Premier League Playback: Ranking wonder goals; 2015-16 title race has already begun

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WONDER GOALS GALORE, BUT WHICH WAS THE BEST?

No fewer than 10 goals were scored this weekend which, in their own right, could easily have secured a Goal of the Week award.

[ RELATED: Breaking down Week 31’s wonder goals ]

The sheer variety of these sensational strikes was astounding, as game after game saw stunning strikes fly into the back of the net as we witnessed the incredible talent on display across the Premier League. In the video above our broadcast team broke down the top four goals from the weekend, and here’s a breakdown and difficulty rating for all four.

1. Charlie Adam: Without doubt, the best goal of the season so far. To have not only the nerve but the ability to pick your head up and lob one of the best goalkeepers in the world, Thibaut Courtois, from 67-yards out, at the home of the soon to be PL champions, takes a special player. Adam is certainly that, as his past teammates have since revealed his penchant for trying crazy shots in training and he also often goes for long-range efforts during games. This goal saw him cut across the ball and generate incredible power as the shot seemed to accelerate faster the longer it was in the air. Remarkable goal. Difficulty rating – 10/10

2. Wayne Rooney: Ah, another Rooney special. The United man showed off his incredible balance and vision as other players simply wouldn’t have been able to plan out the finish he perfected against Aston Villa. When Angel Di Maria clipped a cross into the box, Rooney controlled wonderfully, almost Ballerina-like, with his left foot before swiveling and volleying home with his right. My word. Difficulty rating – 9/10

3. Jermain Defoe: Such an important goal in Sunderland’s survival charge and exactly why Defoe was brought in. The former Toronto FC star watched the ball fall from the heavens right on half time against Newcastle in the derby on Sunday and then his perfect balance and technique saw him knock a beautifully controlled volley into the top corner. He has scored some beauties in his career, but this may be the best. His tears of joy said it all. Difficulty rating – 9/10

4. Bobby Zamora: This goal may have been overlooked slightly due to the large number of stunners on show this weekend, but it shouldn’t have been. Zamora, on the run and on the far right-hand side of the box, had a quick look up and with a cheeky flick of the outside of his left foot he lobbed West Brom goalkeeper Boaz Myhill. The ball clipped the underside of the bar and nestled into the bottom corner as Zamora all but sealed a huge win for the R’s before half time. This strike was completely different than the other three, but no less impressive. Difficulty rating – 8/10

Honorable mentions: Esteban Cambiasso’s long-ranger (watch here), Olivier Giroud’s curler (watch here), Alexis Sanchez’s smash (watch here), Eduardo Vargas’ beauty (watch here), Bafetimbi Gomis’ bicycle kick (watch here), Mesut Ozil’s superb free kick (watch here)

Premier League Schedule – Week 31

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 4-1 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Burnley 0-0 Spurs Recap and watch here
Chelsea 2-1 Stoke Recap and watch here
Crystal Palace 2-1 Man City Recap and watch here
Everton 1-0 Saints Recap and watch here
Leicester 2-1 West Ham Recap and watch here
Man United 3-1 Aston Villa Recap and watch here
Sunderland 1-0 Newcastle Recap and watch here
Swansea 3-1 Hull Recap and watch here
West Brom 1-4 QPR Recap and watch here

ARSENAL, MAN CITY, MAN UNITED: RACE FOR SECOND

Chelsea are seven points clear at the top of the Premier League table after Week 31 and Jose Mourinho is already picking out a matching shirt and tie for the day his Blues parade the title on the open-top bus around west London.

[ RELATED: Watch full match replays ]

However, even if they don’t want to admit that their title hopes this season are diminishing by the game, a more intriguing battle is going on behind Chelsea as Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United tussle for second spot. The Gunners have won nine of their last 10 matches, City are stumbling after losing to Crystal Palace and are now in fourth and United have hit form at the perfect time of the season with six wins from their last seven games.

[ RELATED: Latest PL standings ]

It would take a monumental collapse from Chelsea for them to not win the title this season but Arsenal, City and United are now involved in an intriguing race for second place, the winner of which could well take added momentum into next season and challenge Chelsea for the 2015-16 PL crown.

However United’s boss Louis van Gaal hasn’t given up hope of lifting the PL crown this season. He had this to say after United’s victory over Villa.

“We have to play against the first three in the league (Chelsea, City and Arsenal) and normally when you play against better teams with more points it’s not done yet,” van Gaal said. “We are looking up and we have to win every week but anything is possible. We have made a big gap to fifth and we can suffer a defeat. Liverpool is now eight points behind us and we are eight points behind Chelsea. We probably won’t be champions but we can give pressure.”

Sure, a lot can happen over the summer with managerial and player changes likely to occur but don’t underestimate how important the next seven games may be in determining how teams will fare next season. Arsenal’s squad now looks strong throughout with their attacking talents firing on all cylinders in the emphatic 4-1 win over Liverpool on Saturday.

With Alexis Sanchez back to his best and the enigmatic Mesut Ozil finding some consistency in recent weeks, the Gunners are stacked with attackers who can rip teams apart with Olivier Giroud scoring seven in his last six PL matches and the likes of Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain not called on recently. In midfield and defense they are stacked with Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky, Abou Diaby and Mikel Artera all back ups, while the likes of Kieran Gibbs and Calum Chambers are twiddling their thumbs on the bench. Simply put, Wenger has built a young, hungry squad and if they finish in second and win the FA Cup this campaign, what a season that will be as they will be the prime candidates to challenge Chelsea next season. Wenger has called on his boys to keep their momentum going for the rest of the season.

[ RELATED: Three things from Arsenal’s win vs. Liverpool ]

As for United and City, well, we will get a close look at which side is in the ascendancy when they square off at Old Trafford this Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra). City may well have a new man in charge next season as Manuel Pellegrini is reportedly on the chopping block after another failure to make it past the UEFA Champions League last 16 and a stumbling season which has hardly ever seen them as favorites to defend the PL crown they won last season. After a few years of raucous behavior from their “noisy neighbors” on the other side of town, United will see Sunday’s game as a chance to not only grab their first derby win in five attempts but to also set the tone for next season when LVG’s boys hope to not only rule Manchester but also the Premier League.

Don’t be fooled, even if Chelsea has the title wrapped up by the end of April, there’s still plenty to play for this season as English giants tussle for second and early momentum to try and catch, and overtake, the Blues in 2015-16.

RELEGATION BATTLE HEATS UP

It was a great weekend for the clubs at the bottom as Leicester City, Queens Park Rangers and Sunderland all won to breath new life into their relegation battles.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Leicester beat West Ham 2-1 thanks to a late Andy King goal, as the Foxes edged an epic end-to-end encounter. Nigel Pearson’s side has a game in hand (albeit it against Chelsea) but are six points off safety. It will be a big ask for them to stay up but the Midlands club are at least making it interesting as the final weeks of the season arrive. As for the rest, it’s anybody’s guess who will go down. Burnley continue to battle away with a 0-0 draw against Tottenham, while QPR hammered West Brom 4-1 away and Sunderland bagged a big Tyne-Wear derby win over Newcastle. Those defeats ensured Newcastle and WBA are still in danger of the drop, but they will both probably be okay. Aston Villa and Hull City both lost 3-1 at the weekend as both sides will be looking nervously over their shoulders as QPR, Burnley and Leicester hit form.

[ RELATED: Premier League schedule ]

Below is how things stand in the bottom eight with seven games to go. Who is your money on to go down? Talk about tight…

source:

USMNT UPDATE: HOWARD’S HEROICS

Three U.S. national team players were in action in the Premier League this weekend, with Tim Howard the only USMNT man to taste success. The Everton ‘keeper has come under a lot of scrutiny this season but arguably put in his best display of the campaign to shutout Southampton in a 1-0 win for the Toffees. His early save on Graziano Pelle’s flick (watch in the video, below) will go down as one of the best stops of the 2014-15 season. No doubt. Elsewhere, Brad Guzan was a busy man in goal for Aston Villa but couldn’t stop Villa losing 3-1 to Manchester United at Old Trafford.

[ RELATED: Geoff Cameron’s column for ProSoccerTalk ]

Rounding up the action for Americans in England’s top-flight, Geoff Cameron went the full 90 for Stoke City at right back as they battled to the end at Chelsea but lost 2-1 at Stamford Bridge.

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

3 things learned as Bayern Munich beat Barcelona 8-2

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Barcelona – Bayern Munich was a UEFA Champions League classic as Bayern ran riot in Lisbon to book their spot in the semifinals as they won 8-2. That’s right. 8-2.

[ MORE: Barca, Bayern players reaction ]

Bayern scored early and often as both teams had chances galore but the German giants took theirs with Thomas Muller scoring twice, plus Ivan Perisic and Serge Gnabry scoring one each. Joshua Kimmich, Robert Lewandowski and Philippe Coutinho (twice) all scored in the second half after Luis Suarez pulled one back to make it 4-2.

Early on Barcelona briefly made it 1-1 through David Alaba’s own goal but Lionel Messi and Co. were dominated and made so many defensive errors. Hansi Flick’s Bayern will now face the winner of Manchester City v. Lyon in the semifinal, while Quique Setien’s brief spell in charge of Barcelona is surely over.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]

The game started at an incredible pace as Jerome Boateng defended superbly with Suarez lurking, then Bayern took the lead. Lewandowski and Muller combined and the latter finished to make it 1-0, but soon it was 1-1. Jordi Alba’s cross was shanked into his own net by Alaba to level things up.

Barca then went close as Suarez was denied by Manuel Neuer, then Messi hit the post as his cross missed everyone and struck the woodwork as four Barcelona players were left clutching their heads in disbelief.

[ VIDEO: Alphonso Davies magical assist ]

Chances kept on coming for both teams in an entertaining, end-to-end clash with Messi forcing Neuer into a save. Perisic then drilled home a low shot to make it 2-1 and Bayern almost scored a third but Marc-Andre ter Stegen saved well. They did make it 3-1 soon after as Gnabry drilled home a low shot after fine passes from Thiago and then Leon Goretzka.

Muller made it 4-1 before the break as Joshua Kimmich’s cross found the veteran German at the near post as Barcelona kept conceding chances, and goals. In the second half Suarez made it 4-2 early on to give Barca a chance of an unlikely comeback but that’s all it was. Alphonso Davies’ amazing assist set up Joshua Kimmich to make it 5-2 and Lewandowski got his goal to make it 6-2 as Barca were humiliated further when their player, Coutinho, on loan at Bayern rolled two home late on to rub further salt into their wounds.

Here’s a look at what we learned from Barcelona – Bayern Munich, a truly memorable Champions League quarterfinal.


BARCELONA THEIR OWN WORST ENEMIES

No team had conceded four goals sooner in a Champions League knockout match and this was the first time Barcelona conceded five or more goals in a Champions League match in their history. It was also the first time since 1949 that Barcelona had conceded seven goals in a single game. It was also the first time since 1951 they lost a game by six goals and the first time since 1946 that they conceded eight goals in a game. It was also the first time a team had scored eight in a Champions League knockout game. Yes, Bayern were clinical but Barcelona caused their own problems time and time again and it was all too easy for the Germans. Ter Stegen was hellbent on playing the ball short inside his own penalty box which put Barca under pressure, while Sergi Roberto and Frenkie de Jong were totally overpowered in midfield and Nelson Semedo was bullied at right back. Barcelona kept making poor defensive mistakes and anybody who has watched them since the restart in La Liga will understand why. This is not a new thing. Bayern could have scored more and Barcelona were just woeful and looked totally devoid of confidence late on. Messi and Co. looked stunned in the final stages of the game, and for most of the 90 minutes. Bayern were good but the story here was about Barcelona being woefully bad.

END OF AN ERA AT BARCELONA?

Messi, Suarez, Busquets, Vidal, Pique. What do they all have in common? Four of them are 33 years old and Busquets is 32. This feels like the end of an era at Barcelona. Of course, Messi is Messi and he can play until he wants as he whipped in delicious deliveries in the first half but didn’t have enough help around him. Even he gave up in the second half. This Barcelona team couldn’t cope with the pace and power of Bayern and they just gave up and Messi was one of the worst culprits. Earlier this season the Argentine legend was outspoken when it came to asking questions of the powers that be and his own teammates and he knew. He knew that big problems were coming and Barca were in big trouble. This has been coming. The shock Champions League defeat in the second leg at Liverpool last season. The collapse at Roma before that. Barcelona have been papering over the cracks for a long time now and relying on Messi and Suarez to bail them out.

They still finished second in La Liga and reached the last eight of the Champions League this season but that’s not good enough for Barcelona and this was one of the most humiliating nights in their history. Quique Setien doesn’t seem to have the belief of his squad but this Barcelona team is running on empty. It has been for a long time. Is it the managers fault, or the fault of their ageing squad which has been so good for so long but not rebuilt out of faith to their superstars and down to haphazard recruitment process? The answer is a little bit of everything and this defeat will now be the reference point for a dramatic Barcelona rebuild.

BAYERN’S HIGH-LINE A PROBLEM

The one negative for Bayern was how many chances they gave to Barcelona, especially in the first half. Their high-line was problematic but perhaps they pinched so high up so they could give Barcelona’s shaky defensive problems? Either way, they can’t play that high of a line against Manchester City or Lyon in the semifinal. Alhonso Davies and Joshua Kimmick were left exposed at full back and that is something they should address because this game, and result, is likely be a freak one. Aside from that defensive line, they were dominant, powerful, hungry and classy throughout. The German champions are full of confidence and are the red-hot favorites to win the Champions League. Barcelona – Bayern Munich will go down in history and Bayern will be feared by everyone if they weren’t already.

Destroyed Barcelona a ‘disaster’; dominant Bayern react after 10-goal stunner

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Barcelona – Bayern Munich reaction. How do you have a reaction to that?

Barcelona 2-8 Bayern Munich. Yep, that was the score in the Champions League quarterfinal. That’s why the Barcelona – Bayern Munich reaction post-game saw both sets of players and coaches looked utterly stunned. It was the first time since 1946 that Barcelona had conceded eight times in a game and they had no answer to Bayern’s relentless attacking.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Lionel Messi and Barcelona’s players and coaches looked totally stunned towards the end of the game as Bayern could have easily scored 11 or 12 goals. We are not exaggerating. This looked like the end of an era for Barcelona, as their players were outclassed and overpowered throughout.

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu had this to say: “A very hard night. I’m sorry for the fans, for everyone. We weren’t the team we are or the club we represent… Today has been a disaster. Now we have to take decisions. Some we had already decided before today. Above all we have to say sorry to the fans.”

[ VIDEO: Alphonso Davies magical assist ]

Barcelona boss Quique Setien didn’t have much else to add, as his time as Barca boss is surely up but he did state that his team were ‘destroyed’ in the dressing room in Lisbon after the game.

“The truth is it is a defeat tremendously painful. Scoreline maybe too harsh, but for sure they deserved many of the goals. The team was overrun at many times. We started very well, but the decisiveness of (Bayern) in many areas overcame us… The dressing room is destroyed. I’m not going to talk about what is needed at the club. I’ve been here for just a few months. If Gerard Pique says that it’s time for big changes there’s going to be importance to his words. It’s time for us to review and take the decisions which are needed for the future.

“The fans? The team did what we could and the rival allowed us to. We started well and as the game went on, we were beaten… We are all tremendously frustrated at the moment. It hurts but we have to accept it. You have to think always that the future will be better, that you can improve the image we showed today, above all thinking of the future. I think that right now it’s too soon to be talking about whether I stay at the club or not. The reality is that it doesn’t depend on me. It’s worth all of us working out what’s important and considering a wide range of things which correspond to a defeat of this importance and which is so painful.”

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]

Setien may not be in charge of that future, as he only took charge in January but has struggled to galvanize a talented but error-strewn Barcelona side. Setien has overseen one of the most embarrassing nights in Barcelona’s history and although his ageing players were outclassed, the way they kept making the same mistakes time and time again surely points to his managerial style not fitting this squad.

Barcelona veteran Gerard Pique summed it up best.

“Embarrassment is the word, no one is indispensable. If new blood has to come and change the dynamic I’ll be the first to exit and let it happen. Now, we have reached the bottom,” Pique said. “I’m in pain. We all are. We can’t compete like that. It’s very, very tough to take. Nothing more is worth saying. The club needs changes. Not just the players, I don’t want to point out anyone.

“But football is a sport where change is constantly required. We must change the dynamic we are on because I believe we have just hit bottom. We have to look around, we have to trust that people will do the right things for the club. Is it an end of an era, I’m not sure? But I know that we must accept that we have hit bottom. Not just players the but, as a club, we aren’t on the right road. We have had years of success but we haven’t won the league and we haven’t won in Europe and we have to compete. You’ve seen it on the pitch and this today is unacceptable. This was a horrible game… it’s a dreadful feeling. It’s shameful. Structurally we need changes at all levels.”

On the other side of the Barcelona – Bayern Munich reaction, Thomas Muller continued his amazing season to score twice and grabbed an assist as the German legend summed up the focus in the camp of the German champions as they want to win the Champions League and not dwell on their humbling of Barcelona.

“Of course it’s a big statement. The semifinal starts from 0-0. Statement doesn’t matter,” Muller said. “I know the other teams watch our games. They can be impressed or not. It starts from 0-0. We have to be quiet, calm and relaxed, also a little bit happy. Tomorrow morning when we wake up and answer the whole messages on our phone from home and the whole world, then we have to focus and concentrate on the next game. That is our business. We are not here to win the quarterfinal or semifinal. We are here to win the final. I know these tournament situations a lot. Most of the times after these big wins it is more difficult, so we have to be careful.”

Muller and Bayern are ruthless and hungry for more, as he also said they can be more aggressive in their remaining Champions League games.

Hansi Flick has created a ruthless winning machine, as Bayern have scored 26 goals in the six Champions League games he’s been in charge since replacing Niko Kovac in November and they’ve won 27 of their last 28 games in all competitions and are unbeaten since December 7 and have won the Bundesliga and German Cup.

The treble is on for Bayern after their historic humbling of Barcelona.

VIDEO: Alphonso Davies turns on style with amazing assist

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Alphonso Davies ladies and gents. Alphonso Davies.

The Canadian teenager set up Bayern Munich’s fifth goal in their demolition of Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal and he did it in some style.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Remember: the Vancouver Whitecaps product only broke into Bayern Munich’s first team as a regular earlier this season and he’s now ripping it up against Barcelona in the latter stages of the Champions League.

He will be pinching himself right about now as he played a key role in a classic Bayern display as they tore Barcelona apart and could have scored seven or eight easily.

Alphonso Davies, 19, totally bamboozled Barcelona’s right back Nelson Semedo on more than one occasion way out on the left flank. He then drove towards goal, skipped past another defender and put it on a plate for Joshua Kimmich to make it 5-2.

Check out the video below to see Davies doing what he does best for the assist, as the teenager is surely going to become the best left back on the planet.

His incredible story continues as his first season as a regular for Bayern Munich has been a hugely memorable one.

Champions League, Europa League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions

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The UEFA Champions League and Europa League action has resumed and I’m going to reveal my predictions for this next round as well as the latest odds for Europe’s top two continental tournaments.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

With Manchester City still in the Champions League and Manchester United still in the Europa League, there is a lot on the line for the two Premier League clubs in the next week.

Just because the Premier League season is over, that doesn’t mean the action is over. Far from it. Both Manchester clubs are the bookmakers favorites to seal their respective European glory.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League semifinals and Champions League quarterfinals will take place as the mini tournaments take place in Germany and Portugal.

Man City beat Real Madrid 4-2 on aggregate, while Chelsea lost Bayern 7-1 on aggregate as they crashed out of the Champions League. Man United beat Copenhagen in extra time and will face Sevilla in the semifinals and are the lone Premier League club after Wolves were knocked out by Sevilla.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, while the Europa League games will be hosted around Germany.

Below is a look at my predictions, the odds for the games this week and how to watch and follow all of the fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League and Europa League

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon/Germany
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


JPW’s Champions League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)
Wednesday, August 12: Atalanta 2-3 PSG
Thursday, August 13: RB Leipzig 1-2 Atletico Madrid
Friday, August 14: Barcelona 1-3 Bayern Munich
Saturday, August 15: Manchester City 3-1 Lyon


JPW’s Europa League predictions

Semifinals (August 16-17)
Sunday, August 16: Sevilla 1-2 Manchester United
Monday, August 17: Inter Milan 2-0 Shakhtar Donetsk


Champions League betting odds via DraftKings

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)

(+210) Atalanta v. PSG (+117). Tie: +275
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+135). Tie: +220
(+235) Barcelona v. Bayern Munich (+115). Tie: +255
(-305) Manchester City v. Lyon (+750). Tie: +450

Outright winner
Bayern Munich (+150)
Manchester City (+250)
Paris Saint-Germain (+250)
RB Leipzig (+900)
Lyon (+5000)


Europa League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
(+195) Sevilla v. Manchester United (+150). Tie: +215
(-132) Inter Milan v. Shakhtar Donetsk (+350). Tie: +280

Outright winner
Inter Milan (+160)
Manchester United (+190)
Sevilla (+280)
Shakhtar Donetsk (+800)