File photograph shows Manchester United's coach David Moyes pictured before the Champions League soccer match against Bayer Leverkusen in Leverkusen

Premier League Playback: Top four or bust for Man United, Suarez half to blame, dangerous leads

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UNITED’S TITLE CHALLENGE OVER?

Manchester United have officially never been this bad into a Premier League season.

With 37 points from their 22 PL matches, United are languishing in seventh. The crown won last year isn’t just slipping off their head — it fell off and clanked on the floor many weeks ago. Following Sunday’s 3-1 defeat to Chelsea, United are now 14 points behind leaders Arsenal. It’s time to accept that the reigning Champions won’t retain the title. At this rate, finishing in the top four will be a monumental achievement.

Still, first-year Manchester United manager David Moyes isn’t giving up. Dressed in his freshly pressed club suit while addressing the media at Chelsea, Moyes resembled an abject figure as he answered questions on United’s dismal attempts to retain their title and his own self-confidence.

“What we won’t do is throw the towel in until we can’t get there. The job is to try and finish first and we will keep trying to do that. There are no clever answers except try to win the next game. It’s a difficult task. I am persevering and trying to keep doing what’s right. It’s a massive challenge. I hoped I’d be in a far better position than this, but I am not. The challenge is there for me and I think if you are a football person it’s a great one to have. I am really looking forward to it now, because I know we will be going upwards. That’s where we are going to go.”

Moyes’ side didn’t play badly against Chelsea; in fact they were the better team for much the first half but somehow found themselves down 0-2. That’s the way it’s been for United and Moyes this season. Not getting that lucky bounce of the ball, while everyone seems to be feeling a little bit sorry for themselves. There’s some basis for that.

As tweeted by our friends at Opta, United have played more games against the top eight than any other side. Yet they’ve picked up just five points against the PL’s elite. There’s the issue, they’ve never really damaged the teams around them this season and you can sense a lack of belief when they come up against the upper echelons of the league, especially without their injured strike duo of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. Good news for United fans, an easier run of games is coming up with their next three against Cardiff, Stoke and Fulham, then a trip to Arsenal comes before a meeting with Crystal Palace. Despite all these issues, United could easily win four of the next five.

One of the biggest problems Moyes faces is that most of these United players have never known losing. They are winners. From the outside it looks like Moyes is struggling instill belief that the Red Devils can pull off a drag themselves back with the top three. Not a surprise considering finishing in the top four will be like winning the title for United. Moyes knows it, his players know it, the fans know it. But nobody wants to believe it.

United captain Nemanja Vidic, who was sent off harshly late in the game for a lunge on Eden Hazard that showcased the Red Devils frustration, still believes his men can make a remarkable comeback.

“It’s important we stick together and work hard for each other. If we do that then I think we can turn things around,” Vidic said. “If you look at the whole game [at Stamford Bridge] I don’t think we played too badly. I don’t think losing three goals really tells the story. We just have to stay positive and keep fighting to be in amongst the top teams at the end of the season. Hopefully, with a bit of luck, we’ll have better days.”

Still, this is about more than the 2013-14 season. Moyes said this is a project he is building for the future. But those changes he alluded to should, and will be, widespread and shocking come the end of the 2013-14 campaign. Ruthless changes of personal at all levels of the playing staff need to be made. If they’re not, United’s transformation from champions elect to top four contenders will become permanent for the foreseeable future.

Premier League Schedule – Round 22

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

DID SUAREZ DIVE?

Once again this season one of the biggest questions asked around the PL was this: did Luis Suarez dive to win a penalty kick?

As Liverpool’s often criticized Uruguayan striker surged into the penalty box at the Kop end of Anfield on Saturday, a lunging advance from Aston Villa’s USMNT ‘keeper Brad Guzan was only going to have one result. Suarez knocked the ball past him, left his leg trailing and made minimal contact look like a stonewall penalty.

Cue the tabloid headlines: Luis Suarez is at it again.

Diving, simulation, cheating, whatever you want to call it; this debate reared its ugly head for the umpteenth time this season. But did Suarez — the PL’s leading goalscorer with 22 goals from 17 games — dive? Or was Guzan to blame?

On the face of it, a bit of both. Sure Suarez was always going to go down once he glanced across and saw Guzan tearing towards him and the Liverpool striker was going away from goal. One flick of the right boot to take the ball away from the ‘keeper and a theatrical dive later, Liverpool were back in the game thanks to Steven Gerrard dispatching the spot kick.

Watch the highlights video below, do you think Suarez took a tumble? Or was helped on his way down by Guzan?

But I don’t think Suarez deserves all the blame here. Yes, he did go down easily. But which striker in the modern game wouldn’t go down?

Speaking on Sky Sports in the UK on Sunday morning, former Chelsea boss Robert Di Matteo (who led the club to its first-ever UCL title in 2011-12) said the following: “As a manager you would expect him to go down there to try and win the penalty.”

Going back to those quotes form the current Chelsea manager Mourinho, he believes managers should not embellish this kind of behavior from their players. But it happens. ‘If you feel a nick in the box, go down.’ If I had a dollar for every time I’d heard that sentiment echoed at soccer’s clubs across the world. Look, that’s just the way it is.

The fact that an American ‘keeper played a role means the demonetization of Suarez will most likely be widespread in the U.S. But Guzan also deserves blame. There was no need for him to dash off his line to usher Suarez away from the goal. Liverpool’s 26-year-old forward was moving at pace toward the goal, but away from the goal itself.

MORE: Latest Premier League standings

In hindsight, Guzan should’ve stayed on his line and dealt with ant cross or ball into the six-yard box Suarez was about to conjure. But think back to the last time Liverpool met Villa back in September at Villa Park. Do you remember right at the end of the game when Sturridge was tripped by an on-rushing Guzan in a very similar incident? You think the big American shot-stopper would’ve learned his lesson. But hey, this is the PL where the pace of the game is tremendous and it’s just a coincidence that two slip ups from Guzan have both come against Liverpool on televised games beamed across the globe.

It was rash judgment by Guzan to come out and make the challenge, and it was poor from Suarez to make a meal of it. But because Suarez is involved he will steal the headlines, but both parties are to blame. End of.

On Sunday I attended Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho’s postmatch press conference. There he was asked about the flurry of controversial red and yellow cards shown in Chelsea’s victory over United. Instead, as he often does, Mourinho went off on a tangent and had the following to say about diving, simulation and play acting in the PL. Turns out, the players and the referees aren’t the only ones to blame…

“I keep saying to my players to help the referees. I don’t want to complicate the lives of the referees. But it looks like other managers tell their players exactly the opposite of what I say. I think we need a managers meeting with the referees again, like we did in the summer, because I think some managers forgot the meeting. Maybe I am very naïve because I criticize my players [for simulation] because the other managers don’t criticize their players. They cry when it is not going in their favor. ” 

Chelsea’s manager wouldn’t divulge what incident, or incidents, he was referring to. But we all know the Suarez incident was on his mind, and he’s not exactly given the Liverpool striker a glowing reference in the past. Trust Jose to tell it how it is.

WHY 2-0 IS STILL THE MOST DANGEROUS SCORE LINE IN SOCCER  

In the early and late games on Saturday we saw both away sides squander 2-0 leads in the first half to draw 2-2. Southampton and Aston Villa were guilty of throwing away two points, albeit it against fired up opponents who are desperate for points.

The thing I took away from both pulsating clashes; 2-0 is well and truly the most dangerous score line in soccer.

When you go 2-0 up, which I did many times whilst playing the game, there’s a quick look around to the bench to see what you should do now. Does the manager give you the forward hand motion to say “keep going, let’s batter them” or the hand gesture which sees both palms pushed towards the ground slowly to say “let’s calm down and keep what we have.”

The latter was what both Southampton and Villa did on Saturday, and instantly Sunderland and Liverpool pounced on that air of indecision creeping into the away teams play. It took Sunderland less than 90 seconds to pull a goal back and make it 2-1 at half time vs. Saints, and it took Liverpool a little longer but they did the same vs. Villa as both games mirrored each other.

MORE: Liverpool 2-2 Aston Villa – Reds stage comeback, but Villa leave Anfield with a draw (video)

Villa and Saints had battered the home teams they were facing — in Villa’s case they out-shot Liverpool 8-1 and enjoyed 61 percent of possession in the opening 25 minutes at Anfield — but somehow they were only in front by one goal at the interval. That acted as great solace to home manager Brendan Rodgers during his half-time talk, “we are still in this lads, let’s crank up the pressure.” Plus Liverpool’s players knew there was no way they could possibly play any worse than they just had in the first half.

Often you will hear players bellowing out the instructions, “It’s still 0-0” to their side as the opponents restart the game from the center spot. That mentality wasn’t prevalent for the away sides mentioned, as two of the youngest teams in the PL struggled to keep their composure as their lack of experience showed.

Is that due to picking youngsters? Or perhaps having managers who prefer to hold onto what they have rather than kicking on to knock the opposition into submission?

MORE: Sunderland 2-2 Southampton – Black Cats fight back to grab draw (video)

For fans of Sunderland and Liverpool it will be a welcome change, as the Black Cats are now showing a bit of backbone but they’re still got the second worst record in the league when it comes to picking up points form losing positions (as these great stats show how every PL team has fared when going in front or behind this season). Sunderland have garnered just two points after trailing all season, both of which have come in dramatic comebacks from 2-0 in January, against Cardiff and Southampton. That will hold them in good stead for the relegation scrap ahead.

As for Liverpool, they haven’t won any of the games in which they’ve fallen behind but have fought back to grab four draws from losing positions. That’s the second highest draws from losing positions in the PL.

Surprisingly Villa have the best record in the PL after going ahead, as they’ve lost just four points from winning positions. Quite remarkable really. While Southampton have let eight points slip, that’s the sixth-worst record in the PL. Something to think about there, as then next time your team goes 2-0 up don’t relax. In fact, it could well be time to hit the panic button.

STOKE SLIDING TOWARDS THE TRAP DOOR?

Following a spirited yet unsuccessful display against Liverpool last-time out, Stoke City are sliding worryingly towards the PL trap door after their 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace last weekend. Like every team in the bottom half of the table, the Potters face the real possibility of scrapping for their lives come May 11. With two wins from their last 10 games, Mark Hughes’ men have shown some worrying signs this season. One of which is a severe lack of goals away from home.

Stoke have only scored just eight goals away from home this season and have not scored in six of their 11 matches away from the Britannia. After firing yet another blank away at Palace on Saturday, manager Mark Hughes admitted his side “didn’t show enough purpose or guile to create enough chances in the final third.”

All that points to Stoke’s home form being crucial if they will stay up this season. Of course, the nature of the standings this campaign means a few improved performances and vital wins could see them finish comfortably in midtable, with just five points separating 11th placed Hull City on 23 with bottom placed Cardiff who are on 18 points. My colleague Richard Farley explains all of that relegation madness eloquently, in the his ‘Quick Six’ column. No doubt about it, the 2013-14 campaign has been more worrying than it should be for Stoke.

One other note on this game: Stoke were coming up against ex-manager Tony Pulis who got the Potters promoted to the PL then transformed them into a solid midtable team and brought plenty of good times to the Staffordshire club. Fans became despondent last season and Pulis left after seven seasons at Stoke, with everyone thinking a fresh approach could help kick them onto the next level. Now Pulis has landed at Palace, who looked doomed before his arrival but are now clear of the drop zone after losing nine of their first 10 games.

Pulis is still highly regarded by Stoke’s fans, as they took to Twitter before the game vs. Palace to thank their former boss for all he had done for them. After a shaky start to the Hughes era and relegation still a real possibility, do Potters fans think Pulis should’ve stayed on? As they say, the grass isn’t always green on the other side of the fence. It has been for Pulis, but so far it certainly hasn’t been the case for his old side Stoke.

Testing times ahead for the Potters, and the entire bottom half of the PL table.

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

What do other Premier League clubs think about Leicester’s title win?

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It is the most incredible title win in Premier League history.

Leicester City came out of nowhere to win the 2015-16 title in one of the greatest sporting upsets of all time.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ]

With that news still sinking in, how did managers and players of other clubs feel about the Foxes being the unexpected champs?

Overall, pretty much everyone is happy.

[ MORE: Ranieri the mastermind ]

Below is a look at what a leading figure from each club in the PL had to say about Leicester’s title win.


Arsenal – Manager, Arsene Wenger

“Congratulations to Ranieri and all the players. It’s a remarkable achievement and it has also been done in an unusual way which gives us food for thoug,” Wenger said. “Their success is based on team spirit. They had low possession and that is very unusual. But they were strong in what they did. They defended very well, they were very clinical and they were very efficient defensively. That was unexpected. Is that a trend in the coming season? I don’t know. If you look at their results they lost only three games and that’s remarkable looking at thequality of their competitors.”

Aston Villa – Former manager, Remi Garde

“When you see Leicester now, it’s crazy and unbelievable, nobody could have seen that 12 months ago,” Garde said. “We should be inspired by that.”

Bournemouth – Manager Eddie Howe

“I think there is only going to be one Leicester. Who knows what the future holds, but I think it would be difficult for anyone to do that again,” Howe said. “That’s why the odds were what they were at the start of the season. I know you have to dream and have that vision and hope, but I do think it was a one-off.”

Chelsea – Captain, John Terry

“Congratulations to Leicester because they have been superb this year. It still hurts us losing the league after winning it last year. It hurts us conceding it to Leicester but we’ll be back next year.”

Crystal Palace – Manager, Alan Pardew

“Leicester won the league after 36 games and for 10 games last season they were the best team in the league,” Pardew said. “So for the best part of 50 games they’ve been the best team in the country. All this about things falling their way is not quite correct. So they deserve all the plaudits they get. I’m glad they’ve done it early because they can enjoy it now. I think Leicester’s title win is already impacting on other managers,” said Pardew. “You can only name about five or six managers not under pressure in the Premier League. At the top clubs it’s had an impact definitely. Leicester have shattered the glass ceiling that I for one thought would probably be impossible to break. They’ve gone and done it and it’s amazing. We all know it’s unique. It puts more pressure on those of us lucky enough to be managing in the Premier League, so we’ll look forward to that. Football isn’t all logic. It’s almost like some stardust has fallen on Leicester.”

Everton – Manager, Roberto Martinez

“They have been a real inspiration in terms of a winning team, and not just in football, throughout sport. To have that intensity and that drive and, against all odds, it has been the real fairy tale of football and sport in general in the modern game.

Liverpool – Manager, Jurgen Klopp

“It is the best story ever.”

Manchester City – Captain, Vincent Kompany

Manchester United – Manager, Louis Van Gaal

“I have great respect for the champions Leicester City who deserved their league win,” Van Gaal said.” You cannot say that if we didn’t have our injuries then we would have been first. No, this would be disrespectful to the champions who totally deserve it in my eyes.”

Newcastle United – Winger, Andros Townsend

Norwich City – Midfielder, Gary O'Neil

Southampton – Manager, Ronald Koeman

“What you see in the Premier league now is that there is not a big difference… that gap is not so big and that gap is showed by Leicester, by West Ham and by Southampton last season and this season. The achievement of Leicester is great for football.”

Stoke City – Manager, Mark Hughes

“Whether or not it is unprecedented, are we going to see more so-called unfashionable clubs getting to the top of the pile, who knows? But it’s a great effort that Leicester have been able to do it with a couple of games to spare. They deserve great credit for that.”

Sunderland

Swansea City – Manager, Francesco Guidolin

“In the future the money in the Premier League goes to all teams, so a good squad, good manager and club can make a difference,” said Swansea head coach Guidolin. It is possible to have a project and play for important targets. But it is not easy in the Premier League, you can do it one time (like Leicester) after 20 years. I won’t call it a miracle because it is a true story for Leicester. A team can play for third, fourth or fifth, but to win it is very difficult.”

Tottenham Hotspur – Striker, Harry Kane

Watford – Midfielder, Adlene Guedioura

“I think this story will inspire not only footballers but everyone because it is something unbelievable they did. Knowing Riyad Mahrez and talking to him they were not thinking about being in the top three or top ten this season. When they finished at the top it was something unbelievable. It’s a great story but especially it’s a good example that everything is reachable if you have a lot of motivation, a good spirit in the team and a manager that brings people to the top.”

West Ham United – Manager, Slaven Bilic

“They give hope to not only every football but every sporting club in the world.”

West Bromwich Albion – Manager, Tony Pulis

“You have to give credit for Leicester for getting those players. Everybody is looking for those type of players but Leicester have gone and got them. The great thing about Leicester is they’ve played like a team and once they built up momentum everybody at that football club bought into it.”

Tottenham’s Dembele banned for six games

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14: Mousa Dembele of Tottenham Hotspur clears with Sergio Aguero of Manchester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at Etihad Stadium on February 14, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Mousa Dembele has been handed a lengthy ban by the English Football Association.

Dembele, 28, was not seen by officials but was spotted by cameras gouging Diego Costa in the eye during Tottenham’s heated 2-2 draw at Chelsea on Monday which ended Spurs’ title hopes.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

The Belgian international will now miss the remaining two games of the 2015-16 Premier League season as well as the opening four games of next season.

The maximum ban for his charge of violent conduct is seven games but Dembele has decided to contest the length of the ban.

Below is a statement in full from the FA:

Mousa Dembélé will serve a six-match suspension with immediate effect after he committed an act of violent conduct which was not seen by the match officials but caught on video.

The Tottenham Hotspur midfielder accepted the charge but denied The FA’s claim that the standard punishment of three matches which would otherwise apply to this offence was clearly insufficient.

An Independent Regulatory Commission upheld The FA’s claim at a hearing today [Friday 6 May 2016] and ordered that an additional three-match suspension was appropriate.

The player was involved in an incident with Chelsea’s Diego Costa in or around the 45th minute of the fixture at Stamford Bridge on Monday [2 May 2016].

VIDEO: Previews of every Premier League game – Week 37

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The penultimate week of the 2015-16 Premier League season is here.

[ WATCH: Stream every PL game ]

Below you will find previews on all 10 games this weekend, as the relegation battle and hunt for European spots continues.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

Here’s what you need to know in each encounter.


Tottenham vs. Southampton

Leicester City vs. Everton

Manchester City vs. Arsenal

Norwich City vs. Manchester United

Sunderland vs. Chelsea

Aston Villa vs. Newcastle United

West Ham vs. Swansea City

Liverpool vs. Watford

Bournemouth vs. West Brom

Crystal Palace vs. Stoke City

What if the Premier League trophy could talk?

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Hello, it’s me. Not, this is not an Adele song. You’ve probably seen me before, usually glittering in the sunshine around May time.

Yes, that’s right, I’m the Premier League trophy.

For years I’ve been held aloft by some of the biggest stars in the game. Now, though, I’m ready for a change.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

Once again, just like last season, I’m all dressed up in blue ribbons. As we speak I’m on my way to my new home for the next year. I’ve never been here before and I never thought I’d be living here.

But hey, that’s the life I live. Gone are the days of hanging out at Old Trafford for nearly a decade… Now I live a much more uncertain life. Wait. What’s that? They are joking about me spending the next 12 months with actual Foxes, right?

Leicester is my new home and I can honestly say that the excitement surrounding my unexpected arrival surpasses any of my previous jubilant hoists into the air.

I’m ready for Wes Mogran to thrust me into the Leicestershire sky and see all the happy faces of the fans, players and staff as Leicester became just the sixth team to win me.

[ MORE: Ranieri’s subtle transformation

Bit of background on me: my other homes have been at Manchester United, Manchester City, Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal and Chelsea. I’m made of sterling sliver and silver gilt mostly, plus have a golden crown and a plinth made of malachite. I was created by the Royal Jewelers of Asprey in London (hence my very proper accent) and I usually don’t tell people this but I weigh 55 lbs and I’m 30 inches tall.

I do have a replica but they are very shy and only come out in extreme circumstances such as two teams both going into the final day of the season with a chance of winning me. Tottenham’s recent results have put an end to that for this season so you’re just stuck with me, the original. Hi!

I’ve spent 13 years of my life with United, two at Man City, four at Chelsea, three at Arsenal and a single year back from May 1995 in Blackburn.

Since my days at Ewood Park over two decades ago, I didn’t think I’d be passed on to one of the so-called smaller clubs in England anymore. The days of being held up at Anfield by Tim Sherwood and Alan Shearer seemed so long ago but now Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy and Mr. Claudio Ranieri will be holding me at the King Power this weekend.

Plus, the ways things are going in the league, I could have plenty of new homes in the coming years. This Leicester team has really shaken things up.

I used to be fond of bobbing up and down in front of the North Bank at Highbury, been worn on Didier Drogba‘s head at Stamford Bridge and Sir Alex Ferguson parading me around, once again, as the children of United’s players (Kasper Schmeichel, looking forward to catching up again!) celebrated on the Old Trafford pitch.

Now, though, this is a new era.

A league and a life full of uncertainties. West Ham? Stoke? Southampton? Crystal Palace? Will I end up here next… Nobody knows and for the first time in a long time I really won’t be making any long-term plans for my living arrangements.

The status quo has well and truly been disrupted but with Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola arriving next season, maybe I’ll see old friends in the cabinet at City and Chelsea this time next year?

For now, I’m all dressed in blue and ready for a day of celebrations. Before I’m handed over to Morgan there will be a sing-song from Andrea Bocelli on the pitch, free beer, pizza and crisps on behalf of Leicester and it will be a day filled with delight. Then I arrive to cap it all off. Oh, it’s a glamorous life being the jewel in the crown of the world’s most recognized and watched league.

To sum up the life of the trophy, as I mentioned,  it’s very glamorous these days. Gone are the days when I’ve been sat in a dusty trophy cabinet all season. Now, I appear on TV shows as a centerpiece, get toured around the world by past legends who’ve won me and I’m handled with care by schoolchildren who get to see me as party of the trophy tour. I’m very busy.

Before I forget, one important reminder for tomorrow: if Vardy’s party into the wee hours does get a little out of hand, can somebody remind them to put me down for a bit of a rest? It will be a long, and very exciting, day.

Leicester, can’t wait to call you home for the next 12 months. See you soon.

Much love, PLT (Premier League Trophy)