Premier League Playback: Is this the best season in history?

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TITLE RACE BLOWN WIDE OPEN

We thought it was all over… it isn’t now!

Last week Liverpool seemed to have one hand on the Premier League title. All they had to do was grind out a draw with Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea at Anfield on Sunday. Instead, the Reds lost for the first time in seventeen PL matches, as a masterfully manufactured, and utterly Mourinho-esque, display gave Chelsea a stunning 2-0 win to turn the title race on its head.

With just three games to go Manchester City now have a slender advantage in the quest for the PL crown, as City, Liverpool and, to a lesser extent Chelsea, battle it out for the famous trophy.

(LATEST PREMIER LEAGUE STANDINGS)

Liverpool is still top of the standings, as they sit on 80 points with two games to go. Chelsea sit in second on 78 points with two games to go, while Manchester City are on 77 points but crucially they have three games left to play. The Citizens are in the driving seat, because if they win out, their goal difference is plus-8 over Liverpool. That means baring two mammoth wins for Brendan Rodgers’ side in their final two games, their destiny is no longer in their own hands.

The pressure is now all on City, will they crumble? Not according to Manuel Pellegrini.

“We always trust we can do it,” Pellegrini said. “After we lost to Liverpool I said we had to play three or four games more, each team, and in football all things can happen. We just had to win our games. We’ll see if we cope [with the pressure]. We must win the three games. I repeat: I’ve always said that all big teams must be under pressure to win the title.”

Pressure is building at the top and it is still building at the bottom too as Sunderland, Cardiff, Fulham, Norwich, West Brom and Aston Villa battle it out against the drop. More on that below, but ask yourself this question: is this the best Premier League season in history?

Premier League Schedule – Week 36

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

In what other campaign has the title race come down to goal difference, no team has been relegated with just two games to go and the battle for the top four is still, mathematically, open?

I’d argue we are witnessing the best ever season in the PL. Let’s enjoy the climax which is sure to be just as dramatic as the previous 36 weeks of action. This grueling slog which started last August could come down to one final kick in the final second of the final match of the season to decide the champion and who is relegated. That’s drama. That’s pressure. That’s the Premier League.

CHELSEA’S MASTERCLASS: HOW MOURINHO DID IT

If we call Liverpool’s tactics naïve. Chelsea’s were sublime. Time and time again the Blues cut their cloth accordingly and don’t mind digging in and grinding out results when they know that is the best thing to do. That is smart coaching.

For those of you out their screaming ‘anti-football, anti-football’ at the top of your lungs, you’re wrong. To do what Chelsea did on Sunday away at Anfield against a team going for 12-straight wins it extremely difficult and not many other sides can do it in world soccer. The shape, the organization, the discipline, for me it was almost as impressive as watching a team scoring six goals and tearing an opponent apart with scintillating attacking interplay. I say almost because we all love to watch goals hit the back of the onion bag. Yet this was a defensive masterclass, our analysts break it down in the video below.

Chuck in the factor that this mammoth game was sandwiched in-between two UEFA Champions League semifinals against Atletico Madrid and it’s even more impressive. Are you not impressed? Okay, how about this. 20-year-old center back Tomas Kalas was making his full debut at the heart of Chelsea’s defense, regular right back Bransilav Ivanovic slotted into the center, Ashley Cole came in from the cold again to play at left back and Cesar Azpilicueta swapped left back for right back in a totally new back four which looked as if it had played together for years.

In a recent interview with a Czech newspaper, Kalas said the following: “I am a player for training sessions. If they need a cone they put me there instead.” Afterwards I asked Mourinho about Kalas’ superb display at the heart of the Blues’ defense and the Chelsea boss was full of praise for the youngster thrown in at the deep end for just his third Chelsea appearance. The other two were as 89th minute substitutes, by the way.

“Beautiful. Beautiful,” Mourinho said. “Before the match we were laughing about it because big guys like Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole they had their debuts in the Premier League against small teams. And then this kid, Liverpool, Anfield, it is beautiful for him. He will not forget it.”

I was at Anfield on Sunday to watch Mourinho’s men undertake a grueling task. They time-wasted, they antagonized the home crowd and they got under the skins of Liverpool’s players and coaching staff. That was the plan. It worked perfect for Chelsea.

source:
Click to enlarge – Average position of Chelsea’s players vs. Liverpool.
source:
Click to enlarge – Average position of Liverpool’s players vs. Chelsea.

When Liverpool’s right back Glen Johnson made a raking crossfield pass in the second half, it illustrated Chelsea’s compactness perfectly. The back four of Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Kalas and Cole slid over seamlessly. In front of them the impressive Nemanja Matic and John Obi Mikel (more on their heroics in “three things we learned” right here) sat to clog up spaces for through balls and Chelsea’s wingers, Mohamed Salah on the right and Andre Schurrle on the left, tucked in as full backs. If you look at the picture on the left, you can see the average positions of Chelsea’s players against Liverpool.

You can see that Cole is tucked in almost in line with the left post, while Azpilicueta isn’t hugging the line at all. They entire back four sat on the edge of their penalty box, with Mikel, Matic and even Frank Lampard stationed in front of them.

The shape was sublime and completely nullified the threat of Liverpool’s attackers. In recent weeks both Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho have tucked inside and tried to play in behind Luis Suarez, they did that again on Sunday as you can see on the right from their average positions. Why did Rodgers not ask his men to go wide? They simply gave up.

Mourinho sacrificed the space on the flanks to let Liverpool whip crosses into the box. In open play, Liverpool haven’t got players who can rise high and head home. Sure, they are a threat from set pieces with their center backs going up for corners and free kicks. Yet time and time again they got the ball wide and floated balls in that either Ivanovic or Kalas cleared, or the hugely experienced goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer claimed with ease. It frustrated Liverpool’s lively wingers and they drifted inside to get on the ball. That’s exactly what Mourinho wanted.

When Chelsea broke and scored the second goal to wrap up the victory late on, take a look at Mourinho’s celebration in the video below, right in front of the home fans, as the Blues boss overcame the jibes about his tactical approach and his illness which had kept him away from the team leading up to the game, to put a huge dent in Liverpool’s title ambitions.

STEVEN GERRARD’S SLIP, LIVERPOOL’s NAIVETY

As captain fantastic Steven Gerrard slipped and stumbled before losing the ball as the last man just before half time at Anfield on Sunday, the home crowd held their breath as Demba Ba homed in on Liverpool’s goal. Chelsea towering striker then coolly slotted the ball past the onrushing Simon Mignolet and then… silence. Apart from the dull cheers of Chelsea traveling contingent in the far corner of the ground, the majority of the 44,000 plus fans inside Anfield were stunned.

source: AP
Gerrard’s slip let in Ba to set Chelsea on their way. Should the Liverpool skipper take the blame?

If any other player other than Steven Gerrard had made that mistake, at that crucial point of a game that was so pivotal in the title race, they would’ve be hung, drawn and quartered by the Liverpool faithful. Gerrard is more than just a player, he is the club’s inspirational leader who embodies the ethos and identity of Liverpool Football Club. Instead, as Anfield awoke from its stunned silence, the Kop began to chant Gerrard’s name. “Steve Gerrard, Gerrard,” as the England captain proved his immortality with Liverpool’s fans.

He made a mistake, but he’s made several high profile errors before. most notably two eerily similar back passes which were intercepted by first Thierry Henry in England’s opening group game of Euro 2004 and then when Liverpool were leading Arsenal late on in 2005 at Highbury. That’s right, we remember those two instances because they were so rare. They stick out like a sore thumb because 999 times out of 1,000 Gerrard makes the right decision, the right pass and the right move.

Whatever way you slice it up, Gerrard’s slip let Manchester City back into the title race. Liverpool’s manager still didn’t blame his skipper afterwards.

“This was a boy who has picked up this club time and time again,” Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said. “It was unfortunate. There is certainly no blame. We are in the position we are in because of him, he has been instrumental for us this season. It is just unfortunate he slipped over, it could’ve happened to anyone.”

Then Rodgers went on a rampage against Mourinho and Chelsea’s defensive tactics. We all know Rodgers loves to play attacking soccer, but what he said about his former employers was just plain wrong. Criticizing Chelsea’s style and saying “it is not difficult to coach” was a mistake from Rodgers. He set up his side naively on Sunday, as Liverpool went for the win when all they really needed was a draw. Rodgers’ flamboyant nature to persist with a swashbuckling style when Liverpool only needed to pick up a point was naïve. He should have resisted the urge to play Coutinho and Sterling from the start and tried to have coaxed Chelsea out of their ultra-defensive setup by keeping the ball at the back. The apprentice failed to handle the master’s tactics, as Liverpool must now rely on others slipping up if they’re going to win the title.

“You saw it today, there was probably two buses parked today instead of one,” Rodgers said. “It is a style of football. It is totally the opposite of what we want and our offensive mentality and direction. Give credit to them they won the game with bodies back in but it is not difficult to coach… 10 players on the edge of their penalty box. I was disappointed, with it. They got booked for time-wasting in the 93nd minute. Everyone could see from the start that was the plan, to frustrate.”

RELEGATION: SUNDERLAND & WEST BROM SURGE, FULHAM COLLAPSE

It was a big weekend for the bottom clubs in the PL last weekend, as Sunderland and West Brom have themselves every chance of getting out of trouble. As for Norwich, Fulham and Cardiff, only two games separate them from the dreaded drop.

Sunderland are in sensational form, as the Black Cats looked dead certs to stay up after a mammoth week for Gus Poyet’s men. Two weeks ago, it wasn’t looking so pretty for the Mackems as following their 5-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur I was in Poyet’s press conference where he said it would take a “miracle” and something “unique” for Sunderland to stay up. Well Gus, you have your miracle. Almost. Look at the image above and you can see how tight this race against relegation is. Wowza.

The Black Cats have drawn away at Man City, beat Chelsea away and then smashed sorry Cardiff 4-0 at home on Sunday. Sunderland are out of the relegation for the first time since February 10, as Connor Wickham has emerged as an unlikely hero with five goals in his last three games. As for the Baggies, they ground out a crucial win over West Ham thanks to Saido Berahino’s early goal. That 1-0 win lifts Pepe Mel’s side four points above the bottom three with a game in hand. They should, should being the operative word, be safe. As for Norwich, they slip into the drop zone on goal difference after losing to Manchester United and the Canaries’ final two games are against Chelsea and Arsenal. Villa are only two points above Norwich, as Paul Lambert’s side haven’t won in six and were hammered 4-1 away at Swansea as their woeful end to the campaign continues.

Then we come to Fulham. Felix Magath’s side blew their chance to get out of the bottom three on Saturday, big time. Leading 2-0 with 15 minutes to play against Hull City, the Cottagers hit the self-destruct button as calamitous defending saw them drop deeper and deeper, as the Tigers pounced twice late on to bag a 2-2 draw and deal Magath’s men a hammer blow.

Rebecca and the boys analyze the relegation run-in above, as this crazy PL season keeps twisting and turning right until the very end.

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

Brighton vs Tottenham: How to watch, live stream link, TV channel, team news

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Brighton vs Tottenham is an early-season test of credentials as the host Seagulls look to show their top-four quality is on the level of their third-place visitors at the Amex Stadium (watch live, 12:30pm ET Saturday on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

The Seagulls have given new manager Roberto De Zerbi a solid start in taking over for Graham Potter, who left for Chelsea.

STREAM LIVE BRIGHTON vs TOTTENHAM

Now they’ll look to show that the team has plenty in the tank for a long run in the European places, currently three points behind Spurs with a match-in-hand on the North Londoners.

Tottenham has looked solid but also knows it has to show the 10-man North London derby loss was a fluke.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Brighton vs Tottenham.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


How to watch Brighton vs Tottenham live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 3pm ET, Friday
TV Channel: USA Network
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com


Key storylines & star players

Brighton’s been getting so much of its offense from Pascal Gross and Leandro Trossard, the latter coming off a hat trick and in the upper end of the Premier League leaders in both goals and assists. Alexis Mac Allister has been solid in the midfield and at the penalty spot.

Spurs continue to use Harry Kane in the Starting XI time and time again, and the English center forward hasn’t worn down yet. A midweek scoreless draw in Germany against Eintracht Frankfurt will see Spurs show up to the party with more miles on their legs than the home team.


Brighton team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Jakub Moder (knee), Enock Mwepu (illness)

Tottenham team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Emerson (suspension), Dejan Kulusevski (thigh), Japhet Tanganga (knock), Lucas Moura (calf)

UEFA Europa League, Europa Conference League live! How to watch, updates, schedule

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The UEFA Europa League and Europa Conference League group stages are in full flow as Arsenal, Manchester United, and West Ham are all in action.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the Europa League group stage Arsenal have a lovely set of European cities to visit with PSV, Bodo/Glimt and FC Zurich their opponents, and are clear favorites to advance. United are also favored but have some long distances to travel as they play Real Sociedad, Sheriff Tiraspol from Transnistria and Cypriot side Omonia.

In the Conference League the Hammers have Anderlecht, FCSB (formerly known as Steaua Bucharest) and Silkeborg, as David Moyes’ side will be very happy with that draw.

[ LIVE: Conference League scores ]

The final of the Europa League will be played in Budapest, while the Conference League final will be in Prague.

Below are details on the Europa League and Conference League, including how to watch info, the group stage draw, dates and schedule.


UEFA Europa League, Conference League, schedule, dates, how to watch

Dates: Group stage to be played September to November
Online: Live updates via NBCSports.com
How to watch: TUDN, Paramount+


Europa League group stage fixtures & results (all kick off times ET)

Matchday 3 – Thursday 6 October

Group A: Zurich vs PSV Eindhoven (12:45), Arsenal vs Bodo/Glimt (3:00)
Group B: Rennes vs Dynamo Kyiv, Fenerbahce vs AEK Larnaca (3:00)
Group C: HJK Helsinki vs Ludogorets (12:45), Roma vs Real Betis (3:00)
Group D: Malmo vs Union Berlin (12:45), Braga vs St Gilloise (3:00)
Group E: Sheriff vs Real Sociedad, Omonia vs Man United (12:45)
Group F: Sturm Graz vs Lazio (12:45), Midtjylland vs Feyenoord (3:00)
Group G: Freiburg vs Nantes, Olympiacos vs Qarabag (3:00)
Group H: Red Star Belgrade vs Ferencvaros, Monaco vs Trabzonspor (12:45)


Matchday 1 – Thursday 8 September

Group A: Zurich 1-2 Arsenal, PSV Eindhoven 1-1 Bodo/Glimt
Group B: AEK Larnaca 1-2 Rennes, Fenerbahce 2-1 Dynamo Kyiv
Group C: Ludogorets 2-1 Roma, HJK Helsinki 0-2 Real Betis
Group D: Malmo 2-0 Braga, Union Berlin 0-1 St Gilloise
Group E: Man United 0-1 Real Sociedad, Omonia 0-3 Sheriff
Group F: Lazio 4-2 Feyenoord, Sturm Graz 1-0 Midtjylland
Group G: Freiburg 2-1 Qarabag, Nantes 2-1 Olympiacos
Group H: Red Star Belgrade 0-1 Monaco, Ferencvaros 3-2 Trabzonspor

Matchday 2 – Thursday 15 September

Group A: Arsenal vs PSV Eindhoven (postponed), Bodo/Glimt vs Zurich
Group B: Dynamo Kyiv 0-1 AEK Larnaca, Rennes 2-2 Fenerbahce
Group C: Real Betis 3-2 Ludogorets, Roma 3-0 HJK Helsinki
Group D: St Gilloise 3-2 Malmo, Braga 1-0 Union Berlin
Group E: Real Sociedad 2-1 Omonia, Sheriff 0-2 Man United
Group F: Midtjylland 5-1 Lazio, Feyenoord 6-0 Sturm Graz
Group G: Olympiacos 0-3 Freiburg, Qarabag 3-0 Nantes
Group H: Trabzonspor 2-1 Red Star Belgrade, Monaco 0-1 Ferencvaros

Matchday 3 – Thursday 6 October

Group A: Zurich vs PSV Eindhoven (12:45), Arsenal vs Bodo/Glimt (3:00)
Group B: Rennes vs Dynamo Kyiv, Fenerbahce vs AEK Larnaca (3:00)
Group C: HJK Helsinki vs Ludogorets (12:45), Roma vs Real Betis (3:00)
Group D: Malmo vs Union Berlin (12:45), Braga vs St Gilloise (3:00)
Group E: Sheriff vs Real Sociedad, Omonia vs Man United (12:45)
Group F: Sturm Graz vs Lazio (12:45), Midtjylland vs Feyenoord (3:00)
Group G: Freiburg vs Nantes, Olympiacos vs Qarabag (3:00)
Group H: Red Star Belgrade vs Ferencvaros, Monaco vs Trabzonspor (12:45)

Matchday 4 – Thursday 13 October

Group A: Bodo/Glimt vs Arsenal (12:45), PSV Eindhoven vs Zurich (3:00)
Group B: AEK Larnaca vs Fenerbahce, Dynamo Kyiv vs Rennes (12:45)
Group C: Real Betis vs Roma (12:45), Ludogorets vs HJK Helsinki (3:00)
Group D: St Gilloise vs Braga (12:45), Union Berlin vs Malmo (3:00)
Group E: Man United vs Omonia, Real Sociedad vs Sheriff (3:00)
Group F: Feyenoord vs Midtjylland (12:45), Lazio vs Sturm Graz (3:00)
Group G: Nantes vs Freiburg, Qarabag vs Olympiacos (12:45)
Group H: Trabzonspor vs Monaco, Ferencvaros vs Red Star Belgrade (3:00)

Matchday 5 – Thursday 27 October

Group A: Zurich vs Bodo/Glimt, PSV Eindhoven vs Arsenal (12:45)
Group B: AEK Larnaca vs Dynamo Kyiv, Fenerbahce vs Rennes (12:45)
Group C: Ludogorets vs Real Betis (12:45), HJK Helsinki vs Roma (3:00)
Group D: Malmo vs St Gilloise, Union Berlin vs Braga (12:45)
Group E: Man United vs Sheriff, Omonia vs Real Sociedad (3:00)
Group F: Lazio vs Midtjylland (12:45), Sturm Graz vs Feyenoord (3:00)
Group G: Freiburg vs Olympiacos, Nantes vs Qarabag (3:00)
Group H: Red Star Belgrade vs Trabzonspor, Ferencvaros vs Monaco (3:00)

Matchday 6 – Thursday 3 November

Group A: Arsenal vs Zurich, Bodo/Glimt vs PSV Eindhoven (3:00)
Group B: Dynamo Kyiv vs Fenerbahce, Rennes vs AEK Larnaca (3:00)
Group C: Real Betis vs HJK Helsinki, Roma vs Ludogorets (3:00)
Group D: St Gilloise vs Union Berlin, Braga vs Malmo (3:00)
Group E: Real Sociedad vs Man United, Sheriff vs Omonia (12:45)
Group F: Midtjylland vs Sturm Graz, Feyenoord vs Lazio (12:45)
Group G: Olympiacos vs Nantes, Qarabag vs Freiburg (12:45)
Group H: Trabzonspor vs Ferencvaros, Monaco vs Red Star Belgrade (12:45)

Europa League groups

Group A: Arsenal, PSV Eindhoven, Bodo/Glimt, FC Zurich
Group B: Dynamo Kiev, Rennes, Fenerbahce, AEK Larnaca
Group C: Roma, Ludogorets, Real Betis, HJK Helsinki
Group D: Braga, Malmo, Union Berlin, Union Saint-Gilloise
Group E: Manchester United, Real Sociedad, Sheriff Tiraspol, Omonia
Group F: Lazio, Feyenoord, Midtjylland, Sturm Graz
Group G: Olympiacos, Qarabag, SC Freiburg, Nantes
Group H: Red Star Belgrade, Monaco, Ferencvaros, Trabzonspor


Europa Conference League group stage fixtures (all kick off times ET)

Matchday 3 – Thursday 6 October

Group A: Hearts vs Fiorentina, RFS vs Istanbul Basaksehir (3:00)
Group B: Anderlecht vs West Ham, Silkeborg vs FCSB (12:45)
Group C: Lech vs H. Beer-Sheva (12:45), Villarreal vs Austria Wien (3:00)
Group D: Slovacko vs Nice (12:45), Cologne vs Partizan (3:00)
Group E: Dnipro-1 vs Vaduz (12:45), AZ Alkmaar vs Apollon Limassol (3:00)
Group F: Molde vs Shamrock Rovers (12:45), Gent vs Djurgarden (3:00)
Group G: Sivasspor vs Ballkani (12:45), Slavia Prague vs CFR Cluj (3:00)
Group H: Pyunik vs Zalgiris (12:45), Basel vs Slovan Bratislava (3:00)


Matchday 1 – Thursday 8 September

Group A: Hearts vs Istanbul Basaksehir, Fiorentina vs RFS (18:45)
Group B: Anderlecht vs Silkeborg (12:45), West Ham vs FCSB (21:00)
Group C: Villarreal vs Lech, Austria Wien vs H. Beer-Sheva (18:45)
Group D: Slovacko vs Partizan, Nice vs Cologne (18:45)
Group E: Vaduz vs Apollon Limassol, Dnipro-1 vs AZ Alkmaar (3:00)
Group F: Molde vs Gent, Shamrock Rovers vs Djurgarden (3:00)
Group G: Ballkani vs CFR Cluj (12:45), Sivasspor vs Slavia Prague (3:00)
Group H: Basel vs Pyunik, Slovan Bratislava vs Zalgiris (3:00)

Matchday 2 – Thursday 15 September

Group A: RFS vs Hearts, Istanbul Basaksehir vs Fiorentina (3:00)
Group B: FCSB vs Anderlecht, Silkeborg vs West Ham (3:00)
Group C: Lech vs Austria Wien, H. Beer-Sheva vs Villarreal (3:00)
Group D: Partizan vs Nice, Cologne vs Slovacko (3:00)
Group E: Apollon Limassol vs Dnipro-1, AZ Alkmaar vs Vaduz (12:45)
Group F: Djurgarden vs Molde, Gent vs Shamrock Rovers (12:45)
Group G: Slavia Prague vs Ballkani, CFR Cluj vs Sivasspor (12:45)
Group H: Zalgiris vs Basel, Pyunik vs Slovan Bratislava (12:45)

Matchday 3 – Thursday 6 October

Group A: Hearts vs Fiorentina, RFS vs Istanbul Basaksehir (3:00)
Group B: Anderlecht vs West Ham, Silkeborg vs FCSB (12:45)
Group C: Lech vs H. Beer-Sheva (12:45), Villarreal vs Austria Wien (3:00)
Group D: Slovacko vs Nice (12:45), Cologne vs Partizan (3:00)
Group E: Dnipro-1 vs Vaduz (12:45), AZ Alkmaar vs Apollon Limassol (3:00)
Group F: Molde vs Shamrock Rovers (12:45), Gent vs Djurgarden (3:00)
Group G: Sivasspor vs Ballkani (12:45), Slavia Prague vs CFR Cluj (3:00)
Group H: Pyunik vs Zalgiris (12:45), Basel vs Slovan Bratislava (3:00)

Matchday 4 – Thursday 13 October

Group A: Istanbul Basaksehir vs RFS, Fiorentina vs Hearts (12:45)
Group B: FCSB vs Silkeborg, West Ham vs Anderlecht (3:00)
Group C: Austria Wien vs Villarreal (12:45), H. Beer-Sheva vs Lech (3:00)
Group D: Partizan vs Cologne (12:45), Nice vs Slovacko (3:00)
Group E: Apollon Limassol vs AZ Alkmaar (12:45), Vaduz vs Dnipro-1 (3:00)
Group F: Djurgarden vs Gent (12:45), Shamrock Rovers vs Molde (3:00)
Group G: CFR Cluj vs Slavia Prague (12:45), Ballkani vs Sivasspor (3:00)
Group H: Slovan Bratislava vs Basel (12:45), Zalgiris vs Pyunik (3:00)

Matchday 5 – Thursday 27 October

Group A: Fiorentina vs Istanbul Basaksehir (12:45), Hearts vs RFS (3:00)
Group B: Anderlecht vs FCSB (12:45), West Ham vs Silkeborg (3:00)
Group C: Villarreal vs H. Beer-Sheva, Austria Wien vs Lech (12:45)
Group D: Slovacko vs Cologne, Nice vs Partizan (12:45)
Group E: Vaduz vs AZ Alkmaar (12:45), Dnipro-1 vs Apollon Limassol (3:00)
Group F: Molde vs Djurgarden, Shamrock Rovers vs Gent (3:00)
Group G: Ballkani vs Slavia Prague, Sivasspor vs CFR Cluj (3:00)
Group H: Basel vs Zalgiris, Slovan Bratislava vs Pyunik (3:00)

Matchday 6 – Thursday 3 November

Group A: RFS vs Fiorentina, Istanbul Basaksehir vs Hearts (11:30)
Group B: FCSB vs West Ham, Silkeborg vs Anderlecht (3:00)
Group C: Lech vs Villarreal, H. Beer-Sheva vs Austria Wien (3:00)
Group D: Partizan vs Slovacko, Cologne vs Nice (3:00)
Group E: Apollon Limassol vs Vaduz, AZ Alkmaar vs Dnipro-1 (12:45)
Group F: Djurgarden vs Shamrock Rovers, Gent vs Molde (12:45)
Group G: Slavia Prague vs Sivasspor, CFR Cluj vs Ballkani (12:45)
Group H: Zalgiris vs Slovan Bratislava, Pyunik vs Basel (12:45)

Europa Conference League groups

Group A: Istanbul Basaksehir, Fiorentina, Hearts, RFS
Group B: West Ham, FCSB, Anderlecht, Silkeborg
Group C: Villarreal, Hapoel Be’er Sheva, Austria Wien, Lech Poznan
Group D: Partizan Belgrade, FC Cologne, Nice, Slovacko
Group E: AZ Alkmaar, Apollon Nicosia, Vaduz, Dnipro-1
Group F: Gent, Molde, Shamrock Rovers, Djurgarden
Group G: Slavia Prague, CFR Cluj, Sivasspor, Ballkani
Group H: Basel, Slovan Bratislava, Zalgiris, Pyunik


Ever Wonder why there is an actual cottage at Craven Cottage?

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Our ‘Ever Wonder’ series will run throughout the 2022-23 Premier League season and focuses on key stories behind the history, tradition and culture of all 20 Premier League clubs.

[ MORE: Check out our ‘Ever Wonder’ series in full ]

Have you ever sat there and wondered why certain chants became iconic at a club? Why a team has a certain nickname? Why they play in those colors? How they were founded? Yep, us too.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA

This season we will be digging deep to tell the stories of the rich history, tradition and culture from around the Premier League and give you the answers to things you want to know more about.


Ever Wonder why there is a cottage at Craven Cottage?

Fulham’s Craven Cottage is loved the world over. Their home by the banks of the River Thames is one of the most historic, and beautiful, stadiums in the game.

But have you ever wondered why there is an actual cottage in the corner of Craven Cottage?

And have you ever wondered what came first: the cottage or the stadium? Yep. Us too.


Fancy cottage and clientele

There has been a cottage on this site since 1780 when William Craven, who was the Sixth Baron Craven, built a cottage in a wooded area which is now on the site of Craven Cottage stadium.

It is also believed the site was previously used as Anne Boleyn’s hunting ground in the 1500s when she was the Queen of England. Fancy cottage indeed.

Legend has it that several famous writers also stayed at the original cottage for inspiration, and how could you not be inspired by this setting!?


Rebuild and Fulham’s arrival

A fire destroyed the original buildings in 1888 and the ground was left derelict until 1894 when Fulham (London’s oldest professional club as they being founded in 1879 at St Andrew’s Church in West Kensington) bought the land to build Craven Cottage stadium.

The stadium was updated extensively in 1905 by renowned football stadium architect Archibald Leitch.

If this doesn’t scream football history, I don’t know what does…


Why is there a cottage?

After Fulham’s first match in their gleaming new home there was one small problem to solve which explains why the cottage is there: there were no locker rooms built for players to use.

‘Not a problem, we will build a fancy cottage for that’ said Archibald Leitch, probably… And he did.

Today, the Cottage is still used for players to get changed in and directors of the club and players’ families sit in it to watch games from the balcony.

So, there you have it.


Incredible history remains

Craven Cottage the stadium was there before the actual cottage at Craven Cottage. But there has been a cottage on the site since 1780, and Anne Boleyn’s hunting grounds before that. That scent around Craven Cottage is history, folks.

Beautiful, magical, magnificent history.

Remember: when you next watch a game at Craven Cottage and see Antonee Robinson running down the wing, Anne Boleyn probably rode on a horse near that spot in the 1500s. Wild.

Lionel Messi: 2022 World Cup will be my last as a player

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Lionel Messi says this year’s World Cup will be his last as a player, the 35-year-old bowing out of international football before the 2026 tournament in North America.

“This will be my last World Cup, for sure,” Messi told a reporter in Argentina, via Fabrizio Romano. “The decision has been made.”

[ MORE: World Cup 2022 schedule ]

Messi will turn 39 during the 2026 World Cup, so this isn’t a terrible surprise, but he’s still not far from the top of his powers regardless of what the Ballon d’Or voters take before coming up with the shortlist (The reigning and record Ballon d’Or winner is not on the shortlist for this year’s award).

Argentina’s in Group C with Mexico, Poland, and Saudi Arabia. It’s wild to consider that Argentina’s last game could be the last time we see the world’s greatest player on a World Cup pitch.

For more on Lionel Messi’s World Cup history, read on…

Lionel Messi’s World Cup history

Messi’s World Cup debut came in 2006, and it was an announcement to the world of international football.

It was eight days before his 19th birthday. Messi came into Argentina’s second group-stage game and recorded a goal and an assist in 16 minutes versus Serbia-Montenegro. He’d make two more appearances but did not play in a quarterfinal loss to Germany.

Argentina’s 2010 World Cup also ended in the quarterfinals against Germany, as Messi went 90 minutes in all five games. He only managed an assist against Mexico in the Round of 16, as Argentina beat Nigeria, South Korea, Greece, and Mexico.

2014 saw Messi in magnificent form, scoring in every group game — wins over Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, and Nigeria — and then assisting the extra time winner against Switzerland in the Round of 16. Argentina then beat Belgium and the Netherlands before losing 1-0 in extra time to Germany in his lone World Cup Final to date.

The most recent World Cup nearly saw Argentina bounced in the group stage, but Messi scored in a 2-1 win over Nigeria to set up a Round of 16 match with France. Messi posted two assists in a 4-3 loss to the eventual champs. Current teammate Kylian Mbappe had two goals and drew a penalty to send Argentina home.