Premier League Playback: Straight two-horse race for the title

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And then there were two…

With Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur both winning in Week 30, the Premier League title race is now between those two teams.

Arsenal and Manchester City have gone. They are out of it. Adios.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

They both have a game in hand on Leicester and Spurs, but after drawing at Norwich this weekend Man City trail Leicester by 12 points and Arsenal is 11 points behind. At this point of this season, that’s insurmountable.

[ MORE: PL standings | schedule

Leicester lead Tottenham by five points with eight games to go and Spurs are the only team who can realistically catch the high-flying Foxes.

Below is a look at five reasons why each of the two remaining contenders can win the Premier League.


WHY LEICESTER CAN WIN THE LEAGUE

1. Vardy and Mahrez: With 37 of Leicester’s 53 goals coming from these two, there’s no need to talk about their importance. Must stay fit.

2. The lead: The Foxes need just 20 points from their remaining eight games to win the PL. Simple.

3. Kante: Mahrez and Vardy may get the plaudits but this man is the heartbeat of Leicester’s midfield. Tough to single out individuals but he’s superb.

4. Easier run-in: Compared to Spurs, they have an easier run-in. They face Man United, Everton and Chelsea in the final three games.

5. Momentum: Claudio Ranieri was seen urging the fans and players on in the final minutes against Newcastle. They are on a roll and must keep grinding.

WHY SPURS CAN STILL WIN THE LEAGUE

1. Kane: With another two goals at the weekend, Kane is now the joint-leading goalscorer in the PL. If he stays hot, Spurs will sweep all before them.

2. Defensive solidity: Spurs have the best defense in the PL by some margin and they’ve been missing perhaps their best defense for a while. So solid.

3. No Europe: They will likely bow out in the Europa League against Borussia Dortmund this week and that’s a very good thing for their PL hopes.

4. Belief: Mauricio Pochettino and his young squad have a strong belief in themselves and what they’re doing. Come crunch time, that could be the difference.

5. Offensive options: If Pochettino has to switch things up, he has some decent options. Heung-Min Son and Nacer Chadli can add something different off the bench.


Virgil Van Dijk COMING OF AGE

Many PL teams such as Sunderland, Arsenal and Manchester United contemplated buying Virgil van Dijk in the past but for whatever reason, they passed. Perhaps it was because he was too much of a risk taker on the ball or had only flourished in Holland and Scotland.

Premier League Schedule – Week 30

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 0-2 Spurs Recap, watch here
B’mouth 3-2 Swansea Recap, watch here
Leicester 1-0 N’castle Recap, watch here
Norwich 0-0 Man City Recap, watch here
Stoke 1-2 Southampton Recap, watch here

Nevertheless, Southampton bought him for $18.5 million last summer and the flamboyant Dutch center back is fast becoming one of the buys of the season. His manager at Southampton, Ronald Koeman, was, and still is, the greatest flamboyant defender in history.

If anybody had to take a chance on Van Dijk, it was Koeman. During Southampton’s 2-1 win at Stoke City on Saturday, Van Dijk shone in the absence of the suspended Jose Fonte and he is really coming of age. He blocked Giannelli Imbula‘s shot superbly, won everything in the air and seems to be improving every game.

Speaking as a special guest on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football in the UK, he is obviously happy with what he’s seeing from the 24-year-old.

“He is very important and is a really good defender,” Koeman said. “He is strong, fast and also important in the way we like to build up. He is a good short passer and a good long passer and also has a good tandem with Jose Fonte. Last Saturday he was in good tandem with Ryan Bertrand. He is a good header and has a great shot and is also a good free kick taker. He’s a very good center back.”

“One of our philosophies is playing from the back and you really need center backs who like to be involved and confident in playing football from the back. My only worry with Virgil was that we signed him out of the Scottish league from Celtic and that is different than the Premier League. That makes him a little but trickier but he had the experience of playing against the likes Barcelona in the Champions League.”

Van Dijk’s performances for Saints has seen him called up to the Dutch national team for the first time and big clubs will surely come calling for the man who loves to stream out of the back with the ball. He has three goals in his debut season in the PL and could have had more. He is comfortable playing in a three-man defense or a 4-4-2 system and is truly adaptable and is so comfortable on the ball. Plus, playing under a manager like Koeman he is only going to improve as the legendary Dutch center back passes on his vast knowledge.

That said, despite making a name for himself with his performances, someone at Stoke struggled with how to spell his name…


FA CUP EQUALITY; END FOR WENGER?

The draw for the FA Cup semifinals has been made and if the madness in the PL hasn’t clearly highlighted the equality present in England’s top-flight this season, then the FA Cup’s final four does.

Both semifinals will take place on the weekend of Apr. 23-24:

  • Everton vs. Manchester United or West Ham
  • Crystal Palace vs. Watford

One of Palace or Watford will be in the FA Cup final at Wembley on May 21. That will be the biggest game in decades for whichever team makes it. In this season of the underdog, the theme is continuing.

[ MORE: Is this the beginning of the end for Wenger?

In the quarterfinals Chelsea lost at Everton with Diego Costa losing the plot, but the absence of Arsenal on that list is the most surprising as the side who won the FA Cup the last two seasons crashed out at home against Watford last weekend.

Manager Arsene Wenger is under increasing pressure and scrutiny from the fans with Arsenal’s wait for a PL title set to continue. They last won the PL in 2003-04 and this season did represent their best chance yet of winning it again, but the Gunners are likely to finish below both Tottenham and Leicester and will not have the FA Cup as consolation silverware. That, plus their impending elimination from the UEFA Champions League against Barcelona this week, is why Wenger is under so much pressure.

After two decades Wenger could be heading for the exit door this summer, whether he wants to or not. It seems unthinkable but the situation is becoming toxic.

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.  

Man City vs Man United: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Manchester City vs Manchester United: Erling Haaland is set for his Manchester derby debut when the two-time defending champions host the rapidly improving Red Devils at Etihad Stadium on Sunday (watch live, 9 am ET on Peacock Premium). 

STREAM LIVE MAN CITY vs MAN UNITED

Haaland has taken the Premier League by storm with an absurd 11 goals scored in his first seven games after (ostensibly) choosing Man City over Man United before leaving Borussia Dortmund this summer.

Six weeks ago, Manchester United had not a single point from their first two games, including a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of tiny Brentford, but Erik ten Hag has since switched tactical course en route to four straight wins, including a 3-1 victory over PL leaders Arsenal last time out, to set up this hugely intriguing showdown on Sunday.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Man City vs Man United

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


How to watch Manchester City vs Manchester United live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 9 am ET, Sunday
Online: Stream via Peacock Premium


Key storylines & star players

Despite a pair of disappointing draws (Newcastle and Aston Villa), it’s been an unbeaten start to the 2022-23 season for Man City, who still lead the PL in possession (66.4 percent per game) while also becoming an unstoppable offensive force from last season (14 goals in their first seven games) to this season (23). That’s not to say it’s been easy as Manchester City go through a tactical shift of their own to better appeal to the big Norwegian’s poaching abilities. Though they have been forced to grind out results a few times already this season, it’s highlighted a newfound spontaneity for a side that’s been as regimented as any in the world. Will that freedom be what ultimately lands Pep Guardiola his first Champions League trophy since 2011, and perhaps a third straight PL title (and a fifth in six years) to boot?

As for Manchester United, the Ten Hag era has been a wild roller-coaster ride already, short as it’s been. The back-to-back defeats were one thing, but the abject performances were the real cause for discontent. While picking up the four straight victories, the Dutchman has also settled on a midfield setup with Scott McTominay and Christian Eriksen operating in (effectively) a double pivot with Bruno Fernandes the most advanced of the three. It has brought defensive stability, of course, but more importantly the change has revealed a deadly counter-attacking side. Each of Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Fernandes have scored twice during the winning run, with new boy Antony also getting in on the fun on his debut. With space in behind (and the proper service from deep), Ten Hag might just have his first winning formula (albeit quite unlike him).


Manchester City team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Kalvin Phillips (shoulder), John Stones (hamstring), Benjamin Mendy (suspension – MORE) | QUESTIONABLE: Aymeric Laporte (knee)

Manchester United team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Harry Maguire (hamstring), Marcus Rashford (thigh), Brandon Williams (undisclosed), Mason Greenwood (suspension – MORE) | QUESTIONABLE, Donny van de Beek (knock), Martin Dubravka (knock)

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WATCH: Lionel Messi spins gorgeous free kick goal past Nice’s Schmeichel

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Lionel Messi got the better of Kasper Schmeichel with an outstanding free kick as Paris Saint-Germain outlasted Nice 2-1 on Saturday at the Parc des Princes.

The world’s greatest scorer was fouled to set up a free kick just inside the arc. Nice, of course, got into a wall and former Leicester City keeper Kasper Schmeichel arranged it to his liking.

As he does so many times, however, Messi spun a free kick just over the wall. The ball, which came so close to taking a slight turn off a leaping wall member (actually, did it?), tumbled down and right into the side netting to give PSG a 1-0 lead before the match was a half-hour old.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Ricardo Pepi scores relentless Groningen goal ]

Gaetan Laborde tied the match before halftime, and Nice’s revamped roster looked set to hold tight for a point (The club’s signed familiar Premier League names Schmeichel, Ross Barkley, Aaron Ramsey, and Mario Lemina).

Even that wouldn’t be enough, though, as Kylian Mbappe came off the bench to replace young Hugo Ekitike to finish a Nordi Mukiele assist for a 2-1 win.

PSG has eight wins and a draw this season, good for a two-point lead on second-place Marseille. Messi has five goals and a joint-league-best seven assists, tied with Neymar. Mbappe and Neymar are tied for the league goals lead with eight.

Lionel Messi free kick goal video

USMNT’s Ricardo Pepi defies xG with relentless goal (video)

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USMNT forward Ricardo Pepi’s goal while trying to will Groningen back into an eventual 4-1 loss to AZ Alkmaar on Saturday will not be one of the expected variety.

The 19-year-old striker, on loan from Augsburg, ran onto an audacious long pass from 20-year-old defender Neraysho Kasanwirjo but had plenty of work to do with AZ leading 2-0.

[ MORE: Josef Martinez scores audacious overhead goal ]

Pepi sees one defender fall in a race to the ball, then bodies up AZ’s Sam Beukema a little outside the six-yard box.

Hand-to-hand combat sees both players hit the turf, and Pepi probably could won a penalty.

But the World Cup hopeful spins while on the pitch and snaps a shot past charging AZ goalkeeper Hobie Verhulst to make it 2-1.

Video after the jump.

Ricardo Pepi
fotmob.com

Ricardo Pepi goal video: Fantastic start to Groningen loan

Pepi now has a goal or an assist in his first three Eredivisie outings, not unlike his fantastic start to life in a USMNT shirt.

His goal contributions have taken a dive since his first two USMNT matches — World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Jamaica — and he only has one assist from the following 10 outings in a U.S. shirt.

Still, Pepi is clearly one of Gregg Berhalter’s favorite options for the upcoming World Cup, and his performances will be measured against Union Berlin’s Jordan Pefok, FC Dallas’ Jesus Ferreira, and others.

In a tournament where every moment matters, his work for this scrappy finish will be well-noted by the USMNT staff.

Josef Martinez scores vicious overhead kick in Atlanta United loss (video)

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If this is the last goal of Josef Martinez’s (likely) final season with Atlanta United, it will be very appropriate.

So for Martinez, even in a losing effort, to go airborne for an overhead kick that is a simply sensational feat of athleticism and power, well, it just feels right.

The 29-year-old Venezuelan forward joined the Five Stripes in 2017 in what seemed a massive capture for the club at the time and now seems downright gargantuan, but he’s fallen out with current manager Gonzalo Pineda and was even suspended for a match last month.

[ MORE: West Ham beats Wolves | Klopp reacts to latest setback ]

Martinez has nine goals and four assists in an injury-abbreviated 25-game season, giving him 111 goals in 156 appearances for ATL UTD. The former Torino and Young Boys striker is still being capped for Venezuela and would leave with an MLS Cup, Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and Campeones Cup as well as a boatload of individual honors.

Atlanta lost 2-1 to New England on Saturday and returns home for their season finale next weekend versus New York City FC. The Five Stripes won’t make the playoffs unless at least two teams decide not to field teams, so if the NYCFC game doesn’t go well, let’s pretend this one was his final appearance for the club.