Premier League Playback: Moving week arrives

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MOVING WEEK

Watching the Premier League this weekend was like watching a Saturday at Augusta. Moving day was in full swing.

When we look back and wrap a bow on the 2017-18 Premier League season, it seems like Week 27 will have been particularly pivotal in deciding the fate of several teams.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Manchester United and Arsenal lost in the top six, while Liverpool and Tottenham won to solidify their top four hopes and Manchester City all but sealed the title as they extended their lead atop the table to 16 points.

But arguably the biggest results came in the bottom half of the table with massive victories for Swansea City, Huddersfield Town, Newcastle United and West Ham to all significantly boost their survival chances.

There were seismic shifts in optimism over the past few days in the PL as clubs who previously thought they were destined for a relegation battle are targeting the top 10 and teams who believed their top four chances were in jeopardy have steadied the ship.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Momentum is everything at this point of the season and the fact that Swansea and West Ham won again suggests they’re heading in the right direction and have hit form. In fact, West Ham, Swansea, Newcastle and Bournemouth are all in the top eight of the form league in the PL.

But for all of those clubs, a word of warning: respect the schedule.

It’s easy to get giddy and see the finish line on the horizon with just 11 games to go, but several strugglers have incredibly tough fixtures lists in the new few weeks which could see them sink back into the mire.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

For example, Stoke’s schedule looks particularly nightmarish in March and early April: Man City (H), Everton (A), Arsenal (A), Tottenham (H). Plus, West Ham’s schedule includes Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal in their next six games.

With City running away with the title, the top four battle and the scrap against relegation will take center stage in the final months of the season.


SEASON OF INDIVIDUAL BRILLIANCE CONTINUES

As a member of the Football Writers’ Association, I’m honored to get a vote for the FWA Player of the Year each season in the Premier League.

The vote this year is going to be very tough.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

We know that soccer is a team game, but it’s those glittering individuals who are making a huge difference this season in the Premier League.

Kevin De Bruyne, Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah are ripping up the PL week after week and Week 27 was no different.

KDB grabbed three assists in Man City’s 5-1 win against Leicester. Kane scored the winner against Spurs’ bitter North London rivals Arsenal and tormented the Gunners defense. Salah scored one and set up the other as Liverpool eased by Southampton.

As things stand De Bruyne will probably be crowned the top player in the PL and he deserves it. He has 14 assists to his name this season and has reinvented himself in a deeper central midfield role this season under Pep Guardiola.

The way he sees a pass that nobody else can sets him apart and the Belgian wizard has it all. He digs deep to defend, controls the tempo of games and makes key passes at key moments.

[ LIVE: Stream every Premier League game

Kane and Salah continue to drive their teams towards top four finishes with their impressive goalscoring records, and arguably both men will be disappointed with chances they’ve squandered in recent weeks with their goal totals set to rise towards 30 by the end of the campaign. The fact that Sergio Aguero’s four-goal performance against Leicester is a sidenote says it all.

Given KDB’s brilliance for a team 16 points clear atop the table, he will likely win the Player of the Year vote by a landslide.

He’s the shining light in a glittering galaxy of stars in the Premier League as the outstanding individuals continue to shine brightest.


POCHETTINO’S PRECARIOUS GAME

Mauricio Pochettino‘s Tottenham are one of the form teams in the Premier League.

Over the last six games no PL team has gained more points than Spurs, with the North Londoners beating Manchester United and Arsenal at home comfortably (even if the scorelines suggest otherwise) and drawing at Liverpool.

You’d think he’d be a happy man. Far from it.

Pochettino has seemed slightly abrupt and ornery in his recent press conferences. He first responded in spiky fashion to questions about his team not being clinical enough against United, his record against the top six and new signing Lucas Moura, while he then barked back at reporters following the derby win against Arsenal on Saturday when asked why Toby Alderweireld didn’t feature despite declaring himself fit to play.

Since then Alderweireld hasn’t traveled to Turin for Spurs’ UCL clash at Juventus despite making his long-awaited comeback last week against Newport County in the FA Cup, with reports stating his future at Spurs could be in doubt as his contract has a release clause of $34.6 million next summer.

Still, it was all a bit bizarre as Pochettino grumbled under his breath as he walked out of the press conference room at Wembley on Saturday shaking his head. In general, the Argentine manager has started to become increasingly upset with suggestions that Spurs aren’t fulfilling their potential and it’s easy to understand why.

Over the past three seasons Spurs have finished third and second in the PL with legitimate title challenges in each campaign, reached the League Cup final, FA Cup semifinal, were the best team in the UEFA Champions League group stage this season and Poch has nurtured the talents of Harry Kane and Dele Alli expertly while managing to keep his playing philosophy crystal clear despite moving from White Hart Lane to Wembley. Not bad.

Yet the question mark hanging over his head remains a big one: why haven’t Spurs won anything?

Spurs look set to finish in the top four and challenge United for second place in the PL this season, while the FA Cup is now looking like their most likely chance of silverware. Getting past Juventus in the Champions League will be tough but doable, but can Spurs really win the Champions League?

Until Pochettino leads Spurs to that type of glory and ends a 10-year drought for silverware, he will continue to get questions which seem to upset and annoy him. At the moment questions which aren’t suppose to do either are pushing his buttons, and all of the wrong ones.

There’s a fine line between Pochettino being praised incessantly for his overachieving and then slated for his complaining. His nowhere near the levels of annoyance the likes of Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho cause among their detractors, but Poch is starting to get on a bit of a slippery slope with his public demeanor.

Is their something bigger annoying him behind-the-scenes at Tottenham?


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

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”

Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup

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Manchester City’s quest for the historic quadruple is over after Pep Guardiola‘s 10-man side was shocked by League One side Wigan Athletic in the fifth round of the FA Cup at the DW Stadium on Monday.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Will Grigg scored the game’s only goal, a late winner after the home side had been thoroughly outplayed and out-possessed for 78 minutes. With 45 places currently standing between them in the English football pyramid — and Man City garnering “best of all time” consideration — “upset” doesn’t even begin to describe Monday’s result.

On the other hand, City represent the third Premier League side knocked out of this season’s FA Cup at the hands of Wigan: Bournemouth, in the third round; followed by West Ham United, in the fourth.

City were reduced to 10 men during first-half stoppage time, when Fabian Delph went flying in on Max Power as the two contested a 50-50 ball inside Wigan’s defensive third. Referee Anthony Taylor initially withdrew his yellow card from his pocket, but protests from the aggrieved party appeared to change Taylor’s mind, and Delph was off.

Prior to Deplh’s dismissal, Wigan had done well  enoughto hold their own against the runaway PL leaders. The Latics had a pair of half-chances, most notably through Grigg in the 12th minute, that could have easily gone their way. Much of the play, though, as is to be expected, was controlled by City (first-half possession: 82 percent), though Guardiola’s men were unable to break through before going a man down.

Still, the share of possession remain unchanged throughout the entirety of the second half, as City patiently probed and used possession as their best means of defense… until the 79th minute arrived.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

The ball was played back to Kyle Walker, into space; rather than receiving the ball at first opportunity, Walker let it run on as he prepared to play it back to Claudio Bravo; Grigg saw his opening and pounced quickly; his first touch used his body to shield Walker from the ball, and his second set up the shot; Grigg went for the far post, curling the ball around Bravo and nestling it just inside the post.

Wigan will now host another PL side, Southampton, in the quarterfinals.

Barry Bennell jailed 30 years for abusing young players

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LIVERPOOL, England (AP) A former English youth soccer coach was jailed Monday for 30 years for abusing 12 young footballers after the judge called him the “devil incarnate.”

Barry Bennell, a former coach at Crewe and scout for Manchester City, was convicted at Liverpool Crown Court of 50 child sexual offenses committed between 1979 and 1991.

“Your behavior towards these boys in grooming and seducing them before subjecting them to, in some cases, the most most serious, degrading and humiliating abuse was sheer evil,” Judge Clement Goldstone told the 64-year-old Bennell.

Bennell looked at the floor and nodded as the judge sentenced him. Some members of the public began to applaud as he was sent down, but were stopped by the judge.

Goldstone said Bennell had appeared to his victims as a God.

“In reality, you were the devil incarnate,” the judge added. “You stole their childhoods and their innocence to satisfy your own perversion.”

Goldstone said Bennell’s abuse had destroyed the enthusiasm his victims had for playing football and had led to them suffering problems including suicidal thoughts, alcoholism and depression.

Bennell has already served three jail terms, totaling 15 years, for similar offenses involving 16 other victims in England and the United States.