Premier League Playback: Who’ll buy the title? Stunning Sherwood, Ole ready to attack

2 Comments

STICK OR TWIST?

Silly season has arrived, get ready for endless column inches of transfer speculations and all of the whispers and rumors ascending towards a crescendo of activity on transfer deadline day, January 31. Between now and then, not a lot usually happens. But then managers and chairman will panic buy in the final few hours of the window just, well… because they can.

Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City have all been guilty of doing that in the past and with all three clubs embroiled in the Premier League title race this season, surely they’ll do the same…

Think again.

“The window is open and when it’s open anything can happen but we don’t think a lot is going to happen for us. I know what I’m building and what we are building at the club. We work and improve and try to bring the young players to a different level, and we are doing that quite successfully. We are not candidates to win the league, but we are always candidates to win the next match.” – Jose Mourinho on Chelsea’s transfer policy this January

Jose is playing it coy with the last part of that comment following Chelsea’s 3-0 demolition of Southampton on New Year’s Day, as  the vast and relatively young squad he’s cultivating at Chelsea will certainly see the Blues challenging at the PL’s summit come May 11 when the champion is crowned. He is trusting youngsters and has bought and nurtured players who will be around for a long-time and won’t just be flash in the pans over a season at Stamford Bridge. But surely a new striker would still be handy, Jose?

The same could be said for Arsenal and Manchester City, as both squads are well stocked and only really need one or two top caliber players to polish them off pristinely. Arsene Wenger has spoken of only buying a “special player” which he did with the summer signing of Mesut Ozil, who has helped transform Arsenal from top four hopefuls to title contenders. Another player of that ilk will be expensive, especially in January when prices are hugely inflated, but Arsenal could do with another top forward to really cement their position as a challenger for the PL crown.

As for City, they really don’t need to buy during this window.

Scoring 56 goals in the league so far, Manuel Pellegrini’s men have assembled a top quality attacking side. Even without top scorer Sergio Aguero, who should return from injury later this month, the Citizens always look like scoring three or four goals every time they step on the pitch. At the back they’re a little shaky, but that comes with being a ruthless attacking unit that first and foremost wants to attack. Maybe a classy central defender in the window would help polish off Pellegrini’s sterling work so far.

(MORE: Latest Premier League Standings)

Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City have assembled magnificent squads full of young attacking talent, but one thing could also put them off spending in the transfer window: the dreaded Financial Fair Play (FFP) rule. This is something all the top clubs will have to adhere to, or face be sanctioned heavily by UEFA.

Those new regulations will curb the spending of the big teams this winter, not that they need to spend big anyway. But the big question is, will the big teams stick with what they have through until May? Or will one side flinch first and buy big to try and seal the PL crown?

This will be interesting viewing as all three teams are good enough, as it stands, to win the league. Let’s see if they realize it.

Premier League Schedule – New Year’s Day

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

SHERWOOD’S CHARISMA LEADS THE WAY

Just before the festive period on PST Extra, myself and Mike Prindiville discussed whether or not Tim Sherwood would be the right man to replace Andre Villas-Boas at Tottenham Hotspur.

Prindi and I were pushing for Sherwood to get the job and be able to prove himself, and the former Blackburn Rovers and Tottenham skipper has done superbly well so far.

Unbeaten in four PL games, winning three of them, Spurs are now well back in the hunt for the top four. And Tottenham’s 2-1 win at Old Trafford against Manchester United on New Year’s Day showed the grit and determination needed to succeed in the PL, plus they have game changers in Christian Eriksen, Aaron Lennon, Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor, plus plenty of others in reserve.

One of Sherwood’s best qualities has been to give everyone a second chance. So often players are cast aside at clubs because one manager doesn’t appreciate their attitude, qualities or they simply don’t fit into a certain style of play. Case in point, Spurs’ Adebayor who has scored four goals in five games since Sherwood took over first on an interim basis and now permanently.

Scoring goals for Arsenal, Manchester City and Real Madrid in the past, in Sherwood’s words Adebayor is “obviously a top player.” But he just wasn’t getting the chance to shine at White Hart Lane.

Another player who was cast aside by AVB is left back Benoit Assou-Ekotto, who is currently out on loan at Championship club Queens Park Rangers. Ekotto had the following to say about Adebayor’s sizzling form and had a subtle dig at AVB on Twitter.

Assou-Ekotto likes Sherwood, he said it in the Tweet so it must be true… But Spurs’ 44-year-old boss is a hugely affable character and has also won plenty more friends for his honest and forthright opinions on the game. His tactics of playing an attacking 4-4-2 formation with bold wingers and two out-and-out forwards is paying dividends for Sherwood, and long may that continue. It’s refreshing to see a young English manager given a chance in England’s top-flight and Sherwood’s charisma and character is creating an ‘us against them mentality’ with the Tottenham players as they dig deep for their new leader. Sherwood’s already stated his ambition to not bring players in during the transfer window, as he wants to give Spurs’ youngsters the chance to shine on the biggest stage of all and also believe sin the current crop of stars at his disposal.

Old fashioned tactics and methods are frowned upon by many, but Sherwood may be on to something with his ‘keep it simple’ mindset at Spurs. They helped them beat United on New Year’s Day, watch below, as 2014 began in style.

PENALTY DECISIONS GO AGAINST THE BIG BOYS FOR ONCE

Just a few days ago the likes of Southampton and Stoke City were complaining that the little guys do not get any of the key decisions from referees.

A few of the bigger teams are now moaning about the officiating, after some massive decisions went against them on New Year’s Day. First of all David Moyes is feeling very hard done by after Spurs beat his Manchester United side 2-1 and Howard Webb denied first Danny Welbeck and then Ashley Young penalties in the second half as the Red Devils pushed for an equalizer.

About the decision to not award a penalty for Hugo Lloris’ clumsy sliding challenge on Young, Red Devils boss Moyes had this to say.

“It’s an incredible decision, in fact probably one of the worst I think I saw. The goalkeeper comes out, Ashley Young gets the ball before him and he follows through.  If you follow through on a player anywhere else on the pitch with your foot high, it would be a sending-off and a red card. I find it incredible, but the people who employ the referees are going to have to look at that and see if they get that right.” Oh dear, not a happy bunny.

While elsewhere, Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho had no complaints as Brazilian attacker Oscar went clean through on goal against Southampton with his side drawing 0-0 and the entire goal gaping at the young prodigy. But instead of tapping the ball past the advancing Kelvin Davis in goal for Saints, Oscar took and almighty tumble and instead of getting a penalty and Davis a red card (which the smaller clubs argue would usually happens when incidents like this occur vs. Chelsea or United) referee Martin Atkinson correctly gave Oscar a yellow card for diving.

Officiating decisions going against Chelsea and United… surely not? Some of the smaller teams can stop moaning now too, poor decisions happen to any side whether or not you’re the biggest or smallest team in the league. That was proven unequivocally this weekend.

OLE GUNNAR… BE THE RIGHT MAN?

On Thursday morning Cardiff City appointed Norwegian Ole Gunnar Solksjaer as their new manager, you may remember him as the man who won Manchester United the UEFA Champions League with a last-gasp winner against Bayern Munich in ’99. Yeah, that guy.

But since his playing days for the Red Devils ended, Solksjaer has excelled in the managerial realm after leading Manchester United’s reserve side to glory over a three year spell, then doing the same with Molde in Norway’s top-flight. Known as the ‘baby-faced assassin’ for his boyish good looks and clinical finishing during his iconic playing spell at Old Trafford — Roy Keane once thought Ole was a “12-year-old kid who’d won a competition to train with United” when he arrived — Solksjaer is hugely respected in the game for his talents on the field and is a national hero in Norway. But all this aside, how will he fare as a Premier League manager?

With Vincent Tan around, who knows. The likelihood is that the 40-year-old boss will be handed a substantial amount of money in the January transfer window to give the Bluebirds a chance of staying up. It’s also likely most of that loot will be spent on attackers. Plus with Solksjaer’s close links with United, expect a few of the Red Devils promising youngsters to pop up at the Cardiff City Stadium if Ole so chooses.

As manager of Molde his side played an exciting brand of attacking soccer and on average during his three season in charge, two of which resulted in league titles, the northern Norwegian side scored 50.6 goals per campaign. This year Cardiff have scored just 15 goals in 20 PL games, only Crystal Palace have a leaner offense. And who better to help their goal scoring issues than the greatest natural finisher the Premier League has ever seen? After speaking during his unveiling as manager, it seems like Ole is going to go all-out attack to keep the Bluebirds in the top flight.

“My brand of football will hopefully make Cardiff’s fans proud of the way we play football. My brand is forward-minded. Forward passing, forward running. I want to attack. I want the players to express themselves.”

Premier League Playback takes an alternative look at all the weekends actions from the PL, it comes out every week.

Arsenal’s Mkhitaryan to miss Europa League final

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsenal’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not be available to play in the UEFA Europa League final against Chelsea.

The final on May 29 is being held in Baku, Azerbaijan and that country has no diplomatic relations with the country of Mkhitaryan’s birth, Armenia. Hence, Arsenal cannot guarantee the safety of their playmaker who is also the captain of the Armenian national team.

Despite the ambassador assuring Mkhitaryan will be safe, the Gunners have decided he will not be able to travel with the squad over those safety concerns.

“We are very disappointed to announce that Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not be travelling with the squad for our Uefa Europa League final against Chelsea,” the north London club said in a statement.

Due their conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, tensions are high between Azerbaijan and Armenia and Mkhitaryan did not travel for Arsenal’s Europa League game against Qarabag in Azerbaijan earlier this season.

He will now not be available for the final despite being a key part of Arsenal’s run to the Europa League final, which they must win to qualify for the UEFA Champions League next season. UEFA had previously said they would help with the situation, but this is the latest problem in holding the final in Baku as only 5,000 fans of both Chelsea and Arsenal are expected in the 67,000 capacity stadium due to their being no direct flights and other issues getting to Azerbaijan.

Arsenal released the following statement on the situation regarding Mkhitaryan.

We have thoroughly explored all the options for Micki to be part of the squad but after discussing this with Micki and his family we have collectively agreed he will not be in our travelling party. We have written to Uefa expressing our deep concerns about this situation. Micki has been a key player in our run to the final so this is a big loss for us from a team perspective.

We’re also very sad that a player will miss out on a major European final in circumstances such as this, as it is something that comes along very rarely in a footballer’s career. Micki will continue to be part of our preparations until we depart for Baku at the weekend.

Mkhitaryan responded by saying “it hurts a lot” to miss the final, but added that “we had to take the tough decision for me not to travel with the squad.”

Bologna draws 3-3 at Lazio to secure Serie A safety

Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images
Leave a comment

ROME (AP) Bologna secured Serie A football for another season after drawing at Lazio 3-3 in a thriller on Monday.

Bologna moved four points clear of the relegation zone with one match remaining.

Lazio was still celebrating winning the Italian Cup midweek and Joaquin Correa fired the capital side in front in the 13th minute.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

However, two goals in the space of a minute from Andrea Poli and Mattia Destro saw Bologna take the lead early in the second half.

Bastos curled in a stunning effort to level for Lazio in the 59th but Riccardo Orsolini restored Bologna’s lead shortly after.

Substitute Sergej Milinkovic-Savic secured a draw for Lazio with a sensational free kick 10 minutes from time.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Choosing a USMNT XI for the Gold Cup

AP Photo/Julio Cortez
Leave a comment

Noting that most positions on the international stage are up for grabs based on form, there are special opportunities on the wing, right back, and center back when it comes to the USMNT at the Gold Cup this summer.

That’s because of two related things, one fact and one close to it:

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

  1. DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks are missing from the lineup due to injury. Brooks is easily the Yanks’ No. 1 center back, and Yedlin is a right back when Tyler Adams is unavailable and good enough that Gregg Berhalter tries to shoehorn him in at right wing when Adams is manning that spot.
  2. Mexico’s the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament with more in-form club players in Europe than the U.S., including would-be Premier League Best XI forward Raul Jimenez of Wolves. And who’s going to have to deal with Raul? You guessed it, the big American center backs.

Presuming Berhalter is still wed to Adams as the part-fullback, part distributing midfielder role, that has our lineup for important Gold Cup matches with few sure things.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — XXXXX — XXXXX — XXXXX

McKennie — Bradley

XXXXX — Pulisic — XXXXX

Altidore

Now you may not like that I’ve assumed Bradley and Altidore’s places here, but there’s little doubt both are still quite capable against CONCACAF competition and also have the experience in this exact competition and against Mexico. Surely both are motivated for a bit of redemption as well.

Friendlies against Jamaica and Venezuela will give Berhalter a chance to try out players like Tyler Boyd, Marlon Fossey, and Miles Robinson should they impress amongst a 40-player field (although the Jamaica match on June 5 in Washington, D.C. is a day before the final rosters are due for the Gold Cup).

Now what we are trying to solve here is who is the best bet to help the Yanks win the dang thing.

Defenders: Aaron Long, Matt Miazga, and Tim Ream are the favorites to start at the two center back spots and left back, but Daniel Lovitz will try to push Ream after a rough season at Fulham. Both Walker Zimmerman and Omar Gonzalez are in good form, and you can bet Berhalter will give Cameron Carter-Vickers a chance to earn some time. A flat back four role gives Antonee Robinson hope in place of Ream, and if Adams moves into the midfield, Nick Lima did alright in his right back role in January.

Midfielders/Wingers: The spots around Pulisic should be filled by those who can keep the width of the field but also serve somewhat as enforcers for the No. 10. Sebastian Lletget gives them a good shot on one side, and Paul Arriola provides a similar spot. While Joe Gyau, Josh Sargent, Duane Holmes, and Djordje Mihailovic can hope to challenge, the MLS vets with experience outside the country are good bets to get the gigs.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — Miazga — Long — Ream

McKennie — Bradley

Arriola — Pulisic — Lletget

Altidore

Does that get the job done against Mexico? Probably not, but it’ll give Tata Martino’s men a hassle.

Report: Man City could use Gabriel Jesus to get Rodri

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
1 Comment

At the root of this report is a question to which we don’t know the answer: How highly does Pep Guardiola rate Gabriel Jesus?

A report from Spanish outlet AS says Guardiola could use his young striker to lure Atletico Madrid into a swap deal, landing Manchester City their stirring defensive midfielder Rodri.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Rodri is a nearly year older than 22-year-old Jesus, and is more instrumental to his current club. One of Atletico Madrid’s top talents, his $78 million release clause is an obvious route for City.

If Guardiola doesn’t see Jesus as a huge part of the club’s future, however, the manager may be able to go nearly like-for-like money-wise.

Jesus scored nearly every other game for City in all competitions, nabbing 21 goals in 47 matches, and has 13 goals in 27 caps for Brazil. Those are good numbers, especially with still-electric Sergio Aguero turning 31 this summer.

At his relatively tender age, Jesus has appeared 100 times for Man City and his 45 goals are made more impressive by less than 5600 total minutes in those matches.

Giving up on him to complete his midfield is a tough one. We think it’s more likely Guardiola pays the release clause… unless the manager simply doesn’t rate the player.