The night Tottenham’s latest title bid ended

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LONDON — For the second season running Tottenham Hotspur will come up short in the Premier League title race.

“It’s happening again, it’s happening again… Tottenham Hotspur, it’s happening again!” was the taunting chant aimed at Spurs’ fans by supporters of West Ham.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

In Spurs’ shock 1-0 defeat at West Ham United on Friday, Mauricio Pochettino‘s men froze when they had the chance to cut Chelsea’s lead atop the PL table to one point.

Now Chelsea have the chance to extend their lead to seven points with three games to go when they host second from bottom Middlesbrough on Monday night and if Chelsea then beat West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns next Friday they will seal the title.

[ MORE: Spurs gutted by defeat ]

For Tottenham, they’ll want to put out of their misery as soon as possible.

The damaging defeat at West Ham left their players looking stunned at the final whistle with Christian Eriksen stood with his hands on his hips and Harry Kane had his hands on his head in disbelief.

After the game Pochettino was subdued in his press conference, looking down at the table often and he already seemed resigned to finishing second in the table.

Can he explain why for the second season on the spin Spurs have found themselves in similar situations at the end of a campaign?

“If we win the league it is because you learn, and if you finish second it is because you improve but I think it is a big topic in football. You need to show that you can show up in the moment to win a league, to win a trophy,” Pochettino said. “Today was a key moment that we can show that it is not about playing well and not about running more or less. It’s about when you must win, you win. If you want to be a champion in our game, you must win. How? I don’t know. For me we have to try to move on and finish in the best way the season and still fight. Now, to be realistic, it is more difficult than before.”

Tottenham’s task has been made incredibly difficult, almost impossible, and their title hopes could be over before they next kick a ball.

Following their late collapse last season which saw Leicester pull away and Spurs eventually finish in third place, there must be some Tottenham fans dreading the final three games of the season with Liverpool and Manchester City still mathematically able to catch them in second place.

Where did this surprisingly dour display come from?

Spurs had won nine-straight games heading into this London derby with Pochettino’s side looking unstoppable and hunting Chelsea down. Yet, their sluggish performance suggested that something deeper than just tiredness was at play. Loose passes early in the first and second halves did damage, with Dele Alli off the pace and the usually unshakable Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld spooked.

Tottenham played like the knew the entire league, and every Chelsea fan, was waiting for them to fail under the Friday Night Lights at the London Stadium.

When Manuel Lanzini‘s second half strike put West Ham ahead, the home side never looked like relinquishing their lead. In fact, it was West Ham who looked more likely to score again and their manager Slaven Bilic said he’s side deserved to win and probably by more than one goal.

It’s hard to argue with him as the usually rock solid Spurs defense was all over the place, panicking as they tried to pour forward to grab an equalizer. Hugo Lloris‘ fine save from Jonathan Calleri kept Spurs in it but apart from a chance in the 21st minute which Adrian saved superbly from Harry Kane, plus a stop from Heung-Min Son early in the second half, Tottenham never looked fluid in attack.

There’s no disgrace that for a second season running a young Tottenham squad have stumbled in their bid to win a title.

The circus surrounding Leicester City last season saw them come unstuck and now they’ve come up against another seemingly unstoppable force in Chelsea. In fairness to Spurs they’ve never led Chelsea in the title race this season and, once again, they’ve always been playing catch up.

They haven’t thrown away the title or handed it to someone else. The chase, both this season and last, has simply worn them down. Still, phrases such as “that’s so Spursy” will not go away until they win a piece of silverware, something they haven’t achieved since the League Cup in 2008.

Spurs have still won more games and won more points than any other PL team over the past two seasons but the fact that they haven’t got any silverware to show for their fine campaigns will haunt them over the summer. However, there is plenty of promise ahead for this young side who have already had to deal with damaging moments as a unit.

Light often appears from our darkest moments.

Tottenham crumbled under the Friday Night Lights against West Ham but everyone connected with Spurs will be hoping it’s another setback which will only make them stronger in the future.

PHOTOS: Liverpool unveil new 2018/19 kit

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Liverpool have gone for a “pepper red” kit for the 2017/18 season.

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On Thursday the Anfield club released their new jersey for next season with New Balance once again their kit suppliers.

The key features of this new kit is a small collar, with a fresh white and red look throughout.

Check out the images and video below.


VAR decisions at World Cup to be explained on giant screens

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FLORENCE, Italy (AP) Fans attending World Cup matches in Russia won’t be left wondering about the reasons behind decisions of the video assistant referee.

After the VAR’s decision is made, replays will be shown on giant screens inside the stadiums accompanied by a written explanation.

It’s all part of the VAR information system that FIFA unveiled Wednesday .

[ MORE: Man Utd makes historic hire ]

FIFA will place someone in the VOR (video operations room) who will listen in to the VAR’s decisions and communicate them to both TV commentators and stadium personnel operating the giant screens.

“So we will have graphics on the giant screens, we will have replays after the decision on the giant screens, and we will also inform the fans about the outcome of a VAR incident and review,” said Sebastian Runge, group leader of football innovation at FIFA.

With the VAR making its tournament debut during the June 14-July 15 World Cup, FIFA is holding its final training camp this month for the 99 match officials – 36 referees and 63 assistants – who have been selected to go to Russia.

Thirteen VARs have been pre-selected and are being trained at Italy’s Coverciano complex, and FIFA referees chief Pierluigi Collina said more VARs and VAR assistants will be chosen from the 99 match officials.

Three of the 13 VARs come from Italy’s Serie A and two from Germany’s Bundesliga – elite competitions that already use video assistants.

The VAR can support the referee in four game-changing situations: goals and offenses leading up to a goal, penalty decisions and offenses leading up to a penalty, direct red card incidents and cases of mistaken identity.

Still, VARs in both Italy and Germany have received vehement criticism for long delays and bungled decisions this season.

On Monday, Mainz was awarded a penalty during halftime against a rival Freiburg side that had already left the pitch for the break – prompting the unusual scene of a team returning from the changing room to defend a penalty.

“Yesterday we had already discussed this incident here and gave match officials and VARs clear indication about what should be done if something similar in FIFA competition – specifically the World Cup – happens,” Collina said without providing further detail.

Collina added that the VAR should not be overused, adding that ideally it would intervene at all in a match.

“The goal of VAR is to avoid major mistakes,” Collina said. “The objective is not to have clear and obvious mistakes committed on the field of play. This is the target, the goal is not to re-referee the match using technology.

“There will continue to be incidents when a final answer will not be given and there will be different opinions,” Collina added.

Among other items involving the VAR:

MOSCOW CONTROL CENTER

FIFA will follow the Bundesliga model of a central control center for the VAR rather than using trucks outside stadiums.

“We will have all of the referees based in Moscow so there won’t be any stress in terms of travel,” Collina said.

For each match, Collina will select one VAR and three assistant VARs.

Training operation rooms presented to media included six monitors for the VARs and two more for technical assistants enabling the VARs to see requested replays.

There could be up to four technical assistants in the room for World Cup matches.

OFFSIDE CAMERAS

FIFA will install two extra cameras at matches to monitor offside decisions.

The cameras will be in addition to the 33 cameras used for broadcasters and they will be installed under stadium roofs.

Broadcasters will not have direct access to the cameras but if they are used by the VAR then broadcasters can show the video.

Runge added that three dimensional technology – considered the ultimate strategy for determining offside – is not ready for real-time access yet.

SWEAT AND STRESS

VARs will not officiate more than one match per day.

“It’s not like watching a match on the sofa sipping coffee,” Collina said.

Collina, who officiated Brazil’s 2-0 win over Germany in the 2002 World Cup final, explained why the VARs will wear track suits similar to referees’ on-pitch attire.

“The reason is at the end they sweat as much as someone on the field, because the tension is very high,” Collina said. “They can’t do two matches per day – it’s too stressful.”

COMMS AND HACKING

The Moscow control center will be connected to match officials via a fiber optic network.

If the network fails, the backup plan includes an old-fashioned land telephone line and a telephone stationed near the fourth referee for emergency use.

“Worst-case scenario includes a backup plan on site. That’s when the IBC is down – no power, no fiber network,” Runge said. “Then we have a plan in place where the fourth official would become the VAR and the fourth official would be replaced by the reserve referee.

“We have a cabin in the broadcast compound from where we send all of the feeds to the IBC anyway. That cabin can be turned into a smaller, light version of the VOR.”

Hacking has also been considered.

“We are aware that there might be something but our IT department put measurements in place that will protect us from that,” Runge said.

POST-MATCH BRIEFINGS

In extraordinary circumstances, FIFA will hold post-match briefings to explain decisions in greater detail.

“If something should happen that we think should properly and accurately be explained – and it doesn’t matter if it’s related to VAR or something different – if it is a matter to explain the background of a decision, as an exception certainly we will do it,” Collina said.

“But it won’t be a post-match press conference for every match, explaining every single decision taken during every single match.”

More AP soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

Could PSG, Manchester United solve each other’s problems?

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It’s late on a Wednesday night without the UEFA Champions League, so let’s dance on a theoretical floor, shall we?

One of the more widely-praised transfers of the year came when Manchester United and Arsenal decided to swap problematic players with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alexis Sanchez.

While neither has been perfect in their new homes, both have had starring performances and could (should?) fit in neatly come a full offseason worth of preparation.

More swaps like these should happen more often given the glut of managerial changes across major European leagues, with square pegs sometimes finding round holes when the boss arrives in town.

And have we got a sensational swap lined up for you. And no, it’s not Jose Mourinho for Unai Emery (though should it be? Nah, forget it).

If Paul Pogba is to leave Old Trafford this summer, there are scant few teams who could afford his transfer fee. Likewise, Paris Saint-Germain has Financial Fair Play all over its case and cannot simply make moves to better build its team for the Champions League by splashing cash all over the place.

PSG bought the two most expensive players of all-time last summer in Neymar ($281m) and Kylian Mbappe ($181m). The latter is going nowhere unless FIFA intervenes, 19 years old and becoming a more complete playmaker since heading to PSG from Monaco.

The former, well, that’s a bit trickier.

Neymar has been hurt, and while there’s no doubt his absence is the primary reason PSG was eliminated by Real Madrid, his time at the Parc Des Princes has hit more than a few speed bumps, with the Edinson Cavani PK drama and more.

So if Neymar is “worth” $281 million, could he head to United in exchange for a pair of Frenchmen in Pogba and Anthony Martial?

Areola

Alves — Silva– Marquinhos — Berchiche

Verratti — Rabiot

Pogba

Mbappe — Cavani — Martial

It’s imperfect given Alexis Sanchez’s preference to also play left wing, but going to a 4-3-3 like this for Jose Mourinho would allow a certain amount of freelancing for his trident.

De Gea

Valencia — Smalling — Bailly — Young/new LB

Matic — Herrera — McTominay

Sanchez — Lukaku — Neymar

Mixing in Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata off the bench and for Cup games is not a bad luxury, plus we know United is going to splash a lot more cash to improve the center midfield and fullback depth.

There could also be a 3-4-3 of excellent repute here:

De Gea

Smalling — Jones — Bailly

Valencia — Herrera — Matic — Lingard

Alexis — Lukaku — Neymar

Ronaldo scores late to lead Real Madrid draw (video)

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Cristiano Ronaldo’s done it again, because of course he did.

The Real Madrid megastar, 33, redirected a Luka Modric shot in the 87th minute to help Real to a 1-1 draw against Athletic Bilbao at the Bernabeu on Wednesday in the club’s last match before the UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg against Bayern Munich.

[ MORE: Man Utd makes historic hire ]

Real is three points behind Atletico Madrid, which visits Real Sociedad on Thursday, and 15 points behind still unbeaten Barcelona. The final Clasico of the season is May 6 at the Camp Nou.

Ronaldo continued his bounce back from a slow start to the La Liga season. After scoring only four times in his first 14 matches, CR7 has netted in eight-straight league matches and has 24 goals in total (Add in other competitions, and Ronaldo’s bagged 41 goals in 39 matches).