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Manchester City 5-1 Leicester City: Aguero, KDB on fire

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  • Sterling scores very early
  • Vardy nabs 13th PL goal
  • Aguero scores four
  • De Bruyne assists three

Sergio Aguero put an exclamation point on a thrilling night with a glorious fourth goal as Manchester City scored in the first three minutes of each half to beat Leicester City 5-1 on Saturday at the Etihad Stadium.

Kevin De Bruyne pulled the strings for goals by Raheem Sterling and two of Sergio Aguero’s four.

Man City’s point total means it could lose every remaining league match and finish no lower than sixth. City has 72 points and a 16-point lead on Man Utd, who plays Sunday.

Jamie Vardy scored for Leicester, making him the first player in league history to score against Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur in the same season.

The Foxes remains eighth with 35 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Sterling proved his confidence was fine despite a brutal late miss against Burnley, meeting Kevin De Bruyne’s cross for a third minute goal inside the six-yard box.

A Christian Fuchs stop on Sergio Aguero brought a counter attack for Leicester, and Vardy moved past an Ilkay Gundogan slide tackle to shoot past a continually backing off Aymeric Laporte and behind Ederson. 1-1, 25′.

Sterling dove to win a dangerous free kickoff Wilfred Ndidi in the 36th minute, but a leaping Nicolas Otamendi could not meet De Bruyne’s long range pass.

The goal scorer fooled Kasper Schmeichel on a dribble inside the six, but a sliding Aleksandar Dragovic meant Sterling won a corner kick, not a brace.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

It took less than three minutes of the second half for De Bruyne to work more magic, putting together a brilliant team goal for Aguero with Oleksandar Zinchenko and Sterling.

De Bruyne slipped Aguero through for another within 10 minutes, continuing his almost certain PL Player of the Year campaign.

Schmeichel would later give the ball to Aguero inside the 18 to complete another hat trick for one of the PL’s all-time greats.

And Aguero made it four for him and five for his side when he took a feed from Phil Foden and lashed a beauty off the underside of the bar.

PL Playback: What is wrong with Chelsea?

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CLOCK IS TICKING FOR CONTE

Guus Hiddink is currently sitting near his phone. We’ve been here before with Chelsea but nobody really expected this with Antonio Conte after he masterminded their title-winning season in 2016-17.

But following their 4-1 defeat at Watford on Monday the speculation surrounding Conte’s future is rife as the Italian manager has seen his side win just three games in their last 10 in all competitions.

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They’ve been humbled by Bournemouth and Watford in the space of a few days, conceding seven goals in the process, and from new signings failing to settle to Conte criticizing the club’s transfer policy and speculation linking him with the Italian national team job, this is not a good situation for the reigning PL champs.

Where has it gone wrong?

Simpy put, Chelsea have failed to back Conte in the transfer market and their system of signing players and letting the coach work with them has once again come back to bite them.

Conte is a fine coach, but that’s all he is, a coach. He’s said that time and time again during his 18 months in charge of the Blues and that isn’t going to change for him, or any other Chelsea manager, anytime soon. Therein lies one of the biggest problems: respect.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Chelsea’s players don’t seem to fear the wrath of Conte anymore. He ousted Diego Costa last summer for his behavior and booted David Luiz out of the team for most of this season, but how many players truly fear being kicked out of Chelsea if they don’t play well for Conte?

There is also the case of big money summer arrivals Tiemoue Bakayoko and Alvaro Morata enduring tough times recently, with the former having a very bad season and the latter suffering multiple injuries and a lack of confidence after a fine start at Stamford Bridge.

With Ross Barkley, Davide Zappacosta, Olivier Giroud and Emerson Palmeri also arriving over the past two windows, they are hardly players who will get the Chelsea faithful on the edge of their seats. Barkley has the potential but is rusty, Giroud is a stop-gap and Zappacosta is a back-up with Palmeri likely to be the same. All in all, there are no real consequences for the recruitment team at Chelsea who continue to do the deals and sit back and let Conte work with the players on the training ground.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

They have successfully cultivated a wonderful system of developing and loaning out young talent, but is it time for Chelsea’s recruitment policy to change? Are some of the players they’ve brought in really better than Tammy Abraham, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and others loaned out?

The brutal truth is this: instead of going out and spending $250 million on four key new players and keeping their entire title-winning squad from last season together, Chelsea have opted to actually bring in plenty of squad players and only a few key reinforcements as Manchester City and United stormed on with their expensive rebuilds.

They’ve stood still, or even regressed, with their squad weaker this season than it was last season despite the extra demands of European soccer plain for all to see. That is why Conte is upset.

Are we really shocked this is happening again? Just like the Andre Villas-Boas era, or the end of Jose Mourinho’s second spell in charge, it’s almost as if Chelsea’s current squad have been conditioned to only perform when a new manager arrives, then drop their levels once a few moments of adversity arrive along with the impending newspaper reports about said manager being fired.

The players will remain, the managers will come and go, and so on, and so forth.

That’s the problem with Chelsea’s current model and although they’ve had great success in bringing managers in for short-term success, Conte calling for continuity and for the hierarchy to put their faith in him is likely to fall on deaf ears.

Conte’s saving grace is that the Chelsea supporters adore him and still sing his name and love his passion on the sidelines. Yet Roman Abramovich and those who call the shots are ruthless and if Chelsea fall out of the top four in the next few weeks, plus are humbled by Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League last 16, that will be that.

And so the Chelsea cycle continues…


WOULD VAR HAVE HELPED LIVERPOOL v. TOTTENHAM DECISIONS?

The final minutes of Tottenham’s 2-2 draw at Liverpool on Sunday where among the most dramatic of the Premier League season so far.

Two penalty kick calls which went in the favor of Spurs were highly controversial, but having seen the replays and analyzed the rules of the game on numerous occasions, you can say that both were given correctly.

It wasn’t easy for Jon Moss and his officiating crew in real time, especially on the first penalty kick awarded to Harry Kane. As our analysts Arlo White and Robbie Mustoe point out in the video above, the audio picked up of Jon Moss having a debate with his linesman Eddie Smart and then fourth official Martin Atkinson via a headset has been highlighted due to Moss mentioning TV monitors a la VAR.

With that system currently not in play in the Premier League, that was an obvious error and has since been addressed by the PGMOL in England, but given the amount of time Moss debated with other officials about what they saw, using VAR would have surely been quicker to sort this out?

Of course, with the arrival of Video Assistant Referees (VAR) for cup competitions in England over the past few months, the video debate is up in the air as people question if it should be used in the Premier League or the World Cup this summer.

I ask you this: would VAR have solved both of these penalty debates on Sunday in a quicker and clearer fashion?

For the first penalty, yes. It would have 100 percent solved any debate over the touch on the ball from Dejan Lovren. There was contact from Loris Karius, even though Kane may have gone down slightly easily, and that part isn’t what is being debated. As for the second penalty kick, VAR won’t have been too more conclusive as the contact was clear but so was Erik Lamela‘s embellishment. It would have been down to the video assistant referee and Moss to debate any other factors, but the penalty kick would still have been awarded as there was no “clear and obvious error” regarding the initial decision.

Moss and the officials deserve praise for getting the calls correct without seeing video footage, even if there was plenty of time taken to get the call right.


NEW-LOOK ARSENAL HAVE MOMENTUM…

Watch out. Here they come.

Yes, it was an Everton side bereft of confidence right now, but the way Arsenal shamelessly battered the Toffees 5-1 on Saturday showed their new-look attack is fired up and ready to push for a top four finish.

Given the recent struggles of Chelsea and the inability of Liverpool and Tottenham to consistently win games in recent weeks, the Gunners have a real chance of eating away at the current five-point gap to the top four.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan grabbed a hat trick of assists on his home debut, the pace of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang caused problems as he grabbed a debut goal and Aaron Ramsey marked his return to the team with a hat trick with the Welshman almost like a new signing after months out. Mesut Ozil signing a new long-term deal capped off a fine week for Arsenal in terms of acquisitions and some much need stability after months of uncertainty.

Now, crunch time has arrived.

Arsene Wenger has the luxury of being able to prioritize the Premier League top four race in the final months of the season knowing he has already guided the Gunners into the League Cup final in a few weeks at Wembley, plus he can continue to rotate his squad in the UEFA Europa League knockout rounds.

Heading into the north London derby against Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley this weekend (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), Arsenal have momentum and two new attackers ready to run riot in Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang and their arrival coupled with Alexis Sanchez’s departure have given everyone a lift.

Their defensive frailties remain but there’s no doubt that their business in the final days of the transfer window have handed Wenger’s men a chance to get back into the top four race. Can they take it?


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

U.S. Soccer presidential candidate Q&A: Kyle Martino

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PST is vetting the candidates to succeed Sunil Gulati as president of the United States Soccer Federation. This post speaks with Kyle Martino — the broadcaster and former MLS midfielder — about his candidacy. His website is Everyonesgameusa.com.

As U.S. Soccer enters arguably its most critical juncture in recent history, Kyle Martino aims to become the voice of the American soccer community, while implementing several new measures to enhance the game nationwide.

For years, promotion and relegation has divided those within the U.S. soccer landscape, from MLS executives all the way down to supporters of the league and other leagues. However, Martino is not only candid about the conversation — but also insistent on the fact that others begin to have rational discussions about it as well.

[ MORE: PST’s Q&A with USSF presidential candidate Eric Wynalda ]

The 36-year-old — who has seen first-hand the benefits of pro/rel in countries like England — believes the topic of conversation is one that needs to be had and will only enhance the growth of soccer in the United States.

His Progress Plan, which was released to provide more detail regarding his platform ahead of this month’s election, dives further into the topic of pro/rel. That includes a plan to implement the system into the U.S. Soccer landscape on a trial basis as early as 2024, which Martino notes would likely begin with USL and NASL.

“For me it’s pretty surprising that such a compelling, competitive argument cannot be discussed unemotionally,” Martino told Pro Soccer Talk. “The game has grown in soccer cultures around the world and I think it’s important to do two things: first, why it isn’t possible to do it here and understand with our unique landscape, one that has seen a professional league collapse in our lifetime, how we can make soccer the best it can be. It’s important to see why these decisions in the past have affected things and how our current structure has seen a growth in our first division.

“I think we need to have the discussion about ‘is there a better way?’ And to me, I think there is a better way, where there’s a merit-based soccer landscape that accomplishes two things. You are going to be able to reach different markets that normally would go untapped with expansion in the first division. Overnight we’re not going to spend per team what the Premier League spends or La Liga spends or Bundesliga spends.

“The way you get people excited. The way you grow the soccer culture here is through affinity. Affinity happens locally. When I grow up, there was no professional league for many years, and then I celebrated teams like the Bridgeport Italians and the Brooklyn Italians, which were amateur teams in my neighborhood.  I know millions of fans are supporting their local teams as well, and want to believe that there is a possible move upward in mobility for their club.

“I think it’s integral that the people that have helped grow Major League Soccer throughout its expansion are willing to come to the table and have mature conversations about the merit of promotion/relegation.”

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In a time where the North American Soccer League (NASL) is still involved in a fierce legal struggle against the U.S. Soccer Federation, the potential implementation of pro/rel seems like an eternity away given the uncertainty of NASL.

With U.S. Soccer having denied Division 2 sanctioning in 2017 — which sparked the NASL’s legal measures — the league’s status is far from assured moving forward. Teams like Indy Eleven and more recently, Miami FC and the Jacksonville Armada, have sought refuge in other leagues to preserve their ability to continue playing.

Martino remains confident though that NASL will be able to coexist with its adversaries in the future. It’s simply a matter of having the right people in place to continue a very complex, and at times, heated conversation.

“The most important thing is finding out whether everyone is capable of getting back to the table to have these discussions,” Martino said. “Then you need to have a plan. I’m the only one with a vision moving forward in terms of a substantive resolution and how I’m going to lead.

“Pro/rel is a part of that plan. It’s a part of my plan. I know that this topic is one that a lot of people want to see happen sooner than I have planned, but what I have to say to that is ‘please come up with a better strategy.’ That has been what’s so frustrating about this topic though, is that it’s such an important one.

“I hear a lot of people screaming, and I feel like if they’re willing to put down their pitchforks and instead pick up a pen that we could be having a much more substantial conversation. We need many good ideas, which should range from doing it tomorrow to doing it across the U.S. Soccer landscape by 2030.”

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That 2030 estimated timeline proposed by Martino may seem like an eternity away, but by that point, the United States could potentially have hosted its second World Cup in the nation’s history. At least, that’s the plan.

The U.S., in conjunction with Mexico and Canada, have been preparing its United bid to bring the World Cup back to North America in 2026 on the heels of the U.S. Men’s National Team missing out on the biggest global soccer competition for the first time in over 30 years.

To this point, only Morocco is poised to challenge the United bid for the right to host in eight years’ time.

While political turmoil has raised questions about the U.S.’ ability to host the competition, Martino is not only confident about the bid the bring the World Cup back to the U.S., but also believes the joint-bid exemplifies what has made this nation so great for so long.

“I think that our bid is representative about what makes our country so great,” Martino told PST. “When leadership makes comments that disappoints us you know that it’s not what our country represents. This country is about opportunity and how beautifully multi-cultural it is.

“Sharing the opportunity to host the greatest sports tournament in the world with our neighbors in Canada and Mexico — that United bid — is a message that rises above comments that could be made in Congress.

“Obviously we are uniquely-positioned because the tournament looks like it will be expanded and bigger by the time 2026 comes around, but we could host the World Cup tomorrow if we wanted to. The infrastructure that we have in this country is amazing, and Mexico and Canada share a lot of those capabilities.

“We still, to this date, have the highest-attended World Cup back in 1994. A World Cup is obviously an economic boost and puts a spotlight on a nation — or in this case three nations — for a summer, but it has a ripple effect across the global sports landscape. A tournament in the U.S. in 2026 would create a windfall of revenue that could be reinvested in the game all over the world, which is really what this sport is all about.”

Martino’s confidence in his platform and ability to evoke change has driven him to a point where he believes he can fully challenge for the seat of U.S. Soccer president.

From discussions with youth clubs nationwide to some of Major League Soccer’s biggest stars (which include endorsements from players like Dax McCarty and Sacha Kljestan), the former player believes it’s very possible that he will be the one to steer American soccer down the right path.

Mesut Ozil signs new contract at Arsenal

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It is officially official.

Mesut Ozil has signed a new three-year contract at Arsenal, as expected, with his previous contract set to expire in the summer.

[ MORE: 7 best, worst deals of January window

For months his future at Arsenal, and that of Alexis Sanchez who has since left for Manchester United, was in doubt but despite being linked with moves to the biggest clubs in Europe, Ozil will remain at the Emirates Stadium.

Ozil, 28, has won the FA Cup three times since joining Arsenal in the summer of 2013 with the World Cup winner excelling with 182 appearances, 36 goals and 61 assists since he arrived in north London from Real Madrid.

It was widely reported on Wednesday that Ozil would sign a deal worth a $500,000 per week to make him the best-paid player in club history.

[ MORE: January transfer grades for each club ] 

Speaking about his new deal, this is what he had to say.

“It’s been one of the most important decisions of my footballing career and that’s why I had to think hard and talk with everyone who’s important to me,” Ozil said. “Good things take time! In the end I let my heart decide. As I always said, I feel at home here and I’m highly motivated to achieve big things in the next few years.”

With the arrival of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on Wednesday and Henrikh Mkhitaryan earlier in the window, Arsene Wenger will make Ozil a key part of his dramatic rebuild as they aim to challenge not only for the Premier League title but get back in the top four and the UEFA Champions League.

The German playmaker posted the following message on Intagram with a photo alongside Wenger of him signing the new deal which he says is for three years.

Mahrez misses Leicester training after failed Man City move

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Once again Riyad Mahrez has failed to turn up to training for Leicester City as the situation regarding his future with the Foxes took another dramatic twist just hours after the January transfer window closed.

Mahrez is said to be “depressed” and feels he is “unable to play football” after his Transfer Deadline Day move to Manchester City broke down on Wednesday.

Sky Sports in the UK are reporting that Mahrez failed to turn up for training, as expected, for the second day running and he was not in Leicester’s squad against Everton on Wednesday as the Foxes lost 2-1 at Goodison Park.

In essence, Mahrez is on strike. But that should come as no real surprised after he handed in a formal transfer request in the summer and spent most of Deadline Day in September on a private jet waiting to sign for Chelsea or Roma.

Less than six months on he’s in a similar situation.

With City offering a deal worth over $90 million for Mahrez, Leicester rejected the advances and kept their star playmaker who has been playing much more like himself in recent months since Claude Puel arrived as manager.

The 26-year-old Algerian winger has been a repeated target for Man City, Arsenal, Chelsea and other big clubs across Europe since leading Leicester to Premier League title glory in 2015-16, but he will remain at the King Power Stadium at least until the summer and it appears he’s not at all happy.

Technically Mahrez is in breach of his contract for not turning up to training, so Leicester could fine him, but it is unlikely that will happen as it appears to be a delicate situation.

Puel has repeatedly said he hopes Mahrez can be happy with the Foxes and after the defeat at Everton he talked about making the Algerian star smile again.

As for City, the club he tried to sneak in and sign Mahrez on deadline day, Pep Guardiola was disappointed a deal couldn’t be done.

“We can not afford what they are asking, I understand. We tried to do in summer time, we tried to do now. It was not possible but we are going to see what happens in the summer,” Guardiola said.