Quick Six: Gerrard’s slip, Mourinho’s gambit, and the rest of the headlines from the PL weekend

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1. Oh, Steven Gerrard

By Sunday night, Brendan Rodgers’ fixation on a pair of buses dominated headlines, but whether they were unintentional or clever, the sentiments only served to distract from the bigger stories surrounding Liverpool’s loss. Just as we had become comfortable with the idea the Reds would claim their first Premier League title, a 2-0 loss at home to Chelsea has handed control to Manchester City, with the team captain’s mistake allowing José Mouinrho’s largely second-choice lineup to take control at Anfield.

Of course, we can cite an array of mitigating factors to say Gerrard’s slip, giveaway, and inability to recover on Demba Ba’s late first half goal could have been offset. But we also know, against a team choosing to set up like Chelsea, the first goal could very well decide it. Sentimentally, we want to cast the importance of Gerrard’s mistake in a softer light. Practically, we may end up understating its severity.

(MORE: Liverpool 0-2 Chelsea: Blues stun leaders after Gerrard’s blunder)

Gerrard’s time at Liverpool had become one of the ledes when framing the Reds’ resurgence. Between 16 seasons at the club, his chances to leave, and his connection to Hillsborough, Gerrard’s personal story had become second only to the club’s revival when describing the significance of this title run. If his slip costs ends up being the difference, it will be too cruel.

(MORE: Rodgers slams Mourinho’s defensive tactics after loss)

2. José Mourinho’s “bluff” comes good

As the Chelsea manager threatened to start a second choice team at Anfield on Sunday, many onlookers were ready to call his bluff. Surely those were mere mind games. Then came a team where only one, maybe two players were both starters and playing in their normal position. Just as he’d threatened to do after drawing in Madrid, Mourinho put all his eggs in the Champions League basket.

But metaphorical eggs don’t win games. Players do, as does strong planning and, sometimes, good fortune. All three went in Mourinho’s favor on Sunday. His choices may have selected reserves, but those reserves played well, executing a plan that gave the team its best chance to stay in the title race. Along the way, it also preserved Mourinho’s key talents for Wednesday at Stamford Bridge.

This all circles back to our first point, though. Chelsea were going to have a difficult time getting out of Anfield with a win unless it got some help. Given Mourinho’s selection and tactics, Gerrard’s error looms even larger.

3. Manchester City solves Palace, takes control of title destiny

We’re still not so used to Crystal Palace being good that we’re ready to laud City’s 2-0 win at Selhurst Park. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t, though. As both Chelsea and Everton found out recently, Crystal Palace is capable of derailing various levels of European aspiration. The Eagles posed the same challenge to City’s title hopes.

So let’s laud. City not only managed the challenge at Selhurt; it broke through after four minutes. Yaya Touré’s return to the team put the Citizens up two at half time. They held Tony Pulis’s side to a mere three shots and did something no other team’s done since March. They beat Crystal Palace.

(MORE: Crystal Palace 0-2 Manchester City: Pellegrini’s men grab upper hand for title)

This is how talented teams are supposed to manage the Eagles, but it’s rarely actually happened. Palace had entered the game one a five-game winning streak and a chance to move into the top half. To City’s credit, that didn’t happen, with the Citizens’ performance showing the lessons of an up-and-down campaign could pay off in a hardened team’s title run.

4. Giggs restores sanity to Old Trafford as Van Gaal inches closer

Forgive Manchester United fans’ elation at a big win over Norwich City, but given what they’ve been through this season, fixating on one good result (no matter the opponent) is understandable. Their winter is finally over. The gloom that met each day of that final, grey season has given way to something brighter. Thanks to braces from Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata, Ryan Giggs’ managerial debut ended with 4-0 win over the visiting Canaries – a result that felt as much a rebuke of David Moyes’ era as the dawn of a new one.

(MORE: Manchester United 4-0 Norwich City: Giggs Era is off to a fantastic start (video))

That new one is inching closer. Monday morning headlines in England reflect what people have not-so-secretly whispering for months: Louis Van Gaal is going to be the next manager at Old Trafford. There was no secret handshake, nor were there any other promises made, but since mid-February — when Van Gaal has started aiming for the move amid news Moyes could be fired post-Olympiakos — all the pieces have lines up. The non-sensical idea that Carlo Ancelotti might leave Real Madrid for the post only confirmed the notion Van Gaal was the likely choice.

If United close the season as strong as it played on Saturday, some will call for Giggs to get a shot. His day will come, but that day’s not now. Van Gaal is the perfect choice to lift United back into the top four. After two years of him, though, the team will be ready to anoint Giggs their next chosen one.

5. Sunderland surge out of the drop

The Canaries’ loss was only the latest step toward what’s become an inevitable relegation, with a difficult closing stretch giving Norwich only faint hopes of climbing out of the bottom three. If that squad’s in need of inspiration, however, they need look no further than the team above them in the table. Closing out an 12-day, seven-point stretch, Sunderland’s 4-0 victory over Cardiff City vaulted the team out of the bottom three for the first time this season, with Gus Poyet’s side sitting 17th after Sunday’s result.

The loss leaves Cardiff City, the other club seemingly destined to go down, in last place, with only Fulham separating them from Norwich City. Given how the Whites have played under Magath, they’re capable of staying up, but they’ll need help from with Sunderland or Aston Villa. They’ll also need to avoid more disappointments like Saturday’s against Hull City.

Given the Villans were trounced 4-1 at Swansea on Saturday, Aston Villa looks most likely to oblige. Paul Lambert’s team has not won a game in six weeks.

 

source:
http://www.liverpoolfc.com

6. Luis Suárez – PFA Player of the Year

In one of the easiest votes in recent history, Luis Suárez’s peers made the right choice, handing out an award that’s been destined to go to the Uruguayan ever since Aaron Ramsey was injured this fall. Even if the Arsenal midfielder had stayed healthy, though, he would have had the near-impossible task of keeping up with one of the most prolific seasons in league history. Despite finishing up a carry-over suspension at the beginning of the season, Suárez has 30 goals – 11 more than the next non-Liverpool player on the Premier League’s scoring charts.

When Suárez came over from Ajax in 2011, most dismissed the notion he would ever replicate the ridiculous scoring rates he posted in the Netherlands. After all, the Eredivisie is a league where defense is only a theory. Yet after scoring 55 times over his last two Premier League seasons, Suárez has rekindled the notion. In his last two full seasons in Amsterdam, Suárez has 57 goals.

Suárez has turned the Premier League into the Eredivisie, as ridiculous as that sounds. In that light, a Player of the Year honor seems insufficient. I’m not saying we should create a Destroyer of English Leagues honor, but if we did, Suárez would be the lead contender for it.

FIFA propose salary cap, transfer fee talks

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FIFA president Gianni Infantino has proposed talks with leagues across the globe about potentially implementing a salary cap and limits on transfer fees as the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues.

The leader of soccer’s world-governing body released a lengthy video statement Saturday, in which he also asked league associations to work together to find the best solutions for the club and international calendar moving forward.

Last week he said FIFA wanted a ‘common sense’ approach to players who are supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and that players showing messages of support should be ‘applauded and not punished’ despite FIFA’s previously strict rules around players sharing political, religious or personal messages during games.

FIFA are working on a financial package which they hope to discuss with members and finalize in their next council meeting later this month but recent talks with associations across the globe have suggested a salary cap or transfer fees limit could work.

Here is what the FIFA chief had to say specifically when it comes to soccer adapting to the changing financial environment.

“On the financial and governance aspects, I also heard some interesting proposals on a wide range of topics,” Infantino said. “From salary caps to transfer-fee caps or other taxation mechanisms, to the possible obligation for governing bodies, competition organisers and clubs to build reserves or to contribute to a reserve fund which can be of assistance in hours of need such as now.

“I personally advocate for clearer and stricter financial regulations, imposing full transparency and good governance principles, and not only limiting this to the transfer system, but to the entire football ecosystem. FIFA is doing already a lot of work on this area, even if we face some strong vested interests who fight against our plea for a better global governance in our sport.

“Dear friends, we will need your full support and commitment to move to the next level of good governance in football globally. I think that these and other measures, projects and ideas should be discussed at all levels. I know that this is something that will spark intense debate, but debate is healthy, and we should speak about it all together – as we stand together during this difficult period.”

Quite how a salary cap or a limit on transfer fees would work remain to be seen but given the huge financial burden places on clubs during the coronavirus pandemic, it is a very plausible solution to help stop clubs from going out of business.

With governing bodies such as UEFA placing strict financial fair play rules on clubs to stop them from spending beyond their means, FIFA doing something similar would be possible.

Would clubs, leagues and associations sign up for these new rules? In the short-term, probably. Long-term, it would be tough. Nobody knows how long sports, and society, will be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and even if a vaccine is found and fans can return to stadiums and things go back to relative normality, the financial implications of the past four to five months is likely to be felt for years to come.

The salary cap system will not work for every league or even every region but as we’ve seen in Major League Soccer, it can bring stability and certain leagues need that across the globe.

Premier League confirm zero positive COVID-19 test results

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Following the latest batch of tests on players and club staff the Premier League have revealed that there were zero positive results out of 1,195 COVID-19 tests taken on Thursday June 4 and Friday June 5.

The last three rounds of testing has now seen one positive result as Tottenham Hotspur confirmed the individual that tested positive earlier week was one of their players or staff.

With the sixth round of testing now completed in the Premier League, a total of 6,274 COVID-19 tests have now been carried out with 13 positive results.

All players and staff at Premier League clubs will be tested twice a week during the strict return to training protocols put in place, as full contact training is now up and running and a restart date of June 17 has been set.

Here is the statement from the Premier League in full on the latest result:


The Premier League can today confirm that on Thursday 4 June and Friday 5 June, 1,195 players and club staff were tested for COVID-19. Of these, zero have tested positive.

The Premier League is providing this aggregated information for the purposes of competition integrity and transparency. No specific details as to clubs or individuals will be provided by the League and results will be made public after each round of testing.

Round 1: 17-18 May – 748 tested, with six testing positive from three clubs.
Round 2: 19-22 May – 996 tested, with two testing positive from two clubs.
Round 3: 25-26 May – 1,008 tested, with four testing positive from two clubs.
Round 4: 28-29 May – 1,130 tested, with zero testing positive.
Round 5: 1-2 June – 1,197 tested, with one testing positive.
Round 6: 4-5 June – 1,195 tested, with zero testing positive


Watford season restart preview

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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they are at ahead of the final nine weeks of the season as Watford are up next.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Focusing on Nigel Pearson’s Watford, they have battled back from an awful first half of the season (which included having three different managers) to drag themselves out of the relegation zone as things stand. However, there is plenty of hard work ahead for the Hornets as they try to preserve their Premier League status.

[ MORE: Every PL season restart preview ] 

Let’s take a closer look at all things Watford when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Watford were rock bottom and looked doomed heading into December but the turnaround since Nigel Pearson arrived has been remarkable. They won once in their opening 17 Premier League games of the season as first Javi Gracia then Quique Sanchez Flores were sacked, and Nigel Pearson arrived to bring organization and defensive stability. He has done more than that as home wins over Man United, Aston Villa, Wolves and Liverpool has breathed new life into their season. Now, Watford are still only out of the relegation zone on goal difference (one goal, to be exact) and if Aston Villa win their game in-hand they are back in the bottom three. That said, any Watford fan would have bitten your hand off in December had you offered them this scenario heading into the final nine games of the season. Their home form should see them over the line but there are plenty of tetchy games coming up between now and late July for Watford. If Troy Deeney can return to training and action, that will be a big boost, but losing Gerard Deulofeu to a serious knee injury just before the suspension was a cruel blow as he’d been the catalyst to turn their season around.


Tactical analysis: There’s no doubt Watford have the talent to be further up the table, just as it showed last season when they were battling in the top half for most of the campaign (before their famed second half of the season slump hit) and reached the FA Cup final. Putting players in the right positions is key and Abdoulaye Doucure has been vital to their turnaround in form. His surging runs from midfield were not impacting play enough earlier this season but Pearson has moved him into almost a No.10 role and he’s flourished. With Etienne Capoue and Will Hughes in deeper central midfield roles behind Doucoure, they have found the right balance in the engine room. The French midfielder causes havoc and has defenses dropping off, which allows the wingers and forwards around him to find space. Defensively, Ben Foster has been great all season in goal and Pearson is very good in setting up his teams to be tough to break down in two solid blocks and then lethal on the counter. Ismaila Sarr has settled down in his first season in the Premier League (Liverpool know all about that) and he will have a big say in their battle against the drop as he will cut in from the right flank. Watford are now sturdy and if Andre Gray can hold the ball up in Deeney’s absence, Sarr and Doucoure will give him plenty of support in attack.


Possible XI (4-2-3-1) 

—– Foster —–

— Feminia — Cathcart — Kabasele — Masina —

—- Capoue —- Hughes —- 

— Sarr — Doucoure — Pereyra —

—– Deeney —–


Remaining schedule:
Home: Leicester, Southampton, Norwich, Newcastle, Man City
Away: Burnley, Chelsea, West Ham, Arsenal

Predicted finish: They don’t have the easiest run-in but given the fact they’ve beaten Man United and Liverpool, we know this Watford side under Pearson has a shock up their sleeve. Wins against relegation rivals Norwich and West Ham will be key and they will likely need two more wins from their other seven games to have a chance. That is doable and I think with Bournemouth and Aston Villa having a very tough run-in, Watford will just stay up. Just. No matter what happens, Pearson has done a fine job to organize them and he is a master at orchestrating great escapes against relegation.

Dortmund beat Hertha on day of Bundesliga protests (video)

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Borussia Dortmund beat Hertha Berlin 1-0 in a hard-fought encounter at the Westfalenstadion, as Saturday saw Black Lives Matter protests and messages of support take place across the Bundesliga in Germany.

[ MORE: Bundesliga schedule

Dortmund and Hertha led the protests, as players and staff from both teams knelt as one before kick off to show support for the movement sweeping across the USA, Europe and now the world.

After Bayern Munich’s players wore armbands which read ‘Black Lives Matter’ and had warm-up shirts which called for an end to racism, while Dortmund had warm-up shirts on which read ‘No Justice, No Peace’ among other messages of support after widespread protests in the USA.

As for the action once the game started at Dortmund, Jadon Sancho (who last weekend paid tribute to George Floyd) went close on several occasions throughout but a battling and in-form Hertha came close to taking a shock lead in the second half but Alexander Esswein dragged his shot inches wide.

Moments later Dortmund finally broke through as Sancho clipped the ball into Julian Brandt who nodded down for Emre Can to calmly slot home and seal all three points.

The victory means Dortmund are steady in second place but are seven points behind leaders Bayern Munich with four games remaining. Hertha lost for the first time since the restart but remain well in the hunt for Europa League qualification.

Below are videos of the protests from both clubs, plus the game-winner for Can which just about keeps Dortmund in the title race.