United and Inter Miami traveling to Western Conference finalists LAFC. Atlanta has plenty of new faces of its own, with captain Michael Parkhurst retired while both Darlington Nagbe and Julian Gressel having departed. Miles Robinson is injured to start the season, and given how Atlanta started the season last year, they could be vulnerable this weekend. LAFC has seen Walker Zimmerman and Tyler Miller move on, and after playoff disappointment last season, they have plenty to prove themselves.

Last year’s Eastern Conference regular season champions NYCFC starts the season on the road at Columbus on Sunday afternoon, under new management in Ronny Deila. Gedion Zelalem also joins, although he struggled last season at Sporting KC. The Philadelphia Union, off a 55 point season last campaign, visit FC Dallas who doesn’t have much new of note except new contracts for Paxton Pomykal and Jesus Ferreira.

The defending champs host the Chicago Fire, with Seattle seeing a designated player depart in Victor Rodriguez with Joao Paulo arriving in his stead. RSL, who finished third in the West last season, announced Thursday the addition of Guiseppe Rossi and he could be in line to see time as they travel to Orlando S.C. on Saturday. After a promising season of growth, Minnesota United switched out goalkeepers, bringing in LAFC’s Miller for Vito Mannone. Abu Danladi is also gone, having departed for Nashville in the expansion draft, and Luis Amarilla has arrived in his place with a promise of goals, with a West Coast trip to Portland his first challenge.

Full MLS Week 1 slate

Saturday:
D.C. United v. Colorado Rapids (1:00 p.m. ET)
Montreal Impact v. New England Revolution (3:00 p.m. ET)
Houston Dynamo v. LA Galaxy (3:30 p.m. ET)
San Jose Earthquakes v. Toronto FC (5:30 p.m. ET)
FC Dallas v. Philadelphia Union (6:00 p.m. ET)
Orlando S.C. v. Real Salt Lake (6:00 p.m. ET)
Nashville S.C. v. Atlanta United (8:00 p.m. ET)
Vancouver Whitecaps v. Sporting KC (10:30 p.m. ET)

Sunday:
Columbus Crew v. NYCFC (12:30 p.m. ET)
New York Red Bulls v. F.C. Cincinnati (1:00 p.m. ET)
Seattle Sounders v. Chicago Fire (3:00 p.m. ET)
LAFC v. Inter Miami (5:30 p.m. ET)
Portland Timbers v. Minnesota United (7:30 p.m. ET)

Arteta ‘hurt’ by Arsenal’s Europa League exit

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Mikel Arteta wasn’t shy about his feelings towards Arsenal’s Europa League elimination.

“It hurts, big time,” Arteta said after the match. “We had a lot of hope in this competition. It was a great way for us to be able to go to Europe and it is a very beautiful competition to try to win.”

For much of the second leg against Olympiakos, Arsenal was flat. The Gunners conceded a goal shortly after halftime, and with the aggregate score 1-1 through 180 minutes, the game went to extra-time. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang appeared to have struck the winner for Arsenal in the 113th minute, only for Olympiakos to level the score back up in the 119th minute and go ahead on away goals.

[ ROUNDUP: Early Europa League kicks | Late kicks ]

“I think we did a lot of positive things in the game,” Arteta said. “I think we created enough chances to win, but if you concede two set-pieces again in a tie like this you put yourself in big trouble.”

The Gunners, in truth, did not create much, at least not through regulation. It may have been enough to expect victory, but it was not enough for a team with an attacking mentality. Arsenal racked up 2.19 expected goals through the match, but their two best chances came late with Aubameyang’s last-gasp miss and Alexandre Lacazette failing to strike with a 77th minute diving header.

“This is football and sometimes it is very cruel when the emotions are right here [raises hand high],” Arteta said in the press conference, “then in another moment they’re somewhere else [lowers hand]. You have to able to handle that if you want to be in this industry so now it’s up to us, and up to me, to bring this place back in and move forward.”

The Gunners are still in the FA Cup, with a fifth round match against Portsmouth on Monday. They sit ninth in the Premier League table, four points back of Manchester United in fifth.

Giuseppe Rossi signs with Real Salt Lake

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Former Manchester United, Villareal, and Fiorentina forward Guiseppe Rossi has signed with MLS side Real Salt Lake in yet another bid to revive his injury-plagued career.

Rossi, a New Jersey-born striker who infamously chose to represent Italy at the international level, has struggled mightily for game time over the past few years thanks to a string of bad injury luck. He most recently made 9 Serie A appearances for Genoa through the latter half of the 2017/18 season, without a competitive match since May 20, 2018.

“For me, MLS has been growing every year and has produced an exciting product,” Rossi said upon signing. “I’m lucky enough to have RSL be my first contact in the league during this process. The club’s respect and kindness towards me is something I appreciate immensely. I can’t wait to see and meet the fans and immerse myself in the RSL culture. Along with the rest of the team, I can’t wait to begin this season and enjoy the journey together.”

The 33-year-old has suffered five major knee injuries throughout his career, including three ACL tears. According to the soccer database Transfermarkt, Rossi has missed upwards of 1,200 days due to injuries throughout his career.

The signing represents an exciting moment for Rossi, who despite his struggles is thought to be a supremely talented player when healthy. No matter how this tenure goes, Rossi’s chance to play back in the United States marks a significant transition for a player who has had a contentious relationship with USMNT fans due to his national team decision. While it’s not as exciting a signing as it would have been 5-7 years ago, Rossi’s return to his home nation is a move with plenty of upside.

Through his European career, Rossi racked up 170 La Liga appearances, 62 in Serie A, 16 in the Premier League, and 12 in Champions League play. Rossi has 29 caps for the Italian national team, scoring seven goals including two against the United States in a 2009 Confederations Cup match.

Real Salt Lake starts its 2020 season against Orlando City on Saturday.