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. 

Manchester United: Solskjaer hopeful of new Paul Pogba contract

Paul Pogba contract
Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images
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Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is singing a new tune, hopeful that star midfielder Paul Pogba will stick around Old Trafford for the long term.

Reports say that United has an option to extend Pogba’s contract by an extra year beyond its 2021 expiry, but Solskjaer is thinking bigger. He has been praising Pogba plenty since the World Cup winner returned to the lineup.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

It’s a bit surprising given Pogba and his super agent’s constant time in the rumor mill, with Real Madrid often linked with the Frenchman. And that agent, Mino Raiola, has not been so nice when it comes to judging Solskjaer.

But Solskjaer is reportedly hopeful that Pogba can join Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, and others in building a new power.

“I can’t comment on discussions between player and the club but. of course, we want to keep the best players around the club,” Solskjaer said. “We want to build a squad for the future and Scott and Nemanja are a similar position but at different stages in their careers. One at the start, one really experienced one.”

Pogba leads United in key passes per game with 2.3, though his minutes have been severely limited by injuries this season. He had 13 goals and nine assists last season, and turned 27 in March.

The way United’s performed in recent weeks it would not be a surprise if keeping its main talents while adding another stalwart center back and wing would propel it into a more serious table discussion.

Do you buy the idea that Pogba could be with United well into the future?

Suarez goal gives Barcelona win, relegates neighbors Espanyol

Espanyol relegated
Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images
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Seventh-place one season ago, La Liga mainstays Espanyol are being relegated from Spain’s top flight.

The final decision came at the hands of their Catalan neighbors Barcelona, who got a second-half goal from Luis Suarez to relegate Espanyol.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Espanyol are 11 points back of 17th place and can only capture nine more points this season following the 1-0 loss in a match where both teams had a player sent off.

Suarez’s goal was a nice one after Antoine Griezmann’s back heel pass to Lionel Messi saw the Argentine’s shot deflect onto the path of the Uruguayan finisher.

Espanyol had been in the top flight since 1994 and has only spent four single seasons outside La Liga since 1929. Leganes and Mallorca may join them soon.

Barcelona moves a point back of Real Madrid. Real has four matches left to Barca’s three and holds the tiebreaker.

Klopp reacts to Liverpool wins, says Henderson injury ‘not nothing’

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Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion was a bit more what we’re used to from the Premier League champions.

But that wasn’t the focus of the post-match despite a highlight-reel show from Mohamed Salah, as Reds boss Jurgen Klopp sounded an ominous note when asked about Jordan Henderson leaving the match with injury.

“I don’t know exactly but it was something with the knee I think. We know it’s not nothing.”

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Henderson’s not exactly a player to hit the deck unless he’s feeling pain, and Klopp removed him for James Milner with 10 minutes to play.

That’s about the only bad news from the win, as Liverpool became the first team this season to breach the 90-point mark and saw Salah’s brace move him within three goals of the Golden Boot lead.

Salah would only say, “Let’s take it game-by-game,” but it’s clearly on his mind.

Trent Alexander-Arnold says the Egyptian is hungry to get a share of a third-straight Golden Boot.

From the BBC:

“He has his targets, he’s around the Golden Boot and it’s something he wants to retain,” Alexander-Arnold said. “He’s a world class player who scores so many goals for us and we try to get him on the board as much as possible.”

As for the match, Brighton almost as missed some big chances as Liverpool before the game was out of reach. Klopp admits that it was a challenge.

“We started really well,” Klopp said. “We had to adapt a little bit as we knew what they wanted to do but it was a little bit hard to defend. We left one or two players in a position where if we won the ball we had players in the counter-attack position. We got the first two goals with super balls but we could have scored more. I said to the boys at half-time they could have been 2-2 too. It was a nice game to watch.”

The Reds finish with Burnley, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Newcastle United.

Liverpool march continues with 3-1 win at Brighton

Brighton - Liverpool recap
Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
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Mohamed Salah had two goals and an assist in the first eight minutes of Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium on Wednesday.

Salah is now three goals behind league leader Jamie Vardy, and Liverpool’s 92 points are 23 more than Man City. Jordan Henderson also scored for the Reds.

BRIGHTON – LIVERPOOL FULL MATCH REPLAY

Leandro Trossard scored for Brighton, whose 36 points are nine clear of the bottom three with four matches to play (The 18th and 19th place sides do have a match each in hand).

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Liverpool’s 30 wins through 34 outings is a Premier League record and Jurgen Klopp’s men are chasing several PL records. The Reds finish with Burnley, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Newcastle United.


Three things we learned

1. Salah somehow under the radar: Look, the Egyptian star’s 32-goal league season was an outlier. Not a lot of guys consistently hit 25, let alone the 30 mark in the Premier League. But Salah has rather quietly put together another amazing season with 19 goals and nine assists in PL play plus another four and three in cup competitions. Salah is one assist of joining the a small group of players to get double digit league goals and assists in a top five European league this season.

While it’s become sexy to praise Sadio Mane as the Reds’ top winger, Salah has been just as good. He could’ve had another goal in the 53rd but Mat Ryan made a fine intervention at close range. If Salah is under the radar, it’s because Liverpool has spread the wealth this season and had so many heroes in close matches. But boy, oh boy, is he their best weapon.

2. Lamptey shows glimpses, then youth: The sample size is very small, but 19-year-old Chelsea outcast Tariq Lamptey has played well at right back in most of his outings for Brighton since the return from the coronavirus pause. Lamptey was at blame for Liverpool’s third goal in both the chance conceded and actual finish from Salah, but the $4 million January buy looked well worth the price tag in a terrific first half at the Amex.

3. Seagulls still missing final ball: Brighton produced four big chances in the game to Liverpool’s two, but only put one in the back of the net (SofaScore). That’s sadly been par for the course this season, as Brighton’s style has been worthy of a top half place. Brighton entered the day with seven fewer goals than its expected goals total. Only Everton, Watford, and Norwich have been less fortunate.

Man of the Match:

Salah.


Brighton – Liverpool recap

Salah had a goal and an assist within 500 seconds of kickoff.

The Egyptian took a feed from Naby Keita to score off a Davy Propper giveaway and then set up Henderson’s second to have the Seagulls’ heads spinning early.

Brighton found a chance in the 19th but Neco Williams recovered with a slide to block Leandro Trossard from slotting a point-blank goal.

The Seagulls pulled within one just before halftime when in-form youngster Tariq Lamptey swept a cross into the mix for Trossard to punch home.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Salah could’ve had it 3-1 at one end but Brighton’s Dan Burn asked the Egyptian to hold his drink with a butchered wide-open shot at the back post in the 60th minute.

Jurgen Klopp didn’t like the close score, and brought on Fabinho, Andy Robertson, and Sadio Mane in the second half. One of the players he removed, Naby Keita, had a strong hour before departing the contest.

Henderson almost produced a third Liverpool goal after a rare Lamptey error spring a chance that took a wicked turn off Dale Stephens.

The Reds made it 3-1 off the ensuing corner, Salah’s clinical header in front of Lamptey. Henderson limped off for Liverpool late in the contest.

Ryan denied Salah a hat trick in stoppage time and the Egyptian headed over the bar at the final whistle. He could’ve had five.