Premier League Playback: Don’t stop believing

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SPURS STILL IN IT?

Walking around White Hart Lane on Sunday before Tottenham Hotspur played Manchester United, there was a subdued atmosphere among Spurs’ fans.

Leicester had just won at Sunderland in the early game, sealing their spot in the UEFA Champions League next season and stretching their lead at the top of the Premier League to 10 points as Claudio Ranieri‘s side can smell the title. The Foxes now only need three wins from their final five games to guarantee the trophy as their remarkable season continues. It’s hard to sum up their achievement in securing a top four spot, at the very least.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Tottenham’s players and manager were aware of Leicester’s win as Manchester United’s bus got stuck in London traffic and turned up late. That meant Harry Kane and Co. couldn’t do anything else but sit around and see and hear about Leicester being on the brink of the title.

Still, they had a job to do, and after an slow start Spurs clicked through the gears. They dominated United 3-0 to secure their first win against them at home for 15 years. Mauricio Pochettino‘s side scored three goals in a blistering five-minute spell with 20 minutes to go as they showed they’re still up for the fight.

“We sent a message that we are there, waiting and fighting,” Pochettino said. “If they fail we need to stay there. It’s true that seven points is a difficult gap to reduce, but we need to believe. And the performance like today, and the result like today, showed that this team believes. What happens in the end, we will see. But it is important to keep this mentality.”

That strong mentality will have to be kept for the remaining games of the season as Leicester play the day before Spurs in each of the next four games. They will play catch up until the final game of the season. Pochettino’s young squad must show incredible focus to keep grinding away even though they’ll know before kick off if Leicester has won or dropped points. If the latter happens it should put an extra spring in their step and if Leicester keeps winning then what can they do?

A Foxes win showed no signs of impacting them on Sunday against a poor United side who were content to sit back and grab a point, as Dele Alli, Toby Alderweireld and Erik Lamela struck in the space of five minutes to ease any tension in the air at White Hart Lane. Spurs’ fans still believe they can win the league. So does their manager and their players.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

It will take a collapse from Leicester in at least three of their remaining five games — which seems about as lucky as Aston Villa staying up this season — combined with Spurs winning all five of their games for them to win the title.

Tottenham has the easier schedule, on paper, out of the two teams and although the fat lady is warming up her vocal chords hurriedly, for another week she’s not belting out her first song. Spurs’ fans will hope that remains the case for the rest of the season. Or at least for another week…

The song likely to be played around Spurs’ training ground this week will be Journey’s classic hit, “Don’t Stop Believing” and Tottenham is doing just that.

TIME TO GO, LOUIS

Louis Van Gaal‘s Manchester United adventure, odyssey, disaster (whatever you want to call it) must surely be coming to an end. On Sunday the veteran Dutch manager, 64, was quite pleased that his side limited Tottenham in the first half, but didn’t seem concerned his team had just one shot on target in the entire game.

That fell to Anthony Martial in the second half and with the score 0-0 at that point, Van Gaal pointed to Martial’s miss as a pivotal moment.

[ MORE: Van Gaal’s future fragile ]

In truth, even if United would have gone ahead, Spurs always looked likely to score and pounced on an opportunity which summed up United’s current predicament. With United’s midfield duo of Morgan Schneiderlin and Michael Carrick overpowered by Mousa Dembele and Eric Dier, their defense was creaking after the 30-minute mark. Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo looked particularly shaky and United’s best player was teenage right back Timothy Fosu-Mensah. That’s right.

Premier League Schedule – Week 33

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

When Fosu-Mensah clattered into Alli in front of me on the halfway line, it was obvious he’d hurt himself. He tried to carry on but he came out in the 68th minute and United didn’t recover. Matteo Darmian came on at right back and by the 75th minute United were 3-0 down. All three goals came down Spurs’ left side. That was no coincidence.

United now sit four points off the top four with six games to go. It looks destined that Manchester City will finish fourth and United will not be in the UEFA Champions League next season. Surely that means the end of Van Gaal at the end of his second season in charge? He has a contract through the end of next season but the club has made no statement on his future but Jose Mourinho continue to lurk in the background.

“I don’t have a contract yet,” said Mourinho this weekend. “But I do want to stay in England…”

ProSoccerTalk asked Van Gaal afterwards if he was concerned about his players’ lack of focus in those pivotal moments and if they had “lost their heads” and the pressure of the situation (battling for the top four) had got to them.

“I do know the media wants to write that but you have to analyze the facts,” Van Gaal told ProSoccerTalk. “The facts is that the second goal is a set play. Tottenham has made the most goals from corner kicks and free kicks. We knew in advance it was very difficult. We had a very good organization because Rojo was on Alderweireld. We have seen it and analyzed it well but it happens in football. It cannot happen… but it happens. That was the second goal and then within three minutes and then I can imagine that you lose your head a minute maybe but still you have to give the credit to the attack of Tottenham. The third goal was a fantastic goal I think.”

Van Gaal was also asked about joining United two years ago after he spoke with Tottenham’s chairman Daniel Levy about their managerial vacancy but instead chose to reject Spurs and manage United.

LVG has no regrets and let us all know how he really feels about Spurs.

“I think in the balance we are still ahead. You take one match as something I have to say the challenge is bigger?” Van Gaal said. “The challenge is always bigger in a bigger club. But I liked also to sign for Tottenham Hotspur and Daniel Levy knows that but the challenge was bigger for me at Manchester United and always shall be bigger. I am sorry for Tottenham but Manchester United is a bigger club. I think it is a little bit pathetic that you ask that because they have won 3-0. But okay, you enjoy yourself, I think.”

United fans haven’t been enjoying themselves for much of the last two seasons. That is, ultimately, down to one man.

SAME OLD ARSENAL

In a nutshell, Arsenal’s 3-3 draw against West Ham United on Saturday summed up their season.

The Gunners raced into a 2-0 lead but then Andy Carroll scored an eight-minute hat trick either side of half time (two goals came in the final two minutes of the first half) to stun Arsene Wenger.

[ MORE: Latest draw epitomizes Arsenal’s season ]

But really, it shouldn’t have surprised him or any Arsenal fans watching on. Arsenal’s soft underbelly was exposed massively as the Hammers targeted high balls into the box as a way to get at Arsenal. It worked a treat with Carroll powering home two headers and Manuel Lanzini also having another wrongly disallowed. Gabriel lost the physical battle with Carroll and despite doing his best to firefight, Laurent Koscielny can’t do it all on his own.

The French defender popped up to grab a point for Arsenal but failure to beat West Ham in the final London derby at Upton Park means Arsenal’s title hopes are all but over for another year.

Wenger will be left to ponder another season of “what ifs” but the inquest this summer will be larger and more robust than ever. The same adjectives can’t be used to described his central defenders as Arsenal’s failure to buy a top-class center back has come back to bite them time and time again this season. Same old story. Same old Arsenal. Top four finish all but secured, but not much else.

RACE FOR TOP SIX HEATS UP

With West Ham and Manchester United dropping points this weekend both Southampton and Liverpool took full advantage as they racked up impressive home wins.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Southampton rode an early Shane Long goal to hammer another nail in Newcastle United’s coffin, with Graziano Pelle and Victor Wanyama adding insurance goals before Andros Townsend‘s spectacular consolation. Saints are just three points behind fifth-placed Man United but both United and the Hammers have a game in hand of them. Their next two games — away trips to Everton and Aston Villa — will determine their aspirations to qualify for the Europa League. Come out of them with two wins and Saints could be marching back into Europe.

As for Liverpool, their weakened side beat Stoke City 4-1 in a surprisingly comfortable win at Anfield even if the scoreline doesn’t reflect the pattern of the game fairly. A game which was seen as a bit of a nuisance sandwiched in-between their Europa League quarterfinal ties against Borussia Dortmund, eventually turned into a stroll. Divock Origi came off the bench to score twice in the second half, while Alberto Moreno and Daniel Sturridge scored in the first half to give Jurgen Klopp a huge selection headache ahead of their big clash with Dortmund on Thursday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Liverpool has a game in hand on those around them and if they win that they’ll be six points behind fourth-placed Manchester City. Could the Reds yet finish with a flourish and mount a serious top four challenge? Probably not, but a top six finish would represent a good salvage job from Klopp, plus wining the Europa League (they’ll be favorites if they get past Dortmund this week) will secure a UCL spot for next season.

NORWICH OR SUNDERLAND?

We mentioned Newcastle’s defeat at Southampton and although Sunderland and Norwich both lost, the Magpies are in severe danger of getting cut adrift.

Rafael Benitez’s side have now picked up just one point in his four games in charge and have a huge week coming up. Can they win both their home games against Swansea City and Man City in the space of four days to boost their survival hopes? Judging by the quality of their defending this weekend and throughout the campaign, probably not.

[ MORE: Analyzing the relegation picture ]

So, with Newcastle seemingly doomed to join Villa — who hung on, mathmetically, to their PL status for one last weekend despite another loss — in the second-tier next season the relegation picture has become a lot clearer.

Norwich City or Sunderland to join them?

And, as luck would have it, the Canaries and Black Cats square off at Carrow Road this Saturday (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) in a winner takes all battle. Norwich can afford to draw this game as they’re four points ahead of Sunderland but Sam Allardyce‘s side have a game in hand. Sunderland gave Leicester a game for an hour on Sunday but a shocking finish from Jack Rodwell summed up their current goalscoring woes.

The term “relegation six-pointer” has never been so apt.

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.

Guardiola: “We’re here to win the Champions League”

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Pep Guardiola has put down a marker as Manchester City beat Real Madrid to reach the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

He now wants his Manchester City side to go on and reach the holy grail and win the Champions League, the trophy their Abu Dhabi owners crave above all others.

Man City beat Real Madrid 2-1 in their Round of 16 second leg, and 4-2 on aggregate, as Guradiola outwitted Zinedine Zidane over two legs to set up a winnable quarterfinal against Lyon in Lisbon, Portugal next Saturday.

Asked by BT Sport after the game what this win against Real Madrid means for Man City and their mentality, Guardiola did not play down their chances.

“For us, it is of course important, we beat them twice. Zizou never lost one knockout game. They have the personality, the way they play, you can see it. They are good,” Guardiola said. “But we are here to try and win the Champions League. It is just one step. If we think that is enough, we will show how small of a team we are. To win the Champions League you have to beat the big clubs.”

Man City will face one of those big clubs, likely Bayern Munich or Barcelona, in the semifinal stage of the Champions League but first they have to get past underdogs Lyon, who stunned Juventus as Memphis Depay has led the Ligue 1 side to the last eight.

“I spoke to the scouting department and they told me ‘be alert’ and we have eight days, we will enjoy this tonight and tomorrow, then we will start to think about Lyon,” Guardiola said when asked about their quarterfinal opponents.

Man City are the heavy favorites to beat Lyon and they are the bookies’ favorites to win the Champions League overall.

Pep Guardiola has now piled the pressure on his team to prove just how good they are and even without the injured Sergio Aguero, and with Fernandinho playing at center back, they eased past Real Madrid.

Manchester City have fallen at the quarterfinal stage when favorites in each of the last two seasons and Guardiola knows this is their best chance to win their first-ever Champions League trophy as Bayern Munich or Barcelona are very good, but not unbeatable, if they get past Lyon.

Guardiola looks hungry and he badly wants to win the Champions League for the first time since 2011 as he failed to win the trophy at Bayern Munich and in his first three seasons at Man City.

The stars are aligning for Man City to deliver the one trophy Guardiola hasn’t won since he arrived in Manchester in 2016 and the one trophy the club hasn’t won since their Abu Dhabi owners took over in 2008.

In this year, just a month after they overturned UEFA’s decision to ban them from the Champions League for two seasons, success would surely taste even sweeter for everyone connected with Man City.

Lyon shock Juventus, reach Champions League quarterfinal

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Juventus – Lyon was mean to be a straightforward comeback win for the home side to reach yet another UEFA Champions League quarterfinal.

It was anything but as Lyon shocked Juventus to dump Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. out of Europe as Maurizio Sarri’s side continued their poor form since the restart.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions

Juventus won 2-1 on the night, as Ronaldo scored twice but Juve came up one goal short and for the second season running Ronaldo has failed in his quest to lead the Italian giants to the Champions League title.

As for Lyon, who haven’t played in over 5 months as the French league was cancelled in April due to the coronavirus pandemic, they put in a heroic display as they now face Manchester City in Lisbon, Portugal in the last eight on Aug. 15.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

Lyon got off to the perfect start in Turin, but it was fortunate, as Houssem Aouar won a very dubious penalty kick as VAR checked the decision but somehow it stood.

Memphis clipped home a delicious panenka to put Lyon 1-0 up and leave Juventus needing to score three goals on the night to advance.

Federico Bernardeschi went close and Anthony Lopes saved well from Ronaldo’s free kick as Lyon sat back and soaked up pressure.

Juventus won a penalty kick before half time, as Memphis handled Miralem Pjanic’s free kick but it look harsh as his arm wasn’t in an unnatural position.

Ronaldo slotted home the spot kick to make it 1-1. Game on.

At the start of the second half Ronaldo smashed home a beauty to make it 2-1 as Juve needed one more goal to advance to the last eight.

Ronaldo was everywhere and he then set up Gonzalo Higuain to head home, but his effort was off target from close range.

And Juve couldn’t find one more goal to send them through as Lyon advanced on the away goals rule and shocked everyone by dumping the Italian champions out of Europe.

3 things learned: Man City v. Real Madrid

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Manchester City – Real Madrid was a fairly straightforward win for the hosts, as they reached the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals by beating the 13-time European champions 2-1 on the night and 4-2 on aggregate.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

Raheem Sterling opened the scoring for Man City after a bad mistake from Raphael Varane was ruthlessly punished. Real’s Eden Hazard and Karim Benzema combined well at times and although Ederson denied them early on, Benzema pulled one back in the first half as Rodrygo’s cross was nodded home by the French striker.

Benzema and Jesus both went close for either team in the second half and the latter made the most of another big mistake from Varane to make it 2-1 and seal Man City’s spot in the quarterfinals for the third-straight season with relative ease.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

Here’s a look at what we learned from the Etihad, as Manchester City – Real Madrid was an open affair but the hosts always looked in control.


CHAMPIONS LEAGUE DREAM ALIVE FOR MAN CITY

Pep Guardiola is like Indiana Jones entering the desert on his way to reaching the holy grail. Lisbon is now his ‘Canyon of the Crescent Moon’ as Man City have a quarterfinal, semifinal and final between them and footballing immortality. Man City have longed for Champions League glory and given their successful appeal against their two-season UEFA ban, they will now stride into Lisbon, Portugal as the favorites to be crowned champions of Europe. They strolled past Real Madrid and even without the injured Sergio Aguero, you’d fancy them to sweep all before them to reach the promised land. Man City have always found a way to mess things up in the Champions League but this season feels different. They gave up their Premier League trophy easily to Liverpool but it seemed like the Champions League was always the main focus this season. They now face Lyon in the quarterfinals and then their toughest test, likely either Barcelona or Napoli in the semifinals. Guardiola knows the holy grail is within reach as he is closer than ever to finally delivering the trophy Man City’s Abu Dhabi owners have built this whole project to win.


SLOPPY REAL MADRID EXIT WITH A WHIMPER

Missing captain and legendary Sergio Ramos through suspension from the first leg, Real Madrid needed young defender Edgar Militao to step up in is place. They did not need silky smooth defender Raphael Varane to give the ball away early on to give up a cheap and avoidable goal. Although Real recovered from that early error, they failed to get Luka Modric on the ball as much as they wanted to and Eden Hazard and Benzema only showed flashes of promise. Just when it seemed like Real would push hard for a second goal which would have taken the game to extra time, Varane made another big mistake. And that was that. After impressing in La Liga since the restart and winning the Spanish title, Real Madrid looked remarkably subdued as perhaps a few weeks off before this game impacted them. The Kings of Europe will have to wait another year to add another crown to their collection. Manchester City – Real Madrid was historic, as it marked the first time Zinedine Zidane has ever lost a Champions League game in the knockout rounds. The way his team limped out of Europe was surprising and disappointing for Real Madrid.


PEP BEATS ZIZOU, BUT FALSE NINE FAILS

It was a surprise to see Phil Foden start ahead of David Silva, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva in a game of this magnitude but there’s always a method to Pep’s madness. And it isn’t madness, is it? It’s genius. Just like he did in the first leg at Real Madrid, Pep raised eyebrows as he started a central midfielder (Foden this time, Kevin de Bruyne in the first leg) as a false nine. Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling were rampant from each flank early on, putting defenders under pressure in their own box, and that was how they opened the scoring. But Man City then failed to build on that lead and let Real back into the game. Pep changed things around at half time and Jesus looked more comfortable centrally and so too did Foden. It was a small tweak but it got Man City back on track and Guardiola’s tactical nous made the difference, even though Man City were handed the win on a platter thanks to Real Madrid’s shaky defensive display.

VIDEO: Cristiano Ronaldo scores stunning goal for Juventus v. Lyon

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Cristiano Ronaldo amazing goal video? Cristiano Ronaldo amazing goal video.

Yep, we’ve all been here before.

Ronaldo, 35, smashed home an unstoppable shot to put Juventus ahead on the night and level on aggregate against Lyon ini the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg, as the Portuguese superstar scored his second of the game in style.

Season after season, Ronaldo does this time and time again as he’s now scored 37 goals in all competitions for Juventus this season. He’s 35. This just isn’t normal and all of those who doubted Ronaldo’s move to Juventus should watch him deliver week in, week out and be made to eat their words.

As for this game, he turned it on its head as things did not start well for Juventus at all.

After Memphis Depay scored an early penalty kick to put Lyon ahead in Turin, that meant Juventus had to win at least 3-1 on the night to reach the Champions League quarterfinals.

Ronaldo scored a penalty just before half time to make it 1-1 and the comeback was on, then this stunning strike made it 2-1 on the night to Juventus and set up a grand finale.

Watch on in awe as Ronaldo cut in from the right and smashed home with his ‘weaker’ left foot. Safe to say that Ronaldo will have a sore back after carrying Juventus.