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.

Premier League player Power Rankings

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The games keep coming thick and fast in the Premier League and that means plenty of movement in our player Power Rankings.

[ MORE: Power Rankings archive ]

Players from Manchester City dominate our rankings, which is no surprise given their record-breaking exploits. Plus plenty of players from in-form Leicester City are in our list, while Tottenham and Chelsea are also well represented.

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. David Silva (Man City) – Up 7
  2. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – Down 1
  3. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – Down 1
  4. Riyad Mahrez (Leicester) – Up 1
  5. Heung-Min Son (Tottenham) – New entry
  6. Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace) – New entry
  7. David De Gea (Man United) – Down 3
  8. Raheem Sterling (Man City) – Down 2
  9. Eden Hazard (Chelsea) – Down 6
  10. Harry Kane (Tottenham) – New entry
  11. Wayne Rooney (Everton) – New entry
  12. Ederson (Man City) – New entry
  13. Demarai Gray (Leicester) – New entry
  14. Jamie Vardy (Leicester) – New entry
  15. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) – New entry
  16. Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal) – Down 6
  17. Jack Cork (Burnley) – New entry
  18. Willian (Chelsea) – New entry
  19. Jack Butland (Stoke City) – New entry
  20. Marko Arnautovic (West Ham) – New entry

26 people arrested after massive soccer fan brawl in Serbia

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Police in Serbia have arrested 26 people after a massive fan brawl during a soccer match between Belgrade rivals Red Star and Partizan left at least 20 people injured.

Police say foreign nationals are among those who were detained after Wednesday’s match, which ended 1-1. They did not specify the nationalities.

The brawl erupted between two rival Partizan fan groups. Several people suffered head injuries and burns from torches. Some fans were stripped naked before being kicked out of the stands as riot police intervened with batons.

Clashes between Partizan and Red Star fans have been common for one of the world’s most intense soccer rivalries.

With the draw, Red Star is leading Partizan by nine points halfway through the championship.

Playback: What is going on in the Premier League?

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CITY UNSTOPPABLE

15 wins on the spin in the Premier League. 52 goals scored in 17 games. Unbeaten so far this season with 16 wins from 17.

This record-breaking Manchester City side shows no signs of slowing down as they made English top-flight history on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Pep Guardiola‘s side sealed 15 consecutive wins by beating Swansea City to do what no other team had done in English top-flight history. With an 11-point lead over second-place Manchester United, the focus is now switching to when City will win the league rather than if.

And rightly so. Pep believes complacency will not set in and says he takes great joy from others appreciating his team play. Swansea’s fans routinely applauded City on Wednesday such was their sterling play in attack and on the ball.

Will City get complacent?

“That is not going to happen. We are so demanding for our players. We can lose, we can drop points but complacency, never happened in the past, the present or the future,” Guardiola said. “Winning 15 games in a row gives us a lot of confidence. If people are happy watching us that is the best gift.”

The Spanish coach now holds the record for most consecutive league wins in the Spanish, German and English top flights. He is not someone who will allow his team to get complacent and seeing the embarrassment of riches he has, he can switch his starting lineup whenever he believes someone isn’t pulling their weight.

In Guardiola’s second season in England he has improved every single player who is still around from their third-place finish in 2016-17 and has tweaked his team to perfection.

David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne set the tempo of the team in central areas together, while Kyle Walker has been a revelation at right back and Ederson a rock in goal with City having the joint-best defensive record in the PL. Guardiola is proving all of his doubters wrong after many believed his soccer philosophy would not be possible to replicate in the hustle and bustle of the PL.

Yes, they’ve been pushed close in recent 2-1 wins late on against Huddersfield, Southampton and West Ham, but Guardiola has pointed to their mental ability to drag themselves through and win games even when they’re not at their best.

Even when City aren’t quite at their best they’re still superior to every other team in the PL.

Their toughest challenge was supposed to be away at Man United last weekend in the Manchester derby but Pep’s boys cantered past their crosstown rivals and opened up what now looks like an unassailable lead atop the PL table.

This weekend they face Tottenham Hotspur at home and if Spurs are at their best and City’s levels drop, they could well be the first PL team to beat City this season. But, in all honesty, this City team looks unbeatable right now and unless something changes drastically they look set to match Arsenal’s “Invincibles” who went the entire 2002-03 Premier League season undefeated.

Saying that after 17 games of the season may be a bold statement but for anyone who has watched Man City this season, it isn’t.

Looking at their remaining schedule, City still have to travel to Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool in what look like their


TOP FOUR RACE WIDE-OPEN

With Man City running away with the title, it appears the top four race will be the main talking point this season.

Arsenal and Liverpool both dropped points in midweek, while Tottenham, Manchester United and Chelsea all picked up wins to solidify their top four ambitions.

There are just five points behind third-place Chelsea and seventh-place Arsenal, with Burnley’s incredible start to the season seeing them nestled into sixth in the table as things stand. Sean Dyche‘s men will surely drop off in the second half of the campaign and that would then leave a similar scenario to last season where the final two top four spots went down to the wire.

United currently sit seven points above fourth-place Tottenham and Jose Mourinho’s men are looking set for a top four finish, at least, even if their title hopes seem to be fading drastically.

When it comes to the rest, Arsenal and Liverpool look the most vulnerable when it comes to finishing in the top four, but both Chelsea and Tottenham haven’t been short of their issues this season.

Spurs went four games without a win in the PL but have won two-straight against Stoke and Brighton, with Mauricio Pochettino hoping a big win away at Man City could spark new life into Tottenham’s season. Chelsea keep plodding along and, like Spurs, they will have one eye on the UEFA Champions League last 16 with both clubs handing tough tests against Barcelona and Juventus respectively.

That could play into the hands of Liverpool (who face FC Porto in the UCL last 16) and Arsenal (who will play a weakened team in their Europa League knockout exploits). That said, two draws on the spin for Liverpool and Arsenal in the past few days have very damaging and Arsene Wenger and Jurgen Klopp look agitated and frustrated as their title hopes are not only over but they now realize that they’ll likely be the outsiders in the top four race.

This top four race will go down to the wire this season, once again, and there seems to be plenty of slip ups left in the quartet of Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool and Arsenal.


‘TIS THE SEASON FOR RE-INVIGORATION

Leicester City is leading the pack of reinvigorated Premier League teams.

Since Claude Puel took charge of the Foxes in October they have only lost to Manchester City and they’ve won four-straight PL games to rise to eighth in the table and are five points off the top four.

Riyad Mahrez has led the charge up the table and some would argue this Leicester squad is deeper and more talented than the team which won the title in 2015-16. Yes, they’ve lose N'Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater to Chelsea but they have a younger core to this squad with Ben Chilwell, Harry Maguire and Demarai Gray all impressing.

Puel will have enjoyed Leicester’s 4-1 win at his former club Southampton on Wednesday, as Saints’ decision to fire the Frenchman after just one season in charge continues to look like on of the biggest managerial blunders in recent years.

Many believed David Moyes‘ appointment at West Ham United would also be a big blunder but in recent weeks it has worked out pretty well for the Hammers.

They pushed Man City all the way, then beat Chelsea at the weekend and they drew with Arsenal on Wednesday and could’ve easily made it two big London derby wins on the spin. With a more favorable schedule coming up, it appears Moyes’ men could climb out of the bottom three very soon. The West Ham players have a clear idea of what they’re doing and now seem tougher to break down and dangerous on the break with Marko Arnautovic and Michail Antonio in attack. It appears Moyes has the defensive structure Slaven Bilic‘s approach lacked and it makes the Hammers look like a completely different team.

As well as the resurgence of Leicester and West Ham, Roy Hodgson is also turning around the ship at Crystal Palace.

The Eagles have scored late goals in each of their last two home games and beat Watford 2-1 on Tuesday thanks to two late goals when they trailed 1-0. Hodgson’s men have quietly gone six games unbeaten and have drawn four of those encounters. Palace have now given themselves a chance of survival after seven-straight defeats to start the season.

And the tide is also turning at Everton with three wins in their last four Premier League games since Sam Allardyce arrived and the Toffees looking to Wayne Rooney to deliver with the Englishman scoring five goals in his last four PL appearances. The latest was a gutsy 1-0 win away at Newcastle, a few days after they fought back to draw at Liverpool in the Merseyside derby. Big Sam is working his magic and Everton are now primed for a push for seventh place.

With just four points separating West Ham in 19th place and Southampton in 11th, there will be an almighty scrap to stay out of the bottom three this season. The relegation picture may look a lot less hectic when the festive season is over and the four aforementioned in-form teams will be hoping to make the most of the busy period ahead.


ANOTHER BUSY WEEKEND PROMISES PLENTY

There’s no doubting that Manchester City against Tottenham Hotspur is the big game this weekend in the Premier League but more than the individual matchups this weekend it is all about setting the tone for the festive season on the horizon.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

In the next two weeks we have four PL matchdays coming up and this time of year can really make or break a season.

With two midweek slates of games already in the tank in recent weeks, plus seven PL teams also in European action, rotating squads will be key if teams are to navigate the festive period successfully.

Expected the unexpected. Oh, and Happy Holidays!


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

Mourinho update on Bailly’s injury, Mkhitaryan’s absence

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Jose Mourinho has given an update on Eric Bailly‘s injury situation and it is not good news for Manchester United.

The Ivorian center back has been out since early November when he picked up an ankle injury on international duty. He last played for United in their 1-0 defeat at Chelsea on Nov. 5.

Speaking to the media after United’s 1-0 win against Bournemouth at Old Trafford on Wednesday, Mourinho confirmed that Bailly’s injury is more serious than they had hoped.

“I think it’s serious. We are trying a conservative treatment but if the conservative treatment is not resulting (in recovery), he will probably have a surgery procedure. But let’s wait a little bit more,” Mourinho said, before adding that he “didn’t want to be so pessimistic” when asked if the injury was season ending.

Bailly has been United’s most consistent center back since Mourinho has arrived at the club with the likes of Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo guilty of making mistakes, while Phil Jones has stepped up his game this season but has once again been struggling with injuries.

The absence of Bailly at the heart of United’s defense has been understated of late, given the fact that the Red Devils have the joint-best defensive record in the Premier League alongside Man City. Bailly not being around is a big deal and he’s been a rock since his $40 million arrival from Villarreal in the summer of 2016.

There is also not good news for Henrikh Mkhitaryan as his time at United appears to be all but over with reports linking him with a move back to Borussia Dortmund in January.

The Armenian playmaker wasn’t in United’s 18-man squad for the win against Bournemouth and hasn’t be in seven of their last eight matchday squads in all competitions.

“I can only have six players on the bench and I try to have some balance on the bench,” Mkhitaryan said. “I had two defenders that can play in different areas, I have Ashley Young to cover the wing and wing backs position. [Ander] Herrera is a midfield player, Zlatan [Ibrahimovic] is a striker, [Marcus] Rashford is a second striker and a winger. To have Mkhitaryan means I don’t have one of them and I believe the others deserve.”

Mkhitaryan started the season on fire with five assists in his first three games of the Premier League season, but since then he has fallen way down the pecking order at United with Mourinho criticizing the man he left out during the early stages of last season too before Mkhitaryan came flying back in the second half of the campaign.

The former Dortmund man hasn’t played since coming on for 19 minutes in the 1-0 win against Brighton on Nov. 25 and it seems likely his future is elsewhere.