Strength of schedule matters. Since this should go without saying, I risk entering the realm of mansplaining just by bringing it up, but it’s something often overlooked this early in the season, even if this point in the season is where an easy schedule will have its biggest influence.
Just look at the top of each conference. In the East, you have a Houston team that’s been able to rack up six points and a plus-five difference with home games against the Revolution and Impact. This weekend’s results in New England and Montréal only reinforced the idea that the standings (and, our rankings) may have overvalued Houston’s hot start.
It’s the same story in the West. FC Dallas has seven points in three games, but its wins have come against Montréal and Chivas USA. Óscar Pareja’s team got a point in Kansas City, but it was against a Sporting squad that’s been juggling commitments. Dallas deserves credit for their start, but proper credit considers their level of competition.
As games go by and we learn more about teams, perceptions need to be adjusted. In Week 1, Vancouver blew out New York, a result that earned them a spot high in our rankings. With time we’ve seen the Red Bulls’ struggles go beyond one game. And with Houston, that 4-0 win on opening night over New England looked different once the Revs went their next 180 minutes without a goal.
It works the other way, too. Toronto’s win in Seattle looks better after the Sounders’ performance in Quebec, while Sporting’s 1-0 over San Jose looks very good when you consider that same team took a Champions League semifinalist to penalty kicks three nights before.
The point: We need to stay mentally nimble in this early portion of the calendar. The unknowns vastly outnumber the knows, part of the reason teams keep jumping around this table.
Here’s our Power Ranking, after Week 3 of the MLS season:
Toronto FC: A day after TFC’s win over D.C. United, I was still not on board with moving them to the top of this list. A second viewing of the game convinced me. A one-goal loss was the best possible result for D.C. United, and while D.C. is the worst team int he league, in all phases of the game, Toronto was much better. Their performance exceeded a 1-0. Combine that form with a win at CenturyLink and Toronto is clearly off to the league’s best start. (2-0-0)
Real Salt Lake: Even after their slip on Saturday, RSL still fairs well in the test that matters to this list: If they play tomorrow, neutral field, who wins? I know the cosmic law of Power Rankings says a team with two straight draws shouldn’t be this high, but when I watched those San Jose and LA draws, I didn’t see a team that’s so incredibly vulnerable. I saw a team that had two difficult games against tough opponents. Granted, one of those games was at home, but it will take more than a Robbie Keane counterattack (and, some late match fatigue) to make RSL look worse than the other 17 teams on this list. (1-0-2)
Columbus Crew: With the possible exception of central defense, the Crew look incredible right now. Every person in Gregg Berhalter’s starting XI has such a strong, specific idea of what they’re supposed to do – a cognizance that’s most evident in their midfield. Wil Trapp’s the anchor, Tony Tchani’s the shuttler, while Federico Higuaín’s the creator. Thanks in no small part to Tchani (an unsung hero on Saturday), the threesome maintains a balance that centers the team, a virtue that allowed the Crew to defeat a strong Union squad. (2-0-0)
Sporting Kansas City: Kansas City has so many asterisks, it’s impossible to feel good about this ranking. On Saturday, the team was still resting players (Matt Belser, Uri Rosell, C.J. Sapong), playing on short rest, and facing a quality opponent. At the same time, this team needs to start generating more chances. Against San Jose, there were enough opportunities before Dom Dwyer’s goal to make me believe the attack’s coming around. Besides, the team Sporting was going up against had Victor Bernardez and Clarence Goodson in central defense. (1-1-1)
Philadelphia Union: Saturday’s game was great – by far the best game of the week. Both teams, so drastically improved since last year, played at a level that would have beaten most teams in the league. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, they happened to be visiting another of the league’s better sides, but if you look at the first 15 minutes and the quarter-hour that begins at the 60-minute mark, you’ll see the quality Philadelphia brings to this spot. (1-1-1)
Houston Dynamo: Dom Kinnear’s team didn’t play, but we learned more about their start. The two teams they played (and, played at BBVA Compass) are a combined 0-5-1 through six games, with neither team producing a win at home this weekend. We need to see Houston against better teams before we’re so sure this perfect record goes beyond an easy schedule. (2-0-0)
Seattle Sounders: Here’s the difficulty with the Sounders: They just played their best game of the season but did so playing a formation (4-3-3) they’re unlikely to employ when Clint Dempsey and Brad Evans are available. That midfield that performed so well in Montréal? Two of its three parts will be on the bench when a full squad is available. I want to rank the Sounders higher, but when I ask myself how Saturday’s result informs how the team will fair forward, I’m not sure which Sounders team to judge. The one that played on Saturday was better than the one we’ve seen to this point in the season, but it’s also not Seattle’s preferred setup. (2-1-0)
FC Dallas: Pros – most points in the league; MLS’s best attack; Mauro Díaz and Fabian Castillo; a set-up that is going to give Castillo and Je-Vaughn Watson a chance to embarrass defenders all year. Cons – their schedule; their defense; not knowing whether Watson can maintain Saturday’s level all season. (2-0-1)
LA Galaxy: A draw in Sandy should normally move a team up the rankings, but this early in the season, with enough teams making big leaps (Columbus, Dallas), LA still managed to slip. The defense looks better with A.J. DeLaGarza in the middle, with Todd Duivant’s return to the starting lineup also giving Galaxy fans hope the back four can be stabilized. We’ll have to wait and see how often Bruce Arena goes with a midfield diamond, though. That may have been one part opponent (RSL), one part resting players. (0-1-1)
San Jose Earthquakes: Chris Wondolowski’s late miss in Kansas City may have cost the Earthquakes a point, but a 1-0 loss at Sporting is nothing to fret over. A bigger concern may be getting the team’s two-man midfield working together. Right now, it’s too much of the same between Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi and Sam Cronin. At times it felt like all three Sporting midfielders could do whatever they wanted in the space between Wondo and the Earthquakes midfielders. (0-1-1)
Colorado Rapids: If Columbus-Philadelphia was the weekend’s best game, Colorado-Portland was the worst. Neither team looked good, with the Rapids eventually breaking the game open after Donovan Ricketts got himself sent off. If the Timbers’ keeper doesn’t do his Street Fighter impression instead of staying calm on his clearance, that game ends 0-0. Instead, Colorado gets a win and, thanks to other teams, a small bump on this list. (1-0-1)
Vancouver Whitecaps: Another uninspiring performance on the road is rewarded with a point thanks to David Ousted, whose first half save on Andy Dorman rivals Troy Perkins’ Sunday stop for weekend’s best. Ultimately, however, the result recommends Vancouver more than the form, something that’s worrisome going forward. Fortunately, the Whitecaps get to make their tweaks while enjoying an unbeaten start. (1-0-2)
Portland Timbers: The Timbers have had 270 minutes to tempt us. Now, we’re inching toward conclusions, mostly based on their consistently teasing performances. The defending is fine but tends to have one or two big errors per game. Going forward, the team stills control play, but the only goals they’ve scored this year have been poached by Gastón Fernández. With Will Johnson and Diego Valeri yet to show their 2013 form, Portland has small questions at each level of the field, something that’s led to a poor start. (0-1-2)
Chivas USA: The 3-1 loss looks worse than it played out. Michel’s final goal insurance was a fluke deflection off the Chivas wall. At the same time, Chivas was clearly second best on Saturday, and while you can chalk that up to the absences of Bobby Burling and Agustín Pelletieri, it may also be the team regressing to their mean, a little. (1-1-1)
Chicago Fire: This may be a bit low, but given how bad New York (and, in hindsight, Portland) has been, it’s difficult to assign too much credit for Saturday’s performance. Chicago were the slightly better team, generating the better chances throughout, yet they were unable to find a winner against a team who, on current form, they should be beating at home. The central defense looked very good, and Jeff Larentowicz has had a strong start to the season. Mike Magee, however, doesn’t look like a two-in-three scorer. (0-1-2)
New York Red Bulls: That attacking midfielder Mike Petke so desperately wanted? The Red Bulls needed him on Saturday. They also needed a much better day from Tim Cahill, who couldn’t seem to stay onside or keep his hands off the ball (or, mark Jeff Larentowicz on a corner). The fullbacks look like a problem, but thanks to Luis Robles, Ibrahim Sekagya, and Dax McCarty, the Red Bulls were able to get out of Chicago with a point. (0-1-2)
New England Revolution: Just like on the field, New England’s progress in this ranking is small but noticeable. The team generated more chances on Saturday, but Teal Bunbury couldn’t do anything with them. The questions at the back went untested, largely because of improved play in midfield. New England earned its first point of the season, but as we said last week, the result is less important than the performance. The Revolution need to keep that momentum going into San Jose. (0-2-1)
Montréal Impact: It’s difficult to both praise Seattle and be down on Montréal, especially with Marco Di Vaio yet to play a minute for the Impact. But Hernan Bernardello and Patrice Bernier look redundant in midfield. Collen Warner is a non-factor when starting at left midfield, and the team has no consistent, non-Di Vaio way of generating chances. Saturday only added context to their two losses in Texas. (0-3-0)
D.C. United: Despite the improved result, D.C. shortcomings were still evident. The attack was ineffectual. The midfield did nothing to stop Michael Bradley and Jonathan Osario. A central defense pairing of Jeff Parke and Bobby Boswell seemed to spend as much time turned toward their own goal as facing the middle of the field. The team spent big for Eddie Johnson and have no way to get him the ball. (0-2-0)
Van Gaal, 64, wants his side to beat Leicester this weekend so they can have an even bigger celebration at the King Power Stadium the following weekend against Everton when they will likely win the Premier League.
He’s a sly old fox. No pun intended.
Anyway, with United pushing for a top four finish after winning six of their last eight games in the PL, Van Gaal is adamant his team must win on Sunday to deny Leicester the one win they need to secure the title.
“I think we have to beat Leicester because we are still in the race for the first positions, so we have to beat them,” Van Gaal said. “We cannot allow that they are the champions this weekend at Old Trafford. I think they shall be the champion a week later, so we don’t spoil the party, just postpone it a little bit.
“I was the first who said that they could be champions and now a presenter [Match of the Day’s Gary Lineker] has to wear underwear when they are the champions. For me it is not a surprise; I say that many, many times. I believe in team building and the manager has done that with this team. They had the circumstances to play always with the same team as they did not play so many matches as the other teams in the league, so it is always possible. It is good for the Premier League and the sport of football that not always the same teams are the champion.”
With Leicester missing Jamie Vardy, plus United losing just once at home against Leicester in the league in the last 44 years, the Red Devils will be confident of dashing the Foxes title hopes. At least for this week.
Week 36 of the 2015-16 Premier League season and this is the week we could have a brand new champion.
It all kicks off at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday as Stoke City hosting relegation battler Sunderland (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) to the Potteris. Can Sam Allardyce‘s side keep their good run going and grab a vital win in the race against the dreaded drop? At the same time fellow relegation rivals Newcastle United host Crystal Palace (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra) at St James’ Park. Former Magpies boss Alan Pardew will be the villain but the Magpies are three games unbeaten.
Rounding things off on Saturday, Arsenal welcome Norwich City (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra) to the Emirates Stadium. Arsene Wenger is under pressure from the fans as the Gunners are battling for a top four finish, while the Canaries are battling for their lives and are currently in the drop zone.
A busy Sunday sees three games back-to-back with Swansea hosting Liverpool (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) at the Liberty Stadium. The Reds are still chasing a top six finish but will be distracted by their Europa League exploits. Then, the big one. Leicester City head to Manchester United (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) knowing a win will win them the Premier League title. Can Claudio Ranieri‘s men clinch the PL trophy at Old Trafford?
Top six chasing Southampton then host top four hopefuls Manchester City at St Mary’s (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra). Will Ronald Koeman‘s men keep their good run going against a Man City side who drew with Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League semifinal in midweek?
Then, Week 36 finishes off on Monday with a massive London derby. Tottenham know that if Leicester slip up at Manchester United, then they will need at least a win or a draw at Chelsea on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) to keep the title race alive. Can Mauricio Pochettino‘s men capitalize on any slip up from the Foxes to keep the title race going?
Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.
FULL TV SCHEDULE
10 a.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Sunderland – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Newcastle United vs. Crystal Palace – USA [STREAM] 10 a.m. ET: Watford vs. Aston Villa – Premier League Extratime [STREAM] 10 a.m. ET: Everton vs. Bournemouth – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Brom vs. West Ham – Premier League Extratime [STREAM] 12:30 p.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Norwich – NBC [STREAM]
7 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Liverpool – NBCSN [STREAM]
9:05 a.m. ET: Manchester United vs. Leicester City – NBCSN [STREAM] 11:30 a.m. ET: Southampton vs. Manchester City – NBCSN [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur – NBCSN [STREAM]
Multiple reports claim that Everton’s board of directors is meeting on Friday to discuss the future of manager Roberto Martinez among many other things.
With new majority shareholder Farshad Moshiri now in charge and the Toffees languishing in a disappointing 11th place, plus losing in the FA Cup semifinal against Manchester United last weekend, the pressure continues to mount on Martinez.
The Spanish manager is in his third season in charge at Goodison and after guiding the Merseyside club to fifth-place in his first season, then 11th last season with a run to the Europa League Round of 16 curtailing their league form, a disjointed campaign in 2015-16 could spell the end for him at Everton.
But who would take over from Martinez?
With Moshiri set to spend big this summer on new players and the club already possessing talented youngsters such as John Stones, Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku, there will be plenty of interested suitors. Everton’s history is all about playing attacking soccer which Martinez has carried on but this season their poor home form and woeful defensive displays have shown that the Spaniard is losing his touch and the respect of the dressing room.
Below are the five bookies favorites to become the next manager at Goodison Park should Martinez leave this summer. By the way, the bookies rarely get it wrong and Martinez is the favorite to be the next PL manager to leave.
Here’s a look at the contenders who could take charge at Everton.
He lives within an easy commute to Finch Farm and the Chilean will be looking for a new job this summer as he steps away from Manchester City. Cool, calm and able to cultivate an attractive style of play, this seems like a very good fit at a very good time for both the club and Pellegrini. He’s the favorite to take over.
Ah, who said never go back? Moyes is still loved at Everton but the way he left for Manchester United has left a sour taste in the mouth of some Evertonians. The Scotsman would bring stability back to Goodison but shouldn’t both parties be looking for something new?
Perhaps the brightest young talent in England, the 38-year-old has all-but secured safety for Bournemouth in their debut season in the PL. A young, hungry manager who loves to play attractive, attacking soccer, Howe could be a great dark horse for this job. That said, it would take a huge contract offer to tempt him away from his special connection with Bournemouth. You get the sense it may be a year or two early for Howe.
The Dutchman has already stated he wants to remain at Southampton for the third and final year of his initial contract but he will hold talks this summer to see if his ambitions are matched by the the club. If they aren’t, maybe Everton’s war chest will tempt the legendary Dutchman? Another manager who loves to play attacking soccer but he has a little more defensively solidity to his teams.
Seems like Hughes could be at a crossroads following his third season in charge at Stoke. How much further can he take the Potters? Will he be able to work with better players at Everton and get more transfer funds? His stock has risen considerably with Stoke set to achieve yet another top 10 finish under Hughes. A solid option.
Barring the most ridiculous finish in ages, one more absurd than the Foxes’ run to get here, Leicester will be the Premier League champions. From Ted Lasso quip to the UEFA Champions League… what is going on here?
PST’s staff discusses.
Nick Mendola: Obviously this Leicester City run is very difficult to describe and even harder to put in perspective. So let’s start here: What is your favorite thing about this remarkable Foxes season?
Joe Prince-Wright: My favorite thing about this season has to be seeing the looks on the faces of Leicester’s fans. Having been at the KP and in and around the city on a match day, it is electric. Everyone is smiling, the team has given them so much joy and to me, that’s what sport and football is about. The fans. The atmosphere they generate leaves the stadium shaking, mini earthquakes have been recorded nearby and the players have all responded to the incredible support.
Although it’s been wonderful to see the gentleman that is Claudio Ranieri work his magic with a squad many had pegged for relegation at the start of the season, seeing the overjoyed reaction of Leicester fans young and old has been my favorite thing. You can tell they are in dreamland.
Kyle Bonn: I can’t get enough of Claudio. Let’s not kid ourselves, Leicester has been the beneficiary of a cannibalistic league season and a spotless bill of health (which can’t be understated). But the way Ranieri has brought a band of professional athletes together to fight for one another is unparalleled in this profession. Jose Mourinho was often hailed as an expert in manipulating the media to his benefit. Ranieri instead has proven a mastermind in player psychology. His tactics have also been world-class this season, but seeing him bring this squad together through plenty of adversity is marvelous.
NM: I’ve stopped worrying about the American sports equivalent of Leicester, because salary caps sure stop the comparison from being interesting at all. But I do wonder who is the U.S. sports version of Claudio Ranieri, N’Golo Kante, and Jamie Vardy? Which coach over here could say some of the things Ranieri did — think “Dilly Ding, Dilly Dong” — and not be laughed out of the room as “not serious enough”? Culture clash, sure, but this guy is a special breed.
Matt Reed: I think it’s interesting how people have tried to compare Leicester’s improbable run to other sports, but realistically I love their story because we’ve never seen a Leicester before. You’re talking about a team that has only two multi-goal losses all season. Even in what some may consider a down season in the PL, that is still something to tip your hat to. Then, there’s obviously the players. You have guys like Christian Fuchs, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, who all wear their heart on their sleeve and you can truly see their raw emotions when they play. What’s not to like about this team?
NM: The thing about a new ‘power’ is that there isn’t a lot of real emotional tumult when they win, especially when you consider that rivals in Nottingham Forest and Derby County aren’t even in the Premier League. And the marvelous thing for other teams’ supporters, aside from Arsenal and Spurs, is that they can take this sort of pride in Leicester’s story like, “My club didn’t win this year, but a mostly inoffensive side has done it! Take that, other teams I hate.”
And aside from some referee’s decisions and Jamie Vardy’s unfortunate casino incident, there’s such little controversy.
KB: Well, Claudio Ranieri reminds me a lot of Lon Kruger. Maybe not with some of the funny stuff he says, because Kruger isn’t known for that, but think about it. Lon is a player’s coach who is loved by every fan base he’s touched. He’s come close to championships (2 Final Fours, 1 Elite 8) but has never won one. And he’s always wearing a smile. They’re very similar to me. I hope Lon wins a title someday because he deserves it, and Ranieri deserves this one this year.
As far as the players, it’s hard to say. Kurt Warner comes to mind when thinking of Vardy’s improbable rise, but their personalities don’t really line up. Kante can be likened to a guy like Howard Griffith. A 9th round draft pick, Griffith ended up as a bruiser out of the backfield, a guy who wasn’t a big name given that he was lining up behind future Hall of Famer John Elway and lead blocking for Broncos superstar Terrell Davis, but he was a crucial part of that offense in the trenches and ended up scoring 2 touchdowns in Super Bowl XXXII, one of 2 Super Bowls he’d win.
KB: I have a question for everyone that I also think makes for a fascinating topic:
Will Leicester have staying power at the top of the league, or will they suffer a quick demise?
I hate that I’m saying this, but I think their time at the top is short-lived. Countless teams new to the top have found the fixture congestion with European play impossible to navigate, and Leicester’s bill of health this season was practically unparalleled. Nobody got hurt. There’s no way their fortune remains that high through next year. Depth is nearly impossible for many smaller clubs to attain, so I think they may be doomed. I hope I’m wrong.
MR: I think you bring up a great point, Kyle. I’ve been asking myself this all season long, and I think this also plays into how special their season is. They could very well be a one hit wonder considering the coaching additions of Conte and Guardiola at Chelsea and City. You’d imagine there will be retooling jobs with Man United, Arsenal and Liverpool as well.
In most cases, outside of Messi and Ronaldo, one or two players don’t make a team but in Leicester’s case I think Vardy and Mahrez do. You can throw Kante in there as well. I’m not sure if they’ll be able to keep all these guys, but if they don’t this has been one heck of a ride.
JPW: I was with you on this theory for quite some time, Kyle. And although I don’t think Leicester will repeat this season or even finish in the top four again… I think they have the financial muscle of their Thai-based owners to really go out and spend big and potentially make it out of the UCL group stage next season. After all, with the way the tournament seeds are now picked, Leicester will be a top seed. In theory, they should make it to the last 16. Should be some memorable European nights at the KP.
The biggest concern is adding too many players this summer. They have to get the balance right. Throwing this out there to the group: what if they sold Mahrez, Kante and Vardy this summer? How disappointing would that be? Or is that the harsh reality of the big boys having more cash? For me, I can’t understand why they’d pass up the opportunity to see this through and stay one more season to play in the Champions League with Leicester. I know money talks… But come on!
NM: There are similarities to a sophomore slump in other sports here. On top of Leicester’s issues dealing with the European schedule, the Foxes also have to negotiate the opposition spending all summer learning what worked best against them.
Kante is their MVP, and he’s going to fetch Leicester a load of dough. I have concerns whether he can go at his breakneck pace and physical play without facing injury woes (long-term). They should cash in on a 29-year-old Vardy to be honest and do whatever they can to hold onto Mahrez. Then find someone to slot in next to Drinkwater — maybe Idrissa Gueye, who’s been massively overlooked because Aston Villa has been a trash tornado — and find a pair of hard-working strikers to help adapt and stay in the top half.
It will be very difficult, but it won’t be hard for the club to stay in the mix for European qualification. In a way, though, that makes the story even better. This is a perfect storm, a force of nature, not a manufactured storm like Blackburn in the mid-1990s.
Kyle Lynch: I think you also have to remember how poor the rest of the league was this season. Teams dropped a lot of points you wouldn’t expect, and it’s hard to imagine things don’t shift a little bit back to “normal” next year.
With the money coming in this summer, you know the top teams are going to spend big, and Leicester shouldn’t be afraid to either. But what makes Leicester so great is their spirit and togetherness as a team, so the ownership has to be careful not to disrupt that. With Champions League matches and the uncertainty of injuries, I don’t know if they’ll be playing in Europe for more than one season.
NM: The rub on Kyle’s point here has two big points.
1) Leicester will need to start well and pile up points before the Champions League group stage begins, and they’ll likely have to do it while integrating new players. It’s easy to forget that the Foxes didn’t find their true title form until Ranieri found Kante’s spot on the pitch (He started on the left, and also played a bit more advance before settling alongside Drinkwater).
2) It’s not just the big boys seeing that influx of money. Clubs like Swansea, Stoke, Southampton and Everton all have zero reason not to spend more than their usual. That’s also why being one of the 20 clubs in the league next season is so critical for all the Championship promotion chasers, and the three teams hoping to avoid one of the final two relegation spot.
But now we’re talking way too much about the future. The title’s not even clinched yet! What a year… and what could still remain in the Leicester City tale?