PST’s Second-Choice Team of the Year (Because what’s the PFA, anyway?)

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The Professional Footballers’ Association released its Team of the Year on Sunday, an XI full of top-end talent. The question: could we put together a team to rival a unit that rolls out Petr Cech, Gary Cahill, Luke Shaw, Vincent Kompany, Seamus Coleman, Steven Gerrard, Adam Lallana, Yaya Toure, Eden Hazard, player of the year Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge?

Well you know we’re going to try…

Goalkeeper: Loads of respect to Cech, but there have been plenty of brilliant keepers in the Premier League this year that could’ve been named to the post. Bad teams don’t get love in these award team, so we can dismiss Sunderland’s Vito Mannone, who has been strong for a bad, bad Black Cats team. I also think Asmir Begovic of Stoke might be the best keeper in the league, but a Potters player would be a bit of a headscratcher, no? Let’s stick top of the table: Tim Howard (Everton) and Wojciech Sczezsny (Arsenal). I won’t let any American bias make this decision for me, so we’ll defer to the mighty Squawka scores and crown the Gunners keeper as our No. 1. To be fair to Cech, he was heads and tails above the competition from New Year’s Day onward.

Defenders: Plenty of room for consternation here, as British buzz dominates the PFA’s team. We’ll start there, too, plugging in diminutive defender Leighton Baines of Everton. After that we’ll go decidedly “off the island,” with Arsenal’s “BFG” Per Mertesacker next to nail-eating Liverpool center back Martin Skrtel. The latter was strong in the air and toward the goal for the Reds, bagging a pair of braces in the new year. If we’re looking for a true team we need to leave out Hull’s strong English center back Curtis Davies, Cardiff City’s Steven Caulker and Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny. We’ll go with Serbian star Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea.

Midfielders: So. many. choices. We’ll start with crafty Frenchman Samir Nasri of Manchester City. I choose Nasri over David Silva mainly because the latter only appeared in 24 matches (Silva was one of only two midfielders to have a higher possession Squawka score than Nasri). I left out Michael Carrick for injury reasons as well; You could argue his absence hurt Manchester United as much as any other player (You’d be wrong: it was RVP. But I digress). We’ll take a serious look at Jordan Henderson of Liverpool despite his awful tackle in the final moments against City; the former Sunderland player has been a revelation. I’m going to wave back to my “have to be top of table” comments here — especially with the liberty I’m taking at forward — as Mile Jedinak of Crystal Palace has been an absolutely fantastic defensive midfielder in the Eagles resurgence. We’ll plug Everton’s Kevin Mirallas on the right side. As for the left, it’s a bit of a beggar’s spot but I’ve loved Christian Eriksen of Spurs. His crosses are marvelous.

Forwards: This is a team of the year, which unfortunately precludes us from choosing the super dangerous Sergio Aguero of Manchester City. If you were to head back to December and tell the world he wouldn’t be in the team of the year, it’d be shocking. I suppose we have to be honest and call Wayne Rooney a striker despite his box-to-box play, so he gets one of our bids. That leaves a real struggle for me: Swansea City’s Wilfried Bony, Everton’s Romelu Lukaku and Southampton’s Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez each did a job for the teams. Frankly, I love the year Bony had a bit under the radar at Swansea, with not a heck of a lot of quality balls getting to him. And he didn’t build up his 15 goals against chumps alone; Bony scored at Arsenal, at Everton, at Liverpool and in Europe. He also bested City twice at home. Not bad.

PST’s “Second-Choice” Team of the Year
GK: Wojciech Sczezsny, Arsenal
LB: Leighton Baines, Everton
CB: Per Mertesacker, Arsenal
CB: Martin Skrtel, Liverpool
RB: Branislav Ivanovic, Chelsea
LM: Christian Eriksen, Tottenham
CM: Jordan Henderson, Liverpool
CM: Samir Nasri, Manchester City
RM: Kevin Mirallas, Everton
ST: Wayne Rooney, Manchester United
ST: Wilfried Bony, Swansea City

Lascelles admits Newcastle in for “long, tough season”

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Newcastle captain Jamaal Lascelles admits the players are prepared for a difficult campaign after dropping into the relegation zone early in the season.

After a third defeat in their first five Premier League matches, falling 3-1 to leaders Liverpool, the English defender labeled the upcoming match against Brighton & Hove Albion “our biggest game yet” and admitted this season could provide some trying times. “We have had a tough run at the start of the season, tough for any team. So it is going to be a long tough season. Ie have a good 11, a good squad and a lot of bodies. When we start finding the net we will get going.”

Newcastle will be buoyed by the knowledge that of those three losses, two came against Liverpool and Arsenal while the third came against a red-hot Norwich City side. The Magpies also topped Champions League finalists Spurs 1-0 and managed a draw against a struggling Watford side before falling to Liverpool last time out.

“We were in a decent position, a win against Spurs and draw against Watford,” Lascelles said after the Liverpool loss. “Now we need to push and get three points against Brighton. These games are six pointers at home to Brighton, we have to fancy ourselves. They will be big competition for us and Saturday is the right time to do that.”

Lascelles admitted that while the defensive form is a struggle at the moment having conceded eight goals through the first five matches with just one clean sheet – the win over Spurs – everyone is hoping to chip in up front as well, an attacking mentality that flows through the team. “We’re not happy conceding three against Norwich and Liverpool,” Lascelles said. “We are getting chances and creating a lot. When a couple of people start scoring the goals will be flowing and we have had a couple injured as well. It is important we all chip in with goals. I’d like to get a few. Fab [Schar] is a goal scoring centre half. He puts important points on the board. If we and midfielders can help out we will get to 40 points sooner than later.”

Lampard, players look to play down Chelsea penalty incident

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Chelsea manager Frank Lampard and his players have come together in hopes of playing down the incident at the end of the game that led up to Ross Barkley‘s fateful missed penalty late in the 1-0 Champions League loss to Valencia on Tuesday.

Barkley appeared to take the ball off a host of other Blues players who wished to take the penalty, with Willian and Jorginho looking the most vocal. Jorginho conceded rather quickly, but Willian was more insistent in his wish to take the spot-kick, pulling up his socks in front of Barkley before finally conceding.

[ Azpilicueta also backs Barkley ]

According to Lampard, Barkley was indeed the designated penalty taker and his assistance was within protocol. “Ross is the penalty taker,” Lampard said in the post-match press conference. “He was pre-season, scored a couple, has been when he started, and was today when he came on and he missed it, clear story.”

“I don’t know what the conversation was,” Lampard continued about the confrontation, “but Jorginho and Willian were penalty takers on the pitch, but when Ross comes on he’s the penalty taker, and he’s missed it.”

[ MORE: Recap, 3 things from Chelsea loss ]

Barkley confirmed this as well after the match. “We’ve got a lot of good penalty-takers in the squad,” said Barkley. “On a sheet in the changing room, it says I’m on penalties when I’m on the pitch, otherwise it’s Jorginho.”

Willian, who was far more demonstrative on the pitch about taking the penalty, said he was disappointed to miss out, but he stands behind his teammate. “I wanted to take it but he (Barkley) was confident to take it. This is football. He missed the penalty but it could be me that missed, or Jorginho or whoever. So football is like this. But when we win, we win together, and when we lose, we lose together.”

Chelsea needs to wait “48 hours” to assess Mount

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Mason Mount‘s move from the Championship to the Premier League has been nearly seamless.

His adjustment to the Champions League was cut down too quickly to get an understanding of whether it would be too big of a jump.

[ MORE: Match recap | Barkley drama ]

Mount, 20, was chopped down by Valencia’s Francis Coquelin, the former Arsenal man, and had to leave the game after just 16 minutes.

Here’s Frank Lampard, from ChelseaFC.com:

“He’s got an ankle injury but we don’t know how bad it is. We’ll have to assess it in the next 48 hours to see the scale of the injury. It was a shame because he started the game well and it meant we had to make the change early on.”

Mount scored nine times with four assists on loan under Lampard at Derby County last season, and has already chipped in three goals for Chelsea this season.

Lampard turned to Pedro off the bench on Tuesday, but any lengthy absence for Mount will spell more time for American youngster Christian Pulisic.

UEFA Champions League Wednesday preview: Man City, Spurs debut

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Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur begin their UEFA Champions League campaigns on very different results and with very different vibes.

City is coming off a stunning 3-2 loss to injury-hit Norwich City, and is set up in Ukraine to face Shakhtar Donetsk for the third-straight season, a side which beat Pep Guardiola once in four tries between 2017/18 and 2018/19 in the UCL.

[ MORE: UCL Tues. wrap ]

But on Wednesday, Guardiola’s men are going to carry a similar feel to one of his old Barcelona teams, as Pep seemingly will have Fernandinho pull a Javier Mascherano and drop into the back line.

Yes, Fernandinho and Nicolas Otamendi are Manchester City’s hopes at center back, now that John Stones has joined Aymeric Laporte on the shelf.

“For me as a manager it’s an incredible challenge,” said Pep Guardiola. “But I believe a lot, people don’t know the spirit and resolve to solve this problem. The players going to come back with Dinho, Eric Garcia, Taylor Harwood-Bellis. … It’s happened, but what we are not going to do is complain. We have to have 11 players on the pitch and I like it, to find a solution. For the players as well to find an incredible step forward.”

Spurs, meanwhile, will simply be trying to build on any momentum gained by a 4-0 demolition of Crystal Palace at the weekend, a win which came after manager Mauricio Pochettino begged his side to “re-focus” after a relatively poor start to the season.

Now a bit more relaxed, Spurs head to Greece as the clear favorites against stingy Olympiacos. These are, after all, the finalists of last season’s tournament.

Pochettino won’t be sleeping on the challenge, from The London Evening Standard:

“They have good players and if we are not focused and don’t take our best game we are going to suffer. But last season we played in the final of Champions League, so it’s normal people think before the game, Tottenham is one step above Olympiacos but in the end you need to show it on the pitch.”

Spurs are one of two early kickoffs on Tuesday.

Full UCL Wednesday schedule

12:55 p.m. ET
Club Brugge v. Galatasaray
Olympiacos v. Tottenham Hotspur

3 p.m. ET
Bayer Leverkusen v. Lokomotiv Moscow
Paris Saint-Germain v. Real Madrid
Atletico Madrid v. Juventus
Dinamo Zagreb v. Atalanta
Bayern Munich v. Red Star Belgrade
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Manchester City