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

Pochettino: “Challenge is to keep going” ahead of North London Derby

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Mauricio Pochettino was thrilled to see Tottenham Hotspur’s title push continue with a win over in-form Crystal Palace on Wednesday.

Spurs won 1-0 on a beautiful Christian Eriksen goal from distance, moving back to within four points of Premier League leading Chelsea.

[ RECAP: Palace 0-1 Spurs ]

Pochettino’s men didn’t stop fighting for the winner despite relentless fight from the home side, with improving mettle on display this season.

“Unbelievable. Very good performance. I think second half we played much better than in the first half. It was difficult in the first half for us to move the ball and find the space but we changed the shape at half time and it was more fluid, we started to find the space and started to push Palace deeper and deeper.”

After two tough London Derbies — Spurs fell 4-2 to Chelsea in Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal — Tottenham now has the big one: a visit from Arsenal in the North London Derby.

“It was good to get the three points and be alive in the race for the title. The challenge is to keep going. It is always better to win but it is true [the Arsenal game] is a big derby, perhaps the last at White Hart Lane and I think it will be an exciting game.”

We’re ready for it. Spurs will be favored to pick up all three points, but all bets are off when it comes to the NLD. That’s especially true considering the ticking Top Four clock for Arsenal and the title fight for Spurs.

Palace 0-1 Spurs: Eriksen saves the day

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  • Sakho stretchered off
  • Eriksen rescues title hope
  • Spurs four back of Chelsea

Palace made them work for it.

Tottenham Hotspur didn’t exactly sends chills down the spine of Chelsea with its performance, but Spurs found a way past tricky and in-form Crystal Palace on Wednesday at Selhurst Park.

Christian Eriksen‘s pretty goal sealed the three points for Spurs, who have five matches to chase down four points from the Blues.

Palace sits 12th, seven points clear of 18th place Swansea City.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Two in-forms started with confidence, Harry Kane lashing wide of the frame for Spurs and Wilfried Zaha driving Palace on the right wing.

Another in-form Eagles attacker, Christian Benteke, did well to create space and hit a low shot that forced Hugo Lloris to ground.

Victor Wanyama was on yellow when he slid to intercept Andros Townsend, taking the Englishman to the turf. Jon Moss gave Wanyama a harsh warning, but did not produce the red card.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Moussa Sissoko and Son Heung-min were called upon soon after the break to liven up Spurs attack.

The substitution that stood to shake up the match was Palace center back Mamadou Sakho, who was hurt with about 40 minutes to play.

Eriksen stung a shot across goal for the eventual winner, a rare moment of class from a three-match day that didn’t quite fit the standard of the Premier League.

Arsenal 1-0 Leicester City: Only an own goal

AP Photo/Alastair Grant
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  • Chances at a premium
  • Monreal forces Huth own goal
  • Arsenal moves sixth
  • Foxes six clear of drop

Nacho Monreal‘s desperate shot ricocheted off Robert Huth‘s chest and gave Arsenal a 1-0 win over Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.

Entertainment value wasn’t high over the course of the match, as Arsenal had trouble piercing Leicester’s congested back four.

Arsenal is now three points back of Manchester United and four behind Man City before Thursday’s Manchester Derby.

Leicester is six points clear of 18th and has played one less game than most of the teams chasing them.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Arsenal had most of the ball to start the match, but needed to make the first big stop. Petr Cech kept the match goalless when he flew to stop a left-footed whip from Riyad Mahrez.

At the other end, Mesut Ozil set up Theo Walcott for a chance that prodded a solid save from Kasper Schmeichel.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Wilfried Ndidi was again a monster in the middle third for Leicester, arguably the main reason the Foxes have rebounded from their relegation plight.

Arsenal had a chance pushed away from danger by Robert Huth after Alexis Sanchez misjudged his time on the ball in front of goal in the 56th minute.

Schmeichel then dove to slap away a deflected Francis Coquelin shot.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Laurent Koscielny went down in pain after landing awkwardly in the 79th minute, leaving a gap in space that Shinji Okazaki would’ve exploited were it not for a block from Gabriel Paulista.

Leicester’s Yohan Benalouane should’ve seen red with 10 minutes to play following a leaping boot to the back of Olivier Giroud, but only a foul was given.

Ndidi made a sliding intervention on Mesut Ozil in the 85th minute, another terrific bit of work from the Nigerian.

That’s when Huth’s unlucky moment lifted Arsenal to the lead.

Middlesbrough 1-0 Sunderland: Derby honors and a bit of life

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  • Boro’s first PL win since Dec. 17
  • Smoggies move within six of 17th
  • Sunderland on verge of relegation

Marten De Roon snared Middlesbrough new hope at safety and a derby win as Boro scored early to complete a season sweep of Tees-Wear Derby rivals Sunderland on Wednesday.

The 1-0 win means Sunderland is 12 points back of 17th place Hull City with five matches to play. Hull has four matches left.

For Boro, it’s six points back of Hull but a devastating run-in that includes Man City, Chelsea, Southampton, and Liverpool.

The win was USMNT backstop Brad Guzan‘s second of the Premier League season, the first coming in the reverse fixture.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

De Roon tilted the Tees-Wear Derby to Boro’s side with an opening goal that could signal the end of Sunderland’s slim safety hopes.

Stewart Downing tempted 2-0 with a hard low shot that Jordan Pickford did very well to save with a leg.

Sunderland did find a bit of danger when Didier N’Dong forced Brad Guzan into a save, but Billy Jones nodded over the frame.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]