Premier League Playback: Top headlines from Week 24

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Gabriel Jesus SUPERSTAR

The kid is special. Very special.

So special that he’s keeping Sergio Aguero, one of the greatest strikers in Premier League history, out of the Manchester City starting lineup.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Gabriel Jesus, 19, has scored three goals and added an assist in his first two starts as a PL player, including a stoppage-time winner against Swansea City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday. Even in his first appearance in the PL he jumped off the bench he scared the life out of Tottenham, scoring a goal which was chalked off for offside.

He has a knack or popping up at the right place at the right time. Is it a knack though?

[ MORE: Guardiola shows glimpse of City’s future ]

It’s rare to see a teenager take games by the scruff of the neck like Jesus has in his first month in England. He joined City from Palmeiras in the summer for $34.3 million but the deal only went through once the January transfer window was opened and he was done leading the Sao Paulo club to the Brazilian title.

He has arrived at City fresh after a mini preseason and with opposition managers and players not knowing much about him, he has that aura of unpredictability. Over time that will erode and he will have to get used to defenders knowing his tricks, runs and his habits. Yet, his work rate and willingness to track back are perhaps his greatest trait and will help him stay one step ahead of his opponents.

[ MORE: Recaps, videos from every PL game in Week 24 ]

That’s why his manager Pep Guardiola has selected him alongside Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling in recent games. Those three possess raw pace and can close down opponents quickly and efficiently, allowing Pep’s masterplan of winning the ball back in six seconds to take place.

Jesus also has that “street fighter” spirit that the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Luis Suarez and Aguero possess. Yet the latter has lost a little of that in recent years and has always been more of a penalty box predator than someone who hustles back to help out. Arsene Wenger has spoken openly about the hunger and desire South American strikers appear to have for the game and scoring goals. Jesus has that in abundance.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]  

Compared to a watermelon last week by Guardiola because he didn’t know what they would get once Jesus arrived in the PL, it’s safe to say they have a rising superstar.

Jesus’ incredible start to life in England means there’s an odd man out: Aguero.

Speaking about his future at City, the Argentine ace hardly wants out but seems ready to reassess his situation in the summer such has been the rapid rise of Gabriel in his place. Aguero’s face on the subs bench when Jesus scored his first goal for City in the 4-0 win at West Ham last week said it all. He has every right to be worried.

“Sometimes this happens. When you’re on the bench you have to wait for your opportunity,” Aguero said. “I have three months to do my best and try to help the team and we’ll see what happens with my future. He [Jesus] is a great player. He’s a very young player but he will learn a lot at City and he will have a great future at the club.”


WHO CAN REPLACE WENGER?

Wenger was a frustrated figure as he sat up in the stands at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Serving a four-game touchline ban for pushing fourth official Anthony Taylor in a win against Burnley last month, Wenger was helpless as his Arsenal side were out battled by their London rivals.

[ MORE: Wenger bemoans Chelsea’s first goal ]

12 points behind Chelsea with 14 games to go, the Gunners can kiss goodbye to their title hopes for another season.

That fact has left many questioning what’s next for Wenger. He told reporters he has been offered a two-year extension to remain at Arsenal and with the 67-year-old Frenchman seeing his current deal run out at the end of this season, it will be intriguing to see if he accepts the offer.

He delivers stability, top four finishes and UEFA Champions League appearances, the odd FA Cup victory and an exciting brand of soccer admired across the world. There is plenty to admire about his 21 years in charge of Arsenal.

Then, there’s the lingering fact that they haven’t seriously challenge for the PL title in the last decade. To get to the next level, maybe Arsenal need a change?

They’ve spent big on big players like Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, but has Wenger taken them as far as he can? Will the board stop running the Gunners as a business and pump plenty of transfer funds in and take a gamble on a new manager? Probably not.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Still, my preference would be for Wenger to move upstairs after this season. He can become the Director of Football and then allow a younger, hungry manager to come in and try to take the Gunners to the next level of challenging for the PL and UCL seriously.

In the video above Diego Simeone and Ronald Koeman were suggested by Kyle Martin and Robbie Mustoe as good replacements for Wenger. I agree with that. Yet, how likely is it for either of them to join if Wenger is still hovering around in the background?

Perhaps what Arsenal needs most is a clean break from Wenger. After 21 years that’s a huge call for Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis to take and it will be one with plenty of risk as Wenger guarantees top four finishes and the vast riches which come with UCL action year after year.

Isn’t it about time Arsenal tried something different to change the status quo? If they fall out of the top four it would be a huge hit but at least they would have tried to move things off. Being stuck in the limbo of not being brave enough to go for trophies with conviction and settling for second best is perhaps one of the most frustration things for fans of any team.

Wenger has delivered plenty but as his teams’ performance showed at the weekend, he is long way away from delivering another elusive PL title. This may well be the final few months of his time at Arsenal.


RUTHLESS CONTE

Across London another manager is seeing his full throttle approach working. Literally.

Grabbing his assistant Angelo Alessio by the back of the neck and forcing him down the touchline in the first half, Antonio Conte looked like a man possessed after his side nearly conceded from a set piece situation.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned from Chelsea’s win ]

Conte is in the zone, even if he occasionally oversteps the mark. His celebration when Eden Hazard‘s sublime individual goal went in said it all. He jumped head first into the fans by the bench as Chelsea lead second-place Tottenham by nine points with 14 games to go.

It would be okay if the engraver of the PL trophy is already etching “Ch…” into the stone on the base of the silverware.

Conte laughed when asked about the incident from the first half of the win against Arsenal, as the man who has guided Chelsea to 16 wins in their last 18 games since they lost to the Gunners in September has everyone hanging on his every word.

“Angelo Alessio is always a victim,” Conte laughed. “During the corner I wanted to change some of the position because in the second corner Arsenal had six men and we lost a man at the edge of the box and it was very dangerous. I tried to shout to my players and I tried to tell my assistant to send this message to change the situation. But, when I understood the message was not right and they almost scored a goal, I thought to send a message. Angelo he knows me very well. He knows my passion in this moment. It is very important to keep the concentration not only with the players but all of the assistants and the staff. We win together and lost together. Always.”

That attention to detail and incredible passion Conte shows running up and down the touchline is what will win Chelsea the title.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Conte is ruthless and his team are ruthless. They didn’t let Arsenal rest for a second and the excellent N'Golo Kante broke up play time and time again with Hazard, Pedro and Diego Costa at their best to punish the Gunners’ slack defending.

Conte’s title procession with Chelsea has begun as they start a very favorable run of six games against Burnley, Swansea, West Ham, Watford, Stoke and Crystal Palace. By the time they face Manchester City on Apr. 4, the title could be sewn up.


LEICESTER IN FREEFALL

Leicester City’s problems are plentiful.

The reigning champions are in real danger of relegation from the Premier League.

[ MORE: Why are Leicester in a relegation battle? ]

A hero to zero narrative is being put together at the King Power Stadium and manager Claudio Ranieri doesn’t appear to know how to stop the FOxes hurtling towards th ebottom three. Leicester were soundly beaten by Manchester United 3-0 on Sunday. There’s no shame on that because Jose Mourinho’s men are on a roll. That said, Leicester has now lost five-straight games in the Premier League and they’ve conceded 10 goals across that span, scoring zero.

With a massive relegation battle at Swansea City coming up this Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) Ranieri knows a defeat to the resurgent Swans could be the end of his fairytale with the Foxes. Perhaps more likely his time in charge will end if they lose at Swansea and then against Sevilla in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

That’s right. Despite their struggles in the PL, Leicester are still in the last 16 Europe’s elite club competition.

Yet all of their focus should be on staying in the PL and the article above looks deeper into the reasons for their shocking demise. Given the quality of their squad, should Leicester really be finishing any higher than 10th in the PL table? Probably not.

Still, the expectations have risen after last season and the fact that they are two points off the bottom and one point from the bottom three suggests it is time for the Foxes to buckle up for the bumpy ride ahead.


SUPER BOWL THROUGH THE PL

After Tom Brady and the New England Patriots launched an incredible comeback to win Super Bowl LI on Sunday, plenty of Premier League players were pumped to see the Pats win a fifth Vince Lombardi Trophy.

[ MORE: PL reacts to Super Bowl 51 ]

Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois flew to Houston to watch Super Bowl 51 (via a quick stop off at Madison Square Garden on Saturday to take in a Knicks game) just over 24 hours after starring in the Blues’ big 3-1 win against Arsenal in the Premier League.

Meanwhile Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane is a huge NFL fan and could not contain his delight that his beloved Pats had sealed the massive comeback win.

We know Kane will definitely by heading to more than a few NFL games when they’re played at the new White Hart Lane Stadium from 2018 as Tottenham’s landmark deal with the NFL kicks off…


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.

Toronto loses CONCACAF Champions League in PKs

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Chivas Guadalajara scored on all of its penalty kicks to clinch a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League Final, breaking the hearts of Toronto FC in Mexico on Wednesday and earning a berth in the 2018 Club World Cup.

Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore scored in regulation as Toronto FC picked up a 2-1 win to reverse their first leg loss and push it to kicks.

Orbelin Pineda scored Chivas’ goal.

Hometown kid Jonathan Osorio hit the cross bar on Toronto’s second PK and Michael Bradley sent the fifth offering into outer space.

[ MORE: Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid ]

Toronto flew out of the gates, and Rodolfo Cota came flying off his line to deny Altidore a 10th minute chance.

Alex Bono collected a header off a Chivas corner kick earned by a counterattack.

Pineda then made Toronto’s task even harder with a 19th minute goal, cooking Auro’s mark to reach a through ball and dancing around Bono for 1-0.

But Altidore was somehow unmarked for Nic Hasler’s pass despite five Chivas defenders and Cota inside the six-yard box, and TFC leveled the second leg at 1.

And TFC got the next goal through Giovinco, slipped through by Marky Delgado and taking advantage of a yard of space and a second to shoot with his fourth goal of the CCL knockout rounds.

The Reds kept coming in the second half, with Delgado winning a big 50-50 ball deep in Chivas territory and Victor Vasquez ripping a shot that Cota dove to smother.

Chivas found its footing in 58th minute, sending a shot over the bar before Jesus Godinez hit the post in the 61st (though his dive seemingly had the near post covered). Bono the next knocked a free kick over the bar from a similar position as the ball that beat him in the first leg.

Javier Lopez curled a vicious attempt just over the goal in the 72nd. He’d have the next best chances moments after Altidore subbed off with an apparent hamstring injury, but dribbled onto Bono’s lap and fired off the keeper.

Giovinco worked a 1-2 with Osorio and cruised a shot just wide of the far post in the 87th minute. Delgado then mailed a sitter over the bar in the first minute of stoppage time.

Premier League Power Rankings: In tiers

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Liverpool has knocked Manchester City from the Champions League, but sits 19 points behind the leaders and City has a match-in-hand.

Manchester United beat City just weeks ago, but was bounced from the UCL even earlier. The Red Devils also took four of six points from Liverpool.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

Spurs are fourth in the table but also took four of six from Liverpool and could be level on points with the Reds by winning its match-in-hand.

So the question remains, who’s the best team in the Premier League right now? That’s why we’re revisiting our Premier League Power Rankings for the first time in a while, since City was the unquestioned No. 1 for months.

Will it change anything? Spoiler alert: Probably not.

Spots 20-14: Not safe yet

20. West Bromwich Albion: The Baggies are going down, but Darren Moore has at least instilled some life into a moribund bunch which was saddled with the dour and unsuccessful tactics of Tony Pulis before moving onto the peppy and hard-to-understand tactics of Alan Pardew.

19. Stoke City — The Paul Lambert jump has faded, and the Potters’ inferior goal differential and one more match played than both Southampton and Swansea City feel like a death knell.

18. Southampton — Yes, the Bottom Three is the same as the table, but Saints are a New South Coast Derby win away from sitting three points back of pulling Palace and perhaps Huddersfield Town and West Ham United back into the picture.

17. Huddersfield Town — If David Wagner cannot lead the Terriers past Everton this weekend, his side finishes at Man City, at Chelsea, and home to Arsenal. That’s a recipe for watching a six-point advantage on the drop zone melt away.

16. Swansea City — Still four points clear of the drop zone, Swans have the cup half-full of facing Saints and Stoke City. The two sides aren’t very good, but also the only teams to worry about when it comes to their Premier League lives.

15. Crystal Palace — Given their turnaround from the beginning of the season, it feels dirty to have them so low. But of the three clubs sitting six points clear of 18th, the Eagles are the one to have three matches left and not four.

14. West Ham United — A brutal schedule featuring two of David Moyes‘ old sides — Everton and Manchester United — means the Irons cannot breathe safely yet (especially with Swans, Saints, and Stoke set to take points off each other).


Spots 13-11: Foot off the gas (and is there any gas in the tank?)

13. Watford — Javi Gracia may have Watford safe, and that was his charge, but the Hornets look like the same team they did under previous bosses. The Hornets have two points from their last six, and would be much further down the table if they weren’t essentially safe.

12. Bournemouth — Eddie Howe is probably wondering how that Arsenal chair would feel right about now, as the Cherries have probably reached a glass ceiling. Now a derby against Saints can define the run-in to the season.

11. Brighton and Hove Albion — Perhaps satiated by a five-match unbeaten run that featured a win over Arsenal and beat downs of Swansea and West Ham, Chris Hughton‘s Gulls have two points in five matches including a derby loss to Palace.

10. Everton — Sam Allardyce‘s men nicked a win off of Newcastle last weekend, and it was about as satisfying as moribund draws against Liverpool’s B Team and Swansea City. There’s a lot of unrest at Goodison Park, and Sam Allardyce has to go. Because of the relative positive vibes at lower table sides Leicester and Newcastle, Everton sinks beneath them.

9. Leicester City — A fun team which has had infuriating lapses at the back. Jamie Vardy‘s as reliable as ever, and there’s a real question what they’ll do without Riyad Mahrez (allegedly) in the future. Wilfred Ndidi, Demarai Gray, and Fousseni Diabate look a big part of said future, but it’s a bit alarming that the Foxes haven’t been able to take advantage of the relatively open door to seventh since Claude Puel righted Craig Shakespeare‘s sinking ship.

8. Newcastle United — The Magpies saw their win streak snapped by Everton, but Rafa Benitez is playing with house money after coaxed a midtable season out of a Championship squad. A healthy Islam Slimani has moved Dwight Gayle to his rightful role as a spark plug off the bench, but don’t sleep on the wonders Benitez has worked in turning Mo Diame, DeAndre Yedlin, and Paul Dummett into serviceable Premier League players. The future is bright if Mike Ashley sells the team or at least opens his purse strings to make one of the longest road trips in the PL even harder for visitors to St. James’ Park.


Spot 7: One of the best stories in Premier League history

7. Burnley — A loss to Chelsea and draw with Stoke has sunk Sean Dyche‘s excitement, we’re sure, but Southampton’s departure from the FA Cup means seventh place means Europa League. It’s Burnley in Europe: Yes, for real!


Spots 6-4: The bargaining stage of grief

6. Chelsea — The Blues have won two-straight in the league and reached an FA Cup Final against old pal Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United, but there’s as much uncertainty at Stamford Bridge as there is at the Emirates. The difference? We know Roman Abramovich will spend more to try to fix it.

5. Arsenal — The danger of slipping behind Burnley and into seventh on the table has passed, but the Arsene Wenger goodbye tour is focused firmly on the Gunners’ fate versus Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Europa League and the quite decent form of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, as well as a resurgent and healthy Aaron Ramsey. Defenders need improving in a big way and there’s a lot of uncertainty regarding Wenger’s replacement. Don’t know what you’ve got til its gone?

4. Spurs — No trophy again this season, and there’s a very good chance Tottenham will miss out on third place by virtue of goal difference when all is said and done; When all’s said and done, Mauricio Pochettino‘s men will have drawn 1-1 or 0-0 against West Brom, Swansea, Watford, West Ham, Saints, and Brighton. That’ll render a decent record against top foes less impressive.


Spots 3-1: Power trio

3. Manchester United — The Red Devils are better than almost everyone thinks despite precious few standout seasons from its players (David De Gea, Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic and Jesse Lingard are among the pardoned). When it comes to talking progress, however, second place won’t cut it: Mourinho needs that FA Cup win over Chelsea, a trophy United hasn’t won since (checks his notes) oh, two seasons ago.

2. Liverpool — The Reds looked incredible in dicing up Roma for 80 minutes, but allowed Roma a sliver of hope. Moreover, the last four goals Liverpool has allowed have come in the 79th, 88th, 81st, and 85th minutes. Why won’t we put them ahead of City? Well, let me clarify: it’s not PST, it’s me. I’ll own this: As brilliant as Liverpool was against City, they were out-chanced 31-14 over two legs. Give me that scenario 100 times, and I’m betting on the 31 about 85-90 times. The Reds are almost there, and Naby Keita over Jordan Henderson would be a huge upgrade (especially if this success convinces Emre Can to stick around). Next year, yeah. This year, just no.

  1. Manchester City — The records continue to fall, and it’s funny to consider that should City had lost the first Manchester Derby and been knocked out of the UCL a round earlier — yes, even by Liverpool in the same manner — no one would be arguing for anyone other than City at No. 1.

WATCH: Giovinco levels CONCACAF Champions League Final

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A trademark Sebastian Giovinco goal snapped a 1-1 first half tie and put Toronto FC in the driver’s seat for Major League Soccer’s first title in the CONCACAF Champions League era.

Jozy Altidore scored the first goal after Orbelin Pineda put Chivas Guadalajara ahead early in Mexico, and the tie is level at 3-3 after 135 minutes.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

Toronto needs to score once more and stay ahead by one, or win in penalty kicks.

The winner goes to the Club World Cup in December.

Look at this quick work from Giovinco after Marky Delgado slipped him into his office.

Spartak and Zenit fined in latest Russia fan racism cases

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MOSCOW (AP) Spartak Moscow and Zenit St. Petersburg have both been fined for racist chants by their fans, the latest such incident in World Cup host nation Russia.

Spartak’s fans were accused of aiming monkey chants at FC Tosno player Nuno Rocha, who is black, while some Zenit supporters allegedly chanted a Nazi slogan during a league game.

[ MORE: Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid ]

The clubs must each pay a 100,000-ruble ($1,600) fine, and Spartak has been hit with a partial stadium closure for its next cup game, state news agency RIA Novosti quotes Russian Football Union disciplinary committee head Artur Grigoryants as saying.

The verdict comes after FIFA charged Russia with racist abuse of France players during last month’s friendly.

Zenit has also faced two racism charges from UEFA this season.