Premier League Playback: Winners, losers from festive period

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WHO EXCELLED IN FESTIVE SPELL?

Winners

Tottenham Hotspur – Yep. They’re back. Dele Alli is on fire (seven goals in four games over the festive period) and Kane looks sharp. They scored 12 goals and conceded twice. Spurs now look like Chelsea’s biggest challengers for the title.
Manchester United – Six wins on the spin in the PL, plus Zlatan and Pogba on fire. What more could United ask for? Mourinho’s defense looks mean and the game against Liverpool on Jan. 15 will be a huge test of where they’re at.
Liverpool – It could’ve been so much better for Jurgen Klopp had they not conceded two penalties at Sunderland. Still, 10 points from 12 is a great return. Liverpool firmly in the title race.
BurnleySean Dyche is working wonders at Burnley and has turned Turf Moor into a fortress. All seven PL wins have come at home and they had narrow away defeat at Spurs and Man City.

Losers

Arsenal – Okay, so they lost at Man City and their comeback 3-3 draw at Bournemouth felt like a defeat. Sandwiched in-between were two laboring wins against West Brom and Palace. Stuttering.
Southampton – Oh dear. Claude Puel‘s side beat Bournemouth on Dec. 19 but he gave the team time off. Then they crumbled with three-straight defeats and two red cards. Sucked into a relegation battle?
Hull CityMike Phelan was fired after the defeat at West Brom on Jan. 2 and Marco Silva is in. Hull needs new players but doesn’t have much money to spend. Should’ve beaten Everton but same mistakes costing them points. The struggled is real at the KCOM as ownership issues continue.
Crystal PalaceSam Allardyce is already getting booed as he drew at Watford, lost at Arsenal and lost at home to Swansea. Not ideal after Alan Pardew‘s firing as Palace sit one point above the drop zone.
Watford – Six defeats in eight PL games has Walter Mazzarri‘s side hurtling towards a relegation battle in the second half of the season. Just like last season. Buckle up, Hornets fans.


MIDSEASON AWARDS

All this week at Pro Soccer Talk we’ve been rolling out our midseason awards.

[ MORE: PST’s full midseason awards

Here’s a full list of the categories below, plus we had some fun with our revised PL standings at the halfway point. 

Enjoy scrolling through the story of the season so far…


NORMALITY RESUMING

When you look at the PL table as we enter the second half of the season everything looks about right.

After the madness of last season, normality is slowly but surely resuming.

[ MORE: 3 things learned from Spurs’ win vs. Chelsea

The perennial top six are back where they belong, while the likes of Leicester, West Ham and Southampton are back in midtable or worse rather than the top seven where they all finished last season.Of course, Leicester cruised to the PL title last season, finishing 10 points clear of Arsenal in one of the greatest upsets in sporting history.

Things are back to normal this season, though, as Chelsea boss Antonio Conte confirmed following the end of his teams 13-game winning streak as they lost 2-0 at Tottenham on Jan. 4 to breathe new life into the title race.

“I think the situation is very clear. There are six teams that can fight for the title or for a place in the Champions League,” Conte said. “I am sure one of these six teams will be champions.”

That’s not to say this normality is boring. Far from it.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings  | schedule

The top six have separated themselves from the pack with sixth-place Manchester United now nine points ahead of Everton who are in seventh.

Yet, there’s a real sense that even though United is 10 points off leaders Chelsea, the surging Red Devils (Mourinho’s men have won six-straight in the PL) are part of this six-way struggle for the title and there isn’t much between each team. Star players and managers clicked through the gears and proved their worth over the festive period.


3-MAN DEFENSE ALL THE RAGE

In the whole of the 2015-16 Premier League season teams started with a three-man central defense 22 times.

After 20 games for each side in the 2016-17 campaign, three at the back has been deployed 61 times from the start.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

That’s a big difference and that tactical trend owes a lot to the success of Chelsea using a 3-4-3 to dominant in recent months.

As we saw in their 2-0 defeat at White Hart Lane on Wednesday, Chelsea’s wing backs had competition as Spurs switched to a similar 3-4-2-1 formation and matched them like for like.

This system is getting the best out of attacking full backs in the PL, of which there are many, and it also allows attacking midfielders who don’t want to defend, of which there are also many, to express themselves in the final third and support a central lone striker. There are of course downsides to using this system and we saw that for Chelsea against Spurs as their midfield was overrun and the holding players of N'Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic lost the midfield battle as they were pushed out wide to deal with Spurs’ galloping wing backs.

Like every system, it has its flaws but with full backs more eager to play an attacking role this 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 trend suits many PL teams.

With Spurs, Watford, Everton and obviously Chelsea deploying this system often, expect other teams to try it out in the second half of the season as managers try to snap losing streaks, reinvigorate their players or simply try to copy Chelsea.

Conte has started something here…

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.

Day 9: USMNT tops Group F and more from the U20 World Cup

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Five teams booked their place in the knockout phase at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup on Sunday, including Tab Ramos and the U.S. after the Americans picked up a valuable point to finish atop Group F.

[ MORE: Allardyce steps down at Palace ]

USMNT U-20s 1-1 Saudi Arabia

An unbeaten record in group play has Ramos and Co. moving on to the Round of 16, where the U.S. will meet New Zealand. Brooks Lennon inked his name on the scoresheet for the first time at this month’s World Cup just prior to halftime, before Abdulelah Alamri equalized with almost a quarter hour left to play.

Senegal 0-0 Ecuador

A draw was all Senegal needed to ensure it would continue its run at the World Cup, while Ecuador fell short of a final 16 bid after only managing two draws during Group F play.

New Zealand 0-2 France

With nine goals for and none conceded during Group E play, France remains one of the heavy hitters at the conclusion of the group phase. Les Bleus received a strong contribution from Bastia winger Allan Saint-Maximin, who netted twice in the first half.

Honduras 2-0 Vietnam

Honduras scored twice in the final 14 minutes-plus added time but neither nation reaches the Round of 16 with Sunday’s result.

Daly collapses during match, treated for heat illness

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HOUSTON (AP) Houston Dash forward Rachel Daly collapsed during the final minute of a National Women’s Soccer League match against the Seattle Reign as temperatures climbed into the 90s.

The 25-year-old Daly was stretchered off the field and taken to the hospital, where the team said she was being treated for heat illness.

The temperature at BBVA Compass Stadium was 92 degrees at the 3 p.m. kickoff. The Reign won 2-0.

[ MORE: Perisic talking with Man Utd? ]

The NWSL issued a statement that said the league had worked with the Dash before the season to schedule any afternoon games early in the year to help avoid heat issues. The teams took a hydration break late in the match.

“We will immediately review these measures to prevent this situation from occurring in the future,” the statement said.

Reign coach Laura Harvey posted to Twitter: “Proud of the team today. Some of the hottest conditions I’ve seen. Road games are tough but that was crazy.”

MLS roundup: Outrageous dive, posts doom ‘Caps; Ramirez stays red hot

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Six matches are in the books on a busy Saturday in Major League Soccer, and five of them finished 1-0.

How they got there? Much different stories. With the Cali Clasico still to play, let’s dig into the five that followed Seattle 1-0 Portland.

[ MORE: Perisic to Man Utd? ]


Vancouver Whitecaps 0-1 DC United

It’s especially difficult to win on the road in Major League Soccer, unless the hosts fritter away four good chances off the woodwork — including a Cristian Techera PK — and give away a spot kick of their own. Lamar Neagle converted the 61st offering after a sinister dive from Jose Guillermo Ortiz. He was taken off soon after, and is probably going to miss sometime when the DisCo is done with him. Outrageous.

New York Red Bulls 2-1 New England Revolution

Not one, not two, nor three, but four New England players saw a low cross slide by them for Daniel Royer to finish as New York came from behind to take all three points at Red Bull Arena. Cody Cropper committed a gaffe that allowed Bradley Wright-Phillips to equalize after a Lee Nguyen PK had put the Revs ahead early.

Colorado Rapids 1-0 Sporting KC

Homegrown defender and University of Denver product Kortne Ford has his first MLS goal, as the Rapids surprised the Western Conference leaders on Saturday. SKC outshot Colorado by nearly 20 attempts (Shoulder shrug emoji).

Minnesota United 1-0 Orlando City

There were questions as to whether NASL superstar Christian Ramirez could translate his game to Major League Soccer.

Yes. The answer is yes.

Ramirez has eight goals in 13 MLS matches, and should be hearing his name from a certain Bruce Arena around Gold Cup time. Those USMNT dreams of last season should come true.

Bobby Shuttleworth made six saves for his third shutout of the season. All have come at home.

Real Salt Lake 1-0 Philadelphia Union

Joao Plata keeps shooting, and the tiny Ecuadorian menace keeps scoring, too. His 36th minute goal was enough for the hosts at Rio Tinto.

Raiola: Zlatan to “100 percent” stay in Europe for two seasons

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic may be 35 and coming off major knee surgery, but that isn’t stopping suitors from lining up across Europe.

[ MORE: Perisic to Man Utd? ]

Ibrahimovic’s agent, Mino Raiola, says that MLS is not an option for the Swede over the next two seasons. From Sky Sports:

“Many clubs have asked for Zlatan. He can play two more years and will stay in Europe, 100 per cent.”

It would make sense for Ibrahimovic to stay around Manchester United, where he is admired by Jose Mourinho and coming off a season that showed he’s still capable of contributing at a high level.

But he remains beloved in Italy, and would be effective for most clubs in the Top 5 leagues should he return at even 75 percent of the Zlatan we’ve seen regularly.