Getty Images

Top Premier League Storylines – Week 29

Leave a comment

The Premier League this weekend sees a number of teams come back from European play – some empty-handed, some with injuries, and some with momentum.

With the stretch run on hand, it’s looking less likely that anyone will catch Chelsea, but the top of the table is still clogged below the Blues, and the relegation race is heating up as teams rise and fall in the maelstrom at the bottom.

Week 29, what do you have in store for us?


Leicester City goes for 3 in a row

West Ham United vs. Leicester City — 11 a.m. EDT Saturday online via NBCSports.com

Craig Shakespeare has completely turned around Leicester City, and the Foxes are on their way back up the table. Still, all three have come at King Power Stadium, and now Leicester hits the road for the first time in the league in nearly a month. Winning away in the Premier League is a completely different animal, and it’s something the Foxes haven’t done in at all in Premier League play this season, and haven’t done in any competition since January in FA Cup play.

They’ll have an excellent chance against a West Ham side that has just a single win since selling Dimitri Payet in the winter, and hasn’t won at home since beating Crystal Palace on January 14th. Can Shakespeare dial up a road win and keep the momentum flying?

Will Liverpool or Manchester City score an important leg up?

Manchester City vs. Liverpool — 12:30 p.m. EDT Sunday on NBCSN or online via NBCSports.com

A massive top four matchup pits two teams looking to score any kind of advantage near the top of the table. The title race seems lost, but the Champions League race is still open and both these teams could look to pull away from the pack slightly. This has draw written all over it, but should one team come out on top, they would be an important three points earned.

Manchester City especially needs to bounce back after they were dumped out of the Champions League in a wild thriller against Monaco. Pep Guardiola was criticized for his team selection in that one, and the players admitted they were unable to carry out his orders, especially in the first half when Monaco overran the City midfield. Now, against a Liverpool side that put its ugly January in the rear-view mirror, City must bounce back itself.

How will Lukaku and Barkley play amid transfer rumors?

Everton vs. Hull City — 8:30 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSN or online via NBCSports.com

Rumors have swirled this week regarding two of Everton’s most visable players, and it will be very interesting to see how they respond in front of the home fans at Goodison Park — and how the home fans respond to them. The biggest rumors have suggested that Romelu Lukaku has refused to sign a new contract with the Toffees, and could leave in the summer if no deal is agreed to by then. The loss of Lukaku would be a gigantic blow to Ronald Koeman and Everton, as the Belgian has been a constant supply of goals up front.

Ross Barkley remains in the same boat, and while nothing as defiant as Lukaku’s refusal has come from Barkley’s situation, there is still no new contract for the 23-year-old Everton youth product, and Koeman admitted he could lose Barkley as well if nothing is agreed to by the summer. As Everton battles for a Europa League place, will they get their superstars’ best?

Middlesbrough plays (Pogba-less?) Manchester United without a manager

Middlesbrough vs. Manchester United — 8:00 p.m. EDT Sunday on NBCSN or online via NBCSports.com

It’s not confirmed yet, but watching Paul Pogba limp off with what appeared to be a hamstring problem against FC Rostov, it’s highly possible that Manchester United will be without big signing Paul Pogba this weekend against a team fighting for its life.

Middlesbrough parted ways with Aitor Karanka earlier Thursday, and Steve Agnew will be in charge when they welcome the Red Devils to Riverside Stadium on Sunday. With both teams facing adversity, which will gain massively important points? Manchester United sits just a point back of Arsenal for 5th position, while Middlesbrough is three points in the hole in the drop. Who will come away with the good stuff?

“Three trophies and CL”: Mourinho relieved after “most difficult season”

Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Don’t try to tell Jose Mourinho that his first season at Manchester United wasn’t a raging success, because all you’d get in return is a simple shake of the head before he walks away.

[ MORE: Pogba, Mkhitaryan fire Man United to Europa League trophy ]

Following Wednesday’s Europa League final victory over Ajax, one which put Man United into next season’s UEFA Champions League, Mourinho was adamant that the club’s 2016-17 season was a success, despite the fact the Red Devils finished sixth in the Premier League.

“Three trophies in one season and the Champions League,” as Mourinho put it, in his “most difficult season as a manager” — quotes from the BBC:

“We totally deserved the win. I am so happy to see the boys with the crutches with the trophy and now I am on holiday. I don’t want to see any international friendlies, I am selfish. I can’t do it.

“For me, enough is enough. It has been a very hard last few months, we were short of numbers.

“Three trophies in one season and the Champions League. I am very happy in my most difficult season as a manager.”

[ WATCH: Pogba gives United an early lead ]

As for his summer shopping list and Wayne Rooney‘s future at the club, well… Mourinho was much clearer about one than the other — quotes from the BBC:

“Ed Woodward has my list, what I want, what I would like for more than two months. So now it’s up to him and the owners. But I don’t care about football for now.

“Wayne Rooney was ready to play, he was a big option. But I didn’t need to attack at 2-0. I told him yesterday that he could be the key man but he can perfectly be here next season. He is a very important player for us. If he stays next season I’d be very happy.”

USMNT’s Gedion Zelalem out 6-9 months with knee injury

Photo by Alex Livesey - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Following much fanfare as he rose through the ranks of Arsenal’s youth academy system, and even more after officially pledging his international allegiance to the U.S., Gedion Zelalem‘s progress stalled a fair bit this season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | U-20 World Cup ]

After failing to force his way onto the fringes of Arsenal’s first team, the 20-year-old was sent out on loan to VVV Venlo, where he made just nine league appearances (one start) in the Dutch second division. Now, with the U.S. U-20 national team at the U-20 World Cup in South Korea, his tournament is over after just 34 minutes.

Zelalen suffered ligament damage to his left knee during the first half of the Americans’ tournament-opening draw with Ecuador. The Washington Post received confirmation on Wednesday, from Zelalem’s family, confirming that he’ll be sidelined for at least six months. An earlier report, from Football.London, pinned the recovery time at up to nine months.

[ MORE: Pogba, Mkhitaryan fire Man United to Europa League trophy ]

“For Gedion, this was his second U-20 World Cup, so his experience was invaluable for us,” said U.S. U-20 head coach Tab Ramos. “His passing ability is second to none in this tournament, and we’ll miss that. He was running the team from his position.

Europa League final: Man United too tough for Ajax, qualify for UCL

Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Though it may have required a minor detour in the journey to the intended destination, Jose Mourinho’s first season as Manchester United manager ultimately reached the promised land: qualification for next season’s UEFA Champions League.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Once it became clear that Man United’s season was unlikely to result in a top-four finish in the Premier League (they eventually wound up sixth), Mourinho put every Mancunian egg into the Europa League basket, and it paid off on Wednesday, as United topped Ajax, 2-0, in the Europa League final inside the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden.

Paul Pogba put United 1-0 ahead after just 18 minutes (WATCH HERE), benefitting from a wicked deflection off a defender’s shin, and Mourinho’s famously rigid, organized midfield and defensive structure frustrated a young Ajax side (a starting lineup with an average age of just under 23 years old) that reached the final on the back of a free-flowing, attacking tidal wave.

[ WATCH: Pogba gives United an early lead ]

Down just a goal, Ajax needed little more than a moment of brilliance from any number of rising stars sure to fetch massive transfer fees and land big-money contracts elsewhere in Europe, in the not-so-distant future.

That hope lasted less than 180 seconds into the second half, though, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan doubled the lead, thanks to some unbelievably quick reflexes and a tidy overhead kick from three yards out. Ajax would manage just two shots on goal all night (four for United).

Not only did Mourinho deliver Champions League qualification, alongside a European trophy, United also claimed the EFL Cup back in February. With the allure of UCL football next season, expect another busy (and expensive) summer of spending at Old Trafford.

AT THE HALF: Man Utd lead Ajax in UEL final, thanks to Pogba (video)

AP Photo/Martin Meissner
Leave a comment

After 45 minutes of Wednesday’s Europa League final, between Manchester United and Ajax, in Stockholm, Sweden, Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils have one foot in next season’s UEFA Champions League.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

After a cagey opening 15 minutes that saw neither side create anything of consequence, Man United pulled ahead on a fair bit of luck in the 18th minute. Paul Pogba received the ball 25 yards from goal, took a touch toward goal and fired a low shot toward goal. Davinson Sanchez did everything he could to get his body in front of the strike, but the ball glanced off his shin, sending it one direction and goalkeeper Andre Onana the other.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Europa League final ] 

Having conceded just eight goals in 14.5 Europa League games thus far this season, would you bet on United conceding an equalizer in the final 45 minutes? Hit the link above to follow along, live.