Premier League Playback: Alarming signs emerge for Chelsea

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Before you read this, remember, Chelsea still has a four-point lead atop the Premier League and they play Tottenham Hotspur in an FA Cup semifinal at Wembley Stadium this Saturday.

[ MORE: Mourinho’s master plan ]

Remember that when reading Antonio Conte‘s damning verdict of his team following their 2-0 defeat at Manchester United on Sunday which breathed new life into the PL title race after two defeats in four PL games for Chelsea.

“It won’t be easy because I think Tottenham are now the best team. They are in good form and they have a lot of enthusiasm. They are feeling the possibility to write history and it is important for us to know this,” Conte said.

“We lost two games but those games were totally different. Against Crystal Palace, we didn’t deserve to lose. Today we deserved to lose the game. We didn’t play a good game and United deserved to win. We have to think there are six finals from now until the end of the season. The league is open and we have a 50% [opportunity] to win the league. It will be good to finish on top of the table and, if so, it means we deserve this. Otherwise we must clap another team.”

Is it just me, or did that statement from Conte seem a little extreme in the aftermath of a potentially damaging defeat at Old Trafford?

[ MORE: 3 things we learned | Player ratings

As soon as he uttered the words “Tottenham are now the best team” in the press conference room at Old Trafford you could hear journalists pounding away at their keyboards as eyes widened and others muttered ‘what the heck is he saying’ following Conte’s comments.

It wasn’t so much a concession that his Chelsea’s team are on the ropes for the final weeks of the season, but it was a warning sign of where this team is at.

Conte was right about Chelsea’s defeat at United. They didn’t deserve to win, or draw, and Jose Mourinho won the tactical battle fair and square as Ander Herrra has probably just allowed Eden Hazard to hop out of his back pocket and Chelsea’s makeshift defense couldn’t handle the pacy duo of Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard up front together.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live ]

It wasn’t rocket science from Mourinho, but it was brave and bold and was something a little different than most teams have done against Chelsea this season. Conte and his players will now have to prepare for teams playing two up front against them in their pivotal final six games of the season with their three center backs suddenly under more pressure than they have been since the switch to a 3-4-3 back in September.

Amid reports of a virus sweeping through Chelsea’s dressing room late last week, plus goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois getting injured in an NBA promo video (yes, you read that correctly) the Blues are having some adversity thrown at them. Add in club captain John Terry announcing he will leave Chelsea at the end of this season at the age of 36 to continue playing elsewhere, and a lot is happening right now at Stamford Bridge. Terry’s leadership and experience will no doubt be needed in the final weeks of the season to nudge Chelsea over the line.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

The mentality of this team is strong, as they’ve shown for most of the season and the vast majority of this squad showed that in the 2014-15 title-winning campaign too. Yet given the epic collapse most of these players were part of and the 10th place finish last season, there’s a lingering sense that Chelsea could crumble.

There’s no doubting Tottenham have the tougher schedule remaining but with Spurs winning seven games on the spin, unbeaten at home in the PL and going into an FA Cup semi against Chelsea brimming with confidence, the warning bells are starting to ring for Conte and Chelsea.

It’s time they woke up from this little slump and finish the job. If they don’t, Tottenham will nip in and take it all.


LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

This weekend was so much fun. On location at White Hart Lane, Old Trafford and the Riverside Stadium was the entire NBC Sports Soccer crew as the broadcast team from the USA flew across the pond to link up with everyone.

A great time was had by all, with plenty of laughs mixed in with long travel days, countless pitch-side interviews with some of the biggest names in the PL, plus behind-the-scenes Facebook lives with the gang and much, much more.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

With a studio, pitch-side desk and gantry at each stadium for Tottenham vs. Bournemouth, Man United vs. Chelsea and Middlesbrough vs. Arsenal, the annual trip to the UK delivered big time when it came to drama on the pitch and excitement off it.

Click play on the video at the top of this section to get a glimpse of what to expect in the “I Was There” PL Download special coming up on Wednesday, April 26th at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

You won’t want to miss it.


TOP FOUR BATTLE IS ON

Wins for Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Everton mean the top four battle is well and truly on.

Things are getting tense and tight.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Liverpool and Man United took care of business after watching Man City blow past Southampton 3-0 on Saturday as Vincent Kompany‘s return to full-fitness was a joy to watch. Suddenly Pep Guardiola‘s City look much more solid in defense and they remain just as lethal in attack.

We’ve spoken about Man United’s tactical beating of Chelsea and Mourinho will feel like his team now have a real chance of making the top four as they sit four points behind Man City and have a game in hand. Add in that the two Manchester clubs face each other next Thursday in the PL and the top four battle is set to intensify further.

Watching on nervously all weekend were Arsenal who beat a stubborn Middlesrbrough side 2-1 after switching to a 3-4-3 formation for the first time in 20 years under Wenger. Along with Everton’s fine form and Romelu Lukaku banging in the goals, there are five teams in the hunt for third and fourth place, even if the Toffees have played more games than anyone else and seem likely to finish seventh given their tough run-in.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

With Arsenal still to play Man United and Tottenham, plus Man City still to play Man United and United still to face Tottenham, things seem pretty set for Liverpool to finish in the top four a Jurgen Klopp‘s men have a kind run-in.

Yet, strange things happen at this time of the season and the top four race will no doubt go down to the wire.


END OF AN ERA AS JT CALLS TIME

As mentioned above, at the age of 36 Terry has decided to end his time at Chelsea after 19 seasons at the club. After coming through the youth ranks the captain of Chelsea will leave a huge void after 22 years in west London.

[ MORE: What now for Terry? ]

Even though he’s missed most of this season through a combination of injury and not being able to usurp Gary Cahill, David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta from a solid back three, Terry’s impact in the dressing room will still be key, especially in the run-in.

After all, he’s won 14 major honors at Chelsea, lifting 13 of them as captain.

Where does he go next? Reports suggest Major League Soccer, China or other options in the PL are emerging but for now let’s let the words of those who know him best honor a true Chelsea hero.

He will go down as one of the greatest center backs in world history, plus the greatest player in Chelsea’s history and one of England’s finest defenders.

As the banner simply says at Stamford Bridge: “JT. Captain. Leader. Legend.”

The last man standing of an incredible era for @chelseafc. What a pleasure to play with the greatest defender in the @premierleague history. In fact, I'd put him up with any defender in world football of any era. He led the club both on and off the pitch from the moment he made his debut. He set standards for everyone, whether it was demanding excellence in training, fighting for every win or respecting how fortunate we were to play for such a great club. He was, and is, a legend, not just for his talent but just as much for his desire to get the best out of himself and others around him. That's what made him the most successful captain in the club's history. Off the pitch a great friend to not just me but so many at the club and outside of it. The countless things I've seen JT do to help people outside of the game, things that not many see, are what defines him as a man. @johnterry.26 you deserve every accolade you get over the next weeks and beyond and I hope you get what you deserve and lift two massive trophies at the end of the season(just to add to the tally 😂). Whatever you do next I know everyone will respect your decision and I know that the Chels will always be your club. Absolute respect 💙💙👊👊#jt #captain #leader #legend

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From day one you've been a true Leader, when I first met you and didn't know who you were 🙈 ☺️ but said to me "welcome to chelsea" Thought you were a young player from the academy going on pre season tour 😂😂😂 Then I realized who you were from your first speech right before our first friendly game vs @celticfc . You've been carrying this team, this club for 22 years with the same passion, the same desire to win for @chelseafc and our fans. Proud to have been lead by the all time best defender of @premierleague and one of the very best in the world!!!! Thanks for the memories CAPTAIN LEGEND TERRY @johnterry.26 and all the very best for your next challenge. #leaderonandoffthepitch #legend #Goat #chelseafc #johnterry #blues #endofanera #whataneraitwas #winniiiiiiiiiing🏅🏆🏅🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏅🏆🏅🏆🏆🏆🏅🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆

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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

Report: Whitecaps teen sensation Davies could have Man United trial

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The 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup saw a lot of young faces in competition, and one name that really seemed to stick came from Canada’s national team.

[ MORE: Five players LA FC should consider selecting in MLS Expansion Draft ]

Vancouver Whitecaps attacker Alphonso Davies has been doing it for both club and country since making his Major League Soccer debut in 2016, and now the young Canada international could be making a massive leap.

According to CTV Edmonton, the 17-year-old has been contacted by Premier League side Manchester United for a trial in January.

Davies would need clearance from the Whitecaps to join the Red Devils to train, however, with it being MLS’ offseason it’s hard to imagine the Cascadia club not allowing the former Edmonton Strikers player to seize the opportunity.

In 2017, Davies appeared in 26 matches for the Whitecaps and registered one assist for Carl Robinson’s side.

Davies has already become a regular with the Canada national team, after previously receiving call ups from the Under-15, U-18 and U-20 teams.

Five players LA FC should consider selecting in MLS Expansion Draft

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Los Angeles FC will take another big step towards its entry into Major League Soccer next season on Tuesday when the 2017 MLS Expansion Draft commences.

Bob Bradley and his side will have the opportunity to select up to five players during the Expansion Draft, however, the team can only choose one player per club.

[ MORE: Rimando, Pontius among MLS free agents ]

MLS sides had to select their list of 11 protected players by Sunday evening in order to put them off limits from LA FC. Any player not protected by their club is available for selection.

After exploring some of the names of those left unprotected, PST takes a look at five players LA FC should select in Tuesday’s Expansion Draft.

Maxime Chanot — (CB from New York City FC)

He’s 28 years old, and helped build one of the better central defensive partnerships in MLS last season with Alex Callens, prior to his injury. NYCFC could be banking on the fact that his injury will prevent him from getting back to his previous level, but there’s no question Chanot is the sort of player that could anchor the LA FC back line for five-plus seasons.

David Ousted — (GK from Vancouver Whitecaps)

Made 90-plus saves in four of his five seasons with the Whitecaps, and overall one of the top goalkeepers in MLS. The Denmark native has recorded 36 shutouts in his time with the Cascadia side, and helped guide the Whitecaps to the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference in 2017. With Real Salt Lake not picking up Nick Rimando’s contract, the veteran USMNT shot-stopper could also be an option for LA FC, however, Ousted is younger and arguably better at this stage of his career.

Marco Urena — (FWD from San Jose Earthquakes)

The 27-year-old may not be on many people’s radars, but the Costa Rican had five goals and three assists last season for the Quakes. Urena was tied for second on the team in goals, and provides a solid veteran player on a new LA FC side. While Carlos Vela will be the focal point up front for the newcomers, Urena is the sort of player that could player a very important supporting role.

Osvaldo Alonso — (MID from Seattle Sounders)

The Designated Player contract could scare LA FC away because Alonso is 32 years old, but this is the type of guy you want in the center of the park. For nine seasons, Alonso has anchored the Sounders midfield, and he does all the dirty work that could very well help the transition of the expansion side’s back line in 2018.

Chris Tierney — (DEF from New England Revolution

Similar to Alonso, Tierney isn’t going to be the sexiest pick, but he’s had the MLS experience, and he’s likely a player that could move on from a team where he’s spent his entire career. His versatility in the midfield and defensively allows Tierney to be a highly-coveted asset, especially as a player that is capable of delivering a quality cross from down the left flank.

Rimando, Pontius among 40 MLS players eligible for free agency

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Ahead of Tuesday’s Free Agency period, Major League Soccer released a list of 40 eligible players on Sunday.

Veterans over the age of 28 and who have played at least eight seasons in MLS qualified for the list, as well as players out-of-contract and those who didn’t have their options picked up.

[ MORE: Stanford knocks off Indiana in extra time to win third straight College Cup ]

MLS was busy earlier in the day on Sunday when several clubs announced blockbuster trades, including Kei Kamara’s move to Vancouver and expansion side Los Angeles FC’s addition of Walker Zimmerman.

A number of notable MLS veterans are included on the following list, such as Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando, Chris Pontius of the Philadelphia Union and New York Red Bulls defender Sal Zizzo.

NOTE: The MLS Expansion Draft will also take place on Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET as LA FC has the opportunity to select up to five players ahead of its inaugural MLS season in 2018.

Below is the full list of candidates for this offseason’s free agents.

Player Previous
Club
Status
Alexander, Eric HOU Out of Contract
Alston, Kevin ORL Out of Contract
Barrett, Chad RSL Option Decline
Beasley, DaMarcus HOU Out of Contract
Beitashour, Steven TOR Out of Contract
Boswell, Bobby ATL Out of Contract
Burling, Robert COL Out of Contract
Carroll, Brian PHI Retired
Clark, Ricardo HOU Option Decline
DeLaGarza, AJ HOU Option Decline
Deric, Tyler HOU Option Decline
Duka, Dilly NY Option Decline
Evans, Brad SEA Out of Contract
Francis, Shaun MTL Option Decline
Franklin, Sean DC Option Decline
Gordon, Alan COL Option Decline
Harrington, Michael CHI Option Decline
Harris, Atiba DAL Option Decline
Harvey, Jordan VAN Out of Contract
Hernandez, Jason TOR Out of Contract
Jacobson, Andrew VAN Out of Contract
Knighton, Brad NE Out of Contract
Kronberg, Eric MTL Out of Contract
Larentowicz, Jeffrey ATL Option Decline
Loyd, Zachary ATL Option Decline
Moor, Andrew TOR Out of Contract
Morales, Javier DAL Out of Contract
Neagle, Lamar SEA Out of Contract
Nyarko, Patrick DC Out of Contract
Pontius, Chris PHI Out of Contract
Reynish, Kyle ATL Out of Contract
Rimando, Nick RSL Out of Contract
Rogers, Robbie LA Retired
Rolfe, Chris DC Retired
Saunders, Joshua ORL Option Decline
Schuler, Chris RSL Option Decline
Seitz, Christopher DAL Out of Contract
Wingert, Chris RSL Out of Contract
Zemanski, Ben POR Out of Contract
Zizzo, Sal NY Option Decline

The 2 Robbies podcast: Man City steps towards the title, Merseyside recap

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle dissect Derby Day, where Man City set the Premier League single season all time consecutive winning streak against rivals Man United, Jurgen Klopp had a bad day at the office against the blue half of Merseyside and Arsenal stutter again away from home.

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies