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.

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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.


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

Miguel Almiron knew nothing about MLS, everything about Tata

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Miguel Almiron’s future is going to be a big part of the story for as long as he’s in Atlanta United, but his past is in focus following another cool post in The Players’ Tribune.

It’s a cool read, for sure, to examine Almiron’s rise from “too skinny” kid without a club to one of the top prospects this side of the Atlantic Ocean, but the story of why he came to Atlanta is an argument for the “big name” manager (Tata Martino in this case).

[ MORE: Liverpool fan trouble in Sevilla ]

Before the Paraguayan youngster was the talk of the transfer market, MLS Newcomer of the Year, and the No. 1 jersey sale in the league, he was being recruited to the Georgian expansion outlet.

“I didn’t know much about MLS. I didn’t know where Atlanta was. I didn’t know anything. But Tata was manager, and that was all I needed to know.”

Given that Martino arrived not too long before Almiron, the following Tweet makes the point I’ve been trying to make as well as anyone:

Sevilla manager reportedly told team of cancer diagnosis at half

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When it comes to locker room tales, few compare to this one.

Any big comeback, especially one as high profile as Sevilla’s stunning second half against Liverpool, inspires the question, “What was said in the team room at halftime?!?”

Down 3-0 at halftime and in danger of bowing out of the UEFA Champions League, Sevilla manager Eduardo Berizzo gave his team some very serious news.

[ MORE: Liverpool fan trouble in Sevilla ]

According to Spanish reports relayed by The Telegraph, Berizzo informed his players of his prostate cancer diagnosis.

Sevilla confirmed that Berizzo is battling adenocarcinoma, saying, “Future medical tests will determine a course of treatment. Sevilla FC wants to show maximum support to its manager in these moments and wishes him a prompt recovery.”

It adds extra weight to Ever Banega’s postgame comments:

“We have to go out there with that attitude, for the fans that always back us and for the coach who has turned this around. He is the most important of all of us, he has us on the right path and we are with him to the hilt.”

Our best to Berizzo, and — sorry Reds supporters — it’s pretty cool Sevilla was able to rally after such stunning news.

Liverpool releases statement after Sevilla stadium supporter outcry

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Liverpool has proffered a strong and cautionary statement regarding its supporters’ treatment at Sevilla on Tuesday.

Claims of police punching a woman in the back and throwing her “political” flag at her, a Liverbird with the word “Defiance” on it, are just the tip of the iceberg.

[ REPORT: Palace to get new digs ]

Fans claim that many were either delayed or denied in entry to the stadium, with “police in riot gear not letting you get to your seat” in some cases.

The Reds have released a statement, from LiverpoolFC.com:

Following detailed and troubling accounts given by Liverpool supporters attending the match against Sevilla last night, the club is seeking to establish the facts regarding their treatment at the hands of the host stewards and local police force.
The safety and security of our supporters is our paramount concern and we intend to gather all the relevant information before responding further.

Supporter treatment away from home is deservedly a hot button issue, and especially at Liverpool given the horrible Hillsborough disaster that killed 96 and wounded almost 800 more in 1989.

As for the match, the Reds squandered a 3-0 lead at Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium, drawing 3-3.

Sounders in firm control after Leg 1

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The game in 100 words (or less): The Seattle Sounders took full control of the Western Conference finals with a resounding 2-0 win over ten-man Houston. The Sounders already had hit first in the 11th minute through Gustav Svensson but the red card to Jalil Anibaba changed the game. Houston had some chances later but fatigue meant the focus and control was off. Former Dynamo striker Will Bruin’s goal may have put the tie to bed.

Three moments that mattered

11′ — Gustav Svensson Goal — The Sounders wanted to set the tone early and they picked up an early goal off a corner kick, as Svensson redirected a header past Dynamo goalkeeper Joe Willis. The goal changed the complexion of the game to that point, until our next big moment.

28′ — Jalil Anibaba red card — Joevin Jones was a menace to deal with tonight and after getting past Anibaba, the latter pulled Jones down and as it appeared to be denial of a goal-scoring opportunity, Anibaba was given his marching orders. Suddenly, Houston, down a goal and down a man, had a lot more to do to stay in the tie. Nicolas Lodeiro missed the subsequent penalty kick but Will Bruin picked Lodeiro up later.

42′ — Will Bruin goal — The former Dynamo man scored a massive goal against his former club on a great cross from Jones on the left wing. While the tie isn’t over, the Sounders are in firm control and look set to repeat as Western Conference playoffs champions.

Man of the Match: Joevin Jones