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.

River Plate to sponsor car in Indy 500

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There will be a soccer presence at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indianapolis 500.

On Thursday, Club Atletico River Plate announced, along with car owner Juncos Racing that Kyle Kaiser’s No. 32 car will feature a River Plate logo on the front of the vehicle. Juncos Racing is named after founder Ricardo Juncos, an Argentine native and clearly a big River fan.

Per a press release from River Plate, it’s the first time a soccer team is sponsoring a car in the Indy 500, which takes place this Sunday, May 26.

[READ: Pochettino hopeful Kane will be ready to make an impact in UCL final]

“As a River fan, I always wanted to have the logo of the Club in the car,” Juncos said in a press release.
“This race is very important for me. I am very happy and I believe that in the goal of River to expand into the Indy 500. From here to there will come positive things for both.”

Kaiser, just 23, is one of the new guys on the main IndyCar scene, especially after winning the IndyCar Lights title in 2017. It’s the racing equivalent of winning the Europa League. Unlike River’s reputation as one of the biggest clubs in South America, Kaiser just barely made it into the field all together, bumping former Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso out of the field by about one hundredth of a second.

While it’s cool to see a soccer team get involved in the Indy 500, a worldwide viewing event that’s also akin to a religious holiday throughout the state of Indiana, it’s another Buenos Aires club that really should have been the first to sponsor a car.

Racing Club, defending Argentine league champs, would have been terrific, Racing in Uruguay, or Racing de Santander in Spain. Perhaps one day in the future the three clubs can combine forces to sponsor an IndyCar event or a car competing in a race.

USSF, Relevant Sports clash in court over international matches

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NEW YORK (AP) A lawyer for a promoter asked a judge to order the U.S. Soccer Federation to sanction international league matches in the United States.

The USSF last month denied an application by Relevent Sports, a company partly owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, to have Ecuador’s Barcelona and Guayaquil clubs play on May 5 at Miami Gardens, Florida. The USSF cited an Oct. 26 announcement by FIFA that its ruling council “emphasized the sporting principle that official league matches must be played within the territory of the respective member association.”

During a half-hour hearing Thursday before New York Supreme Court Justice W. Franc Perry, a lawyer for the USSF argued the court should not hear the dispute and it should be sent to arbitration.

Blair G. Connelly, the lawyer representing the USSF, said because Relevent’s application included its executive chairman, Charlie Stillitano, as the FIFA-licensed match agent requesting approval to stage the game, Relevent was bound by a provision in FIFA’s match agent regulations requiring any dispute with a national association be submitted to arbitration. FIFA’s rules specify such a case be heard by its player status committee, whose decision could be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland.

“What they’re trying to do is outsource the court’s authority … to two bodies in Switzerland that don’t follow New York law and have nothing to do with it,” said Marc Litt, a lawyer for Relevent.

Connelly said the USSF’s decision could be overruled only if the court found it to be irrational. He also cited a 2007 decision by U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber in Illinois, who ordered a suit against the USSF by ChampionsWorld, a previous Stillitano-affiliated company, be stayed pending FIFA’s arbitration procedure.

“They are bound by the contracts their agent enters into on their behalf,” Connelly said.

Litt said FIFA never issued a formal regulation against international club matches in different countries and the USSF cited only a news release.

“Was U.S. Soccer irrational when it concluded that something that FIFA itself called a decision by its decision-making body was in fact a decision? We’re we crazy to think that? Was U.S. Soccer just in outer space?” Connelly said.

Litt claimed the USSF made its decision to protect Soccer United Marketing, an affiliate of the USSF and Major League Soccer.

“We believe that the only reason that they don’t want professional league matches that count in the United States is because that would damage Major League Soccer,” Litt said.

Relevent also attempted to stage the first Spanish La Liga match in the U.S., between Barcelona and Girona, at Miami Gardens on Jan. 26. That effort fell through following opposition from the governing body of Spanish soccer, the Real Federacion Espanola de Futbol, and the players’ union, the Asociacion de Futbolistas Espanoles.

Perry did not announce any decision.

Wenger hints he may be retired from management

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It’s been a year since Arsene Wenger‘s Arsenal departure was announced, and the legendary manager remains on the sidelines.

Whether by his choice or not, Wenger has spent the year away from soccer, instead vacationing and being a studio TV pundit in France. In his latest public comments, Wenger hinted that while he still plans to return to a role in soccer, he likely won’t be a club manager anymore.

“I thought I will come back into management very quickly, but I enjoyed taking a little distance,” Wenger told the BBC. Now I’m at a crossroads.”

Per the BBC, Wenger later added: “You will see me again in football. As a manager… I don’t know.”

In the weeks and months after Wenger was effectively forced out of Arsenal after 22 seasons, Wenger repeatedly said that he had many offers to return to management, and it was only a matter of time before he’d accept one of these offers. And yet, it’s been a year and Wenger remains on the outside, perhaps a clear sign that today’s soccer has passed him by, and unless he wants to move to the Middle East or another soccer outpost, he won’t be able to get a top job in Western Europe.

Despite his acrimonious exit, Wenger still supports the Gunners and had some thoughts on the team’s season, as well as the club’s run to the Europa League final.

“I miss competition and I miss Arsenal because I left my heart in there,” Wenger said. “I gave my life to this club for 22 years. Every minute of my life was dedicated to this club and I miss the values we developed inside the club.

“I support Arsenal. It will be forever my club.”

Pochettino hopeful Kane can “give us a hand” in UCL final

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Harry Kane returned to training this week as Tottenham continues preparations for the UEFA Champions League final.

The England and Tottenham captain has been out with yet another ankle injury since April 9. Initially feared he would be out for the rest of the season, Kane now looks set to play in the final match of the season, and his manager Mauricio Pochettino is hopeful he can make an impact.

“He’s training and has entered the final stage of his recovery, Pochettino told a conference in Bilbao, via video link, per AS. “We’re hoping he’ll be able to give us a hand – either from the start, from the bench or if not, then by giving us moral support in the dressing room. But we are optimistic that he’ll be able to help us on the pitch.”

Pochettino completed a magnificent feat guiding Tottenham to the Champions League final, but he may have one of the most difficult decisions he has to make in his managerial career ahead.

Should Kane be available to start, Pochettino has to decide whether he should break from the lineup that came back from a 3-0 deficit to Ajax, and potentially put Lucas Moura on the bench. If Tottenham loses, Pochettino is probably darned if he does, darned if he doesn’t with Kane.

Either Kane wasn’t fit enough to play and make a big impact, or he clearly was and he didn’t have enough time in the match.

Regardless, Pochettino will hope to have a full squad available, with Kane able to make a difference should be needed.