Premier League Playback: Dele Alli the next great star

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ALLI A BEAST

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.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

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.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

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.


COSTA CONUNDRUM

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.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

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.


TOUGH LOVE FROM JOSE GETTING RESULTS?

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.

[ MORE: Premier League stats

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.


RELEGATION PICTURE CLEARER

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.


CAMERON ON FORM

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

MLS Snapshots: Hat trick for Accam; MNUFC come back from 2-0

Photo credit: Chicago Fire / Twitter: @ChicagoFire
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The game in 100 words (or less): All hail King David Accam, the newest superstar of MLS — except, well, you know, he’s been doing this for a couple years now. It’s not his fault you hadn’t already taken notice. For too long, it was Accam and not much else for the Chicago Fire, who finished bottom of the league two straight seasons, in 2015 and 2016. Now, with the likes of Dax McCarty, Nemanja Nikolic and Bastian Schweinsteiger joining him in Bridgeview, Accam has ascended to his rightful throne as an MVP candidate. The 26-year-old Ghanaian international strengthened his case on Saturday, bagging three goals and an assist, playing a key part in all four goals, in Chicago’s 4-0 drubbing of Orlando City SC. Accam’s season stats now sit at 10 goals and six assists, for the Eastern Conference’s second-place team. If these kind of performances persist, don’t be surprised when Accam follows in Fabian Castillo’s footsteps, right off to Europe.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

Three moments that mattered

8′ — Accam rounds Bendik for 2-0 — The long-ball distribution from Bastian Schweinsteiger is perfect, but Accam still has a ton to do from there. He corrals the ball with his first touch, quickly goes around Joe Bendik, gets his wits about him and fires through an opening to make it David Accam 2-0 Orlando City SC. This one came just six minutes after his brilliant backheel finish for the opening goal.

52′ — Accam sets up Nikolic for 3-0 — The time and space afforded Accam is inexcusable from Orlando’s midfield remaining players in their defensive half of the field, but the through ball still required inch-perfect precision to find Nikolic.

63′ — Accam converts from the spot — No doubt about this one, as Accam slams home from the penalty spot to complete his much deserved hat trick.

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Man of the match: David Accam

Goalscorers: Accam (3′, 8′, 63′ – PK), Nikolic (52′)


Minnesota United 2-2 Vancouver Whitecaps

Three moments that mattered

45+2′ — Tchani heads a rocket past Shuttleworth — You’re not going to find many headers with more power behind them than this one from Tony Tchani, anywhere in the world, anytime.

50′ — Calvo heads down and past Ousted — Take, for example, Francisco Calvo’s goal five minutes into the second half… not quite as much behind it.

63′ — Thiesson hits it low, through traffic, for 2-0 — Jerome Thiesson’s equalizer needed eyes to make its way through a penalty area full of bodies.

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Man of the match: Kevin Molino

Goalscorers: Techera (17′ – PK), Tchani (45+2′), Calvo (50′), Thiesson (63′)

MLS Snapshots: Manneh inspires Crew SC; Philly, Atlanta win at home

AP Photo/Jay LaPrete
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Columbus Crew SC 4-1 Montreal Impact

Three moments that mattered

17′ — Higuain’s free kick beats Bush — Aided by a slight deflection off the top of the wall, Higuain put a free kick past Evan Bush to give the home side an early lead.

70′ — Manneh makes an immediate impact — The initial ball from Higuain is what you came here for, but the elementary defending by three Montreal defenders is what’ll keep you glued until the very end.

72′ — Manneh sets up Kamara for 3-1 — Kekuta Manneh had been on the field for all of three minutes, and he put a goal and an assist to his name. Most importantly, three points to that of Crew SC.

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Man of the match: Federico Higuain

Goalscorers: Higuain (17′, 88′), Jackson-Hamel (19′), Manneh (70′), Kamara (72′)


 

Philadelphia Union 1-0 D.C. United

Three moments that mattered

28′ — Blake gets down to deny Harkes from distance — Ian Harkes had picked out a spot just inside the far post, but Andre Blake was well up to the task of denying DCU’s homegrown rookie.

31′ — Picault slams Bedoya’s cross — Alejandro Bedoya’s cross has some serious loft on it, which it makes it so tough to keep the ensuing shot low and to hit it with such power. Fantastic finish from Picault.

70′ — Blake stone-walls Neagle from the spot — It’s a pretty poor penalty from Lamar Neagle, but it’s a massive moment so badly needed by Andre Blake who’s been well off his own standard this season. Don’t be surprised if it’s a season-turning save for the talented Jamaican.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Andre Blake

Goalscorers: Picault (31′)


 

Atlanta United 1-0 Colorado Rapids

Three One moment that mattered

67′ — Martinez turns and beats Howard for the game’s only goal — You can’t give Josef Martinez this kind of space, and this kind of time, around the six-yard box. He’s shown us seven times already this season (in just seven games) how deadly he is from there.

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Man of the match: Josef Martinez

Goalscorers: Martinez (67′)

VIDEO: Accam’s slick backheel puts Chicago ahead

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For the last two years, David Accam has been, in my estimation, the best player in MLS that no one talked about.

[ MORE: NYCFC run rampant on Red Bulls, win NY derby 2-0 ]

Understandably so, of course, given the 26-year-old Ghanaian international and the Chicago Fire been rooted to the bottom of the league table for two years running. All of that has changed in 2017, though, as Accam finally has a forward (Nemanja Nikolic) who can not only put chances away, but create space and chances for his teammates, and a solid midfield base which allows him to cherry-pick counter-attacks just that little bit more.

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Entering Saturday’s game against Orlando City SC, Chicago sat second in the Eastern Conference, just four points back of Toronto FC, and Accam’s 7 goals and 5 assists (in 15 games) were a huge part of the why and the how. It didn’t take Accam long — two minutes, in fact, to put Chicago ahead of Orlando with a ridiculous backheel finish to Matt Polster’s cross.

 

Bravo fit again, but will he start Chile’s Confed Cup group finale?

Photo credit should read YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images
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MOSCOW (AP) Claudio Bravo is fit again and could start in goal against Australia at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi said Saturday.

Bravo – who is Chile’s joint most-capped player with Alexis Sanchez – hasn’t played since April 27, when he injured his calf for Manchester City in a derby game with Manchester United.

“Claudio is fit, he’s managed to train the last couple of days just like his other teammates,” Pizzi said. “He’s ready and available to play.”

Pizzi brushed off concerns about a lack of match fitness, saying that “quite obviously we take into account that factor” but players like Bravo are “are of such good quality that it isn’t that important they haven’t played in the last couple of months.”

Stand-in Johnny Herrera played in Chile’s 2-0 group stage win over Cameroon and Thursday’s 1-1 draw with Germany.

Gary Medel was substituted with a minor injury while playing in defense for Chile against Germany. Teammate Francisco Silva said Saturday that Medel had complained of “a very small muscle contraction issue” but was now fit.

Pizzi said he will aim to tire out Australia with Chile’s trademark all-action style, even though his team struggled for energy in the latter stages against Germany.

“This energy drop we had in the second half didn’t damage us too much because the opposing team couldn’t maintain a high pace because of the demands we’d imposed on them,” Pizzi said of the Germany game.

“We’re going to try to get (the Australians) tired as well and use this to beat our opponent, and we hope this is going to translate into goals.”