Premier League Playback: Chelsea brilliant, not boring, as title inches closer

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CHELSEA: BORING OR BRILLIANT?

Towards the end of Chelsea’s 0-0 draw at Arsenal on Sunday the home fans at the Emirates Stadium were growing increasingly frustrated with the away side thwarting attack after attack. “Boring, boring Chelsea” was the chant that reverberated around the stadium as Jose Mourinho had masterminded another sublime defensive display to inch his side one point closer to the Premier League title and quelling the threat of his nearest challenger.

[ RELATED: Three things we learned | Mourinho wins tactical battle ]

Asked afterwards what he thought about the chants from Arsenal’s fans and being labelled boring, Mourinho delivered the best response possible to silence the Gunners faithful.

“I think boring is 10 years without a title. That is very, very boring,” Mourinho said. “You support the club, you are waiting, waiting for so many years without the Premier League. I think that is very boring. Maybe they were not singing to us, because when you are at home and you want to win the game and you take out your number nine. Maybe for the home fans they want more. They want to play Giroud and Welbeck together up front to try and win the game in the last period. I think we have a very good performance and the ‘boring team’ is the team with the second [highest] amount of goals in the Premier League and is the best team in goal difference.”

How do you come back from that burn from Mourinho? You don’t.

Chelsea is now 10 points clear at the top of the PL table and if they beat Leicester City on Wednesday that lead will be increased to 13 points with four games to go. Only Arsenal can catch them if they win all of their remaining five matches and Chelsea do not pick up any more points this season. So, that is why Mourinho selected to defend first and try and make other teams beat Chelsea, rather than his side beating itself.

Due to injuries ruling out Diego Costa and Loic Remy, plus Didier Drogba only fit to start on the bench, Mourinho showed his tactical genius as he played Oscar in a “false nine” position in the first half which worked wonderfully well as Willian, Ramires and Eden Hazard supported from deep-lying roles. Oscar had to be withdrawn at half time due to the terrible challenge from Arsenal’s goalkeeper David Ospina, which should have resulted in a penalty kick, that left him needing a trip to hospital. But the fact that Chelsea got in behind Arsenal on at least four occasions in the first 45 minutes proved that playing a “false nine” in the future should not be out of the question.

As for their defensive prowess, they way they funneled Arsenal’s attackers into central areas was majestic. John Terry’s performance had Mourinho saying it was the “best he’s ever played” for him at Chelsea as the Blues’ captain celebrated his inclusion into the PFA Team of the Year in fine style. Terry, 34, and Chelsea handled Olivier Giroud masterfully with the English center back winning aerial balls, organizing the back line and urging his side to stay compact. Arsenal missed the pace and width players like Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck provide and only when Wenger brought them on late in the game did the Gunners get in behind and around Chelsea’s blue wall. As the stat above suggests, Chelsea didn’t do anything new against Arsenal as their defensive dominance against their London rivals continues. Arsenal only had one shot on target and failed to score at home in the PL for the first time this season and for the first time since Feb. 12, 2014.

Premier League Schedule – Week 34

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

They have now shut the Gunners out in each of the four games Mourinho has played against them since he returned to the PL at the start of last season, which includes two 0-0 draws away from home, and the Portuguese coach is now 13 games unbeaten (seven wins, six draws) against Wenger. Just as free-flowing, attractive, attacking soccer is widely admired, there’s also a supreme art in defending correctly and resolutely. The hours Mourinho spent on the training ground in the lead up to the game against Arsenal made all the difference, as he knew that as long as his side didn’t lose then there would be no real risk of them fluffing their lines and not winning the PL crown this season.

His masterplan to grind out wins and points in the final stages of the season is nothing new either. Mourinho is the only manager in history to have won league titles in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain. He knows how to get it done at the pivotal stage of the season. How many times have we seen his teams lighting it up early in the season with scintillating displays and the shackles off, then grinding out wins at the business end of the season? In short, the answer is a heck of a lot. And also, this notion of being boring… Chelsea is still the second highest goalscorers in the PL. Not bad for a boring team.

[ RELATED: Watch full match replays ]

Yes in an ideal world it would be great to see a team rip up opponents playing expansive, orgasmic soccer like the great Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United sides of the past, but it is not easy to do what Chelsea does. Mourinho needs each and every one of his players to buy into his philosophy of switching tactics in the latter stages of the season. In Terry he had a leader on the pitch who understands what is needed to win the PL crown and Chelsea’s skipper is getting ready to lift his fourth title and third under Mourinho. Here’s what Terry thinks about those “boring” jibes from Arsenal’s fans.

“We are definitely not boring and if we do go on to win it, nobody’s going to remember the performances when perhaps it’s not been that exciting,” Terry said. “We’ve dug deep and other teams haven’t, and that is why they are so far behind us. Possession is great. We could see that from the Manchester United game last week. Possession and tippy-tappy football’s great, but if you are not winning games you’re not going to win the league.”

HAZARD, KANE SCOOP DESERVED PFA AWARDS

On Sunday evening the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) announced the winners of their season awards as Eden Hazard was voted as the best player in the PL by his peers for the 2014-15 season and Harry Kane picked up the young player of the season award. It’s hard to argue with either selection.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Hazard, 24, also finished second behind Kane in the young player of the season vote to display his dominance. The Belgian winger has scored 13 goals and assisted eight but don’t let those rather modest numbers deceive you. Go around the PL and ask other players who is the toughest to mark. Hazard’s name is always at the top of the list. He has created 88 chances, more than any other player, and has also completed the most dribbles in the PL (155) on his way to being the most fouled player. The speedy, combative Belgian was a worthy winner of the PFA’s top prize as he is so often the creative spark for Chelsea as they inch towards the title. As for Kane, well, what superlative hasn’t been used to describe his breakout season? Just 21, he has scored 30 goals in all competitions for Spurs and didn’t even start his first PL match of the season until November. Remarkable. He can score with both feet, makes intelligent runs, can hold the ball up well and is great in the air.

The one gripe I had with the PFA awards was the Team of the Season selections. Here’s a list of 10 players who should have made the squad.

While here is the actual 11 players who were voted by their fellow PL players as the best this season.

RELEGATION PICTURE

Man, it is getting tight down there. Leicester City grabbed a huge win away at Burnley as the Clarets’ season may well be defined by two second half minutes when all is said and done. First, Matt  Taylor stepped up and slammed a penalty kick against the post. Then, a defensive mix up between Tom Heaton and Michael Duff allowed Jamie Vardy to prod the ball home and give the Foxes the 1-0 win, which is their fourth-straight victory and moves them out of the bottom three.

[ RELATED: Latest PL standings | schedule | stats ]

Elsewhere Hull bagged a huge win at Palace thanks to two goal from Dame N’Doye but the Tigers have a horrendous set of games coming up  against Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United as they sit just one point ahead of Sunderland who slipped into the bottom three despite their draw at Stoke. As for QPR, they squandered a glorious chance to grab three points at home as Charlie Austin had his poor penalty kick saved by Adrian and the R’s drew 0-0 with West Ham to leave themselves four points from safety with four games to go. Another club looking helpless is Newcastle United as seven-straight defeats has seen them fall to just five points above the drop zone. Surely the Magpies won’t go down?

Here’s a look at how the bottom seven is shaping up in the standings. It’s anybody’s guess as to who will go down, but Burnley and QPR are looking increasingly likely to drop straight back into the Championship. Can they replicate Leicester’s heroics of recent weeks to make one final push?

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ROCKET MEN! WATFORD COMING UP

Sir Elton John, Honorary Life President of Watford FC, will be a happy man after the Hornets sealed promotion to the Premier League over the weekend.

[ RELATED: 10 things you should know about Watford ]

On Saturday Watford beat Brighton and Hove Albion 2-0 in their penultimate Championship match of the season and with other teams slipping up, that meant the Hertfordshire club is heading back to the big time.

It all came as quite a surprise as everyone expected the race for promotion to go down to the final day of the season but a freak set of results sealed the deal for Watford. As you can see in the video above taken on the team bus (listened to the one guy “I don’t normally get emotional…”) by Mexican international defender Miguel Layun, the moment promotion was sealed was pretty special.

As for who can join them, if Bournemouth wins against Bolton on Monday afternoon the Cherries will all but seal their place in the PL for the first-time in club history. If they win they no other team could surpass their points total but a massive swing in goal differential is the only thing that could. Here’s a breakdown of the entire playoff and promotion picture entering the final week of the Championship season.

USMNT UPDATE: GUZAN’S BLUNDER, HOWARD ROLLING

There’s no hiding when a goalkeeper makes a bad mistake and U.S. national team man Brad Guzan had one of those moments on Saturday just three minutes in. As the ball was played back to Guzan by Ron Vlaar, the American tried to swing his left foot at the clearance but got it horribly wrong as the ball bounced off his standing foot and skewed straight to Sergio Aguero to tap home. Awful moment for Guzan who has been so reliable for Villa. Guzan’s side ended up losing the game 3-2 late on (after an impressive rally from 2-0 down went to waste) and remain in serious danger and just two points above the bottom three.

[ RELATED: Geoff Cameron’s blog for PST ]

Elsewhere, Geoff Cameron started at right back for Stoke in their 1-1 draw with Sunderland but limped off late on with a hamstring issue. Rounding off the Americans in action in the PL, Tim Howard kept another clean sheet as Everton defeated his old side Manchester United 3-0 in the Toffees’ biggest win of the season so far.

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

10-man Red Bulls hold off Atlanta United at home

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Atlanta United’s five-game winning streak went up in smoke as the New York Red Bulls pulled off an incredible 1-0 victory.

Playing down a man for around 65 minutes, the Red Bulls shutout Atlanta United’s high powered offense in front of 18,495 fans at Red Bull Arena. Tom Barlow, in just his second appearance with the Red Bulls, scored the game-winning goal in the 65th minute off a header at the far post, one that left U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper Brad Guzan rooted to his line.

[READ: Pep: Domestic Treble harder than UCL]

Tim Parker was shown a straight red card in controversial fashion, after grabbing Josef Martinez’s left arm with Martinez in front of him just outside the box. Martinez was clearly pulled back but continued running and eventually got a shot off that Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles parried away.

Referee Robert Sbiga then decided to call the play back and award Atlanta United a free kick outside the box. After what seemed to be consultation with his assistants, Sbiga then showed Parker a straight red card, likely for denial of a clear goal scoring opportunity (DOGSO) while Martinez was through on goal.

The outcome is a massive one for the Red Bulls. It’s been a rough season, with the loss of both Jesse Marsch and Tyler Adams and the poor form of Bradley Wright-Phillips up top. Wright-Phillips was out on Sunday and another attacker Andreas Ivan, went off with an injury in the first half as he was about to be substituted off anyways following the red card.

Alejandro Romero Gamarra, Kaku, has made his feelings known that he wants (or wanted) to leave the club. His form hasn’t been stellar this season either.

Meanwhile, Atlanta’s finally found its way back into the win column and is looking more like the juggernaut from last season, especially with five-straight shutout wins. It’s all back to zero today though, with the defeat at the Red Bulls on a perfect grass pitch up a man.

Mbappe hints he could leave PSG

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Kylian Mbappe accepted his award as the Ligue 1 MVP, dedicated it to Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, and then mentioned he could be off soon to another club.

Wait, what?

Yes, following Mbappe accepting his award, the French star and World Cup winner stated he hoped he could continue his career at PSG but left open the possibility of moving to another club that allows him to take the next steps in his career.

[READ: Kompany to join Anderlecht as player-manager]

“This is a very important moment for me, I arrive at a first or second turn of my career,” Mbappe said, via L’equipe. “I’ve discovered a lot of things here, I feel that maybe it’s time to have more responsibility. I hope it may be at Paris Saint-Germain, it would be with great pleasure, or perhaps elsewhere for a new project.”

Mbappe later clarified his comments, stating he was looking for more responsibility. “If it’s at PSG, that’s good. If it is elsewhere, it will be elsewhere for a new challenge.

“For me, it was time to say it. I am someone whole: when I say something, I think it. For me, it was the right time to say it. That’s it, I said it!”

It’s unclear why exactly Mbappe used this moment to put some pressure on PSG. Perhaps its to remind them that the club needs to be successful in its transfer endeavors this summer, so it can compete deep into the UEFA Champions League. With Neymar injured and a central midfield ravaged by injuries, PSG capitulated and somehow fell to Manchester United in the Champions League Round of 16, grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.

There’s no reason why PSG can’t dominate the Champions League like it does Ligue 1, especially with the attacking trident of Mbappe, Neymar and Edinson Cavani. But of course, against better competition, the inferiority in mentality and in talent along the backline has started to show.

So, where could Mbappe go? There’s very few places that could effectively match both his salary and his competitive goals. It’s the usual suspects, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and perhaps Manchester City, should they be interested in it. More recently, while Man City has spent big, it’s been on signing multiple players on $50 million transfers, as opposed to one player on a $200 million transfer, for example.

It’s unlikely, but an intriguing option would be Liverpool. If the club somehow came up with the funds, imagine Mbappe playing alongside Sadio Mane and Mo Salah, with Roberto Firmino coming in to spell either of the three over the course of the season. Mbappe would likely make up that one-point difference between Liverpool and Man City, and if that’s what it takes for Liverpool to finally win the title, it could be worth the initial massive investment.

Messi finishes season leading La Liga in goals, assists, and more

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Lionel Messi turns 32 this summer, and after more than a dozen years of first team soccer, playing more than 50 games a season, the old man’s still got it.

The Argentine star, playing his first season in almost a decade without direct competition from Cristiano Ronaldo, scored twice as Barcelona tied Eibar, 2-2. The two goals gave him 34 for the season, by far the most by any player in the league, and his 50th in all competitions.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Messi also led La Liga this season with 13 assists, 136 shots, 85 shots on target and 70 through balls. In terms of successful dribbles, Messi’s 132 fell seven short of Celta Vigo’s Sofiane Boufal.

Messi’s 34 goals gave him his sixth Pichichi, the trophy given to the league’s leading scorer. Messi is now tied with legendary Telmo Zarra for the all-time record of most Pichichi’s, and Messi is now three ahead of Ronaldo.

As if Messi wasn’t already a legendary player, the man seems to be showing no signs of slowing down. It may have helped that he skipped matches with Argentina after the 2018 World Cup this past fall, keeping him fresh for Barcelona. Even so, the man looks as good, if not better, with age.

Messi already holds the record for most goals in league history, and at this rate, he’ll set it to a level that will be almost impossible to reach. While he’s going to be remembered for his incredible control on the ball, it doesn’t hurt that he’s been incredibly productive during his career, including in 2018-2019. Barcelona won the league title with ease and the club made the UEFA Champions League semifinal. If for some better defending, Messi could be contesting for another Champions League title.

Nani scores twice as Orlando City thrashes FC Cincinnati

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Nani may not be the star he once was while he played for Manchester United, but he’s still making a powerful impact in MLS.

The Portuguese international scored his sixth and seventh goals of the season as Orlando City ran circles expansion side FC Cincinnati, winning 5-1. Along with Nani, Tesho Akindele scored a brace and Dom Dwyer came off the bench and scored a header in the win.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Aside from having a chance to record a big win over a struggling side, Orlando City may have been ultra motivated on Sunday. Orlando City manager James O’Connor has history with FC Cincinnati from his time at Louisville City, with intense rivalry matches taking place as well as arguments between O’Connor and former FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch on the sidelines.

FC Cincinnati actually went up early with a Darren Mattocks finish past Brian Rowe, but it didn’t take long for Orlando City to respond. Akindele fired home from 20-yards out in the 37th minute to make it 1-1. Early in the second half, Nani scored on a penalty kick rebound to make it 2-1 to the hosts, and then he added a second off a cross from the right to blast the game wide open.

With the win, Orlando City moved just one point outside of a playoff place, while Cincinnati remains in the basement of the Eastern Conference. However, Orlando City has a difficult road ahead, with matches against the LA Galaxy, Montreal Impact and D.C. United to come.