Premier League Playback: Who’ll buy the title? Stunning Sherwood, Ole ready to attack

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STICK OR TWIST?

Silly season has arrived, get ready for endless column inches of transfer speculations and all of the whispers and rumors ascending towards a crescendo of activity on transfer deadline day, January 31. Between now and then, not a lot usually happens. But then managers and chairman will panic buy in the final few hours of the window just, well… because they can.

Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City have all been guilty of doing that in the past and with all three clubs embroiled in the Premier League title race this season, surely they’ll do the same…

Think again.

“The window is open and when it’s open anything can happen but we don’t think a lot is going to happen for us. I know what I’m building and what we are building at the club. We work and improve and try to bring the young players to a different level, and we are doing that quite successfully. We are not candidates to win the league, but we are always candidates to win the next match.” – Jose Mourinho on Chelsea’s transfer policy this January

Jose is playing it coy with the last part of that comment following Chelsea’s 3-0 demolition of Southampton on New Year’s Day, as  the vast and relatively young squad he’s cultivating at Chelsea will certainly see the Blues challenging at the PL’s summit come May 11 when the champion is crowned. He is trusting youngsters and has bought and nurtured players who will be around for a long-time and won’t just be flash in the pans over a season at Stamford Bridge. But surely a new striker would still be handy, Jose?

The same could be said for Arsenal and Manchester City, as both squads are well stocked and only really need one or two top caliber players to polish them off pristinely. Arsene Wenger has spoken of only buying a “special player” which he did with the summer signing of Mesut Ozil, who has helped transform Arsenal from top four hopefuls to title contenders. Another player of that ilk will be expensive, especially in January when prices are hugely inflated, but Arsenal could do with another top forward to really cement their position as a challenger for the PL crown.

As for City, they really don’t need to buy during this window.

Scoring 56 goals in the league so far, Manuel Pellegrini’s men have assembled a top quality attacking side. Even without top scorer Sergio Aguero, who should return from injury later this month, the Citizens always look like scoring three or four goals every time they step on the pitch. At the back they’re a little shaky, but that comes with being a ruthless attacking unit that first and foremost wants to attack. Maybe a classy central defender in the window would help polish off Pellegrini’s sterling work so far.

(MORE: Latest Premier League Standings)

Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City have assembled magnificent squads full of young attacking talent, but one thing could also put them off spending in the transfer window: the dreaded Financial Fair Play (FFP) rule. This is something all the top clubs will have to adhere to, or face be sanctioned heavily by UEFA.

Those new regulations will curb the spending of the big teams this winter, not that they need to spend big anyway. But the big question is, will the big teams stick with what they have through until May? Or will one side flinch first and buy big to try and seal the PL crown?

This will be interesting viewing as all three teams are good enough, as it stands, to win the league. Let’s see if they realize it.

Premier League Schedule – New Year’s Day

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

SHERWOOD’S CHARISMA LEADS THE WAY

Just before the festive period on PST Extra, myself and Mike Prindiville discussed whether or not Tim Sherwood would be the right man to replace Andre Villas-Boas at Tottenham Hotspur.

Prindi and I were pushing for Sherwood to get the job and be able to prove himself, and the former Blackburn Rovers and Tottenham skipper has done superbly well so far.

Unbeaten in four PL games, winning three of them, Spurs are now well back in the hunt for the top four. And Tottenham’s 2-1 win at Old Trafford against Manchester United on New Year’s Day showed the grit and determination needed to succeed in the PL, plus they have game changers in Christian Eriksen, Aaron Lennon, Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor, plus plenty of others in reserve.

One of Sherwood’s best qualities has been to give everyone a second chance. So often players are cast aside at clubs because one manager doesn’t appreciate their attitude, qualities or they simply don’t fit into a certain style of play. Case in point, Spurs’ Adebayor who has scored four goals in five games since Sherwood took over first on an interim basis and now permanently.

Scoring goals for Arsenal, Manchester City and Real Madrid in the past, in Sherwood’s words Adebayor is “obviously a top player.” But he just wasn’t getting the chance to shine at White Hart Lane.

Another player who was cast aside by AVB is left back Benoit Assou-Ekotto, who is currently out on loan at Championship club Queens Park Rangers. Ekotto had the following to say about Adebayor’s sizzling form and had a subtle dig at AVB on Twitter.

Assou-Ekotto likes Sherwood, he said it in the Tweet so it must be true… But Spurs’ 44-year-old boss is a hugely affable character and has also won plenty more friends for his honest and forthright opinions on the game. His tactics of playing an attacking 4-4-2 formation with bold wingers and two out-and-out forwards is paying dividends for Sherwood, and long may that continue. It’s refreshing to see a young English manager given a chance in England’s top-flight and Sherwood’s charisma and character is creating an ‘us against them mentality’ with the Tottenham players as they dig deep for their new leader. Sherwood’s already stated his ambition to not bring players in during the transfer window, as he wants to give Spurs’ youngsters the chance to shine on the biggest stage of all and also believe sin the current crop of stars at his disposal.

Old fashioned tactics and methods are frowned upon by many, but Sherwood may be on to something with his ‘keep it simple’ mindset at Spurs. They helped them beat United on New Year’s Day, watch below, as 2014 began in style.

PENALTY DECISIONS GO AGAINST THE BIG BOYS FOR ONCE

Just a few days ago the likes of Southampton and Stoke City were complaining that the little guys do not get any of the key decisions from referees.

A few of the bigger teams are now moaning about the officiating, after some massive decisions went against them on New Year’s Day. First of all David Moyes is feeling very hard done by after Spurs beat his Manchester United side 2-1 and Howard Webb denied first Danny Welbeck and then Ashley Young penalties in the second half as the Red Devils pushed for an equalizer.

About the decision to not award a penalty for Hugo Lloris’ clumsy sliding challenge on Young, Red Devils boss Moyes had this to say.

“It’s an incredible decision, in fact probably one of the worst I think I saw. The goalkeeper comes out, Ashley Young gets the ball before him and he follows through.  If you follow through on a player anywhere else on the pitch with your foot high, it would be a sending-off and a red card. I find it incredible, but the people who employ the referees are going to have to look at that and see if they get that right.” Oh dear, not a happy bunny.

While elsewhere, Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho had no complaints as Brazilian attacker Oscar went clean through on goal against Southampton with his side drawing 0-0 and the entire goal gaping at the young prodigy. But instead of tapping the ball past the advancing Kelvin Davis in goal for Saints, Oscar took and almighty tumble and instead of getting a penalty and Davis a red card (which the smaller clubs argue would usually happens when incidents like this occur vs. Chelsea or United) referee Martin Atkinson correctly gave Oscar a yellow card for diving.

Officiating decisions going against Chelsea and United… surely not? Some of the smaller teams can stop moaning now too, poor decisions happen to any side whether or not you’re the biggest or smallest team in the league. That was proven unequivocally this weekend.

OLE GUNNAR… BE THE RIGHT MAN?

On Thursday morning Cardiff City appointed Norwegian Ole Gunnar Solksjaer as their new manager, you may remember him as the man who won Manchester United the UEFA Champions League with a last-gasp winner against Bayern Munich in ’99. Yeah, that guy.

But since his playing days for the Red Devils ended, Solksjaer has excelled in the managerial realm after leading Manchester United’s reserve side to glory over a three year spell, then doing the same with Molde in Norway’s top-flight. Known as the ‘baby-faced assassin’ for his boyish good looks and clinical finishing during his iconic playing spell at Old Trafford — Roy Keane once thought Ole was a “12-year-old kid who’d won a competition to train with United” when he arrived — Solksjaer is hugely respected in the game for his talents on the field and is a national hero in Norway. But all this aside, how will he fare as a Premier League manager?

With Vincent Tan around, who knows. The likelihood is that the 40-year-old boss will be handed a substantial amount of money in the January transfer window to give the Bluebirds a chance of staying up. It’s also likely most of that loot will be spent on attackers. Plus with Solksjaer’s close links with United, expect a few of the Red Devils promising youngsters to pop up at the Cardiff City Stadium if Ole so chooses.

As manager of Molde his side played an exciting brand of attacking soccer and on average during his three season in charge, two of which resulted in league titles, the northern Norwegian side scored 50.6 goals per campaign. This year Cardiff have scored just 15 goals in 20 PL games, only Crystal Palace have a leaner offense. And who better to help their goal scoring issues than the greatest natural finisher the Premier League has ever seen? After speaking during his unveiling as manager, it seems like Ole is going to go all-out attack to keep the Bluebirds in the top flight.

“My brand of football will hopefully make Cardiff’s fans proud of the way we play football. My brand is forward-minded. Forward passing, forward running. I want to attack. I want the players to express themselves.”

Premier League Playback takes an alternative look at all the weekends actions from the PL, it comes out every week.

League Cup semifinal preview: Arsenal vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 4-of-7 League Cup matches vs. Arsenal
  • Arsenal leads all-time series 74W-58D-62L
  • Clubs have drawn four times this season

Hardware hopes are on the line when Chelsea hits the Emirates Stadium for a League Cup semifinal second leg with Arsenal on Wednesday.

The sides drew 0-0 at Stamford Bridge, giving Chelsea the advantage of knowing a scoring draw would do the trick and set up a date with Manchester City at Wembley on Feb. 25, though Arsenal has home field advantage in pursuit of a win.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Henrikh Mkhitaryan may debut for Arsenal, though the club released an interesting note on Tuesday: He’ll wear No. 7 in most competitions, but will have to use a different number in the Europa League because Alexis Sanchez wore it to start the tournament.

Chelsea’s Antonio Conte won’t have Alvaro Morata (back) and Cesc Fabregas for the match, though Andreas Christensen will be available for selection.

The clubs are no strangers to each other in big non-PL spots, squaring off in this season’s Community Shield (Arsenal won in penalty kicks) and last season’s FA Cup Final (Arsenal won).

Nothing has separated the sides on the field aside from those penalty kicks at Wembley Stadium, as Arsenal and Chelsea have drawn 1-1, 0-0, 2-2, and 0-0 since August.

What they’re saying

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger on Henrikh Mkhitaryan“He can play in different positions, but personally I see him first in a wide position, but I’m thinking about him a possibility to play through the middle. You are certain in our job of nothing, that’s absolutely sure. But you believe and I believe he has the qualities to do well, is a team player and our game is based on team attitude and movement and I think he can absorb the quantity of movement in our team.”

Chelsea’s Conte on the lineup: “Every game is different, you change the quality of your opponent and you must be intelligent enough to understand if you should continue with the same players or make some changes.”

Javier Mascherano leaving Barcelona after 8 seasons

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says defender Javier Mascherano is leaving the club after eight seasons.

Barcelona says there will be a farewell ceremony on Wednesday with Mascherano, club president Josep Bartomeu and the rest of the squad.

[ MORE: Man City to buy $86m CB ]

The 33-year-old Argentina international will say goodbye to the fans before Thursday’s game against Espanyol at Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey. He is reportedly going to play in China.

Mascherano, who also played as a defensive midfielder, arrived in Barcelona in 2010 from Liverpool and helped the Catalan club win 18 titles. He has made 334 appearances with Barcelona, but recently hadn’t been playing much.

The club earlier this month signed Colombia international Yerry Mina to boost its defense.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Man City reportedly agrees $86m price for Laporte

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Sky Sports reporter Guillem Balague is reporting that Manchester City is set to seal an $86 million purchase of center back Aymeric Laporte from Athletic Bilbao, and all that’s left is for City to agree to contract terms with the player.

[ MORE: MCFC into League Cup Final ]

The 23-year-old has been with the Basque outfit since 2012, making more than 200 appearances for Athletic. Balague issued a Tweet saying Man City opted for Laporte over $34 million Jonny Evans of West Brom.

Laporte is a smooth and technical passer at center back who shouldn’t have a problem with the physical nature of the Premier League either. He’s yet to break into the French national team, and is only the second French player to play for Bilbao.

Rumors have circulated for some time, though a Tuesday report was dismissed because Laporte was in advanced discussions with Man City during a previous transfer window when he changed his mind.

It’s more big money from City, a boon for Athletic Bilbao, and terrific competition for John Stones and any Man City center back not named Nicolas Otamendi (and Vincent Kompany when healthy).

Rapids hire Patel as director; Highest ranking female exec in MLS

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The Colorado Rapids have hired Ena Patel as their new director of player personnel. She becomes Major League Soccer highest ranking female executive, according to the Denver Post.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to the Rapids, she’ll report to club GM Padraig Smith and “oversee player contracts, salary budget, regulatory compliance, and soccer operations protocols.”

The move comes about a month-and-a-half after Sporting KC hired Megan Cameron as an assistant director of player personnel, the first woman hired to an MLS team’s technical staff.

Patel’s resume is outlandishly strong, though this is her first foray into the sports world. Here are some words from Smith, from ColoradoRapids.com:

“Ena’s hiring is the final piece of the puzzle for us on the front office side,” Smith, the Rapids executive vice president and general manager, said in a statement released by the club. “Bringing in a sharp, legal mind who can oversee our contractual processes and complex league mechanisms is a really important part of ensuring that we’re fielding the best possible team. We can’t wait for her to get started.”