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.

USMNT eyeing the table as it kicks off training camp

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) Goalkeeper Tim Howard‘s uniform was filled with grass stains after the first day of training camp.

And this was considered a light workout.

“Just getting everybody back together, getting a sweat,” Howard said Monday after the U.S. squad went through a roughly 60-minute workout. “Day by day, we’re just trying to add on to the pile, put some concepts in and get some understanding between players.”

What awaits the squad in resumption of the final round of World Cup qualifying is certainly a gantlet. They have a game against Trinidad and Tobago on June 8 in Commerce City and then at Mexico three days later.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

There’s little margin for error, with the U.S. currently in fourth place in the six-team standings. They have three home and three away matches remaining. The top three teams qualify, with the fourth-place squad going to a playoff against Asia’s No. 5 nation.

“We need to keep climbing that table. We feel like this is a good opportunity to do it,” said Howard, now with the Colorado Rapids and who will feel right at home with the Trinidad game on his turf at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. “One game, that’s as far as you can look. You can’t look to next week or the week after or two months from now.”

For now, Howard will be coach Bruce Arena’s goalkeeper over Brad Guzan, Ethan Horvath and Nick Rimando, who all were invited to camp. But it’s an ongoing evaluation.

“We have good goalkeepers here. That’s the least of my worries, to be honest,” Arena said.

Given the short amount of time between games, Arena fully plans on using more players than usual. One particular competition to watch will be at right back between Timmy Chandler and DeAndre Yedlin.

“I have a close eye on everything,” Arena said. “We have a bunch of good players here. … We’re watching everybody and thinking about how we can best utilize everyone.”

[ MORE: Kroenke, Wenger meet; Decision looms ]

The roster features a solid blend of youth and experience. Leading the youngsters is Christian Pulisic, the 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder who last weekend became the youngest American to win a club medal in Europe.

On the veteran side are players such as Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley and Howard, all of whom have more than 30 World Cup qualifying appearances.

“We’re past the experimentation phase. These are all guys who the manager believes in whole-heartedly,” Howard said. “They’re not here for anything other than to play minutes, play important minutes.”

Arena couldn’t agree more.

“This is a nice group we have here. Hopefully, we can find the right balance in the team, putting them in the right position to complement them both individually and collectively,” Arena said. “If we can accomplish that, there’s no reason to believe we can’t be successful in these two games.”

Joining the camp in Colorado are a few players who weren’t with the squad in March. Guzan, Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood and Yedlin are all on the field. Guzan didn’t participate because his wife was expecting their second child, while the others were dealing with injuries, illnesses and yellow-card suspension.

Now, it’s a matter of getting their timing down – and accustomed to the altitude.

“There’s no reason to make it an excuse,” midfielder Paul Arriola said. “Just doing the best we can to acclimate to it.”

Arena’s squad will get things rolling in a friendly against Venezuela in Sandy, Utah, on Saturday.

“That’s a good game for us,” Arena said. “It gives us a little bit of exercise at lower altitude, which isn’t perfect for what we need to do to get ready here and Mexico City, but it’s a start. Think it will be good to give a chance to 16 players and build from there – get us ready for Trinidad and Mexico.”

Stam after Reading playoff final loss: “Tough to take”

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Jaap Stam has won silverware in three different leagues for five different teams, and has a Champions League title from his time at Manchester United.

He’s used to winning, and that includes his first stop as a full-time manager. And that makes Reading’s loss in Monday’s playoff final sting a bit more.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

Reading lost in penalty kicks and it’s not like the Royals were thoroughly outclassed by Huddersfield Town. But it still burns. From Sky Sports:

“You don’t want to play football to be in the grey areas, you want to get the max out of your career, win trophies and play at the highest level.

“It’s tough to take, but it has to be difficult. It’s not good to lose a game like this, you need to feel it and experience it and then take that forward if you get into the same moment again. The good players do that.”

Reading loses a trio of loan players — Lewis Grabban, Reece Oxford, and Jordon Mutch — as well as American midfielder Danny Williams. It won’t be easy for Reading to get back into the playoffs without an injection of money, but Stam’s first rodeo as a manager was a good ride that came up just short.

Wenger, Kroenke meet; Board to learn decision Tues.

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Wenger watch is entering its final hours.

The BBC is reporting that Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke met with longtime manager Arsene Wenger on Monday to discuss the Frenchman’s future, and that the decision was going to be made together.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

It seems almost certain that Wenger is going to come back to the Emirates Stadium. From the BBC:

The outcome is unclear but the decision rests solely with Wenger and Kroenke and will be relayed to directors at a Tuesday board meeting.

Fresh terms were agreed in principle some months ago, but nothing is signed.

There have been questions about whether Wenger would accept a sporting director being placed above him, and if Kroenke believes the repercussions of keeping the boss would negatively impact the business.

Barcelona to keep goalkeeper Ter Stegen until 2022

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has reached a deal to extend the contract of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen until June 2022.

The club said the new agreement, which has a buyout clause of 180 million euros ($201 million), will be signed on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

Ter Stegen has been with the club since 2014, helping it win nine titles in three seasons.

The German goalkeeper has played 93 matches with Barcelona, conceding 90 goals in 71 wins, 10 draws and 12 losses.

Barcelona has already renewed the contracts of Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic. It is still working on new deals for Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.