Premier League Playback: Title-race odds, classy Moyes, drop zone drama

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MOVING DAY: TITLE WINNERS REVEALED…

‘So you’re saying there’s a chance…’

When all’s said and done at the end of the Premier League season, we may well look back to Saturday March 29th as the defining day in the PL title race. Chelsea lost at relegation battlers Crystal Palace and Manchester City let an early lead slip against a dogged Arsenal to draw. With those results on Saturday leaving Jose Mourinho claiming Chelsea’s title hopes were over, I was present in the depths of the Emirates Stadium as both Manuel Pellegrini and Arsene Wenger were asked about their team’s title chances and who the favorites are after the 1-1 draw in the late game.

“We have to fight until the end of the season because everybody can beat everybody,” Wenger said. “Chelsea lost at Crystal Palace, that means all of us have to be careful and all of us have to be consistent.”

(MORE: Latest Premier League standings)

While City boss Pellegrini believes it’s still a four horse race for the glistening trophy which is likely to be awarded on May 11, the final day of the season.

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Click to enlarge – The simulator has Man City winning it all, but Liverpool not far behind. Source: Opta

“I think all four teams have the chance to win the title but all four teams will drop points between now and the end of the season,” Pellegrini said. “It is very difficult at the end of the season, because there are a lot of teams fighting relegation. Ask Chelsea , look at what happened to them away at Crystal Palace. I think we must continue to just think about the next game.”

With Arsenal and Man City’s bosses not sticking their necks out on the line about who’ll win the coveted title, it’s about time somebody did. Here it goes. I have managed to obtain information from Opta on a simulator they have run many, many times on how the final PL standings will look. Here are the results.

As you can see on the left, Manchester City are the champions elect, with a 62.87 percent chance of them winning their second PL crown in history, then come Liverpool with a 29.84 chance and then, surprisingly, Chelsea only have a 6.89 percent chance of lifting the PL title in 2013-14. Rounding out the top five Arsenal’s chances are almost officially over, with a percentage chance of 0.30 percent, while Everton are at 0.10 percent to win it all.

How have they worked this out I hear you cry? From the horses mouth, an Opta spokesman passed on their findings to me and explained how they’ve predicted the final PL standings.

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Click to enlarge – The final PL standings of 2013-14, as predicted by Opta. Source: Opta

“First, we looked at all of the games played this season and looked at the quality of chances each team is earning and conceding. These are their “attacking” and “defending” values. Next, we use these values to simulate the remaining games left in the season. We do this many, many times. So, when we say that Man City has a 62.87% chance of winning the PL, that also means that they won the PL in 62.87% of our simulations.”

You got it? So, this is pretty much gospel. The soccer gods no longer need to speak, Opta has worked it out for them. But, with unpredictable twists and turns from here on out still likely, there’s no point putting sky blue and white ribbons on the PL trophy, just yet.

(MORE: Man City, Arsenal up for the fight but where will PL title go?)

On Saturday, we saw varying reasons as to why City and Arsenal have led the way for large periods of the season. City with their fine array of attacking talent, the Gunners with their staunch defensive nous and possession play chipping away at the opposition. City dominated the first half and tore Arsenal apart, while the Gunners dug deep to snatch a point late on. City are the favorites for a reason, they have two games in hand of leaders Liverpool and are four points behind. But they do have to visit Anfield, as do Chelsea. Those two matches are pivotal, and the percentages point to that. City are expected to win the title by two points over Liverpool, 84 points to 82, so it could all come down to that one game at Anfield on April 13.

The Reds are currently top, have won eight on the spin, Luis Suarez is their all-time record scorer in a single PL season with 29 and Brendan Rodgers has warned City and Chelsea that his boys are for real. Can Liverpool really hold onto top spot with six games to go?

As for the current fourth-placed team Arsenal, Wenger didn’t exactly rule the Gunners out of the race but he’s intelligent enough to do the math. Which is exactly what he and Pellegrini spoke about.

“Mathematically we are still in there, but it is not in our hands,” Wenger said. “We have to look above us and behind us. Because behind us they are coming too.”

Pellegrini knows his City team aren’t home and dry, as the placid Chilean was cool and calculated when assessing the run-in. “In football, if the mathematics allow you to win, then you have the chance to do it. I think in this moment, we will see what happens tomorrow with Liverpool [they beat Tottenham 4-0 to go top]. Arsenal are only five points behind the leader, it’s not too much.”

Well, you’ve seen the predictions for how this season will finish up, do you agree with the math handing Man City the title just ahead of Liverpool?

Premier League Schedule – Week 32

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

MOYES RETAINS DIGNITY AFTER EMBARRASSING FLY-BY

One team not in the title race, Manchester United, are looking to restore a little dignity to their title defense. Yes, they’ve miserably defended the PL crown they won last season but at least new manager David Moyes still has his dignity intact. That’s more than can be said for a vast portion of United’s fans.

The drone of a propeller plane hung in the air around Old Trafford just after kick off in Manchester United’s match against Aston Villa on Saturday. The message from an unnamed set of Man United fans (with conspiracy theorists having a field day as rumors of Man City fans being behind the stunt are rife) read “WRONG ONE – MOYES OUT” as the banner hanging from the end of the plane used in the fly-by was the polar opposite of the class, professionalism and prestige that oozes from the United organization. The fans let themselves down in this crass demonstration.

Moyes came out onto the field way before kick off against Villa and applauded the fans, after he’d earlier exclaimed that vast majority were still on his side. The warm reception he got back revealed that a small minority were behind the demonstration against his appointment, as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor has displayed admirable dignity throughout the hounding of him for United’s dismal campaign. The banner came and went early in the game, and it was heart-warming to hear boo’s from fans against the feeble excuse of a demonstration which drowned out the sound of the engine high above the skies over OT. Soon though, they were replaced with groans of discontent, once again, as Aston Villa took an early lead. But, as has so often been the case this season, Wayne Rooney inspired a United fight-back as Moyes silenced the boo boys for at least one day, with a comfortable 4-1 win for the Red Devils.

(Scrolling through responses to the banner flown over Old Trafford, I found this gem. Well done, @TheChelsOrg, well done indeed)

Yes, United have been woeful in the fight to retain their PL crown, but how much of that is really Moyes’ fault? Time and time again we’ve spoke about the aging squad he inherited and all the other intangibles which conspired against him this season. However, you can only really point the finger of blame at him for his transfer policy thus far, as Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini have yet to hit top gear since their big money arrivals.

That will all take time, and given the fact that Moyes has acted in a respectful and dignified manner throughout it all, the wily Scot looks focused on the task at hand and has the bit between his teeth to turn things around. United’s fans need to stand by Moyes, their club needs them.

RELEGATION MADNESS; THIS IS ONLY THE START

Rage. Despair. Delight. Acceptance. Ecstasy.

Those were just some of the emotions fans of West Bromwich Albion and Cardiff City went through on Saturday… and that was just in the four minutes of stoppage time. Watch the incredible scenes unfold in the video above.

Pandemonium ensued at the Hawthorns, as West Brom raced into an early 2-0 lead but then threw it away with 15 minutes left as Cardiff launched a spirited comeback. But the real drama arrived in added time, when Thievy finished off a deflected cross in the 92nd minute to send the home fans into raptures, as head coach Pepe Mel celebrated like he’d won the PL title. Hold on though, this is the PL and this is the race against relegation.

(MORE: Latest Premier League standings)

With Ole Gunnar Solksjaer in charge, his side evoked the ‘baby faced assassins’ predatory late strikes from his playing days, as fellow Norwegian Mats Moller Daehli popped up with the last kick of the game to drive a dagger deep into the hearts of the Baggies, as Cardiff’s traveling fans lost the plot. Neither team wanted a draw in their predicament, but after a pulsating clash where both sides left everything out on the pitch, a draw was fair. Solksjaer and Mel embraced each other with a long hug and laughter, as the two are under intense pressure to keep their sides in the PL. If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry. It was a truly moving moment, in a wonderful absorbing game. The best news is, this is only the start. West Brom are one place above the bottom three and three points ahead of Cardiff in 18th, as the Baggies and Bluebirds are still embroiled in and agony and ecstasy of the relegation battle.

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Click to enlarge – Relegation percentages revealed. Source: Opta

Elsewhere in the race against the drop Norwich are still in big trouble as they were hammered 3-0 by Swansea. The Welsh side eased own their relegation fears considerably with the win, as they sit seven points above the bottom three in 13th. As for Crystal Palace, we already mentioned their stunning win at home to Chelsea, as the Eagles are soaring clear of trouble with many calling for Tony Pulis to be rewarded with the Manager of the Year award. Remember how dead and buried they were back in November?

West Ham beat Sunderland 2-1 at the Stadium of Light on Monday, as the Black Cats came up short in a must-win game. They are second from bottom on 25 points, with Cardiff just one point above them. The Mackems have four incredibly tough games up next, as they travel to Tottenham next week, then host Everton before traveling to Manchester City and Chelsea back-to-back. Gus Poyet’s men are teetering on the brink of the PL.

Speaking of that, Fulham, well, they are all but doomed to life in England’s second-tier next season after losing 3-1 to Everton on Sunday. Look at the predictions from Opta on the left, and you can see the Cottagers have a 96.41 percent chance of being relegated. Not great for Felix Magath’s side, but they do have Hull City, Norwich and Villa coming up in three of their next four games. Don’t rule out the great escape, just yet.

Below our Match of the Day pundits dissect the battle against the drop, as three teams will tumble into the Championship in less than six weeks time. The picture is starting to take shape, as some desperate battles await at the wrong end of the table.

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

Timo Werner abused in Germany but key to World Cup defense

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) The abuse has followed Timo Werner for months, gathering pace as rapidly as the striker has amassed goals.

No German player was more prolific in the Bundesliga last season. No player was as ostracized.

But Werner is now a full-blown Germany international, scoring his first goals at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, and he could hold the key to the World Cup defense next year.

[ MORE: USMNT’s 23-man roster questions ]

That could require Germany supporters to forgive a player they jeered at during his first competitive game for Joachim Loew’s team earlier this month.

“Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he always been the best,” Werner reflected ahead of Germany’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico on Thursday, seeing a kindred spirit in the basketball great. “I do not want to say that I am the best like him, but (the abuse) is a bit of an incentive.”

If playing for the ascendant but deeply unpopular Leipzig wasn’t bad enough, a dive in December by Werner provided a focal point for the animosity – jealousy, perhaps – toward the Red Bull-funded team.

The insults have even been hurled far from Germany, far from soccer stadiums. The dive won a penalty against Schalke, and provided Werner with one of the 21 goals that helped to propel Leipzig into second place and a Champions League debut next season.

“There was a dive, he made a mistake and he admitted it,” Loew said, “but he is very, very young player.”

And a potentially very important one for Loew at the World Cup in Russia next year. Germany’s striking options are being assessed at the eight-team Confederations Cup as Loew still seeks a long-term successor to Miroslav Klose as target man for the world champions.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Traore ]

Werner opened his account for Germany on his fourth appearance, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday in Sochi.

“Werner put in a lot of legwork,” Loew said. “He showed how dangerous he is and that he’s got a great nose for goal. Both of his efforts were very well taken.”

Werner’s rivals for a place in the squad next year include fellow squad newcomers Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner. They are both close to 30, while the 21-year-old Werner has youth, strength and speed on his side. Even Wagner said he has “never seen such a good striker at that age.”

That’s a result of Werner fusing his pace with intelligence on the ball, mastering dribbling at high speed first with Stuttgart and then at Leipzig.

“There’s no recipe for it,” Werner said. “The quickest players just know how to do it automatically. I like to knock the ball three or four meters ahead of me when I’m on the counter or have space in front of me, that way I can increase the distance between a defender and myself.”

Such proficiency should help Werner win over fans beyond Leipzig. Time, he hopes, will heal the fractures, and there’s certainly support from his new international teammates.

“I wish him well because of the issues he has had to endure,” captain Julian Draxler told Germany’s ARD television.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

USMNT Gold Cup 23-man roster leaves some questions

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We have Bruce Arena’s 23-man United States men’s national roster for the Gold Cup, and there are more than a few surprises left out of the bunch.

Often a chance to experiment, those who thought this year’s Gold Cup roster would be one aimed at reclaiming glory with authority may be surprised to see the status quo.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought most of his big guns to the 2015 party — which didn’t go well for Brad Guzan and Co. — but Arena will roll into this summer’s tournament without most of his big names. There’s no Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, nor Jozy Altidore.

Those aren’t huge surprises, though who Arena neglected from his original 40-man short list is a bit of a shock to the system (Players can be called into the mix after the group stage, which is a fairly simple affair for the USMNT to navigate versus Panama, Martinique, and Nicagarua).

Arena is going with Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, and Bill Hamid in a trio that fails to impress. Hamid does have a big crowd of fans who’d like to see him get a chance to assert himself as the future, and hopefully either Johnson or Hamid finds time between the sticks against a serious opponent like Panama. No surprise that Tim Howard and Joe Bendik didn’t leap into the trio (EDIT: This post initially questioned the omission of Jesse Gonzalez, but his one-time switch from Mexico to the USMNT has yet to go through).

We’ll ignore the omission of Danny Williams for the most part considering he was absent from the 40-man list, but he must have said something seriously awful to Arena or someone at U.S. soccer.

The group of forwards leaves little to complain about, as Juan Agudelo and Dom Dwyer very much deserve their chances to compete for playing time with Sounders star Jordan Morris, but the midfield provides some head-scratching. Gyasi Zardes may be a longtime Arena favorite, but the Galaxy man has been ice cold in MLS. The 25-year-old has a single assist in almost 1000 minutes of play this season, and that came back on April 8. Tommy McNamara has not lighting the league on fire and Chris Pontius and his six assists are 30 years old, so much of the grief should be directed at the 40-man again, but Zardes has to embrace this opportunity. And maybe it’s a way to help the Galaxy and Zardes get a little mojo.

As an aside, Wil Trapp is among leaders in several MLS passing stats, which leads me to believe Arena is going to play Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta a ton and doesn’t see much of a need for Trapp in this tournament, not ever.

Defenders Steve Birnbaum and Jonathan Spector were not rewarded with looks, though Graham Zusi was included in what must be an arm reaching out for USMNT experience. Birnbaum is leading MLS in aerials won per game and Spector is by far Orlando’s top rated player since returning from England. Yes, Spector is 31 but this is about still qualifying for next summer’s World Cup, not the 2022 cycle. Spare a thought for Matt Polster, who has been decent since returning from a knee strain. This is nothing against Zusi, a consummate professional who won’t kill the team by any means and will be an tremendous asset in leadership.

What about you? Any other gripes? Or do you love the bunch?

Report: German publication has full FIFA corruption report

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The unedited 2014 report into World Cup bidding published by Michael Garcia has been ‘leaked’ into the press by German publication Bild.

FIFA had released a 42-page version of the report that claimed to clear corruption allegations against Qatar. This “suppressed” report is over 400 pages.

Garcia quit his job as investigator with the FIFA ethics committee in 2014, saying he believed progress in reforming FIFA had slowed considerably.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Traore ]

Bild said it will publish more information and the full report on Tuesday, but the BBC notes a couple interesting facets of the initial release:

  • “Three Fifa executive members were flown to a party in Rio in a private jet belonging to the Qatari federation before the vote for 2018 and 2022 hosting rights.”
  • “Bild’s report includes details of a $2m (£1.6m) sum allegedly paid to the 10-year-old daughter of a Fifa official.”

Before you overreact, the 10-year-old is an incredibly gifted footballer.

The reporter who filed the story says the report shows no proof of a bought bid, but that it is like “a puzzle.”

Giggs has “to put up with” no managerial interviews

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How much is playing experience worth to a manager?

Comments from Ryan Giggs have us contemplating that question as the legendary Manchester United man wonders why he hasn’t gotten a shout to manage a Premier League squad.

Giggs, 43, says he’s only spoken with Swansea City regarding a managerial spot since his 2014 stint as interim boss of Manchester United. That’s surprising given the Welshman has been linked with seemingly every job in the British Isles.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Traore ]

“I spoke to Swansea. It didn’t work out. Because I have said I want to go into coaching and management every job that comes up I am linked with..and then I miss out on the job without having spoken to anyone! That’s frustrating, but that’s football. …“I have done the apprenticeship I have just not done the real thing yet.” (Manchester Evening News).

With respect to his on-field prowess, which at times was nearly peerless, should players like Giggs really be surprised when they don’t get top-end offers? Given the big money nature of the Premier League, why should any club trust it’s future to an unknown?

Patrick Vieira was a heck of a player but started his time in the first chair by going abroad to New York City FC. Even Paul Clement gave Derby County a go before getting a look at Swansea last season.

Now Giggs will probably point to fellow Wales and Manchester United alum Mark Hughes, who was named to Wales and Blackburn posts straight out of his playing career.

But for every story like that, there’s Steve Bruce working for Sheffield United in the old Division One, or Jaap Stam going into the Championship with Reading and having some success in building his name. On the negative side, there’s Gary Neville being thrust into a La Liga role without First Team experience.

So while there’s no guarantee that Giggs isn’t beating down the doors of openings in lower leagues, it seems more likely that he has the option of continuing to wait for someone to bet on his name and potential in the Premier League, or to go for any number of jobs in the lower tier to prove his mettle. There’s risk there, too, to be sure, but he’ll be more easily forgiven for failure in a lower spot than in a higher spot. But from the outside, it’s not something Giggs has “to put up with,” rather a choice.

And to his credit, Giggs feels his work in acquiring his coaching licenses while a player and studying under Louis Van Gaal should be enough for a gig. He’s also fine waiting, according to the article, which is totally acceptable (not that he’s looking for our approval). But we’d love to see former players like Giggs at another squad.