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

Jose Mourinho to take charge of Juventus?

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Do we really think Jose Mourinho is ready for a return?

Multiple reports in Italy claims Juventus’ star forward Cristiano Ronaldo wants Mourinho to become their new manager after it was announced that Max Allegri is stepping down this summer after winning five-straight Serie A titles with the Turin club.

Mourinho, 56, has been out of a job since Manchester United fired him in December, but his status as a serial trophy winner remains intact.

Speaking recently on beIN Sport, where he has been popping up as a pundit on multiple occasions,

“One of the players that I have a great relation with, he plays for a team and he told me, ‘You should come here next season’, and I told him, ‘They don’t love me.’ He told me, ‘You win three matches and they will start loving you.'”

Hmm. Who could he be talking about?

Mourinho didn’t endear himself to Juve’s fans during his time at their rivals Inter Milan where he won the treble, including the UEFA Champions League in 2010. He then added further fuel to the fire as United won late on at Juve in the group stage of the Champions League earlier this season, which then saw Mourinho run out onto the field at full time and goad the home supporters who had mocked him the entire game due to his successful spell at Inter.

Would that stop Juve from hiring him? Probably not. Juve’s CEO Andrea Agnelli is a man who wants success and he wants it now.

Mourinho has also said he plans to be back in a job by this summer, just six months after being fired by United.

He has some time out to reflect on where things went wrong at United and how he can better understand the media demands which surround the game and now it seems like he is ready to dive back in at the deep end.

Juve are one of the biggest clubs in Europe, and everything is in place for them to make another deep run in the Champions League next season, and something drastic would have to happen for them to not win the Italian league in 2019-20.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if Mourinho landed at Juve this summer as his defensive tactics suit Serie A and the Italian champs are desperate for success in Europe after bringing in Ronaldo, 34, on a huge salary to win the Champions League. Ronaldo will have a huge say on who the next Juve boss will be, and he is said to not be keen on either Antonio Conte or Maurizio Sarri taking over from Allegri.

If this happens, it would be a lot of fun. Have your popcorn at the ready…

Alaves seeks new coach after Fernandez resigns

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MADRID (AP) Spanish club Alaves says coach Abelardo Fernandez has resigned.

Alaves says it was Fernandez’s decision to leave after leading the modest Basque Country team to an 11th-place finish in the Spanish league.

[ MORE: La Liga results, stats

Fernandez said in a news conference on Monday the club did everything it could to try to keep him, but he felt he “would not be at 100 percent next season” and decided it was best to resign.

Fernandez joined Alaves at the end of 2017, helping the team finish 14th in the league last season, comfortably escaping relegation.

The club had a surprising start to this season, being as high as second in the standings and remaining in the fight for the final Champions League place until about 10 rounds to go.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Transfer rumor roundup: Felix to Man United; Sane to Bayern

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The Premier League transfer window is officially open again and that means one thing: transfer reports are going to start kicking up a few notches.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Here’s a look at some of the latest gossip from around the PL…


Benfica’s teenage superstar Joao Felix reportedly has a release clause of $130 million, and Manchester United are among the host of clubs ready to trigger it.

A report from the Daily Record says that United and Real Madrid are both ready to seal the deal for the 19-year-old attacking midfielder. Per the report United have opened talks with Benfica and their representatives were in Lisbon to see him play for the final time this season.

Felix has burst onto the scene in Europe this season and has helped Benfica win the Portuguese league title. His 20 goals and 11 assists in all competitions this season prove his pedigree, and United certainly need to rebuild their squad. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has constantly spoken about adding young, hungry, talented players this summer, and Felix is touted as the best young playmaker in Europe right now.

This transfer deal would make Felix the most expensive signing in United and Premier League history, and it does make you wonder if a deal is being lined up to offload Paul Pogba to Real Madrid and replace him with Felix.


Manchester City are struggling to keep hold of one of their stars, as a report from the Daily Mirror says that Bayern Munich are increasingly confident of signing Leroy Sane this summer.

Sane, 23, has failed to agree a new contract at City despite being in talks with the club for 18 months and Pep Guardiola has admitted he could leave this summer in search of more game time. Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva are City’s main starters in the wide attacking midfield roles, which has meant Sane and Riyad Mahrez have had to fight for minutes off the bench and starts here and there during their historic 2018-19 season.

That has often led to Sane looking pretty unhappy on the sidelines, but when he has got the chance to play he has been pretty good with his best-ever season in terms of goals scored with 16 across all competitions. Coming off the back of his shock omission from Germany’s 2018 World Cup squad, Sane has bounced back well and scored a pivotal goal in Man City’s PL win against Liverpool and a stunning free kick late on against his old club Schalke in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16.

Sane moving to Bayern would make sense as legendary wingers Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben are moving on, with Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman set to take their mantle and any summer move for Callum Hudson-Odoi now in doubt after his serious injury. The German international has delivered in his three seasons at City, but Guardiola often seems enraged by his penchant for drifting inside with his runs and with the ball instead of staying wide on the touchline.

It seems like the stars are aligning for Sane to return to Germany and be a star at Bayern.

Out of contract Premier League Best XI

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With the 2018-19 season in the books, Premier League clubs are already turning their attention to next season.

Players are coming towards the end of their contracts, with the PL’s summer transfer now open which means some players can move on free transfers when their deals expire, usually on July 1.

Which players are available to pick up at the end of their deals on freebies?

There is always a lot of chatter at this time of the year about who will stay, which players have a one-year option to extend their deals, and which clubs also have that option. Olivier Giroud will stay at Chelsea for one more season, but he would have been the top striker available on a freebie this summer, while Ander Herrera is expected to sign for PSG after announcing he will leave Man United when his contract expires.

However, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding several star names at some of the PL’s biggest clubs. If you are a newly promoted club (Norwich, Sheffield United and one of Aston Villa and Derby County) you are no doubt looking at this list of experienced PL players and getting pretty excited.

Take a look at our “Out of Contract Best XI” below, as several players have yet to agree new deals with their current clubs.


Premier League, Out of Contract Best XI – 4-4-2 formation

—– Michel Vorm —–

Danny SimpsonGary CahillPhil JagielkaNacho Monreal — 

Antonio ValenciaMohamed DiameJuan MataAlberto Moreno — 

—- Daniel Sturridge —- Fernando Llorente —- 

On the bench
Willy Caballero
Leighton Baines
Danny Williams
Ander Herrera (expected to join PSG on free transfer)
Samir Nasri
Bakary Sako
Andy Carroll