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Premier League Playback: Why Liverpool, Spurs are surging, stalemates, sunny breaks and romance

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LIVERPOOL, SPURS PEAKING THANKS TO RESURGENT HEROES

With so many people concerned about whether or not Manchester United are going to make the top four this season, the imperious form of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur has fallen by the wayside. Let’s address that.

Liverpool’s sublime attacking units is capable, as we saw against Arsenal, of ripping apart any team in the PL. While Tottenham are a well-oiled machine under Tim Sherwood, as they keep it simple and overpower their opponents with sheer athleticism and a massive will to win.

Both teams are going full throttle at making it into UEFA Champions League this season, with one team likely to miss out, agonizingly so.

Hang on a minute, why can’t both Liverpool and Spurs finish in the top four? Following their impressive midweek displays, watch Liverpool’s enthralling comeback win over Fulham above, both Liverpool and Spurs have two resurgent heroes at the center of their upsurge.

Steven Gerrard and Emmanuel Adebayor are spearheading their teams top four challenge.

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Click to enlarge – Gerrard’s passes vs. Fulham. Blues = successful passes. (Source: Opta)

First let’s start with English national team captain, Gerrard, who has been a sensation playing in a deeper role for much of this season skippering Liverpool. The amount of times I’ve been asked the question, ‘Gerrard is no spring chicken, can he still do it?’ has been quite absurd. If anything, Gerrard’s lack of being able to maraud up and down the pitch like he did in the past has helped not only his own play, but Liverpool’s chances of success, considerably. In the 2008-09 campaign Liverpool finished second in the PL standings and at this stage of the season they had 55 points. This year they have 53 points, their second best PL record after 26 games. The Reds are four points off the top of the table, with top four dreams replaced by aspirations to lift their first ever PL crown.

Since January 1, Liverpool have the best record in the Premier League. They have won five and drawn two of their seven games and have a goal differential of +13.

Much has been made of the sensational strike rates of forwards Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez, and rightly so, but Gerrard is the heartbeat of Liverpool at the age of 33. As we mentioned Gerrard has been deployed in a deep-lying role this season, and as you can see on the left from his pass map in the win over Fulham, Gerrard rarely passes backwards and his various raking long balls keep Liverpool moving forward at all time.

His engine may not be capable of performing at the highest speeds anymore, but like a luxurious Italian sportscar, you can’t get rid of Gerrard’s class.

His ball through to Sturridge for Liverpool’s first goal on Wednesday was sublime. A thing of beauty. Wondrous. Only Gerrard could have delicately threaded that ball through with the outside of this boot and taken four Fulham defenders out of the game in one fell swoop. As you can see from the stats below, Gerrard’s pass percentage rate is well over 70 percent in each of his six appearances since January 1.

The pass percentages are rather low compared with his performances in games earlier this season, but now Gerrard has license to try those long risky balls to try and open up opposition defenses. He is now the catalyst to help Liverpool get in behind the opposition, where before he was making plenty of backwards and sideways passes. Not anymore.

Gerrard’s passing stats in 2014, in games he’s started

Date Opponent Minutes Played Passes Successful Passes Passing Accuracy %
12/1/14 Stoke City 90 58 44 75.90%
18/01/14 Villa 90 42 31 73.80%
28/01/14 Everton 90 34 26 76.50%
2/2/14 WBA 90 59 48 81.40%
8/2/14 Arsenal 76 43 34 79.10%
12/2/14 Fulham 90 74 64 86.50%

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On Wednesday, ‘Captain Fantastic’ had a penalty kick in the final minute away at Fulham to seal the 3-2 win for Liverpool. Cool as a cucumber he dispatched the penalty into the top corner and wheeled away in absolute jubilation towards the thousands of traveling Liverpool supporters. As Gerrard tore his shirt off and whirled it around his head like a helicopter’s rotor blades, you saw how much it meant to him.

A hometown boy who has never won the title in 16 years with the Anfield club, he is desperate to lift the crown before he retires. The celebrations from Liverpool’s young stars, who idolize Gerrard, also epitomized the magnificent team spirit that fuels Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool side.

Here’s what the Reds Northern Irish manager said after the crucial comeback win over Fulham that sees his side in the hunt for the PL crown.

The first four, five months I was in here, we would’ve lost that game. But we’ve now built a way of working and a way of playing, but not only that, we’ve built a spirit and camaraderie that sees us fight until the very end.

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As for Spurs, they have the third best record in the PL since the turn of the year, with 16 points from seven games and the only defeat coming against Man City.

One man has been instrumental in their upturn, as Emmanuel Adebayor has now scored eight goals in Tim Sherwood’s first 10 games in charge of Spurs. The revitalized striker has breathed new life into Tottenham’s campaign. Frozen out under previous boss Andre Villas-Boas, the Togolese forward has flourished under the new direct tactics Sherwood has implemented and his goal celebration of proudly saluting Tottenham’s fans will be something we’ll see a lot more of between now and the end of the season.

After playing for Arsenal, Manchester City, Real Madrid and Monaco, Adebayor’s class is there for all to see. Sherwood has said that time and time again, as AVB has been made to look like a fool for keeping the 29-year-old striker out of his squad altogether. With club record signing Roberto Soldado on the bench as Adebayor keeps banging the goals in, Spurs hammered Newcastle 4-0 on Wednesday and are now just three points behind Liverpool, who occupy fourth. Adebayor is always sniffing around the box and always seems to be on hand to finish off the vast array of crosses Spurs put into the box, something Soldado hasn’t done this season.

For his first goal vs. Newcastle on Wednesday, Adebayor won the ball on the halfway line, held it up and laid it off to Nabil Bentaleb who surged down the left. While he did that, Adeabyor put his head down and sprinted to get into the box and eventually the ball found him, and he finished confidently. He was in the box to finish it off. That’s something Spurs have been lacking from their strikers all season.

Can the North London club really bounce back from the distress of life under AVB and seal their aim of Champions League soccer, after cruelly missing out on the final day of last season?

Speaking about Spurs’ top four chances, Rookie boss Sherwood believes Liverpool are ahead of his side. But not by much.

Liverpool are up there at the moment. You would say they are favorites, but we think we can put a charge together. We’ve got to believe in that. But it is not only Liverpool. I think there are other teams in this race.

Premier League Schedule – Week 26

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

STALEMATE CENTRAL: WHY THE TITLE RACE IS WIDE OPEN

After Arsenal’s stalemate with Manchester United on Wednesday night at the Emirates, Gunners boss Arsene Wenger spoke on the

“Our team was highly focused not to concede tonight, maybe that restricted our game going forward a little bit. We were certainly hit by the five goals we conceded on Saturday [in the defeat by Liverpool] and you could feel that a little bit tonight.”

Feb 12: Arsenal 0-0 Manchester United. Dec. 23: Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea. Aug. 26: Manchester United 0-0 Chelsea.

In some of the biggest Premier League games this season we’ve seen dour stalemates as the PL’s giants don’t want to be on the end of knockout blows. It’s been like watching two great prizefighter’s dance around in the ring, threaten to smash each other in the face, but instead delicately tap one another on the chin.

In all of the aforementioned 0-0 draws, the away side has turned up with a game plan to shut up shop, and every single time it has worked perfectly. Does that mean most PL teams can grind out a draw when they need to? The vast majority can, especially the teams at the top.

Three things we learned from Arsenal and Manchester United’s deadlock

What we haven’t seen enough of from Arsenal this season in these tight games, is a way to combat ultra-defensive displays. There has often not been a Plan B. Unless you call throwing on Nicklas Bendtner late on a plan. (It’s not.) The Gunners attacking talents have failed to turn it out late in games when it’s really mattered. Arsenal have had 12 clean sheets and are proud of not conceding in their last five home games. But as they stay in the hunt for the PL title, just one point off league leaders Chelsea, the Gunners need to kick the habit of becoming frustrated by familiar foes parking the bus.

Latest Premier League Standings

Chelsea are the chief protagonists at getting shutouts, while Man City would be the people’s favorites to win the Premier League crown after their shed load of goals sees them battling it out at the summit. But even the Citizens vast array of attacking talents have failed to score in their past two games.

Going away from the top teams, look at the rest of the Premier League… There were two 0-0 draws, a 1-0 win and two 1-1 draws in the eight midweek PL matches. That’s not a lot of goals, and as the stakes go up, so does the tension and that means more teams trying to keep what they have and nick a win, rather than performing swashbuckling soccer to get three points.

Here’s a recap video from the action on Wednesday to see some of the stalemate soccer play out.

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HEAVY SCHEDULES TAKING THEIR TOLL? SOME ARE OFF TO THE SUN…

With torrential rain and wind battering Premier League players for months, FA Cup, European and PL games coming thick and fast and everyone expecting you to keep performing at the highest level, this time of year is when the real champions arise as the hard slog gets tougher.

With Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea still battling for three trophies (four in City’s case) you can forgive their players for looking a little jaded. But for those PL squads who were knocked out of the FA Cup in the early stages, they have now been rewarded with a nice little break. And they are making the most of it.

Last week I spoke with U.S. international Geoff Cameron: “We are off to Dubai on Thursday for a warm weather break,” was his response when I asked what was coming up. Lucky devil. Looks like U.S. international Cameron and his Stoke teammates are enjoying their much needed working trip to Dubai…

With the crew @muniesa @erikpieters Jack Butland #jokers

A photo posted by Cameron 🇺🇸 Geoff (@geoffcameron) on

Similarly West Bromwich Albion are off to the famed La Manga resort in Southern Spain, while Manchester United and West Ham United are also off to Dubai to get away from it all. Newcastle have already been overseas to the Middle-East to work on their tans and recharge their batteries. That worked out well for Alan Pardew’s men (four straight defeats.…) Anyway, what would players rather be doing in the middle of a harsh English winter?

Lying by a pool in warmer climates or battling for multiple titles on the domestic and European stage? Do I even have to answer that…

Much maligned Manchester United midfielder Tom Cleverley believes the warm-weather break will help the Red Devils kick on in the second half of the season. Let’s see if these teams soaking up the sun in Spain or the Middle-East this week all perform how Cleverley believes United will in the closing stages.

We’ll go away and have a good five days of warm-weather training which will bring us together and hopefully do us good for the run-in. Warm-weather training is good for fitness as well as team bonding and the team spirit you get from having all the lads together. We did it last year and it really helped us – hopefully it’ll have the same effect this time.

EVERTON, THE PEOPLE’S CLUB, WITH A HEART WARMING GESTURE

Finally, let’s end with something that will truly make you smile and revel in the kindness of humanity. As you’re probably aware, Manchester City’s match vs. Sunderland and Everton’s games against Crystal Palace were called off on Wednesday as 100mph winds battered England. The latter game was cancelled just an hour before kick off amid safety fears.

But before the game had been postponed, Everton fan Richard Wee tweeted the following before he found out about the game being called off, as the life-long Evertonian had flown in from Thailand to see his first-ever Everton game.

Oh dear.

Fear not, Everton’s media staff managed to track down Mr. Wee and tried their best to salvage his trip halfway across the globe, by taking him to meet manager Roberto Martinez and star defender Leighton Baines in the dressing room.

To complete the treatment, Everton rolled out the ‘blue carpet’ for Wee on Thursday before he flew home, as he was also given a guided tour of Goodison Park by club legend Graeme Sharp.

Needless to say, Wee was delighted and Everton tweeted the following. On the eve of Valentines Day, who said romance is dead in soccer? Classy from the “People’s Club.” Share the love people.

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

Has Pep Guardiola’s tenure at Bayern Munich been a failure?

BEIJING, CHINA - JULY 17:  Head coach Pep Guardiola of Bayern looks on during the a press conference at National Stadium in day 1 of the FC Bayern Audi China Summer Pre-Season Tour on July 17, 2015 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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Pep Guardiola could have seven trophies from his three seasons at Bayern Munich when he leaves the club this summer.

Guardiola has won two Bundesliga titles, a German Cup, UEFA Super Cup, and FIFA Club World Cup since taking over the Bavarian club in 2013. Bayern are in line to win another Bundesliga title in a few weeks time, and face Borussia Dortmund in another German Cup final.

However, when you take a look at all those honors, one is missing: The UEFA Champions League.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

After being bounced by Atletico Madrid in the Champions League semifinal on Tuesday, Guardiola will leave Bayern without the one trophy he wanted most.

In three seasons under Pep, Bayern has been eliminated in the UCL semifinal each year. Each year it was to Spanish opposition, losing to Real Madrid (2014), Barcelona (2015), and Atleti (2016).

While reaching the Champions League semifinal is a great achievement for most clubs, it is a step back for Bayern. In 2013, just weeks before Guardiola was appointed boss, Bayern won the Champions League. They also reached the final in 2010 and 2012 before that.

[ MORE: Game-by-game look at Leicester City’s title-winning season ]

Pep won the Champions League twice in four seasons in charge at Barcelona, and he was expected to do the same in Germany. After three UCL finals appearances in four seasons before Guardiola and none under the Spaniard, it’s hard to argue his time with Bayern has been a success.

Yes, Guardiola will likely leave Munich with three Bundesliga titles, a mark of domestic dominance during his time at the Allianz Arena. However, Bayern had already won the league 22 times before Pep, as he was not brought there for Bundesliga success.

Simply put, Guardiola came to a Bayern team that was the best in Europe, and he will leave a Bayern team that is just the best in Germany.

Bayern Munich 2-1 (2-2, agg.) Atletico Madrid: Griezmann’s away goal sends Atleti to Milan

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 13:  Antoine Griezmann (R) of Atletico de Madrid celebrates their victory with teammate Koke (L) during the UEFA Champions League quarter final, second leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Barcelona at the Vincente Calderon on April 13, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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  • Alonso, Lewandowski score for Bayern
  • Thomas Muller has penalty stopped
  • Griezmann’s goal sends Atleti through 

Despite losing the match and finishing tied on aggregate, Atletico Madrid are headed to their second Champions League final in three years as Diego Simeone’s men advance past Bayern Munich on away goals. It is the third straight season in which Bayern has been eliminated from in the semifinal.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

Bayern expectedly dominated possession from the start of the match, continuously pushing into Atleti territory. The Atletico back-line was stretched out of shape multiple times in the first half, a rare sight from Europe’s best defense, especially surprising with Diego Godin back in the starting lineup.

After a few stops from Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak, Bayern finally found a goal just after the half-hour mark. With a free kick from 20 yards out, Xabi Alonso stepped up and fired a low shot on goal. Alonso’s shot deflected off Jose Jimenez, skipping through the young center-back’s legs and leaving Oblak helpless, ending Atleti’s impressive run of defensive dominance.

Jose Jimenez nearly cost Atletico again just minutes later when he was called for a foul on Javi Martinez in the box, giving a penalty to Bayern. Thomas Muller tried to give his side their first lead of the semifinal, but Oblak guessed correctly and made a huge stop to keep the tie level on aggregate.

As the match headed towards halftime, managers Pep Guardiola and Diego Simeone began to have some words on the touchline. Simeone had to be held back from Bayern’s Franck Ribery, although tempers cooled down and no discipline from the referee was necessary.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]

Bayern continued to control play after the break, but it was the visitors who found the second half’s first goal. Against all the run of play, Fernando Torres caught Bayern on the counter, sending Antoine Griezmann in on goal all alone. Griezmann buried his shot past Manuel Neuer to put Atleti back ahead on aggregate 2-1. It was Griezmann’s seventh Champions League goal and 31st in all competitions this season.

With Griezmann’s away goal, Bayern needed to score two more without conceding to reach the final. Despite the uphill battle, Pep’s men pushed on and got a response in the 74th minute. A high cross from David Alaba was headed back across the box from Arturo Vidal, where Robert Lewandowski was waiting for an easy tap home. Up 2-1 on the night but tied 2-2 on aggregate, Bayern had 20 minutes to find that decisive goal.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

While Bayern pressed, Atletico had a golden opportunity to finish the match when Fernando Torres earned the game’s second penalty. Torres was taken down from behind by Javi Martinez, and although replays showed the contact was initiated just outside the box, a penalty was given. Torres went to finish what he started, but once again the keeper prevailed as Manuel Neuer made a strong save to deny the Spaniard.

Guardiola urged his side on through the final minutes, but Atletico withstood the pressure to advance on away goals. Diego Simeone’s side has now eliminated Barcelona and Bayern Munich in consecutive legs, as Atleti can no longer be considered underdogs.

Burnley boss Sean Dyche ready for PL after “business-like” promotion

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - APRIL 19:  Sean Dyche the manager of Burnley applauds the home fans during the Sky Bet Championship match between Burnley and Middlesbrough at Turf Moor on April 19, 2016 in Burnley, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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Burnley Football Club is headed back up to the Premier League after one season down in the Championship.

After being relegated from the top flight in 2015, the Clarets roared back with a dominant campaign in the Championship, securing automatic promotion with one match to play.

[ VIDEO: Ranieri’s best moments ]

Heading into his second stint in the Premier League, Burnley boss Sean Dyche said there is a different feeling this time around after a “business-like” season at Turf Moor.

The expectation rises from everyone, the money available to the club for its future – all of the things that it brings.

The mentality of the players has been firm all year. We were questioned heavily around Christmas, but I never blinked.

I knew what we were about, I knew the group we’d got, I knew the mentality and I knew we could go all the way.

Last time we were under the radar, it was a fairytale. This one was organized, it was business-like and it was well-fashioned from all involved, especially the players.

If Burnley was questioned at Christmas, they certainly had an answer. After losing to Hull City on Boxing Day, the Clarets have gone unbeaten in 22 matches to climb to the top of the Championship table.

[ MORE: Fellaini, Huth charged by FA after hair-pulling incident ]

Burnley’s campaign this season has been eerily similar to their last promotion to the PL after the 2013-14 season. If the Clarets win their final game next weekend, they will finish with an identical record from 2014 of 26-15-5, good for 93 points. Dyche’s next job will be keeping Burnley up, as they have been relegated after each of their previous three seasons in the top flight.

UCL FOLLOW LIVE: Lineups as Atleti looks to advance past Bayern

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27:  UEFA  Champions League trophy is seen ahead of the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Atletico Madrid heads into the Allianz Arena’s hornets’ nest with a 1-0 advantage and hopes for another UEFA Champions League final.

Diego Simeone’s La Liga powers will look to keep its advantage over Bayern Munich, in turn booting Pep Guardiola into Manchester without a UCL title in Germany.

To follow live, click here.

LINEUPS

Bayern Munich: Neuer; Alaba, Boateng, Martinez, Ribéry, Lewandowski, Costa, Alonso, Lahm, Vidal, Müller. Subs: Ulreich, Tasci, Thiago, Rafinha, Götze, Coman, Kimmich.

Atletico Madrid: Oblak, Juanfran, Godin, Gimenez, Luis; Gabi, Augusto, Koke, Saul; Griezmann, Torres. Subs: Moya, Savic, Lucas, Thomas, Carrasco, Correa, Vietto.