Premier League Playback: Fifth place finish for Man United? Superstar Shaw, Arsenal’s big chance

Leave a comment

WOULD A FIFTH PLACE FINISH REDEEM UNITED’S SEASON?

In the second half of their 3-0 win against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, as they have done for fits and starts throughout the 2013-14 campaign, the real Manchester United showed up.

Full of clever running, panache, tricks, flicks and attacking intent, David Moyes’s side finally clicked going forward against the Baggies.

“It was more like it. We were more creative and played well,” Moyes said. “It’s never the easiest of places to come and we had lost to them earlier in the season so it was good to get a good result. We earned the right to be in front. When we did, we sort of controlled chunks of the game.”

Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Adnan Januzaj and Juan Mata weaved in and out of one another majestically, especially in the second half, and with Marouane Fellaini breaking things up expertly in midfield United looked a much better outfit at the Hawthorns. If you look at the average position for United’s attackers in the image from Opta on the left, you can see how Rooney and RVP were right on top of each other, while Januzaj is almost like a third striker and Mata isn’t far behind him. Not many PL teams can contain that front four when they’re on form.

source:
Click to enlarge – Man United’s average positions against West Brom. Source: Opta

Aside from the swaggering style emanating from the Red Devils, there was a sense of belief in the way they played, a solid defensive showing from Phil Jones and Chris Smalling and pure relief that they hadn’t suffered yet another damaging loss. In their previous five games, United had won just once. But after beating the Baggies they now sit in a somewhat respectable sixth spot in the PL, just five points behind Tottenham Hotspur with a game in hand.

So if United finish fifth this season, despite all their struggles, is that okay?

Is this acceptable for Moyes, who inherited and aging squad that many deemed lucky to win the PL title last season, to rebuild the side and just miss out on qualification for the UEFA Champions League?

(MORE: Latest Premier League standings)

One thing we know for sure, Moyes’ teams have always been slow starters but extremely strong finishers. In four of his last five season in charge of Everton in the PL, his side have been no higher than seventh after 11 games, like United, but then rallied in the last 11 games of each season and lost just four out of 44 games across the closing stages of those seasons.

That gives United hope. Despite everything that has happened since Sir Alex Ferguson left and Moyes took over, they now have nine games left and an outside chance of making the top four.

Although that looks distant, finishing fifth wouldn’t be an embarrassment considering how bad it has been this season.

Premier League Schedule – Week 29

Result Recap & Highlights
Cardiff City 3-1 Fulham Recap and watch here
Chelsea 4-0 Tottenham Recap and watch here
Crystal Palace 0-1 Saints Recap and watch here
Norwich City 1-1 Stoke City Recap and watch here
West Brom 0-3 Man United Recap and watch here

FAREWELL FULHAM

With his club issue glasses, which resemble a mishmash of Harry Potter and John Lennon’s specs, Fulham manger Felix Magath was oddly redundant as his side crumbled to a damaging 3-1 loss away at Cardiff City, in a massive relegation six-pointer over the weekend.

Magath knows, even if he doesn’t want to believe it, that Fulham are destined for the drop.

At least, that’s the way he was acting. Chewing ferociously on gum while sitting in the dugout, even when his team fought back to equalize with over 20 minutes left there wasn’t much emotion shown by the veteran German coach. Following the loss which maroons Fulham five points from safety at the bottom of the PL standings, Magath lambasted his squad for not having enough desire to fight and suggested the players at his disposal aren’t cut out for a relegation scrap.

“If you are at the bottom of the league, you have to fight,” Magath told the BBC after the game. “Maybe we do not have players that are used to it. They have come from situations where they have never had a relegation fight. They are not fighting enough.”

Well, that doesn’t sound like fighting talk from a manager trying to keep Fulham’s sinking ship from dropping into the Championship next season.

LUKE SHAW: NEXT SUPERSTAR FROM SAINTS

It’s been quite a week for Southampton’s 18-year-old left back Luke Shaw. On Wednesday Shaw made his England debut at Wembley against Denmark and earned raved reviews in a typically composed second half display. The youngster from Kingston in South West London has surged onto the scene for Saints in the last year. He made his PL debut in November 2012 and hasn’t looked back since. Shaw has handed England manager Roy Hodgson a massive dilemma with Leighton Baines his first choice left back for the World Cup this summer, but England legend Ashley Cole is now battling it out with Shaw for the other spot.

(MORE: Man United set to bid $50 million for Southampton’s star duo)

Cole has been out of form, favor and fitness at Chelsea and the man who has 107 caps for England could well see himself pushed off the plane to Brazil by a teenager who grew up idolizing Cole at Chelsea as a lifelong fan of the Blues. Shaw is the latest product to roll off the line of Saints’ famous academy. In England’s squad last week Shaw was joined by fellow graduates Adam Lallana, Saints’ current captain, and Arsenal attacker Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, while Arsenal’s other former Saints youngster Theo Walcott would’ve been on the plane to Brazil had he not had a season ending knee injury. Plus Saints had three players who’ve all featured for their first team represent the England U-19 team in midweek, Sam Gallagher, Harrison Reed and Calum Chambers, while James Ward-Prowse played for England’s U-21 side. There are more where Shaw came from. Check out the photo below, Shaw is second from the left in the front row with those flowing blonde locks… Four of those 10-year-olds are now in Southampton’s first team squad and have played together for almost a decade.

Shaw’s rise has been dramatic, swift and spectacular. Yet through it all he’s played with the poise and control of a seasoned pro. They say that some players are born with talent to become internationals of the highest caliber, and Shaw is certainly one of those. Against Denmark he took everything in his stride and surged forward on many occasions from left back like he does for his club side. On Saturday in Saints’ narrow win over Crystal Palace, predictably Shaw was solid as a rock and hugely impressive going forward.

18 years old, living the dream in the Premier League and possibly on his way to Brazil, Shaw’s one of the hottest properties in England’s top-flight and is a future, if not present, star of the PL.

Now, can Southampton hold onto him as Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United try to out-bid each other?

SHERWOOD’S TIME UP AT THE LANE? ARE SPURS FOR REAL….

It seems ridiculous to be talking about yet another change of manager at White Hart Lane, but that’s looking more and more likely as the current season plays out. Tim Sherwood was handed the Spurs job on a caretaker basis to start with after the sudden sacking of Andre Villas-Boas earlier in the campaign. However after leading Spurs to several wins and swashbuckling performances Sherwood was handed a permanent contract, albeit a very short 18-month deal, to manager Spurs.

After their 4-0 battering against Chelsea on Saturday, Sherwood has admitted he doesn’t know what to expected at the end of the season, as rumors of Louis van Gaal and Michael Laudrup taking charge have not been batted away by Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy.

“The silence is deafening, isn’t it?” Sherwood said. “It’s up to Daniel. I didn’t know if he was at the game or not. Maybe he was traveling. It’s up to the club to make the decision. One thing I can guarantee people is that no one cares more than me. I want the team to do very well and it hurts me when they don’t. I’m afraid I need people in that dressing room to be hurting like I am. I never want to be a number two. I’d be no good, I’m too opinionated. I wouldn’t want to do the job.”

What makes Sherwood coming under intense scrutiny even more ridiculous is that Tottenham have been vastly improved since he took over. His record as a PL manager reads played 13, won seven, lost three, drawn three. Two of the three defeats have been blowout losses to Manchester City and Chelsea, the league’s top two teams after Spurs had a man sent off and penalties were given against them in both matches.

(MORE: Does Tim Sherwood deserve more credit for reviving Spurs?)

Is that really Sherwood’s fault? Tottenham are desperate to finish in the top four, but with defeat to Chelsea that looks increasingly like Spurs’ shot at bringing Champions League soccer to White Hart Lane next season is over. 6-0 and 5-1 defeats to Man City, a 4-0 hammering by Chelsea and a 5-0 loss to Liverpool shows that despite all their spending Spurs are miles away from the current top four in the PL. Sherwood may not be the man to help with that, but it’s harsh to blame the firefighter who arrived midway through the season and has done a pretty remarkable job thus far.

FA CUP 2014: ARSENAL’S TO LOSE

In case you hadn’t noticed, this weekend we have a pretty light schedule in the PL. That was down to four Premier League teams involved in FA Cup quarterfinal matches… and now only two remain as the semifinal field at Wembley is set. Wigan Athletic shocked Manchester City to set up a semifinal clash with Arsenal, who beat Everton 4-1 at the Emirates, while Sheffield United (the first third-tier side to reach the semis since Wycombe in 2001) face Hull City in the other semifinal after they overcame Charlton and Sunderland respectively.

(MORE: Arsenal 4-1 Everton – Gunners book FA Cup semifinal spot)

The FA Cup is often deemed a poisoned chalice by PL managers and players, as a decision is made early in the competitions whether or not to go all out to win it. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has done just that and it’s pay dividends. As other PL big dogs have fallen by the wayside and paid the price for giving their reserves a run out, Arsenal have faced Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton on the road to Wembley… they simply haven’t had a chance to rest their big stars.

If you’d told Gunners fans at the start of the season they would finish in the top four and win an FA Cup title, the vast majority would’ve snap your hands off. Arsenal’s best chance of winning silverware since 2005 has arrived. They’d be fools to blow this.

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

WORLD CUP: Uruguay striker Suarez seeking redemption

Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) Uruguay’s priority will be keeping Luiz Suarez tamed at this year’s World Cup.

After the striker was expelled from the 2014 tournament in disgrace for biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini, Uruguay was eliminated by Colombia in the round of 16.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings ]

Suarez promises he is a reformed character and will be better behaved in Russia than in Brazil, where he scored twice before being banned.

“It was my mistake,” Suarez said. “So I have a debt to repay to myself and Uruguay, to try to show a good image.”

Things were already starting to look brighter for two-time World Cup champion Uruguay, based on qualifying at least.

After enduring four consecutive World Cup playoffs and only reaching three of the tournaments, Uruguay secured an automatic place in Russia by finishing second behind Brazil in qualifying.

Here’s a closer look at the Uruguay team:

COACH

Oscar Tabarez will lead Uruguay into his fourth World Cup after a first trip in 1990 followed by 2010 and 2014. A Tabarez team has always made it out of the group stage, including a semifinal appearance in South Africa eight years ago.

A former school teacher and professional player, Tabarez led Uruguay to the Copa America title in 2011. As a club coach, he led Penarol to the Copa Libertadores title in 1987 and Boca Juniors to an Argentine league title in 1992.

The 71-year-old Tabarez has used a wheelchair since he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome in 2016.

GOALKEEPERS

There is little doubt Galatasaray goalkeeper Fernando Muslera will be between the posts for his third World Cup.

DEFENSE

The Atletico Madrid partnership of Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez also anchor the heart of Uruguay’s defense. Godin has made more than 100 appearances since his debut in 2005 and scored at his third World Cup with a header against Italy in 2014. The 23-year-old Gimenez offers a solid companion to a player nine years his senior and already has one World Cup under his belt.

Versatile Lazio wingback Martin Caceres should also be sure of a starting spot unless there is a recurrence of one of his frequent injuries.

MIDFIELDERS

Tabarez has always had doubts about his midfield’s attacking qualities. While the unit has usually been capable of defending well, the midfielders have often struggled to generate chances for the forwards.

During qualifying, Tabarez called up several young players who improved in this area: Federico Valverde (19), Nahitan Nandez (22) and Rodrigo Bentancur (20).

FORWARDS

Uruguay shouldn’t be short of goals. The strikers are the team’s greatest strength.

Suarez is Uruguay’s all-time leading scorer with 50 goals and is coming off the back of a strong season with Barcelona. Paris Saint-Germain forward Edinson Cavani is next on the list with 41, including a continent-leading 10 goals in 18 matches in South American qualifying.

GROUP GAMES

Uruguay, which will be based in Nizhny Novgorod, will face Egypt in its first match on June 15. That will be followed by matches against Saudi Arabia on June 20 and Russia on June 25.

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

LIVE, UCL semifinal: Liverpool v. Roma at Anfield

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Liverpool host AS Roma at Anfield in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semifinal on Tuesday, as Jurgen Klopp‘s men aim to get off to another fast start in a first leg to have one foot in the final.

Tuesday promises to be yet another memorable European night at Anfield.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

With Mohamed Salah leading the goalscoring charts in the Premier League with 31 goals and scoring 42 goals in all competitions this season, Klopp will hope the Egyptian wizard can blow away his former team.

As for Roma, they are similarly set up to attack and their main man is Edin Dzeko who helped the Italian giants overcome Barcelona in the quarterfinals following an incredible comeback from 4-1 down in the first leg to reach the final four.

Both Liverpool and Roma are admired for their attacking play and both are considered the underdogs to win the UCL with Bayern Munich facing Real Madrid in the other semifinal.

That said, when these two teams get hot, nobody can stop them.

Click on the link above to follow all of the action live, while we will have reaction and analysis from the clash at Anfield right here on Pro Soccer Talk.

Premier League player Power Rankings

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Here’s a look at the top 20 players in the Premier League right now.

[ MORE: Full Power Rankings archive ]

Players from Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City dominate our latest rankings after a busy seven days in the PL with midweek games and a funky schedule due to the FA Cup semifinal.

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League and based on them actually playing in the previous Matchweek. If they didn’t play due to injury or suspension, they aren’t going to make this list. Simple.

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections.


  1. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – Even
  2. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – Even
  3. David Silva (Man City) – Up 8
  4. Ashley Barnes (Burnley) – New entry
  5. Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal) – New entry
  6. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – Up 3
  7. Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace) – Down 4
  8. Alexandre Lacazette (Arsenal) – New entry
  9. Harry Kane (Tottenham) – Down 3
  10. David De Gea (Man United) – Down 3
  11. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) – Down 3
  12. Raheem Sterling (Man City) – New entry
  13. Jamie Vardy (Leicester City) – Down 9
  14. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool) – Down 4
  15. Paul Pogba (Man United) – Down 3
  16. Romelu Lukaku (Man United) – Down 3
  17. Jonjo Shelvey (Newcastle United) – Down 12
  18. Marko Arnautovic (West Ham) – Down 3
  19. Salomon Rondon (West Brom) – New entry
  20. N'Golo Kante (Chelsea) – New entry

Could Iniesta succeed at Manchester City

Getty Images
Leave a comment

It appears more likely with each passing day that Andres Iniesta will leave Barcelona at the end of the season.

The general feeling around Iniesta’s future is that he’ll either follow former teammate Xavi Hernandez to a club in Qatar or the United Arab Emirates, or follow Javier Mascherano to a club in China.

But according to reports in Spain, Iniesta has received a request from a manager who is inextricably linked with his career.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Per Diario AS, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has reached out to Iniesta to try and gauge the 33-year old’s interest in coming to England. It’s a surprising move, considering Iniesta has appeared to have lost a step, and while his skill on the ball is still world class, he hasn’t played as big of a role for Barcelona this season as in years past.

But the big question for Iniesta – as hard as it is to believe we’re asking this – is where he’d fit into the side, and who he’d push out.

If Guardiola sees Iniesta as part of his best XI, and Iniesta played his usual position on the left side of a midfield trio or at left wing, that would see either David Silva or Leroy Sane losing their spot in the team. That’s hard to see, considering how big of an impact those players had.

Sane has scored nine goals and dished out 12 assists in the Premier League while Silva has a nearly-identical stat line, with nine goals and 11 assists in league play.

However, if Guardiola, who played a very small squad this season, wants to have a world-class player to bring off the bench some games or spot start in the UEFA Champions League, he couldn’t do much better than signing Iniesta.

After being given time to adjust to the physicality of the Premier League, there’s no reason why, even at his advanced age, Iniesta can’t make a big impact in 25-30 games for Man City in the future. You can imagine the Spanish maestro setting up 10 to 15 goals and scoring a few himself as he plays for another title-winning side.

Of course, Iniesta likely won’t earn as much money with Man City as he would in the Arab world or in China, so he has a big decision to make coming up.

Iniesta won three La Liga titles, two Copas Del Rey, two UEFA Champions League and two FIFA Club World Cup titles under Guardiola as Barcelona shined as the best club in the world during that era. Iniesta also made UEFA’s Team of the Year all four years.

Perhaps reuniting with Guardiola can bring the best out of Iniesta once again.