Premier League Playback: Officially the closest title race ever, Sherwood the right choice, Cameron prevails



It’s official, this is the tightest title race in Premier League history.

After Arsenal and Chelsea’s stalemate on Monday, only eight points separate first from eighth in the Premier League. That’s the smallest margin of point differential between the top eight on Christmas Day in PL history. With six realistic title contenders jockeying themselves to jump ahead of the pack. One man named Jose is confident (shock) that his side have what it takes to stay in the hunt. Speaking to myself and other journalists after Chelsea’s unenterprising yet astute 0-0 draw away at Arsenal, Mourinho is pleased with how things stand.

“In the last Boxing Day Chelsea was 11 points away, and out of the title race. This season we are there, we are only two points behind both leaders, we are there. We have reasons to keep going. The best way to finish in the top four and be in the title race, is to stay close. Let’s enjoy the moment.” – Jose Mourinho on Chelsea’s title aspirations

It’s fair to say we’re all enjoying the wide-open title race in the 2013/14 campaign, as the second half of the season is almost upon and six teams now realistic contenders to lift the PL crown. Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, Man City, Everton and Manchester United are all in the mix. The upcoming festive season is crucial as the likes of Liverpool play City and Chelsea, while United have some fairly easy games against Norwich and Hull coming up.

It’s at this time, the most wonderful time of the year as the song goes, that the PL standings really shake out and the top five or six emerge. By the time a full slate of games are done and dusted on  January 1, that will be the case. The only time it’s ever been this close was back on Xmas day 2002, when the top eight were split by just 11 points as United won the title ahead of Arsenal in second.

(MORE: Latest Premier League standings)

So often this season top teams have cancelled each other out with negative tactics. On rare occasions the likes of City have given it a go and been rewarded but I feel it’s all about staying in touch with your competitors, beating the sides your supposed to beat and nicking draws and setting up to not lost against your direct competitors.

Come the end of the season, we could be in for one heck of a title-race as a mad dash for the finishing lines ensues, following countless apprehensive sideways and backwards moves throughout the course of the season from the elite six.

Hold on to your hats, the pace is about to become relentless.

Premier League Schedule – Week 17

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


A hint of hope glimmers for Tottenham’s fans after their 3-2 win over Southampton on Sunday.

Tim Sherwood’s first Premier League game in charge of Spurs was an audition riddled with miniscule errors but ultimately the final act covered him in glory. A win’s a win, as they say, and with Sherwood officially handed the reigns on Monday night on an 18-month deal, Spurs fans can expect plenty of attacking intent and lackluster defending to come.

With a classic 4-4-2 formation Sherwood’s preferred weapon of choice, the former Blackburn Rovers and Tottenham captain knows what he wants and it’s that direct approach which may unsettle many sides. In the day of the 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 lineups, the move to link up Roberto Soldado and the rejuvenated Emmanuel Adebyaor (frozen out by AVB, he’s scored 3 goals in 2 game since Sherwood took charge) is a bold one.


Sherwood, who coached at Spurs under Harry Redknapp and played for him at Portsmouth as they surged into the Premier League, resembles his mentor. His gift of the gab, brash confidence and attacking formations display that. Spurs could’ve done a lot worse than give him the job until the end of next season. The man who lifted the title as captain of Blackburn back in ’95 wants a crack at blueprinting Tottenham’s lofty title aspirations over the next few years. Like Redknapp, there’s nothing revolutionary or over-complicated about Sherwood’s philosophy. Perhaps that no-nonsense approach and old school mantra is what’s needed at White Hart Lane, because rugged Southern Europeans with hordes of technical analysts, complicated formations and a continental style setup clearly hasn’t been the flavor of the month in North London.

Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy, you’ve acted quickly, but have you acted correctly?


Compared to recent seasons, the number of Americans in action in the PL has diminished a little, so whenever two come head-to-head, we should embrace it and enjoy two men flying the stars and stripes overseas.

USMNT teammates Geoff Cameorn and Brad Guzan squared off against each other in a Midlands derby at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday, and one man stole the show.

Marauding up and down the right wing all afternoon from full back, Cameron was an effervescent example of American ingenuity and desire. In the first half an over-hit cross, from deep inside Vila territory, looped and swirled in the Staffordshire wind and was dipping into the top corner before Guzan showed off his best Superman effort to keep it out.

Cameron put his hands on his head in disbelief.

But in the second half the former Houston Dynamo central midfielder and center back, who is excelling out of position for the Potters, once again overlapped on the right and delivered a magnificent ball into the dreaded “corridor of uncertainty” that left his U.S. teammate Guzan floundering as Peter Crouch bundled home the game-winner.

Check-mate Cameron. His stock is rising as a spot in the USA’s World Cup roster beckons. U.S. Soccer were happy about their two boys squaring off.


Last week away at Villa Park, I noticed Manchester United were putting much more emphasis on getting the ball wide early to feed Adnan Januzaj and Antonio Valencia on the wings. I thought a fresh attacking approach could be fruitful, and shared that in Playback last week.

This week during the comfortable 3-1 win over West Ham, they did it again as Januzaj scored and Valencia helped set up the third by pulling the ball back expertly for the majestic Wayne Rooney to set up Ashely Young for the sealer.

But the stats show differently, as neither excelled when it came to whipping crosses in the box. As you can see from the heat maps for Januzaj (left) and Valencia (right) both marshaled their wings impressively and despite Januzaj drifting inside a little, they kept their width and created space for United’s central players. That helped Wayne Rooney flourish in the number 10 role as the master and creator, as the PL’s leading assist maker laid on two more helpers. However Januzaj failed with four of his crossed and Valencia only completed 29 percent of his 7 deliveries from wide. So old-fashioned wing-play wasn’t exactly flourishing.

(Click to enlarge) – Januzaj’s heat map prove she has license to roam, but the inside left flank proved incredibly fruitful. Source: Opta
(Click to enlarge) – Valencia’s heat map shows the huge amount of touches he had in and around the box. Source; Opta

But take those numbers out of the equation, and the clever and intricate flicks, incisive passing and willing running threw me back to a bygone era of Ryan Giggs on one wing and Andrei Kanchelskis on another. Januzaj resembles Giggs with his floaty runs and calm persona, while Valencia’s industry and final ball reminds of their former Russian attacker. It was a joy to watch with Rooney orchestrating play in a central role and the suddenly in-form Danny Welbeck playing on the shoulder of the last defender.

One note: all this attacking fluidity is happening without Robin van Persie, and a against a few whipping boys in Aston Villa and West Ham. Let’s see if United’s settled attacking quadrant can deliver against the big boys in the PL. Promising signs once again for David Moyes.

Notice I hadn’t mentioned his name right until the end of this section, instead of leading off with more misery for him… that’s a refreshing change. Just like the Red Devils wing-play.


When many fear all hope is lost for the modern game, something always crops up to give you a feeling that humanity still fights for what’s right.

That happened in Week 17, as fans, managers and players across the country united to let Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan now that he was bang out of order. Sat in the directors box on Saturday like a bond villain with his shades on and wringing his hands visibly in a pair of black leather gloves, Tan depicted his part in the debacle superbly.

After telling his hugely likeable manager Malky Mackay that “he must resign or be fired” via an email, uproar ensued across the Premier League. Fellow managers reacted angrily, Cardiff’s fans protests with signs of “Tan Out” hanging up in the away end at Anfield on Saturday, and although the Bluebirds were undone by Luis Suarez’s sublime first half display (who isn’t these days?) the fight Mackay’s players showed in the second half proved they believe in their manager.

Following the match the proud Scot remained defiant as he insisted he would not resign and walk away from his staff, the fans and players. The rest of the soccer world collectively nodded their head in appreciation for the impeccable characters he’s shown throughout this testing time.

Mackay clearly isn’t Tan’s man but right now, he’s the man of the people.

The Playback comes out every week and takes a different look at all the action from the Premier League weekend.

USMNT vs El Salvador: How to watch live, team news, updates


The USMNT host El Salvador in a winner-take-all CONCACAF Nations League Group D finale on Monday (7:30 pm ET), at Exploria Stadium in Orlando.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings vs Grenada | Recap/highlights ]

The group winner will qualify for the finals (four teams) of the 2022-23 CONCACAF Nations League (June 15-18) as well as the 2023 Gold Cup (June 24-July 16). The group runners-up will also qualify for this summer’s Gold Cup.

Following their 7-1 thumping of Grenada on Friday, the USMNT is in good shape and interim head coach Anthony Hudson will likely rotate his first-choice back four back into the lineup.

[ MORE: Folarin Balogun to USMNT? “It’s something that will come to me”

Christian Pulisic, Brenden Aaronson, Weston McKennie, Gio Reyna and Ricardo Pepi all sparkled in the final third against Grenada and we could see Alex Zendejas and Daryl Dike from the start in Orlando.

Of course, Folarin Balogun is also expected to be watching on from the stands as intrigue grows around his possible switch from England to the USMNT to give the Americans another fine young attacking talent.

Here is everything you need for the USMNT vs El Salvador.

How to watch USMNT vs El Salvador live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 7:30pm ET
Stadium: Exploria Stadium – Orlando, Florida
TV in English: TNT
TV/streaming en Español: Universo/Peacock

[ LIVE: CONCACAF Nations League scores – USMNT vs El Salvador ]

USMNT squad

Goalkeepers (3): Ethan Horvath (Luton Town), Zack Steffen (Middlesbrough), Matt Turner (Arsenal)

Defenders (8): Sergino Dest (AC Milan), Mark McKenzie (Genk), Tim Ream (Fulham), Bryan Reynolds (Westerlo), Antonee Robinson (Fulham), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), Joe Scally (Borussia Monchengladbach), Auston Trusty (Birmingham City)

Midfielders (7): Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United), Johnny Cardoso (Internacional), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo), Weston McKennie (Leeds United), Yunus Musah (Valencia), Alan Sonora (Juarez), Djordje Mihailovic (AZ Alkmaar)

Forwards (6): Taylor Booth (Utrecht), Daryl Dike (West Bromwich Albion), Ricardo Pepi (Groningen), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Alejandro Zendejas (Club America)

EURO 2024 qualification live! EURO qualifiers schedule, updates, standings


EURO 2024 qualifying is here, and you’re in the right spot for groups, fixtures, and results.

Italy outlasted England in penalty kicks to win EURO 2020 and is bidding to become the first repeat winner since Spain in 2008 and 2012.

[ MORE: Breaking down Premier League title race ]

England is still seeking its first European Championship and will be favored to emerge from Group C with aforementioned Italy as well as Ukraine, North Macedonia, and Malta.

Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions started off 2024 qualifying well as Harry Kane snapped a tie with Wayne Rooney atop England’s all-time goals list with a 2-1 win in Italy, the nation’s first in the country since 1961, and then Bukayo Saka led the Three Lions to a 2-0 win over Ukraine on Sunday.

Netherlands and France are also in a spicy group that has dark horse Republic of Ireland and former champions Greece, as well as Gibraltar.

[ MORE: Live scores, updates, standings from EURO 2024 qualifying ]

A number of nations have guaranteed themselves no worse than a playoff spot due to their performances in the UEFA Nations League: Netherlands, Greece, Italy, Spain, Scotland, Georgia, Croatia, Turkey, Serbia, Kazakhstan.

EURO 2024 qualifying schedule

Thursday, March 23

Kazakhstan 1-2 Slovenia
Slovakia 0-0 Luxembourg
Italy 1-2 England – Video, player ratings as Kane breaks Rooney record
Denmark 3-1 Finland
Portugal 4-0 Liechtenstein
San Marino 0-2 Northern Ireland
North Macedonia 2-1 Malta
Bosnia and Herzegovina 3-0 Iceland

Friday, March 24

Bulgaria 0-1 Montenegro
Gibraltar 0-3 Greece
Moldova 1-1 Faroe Islands
Serbia 2-0 Lithuania
Austria 4-1 Azerbaijan
Sweden 0-3 Belgium
Czech Republic 3-1 Poland
France 4-0 Netherlands

Saturday, March 25

Scotland 3-0 Cyprus
Israel 1-1 Kosovo
Armenia 1-2 Turkey
Belarus 0-5 Switzerland
Spain 3-0 Norway
Croatia 1-0 Wales
Andorra 0-2 Romania

Sunday, March 26

Kazakhstan 3-2 Denmark
England 2-0 Ukraine — Video, player ratings as Saka leads Three Lions
Liechtenstein 0-7 Iceland
Slovenia 2-0 San Marino
Slovakia 2-0 Bosnia and Herzegovina
Northern Ireland 0-1 Finland
Luxembourg 0-6 Portugal
Malta 0-2 Italy

Monday, March 27

Montenegro vs Serbia — 2:45pm ET
Netherlands vs Gibraltar — 2:45pm ET
Poland vs Albania — 2:45pm ET
Austria vs Estonia — 2:45pm ET
Sweden vs Azerbaijan — 2:45pm ET
Moldova vs Czech Republic — 2:45pm ET
Hungary vs Bulgaria — 2:45pm ET
Republic of Ireland vs France — 2:45pm ET

Tuesday, March 28

Georgia vs Norway — Noon ET
Wales vs Latvia — 2:45pm ET
Romania vs Belarus — 2:45pm ET
Switzerland vs Israel — 2:45pm ET
Kosovo vs Andorra — 2:45pm ET
Turkey vs Croatia — 2:45pm ET
Scotland vs Spain — 2:45pm ET

EURO 2024 qualifying standings

Group A

Spain — 3 pts, +3 GD
Scotland — 3 pts, +3GD
Norway — 0 pts, -3 GD
Cyprus — 0 pts, -3 GD

Group B

France — 3pts, +4 GD
Greece — 3 pts, +3 GD
Republic of Ireland
Gibraltar — 0 pts, -3 GD
Netherlands — 0 pts, -4 GD

Group C

England — 6 pts, +3 GD
Italy — 3 pts, +1 GD
North Macedonia — 3 pts, +1 GD
Ukraine — 0 pts, -2 GD
Malta — 0 pts, -3 GD

Group D

Turkey — 3 pts, +1 GD
Wales — 1 pt, 0 GD
Croatia — 1 pt, 0 GD
Armenia — 0 pts, -1 GD

Group E

Czech Republic — 3 pts, +2 GD
Faroe Islands — 1 pt, 0 GD
Moldova — 1 pt, 0 GD
Poland — 0 pts, -2 GD

Group F

Austria — 3 pts, +3 GD
Belgium — 3 pts, + 3GD
Azerbaijan — 0 pts, -3 GD
Sweden — 0 pts, -3 GD

Group G

Serbia — 3 pts, +2 GD
Montenegro — 3 pts, +1 GD
Bulgaria — 0 pts, -1 GD
Lithuania — 0 pts, -2 GD

Group H

Slovenia — 6 pts, +3 GD
Northern Ireland — 3 pts, +1 GD
Denmark — 3 pts, +1 GD
Finland — 3 pts, -1 GD
Kazakhstan — 3 pts, 0 GD
San Marino — 0 pts, -4 GD

Group I

Switzerland — 3 pts, +5 GD
Romania — 3 pts, + 2 GD
Israel — 1 pt, 0 GD
Kosovo — 1 pt, 0 GD
Andorra — 0 pts, -2 GD
Belarus — 0 pts, -5 GD

Group J

Portugal — 6 pts, +8 GD
Slovakia — 4 pt, +2 GD
Iceland — 3 pts, +4 GD
Bosnia and Herzegovina — 3 pts, +1 GD
Liechtenstein — 1 pt, -7 GD
Luxembourg — 0 pts, -10 GD

Antonio Conte, Tottenham part ways

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Antonio Conte’s belabored but seemingly inevitable exit from Tottenham Hotspur was just that, as Spurs announced the Italian legend’s exit late Sunday.

Conte went off on everyone at the club following a 3-3 draw with Southampton in Premier League Matchweek 28, and the international break did nothing to calm or rectify the situation.

“I see selfish players, I see players that don’t want to help each other and don’t put their heart [into the game],” Conte said at one point, later criticizing ownership, coaches, and staff. See the full press conference atop this post.

Cristian Stellini will stay on and oversee the season as “Acting Head Coach” with longtime Spurs man Ryan Mason assisting the Italian.

[ MORE: Saka, Kane scored as England cruises past Ukraine ]

Conte, 53, was appointed Spurs boss on Nov. 2, 2021 following the firing of Nuno Espirito Santo, and helped Tottenham to a top-four finish and a return to the UEFA Champions League.

Spurs went unbeaten in their first seven matches to open the 2022-23 season, only losing away to West Ham and Chelsea, but a 3-1 loss at Arsenal in the North London derby started a run of ups and downs not normally associated with Conte teams.

After beating Brighton and Everton, Spurs failed to win consecutive Premier League matches between October 19 and late January, when Spurs beat Fulham and Man City on consecutive match days.

Tottenham was on a 5W-1D-2L Premier League run when Conte launched into his incredible rants following the Southampton draw. That, combined with a lifeless Champions League exit against AC Milan, was far too much to sustain him at the club.

Tottenham Hotspur statement on Antonio Conte


“We can announce that Head Coach Antonio Conte has left the Club by mutual agreement. We achieved Champions League qualification in Antonio’s first season at the Club. We thank Antonio for his contribution and wish him well for the future.

“Cristian Stellini will take the team as Acting Head Coach for the remainder of the season, along with Ryan Mason as Assistant Head Coach.

Daniel Levy, Chairman: ‘We have 10 Premier League games remaining and we have a fight on our hands for a Champions League place. We all need to pull together. Everyone has to step up to ensure the highest possible finish for our Club and amazing, loyal supporters.'”

What now?

It’s very strange that Spurs would wait one week into the international break and then announce that Conte was leaving without a new coach in place (Stellini was a long time Tottenham assistant).

Spurs are currently in fourth place on the table with 49 points, one point behind Manchester United, but Newcastle (47 points) and Liverpool 42 points) both have two matches-in-hand on Stellini’s men. Brighton’s also on 42 points and has three matches-in-hand on Spurs.

Stellini actually may have a pretty easy task presuming he didn’t follow up Conte’s comments about the players by yelling, “Yeah, I agree!”

There are points to be had along the way as Spurs return from break to meet Everton, Brighton, and Bournemouth, but the relatively soft landing ends with Newcastle, Manchester United, and Liverpool in the following three PL matches.

Palace, Villa, Brentford, and Leeds wind down the fixture list, so it’s reasonable to think Spurs will return to the Champions League if they can get through Liverpool on April 30 with a look at the top four.

Premier League top scorers: Who is leading Golden Boot race?


Harry Kane scored twice on Saturday to give him 20 goals on the Premier League season, and impressive figure with 10-plus matches left for the teams of the Premier League this season.

Then Erling Haaland converted a penalty at Crystal Palace to give him 28 on the season, reminding the country that the Golden Boot race remains in fait accompli territory.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ] 

There is something somewhat dull about knowing the identity of the 2022 Golden Boot winner, the lone curiosity being the final number of his final tally, we get it, but most of what Haaland is doing this season is simply marvelous and to be admired without much fear.

Haaland’s Premier League-leading 28 goals have him seven goals clear of the next closest challenger: Tottenham’s fantastic and firing Harry Kane.

The Norwegian star piled up 20 goals in a single Premier League season faster than any player in history… by seven games (Kevin Phillips of Sunderland did it in 21). Now he’s within five goals of equalling Kevin Phillips’ record for most goals in a debut Premier League season.

And the later this season goes with him projected so far over the current record, the less chucking is accompanied by marking out the pace (especially considering Haaland was not beaten up by the World Cup, as Norway was not in the tournament). And even though Haaland is currently overperforming his expected goals total, it’s clear that projecting him for the Premier League record is rather realistic.

Which records can Haaland break?

Haaland may not be likely to hit 50 goals given the schedule congestion to come for Man City, but the Premier League record is very well under assault and that figure isn’t entirely absurd. He’s played in 23 of Man City’s 24 games, scoring 26 goals.

Mohamed Salah holds the 38-game season record with his 32 goals scored for Liverpool during the 2017-18 season, while Newcastle’s Andy Cole and Blackburn’s Alan Shearer bagged 34 during 42-game seasons in the 20th century’s final decade.

Haaland also could topple the record for goal involvements (goals plus assists) in a single season, including beating the 42-game record. Alan Shearer put up 47 over 42, while Thierry Henry holds the 38-game record with 44.

Other records that Haaland could legitimately tie or topple:

  • 30 goals in a first Premier League season (Kevin Phillips, Sunderland, 1999-2000)
  • Goals in 24 different Premier League matches (Salah, Liverpool, 2017-18)
  • Most goals in a Premier League match (Five tied with five)
  • 11-straight Premier League games with a goal (Jamie Vardy, Leicester, 2014-15)

Read on to see the latest Premier League goal totals for the 2022-23 season, as Haaland looks to claim a Golden Boot in his first PL season.

Premier League 2022-23 Golden Boot race

    1. Erling Haaland, Man City — 28
    2. Harry Kane, Tottenham — 21
    3. Ivan Toney, Brentford — 16
    4. Marcus Rashford, Manchester United — 14
    5. Gabriel Martinelli, Arsenal — 13
    6. Bukayo Saka, Arsenal — 12
    7. Miguel Almiron, Newcastle — 11
    8. Aleksandar Mitrovic, Fulham — 11
    9. Mohamed Salah, Liverpool — 11
    10. Rodrigo, Leeds United — 11
    11. Martin Odegaard, Arsenal — 10
    12. James Maddison, Leicester City — 9
    13. Phil Foden, Man City — 9
    14. Ollie Watkins, Aston Villa — 9
    15. Harvey Barnes, Leicester City — 9
    16. Leandro Trossard — Brighton/Arsenal — 8
    17. Danny Ings, Aston Villa/West Ham — 8
    18. Darwin Nunez, Liverpool — 8
    19. Roberto Firmino, Liverpool — 8
    20. Callum Wilson, Newcastle — 7
    21. Brennan Johnson, Nottingham Forest — 7
    22. Alexis Mac Allister, Brighton — 7
    23. James Ward-Prowse, Southampton — 7
    24. Kai Havertz, Chelsea — 7
    25. Solly March, Brighton — 7
    26. Wilfried Zaha, Crystal Palace — 6
    27. Pascal Gross, Brighton — 6
    28. Kaoru Mitoma, Brighton — 6
    29. Heung-min Son, Tottenham — 6
    30. Phillip Billing, Bournemouth — 6
    31. Alexander Isak, Newcastle — 6