Premier League Playback: Analyzing the title race with nine games to go

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LEICESTER SURGE AHEAD IN TITLE RACE

With nine games of the Premier League season to go, Leicester has opened up a five-point lead on the chasing pack.

The Foxes are threatening to run away with this.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Claudio Ranieri’s side typically ground out a 1-0 win at Watford on Saturday after Tottenham and Arsenal had drawn 2-2 earlier on and Manchester City (who aren’t out of this) thumped Aston Villa.

Analyzing the four title contenders, Leicester has the easiest remaining schedule, followed by Tottenham, with both Arsenal and Man City facing some tricky tests to end the season. You’d think the latter two have more experienced players to deal with the run-in than Leicester and Tottenham. Big mistake. When it comes to this season, don’t think or assume. Just guess. Logic went out the window a long time ago.

[ MORE: Wenger has no idea where title will go ]

It’s been that kind of year. Just when you think one team will run away with it and begin to mount a serious title challenge, things change.

I was at White Hart Lane on Saturday to see Tottenham and Arsenal play out a pulsating, breathless draw in the North London Derby. It was ferocious, had unexpected drama, turning points and was hugely unpredictable as the game unfolded.

[ MORE: 3 things learned from Spurs-Arsenal ] 

The seven-minute spell from when Francis Coquelin was sent off in the 55th minute with Arsenal leading 1-0, to Harry Kane curling in a sublime goal to put Spurs 2-1 up in 62nd minute was among the most passionate and intense I’ve ever witnessed. Spurs smelt blood. Their fans were foaming at the mouth with Arsenal 1-0 up against the run of play but down to 10-men and then Toby Alderweireld equalized before Kane’s curler. Then, just when Spurs continued to pour forward as they looked to be going level on points with Leicester and heading above them on goal difference, Arsenal equalized through Alexis Sanchez.

Premier League Schedule – Week 29

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

In a game, Saturday’s NLD summed up this season so far. Especially when it comes to the title race. Does anybody else remember when Manchester City were basically handed the title in September after winning their opening five games of the season to lead the way?

Before the last week, Tottenham had been on a six-game wining streak but lost at West Ham and then let a massive opportunity slip on Saturday against their bitter rivals.

[ MORE: PL standings

Speaking to the media after the game, Mauricio Pochetino failed to blame his young players for not managing the game better and seeing out the 2-1 win against 10-men rather than go for the jugular like they did. He did, however, admit it was a huge opportunity missed to not only end Arsenal’s faint title hopes but also boost their own.

“It is true, we missed a big opportunity,” Pochettino said. “It was a good game and I think we deserved more. It was a good game to improve. Our team is young, this type of game when you play at the top of the table in the position that we are. It is important to feel that and improve. We are young and I’m very pleased with the players and how we managed the game. I think 11-v-11 we deserved more and were unlucky how we conceded the goal.”

Below is a look at the run-in for each PL title contender, with Man City having a game in hand over their rivals and if they win that, they go above Arsenal in the race for the title and will be seven points behind Leicester as things stand. Arsene Wenger has insisted that “the title race is not over” and his side “will not give up until the end” as the Gunners slipped up to Swansea City last week but did bounce back admirably at Spurs in the midst of severe adversity. Can they really rally and seal their first title in 10 years?

As Ranieri said last week, “little Leicester City” will fight for the title. From what you can see below, they have to be the clear favorites… right? Of course, Spurs, Arsenal and Man City all have European commitments in the coming weeks too, so bear that in mind. And even though we’ve left West Ham out, they’re only one point behind Man City in the table.

Leicester City, fixtures remaining

Mar. 14 vs. Newcastle
Mar. 19 at Crystal Palace
Apr. 3 vs. Southampton
Apr. 10 at Sunderland
Apr. 17 vs. West Ham
Apr. 24 vs. Swansea City
May 1 at Man United
May 7 at Everton
May 15 at Chelsea

Tottenham, fixtures remaining

Mar. 13 at Aston Villa
Mar. 20 vs. Bournemouth
Apr. 2 at Liverpool
Apr. 10 vs. Man United
Apr. 18 at Stoke City
Apr. 25 vs. West Brom
May 2 at Chelsea
May 7 vs. Southampton
May 15 at Newcastle

Arsenal, fixtures remaining

Mar. 12 vs. West Brom
Mar. 19 at Everton
Apr. 2 vs. Watford
Apr. 9 at West Ham
Apr. 17 vs. Crystal Palace
Apr. 24 at Sunderland
Apr. 30 vs. Norwich City
May 7 at Man City
May 15 vs. Aston Villa

Manchester City, fixtures remaining

Mar. 12 at Norwich City
Mar. 20 vs. Man United
Apr. 2 at Bournemouth
Apr. 9 vs. West Brom
Apr. 16 at Chelsea
Apr. 24 vs. Stoke City
May 1 at Southampton
May 7 vs. Arsenal
May 15 at Swansea City
TBD at Newcastle United


END FOR MCCLAREN AT NEWCASTLE?

In truth, this always seemed like a strange hire.

Steve McClaren was fired by Championship side Derby County last season after failing to gain promotion to the Premier League despite spending plenty in two-straight seasons. McClaren, 54, has spent $115 million during his first two transfer windows at Newcastle and they sit second from bottom in the PL with 10 games of the season to go. Nightmare scenario for a man so many people say is a great coach but aren’t sure if he’s a manager.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Despite having a game in hand against their relegation rivals, these are desperate times at St James’ Park. Following the 3-1 defeat to AFC Bournemouth at home last weekend, McClaren seems to be hanging onto his job by a thread. He looked distressed, resembling a rabbit caught in the headlights when trying to explain yet another defeat to the TV cameras.

The fact that his players released a statement before the crucial relegation six-pointer supporting their manager said it all, and talks behind-the-scenes about McClaren’s future are reportedly continuing.

“Newcastle United players would like to make clear that reports in some areas of the media suggesting we are surprised that our head coach has not been dismissed are untrue. As a group, we aware of the situation we are in and it is our responsibility to change that. The coach and his staff prepare us well for each game, but once on the pitch it is not they who can stop the goals we concede or the chances we don’t take, that responsibility is ours the players.

“On the occasions we have given poor performances this season, the coach has in the privacy of the dressing room rightly demonstrated his disappointment in us. In his press conferences though, we have seen that he defends his group, continues to show faith in us and shares the responsibility with us. For this, he has the full respect of the players. The players are also aware from articles in yesterday’s newspapers that a person or persons connected with the club are giving information to the press of a negative nature.

“As players, we are very disappointed by this. It’s a betrayal of trust for the coach, us and the club. As a group we know we have it within us to keep this club in the Premier League. We now must fight every game at a time to earn our place in the Premier League for next season.”

Those words are nice enough, but they should concentrate on making McClaren proud on the pitch and let their boots do the talking.

The sheer underachievement of international caliber players at Newcastle is appalling. They hung on by the skin of their teeth last season and fought off relegation on the final day. But was has happened to Moussa Sissoko, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Fabricio Coloccini? Despite a clear out, of sorts, over the summer and McClaren arriving as manager — plus bizarrely also being appointed to the board of directors — the same nightmare scenario is playing out for the Magpies faithful.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Newcastle is among the best supported teams in the PL. They pack out St James’ every week and have the fourth-biggest crowds in the PL. Simply put, the fans who travel up and down the land deserve better.

McClaren knows it. He looks to have aged 15 years this season already and the pressure of delivering in one of English soccer’s most hostile environments is intense. Alan Pardew left as soon as he had the chance. Local man John Carver struggled on an interim basis to keep the ship afloat and was replaced by McClaren, and if you look at the long list of managers Newcastle has had before Pardew it’s clear to see that this sleeping giant is not only difficult to wake from its monumental slumber but its incredibly tricky to even keep them alive and kicking in the top-flight.

The fact of the matter is that even if McClaren is fired — David Moyes, Rafael Benitez and Brendan Rodgers are being mentioned as potential replacements — the owner has to take plenty of criticism. Mike Ashley’s long-term policy of selling Newcastle’s best players and trying to bring others in on the cheap has put them in this situation and the discord between him and the fans has made that worse. Sure, he spent big over the last 8-10 months but apart from Georginio Wijnaldum and Jonjo Shelvey, have any of the new additions been a success? Chief scout Graham Carr has way too much power and should take his share of the blame alongside McClaren and Ashley.

[ MORE: Premier League stats

The situation at Newcastle is septic and they have 10 games to save themselves. For a club of their size to crash out of the PL this season, of all seasons, would be hugely damaging financially as the new TV deal kicks in next season. And, of course, McClaren or whoever the Newcastle manager is on March 20, will face bitter North East rivals Sunderland at St James’ Park. Only one of Norwich City, Newcastle and Sunderland will survive as Aston Villa seem doomed and an eight-point gap has opened up over 16th-placed Swansea.

With just a point separating the two North East clubs, that game is pivotal in the battle against relegation. Both shouldn’t be where they are and have been mismanaged poorly in recent years. But it’s time for the excuses, the statements and the bickering to stop. If McClaren is to keep his job, he simply must win the Tyne-Wear derby coming up in two weeks time. If he doesn’t it’s surely curtains for not only his future at Newcastle, but also the Magpies as a PL club.


WHAT I’M HEARING: PRESSURE ON MARTINEZ AT EVERTON

It’s something I’ve been hearing whispers about for a while now and the groans of discontent are now growing among fans about Roberto Martinez at Everton. Big time.

[ MORE: West Ham fight back from 2-0 down, win 3-2 at Everton ]

A source recently told ProSoccerTalk that senior players among the Everton dressing room have lost faith in Martinez’s tactics and deem the Spaniard as naive, while another source claims he is not the flavor of the month with the top young talents at the club either. All of that, coupled with recent poor results on the pitch and the promise of significant investment from British-Iranian businessman Farhad Moshiri — who became the new majority shareholder at Everton last week which could see him pump millions into the club — make Martinez’s future an increasingly uncertain one. Locals at Goodison claim that current fan unrest towards a manager is the highest its been in decades.

True, Everton is fun to watch and has a raft of talented players like John Stones, Ross Barkley, Romelu Lukaku, Seamus Coleman and Kevin Mirallas, but with a deep Europa League run hurting their PL form and leading to an 11th place finish last season, the Toffees are also stagnant in midtable this term. Will Martinez be let go this summer ahead of what will be his fourth season in charge at Goodison?

This season players such as Leighton Baines, Tim Howard and Gerard Deulofeu have been used sparingly since January, while Steven Naismith left after appearing to be frozen out.

After a sensational start to life on Merseyside which saw the former Swansea and Wigan coach lead the Toffees to a fifth-place finish, Martinez seems to be walking a tightrope. If Everton lose their FA Cup quarterfinal clash at home against Chelsea this weekend then expect the fan unrest, and pressure on Martinez, to grow.

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.  

Some of the best new 2019/20 kit releases so far

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One of the most enjoyable parts of the run-up to the new season is following clubs slowly trickle out their new home and away kits for the upcoming campaign.

Kit releases are becoming a bigger and bigger deal as kit makers pour more and more money into lucrative contracts. As we slowly make our way towards the new 2019/20 season, here are a few of the best releases across Europe so far. Obviously, these are extremely subjective, so if you feel one has been left out or strongly dislike one on the list, let us know what you think!

Arsenal away kit

The Gunners have produced some iconic kits in the past, and also some horrific ones, preferring on many previous occasions to be bold and risk it all, to mixed results. This season, Arsenal’s away kit is yellow, and unlike a number of swings & misses with yellow in the past, this one is fresh. The club brought in NBA star James Harden to model the new away kit, and it rules. The yellow isn’t too bright and the background V pattern keeps it interesting but not eye-popping which can be the trouble with yellow at times.

AS Roma away kit

Speaking of bold, Roma did risk it all this season with their away kit, and we’re glad they did. The Italian club unveiled a white kit with a lightning bolt splashed in the club’s maroon, yellow, and orange colors. It’s an outstanding choice done well, and proves one of this season’s most intriguing looks.

FC Barcelona away kit

While the Spanish giants’ home kit is a checkerboard pattern that doesn’t necessarily jump off the page, the away kit is another successful use of yellow. Like Arsenal’s, the yellow isn’t a staggeringly bright shade, instead allowing the diagonal sash to smartly take center stage. Check out new signing Frenkie de Jong unveiling the kit.

Bayern Munich home & away kits

Bayern Munich produced a fresh double this season, with a new-age home kit that looks fantastic plus a clean white away kit that jumps off the page. The home kit, as you can see on Benjamin Pavard below, is the typical Bayern Munich red with a subtle background that helps the kit pop, while the away kit is plain white that just looks outstanding, with the bottom of the shirt sporting a small dot pattern that gives it some form of uniqueness, as David Alaba shows off.

Celtic home kit

Hoops and collars are both often a feast or famine type of design, and while plenty of hoop kits have failed miserably in the past, Celtic nails both this season. As you can see below, they stopped the hoops above the shoulder, and that helps the green collar jump off the design. Along with the plain white shorts and green socks, this kit is a standout product.

Chelsea home kit

Like Bayern Munich, Chelsea went for the background pattern behind the club’s well-known main color, but the Blues went for a much bolder pattern, choosing to sport a randomized criss-cross that really pops behind the dark blue hue. As you can see youth product Mason Mount show off while announcing his new contract, the various sized lines are interesting but also not distracting.

Inter home kit

I audibly gasped when I saw this kit for the first time. Inter, always a leader in the kit department with the famed Pirelli logo, has produced a fabulous home kit for the upcoming campaign. Unlike last season which was just straight vertical stripes, this year’s kit has the stripes that break behind the sponsor logo and return to normal underneath, and it looks amazing, as does that particular shade of blue.

Marseille home kit

Puma knocked it out of the park for the French side, scaling back the blue to a white kit with blue pinstripes and the blue logo. It’s an outstanding look, as you can see on midfielder Morgan Sanson below. Coincidentally, they have some absolutely fire training gear to go along with it as well.

Nottingham Forest away kit

How about a Championship club to add to the mix? Nottingham Forest released a smart looking away kit that splits the two sides of the shirt into dark blue and black, and it works to perfection. Working with an already clean-looking sponsor logo and the white outline of the club crest without the red, the two-sided look is a great one. A cool touch to include the ladies squad in the kit release as well.

Wolverhampton Wanderers home & away kit

Wolves has quietly been one of the consistently best English kit producers, and they got it right again this year on both counts. The home kit is a simple yellow-orange with a subtle lined pattern in the background that looks great with the three adidas lines under the arm, while the away kit is black with diagonal yellow pinstripes that jump. Well done.

Ajax

As a bonus for making it this far down the list, here’s a bold choice that flat out doesn’t work. Ajax released its new 2019/20 away kit fresh off its run to the Champions League semifinal, and the combination of a weird forest green and an eye-burning traffic cone orange makes for a face-melting combination. Sorry, Daley Blind, but this is a hard pass.

Tottenham signs Mauricio Pochettino’s son to contract extension

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Mauricio Pochettino put his arm around the player as he always does when a Tottenham member signs a new contract. This one was different.

A proud dad smiled for the camera as son Maurizio put pen to paper on a new deal seeing him move up to the U-23 side. The 18-year-old has been with Spurs youth side since following his father from Southampton to the English capital four years ago.

The boy impressed in 21 appearances for the U-18 squad last season, deployed on the wing where he scored four goals and assisted another. He was part of the squad that took on his old club Southampton in the very first event held in the club’s new stadium, essentially a trial run before the true opening match for the senior side.

Unlike his father, who is Argentinian and played for the Argentina national team, Maurizio was born in Barcelona and therefore could choose to represent Spain if he so desires, or his father’s native Argentina – given, of course, he reaches those heights. First, it will be the Checkatrade Trophy he takes part in, with the Spurs U-23 squad set to take on Gillingham, Colchester United, and Ipswich Town in Southern Section Group A.

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2019/20 underway… #COYS

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USMNT notes: Robinson moves to Wigan, and more

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It’s been a busy day of U.S. Men’s National Team related news, from Tyler Boyd signing with Besiktas to U.S. Soccer announcing a friendly match with Mexico in September at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Here’s everything else you may have missed today relating to the USMNT and Americans Abroad.


Robinson joins Wigan in permanent transfer

Antonee Robinson is heading back to the Championship, but this time, he won’t be heading back to Everton at the end of the season.

Robinson on Monday completed a permanent transfer to Wigan. where he spent last season and helped the club avoid relegation. Robinson has signed a three-year contract and he joined for a reported $2.5 million transfer fee, per Wigan Today. He battled injuries to make 26 appearances in all competitions.

Robinson, born in England to an American father and British mother, came up in Everton’s Finch Farm academy but never broke through to make a first team appearance. Instead, he spent time in the lower levels on loan to Bolton and then Wigan. With Everton’s signing last year of Lucas Digne, the left back spot is locked up for quite a while, leaving Robinson second-choice and in search of first team minutes again.

For the USMNT, Robinson made his debut in the 3-0 win over Bolivia in late May, 2018, and has gone on to make seven appearances for the senior team, including a start against Jamaica, though it didn’t go well in a 1-0 defeat at home. Robinson was on the 40-man provisional Gold Cup roster for coach Gregg Berhalter and he also took part in a European-based training camp for the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team as the team starts preparing for Olympic qualifying, which will likely take place later this year.

Robinson will likely play a key role in helping the U.S. make it to their first Olympics since 2008 in Beijing.


Reyna heading to USA with Borussia Dortmund

Claudio Reyna’s son Giovanni Reyna is off to a strong start after officially being announced as a signing by Borussia Dortmund. Whether for marketing reasons or sporting reasons, Reyna was one of the 26 players to make the flight to Seattle as Dortmund takes some preseason action in the U.S.

BVB will face the Seattle Sounders in Seattle on Thursday before heading to take on Liverpool in South Bend, Indiana on Saturday.

It’s a quick burst in the U.S., but perhaps Reyna can get a few minutes of action in his home nation before heading back to Germany to try and see if he can break into the squad.


Scott set for Newcastle? 

British-born American midfielder Kyle Scott appears that he will still be on the books at a Premier League club next season.

According to multiple reports, including the Newcastle Chronicle, Newcastle FC is interested in signing Scott, thanks to a reported recommendation from former coach Rafa Benitez. Scott, 21, has spent the past 12 years in Chelsea’s academy and reserves, but he’s hardly sniffed a match, at least for the first team. He spent some time on loan with Dutch second-division side Telstar last year, but it wasn’t declared permanent.

Now, having been let go by Chelsea, Scott is looking for a new club. It’s unclear, however, considering his lack of first team experience, if he’d be able to step into the lineup at Newcastle and really make a difference so soon.

In the past, Scott has appeared for the U.S. Under-18s and U-20s. Perhaps some regular playing time in the Premier League can get him into the senior national team.

Watch: Hear from Bournemouth’s Howe in training

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Ever wondered what it is like to go through preseason training with a Premier League?

Thanks to AFC Bournemouth, now we know.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe was “mic’d up” during a preseason training session on Monday, giving fans an inside look into his team gaining fitness and going over some key movements that they’ll surely be using during games this season.

Plus….players biking to practice and the dreaded beep test.

Here from Howe and the players above and take a look at a Premier League preseason.