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Premier League

5 thoughts from opening Saturday of new Premier League season

The Premier League is back! theScore examines the most important developments and discusses the biggest talking points from Saturday’s busy slate of action in England’s top flight.

Is there enough energy in Liverpool’s midfield?

Fulham’s attackers diligently tracked back while Harrison Reed and Joao Palhinha, positioned in front of the defense, frustrated Liverpool and kick-started attacks. Crowd favorite Tim Ream was committed at the back. It was a studied and industrious performance, one which suggested this iteration of the Cottagers is more assured and settled than other Fulham teams that reached the Premier League in recent years.

But this was more than an earned point for Fulham; there were some issues with Liverpool’s midfield that led to a disappointing 2-2 draw to begin the Reds’ title challenge.

True, Liverpool are currently short-handed. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Curtis Jones, and Naby Keita were already dealing with injuries before Thiago Alcantara joined them after suffering a hamstring problem during the second half. However, even before these ailments, there were legitimate concerns over the fitness and consistency of Thiago, Jordan Henderson, and the rest who play in front of Fabinho in midfield.

Julian Finney / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Before his 50th-minute substitution, Thiago was overrun and unable to orchestrate attacks in his usual unruffled fashion. He attempted just one through ball, and that failed. Meanwhile, Henderson was once brutally exposed by the excellent Aleksandar Mitrovic. He did almost pinch a win for Liverpool with a smash against the crossbar in injury time, but he was otherwise too frantic and didn’t always appear in the right positions.

It was a game where Liverpool needed more energy. It was a game where they would’ve benefited from more midfield exuberance. It was a game where Harvey Elliott would’ve been more useful playing as a No. 8 from the start, rather than coming off the bench to team up with Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold down the right flank.

Major Leeds Soccer

There was a North American flavor to Leeds United’s 2-1 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers.

It was evident in Leeds’ match-winning tally. Rayan Ait-Nouri’s own goal in the 74th minute was a culmination of New York Red Bulls product Tyler Adams’ involvement and pressure from ex-Philadelphia Union standout Brenden Aaronson. Former Montreal Impact and Red Bulls boss Jesse Marsch high-fived his coaching staff after the final whistle, while former New York City FC winger Jack Harrison lapped up Elland Road’s applause on the pitch.

David Rogers / Getty Images Sport / Getty

There no doubting it: Major League Soccer is an established breeding ground of top-end talent.

Aaronson and another summer arrival from Red Bull Salzburg, Rasmus Kristensen, were among Leeds’ best performers. Aaronson faded a little in the second half, but that was understandable given his all-action performance. His pressing helped squeeze out the opportunity that resulted in Rodrigo’s equalizer, he held up the ball well, and he was generally the most threatening attacker in Marsch’s ensemble. It was no surprise Aaronson was breathing down Ait-Nouri’s neck during the full-back’s own goal.

It’s doubtful that any current Leeds player will reach the high standards of Raphinha – who joined Barcelona this summer – but the ease in which Aaronson has slotted into Marsch’s side is extremely promising. He’s on course to earn himself a starting berth for the United States at the World Cup.

Kulusevski thriving in Conte’s system

Southampton had no answer for Dejan Kulusevski. The 22-year-old posed a threat every time he collected the ball. Southampton’s Moussa Djenepo tried his best to contain Kulusevski’s runs on the right flank, dropping deeper every time his opponent picked up the ball. Every time, Kulusevski left Djenepo behind.

Tottenham Hotspur’s 4-1 win Saturday offered ample evidence of Kulusevski’s individual brilliance. He stretched play and switched gears to accelerate into open space, and he spotted teammates on the run by playing with his head up. His Premier League-leading ninth assist of the calendar year came off of a brilliant cross-field pass to Ryan Sessegnon in the first half, a bullet of a cross that met his opposite number as he ran into the box. Kulusevski then scored a goal of his own, opening up his body in the area before firing into the far corner.

CHRIS RADBURN / AFP / Getty

He was simply too much for Southampton. Because the visitors lacked the pace to handle Kulusevski’s constant change of speed, they had no choice but to backpedal to cover the space behind them. Kulusevski accepted the trade-off, cutting inside to deliver balls with incredible pace and accuracy.

Antonio Conte’s system allows Kulusevski to do all of the things he does well. With a wing-back to his side, the Swede can focus on making darting runs without worrying about tracking back. Not that he doesn’t do the dirty work. Kulusevski attempted a team-high seven tackles, including five in the opponent’s half.

“Dejan made a big impact (Saturday), but also last season,” Conte told the BBC. “He and Rodrigo (Bentancur) integrated really good with the squad. Dejan has continued in this way, but he has to continue to work in this way with his behavior and ambition. He has a lot of ambition, he wants to become one of the best players in his role. I think this ambition is good, if he is humble and works … he can do that.”

Gerrard could soon feel the pressure

Steven Gerrard can’t blame any of Aston Villa’s failings on a lack of support from the boardroom. Following a January window that included a loan deal for Philippe Coutinho and moves for Lucas Digne and Calum Chambers, Gerrard welcomed Coutinho (this time permanently), Diego Carlos, Boubacar Kamara, and others to Villa Park this summer for over £45 million total.

But the Villans’ 2-0 defeat at Bournemouth shows there’s still a lot of work to do for Gerrard. The Cherries deserved their three points and gave Carlos and Kamara tough introductions to English football. Villa’s big-name players were outclassed by Marcus Tavernier, the midfielder whose move to Bournemouth from Middlesbrough last week was lost amid the transfer chaos.

Robin Jones – AFC Bournemouth / AFC Bournemouth / Getty

Gerrard had a strong six games to start his Aston Villa tenure, but his team finished the rest of the 2021-22 season with a worse record than relegated Burnley.

Now, his summer recruitment has significantly lifted exceptions. This is his squad, and an improvement on last season’s 14th-placed finish is needed. Two-goal defeats to newly promoted teams shouldn’t be part of the script.

It won’t take long for fans to get on the Scouser’s back if results don’t improve. His recruitment drive has forced previously established – and largely popular – first-team players like Emiliano Buendia, Douglas Luiz, Tyrone Mings, and Ollie Watkins onto the bench. Some of those changes seemed unnecessary. The Coutinho signing was arguably a huge waste of resources given Buendia’s ability to influence games with more consistency than the Brazilian. Mings often draws plenty of criticism, but is the impulsive Carlos really that much better?

If Gerrard’s signings don’t work out quickly, the fans will be on his back and, by extension, be questioning the work of chief executive Christian Purslow.

Everton limping from the get-go

Everton are already looking worse for wear just 90 minutes into the new season.

The Toffees took the pitch Saturday against Chelsea without Dominic Calvert-Lewin, their only recognized striker. They then lost defender Ben Godfrey to a gruesome-looking ankle injury midway through the first half. Fellow center-back Yerry Mina also went off with an ankle issue.

Manager Frank Lampard could now have a serious shortage of options in defense and attack. Everton don’t even have the funds to go out and sign replacements. That doesn’t bode well for a team many had regarded as relegation fodder before kickoff.

“When it rains,” Lampard said afterward, “it pours.”

Michael Regan / Getty Images Sport / Getty

The players, however, don’t seem as short on spirit. They hustled for possession all game and only lost because of a penalty kick midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure conceded toward the end of the opening period. Anthony Gordon won tackles in his own half, and left-back Vitaliy Mykolenko made crucial blocks. Gordon, Demarai Gray, and summer signing Dwight McNeil ran nice passing sequences. The effort was there, and the game was for the taking. Everton were just missing a presence up front.

There’s some irony here. Despite the obvious lack of depth, the club allowed Ellis Simms, one of the only other center-forwards in its ranks, to leave on loan. The 21-year-old, who’s at Sunderland for the rest of the campaign, served up a timely reminder of his ability with a two-goal performance earlier Saturday.

Unfortunately, Lampard likely knows the deal by now. He’s not going to get much help from majority owner Farhad Moshiri, who’s shown no desire to reinvest the funds from Richarlison’s £50-million transfer to Tottenham. Everton suffered pre-tax losses of £372 million over the last three years, severely handicapping what they can spend on the transfer market. Solutions will have to come from within.

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Premier League

3 thoughts from Saturday's Premier League action

theScore examines the most important developments and discusses the biggest talking points from Saturday’s reduced schedule in England’s top flight.

Stones is a legitimate right-back option

Maybe this is meant to be a brief thing. While Kyle Walker deals with fitness issues and new left-back Sergio Gomez settles in at the club, John Stones has appeared at right-back in some Manchester City games.

Center-backs filling in at full-back often enact a classic portrayal of the role – Ben White has overlapped Arsenal’s right-sided attacker with some success in the season’s opening weeks. Stones’ interpretation, however, seems more studied. He slides neatly into midfield alongside Rodri when City are in possession, providing protection from counter-attacks and ensuring his side dominates the ball in this area of the pitch. Stones’ extra defensive cover on the right also frees up Joao Cancelo for more attacking work down the left.

The ease with which Stones has slotted in as an inverted full-back is impressive. It also indicates that this might be the result of hard hours on the training ground as Pep Guardiola tries to formulate more tactical options for his versatile team.

Stones shrugs off Boubacar Traore Nick Potts – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

There must be a caveat from Saturday’s 3-0 win: it was Wolverhampton Wanderers. This might be the most toothless version of Wolves to play in the Premier League (even less potent than the side that scored a paltry 32 goals, yet still survived, in the 2009-10 season), and their day was made more difficult when Nathan Collins was sent off for a wild challenge on Jack Grealish.

While Stones wasn’t overworked at Molineux, he exuded confidence with the ball, linking up the backline and midfield with short passes, and dealt admirably with attacking left-back Rayan Ait-Nouri. He’d already passed a sterner test three days earlier, too. He calmly addressed Borussia Dortmund’s threat, which mostly came down his flank, before stepping upfield to unleash a vicious strike that turned the tide of the Champions League group-stage fixture.

And Stones isn’t only a viable choice at right-back. He took sole ownership of No. 6 duties when Rodri was substituted in the 81st minute, skipping through challenges and dictating City’s tempo with his passing. Given Kalvin Phillips’ injury issues, Stones could be asked to deputize for Rodri a few times in the coming weeks.

Newcastle’s steep learning curve

Bournemouth were largely negative in their approach at St. James’ Park, relying on last-ditch blocks, Neto’s goalkeeping, and the woodwork to keep Newcastle United at bay. In the final 10 minutes of the first half alone, the Cherries headed or smashed away seven clearances.

This is what the “big six” deal with most weeks. The Magpies will need to get used to it. They’ve quickly become one of the division’s strongest teams following their Saudi-backed takeover, so opponents have adapted accordingly. The most pragmatic way for bottom-half sides to approach Newcastle matches is to pack bodies in front of their creative players and then try to inflict damage on the break.

Miguel Almiron is most dangerous in counter-attacks LINDSEY PARNABY / AFP / Getty

Newcastle’s frustrations were beginning to show when Bournemouth took the lead through Philip Billing in the 62nd minute, and they could only respond via Alexander Isak’s successful penalty. Eddie Howe’s side lacked invention throughout and can’t expect a huge uptick in performance when the entertaining yet inconsistent Allan Saint-Maximin returns from injury. The majority of Howe’s players appear to lack the guile to unpick low blocks, and the men he called off the bench – Jacob Murphy, Sean Longstaff, and Chris Wood – seemed to be a concession of that weakness. Rather than patiently adhering to their game plan, Newcastle started to play a more direct, cross-heavy game as their desperation grew.

The next stage in Newcastle’s transformation has to be signing better playmakers. Miguel Almiron and Ryan Fraser simply don’t thrive when their team has the most possession – they’re most dangerous in counter-attacks, not against deep-lying defenses – and back-to-back home draws against Crystal Palace and Bournemouth isn’t the kind of form that earns top-four finishes.

At long last, the Son is out

“I like that he’s a bit angry,” Antonio Conte said about Son Heung-Min’s goal drought before Leicester City’s visit, adding, “he wants to try to change it.”

Son was last season’s true top scorer. Granted, he did share the Golden Boot with Mohamed Salah, but the Liverpool forward boosted his 23-goal haul with five penalties. Son didn’t attempt any throughout Tottenham Hotspur’s Premier League campaign, leaving that responsibility to Harry Kane, so reaching his overall tally was an undeniably more impressive feat than Salah’s.

The South Korean scored 12 of his goals over his final 10 league appearances of last term, helping Spurs clinch the fourth Champions League place at Arsenal’s expense. He was irresistible, marking a stark contrast to his return of no goals from the opening eight matches of this season (in all competitions). Son’s alarming dip in productivity threatened to harm his side’s ambitions for the campaign.

What an emphatic way to vanquish those concerns.

Just like that, Son is back on form ISABEL INFANTES / AFP / Getty

It took around 27 minutes for Son to bag a hat-trick after his introduction on Saturday, making him the first Tottenham substitute to record a Premier League treble. A fine Hugo Lloris save helped Spurs cling on to their one-goal advantage moments before Son was brought on, but the benched forward soon helped his side to a 6-2 victory.

Son’s opening goal wasn’t the fortuitous, scruffy close-range finish that people tend to associate with a player overcoming a bad run. It was a quintessential Son strike: a powerful run followed by an unstoppable right-footed smash into the top corner from 25 yards. His second was another effort plucked from the archives as he shifted the ball onto his left foot before bending it into the far corner from a near-identical spot as his first goal.

Son rounded off his treble following an exceptionally timed run. His return to form should strike fear into Tottenham’s rivals: One of the top flight’s deadliest strikers is “angry” and firing, and the proud Korean is also desperate to hit prime condition in time for his country’s tough group-stage matches at this winter’s World Cup.

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Premier League

2022 World Cup kits: Bright orange for Netherlands, vibrant look for Brazil

Nike released its line of World Cup jerseys for 12 of its 13 teams Thursday, bringing out vivid colors and an array of designs that characterize the countries they represent.

Nike is the latest manufacturer to reveal outfits for the 2022 World Cup, which begins Nov. 20 in Qatar. Adidas, which supplies seven countries, and Puma, which services six, unveiled their lineups in August.

Fans have criticized the manufacturers for using cookie-cutter designs. Puma came under intense criticism after releasing a lineup of jerseys with the same template, and a number of people have already signed a petition online to protest Nike’s USMNT jersey.

England, the only World Cup team in Nike’s stable that’s yet to officially unveil its uniforms, will reveal its collection on Sept. 21, after the country completes a period of mourning over the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

Here’s a closer look at the jerseys Nike revealed Thursday.

Australia

(Courtesy: Nike)

Australia’s home shirt takes inspiration from the sandy beaches of the Outback, using a noisy design to convey the coastal vibes that make the country such a hot destination for surfers and oceanographers.

Brazil

(Courtesy: Nike)

Brazil’s home shirt is as yellow as ever. Complete with bright green details and a classic collar, it’s a stunning representation of the vibrant side of Brazilian life. The jersey also contains hidden symbols, including the nation’s flag.

Canada

(Courtesy: Nike)

Canada will wear the same shirts that gave it luck during its historic World Cup qualifying campaign.

Croatia

(Courtesy: Nike)

Croatia’s home shirt is unmistakable. But Luka Modric and Co. will wear a variation of the usual chequered pattern we’ve all come to expect from the Balkan outfit.

France

(Courtesy: Nike)

France dazzles with one of the best collections of the bunch. The away kit features national imagery, while a golden cockerel stands out against the home shirt’s deep blue tone.

Korea Republic

(Courtesy: Nike)

South Korea summons the inner tiger in this year’s home shirt. The fiery red design, replete with tiger-stripe graphics, gives off a powerful vibe.

The Netherlands

(Courtesy: Nike)

Talk about Orange fever. With perhaps its boldest design in decades, the Netherlands will hit the pitch with a near-gold ensemble that catches the eye. The home shirt also contains a number of subtle symbols and a reference to the country’s Total Football tactics.

Poland

(Courtesy: Nike)

Poland’s home kit features a feathery design on each sleeve, paying homage to the white eagle that’s come to symbolize strength and solidarity in the eastern European nation.

Portugal

(Courtesy: Nike)

Portugal’s collection isn’t exactly a smash hit. The home shirt includes a diagonal separation of its national colors and aims to mimic the flag as it would sit against the body. The away edition features an off-white tone that offers some separation from the rest of the World Cup’s white uniforms.

Qatar

(Courtesy: Nike)

Qatar’s logo sits prominently on both of its kits. Classic maroon shading defines the home edition, and the away’s sandy design aims to capture the coastal contours of the Gulf nation.

Saudi Arabia

(Courtesy: Nike)

Saudi Arabia truly embraces its national colors. The away shirt comes with a dark green design that packs punch.

United States

(Courtesy: Nike)

Fans and players aren’t pleased with Nike’s creative input on the United States’ World Cup collection. “We just as angry as y’all!!!” forward Tim Weah wrote last month. “Tried to tell them,” midfielder Weston McKennie added.

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Premier League

5 thoughts from Tuesday's Champions League action

The Champions League rumbles on with Matchday 2 this week. Below, we dissect the biggest talking points from Tuesday’s action in Europe’s premier club competition.

Son becoming a big problem for Conte

Son Heung-Min has now gone eight games without a goal, and if his performance in Tottenham Hotspur’s surprising 2-0 defeat to Sporting CP on Tuesday is any indication, the drought will continue for some time.

Many expected Son to take his game to the next level, and rightfully so. The South Korean forward finished the 2021-22 Premier League season with 12 goals in his final 10 appearances, enough to earn him a share of the Golden Boot award. But his form in front of goal since the start of August has dropped dramatically. Son’s failed to convert any of his 18 attempts on goal, and only half of those have been on target.

Son didn’t register a single shot Tuesday against Sporting ‘keeper Antonio Adan, and one of his only two touches in the penalty area came from an offside position. He just couldn’t connect with the rest of his teammates. Clearly frustrated, Spurs boss Antonio Conte replaced him after 72 minutes – and Son’s lucky he even lasted that long.

Soccrates Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

The 30-year-old’s substitute Dejan Kulusevski showed much more attacking impetus in the final quarter of an hour, appearing on the left and right to create chances. With Richarlison also comfortable playing on the left wing, Son’s place in Conte’s starting lineup could, and probably should, come under scrutiny.

Richarlison has played extremely well in his limited time on the pitch, showing greater compatibility with Harry Kane and the will to get into scoring positions. Initially signed to provide depth, the Brazilian forward could now earn a significant run in the team, with Kane up front and Kulusevski returning to his usual place on the right. That spells trouble for Son, whose native South Korea is banking on him to lead the way in the World Cup. But Conte can’t afford to wait for anyone – not even one of the Premier League’s best players.

That’s more like it, Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp got the response he demanded.

In a game Liverpool desperately needed to win after opening their Champions League campaign with an embarrassing defeat, Klopp’s men delivered a strong defensive performance on their way to beating Ajax 2-1 and picking up their first three points of the tournament.

The result offered a huge boost for a Liverpool side that was left reeling after last week’s abysmal performance in Italy.

In the aftermath of the 4-1 loss to Napoli, there was plenty of uncertainty about the Reds’ ability to rebound from what Klopp described as the team’s “worst” performance since his arrival. Klopp delivered “four or five days of absolute truth” to his struggling squad.

Although Liverpool’s route to victory was anything but direct, the rallying cry seemingly worked. After Mohamed Salah’s first-half goal, poor play from Trent Alexander-Arnold and Virgil van Dijk was largely responsible for Ajax’s equalizer before halftime. The Reds’ attack went sterile after the break until unlikely hero Joel Matip’s 89th-minute winner sent Anfield into a frenzy.

Although Liverpool have a ways to go before they’re comparable to the outfit that dazzled last season, Tuesday’s victory was undoubtedly a relief for a club that’s underachieved for much of the season so far.

When heavyweights collide

That was fun.

Bayern Munich and Barcelona, familiar foes in recent seasons, delivered a rousing spectacle in Bavaria on Tuesday. It was only a group-stage affair, but the almost unhinged intensity and elite skill on display were befitting of a final. Both teams pressed fiercely, trying to play on the front foot and not allow their illustrious opposition any time to breathe. Tackles were flying, and bodies were often strewn across the pitch as the two sides went blow-for-blow, racing up and down the field and exchanging rapid attacks peppered with quick, clever passing sequences and exquisite dribbling.

Alphonso Davies and the rejuvenated Ousmane Dembele – and fellow winger Raphinha – engaged in a series of explosive tussles that were as entertaining as the actual match itself. A game within the game. Teenage midfielders Pedri and Gavi were two standout players in the first half as Barcelona, looking to regain their status as Europe’s elite footballing institution, played with the incisiveness, inventiveness, and swagger of their peak years. The club’s financial future may be tenuous, but things look bright on the pitch.

But Bayern, despite still looking vulnerable defensively when put under pressure, didn’t crack. Julian Nagelsmann’s decision to introduce Leon Goretzka to begin the second half was vital, and the German juggernaut helped turn the tide in his side’s eventual 2-0 victory.

“In the first half we had a lot of chances to score, and when you forgive so much against a team like this, you end up paying for it,” Pedri, wise beyond his years, said following the defeat.

Those ebbs and flows are the hallmarks of memorable Champions League nights.

The group stage of Europe’s premier club competition has been increasingly neutered as the gulf between football’s wealthy elite and everyone else has continued to grow over the years, making it more difficult for Cinderella stories to develop. But Tuesday’s clash at the Allianz Arena was a reminder of everything that’s still good about the tournament. When heavyweights collide, it’s still the most riveting show around.

Lewandowski’s rare off night

Captivating as Tuesday’s match in Bavaria was, it didn’t quite go according to plan for Robert Lewandowski.

The prolific Pole, who scored 344 goals in 375 Bayern appearances before departing for Barcelona this past summer, was given a predominantly warm reception upon his return. But a smattering of boos emanated from a fan base that isn’t totally at peace with the acrimonious nature of Lewandowski’s departure. Not quite hostile, but there was tension in the air.

“I think for Lewy, it was really an emotional game to come back,” said Bayern captain Manuel Neuer after the match. It’s impossible to know if that harmed the forward – even the most accomplished veterans can get butterflies – but whatever the reason, Lewandowski was just slightly off at the Allianz Arena. A rare sight over the years.

The 34-year-old spurned two glorious opportunities in the first half, whistling a volley just over the crossbar from inside the box before sending a close-range header at the back post right into Neuer’s chest. Another good chance went begging when Noussair Mazraoui made a last-ditch block late in the first half. From there, Bayern’s defenders corralled him, and whenever Barca did scamper forward menacingly, Lewandowski couldn’t find the right timing and connect with his teammates.

Lewandowski had nine goals in his first six games with Barcelona going into Tuesday’s encounter, but his dream start to the season ended with a thud in the one match he was surely more excited about than any other.

What’s happening in Group B!?

This comes with the caveat that it’s still very early – we’re only two games into this campaign’s Champions League, after all. But Group B, against all odds, is already shaping up to be a wild ride.

Club Brugge sit atop the quartet with a perfect record after waltzing into the Estadio do Dragao, a typically intimidating venue, and crushing FC Porto on Tuesday. Despite losing Charles De Ketelaere over the summer, the Belgian club certainly wasn’t lacking an attacking spark in its 4-0 rout.

MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP / Getty

The surprises didn’t stop there, though, as Bayer Leverkusen put their woeful early-season form behind them to claim a 2-0 win against overwhelming group favorites Atletico Madrid. Leverkusen went into the match having lost six of their eight games in all competitions to begin the new campaign, so naturally, they shut down Diego Simeone’s side. Throw all reason out the window.

Group B, viewed after the draw as lacking much intrigue or excitement, is flipping the script.

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