Premier League Playback: Five horse title race ready to roll

1 Comment

FIVE-HORSE TITLE RACE

And then there were, uh, five?

Hardly the most exclusive statement, but there now seems to be only five Premier League teams with a realistic chance of winning the title this season.

Arsenal, Leicester City, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and even Manchester United must be considered as title contenders following a busy week which saw two matchdays crammed in following a hectic festive scheduled and the FA Cup third round last weekend.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Heavy legs have led to plenty of hopes and dreams being dashed at this stage of the season in the past but the aforementioned quintet have proved, so far, they have staying power. Just.

Sure, all five are sticking around, but nobody is taking this league by the scruff of the neck and saying “do you know what? I really want to win this.” Nobody.

All season long just when we’ve expected Manchester City, then Arsenal or Man United to kick on they’ve faltered. The Gunners drew twice this week, even City were held at home by Everton but reminded us how good they are by battering Palace 4-0. Leicester stunned Spurs with a late winner at White Hart Lane then drew at bottom club Aston Villa. The dark horse here is Spurs. Mauricio Pochettino‘s side are consistent and even in their defeat to the Foxes last Wednesday they deserved more. They created chances galore but Kasper Schmeichel was in inspired form, Harry Kane hit the bar and Erik Lamela had an off day with all of their best chances. They made amends for that by blowing away Sunderland 4-1 on Saturday and it could have been more.

Spurs are the team to watch and if injuries are kind to them the young squad will have no fear. With 16 games to go, there are still 48 points to play for but it seems highly likely that we will have one of the lowest points tally for a PL champion in league history.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

The fact that Manchester United’s manager Louis Van Gaal, who oversaw a spell where his team went six games without a PL win throughout November and December amid drab displays and rumors of him being fired, now thinks United can win it all sums up the madness.

Speaking after United’s 1-0 win against bitter rivals Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday — an inspired display from David De Gea and a clinical finish from Wayne Rooney papered over the fact that Liverpool had by far the better opportunities — Van Gaal was bullish as the Red Devils are now four unbeaten.

“We have a lot of matches still to go,” Van Gaal said. “We have to continue, which is not so easy. But we can do it because we show every week we can do it… The gap is seven points. We can overcome that so that’s what I’m thinking about. “

It’s going to be one heck of a ride between now and the end of the season as five teams have cut themselves off from the rest. Now, will Man City’s mammoth squad be the difference? Can Arsenal’s acquisition of Cech led to a title? Will Harry Kane catch fire to lead Spurs to glory? Or will Leicester’s sensational season spring the most unlikely title triumph in PL history?

LIVERPOOL TREADING WATER

Premier League Schedule – Week 22

Result Recap & Highlights
A. Villa 1-1 Leicester Recap, watch here
B’mouth 3-0 Norwich Recap, watch here
Chelsea 3-3 Everton Recap, watch here
Liverpool 0-1 Man Utd Recap, watch here
Man City 4-0 Palace Recap, watch here
N’castle 2-1 West Ham Recap, watch here
Saints 3-0 WBA Recap, watch here
Stoke 0-0 Arsenal Recap, watch here
Swansea 1-0 Watford Recap, watch here
Tottenham 4-1 S’land Recap, watch here

One team well and truly out of the title race, or even the top four race at this stage, is Liverpool.

As aforementioned, Jurgen Klopp‘s side created plenty of chances on Sunday in their big derby game and the link up play between Roberto Firmino, Adam Lallana and Emre Can was mesmeric at times, especially in the first half as United couldn’t get near them. But (and you knew there was a but coming) the wasteful nature of their display came back to haunt them.

The stats below tells you all you need to know. Also, Steven Caulker came on as an emergency forward with Divock Origi, Danny Ings and Daniel Sturridge out injured, which further reinforces their offensive issues.

That’s compounded by the fact that Klopp doesn’t seem to fancy Christian Benteke and can’t find a way to fit him into their high-pressing system, which means the Belgian (Liverpool’s top scorer with seven goals this season) who cost them $45 million this summer is a rather expensive bit-part player. Getting the best out of him in Klopp’s system, and getting Sturridge back fit, is a must if they’re going to have any chance of finishing in the top four. Even that seems like a long-shot now.

A win on Sunday would have placed Liverpool just a point behind United. The defeat means they trail the Red Devils by six and the top four by eight. That’s not insurmountable but it is tough, especially with Klopp working with players he didn’t recruit and a long list of injuries decimating his options in attack and at center back. I’m not making excuses for him. That’s fact.

Klopp, 48, is facing the biggest challenge of his managerial career and three months in you don’t get the sense that he’s bitten off more than he can chew, but you do have to admit that he’ll need longer to digest the task at hand and chew through the bloated and jumbled squad he’s been left with.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

For those Liverpool fans thinking it will be an easy ride back to the top four, Klopp has a message for you.

“We want to collect points and take everything that we can, there is no doubt about it. We know about our responsibility,” Klopp said. “The space is pretty big between us and the top four. If we want to go there we have to win games. That’s the only way.”

SOLUTION FOR FUMING MARTINEZ

Roberto Martinez was apoplectic with rage following John Terry‘s late, late equalizer from an offside position on Saturday.

Not only did Chelsea’s skipper score when two-yards offside to snatch the Blues a 3-3 draw after Ramiro Funes Mori had given Everton the lead in the 91st minute, but he had done so nearly a minute after the seven minutes of stoppage time were meant to be up.

Speaking after the game, here’s what Martinez said.

So, Roberto, what about having a countdown clock like they do in NBA, NFL or any of the American sports?

I understand Martinez’s comments about the confusion regarding how much stoppage time is to be played and there is a huge amount of ambiguity present as the official rule states that when the number of stoppage time minutes is shown on the board by the fourth official at the end of 90 minutes then that is the “minimum amount” which will be added on. In this case, Funes Mori scored in stoppage time and celebrated for over a minute so an extra minute was added on and Terry scored in that. Simple. However, changing the clock to count down and stopping it as the game goes may not please the traditionalists but it will bring fairness. Perhaps another reform for FIFA can look at.

SWANS SPREAD THEIR WINGS

“Buongiorno Francesco Guidolin,” will be the phrase rippling through the cobbled streets of Swansea over the next week or two as the 60-year-old Italian coach was appointed as head coach until the end of the season in a bizarre turn of events on Monday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Having already appointed club legend Alan Curtis in caretaker charge until the end of the campaign the Swans released a statement claiming that Guidolin “will have the final say on team selection” and both he and Curtis will work together to keep them in the PL between now and the end of the season. The former Udinese manager, who took an unfashionable Italian team to third-place in Serie A and the UEFA Champions League, has no experience coaching in England and already looked an edge as he watched on from the stands at the Liberty Stadium on Monday with his new side beating Watford 1-0 for just their second Premier League win in 12 games. 

Guidolin will have his work cut out but the Swans are out of the bottom three and have given themselves a fighting chance of surviving. Now, it’s up to Guidolin to galvanize the team and try to get his ideas across in the next four months. It’s a gamble from a team who are used to giving young managers a chance and playing attractive soccer. The Swans are in a relegation scrap and it won’t be pretty but perhaps it was pretty smart to get an experienced head in to help steady the ship and lead them to safety.

JONES THE FAN

As an aside to Man United’s top four aspirations getting a big boost by beating Liverpool away on Sunday, three of their players were also in the thick of things in the away end at Anfield.

The injured trio of Michael Carrick, Marcos Rojo and most notably Phil Jones, all stood with United’s fans and the scenes when Wayne Rooney’s late winning-goal went in were memorable.

Take a look at the video below to see Jones in with United’s fans celebrating the game-winner. Usually injured players won’t travel to away stadiums with their teams but seeing those three do so and stand as one with the supporters was refreshing.

Who says PL superstars and the fans aren’t close anymore? Not on this showing. Brilliant, just brilliant.

TRANSFER TICKER

Here’s a look at the major transfers happening in the Premier League over the past week, as clubs are starting to get busy with less than two weeks of the January transfer window remaining.

Some real bargains in here who are already having an impact on their new teams with Shelvey shinning on debut for Newcastle and Afobe opening his Bournemouth account, plus Arsenal finally have some depth in holding midfield with Elneny arriving and Saints got a steal by snapping up Austin.

Charlie Austin to Southampton from QPR – $6.5 million

Jonjo Shelvey to Newcastle United from Swansea – $18 million

Nordin Amrabat to Watford from Malaga – $10.2 million

Timm Klose to Norwich from Wolfsburg – $13 million

Mohamed Elneny to Arsenal from Basel – $7.5 million

Lewis Grabban to Bournemouth from Norwich – $12 million

Benik Afobe to Bournemouth from Wolverhampton – $14 million

Henri Saivet to Newcastle from Bordeaux – $7.5 million

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.

Americans Abroad: Chandler earns start after lengthy absence; McKennie leaves injured

Getty Images
Leave a comment

On a relatively quiet weekend for Americans abroad, Timothy Chandler started for Eintracht Frankfurt for the first time since mid-September.

In England, Christian Pulisic made another start for Chelsea, while Lynden Gooch returned to action with Sunderland after a few months of inactivity.

But while some came back from inactivity, Weston McKennie was stretched off the field on Sunday after landing on his shoulder in Schalke’s 1-0 win over Frankfurt.

Here is a list of several other USMNT affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) abroad this weekend.

Premier League

Christian Pulisic, Chelsea — Pulisic started and played 65 minutes in Chelsea’s 1-0 loss to Bournemouth on Saturday. The attacker failed to record a single shot.

DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle — The fullback watched the Magpies’ 1-0 loss to Burnley from the bench on Saturday.

EFL Championship

Antonee Robinson, Wigan Athletic — Robinson continues to rack up the minutes at Wigan. The young left back started and played the full 90 minutes as Wigan picked up a point against struggling Huddersfield Town on Saturday.

Matt Miazga, Reading (loan from Chelsea) — The 24-year-old didn’t dress in Reading’s 0-0 draw with Stoke City.

Eric Lichaj, Hull City — The Tigers captain started and played the full 90 minutes in Hull City’s 2-2 draw with Charlton Athletic on Friday.

Geoff Cameron, QPR — The 34-year-old defender started at centerback and played 67 minutes in QPR’s 5-3 loss to Barnsley.

Tim Ream, Fulham — Ream started and played 90 minutes in Fulham’s 1-1 draw at Sheffield Wednesday.

Cameron Carter-Vickers, Stoke City (loan Tottenham Hotspur) — Like Miazga, Carter-Vickers, too, was absent during Saturday’s bout.

Duane Holmes, Derby County — Holmes started and played 88 minutes in Derby’s 1-0 loss to Millwall.

EFL League One

Lynden Gooch, Sunderland – Gooch came off the bench and played 18 minutes in Sunderland’s 1-1 draw with Blackpool – the first minutes for the Californian since mid-October.

Bundesliga

Weston McKennie, Schalke —  13 minutes into the game on Sunday, McKennie was stretched off the field after he suffered an apparent shoulder injury.

Zack Steffen and Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf Despite making four saves, Steffen allowed three goals in Fortuna Dusseldorf’s 3-0 loss to RB Leipzig on Saturday. Morales did not dress.

Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen  Sargent is out with an injury for the remainder of the calendar year.

Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig — Adams didn’t dress for RB Leipzig.

Fabian Johnson, Borussia Mönchengladbach — Johnson didn’t dress for Borussia Monchengladbach.

Timmy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt — The veteran defender started and played 90 minutes for the first time since mid-September.

2. Bundesliga

Julian Green, Greuther Furth – The 24-year-old midfielder is out with an injury.

Bobby Wood, Hamburg – Wood dressed but didn’t play in Hamburg’s 1-1 draw on Sunday.

Eredivisie

Sergino Dest, Ajax — Dest didn’t dress for Ajax on Sunday.

Haji Wright, VVV-Venlo — The 21-year-old striker started and played 45 minutes in VVV Venlo’s 2-1 loss to PEC Zwolle.

Desevio Payne, FC Emmen — The U-23 MNT fullback didn’t dress for FC Emmen on Sunday.

Ligue 1

Timothy Weah, Lille — Weah didn’t dress for Lille on Friday.

Theoson Jordan-Siebatcheu, Rennes — Siebatcheu didn’t dress for Rennes on Sunday.

Honorable mentions:

Giovanni Reyna, Borussia Dortmund U-19 —  Reyna’s praiseworthy campaign in Germany continues, scoring a goal in Borussia Dortmund’s 6-1 win over Alemannia Aachen on Sunday.

Georgetown wins NCAA title by beating Virginia on penalty kick

Getty Images
Leave a comment

CARY, N.C. — Georgetown goalkeeper Tomas Romero stopped Virginia’s Axel Gunnarsson in the seventh round of penalty kicks to give the Hoyas their first NCAA men’s soccer championship Sunday night.

The teams fought through two scoreless 10-minute overtime periods after finishing regulation tied at 3, leaving penalty kicks to decide the game. Both teams made their first six penalty kicks, and Aidan Rocha made the seventh for Georgetown, forcing Gunnarsson to attempt to match it.

Romero moved to his right to thwart the shot and give the Hoyas (20-1-3) the victory.

Derek Dodson, Paul Rothrock and Daniel Wu scored in regulation for the Hoyas.

Virginia (21-2-1) countered with goals by Joe Bell, Daniel Steedman and Daryl Dike.

Georgetown appeared on the verge of winning regulation when Dodson broke a 2-2 tie with 9:37 left in the second half. But Dike forced overtime when he booted a rebound of his own miss into the top of the net with 4:58 remaining in regulation.

Virginia was bidding for its eighth national championship and third since 2009. Georgetown was playing in its second NCAA final.It lost 1-0 to Indiana in the 2012 championship game.

Mexicans Abroad: Jimenez registers assist in Wolves loss, praised by Liverpool’s Klopp

Getty Images
Leave a comment

In an underwhelming slow weekend for Mexicans abroad, only Raul Jimenez (and Omar Govea) managed to make the headlines, but not necessarily for his assist to Adama Traore in Wolverhampton Wanderers’ 2-1 loss to Tottenham on Sunday.

The 28-year-old forward, who has been on a serious scoring run this season with Wolves, was praised by Liverpool manager, Jurgen Klopp, who was asked about Mexican soccer ahead of the Reds’ match against Monterrey in the semifinal of the FIFA World Cup of Clubs.

“There are several players from Mexico,” he says “but Raul Jimenez is an impressive Mexican soccer ambassador, really good. I’m sure they (Mexico) have a strong league, but it’s not easy to see it here, so I don’t know much.”

Here is a list of several other Mexico national team affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) outside of Mexico this weekend.


Premier League

Raul Jimenez, Wolverhampton Wanderers —  Despite Tottenham snapping Wolves’ 12-game unbeaten streak in league play, Jimenez continued his fine run of generating goals. In the 67th minute, the forward assisted Traore for the home side’s first and only goal of the night.

La Liga

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Sevilla — Chicharito came on for Luuk De Jong in the 59th minute in Sevilla’s 2-1 loss to Villarreal on Sunday. The forward completed all of his passes (four) and had a shot blocked.

Hector Herrera, Atletico Madrid — Herrera played the final 27 minutes of Atletico’s 2-0 win over Osasuna on Saturday.

Andres Guardado, Real Betis —  Due to a suspension, Guardado was not called up to feature in Betis’ 18.

Diego Lainez, Real Betis — The 19-year-old took the field in the 52nd minute in Betis’ 2-2 draw against Espanyol.

Nestor Araujo, Celta Vigo — Araujo started and played every minute in Celta’s 2-2 with Mallorca. The defender recorded three clearances, one blocked shot and three interceptions. Celta remain as possible relegation candidates.

Serie A

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Napoli —  Lozano’s time at Napoli under Gennaro Gattuso didn’t have the firework start many were hoping for. Instead, the frenetic winger started on the bench and played only 11 minutes in Napoli’s last-minute 2-1 loss to Parma on Saturday.

Eredivisie

Erick Gutierrez, PSV Eindhoven — Gutierrez started and played all 90 minutes in PSV’s 3-1 loss to Feyenoord on Sunday. The midfielder completed 89 percent of his passes, recorded one key pass and one shot on target.

Edson Alvarez, Ajax —  It’s been an up-and-down experience for Alvarez at Ajax thus far. Completing 93 percent of his passes and winning 80 percent of his ground duels, his performance on Sunday was a high for the midfielder, despite his team’s 1-0 loss to AZ.

Primeira Liga

Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, FC Porto — Tecatito and Porto host Tondela on Monday.

Jupiler Pro League

Omar Govea, Zulte Waregem — Govea shined on Sunday in Belgium, bagging a brace in Zulte’s 5-1 thumping of Sint Truidense VV.

Elsewhere around the globe:

Pedro Arce, Panionios – Arce played 70 minutes in Panionios’ 2-1 loss to Volos on Sunday.

Gerardo Ramirez Alonso, Roda JC – Ramirez Alonso dressed but didn’t take the field in Roda’s draw on Friday.

Serie A roundup: Ronaldo sets record with brace, Juventus top Serie A (video)

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Juventus’ routine win, which puts them level with leaders Inter Milan, highlights Sunday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Juventus 3-1 Udinese

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a brace as Juventus picked up its first win after dropping points in two consecutive Serie A outings.

With two goals – which easily could have been four if he had not struck the bar – the Portuguese made history in front of the home crowd, becoming the first player to record double digit goals in 15 consecutive seasons within Europe’s top-five leagues.

The storied attacker opened the floodgates in the ninth minute, when a softly deflected ball landed in front of the same right foot that belted the ball past Udinese’s man between the sticks.

It wouldn’t take long for Ronaldo to record his second of the night.

In the 37th minute, one of the 34-year-old’s best techniques made scoring a possibility: positioning. Keeping track of the defender marking him and Udinese’s backline, Ronaldo made a run forward, meeting a perfectly-placed ball from Gonzalo Higuain and striking it home. 

Before the first half came to an end, Leonardo Bonucci headed home the home side’s third of the night, putting the game out of reach. In consolation time, however, Udinese spoiled Gianluigi Buffon’s clean sheet as Ignacio Pussetto tap in inside the box found its way into the goal.

It’s a quick turnaround for Juventus as they travels to Sampdoria midweek, while Udinese host Cagliari over the weekend.

Elsewhere

Verona 3-3 Torino

AC Milan 0-0 Sassuolo

Bologna 2-1 Atalanta

Roma 3-1 SPAL

Fiorentina 1-1 Inter Milan