Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Sergio Busquets, Gerald Pique, Victor Valdes, Pedro, Andres Iniesta, David Silva, David Villa, Xavi, Jordi Alba

Three Talking Points: Spain 2 Ireland 0

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It may have been just a friendly but the match between Spain and Ireland on Tuesday night still provided plenty of interesting talking points. Here are three thoughts from the clash in the Bronx.

Gerard Pique Fancies Himself

One thing about Gerard Pique, the man really fancies himself an offensive weapon. That’s not to say that he shouldn’t, as we’ve all witnessed the Barcelona man’s quality going forward, but it is quite remarkable how frequently he leaves the Spanish defense exposed.

In last night’s match Pique spent the first half slipping into positions high on the right wing where he sought to collaborate with David Silva in giving Ireland right-back Paul McShane a nightmare. Pique’s advancements resulted in numerous headers that provided Spain a handful of second ball opportunities and a volley that required a goal-line clearance by the Irish.

In the second half Pique took a more proactive approach to his advancements, dribbling out of the back with a flair and panache remniscent of Germany legend Franz Beckenbauer. At one point, in the 66th minute, Pique literally danced around two defenders in his defensive third before throwing a Cruyff move that luckily earned him a free-kick. It was an Olé-worthy display but also a reckless act of self-promotion that, had he lost possession, would have seen Ireland through on goal.

Granted, it was a friendly match so perhaps Gerry was being a tad bit more aggressive than normal. But keep a keen eye on his movements during the Confederations Cup, where punishment is certain to be swift and costly.

Giovanni Trapattoni Had A Plan

At the tender age of 74, Giovanni Trapattoni remains a cheeky manager. Knowing his Ireland squad would be facing Spain’s first-string, he deployed a young Starting XI in a 4-4-2 formation that likely had La Furia Roja thinking the match would be a walk in the park. But as Spain would soon find out, breaking down Ireland was anything but easy.

Utilizing Seamus Coleman, a lung-busting full-back, and Andy Keogh, a forward with searing pace, as outside midfielders, Trapattoni was able to get eight players behind the ball and compact within the 18 yard box. It was a tactic that Spain had seen on numerous occasions but one that Ireland executed well, consistently forcing the Champions into outside shots or poor passes through non-existent holes.

Once they recovered possession, Trapattoni’s men looked for Coleman and Keogh on quick outlets or Conor Sammon through the air. The result was two marquee chances that Ireland failed to capitalize on. But give credit to the Italian gaffer – he had a plan and it nearly foiled Spain.

Final Pass Still Spain’s Downfall

For all the possession they enjoyed on the night, Spain still had difficulty un-locking the Irish defense. The final entry pass remains the Achilles heel of the tiki-taka specialists.

As they inch up the pitch, one and two-touch passing through the quadrants, Spain are particularly comfortable. David Villa interchanges with David Silva, Silva with Pedro, Pedro with Andres Iniesta, and Iniesta with Xavi, and so on and so forth. It’s a mesmerizing display until they reach the top of their opponents’ box where suddenly, the number of defenders doubles and the space shrinks from a 70×40 yard grid to 40×15.

At this point, Spain (or, Barcelona, however you want to look at it) typically utilizes one of two options – slip a low pass through defenders or scoop a lofted pass over their heads. Problem is, a compact defense and a goalkeeper who is good at reading the game and quick off his line can sniff these passes out.

That’s when things get interesting. What to do? Outside shots are not Spain’s forté and relying on set-pieces can be a risky move.

Perhaps it’s time to reinvent?

Watch Live: Leicester City vs. Liverpool

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 27:  A person selling club merchandise outside the stadium wears a mask of former Leicester City Manager Claudio Ranieri prior to the Premier League match between Leicester City and Liverpool at The King Power Stadium on February 27, 2017 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Leicester City welcome Liverpool to the King Power Stadium on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Foxes begin life without Claudio Ranieri.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Craig Shakespeare is in caretaker charge of Leicester as they’ve lost five games on the spin in the Premier League and now find themselves in the relegation zone. The last thing they would is a Liverpool side fresh after two weeks without a game.

Jurgen Klopp‘s men smell blood in the water as they’ve already ripped Leicester apart once this season, beating the reigning champions 4-1 at Anfield back in September.

In team news Leicester start with Okazaki and Vardy up top in what looks like a straight-up 4-4-2 formation, while Liverpool bring in Emre Can for the injured Jordan Henderson and Lucas starts at center back with Dejan Lovren out.

LINEUPS

Leicester City: Schmeichel; Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs; Drinkwater, Ndidi, Mahrez, Albrighton; Okazaki, Vardy. Subs: Zieler; Chilwell, Gray, Amarety, King, Ulloa, Slimani

Liverpool: Mignolet; Clyne, Matip, Lucas, Milner; Can, Wijnaldum; Lallana, Coutinho, Mane, Firmino. Subs: Karius, Alexander, Klavan, Stewart, Moreno, Origi, Woodburn,

Togo striker Kone saves opposing goalkeeper in Czech league

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PRAGUE (AP) For the fourth time in his career, striker Francis Kone rushed to the rescue on the soccer field to help save someone’s life.

The Togo international jumped into action on Saturday when the opposing goalkeeper in a Czech league match was lying motionless after a collision with a teammate.

Kone, who plays for Czech club Slovacko, reacted quickly and was able to stop Bohemians goalkeeper Martin Borkovec from swallowing his tongue, allowing him to breathe freely. The incident happened in the 29th minute after Borkovec collided with teammate Daniel Krch.

After the match, Kone revealed it was the fourth time he had been able to help in such circumstances following two incidents in Africa and one in Thailand.

Borkovec thanked Kone on Facebook “for his quick action in saving me.”

The league called Kone the “hero” of the match.

Premier League Playback: Ranking the chance of relegation

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With 12 games to go in the Premier League season, the bottom seven teams are starting to get cut off from the rest of the league.

Just like at the top of the table, this is the “business end” of the campaign and strange things start to happen.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Team who looked dead and buried start to rise (see: Hull and Swansea, already) and others start to sink from midtable and towards the abyss with Bournemouth and particularly Leicester City struggling.

[ MORE: Premier League standings | Schedule

Below is a look at the seven main contenders for the three relegation spots, focusing on the toughest games they have remaining, their reasons for optimism and a percentage chance of relegation.

[ MORE: Full PL Playback archive ]

Even if you have points on the board right now, momentum means everything at this time of the season…


Bournemouth

Points: 26
Reason for optimism: The quality Eddie Howe‘s side possess on the ball will see them create chances, so there’s that. However, they have to score two or three goals a game recently to get a win. They have four of the the current top six coming up, then finish the season with four of their last five games against relegation rivals. That will test the nerve of this talented yet inexperienced team.
Toughest games remaining: at Man United (Mar. 4), at Liverpool (Apr. 5), vs. Chelsea (Apr. 8), at Tottenham (Apr. 15)
Relegation percentage: 50%

Swansea City

Points: 24
Reason for optimism: Things are looking much more solid in defense since Paul Clement arrived. Gylfi Sigurdsson and Fernando Llorente continue to score and assist, plus the Swans look dangerous on the break. Plenty of reasons to believe they’ll continue to pull away from the bottom three. Will complacency set in though? Swans next four games are against Burnley, Hull, Bournemouth and Boro. Huge few weeks ahead and then an easier finish to the season, on paper.
Toughest games remaining: vs. Tottenham (Apr. 4), at Man United (Apr. 29), vs. Everton (May 6)
Relegation percentage: 20%

Middlesbrough
Points: 22
Reason for optimism: They’ve got the fifth defensive record in the PL, so they can hang in there. That’s a good trait to have when the pressure is on. They just need a goalscorer to pop up with the goods. A run of three games against relegation rivals at the beginning of April is likely to decide their fate with four very tough games to finish the season.
Toughest games remaining: vs. Man United (Mar. 19), vs. Arsenal (Apr. 15), vs. Man City (Apr. 29), at Chelsea (May 6), at Liverpool (May 21)
Relegation percentage: 50%

Crystal Palace
Points: 22
Reason for optimism: Big Sam has never been relegated as a Premier League manager. Simple. That said, this task is tougher than he thought. The 1-0 win against Boro proved they can grind out a victory when they need to. Still, they have five of the current top six left to play in their final 12 games of the season. It will be a flip of the coin for the Eagles.
Toughest games remaining: At Chelsea (Apr. 1), vs. Arsenal (Apr. 8), at Liverpool (Apr. 22), at Man City (May 6), at Man United (May 21)
Relegation percentage: 50%

Leicester City

Points: 21
Reason for optimism: Scrapping the barrel here… Their incredible runs to safety in 2015 and then for the PL title in 2016 (that did happen, right!?) gives them experience in high-pressure situation. One big marquee win can help get momentum going again, either in the PL or by getting past Sevilla in the return leg. Claudio Ranieri‘s sacking could give the Foxes the jolt they badly need but it must happen soon.
Toughest games remaining: vs. Liverpool (Feb. 27), at Everton (Apr. 8), vs. Tottenham (Apr. 22), at Man City (May 13),
Relegation percentage: 50%

Hull City

Points: 21
Reason for optimism: Marco Silva’s side are much improved and have just two games remaining against the big boys. So many relegation scraps coming up. They look tough to break down and dangerous on the break. That’s a great combo at this point in the season. They have momentum among the teams at the bottom.
Toughest games remaining: at Everton (Mar. 18), at Man City (Apr. 8), vs. Tottenham (May 21),
Relegation percentage: 30%

Sunderland

Points: 19
Reason for optimism: Well, just look at pretty much the last four seasons. Down and out time and time again, somehow Sunderland survive. That’s the only reason for optimism. Oh, and Jermain Defoe‘s goals. David Moyes needs a miracle, especially what those remaining games…
Toughest games remaining: vs. Man City (Mar. 5), vs. Man United (Apr. 8), at Arsenal (Apr. 22), at Chelsea (May 21)
Relegation percentage: 70%


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.

VIDEO: Remembering Jamie Vardy’s magic vs. Liverpool

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Just over 12 months ago Leicester City beat Liverpool on a raucous evening at the King Power Stadium to ignite real belief into their Premier League title charge.

We all know how that turned out…

[ PREVIEW: Leicester host Liverpool

A year on and boy, Leicester could use some magic from Vardy as they host Liverpool on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Foxes fired Claudio Ranieri last Thursday and the reigning champions have slipped into the relegation zone over the weekend as they’re in freefall with five defeats on the spin and they’ve failed to score in their last six PL games.

Click play on the video above to see Vardy’s wonderful volley from distance as the England international was in full flow on his way to 24 goals for the season. He has just five in the PL this season, three of which came in the 4-2 win against Manchester City at the KP back in December.

Again, caretaker Craig Shakespeare needs some magic from somewhere on Monday if the Foxes are going to gain momentum in their battle against relegation.