Premier League Playback: Naive Liverpool, overachievers, Championship Sunday

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SWASHBUCKLING LIVERPOOL PAY THE PRICE

At Selhurst Park on Monday, Liverpool’s title charge took a devastating blow for the second time in a week. 3-0 up with 11 minutes to go, somehow the Premier League’s long-time leaders chucked it all away as they tied 3-3 in dramatic fashion against Crystal Palace. Standing at the back of the old main stand of Palace’s home stadium, as soon as their second goal went in I sensed the game was only going one way.

Despite the horrendous nature of their late collapse against Palace, the real damage was done for Brendan Rodgers’ side when they lost 2-0 at home to Chelsea last Sunday. Liverpool only needed a point from that match but went for the win and paid the price for their naive tactics. They didn’t learn from their cavalier approach going wrong against Chelsea, as Palace picked the Reds apart with Rodgers’ side pouring forward to try and score more goals in order to help their goal differential and their title chances.

Following the game, Rodgers was reserved and slightly stunned in front of the assembled media in South London as he conceded the Premier League title to Man City.

“It is hugely disappointing,” Rodgers said of Liverpool’s collapse. “For 78 minutes we were outstanding, looked solid defensively, didn’t have many scares, got three goals and looked like we could have got more. I think we got a little bit carried away looking to get one or two more goals and lost the defensive structure to our game. To lose those three goals at the end of the game was hugely disappointing. We said at half time that the most important thing was to win the game. I thought we started playing “Roy of the Rovers” football and trying make up the goal difference. Tonight was about winning the game.”

Liverpool didn’t win, and heading into the final game of the 2013-14 Premier League season they know a win at home against Newcastle is unlikely to be enough to hand them their first league title in 24 years. Manchester City — who have remarkably only spent 11 days at the time of the standings the entire season due to the scheduling of their matches — only need a point against West Ham on the final day as their goal differential is 13 better than Liverpool’s and they are two points ahead of Liverpool at the top of the PL standings.

So, did Rodgers really not tell his squad to go for more goals against Palace?

Before the match Rodgers gave a rallying cry that his side had all guns blazing and were trying to erase City’s advantage in terms of goal differential. If I was a Crystal Palace player listening to those words, it would’ve made me determined to scupper Liverpool’s title charge. Don’t get me wrong Liverpool’s free-flowing style, which has seen them score 99 goals this season, is exciting, exhilarating and easy on the eye. Yet it is also extremely naive. Glen Johnson and Jon Flanagan were bombing on from their full back positions even after the Reds let their first two goals in and both were exposed horribly, alongside Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho who were beaten by a long hoof up the pitch late on for the equalizer.

Here is what Johnson, who didn’t have a night to remember, said on Twitter in response to severe criticism after the game.

When it comes to experts…. would Arsene Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson have gone all-out attack when they were 3-0 up away at Palace to try and whittle down goal difference? No. They would have made sure they won the game and made their competitors win their final match of the campaign. Now City don’t have to and Liverpool have let them off the hook. Rodgers’ game management, once again, was poor. Even if he didn’t instruct his side to grab the ball after every goal and race back to the halfway line to try to score more, the way the Northern Irishman has conditioned his side to play came back to bite him. Liverpool’s players don’t know any other way to play and if you concede 49 goals in 37 games and can’t adapt your style to grind out wins then, unfortunately, you are never going to win the Premier League crown.

In the video below you can see the utter devastation from Liverpool’s players, especially Luis Suarez who was inconsolable, and their fans alongside the jubilation of Palace’s faithful. In a nutshell, Monday’s 3-3 draw at Selhurst Park epitomized the Premier League. Drama, despair and delight all wrapped into a pulsating 90 minutes. It doesn’t get much better than that.

CHAMPIONSHIP SUNDAY SET

With City still needing to get a point from their final match of the season at home to West Ham, all eyes will be on the Etihad on Sunday. You can watch their match live on NBC at 10 a.m. ET, so will we have another dramatic fashion on the final day similar to win City won their first PL title two seasons ago?

Premier League Schedule – Week 37

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 1-0 West Brom Recap and watch here
 Aston Villa 3-1 Hull City Recap and watch here
Chelsea 0-0 Norwich Recap and watch here
Crystal Palace 3-3 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Everton 2-3 Manchester City Recap and watch here
Manchester United 0-1 Sunderland Recap and watch here
Newcastle 3-0 Cardiff City Recap and watch here
Stoke City 4-1 Fulham Recap and watch here
Swansea 0-1 Southampton Recap and watch here
West Ham 2-0 Tottenham Recap and watch here

In case you didn’t know, you can also watch all 10 PL games live across NBC’s umbrella of channels on Sunday as “Championship Sunday” takes over your TV sets. Here are all the details, as games will be played on NBCSN, CNBC, MSNBC, E!, Bravo and many more.

MORE: Championship Sunday focus, all 20 teams

For one last time this season sit back, relax and get your remote ready for a good old bashing as you flick between the 10 games being played simultaneously. Plus, you can catch every game live online via NBC Sports Live Extra.

10 games, 10 channels, one Championship Sunday.

THE OVERACHIEVERS

It is that time of the year again when awards are handed out and we are no different here at ProSoccerTalk.

Next week look out for our Premier League reviews, as from Monday to Thursday we will be awarding several accolades and reviewing one of the greatest seasons in PL history.

Many of the same teams or individuals have and will win most of the awards, and rightly so. Yet which teams have overachieved this season in the PL? For me, Southampton, Stoke City, Crystal Palace and Hull City could all fight for that accolade. Okay, even top five teams like Liverpool and Everton can be roped into the “overachievers” bracket, but those sides will get awards and in fairness they are massive clubs. The four aforementioned teams are not and they have punched well above their weight in the Premier League. Here’s a quick look at all four, as you may not have hear about them too much all season long.

  • Southampton: It has been a remarkable season on the South Coast for Mauricio Pochettino’s men. Teenagers Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers, Harrison Reed and Sam Gallagher have all come through the academy as Saints are the envy of most PL clubs as they run a sustainable ship. Adam Lallana, Shaw and until injury wrecked his World Cup dreams, Jay Rodriguez, have been the stars as they team have equaled their best-ever PL finish of eighth and recorded their best-ever PL points total off 55 and counting. Can they keep all of their stars together and mount a serious challenge to the top five next season?
  • Stoke City: The Potters will finish in the top half of the standings for the first time in PL history as Mark Hughes men recovered superbly after a slow start. Even up until January there were lingering doubts around relegation at the Britannia Stadium but Hughes’ first season in charge has seen massive home wins over Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United as Stoke have shone. They still have a solid defensive core but now a silky style has started to seep through. Can they kick on and fight for the top six next season.
  • Crystal Palace: Tony Pulis is right up there for the manager of the year award and the job he has done at Palace deserves it. On the four previous occasions they had been promoted to the PL they were relegated at the first attempt but that isn’t the case this time around. When Pulis arrived in late November they had just four points in the standings and were dead and buried… now they are 11th and have amassed 44 points in an astonishing turnaround. Selhurst Park is a hostile stadium to visit and the fans are enjoying “Crystal Pulis'” progression. What are they capable of next season?
  • Hull City: The Tigers’ season has petered out in terms of their PL success, just two wins in their last 10 tell that story. However with a first-ever FA Cup final hanging over them against Arsenal on May 17, its not all doom and gloom for Steve Bruce’s side. Far from it. If you had said the Tigers would have stayed up at the start of the season, any Hull fan, player or staff member would have ripped your hand off. They are difficult to beat and have a chance of silverware at the end of a landmark season back in the big time.

CAN MAN UNITED SEAL A EUROPEAN SPOT?

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With plenty of permutations still around for Championship Sunday, there are a few things to be decided. One of those if whether or not Manchester United will be playing in the Europa League next season. If the Red Devils beat Southampton at St. Mary’s on the final day of the season then they will hope for a Tottenham defeat at home to Aston Villa, which would seal a sixth place finish for Ryan Giggs’ men.

After the final whistle blows on the 2013-14 campaign, do we think United would be happy to finish sixth and have European soccer to attract better players to sign this summer? Personally, I don’t think it makes a difference. If anything United’s rebuild will be hampered by Thursday night matches in far flung corners of Europe. As we’ve seen with Liverpool this campaign, not having the distraction of European nights can be a huge plus point in terms of a charge towards the PL title. The big question still remains about their manager and who will be at the helm next season, as Giggs played himself in the midweek win over Hull and spoke to the United faithful from the pitch. Watch that video above.

Whether or not Ryan Giggs, Louis van Gaal or whoever else is in charge at the start of the next season, Europa League soccer is not a necessity at Old Trafford if England’s most successful club are to make a quick return to glory amongst the PL’s elite.

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

MLS attendance up, TV ratings lag as US mulls future

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NEW YORK (AP) Major League Soccer’s attendance is up and fan interest is booming, even if television broadcasts are far less popular and some young Americans would rather play in Europe.

[ MORE: Caleb Porter out as Portland Timbers head coach ]

MLS averaged 22,000 in attendance for the first time in its history this season, ranked among the top seven leagues in the world. The league is set to add a second Los Angeles franchise next year, announce two expansion cities next month and at some point finalize David Beckham’s long-pending Miami club.

But viewers averaged under 300,000 for nationally televised regular-season matches, fewer than the average for a New York Yankees game on their regional sports network. Several top young Americans, such as Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie, have chosen to forego the MLS to play in Germany and test their mettle in a more demanding environment.

And worst of all, the United States – whose roster was filled with MLS stars – failed to qualify for next year’s World Cup, ending a streak of seven straight appearances in soccer’s showcase.

“We need to use this failure as a wakeup call for everyone associated with the sport at all levels to ensure that we have the right processes and mechanisms and development programs and leadership and governance in place to learn from this missed opportunity to ensure that it never happens again,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said this week. “Part of the maturation of becoming a soccer nation is recognizing that qualifying for the World Cup is not a birthright. It’s something you need to earn, and we are unfortunately in the company of some great soccer nations, like Italy and Holland and Ghana and Chile – Copa champions – that have also not qualified.”

MLS playoffs resume next week after the international break with the first leg of Conference Championships. Columbus – whose owners are threatening to move to Austin, Texas, in 2019 – hosts Toronto, while Houston is home against Seattle.

“MLS and soccer in the United States have made great advances in many areas. But its promoters have found that the abundance of existing legacy sports leagues that have the highest quality of athletes on the planet creates a ceiling on professional soccer in the United States,” said Marc Ganis, president of the consulting firm SportsCorp. “It has not, and perhaps never, will supplant any of the major legacy sports unless and until the quality of play and players increases significantly and the U.S. men’s team in particular is more competitive and, in fact, wins some of the major international tournaments.”

Momentum of playoff runs was interrupted because of World Cup qualifying, and the culmination of the league’s season competes for attention with the NFL and college football among the wider American sports audience.

“Long-term demographic things like CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and stuff with the NFL says maybe there is a long slow decline around some of that, but when you’re starting from where they’re starting, that’s going to take a generation,” Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey said. “We’ll grow because most of the immigration to the U.S. is from soccer-playing countries and the country is going to grow.”

Launched with 10 teams in 1996, two years after the U.S. hosted the World Cup, MLS expanded to 12 but cut back to 10 after the 2001 season. There has been steady growth since expansion started in 2004. Next year’s total will be 23, already well over the norm for a first division, and the league is planning to settle at 28.

Infrastructure could not be more different than in the early days. The league has 14 soccer specific stadiums, two more renovated for the sport and one built with both the NFL and soccer in mind. Three more soccer stadiums are under construction.

Average attendance is up 60 percent from 13,756 in 2000, boosted this year by 48,200 for Atlanta in its opening season. MLS trails only the Germany’s Bundesliga, England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Mexico’s Liga MX, the Chinese Super League and Serie A, with Italy’s first division ahead by only 22,177 to 22,106.

But that has not translated yet into big television ratings.

ESPN averaged 272,000 for 30 telecasts this regular season on ESPN and ESPN2, and Fox averaged 236,000 for 33 broadcasts on FS1 and Fox. In addition, Univision is averaging 250,000 viewers for its Spanish-language MLS telecasts.

But the Premier League attracts a larger audience, averaging 422,000 on NBC, NBCSN and CNBC, even though many matches are on weekend mornings.

“We’re not the Premier League,” Garber said, pointing out last year’s MLS Cup drew 1.4 million viewers on Fox. “The fact that we’re able to generate ratings growth across all of our partners here and in Canada, and dramatic growth in Canada, is a positive. So we actually, we and our partners, feel pretty darn good.”

Player payroll has increased as MLS keeps adding what it calls Targeted Allocation Money. While several older American players have returned to MLS from Europe, many of the teens viewed as the future of the U.S. national team have gone abroad as they emerge from the MLS youth academies, which have been mandated by the league since 2007 and produced more than 250 players with first-team MLS contracts.

Pulisic, at 19 already the leading American star, left Hershey, Pennsylvania, to sign with Borussia Dortmund at age 16, able because of his grandfather’s Croatian citizenship to play in Europe before he turned 18. McKennie left FC Dallas’ academy when he turned 18, signed with Schalke and scored in his U.S. debut this week.

“I didn’t want to become one of those guys that started in MLS and said, man, I wonder if I could have made it to Europe,” McKennie said. “I wanted to spread my wings and see what I could do over here.”

Forward Josh Sargent decided against Sporting Kansas City and is waiting until he turns 18 in February to sign with Werder Bremen.

“I think I’ve just always wanted since I was a little kid to play in Europe,” he said.

Tyler Adams, who also made his U.S. debut this week, played his first MLS game with the New York Red Bulls last year at age 17 and became a regular this season. Garber says “Tyler Adams probably is playing more minutes today for the Red Bulls than he would if he was not in Major League Soccer.”

Adams is happy but thinking ahead.

“Obviously a goal of mine is to play Champions League one day, and obviously the MLS is working its way to becoming one of the top leagues in the world,” he said. “Maybe one day I find myself in Europe. You never know.”

Sometimes big contracts only stall a career. Matt Miazga left the Red Bulls to sign with Chelsea in January 2016, saw little playing time and didn’t get in games regularly until late that autumn during a loan to the Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem.

“If your only desire is to go to Europe, there are flights leaving every hour on the hour from JFK and LAX and everywhere in between,” said retired American defender Alexi Lalas, now a Fox analyst. “But getting to a place in Europe where you are making good money, where you are playing consistently, where you are learning, where you are valued as a player and as an American player, where you are able to adapt and adjust and live in the other 22 1/2 hours that we often don’t talk about, that’s whole `nother story, and there’s not a lot of flights leaving that have that on the other end.”

With the U.S. soccer community in turmoil following the World Cup failure, some have called for MLS to guarantee playing time for young Americans.

“Our coaches universally believed that that was not the best way to ensure we had the highest-possible product quality to be able to have competitive games and to drive the growth of our fan base,” Garber said.

AP Sports Writer Tim Booth contributed to this report.

Bartra error emphasizes Dortmund’s latest Bundesliga woes

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Christian Pulisic sat out Friday’s 2-1 Dortmund defeat against Stuttgart. Coincidence? Perhaps.

However, the club’s struggles are apparent as Dortmund’s winless run extended to four matches and their gap from Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich could be up to nine points by the end of the weekend.

[ MORE: Chris Coleman steps down from Wales, expected to take Sunderland job ]

BVB was without several of its top talents for the match, including U.S. Men’s National Team star Pulisic and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but it’s Dortmund’s defending that continues to be the side’s biggest issue.

Stuttgart struck after five minutes when Chadrac Akolo broke the deadlock off of an embarrassing blunder by Marc Bartra and the Dortmund defense.

Bartra attempted a routine back pass to goalkeeper Roman Burki during the early moments of the match, but his ball back proved to be way too strong and deflected off of Burki and into the path of Stuttgart forward Akolo (video below).

Dortmund atoned for the former Barcelona man’s mistake just prior to halftime when Maximilian Philipp equalized, but it took just six minutes into the second stanza for Josip Brekalo to restore the Stuttgart advantage.

Moyes: Chicharito could miss two weeks with hamstring strain

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David Moyes has given Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez assurances that he’ll have the opportunity to compete for a starting role with the Hammers, but the Mexican international will have to wait a bit for a chance.

[ MORE: North London Derby takes center stage Saturday morning ]

Hernandez, 29, is currently nursing a hamstring strain, leaving his status for this weekend against Watford in doubt.

“I think everyone knows he [Chicharito] has got a hamstring injury,” Moyes said during Friday’s press conference. “It could take a week, it could take two weeks.”

Moyes didn’t mince words recently when speaking about Chicharito and other players within the squad, essentially pointing out that no player will be awarded a starting role simply because of their stardom.

Hernandez has scored four goals in 13 matches this season for West Ham, who currently sits 18th in the Premier League. The Hammers have won just two matches to start the 2017/18 campaign and sit on nine points.

Alessandro Nesta steps down with NASL side Miami FC

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Miami FC quickly put itself on the U.S. soccer map in two short seasons, and much of the club’s success can be attributed to manager Alessandro Nesta.

[ MORE: Chris Coleman steps down with Wales, expected to take Sunderland job ]

The former Serie A defender has managed the club in its first two years of existence, but Nesta’s time in South Beach is coming to an end.

Nesta revealed on Friday that he won’t be returning to the NASL club in 2018, as he prepares to fnd a “new challenge” in his managerial career.

With NASL’s future as a league very much up in the air, Nesta could be seeking a more stable position entering 2018, especially given that his name has been thrown around with several MLS jobs over the last few months.