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.

UEL Recap: Wolves earn huge road victory, and more

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Wolverhampton Wanderers has one proverbial foot back in a European competition, potentially breaking a 40-year drought for the club.

Wolves defeated Torino on the road, 3-2, in the first leg match between the two sides on Thursday at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino. Mexican international Raul Jimenez continued his red-hot form with another goal, while Diogo Jota scored as well for Wolves.

The Premier League side took the lead late in the first half thanks to an own goal, as Gleison Bremer headed in a Wolves free kick expertly into the side netting. Jota then added the second for Wolves in the 59th minute after an individual moment of brilliance from Adama Traore down the right side of the box, completely bamboozling his defender.

Torino’s Lorenzo di Silvestre answered just two minutes later off a late run into the box and a powerful header, but Jimenez then gave Wolves another two-goal advantage, as well as another crucial away goal. Jimenez ran with the ball from midfield and with Nicolas N’Koulou retreating, Jimenez took the space and scored.

Torino striker Andrea Belotti gave the Italians some late hope with a penalty kick goal in the 89th minute, but it wasn’t enough to complete the comeback. Anything but a defeat by more than two goals for Wolves will be enough for the club to make it to the Europa League group stage.

Here’s more results from around the Europa League on Thursday afternoon:


Celtic top AIK at home

The Scottish champions appear to have brushed off the disappointment of exiting the UEFA Champions League with a solid 2-0 win at Celtic Park against AIK Solna on Thursday evening.

James Forrest scored the opener for Celtic, taking advantage of a ricochet on the edge of the box to unleash a strike that AIK goalkeeper Oscar Linner couldn’t parry away. Odsonne Edouard then put the icing on the cake with a tremendous free kick from 30-yards out to give Celtic it’s 2-0 lead.

Neil Lennon’s side then held off AIK late to secure the shutout.

Thursday’s Europa League Playoff Round first leg qualifying matches:


Astana 3-0 BATE
Ararat Armenia 2-1 F91 Dudelange
Malmo FF 3-0 Bnei Yehudah Tel Aviv
Suduva 0-0 Ferencvaros
Feyenoord 3-0 Hapoel Be’er Sheva
Ludogorets 0-0 Maribor
FC Copenhagen 2-1 Riga
AEK Athens 1-3 Trabzonspor
Legia Warsaw 0-0 Rangers

Crossroads: What if Arsenal hadn’t gone unbeaten?

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The 2003-2004 Premier League season will forever be remembered for Arsenal’s Invincibles, the first team in history to go an entire 38-game season undefeated.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

But what if they hadn’t?

On the latest episode of NBC Sports’ new series Crossroads, host Aaron West dives into the Invincible season for Arsenal, and what would have happened if Arsenal lost along the way. Of course, we know that didn’t happen, and it wasn’t until the next season against Manchester United that Arsenal’s unbeaten run of 49 games was ended.

Watch the latest episode of Crossroads above, and check out previous episodes on Manchester City and Liverpool on NBC Sports‘ Youtube Page.

 

Oxlade-Chamberlain signs contract extension at Liverpool

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While Liverpool hasn’t been busy in the transfer market, it continues to be busy upgrading its first team contracts.

The club announced on Thursday that it had signed midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to a new, undisclosed long-term contract. The BBC reported that the new contract tied Oxlade-Chamberlain to Liverpool through 2023, after his last deal was set to expire in 2022.

[READ: JPW’s Premier League Picks]

“I’m really, really excited – it’s been in the pipeline for a little while, so it’s nice to finally get it done and just extend my time here, which I am really looking forward to,” Oxlade-Chamberlain told Liverpool’s website in a statement. “I feel like I missed out on a year, which I obviously did, so it’s really exciting for me to be able to sign. It’s something that I feel is an opportunity to give that year back and make up for lost time – and hopefully put in some good performances to make amends for not being around last year.

“You’ve got to count your blessings every time you get an opportunity like this, you don’t get the chance to play for Liverpool Football Club every day. I am really excited to be able to extend my time here.”

Oxlade-Chamberlain is finally healthy after a long, long recovery from a horrific knee injury suffered in April 2018. The England international missed out on the World Cup as well as the Champions League final, though he was able to make the field off the bench towards the end of last season, eventually making the bench for Liverpool’s Champions League victory in June.

With some injuries and fatigue to other players, Oxlade-Chamberlain made his first Premier League start in more than a year last Saturday against his former club Southampton, playing 89 minutes in Liverpool’s 2-1 victory. He also started and played the first half in Liverpool’s UEFA Super Cup win over Chelsea on penalty kicks.

This deal is ultimately a good-will gesture from both sides, making up for the year lost that Oxlade-Chamberlain endured after the knee injury in the Champions League semifinal. It could take him more time, but Liverpool is certainly hoping that he can make a full recovery and come good for the Reds as it looks to win its first Premier League title, and first top league title in England since 1990.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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There are only two teams with perfect records through the opening two weeks of the new Premier League season, as there continues to be plenty of surprises.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ]

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

While you can download the NBC Sports Predictor app (below) and play the Premier League Pick ‘Em game yourself to predict the scores and win the prizes.

DOWNLOAD NBC SPORTS PREDICTOR

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the long shots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Bournemouth 1-3 Man City – (Sunday, 9 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Man United 3-1 Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Tottenham 3-0 Newcastle – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Liverpool 1-1 Arsenal – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM] 

Brighton 1-1 Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

Watford 1-2 West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Sheffield United 1-2 Leicester City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM


“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

 

Norwich City 2-2 Chelsea – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Aston Villa 2-1 Everton – (Friday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Wolves 1-2 Burnley – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM