PST’s Second-Choice Team of the Year (Because what’s the PFA, anyway?)

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The Professional Footballers’ Association released its Team of the Year on Sunday, an XI full of top-end talent. The question: could we put together a team to rival a unit that rolls out Petr Cech, Gary Cahill, Luke Shaw, Vincent Kompany, Seamus Coleman, Steven Gerrard, Adam Lallana, Yaya Toure, Eden Hazard, player of the year Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge?

Well you know we’re going to try…

Goalkeeper: Loads of respect to Cech, but there have been plenty of brilliant keepers in the Premier League this year that could’ve been named to the post. Bad teams don’t get love in these award team, so we can dismiss Sunderland’s Vito Mannone, who has been strong for a bad, bad Black Cats team. I also think Asmir Begovic of Stoke might be the best keeper in the league, but a Potters player would be a bit of a headscratcher, no? Let’s stick top of the table: Tim Howard (Everton) and Wojciech Sczezsny (Arsenal). I won’t let any American bias make this decision for me, so we’ll defer to the mighty Squawka scores and crown the Gunners keeper as our No. 1. To be fair to Cech, he was heads and tails above the competition from New Year’s Day onward.

Defenders: Plenty of room for consternation here, as British buzz dominates the PFA’s team. We’ll start there, too, plugging in diminutive defender Leighton Baines of Everton. After that we’ll go decidedly “off the island,” with Arsenal’s “BFG” Per Mertesacker next to nail-eating Liverpool center back Martin Skrtel. The latter was strong in the air and toward the goal for the Reds, bagging a pair of braces in the new year. If we’re looking for a true team we need to leave out Hull’s strong English center back Curtis Davies, Cardiff City’s Steven Caulker and Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny. We’ll go with Serbian star Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea.

Midfielders: So. many. choices. We’ll start with crafty Frenchman Samir Nasri of Manchester City. I choose Nasri over David Silva mainly because the latter only appeared in 24 matches (Silva was one of only two midfielders to have a higher possession Squawka score than Nasri). I left out Michael Carrick for injury reasons as well; You could argue his absence hurt Manchester United as much as any other player (You’d be wrong: it was RVP. But I digress). We’ll take a serious look at Jordan Henderson of Liverpool despite his awful tackle in the final moments against City; the former Sunderland player has been a revelation. I’m going to wave back to my “have to be top of table” comments here — especially with the liberty I’m taking at forward — as Mile Jedinak of Crystal Palace has been an absolutely fantastic defensive midfielder in the Eagles resurgence. We’ll plug Everton’s Kevin Mirallas on the right side. As for the left, it’s a bit of a beggar’s spot but I’ve loved Christian Eriksen of Spurs. His crosses are marvelous.

Forwards: This is a team of the year, which unfortunately precludes us from choosing the super dangerous Sergio Aguero of Manchester City. If you were to head back to December and tell the world he wouldn’t be in the team of the year, it’d be shocking. I suppose we have to be honest and call Wayne Rooney a striker despite his box-to-box play, so he gets one of our bids. That leaves a real struggle for me: Swansea City’s Wilfried Bony, Everton’s Romelu Lukaku and Southampton’s Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez each did a job for the teams. Frankly, I love the year Bony had a bit under the radar at Swansea, with not a heck of a lot of quality balls getting to him. And he didn’t build up his 15 goals against chumps alone; Bony scored at Arsenal, at Everton, at Liverpool and in Europe. He also bested City twice at home. Not bad.

PST’s “Second-Choice” Team of the Year
GK: Wojciech Sczezsny, Arsenal
LB: Leighton Baines, Everton
CB: Per Mertesacker, Arsenal
CB: Martin Skrtel, Liverpool
RB: Branislav Ivanovic, Chelsea
LM: Christian Eriksen, Tottenham
CM: Jordan Henderson, Liverpool
CM: Samir Nasri, Manchester City
RM: Kevin Mirallas, Everton
ST: Wayne Rooney, Manchester United
ST: Wilfried Bony, Swansea City

World champs! Ronaldo goal gives Madrid a 3rd CWC title

AP Photo/Hassan Ammar
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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo scored from a free-kick to help Real Madrid claim its third Club World Cup title after beating Brazilian team Gremio 1-0 Saturday.

The Ballon d’Or winner fired his right-footed shot between two players in Gremio’s defensive wall, leaving goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe no hope of reaching the ball before it bounced inside the post in the 53rd minute.

Madrid defended the title it won last season as it collected its fifth trophy of 2017, along with the Champions League, Spanish league, European Super Cup and Spanish Super Cup.

Ronaldo celebrated the goal by rushing to Madrid’s dugout where he was embraced by his teammates. The goal increased Ronaldo’s record to seven goals in the competition. He also scored in Madrid’s 2-1 comeback win over Al Jazira in the semifinals.

“What am I going to say? The numbers speak for themselves. I am very happy. The team played fantastically well and it has won another title,” Ronaldo said. “We played a very good game and deserved the victory.”

Madrid equaled Barcelona’s record of three titles for the short knockout tournament between the champions of FIFA’s six continental confederations and the host nation’s league winner.

European clubs have won 10 of the last 11 Club World Cups, with only Brazil’s Corinthians interrupting that streak in 2012 when it defeated Chelsea.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane played the same starting 11 from last season’s Champions League final in June, when Madrid crushed Juventus 4-1 – led by Ronaldo’s double.

The European champions outclassed Gremio throughout the match, but the closest it got to scoring in the first half was Dani Carvajal’s goal-bound volley in the 20th that was cleared by Pedro Geromel.

While Gremio had to scramble on several occasions to stop Madrid inside its own area, the closest the South American champions came at the other end was a free-kick by Edilson that swerved onto the top netting near the half-hour mark.

Geromel had tried to set the tone early on with a hard tackle that left Ronaldo writhing in pain, and hoping for a booking that never came.

Ronaldo had a poor first half. He twice erred in short passes with his back heel that failed to reach his teammates, and he squandered a good opportunity when he took too long to shoot when a loose ball fell to him close to the net.

All that changed after the interval. Ronaldo baited Jailson into fouling him outside the area with some fancy dribbling, setting up his winner.

Ronaldo thought he had another goal moments later, but Karim Benzema was ruled offside before he passed the ball back to Ronaldo.

Marcelo Grohe kept his side in the game by pushing Luka Modric’s shot onto his post and denied Ronaldo a second goal, but Gremio never mounted a serious response to get the equalizer.

Bundesliga wrap: Pulisic’s late winner sends BVB 3rd (video)

AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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While Bayern Munich continue to run away with their sixth straight Bundesliga title, the royal rumble over who’ll finish second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth — seven sides are currently separated by four points from second to eighth — rages on.

[ MORE: Man City make it 16 straight wins | Three studs, three duds ]

Stuttgart 0-1 Bayern Munich

You’ll quickly notice an emerging theme from Saturday’s games: late, result-altering goals.

Bayern dominated every phase of play the way they usually do, but were made to wait 79 minutes for a breakthrough. It was beginning to look as if their lead might shrink to seven points this weekend, but Thomas Mueller was more than happy to play the part of hero.

There was further heartbreak for Stuttgart, who then had a penalty kick saved by Lars Ulreich in the 93rd minute.

Borussia Dortmund 2-1 Hoffenheim

Dortmund have won back-to-back league games, for the first time since September, since firing manager Peter Bosz last week, and this one came courtesy of a certain, well-known American teenager.

Mark Uth put Hoffenheim ahead in the 21st minute, and Dortmund appeared to be headed for their first loss under new boss Peter Stoger. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang brought the home side back to level terms in the 63rd minute, but again, it seemed for the longest time that it wouldn’t be enough.

Then came the 89th minute, time for Christian Pulisic to shine. The presence of mind to flick the ball over the goalkeeper with his first touch, the control to drop the ball exactly where he wanted it on the other side, the quick feet to maneuver his way around the ‘keeper. The euphoric feeling as he slams the ball into an empty net.

Eintracht Frankfurt 2-2 Schalke

Schalke are making something of a routine out of falling behind by multiple goals, only to roar back to life and rescue a point in the game’s dying moments. First, there was the comeback from 4-0 against Dortmund. Today, the hill to climb was halved in size, but the point won is no less significant.

After falling 1-0 behind in the 1st minute and 2-0 behind in the 64th, Domenico Tedesco’s side got goals from Breel Embolo in the 81st minute and Naldo — scorer of the final goal in that 4-4 thriller — in the 94th.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away Pts
 Bayern Munich 17 13 2 2 37 11 26 7-1-0 6-1-2 41
 FC Schalke 04 17 8 6 3 28 21 7 5-3-1 3-3-2 30
 Borussia Dortmund 17 8 4 5 39 24 15 4-1-3 4-3-2 28
 RB Leipzig 16 8 4 4 25 22 3 5-2-0 3-2-4 28
 Moenchengladbach 17 8 4 5 27 28 -1 5-2-2 3-2-3 28
 Bayer Leverkusen 16 7 6 3 30 19 11 4-4-0 3-2-3 27
 1899 Hoffenheim 17 7 5 5 27 22 5 5-3-1 2-2-4 26
 Eintracht Frankfurt 17 7 5 5 20 18 2 2-2-4 5-3-1 26

Elsewhere in the Bundesliga

Augsburg 3-3 Freiburg
Werder Bremen 2-2 Mainz
Cologne 1-0 Wolfsburg

Sunday’s Bundesliga schedule

Hannover vs. Bayern Leverkusen — 9:30 a.m. ET
RB Leipzig vs. Hertha Berlin — 12 p.m. ET

Three stars, three duds from Man City 4-1 Spurs

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Spoiler alert: Our three stars and three dudes from Man City’s 4-1 demolition of Spurs fall neatly along club lines.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things from the Etihad ]

Three stars

  1. Kevin De Bruyne — Short of Lionel Messi, is anyone anywhere near the Belgian’s level right now? The passing, the shooting, the resilience in the face of constant fouling; KDB is a magician.
  2. Leroy Sane — The 21-year-old has more than justified his $62 million price tag — as much as such a thing can be justified — with terrific service, blinding pace, and wise reading of the game.
  3. Ilkay Gundogan — His header ushered City in front and he could’ve scored a second, but the ex-Borussia Dortmund man was a marshall in the middle of the park.

Three duds

  1. Dele Alli — Hasn’t scored since bagging a brace against Real Madrid on Nov. 1, and had miserable positioning when Gundogan headed home the opener. Then stamped Kevin De Bruyne with an outrageous blade in the second half. Not being sent off is hilarious;
  2. Kieran Trippier — For as dangerous as Trippier can be moving forward, he was out to lunch as Leroy Sane and Kevin De Bruyne — might wanna mark them, fella — raced down the left to make it 2-0 City.
  3. Hugo Lloris — Spurs’ sensational goalkeeper didn’t have many moments in him at the Etihad Stadium, dribbled around for the final goal.

Three things we learned from Man City’s win v. Spurs

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MANCHESTER — The juggernaut that is Manchester City shows no signs of slowing down as they beat Tottenham Hotspur 4-1 to extend their record-breaking run of victories. 

As the freezing fog rolled in and hung over the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, there was nothing misty about Man City’s play. Clarity remained as Pep Guardiola‘s men secured their 16th consecutive win in the Premier League with minimal fuss thanks to a goals from Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne and a double from Raheem Sterling.

The Premier League leaders missed a penalty kick and both Harry Kane and Dele Alli could have been sent off as City stretched their lead atop the Premier League table to 14 points.

Here’s what we learned from the Etihad.


THE OLD SWITCHEROO

Man City played like Tottenham and Tottenham tried to play like Man City on Saturday.

City perfected the high-press in the first half, putting the usually unflappable Hugo Lloris under pressure with several skewed clearances to show for it. They continued that ruthless pressing in the second, even though Tottenham predictably had a spell where they dominated possession at the start of the second half.

Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane squeezed Spurs’ back four high and the rest of the team followed. Spurs looked dangerous on a few breakaways when they did manage to manipulate the ball away from their own box but City were relentless and they taught Tottenham, so often the masters of the high-press, a lesson in how to strangle your opponents.

City’s incredible winning run owes plenty to their incredible individual ability on the ball, but their relentless work rate without the ball is often overlooked.

Their 16-game winning streak shows no signs of stopping and they’re not only beating their rivals but humbling them.

They are the first team since the 1953-54 season to beat each of Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham in a top-flight season before the New Year. There is simply no stopping City.


DE BRUYNE DELIVERS AS CITY ROAR ON

With David Silva missing this clash due to “personal reasons” it was up to Kevin de Bruyne to run the show in central midfield without his partner in crime. He did it admirably, as we all thought the runaway leader for the Premier League Player of the Year would.

Dominating proceedings in the game with his sublime range of passing, the Belgian ace clipped killer balls behind Spurs’ defense on multiple occasions in the first half with incredible ease.

With City leading 1-0, he was then clattered by Dele Alli with a studs up challenge worthy of a red card. You do not want to make de Bruyne angry. How did he respond?

De Bruyne picked himself up and on the next attack drove into the box and smashed a left-footed effort past Lloris. He then showed his class by holding up 21 to salute Silva. Moments later he won a penalty kick (which Gabriel Jesus missed) and he helped City ease to victory with flicks and tricks galore.

He is on another planet.


DELE ALLI THE ENIGMA

Dele Alli hasn’t scored in his last seven Premier League games but aside from his reduced offensive output, you can tell something isn’t quite right with the reigning PFA Young Player of the Year.

This was supposed to be Dele’s year. He’s shown his class in spurts this season with a double against Real Madrid in the Champions League and fine display against Liverpool in the PL, but it’s happened all too often.

He is just 21 years old. We should remember that. His form over the past two seasons at Tottenham have rightly seen him labeled as one of the most promising midfield prospects in Europe.

His lunging tackle on Kevin de Bruyne said it all. He looks frustrated and low in confidence and was upset at being hauled off in recent games as his drought continues. Dele was also subbed late in this thrashing for Spurs with jeers coming from all around the Etihad.

Dele Alli can get out of this rut, but there’s no denying he’s hit the toughest patch of his career so far.