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Premier League Playback: How can Manchester United get best out of Wayne Rooney?

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ROONEY DILEMMA CONTINUES

Wayne Rooney has scored just four times in his last 22 appearances for Manchester United in the Premier League.

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He is their captain, talisman and should be their biggest goal threat. However, Rooney has come under plenty of criticism in the opening three weekends of the new PL season and after hitting back at critics last week, he put in another lackluster display against Newcastle United during his team’s 0-0 draw at Old Trafford on Saturday.

The big question remains: how can Louis van Gaal get the best out of Rooney?

As the stat above suggests, Rooney has been out of form in front of goal for a while and it seems to be playing on his mind. When he scored for United after five minutes against Newcastle but was flagged offside, despite replays proving he was level with the last defender when the ball was played, that summed up the way things have been going for him. You could argue that he is putting the team first and doing whatever he can to make sure they win, over personal glory, but after spending spells in midfield last season and then up top in the lone forward role this year, Rooney looks a shadow of his former self. Knowing him, the 29-year-old will come back and score a hat trick in United’s next PL game against Swansea on Sunday, as he always seems to answer his critics during a rough spell. But there is perhaps a simple answer as to how Rooney can snap out of this funk.

He is, and always has been, a maverick. A player who cannot be shackled down in one position and prefers to float around and help knit the attack and midfield together. Rooney’s best trait is finding space in and around the box and driving at defenders. Under van Gaal’s strict formations and belief in a team-first ethic, Rooney has struggled to find those gaps and especially when playing as the lone forward, he does not have license to drop deep and get involved but has to stay high and can be marked easily.

[ MORE: Standings | schedule | stats ] 

You could argue that Memphis Depay, Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj have yet to deliver chances for Rooney to finish, but I’d argue that Rooney is being played out of position. True, there was a huge outcry of disbelief when Rooney was played in central midfield by van Gaal last season, but playing him in-between midfield and attack is the perfect position. If you look at his best season’s for United, he has played as a second-striker behind the likes of Robin van Persie, Ruud van Nistelrooy and even Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez. He has also been in tandem with Cristiano Ronaldo, and the point I’m trying to make is that he’s always had a partner in crime. He doesn’t have that at United anymore. Not yet, anyway.

Premier League Schedule – Week 3

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 0-0 Liverpool Recap and watch here
C. Palace 2-1 Aston Villa Recap and watch here
Everton 0-2 Man City Recap and watch here
Leicester 1-1 Tottenham Recap and watch here
Man United 0-0 N’castle Recap and watch here
Norwich 1-1 Stoke City Recap and watch here
Sunderland 1-1 Swansea Recap and watch here
Watford 0-0 Saints Recap and watch here
West Brom 2-3 Chelsea Recap and watch here
West Ham 3-4 B’mouth Recap and watch here

Van Gaal should sacrifice one of Depay, Januzaj or Mata and play Rooney as the central attacking midfielder in his 4-2-3-1 formation. Starting either Depay or Hernandez up top for Rooney to run off and link up with could help him snap out of his funk. At the very least it may open up space for others to score, as United have looked solid at the back with three clean sheets from their opening three games, but Januzaj’s deflected effort against Aston Villa is the only goal they have scored on their own as Kyle Walker’s own goal on the opening day handed them the win over Tottenham.

For spells against Newcastle they looked better going forward, but Rooney was snatching at shots and struggled before being subbed out in the second half. United look a lot better defensively this season, but if they want to challenge for the title, they must figure out how to get the best out of their star man.

GRITTY CHELSEA REIGNITED BY PEDRO

Overcoming adversity is a major trait of a championship winning team and on Sunday’s showing, Chelsea will be right up there once again to defend their title.

[ NBC SportsWorld: A longform piece with Thibaut Courtois ]

Thibaut Courtois saved James Morrison’s first half penalty kick when it was 0-0, then the Blues raced into a 3-1 lead at half time thanks to the arrival of their new Spanish winger. Pedro Rodriguez, 28, stunned everyone by picking Chelsea over Manchester United at the last minute and the former Barcelona star scored the opener and set up Diego Costa for the second to slot right into life in the PL. His $34 million arrival at Stamford Bridge seemed to give Chelsea’s players a lift, especially going forward in the first half. For Cesar Azpilicueta’s goal, the left back scored Chelsea’s third, look at the stat below on the passing movement which set him up. That’s more like the Chelsea we saw early last season.

Sometimes it only takes one player to reignite an offense, and Pedro’s arrival could well get the best out of Costa, Eden Hazard and even Cesc Fabregas, as an attacking unit. Chelsea actually started more Spanish internationals (Costa, Fabregas, Azpilicueta, Pedro) than Real Madrid last weekend and that familiarity with his national team teammates could help Pedro slot in seamlessly this season. With John Terry getting sent off in the second half and Chelsea conceding soon after to make it 3-2, they had to hang on with 10-men for over 30 minutes. But they did, and Jose Mourinho’s side showed they could fight back after extreme criticism to grab their first win of the season after a difficult last 10 days on and off the pitch.

DRAMATIC DRAWS AND WATER BREAKS

It was a weekend full of tense, tight action in the PL as six draws took place in the 10 games. On Saturday sweltering temperatures in England (that’s 86 degrees) saw water breaks take place in most PL games. This was met by much derision from fans, especially in the United States of America, but in fairness the recorded temps were over 85 degrees in the shade in most places and with the sun beating down and huge stadiums packed, the actual temperatures had to be closer to 100 Fahrenheit. Still, this guy wasn’t impressed…

Drinks breaks in both halves of the Saturday games not only helped the players to cool down but also set up dramatic finishes, with Leicester first conceding to Spurs in the 80th minute (19-year-old Dele Alli scored his first-ever PL goal) but then Riyad Mahrez scored a screamer a minute later to tie it up and keep the Foxes unbeaten. Other draws caught the eye with Sunderland pegging back Swansea in the second half at the Stadium of Light — Jermain Defoe canceled out Bafetimbi Gomis’ strike in eerily similar fashion — while Norwich fought back to tie Stoke at home. But the result of the day on Saturday was Bournemouth’s sensational 4-3 win away at West Ham United, their first victory, points and goals in the PL.

[ MORE: Latest transfer news

Callum Wilson scored a hat trick for the Cherries who raced into a 2-0 lead but were pegged back to 2-2 just after half time. Bournemouth then raced into a 4-2 lead and the Hammers had Carl Jenkinson sent off, but despite conceding another late on, Eddie Howe’s side celebrated at the final whistle in the “blistering” heat in London.

As an Englishman who lives in London, I can tell you 86 degrees and sunshine is very, very rare, plus very, very hot for anybody who is used to the weather in England. Honestly.

USMNT UPDATE: BAD WEEKEND FOR AMERICANS ABROAD

It was not the best weekend for the Americans Abroad as only one player avoided defeat. Geoff Cameron played the full 90 minutes at center back for Stoke City for the third-straight game but the Potters gave up an early lead to draw at Norwich City, 1-1. The two USMNT goalkeepers in action both tasted defeat, with Tim Howard’s Everton losing 2-0 at home to Manchester City and Brad Guzan’s Aston Villa losing 2-1 at Crystal Palace.

Howard will be disappointed at Aleksandar Kolarov firing home from a tight angle at his near post for City’s first, but he could do nothing about Samir Nasri’s delicate chip for the second and made some great stops to deny the Citizens on multiple occasions. As for Guzan, he got close to keeping out Bakary Sako’s curler but Villa has now lost two-straight since winning on the opening day.

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

West Bromwich Albion 2-3 Chelsea: Pedro bags a goal, assist on his Premier League debut

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  • Pedro Rodriguez notched a goal and an assist on his Chelsea debut
  • West Brom scored their first goal of the 2015-16 Premier League season
  • With their victory, Chelsea climb nine places in the league table, now up to 9th
  • With the defeat, West Brom slip from 19th to 20th

[ RELATED: Watch full match replays ]

West Brom were on cloud nine early on, if only momentarily, when Nemanja Matic took down Callum McManaman inside the Chelsea penalty area in the 13th minute. Up stepped James Morrison for the Baggies, but the Scottish international hit his penalty straight down the middle and knee-high, which allowed Thibaut Courtois to make the save with his trailing leg.

[ RELATED: Latest Premier League standings ]

Morrison and West Brom were made to pay for squandering their early chance not even seven minutes later, when Pedro Rodriguez scored his first Chelsea goal to put the Blues into the lead. The former Barcelona winger combined brilliantly through the right attacking channel with Eden Hazard, which led to a quick shot that snuck inside Boaz Myhill’s left-hand post from the edge of the penalty area.

Chelsea doubled their lead in the 30th minute, when Diego Costa turned home Pedro’s wayward shot at the back post. After a quick counter attack that flowed through Willian and Pedro, the Spaniard unleashed a shot from a tough angle on the left. With that effort going well wide of the far post, Costa snuck in, cleaned up the scraps and nabbed his first goal of the 2015-16 season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Morrison redeemed his earlier miss from essentially the same spot on the field, only through open play, to cap off a free-flowing bit of attacking play by the Baggies. James McClean crossed from the left, to the back post where Salomon Rondon kept the play alive and centered the ball with an overhead kick. Morrison came rushing in near the penalty spot and this time hammered the ball hard, low and through a sea defenders in the 35th minute.

Cesar Azpilicueta restored Chelsea’s two-goal lead just before halftime (42nd minute) with a simple finish from the top of the penalty area. Cesc Fabregas played a ball over the top, Costa chested it down into the path of Azpilicueta and the Spaniard finished low into the left corner.

[ MORE: Click here for full lineups, stats, box score

John Terry was sent off in the 54th minute for denying Rondon an obvious goalscoring opportunity, meaning the Blues were to finish the game with 10 men. Five minutes later, West Brom made good on their newfound advantage, when Morrison’s flicked-on header looped its way to the far post and snuck just under Courtois’s crossbar.

After humiliation, will Chelsea’s John Terry become Jose Mourinho’s latest scapegoat?

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“JT. Captain. Leader. Legend,” reads a huge banner placed in the Matthew Harding Stand at Stamford Bridge for every one of Chelsea’s home games.

[ MORE: Three things for City’s win vs. Chelsea ]

But should they add “Jose Mourinho’s latest scapegoat” to the end of the banner? True, that would probably be a little wordy, but the notion may be correct.

Following Chelsea’s humbling 3-0 defeat to Manchester City on Sunday, Jose Mourinho took of his captain at half time with the Blues trailing 1-0 but all over the place at the back as three fine stops from Asmir Begovic stopped Sergio Aguero from scoring four.

[ MORE: Mourinho says result was “fake” ]

In the post-game press conference, Mourinho became annoyed when journalists questioned his decision to hook off Terry and seemingly make the experienced center back the scapegoat for the damaging defeat. Mourinho said “it was not about taking Terry out, it was about bringing Zouma in” and “it was clear for him to play Zouma.” His claims that he needed his fastest defender on the pitch to step up Chelsea’s defensive line did little to quell the feeling he wanted to make a statement by taking Terry off and asked why he didn’t replace a shaky Gary Cahill with Zouma rather than the man who has captained Chelsea to four PL titles, Mourinho only said: “good point.”

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

It was to everybody’s surprise when Chelsea emerged for the second half without their captain in the lineup. Rumors of a slight hamstring pull lingered in the air in the press box. It was in fact a tactical switch and it was also the first time in 176 games that Mourinho had subbed out Terry, who played every single second of last season’s title-winning season. As Chelsea’s inspirational captain sat on the bench and watched his team implode defensively late on, you couldn’t help but feel that Mourinho was making the 34-year-old somewhat of a scapegoat.

Since returning to Chelsea for a second-spell in charge, Mourinho has resurrected Terry’s career when it seemed to be all but over during Rafael Benitez’s tenure at Stamford Bridge in 2013. After the game he was irked at suggestions he’d hung Terry out to dry:

“I don’t know if you asked questions to Rafa Benitez, Andre Villas-Boas, Roberto Di Matteo, to the ones that never played him,” Mourinho said. “I’m the one you shouldn’t ask because I’m the one that plays with John in every game.

“I made John captain. I recovered John from a difficult situation with other managers. I brought my captain off and he was on the bench and still captain on the bench because the armband is just an armband. I can tell you he was not dancing in the dressing room and I can also tell you he was not having a bad reaction.”

Terry was arguably the best center back in the PL last season and made the Team of the Year for anchoring a Chelsea side who had the best defense in the league with just 33 goals against. They’ve already conceded five goals in two games this season, but surely that isn’t solely down to his regression?

By taking off Terry at half time, Mourinho was perhaps making a point to owner Roman Abramovich that he needs a new central defender, and fast. With rumors suggesting Chelsea is willing to pay up to $45 million for Everton’s 21-year-old defender John Stones, this seemed like a ploy to get that ball rolling before the transfer window slams shut on Sept. 1. Mourinho admitted that his side was “defensively fragile” against City and conceded they were lucky to go in 1-0 down at half time.

So, is Terry’s future as a starter for Chelsea uncertain?

No sooner had the whistle blown at the Etihad Stadium than Chelsea announced the signing of Augsburg left back Baba Rahman to strengthen their backline. With Branislav Ivanovic struggling at right back against Jefferson Montero and Raheem Sterling in the opening two weekends of the season, could he lose his spot to natural right back Cesar Azpilicueta who has been filling in at left back? Ivanonvic may even partner Cahill in the center of defense, and then you have Zouma who was hardly at fault for any of City’s goals late on in the game and has impressed in the past 12 months whenever called upon by Mourinho.

In the past the eccentric Portuguese coach has had plenty of scapegoats including calling out the floodlights at stadiums, referees, the media and everybody else in-between. At other clubs he has also called out individuals players. His treatment of Iker Casillas while he was in charge at Real Madrid springs to mind, as Mourinho benched the legendary goalkeeper.

It remains to see what lies on story for Terry long-term at Chelsea, but the center back can hardly be happy at the way he treated by Mourinho. Terry is the glue that holds not just Chelsea’s backline together, but their team spirit as the man who has played for the Blues in each of the last 16 seasons sets the tone for the entire squad

After a turbulent week on and off the pitch following medic-gate and a damaging defeat to their main title rivals, Chelsea’s manager may have caused yet another problem he now has to deal.

Chelsea completes transfer for young Augsburg left-back Rahman

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Minutes after the Blues fell to Manchester City 3-0, Chelsea announced the signing of FC Augsburg left-back Abdul Baba Rahman.

The Ghanan winger reportedly cost approximately $22 million, nearly covering Augsburg’s entire wage bill for the season.

The 21-year-old may end up out on loan, but since the sale of Felipe Luis, there could be a need for him to remain with the first-team as cover for Cesar Azpilicueta.

“I am very happy to sign for Chelsea, one of the biggest clubs in the world,” Rahman told the Chelsea official website. “I can’t wait to train with my new team-mates and very much looking forward to working with them and Mr Mourinho.

“I am also looking forward to having the opportunity to meet the fans as soon as possible.”

Rahman made 31 Bundesliga appearances for Augsburg last season as they finished an impressive fifth in the German league table and qualified for the Europa League.

Report: Chelsea’s acquisition of Ghanaian left back is just a transfer fee away

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Chelsea’s anticipated move for Baba Rahman is reportedly just a transfer fee away.

Jose Mourinho wants Augsburg’s left back, and the agent for the 21-year-old Ghanaian says the player is ready for the Premier League.

[ MORE: Sunderland in for Januzaj? ]

Rahman made more tackles than any left back in the Bundesliga last season, and has made 13 appearances for the Ghana national team.

From Sky Sports:

Sascha Empacher, who represents the Ghana international, confirmed to German newspaper Bild: “It is only the clubs that have to find an agreement. We on our side are agreed.”

Augsburg have also signed 21-year-old left-back Philipp Max this week, suggesting they are now prepared to allow Rahman to leave.

The Blues brought in Filipe Luis last season to compete with Cesar Azpilicueta, but it wasn’t much of a positional battle. Rahman could quickly challenge for playing time as Chelsea searches for both the Premier League and the UEFA Champions League.

And it’s hard to imagine the fee is going to be a problem. Transfermarkt says Rahman is worth about $11 million, and the Blues shouldn’t have any problem meeting Augsburg’s demands.