What did we learn in the Premier League?

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It was a wild Saturday in the Premier League, as we had blowout wins, red cards, stunning goals and some huge shocks all rolled into six games.

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Below we focus on the key stories to come out of Saturday’s PL action, and there’s only one place to start…


Jose Mourinho and Manchester United are still a mess

My word, what a comeback. Manchester United beat Newcastle 3-2 on Saturday just when it seemed like Mourinho was on the brink of being fired. Newcastle crumbled in the second half after racing into a 2-0 lead but they still had plenty of chances to score against United’s shaky defensive unit. However, with their backs against the wall, United’s players dug deep and fought for Mourinho. That was a huge question mark heading into this game with the likes of Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez and others said to have fallen out with their manager. This could be the turning point and heading into the international break there will be some kind of positivity around United.

But they are still in a mess. And how much is Mourinho to blame? Reports had circulated that Mourinho would be fired regardless of the result. United had called that report as “nonsense” but the situation is still far from being sorted. Surely the only way is up from here? The subs he made and the way his senior players stood tall told us that they still want to play for Mourinho. That’s huge.

“In the second half the players gave absolutely everything. There was nothing left to give. I am 55, I am mature, I can cope with it and I can live with it. I think clearly, some of the boys, they are not coping well with it,” Mourinho said. “The way they started the game was absolutely panicking. Every ball that was in our box, I thought in some moments we could even score in our own goal. For me, it is not easy, but life is made of experiences and some are new and some are deja vu. This is new but makes me not just a better manager but a better person. I now understand things better in the industry. There is a lot of wickedness in something that should be beautiful.”

So far this season, Mourinho has created a cloud of negativity at Old Trafford with his players looking scared to play and they made a very poor Newcastle side look like world beaters early on. He called out Scott McTominay and Marcus Rashford for criticism after the game which may not help him in the long run, but he continues to clash with his players. With Pogba and Nemanja Matic playing at center back in the second half, Mourinho also seemed to be sending a thinly-veiled message to Ed Woodward and the board at United: you didn’t get me the players I wanted this summer and this is your fault. Of course, the fault for United’s worst-ever start to a Premier League season lies at the door of Mourinho, his players and the hierarchy, and you get the sense that this situation can be turned around with everyone pulling in the right direction. But so much has to change. United’s players need time away from the club over the international break to take a breather. So does Mourinho. He looks like a man who needs a break from the criticism amid all of the pressure.

They still have the squad to at least finish in the top four, even if a serious title push looks far away this season. After all of their struggles so far, United are in eighth place and just four points off the top four. That’s not that bad, right? This seems like a turning point but there’s still a huge mess to sort out.


Bournemouth’s attacking quartet key to European bid

Callum Wilson, Josh King, David Brooks and Ryan Fraser ripped Watford apart on Saturday and they are the main reason Bournemouth sit in fifth place in the Premier League and dream of qualifying for Europe. After their fifth win in eight games this season, Eddie Howe said he believes his team are “capable of beating anyone” and David Brooks hailed the “on fire” attacking unit for the Cherries. With games against Southampton, Fulham, Manchester United and Newcastle coming up, you can expect to see Bournemouth hanging around the top six between now and December. The longer they stay there, the more belief they will gain and Howe’s youngsters are playing with so much confidence right now. Bournemouth can be the Burnley of this season and finishing seventh certainly isn’t out of the question. In a week where the South Coast club halted a bid to move to a new stadium and away from their 11,000 capacity home, their ambition on the pitch remains. Bournemouth are the perfect model of how to run a club, how to develop young players and how to keep faith in a young manager with a clear philosophy. The Cherries have now been in the Premier League for four seasons and this is the first time it feels like they can turn their fluid attacking play into a genuine push for a top seven finish.


Sigurdsson and two Brazilians spark Everton’s revival

Everton went to Leicester and won on Saturday and Gylfi Sigurdsson‘s late stunner was worthy of winning any game. The Icelandic playmaker has now scored four goals in his last two PL games (as well as missing a penalty kick) and his play, alongside Bernard and Richarlison, is key if Marco Silva‘s time at Goodison Park is going to be a success. Now that their defensive issues are sorting themselves out with injuries clearing up, the focus should be on their misfiring attack. With Theo Walcott, Sigurdsson, Bernard and Richarlison all starting on Saturday, Silva has a similar problem to his predecessor Ronald Koeman: without a top central striker, Everton must focus on spreading around the goals and assists between their wingers and attacking midfielders. That is harsh on Cenk Tosun and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, but with the trickery of Bernard and Sigurdsson, plus the pace of Walcott and Richarlison, there’s actually a really good balance in Everton’s attacking positions. Those four should be given a run of games together for the Toffees. Silva is known for his his direct attacking play and so far Everton have meandered along under the much vaunted Portuguese coach. With back-to-back wins against Fulham and Leicester, they’ve dragged themselves into the top 10 and there is plenty of room for improvement. Silva knows that and after crashing out of the League Cup in midweek he needed this win today.

La Liga want to move Barcelona v. Real Madrid to avoid protests

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MADRID (AP) The Spanish soccer league wants Barcelona’s game against Real Madrid to be moved out of the Catalan capital to avoid coinciding with a planned separatist rally.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule

Separatist groups in Catalonia have called for supporters to rally in Barcelona on Oct. 26 when Barcelona is scheduled to host Madrid in the “clasico” match.

The league runs the top two tiers of Spanish soccer. It has called on the Spanish soccer federation (RFEF) – which controls regulations and fixtures for professional and amateur games – to shift the match to Madrid. The league has also requested for the return match to be switched from Madrid to Barcelona.

The league said Wednesday it has “requested the competitions committee of the RFEF to meet and change the location of El Clasico because of exceptional circumstances beyond our control.”

Catalonia has seen violent protests for the last two days with police clashing with protesters angered by the Supreme Court’s decision to sentence nine separatist leaders to prison.

The federation said the clubs have until Monday to respond to the request to change venues.

Catalan independence flags are a regular feature at Barcelona’s home games at the Camp Nou Stadium.

More AP soccer https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Report: Sacramento finally gets MLS expansion franchise

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After years of trying, it appears that Major League Soccer is finally heading to Sacramento.

Sacramento Republic FC have long been one of the best runs franchises in the lower leagues in the United States of America and both city officials and their new ownership group have backed this push to join MLS.

It seemed certain that Sacramento would get a team in 2016 and 2017, but they’ve been left behind as plenty of other cities have been awarded expansion franchises.

A report from the Sacramento Bee states that the franchise will be announced on Monday in a ceremony in downtown Sacramento.

“Sources said league officials will hold a press conference in downtown Monday followed by a fan event in the afternoon, celebrating the franchise award. The announcement will mark the successful conclusion of a laborious five-year effort by Sacramento community leaders and various investors to secure a franchise in MLS.”

New majority owners LA billionaire Ron Burkle (who also owns the Pittsburgh Penguins) and Hollywood producer Matt Alvarez joined Sacramento businessman Kevin Nagle this spring to get the finances in line for a new soccer-specific stadium and to pay the expansion fee which is close to $200 million.

Sacramento released a statement on the speculation, after Burkle, Alvarez and Nagle had been working closely with MLS in recent months to iron out the details of arriving in North America’s top-flight.

“We share the great excitement and anticipation in our community about Sacramento’s bid to join Major League Soccer. We will continue to respect the MLS expansion process and remain confident about the future of our club and our city. We look forward to sharing more information in the days ahead.”

Nagle and Warren Smith set up Sacramento Republic FC, who began play in the United Soccer Leagues in 2014, and have built an impressive fanbase.

Burkle and Alvarez were the final pieces of the jigsaw as their cash investment will allow the construction of a $250 million 20,000 capacity stadium long planned in the Railyards district of downtown Sacramento, while the city will also add funding to the effort as they add their second major league franchise.

Sacramento Republic will have an instant rival in MLS too, as the San Jose Earthquakes are located just 120 miles south-west.

With St. Louis awarded an expansion franchise in August and to begin play in 2022, MLS is now up to 29 teams with Nashville and Miami joining for the 2020 season, plus Austin FC arriving in 2021.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber seems keen to get the number of teams to 30, with Charlotte, Phoenix, Detroit and Las Vegas all pushing hard to become the 30th franchise in the coming years.

Sacramento’s journey to MLS has been a long one, but now they are about to celebrate.

Bulgaria detains four fans following racist acts

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SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) The Bulgarian government says it has detained four soccer fans linked to making racist gestures, including Nazi salutes, during a European Championship qualifying match against England.

[ MORE: Bulgarian FA chief resigns ]

Bulgarian fans also directed monkey noises at England’s black players during the match, which was halted twice in an effort to stop the racist abuse. England won the match 6-0.

The Ministry of Interior says police have “detained four people, whose involvement in what happened is being clarified.”

The ministry says any evidence collected will be handed over to prosecutors.

In the fallout from Monday’s game, the president of the country’s soccer federation has resigned and the Bulgarian special police forces have raided the federation offices.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Berhalter slams USMNT after Canada defeat. What now?

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Gregg Berhalter and the USMNT hit a new low on Tuesday as they lost 2-0 to Canada in Toronto and it could have been worse.

Much worse.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings ]

Totally outplayed in their CONCACAF Nations League game, pressure is mounting on Berhalter as the U.S. men’s national team perhaps haven’t even hit rock bottom yet. Two years after their shocking failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup as they lost at Trinidad & Tobago, in many ways the performance against Canada was worse.

What progress has been made since that fateful night in Couva in 2017?

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Speaking to reporters after the damaging defeat at BMO Field, Berhalter threw his players under the bus. Big time.

“The first thing that stands out to me, was desire; desire of Canada,” Berhalter said. “Give them credit. But having said that, the minimum we expect is to match that. We need to compete on every single play in games like this, and that’s important. I don’t think it was a lack of effort. I don’t think it was purposeful. But I wasn’t happy with the desire that we displayed tonight to win the soccer game. Too many 50-50 balls we lost, and that hurt us.”

USMNT fans are calling for Berhalter to be fired just 10 months into his reign, and his possession-based style isn’t sinking in with his young, hard-working squad. Berhalter wants the USMNT to play like Barcelona but right now they look more like Burton Albion. And that’s being kind.

The youngsters coming through are being asked to overcomplicate things and aren’t playing to their strengths. After a heavy defeat to Mexico last month and a damaging loss to Canada, qualifying for the 2022 World Cup would now be a huge achievement for the USMNT. It should be a given.

Where do we go from here?

The fact USMNT general manager Earnie Stewart may well have to get the thumbs up from Berhalter’s brother, Jay, who is the expected incoming new CEO of U.S. Soccer, adds to the anger from U.S. fans.

It is unlikely Berhalter will be removed anytime soon and that U.S. Soccer will stick with him after waiting a year for him to take charge.

Former interim coach Dave Sarachan did the best job he could do from November 2017 to November 2018, but that lost year waiting for Berhalter has sent this young group of players spiralling backwards.

The lack of progression is clear for all to see, but Berhalter doesn’t want anyone pointing to the shocking defeat in Canada as a true reflection of where this team is at.

“I wouldn’t make a statement about the program based on this game,” Berhalter said. “The reason why is that these games are difficult. It was never going to be easy and come here and win the game. There was no way. When you look at their team, when at their quality, when you look at where they are right now, it wasn’t going to be an easy game. We have to accept that. I think all of us have to accept that. We wanted to win the game, and hopefully we’re going to keep improving and hopefully we’re going to start winning games on the road, but tonight wasn’t the night to do it.”

Berhalter is under pressure and things have got worse for the USMNT since their embarrassing World Cup qualifying failure two years ago.

Is it time to pull the plug on Berhalter? After the performance against Canada his players appear to think so, and so too do the fans.

U.S. Soccer have a big decision to make, as things look like they will get a lot worse before they get any better.