Quick Six: Liverpool thwarts Manchester City, Hillsborough remembered, and the rest of the headlines from the PL weekend

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1. Kompany error moves Liverpool one step closer to history

Maybe it was the occasion that left Manchester City stalled in the blocks, but until the teams returned after halftime, Liverpool were the decidedly better side at Anfield. It was only after the wakeup happened that it felt almost inevitable, with the Citizens pulling back Raheem Sterling and Martin Skrtel’s goals by the 63rd minute. With David Silva picking up the slack from Yaya Touré’s departure, the Citizens looked set to embrace their talent’s promise.

It’s a subtle irony that one of the team’s most talented players, captain Vincent Kompany, undid that promise, but for well over a year now, the Belgian rearguard, whose authoritative steps into midfield leave him capable of dominating, has been an accident waiting to happen. In the 78th minute on Saturday, that accident came via a shanked clearance and some Philippe Coutinho opportunism, sending City to a 3-2 loss.

(MORE, Liverpool 3-2 Manchester City: Reds seal dramatic win to stay top)

It’s tempting to see Sunday’s match through that lens — the one forged by Kompany’s error — but that shortchanges Liverpool. The Reds put themselves in position to capitalize on the mistake, and while City’s reaction continues to feed the feeling that they are the more talented, more capable side, talent and capability came up short. Instead, it was Liverpool’s early poise and late execution that pushed its own talent seven points clear of City.

On a 10-match winning streak, the Reds are closing in on their first title in 24 years, a relevance not even Liverpool fans could have predicted eight months ago.

2. Title picture: A little clearer, but still unresolved

The anticipation we felt ahead of Sunday’s showdown usually gives way to clarity, but although Liverpool  have a more firm grasp on the title, the race is far from over, a status that serves as an anticlimax to Sunday’s dramatic result. Thanks in part of Chico Flores’s early red card at the Liberty Stadium, Chelsea was able to stay within two points of the top, a 1-0 win at Swansea City giving the Blues their 23rd win of the season.

(MORE, Swansea City 0-1 Chelsea: Ba breaks through vs 10-man Swans)

The results help bring April 27 into focus, with Chelsea’s visit to Anfield giving us our second Match of the Season this month. With a win, only games against Norwich City and Cardiff City will stand between the Blues and another title, provided they also defeat Sunderland on Saturday. Yet with that Liverpool showdown wedged between Champions League semifinal matches, timing works against Chelsea. Over the course of nine days, José Mourinho’s regulars will be forced to push through any end-of-season fatigue and challenge for both titles.

It’s a schedule that also puts stress on the Sunderland and Norwich matches, where Chelsea will have to rotate players in preparation for its more important games. While that makes it more likely the Blues will slip between now and season’s end, the team’s mid-week performance against Paris Saint-Germain serves as a warning. José Mourinho’s team can’t be counted out.

3. England COMMEMORATES 25th anniversary of Hillsborough

Between previous anniversaries, continuing controversies, and the increased talk of bringing standing areas back into English League soccer, the tragedy that befell 96 people in Sheffield hasn’t been far from our thoughts. Yet there was still an indelible poignance about how the league celebrated the disaster’s 25th anniversary, something that went beyond the moment of silence and the seven-minute delay to each match’s kickoff.

It was the unanimity. It was the solemnity. It was the reflection of a soccer generation that’s been brought up in the memory of Hillsborough, one that’s seen England’s football culture remake itself in the wake of the loss.

It was the accord amongst supporters around the country who acknowledged the families’ unimaginable loss. It was the lesson, that no one should have to hear why a loved one will never come home from a match.

Of course, the most poignant of the remembrances at Anfield, from the chilling moment of silence to the unforgettable rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone. The video, above, captures the weekend’s spirit, one that saw a soccer nation come together to acknowledge the 96 it lost.

4. Win at Sunderland sees Everton claim fourth place

It was easy to forget, in the wake of last week’s win over Arsenal, that Everton had yet to actually claim fourth place, but with the Gunners creating more drama for themselves in Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal, the Toffees were finally able to take hold of the Premier League’s last Champions League spot. With Wes Brown’s 75th minute own goal in Sunderland, Roberto Martínez’s team moved two points ahead of Arsenal, making up the game in hand that made last week’s result so important.

(MORE: Fabianski the hero, as Arsenal beat Wigan on penalties to reach FA Cup final)

(MORE, Sunderland 0-1 Everton: Are the Black Cats sunk? (video))

With a match against Manchester City still on the schedule, Everton’s two-point lead isn’t exactly safe, but it also may be too much to expect an Arsenal team that’s winless in four (in league) to win out. The Gunners’ run-in is easy, but they also have two matches on the road, where the team has a negative goal-difference this season. This isn’t a Premier League titan cleaning up against the league’s weaker sides. It’s a team lacking drive and identity being asked to summon a drive it lacks.

In theory, Everton can still draw a match and control its own destiny, provided Arsenal doesn’t make up the six-goal deficit it has in goal difference. More practically, the Toffees may have a little more breathing room. As Saturday’s match against Wigan shows, Arsenal is capable of playing down to its competition.

source: AP5. Are these the last days of Arsène Wenger?

Arsenal eventually came back to eliminate Wigan, but the game was far closer than most expected. The Latics went up through Jordi Gomez and eventually took the Gunners to penalty kicks, where two Lukasz Fabianski saves got Arsène Wenger’s side into the final. Against a team Arsenal’s talent should have easily managed, the Gunners produced another inexplicable result.

It’s starting to become easier to imagine Wenger moving on: even if Arsenal does finish fourth; even if the Gunners do win the FA Cup. While he is one of the most important people in the club’s history, he’s also somebody who, at this point in his career, seems incapable of getting his squad up for big games, be they against the Chelseas and Manchester Citys of the world or the Wigans and Birmingham Citys. Even when he comes close (against Bayern in Champions League), Arsenal’s left with little more than moral victories. When we see Chelsea in the Champions League semifinals, we’re reminded: Wenger’s rivals wouldn’t settle for so little.

With Arsenal outside the top our, struggling with a paved road to the FA Cup, it’s easier to convince Stan Kroenke the Gunners need to move on. The unsigned contract extension, the one Ivan Gazidis said was a done deal, may yet disappear. Whether it’s through Wenger leaving or the club making the call, an Arsène-less Arsenal becomes easier to imagine with each passing result.

6. Relegation battle: Progress for Fulham, Cardiff City

Whereas last week’s win left Fulham treading water, there was no mistaking the progress in this weekend’s result. Faced with a must-win against visiting Norwich City, Felix Magath’s team delivered, its 1-0 victory pulling it within two points of the 17th place Canaries. A horrible goal difference means the Cottagers need three points to reach safety, but having won three of five, those results are no longer mere hopes. Where we’ve been waiting for months for a relegation battler to go on a run, Fulham has finally delivered.

(MORE, Fulham 1-0 Norwich City: Great escape is on for the Cottagers (video))

After Cardiff’s Saturday upset at Southampton, though, the Bluebirds aren’t far behind, their 29 points leaving them four points from safety. And with teams like Aston Villa and Swansea City (both losers this weekend) volunteering to join the relegation battle, the league’s bottom three have more targets than just Norwich and West Brom. Instead of needing one of two teams to stumble, Fulham and Cardiff have four candidates to potentially take their places.

(MORE, Southampton 0-1 Cardiff City: Cala’s the man as Bluebirds bag huge win)

With Fulham involved, the term “Great Escape” is being thrown around, but there’s nothing remarkable about it. Under Magath, the Cottagers now look like a decent team. The same can’t be said for Norwich, Swansea, or Aston Villa, right now.

2015-16 Premier League Power Rankings, Vol. IV: Foxes on top of the world

NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 21:  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City gestures to the fans during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle and Leicester City at St James Park on November 21, 2015 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty images)
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The last time we visited the world of Power Rankings, the two North London rivals held the top two slots.

A month later, with the North London derby having ended in a 1-1 draw, it seems there are plenty of good teams in the Premier League, but are there any great ones? We have to give the #1 spot to someone, but it doesn’t feel like any of the regulars want it. The top five teams are all within four points. In the last month, Arsenal, Manchester City, and Southampton all lost, and Manchester United barely squeaked by Watford.

[ Archive: Premier League Power Rankings ]

So where does that leave us? You bet. Soak it in Foxes, the Premier League table isn’t all you’re on top of. Are they strong enough to remain there? Well, that’s not what we’re here to debate. With Spurs refusing to lose as well, the Premier League giants are looking up at two unusual clubs in front.

source: 1 UP 4 Leicester City: Jamie Vardy can do no wrong. He has a chance to insert himself into Premier League lore, and the Foxes are forcing people to consider them as shocking Champions League contenders. With 4 in a row and 5 wins in 6, their body of work, right now, is the best in the League.
source: 2 Tottenham Hotspur: Spurs look a much improved team at the back, which was their weakness last year. They haven’t lost in Premier League play since opening day, and with three wins in their last four, they look to be turning one point into three points, an important key to challenging for the title.
source: 3 DOWN 2 Arsenal: Every time it appears the Gunners have it figured out, they go and lose to someone like West Brom. It’s a small blow, but it seems that’s all – even with all the injuries – as they dominated that game and appeared slightly unlucky. They’re still a title contender, which is a testament to Arsene Wenger.
source: 4 UP 2 Manchester United: It hasn’t always been pretty for the Red Devils, such as their late win over Watford, but they’re just a point off the top and have a relatively healthy squad, which is a huge advantage given where some of the other teams stand.
source: 5 UP 3 Liverpool: They have work to do, but the Reds appear to be getting much healthier, and Jurgen Klopp has added a fire to this team not seen in a while. 8 points back from the top, but a soft schedule could set up a massive showdown with Leicester on Boxing Day.
source: 6 DOWN 3 Manchester City: As opposed to Arsenal, who is still producing results, Manuel Pellegrini seems to be struggling to cope with the injuries. One point in their last two, they can’t let the demolition by Liverpool become something larger.
source: 7 DOWN 2 Southampton: A loss at home to Stoke City last time out is a huge blow. With Liverpool and Everton charging, and stuck in a logjam in the table (2 points separate places 6-11), they need to reassert themselves to remain challengers for a Europa League place.
source: 8 UP 1 Everton: The Toffees have rebounded nicely since a pair of losses to top teams, putting up 11 goals in their last three. Can they take advantage of a soft schedule through into the New Year, and put themselves in a position to challenge at the top? Questions of their earlier struggles remain.
source: 9 UP 6 Stoke City: The Potters are sneakily returning to the top half of the table. A 2-0 loss to Watford the only blemish of the last 6 weeks, and a 1-0 win over Chelsea has positioned them well.
source: 10 UP 3 Crystal Palace: Still have no idea what this team is. Just look at their last two results: a win over Liverpool, followed by a loss to Sunderland. Huh?
source: 11 DOWN 4 West Ham: We knew the Dimitri Payet signing was huge, but it’s never more evident than now. They have to prove they can play without him, as he’ll be out for three months, but at the moment things look dire.
source: 12 UP 2 Chelsea: This still isn’t where the Blues want to be, and they probably won’t get there this season with the hole too big, but things appear to be steadying, albeit slowly. Still, there’s a long way to go to eliminate the embarrassing results, and they remain in the Champions League hunt.
source: 13 West Bromwich Albion: Another team that’s hard to figure out, and that’s probably going to be the case all year. Nevertheless, they’ve won a few games they shouldn’t, and have taken care of the teams they should. The Baggies look to be strong enough to avoid the relegation conversation.
source: 14 DOWN 4 Watford: This is the Watford we all expect. They put up a fight against both Manchester United and Leicester, but a tough November turns a bit nicer until a holiday season gauntlet. Can they pick up vital points the next few weeks?
source: 15 DOWN 4 Swansea City: The true relegation battle seems to be forming here. The Swans have just one win since Aug 30, over lowly Aston Villa. With Liverpool, Leicester, and Man City all up next, alarm bells are starting to go off in Wales.

16 Newcastle United: They needed a win over Bournemouth and they got it, but much more is required to keep them up.
17 UP 1 Norwich City: October hit the Canaries hard, but a win over Swansea got them some space above the relegation zone. The schedule looks tough in December. If they can steal one or two, they would do themselves a world of good.
source: 18 Bournemouth: You have to feel for the Cherries, who’ve been battered by injuries to key players like Tyrone Mings, Max Gradel and Callum WilsonThat’s what we wrote last time. Nothing much has change. Tough season is ahead.
source: 19 UP 1 Sunderland: They’re not out of the relegation zone yet, but a win over Crystal Palace was huge.
source: 20 DOWN 1 Aston Villa: Remi Garde knew this would be a tough job. Yea, it is.

MLS preview: MLS Cup places to be booked on Sunday

Darlington Nagbe, Portland Timbers FC
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The last team to overcome a two-goal deficit in the second leg of a two-leg MLS Cup Playoffs tie was the 2004 Kansas City Wizards. On Sunday, two conference finals favorites — higher seeds, at least — will take their shot at rewriting the above piece of history in their bids to qualify for MLS Cup 2015.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas, each the top seed in their respective conference and one-two finishers, respectively, for the Supporters’ Shield, have 90 minutes to overcome two very difference two-goal deficits against the Portland Timbers and Columbus Crew SC.

Note: A player who accumulates his second yellow card (of the MLS Cup Playoffs) in the second leg of the Conference Championship series IS ELIGIBLE to play in MLS Cup, as playoff yellow card accumulation resets following the Conference Championships. (A red card, whether a straight red or two yellows, in the second leg still equals a suspension for MLS Cup.)

FC Dallas 1-3 Portland Timbers — 5 p.m. ET, ESPN

While history isn’t on the side of teams attempting to come back from two goals down in the second leg, FCD have one thing going for them: an away from the first leg — of course, they would have been better served to have not given away a third goal in the game’s dying minutes and headed home slight favorites with an away goal and a one-goal deficit. As things stand, though, 2-0 puts FCD through to MLS Cup — which they would host against Columbus Crew SC and play away to New York Red Bulls.

A big problem for FCD in the first leg was how much time Portland’s full backs, Alvas Powell and Jorge Villafana, spent overlapping into FCD’s defensive half. Because of this, FCD’s rabid wingers, most notably Fabian Castillo, were limited in their effect on the counter after being forced to drop so deep to defend. With Portland defending a two-goal lead on Sunday, look for Powell and Villafana to sit back quite a bit more, thus putting the keys to FCD’s season into the hands of Castillo and Mauro Diaz. The great thing about Diaz, if you’re an FCD supporter, is that he’s brilliant enough to singlehandedly pick teams apart whether they’re stretched all over the field or bunkered deep.

Regular season: POR 3-1 FCD (4/4); FCD 4-1 POR (7/25)
Injuries: FCD — OUT: Rolando Escobar (facial fracture) | POR — OUT: Ben Zemanski (knee)

New York Red Bulls 0-2 Columbus Crew SC — 7:30 p.m. ET, FS1

If FCD are standing on tenuous ground, the New York Red Bulls are running on quicksand. No away goal in the first leg, coupled with Kei Kamara‘s late goal to make it 2-0, means anything but a perfect performance on Sunday, and they’re out. 2-0 send the series to extra time, but here’s where it gets supremely tricky for the Red Bulls: a single Crew SC goal in the second leg means RBNY need four goals to advance. That would seem quite unlikely.

For the entirety of the 2015 season, RBNY’s greatest strength was their spine: Matt Miazga and Damien Perrinelle at center back, and Dax McCarty, Felipe Martins and Sacha Kljestan in midfield. In the first leg, the midfield trio had its worst game of the season — completely overwhelmed with pressure and unable to press high themselves — which put the center of defense — already down Perrinelle to a season-ending knee injury — under tons of pressure. From the moment Justin Meram hit the back of the net, eight seconds into the game, RBNY’s entire gameplan was out the window — they were forced to chase a goal they didn’t really want, and in turn gave up a second late on. They’ll need to start better in the second leg, set their high line of pressing much more quickly when turning the ball over, and attack the wings to limit the attacking impact of full backs Harrison Afful and Waylon Francis, who absolutely destroyed them in the first leg.

Regular season: CLB 1-2 RBNY (3/28); CLB 2-1 RBNY (7/4); RBNY 2-1 CLB (10/3)
Injuries: RBNY — OUT: Damien Perrinelle (knee), Chris Duval (broken leg) | CLB — OUT: Kristinn Steindorsson (knee)

Slaven Bilic wants West Ham to stop whining about missing Payet

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 24: Slaven Bilic manager of West Ham United looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Chelsea at Boleyn Ground on October 24, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
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Sometimes nominating the signing of the season is difficult to do until we get a glimpse of a team without their new addition. We’re seeing that this year as West Ham, who were in fifth position before summer signing Dimitri Payet went down with an ankle injury that could see him out for three months.

Without Payet, they looked lost in a 4-1 defeat to Spurs at White Hart Lane, and the void left in midfield was all anyone could talk about.

Slaven Bilic hates that.

“Losing Payet is a blow but we have two options: one is continue to talk about it and the other is to get together and play better even without him,” Bilic said prior to Sunday’s home matchup with West Brom. “He’s a player who has made a huge impact. He’s a key player for us and is doing the things that every club needs.”

Before the Spurs match, Bilic was adamant that the team was losing its best player. Now, he’s of the opposite tone.

“In my team I have enough players who can make his absence to feel it less,” Bilic said. “We have enough quality to play without Dimitri. We were hugely disappointed and angry with the way we played [against Tottenham].”

Jamie Vardy setting up academy to help discover non-league talent

during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Leicester City at St Mary's Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Southampton, England.
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In 2012, Jamie Vardy was playing non-league football for Fleetwood Town.

Today, he is the top scorer in the Premier League with Leicester City, and is currently on a record run of scoring in ten straight matches.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

Vardy’s meteoric rise is the stuff of fairytales, and now he is giving back to those who are trying to break through as he did a few years ago.

The 28-year-old striker has set up the V9 Academy, a program aimed at finding non-league talent and helping the players develop into “the next Jamie Vardy.”

I know there are players out there in a similar position to where I was that just need an opportunity,

More and more players are dropping out of the system early. For me, it was at Sheffield Wednesday when I was 16 because they thought I was too small. I remember how that felt and it’s difficult to come back from or even think about the professional game.

I’ve thought for some time that something could be done about it and after several conversations with my agent and my fiancee, Becky, we decided to set up V9 to unearth talent and give those players a shot – hopefully at earning professional contracts but also to learn what it takes to be a professional at the highest level.

In just his second season in the Premier League, Vardy has become one of the most prolific strikers in Europe, earning him Player of the Month honors for October as well as a call-up to the England national team.