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.

Chicharito injury update ahead of Confed Cup semifinals

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KAZAN, Russia (AP) Mexico star Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez trained separately from his teammates on Monday because of muscle fatigue, the latest concern for a Mexican team that has been struck by injuries at the Confederations Cup.

[ MORE: Latest Confed Cup news

Defender Diego Reyes also didn’t practice with the team in its final training session before traveling to Sochi for Thursday’s semifinal against Germany.

Mexico had already lost defender Carlos Salcedo because of a shoulder injury, while defender Hector Moreno has been a concern with a muscle ailment.

Coach Juan Carlos Osorio is already certain to be without midfielder Andres Guardado because of a yellow card suspension.

Chicharito warmed up with the rest of the group in Monday’s practice session in Kazan but left the field after the players met for a few minutes with coach Juan Carlos Osorio.

When one of Osorio’s assistants asked Chicharito about his condition, the player said he was “fine, not a problem.”

The Bayer Leverkusen forward ran a few laps around the field accompanied by the team’s physical trainer, then underwent a few stretching exercises on the sidelines. He watched the rest of the training session from the bench.

The team said Chicharito’s absence was a precaution.

“He said that he was leaving because he was still a bit tired after the match,” midfielder Jonathan Dos Santos said. “He’s played a lot of matches, a lot of minutes, a lot of practices. He just needs to rest a bit, nothing important.”

Chicharito played the entire game when Mexico came from behind to defeat host Russia 2-1 on Saturday to guarantee its spot in the semifinals of the eight-nation World Cup warm-up event.

He was rested in the 2-1 win over New Zealand, when Osorio rotated his squad because of a concern over injuries. Salcedo sustained his shoulder injury during that game and was forced to be removed from the squad. Reyes was hurt in the game against Russia and remains doubtful for the semifinal. He stayed at the team’s hotel on Monday, undergoing rehab for his muscle injury.

Chicharito scored his only goal of the tournament in the 2-2 opening draw against Portugal last week.

Guardado was shown his second yellow against Russia.

“He is a crucial player for us, very important for the team, one of our captains,” Dos Santos said about Guardado. “But we have other players who can make up for his absence.”

Mexico is trying to win the Confederations Cup for the second time. It won the World Cup warm-up event in 1999.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

VIDEO: Fans of Mexican teams brawl in “friendly game”

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This was clearly not a friendly game.

And that was just in the stands.

A game to benefit the United Soccer Talents Foundation was abandoned at half time as fans took to the pitch and brawled in Santa Ana, California.

The “friendly” game was played between former members of rival clubs Club America and Pumas at Eddie West Field as fans of the Mexico City clubs converged.

At half time those fans fought in the stands and then ran onto the pitch to exchange punches as the widespread brawl lasted for 30 minutes, with local law enforcement then arriving to control the situation.

According to NBC LA, five people have been arrested on suspicion of assault and assault with a deadly weapon.

Click play on the video above to see the ugly scenes play out.

Ranking expectations for each Premier League manager

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With the 20 Premier League managers now set for the start of the 2017-18 season (Frank de Boer joined Crystal Palace to occupy the final vacancy in the PL) things are slotting into place ahead of preseason kicking off for most clubs next week.

The expectations for each boss are now being amped up accordingly too.

[ MORE: Full PL schedule – 2017-18

Below is a look at the expectation levels for each PL manager, with a rating out of 10 and a brief description of what is expected to be achieved by each of their teams.

Yes, we know that plenty of transfers are yet to be made but there are just 47 days until the Premier League season kicks off and we all know how demanding PL fans can be.

Enjoy the last few days of your summer break, gaffers…


Jose Mourinho (Man United) – 10/10 – Expected to win the PL and at least reach the last four of the UCL. No joke. Always the most under-pressure boss, but delivered a EFL Cup and Europa League last season. Those trophies bought him plenty of extra time, but United’s fans are an expectant bunch and if they carry on drawing games then Mourinho could be in trouble midway through the season.

Pep Guardiola (Man City) – 10/10 – After a third-place finish and a poor showing in the Champions League, Pep has to get off to a flying start. Challenging for the title and reaching the final four of the UCL is a must. Total defensive overhaul is well underway with plenty of outgoings, while adding new full backs will be key. Make no mistake about it, Pep will be under pressure if City don’t start well.

Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool) – 9/10 – Following an up and down second half of last season, the jury is still out on Klopp for many when it comes to putting out a balanced team. We all know his teams can score goals and attack, but balancing UCL and PL action will be a huge test, and he needs to get in new defensive talent. Expectations are always very high at Anfield and they should be with players of a higher caliber courted this summer.

Antonio Conte (Chelsea) – 9/10 – So, you would think Conte will be way down this list. Not so much. The Italian masterminded an incredible turnaround last season as the Blues won the PL 12 months after finishing 10th. With UCL action now back on the table (Chelsea’s fans expect them to conquer Europe) Conte has huge expectations to handle. Better get spending big, Antonio.

Mauricio Pochettino (Tottenham Hotspur) – 8/10 – Perhaps a little high, especially with a potentially unsettling move to Wembley, but Spurs fans and the soccer world have come to expect plenty from Poch. The Argentine boss had a talented young group to work with but finishing in the top four should be the priority. Going past the group stage in the UCL will be the main aim next season.

Arsene Wenger (Arsenal) – 8/10 – Arsenal fans will still be expecting plenty from Wenger after he signed a new two-year deal following plenty of uncertainty. The Frenchman will have to handle the rigors of the Europa League, but is likely to play a young squad in that competition and prioritize the PL. Nothing other than a push for the PL title will satisfy Arsenal fans, plus the future of Ozil and Sanchez will go a long way to determining expectations on Wenger.

Ronald Koeman (Everton) – 8/10 – The Dutch legend has raised expectation levels at Goodison after guiding them back to the Europa League and flirting with the top four at times last season. In his second season in charge, Toffees fans will be dreaming of a top four finish and a good cup run. No pressure, Ronald.

Rafael Benitez (Newcastle United) – 8/10 – Newly-promoted Newcastle will have huge pressure on their shoulders as they see themselves as a top six PL club who should challenge for the FA Cup and EFL Cup. Benitez has a huge rebuild to lead this summer and there are already reports he is frustrated at losing out on top targets. Magpies faithful are passionate and success-starved.

Frank de Boer (Crystal Palace) – 7/10 – With a big name comes big expectations and the Dutch legend will find that out in the PL. After taking his first job in England, de Boer will be expected to guide the Eagles to a top 10 finish and unlock the potential of their talented youngsters. Plenty of changes needed, especially in defense, if that’s going to be the case.

Slaven Bilic (West Ham United) – 7/10 – The Hammers need to get off to a very good start if Bilic wants to keep his job, long-term, with contract negotiations on hold. The Croatian saw his second season in charge of West Ham go horribly as they battled back to a respectable PL finish after crashing out of the Europa League in the qualifying rounds. Losing Payet and having multiple injuries didn’t help, but many of Bilic’s buys didn’t work out. His recruitment this summer will be huge in him keeping his job. Top 10 finish a must.

Mark Hughes (Stoke City) – 7/10 – With Stoke finishing outside the top 10 last season, Hughesy knows his forwards must start scoring or he will be in trouble of losing his job. The Potters are a stable club but were in real danger of being dragged into a relegation battle last season. Like Bilic, a strong start is needed for Hughes to keep everyone happy.

Paul Clement (Swansea City) – 6/10 – He kept the Swans up with a miraculous late run and now all eyes are on Clement to see if he can solidify the South Wales club in the PL. On the face of it, keeping Gylfi Sigurdsson is key to Clement’s plans as Swans fans hope a top 10 finish and two good cup runs will arrive. A slow start could see the Swansea board making yet another managerial change.

Marco Silva (Watford) – 6/10 – After working a minor miracle at Hull, Watford’s fans are hoping Silva can build a strong identity for their squad of misfits. The Hornets slumped badly last season under Walter Mazzarri but Silva will keep them solid in defense and dangerous on the counter. Top 10 finish would be very successful.

Mauricio Pellegrino (Southampton) – 6/10 – Many will point to Pellegrino taking over from Claude Puel as a bizarre decision, but Saints’ fans were so bored with Puel’s tactics and inability to inspire his players. Pellegrino’s task is quite simple: bring back the high-pressing style and play more attack-minded players. That, plus a top 10 finish and another good cup run, will do nicely. Not that easy to pull off though for a first-time manager in England though.

Craig Shakespeare (Leicester City) – 6/10 – After the title winning season in 2015-16, fans of the Foxes are understandably eager for more success. Shakespeare will be tasked with a top 10 finish and after their run to the UCL quarterfinals last season, expectations are high at the KP. More likely is another relegation battle and if that’s the case in December, Shakespeare could be under pressure.

Tony Pulis (West Brom) – 6/10 – This is a strange one to judge as Pulis overachieved massively last season, but many West Brom fans were left underwhelmed by a ridiculous poor finish to the season. Scoring goals is the main problem for the Baggies and Pulis’ fate will depend on recruiting a new striker in the summer. Surprisingly the favorite with many to be the first PL boss fired in 2017-18.

Sean Dyche (Burnley) – 5/10 – The “Ginger Mourinho” can do little wrong in the eyes of Burnley fans. He is building a strong, stable squad but having the likes of Michael Keane unsure about his future will unsettle the Clarets. Another season in midtable is what Dyche needs but a relegation battle could see Burnley’s board get nervous in midseason.

David Wagner (Huddersfield Town) – 5/10 – Tough to see the eccentric German-American manager being under pressure at all after masterminding a miraculous promotion to the PL for the first-time in the Terriers’ history. Passionate and a real connection with the fans, a relegation battle is expected and Wagner is the type of character you’d want in that situation.

Chris Hughton (Brighton & Hove Albion) – 4/10 – After leading Brighton to promotion, Hughton deserves to be given a full season to see what he can achieve. In reality that may not happen if the Seagulls are floundering by the festive period, but Hughton is an experienced boss capable of building a strong defensive core. Staying up is the main aim.

Eddie Howe (Bournemouth) – 4/10 – One day they will probably build a statue of Howe in Bournemouth. And rightly so. Until then, expectations keep going up with his young squad finishing ninth last season after a fine finish. Despite that the Cherries faithful expect another relegation battle and anything other than that is a bonus. For Howe, he has a dream job with a club fully supporting his ideals.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Mbappe, Keita to Liverpool; Iheanacho wanted

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Liverpool are going for it, big time.

Jurgen Klopp‘s men having UEFA Champions League action to offer (the playoff round, at the very least) next season and they’ve already snapped up Mohamed Salah for a club-record fee this summer.

The Reds are also interested in bringing Kylian Mbappe, just 18 years old, to Anfield, according to Sky Sports in the UK.

Yes, signing Mbappe would not only be a massive financial commitment but it would also be a huge surprise as the likes of Real Madrid and Arsenal have long been linked with a move for the talented French teenager who led AS Monaco to the Ligue 1 title and UCL semifinals last season with 26 goals and eight assists.

The level of Liverpool’s “interest” is key here, as every club in the world would be “interested” in signing Lionel Messi, but realistically it ain’t gonna happen…

Per the report, Liverpool have lodged their interest in Mbappe with Monaco but are said to be unsure that he wants to move to the Premier League. After seeing his France teammates Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba struggle at Manchester United last season, perhaps he’s had a word of warning from some to either stay at take a huge payrise at Monaco or maybe head to Real Madrid where he can develop further behind star-studded strikers in Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karem Benzema.

Although the latter option would be incredibly enticing for an 18-year-old who is on top of the world right now, playing regularly should be his aim. Therefore, a move to Arsenal or Liverpool would make much more sense, career wise, for Mbappe. We all know it doesn’t often work out like that in the soccer world where careers are short and huge financial offers can be withdrawn after a lean spell or a serious injury. Mbappe is the most-wanted striker in world soccer as things stand and Liverpool’s chances of signing him are probably below 10 percent.


Another player Liverpool are chasing is Naby Keita from RB Leipzig.

And the Guinea international, a box-to-box midfielder, is now said to be available to buy via the Guardian, but only for $89 million.

Keita, 22, was a revelation for Leipzig as they finished second in the Bundesliga last season and qualified for the UEFA Champions League. In his first season in Germany’s top-flight he scored eight goals and added seven assists as Keita’s energy and powerful runs from midfield took the Bundesliga by storm.

With Liverpool reportedly willing to only pay $70 million for Keita, they may have to look elsewhere for a new midfield general. That said, with Leipzig now willing to do business, perhaps a compromise could be met.

Emre Can, Jordan Henderson and Georingio Wijnaldum are Liverpool’s leading contenders for the two central midfield roles but with Can’s inconsistency and Henderson’s injury problems, it’s easy to see why Klopp could be wiling to rebuild his midfield around the high-energy of Keita. Think of the Guinea star as a more attack-minded N'Golo Kante and you can see why he’d slot in perfectly at Liverpool.


Kelechi Iheanacho is a wanted man.

The Manchester City striker, 20, is seemingly on his way out of the Etihad Stadium after failing to build on his impressive 2015-16 campaign last season. The Nigerian international scored 14 goals in 35 games in his debut season, but scored just eight times under Pep Guardiola last season.

West Ham United, Crystal Palace and Leicester City are also said to be keen on Iheanacho with City wanting $31.8 million for the promising striker.

Able to finish calmly and hold the ball up around the box, Iheanacho is a true poacher but has found himself behind Sergio Aguero, and now Gabriel Jesus, in the pecking order at City.

West Ham badly need a poacher to finish off chances created by Manuel Lanzini and wide-men Michail Antonio and Aaron Cresswell as Slaven Bilic‘s side couldn’t rely on the oft-injured Andy Carroll last season. Leicester’s goals dried up with Jamie Vardy and Islam Slimani streaky last season, while Ahmed Musa and Demarai Gray delivered just six goals between them in all competitions.

Palace have Christian Benteke, Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend in the three attacking areas, but having someone to fed off Benteke’s knockdowns would certainly be prefereeable for new Palace boss Frank de Boer.

Wherever he goes you can guarantee one thing from Iheanacho: goals.