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Three Things: Arsenal 0-0 Manchester United

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Courtesy of Flickr/Football Nomad

Cautious Moyes

After Sunday’s 2-2 draw against Fulham, many were criticizing David Moyes’ attacking approach. Although United completed 86 crosses in the match, displaying a lack of variety in attack, Moyes’ side was atrocious on the defensive end.

Despite dominating possession for large portions of the match, individual errors led to Steve Sidwell’s opener and Darren Bent’s late equalizer. With a trip to the Emirates Stadium on the horizon, United couldn’t afford to drop points if they had any hopes of finishing in the top four.

United dropped into a 4-5-1 without the ball, as they focused on minimizing space between the lines. Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley provided astute protection in front of the back four, and Arsenal’s attacking players were unable to get into dangerous positions around the final third.

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Moyes instructed his men to sit narrow – identical to their performance at Old Trafford earlier this season – but this time wide players Antonio Valencia and Juan Mata prevented Arsenal’s fullbacks from pushing forward. United was set up to contain Arsenal’s attacking players, and they succeeded. The Gunners created minimal chances from open play, their ball circulation was slow, and they lacked the penetration and guile to break down United’s back line.

The issue with United’s approach was that it sacrificed their threat on the attack. Apart from three squandered efforts from Robin van Persie, United didn’t test Wojciech Szczesny. Rooney was often yards away from the Dutch striker, and when United held possession, he was unable to receive the ball in key areas. Overall, United’s attack was stagnant; van Persie was constantly flagged offside, and with Moyes keen on his central midfielders – and Rooney – sitting deep, the champions lacked runners.

Moyes’ approach was logical, and it earned United an important point. However, while the Red Devils completed a job without the ball, their threat on the attack was languid.

Ozil improves his performance

Mesut Ozil’s form has been heavily critiqued and ridiculed over the past few months, and his performance at Anfield over the weekend was the last straw. Ozil’s involvement in two Liverpool goals left many questioning whether he truly is a world-class player.

While the sudden outrage in Ozil’s status is bizarre, encountering a dip in form in your first season in England isn’t. Nonetheless, the German playmaker took it upon him to silence the critics at the Emirates. Statistically, he was superb, creating the most chances and completing the most passes in the final third.

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Although Ozil wasn’t the best player on the pitch, he was certainly the most influential Arsenal player. Laurent Koscielny – Arsenal’s best player on the night – nodded Ozil’s corner towards the back post, but it was cleared by Valencia, and his intricate passing with Santi Cazorla, led to the Spaniard forcing David De Gea to make a key save.

For the most part it looked like the gap in quality between Ozil and his teammates was vast. Ozil roamed around the final third playing passes with his teammates, and creating space for others to penetrate, but nothing came of it. Likewise, when he did attempt to play intricate passes in tight spaces the receiver often couldn’t play a returning pass.

Ozil’s price tag leaves him vulnerable to heavy criticism, but as of late it’s difficult to pinpoint an attacker who’s produced consistent performances.

Giroud or bust?

Arsene Wenger had one job to complete during the January transfer window – purchase a striker. An entire month flew by, and despite a few warning signs regarding fatigue and performance levels, Wenger was reluctant on meeting the wishes of Arsenal supporters.

Apart from their victory against Spurs earlier this season, Olivier Giroud has failed to score against the league’s top-sides. Giroud’s enjoyed a good campaign as Arsenal’s main striker this season, but his inability to provide goals in these matches has affected the Gunners’ results.

With Arsenal’s summer pursuit of Luis Suarez proving to be unsuccessful, and Theo Walcott sidelined for the remainder of the season, many expected Wenger to jump into the January market. The Frenchman, however, fully believes that the squad at his disposal possesses enough quality to end Arsenal’s nine-year trophy drought.

Wenger included Nicklas Bentdner, Lukas Podolski and Yaya Sanogo on the bench against Manchester United, yet the trio witnessed Giroud struggle at the Emirates. Despite outmuscling and pestering United captain Nemanja Vidic in the first-half, the French international’s finishing was poor. In the 76th minute, Sagna created Arsenal’s best opportunity, but Giroud failed to convert the right-back’s delightful delivery into the six-yard box.

Giroud’s lack of pace puts him at a disadvantage, and his link-up play with advancing midfielders has become predictable. It’s illogical to believe the sole purchase of a striker would win Arsenal a trophy this season, but with the Frenchman showing evident signs of fatigue, a competent, alternative option could’ve been beneficial.

More so, Giroud’s poor performance symbolizes the Gunners’ issues upfront, but with three options at their disposal, maybe it’s time Wenger gives his main striker a rest.

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Southampton’s valiant display sees Manchester United stumble at Old Trafford

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They came, they saw, but they didn’t conquer. Well, for a Southampton side that flirted with relegation last season, a draw at Old Trafford would suffice. However, like last season, Mauricio Pochettino’s men may feel as if they underachieved.

Meanwhile, the pressure on David Moyes is at an all-time high, as the Red Devils are off to their worst start to a season in the Premier League era. Unlike last season, neither Robin Van Persie, nor Wayne Rooney could save Manchester United from mediocrity. Outscoring their opponents is no longer a genius tactic – their production in the final third is anonymous, the clinical finishing is a distant memory, while long-periods of possession was a rarity.

Although United didn’t play well, they had a few chances to put the match out of reach, but Artur Boruc and the crossbar denied Moyes’ men three points. Southampton – who’s improved significantly compared to last season – produced an impressive away performance combining excellent work-rate and movement between the lines. Morgan Schneiderlin stepped forward to press Marouane Fellaini, whereas Steven Davis and Victor Wanyama kept tabs on Michael Carrick  – and Wayne Rooney when he dropped deeper.

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Most teams don’t possess the pluck to press Carrick when he receives the ball, but if executed properly, it limits Carrick’s contribution to United’s attack. Meanwhile, Fellaini’s transfer still seems peculiar and superfluous, as his performances have been mediocre. The Belgian is sitting deep alongside Carrick, offering the same threat as his midfield partner – besides the penetrating passes between the lines – which prevents him from joining the attack.

With both midfielders nullified, and adequate pressure applied on the defenders, United struggled to dictate the tempo of the match. Schneiderlin continued to drive forward when possible, while Lallana and Davis roamed around the final third when in possession. In particular, Lallana drifted infield looking to play incisive passes in the final third, while Davis dropped deeper to help Southampton sustain possession and drive forward as a unit.

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Frankly, United were struggling to cope, and Pochettino knew his side was capable of earning a point at minimum. While, James Ward-Prowse, Rickie Lambert and Guly Do Prado were introduced to increase their attacking impetus, Moyes decided to preserve the lead by adding numbers in midfield and the backline, which was logical.

Regardless of the late Dejan Lovren equalizer, United couldn’t solve Boruc, and they didn’t assert their dominance on the match. “I am disappointed because we wanted to get a bit of momentum going and we weren’t able to do that,” Moyes said. Southampton produced an impressive away performance – one similar to the win at Anfield, and had Osvaldo been up for it, they might’ve walked away with all three points.

Nevertheless, it’s impossible for Moyes to avoid the critics after dropping points at home. Carrick, arguably United’s best player last season, was quick to highlight that luck hasn’t been on United side thus far. “It is frustrating because things are not going the way we want. But as players we have to stand up, take responsibility and get better,” Carrick said. “We are still confident. Everything is in place but for some reason, at the moment, we are not quite clicking and not quite firing,” he added.

The most concerning issue is United’s shape overall – the double-pivot sits too deep, while the three attacking players behind Van Persie have struggled to create legitimate goal-scoring opportunities. Adnan Janzuaj has been a refreshing inclusion to the squad, yet heavily relying on an 18-year-old winger is an indictment on the squad, opposed to the player.

If Saturday’s draw was any indicator to how the season will pan out, United will struggle to defeat the better Premier League teams this season. More so, majority of United’s title rivals, and mid-table Premier League sides have evolved over the transfer window, whereas United hasn’t, and Van Persie’s goals may not be enough to retain their Premier League crown.

Analysis

  • Arsenal remains two points clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League, defeating Norwich City 4-1. A recurring theme in their play since Ozil’s arrival has been the urge to overload central areas. Likewise, with the inclusion of Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla behind Olivier Giroud, Norwich had no answer for Arsenal’s movement in the final third.

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While Norwich pressed Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini, the movement of the front three always provided Wenger’s men with passing options, along with handing Wilshere the license to push forward – as runners got behind Giroud who dropped deeper to link play and provide wonderful assists for Ozil and Wilshere. Despite Norwich handing  Arsene Wenger’s men a few scares, their quality in the final third was disappointing.

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Aaron Ramsey – who started the match on the bench – came on for the injured Flamini and continued to impress. He made key tackles, scored a wonderful goal, and assisted Arsenal’s fourth goal, as the Gunners continue to shine.

  • Stamford Bridge was filled with controversy, as Eden Hazard’s equalizer should’ve been disallowed. Samuel Eto’o nicked the ball away from Cardiff goalkeeper Dave Marshall when he bounced it on the ground, which subsequently led to Hazard sliding the ball into the net from close range. According to FIFA rules, the goalie is still in possession of the ball when he bounces it, meaning Eto’o committed a foul that the referee missed. However, Cardiff dropped deep into their third and frustrated Chelsea to the point where Mourinho gambled and played three at the back – thus leading to a quality strike from Eto’o. Along with an entertaining Jose Mourinho dismissal, Cardiff caused Chelsea a few problems in the final 20 minutes, but Oscar and Hazard increased the lead, pushing the Blues to second in the table.
  • Manuel Pellegrini saw his men earn their first away win of the season at Upton Park, orchestrated by David Silva and Sergio Aguero. Aguero produced two fine finishes to give City a comfortable lead, and assisted Silva’s goal late in the second half. But the main man was Silva, he floated across the final third finding pockets of space to link play and build attacks, as he thoroughly controlled the match.

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Sam Allardyce attempted to replicate a shape that saw his side defeat Spurs at White Hart Lane, but his men left too many gaps of space around the final third for City attackers to drift into, and were blitzed for large portions of the match. Another away test awaits Manchester City next Sunday, as they travel to Stamford Bridge full of confidence, aiming to overtake Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea.

  • Andros Townsend stole the headlines once again, as he was one of the few bright spots in Spurs’ victory at Villa Park. Villa maintained a high defensive- line in the first half, and focused on pressing Spurs’ fullbacks and two holding midfielders. Andre Villas-Boas’ men were unable to break through the press, as Villa’s fullbacks tightly marked their wingers and Roberto Soldado was isolated upfront. But Paul Lambert tinkered with his side at half-time – seeing as Townsend was fortunate to see his cross beat Brad Guzan to give Spurs the lead. The reason behind switching to a 4-3-1-2 was to get the most out of his attackers – who also didn’t see enough of the ball in the first half – but pushing them into central positions left the Villa fullbacks vulnerable against overloads.

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Townsend was at his very best after the change, driving down the right flank and his unpredictability left Antonio Luna confused, as he was unsure whether Townsend would cut in or attack the byline to produce a devastating ball into the box. Christian Benteke did enter the fray in the second half, giving Villa a lift with his aerial presence that Libor Kozak lacks – despite his height – but Soldado’s goal minutes later was the final blow for Lambert’s men.

  • Daniel Sturridge scored his 7th goal of the season to nick a point against 10-man Newcastle. It was mediocre display from Brendan Rodgers’ men, who allowed Cheick Tiote and Yohan Cabaye to dictate the match – and witness the French midfielder score a great goal. Prior to Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa’s sending off – for pulling Suarez in the box, thus leading to a Gerrard spot-kick – Suarez and Sturridge were deprived service, as they were forced to drop deeper to get involved with the play. Nevertheless, tactical alterations were significant, as Alan Pardew encouraged his men to drop into a 4-4-1, sacrificing Moussa Sissoko for Paul Dummett, who gave Newcastle the lead in the second half. However, Liverpool switched to a 4-2-3-1 introducing Luis Alberto, who was instructed to drift infield, allowing Glen Johnson to push forward. The change gave Suarez more space to operate in, as he drifted into the channels and between the lines, and it reaped rewards as he assisted Sturridge’s equalizer. Liverpool searched for a winner by introducing Raheem Sterling and pushing Alberto in an advanced position in midfield, but Tim Krul made a few top saves in the latter stages of the match to earn his side a valuable point.

Results: Newcastle 2-2 Liverpool, Swansea City 4-0 Sunderland, Stoke City 0-0 West Brom, Arsenal 4-1 Norwich City, Chelsea 4-1 Cardiff City, Everton 2-1 Hull City, Manchester United 1-1 Southampton, West Ham 1-3 Manchester City, Aston Vila 0-2 Tottenham

Weekend Stats

  • Manchester United fail to win successive Premier League home matches for first time since 2007.
  • 16 points from seven ‪Premier League matches, is the most points that Arsenal have had at this stage of the season since 2007/08.
  • Daniel Sturridge has scored in six consecutive Premier League away matches. Only one player in Premier League history has more – Robin Van Persie in nine.
  • Liverpool is undefeated in their last 8 Premier League away matches for the first time since Apr–Oct 2008.
  • Robin van Persie needs 1 more goal to reach 127 in the Premier League. Would make him equal Hasselbaink’s Dutch record and join him in 10th all-time.
  • Steven Gerrard has scored his 100th ‪Premier League goal in his 449th appearance.

All stats are provided by Infostrada Sports @InfostradaLive

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2013 in EPL Notebook, Published Work

 

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Manchester United 0-0 Chelsea

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David Moyes’ Old Trafford debut ended in a lacklustre scoreless draw against Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea.

Moyes made one change to the side that defeated Swansea at the Liberty Stadium last week. Wayne Rooney started in the no.10 role behind Robin Van Persie, pushing Danny Welbeck to the left flank, while Antonio Valencia kept his place on the right. Moyes stuck with Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick in the double pivot, as his side lined up in a 4-4-1-1.

Jose Mourinho’s starting 11 was surprising, making two changes to the side that defeated Aston Villa, Wednesday night. Andre Schurrle led the line in a 4-2-3-1 with Eden Hazard, Oscar and Kevin De Bruyne behind the German international, while Frank Lampard and Ramires played in the double pivot – pushing Juan Mata to the bench, while Demba Ba wasn’t included in Mourinho’s squad.

This was never going to be spectacle considering both managers tend to approach big matches with caution, and to no surprise we experienced a tight affair, with minimal clear-cut chances.

Shape

Chelsea entered the match knowing a point would be a great result, and focused on keeping a compact shape and breaking on the counter. Often sitting in two banks of four near their edge of the box, it was Hazard and De Bruyne who were given the tasks to prevent United from overloading the flanks. The Chelsea wide men were disciplined, and completed an adequate job, forcing United to attack down the middle. Similar to Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, the Chelsea centre back pairing of John Terry and Gary Cahill were magnificent – they dealt with every cross that came into the box and made key tackles and blocks to preserve their clean sheet. Oscar was handed the duty to keep close to Carrick and prevent him from playing forward passes, but the surprise in Chelsea’s approach was neglecting Cleverley – the Englishman finished the match with a 91% pass rate, completing the most passes in total and in the final third.

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Moyes also took the same approach – he instructed his men to drop into two banks of four, and his wide men were just as good as the likes of Hazard and De Bruyne in protecting their fullbacks. United was focused on limiting space in central areas and also sat deep in their third, to limit the space behind Ferdinand and Vidic.

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Moyes’ men often allowed Lampard and Ramires to have the ball in deep positions, but they occasionally pressed Ramires when he attempted to push forward, meanwhile Lampard played safe, sideways passes and United was content with that.

Chelsea attack

Schurrle’s inclusion in the squad led many to think Chelsea was going to replicate last season’s approach in their Champions League away match against Juventus, where they played a 4-6-0, yet the German played as a traditional no.9. There are many reasons why Mourinho left Romelu Lukaku and Torres on the bench, but it was evident that he wanted mobility when his team broke on the counter. Schurrle made several runs in the channels, aiming to stretch Vidic and Ferdinand, but the German failed to have a significant impact on the match – mainly because Chelsea’s urge to catch the United centre backs out of position, led to numerous misplaced passes.

Oscar was Chelsea’s most influential player going forward, as he continues to develop in his no.10 role. Along with preventing Carrick from playing penetrating passes from deep, the Brazilian midfielder was dropping deep to help Chelsea retain possession, which opened up space for Hazard and De Bruyne to attack. It’s been a constant feat in Chelsea’s attack this season, but United’s compact midfield handled the situation well, often forcing Chelsea’s attacking players to concede possession.

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United in wide areas

Width has been a key component to United’s success over the years, and with central areas congested, United was keen on trying to overload the Chelsea fullbacks. When United defeated Chelsea last season at Stamford Bridge, Roberto Di Matteo was tactically naïve, and his wide men were given no defensive duties. United’s right side exploited his error, resulting in two goals in the opening 15 minutes, due to overloads.

In the first half, Rooney often linked play with Valencia and Phil Jones on the right flank, and they received some success, getting past Ashley Cole, but the final ball was missing. Despite getting into advanced positions, Valencia was often reluctant to play a cross in or take a shot and goal, thus leading to his early departure. In fairness, Hazard sat deeper, and worked hard to prevent overloads, and albeit being beaten a few times, Valencia and Jones rarely threatened on the right flank.

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Moyes’ decision to introduce Ashley Young into the match was logical, and the Englishman provided the direct threat that United lacked. Suddenly, United were delivering dangerous balls into the six-yard box, forcing the Chelsea defence to make several key headers and interventions.

Since Moyes’ arrival, Patrice Evra has made a stake as to why the United manager doesn’t need Leighton Baines. He was keen to push forward on the left flank, and he had space to exploit. With De Bruyne often tucked in, or looking to attack centrally, the French fullback was able to get forward occasionally. Evra’s freedom to bomb forward was due to Welbeck’s will to drift centrally and get involved in the attack, thus giving United another passing option. However, Evra’s freedom did leave huge gaps behind him to exploit, and Schurrle nearly punished United, but the German was ruled offside, before smashing the cross bar with a venomous shot.

Rooney

Wayne Rooney was the man under the microscope for the entire match, seeing that Mourinho hasn’t hid his determination to sign the United striker. Moyes has stated several times that Rooney will stay at Old Trafford, while Mourinho has made claims that it would be wrong to keep an unsettled player.

But Rooney put all the speculation about his future on hold, and was one of the better players on the night. He dropped into midfield spraying passes out wide, drove United forward attempting to dribble players, and he even displayed his often praised work ethic, tracking back to make a fantastic tackle on Ramires. Despite not looking a bit interested, Rooney was able to find space between the lines, in which he forced Petr Cech to make a few saves – and specifically in the first half, he succeeded playing neat passes with Jones and Valencia on the right flank.

Rooney is caught in the middle of two legitimate title contenders that require his services to succeed domestically. United fans witnessed Rooney’s ability to create in attacking positions, but his drive to win was also showcased, despite the awkward situation he’s involved in. As for Mourinho, his decision to start a game at Old Trafford without the three strikers at his disposal is a message to the English striker. Blues supporters want Rooney, and he’ll receive the opportunity to lead the line, with an abundance of quality creators behind him. It was also a cry to the Chelsea board to get into the market and pick up a top-class striker.

Nevertheless, Rooney inspired United’s attack and was one of the few bright spots in a game that lacked creativity.

Substitutions

Mourinho’s alterations were conservative, and in his post-match press conference, the Portuguese manager stated that he wasn’t aiming to lose the match. It was peculiar to see Torres replace De Bruyne, mainly because it occurred seconds after Schurrle found space behind Evra to exploit. Schurrle moved to the right flank, and his attempt to break on the counter ended, as he was responsible for protecting Branislav Ivanovic and preventing Evra from surging forward.

The Portuguese manager introduced John Obi Mikel for Schurrle and Azpilicueta for Hazard in the final stages of the match. Mourinho didn’t want to take any risks and his substitutions proved to be cautious, as he was content with the point.

“Minute 70, 75, I was feeling [it was] difficult to win, I don’t want to lose, so I made the changes to control the last few minutes of the game, but no chance Juan goes anywhere,” Mourinho said.

As for Moyes, Young’s introduction was to provide more attacking intent down the flanks, but his decision to introduce Ryan Giggs for Welbeck was also a ploy to push Evra forward, yet control the midfield. Unfortunately nothing came from the substitution, but it displayed Moyes’ will to earn three points, something out of the Scotsman element, considering his defensive approach in big matches.

Conclusion

It was far from a Premier League classic, and it’s just a preview of what to expect from the top three clubs in the country – based on the fact that each manager approaches big matches with caution.

Neither side provided the quality to win the match, whereas they both defended extremely well, meriting a draw. But they did learn that Rooney could play a pivotal role in determining who lifts the Premier League in May, and it’ll be interesting to see how the saga between the two clubs unfold.

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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2 Guys and a MIKE – Liga Sagres Podcast May 10th

Courtesy of António Amen

Courtesy of António Amen

Tyrrell Meertins is joined by Toronto journalist Victor Ferreira, as they break down Porto and Benfica’s season thus far, ahead of their monumental title-deciding clash at the Dragao. We also shed some light on AVB’s first season at Tottenham and Pacos Ferreira’s miraculous run in the Liga Sagres.

Subscribe to the 2 Guys and a MIKE podcast on iTunes…NOW!

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2013 in Podcasts

 

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Celebration of the day (Suarez 1-0 Moyes)

It was the 2007/2008 Champions League semi-finals, where we saw Didier Drogba slide towards Rafa Benitez after scoring the first goal at Stamford Bridge.

The reason why Drogba celebrated in this manner was because prior to the match Benitez claimed ‘With Drogba it’s important to have a good referee. You can’t do anything [to stop him going down], but I will say it because it was so clear. He is amazing because he is massive [yet he goes down]. It’s very impressive. I have a lot of clips of him from over the years and he surprises me. After four years I expected it. It’s very impressive.’

Four years later, ahead of the Merseyside derby, David Moyes had this to say “I’ve got concerns about Suarez, yes, because he’s got history and these people are very good at it. Last year was a dive, and the referee made a really poor decision that ruined the game after 15 minutes.”

I’m not sure why managers intend to take shots at the opposing teams players, but as history shows it tends to backfire. Not only does it anger the player, it fires them up, and they tend to perform at the highest quality.

Luis Suarez displayed the perfect example this weekend scoring two goals, and don’t think he forgot about Moyes’ comments.

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Posted by on October 28, 2012 in EPL

 

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