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. 

NCAA D1 soccer to vote on expanded season

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A report by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jonathan Tannenwald has revealed that NCAA Division 1 men’s soccer is close to heading towards a full-season schedule, expanding the current fall schedule that sees the College Cup finish up around mid-December.

Tannenwald’s report, which cites Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski who has led the charge for a full calendar season, states that the new proposal would drop the regular season schedule from 25 to 23 total games, but would expand the campaign across the entire school year. The first half would consist of 13 games and end around Thanksgiving, before picking back up in the spring with nine official games. Three exhibitions would be spread around the season, as opposed to the current setup of five meaningless exhibition games all set in the spring offseason.

The main goal of the plan, which is years in the making, is to eliminate midweek games, helping to cut down on missed class time for players. At least, that’s what Cirovski is selling to the NCAA. His true goal is to help players get used to a full professional schedule, knowing that currently, collegiate players tend to hit a wall in their first few professional seasons, holding their careers back.

Tannenwald reports that the eventual vote, which will be held in April, will consist of 64 total submissions. Each Power 5 conference will have four votes each, while the Group of 5 conferences get two votes each and the remaining conferences get one vote each. To pass, the proposal needs a full majority, meaning 33 yes votes are required out of the 64. The report states that the Atlantic 10 confirmed to the Inquirer that they will vote yes to the proposal, while the Ivy League said it will vote no.

“The college coaches on the men’s side are going to be working hand in hand for the next three months to try to get us to the finish line, to do something that is transformational, an evolutionary and positive change, and a game-changer in this country for not only college soccer, but we feel for soccer in general,” Cirovski said.

The report states that Cirovski has solid support from inside the college soccer space, and also in the pro soccer community where there is excitement that the new proposal will help development and transition from college soccer to professional life. It says that while this would only cover the Division 1 men’s schedule for now, it’s likely that the women’s ranks would follow soon after should this initial proposal pass through, and D2 and D3 could also tag along.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Chelsea searching for striker

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Chelsea is still determining how long the club will be without talismanic striker Tammy Abraham after an ankle injury saw him limp his way through the final few minutes of the 2-2 draw with Arsenal. Chelsea had run out of substitutes so Abraham was forced to stay on, but he was clearly struggling at the end and now the club waits on further testing.

While the Blues were already linked with strikers before Abraham’s ankle trouble, they have now reportedly stepped up the chase for a short-term injury replacement. Widely reported as the club’s first choice, it appears that Edinson Cavani – who handed in a transfer request at PSG, the French club confirmed – will likely move to Atletico Madrid.

That has seen Chelsea look to other options, and according to multiple tabloids across England as well as some fringe reports in France, the Blues have reopened talks with Lyon over the availability of Moussa Dembele. The 23-year-old former Fulham youth product has been prolific this season for the French club, scoring 11 goals in 19 Ligue 1 games plus another four in four domestic cup matches. Still, Lyon reportedly rebuffed a $44 million bid earlier this month which at the time ended the conversation.


Manchester United’s public chase of Sporting CP midfielder Bruno Fernandes has taken yet another twist.

According to a report by Portuguese publication Record, an unnamed agent of Fernandes has a signed agreement with the club for a $5.5 million fee should he arrive with a $55 million transfer bid that the club rejects. This could potentially put pressure on Sporting to sell the 25-year-old whereas the club had been playing hardball on his valuation.

The report does not specify which agent the clause is connected to, which is notable because it could either be Fernandes’s personal agent or superagent Jorge Mendes who reportedly struck a deal with the club to help broker this transfer. Mendes is on record saying that Fernandes will leave Sporting, but they may wait until the summer to pull the trigger.

Even former Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho had jokes about the drawn out transfer saga regarding Bruno Fernandes. After Tottenham’s win over Norwich on Wednesday, Mourinho jabbed with a reporter, approaching him about his assignment in Portugal covering the transfer rumor. “How was Lisbon?” Mourinho asked in jest. “Lisbon was good? So Bruno Fernandes come to United or no?” Mourinho said. “So you go to Lisbon and he’s not coming? But coming or no?”


According to Italian journalist Gianluca di Marzio, Newcastle is nearing a loan deal for 23-year-old Inter wide player Valentino Lazaro. The report states that Newcastle has entered a loan bid involving a $1.7 million fee that includes a $26 million option to buy at the end of the season.

Lazaro joined Inter this past summer from German club Hertha Berlin for about $25 million, but has failed to make an impact at his new home, with just six Serie A appearances to date and just three of those starts. He has not collected a goal and has just one assist, resulting in significant time on the bench. With the arrival of Victor Moses and Ashley Young this winter, Inter is hoping to offset the additions to the squad with the sale of Lazaro.

The Austrian international scored three goals and assisted seven others last season with Hertha, earning his move to Inter. As a right-sided player, he would be direct competition for USMNT international DeAndre Yedlin who is currently on the shelf after suffering a hand injury.


Multiple Italian tabloids have picked up on the rumor that Carlo Ancelotti has plugged back into his Napoli roots in the hopes of convincing Brazilian midfielder Allan to join Everton this winter.

According to both Gianluca di Marzio and Tuttomercadoweb, Ancelotti has made contact with Napoli regarding the striker, although he has heavy competition from Inter. The 29-year-old has been with Napoli since joining in 2015 from Udinese, and he has logged significant time this season, making 14 Serie A appearances and five more in Champions League play.

Known as a tough tackler, Allan would take a significant investment by Everton to pry him loose mid-season, given his importance in the Napoli squad and his current contract that runs through the summer of 2023.


Italian publication Tuttosport thought it prudent to report that Manchester United is considering bringing Carlos Tevez back to the Premier League on loan. He’s started one game for Boca Juniors since late August. Yea, that ain’t happening.

Aston Villa signs 16-year-old Barry from Barcelona youth squad

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On Thursday morning, Aston Villa announced the signing of 16-year-old Barcelona youth player Louie Barry, who will move straight into the academy squad at Villa Park.

Barry, an England youth international who moved from West Brom’s youth program to Barcelona last summer, has reportedly struggled to integrate in Spain and eventually opted to move back to his home country. According to the Barcelona release on Barry’s departure, Villa paid the Spanish club around $1.16 million for Barry’s signature, and reports suggest that could increase significantly with bumpers in the deal.

“It sends a powerful message about the ambition of this football club,” Academy manager Mark Harrison told VillaTV upon the initial club release of the news. “We’re delighted – Louie is a local person and his family are all Villa fans, as is Louie. He is still a very young man but as he’s developed, he’s always been one player that you always recognize as having outstanding attributes. He’s got a fantastic mentality, he’s desperate to do well for this football club.”

Barry’s departure from West Brom is still being resolved, with Barcelona still yet to pay the English club the standard $308,000 fee for international youth players that turn down professional contracts.

Aston Villa has dipped significantly into its academy products this season, with Indiana Vassilev, Cameron Archer and Jacob Ramsey all making first-team debuts at certain points. Vassilev, a USMNT youth international, has made two Premier League appearances at just 18 years old, coming off the bench for decent spells against Brighton and Watford this month. Archer played a substitute role in an EFL Cup game against Crewe Alexandria, while Ramsey played in an EFL Cup game against Brighton and saw action in the FA Cup loss to Fulham.

Chelsea winger Victor Moses moves to Inter on loan

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Thursday morning Inter Milan confirmed yet another acquisition from the Premier League, securing Victor Moses on loan from Chelsea with an option to buy.

Moses has been on loan at Turkish club Fenerbahce for the last calendar year, moving to the Super Lig last winter. The 29-year-old made 23 appearances for Fenerbahce across all competitions, scoring five goals and assisting two more. Fenerbahce finished last season in a disappointing eighth, meaning they did not qualify for European play this season. He has not played much this season, making just six league appearances thanks to a thigh injury.

Moses, who retired from international competition with Nigeria after the 2018 World Cup, had been a consistent presence in the Chelsea lineup under former Chelsea and current Inter boss Antonio Conte, reinventing himself as a wing-back opposite Marcos Alonso in Conte’s 3-CB system. However, he was dropped from the consistent starting lineup at the start of the 2018/19 season and was sent out on loan that winter.

The former Chelsea player becomes the fourth player either sold or loaned to Inter from a Premier League club this season, joining Manchester United trio Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku, and Ashley Young, with the latter joining this winter as well. It is the first time Conte has dipped into the well of his former Chelsea players. They have also been heavily linked with Tottenham midfielder Christian Eriksen.

Conte has Inter challenging for the Scudetto this season, with the club sitting second in the Serie A table. However, draws with Atalanta and Lecce in the last two matches have seen them drop to four points back of leaders Juventus after challenging them for much of the season to date.