Premier League Playback: Welcome to the Madhouse

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WHAT IS GOING ON?

The only thing we learned from the midweek slate of games is that this madness is set to continue.

[ MORE: Recapping Wednesday in PL ]

With Leicester, Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester City all dropping points — leaders Leicester were the only side to grab a solitary point — the seemingly closed shop for a top four spot has now reopened with Manchester United and West Ham United joining the party.

Welcome to the Madhouse.

Look at the standings below and tell me who finishes where and why. Your guess is as good as anyone’s with 10 games to go.

[ MORE: 3 things learned from West Ham-Spurs ]

Leicester were unlucky to not grab all three points from their clash against West Brom on Tuesday but drew and that small slip up let in the door for the likes of Tottenham, Arsenal and Man City to close the gap on Wednesday.

All three lost.

It’s status quo at the top with nerves seeming to get to Spurs, the Gunners in a rut with three defeats on the spin and Man City suffering from their UEFA Champions League and League Cup final hangover.

PL Standings - March. 3

You’re aware of this by now (of course you are!?) but this season has been infuriatingly and brilliantly unpredictable.

With 10 games left, there’s no sign of that letting up. The picture at the top of the table will only begin to become more muddled this weekend as title contenders clash at White Hart Lane in the North London Derby with both Tottenham and Arsenal eager to make up the ground they lost on Leicester in midweek.

[ WATCH: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Speaking after Tottenham’s defeat to West HamMauricio Pochettino half shrugged and laughed… but looked like he wanted to cry as he was asked why everyone is beating each other.

“The Premier League is the most competitive league in the world. You can see this every week,” Pochettino said.

This crazy show will continue until mid May when a champion will be crowned. I ask you: does this season have to end?

HAMMERS PRESSURE SINKS SPURS

Under the lights at Upton Park on Wednesday, the Hammers pressured Spurs from the off and beat their bitter rivals in an intense atmosphere in east London.

The historic venue was rocking after just seven minutes as Michail Antonio continued his hot-streak and now has six goals in his last seven games at the famous Boleyn Ground. This place will be sorely missed but after climbing to just one point of the top four, West Ham’s move to the Olympic Stadium next season could be met with UEFA Champions League action.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Sure, Man City has a game in hand on the Hammers and Manchester United is one point ahead but West Ham got their tactics spot on against Spurs, crowding out the midfield and playing wing backs to nullify the threat of Spurs’ wide men. Their fight and determination was relentless.

Speaking to the media after the game, Bilic revealed his team shouldn’t be thinking about a top four finish. “Every manager is trying to calm their teams down. We are not thinking about that [top four] and we shouldn’t be thinking about that.”

Ask the fans, Slaven. They certainly are. After yet another gritty and determined display with Dimitri Payet pulling the strings and a growing number of options in attack as players continue to return from injury, the Hammers could come from nowhere and mount a serious challenge for the top four.

[ MORE: Bilic says beating Spurs “game of the season” ]

As for Spurs, it was a night to forget for Mauricio Pochettino on his 44th birthday.

The Argentine boss bemoaned the slow start from which they never truly recovered. Harry Kane missed their best chance in the second half, while too many giveaways in bad errors on a bobbly pitch exemplified their struggles. Kevin Wimmer could’ve been sent off for hauling down Emmanuel Emenike and Tottenham’s decision to rotate their full backs hurt them. Given the madness elsewhere, Spurs’ failure to move top of the table is only a minor setback. After six-straight wins in the PL and going unbeaten away from home since the opening day of the season, they had an off day at Upton Park against their rivals.

Pochettino didn’t seem too worried but he’ll be expecting a big reaction from his team when they host north London rivals Arsenal on Saturday at White Hart Lane (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

ARSENAL, CITY FADING

Speaking of the Gunners, they have now lost three on the spin in all competitions for the first time since 2010. Arsene Wenger‘s men are struggling.

On Wednesday they went down 2-1 to Swansea City at home as the Welsh outfit once again proved to be their bogey team and put a big dent in their title hopes. The loss was bad, of course it was. If they had won — which could’ve easily happened had Alexis Sanchez’s free kick not cannoned off the bar with the scores locked at 1-1 — then they’d be level on points with Spurs going into Saturday’s derby. That said, they’re only three points behind Tottenham and six points behind Leicester. It’s not over, but they must win on Saturday to keep their title hopes alive. It’s as simple as that.

[ MORE: Cech out injured, to miss NLD ]

The biggest loss for Arsenal on Wednesday came with the news that Petr Cech will be out of the NLD after injuring his groin when trying to run up for a late corner kick. David Ospina will come in but Wenger has lost the leader of his defense in yet another damaging blow.

Given their recent PL form, Manchester City’s 3-0 defeat at Liverpool on Wednesday shouldn’t have been a surprise. Pellegrini’s men looked jaded after the League Cup final victory over Liverpool on Sunday at Wembley (perhaps they partied a little too hard?) and the manager admitted a long few weeks is catching up with them. City now sit 10 points off Leicester and even if they win their game in hand it will only reduce the gap to seven with 10 games left.

[ MORE: Pellegrini blames tiredness for City defeat ]

Winning the title should not be at the forefront of their mind anymore. Finishing in the top four should be the main objective as the likes of West Ham and bitter rivals Manchester United line up behind them and are within a point of taking away City’s spot in the Champions League.

LVG’S BOYS GRIND OUT ANOTHER WIN

United left it late against Watford to win 1-0 on Wednesday, but Juan Mata‘s free kick did the business and Louis Van Gaal has now recorded his fourth-straight win in all competitions with an injury-hit side.

Van Gaal, 64, may well leave Old Trafford at the end of this season but he’s doing his best to leave the Red Devils in at least a top four spot and a piece of silverware in either the FA Cup or Europa League.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

After United’s win over Watford, he posed with fans for photos for many minutes as he walked out of the stadium. Along with his touchline tumble against Arsenal last weekend, LVG is doing his bit to get the fans back on side. If City slip up against Aston Villa this Saturday and Manchester United beat West Brom on Sunday, they’ll be back in the top four. All those calling for Van Gaal to be sacked could well be eating their words in May as his side dig deep and continue to grind out wins at the business end of the season. The performances aren’t too impressive but it’s hard to say these players aren’t playing for their under-fire boss. That said, Jose Mourinho’s impending arrival this summer continues to cast a cloud of uncertainty over what lies in store for the future at Old Trafford.

THE OTHERS…

There’s still hope for plenty of other teams to maybe not sneak into the top four but definitely challenge for the top six. Chelsea won again on Tuesday, as Guus Hiddink’s side are 12 games unbeaten since Mourinho was fired. They’re now only eight points off the top four. Stoke City won for the third-straight game and they’re just five points off the top four, while Liverpool are just six points off the top four with 10 games to go.

[ MORE: Surging Chelsea change target

It is utter madness.

But, that’s why we love it and this season is setting us up for one of the finest finales we’ve ever seen from top to bottom across the league.

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

USMNT’s Arriola likely will miss MLS season, six World Cup qualifiers

Paul Arriola
AP Photo/LM Otero
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WASHINGTON (AP) D.C. United midfielder Paul Arriola had major knee surgery Monday and likely will miss the entire Major League Soccer season and the United States’ first six qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup

The operation was to reconstruct his right anterior cruciate ligament. The team said there was no additional cartilage damage.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The 25-year-old midfielder injured his knee Feb. 15 during D.C. United’s preseason match against Orlando in Tampa, Florida.

Arriola has been a regular starter for the U.S. national team under coach Gregg Berhalter. Arriola has five goals in 33 international appearances.

After failing to reach the 2018 World Cup, the U.S. starts qualifying for the 2022 tournament this year. The Americans have two matches each in September, October and November, then complete qualifying with two games apiece in March and September 2021.

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

State of play in CONCACAF Champions League

CONCACAF Champions League
AP Photo/Carlos Gonzalez
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Four of five Major League Soccer clubs alive in the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 are in fine shape to reach the quarterfinals after one leg.

The fifth has a tall hill to climb.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

LAFC trails Club Leon by two and did not collect an away goal in Mexico during first leg play last week.

“It’s 2-0, but we’re going to work hard,” said LAFC attacker Latif Blessing. “We’re going to prepare ourselves to win the next game. … We did good, but we want to win. It couldn’t happen that way but we’re going to prepare next game to win this game. We need to win.”

The second leg in L.A. is one of the last two matches of the round, kicking off at 10 p.m. ET Thursday just as Seattle Sounders square off with Olimpia.

The Honduran side managed a controversial comeback in the 2-2 draw with Jordan Morris-fueled Seattle last week, but the Sounders will be happy to have those two away goals and home field.

Montreal Impact has the same situation for Deportivo Saprissa’s visit at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday, while Atlanta United scored an away goal in a draw with Motagua and hosts the visitors from Honduras’ capital at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday.

That leaves us with NYCFC, who got a Heber hat trick amongst five away goals at Costa Rican side San Carlos in a 5-3 win. The second leg begins at 6 p.m. ET Wednesday at Red Bull Arena (yes, you read that correctly).

Elsewhere, Liga MX sides don’t have it much better. Cruz Azul leads Portmore 2-1 heading back to Mexico, while Club America scored an away goal in a draw with Comunicaciones.

Finally, Tigres UANL trails 2-1 after one leg with Alianza in El Salvador.

CCL second leg schedule
all times ET

Atlanta United v. Motagua (1-1) — 8 p.m. Tuesday
Cruz Azul v. Portmore United (2-1) — 10 p.m. Tuesday
NYCFC v. San Carlos (5-3) — 6 p.m. Wednesday
Montreal Impact v. Deportivo Saprissa (2-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tigres UANL v. Alianza (1-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Club America v. Comunicaciones (1-1) — 10 p.m. Wednesday
Seattle Sounders v. Olimpia (2-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday
LAFC v Leon (0-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday

Eleven to go: Ranking obstacles on Liverpool’s unbeaten path

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Liverpool has won all five of its matches since the last time we evaluated its path to an unbeaten Premier League season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Those matches were ranked 14th, 12th, 11th, 10th, and 4th on our first rankings of obstacles to immortality, so very little of the heavy lifting has been conducted.

Let’s get something out of the way: If Liverpool is unable to overturn their first leg deficit against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, you can probably etch that zero in the league loss column into stone.

That said, many expect the Reds to overcome that 1-0 disadvantage from Madrid, so here’s where we slot the difficulties moving forward.

Unranked — Crystal Palace at home (March 21) and Brighton away (April 18) — Both of these dates are very easy on the eyes, but will be moved if Liverpool is alive in the FA Cup.

9. Newcastle away, time TBD May 17 — We’re now calling this the easiest date left. Klopp’s men aren’t going to lose an unbeaten season at the altar just because Steve Bruce bunkers down. St. James’ Park is a hassle, but

8. Watford away, 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday Klopp probably feels like he’s already playing with house money in the FA Cup, so there’s no reason to think he’ll hand any priority at all to the following FA Cup meeting with Chelsea.

7. Bournemouth home, 7:30 a.m. ET March 7 Situated between Chelsea in the FA Cup and the home UCL second leg versus Atleti, it’s not easy…  but the Cherries have given us less reason to believe they’ll threaten the Reds than any other team besides Newcastle.

6. Aston Villa home, 11:30 a.m. ET April 12Dean Smith‘s desperate Villans will have Villa Park rocking before Liverpool’s possible UCL quarterfinals 2nd leg days later.

5. Burnley home, 7:30 a.m. ET April 25 — Taking place just before a possible UCL quarterfinal first leg, Burnley will try to trouble the Reds in a similar manner to West Ham.

4. Chelsea home, time TBD May 9 — Both the Blues and Reds could be coming off UCL semifinal second legs. Don’t forget that Chelsea took the Reds to the wire in the UEFA Super Cup despite it being very early in Frank Lampard‘s tenure.

3. Arsenal away, time TBD May 2 — Both sides may be days away from needing a result to qualify for the UCL or UEL final.

2. Everton away, 4 p.m. ET March 16 — This may as well be the only match left on the Toffees’ docket that matters more than another, as Carlo Ancelotti and his men know the message they could send regarding the building up of Everton.

Not only that, but Everton has nothing else left to circle, no other competitions, nothing.

1. Man City away, 11:30 a.m. ET April 5 — Taking place 3-4 days before the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals and on the heels of an international break, it’s the lone date on the calendar that Liverpool won’t be heavy favorites to win.

Champions League: Chelsea, Napoli aim to slow Lewandowski, Messi

UEFA Champions League preview
Photo by Power Sport Images/Getty Images
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Four of the most dangerous attacks in Europe begin their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

For Chelsea that means trying to find a way to limit the damage of away goals when Bayern Munich visits Stamford Bridge.

Of course, that means trying to slow lethal Robert Lewandowski. The 31-year-old Polish striker has scored 38 times in 32 appearances this season.

Here’s Frank Lampard, via Football.London:

Form of his life means something special with Lewandowski because of how well he’s been consistently in Europe for the last, how many years, I don’t know,” Lampard said. “Everything about him, from a distance, from afar, is just top class. Having the opportunity to watch a lot of Bayern in build-up to this game, that shines through. Of course, he’s going to be a huge threat. He’s not the only threat but he is a spearhead.”

Lampard points to the Blues work without the ball and away from it that will determine whether they can limit Lewandowski and Bayern.

“We traveled to Ajax and had a fantastic game off the ball,” he said. “We’ve had games like that this year in the league as well. But the levels have to go up.”

The Blues won’t have Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and N’Golo Kante, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek is finally available after a long injury absence. Pedro may play.

[ MORE: JPW’s score predictions ]

Tuesday’s other first leg sees Napoli hosting Barcelona, which means Gennaro Gattuso trying to find a way to cool down Lionel Messi.

The world’s top player scored four goals at the weekend and had six assists in his three previous La Liga outings.

Another player who’s helped Barcelona reclaim the league lead will be critical to controlling the midfield against Napoli, and that’s Frenkie de Jong.

The 22-year-old has had fits and starts at Barca, especially this month. He admits that he’s had an odd time adjusting to Messi, the teammate, though it hasn’t been part of the problem. From FCBarcelona.com:

“When I began training with him it was strange, because when I was 12, still in secondary school, I used to watch a lot of football. He was already the best in the world. He won the Ballon d’Or back then, so I was a fan, or whatever you want to call it.”

Napoli boss Gattuso was a bit more effusive when addressing Messi, via Football.Espana:

“I have read whether to make a cage or not, but we need the collective game to combat someone like him, and it is not just him,” Gattuso said. “He is the best in the world, for how he has lived his entire career. He is always perfect, never a misplaced word, he is an example for everyone. He does things that I only see on the PlayStation. He has an incredible quality and for years he has been the best of all-time.”

Both matches kick off at 3 p.m. ET Tuesday.