Premier League Playback: Everton’s top four stars, Man City and Liverpool get a hand

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EVERTON’S TERRIFIC TOP FOUR

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Click to enlarge: Teams percentage of passes in opponents half. Source: Opta

Sprinting towards the bench to celebrate with his manager, Everton’s on-loan striker Romelu Lukaku was a picture of happiness as he put the Toffees 2-0 ahead against Arsenal on Sunday. Eventually Everton went on to win 3-0, and everything that is good about Roberto Martinez’s side was epitomized in their comprehensive defeat of top four rivals Arsenal.

Pace, power, guile and calm in possession, Martinez’s men look focused and enthused from the start. They weren’t exactly frothing at the mouth either. There was coolness about the boys in blue, reminiscent of the way their manager approaches his job.

Their front four tore Arsenal to shreds, with Lukaku pulling out to the right to terrorize Nacho Monreal, Steven Naismith dropping in the hole to make penetrating runs at the heart of the Gunners defense, then there was the sheer pace of Kevin Mirallas on the left. To cap it off Ross Barkley came off the bench to replace the injured Leon Osman after seven minutes, and the Gunners couldn’t cope with his direct play and wide array of passing. Once again, Arsenal crumbled away from home early on against a top five team. They have now lost to Chelsea, Liverpool, Man City and Everton, conceding 20 goals in the process. Arsene Wenger looked shell-shocked after yet another lackluster display from his side.

With Arsenal slipping to fourth, after leading the way for 128 days of the season, they are now in real danger of losing the fourth and final Champions League spot to Everton. The Toffees are one point behind Arsenal and have a game in hand. Martinez’s men are in the driving seat, and after the Spanish tactician promised to deliver UCL nights at Goodison during his very first press-conference, he’s now six games away from delivering it.

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Click to enlarge: Everton are fifth in total shots in the PL, as their offense continues to fire. Source: Opta

Everton pin their opponents into their own half and as you can see on the left, a third of their passes are in the attacking third of the pitch. The quartet of Lukaku, Naismith, Barkley and Mirallas are key to UCL qualification. Those four possess pace, and the ability to pounce on any opportunities their opponents hand them. Lukaku has scored 14 goals, Naismith has eight and earned himself the nickname ‘super sub’, while Mirallas and Barkley have added six each.

Add in the likes of Aiden McGeady and Gerard Deulofeu, and the sheer variety of top attacking talents Martinez possess is frightening. This is why they are favorites for a top four spot. As you can see in the table from our buddies at Opta on the right, Everton have attempted 348 shots at an average of 10.9 per game after 32 matches.

That leaves the sixth in the most shots per game, and they have a game in hand on most of the teams above them, as they have a great chance to improve on their 52 goals scored. That’s equals an attacking quadrant that will bamboozle most PL teams, as they face Manchester United, Manchester City and Crystal Palace at home, plus Southampton, Sunderland and Hull away.

If the Toffees win those six games, they’re in the Champions League. What an incredible achievement that would be.

Premier League Schedule – Week 33

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 1-2 Fulham Recap and watch here
Cardiff 0-3 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here
Chelsea 3-0 Stoke City Recap and watch here
Everton 3-0 Arsenal Recap and watch here
Hull City 1-0 Swansea City Recap and watch here
Man City 4-1 Southampton Recap and watch here
Newcastle 0-3 Man United Recap and watch here
Norwich 0-1 West Brom Recap and watch here
Tottenham 5-1 Sunderland Recap and watch here
West Ham 1-2 Liverpool Recap and watch here

POOR DECISIONS – BIG TEAMS GET HELPING HAND?

If you look at the stats on penalty kicks awarded this season in the Premier League, there are two schools of thought.

The top three have all been awarded the most spot kicks because they’re favored by referees. Or, most likely, they are the most dangerous in the final third of their opponents half, therefore, winning a PK is much more likely. Which camp are you in? Liverpool, in first place, have been awarded 12 penalties, scoring 10, the most in the league. Then both Manchester City and Chelsea have been awarded the joint-second most with seven, as the second and third placed teams have also benefited from discrepancies against them in the box.

That said, conspiracy theorists had a field day last weekend, as both Liverpool and Manchester City had very poor refereeing decisions go their way. In the title race, those little decisions always seem to go in the favor of the big teams. I’m not accusing referees of preordained actions to hand one team an advantage over another, not at all. But I do think psychological factors come into play.

Manchester City’s pivotal second goal against Southampton, was clearly offside in the build up. As David Silva was four-yards behind Saints’ defense when he slotted the ball across to Samir Nasri to set City on their way in first half stoppage time.

As for Liverpool, they were awarded a dubious second half penalty which won them all three points against West Ham in a cagey affair at Upton Park. Watch the video of that below, as left back Jon Flanagan took the ball around Hammers ‘keeper Adrian, but the goalie got the ball and then clattered into Flanagan as referee Anthony Taylor pointed to the spot. Taylor was likely making up for his earlier error, as he let Andy Carroll batter Simon Mignolet on half time, as Guy Demel tapped in the equalizer for West Ham with Liverpool’s player incensed. Taylor’s linesman Stuart Burt raised his flag for the clear foul, but after a lengthy confrontation Taylor decided the goal was legit. So, he gave Liverpool a penalty that they probably didn’t deserve to even it up… Decisions like that seem to go for you when your at the top, and they make all the difference in the title race.

BOTTOM SEVEN ‘PANIC SACKING’

With five games to go, Norwich gave Chris Hughton his marching orders on Sunday following their 1-0 defeat to West Bromwich Albion in relegation clash. The Canaries are five points above the relegation zone, but have a run in that makes your eyes water. After this weekend’s crunch relegation six-pointer with Fulham, they face Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal in their final four games. Ouch. Hughton’s dismissal has been coming, Norwich have lost seven straight away from home, have signed two strikers for big money that have failed to deliver, and now youth team coach Neil Adams has been put in charge to try and salvage their season from oblivion. If Norwich lose against Fulham at Craven Cottage, they’re in big, big trouble.

The trend of sacking managers has become a fashionable one in the lower reaches of the standings for one reason and one reason only: money. The copious amounts of cash dished out to being part of the Premier League gravy train means teams are desperate to still be eating at the top table, year in, year out. The difference in financial rewards between the PL and the Championship is incredible. Nobody wants to drop to the second-tier.

With so many clubs nervous about relegation and the impact it will have on their finances, its no wonder their owners are trigger happy. Is it for the good of the game? Probably not. So much chopping and changing of managers is making less people attracted to taking on the job, and also isn’t giving any coach adequate time to implement his style and ideals. That fear of failure is having a huge impact on the shelf life of PL managers, and that will only get shorter as the finances continue to grow.

The current bottom seven have been ruthless in firing their managers. Hughton, Holloway, Jol, Mulensteen, Mackay, Clarke, Di Canio and Laudrup have all been dismissed this season on one ground: clubs can’t bear the thought of life outside the Premier League. It is a vicious circle for the clubs, fans, players and, most importantly, the managers. Money talks.

All of Saturday’s action, including that massive relegation battle between West Brom and Norwich, are in the video below.

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

Ex-England midfielder Gascoigne on trial for sexual assault

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LONDON (AP) — A prosecutor has alleged that former England midfielder Paul Gascoigne sexually assaulted a woman on a train by “forcibly and sloppily” planting an unwanted kiss on her lips.

Prosecutor William Mousley’s comments Monday came as Gascoigne, who has struggled with alcohol and mental-health problems, went on trial at Teesside Crown Court charged with sexual assault of the female passenger.

Mousley said the former England star “put his hands on her cheeks and kissed her forcibly and sloppily on the lips.”

The 52-year-old Gascoigne denies the charge.

The alleged victim has told the court that she froze when the man, who appeared drunk, kissed her in August 2018. She says she did not realize it was Gascoigne until after the alleged incident.

USMNT looks to build with Nations League visit to Canada

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The United States has faced much criticism since failing to miss out on the World Cup two years ago. If Gregg Berhalter is to silence the naysayers, he must use the Nations League as a building block for sustained success with a view towards 2022 World Cup qualifying.

Step 1 was completed Friday with a 7-0 demolition of lowly Cuba, and Step 2 comes Tuesday evening as the USMNT heads to Toronto to meet Canada at BMO Field, with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m. ET.

[ MORE: An in-depth look at Canada ]

The United States did the job at hand, soundly beating a far inferior opponent, allowing the squad to move forward quickly and emphatically. There is plenty more to prove, but the engine is revved and the gas pedal pressed. Still, Berhalter and company must remember this is a marathon not a sprint, and even the slightest slip in Nations League play will open the floodgates of criticism.

Seeing the bigger picture

The biggest thing for the USMNT to piece together in the Nations League is a sustained run of success that builds not just positive feelings but true momentum born by consistency. It will be fascinating to see the team chosen by Gregg Berhalter as he looks to put together consistent starting lineups that help build not just victories on the scoresheet but also chemistry between players who have a legitimate chance of seeing future lineups in more high leverage matches.

Against Cuba, positive performances can lend themselves to more opportunities down the line, but Berhalter must also be realistic about who has a chance to be contributors not just against the minnows of CONCACAF but also against teams the United States has aspirations of competing with. Against Cuba, Jordan Morris continued his revival as a winger, and he should be given more opportunities to build a relationship with Josh Sargent and Christian Pulisic up front. Jackson Yueill is another player who can earn his way into long-term contention, but it remains true that Michael Bradley is still the team’s best option at holding midfielder and requires minutes with the other consistent starters (although it would be interesting to see if the two can play together coherently). Reggie Cannon played well at right-back but incumbent DeAndre Yedlin deserves the chance to prove he’s still the correct choice after returning from a long injury layoff.

A view towards the future must be in the back of Berhalter’s mind, not just looking to achieve results but also achieve results with the right players. Meshing the correct squad now will unquestionably pay dividends down the road as the United States hopes to turn around recent negative results against teams like Mexico, Venezuela, Uruguay, Italy, and Colombia which fans aspire to be competitive against. With the start of World Cup qualification less than a calendar year away, the time is now to end the wild experimentation and begin dividing up the precious minutes between players who are considered legitimate possibilities for the potential 2022 squad.

18-year-old Alphonso Davies represents a youth movement with the Canadian national team that gives fans hope for the future (Photo by Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

Switching gears to Canada

Canada will no doubt present a tougher test than Cuba, but the United States will still be expected to emerge victorious, and anything less will represent yet another two steps back after one step forward.

The northern neighbors have high aspirations, hoping to challenge for World Cup qualification. Head coach John Herdman said in the run-up to Tuesday’s match that the United States may be a rival, but they’re also “standing in the way” of the ultimate goal, confident speech ahead of such a difficult test. LAFC midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye took it a step further, saying his play with the Canadian national team over the next few years “is going to help shape the foundation of how Canada is going to be in the next 10 years.”

Canada has a crop of young talent with Kaye joined by 18-year-old Bayern Munich winger Alphonso Davies and 19-year-old Gent youth product Jonathan David.

Still, they have not defeated the United States in their last 17 tries, dating back to 1985. Their last match was a measly 1-0 victory over the same Cuba squad that was obliterated by the US, forced to play 35 minutes a man down after Vancouver Whitecaps defender Doneil Henry was sent off. Canada still managed to hold a whopping 81% possession in that match, but worked just a single shot on target, which resulted in Davies’ 9th minute opener. They will need to be both more disciplined and more dangerous if they wish to pull off the upset in Toronto.

Projected lineup

— Steffan —

— Yedlin — Long — Ream — Lovitz —

— McKennie — Bradley — Roldan —

— Morris — Sargent — Pulisic —

Brad Guzan started the Cuba match in goal, but Zack Steffan is the true long-term option here and it would be natural to see him return to the lineup against the tougher opponent. Gregg Berhalter loves Aaron Long and his return could also be expected. As stated above, Bradley is a contentious selection among many fans but his presence calms the midfield, and he delivers a long ball forward like nobody else on the roster. The front three played exceptionally well against Cuba and it would be questionable to see anyone but those players start again with Jozy Altidore injured.

Prediction

The United States will no doubt face a tougher challenge, and the young attacking talent will test the in-flux back line. Yedlin at right-back will have the toughest test matching up with Davies defensively which could force him back more than Berhalter wants. It will be imperative for the midfield trio to establish control of the central areas and work forward from there. It can be expected that the United States will control the tempo, and if they stay calm, cool, and collected when Canada counters, they should come away with a nervy 2-1 victory.

Lyon hires Rudi Garcia as new manager

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Olympique Lyonnais has announced they have hired Rudi Garcia as manager, replacing the fired Sylvinho.

Lyon has struggled mightily to start the Ligue 1 season, winning just two of its first nine league games and sitting 14th in the table with nine points. Sylvinho, who was only hired at the end of May, was let go last week.

Garcia has formerly taken charge of Roma, Lille, and St. Etienne, and most recently managed Lyon rivals Marseille for three seasons before departing this summer. He left with Marseille having failed to claim a Champions League place amid the Ligue 1 top three.

“I chose Rudi Garcia because he is a fighter who, like us, has the ambition to win titles and succeed on the European stage,” said Lyon sporting director Juninho. The Brazilian had chosen his countrymate Sylvinho this summer, but made a change just nine matches into the season with the club winning its first two matches of the season and failing to win since. They have lost three of the last four, with all three defeats coming via a 1-0 scoreline. They have scored just five goals in the seven-match winless run, shutout on four different occasions.

The 55-year-old Frenchman will have plenty of proving to do to Lyon fans. Coming straight over from a direct rival, . Fans were outspoken about their cautious feelings, as the introductory tweet was ratio’d by those expressing a distaste for the hire.

“He is an experienced coach who has already won trophies,” added Juninho.“Wherever he has been, he has had above-average performances and has always managed to make the most of what he had at his disposal.”

Garcia’s first match in charge will be a home league match this weekend against Dijon, followed by a Europa League visit to Benfica.

Barcelona denounces Spanish court decision on Catalan independence

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Barcelona released a statement criticizing a recent Spanish Supreme Court decision that saw 12 political activists jailed for their role in the 2017 push for Catalan independence.

The statement said that “prison is not the solution” and called the decision “condemnatory.” Instead, the club said that “the resolution of the conflict in Catalonia must come exclusively from political dialogue.”

The political activists were punished for pushing through an October 2017 referendum in Catalonia that resulted in over 90% of the population voting for independence. The referendum was declared illegal by Spain and seen within the country’s political hierarchy as an act of treason.

As one of the biggest social institutions of Catalonia, Barcelona’s statement on the matter carries significant weight both within the region and across Spain. Barcelona games often feature flags and banners calling for Catalan independence. Catalonia has also made a recent push for an independent FIFA-recognized squad, unsuccessful to this point. However, they played their first match inside a FIFA-sanctioned international window this March against Venezuela.

As a result of the court decision, the Catalan Football Federation suspended all its matches for Monday in solidarity with the accused. This includes only clubs and leagues that fall under the federation, which does not include Barcelona, La Liga, or the Spanish national team.

“FC Barcelona also expresses all its support and solidarity to the families of those who are deprived of their freedom,” the club said in the statement. Gerard Pique re-tweeted the social media version of the statement, adding the caption “Proud to be part of this Club.” Pique is a Catalan native and has appeared for the Catalonia national team 10 times.