Liverpool's defense still looked leaky, but a mistake from Kompany saved them.

Premier League Playback: Liverpool’s midfield key, relegation madness, Hillsborough

1 Comment

LIVERPOOL’S MIDFIELD KEY TO TITLE SUCCESS

So often this season Liverpool’s illustrious strike-force of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge have made the headlines. With 52 goals combined, the duo dubbed S.A.S. have been a lynchpin of Liverpool’s title charge, but so has their midfield.

An afterthought for most of the campaign, at times the brilliance of Steven Gerrard, Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson has been lauded, but not nearly enough. That quartet have meshed together seamlessly, with experience, youthful exuberance and passion being intertwined marvelously by Liverpool’s manager Brendan Rodgers in an interchangeable diamond formation. His midfielders came up big on Sunday in the title showdown victory over Manchester City, as Liverpool’s forward’s had a rare off day.

“We don’t demand goals from the strikers, we just demand they gave us their best. Like you’ve seen, they have off days and we’ve had that a number of times. They are working for the cause, but we have other creators in the team,” Rodgers told the assembled press afterwards. “Some of our imagination today… Raheem Sterling’s goal was brilliant. Luis showed great strength, we had Raheem playing in the back of midfield so he could make those penetrating runs, and to make a yard and shift it and finish with that composure was outstanding. That’s what we want. If some players aren’t on their game, we need other players to step up.”

In the midst of City’s bruising midfield trying to break down Liverpool’s rhythm in the first half, the Reds’ eventual game-winner Coutinho was inspiring his side. By tackling… That’s something Coutinho doesn’t usually have a penchant for. Yet right in front of the bench the tiny attacker twice clattered into City’s left sided players in the opening stages, sliding and writhing on the floor to gain the ball back so he could work his magic to set up his teammates to score. The diminutive Brazilian playmaker is only 21, yet Liverpool’s success hinged on him, in the biggest game of the season, and likely the biggest game of his young career. He delivered, big time. Dinks, chips, robunas and nutmegs, he has it all those tricks in his locker and rightly received a standing ovation from the crowd when substituted late on.

(MORE: Three things we learned from Liverpool’s huge win vs. Manchester City)

The attacking brilliance of Liverpool’s midfielders opens up space for S.A.S. to exploit, yet defensively that does leave the Reds open. They have scored 93 goals in the PL this campaign, more than any other team, but have shipped 42 goals, the worst defense in the top five. However the message remains the same from Rodgers, as his side will retain their swashbuckling style to the end.

“We don’t need to change. We play with no fear,” Rodgers said. “You can see that whether it’s a big opponent like Manchester City, or Norwich next week, we will play with no fear. We demand to dominate the ball and work very hard. We don’t think too far ahead, that’s always been the message. With four games to go, there are still a lot of points to play for.”

Premier League Schedule – Week 34

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

MAN CITY, CHELSEA KNOW WHAT TO DO…

After losing to Liverpool, Man City know they must now win out and hope Liverpool slip up if they’re going to win the title. Chelsea are also lurking ominously over both teams’ shoulders, as a win for Jose Mourinho’s men at Anfield on April 27 will likely see the pendulum swing back in their favor. The Blues stayed in the title race by beating Swansea 1-0 away from home on Sunday, they aren’t about to give in.

But what about City?

Speaking to reporters, including myself, in the press lounge at Anfield after City’s defeat, Manuel Pellegrini believes his team can still win the league and felt his side started slowly but deserved something in the defeat to Liverpool.

“It was not the first half, it was only the first 25 minutes,” Pellegrini said defiantly. “They started they game very aggressively, they scored one goal and after they scored the second goal, they only had one more clear chance. We are playing against a very good team and they started well, but after that pressure, in the second half there was only one team in it.”

(MORE: Swansea 0-1 Chelsea – Ba’s lone goal enough for Blues)

It’s hard to argue with the Chilean, as I wrote in ‘Three things we learned” on Sunday, David Silva ran the show and City were by far the better side in the second 45. A draw, on reflection, would’ve probably been the fair result. Yet City now know they need to win all six of their remaining games. They have it easier than most, with only an away trip to Everton looking tough to negotiate between now and May 11. Games in hand over points in the bag is a nervy thing to handle at this pivotal point of the campaign, City have to cope with it. We’ve seen Chelsea’s steely resolve on several occasions this season, both in the PL and Champions League, as they’ve now kept 16 clean sheets in the PL and they now have a chance to upset Liverpool in less than two weeks.

Can City hold their nerve and hope the other two title contenders slip up?

HILLSBOROUGH DISASTER REMEMBERED

Being at Anfield on Sunday, it was both an honor and a privilege to witness not only one of the best games of the PL season, but also the incredible tributes paid to the 96 fans who were killed in the Hillsborough disaster 25 years ago.

It was a humbling experience standing next to Liverpool greats in the press box and seeing the raw emotions on people’s faces all around the stadium. Below you can watch the spine-tingling moment when over 40,000 people stood silent inside Anfield to remember those who perished. You could’ve heard a pin drop in an immaculately observed silence. The atmosphere was electric from the home fans throughout and they urged their side on with the famous “You’ll Never Walk Alone” chant. Even before kick off home fans lined the old terraced streets on the way to Anfield to cheer their team on as they arrived on the bus. That gesture wasn’t lost on Rodgers and his players.

“Our game started on the way in,” Rodger said with a smile on his face. “It was totally unique what we received coming in on the coach and that gave us the energy before we’d even stepped on the field.”

(WATCH: Anfield crowd’s incredibly stirring “You’ll Never Walk Alone”)

This was my view of the Kop, as they paid their respects to 96 fans who never returned after going to watching Liverpool play Nottingham Forest on April 15, 1989. Here’s some background info on how the tragedy at Hillsborough altered English soccer.

LET THE RELEGATION DOGFIGHT COMMENCE

source:
Click to enlarge – As things stand in relegation battle: April 14, 2014

At the opposite end of the standings, it’s all getting a bit messy for budding mathematicians. The permutations changed significantly last weekend, as relegation haunted sides finally turned up. For those wily old heads who’ve witnessed their fare share of relegation battles, they’ll know this is only the start. Basement boys Fulham and Cardiff City both managed to pull out nail-biting 1-0 wins last weekend, as the relegation picture took yet another dramatic twist. There’s plenty more of those to come, just look at how tight things are in the standings on the left.

(MORE: Latest Premier League standings)

Felix Magath’s Fulham side have now won two on the spin for the first time since October (watch our analysts break that down below) and are just two points and one place behind Norwich City with a much easier run-in than the Canaries. On paper. That paper usually goes out of the window at this time of the season, because who had written down that Cardiff City would go away to Southampton and win last Saturday? If you did, gold star, but you’re probably lying. The Bluebirds were battered for large chunks of the match, yet Juan Cala smashed in a beauty to hand Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s boys a lifeline. Sunderland look doomed at the bottom and seven points off safety, yet they have two games in hand, so the Black Cats have time on their side.

Right now, if you had to pick, who would you choose to got down? Form counts for a lot at this precise moment and with Pepe Mel’s West Brom throwing away 3-0 leads all over the place, Norwich losing four of their last five, Swansea with one win from 10 and Aston Villa losing four straight, it doesn’t bode well for them. Those sides are out of form and all of a sudden Fulham and Cardiff aren’t looking so likely to be playing in the Championship next season.

FA CUP FINAL SET: DRESS REHEARSAL THIS SUNDAY

As fate so often sets things up, the two FA Cup finalists will do battle at the KC Stadium this Sunday (Watch live at 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) in the Premier League.

In just over a month’s time they will square off under the famous arch at Wembley Stadium in their quest for the world’s oldest knockout competition. Arsenal have been to more FA Cup finals (18) than any other team, while Hull City have never reached the showpiece event in their 110 year history.

MORE: Arsenal beat Wigan on penalties | Hull down Sheffield United to make final

The Gunners are lucky to be traveling a few miles across North London on May 17, after last season’s winners Wigan Athletic gave them one hell of a scare in the semifinal. The Championship side were leading 1-0 until the 82nd minute when big Per Mertesacker headed home to make amends for the PK he had given away for Wigan’s opener. A draining and dour extra time period then ensued, as Arsenal sealed their trip to the FA Cup final for the first-time since 2005 by winning 4-2 on penalties. The Gunners were widely criticized for celebrating their semifinal win and taking celebratory ‘selfies’ on the pitch. Former Manchester United midfielder Roy Keane, who possesses an infamous razor-sharp tongue, had the following to say on seeing Arsenal’s player taking selfies after beating Championship side Wigan on PKs. “These Arsenal players need a reality check. They’re celebrating beating a Championship team.”

Here’s the proof.

As for Hull, they dispatched League One side Sheffield United 5-3 in a fiery Yorkshire derby in the other semifinal. The PL team trailed too, yet their comeback was much more emphatic as the Tigers now face Arsenal for the famous trophy. On Sunday in East Yorkshire both teams will likely field much-changed starting lineups. They don’t have injuries or suspensions, yet the psychological edge both manager’s will aim to get from doing this is key. They don’t want to give away their tactics ahead of the showpiece final and the match will be a cagey affair. I will put a tenner (about $16) on the same starting lineups on Sunday not being replicated at Wembley in just over a months time.

The dress rehearsal is set, as Hull will be the underdog’s trying to scupper Arsenal’s hopes of clinching their first trophy in over nine years. Will Arsene Wenger’s side succumb to the pressure? Or will the Frenchman finally deliver another trophy? Either way, many expect him to walk away from the Emirates Stadium this summer, more on that to come in the following weeks.

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

LIVE: Europa League Round of 32 – Spurs, Ajax, Bilbao in action

Tottenham's Harry Kane, 2nd right, is congratulated by his teammates after scoring his side's 2nd goal during the Champions League group E soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and CSKA Moscow at Wembley stadium in London, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Europa League Round of 32 second legs keep coming on Thursday.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

After Manchester United, Schalke and Krasnodar all booked their spots in the last 16 on Wednesday, the 13 remaining clashes take place across Europe on Thursday.

Tottenham Hotspur host Belgian outfit Gent at a sold-out Wembley Stadium as close to 90,000 fans will roar on Mauricio Pochettino‘s men. Harry Kane and Co. will need all the help they can get too as Tottenham trail 1-0 from the first leg in Belgium last week.

Elsewhere, APOEL Nicosia, Borussia Monchengladbach and Shakhtar Donetsk will all look to overturn narrow deficits, while Ajax, Osmanlispor and Genk will be hoping to make home advantage count with their ties locked in a stalemate.

It’s an uphill battle for Villarreal, Sparta Prague and AZ Alkmaar, but strange things happen in this tournament (See: Liverpool’s stunning comeback against Borussia Dortmund).

The draw for the last 16 of the Europa League will take place on Friday and it could get quite tasty as there are no seedings and no protection against being drawn against teams from your own association and from your group stage.

So: Manchester United vs. Tottenham?

Click on the link above for live scores, updates and stats from the three games on Thursday, while we will have updates and analysis on all the action right here at Pro Soccer Talk.

Here’s the Europa League schedule below, with the score from the first leg in parenthesis.


Thursday’s Europa League Round of 32, second legs

Full Thursday schedule

11 a.m. ET
Osmanlispor vs. Olympiacos (0-0)

1 p.m. ET
APOEL Nicosia vs. Athletic Bilbao (Bilbao leads 3-2)
Besiktas vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva (Besiktas leads 3-1)
Ajax vs. Legia Warsaw (0-0)
Roma vs. Villarreal (Roma leads 4-0)
Zenit Saint Petersburg vs. Anderlecht (Zenit trails 2-0)
Fiorentina vs. Borussia Monchengladbach (Gladbach trails 1-0)

3:05 p.m. ET
Lyon vs. AZ Alkmaar (Lyon leads 4-1)
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Celta Vigo (Shakhtar trails 1-0)
Sparta Prague vs. Rostov (Rostov leads 4-0)
Genk vs. Astra Giurgiu (2-2)
Copenhagen vs. Ludogorets (Copenhagen leads 2-1)
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Gent (Spurs trail 1-0)

Wayne Rooney issues statement on Man United future

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - NOVEMBER 03:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United looks on during the UEFA Europa League Group A match between Fenerbahce SK and Manchester United FC at Sukru Saracoglu Stadium on November 3, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Wayne Rooney has issued a statement saying he will remain at Manchester United.

[ MORE: What is Rooney’s best option? ]

Rooney, 31, has been heavily linked with a move to the Chinese Super League and after his agent flew to China to meet with interested clubs those reports intensified. 

However, the all-time leading scorer for Manchester United and England has issued the following statement on his decision to stay at United.

Over to you, Wayne.

“Despite the interest which has been show from other clubs, for which I’m grateful, I want to end recent speculation and say I am staying at Man United. I hope I’ll play a full part in leading the team in its fight for success on four fronts. It’s an exciting time at the club and I want to remain part of it.”

Rooney is contracted to United until 2019 and although he has become a bit-part player at United this season he still has a big part to play.

With the emergence of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, not to mention Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard and Zlatan Ibrahimovic around, Rooney is no longer the first name on the teamsheet in the attacking area.

That’s something he will have to accept under new manager Jose Mourinho and, after a little bit of soul-searching while on the sidelines injured for the past three weeks, it’s obviously something Rooney has begrudgingly come to terms with.

For now.

He will still contribute at key moments for United and get plenty of minutes between now and the end of the season as United are in the last eight of the FA Cup, the last 16 of the Europa League and face Southampton in the EFL Cup final this weekend as well as continuing their top four hunt in the Premier League.

Still, Rooney will want to play regularly and after 13 years at Old Trafford the chance of that happening seems very unlikely as long as Mourinho is in charge. That could impact his chances of being called up by England boss Gareth Southgate which will be especially damaging ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia (Rooney has already said that will be his final major tournament) next summer.

It’s likely Rooney will reassess the situation this summer and could still head to the Chinese Super League, or even Major League Soccer. The other option is to go back to boyhood club Everton to see out his playing days, if (and it’s a big if) the Toffees can afford his wages.

Right now, though, it seems like Rooney is set to become the next Paul Scholes or Ryan Giggs as he prolongs his career with the Red Devils. He may not stick around as Giggs and Scholes, but given all he has achieved for United he deserves to leave or remain on his own terms.

Premier League player Power Rankings – Top 20

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 04:  Ngolo Kante of Chelsea runs with the ball under pressure from Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on February 4, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Premier League action is back after the FA Cup and European action took center stage. Hug someone. This is awesome.

[ MORE: Power Rankings archive

With that in mind, there are a handful of new faces in our Power Rankings, with Chelsea and Man City continuing to dominate.

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League.

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections of the top 20 players in the PL right now.


  1. Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal) – Even
  2. Harry Kane (Tottenham) New entry
  3. N’Golo Kante (Chelsea) – Down 1
  4. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Man United) – New entry
  5. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – Down 1
  6. Raheem Sterling (Man City) – Even
  7. Paul Pogba (Man United) – New entry
  8. Sergio Aguero (Man City) – New entry
  9. David Luiz (Chelsea) – Down 4
  10. Manolo Gabbiadini (Southampton) – Down 4
  11. Diego Costa (Chelsea) – Up 7
  12. Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea) – Down 5
  13. Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Man United) – Down 4
  14. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) – New entry
  15. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – Down 4
  16. Juan Mata (Man United) – Even
  17. Leroy Sane (Man City) – Down 4
  18. David Silva (Man City) – Down 1
  19. Eden Hazard (Chelsea) – Down 9
  20. Anthony Martial (Man United) – Down 4

Previews of every Premier League game – Week 26

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22:  Diego Costa (R) of Chelsea celebrates scoring the opening goal with his team mates during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Hull City at Stamford Bridge on January 22, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

There are eight Premier League games in Week 26 as the EFL Cup final sees Southampton and Manchester United both out of PL action.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live

With the FA Cup break over, we are now looking forward to plenty of big battles across the league as some teams try to scramble for points in their quests to finish in the top four, while others are scrapping away for their lives at the wrong end of the table.

With 13 games to go, it’s all getting rather tense out there…

Below you can find previews, team news and score predictions on every game coming up this weekend.


Tottenham vs. Stoke City

Everton vs. Sunderland

Chelsea vs. Swansea City

West Brom vs. Bournemouth

Leicester City vs. Liverpool

Crystal Palace vs. Middlesbrough

Hull City vs. Burnley

Watford vs. West Ham