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

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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.

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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.

Bundesliga wrap: Pulisic’s late winner sends BVB 3rd (video)

AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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While Bayern Munich continue to run away with their sixth straight Bundesliga title, the royal rumble over who’ll finish second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth — seven sides are currently separated by four points from second to eighth — rages on.

[ MORE: Man City make it 16 straight wins | Three studs, three duds ]

Stuttgart 0-1 Bayern Munich

You’ll quickly notice an emerging theme from Saturday’s games: late, result-altering goals.

Bayern dominated every phase of play the way they usually do, but were made to wait 79 minutes for a breakthrough. It was beginning to look as if their lead might shrink to seven points this weekend, but Thomas Mueller was more than happy to play the part of hero.

There was further heartbreak for Stuttgart, who then had a penalty kick saved by Lars Ulreich in the 93rd minute.

Borussia Dortmund 2-1 Hoffenheim

Dortmund have won back-to-back league games, for the first time since September, since firing manager Peter Bosz last week, and this one came courtesy of a certain, well-known American teenager.

Mark Uth put Hoffenheim ahead in the 21st minute, and Dortmund appeared to be headed for their first loss under new boss Peter Stoger. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang brought the home side back to level terms in the 63rd minute, but again, it seemed for the longest time that it wouldn’t be enough.

Then came the 89th minute, time for Christian Pulisic to shine. The presence of mind to flick the ball over the goalkeeper with his first touch, the control to drop the ball exactly where he wanted it on the other side, the quick feet to maneuver his way around the ‘keeper. The euphoric feeling as he slams the ball into an empty net.

Eintracht Frankfurt 2-2 Schalke

Schalke are making something of a routine out of falling behind by multiple goals, only to roar back to life and rescue a point in the game’s dying moments. First, there was the comeback from 4-0 against Dortmund. Today, the hill to climb was halved in size, but the point won is no less significant.

After falling 1-0 behind in the 1st minute and 2-0 behind in the 64th, Domenico Tedesco’s side got goals from Breel Embolo in the 81st minute and Naldo — scorer of the final goal in that 4-4 thriller — in the 94th.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away Pts
 Bayern Munich 17 13 2 2 37 11 26 7-1-0 6-1-2 41
 FC Schalke 04 17 8 6 3 28 21 7 5-3-1 3-3-2 30
 Borussia Dortmund 17 8 4 5 39 24 15 4-1-3 4-3-2 28
 RB Leipzig 16 8 4 4 25 22 3 5-2-0 3-2-4 28
 Moenchengladbach 17 8 4 5 27 28 -1 5-2-2 3-2-3 28
 Bayer Leverkusen 16 7 6 3 30 19 11 4-4-0 3-2-3 27
 1899 Hoffenheim 17 7 5 5 27 22 5 5-3-1 2-2-4 26
 Eintracht Frankfurt 17 7 5 5 20 18 2 2-2-4 5-3-1 26

Elsewhere in the Bundesliga

Augsburg 3-3 Freiburg
Werder Bremen 2-2 Mainz
Cologne 1-0 Wolfsburg

Sunday’s Bundesliga schedule

Hannover vs. Bayern Leverkusen — 9:30 a.m. ET
RB Leipzig vs. Hertha Berlin — 12 p.m. ET

Three stars, three duds from Man City 4-1 Spurs

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Spoiler alert: Our three stars and three dudes from Man City’s 4-1 demolition of Spurs fall neatly along club lines.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things from the Etihad ]

Three stars

  1. Kevin De Bruyne — Short of Lionel Messi, is anyone anywhere near the Belgian’s level right now? The passing, the shooting, the resilience in the face of constant fouling; KDB is a magician.
  2. Leroy Sane — The 21-year-old has more than justified his $62 million price tag — as much as such a thing can be justified — with terrific service, blinding pace, and wise reading of the game.
  3. Ilkay Gundogan — His header ushered City in front and he could’ve scored a second, but the ex-Borussia Dortmund man was a marshall in the middle of the park.

Three duds

  1. Dele Alli — Hasn’t scored since bagging a brace against Real Madrid on Nov. 1, and had miserable positioning when Gundogan headed home the opener. Then stamped Kevin De Bruyne with an outrageous blade in the second half. Not being sent off is hilarious;
  2. Kieran Trippier — For as dangerous as Trippier can be moving forward, he was out to lunch as Leroy Sane and Kevin De Bruyne — might wanna mark them, fella — raced down the left to make it 2-0 City.
  3. Hugo Lloris — Spurs’ sensational goalkeeper didn’t have many moments in him at the Etihad Stadium, dribbled around for the final goal.

Three things we learned from Man City’s win v. Spurs

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MANCHESTER — The juggernaut that is Manchester City shows no signs of slowing down as they beat Tottenham Hotspur 4-1 to extend their record-breaking run of victories. 

As the freezing fog rolled in and hung over the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, there was nothing misty about Man City’s play. Clarity remained as Pep Guardiola‘s men secured their 16th consecutive win in the Premier League with minimal fuss thanks to a goals from Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne and a double from Raheem Sterling.

The Premier League leaders missed a penalty kick and both Harry Kane and Dele Alli could have been sent off as City stretched their lead atop the Premier League table to 14 points.

Here’s what we learned from the Etihad.


THE OLD SWITCHEROO

Man City played like Tottenham and Tottenham tried to play like Man City on Saturday.

City perfected the high-press in the first half, putting the usually unflappable Hugo Lloris under pressure with several skewed clearances to show for it. They continued that ruthless pressing in the second, even though Tottenham predictably had a spell where they dominated possession at the start of the second half.

Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane squeezed Spurs’ back four high and the rest of the team followed. Spurs looked dangerous on a few breakaways when they did manage to manipulate the ball away from their own box but City were relentless and they taught Tottenham, so often the masters of the high-press, a lesson in how to strangle your opponents.

City’s incredible winning run owes plenty to their incredible individual ability on the ball, but their relentless work rate without the ball is often overlooked.

Their 16-game winning streak shows no signs of stopping and they’re not only beating their rivals but humbling them.

They are the first team since the 1953-54 season to beat each of Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham in a top-flight season before the New Year. There is simply no stopping City.


DE BRUYNE DELIVERS AS CITY ROAR ON

With David Silva missing this clash due to “personal reasons” it was up to Kevin de Bruyne to run the show in central midfield without his partner in crime. He did it admirably, as we all thought the runaway leader for the Premier League Player of the Year would.

Dominating proceedings in the game with his sublime range of passing, the Belgian ace clipped killer balls behind Spurs’ defense on multiple occasions in the first half with incredible ease.

With City leading 1-0, he was then clattered by Dele Alli with a studs up challenge worthy of a red card. You do not want to make de Bruyne angry. How did he respond?

De Bruyne picked himself up and on the next attack drove into the box and smashed a left-footed effort past Lloris. He then showed his class by holding up 21 to salute Silva. Moments later he won a penalty kick (which Gabriel Jesus missed) and he helped City ease to victory with flicks and tricks galore.

He is on another planet.


DELE ALLI THE ENIGMA

Dele Alli hasn’t scored in his last seven Premier League games but aside from his reduced offensive output, you can tell something isn’t quite right with the reigning PFA Young Player of the Year.

This was supposed to be Dele’s year. He’s shown his class in spurts this season with a double against Real Madrid in the Champions League and fine display against Liverpool in the PL, but it’s happened all too often.

He is just 21 years old. We should remember that. His form over the past two seasons at Tottenham have rightly seen him labeled as one of the most promising midfield prospects in Europe.

His lunging tackle on Kevin de Bruyne said it all. He looks frustrated and low in confidence and was upset at being hauled off in recent games as his drought continues. Dele was also subbed late in this thrashing for Spurs with jeers coming from all around the Etihad.

Dele Alli can get out of this rut, but there’s no denying he’s hit the toughest patch of his career so far.

Sweet Sixteen: Man City clobbers Spurs

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  • Gundogan opens scoring off corner
  • De Bruyne rips insurance goal off Lloris
  • Sterling salts it away (x2)
  • City’s PL record win streak reaches 16

Manchester City wasn’t at its best, but still waltzed past Tottenham Hotspur in a 4-1 win at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

[ MORE: 3 things from JPW at the Etihad ]

Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, and Raheem Sterling (two) scored for Man City, which also missed a penalty kick in the win. City moves 14 points clear of second placed Manchester United and Chelsea.

It could’ve been worse, as awful tackles from Harry Kane and Dele Alli were somehow not given as straight red card. Spurs finish the day seventh, two points behind fourth placed Arsenal. Christian Eriksen scored Spurs lone goal in the third minute of stoppage.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Everything Pep Guardiola touches turns to gold, and starting Gundogan looked a stroke of genius when he took advantage of poor marking from Dele Alli to head a Leroy Sane corner kick home.

Hugo Lloris stymied Sergio Aguero on a 24th minute shot, and Raheem Sterling worked Kieran Trippier but failed to beat the keeper on the rebound.

Aguero dragged a 33rd minute shot wide of the far post as City kept pushing for an insurance goal.

Invisible for most of the first half hour, Kane came close to tying it up with a curling shot in the 35th.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Kane was fortunate not to be sent off for a studs up tackle into the leg of Sterling early in the second half.

The English striker forced Ederson into a 55th minute save and Spurs had a corner.

Not to be outdone, Dele should’ve been sent off for a stamp on Kevin De Bruyne in the 68th. He saw yellow.

The Belgian got his revenge within moments, played down the left wing and lashing a shot off Lloris and into the goal.

De Bruyne was then scythed down for a penalty, but Gabriel Jesus‘ short run-up clattered off the post and Sterling mailed the rebound over the gaping cage.

The third goal came via Sterling at the back post, as Spurs had no answers for the PL leaders, and Sterling’s second came off an awful gaffe from Spurs at the back.