Premier League Playback: Guardiola to Chelsea, Mourinho to United?

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MANAGERIAL MERRY-GO-ROUND

With Jose Mourinho out at Chelsea, he seems to be the first domino in the pack to fall.

Manchester United’s Louis Van Gaal is looking over his shoulder nervously with the Red Devils now winless in six, while Manchester City’s Manuel Pellegrini will also be nervous as his team is six points off the top spot on Christmas Day.

[ MORE: Pep to Chelsea?

With several perennial Premier League giants struggling, the buck has to stop with the managers. Even more concerning for those in the hot seats is that Pep Guardiola, and now Mourinho, are lurking with intent in the background.

Reports suggest Guardiola could be lined up by Chelsea — Neil Ashton of the Daily Mail reports the Blues are willing to grab the outgoing Bayern Munich coach at any cost — and his wife favors living in London to Manchester but City remain the favorites to secure his signature. Bayern’s chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge stated that he believes Guardiola’s mind is already made up as to his next destination, as it seems like an all-out battle between City and Chelsea will take place.

As for Mourinho coming in at United, the Portuguese coach is looking to rebound quick and despite being fired by Chelsea following a dismal start to this season — nine defeats in their opening 16 games for the reigning champs — and reports of a player revolt, he is still the most successful coach in Premier League history in terms of his points per game ratio.

It was said that Sir Alex Ferguson favored Mourinho to replace him at Old Trafford when he retired in 2013 but the directors at United didn’t want to deal with Mourinho’s antics and instead plumped for David Moyes.

With performances dipping under van Gaal and the Dutchman spending over $400 million on new players in his opening 18 months in charge, the pressure is on. Despite finishing fourth last season United are out of the top four as things stand and crashed out of the UEFA Champions League at the group stage.

[ VOTE: Should Man United make move for Mourinho?

Mourinho would, as he always has done, bring short-term success and right now that’s exactly what United need.

With some of the greatest managers of this generation now available on the open market, expect to hear plenty more managerial chatter between now and the summer as the incredible merry-go-round among the top clubs in the PL and Europe keeps turning.


WATFORD FOUR-MIDABLE

Premier League Schedule – Week 17

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 2-1 Man City Recap, watch here
Chelsea 3-1 S’land Recap, watch here
Everton 2-3 Leicester Recap, watch here
Man Utd 1-2 Norwich Recap, watch here
N’castle 1-1 A. Villa Recap, watch here
Saints 0-2 Tottenham Recap, watch here
Stoke 1-2 C. Palace Recap, watch here
Swansea 0-0 W. Ham Recap, watch here
Watford 3-0 L’pool Recap, watch here
WBA 1-2 B’mouth Recap, watch here

Watford beat Liverpool 3-0 on Sunday to secure their fourth-straight Premier League win. The Hornets could have won by more.

In Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney that have a destructive partnership who will cause any defense in the Premier League problems. Ighalo, 26, has scored 28 goals in 2015 and 32 league goals in 52 league outings for the Hertfordshire club.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The powerful Nigerian striker has 12 goals in his debut PL season — five in his last four games — and the way he bullied Liverpool’s backline on Sunday on his way to two of Watford’s three goals typified his importance to the Hornets.

Ighalo is adored by Watford’s fans but the fact of the matter is, if he keeps scoring at this rate then a bigger PL team could come in for him in January or the summer.

Both he and Deeney are spoken to regularly by manager Quique Sanchez Flores — who, by the way, in his first season coaching in England has built a very impressive squad more than capable of holding its own in the PL — and he has already expressed his wishes for both to remain past this season.

Watford’s only two previous forays into the PL have both ended in immediate relegation but after making one of the best starts by a newly-promoted team in Premier League history (see below) they find themselves one point off the top four heading into Christmas Day.

There are Hornets fans dreaming. Most of the dreamers are middle-aged and will remember the days of John Barnes and Luther Blissett in the early 1980’s when they finished second in the top-flight and FA Cup runners up, plus played in Europe.

Those heady days aren’t too far away from returning to Vicarage Road and if the Pozzo family — who own both Udinese in Serie A and Granada in Spain — are serious about turning the Hornets into the jewel in their crown then spending big in January is key. Barring a monumental collapse in the second half of the season, Watford won’t be relegated this season and for the first time in the PL era they’ll be sticking around for at least back-to-back seasons.

I’m fine with that, and if Ighalo stays, because it means their incredible ode to Ighalo — inspired by 80s band Spandau Ballet and their hit tune “Gold” — will be sung loud and proud many more times. Check out the video below from the Rookery Stand for a taster.

With Watford and plenty of other PL minnows unexpectedly excelling this season, the stench of nostalgia is strong in the air as we head into the holiday season.


LEICESTER LEAD UNDERDOG’S FEEL-GOOD FACTOR

Leicester City are leading the charge of the Premier League underdogs as Claudio Ranieri‘s side continue to defy belief and sit on top of the Premier League table at Christmas.

Dazzling like a star on top of the tree, Leicester’s duo of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez led them to a 3-2 win at Everton this time out — Mahrez scored two PKs, with Vardy having a hand in winning both and also setting up Shinji Okazaki‘s clincher — as suddenly the Foxes have won three on the spin and eight of their last 10 to rack up 38 points and lead second-place Arsenal by two points. That horrendous six-game run they had coming up that everyone was talking about… yeah, they’ve won the opening three of those.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Danny Drinkwater (who has one of the best names in soccer) has been an unsung hero of their success but on Saturday the midfielder was out injured for the win at Everton. However, he perhaps typified one of the main reasons why teams like Leicester, Bournemouth, Watford and even Norwich are being lauded.

The down-to-earth midfielder sat in the away end with Leicester’s fans to watch the game and celebrated as his teammates secured the win. Take a look at the photo below. Brilliant. Also, Leicester’s Thai owners have announced they will be supplying a bottle of beer to every Foxes’ fans during their final game of 2015 against Manchester City at the King Power as they want to celebrate a stunning year with the fans.

The rise of the underdogs is the overriding theme of the PL so far this season as injury-hit Bournemouth followed up wins against Chelsea and Manchester United by beating West Brom away to rise to 14th, while Norwich beat Man United at Old Trafford for the first time since 1989 and even Crystal Palace made it three wins from the last four to rise to sixth and are only out of the top four on goal difference.

This season is unlike any other. Now, can the underdogs threaten the household names in the second half of the season?


GET READY FOR BOXING DAY

The Boxing Day extravaganza is almost here folks. That’s right, an entire day of Premier League game with all 20 teams in action.

The first game, Stoke City vs. Manchester United, starts at 7:45 a.m. ET and the final game kicks off at 2:45 p.m. ET, with Southampton hosting Arsenal. You can find all of the details here as, like always, every single game is available online or via your TVs.

Below is the full schedule for all 10 games on Boxing Day, with a Premier League doubleheader coming to the main NBC channel for the first-time ever.

7:45 a.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Manchester United – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Chelsea vs. Watford – USA [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Liverpool vs. Leicester City – NBCSN  [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Manchester City vs. Sunderland – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Aston Villa vs. West Ham United – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. Crystal Palace – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. West Brom – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Norwich – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Newcastle United vs. Everton – NBC [STREAM]
2:45 p.m. ET: Southampton vs. Arsenal – NBC [STREAM

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. 

USL adds new team in Queens, David Villa involved

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David Villa is heading back to New York City.

This time as a club owner.

A second-tier side called Queensboro FC will begin play in the USL Championship in 2021 with Villa, 37, heading up a ownership group who are bringing the team to Queens.

In a statement to ESPN, the former NYCFC and Major League Soccer star is delighted to be part of setting up the new team which will play at York College in Queens.

“Bringing professional football to Queens’ diverse community is an exciting and unique opportunity,” Villa said. “The beautiful game already lives here, thanks to the melting pot of cultures who are so passionate about the sport. I can’t think of a better place for QBFC to grow. I’m proud to be part of this project.”

Villa spent four seasons with New York City FC and the Spanish national team legend was one of the best Designated Players in MLS history as he scored 82 goals in 130 appearances across all competitions. Villa is now heading back to the Big Apple to head up QBFC and you have to think there will be some kind of link-up with his former club in the future when it comes to giving NYCFC academy products playing minutes in a professional environment.

Jonathan Krane, CEO of New York City-based asset management company KraneShares, is leading the ownership group and Villa will be retired by 2021 (he currently plays for Vissel Kobe in Japan) when the team begins play, so he can take up a leading role.

Villa lived in Queens during his time playing for NYCFC and was heavily involved in the local community, setting up his own soccer academies and trying to help youngsters in Queens realize their dreams.

Queensboro FC will now be his next project as Villa’s strong connection with NYC continues.

Liverpool’s move for Ryan Fraser makes perfect sense

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Liverpool are said to be in talks with Bournemouth about signing Ryan Fraser in January.

The Scottish winger is out of contract next summer and talks over a new deal at Bournemouth have so far failed.

Fraser, 25, was a star for the Cherries last season but has only been a bit-part player so far this campaign (adding one goal and two assists) as Eddie Howe plans for a future without him and the tension surrounding his future hasn’t helped matters.

Per a report from talkSPORT in the UK, Liverpool winger Harry Wilson, who is currently on loan at Bournemouth, could make a permanent switch to the South Coast club in January in exchange for the Reds being able to sign Fraser. Per the report, it is expected Bournemouth would also want around $15 million from Liverpool, plus Wilson, for Fraser.

Does this move make sense for Liverpool? Absolutely.

The speedy winger was an assist machine last season, racking up 14 which was the second-highest in the Premier League. Fraser wouldn’t start ahead of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah or Roberto Firmino, but he would be a great option off the bench and to play in cup competitions. His style of play is also perfectly suited to Liverpool’s high-tempo and pacy counter attacking.

With Xherdan Shaqiri currently out injured and failing to break in as a regular for Liverpool last season, Fraser would jump ahead of him in the queue for minutes after Liverpool’s attacking trio.

If this move to Liverpool doesn’t work out then Fraser can of course ‘do an Aaron Ramsey‘ and start talking to non-English clubs in January about a free transfer next summer. That’s not something Bournemouth would want, so you can understand their eagerness to at least get a little cash and a promising young player to replace Fraser.

From Liverpool’s point of view, Fraser would be a great addition on the cheap and he still has the prime years of his career ahead of him.

Sterling issues apology after Gomez row

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Raheem Sterling has been left out of the England team for their EURO 2020 qualifier against Montenegro on Thursday after a bust-up with Joe Gomez.

According to multiple reports the Man City winger was sat in the players’ canteen when Gomez, the first of several Liverpool players to arrive, walked in and was laughing.

Sterling then reportedly said “you’re the big man now are you?” and confronted Gomez, trying to grab him around the neck as the two were separated.

This all came after Sterling clashed with Gomez in Liverpool’s 3-1 win over City at Anfield on Sunday, as the England winger was booed heavily by the home fans, plus also clashed with England teammates Jordan Henderson and Trent-Alexander Arnold during the game.

England manager Gareth Southgate released a statement on Monday saying that Sterling would not be available to play against Montenegro but would remain with the squad.

“One of the great challenges and strengths for us is that we’ve been able to separate club rivalries from the national team. Unfortunately, the emotions of yesterday’s game were still raw,” Southgate said as he referenced the fiery Liverpool v. Man City clash. “My feeling is that the right thing for the team is the action we have taken. Now that the decision has been made with the agreement of the entire squad, it’s important that we support the players and focus on Thursday night.”

Gomez and Sterling both trained for England at St. George’s Park on Tuesday.

In a statement posted on his Instagram page, Sterling issued a public apology to Gomez and apparently the matter is now sorted between the two.

“First and foremost everyone knows what that game means to me. Everyone knows that I am not that way inclined and more to the point, both Joe and I have had words and figured things out and moved on,” Sterling said. “We are in a sport where emotions run high and I am man enough to admit when emotions got the better of me. We move, this is why we play this sport because of our love for it. Me and Joe Gomez are good, we both understand it was a 5-10 second thing. It’s done, we move forward and not make this bigger than it is. Let’s get focus on our game on Thursday.”

Sterling will be available to play against Kosovo in England’s final EURO 2020 qualifier on Sunday.

It seems like that is that and Southgate has acted swiftly to punish Sterling for his reaction, everyone has accepted it and they’ve drawn a line under it.

These things happen in sport all the time and this is more about the principle of the matter as Southgate doesn’t want to see anything like this in his squad in the future.

The message is now clear, it isn’t acceptable. No matter if you’re one of England’s best players or a youngster who is a bit-part player, the Three Lions squad must stick together.

Borussia Dortmund hurting after heavy loss in Munich

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BERLIN (AP) Borussia Dortmund is hurting again after another heavy Bundesliga defeat in Munich.

Dortmund lost 4-0 in the “der Klassiker” against rival Bayern Munich on Saturday, being fortunate not to concede more goals.

Dortmund’s lackluster performance has been criticized following sporting director Michael Zorc’s call for a “men’s soccer” type of performance in the buildup for the game. Instead, Dortmund delivered what Kicker magazine called “scaredy-cat soccer.”

“A lot of our players just weren’t there today,” Dortmund coach Lucien Favre said. “That’s the biggest disappointment.”

Zorc was even more critical of the performance.

“That wasn’t football at all, to be honest,” he said. “Bayern were on top and better in every respect. Bayern completely took over after 15 minutes and we were second-best at everything. That’s why Bayern also deserved to win by this score.”

It was Dortmund’s fifth consecutive heavy defeat in Munich. It lost 5-0 in April, 6-0 last year, 4-1 in 2017 and 5-1 in 2015. In its last six games in Munich, Dortmund has been outscored 26-3.

“It was beautiful that the talk before the game was of men’s football,” said Bayern forward Thomas Muller, who set up two goals. “As I’m a bit older now, 30, I know that it gives you a bit extra inspiration. The way I see it, that’s why we are German champions seven times in a row. It’s always wonderful when the Dortmunders come to Munich and we play like we did today.”

Bayern appeared to be in crisis after firing coach Niko Kovac following the team’ 5-1 loss at Eintracht Frankfurt – its heaviest league defeat in over 10 years.

But Kovac’s dismissal seems to have come as a relief to some players, and interim coach Hansi Flick has now overseen two wins from two competitive games, with no goals conceded. Bayern reached the last 16 of the Champions League with a 2-0 win over Olympiakos on Wednesday.

Bayern’s will to win on Saturday contrasted sharply with Dortmund’s, which will be under increased pressure after it appeared to have turned a corner following a series of questionable results.

[ MORE: Premier League Club Power Rankings ]

Dortmund had strung together three consecutive wins – over league leader Borussia Monchengladbach in the German Cup, previously unbeaten Wolfsburg in the league, and Inter Milan in the Champions League, when the team displayed great morale to come back from two goals down and win 3-2.

But there was none of that in Munich on Saturday, and Favre and his superiors are left wondering how to consistently get the best from the talented but fallible team.

“We expected a lot from this game,” Zorc said. “Then we delivered what is basically a non-performance. I’m disappointed. You can’t even say that it was just a lack of challenges. We were also bad when we had the ball, we gave it away and simply made it too easy for Bayern. That was a huge disappointment.”

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

Ciaran Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP