With the S.A.S. in form, Arlo believes the title could well be on its way to Anfield.

Premier League Playback: S.A.S. returns, grinders prevail, drop zone despair

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Sunday against Stoke City, Liverpool proved offense is the best form of defense. The Reds smashed five past the Potters to climb back into the top four of the Premier League table. The win was important, especially given the fact they’d never won at the Britannia in the PL era, but more important than the three points was the reemergence of the now famous S.A.S. partnership that’s been on hiatus for a few months.

Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge were reunited in the second half against Stoke and it didn’t take long to score as they almost instantaneously they set up each another for a goal apiece. That telepathic understanding, which has been evident since the end of the 2012-13 season, clicked back into place. If Liverpool are to finish in the top four and challenge for the title, Suarez and Sturridge need to stay fit because that’s Brendan Rodgers’ X-factor.

[Click to Enlarge] – Suarez’s heat map vs. Stoke. Source: Opta.
[Click to Enlarge] – Sturridge’s heat map vs. Stoke. Source: Opta
As you can see from the heat map of Suarez on the left and Sturridge on the right, both players seemed to frequent the same areas of the pitch; they link up and dart in and out of the same spots cohesively. Many striker partnerships have a little and large combination, but Suarez and Sturridge play very similar styles. Both are relentless in their quest to score goals and open up gaps for each other to exploit. In just 23 second-half minutes the partnership tore Stoke apart as Suarez scored twice and extended his season tally to 22 (becoming the fastest player in PL history to reach 20 goals in a season), while Sturridge isn’t far behind with 10 strikes (one vs. Stoke). Thirty-two of Liverpool’s 51 goals this season have come from these two.

Evident from Liverpool’s stunning 5-3 win over Stoke is the intricate link-up play that’s defined the S.A.S. partnership. Sturridge didn’t even look at where Suarez was before neatly flicking the ball into his path for Liverpool’s fourth; Suarez lobbed the ball perfectly into Sturridge’s path for the fifth and final goal. They’re tuned into the same wavelength.

Relive that fine attacking performance from Liverpool in the video above, as the Reds sit well within reach of their top four dream… and perhaps more.

Premier League Schedule – Round 21

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 1-2 Arsenal Recap and watch here
Cardiff 0-2 West Ham Recap and watch here
Everton 2-0 Norwich City Recap and watch here
Fulham 1-4 Sunderland Recap and watch here
Hull 0-2 Chelsea Recap and watch here
Man United 2-0 Swansea Recap and watch here
Newcastle United 0-2 Man City Recap and watch here
Stoke 3-5 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Southampton 1-0 West Brom Recap and watch here
Tottenham 2-0 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here


Chelsea are sitting on the heels of Manchester City and Arsenal in the race for the Premier League title, and it’s the ability of Jose Mourinho’s men to grind out crucial victories that’s made them become many people’s favorites for the crown.

They did just that once again on Saturday, as they wore down a stubborn Hull City side that were content to ‘park the bus’ and let Chelsea do all the attacking. Two superb strikes from Eden Hazard and Fernando Torres did the business, as that extra bit of class you get for splashing out $40-50 million on individuals shone through.

Composure is also needed, and that’s something Chelsea had in abundance against Hull as the Blues won their fourth straight. Mourinho announced his pleasure at seeing his sides mature performance.

“We never lost our balance, we kept our shape tactically, and we didn’t give them opportunities to score. In the second half when we had a little bit more of the ball we intensified the game and recovered the ball higher, so I think normally the tendency would be for a goal. After that goal I was happy because we were in control, we didn’t go to defend. We controlled the game well.”

Grinding out wins could also apply to: Manchester City in their shutout win over Newcastle (more on that later); Manchester United thwarting Swansea in a much-needed 2-0 win; Arsenal beating Aston Villa away; and Everton grinding out another three points at Goodison Park. The top seven teams in the PL all won this weekend, showing that this stretch between now and April is vital if teams are going to be top four contenders. The big bucks from the Champions League is what they all want and to get that sides need consistency, via dogged defensive displays and clinical finishing.

Expect plenty of 2-0, 1-0 and 2-1 results for Chelsea, Arsenal, City and co. from here on out.


The big boys are grinding out wins at the top of the PL table, but it was a huge weekend at the bottom of the standings. Which teams will fall short? Wins for Sunderland and West Ham dragged another four teams into the scrap, as any team from Hull City in 10th to bottom side Crystal Palace could face the dreaded ‘R’ word come May time. Just six points separates the bottom 10 and it could all change in an instance.

I have a feeling this relegation battle will encapsulate the final month of the season more so than the title race, as some massive clubs are fighting for their lives. Now more than ever, with the huge financial incentives dished out in the PL, the future of certain teams are defined by hitting the magic 40-point marker and staving off the threat of finishing in the bottom three. Fans of teams in the bottom half are having sleepless nights already, I can guarantee it. Below our analysts break down the drop zone picture, after Round 21.

West Ham have been the biggest sliders. Manager Sam Allardyce has been on the ropes for months with his injury-ravaged squad decimated and results going against the Hammers. The dreaded vote of confidence came from the owners last week, and West Ham were beaten 5-0 by Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup and 6-0 by Man City in the League Cup. So Saturday’s 2-0 PL win away at Cardiff City was much needed as West Ham finally showed some steal in their often flimsy defensive unit and Andy Carroll returned from injury. Hope for the Hammers… and Big Sam.

Then there was Sunderland, with arguably the win of the weekend in a high-pressure encounter down at Craven Cottage. Gus Poyet’s side knew three points would drag them off the bottom and in the process the gap has closed right up. Adam Johnson’s hat trick, with many saying England should give him another chance, did the damage as Rene Muelensteen’s Fulham looked in disarray. With a muddle of people involved (Ray Wilkins and Alan Curbishley employed to assist operations in West London) alongside Muelensteen it seems as though American owner Shadid Khan doesn’t fancy Sir Alex Ferguson’s former assistant. Muelensteen is stumbling with the Cottagers, but the beauty of it is that they aren’t doomed. Not yet, anyway.

More: Latest Premier League Standings

West Bromwich Albion, Norwich City, Swansea, Aston Villa and Stoke City are looking nervously over their shoulders as teams entrenched in the bottom three for most of the campaign make a surge for survival in the second half of the season. You think this relegation battle is interesting? Just wait for the twists and turns over the next few months…. This is only the start. I love it. Expect to hear plenty of managers mumbling the words “staying up is like winning the title for us” and other clichés murmured out of desperation and hope more than anything. That dreaded ‘R’ word will become a frequent in your vocabulary between now and May, if it isn’t already.


St. James’ Park erupted just before half time on Sunday, as captain Cheick Tiote hammered a sizzling left-footed strike into the far corner to draw Newcastle level against Manchester City. Or so they thought.

Tiote had already wheeled away and was amongst the Newcastle bench hugging his teammates and Magpies manager Alan Pardew had a huge grin in his face. That was quickly erased. Referee Mike Jone consulted his linesman and ruled out the goal for Yoann Gouffran apparently interfering with play, and Man City ‘keeper Joe Hart, from an offside position Though the ball whizzed past Gouffran and Hart ferociously, both of them where nowhere near the actually trajectory of Tiote’s pile driver. But Jones ruled Gouffran to be interfering with Hart’s line of vision and disallowed the goal. What a poor decision from the ref.

Cue a solid 5-6 minutes of booing from the famously vociferous Newcastle fans. They were not happy. Neither was manager Pardew who told Jones exactly what he thought at half time as the ref walked down the tunnel:

“The linesman’s right and you’re wrong. The linesman is right and you’re wrong. You know that!”

Pardew’s Newcastle went about their business unperturbed and gave City a real scare in the second half as Hart once again excelled in goal for the Citizens to keep Loic Remy and Yohan Cabaye out. Some nasty challenges from Newcastle saw Samir Nasri stretchered off and Manuel Pellegrini complaining which promoted Pardew into another sideline rant.

“You f****** old ****,” Pardew was seen to say to Pellegrini as he walked away in disgust.

That prompted a post-match apology from the Newcastle boss as he cited the heat of the moment getting the best of him. It certainly was a fiery atmosphere up in the North East that wasn’t made any better by referee Jones’ poor decision as his linesman saw nothing wrong with the goal, nor did 52,000 fans insides the stadium and millions watching around the world. The interference rule from an offside position needs to be clarified and the attacking side should be given the benefit of the doubt. Newcastle can consider themselves hard done by, as City rolled on with a resolute 2-0 win and prove that the little bit of lucky you need when challenging for the title is well and truly falling their way.


Southampton is glad to have Artur Boruc back between the sticks. On Saturday at St. Mary’s he won them all three points against West Bromwich Albion

The Saints gave a up a glorious chance in the dying seconds in Boruc’s return from injury, as Baggies striker Shane Long was left unmarked six-yards out and ready to tap the ball home… then Boruc appeared to grow in front of our eyes as a simple task for Long suddenly turned into an impossible one, as dressed in neon green (resembling the jolly green giant) the Polish beast thwarted West Brom’s striker with a tremendous foot save. Boruc timed his return from injury perfectly as Southampton has struggled desperately since the man they call “King Artur” was injured seven games ago against Chelsea at the beginning of December.

Since then Saints have lost four, drawn two and won just once, conceding 13 goals. In the seven games before Boruc was injured Saints won four, drew two and lost once, letting in just five goals. Needless to say Saints’ defensive instability looks to be over, with Boruc back they have a chance of challenging for the top six once again after their stunning start to the season declined in the absence of their first-choice ‘keeper. After the game on the South Coast I asked Mauricio Pochettino if the 1-0 win over West Brom signified the return of the Southampton we saw in the seasons early months:

“I think the evolution of the team of late has been good. The team has progressed a lot and has been playing much better but has been lacking defensively solidity at the back. I think today we’ve recovered that, we’ve recovered that winning spirit and solidity at the back. Overall the most important thing about this team is that regardless of the fact that we’ve been facing some troubles, it has kept on believing in the work that we do and the way that we play. That winning mentality has been recovered and it has been kept throughout the tough period.”

With a string of winnable games coming up, expect to see the Saints marching up the table again with Boruc leading the charge from the back.

Premier League Playback takes an alternative look at all the weekend’s action from the PL, it comes out every week.

EFL Cup: Liverpool, Arsenal move on; Newcastle hangs six

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 25:  Aleksandar Mitrovic of Newcastle United (C) celebrates scoring his sides fourth goal with his team mates during the EFL Cup fourth round match between Newcastle United and Preston North End at St James' Park on October 25, 2016 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
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Five of eight EFL Cup quarterfinalists are set with three matches to come on Wednesday.

Liverpool, Arsenal, Newcastle United, and Hull City clinched spots in the quarterfinals with Tuesday wins. Norwich City leads Leeds United in extra time in the day’s fifth match.

[ MORE: Ballon d’Or omissions ]

Wednesday will see Manchester United vs. Manchester City, West Ham against Chelsea, and Southampton versus Sunderland.

United States men Cameron Carter-Vickers (Spurs) and DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle) started their respective matches. Gedion Zelalem played the final 10 minutes for Arsenal.

Arsenal 2-0 Reading

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored with a hard, low shot from a tight angle to give the hosts a lead, and then buttressed the score with a second half marker. Zelalem then replace “Ox” in the 80th minute.

Newcastle United 6-0 Preston North End

The “Rafalution” has Benitez’s Magpies atop the Championship, and they are thriving in the EFL Cup as well.

Mo Diame gave Newcastle an insurance goal after Aleksandar Mitrovic headed a Matt Ritchie free kick home to make it 1-0. In between those goals, Preston went down a man.

Spark plug Ritchie buried a penalty early in the second half to make it academic. Mitrovic added his second in the 55th minute, while Diame completed his brace with three minutes to play and Ayoze Perez finished the scoring in stoppage time.

Liverpool 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur

Daniel Sturridge went to the dirty areas to poke home a very Daniel Sturridge goal, the first of two on the night in a win at Anfield.

Sturridge gave American centerback Cameron Carter-Vickers headaches all day, and Spurs goalkeeper Michel Vorm helped keep the match within a goal.

But Sturridge beat Kevin Wimmer‘s offside track and walked in alone on Vorm to slot home for a strengthened lead.

A soft penalty off an Erik Lamela dive gifted Spurs the chance to draw within one, and Vincent Janssen converted the opportunity.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 25: Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool (C) celebrates scoring his sides first goal with his Liverpool team mates during the EFL Cup fourth round match between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield on October 25, 2016 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Bristol City 1-2 Hull City

There wasn’t much to like at Ashton Gate before Harry Maguire put the Tigers up before the break. That may have weakened the hosts’ resolve, and Michael Dawson netted right after halftime to double Hull’s advantage.

Lee Tomlin scored a goal for Bristol City just before the final whistle.

Leeds United 1-2 Norwich City (still in aet)

Longtime Spurs property Alex Pritchard has his first Canaries goal with this marker at Elland Road. Leeds had a goal pulled back for a handball, and then equalized properly through Marcus Antonsson.

Pritchard then provided the assist on Nelson Oliveira‘s extra time winner, clinching Norwich’s spot in the quarterfinals.


EFL Cup at half: Liverpool, Arsenal, Newcastle, Hull ahead (video)

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 25: Matz Sels of Newcastle United warms up prior to kick off during the EFL Cup fourth round match between Newcastle United and Preston North End at St James' Park on October 25, 2016 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
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Five of eight EFL Cup quarterfinalists will be decided by the end of business on Tuesday, and we have goals in the first halves of all five matches. (video)

[ MORE: Ballon d’Or omissions ]

United States men Cameron Carter-Vickers (Spurs) and DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle) started their respective matches.

Newcastle United 2-0 Preston North End

The “Rafalution” has Benitez’s Magpies atop the Championship, and they are thriving in the EFL Cup as well.

Mo Diame gave Newcastle an insurance goal after Aleksandar Mitrovic headed a Matt Ritchie free kick home to make it 1-0. In between those goals, Preston went down a man.

Liverpool 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur

Daniel Sturridge goes to the dirty areas to poke home a very Daniel Sturridge goal.

Arsenal 1-0 Reading

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored with a hard, low shot from a tight angle to give the hosts a lead.

Bristol City 0-1 Hull City

Not much cooking at Ashton Gate before Harry Maguire put the Tigers up before the break.

Leeds United 1-1 Norwich City

Longtime Spurs property Alex Pritchard has his first Canaries goal with this marker at Elland Road. Leeds had a goal pulled back for a handball, and then equalized properly through Marcus Antonsson.


Portland players Ridgewell, Gleeson arrested on DUI charges

PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 6: Adam Larsen Kwarasey #12 of Portland Timbers knocks the ball away from Kei Kamara #23 of Columbus Crew as Liam Ridgewell #24 and Nat Borchers #7 of Portland Timbers look on during the second half of the game at Providence Park on March 6, 2016 in Portland, Oregon. The Timbers won the match 2-1. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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LAKE OSWEGO, Ore. (AP) Portland Timbers goalkeeper Jake Gleeson and defender Liam Ridgewell face charges of driving under the influence after an accident in Lake Oswego, Oregon, on Monday night.

Gleeson and Ridgewell were booked into Clackamas County Jail and posted bond. Both are scheduled to appear in Lake Oswego Municipal Court on Nov. 16.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Police said Gleeson rear-ended another vehicle and called Ridgewell, who arrived later to help. Neither Gleeson nor the driver of the vehicle he hit was injured in the accident.

Gleeson, who is from New Zealand, faces charges of driving under the influence of intoxicants, reckless driving and reckless endangerment while Ridgewell, who is British, faces a DUII charge.

The team issued a statement Tuesday that said it has been in “close contact with the players, local law enforcement and the league office” and will not comment further until additional information is known.

The case for (and against) every Western Conference MLS playoff team

FC Dallas, 2016 Supporters Shield winners (Photo credit: FC Dallas / Facebook)
Photo credit: FC Dallas / Facebook
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On Monday, PST’s Nicholas Mendola made the case for (and against) the six sides vying for the Eastern Conference’s place in MLS Cup 2016. Today, I’ll do the same for the Western Conference.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Real Salt Lake (6)

Why they could win it: Yura Movsisyan, Joao Plata and Juan Manuel “El Burrito” Martinez combine to form one of the league’s most terrifying attacking trios (25 goals, 17 assists combined) … when they’re at their best (more on that in the section below).

Why they won’t: Momentum. They have none. Seven games without a win to finish the regular season (three draws, four losses). Scored all of two goals in their final six games. Five straight losses on the road (last win: July 31), which is where they’ll be playing the LA Galaxy on Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET) in the knockout round. They never actually figured what to do at center back alongside Justen Glad — you simply can’t count on Jamison Olave or Chris Schuler to be healthy and stay on the field.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Going to the playoffs edition ]

Sporting Kansas City (5)

Why they could win it: They’ll outwork just about anyone in the midfield, which is a trait that typically translates to success in the playoffs. The core of the team — Benny Feilhaber, Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Dom Dwyer and a few others — have been there and won it all before. Realistically, they needed to win four points from their last two games to get into the playoffs, and that’s exactly what they did. There’s something to be said for that.

Why they won’t: Though they faced the fewest number of total shots during the regular season, they gave up way too many big chances due to catastrophic mistakes at the back and deep in midfield. The lack of a consistent scoring option beyond Dwyer (16 goals) makes them extremely one-dimensional as it’s too easy to cut off service to the lone man up top. A deep playoff run would have to look something like this: 1-0 win; 1-0 win in the first leg, 0-0 draw in the second leg; 1-0 win in the first leg, 0-0 draw in the second leg. Margin for error: extremely thin.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Seattle Sounders (4)

Why they’ll win it: Momentum. They have all of it. Since Brian Schmetzer took over as interim head coach on July 26, they’ve suffered just two defeats (eight wins, four draws). Nicolas Lodeiro was the best no. 10 in the league the day he arrived, and he’s been worth his weight in gold thus far (four goals, eight assists in 13 games). Jordan Morris gets stronger and stronger with each passing game, and that’s never the case with rookies. Cristian Roldan solved their problem deep in midfield, perhaps extending the career of Osvaldo Alonso by two or three years if they roll with the same setup in 2017.

Why they won’t: Have you ever seen what the Sounders do in the playoffs? I also still worry about Tyrone Mears and Joevin Jones at the two fullback spots. If teams can transition following a turnover quickly enough, they’ll find a ton of joy down either flank.

Alvaro Fernandez; Jordan Morris, Nicolas Lodeiro, Seattle Sounders (Photo credit: Seattle Sounders / Facebook)
(Photo credit: Seattle Sounders / Facebook)

[ MORE: The case for (and against) every team in the East ]

LA Galaxy (3)

Why could win it: They’re the Galaxy, and Bruce Arena is still their head coach. Giovani dos Santos enjoyed an otherworldly end to the summer (seven goals, seven assists from late-July to early-September). With Robbie Keane out injured for extended periods, this is now his team. Lost just once at home all season — combined with RSL’s road struggles, the Galaxy are a solid bet to get out of the knockout round. Oh, and Landon Donovan lives for the playoffs.

Why they won’t: What’s up with the midfield? Is it Baggio Husidic and no one else? Is Steven Gerrard going to be healthy? Is Jeff Larentowicz the answer? You do know Sebastian Lletget isn’t a defensive midfielder, right? They’re fine at the back, and still pretty scary on the attack (despite injuries — Gyasi Zardes), but you can’t overlook the total absence of a midfield.

[ MORE: Biggest 2016 disappointment — Portland or Columbus? ]

Colorado Rapids (2)

Why they’ll win it: 32 goals conceded during the regular season (fewest in MLS). No one has perfected the art of the 1-0 victory quite like Pablo Mastroeni’s Rapids. 60 minutes will go by, and you’ll have taken all of two shots, both from 35 yards out. One can’t begin to imagine how frustrating it must be to play against team. Home losses in 2016: zero.

Why they won’t: 39 goals scored during the regular season (second-fewest in MLS). If/when they go a goal down, they won’t be able to get back into the game against a Cup-contending side. Their margin of error in this regard is practically nonexistent. Jermaine Jones returned to action after nearly four months on the sideline (knee injury) over the weekend, but there’s no way he can be expected to contribute in a meaningful way on that kind of a turnaround, right? Right? Don’t count this team — or him — out. Seriously, don’t do it.

Pablo Mastroeni, Colorado Rapids (Photo credit: Colorado Rapids / Facebook)
(Photo credit: Colorado Rapids / Facebook)

[ MORE: Decision Day madness in the West | And in the East ]

FC Dallas (1)

Why they’ll win it: Here are two inarguable statements about FCD: they’re the most talented team in MLS; they’re the deepest team in MLS. Fabian Castillo was transferred two-thirds of the way through the season, and they didn’t skip a beat. They can play with pace; they can grind it out in ugly affairs; they can pummel you with set pieces. However you choose to force them to beat you, they’re happy to oblige. No one maximizes each and ever facet of the game quite like Oscar Pareja’s Hoops. Matt Hedges was far and away the best defender in MLS this year, and Walker Zimmerman, his center back partner, was top-five (-three?) himself. Maxi Urruti, Michael Barrios and Tesho Akindele complement each other wonderfully and give Pareja an infinite number of tactical tweaks to apply.

Why they won’t: Mauro Diaz is out for the season (torn achilles). That’s a massive blow for any team, even FCD. No one has a better feel for the tempo of the game — when to push it; when to ease off the gas — than Diaz, and FCD will inevitably play themselves into trouble a handful of times each game without their guiding light. That’s it, though. On paper, prior to Diaz’s injury, it would have been nigh impossible to make a case against FCD completing the first treble in MLS history.