Premier League Playback: Dele Alli the next great star

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Dele Alli‘s doesn’t do Sophomore slumps. His form this season destroys their notion entirely.

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Alli, who turns 21 on Tuesday, scored a stunner in Tottenham’s 4-0 demolition of Watford at White Hart Lane on Saturday as Spurs continue to pile the pressure on Chelsea.

Tottenham remain seven points behind Chelsea with seven games to go but with Alli in this kind of form you can’t blame Spurs for believing they still have a chance of winning the title. He has now scored 19 goals in all competitions this season, adding five assists for Spurs. Last season, his first in the Premier League after moving up from League One MK Dons, Alli scored 10 goals and added 11 assists.

Alli has it all and his stunning curling goal to set Spurs up for their latest win showed his class.

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His only weakness remains his penchant for wanting to get involved in spats with opposition players who target him, which happened again at the weekend. He may always have that streak but he must curb it.

Still, focusing on the positives, of which there are many when it comes to Alli, the stat below reinforces what a special talent he is.

Asked about Alli’s impressive numbers following the win against Watford, Mauricio Pochettino couldn’t hide his surprise and believes he is working with one of the best young players in Europe.

“Wow. That’s unbelievable. He’s green but he’s great. First of all, he’s a great kid, a lovely, lovely person. And then he is a great player,” Pochettino said. “I think today, his age and with his stats, I think so. If not he’s the best, he’s one of the best for sure. He is so young, he can improve a lot, learn a lot, his potential is massive. Every day he’s improving, and getting more mature. He’s improving in his skills but in his character as well. He’s special. He’s different from all the players who play now at his age. He’s so experienced. His energy, his character, his quality. He is a unique player.”

With Harry Kane returning from injury earlier than expected to lead the line for the run-in (Heung-Min Son has scored seven goals in his last five games, doing a fine job in Kane’s absence) Spurs aren’t giving up hope of catching Chelsea for the title.

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Even if they don’t catch Chelsea this season, the strength in depth of their young squad suggests Pochettino’s boys will be in many a title race for the next decade to come.

Alli will be the man leading those challenges if the likes of Real Madrid don’t pry him away form White Hart Lane just like they did with Gareth Bale once his star power became apparent.

Among all of the Europe’s brightest young talents — the likes of Paulo Dybala at Juventus, Leroy Sane at Manchester City, Marcus Rashford at Manchester United, Christian Pulisic at Borrusia Dortmund and spring to the mind — Alli is light years ahead of the rest.

A new superstar has been born and is now established in the Premier League.


Diego Costa is an angry man at the best of times.

Right now he looks exasperated and as if he’s carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

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

During Chelsea’s 3-1 win at Bournemouth, a result which saw them regain their seven-point lead atop the Premier League following Spurs’ win earlier on Saturday, Costa toiled to no avail.

Chelsea’s first goal was initially credited to him (he did superbly to turn and bring the ball under control) but replays showed he clearly shanked his effort off target as the ball deflected off Adam Smith and in. The goal was later credited to Smith as an own goal which just about sums up Costa’s recent form in front of goal.

You can never accuse Costa of a lack of effort but at times his focus appeared to be off with a bad miss at the near post from Marcos Alonso‘s pinpoint cross at the start of the second half, plus his manager Antonio Conte looked to the heavens in disbelief on each of the occasions Costa surrendered possession easily or crashed to the ground without drawing a foul.

[ MORE: Conte thriving on pressure from Spurs ]

Pro Soccer Talk, on location at the Vitality Stadium, asked Conte after the victory if he was happy with Costa’s display.

“I’m happy for his performance. Yes, at this moment Diego is not scoring but he is totally involved in the team and our idea of football,” Conte said. “The first goal, he provided the first goal. He must continue to work in this way, with a great commitment and desire and great work rate. I’m sure he can score in every game.”

Costa’s record suggests he can indeed score in every game. He has 49 goals in 83 appearances in the Premier League but has just four goals in his last 14 appearances for Chelsea in all competitions. For a side on the cusp of clinching the title and in an FA Cup semifinal, their star striker is hardly spearheading their final push.

In the early months of the campaign Costa was a beast as Conte looked to have shackled his mean streak and channeled it perfectly. However, since reports of the back injury, a potential training ground bust up and links to a big move to the Chinese Super League in late January, Costa looks like he did for most of last season.

The Spanish international is laboring through games, grumbling away at officials and snatching at chances whenever they come his way. With Eden Hazard and others stepping up in recent games to soften the blow of Costa’s cold spell in front of goal, the former Atletico Madrid forward will likely win his second PL title in three seasons at Chelsea and he’ll be top scorers in each of those campaigns.

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Yet, ask Chelsea’s fans if they want Costa to stick around next season and you’ll likely get a lukewarm response.

Costa’s cold streak continues and despite Conte’s comments you get the sense that if he can bring in Alvaro Morata, Antoine Griezmann or Alexis Sanchez this summer, Chelsea will jump at the chance to ship out Costa and move on. He’d probably do the same.


Jose Mourinho’s treatment of Manchester United’s youngsters, especially Luke Shaw, has divided opinion in recent weeks.

Most agree that Mourinho’s constant bashing of Shaw, 21, crossed the line, but is it working?

On Sunday United brushed aside hapless Sunderland 3-0 with Shaw starting and playing 60 minutes, recording an assist in a solid outing which garnered a hug from Mourinho when he was subbed out in anticipation for their UEFA Europa League quarterfinal first leg against Anderlecht on Thursday.

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Shaw has had fitness issues with a double leg fracture at the start of the 2015-16 campaign giving him a pass for many, but looking past that he had similar issues under Louis Van Gaal and at Southampton before he became the most expensive teenager in world soccer in the summer of 2014. Shaw has been a rising star for five or six years, coveted by Arsenal and Chelsea before he broke into Southampton’s first team and became a regular in the Premier League at the age of 17.

Now, Mourinho has never been known as one to nurture young talent. It’s a fact.

Over the years there have been a few exceptions (Mario Balotelli and Raphael Varane stick out) but at United he now has a crop of youngsters who he must rely on. Shaw, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are among them and that trio have all been criticized at different times this season. Mourinho is treating them the way he believes will help them best develop and with Rashford’s goal this weekend and improved performances of late, plus Shaw’s display, shows it may just be doing the trick.

Even if Mourinho’s tactics of criticizing youngsters in public may not be liked by many, it appears to be working. At least for now. Since when has he ever cared about what others think? Never, is the answer. The fact that Mourinho lambasted Shaw then started him and publicly showed his appreciation is all part of his plan to get the best of his young players. It may not be liked but there’s a hint of Sir Alex Ferguson, the master of mind games with players, about this tactic.


And then there were three.

This weekend the relegation picture became a lot clearer. Sunderland and Middlesbrough need a miracle to survive as the former are 10 points from safety and the latter are six points from Hull in 17th and Boro haven’t won since mid-December.

So, it seems like one from Swansea City, Hull City and Crystal Palace will slide down into the second-tier alongside Sunderland and Boro.

Who has the form out of those three? Hull, clearly. Although Palace went to Chelsea and won 2-1 last weekend and have won four of their last five, Sam Allardyce‘s men have a horrendous run of games coming up with five of the top six to play in their remaining eight games. That’s not what you need when you have to get another eight or nine points to secure safety.

Hull have a much easier schedule, on paper, with Tottenham Hotspur on the final day their toughest remaining challenge. The May 13 clash between Palace and Hull at Selhurst Park already has the stench of a relegation decider in the penultimate week of the season.

For Swansea, their worrying trend over the past month has continued with Paul Clement‘s initial impact wearing off fast as the Welsh outfit have lost four of their last five to slip back into the relegation zone. Things are extremely tight and that was evident in Swansea’s 1-0 defeat at West Ham on Saturday which all but secured the Hammers’ safety in the PL as Slaven Bilic‘s side slipped towards the bottom three with five-straight defeats. That’s how fine the margins are at this point of the season.

Swansea still have to play Everton and Manchester United, while goals have dried up for Clement’s side (just two goals in their last five games) with Fernando Llorente nursing an injury and Gylfi Sigurdsson going cold. Form means everything right now and one big result can spark a survival charge.

The relegation race is on and Palace, Hull and Swansea certainly know that.


In each of Stoke’s last two games they’ve suffered 2-1 defeats to two top four teams, Chelsea and Liverpool. In both of those games USMNT star Geoff Cameron has been named man of the match for his superb displays in central midfield.

Since Cameron returned to the holding midfield role for the Potters in late February, following a four-month layoff with a knee injury, he’s been hugely impressive. That’s great news for the U.S. national team. Yes, he will likely stay at center back with John Brooks for the big World Cup qualifiers this summer and perhaps even the Gold Cup in July, but Cameron is a great option for Bruce Arena in central midfield.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Cameron, in his fourth season in the Premier League with Stoke, is producing his best form. At the age of 31, he’s bang in his prime and his ability to play right back, center back and center midfield with consummate ease make him a valuable commodity. Expect the Potters to be pushing away offers for Cameron this summer with his contract running until the summer of 2018 at the bet365 Stadium.

Under the radar throughout his career, the U.S. international is grinding out gutsy displays as he tries to drive Stoke on to a fourth-straight top 10 finish.

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

Can says he wants to play for “very big club” next year

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Liverpool swing man Emre Can – whose contract expires this summer – has not yet found a club to sign with yet, and the future free agent is playing up his own talents while looking for a new home.

“I have the self-confidence to say that my qualities are sufficient to play in a very big club next season,” Can told German newspaper Suddeutche Zeitung. “I’m doing great in England. The Spanish league is also attractive. The same applies to Germany, where tactics are concerned, and the Italian club football, which has recently caught up.”

“Incidentally, the same applies to France, this league has now established itself as one of the best in Europe. Therefore, I do not want to exclude anything.”

However, Can also said that the Premier League’s spending power plays a major role, and singled out the German top flight – his home country – for its inability to pay top players.

“Sure, the Bundesliga would interest me, why not? Although I must say honestly that the level has waned in recent years,” he said. “The Premier League has the power to spend more money on players than the Bundesliga. This is very, very important for players.”

Despite those comments, the 24-year-old insists that money is not the ultimate deciding factor in where he will play.

“What counts for me is that I’m an integral part of the team and at a club with a chance of winning the title,” he added. “That’s what every footballer dreams of because that’s the reward of your hard work.”

Can has not ruled out a return to Liverpool, a club that he says “still feels like family.”

Wales boss Giggs claims he wont give in to commercial pressure to play Bale

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Wales is among the field of the China Cup, an international tournament in Guangxi, China, to play a pair of international friendlies this week.

New manager Ryan Giggs admitted there is outside pressure to play Gareth Bale in the event at some point, but admitted he will not put the Real Madrid star at risk just to appease sponsors. In fact, the only pressure he’s feeling is from himself.

“Any risks, stupid risks, I won’t be taking,” Giggs said. “But it’s also my first game and I want to get my best team out there.”

Wales missed out on the 2018 World Cup, and there’s little to gain from having Bale out on the field the entire time. Wales will play China in the semifinals on Thursday, and then meets the winner of Uruguay and Czech Republic next week.

According to reports, Wales would lose nearly $150,000 of its $1.5 million participation fee if Bale did not play.

“I’ve not spoken to [Real Madrid manager Zinedine] Zidane, but I’ve spoken to Gareth,” Giggs said. “I’ve been in contact with him regularly in the last few months and I’m not stupid because it’s an important part of the season.”

Bale has been smothered by injuries – mostly calf problems – during his Real Madrid career, missing a stretch of over two months through October and November with hamstring issues. He has been fit since, but Zidane rarely risks Bale for the full 90 minutes. In fact, Bale’s only three full 90’s of the 2018 calendar year have all come in the last three weeks.

The 28-year-old has three goals in his last five La Liga games, including one off the bench in a 6-3 win over Girona last weekend.

International preview: What is to come over the next week

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With the 2018 World Cup less than three months away, countries are taking these last moments to see players within their selection pool and make tweaks to the squad and tactics.

This week’s international window has already kicked off with the likes of South Africa, Liechtenstein, and Andorra taking the opportunity to see the field, and World Cup countries take the field tomorrow – two, to be exact. And they play each other.

Denmark and Panama meet in a rare friendly between countries set to take part in the summer festivities, with the match taking place in Bronby at 3pm ET. The two countries chose to play knowing they cannot possibly meet in Russia 2018 until at least the quarterfinals, with their respective Groups C and G split apart across the knockout rounds.

The hosts are fantastic from set-pieces and focus their attack around Tottenham star Christian Eriksen. Panama’s midfield rock Gabriel Gomez will likely be tasked with keeping Eriksen quiet, something the Republic of Ireland was unable to do last time Denmark took the field as Eriksen bagged a hat-trick. Defender Andreas Christensen is headed towards the World Cup in fantastic form with Chelsea, having earned a starting spot with the Blues. With some injuries at the back, Christensen has also played out wide along the back line before as well, something to keep watch for.

On Friday, the heavyweights begin to see the field as Uruguay hosts Czech Republic. The South American nation received a friendly draw in World Cup Group A, but brought in a solid European side to match wits with after the Czechs finished third in their qualifying group. Japan also takes to the pitch on Friday, playing Mali on a neutral field in Belgium. The Japanese will need to be at the top of their game come summer, matched into Group H against Colombia, Poland, and Senegal.

England and Argentina have both scheduled games against European sides that disappointed by failing to make the 2018 tournament. On Friday, England travels to Amsterdam to take on a Netherlands squad in turmoil, while Argentina travels to the Etihad to meet Italy.

Russia and Brazil meet in Moscow on Friday, with over 50,000 tickets already reportedly sold for the match at Luzhniki Stadium. The hosts will then get another stiff test as they take on France four days later on Tuesday. If Russia’s squad has lots of work to do before hosting the World Cup, we’ll know in a week.

The main event on Friday will be Germany and Spain meeting in Dusseldorf in a matchup of the last two World Cup winners. Germany will be without Manuel Neuer and Marco Reus, but still fields one of the deepest squads in the entire world. The Germans don’t then get the week off, having to meet Brazil on Tuesday. If Jogi Low’s side comes out of those matches on top, they could cement their status as favorites headed into the summer.

France has a stiff test as well, meeting Colombia on Friday. Like Denmark and Panama, the two countries reside in Groups C and H, meaning they could not rematch in the World Cup until at least the quarterfinals. The French then go to take on Russia next week.


Denmark vs. Panama
Slovakia vs. UAE
China vs. Wales
Algeria vs. Tanzania
Malta vs. Luxembourg

Germany vs. Spain
Italy vs. Argentina
Russia vs. Brazil
Netherlands vs. England
France vs. Colombia
Portugal vs. Egypt
Uruguay vs. Czech Republic
Mexico vs. Ireland
Poland vs. Nigeria
Austria vs. Slovenia
Peru vs. Croatia
Austria vs. Slovenia
Greece vs. Switzerland
Norway vs. Australia
Mali vs. Japan

Sweden vs. Chile

Kuwait vs. Cameroon
Nicaragua vs. Cuba

Portugal vs. Netherlands
Bulgaria vs. Kazakhstan

Russia vs. France
Germany vs. Brazil
England vs. Italy
Spain vs. Argentina
United States vs. Paraguay
Tunisia vs. Costa Rica
Colombia vs. Australia
Belgium vs. Saudi Arabia
Egypt vs. Greece
Denmark vs. Chile
Japan vs. Ukraine

Alexis Sanchez says he “expected better” from himself at Manchester United

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Alexis Sanchez isn’t happy with his performance so far at Manchester United.

The Chilean superstar has scored just one goal for the Red Devils in 10 appearances since joining from Arsenal, and the club has lost three of those games and has been knocked out of the Champions League by Sevilla.

Speaking with Chilean media on national team duty in Sweden, Sanchez said he expects more of himself and that he’s so far let himself down. “As I am self-demanding, I expected something better,” Sanchez said. “After my arrival at United, it was hard to change everything very quickly. I even hesitated to come here [to join the national team].”

Chile missed out on World Cup qualification, and has friendlies with Sweden and Denmark scheduled over the next week. With so little at stake, Sanchez was poised to take time off from the national team, but says he was convinced by Manchester City goalkeeper and Chilean captain Claudio Bravo to stick it out.

“The change of club was something that was very abrupt – it was the first time I’ve changed clubs in January – but many things have happened in my life that are difficult,” Sanchez said. “I had asked permission to miss these games, but then I thought better and spoke with Claudio and told him that we should all be united.”

Once the international break is over, Manchester United resumes Premier League play against Swansea at the end of March before an April 7th derby meeting with Manchester City.