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. 

MLS upcoming schedule, MLS Cup odds

MLS schedule
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MLS betting odds and upcoming schedule: Major League Soccer still has six weeks left of fixtures left in the regular season after its long-awaited return from the COVID-19 shutdown.

[ TRANSFER NEWS: Dest to Barcelona? ]

A full Wednesday slate of games will be highlighted by a meeting of Cascadia Cup rivals Portland and Seattle in Oregon with newer rivals NYCFC and Toronto matching wits and a 5 pm ET kickoff between Thierry Henry’s Montreal and Bruce Arena’s New England starting off the night.

The regular season is currently scheduled to end on Nov. 8, with the playoffs beginning that same week and culminating with MLS Cup on Dec. 12.

All of the games are available to watch on ESPN+.

Click here for MLS betting odds and different odds on soccer and beyond from our new official sports betting partner PointsBet, as there will be plenty of selections to make each week with game lines and more available via NBC Sports Bet.

[ MORE: Five-subs rule again voted down by Premier League clubs ]

This page will be updated following the completion of every round of games in 2020, to feature the upcoming set of fixtures and MLS betting odds.


This weekend’s MLS schedule and odds (via PointsBet)

Wednesday, Sept. 23

New England (-154) v Montreal ( +340) / Draw (+275) — 5 pm ET
Atlanta (+130) v FC Dallas (+175) / Draw (+230) — 7 pm ET
NYCFC (+130) v Toronto FC (+175) / Draw (+235) — 7 pm ET
Chicago Fire (-106) v Houston Dynamo (+225) / Draw (+255) — 7:30 pm ET
Cincinnati (+200) v Philadelphia (+125)/ Draw (+215) — 7:30 pm ET
Columbus (-150) v Minnesota (+320) / Draw (+275) — 7:30 pm ET
Sporting KC (-125) v Orlando City (+270) / Draw (+260) — 7:30 pm ET
Inter Miami (-115) v New York Red Bulls (+260) / Draw (+245) — 8 pm ET
Nashville (-150) v DC United (+350) / Draw (+260) — 8:30 pm ET
Colorado (-167) v San Jose (+340) / Draw (+300) — 9 pm ET
Real Salt Lake (+118) v LA Galaxy (+175) / Draw (+260) — 9:30 pm ET
Portland (+150) v Seattle (+135) / Draw (+260) — 10 pm ET
LAFC (-556) v Vancouver (+1000) / Draw (+525) — 10:30 pm ET

Saturday, Sept. 26 (Odds forthcoming)

Nashville ( ) v Houston ( ) / Draw ( ) — 3:30 pm ET
NYCFC ( ) v Cincinnati / Draw ( ) — 7:30 pm ET

Sunday, Sept. 27 (Odds forthcoming)

DC United ( ) v New England ( ) / Draw ( ) — 7 pm ET
New York Red Bulls ( ) v Montreal ( ) / Draw ( ) — 7 pm ET
Philadelphia ( ) v Inter Miami ( ) / Draw ( ) — 7:30 pm ET
Chicago ( ) v Atlanta ( ) / Draw ( ) — 7:30 pm ET
Toronto ( ) v Columbus ( ) / Draw ( ) — 7:30 pm ET
Minnesota ( ) v Real Salt Lake ( ) / Draw ( ) — 8 pm ET
FC Dallas ( ) v Orlando City ( ) / Draw ( ) — 8:30 pm ET
Colorado ( ) v Sporting KC ( ) / Draw ( ) — 9 pm ET
Vancouver ( ) v Portland ( ) / Draw ( ) — 10 pm ET
LAFC ( ) v San Jose () / Draw ( ) — 10:30 pm ET
LA Galaxy ( ) v Seattle () / Draw ( ) — 10:30 pm ET


MLS Cup winner odds

Los Angeles FC (+450)
Toronto FC (+450)
Seattle Sounders (+800)
Philadelphia Union (+1100)
Atlanta United (+1400)
Columbus Crew (+1400)
LA Galaxy (+1800)
New York City FC (+1800)
Sporting KC (+1800)
Portland Timbers (+2000)
Minnesota United (+2500)
New England Revolution (+2500)
Orlando City SC (+2500)
New York Red Bulls (+3000)
Montreal Impact (+4000)
FC Dallas (+5000)
Real Salt Lake (+5000)
San Jose Earthquakes (+6000)
Chicago Fire (+10000)
Colorado Rapids (+10000)
D.C. United (+10000)
Houston Dynamo (+10000)
Inter Miami (+12500)
FC Cincinnati (+25000)
Vancouver Whitecaps (+25000)
Nashville SC (+30000)

Europa League: The biggest underdogs, how to watch, start time

Shkendija - Tottenham
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Tottenham Hotspur is hoping Macedonia is a bit kinder than Bulgaria.

A week after Spurs came back from a late deficit to beat 9-man Lokomotiv Plovdiv — a win in which many missed the key moments due to technical difficulties — Tottenham has to beat Shkendija in Tetovo to move within a win of the Europa League group stage.

Shkendija has become a regular participant in either the Champions League or Europa League but has been handled by most name opponents including AC Milan, Red Bull Salzburg, and Partizan Belgrade.

[ MORE: Europa League scoreboard ]

Ay, but here’s the rub: The home legs have all been close in those ties, all 1-0 losses, and this is a one-legged affair with the promise of a visit from either Rostov or Maccabi Haida on Oct. 1.

Mourinho branded Spurs’ schedule a ‘total joke’ but got some relief in a sense when Leyton Orient’s positive COVID-19 tests postponed Tuesday’s short trip across London.

It’s a 2pm ET kickoff on Thursday in Macedonia. Spurs are favored in a big way even away from home, with a Shkendija win paying off +1800 from some bookmakers.

Not bad considering Spurs have the second best odds to win the tournament behind (ducking) Arsenal.

A Shkendija win would not be the biggest upset of the day. Instead of talking about Sporting Lisbon versus Aberdeen or Galatasaray’s tough visit from Hajduk Split, let’s acknowledge the biggest underdogs of the penultimate round before the group stage.

NS Mura +1000 home to PSV Eindhoven

Underdog fun fact: The Slovenian hosts have technically only existed since 2013, having risen from the ashes of ND Mura 05, which itself began in 2005 by picking up the pieces of NK Mura. That club had been around since 1924.

Riga +1100 home to Celtic

Underdog fact: The young Latvian club was put together as a merger of two others and has already beaten CSKA Sofia, Maccabi Tel Aviv, and Copenhagen in single matches during its European life.

Desna Chernihiv +1500 away to Wolfsburg

Underdog fact: Ukrainian side Desna handed West Ham’s Andriy Yarmolenko his senior debut at the age of 17. Yarmolenko scored four goals in nine appearances before signing for national giants Dynamo Kiev.

Shkendija +1800 home to Tottenham

Underdog fact: Once managed by former German national team striker Thomas Brdaric.

B36 Torshavn +1900 away to CSKA Sofia

Underdog fun fact: The White Tigers of the Faroe Islands have played in 51 European matches, winning just seven. Three of those have come this season.

Locomotive Tbilisi +4400 away to Granada

Underdog fun fact: The Georgian side stunned Russian mainstays Dinamo Moscow to make it this far. Safe to say the bookies don’t see them repeating the feat against La Liga opposition.


How to watch Shkendija – Tottenham + Europa League playoff round streams, start times

When: Wednesday and Thursday
Online: Bleacher Report Live


Europa League playoff round ties

All times ET

Wednesday
Apollon Limassol v Lech Poznan — Noon

Thursday
Ararat-Armenia v Celje — 10 am
KuPS v Suduva Marijampole — 11:30 am
Viktoria Plzen v Sonderjyske — Noon
Fehervar v Stade de Reims — Noon
Rostov v Maccabi Haifa — 12:30 pm
Riga v Celtic — 1 pm
Besiktas v Rio Ave — 1 pm
NS Mura v PSV Eindhoven — 1 pm
Sporting Charleroi v Partizan — 1 pm
Malmo v Lokmotiva Zagreb — 1 pm
Djurgardens v CFR Cluj — 1 pm
Rosenborg v Alanyaspor — 1 pm
CSKA Sofia v B36 Toshavn — 1 pm
FCSB v Slovan Liberec — 1:30 pm
Hapoel Be’er Sheva v Motherwell — 1:30 pm
Shkendija v Tottenham Hotspur — 2 pm
Galatasaray v Hajduk Split — 2 pm
Copenhagen v Piast Gliwice — 2 pm
Granada v Lokomotiv Tbilisi — 2pm
Standard Liege v Vojvodina — 2 pm
APOEL Nicosia v Zrinjski Mostar — 2pm
Sheriff Tiraspol v Dundalk — 2 pm
Sarajevo v Buducnost Podgorica — 2 pm
Klaksvikar Itrottarfelag v Dinamo Tbilisi — 2 pm
Wolfsburg v Desna Chernihiv — 2:15 pm
AC Milan v Bodo/Glimt — 2:30 pm
Basel v Anorthosis Famagusta — 2:30 pm
St Gallen v AEK Athens — 2:30 pm
LASK v DAC Dunajska Streda — 2:30 pm
Legia Warsaw v Drita — 2:30 pm
Floriania v Flora Tallinn — 2:30 pm
HNK Rijeka v Kolos Kovalivka — 2:45 pm
Sporting Lisbon v Aberdeen — 3 pm
Willem II Tilburg v Rangers — 3 pm

Reports: Ajax, Barcelona reach agreement over USMNT’s Dest

Sergino Dest Barcelona
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Ronald Koeman couldn’t convince Sergino Dest to represent the Netherlands over the United States, but the Barcelona boss has reportedly talked the Ajax back into choosing the Blaugranas over the Bavarians.

Dest, 19, has been widely linked with Bayern Munich in recent weeks, though Barcelona was also mentioned with the caveat that Koeman would have to sell players to bring others in due to the La Liga outfit’s salary problems.

[ MORE: Mendy to Chelsea analysis ]

Wolves’ pursuit of Nelson Semedo and Atletico Madrid’s move for Luis Suarez may have opened the door for Dest, and multiple reports say Ajax and Barcelona have reached an agreement on a $22 million transfer with another $6 million in incentives in the deal.

Dest was named Ajax Young Talent of the Year last season and is also a member of the 2020 Golden Boy shortlist. He has two goals and six assists in 37 senior appearances for the club after coming through its vaunted academy. He’s also been linked with moves to Juventus and Tottenham Hotspur.

Capped thrice by the United States after the Yanks won a recruitment battle with the Netherlands, Dest went 90 minutes in eight of Ajax’s last 10 Eredivisie matches and came off the bench in their opening two Eredivisie matches of the 2020-21 campaign. That’s likely due to transfer issues.

Dest would become the second American to represent Barcelona on a matchday 18, just missing out on the honor of being first. Barca academy product Konrad de la Fuente signed a contract with the club this summer, and was an unused sub when the Blaugranas beat Napoli in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg on Aug. 8.

 

League Cup: Manchester United wins; West Brom, Watford bounced

League Cup results
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Luton Town made Manchester United work for its spot in the League Cup fourth round, while another lower league side simply ended another Premier League side’s tournament in Tuesday’s FA Cup results.

[ MORE: Mendy to Chelsea analysis ]

West Bromwich Albion is out of the tournament after blowing two leads and losing in penalties at home to Brentford, while West Ham blasted Hull City after an alarming COVID-19 moment and League Two side Newport County dismissed Watford.

Then there’s Tottenham and Leyton Orient, who didn’t even get to play. It’s all in the FA Cup wrap.


Luton Town 0-3 Manchester United

The score line does not tell the story here (aside from, you know, the goal total).

Brandon Williams won a late first-half penalty that Juan Mata smashed home as the Red Devils labored to a win over the Championship’s Hatters.

Marcus Rashford came off the bench to ice the game off a feed from fellow sub Mason Greenwood, who was later assisted by another sub in Bruno Fernandes.

Dean Henderson made an outstanding save in his long-awaited Manchester United senior debut.

The 23-year-old has been United property since he was 14 and has taken loans with four clubs including a highly-celebrated two years with Sheffield United.

Henderson did not have to make a save until the 81st minute, when he made a big stop to keep United on top at Kenilworth Road.

Mata’s goal came in his 200th appearance for the Red Devils. Donny van de Beek made his first Manchester United start in the win.

West Ham United 5-1 Hull City

Andriy Yarmolenko scored twice and set up two others as the Irons showed no ill effects of learning that David Moyes, Issa Diop, and Josh Cullen tested positive for coronavirus (The club says all three are asymptomatic).

Yarmolenko now has nine goals and five assists in just over 1700 minutes with West Ham. He missed 2.5 months with a muscle tear last season.

Sebastien Haller had a brace and Robert Snodgrass scored the other goal as West Ham’s “second string” continues to beat up on lower league competition while awaiting chances off the bench in the PL.

Mallik Wilks had brought Hull within two in the 70th minute only to see Haller and Yarmolenko complete their braces in stoppage time.

League Cup results
West Ham United’s Andriy Yarmolenko (center front) with Felipe Anderson, Haller, and Lanzini (Photo by ALASTAIR GRANT/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Newport County 3-1 Watford

The Hornets had little going for them despite having the better of possession, outshot 12-2 by the time League Two’s Exiles reclaimed their two-goal lead with 25 minutes on the clock.

Adelberto Penaranda came off the bench to score for Watford after the Exiles built a 2-0 lead through Tristan Abrahams and Josh Labadie. Padraig Amond bagged County’s third goal to turn the screws on the former Premier League side.

Stipe Perica sealed Watford’s fate with an 88th-minute red card. The Hornets have a win and a draw in their return to the Championship and will focus on that until the FA Cup.

West Bromwich Albion 2-2 (4-5 pens) Brentford

The Bees couldn’t catch the Baggies in the race for the automatic promotion last season but kept scrapping en route to a pair of equalizers at the Hawthorns on Tuesday.

Brentford made all of its penalties, its fifth sealing the win after Grady Diangana’s effort was saved by David Raya.

Hal Robson-Kanu scored both of West Brom’s goals but answers came from Emiliano Marcondes and Marcus Forss to have it level with 17 minutes left in scheduled time.

Leyton Orient (ppd) Tottenham Hotspur

A raft of positive COVID-19 tests for the hosts put this tie in doubt Monday and we’re still awaiting the plan.

For now, health aside, Spurs are probably quite happy to have day off given a wild fixture list across three competitions which includes a trip to Macedonia for Europa League action on Thursday.


Next League Cup third round fixtures

All times ET

Wednesday
Preston North End v Brighton — 2 pm
Millwall v Burnley — 2 pm
Fulham v Sheffield Wednesday — 2 pm
Stoke City v Gillingham — 2 pm
Chelsea v Barnsley — 2:45 pm
Leicester City v Arsenal — 2:45 pm
Fleetwood Town v Everton — 2:45 pm
Morecambe v Newcastle United — 2:45 pm

Thursday
Bristol City v Aston Villa — 2 pm
Lincoln City v Liverpool — 2:45 pm
Manchester City v Bournemouth — 2:45 pm


League Cup fourth round draw

Lincoln City/Liverpool v Leicester City/Arsenal
Millwall/Burnley v Manchester City/Bournemouth
Brentford v Fulham/Sheffield Wednesday
Fleetwood Town/Everton v West Ham United
Bristol City/Aston Villa v Stoke City/Gillingham
Leyton Orient/Tottenham v Chelsea/Barnsley
Newport County v Morecambe/Newcastle United
Preston North End/Brighton v Manchester United