Premier League Playback: Everton in the mix, miserable Mourinho, basement boys battling

Leave a comment

BEARDLESS HOWARD EXCELS, AS EVERTON ARRIVE

Tim Howard looked ten years younger on Sunday, as the bushy beard was gone and he delivered a sterling display in Everton’s 1-1 draw with Arsenal. Two quick saves off his line in the first-half and a great stop from Aaron Ramsey after the break saw the USMNT ‘keeper one again give the Toffees a solid foundation to build off. Roberto Martinez’ side impressed against the Premier League leaders and in a week where they beat Manchester United away from home and drew with Arsenal at the Emirates, Everton are looking like a top four side in the making.

What will get them to that next level? Clinical finishing, said Howard, when I spoke to him in the tunnel afterwards.

“That’s the one thing, as well as we played in the first half for the possession we had, we didn’t create enough chances. I think nearly at the halfway point [of the season], that’s something we’re looking to get better at. We defended really well, we’ve shown that with the clean sheets that we’ve kept. We have been getting in the attacking third a bunch of times but now we have to try and finish off our chances.”

Howard is right.

For all their early dominance — which frustrated the home crowd mercifully and piled the pressure on the Gunners —  Everton had no real substance to show for a sublime first half display. Both full backs bombed on and provided good crosses but so often not enough men were gambling to get in the box. Ross Barkley was a shining light in midfield and whenever he was on the ball he turned and ran at the Gunners back-tracking defense in one swift movement. Just 20-years-old and already a PL regular and England international, Barkley has the world at his feet. He was handed the man of the match award on Sunday, and in his first post-game interview he looked timid and shy. Everton’s attackers are looking a little like that at the moment, Romelu Lukaku aside, and if they’re going to make it to the Champions League in Martinez’ first season in charge, more goals and a clinical ruthlessness is whats needed.

FULL PREMIER LEAGUE PLAYBACK ARCHIVE

As they bullied Arsenal for vast swathes of their game at the weekend, Everton proved from back to front their capable of sticking with anyone in this league. A work in progress, but after watching them scare the life out of Arsenal, with some fine tuning here and there Martinez’ men could become a work of art.

Premier League Schedule – Week 15

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 1-1 Everton Recap and watch here
Crystal Palace 2-0 Cardiff City Recap and watch here
Fulham 2-0 Aston Villa Recap and watch here
Liverpool 4-1 West Ham Recap and watch here
Man Utd 0-1 Newcastle Recap and watch here
Southampton 1-1 Man City Recap and watch here
Stoke 3-2 Chelsea Recap and watch here
Sunderland 1-2 Tottenham Recap and watch here
Swansea 1-1 Hull City Recap and watch here
West Brom 0-2 Norwich City Recap and watch here

MOURINHO: “WE’RE IN TROUBLE”

After Chelsea’s 3-2 defeat to Stoke City on Saturday, Jose Mourinho resembled a dejected figure. In the cauldron of the Britannia Stadium his saw his sides defense once again succumb to relentless wing-play. In their two away games last week, Chelsea conceded six goals and scored six. That is not a Mourinho team. Not at all. His sides are built on solid defense and are always hard to beat. Not this Chelsea side. Take nothing away from Stoke, they pushed, cajoled and harried the Blues and Oussama Assaidi’s stunning stoppage time howitzer was worthy of winning any game.

But the Chelsea of old would’ve seen this game out with at least a point.

“I don’t feel comfortable enough to tell you what I think about the game,” Mourinho said afterwards. “We’re in trouble. It is a concern [conceding many goals recently]. I don’t like it, I don’t organize my teams to be like this. Sometimes mistakes kill an organization.”

It is that lack or organization that killed Chelsea on Saturday.

Stoke were clever and left men in wide areas that confused Chelsea’s packed midfield of John Obi Mikel, Juan Mata and Ramires and left the defense in a muddle. Take a look at the image on the right.

source:
(Click  image to enlarge) Notice the space in behind Chelsea’ RB, Gary Cahill (CB) stepping into midfield and Mikel dropping back too deep. This is a mess and happened far too often.

This was after Chelsea went 1-0 up and the Potters were pushing for an equalizer. Time and time again the wide men were left unmarked, look at the space in behind full back Branislav Ivanovic and notice how the right center back, Gary Cahill, has inexplicably pushed up to try and close the ball. Obi Mikel should be doing that but the holding midfield is instead stood almost holding hands with CB John Terry. You don’t need two men to mark Peter Crouch when the ball is in that position. This shape is awful and Chelsea’s defensive problems seem to come from a sheer lack or organization. No wonder Mourinho is miserable, he prides himself on meticulously setting his team out to be impenetrable. Often standing with his hands in his pockets on the sideline, lacking his usual charisma in post-game interviews and sporting bags under his eyes, Mourinho has one heck of a job on his hands with the Blues. It’s a miracle they’re only five points off the top after defensive displays like this.

BOTTOM CLUBS UP FOR THE BATTLE

What a good weekend it was for the PL’s bottom clubs (except for Sunderland, sorry Mackems fans) as Crystal Palace, Fulham, Stoke and Norwich all won to ease the pressure on their relegation struggles. Being in and around the bottom around Christmas, historically, isn’t a good place to be. Only one side in PL history (West Brom in 2005) has avoided relegation when being bottom of the standings on Christmas Day. There’s a mad scramble to get away from the basement door to the Championship.

MORE: Latest Premier League Standings

So to see Palace picking up their second win in as many games under new boss Tony Pulis, Fulham totally dismissing Aston Villa in a first win for Rene Meulensteen, Stoke dispatching Chelsea and Norwich traveling to West Brom and beating the Baggies, shows that this seasons relegation scrap has plenty more twists and turns in it. The basement boys are up for the battle and will fight for their lives. Five points separating West Brom in 15th and Fulham in 19th shows how tight it is. Hope springs eternal and after this weekend, Christmas for fans of those struggling teams we mentioned is set to be a lot brighter.

FESTIVE SEASON TO SEPARATE PRETENDERS

Talking of the impeding festive season, come on scrooges out there, you know you love it, take a look over the following fixtures. One thing springs to mind when I have a gander, after the festive period, we’ll have a much better idea who’s for real at the top of the table and which teams stock will be falling lower than a scarf salesman in the post-festive shopping season.

  • Tottenham v Liverpool – December 14
  • Man City v Arsenal – December 15
  • Arsenal v Chelsea – December 23
  • Chelsea v Liverpool – December 29
  • Man Utd v Tottenham – January 1

In just over two weeks of fixtures, some sides will drop out of the title race altogether, others (Arsenal and Liverpool in particular) could strengthen their title credentials considerably.

MOYES TAKES THE BLAME, SO HE SHOULD…

On Monday David Moyes took one for the team after saying he takes “complete responsibility” for Manchester United’s terrible start to the season. It’s a noble act that many would see as deflecting the pressure away from his players and protecting them, something Sir Alex Ferguson was a master at. But there’s something less noble about Moyes taking responsibility, when in reality the problems probably has a lot to do with his ineptitude for change. For me, unless United score early in games, there’s often no plan B. That was the case against Newcastle on Saturday as the longer the game remained at 0-0, the home side were panicking and the substitutions from Moyes were poor. Bringing on defensive midfielder Anderson… when you needed a goal to stop United losing their second-straight home league game for the first time since 2002, nah, that’s not right.

Stop panicking Moyesy, positive subs and positivity is needed to help alter United’s worrying trend. They sit in ninth and are 13 points off league leaders Arsenal after another defeat. Worryingly, without the injured Wayne Rooney they looked lost going forward as they had the lowest number of passes in the final third of any team in the PL over the past weekend with just 93. I urged more attacking impetus from United in the last edition of Playback, that fell on deaf ears and I still believe more emphasis on attack needs to prevail at Old Trafford. The stat below from our mates at Opta says it all…

Day Three: All the action from the U20 World Cup

FIFA
Leave a comment

With the 2017 U-20 World Cup underway in South Korea, we can forgive you if you haven’t seen much of the action yet.

[ MORE: U-20 World Cup latest

Due to the time difference most of the games kicking off in the wee hours (if you’re on the East Coast of the U.S.), so we thought we’d give you a chance to catch up on what you might have missed while you were sleeping.

Click on the link above for all the latest news from the U-20 World Cup, while below are video highlights from Monday’s four games as Groups E and F were in action.


Group E – France 3-0 Honduras

Group E – New Zealand 0-0 Vietnam 

Group F – Ecuador 3-3 USA 

Group F – Saudi Arabia 0-2 Senegal

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Sanchez to Bayern; Lukaku to Chelsea

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Alexis Sanchez to Bayern Munich links continue with the Arsenal forward having just one year left on his contract and now Arsenal out of the UEFA Champions League for next season.

[ MORE: Kroenke speaks out ]

Sanchez’s international teammate, and Bayern Munich midfielder, Arturo Vidal has added further fuel to that fire.

Vidal spoke to Spanish outlet Sport and revealed he has been asked about Sanchez by the Bayern hierarchy and he wants the Chilean star to swap the Premier League for the Bundesliga.

“He is doing great at Arsenal but I think he needs to take an extra step to fight amongst the best in the world and that is why he has to come to the best team in the world. He would do great here,” Vidal is quoted as saying.

Would Bayern be a good fit for Sanchez? It would certainly be the preferred choice for Arsenal if they did have to sell him this summer.

The Gunners would be reluctant to sell to any of their Premier League rivals, so this could suit everyone. Of course they wouldn’t want to lose the man who scored 24 PL goals and added 10 assists this season, but the reality is stark for the Gunners.

Sanchez would surely slot in seamlessly with Bayern’s fluid attacking front three and as the likes of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery enter the twilight of their careers, Sanchez could be the main man in Bavaria for the next three to four years. This move would also provide Sanchez with a return to UCL action, something Arsenal can no longer offer him.


Just one day after the season came to a close Romelu Lukaku is being heavily linked with a return to Chelsea.

The London Evening Standard reports that Chelsea have put Lukaku, 24, at the top of their summer wishlist and ahead of Alvaro Morata.

Lukaku has two years left on his current Everton deal but has refused to sign a new contract and the Belgian international is being chased by several of Europe’s top clubs. His 25 goals this season meant he was the second-highest goalscorer in the PL and as reports about Diego Costa‘s leaving Chelsea for China this summer continue, Lukaku would be the perfect replacement.

Everton boss Ronald Koeman has admitted that the Belgian forward will leave to go on and become a star at a giant club but the Toffees were perhaps hoping it would be for the 2018-19 season.

As for Lukaku, he may feel like he has some unfinished business at Chelsea after being loaned out to West Brom and Everton after joining Chelsea in 2011 for a fee rising to $25 million. He played just 15 times for Chelsea and failed to score.

With his power, pace and aerial ability, you have to think Lukaku would be perfect for Chelsea’s counterattacking style. That said, his hold-up play is the one thing holding him back and that’s where Costa excels.

Chelsea sold Lukaku to Everton in 2013 for $36 million and it is believed he would cost Chelsea over double that amount to buy him back. The Blues have bought back players they sold in the past with Nemanja Matic and David Luiz prime examples, but this deal to bring back Lukaku would be a huge admittance by Chelsea that they got this one wrong.

John Terry explains 26th minute exit; winning bets revealed

Leave a comment

John Terry was subbed out of his 717th and final appearance for Chelsea in the 26th minute of their 5-1 victory against Sunderland on Sunday.

[ MORE: Chelsea hungry for more glory ]

Chelsea’s legendary captain called an end to his 22-year career with the Blues and the 36-year-old is yet to announce if he will retire from the game this summer or continuing playing elsewhere.

There is plenty of controversy surrounding how his final moments on the pitch for Chelsea played out.

Despite coming off in the 26th minute (his shirt number is 26) with a guard of honor from his teammates, applause from the Sunderland players and a huge ovation from the supporters at Stamford Bridge, many believe this wasn’t the right way to do things.

Speaking to Sky Sports after the game, Terry revealed that he and Conte struck an agreement before the match and that it was his idea.

“I kind of negotiated with the manager to play 26 minutes and come off,” Terry said. “I think he wanted to get the boys that didn’t play on Monday night against Watford and give them a run-out. It was a compromise between the two of us.”

Following the planned farewell it has also been revealed that several UK bookmakers have paid out on bets on Terry being subbed out in the 26th minute. Odds of 100-1 were being offered on Terry coming off in the 26th minute and although it was technically the 28th minute by the time he walked off, bookmakers in the UK were still paying out.

As things stand the bets placed on Terry’s early exit will not be investigated by the soccer authorities.

The planned nature of this farewell has not sat well with plenty of soccer purists and those suggesting that Terry wanted to milk his farewell.

I understand those arguments but with Terry able to captain Chelsea for one final time, the man who led the Blues to five Premier League titles as skipper and also won 15 major trophies at the club should be the one to decide how he bows out.

Conte was fine for it as he got to rest Gary Cahill for nearly 30 minutes ahead of the FA Cup final. Chelsea’s fans loved it. Terry’s teammates loved it. And so did Terry.

He said farewell once and for all and this final game was all about two things for Chelsea: lifting the PL trophy at the end, and Terry saying goodbye. The result didn’t matter and no matter how you feel about Terry’s planned farewell, you have to accept it happened.

Stan Kroenke releases statement on Arsenal

Getty Images
3 Comments

Arsenal’s majority shareholder Stan Kroenke has issued a statement regarding his future ownership of the club.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

The American billionaire was at the center of fan unrest on Sunday as Arsenal finished fifth in the Premier League, missing out on a top four finish for the first time in 21 seasons under Arsene Wenger.

Kroenke’s fellow Arsenal shareholder Alisher Usmanov (he owns 30 percent of the shares) last week offered over $1.3 billion for Kroenke’s 67 percent stake in the Gunners but Kroenke turned the bid down.

Now the company which also owns the LA Rams, Colorado Rapids, Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets, Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, have issued the following defiant statement.

“KSE UK, Inc notes the recent media speculation concerning its holding in Arsenal Holdings PLC and confirms that its shares are not, and never have been, for sale. KSE is a committed, long term investor in Arsenal and will remain so.”

That is about as definitive as it gets.

Kroenke will remain at Arsenal and until the situation regarding Wenger’s future, and that of star players Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez is sorted out, fans will continue to vent their anger at the American businessman.

With the Gunners preparing for Europa League action next season, the only thing which could save Kroenke and Co. from more unrest over the summer is if Arsenal beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final on Saturday.

Even that would only provide momentary respite before fans, former players and everyone else begins to look for answers to the bigger-picture questions on where Arsenal are heading on Kroenke’s leadership.

What a mess.