Playback: Key to United’s amazing comeback

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WHAT SPARKED UNITED’S COMEBACK?

When you next hear the cliche “a game of two halves” it’s likely it will be surrounding Manchester United’s incredible comeback at Manchester City on Saturday.

Trailing 2-0 at Man City at half time, United could’ve been 4-0 or 5-0 down as the Premier League title party was in full flow at the Etihad Stadium.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Man City were 45 minutes away from sealing the PL title in front of their own fans and by beating their bitter rivals to rub further salt into Jose Mourinho’s wounds.

Then Paul Pogba scored twice in two minutes at the start of the second half to turn the game on its head and Chris Smalling scored the winner as the champagne bottles were put back in the fridge at Etihad for at least another week.

But how exactly did United launch their amazing comeback to stop City?

“I told my midfield players that they didn’t need to improve because they were playing very well, even in the first half. All of them. I think it is very difficult to be a midfield player against Manchester City,” Mourinho told reporters afterwards. “Paul, Ander [Herrera] and [Nemanja] Matic were playing really well but I needed more from [Jesse] Lingard and Alexis [Sanchez]. I need them to connect our good football in midfield and especially I need my defenders to be a little more confident. With just a little bit of pressure from City they were kicking the ball, they were nervous, they were not bringing the ball with quality to my midfielders.”

Pogba will get most of the plaudits, and rightly so, as the Frenchman scored twice and helped United grab the game by the scruff of the neck. But you can’t underestimate just how much better he, and the rest of United’s team, was in the second half. Especially Lingard and Sanchez who Mourinho obviously had a stern talking to at the break as the Red Devils were lucky to still be in the game at half time.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Towards the end of the first half Pogba stood with his hands on his hips and shook his head as City’s midfield had ran through United time and time again. You wondered if he was having another one of those days and Mourinho would hook him off given the week he had as Pep Guardiola revealed his agent, Mino Raiola, was offering Pogba up in January.

Yet it wasn’t all about Pogba. Yes, he scored twice and overpowered Fernandinho in City’s engine room to drag United back into the game but it was about so much more than this.

[ MORE: Pogba praised after difficult week

Mourinho’s talk with Sanchez and Lingard worked as the duo were winning the ball back in key areas and intercepting time and time again to stop City building from the back. That extra pressure Mourinho was talking about worked and the manager should be applauded for not hooking Pogba, Herrera or Matic off at half time and for seeing that it wasn’t a case of his midfielders doing a poor job, but more that the players in front of them weren’t giving them a chance to have a breather and push higher up the pitch.

“It is about keeping confidence. Some times when you are losing, the instinct is to change immediately because you don’t like everything. I didn’t have that feeling. Obviously the first goal [for United] was very important. After that the game was our game. The reaction after the 3-2 was normal but also mentally I think the game was our game. I am really pleased for the players.”

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Sanchez, in particular, was much improved in the second half as he delivered the ball to Herrera to set up Pogba for his first goal, then crossed to Pogba to score a second and then bent in a perfect free kick for Smalling to score the winner. The Chilean stepped up when United needed him and although he’s still settling into the team, he proved to Guardiola that Man City really could’ve done with signing him after all in January.

United’s tempo completely changed at the break as an extreme desire to not let City have their title party in front of their faces took over.

That, combined with an understrength Man City running out of steam in the second half just over 48 hours after a damaging defeat at Liverpool, was the main reason United launched a stunning comeback.

Pogba will get plenty of the praise. Mourinho won’t get that much. And Alexis Sanchez should get some for his part in a thrilling turnaround.


EVERTON MISS GLORIOUS CHANCE

Big Sam is not a popular man at Goodison Park right now.

I was lucky enough to attend both the Merseyside and Manchester derbies on Saturday as part of Arlo White & Lee Dixon’s Excellent Adventure II (more on that below) and speaking to Everton fans before their 0-0 draw against Liverpool on Saturday it was clear the Goodison faithful aren’t impressed with Sam Allardyce‘s style of play and believe he can achieve more with his current squad of players.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned from Merseyside Derby

Coming up against a weakened Liverpool side as Jurgen Klopp rested multiple players ahead of their UEFA Champions League quarterfinal second leg at Manchester City, this was a glorious chance for Allaryce and Everton to grab their first win against their rivals since 2010.

Allardyce wasn’t brave enough to unshackle his team until the final 10 minutes when Everton created two glorious chances for Cenk Tosun and Dominic Calvert-Lewin. But why didn’t they go for it earlier or, here’s an idea, from the very start?

That’s the Allardcye way.

Liverpool’s fans chanted about that during the game time and time again, goading the Everton fans about the direct, predictable style of play they have to watch week in, week out.

Everton is an insecure club right now. Allardyce continues to lash out at the fans as he is criticized and last week he pointed to West Brom’s position at the bottom of the table and stated that the Baggies were above Everton when he arrived at the club. That was true, but are West Brom (no disrespect) really the benchmark for an Everton side who spent big over the past two years since Farhad Moshiri’s takeover?

The Toffees are in ninth place and have 41 points but with so much talent at his disposal Allardyce could do so much more with this team.

Wayne Rooney‘s frustration as he was subbed out in the second half for a holding midfielder said it all. Allardyce is scared to lose a game and places more importance on not losing than winning.

Everton’s fans do not want him around next season, and can you really blame them?

The Toffees faithful are entitled to dream and they need a manager who is going to make them do that. Or at this point at least someone who will pretend that they’re willing to try and reach the lofty heights of the top four, which owner Moshiri has talked about time and time again.

Under Allardyce this is about as good as gets.


EXCELLENT ADVENTURE II

With the focus on the Merseyside and Manchester derbies on Saturday, the rare opportunity to attend both games presented itself.

Everton hosted Liverpool at Goodison at 7:30 a.m. ET and Manchester City welcome Manchester United to the Etihad Stadium at 12:30 p.m. ET.

That meant that Arlo and Lee could fire up their Excellent Adventure II and I joined them on a 37-mile journey from Liverpool to Manchester on Saturday afternoon to watch both the games.

Here’s a look at what we got up to and I can tell you one thing, it was indeed, quite excellent…


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.

Report: Luiz Suarez to Atletico Madrid

Luis Suarez to Atletico Madrid
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Luis Suarez to Atletico Madrid seems just about the perfect fit between a club, player and manager.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]

Diego Simeone roaring from the sidelines as Luis Suarez scores a last minute winner for Atletico Madrid at Real Madrid. You can see it now too, right?

A report from our partners at Sky Sport in Italy states that Suarez has already agreed a contract at Atletico and will leave Barcelona as a free agent as RAC 1 claim he will tear up his contract which still has one year left on it.

New Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman has told Suarez he was not part of his plans and was free to move on. That decision was said to be one of the big reasons why Lionel Messi wanted to leave Barcelona, as he is close friends with Suarez.

Suarez, 33, suffered with injuries last season but since he left Liverpool in the summer of 2014 he’s been a star at the Nou Camp, scoring 198 goals in 283 games in all competitions for Barcelona.

Per the report, Suarez’s arrival means that Alvaro Morata will be free to depart Atletico Madrid as his former club Juventus want to sign the Spanish international. Suarez had been linked with a move to Juventus but that is now not happening as Suarez would have had a delay in obtaining an Italian passport to make the move easier.

Will Suarez be a hit at Atletico? Well, they have a habit of squeezing extra juice out of star veteran strikers. See: Forlan, Diego. Villa, David. Costa, Diego.

Suarez working for Simeone is perfect. He may not start every game, but he will probably share the workload with Diego Costa and could partner him too. Imagine those two up top together? Separate reports state that Costa may have to leave to let Suarez arrive.

With Inter Miami CF going for Gonzalo Higuain as their final DP and Edinson Cavani still a free agent, there are plenty of ageing superstar strikers out there but Suarez is the best one available. If he can regain full fitness then you can expect him to score 20-25 goals in La Liga this season.

El Cholo and El Pistolero firing Atletico Madrid past Real Madrid and Barcelona is a very real possibility, and I’m here for it. Grab your popcorn, folks.

Leyton Orient announce COVID-19 positives, stadium closure before Tottenham game

Leyton Orient
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Leyton Orient have issued a statement after multiple first team players tested positive for COVID-19 and they’ve been forced to shut their training ground and stadium just one day before they were due to host Premier League giants Tottenham.

The fourth-tier club were due to play Tottenham in the League Cup third round on Tuesday but that game is now in severe doubt and the east London club (located 11 miles from Tottenham’s home stadium) said they will be announcing more details in due course about what will happen.

Here is the Leyton Orient statement in full about their current situation:

“Following our game on Saturday 19th September, COVID-19 testing was conducted on all of our first team playing squad. Today (Monday 21st) we received formal confirmation which shows that a number of our first-team squad have tested positive for COVID-19. We have informed the EFL and Tottenham Hotspur and will make a further announcement regarding Tuesday’s match shortly.

“We have also informed Mansfield Town, Plymouth Argyle and Oldham Athletic, our three most recent opponents, prior to the public release of this information. Leyton Orient’s priority is the health and well-being of its players and staff. Those who have tested positive will now strictly follow government self-isolation guidelines. The Breyer Group Stadium and training ground facilities will be closed until further notice. At this time, the club will make no further comment.”

The problem here is that Tottenham don’t have any other available dates to play this game.

With their Premier League and UEFA Europa League qualifying commitments, Tottenham are already stretched to the limits and this game at Leyton Orient is one of four games in seven days for Jose Mourinho’s side.

The rules also state that if a team cannot fulfil the fixture due to COVID-19 positive tests, they will have to forfeit and Tottenham will move on. Leyton Orient are a small team who Harry Kane, a former loanee, has helped raised money for and there’s a very good relationship between the two clubs. This game was also due to be broadcast on TV in the UK and would have helped Leyton Orient out financially at a time when fans still aren’t allowed into stadiums in large numbers. These positive tests have now put all of that in doubt.

Lower league teams will run into similar issues like this when it comes to the FA Cup too, as testing is less prevalent and regulated lower down the professional pyramid in England. EFL clubs are only mandated to test their players during every international break and have stopped testing players twice a week. That has led to Premier League clubs paying for their lower-league League Cup opponents to be tested before games. In this case, multiple Leyton Orient players have tested positive.

Mourinho: Bale could return from injury quicker due to desire

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Bale injury update: So, Tottenham fans would be hoping that a Gareth Bale injury update wouldn’t be coming soon but he is nursing a knee injury he picked up on international duty earlier this month.

Judging by their 5-2 win at Southampton on Sunday, Tottenham will be just fine in attack without the Welsh star they’ve signed on loan from Real Madrid for the 2019-20 season. There is no reason for him to rush back, especially considering his recent history with injuries.

That said, Mourinho is hopeful that Bale can return from injury quicker due to that trust remedy: desire.

“I don’t know when Gareth can be back,” Mourinho said on a Bale injury update. “The only thing that I know is that the motivation is high, he is so happy to be with a club of his heart, he is so happy to play for us and when a player has this motivation, many, many times you can shorten the period of recovering and shorten the period of getting fit and ready to play and we want to help him. So when he is available to train with the team, we are more than happy to have him and to be back to a level that [is] maybe one of the best players in the world.”

This is textbook Mourinho.

It has been noted many, many times that he hates players missing games due to injury and is less than sympathetic when someone is in the treatment room.

This seems like a challenge to Bale, 31, to prove just how much he wants to be back at Tottenham after spending the last seven seasons at Real Madrid. ‘Oh, you want to be back here? Prove it. Patch yourself up and be ready for next week.’ That will definitely probably be Mourinho’s chat with Bale next week.

There is no reason to risk Bale right now but when he is fit, having him play alongside Harry Kane and Heung-min Son in attack is a mouthwatering prospect for Mourinho and Tottenham. Their counterattacking prowess was clear for all to see in the second half at Southampton on Sunday and a fired up and fit Bale will add a lot to this attack.

Hurry up and get that dose of desire rubbed onto your knee, Gareth…

Leicester impressive again in 4-2 win over Burnley

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Leicester – Burnley saw Leicester City flex a bit of muscle en route to a mostly comfortable, yet somewhat thrilling, 4-2 victory at the King Power Stadium on Sunday.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]

Harvey Barnes, Dennis Praet and James Justin scored the goals for Leicester, plus an own goal from Erik Pieters, as Brendan Rodgers’ side made it two wins from two games to start their 2020-21 Premier League campaign.


3 things we learned: Leicester – Burnley

1. Leicester back for another crack at top-four: It’s only two games, admittedly, but Leicester have the look of a side out to prove that their late-season collapse, which saw them fall from third to fifth in the final five games of the 2019-20 season, was very much an aberration. Rodgers’ men hardly ever looked worried as they cruised to a win against last season’s 10th-place finishers.

2. Foxes firepower: Leicester managed to score four goals without a single one of them coming from Jamie Vardy, who bagged 23 last season. James Maddison only made his return from injury on Sunday as well, lending credence to the notion this is far from a one-man team as has, to a degree, been an issue in the past. They might not actually finish inside the top-four this season, but they have the look of a side with plenty of staying power.

3. Burnley crying out for reinforcements: Sean Dyche had some rather critical thoughts about Burnley’s ongoing inability — or, perhaps, refusal — to move in a more timely manner to sign new players and improve the squad. Until such a change occurs, Dyche’s words are probably worth revisiting regularly.


Wood got the scoring started in Leicester – Burnley after just 10 minutes, with equal parts brute force and delicate touch. Charlie Taylor floated a cross to the back post, where Wood was waiting and battling for positioning with a defender. He managed to create a half-yard of space to allow for chest control and a quick, but difficult, finish from the corner of the six-yard box.

Jamie Vardy was instrumental in Leicester’s equalizer 10 minutes later, though hardly the typical manner in which he contributes to goals scored. Vardy latched onto a forward ball in an attempt to split the center backs, but was ultimately forced wide and to hold the ball up. He cut it back to Castagne, who played it on to Barnes for the far-post finish.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Leicester’s second goal was more a product on constant pressure than exquisite, incisive chance creation, but the ball hitting the back of the net counts all the same. Castagne overlapped down the right flank and hit a cross for Vardy as he streaked past the penalty spot. Erik Pieters wasn’t tight enough to Castagne to deny the cross, only to redirect it past the wrong-footed Nick Pope.

The Foxes’ third goal, however, was the result of a free-flowing attack involving a handful of blue shirts along the way. It ended with Ayoze Perez playing the ball across the penalty area and left back James Justin slotting home for his first PL goal in the 61st minute.

It was Justin who was beaten by Jimmy Dunne as he rose highest to bag a goal on his PL debut 12 minutes later, giving Burnley a brief glimmer of hope. 

It didn’t last long, though, as Dennis Praet bagged a stunning fourth goal for Leicester in the 79th minute. Barnes picked up the assist to go with his earlier goal, but it was Praet’s powerful finish that will get all of the headlines, and deservedly so.

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