Premier League Playback

PL Playback: London’s burning

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London is burning. Well, it is in the red half of North London and in the West. Both Arsenal and Chelsea look set to miss out on finishing in the top four this season as their dreadful recent runs continue with just three points for each from their last five games.

Chelsea’s defensive tactics were hammered by critics as they lost 1-0 at Manchester City, while Arsene Wenger‘s Arsenal reign appears to be coming to an end as they lost 2-1 at newly-promoted Brighton.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

London’s two most successful clubs aren’t quite in ruins, but they’re heading that way. Fast. The London giants are set to both finish outside the top four in the same PL season for the first time in 22 years.

Where has it gone wrong?

Let’s start with the bigger mess: Arsenal. The fact that they lost to Brighton 2-1 on Sunday was just the tip of the iceberg. Arsene Wenger’s presence at the club has once again created a highly toxic atmosphere and the players are underperforming. They have accumulated the lowest PL points tally at this stage of a season since Wenger arrived in 1996 and they’re 13 points off the top four with nine games to go.

“It’s the first time it happens in my whole career, I must say,” Wenger told Sky Sports. “It’s not easy, but I have enough experience and enough desire to turn things around and I must say that, at the moment, when you need to stay in the game we are making a few mistakes at the wrong moments. We have to stick together and focus. We have no other solution.”

He’s right. They don’t. That’s the problem.

Contracted through the end of the 2019 season, Wenger’s decision to sign a two-year contract extension last summer was both inevitable and a damning indictment that Arsenal have no plan for the future. Owner Stan Kroenke and Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis both took the easy option in offering Wenger a new deal to extend his stay at Arsenal beyond two decades and now they’re paying the price.

Thierry Henry, Mikel Arteta, Leonardo Jardim, Carlo Ancelotti and Joachim Loew are all said to be on the shortlist to take over from Wenger this summer, with the Henry and Arteta reportedly favored because they may at least get some patience from the Arsenal fans.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Until Wenger is fired, he deserves respect. Of course he does. He changed the game in England forever when he arrived in the mid 90s and his legacy will remain mostly positive, no matter what happens in the final few months of this season. But he should go in the summer. 100 percent. The problem is, if he doesn’t want to leave, can Arsenal push him out of the door? Maybe not. After a week which saw Arsenal hammered in the League Cup final by Manchester City, then four days later in the league by the same 3-0 scoreline before being humbled by newly-promoted Brighton, there’s a danger of this being a knee-jerk reaction.

But come on. This has been coming for months, if not years.

Kroenke’s decision to hand Wenger the two-year extension show how much he values the Frenchman but even the expensive new signings this season and Mesut Ozil’s lucrative long-term contract have failed to quell the relentless tide gathering around Wenger’s midriff. Arsenal must now focus solely on winning the UEFA Europa League because that is the only way Wenger will save this monstrosity of a season and qualify for the UEFA Champions League again.

Moving west across London, Chelsea’s season hit a new low on Sunday at Manchester City. Yes, Antonio Conte‘s side only lost 1-0 to the champions elect, but the way he set his team up proved how far the reigning champs have fallen.

Like Arsenal, the situation has been unraveling for a while. Conte’s constant digs in press conferences at the Chelsea hierarchy tell its own story as the Italian coach seems to want out at the end of this season.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Five points off the top four with nine games to go, it seems likely that Chelsea will join Arsenal in missing out on the top four. That would be catastrophic given their incredible title win last season, but not unexpected.

The recruitment of new players has been slapdash at best and replacing Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic with Alvaro Morata and Tiemoue Bakayoko hasn’t worked well at all. Adding the likes of Davide Zappacosta, Danny Drinkwater, Ross Barkley and Antonio Rudiger just seemed like panic buys.

[ MORE: Conte defends defensive Chelsea ]

Conte was a frustrated man when asked about criticism of his team against Man City (it was described as “a crime against football” by pundits in the UK) as they didn’t have a shot on target and had just 29 percent of possession with Eden Hazard skulking around up front in a false nine position.

“I think you have to accept every criticism but I am not so stupid to play against Manchester City open and to lose 3-0 or 4-0,” Conte said. “If I remember well, two days ago, Arsenal played twice against them and then you criticize a lot Wenger because they concede three goals in only 30 minutes. The pundit has to use the head to understand when you speak about tactics because I think you must have knowledge to speak about tactics and not only to speak in a stupid way.”

Right now fans of Arsenal and Chelsea both feel stupid.


Manchester City may break every single Premier League record this season.

They’re on course to win the PL title at the earliest ever time with the most goals scored and with the most points and the largest-ever winning margin.

Pep Guardiola‘s side passed Chelsea into oblivion and he seemed more delighted with the style and patience his team showed than the win itself.

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk about City’s record-breaking 902 passes completed, the highest number by a PL team since Opta started collecting the stats in the 2003/04 season, Guardiola wore a beaming smile as his ideals are now clearly embedded within his players.

“We try to play with the ball. We try with our power like a team. Sometimes it is more complicated when teams are aggressive. They were so organised today, it is like they play against Barcelona in the Champions League,” Guardiola said. “We spoke to move the ball quick, one or two touches, and control the counter attack from Hazard and Pedro because they are so good at it. Now we need three or four victories to be champions.”

But it is that fact, being champions, which seems to resonate the strongest with Guardiola. He seems to prefer winning games playing how he wants to see his team play over racking up team records for goals, points and so on.

“What really matters is to be champions. I never spoke with the players about the records,” Guardiola said. “I never spoke we have to win the two games to achieve something. Against Stoke we are going to try and play like we play all season. After, at the end, we will see. But we are not going to play for the records. Records are always a consequence of what you have done but they are not the main thing.”


With nine games to go, nobody has a clue who two of the three relegated teams will be this season.

West Brom are gone, pretty much, but you can pick two of the following six teams at random: Stoke City, Crystal Palace, Southampton, Newcastle United, West Ham United and Swansea City.

Plus the likes of Bournemouth, Everton and Brighton could all still get sucked into the relegation battle. This is madness.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

West Brom have won just three games all season long and Alan Pardew remains in a job for now but as soon as they are mathematically down you will see him fired. They are eight points from safety and time is running out after their narrow defeat at Watford.

As for the rest, Stoke City and Southampton played out a dour, nervous 0-0 draw at the weekend which summed up how scared both of those perennial midtable teams are of going down. Huddersfield and Newcastle were humbled by Tottenham and Liverpool respectively but the newly-promoted duo will be pleased to still be in with a chance of staying up with nine games to go. Crystal Palace are in with a shout of staying up after their terrible start to the season but Roy Hodgson knows he needs Wilfried Zaha back from injury, and fast, if they’re going to have any chance of survival.

Then there’s West Ham. What a mess. Co-owner David Gold, 81, was confronted by fans after their 4-1 drubbing at Swansea City at the weekend as the Hammers’ disastrous season spirals out of control under David Moyes. Their veteran signings aren’t working out and the fan unrest continues to build with the east London club just three points above the drop zone. As for the Swans, Carlos Carvalhal continues to work miracles in South Wales as he’s only suffered two defeats in 15 games in all competitions since taking charge. The Portuguese wordsmith has impressed mightily.

“We moved things around today, rested some players and I am very happy. Our level of intensity is very high and the players are in a very good way,” Carvalhal said after battering West Ham. “There are games where you must listen to the music of the opponent. We made West Ham dance to our music and it was rock and roll.”

Teams in the relegation battle will be listening to a mixture of smooth rock and heavy metal between now and May 13 as they aim to either calm their nerves for the impending battle, or wake themselves up from sleep-walking out of the Premier League and into the second tier.

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

PL Playback: Scramble for second place

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Manchester City can go 16 points clear atop the Premier League table with 10 games to go if they beat Arsenal this Thursday so, aside from a monumental collapse from Pep Guardiola‘s men, the made scramble for second place is on.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Yet this isn’t just about being the “best of the rest” behind City’s historic season. Oh no. In the absence of a tight title race, the top four battle is increasingly becoming the story of the season.

Increasingly the question being asked is “who will finish second in the Premier League?”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Let’s take a closer look at where each club is at in that battle.

Manchester United
Current position: 2nd (59 points)
Remaining schedule: Crystal Palace (A), Liverpool (H), West Ham (A), Swansea (H), Man City (A), West Brom (H), Bournemouth (A), Arsenal (H), Brighton (A), Watford (H)
Second worthy? – Not the most attractive team in the PL but Mourinho’s men are grinding out wins and Romelu Lukaku is doing the business. Games against Man City, Liverpool and Arsenal (the latter two at home) will be key in deciding if they finish second. Runners up behind City, an FA Cup title and a place in the UCL last four would be a very good season for Jose Mourinho and show significant progress. Now, he just needs to get Paul Pogba firing and get some of his key defenders back to full fitness and they can have a real go in Europe and in the FA Cup.


Current position: 3rd (57 points)
Remaining schedule: Newcastle (H), Man United (A), Watford (H), Crystal Palace (A), Everton (A), Bournemouth (H), West Brom (A), Stoke (H), Chelsea (A), Brighton (H)
Second worthy? – No doubt about it, along with Man City and Tottenham, Liverpool are one of the best teams to watch in the Premier League. Jurgen Klopp‘s side boast star attackers in Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane who are ripping teams apart. Just one defeat in 19 PL games proves their consistency and many will say Liverpool are worthy of second place. Their game at United is huge in deciding where they will finish as Klopp will also eye at least reaching the UCL last four with more than one foot in the last eight. Liverpool’s schedule, on paper, is the easiest of the current top four.

Tottenham Hotspur

Current position: 4th (55 points)
Remaining schedule: Huddersfield (H), Bournemouth (A), Newcastle (H), Chelsea (A), Stoke (A), Man City (H), Brighton (A), Watford (H), West Brom (A), Leicester (H)
Second worthy? – Like Liverpool, they are right up there when it comes to being attractive to watch. Mauricio Pochettino‘s youngsters have matured this season and they seem set to make the UCL’s last eight too after their coming of age display at Juventus. The FA Cup has been troublesome for Spurs but they should make the semifinals and a second place finish and an FA Cup final along with a deep run in the UCL would be a phenomenal return after their problems at Wembley early on this season. Harry Kane deserves to win some type of silverware but a second-consecutive runners up spot in the PL would be another massive achievement and Spurs’ remaining schedule is pretty kind.

Current position: 5th (53 points)
Remaining schedule: Man City (A), Crystal Palace (H), Burnley (A), Tottenham (H), West Ham (H), Southampton (A), Huddersfield (H), Swansea (A), Liverpool (H), Newcastle (A)
Second worthy? – No, not really. Chelsea have huffed and puffed all season long and there’s something not quite right about Antonio Conte‘s men. We all know there are issues behind-the-scenes and would genuinely be a shock if Conte was still in charge next season. On their day they are still able to beat anyone, but Chelsea haven’t got much momentum and have now won just four of their last 13 games in all competitions. They badly need Alvaro Morata or Olivier Giroud to deliver key goals late in the season to secure a top four spot (they play thre of the current top four), go deep in the FA Cup and to try and somehow get past Barcelona in the second leg of their UCL quarterfinal.

Current position: 6th (45 points)
Remaining schedule: Man City (H), Brighton (A), Watford (H), Leicester (A), Stoke (H), Southampton (H), Newcastle (A), West Ham (H), Man United (A), Burnley (H), Huddersfield (A)
Second worthy? – Nah. Not even top four worthy. Eight points off the top four with a game in hand (albeit against Man City this Thursday) means that Arsene Wenger‘s men have a chance of sneaking in the top four but it’s a very slim chance that will happen. After the League Cup final hammering at the hands of Man City, confidence will be low as it proved just how far Arsenal have fallen. It’s all about winning the Europa League now for Arsenal as that is their most realistic chance of making it into the Champions League next season.

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

Premier League Playback: Moving week arrives

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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.


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.


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

PL Playback: What is wrong with Chelsea?

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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.

[ LIVE: Stream every Premier League game

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…


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.


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, 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

Playback: Trade deals the new norm?

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Alexis Sanchez went to Manchester United. Henrikh Mkhitaryan went to Arsenal. No money was exchanged. Everyone was happy.

Will a “swap deal” become the new normal in years to come?

[ MORE: Latest transfer news ] 

One of the biggest swap deals in soccer history took place earlier this week with Sanchez getting out of Arsenal with less than six months left on his current contract, plus Mkhitaryan escaped under-appreciation (mostly in the form of Jose Mourinho) at Old Trafford.

The swap deal, or “player trade” to use U.S. sporting parlance, is still incredibly rare in the Premier League and in other soccer leagues across the world, Major League Soccer aside. There were no swap deals in the summer window in 2017, but there have been relationships building up across the globe with certain teams willing to do business with others in a chain.

Think Celtic to Southampton to Liverpool. Or Everton to Sunderland and vice versa. Patterns are emerging but straight-up swap up deals are still rare. For now.

This high-profile swap got me thinking: with transfer fees spiralling from the ridiculous to the incredulous over the past 12 months, could clubs become more amiable to swapping players in certain situations rather than dishing out their cash? Look at Arsenal’s pursuit of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. It is said Borussia Dortmund want cash plus Olivier Giroud in the deal and for Arsenal it may make sense to offload another player rather then splashing out more cash.

[ LIVE: Stream every Premier League game

True, it’s not like clubs, particularly in the PL, are hurting for dollars. Deloitte’s study into finances of clubs (in terms of their revenue generated) across the globe in 2016-17 revealed that 14 of the 30 richest clubs in the world are from the PL. But with Neymar heading to PSG for $265 million, Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona for $197 million and Kylian Mbappe on the move from Monaco for $190 million to PSG once the 2017-18 season is over, you can understand why clubs are cautious about the recent sharp rise in transfer fees.

These days a solid international player will cost upwards of $35 million. There are still ways of being creative for mid to lower-level teams in the PL but there has been more than an inkling of stock-piling of players at the wealthiest clubs for quite some time.

Player agents may not be happy with this suggestion of more frequent trade deals as the obligatory 10% fee from a transfer fee (if the player didn’t request a transfer) would obviously evaporate. But surely the agent, and his client, would make this “loss of revenue” back when it comes to being handed a higher salary? Sanchez’s reported contract at Man United of close to $19.8 million per year (after tax) is proof of this.

These swap deals obviously won’t always be the most viable option, but in a time when European soccer looks to the American sporting market for inspiration when it comes to growing sponsorship deals, social media presence and a changing landscape when it comes to fandom, the PL and other leagues could do a lot worse than see the removal of inflated transfer fees which would in turn see more money kept within clubs and used to improve stadiums, youth academies and reduce ticket prices.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Of course, this revolution in trade deals could simply see the money just floating straight to players and agents instead of between clubs, but there is a suggestion that wages aren’t rising as steeply as transfer fees.

It’s just a thought, but this swap deal suggests it could be the way to go in the future to try and reduce the huge transfer fees and level out the playing field a little. Yes, huge clubs would still sign plenty of the best players because they can pay bigger wages and signing-on fees, but maybe we will see the clubs take back a little of the power and see more players entering the final years of their contracts eager to stick with their current club rather than shopping around.

The Sanchez-Mkhitaryan deal seems to be a rare case of two international stars both wanting to move at the same time and both of their clubs willing to let them leave believing they got the better end of the deal. Who says that can’t continue to happen in the future if clubs start to plan further ahead once their stars only have 18 months left on their current deal?


With just a week left in the January transfer window, it’s been a little quiet in the Premier League, apart from the huge Sanchez-Mkhitaryan swap and the blockbuster deals for Virgil Van Dijk and Philippe Coutinho at the start of the month.

[ LIVE: Transfer window show – Jan. 31 on NBCSN, online via ] 

We can certainly expect plenty of movement in the final seven days of the window. Before we go all Craig David (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…) and map out exactly what will happen each day between now and the window shutting on Jan. 31 at 6 p.m. ET, here’s a look at the 10 players we expect to see on the move.

  1. Guido CarrilloPro Soccer Talk understands Southampton have had a club-record $27 million bid accepted, and personal terms could be agreed by Friday. Quincy Promes will be expensive, but his arrival would mark a superb January window for Saints.
  2. Daniel SturridgeWith Inter Milan sniffing around and Sevilla said to be interested, surely Sturridge will swap Liverpool’s bench for regular action as he tries to make England’s 2018 World Cup squad?
  3. Pierre-Emerick AubameyangArsenal appear to be closing in on the Borussia Dortmund striker but with Olivier Giroud said to be wanted in exchange (maybe initially on loan) by the German club, it could get a little messy. Still, a $70 million deal is in the works.
  4. Aymeric Laporte – A young, powerful central defender who is good with the ball at his feet. Sounds perfect for Pep Guardiola at Man City, right? It appears City are ready to pay Laporte’s $86 million release clause and they do need help defensively. Watch this space.
  5. Jonny Evans – Both Arsenal and Man City want Evans and reports suggest West Brom could lose him for just $4.2 million should they get relegated due to a release clause in his contract. Can Alan Pardew afford to let his captain leave? A big bid surely means yes, as Egyptian defender Ali Gabr is lined up as a replacement.


We all know that Manchester City are 12 points clear atop the Premier League table and it will take a serious collapse and some incredible form from Manchester United, Chelsea et al. to catch them, but at the other end of the table things are far from straightforward.

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Just six points separates Swansea in 20th to Watford in 10th (who now have a new manager in Javi Gracia after Marco Silva was fired), with just four points between the bottom three and the top half of the table.

Fans of 11 of the Premier League’s 20 teams will be sweating most nights between now and the final day of the season on May 13.

Take a look at the table below with 14 games to go as we get a breather for a week with no PL action until Jan. 30 due to the FA Cup fourth round this weekend.

Even Everton must be a little concerned given their recent bad form and clubs such as Swansea, West Brom, Palace, Bournemouth and West Ham all picking up big wins.

We focus on the big boys throughout most of the season due to the big name stars, the titanic clashes and the scramble to finish in the top four and the riches of the UEFA Champions League, but the biggest battle of them all will take place for survival.

Historically this could well be the biggest, and tightest, battle against relegation that the PL has ever seen.

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