Quick Six: Liverpool snares first, hitting mute on Mourinho, and the rest of the weekend’s PL headlines

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1. Reds’ rise: Liverpool claims first place

The Quick Six has been cautious about Liverpool’s title credentials, mostly because, as pundits were trumpeting the Reds’ chances two months ago, there were too many obstacles to consider Liverpool likely title-winners. Fast forward to the end of March, however, and all of those hurdlers have fallen. Chelsea lost their second in three, Manchester City were tripped up at Arsenal, and Brendan Rodgers’ team — a club that has yet to claim a title in the Premier League era — continues to be England’s form side. After its 4-0 win Sunday over Tottenham, Liverpool is in first place, having taken 35 of a possible 39 points in 2014.

Unless you’re a Liverpool fan, it’s difficult to fathom what a title would mean to the club. This is a team that was the uncontested kings of English soccer until the Premier League era saw that crow move east. Now, during the same season when Manchester United has ceased being a title contender, Liverpool is back, and unexpectedly so. While Reds fans hoped  Rodgers could eventually return the club to this level, nobody expected it to happen so soon.

They still have to face Manchester City and Chelsea, but the Reds get both of those matches at home. While nobody would be surprised to see teams of City and Chelsea’s talent get something at Anfield, Liverpool has control of its title fate. With six games left, the underdogs may now be the favorites.

2. Underdogs again Chelsea’s undoing

Consider Chelsea’s last three league games: a 1-0 loss at 12th place Aston Villa; a six-goal win over fourth place Arsenal; and a one-goal loss at 16th place Crystal Palace. It’s as uneven a run as you’ll see from any team, going from routing former title contenders to losing at relegation battlers. But just as last Arsenal’s collapse last week was less surprising than merely an unspoken possibility, Chelsea’s stumble at Selhurst Park was more disappointing (for Blues fans) than a shock. Unfortunately, this team has always had results like this in it.

José Mourinho says his team is out of the title race. We’ll diving into that further in moment, but he’s right to be skeptical of his team’s chances. After the 1-0 loss at Palace, Chelsea is two points behind Liverpool, with the Reds destined to win the goal difference tiebreaker. Even if the Blues track them down, they also have to hold off Manchester City, who trail by only two points yet have two games in hand.

The easiest route to a title: win at Anfield on Apr. 27; hope City didn’t do the same on Apr. 13. But Chelsea also have games against Stoke, Swansea, Sunderland, Norwich and Cardiff. Over the last three weeks, those types of match ups have been the real problem.

3. Mourinho comments highlight inanity of manager fixation

There’s no sport where the role of manager is as glorified as it is in soccer, part of the reason we fixate on almost everything that comes out of their mouths. José Mourinho is the best example of this, with every quote that crosses the Portuguese’s lips landing in the headlines of London tabloids and worldwide blogs alike, but recently the Chelsea boss seems on a mission to prove how inane our fixation has become. As the season goes on, his comments become more and more absurd, as if he’s testing how ridiculous he can be before the media hits “Block”.

At least, that’s a more reasonable explanation for Mourinho’s behavior than ‘these are his honest thoughts.’

“I think now we have lost any chance of finishing first,” Mourinho said on Saturday. At the time, his team was in first place.

“We are not [contenders]. I don’t think it will happen: we depend too much on other results, and the other teams control what they need. I don’t think we can win the league now.”

If Chelsea win at Anfield while City draws, the Blues are back where they were two weeks ago: contenting, albeit regretting City’s games in hand. Of course, Mourinho didn’t think Chelsea were title contenders then, either.

It’s almost as if we should just stop listening to José Mourinho.

4. Draw at Emirates leaves both Arsenal, City losers

We’ve mentioned a potential Liverpool-City draw at Anfield as the best case scenario for Chelsea. It’s shorthand for “whatever hurts both teams most,” which happened to be the outcome this weekend at the Emirates. Though Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Manchester City was seen as a bit of a recovery for the Gunners, it was ultimately a setback in their fight to hold on to fourth place.

Consider where Everton sit after the Toffees’ 3-1 win at Fulham. They have a match in hand. They’re only four points back. They host Arsenal at Goodison Park this weekend, and they have form on their side. Whereas Arsenal is winless in its last three, Everton’s won five league matches in a row. Though the Toffees fell 4-1 the last time the teams met (March 8, the Emirates, FA Cup), Everton also earned a 1-1 in North London earlier this season. Unable to claim full points at home against City, Arsenal’s increased the odds of Everton snaring its Champions League spot.

The same skepticism can be applied to City, though. On one level, getting a result on the road against a top-four team is a positive, but City is the much better team. Coming off a trouncing at Chelsea and a home draw with Swansea, Arsenal’s  form had been fledgling. After going up early through David Silva, City should have found a way to claim full points. At least, they should have felt an urgency to do so.

In terms of the title race, it was a small setback for the Citizens, just as Arsenal’s chance to finish fourth was hurt, albeit slightly, by the result. Neither team is better off after Saturday’s result.

source: AP5. Moyes persists in his contrarianism

As if to illustrate Mourinho’s possible point (that we should never pay attention to what managers say), David Moyes has found a new level to his contrarianism. At season’s onset, he insisted his team was playing well in the face of diminishing results.With a slew of attacking talents, he’s persisted with a conservative style, recently attempting to regress Juan Mata to the wide player he was before exploding in England. Add in his view that his Red Devils could win Champions League (admittedly, an obligatory view) and there are no bounds to the man’s willingness to contradict conventional wisdom.

Friday’s bit of contrarianism may have taken the cake, though. In the face of news fans planned to fly a “Wrong One-Moyes Out” banner at Old Trafford, Moyes claimed to still have the backing of United’s supporters. He may have their sympathy, but as United’s results have gotten worse, he certainly hasn’t maintained their support. At this point, most Manchester United fans would probably support a change in manager, part of the reason protest banners are flying over Old Trafford.

Manchester United beat Villa 4-1, but as others have pointed out, there was a time when such results weren’t lauded as signs of progress. The Red Devils remain seventh, a state which, despite Moyes’ contrarianism, a different approach could have avoided.

6. Bottom three DRIFTING from the pack

As the title race heats up, the relegation race is cooling down, with none of what’s become a staid, predictable bottom three mounting a challenge. Even as one of the trio, Cardiff City, got a result this weekend, it was only a draw, and it came against the club the Bluebirds need to track down. Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s team is no closer to passing West Brom than it was before Saturday’s 3-3 draw.

For Fulham, the underlying play is more encouraging, but the results are not. The Cottagers remain in last place after Sunday’s 3-1 loss to Everton. Adding to its worries, Fulham’s -42 goal difference means it’s unlikely to win any tiebreakers. The five-point gap that separates it from 17th place West Brom may as well be six.

And then there’s Sunderland, a club that could look to the games played column and hold out hope. Ahead of the team’s Monday visit from West Ham, the Black Cats have two games in hand on the Baggies. The only problem: Given their current form, those games may be worthless. Sunderland’s runs in the League and FA Cups have helped obscure the fact the team hasn’t won in the Premier League since Feb. 1.

We have no idea who’s going to win this season’s title, but we’re starting to get a good idea who’s going down. None of Fulham, Sunderland, or Cardiff City have found a formula that will mount a challenge to West Brom. Even when one does make progress, as Cardiff did this weekend, they finish the round no better off than they were before.

Portland players Ridgewell, Gleeson arrested on DUI charges

PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 6: Adam Larsen Kwarasey #12 of Portland Timbers knocks the ball away from Kei Kamara #23 of Columbus Crew as Liam Ridgewell #24 and Nat Borchers #7 of Portland Timbers look on during the second half of the game at Providence Park on March 6, 2016 in Portland, Oregon. The Timbers won the match 2-1. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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LAKE OSWEGO, Ore. (AP) Portland Timbers goalkeeper Jake Gleeson and defender Liam Ridgewell face charges of driving under the influence after an accident in Lake Oswego, Oregon, on Monday night.

Gleeson and Ridgewell were booked into Clackamas County Jail and posted bond. Both are scheduled to appear in Lake Oswego Municipal Court on Nov. 16.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Police said Gleeson rear-ended another vehicle and called Ridgewell, who arrived later to help. Neither Gleeson nor the driver of the vehicle he hit was injured in the accident.

Gleeson, who is from New Zealand, faces charges of driving under the influence of intoxicants, reckless driving and reckless endangerment while Ridgewell, who is British, faces a DUII charge.

The team issued a statement Tuesday that said it has been in “close contact with the players, local law enforcement and the league office” and will not comment further until additional information is known.

The case for (and against) every Western Conference MLS playoff team

FC Dallas, 2016 Supporters Shield winners (Photo credit: FC Dallas / Facebook)
Photo credit: FC Dallas / Facebook
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On Monday, PST’s Nicholas Mendola made the case for (and against) the six sides vying for the Eastern Conference’s place in MLS Cup 2016. Today, I’ll do the same for the Western Conference.

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Real Salt Lake (6)

Why they could win it: Yura Movsisyan, Joao Plata and Juan Manuel “El Burrito” Martinez combine to form one of the league’s most terrifying attacking trios (25 goals, 17 assists combined) … when they’re at their best (more on that in the section below).

Why they won’t: Momentum. They have none. Seven games without a win to finish the regular season (three draws, four losses). Scored all of two goals in their final six games. Five straight losses on the road (last win: July 31), which is where they’ll be playing the LA Galaxy on Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET) in the knockout round. They never actually figured what to do at center back alongside Justen Glad — you simply can’t count on Jamison Olave or Chris Schuler to be healthy and stay on the field.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Going to the playoffs edition ]

Sporting Kansas City (5)

Why they could win it: They’ll outwork just about anyone in the midfield, which is a trait that typically translates to success in the playoffs. The core of the team — Benny Feilhaber, Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Dom Dwyer and a few others — have been there and won it all before. Realistically, they needed to win four points from their last two games to get into the playoffs, and that’s exactly what they did. There’s something to be said for that.

Why they won’t: Though they faced the fewest number of total shots during the regular season, they gave up way too many big chances due to catastrophic mistakes at the back and deep in midfield. The lack of a consistent scoring option beyond Dwyer (16 goals) makes them extremely one-dimensional as it’s too easy to cut off service to the lone man up top. A deep playoff run would have to look something like this: 1-0 win; 1-0 win in the first leg, 0-0 draw in the second leg; 1-0 win in the first leg, 0-0 draw in the second leg. Margin for error: extremely thin.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Seattle Sounders (4)

Why they’ll win it: Momentum. They have all of it. Since Brian Schmetzer took over as interim head coach on July 26, they’ve suffered just two defeats (eight wins, four draws). Nicolas Lodeiro was the best no. 10 in the league the day he arrived, and he’s been worth his weight in gold thus far (four goals, eight assists in 13 games). Jordan Morris gets stronger and stronger with each passing game, and that’s never the case with rookies. Cristian Roldan solved their problem deep in midfield, perhaps extending the career of Osvaldo Alonso by two or three years if they roll with the same setup in 2017.

Why they won’t: Have you ever seen what the Sounders do in the playoffs? I also still worry about Tyrone Mears and Joevin Jones at the two fullback spots. If teams can transition following a turnover quickly enough, they’ll find a ton of joy down either flank.

Alvaro Fernandez; Jordan Morris, Nicolas Lodeiro, Seattle Sounders (Photo credit: Seattle Sounders / Facebook)
(Photo credit: Seattle Sounders / Facebook)

[ MORE: The case for (and against) every team in the East ]

LA Galaxy (3)

Why could win it: They’re the Galaxy, and Bruce Arena is still their head coach. Giovani dos Santos enjoyed an otherworldly end to the summer (seven goals, seven assists from late-July to early-September). With Robbie Keane out injured for extended periods, this is now his team. Lost just once at home all season — combined with RSL’s road struggles, the Galaxy are a solid bet to get out of the knockout round. Oh, and Landon Donovan lives for the playoffs.

Why they won’t: What’s up with the midfield? Is it Baggio Husidic and no one else? Is Steven Gerrard going to be healthy? Is Jeff Larentowicz the answer? You do know Sebastian Lletget isn’t a defensive midfielder, right? They’re fine at the back, and still pretty scary on the attack (despite injuries — Gyasi Zardes), but you can’t overlook the total absence of a midfield.

[ MORE: Biggest 2016 disappointment — Portland or Columbus? ]

Colorado Rapids (2)

Why they’ll win it: 32 goals conceded during the regular season (fewest in MLS). No one has perfected the art of the 1-0 victory quite like Pablo Mastroeni’s Rapids. 60 minutes will go by, and you’ll have taken all of two shots, both from 35 yards out. One can’t begin to imagine how frustrating it must be to play against team. Home losses in 2016: zero.

Why they won’t: 39 goals scored during the regular season (second-fewest in MLS). If/when they go a goal down, they won’t be able to get back into the game against a Cup-contending side. Their margin of error in this regard is practically nonexistent. Jermaine Jones returned to action after nearly four months on the sideline (knee injury) over the weekend, but there’s no way he can be expected to contribute in a meaningful way on that kind of a turnaround, right? Right? Don’t count this team — or him — out. Seriously, don’t do it.

Pablo Mastroeni, Colorado Rapids (Photo credit: Colorado Rapids / Facebook)
(Photo credit: Colorado Rapids / Facebook)

[ MORE: Decision Day madness in the West | And in the East ]

FC Dallas (1)

Why they’ll win it: Here are two inarguable statements about FCD: they’re the most talented team in MLS; they’re the deepest team in MLS. Fabian Castillo was transferred two-thirds of the way through the season, and they didn’t skip a beat. They can play with pace; they can grind it out in ugly affairs; they can pummel you with set pieces. However you choose to force them to beat you, they’re happy to oblige. No one maximizes each and ever facet of the game quite like Oscar Pareja’s Hoops. Matt Hedges was far and away the best defender in MLS this year, and Walker Zimmerman, his center back partner, was top-five (-three?) himself. Maxi Urruti, Michael Barrios and Tesho Akindele complement each other wonderfully and give Pareja an infinite number of tactical tweaks to apply.

Why they won’t: Mauro Diaz is out for the season (torn achilles). That’s a massive blow for any team, even FCD. No one has a better feel for the tempo of the game — when to push it; when to ease off the gas — than Diaz, and FCD will inevitably play themselves into trouble a haldful of times each game without their guiding light. That’s it, though. On paper, priod to Diaz’s injury, it would have been nigh impossible to make a case against FCD completing the first treble in MLS history.

LIVE – EFL Cup: Liverpool vs. Tottenham headlines five ties

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27:  Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur in action during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at White Hart Lane on August 27, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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It is a big night in the EFL Cup on Tuesday with five Premier League involved across the five games.

[ LIVE: Follow EFL Cup scores ]

There’s no doubting that the game of the night is at Anfield as Premier League title contenders Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur collide. Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino will both make changes but are expected to field very strong teams.

Elsewhere Arsenal host Championship side Reading with Arsene Wenger set to give plenty of youngsters a chance (Gedion Zelalem klaxon) plus there are two all-Championship ties with Newcastle United hosting Preston North End and Leeds United welcoming Norwich City to Elland Road. Premier League side Hull City, who haven’t won any of their last seven league games, head to Bristol City as the second-tier side will fancy their chances of an upset at Ashton Gate.

Below is the schedule for the five games, with all of them kicking off at 2:45 p.m. ET. If you click on the link above, you can follow the games live while we will have reaction on all five games here on ProSoccerTalk.

EFL Cup fourth round, Tuesday games

Liverpool vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Newcastle United vs. Preston North End
Arsenal vs. Reading
Bristol City vs. Hull City
Leeds United vs. Norwich City.

Who needs victory more in EFL Cup: Man United or Man City?

FILE PHOTO - (EDITORS NOTE: COMPOSITE OF TWO IMAGES - Image numbers (L) 592215668 and 596883044) In this composite image a comparision has been made between Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho (L) and Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City.  Josep Guardiola brings his Manchester City team to Old Trafford to face Jose Mourinho's Manchester United in their first Manchester derby in the Premier League on September 10, 2016.   ***LEFT IMAGE*** MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19: Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United celebrates after the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford on August 19, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images) ***RIGHT IMAGE*** MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28: Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City encourages his players during the Premier League match between Manchester City and West Ham United at Etihad Stadium on August 28, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Manchester’s two teams aren’t quite in turmoil, but they are in a tricky patch.

[ MORE: Rooney to leave?

Perhaps the last thing both Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola would’ve wanted is another massive derby game so early on in their respective careers at United and City but they will clash again in an EFL Cup last 16 tie on Wednesday. 

But they’ve got it.

In September the two teams met at Old Trafford with Kevin De Bruyne the star of the show as he scored and grabbed an assist in City’s 2-1 win.

Since then City have stumbled in recent weeks and Guardiola is without a win in his last five games in all competitions. That’s only happened to him once before in his managerial career and after the 1-1 draw against Southampton on Sunday he kept his side locked in the dressing room for 50 minutes after the game.

For Mourinho, he will still be seething from the 4-0 defeat at his former club Chelsea on Sunday as the Portuguese coach suffered his worst-ever defeat in a Premier League game and also lashed out at Antonio Conte with a bizarre post-match embrace.

Ahead of the game at Old Trafford, Guardiola played up the special atmosphere of derby day in Manchester.

“I always expect the best from United,” Guardiola said. “They are strong team with quality. They are six points behind – just two games. Derbies are always special. We are going to try to play seriously and try to win the game.”

That said, Guardiola revealed that he will rotate his squad and that De Bruyne is out injured for the clash. So, that will be a boost for Mourinho and United.

With both the Red Devils and the Citizens having a heck of a week following big Premier League games and European action, it is likely both teams will rest plenty of players but can either really afford to do so?

So early on in their careers at the two hugely expectant clubs, both are experiencing wobbles. You can argue that perhaps Mourinho needs a win here more than Guardiola.

The latter already has City playing his way and in his style. Even if silly defensive errors from Claudio Bravo and John Stones in recent games have cost them results, there is a clear direction City is heading in. They’re on their way and are top of the Premier League on 20 points.

For United, where do we start?

The Wayne Rooney situation has taken center stage once again as questions continue to crop up about his future at Old Trafford under Mourinho, while dressing room unrest is also being reported with some players “surprised by how hands off he’s been” on the training ground. It is never good when things like that start to leak out. Add to that 14 points from their first nine games of the PL season with Mourinho has the same record as David Moyes did in his first nine league games in charge, plus Paul Pogba struggling and Zlatan Ibrahimovic ice-cold and things are stacking up against the Red Devils.

Yeah, Mourinho and United need this EFL Cup win more, especially after losing the derby at home last month. A victory will build confidence and give Mourinho extra games to use all of his squad and try and get his message across.

In the past Mourinho has had great success in the EFL Cup, winning it three times in his five full seasons as a manager in the Premier League. He values its importance and although his rivalry with Guardiola goes way back, he may want to (and perhaps needs to) win this game much more than City’s manager does.