Premier League Playback: Liverpool’s title charge for real? Chelsea implode, resilient Manchester City

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LIVERPOOL TITLE FAVORITES?

Since the Premier League began in 1992, Liverpool have never lifted the glistening silver trophy. This year is their best chance of doing that. A stunning 3-0 win Sunday at Manchester United sent Liverpool into second. They now sit four points behind leaders Chelsea with one game in hand.

With nine games to finish the season, talk of winning the title has finally left the lips of Liverpool’s leading man.

“We’ve showed that we are genuine contenders and we are going to fight to the end for this,” said Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, after his two penalty kicks helped the Reds win the Northwest derby. “We believe that we can win the league.”

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Click to enlarge: Gerrard’s heat map vs. Manchester United. Source: Opta

Honest or misguided … call it what you will, but hearing Gerrard state Liverpool’s intent win the PL crown is as refreshing as it is likely.

The England national team captain, 33,  knows other teams are flagging to get over the finish line, while his side are cruising. One of the things that’s impressed me so much about Liverpool is the relentless high-pressure approach imposed by manager Brendan Rodgers. United couldn’t deal with the visitors’ hunger to win the ball, as a midfield trio of Jordan Henderson, Joe Allen and Gerrard provided, once again, a steady and inspiring base.

(MORE: Latest Premier League standings)

If you look at Gerrard’s heat map on the left, Liverpool’s captain plugged the gaps vs. Man United superbly, as well a netting two penalties, which allows the other midfielders to pour forward and hold higher lines up the pitch to dispossess the opposition.

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Click to enlarge: Average position of Liverpool’s players vs. Man United. Source: Opta

One player whose excelled at that is Henderson. The England international is channeling his sublime guile and determination in a hugely constructive way. Allen started alongside those two, with the tiny Welshman knitting everything together superbly well, as intricate passing brought a calming influence to proceedings and helped the Reds win the midfield.

The shape of Liverpool’s midfield is also interesting, if you look at the average position map on the right (handed to me by our good friends at Opta) you can see Gerrard’s deep-lying lynchpin role allowing full backs Johnson (2) and Jon Flanagan (38) to push on and almost play like wing backs. With Henderson and Allen tucked inside, the channels are covered and stop teams from pumping one ball into the corner to get in behind the Reds.

The passing matrix on the left, which totals how many times each players passes to each other, shows plenty of passes between both full backs and the midfield trio, with Henderson exchanging passes with Glen Johnson 14 times and Gerrard picking the ball up from the center backs 12 times. That ease of taking the ball from defenders and dictating the flow of the game has served Liverpool well, and with Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez ready to pounce and finish whenever they get a sniff of goal.

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Click to enlarge: Liverpool’s pass matrix vs. Man United. Source: Opta

Liverpool, as Stevie G said, are real title contenders. So get used to the idea of seeing the PL crown draped in red ribbons at the end of this season. Chelsea and Manchester City visit Anfield in April, with the Reds remaining fixtures looking extremely manageable aside from those two monster clashes.

Their remaining games are against: Cardiff (away), Sunderland (home), Tottenham (home), West Ham (away), Man City (home), Norwich (away), Chelsea (home), Crystal Palace (away), Newcastle (home).

Could the title be on show at Anfield on May 11 when Liverpool host Newcastle? Now, more than at any point this season, that seems like a distinct possibility.

Premier League Schedule – Week 30

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

CHELSEA LOSE THE PLOT

In stoppage time Saturday at a fired up Villa Park, Chelsea were two-men down, one goal down and then lost manager Jose Mourinho, who was sent to the stands. They also lost for the first time in 15 games.

During Villa’s 1-0 win, Fabian Delph’s superb late goal (“I just Cruyff-ed it into the corner”) compounded with Willian’s sending off to ensure Chelsea’s frustration boiled over as Ramires stomped on Karim El Ahmadi. In the melee that ensued right in front of the benches, Mourinho and Villa manager Paul Lambert were both on the pitch as well as their backroom staff. Mourinho, of course, stayed on the pitch for a little longer than everyone else and after asking referee Chris Foy a question (according to Mou) he was sent off.

(MORE: Mourinho hints that Chris Foy should not be allowed to ref future Chelsea matches)

Chelsea’s implosion came after another display which saw them fail to carve out many clear cut chances, as Fernando Torres cut a forlorn figure as a lone forward. After the final whistle, Mourinho failed to open his mouth in fear of being banned for his comments, but the Portuguese boss was clearly upset with the way his side were treated. The pivotal moment came when Willian was sent off for a pretty ridiculous second yellow card. The Brazilian winger chased Delph back in 68th minute and hardly touched Villa’s midfielder. Yet Willian was shown another yellow amid jeers of the 40,000 plus home fans. To compound Mourinho’s misery, he was just about to substitute Willian one minute earlier but decided to take off Oscar instead. Luck was against Chelsea on Saturday.

So, after going down to 10-men Chelsea couldn’t handle the heat and promptly shot themselves in the foot several times, as their charge for the PL crown took a hit. For so long they’ve seemed to thrive on the pressure this season and come through it, but at a sold out Villa Park on Saturday evening they failed to assert their dominance. Another title contender fared far better after having a man sent off, though. Step forward, Manchester City.

MAN CITY’S SPIRIT, SPITTING, STUD MARKS

At the end of a week which saw them crash out of the FA Cup to lower-league opposition and then dumped out of the UEFA Champions League by Barcelona, the last thing Man City needed was to go down to 10-men away at Hull City on Saturday. But it happened, very early.

However the way the Citizens reacted to losing captain Vincent Kompany after just nine minutes of their 2-0 win over Hull City was quite remarkable. David Silva bent in an unstoppable shot into the top corner four minutes later to put City 1-0 up, then Manuel Pellegrini’s men regrouped marvelously well and defended superbly against a stubborn Hull side who whipped countless crosses into the box, but marshaled by a determined Martin Demichelis they kept a high line to keep Hull at bay. A late clincher from Edin Dzeko sealed the win, which means if City win their games in hand, they will go above Chelsea and sit top of the standings.

I was at KC Stadium to witness City’s superb resilience, 0rchestrated by the incredibly calm Silva, as they kept the ball for long periods and at times looked like they were playing against 10-men rather than the other way around. After a fiery Yorkshire-Lancashire clash, a rivalry which runs much deeper than these two teams, there are plenty of things to clean up.

First, Kompany may be facing a longer ban after his sending off. City’s Belgian skipper seemed to make an obscene gesture then kicked the brick wall in the tunnel leading from the pitch. After leaving his stud marks behind (proof below from the BBC team in the tunnel) and dishing out insulting gestures, Kompany could be facing an FA ban to go on top of his one-game suspension for taking down Nikica Jelavic as the last man. If he’s disciplined for making the gesture, Kompany could miss City’s derby with Manchester United on March 25.

Other City players were involved in the thick of things after he’d departed, with goalkeeper Joe Hart squaring up to Hull attacker George Boyd after the Tigers man appeared to dive in the second half. What happened next wasn’t originally caught by TV cameras at the KC, but from a different angle you can clearly see Boyd spit at Hart during a heated confrontation. For that, he should get a ban and a fine from the FA. It wasn’t a penalty kick as Boyd went over and was looking for contact, which is bad enough, but there’s no place for that kind of behavior in the game. At all. That clash personified a niggly affair which threatened to boil over throughout.

(MORE: Pellegrini questions Kompany’s red card, praises Manchester City’s resilience)

Afterwards both managers were asked about the incident, to which Manuel Pellegrini stated he felt Kompany was fouled by Jelavic and referee Lee Mason missed it. Then Hull manager Steve Bruce defended Boyd for his dive when nudging the ball past Hart, and brought up an interesting point to the gaggle of journos piled into the cramped press room at the KC stadium.

“Let me tell you, there’s a difference between simulation, diving, cheating if you like, and trying to get out the road,” Bruce said. “Boydy is not going to stand there with Joe Hart hurtling towards him. He is going to try and get out the road, and stay on his feet. Obviously he has gone over, how many times have we seen it. But the referee was on the spot, and I think he made the right decision [to not give a penalty].”

TOP FIVE GOALS: HAVE WE HAD A BETTER WEEK THIS SEASON?

We are into the 30th matchday of the PL campaign, and I can’t remember seeing a stronger top five goals video than the one compiled below. From Silva’s stunning long-range bender to Delph’s deft-flick and Tomas Rosicky’s howitzer, we had a plethora of top strikes to choose from as our favorite from the weekend. Sit back, get some popcorn and watch “reem” goals fly in from all angles.

Your favorite? Let me know in the comments below. Mine? I love Silva’s strike. The way he shifted the ball onto his left and bent and unstoppable drive into the top corner was sublime, especially given the importance of the moment as City had just gone down to 10-men and needed a boost after a tricky stretch. But whichever goal you pick from the five below, you can’t go wrong.

FINALLY, PERFECT EXAMPLE WHY GOAL-LINE TECH IS NEEDED

In the grand scheme of a hectic PL season, these kind of calls matter. No wonder millions of dollars was spent on bringing goal-line technology in, but until now it hasn’t had too many close decisions to call. Scratch that, on Saturday Fulham were a fine horse hair away from taking the lead against Newcastle.

In the past, it all went down to the judgement of the match officials to determine whether or not a ball went over the line. With the Goal Decision System (GDS) in place for the 2013-14 season, now technology makes it easier for the officials. When Johnny Heitinga smashed an effort off the underside of the crossbar, it looked like the ball was clearly over the line. But to the amazement of everyone, the entire ball didn’t go over.

Look at the image below from GDS, and you’ll see that a smidgen of the ball is on the line which proves just how precise and incredible this technology is. No goal. Fulham, who in the end beat Newcastle United fair and square 1-0, are scrapping for survival and although in the past a goal like that may have been awarded without GDS to their advantage, they can rest easy knowing no incorrect goals will be given to opponents or relegation rivals down the stretch.

The old saying that close calls “even themselves out over the course of the season” no longer applies. GDS is here to make sure everyone gets a fair crack of the whip. To see close calls, red cars, stunning goals and controversy, an enthralling weekend of PL action is below.

Premier League Playback takes an alternative look at all the weekend’s action from the PL, it comes out every week.

Transfer news: Milik to Arsenal; Telles to Chelsea

Milik
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In the latest transfer Alex Telles is the latest left back linked with a move to Chelsea, while Arsenal are reportedly the favorites to sign striker Arkadiusz Milik.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Starting in north London, Arsenal continue to be linked with a host of attacking players ahead of the upcoming transfer window and Arkadiusz Milik is the latest.

The Napoli and Poland star, 26, has long been linked with a move away from the Stadio San Paolo and given the fact that the Naples club look unlikely to qualify for the UEFA Champions League next season, the likes of Milik, Kalidou Koulibaly and a few others may have to move on to offset the huge loss of funds.

Per the report Italian outlet Repubblica, Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis is keen to offload Milik and would rather sell him to Arsenal than another Serie A rival, as Juventus are reportedly interested too. Napoli could lower their asking price for Milik, who is out of contract next summer, if a Premier League club emerges as a genuine contender to sign him.

The sticking point for the Gunners? Milik would cost $45 million and Mikel Arteta’s side don’t seem to have significant transfer funds as they’ve been linked with plenty of loan and swap deals ahead of the summer window.

That said, if Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leaves this summer (he has just one year left on his contract) and Alexandre Lacazette is also sold and sent to Atletico Madrid in a swap deal for Thomas Lemar, Arteta will have some extra cash a huge drop in his wage bill to work with.

Milik, on paper, would seem to suit the Premier League well. He reminds me of Edin Dzeko as he can hold the ball up, is powerful in the air and despite his horrendous luck with injuries he is still extremely mobile and can lead the line. Arteta seems pretty happy with young strikers Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah who he used often in central roles before the suspension in March but Milik has plenty of experience and would be a focal point to their attack.

Telles
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Moving to west London, Chelsea are reportedly want to buy Telles from FC Porto but face stiff competition from Paris Saint-Germain for the Brazilian full back.

According to Le 10 Sport in France, Chelsea and PSG will battle it out for the Porto left back and they claim that Chelsea have been tracking Telles for some time and have a jump start on other clubs. He is only contract to Porto until the summer of 2021, so there’s a cut-price deal to be made there.

Telles, 27, made his debut for Brazil last year and after starting his career in his homeland he’s played for Galatasaray, Inter Milan on loan and now Porto for the last four seasons. He is considered as one of the best full backs playing in Portugal and has chipped in with 21 goals in 183 appearances in all competitions for Porto.

As we’ve mentioned before, Chelsea need a more solid left back defensively but Frank Lampard still has an attacking playing style and therefore Telles seems like a very good fit. Emerson Palmeri is a little too defensive, while Marcos Alonso is too attack-minded and left back is an area where the Blues clearly want to strengthen in the upcoming transfer window. They’ve been linked with Nicolas Tagliafico and others and as clubs start to circle across Europe for Telles, Chelsea’s intentions will perhaps become clearer in the weeks ahead.

VIDEO: Top 10 players in the world as soccer resumes

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Who are the top 10 soccer players in the world right now as the season is about to resume in multiple leagues?

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

With the Bundesliga in full flow for a few weeks, Spain’s La Liga will return next week and the Premier League and Serie A will follow the week after.

Given that there are so many superstars scattered across those four leagues, here’s a list of the top 10 players set to be in action over the summer months as we will be treated to a sort of bonus World Cup with multiple leagues spreading out games over multiple days as top four, title and relegation battles take center stage.

From Manchester to Milan and Barcelona to Berlin, there will be so many superstars in full flow in the coming months.

Of course, the Ligue 1 season in France is canceled so we can’t watch Neymar and Kylian Mbappe for at least a few months. If we could, the Paris Saint-Germain duo would be high up on the list of top 10 players in the world right now as the soccer world gets ready to resume in empty stadiums.

Top 10 players in the world who will be in action this summer

10. Ciro Immobile (Lazio)

9. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)

8. Sadio Mane (Liverpool)

7. Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)

6. Eden Hazard (Real Madrid)

5. Bruno Fernandes (Man United)

4. Kevin de Bruyne (Man City)

3. Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)

2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus)

1. Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

Which clubs have toughest, easiest remaining PL schedule?

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Now we know that the Premier League will return on June 17, which clubs have the toughest and easiest remaining schedule to navigate?

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Our partners at Sky Sports in the UK have taken a deep dive into the remaining schedule for all 20 Premier League clubs and it is intriguing to see this list. I love this kind of analysis.

Based on the current Premier League table, our partners have calculated the average position of teams who all 20 clubs have to face in their remaining schedule.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

First, here’s the list and below we will break down which Premier League clubs have the toughest or easiest remaining schedule and why.


Average opponent position

Man United: 12.3

Man City: 12.1

Wolves: 11.8

Southampton: 11.7

Newcastle: 11.4

Leicester: 11.3

West Ham: 11.3

Chelsea: 11

Norwich: 11

Everton: 10.7

Burnley: 10.6

Liverpool: 10.6

Arsenal: 10.5

Tottenham: 10.4

Watford: 10.1

Sheffield United: 9.4

Brighton: 8.6

Aston Villa: 8.4

Crystal Palace: 8.2

Bournemouth: 8.2


Analysis

This is very revealing when it comes to the ‘strength of the remaining schedule’ for all 20 Premier League clubs and explains why some fans are still hesitant to see their teams back in action, while others are licking their chops in anticipation of a late-season surge up the table.

In short: if you are Bournemouth, Aston Villa and Brighton you could struggle in this relegation battle. All three clubs have plenty of the big boys left to play, while fellow relegation rivals West Ham and Norwich have much easier schedules, on paper, to navigate.

As for the top four battle, Man United look to have a clear edge on Chelsea in the race for fourth place but Wolves are also high in this list so Nuno Espirito Santo’s side look well sit to finish off another remarkable season with a flourish. Sheffield United have a very tough remaining schedule so if they can stay in the top six it will be a fabulous achievement for Chris Wilder’s side, while we should keep an eye out for Southampton and Newcastle to potentially make a late surge up the table given the respective strength of their schedules.

However, this is just a study on the average position of teams they are facing. It doesn’t taken into account the players now available after recovering from injuries which impacted plenty of clubs in varying degrees, or the fact that different teams will adapt differently to playing in empty stadiums. If the Bundesliga is anything to go by, away teams have dominated so far and that could mean that the more away games Premier League teams have left in their schedule (six of Villa’s final 10 games are at home, while six of Sheffield United’s final 10 games are away) the more points they could pick up.

We all know funny things happen late in the season every season and with an intense scrap for the top four, Europa League spots and the battle against relegation, previous form can go out the window as desperation sets in. Still, stats like these are fascinating to sift through and give us an inclination as to wide to expect on a general level.

Liverpool, Man United show support for Black Lives Matter

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Liverpool and Man United have joined the growing number of clubs and players across the world offering their support to the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA and honoring George Floyd.

Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN last Monday there have been widespread protests across the USA.

A video showed former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, putting his knee on George Floyd’s neck for more than 8 1/2 minutes. Chauvin was arrested last Friday and charged with murder, authorities confirmed.

Over the weekend Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho and Achraf Hakimi revealed messages of support on their jerseys, while USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie wore an armband saying ‘Justice for George’ and Borussia Monchengladbach’s Marcus Thuram took a knee after he scored in the Bundesliga.

On Monday Liverpool players posted a photo of their entire squad taking a knee around the center circle at Anfield during a training session with the message Black Lives Matter and Unity is Strength, while Man United star Marcus Rashford released a powerful statement on the widespread protests across the USA.

Paris Saint-Germain and France superstar Kylian Mbappe also posted an image on social media with the caption “police with us, not against us.”

Across the soccer world clubs and players are speaking out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and honoring George Floyd.