Premier League Playback: Everton in the mix, miserable Mourinho, basement boys battling

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BEARDLESS HOWARD EXCELS, AS EVERTON ARRIVE

Tim Howard looked ten years younger on Sunday, as the bushy beard was gone and he delivered a sterling display in Everton’s 1-1 draw with Arsenal. Two quick saves off his line in the first-half and a great stop from Aaron Ramsey after the break saw the USMNT ‘keeper one again give the Toffees a solid foundation to build off. Roberto Martinez’ side impressed against the Premier League leaders and in a week where they beat Manchester United away from home and drew with Arsenal at the Emirates, Everton are looking like a top four side in the making.

What will get them to that next level? Clinical finishing, said Howard, when I spoke to him in the tunnel afterwards.

“That’s the one thing, as well as we played in the first half for the possession we had, we didn’t create enough chances. I think nearly at the halfway point [of the season], that’s something we’re looking to get better at. We defended really well, we’ve shown that with the clean sheets that we’ve kept. We have been getting in the attacking third a bunch of times but now we have to try and finish off our chances.”

Howard is right.

For all their early dominance — which frustrated the home crowd mercifully and piled the pressure on the Gunners —  Everton had no real substance to show for a sublime first half display. Both full backs bombed on and provided good crosses but so often not enough men were gambling to get in the box. Ross Barkley was a shining light in midfield and whenever he was on the ball he turned and ran at the Gunners back-tracking defense in one swift movement. Just 20-years-old and already a PL regular and England international, Barkley has the world at his feet. He was handed the man of the match award on Sunday, and in his first post-game interview he looked timid and shy. Everton’s attackers are looking a little like that at the moment, Romelu Lukaku aside, and if they’re going to make it to the Champions League in Martinez’ first season in charge, more goals and a clinical ruthlessness is whats needed.

FULL PREMIER LEAGUE PLAYBACK ARCHIVE

As they bullied Arsenal for vast swathes of their game at the weekend, Everton proved from back to front their capable of sticking with anyone in this league. A work in progress, but after watching them scare the life out of Arsenal, with some fine tuning here and there Martinez’ men could become a work of art.

Premier League Schedule – Week 15

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 1-1 Everton Recap and watch here
Crystal Palace 2-0 Cardiff City Recap and watch here
Fulham 2-0 Aston Villa Recap and watch here
Liverpool 4-1 West Ham Recap and watch here
Man Utd 0-1 Newcastle Recap and watch here
Southampton 1-1 Man City Recap and watch here
Stoke 3-2 Chelsea Recap and watch here
Sunderland 1-2 Tottenham Recap and watch here
Swansea 1-1 Hull City Recap and watch here
West Brom 0-2 Norwich City Recap and watch here

MOURINHO: “WE’RE IN TROUBLE”

After Chelsea’s 3-2 defeat to Stoke City on Saturday, Jose Mourinho resembled a dejected figure. In the cauldron of the Britannia Stadium his saw his sides defense once again succumb to relentless wing-play. In their two away games last week, Chelsea conceded six goals and scored six. That is not a Mourinho team. Not at all. His sides are built on solid defense and are always hard to beat. Not this Chelsea side. Take nothing away from Stoke, they pushed, cajoled and harried the Blues and Oussama Assaidi’s stunning stoppage time howitzer was worthy of winning any game.

But the Chelsea of old would’ve seen this game out with at least a point.

“I don’t feel comfortable enough to tell you what I think about the game,” Mourinho said afterwards. “We’re in trouble. It is a concern [conceding many goals recently]. I don’t like it, I don’t organize my teams to be like this. Sometimes mistakes kill an organization.”

It is that lack or organization that killed Chelsea on Saturday.

Stoke were clever and left men in wide areas that confused Chelsea’s packed midfield of John Obi Mikel, Juan Mata and Ramires and left the defense in a muddle. Take a look at the image on the right.

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(Click  image to enlarge) Notice the space in behind Chelsea’ RB, Gary Cahill (CB) stepping into midfield and Mikel dropping back too deep. This is a mess and happened far too often.

This was after Chelsea went 1-0 up and the Potters were pushing for an equalizer. Time and time again the wide men were left unmarked, look at the space in behind full back Branislav Ivanovic and notice how the right center back, Gary Cahill, has inexplicably pushed up to try and close the ball. Obi Mikel should be doing that but the holding midfield is instead stood almost holding hands with CB John Terry. You don’t need two men to mark Peter Crouch when the ball is in that position. This shape is awful and Chelsea’s defensive problems seem to come from a sheer lack or organization. No wonder Mourinho is miserable, he prides himself on meticulously setting his team out to be impenetrable. Often standing with his hands in his pockets on the sideline, lacking his usual charisma in post-game interviews and sporting bags under his eyes, Mourinho has one heck of a job on his hands with the Blues. It’s a miracle they’re only five points off the top after defensive displays like this.

BOTTOM CLUBS UP FOR THE BATTLE

What a good weekend it was for the PL’s bottom clubs (except for Sunderland, sorry Mackems fans) as Crystal Palace, Fulham, Stoke and Norwich all won to ease the pressure on their relegation struggles. Being in and around the bottom around Christmas, historically, isn’t a good place to be. Only one side in PL history (West Brom in 2005) has avoided relegation when being bottom of the standings on Christmas Day. There’s a mad scramble to get away from the basement door to the Championship.

MORE: Latest Premier League Standings

So to see Palace picking up their second win in as many games under new boss Tony Pulis, Fulham totally dismissing Aston Villa in a first win for Rene Meulensteen, Stoke dispatching Chelsea and Norwich traveling to West Brom and beating the Baggies, shows that this seasons relegation scrap has plenty more twists and turns in it. The basement boys are up for the battle and will fight for their lives. Five points separating West Brom in 15th and Fulham in 19th shows how tight it is. Hope springs eternal and after this weekend, Christmas for fans of those struggling teams we mentioned is set to be a lot brighter.

FESTIVE SEASON TO SEPARATE PRETENDERS

Talking of the impeding festive season, come on scrooges out there, you know you love it, take a look over the following fixtures. One thing springs to mind when I have a gander, after the festive period, we’ll have a much better idea who’s for real at the top of the table and which teams stock will be falling lower than a scarf salesman in the post-festive shopping season.

  • Tottenham v Liverpool – December 14
  • Man City v Arsenal – December 15
  • Arsenal v Chelsea – December 23
  • Chelsea v Liverpool – December 29
  • Man Utd v Tottenham – January 1

In just over two weeks of fixtures, some sides will drop out of the title race altogether, others (Arsenal and Liverpool in particular) could strengthen their title credentials considerably.

MOYES TAKES THE BLAME, SO HE SHOULD…

On Monday David Moyes took one for the team after saying he takes “complete responsibility” for Manchester United’s terrible start to the season. It’s a noble act that many would see as deflecting the pressure away from his players and protecting them, something Sir Alex Ferguson was a master at. But there’s something less noble about Moyes taking responsibility, when in reality the problems probably has a lot to do with his ineptitude for change. For me, unless United score early in games, there’s often no plan B. That was the case against Newcastle on Saturday as the longer the game remained at 0-0, the home side were panicking and the substitutions from Moyes were poor. Bringing on defensive midfielder Anderson… when you needed a goal to stop United losing their second-straight home league game for the first time since 2002, nah, that’s not right.

Stop panicking Moyesy, positive subs and positivity is needed to help alter United’s worrying trend. They sit in ninth and are 13 points off league leaders Arsenal after another defeat. Worryingly, without the injured Wayne Rooney they looked lost going forward as they had the lowest number of passes in the final third of any team in the PL over the past weekend with just 93. I urged more attacking impetus from United in the last edition of Playback, that fell on deaf ears and I still believe more emphasis on attack needs to prevail at Old Trafford. The stat below from our mates at Opta says it all…

Last-16 games to be hosted by home teams in Champions League

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GENEVA (AP) The remaining four games of the Champions League’s round of 16 can be hosted by the home team, UEFA announced Thursday, instead of playing them in neutral Portugal.

The competition was halted in March because of the coronavirus and is set to conclude with a mini-tournament at an empty stadium in Lisbon next month, starting with the quarterfinals.

However, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus and Manchester City will be allowed to host the second leg of their last-16 matches at home.

[ MORE: New Premier League TV schedule ]

UEFA confirmed Thursday it had clearance from public authorities in Spain, Germany, Italy and England to let the teams play at home on Aug. 7 and 8. Few or no fans will be allowed in the stadiums.

UEFA also said no tickets will be sold to fans for mini-tournament in Lisbon.

“In light of the current situation, the UEFA executive committee felt it prudent to conclude that UEFA matches should take place behind closed doors until further notice,” the governing body said.

In the Europa League, six clubs including Manchester United can also host their outstanding second-leg games in the round of 16 ahead of a mini-tournament in Germany.

Starting on Aug. 12, the Champions League quarterfinals will be played on four straight nights in single-leg knockout games at the home stadiums of Benfica and Sporting Lisbon.

The semifinals are on Aug. 18 and 19, and Benfica’s Stadium of Light hosts the final on Aug. 23.

In the remaining round-of-16 games, Bayern is the clearest favorite to advance having won 3-0 at Chelsea in the first leg in February.

Man City leads 2-1 over Real Madrid, Juventus trails 1-0 against Lyon, and Barcelona resumes at 1-1 against Napoli.

Atalanta, Atlético Madrid, Leipzig and Paris Saint-Germain already advanced to the quarterfinals in March.

[ MORE: Solskjaer hopeful of new long-term Pogba deal ]

The quarterfinals and semifinals pairings will be drawn Friday at UEFA headquarters.

The final was postponed from May 30 at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul. It will host the 2021 final.

In the Europa League, six second-leg games will now be hosted on Aug. 5 and 6 by Man United, Bayer Leverkusen, Shakhtar Donetsk, Wolverhampton, Basel and Copenhagen.

The first-leg games were played in March with four in empty stadiums. Only İstanbul Başakşehir and Rangers had fans in the stands for games against Copenhagen and Bayer Leverkusen, respectively.

The two remaining pairings – Inter Milan-Getafe and Sevilla-Roma – could not be played in Italy or Spain in March as those countries were hit hard by the spreading coronavirus. Those pairings will be settled in single knockout games in neutral Germany, also on Aug. 5 and 6.

The quarterfinals are scheduled for Aug. 10-11 in Cologne, Duisburg, Düsseldorf and Gelsenkirchen. The semifinals are Aug. 16-17.

The final is Friday, Aug. 21 in Cologne, replacing the postponed May 27 final in Gdansk, Poland.

By GRAHAM DUNBAR
AP Sports Writer

Bournemouth – Tottenham, Everton – Southampton: Stream, how to watch

Bournemouth - Tottenham
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Bournemouth – Tottenham and Everton – Southampton take place on Thursday as the Cherries need the win to try and save themselves from relegation, while Spurs need to stay in the top four hunt. (Watch live at 1pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth have been awful since the restart, losing all four games, and are in deep trouble in the bottom three with a very tough run of games to end the season.

Jose Mourinho and Tottenham beat Everton 1-0 last time out and they are still in the hunt to finish in fifth place, which could be a Champions League spot.

BOURNEMOUTH – TOTTENHAM STREAM LIVE

EVERTON – SOUTHAMPTON STREAM LIVE

As for the other early game on Thursday, Everton host Southampton with just one point and one place between them. Everton sit in 11th on 44 points, while Saints are in 12th on 43 points after their shock win against Man City last weekend.

Here’s a look at the team news for the two games at 1pm ET.


Team news

Bournemouth bring back Callum Wilson as he returns from suspension, while Dan Gosling comes back into the midfield.

Tottenham bring Jan Vertonghen into central defense to replace the injured Dier, while Steven Bergwijn and Erik Lamela come into the starting lineup with Heung-min Son on the bench.

Everton bring Anthony Gordon and Yerry Mina into the team with Gylfi Sigurdsson on the bench and Mason Holgate out injured.

Ralph Hasenhuttl names the same Southampton team which beat Manchester City on Sunday, while Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is fit enough for a place on the bench.


 

Odds and ends (Full matchweek odds)

DraftKings have Tottenham (-157) as the heavy favorites at Bournemouth (+425) with the tie at +310. Anything other than a big Spurs win would be surprising but we all know the Cherries have a few shocks up their sleeves.

As for the game at Goodison, Everton have a great all-time home record against Southampton and the Toffees are the favorites (+100) but Southampton (+270) have been in sensational form away from home for most of this season. The draw at +255 looks very interesting.


How to watch Bournemouth – Tottenham stream, start time

Kickoff: 1 pm ET Wednesday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

How to watch all Premier League games

Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

MLS: Black Lives Matter protests; Nashville out due to COVID; Orlando, Philly win

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The MLS is Back tournament kicked off in Orlando, Florida over the last 24 hours and the headlines have been centered around the moving Blacks Lives Matter protests, Nashville SC leaving due to COVID-19 cases and wins for Orlando and Philadelphia.

[ MORE: MLS is Back schedule, how to watch ]

First up, the Black Lives Matter protests on Wednesday evening before the Orlando City SC v. Inter Miami CF game lasted for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

That was the length of time police officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on the neck of George Floyd.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

Players from all teams got together to lead the protests, as the Black Players for Change in MLS group organized the show of solidarity for the movement.

The other main headline off the pitch is that first-year MLS team Nashville SC is heading home after nine players tested positive for COVID-19.

Reports had surfaced from The Athletic about multiple cases within the squad ahead of their arrival in Orlando and MLS commissioner Don Garber said late Wednesday a decision would be made on Nashville’s involvement in the tournament.

Sources have told ProSoccerTalk that Nashville are out of the tournament, although official confirmation has yet to arrive. If confirmed, as expected, then the tournament will now consist of 24 teams after FC Dallas were also unable to compete. Chicago would move from Group A to Group B so that all groups have four teams for the tournament.

On the pitch, the first-ever meeting between Orlando City SC and Inter Miami saw the tournament hosts win 2-1 thanks to a late winner from captain Nani. Juan Agudelo had given Miami the lead but Chris Mueller equalized off Nani’s cross before the Portuguese legend secured the win.

The first early morning game took place on Thursday as the Philadelphia Union beat New York City FC 1-0 thanks to a fine strike from captain Alejandro Bedoya. Union goalkeeper Andre Blake made a string of fine saves to deny NYCFC.

Before the game the Union players all wore the names of Black people who have been killed by police on the back of their jerseys rather than their own surnames as a moving tribute to their memory.

Transfer news: Havertz to Chelsea; Ozil to MLS

Kai Havertz to Chelsea
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In the latest transfer news the latest update on Kai Havertz to Chelsea has arrived, while Mesut Ozil could be heading to MLS.

[ MORE: New PL TV schedule ]

Starting in west London, Kai Havertz, 21, has reportedly said he wants to join Chelsea and has handed in a transfer request to Bayer Leverkusen.

The German attacker is valued at $113 million by Leverkusen and although that transfer fee may be a little high for Chelsea, it is clear that Havertz will be worth it.

Per multiple reports, Havertz wants to join new signings Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech in reshaping the Chelsea attack and is ready to hand in a transfer request to make it happen.

Frank Lampard has revealed his admiration for Havertz and if Chelsea can pull this deal off, their attack is set. The big problem for Chelsea is in defense as they continue to make silly mistakes at the back but with Werner and Ziyech arriving, plus Havertz on the way and Christian Pulisic in fine form, this Chelsea attack will be lethal next season.

Mesut Ozil to MLS
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Heading to north London, Mesut Ozil could be heading to MLS according to a report from The Sun.

Ozil, 31, has one year left on his huge contract at Arsenal but continues to be on the outside looking in when it comes to Mikel Arteta’s plans.

According to the report, Ozil will see out the remaining year of his contract at Arsenal and will then move to either MLS or Turkey. He has told close friends those are the two places he wants to play next.

Could we see Ozil in MLS next summer? I could.

His talent is undoubted but his career is fizzling out at Arsenal and in the Premier League. He earns over $440,000 per week and can’t even get off the bench for the Gunners.