Mexico down to four as América, León, Santos, Toluca advance in playoffs

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Regular season champions Club América came into the Mexico’s Liguilla as favorites to win a second straight title, and after taking a 2-2 result out of Nuevo León last week, Miguel Herrera’s team was on track to make another semifinal. All they needed to do was hold serve today at Estadio Azteca, so when Mexican international Raul Jimenez’s diving header gave the Aguilas a lead in Sunday’s second half, everything was playing out as expected – even more so when Tigres’ defender Hugo Ayala was dismissed three minutes in the 55th minute. Up a man and a goal with just over half an hour to go, the team that cruised to the tournament’s top seed seemed destined to ease through the playoff’s quarterfinal round.

Yet three minutes after going down a man, Tigres were back in the match, a lightning counter attack down their left leaving Alan Pulido to beat Moises Muñóz from near the spot, making it 3-3. América’s better seed meant they had the tiebreaker, but with 32 minutes to play, Tigres had hope. One more counter, a set piece, or just randomness would see them past the superliders.

But just as often as we see goals like Pulido’s build momentum, we see then serve as wakeup calls. On Sunday, having been draw back into a tie with Tigres, the Aguilas  woke up and eventually killed off the bulk of the mach’s final 32 minutes. Still, 10 minutes from time, the favorites were still nearly seen out of the tournament, with Emmanuel Villa’s potential winner nailing the bottom of Muñóz’s post before staying out.

América should have put the match away long before. In the first half, they had their chances to go up through Rubens Sambueza and Jimenez and couldn’t convert. Before Villa threatened to snatch the tie from them, they could have restored their lead yet took the 3-3 scoreline into the final minutes, and beyond the chances, they are just a much better team. Few would have predicted the defending champions would come this close to a quarterfinal exit.

In the semifinals, the competition won’t be as forgiving, but just as Pulido’s goal may have served as a wakeup call, this tie may have opened the Aguilas’ eyes to what lies ahead. With only Muñóz’s woodwork saving them from an unlikely elimination, América may now realize how hard it will be to win back-to-back titles.

Elsewhere

Santos Laguna 3 (6), Querétaro 1 (3)

The Guerreros were given reason to fear last week when two late Isaac Romo goals reduced their three-goal lead to one, but although Romo would add a third in the second half in Torreon, Querétaro would never get back to even footing with second seed. Carlos Darwin Quintero, who scored twice in leg one, added late brace on Sunday, with Oribe Peralta’s opener ensuring Santos held the lead throughout Sunday’s second leg.

León 4 (7), Morelia 0 (3)

The drama Monarcas restored with two late goals in leg one had dissipated by the middle of Saturday’s second half, with three goals in a 13-minute span building on Hernan Burbano’s first half opener to give León the four-goal lead they’d carry until the final whistle.

Whereas León’s defense had been crucial throughout the team’s qualification stage, their goals allowed (14) second to only América’s, Gustavo Matosas’s team found goalscoring depth they never saw in the regular season. While Mauro Boselli’s two goals added to the 13 he found before the playoffs, Léon also got goals from Luis Montes, Elias Hernández (both last Saturday), Burbano, Matías Britos, and José Vázquez.

Set to face Santos in the semifinals, those scoring options will come in handy, should their defense prove as generous as it was in leg one against Morelia.

Toluca 3 (4), Cruz Azul 1 (1)

The lower (fifth) seed, Toluca all but sealed their victory last week, going up 3-0 in leg one. On Saturday, Christian Giménez’s 33rd minute penalty conversion brought La Machina within two, but Guillermo Vazquez’s team never got any closer. Despite finishing the season with four straight looses, Toluca eased into the semifinals, Pablo Velazquez’s 78th minute goal eliminating any doubt the Diablos Rojos would be caught late.

Now the league’s best regular season attack (33 goals ) meets the league’s best defense, though América’s defense will have to return to form if they’re to keep their hopes of repeating alive.

How will Man United line-up vs. Ajax in Europa League final?

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How will Jose Mourinho set up Manchester United for their crucial Europa League final against Ajax in Stockholm on Wednesday?

[ MORE: Europa League final preview ]

With an automatic UEFA Champions League spot on the line, United must win to get back to Europe’s top club competition next season. If they don’t it is back to the Europa League for Mourinho’s men.

This won’t be easy, though, as United’s defense has been ravaged by injuries in recent weeks and they’re without Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Local lad Marcus Rashford has to come up with the goods.

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Ajax’s young, attack-minded side will be led by Kasper Dolberg and Bertrand Traore, while Davy Klaassen will pull the strings in midfield.

Back to United, and with Mourinho confirming Sergio Romero would start in goal ahead of David De Gea, just like he has done for most of the Europa League campaign, we know one starter. In defense it is likely to be Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in the center with Eric Bailly suspended, Marcos Rojo out injured and the duo of Ashley Young and Luke Shaw also missing. Valencia and Blind should get the nod out wide with Darmian in reserve.

Midfield is where things get tricky. Michael Carrick‘s experience may be invaluable but Mourinho is likely to go with Fellaini’s grit (if he’s fit) in the engine room alongside Ander Herrera.

Ahead of them in the three attacking positions, Mkhitaryan and Pogba seem certainties to start and then it’s a straight battle between Lingard, Mata and Martial for the other spot. Lingard may just win that battle due to his superior defensive abilities, but it will be close.

Up top it will be Rashford to start with Wayne Rooney waiting in the wings in what could be his final game for United.

Take a look at our suggested lineup below. Do you agree?


Manchester United starting lineup vs. Ajax, Europa League final

—– Romero —–

— Valencia — Jones — Smalling — Blind —

—- Herrera —- Fellaini —-

— Mkhitaryan — Pogba — Lingard —

—– Rashford —–

Premier League awards: Player, Coach, Best XI & more

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It is time for ProSoccerTalk’s end of season awards for the 2016-17 Premier League campaign.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 season reviews

Our writers were asked to select their Player of the Year, Young player of the Year (has to be under the age of 21), Coach of the Year and also select their Best XI, plus a little bonus segment at the bottom of this page…

Take a look at our answers below and we are intrigued to your selections in the comments section below.


Coach of the Year

Joe Prince-Wright selects… Antonio Conte – The way he galvanized this Chelsea team was remarkable. The tactical switch after the Arsenal defeat was the defining moment of the season and won him the PL in his first-ever campaign in England. Plus, his passion on the sidelines excites fans and he’s a gentleman in press conferences. Chelsea’s players seem to know where they stand with Conte and this seems like the start of an era of dominance. Mauricio Pochettino from Tottenham was a close second.

Nick Mendola selects… Antonio Conte – Really don’t think it needs an explanation. Back on top.

Kyle Bonn selects… Antonio Conte – Easy choice here. In his first season, he righted the ship and steered Chelsea to a Premier League title. He guided the players through a new system and still managed to get the best out of them. Stellar.

Matt Reed selects… Antonio Conte – The Italian didn’t go big in the transfer market but the additions of David Luiz, N'Golo Kante and Marcos Alonso were everything Chelsea could have hoped for and then some.

Dan Karell selects… Antonio Conte – It’s the easy choice, but his ability to get the team to believe in him and change the system following the 3-0 defeat to Arsenal lead to a dominant season for the Blues. Also, he made David Luiz great again!


Player of the Year

Joe Prince-Wright selects… Dele Alli – I have to buck the trend and not go with a Chelsea player. Yes, they won the title and Kante, Hazard and Azpilicueta were immense, but Alli was out of this world. This is a youngster who is in just his second season in the PL and he scored 17 goals from midfield. His class on the ball and driving runs remind me of Frank Lampard and he can finish like him too. The sky is the limit for Dele.

Nick Mendola selects… N’Golo Kante – Maybe it’s a little boring to go with the guy that the league named, but Kante was the best player in the league for the second successive season, on two different title winning teams. No biggie.

Kyle Bonn selects… Eden Hazard – I know N’Golo Kante was incredible, and I don’t want to take away from the midfielder who was an absolute rock, but Hazard was outstanding. He won the most take-ons of anyone in the league at a higher percentage than anyone, and was among the most creative players as well. A true superstar.

Matt Reed selects… N’Golo Kante – You could pick a handful of players from Chelsea’s squad to be in this discussion but for the bargain price in which the Blues acquired him, Kante was worth every penny.

Dan Karell selects… N’Golo Kante – Even with Conte, Chelsea may not have been miles ahead of everyone without the tireless effort of Kante. Kante finished 2nd in the PL with 127 tackles and had 82 interceptions. He also finished 2nd on Chelsea with 2,122 passes. Kante’s work defensively allowed Eden Hazard and Nemanja Matic the space to operate forward, leading to 85 goals and a record 30 wins.


Young Player of the Year

Joe Prince-Wright selects… Leroy Sane – This is a player who got better and better as the season went on. Sane’s pace was always there but Guardiola has made him more patient on the ball and he appears to be timing his runs better. He will be a star for the next decade.

Nick Mendola selects… Dele Alli – 21 and under? Does it have to be 21? You know Dele Alli is 21, right? Haha… Dele Alli, guys. Dele. Alli.

Kyle Bonn selects… Dele Alli – Tottenham’s midfielder scored an insane amount of goals this year, but he displayed an all-around game that is the envy of the league.

Matt Reed selects… Leroy Sane – The German has all the makings of becoming one of the PL’s best wingers over the next several seasons as he refines his game. He’ll surely be pleased with nine goals (all comps) in his first season at the Etihad Stadium.

Dan Karell selects… Dele Alli – The midfielder still has to prove he can be consistent at the highest level but he showed this year why he’s constantly linked with the likes of Real Madrid.


Best XI

Joe Prince-Wright selects… Lloris; Azpilicueta, Alderweireld, Vertonghen; Hazard, Kante, Alli, Alonso; Mane, Kane, Sanchez – Somehow I had to get Eden Hazard in this team, but don’t expect him to do much defending on the right flan of this 3-4-3 setup. Spurs’ goalkeeper Lloris and their two Belgian center backs were superb, while it is tough to look past Alli and Kante in midfield. Kante is a given up top and Sadio Mane gets the nod alongside Alexis Sanchez to support him. All-out attack.

Nick Mendola selects… Lloris; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Alderweireld; Coutinho, Kante, Pogba, Hazard, Sanchez, Ibrahimovic, Kane

Kyle Bonn selects… De Gea; Walker, Luiz, Alderweireld, Azpilicueta; Kante, Eriksen, De Bruyne, Hazard; Sanchez, Kane – Zlatan had a shot had he not been injured. Costa was a great team player and was hugely important to Chelsea, but didn’t have the individual seasons that Sanchez and Kane had. Eriksen, De Bruyne, and Hazard were the 3 most creative players in the league this season. De Gea is still, in my opinion, the best sheer goalkeeper in the league, and the flashiest; that choice is tough on Hugo Lloris, who had a great season for sure.

Matt Reed selects… Courtois; Walker, Alderweireld, Luiz, Danny Rose; Kante, Alli, Hazard, Mane; Lukaku, Kane

Dan Karell selects… Heaton; Azpilicueta, Alderweireld, Cahill; Coutinho, Alli, Kante, Silva; Lukaku, Kane, Sanchez


BONUS! We also asked the guys for their underrated XI of the season. You know, those guys who ball every week but always seem to fall under the radar…

Underrated XI

Joe Prince-Wright selects… Foster; Maguire, Kompany, Bailly; Silva, Wanyama, Romeu, Herrera; Pedro, King, Sigurdsson – I went for a few big names in here who have had been so important to their teams but seem to never get huge amounts of love. Pedro, Kompany and Silva fall into that category. Elsewhere the midfield destroyers of Wanyama, Romeu and Herrera all had fine seasons, while the only reason Swansea stayed up was Sigurdsson and Josh King was superb at Bournemouth. Foster and Maguire had a great seasons for teams often not talked about.

Nick Mendola selects… Heaton; Valencia, Gibson, Reid, Martins Indi; Antonio, Gueye, Herrera, Son; Silva, King

Kyle Bonn selects… Lloris; Vertonghen, Bailly, Milner, Valencia; Herrera, Pogba, Sigurdsson, Silva, Coutinho; Pedro – None of these guys I feel got looks for PL Best XI, but they maybe should have. Pogba was far better than he got credit for given his price tag, while Herrera got publicity late in the year but was a rock all season long. With all due respect to Steve Cook, who had a very good year statistically at CB, I couldn’t include him here given Bournemouth’s abysmal defensive record, so I went with Squawka’s #1 ranked defender this season, Jan Vertonghen. Eric Bailly was a machine for Manchester United. Pedro was maybe Chelsea’s most underrated player this season in their title run.

Matt Reed selects… Pickford; Azpilicueta, Gibson, McAuley, Bertrand; Herrera, Romeu, Tadic, Sigurdsson; Albrighton, Defoe

Dan Karell selects… Foster; Bailly, Keane, Mee; Romeu, Arter, Gueye, Drinkwater, Lanzini; Zaha, King


 

Premier League player Power Rankings – Top 20

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For the final time in the 2016-17 Premier League season it’s time to rank the players in form.

[ MORE: Power Rankings archive ]

Stars from Chelsea and Tottenham dominate, just like they did all season, and we have plenty of players from Manchester City who also turned things on in the final weeks of the season.

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League.

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections of the top 20 players in the PL right now.


  1. Harry Kane (Tottenham) – Up 1
  2. Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal) – Down 1
  3. Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool) – Up 1
  4. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – Up 3
  5. Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea) – New entry
  6. Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea) – Down 3
  7. Dele Alli (Tottenham) – Down 1
  8. Heung min-Son (Tottenham) – Up 2
  9. Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal) – Up 2
  10. Vincent Kompany (Man City) – Up 3
  11. David Silva (Man City) – Down 2
  12. Diego Costa (Chelsea) –Even
  13. Eden Hazard (Chelsea) – New entry
  14. Gabriel Jesus (Man City) – Even
  15. Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea) – Even
  16. Victor Wanyama (Tottenham) – Up 2
  17. Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool) – Up 3
  18. Josh King (Bournemouth) – Down 10
  19. Fernando Llorente (Swansea) – Down 2
  20. Petr Cech (Arsenal) – New entry

Wenger update on Sanchez after Chile’s Bayern mix-up

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Arsene Wenger has (shock) remained tight-lipped about his own Arsenal future but has been talking about Alexis Sanchez remaining with the Gunners.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Sanchez, 28, has just over 12 months left on his current Arsenal deal and the Chilean attacker is attracting interest from across the Premier League and Europe.

With 24 goals and 10 assists in the Premier League this season, Sanchez would obviously be a huge loss to the Gunners if he did move on.

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Speaking to the media ahead of the FA Cup final against Chelsea on Saturday at Wembley Stadium, Wenger seemed to think his star forward wouldn’t be going anywhere this summer.

“We have nobody at the end of their contract so that will be completely our decision. Therefore, I just believe that we, the club, have a big job to do during the summer because you want to keep players like Alexis and end all the speculation that could happen…” Wenger said. “Alexis is not at the end of his contract. I would just like to remind you that the end of his contract is 2018. So that’s a completely different situation.”

Wenger appears to be stating that even if contract negotiations don’t go well with Sanchez and his representatives after the FA Cup final this weekend, the Gunners won’t be trying to offload him right away even though the fact they won’t be in the UEFA Champions League next season.

Sanchez could remain until next January and run his contract down to six months and then he’d be free to arrange a summer 2018 move to any non-English team. Of course, Arsenal wouldn’t get any cash for Sanchez if that happened but it appears that they intend to keep him around as long as possible as contract negotiations continue.

Wenger’s current mindset: “So you’re telling me there’s a chance…”


In other Sanchez-related news, did the Chilean national team release news about his future club?

When Chile sent out a graphic via their official Twitter account to announce their 23-man squad for the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia next month, they had a club logo next to the name of each player.

A Bayern Munich badge was next to Sanchez’s name before being removed rather quickly.

Add that to Sanchez’s countryman, and Bayern midfielder, Arturo Vidal, saying that the German giants having been asking him about his countryman and maybe the Bundesliga champs are all of a sudden the frontrunners to sign him?

Surely Arsenal’s board would much rather sell Sanchez overseas than see him join a direct Premier League rival if he was to leave this summer?