Premier League Playback: Can Leicester, Vardy achieve the unthinkable?

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FOXES’ FAIRYTALE CONTINUES

Don’t rub your eyes. Don’t refresh this page. It’s happening. Leicester City are top of the Premier League table and Jamie Vardy is running away with the golden boot.

Saturday’s 3-0 win away at Newcastle saw the Foxes jump ahead of Arsenal and Manchester City into first place in late November, as Leicester fans, players and even their new manager Claudio Ranieri must be pinching themselves.

[ VIDEO: Vardy equals PL record ]

The Foxes have 28 points after 13 games this season. After 13 games last season, their first back in the top-flight in a decade, they were bottom of the table. What a difference 12 months makes. This calendar year has been sensational for the Midlands club. From winning seven of their final nine games last season to stave off relegation in sensational fashion to leading the way in the PL, runs like the one they are is the reason why we all love the beautiful game. Regardless of the big money spent by the perennial powerhouses of the PL, Leicester’s surge to the top exemplifies the vast wealth on offer across the league and how the gap is closing between those select five or six teams who usually occupy the upper echelons and upstarts such as Leicester, Crystal Palace, West Ham, Stoke City and Southampton challenging them.

Every weekend you look at the schedule and say: “ah, surely Leicester’s bubble will burst this weekend.” But it isn’t. Not one iota. In Vardy they have a talisman and a man on a mission. His opener at Newcastle at the weekend — Vardy was struggling all week with injury but pulled through to lead the line — saw him tie Ruud van Nistlerooy’s record of scoring in 10 consecutive PL games. Vardy now has 13 goals in 13 games this season and his incredible rise through the non-league scene and up from the lower leagues to sitting on the edge of greatness at the age of 28 symbolizes all that is good about this Leicester team. Sure, Vardy has been in hot water for some ill-advised moments in the past but generally, he seems a down to earth lad who is wiling to run through brick walls for the team.

The video below shows Vardy addressing his teammates on Saturday after equaling van Nistlerooy’s record. He’s all about the beers on the bus/plane home…

If you look across Leicester’s squad it is full of players overachieving and playing at full throttle. Danny Drinkwater. Andy King. Riyad Mahrez. Wes Morgan. Marc Albrighton. Those aforementioned are far from household names but if Leicester can hang on and do something special this season — which a top four or even top six finish would be despite them leading the way so far — then these players will be etched into the PL history as a group who supplied perhaps the biggest shock season from a team many tipped for relegation in August after journeyman manager Ranieri replaced the popular but volatile Nigel Pearson over the summer.

[ VIDEO: PL highlights

Premier League Schedule – Week 13

Result Recap & Highlights
Chelsea 1-0 Norwich Recap, watch here
C Palace 0-1 S’land Recap, watch here
Everton 4-0 Villa Recap, watch here
Man City 1-4 Liverpool Recap, watch here
Newcastle 0-3 Leicester Recap, watch here
Saints 0-1 Stoke Recap, watch here
Swansea 2-2 B’mouth Recap, watch here
Tottenham 4-1 W Ham Recap, watch here
Watford 1-2 Man Utd Recap, watch here
West Brom 2-1 Arsenal Recap, watch here

Another manager in the East Midlands many years ago led two teams who had recently been promoted to league titles. In the same week where a squad of ex-players got together to promote a film — aptly named, “I believe in miracles” — about Brian Clough’s success at Nottingham Forest, my thoughts drifted to the league titles he won with Leicester’s neighbors Derby County and Forest in the 1970s.

Surely it can’t happen again in the East Midlands. Surely not…

Standing between Premier League leaders (has it sunk in yet?) Leicester stretching their lead at the summit is a particularly gruesome run of games coming up to end 2015. First up, Manchester United at home on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra), then trips to Swansea City, Everton and Liverpool plus home games against Chelsea and Manchester City.

That tricky run of games takes Leicester up to December 29 and if they’re still top at the end of that run, we really do have a Foxes’ fairytale on our hands.


LIVERPOOL’S GEGEN

Jurgen Klopp‘s impact at Anfield is starting to be felt in a big way. The German head coach hugged everyone in sight after his players put in a majestic first half display to beat Manchester City 4-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

His ability to galvanize a squad of players who looked ruder-less under Brendan Rodgers is remarkable and the former Borussia Dortmund maestro has only been in charge for seven weeks.

Speaking to our own Arlo White, Lee Dixon and Graeme Le Saux after the win on Saturday, here’s what Klopp had to say as he detailed the pressing game his side are already becoming accustomed too.

“Gegenpressing” is a term coined to the way Klopp’s teams played at Dortmund as they forced the opposition back at every opportunity and that’s exactly what Liverpool did to City’s shaky defense early on. It worked a treat with an own goal from Eliaquim Mangala, plus strikes from Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino putting them 3-0 up after 32 minutes. In truth, it could have been more and despite getting a reality check before the last international break by losing 2-1 at home to Crystal Palace, this win shows that progress is being made under Klopp as the Reds now sit six points off the top four.

[ MORE: Kompany loss hurts City ]

The real test is against teams from further down the league who are going to press high against Liverpool in what will be a “nothing to lose” scenario as the opposition face Liverpool’s more technically gifted players. Klopp’s boys have now beaten Chelsea and Man City away from home by pressing high and pouncing on loose balls. With Christian Benteke, Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge ready to return, Klopp now has more depth, especially in attack, but playing Firmino in a false nine worked remarkably well.

Another player seemingly flourishing under Klopp is Adam Lallana. The England international also joined the NBC crew on the pitch after the game, as he revealed the extent of Klopp’s hugs and love…


SPURS TITLE CONTENDERS?

Harry Kane is on fire. Spurs look solid at the back. They possess a core of young, exciting English talent. So, where’s the catch? Well, there may not be one.

Asked about Tottenham’s title credentials after their 4-1 demolition of West Ham United on Sunday, Mauricio Pochettino called for calm amid whispers that Spurs may just be readying themselves for not only a top four tussle but a challenge for the title.

“For us it’s not about us today in the table,” Pochettino said. “It’s important the way we play and that the players are convinced to develop the plan we have, the philosophy we have and we share. This is the big success today for us. And for that we feel very proud for them. Today we share the same philosophy and belief in the way we work. That’s the most important thing.”

With Kane scoring two in the London derby, he now has eight goals in his last five games. The England international is “en fuego.” With Hugo Lloris marshalling a settled backline of Kyle Walker, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Danny Rose, plus the impressive trio of Eric Dier, Dele Alli and Mousa Dembele sitting in front of them, if Spurs can keep players fit they have a very real chance of finishing in the top four which is Pochettino’s aim.

[ MORE: Poch calms down title talk ]

Alli, 19, looks a particularly sensational talent but a silly yellow card for confronting Mark Noble in the second half means the man who dazzled for England against France last week will miss Spurs home game against Chelsea on Sunday (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra). That was the only blot on the copybook of another sensational outing for Spurs as Pochettino’s young squad have bought into his philosophy wholeheartedly and are reaping the benefits as they extended their unbeaten run to 12 games and haven’t tasted defeat since Aug. 8 on the opening day at Manchester United.


“FERGIE TIME” RETURNS

Speaking of Manchester United, they did something in the PL which they haven’t done in three years, way back when Sir Alex Ferguson was their manager: they scored a stoppage time winner.

[ MORE: Latest PL standings | schedule 

That’s right, “Fergie time” reemerged on Saturday at Watford with Bastian Schweinsteiger steering a shot towards goal which Troy Deeney directed into his own net to hand United a crucial 2-1 win late on. The Red Devils were without Anthony Martial, Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and others for the trip to Vicarage Road. Ander Herrera went off injured in the first half as Louis Van Gaal had to switch formations to a back three in a 3-5-2 but United dug deep and despite Deeney equalizing from the penalty spot in the 87th minute, they fought back and snatched a win.

Fergie would have been proud of the spirit Schweinsteiger and Co. showed to battle back. Speaking of the greatest manager in United’s history, and probably world soccer history, Ferguson caught up with Rebecca Lowe in New York City recently to discuss many things around the launch of his new book: Leading.

See the interview in full below.

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

Americans Abroad: Chandler earns start after lengthy absence; McKennie leaves injured

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On a relatively quiet weekend for Americans abroad, Timothy Chandler started for Eintracht Frankfurt for the first time since mid-September.

In England, Christian Pulisic made another start for Chelsea, while Lynden Gooch returned to action with Sunderland after a few months of inactivity.

But while some came back from inactivity, Weston McKennie was stretched off the field on Sunday after landing on his shoulder in Schalke’s 1-0 win over Frankfurt.

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

Premier League

Christian Pulisic, Chelsea — Pulisic started and played 65 minutes in Chelsea’s 1-0 loss to Bournemouth on Saturday. The attacker failed to record a single shot.

DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle — The fullback watched the Magpies’ 1-0 loss to Burnley from the bench on Saturday.

EFL Championship

Antonee Robinson, Wigan Athletic — Robinson continues to rack up the minutes at Wigan. The young left back started and played the full 90 minutes as Wigan picked up a point against struggling Huddersfield Town on Saturday.

Matt Miazga, Reading (loan from Chelsea) — The 24-year-old didn’t dress in Reading’s 0-0 draw with Stoke City.

Eric Lichaj, Hull City — The Tigers captain started and played the full 90 minutes in Hull City’s 2-2 draw with Charlton Athletic on Friday.

Geoff Cameron, QPR — The 34-year-old defender started at centerback and played 67 minutes in QPR’s 5-3 loss to Barnsley.

Tim Ream, Fulham — Ream started and played 90 minutes in Fulham’s 1-1 draw at Sheffield Wednesday.

Cameron Carter-Vickers, Stoke City (loan Tottenham Hotspur) — Like Miazga, Carter-Vickers, too, was absent during Saturday’s bout.

Duane Holmes, Derby County — Holmes started and played 88 minutes in Derby’s 1-0 loss to Millwall.

EFL League One

Lynden Gooch, Sunderland – Gooch came off the bench and played 18 minutes in Sunderland’s 1-1 draw with Blackpool – the first minutes for the Californian since mid-October.

Bundesliga

Weston McKennie, Schalke —  13 minutes into the game on Sunday, McKennie was stretched off the field after he suffered an apparent shoulder injury.

Zack Steffen and Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf Despite making four saves, Steffen allowed three goals in Fortuna Dusseldorf’s 3-0 loss to RB Leipzig on Saturday. Morales did not dress.

Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen  Sargent is out with an injury for the remainder of the calendar year.

Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig — Adams didn’t dress for RB Leipzig.

Fabian Johnson, Borussia Mönchengladbach — Johnson didn’t dress for Borussia Monchengladbach.

Timmy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt — The veteran defender started and played 90 minutes for the first time since mid-September.

2. Bundesliga

Julian Green, Greuther Furth – The 24-year-old midfielder is out with an injury.

Bobby Wood, Hamburg – Wood dressed but didn’t play in Hamburg’s 1-1 draw on Sunday.

Eredivisie

Sergino Dest, Ajax — Dest didn’t dress for Ajax on Sunday.

Haji Wright, VVV-Venlo — The 21-year-old striker started and played 45 minutes in VVV Venlo’s 2-1 loss to PEC Zwolle.

Desevio Payne, FC Emmen — The U-23 MNT fullback didn’t dress for FC Emmen on Sunday.

Ligue 1

Timothy Weah, Lille — Weah didn’t dress for Lille on Friday.

Theoson Jordan-Siebatcheu, Rennes — Siebatcheu didn’t dress for Rennes on Sunday.

Honorable mentions:

Giovanni Reyna, Borussia Dortmund U-19 —  Reyna’s praiseworthy campaign in Germany continues, scoring a goal in Borussia Dortmund’s 6-1 win over Alemannia Aachen on Sunday.

Georgetown wins NCAA title by beating Virginia on penalty kick

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CARY, N.C. — Georgetown goalkeeper Tomas Romero stopped Virginia’s Axel Gunnarsson in the seventh round of penalty kicks to give the Hoyas their first NCAA men’s soccer championship Sunday night.

The teams fought through two scoreless 10-minute overtime periods after finishing regulation tied at 3, leaving penalty kicks to decide the game. Both teams made their first six penalty kicks, and Aidan Rocha made the seventh for Georgetown, forcing Gunnarsson to attempt to match it.

Romero moved to his right to thwart the shot and give the Hoyas (20-1-3) the victory.

Derek Dodson, Paul Rothrock and Daniel Wu scored in regulation for the Hoyas.

Virginia (21-2-1) countered with goals by Joe Bell, Daniel Steedman and Daryl Dike.

Georgetown appeared on the verge of winning regulation when Dodson broke a 2-2 tie with 9:37 left in the second half. But Dike forced overtime when he booted a rebound of his own miss into the top of the net with 4:58 remaining in regulation.

Virginia was bidding for its eighth national championship and third since 2009. Georgetown was playing in its second NCAA final.It lost 1-0 to Indiana in the 2012 championship game.

Mexicans Abroad: Jimenez registers assist in Wolves loss, praised by Liverpool’s Klopp

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In an underwhelming slow weekend for Mexicans abroad, only Raul Jimenez (and Omar Govea) managed to make the headlines, but not necessarily for his assist to Adama Traore in Wolverhampton Wanderers’ 2-1 loss to Tottenham on Sunday.

The 28-year-old forward, who has been on a serious scoring run this season with Wolves, was praised by Liverpool manager, Jurgen Klopp, who was asked about Mexican soccer ahead of the Reds’ match against Monterrey in the semifinal of the FIFA World Cup of Clubs.

“There are several players from Mexico,” he says “but Raul Jimenez is an impressive Mexican soccer ambassador, really good. I’m sure they (Mexico) have a strong league, but it’s not easy to see it here, so I don’t know much.”

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


Premier League

Raul Jimenez, Wolverhampton Wanderers —  Despite Tottenham snapping Wolves’ 12-game unbeaten streak in league play, Jimenez continued his fine run of generating goals. In the 67th minute, the forward assisted Traore for the home side’s first and only goal of the night.

La Liga

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Sevilla — Chicharito came on for Luuk De Jong in the 59th minute in Sevilla’s 2-1 loss to Villarreal on Sunday. The forward completed all of his passes (four) and had a shot blocked.

Hector Herrera, Atletico Madrid — Herrera played the final 27 minutes of Atletico’s 2-0 win over Osasuna on Saturday.

Andres Guardado, Real Betis —  Due to a suspension, Guardado was not called up to feature in Betis’ 18.

Diego Lainez, Real Betis — The 19-year-old took the field in the 52nd minute in Betis’ 2-2 draw against Espanyol.

Nestor Araujo, Celta Vigo — Araujo started and played every minute in Celta’s 2-2 with Mallorca. The defender recorded three clearances, one blocked shot and three interceptions. Celta remain as possible relegation candidates.

Serie A

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Napoli —  Lozano’s time at Napoli under Gennaro Gattuso didn’t have the firework start many were hoping for. Instead, the frenetic winger started on the bench and played only 11 minutes in Napoli’s last-minute 2-1 loss to Parma on Saturday.

Eredivisie

Erick Gutierrez, PSV Eindhoven — Gutierrez started and played all 90 minutes in PSV’s 3-1 loss to Feyenoord on Sunday. The midfielder completed 89 percent of his passes, recorded one key pass and one shot on target.

Edson Alvarez, Ajax —  It’s been an up-and-down experience for Alvarez at Ajax thus far. Completing 93 percent of his passes and winning 80 percent of his ground duels, his performance on Sunday was a high for the midfielder, despite his team’s 1-0 loss to AZ.

Primeira Liga

Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, FC Porto — Tecatito and Porto host Tondela on Monday.

Jupiler Pro League

Omar Govea, Zulte Waregem — Govea shined on Sunday in Belgium, bagging a brace in Zulte’s 5-1 thumping of Sint Truidense VV.

Elsewhere around the globe:

Pedro Arce, Panionios – Arce played 70 minutes in Panionios’ 2-1 loss to Volos on Sunday.

Gerardo Ramirez Alonso, Roda JC – Ramirez Alonso dressed but didn’t take the field in Roda’s draw on Friday.

Serie A roundup: Ronaldo sets record with brace, Juventus top Serie A (video)

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Juventus’ routine win, which puts them level with leaders Inter Milan, highlights Sunday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Juventus 3-1 Udinese

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a brace as Juventus picked up its first win after dropping points in two consecutive Serie A outings.

With two goals – which easily could have been four if he had not struck the bar – the Portuguese made history in front of the home crowd, becoming the first player to record double digit goals in 15 consecutive seasons within Europe’s top-five leagues.

The storied attacker opened the floodgates in the ninth minute, when a softly deflected ball landed in front of the same right foot that belted the ball past Udinese’s man between the sticks.

It wouldn’t take long for Ronaldo to record his second of the night.

In the 37th minute, one of the 34-year-old’s best techniques made scoring a possibility: positioning. Keeping track of the defender marking him and Udinese’s backline, Ronaldo made a run forward, meeting a perfectly-placed ball from Gonzalo Higuain and striking it home. 

Before the first half came to an end, Leonardo Bonucci headed home the home side’s third of the night, putting the game out of reach. In consolation time, however, Udinese spoiled Gianluigi Buffon’s clean sheet as Ignacio Pussetto tap in inside the box found its way into the goal.

It’s a quick turnaround for Juventus as they travels to Sampdoria midweek, while Udinese host Cagliari over the weekend.

Elsewhere

Verona 3-3 Torino

AC Milan 0-0 Sassuolo

Bologna 2-1 Atalanta

Roma 3-1 SPAL

Fiorentina 1-1 Inter Milan