Premier League Playback: Van Gaal’s time at United almost up

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VAN GAAL’S TIME ALMOST UP

Louis Van Gaal‘s time at Manchester United seems to be coming to an end.

[ MORE: LVG – “Fans right to boo”

The veteran Dutch coach was booed and jeered at half time and following United’s 1-0 defeat at home to Southampton on Saturday, as his side put in a turgid display which reinforced all of their major flaws.

Speaking after the game and after a verbal bashing from his own supporters, Van Gaal looked a beaten man as he finally admitted his fans were right to show their disdain.

“They are right to boo. I cannot deny that, I saw the match,” Van Gaal said. “For better or for worse we have to stick together.”

It’s hard to stick together when fans, players and even the manager do not know where this journey is going. Van Gaal, 64, is contracted to United until the end of the next season but it seems highly unlikely he’ll be in charge to see out his deal. He is a proud man who has endured tough times with Barcelona, Holland and even Bayern Munich before, yet this situation seems impossible to turn around with the widespread boos perhaps spelling the end for LVG.

But what option do they have in the meantime if he is fired or walks?

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Placing Ryan Giggs in temporary charge is papering over the cracks and the Welshman, who was a legendary player at Old Trafford, has no head-coaching experience despite sitting alongside David Moyes and Van Gaal as an assistant. He is not ready to take on this challenge but he may be the only option. As Kyle Martino said in the video above, maybe Giggs gets a chance until the summer to see if he can have an impact and if not then a high profile name can come in. But which high profile manager would take the job at this point with Pep Guardiola almost certain to end up at Man City? United’s directors must have Jose Mourinho’s number on speed-dial at this point.

Back to Van Gaal, the pressure building on him is immense. Following $375 million spent on new players in the last 18 months, an early UEFA Champions League exit at the group stage this season and now sitting five points off the top four with 15 games to go, United have only won two of their last 10 games. Yes, injuries have plagued them but the predictable, slow build-up play which has led to them scoring just 28 goals through 23 games so far this season is unacceptable and they have now failed to score in the first half of their last 11 matches at home. They have also registered their lowest points tally (37) after 23 games of a Premier League season. That’s worse than when Moyes was in charge and many more stats can be pulled out to portray just how bad this situation is.

[ REPORT: Mourinho sends letter to Man United

Van Gaal has admitted he cannot fulfill the expectation levels at Old Trafford and reports claim that executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has reached out to the players to ask if Van Gaal is the right man to carry on leading them. All of this is leading up to an inevitable conclusion. Van Gaal out.

He gave his team two days off on Sunday and Monday, presumably to clear their heads and refocus. While they tried to do that, LVG returned to Holland to celebrate his daughter’s birthday.

The likelihood — much to the dismay of a growing number of United’s fan — is that when he returns Van Gaal will be in charge for their FA Cup fourth round match away at second-tier Derby County. Lose that and surely it’s curtains for one of the most experienced managers in the game. Nothing he has previously experienced will have prepared him for facing this current predicament as fans of one of, if not the biggest, club’s in the world have turned against him and his players. The point of no return has almost arrived. The end game is near.

LIVERPOOL WIN THRILLER, BUT DID KLOPP SEE IT?

Madness. Utter madness.

Premier League Schedule – Week 23

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 0-1 Chelsea Recap, watch here
C. Palace 1-3 Spurs Recap, watch here
Everton 1-2 Swansea Recap, watch here
Leicester 3-0 Stoke Recap, watch here
Man Utd 0-1 Saints Recap, watch here
Norwich 4-5 Liverpool Recap, watch here
S’land 1-1 B’mouth Recap, watch here
Watford 2-1 N’castle Recap, watch here
West Brom 0-0 Villa Recap, watch here
West Ham 2-2 Man City Recap, watch here

Liverpool’s 5-4 win at Norwich City on Saturday will go down as one of the all-time great games in Premier League history as nine of the 10 shots on target went in.

Leading 3-1 with 55 minutes gone, Norwich imploded and trailed 4-3 heading into stoppage time. Then, Sebastien Bassong popped up to score and seemingly grab them a point. Not so fast.

An Adam Lallana strike five minutes into stoppage time sparked wild celebrations from the players and, most memorably, their manager Jurgen Klopp.

Jumping on each other on the sidelines, Christian Benteke‘s hand caught Klopp in the face and knocked the German coach’s famous glasses off his face.

Post-game, Klopp was asked where his glasses had gone. He then delivered a response only he could pull off.

“I usually have a second pair of glasses but I can’t find them because it’s hard to find glasses without glasses!”

Then on Monday, ahead of Liverpool’s League Cup semifinal second leg against Stoke City on Tuesday, Klopp was wearing is second pair of glasses and joked he “looked like a serial killer” wearing them.

Klopp is comical, and the defending on show from both teams teams on Saturday was comical. But the outcome was a truly memorable match which had a remarkable ending that could maybe ignite Liverpool’s injury-hit squad and help them kick on to challenge for a top four spot, just a week after they unjustly suffered a damaging home defeat to bitter rivals Manchester United.

INSPIRATIONAL ALLI

Dele Alli has been spitting straight flames for most of his opening six months as a Spurs player. The wondergoal in the video above sums up his meteoric rise.

The 19-year-old attacking midfielder scored a sensational goal at Crystal Palace on Saturday in Spurs’ 3-1 win which leaves them just five points off top spot.

After already making his Three Lions debut and scoring a stunner against France in their last friendly. Alli is the hope of a nation. He is England’s next great hope and has dealt with the huge step up from excelling at MK Dons in League One to ripping it up for Tottenham in the PL with incredible ease. In his first season in the top-flight Alli has delivered so much more than any expected and plenty of scouts of other PL clubs will now be scratching their heads as to why they didn’t take a chance on him sooner.

Now, expectation levels will continue to rise as Alli’s similarities to the likes of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard have already been whispered about by fans and pundits in England. Alongside Harry Kane and Eric Dier, Alli is part of a strong English core at Spurs who could be the dark-horses for the title as everyone else continues to slip up.

PAYET PURRS, AGUERO RESCUES CITY

“We’ve got Payet, Dimitri Payet, I just don’t think you understand. He’s Super Slavs man, he’s better than Zidane. We’ve got Dimitri Payet.”

Fans of the Hammers have a new hero and that song was reverberating around the rafters of Upton Park before, during and after West Ham United’s 2-2 draw with Manchester City on Saturday. The famous old stadium — home to the Hammers for 104 years but this season is its last as the move to the glistening Olympic Stadium looms — was rocking on Saturday and I was present in the stands to watch a truly stunning individual display.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from West Ham vs. Man City

Payet, 28, was signed from Marseille for $15 million in the summer and looks an absolute bargain. His clever flicks and tricks bamboozled City’s midfield and defense, while Joe Hart produced a marvelous save to keep out his dipping free kick.

The fact that sixth-placed West Ham were disappointed with a draw at home to title-chasing Man City shows how far they’ve come under Slaven Bilic this season and if Payet can stay fit he will be the key to helping them crack the top six. Sergio Aguero twice equalized for City and without the Argentine they would have lost on the road once again. City have only won once away from the Etihad Stadium in the PL since September and they need to address that trend if they’re going to win the title. Without injured skipper Vincent Kompany they looked shaky at the back, once again, and Manuel Pellegrini must be desperate for him to return.

West Ham know all about missing their talisman through injury as Payet was out for six weeks from early November until early January. They only won one of their seven games in that stretch and the man from Reunion is majestic on the ball and glides over the ground, always seeming to have more time than the opponents running around in circles trying to mark him.

His manager, like every West Ham fan, is a massive fan of the French international playmaker who is lighting up the Hammers’ final season at the Boleyn Ground.

“It is very hard to play like he did today on a weekly basis but he’s played like that since the beginning of the season,” Bilic said. “He is a great player. To be fair we see that day in day out in training – we are so glad we have him. When he is on the pitch, it’s not that he is great and confident, but he makes all the other players better. The boys recognize that he is our key player and they are willing to do the dirty work. We missed him so much when he got injured.”

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.

Report: Six Barcelona board members quit, recommend new election

Barcelona
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Barcelona might be atop La Liga, but the behind the scenes atmosphere is ugly.

A day after reports that president Josep Maria Bartomeu asked four board members to leave the club, the quartet and two others have resigned and called for new leadership.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Marca translated the letter signed by Emili Rousaud, Enrique Tombas, Silvio Elias, Josep Pont, Maria Teixidor and Jordi Calsamiglia (Spanish report here). The first four were asked to leave, with Teixidor and Calsamiglia joining them.

That leaves the board at 13 members.

“We ask that once the results of the audit entrusted to PWC are presented, all responsible to be swept away with the eventual corresponding compensation.

“As a last service to our club, we recommend that as soon as circumstances allow it to call new elections to allow to direct the club, with all the ‘authority’ and in the best possible way in the face of the important challenges of the most immediate future.”

It’s been a terrible season for Barca off-the-field, and Bartomeu’s leadership simply must be questioned given the actions of him and some of the people under his watch. Former players and legends have spoken out against the club’s hierarchy, including Pep Guardiola.

The ouster of Ernesto Valverde was handled without much class, and director Eric Abidal threw the players under the bus for the managerial change. The club has also dealt with “Barcagate,” in which a contracted social media company was fired for posting Tweets against Barca’s players.

Both drew the ire of Lionel Messi, who can exercise a clause to leave the club this summer (though that seems unlikely). Messi also admitted he “sees weird things happening” after Bartomeu spoke to the players after “Barcagate.”

Messi also refuted Thursday rumors of a move to Inter Milan in a since-deleted IG post.

Bartomeu has been Barca’s president since January 2014, and the club has won the 2014/15 Champions League and four of five La Liga crowns during his full seasons in charge. There have, however, been a lot of misses in the transfer market.

It might get uglier before it gets better, but there isn’t too much room for worse.

Premier League March Madness: Handicapping the Final

Premier League March Madness
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There was a thriller when Wolves and Everton met at Goodison Park on Sept. 1, and we’re hoping for the online poll equivalent when our Premier League March Madness concludes on Friday.

Wolves already gave us one on Thursday, blowing a lead they held for most of the day to see a 50-50-to-the-vote deadlock before a sizeable win in extra time (30 minutes of added voting).

Everton had an interesting win of its own, destroying Merseyside Derby rivals Liverpool with more than 80 percent of the vote.

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub ] 

Before we go any further, if you’re unfamiliar: To make sure you’re not missing out on either March Madness or the business end of the PL season, we’ve gone ahead and merged the two competitions. The March Madness Final Four and Championship game were due to take place this weekend in Atlanta but now you will be voting on Tottenham v. Arsenal instead of Duke v. Kansas.

Teams are seeded from 1-16 based on their current spot in the table, with Aston Villa winning the relegation playoffs on Monday to remain in the Premier League.

Road to the Final

Monday: Relegation semifinals, final – Aston Villa prevailed, Norwich, Bournemouth, Watford relegated
TuesdaySweet 16 results
WednesdayElite Eight
Thursday: Final Four
Friday: Championship game

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

The Toffees are the favorites here, having knocked off Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool.

But this will be the first time in the tournament where Everton won’t have the benefit of a club many other teams hate as the opposition.

Wolves’ extra time win over Sheffield United was a first real scare of the tournament, and the Molineux set will hope its extra time performance was a showing of what it will do when faced with elimination.

It’s difficult to choose against Everton here, even if the Anfield faithful will move to the side of the Wolves. We’ll call it 54-46 to the blue side of Liverpool.

RESULTS: Premier League March Madness Final Four

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Everton has its first Merseyside Derby since 2010 thanks to the voters of ProSoccerTalk.

The Toffees’ 21-match run without a win over Liverpool “ended” Thursday in Premier League March Madness, the fusion of two of our favorite sporting competitions.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

We hinted at this win on Wednesday given the exits of all the Premier League giants besides Liverpool, as supporters of Manchester United, Man City, Arsenal, Spurs, and Chelsea might leap at the chance to take the Reds off any throne.

But to say we saw this margin? The Toffees didn’t just beat their rivals; Carlo Ancelotti’s men stomped the Reds into online oblivion.

So who will Everton meet in the final after knocking off Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool?

The winner of Sheffield United and Wolves came in nail-biting fashion, the two sides nearly as evenly-matched as their 1-1 draw at the Molineux on Dec 1.

Wolves led for much of the day but saw their lead slip to 50.4-49.6 with minutes left in voting.

At 6:30 p.m. ET, it was dead-even. 50-50.

So we extended voting to extra time, and Nuno Espirito Santo must’ve deployed a ridiculous substitute because Wolves ran away with the thing to the tune of 59.6-40.4. #Swing.

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub ]

If you want to see the full game schedule, seedings and bracket, here is the post you need as the tournament will run all week long:

Monday: Relegation semifinals, final – Aston Villa prevailed, Norwich, Bournemouth, Watford relegated
TuesdaySweet 16 results
WednesdayElite Eight
Thursday: Final Four
Friday: Championship game

Much-chased Havertz reportedly prefers Bayern move

Kai Havertz
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The latest transfer gossip regarding rumor mill regular Kai Havertz pours a lot of cold water on the hopes of several Premier League giants.

Havertz, 20, has been linked with Liverpool, Manchester United, and Manchester City this season with his odds of leaving Bayer Leverkusen at an all-time high. He’s also been connected to Arsenal, Chelsea, and Tottenham to cover most of the Top Six bases.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

But Sky Sports says the German playmaker is keen to stay in his home country and make a move to Bayern Munich, who has been linked with Havertz, Leroy Sane, and Timo Werner in a bid to revolutionize its UEFA Champions League credentials.

Havertz has 10 goals and eight assists in 34 matches this season after exploding for 20 and seven in 42 last year. He doesn’t turn 21 until June.

The youngster provides little defensively but averages 2.3 key passes and 2.3 dribbles per match in Bundesliga play while passing at a tidy 87 percent despite living in the danger areas.

Whoever gets Havertz has a gem on its hands, but perhaps the Premier League will amp up their interest and recruiting efforts after these reports (if they haven’t already).