Premier League Playback: Why Manchester City are throwing away the title

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PELLEGRINI’S PERSISTENCE WITH 4-4-2 ALL BUT ENDS TITLE CHARGE

Manchester City’s players stood on the pitch at the final whistle at Anfield on Sunday scratching their heads and looking to the heavens.

They had just lost 2-1 to Liverpool, as they look likely to slip eight-points behind Chelsea in the title race with  just 11 games to go. Sergio Aguero and Co. will probably be asking themselves the same questions many of us will be trying to answer on Monday: how can a team dripping with wonderfully talented players continue to stutter through games?

[ RELATED: Pellegrini gets tactics wrong vs. Barca ]

One explanation, and perhaps the most critical one, is that Manuel Pellegrini’s insistence to go with a 4-4-2 formation and leave his team short in midfield areas is causing so many issues. Against Barcelona last Tuesday, I watched on in amazement as Pellegrini went with two up front against one of the best possession based sides in world soccer and gave them an extra man in the middle to dictate the tempo of the game. Pellegrini then did the same against Liverpool on Sunday, another team who love to keep the ball and have defenders like Emre Can stepping into midfield to create overloaded situations. Playmakers Phillipe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling were dragging City’s center backs Vincent Kompany (who again looked shaky) and Eliaquim Mangala all over the place as they didn’t have the numbers in midfield to quell Liverpool’s rapid attacks.

In the first half City coped with their numerical disadvantage in the middle relatively well, as Yaya Toure marauded forward and Fernandinho fought fires in front of City’s back four. But Fernandinho got tired and with Toure not pulling his weight defensively, along with Samir Nasri and David Silva in the second half, Liverpool pressed, pushed and harassed City (look at those numbers from Opta, above) until a moment of genius from Coutinho arrived to seal the win. Pellegrini argued after the match that two “beautiful goals” were the difference, yet his side recorded just one shot on goal (Edin Dzeko’s first half goal) which was there lowest total in any game so far this season. Liverpool’s strikes from Jordan Henderson and Coutinho were sublime, there’s no two ways about it. But the way Pellegrini is setting up his team against big sides who are able to keep the ball and punish slack play is bordering on naivety.

[ RELATED: Watch full match replays ]

Playing two up front against teams like Newcastle, who City beat 5-0 last weekend, will often work. But against the top teams in the Premier League it does not work with the players they are using in the system. Nasri, Silva and Toure are all great going forward but won’t provide balance, defensively. Just look at City’s record against the top five this season. 1-1 draws home and away against Chelsea. A 2-0 defeat at home to Arsenal and a 2-2 draw away, beating 10-man Manchester United 1-0 at home and now splitting victories with Liverpool. A 4-3-3 formation with Silva given a free role in-behind Aguero is their best formation, and having one of James Milner or Jesus Navas on the wing means they will get at least one attacker willing to work back and help out defensively.

[ RELATED: Latest Premier League standings ]

When all is said and done at the end of the season, City’s fans, players and Pellegrini may have a horrible feeling of ‘what might have been.’ Chelsea have hardly been in sensational form of late, but City have failed to take advantage of that due to their own tactical naivety. Whether or not they have progressed since winning the title last season remains to be seen, but Pellegrini’s persistence to play two up front means he is piling unnecessary pressure on himself as Sheikh Mansour and the directors at City will have a big decision to make this summer as to who will be their manager next season.

Premier League Schedule – Week 27

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 2-0 Everton Recap and watch here
Burnley 0-1 Swansea Recap and watch here
Liverpool 2-1 Man City Recap and watch here
Man United 2-0 Sunderland Recap and watch here
Newcastle 1-0 Aston Villa Recap and watch here
Stoke 1-0 Hull City Recap and watch here
West Brom 1-0 Saints Recap and watch here
West Ham 1-3 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here

CHELSEA CLINCH LEAGUE CUP BY SHUTTING DOWN SPURS

After City’s damaging defeat, it was a really good weekend for Chelsea even though they didn’t play in a PL match. The Blues now know they can go eight points clear of City in the title race by winning their game in hand, and on Sunday they lifted the first piece of silverware on offer in England for the 2014-15 season.

Chelsea beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 at Wembley to win the League Cup as Jose Mourinho celebrated the first trophy of his second spell in charge of Chelsea. It’s safe to say he thoroughly enjoyed this one, as it was his third League Cup success in charge of Chelsea and his first major title since he won La Liga with Real Madrid in 2012.

[ RELATED: Mourinho hails Zouma ]

Spurs started brighter with Christian Eriksen hitting the crossbar, but then the Blues ground out a typically resolute display with John Terry prodding home a goal right on half time and Diego Costa’s deflected shot just before the hour mark sealed the victory. As the rain poured down at Wembley Stadium in the second half, Spurs had the life sucked out of them by a Chelsea squad who often resemble ‘Dementors’ from the Harry Potters series. Mauricio Pochettino’s side dropped points at West Ham last Sunday, were knocked out of the Europa League by Fiorentina last Thursday and then succumbed to an oppressive Chelsea outfit.

Mourinho’s decision to replace suspended central midfielder Nemanja Matic with young French center back Kurt Zouma raised plenty of eyebrows. But it was a masterstroke. Zouma clogged up the area in front of Chelsea’s back four, stopping Harry Kane dropping deep and Eriksen getting on the ball. Terry, Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanvoic and Cesar Azpilicueta put in another assured defensive display but Mourinho reserved special praise for Zouma after the match, calling him “our Marcel Desailly” after the former Chelsea and French international star. High praise indeed, as Mourinho and his squad lifted the first of what should be many trophies this season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The Premier League title seems all but assured after City continue to stumble, but can the “Special One” deliver the Champions League to Stamford Bridge this season? That’s the next big challenge for his squad, as they will be buoyed by a victory parade around Wembley on Sunday and all the good vibes that brings. Plus, judging by the video above taken during the second half of the League Cup final, Mourinho seems pretty relaxed about everything…

LIVERPOOL’S “LITTLE MAGICIAN” CRUCIAL TO TOP FOUR HOPES

For the second Sunday running Coutinho delivered a stunning strike to set Liverpool on their way. The Reds are now unbeaten in 11 Premier League matches and have gone on a remarkable run since losing 3-0 to arch-rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford back on December 14.

[ RELATED: Three things we learned from Liverpool’s win ]

Now they are in fifth place, two points behind the Red Devils and just three points behind Arsenal in third. Liverpool looks unstoppable and Coutinho gives them the ‘X-factor” they have been lacking for most of the season. The 22-year-old Brazilian signed a new long-term deal last month and his incisive runs, trickery on the ball and sublime vision in and around the box means that although Luis Suarez is long gone, the Reds now look capable of carving open teams clinically with Daniel Sturridge back fit and Sterling also firing on all cylinders.

[ RELATED: Rodgers says top four is real possibility ]

Liverpool have the momentum and are the team to beat with eight wins from their last 10 matches. Just like last season, they are hitting peak form at the perfect time. They came up short in their pursuit of the title in 2013-14, but right now you’d be a brave man to bet against them finishing in the top this season. After their victory against Manchester City on Sunday, manager Brendan Rodgers claimed that if Liverpool finished fourth this season it would be a better achievement than finishing second last season.

It’s hard to argue with that, as Jordan Henderson smashed in a beauty to show he can ease the blow of Steven Gerrard’s impending departure, while Adam Lallana had the following to say about the crucial win.

“It’s a massive win for us, we’ve got momentum,” Lallana told Sky Sports afterwards. “They [Man City] are the champions and I thought we thoroughly deserved it today. They came back into it but the lads have got fighting spirit and the little magician [Coutinho] at the end coming up with another wonderful goal. With players like that, we are going to go far.”

MIDWEEK MADNESS – ARE YOU READY?

Above is the video recap from the eight games in Week 27 and on Tuesday and Wednesday this week, you will get pretty distracted during your afternoon’s at work as a full slate of PL matches is coming your way. It’s okay, I’m sure your boss will understand. After all, it’s the Premier League.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every game via Live Extra ]

Above is the link to stream every game live online or on the app via Live Extra, and here’s five storylines to keep an eye on as the midweek madness ensues…

1. Can the Hammers bring Chelsea back down to earth?

2. Tottenham, Arsenal, Liverpool, Man United all face tough tests as top four race heats up

3. Will Saints snap back into life at home to Crystal Palace?

4. Relegation battles, local pride – Aston Villa vs. West Brom, Hull vs. Sunderland

5. USMNT battle at the Britannia – Geoff Cameron vs. Tim Howard

Premier League Playback comes out every Monday as PST’s Editor and Lead Writer takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

Mexicans abroad: Weekend roundup

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Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez made sure to let Hammers boss Manuel Pellegrini know that he made no mistake in handing him the No. 9, opening his account in the new season.

Over in Portugal, Jesus “Tecatito” Corona continues to gain minutes and impress, while Hector Moreno scores in a friendly with his new Qatari club.

Here is a list of several other Mexico national team affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) outside of Mexico and the United States this weekend.

Premier League

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, West Ham — Rolling back the years, Chicharito… The 31-year-old started, played 83 minutes, and made scored his first goal of the season for West Ham in their 1-1 draw away to Brighton.

Raul Jimenez, Wolverhampton Wanderers — Wolves and Jimenez take on Manchester United on Monday.

La Liga

Hector Herrera, Atletico Madrid — Herrera featured on Atletico’s bench, but was not called on by Diego Simeone in Los Colchonero’s 1-0 win over Getafe. His La Liga remains on standby.

Andres Guardado, Real Betis — The fulcrum of Betis’ midfield last season, Guardado didn’t suit up for the Sevilla-based side’s opening 2-1 loss to Real Valladolid.

Diego Lainez, Real Betis — The 19-year-old, who many are hoping will have a breakout season, was left on the bench by first-year coach Rubi.

Nestor Araujo, Celta Vigo — The soon-to-be 28-year-old was a fixture for Celta last year. It looks like that trend will repeat itself this time around with Araujo starting and playing 90 minutes against Real Madrid in the 3-1 loss.

Eredivisie

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, PSV Eindhoven — Chucky might have already played his last game for PSV. Multiple reports indicate the 24-year-old winger is set to become the most expensive Mexican player ever in a $46 million move to Napoli.

Erick Gutierrez, PSV Eindhoven — Unlike last year, it seems PSV will lean on “Guti” a lot more this season. On Sunday, the midfielder started and played all 90 minutes in PSV’s 2-0 victory over Heracles.

Edson Alvarez, Ajax — Alvarez made his Eredivisie debut in Ajax’s 4-1 thumping of VVV-Venlo, playing the final 27 minutes as a center back.

Primeira Liga

Jesus “Tecatito” Corona — Corona, for a second consecutive week, started and registered 90 minutes in a Porto victory. He is the lone Mexican in the Portuguese first division following Herrera’s and Antonio Briseño’s respective departures this summer.

Jupiler Pro League

Omar Govea, Zulte Waregem — Govea and Zulte Waregem take on Charleroi on Monday.

Elsewhere around the globe:

Hector Moreno, Al Gharafa   In a friendly against Al Khor, the 31-year-old defender scored his first goal for the Qatari club. In two seasons with Real Sociedad, Moreno scored two goals.

Diego Reyes, Fenerbahçe  The center back is reportedly not in the Turkish giants’ plans, and Tigres sounds like his next destination.

Juan Gerardo Ramirez Alosno, Roda JC — Not a household name, the fullback continues to add minutes with Roda, which he joined this summer. On Friday, he played 90 minutes in Roda’s 4-0 loss to Volendam.

Americans Abroad: Weekend roundup

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Christian Pulisic made his much-anticipated home debut as Chelsea secured their first point of the season. Starting and playing 71 minutes, the Pennsylvania native struggled to make a difference for the Blues, though, failing to record a shot.

Meanwhile in Sweden, a familiar face proved to be the X factor for his team. Romain Gall, 24, scored and recorded two assists in Malmo’s 5-0 win on Sunday. The midfielder joins Julian Green and Joel Sonora as the only Americans to score abroad this weekend in top-tier leagues.

Between the sticks, Zack Steffen opened his Bundesliga account with an impressive nine saves in Dusseldorf’s victory.

Here is a list of several other USMNT affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) abroad this weekend.

Premier League

Christian Pulisic, Chelsea — The 20-year-old made his home debut in Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Leicester City, but failed to record a shot in 71 minutes of play.

DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle — The fullback remains sidelined as he continues to recover from a groin injury. There’s no timeline on his return.

EFL Championship

Antonee Robinson, Wigan Athletic — Robinson started and went all 90 minutes for the Latics in their 2-0 loss to Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United.

Matt Miazga, Reading (loan from Chelsea) — 90 minutes and a clean sheet for the 24-year-old in Reading’s 3-0 win over Cardiff City.

Eric Lichaj, Hull City — The Tigers captain recorded another 90 minutes in Hull City’s draw against Brentford this weekend. Surely, Lichaj will continue to feature game in and game out.

Geoff Cameron, QPR — After two positive matches to start the season, Cameron and QPR fell 2-0 to Bristol City. The Massachusetts native played all 90 minutes.

Tim Ream, Fulham — 90 minutes and a start for Ream in Fulham’s 2-1 loss to Huddersfield Town on Friday. From the looks of it, the American center back will be staple defender for the recently-relegated club.

Eredivisie

Haji Wright, VVV-Venlo — After starting for consecutive weeks, Haji came off the bench and only featured for 19 minutes against Ajax.

Sergino Dest, Ajax — The young defender played and contributed well for 90 minutes in Ajax’s 4-1 victory over VVV Venlo. Dest continues to impress Ajax’s coaching staff, apparently.

Desevio Payne, FC Emmen — The U-23 MNT fullback played 47 minutes against Heerenveen. FC Emmen won 2-0 on Saturday.

Ligue 1

Timothy Weah, Lille — No start for Weah this time. In Lille’s 1-0 loss to Amiens, the 19-year-old came off the bench and played six minutes.

Theoson Jordan-Siebatcheu, Rennes — Jordan-Siebatcheu, like Weah, had a very similar weekend: coming on as a substitute and playing 17 minutes. Rennes, however, won 2-1 over PSG.

Bundesliga

Weston McKennie, Schalke — In Schalke’s first game of the season, the midfielder started and played 85 minutes in the 0-0 draw against Borussia Monchengladbach.

Zack Steffen, Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf Steffen and Morales started and went all 90 minutes in Fortuna Dusseldorf’s praiseworthy win against Werder Bremen. Steffen, in particular, put his unquestioned shot-stopping abilities to use. The Bundesliga debutant finished with nine saves.

Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen  The 19-year-old saw some minutes on the field, coming off the bench in the 83rd minute.

Fabian Johnson, Borussia Mönchengladbach — Johnson is not slated to be a constant starter for Mönchengladbach this season, at least that’s what Saturday showed us. The 31-year-old only played 27 minutes.

Timmy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt Chandler made the 18 but did not play for Eintracht Frankfurt in their 1-0 win over Hoffenheim.

Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig — Adams was a no-go for RB Leipzig in their 4-0 win over Union Berlin.

Honorable Mentions:

Romain Gall, Malmo  After seeing a few minutes here and there, the USMNT capped midfielder scored and assisted twice in Malmo’s 5-0 victory Falkenbergs. If Gall wants to be a part of Greg Berhalter’s plans, however, more of this will be needed.

Julian Green, Greuther Furth The 24-year-old scored the lone goal in Greuther Furth’s victory.

Joel Sonora, Arsenal de Sarandi — Sonora played 82 minutes opened his account with Arsenal de Sarandi in their 3-0 over Defense y Justicia.

Reports: Napoli agree record fee for Hirving Lozano

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Mexico’s most expensive player ever will soon be Hirving “Chucky” Lozano.

According to multiple reports, PSV Eindhoven and Napoli have agreed to a $46 million transfer fee for the Mexican international. According to Sky Sport 24‘s Francesco Modugno, the 24-year-old will travel to Rome on Tuesday and complete his medical on Wednesday morning, ending the Serie A club’s summer-long pursuit.

Lozano will reportedly sign a five-year deal with Gli Azzurri worth $4 million per year plus bonuses.

Over the course of the past few months, Napoli were also linked with Arsenal’s Nicolas Pepe and Real Madrid’s James Rodriguez. In the end, Carlo Ancelotti, who is planning to give Juventus a run for their money this season, is adding the speedy winger to his attacking corps that features the likes of Lorenzo Insigne and Arkadiusz Milik.

Despite coming off injured in the 50th minute against ADO Den Haagg in his last PSV appearance, it is believed it won’t influence Lozano’s medical. He will break the transfer record for a Mexican player set by Raul Jimenez in his summer move to Wolverhampton Wanderers from Benfica worth $43 million.

Having sold Memphis Depay for nearly $39 million in 2015 to Manchester United, Lozano’s departure would set a new record for the Dutch giants as well.

La Liga roundup: Atletico Madrid win first opener in four years

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Spain’s top flight is two days into a new season, and here’s a roundup of all of Sunday’s action.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Getafe

It wasn’t done in aesthetically pleasing fashion, but Atletico Madrid won their first opening season game in four years.

In fact, the first half was rough with both Atletico and Getafe loosing players to straight red cards. Getafe’s Jorge Molina saw red for a studs-up challenge in the 38th minute, while Renan Lodi was asked to leave the field in his debut for Los Colchoneros. 

Summer signing Alvaro Morata proved to be the difference for Atletico, however. Assisted by former Tottenham fullback Kieran Trippier, the team’s academy product scored early on in the 23rd minute – the goal made Atletico one of eight clubs to start the season with three points.

$140 million signing Joao Felix also made his La Liga debut, and impressed the home crowd with a dazzling run in the second half that ended drawing a penalty for Atletico. Morata missed.

Not the smoothest of games for Diego Simeone’s side, but like Real Madrid, they already have an edge on Barcelona.

Espanyol 0-2 Sevilla 

Julen Lopetegui can finally breathe (and coach) in peace.

Following a series of unfortunate events with the Spanish national team and Real Madrid, Lopetegui and Sevilla started their new era in a winning way.

Sergio Reguilon got things started for the visiting side with a tap in inside the six-yard box. And in the final minutes, no stranger to stepping up for Sevilla, Nolito slotted one past Diego Lopez.

With only two shots on frame to speak for them, Espanyol was one, two steps behind Los Hispalenses, who look for another top-six finish in Spain’s top-flight league.

Sevilla’s young quest for that continues as they travel to Granada. Meanwhile, Espanyol have no time to waist with a Europa League play-off bout against Ukrainian side Zorya lined up midweek.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Betis 1-2 Real Valladolid

Alaves 1-0 Levante