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. 

NYCFC grabs five away goals in CONCACAF Champions League debut

CONCACAF Champions League
Photo by EZEQUIEL BECERRA/AFP via Getty Images
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New York City FC took a 5-3 advantage over San Carlos in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal on Thursday at Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto in Costa Rica.

Heber converted a second-half penalty to complete a hat trick for Ronny Deila’s side — that’s gonna take some getting used to — with Alexander Callens and Alexandru Mitrita scoring NYCFC’s fourth and fifth goals.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Jorman Aguilar, Marcos Mena,and Omar Browne scored for the Costa Rican hosts with two assists arriving via Randy Chirino.

San Carlos visits Red Bull Arena for the second leg on Wednesday.

The hosts pulled within a goal with 11 minutes to play, but Mitrita buried a rebound of a saved Maxi Moralez penalty kick.

The 28-year-old Heber scored 15 goals and three assists in just 22 appearances last season after arriving from HNK Rijeka in Croatia’s top tier.

2020 National Soccer Hall of Fame candidates announced

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Candidates for the 2020 National Soccer Hall of Fame have been announced and we’ll certainly tell you about all of the new batch of possible members, we’re also going to ask a huge question of the voters.

How is Steve Cherundolo not already in this thing?

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Last year’s class included a mere two people  — Abby Wambach and Sunil Gulati — and there hasn’t been a class of more than four since 2011.

Cherundolo made 423 career appearances for German side Hannover 96, even captaining the side for four seasons. He earned 86 caps with the United States men’s national team and was a member of three World Cup squads.

He simply has to be in the next group, as few others on the list have more deserving shouts over him (Perhaps Carlos Bocanegra and Jeff Cunningham).

Only one first-time finalist, Hope Solo, could rival Cherundolo’s record, and we wonder if the voters will look past her tumultuous off-field life and outspoken stance against the federation. Robbie Rogers will also certainly collect votes for an outstanding career which saw him become the first openly gay player in MLS.

First-time finalists (Full list of candidates)

Brad Davis
Whitney Engen
Herculez Gomez
Clarence Goodson
Hope Solo
Mike Magee
Carlos Ruiz
Nat Borchers
Conor Casey
Justin Mapp
Jamison Olave
Robbie Rogers
Jen Buczkowski
Kelly Smith

The 2 Robbies podcast: Liverpool, Spurs in UCL; Man City’s response

Photo by Matt McNulty - Manchester City/Manchester City FC via Getty Images
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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle recap the crucial Champions League results this week focusing on Liverpool’s 1-0 loss at Atletico Madrid (0:50), Tottenham falling 1-0 at home to RB Leipzig (11:45) and another impressive performance by Erling Haaland in Dortmund’s win over PSG (24:55).

The chaps also discuss Manchester City’s 2-0 victory against West Ham and share their thoughts on Pep Guardiola‘s first comments about City’s UEFA ban (27:55). The gents wrap up the pod review the Europa League results for Manchester United (42:50), Arsenal (48:00), and Wolves (51:55).

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow them on Twitter @The2RobbiesNBC here.

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

PL Club Power Rankings: Week 26

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We’re nearing the time of the Premier League season where the club power rankings reach a sense of finality, with little movement as relegated sides and contenders latch onto their table footing.

It makes sense, of course, as many sides have now met each other twice, the litmus tests less important than the proof in the pudding.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Green: New season-high ranking
Red: New season-low

[ MORE: PL Club Power Rankings archive ]


20. Norwich City — The moral victories aren’t very rewarding anymore, the little errors causing more significant pain. Credit to Alisson for scooping up a weak pass, but this week’s pain was self-inflicted despite a very decent performance.
Last week: 20
Season high: 10
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 1-0 v. Liverpool
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Wolves

19. West Ham United — David Moyes‘ men are now winless in eight since clobbering Bournemouth, and a trip to Anfield is next. And the Irons don’t even get the bonus of being rested while Liverpool played at midweek.
Last week: 19
Season high: 5
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-0 at Man City
Up next: 3 p.m. ET Monday at Liverpool

18. Watford — Suddenly winless in five with Manchester United and Liverpool next.
Last week: 16
Season high: 13
Season low: 20
Last match: Drew 1-1 at Brighton
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Manchester United

17. Brighton and Hove Albion — Three draws and one loss in a four-match run that demanded at least two wins.
Last week: 18
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Drew 1-1 v. Watford
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Sheffield United

16. Crystal Palace — The Eagles have one goal through three matches since the 2-2 draw with Man City and will be hoping to break their skid versus plucky Newcastle.
Last week: 14
Season high: 5
Season low: 18
Last match: Lost 3-1 at Everton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Newcastle United

15. Bournemouth — A trip to Burnley demands a result given Chelsea and Liverpool follow.
Last week: 15
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Sheffield United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Burnley

14. Aston Villa — A tricky trip to St. Mary’s before the League Cup Final; What are the chances Villa clinches Europa League but heads down to the Championship?
Last week: 17
Season high: 6
Season low: 19
Last match: Lost 3-2 v. Spurs
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Saints

13. Newcastle United — The Magpies were very good in the first 45 minutes at Arsenal but fell apart in the second frame. They need to start stacking a couple of wins for comfort, as Steve Bruce‘s men finish with three of five against Spurs, Man City, and Liverpool (two of whom will be looking for revenge).
Last week: 12
Season high: 11
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 4-0 at Arsenal
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Crystal Palace

12. Southampton — What the heck happened against Burnley?
Last week: 10
Season high: 7
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Burnley
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Aston Villa

11. Burnley — The Clarets have taken 10 of 12 points, the only setback a draw with Arsenal, and are firmly in the Europa League discussion despite approaching historically bad numbers in passing.
Last week: 12
Season high: 5
Season low: 17
Last match: Won 2-1 at Southampton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Bournemouth

10. Manchester United — For one Monday, Harry Maguire was an incredibly lucky man on an incredibly fortunate team. At least Bruno Fernandes looks dynamite.
Last week: 11
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 2-0 at Chelsea
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Watford

9. Wolves — Still wouldn’t want to see them on the schedule, but Wolves hopes for the Champions League are based in the UEL.
Last week: 6
Season high: 3
Season low: 17
Last match: Drew 0-0 v. Leicester City
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Norwich City

8. Arsenal — The defense appears solid under Mikel Arteta, though his old pals Everton will present the stiffest test in some time.
Last week: 9
Season high: 4
Season low: 13
Last match: Won 4-0 v. Newcastle
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Everton

7. Chelsea — Holds a 1-2-2 record in league play since Christian Pulisic was injured.
Last week: 7
Season high: 2
Season low: 12
Last match: Lost 2-0 v. Manchester United
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday v. Spurs

6. Sheffield United — The Premier League’s Papillon.
Last week: 5
Season high: 5
Season low: 17
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Bournemouth
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Brighton

5. Everton — Carlo Ancelotti has the Toffees humming toward Europa League… and possibly better.
Last week: 8
Season high: 5
Season low: 19
Last match: Won 3-1 v. Crystal Palace
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday at Chelsea

4. Leicester City — Still on track for the top four, but haven’t looked UCL caliber in weeks.
Last week: 4
Season high: 2
Season low: 10
Last match: Drew 0-0 v. Wolves
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday v. Man City

3. Spurs — Losing Kane and Son will probably cost them in their chase to rejoin the UCL, but we wouldn’t rule out Jose Mourinho. Still: Chelsea, Wolves, and Manchester United are three of the next four PL opponents.
Last week: 3
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 3-2 at Aston Villa
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday at Chelsea

2. Manchester City — Ban or not, they are finishing second… unless Leicester finds its very best against a UCL-obsessed City on Saturday.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 6
Last match: Won 2-0 v. West Ham
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Leicester City

1. Liverpool — Poor, poor West Ham.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Won 1-0 at Norwich City
Up next: 3 p.m. ET Monday v. West Ham