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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S.A.S. RETURN TO RENEW LIVERPOOL’S TITLE HOPES

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.

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[Click to Enlarge] – Suarez’s heat map vs. Stoke. Source: Opta.
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[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

GRINDING OUT WINS ORDER OF THE DAY

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.

RELEGATION BATTLE – WHO WILL GO DOWN?

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.

OFFSIDE RULE UNCERTAINTY REARS ITS UGLY HEAD

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.

RETURN OF “KING ARTUR” SPARKS SAINTS BACK INTO LIFE

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.

TOMBOY documentary series on gender in sports

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This month a documentary series focusing on gender and its role in sports will be aired on NBCSN and across all  NBC Sports Regional Networks.

TOMBOY  is a multi-platform documentary project which aims to elevate the conversation about gender in sports told through the voices of many of the world’s most prominent female athletes, broadcasters and sports executives. The first-of-its-kind integrated initiative culminates with a special one-hour documentary, also titled TOMBOY, which will air across all NBC Sports Regional Networks, nationally distributed NBCSN, and select NBC Owned Television Stations in March.

Former U.S. women’s national team defender Danielle Slaton has spoken about her experiences with gender in sport and how she got her start in the game by playing on an all-boys team.

Click play on the video above to hear Slaton’s story, while here you can find out how you can watch all of the TOMBOY content coming up this month.

Don Garber on MLS expansion; promotion/relegation

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 08:  Commissioner of Major League Soccer Don Garber speaks onstage at the Visionaries & Voices of NYC: NYC & Company Foundation travel and tourism awards on December 8, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for NYC & Company)
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Don Garber is gearing up for his 18th season as Major League Soccer Commissioner.

[ MORE: MLS 2017 season previews

It promises to be the busiest yet with a record 22 teams in MLS and plenty of questions surrounding future expansion franchises elsewhere.

Ahead of the 2017 MLS season, the commissioner spoke to Sky Sports in the UK about where the next teams could be and he believes things would become a lot clearer in the next few months after 12 cities across the U.S. recently submitted formal bids for an MLS expansion franchise.

“We’ve just announced we are going to announce four new teams to go from 24 to 28 which would be the largest professional division one league in the world, 12 cities from across the United States have submitted bids and great cities where we don’t have teams; San Diego, St. Louis, Sacramento and Nashville. These are really big cities with millions and millions of people and people don’t have a division one pro team to call their own with their own stadium, so we will be a 28 team league and I think that is it for us. We have to set into the right format, build more value  and more popularity in our markest and get those stadiums up and operating. That is going to take many, many years to fulfill manage and roll out effectively.”

[ MORE: MLS 2017 schedule

The leader of MLS was then pushed on the timeline of the four new franchises joining MLS, reiterating his target for North America’s top-flight expanding to 28 teams by 2022 and then that will be that.

“By the end of the 2017 calendar year we will select teams 25 and 26, the final two will come in sometime thereafter and we haven’t really selected that date,” Garber said. “Teams 25 and 26, we hope to have coming into MLS in 2020. Then 27 and 28 probably in 2022 to match a World Cup year but this is work in progress. We are just evaluating those applications and it is very simple. We need a great owner in that market who really believes in their team, very solid and very committed to the game in our country. Then it’s the city itself, does it support the game? 20 years ago there were very few cities like that and today I think there isn’t a market anywhere in the United States which couldn’t effectively support an MLS team.”

He then stressed the notion of having a new stadium plan is the other key factor for these potential expansion franchises, as he cited the new downtown home of Orlando City SC and D.C. United breaking ground on a new stadium this week.

Garber also made his feelings very clear on the potential of promotion and relegation in MLS when asked why the league seems to be so equal with eight different champions in the past 10 seasons.

“It’s almost ironic to hear you talk about the excitement because the hardcore fan here who primarily follows the European leagues, they think that this idea of promotion and relegation is the only way to have a fair and effective competition. It just doesn’t work. It doesn’t resonate with us,” Garber said. “The NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB don’t have promotion and relegation and it works just fine there. Playoffs are great, every team is working hard throughout the year. You don’t get the Leicester story, and that is one we all in the soccer business have been following with great attention.

“But the fact that every team has same resources, salary caps, we have rules on how players are acquired and how they are moved within the league and moved abroad. We have strict rules on investment which is necessary on the youth and academy levels. All of that gives each chef the same ingredients and the best chef wins, as opposed to the one who spends the most money or panicking because they’re not where they need to be halfway through the season and their fans are providing them with pressure which is unmanageable in an economically viable way. Those are the systems and we believe in it. I’m an ex-NFL guy and that league is very strong here and in the UK and around the world. We think our system is right for us.”

Premier League player Power Rankings – Week 26

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United (C) celebrates with Eric Bailly (L) and Paul Pogba (R) as he scores their first goal during the EFL Cup Final match between Manchester United and Southampton at Wembley Stadium on February 26, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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The Premier League action continues to come thick and fast, with plenty of European and cup action thrown in the mix.

[ MORE: Power Rankings archive

With that in mind, there are plenty of players who delivered cup heroics high in our rankings this week.

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. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Man United) – Up 4
  2. Harry Kane (Tottenham) – Even
  3. N’Golo Kante (Chelsea) – Even
  4. Manolo Gabbiadini (Southampton) – Up 5
  5. Jamie Vardy (Leicester City) – New entry
  6. Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal) – Down 6
  7. Dele Alli (Tottenham) – New entry
  8. Diego Costa (Chelsea) – Up 3
  9. Raheem Sterling (Man City) – Down 3
  10. Paul Pogba (Man United) – Down 3
  11. Sergio Aguero (Man City) – Down 3
  12. Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea) – New entry
  13. Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea) – Down 1
  14. Eden Hazard (Chelsea) – Up 5
  15. Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Man United) – Down 2
  16. David Luiz (Chelsea) – Down 7
  17. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – Down 2
  18. Ben Foster (West Brom) – New entry
  19. Leroy Sane (Man City) – Down 2
  20. David Silva (Man City) – Down 2

Chelsea’s Victor Moses signs new contract

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22:  Diego Costa (C) of Chelsea celebrates scoring the opening goal with his team mates Victor Moses (L) and Marcos Alonso (R) during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Hull City at Stamford Bridge on January 22, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Victor Moses has been rewarded for a stunning season as Chelsea’s flying right wing-back.

[ MORE: PL schedule changes announced ] 

The Nigerian international has signed a new contract at Chelsea, extending his stay at Stamford Bridge until 2021.

Moses, 26, has become an integral part of Antonio Conte‘s team this season as he’s moved from an attacking winger to a right wing-back with consummate ease.

The former Crystal Palace and Wigan winger who joined Chelsea in 2012 had spent each of the last two seasons out on loan while (spending spells at Liverpool, Stoke City and West Ham) but is now a regular for Conte and couldn’t hide his delight at signing a new deal.

“I feel very excited. I’m delighted to be here for another few years now and to sign a new deal,” Moses said. “Now it’s time to concentrate on the team and keep working hard to make sure we win games and try to win the Premier League this season. We’re having a great season, I’m enjoying my football and we have a good manager here that has given every single one of us confidence. I just want to keep on enjoying it and working hard for the team.”

Moses has played in every single PL game since Oct. 1 when Conte switched to the 3-4-3 formation. Since then, Chelsea has won 17 of their 20 matches and lost just once as they sit 10 points clear at the top of the table with 12 games to go.

Conte has previously remarked how surprised he was that Moses had been on the outside looking in at Chelsea but now he’s been handed a chance the pacey and powerful wide-man has put in consistent displays and provides great protection and balance for Chelsea’s many attacking talents.

Moses has also used his attacking talents in a composed manner, popping up with four goals so far this season and his surging runs into the box from wide areas have added an extra dimension to Chelsea’s play.

In short: this new deal is hugely deserved.