Quick Six: Gerrard’s slip, Mourinho’s gambit, and the rest of the headlines from the PL weekend

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1. Oh, Steven Gerrard

By Sunday night, Brendan Rodgers’ fixation on a pair of buses dominated headlines, but whether they were unintentional or clever, the sentiments only served to distract from the bigger stories surrounding Liverpool’s loss. Just as we had become comfortable with the idea the Reds would claim their first Premier League title, a 2-0 loss at home to Chelsea has handed control to Manchester City, with the team captain’s mistake allowing José Mouinrho’s largely second-choice lineup to take control at Anfield.

Of course, we can cite an array of mitigating factors to say Gerrard’s slip, giveaway, and inability to recover on Demba Ba’s late first half goal could have been offset. But we also know, against a team choosing to set up like Chelsea, the first goal could very well decide it. Sentimentally, we want to cast the importance of Gerrard’s mistake in a softer light. Practically, we may end up understating its severity.

(MORE: Liverpool 0-2 Chelsea: Blues stun leaders after Gerrard’s blunder)

Gerrard’s time at Liverpool had become one of the ledes when framing the Reds’ resurgence. Between 16 seasons at the club, his chances to leave, and his connection to Hillsborough, Gerrard’s personal story had become second only to the club’s revival when describing the significance of this title run. If his slip costs ends up being the difference, it will be too cruel.

(MORE: Rodgers slams Mourinho’s defensive tactics after loss)

2. José Mourinho’s “bluff” comes good

As the Chelsea manager threatened to start a second choice team at Anfield on Sunday, many onlookers were ready to call his bluff. Surely those were mere mind games. Then came a team where only one, maybe two players were both starters and playing in their normal position. Just as he’d threatened to do after drawing in Madrid, Mourinho put all his eggs in the Champions League basket.

But metaphorical eggs don’t win games. Players do, as does strong planning and, sometimes, good fortune. All three went in Mourinho’s favor on Sunday. His choices may have selected reserves, but those reserves played well, executing a plan that gave the team its best chance to stay in the title race. Along the way, it also preserved Mourinho’s key talents for Wednesday at Stamford Bridge.

This all circles back to our first point, though. Chelsea were going to have a difficult time getting out of Anfield with a win unless it got some help. Given Mourinho’s selection and tactics, Gerrard’s error looms even larger.

3. Manchester City solves Palace, takes control of title destiny

We’re still not so used to Crystal Palace being good that we’re ready to laud City’s 2-0 win at Selhurst Park. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t, though. As both Chelsea and Everton found out recently, Crystal Palace is capable of derailing various levels of European aspiration. The Eagles posed the same challenge to City’s title hopes.

So let’s laud. City not only managed the challenge at Selhurt; it broke through after four minutes. Yaya Touré’s return to the team put the Citizens up two at half time. They held Tony Pulis’s side to a mere three shots and did something no other team’s done since March. They beat Crystal Palace.

(MORE: Crystal Palace 0-2 Manchester City: Pellegrini’s men grab upper hand for title)

This is how talented teams are supposed to manage the Eagles, but it’s rarely actually happened. Palace had entered the game one a five-game winning streak and a chance to move into the top half. To City’s credit, that didn’t happen, with the Citizens’ performance showing the lessons of an up-and-down campaign could pay off in a hardened team’s title run.

4. Giggs restores sanity to Old Trafford as Van Gaal inches closer

Forgive Manchester United fans’ elation at a big win over Norwich City, but given what they’ve been through this season, fixating on one good result (no matter the opponent) is understandable. Their winter is finally over. The gloom that met each day of that final, grey season has given way to something brighter. Thanks to braces from Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata, Ryan Giggs’ managerial debut ended with 4-0 win over the visiting Canaries – a result that felt as much a rebuke of David Moyes’ era as the dawn of a new one.

(MORE: Manchester United 4-0 Norwich City: Giggs Era is off to a fantastic start (video))

That new one is inching closer. Monday morning headlines in England reflect what people have not-so-secretly whispering for months: Louis Van Gaal is going to be the next manager at Old Trafford. There was no secret handshake, nor were there any other promises made, but since mid-February — when Van Gaal has started aiming for the move amid news Moyes could be fired post-Olympiakos — all the pieces have lines up. The non-sensical idea that Carlo Ancelotti might leave Real Madrid for the post only confirmed the notion Van Gaal was the likely choice.

If United close the season as strong as it played on Saturday, some will call for Giggs to get a shot. His day will come, but that day’s not now. Van Gaal is the perfect choice to lift United back into the top four. After two years of him, though, the team will be ready to anoint Giggs their next chosen one.

5. Sunderland surge out of the drop

The Canaries’ loss was only the latest step toward what’s become an inevitable relegation, with a difficult closing stretch giving Norwich only faint hopes of climbing out of the bottom three. If that squad’s in need of inspiration, however, they need look no further than the team above them in the table. Closing out an 12-day, seven-point stretch, Sunderland’s 4-0 victory over Cardiff City vaulted the team out of the bottom three for the first time this season, with Gus Poyet’s side sitting 17th after Sunday’s result.

The loss leaves Cardiff City, the other club seemingly destined to go down, in last place, with only Fulham separating them from Norwich City. Given how the Whites have played under Magath, they’re capable of staying up, but they’ll need help from with Sunderland or Aston Villa. They’ll also need to avoid more disappointments like Saturday’s against Hull City.

Given the Villans were trounced 4-1 at Swansea on Saturday, Aston Villa looks most likely to oblige. Paul Lambert’s team has not won a game in six weeks.

 

source:
http://www.liverpoolfc.com

6. Luis Suárez – PFA Player of the Year

In one of the easiest votes in recent history, Luis Suárez’s peers made the right choice, handing out an award that’s been destined to go to the Uruguayan ever since Aaron Ramsey was injured this fall. Even if the Arsenal midfielder had stayed healthy, though, he would have had the near-impossible task of keeping up with one of the most prolific seasons in league history. Despite finishing up a carry-over suspension at the beginning of the season, Suárez has 30 goals – 11 more than the next non-Liverpool player on the Premier League’s scoring charts.

When Suárez came over from Ajax in 2011, most dismissed the notion he would ever replicate the ridiculous scoring rates he posted in the Netherlands. After all, the Eredivisie is a league where defense is only a theory. Yet after scoring 55 times over his last two Premier League seasons, Suárez has rekindled the notion. In his last two full seasons in Amsterdam, Suárez has 57 goals.

Suárez has turned the Premier League into the Eredivisie, as ridiculous as that sounds. In that light, a Player of the Year honor seems insufficient. I’m not saying we should create a Destroyer of English Leagues honor, but if we did, Suárez would be the lead contender for it.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images
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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”

Boa Esporte goalkeeper back to prison as murder appeal denied

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The risk clearly wasn’t worth it for Boa Esporte.

The Brazilian club signed Bruno Fernandes de Souza in March, not long after the convicted murderer and goalkeeper was released from prison on appeal.

Fernandes, 32, had been jailed for ordering the murder of a lover, who was fed to dogs by the killer. Boa Esporte lost several big sponsors for signing him, but vocally defended the move.

The owner, Rone Moraes da Costa, said he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to revive his career. Fernandes admitted his mistakes but said he wasn’t “a bad guy”.

According to the Associated Press:

“Brazil’s Supreme Court decided on Tuesday to deny an appeal to Boa Esporte goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes de Souza, who was released in March while appealing a 22-year sentence in the 2010 killing of Eliza Samudio.”

So it’s back to jail for Fernandes, and we’ll be waiting with baited breath to hear from Boa Esporte’s owner.

Conte: Chelsea “ready to fight to the end”

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Following Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Spurs and Tuesday’s blowout of Southampton — the 4-2 score line didn’t tell the story of the second half — Antonio Conte is fired up for Chelsea to complete its Premier League title run.

The manager admits that his side was under pressure after Spurs narrowed the table gap to four points last week, but the wins have eased the Blues’ burden.

Chelsea had lost two of four PL matches before the weekend.

From Football.London:

“I think we passed a big, big psychological step after the defeat to United. We lost three points and had to prepare a semi-final against Tottenham and then another tough game in the league. In that moment we had a really important test and our answer was very good.

“We must think that this race is open, we have reached the final of the FA Cup. The situation in the league is totally open. We are ready to fight to the end. We must be proud for the job we are doing and to fight to the end.”

Spurs can bring the gap back to four with a win at Crystal Palace on Tuesday, but have a tougher run-in with five matches to play. As long as the gap is within six points, anything is possible, but the Blues have certainly answered the bell over the past four days.

Chelsea: Big win “feels like a massive step” to title

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“It feels like a massive step to be honest,” said game-changing goal scorer Gary Cahill of Chelsea’s 4-2 win over Southampton at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

Chelsea’s Premier League lead stands at seven points after the win, which saw a dominant second half from the hosts.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Perhaps it was cued up by Cahill’s first half stoppage time header, which boosted the Blues to a 2-1 lead just before the whistle.

Cahill darted in front of Diego Costa‘s scissor kick attempt to power a header past Fraser Forster.

“(Costa) tried to claim it afterward as well,” Cahill said. “When the ball’s just lofted over, it’s dying to be attacked. We went into halftime with our tails up and it was a big boost for us.”

Cesc Fabregas said Southampton surprised the Blues tactically, leading to an entertaining first half that could’ve seen either side ahead before half.

“We needed a little bit of time to adapt to what they did because we prepared for something else,” he said.

Fabregas said the win was big with second-place Spurs watching at home. Tottenham plays at Crystal Palace on Wednesday.

“We needed a good response after the Man United game. We have to keep going with five games to go, to keep it up and make the last push. It would be a big shame if now we relaxed. We just have to push now more than ever,” he said.

“It’s a statement for (Spurs), for us, for everyone, but most of all for us.”
Eden Hazard agreed.
“We scored four beautiful goals,” said the Belgian, who scored the game’s first goal. “It’s good to play before and put pressure on them.”