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.

Former Czech Republic defender Rajtoral kills himself

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PRAGUE (AP) Former Czech Republic defender Frantisek Rajtoral, who won the domestic league title four times before joining Turkish club Gaziantepspor, died on Sunday. He was 31.

[ MORE: Bayern scouted Kyle Walker, Alex Sanchez this weekend ]

The Czech football federation said in a statement that Rajtoral had “committed suicide in Turkey.”

His agent Pavel Zika confirmed the player’s death, describing it as a “huge tragedy.”

Gaziantepspor announced Rajtoral’s death in a brief statement on its website.

Rajtoral played 14 international matches for the Czech Republic.

In the top Czech league, he won four titles with Viktoria Plzen and played in the group stage of the Champions League twice for the club. He moved to Hannover in the Bundesliga in 2014 for half of the season, on loan.

He left Viktoria Plzen last year to move to Turkey.

Bellerin wants to represent Spain U21s despite Wenger’s wishes

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Arsene Wenger has made it clear about Hector Bellerin representing Spain this summer but the Arsenal defender is prepared to go against his manager’s wishes if he is selected.

[ MORE: Bayern scouted Kyle Walker, Alexis Sanchez over the weekend ]

The 22-year-old has said he hopes to play for Spain’s Under-21 side this summer during the 2017 European U-21 Championship but Wenger has been weary of Bellerin’s injury status and wants his fullback to maintain a clean bill of health throughout the offseason.

“I really want to play,” Bellerin told IBTimes. “Representing Spain is very important. If [Albert] Celades gives me the chance I’ll be there.

“Those are opinions of the managers. I have to keep working. The truth is that I had a difficult injury but I think that I am at 100% now and I’ll try to prove it when I get the chance.”

Bellerin signed a six-and-a-half year deal with the Gunners in November, where he has resided since coming up in the club’s academy. He has made 102 appearances for Wenger’s team in that span over all competitions.

Roma boosts bid for 2nd in Serie A by beating Pescara 4-1

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PESCARA, Italy (AP) Roma boosted its bid for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the Champions League with a 4-1 win at Pescara, which was mathematically relegated on Monday.

[ MORE: Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League ]

Roma moved four points clear of third-placed Napoli, which drew against Sassuolo 2-2 on Sunday. Third place in Serie A receives a Champions League playoff.

Pescara remained 15 points behind Empoli. There are only five matches left and Empoli has the better head-to-head record, which is the deciding factor if two teams finish level on points.

There were 48 goals in total in the 33rd round, matching the record set in October 1992.

Roma took control shortly before halftime, with Kevin Strootman breaking the deadlock after Stephan El Shaarawy unselfishly rolled the ball across the area.

Radja Nainggolan, who earlier hit the bar, doubled Roma’s lead two minutes later.

Mohamed Salah extended Roma’s advantage three minutes after the break and the winger doubled his tally on the hour following a swift counterattack.

Ahmad Benali got a consolation for Pescara and a Cristiano Biraghi free kick also hit the post for the home side.

Frank Yallop resigns as Phoenix Rising coach shortly after Drogba arrival

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The timing is a bit sudden and certainly leaves many questions up in the air, but Phoenix Rising will have to look for a new manager.

[ MORE: Chicharito talks heating up with LA FC ]

On Monday, head coach Frank Yallop resigned from his position with the United Soccer League (USL) club less than one day after former Chelsea legend Didier Drogba joined the organization as a player-owner.

With Phoenix seen as one of several lower-level clubs with ambitions of making the leap to MLS over the coming seasons, Yallop’s departure is surely a shock to many.

According to ESPN FC, Rising lead owner Berke Bakay was quite surprised by Yallop’s decision to step down, as was Drogba.

“Didier was as surprised and disappointed as we were that Frank is unable to continue coaching our Club,” Bakay told ESPN FC. “But, we all respect his decision to put his family first.

“Didier’s focus will remain on improving our team as a player and assisting our MLS expansion team ownership group as a co-owner. Frank will be helping with our international search for a new head coach.”

Rick Schantz, the current Rising assistant coach, will head the team’s managerial duties for the interim while the club completes a full search for a new manager.