Premier League Playback: Manchester United prove they can challenge Chelsea for the title

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UNITED IMPRESS, READY THEMSELVES FOR ’15-16 TITLE CHARGE

Without four key players on Saturday, Manchester United gave runaway Premier League leaders Chelsea a fright as Louis van Gaal’s men dominated vast swathes of the match but succumbed to a moment of magic from Eden Hazard, a Jose Mourinho defensive masterclass and were made to rue missed chances.

[ RELATED: Three things we learned ]

Despite the defeat, LVG was delighted with his teams display as their resurgence continues following six-straight wins before the loss in west London.

“I am not frustrated, I am very proud of my team,” van Gaal said. “We played the best match of the season but in football you can lose. In spite of [the fact] that you are the better team.”

United were without their rhythmic veteran Michael Carrick in midfield, plus Daley Blind, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo at the back as Chelsea sat back, soaked up their pressure and a moment of brilliance from Oscar and Hazard in the first half turned out to be pivotal.

“We are in a process and I see my team always growing and improving every week,” van Gaal added. “It is amazing how we have played here. When you see the statistics it is unbelievable that the result is 1-0. But that is football.”

[ RELATED: Mourinho – We had United’s stars “in our back pockets” ]

So, LVG was impressed with how his squad played but are United ready to mount a challenge for the Premier League title next season? Mourinho claims that he set up Chelsea to sit back and that they had United’s star players “in our pockets” but is there a sense of panic coming from west London that the Red Devils are figuring things out and clicking into a team who can push Chelsea all the way for the PL title next season?

[ RELATED: LVG happy despite defeat, hails “best match of season” ]

I think so. In the buildup to Chelsea’s narrow win over United, Mourinho was asked about UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules and how that impacts his side. He said it gives teams like United an edge and that it is easier to manage United rather than Chelsea, given the amount of extra cash they can generate from ticket sales and various commercial activities around the globe.

“Yes, it’s easier,” Mourinho said. “It was easier before at Chelsea, but it’s more fun like this. More difficult of course. We sold a lot of players, not just Juan [Mata]. Their squad is amazing in terms of numbers, players, experience, solutions. I have on the big screen in my office, not the team I’m going to play against but the squad and all the options. This week, when I arrived in the room, for the first time, I realized what they have. I’m not saying it’s the best squad. It’s a very good squad. I went to QPR with Didier Drogba and no strikers on the bench and, for a long time we were in trouble. You have to cope.”

Regardless of Mourinho’s mind games and praise for United, he once again proved he’s the best in the business at setting his side up to defend and get a big win. Against his old master (Mourinho served as LVG’s assistant at Barcelona from 1997-2000) he outwitted LVG and nullified the threat of Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata, forcing both players wide to pick up the ball, with the Blues now needing just two wins and two draws from their final six games to clinch the 2014-15 PL title. It was a masterclass in forcing players out of areas where they could hurt you, as Radamel Falcao hit the post and had another shot blocked but that was as close as United got.

[ RELATED: United can challenge Chelsea next season ]

Van Gaal believes his boys are on an upward curve and if he can add key players in defense, keep hold of David De Gea in goal and bring in more attacking firepower in Memphis Depay and others in the summer, we are going to have a titanic battle between United, Chelsea, Arsenal and perhaps a revamped Manchester City side for the title next season.

“In spite of the compact defensive organization of Chelsea, we have created more chances in the second half. That is unbelievable performance, I think. But you need to score. Normally we are more effective and normally we are not so creative and because of that I think we played a fantastic match but we lost,” van Gaal added. “Now I have very disappointed players and I am very disappointed but I see that we are improving every week and when you can play at Chelsea, like this, as the dominant team. Then I am very happy with that but I am disappointed [with the defeat]. That is the ambivalence in my feelings.”

Premier League Schedule – Week 33

Result Recap & Highlights
Chelsea 1-0 Man United Recap and watch here
Crystal Palace 0-2 WBA Recap and watch here
Everton 1-0 Burnley Recap and watch here
Leicester 2-0 Swansea Recap and watch here
Man City 2-0 West Ham Recap and watch here
Newcastle 1-3 Tottenham Recap and watch here
Stoke 2-1 Saints Recap and watch here

GOAL-SHY BURNLEY MUST GO FOR  IT

Following their 1-0 defeat at Everton on Saturday, Burnley dropped to the bottom of the Premier League table for the first time since Nov. 1 as the chances of the Clarets extending their stay in the big-time beyond one season is looking increasingly dodgy.

[ RELATED: Watch full match replays ]

Sean Dyche’s side have only scored one goal in their last seven matches and despite their resolute defensive displays, their touch in front of goal let them down against the Toffees at Goodison. Granted their task was made tougher after Ashley Barnes was sent off before half time, but David Jones and Danny Ings both had glorious chances which they squandered and they have now gone 389 minutes without scoring.

The Clarets have only lost a game by more than two goals on two occasions this season (a 3-0 defeat to Arsenal in November and a 4-0 loss at West Brom in September) as they’ve been compact, hard to break down and disciplined. However as the stat below suggests, they just have to score a goal a game to get at least a point as the odd defensive mistake here and there (a poor pass at home against Arsenal last week and failure to track a run against Everton this week) is punished ruthlessly in the PL.

Defending for your lives every single game only gets you so far. Dyche’s boys have to throw caution to the wind as they face relegation candidates Leicester City, Hull City and Aston Villa, plus struggling West Ham and Stoke City in the final five games of they season. All five are winnable.

[ RELATED: Latest PL standings ]

Burnley may get beat 4-1 or 5-2 in some of their final games of the season but now is the time to go for it. What have they got to lose? It may seem something like preparing a perfectly scripted speech and then when entering the final two paragraphs you toss it over your shoulder and speak from the heart. But that’s what Burnley must do. On a recent trip to the Lancashire town it became apparent to me that the citizens bleed claret and blue and are desperate for their team to stay up. Playing a conservative brand of soccer has so far helped them grind out results and put them in a position to be within four points of safety (given their poor goal difference). At the start of the season  not many would have given Burnley a chance to be within touching distance of safety with five games to go. They are, and now they  must go for it and play 4-3-3 or 4-2-4 or whatever they have to do in order to bring some attacking impetus to their matches.

They have already surpassed the expectations of many of their fans by hanging in there. Now is the time to put their foot to the floor and hope for the best as goals and momentum means everything at this time of the season.

FLIP FLOPS ON – WEST HAM, NEWCASTLE

With just one win in their last 11 matches, it’s safe to say West Ham United are finishing the season on a downward spiral. That is perhaps what happens when the future of manager Sam Allardyce is still unknown with his current contract running out at the end of the season and no talks being held with the Hammers’ owners about a new deal.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

It is also indicative of the Hammers’ form dropping off midway through the season after they sat in the top four in late December after beating Leicester City at home. With Andy Carroll back fit and scoring goals, plus new additions Enner Valencia and Diafra Sakho causing all kinds of problems, there was a real sense that West Ham could achieve something special this season. Instead they have plummeted down the table with five defeats from their last seven and “Big Sam’s” boys already seem to be wistfully dreaming about frolicking on a far-flung beach at the end of the season and grabbing their flip flops out of the bottom draw of their dresser. In their 2-0 defeat to Manchester City on Sunday, the Hammers only showed a few glimpses of attacking intent late in the game as they stood back, let City pass the ball around them and gave them copious amounts of space. During the first 15 minutes of the second half, City had over 81 percent of possession. It wasn’t good enough and depicted what will likely be a shameful end to a 2014-15 season which promised so much up until the halfway point.

[ RELATED: Premier League schedule ]

Talking about shameful, the way Newcastle United’s season is going, the distraught Magpies fans could be witnessing their side in a relegation battle. Since Alan Pardew jumped ship for Crystal Palace in January they have won just twice in 14 games since and interim manager John Carver has now seen his side lose six-straight amid plenty of empty seats at St James’ Park on Sunday. After countless protests against owner Mike Ashley over the years, Newcastle’s fans are at it again as banners saying “Ashley Out” were plastered everywhere around St James and the streets of Newcastle on the weekend. Fans have had enough of the lack of spending on new players and constant selling of the Magpies’ top talents (see Yohan Cabaye, Matheiu Debuchy, Demba Ba et al.) by Ashley and his board. Now they are choosing to hurt the owner the only way they can: by not turning up and putting money into his pocket, the vilified owner of their beloved club.

Soccer is a religion to fans of Newcastle and St James’ is their cathedral of worship. It will pain them to stay away but until Ashley sells up and puts the club in the hands of someone who is willing to invest money instead of making money, then many Magpies fans will not return to the third-largest stadium in the Premier League. In the video below our analysts discuss if Newcastle are in a relegation battle following their lackluster 3-1 defeat to Tottenham on Sunday which leaves them seven points above the drop zone but they have played one more game teams around them.

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

USMNT notes: Robinson moves to Wigan, and more

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It’s been a busy day of U.S. Men’s National Team related news, from Tyler Boyd signing with Besiktas to U.S. Soccer announcing a friendly match with Mexico in September at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Here’s everything else you may have missed today relating to the USMNT and Americans Abroad.


Robinson joins Wigan in permanent transfer

Antonee Robinson is heading back to the Championship, but this time, he won’t be heading back to Everton at the end of the season.

Robinson on Monday completed a permanent transfer to Wigan. where he spent last season and helped the club avoid relegation. Robinson has signed a three-year contract and he joined for a reported $2.5 million transfer fee, per Wigan Today. He battled injuries to make 26 appearances in all competitions.

Robinson, born in England to an American father and British mother, came up in Everton’s Finch Farm academy but never broke through to make a first team appearance. Instead, he spent time in the lower levels on loan to Bolton and then Wigan. With Everton’s signing last year of Lucas Digne, the left back spot is locked up for quite a while, leaving Robinson second-choice and in search of first team minutes again.

For the USMNT, Robinson made his debut in the 3-0 win over Bolivia in late May, 2018, and has gone on to make seven appearances for the senior team, including a start against Jamaica, though it didn’t go well in a 1-0 defeat at home. Robinson was on the 40-man provisional Gold Cup roster for coach Gregg Berhalter and he also took part in a European-based training camp for the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team as the team starts preparing for Olympic qualifying, which will likely take place later this year.

Robinson will likely play a key role in helping the U.S. make it to their first Olympics since 2008 in Beijing.


Reyna heading to USA with Borussia Dortmund

Claudio Reyna’s son Giovanni Reyna is off to a strong start after officially being announced as a signing by Borussia Dortmund. Whether for marketing reasons or sporting reasons, Reyna was one of the 26 players to make the flight to Seattle as Dortmund takes some preseason action in the U.S.

BVB will face the Seattle Sounders in Seattle on Thursday before heading to take on Liverpool in South Bend, Indiana on Saturday.

It’s a quick burst in the U.S., but perhaps Reyna can get a few minutes of action in his home nation before heading back to Germany to try and see if he can break into the squad.


Scott set for Newcastle? 

British-born American midfielder Kyle Scott appears that he will still be on the books at a Premier League club next season.

According to multiple reports, including the Newcastle Chronicle, Newcastle FC is interested in signing Scott, thanks to a reported recommendation from former coach Rafa Benitez. Scott, 21, has spent the past 12 years in Chelsea’s academy and reserves, but he’s hardly sniffed a match, at least for the first team. He spent some time on loan with Dutch second-division side Telstar last year, but it wasn’t declared permanent.

Now, having been let go by Chelsea, Scott is looking for a new club. It’s unclear, however, considering his lack of first team experience, if he’d be able to step into the lineup at Newcastle and really make a difference so soon.

In the past, Scott has appeared for the U.S. Under-18s and U-20s. Perhaps some regular playing time in the Premier League can get him into the senior national team.

Watch: Hear from Bournemouth’s Howe in training

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Ever wondered what it is like to go through preseason training with a Premier League?

Thanks to AFC Bournemouth, now we know.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe was “mic’d up” during a preseason training session on Monday, giving fans an inside look into his team gaining fitness and going over some key movements that they’ll surely be using during games this season.

Plus….players biking to practice and the dreaded beep test.

Here from Howe and the players above and take a look at a Premier League preseason.

Dietrich quits as club president of crisis-hit Stuttgart

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STUTTGART, Germany (AP) Wolfgang Dietrich quit as president of German second-division team Stuttgart on Monday after saying he no longer wants to be made a scapegoat for all that’s wrong at the crisis-ridden club.

The 70-year-old Dietrich, who took over as president in October 2016 and whose term was due to run until 2020, said he never expected such “hostility and malice” as he experienced at the club’s annual general meeting on Sunday.

[READ: Tyler Boyd signs with Besiktas]

The AGM had to be cancelled after about 4,500 members were unable to vote for the club’s management board because of Wi-Fi problems. Dietrich broke off the meeting to loud jeers and protests and was accompanied by bodyguards from the interior of the stadium.

Dietrich said he no longer wants to “be in charge of an organization that is neither willing to stand up to these interests against me nor is able to guarantee the smooth running of a general meeting.”

Dietrich was already under fire for his links to investment company Quattrex Sports, which provided loans to several of Stuttgart’s rivals. In his 3+ years at the club, Stuttgart has had three coaches, two sporting directors and was relegated from the Bundesliga last season.

Should Tottenham sign or pass on Bale?

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Tottenham just broke its transfer record with the signing of Tanguay Ndombele. Could it break the bank for a second time this summer?

However unlikely that could be, Spanish publication Marca reports that Tottenham has continued to express interest in bringing Gareth Bale back to White Hart Lane and Northwest London. The report states that Tottenham is willing to spend between $56 and $67.6 million to sign Bale but that it could not afford Bale’s $19 million yearly salary after tax. Even more, it could only afford to pay half of that, or $9.5 million per season.

[READ: Fabian Delph moves to Everton]

There’s no doubt that, on paper at least, Bale would improve Tottenham’s squad and could potentially even immediately step into the starting lineup. But that’s assuming Tottenham could sign him anyway.

It seemed unlikely just a few weeks ago, after Daniel Levy and the club went an entire calendar year without spending money on a new player, that it could spend more than $100 million on two players to improve the squad. But perhaps now, with television revenues growing and more seats to sell at Tottenham’s new stadium, Levy feels he can spend big this summer to take Tottenham to the next level.

Whether due to luck or not, Tottenham took advantage of its opportunity and manager Mauricio Pochettino did a masterful job guiding the club to the UEFA Champions League final. But to challenge Manchester City at the head of the Premier League, it’s going to take a talent like Bale coming in.

That being said, that are the chances that Bale, who turns 30 on Tuesday, can dramatically regain his fitness after years of recurring injuries, are low. So the big question now is, is it worth it for Tottenham to spend more than $60 million on re-signing Bale, and is it worth it for Bale to leave, instead of getting to stay on his salary for the next three seasons.

Bale’s agent Jonathan Barrett has long stated his client wants to retire in Madrid. It’s seeming less likely by the day, and yet, as Bale doesn’t move, perhaps he’ll call it quits ahead of schedule, and turn down a chance to return to Tottenham.