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.

Barcelona president warns PSG over FFP

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Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu is warning Paris Saint-Germain that even if they try to sign Neymar, they would condemn themselves to UEFA sanctions.

With PSG heavily linked to the Brazilian superstar, rumors suggest the French club is hoping to activate Neymar’s monstrous release clause set at $258 million.

However, that could have serious consequences, warns Bartomeu. “These clauses are impossible to activate if you want to comply with Financial Fair Play,” the Barcelona president told the Associated Press. “If someone doesn’t want to comply, then of course it can be activated.”

The Spaniard assured fans that Neymar is a critical part of Barcelona’s success.

“He has a contract for the coming four years and, of course, we count on him,” Bartomeu said. “He’s part of our team. He’s part of this trident [with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez].”

The 25-year-old signed a five-year contract extension last October that runs through the summer of 2021. Club vice-president Jordi Mestre also said he was “200 per cent” sure Neymar would stay with Barcelona.

Bruce Arena must change tactics to win Gold Cup

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If last night’s 2-0 “win” over El Salvador proved anything to USMNT fans, it’s that Bruce Arena has plenty of work to do if the United States is to seriously challenge for the 2017 Gold Cup title.

Lowly El Salvador has beaten one CONCACAF opponent in its last 10 tries. That victory came over Curaçao. Nevertheless, the United States struggled to deal with the Central American nation, as El Salvador sported multiple stretches of good pressure, and the U.S. back line was unbelievably lucky to come out with a clean sheet they did not deserve.

Given the performance, Bruce Arena has only one option going forward. With the B Team he’s put together on the current 23-man roster, the USMNT manager cannot stick to his usual 4-4-2 formation. He must adapt.

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With a significantly worse defensive line than the U.S. is used to, Michael Bradley is unable to play by himself in a central defensive midfield role as he did against El Salvador. With just Bradley and Darlington Nagbe in the middle of the pitch, the United States sported a gaping hole down the center, begging their quarterfinal opponent to counter up the gut, which they did to great effect.

Arena knew the U.S. strength was down the flanks, and that’s where he chose to attack. You can see by the halftime touch map that the United States chose to move the ball up the edge, particularly the left with Justin Morrow and Gyasi Zardes.

Arena knew his midfield was thin, and attacked accordingly. Nevertheless, defensively it failed to hold up. Without the more superior John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, and DeAndre Yedlin behind them, a midfield pair of Bradley and Nagbe just isn’t enough to cut down the counter-attack.

So what is Bruce Arena to do? Change his tactics; it’s the only option. Instead of his favored 4-4-2, he must change to a 4-2-3-1. While that cuts down on room for more attacking players, it allows Bradley to partner with Kellyn Acosta in the midfield hole. In front of the pair can either be Clint Dempsey or Darlington Nagbe in the ACM role depending how Arena plans to attack. That leaves Jozy Altidore alone up front, and while that’s less than ideal for a striker who plays better with a partner, it’s the necessary sacrifice that must be made so the U.S. midfield isn’t carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey by the better attacking teams left in the Gold Cup.

Bruce Arena’s preferred tactics may work with better players on the first-choice USMNT roster, but with a significantly downgraded selection at his disposal, especially along the defensive line, the United States coach must adjust his tactics against Costa Rica and likely Mexico to even have a chance.

Villar appears before judge after arrest in corruption probe

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MADRID (AP) The president of the Spanish Football Federation, his son, and two other officials will appear before a judge on Thursday, two days after being arrested in an anti-corruption probe.

Federation president Angel Maria Villar, his son Gorka Villar, Juan Padron, the federation vice president of economic affairs who is also president of the Tenerife federation, and Ramon Hernandez, the Tenerife secretary, were arrested by Spain’s Guardia Civil on Tuesday.

National Court Judge Santiago Pedraz will question the four, who are accused of improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption, and falsifying documents as part of an inquiry into the finances of the federations.

Judge Pedraz will also decide on Thursday whether the suspects remain in custody, a spokesman for the National Court told The Associated Press. The spokesman asked to remain anonymous in line with court policy.

Angel Maria Villar has been president of the Spanish federation for three decades. He is also the senior vice president of FIFA and a vice president of UEFA.

Police said on Tuesday they suspect the elder Villar of having arranged matches for Spain that led to business deals benefiting his son, a sports lawyer who has worked for CONMEBOL under three presidents who were all implicated in corruption cases.

Angel Maria Villar has spent the last two nights in a Guardia Civil jail on the outskirts of Madrid, not far from the Spanish federation offices which were raided by police on Tuesday along with private properties and regional federation offices.

AP writer Joseph Wilson in Barcelona contributed to this story.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Aurier to Man United; Wilshere to West Ham

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The Independent is reporting that Manchester United is set to make a move for Serge Aurier with a deal for Monaco’s Fabinho taking too long to finalize.

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Aurier, 24, is a powerful defender who can play at right back or center back and he has excelled for Paris Saint-Germain in recent seasons despite issues off the field as he was fond guilty of assaulting a police officer in Paris and was also suspended by PSG for allegedly mocking teammate Angel di Maria and then manager Laurent Blanc in a periscope session.

The Ivory Coast international is said to be available for $31 million, with PSG and Real Madrid in the running for Fabinho as his price is now said to have rocketed to past $51.9 million.

Jose Mourinho has been speaking about the spiraling costs for “good players” and not “big players” as said he may now have to settle for three new signings than the four he targeted at the start of the summer. With Romelu Lukaku and Victor Lindelof coming in for over $135 million combined, United were said to have been agonizingly close with a deal for winger Ivan Perisic and a move for Chelsea’s Nemanja Matic is also said to still be a possibility.

Quick, strong and an all-out defender, Aurier is a solid Mourinho player. Antonio Valencia had a fine 2016-17 season but he will soon be 32 years old, so United have to look for other options at right back with both Matteo Darmian and Timothy Fosu-Mensah not doing enough to usurp Valencia last season.

All in all, this seems like a sensible solution rather than breaking the back for Fabinho who can play at both right back and as a holding midfielder.


The Daily Star claim that Arsenal have told West Ham United they’ll have to pay $28 million for Jack Wilshere and insert a buy-back clause in any deal.

Wilshere, 25, spent last season on loan at Bournemouth and although he impressed in spells he ended the season with yet another injury after suffering a left leg fracture against Tottenham Hotspur in April.

The academy product has 12 months left on his current contract and his future at Arsenal remains uncertain with Serie A side Sampdoria also said to be interested in his services, but is now the time for Wilshere to move on permanently?

Once the greatest hope of the English national team, Wilshere’s career has been ravaged by injuries and although Arsene Wenger rates him highly (hence the buy-back clause report) the Gunners have Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey, Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla and Mohamed Elneny in central midfield.

With Arsenal having a Europa League campaign this season perhaps Wilshere will get plenty more games with the Gunners under his belt to try and impress, but surely he wants to be playing week in, week out in the Premier League.

His England teammate Joe Hart just signed for West Ham and with the Hammers’ rivalry with Arsenal not as intense as other London neighbors Spurs and Chelsea, this deal may work. If not permanently then on a season-long loan, but Wenger was very specific about Wilshere joining Bournemouth for the style of soccer Eddie Howe‘s men play. Under Slaven Bilic West Ham aren’t a free-flowing side but at this point Wilshere’s options in the PL seem limited.

The next 12 months are critical in shaping the rest of his career. We’ve said that many times before, but it feels like now or never for the talented central midfielder.