PL Playback: Style over substance?

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STYLISTIC WAR TAKES CENTER STAGE

Do you just want to win? Or does it matter more about how you try to win?

With Manchester City taking on Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League in midweek and then Manchester United in the Premier League this Saturday (in case you’ve been living under a rock, a win for City against their crosstown rivals clinches the Premier League title), this topic is at the forefront of conversation.

Especially as Jose Mourinho (shock: he’s firmly in the substance camp) wants people to focus on which teams have the most points rather than how they play.

“We deserve to finish second no matter what the critics say. You all say the teams in third, fourth, fifth and sixth are all better than us, but they are not better than us. We have more points than them. We are going to fight in the seven matches we have left to go to finish second,” Mourinho said.

This argument of who is the “better” team has been a growing theme throughout this season and it is as divisive as it is confusing. You can go around in circles analyzing the team who has the most possession, creates the most chances and runs the furthest at the highest intensity. Every stat imaginable to understand if a team is good to watch or is more economical in winning.

But what does it all mean if you don’t win a trophy?

Defending his defensive, pragmatic tactics which have been hammered by United’s fans and pundits due to the talented attacking players at his disposal, Mourinho is fully aware that results over romance keep you in a managerial job longer.

Or do they?

When you look around the Premier League, specifically at the other teams in the top six, there’s a real argument to be had that teams and owners are now settling for a few seasons of up and down results if they’re going to stick with a manager and his ideology and build something sustainable, something which is admired across the globe and a style of play which is instantly recognizable.

Look at Guardiola. Look at Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. Look at Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham. And, in a more extreme case, look at Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. They’re clever (or lucky) because they’re in situations where they are getting time to deliver and they continue to just give everyone enough hope that all of this sexy play will amount to a trophy, or a deep run in the Champions League or a title bid.

The aforementioned managers have all been afforded time, and in the case of Guardiola, Klopp and Wenger (to a certain extent), vast resources to build teams that not only win games but also entertain while they’re doing it.

That is still the key. You need to win. But it is now becoming more about how stylish you are than just grinding out victories.

Klopp and Pochettino are now three years and four years into their respective projects and only now is more pressure being applied to Liverpool and Tottenham needing to win something and have something sustainable to show for their high energy, fluid and highly entertaining brand of play. They have both turned their clubs into top four regulars who are competing at Europe’s too table and impressing.

But what is next? What happens when beautiful play doesn’t yield something tangible?

Wenger has been fighting with that for decades and no matter what you say about his recent seasons, Arsenal are still fun to watch most weeks with Mesut Ozil pulling the strings and a host of attack-minded players put in the same team.

Then on the other side of the coin you have Mourinho and his successor at Chelsea, Antonio Conte. Both have won a Premier League title in the last three years (both at Chelsea) but both are under pressure for defensive tactics and perhaps being too negative with the players they have at their disposal. At the current time Conte is on his way out at Chelsea and despite Mourinho having signed a new long-term deal at United, it doesn’t seem unlikely that next season may be his last at Old Trafford given his penchant for losing the plot in his third season pretty much wherever he goes.

This season Conte and Mourinho have been criticized publicly for their defensive, pragmatic approach but has it harmed their reputations? Will questions about the supposed lack of progress at United and Chelsea (their defeat to Tottenham accelerated this talk) stop them from getting jobs elsewhere?

Nope.

Conte and Mourinho have boatloads of trophies to back up their choices to build from the back and turn their backs on a risk-reward approach. That is why Conte will get another job easily at a top European club when his inevitable exit from Chelsea occurs in the next few months. Pochettino doesn’t have trophies. Klopp has two Bundesliga titles to his name but the last was almost six years ago.

Guardiola is a trophy winning machine and the outlier in all of this.

He plays attractive, easy to watch soccer and wins trophies too. City weren’t great to watch last season but they had a plan. City invested in Pep’s ideas and gave him the resources to make it happen as they chucked veteran defenders on the scrapheap after seeing if they could adapt and then allowed his project to take shape by signing players who could understand his masterplan.

Mourinho is now under more pressure at United because Guardiola is doing what he does (deliver trophies) in style. That will be in plain sight at the Etihad Stadium this weekend when the first and second place team collide with vastly different playing styles and 16 points separating the two.

In an age where we are fixated on not only winning but winning in the best way and being entertained, it is clear that winning is no longer good enough.

If being entertained on a weekly basis slows down the rate of winning but makes you go home with a smile on your face, is that better than grinding out a plethora of 1-0 victories in a season and being crowned champions? What happens if the success never arrives?

For the moment it seems that style is winning the battle over substance in the Premier League.


SHAMBOLIC SOUTHAMPTON “ASHAMED”

This is a clear case of players thinking they are too good to go down. Too talented to roll up their sleeves and scrap. Too egotistical to put the need of the team before their own ambitions.

We’ve all heard the term “they are too good to go down.”

Those teams never are and that is the main reason why Southampton are in a shambolic situation.

New Saints manager Mark Hughes looked shocked during his first Premier League game in charge as a team full of internationals lost 3-0 at West Ham United (they were 3-0 down at half time) to keep themselves in the relegation zone and two points from safety with seven games to go.

Dusan Tadic summed up the severity of the situation Saints find themselves in as they still have Arsenal, Chelsea, Leicester, Everton and Man City to play and will probably need to win three more games.

“We feel ashamed. It is a very bad feeling and we have to take responsibility. It is just our mistakes, it is not the mistake of somebody else. We need to be men. We need to take responsibility and to know what kind of situation we are in. And we are in a tough situation,” Tadic said. “I have been here when we have had the best results of all time for Southampton and personally I feel very ashamed. I think this is one of the worst moments of my career and it is a tough moment. But we have to show we are men. We need to fight. Every game you play you try to win. But obviously something is wrong. By this I mean something with me and all the players. It is not the fault of the coach, it is not the fault of the fans. It is not the fault of anyone else. It is just our fault. We should be ashamed that we are in this kind of situation.”

Fair play to Tadic for fronting this up as two abject displays on the spin against relegation rivals (Saints lost 3-0 at Newcastle before the international break) were devoid of passion and desire at a pivotal stage of the season.

Sadly, this is no surprise. How much longer could Southampton’s policy of selling their best players each summer then replacing them with younger, cheaper, supposedly hungrier players go on? It couldn’t last forever and whispers around the South Coast club suggest that two of the big summer signings in Wesley Hoedt and Mario Lemina have upset the balance of the dressing room and sum up the newfound issues threatening to wreck eight years of incredible progress for Southampton.

It is unfair to point the finger of blame at just two players but the board, led by Les Reed on the sporting side, have to take a large chunk of the blame too. They have allowed this situation to develop and fester. By not keeping Claude Puel in charge last summer and not sacking Mauricio Pellegrino sooner than eight games of a season to go they have badly mismanaged this situation.

Mismanagement is not something you could label Southampton of for most of the last decade. Which is why this is so shocking and scream complacency.

Their journey from the bottom of the third tier in 2009 to four-straight top eight finishes in the Premier League, two Europa League campaigns back-to-back and a League Cup final defeat has been magnificent and shows how a strong academy and a detailed and persistent recruitment plan can lead to success. Before this season you would have said Saints were the poster boys of how to run a stable, profitable club. Now they’re in danger of slipping to the second tier and unless they spring some surprise results in the finals weeks of the season against Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City then they have to be the favorites for the drop along with West Brom (already gone, let’s be honest) and Stoke City (on their way down) as three bastions of midtable PL success will be lost to relegation.

With the wage bill said to have grown to over $130 million per season at Southampton, parachute payments aside, they will be in danger of having to sell off their entire squad and start against in the Championship if they go down.

Saints’ only saving grace is that other teams around them in the table have either played a game more than them or are bang out of form.

Southampton have not only entered the last chance saloon to save themselves. They’ve been wandering around it aimlessly for the past few months avoiding the obvious. It may be too late for them now.


JOSE MOURINHO JR. ON THE BENCH FOR UNITED

You may not have heard of Zuca. He was on the bench for Manchester United on Saturday during their 2-0 win against Swansea City.

Zuca is, of course, better known as Jose Mourinho Jr.

Mourinho’s son, 18, was spotted on United’s bench for the game at Old Trafford wearing a tracksuit which had the initial ZM on them as the 18-year-old undertook “work experience” as part of United’s staff.

Up until last season Zuca was in Fulham’s academy and although he has fallen out of the professional setup as a player, it is believed the goalkeeper could still have a future in the game.

Maybe it will be as an assistant to his father…


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

Aston Villa – Sheffield United: How to watch, start time, prediction, odds

Aston Villa - Sheffield United
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Aston Villa – Sheffield United: Dean Smith’s new-look Aston Villa begins its Premier League campaign at home to Sheffield United at Villa Park on Monday (Watch live at 1 pm ET, online via Peacock).

Villa has added Bertrand Traore, Emiliano Martinez, Matty Cash, and Ollie Watkins this summer and have been linked to more talent. Of course, it’s just as critical that the club signed Jack Grealish to a new contract.

STREAM ASTON VILLA – SHEFFIELD UNITED LIVE

Blades lost to Wolves to start the Premier League season before falling to Burnley in penalties at midweek in League Cup action.

Getting points against Villa and Leeds the next two fixtures would be a boon to a club that then sees Arsenal, Liverpool, Man City, and Chelsea in four of five league outings.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Aston Villa – Sheffield United this Saturday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Aston Villa – Sheffield United (INJURY REPORT)

Tom Heaton, Wesley, and Bjorn Engels remain out for Villa, while Blades are going to be without Lys Mousset for some time following a foot operation.


What they’re saying

Bertrand Traore on returning to the Premier League with Villa: “I’m very happy to join Aston Villa. I’m happy to be here. I played with JT at Chelsea, I spoke to him. I spoke to the manager, spoke with the sporting director as well and some players I used to play with. I spoke to Nakamba, I talked to him a little bit about the club. Many things made me take the decision to come here. I’m happy.”

Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder on competition for places: “You’ve already seen a step up in training and instruction. You have to keep raising the bar and quality of your group. I think there are any shoo-ins to our team. Everybody’s got an opportunity and we talked about that the other night against Burnley. Take the opportunity and don’t waste it. I believe they didn’t.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

This one’s as close as it gets, as hosts Villa are +165 to win and the visiting Blades are barely off that at +175. Even a draw nets +220. Anything could happen.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Aston Villa – Sheffield United prediction

There are a lot of new pieces with big expectations for Villa, who overcame a slow start to beat Burton Albion well in the League Cup at midweek. Blades haven’t looked right for a few matches now stretching into preseason. It’s tempting to call this one for Villa, 1-0, but 0-0 or 1-1 shouldn’t surprise anyone.


How to watch Aston Villa – Sheffield United stream and start time

Kickoff: 1 pm ET Monday
Online: Stream via Peacock

Wolves – Man City: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

Wolves - Man City
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Wolves – Man City: Pep Guardiola and Manchester City hope to find their feet quickly as they kickstart their Premier League campaign with a visit to Wolves at the Molineux Stadium (Watch live at 3:15 pm ET Monday, online via Peacock).

Wolves are coming for a third-straight win in all competitions after beating Sheffield United last weekend in their Premier League opener before beating Stoke City at midweek in the League Cup.

WOLVES – MAN CITY STREAM LIVE

City is ready for its first competitive match since losing 3-1 to Lyon in the UCL quarterfinal.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Wolves – Man City this Saturday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Wolves – Man City (INJURY REPORT)

Sergio Aguero is out for a while still, as Guardiola revealed that the Argentine is not back training yet after a summer knee injury cost him the final stage of the Champions League. Aymeric Laporte is not yet ready after a positive COVID-19 test, but Riyad Mahrez is back and ready to play. Bernardo Silva has not been seen at training after being injured on Portugal duty.

For Wolves, Jonny Otto remains out with a knee injury. The club signed Ki-Jana Hoever from Liverpool after selling Diogo Jota to the Anfield set this week.


What they’re saying

Nuno Espirito Santo on Diogo Jota being sold to Liverpool: “Jota is a player who has been with us for three seasons with such high performances.We’re not a stepping stone. Players that join us really want to play and progress with us, not looking for the next move. That is definitely not our idea, definitely not.”

Guardiola is ready for the new season: “The feeling is good as always. I see the team as always in an incredible mood. It’s a joy to work with them. We have good expectations to play good football and get the results this club deserves.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Even playing a first competitive match in ages against a Wolves team which has played twice in the last week, Man City pulls -200 odds to win. Wolves are +525 to win and +340 to draw.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Wolves – Man City prediction

This should be a treat but perhaps absence is making us see more cracks in City’s foundation than exist in reality. City won its last five PL matches of last season by a combined 21-1 score line. Wolves are very good and have done well versus City but we’ll project 2-1 for the visitors.


How to watch Wolves – Man City stream and start time

Kickoff: 3:15 pm ET Monday
Online: Stream via Peacock

Bundesliga wrap: Dortmund, Hertha, Hoffenheim win

Bundesliga results
Photo by PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP via Getty Images
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Day two of the Bundesliga season saw very little drop-off from Friday’s opening day, when champions Bayern Munich hung eight goals on Schalke.

Five of six games saw a winner score three or more goals on Saturday, with a 1-1 draw the lone “low-scoring” affair in Germany.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season preview ]

The day was headlined by two impressive and dominant showings, one headlined by a 17-year-old American.


Borussia Dortmund 3-0 Borussia Monchengladbach

The season’s first match-up of top-four contenders saw USMNT teenager Giovanni Reyna score the game’s first goal and draw the penalty that Erling Haaland converted to give BVB breathing room at home.

Reyna’s goal was assisted by English teen Jude Bellingham, and fellow UK export Jado Sancho set up Haaland’s second of the day in the 77th minute as Dortmund took advantage of their chances on a day Gladbach started with Marcus Thuram and Alassane Plea on the bench.

Reyna started at attacking midfield underneath Haaland and Sancho. He finished with 100 percent passing over 78 minutes, drawing three fouls, registering a key pass, and winning an atypical 3-of-9 duels.

Here’s Reyna, from BVB.de:

“It was a very good start to the season,” Reyna said. “We have a lot of young players, it’s really enjoyable. We all have so much energy, but we need to keep working, we need to improve even more. We were so happy to see that some of our fans could be there again. That’s very important for us as players.”

Here’s the one goal that didn’t feature Reyna.

Werder Bremen 1-4 Hertha Berlin

Those of us who went out on a limb and said Hertha Berlin could be a surprise team in 2020-21 were validated for a day by the visitors to the Weserstadion.

Dodi Lukebakio and Matheus Cunha both scored, Vladimir Darida had two assists, and Peter Pekarik joined Jhon Cordoba on the score sheet for the away side.

Hertha produced five big chances and conceded little to Bremen, who scored via Davie Selke in the 69th minute.

USMNT forward Josh Sargent played further back from the front line in an advanced midfield or wing role. He had a key pass, two tackles, an interception, and a clearance. He won only four of 10 duels and completed half of his passes on a 33-touch day.

Koln 2-3 Hoffeheim

Leicester City knew what it was doing when it signed Andrej Kramaric in 2015, but the spoils have all been seen in the Bundesliga.

Kramaric gave Hoffenheim 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2 leads on Saturday in Cologne, overcoming home equalizers from Sebastian Andersson and Dominic Drexler.

The 29-year-old Kramaric now has five goals in two outings this season to give him 75 goals and 30 assists in 152 appearances for Hoffenheim.

He’s good.


Elsewhere

Bayern Munich 8-0 Schalke — Friday
Union Berlin 1-3 Augsburg
Stuttgart 2-3 Freiburg
Eintracht Frankfurt 1-1 Arminia Bielefeld
RB Leipzig v. Mainz — 9:30 am ET Sunday
Wolfsburg v Bayer Leverkusen — Noon ET Sunday

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 1 1 0 0 8 0 8 1-0-0 0-0-0 3
 Hertha BSC 1 1 0 0 4 1 3 0-0-0 1-0-0 3
 Borussia Dortmund 1 1 0 0 3 0 3 1-0-0 0-0-0 3
 Augsburg 1 1 0 0 3 1 2 0-0-0 1-0-0 3
 Freiburg 1 1 0 0 3 2 1 0-0-0 1-0-0 3
 Hoffenheim 1 1 0 0 3 2 1 0-0-0 1-0-0 3
 Arminia Bielefeld 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 0-0-0 0-1-0 1
 Eintracht Frankfurt 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 0-1-0 0-0-0 1
 Bayer Leverkusen 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0
 Mainz 05 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0
 RB Leipzig 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0
 Wolfsburg 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0
 1. FC Köln 1 0 0 1 2 3 -1 0-0-1 0-0-0 0
 Stuttgart 1 0 0 1 2 3 -1 0-0-1 0-0-0 0
 Union Berlin 1 0 0 1 1 3 -2 0-0-1 0-0-0 0
 Werder Bremen 1 0 0 1 1 4 -3 0-0-1 0-0-0 0
 Mönchengladbach 1 0 0 1 0 3 -3 0-0-0 0-0-1 0
 Schalke 04 1 0 0 1 0 8 -8 0-0-0 0-0-1 0

Special Ceballos keys Arsenal win over West Ham

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Arsenal – West Ham: It takes special moments to beat dedicated, packed-in back lines, and Arsenal found a pair in a 2-1 win over improved West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

Eddie Nketiah and Alexandre Lacazette scored goals off classy team goals, as Dani Ceballos drove the Gunners to a 2-0 start and sent West Ham to 0-2.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA

Up next for the Gunners: a trip to Liverpool.

West Ham will host Wolves next, buoyed perhaps by the improvement shown from a Week 1 loss to Newcastle.


3 things we learned from Arsenal – West Ham

1. Arteta’s magic touch springs winner: Lacazette got the start and scored but Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta was not afraid to take off the goal scorer and replace him with… a goal scorer. Nketiah ran into the heart of the box to be available for Dani Ceballos’ cutback of Bukayo Saka’s through ball and the Gunners fought through the congested 5-4-1 for a 2-1 win.

2. Steely lineup (kinda) works for Moyes: A week after leaving Sebastien Haller, Felipe Anderson, and Andriy Yarmolenko on the bench against Newcastle — and seeing Haller look strong in the League Cup — David Moyes again opted for a bit more steel and a lot more defending. Moyes’ men were set to counter in a 5-4-1 and they really limited Arsenal’s attack. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was kept from the danger areas apart from his assist, and it took a real touch of class in possession and movement for the Gunners to find their winner.

That said, Arsenal was a bit open at the back and was forced into playing Sead Kolasinac when Kieran Tierney pulled up with an injury before the game. Might Anderson and Yarmolenko have been able to produce a second goal?

Arsenal - West Ham
West Ham United’s Michail Antonio (right) and Arsenal’s Gabriel Magalhaes (Photo by Will Oliver/PA Images via Getty Images)

3. Super Ceballos: His assist came from a great run and the appropriate final ball to Nketiah, but the Real Madrid loanee was exactly what Arteta needed on a day the Gunners were treated much like Man City was when the manager helped Pep Guardiola and Co. find its way through a packed-in group of defenders.

For his stat line, see “Man of the Match” below.

Man of the Match

Ceballos had 119 touches and completed 90-of-98 passes. He won 8-of-12 duels and collected three tackles, three interceptions, three clearances, and two blocked shots. A complete performance.


Arsenal – West Ham recap

Angelo Ogbonna had the first chance of the game but Declan Rice’s headed flick didn’t have enough power for the defender to head past Bernd Leno.

The Gunners soon asserted themselves on the game and Aubameyang put it on a tee for Lacazetteto head home and provide a 1-0 lead in the 26th minute.

West Ham tied it when Antonio got in front of Rob Holding to tap Ryan Fredericks cross home after great work from Pablo Fornals and Jarrod Bowen.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Arthur Masuaku’s dangerous cross looked set to give West Ham a shock lead early in the second but Antonio couldn’t meet it cleanly and Leno cleaned up the mess.

Arsenal sprung a counter to earn a corner but a foul foiled the Gunners.

Willian was lively but was taken off in the 65th minute for Nicolas Pepe, a nice change for a manager to have in his locker.

Antonio popped a header off the bar in the 67th with West Ham in search of all three points.

Eddie Nketiah replaced Lacazette in the 77th.

The Irons were focused on stifling Arsenal and stayed well-drilled as the game reached its final 10 minutes.