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

Newcastle vs West Ham: How to watch, stream link, team news

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Newcastle United can become the third Premier League team this season to cross the 40-point marker when it meets West Ham on Saturday at St. James’ Park (watch live, 12:30pm ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

The Magpies have been terrific at home in all competitions, including at midweek where they finished off Southampton to claim a spot in the League Cup Final.

STREAM LIVE NEWCASTLE vs WEST HAM

And while the 40-point marker used to just mean safety, Newcastle would stay within sight of second-place Man City and first-place Arsenal.

Meanwhile, West Ham’s mix of bad luck and substandard performances have them just a point above the drop zone, in 16th. A win here would be huge,

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Newcastle vs West Ham.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


How to watch Newcastle vs West Ham live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 12:30pm ET, Saturday
TV Channel: NBC
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com


Key storylines & star players

The Magpies won’t have their best all-around player in influential Brazilian midfielder Bruno Guimaraes, and center forward Alexander Isak will miss out following a head injury suffered against Saints. Sean Longstaff will need to shine again after scoring twice against Saints.

As for West Ham, they have three attackers out but can look to Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen to continue upturns in form.


Newcastle team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Bruno Guimaraes (suspension), Alexander Isak (concussion), Javier Manquillo (undisclosed), Matt Targett (foot), Emil Krafth (knee)

West Ham team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Gianluca Scamacca (knee), Maxwel Cornet (calf), Kurt Zouma (thigh), Danny Ings (knee)

Wolves vs Liverpool: How to watch, stream link, team news

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Liverpool hopes it can boost its top-four hopes by hurting Wolves’ plans for Premier League safety when the duo meet Saturday at the Molineux (watch live, 10am ET Saturday online via Peacock Premium).

It’s the third meeting since early January between the sides following a 2-2 draw in the FA Cup and a 1-0 Liverpool win in the replay.

STREAM LIVE WOLVES vs LIVERPOOL

Wolves sit 17th with 17 points, only outside of the bottom three due to Bournemouth’s poor goal differential. Last place is just two points away, as there are seven teams within three points between 14th and 20th.

Liverpool, meanwhile, is 10 points off the top four but has played at least one fewer match than all but two of the eight teams ahead of them (Sixth-place Brighton and leaders Arsenal).

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Wolves vs Liverpool.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


How to watch Wolves vs Liverpool live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10am ET, Saturday
Online: Premier League on Peacock


Key storylines & star players

Winning games is about scoring goals and only two Wolves players have more than one. Daniel Podence has collected five, while Ruben Neves has four. Even more surprising, Wolves are still waiting on a goal from Raul Jimenez, Diego Costa, or injured Pedro Neto. Perhaps Matheus Cunha or Pablo Sarabia will chip in soon.

Liverpool has one win from its last three Premier League outings, but there’s a heaping helping of bad luck to their struggles. The Reds have 24 goals from open play and 20 allowed in that same situation. Their expected goals in those spots is 34.6 – 24. Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez have been especially unlucky despite combining for 12 goals and six assists on the season.


Wolves team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Pedro Neto (ankle), Sasa Kalajdzic (torn ACL), Boubacar Traore (undisclosed), Chiquinho (knee)

Liverpool team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Virgil van Dijk (thigh), Roberto Firmino (calf), Ibrahima Konate (hamstring), Luis Diaz (knee), Diogo Jota (thigh), Arthur Melo (thigh) | QUESTIONABLE: Fabio Carvalho (undisclosed), Nathaniel Phillips (illness)

Manchester United release statement as Mason Greenwood charges dropped

Greenwood
Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images
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UPDATE (Feb. 2, 2023): Manchester United forward Mason Greenwood has seen charges of attempted rape and assault against him dropped, just over a year after he was arrested and later suspended indefinitely by the Premier League club.

The Crown Prosecution Service said it was no longer realistic to convict Greenwood after the “withdrawal of key witnesses and new material that came to light.”

Greenwood, 21, was arrested in January 2022 after a woman released disturbing photos and audio alleging physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the England national team forward.

[ MORE: Chelsea signs Enzo Fernandez in record deal ]

“We are aware of images and allegations circulating on social media,” United said after his arrest in January 2022. “We will not make any further comment until the facts have been established. Manchester United does not condone violence of any kind.”

Greenwood was then kept in custody into February as police conducted an investigation and released on Feb. 3, 2022. Greenwood has remained suspended by United.

Manchester United statement on Mason Greenwood

United released a statement on Thursday after learning that the charges were dropped:

“Manchester United notes the decision of the Crown Prosecution Service that all charges against Mason Greenwood have been dropped.

“The club will now conduct its own process before determining next steps. We will not make any further comment until that process is complete.”

Greenwood has six goals and two assists in 24 matches for United this season and has 129 senior appearances for the club after coming through its academy. He’s earned one cap for England.

Manchester United vs Crystal Palace: How to watch, stream link, team news

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Manchester United looks to keep climbing up the Premier League table when its hosts improving Crystal Palace at Old Trafford on Saturday (watch live, 10am ET online via Premier League on Peacock).

United has won all three of its cup matches since a Jan. 22 setback at Premier League leaders Arsenal, and now face Palace before two matches with Leeds

STREAM LIVE MANCHESTER UNITED vs CRYSTAL PALACE

Palace hasn’t won in 2023, though the Eagles managed back-to-back draws with Manchester United and Newcastle in their past two matches. Both of those were at Selhurst Park.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Manchester United vs Crystal Palace.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


How to watch Manchester United vs Crystal Palace live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10am ET, Saturday
Online: Premier League on Peacock


Key storylines & star players

Man United’s lost Christian Eriksen through April but acted quick and in impressive fashion with the loan addition of Marcel Sabitzer from Bayern Munich. Desperate for playing time and a more attacking role than what was asked of him by Bayern, the Austrian star may be just what the doctor ordered even before Eriksen went down. This is a hard-edged player with plenty of attcking firepower to boot.

Palace, of course, is still all about their creative players, as Wilfried Zaha, Michael Olise, Eberechi Eze, and Odsonne Edouard can deliver the goods with just a half-chance, but look out for Deadline Day adds Albert Sambi Lokonga, on loan from Patrick Vieira’s former team Arsenal, and Naouirou Ahamada, who they hope will add a needed ball progressor in the heart of the pitch.


Manchester United team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Christian Eriksen (ankle), Donny van de Beek (knee), Mason Greenwood (suspension – MORE) | QUESTIONABLE: Jadon Sancho (undisclosed), Anthony Martial (undisclosed), Diogo Dalot (thigh), Luke Shaw (illness), Scott McTominay (undisclosed)

Crystal Palace team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Wilfried Zaha (hamstring), Joachim Andersen (calf), Nathan Ferguson (undisclosed), James McArthur (groin)